Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

Posted on July 22, 2021 at 5:23 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 (Sequences of Strong Violence|Brief Strong Language)
Profanity: Some strong language, one f-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended , intense, sometimes graphic violence, martial arts, guns, swords, hand-to-hand combat, fire, many characters injured and killed including a child seeing his father murdered
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: July 23, 2021

Copyright Paramount 2021
Paramount is trying to Avenger-ize the G.I. Joe story, starting with origin films for the characters, and that is how we get the awkwardly titled “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe” origins. Of course the real origin of G.I. Joe is a 1960s Hasbro doll, I mean action figure, and now, following the animated television series, comic books, and two movies, it is described as a media franchise. That franchise has a number of characters. Snake Eyes is the mysterious human weapon, a black belt in 12 martial arts disciplines and a master of all kinds of small arms including guns and swords. Following injuries in a previous mission he could no longer speak and he had facial scars which led him to wear a helmet that covered his face most of the time. Little was known about his background because it was “classified.” Until now.

“20 years ago, Washington State” we are told as the movie begins with a young boy and his dad walking through the woods. “Is there a safe in the house?” the boy asks. He overheard his father saying something about a safe house, referring to a cabin where they were staying. But it was not a safe house. Bad guys arrive and kill the boy’s father after forcing him to roll the dice for his life. They came up with two ones: snake eyes. The boy is left alone.

We then move to present day, when the fighter only known as Snake Eyes is in the middle of a no-holds-barred underground bout. Henry Golding (“Crazy Rich Asians”) takes over for Ray Park, who played Snake Eyes in the previous “G.I. Joe” movies. After the fight, a man offers Snake Eyes a job with an offer he cannot refuse, the only thing he wants — the man who killed his father.

His new boss is a weapons smuggler. Things go very wrong, and he ends up saving the life of Tommy (Andrew Koji), the wealthy heir to the Arashikage family, a Japanese klan of ninjas. They escape together and in gratitude Tommy brings Snake Eyes to the Arashikage compound and says they will train him as a ninja — if he can pass three tests, administered by the Hard Master (Iko Uwais) and the Blind Master (Peter Mensah). If Snake Eyes does not pass, he will die.

The tests are among the films highlights, along with some wow-worthy chases and action sequences. The martial arts scenes are dynamic and a lot of fun, with split-second timing and astonishing skill. I also enjoyed the shifting loyalties, depending on the demands of the moment, and the other iconic G.I. Joe characters, Scarlett (a performance of verve and wit from Samara Weaving) and the Baroness (Úrsula Corberó having a lot of fun).

Notice I did not mention the acting or the dialogue, neither of which are worth mentioning. There are some fortune cookie-isms like “If your heart is pure, our secrets will reveal themselves to you.” And I am not persuaded that the G.I. Joe-iverse can match the range of the MCU. But when it comes to summer action blockbusters, this one does the trick.

Parents should know that this is a very violent film with many characters injured and killed, featuring martial arts, guns, swords, fire, chases and explosions. It is what is called “action violence,” meaning not much gore or graphic images. A child witnesses the murder of his parent. There is brief strong language (one f-word).

Family discussion: How did the characters decide what their loyalties were? What did Snake Eyes learn from the first two tests? Do you agree with Sen’s decision about Tommy?

If you like this, try: the G.I. Joe movies and comics

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Black Widow

Posted on July 5, 2021 at 4:44 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 Some Language|Intense Violence/Action|Thematic Material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic book/action-style peril and violence, references to torture and abuse of children, characters are assassins, chases, explosions, guns
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: July 7, 2021

Copyright 2021 Marvel Studios
We’ve waited a long time to find out how Natasha became the Black Widow. While we got to know the male Avengers through individual origin stories about Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man, Natasha was different. We first saw the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) tied to a chair looking very much the victim as she was confronted by some vetough and powerful-looking men. But we learn, as they do, that she is very much in control of the situation. We also learn that unlike the other Avengers, she has no special powers from a radioactive spider-bite or government potion, some fancy equipment, or being born a god. She has her wits and courage and some of what Liam Neeson might call a very special set of skills. Through the Avengers films we saw that she was the heart of the group, kind, empathetic, willing to sacrifice herself out of a sense of integrity and, perhaps, redemption.

We wanted to know more. But it took time to persuade Marvel Studios, and then, just as we were all ready to get Natasha a film of her own, its release was delayed in the summer of 2020 due to the pandemic, so it was not until now, a year later, that it is finally here. Even with all that has gone on, “Black Widow” quickly puts us back in the world of the Avengers. And, it continues Marvel’s cleverest strategy, allowing each character to inhabit a world that is distinctive in tone and atmosphere as it maintains a clear, strong central sense of its world.

Who could have guessed that we would find Natasha in 1995 Ohio? But that is where we start, a young girl with blue hair (Ever Anderson, a believable young Johansson) riding her bicycle home at dinner time. She greets her younger sister affectionately, and then, when the littler girl hurts her knee, their mother, like mothers since mothers began, kisses it to make it better. But this mother does something a little different. She tells her daughters that pain makes you stronger. And then what seems like a typical suburban family dinner turns out more than a little different. The father comes home and tells the family something they have clearly prepared for has happened and they have to leave right away. And they do leave, the house and the country, in an exciting, if improbably escape. We will soon learn that this may not meet any traditional definition of “family” at all. Indeed, questions about what is family and what we need from families is as central to this film as the chases, fights, exotic locations, and fight scenes.

We skip ahead 21 years from that wild escape. Natasha is living off the grid following the “divorce” of the Avengers. She is considered an enemy following the assassination of King T’Chaka of Wakanda in “Captain America: Civil War.” But a package from Yelena (Florence Pugh) brings her back into the fight. Starting with a fight with Yelena herself, one of the film’s highlights. The scenes with the two of them crackle and bolster hope that the rumors of a Yelena affiliation with the Avengers.

Director Cate Shortland balances the action scenes — a prison break is a highlight — with family moments that are sometimes very funny (wait for Yelena on The Pose, and David Harbour as Natasha’s closest equivalent to a “good father”) and sometimes touching (Rachel Weisz as the mother equivalent, a pig-experimenting scientist who takes time to add a dramatic smokey eye when she dons a jumpsuit for action).

And of course there is a powerful adversary with a high-tech lair and a private army that holds the key to Natasha’s persona. It tells you all you need to know that those scenes are fine, but will likely leave you waiting a little impatiently for the next moments with the family, reminding us again that family may be frustrating, may even be dysfunctional, but those we are born into and those we choose are still where home is.

Parents should know that as with all superhero movies, this included extended peril and action, which characters injured and killed. There is some strong language and references to forced sterilization.

Family discussion: Why did Natasha take a different path than other people around her? Is there a key to unlocking fear?

If you like this, try: the Avengers movies and some of Johansson’s other films like “Jojo Rabbit,” “Her,” and “Hail, Ceasar”

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The Boss Baby: Family Business

Posted on July 1, 2021 at 5:59 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG (Rude Humor|Mild Language|Some Action)
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Potion
Violence/ Scariness: Extended cartoon-style action, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 2, 2021

Copyright 2021 Universal
2017’s “Boss Baby” was a happy surprise. It took the classic theme of sibling rivalry to a hilarious extreme, revealing that the family’s new baby, Theodore (“Ted”), is literally a boss. He arrives complete with suit, tie, Rolex, briefcase, a job at Baby Corp, and the ultra-adult voice of Alec Baldwin. The older brother, Tim, is initially jealous and hostile, but ultimately joins forces with him to complete his mission.

In this sequel (following the interactive Netflix film, “Boss Baby: Back in Business”), Ted (Baldwin again) and Tim (James Marsden) are grown up. Tim is very happy as a devoted and imaginative stay-at-home Dad to Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt), the brightest student at a fancy private school) and her baby sister Tina (Amy Sederis), but he misses Ted, who is now a very successful executive who works all the time and instead of spending time with the family just sends “inappropriately lavish gifts,” including a horse named Precious. Tabitha seems to be following in her uncle’s footsteps, telling her dad she is too old for bedtime stories and goodnight kisses.

It turns out that it is Tina who is really following in her uncle’s first tentative toddler footsteps. She is a boss baby in a pantsuit, and on behalf of BabyCorp, she is there to bring her father and uncle back together and, while they are sorting things out, to save the world.

In the first film, Baby Corp had to save the world from a villain who was trying to make puppies cuter than babies. This time it is Dr. Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum), the founder and principal of Tabitha’s school who is plotting a baby takeover by zombie-fying the adults, starting with the parents of his students when they are all together at the school recital. Ted and Tim drink a potion that will return them to babyhood (Ted) and childhood (Tim) so they can infiltrate the school and stop Armstrong’s evil plot.

Like the first film, this one has a delightful mix of understated humor (wait until you see the holiday pageant song about climate change), wild fantasy, cheeky needle-drop songs and pop culture references (from “Rocky Horror’s” “Time Warp” to Flock of Seagulls, “Norma Rae,” and a “comfort plant”). Plus some of the best-constructed action scenes in animated films, exciting, fun, and funny, and then exciting again. And there are some great moments with my favorite character, Wizzie the Wizard toy, magnificently voiced by James McGrath in tones usually heard only in Shakespeare’s plays or “Lord of the Rings” or supervillains. It’s fast, fun, and funny, but it is the heartfelt sense of joy in family, however different we may be, that keeps me hoping for another sequel.

Parents should know that this film has extended cartoon-style peril and action including chases, ninjas with swords and throwing stars, and vertiginous climbs. Characters use some schoolyard language and there is potty humor. A theme of the movie is sibling rivalry and family estrangement.

Family discussion: Is Tina a different kind of boss than Ted? Why are Ted and Tim so different? Why didn’t Armstrong like grown-ups? What name would you choose for your secret identity? What do you think is more important than money?

If you like this, try: the other “Boss Baby” movies and “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”

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F9

Posted on June 22, 2021 at 8:47 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language, action, sequences of violence
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Beer
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril ad violence, shooting, explosions, martial arts, many people killed or injured
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 25, 2021

Copyright 2021 Universal
Let’s be real, if we can use a word like “real” to describe a series of films that parted ways with reality at least six or seven movies ago. But, knowing that, if you’re still here and I’m still here, we’ve pretty much agreed that’s okay and so the usual information potential ticket-buyers look for in a movie review is not really relevant. So, we can do what this movie does, and cut to the chase.

Here’s what you need to know. Director Justin Lin and his co-producer/star Vin Diesel know why we’re here; we want to see some crazy action scenes with characters we know so well that when Dom says once again that he doesn’t have friends; he has family, we almost feel that we’re part of the family now, too. So, “F9” delivers what the fans want, which is more and wilder action, and a bit more family, too. In fact, this time we get some backstory, with teenage brother and sister Dom (Diesel) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their dad, race car driver Jack Toretto (JD Pardo). It turns out there’s another brother, too, Jakob (Finn Cole). And we get to see how a tragedy on the racecourse leads to the brothers going in different directions. Jakob comes back into the story as John Cena.

If you’re a casual fan, all you need to know is that this movie has a lot of fun, if highly improbable, action scenes, including Vin Diesel as a passenger in a crazy car chase through London with none other than Dame Helen Mirren at the wheel. If you’re really into the series, you’ll want to know that many other favorite characters return, some more surprisingly than others. Also, if you’re really into the series you already know that the third movie in the series is the eighth in the chronology (also the first directed by Lin). That movie ended with another tragic exploding car death, of a mentor named Han (Sung Kang). But if we’ve learned one thing from this series, it is that sometimes people you think were either dead or bad turn out to be neither.

Two scenes I particularly loved will be the best litmus test for your decision on whether to buy a ticket (and if you do, please make it the Dolby experience). We’ve all seen fights before. We’ve seen fights where our two guys take on six bad guys. We’ve probably seen fights in the back of a big moving van, but here’s where the “Fast and Furious” franchise says to themselves, “How can we make things even more interesting?” And at some point someone says, “Let’s have the fight take place when the van is being (a) being chased by more bad guys, (b) being driven by someone who has never driven before, and (c) carrying the world’s most powerful electro-magnet, which is being turned on and off, sometimes on purpose and sometimes not. Wow.

The other scene has Roman, the comic relief character played by the almost-impossibly handsome Tyrese, says something that does not quite break the fourth wall between the characters and the audience but bends it a little. He mentions the un-mentionable — somehow no matter how many of the most lethal weapons ever conceived are shooting and exploding all around them, no matter how outnumbered they are, no matter how many impossible jumps they attempt to make in vehicles, somehow they all walk away without a scratch. Could it be, he wonders, that they’re not human? The real-life answer is that they’re not; they’re fictional characters. His conjecture is, maybe, that they could be un-killable? The real-life answer to that one is yes, as long as people keep buying tickets to the sequels.

In another scene, a character says, “If this was a movie, this would be when….” just to remind us that they know we know.

They can’t make the title any shorter. What’s the next one going to be called, just F? Will there be another “Hobbs & Shaw?” A spin-off about Dom’s early days? If they feature Helen Mirren and a Pontiac Fiero shot into space or whatever even crazier stuff they can dream up, I’m in.

NOTE: Stay for the mid-credits sequence for another familiar face.

Parents should know that this film includes constant action and peril including teenagers witnessing the death of a parent in a fiery crash and endless shoot-outs and chases, one through a minefield. Characters use strong language and drink beer. Bad guys plot world domination.

Family discussion: When does someone deserve a second chance? Should Letty have called Mia?

If you like this, try: the other films in the series, especially “Tokyo Drift” and “Hobbs & Shaw.”

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The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

Posted on June 15, 2021 at 7:40 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style violence with guns, knives, many characters injured and killed, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 16, 2021

Copyright Lionsgate 2021
The reunion that meant the most to me in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” was not Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson reprising their roles from the 2017 original but the re-uniting of Desperado stars Selma Hayek and Antonio Banderas. They are still two of the most sizzlingly combustible actors in the world, and it is a delight to see them together again, if a reminder that their micro-budgeted first film together had more electrifying energy than this macro-budget extravaganza.

But the focus of the story is on Reynolds, who returns as by-the-book, triple-A rated, fasten-your-seatbelt bodyguard Michael Bryce, and Jackson as Darius Kinkaid, a “rules, what rules?”-type hitman, plus Hayek as his even more out-of-control wife Sonia. In other words, the usual superego vs. id match-up in action comedies featuring a lot of chases and explosions and quippy banter.

In the first film Bryce was in disgrace for failing to protect a world leader, and reduced to protecting wealthy businessmen when he was assigned to Kinkaid, on his way to testify against a ruthless dictator in exchange for getting Sonia out of prison. This time, we see that experience has severely traumatized Bryce, as his therapist exasperatedly tells him to go off on a vacation somewhere far away from bodyguarding and especially far away from guns and killing.

But no one would buy a ticket and go back into a theater for the first time in more than a year to see that. So of course as soon as Bryce settles into a beach chair, Sonia arrives, guns blazing (a lot of killing of innocent bystanders in this movie) to get Bryce to help her free her husband from some kidnappers.

After that, it’s just pretty much bang/bang/banter (“Capri? Like the pants?”), bang/chase/explosion/wisecrack (“Your mouth needs an exorcism”) in a variety of colorful locations. There are some references and cameos from the original film that only the most devoted fans will find of interest. What there is of plot is unlikely to be of much interest beyond an engine to get us to the next shoot-out or capture. Frank Grillo and Caroline Goodall are underused as American operatives who decide to use the Kinkaids for their own purposes and even Banderas cannot make much of his generic bad guy. Rebecca Front is terrific in a brief opening scene as Bryce’s frustrated therapist, but then disappears for the rest of the film. The action scenes are serviceably staged but what works best here, unsurprisingly, is the fun that Reynolds and Jackson have with their roles. Jackson could probably bark out profanities better than just about anyone while doing a backflip and knitting a sweater, but the cool thing is that he never brings anything less than his top game to it and it is never less than delicious. And Reynolds has the very rare ability to make vulnerability funny. Pass the popcorn. Summer movies are back.

Parents should know that this is an intense and gory action comedy with chases, explosions, guns, and knives. Many characters are injured and killed with some graphic images. Reynolds spends much of the movie covered in blood spatter. There are family issues, and there is constant very strong language. The portrayal of mental illness is insensitive a best, but this is not a movie that worries about sensitivity. There are sexual references and explicit (humorous) situations and discussions of fertility.

Family discussion: How did Bryce’s conflicts with his father affect his view of himself? What would you say to your future self?

If you like this, try: the first film in the series and other action comedies like “Spy” and “Mr. Right”

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