My Spy: Eternal City

My Spy: Eternal City

Posted on July 18, 2024 at 5:14 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence/action, some strong language, suggestive references, teen drinking, and a nude sculpture
Profanity: Strong language for a PG-13, f-word, s-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style violence, chases, explosions, guns, knives, punches, near-drowning, torture, attempted murder
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: July 19, 2024
Copyright 2024 MGM Amazon

Four years ago, the original “My Spy” was a familiar but mildly entertaining story about a cute 9-year-old teaming up with a gruff fighting machine, five tours in special forces CIA field agent. I questioned at the time why a movie about a 4th grader would be rated PG-13 for violence. That is an even bigger problem for the sequel, with Sophie (returning Chloe Coleman) now a 14-year-old in high school, and material that is too intense and inappropriate for young children but not interesting enough for teens and adults.

The first film matched up a fierce, all-but-emotionless tough guy who survived five tours of duty in special forces with an adorable little girl who wants to be a spy. Needless to say, no contest and — spoiler alert! — he’s pretty much a marshmallow (maybe one burnt around the edges) by the end of the movie. This one tries for the same kind of mixed match-up. The marshmallow, now the not-so-little girl’s step-dad, is up against something as daunting as a fighting machine veteran of special forces: adolescence.

Normally, I put this information at the end of the review, but because there is such a disconnect between the intended audience for “My Spy: Eternal City” and the content, I want to put it up front. This movie has some very strong language, a close-up of very accurate male genitals knocked off a statue, an adult woman advising a 14-year-old to use a lot of tongue in kissing and then (intended to be humorous) demonstrating by kissing her boss, jokes about menopause, a woman making an ugly joke insulting a male colleague about his (reference to a female body part), plus, of course, a lot of action-style violence with chases, explosions, shoot-outs, the inevitable comic crotch hit, a reference to suicide, a reference to mass killing, a near-drowning, knives, punches, torture, and terrorism, including a bomb under the Vatican. There is an extended scene where dozens of attacking little birds are sliced up into tiny pieces and it is supposed to be amusing. Not to spoil anything, but if there was a website called, this movie would be on it.

Dave Bautista returns as JJ, the tough guy who is now a doting step-dad who loves cooking, his beloved fish from the first film, Blueberry, and spending time with Sophie who is continuing her training to be an agent. Her mother is in Rwanda on a humanitarian mission so it is just the two of them at home.

As anyone who has ever been or lived with a 14-year-old or watched “Inside Out 2” knows, that is a difficult time for everyone. Sophie tells JJ he is NOT her dad and that she now has other interests that go beyond mastering spy craft and training to become a fighting machine. The interest occupying her attention is Ryan (Billy Barratt) a jock with an angelic voice and something of a Justin Bieber vibe. They sing together in the school choir, which has been selected to perform in Venice, Florence, and at the Vatican. JJ, wanting to stay close to Sophie, volunteers to be a chaperone.

Also on the trip is Sophie’s shy friend and BFF, Collin (Taeho K), basically in the Duckie role here. Coincidentally, Collin thinks his dad (Ken Jeong as David Kim) is a pediatric nurse, but in reality he is JJ’s boss at the CIA. Once they get to Italy, there is a chaotic collision of teen misbehavior and terrorism as some very bad people are getting access to some very bad bombs. In fairness, there is also some very lovely choir music and Venice, Florence, and Rome are all beautiful.

Coleman is still an appealing young performer but the switch from a child softening the heart of the tough guy to the dad trying to stay close to his daughter does not work as well. Bautista looks tired, and the script doesn’t help, getting him beat up over and over. This sequel is a superfluous and unnecessary IP extender, which might be okay if it wasn’t creating a problem for parents who have to explain to eight-year-olds why they should not see it.

Parents should know that this film has very strong language, a close-up of very accurate male genitals knocked off a statue, an adult woman advising a 14-year-old to use a lot of tongue in kissing and then (intended to be humorous) demonstrating by kissing her boss, jokes about menopause, a woman making an ugly joke insulting a male colleague about his , plus, of course, a lot of action-style violence with chases, explosions, shoot-outs, the inevitable comic crotch hit, barfing, a reference to suicide, a reference to mass killing, slaughter of attacking birds and killing of a beloved pet, a near-drowning, knives, punches, torture, and terrorism, including a bomb under the Vatican.

Family discussion: Why did Sophie like Ryan? Why didn’t David tell his son the truth? Were you surprised at who was behind the terrorism?

If you like this, try: “My Spy,” “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” and “Spy”

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Fly Me to the Moon

Fly Me to the Moon

Posted on July 11, 2024 at 12:12 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language and smoking
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and smoking
Diversity Issues: Issues of perception, expectations, and treatment of women
Date Released to Theaters: July 12, 2024
Copyright 2024 Sony Pictures

Unless you care more about historical accuracy than a rollicking good story, I think you will really enjoy this movie, one of the most purely entertaining films of the year. And some of it is even true.

There are many places to get the real story of the moon landing. This has some of the story right, and some enhanced for dramatic, comedic, and romantic purposes, all of which are very well served.

Scarlett Johansson, who also produced, plays Kelly, an advertising executive who has the right combination for success in that field: she always understands her market/target/audience and she will say or do whatever it takes on its behalf. She can spin anything and that includes selling her own services.

She is approached by a mysterious man who says his name is Moe Berkus ( Woody Harrelson) and that he works for President Richard Nixon. John F. Kennedy promised an American man on the moon by the end of the decade and the end of the 60s is approaching. For the politicians, this is an essential achievement for the Cold War battle for supremacy of capitalism and democracy. If that sounds more like branding than public policy, you understand why, in the midst of some of the most divisive and troubled years of the 20th century, someone might decide that what NASA needed was an expert in marketing. After all, selling a product, whether breakfast cereal, car, or the space program, is about making the product real, immediate, personal, and aspirational. Kelly and her assistant arrive in Cocoa Beach, ready to sell the moon.

You could say the people in NASA were not happy about this, but perhaps a better term would be horrified. Their culture is about secrecy (national security), science, and control. The person in charge is Cole Davis (Channing Tatum) and he does his best to discourage Kelly. In other words, the ideal set-up for romantic sparks, and when it’s Tatum and Johansson, it’s more like fireworks. They are wonderful together.

The sharp, witty, and wise screenplay is by third-generation Hollywood writer Rose Gilroy (her grandfather was “The Subject Was Roses” screenwriter Frank Gilroy and her parents are Dan Gilroy of “Real Steel,” “Kong: Skull Island,” and “Nightcrawler” and Rene Russo). It skillfully balances the romantic comedy with the dramatic themes and the inherent tension in the goal everyone is working toward. Even if we know that indeed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin will indeed walk on the moon the question of public support, we get caught up in the surprising challenges along the way. Who could guess that having astronauts sell watches, cars, and underwear — and, of course, Tang — would make them so relatable Americans would start to root for them? What will they have do and which Senators will they have to persuade to get the funding they need? Is there a way to sell space not as a distraction but as an unassailable story of American heroes and know-how?

Cole and Kelly have real differences that give this film a welcome depth. Both on the personal and professional level, the issue of what the truth is and how and when to tell it is presented thoughtfully and with the complexity it deserves, but it is never pedantic or preachy. Jim Rash plays a temperamental commercial director Moe insists join the team to make a back-up for the broadcast. The stunning technological innovations from a group of engineers with an average age of 26, working to solve the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the history of the world, in a building tall enough to enclose four Statues of Liberty on each other’s shoulders.

And there is a wonderful black cat. Plus Johansson’s husband, Colin Jost, in a brief, funny cameo. This movie is romantic, funny, exciting, and meaningful, filled with joy, honoring the heroes of the voyage to the moon for their dedication, innovation, and courage. And it has heartwarming compassion for the vulnerability of its characters that resonates with us long after the movie is over.

Parents should know that this film has some strong language, references to criminal behavior and a shooting in self-defense. For historical accuracy, there is a lot of smoking and a character talks about the impact on his health.

Family discussion: Who changes more, Cole or Kelly? Who is currently in the International Space Station today? Would you like to go to the moon? Visit the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, where you can touch a real moon rock and see the NASA capsules.

If you like this, try: Other films about the Apollo 11 program, including “The Dish,” “Hidden Figures,” “First Man,” Tom Hanks’ excellent miniseries, “From the Earth to the Moon,” and the documentaries “Earthrise” and “Apollo 11”

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Despicable Me 4

Despicable Me 4

Posted on July 2, 2024 at 7:44 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action sequences and some rude humor
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy/comic peril and violence, no one badly hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 3, 2024

The latest entry in the DCU (Despicable Cinematic Universe), which includes the Minions movies, continues the saga of the once-despicable Gru (Steve Carell) with the same level of visual invention and endearing characters, plus action that strikes a kid-friendly balance between exciting and silly.

Gru is now a loving father to his three adopted daughters and his new baby with his wife, Lucy (Kristen Wiig). And he is proudly working with the AVL (Anti-Villain League). As the movie begins, Gru attends a class of 1985 reunion at his boarding school alma mater, the Lycée Pas Bon (School of the Not Good). He is not there to catch up with old friends; he is there to capture one of the world’s worst bad guys, the French-accented Maxime de Mal (last name means “of Bad,” voiced by Will Ferrell). Maxime is dating the glamorous, Spanish-accented Valentina (Sofía Vergara), with a sleek ponytail, stiletto heels, and a fluffy lapdog. He is very competitive with Gru for a reason we will learn later. And he has a surprise for his fellow alumnae. He has figured out a way to turn himself into a semi-cockroach, as he tells us, the world’s most indestructible and unstoppable creature.

After quite a scuffle, Gru and the AVL capture Maxime. But he escapes from prison, vowing revenge. The AVL moves Gru and his family to a safe house in a community called Mayflower, assigning them all new identities and names to protect them, and bringing most of the minions to AVL headquarters. They create a lot of chaos and some of them test out a new serum and develop super-powers that they have some trouble adapting to.

The next door neighbors are snobbish Perry (Stephen Colbert), his honey-voiced wife Patsy (“SNL’s” Chloe Fineman), and their young daughter, Poppy (Joey King), an aspiring villain who quickly discovers Gru’s real identity and blackmails him into helping her with a daring heist. Meanwhile, Maxime and Valentina are coming after Gru’s family in a cockroach-shaped plane.

The storyline is cluttered, with a lot of characters and locations, but that means none of it is around long enough to get tedious. Still, it is a shame to give so little time to the girls in favor of the baby. As with the other films, number 4 (six if you count the two Minions movies) is filled with delightful visual jokes and details, including some for the parents, or perhaps the grandparents (Gru in Boy George attire, singing “Karma Chameleon,” a “Terminator 2” reference). Glimpsing some of the series’ earlier villains at the end is a reminder that Maxime is second-tier compared to Vector, Belle, and Scarlet, and, like “Kung Fu Panda 4,” it seems to be transitioning to a new central character for future entries in the series. That is a wise move. Carell is still terrific, but we could use a bit more despicability in the next chapter.

Parents should know that this movie has extended fantasy/comic action sequences with weapons and characters in peril, including an infant, that may be too intense for younger kids. The movie includes a lot of exaggerated bad behavior and some potty humor.

Family discussion: Why do some of these characters want to be bad and how are they bad in different ways? Why was Margo worried about making new friends? Was Agnes right not to lie about her name?

If you like this, try: the other movies in the “Despicable Me” series, including the two “Minions” films, and some songs by Culture Club and Tears for Fears

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Posted on June 20, 2024 at 9:34 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language
Profanity: Strong language for a PG-13
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 21, 2024

It is a joy to watch “Thelma,” inspired by the love writer/director Josh Margolin has for his own Thelma, his now-103-year-old grandmother we get a glimpse of over the closing credits. And it is a joy to watch 95-year-old June Squibb, the best thing in too many movies, in a first-time lead role, and a lead role in an action movie to boot. Squibb gives a performance of endless charm and wit as a loving grandmother who gets scammed and then deliciously, hilariously, and very satisfyingly, gets revenge.

Copyright 2024 Magnolia

Thelma and her grandson Daniel (Fred Hechinger) have a warm, loving relationship. We first see him in the classic grandchild role of guide to computers and the internet, with endless patience and good humor. They are very comfortable together and show tender concern for one another, but they are not always honest. Each wants the other to think they are busier and more secure than they really are. Before he leaves, he insists she put on a life alert, which she removes after he’s gone. And she assures him she has plenty to do, but she does not.

The real Thelma got one of those scam calls from someone pretending to be her grandson, saying he was in jail and needed cash to bail him out and her family stopped her before she sent any money. But the movie Thelma gets so upset she races to the post office with cash in an envelope and mails it. When she finds out she has been tricked, she is determined to get her money back.

This requires her to visit two friends, first a retirement home to visit Ben (a charming Richard Roundtree in his final role), an old friend who has a romantic interest in her that she does not reciprocate. He does have something she wants, though, a scooter, which she will need to get around. He insists on coming with her, even though he is starring as Daddy Warlocks in “Annie” at the retirement home that night. Together they visit Mona (a sweetly dotty Bunny Levine), who has a gun in a box on top of an armoire in her bedroom. Ben has to distract her and Thelma has to figure out a way to reach it.

And then they’re off, on the motorized scooter, for a wild adventure that I will not spoil, except to say that her determination and quick thinking are great fun. This is an action movie where the vehicle’s top speed is 25 mph and does not go very far before it needs to be recharged. When Thelma and Ben do the classic action movie slo-mo walk away from an explosion, it’s not because they are tough and cool; it’s probably because they are hard of hearing and do not know it happened. And yet, it is genuinely exciting. You want to argue with me that it is not realistic? Dude, it is as realistic as a street racer flying a car out of a skyscraper and disarming bombs or a hotel that caters only to assassins.

Squibb, who did some of her own stunts, uses every wrinkle on her face to show us Thelma’s fierce independence, love for her grandson, and refusal to give up on her money, on her justice, and on proving that she can take care of herself. Parker Posey and Clark Gregg as Thelma’s daughter and son-in-law and Daniel’s parents are terrific as the middle of the concern sandwich and Malcolm McDowell is most welcome as another wily senior.

This is everything you’d hope from a festival favorite, smart, fun, funny, and heartwarming. I’d love to see a sequel. There are a lot of scammers out there and not enough Thelmas or Squibbs.

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language for a PG-13, con artists, some peril, references to and depictions of ailments and predicaments of the elderly, a gun, an explosion, and family stress

Family discussion: Why don’t we see more movies about elderly people? Why is Daniel so close to Thelma? Ask the older relatives in your family about their adventures.

If you like this, try: “Lucky Grandma”

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Inside Out 2

Inside Out 2

Posted on June 12, 2024 at 2:43 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements
Profanity: Mild schoolyard language
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and chaos, plus teen angst
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 14, 2024
Copyright 2024 Disney/Pixar

Okay, Pixar, you got me. I cried and laughed within the first ten minutes of “Inside Out 2,” an adorable, heartwarming and fully up-to-the-original sequel to the beloved story of Riley and her middle school emotions. And then I cried two more times and laughed many times. Okay, maybe there might have been a little PTSD about being an adolescent and living with a few, but this movie is so brimming with empathy and understanding, I think there was some healing, too.

In the midst of the colorful, endearing characters and witty screenplay of the first film, there was the kind of insight it could take years of therapy to discover. The characters were the emotions Riley feels: Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Tony Hale replacing Bill Hader), and Disgust (Liza Lapira replacing Mindy Kaling). What they learn, so we do, too, is that what may feel like disturbing or negative emotions are necessary to keep us safe and help us understand the world around us.

As the movie begins, Riley is feeling like she has it all together. She’s gotten a lot taller. She has braces and feels confident about herself and her friendships, getting really good at ice hockey, invited to a three day elite hockey camp by the coach at the high school she will be attending. She’s a teenager now, blowing the candles on her 13th birthday cake. If she doesn’t know what’s coming yet, her face does. There’s a pimple coming on her chin. And for the first time, she wakes up feeling insecure and under too much pressure.

But then the console inside her head suddenly has a big, red, button labeled “Puberty.” And a group of very unsettling new emotions arrive: Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ado Edibiri), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), and Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos). I absolutely love the idea that this movie will inspire a bunch of 8-year-old to tell their parents they are experiencing an emotion usually associated with characters in novels by Sartre or Sagan.

Joy is very distressed by the new emotions, especially Anxiety, who seems to think she should be in charge. She explains that while Fear makes Riley afraid of what she can see, Anxiety makes her afraid of what might happen, and indeed, later in the film, we see an entire bullpen sitting at desks like those of the old-school Disney animators, imagining everything that might go wrong.

As they did before, Pixar has personified and made literal an array of internal and abstract concepts with wit, charm, and telling detail. Erik Erickson and Karl Jung would be impressed. The stream of consciousness is an actual stream. That hallmark of this stage of development, sarcasm (sorry, parents, try to think of it as an emblem of developing appreciation of layers of meaning), is an actual chasm. Nostalgia is a patient, elderly woman (June Squibb) who has to be told to go back to her room until she is needed, after “a couple of graduations and a best friend’s wedding.” Construction workers arrive for “demo day” to take out the old console, a moment that rivals the dissolving of Bing Bong in the first film. Memory, buried secrets, beliefs, sense of self, are all brilliantly imagined. The emotion characters zoom in on Riley’s friends’ faces to decipher their expressions, the kinds of details a younger person might overlook. We also get to see a hilarious “Blue’s Clues” or “Dora the Explorer”-like cartoon character from Riley’s early childhood, named Bloofy (Ron Funches), who asks the audience to help him solve problems.

And as in the first, the voice talent is superb. Poehler is just right for Joy’s natural energy and ebullient enthusiasm, sometimes masking her own anxious feelings about keeping everyone confident and happy. Hawke’s slightly husky voice is perfect for Anxiety, who gives us a glimpse of her own confidence and even joy in giving Riley the tools she needs to navigate the challenges of adolescence. We can see the anxiousness in Joy and the joy in Anxiety as Riley moves toward integration of the emotions, with a very sweet moment as both the hockey players and the emotions move toward teamwork. It is a treat to hear Paula Pell as the anger inside Riley’s mom and Pixar completists might recognize the voice of “Inside Out’s” director and this film’s executive producer, Pete Docter, as Riley’s Dad’s anger. The reference to his home state of Minnesota is another nod.

Screenwriters Dave Holstein and Meg LeFauve and director Kelsey Mann were advised by a teams of experts, including psychologists and the real experts, teenage girls. This film is an exciting adventure of the heart and spirit and I look forward to happily crying through it again.

NOTE: Stay ALL the way to the end of the credits for an extra scene

Parents should know that this film has a lot of teenage angst and some mild schoolyard language. They should also know it will have a powerful impact on the parents as they remember their own adolescence and consider the emotions they fell over their children growing up.

Family discussion: How do each of the emotions help Riley? Ask members of the family how they learned to solve problems.

If you like this, try: “Inside Out” and “Everybody Rides the Carousel”

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