Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

Posted on April 14, 2022 at 8:32 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some fantasy action/violence
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy peril/action/violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 15, 2022

Copyright Warner Brothers 2022
“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” comes from the world of Harry Potter, so it is about magic. But it is also about that most human of connections: brothers. It’s also about chiseled cheekbones; this is a movie that even by movie-star measures has an exceptional assortment of beautifully sculpted faces. Contrary to the title, it is not so much about Dumbledore’s secrets as it is about his efforts to stop someone he once loved from destroying both the magic and human worlds. And in doing so, it includes some political commentary that may seem pointed given its depiction of corruption, nativism, and the appeal of an autocratic leader. It relies on a level of knowledge about the Harry Potter cinematic universe that does not make this two and a half-hour movie easy for viewers who are not as familiar with the characters.

We got a glimpse of Dumbledore’s backstory in the last volume of the Harry Potter series, so we know that when he was a young man, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) was in love with Gellert Grindelwald (now played by Mads Mikkelsen), and that during that time they created one of the wizarding world’s most powerful charms that protects each of them from being harmed by the other.

But as we learn in the opening scene, as the two wizards meet again after distance in time and in life choices. Dumbledore is now a teacher at Hogwarts, devoted to justice and decency. Grindewald has become an agent of chaos who wants to destroy the structures of both the wizard and non-wizard muggle worlds. “With or without you,” Grindewald says, “I will burn down their world and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”

Dumbledore has to find a way to prevent that despite the obstacle of the charm that binds them and Grindewald’s ability to see the future, thanks to a rare creature stolen just after birth by Grindewald’s henchpeople. But they don’t know that there was a twin, rescued by magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne).

And so, they have to find a way to proceed that cannot be traced by Grindewald, whose coterie includes mind-reader Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) the love of muggle friend Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). It also includes ailing Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), severely traumatized by being told his was abandoned by his birth parents and by the virulently anti-magic woman who raised him.

Credence is the son of Dumbledore’s bitter, estranged brother Aberforth (Richard Coyle). There is another tragic loss that divides the brothers as well. Newt is helped by his brother Theseus (Callum Turner, a perfect choice for a fraternal resemblance). Another member of Dumbledore’s group is Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), a brother motivated by the loss of his sister, but willing too relinquish his memories of her to take on a dangerous role.

Yes, it is all very complicated. This is not for the kind of audience who is new to the world of Harry Potter. This is for the kind of audience who will be delighted to glimpse a young Minerva McGonagall and will get the joke about Slytherin. Those not already invested in Queenie, Jacob, and Credence will have some catching up to do.

The production design by Stuart Craig and Neil Lamont and costumes by Colleen Atwood are never less than spectacular. Despite the best efforts of the cast, the look of the film does better in telling they story than the screenplay.

Parents should know that this movie has extensive fantasy peril and violence including some scary creatures. There is some social drinking and some verbal harassment.

Family discussion: Why did Dumbledore and Grindewald take such different paths? Why did so many wizards and witches support Grindewald? Why did Dumbledore turn down the position?

If you like this, try: the other Harry Potter world books and movies

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Everything Everywhere All at Once

Posted on March 31, 2022 at 10:00 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some violence, sexual material and language
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Vaping marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy-style action and peril, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 1, 2022
Date Released to DVD: July 4, 2022

Copyright A24 2022
They aren’t kidding about the “Everything” in the title. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is a wildly imaginative and just plain wild splintered story of metaverses, googly eyes, a weaponized fanny pack, dirty laundry, a big bagel, telepathic rocks, divorce papers, Benihana, a “Ratatouille” remix, the IRS, a dress with doll heads on the sleeves, and, as promised, it is all at once.

Michelle Yeoh finally has a role fully worthy of her as Evelyn, who in this universe is anxious, disappointed, and exhausted. She and her nebbish of a husband, Waymond (former child star Ke Huy Quan of “The Goonies” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”) live above their business, a run-down laundromat. Her father, Gong (James Hong of “Blade Runner”), is visiting and she is planning a party. She worries about pleasing him. She thinks her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is directionless. She introduces Joy’s girlfriend to Gong as her friend because she does not want him to know Joy is gay. The laundromat is being audited by a grim IRS bureaucrat named Diedre (an un-glammed Jamie Leigh Curtis, having a blast).

In the midst of Diedre’s questions about their receipts, a Waymond from another universe arrives to tell Evelyn that all of the multiverses are under attack by a villain named Jobu Tupaki and only she, of the thousands of Evelyns throughout the multiverses, can save the day. To do that, she will need to access the memories and skills of her Evelyn counterparts.

This leads to a dazzlingly kaleidoscopic adventure that is genuinely thrilling and often hilarious, sensational martial arts fights in an always-astounding array of settings, with a roller coaster of surprising twists and turns that hold up on repeated viewings. One very funny running joke is the increasingly bizarre and often gross triggers for switching to another universe. The production design is sensational, as observant and witty in the ordinary locations (it is the IRS office of nightmares) and the fantasies. Same with the costumes, especially those worn by Jobu Tupaki. All of it comes with cheeky brio and a surprising amount of heart. Ke Huy Quan is a marvel, both in the action scenes and in his seamless shifts between the different Raymonds. He is always present, committed, and completely clear about which version he is. Yeoh shows us all the Evelyns, separate and integrated, and it is a joy to see her go from drab and bedraggled to knowing and open-hearted. She begins the day saying she cannot hold one more thought in her head. She ends with the thoughts of countless Evelyns. I don’t want to give anything away about Jobu Tupaki, except to say the performance has great wit and charm.

The movie opens by taking us literally through the looking glass into a world of layers, miscommunication, and doubling even before we get to the prismatic multiverse. It ends with a sense of wholeness that makes us feel a little closer to, well, everything.

Parents should know that this movie includes very strong language and constant peril and action-style violence with many characters injured and killed.

Family discussion: What would your multiverse personas be? What unpredictable action would you take to access them? What rejections and disappointments have led you to this moment?

If you like this, try: “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and other Michelle Yeoh movies

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Belle (2022)

Posted on January 13, 2022 at 5:12 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic content, language, brief suggestive material, violence
Profanity: Rude language, bullies
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death of parents, child abuse, peril, scary monster
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 14, 2022

Copyright GKIDS 2021
“Belle” is a spectacularly beautiful animated film from Japan (opening theatrically in both Japanese and English versions) with dazzling images out of a classic fairy tale but a storyline that could not be more contemporary.

The film begins with a commercial for “the ultimate online community” called silly U, with more than five billion participants. It is an online “sandbox”-style game where participants has an avatar based on their own biometric data. They have endless freedom to create the world as they want it to be. It sells itself both as “another reality” where, unlike this reality, you can have a second chance and start a new life and as a place where you can be yourself in a way that the trivialities of real life like the way you look do not allow.

Suzu (Kaho Nakamura in the original Japanese cast, Kylie McNeill in the English language version) is a sad, shy, lonely teenager living in rural Japan. She is still mourning the death of her mother, who lost her life saving a drowning child as then-six-year-old Suzu watched in horror, and she feels abandoned. “Why was a stranger’s life more important than being with me?” she sill asks. Her father is remote and the only person she has to talk to is her tech-savvy friend, Ruka (Tina Tamashiro/Hunter Schafer). In these early scenes, her face is almost always obscured. We see her from the back or she puts her head down so her hair hides her face. When her classmates invite her to sing karaoke at a party she runs out of the room, sick to her stomach.

But the avatar she creates on U is another story. At first, she hesitantly types in her real name, but then erases it and creates a glamorous pop star with flowing pink hair named Bell. (Suzu keys it in with just four letters but the fans add an “e” at the end, inspired by the French word for “beautiful.”) Within days, she has millions of followers. She also has millions of critics. Ruka tries to reassure her: “Stardom is built on a mixed reception.” In real life, we see Suzu smile for the first time. Belle becomes a worldwide sensation, disconcerting the previous U world favorite.

And then, as millions are assembled for a virtual concert, it is disrupted by a dragon monster. The rest of the story is inspired in part by “Beauty and the Beast” as Suzu/Belle tries to find out who the beast really is and what he wants.

The screenplay takes a nuanced approach to the virtual world, wisely recognizing that it is just a projection of the real world, sometimes a distorted one, but one that can serve as training wheels, a Rorschach test, a beta test, or even a place to find answers not available anywhere else. Belle is Suzu, after all, and the more she performs as Belle, the more she discovers her own confidence. Finally, when she understands for the first time how her mother could take a risk to save another life, she learns that helping others is a way to find agency, connection, and purpose.

All of this takes place in a gorgeously imagined world so inviting and full of delight we almost wish for a U app on our phones. “Belle” is a touching story that is both timely and timeless.

Parents should know that there are sad parental deaths, domestic abuse issues, some harsh schoolyard insults, and some mild boy-girl interactions.

Family discussion:

If you like this, try: “Ready Player One” and another re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast, “Beastly”

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Animation Coming of age Fantasy movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Stories about Teens

Sing 2

Posted on December 22, 2021 at 11:00 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some rude material, mild peril/violence
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and threats of violence
Diversity Issues: Some humor about a disabled character
Date Released to Theaters: December 22, 2021
Date Released to DVD: March 28, 2022

Copyright 2021 Illumination
This sequel wisely jettisons the less interesting plot lines from the original, the backstories of the animals with dreams of singing before cheering audiences, in favor of what worked best the first time, the performances themselves. “Sing 2” is all about putting on a show, and it begins with a smashing version of Prince’s “Let’s go Crazy.” There’s a lot happening, but take a moment to notice the costumes worn by the performers. They were created by high fashion house Rodarte.

Koala impressario Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) has a bigger dream than ever. He wants to take his performers to the entertainment capital of the world, Redshore City, with its enormous and ultra-glamorous theater, the Crystal Tower. It is run by Mr. Crystal (Bobby Cannavale), a tough-talking wolf who only agrees to let them put on their show if they can promise to deliver the lion rock star-turned recluse Clay Calloway (Bono). Moon promises that he will, though he has no idea where Calloway is or how to persuade him to return to performing. There’s a bigger problem. He has the performers, including porcupine Ash (Scarlett Johansson), pig and mother of innumerable piglets Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton), and shy elephant Meena (Tori Kelly). But despite what they promised Mr. Crystal, they do not have a show, only a concept from Gunter (Nick Kroll) of a space opera titled “Out of this World.” They don’t have enough information to tell the crew what kind of sets to build except that it is set on four different planets and there is a spaceship.

All of which sets up various shenanigans as the little group tries to keep Mr. Crystal from finding out what is going on as they track down Clay Calloway and get the show ready. There are some additional complicating factors. Crystal’s spoiled daughter Porsha wants to be in the show even though her acting is terrible (she can sing, though; she is voiced by pop star Halsey), and her daddy thinks she should have whatever she wants. Johnny cannot learn the complicated moves from the choreographer. Meena’s new co-star is an arrogant Yak (Eric André), who intimidates her. The ice cream guy, though, has her bashful heart fluttering.

All of this is done with heart and humor that will delight young audiences while the parents will get a kick out of the eclectic mix of songs, from Grammy-winning favorites to esoteric Indies and even a little Prokofiev. The audition scene is like a lightning round of Name That Tune. Bono’s rumble makes a great vocal contribution as Clay, and the poignance of his grief gives the story greater heft. There’s even a new U2 song on the soundtrack to underscore in both senses of the word) the way that music can heal and connect. It adds to the ebullience of the film, and like all great music, inspires calls for an encore.

Parents should know that there is some cartoon-style peril and threats of violence and some mild humor about a character’s disability, in addition to some schoolyard language.

Family discussion: Which character is your favorite? What musical show would you like to create? What is Porsha good at?

If you like this, try: the first “Sing” and the Trolls movies.

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Spider-Man: No Way Home

Posted on December 14, 2021 at 12:12 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of action/violence, some language and brief suggestive comments
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic-book/fantasy peril and violence, characters injured and killed, very sad death, some graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 17, 2021
Date Released to DVD: April 11, 2022

Copyright Sony 2021
Spider-Man: No Way Home” is everything a comic book movie should be, filled with excitement, heart, humor, and details to delight the fans. There were audible gasps of joy and more than a few tears in the audience when I saw it, and some of them were mine.

It is tough to say much more without spoilers, but I am going to try. I recommend that you see the movie before reading the rest of the review, though, if you want the delight of all of the surprises. Then come back here and see what I have to say to find out if you agree.

It takes off where “Spider-Man: Far From Home” left us, with the public revelation that Spider-Man is high school student Peter Parker. Now, helicopters are hovering outside of the apartment Peter (Tom Holland) shares with Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Blowhard J. Jonah Jameson (J.K Simmons) is a Limbaugh/O’Reilly-style media personality who calls Spider-Man a terrorist and vigilante, leading to public protests. Aunt May, Spidey’s best friend and “chair guy,” Ned (Jacob Batalon) and girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) are all being harassed. Almost as painful, his high school teacher has set up something of a shrine and the principal tries to reassure him by telling him he is welcome to swing through the halls or crawl on the ceiling.

Peter cannot live his life or help anyone else in this situation, so he goes to one of the other Avengers for help: Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). What he needs is a way to make everyone forget they know his secret identity. Strange agrees to help, but Peter interrupts the spell and something goes wrong.

Spoiler alert, last warning: this opens up a portal to the multi-verse, and that lets in some of the classic Spidey villains, including my all-time favorite, Doc Oct (Alfred Molina). There is also an appearance by my least favorite Spider-Man villain, but this film gives him a vastly better role. This leads to some show-stopping confrontations, staged with exceptional dynamism, pacing, and even wit. There are some very funny moments when the super-villains refer to each other as “a brilliant scientist” and when they compare notes. “You fell into something? I fell into something!”

There are more delicious meta-moments, but it is all anchored by real emotion. Peter is a teenager, so the anguish of college applications and the drama of first love are as wrenching as the battles with supervillains to save the planet. Just as the previous entry upended the usual structure of the superhero/supervillain conflict, this one remixes it again, raising the fundamental question about what it is we want or should want from those battles, but cleverly letting us have it both ways. Peter’s mentor, Tony Stark, is gone, and so the person he seeks help from is Dr. Strange. Like Stark, he is arrogant and impatient but not unmoved by Peter and he provides some critical (in both senses of the word) direction, ordering Peter, Ned, and MJ to “Scooby-Doo this s**t.” If it glosses quickly over the actual problem-solving (requiring chemical stuff and mechanical stuff and computer stuff) it’s fine because we would not want to watch that for too long when there are action scenes ahead and they are bangers.

Peter gets some guidance and support from an unexpected source that adds to the humor and to the emotional heft of the story, touching on love, loss, chance, and regret and, as they say in “The Good Place,” what we owe each other. What Marvel/Sony/Columbia owes the audience is a terrific comic book movie, and they have delivered.

NOTE: Stay all the way through the credits for TWO extra scenes.

Parents should know that this film features extended superhero/fantasy peril and violence. Characters are injured and killed and there is a very sad death and discussion of loss and regret. There is some strong language and a kiss.

Family discussion: Was Aunt May right about second chances? What was the most important thing Peter learned from his counterparts?

If you like this, try: the entire Spidey-verse of movies, including the three each for Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield and the Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

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