Zombieland: Double Tap

Posted on October 17, 2019 at 5:25 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for bloody violence, language throughout, some drug and sexual content
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Extremely violent and gory zombie peril and action with many characters injured and killed and many gruesome images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 18, 2019

Copyright Columbia 2019
Start lining up the cast for part three; we’re going to need another one of these every decade or so. The original Zombieland was a brash, grimly funny story about a post-apocalyptic world in which characters who would otherwise be unlikely to meet, much less spend time together, identified only by their home towns, form a kind of family in the midst of zombie attacks. They are the high-strung but determined Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), the tough, peppery cowboy Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), and two survival-savvy sisters who are skeptical of anyone else, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone).

As this movie opens, the group is moving into the White House, now surrounded by fields of overgrown vegetation. It makes a good fortress and there are lots of cool things to play with, from a Twister game to Presidential portraits and gifts given by dignitaries over the years. Columbus and Wichita are a couple, but there is a problem. In this era of chaos and unpredictability, everyone has different ideas about what makes them feel safe. Columbus keeps making lists of his rules for survival (humorously displayed on screen) and wants to make the relationship official by proposing — with the Hope Diamond, which, like everything else, is up for grabs. But Wichita feels safest not having any connections, except for her sister, and Little Rock, now a teenager, wants to find someone her own age. So they leave.

On a “retail therapy” expedition to a shopping mall, Tallahassee and Columbus meet Madison (Zooey Deutch), who has been living there. Deutch just about steals the movie with one of the truly great comic performances of the year as the perfectly ditsy girl whose understanding of what is going on may be dim and who may not be willing to shoot zombies, but who has a knack for survival on her own terms. Just as she and Columbus get together, Wichita returns. Little Rock has run off with a guitar-playing pacifist named Berkeley (Avan Jogia). So, the group goes on the road to find her, running into some new characters, including many zombies, now faster, stronger, and smarter than before, an Elvis fan near Graceland, and a duo who seem uncannily parallel to Columbus and Tallahassee (Thomas Middleditch and Luke Wilson, both terrific).

Like the original, the zombie attacks and shoot-outs are punctuated with deadpan (maybe the correct term is undead-pan) humor, brilliantly delivered by the powerhouse cast. From the opening Columbia logo showing the lady using her torch to bash some zombies, the film moves briskly along with a gruesomely delightful mix of mayhem, romance, and humor. It’s a story about family, resilience, courage, and staying limber — with a great scene over the credits featuring a not-too-surprising guest star.

Parents should know that this film includes constant zombie peril and violence with many graphic, bloody, and disturbing images, characters injured and killed, constant very strong and crude language, sexual references and non-explicit situations, and alcohol and marijuana.

Family discussion: Why did Wichita say no to Columbus? What rules do you follow?

If you like this, try: the first “Zombieland” and “Sean of the Dead”

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The Addams Family

Posted on October 10, 2019 at 5:16 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for macabre and suggestive humor, and some action
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Comic/action peril and violence, car accident, explosions, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 11, 2019

Copyright 2019 MGM
My full review of this film is at rogerebert.com.

An excerpt:

There are about half a dozen bright spots in the new animated feature “The Addams Family,” but in between them is the unbright and unoriginal storyline about how the real monsters are the ordinary people, not the weird people.

Parents should know that this film includes monsters and peril. It is more funny-scary than scary-scary but there are some images that might disturb sensitive viewers, as well as comic/action-style peril with no one hurt, bullies, a neglectful parent, potty humor. Some may be disturbed by a casual portrayal of child who decides to live with a different family

Family discussion: Which characters are really scary? What does “assimilation” mean? What does your family do to recognize adulthood?

If you like this, try: “Hotel Translyvania,” “Igor,” and the “Addams Family” television books, series and films

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Brittany Runs a Marathon

Posted on August 29, 2019 at 5:35 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, sexuality and some drug material
Profanity: Strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, drugs, references to addiction
Violence/ Scariness: Injury, references to
Date Released to Theaters: August 30, 2019

Copyright Amazon Studios 2019
The title of this film, “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” is not really a spoiler. Yes, it is an inspiring story of a young woman named Brittany (Jillian Bell, outstanding in her first lead role) who has a sobering visit with a doctor, an equally sobering visit with an expensive gym. She decides that since running is free, she will start with just one block and see — literally — where that takes her. But the real story of the film is about what she discovers along the way about herself and the people around her. Her real problem was not being overweight. Her real problem was what being overweight helped her hide from.

Brittany feels that she is both stuck and drifting. As she approaches 30, her friends all seem to be settling into jobs and relationships while she is still living in college slacker mode, sharing an apartment with her BFF Gretchen (Alice Lee), and barely managing her internship-level job with a small theater group. Brittany is in debt, goes out partying nearly every night, goofs off at work, and makes fun of a neighbor they call “Moneybags Martha,” scrolls through social media to look at everyone else’s seemingly perfect lives, and tries very hard not to notice how awful she feels.

Brittany goes to a doctor because she says she cannot focus and asks him for Adderall. He tells her, as sympathetically as he can, that what she has to do is lose 50 pounds. She cannot afford a gym. The longest journey begins with a single step. And so, she begins with a run for just one block.

First-time writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo was inspired by the real-life story of his friend Brittany (glimpsed over the closing credits). It would have been easy and probably very popular for him to make a feel-good Cinderella story, with losing weight playing the role of the fairy godmother; makeover stories are hard to resist. But Colaizzo tells a smarter, subtler, more meaningful story here, with structural, symbolic, and character-based moments that illuminate Brittany’s growing understanding of herself and her world. Repeated incidents of Brittany racing for a subway as the door is closing are as important in marking the story’s development as the more conventional shots of the number on the scale as she weighs herself. The diverse cast is especially welcome, and Calaizzo balances the Lil Rel Howery character’s near-saintly level of advice and support with more flawed characters like her frenemy Gretchen, her new running buddy Seth (Micah Stock), and someone as lost as Brittany and almost as defensive, Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar).

We see that Brittany was not just heavy; she was numb. Any time she felt vulnerable or uncomfortable she made a silly joke or put on a silly accent. And that was most of the time. There were so many things she didn’t want to think about: being sad and scared as a child, feeling lost and unloved now. The reason she feels unfocused is not because she needs Adderall; it is because all of her emotional energy is put into not focusing on why she feels hopeless. Learning to be honest with herself is more painful and much more terrifying than running a little longer every day. And there is something even more terrifying: allowing herself to get close to other people, to allow other people to get close to her.

Bell has acknowledged that this story hit close to home for her. For us, as audience, we have known her as a comic performer with a gift for delightfully offbeat quips. Her fight scene with Jonah Hill in “22 Jump Street” is a loopy delight. Here, like Brittany, she has to let go of her natural reflex for comedy to allow us to see her character’s pain. Seeing Bell open up to show us how Brittany opens up as she learns to judge other people — and herself — less harshly is what makes this movie one of the summer’s sweetest surprises.

Parents should know that this movie includes some strong and vulgar language, sexual references, some crude, and sexual situations, drinking and drug use, reference to addiction, and references to family dysfunction and stress.

Family discussion: What upset Brittany about the couple at her brother-in-law’s party? Why was it so hard for her to accept help? What did she learn about Gretchen and why didn’t she see it before?

If you like this, try: “Wild,” “Tracks” and the recent “Sword of Truth,” also featuring Bell and Watkins

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Good Boys

Posted on August 15, 2019 at 5:36 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong crude sexual content, drug and alcohol material, and language throughout - all involving tweens
Profanity: Very explicit, profane, and crude language used by young adults and 6th graders
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs and alcohol use by young adults and 6th graders, drug dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril with one gross injury, no one badly hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 16, 2019

Copyright Universal 2019
If I could, I’d give “Good Boys” three different grades. I’d give it a B+ for the sweet, smart depiction of that stage of life — equally exhilarating and excruciating — when we make the thrilling, terrifying, transition from child to adult. I’d give it a B for the fun of the adventure the boys go on when they are trying to replace an expensive drone they broke trying to spy on a girl and her boyfriend. But I would give it a D for the cheapness of its humor, relying so heavily on 6th graders using the F word, trying beer and porn, buying drugs, and not understanding the cache of sex toys they find. I don’t find that funny. So, overall, I am not recommending this film. But I will give it credit for the parts that work, and recommend it only for anyone who finds it hilarious to see a child with a ball gag in his mouth — because two other children are trying to re-set his dislocated shoulder on their way to buying molly from some dealer in a fraternity.

The most significant conversation in the film is when a 6th grader is listening to two teenage girls who are close friends and realizes that they have only known each other a few years. He learns for the first time that the friends you make in grade school may not be the friends you have forever, and like so many revelations at that stage of life, this discovery is deeply disconcerting but also intriguing, opening up a whole new world of possibilities — and risks.

Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams), and Thor (Brady Noon) are best, best friends who call themselves the Bean Bag Boys. They do everything together and believe they always will. But one element of this stage of life is that any given 6th grader will go back and forth across the line between sophistication and abstract reasoning and a growing awareness of how much they don’t know (and how much even the adults around them don’t know) back to the more childish perspective. These are kids who have been lectured at school about the importance of consent but are not entirely clear on what it is that is being consented to. At this age, the people you feel close to are at a million different points along that continuum as well, so maybe you don’t feel as close to them anymore. As one of them acknowledges, hormones are making them crazy. The movie opens with him using a video game to expand the boobs of an avatar so he can masturbate — until then his father (Will Forte) comes in, sees what is happening, and congratulates his son for growing up.

Dad goes out of town warning his son not to touch the valuable drone he has for his work. But when Max desperately needs to learn how to kiss because he is invited to his first kissing party and the girl he loves and plans to marry but has not yet spoken to will be there and if he does not go and kiss her then life will have no meaning, he decides using the drone to spy on the teenage girl and her college age boyfriend is the answer to his problem. This is after he and the other Bean Bag Boys try doing a Google search for porn and discover it does not have much kissing. The girl is Hannah (Molly Gordon) and she and her best friend (Midori Francis as Lily) refuse to give it back. The boys take Hannah’s purse, which has some molly in a children’s vitamin bottle. (One of the movie’s funniest running jokes is the inability of the boys to open a child guard cap.)

And so the adventure begins, with the boys needing to get or replace the drone and the girls needing to get back or replace the drugs.

There are many sweet and funny moments, and the kids are great. There are wonderfully telling details, like the school anti-bullying squad. But the film cannot overcome the unpleasantness of the cheap humor and the sinking feeling that the filmmaking experience itself merits a visit from Child Protective Services.

Parents should know that this is a story about 6th graders that includes extremely raunchy, explicit material involving very crude and graphic sexual content, drugs and alcohol, some mild peril and violence, and very strong and crude language.

Family discussion: Who are your beanbag boys? What made them friends? Why did Thor decide not to audition?

If you like this, try: “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express”

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Where’d You Go Bernadette

Posted on August 14, 2019 at 5:44 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language and drug material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Family stress and loss, reference to serious illness of a child and miscarriages
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 16, 2019

Copyright 2019 Annapurna Pictures
The screen adaptation of Maria Semple’s charming book, Where’d You Go Bernadette is…less charming, though perfectly pleasant in a late summer comfort food kind of way. Semple, a sharp and witty writer for television (“Mad About You,” “90210,””Arrested Development”) moved from LA to Seattle and her sense of dislocation inspired the book, with a sharp take on the crunchy, self-consciously wholesome culture of the Pacific Northwest in contrast to the glossier, smugger world of Los Angeles. Note the title, a question without a question mark. And in this version, the question mark-less question is for no discernible reason, answered at the very beginning, followed by most of the film as a flashback.

Missing the epistolary format of the book, which allows us to follow much of the storyline through the characters’ voices, the sharpness is softened in Richard Linklater’s film. Cate Blanchett plays Bernadette, a devoted mother of Bee (newcomer Emma Nelson). Clinically, she might be classified as struggling with depression or anxiety or agoraphobia, but as we will learn, the behavior that is un-social and non-productive is her way of responding to devastating personal and professional loss. She does not want to talk to anyone, except maybe Bee, with whom she has an easy, natural connection. Bernadette loves her husband, Elgy (Billy Crudup), but he has a demanding job at Microsoft, the reason for their move to Seattle, and is not around much. Bernadette ran from personal and professional loss by devoting herself to Bee. But now Bee will be going away to boarding school and she has nowhere to run.

Bernadette is an architect, but her house is a mess of unfinished repairs. When she spots a bump under the carpet that turns out to be a blackberry bush sprout from beneath the house, instead of pulling it up by the roots she neatly scores the carpet to bend the corners back and staple them to the floor so the bush can keep growing. She has contempt for the moms at Bee’s school who go on about their compost heaps. She refers to them as “gnats” and she is not above some passive aggression, including allowing one to create a lot of damage.

Elgy’s new assistant there is Soo-Lin (Zoe Chao), one of the gnats, who loves to gossip about how weird Bernadette is with Audrey (Kristen Wiig), one of those “Big Little Lies”-type school moms who likes to run everything, talks about her perfect life a lot, and has very strong views on how everyone should behave.

Bee reminds her parents that they rashly promised her a wish if she got perfect grades all through middle school. Her wish is a trip to Antarctica. Bernadette wants to give Bee her dream, but for someone who can barely leave the house, it is an insurmountable challenge — until other challenges of staying home become even more insurmountable.

This is disappointingly one-dimensional work from one of the world’s most talented and versatile directors, Richard Linklater. Instead of the innovative, perceptive work we saw in “Boyhood,” the “Before” series, “School of Rock,” “Waking Life,” “Bernie,” and “Everybody Wants Some!!” “Where’d You Go Bernadette” has all the depth of the Charlene song “I’ve Never Been to Me.”

Parents should know that this film has some strong language, some mayhem, some mild peril, and some discussion of miscarriages and serious medical conditions.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Bernadette tell her family where she was going? What problems are you good at solving?

If you like this, try: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” also starring Wiig.

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