Jerry and Marge Go Large

Posted on June 16, 2022 at 5:24 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for for some language and suggestive reference
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some confrontations
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 17, 2022

Copyright Paramount 2022
Hey parents! Next time your kids tell you that they’ll never need math, show them “Jerry and Marge Go Large,” based on the true story of a retiree who used math to figure out a loophole in the state lottery and won $26 million. If it pads out the storyline a bit, that’s okay because we can all us a Frank Capra-esque real-life fairy tale right now. Capra, of course, was one of Hollywood’s most beloved directors, whose movies were often affectionately (or derisively) called “Capra-corn” for their populist stories of communities coming together and characters realizing that money was not as important as family and sharing with those we love.

It really happened. Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening play Jerry and Marge. In the film, he is forced to retire after 42 years working as a line manager at a cereal company and he has no idea what to do with his time. “I don’t have any regular clothes,” he says. His children give him a fishing boat as a retirement gift. “Do I like fishing?” he asks Marge.

Jerry has spent his whole life on “must do.” He never had a chance to think about “love to do” or even “want to do.” He does like math, though. He does Sudoku puzzles for fun. And one day, when a new state lottery called Winfall is announced, he realizes that the state lottery commission has miscalculated. This next part is a little math-y, but it won’t last long. Normally, if no one wins the lottery, the prize money rolls over, which is how you get these gigantic Powerball payouts. But they did something different with the Winfall. If no one had all the numbers right, there was a “roll down” and the prize money went to the people who got most of the numbers. Jerry did the math and figured out that he could get enough numbers right to guarantee a win if he bought enough tickets.

At first, he does not tell Marge. But when she finds out, she is delighted. It is not about the money. She wants to feel excited about something and she wants them to have an adventure together. “I want to have fun,” she says. “Let’s be a little stupid. We got married when we were 17 so we know how to do it. I’d rob a bank if it gives us something to talk about.”

And so they are off on an adventure, with the help of friends, including a scruffy convenience store manager (Rainn Wilson) and an accountant (Larry Wilmore). And there is a villain, a smart student who spotted the same loophole and wants all of the lottery winnings.

Cranston and Bening bring magnetism, chemistry, and wit to the central relationship. Some might overlook this quiet, retired couple, but that does not include their community or those of us who enjoy seeing unassuming, good people get what they deserve and share what they get with those they love.

Parents should know that this movie has some strong language, college student misbehavior, and suggestive references.

Family discussion: What would you do with $26 million? When has math been helpful to you?

If you like this, try: “You Can’t Take It With You” and “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (the original version starring Gary Cooper)

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Downton Abbey: A New Era

Posted on May 19, 2022 at 5:27 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some suggestive references, language and thematic elements.
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death
Diversity Issues: Class issues
Date Released to Theaters: May 20, 2022

Copyright Focus Features 2022
If the producers of “Downton Abbey” have become so fond of their characters after six seasons on television and a feature film that they can reunite them only for the most enticingly charming of storylines, well, that is fine with me and likely to be fine with the many, many fans who love to watch the residents of the fabulous title estate — both the upstairs Lord and Lady Grantham and their family (the Crowleys) and the downstairs staff who keep the place running.

The Crawley characters have survived the upheavals of world affairs; the first episode begins with the family learning of the sinking of the Titanic, with the heir to the estate on board and later World War I brings enormous changes during the course of the series. And they have survived family upheavals as well, the marriage of one of the three Crawley daughters to a commoner, the family’s chauffeur, and her death following childbirth. The staff have had their challenges as well, and the attention to all of the residents of Downton is a critical part of the story’s appeal.

But so is the display of wealth, including the dozens of servants required for the many many changes of fabulous clothes and the dinners with exquisite china and silver. For all of the concerns about whether the Crawley family can afford repairs to the roof, they have generational wealth and privilege that has a fairy tale quality. “Cinderella” is a fairy tale, too, and the concerns, challenges, and relationships of the staff, all safely in the past, allow a measure of safety as we convince ourselves that there is more opportunity and equality today.

This latest update may be called “A New Era” but it is even more of an old-fashioned fairy tale than the last one because of the gentleness of its storylines. It begins with a wedding. The last movie ended with a strong suggestion that the family connections would be shored up further when the chauffeur-turned-son-in-law, Tom Branson (Allen Leech) was falling in love with Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton), the illegitimate daughter of an estranged cousin, Maude Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton). This made the Crowleys happy because it would keep the property Lucy was inheriting from Maude connected to the Crawley family. Oh, and it would be nice for single dad Tom to find love, too.

And then the very large cast splits and goes in two different directions Dame Maggie Smith as the acid-tongued doyenne Violet Grantham has unexpectedly inherited a villa in the French Rivera from a man she knew when she was a young newlywed. His widow is considering challenging the will but his son has invited the Crowleys to visit.

Lady Mary, who is running things at Downton now, as accepted a lucrative offer from a film crew that wants to use Downton to make a movie about a high society romance. Well, they had to top the last film’s visit from the king and queen. Downton, as often happens, is caught between two traditions: the traditions of dignity, decorum, status, and remove from the activities of those without a title, and the tradition of keeping the roof from leaking and continuing to care for the family and the servants and as much of the way of life as they can continue to sustain.

Both stories take turns that range from melodramatic to preposterous, the film-within-a-film story landing somewhere between an early 20th century meta-verse and an audacious twist taken from one of the all-time-most beloved movies in history. But after all this time, the audience is not there for the plots. This is a film that has time for a full, rollicking jazz performance. We are there for the elegance and glamor, the costumes, the comfy familiarity. If you are not already a fan, this is not a place to start. But if you’re hoping for happy endings for almost every character — and if you are enough of a fan to know that when a member of the nobility and a servant are mistakenly thought to be a married couple that it is both a wink (the actors are married in real life) and a nod to the themes of changing times (like the jazz number and the movie production) and eroding class distinctions, then you will be as delighted as I was.

Parents should know that this film includes discussions of adultery and paternity and a sad death.

Family discussion: Which character do you enjoy the most and why? Were you surprised by the decisions made by Violet and Lady Mary?

If you like this, try: the “Downton Abbey” series and the other series from Julian Fellowes, including “Doctor Thorne,” “The Gilded Age,” and “Belgravia”

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Top Gun: Maverick

Posted on May 16, 2022 at 8:00 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and some strong languag
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, scenes in bar
Violence/ Scariness: Extended intense military peril and action
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 24, 2022

Copyright 2022 Paramount
I’m happy to report that “Top Gun: Maverick” is everything a fan could hope for. It is exciting, it is endearing, it just about blows kisses at the fans, and it is guaranteed to make many new ones. You want to start right off with Kenny Loggins singing about the danger zone! You’ve got it. You want hot guys with their shirts off playing some sort of ball game on the beach! Happy to provide. You want to see Tom Cruise on his motorcycle? There it is. (No helmet though, not too happy about that.) You want to see him run very fast? Well, sorry about that. JK it’s a Tom Cruise movie, of course he is going to run and no one runs like Tom Cruise runs. You want to see some very cool and intense action in the sky, shot with lenses specifically developed for this movie? Of course you will. You want to see complex characters and believable plot lines? Oh, come on, no you don’t!

Maverick (Tom Cruise) is still the same break-the-rules hotshot he was 36 years ago. We see him working on his old plane as we hear Kenny Loggins sing. And once again (there will be a lot of “once agains” in this movie) he is in trouble for taking risks and ignoring orders. Just as before, over the objections of his commanding officer (a brief appearance by Ed Harris), he is being sent to Top Gun, the San Diego-based training facility for elite Navy fliers. He has a friend and protector fans of the original film will be glad to see again, Val Kilmer as Iceman, now an admiral.

Maverick is needed to train the best of the best of the best for an impossible real-life mission, taking out a nuclear weapons facility in the Mideast before the arrival of uranium in three weeks, when bombs would release radiation. Instead of describing the “two miracles” necessary for blowing up the construction site, I will refer you to “Star Wars: A New Hope,” because it is pretty much the same thing. I half expected one of the pilots to say, “I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home.”

The best of the best of the best have skills, but as we’ve seen, they also have a lot of ego, a lot of adrenaline, and a lot of hyper-competitive posturing. Just to make this throwback even throwback-ier, there’s a special blast from the past. Many movies have what is called a DBTA, which stands for Dead by Third Act, a character whose only role in the story is to give the main character a death to mourn and learn from. So it has to be someone we in the audience connect to as well. Goose in “Top Gun” is the quintessential DBTA. As soon as he plays “Great Balls of Fire” on the piano with his wife (Meg Ryan) and toddler son, we know he is too adorable to make it to the end of the story. That toddler son is now one of the best of the best of the best, call sign Rooster (Miles Teller), and he has a huge amount of resentment toward Maverick.

If Rooster is the new Maverick, impulsive and abrupt, then the new Iceman is the terrific Glen Powell as Hangman, careful and by the book. Maverick has to prepare the young pilots for the impossible mission while his exasperated immediate superior officer (Jon Hamm) does his best to get in the way.

The original film had a reference to some trouble Maverick got into with an admiral’s daughter named Penny. She shows up in this film as a single mom who owns the local bar and is played by Jennifer Connelly with grace and wit.

Speaking of “Star Wars,” there is also a Yoda-esque theme with Maverick stressing the importance of intuition and the human being more important than the gizmos, even a touch of the old fable of John Henry being faster than the machine. And some of the plot developments in the last half hour are near-ridiculous. That is less important than what works in the film, outstanding cinematography, editing, action, romance, terrific performances from a collection of young performers, and of course full-on movie star Tom Cruise, clearly having a blast.

Parents should know that this film has intense military action with dogfights and bombs. Characters drink and use strong language and there are sexual references and a non-explicit sexual situation.

Family discussion: If you were Penny, what rules would you adopt in the bar? Are you more like Hangman or Rooster?

If you like this, try: “Top Gun” and the “Mission: Impossible” movies and check out these thoughts on the movie from an air combat expert

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The Hater

Posted on March 17, 2022 at 12:30 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, vaping marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations, oblique reference to suicide
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: March 18, 2022
Copyright Verizon Entertainment 2022

Newcomer Joey Ally takes on the challenge of writing, directing, and starring in her first film, “The Hater,” the story of a far-left political speechwriter who ends up running in a Republican primary in her a right-wing community. She is better as a writer than a director and better as a director than an actor, but the screenplay is strong enough to overcome some rookie mistakes.

Ally plays Dorothy, as in Oz, who is fired in the film’s first few minutes after a viral video appears to show her burning a flag at a demonstration. She has to leave Washington to return to a place she could not wait to get away from, her home town in Texas. Her grandfather (Bruce Dern in grumpy mode) is not happy to see her, but she reminds him that she is half-owner of the house, and he lets her in.

She tries to find a job with a progressive candidate or cause, but no one wants her. Then she sees that there is a primary coming up, and her childhood nemesis, Brent Hart (Ian Harding), is running unopposed. His father is a Senator. He twice took the local high school football team to State. He is handsome and personable. The Democrat who will run against him is a woman who has already lost three times. There seems to be no way to beat him.

Unless.. .If Dorothy runs against Brent and defeats him and then withdraws, according to local rules the Republican party cannot nominate anyone else, and so the Democrat could win. So, she goes out to collect some signatures to get on the ballot. It does not go very well until she accidentally goes viral again, this time for defeating an armed robbery in a convenience store. She looks like a gunslinger, but really it was just muscle memory from color guard in high school.

Dorothy’s one-time high school friend (Meredith Hagner), whose husband is deployed in the military, opposes Brent because he plans to tear down the community center where she works. So, she signs on as Dorothy’s campaign manager. And Glenn (D’Angelo Lacy), Dorothy’s best friend and roommate from Washington, shows up for a Red State make-under. Off with the nose ring. On with clothes from her late grandmother, picked from boxes in the attic.

The best thing about the movie is its refusal to make any character one-dimensional or completely unsympathetic, especially when we find our own expectations challenged.

NOTE: I have a connection to this movie because my daughter, Rachel Apatoff, was the costume designer. Needless to say, the costumes, which are an essential element of the film, are brilliant.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong language, discussion of abortion, and some drug use.

Family discussion: How did Dorothy shade the truth in her campaign comments? How did her father’s death affect her choices? Which character would you vote for?

If you like this, try: “Dick” and “In the Loop”

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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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