Sam & Kate

Posted on November 10, 2022 at 5:01 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and drug use
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Marijuana and alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 11, 2022
Copyright 2022 Vertical Entertainment

The movie is called Sam and Kate, but it is equally about Bill and Tina. And it is about the actors who play them. Bill is played by Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman. and his son Sam is played by Hoffman’s real-life son, Jake Hoffman. Tina is played by Oscar-winner Sissy Spacek, and her daughter Kate is played by Spacek’s real-life daughter, Schuyler Fisk. That real-life connection gives the film extra interest and extra grounding. There is a palpable sense of trust in the scenes of Sam and Kate interacting with their parents that lets them show frustration without making us for a moment doubt their love.

It will take a while for Sam and Kate to learn that they have a lot in common. They each lived somewhere else and have returned to a small town to help care for their parents. Bill is cranky and demanding. We first see Sam resignedly sitting on a chair in a huge big box store as Bill rides around on a scooter annoying the staff. Tina and Kate have a warmer relationship, but we will learn that Tina is more dependent on Kate than she seemed.

Sam loves to draw but he is stuck working at a chocolate factory. His Kate owns a bookstore. Both are feeling isolated and lost, though Sam has hoped that Kate will help him feel less lost. He awkwardly tries to ask her out in her store but she says she is not dating at the moment.

On Christmas, all four attend the same church service. When Tina’s car stalls in the church parking lot, Bill tries to help, and the four get acquainted. Bill takes Tina on a date and Kate agrees to let Sam take her out.

First time feature riter/director Darren Le Gallo is better with the in-between moments than the plot developments, which is often the case with beginners who have not yet learned to trust the audience. When the chaacters are just interacting quietly they convey a great deal and the events interrupt the delicacy of those scenes. Jake Hoffman, very impressive in small roles in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (as shoe designer turned felon Steve Madden) and in the otherwise disappointing “Otherhood” moves smoothly into a central role. And Fisk, an engaging screen presence going back to 1995’s “Babysitter’s Club,” has a lovely, expressive light. Watching them together as Sam and Kate begin to open up despite all of the baggage and self-protective distance and fear of vulnerability is touching and a reminder that it is those in between moments that can matter most.

Parents should know that this film has a non-explicit sexual situation and some crude sexual references, strong language, alcohol and marijuana, and a sad death.

Family discussion: Why did Sam and Kate change over the course of the film? What kind of help did they give their parents?

If you like this, try: “”Kalbuey,” “Laggies,” “Maggie’s Plan,” and “A Little Help”

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Meet Cute

Posted on September 21, 2022 at 7:59 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: NR
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, scenes in bar, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Comic violence, attempted suicide and suicidal ideation
Diversity Issues: BIPOC characters used solely as guides for white characters
Date Released to Theaters: September 21, 2022

Copyright 2022 Peacock
As anyone who has seen “The Holiday” knows, movies love the “meet cute.” In “The Holiday,” Eli Wallach plays a screenwriter from the 1940s who tells Kate Winslet that a “meet cute” is where there is something awwww-some about the way the couple we’ll be rooting for first see each other. The example he gives is a man and woman meeting at a store when he is trying to buy just the bottom half of a pair of pajamas and she is trying to buy just the top half. That’s a real movie, by the way. It has a cute title, too: “Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife.”

The term takes on extra dimension in this new rom-com, a time-traveling dimension. We may think that Sheila (Kaley Cuoco) and Gary (Pete Davidson) are meeting for the first time at a sports bar and that it is a charming coincidence or maybe a hint that they were meant to be together when they order the same cocktail, an old fashioned. But there are hints about what Shiela will reveal. It is the first time for Gary, but not for Sheila. She has been using a time machine in the back of a nail salon that looks like tanning bed to repeat the same night for months so she can make it perfect.

She has also been going back in time to tweak some of Gary’s earlier experiences to make him a little more perfect, too. Both Gary and Sheila had painful childhoods. She thinks if she can eliminate some of the trauma he experienced, he will be happier and..better. Apparently no one ever explained the Butterfly Effect to her. You can’t just tweak experiences and expect people to be the same. Pain is part of what makes us who we are.

This is a high-concept movie that delivers a satisfying level of insight beyond the will they/won’t they of the romance. It is likely that anyone who has ever been in a close relationship, romantic, familial, or friendship, has wondered if the other party might not be easier or wished to be able to fix something that hurt a loved one long ago.

Cuoco has already shown herself to be an actress of range far beyond her excellent work in sit-coms. Davidson was a less likely choice as he pretty much always plays himself, quite literally in his only previous lead role. They are both quite good here, as Cuoco becomes more and more honest about what is going on and about her own struggles and Davidson shows us how small changes in his past would have produced a more confident, less empathetic version.

There are some odd choices here, including Sheila’s murderous disposal of her alternate timeline versions and the only two characters of color being relegated to wise counselor roles to prop up the white couple. But the parts that work have great charm and Cuoco and Davidson are a pleasure to root for.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong language, sexual references, a light-hearted portrayal of murder and attempted murder, a less lighthearted portrayal of suicide attempt and suicidal ideation, and alcohol and drugs.

Family discussion: If you could travel through time, what would you change? Is it okay for things to be messy?

If you like this, try: “Groundhog Day,” “Palm Springs,” “About Time,” “Happy Accidents,” and “Map of a Thousand Perfect Things”

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The In Between

Posted on February 11, 2022 at 12:30 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief strong language, and some thematic material
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Reference to a drunk driver and alcohol abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Fatal car accident, sad death, scenes in hospital
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 11, 2022

Copyright 2021 Paramount
Should a movie have a happy ending? We may guess that the teenage couple who debate this critical question in their very first conversation are destined for each other. We may guess which category this film falls in from the opening scene, a fatal car accident. We will see the story unfold back and forth between that night and 102 days earlier, so we can see how they met and fell in love and the events that led up to and followed the crash.

They meet when Skylar (Kyle Allen of “A Map of Tiny Perfect Things”) and Tessa (Joey King of “The Kissing Booth” movies) are entire audience for a French film called “Betty Blue.” Tessa is about to leave when she realizes that there are no subtitles. But he takes the seat next to her and offers to translate as he has seen it before and he speaks French.

They debate the value of a happy ending. As we will learn, Skylar has two loving parents he admires and is close to. He is an outstanding student and athlete and has been accepted at Brown. He believes in happy endings because the world has treated him kindly. Tessa, who lives with people who are not her parents and would rather interact with the world behind a camera, has experienced loss and she is determined to make sure she never risks feeling pain again. She cannot help falling in love with him, but cannot bring herself to say the words that come more easily to him.

Like “Ghost” and “Truly Madly Deeply,” this is a story of love and loss. Tessa is just fine at a remove from other people, taking photos and not talking to the adults she lives with. But Skylar is irresistible. Impossibly so, like beyond perfect, handsome, humble, funny, smart, and one hundred percent devoted and supportive even when she is challenging. But that’s almost okay because Allen has a lot of charm and carries it lightly and because it is depicting the heightened emotions of teenage first love. We can accept that we are seeing him through Tessa’s eyes.

King is transitioning smoothly into more grown-up roles and she is very appealing here, especially as we see Tessa’s relationship with Skylar evolve. We can see how desperately she wants to find connection and allow herself to be loved, even as it terrifies her. The movie is about 20 minutes too long, but so sweet it is hard to hold that against it.

Parents should know that this movie includes discussion of family loss, abandonment, and dysfunction including a mentally unstable parent, foster care, and divorce, brief strong language, and a teen sexual situation.

Family discussion: How do you decide when to protect yourself and when to make yourself vulnerable? Why was it important for Tessa to hear her own words?

If you like this, try: “Every Day,” “Before I Fell,” and, also starring Kyle Allen, “A Map of Tiny Perfect Things”

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Cyrano

Posted on January 31, 2022 at 6:48 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some strong violence, thematic and suggestive material, and brief language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Sword fights and battles, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, but transphobic humor
Date Released to Theaters: February 4, 2022
Date Released to DVD: April 18, 2022

Copyright 2021 MGM
Cyrano” is a gorgeous film, a true labor of love. The basis, of course, is one of the great classic plays of all time, Edmond Rostand’s 1897 Cyrano de Bergerac, inspired by a real soldier/writer. Jose Ferrar won an Oscar for his performance as the title character in a 1950 film. The story of the man who cannot tell the woman he loves how he feels because of the way he looks has been adapted and rebooted many times, with probably the best known Steve Martin’s Roxanne and most recently set in a high school in “The Half of It.” Everyone can identify with a character who is afraid to approach the object of their affection and everyone would like to identify with a character whose wit is as ready and sharp as his sword. In the original and the Steve Martin version, the main character’s rapier-like comebacks to a thoughtless bully are a highlight.

In the original and “Roxanne,” the impediment is a nose so big that the Cyrano character believes no one can see him as a romantic partner. In this swooningly romantic new version, set, like the original, in the 17th century, the physical obstacle is size. Writer Erica Schmidt adapted the play as a musical to be performed on stage by her husband, actor Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”) as Cyrano, and ravishingly lovely Haley Bennett as Roxanne. They play those parts in this film, directed by Bennett’s significant other, Joe Wright (“Atonement,” “Pride and Prejudice”)

Roxanne is loved by three men: Cyrano, the handsome but better-with-a-sword-than-with-poetic-love-letters Christian (Kelvin Harrison, Jr. of “Waves”), and the selfish, predatory De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn). Cyrano has been her closest friend and confidant since childhood. De Guiche is pressuring her to marry him. Her maid reminds her that she has no money and no other options for supporting herself. But one night at the theater, she glimpses Christian, a newcomer to the military unit where Cyrano serves, and she loses her heart to him. Cyrano agrees to ghost-write love letters from Christian to Roxanne. He pretends it is to help the new recruit but in reality it is to have his one chance to tell the woman he loves how he feels, even if the letters are signed by someone else.

In a way, Schmidt is giving her words to the man he she loves so that we can see him the way she does, gallant, mordantly witty, a brilliant actor, and a person of deep and generous humanity. A scene where he is almost about to dare to hope that Roxanne will say she loves him, the emotions that flicker across his face as he is almost successful maintaining his composure is one of the most touching moments on screen this year.

With Schmidt and Wright creating the words and images for the people they love, in spectacularly beautiful costumes (Massimo Cantini Parrini and Jacqueline Durran) and settings (Sicily filling in as 17th century France) with music and even some dance numbers, the unabashed romanticism almost bursts out of the screen. Bennett makes a lovely Roxanne, clever and spirited but allowing her own romanticism to blind her to the love that is already hers. Mendelsohnn seems to specialize in bad guys these days, and this is another strong performance, De Guiche’s brutality glimpsed under a very thin veneer of suavity. Harrison makes a gallant Christian. But it is Dinklage who is in every way the heart of the story. Just as we get to see Cyrano finally use his own words under cover of darkness to play the part of the man whose outside matches his inside, in this film we get to see Dinklage take center stage, with a performance of heart-stopping vulnerability. Rostand would be proud, and so would the man who inspired the play that continues to capture us more than a hundred years later.

Parents should know that this film includes brief strong language, sexual references, sword fights, and battle scenes, with characters injured and killed.

Family discussion: Should Cyrano have told Roxanne how he felt? If so, when? Is there a time when you misjudged someone based on looks or when you were misjudged?

If you like this, try: “Roxanne” and the Ferrar and PBS versions of “Cyrano de Bergerac”

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The Sun is Also a Star

Posted on May 15, 2019 at 6:15 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Accident with pedestrian injuries, family scuffle
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: May 17, 2019
Date Released to DVD: August 19, 2019

Copyright 2019 Warner Brothers Studios
A pair of teenagers who happen to meet on a day of great pressure for both of them are riding on a New York City subway train that gets stuck. The engineer comes on the speaker to tell them a story reminiscent of the Taoist parable about the farmer, the son, and the horse. Sometimes the very thing that you think is an insurmountable obstacle to what you are urgently trying to achieve turns out to lead you to something you could not have imagined, or even to save your life.

That is a theme in “The Sun is Also a Star,” along with the divide and sometimes conflict between poetry and science, the left brain and the right, what we feel and what we can prove, and the needs and dreams of the individual versus what is best for the family or the group — and who gets to decide what “best” means. And at the center of it is the thrum of issues of immigration and assimilation. It might be easy to lose sight of the love story under the weight of all of this, but the star power of lead actors Yara Shahidi (“Black-Ish” and “Grown-Ish”) and Charles Melton (“Riverdale,” “Glee”) and the deeply romantic direction of Ry Russo-Young, the romance is in every way the heart of the film.

Natasha (Shahidi) is the daughter of Jamaican immigrants who are being deported following an ICE raid of the restaurant where he father works. The family moved to New York when she and her brother were young children, meaning that they are not American citizens in the family on which to base an appeal. As her parents pack up, Natasha goes to ICE to see if she can appeal their decision.

A compassionate case officer says it is too late for him to re-open the case but he gives her the card of a lawyer who might be able to help. Because he cannot see her until noon, later postponed to 4:30, she is stuck downtown, not enough time to go home, but, perhaps enough time to fall in love?

Natasha does not believe in love, or so she says. She dismisses it as romantic hogwash, just a distractingly poetic way to describe hormones. She is interested in data and science. If love cannot be measured and studied according to the strictures of the scientific method, she says, it cannot be true.

The person she says it to is Daniel (Melton), the son of Korean immigrants, who glimpses Natasha at Grand Central Station when he is on his way to a very important alumni interview for Dartmouth. He grabs her away from a careening car that has already knocked down one pedestrian and she accepts his invitation to go for coffee. He is a poet, a romantic, a believer in signs and omens. Natasha’s jacket has the same ancient Greek phrase that he had jotted down in his notebook that morning: deus ex machina. Literally, it translates to “god from the machine,” referring to the mechanical device used in Greek theater to bring the deity characters on stage. But it is a literary term meaning some extraordinary, sometimes supernatural or god-like force that suddenly changes the trajectory of a story, usually resolving it for the better.

Daniel tells Natasha he can make her believe in love. He begins with the famous 36 questions followed by a silent stare into each other’s eyes. She insists that it cannot possibly work, but as the day goes on, she cannot help but be drawn to him. As they watch a show at the Planetarium (perhaps a nod to “Rebel Without a Cause”), she reaches for his hand.

Their walk-and-talk courtship involves visits to each other’s families and some surprising, one might even say cosmic connections. Melton and Shahidi make a graceful transition from television to the big screen, with charisma and chemistry to spare. Their chemistry is almost tactile, with a deep sweetness. With all of their differences in outlook and situation, their shared bond as the children of immigrants, struggling with what they owe to the past and what they dream of for the future is so real to us that by the end we are holding our breath hoping for the magic to go on.

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language and crude sexual references, a car hitting a pedestrian, and a scuffle between brothers, as well as some issues of family conflict and the prospect of deportation.

Family discussion: Daniel’s father says that Daniel should do what is best for the community. What do you think is best for the community in that context? Can you fall in love by asking each other questions? Was there a time where what you thought was something going wrong turned out to be right? Can tragedy be funny?

If you like this, try: “Before Sunrise,” “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist,” and “Everything Everything”

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