Bad Boys: Ride or Die

Bad Boys: Ride or Die

Posted on June 4, 2024 at 3:29 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence, language throughout and some sexual references
Profanity: Very strong and crude references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drug dealers
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and very gory violence, many characters injured and killed, knives, pistols and. machine guns, chases, explosions, fire, alligator
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 7, 2024
Copyright Sony 2024

What’cha going to do? You’re going to go see this silly summer movie because it has Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, a lot of winks and in-jokes, and some eye-popping chases and explosions. Plus, a very funny joke featuring a country superstar.

The original Bad Boys starred two very popular television actors and cast them against type as cops. Real-life homebody Will Smith was the playa with the cool car and real-life sometime-volatile Martin Lawrence played the devoted family man. The film was an exemplar of the buddy cop genre along with “Lethal Weapon,” balancing between wild, stunt-tastic action sequences and the chemistry between the two performers, both exceptionally good at bickering repartee with an underpinning of understanding and dedication to the job and to each other. There’s a reason almost 30 years after the first one, we’re up to number four, with the last one called “Bad Boys for Life” and this one “Ride or Die.”

Produced by too-much-action-is- never-enough Jerry Bruckheimer and the two stars, this latest episode has plenty to reward the fans, starting from the opening, which harks back to chapter one with Mike (Smith) terrifying Marcus (Lawrence) by driving his flashy car at top speed through the streets of Miami. Marcus insists on stopping for some ginger ale to settle his stomach. Mike tells him he has just 90 seconds at a convenience store and better not buy anything else. And of course Marcus is in the middle of buying two things he perpetually craves, Skittles and a hot dog with everything when a robber with very unfortunate timing decides to hold up the cashier. Exciting and comic confrontation ensues, and we are solidly in the land of the perpetual Bad Boys. No one would even think of trying to call them Bad Men.

The only element that might count as a surprise in this film is what the Bad Boys are racing toward in that first scene. It is a wedding, not of one of Marcus’ children (we’ve already seen that his daughter Megan is married to Reggie, played by Dennis Greene) but of ladies’ man Mike, marrying Christine (Melanie Liburd), the beautiful physical therapist who helped him heal after he was shot in the third film. Pretty soon, for reasons no one needs to worry about or remember, Mike and Marcus are being hunted down by both good and bad guys and they are reunited with the son Mike first found out about in chapter 3, the drug dealer and assassin now in prison, but not really a bad guy at heart.

The filmmakers, including screenwriter of the original film George Gallo, paid more attention to the details of the earlier chapters than the audience ever did. The most devoted fans will recognize characters and plot points from chapters 1-3. There is another cameo from Michael Bay, a brief return of the character played by DJ Khaled, a posthumous appearance by the Bad Boys’ beloved Captain Howard, played by the very much still alive Joe Pantoliano, and, the scene that got the most cheers from the audience, an opportunity at last for Reggie to show what a Marine can do. Smith and Lawrence still pack a lot of star power. But the film criminally misuses Tiffany Haddish in a thankless and unfunny role. She looks good, though.

But most ticket-buyers will just be there to see the chases and explosions, which are as chase-y and explosion-y as anyone could hope for, along with shoot-outs, stabbing, and let me just put it this way, (spoiler alert, but not too much) when they Scooby-Doo a climactic confrontation in an abandoned amusement park and happen to mention that “legend has it” the park’s famous gigantic albino alligator named Duke is still swimming around the area, you can bet Duke will make an appearance. Or two. Just like you can bet we’ll be seeing “Bad Boys 5” before too long.

Parents should know that this is a very violent movie with many characters injured and killed and many graphic and disturbing images. There are many chases and explosions and fires, guns, including machine guns, knives, punches, and an alligator. Characters use strong and very crude language and there are crude sexual references.

Family discussion: Why have Mike and Marcus remained partners? Which character would you most like to be like?

If you like this, try: the other “Bad Boys” movies and the “Letha Weapon” series

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Drive-Away Dolls

Drive-Away Dolls

Posted on February 22, 2024 at 6:39 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for crude sexual content, full nudity, language and some violent content
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and very intense violence including beheading, guns, fire, torture, some graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: February 23, 2024
Date Released to DVD: April 23, 2024

Once there was a vibrant category of trashy, low-budget films for the cheap theaters and drive-ins. Sometimes called grindhouse films or exploitation films because they were designed to be shocking, they are so beloved by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez that they made a tribute film called “Grindhouse” that was a high-budget version of the kind of 50s double features that inspired them when they were growing up. “Drive-Away Dolls,” from Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke, is another tribute to the Grindhouse-era films. While the sex and violence that was so shocking in the 1950s that audiences did not care about the shabby the production values are no longer shocking today, “Drive-Away Dolls” captures the transgressive spirit of those films, with no air quotes or irony, just engaging and very sincere joy in the genre. Top-level actors, camerawork, music, and wipes (we’ll get to them later) are just a bonus. Coen and Cooke (an un-credited co-director) say this is the first installment of their planned “lesbian b-movie trilogy.” Cooke is queer and they have spoken about their non-traditional marriage, which they have said is reflected in the relationships in the film.

The foundation for the story is one of the oldest and most beloved in the history of human stories: two people who are very different take a journey with many adventures along the way that expand their understanding of themselves and their world. Those people are the very free-spirited, impulsive Jamie (Margaret Qualley) and the very conventional, wear a suit to the office and correct people’s grammar Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan). It is 1999, and they are queer women living in Philadelphia. Jamie’s girlfriend Sukie (Beanie Feldstein) has just kicked her out for cheating, and she has no place to stay. Her friend Marian is feeling stressed and wants to go to Tallahassee for a break. So, Jamie decides to come along, and suggests they get a drive-away car, through a service that matches up drivers with people who want their cars to be driven to another city. As it happens, Jamie and Marian show up at the drive-away company run by Curlie (a wonderfully dry Bill Camp) just as a car going to Tallahassee has been dropped off. Curlie, who has been told to expect a pick-up and assumes that they are the ones. We, on the other hand, know that they are not.

Jamie paints “Love is a sleigh ride to hell” on the trunk of the car, and the adventure begins. The car they are driving to Tallahassee is of great interest to some very bad people. We have already seen that they are prepared to kill and inflict all kinds of mayhem and that it relates somehow to, perhaps a nod to Tarantino and “Pulp Fiction” here, an aluminum briefcase with contents that, unlike “Pulp Fiction,” will eventually be revealed and, trust me on this, you are not going to guess correctly.

The film is stylized but stylish with wipes — the transitions from one shot to the next — that are amusingly old-school and surprising guest star cameos I will not spoil here. Jamie and Marian have a lot of adventures along the way, including a make-out party with a female soccer team that is skillfully filmed in a manner that is empowering rather than explotative. The goons (as they are credited) sent to get back the briefcase have their own adventures in between bickering with each other about whether finesse or brutality is the best way to get what they want. The film includes the characteristic Coen twisty-funny dialogue, and makes good use of the settings, including statues of William Penn and Ponce de Leon gazing down on the wild adventures below. Qualley and Viswanathan are two of Hollywood’s most engaging young stars and their performances are joyful and captivating, their imperishable freshness and high spirits making it impossible for the outrageous elements to seem tawdry. It’s not for everyone, but it will be an instant favorite for fans of the Coens.

Parents should know that this movie has nudity and explicit sexual references and situations, a lot of peril and violence including a beheading, guns, knives, and fire, and very strong language.

Family discussion: Where would Jamie and Marian be today and what would most surprise them about what has and has not changed since 1999? How did they see each other differently over the course of the trip?

If you like this, try: “Grindhouse” and “Bottoms”

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Mafia Mamma

Mafia Mamma

Posted on April 13, 2023 at 5:40 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for bloody violence, sexual content and language
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, references to drug dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Crime-related peril and violence including shoot-outs, murders, poison
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 14, 2023

Copyright 2023 Bleeker Street
“Mafia Mamma” is a high concept elevator pitch that might have sustained a seven-minute comedy sketch but does not work as a feature-length movie. It’s a classic fish out of water: American suburban mom inherits an Italian mafia operation in the middle of a turf war. It could have worked. I kept thinking of the ever-delightful “Married to the Mob.” But it relies too heavily on the set-up to carry the movie, with thinly conceived characters. The plot twists are predictable and boring, the funny parts are not that funny, and the gory parts are, well, also not that funny, and not very
exciting.

Toni Collette plays Kristin. She works in marketing at a pharmaceutical company. The men in her group do not appreciate her. Neither does her immature and dependent husband, Paul (Tim Daish). Their son is leaving for college (Tommy Rodger as Dominick). When she discovers her husband is cheating on her just as she learns that her grandfather in Italy has died, she decides to go to the funeral, even though she had not been in contact with him since she and her mother left Italy when she was a toddler. The character has exactly one attribute: always doing for others and putting herself last. With the encouragement of her best friend, Jenny (Sophia Nomvete), she decides to turn the trip to Italy into a chance to enjoy herself, or, as she puts it with the absence of any charm or wit that makes this movie such a trudge, “my own ‘Under the Tuscan Sun,’ eat, pray, f***.”

At the airport in Rome, she literally bumps into handsome Lorenzo (Giulio Corso) and, encouraged by his aunt (Dora Romano) gives him her number. Then she is whisked off to the funeral of the grandfather she does not remember, which turns into a massive shoot-out. Grandpa was a mob boss, and in a video he left for Kristin he explains that after her father was killed he sent her and her mother to America and had no contact with them to keep them safe. Since only a family member can take over for him, he has essentially left the entire operation to Kristin. Bianca, her grandfather’s closest associate (Monica Bellucci) persuades her to take a meeting with the rival mob, promising that if she does that, Bianca will let her see Lorenzo so she can have sex for the first time in three years.

Kristin stumbles successfully through various encounters with the rival bad guys and with some threats inside her own bunch of bad guys, with some very grisly but intended to be humorous murders, including poison and death by stiletto. Also intended to be humorous is the contrast between her various nice suburban lady persona and the ruthless murderers and drug dealers she is surrounded with. “I made muffins!” she announces cheerily, and then feels called upon to explain that she had to use the bananas before they went bad. Collette and Belucci are great as always, but their underwritten roles, and the script’s unsurprising surprises and lurches from set-up to set-up, and tone to tone keep getting in the way instead of moving it forward. By the time it gets to a big courtroom climax, the trial somehow conducted in English with an American lawyer, and somehow being about how nice Kristin is instead of the bloodbath she was involved in. The result, not just of the trial but of the movie itself, just feels lazy.

Parents should know that this has a lot of graphic violence for a comedy, with shoot-outs and grisly murders, chopping off the hand of a corpse to send a message, poison, gouging out someone’s eyes, etc. Characters commit many crimes including drug dealing. Characters drink and smoke and use strong language and there are sexual references and situations.

Family discussion: What qualities did Kristin have that made her a good boss? Has anyone in your family ever inherited anything unusual?

If you like this, try: “Married to the Mob” and “The Ladykillers” (1955 version)

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The Outfit

The Outfit

Posted on March 17, 2022 at 12:46 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some bloody violence, and language throughout
Profanity: Pervasive strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Crime-related peril and violence, characters injured and killed, guns, knives fire, disturbing graphic images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 18, 2022
Date Released to DVD: May 2, 2022

The title of “The Outfit” has a double meaning, like most of the other details in the movie. It refers to the occupation of Leonard (Mark Rylance), who makes bespoke men’s suits in post WWII Chicago. His store, with a workshop in the back, is where the entire film takes place.

Don’t call Leonard a tailor; he will correct you by explaining that anyone with a needle and thread can sew. He is a cutter, a profession that requires exquisite precision, concentration, patience, and skill. His most prized possession is his lovingly honed fabric shears. And in a world where even names are doubled and language is used to obscure, deflect, and demean, he is called “English” by his most important customers, a gangster group known as “The Outfit.”

Leonard has a pretty receptionist named Mable (Zoey Deutch), who has spent her life on the same block. She dreams of seeing the world but until then she collects snow globes of the places she hopes to see. The latest one is Big Ben. Of course Leonard has seen it and he tells her dismissively that it is just a clock. In a wonderfully-written scene they both stumble as they try to express their concern for one another.

Copyright Focus Features 2022

Leonard’s first customer was Roy (Simon Russell Beale of “The Death of Stalin”), a crime boss with a taste for fine menswear. He knows that “The Row” refers to Saville Row, where the wealthiest men in the world get their understated, perfectly tailored suits. Leonard tells us that a suit is not just a jacket and trousers. It is made up of four fabrics cut into 38 separate pieces, assembled in 228 steps. And, he tells us, it is as important to know the man who will wear the suit as it is to take his measurements. We see that Leonard is a person of deliberation, careful observation, and an awareness that perfection may not be achievable, but it is worth trying to get as close as possible. And we will learn that he is a person who thinks quickly, lies persuasively, and does not
get rattled.

We in the audience are going to get rattled, though, in this expertly crafted puzzle box of a movie that all takes place in one location, with a very small cast of characters, but keeps the twists and turns coming until the last few minutes. Roy has an impetuous, hot-headed son, Richie (Dylan O’Brien), who travels with a level-headed, ruthless gangster Richie thinks is his sidekick but is really his minder (Johnny Flynn as Francis).  Their competition for Roy’s respect is volatile.

It is fascinating to watch Leonard respond in the moment to the shifting loyalties and threats. Rylance, as always, is a master of the smallest gesture and change of expression. He so deeply immersed himself in preparation for the role that he worked with Saville Row tailors/cutters to create the suit he wears in the film. His scene with Beale, two master actors at the peak of their powers, is electrifying.

“The Outfit” is a promising debut for first-time director Graham Moore, an Oscar-winner for the screenplay of “The Imitation Game” and co-writer of this film as well. It is as well-crafted as the suits pieced by the expert cutter at its center.

Parents should know that this movie is about gangsters and it includes guns, knives, fire, and fights, with many characters injured and murdered and some very graphic and bloody images. Characters use strong language and smoke and there are sexual references.

Family discussion: What was the biggest surprise in the movie? What tool is important in your life?

If you like this, try: “Layer Cake” and “Confidence”

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Death on the Nile

Death on the Nile

Posted on February 10, 2022 at 5:39 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Murders, gun
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 11, 2022
Date Released to DVD: April 4, 2022

Copyright 20th Century 2021

Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel about a murder in Egypt has been sumptuously brought to screen by Sir Kenneth Branagh, who directed and stars as super-sleuth Hercule Poirot. (It was previously filmed with Peter Ustinov in 2009.)

For this version of “Death on the Nile,” Branagh worked again with his outstanding “Belfast” cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos and production designer Jim Clay, and their work here is never less than breathtakingly exquisite, matched by the fabulous costumes designed by Paco Delgado and JobanJit Singh, worn by some of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars. It is beautiful to look at, and to listen to, with a superb soundtrack that includes sultry songs by a nightclub performer (Sophie Okonedo, the highlight of the film). But as with Branagh’s previous Poirot film, there are some confounding choices that distract us from the reason we’re there, which is to have just enough information and almost enough emotional involvement to enjoy the puzzle. For some inexplicable reason, Branagh and his screenwriter, Michael Green (“Logan”) think that we need to understand Poirot’s backstory, which Dame Agatha knew very well we did not. In 33 books, 2 plays, and more than 50 short stories, she wisely never told us more about Poirot than that he was proud of his “little gray cells,” his Belgian heritage (he is often mistaken for French), and his impressive mustache and that he sometimes spoke of retiring to plant vegetable marrows. This film begins with an un-Christie, un-canon flashback to Poirot’s WWI combat experience, and it (and the coda at the end) add nothing to the story.

The story has more than enough love, betrayal, melodrama, and yes, murder to fill a movie. In fact, to my recollection, it adds at least one murder to the Christie original for, again, no particular reason. This is a darker story than “Murder on the Orient Express,” but the tone of the film, and even the stunning images (people and settings) are off-kilter with the carnage of the story. There’s a reason that the stories by Christie and her imitators are called “cozies.” Unlike noir mysteries, they are comparatively neat and civilized. Noir is rotgut whiskey and bathtub gin. Cozies are afternoon tea with lemon curd and clotted cream.

It begins (after we get the flashback out of the way) with two devoted friends, both beautiful, high-spirited young women. Jacqueline (Emma Mackey) is poor and Linnet (Gal Gadot) is very wealthy. Jacqueline tells Linnet she is madly in love with Simon (Armie Hammer) but they need money to get married. Linnet immediately offers her whatever she needs as a wedding gift, but Jacqueline says that what she wants is a job for her fiancé. If Linnet will hire him as her estate manager, that’s all they need. Linnet agrees, Simon asks her to dance to celebrate and…in the next scene, it is Simon and Linnet who are married, celebrating in Egypt. Jacqueline, almost mad with jealousy, has followed them. To feel safe, Linnet invites a group to take a boat to see the famous tomb at Abu Simbal and other sights along the Nile. She tells Poirot that having money means it is impossible to trust anyone.

The other passengers include the blues singer and her accompanist/manager niece (Letitia Wright of “The Black Panther”), Poirot’s handsome young friend Bouc (Tom Bateman, returning in the same role he played in “Murder on the Orient Express”) and his protective mother (Annette Bening), two middle-aged British ladies (underused Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders), Linnet’s lawyer (Ali Fazal) and doctor (a sincere, melancholy, toned-down Russell Brand). Jacqueline joins the group as well. When someone is murdered, it turns out that many of the passengers may have had motive and/or opportunity. Poirot will have to ask questions and ultimately gather all of the surviving group in one room to tell them which of them is guilty.

Where will the next Branagh/Christie all-star mystery take place? Following a train and a boat, which conveniently limit inquiries to the people on board. Maybe an airplane? A submarine? Despite its shortcomings, I’ll be along for the ride.

Parents should know that this is a murder mystery with some grisly and disturbing images. There are also sexual references and characters use some strong language and drink alcohol.

Family discussion: Which clues did you miss? How do the songs relate to the story and characters?

If you like this, try: the original “Murder on the Orient Express,” “10 Little Indians,” and more Christie-based movies and television series as well as her books.

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