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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Posted on December 17, 2023 at 4:30 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some language and drug use
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drugs, cigarettes
Violence/ Scariness: Tense emotional confrontations, serious medical problems, sad death
Diversity Issues: Some references to antisemitism and prejudice against LGBTQIA people
Date Released to Theaters: December 15, 2023

Copyright 2023 Netflix
There are moments in “Maestro” that are as stunning and bravura as the works of the brilliant man who is the subject of the film. It is the story of one of the formative figures of 20th century music, composer/conductor/musician/educator Leonard Bernstein. Bradley Cooper co-wrote, directed and stars as Bernstein, whose music provides every note of the score and sometimes commentary on the narrative. Some of his choices work better than others, but every frame of the film reflects his profound immersion in Bernstein’s life and his growing mastery of cinematic storytelling.

It begins with a brilliant introduction to Bernstein as a character and to his story at an early turning point. Bernstein answers the phone. His voice is measured. Someone is ill. He expresses concern. But that means a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the second he gets off the call his ecstatic jubilation bursts from him as he kisses the man in his bed and races down to the theater, still in his robe. Conductor Bruno Walter is ill and Bernstein will conduct that night’s concert. To call it a triumph is an understatement. It was a sensation. And Cooper the director makes us not just see but feel it.

One of Bernstein’s early compositions was the music for what would become the musical and later Gene Kelly film “On the Town.” Cooper makes a very daring choice by having Bernstein and his date and future wife Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) attend a rehearsal that becomes something of a dream ballet. The characters interact with the dancers to show us the developing dynamic of their relationship.

In another extraordinary scene, Bernstein and Felicia, now married and middle-aged, are having an argument in their Manhattan apartment. It is staged with a deep understanding of the characters, their deep but sometimes toxic connection, and of how we as the audience take in the setting. Felicia sits by the window, still but furious. Leonard hunches over in a chair, talking quickly, deflecting rather than engaging. Surreally, outside the window, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade is passing by and in the next room the Bernstein children are calling out to their parents to come see Snoopy. Every detail of pacing, composition, and emotion is superb.

And one more unforgettable scene — Cooper re-enacts Bernstein conducting Mahler’s 2nd that does more than copy the physicality of Bernstein’s version as it was filmed; he inhabits it, showing us the passion, the depth of understanding, and the way Bernstein was able to communicate the most delicate nuance to a huge number of musicians and singers.

This movie is not about Bernstein as the musician and composer. There are documentaries and scholarly analyses and archival clips for that. This is about Felicia and how their relationship reflected his conflicts but made possible his achievements.
This is the story of the marriage of two people who loved each other deeply and loved their children. Felicia knew that Leonard was gay or bi-sexual (as indicated by the “On the Town” scene) before they were married and she was confident that her acceptance would make their connected impenetrable in any meaningful way. But it is much harder than she expected. It is not just about who he is physically attracted to. It is that seduction is as core to him as music. Cooper at times, especially in scenes that re-create archival material like the Edward R. Murrow television interview, seems to be replicating Bernstein. But in much of the film, especially those moments when he is thrilled by someone new, we see it is all of one piece with his furious engagement with music, with creative partners, with romantic partners, with his children and his environment — to him, with all of life.

Parents should know that this film has extended mature material including sexual references and situations, very strong language, drinking, constant smoking, tense emotional confrontations, serious illness, and a sad death.

Family discussion: What should Leonard have said to his daughter? What held Leonard and Felicia together? Do you have a favorite of his compositions?

If you like this, try: Bernstein’s music in “Candide,” “On the Town,” and “West Side Story” and his wonderful Young People’s Concerts. And learn more about the years of study that went into this performance.

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Posted on November 20, 2023 at 7:06 am

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence, some grisly images, sexual content and brief language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Very graphic and disturbing images in scenes of battle
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 22, 2023

Copyright 2023 Columbia
Napoleon Bonaparte is one of history’s most consequential figures but you will not understand him or his influence any better after watching Ridley Scott’s almost-three-hour epic. Joaquin Phoenix plays the general-turned emperor-turned exile-turned emperor again and then again turned exile, and Vanessa Kirby plays his wife, Josephine, to whom he wrote sizzling love letters, some included in the film, along with some of the gigantic battles he fought and won and one he lost so resoundingly that its name persists hundreds of years later as a term for career-ending failure.

The press notes for the film tell us that we will see Napoleon’s life “through the prism” of his volatile relationship with Josephine. It does not do either. Phoenix, who makes little effort to change his age or facial expression as the film covers decades, is burdened with some truly terrible dialogue, including what may be this year’s single worst line: “Fate has brought me to this lamb chop.” The legend of Napoleon inspired the name of the psychological syndrome of grandiosity, a supreme, all-encompassing sense of superiority. In this film, that is indicated with comments like, “I admit when I make a mistake. But I never make a mistake.”

As for that prism of the relationship, it does not live up to the love letters. Napoleon seems to be obsessed with Josephine, more about possessing her than being close to her or even considering her feelings in any way. He makes love like he wages battle — it’s about moving fast and destroying the other side.

Josephine’s feelings about Napoleon are more practical. When they meet, her confinement as a political prisoner is so recent her hair has not grown out. She showed her survival skill by escaping the fate of her first husband, who was executed, by getting pregnant. about her survival and then, as he rises in stature, she seems to enjoy the attention and fancy clothes and parties.

The movie careens back and forth between the zoomed-in, intimate but chilly portrayal of the marriage and the zoomed-out epic battle scenes, artfully staged but even with graphic carnage, remote. As the Duke of Wellington, Rupert Everett, arriving well past the two-hour mark, reminds us what a vivid and arresting performance brings to a film.

Director Ridley Scott has promised a four-hour version for streaming, so maybe that will be smoother and do a better job of integrating the different parts of the story. In that case, perhaps it is best to think of this as a very long trailer.

Parents should know that this is an R-rated film with graphic and disturbing images of battles that include guns and swords. As we are told before the closing credits, millions of people were killed, and we see some of the injuries and deaths in very explicit detail. A character is killed offscreen by guillotine, to the approving cheers of a crowd. There are sexual references, including adultery, and very explicit sexual situations. Characters drink and use some strong language.

Family discussion: What were Napoleon’s greatest strengths and weaknesses? Why did the French return to a monarchy?

If you like this, try: the silent Abel Gance classic, “Napoleon”

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Posted on June 20, 2022 at 9:00 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for substance abuse, strong language, suggestive material and smoking
Date Released to Theaters: June 24, 2022
Date Released to DVD: September 12, 2022

Copyright Warner Brothers 2022
Director Baz Luhrmann is a natural choice for the story of Elvis Presley, both known for the ultimate in showmanship, making excess into an asset. Right off the bat, the nearly-three-hour movie opens with a bedazzled version of the Warner Brothers logo, as though it was designed by the tailor who did Elvis’ late-career wardrobe. Unabashedly theatrical, even more unabashedly on the side of its title subject, “Elvis” is a love letter, not a history lesson. It celebrates excess; it almost wallows in it. But it does so joyfully.

It begins with Colonel or rather “Colonel” Parker (Tom Hanks in a fat suit, with a weird accent and fake nose. “Citizen Kane” style, on what could be his deathbed, reminiscing about what he has loved and lost. As we hear his narration, we see him, in his hospital gown, wandering through a deserted Las Vegas casino, telling us about his connection to the young singer from Tupelo.

Elvis (played as a boy by Chaydon Jay) lives with his parents Vernon (Richard Roxburgh) and Gladys (Helen Thomson) in a Black neighborhood, where he is thrilled by the music around him, the sacred (gospel) and the profane (down and dirty blues). He is also immersed in country music, and somehow he (played as a teen and adult by a terrific Austin Butler) finds a way to synthesize all three into proto-rock and roll. Colonel Parker, a carny promoter, hears his music and realizes that he has the opportunity of the century, a white singer who sounds Black. Elvis is on the bill with a country star. He’s nervous at first on stage in his flamboyant pink suit, but then, like the revival meeting attendees struck by the spirit, he is, well, all shook up. And so is the audience. It’s almost like the Conrad Birdie “Sincere” scene in “Bye Bye Birdie.” Luhrmann brings a palpable, kinetic energy to the scene that is cheekily over the top.

The musical numbers (all but the very early ones with Elvis’ own voice) are dynamic, and an extended section where Colonel Parker sells the television network and the sponsor on an Elvis Christmas special featuring Elvis in a Christmas sweater singing carols and “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Elvis, still true to his muse, insists on wearing a black leather suit (now iconic, as is that entire 1968 special. The world changed around him but Elvis was never less than a thrilling performer, as we see at the end of film, with a short clip of his last performance, clearly ill and impaired, but nailing one of the most difficult songs of all, “Unchained Melody.”

The musical numbers: great. The romance with teenage Priscilla: not given much attention. The relationship with Colonel Parker: the central focus of the movie and the weakest part of the movie. We get no real insight into the internal lives of either characters; there’s an emptiness to the film when Elvis is not on stage. That could be the point of the movie, but it never acknowledges it. Tom Hanks never disappears into Colonel Parker. Compare him to Paul Giamatti in the similarly themed “Love and Mercy,” where the individuals and the manipulative, enticing, and abusive elements of the relationship were much more clearly defined.

I enjoyed the film. But then I came home and watched a half hour of clips of Elvis, and I enjoyed that a lot more.
Parents should know that this movie includes sex (non-explicit), drugs, and of course rock and roll, along with some bad behavior, relationship conflicts, and sad deaths.

Family discussion: Why was it so hard for Elvis to break off his relationship with Colonel Parker? How did Colonel Parker manipulate him? How is celebrity different today and how is it the same?

If you like this, try: Some of Elvis’ best movies like “Jailhouse Rock” and “Viva Las Vegas”

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