Hobbs & Shaw

Posted on August 1, 2019 at 5:30 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material and some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive action-style peril and violence, chases, explosions, guns, fire, clubs, torture, some injuries and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 2, 2019

Copyright Universal 2019
This is the summer movie you’ve been waiting for. “Fast and Furious” spin-off “Hobbs & Shaw” takes two of the series’ most popular characters, throws a silly McGuffin and a super-motivated, super-powered bad guy at them, adds in some family members, and plays up their animosity for a big-time buddy cop action comedy full of one-liners, chases, crashes, explosions, punches, kicks, improbable stunts, impossible stunts, and stay-to-the-end-of-the-credits extras. Plus Dame Helen Mirren talking like Eliza Doolittle when she was still selling flowers and looking very elegant in her orange prison jumpsuit. Suspend your disbelief and pass the popcorn!

You’ve never seen a “Fast and Furious” movie? No problem. You do not ever have to have seen a movie of any kind. You barely have to be a sentient life form to be up to, uh, speed, on this story. This is a movie where the bad guy introduced himself by telling you he is the bad guy. Where the leading lady fights like an MMA champ without ever smudging her eye-liner. And where two Hollywood stars show up in silly cameos because why not?

Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson) was in US law enforcement as an agent of the Diplomatic Security Service. He was originally supposed to track down and arrest the “Fast and Furious” members, but once it was clear they were framed, he became their ally. He is a devoted father of a young girl.

Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is British, from a family of grifters headed by Queenie (Helen Mirren!). In the British military he was involved in some black ops, disgraced, and became a mercenary. He also entered the series as a antagonist and is now, as Dom would say, family.

In an opening reminiscent of “The Patty Duke Show’s” identical cousin song, we see Hobbs and Shaw, on opposite sides of the world literally and metaphorically, waking up and starting their days. They both start with eggs, but Hobbs chugs his raw, and Shaw makes an omelet in his elegant, immaculate kitchen and then drives off in his cool sports car.

And then they get the call. The world needs to be saved. A deadly virus that could wipe out half the planet in just two days has been stolen by a rogue military operative named Hattie (Vanessa Kirby, a long way from playing Princess Margaret in “The Crown”). Both agree to track down the virus. But both insist that there is no way they will work together. Oh, and by the way, Hattie is Shaw’s sister, who has not spoken to him since he he went rogue.

The guy who introduced himself as the bad guy is Brixton (Idris Elba), a surgically and mechanically enhanced soldier with superhuman fighting skills who has a history with Shaw. He works for a Thanos-like organization with vast technology and a plan to release the virus and reboot humanity. The leader uses voice distortion to disguise his or her identity, so we expect some surprise from the past.

The odd couple duo hop around the world, including a visit to Hobbs’ birthplace (Hawaii playing the part of Samoa), with all kinds of crazy stunts, punctuated by quippy wisecracks. Director David Leitch is a former stunt-man and co-director of “John Wick.” I was especially taken with Brixton’s motorcycle, which seems to be operating on some almost-telepathic AI. When both men have to get past some bad guys in separate rooms and show off for each other was a highlight. There’s a lot of “What? You didn’t do that bad thing I thought you did?” Does it make sense? Nope. Is it fun? Yes.

NOTE: Stay all the way to the end for the extra scenes.

Translation: Extended peril and violence, chases, explosions, shooting, punching, knives, clubs, torture, some disturbing images and injuries, family issues, some strong language, some sexual references

Family discussion: Why do Hobbs and Shaw dislike each other so much? What do we learn about Hobbs and Shaw from seeing their families? How is Brixton’s group like Thanos in the MCU?

If you like this, try: the “Fast and Furious” movies and “The Transporter”

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Stuber

Posted on July 11, 2019 at 5:30 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence and language throughout, some sexual references and brief graphic nudity
Profanity: Constant very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs and drug dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and intense peril and violence with many graphic and disturbing images, many characters injured and killed, extended mayhem and destruction
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: July 12, 2019
Date Released to DVD: October 14, 2019

Copyright 2019 20th Century Fox
At least once every summer we have to get a dumb action comedy about a mismatched pair, so this summer it is “Stuber,” about an Uber driver named Stu. If you find that portmanteau witty — or don’t care whether it’s witty or not because it’s summer and you like to see chases and explosions — then this movie is for you. If you want to see this premise at it’s best, try “Midnight Run” with Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin. If you want to see an entertaining recent example, try “Central Intelligence” with Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. But if you just want some mindless summer movie mayhem, then “Stuber” will fill the bill.

Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick,” “Silicon Valley”) plays Stu, who is struggling with not one but two jobs where he is constantly trying to handle people who disrespect and abuse him. He works at a big box sporting goods store under a bully who is also the son of the owner. He makes extra money driving for Uber and he tries hard for the five-star rating, providing phone chargers and water and selecting just the right music for the ride. He is saving money to start a spin class business with his long-time friend and wished-for crush, Becca (“GLOW’s” Betty Gilpin). Stu is a gentle soul who drives an electric car and cannot find the courage to tell Becca how he feels. He pretty much wants a five star rating from everyone; it’s even on his license plate.

And so we have to find someone who is Stu’s opposite, then, so we can have the fun of seeing them not get along and then prove themselves to each other and become BFFs while they’re chasing and shooting and exchanging banter, right? And so there’s Vic (Dave Bautista of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the WWE), a hard-as-nails cop who has been chasing a drug dealer named Teijo (Iko Uwais) for years. And it’s personal, because Teijo killed Vic’s partner and because this movie needs to ramp everything up repeatedly to keep us from noticing that it is pretty dumb. Some more ramping up: Vic is a walking, punching personification of toxic masculinity with an adult daughter he neglects and who is having a big show of her sculpture the same night when Teijo may be within reach and the same night he has a significant temporary impairment — he cannot see due to Lasik surgery. (I trust that neither Lasik nor Uber paid for their product placement in this film.)

And so he calls Uber to take him to the various places he needs to go to interrogate people and track down Teijo. As is typical in R-rated action comedies, this includes a strip club, but in this case it’s male strippers, where Stu unexpectedly has something of a bonding moment with one of the performers. Stu also gets some frantic phone calls from Becca, who may for the first time be willing to see him as a romantic possibility — if he comes over RIGHT NOW. Plus, Vic keeps pulling him into increasingly perilous situations. But Vic won’t let him go, threatening a rating so bad Stu will lose his job.

These team-ups are always based on an id/superego mash-up, and Nanjiani’s trademark understated delivery plays off well with Bautista’s brawn. But the mayhem and senseless destruction overwhelms even the ramped-up stakes, with more death and destruction than an action comedy can support and a twist so obvious it doesn’t even work as parody.

Parents should know that this film includes constant action-style peril and violence with many characters injured and killed and graphic and disturbing images, very strong and crude language, and sexual references and brief frontal male nudity.

Family discussion: Why couldn’t Stu tell Becca how he felt? Why couldn’t Vic tell his daughter how he felt?

If you like this, try: “Central Intelligence” and “Midnight Run”

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Yesterday

Posted on June 27, 2019 at 5:30 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and tipsiness
Violence/ Scariness: Bicycle accident, some graphic injuries
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 28, 2019
Date Released to DVD: September 23, 2019

Copyright 2019 Universal Pictures
Yesterday” would have made a cute seven-minute sketch on “Saturday Night Live” (or, as this movie would say, “Thursday Night Live”) but it does not work as a movie. I wish I could say they ran out of ideas in the last third, but it’s worse than that. They had ideas; they just ran out of good ones. There’s a curious disconnect in watching the film between the weakness of the storyline, including a major jump the shark swerve near the end, and the imperishable music of the Beatles. Every time we hear “In My Life” or a rocking “Help!” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand” we say, “That sure is a great song” and forget for a moment that the movie is not very good. Richard Curtis admitted as much in an interview on Morning Joe: “When I type and run out of ideas I just put in ‘The Long and Winding Road.'”

Jack (Himesh Patel) has been trying to make it as a musician for ten years in his small home town on the English coast. His best friend Ellie (Lily James) believes in him and acts as his manager when she isn’t teaching high school math. But he is not making much progress. He is ready to give up when a mysterious worldwide blackout shuts down all power for twelve seconds and he is hit by a bus as he is bicycling home. During that twelve seconds, somehow the world is rebooted in a slightly different form. The Beatles never existed. Some other random cultural touchstones are missing as well, including Coke. Jack, just out of the hospital and still missing two front teeth, thanks his friends for the gift of a new guitar by playing “Yesterday.” Which they have never heard before and think he wrote. And of course they love it, though one of them says it’s not up to the level of Coldplay’s “Fix You.”

Jack starts playing Beatles songs and people like them. Ed Sheeran, charmingly playing a version of himself, invites him to tour as his opening act. In Moscow, Jack plays “Back in the USSR,” which is a huge success with the crowd, even though most of them were not born when their country was the USSR. Ed Sheeran challenges Jack to a songwriting competition, and has to admit defeat. “You’re Mozart and I’m Salieri,” he says.

An agent named Debra (Kate McKinnon in a sizzling performance) arrives to offer Jack “the poison chalice” of fame and money. Jack, who has waited so long for success as a musician and performer, says yes.

This is very much a lesser work from Richard Curtis, the man who wrote “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” “Pirate Radio,” and “Love Actually.” There are lovely moments — the first recording session, the fun of the astonishment when people are stunned by songs we all know so well they are a part of us, the fantasy of being adored by worldwide audiences, the hilariousness of playing one of the greatest songs of all time for your parents and their not having a clue. And it is intriguing to see a person of color appropriate white musicians’ work for a change. But the friend zone/romance storyline and a bad swerve at the end show that even the world’s greatest songs cannot prop up a script that outstays its welcome. The songs are all sublime, but these new versions do not add anything special.

George Martin, who worked more closely with the Beatles than anyone else, said that their charm was as important to their early success as their music. That early success gave them a chance to develop and grow and take huge risks and reflect on their experiences, all of which became a part of their endlessly innovative and ground-breaking work.

To have even some of their greatest hits all thrown into what is supposed to be one performer’s series of songs, unrelated to what is going on in the lives of the songwriter or in the world, and, to adapt the title of an ex-Beatle song, imagine there’s no Beatles, gives the music an unearned power, relying on our love for the songs and what they mean in our lives, whether we first heard them in kindergarten, at spin class, or as they first came out. That makes this story empty at its Apple Corps.

Parents should know that this movie includes sexual references and situations and some strong and crude language.

Family discussion: Why did Deborah call what she was offering the poison chalice? What did Jack learn from his meeting with John?

If you like this, try: “Begin Again” and “Across the Universe” and the Beatles movies

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Movie Mom on “Some Like it Hot” — Crooked Table Podcast

Posted on June 26, 2019 at 8:00 am

Copyright United Artists 1959

I had a lot of fun on the Crooked Table podcast talking about one of the greatest movies of all time, Some Like it Hot.

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Men in Black International

Posted on June 13, 2019 at 5:49 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi/comic book style peril and violence including weapons and explosions, some graphic images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 14, 2019
Date Released to DVD: September 9, 2019

Copyright 2019 Columbia Pictures
So, you watch “Thor Ragnarock” and you say, “Boy, I’d watch Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson in anything!” And you watch the original “Men in Black” and you say, “Boy, this is one of the best movies ever, funny, smart, exciting, with wonderfully vivid and engaging human and non-human characters. I’d like to see more of this world.” And so, someone put it together and we have Hemsworth and Thompson taking over for Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, and F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton,” “The Fate of the Furious”) taking over as director from Barry Sonnenfeld, and it turns out “Men in Black International” is just okay.

For example, among the many understated, near-throwaway jokes in the first movie, we saw a bank of television monitors tracking people on Earth who are in reality aliens. Unless you were watching it on a DVD player with a pause button, you would miss most of it, but the “aliens” included “Today’s” Al Roker, singer and psychic promoter Dionne Warwick, Tony Robbins, Sylvester Stallone, and fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi. They use the same joke again, but it’s just Ariana Grande. Really? That’s the best you’ve got? Much of what made the first film such a wonder was the sense that there was a fully-imagined, world where supermarket tabloids were the only non-fake news, that somehow made more sense than the one we think of as real. It never winked at its characters or the audience. This one goes for a cheap laugh by having Hemsworth reach for a sledgehammer. He’s Thor, get it?

Thompson plays Molly, who had an alien encounter as a child and was accidentally not neuralized with the MiB’s memory eraser. She helped the fuzzy green alien escape and even learned a couple of words of its language. Since then, she has been so obsessed with learning more about the way the universe works that most people, including the man who was impressed with her record on the tests for government service, dismiss her as nutty.

By tracking an alien arrival, she sneaks into the MiB office, where the director (Emma Thompson as Agent O) agrees to take her on for a probationary period and sends her to the London office, where the top agent is H (Hemsworth), whose character seems to be based on the roles Rock Hudson played in “Pillow Talk” and “Lover Come Back,” a rakish playboy who hangs out with aliens at card games and nightclubs. While he is a legend in the office for having defeated The Hive with his then-partner, Agent T (Liam Neeson), he has pretty much checked out, sleeping at his desk and annoying his play-by-the-rules colleague, Agent C (Rafe Spall). H takes a visiting alien dignitary out for a night of drinking and debauchery but things go wrong and the alien is killed, with just enough time to pass on to Molly, now Agent M, a small object that seems to be very important, but he does not tell her why.

This fourth in the “Men in Black” series owes as much to James Bond as to its original (in both senses of the word) off-best, off-kilter, world-building story-telling. Our heroes hop around glamorous and exotic settings: Paris, London, Marrakech, a mysterious fortress on an island. Characters and incidents from the past are confronted and characters from the present may not be what they seem. A new character, voiced by “Silicon Valley’s” Kumail Nanjiani nearly steals the film with a reminder of the understated but pointed humor of the first film.

It has an awkward twist that indicates some struggles over rewrites, but H and M are so blandly conceived that even two of Hollywood’s most versatile and appealing performers can’t make them vibrant.

Parents should know that this film includes action/comic book-style peril and violence, powerful weapons, mayhem, characters injured and killed, monsters, disturbing images, some strong language, and a non-explicit inter-species sexual situation and sexual references.

Family discussion: Why did H change after his experience with the Hive? What did M want to understand about the universe and were her questions answered? Which alien was your favorite?

If you like this, try: the other “Men in Black” movies and the comics, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and “Paul”

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