Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Posted on December 23, 2022 at 5:41 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images, strong language, and thematic content
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkeness
Violence/ Scariness: A murder mystery with peril, homicide, and fighting, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: December 23, 2022

Copyright Netflix 2022
I have very conflicting ideas about this review. Part of me wants to tell you all about “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” but a bigger part of me wants you to find out all of its secrets and surprises on your own. So bear with me if I lean too far in that direction. I’m doing it for your own good. “Glass Onion” is an enormously entertaining delight and I want you to enjoy it fully. In fact, go ahead and watch it and then come back here if you want to see what I think about it.

Like its predecessor, “Knives Out,” it is a deliciously twisty remix of the classic British-style murder mystery, with a fabulous location and a group of suspects who all have motive and opportunity. Also like its predecessor, it has an all-star cast clearly enjoying themselves enormously.

The very large cast is efficiently and wittily introduced as each of them receives an elaborate invitation to a party at a fabulous glass mansion on a remote island, the home of a billionaire named Miles Bron (Edward Norton). In a brilliantly edited sequence, we see each of the characters trying to open the box, telling us a lot about who they are and how they think. Jackie Hoffman, as one character’s mother, is hilariously bored and sharp at the same time.

Receiving the astonishingly crafted puzzle box with the invitation:

Kate Hudson as Birdie Jay, a flamboyant, selfish, famous-for-being-famous celebrity whose outspoken remarks are often offensive.

Kathryn Hahn as Claire Debella, the governor of Connecticut.

Dave Bautista as Duke, an obnoxious, gun-toting social media star. He brings his girlfriend, Whiskey (Madeline Cline).

Leslie Odem as Lionel, a scientist working with Miles on a secret project.

Janelle Monae as Andi, formerly Miles’ girlfriend and partner.

These people were all friends before Miles became wealthy and they get together once a year. This year, Miles has something special planned, a murder mystery game.

Also arriving on the island — the one carry-over character from the earlier film, the brilliant detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig).

We learn about the connections that tie this group together, with some hilarious cameo appearances (two very touching from huge stars we recently lost) and celebrity references. Miles’ glass palace is filled with the kind of gauche art displays you would see in the home of an ultra-rich guy who wants bragging rights. (Genuine art lovers will notice that the “Rothko” is hanging upside down.) Amidst the twists and turns of the story are some clever digs at those we consider “influencers” and “disrupters.”

The performances are all spectacular. Hudson nails the selfish, superficial fading star desperate for attention, pretending that she does not know the difference between being outspoken and having something to say. Norton is just right with the false geniality of of a man who has given up everything to think of himself as a winner. Craig is a hoot (one of the movie’s best surprises is the reveal of his romantic partner). Monae masters a role that requires a lot of subtlety as the estranged member of the group and looks like a billion bucks as she does so.

What song will Johnson pick for the next one? Which superstars will appear? I can’t wait to find out.

Parents should know that this is a murder mystery with homicides and betrayal. There are some graphic images, characters use strong language and drink and get drunk. The movie also includes sexual references and a sexual situation.

Family discussion: What was the biggest surprise in the movie? How does the Beatles song “Glass Onion” relate to the film? Who should star in the next chapter?

If you like this, try: “Knives Out” and “See How They Run” as well as some of the stories that inspired them: “And Then There Were None,” “The Thin Man,” and the original “Murder on the Orient Express”

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Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Posted on December 21, 2022 at 12:40 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action/violence, rude humor, language and some scary moments
Profanity: Mild schoolyard language and almost-language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy peril and action, comic "deaths," some scary monsters, a character embodies death
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 23, 2022

Copyright 2022 Universal/Dreamworks
The swashbuckling fairy tale cat Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) likes to remind everyone of his heroic, adventurous spirit, his skill with a sword, and his gift for singing. When pressed, as he is in “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” by a doctor, he will admit that he is not much at math. And this is relevant because, as we know, a cat has nine lives, and if Puss had been keeping score he would have realized that he has used up…eight of them. It does not require a lot of math skills to figure out that means he is on his last one and has to be careful.

And that is how, after an opening scene filled with swordplay, acrobatics, and valor, including the defeat of a superbly designed tree giant, Puss ends up living with a cat lady (Da’Vine Joy Randolph, warm-hearted with just a touch of dottiness). “I’m always on the lookout for a new lap cat!” she says. Puss sadly buries his feathered hat and boots and resigns himself to the indignities of blue booties, eating cat chow from a trough, and using a litter box.

But then he discovers there is one chance to reboot his lives. It involves a magical map to the location of a fallen star that can grant just one wish. He is not the only one who wants that wish, though. Goldilocks (a hilarious cockney-accented Florence Pugh) and her three bear crime family (Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman, and Samson Kayo) and Big (formerly Little) Jack Horner (John Mulaney in full sneer mode) want the wish. And so does Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), whose fearlessness and swords(wo)manship are every bit a match for PiB, with a history together that makes them both wary and attracted to one another.

And so, Puss is off on a journey and in a race with the other groups trying to beat him to the wish. And as we expect from the SCU (Shrek Cinematic Universe), there will be humor ranging from sly references for the grown-ups to slapstick for the young and the young at heart. And there will be action, adventure, some heartwarming lessons about friendship and a little bit of romance. It is always fun to see or rather hear “Desperado” co-stars Hayek and Banderas together again.

The character design and movement is very well done, especially the tree giant, the wolf/bounty hunter who represents Death, and Goldilocks. And the animation style is wonderfully dynamic and expressive. I especially enjoyed the mix of animation styles. We are all used to the hyper-realism of CGI, with every hair in a cat’s fur rendered individually. So it was especially nice to see the contrast between that realism and a more impressionistic depiction of fur on the coats of the three bears or the bark on the tree giant. The combination works surprisingly well and a slight strobe effect on some of the action scenes gives them a joyfully dynamic comic-book pop.

This new chapter keeps the best of the series’ humor and heart and adds new touches to keep the story and characters vibrant. If they can keep this up, Puss should have many more lives.

Parents should know that this film has some mild schoolyard language and some almost-language, some potty humor, and extended fantasy action with some peril and violence that almost reaches the PG-13 level, including flashbacks of Puss in Boots’ first eight “deaths.”

Family discussion: If you had nine lives, what chances would you take? What was different about what Golidlocks and Jack Horner wanted to wish for?

If you like this, try: The other Shrek and Puss in Boots movies and the fairy tales and nursery rhymes that inspired them.

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Avatar: The Way of Water

Posted on December 14, 2022 at 5:46 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and intense action, partial nudity and some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended, intense, sometimes graphic peril and violence, characters injured, sad death of a family member
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 16, 2022

Copyright 2022 20th Century
Although writer/director James Cameron has made some of the most innovative and financially successful movies of all time, including “Terminator,” “Titanic,” and the original “Avatar.” But he has said that his real passion is oceans and joked that his movie career is to fund his explorations of the world under water. He brought those two passions together with his “Deepsea Challenge 3D” documentary about his expedition to the deepest part of the ocean. And in this sequel to 2009’s “Avatar” he brings them together again, with much of the story taking place under the clear, sparkling water of Pandora.

Time has passed since the end of the first film. Onetime human soldier Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is living blissfully with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), among the “forest people,” in an Edenic environment of gentle peace with their community and with the land. They have four children, two older boys, a little girl, and an adopted daughter, Kiri, daughter of Dr. Grace Augustine. voiced by Sigourney Weaver, who played Dr. Grace Augustine in the first film. Kiri is the late Dr. Augustine’s daughter. No one knows who her father was. A human boy nicknamed Spider (Jack Champion) is almost another family member, though he must wear a mask on Pandora in order to breathe. Spider’s father was Miles Quaritch, the first film’s human villain, played by Stephen Lang.

Miles is back, now as an avatar, too. The human “sky people” are no longer seeking just Pandora’s precious ore. They now represent the most popular category of movie bad guy in 2022: colonists. He is charged by his commanding officer (Edie Falco) to conquer the natives, and he vows to kill his former fellow soldier, Jake Sully.

As with the first film, the Pandora natives are portrayed as idyllic indigenous people and the humans, with the exception of the kindly lab staff, are mostly brutish and greedy. Their invaders have machine guns and explosives and no compunctions about using children as bait. The Pandorans have spears and arrows. And pure hearts. Cameron is not known for subtlety or depth of character. There’s a reason his most famous character is a cyborg whose breakthrough film had him utter just 17 lines of dialogue. This movie would have been better with less talking, too.

But Cameron is known for spectacular visuals, and “Avatar: The Way of Water” delivers that and then some. When the Sullys leave their home with the forest people and seek asylum with the teal-skinned water people (reminiscent of the recent “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”), much of the story moves on and in the ocean and Cameron’s endless love for that environment is evident in every breathtakingly gorgeous detail, thrillingly immersive in IMAX 3D with Dolby sound. The undersea creatures are spectacularly beautiful and the underwater movements are graceful and balletic or intensely suspenseful as the story demands. Kiri, who loves her family but has always felt something of an outsider, finds her home in the water so believably we begin to feel that way, too. The building blocks of the storyline may be very basic, but the environments where they take place are glorious.

By the end of the movie, the Pandorans no longer seem like giant super-models, with their elongated, slender bodies. They seem like the normal ones and the humans seem tiny and awkward.

The story is just a scaffolding for the world-building. That may make it more of an experience than a movie, but the experience is a fun place to visit.

Parents should know that this film has extended and intense peril and violence. A young character is killed. There are graphic images including a severed arm, dead bodies, and impaled combatants. Characters use some strong language and the costumes are skimpy. There are mild sexual references including questions of paternity.

Family discussion: What circumstances today present the same issues that the Sullys and the water-based Metkayina clan have to consider — protecting their group or caring for those in need, wanting to be peaceful when faced with violence? Does your family have a motto? How are the two Sully brothers different and why?

If you like this, try: “Avatar,” and get ready for three more sequels!

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Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Posted on November 8, 2022 at 12:20 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, action, and some language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Fantasy potion
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and intense comic-book/fantasy peril and violence, very sad deaths, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 11, 2022
Date Released to DVD: February 6, 2023
Copyright 2022 Disney

The sequel to “Black Panther,” like the original, begins with the death of the king. We may think we were prepared for this. We have had two years to mourn Chadwick Boseman, whose instantly iconic portrayal of the title character was powerfully dignified, courageous, dedicated to his people, and yet endearingly vulnerable. Remember how overcome he was by Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). But in the first moments of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” we see Queen Ramonda (a fiercely fiery Angela Bassett) and her scientist/engineer daughter Suri (Letitia Wright) shocked and devastated by the death of their son and brother, King T’Challa, of some unstated illness. Suri had frantically tried to create a synthetic version of the vibranium-infused “heart-shaped herb” that might have been able to heal him. And so, their grief is deepened by a sense of failure. His loss is the end of the Black Panther line because only the herb could grant the superpower strength and agility.

It is clear, though, that it is not just the characters who are in mourning but the actors and the filmmakers, who give Boseman a most loving tribute. Like the people of Wakanda, we have lost a rare and treasured member of our community who had so much more to give us. This is a comic book movie with a lot of tears on screen and I predict a lot in the audience as well.

A year after T’Challa’s death, the queen has taken over as the leader of Wakanda. She appears before a UN panel who accuse her of not living up to her country’s promise to share the extraordinary properties of vibranium, which is found only in their country and is the basis for their extraordinary technology. She tells them that they have shown they will abuse the mineral by adapting it for offensive weapons. She is withholding it, “not for the dangerous nature of vibranium, but for the dangerous nature of you.”

Predictably, the world powers were not going to wait for Queen Ramonda to decide to share vibranium. The US has a vibranium detecting machine — just one — that has located some on the ocean floor. The leader of the previously unknown vibranium-based underwater country is Namor (Tenoch Huerta). He appears before Queen Ramunda with a threat — if she does not Find and kill the inventor of the machine that can find vibranium, he will attack Wakanda.

It is a shock to the exceptionalism of Wakanda’s identity to disco ver that vibranium not only exists in other place; it has also been the basis for an advanced civilization. And they are more protective, even aggressive, in keeping out intruders. Like the first film, which popularized the term “colonizer” as an insult, this film is grounded in the trauma of centuries of plunder and abuse. It lends the series a gravity that makes even the most fanciful elements more meaningful.

Suri and the General of the Wakanda army, Okoye (Danai Gurira) find the inventor, an MIT undergraduate Marvel comic fans will recognize as Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne). She is, like Suri, an engineering genius. And she has a gift for skunkworks machines made from a combination of junkyard finds and uniquely crafted designs. Namor and the Wakandans are not the only people who want the creator of the machine. This leads to a wild chase scene through the streets of Boston, and to both girls being taken to Namor’s Talokan. Suri is curious to learn as much as possible about Talokan. And she is determined to protect Riri.

The movie’s visuals are stunning, wildly imaginative but within the realm of possibility and always gorgeous. Production designer Hannah Beachler, who has worked with writer/director Ryan Coogler since “Fruitvale Station,” and Ruth E. Carter, who was awarded a well-deserved Oscar for “Black Panther’s” costumes, have outdone themselves with one jaw-drooping image after another, always in service of the story. Queen Ramona’s jewelry and costumes match Bassett’s powerful dignity and resolve. The people of Talokan reflect the indigenous designs of South America. Every single time they appear out of the ocean, it is goosebump-inducing. The titles informing us of the locations begin with the native lettering, and then are translated into English, underscoring the respect for the cultures being portrayed, refusing to “other” them.

As I have observed many times before, superhero movies depend, more than the powers of their heroes, on the motives and personality of their villains. Eric Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan in the first film, is, in my opinion, the best Marvel villain of all time. Huerta’s Namor is also a top-level villain, willing to do whatever it takes to protect his people, still furious over what happened to them when they still lived on the land. His conflicts parallel Suri’s, making the dynamic between them more meaningful. Where does justice end and vengeance begin? Is it possible to have one without the other?

This is a movie about the Wakandan women. Winston Duke’s M’Baku and CIA Wakanda expert Ross (Martin Freeman) play important supporting roles, but it is Queen Ramunda, Suri, Okoye, Nokia, and Riri who are at the center of this story. Their interaction, with good will and often good humor (the comments about the dress presented to Shuri by the Talokans is a hoot) is the vibranium that is this film’s superpawer.

Of course there is also that wow of a chase scene and terrific comic-book action. There are some flaws — too much backstory, and the whole idea that killing the inventor would prevent any further efforts to locate more of the world’s most precious substance — but this is a movie that would make T’Challa proud, and it is a worthy tribute to Boseman and to the Marvel writers and artists who first envisioned Wakanda and made us all want it to go on forever.

Parents should know that this movie has intense comic-book peril and violence with characters injured and killed and some painful deaths of family members. Characters use brief fstrong language and there is a non-explicit scene of childbirth.

Family discussion: How are Namor and Suri alike? How are they different? What should Wakanda do about sharing vibranium?

If you like this, try; “Black Panther” and the comic books

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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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