You People

Posted on January 26, 2023 at 5:33 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, some sexual material and drug content.
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drugs including cocaine
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: January 27, 2023

Copyright 2023 Netflix
Amira, a Muslim Black stylist and costume designer (Lauren London) and Ezra, a Jewish white guy with a boring job in finance who would rather be a podcaster (Jonah Hill) fall in love in “You People,” a comic contest between two equally offensive sets of parents. Her parents (Nia Long and Eddie Murphy as Fatima and Akbar) disapprove and try to undermine the relationship. His parents (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and David Duchovny ask Shelly and Arnold) are clueless about the cringe-inducing, reductionist racism of their attempts to welcome Amira. Falling somewhere down the spectrum from the tragedy of “Romeo and Juliet” and the sincere if stilted drama of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” this film, co-written by star Hill and director Kenya Barrios (“Black-ish”) plays it for comedy, with an exceptionally strong supporting cast. And it is not afraid to include some stinging commentary amid the romance and the laughs.

It gets off to a strong start with Ezra and his podcast co-host Mo (Sam Jay) laughing about their fantasy versions of Barack Obama, clearly improvised. The jokes are more outrageous than funny, but it is a delight to hear the two riff off of each other with witty affection. We then see Ezra at Yom Kippur services with his parents, who gently disapprove of what he is wearing (casual kicks) and not wearing (a kipper head covering). The meet-cute is when he gets into what he thinks is his Uber, but what turns out to be Amira, who has gotten lost. After a moment of panic, they hit it off and soon they are dating. They share the same shoe game and commitment to supporting one another. And they just enjoy spending time together. And then it becomes time to to meet the parents.

The surprise in the film is Eddie Murphy, who plays it absolutely straight as Amira’s dignified father and makes Akbar into one of the movie’s highlights. There’s no winking at the audience, no wild exaggeration, and the more serious he is, the funnier he is, especially when one of his ploys backfires. He leaves the goofiness in the more than capable hands of Mike Epps (as Akbar’s brother), “Black-ish” star Anthony Anderson, the always terrific Sam Jay, and more. Murphy, the real-life father of 10 children, knows all too well what it is to measure a suitor against his expectations, and this is one of his best roles.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus has a lot of fun with the role of Ezra’s mother, who tries so hard to show she is an ally that she over-corrects, while her husband tries to show how hip he is by talking about how much he likes rapper Xzibit. Instead of getting to know Amira by, for example, asking her about her work, she chatters about looking forward to brown grandchildren and goes woke Karen on a spa attendant she mistakenly thinks was racist. The white side of the cast also has an exceptionally strong group in supporting and cameo roles, from legends Hal Linden, Richard Benjamin, Rhea Perlman, and Elliott Gould to younger familiar faces Rob Huebel and Bryan Greenburg. Look for Romy Reiner (daughter of Rob, granddaughter of Carl) on a date with Ezra, director Barris as an airplane passenger, and a sign advertising London’s late activist/rapper romantic partner, Nipsey Hustle, who also has a song on the soundtrack.

The script is uneven at times. The bachelor party in Las Vegas and bachelorette party at a spa do not work as well as the sections at home. But as the characters discover, good will and a sharp sense of humor can overcome a lot of obstacles.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and crude language, sexual references and non-explicit situations, drinking and drugs, and a visit to a strip club in Las Vegas.

Family discussion: How would your family react to a new boyfriend or girlfriend? How would you have handled the meeting of the parents? What made them change their minds?

If you like this, try: “This Christmas” with Lauren London and “Superbad” with Jonah Hill

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Shotgun Wedding

Posted on January 26, 2023 at 5:13 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some violence/bloody images
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended terrorism peril and violence, guns, knives, grenades, characters injured and killed, some graphic images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 27, 2023

Copyright 2023 Amazon
Keep this in mind as you evaluate my comments — I do not even try to resist the allure of Jennifer Lopez. So if you can, you may not be willing to surrender to the ridiculousness of this action romantic comedy about a destination wedding interrupted by violent pirates. Let me put it this way: you will probably enjoy the film if you’re okay with the fact that over the course of the film, as lawyer and bride-to-be Darcy (Lopez) is being chased by masked bad guys with military-style weapons, her pouffy bridal gown is ever-so-fetchingly shredded, her hair adorably tousled, and her maquillage (the word “make-up” cannot adequately convey the perfection) is perpetually exquisite, even has she and the groom are chased through the jungle, handcuffed, and clutching a live grenade.

Darcy and her fiancé Tom (Josh Duhamel) have brought their families and friends to a Philippene island for their wedding. (With this film and January 13’s “Plane,” the Philippines should probably consult a tourism marketing firm.) This has put a lot of stress on everyone, especially because Tom, a minor league baseball designated hitter recently released at age 40, is overly fixated on making every detail perfect and neglecting his bride. Darcy’s wealthy father, Robert (Cheech Marin), has brought his woo-woo vibes and auras girlfriend, Harriet (D’Arcy Carden of “The Good Place”). His elegant ex-wife, Darcy’s mother, Renata (Sonia Braga) wants to stay as far away from them as possible. Tom’s parents are the unfiltered, boundary-trespassing Carol (Jennifer Coolidge) and the perpetually videoing every minute Larry (Steve Coulter).

Ramping up the stress level is the surprise arrival of Darcy’s former fiancé, Sean (Lenny Kravitz), who now works for Darcy’s father and is something of a surrogate son. He arrives by helicopter and insists on giving a toast at the rehearsal dinner. The next morning, as the guests are in their chairs on the beach waiting for the ceremony to begin, Tom and Darcy are on another part of the island breaking up.

This is why they are not there when the pirates arrive and take everyone else hostage, making them gather in the infinity pool while they send a search party to kidnap the bride and groom. They tell Robert they will not release them until he transfers $45 million to them. He says he will not to anything until they prove that Darcy is safe. Tom and Darcy have to find a way to take on heavily armed, trained group with no weapons, training, protective gear, or idea what they’re doing.

The balance of humor and action is uneven, and it does not even try to make sense. But the overall tone is lighthearted, and, as I said, Lopez is, as always, hard to resist.

Parents should know that this film includes terrorist-style peril and violence with military-grade weapons, chases, and explosions. Chaacters are injured and killed, in light-hearted fashion when they are bad guys, and there are some grisly images. Chacters uses strong and crude language with sexual references and a non-explicit sexual situation.

Family discussion: Whose family was more difficult? Was the twist a surprise? What did the attack reveal to Darcy and Tom about themselves and each other?

If you like this, try: “Wedding Season

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Empire of Light

Posted on December 8, 2022 at 5:38 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sexual content, language and brief violence
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, smoking, medication
Violence/ Scariness: Racist mob violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 9, 2022

Copyright 2022 Searchlight
“Empire of Light” has such enticing visuals and such thoughtful performances it can almost lull audiences into forgetting that the storyline and characters are like pieces from different jigsaw puzzles. They never come together. And, more problematic, they are two-dimensional cardboard depictions, not the real thing or even a worthy substitute.

The title refers to the setting, a once-grand movie theater called Empire across from the beach along England’s south coast. It is 1980, near the end of the year.

Hilary (Olivia Colman) is the manager, taking care of just about everything from sweeping up spilled popcorn to placing the boss’s slippers in front of the space heater to matching up the ticket stubs to make sure every customer is accounted for. It also includes sexually servicing the boss, Donald Ellis, who murmurs tender nothings like “You’re so helpful.”

Hilary has recently returned to the theater after a stint in a mental hospital. She takes medication for bipolar disorder and has regular check-ins with a doctor. That may be why she is tamped down, or it just may be English reserve. Or both. She admits to him that she feels a bit numb. Colman, never less than superb, is the best part of the film, showing us how Hilary’s smile and her eyes communicate opposite emotions.

The other staff includes Norman, the projectionist, who is proud of his understanding of optical physics (Toby Jones), Janine, with wild hair and punk-black lipstick (Hannah Onslow), and quiet but observant Neil (Tom Brooke). One day, Ellis introduces a new employee, Stephen (Micheal Ward), the son of an African immigrant, who is a nurse at the local hospital. Hilary is drawn to him, his gentle care for a bird with a broken wing and his good humor. She stops taking her medication and begins to feel less numb. Some feelings are welcome, some not, as when she snaps at Stephen for trying to amuse Janine by imitating an elderly customer. The same goes for an underused Jones, who is stuck with explaining the magic of the stories projected on a beam of light. Hilary’s recognition of the abuse Stephen suffers because he is Black seems like it is from another movie. A better one, as the issue is more about her reaction than about his experience.

The cinematography by all-time great Roger Deakins is enticing and production designer Mark Tildesley, who gives the Empire theater just the right amount of faded glory, especially in the top floor, once additional theaters with a gracious lounge, now abandoned by everyone but pigeons.

It is a joy to see Colman as Hilary. She shows us the pain and isolation Hilary is experiencing and handles the various stages of bipolar disorder without losing sight of the feelings of anger, jealousy, and longing that are about being human, not about being mentally ill. Ward has enormous appeal. But neither can overcome the underwritten characters created by writer/director Sam Mendes. Small moments engage us, especially those with Tanya Moodie as Stephen’s mother and Crystal Clarke as his love interest. but it never comes together. By the time Hilary finally decides to actually watch a movie and not just supervise the operations of the theater, the message is unforgivably heavy-handed, with the selection, a movie about someone who is removed from what is going on around him, just in case we did not get the message. Movies can be magical. They can bring us together. As Roger Ebert liked to say, they can be empathy machines. But not this one.

Parents should know that this film includes brief violence from a racist mob. Characters use strong language and they smoke and drink. Hilary takes (and does not take) psychotropic medication. There are sexual references and explicit situations.

Family discussion: What did Hilary learn about Stephen when he rescued the bird? Why didn’t she watch the movies? What movies feel magical to you?

If you like this, try: “Blinded by the Light,” set in the same era, and “The Fabelmans”

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Spoiler Alert

Posted on December 8, 2022 at 5:06 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for drug use, thematic elements, and sexual content
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Illness and sad death
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 9, 2022

Copyright Focus Features 2022
TV Guide journalist Michael Ausiello fell in love with photographer Kit Cowan and wrote a book about their life together and Kit’s death from cancer called Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies. Like Love Story, we know from the beginning that we will be crying at the end. But we expect that it will be a tender, inspiring story, and it is.

Jim Parsons plays Ausiello, a man whose deep attachment to television — and to one show in particular I will not spoil — stems from and perpetuates a tendency to be introverted and self-conscious in his interactions with others, especially possible romantic partners. He calls himself an “FFK,” “former fat kid,” so he is insecure about his body.

Kit (Ben Aldridge) is handsome, confident, and outgoing. He has never considered making a commitment to any kind of romantic or intimate relationship. Both of them are surprised and scared to find themselves caring about each other. Michael is the one who confesses he has always dreamed of someone to lie under the Christmas tree with him, year after year.

They move in together. They lie under the Christmas tree. But they have some problems. Michael worries that Kit is cheating on him with a handsome co-worker. Kit gets impatient. Each of them is irritated with the very changes they introduced each other to. Michael, a non-drinker when they met, is now getting quietly snockered in the evenings. Kit, who didn’t watch much television when they met, is watching too much, even for Kit. Both, of course, are about distancing themselves from having real conversations.

Kit moves out, but they remain close. And then, after one more Christmas celebration, Kit tells Michael he is experiencing pain. Michael goes with him to the doctor and they have the conversation everyone dreads, the one that begins with, “I’m afraid the news is not what we had hoped.”

The movie balances our expectations for a movie love story with specifics about the perspective of these gay men and their friends in the capable hands of director Michael Showalter, who gave us a similar, fact-based story in “The Big Sick.” The title itself makes it clear that this one will not have a happily ever after ending. But it has some wise insights about the connections based on going through the direst circumstances together. Intimacy is terrifying, but in the reflected light of the even bigger terror of loss, we can achieve some clarity about risking all of the pain to face it together, to help each other through the worst.

Parsons leaves behind his iconic role in “the Big Bang Theory” to give us the tender-hearted Ausiello, who has to learn to make real-life connections beyond his attachment to his television “friends.” And Aldridge is endearing as Kit allows himself to be vulnerable. Over the closing credits we see a brief video of the real Kit, a scene re-created for the film. With the book and the movie, Michael has made a lovely tribute to Kit, to love, to being human, and to sharing our stories.

Parents should know that this movie has strong language, sexual references and situations, drinking, marijuana, and terminal cancer.

Family discussion: What pushed Kit and Michael apart and what brought them back together? What do we learn from the reaction of Kit’s parents?

If you like this, try: the book, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, and Ausiello’s Instagram account for Kit’s photographs

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Sam & Kate

Posted on November 10, 2022 at 5:01 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and drug use
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Marijuana and alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 11, 2022
Copyright 2022 Vertical Entertainment

The movie is called Sam and Kate, but it is equally about Bill and Tina. And it is about the actors who play them. Bill is played by Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman. and his son Sam is played by Hoffman’s real-life son, Jake Hoffman. Tina is played by Oscar-winner Sissy Spacek, and her daughter Kate is played by Spacek’s real-life daughter, Schuyler Fisk. That real-life connection gives the film extra interest and extra grounding. There is a palpable sense of trust in the scenes of Sam and Kate interacting with their parents that lets them show frustration without making us for a moment doubt their love.

It will take a while for Sam and Kate to learn that they have a lot in common. They each lived somewhere else and have returned to a small town to help care for their parents. Bill is cranky and demanding. We first see Sam resignedly sitting on a chair in a huge big box store as Bill rides around on a scooter annoying the staff. Tina and Kate have a warmer relationship, but we will learn that Tina is more dependent on Kate than she seemed.

Sam loves to draw but he is stuck working at a chocolate factory. His Kate owns a bookstore. Both are feeling isolated and lost, though Sam has hoped that Kate will help him feel less lost. He awkwardly tries to ask her out in her store but she says she is not dating at the moment.

On Christmas, all four attend the same church service. When Tina’s car stalls in the church parking lot, Bill tries to help, and the four get acquainted. Bill takes Tina on a date and Kate agrees to let Sam take her out.

First time feature riter/director Darren Le Gallo is better with the in-between moments than the plot developments, which is often the case with beginners who have not yet learned to trust the audience. When the chaacters are just interacting quietly they convey a great deal and the events interrupt the delicacy of those scenes. Jake Hoffman, very impressive in small roles in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (as shoe designer turned felon Steve Madden) and in the otherwise disappointing “Otherhood” moves smoothly into a central role. And Fisk, an engaging screen presence going back to 1995’s “Babysitter’s Club,” has a lovely, expressive light. Watching them together as Sam and Kate begin to open up despite all of the baggage and self-protective distance and fear of vulnerability is touching and a reminder that it is those in between moments that can matter most.

Parents should know that this film has a non-explicit sexual situation and some crude sexual references, strong language, alcohol and marijuana, and a sad death.

Family discussion: Why did Sam and Kate change over the course of the film? What kind of help did they give their parents?

If you like this, try: “”Kalbuey,” “Laggies,” “Maggie’s Plan,” and “A Little Help”

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