The French Dispatch

Posted on October 20, 2021 at 10:00 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, graphic nudity, and some sexual references
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence including kidnapping of a child and a shoot-out, student uprising
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 22, 2021

Copyright 2021 Searchlight
The dictionary has two conflicting definitions for the word “precious,” and both apply to writer/director Wes Anderson’s films as a group and to his latest, “The French Dispatch” especially. “Precious” can mean very valuable or important, deserving of being carefully preserved. And it can also mean excessively refined or affected. If you are an Anderson fan, you will be glad to hear this is the Wes Anderson-iest Wes Anderson film so far. If you are not, well, you’ve been warned.

Anderson’s exquisitely assembled films are more Cornell Box or M.C. Escher puzzle than narrative, the props and settings more important than the characters or storyline. I enjoy the attention to detail and the whimsy of his films, occasionally spiced with moments of, sorry, il faut parler français por un instant, “choquer le bourgeois.” I love his repertory cast of actors, who are always clearly having a blast and not quite winking at the audience. But I also find them claustrophobic, and overly precious in both senses of the word, speaking to those who feel smug about understanding them in a way they believe ordinary, less sophisticated people can not. Like that French I used just now, which by the way means: “it is necessary to speak French for a minute to ‘shock the ordinary people.'” See? It works just fine en englais. Anderson seems to aim for whimsy but one thing whimsy cannot be is heavy-handed.

Anderson has found the idea subject for “The French Dispatch,” a real-life publication almost as precious (still in both senses of the word) as his fantasized characters and environments, The New Yorker, and in particular the New Yorker of the romanticized era of the mid-20th century. There is a long list of New Yorker writers and editors who are listed in the end credits, including the two legendary editors, co-founder and editor from 1925-1951 Harold Ross and William Shawn, editor from 1952-1987 (and father of writer/actor Wallace Shawn).

The film is both an anthology and a retrospective, again Anderson’s preferred matryoshka Russian nesting doll narrative structure. Is with the death of the title publication’s founder and editor, Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), a “Citizen Kane” style set-up that continues with peeks inside some of the magazine’s classic stories, delivered as chapters. The setting is the fictional French town of “Ennui-sur-Blasé” (ennui and blasé both French words adopted by English speakers meaning world-weary and bored). The premise is a look inside an issue of the magazine, which, following the orders of its founder, will cease publication after his death. In another layer of matryoskha, The New Yorker reported that the parallels between its real-life articles and the film include: Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), inspired by writer Joseph Mitchell. Julian Cadazio (Adrien Brody), inspired by Lord Duveen, the subject of a 1951 six-part New Yorker profile by S. N. Behrman. Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright), inspired by James Baldwin and A.J. Liebling. Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), inspired by Mavis Gallant, who wrote a two-part 1968 piece on the student uprisings in France.

There are stories within stories as we see the writers discuss what they have written. J. K. L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton, fabulously, of course) delivers a lecture to an audience with slides showing the work of an acclaimed artist (Benecio del Toro) who happens to be criminally insane and confined to prison, where his muse and nude model is one of the guards (Léa Seydoux). Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) is a steely observer of student unrest who gets involved with one of the young leaders (Timothée Chalamet). The strongest of the stories has Jeffrey Wright as Roebuck Wright, who can perfectly recall every word he has written and is invited by a television interviewer (Liev Schreiber) to recite from memory his very convoluted story about the kidnapping of young boy. Wright’s melodious, slightly husky voice in Anderson’s near-monotone style set opposite a story of grotesque twists and turns tilts toward precious in the second sense of the word, but the sheer charisma of the design, with Anderson’s signature dollhouse-style cutaways, has some of the first meaning of the word as well.

Parents should know that this film has sexual references and non-explicit situations, some strong language, and some peril and violence, including a kidnapping, poison, and a shoot-out with many characters injured and killed.

Family discussion: Which of the stories did you like best?

If you like this, try: “The Life Acquatic with Steve Zissou,” “The Royal Tennenbaums,” and the books about the New Yorker by James Thurber and Brendan Gill

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Free Guy

Posted on August 5, 2021 at 12:05 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 (Language|Crude/Suggestive References|Strong Fantasy Violence)
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended video-game violence with powerful real and fantasy weapons, guns, chases, explosions
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 13, 2021
Date Released to DVD: October 12, 2021

Copyright 20th Century Studios 2021
In 1966, Tom Stoppard gave us “Hamlet” from the perspective of two of its most minor characters in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” a meditation on the impossibility of understanding the sometimes random, sometimes malicious forces of life, not as grim as it sounds. In “The Lion King 1 1/2,” Disney gave us the same story as the original “Lion King” but from the perspective of two of the main character’s sidekicks, the wart hog and the meerkat. The theme is basically building on a popular franchise, but it does expand on the story. In “Free Guy,” this idea goes further by giving a video game’s NPC (non-playable character) who is so generic his name is Guy (Ryan Reynolds) agency and that most human of gifts, the chance to grow and learn and love. Reynolds, who also produced, is never less than terrific here in a role ideally suited for his gifts. It’s easy to forget how subtle an actor he is, even in wild comedies like “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” and larger than life roles like “Deadpool.” At each stage, from a one-note character barely more than some code and pixels to the first suggestions of mingled longing triumphing over fear, he calibrates with exquisite precision exactly where these nascent emotions and increasing confidence are progressing.

Guy is blissfully ignorant that his only purpose in the digital world of Free City is to hit the floor when the bank robbers, avatars of the real-world players, break in and start shooting. (Listen carefully to the robbers’ voices for some surprise appearances.) He wakes up so happy every morning we almost expect him to start singing “Everything is Awesome,” like Chris Pratt in “The LEGO Movie.” He is happy because he does not know there is another way to be. He gets up. He has some cereal and feeds his goldfish. He selects one of the identical blue button-down shirts and khaki slacks from his closet. He stops at a local cafe to get coffee. He goes to work as a bank teller, with his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howrey), a security guard, and then the next group of robbers break in.

And then, one day, he sees The Girl (Jodie Comer of “Killing Eve”). She Molotov Girl, is the avatar for Millie, a gamer and programmer whose goal in the game is not racking up points, which players get from robbing and killing people. She is looking for proof that Antwan (Taika Waititi, having fun as a temperamental tyrant) the head of the computer game company cheekily called Soonami, stole the code she developed for a different game with Keys (Joe Keery of “Stranger Things,” very appealing), her former business partner. Keys now works for Soonami, with his friend and sometimes competitor Mouser (Utkarsh Ambudkar).

The avatars in the game, representing the real-life players, wear sunglasses. Guy puts on a pair and for the first time sees what the players see, a Pokemon Go-style assortment of goals and prizes and attributes. Director Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum”) has a lot of fun going back and forth between the world inside the game and the real world of Soonami, Keys, and Millie, plus some glimpses of the players behind their vastly more badass avatars. Gamers will find a lot of clever references to their world, especially the creation of a new character near the end who looks very familiar but is not fully programmed. And anyone who’s been to a blockbuster in the past few years will enjoy some surprise cameos. “Don’t have a good day; have a GREAT day.” This movie is smarter than it needs to be, and it is very satisfying to see Guy confront existential questions and discover, as lucky humans do, that it is love and helping others that makes life meaningful. It may start with as small a step as a Henley shirt or a cappuccino. All it takes is wanting more.

Parents should know that this film includes extended video-game action and violence with many real and fantasy weapons, and some strong language.

Family discussion: Which game would you prefer? What kind of game would you create?

If you like this, try: “Ready Player One,” “Jumanji” and “The LEGO Movie”

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Schmigadoon!

Posted on July 15, 2021 at 4:06 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Strong language and explicit references to anatomy
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Mild comic peril, gun
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 16, 2021

Copyright AppleTV+ 2021
“Schmigadoon!” is a loving parody and an even more loving tribute to classic Broadway and Hollywood musicals, from “Oklahoma” to “The Music Man,” “The Sound of Music,” and the musical that inspired this title, “Brigadoon.” Each of the six episodes of around 30 minutes has Broadway-level singing and dancing, with tuneful, clever songs performed by some of the biggest stars from the Great White Way. The more you love musicals, the more you will love “Schmigadoon!”

Cecily Strong (“Saturday Night Live”) and Keegan-Michael Key (“Key and Peele,” “Keanu,” “Prom”) play surgeons who meet by a hospital candy machine and fall for each other. A few years later, their relationship is under some strain when they go on a couples hiking retreat. Lost in the rain, they happen on a cheerful 19th-century town where the citizens burst into song and elaborately choreographed dance numbers. They’re told by a magical leprechaun (Martin Short) that they cannot leave until they find true love.

The people they meet include Mayor Menlove (Alan Cummings), whose name could be a clue to his clear discomfort in a heteronormative community. Further discomfort could be the result of his dominating, judgmental wife Mildred (Kristin Chenoweth). (Compare them to Mayor Shinn and his wife Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn in “The Music Man.”) There’s the rapscallion carny Danny Bailey (Aaron Tveit). (Think Billy in “Carousel.”) and the teacher in the one-room schoolhouse, who lives with her lisping little brother (similar to Marion and Winthrop Paroo in “The Music Man”). Later on, they meet a beautiful blonde countess (Jane Krakowski) (compare to the Baroness in “The Sound of Music”) and a handsome, widowed doctor (Jaime Camil, a bit of Captain von Trapp). And there’s a pappy with a shotgun that he uses to protect his nubile young (how young?) daughters, including Dove Cameron as Betsy (maybe Daisy Mae in “Li’l Abner”).

Writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul are clearly the nerdiest of theater kids at heart and every bit of the series is imaginative, tuneful, thoughtful and detailed. Look behind the schoolteacher at the schedule of parent-teacher conferences on the blackboard. All the names are famous musical-creators. Some of the musical numbers are in direct conversation with classics, like Mildred’s solo, a witty riff on “Music Man’s” “Trouble.” Others are romantic or just pure fun.

Whether you are a theater nerd who can trace the history of the first act “I Want” song from “Show Boat” to “The Little Mermaid” or are just looking for a clever, warm-hearted, romantic adventure filled with supremely talented people giving their all, “Schmigadoon!” is one of 2021’s most delicious delights.

Parents should know that this movie has sexual references including out-of-wedlock pregancy and explicit language about reproduction and body parts, as well as relationship stress, strong language, and some alcohol.

Family discussion: What’s your favorite musical and why? What did Josh and Melissa learn about love?

If you like this, try: the musicals that inspired it as well as others like “My Fair Lady,” “Once Upon a Mattress,” “Bells are Ringing,” “West Side Story,” and “The Pajama Game”

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The Outside Story

Posted on May 4, 2021 at 2:17 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Mild, including arrest of a Black Man
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 30, 2021

Copyright 2021 Samuel Goldwyn Company
It takes a long time to make a film, from concept to screenwriting to financing, casting, and shooting and distribution. Even the fastest, lowest-budget film takes months, if not years. You’re always creating something for an audience in a future you cannot predict. And yet the magic of the best films is that they arrive at exactly the right time. “The Outside Story,” a slim little gem under 90 minutes long, is about a man who leaves his apartment after a long time inside, and it comes just as many of us are venturing out of our homes post-vaccination, almost having forgotten what it feels like to be out in the world, blinking and disoriented like the returnees at the end of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” And here, gently encouraging us, is this love letter to its characters, its performers, its Brooklyn setting, and to going outside into the world.

Bryan Tyree Henry has been a standout in films like “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “Widows,” on television in “Atlanta” and other shows, and on Broadway, where he was nominated for a Tony for his performance in “The Book of Mormon.” In his first lead role, he is never less than outstanding as Charles, a man whose ambitions have shrunk as he has been more and more homebound. Once working on a documentary about artificial intelligence and being a friendly and outgoing attendee at parties (where he brought homemade desserts), he now works for Turner Classic Movies putting clips together for pre-obituary tributes to filmmakers and actors who seem like they might die soon. A (fictitious) big star named Gardner St. James is reportedly near death and Charles’s boss is sending him a series of urgent texts insisting he send the tribute in immediately, but Charles is still tinkering with it, trying to get one last clip to convey the star’s career.

Charles is also distracted and depressed. He has just broken up with his long-time girlfriend Isha (a radiant Sonequa Martin-Green), because she cheated on him. He is waiting for her to pick up her stuff, but, per the central imperative that rules the lives of New Yorkers, he has promised to move her car to comply with the alternate side-of-the-street rules and keep her from getting a ticket. When his take-out food order arrives, he doesn’t have enough money on hand for a tip, annoying his regular delivery guy. Back in his apartment, he discovers some extra cash in a pants pocket, and goes running after the delivery guy in his stocking feet to give him a tip. He grabbed his keys on the way out of the door, but it turned out they weren’t his keys; they were his ex’s car keys. And he is locked out.

The guy who would not leave the apartment cannot get back in. And the rest of the movie is just his encounters as the day goes on with neighbors who mostly had never seen him before. Each one is a little haiku of a scene, gorgeously acted, especially by Sunita Mani (“GLOW”) as the cop issuing parking tickets, Lynda Gravatt as a feisty widow, and the superb Olivia Edward as a young girl living with a mother who is somewhere on the continuum between high-strung and disturbingly unstable. The smart script by writer/director Casimir Nozkowski unfolds with distinctive, illuminating details (I love his job) and subtle shifts in Charles’s attitude, as he begins to open up to the world. Henry is a knock-out in the role, utterly present for everything the outside world throws at Charle, adjusting o each situation initially in whatever way he thinks will help him get back inside, though not always hiding his frustration, and then starting to listen, to find ways to help others, to connect. It is like watching a flower bloom in time-lapse photography. When he is unexpectedly given a chance to hear some music, it is powerfully moving to see him so moved. Flashbacks give us insight into his relationship with Isha, and how it relates to where Charles is now and what he is learning.

Increasingly, some of my favorite films can be described as “Nothing happens. And everything happens.” That’s this film, and it is a joy to watch.

Parents should know that this film includes sexual references, including infidelity and polyamory, and some strong language. A parent appears to be unstable and abusive.

Family discussion: What changes for Charles during the day and why? Why didn’t Charles want to go outside? Have you ever been locked out? What did you do?

If you like this, try: “Columbus,” “Pieces of April,” and “The Day-Trippers”

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Schmigadoon! Coming to AppleTV+

Posted on May 2, 2021 at 8:25 pm

Copyright AppleTV+ 2021
Apple TV+ today announced “Schmigadoon!,” the six-episode musical comedy series executive produced by Lorne Michaels (“Saturday Night Live”) and starring Emmy Award-nominee Cecily Strong and Emmy Award-winner Keegan-Michael Key (“Key and Peele,” “The Prom”), will debut on Friday, July 16. Two episodes will be available at launch followed by one episode weekly every Friday.

“Schmigadoon!” is a parody of iconic Golden Age musicals. Cecily Strong “Saturday Night Live”) and Keegan-Michael Key (“Key and Peele,” “The Prom”) play a couple on a backpacking trip designed to reinvigorate their relationship who discover a magical town living in a 1940s musical. They then learn that they can’t leave until they find “true love.” The first season also stars Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Aaron Tveit, Dove Cameron, Ariana DeBose, Fred Armisen, Jaime Camil, Jane Krakowski and Ann Harada, with a guest appearance by Martin Short.

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