Playing with Fire

Posted on November 7, 2019 at 5:46 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for rude humor, some suggestive material and mild peril
Alcohol/ Drugs: Schoolyard language
Violence/ Scariness: Extended mayhem and action-style peril, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Why is only the male child considered a potential smoke-jumper?
Date Released to Theaters: November 8, 2019
Copyright 2019 Paramount

I would not have thought it possible for one short film to have so many poop jokes and so many opportunities for the leading character to take his shirt off. Take that, people who say Hollywood never teaches us anything!

Was anyone really waiting for another version of “Mr. Nanny” (7% positive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes). I didn’t think so. And yet, here we are, with another WWE star playing off his ultra-alpha-male vibe with a cuddly comedy about how a super-macho guy finds his tender side by bonding with adorable children. Not a bad idea. If only they had a better script.

John Cena is a gifted comic actor, as we saw in “Trainwreck” and “Blockers.” So it is near-criminal to put him in a movie like this and give him nothing to do but glower, do silly dances, take his shirt off, and jut that lantern jaw. But that isn’t enough. It also under-uses the immensely talented cast, including Keegan-Michael Key as the loyal second in command, Judy Greer as a nearby scientist who has been on two and a half dates with Jake, John Leguizamo as a smokejumper who cooks everything with spam and makes up weirdly inapposite quotes, and Dennis Haysbert as a commanding officer). Brianna Hildebrand as the oldest of the rescued kids has been given a character with less range than she has in the “Deadpool” movies as angsty adolescent Negasonic Teenage Warhead.

Cena plays Jake Carson, who leads a group of smokejumpers, specialized wildland firefighters, who parachute into remote and rugged terrain. (See “Only the Brave,” based on a tragic true story for a more serious look.)  He literally grew up in the smokejumpers’ remote outpost because his mother died and his father was the supervisor. It is all he has ever known and all he has ever let himself care about. And now he has a chance at his dream job, overseeing the entire region. The current holder of that position, Commander Richards (Haysbert) has encouraged him to apply and has scheduled an inspection visit.

But Jake’s resolutely immaculate operation has been thrown into chaos. Half of his group has just defected to a more high-profile team. Jake has just rescued a teenager and her two young siblings and he can only release them to a parent or authorized guardian. And gosh darn it, those little nippers are always getting up to something, whether filling the garage with bubbles, or filling a diaper with, well, you know. Merry mayhem, followed by hugs. Did I mention that Jake says he never cried? And so he Googles “Is it bad if you’ve never cried?” This is not a movie that is going to let even the most inattentive audience member miss what it is telling us.   Key’s helpless responses to the teenager’s “Or what?”) smothered by clunky slapstick and lazy characterizations — the little girl has tea parties; all the smokejumpers are men and only the little boy is a potential fire fighter.  Even at 90 minutes, it drags, the few bright spots (some silly dances, Greer talking to the toads she has provided with a tiny lawn chair, the My Little Pony references until they over-do and then over-over-do it,

Parents should know that this is an action comedy with peril and action-style violence that may be too intense for younger children. There are references to the sad deaths of parents and the failures of the foster care system. Characters use schoolyard language and there is extended potty humor.

Family discussion: Why couldn’t Supe answer the question on the application? What is the toughest part about trying to balance work and family? Do you ever use sarcasm?

If you like this, try: “The Game Plan”

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Zombieland: Double Tap

Posted on October 17, 2019 at 5:25 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for bloody violence, language throughout, some drug and sexual content
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Extremely violent and gory zombie peril and action with many characters injured and killed and many gruesome images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 18, 2019

Copyright Columbia 2019
Start lining up the cast for part three; we’re going to need another one of these every decade or so. The original Zombieland was a brash, grimly funny story about a post-apocalyptic world in which characters who would otherwise be unlikely to meet, much less spend time together, identified only by their home towns, form a kind of family in the midst of zombie attacks. They are the high-strung but determined Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), the tough, peppery cowboy Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), and two survival-savvy sisters who are skeptical of anyone else, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone).

As this movie opens, the group is moving into the White House, now surrounded by fields of overgrown vegetation. It makes a good fortress and there are lots of cool things to play with, from a Twister game to Presidential portraits and gifts given by dignitaries over the years. Columbus and Wichita are a couple, but there is a problem. In this era of chaos and unpredictability, everyone has different ideas about what makes them feel safe. Columbus keeps making lists of his rules for survival (humorously displayed on screen) and wants to make the relationship official by proposing — with the Hope Diamond, which, like everything else, is up for grabs. But Wichita feels safest not having any connections, except for her sister, and Little Rock, now a teenager, wants to find someone her own age. So they leave.

On a “retail therapy” expedition to a shopping mall, Tallahassee and Columbus meet Madison (Zooey Deutch), who has been living there. Deutch just about steals the movie with one of the truly great comic performances of the year as the perfectly ditsy girl whose understanding of what is going on may be dim and who may not be willing to shoot zombies, but who has a knack for survival on her own terms. Just as she and Columbus get together, Wichita returns. Little Rock has run off with a guitar-playing pacifist named Berkeley (Avan Jogia). So, the group goes on the road to find her, running into some new characters, including many zombies, now faster, stronger, and smarter than before, an Elvis fan near Graceland, and a duo who seem uncannily parallel to Columbus and Tallahassee (Thomas Middleditch and Luke Wilson, both terrific).

Like the original, the zombie attacks and shoot-outs are punctuated with deadpan (maybe the correct term is undead-pan) humor, brilliantly delivered by the powerhouse cast. From the opening Columbia logo showing the lady using her torch to bash some zombies, the film moves briskly along with a gruesomely delightful mix of mayhem, romance, and humor. It’s a story about family, resilience, courage, and staying limber — with a great scene over the credits featuring a not-too-surprising guest star.

Parents should know that this film includes constant zombie peril and violence with many graphic, bloody, and disturbing images, characters injured and killed, constant very strong and crude language, sexual references and non-explicit situations, and alcohol and marijuana.

Family discussion: Why did Wichita say no to Columbus? What rules do you follow?

If you like this, try: the first “Zombieland” and “Sean of the Dead”

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Hobbs & Shaw

Posted on August 1, 2019 at 5:30 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material and some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive action-style peril and violence, chases, explosions, guns, fire, clubs, torture, some injuries and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 2, 2019
Date Released to DVD: November 4, 2019

Copyright Universal 2019
This is the summer movie you’ve been waiting for. “Fast and Furious” spin-off “Hobbs & Shaw” takes two of the series’ most popular characters, throws a silly McGuffin and a super-motivated, super-powered bad guy at them, adds in some family members, and plays up their animosity for a big-time buddy cop action comedy full of one-liners, chases, crashes, explosions, punches, kicks, improbable stunts, impossible stunts, and stay-to-the-end-of-the-credits extras. Plus Dame Helen Mirren talking like Eliza Doolittle when she was still selling flowers and looking very elegant in her orange prison jumpsuit. Suspend your disbelief and pass the popcorn!

You’ve never seen a “Fast and Furious” movie? No problem. You do not ever have to have seen a movie of any kind. You barely have to be a sentient life form to be up to, uh, speed, on this story. This is a movie where the bad guy introduces himself by telling you he is the bad guy. Where the leading lady fights like an MMA champ without ever smudging her eye-liner. And where two Hollywood stars show up in silly cameos because why not?

Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson) was in US law enforcement as an agent of the Diplomatic Security Service. He was originally supposed to track down and arrest the “Fast and Furious” members, but once it was clear they were framed, he became their ally. He is a devoted father of a young girl.

Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is British, from a family of grifters headed by Queenie (Helen Mirren!). In the British military he was involved in some black ops, disgraced, and became a mercenary. He also entered the series as a antagonist and is now, as Dom would say, family.

In an opening reminiscent of “The Patty Duke Show’s” identical cousin song, we see Hobbs and Shaw, on opposite sides of the world literally and metaphorically, waking up and starting their days. They both start with eggs, but Hobbs chugs his raw, and Shaw makes an omelet in his elegant, immaculate kitchen and then drives off in his cool sports car.

And then they get the call. The world needs to be saved. A deadly virus that could wipe out half the planet in just two days has been stolen by a rogue military operative named Hattie (Vanessa Kirby, a long way from playing Princess Margaret in “The Crown”). Both agree to track down the virus. But both insist that there is no way they will work together. Oh, and by the way, Hattie is Shaw’s sister, who has not spoken to him since he he went rogue.

The guy who introduced himself as the bad guy is Brixton (Idris Elba), a surgically and mechanically enhanced soldier with superhuman fighting skills who has a history with Shaw. He works for a Thanos-like organization with vast technology and a plan to release the virus and reboot humanity. The leader uses voice distortion to disguise his or her identity, so we expect some surprise from the past.

The odd couple duo hop around the world, including a visit to Hobbs’ birthplace (Hawaii playing the part of Samoa), with all kinds of crazy stunts, punctuated by quippy wisecracks. Director David Leitch is a former stunt-man and co-director of “John Wick.” I was especially taken with Brixton’s motorcycle, which seems to be operating on some almost-telepathic AI. When both men have to get past some bad guys in separate rooms and show off for each other was a highlight. There’s a lot of “What? You didn’t do that bad thing I thought you did?” Does it make sense? Nope. Is it fun? Yes.

NOTE: Stay all the way to the end for the extra scenes.

Parents should know that this movie includes extended peril and violence, chases, explosions, shooting, punching, knives, clubs, torture, some disturbing images and injuries, family issues, some strong language, and some sexual references.

Family discussion: Why do Hobbs and Shaw dislike each other so much? What do we learn about Hobbs and Shaw from seeing their families? How is Brixton’s group like Thanos in the MCU?

If you like this, try: the “Fast and Furious” movies and “The Transporter”

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Spider-Man: Far From Home

Posted on June 28, 2019 at 7:32 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic book/action-style peril and violence, mayhem, destruction, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 3, 2019
Date Released to DVD: September 23, 2019

Copyright Sony 2019
Okay, three key points before we get into the details of “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” First, see this smart, funny, heartwarming and entertaining movie on the biggest screen possible, IMAX if you can. Second, yes, you have to stay ALL the way through the credits. There are some big developments/revelations/surprises you will need to know. Third, if you have not seen “Avengers: Endgame” be aware that there are spoilers, so watch that first if you can, so you will better understand some of the conflicts and believe me, you don’t want to be distracted by figuring out what you missed because this movie deserves your full attention.

Just a reminder, as we’ve had a variety of Spider-Men on film, including Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and a whole bunch of Spideys including a pig and an anime girl in the Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” In this version of the Spider-verse, Tom Holland has played high school student Peter Parker in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and in two Avengers movies. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) took a special interest in Peter, and had his aide Happy (Jon Favreau) act as messenger and mentor.

Now that that is all out of the way, let’s get into it, unless you have not seen “Avengers: Endgame,” in which case stop reading now as there will be spoilers. The movie begins with an in memoriam tribute to the characters who died in that film, as Whitney Houston sings “I Will Always Love You.” It’s touching but it’s cheesy and sappy and we find out why: it’s on a high school closed-circuit news program with student announcers who help bring us up to date. The people who turned to dust when Thanos snapped his fingers have been returned and their absence is called The Blip. But the returnees are five years older, while for the people who were not dusted no time had passed. Everyone is still getting used to the idea that the world has been saved and beginning to get back to normal or get used to the new normal.

Peter thinks he deserves time time off, so when Nick Fury calls, he does not answer his phone. Even though Tony Stark left him in charge of the Avengers, his priority is to go on the class trip to Europe and let Mary Jane (Zendaya) know that he likes her. As in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” this film combines adolescent angst and romance with special effects superhero extravaganza fights (remember what I said about the big, big screen), with a skillful blend of humor, action, and growing up. Sometimes that combination creates a problem for Peter, as when he gets jealous of a rival for MJ’s affection and accidentally calls a drone strike on the tour bus.

The school trip provides lots of picturesque (before they get trashed) European locations, including Venice and Prague, as Nick Fury keeps “upgrading” the trip to reroute Peter to where the action is.

I know I always say that the make or break for superhero movies is the villain, but I don’t want to tell you too much about the villain here because the details should be a surprise. So I will just say that the surprises are great and this one is a lot of fun, with a very clever updating of the comic book version of the character that create an opportunity for some trippy and mind-bending visual effects. And Peter gets a great gift from Tony Stark — be sure to listen carefully to what the acronym EDITH stands for.

The settings, fight scenes, and special effects are all top-notch, but it is the cast that really brings this story to life. Holland is a little less soulful than Maguire or Garfield (or Shameik Moore), a little more heart-on-his-sleeve energetic, with a natural athleticism that lends a gymnastic, almost balletic grace to his web-swinging and slinging. Zendaya’s MJ is smart, edgy and vulnerable. The villain is…surprising, and a welcome relief after the stentorian-voiced blowhards we have too often seen in superhero movies. Plus, Led Zep, Samuel L. Jackson gets to say, “Bitch, please,” and we get to see London Bridge (or the equivalent) falling down. This is just what a summer movie is supposed to be — fresh, fun, exciting, and with a wow of a post-credit scene to shake things up for the next installment. This one made my spidey-sense tingle.

Parents should know that this film includes intense comic-book/action-style peril and violence with massive destruction and mayhem, with characters injured and killed. The movie also includes teen kissing, some strong language, a crotch hit, someone giving the finger, and mild sexual references.

Family discussion: Should Peter have answered Nick Fury’s call? Why did Tony Stark pick him? What does it mean to say “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” and where does that expression come from?

If you like this, try: the other Marvel movies and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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The Secret Life of Pets 2

Posted on June 6, 2019 at 5:15 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action and rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Cat becomes intoxicated on catnip
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action/cartoon-style peril and violence including whip, gun, taser, and tranquilizer dart used on animals, fistfight played for humor
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 7, 2019

Copyright Illumination 2019
Well, what a nice surprise! “The Secret Life of Pets 2” is a vast improvement over the original, which had a promising beginning but ended up with a lackluster imitation of “Toy Story.” This sequel combines three different stories and adds some terrific new characters all in a zippy under 90 minutes. It is colorful, exciting, and a lot of fun.

Our hero is still Max (Patton Oswalt, taking over from Louis CK), a lovable mutt who does not like change but has made his peace with his new apartment-mate, Duke (Eric Stonestreet). But more change is ahead. Max’s owner (that is what he calls her) Katie (Ellie Kemper) meets Chuck (Pete Holmes) and soon there is another new resident in the apartment, a baby named Liam. Max, who thinks he does not like children, cannot resist the baby who clearly adores the two dogs. But the changes are very stressful, and when his anxiety about keeping Liam safe is so severe he has to be taken to the vet and finds himself in the Cone of Shame, to keep him from scratching all the time.

Katie and Chuck take Liam and the dogs to visit their family on a farm. Max asks Gidget (Jenny Slate) to watch his favorite toy, Busy Bee, while they are away. (Fans of “Best in Show” will remember Parker Posey’s frantic search for a dog toy called Busy Bee on the day of the dog show.) Gidget, whose unrequited crush on Max is the movie’s weakest plot point, agrees, but almost immediately manages to knock it out of the window, and it lands in the apartment of the cat lady to beat all cat ladies.

Meanwhile, Snowball (Kevin Hart), a soft, fluffy white bunny whose little girl owner dresses him as a superhero, begins to believe he really is one, and when newcomer Daisy (a terrific Tiffany Haddish) asks him for help freeing a friend of hers who is being abused, he is happy to agree. The friend is Hu, a white Chinese tiger, and he is in a cage at a circus, guarded by wolves.

Max will get some guidance on dealing with his fears from a wise farm dog named Rooster (Harrison Ford!! At his Harrison Ford-iest, which is awesome!). Gidget will have to get cat lessons from the languid pudgeball Chloe (Lake Bell) on how to be a cat so she can go undercover to get Busy Bee back, in the movie’s best scenes. And Snowball and Daisy will have a lot of wild adventures along the way.

It all moves along with brisk good humor and some nice lessons about how to handle being scared and what we learn when doing what scares us gives us the chance to be surprised at what we can do. The design of the characters and settings is witty and engaging enough to invite repeat viewings. Parents may need to talk to their kids about some of the plot points — we don’t want anyone trying to let a tiger out of the cage, sometimes it makes sense to listen to your fears and not take risks, and kids should know there are laws protecting animals from the abuse Hu suffers. But this is a treat for the family that makes me hope number three is in the works.

Parents should know that this film includes comic/fantasy/action peril and violence including very dangerous stunts, a protracted fistfight, and a man who threatens animals with a whip and a gun, some potty humor and schoolyard language, and a cat becomes intoxicated on catnip.

Family discussion: What did Max learn from Rooster? Why did Rooster give him a bandana? Was there a time you pretended to be braver than you felt? Why did Max change his mind about Liam? Which pet in this film would you like to have?

If you like this, try: “Despicable Me” and “Rio”

There are a lot of cool extras on the DVD/Blu-Ray:

BONUS FEATURES ON 4K ULTRA HD, BLU-RAY™, DVD & DIGITAL
Mini Movies
Minion Scouts – When Margo, Agnes and Edith return from Badger Scout camp, three of the Minions are entranced by the girls’ merit badges. Their own attempt at scout camp results in attracting a bear, eating poison berries and eventually blowing up a dam, creating a massive flood. But, when they arrive back home, the girls share their badges, encouraging the rest of the Minions to try their hand at scouting.

*DVD format includes over 75 minutes of bonus content
Super Gidget – When Max is kidnapped by an army of squirrels, Super Gidget is the only one who can save him. It turns out that Max’s captor is a flea with the power of mind control. Gidget must use her pluckiness, strength and smarts to save her one true love…until it turns out it was all just a dream.
The Making of the Mini Movies – Every Illumination film is accompanied by mini movies that are a production all their own. Each film’s directing partners will explore how the mini movies were made.
Deleted Scenes
Wake Up – Max and Duke have a new morning routine with Liam.
Duke Explores the Farm – Duke has a funny interaction with a goat.
Snowball Karate – Snowball does his superhero warm up.
Secret Confessions – Dogs gather to talk about their deepest secrets
A Tapestry of a Tail: The Making Of – The plot of The Secret Life of Pets 2 involves multiple storylines ultimately coming together to create a larger than life tale. We talk with the filmmakers, editor and cast about the delicate dance of juggling multiple narratives in one movie.
How to Draw – Hosted by Head of Story, Eric Favela, follow the step-by-step tutorial to learn to draw Max, Snowball and Chloe
Frame by Frame: How to Make a Flip Book – In this DIY-style vignette, Head of Story Eric Favela will teach viewers about the essence of animation and how they can create their very own flip book animations at home.
Character Pods – Get a closer look at your favorite characters of The Secret Life of Pets 2 with these delightful character pods that might just give away a few more pet secrets.
Patton Oswalt – Max
Kevin Hart – Snowball
Eric Stonestreet – Duke
Jenny Slate – Gidget
Tiffany Haddish – Daisy
Lake Bell – Chloe
Nick Kroll – Sergei
Dana Carvey – Pops
Bobby Moynihan – Mel
Harrison Ford – Rooster
A Party Fit for a Pet – Using stop motion animation, this step-by-step guide teaches you everything you need to know to throw the very best party for your pet!
Pops’ Puppy Training School with Kevin Hart – Join Kevin Hart as he shows off his dog training skills.
Pets Yule Log – Sit back and relax in front of this exclusive The Secret Life of Pets 2 themed animated ‘Yule Log.’
Lyric Videos
‘Panda’ Lyric Video
‘It’s Gonna Be A Lovely Day (The Secret Life of Pets 2)’ Lyric Video

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