Black Adam

Posted on October 20, 2022 at 5:04 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, intense action and some language
Profanity: A few strong words
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic book/supehero peril and violence, many characters injured and killed including family members and a child held and gunpoint and another one murdered,
Date Released to Theaters: October 21, 2022
Date Released to DVD: January 3, 2023

Copyright 2022 Warner Brothers
In the mid-credit scene in “The League of Super-Pets,” Dwayne Johnson (as Black Adam) explains to Krypto the super-dog (also Johnson) what it means to be an anti-hero. “It’s basically the same thing as being a hero but way cooler. You make your own rules and then you break them. Also you can ignore most moral and ethical conventions because no one can stop you.”

That was a cheeky nod to Johnson’s next role, the anti-hero of “Black Adam,” a DC Comics superhero/anti-hero, which has a lot of old-school superhero requirements — origin story, walking away from a huge fire without looking back, heroes in slo-mo, and someone looking up into the sky and moan/yelling “Noooooo!” Make that two “Noooooos!” It also has a bit of meta-humor about catchphrases and more recent addition to the expected elements: some Gen-Z superheroes, one for comic relief, and, much more welcome, a lot more diversity.

That mid-credit sequence in an animated movie for kids had a better understanding of what it means to be an anti-hero than this movie does. More seriously, it also had a much better idea of how to make the best of one of Hollywood’s most appealing actors. “Black Adam” (known as Teth Adam for most of the film) does not have a clear idea of where its title character should fall on the spectrum from anti-hero to hero. And he is tamped down emotionally for most of it, which means we get only glimpses of Johnson’s limitless charm.

We do get plenty of what we go to superhero movies for, though, big superhero fights with an assortment of well-crafted characters using their different powers. There’s a solid theme about an (imaginary but believable) resource-rich place that has been occupied by oppressive invaders for millennia.

It begins thousands of years ago, before the great civilizations of Egypt and Rome, in the Middle Eastern area known as Kahndaq. After many years of peace and plenty, a ruler arises who wants absolute power. He enslaves the population and makes them mine the country’s version of Wakanda’s vibranium and Pandora’s unnobtanium, oh and also the rings of power. This is called etermium, and a crown made out of it will give the wearer all the superpowers necessary to control pretty much everything. Just as a note, these folks are not the greatest with names. The thugs who are running Kohndaq have the most boring name possible for a bunch of menacing tough guys. They are called Intergang. Seriously. That’s like one of those incomplete programming jokes from “Free Guy.”

A young boy tries to inspire the enslaved people to challenge the king. Wizards pick someone to be a hero and bestow magical powers on him.

We will not find out the whole story of the hero’s defeat of that ruler until later in the film, but after the opening sequence, we are in present day, and Adriana (Sarah Shahi) is trying to retrieve the crown from the cave where it has been hidden for thousands of years, because she knows people are trying to steal it. Things don’t go well and the ancient hero is brought back to life as Teth Adam, who can not just fly but levitate and shoot lightning from his body. Even mercenaries with etermium-powered technology are no match for that.

Teth Adam’s literal scorched-earth approach attracts the attention of the Justice Society, and there is one of those tense but understated calls between Hackman (Aldis Hodge) and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). I hope Hawkman gets his own movie, by the way. Hodge is wonderfully magnetic and his character’s wings are very well designed. He brings in his old friend (old in both senses of the word), Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan, all silky elegance and world-weariness), who has all kinds of tricks, including the ability to see the future. They are accompanied by two newcomers, Maxine (Quintessa Swindell), described as “a tornado with a 167 IQ), and the affable if a bit clueless Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), who has just inherited the super-suit from his uncle (Henry Winkler!) and hasn’t got all the kinks out.

Teth Adam is presented as opposite to Hawkman because he does not worry about whether it is fair to kill the bad guys when not in a specific situation of peril. But the more interesting question that is raised is from Adriana, who points out that Teth Adam is from their community, while the so-called Justice Society are just another set of interlopers, Justics-splaining to people who cannot help wondering why justice did not seem so important during their centuries of occupation and abuse.

Of course, that’s just a very small part of the film. The rest is comic-book action, and all of that is well staged except for the key element that we are not given enough information about the powers and especially the vulnerabilities of all of the many superheroes. That makes even the most energetic and expertly staged conflicts less exciting than they could be. And Teth Adam does not meet the description of Johnson’s meta-description in the animated film. He’s not someone who has deliberately chosen to violate ethical principles. He’s more like the Terminator in the first film, just a shark-like machine who pursues goals regardless of collateral damage. His interaction with a skater boi teenager (Bodhi Sabongui as Amon) recalls “Terminator 2,” even to the kid’s insistence on providing Teth Adam with a catchphrase.

As Teth becomes more human by reckoning with the losses of his past, we begin to see a little more life in the character. But by then of course we are in the middle of yet another superhero battle, this time more emotionally charged because we have begun to care about the characters. The pilot light is still too low but it’s getting warmer.

NOTE: Stay for a mid-credit scene indicating which legendary character will be joining the cast in the sequel.

Parents should know that this movie has extended superhero/comic book peril and violence with many minor characters and a few major characters injured and killed, including a child held at gunpoint and another who is killed. There are some disturbing and graphic images including a character sliced in half, several burned to death, and a couple impaled. Characters use brief strong language.

Family discussion: What is the biggest difference of opinion between Hawkman and Teth Adam? What would you like to have as your catchphrase?

If you like this, try: “Man of Steel,” “Shazam,” and “Justice League”

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Rosaline

Posted on October 12, 2022 at 9:52 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material and brief strong language
Profanity: Strong language (s-words, one f-word)
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some swordplay and fight scenes
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 14, 2022

Copyright 2022 20th Century
Most people do not remember that before he met Juliet at the masked ball and instantly fell in love with her as they communicated not just by iambic pentameter but by sonnet, Romeo was in love with Juliet’s cousin Rosaline. She was also a Capulet and a part of the family of his family’s sworn enemies. It’s easy to forget her because Romeo did. Though the whole reason he snuck into the party was to see the girl he described as “the all-seeing sun ne’er saw her match since first the world begun,” as soon as he sees Juliet, it is as Benvilio correctly predicted: “Compare her face with some that I shall show, and I will make thee think thy swan a crow.” Next thing we know he’s telling Friar Lawrence, “I have forgot that name, and that name’s woe.”

Ever wonder how the story might look from Rosaline’s perspective? Author Rebecca Serle did, with her novel, When He Was Mine, now the basis for a witty romantic comedy starring the wildly talented Kaitlyn Dever (who also executive-produced) as the woman scorned. It is sly, clever fun on its own, but the better you know Shakespeare’s play, the more you will enjoy it.

it begins on a balcony. Rosaline’s balcony. Romeo is telling her about his feelings, in words that will seem familiar. And, as will also seem familiar, their secret tryst is interrupted by a call for her from inside. Like Juliet, she has a nurse/confidant (a terrifically dry Minnie Driver), and a father who is eager to marry her off (Bradley Whitford). Rosaline believes that she and Romeo are meant to be together (though she is not quite ready to say, “I love you”).

And then, while on a boat with one of the suitors her father has foisted on her, she misses that Capulet masked ball, and, well, we know that part of the story. That suitor is Dario, played with full Shakespearian dash, wit, and gallantry by Sean Teale, and in true Shakespearian fashion, when not writing about instant true love, they begin as hostile combatants. He even calls her a shrew. This is a reference, of course, to another Shakespeare play, but no one gets tamed in this one.

But, in this version, Rosaline, the woman scorned, does go all-out “My Best Friend’s Wedding” on her cousin, and tries every way she can think of to get her boyfriend back. She even enlists Dario’s help. Like the recent “Catherine Called Birdy,” much of the humor comes from a very modern sensibility, with contemporary language, pointing up some of the absurdity of the canon.

Juliet is played by sweet-faced Isabela Merced. At first, she is intrigued by what Rosaline has to show her about the bigger world. When she realizes that Rosaline has not been honest with her, she pursues the relationship with Romeo and comes up with a plan to pretend to be dead. Rosaline says what audiences have been waiting to say for centuries. It is a dumb plan. And those audiences will appreciate what Rosaline and Dario work out as a better ending, especially with a mid-credit. sequence harking back to Dario’s description of what he thinks love is. Romeo may be great at poetic speeches on balconies, but you need more than that on life’s journey.

For the record, this movie does not “ruin” or even disrespect “Romeo and Juliet.” The play and its many versions and variations are still with us, from the Franco Zefferelli and Baz Luhrmann films to the Gounod opera and “West Side Story.” They are all still there, intact, and easy to access. What this does is remind us that even minor characters in our stories can have value and agency, that exploring other perspectives can increase our understanding and empathy. And that it can be a lot of fun.

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language and swordplay violence.

Family discussion: What story would you like to re-tell from a minor character’s perspective? What made Rosaline and Dario change their minds about each other? What do you think of Dario’s description of love?

If you like this, try: “Ophelia,” a smart and serious version of “Hamlet” from the perspective of the young woman, “Catherine Called Birdy,” another sharp modern take on a medieval story about a young woman, and “A Knight’s Tale”

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Bullet Train

Posted on August 2, 2022 at 9:57 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong and bloody violence, pervasive language, and brief sexuality
Profanity: Very strong language
Violence/ Scariness: Constant very graphic peril and violence with spurting blood and many murders, guns, knives, poison, fire, crash, snake
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 5, 2022

Copyright 2022 Sony
The Japanese bullet train goes 200 miles per hour. Its namesake movie goes even faster. On the train is a briefcase stuffed with millions of dollars and a passenger list that includes an assortment of thieves and assassins and the kidnapped son of a crime kingpin called White Death. Action fans will understand that the over-the-top violence is exaggerated as an R-rated version of Looney Tunes, expertly crafted and often hilarious.

Brad Pitt is sensational as an all-purposes soldier of fortune trying to find something simpler and less violent than his previous jobs. His handler, Maria, tells him this is just the job for him. All he has to do is get on the train, grab the briefcase, and get off. She gives him the code name Ladybug. This is either to cheer him up or add some snark because he insists he is unlucky (as he steps into a puddle) and in Japan the ladybug is a symbol of good luck. Or both. Either way, that is the only name we know for him, an emotionally exhausted man described by another character as looking like every homeless white guy, trying to do better without having decided what better means.

At the train station he opens a locker to pick up the equipment Maria has left for him, but he decides to leave the gun behind. And he boards the train, reciting therapeutic mantras to remind himself to stay calm, determined to “put peace into the world” while all he has too do is steal a briefcase. The trick, though, is that it already belongs to someone to whom it is also valuable, and several other people who are equally experienced in smash and grab, emphasis on the smash, would also like to have it, too. There are assassins from all over, a veritable It’s a Small World of assassins.

I really want to avoid spoilers here, so I will not disclose the superstars who show up in small, funny cameos (you will probably recognize the voice of the Oscar-winner on the other side of the phone calls with Ladybug), the actor we don’t see without a mask until the last act, or some of the funniest twists. I’ll just say that stuntman-turned director David Leitch (“John Wick,” “Atomic Blonde”) is as good as it gets in fight scenes and these are a blast, and that there are some well-chosen needle drop songs on the soundtrack. The bullet train setting is also a lot of fun, with a quiet car, a car for families with young children, and a bar car, and stops of only one minute at each station.

I will, however, take a moment to discuss Brad Pitt, who shows once again that he never brings less than the best to every role. No one is better at precisely calibrating his own movie star charisma and here he plays off of it to hilarious effect. The acting in the stunt scenes is as important as the punches. As we have seen in Tarantino and some other films, countering shocking, graphic, brutality with transgressive but workmanlike casualness can be very funny. The entire cast is excellent, including Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as “the twins,” the assassins delivering (or trying to) the White Death’s son (Logan Lerman channeling Jared Leto) and the briefcase full of ransom money, Bad Bunny as a Mexican drug cartel operative, and Hiroyuki Sanada, Zazie Beetz as characters I won’t spoil.

Buckle up, everyone. This is what they’re talking about when they use the term “wild ride.”

Parents should know that this movie is non-stop action with guns, knives, poison, fire, a deadly snake, crashes, and many brutal and grisly deaths and disturbing and graphic images. A child is badly injured (but survives). Characters are hired assassins and crime kingpins and their henchmen. They use very strong language. There is a brief scene of nudity and sex.

Family discussion: Who are we rooting for in this story and how can you tell? What do you think of the Thomas the Tank Engine approach to classifying humanity? Why don’t we ever learn their real names?

If you like this, try: the book by Kotaro Isaka, the “John Wick” series, “Kill Bill,” “Boss Mode,” and “Shoot ’em Up” You might also enjoy a less violent film involving a crime and a train, “$” with Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn.

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Thor: Love and Thunder

Posted on July 7, 2022 at 8:10 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence, action, language, partial nudity and some suggestive material
Profanity: S-words, mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic book/action-style peril and violence, characters injured, sad death
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 8, 2022
Date Released to DVD: September 26, 2022

Copyright 2022 Disney
Taika Watiti’s sly, understated. offbeat humor is a great match for Thor, a superhero who is literally a god with a post British accent. Thor could come across as stiff and stuffy if not for the combination of Watiti and Chris Hemsworth, who has the rare ability to be effortlessly hilarious while still being a completely believable superhero god. I’ve often said that superhero movies are made or lost based on the villains, not the heroes. On that basis, “Thor: Love and Thunder” is less successful. But it is so much fun along the way, and often genially goofy, two words that don’t usually apply to superhero movies, that it is satisfyingly entertaining.

The last time we saw Thor he was looking more like The Big Lebowski than a god of Asgard and his planet had been destroyed. He pulled himself together for “Avengers: Endgame” and New Asgard is now up and running under the rule of King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). Thor spends his days in quiet contemplation until he is called upon to save the world again, which he does with brio and then returns to his solitude. Asgard is a quaint little town by the water and has become a favorite tourist destination. One popular attraction is the re-enactment of some of the highlights of Asgardian history, with performers played by Matt Damon and Luke Hemsworth plus two I won’t spoil).

Meanwhile, Thor’s ex, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), has Stage 4 cancer. And somehow she is called to or by the legendary Mjolnir, the once-shattered hammer that has re-assembled itself like the silvery guy in “Terminator 2.” This makes her into Thor, apparently in addition to, not instead of the Thor who was named by his father, Odin. One of the most endearingly goofy elements of the film is the way original Thor’s new weapon, the axe called Stormbreaker, is sensitive and a bit worried about its predecessor returning. Original Thor is better at sharing his feelings with his weapons than he is with human beings. I predict that Brene Brown will be using clips from this movie to illustrate future lectures about the importance of vulnerability.

And then, the bad guy. Christian Bale plays Gorr, who we first see as a devoted acolyte in a destroyed world. He has lost everything, including his daughter, but believes in the salvation and afterlife his religion has promised. When he learns that his god cares nothing for humans and there is no eternal life he grabs the Necrosword and the combination of grief, anger, betrayal, and the sword’s magic turns him into something of a Terminator of his own (though looking more like zombie Voldemort), with just one imperative — killing all the gods.

The action scenes are great fun and there are a lot of delightful small details you might miss the first time through, but is it the humor, the characters, and the warmth of their connection that stand out. Watiti returns as Thor’s sidekick Korg, his quiet, tentative voice an amusing counterpart to his enormous rock body. In the vast assemblage of gods, Russell Crowe appears as a lightning bolt-throwing Zeus. Thompson and Portman have great chemistry and Hemsworth is as good at comedy as he is at looking like a Norse god, which is as good as it gets. Korg tells us that coming out of his depression, Thor went from dad bod to god bod. It is good to see him here going from sad guy to, well, you’ll see.

NOTE: Stay through the end of the credits to see two extra scenes.

Parents should know that this movie has many s-words and extended peril and comic-book style action violence with many characters injured, cancer treatment, and a sad death. There is also a brief flash of rear nudity.

Family questions: What would you choose for your catch phrase? How do you make sure you don’t wall off your feelings after being hurt?

If you like this, try: the other “Thor” movies and Watiti’s “What We Do in the Shadows” film and television series

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Lightyear

Posted on June 16, 2022 at 5:54 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi peril and cartoon-style violence, sad death
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 17, 2022
Date Released to DVD: September 12, 2022

Copyright Disney 2022
Watch carefully in Lightyear for a moment just for those kids born in in the 80s who were the first digital natives. A cartridge inserted into a computer deck is not working correctly, and Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans taking over from Tim Allen) has to fix it. What does he do? Say it with me, people in their 30s: He blows on the exposed tape side and re-inserts it. Now, that may not have worked in real life, but thankfully, it works for Buzz.

This kind of detail is what we expect from Pixar, along with superbly crafted films that make us laugh, gasp, and cry. We’re reminded at the beginning of “Lightyear” that in 1995 Andy was given a Buzz Lightyear toy from his favorite movie. And then we’re told that this, what we ae about to see, is that movie. It doesn’t need to overdo the 90s references, but once in a while, like the blowing on the cartridge, we get a reminder that the lovable nerds at Pixar know us all too well.

This is not the toy Buzz Lightyear who has some existential confusion and thinks he is the actual character. This is the actual character, a lantern-jawed space ranger, the All-American boy next door type, brave, loyal, extremely good at his job, and stubbornly independent. His closest friend is fellow Ranger Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba). But he does not work well with others, especially rookies.

Buzz and Alisha are on a long-term space journey. They stop to investigate an uncharted planet and, as anyone who has ever clocked a red shit on “Star Trek” knows, it turns out to be much more treacherous than they expected (though, thankfully, to have breathable air). As they are on their way back to “the turnip,” which is what they call their rocket due to its shape, the rocket is so badly damaged they are stuck. All of the 1200 passengers who have been in suspended animation will have to be awakened to find that they are marooned, with no way to return to the mission or go home.

Buzz is determined to save the day. He undertakes a very dangerous test flight. For him, it is four minutes. But, due to the difference between time on a planet and time in space, he returns to find that four years have passed for Alicia and everyone else. Things have changed. The space travelers have built a community. Alicia is engaged to a scientist. People have adapted. Buzz feels responsible for getting them stuck and he is determined to keep trying until he gets the necessary mix of elements to give the rocket the fuel it needs. But each test run means another four years. He comes back and Alecia and her wife are expecting a child. He comes back again and the child is four years old. His life is passing in minutes and his friend’s is passing in years, in decades.

Other than Alicia, Buzz’s only companion is a robot cat. Think a combination of R2D2, C-3Po, and Captain Marvel’s Flerken. Ultimately he will find a group of people who do not have the training, discipline, or skills Buzz has always relied on in his missions. All of the difficulty he has had in relying on others is multiplied just as it has become necessary to trust them.

The reveal near the end did not work as well for me, but I especially liked the way it deals with two issues we don’t often see in movies for children, how to move on after making a mistake, learning to see the best in people, and learning to rely on others. As always with Pixar, the movie is filled with endearing characters and witty and telling details, brilliantly designed settings, sublime silliness, and exciting action scenes and yes, you will cry. It is easy to understand why this was Andy’s favorite movie.

Parents should know that this film has extended sci-fi peril and violence with scary robots and sci-fi weapons. There is a very sad death. A devoted gay couple is portrayed in an admirably matter-of-fact, low-key manner with grace and dignity.

Family discussion: Why was it hard for Buzz to accept help? What is the best way to make up for mistakes?

If you like this, try: The “Toy Story” movies, “Galaxy Quest,” and the old Flash Gordon serials.

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