Hobbs & Shaw

Posted on August 1, 2019 at 5:30 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material and some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive action-style peril and violence, chases, explosions, guns, fire, clubs, torture, some injuries and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 2, 2019

Copyright Universal 2019
This is the summer movie you’ve been waiting for. “Fast and Furious” spin-off “Hobbs & Shaw” takes two of the series’ most popular characters, throws a silly McGuffin and a super-motivated, super-powered bad guy at them, adds in some family members, and plays up their animosity for a big-time buddy cop action comedy full of one-liners, chases, crashes, explosions, punches, kicks, improbable stunts, impossible stunts, and stay-to-the-end-of-the-credits extras. Plus Dame Helen Mirren talking like Eliza Doolittle when she was still selling flowers and looking very elegant in her orange prison jumpsuit. Suspend your disbelief and pass the popcorn!

You’ve never seen a “Fast and Furious” movie? No problem. You do not ever have to have seen a movie of any kind. You barely have to be a sentient life form to be up to, uh, speed, on this story. This is a movie where the bad guy introduced himself by telling you he is the bad guy. Where the leading lady fights like an MMA champ without ever smudging her eye-liner. And where two Hollywood stars show up in silly cameos because why not?

Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson) was in US law enforcement as an agent of the Diplomatic Security Service. He was originally supposed to track down and arrest the “Fast and Furious” members, but once it was clear they were framed, he became their ally. He is a devoted father of a young girl.

Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is British, from a family of grifters headed by Queenie (Helen Mirren!). In the British military he was involved in some black ops, disgraced, and became a mercenary. He also entered the series as a antagonist and is now, as Dom would say, family.

In an opening reminiscent of “The Patty Duke Show’s” identical cousin song, we see Hobbs and Shaw, on opposite sides of the world literally and metaphorically, waking up and starting their days. They both start with eggs, but Hobbs chugs his raw, and Shaw makes an omelet in his elegant, immaculate kitchen and then drives off in his cool sports car.

And then they get the call. The world needs to be saved. A deadly virus that could wipe out half the planet in just two days has been stolen by a rogue military operative named Hattie (Vanessa Kirby, a long way from playing Princess Margaret in “The Crown”). Both agree to track down the virus. But both insist that there is no way they will work together. Oh, and by the way, Hattie is Shaw’s sister, who has not spoken to him since he he went rogue.

The guy who introduced himself as the bad guy is Brixton (Idris Elba), a surgically and mechanically enhanced soldier with superhuman fighting skills who has a history with Shaw. He works for a Thanos-like organization with vast technology and a plan to release the virus and reboot humanity. The leader uses voice distortion to disguise his or her identity, so we expect some surprise from the past.

The odd couple duo hop around the world, including a visit to Hobbs’ birthplace (Hawaii playing the part of Samoa), with all kinds of crazy stunts, punctuated by quippy wisecracks. Director David Leitch is a former stunt-man and co-director of “John Wick.” I was especially taken with Brixton’s motorcycle, which seems to be operating on some almost-telepathic AI. When both men have to get past some bad guys in separate rooms and show off for each other was a highlight. There’s a lot of “What? You didn’t do that bad thing I thought you did?” Does it make sense? Nope. Is it fun? Yes.

NOTE: Stay all the way to the end for the extra scenes.

Translation: Extended peril and violence, chases, explosions, shooting, punching, knives, clubs, torture, some disturbing images and injuries, family issues, some strong language, some sexual references

Family discussion: Why do Hobbs and Shaw dislike each other so much? What do we learn about Hobbs and Shaw from seeing their families? How is Brixton’s group like Thanos in the MCU?

If you like this, try: the “Fast and Furious” movies and “The Transporter”

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Comedy movie review Movies Movies Scene After the Credits

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood

Posted on July 25, 2019 at 12:00 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references
Profanity: Pervasive very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Very intense and graphic violence, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 26, 2019
Copyright Columbia Pictures 2019

Quentin Tarantino is a brilliant filmmaker who does not have anything to say. If you are looking for surface, you cannot do better. His camera placement and editing are impeccable. His attention to detail is unsurpassed. Remember the great Jack Rabbit Slim restaurant setting in “Pulp Fiction,” with wait staff dressed as 50’s celebrities? (“That’s the Marilyn Monroe section that’s Mamie Van Doren… I don’t see Jayne Mansfield, she must have the night off or something.”)

This is an entire movie of that scene, set in 1969, with a slavish, bordering on fetishistic, attention to the details of that era. Or a very specific slice of the era, more created by than reflected in the movies.

Tarantino bonded with the films of that era when he was working in a video store and watching as many movies as possible. This film is more than a love letter to that era; it is his effort to live in it, not as it was, of course, but as it was portrayed in some of the movies whose titles we see in the film like “Three in the Attic” and “Don’t Make Waves” (which featured Tate as a character named Malibu who wears a bikini and jumps on a trampoline).

I was in high school at the time this movie takes place, and those details went straight to my bloodstream. It goes far beyond the markers we still associate with that era and into the deep cuts. I was especially taken with the fake magazine covers from MAD and TV guide which perfectly captured the Jack Davis/Norman Mingo styles. We see a party at the Playboy mansion with dancing Bunnies and Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) chatting with Connie Stevens (Dreama Walker) and the Manson “family” on Spahn Movie Ranch (itself, like Dalton, no longer in its show business heyday). Mike Moh plays a bantam-like Bruce Lee. We hear songs by the Mamas and Papas and Neil Diamond, and Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “Good Thing” (co-written by Terry Melcher, former resident of the Polanski/Tate home, the son of Doris Day, and an acquaintance of Charles Manson). We glimpse a billboard for the long-forgotten film “Joanna,” starring Genevieve Waite (who would later marry a member of the Mamas and Papas). And Timothy Olyphant plays actor James Stacy, a star of the 60’s who was badly injured in a motorcycle accident in 1973. He was once married to Connie Stevens. It’s a small Hollywood world, and this movie keeps it even smaller.

The dialog snaps, the humor is dry, and the acting is superb. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a fading television actor who once starred in his own western series (“Bounty Law,” a combination of “Wanted: Dead or Alive” and a bunch of other cowboy shows), now guest-starring as the bad guy in pretty much every series on television, including real-life shows “The FBI,” “Mannix,” and “Lancer.” You can see how much fun Tarantino had making it look like DiCaprio was in those shows. Dalton’s stunt double, and friend who does everything for him and gets paid for it is Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Dalton is insecure and easily upset; Booth is understated and resolved. But both are in, if not career slumps, heading that way.

Dalton lives next door to director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). The story begins in February of 1969, when an agent (Al Pacino) encourages Dalton to revive his career with some spaghetti westerns. (The title of this film is a tribute to a pair of films by legendary spaghetti western director Sergio Leone.) And then it skips six months to August of that year, when Tate is very pregnant and her husband is out of the country. And when the Mason “family” is making plans to kill some of the rich and powerful.

Tarantino is as good as it gets when it comes to surfaces, and since this is a movie about surfaces (to the extent it is about anything), and thus it is very pretty and entertaining to watch. So audiences may not notice or mind that, as Gertrude Stein said about another California city, there is no there there. The episodic individual scenes are often absorbing and the characters, even those we might not respect, are people we enjoy spending time with. In addition to outstanding work from DiCaprio and Pitt, the cast features a number of excellent performances including Margaret Qualley as one of the Manson girls, Tarantino regular Kurt Russell as a stunt coordinator who does not want to hire Cliff, Julia Butters as a precocious child star, and the late Luke Perry as an actor.

There is some commentary about fantasy and reality — the weak actor who plays not just a tough guy but the archetypal western icon, and lives in a fancy house in the hills while the real tough guy lives in a trailer and can’t afford dinner. The adults who act like children and the child who acts like an adult. The hippies who speak of love and plot to kill. And the beatific madonna Sharon Tate, who shyly tells the girl at the box office that she is in the movie playing in the theater, the Dean Martin Matt Helm spy movie, “The Wrecking Crew.”

She is almost a dream figure like the blondes in “American Graffiti” and “Stardust Memories,” especially compared to the shrewish female characters in the film the stunt coordinator married to the Kurt Russell character and the unnamed character married to Booth. Tate smiles with happy pride in the theater as the audience laughs at her comic scenes as a beautiful but clumsy girl (the clips we see are of the real Sharon Tate in the film). Our knowledge of her real-life fate in one of the most notorious murders of the 20th century is an example of Tarantino’s appropriation of historical atrocities rewritten for pulpy pleasures to provide dramatic heft his screenplays otherwise cannot sustain (“Inglorious Basterds,” “Django Unchained”).

The episodic structure and narration that does not add anything from a character who has no reason to know the things he is describing show that as meticulous as Tarantino is about getting the details he cares about exactly right when it comes time to having them mean something, all he can do is create an extravaganza — although a watchable one — of violence and altered history.

Parents should know that this film includes extreme bloody violence with graphic and disturbing images, characters injured and killed, very strong and crude language, sexual references, drinking, smoking, and drugs.

Family discussion: Why did Tarantino want to make this film accurate in some of the details and depart from what happened in others? Why did Cliff insist on seeing George? Who is the narrator and what do we learn from him?

If you like this, try: the movies and television series glimpse in the film, including “Lancer,” “Mannix,” and “The Wrecking Crew

Related Tags:

 

Drama movie review Movies Movies

The Farewell

Posted on July 18, 2019 at 5:34 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic material, brief language and some smoking
Profanity: Brief mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Terminal illness, grief and loss
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: July 19, 2019

Copyright 2019 A24
“The Farewell” is based on a true story, as told by Lulu Wang on NPR’s “This American Life.” Wang is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. When her grandmother, still in China, received a terminal diagnosis, the news was delivered to her family but not to the woman herself, as is the practice in China. They have a saying: “It’s not the cancer that kills them, but the fear.” The relatives had to figure out a way to see her without making her suspicious about the reason, so they dragooned a cousin into having a wedding in China to give the family an excuse for getting together and spending time with her.

In the movie, Wang’s character is Billi (Awkwafina, shining in a very impressive lead dramatic debut role), a student in New York. The movie informs us as it opens that it is “based on an actual lie.” Billi is very close to her Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), meaning that they talk often by phone and love each other unconditionally. But that does not mean that Billi is honest with her grandmother. She tells the kind of little white lie most of us tell our mothers and grandmothers. Half a world away, Nai Nai solicitously asks her granddaughter whether she is wearing a hat and Billi assures her that she is. Billi understands that it isn’t about a hat; her grandmother is just showing that she cares and in her own way she is doing the same.

Billi does not have the same easy warmth with her parents, and she does not tell them the truth, either. But that is more to protect herself from their disapproval and nagging than to reassure them. And she is enough of an American to be very uncomfortable with the idea of not telling Nai Nai the truth. Her mother explains that while Americans are all about individual autonomy and self-determination, Chinese think of the group first, and that means that the family is most important.

And so, they concoct the lie that Billi’s cousin, who lives in Japan, has decided to marry his girlfriend, and the wedding will be in China. They will all gather for a fake happy occasion because it’s “too painful to say goodbye.” For Billi, though, as I suspect for most of the people who will read this review, it is more painful to feel disconnected from her sorrow and sense of devastating loss.

This film is sharply written and beautifully performed. It is a perfect example of the adage that the more specific a story is, the more universal it is. The Chinese settings and customs will seems strange and in some cases odd or funny to westerners, but everyone will understand the emotions — the way the family members want and expect so much from each other. Cultures may have different ideas about what we tell each other and how we mourn. But we all experience fear and grief, and we all try to find ways to comfort each other. Sometimes we tell stories like this one to help bring us together.

Parents should know that the themes of this film included illness and grief. Characters drink and get tipsy and there is some brief mild language.

Family discussion: Who should decide what medical information to give to Nai Nai? Why is Billi closer to her grandmother than her parents? What elements of this story are most like your family?

If you like this, try: “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles” and “The Joy Luck Club”

Related Tags:

 

Based on a true story Drama Family Issues Illness, Medicine, and Health Care movie review Movies Movies

The Lion King

Posted on July 16, 2019 at 1:22 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence, very sad and scary death of a parent
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 18, 2019

Copyright Disney 2019
I had a lot of skepticism going in. The last two live action remakes of animated Disney classics were disappointments. Even the best so far (in my opinion, “Beauty and the Beast”), could not escape its, well, remake-ness and justify itself as an independent work worthy of the time and attention of the filmmakers and the audience.

Also, I am not the biggest fan of the original “Lion King.” I would not go as far as this very extreme critique, but it always bothered me that all the animals were supposed to sing happily about the circle of life when that means something very different to those at the lower end of the food chain to those at the top. The idea of Simba’s right to the throne made me uneasy (Nala is much more worthy, or maybe let the lions choose who is best). And I never got past the Hakuna Matata idea that a good way to deal with life’s problems is to run away from them. Plus, how can they call this live action when the animals are CGI?

All of which is to explain that I was very pleasantly surprised and it won me over. The opening scene is a shot for shot recreation of the original, but more spectacularly beautiful, thanks to Director of Photography Caleb Deschanel (the cinematographer of the most beautiful film of all time, The Black Stallion). The quality of the light, the texture of the terrain, the fur, the feathers all lend a grandeur to the story. And the music is sumptuously produced, evoking the holiness of the natural world.

We all know the story, which draws from Shakespeare (“Hamlet” and “Henry IV”), the myths collected by Joseph Campbell (the hero’s journey), and perhaps from the Bible as well (the prodigal son). Simba is the lion prince, born to rule as far as he can see. But his father, Mufasa (voiced again by James Earl Jones, as in the original) teaches him that the ruler serves those he rules. Simba will be responsible for their welfare, Mufasa tells him. “It will be yours to protect…A true king searches for what he can give.” Still, Simba chafes at the rules and dreams of a day when he is king and can do anything he wants.

Mufasa’s brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) wants to be king. He resents Mufasa and Simba. In a brutal scene that will be too intense for younger children and many older children and adults, he kills Mufasa and blames Simba. The cub is devastated, and runs away. He is befriended by a warthog (Seth Rogen as Pumbaa) and a meerkat (Billy Eichner as Timon), who sing to him about the pleasures of a worry-free life. (Eicher has a great singing voice! Who knew?)

The lions believe Simba died with his father. But when Nala (Beyonce) finds him, she tells him that Scar and his hyena henchmen have all but destroyed their community. Can he be the hero they need?

This version makes an attempt to address some of the issues that concerned me in the animated feature, though Mufasa’s explanation of the circle of life is not entirely reassuring. But director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man,” “Chef,” Happy in the Avengers movies) brings together the realism of the animals, who come across as authentic and expressive, with a capable balancing of humor and drama. John Oliver’s Zazu and Keegan-Michael Key’s Kamari are comic highlights. Was this necessary? No. But it earns its place.

Parents should know this film has some intense scenes of peril and violence, very sad death of a parent as the child watches, severe feelings of guilt and abandonment, murder and attempted murder, predators, some potty humor, and references to the “circle of life.”

Family discussion: Why is a group of lions called a “pride?” What from your family do you carry with you? What is the difference between Mufasa’s idea about responsibility and heritage and Timon’s idea that nothing matters?

If you like this, try; the animated “Lion King” and “Lion King 1 1/2” and “The Black Stallion” a beautiful film from the same cinematographer

Related Tags:

 

Coming of age Fantasy movie review Movies Movies Musical Remake Talking animals

Stuber

Posted on July 11, 2019 at 5:30 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence and language throughout, some sexual references and brief graphic nudity
Profanity: Constant very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs and drug dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and intense peril and violence with many graphic and disturbing images, many characters injured and killed, extended mayhem and destruction
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: July 12, 2019

Copyright 2019 20th Century Fox
At least once every summer we have to get a dumb action comedy about a mismatched pair, so this summer it is “Stuber,” about an Uber driver named Stu. If you find that portmanteau witty — or don’t care whether it’s witty or not because it’s summer and you like to see chases and explosions — then this movie is for you. If you want to see this premise at it’s best, try “Midnight Run” with Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin. If you want to see an entertaining recent example, try “Central Intelligence” with Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. But if you just want some mindless summer movie mayhem, then “Stuber” will fill the bill.

Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick,” “Silicon Valley”) plays Stu, who is struggling with not one but two jobs where he is constantly trying to handle people who disrespect and abuse him. He works at a big box sporting goods store under a bully who is also the son of the owner. He makes extra money driving for Uber and he tries hard for the five-star rating, providing phone chargers and water and selecting just the right music for the ride. He is saving money to start a spin class business with his long-time friend and wished-for crush, Becca (“GLOW’s” Betty Gilpin). Stu is a gentle soul who drives an electric car and cannot find the courage to tell Becca how he feels. He pretty much wants a five star rating from everyone; it’s even on his license plate.

And so we have to find someone who is Stu’s opposite, then, so we can have the fun of seeing them not get along and then prove themselves to each other and become BFFs while they’re chasing and shooting and exchanging banter, right? And so there’s Vic (Dave Bautista of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the WWE), a hard-as-nails cop who has been chasing a drug dealer named Teijo (Iko Uwais) for years. And it’s personal, because Teijo killed Vic’s partner and because this movie needs to ramp everything up repeatedly to keep us from noticing that it is pretty dumb. Some more ramping up: Vic is a walking, punching personification of toxic masculinity with an adult daughter he neglects and who is having a big show of her sculpture the same night when Teijo may be within reach and the same night he has a significant temporary impairment — he cannot see due to Lasik surgery. (I trust that neither Lasik nor Uber paid for their product placement in this film.)

And so he calls Uber to take him to the various places he needs to go to interrogate people and track down Teijo. As is typical in R-rated action comedies, this includes a strip club, but in this case it’s male strippers, where Stu unexpectedly has something of a bonding moment with one of the performers. Stu also gets some frantic phone calls from Becca, who may for the first time be willing to see him as a romantic possibility — if he comes over RIGHT NOW. Plus, Vic keeps pulling him into increasingly perilous situations. But Vic won’t let him go, threatening a rating so bad Stu will lose his job.

These team-ups are always based on an id/superego mash-up, and Nanjiani’s trademark understated delivery plays off well with Bautista’s brawn. But the mayhem and senseless destruction overwhelms even the ramped-up stakes, with more death and destruction than an action comedy can support and a twist so obvious it doesn’t even work as parody.

Parents should know that this film includes constant action-style peril and violence with many characters injured and killed and graphic and disturbing images, very strong and crude language, and sexual references and brief frontal male nudity.

Family discussion: Why couldn’t Stu tell Becca how he felt? Why couldn’t Vic tell his daughter how he felt?

If you like this, try: “Central Intelligence” and “Midnight Run”

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Comedy movie review Movies Movies
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2019, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik