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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Mortal Kombat

Posted on April 22, 2021 at 7:00 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some crude references, language throughout, and strong bloody violence
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Pervasive peril and violence, very gory and disturbing images, characters injured and killed including a child
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 23, 2021
Copyright 2021 Warner Brothers

“Mortal Kombat” is a movie based on a video game. So, let’s be real here. We’re not looking for or even expecting complex characters or surprising plot twists. We’re here for the martial arts carnage and a few middle-school-level wisecracks, and that we get.

Character development? I’ve seen more complex backstories on Cabbage Patch Dolls. All you need to know is there are good guys and bad guys and the stakes are the very future of the planet, which, it turns out, turns on, you got it, mortal combat, trial by combat — to the death. Oh, and don’t expect it to make a ton of sense, either. Just sit back and watch the fights.

It begins with a pre-credit sequence set in an edenic 17th century Japan, with a devoted farming couple, their gallant young son, and infant daughter. As the father (Hiroyuki Sanada as Hanzou) is out getting water, bad guys arrive, led by B-Han (Joe Taslim), whose awesome fighting skills are enhanced by his ability to manifest ice. He will later be known as Sub-Zero. He says he is there to avenge, but we do not get any details. Only the baby survives, and she is taken away by a glow-eyed guy who travels via lightning named Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano).

Skip ahead to present day, where Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is fighting for $200 a bout and not doing very well. He is devoted to his wife and daughter. And he has a mysterious dragon-shaped birthmark, which identifies him to those in the know as a champion. one of those designated to fight for the good guys. Not much time for narrative here. Or anywhere else in the movie. It’s battle, battle, training, battle all the way.

Which is a good thing, because the martial arts are great and, for those who are fans of the game, let me quote Wikipedia:

The basic Fatalities are finishing moves that allow the victorious characters to end a match in a special way by murdering their defeated, defenseless opponents in a gruesome manner.

So the finishing moves/fatalities are suitably gruesome. Like guts falling out of ripped-open torsos and being sliced open by a buzzsaw like a side of beef. And gallons of spurting blood. As for the script, well, it has exactly what you’d expect, a lot of “the prophecy is upon us” and “winning Mortal Kombat cannot be left to chance,” portentousness, “if you fail to discover your inner power you will never defeat your opponent” pep talks, plus some middle-school-level “humor.”

So, fans of the game will enjoy the call-outs to their favorite characters and inside information and those who are not familiar to the game but like to see martial arts fights with lots of gore will be suitably entertained and even look forward to the sequel.

Parents should know that this film has extended and very gory and graphic peril and violence, along with strong and crude language and references.

Family discussion: Which power do you think you could manifest? How do you fight people who do not follow the rules?

If you like this, try: The game and the “Mythic Quest” and “The Guild” television series.

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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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Raya and the Last Dragon

Posted on March 2, 2021 at 10:13 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some violence, action, and thematic elements
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy peril and violence, sword fights, martial arts, characters turned to stone
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: March 5, 2021

“Raya and the Last Dragon” is a gorgeously animated fairy tale with thrilling action, irresistible characters, a heartwarming message, and Disney’s magic touch to lift the hearts of all ages. It has the scope and grandeur of a Fellowship of the Ring-style quest. It has a heroine of great courage, humanity, and integrity. And it has Awkwafina, the most inspired Disney choice to voice a fantasy animated character since Robin Williams in “Aladdin.”

Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is a fiercely brave girl. Her adored father is Benja (Daniel Dae Kim). He guards a precious gem that protects his people from a wispy but toxic monsters called the Druun. They can lay waste to the land and turn people into stone.

Benja dreams of reuniting the five communities that were once one dragon-shaped land called Kumandra. Now the communities are separate, each named for a part of the dragon: Tail, Talon, Spine, Fang, and Heart, all at war with each other. Raya explains the history with the help of charming paper puppets that illustrate what happened when the dragons that always protected Kumandra were killed by the Druune, “A mindless plague that spreads like wildfire.” The last act of the last one, Sisu, was the creation of the magic gem.

Benja brings the leaders of the other communities together in the spirit of friendship and cooperation. But, as Raya says, “people being people,” they fight. Everyone else is turned to stone, but Benja saves Raya, and she goes off to find the last dragon so she can save her people and maybe even accomplish her father’s dream of a united country.

It goes very badly because of, well, people being people. The gem is shattered. The Druun return. And six years later, Raya is still looking for the last dragon.

This is one of the most purely beautiful films ever made by Disney, and that is as good as it gets. Each of the five lands and populations is distinctive, filled with inviting detail, and even the harshest and most intimidating landscapes are gorgeously imagined. Raya has been alone for six years, but after she finds the dragon she picks up some other characters as well, each one surprising and surprisingly endearing. The Infinity Stones-style structure, where Raya and her crew have to retrieve the pieces of the gem from the different lands provides a solid structure and forward momentum, and the smart script makes each mini-heist fresh and iterative, each building on the lessons of the last. Avoiding spoilers here to let you discover its pleasure on your own, I will just say that the dragon in the title has more than one persona, both equally adorable, but the second is especially well-designed and perfectly suited to Awkwafina’s literally off-beat vocal rhythms. Her comment about group projects where everyone gets the same grade even though everyone knows there’s that one member who did not do the work is a treat and a half.

In the final credits, we learn that this film was made by over 400 people working from their homes due to the pandemic. Whether that experience helped to shape the story or not, certainly the experience of the past year has made its themes of building trust and questioning our assumptions are even deeper and more meaningful. This is a wonderful film for children, but let’s face it, the ones who need to see it are the grown-ups.

Parents should know that this film includes extended peril and violence including characters turned to stone, martial arts and sword fights.

Family discussion: Why do humans have a hard time cooperating? Which of Sisu’s powers would you like to have? Where in Kumandra would you like to live? How do you know when to trust someone?

If you like this, try: “Brave,” “Moana,” and the original animated “Mulan

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Tom and Jerry

Posted on February 26, 2021 at 3:59 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG PG for rude humor, cartoon violence, and brief language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic mayhem
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: February 26, 2021

Copyright 2021 Warner Bros.
Making a live action movie about the cartoon characters Tom (the cat) and Jerry (the mouse) was a bad idea. These “let’s see what we can dig up from the intellectual property hiding in our files” reboots usually end up as lifeless as we can expect when they are inspired by balance sheets instead of characters. But “Tom and Jerry” misses even that low bar, dispiriting in its waste of the iconic cartoon characters in the title, a usually reliable director, and some of the most talented performers in movies today.

It may be impossible to make a feature film out of a one-joke set-up that more likely to be sustained in a seven-minute animated short. Certainly, if that question ever goes to court, this movie will be introduced as evidence.

A refresher: Tom wants to catch Jerry and Jerry outsmarts him. Think Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote without access to Acme explosives and anvils. But while Road Runner is being chased around spare western landscapes, Tom and Jerry often create chaos and mayhem indoors. So a lot of Tom and Jerry is things falling over and crashing and smashing.

None of that is especially well staged here. The mayhem/slapstick scenes seem to have been set up based on what they could convey with technology given the interaction between two-dimensional cartoon characters and physical reality, rather than what is involving or engaging. Slapstick has its charms, but it requires a precision of timing that allows us to appreciate the destruction before moving on to the next faceplant. And even though they are 2D cartoon characters, and thus instantly restored to perfect condition after every encounter, setting it in a 3D environment hampers some of the ebullience of the forces of id.

The biggest mistake, though, is expecting, even demanding, more affection from the audience for the characters than it earns. There doesn’t have to be a likable character to root for in a movie, but it helps.

Tom plays the piano in Central Park, busking to make money (what is he going to use it for?), pretending to be blind to make even more from guilt and pity. Jerry comes along, covers his sign with one of his own, and starts collecting from the crowd until Tom sees him and the crowd sees that he can see. Chases ensue.

Meanwhile, Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz) loses one job because Tom crashes into her bike and spills all the clean laundry she is delivering (which is not even in a bag, but okay). And so she gets another by lying about her credentials. So 20 minutes in, two of our main characters are cheaters.

Kayla’s new job is as a temp at a super-luxurious hotel which needs support for a very high-profile, no expenses spared wedding of two mega-celebrities. (Note to Hollywood: It is time to stop trying to seem relevant by creating characters who are influencers.) Kayla is there to help make everything go smoothly, even when the groom wants elephants and military-grade drones, when the bride’s ring goes missing, and when Jerry is spotted in the kitchen. At the hotel, she has a rival who sees her as a threat and gets help from a ditsy bell girl.

Kayla brings in Tom to help catch Jerry. It does not go well. That’s it. That’s the movie.

The excellent cast does its best, and believably interacts with the animated characters. But no one can make the dreary dialogue sound smart or even interesting. The problem is not that the animated characters are 2D. The problem is that the script is 1D.

Parents should know that this film includes comic violence and mayhem including fire, chases, and crashes. There is brief potty humor.

Family discussion: Why did Kayla lie? Why couldn’t Ben and Preeta tell each other the truth? How did Kayla try to fix the problems she created?

If you like this, try: the original Tom and Jerry cartoons and the Road Runner cartoons.

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