Creed II

Posted on November 20, 2018 at 10:37 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sports action violence, language, and a scene of sensuality
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and graphic fight scenes, serious injury, fighter killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 20, 2018
Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers

Like a Timex watch and like Rocky himself, the Rocky franchise takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Here we are, four decades later, and Rocky Balboa is still going. “Creed,” written and directed by Ryan Coogler in between “Fruitvale Station” and “Black Panther,” was an unexpected upgrade, as Adonis Creed, the son of Rocky’s opponent in the original Oscar-winning film took over, angry, with a chip on his shoulder, and itching for a fight. Michael B. Jordan is a brilliant actor with sizzling screen charisma, and it was, well, a knockout. He was on his way to becoming a champ and to making a life with a beautiful hearing-impaired singer (Tessa Thompson).

Coogler produced this next chapter, written by the original Rocky, Sylvester Stallone, who returns as Creed’s coach and mentor, the guy you always want in your corner. And one thing Stallone knows how to do is step up the stakes. Entertainment Weekly once wrote that “It’s hard to find anything more 80’s than Rocky IV.” Just before the Cold War would draw to a close, “Rocky IV” had Stallone battling a Soviet fighting machine named Drago (Dolph Lundgren) with an ice queen of a wife (Brigitte Nielsen, who would be Mrs. Stallone briefly).  After Drago kills Apollo Creed in the ring, Rocky fights him on behalf of Apollo and of course on behalf of America and freedom, and Rocky-ism.

And now, in the eighth film in the series, Drago’s son, trained by his bitter, brutal father (Lundgren again), challenges Adonis, newly crowned heavyweight champion, to a fight on behalf of Apollo, America, freedom, and Rocky-ism.  One fighter is bigger and tougher, but he has been trained with hate. The other has been trained with heart . Time for the classic Bill Conti score again.

Michael B. Jordan is mesmerizing on screen and so completely authentic that he makes even the soapiest moments real and engrossing.  Is Rocky going to refuse to train Adonis to fight Drago’s son (Florian Munteanu) just to create an opportunity for extra drama? Will there be ten-counts? Will there be a proposal, a baby, a reconciliation? Maybe two? Cornerman pep talks about “this is your house” and commentary on the business side of boxing (“The belt ain’t enough — you need a narrative, something that sticks to the ribs”)?  Decadent Russian oligarchs in a dining room that looks like it belongs to Count Dracula?  A camera shot that makes us feel like one of Drago, Jr.’s fists is coming right at us?  Callbacks to “Rocky IV?”  (In that film, Lundgren said only 46 words. In this one, he says a few more but some of them are the same words. Nielsen, on the other hand, is in the film but her ex-husband did not give her more than a few words to say.)  Dramatic moments in the audience, as women watch the fights — or don’t?  All of that, plus, in case we miss anything, a lot of expository narration from the sports announcers. 

Oh sure, it’s cheese.  But it’s Rocky, and it still works.

Parents should know that this film includes extended and graphic scenes of boxing with severe injuries, references to a boxer who died following a fight, brief strong language, and a non-explicit sexual situation.

Family discussion: How did the different goals Adonis and Viktor had for the fight affect them? What made Ivan Drago change his mind? What do we learn from Adonis’ night with the baby?

If you like this, try: the “Rocky” movies and “Warrior”

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Drama movie review Movies Movies Series/Sequel Sports

Uncle Drew

Posted on June 28, 2018 at 5:58 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for suggestive material, language and brief nudity
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Theme of aging, medical issues
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 29, 2018
Date Released to DVD: September 24, 2018
Copyright Lionsgate 2018

There are a lot of movies based on books and plays, and many movies based on songs and video games. And now, apparently, we’ve got a movie based on a television commercial. “Uncle Drew” is inspired by a 2012 series of Pepsi ads written and directed by and featuring real-life NBA player and science skeptic Kyrie Irving, disguised as an old man, astonishing some neighborhood hoopsters with his sweet moves. This version expands the story by adding more real-life players and upping the stakes to the $100,000 prize at the real-life Rucker Park competition in Harlem.

Basically, the serviceable script by Jay Longino and spirited direction from Charles Stone III (“Drumline”) follows the classic formula of all underdog sports movies, but it does so with three key assets. First, there’s an awesome dance-off scene, always a good thing, and here it is especially delightful because it turns out that people who are the best in the world at basketball have some sweet moves off the court as well.  Second, even for someone who is not a sports fan, the skills they show off here are not just impressive; they are truly aesthetically beautiful. Third is the fun these athletes are clearly having, so palpable it is genuinely infectious.  And for those who are sports fans, there are lots of inside jokes including one about too many time outs.

And they have the able support of “Get Short’s” Lil Rel Howery, “Girls Trip’s” Tiffany Haddish, and Nick Kroll, who must be getting a kick out of seeing someone else in old age makeup after wearing it every night in his “Oh, Hello” show on Broadway with John Mulaney.

So, no surprise here, Howery plays Dax, a coach who has put everything into his team in hopes of winning at Rucker Park. When his players and his gold-digging girlfriend (Haddish) are swiped by his rival (Kroll), the same guy whose block in a high school game shamed Dax into deciding never to play again.

Desperate, Dax invites veteran player Uncle Drew (Irving) to put a team together to compete for the prize. This means a road trip to visit each of the former members of what was once the Harlem Buckets. There’s a preacher who holds a baby about to be baptized as though he was a basketball (Chris Webber), a legally blind assisted living resident (Reggie Miller), a silent grandfather in a wheelchair (Nate Robinson), and a martial arts instructor (Shaquille O’Neal).  The preacher also has a wife who does not want him to go.  She is very tall.  She is also played by former WNBA player Lisa Leslie, so don’t be surprised if she gets called in as a replacement at a crucial moment.

It’s very silly, but surprisingly sweet and its unpretentiousness makes this at least a two-pointer.

Parents should know that this film includes crude humor, sexual references, a brief image of a bare butt, and some medical/aging issues.

Family discussion: Why did one bad experience make Dax quit playing basketball?  Why was it so hard for Uncle Drew to apologize?

If you like this, try: “Like Mike”

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies Sports

Early Man

Posted on February 15, 2018 at 12:00 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for rude humor and some action
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and threats of violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 16, 2018
Date Released to DVD: May 21, 2018
Copyright 2018 Summit

Even lesser Aardman is still worth watching. “Early Man” is decidedly lesser Aardman than the sublime “Wallace and Gromit” series and “Shaun the Sheep,” but that still makes it a pleasant little treat.

The “early men” are Stone Age denizens Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his friends, led by the Chief (Timothy Spall), who appears to be quite elderly, but that’s by Stone Age standards. He’s in his 30’s. These people are extremely primitive. They live in caves and their most advanced technology is Flintstones-style use of animals (beetles as hair clippers, tiny crocodiles as clothespins for what barely, and I mean that literally, qualify as clothes). They are not quite sure what it means to be human, and I mean that literally as well. One “member” of their group is a boulder they refer to as “Mr. Rock.” They barely qualify as hunter/gatherers. While they go out with spears every day to try to get rabbits to eat, they are not very good at communicating with each other, or aiming, or hitting anything they aim at.

And then one day their idyllic little territory is invaded by a group riding armor-clad mammoths. It is the Bronze Age and they want to take over the area for mining. Ultimately, it will come down to an unusual but rather progressive way for solving border disputes: a soccer game (which they call football). On one side, champions who are highly skilled professionals with lots of experience but are arrogant prima donnas. On the other side, a bunch of people who have not yet invented the wheel and have never played before. But they have two advantages: a gifted Bronze Age player who has never been allowed on the field because she is a woman (now you know why we call sexism prehistoric), and, just possibly, the ability to work together as a team.

I am a devoted Anglophile, but got the strong sense that some of the references went past me and are only understandable to true insiders, especially those who follow soccer, I mean football. Some of Aardman’s quirky whimsy flickers in now and then. The opening title cards tell us when and where we are: “The Neo-Pleistocene Era”/“near Manchester”/“around lunchtime”). The message bird played by “The Trip’s” Rob Brydon is very funny, too, and the tactile, bug-eyed goofiness of the Aardman characters is always endearing.

Parents should know that there is some comic peril and violence and threatened more serious violence as well as some schoolyard language and potty humor.

Family discussion: Why did the Bronze Age community develop when the Stone Age did not? Will the Stone Age people try to get some of the advantages of the Bronze Age? Why did learning about the past make them doubt themselves?

If you like this, try: “The Crudes” and the “Wallace and Gromit” and “Shaun the Sheep” series

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Animation Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Fantasy Sports

I, Tonya

Posted on December 7, 2017 at 8:12 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for pervasive language, violence, and some sexual content/nudity
Profanity: Extensive very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Some violence including attack
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 8, 2017

Copyright 2017 Neon
In one of “I, Tonya’s” most striking scenes, Margo Robbie as figure skating star Tonya Harding looks at herself in the mirror after applying her make-up for a competition. It is stark, garish, clown-like, and scary, less like beauty than like warpaint. Harding is trying to hide the heartbreak of her life when she is on the one place where everything is pretty and perfect, but in trying to make herself look pretty and perfect she has created a monster. That scene exemplifies the movie’s themes about public and private personas and the way they can crash into each other with terrible destructive force.

In 1994, Nancy Kerrigan, one of Harding’s rivals, was attacked by a Shane Stant (Ricky Russert), who had been hired by two of history’s most incompetent criminals, Harding’s estranged husband, Jeff Gilhooly (Sebastian Stan) and his dimwitted friend Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser). Though Harding was not involved or even aware of this plan, news reports of the era emphasized the contrast between ice princess Kerrigan, and blue-collar Harding. In reality, Kerrigan was also from a modest background, but her appearance and routines were more elegant and graceful, while Harding adopted a bad girl persona, calling herself the “Charles Barkley of figure skating.” The problem is that figure skating is not just about skill and technique. It is about the show, and it is about the persona. Judges and fans expect more than athletic achievement.
They expect elegance and grace on and off the rink. They want the ice princess.

Allison Janney is incendiary as Harding’s abusive mother, constantly pushing her and demeaning her, often hitting her, too. With no affection or approval at home, she was drawn to Gilhooly, the first male to pay any attention to her, and when he became abusive, that seemed normal, too.
Director Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”) and screenwriter Steven Rogers (“Stepmom,” “Love the Coopers”), promise us at the beginning a story “based on irony-free, wildly contradictory and totally true interviews,” and they deliver. Like “The Disaster Artist,” this film takes us behind the scenes of a real-life catastrophe based on dreams of stardom, hopeless miscalculation about their own abilities, and a distorted, media-fueled idea of reality. We may watch expecting to laugh and feel superior, but the prismatic approach, with characters speaking to us to explain their perspectives (or try to put the blame on each other) is surprisingly sympathetic, grounded, and insightful.

Parents should know that this film includes constant very strong and crude language, sexual references and situations, nudity, drinking, drugs, smoking, and violence, including domestic abuse.

Family discussion: Who was responsible for attacking Nancy Kerrigan? Why does the movie call itself “irony-free?” Do you agree that Americans “want someone to hate?”

If you like this, try: “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom” and “Tonya Harding: Anything to Win”

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Based on a true story Drama Family Issues movie review Movies Movies Sports

Battle of the Sexes

Posted on September 21, 2017 at 9:53 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, cigarettes
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 22, 2017
Date Released to DVD: January 1, 2018

Copyright Fox Searchlight
“You’ve come a long way, baby!” was the 1970’s slogan for a cigarette for women. Virginia Slims were marketed as a badge of liberation and sophistication. They had a woman’s slightly naughty-sounding name and a word with a lot of appeal to female consumers (and a suggestion that they would aid in keeping weight down). They had a kicky advertising campaign. And they were the only commercial product willing to sponsor the brand new Women’s Tennis Association, founded by tennis champion Billie Jean King to protest the pay differential in professional tennis, with women making a fraction of the prize money awarded to the men. When they raised the issue, they were told that women’s tennis was not as interesting (even though they sold as many or more tickets at the same price as the tickets to see the men play) and because the men had families to support. It may now seem absurd, or at least off-brand to have a women’s athletic competition sponsored by a cigarette, but probably no more absurd than the argument that “the men’s tennis is more exciting to watch; it’s biology.”

One-time men’s tennis champ Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was a bit of a sexist and more than a bit of a showman, and much more than a bit of a gambler. And so he bragged that even in his 50’s he could beat the top-ranked women’s player. Margaret Court accepted the challenge, and he triumphed in a humiliating defeat. And so, Billie Jean King agreed to play him in something between a sporting event and a three ring circus, complete with marching band, scantily dressed cheerleaders in Sugar Daddy outfits, and the ceremonial presentation by King to Riggs of an actual pig.

So, not your usual night on ESPN, which, of course, had not been invented yet. This was front-page news in the midst of the fight for what people were still calling “women’s liberation.” This was consciousness raising whether you liked it or not.

It is especially suitable that this film was directed by a female/male team: Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (“Little Miss Sunshine”). They found the human story, the vulnerability, the drive, the fear, the resolve behind the hoopla and hyperbole, and they have made a film about real people that is moving and, even though we know the outcome of the game, suspenseful.

Bobby Riggs would have been a public feminist if he could make a dollar at it. (A dollar, by the way, is what the original players in King’s Women’s Tennis Association were paid to sign up.) He would cheerfully admit, except possibly to his wealthy wife (Elisabeth Shue), that he was more of a showman and a huckster than an athlete. Billie Jean King was a determined, disciplined athlete at the forefront of the Gloria Steinem era of feminists. She was companionably married to Larry King (not the TV show host), but she was beginning to admit to herself that she was attracted to women. Her hairstylist, Marilyn (Andrea Reisborough), leans in and brushes her hand on Billie Jean’s cheek. The woman who never allowed herself any distractions has met a distraction she cannot ignore.

Faris and Dayton create the environment of the 70’s without any air quotes. The cinematography, the score, the deft use of Howard Cosell’s actual commentary during the match (at one point, he says approvingly that King moves like a man), evoke the era without exaggeration or snottiness. Every performance shines, including Sarah Silverman in the Eve Arden wry sidekick role. The film is generous to all of its characters, even the real and metaphorical pigs.

Parents should know that this film includes sexual references and an explicit situation with some nudity, issues of sexual orientation, some crude language, alcohol, cigarettes, sexism, and homophobia.

Family discussion: What is different today and what hasn’t changed? Why did Billie Jean King decide to play Bobby Riggs?

If you like this, try: Footage of the real King/Riggs game

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