Coming 2 America

Posted on March 4, 2021 at 5:51 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, and drug content
Profanity: Strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Threats of violence, guns seen but not used, martial arts combat
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, but transphobic humor
Date Released to Theaters: March 5, 2021
Copyright 2021 Amazon Studios

I’ve got nothing against fan service, content created just for people who are already devoted to the characters or stories or performers. But it is fair to ask whether it can be more than that, or if it is even trying for more than that. “Coming 2 America” looks like its primary priority was a fun project, with the secondary side benefit of pleasing the fans and making some money. It’s pleasant and occasionally funny even if you don’t appreciate all of the inside jokes. In other words, by pandemic standards, it’s a mildly entertaining watch.

“Coming 2 America” is made 23 years after the original film starring Eddie Murphy as Akeem, an African prince from the fictional and idyllic country of Zamunda, who goes to New York to find a bride. In “Coming 2 America,” Murphy and many of his co-stars return. Akeem is happily married to the woman he brought back from Queens, Lisa (again played by Shari Headley), and they have three daughters. Lisa’s father, Cleo McDowell (again played by John Amos) has moved his fast food restaurant to Zamunda and is still insisting it is not a rip-off of McDonald’s.

But Akeem’s father, the king (James Earl Jones) is dying, and Akeem’s daughters cannot inherit the throne because Zamudan law and tradition requires a male heir. And the king is not above suggesting that fathering daughters is an indication of Akeem’s lack of manliness. The daughters have warrior training and are loving, thoughtful young women who care deeply for their country. But they cannot inherit the throne. General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), who heads the neighboring country of Nextdoria (this name gives you some idea of the level of humor in the film), wants Akeem’s oldest daughter to marry his nephew, to unite the two countries. Her new husband would become king.

But Akeem discovers that 23 years earlier, in a one-time encounter he has no memory of (because it did not exist in the original film, but let’s just ret-con it into being), he fathered a son. And he decides to go back to Queens to bring that son back to take over as heir to the throne.

All of which is just an excuse for a lot of references to the first film, not just meeting up with many of the characters played then and now by Murphy and Arsenio Hall as Akeem’s sidekick, Semmi. That means we see updated versions of the guys at the barber shop (both the barbers and the elderly white alte kackers and the preacher for hire, and more. It also means we get an entirely unnecessary recap of the original film, inserted as filler, and even more unnecessary references to other Murphy films for which additional unnecessary sequels are apparently underway. It’s the MCU (Murphy Cinematic Universe)!

Akeem’s son is Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), who agrees to go to Zamunda, bringing his mother, played by the redoubtable Leslie Jones. Will he be able to pass the “prince test?” Will Akeem’s daughter get over her resentment? How about her mother? Will Lavelle agree to marry General Izzi’s compliant and extremely beautiful and limber daughter?

You know the answer to that as well as you know that there will be a lot of silly stuff along the way, including some very crude humor and vulgar language for a PG-13, and some outtakes over the end credits (stay all the way to the end). It’s all done with good humor and panache. If the energy behind the fabulous Ruth Carter costumes and choreography by Fatima Robinson are in sharp contrast to the “let’s do it in one take” vibe of Murphy’s performance (presumably the obviousness of the insertion of the stunt double was intended to be funny), and the “let’s not think too hard about the plot” (really? Girls can’t inherit the throne? A trans joke in 2021?) the movie’s unequivocal endorsement of true love based in respect and friendship (and of the ability of women to fill any role that appeals to them) makes it easy to overlook its failings.

Parents should know that this movie has martial arts combat and guns are shown but not used. Characters drink and get drunk and smoke marijuana. There is extended crude humor and language and a transphobic joke.

Family discussion: What have been the most significant changes in culture since the first film and are they reflected in the sequel? What test would you give a prince?

If you like this, try: “Coming to America”

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Comedy movie review Movies Movies Romance Series/Sequel

The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Posted on February 25, 2021 at 5:03 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Very strong language, n-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drug abuse and addiction
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and violence including domestic violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 26, 2021

Copyright 2020 Lee Daniels Entertainment
Andra Day’s performance as Billie Holiday is never less than dazzling, one of those breakthrough moments that divide our lives as audience into before and after. The vulnerability, the courage, the utter commitment of her acting here, her first role, is simply stunning.

And nothing less could do for the portrayal of one of the most formidable performers of the 20th century. This movie could not work unless we saw what the audiences of the 40s and 50s saw, a singer who could break your heart and make you grateful for it.

In “Lady Sings the Blues,” one diva played another, with Diana Ross also outstanding in a traditionally-structured biopic, from childhood through her career, her struggles with drugs and alcohol, and abusive relationships. A recent documentary, “Billie,” used archival materials assembled in the 1970s by a biographer who died before she could complete the project. It has valuable insights from people who knew Holiday and saw her perform.

This movie, from Lee Daniels, is different because its focus is on just one part of Holiday’s life. Like “Judas and the Black Messiah,” this is the story of betrayal, and a conflicted source who cared about the person he was informing on.

Billie Holiday attracted the attention of J. Edgar Hoover because of a song. It was “Strange Fruit,” written by Abel Meeropol, first published in 1937 as a poem called “Bitter Fruit.” He later added music. The “stronge fruit” hanging in the trees in the song’s lyrics are the dead bodies of Black people who have been lynched, murdered by a racist mob. “Blood on the leaves and blood at the root/Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze/Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees.”

Holiday’s 1939 performance of the song is now a recognized classic and is included in the National Recording Registry, which “highlights the richness of the nation’s audio legacy.” But in 1939 lynching was considered so acceptable by government and media and culture they actually sold postcards showing bodies hanging. This was 15 years before the murder of Emmitt Till, a Black teenager from the North, led to calls for reform. And as of this writing, Congress has still been unable to pass an anti-lynching bill. So, telling the truth about lynching in a song was considered dangerous, and Hoover wanted to stop her.

One of the first Black FBI agents (“Moonlight’s” Trevante Rhodes as Jimmy Fletcher) is assigned to her case. The pressure he is under is almost as crushing as the pressure on Holiday. He has the all-but-impossible task of proving himself to skeptical and often racist colleagues. And he cannot help siding with what Holiday is doing and being mesmerized by her as well.

The storyline is murky at times. It is also soapy and melodramatic, but face it, Holiday’s life was as soapy and melodramatic as her songs. Through it all Day manages to be as magnetic as the formidable woman and powerful entertainer she is portraying. At any given moment, Day has to be precise about where Holiday is on her various journeys in and out of addiction to various substances, including the men in her life, and she makes it work every time. She shows us Holiday’s toughness and her vulnerability. And, with the help of glorious costumes from Paolo Nieddu (the hats!), she owns the screen. She owns her story.

Parents should know that this movie includes alcohol and drug abuse, nudity and sexual situations, domestic abuse, and very strong language.

Family discussion: Should the government get involved in artists’ songs, movies, plays, books, or tweets? What could Jimmy have done differently?

If you like this, try: “Lady Sings the Blues,” “Billie,” and “Judas and the Black Messiah”

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Based on a true story Drama movie review Movies Movies Politics Race and Diversity Romance

Valentine’s Day with Real-Life Movie Romantic Couples

Posted on February 12, 2021 at 8:00 am

I love to recommend romantic movies for Valentine’s Day. This year, how about some movies starring real-life movie sweethearts?

Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward made several films together, including “The Long, Hot Summer” and “Rachel Rachel” (he directed, she starred).

Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn met on “Woman of the Year” and you can see them fall in love on screen.

Their last movie together was “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” This speech, filmed just before Tracy’s death, feels as though Tracy is speaking about his love for his co-star.

Carole Lombard and Clark Gable were not yet a couple when they made “No Man of Her Own,” but it is fun to see them together.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall famously fell in love making “To Have and Have Not.” I think the rest of us fall for her every time we see it.

Director Taylor Hackford met his wife, Helen Mirren, when they made “White Nights” together.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had a passionate, tempestuous relationship, including two marriages and divorces, that was reflected in their films together.

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Holidays Romance

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

Posted on February 11, 2021 at 5:57 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool

Copyright 2021 Amazon
After “Palm Springs,” one of 2020’s best films, you may think that yet another bittersweet romantic comedy set in a temporal anomaly/time loop (think “Groundhog Day”) makes you feel like you’re in an infinitely repeating time loop yourself. But it won’t take long at all for you to realize that on the contrary you are watching an utterly charming, engaging, and yes, original film. It is a delight.

“The Map of Tiny Perfect Things” is about Mark (Kyle Allen) and Margaret (Kathryn Newton of “Freaky”). The similarity of their names is not coincidental. Other than being the only two people stuck repeating the same day over and over, they seem to have little in common. He is aimless and artistic. She is focused and loves math and science.

At first, Mark is caught up in his own concerns, using what he has learned by re-living the same day to amuse himself by making the day as seamless as possible. He knows exactly where he has to be to catch the toast popping out of the toaster or grab the mug knocked off the table before it hits the floor.

And then, one day, or, rather, the millionth repeat of the same day, he sees Margaret. She is not eager to become friends and tells him very little about herself or why she has to leave at the same time every day (the same day, you know what I mean).

They are not sure whether they want to break out of the time loop. They see the advantages of a consequence-less life. A mohawk haircut. A tattoo. A car crash, Breaking a lot of stuff. They see the advantages of a closely observed world, the possibilities. They see the disadvantages of a consequence-less life. They see that even actions that will be erased hours later still make a difference.

I liked the way the movie subtly let us and the characters gradually discover that there are other ways to be stuck, even for characters who are not caught in the time loop. Mark’s best friend Henry (Jermaine Harris) sits on the sofa playing the same video game. Mark’s parents are stuck in their own way. And Margaret, despite her plans for the future is stuck in more than a time loop.

The dialogue is sharp and witty enough you want to lean forward to make sure you don’t miss any of it. Briskly directed and beautifully performed, this is a movie you will want to watch more than once and will never feel like you’re repeating the same experience.

Parents should know that this film has some strong language, the sad death of a parent, family stress, and teen drinking.

Family discussion: Why did Mark and Margaret go into a time loop? If you could pick one day to live over and over, would you? Which day? What would you do first?

If you like this, try: “Time Bandits” (it is as great as Mark says it is), and other time-loop classics like “Groundhog Day,” “The Edge of Tomorrow,” and “Palm Springs.” You will also enjoy some other fantasy romances like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Stranger than Fiction”

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Fantasy movie review Movies Movies Romance Science-Fiction Stories about Teens

The Right One

Posted on February 4, 2021 at 5:38 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and sexual references
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drugs and drug dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Reference to tragic death of a child, child abuse, mental illness
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 5, 2021
Copyright 2021 Lionsgate

A short story by Kurt Vonnegut was turned into a television film for PBS starring Christopher Walken as a shy man who only came alive when he was assigned a part in a play. Susan Sarandon played a woman who fell in love with him and they ended up happily inhabiting roles that kept their relationship exciting. I thought of that when I watched “The Right One,” about a young writer who is drawn to a man who seems to have a dozen different personalities.

Godfrey (Nick Thune) does not conform to the expectations of Bob (David Koechner), an executive sent to improve productivity at his office. But before Bob can begin to express any concerns, Godfrey completely wins him over through a shared dedication to the 90s garage band Blues Traveler. Bob is utterly disarmed. And we soon see why Godfrey is far and away the most successful salesman in his office by far, so successful that everyone overlooks his strange looks and behavior. Just as he did with Bob, he is able to connect to people, even over the phone, finding some link to make them feel comfortable, understood, and open to buying something. We might think of it as code-switching, shifting frames of reference and modes of speech to fit the audience. But this is an extreme version, so extreme that the “real” Godfrey, if there is one, is invisible.

Sara (Cleopatra Coleman) is struggling with writer’s block. Her brash and outspoken agent, Kelly (Iliza Shlesinger) is pushing her to finish a book she has not even started. At an art gallery opening, Sara sees Godfrey in two different personas, and she is intrigued enough to start writing about a character based on him.

And so, she begins to hang out with him, seeing him as an EDM DJ and dancing the tango him. He avoids her at first, but begins to invite her to join him. He thinks they are starting a friendship. She thinks he is material for her book.

Godfrey’s brother Shad (standout M.J. Kokolis) warns Sara to stay away from him, but she ignores him. Finally, Shad tells her something of Godfrey’s background. And Godfrey finds out what Sara is doing.

The script is cluttered and inconsistent in tone and in the quality of the performances. Thune and Coleman do not have a lot of chemistry. It does not have the heft to support its more emotional beats. But like its main character, it has a rakish, if amateurish charm.

Parents should know that this film has very strong language, crude sexual humor, and references to child abuse and neglect, mental illness, and a tragic death.

Family discussion: Which personality is the “real” Godfrey? If you were going to create different personas, what would they be?  Should Sara have told Godfrey what she was doing?

If you like this, try: “Benny and Joon” and Thune’s “Dave Made a Maze”

 

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Comedy movie review Movies Movies Romance
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