Thunder Force

Posted on April 9, 2021 at 12:10 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language, some action/violence, and mild suggestive material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy/superhero peril and violence, mostly comic but some mayhem and characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 9, 2021

Copyright 2021 Netflix
Writer/director Ben Falcone likes to cast his wife, the endlessly talented Melissa McCarthy, as characters who are impulsive, not very bright, and not very good at reading the room, picking up social cues, or keeping thoughts unspoken. So, we know what we’re going to get from “Thunder Force,” with McCarthy as a forklift operator and Van Halen fan who unexpectedly becomes a superhero. I prefer their “Life of the Party,” with McCarthy in less of a slapstick role, but of course it is fun to watch. It takes too long to get going, with a not-very-interesting origin story, and three things are not as funny as they hope: references to 90s pop culture, questioning the sexual orientation of the heroines, and having the bad guys kill people.

There are two twists to the usual superhero backstory here. First, and most intriguingly, it is set in a world where the only people with superpowers are evil. Back in the 80s, a radioactive blah blah but it only affected those with a genetic predisposition to be receptive, and all of those people were sociopaths. So, ordinary humans are powerless against a bunch of selfish, conscienceless, supervillains who behave like the mean kids in middle school. Except instead of not letting you sit at their table in the cafeteria they throw electric fireballs that blow things up. They’re known as the Miscreants. (Great word!)

The Miscreants include Bobby Cannevale as a mayoral candidate who insists on being referred to as “The King” (not funny the first time or any of the subsequent times), running against an AOC-like rival named Rachel Gonzales (Melissa Ponzio), and “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” star Pom Klementieff as Laser, who has the power of throwing electrified fireballs and the hobby of killing people.

Second, the superheroes here are middle-aged, plus sized ladies. Lydia (McCarthy) and Emily (Octavia Spencer) met in a Chicago school, when Emily, a brainy transfer student, was being bullied and Lydia stood up for her. They became friendship bracelet-sharing BFFs, and spent a lot of time together, including dinner with Emily’s grandmother, who took Emily in after her scientist parents were killed by the Miscreants. Emily is determined to carry on the work of her parents and find a way to defeat the supervillains.

Lydia and Emily become estranged in high school, when Emily says she has no time for anything but her work. Years later, as their reunion approaches, Lydia is a forklift operator in a Slayer t-shirt and Emily is the founder of a hugely successful company with a new headquarters in Chicago. Lydia goes to the the office to bring Emily to the reunion, is told not to touch anything, but is incapable of obeying that or pretty much any other cautionary direction. Suddenly she’s in a dentist chair-type thing with needles going into her cheeks. She has accidentally injected herself with the serum Emily has been working on for years to create superpowers for good guys. Her colleagues are Allie (Melissa Leo), and Emily’s super-smart daughter Tracy (a warm and winning performance by Taylor Mosby), a college graduate at age 15.

Lydia continues to get the injections, building up her strength, speed, and fighting skills. For some reason, this involves eating a lot of raw chicken. Meanwhile, Emily is undergoing a far less strenuous regimen, to give her the superpower of invisibility. Finally, they are ready to go on a trial run, stopping the robbery of a convenience store. At this point, Lydia and Emily prevent the thugs from stealing money but even these two powerhouses cannot prevent Jason Bateman from stealing the movie. I won’t spoil who or what his character is, but he is far and away the movie’s highlight. He and McCarthy spark off each other in a delicious manner, both with exquisite comic timing and unexpected and offbeat rhythms. Now that is a superpower.

Parents should know that while this is a comedy, there is some scary action with explosions, murders, and potential domestic terrorism. There are repeated references to the deaths of Emily’s parents. The movie also includes some strong language, alcohol, suggestive content and brief potty humor.

Family discussion: What super powers would you like to have? Why did Lydia and Emily like each other? What did Emily learn about Lydia from Tracy?

If you like this, try: “Life of the Party” and “My Super Ex-Girlfriend”

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Godzilla vs. Kong

Posted on March 29, 2021 at 11:35 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of creature violence/destruction and brief language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended, intense fantasy monster violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 31, 2021
Copyright WB 2021

Ladies and gentlemen! In this corner, we have Godzilla, the atomic-era, skyscraper-sized reptile, destroyer of cities. And in the other corner, it’s King Kong, the skyscraper-sized mammoth gorilla. And no one needs to hear about anything else in this movie beyond the one question: Does King Kong throw a roundhouse punch that lands on Godzilla’s jaw like a guided missile? And the answer I am happy to say, is YES.

Also in the movie: a Titan gets sliced in two by a laser beam, another one rips a towering tree out of the ground and throws it like a javelin, a little girl communicates abstract concepts to a monster via telepathy and sign language, and some humans who say things like, “This is our only chance. We have to take it,” and “the gravitational inversion should be quite intense” and “That is the discovery of the millennium!”

As a refresher, “Titan” is the term for all of the gigantic monsters who have been living in massive underground locations that somehow have sunlight, air, and lots of lush vegetation and rivers. They have been “provoked” into coming into human world, as we’ve seen in the earlier Warner Brothers films, leading up to this Avengers/Justice League-style opportunity to see them all together.

In the earlier films, both Godzilla and Kong found humans who understood them. And they had “happy” endings, with Godzilla going back home after helping save the surface world for humans, and Kong at an isolated island-size sanctuary.

But happy endings don’t stay happy when there are audiences waiting for the next chapter. Godzilla returns and is not happy. Kong, it turns out, has been under observation in a “Truman Show”-style setting, except that unlike Truman he knew all about it, and has decided it’s time to do something different. He shatters the fake blue sky above the island. Scientist Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) is afraid to have him leave the island because the Titan world does not have room for two alphas; if he and Godzilla meet, there will be a battle, to which we say, duh, it’s the title of the movie and the reason we are sitting through the thin layer of exposition gives us a chance to catch our breath between special effects fights.

As happens more often than not, the real bad guy here is neither monster but the big, bad, corporation, headed by personification of greed and hubris Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir). What he cares about is power, in both senses of the word. AS has an idea he admits is crazy. “I love crazy ideas,” Simmons says. “They’ve made me rich.” AS says that if they can get Kong to lead them to the hollow tunnels where the Titans live, they can take him home and get access to the power source which I think will somehow restore the balance between humans and the Titans but to be honest, the details did not really matter to me or, I suspect to anyone else, including the people who wrote it.

Simmon’s daughter goes along to brag about the capacities of the flying machines her rich father paid for and to play the imperious spoiled girl/Veruca Salt role. You can all but hear her say, “I want it NOW!”

Meanwhile, Godzilla fan Millie Bobbie Brown and a friend join up with Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) a podcaster who is both paranoid and right in his suspicions about the Big Bad Corporation.

But, as I said, we’re here for the fight scenes, and there are some lulus, including a whole new monster I won’t spoil except to say it gives us the best of both worlds, “Captain America: Civil War” style, allowing for shifting loyalties and therefore different match-ups. Do we care that the “fringe physics” and veterinary science in the film are iffy at best? We do not. The only technology we care about is the CGI that makes that roundhouse punch land with a satisfying pow, and that is just right.

Parents should know that this film has extended fantasy/monster peril and violence with some gory and graphic images. Characters are injured and killed. There is brief strong language and a bathroom joke.

Family discussion: Why was it so difficult for the humans to agree on the best way to treat the Titans? Would you go along with Madison? Why did Simmons believe Lind? Why did Madison believe Bernie? What makes you decide to believe someone?

If you like this, try: “King Kong: Skull Island,” “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” and some of the more than two dozen earlier films, as well as the “Pacific Rim” films

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A Week Away

Posted on March 25, 2021 at 5:39 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: References to offscreen deaths of parents
Diversity Issues: Christian themes, diverse cast
Date Released to Theaters: March 26, 2021
Copyright Netflix 2021

An unhappy teenager gets into trouble and is given a choice: juvie or a week at a Christian summer camp. He takes the second option, planning to run away. But, and I am pretty sure this is not a spoiler, he finds acceptance and hope there and a bit of romance, too. Plus a ton of music. Some of the people behind “High School Musical” (which I unabashedly love, don’t @ me) are behind this one, too, and the musical numbers are filled with “I could do that” accessibility and enthusiasm that makes them especially inviting.

Will (Kevin Quinn) was devastated when his parents were killed in a car accident that he survived. He has no one in his life looking out for him and no direction. The openheartedness and good spirits at the camp connect to him in a way he did not expect, and he is drawn to Avery (Bailee Madison), the daughter of the camp’s director (David Koechner).

The campers are divided into teams that will be competing throughout the week. And there is a campfire, an eating hall where campers are selected to answer questions about who their heroes and crushes are, and is “The Blob,” a huge inflated raft to jump on. I mean, the kids do about three months worth of activities and interactions in one week, but then people don’t randomly break into Broadway-style music numbers, either, so let’s not get picky.

What we do have here is something there just isn’t enough of: genuine kindness. The faith themes are presented very lightly and the primary messages are universal: acceptance, honesty, and connection. Avery, whose mother died some years earlier, talks to Will about “choosing to believe” and the help she gets from her father, making clear that faith and earthly support go together. Insiders and church camp veterans will recognize some of the songs and rhetoric and the Biblical references of the names of the four teams, but newcomers, those of other faiths, and non-believers will either miss them or ignore them. They will catch some movie references, including “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” And they will enjoy the exuberance and old-fashioned fun of the cast, clearly having as much fun as the teens they are portraying.

Parents should know that the story includes two teens who discuss the loss of their parents.

Family discussion: Why did Will and Avery respond to loss differently? How did each of the characters learn something about acceptance? What advice would you give George?

If you like this, try: “High School Musical,” “Camp Rock,” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”

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The Courier

Posted on March 18, 2021 at 5:23 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence, partial nudity, brief strong language, and smoking throughout.
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and alcoholism, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and some violence, murder, torture
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 19, 2021

Copyright Lionsgate 2020
“Maybe we’re only two people. But this is how things change.” In this tense, engrossing, Cold War spy drama, based on a true story, things change because of two people. The set-up is like something out of Hitchcock, an ordinary man thrust into a geopolitical heist saga with fate-of-the-world stakes. But it happened.

Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) is one of the highest-ranking Soviet officials, a multiply-decorated WWII veteran, with access to the most sensitive secrets of the Soviet military and a growing uneasiness with the volatile, aggressive leadership of Nikita Khrushchev. Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a smooth-talking British salesman, in every way an ordinary citizen, with no background or interest in espionage. But what he does have is a relatively unsuspicious reason for an Englishman to visit Moscow. Representatives from the CIA (Rachel Brosnahan as Emily Donovan) and MI6 ask Wynne to try to set up some sales meetings in Moscow as cover for bringing back files from Penovsky. “Nothing dodgy, nothing illegal,” they assure him. Not true. “We want you to act like the ordinary businessman you are…If this mission were the least bit dangerous, frankly you’re the last man we’d send.” Also not true. They do warn him that everyone he meets will be spying on him, even some who may be too far to hear what he is saying but who can see him well enough to read lips.

He agrees. Maybe he is patriotic. Maybe he is looking for something more exciting than missing an easy putt to accommodate potential customers. But his business is a good cover. “No matter what the politicians are doing, factories still need machines and machines still need parts.” Penkovsky tells Wynne that there is one important question for anyone wanting to do business in the Soviet Union. “Can you hold your alcohol?” Wynne smiles and we see why he is a good salesman. “It’s my one true gift.”

The Soviets do not intend to do business. They hope to learn enough about British products from Wynne to copy them. And MI6 gives him some hard to get but not classified information to leak to them to bolster his credibility.

“You’re — I think the word is — amateur,” Penkovsky says. But the two men form a kind of friendship. They are both devoted fathers, each with just one child. And they realize that the future for those children may depend on what they are doing.

The script is smart but it is also wise, balancing intimate personal details with the tension of tradecraft. We see the strains on Wynne’s marriage from keeping the secrets, with Jessie Buckley excellent as his wife, especially their meeting after things go badly. Wynne’s last meeting with Penkovsky is heart-rending. Cumberbatch, who also co-produced, gives one of his best performances, as we see Wynne go from almost looking at what he is doing as a bit of a lark to having to call on unimaginable stores of courage and integrity.

Parents should know that this movie includes tension, peril, and some violence, including a man executed in front of his colleagues and torture of prisoners. There is some brief strong language and non-sexual nudity.

Family discussion: Would you accept a mission like Wynne’s? What was his biggest challenge? Who was right about how he should be treated by the British government?

If you like this, try: “Bridge of Spies” and “13 Days”

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The Father

Posted on March 9, 2021 at 9:13 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language, and thematic material
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and medication
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: Disability issues
Date Released to Theaters: March 10, 2021
Copyright 2020 Sony Pictures Classics

The beginning of any story — a movie, a play, a book — is like a puzzle. We are hardly aware of all the information we are processing, all the clues we are parsing to let us know who the characters are, where they are, when they are, and what is going on between them. And so, in “The Father,” we quickly come to some conclusions about Anthony (pronounced “An-tony”), played by Sir Anthony Hopkins. His daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) visits him in his apartment to chide him about firing his latest caregiver, as he has her several predecessors, and tells him that he must find a way to get along with his next caregiver because she is leaving London to live with her new boyfriend in Paris.

And then the movie proceeds to undermine almost everything we think we have seen and we gradually realize that we are seeing the world subjectively, through Anthony’s eyes and ears and he is the most unreliable of story-tellers because he is struggling with dementia. Just as last year’s “The Sound of Metal” told us the story of a musician’s hearing loss by letting us hear what he heard, and not hear what he didn’t, “The Father” tells us the story of Anthony’s fading memory by filtering what we are seeing through his ability to process it, so we are as unsure and unsettled as he is.

Everything we bring to the film about forming judgments and drawing conclusions is constantly undermined. Anne is sometimes played by Colman, sometimes by Olivia Williams. Sometimes she is married, sometimes divorced. Sometimes it’s his apartment, sometimes he has moved in with Anne. Sometimes he stands in the hallway, disoriented and lost. Sometimes Anne’s husband barks angrily at him.

A new caregiver (Imogen Poots) comes for an interview and we see Anthony putting everything he has into being charming and capable. He tells her he was once a tap dancer. (He was not.) He offers her a drink and has one himself. He tells her she looks like his other daughter, the one he thinks is still alive (she is not).

Hopkins is made for this role. Only a man of his decades of experience and dedication to meticulously observed and fearlessly vulnerable performances could show us Anthony’s valiant efforts to stay himself, to stay in charge. That makes the final moments, when we are finally returned to our own safe space as objective observers, even more shattering.

Parents should know that this movie concerns dementia and he strain it puts on family as well as the person struggling with memory loss. It includes some strong language, alcohol, and medication.

Family discussion: Does this film make you think differently about what it is like to have memory loss? How are the people in your life helping those who are facing this issue and those who are caring for them?

If you like this, try: “Away from Her,” “Still Alice,” “Still Mine,” “Dick Johnson is Dead,” “The Roads Not Taken,” and “Supernova”

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