Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul

Posted on September 1, 2022 at 5:21 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
Violence/ Scariness: Tense emotional confrontations, some shoving
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 2, 2022

Copyright Focus 2022
“Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul” is a rare satire with some sympathy for its characters. We first see Trinitie Childs (co-producer Regina Hall) sitting in a pew, alone in a huge mega-church, talking to someone off-camera.It is instantly clear that Trinitie is used to performing for an audience, but that she is uncomfortable and not sure she wants to be filmed.

Trinitie’s husband is Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) and we begin to understand that he and Trinitie, who has presided as First Lady at the church, have been wildly successful in building a congregation of 25,000, and richly rewarded in every sense of he word. We also begin to understand that there has been some very traumatic scandal. Lee-Curtis has brought in a documentary crew to film them as they try to come back from disgrace and return their church to its former glory.

This angle is wisely chosen because Lee-Curtis and Trinitie are essentially performers, even with each other. Lee-Curtis is certain that he can enlist the documentarian to be on his side and portray him as worthy of restoration to his previous position of prominence and respect. Trinitie is less sure of the filmmaker and less sure of Lee-Curtis’ ability to sustain the persona he thinks he can. She is even a little uncertain about herself. One of the most telling — and saddest — parts of the film is the way Trinitie tries to laugh when it is clear that she is anxious and scared. Why a laugh? She is trying to convey a lightness of spirit, the joy of being filled with the spirit, the sense that she is not ruffled, that Lee-Curtis’ transgressions are just jokes due to his own high spirits. She is exquisitely aware in every moment that they are not just preaching; they are or should be the best possible example of all that God can do for the followers.

We get a glimpse of what Lee-Curtiss and Trinitie might have been like in their early years with a young rival couple, both pastors, Shakura and Keon Sumpter (Nicole Beharie and Conphidance), their ambition and competitiveness not hidden behind their “praise the Lord” pieties. When both churches pick Easter Sunday for their big events, the Childs play a call on the Sumpters and, as with an encounter with a former church member in the mall, the result is a small masterpiece of simmering aggression bubbling up under a thin veneer of sweetness.

All of the performances are brilliantly conceived. Brown shows us a man whose entire life has been a performance. Lee-Curtis has deployed his natural magnetism to hide his true self from the world and to obtain the validation that he thinks will help him overcome his sense of shame. His near-frantic focus on surfaces is superbly realized by costume designer Lorraine Coppin, who created his designer looks. Hall gives another in a series of performances that show she can make any tone and genre work. The layers of emotion she shows us as Trinitie desperately tries to maintain an expression of confidence and joy in the spirit are heartbreaking. Near the end, as the script pushes too hard, she ends up in literal whiteface. The movie’s careful balance of satire while allowing for layered characters wobbles but even with the blankness painted over her features, we feel all of the suppressed anger and desperation she is experiencing. Her identity, her power, her reason for being is her position. Without that, who is she?

Beharie, who I called a breakthrough performer in 2009 gave what I picked as the top performance of 2020 in “Juneteenth,” continues to dazzle with her exquisitely precise work here as a pastor — not a First Lady — who understands the opportunity Lee-Curtis’ misbehavior has created. The scenes of the Childs and Sumpters are electric, the older couple seeing themselves in the younger and thus understanding exactly how much of a threat they are.

Writer/director Adamma Ebo, with her twin sister Adanne Ebo as producer, shows a strong vision and a gift for creating vivid, authentic characters. It is easy to make characters like these into caricatures, but she never lets them be less than fully human while never softening their flaws and failures. This is not a movie about a church scandal. It is a movie about people who struggle to find meaning and acceptance.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong language and sexual references, including predatory behavior and abuse.

Family discussion: What is it fair to expect from church leaders? How can people begin to atone for serious mistakes?

If you like this, try: “Elmer Gantry” and “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and the documentaries “Say Amen Somebody,” “Marjoe” and “The Way Down” and the Henry Louis Gates miniseries “The Black Church”

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The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Posted on April 21, 2022 at 5:50 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language, crude sexual references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Extended acton-style peril and violence, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 15, 2022

copyright Lionsgate 2022
I’m not sure what it says about where we are in history that 2022 has become the year of movie meta-verses but, oh, forget it, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is a total hoot, and hilarious fun on every one of its meta-levels.

Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage is played by….Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage as a heightened (and lessened) version of himself, the best. and by that I mean most committed version of that since John Malkovich in “Being John Malkovich.” The movie version of Nicolas Cage has all of his credits, a dozen of which are amusingly referenced throughout the film. And the movie version plays on news reports of Cage’s sometimes-volatile personal and financial life, with a second Nicolas Cage playing the younger version of himself and with the situation that set up the film. Movie Nicolas Cage (just referred to as Cage from now on) loses out on a big role in a film and is locked out of his hotel room for failure to pay. His 16-year-old daughter is barely speaking to him because he is so self-involved. His agent (Neil Patrick Harris) tells him he has been offered a million dollars to attend a birthday party in Mallorca. He reluctantly accepts.

At first, he something of a diva, insulting his host, Javi (a sublimely unhinged performance by Pedro Pascal). Surprisingly, it turns out that Javi is something of a kindred spirit, almost as in love with cinematic story-telling as he is. Javi’s unabashed fanship is also a solace for Cage’s bruised ego. Perhaps less surprisingly, in fact most predictably, like everyone else who strives for an encounter with a movie star, Javi has written a script.

This is when the CIA shows up (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz). Javi is an international arms dealer and they think he has kidnapped the Spanish President’s daughter. They cannot get into Javi’s compound, so they want Cage to spy for them.

The story works on many levels, as the kind of buddy story Javi wants to write, as the kind of action story they conclude they can get financing for, and above all as a knowing comedy with many references to Cage’s wide-ranging oeuvre, from “Cross 2” to “Guarding Tess,” “The Wicker Man” to “Con Air,” “Face-Off,” and “The Rock,” and to over-arching issues of the way movies tell stories and the way movies get made. Of all the Cage movies it nods to, the most foundational one is “Adaptation.,” itself a meta-movie about cinematic story-telling (and a lot of other themes), with Cage playing a version of the movie’s screenwriter and talking to himself, or close to himself, because he plays twins.

And like that film it is is very funny. Cage and Pascal have terrific chemistry and are clearly having a blast. Sharon Horgan is terrific as Cage’s ex-wife, but Barinholtz and Haddish are under-used and the mayhem is not always as effectively handled as it should be to work as action or as commentary on action. Or maybe it is commentary on the silliness of action. By that time, there are so many layers you are likely to have found at least two or three to enjoy.

Parents should know that the movie has very strong language and crude sexual references, alcohol and drug use, and extended and intense peril and violence, with many characters injured and killed.

Family discussion: Why did Nicolas Cage want to spoof himself this way? What do you learn from his conversations with his younger self? Why was it hard for him to connect to his daughter?

If you like this, try: Some of the movies referred to in this one like “Con Air,” “The Rock,” and “National Treasure” and “JCVD” with Jean-Claude van Damme spoofing himself and his films

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Schmigadoon! Coming to AppleTV+

Posted on May 2, 2021 at 8:25 pm

Copyright AppleTV+ 2021
Apple TV+ today announced “Schmigadoon!,” the six-episode musical comedy series executive produced by Lorne Michaels (“Saturday Night Live”) and starring Emmy Award-nominee Cecily Strong and Emmy Award-winner Keegan-Michael Key (“Key and Peele,” “The Prom”), will debut on Friday, July 16. Two episodes will be available at launch followed by one episode weekly every Friday.

“Schmigadoon!” is a parody of iconic Golden Age musicals. Cecily Strong “Saturday Night Live”) and Keegan-Michael Key (“Key and Peele,” “The Prom”) play a couple on a backpacking trip designed to reinvigorate their relationship who discover a magical town living in a 1940s musical. They then learn that they can’t leave until they find “true love.” The first season also stars Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Aaron Tveit, Dove Cameron, Ariana DeBose, Fred Armisen, Jaime Camil, Jane Krakowski and Ann Harada, with a guest appearance by Martin Short.

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Irresistible

Posted on June 25, 2020 at 5:21 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language including sexual references
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: Cultural diversity a theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 26, 2020

Copyright Focus 2020
Jon Stewart swings for the fences with “Irresistible,” and you’ve got to respect that, even if he only hits a double. He has taken a whole bunch of what bothers him the most about our political system, not the fumbles, pettiness, missteps, and corruption of the individuals but the more systemic problems of money and messaging and he has tried to create a Preston Sturges/Armando Iannucci-style movie that uses humor to illuminate. Sharp one-liners and a top-notch cast come close to making the characters human enough to be interesting but they are still two-dimensional. And some uncertainty of tone throws the movie off-kilter when it shifts from slightly heightened to over the top. When it leaps so far outside the bounds of the real, it undermines its best scrutiny of what is actually happening. I live inside the Washington DC beltway and exposes of political abuse are my jam, so I enjoyed it, but even I thought it made some unfortunate blunders.

The opening is promising, with Steve Carell as Gary, a Democratic political strategist and Rose Byrne as Faith, a Republican political strategist, in the post Clinton/Trump “spin rooms,” where each team tries to explain to reporters why their candidate was brilliant and definitively trounced the other side. But what we get to hear is what’s inside their heads. Gary says he will persuade them “as long as I say it repeatedly and with confidence,” and Faith concludes, “I look forward to lying to you in the future.” We get it. They’re there to win, not to be honest. But Gary was probably being honest when he predicted that Clinton would win. He was just wrong. And so for his professional future and possibly for the good of the country, he has to get his credibility back and he has to figure out how to communicate with the “rust belt blue wall” he thought was “impenetrable” until Trump got a lot of those votes and won the electoral college.

He sees a chance to prove himself when a video of a Deerlaken, Wisconsin city council meeting goes viral due to an impassioned speech by a local farmer, a retired Marine named Jack (Chris Cooper), speaking out plainly but eloquently on behalf of immigrants in his community. Gary tells the Democratic party leaders that “this square-jawed paragon of Americana is our key back to the Forbidden City. He’s a Democrat, but just doesn’t know it yet.” He thinks if he brings his national-level political expertise to a small town in Wisconsin, he can persuade Jack to run for mayor, get him elected, and “road-test a more rural-friendly message” in a place he refers to as “the middle of nowhere” he can re-invigorate progressive messaging and, by the way, his own career. So, he fires up the private jet and checks out what Wikipedia has to say about Wisconsin. In real life, he would have a ton of data in a briefing package, but it’s more fun to make him look like a big city doofus.

Jack agrees to run, the race gets some national media attention, and so Faith arrives, to make sure that they do not break the city’s record of not electing a Democrat since Robert LaFollette (Governor 1901-1906). In Stewart’s view, the only issue anyone cares about is the power of the parties; any specifics are about leverage, with no more focus on reproductive health or even the immigration issue that Jack spoke about in the viral video than on gaffes and embarrassing secrets about opposing candidates. It’s just about votes. The weakest part of the film is the blaming of the consultants who are the symptom (okay, a truly unpleasant one), not the disease. The movie very briefly touches on the funding issue, with stand-ins for the Kochs and a generic, literally high-tech billionaire with just one issue literally half a world away from Wisconsin and a scene at a Manhattan fund-raiser but barely addresses the real and most democracy-destabilizing problem of dark money and Citizens United. The small reference to super PACS, with a winking nod to “non-coordination” deserved more attention.

It’s fun to watch because it has a great cast and clever dialogue and more substance than most feature films. But it is a disappointment that someone who has such a deep understanding of American politics goes for cheap laughs about clueless big city folks not understanding the folks in the heartland instead of looking at the less-examined obstacles at least equally rich in potential for satire. The movie has at least four different endings, and at least three of them seem to undercut the point the film is trying to make. Stewart makes the same mistake Faith and Gary do; he condescends to his audience.

Parents should know that this movie includes very strong language and very crude sexual references.

Family discussion: Which candidate would you vote for and why? Would you ever run for office? What changes in the system is this movie promoting and what changes would you suggest?

If you like this, try: the documentaries “Slay the Dragon” (about the fight against gerrymandering in Wisconsin and other states) and “Primary” (about John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey campaigning against each other in Wisconsin for the Democratic nomination for President) and “Welcome to Mooseport,” with Gene Hackman as a former President who runs for mayor in a small town in Maine.

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Trailer: Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television*, Season 2

Posted on January 15, 2019 at 11:20 am

I signed up for YouTube Red to see the first season of Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television*, and am really looking forward to Season 2, which starts January 30. It is smart, fresh, and very funny, with great guest stars, a lot of sharp, knowing, meta-commentary on pop culture, and a lead performance by Hansen that is so resolutely self-involved lesser-Hollywood bro it is almost impossible to believe it isn’t real.

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