The Fall Guy

Posted on May 1, 2024 at 10:00 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for action and violence, drug content and some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, jokes about getting tipsy, drug use, including hallucinations
Violence/ Scariness: Extended real and fictional peril and action, fights, guns and other weapons, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 3, 2024

“The Fall Guy” is a love letter to movie-making, to all of the work, all of the heart, all of the expertise from hundreds of people that goes into telling our stories. It is a love letter to the audience, filled with action, romance, comedy, impossibly gorgeous, magnificently talented ,and endlessly charismatic performers, and with joy. Most of all, it is a love letter to the unsung heroes who do the crazy daredevil stunts that make the world’s most beloved movie stars look athletic and courageous. It is pure popcorn pleasure and I cannot wait to see it again.

There’s just a tincture of the 80s television series that lends its name, its theme song, character name, and a brief cameo from its star, Lee Majors). This is the story of stunt man Ryan Gosling as Colt Seavers, who is the long-time substitute for one of the world’s biggest Hollywood action stars, Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) when the script calls for anything that might be dangerous. The job of the stunt performers is to do the crazy things that make audiences gasp and cheer: cars rolling over, falls from great heights, fighting with fists, feet, and weapons, dangling from helicopters, racing speedboats. Basically, they get paid a minuscule fraction of what the star is paid to get all of the bruises, burns. and broken bones, do to it over and over, to make sure their faces do not show and ruin the illusion, and to give a thumbs-up to show that they are fine after every take.

Colt has a crush on a cinematographer and would-be director, Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt). But when Tom insists on a re-do of a fall from the top of a skyscraper atrium because he thinks too much of Colt’s chin was showing, something goes wrong and Colt is badly injured. Over the next 18 months, as he slowly recovers, he works as a parking valet and his relationship with Jody ends in hurt and disappointment.

And then Colt gets a call from Tom’s long-time producer, Gail Meyer (“Ted Lasso’s” Hannah Waddingham). Tom is making a huge sci-fi film in Australia and Gail wants Colt to do the stunts. He says no. She says Jody asked for him. He says, “Get me an aisle seat.”

Once he gets to Sydney, Gail tells Colt that Tom has disappeared and she wants Colt to find him. He also finds out that Jody did not ask for him because (1) she is surprised to see him and not happy about it and (2) she fires him. Literally. Like, she has him do a stunt where he’s on fire and gets slammed into a rock — three times.

There is so much more I’m longing to tell you about what happens next but I want you to have the pleasure of discovering it all for yourselves. I will just say that Gosling and Blunt have chemistry for days and are clearly having a blast perfecting the balance between action, comedy, romance, and mystery, there are dozens of sly jokes about Hollywood and filmmaking, Winston Duke is a dream as the stunt coordinator (if you have not seen him in “Black Panther” and “Nine Days” and “Us,” three roles that could not be more different, watch them!), there’s a stunt dog who only understands French, and while you may expect the stunts to be amazing, they are amazing times amazing. Real-life stunt performer-turned director David Leitch likes to take Hollywood’s handsomest leading men (Brad Pitt in “Bullet Train,” Gosling here) and make them scruffy and in need of a comeback, always a choice choice. Be sure to stay through the credits for behind the scenes footage of the real stunt performers and an extra scene.

Parents should know that this is an action film with extended real and fictional (stunt) peril and violence, with guns and other weapons, fight scenes, characters injured and killed, drinking and jokes about being tipsy, drugs, and some strong language.

Family discussion: What’s your go-to karaoke song and why? Why is it hard to apologize? Would you like to see the movie Colt and Jody are making?

If you like this, try: “The Stunt Man” (some mature material) with Peter O’Toole as the director of a WWI movie who impulsively hires an escaped convict as a stunt performer, and stunt-filled films like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Fast X” and another movie from this director, also with Taylor-Johnson, “Bullet Train”

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

Posted on August 2, 2023 at 5:40 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for sequences of violence and action, language and impolite material
Profanity: Some crude schoolyard language: crap, puke, piss off, etc.
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and tense peril and violence, threats of wiping out humanity, scary creatures, weapons, disturbing images, sad deaths, barfing
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 4, 2023

Copyright 2023 Paramount
Imagine a movie much more artistically ambitious than the toys it is based on. Yes, that would be “Barbie.” But it turns out “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” is a nice surprise, with exceptionally inventive and vibrant animation and a funny script from the prolific Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (“Superbad,” “Pineapple Express,” “”Sausage Party”), Jeff Rowe (“The Mitchells vs. The Machines”) and Benji Samit and Dan Hernandez (“The Addams Family 2,” “Detective Pikachu”), and an all-star cast of voice talent that knocks the films best lines out of the park and into the next town.

We know the drill so well we can recite it along with the movie. Baby turtles and a rat were exposed to radioactive ooze (do not call it slime). The rat was Splinter (voiced here by Jackie Chan), who became an adoptive parent to the and 15 years later the turtles were walking upright, talking, trained in ninja-style combat, and named for four groundbreaking Renaissance artists: Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu) told briskly and energetically, establishing the stakes. In this version a scientist named Baxter Stockman (Giancarlo Esposito) created the ooze because he always felt like an outcast, closer to animals than to humans. Don’t think too hard about why, if this is so, he would want to mutate the animals so they would be closer to humans, just go with it.

Scary henchmen for imperious Cynthia Utrom (Maya Rudolph) arrive and kill Stockman. The ooze and the rat and turtle babies are washed away into the sewer. After one disastrous try, Splinter decides that to keep his adopted sons safe from humans, they would stay out of sight forever. But the teenagers want to explore the world and meet people. They’d even like to go to high school. A crime boss named “Superfly” has been organizing heists around the city. The turtles think they could win the support of the human community if they can stop him.

They have one human friend, a high school student and aspiring reporter named April (Ayo Edebiri of “The Bear”). She has been researching Superfly, and she wants to write about the turtles, so they team up.

The animation style has an engaging looseness, even messiness, to it, a welcome change from the pristine perfection of hyper-lifelike CGI or the thin, under-designed images of the original cartoons. There are plenty of pop culture references (Adele, “Avengers: Endgame,” Cool Ranch Doritos — party size), and some self-aware jokes (Donatello wonders why his only weapon is a stick — and learns to appreciate it, too). The interplay between the four turtles is high-spirited and Chan makes a warm-hearted and concerned adoptive dad. And when we meet up with Superfly and his team, we get a new bunch of characters with wild designs and brilliant voices. Paul Rudd’s mutant Gecko with a fondness for Four Non Blondes is one of the great cinematic treats of the summer. Rogen, his “Platonic” co-star Rose Byrne, and John Cena add their voices. But the standout of the film is Ice Cube as Superfly, who hates humans, but loves bowling.

Parents should know that this movie has extended fantasy-style peril and action with some scary-looking monsters and disturbing images, crude schoolyard language (crap, puke) and references, and a sad death.

Family discussion: What is the best way to show people you deserve appreciation and respect? Which turtle is your favorite and why?

If you like this, try: the other TMNT stories, “The Mitchells vs the Machines,” “The Bad Guys,” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)

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Downton Abbey: A New Era

Posted on May 19, 2022 at 5:27 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some suggestive references, language and thematic elements.
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death
Diversity Issues: Class issues
Date Released to Theaters: May 20, 2022
Date Released to DVD: July 4, 2022

Copyright Focus Features 2022
If the producers of “Downton Abbey” have become so fond of their characters after six seasons on television and a feature film that they can reunite them only for the most enticingly charming of storylines, well, that is fine with me and likely to be fine with the many, many fans who love to watch the residents of the fabulous title estate — both the upstairs Lord and Lady Grantham and their family (the Crowleys) and the downstairs staff who keep the place running. The title is “Downton Abbey: A New Era” but the story remains reassuringly retro.

The Crawley characters have survived the upheavals of world affairs from the beginning; the first episode begins with the family learning of the sinking of the Titanic, with the heir to the estate on board and later World War I brings enormous changes during the course of the series. And they have survived family upheavals as well, the marriage of one of the three Crawley daughters to a commoner, the family’s chauffeur, and her death following childbirth. The staff have had their challenges as well, and the attention to all of the residents of Downton is a critical part of the story’s appeal.

But so is the display of wealth, including the dozens of servants required for the many many changes of fabulous clothes and the dinners with exquisite china and silver. For all of the concerns about whether the Crawley family can afford repairs to the roof, they have generational wealth and privilege that has a fairy tale quality. “Cinderella” is a fairy tale, too, and the concerns, challenges, and relationships of the staff, all safely in the past, allow a measure of safety as we convince ourselves that there is more opportunity and equality today.

This latest update may be called “A New Era” but it is even more of an old-fashioned fairy tale than the last one because of the gentleness of its storylines. It begins with a wedding. The last movie ended with a strong suggestion that the family connections would be shored up further when the chauffeur-turned-son-in-law, Tom Branson (Allen Leech) was falling in love with Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton), the illegitimate daughter of an estranged cousin, Maude Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton). This made the Crowleys happy because it would keep the property Lucy was inheriting from Maude connected to the Crawley family. Oh, and it would be nice for single dad Tom to find love, too.

And then the very large cast splits and goes in two different directions Dame Maggie Smith as the acid-tongued doyenne Violet Grantham has unexpectedly inherited a villa in the French Rivera from a man she knew when she was a young newlywed. His widow is considering challenging the will but his son has invited the Crowleys to visit.

Lady Mary, who is running things at Downton now, as accepted a lucrative offer from a film crew that wants to use Downton to make a movie about a high society romance. Well, they had to top the last film’s visit from the king and queen. Downton, as often happens, is caught between two traditions: the traditions of dignity, decorum, status, and remove from the activities of those without a title, and the tradition of keeping the roof from leaking and continuing to care for the family and the servants and as much of the way of life as they can continue to sustain.

Both stories take turns that range from melodramatic to preposterous, the film-within-a-film story landing somewhere between an early 20th century meta-verse and an audacious twist taken from one of the all-time-most beloved movies in history. But after all this time, the audience is not there for the plots. This is a film that has time for a full, rollicking jazz performance. We are there for the elegance and glamor, the costumes, the comfy familiarity. If you are not already a fan, this is not a place to start. But if you’re hoping for happy endings for almost every character — and if you are enough of a fan to know that when a member of the nobility and a servant are mistakenly thought to be a married couple that it is both a wink (the actors are married in real life) and a nod to the themes of changing times (like the jazz number and the movie production) and eroding class distinctions, then you will be as delighted as I was.

Parents should know that this film includes discussions of adultery and paternity and a sad death.

Family discussion: Which character do you enjoy the most and why? Were you surprised by the decisions made by Violet and Lady Mary?

If you like this, try: the “Downton Abbey” series and the other series from Julian Fellowes, including “Doctor Thorne,” “The Gilded Age,” and “Belgravia”

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The Many Saints of Newark

Posted on September 30, 2021 at 5:45 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drug dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and graphic violence including crime violence, murders, and riots
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 1, 2021

Copyright 2021 Warner Brothers

On January 10, 1999, HBO audiences first met a New Jersey mob boss named Tony Soprano, played by James Gandolfini. He was a brilliantly written, even more brilliantly acted character, in 86 episodes over six seasons, winning every possible award and accolade. The conflicts he faced, and, even more compellingly, the conflicts he embodied as a ruthless killer who loved his family made him one of the most vivid, complex, fascinating characters in the history of television or even the history of fiction. In the show’s first episode, Tony meets with Dr. Melfi, a therapist. The struggle between the honesty, empathy, and accountability central to therapeutic resolution and the secrecy and ruthlessness necessary for survival in criminal operations provided the basis for the series.

But the show was not named “Tony Soprano.” It was named for the entire family, the biological family (Tony’s mother, uncle, cousin-in-law, and sister played central roles, along with his wife, son, and daughter) and the crime family, as mobsters are termed internally and by law enforcement. Six years gave us a deep dive into the life and internal conflicts of Tony Soprano, and now the people behind the series show us something about how he got there with “The Many Saints of Newark,” with Michael Gandolfini, sone of the late James Gandolfini, as the teenage Tony.

Any film based on a much-beloved work has to be evaluated on two levels. Let’s start with the audience who has little or no connection to the series. The film represents the same complex, layered story-telling as the series and stands alone as a powerful exploration of themes of nature and nurture, destiny and choice, that have been the source of powerful story-telling as long as there have been stories. Fans of the series, especially those who payed very attention to detail, will appreciate both the references that might be characterized as fan service (teenage Tony comments that baby Christopher always cries when he sees him, we get to see how Uncle Junior hurt his back) and those that deepen and enrich the story we already hold dear.

In the series there were a number of references to Richard “Dickie” Moltisanti, father of Christopher and cousin of Tony’s wife Carmela, though he died in the 1970s, before the series began. “The Many Saints of Newark” makes him a central character, played by Alessandro Nivola. He is so good at disappearing into characters that he has not yet been recognized as one of the most talented actors in Hollywood. Here’s hoping this movie is the one that finally makes that clear to everyone.

Like Tony will be 20 years later, Dickie is conflicted. And some of his conflict centers on the young Tony (still a child in the early part of the movie, played by William Ludwig. Tony’s father, Johnny Boy Soprano, (Jon Bernthal) has little interest in his children and is out of the picture for much of young Tony’s life because he is in prison. Dickie is the closest to a father figure that Tony has, and there is genuine affection between them.

Dickie has his own issues. As Tony will later, he is conflicted about the choices he made and he compartmentalizes, holding on to the idea of himself as a good man, or at least a not entirely bad one. And yet he destroys the lives of people he cares about. Like the adult Tony, he brings his conflicts to a counselor of a kind, in his case an uncle who is serving a prison term for murder, played by Ray Liotta.

Dickie’s associate is Harold McBrayer, played by the magnetic Leslie Odom, Jr., the heart of the film. The racial politics of the era simmer and then explode into the real-life riots of 1967, the events of the time reflecting and affecting what is going on in the country and in the world of Dickie and his crime family. There are people who do not play by rules at great harm to others and there are people who break the rules to change the rules to make them better for others.

The movie opens in a cemetery, to the murmurs of the dead. A voice rises above the others, and he tells us that “the little fat kid,” Tony Soprano, killed him. And so, while Tony may think he has choices, we see him being pulled ineluctably to that moment when he will sit down with Dr. Melfi. At one point, Dickie tells Tony, “I understand you want to be a civilian and I respect that.” But in making a painful choice to try to help him go in a different direction, Dickie just makes it more difficult for Tony to do so. The drama is engrossing, the consequences are terrible, and these themes, of destiny and choice, provide emotional heft and a connection to the oldest and most enduring stories we know.

Parents should know that this is a movie about mob criminals and so it includes brutal violence, with many characters injured and killed. It also includes scenes of riots and looting, sexual references and situations and nudity, and constant very strong language.

Family discussion: Could Tony have become a “civilian?” Why didn’t he? What do we learn from the meeting with the school counselor?

If you like this, try: “The Sopranos” and “Goodfellas”

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The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run

Posted on March 4, 2021 at 5:35 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for rude humor, some thematic elements, and mild language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Scene in bar
Violence/ Scariness: Cartoon-style peril and violence zombies, character incinerated, threat of execution, kidnapping
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 5, 2021

Copyright 2021 Paramount
Resistance is futile. SpongeBob is going to win you over. So settle back to enjoy the ebullient silliness, sweet friendship, origin story details, and very surprising guest stars in “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run.”

A quick recap. SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) is a Sponge who lives in an underwater community called Bikini Bottom. His best friend is a starfish named Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke). He loves his pet snail, Gary. And he works as a fry cook at a restaurant called the Krusty Krab with a legendary dish called Krabby Patties. Their rival, Sheldon Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) is always trying to steal the recipe, and, as is pointed out in this film, is always foiled by SpongeBob, whose clueless innocence somehow unknowingly thwarts all of Plankton’s nefarious plans. When Plankton’s “robot wife” explains this to him, Plankton decides he has to focus on SpongeBob. And when he sees a flier from Poseidon (Matt Berry) offering a reward for delivery of a snail….Plankton steals Gary. Why does Poseidon want a snail? Because all he cares about is how he looks and he has depleted all of the skin-restoring slime of all the snails he has. (SpongeBob might be silly, very very silly, but some of it is based on life, which is also very very silly at times. Snail slime is indeed used for skin care.) Poseidon’s Chancellor is delightfully voiced by Reggie Watts. And Plankton’s robot Otto is voiced by the equally delightful Awkwafina.

And so SpongeBob and Patrick take to the road to rescue Gary, and they meet all kinds of interesting and surprising and hilariously and perfectly cast creatures along the way, including a wise, if Delphic, talking tumbleweed named Sage (Keanu Reeves) and dancing zombies led by El Diablo himself (Danny Trejo). We get a flashback to the childhood days of the characters when they first met at camp (this is a teaser for an upcoming new spin-off series). And we get to see SpongeBob and Patrick squabble, make up, and get happily sidetracked in the Lost City of Atlantic City. The quips, from goofy to (comparatively) sophisticated keep coming, it’s all very colorful, and did I mention Keanu?

Parents should know that this movie has cartoon-style peril and humor, though some love action zombies and the incineration of a character might be too much for very young or very sensitive viewers. There is some schoolyard language and a threat of execution.

Family discussion: What was Sage’s most important advice? Why did Patrick and SpongeBob get distracted? If you had a bravery coin, what would you do with it?

If you like this, try: the SpongeBob television series, games, comic books, and other movies

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