Jumanji: The Next Level

Posted on December 14, 2019 at 9:24 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language, brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended video game action style peril and violence, issue of terminal illness
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters and issues of diversity
Date Released to Theaters: December 13, 2019

Copyright 2019 Columbia
My review of Jumanji; The Next Level is on rogerebert.com — an excerpt:

Like its predecessor, this latest “Jumanji” movie combines fantasy action and adventure with some comedy, a touch of romance, and real-life lessons about courage, friendship, and empathy—all with the help of some low-key race and gender fluidity….Johnson was terrific as Spencer in the first film, a humorously exaggerated version of an adolescent discovering the power of adulthood. But as the outer version of Spencer’s cranky grandfather, he’s clearly having more fun. He barely notices the surreal concept of being trapped inside a video game (he does not appear to be entirely sure what a video game is), and is much too busy swiveling hips that for the first time in years have a full range of motion. Johnson/Bravestone as Spencer was something to aspire to, in a future that still seemed filled with infinite potential, but Johnson/Bravestone as Eddie is filled with the bucket list delight of someone who sees nothing but loss ahead. Hart is especially good at toning down his usual peppery energy as the avatar for the slow-talking Milo, whose avatar’s strength is languages but who retains his discursive style. Black and Awkwafina both have a chance to represent more than one of the human characters, making each one distinct and clever.

The fantasy of the avatars, with their assigned strengths and weaknesses, make it possible for the characters to become more honest with themselves and each other. As with the first film, the humor and excitement are nimbly balanced so it never gets too scary or silly, and the focus is more on friendship than romance. This time, there is a light touch of poignance as well that makes the message about friendship more meaningful. And like all good video games, there’s a hint of yet another level at the end for those, like me, who are not yet ready to say Game Over.

Parents should know that this film icludes video game-style peril, action, and adventure, some strong language, brief crude humor (references to eunuch character), and issues of aging and terminal illness.

Family discussion: If you were a game avatar, what would your strengths and weaknesses be? What did the characters learn from being different races and genders?

If you like this, try: “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth”

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Frozen 2

Posted on November 20, 2019 at 5:52 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action/peril and some thematic elements
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Action/cartoon-style peril and violence, sad off-screen deaths of parents, violent confrontations with some weapons
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 21, 2019

Copyright 2019 Disney
My full review is posted at rogerebert.com. An excerpt:

“Frozen II” has an autumnal palette, with russet and gold setting the stage for an unexpectedly elegiac tone in the follow-up to one of Disney’s most beloved animated features. Even the irrepressibly cheerful snowman Olaf (Josh Gad), now permafrosted so even the warmest hugs don’t melt him, is worried about change as the leaves turn orange and float down from tree branches. He is confident, though, that as soon as he gets older he will understand everything. After all, that’s what he expects from Elsa (Idina Menzel), Anna (Kristen Bell), and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff). Anna reassures him (in song, of course) that yes, some things change, but some things are forever. She tells him that even when you don’t know the answers you can always just do the next right thing, and that will help.

Parents should know that this film includes cartoon/action-style peril and violence, off-screen sad deaths of parents, and references to historic violence.

Family discussion: How can you decide what is the next right thing? What in your life will change and what will stay the same? How do you respond to changes you don’t expect?

If you like this, try: “Frozen,” “Inside Out” and “The Princess and the Frog”

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Terminator: Dark Fate

Posted on October 31, 2019 at 5:15 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Pharmaceutical drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Extended very strong violence, many characters injured and killed, graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 1, 2019

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2019
Can we please send someone back from the future to suggest that we really do not need any more Terminator movies?

Okay, I have to admit it’s pretty entertaining. The action scenes are fun and there are some good characters. It’s nice to have the original Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) back. It’s not bad; it’s just unnecessary. And its very unnecessariness makes it ordinary and that retroactively diminishes the quality of the ground-breaking original and the first sequel.

It’s like they ran the first film through a slightly broken copier machine (not a scanner) and what came out was fuzzy and off-kilter. So, from the first movie: a terminator comes back to the present day from the future with immeasurable powers of strength, speed, and strategy, and, most important, total tunnel vision, complete, implacable, single-mindedness. There is no plea, no bribe, no argument possible. The only hope, and it is a slim one, is escape.

From the second movie: someone else comes back from the future to protect the vulnerable target of the new Terminator. This time, though, it is an enhanced or augmented human, a kind of souped-up cyborg. What makes this interesting is that we do not exactly know what her powers are (also interesting that she is a female), but we quickly learn that she has some significant vulnerabilities. Her name is Grace (a terrific Mackenzie Davis, outstanding both in the action and the acting departments). She is enhanced for a sprint, not a marathon; she is very powerful in short, intense spurts, but if the fighting or running away is too prolonged she will urgently need a collection of powerful pharmaceuticals.

And Grace will not tell us (until a crucial plot point) why the young woman she is protecting is so important. That young woman is Dani (Natalia Reyes). And, this chapter’s smartest and strongest element, our old friend from the first film is back, Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, and if there is ever an Oscar for being amazingly fit, they should give it to her and retire the trophy. Hamilton is the star of the show here, clearly enjoying being an action hero who is more than a little deranged (see “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” for this part of the origin story). She even gets to say, wait for it, “I’ll be back.”

On the other hand, you-know-who is also back, Arnold Schwarzenegger as our old friend the T-800 (I will not dwell on why a robot ages), and when he says, wait for it, “I won’t be back,” it is too much of a wink at the audience.

We do not really have time to object, though, because there’s another chase, another battle, another what-are-we-trying-to-be-Fast-and-Furious-umpteen-here set piece to enjoy. Davis is great. Hamilton is awesome. There are some thrill-ride moments. But if you go, you might wish someone came back from the future to tell you to rent the first one again instead.

Parents should know that this film includes extended very strong violence, many characters injured and killed, graphic and disturbing images, strong language, pharmaceutical drugs, and brief non-sexual nudity.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Grace tell the truth about Dani earlier? How do Sarah Connor’s actions change the future and what does not change? How are Sarah and Dani different?

If you like this, try: the other Terminator movies

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Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Posted on October 17, 2019 at 5:30 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and brief scary images
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy peril and violence, characters injured, cursed, and killed, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 18, 2019

Copyright Disney 2019
Come on, Disney. You can do better than this. “Mistress of Evil” makes Maleficent sound like she is hosting cheesy old horror movies on late night television. Maleficent, of course, is the wicked fairy from the classic animated Disney version of “Sleeping Beauty” who was so angry she wasn’t invited to Princess Aurora’s christening that she cursed her to eternal slumber after pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel. She could only be awakened by true love’s kiss, and ultimate her fury is so great she turns into a fire-breathing dragon. All because she felt she should have been on the palace guest list.

On the 60th anniversary of that film’s release, we get this sequel to the 2014 “Maleficent,” with Angelina Jolie as a villain more sinned against than sinning. It turns out it was more than a social oversight that made her angry. She was a fairy cruelly betrayed by the human man she loved, who ruined her so he could become king (the severing of her wings was a deeply disturbing scene). Basically, she was Glenn Close from “Fatal Attraction” with horns and magical powers. Who needs to boil a bunny when you can just zap people?

But then she could not help loving the darling little Princess Aurora. The famously maternal Angelina Jolie — formerly the famously wild child Angelina Jolie — was well cast as the fairy whose anger was cooled by the love of a child. Everything ended up pretty close to happily ever after, but that doesn’t help the box office so here we are again.

Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) is now queen of the Moors, which is fairy territory, and everyone loves her, from little pixies to Groot-like tree creatures. She floats around in hippie chick finery, and everything is blossoms and butterflies, kind, and peaceful. She accepts a proposal from Prince Philip (now played by Harris Dickinson), son of the king and queen who rule over the neighboring human country. Like so many brides before her, she implores her family, meaning Maleficent, to behave at the meet-the-prospective-in-laws dinner. And like so many meet-the-prospective-inlaw dinners, it does not go as well as the young couple hoped. Maleficent feels insulted, she lashes out, the king (Robert Lindsay) collapses, Maleficent is blamed (after all, she does know how to curse people into perpetual sleep), Aurora feels betrayed. And so, the princess stays with her new family, and Maleficent is banned again.

This time is different, though, because Maleficent finds for the first time, her own community, with horned and winged creatures like herself, though none with her magical gifts. They are outcasts, living in a secret underground community. The film’s best moments are those that make the most of the fabulously inventive visual designers and effects crew, and the “It’s a Small World”-style tour of the many variations within this group will make audiences wish for a pause button.

Unfortunately, some of the rest of the film will make them wish for a fast-forward button, including some very oddly off-key moments that give the movie a disconcertingly inconsistent tone. “I see what you did there” is not a line that belongs in what is otherwise a straightforward fantasy, not a post-modern, air-quotes, meta-take. The title character is intended to be complex, but she is just inconsistent as well. Nearly as emaciated as Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker,” with sepulchral skin and red red lips over dainty white fangs, she has heightened cheekbones that could cut glass and make Jolie look like she ate a coat hanger.

And then there is the political overlay, with messages about welcoming immigrants. non-violence, and justice for minorities that are lovely thoughts but not conveyed with any special insight or depth. More attention is given to some nonsense about creating a powder that is instantly deadly to fae folk, which is then deployed in mass quantities, but to keep the PG rating the amount of carnage is left unclear. Michelle Pfeiffer is the most vital element of the film as Philip’s mother (and her gowns and jewels are stunning), but she is not given enough to work with in the messy script, over-plotted and under-written. That’s the real villain in this fairy tale.

Parents should know that this film includes fantasy/action peril and violence much more intense than a typical PG with some very disturbing images including dissolving magical creatures, betrayal by a parent, curses, and a very sad death.

Family discussion: Why did Boora and Conall disagree? How are the issues in the movie similar to conflicts in the news? Why did Conall say we should not use our anger? Why did Aurora ask Maleficent to cover her horns and why did she apologize?

If you like this, try: the first “Maleficent,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Stardust”

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Angel Has Fallen

Posted on August 22, 2019 at 5:42 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence and language throughout
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and graphic peril and violence, many characters injured and killed, chases, explosions, assassination attempt, some graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 24, 2019
Date Released to DVD: November 25, 2019

To recap: first the White House was attacked. Not White House Down — that was PG-13 with Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx. I’m speaking of Olympus Has Fallen, rated R, with Gerard Butler as Mike Banning and Morgan Freeman as Secretary of Defense Allan Trumbull. And then it went international with London Has Fallen, with all of the world leaders as targets when they are in England to attend a funeral. Then there was Hunter Killer, but that was about a submarine commander, not a Secret Service agent. Still, it was a fate-of-the-world shoot-em-up, so we’ll include it as an affiliate member of the GBU (Gerard Butler Universe).

That brings us to chapter three of the Banning/Trumbull saga, and, as they like to say in movie trailers, this time it’s personal. “Angel Has Fallen” is about another attack on the President. But this time what, or I should say, who has fallen is Banning himself. Trumbull has gone from Defense Secretary to Vice President, and now President, and Banning is up for the job of head of the Secret Service. But he has two reasons to be reluctant to accept. First, he is feeling the effect of his concussions and other injuries and is popping a lot of pain pills. Second, he dreads the thought of a desk job. The action is what makes him feel alive.

On a fishing trip, the President is attacked — a stunning scene featuring drones swarming together like demonic birds via artificial intelligence and facial recognition. Banning, who had asked to be relieved because his headache was overpowering, returns just in time to rescue Trumbull, but everyone else on the detail is killed. Banning has been framed; there is a deposit of $10 million from Russia in his bank account. An FBI agent (Jada Pinkett Smith) is after him. Banning is Angel and he has fallen. He has to go on the run, off the grid, to find out what is happening, clear his name, and still keep the President safe.

And so we get to find out something about Banning’s past, and about the way intense, adrenaline-pumping peril can become addicting. I’ve had a problem in the past with the careless collateral damage in this series, and that continues to be a problem. Even a mindless popcorn action movie where the “surprise” bad guys are instantly recognizable has to be careful about staying within the parameters of fun chases and shoot-em-ups and explosions, not too heavy on the carnage. That is an even bigger issue this time, as Banning’s character and struggles are a part of the storyline. Making him a character with more dimensions, maybe one and a half or two but not three, just means more of an adjustment every time we swing into one of the big stunt extravaganzas. Is it all the excitement that has Banning no longer needing to chomp down pain pills all the time? It might have been more intriguing to see him try to outsmart and out-fight the bad guys with some uncertainty around his coping with past injuries, but the story pretty much jettisons all of that as soon as the action starts. The different think and feel levels are disconcerting, especially in one scene that got a lot of laughs in the theater but involves many people getting blown up.

Director Ric Roman Waugh is a former stunt man and stunt coordinator and his staging of the intense scenes of conflict and action is assured and exciting. In addition to the drone attack (filmed by drone cameras), the battle in a building during the movie’s climax is pure testosteronic cinema. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Mike Banning — the only question is what or who will be the next to fall.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent film with intense and graphic peril and violence, with many characters injured and killed, guns, drones, explosions, disturbing images.

Family discussion: How are Wade and Mike and Mike’s dad alike? What does “lions” mean to them? Should Mike take the director job?

If you like this, try: the other “Fallen” movies, “Hunter/Killer” and the “Taken” series

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