1776: A Broadway Musical About the Signing of the Declaration of Independence

Posted on July 2, 2019 at 9:33 pm

Celebrate the 4th of July by watching the entertaining and inspiring “1776,” based on the Broadway musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The movie does not shy away from the terrible compromise on slavery that the founding fathers agreed to in order to make this country one nation, with a fault line that would shatter our deepest convictions enumerated in the very document our country was established on. The characters are really brought to life with all of their courage and hope as well as their faults and fears.

EHere’s a glimpse from a recent Broadway staged version, with Santino Fontana of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”

And from the movie, with William Daniel as the “obnoxious and disliked” John Adams.

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Long Shot

Posted on May 2, 2019 at 5:50 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use
Profanity: Constant very strong and vulgar langauge
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, including drinking to deal with stress, drunkenness, drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, some wartime violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: May 3, 2019
Date Released to DVD: July 22, 2019
Copyright 2019 Lionsgate Entertainment

Remember in “Say Anything” when high school valedictorian who had done everything right and won every prize Diane Cort was described as a brain “trapped in the body of a game show hostess?” Well, imagine her character grown up and in Washington.

In “Long Shot,” Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is Secretary of State for a dimwit TV-star-turned President (Bob Odenkirk). She is still head of the class, doing extra credit homework while she’s on the treadmill, taking brief eyes-open standing power naps, and reading summaries of popular television shows so she can make smooth, diplomatic chit chat about media she has no time to actually watch. Needless to say, she is single. And, because she is played by Theron, she looks like a supermodel, very much appreciated by the American public which, her pollster tells her, gives her their highest ranking for “elegance.” This is the American public that elected an actor who played the President on television to the actual White House, so elegance — and a possible romance with the swooningly handsome Prime Minister of Canada (Alexander Skarsgård) are real plusses with the voters, who probably think that if they get married the two countries will merge, as though they are Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming.

But the fairy tale here is more like Beauty and the Beast, if it was an extremely raunchy romantic comedy. Charlotte used to babysit for Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), who is now a shlubby but passionate Brooklyn journalist who has just quit on principle because his lefty alternative paper has been bought by media mogul and all-around bully Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis, so unrecognizable that he might as well be CGI). Charlotte sees Fred at a reception (featuring Boyz II Men, for whom they both stan). She impulsively offers him a job polishing her speeches to make them less Cabinet-officer-formal and careful and more “I’d actually like to run for President and I’m both super-competent and relatable!”

And so the out of work but highly principled Fred joins the team. Charlotte feels safe with him because they literally come from the same place, and he is able to remind her of a time when she was not as careful and not as isolated. He makes her speeches warmer and more personal. And they…like each other.

It’s funny and occasionally even sharp, but most of all it is really quite sweet. Theron is captivating as the good girl who longs to be a little less elegant and there is actually some genuine chemistry with Rogen, whose shambling demeanor she sees as refreshingly authentic. The film touches more lightly on subjects like political compromises and media pressure that we might think from an early scene of the idiot President watching himself on television in the good old days, when he only had to pretend to be the Chief Executive. The supporting cast includes O’Shea Jackson Jr. (“Straight Outta Compton”) as Fred’s loyal best friend, and their scenes together are some of the movie’s best.

There is enough sharp interplay on both current affairs and relationships to keep things moving briskly. Improbable as the pairing may be as characters and performers, Theron and Rogen have a nice easy rhythm, and it is heartwarming to see Charlotte and Fred each learn to relax a bit, her being less careful, more vulnerable, and more true to her less-than-perfect self and him being less sure of his opinions and more sure of his value.

Parents should know that this movie has very explicit and gross-out sexual humor, references and situations, very strong language, drinking and drunkenness, and some slapstick and military-style peril and violence.

Family discussion: Could a candidate like Charlotte get elected?  What does she like about Fred?  Would you want to read a journalist like Fred?

If you like this, try: “50/50,” also with Rogen, from the same director

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Mary Queen of Scots

Posted on December 6, 2018 at 5:31 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some violence and sexuality
Profanity: Some language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence including armed battles and beheading
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 7, 2018
Date Released to DVD: February 25, 2019

Copyright 2018 Focus Pictures
Gorgeous production values, magnificent costumes, a gripping historical rivalry that lasted a quarter century and ended with a beheading, and two fierce, beautiful, endlessly talented actresses giving it everything they’ve got — that takes us pretty far, but it cannot make up for a script that reduces the story of the class between two of the most powerful rules in history to a spat between mean girls over who has the cutest boyfriend.

Okay, not that bad. But it is a real shame for Mary Queen of Scots to take the story of these two women and limit the focus to their rivalry. Queen Elizabeth gave her name to an age that included innovative and very successful economic policies, resolved irreconcilable religious divisions that began when her father, Henry VIII, left the Catholic church and established the Church of England and led to decades of bloody conflict, defeated the Spanish Armada, oversaw historical world exploration (and colonization), and presided over a golden age of culture that included the greatest author in the history of the English language. Mary, Queen of Scots was able to maintain her throne for a remarkable time given the constant attacks and efforts to undermine and betray her. But too much of this film is focused on their rivalry even though (or maybe because) they were facing very similar challenges.

Saoirse Ronan is superbly regal as Mary, fire to Elizabeth’s ice. She is fierce and fearless, leading her troops into battle and confronting those who would question her fitness or her right to serve as a matter of law, divine and mortal. Having been married off to another ruler, the king of France, who died, leaving her with no place in the French court, she makes a triumphant return to Scotland, kissing the ground as she arrives to take the throne that had been occupied by her half-brother.

Margot Robbie plays Elizabeth, canny, decisive, often imperious, but also afraid — of the threats within her own court and of her cousin Mary, whose legal claim, ties to the Catholic church, and personal appeal made her jealous and uncharacteristically insecure. Co-screenwriter Beau Willimon (“House of Cards”) has a feel for the ruthlessness of courtiers jousting for power and director Josie Rourke, with a background in theater, is well suited to the pomp and, well, theatricality of the courts. Mary’s looks like a castle version of the Scottish countryside, spare and craggy, while Elizabeth’s is luxurious and draped with tapestries. In real life, the two women never met, but that isn’t very cinematic, so there is a strikingly choreographed meeting here, the two queens separated by a maze of fluttering linens. If the substance of the story matched the look of it, this movie could have done justice to two of history’s most fascinating and transformative characters.

Parents should know that this film has peril and violence including armed battles and beheading, sexual references and explicit situations, and medical issues.

Family discussion: Who was the better leader? How did being women affect the way Mary and Elizabeth saw themselves? Why couldn’t Elizabeth trust Mary?

If you like this, try: “Anne of the Thousand Days,” “Elizabeth,” and “The Young Victoria”

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Fahrenheit 11/9

Posted on September 20, 2018 at 3:58 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some disturbing material/images
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some graphic and disturbing scenes of military violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 21, 2018

Copyright 2018 Briarcliff Entertainment
Maybe around the time that professional provocateur Michael Moore shows Donald Trump’s voice coming out of Adolf Hitler’s mouth in his latest film, “Fahrenheit 11/9,” you might think he has gone over the top. But Moore would probably tell you that it’s our world that’s gone over the top; he’s just highlighting it so that we can understand what is happening in the midst of a constant barrage of outrage and partisanship.

Fourteen years ago, Moore released “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the title inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, about the September 11 attacks and the aftermath. This film’s title is a reference to another event Moore considers pivotal, the election of Donald Trump in 2016. It begins with dozens of predictions by experts that Hillary Clinton would win the election, and then the stunned reactions when she lost. (Moore himself was one of the very few who predicted a Trump victory.) But he does not spend any time after that on the past. He is not interested in the Mueller investigation or whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. He is interested in the indicators of a weakening of our democracy, as, for example, when a survey of Republicans shows that a majority would support delaying the next Presidential election if President Trump says that it is an emergency, and, an even more sobering example, when so many Americans do not vote.

Moore’s 1989 film, Roger & Me was set in his home town of Flint, Michigan, a once-thriving community with lots of good jobs at the local General Motors plants. As the plants closed or replaced workers with non-US workers and robots (unforgettably, the film included footage of a animatronic display with a human worker singing to the robot that replaced him), the community was devastated economically and psychically bereft. The film, now on the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, revolutionized documentary storytelling with its arch tone, quirky characters, and wild stunts, like Moore’s efforts to confront then-GM CEO Roger Smith about Flint.

Almost 20 years later, Moore returns to Flint in this film for an even worse disaster. A new governor, a businessman with no previous government experience, ordered that the water supply in Flint be redirected from Lake Huron to the toxic Flint River, according to Moore so that his business friends could build — and make money from — an unnecessary second pipeline. Lead levels spiked, putting the residents, especially the children, at great risk. Even those who have been following this story will be shocked by some of what Moore reveals here, including a nurse who shows the blood lead levels in the children she tested — before she was directed to alter the results to show them at an acceptable level. General Motors complained that the Flint River Water was harming its remaining production facilities, so they were switched back to Lake Huron while the residents were not. There is dispiriting footage of then-President Obama’s visit to Flint, when his efforts to be reassuring (Look! I’m drinking your water!) make him seem out of touch and condescending. Of course there’s a stunt, with Moore trying to see the governor and then spraying Flint water on the Governor’s grass.

But what hits home hardest is a story that had almost no national coverage, without any notice, the Army scheduled training exercises — with no notice to the residents — with shooting and explosions that made it seem that the town was under attack. Moore also points out that the heroic doctor who exposed the crisis is an immigrant who exemplifies the most aspirational American dream of opportunity and service. And he suggests that the lack of attention from politicians, including Obama, led to the poor voter turnout in a state where mere thousands of votes could have swung the election.

He also points to the one person who is ultimately responsible for electing Donald Trump. SPOILER ALERT: pop star and Voice coach Gwen Stefani.

Like all Moore movies, this one is uneven and polemical as well as illuminating, enraging, and — this is the great secret of Moore — ultimately hopeful. He spends time with young candidates of intelligence and integrity. He shows us the West Virginia teacher’s strike. It is deeply stirring to see the teachers, told to go back to work after their union leaders abandoned the school bus drivers and lunch workers, refuse to stop the strike until their fellow school workers were given a raise as well. We see the Parkland kids turn unthinkable tragedy into purposeful action. “We must have done something right,” Moore says, “We raised you.” “No,” one responds immediately. “Social media raised us.”

She may not realize it, but she was raised by Moore as well, with films like this one.

Parents should know that this film has some strong language and some disturbing images, including violence and peril.

Family discussion: Who in this film do you admire and why? Is this film a form of journalism?

If you like this, try: Michael Moore’s other films, including “Roger & Me” and “Sicko”

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The Party

Posted on February 15, 2018 at 11:50 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and drug use
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Satiric violence including punches, gun
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 16, 2018

Copyright 2018 Rhodeside Attractions
“The Party” is a short, savagely funny, black and white film from writer/director Sally Potter with an all-star cast moving at light speed through a real-time gathering that goes very quickly from a celebration to a political and emotional bloodbath.

It does start out as a party. Hostess and honoree Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) has just achieved her professional goal by being appointed to the British cabinet position overseeing health care. She is busy in the kitchen making vol au vent, barely aware of her husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), who is sitting dolefully in the living room, playing jazz on old-school analog LPs.

The guests start to arrive. Janet’s oldest friend April (Patricia Clarkson) is a sharp-tongued cynic, escorted by Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), a German believer in spiritual healing who calls Western medicine “voodoo.” April continuously demeans him, explaining that they are about to break up. Martha (Cherry Jones) is Janet’s political ally, but she will soon be distracted by news from her pregnant wife Jinny (Emily Mortimer). Everyone is so distracted that they barely notice Tom (Cillian Murphy), who works in finance and arrives ahead of his wife Marianne and immediately goes to the bathroom to snort some cocaine. Also, he has a gun.

As the vol au vent burns, a daisy chain of accusation, recrimination, confession, and betrayal rocks the group and challenges their most fundamental notions of who they are as individuals, as upholders of particular political views that they consider essential parts of themselves, and as people who thought they understood their connections to each other.

It’s in stunning black and white, but we imagine the shower of virtual crimson blood from the verbal rapier thrusts and real-life punches at this most savage of celebrations. What is intended to be a small gathering of close friends to congratulate the hostess on her important new cabinet position unfolds in real time as series of attacks, revelations, betrayals, and, yes, political metaphors. Brilliantly performed by some of the greatest actors from both sides of the Atlantic with dialog that crackles like static electricity, it is directed at the high speed of a drawing room comedy but with knowing, devastating impact by Potter.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong and explicit language and many tense and unhappy confrontations. Characters drink and use drugs and threaten gun violence.

Family discussion: Is Janet a hypocrite about healthcare when she responds to Bill’s announcement? Why is it hard for Martha to respond the way Jinny wants her to? Why did Tom come to the party?

If you like this, try: Potter’s other films, including “Yes,” “Orlando,” and “The Tango Lesson”

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