Bill and Ted Face the Music

Posted on August 27, 2020 at 5:32 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Sci-fi/fantasy peril and violence, mostly played for comedy
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 28, 2020
Date Released to DVD: November 9, 2020

Copyright 2020 Orion Pictures
I am pleased to report that Bill and Ted are still excellent. Bill and Ted Face the Music is the third in the series, 31 years after the original “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” where the two dim but sweet-natured would-be rockers from San Dimas managed to pass their high school history class by traveling through time in a telephone booth. They also learned that their destiny was to create a song that would unite the world. Two years later, in “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey,” their adventures continued, including a visit to hell and a “Seventh Seal”-inspired encounter with Death. Much of the core cast of the original films returned, including Alex Winter (who also produced) as Bill, Keanu Reeves as Ted, William Sadler as Death, Hal London, Jr. as Ted’s stern father, and Amy Stoch as Missy, who was in high school with Bill and Ted but in the first film is married to Bill’s father.

In the present day, Bill and Ted are married to the medieval princesses who traveled through time with them in the earlier films, now played by Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays. Things are not going well. Bill and Ted still perform as the Wyld Stallyns, but not in arenas. Their current gig is at Missy’s latest wedding, to Ted’s younger brother Deacon (“SNL’s” Beck Bennett). Their performance of a song named something like “That Which Binds Us Through Time, The Chemical, Physical and Biological Nature of Love,” combines some of the strangest sounds known to music, even stranger in combination guttural throat singing, bagpipes, and a theramin is, at best mystifying to the wedding guests. Basically, they hate it. Their wives insist on marriage counseling (with the always-great Jillian Bell) and we get a sense of the problem when the guys cannot understand why “couples counseling” might not mean both couples at the same time.

Each couple has a daughter. Ted’s daughter is Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Bill’s is Thea (Samara Weaving, the niece of Hugo Weaving who was Reeves’ nemesis in the “Matrix” films). The girls are 24, still living at home, and spend all day listening to music. In other words, they take after their dads.

Bill and Ted are beginning to question whether they should just give up their music. But then Kelly (Kristen Schall) shows up in a futuristic, egg-shaped time traveling capsule. That song that was going to unite the world — they would have to produce and perform it that night or it would be the end of everything. “The Great Turntable is Tipping. Reality will collapse and time and space will cease to exist.”

Everyone ends up getting involved. The guys go forward in time to see if they can get the song from various future selves. (Boy, the people in charge of hair had some fun with that.) The princesses/wives explore the multiverse to see if there’s a happier ending. And Billie and Thea do what Bill and Ted did in the first film; they go back in history and pick up some help.

Some viewers will need to be brought up to date on the earlier films, as there are references that will delight the fans. Some younger viewers will need a history lesson about phone booths. (Of course Bill and Ted do their time traveling old school.) And some fans of the original many need to check with a younger member of the family to learn who Kid Cudi is. I hope all ages know who Dave Grohl is.

It’s all sweet, silly fun, with a conclusion that is likely to bring some tearing up from the parents in the audience, and make all Bill and Ted fans feel that this has been a very excellent adventure for us all.

Parents should know there is some mild language and some mostly comic peril and violence, including characters who are temporarily “killed” and sent to Hell.

Family discussion: Would you want to meet the future versions of yourself? What would you want to know?

If you like this, try: the two earlier “Bill and Ted” movies and the San Diego Comic-Con panel about the movie.

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Made in Italy

Posted on August 13, 2020 at 5:14 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: References to sad offscreen death, divorce, family conflict
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 8, 2020
Date Released to DVD: December 7, 2020

Copyright 2020 IFC
Made in Italy” is a labor of love starring a real-life father and son playing a father and son. And it is about a labor of love in the most literal terms as the estranged father and son have to work together on the house in Tuscany they jointly own so that it can be sold.

Like the characters they play, Liam Neeson (Robert) and his son Micheál Richardson (Jack) experienced the devastating loss of a wife and mother, actress Natasha Richardson (Micheál uses her last name as a tribute). This adds an overlay of intimacy to the film would not be supported by the script alone, a first-time feature written and directed by actor James D’Arcy. It is perhaps for that reason that a climactic scene of grief is truncated and underplayed. Maybe it is because it was just too painful. Or the shifting and uncertain tone of the film, which wants to be warm-hearted, romantic, comic, and dramatically emotional at the same time.

Jack manages an art gallery owned by the family of the wife who is divorcing him. When she tells him they are going to sell the gallery, he insists he will buy it. “The gallery is my home,” he says. He cannot let it go. But to get the money he needs he will have to sell his late mother’s home in Tuscany, deserted for twenty years because it was too painful to return. And he will have to get his father to agree. They are barely on speaking terms. Jack has contempt for his father’s failure to produce any new artwork in years and for his irresponsible attitude. Jack arrives to take him on the trip and Robert has not packed (“I thought it was tomorrow”) and, in one of the movie’s most regrettable cliches, cannot remember the name of the woman who spent the night. Robert does not respect Jack. Again, regrettably, he puts it this way: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t run their wive’s galleries.”

The house is a beautiful mess. The landscape around it is breathtaking. Robert calls it “one of the most fabulous convergences of nature ever,” and dismisses Jack’s referring to it as “the view.” And they disagree about a mural Robert painted on one of the walls, which he calls his tribute to abstract expressionist Franz Kline, but looks more like a tribute to the blood-tsunami elevator in “The Shining.”

There is a brisk British real estate agent with a severe haircut (Lindsay Duncan), who brings a delightful mix of disdain and saleswomanship to every scene she’s in, at least until her character has to soften up when she is charmed by Robert. There’s a warmhearted local woman (Valeria Bilello) who is there to soften up Jack. These women and the experience of living in and working with the home of the woman they are still grieving makes it possible for them to do what they have never done before: talk about their loss in a scene that is not as emotionally resonant as the film sets us up to expect. Maybe it is just be British reticence.

But then we return to the real heart of the film, the spectacularly gorgeous Tuscan scenery and oh, that food. That setting, and the genuine affection between Neeson and Richardson, makes up for the predictability of the script. What do you think, with the potential buyers be kind, considerate people who deeply appreciate the house as it is or a poor copy of the self-centered boors Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis used to play on “Saturday Night Live?” It’s the fabulous convergence of nature and the almost-fabulous convergence of the actors that makes it worth a watch.

Parents should know that this movie concerns a tragic death, survivor guilt, and family estrangement. Characters use strong language and there is a mild sexual situation.

Family discussion: Why wouldn’t Jack sign the divorce papers? Why was the gallery so important to him? Why couldn’t Jack and Robert be honest with one another?

If you like this, try: “Under the Tuscan Sun,” “Life as a House,” and “Enchanted April”

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Trolls: World Tour

Posted on April 10, 2020 at 11:02 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild rude humor
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 10, 2020
Date Released to DVD: July 7, 2020
Copyright 2020 DreamWorks

Remember on “Sesame Street” when they ask, which one of these four things is not like the other? “One of these doesn’t belong.” But there are a lot of ways to look at what is same and what is different, as “Trolls: World Tour” explores in a surprisingly subtle and nuanced theme in the midst of so much…well, just so much.

This sequel to the popular original film based on the little fuzzy-haired so-ugly-they’re-cute 1960’s fad dolls begins where the last one left off. Formerly cynical Branch (Justin Timberlake) has now learned to be happy, or happy-ish, and the eternally cheery Poppy (Anna Kendrick) is now Queen. Everything is glitters and rainbows and especially music music music, with a dizzying array of song snippets millennial parents will recognize. The snippets contribute to a a hyper, ADD quality that at times makes viewers feel shaken by the shoulders to make sure we notice we are being ENTERTAINED.

But happily-ever-after endings must be undone if there is to be a sequel and so Poppy learns that the pop-music trolls are not the only trolls and, even more surprising, pop music is not the only music. There’s even a map showing all of the different troll music communities, covering country, reggae, classical, hip-hop, funk, EDM, rock and more. (But it’s an old map — there’s no disco anymore. Even a movie about how harmony means accepting and enjoying every kind of music, disco is still over.)

Once all trolls were together, guided by a lyre with magical strings. But then they broke up into separate divisions, each with one string to produce the music. Queen Barb of Rock (a delicious Rachel Bloom of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”), daughter of King Thrash (a very funny Ozzie Osborne), declares a world tour which ever-optimistic Poppy thinks is about bringing everyone together in a peaceful manner, but Barb wants to grab all of the strings and make rock the one music for all of Troll-dom. Will this be the day the music dies? Or will Poppy find a way to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony? Will there be guest appearances from music giants along the way? What do you think? Kelly Clarkson, George Clinton, and Mary J. Blige all show up, along with many more song snippets and a lot of candy-colored action.

Also in the mix is Sam Rockwell, Kendrick’s “Mr. Right” co-star (not for kids, but a great movie if you like dark humor about world-class assassins). Here he plays a suspiciously helpful troll centaur from country music land.

And somewhere in there are some genuinely thoughtful themes. Like “Frozen II,” this movie touches gently but candidly on the idea that history is written by the victors. What we’ve been told about the past should be questioned, especially if we are portrayed as the heroes. And the idea of same and different, what kinds of differences we should appreciate and support in each other and what kinds we should not, is raised with sophistication and yet still in an accessible manner.

As everyone knows, this movie was scheduled to be a big holiday weekend family movie theatrical release. Instead, in the age of COVID-19, it is the first major studio film being sent straight to streaming, both a gift to homebound families and something of an experiment in unprecedented times. It may seem a bit frantic after weeks of sequester, but it is a bright, tuneful, sweet story with a message of hope that seems especially welcome in the spring of 2020.

Parents should know that this film has some mild peril and brief potty humor. A male troll “gives birth” to a baby (pops out of his head, like Zeus and Minerva)

Family discussion: Which is your favorite kind of music and why? How are Poppy and Barb alike? Can you find three things that are the same about you and your family members and three things that are different?

If you like this, try: “Trolls,” “Happy Feet,” and the “All Hail King Julien” series

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Animation DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy movie review Movies

Onward

Posted on March 4, 2020 at 5:19 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action/peril and some mild thematic elements
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy/cartoon-style peril and violence, theme of loss
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 6, 2020
Date Released to DVD: May 18, 2020

Copyright Pixar 2020
Arthur C. Clarke, the sci-fi author who wrote 2001, famously said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” At the beginning of Pixar’s new animated fantasy, “Onward” we see what happens when a world of wizards, elves, incantations, and — in both senses of the word — charms changes when technology takes over. It may be more satisfyingly magical to use a spell to bring light to darkness, but it can never be as convenient. And so, in this community, most of the inhabitants have given up magic to live in a way that to us seems almost normal. Even if our two main characters here are blue elves, teenage boy elves, so with the pointy ears and all, but also with the usual angst of adolescence, plus the extra longing that comes from never having known their father.

The younger one is Ian (voice of “Spider-Man’s” Tom Holland), timid, anxious, and just turning 16. His older brother is Barley (“Guardians of the Galaxy’s” Chris Pratt), more of a bro-type, way into fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons, and enjoying a gap year before whatever he will get around to eventually. They live with their mother, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who tells Ian there is a special birthday present waiting for him, a message from his father. Now that Ian is 16, he may be able to use his father’s “visitation spell” to bring him back for just one day. Ian is overwhelmed, nervous, and very excited.

Those are not ideal conditions for first-time magic, so things do not go exactly as wished. Dad is only half there, literally. Not as in a see-through ghost, as in up to the waist. Shoes, socks, khaki pants, and a belt. In order to get the rest of him, Ian and Barley will have to go on a good, old-fashioned magic quest, one that will resonate especially with fans of fantasy games, both IRL and digital. And like all heroic journeys, they will be tested in ways they could never have imagined, learn lessons they could never have known enough to ask the right questions for, and strengthen bonds they did not know they had.

If you are familiar with fantasy lore, whether in games or fiction, you will enjoy many references and details. If you are not, you will find out just how much fun and satisfaction there is in a world where every element is up for re-imagining. What would a fantasy world stop sign say? What would an elf have a a pet? You’ll find out. What is the same is as much fun as what is different. The community’s reflections of its mingled magic and technology history plays out with Pixar’s always-delicious whimsy and future viewers on DVD/Blu-ray and streaming will want to hit pause to examine the settings in detail.

Like all of the best fantasy, we learn more about our own world through the way the Pixar crowd re-imagines it. One of my favorite settings will be especially entertaining to families who eat out at “family-style” restaurants. This one is run by the Manticore, a sort of winged bear with bison horns and a scorpion tail-type beast with the voice of Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer.

The highlight of the film is the parallel heroic journey taken by the Manticore and Laurel, who deserve a movie of their own. In most stories, the mom’s job is to say “Be careful” and then bake brownies to welcome the boys back home, or to mess things up and have to be rescued. Not here.

There are other welcome surprises as well, not just in the adventures and characters along the way, but in the way it gets (and does not get) resolved. And, because this is Pixar, you’re going to cry when it happens, and hug your family a little bit harder, too.

Parents should know that this film includes themes of of loss of a parent, sibling conflict, as well as fantasy peril and action, and some monsters.

Family discussion: If there’s someone in your life you miss, what would you ask them or say to them? Which is better, magic or technology? Is there a mighty warrior inside of you?

If you like this, try: “Yellow Submarine” and “Finding Nemo”

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Smallfoot

Posted on September 27, 2018 at 5:52 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action, rude humor, and thematic elements
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 28, 2018
Date Released to DVD: December 10, 2018

Copyright Warner Brothers 2018
The Yeti, sometimes known as Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman and akin to Sasquatch, is a mythical, or, shall we say, so far unproven creature of enormous size, something like an ape. “Smallfoot” takes a charming switch-up — here it’s the Yeti who don’t believe there is such a thing as humans — and turns it into a surprisingly thoughtful film. In between its colorful musical numbers, silly jokes, and action scenes, somehow manages to address some pretty big and complex issues like fake news, xenophobia, and personal integrity, and to do so in a manner that is accessible and nuanced.

Our hero in this movie is Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum), who is perfectly happy and wants everything to stay exactly the same. His home is “harsh, jagged, freezing, and awesome.” “It’s a day like any other,” he sings, “and I don’t want to change a thing.”

We can understand why. The gorgeously imagined tundra of the Himalayas is wonderfully enticing here, with a color palette of blue and white with sparkling snow and Prussian shadows, and the community has an inviting design of homes made from stone and ice. It is a close and cooperative neighborhood, led by the Stonekeeper (Common), whose robes made of stone lay out the immutable laws. The gong must be rung each morning to raise the sun. The mammoths that hold up the mountain must be fed. And, very important, no one may question the laws or traditions. “If there’s a question causing you to go astray, just stuff it down inside.” As Migo’s father, Dorgle (Danny DeVito) says, “Do what you’re told. Blend in.”

Migo and Dorgle have the very important responsibility of ringing the morning gong. With Dorgle’s head (explaining why it is so flat and he is so short). Each day, Migo launches his father like an arrow through a sort of giant bow. He dreams of someday having the honor of getting launched at the gong himself. He finally gets his first try, but misses the target and ends up out in the snow, where he witnesses a plane crash and sees a human, what the Yeti call “Smallfoot.” The pilot sees Migo, too, and is equally surprised and a lot more scared.

No one believes Migo, and when he insists that he is not lying about what he saw, he is banished by the Stonekeeper. That is when he discovers a kind of Yeti Resistance movement, led by the Stonekeeper’s spirited daughter, Meechee (Zendaya). She believes in curiosity, exploration, challenging assumptions, and testing hypotheses: “Questions lead to knowledge, and knowledge is power.” Migo sets off to go beneath the clouds in search of Smallfoot.

Below the tree line, a British television personality named Percy (James Corden) is “under pressure” (he performs a Karaoke version of the song) because his once-popular television programs about animals have been eclipsed by amateur cute animal videos on YouTube and Facebook (the musical number features floating Facebook “likes”). He tells his colleague, Brenda (Yara Shahidi) that he plans to fake a Yeti sighting, and then go back to having integrity afterward. But then Migo, a real Yeti, shows up. Migo wants to take Percy back to his community to show that he was telling the truth. And Percy wants to film Migo so he can make a lot of money.

Amusingly, they have no way of understanding each other’s form of communication. We hear what each of them sounds like to the other, Percy’s little squeaks and Migo’s growls. Migo wraps Percy in a sleeping bag, wears him on his huge hairy chest like a Baby Bjorn, and begins to climb back up to the peak of the mountain.

This is where most movies for children start to move toward the themes of friendship, home, and believing in yourself. But “Smallfoot” goes in a different direction, somewhere between “The Matrix’s” blue pill/red pill choice between being safe and knowing the truth and “Black Panther’s” choice between isolationism and, despite the risks, finding a way to help and learn from others. Migo learns the reason for the Stonekeeper’s insistence on perpetuating the myths of the Yeti world, and he has to consider carefully whether it is worth putting his friends and family at risk in order to learn the truth.

This is some pretty existential stuff. “If I’m not the gong ringer, who am I?” Migo asks. It is heartening in this era of fake news, when it is tempting to outsource our knowledge base to our devices, to have a movie about curiosity, critical thinking, and challenging the status quo.

Parents should know that this movie has some schoolyard language, brief potty humor, action/cartoon-style peril (no one hurt), and discussions of past violence.

Family discussion: When did you find that curiosity led you to something you would never have expected? Why didn’t the Stonekeeper want anyone to know the truth? Who should decide what knowledge is available?

If you like this, try: “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and “Surf’s Up!”

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