Meet Cute

Posted on September 21, 2022 at 7:59 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: NR
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, scenes in bar, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Comic violence, attempted suicide and suicidal ideation
Diversity Issues: BIPOC characters used solely as guides for white characters
Date Released to Theaters: September 21, 2022

Copyright 2022 Peacock
As anyone who has seen “The Holiday” knows, movies love the “meet cute.” In “The Holiday,” Eli Wallach plays a screenwriter from the 1940s who tells Kate Winslet that a “meet cute” is where there is something awwww-some about the way the couple we’ll be rooting for first see each other. The example he gives is a man and woman meeting at a store when he is trying to buy just the bottom half of a pair of pajamas and she is trying to buy just the top half. That’s a real movie, by the way. It has a cute title, too: “Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife.”

The term takes on extra dimension in this new rom-com, a time-traveling dimension. We may think that Sheila (Kaley Cuoco) and Gary (Pete Davidson) are meeting for the first time at a sports bar and that it is a charming coincidence or maybe a hint that they were meant to be together when they order the same cocktail, an old fashioned. But there are hints about what Shiela will reveal. It is the first time for Gary, but not for Sheila. She has been using a time machine in the back of a nail salon that looks like tanning bed to repeat the same night for months so she can make it perfect.

She has also been going back in time to tweak some of Gary’s earlier experiences to make him a little more perfect, too. Both Gary and Sheila had painful childhoods. She thinks if she can eliminate some of the trauma he experienced, he will be happier and..better. Apparently no one ever explained the Butterfly Effect to her. You can’t just tweak experiences and expect people to be the same. Pain is part of what makes us who we are.

This is a high-concept movie that delivers a satisfying level of insight beyond the will they/won’t they of the romance. It is likely that anyone who has ever been in a close relationship, romantic, familial, or friendship, has wondered if the other party might not be easier or wished to be able to fix something that hurt a loved one long ago.

Cuoco has already shown herself to be an actress of range far beyond her excellent work in sit-coms. Davidson was a less likely choice as he pretty much always plays himself, quite literally in his only previous lead role. They are both quite good here, as Cuoco becomes more and more honest about what is going on and about her own struggles and Davidson shows us how small changes in his past would have produced a more confident, less empathetic version.

There are some odd choices here, including Sheila’s murderous disposal of her alternate timeline versions and the only two characters of color being relegated to wise counselor roles to prop up the white couple. But the parts that work have great charm and Cuoco and Davidson are a pleasure to root for.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong language, sexual references, a light-hearted portrayal of murder and attempted murder, a less lighthearted portrayal of suicide attempt and suicidal ideation, and alcohol and drugs.

Family discussion: If you could travel through time, what would you change? Is it okay for things to be messy?

If you like this, try: “Groundhog Day,” “Palm Springs,” “About Time,” “Happy Accidents,” and “Map of a Thousand Perfect Things”

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Three Thousand Years of Longing

Posted on August 25, 2022 at 5:44 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some sexual content, graphic nudity, and brief violence
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Date Released to Theaters: August 26, 2022
Date Released to DVD: November 14, 2022

Copyright MGM 2022
Like most children, I was fascinated by the power of wishes, and by the fairy tales where wishes never seemed to end with happily ever after. I was fond of a poem by Annette Wynne called “I Keep Three Wishes Ready,” which sensibly advised the readers to think ahead of time of what wishes we would want so we would be prepared and careful to avoid impulses and loopholes.

But, as Alithea (Tilda Swinton), a distinguished professor of stories (narrative) who specializes in fantasy, explains, there is no story about wishes that is not a cautionary tale. And thus, when she has the opportunity to use three wishes to fulfill her heart’s desire, she instead sits down with the djinn (genie) who has come out of her bottle, to hear his stories. As they sit, improbably, in white terrycloth robes in a luxurious Istanbul hotel room, he tells her of the wishes he has granted and the people who made them. And yes, they are all cautionary tales. Is wishing itself, the idea that we can escape the reality of time and the laws of physics and the limits of human power, so inevitably doomed by hubris?

Alithea tells us that the story we will hear is true, but that we will better receive it as fantasy. She also tells us that she is a solitary person, and happy to be so. That, in itself may be a fantasy, though she may not be willing to acknowledge it. I note here that the name Alithea is from the Greek word for fact or truth. And that this story is based on The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, the title story in a book of fairy tales for adults by A.S. Byatt. Alithea begins by telling us of magical-sounding wonders, humans hurtling through the air on metal wings or walking under water with webbed feet, with images reminding us of Arthur C. Clarke’s observation that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

On her way to the conference, Alithea sees, or thinks she sees, a small, possibly magical person. And then, when she is on stage, she sees another mythical being. Is she jet-lagged? Is she losing her mind? Or is she opening herself to what the rest of us refuse to see?

She buys an antique glass bottle, telling the seller that it looks like it has a story. Back in her hotel room, she begins to clean it with her electric toothbrush. The stopper falls out, smoke appears, and a giant hand reaches into the bathroom. It is a djinn (Idris Elba), and he has been inside the bottle for a very long time. Alithea would rather hear his stories than make a wish.

George Miller, the visionary writer/director behind the Mad Max and Babe movies, has a gift for wonder. Somewhere between the dystopian world of Fury Road and the endearing charm of “That’ll do, pig,” is this film, with striking, gorgeous images and swoon-worthy stories of passion — romantic, ambitious, angry, jealous, lustful passions.

Three Thousand Years of Longing goes back and forth between the hotel room conversation and the stories of the wishes the djinn has granted, his repeated returns to confinement and how his adventures have forms his view of humanity, The djinn needs Alithea to make three heartfelt, personal wishes to gain his freedom. She insists that she has no wishes and certainly no wish to become ensnared as those who have tried to gain without effort.

The stories are dark at times, but always gorgeously filmed and resonant. And the end is surprisingly tender, perhaps reflecting the one wish all people share if we are brave enough to admit it.

Parents should know that this film has nudity and sexual references and situations, drinking and drunkenness, and violence, some grisly.

Family discussion: What would you wish? What is your favorite fairy tale and why?

If you like this, try: the book by A.S. Byatt, “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm”

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Cha Cha Real Smooth

Posted on June 16, 2022 at 5:44 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexual content
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Miscarriage, some scuffles, bullies
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 17, 2022

Copyright Apple 2022
This summer’s Sundance charmer is “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” the festival’s audience favorite. It is written, directed, produced, and co-edited by Cooper Raiff, who stars as Andrew, at a loss following his graduation from Tulane. His girlfriend has gone to Barcelona on a Fulbright scholarship and her social media suggests that she has moved on. He is sharing a room with his middle-school-age brother David (Evan Assante), in the home of the mother (Leslie Mann) he is very close to and the step-father (Brad Garrett) he is decidedly not very close to. He is working at that most dispiriting of jobs, a fast food place called Meat Sticks. Just at the moment when he should be moving forward, he is stuck.

We’ve seen a lot of movies about this difficult moment, from “The Graduate” to “Laggies,” when the promise and structure that have propelled someone from kindergarten through college somehow have not produced the sense of purpose and direction they were expecting. Raiff brings something unusual to the predicament this time. Andrew has a buoyant optimism, natural charm, and innate kindness that make him appealing both to the other characters in the story and to us. Raiff has an easy authenticity on screen that is especially impressive from someone directing himself.

in a brief prologue, we see young Andrew attending a bar mitzvah party, with a crush not on one of the girls his age but on the “party starter.” That’s the job of the “tummler” (in Yiddish), the person whose job is to keep the party mood happy and make sure everyone is involved and having a good time. It’s especially important for middle school parties, when the attendees are very excited but inexperienced. Once we’re in the present day, Andrew again finds himself at a bar mitzvah party for one of David’s classmates. And no one is on the dance floor.

Andrew has a gift for making kids feel confident and ready to participate. One girl is in a corner with headphones and a puzzle cube. Her name is Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) and she has autism. He bets her mother he can get her to dance. And he does. He is immediately surrounded by mothers who want to hire him to be the party starter for their b’nai mizvot. And since the kids involved all go to school together, he sees the same people over and over, including Lola and her mother Domino (Dakota Johnson, who also co-produced).

Andrew is drawn to Domino, who warms to him for his ability to connect to Lola. After he comes to her rescue at yet another bar mitzvah party, she invites him to be Lola’s sitter.

Andrew and Domino have to sort through their feelings for one another and Andrew has to do for himself what he does so skillfully for the 12- and 13-year olds he entices to the dance floor; he needs to find encouragement to take that next, seemingly-perilous step. Sometimes those lessons are painful, even when everyone involved is well-meaning. Raiff wisely lets Andrew learn them anyway. We leave knowing that Andrew will find his way and that Raiff already has.

Parents should know that this movie includes some very strong language, sexual references and situations, drinking and drunkenness, bullies, a miscarriage and some scuffles.

Family discussion: Why was it hard for Andrew to take the next step? What should he have done to prepare? Do you agree with Domino’s decision?

If you like this, try: “Laggies” and “Post Grad” and Raiff’s previous film, “S***house”

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Fire Island

Posted on June 2, 2022 at 1:37 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong sexual content, drug use, strong nudity, language throughout
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and confrontations
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 3, 2022

Like a bride, “Fire Island” has something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. What’s old is the most durable of movie storylines, the romantic comedy. Borrowed: the inspiration for the storyline, the ur-narrative of the romantic comedy, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Something new: populating the story of attraction, misunderstandings, vulnerability, and romance with all gay characters, in the title resort, famously a favorite of gay men since the 1920s. And something blue: it is definitely rated R. Also funny and yes, romantic.

Copyright Searchlight 2022

Stand-up comic Joel Kim Booster wrote and stars in the film as Noah, along-side his real-life best friend SNL’s Bowen Yang as Howie. For Austen fans, Noah is the more cynical Elizabeth Bennett, and Howie is the more romantic Jane. Noah and Howie come to Fire Island for a week each summer with their friends to stay with Erin (Margaret Cho) and enjoy the beach, the parties, and the men. On this visit, Noah, usually there to have sex with as many random men as possible, promises he will be a celibate wingman for Howie until Howie finds someone.

It is a lot of fun to spot the Austen influence, where it guides the storyline and where Booster pays tribute by going in another direction. Instead of the snobbish Miss Bingley, we have Nick Adams as Cooper, the designer-wearing meanie who looks down on Noah and his friends, especially when he sees handsome doctor who is the film’s version of Austen’s amiable Mr. Bingley. And as the Mr. Darcy character, who turns out to be less proud and disdainful than he seems, we have Conrad Ricamora as Will. What will stand in for the book’s scandalous elopement? I’ll just say it is shrewdly chosen.

Also fun: a peek into a world straight people might not otherwise see or for those who have waited much too long to see their world reflected on screen.  As we always say, the more particular something is, the more universal it is, and this is a good example, unabashedly open about this culture but completely relatable in its depiction of friendship and chosen families.

Parents should know that this film is rated R for very explicit sexual situations and nudity, constant very strong language, drinking, and drugs.

Family discussion: Why was Howie so pessimistic about finding love? Was Noah a good friend to him?

If you like this, try: The “Queer Eye” series and the many versions of “Pride and Prejudice”

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Top Gun: Maverick

Posted on May 16, 2022 at 8:00 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and some strong languag
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, scenes in bar
Violence/ Scariness: Extended intense military peril and action
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 24, 2022
Date Released to DVD: November 1, 2022

Copyright 2022 Paramount
I’m happy to report that “Top Gun: Maverick” is everything a fan could hope for. It is exciting, it is endearing, it just about blows kisses at the fans, and it is guaranteed to make many new ones. You want to start right off with Kenny Loggins singing about the danger zone! You’ve got it. You want hot guys with their shirts off playing some sort of ball game on the beach! Happy to provide. You want to see Tom Cruise on his motorcycle? There it is. (No helmet though, not too happy about that.) You want to see him run very fast? Well, sorry about that. JK it’s a Tom Cruise movie, of course he is going to run and no one runs like Tom Cruise runs. You want to see some very cool and intense action in the sky, shot with lenses specifically developed for this movie? Of course you will. You want to see complex characters and believable plot lines? Oh, come on, no you don’t!

Maverick (Tom Cruise) is still the same break-the-rules hotshot he was 36 years ago. We see him working on his old plane as we hear Kenny Loggins sing. And once again (there will be a lot of “once agains” in this movie) he is in trouble for taking risks and ignoring orders. Just as before, over the objections of his commanding officer (a brief appearance by Ed Harris), he is being sent to Top Gun, the San Diego-based training facility for elite Navy fliers. He has a friend and protector fans of the original film will be glad to see again, Val Kilmer as Iceman, now an admiral.

Maverick is needed to train the best of the best of the best for an impossible real-life mission, taking out a nuclear weapons facility in the Mideast before the arrival of uranium in three weeks, when bombs would release radiation. Instead of describing the “two miracles” necessary for blowing up the construction site, I will refer you to “Star Wars: A New Hope,” because it is pretty much the same thing. I half expected one of the pilots to say, “I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home.”

The best of the best of the best have skills, but as we’ve seen, they also have a lot of ego, a lot of adrenaline, and a lot of hyper-competitive posturing. Just to make this throwback even throwback-ier, there’s a special blast from the past. Many movies have what is called a DBTA, which stands for Dead by Third Act, a character whose only role in the story is to give the main character a death to mourn and learn from. So it has to be someone we in the audience connect to as well. Goose in “Top Gun” is the quintessential DBTA. As soon as he plays “Great Balls of Fire” on the piano with his wife (Meg Ryan) and toddler son, we know he is too adorable to make it to the end of the story. That toddler son is now one of the best of the best of the best, call sign Rooster (Miles Teller), and he has a huge amount of resentment toward Maverick.

If Rooster is the new Maverick, impulsive and abrupt, then the new Iceman is the terrific Glen Powell as Hangman, careful and by the book. Maverick has to prepare the young pilots for the impossible mission while his exasperated immediate superior officer (Jon Hamm) does his best to get in the way.

The original film had a reference to some trouble Maverick got into with an admiral’s daughter named Penny. She shows up in this film as a single mom who owns the local bar and is played by Jennifer Connelly with grace and wit.

Speaking of “Star Wars,” there is also a Yoda-esque theme with Maverick stressing the importance of intuition and the human being more important than the gizmos, even a touch of the old fable of John Henry being faster than the machine. And some of the plot developments in the last half hour are near-ridiculous. That is less important than what works in the film, outstanding cinematography, editing, action, romance, terrific performances from a collection of young performers, and of course full-on movie star Tom Cruise, clearly having a blast.

Parents should know that this film has intense military action with dogfights and bombs. Characters drink and use strong language and there are sexual references and a non-explicit sexual situation.

Family discussion: If you were Penny, what rules would you adopt in the bar? Are you more like Hangman or Rooster?

If you like this, try: “Top Gun” and the “Mission: Impossible” movies and check out these thoughts on the movie from an air combat expert

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