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

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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Good Boys

Posted on August 15, 2019 at 5:36 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong crude sexual content, drug and alcohol material, and language throughout - all involving tweens
Profanity: Very explicit, profane, and crude language used by young adults and 6th graders
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs and alcohol use by young adults and 6th graders, drug dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril with one gross injury, no one badly hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 16, 2019

Copyright Universal 2019
If I could, I’d give “Good Boys” three different grades. I’d give it a B+ for the sweet, smart depiction of that stage of life — equally exhilarating and excruciating — when we make the thrilling, terrifying, transition from child to adult. I’d give it a B for the fun of the adventure the boys go on when they are trying to replace an expensive drone they broke trying to spy on a girl and her boyfriend. But I would give it a D for the cheapness of its humor, relying so heavily on 6th graders using the F word, trying beer and porn, buying drugs, and not understanding the cache of sex toys they find. I don’t find that funny. So, overall, I am not recommending this film. But I will give it credit for the parts that work, and recommend it only for anyone who finds it hilarious to see a child with a ball gag in his mouth — because two other children are trying to re-set his dislocated shoulder on their way to buying molly from some dealer in a fraternity.

The most significant conversation in the film is when a 6th grader is listening to two teenage girls who are close friends and realizes that they have only known each other a few years. He learns for the first time that the friends you make in grade school may not be the friends you have forever, and like so many revelations at that stage of life, this discovery is deeply disconcerting but also intriguing, opening up a whole new world of possibilities — and risks.

Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams), and Thor (Brady Noon) are best, best friends who call themselves the Bean Bag Boys. They do everything together and believe they always will. But one element of this stage of life is that any given 6th grader will go back and forth across the line between sophistication and abstract reasoning and a growing awareness of how much they don’t know (and how much even the adults around them don’t know) back to the more childish perspective. These are kids who have been lectured at school about the importance of consent but are not entirely clear on what it is that is being consented to. At this age, the people you feel close to are at a million different points along that continuum as well, so maybe you don’t feel as close to them anymore. As one of them acknowledges, hormones are making them crazy. The movie opens with him using a video game to expand the boobs of an avatar so he can masturbate — until then his father (Will Forte) comes in, sees what is happening, and congratulates his son for growing up.

Dad goes out of town warning his son not to touch the valuable drone he has for his work. But when Max desperately needs to learn how to kiss because he is invited to his first kissing party and the girl he loves and plans to marry but has not yet spoken to will be there and if he does not go and kiss her then life will have no meaning, he decides using the drone to spy on the teenage girl and her college age boyfriend is the answer to his problem. This is after he and the other Bean Bag Boys try doing a Google search for porn and discover it does not have much kissing. The girl is Hannah (Molly Gordon) and she and her best friend (Midori Francis as Lily) refuse to give it back. The boys take Hannah’s purse, which has some molly in a children’s vitamin bottle. (One of the movie’s funniest running jokes is the inability of the boys to open a child guard cap.)

And so the adventure begins, with the boys needing to get or replace the drone and the girls needing to get back or replace the drugs.

There are many sweet and funny moments, and the kids are great. There are wonderfully telling details, like the school anti-bullying squad. But the film cannot overcome the unpleasantness of the cheap humor and the sinking feeling that the filmmaking experience itself merits a visit from Child Protective Services.

Parents should know that this is a story about 6th graders that includes extremely raunchy, explicit material involving very crude and graphic sexual content, drugs and alcohol, some mild peril and violence, and very strong and crude language.

Family discussion: Who are your beanbag boys? What made them friends? Why did Thor decide not to audition?

If you like this, try: “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express”

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Blinded by the Light

Posted on August 15, 2019 at 5:35 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material and language including some ethnic slurs
Profanity: Some strong language including racist terms
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril, racist attacks
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: August 16, 2019

Copyright 2019 Warner Brothers
If we’re lucky, some time in August, as the big blockbusters of July taper off, we get a heartwarming little indie film to brighten the end of the summer. This year we are very lucky. The film is “Blinded by the Light,” set in Thatcher-era England, where the teenage son of Pakistani immigrants heard a song that seemed to explain the world to him. More than that, it explained him to himself. The song was by someone who was not British, Pakistani, or a teenager, but to Sarfraz Manzoor, New Jersey rocker Bruce Springsteen understood him better than anyone he knew.

Around the same time, Gurinder Chadha, the daughter of Indian immigrants in England, was also listening to Springsteen. Manzoor became a journalist whose memoir about his love for Springsteen (Greetings from Bury Park) then inspired Chadha, the director of films like “Bend It Like Beckham,” to make it into a movie.

The character based on Manzoor is Javed (newcomer Viveik Kalra), who dreams of being a writer. He writes poems that he does not share with anyone, even his sympathetic teacher (Hayley Atwell). The world around him seems bleak, unforgiving, and uncaring. An anti-immigration white supremacist group called the National Front is organizing protests and Javed and his family are subjected to harassment and racist graffiti. Javed’s father is strict, holding on to traditions as he is anxious about a lack of control when he is unable to support the family. His son’s sensitivity and inclination to assimilate into English culture makes him even more anxious. Javed’s mother is sympathetic but she has to work around the clock as a seamstress to earn money and does not want to put more pressure on her husband by challenging him. Javed has one friend who shares his love of music, but his freedom and ease only sharpens Javed’s sense of himself as isolated and ineffectual.

At school he meets a Sikh classmate named Roops (Aaron Phagura) who gives him a Springsteen CD. Chadha’s endearingly cinematic depiction of Javed’s reaction to the songs — the words as much as the music — beautifully conveys the jubilant, visceral reaction to truly connecting with another person, whether it is Gene Kelly splashing in puddles to celebrate falling in love or just knowing that somewhere in the world there is someone who has seen into your deepest secret heart and understands and accepts you. For Javed, who cannot fit into his father’s notion of who he should be but is not exactly sure who he will be instead, Bruce shows him the transformational power of putting feelings into words and music. A voice that means the world to him brings him closer to trusting his own voice.

As in “Bend it Like Beckham,” Chadha’s gift for kinetic storytelling reflects the turbulent emotion of the young protagonists. There are so many lovely details and moments — Rob Brydon (of “The Trip” movies) as the Springsteen-loving father of Javed’s friend, Javed’s discovery that his sister has found her own way to be herself, and of course a sweet romance, complete with a musical number that Gene Kelly himself would appreciate. Most important, the movie shows us that the feelings and the issues Bruce was singing about in the 70’s that spoke to Manzoor in the 80’s are still powerfully speaking to us today. Just as Springsteen let Manzoor know that his feelings were real and valid and understood and could be expressed, so Manzoor and Chadha tell us that with this lovely film.

Parents should know that this film includes racist language and attacks, some strong language, family tensions, mild sexual references, and kissing.

Family discussion: What was it about Springsteen’s music that made it so meaningful to Javed? How did listening to the music give him courage? What music is meaningful to you?

If you like this, try: “Bend it like Beckham” from the same director, and the music and autobiography of Bruce Springsteen

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Where’d You Go Bernadette

Posted on August 14, 2019 at 5:44 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language and drug material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Family stress and loss, reference to serious illness of a child and miscarriages
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 16, 2019

Copyright 2019 Annapurna Pictures
The screen adaptation of Maria Semple’s charming book, Where’d You Go Bernadette is…less charming, though perfectly pleasant in a late summer comfort food kind of way. Semple, a sharp and witty writer for television (“Mad About You,” “90210,””Arrested Development”) moved from LA to Seattle and her sense of dislocation inspired the book, with a sharp take on the crunchy, self-consciously wholesome culture of the Pacific Northwest in contrast to the glossier, smugger world of Los Angeles. Note the title, a question without a question mark. And in this version, the question mark-less question is for no discernible reason, answered at the very beginning, followed by most of the film as a flashback.

Missing the epistolary format of the book, which allows us to follow much of the storyline through the characters’ voices, the sharpness is softened in Richard Linklater’s film. Cate Blanchett plays Bernadette, a devoted mother of Bee (newcomer Emma Nelson). Clinically, she might be classified as struggling with depression or anxiety or agoraphobia, but as we will learn, the behavior that is un-social and non-productive is her way of responding to devastating personal and professional loss. She does not want to talk to anyone, except maybe Bee, with whom she has an easy, natural connection. Bernadette loves her husband, Elgy (Billy Crudup), but he has a demanding job at Microsoft, the reason for their move to Seattle, and is not around much. Bernadette ran from personal and professional loss by devoting herself to Bee. But now Bee will be going away to boarding school and she has nowhere to run.

Bernadette is an architect, but her house is a mess of unfinished repairs. When she spots a bump under the carpet that turns out to be a blackberry bush sprout from beneath the house, instead of pulling it up by the roots she neatly scores the carpet to bend the corners back and staple them to the floor so the bush can keep growing. She has contempt for the moms at Bee’s school who go on about their compost heaps. She refers to them as “gnats” and she is not above some passive aggression, including allowing one to create a lot of damage.

Elgy’s new assistant there is Soo-Lin (Zoe Chao), one of the gnats, who loves to gossip about how weird Bernadette is with Audrey (Kristen Wiig), one of those “Big Little Lies”-type school moms who likes to run everything, talks about her perfect life a lot, and has very strong views on how everyone should behave.

Bee reminds her parents that they rashly promised her a wish if she got perfect grades all through middle school. Her wish is a trip to Antarctica. Bernadette wants to give Bee her dream, but for someone who can barely leave the house, it is an insurmountable challenge — until other challenges of staying home become even more insurmountable.

This is disappointingly one-dimensional work from one of the world’s most talented and versatile directors, Richard Linklater. Instead of the innovative, perceptive work we saw in “Boyhood,” the “Before” series, “School of Rock,” “Waking Life,” “Bernie,” and “Everybody Wants Some!!” “Where’d You Go Bernadette” has all the depth of the Charlene song “I’ve Never Been to Me.”

Parents should know that this film has some strong language, some mayhem, some mild peril, and some discussion of miscarriages and serious medical conditions.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Bernadette tell her family where she was going? What problems are you good at solving?

If you like this, try: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” also starring Wiig.

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Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Posted on August 8, 2019 at 5:48 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action and some impolite humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language ("freakin' awesome")
Alcohol/ Drugs: Hallucinogenic pollen
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style peril and violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 8, 2019

Copyright 2019 Nickelodeon
Six year old Dora and her cousin and best friend Diego are enjoying their dinner in Dora’s home in the rainforest. Dora thinks the food is “delicioso!” She turns to the screen and asks us in the audience: “Can you say delicioso?” Her father (“Ant-Man’s” Michael Pena) looks confused about who she’s talking to, but reassures her mother, “She’ll grow out of it.”

This is how the new live-action movie inspired by the animated series “Dora the Explorer” lets us know that its Dora, is a bit more grown-up than the Dora the Explorer we know from Nickelodeon. Following the prologue, a farewell dinner with Diego as he leaves for the United States, Dora is a 16-year-old (wide-eyed Isabella Moner, still rocking Dora’s headband and backpack, still the cheerful, curious, adventuresome girl with the monkey sidekick and the handy backpack. Her parents send her to stay with Diego’s family while they search for a legendary lost city filled with gold called Parapata.

Like Cady in “Mean Girls” and Mimi-Siku in “Jungle 2 Jungle,” Dora approaches her first experience in what some people think of as civilization as an amateur anthropologist. For Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), like many teenagers, feels like high school is “a horrible nightmare” and “a matter of life or death,” death, in his view, being noticed or embarrassed in any way. He tells Dora to be cool” and “keep a low profile.” He pleads with her, “For one day, stop being you.” “Is this to fit in with the indigenous people?” she asks.

Dora is not cool and she is incapable of keeping a low profile. In fact, the opposite of a low profile. She is seen as a threat by the school’s ambitious top student, Sammie (Madeleine Madden), the kind of girl who comes to a “come as a star” costume party as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Dora also befriends a picked-on science buff named Randy (Nicholas Combe), and she happily does a dorky dance at a school party.

On a school field trip to a natural history museum, Diego, Randy, Sammie, and Dora are teamed up for a scavenger hunt. As they look through the museum’s basement, they are kidnapped and flown to the jungle, where a bunch of bad guys want to use Dora to find her parents, and, through them, find the lost city of gold. Dora’s parents explain in the first scene in the movie that they are explorers, not treasure hunters. The bad guys are not about hunting treasure; they want to steal it. They are looters, not explorers. For Dora’s parents, “the discovery of new places is the treasure.”

The teens are rescued by Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), who explains that he is a professor friend of Dora’s parents. The teens and Alejandro race toward the lost city, trying to get there before the bad guys, with many challenges, adventures, and “jungle puzzles” — and a hallucinogenic pollen-induced cartoon sequence — along the way.

As a junior-sized “Indiana Jones,” this movie does pretty well, with adventures pitched at the right level for the 7-14 crowd. The script, co-written by Nicholas Stoller (“The Muppets,” “The Five Year Engagement”) and Matthew Robinson (“Monster Trucks”) has a buoyant sense of fun and a heroine whose greatest act of courage may be the way she accepts herself and those around her.

There has been a bit of controversy about this film following a review that seemed confused about the idea of aging up the cartoon character, suggesting there was something wrong about her portrayal. But this Dora, charmingly played by Moner, is not supposed to be a hormonal teenager. She is a child’s aspirational vision of an older child, someone who has more knowledge, ability, independence, and strength. And it is great to have a movie about a teenager where the resolution does not depend on her being attractive to a boy. Which is not to say that there is no boy-girl emotion in the film; it just isn’t the point, which is just right for its audience. “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” is an exciting adventure with a boots-wearing monkey, a thief of a fox (watch for a funny PSA-style disclaimer at the beginning), and a heroine whose integrity, spirit, kindness, and curiosity about the world should inspire people of all ages.

Parents should know that this movie includes extended peril and mild action and violence (no one hurt), some potty humor, and some schoolyard language. The characters inhale some hallucinogenic pollen and there is a teen kiss.

Family discussion: Why doesn’t Dora follow Diego’s advice in school? Why does Sammie change her mind about Dora? What would you like to explore?

If you like this, try: the “Dora the Explorer” series and “Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain”

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