The Protege

Posted on August 19, 2021 at 1:20 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some sexual references, language, brief nudity, strong and bloody violence
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Constant very intense peril and violence with many disturbing and gory images, guns, knives, fights, bombs, waterboarding and torture, characters injured and killed, attempted rape of a child
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 20, 2021

Copyright Lionsgate 2021
I do not expect narrative coherence from movies that fall into the category of don’t-pay-attention-to-the-plot-just-enjoy-the-action, just that they don’t distract the audience with too many “huh?” moments. “The Protege” teeters on the “huh” brink, with enough for three episodes of Pitch Meeting, the YouTube series hilariously dissecting movie plot holes. Plus, the intensity of the gore becomes another distraction from the reason we are all there, which is to marvel at the very impressive stunts and fight scenes.

The always-great Maggie Q plays the title character, taken in as a child by Moody (Samuel L. Jackson), the world’s greatest paid assassin, after her family is killed. He cares for her like any loving parent who happens to be a paid assassin, supporting her passion for her bookstore specializing in rare and precious volumes, and teaching her how to take over the family business. She supports his passion for the finer things, too, including a birthday gift of an ultra-rare guitar he has always wanted, a Gibson ’58 Flying V. It’s just your typical loving father and daughter who happen to be, you know, paid assassins.

After we get a chance to see how good Anna is at her job, including “how to find things that don’t want to be found,” with the help of a friendly hacker who has an office behind a dry cleaner (just like “The Man From UNCLE!”). But even assassins may be vulnerable, and Moody has a bad cough and some very powerful enemies. He is killed, and Anna wants revenge. Say it with me, everyone: This time, it’s personal. There will be an old friend (the always-welcome Robert Patrick as a biker dude) who tries to persuade her that “You owe it to Maody to stay alive.” But Anna has to find out why Moody was killed and kill whoever was responsible.

There may be a connection to a customer who came to her bookstore. His name, improbably even in the context of a film that left probability behind about 3 minutes after the opening credits, is Rembrandt and he is played by Michael Keaton. In classic movie fashion, they flirt by knowing the same poem. Rembrandt is a fixer for a very bad guy with many minions. And unlike many fixers, he is not above getting messy. Are Rembrandt and Anna going to fight each other or have a more intimate tussle? What do you think?

It wants to be as stylish as “John Wick,” but it is not. Director Martin Campbell wants to replicate the sexy sword fight as romantic foreplay of “The Mask of Zorro,” but with these characters and this level of hand-to-hand combat, it does not work as intended. The mystery isn’t much of a mystery and you will not need a quirky hacker to figure it out. This is a good thing as he isn’t around for long. Let’s face it; this movie is just an excuse for a lot of action, from extended stunts to out-of-the-blue murders. For me, the gore and the weird vibe between Anna and Rembrandt were so extreme they took me out of the film; for some others that will be the point.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent and gory movie with many characters injured and killed and many graphic and disturbing images. There are fights, explosions, guns, and knives, torture tactics, and a lot of gushing blood. Characters use strong language and there are sexual references, some nudity, and a non-explicit situation.

Family discussion: Do you agree that it is a gift to have a friend who won’t offer help unless asked? How are Moody and Anna different from the people who hire them?

If you like this, try: “The Professional,” “Gunpowder Milkshake,” and “The Transporter”

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CODA

Posted on August 12, 2021 at 5:38 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for drug use, strong sexual content, and language
Profanity: Strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Bar fight, tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: August 13, 2021

Copyright 2021 AppleTV+
One of the smartest choices a filmmaker can make is to take a challenging universal human experience and heighten with with specific details and characters we care about. That is the case with “CODA,” the first film ever to win both the Audience Award and the Grand Prize at Sundance. It got the Directing Award as well. The challenging universal human experience at its center is leaving home, and all of the terror and identity-searching and family conflict it entails.

The heightening details are in the film’s title. CODA stands for (hearing) Children of Deaf Parents. If Deaf parents have a hearing child, there are immediate difficulties. First is making sure the child is around enough spoken language to learn to communicate in the hearing world. Second, as we see throughout this movie, is that in many ways even young children of Deaf parents have to act in an adult, even a parental role as they interpret for them. In an early amusing scene, Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) has to communicate the symptoms and treatment of her father’s jock itch in a doctor visit. The doctor tells her to explain to her parents that they cannot have sex for two weeks and she cannot resist telling them instead that they can never have sex again — before confessing that it’s just two weeks, which her father insists is impossible.

Ruby is a senior in high school and she also works in the family business, catching fish starting at 3:00 am. By the time she gets to school, she is exhausted.

Ruby wants to sing. She shyly signs up for the school chorus, but runs out when it is her turn to sing “Happy Birthday” so the teacher, Bernardo Villalobos (a terrific Eugenio Derbez) can hear her range. Later, she tries again and he can see she is untrained but gifted. He assigns her a duet (with the boy she likes, “Sing Street’s” Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as Miles). And he offers to help prepare her for an audition to see if she can get into the Berklee College of Music. This comes just as the pressure on Ruby increases because her father is told he cannot take his boat out without a hearing person on board for safety reasons.

Writer/director Sian Heder (“Orange is the New Black”) has created a universal story in a very specific world with endearing characters and a vivid, lived-in world. Hearing people usually assume that the world of the Deaf is quiet, but it is the opposite; because they cannot hear, they do not try to muffle or avoid loud noises. This leads to more than one scene of complications, from frustrating to funny to both. The world of the fishing community also adds a lot of depth and color. Deaf actors Troy Kotsur as Ruby’s father, Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin as her mother, and Daniel Durant as her brother Leo are all excellent, with the one-on-one scenes with Ruby and her parents two of the film’s highlights. Jones is marvelous in a star-making role, lighting up the screen, making her ASL an integral part of her performance, and with a voice we know Berklee would be lucky to have on campus. The conclusion may not come as a surprise (especially as it is featured in the trailer for some unimaginable reason), but by that point we are rooting for newcomers Heder and Jones as much as we are for the endearing character they created.

Parents should know that this movie has strong and crude language, explicit and crude references to sex and body parts and explicit sexual situations, a bar fight, alcohol with scenes in a bar, and marijuana. There are tense family confrontations.

Family discussion: Did Ruby make the right decision? Why did her parents change their minds?

If you like this, try: “Children of a Lesser God” with Matlin’s Oscar-winning performance and “The Sound of Metal,” about a musician who loses his hearing, as well as “Blinded by the Light,” about a young would-be writer who loves Bruce Springsteen

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Respect

Posted on August 12, 2021 at 5:10 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, strong language including racial epithets, violence, suggestive material, and smoking
Profanity: Some strong and racist language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and alcohol abuse, drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Domestic abuse, scuffles, sad death of a parent, murder of Martin Luther King
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: August 13, 2021

Copyright MGM 2021
Let’s stipulate two incontrovertible truths: First, as dazzling as Jennifer Hudson is, she is not the once-to-a-planet gift that was Aretha Franklin, whose songs are so deeply embedded in our collective unconscious that we cannot help but hear it in our head and accept no substitutes. Long past her prime but every inch a diva of raise-the-rafters soul singing, the clip over the credits of Franklin singing “Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center Honors tribute to songwriter Carole King (Franklin won her own Honor 21 years before), is breathtakingly thrilling. We see her bringing King and President Obama to tears, and I expect most will see that through their own.

Second, there are a lot of movies, many fact-based, with the theme: good woman, great songs, bad, bad men. For example: “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Piaf,” “Judy,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “The US vs. Billie Holiday”/”Lady Sings the Blues,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “A Song is Born,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” It is a challenge to make that story new, especially after the take-down of the inevitable cliches of singer biopics that is the excellent “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.”

Despite these obstacles and a 2 1/2 hour running time, the Aretha Franklin story simply titled “Respect” is absorbing and entertaining. Hudson may not sing Aretha’s songs as well as she did, but the Oscar she got for her very first movie role in “Dreamgirls” was an accurate assessment of her acting skills and screen charisma. Director Liesel Tommy and writers Tracey Scott Wilson and Callie Khouri have skillfully shaped a complex, even epic story to skip over many relationships and crises to focus on two key themes, the songs and their depiction of Franklin’s evolving voice, first in music, then in activism, then on her own behalf, and finally and most fulfillingly, to connect to God.

We first see her as a young girl, living with her father (Forest Whitaker), a prominent preacher, her grandmother (Kimberly Scott), and her sisters and brother. She is used to being awakened to sing at her father’s parties, which include prominent activists and performers. Her parents are divorced and she wishes she could spend more time with her adored mother (Audra McDonald), but overall she is happy and secure. In a wonderful scene, her mother gets her to express her feelings by singing them.

And then two cataclysmic events literally strike her silent. She is molested and gives birth to a son at age 12 and another one two years later. And her mother died.

Music is what literally gives her voice back to her. She sings, and that leads her first to tour churches with her father and then to make her first record deal, with a label that wants her to be a jazz singer. She marries Ted White (Marlon Wayans), who is threatened by anyone she wants to work with and hits her. She works with Martin Luther King. And then she starts to get the hits she has wanted.

Hudson is never less than dazzling and the film manages to give a sense of the scope of the story without getting caught up in details like the husband it just skips over. The film is ultimately, yes, respectful, just as Miss Franklin hoped.

Parents should know that this film includes domestic abuse and child molestation, sexual references and non-explicit situations, substance abuse, very strong and racist language, and some violence.

Family discussion: Who treated Aretha Franklin well? Why were hits so important to her? What made her able to start standing up for herself?

If you like this, try: “Amazing Grace,” the documentary we see being filmed at the end of this movie, the documentary “Muscle Shoals,” and of course listen to Ms. Franklin’s music

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Vivo

Posted on August 5, 2021 at 5:55 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Sad deaths including references to the death of a husband and father, some peril and scary moments
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 6, 2021

Copyright Sony Pictures 2021
In the first of two animated musicals coming this year from “Hamilton’s” Lin-Manuel Miranda, he plays the title character, Vivo, a golden kinkajou (looking like a cross between a teddy bear and a honey-colored monkey). And because he is played by Miranda, he is a singing kinkajou, performing in a Cuban town square with his beloved partner Andrés (Juan de Marcos González). They are popular local performers. When he was a young man, Andrés sang with Marta (Gloria Estafan), and he still regrets that he never told her he loved her.

Marta has now gone on to be a big star in America. On the eve of her final performance before retiring, she writes to Andrés to invite him to join her on stage. But just after receiving the letter, Andrés dies (shown discreetly off screen). Vivo is determined to deliver the message Andrés cannot, and when the American relatives come to Cuba for the funeral, he sees his chance to get to Marta, in Miami.

He teams up with Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), an ebullient young girl with spiky purple hair, unquenchable optimism, and a tendency toward spontaneity. She is truly happy being exactly who she is, except perhaps when her mother or someone else wants her to go along with the crowd. Her widowed mother Rosa (Zoe Saldana) wants her to sell cookies with the Sand Dollar Girls, led by a bossy blonde who believes in following the rules.

The best part of the film is the short cut through the everglades, encountering some Disney-like creatures including a delightfully goofy spoonbill looking for love (Brian Tyree Henry) and a huge green snake looking for lunch (Michael Rooker). The contrast between Gabi’s improvisational approach and Vivo’s preference for planning gives some extra energy to the story, and the more abstract animated songs are vivid and imaginative.

The musical numbers reflect the varied styles from classic Cuban to hip hop to salsa, and each of the four locations has a distinct look and color palette. Gabi’s ebullient rap song “My Own Drum” is a highlight. Later, in the Everlgades, Gabi and Vivo begin to form a friendship with another percussive number, “Keep the Beat.” The mission of delivering a letter and a song from a musician who died without ever expressing his feelings to his former singing partner may not of as much interest to children as, say, a princess who can make a castle out of ice. They may wonder how, if no humans can understand Vivo’s language, he is so successful as a singer. But they will enjoy the lively heroine, colorful animation, and Manuel’s songs.

Parents should know that this movie has a sad death (discreetly handled) and references to the loss of a husband and father. There are moments of peril with a scary and very toothy snake. A little girl leaves home without her mother’s permission. There is some schoolyard language.

Family discussion: Are you a planner or an improviser? How do you know?

If you like this, try: Carl Hiaasen’s YA novel Chomp and Disney’s “The Rescuers” and “The Princess and the Frog

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The Suicide Squad

Posted on August 5, 2021 at 5:40 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity
Profanity: Extremely strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extremely intense and gory violence with many disturbing and bloody, graphic images, characters injured and killed, comic book violence, guns, explosions
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 6, 2021

Copyright 2021 Warner Brothers
Just to clarify: the 2016 film with Will Smith and Margot Robbie about the imprisoned DC Comics villains who are assembled into a “Dirty Dozen”-style team by a tyrannical official from a secret government agency is called “Suicide Squad.” This 2021 reboot is called “The Suicide Squad.” Got it?

“Guardians of the Galaxy’s” writer/director James Gunn takes over the franchise, and this is even more insouciantly nasty than the first one, relishing the carnage and ebulliently transgressive. Even the Warner Brothers logo is written in blood.

Viola Davis returns as Amanda Waller, who demonstrates her ruthlessness up front by delivering on her threat to detonate a chip that explodes the head of one of her supervillains who disobeys an order. “I wouldn’t take such extreme measures if this mission wasn’t more important than you could possibly imagine,” she says. It is “potentially cataclysmic for America and the world.” In other words, the ends justify the ultra-destructive means, including giving her license to murder her charges, not to mention giving them license to murder as well.

There are some new characters this time, including some younger villains to make it possible to include some jokes about millennials, or stereotypes, depending on your perspective. This crowd is defined by their inability to play well with others, but that is intensified here by the animosity between two alpha males, the walking weapon Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and the walking heavy bag and ironically named Peacemaker (John Cena). Also on board for some or all of the mission are a shark with legs, a second-generation rat-master, a guy with some serious mother issues who emits lethal polka dots, and of course, in what she says is her last appearance in the role, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.

We can understand why. For all its many failings, the first “Suicide Squad” and “Birds of Prey” gave Harley Quinn what she has too seldom been given, an interesting character. She was damaged. And she was a villain. But a vestigial trace of her past life as a psychologist and a woman wronged gave her some complexity and even sympathy. She’s not as interesting here, more naughty than truly provocative. This movie is more interested in how many ways a human body can be exploded, beheaded, sliced down the middle, and otherwise dismembered than it is in anything else with the possible exception of a lot of macho posturing. It also fails to make the stakes meaningful with a worthy villain. Understandable, I suppose; it’s hard to out-villain the temporarily good bad guys. So, it’s is colorful and entertaining but lightweight and unmemorable.

NOTE: Stay for a mid-credit scene with an un-surprising surprise.

Parents should know that this movie ie extremely vulgar and gory with constant, extremely bloody peril and violence and many characters injured and killed. Characters use constant very strong language and the movie includes nudity and sexual references, and a sexual situation.

Family discussion:

If you like this, try: “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the Suicide Squad comic books

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