Confess, Fletch

Posted on September 15, 2022 at 5:23 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, some sexual content and drug use
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Violence, murder, scufffles
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 9, 2022

Copyright Miramar 2022
“Confess, Fletch” is a reboot of the affectionately remembered Chevy Chase films based on the series of books by Gregory MacDonald. The post for the new film, with Jon Hamm as the title character, is charmingly retro, evoking the style and font of the 70s. The film, from writer/director Greg Motolla, is not as effective as updating the character and settings. Motolla, the gifted director of films including “Superbad,” “The Daytrippers,” “Adventureland,” and “Paul,” has an exceptional gift for combining action, comedy, and heart, often episodic with a collection of engaging characters and always with a terrific score. But the character of I.M. Fletcher, smart-mouthed, twice-divorced investigative reporter, is never effectively updated in this intermittently enjoyable film, and the episodic screenplay drags, especially when it assumes the characters are more appealing than they are.

Hamm, who co-produced, is well cast, with great comic timing and all the charm his character needs to get away with behavior which ranges from smart-aleck to obnoxious. There are a couple of tough balancing acts in bringing this movie together, and both work only intermittently.

The first is balancing the expectations of the fans of the original films with the very different environment of the present day. The earlier films are very much of their era and not familiar or translatable to the world of 2022. Fans of the original will want to see their favorite parts on screen. People new to the character will need learn who he is and find him appealing. The poster leans toward the former, with a 70s-retro drawing that looks like a book cover.

And then there is the balance between the comedy, mostly based on Fletch’s smart-aleck quips and romantic escapades, and the mystery, which has to do with some stolen paintings worth many millions of dollars that happen to have been the property of the father of the woman Fletch was seeing and thinking of proposing to.

I’m not sure if it says something about our time or if it just says something about the lack of ideas, but we’ve seen a number of “whoops, my rental is double-booked” storyline in movies lately (see “Alone Together” and “Barbarian” for example). Fletch returns to the US after his time in Italy, planning to work on a book. His beautiful girlfriend has arranged the rental. Small problem: someone else is already there. Big problem: she’s dead. And so in true movie fashion, Fletch has to get out of trouble by solving the mystery himself.

There’s a shaggy dog quality to the storyline, as Fletch drifts from one encounter to another. Some are fun to watch, especially his interactions with a grumpy editor played by Slattery. Some are less fun, like the wonderful Marcia Gay Hard, stuck in an impossible role as the vampish stepmother of Fletch’s girlfriend. Their scenes together are among those with actors who appear to be acting in different movies when it comes to the tone and pacing. And the ending could so easily have been more satisfying instead of ridiculous and borderline nihilistic. As entertaining as it is to see Hamm in the role, the conclusion leaves a sour aftertaste.

Parents should know that this film has some mature material including alcohol and drugs, very strong language, and sexual references and situations.

Family discussion: In what ways is Fletch trustworthy and in what ways is he not? Was what he did at the end fair?

If you like this, try: the Fletch books and the earlier movies

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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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Jurassic World: Dominion

Posted on June 8, 2022 at 12:36 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and intense sci-fi peril, scary monsters, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 10, 2022

Copyright Universal 2022
The most important lesson from “Jurassic World: Dominion” is that as terrifying and deadly as dinosaurs can be, there are some forces even more scary. One is that movie standard villain, the corporate CEO who will stop at nothing to dominate the world. The other is a very, very angry 12 year old girl.

But yes, this movie has terrifying and deadly dinosaurs, ones that run, ones that fly, ones that swim, and they are innumerable. And this action-packed entry in the series is character-packed as well. In addition to our friends from the previous “Jurassic World” movies, Owen (Chris Pratt), Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), Barry (Omar Sy), and Maisie (Isabella Sermon), and our favorites from the first three films, Ellie (Laura Dern), Alan (Sam Neill), and Ian (Jeff Goldbloom), we have terrific new characters, including biotech CEO Lewis Dodgson (hmm, name a reference to Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, real name Charles Dodgson?) played by Campbell Scott, his top employee at Biosyn is Ramsey Cole (the terrific Mamoudou Athie), and, my instant favorite character, LaWanda Wise as Han Solo, I mean as Kayla Watts, the brave, independent, not unwilling to break the law but with an essence of integrity pilot.

And the characters really need a pilot in this story, which jumps from one location to another more than a James Bond movie. Wherever they go, however, there are dinosaurs.

The movie sets up several different storylines before bringing them together at the headquarters of Dodgson’s Biosyn corporation, located, like all good supervillain lairs, on a deserted island. As it begins, dinosaurs are all over the world, making a nest on a skyscraper, grazing in the prairie, killing other animals, each other, and some people. Humans are reacting as we have too often seen them do, arguing about policy and setting up black markets and dino versions of cattle rustling and cockfights.

Owen and Claire are off the grid, living in a remote cabin with Maisie, whose parthenogenic origin and survival following an innovative gene therapy is of great interest to scientists and to those who want to exploit her genes (she is referred to at one point as the world’s most valuable intellectual property). There is a thrilling scene in this part of the film as Owen, on horseback, chases dinosaurs through a snowy Western plains area, swinging a huge lasso like a John Ford cowboy. Maisie is getting impatient and angry, and has started to break the rules about staying out of sight. A plague of locusts with some dinosaur genes are destroying crops, “the food we eat and the food our food eats.” Ellie asks Alan, who she has not seen for years, to help her investigate a possible tie to Biosyn. She has been invited there by mathematician and chaos-ologist Ian, a consultant at Biosyn.

Maisie is kidnapped, along with a baby dinosaur born without a male parent, the child of Owen’s old friend Blue, and brought to Biosyn.

All of this is just an excuse for one thrill-ride action scene after another, all superbly staged with brilliant sound design and editing. Many of them have fake-outs just long enough for you to catch your breath, thinking they’ve made it, when it turns out they haven’t and it all starts up again. This is the essence of a summer movie. Is Maisie’s British accent genetically transmitted? She has exclusively heard only Americans since she was a toddler. And didn’t Owen’s hand trick only work after long-term, painstaking clicker-training? But now it suddenly works on dinos who have never seen him before? Oh, go watch Pitch Meeting if you care about that stuff. Just pass the popcorn and enjoy the chases.

Parents should know that this movie has non-stop very intense peril and action with some graphic images and some strong language.

Family discussion: What was the most important thing Maisie learned about her mother?

If you like this, try: the other Jurassic Park and Jurassic World movies

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Downton Abbey: A New Era

Posted on May 19, 2022 at 5:27 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some suggestive references, language and thematic elements.
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death
Diversity Issues: Class issues
Date Released to Theaters: May 20, 2022
Date Released to DVD: July 4, 2022

Copyright Focus Features 2022
If the producers of “Downton Abbey” have become so fond of their characters after six seasons on television and a feature film that they can reunite them only for the most enticingly charming of storylines, well, that is fine with me and likely to be fine with the many, many fans who love to watch the residents of the fabulous title estate — both the upstairs Lord and Lady Grantham and their family (the Crowleys) and the downstairs staff who keep the place running. The title is “Downton Abbey: A New Era” but the story remains reassuringly retro.

The Crawley characters have survived the upheavals of world affairs from the beginning; the first episode begins with the family learning of the sinking of the Titanic, with the heir to the estate on board and later World War I brings enormous changes during the course of the series. And they have survived family upheavals as well, the marriage of one of the three Crawley daughters to a commoner, the family’s chauffeur, and her death following childbirth. The staff have had their challenges as well, and the attention to all of the residents of Downton is a critical part of the story’s appeal.

But so is the display of wealth, including the dozens of servants required for the many many changes of fabulous clothes and the dinners with exquisite china and silver. For all of the concerns about whether the Crawley family can afford repairs to the roof, they have generational wealth and privilege that has a fairy tale quality. “Cinderella” is a fairy tale, too, and the concerns, challenges, and relationships of the staff, all safely in the past, allow a measure of safety as we convince ourselves that there is more opportunity and equality today.

This latest update may be called “A New Era” but it is even more of an old-fashioned fairy tale than the last one because of the gentleness of its storylines. It begins with a wedding. The last movie ended with a strong suggestion that the family connections would be shored up further when the chauffeur-turned-son-in-law, Tom Branson (Allen Leech) was falling in love with Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton), the illegitimate daughter of an estranged cousin, Maude Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton). This made the Crowleys happy because it would keep the property Lucy was inheriting from Maude connected to the Crawley family. Oh, and it would be nice for single dad Tom to find love, too.

And then the very large cast splits and goes in two different directions Dame Maggie Smith as the acid-tongued doyenne Violet Grantham has unexpectedly inherited a villa in the French Rivera from a man she knew when she was a young newlywed. His widow is considering challenging the will but his son has invited the Crowleys to visit.

Lady Mary, who is running things at Downton now, as accepted a lucrative offer from a film crew that wants to use Downton to make a movie about a high society romance. Well, they had to top the last film’s visit from the king and queen. Downton, as often happens, is caught between two traditions: the traditions of dignity, decorum, status, and remove from the activities of those without a title, and the tradition of keeping the roof from leaking and continuing to care for the family and the servants and as much of the way of life as they can continue to sustain.

Both stories take turns that range from melodramatic to preposterous, the film-within-a-film story landing somewhere between an early 20th century meta-verse and an audacious twist taken from one of the all-time-most beloved movies in history. But after all this time, the audience is not there for the plots. This is a film that has time for a full, rollicking jazz performance. We are there for the elegance and glamor, the costumes, the comfy familiarity. If you are not already a fan, this is not a place to start. But if you’re hoping for happy endings for almost every character — and if you are enough of a fan to know that when a member of the nobility and a servant are mistakenly thought to be a married couple that it is both a wink (the actors are married in real life) and a nod to the themes of changing times (like the jazz number and the movie production) and eroding class distinctions, then you will be as delighted as I was.

Parents should know that this film includes discussions of adultery and paternity and a sad death.

Family discussion: Which character do you enjoy the most and why? Were you surprised by the decisions made by Violet and Lady Mary?

If you like this, try: the “Downton Abbey” series and the other series from Julian Fellowes, including “Doctor Thorne,” “The Gilded Age,” and “Belgravia”

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