Free Guy

Posted on August 5, 2021 at 12:05 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 (Language|Crude/Suggestive References|Strong Fantasy Violence)
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended video-game violence with powerful real and fantasy weapons, guns, chases, explosions
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 13, 2021
Date Released to DVD: October 12, 2021

Copyright 20th Century Studios 2021
In 1966, Tom Stoppard gave us “Hamlet” from the perspective of two of its most minor characters in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” a meditation on the impossibility of understanding the sometimes random, sometimes malicious forces of life, not as grim as it sounds. In “The Lion King 1 1/2,” Disney gave us the same story as the original “Lion King” but from the perspective of two of the main character’s sidekicks, the wart hog and the meerkat. The theme is basically building on a popular franchise, but it does expand on the story. In “Free Guy,” this idea goes further by giving a video game’s NPC (non-playable character) who is so generic his name is Guy (Ryan Reynolds) agency and that most human of gifts, the chance to grow and learn and love. Reynolds, who also produced, is never less than terrific here in a role ideally suited for his gifts. It’s easy to forget how subtle an actor he is, even in wild comedies like “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” and larger than life roles like “Deadpool.” At each stage, from a one-note character barely more than some code and pixels to the first suggestions of mingled longing triumphing over fear, he calibrates with exquisite precision exactly where these nascent emotions and increasing confidence are progressing.

Guy is blissfully ignorant that his only purpose in the digital world of Free City is to hit the floor when the bank robbers, avatars of the real-world players, break in and start shooting. (Listen carefully to the robbers’ voices for some surprise appearances.) He wakes up so happy every morning we almost expect him to start singing “Everything is Awesome,” like Chris Pratt in “The LEGO Movie.” He is happy because he does not know there is another way to be. He gets up. He has some cereal and feeds his goldfish. He selects one of the identical blue button-down shirts and khaki slacks from his closet. He stops at a local cafe to get coffee. He goes to work as a bank teller, with his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howrey), a security guard, and then the next group of robbers break in.

And then, one day, he sees The Girl (Jodie Comer of “Killing Eve”). She Molotov Girl, is the avatar for Millie, a gamer and programmer whose goal in the game is not racking up points, which players get from robbing and killing people. She is looking for proof that Antwan (Taika Waititi, having fun as a temperamental tyrant) the head of the computer game company cheekily called Soonami, stole the code she developed for a different game with Keys (Joe Keery of “Stranger Things,” very appealing), her former business partner. Keys now works for Soonami, with his friend and sometimes competitor Mouser (Utkarsh Ambudkar).

The avatars in the game, representing the real-life players, wear sunglasses. Guy puts on a pair and for the first time sees what the players see, a Pokemon Go-style assortment of goals and prizes and attributes. Director Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum”) has a lot of fun going back and forth between the world inside the game and the real world of Soonami, Keys, and Millie, plus some glimpses of the players behind their vastly more badass avatars. Gamers will find a lot of clever references to their world, especially the creation of a new character near the end who looks very familiar but is not fully programmed. And anyone who’s been to a blockbuster in the past few years will enjoy some surprise cameos. “Don’t have a good day; have a GREAT day.” This movie is smarter than it needs to be, and it is very satisfying to see Guy confront existential questions and discover, as lucky humans do, that it is love and helping others that makes life meaningful. It may start with as small a step as a Henley shirt or a cappuccino. All it takes is wanting more.

Parents should know that this film includes extended video-game action and violence with many real and fantasy weapons, and some strong language.

Family discussion: Which game would you prefer? What kind of game would you create?

If you like this, try: “Ready Player One,” “Jumanji” and “The LEGO Movie”

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Action/Adventure Based on a video game Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy movie review Movies -- Reviews Romance

F9

Posted on June 22, 2021 at 8:47 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language, action, sequences of violence
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Beer
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril ad violence, shooting, explosions, martial arts, many people killed or injured
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 25, 2021
Date Released to DVD: September 21, 2021

Copyright 2021 Universal
Let’s be real about F9. If we can use a word like “real” to describe a series of films that parted ways with reality at least six or seven movies ago. But, knowing that, if you’re still here and I’m still here, we’ve pretty much agreed that’s okay and so the usual information potential ticket-buyers look for in a movie review is not really relevant. So, we can do what this movie does, and cut to the chase.

Here’s what you need to know. Director Justin Lin and his co-producer/star Vin Diesel know why we’re here; we want to see some crazy action scenes with characters we know so well that when Dom says once again that he doesn’t have friends; he has family, we almost feel that we’re part of the family now, too. So, “F9” delivers what the fans want, which is more and wilder action, and a bit more family, too. In fact, this time we get some backstory, with teenage brother and sister Dom (Diesel) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their dad, race car driver Jack Toretto (JD Pardo). It turns out there’s another brother, too, Jakob (Finn Cole). And we get to see how a tragedy on the racecourse leads to the brothers going in different directions. Jakob comes back into the story as John Cena.

If you’re a casual fan, all you need to know is that this movie has a lot of fun, if highly improbable, action scenes, including Vin Diesel as a passenger in a crazy car chase through London with none other than Dame Helen Mirren at the wheel. If you’re really into the series, you’ll want to know that many other favorite characters return, some more surprisingly than others. Also, if you’re really into the series you already know that the third movie in the series is the eighth in the chronology (also the first directed by Lin). That movie ended with another tragic exploding car death, of a mentor named Han (Sung Kang). But if we’ve learned one thing from this series, it is that sometimes people you think were either dead or bad turn out to be neither.

Two scenes I particularly loved will be the best litmus test for your decision on whether to buy a ticket (and if you do, please make it the Dolby experience). We’ve all seen fights before. We’ve seen fights where our two guys take on six bad guys. We’ve probably seen fights in the back of a big moving van, but here’s where the “Fast and Furious” franchise says to themselves, “How can we make things even more interesting?” And at some point someone says, “Let’s have the fight take place when the van is being (a) being chased by more bad guys, (b) being driven by someone who has never driven before, and (c) carrying the world’s most powerful electro-magnet, which is being turned on and off, sometimes on purpose and sometimes not. Wow.

The other scene has Roman, the comic relief character played by the almost-impossibly handsome Tyrese, says something that does not quite break the fourth wall between the characters and the audience but bends it a little. He mentions the un-mentionable — somehow no matter how many of the most lethal weapons ever conceived are shooting and exploding all around them, no matter how outnumbered they are, no matter how many impossible jumps they attempt to make in vehicles, somehow they all walk away without a scratch. Could it be, he wonders, that they’re not human? The real-life answer is that they’re not; they’re fictional characters. His conjecture is, maybe, that they could be un-killable? The real-life answer to that one is yes, as long as people keep buying tickets to the sequels.

In another scene, a character says, “If this was a movie, this would be when….” just to remind us that they know we know.

They can’t make the title any shorter. What’s the next one going to be called, just F? Will there be another “Hobbs & Shaw?” A spin-off about Dom’s early days? If they feature Helen Mirren and a Pontiac Fiero shot into space or whatever even crazier stuff they can dream up, I’m in.

NOTE: Stay for the mid-credits sequence for another familiar face.

Parents should know that this film includes constant action and peril including teenagers witnessing the death of a parent in a fiery crash and endless shoot-outs and chases, one through a minefield. Characters use strong language and drink beer. Bad guys plot world domination.

Family discussion: When does someone deserve a second chance? Should Letty have called Mia?

If you like this, try: the other films in the series, especially “Tokyo Drift” and “Hobbs & Shaw.”

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Let Him Go

Posted on November 2, 2020 at 8:00 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking, alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and very tense peril and violence, sad death, characters injured and killed, guns, ax, fire
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 6, 2020
Date Released to DVD: February 1, 2021

Copyright 2020 Focus Features
We think George (Kevin Costner) and Margaret (Diane Lane) Blackledge are dressing for a funeral. In the first moments of “Let Him Go” their adult son was killed in an accident on their farm, and their expressions and clothes are somber. But it is three years after their son’s death and they are dressing for a wedding, not a funeral. Lorna (Kayli Carter), the widow of their son James and the mother of his now-three-year-old son Jimmy, is getting married to a man named Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain) and leaving their farm to live with him. They reassure themselves that they will still see Jimmy. But then Margaret sees them when they don’t know she is there, and Donnie hits Lorna. And then, without any notice, Donnie, Lorna, and Jimmy disappear. He has gone home to his family, leaving no way to contact them. It is the 1960s, and it was easier to hide in those days, whether from grandparents or from law enforcement.

Margaret decides to go after them, to bring Jimmy home to live with them. George agrees to go along, but he does not think they can get Jimmy away from his mother and his new family. He wants to give Margaret a chance to say goodbye.

“Let Him Go” is based on a book by Larry Watson, adapted by writer/director Thomas Bezucha. He makes great use of the majestic scenery of the northwest, especially when George and Margaret encounter a lone young Native American named Peter Dragswolf (Booboo Stewart). Just as in the classic westerns, the landscape emphasizes the opportunity — and the dangers — of a world where there is so much land and people are so isolated.

Lane and Costner, who played a couple in two Superman movies, have an easy chemistry that makes us believe there is a long history between them. Neither George nor Margaret say much, in part because they know each other so well there is little more to say, and that includes understanding that there is no point in trying to persuade each other on issues that they know too well will never be resolved. “Sometimes that’s all life is, a list of what we’ve lost,” George says. But Margaret is not going to give up.

Bezucha knows how to create tension, even with seemingly simple comments or undramatic settings, which only adds to the sense of dread. You don’t find a Weboy, a relative tells them. “You let it be known you’re looking for a Weboy. They find you.”

And they do, at a place so far off the map they could never find it without being led by Donnie’s uncle. They are invited to dinner by Donnie’s mother Blanche, played by the unsurpassable Lesley Manville, in one of the year’s best performances. She can make the offer of pork chops sound ominous. And she does. She rips into the role and is absolutely electrifying. And terrifying.

Two solid citizens up against a family of feral outlaws, an updated western with good guys and bad guys leading to an intense and violent battle. The set-up is conventional, but the direction and performances make it memorable.

Parents should know that this film is an exceptionally tense thriller with peril, abuse, and violence that includes guns, an ax, and fire. Characters are injured and killed.

Family discussion: Why did George and Margaret have different ideas about what they wanted to get from finding Jimmy? What do we learn from Peter’s story?

If you like this, try: “The Lookout” and “The Highwaymen”

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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 -- Reviews
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