Avatar: The Way of Water

Posted on December 14, 2022 at 5:46 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and intense action, partial nudity and some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended, intense, sometimes graphic peril and violence, characters injured, sad death of a family member
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 16, 2022

Copyright 2022 20th Century
Although writer/director James Cameron has made some of the most innovative and financially successful movies of all time, including “Terminator,” “Titanic,” and the original “Avatar.” But he has said that his real passion is oceans and joked that his movie career is to fund his explorations of the world under water. He brought those two passions together with his “Deepsea Challenge 3D” documentary about his expedition to the deepest part of the ocean. And in this sequel to 2009’s “Avatar” he brings them together again, with much of the story taking place under the clear, sparkling water of Pandora.

Time has passed since the end of the first film. Onetime human soldier Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is living blissfully with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), among the “forest people,” in an Edenic environment of gentle peace with their community and with the land. They have four children, two older boys, a little girl, and an adopted daughter, Kiri, daughter of Dr. Grace Augustine. voiced by Sigourney Weaver, who played Dr. Grace Augustine in the first film. Kiri is the late Dr. Augustine’s daughter. No one knows who her father was. A human boy nicknamed Spider (Jack Champion) is almost another family member, though he must wear a mask on Pandora in order to breathe. Spider’s father was Miles Quaritch, the first film’s human villain, played by Stephen Lang.

Miles is back, now as an avatar, too. The human “sky people” are no longer seeking just Pandora’s precious ore. They now represent the most popular category of movie bad guy in 2022: colonists. He is charged by his commanding officer (Edie Falco) to conquer the natives, and he vows to kill his former fellow soldier, Jake Sully.

As with the first film, the Pandora natives are portrayed as idyllic indigenous people and the humans, with the exception of the kindly lab staff, are mostly brutish and greedy. Their invaders have machine guns and explosives and no compunctions about using children as bait. The Pandorans have spears and arrows. And pure hearts. Cameron is not known for subtlety or depth of character. There’s a reason his most famous character is a cyborg whose breakthrough film had him utter just 17 lines of dialogue. This movie would have been better with less talking, too.

But Cameron is known for spectacular visuals, and “Avatar: The Way of Water” delivers that and then some. When the Sullys leave their home with the forest people and seek asylum with the teal-skinned water people (reminiscent of the recent “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”), much of the story moves on and in the ocean and Cameron’s endless love for that environment is evident in every breathtakingly gorgeous detail, thrillingly immersive in IMAX 3D with Dolby sound. The undersea creatures are spectacularly beautiful and the underwater movements are graceful and balletic or intensely suspenseful as the story demands. Kiri, who loves her family but has always felt something of an outsider, finds her home in the water so believably we begin to feel that way, too. The building blocks of the storyline may be very basic, but the environments where they take place are glorious.

By the end of the movie, the Pandorans no longer seem like giant super-models, with their elongated, slender bodies. They seem like the normal ones and the humans seem tiny and awkward.

The story is just a scaffolding for the world-building. That may make it more of an experience than a movie, but the experience is a fun place to visit.

Parents should know that this film has extended and intense peril and violence. A young character is killed. There are graphic images including a severed arm, dead bodies, and impaled combatants. Characters use some strong language and the costumes are skimpy. There are mild sexual references including questions of paternity.

Family discussion: What circumstances today present the same issues that the Sullys and the water-based Metkayina clan have to consider — protecting their group or caring for those in need, wanting to be peaceful when faced with violence? Does your family have a motto? How are the two Sully brothers different and why?

If you like this, try: “Avatar,” and get ready for three more sequels!

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Living

Posted on December 13, 2022 at 10:39 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for smoking and some suggestive material
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Terminal illness
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 7, 2023

Copyright 2022 Sony
An 1886 novella by Leo Tolstoy inspired Japanese director Akira Kurosawa to create one of the most acclaimed films of all time, “Ikiru,” in 1952. And now those two core works have inspired an extraordinarily wise and touching British film starring Bill Nighy called “Living,” with a screenplay by Nobel Prize-winner Kazuo Ishiguro. What has drawn all of these artist together is that most profound of existential questions, literally the meaning of life. And like the two earlier works, “Living” is superb in every detail.

The story is set in post-WWII London. Mr. Williams (Nighy), a supervisor in a government office, overseeing a group of mostly white men (one woman, one Indian-British) who sit around tables piled high with file folders and documents. The production design by Helen Scott and cinematography by Jamie Ramsay are impeccable. We follower newcomer Peter Wakeling (Alex Sharp) as he begins to learn the way the office works. His colleagues board the commuter train together. “This time of morning, not too much fun and laughter. Rather like church,” he is cautioned by one of his new co-workers after he ventures some mild self-deprecating humor. All conversation is highly professional, quiet, understated, and exquisitely polite.

A group of local women trying to get a permit to turn a small area that was bombed in the Blitz turned into a playground keep coming to Mr. Williams’ department. And every other department in the building, because each one tells them it is someone else’s responsibility. For Mr. Williams, his job is about moving paper, not helping people.

After he gets the bad news from his doctor, Mr. Williams practices telling the son and daughter-in-law who live with him that he only has a few months to live. His emotional vocabulary is so shrunken, so limited, the only word he can think of to describe the situation is, “bore.”

He cannot bring himself to tell them, even or especially after he hears them talking about how they want to move out and live on their own. And then, Mr. Williams, the most methodical and reliable of men, does not go to his office. He finds his way to the seaside and strikes up a conversation in a bar with a bon vivant writer (Tom Burke), one of only two people he will tell about his diagnosis. The writer suggests spending his last months having fun, and they spend a raucous evening together, but that is not what Mr. Williams needs.

The second person he tells is a former co-worker, who spends some time with him, and it is her example that helps lead him to an understanding of what he needs to make the final time meaningful.

Nighy, always superb, has never been better. He is able to show us emotions that Mr. Williams does not even understand he is experiencing. Every moment of this film is exquisite, a poetic elegy to reveal not only Mr. Williams’ purpose but our own.

Parents should know that this movie deals with a terminal illness. There is some mild language, drinking, and drunkenness.

Family discussion: What do you and the people around you to do find meaning? Will the people in Mr. Williams’ office keep their pledge? Why didn’t he tell his son what was going on?

If you like this, try: “The Browning Version” (1951 version) and “Last Holiday” (1950 version), two British films from the era depicted in this film with related themes, and “Ikuru” and “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” as well.

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Empire of Light

Posted on December 8, 2022 at 5:38 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sexual content, language and brief violence
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, smoking, medication
Violence/ Scariness: Racist mob violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 9, 2022

Copyright 2022 Searchlight
“Empire of Light” has such enticing visuals and such thoughtful performances it can almost lull audiences into forgetting that the storyline and characters are like pieces from different jigsaw puzzles. They never come together. And, more problematic, they are two-dimensional cardboard depictions, not the real thing or even a worthy substitute.

The title refers to the setting, a once-grand movie theater called Empire across from the beach along England’s south coast. It is 1980, near the end of the year.

Hilary (Olivia Colman) is the manager, taking care of just about everything from sweeping up spilled popcorn to placing the boss’s slippers in front of the space heater to matching up the ticket stubs to make sure every customer is accounted for. It also includes sexually servicing the boss, Donald Ellis, who murmurs tender nothings like “You’re so helpful.”

Hilary has recently returned to the theater after a stint in a mental hospital. She takes medication for bipolar disorder and has regular check-ins with a doctor. That may be why she is tamped down, or it just may be English reserve. Or both. She admits to him that she feels a bit numb. Colman, never less than superb, is the best part of the film, showing us how Hilary’s smile and her eyes communicate opposite emotions.

The other staff includes Norman, the projectionist, who is proud of his understanding of optical physics (Toby Jones), Janine, with wild hair and punk-black lipstick (Hannah Onslow), and quiet but observant Neil (Tom Brooke). One day, Ellis introduces a new employee, Stephen (Micheal Ward), the son of an African immigrant, who is a nurse at the local hospital. Hilary is drawn to him, his gentle care for a bird with a broken wing and his good humor. She stops taking her medication and begins to feel less numb. Some feelings are welcome, some not, as when she snaps at Stephen for trying to amuse Janine by imitating an elderly customer. The same goes for an underused Jones, who is stuck with explaining the magic of the stories projected on a beam of light. Hilary’s recognition of the abuse Stephen suffers because he is Black seems like it is from another movie. A better one, as the issue is more about her reaction than about his experience.

The cinematography by all-time great Roger Deakins is enticing and production designer Mark Tildesley, who gives the Empire theater just the right amount of faded glory, especially in the top floor, once additional theaters with a gracious lounge, now abandoned by everyone but pigeons.

It is a joy to see Colman as Hilary. She shows us the pain and isolation Hilary is experiencing and handles the various stages of bipolar disorder without losing sight of the feelings of anger, jealousy, and longing that are about being human, not about being mentally ill. Ward has enormous appeal. But neither can overcome the underwritten characters created by writer/director Sam Mendes. Small moments engage us, especially those with Tanya Moodie as Stephen’s mother and Crystal Clarke as his love interest. but it never comes together. By the time Hilary finally decides to actually watch a movie and not just supervise the operations of the theater, the message is unforgivably heavy-handed, with the selection, a movie about someone who is removed from what is going on around him, just in case we did not get the message. Movies can be magical. They can bring us together. As Roger Ebert liked to say, they can be empathy machines. But not this one.

Parents should know that this film includes brief violence from a racist mob. Characters use strong language and they smoke and drink. Hilary takes (and does not take) psychotropic medication. There are sexual references and explicit situations.

Family discussion: What did Hilary learn about Stephen when he rescued the bird? Why didn’t she watch the movies? What movies feel magical to you?

If you like this, try: “Blinded by the Light,” set in the same era, and “The Fabelmans”

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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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Veterans Day Movies for Families 2022

Posted on November 9, 2022 at 8:59 am

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Veterans Day is a time for us to pay our respects to those who have served.

Copyright 2019 Warner Brothers

This holiday started as a day to reflect upon the heroism of those who died in our country’s service and was originally called Armistice Day. It fell on Nov. 11 because that is the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. However, in 1954, the holiday was changed to “Veterans Day” in order to account for all veterans in all wars.

We celebrate and honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

Some movies for families to watch about real-life US military:

WWI

They Shall Not Grow Old On the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, Peter Jackson used 21st century technology to make archival footage and audio feel contemporary, to make the experience of these men seem as though it happened to people we know.

1917 Two young soldiers are sent on a very dangerous mission to deliver a vital message. Remarkably, this film seems like it was all one continuous shot, a breathtaking achievement.

WWII

Band of Brothers Historian Stephen Ambrose’s book was made into a stirring miniseries about “Easy” Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division, from jump training in the United States through its participation in major actions in Europe, up until the end of the war.

Midway is the story. of a brutal battle that was a turning point for the Allies.

Korean War

M*A*S*H is a dark anti-war comedy based on the real-life experiences of an Army surgeon. It inspired the long-running television series.

Vietnam War

The Vietnam War The documentary from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick tells the story.

Persian Gulf War/Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Jarhead Jamie Foxx and Jake Gyllenhaal star in Sam Mendes’ film based on the memoir of Anthony Swofford’ about his experiences as a Marine Sniper in Gulf War I.

Restrepo is a documentary about U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, serving in a remote 15-man outpost, “Restrepo,” named after a platoon medic who was killed in action.

American Sniper Bradley Cooper stars as the late Chris Kyle, a top sniper who served four tours of duty in Iraq, and then was killed by a veteran he was trying to help after he got home.

The Messenger Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster play soldiers who have the hardest job of all, notifying families that someone they love has been killed.

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