Misbehaviour

Posted on September 24, 2020 at 5:52 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Scuffles
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 25, 2020

Copyright Pathe 2020
Let’s start with a little context. In 1970, when “Misbehaviour” takes place, my high school hosted two events, a father-son dinner with a presentation by our Congressman, later Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and a mother-daughter dinner with a presentation by a representative from a cosmetic company with an update on the latest looks and products for sale. No one raised any objections. This was at the very beginning of what was being called the women’s liberation movement. Two years before, protesters staged an event near the Miss America pageant (the urban legend is that they burned bras, but in reality they threw bras, girdles, false eyelashes, and other symbols into a garbage can). “Misbehaviour” (note British spelling) is the story of a 1970 protest, endearingly mild by today’s standards, at the London-based Miss World competition.

Miss World is the oldest televised international beauty pageant, founded by TV host Eric Morley (Rhys Ifans) and first broadcast in 1959. So it began just as the tumult of the 1960’s was about to happen, and an all-white beauty pageant with a master of ceremonies making jokes like “I care about women’s feelings; I like feeling women” was very shortly going to be something of a target for protests from the increasingly vocal protesters about racial and gender equality. That collision is already the subject of a documentary, “Miss World 1970: Beauty Queens and Bedlam,” and it is now a feature film, with Keira Knightley as a single mother working on a history degree, Jessie Buckley as an activist, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a contestant. Also: Greg Kinnear as Bob Hope, the man who made the joke about feeling women.

Production designer Cristina Casali evocatively creates the earth-toned era of the early 1970’s and writers Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe bring a nuanced and empathetic approach to the story and the real-life characters, heartwarmingly glimpsed with updates over the final credits. Knightley plays Sally Alexander, who explains to a clearly disapproving admissions committee in the film’s opening scenes that she is divorced and has a child but promises that if she is admitted she will be able to keep up with her classes. She believes in women’s rights but her view is to achieve equality by getting “a seat at the table.” Jo Robinson (Buckley) is a radical who spray-paints protest slogans and lives in a commune. She wants more than a seat at the table; she wants to knock it over and stomp it to smithereens.

Change is already underway at the pageant. The threat of protests over yet another white contestant from South Africa, still operating under apartheid, leads Morley to insist on two candidates. So Miss South Africa is the white contestant, and there is a black contestant with the title Miss Africa South. There is another Black contestant as well, Miss Ghana (Mbatha-Raw).

And there is Bob Hope, who accepts the emcee job as he flirts with his new teen-aged secretary, breaking a promise to his wife, Dolores (another exquisitely delicate performance by Lesley Manville). He does more than joke about feeling women, and the last time he hosted the show, he brought the winner back to LA with him.

Sally becomes less moderate as her advisor tells her that her proposal to study women is too “niche” and she sees her young daughter prance around in imitation of the beauty queens. And so she and Jo come up with a plan to disrupt the pageant.

Director Philippa Lowthorpe skillfully balances all of the different stories and themes. In one (apparently fictional) meeting between Sally and the winner of the competition, we see that the images that bothered Sally when her daughter was imitating them could be seen by some young girls in marginalized communities as opening up opportunities for them to think of themselves as beautiful and powerful. On the other hand, this was a competition where the measurements of each contestant were announced as she walked across the stage and they were all lined up in bathing suits and turned around so the audience at home and in the theater could closely examine their rear views. And their rears.

Americans are likely to wonder what might happen in the US if protesters used water pistols. But in England, where even police don’t carry guns, the response is as low-key as the protest. That leaves breathing space for us to consider all of the experiences that went into the protest and what it represented to the women involved, including, in a lovely moment, Dolores Hope.

Oh, and, ten years later, Miss World rebranded itself as “Beauty with a Purpose.”

Parents should know that the subjects of this movie include racism and sexism. There is some mild language and sexist humor, and there are some scuffles during the protest.

Family discussion: Do you watch beauty pageants? How have they changed over the years?

If you like this, try: “Pride,” the true story of gay activists who supported the miner’s strike in Thatcher-era Britain and “Made in Dagenham,” the true story of women striking for equal pay in 1968

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Radioactive

Posted on July 23, 2020 at 5:58 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, brief nudity and a scene of sensuality
Profanity: Mild language and sexual references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: WWI battle scenes,
Date Released to Theaters: July 24, 2020
Copyright 2020 Amazon Studios

Biopics, even the most sincere, even about the most fascinating real-life characters, even made by directors who are willing to break with the traditional structure, still two things are true. First, the only thing that really matters is the lead performance. Second, there is really no way to get around the basic structure that all lives follow and all biopics follow except those like “Jobs” that focus one or just a few incidents. We see crucial early experiences that either reveal the subject’s special talent or some life-forming experience or both. We see struggle. We see people who foolishly do not believe our subject can succeed. We see our subject succeed.There’s usually a setback or special mid-point challenge. And then we see how it ends.

Marie Curie certainly had a fascinating life and Rosamund Pike gives her considerable best. She is never less than mesmerizing. I particularly enjoyed watching her in the first half of the movie, as we see her struggling to be taken seriously as a scientist when she knows she is better than the men who look down at her because she is a woman, because she is Polish, and because she is not shy about letting them know she is better than they are. It’s almost a proto-“Big Bang Theory,” the way that the same determination, single-mindedness, unstoppable curiosity, and relentless quest for truth that makes her a scientist is what makes it difficult for her to get along with anyone well enough to get her the resources she needs to do her experiments.

And that is when she meets Pierre Curie. He tells her he has read her work and it is brilliant. She tells him she has read his and it is very good. He offers her a space in his lab. Her insight and his ideas about how to prove her theories like two covalent bonds or a double helix. A lot happens very fast as the brilliance of her discoveries is evident when she just 32 when her paper on radium was published. But the movie stops for a dinner party so that Marie can explain her research to a non-scientist friend, and to us.

It then hurtles along, trying to cram in every crisis faced by Marie, from continued gender discrimination to being accused of adultery after Pierre’s death, when her letters to her married lover were made public by his wife. Most interesting, and worth an entire movie of its own, is her service during WWI, when she developed portable X-ray machines that saved thousands of lives and prevented needless surgery. Like the man for whom the most important scientific award in the world is named, Alfred Nobel, Marie Curie’s great achievement was responsible for incalculable benefits (we see an early cancer patient treated with radiation) and unthinkable tragedy (we see a Hiroshima resident looking up to see the Enola Gay, and the ravages of Chernobyl. This makes things a bit muddled, but Pike’s stirring performance makes us believe we get a sense of Marie Curie’s fierce intelligence and even may make us wonder about what discoveries we can make.

Parents should know that this film includes WWI battle scenes and characters who have been wounded, characters who are ill and dying and references to deaths of family members, brief rear nudity, non-explicit sexual situation, and references to adultery.

Family discussion: What do we learn from Marie’s reaction to the death of her mother? Why does this film include glimpses of events long after Marie’s death? What can we do to make sure that what we learn about and invent is used to benefit humankind and not for wars and violence?

If you like this, try: the glow-in-the-dark graphic novel the film is based on and another film about scientists and inventors, The Current War.

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The Outpost

Posted on July 2, 2020 at 5:50 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for war violence and grisly images, pervasive language, and sexual references
Profanity: Constant very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Substance abuse, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense wartime peril and violence, very graphic and disturbing images, many characters injured and killed, possible suicide attempt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 3, 2020

Copyright ScreenMedia 2020
There are war stories that are about strategy and courage and triumph over evil that let us channel the heroism of the characters on screen. And then there are war stories that are all of that but also engage in the most visceral terms with questions of purpose and meaning that touch us all. “The Outpost,” based on the book by news correspondent Jake Tapper, is that rare film in the second category, an intimate, immersive drama from director Rod Lurie, a West Point graduate and Army veteran who knows this world inside out and brings us from the outside in.

The script by Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy wisely avoids the usual expository dialogue as a newcomer is introduced to the group. Instead, we get a crisp, military briefing-style scene-setting with on-screen text informing us that the military has set up outposts in areas that are impossible to defend and given the 53 soldiers there the impossible task of both befriending the locals and fighting off the Taliban. This one is Combat Outpost Keating, located in a near-indefensible mountain-enclosed area in Afghanistan 14 miles from the Pakistani border.

Lurie and his cast, including Orlando Bloom, Scott Eastwood, and breakout star Caleb Landry Jones, understand the small revelatory moments, the trash-talk and taunting that is the way people away from home and coping with unendurable uncertainty connect to each other. Then there are the brief calls home when they pretend to be normal and maintain those connections. As a sign nearby reminds them to keep the calls to 10 minutes, one soldier puffs away while assuring his wife that he stopped smoking. A series of new commanding officers each bring his own ideas and style of communication. Over the course of the movie, we see how much we expect from the military, from 21st century warfare to diplomacy. Over the closing credits, we get a devastating reminder of how heartbreakingly young these soldiers are.

There are telling moments in the interactions with the locals. The soldiers do their best to implement the policies they are there to carry out, which means “soft power” like paying them for their people who have been killed as collateral damage or even as enemy or possibly those who are dead by other means but maybe a way to get more money from the Americans. “I will lose my honor with my elders,” one explains via a translator. “I can regain my honor one of two ways. One way is for all of you to lay down your arms and watch as your communities flourish with the help of the US and Allah.” That support comes in the form of “money, contracts, projects.” The other way does not need to be explained to the Afghanis or to us. The outpost also has to develop sources of intelligence in a place where there is no reason for anyone to trust them and they do not speak the language. There is a local version of the boy who cried wolf, constantly warning of an attack but with no useful details. And then there are the attacks, always expected yet always unexpected because they never know when.

Impeccable camerawork from Lorenzo Senatore and editing by Michael J. Duthie give the film a documentary feel matched by understated, natural performances from the cast. We feel their exhaustion. And we feel their dedication, more important even than their training or their courage. Their loyalty to each other in the face of risk so dire the outpost is known as Camp Custer is itself the answer to the question the story raises about purpose, meaning, and why we are here. The question of why we are there it is wise enough not to try to resolve.

Parents should know that this is a war movie with constant, intense, and graphic military and terrorist violence, disturbing images, characters injured and killed, constant very strong and crude language, sexual humor, smoking and substance abuse.

Family discussion: Which was the best commanding officer of the outpost? How do the soldiers manage their stress?

If you like this, try: “Beaufort” and “1917”

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Protest: Movies for Families About Working for Justice and Progress

Posted on June 2, 2020 at 10:41 am

Copyright 2014 Cloud Eight Films

The news of 2020 may be confusing and scary for children. These movies will help families talk about how democracies allow ordinary citizens to work for change.

Selma:  “Selma,” director Ava DuVernay’s film about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital at Montgomery, to make the case for the right to vote, is superb as biography, as history, and as drama.

He Named Me Malala:  She risked everything to be allowed to learn. And now she is a world leader in advocating for other girls to have the same chance.

How to Survive a Plague: Extraordinary archival footage of the early days of AIDS activism makes this documentary especially vital and compelling. As writer/director David France told me, ““This isn’t a movie about what AIDS did to us. This is a movie about what we did to AIDS.” the people in this movie changed the way the medical and research communities interact with patients and their families who are coping with all diseases and conditions.

Boycott: The Montgomery bus boycott led by a young clergyman named Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the world.

It is humbling to remember that the boycotters never demanded complete desegregation of the public transit; that seemed too unrealistic a goal. This website has video interviews with the people who were there. This newspaper article describes Dr. King’s meeting with the bus line officials. And excellent teaching materials about the Montgomery bus boycott are available, including the modest and deeply moving reminder to the boycotters once segregation had been ruled unconstitutional that they should “demonstrate calm dignity,” “pray for guidance,” and refrain from boasting or bragging.

Mission Blue: World-renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle travels the globe on an urgent mission to shed light on the dire condition of Earth’s oceans.

Dolores: One of the most powerful activists on behalf of migrant workers is Dolores Huerta, who had to fight sexism as well as racism.

Amazing Grace:  The first ever citizen-led movement leading to peaceful social change was the British anti-slavery movement led by William Wilberforce, movingly depicted in this film. You can see the origins of the kinds of tactics and arguments that have formed the basis for every social movement since.

Made in Dagenham: Sally Hawkins stars in this fact-based story about women fighting for equal pay at a car company. It is a stirring and inspirational story and has a nuanced look at the political challenges as well as the professional ones.

1971: Before the Pentagon Papers, Edward Snowden, the Panama Papers, Wikileaks, and Chelsea Manning there was the first-ever leak of government documents. A group of activists broke into an FBI office and released documents showing abuse by law enforcement in a program called COINTELPRO. It was decades before anyone discovered who was responsible and we are just beginning to understand the impact of these revelations in loss of trust for government and changes of policy in the press.

Mighty Times: The Children’s March: This Oscar-winning documentary is the story of how the young people of Birmingham, Alabama, braved fire hoses and police dogs in 1963 to demand justice.

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Military Wives

Posted on May 21, 2020 at 5:26 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Not rated, some mature material
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, teen drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Offscreen wartime violence and peril, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters and issues of diversity
Date Released to Theaters: May 22, 2020
Copyright 2020 Bleeker Street

“They also serve who only stand and wait.” Those lines by Milton are a powerful reminder of the quiet struggles of the families left behind when soldiers go to war. “Military Wives” is based on the real-life story of British women who stood and waited while their spouses were fighting in Afghanistan, and came together to form a choir that inspired audiences and led to the creation of choirs on other military bases.

The choir is as much the result of opposing forces as common interests. Kate (a frosty Kristen Scott Thomas) is the wife of one of the base’s commanding officers. He is about to return to duty for the first time since the death of their only son in action. We get a sense of their different ways of grieving — and the way his death has driven them apart — as they talk about a photograph of their son. Should it be left casually on the refrigerator as it was when he was alive or upgraded to a frame and protected by glass?

Lisa (“Catastrophe’s” Sharon Horgan) seems to have been designed to annoy and be annoyed by Kate. She is earthy, unpretentious, and outspoken and just generally messy. She is, in theory, in charge of organizing the morale-boosting base activities for the spouses. But she is not by nature or inclination an organized person. She has a rebellious teenage daughter she can barely manage. And she considers Kate’s “helpful” suggestions snobbish and unrealistic. How much comfort can worried, lonely wives of soldiers get from a knitting club or a film series to explore the auteur theory?

But Lisa cannot dispute Kate’s point that the women “need something to focus on, something to keep them together.” The idea of singing seems to have some appeal. Lisa tentatively agrees but want to keep it casual. “It’s like a drop-in,” she tells the women. “And then you commit,” says Kate. “A lot of fun,” says Lisa. “And uplifting,” says Kate.

They have different ideas about what to sing and how to rehearse. But just as different notes can make beautiful harmonies, the two women find a way to combine forces and even develop some respect for one another. With some bumps along the way. Kate says “it has to be challenging to give them something else to think about.” But it turns out that the challenge is what helps them think about all of it — worry, grief, fear — better.

“It’s like ‘Sister Act’ without the Mafia hit men!” one character says cheerfully. No Mafia hit men, no nuns, but real war, with real casualties, and real pain. The real turning point is when the women bring the people they miss into their performance. And the real highlight is the glimpses we get of the real choir and the others it inspired over the closing credits.

Families should know that this film includes some strong language, teen misbehavior, and sad offscreen war-related injuries and deaths.

Family discussion: Did your sympathies toward the characters shift over the course of the movie? Why? How did characters find different ways to deal with stress?

If you like this, try: “Young at Heart,” a documentary about a choir of elderly singers

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