You People

Posted on January 26, 2023 at 5:33 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, some sexual material and drug content.
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drugs including cocaine
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: January 27, 2023

Copyright 2023 Netflix
Amira, a Muslim Black stylist and costume designer (Lauren London) and Ezra, a Jewish white guy with a boring job in finance who would rather be a podcaster (Jonah Hill) fall in love in “You People,” a comic contest between two equally offensive sets of parents. Her parents (Nia Long and Eddie Murphy as Fatima and Akbar) disapprove and try to undermine the relationship. His parents (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and David Duchovny ask Shelly and Arnold) are clueless about the cringe-inducing, reductionist racism of their attempts to welcome Amira. Falling somewhere down the spectrum from the tragedy of “Romeo and Juliet” and the sincere if stilted drama of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” this film, co-written by star Hill and director Kenya Barrios (“Black-ish”) plays it for comedy, with an exceptionally strong supporting cast. And it is not afraid to include some stinging commentary amid the romance and the laughs.

It gets off to a strong start with Ezra and his podcast co-host Mo (Sam Jay) laughing about their fantasy versions of Barack Obama, clearly improvised. The jokes are more outrageous than funny, but it is a delight to hear the two riff off of each other with witty affection. We then see Ezra at Yom Kippur services with his parents, who gently disapprove of what he is wearing (casual kicks) and not wearing (a kipper head covering). The meet-cute is when he gets into what he thinks is his Uber, but what turns out to be Amira, who has gotten lost. After a moment of panic, they hit it off and soon they are dating. They share the same shoe game and commitment to supporting one another. And they just enjoy spending time together. And then it becomes time to to meet the parents.

The surprise in the film is Eddie Murphy, who plays it absolutely straight as Amira’s dignified father and makes Akbar into one of the movie’s highlights. There’s no winking at the audience, no wild exaggeration, and the more serious he is, the funnier he is, especially when one of his ploys backfires. He leaves the goofiness in the more than capable hands of Mike Epps (as Akbar’s brother), “Black-ish” star Anthony Anderson, the always terrific Sam Jay, and more. Murphy, the real-life father of 10 children, knows all too well what it is to measure a suitor against his expectations, and this is one of his best roles.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus has a lot of fun with the role of Ezra’s mother, who tries so hard to show she is an ally that she over-corrects, while her husband tries to show how hip he is by talking about how much he likes rapper Xzibit. Instead of getting to know Amira by, for example, asking her about her work, she chatters about looking forward to brown grandchildren and goes woke Karen on a spa attendant she mistakenly thinks was racist. The white side of the cast also has an exceptionally strong group in supporting and cameo roles, from legends Hal Linden, Richard Benjamin, Rhea Perlman, and Elliott Gould to younger familiar faces Rob Huebel and Bryan Greenburg. Look for Romy Reiner (daughter of Rob, granddaughter of Carl) on a date with Ezra, director Barris as an airplane passenger, and a sign advertising London’s late activist/rapper romantic partner, Nipsey Hustle.

The script is uneven at times. The bachelor party in Las Vegas and bachelorette party at a spa do not work as well as the sections at home. But as the characters discover, good will and a sharp sense of humor can overcome a lot of obstacles.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and crude language, sexual references and non-explicit situations, drinking and drugs, and a visit to a strip club in Las Vegas.

Family discussion: How would your family react to a new boyfriend or girlfriend? How would you have handled the meeting of the parents? What made them change their minds?

If you like this, try: “This Christmas” with Lauren London and “Superbad” with Jonah Hill

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Shotgun Wedding

Posted on January 26, 2023 at 5:13 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some violence/bloody images
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended terrorism peril and violence, guns, knives, grenades, characters injured and killed, some graphic images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 27, 2023

Copyright 2023 Amazon
Keep this in mind as you evaluate my comments — I do not even try to resist the allure of Jennifer Lopez. So if you can, you may not be willing to surrender to the ridiculousness of this action romantic comedy about a destination wedding interrupted by violent pirates. Let me put it this way: you will probably enjoy the film if you’re okay with the fact that over the course of the film, as lawyer and bride-to-be Darcy (Lopez) is being chased by masked bad guys with military-style weapons, her pouffy bridal gown is ever-so-fetchingly shredded, her hair adorably tousled, and her maquillage (the word “make-up” cannot adequately convey the perfection) is perpetually exquisite, even has she and the groom are chased through the jungle, handcuffed, and clutching a live grenade.

Darcy and her fiancé Tom (Josh Duhamel) have brought their families and friends to a Philippene island for their wedding. (With this film and January 13’s “Plane,” the Philippines should probably consult a tourism marketing firm.) This has put a lot of stress on everyone, especially because Tom, a minor league baseball designated hitter recently released at age 40, is overly fixated on making every detail perfect and neglecting his bride. Darcy’s wealthy father, Robert (Cheech Marin), has brought his woo-woo vibes and auras girlfriend, Harriet (D’Arcy Carden of “The Good Place”). His elegant ex-wife, Darcy’s mother, Renata (Sonia Braga) wants to stay as far away from them as possible. Tom’s parents are the unfiltered, boundary-trespassing Carol (Jennifer Coolidge) and the perpetually videoing every minute Larry (Steve Coulter).

Ramping up the stress level is the surprise arrival of Darcy’s former fiancé, Sean (Lenny Kravitz), who now works for Darcy’s father and is something of a surrogate son. He arrives by helicopter and insists on giving a toast at the rehearsal dinner. The next morning, as the guests are in their chairs on the beach waiting for the ceremony to begin, Tom and Darcy are on another part of the island breaking up.

This is why they are not there when the pirates arrive and take everyone else hostage, making them gather in the infinity pool while they send a search party to kidnap the bride and groom. They tell Robert they will not release them until he transfers $45 million to them. He says he will not to anything until they prove that Darcy is safe. Tom and Darcy have to find a way to take on heavily armed, trained group with no weapons, training, protective gear, or idea what they’re doing.

The balance of humor and action is uneven, and it does not even try to make sense. But the overall tone is lighthearted, and, as I said, Lopez is, as always, hard to resist.

Parents should know that this film includes terrorist-style peril and violence with military-grade weapons, chases, and explosions. Chaacters are injured and killed, in light-hearted fashion when they are bad guys, and there are some grisly images. Chacters uses strong and crude language with sexual references and a non-explicit sexual situation.

Family discussion: Whose family was more difficult? Was the twist a surprise? What did the attack reveal to Darcy and Tom about themselves and each other?

If you like this, try: “Wedding Season

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When You Finish Saving the World

Posted on January 19, 2023 at 6:00 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Wine, teenage drug use
Violence/ Scariness: References to domestic abuse
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: January 20, 2023

Credit: Beth Garrabrant Copyright 2022 !24
Jesse Eisenberg’s first feature film as writer and director is reminiscent of his breakthrough performance in Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale.” They are both stories of teenagers beginning to understand themselves and their parents a little better through some of the inevitable painful discoveries of adolescence.

“Stranger Things'” Finn Wolfhard plays Ziggy, a high school student who is very proud of the 20 thousand fans worldwide who tune in to hear his weekly live streaming performances. He sings original songs he describes as “folk rock with alternative influences” and thanks them for their comments and tips in their native languages.

Ziggy lives with his parents, the reserved, bookish Roger (Jay O. Sanders) and the slightly formal and sardonic Grace (Julianne Moore), director of a shelter for women and children who are survivors of domestic abuse.

Both Ziggy and Grace make efforts to connect to new people. Abused wife Angie (Eleonore Hendricks, creating a character of great specificity and depth in her brief scenes) and her teenage son Kyle (Billy Bryk) arrive at the shelter after police intervention, and Grace is touched by Kyle’s empathy and support for his mother. She becomes over-involved in trying to help him, perhaps displacing her feelings out of frustration with Ziggy. When she brings him on errands and sees him warmly speaking Spanish with one of the shelter’s former residents, she abruptly insists on leaving. She encourages Kyle to apply to college, which makes Angie feel threatened.

And Ziggy is drawn to a girl at school. Her name is Lila (a wonderfully charismatic Alisha Boe). He awkwardly tries to impress her with his live streaming success, but sees that what she cares about is activism on behalf of social justice and the environment. He has no idea how to approach her, and his awkward attempts will be painfully familiar to anyone who has survived adolescence.

There are three kind of music in the film, perhaps three and a half. The first is the light, electronic tune played for us in the audience to establish the tone. The rest are diegetic, the music played and listened to by the characters. Grace favors classical music which she plays in the car. She listens to Bizet’s “Carmen” when she drives Ziggy to school, refusing when he asks her to play anything else. Ziggy plays his original songs on an acoustic guitar, at first about his feelings but then, as he using Lila’s poem about colonialism and exploitation of the Marshall Islands for lyrics.

Eisenberg’s screenplay, based on his Audible book, is thoughtful with an actor’s sensitivity to tone and character, with impeccable casting choices. He knows that he can tell us as much by having Ziggy and Kyle pass each other at school or by the Ziggy he walks down the same sidewalk at different times in the story as he does with Ziggy’s painfully awkward attempts to tell Lila how “lit” and “terra” she is. Moore, as Grace finally watching Ziggy’s songs on YouTube, gives another of her gorgeous performances, with so much going on underneath Grace’s air of righteousness, a sense of loss of the closeness she had to Ziggy as a child, exhaustion over the overwhelming difficulties of the people at the shelter. Some parts of the story do not quite work, but the details are thoroughly imagined and the performances are thoughtful and involving.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong language, wine, and teen drug use, with references to domestic abuse.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Grace want to listen to Ziggy’s music and what changed her mind? Why didn’t Grace tell the truth about helping Kyle? Why did Ziggy go to the shelter? What should he have said to Lila?

If you like this, try: “The Squid and the Whale” and “The Edge of Seventeen”

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Missing

Posted on January 19, 2023 at 4:31 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for teen drinking, some strong violence, language, and thematic material
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Teen drinking and drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Intense peril and violence, domestic abuse, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: January 20, 2023

Copyright 2023 Sony
I promise, the only spoiler in this review is an answer to the question: Was the very clever 2018 missing girl mystery “Searching,” almost entirely told on the computer screen of a father trying to find his teenage daughter, just a stunt, or does it open up a new kind of storytelling? We’re told that “Missing” is from the “minds behind ‘Searching,'” meaning that Aneesh Chaganty, who directed the original and co-wrote the screenplay with Sev Ohanian, provided the story for this one, and they share producer Timur Bekmambetov (“Night Watch”). “Missing” co-directors and screenwriter Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick edited “Searching,” and the new film feels very much part of the same world but refreshingly up-to-date. It builds lightly on the original but is very much its own treat of a twisty thriller. If any part of it is less choice, it is the generic title itself, without the original’s double meaning linking the mystery in real life to the way we get information online.

Once again, a frantic family member is searching for someone who has gone out of contact, and the contrast between the omnipresent information available online and the unsolvable absence is immediately absorbing. And as in the first one, we are dealing with a single parent and a child who is still mourning the one who has died. June (an excellent Storm Reid) is 18, and perhaps a bit too eager to get her mother, Grace (Mia Long) out of town, though she is not a fan of Kevin (Ken Leung), the man who is taking Grace on a vacation trip to Colombia.

As she is getting ready to leave, we see Grace on FaceTime, trying to give her daughter some vital information — who will be checking in on her, where the emergency money is, when to pick them up on their return. We can see that June is feeling smothered via the avatar she has for her mother’s profile and via the nonsense, with a few OMGs, she types after Grace tells her to take notes.

And then, amusingly, we see June getting that emergency money and doing searches for things like cheap ways to get drunk, to put on a party for her friends. It is such a success that she almost misses that pick-up at the airport. But Grace and Kevin are not there. And June has to figure out how to search for her mother 3500 miles away.

As promised, I am not going to spoil the deliciously surprising twists and turns of the storyline. I’ll just say that they are very clever, and the filmmakers made the most of the technology’s ability to show us what June is thinking as she starts to type something and then backtracks and changes her mind, whether it is finding a Taskrabbit who fits her budget (a terrific Joaquim de Almeida), filling out a State Department missing person report, or hacking someone’s accounts. This film proves that the screen-told story is not just a gimmick but an intiguing new tool that opens up many new opportunities for imaginative story-telling.

Parents should know that this movie includes criminal activity, peril and violence with characters injured and killed, drug use, strong language, and teen drinking.

Family discussion: What clues did you pick up from June’s screen before she did? Who did you suspect? Will this movie make you think about online access differently?

If you like this, try: “Searching” and “Modern Family’s” “Connection Lost” episode, also all on computer screens.

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Plane

Posted on January 11, 2023 at 3:21 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R language and violence
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Constant, intense peril and violence, knives, sledgehammer, military guns and bazookas, fistfights,
Copyright Lionsgate 2023

When an action movie is simply called “Plane,” you know they’re going to get right to it and keep going. Stepping into the spot usually reserved for Liam Neeson each January, with a tiny touch of Stephen Segal in “Under Siege” and Nicolas Cage in “Con Air.” Gerard Butler plays Brodie Torrance, a Scottish commercial pilot whose New Year’s Eve flight from Singapore to Tokyo runs into trouble when the plane is hit by lightning. He has to make an emergency landing on island of the Philippines that is ruled by murderous outlaws. One of the passengers (Mike Colter as Louis) is in handcuffs because he is being extradited to be tried for murder.

If this sounds a bit like a video game, where our hero(es) have to navigate one dire threat after another, you’ve got that right. There is a quick and efficient introduction to let us know that Brodie is a loving and devoted but not always present father of a beautiful college student daughter he hopes to be with to see in the new year. We see him courteous and professional as he meets his flight crew and talks to the airport official who assures him the storm ahead will not be a problem. We also get to see the prisoner, escorted by a law enforcement officer. It won’t take long (per “Con Air”) for Brodie and Louis, the two people on the island with military training, to team up. Colter is terrific as a guy who has nothing to prove to anyone but knows when it is time to deliver.

And then things start to go wrong. It gets very bumpy. The radar, the altimeter, and the navigation system go out. We know things are pretty bad when they pull out a paper map to try to figure out where they are. We’re vividly reminded that it’s just a tin can in the sky and let’s just say you will not be seeing this movie as an option when you scroll past the offerings on your next plane ride. Or if by some mistake you do, wait to see it until you are on solid ground again.

The relief of landing is short-lived. They have no way of letting anyone know where they are. And they are soon to discover that the occupants of the island are ruthless murderers who may keep them alive for ransom, but only briefly.

The film zips and occasionally lurches from one action scene to another, all capably staged if not especially memorable. The bad guys are one-dimensional, but no one really wants or expects them to be more than a believably threatening menace. Occasionally, per “Under Seige,” we see what is going on at the corporate headquarters, as the CEO (Joey Slotnick) and his whatever-it-takes “crises manager” (a savvy Tony Goldwyn) make whatever decisions they can.

Butler, who also produced, knows what we’re looking for in an action movie, not just the punches and explosions, but the ingenuity and the satisfaction of seeing how and by whom the bad guys get dispatched. This many not show us anything new, but it shows us that what isn’t new can still be reliably entertaining.

Parents should know that this movie has non-stop action, some with graphic visuals, with many characters injured and killed. There are knives, military-style weapons, and fistfights. There is also non-stop use of the f-word.

Family discussion: What made Brodie decide to trust Louis? If you were Sinclair, would you have hired Brodie? What will the airline do differently?

If you like this, try: “Olympus Has Fallen,” “Angel Has Fallen,” and the “Taken” movies, and, to see Butler in a non-action role in a lovely drama, “Dear Frankie” or as voice talent in the “How to Train Your Dragon” movies

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