The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Posted on April 21, 2022 at 5:50 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language, crude sexual references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Extended acton-style peril and violence, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 15, 2022

copyright Lionsgate 2022
I’m not sure what it says about where we are in history that 2022 has become the year of movie meta-verses but, oh, forget it, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is a total hoot, and hilarious fun on every one of its meta-levels.

Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage is played by….Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage as a heightened (and lessened) version of himself, the best. and by that I mean most committed version of that since John Malkovich in “Being John Malkovich.” The movie version of Nicolas Cage has all of his credits, a dozen of which are amusingly referenced throughout the film. And the movie version plays on news reports of Cage’s sometimes-volatile personal and financial life, with a second Nicolas Cage playing the younger version of himself and with the situation that set up the film. Movie Nicolas Cage (just referred to as Cage from now on) loses out on a big role in a film and is locked out of his hotel room for failure to pay. His 16-year-old daughter is barely speaking to him because he is so self-involved. His agent (Neil Patrick Harris) tells him he has been offered a million dollars to attend a birthday party in Mallorca. He reluctantly accepts.

At first, he something of a diva, insulting his host, Javi (a sublimely unhinged performance by Pedro Pascal). Surprisingly, it turns out that Javi is something of a kindred spirit, almost as in love with cinematic story-telling as he is. Javi’s unabashed fanship is also a solace for Cage’s bruised ego. Perhaps less surprisingly, in fact most predictably, like everyone else who strives for an encounter with a movie star, Javi has written a script.

This is when the CIA shows up (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz). Javi is an international arms dealer and they think he has kidnapped the Spanish President’s daughter. They cannot get into Javi’s compound, so they want Cage to spy for them.

The story works on many levels, as the kind of buddy story Javi wants to write, as the kind of action story they conclude they can get financing for, and above all as a knowing comedy with many references to Cage’s wide-ranging oeuvre, from “Cross 2” to “Guarding Tess,” “The Wicker Man” to “Con Air,” “Face-Off,” and “The Rock,” and to over-arching issues of the way movies tell stories and the way movies get made. Of all the Cage movies it nods to, the most foundational one is “Adaptation.,” itself a meta-movie about cinematic story-telling (and a lot of other themes), with Cage playing a version of the movie’s screenwriter and talking to himself, or close to himself, because he plays twins.

And like that film it is is very funny. Cage and Pascal have terrific chemistry and are clearly having a blast. Sharon Horgan is terrific as Cage’s ex-wife, but Barinholtz and Haddish are under-used and the mayhem is not always as effectively handled as it should be to work as action or as commentary on action. Or maybe it is commentary on the silliness of action. By that time, there are so many layers you are likely to have found at least two or three to enjoy.

Parents should know that the movie has very strong language and crude sexual references, alcohol and drug use, and extended and intense peril and violence, with many characters injured and killed.

Family discussion: Why did Nicolas Cage want to spoof himself this way? What do you learn from his conversations with his younger self? Why was it hard for him to connect to his daughter?

If you like this, try: Some of the movies referred to in this one like “Con Air,” “The Rock,” and “National Treasure” and “JCVD” with Jean-Claude van Damme spoofing himself and his films

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The Bad Guys

Posted on April 21, 2022 at 5:36 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated.PG for action and rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended cartoon action-style law enforcement peril and violence
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 22, 2022

Copyright 2022 Universal
“The Bad Guys,” based on the popular series of graphic novels by Aaron Blabey, is an adorable animated film about guys who are not as bad as they think. They are seen as the scariest animals on earth, but even when they are committing crimes, they do not realize that they have good qualities, too. They are loyal friends, for example, and honest some of the time. We first see Wolf (Sam Rockwell) and Snake (Mark Maron) in a diner, where Wolf not only celebrates Snake’s birthday but even when there’s no one to pay for the meal, they make sure to pay for it anyway.

And then they rob the bank across the street. Okay, they’re bad. That could be, though, because they are just behaving the way people expect. Wolves, sharks, snakes, tarantulas, and piranhas have bad reputations. So they’re just living up or rather down to what the humans around them expect.

Adults watching with their children may notice the resemblance to some very adults-only movies, the first scene a tip of the cinematic chapeau to “Pulp Fiction,” not just the diner setting but the rhythm of the dialogue and the editing. Like the “Sesame Street” versions of adult content, it is there to entertain the grown-ups, but it is also there because even toned-down, it is fun to watch.

“The Bad Guys” has the fun of another genre kids do not often see, the heist film, with all kinds of problem-solving, setbacks, and teamwork. In addition to Wolf, the cool, Danny Ocean planner-type, and Snake, an escape artist, the gang also includes, of course, a tech whiz, Awkwafina as Tarantula, and eight legs come in very handy working on keyboards. Shark (Craig Robinson) is the master of disguise. And Piranha (Anthony Ramos) is the muscle. (The movie characters wisely have more diversity than the books.) The voice talent is superb. Not all actors can do voice work. It makes sense; they’re used to being able to rely on their faces and bodies to express emotion. But Sam Rockwell gives one of his all-time best performances as Wolf, perfectly matching the cool sophistication of the character and his moments of doubt and vulnerability. The animation is outstanding, stylish and dynamic when it needs to be, touches of anime, especially with the police officer voiced by Alex Borstein, and a bit of a hand-drawn feel to prevent CGI over-perfection.

There are some fun surprises and twists along the way and of course some lessons on the satisfactions of being a good guy. But not too good; we want to leave room for some sequels.

Parents should know that while it is all done with humor, this is a movie about characters who commit crimes, mostly theft. There are some chases and some cartoon-style peril and a mind-control machine, but no one gets hurt. The movie also includes some rude humor and schoolyard language.

Family discussion: What makes someone bad or good? Why is it hard for the bad guys to consider others’ rights and feelings? Which is your favorite bad guy character and why?

If you like this, try: the book and its sequels and “Zootopia”

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The Lost City

Posted on March 24, 2022 at 5:49 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and some bloody images, suggestive material, partial nudity and language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence, leeches, chases, explosions, guns, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 25, 2022

Copyright 2022 Paramount
Let’s get the obvious question out of the way first thing. Yes, “The Lost City” is a lot like “Romancing the Stone,” the 1984 action/comedy/romance movie starring Kathleen Turner, Michael Douglas, and Danny DeVito. Both movies are opposites-don’t-attract-and-then-do stories about shy, bookish-but-beautiful stay-at-home romance novelists who end up on wild jungle adventures with handsome men who are not entirely heroic. Both feature colorful third leads and bad guys scary enough to make the moments of peril exciting.

And that’s a pretty great combination, isn’t it? Especially with four delectable stars at the top of the game: Oscar-winners Sandra Bullock and Brad Pitt plus Channing Tatum and Daniel Radcliffe. Do not listen to those who say that Bullock does not look like a 57-year-old. She looks like a radiantly gorgeous 57-year-old who is completely believable playing someone 20 years younger opposite a leading man who is in reality 14 years younger.

Bullock plays Loretta Sage, a widow still struggling with grief over the loss of her husband and dissatisfaction at her redirection from unsuccessful scholar of ancient civilizations to very successful author of bodice-ripper novels about a pair of very sexy Indian Jones-style adventuresome anthropologists.

Loretta’s purple prose and knowledge of the details of runes and ruins are just one reason for the books’ popularity. The other reason is the handsome, hunky, Fabio-like cover model, Alan (Tatum). He has the broad shoulders, easy charm and flowing locks the fans love. (When I say “has,” I do not necessarily mean growing from his scalp, more like, in his closet to be applied as needed.) He also has something of a crush on Loretta, though he may be confusing both of them for the characters she imagined.

Loretta, who describes herself as a “sabiosexual” (one who is attracted to intellect), thinks of Alan as a brainless pretty boy. She might be a bit jealous of his effortless appeal. She reluctantly agrees to a joint appearance to promote her new book. It does not go well. And then, as she is leaving, she gets into the wrong car and finds herself seated before a lovely array of cheeses and cold meats and an impeccably dressed billionaire who has the most indispensable of all powerful villains, a British accent. He has a clue to a lost treasure, he wants Loretta to translate it, and he won’t take no for an answer.

And so, Loretta is off to the jungle (it was filmed in the Dominican Republic), and Alan, possibly confusing himself with the hero he portrays, goes off to rescue her, with the help of his meditation teacher, a former Navy SEAL played by Brad Pitt, who is as usual the MVP as he is wherever we are lucky enough to see him. This takes nothing away from Bullock and Tatum, who are enormous fun to watch. They have great chemistry and are clearly having a blast. It’s just that Pitt is even more fun. They all get strong support from the rest of the cast, especially Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Loretta’s publisher/publicist and Patti Harrison as the social media liaison. Directors Aaron Nee and Adam Nee keep things moving so the various plot holes fly by without disrupting the popcorn pleasure of seeing Bullock get over her inhibitions and assumptions, Tatum dance, and Pitt be cool in this highly entertaining story.

NOTE: Stay for a post-credit scene.

Parents should know that this movie has extended peril and action with guns, chases, and explosions, and many characters are injured and killed. A character has to take off his clothes to have leeches removed from his body and we see some nudity. Characters use strong language and drink alcohol.

Family discussion: What do Loretta and Alan have in common? What surprised them about each other? Why does Fairfax only want what is impossible to get?

If you like this, try: “Romancing the Stone”

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The Hater

Posted on March 17, 2022 at 12:30 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, vaping marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations, oblique reference to suicide
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: March 18, 2022
Copyright Verizon Entertainment 2022

Newcomer Joey Ally takes on the challenge of writing, directing, and starring in her first film, “The Hater,” the story of a far-left political speechwriter who ends up running in a Republican primary in her a right-wing community. She is better as a writer than a director and better as a director than an actor, but the screenplay is strong enough to overcome some rookie mistakes.

Ally plays Dorothy, as in Oz, who is fired in the film’s first few minutes after a viral video appears to show her burning a flag at a demonstration. She has to leave Washington to return to a place she could not wait to get away from, her home town in Texas. Her grandfather (Bruce Dern in grumpy mode) is not happy to see her, but she reminds him that she is half-owner of the house, and he lets her in.

She tries to find a job with a progressive candidate or cause, but no one wants her. Then she sees that there is a primary coming up, and her childhood nemesis, Brent Hart (Ian Harding), is running unopposed. His father is a Senator. He twice took the local high school football team to State. He is handsome and personable. The Democrat who will run against him is a woman who has already lost three times. There seems to be no way to beat him.

Unless.. .If Dorothy runs against Brent and defeats him and then withdraws, according to local rules the Republican party cannot nominate anyone else, and so the Democrat could win. So, she goes out to collect some signatures to get on the ballot. It does not go very well until she accidentally goes viral again, this time for defeating an armed robbery in a convenience store. She looks like a gunslinger, but really it was just muscle memory from color guard in high school.

Dorothy’s one-time high school friend (Meredith Hagner), whose husband is deployed in the military, opposes Brent because he plans to tear down the community center where she works. So, she signs on as Dorothy’s campaign manager. And Glenn (D’Angelo Lacy), Dorothy’s best friend and roommate from Washington, shows up for a Red State make-under. Off with the nose ring. On with clothes from her late grandmother, picked from boxes in the attic.

The best thing about the movie is its refusal to make any character one-dimensional or completely unsympathetic, especially when we find our own expectations challenged.

NOTE: I have a connection to this movie because my daughter, Rachel Apatoff, was the costume designer. Needless to say, the costumes, which are an essential element of the film, are brilliant.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong language, discussion of abortion, and some drug use.

Family discussion: How did Dorothy shade the truth in her campaign comments? How did her father’s death affect her choices? Which character would you vote for?

If you like this, try: “Dick” and “In the Loop”

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I Want You Back

Posted on February 10, 2022 at 5:23 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some rear-end nudity, brief sex scenes, drug use and language
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and recreational drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Punch
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 11, 2022

Copyright 2021 Amazon Studios
Yes, the title song appears in the romantic comedy “I Want You Back” along with a bunch of other lively and well-chosen selections, but it might as well have included another classic hit single, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.”

Two characters are devastated by being dumped by their significant others in the movie’s opening scenes. Emma (Jenny Slate) is at a restaurant with Noah (Scott Eastwood), her boyfriend of 18 months, who offers her some of his steak because he says she needs to get more iron. “Are you trying to be the nicest, sweetest, cutest boyfriend in the world?” she says lovingly. Nope, he’s about to tell her that he’s met someone else. Peter (Charlie Day) is attending a birthday party for the young son of friends when Anne (Gina Rodriguez) tells him that after six years together she wants to break up because she wants “a bigger life,” not “making salmon and watching ‘Dancing With the Stars,” which is what she says is all they ever do.

Emma and Peter work in the same office building and they meet when they are both sobbing in the stairwell. When they discover they are there for the same reason, they go off to get drunk and sing sad karaoke, including “Oughta Know.” They christen themselves the “Sadness Sisters” and after a couple of commiserating meetings and a lot of cyber-stalking of their exes’ social media, they hatch the kind of plan you only (I hope) see in rom-coms; they are each going to break up the new relationships of their former significant others. Emma will seduce Logan (Manny Jacinto of “The Good Place” and “Nine Perfect Strangers”), a middle school drama teacher and Peter will befriend Noah. And so, Emma volunteers to help out with Logan’s middle school production of “Little Shop of Horrors” and Peter hires Noah as a personal trainer.

Slate and Day are better known for more heightened comedic roles — and for their distinctive husky but sometimes squeaky voices. But here they are wonderfully warm and endearing as two good people who are very sad and a little lost. Plus, they get strong support from comedy all-stars Jacinto and Rodriguez, Eastwood is game, and we get to see Slate in a wild blonde wig singing “Suddenly Seymour.” The skillful and witty screenplay by Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger (“Love, Simon” and “This is Us”) makes them three-dimensional characters. As we see Emma interact with an unhappy 12 year old stagehand and Peter out at a club with Noah we have more reason to want them to find happiness than just seeing them mope in a bar about their break-ups. It also makes some of their antics a little less crazy. Slate and Day are an appealing couple and that puts the rom in the rom-com.

Parents should know that this movie has mature themes including sexual references, a proposed threesome, nudity, strong language, and alcohol and drug use.

Family discussion: Why do Peter and Emma see each other differently than Noah and Anne saw them? What bothered them the most about their breakups, their hurt pride, their fear of being alone, or their affection for the people who broke up with them?

If you like this, try: Another movie with a title taken from a song that is about two people who join forces after break-ups, “Addicted to Love”

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