The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Posted on April 17, 2024 at 8:08 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some language and strong violence throughout
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive wartime violence with guns, knives, arrows, explosions, many characters killed, many graphic and disturbing sounds and images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 19, 2024

It is a perfect match of story and director. Guy Ritchie is at his best in high-energy stories of very attractive men with mad fighting skills and no hesitation in using them. In between shoot-outs, explosions, and high crimes, casually toss off understated quips and references to the playing fields of Eton. This is a true story with exactly those components, plus a ton of nameless Nazis and one guy who is described as even worse than a Nazi, so killing them is as close to guilt-free as possible. He has a lot of fun with it.

Copyright Lionsgate 2024

The group of highly skilled renegades are described in the book that inspired this film as the first special forces military operatives. And we hear the British commanders explain that if Hitler isn’t following the rules, they won’t either. “They’re all bad,” warns one. “They’ll need to be,” responds another.

Of course that means they do not obey orders, either, but that’s what you get when you get a man out of prison to put together a group of cut-throats and renegades, one who is also in prison, but in his case being tortured in a German POW camp. Their mission is to go to the Ivory Coast and sink the supply ship that services the U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean.

On to the strategy, the revising of the strategy when things go wrong, the stunts, the shoot-outs, the action-banter, remix and repeat, plus a thumpy score with some cowboy twang by Christopher Benstead.

Cavill, formerly clean-cut and dashing as Superman and in the under-appreciated “The Man From UNCLE,” is even better in scruffy mode here as Gus March-Phillips. “Reacher’s” Alan Ritchson and “Crazy Rich Asian’s” Henry Golding also seem to be enjoying a chance to have some fun with their roles. The team needs some back-up help from undercover operatives, which is where we get to enjoy Babs Olusanmokun as Heron, who runs the local nightclub and “Third Body Problem’s” Eiza González as Majorie Stewart, sultry singer, sharpshooter, and, as a cover, gold smuggler.

And then there is the bad guy, described by Heron as “the only guy worse than a Nazi,” the cruel local commanding officer, (Til Schweiger), providing additional menace and urgency as the final operation becomes complicated and chaotic. Ritchie gets lost in the bombast and is too cheery about the carnage. He has no time for character or emotional heft beyond our feelings based on what we know about the history. There’s no substance, but it is entertaining.

Worth mentioning: a senior office in charge, played by “The Princess Bride’s” Cary Elwes, is known as M and one of the junior officers is a young Ian Fleming, played by Freddie Fox. Yes, that Ian Fleming, and the closing credits tell us that he got some of his ideas for James Bond from this experience.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent film set in wartime, with a lot of guns, knives, arrows, and explosions, some torture, prostitutes and implied sexual abuse, with many disturbing and graphic sounds and images. Characters use strong language and there is drinking and drunkenness.

Family discussion: What rules work during a war? Why aren’t all military operations conducted this way? How is war today different from this story?

If you like this, try: the book by Damien Lewis (the writer, not the actor) and films like “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Guns of Navarone”

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The Beautiful Game

Posted on March 28, 2024 at 12:56 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language, a suggestive reference, brief partial nudity and drug references
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: References to drug abuse, alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Reference to tragic violence
Diversity Issues: Class issues

“We sat up late into the night talking about how we could change the world.” That was the origin of the Homeless World Cup. Mel Young and Harald Schmied attended an international meeting of editors, founders, and directors of street newspapers, staffed by people who were unhoused. They wanted to create an opportunity for other unhoused people to have the same opportunity to attend an international event devoted to showing their best. What could unite the world more than a Homeless World Cup of “the beautiful game” of football, the “universal language,” except, of course, when the US insists on calling it soccer.

So this is a based-on-a-true-story underdog sports team story, with touching lessons about teamwork and sportsmanship. It has extra resonance because it shows us unhoused people are individuals, and without being preachy, the film reminds us that some people in that category are damaged, have mental illness or addiction issues. Some made bad choices and some just had very bad luck. Some have just been away from regular human interaction for so long they have forgotten the basics. But with a goal and team, they have purpose. “The miracle is respect,” one of the game’s organizers says.

This film has a ton of heart, lively sports action, beautiful scenery, and the true MVP every time we see him, Bill Nighy as Mal, the coach of the English team.

Mal sees Vinny (Micheal Ward, a standout in “Empire of Light”) playing with a soccer ball in a park and offers him a chance to go to the Homeless World Cup in Rome as a part of the England team. Vinny insists that he is not homeless and is insulted for being thought to be. But the chance to play, to have something to be proud of to share with his young daughter, is too much to resist, and he finds himself on a plane with Mal and the rest of the team. The other players include Nathan (Callum Scott Howells), Aldar (Robin Nazari), and Cal (Kit Young). As we might expect, we learn something about the backstories of the team and the players learn something about teams. In this case, since the rules of the Homeless World Cup allow members of one country’s team to substitute on another, the team is soccer in the largest sense and the entire unhoused community.

It is touching to see the team checking into the modest hotel and seeing it as luxurious. “Is it okay to use the shower?” one asks, almost unable to believe. The fierce commitment of the players is touching, too, but not as touching as one team’s reminding their coach that for them, winning means being a part of something and seeing the beauty of The Eternal City. The small audience in the bleachers is almost superfluous. The players are the fans, bringing as much enthusiasm as a cheering crowd filling an arena.

The idea of “winning,” like the idea of “team” is constantly enlarged. The beats of the story are specific and meaningful. The members of the team may not have a place to live but the team is their home. Don’t let Neflix cut off the credits, as the scenes of the real Homeless World Cup participants are wonderful.

“A dash of panache, please.” “True champions show their worth in defeat” “Everyone has a reason for being here.” the name of that miracle is respect Not homeless England is their home. priests in cassocks playing with s soccer ball, scenery

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language, brief non-sexual rear nudity, and references to drug addiction, gambling addiction, and child neglect.

Family discussion: What made Vinny change his mind about the team? About acknowledging that he was homeless? Why does the World Cup mean so much to the players?

If you like this, try: “Greenfingers” and the documentary, “Kicking It.”

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Posted on March 5, 2024 at 9:41 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material, some violence, language and smoking
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and alcoholism, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence including a fire, reference to suicide, dire poverty, loss of parents, serious illness
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie

Frances Xavier Cabrini was an Italian nun who became the first US citizen to be canonized as a saint. Sent to the US by the Pope in 1889, she established an order called the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and, despite poor health, she fought poverty, misogyny, and bigotry against Italian immigrants to establish schools, hospitals, orphans’ homes, and support services in several cities and countries.

This lush, respectful film stars Cristiana Dell’Anna as Mother Cabrini, David Morse as the Archbishop who sees her as a distraction who wants to divert his sources of funding, John Lithgow as the major of New York City who tries to stop her, and Giancarlo Giannini as the Pope who responds to her request to send her to do relief work in Africa by telling her she must go “not to the East but to the West.” He knows there is tremendous prejudice against the Italian immigrants in the US and no established welfare system for the poor or for children without parents.

Director and co-writer Alejandro Monteverde (“The Sound of Freedom”) has described the film as “a painting” of Cabrini’s life, and the sumptuous production values are breathtaking. Director of Cinematography Gorka Gómez Andreu makes every shot glow with light and life and production designer Carlos Lagunas creates 19th century Italy and New York so vibrantly we are utterly immersed in Mother Cabrini’s world. No expense was spared, no corners were cut, and so all of the many different locations are filled with fascinating detail.

The storyline is simple. People try to stop Mother Cabrini from helping her community and she does not give up. There are terrible setbacks — corruption, fire, her own physical frailty. There is prejudice, even contempt, for Italian immigrants. But she never loses faith and she never lessens her determination and resilience. Dell’Anna’s eyes are wonderfully expressive, and she makes the small woman in the severe habit a vital, moving presence.

Parents should know that this film includes dire poverty, bigotry, orphaned children, a reference to suicide, serious illness, and a fire.

Family discussion: Nuns are normally required to show humility and obedience. Why was Mother Cabrini different? What made her effective?

If you like this, try: “Mother Teresa: No Greater Love” and “The Two Popes”

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Bob Marley: One Love

Posted on February 14, 2024 at 9:23 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for marijuana use and smoking throughout, some violence and brief strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Extended marijuana use
Violence/ Scariness: Perll and violence including guns, fire, fights
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie

“One Love” does a better job of conveying the love reggae superstar Bob Marley’s family has for him than in showing us why we should love him, too. This movie, produced with the involvement of Marley’s widow and some of his reportedly 11 children, is a love letter to the international star, who died of cancer in 1981, just 36 years old.

The film has very strong performances by Kingsley Ben-Adir as Marley and especially Lashana Lynch as his wife, Rita, who also performed with him. Lynch gets to explore a range of emotions with Rita, from loving and supportive to angry and hurt to the devastating grief of her husband’s cancer diagnosis. Ben-Adir shows us Marley’s charisma onstage, but other than one furious outburst, he’s pretty much all “Yah, mon,” and smoking weed.

There are two parts to the story. First is the traditional music biopic, a young person with performing ambitions, the time before success, the time when someone at the recording studio notices the talent, the contract, the tour with bigger and bigger and biggest audiences cheering madly, the records zooming up the charts. A bit of a new twist; in this case the recording studio guy pulls a gun on them before he lets them in. That is because this is Jamaica during the very violent and politically volatile era following its independence in 1962. Early in the film, we see Marley, Rita, their manager and a bandmates were shot by armed intruders into the Marley home, two days before they were scheduled to perform at a free unity concert. They did make it to the concert, and we get to see Marley’s loose-limbed dance around the microphone.

This part also includes another traditional element of biopics about hugely successful and impactful figures; the stress on the family. This is where we get to see Lynch’s extraordinary, deeply vulnerable and loving portrayal of Rita. But we do not get to learn more about the children both had by other partners or about what the impact was on the children to be sent to live with Marley’s mother in Delaware while he recorded in London and toured in Europe.

The second part of the story is the role that Marley played as a symbol of Jamaican unity. We see it but do not fully understand why, other than being a Jamaican who has become a worldwide superstar who has returned home to sing for his countrymen. While his song lyrics include references to freedom and love, and we see him on stage with the leaders of both parties, the connection to the issues and conflicts of his country is never explored. And Marley himself, always in a cloud of smoke, seems disengaged. Like so much in this film, his conversion to Rastafarianism is noted, but not illuminated.

Parents should know that this movie features extended drug use, violence including guns and fire, references to marital and family dysfunction including affairs and parental abandonment, and strong language.

Family discussion: Why was Marley the worldwide breakthrough for reggae? Why were his concerts in Jamaica so important to the people there?

If you like this, try: the documentary “Marley,” and more from Ben-Adir like “One Night in Miami…” (as Malcolm X) and “The Comey Rule” (as Barack Obama) and Lynch in “The Woman King” and “Captain Marvel”

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Martin Luther King

Movies About Martin Luther King for Families

Posted on January 15, 2024 at 1:09 pm

Martin Luther King
Copyright 1963 PBS

As we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, every family should take time to talk about this great American leader and hero of the Civil Rights Movement. There are outstanding films and other resources for all ages.

I highly recommend the magnificent movie Boycott, starring Jeffrey Wright as Dr. King. And every family should study the history of the Montgomery bus boycott that 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.

Families should also read They Walked To Freedom 1955-1956: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Paul Winfield has the lead in King, a brilliant and meticulously researched NBC miniseries co-starring Cecily Tyson that covers Dr. King’s entire career.

The March, narrated by Denzel Washington, is a documentary about the historic March on Washington with Dr. King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. Rustin, produced by Barack and Michelle Obama and featuring a magnificent performance by Colman Domingo, came out in 2023.

The brilliant film Selma tells the story of the fight for voting rights.

The Long Walk Home, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek, makes clear that the boycott was a reminder to black and white women of their rights and opportunities — and risk of change.

Citizen King is a PBS documentary with archival footage of Dr. King and his colleagues.

Martin Luther King Jr. – I Have a Dream has his famous speech in full, still one of the most powerful moments in the history of oratory and one of the most meaningful moments in the history of freedom.

For children, Our Friend, Martin and Martin’s Big Words are a good introduction to Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement.

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