The Water Man

Posted on May 6, 2021 at 5:38 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic content, scary images, peril and some language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril, references to child abuse and neglect, critical illness of a parent
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 8, 2021

Copyright Netflix 2021
“The Water Man” is a rare film that exquisitely captures the liminal moment at the end of childhood when we are old enough to begin to understand some of the complications and unsolvable problems of life but still young enough to believe in magic. Lonnie Chavis (“Magic Camp,” “This is Us”) plays 11-year-old Gunner, who is very close to his loving mother (Rosario Dawson) but not aware enough to realize that she is very sick. He is creating a graphic novel about a detective who must solve his own murder and he is fascinated with clues and deductions, but cannot recognize what is heartbreakingly clear to us as we see an IV stand in the bedroom and suspect that the colorful turbans hide a bald head.

Gunner is less close to his father Amos, played by director David Oyelowo, a military officer just returned from a long detail in Japan. His mother loves his art; his father wants him to toss a football.

When he realizes how sick his mother is, Gunner is determined to save her by tracking down a mythic creature known as The Water Man, said to have eternal life. A slightly older girl named Jo (Amiah Miller of “War for the Planet of the Apes”) tells stories of The Water Man, pointing to a scar on her neck as proof that she has not just seen him but been close enough for him to wound her. Gunner does not realize, as we do, that Jo, who lives in a tent by herself, is not as confident and independent as she seems. He agrees to pay her to take him to The Water Man, who is thought to live deep in the forest.

Like the Halloween scene in “Meet Me in St. Louis,” this film lives in the perspective of a young character, while allowing us to understand more than he does. Oyelowo and his Director of Cinematography, Matthew J. Lloyd, use color to tell what Oyelowo describes as an “elemental” story. Gunner’s mother is swathed in warm yellows and oranges, echoed in the backpack Gunner carries on his quest. The inside of Jo’s tent is a deep red. The forest is lush green, but the colors get less saturated and more muted as he gets further from home.

The young actors are both exceptional, very natural and believable, and their scenes together are some of the best in the film. But there is also strong support from an outstanding cast that includes Alfred Molina as an adult who has spent years looking for The Water Man and Maria Bello as the local sheriff who helps Amos try to find his son. Oyelowo is clearly inspired by “ET” (note Gunner’s ET lunchbox), and does a good job of creating a sense of wonder and showing us how all of us, at any age, can struggle to adapt to the unacceptable. Being present for those we love, the families we create, learning to love others for who they are instead of who we want them to be, all come together in a scene as warm as the sun-colors that surround Gunner’s mother.

Parents should know that this film concerns the critical illness of a parent. There is some peril and a creepy fantasy character along with some jump-out-at-you surprises, some schoolyard language, and shoplifting, and there are references to child abuse and neglect.

Family discussion: What are some of the myths or folklore of your community? Where do these stories come from?

If you like this, try: “Bridge to Terabithia,” “Time Bandits,” “Finding ‘Ohana,” and “The Odd Life of Timothy Green”

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Coming of age Family Issues movie review Movies Movies Stories About Kids

The Mitchells vs. The Machines

Posted on April 29, 2021 at 5:23 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action and some language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended cartoon/action-style peril and violence, no one seriously hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 30, 2021

It’s refreshing to see a movie for families that is not only exciting and delightful but one that acknowledges a crucial truth we usually pretend to ignore. And that truth is: families are weird. All of them. Yes, even yours. And there’s more: family weirdness is awesome and wonderful and, it turns out, exactly what we need to defeat the robot apocalypse, as well as any other daunting but less drastic challenges like everyday life.

The Mitchell family is four people who love each other and drive each other crazy. The one telling us the story is Katie (Abbi Jacobson), a teenager getting ready to go to college at her dream school, where she will pursue her passion, filmmaking. She is very close to her dinosaur-loving little brother Aaron (voiced by very much not a little kid Michael Rianda, who also co-wrote and directed and provides some of the other voices). But her struggles with her dad, Rick (Danny McBride) go beyond the usual teenage separation because there seems to be no middle place between their interests. Hers is in making films, many featuring the family’s very goofy-looking wall-eyed dog Monchi, plus hand puppets and a lot of graffiti-like digital effects. His is in nature and more analog craftsmanship and fix-its. Katie’s mother, Linda (Maya Rudolph), tries to act as mediator between them, but the relationship is strained. Katie can’t wait to get to school, where she is sure she will be with people just like her.

And then Rick changes the plans without asking or even telling Katie. Instead of her flying across country to get to school in time for orientation, the family is going to drive her there. And family car trips are known stress-relievers, right? Yeah, I know, quite the contrary.

Meanwhile, at an Apple-like company run by Mark Bowman (Eric Andre) is introducing its latest line of gadgets, personal robot assistants who clean and bring you refreshments and do so many cool things that their predecessor, a SIRI or ALEXA-type voice assistant, gets tossed aside. Remember “Terminator?” And “Wargames?” and “I, Robot?” and lots of other movies where technology gets literally out of hand? Not to mention centuries of stories about hubris and what happens when humans go too far?

And that is how the Mitchells end up being the only ones who can save the world. If they can learn to work together and to try some skills outside their comfort zones.

The movie is fast and fun and funny and exciting. It does not take itself too seriously and it has a vivid, poppy energy with a hands-on look in contrast to the chilly perfection of some computer animated films. We get glimpses of Katie’s “sweded”-style films and I loved the way her aesthetic appeared in the large film we were watching as well, with some hand-lettered commentary and sticker/emoji-style effects. But most of all, it is a heartwarming tribute to families and to the unconquerable spirit that lurks within the weirdness.

Parents should know that this film has extended fantasy/cartoon-style peril but very little violence and no one gets seriously hurt. There is some schoolyard language and family stress.

Family discussion: How would your family fight the robot apocalypse? Can you try to make a movie like Katie or make something with your hands like Rick?

If you like this, try: “The LEGO Movie” and its sequel

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The Mitchells vs. The Machines: Win a Free Pass to the Virtual Premiere!

Posted on April 10, 2021 at 11:09 am

Copyright Netflix 2021
25 lucky people are going to win a free pass to the new animated family film from the people behind “The LEGO Movie.” “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” stars Maya Rudolph, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Charlyne Yi, Conan O’Brien, Sasheer Zamata, Elle Mills, and Jay Pharoah in the story of an ordinary family who find themselves saving the world from the robot apocalypse.

It all starts when creative outsider Katie Mitchell is accepted into the film school of her dreams and is eager to leave home and find “her people.” Her nature-loving dad insists on having the whole family drive her to school and bond during one last totally-not-awkward-or-forced road trip. But just when the trip can’t get any worse, the family suddenly finds itself in the middle of the robot uprising! Everything from smart phones, to roombas, to evil Furbys are employed to capture every human on the planet. Now it’s up to the Mitchells, including upbeat mom Linda, quirky little brother Aaron, their squishy pug, Monchi, and two friendly, but simple-minded robots to save humanity.

THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES – (L-R) Maya Rudolph as “Linda Mitchell”, Abbi Jacobson as “Katie Mitchell”, Doug the Pug as “Monchi”, Mike Rianda as “Aaron Mitchell”, and Danny McBride as “Rick Mitchell”. Cr: ©2021 SPAI. All Rights Reserved.

If you’d like to attend the virtual movie premiere with pre-show on Monday, April 26th at 6:00pm EST, send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com! You do not need to have a Netflix subscription to attend. The first 25 to enter will be there! (US entries only)

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The Father

Posted on March 9, 2021 at 9:13 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language, and thematic material
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and medication
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: Disability issues
Date Released to Theaters: March 10, 2021
Copyright 2020 Sony Pictures Classics

The beginning of any story — a movie, a play, a book — is like a puzzle. We are hardly aware of all the information we are processing, all the clues we are parsing to let us know who the characters are, where they are, when they are, and what is going on between them. And so, in “The Father,” we quickly come to some conclusions about Anthony (pronounced “An-tony”), played by Sir Anthony Hopkins. His daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) visits him in his apartment to chide him about firing his latest caregiver, as he has her several predecessors, and tells him that he must find a way to get along with his next caregiver because she is leaving London to live with her new boyfriend in Paris.

And then the movie proceeds to undermine almost everything we think we have seen and we gradually realize that we are seeing the world subjectively, through Anthony’s eyes and ears and he is the most unreliable of story-tellers because he is struggling with dementia. Just as last year’s “The Sound of Metal” told us the story of a musician’s hearing loss by letting us hear what he heard, and not hear what he didn’t, “The Father” tells us the story of Anthony’s fading memory by filtering what we are seeing through his ability to process it, so we are as unsure and unsettled as he is.

Everything we bring to the film about forming judgments and drawing conclusions is constantly undermined. Anne is sometimes played by Colman, sometimes by Olivia Williams. Sometimes she is married, sometimes divorced. Sometimes it’s his apartment, sometimes he has moved in with Anne. Sometimes he stands in the hallway, disoriented and lost. Sometimes Anne’s husband barks angrily at him.

A new caregiver (Imogen Poots) comes for an interview and we see Anthony putting everything he has into being charming and capable. He tells her he was once a tap dancer. (He was not.) He offers her a drink and has one himself. He tells her she looks like his other daughter, the one he thinks is still alive (she is not).

Hopkins is made for this role. Only a man of his decades of experience and dedication to meticulously observed and fearlessly vulnerable performances could show us Anthony’s valiant efforts to stay himself, to stay in charge. That makes the final moments, when we are finally returned to our own safe space as objective observers, even more shattering.

Parents should know that this movie concerns dementia and he strain it puts on family as well as the person struggling with memory loss. It includes some strong language, alcohol, and medication.

Family discussion: Does this film make you think differently about what it is like to have memory loss? How are the people in your life helping those who are facing this issue and those who are caring for them?

If you like this, try: “Away from Her,” “Still Alice,” “Still Mine,” “Dick Johnson is Dead,” “The Roads Not Taken,” and “Supernova”

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Days of the Bagnold Summer

Posted on February 22, 2021 at 11:37 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Reference to marijuana, teen drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Family stress and confrontations
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 20, 2021
Copyright 2019 Greenwich Entertainment

“I’m afraid you’re stuck with boring old me for six weeks, but we’ll have fun,” Sue Bagnold says with gentle cheeriness. Her 15-year-old son Daniel (do not call him Danny) is as irritated by her cheeriness as he is by his situation. His parents are divorced and he was supposed to visit his father in Florida for summer vacation. But his father’s new wife is expecting a baby and they have canceled the visit. Daniel is stuck in his house in an English suburb, expressing his extreme dissatisfaction with the world by wearing Metallica t-shirts and ignoring, blaming, or insulting his mother. How dare she be cheerful? How dare she expect him to do stuff? How dare she keep offering him food? And how dare she go on a date with his history teacher?

Those of us of a certain age will identify with both characters. Anyone who has survived adolescence has experienced the crushing combination of superiority (these feelings are new to me so no one else has ever felt them, and I am uniquely aware of the hypocrisy and meaninglessness of the world) and constant humiliation (why is it so hard to connect to people?). Daniel (Earl Cave) is at that stage, almost as excruciating for him as for those around him, when expressing disdain for just about everything seems like it will make him feel better, or at least stronger. And Sue (Monica Dolan) is at that stage when she Googles “sad boy parents divorced” and keeps hoping to find a glimpse of the sweet boy she once knew.

All of this is presented with great charm in “Days of the Bagnold Summer,” and I found myself smiling through it all. This is not a movie about confrontations or revelations. It is about small moments, tenderly observed, and it gives full attention and understanding to all of the characters, even the one whose behavior is most inexcusable.

Those moments include Sue’s first date since her divorce. The man who asks Sue out, is played with just the right oily charm by Rob Brydon (“The Trip” movies). And there is a well-intentioned day trip to the seaside, with the kind of activities young Danny would have loved, but Daniel finds boring and pointless.    Daniel has just one friend, Ky (Elliot Speller-Gillott), and their falling out is the essence of 15-year-old awkward communication failure. Ky’s mother Astrid (the divine Tamsin Grieg having a very fine time) is something of a flower child, all about energies and auras and Reiki. 

I liked the subtlety of the characters’ growth, and the way that even experiences that seem painful or frustrating at the time bring Sue and Daniel together. Each finds an unexpected way to express feelings too long kept concealed, and find that connections with other help them reconnect in a way that may not be as uncomplicated as before but for that reason is more satisfying and even sweeter. Even when Sue and Daniel do not like spending time with each other, we like spending time with them, and it is satisfying for us to see them find their way forward.

Parents should know that this film includes teen drinking and references to marijuana. Themes include family struggles and divorce.

Family discussion: How should Sue have treated Daniel? What do we learn from her visit to Astrid? Why do Sue and Astrid have different ideas about their sons?

If you like this, try: The graphic novel by Joff Winterhart and “Sing Street”

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