Fly Me to the Moon

Fly Me to the Moon

Posted on July 11, 2024 at 12:12 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language and smoking
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and smoking
Diversity Issues: Issues of perception, expectations, and treatment of women
Date Released to Theaters: July 12, 2024
Copyright 2024 Sony Pictures

Unless you care more about historical accuracy than a rollicking good story, I think you will really enjoy this movie, one of the most purely entertaining films of the year. And some of it is even true.

There are many places to get the real story of the moon landing. This has some of the story right, and some enhanced for dramatic, comedic, and romantic purposes, all of which are very well served.

Scarlett Johansson, who also produced, plays Kelly, an advertising executive who has the right combination for success in that field: she always understands her market/target/audience and she will say or do whatever it takes on its behalf. She can spin anything and that includes selling her own services.

She is approached by a mysterious man who says his name is Moe Berkus ( Woody Harrelson) and that he works for President Richard Nixon. John F. Kennedy promised an American man on the moon by the end of the decade and the end of the 60s is approaching. For the politicians, this is an essential achievement for the Cold War battle for supremacy of capitalism and democracy. If that sounds more like branding than public policy, you understand why, in the midst of some of the most divisive and troubled years of the 20th century, someone might decide that what NASA needed was an expert in marketing. After all, selling a product, whether breakfast cereal, car, or the space program, is about making the product real, immediate, personal, and aspirational. Kelly and her assistant arrive in Cocoa Beach, ready to sell the moon.

You could say the people in NASA were not happy about this, but perhaps a better term would be horrified. Their culture is about secrecy (national security), science, and control. The person in charge is Cole Davis (Channing Tatum) and he does his best to discourage Kelly. In other words, the ideal set-up for romantic sparks, and when it’s Tatum and Johansson, it’s more like fireworks. They are wonderful together.

The sharp, witty, and wise screenplay is by third-generation Hollywood writer Rose Gilroy (her grandfather was “The Subject Was Roses” screenwriter Frank Gilroy and her parents are Dan Gilroy of “Real Steel,” “Kong: Skull Island,” and “Nightcrawler” and Rene Russo). It skillfully balances the romantic comedy with the dramatic themes and the inherent tension in the goal everyone is working toward. Even if we know that indeed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin will indeed walk on the moon the question of public support, we get caught up in the surprising challenges along the way. Who could guess that having astronauts sell watches, cars, and underwear — and, of course, Tang — would make them so relatable Americans would start to root for them? What will they have do and which Senators will they have to persuade to get the funding they need? Is there a way to sell space not as a distraction but as an unassailable story of American heroes and know-how?

Cole and Kelly have real differences that give this film a welcome depth. Both on the personal and professional level, the issue of what the truth is and how and when to tell it is presented thoughtfully and with the complexity it deserves, but it is never pedantic or preachy. Jim Rash plays a temperamental commercial director Moe insists join the team to make a back-up for the broadcast. The stunning technological innovations from a group of engineers with an average age of 26, working to solve the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the history of the world, in a building tall enough to enclose four Statues of Liberty on each other’s shoulders.

And there is a wonderful black cat. Plus Johansson’s husband, Colin Jost, in a brief, funny cameo. This movie is romantic, funny, exciting, and meaningful, filled with joy, honoring the heroes of the voyage to the moon for their dedication, innovation, and courage. And it has heartwarming compassion for the vulnerability of its characters that resonates with us long after the movie is over.

Parents should know that this film has some strong language, references to criminal behavior and a shooting in self-defense. For historical accuracy, there is a lot of smoking and a character talks about the impact on his health.

Family discussion: Who changes more, Cole or Kelly? Who is currently in the International Space Station today? Would you like to go to the moon? Visit the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, where you can touch a real moon rock and see the NASA capsules.

If you like this, try: Other films about the Apollo 11 program, including “The Dish,” “Hidden Figures,” “First Man,” Tom Hanks’ excellent miniseries, “From the Earth to the Moon,” and the documentaries “Earthrise” and “Apollo 11”

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Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot

Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot

Posted on July 3, 2024 at 9:00 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving child abuse, some violence, language and brief suggestive material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: References to addiction and forcing a child to smoke and drink
Violence/ Scariness: References to child abuse, depiction of spousal abuse, offscreen gunshots
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 4, 2024
Copyright 2024 Angel

The members of a church in a tiny Texas town called Possum Trot (population around 700) decided they would adopt every child available for adoption in the local foster care system. Led by Bishop W.C. Martin and his wife, Donna, known as the First Lady, 22 families adopted 77 children. The story was featured in People Magazine and on Oprah, and it is now a faith-based feature film, with footage at the end showing the real-life characters (the children in the story have grown up and many have children of their own), and with W.C. and Donna Martin urging the audience to take in the 100,000 children currently waiting to be adopted.

As you might expect, it is preachy. But it is genuinely inspiring to see faith put into action with open-hearted generosity and empathy. As you also might expect for a movie about children who have been abused finding unconditional love and home, it is also very touching. “Euphoria’s” Nika King is luminous as First Lady Donna, whose faith is unwavering. She is the heart of the film, and her scenes with the traumatized children she refuses to give up on are heartwarming.

The Martins and their church are the center of the small community, mostly middle-class Black families, though with around 15 percent living below the poverty line. Donna feels content and fully occupied as the mother of two children, one with special needs, and her work with the church. When her adored mother died, though, she was devastated. As she mourned the idea of adopting children from the foster system came to her and her husband, initially reluctant, became just as committed.

They developed a close friendship with Susan Ramsey (Elizabeth Mitchell), the social worker in charge of placing children in the foster system. At first, she believes that the Martins are not prepared for what they have ahead of them. But as she sees how patient and committed they are, she is persuaded to work with the members of the church.

She warns them, though, not to try to take Terri (Diaana Babnicova), an angry and disturbed 12-year-old who was horrifically abused by her drug-addicted mother. The First Lady insists. Terri tests the Martins more than they ever anticipated. But as the First Lady says, God does not promise you will be free of trouble, only that He will be there with you.

Angel Studios, joining here with ultra-conservative Daily Wire, tries hard to make faith-based movies that meet the highest standards of mainstream theatrical releases in production qualities: actors, screenplay, cinematography, music, editing. This is not a great film by any standard. It never allows its characters to question their faith or even lose patience under the most stressful conditions. It glosses over the challenges of raising severely traumatized children and the professional support they need to process abuse, abandonment, and betrayal. But it is a sincere, thoughtful effort that could get an audience beyond the core faith community.

Parents should know that this film portrays some scenes of domestic abuse and includes references to physical and emotional abuse include rape and murder of children.

Family discussion: Why did the Martins want to take the children no one else wanted? Why was it hard for Terri to trust them? What made her change her mind? What can you do to help?

If you like this, try: “Room for One More” with Cary Grant, also based on the true story of adoptive parents.

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Kinds of Kindness

Kinds of Kindness

Posted on June 27, 2024 at 5:15 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking, characters drugged for abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Explicit, disturbing violence including self-mutilation, suicide, and rape, very graphic and shocking images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 28, 2024
Copyright 2024 Searchlight

Director Yorgos Lanthimos is more interested in shock and sensation than story or character. He reunites with his “Poor Things” stars Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe and his “The Lobster,” “Dogtooth,” and “Killing of a Sacred Deer” co-screenwriter Efthymis Filippou for “Kinds of Kindness,” which is not about kindness at all but about obsession, dominance, and sacrifice. In its almost three-hour run time it features self-mutilation, suicide, murder, rape, a valuable broken tennis racket, and a cult centered around a notion of purity, a sweat lodge, and the possibility of reviving the dead. And it features a repertory cast of actors playing different characters in three otherwise unrelated stories, each appearing with a title referring to “R.B.F.”

Those initials are glimpsed onscreen just once, at the beginning of the film. “Sweet Dreams are Made of This” by Eurythmics intones on the soundtrack, telling us what is ahead: “Some of them want to abuse you. Some of them want to be abused.” There are many symbolic allusions throughout, though most gesture toward meaning rather than attempting it. Like these: There is a street named Perdido (lost). A close-up of two mouths kissing is so extreme it may make you wonder how humans ever got started with it. There is the novel Anna Karenina. That broken tennis racket was smashed during a game by John McEnroe. There’s also a cracked helmet worn in a race by Ayrton Senna. We see a blue pick-up truck, and then two more just like it.

The first story is titled: “The Death of RMF.” A man comes to the door of a luxurious home and is let in by a beautiful young woman (Margaret Qualley) wearing a very short silk robe. She describes what he is wearing to someone over the phone, including the monogram on his shirt: RMF, which she initially mistakes for BMF, explaining that the embroidery is poorly done. The person on the other end of the phone is Raymond (Dafoe), wealthy, powerful, and obsessively concerned with controlling the most intimate details of everyone around him. One of those is Robert (Jesse Plemons), an executive in Raymond’s construction business, who lives in a modern mansion with his wife, Sarah (Hong Chau). Robert receives a hand-written note card with a minute-by-minute description of his day, from the socks, shoes, and suit he must wear to when he must and must not have sex with his wife. Robert for the first time, after ten years, tries to say no to Raymond when his first attempt to complete a dangerous, possibly deadly, task, is unsuccessful. This is when we find out what Raymond is willing to do, how much he is willing to debase himself by pleading, lying, stealing, harming himself, and worse.

“RMF is Flying” is the title of the second story, with Plemons as a police officer named Daniel whose wife, Liz (Emma Stone) is missing with her colleagues who were on a marine research trip. Daniel cannot think of anything else, worrying about what she is eating, imaging that a suspect in the police station looks like her. His partner and best friend is Neil (Mamoudou Athie), married to Martha (Qualley). They do their best to provide comfort and support, but Daniel is inconsolable. And then Liz returns. But Daniel believes something is wrong, and this being who looks and sounds like Liz cannot possibly be his wife.

The title of the third story is “RMF Eats a Sandwich.” This time, Stone plays Emily and Plemons is Andrew. They are testing young women on behalf of a group we will learn about. This is so important to her that she has left her husband, Joseph (Joe Alwyn) and the daughter they just call The Little One (Merah Benoit).

The screenplay relies heavily on the shock value, the performances and the production design by Anthony Gasparro to make the movie seem weightier than it is. And when that’s not enough, it winks at the audience to let us know that it just doesn’t care.

NOTE: Stay into the credits to see a bit more. Stone’s dance is every bit as good as the one that was a highlight of “Poor Things.”

Parents should know that this movie has pervasive adult material including sexual references and explicit situations, nudity, very strong language, alcohol and smoking, and graphic and disturbing images including suicide, murder and police shooting an unarmed man.

Family discussion: Why does Robert do want Raymond tells him to do? Why do Emily and Andrew do what Omi and Aka tell them to do? Why does the tennis racket mean so much to Sarah and so little to the people who buy it? How do you decide who you trust? Who is RMF and why does he matter to these stories?

If you like this, try: “The Lobster” and “Poor Things”

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Thelma

Thelma

Posted on June 20, 2024 at 9:34 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language
Profanity: Strong language for a PG-13
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 21, 2024

It is a joy to watch “Thelma,” inspired by the love writer/director Josh Margolin has for his own Thelma, his now-103-year-old grandmother we get a glimpse of over the closing credits. And it is a joy to watch 95-year-old June Squibb, the best thing in too many movies, in a first-time lead role, and a lead role in an action movie to boot. Squibb gives a performance of endless charm and wit as a loving grandmother who gets scammed and then deliciously, hilariously, and very satisfyingly, gets revenge.

Copyright 2024 Magnolia

Thelma and her grandson Daniel (Fred Hechinger) have a warm, loving relationship. We first see him in the classic grandchild role of guide to computers and the internet, with endless patience and good humor. They are very comfortable together and show tender concern for one another, but they are not always honest. Each wants the other to think they are busier and more secure than they really are. Before he leaves, he insists she put on a life alert, which she removes after he’s gone. And she assures him she has plenty to do, but she does not.

The real Thelma got one of those scam calls from someone pretending to be her grandson, saying he was in jail and needed cash to bail him out and her family stopped her before she sent any money. But the movie Thelma gets so upset she races to the post office with cash in an envelope and mails it. When she finds out she has been tricked, she is determined to get her money back.

This requires her to visit two friends, first a retirement home to visit Ben (a charming Richard Roundtree in his final role), an old friend who has a romantic interest in her that she does not reciprocate. He does have something she wants, though, a scooter, which she will need to get around. He insists on coming with her, even though he is starring as Daddy Warlocks in “Annie” at the retirement home that night. Together they visit Mona (a sweetly dotty Bunny Levine), who has a gun in a box on top of an armoire in her bedroom. Ben has to distract her and Thelma has to figure out a way to reach it.

And then they’re off, on the motorized scooter, for a wild adventure that I will not spoil, except to say that her determination and quick thinking are great fun. This is an action movie where the vehicle’s top speed is 25 mph and does not go very far before it needs to be recharged. When Thelma and Ben do the classic action movie slo-mo walk away from an explosion, it’s not because they are tough and cool; it’s probably because they are hard of hearing and do not know it happened. And yet, it is genuinely exciting. You want to argue with me that it is not realistic? Dude, it is as realistic as a street racer flying a car out of a skyscraper and disarming bombs or a hotel that caters only to assassins.

Squibb, who did some of her own stunts, uses every wrinkle on her face to show us Thelma’s fierce independence, love for her grandson, and refusal to give up on her money, on her justice, and on proving that she can take care of herself. Parker Posey and Clark Gregg as Thelma’s daughter and son-in-law and Daniel’s parents are terrific as the middle of the concern sandwich and Malcolm McDowell is most welcome as another wily senior.

This is everything you’d hope from a festival favorite, smart, fun, funny, and heartwarming. I’d love to see a sequel. There are a lot of scammers out there and not enough Thelmas or Squibbs.

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language for a PG-13, con artists, some peril, references to and depictions of ailments and predicaments of the elderly, a gun, an explosion, and family stress

Family discussion: Why don’t we see more movies about elderly people? Why is Daniel so close to Thelma? Ask the older relatives in your family about their adventures.

If you like this, try: “Lucky Grandma”

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The Bikeriders

The Bikeriders

Posted on June 20, 2024 at 5:25 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, violence, some drug use and brief sexuality
Profanity: Very strong language, constant f-words
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, constant smoking, marijuana, brief image of character using heroin
Violence/ Scariness: Very strong and graphic violence, fights, knives, guns, accidents, attempted rape, characters injured and killed, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Toxic masculinity
Date Released to Theaters: June 21, 2024
The Bikeriders
Copyright 2024 Focus

Writer/director Jeff Nichols tells the story of a Chicago motorcycle gang through the recorded interviews of Kathy (Jodie Comer), who married one of the Vandals five weeks after meeting him, and stayed with him through the brawls, arrests, and accidents. “The Bikeriders” is based on the book of photographs by Danny Lyons, who followed the Vandals from 1965-73. Lyons is played in the film by Mike Faist, who makes the most of a role that is mostly listening while holding a microphone from a reel-to-reel recorder, showing Lyons as curious but sympathetic.

The bike rider Kathy married is Benny (Austin Butler), who we first see refusing the demand of two very big guys in a bar, who tell him to remove his “colors,” the denim gang jacket with the patch on the front of a hand giving the finger and the gang’s name and a skull on the back. He is badly beaten (we find out how badly when the scene recurs after a flashback that brings us up to that date). As we learn with Kathy, Benny’s core attribute is that nothing matters to him but riding with the Vandals.

The leader of the bikeriders is Johnny (Tom Hardy), the only one who has a job and a family. He saw Marlon Brando in “The Wild Ones” on television, responding to the question, “What are you rebelling against?” with the essence of cool, “Whatdaya got?” He creates The Vandals, and like the Jets in “West Side Story” and the goodfellas in the movie of that name, it becomes a family for its members, with a sense of belonging, of home, of manhood.

And as in so many other stories, and so many other lives, it is great until it is not. The success of the Vandals inspires other bikeriders in other areas to want to join. And then it inspires a younger generation to want to join, and to be tougher and take bigger risks than Johnny’s original group. That group smoked cigarettes and drank beer. The Vietnam veterans who join smoke weed and sometimes shoot heroin.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols said that the most interesting character in the book is Kathy. Her tape-recorded interviews with Lyons were unusually candid and her perspective as an outsider who saw everything and spent much of her time with the Vandals but was not a part of them appealed to him, and he decided to tell the story from her perspective, making one big change. He set up something of a love triangle, with the Vandals being the third side. A key scene in the film has Kathy asking Johnny to kick Benny out of the Vandals so she can have him all to herself.

The movie is shot superbly by Adam Stone, with powerful images throughout. A lone cycle running out of gas by a cornfield. An intimate conversation between Benny and Johnny, illuminated by firelight. Every performance is outstanding. Jodie Comer delivers another impeccable accent, and she makes Kathy simple but not unintelligent. She does not spend time thinking about motivations or consequences, but she is direct and honest, making her an idea navigator for Lyons and for us. As Benny, Butler has a challenge in playing a character who is not expressive. But he shows us how magnetic he is for both Kathy and the Vandals. When he recognizes his limits and when he finally shows some emotion, Butler makes it organic and meaningful. There is strong support from Michael Shannon and a near-unrecognizable Norman Reedus as bikeriders.

The film may not be as meaningful as Nichols intends, but it is a strong story, well-told, and worth the ride.

Parents should know that this fact-based movie is very violent, with characters injured and killed and disturbing and graphic images, including brawls, knives, guns, accidents, and attempted rape. Characters use constant strong language, drink, smoke, and use marijuana and, briefly, heroin.

Family discussion: What did the club mean to Johnny? To Benny? To the younger people who joined?

If you like this, try: “Goodfellas,” “The Wild One,” “Biker Boyz,” and “Why We Ride” and Lyons’ book.

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