Black Adam

Posted on October 20, 2022 at 5:04 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, intense action and some language
Profanity: A few strong words
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic book/supehero peril and violence, many characters injured and killed including family members and a child held and gunpoint and another one murdered,
Date Released to Theaters: October 21, 2022
Date Released to DVD: January 3, 2023

Copyright 2022 Warner Brothers
In the mid-credit scene in “The League of Super-Pets,” Dwayne Johnson (as Black Adam) explains to Krypto the super-dog (also Johnson) what it means to be an anti-hero. “It’s basically the same thing as being a hero but way cooler. You make your own rules and then you break them. Also you can ignore most moral and ethical conventions because no one can stop you.”

That was a cheeky nod to Johnson’s next role, the anti-hero of “Black Adam,” a DC Comics superhero/anti-hero, which has a lot of old-school superhero requirements — origin story, walking away from a huge fire without looking back, heroes in slo-mo, and someone looking up into the sky and moan/yelling “Noooooo!” Make that two “Noooooos!” It also has a bit of meta-humor about catchphrases and more recent addition to the expected elements: some Gen-Z superheroes, one for comic relief, and, much more welcome, a lot more diversity.

That mid-credit sequence in an animated movie for kids had a better understanding of what it means to be an anti-hero than this movie does. More seriously, it also had a much better idea of how to make the best of one of Hollywood’s most appealing actors. “Black Adam” (known as Teth Adam for most of the film) does not have a clear idea of where its title character should fall on the spectrum from anti-hero to hero. And he is tamped down emotionally for most of it, which means we get only glimpses of Johnson’s limitless charm.

We do get plenty of what we go to superhero movies for, though, big superhero fights with an assortment of well-crafted characters using their different powers. There’s a solid theme about an (imaginary but believable) resource-rich place that has been occupied by oppressive invaders for millennia.

It begins thousands of years ago, before the great civilizations of Egypt and Rome, in the Middle Eastern area known as Kahndaq. After many years of peace and plenty, a ruler arises who wants absolute power. He enslaves the population and makes them mine the country’s version of Wakanda’s vibranium and Pandora’s unnobtanium, oh and also the rings of power. This is called etermium, and a crown made out of it will give the wearer all the superpowers necessary to control pretty much everything. Just as a note, these folks are not the greatest with names. The thugs who are running Kohndaq have the most boring name possible for a bunch of menacing tough guys. They are called Intergang. Seriously. That’s like one of those incomplete programming jokes from “Free Guy.”

A young boy tries to inspire the enslaved people to challenge the king. Wizards pick someone to be a hero and bestow magical powers on him.

We will not find out the whole story of the hero’s defeat of that ruler until later in the film, but after the opening sequence, we are in present day, and Adriana (Sarah Shahi) is trying to retrieve the crown from the cave where it has been hidden for thousands of years, because she knows people are trying to steal it. Things don’t go well and the ancient hero is brought back to life as Teth Adam, who can not just fly but levitate and shoot lightning from his body. Even mercenaries with etermium-powered technology are no match for that.

Teth Adam’s literal scorched-earth approach attracts the attention of the Justice Society, and there is one of those tense but understated calls between Hackman (Aldis Hodge) and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). I hope Hawkman gets his own movie, by the way. Hodge is wonderfully magnetic and his character’s wings are very well designed. He brings in his old friend (old in both senses of the word), Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan, all silky elegance and world-weariness), who has all kinds of tricks, including the ability to see the future. They are accompanied by two newcomers, Maxine (Quintessa Swindell), described as “a tornado with a 167 IQ), and the affable if a bit clueless Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), who has just inherited the super-suit from his uncle (Henry Winkler!) and hasn’t got all the kinks out.

Teth Adam is presented as opposite to Hawkman because he does not worry about whether it is fair to kill the bad guys when not in a specific situation of peril. But the more interesting question that is raised is from Adriana, who points out that Teth Adam is from their community, while the so-called Justice Society are just another set of interlopers, Justics-splaining to people who cannot help wondering why justice did not seem so important during their centuries of occupation and abuse.

Of course, that’s just a very small part of the film. The rest is comic-book action, and all of that is well staged except for the key element that we are not given enough information about the powers and especially the vulnerabilities of all of the many superheroes. That makes even the most energetic and expertly staged conflicts less exciting than they could be. And Teth Adam does not meet the description of Johnson’s meta-description in the animated film. He’s not someone who has deliberately chosen to violate ethical principles. He’s more like the Terminator in the first film, just a shark-like machine who pursues goals regardless of collateral damage. His interaction with a skater boi teenager (Bodhi Sabongui as Amon) recalls “Terminator 2,” even to the kid’s insistence on providing Teth Adam with a catchphrase.

As Teth becomes more human by reckoning with the losses of his past, we begin to see a little more life in the character. But by then of course we are in the middle of yet another superhero battle, this time more emotionally charged because we have begun to care about the characters. The pilot light is still too low but it’s getting warmer.

NOTE: Stay for a mid-credit scene indicating which legendary character will be joining the cast in the sequel.

Parents should know that this movie has extended superhero/comic book peril and violence with many minor characters and a few major characters injured and killed, including a child held at gunpoint and another who is killed. There are some disturbing and graphic images including a character sliced in half, several burned to death, and a couple impaled. Characters use brief strong language.

Family discussion: What is the biggest difference of opinion between Hawkman and Teth Adam? What would you like to have as your catchphrase?

If you like this, try: “Man of Steel,” “Shazam,” and “Justice League”

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The Banshees of Inisherin

Posted on October 19, 2022 at 10:30 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, some violent content and brief graphic nudity
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Domestic abuse including sexual abuse, suicide, graphic and disturbing self-mutilation, arson
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 7, 2022
Date Released to DVD: December 19, 2022

Copyright 2022 Searchlight
As The Banshees of Inisherin, the new film from Martin McDonagh, the writer/director of “In Bruges” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” begins, Pádraic (Colin Farrell) looks like a man who understands his life and is content with it. He nods companionably at people he passes, as he walks along the spectacularly beautiful path of (fictional) Inisherin Island, off the coast of Northern Ireland. He knows where he fits into the world, he knows everyone around him and the names of all their animals, and he knows what each day holds, tending to his cows and the little donkey named Jenny that is a beloved pet, stopping at the home of his best friend Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleason) every day at 2:00 pm to invite him to the pub for some drinks before he goes home to dinner made by his sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon).

If he thought about it, which he does not, because he does not think about much and takes comfort in not having to think about much, Pádraic would feel comforted by that familiarity and certainty. So, as this movie begins, Pádraic pets Colm’s dog, as usual, then invites him to the pub, as usual, it is deeply disturbing when Colm does not answer and even more disturbing when Colm does come to the pub but will not sit with him. Pádraic offers to apologize for anything he may have done to insult or upset Colm. But Colm shakes him to the core by saying he no longer likes Pádraic or wants to be friends with him.

Colm has been doing some thinking about life and has decided he no longer has time for chit-chat about meaningless topics. He wants to spend all of the time he has left creating something that will live on after he is gone. Pádraic is not able to understand this. he believes that meaningless chit-chat has value because it is kind; perhaps it is all that has value. When he refuses to let Colm alone, Colm makes a terrible promise. He will cut off a finger every time Pádraic tries to speak to him.

Gleason and Farrell, re-teamed with “In Bruges” writer/director McDonogh, give performances of deep complexity and authenticity. We can see them each, in his own way, struggling with his thoughts and emotions they find difficult to explain. Director of Photography Ben Davis places this small story of a small quarrel in the midst of spectacular beauty, with an evocative core from Carter Burwell. The characters occasionally refer casually to the far-distant sounds of gunfire from the battles of the Irish civil war and one mentions the payment and free lunch he will get from providing security at an upcoming hanging, though he does not remember which side the condemned men were on. They may give some thought to existential questions about the meaning of life, but when it comes to the affairs of the world, they seem to have no impact at all. The local shop proprietor insists on being paid in local gossip as well as money, the more lurid the better as long as it does not pertain to someone she cares about. But no one seems connected enough to try to respond to what is going on. Everyone knows that the local policeman constantly abuses his son (a heart-wrenching performance by Barry Keoghan as the damaged man). Other than offering him a night in their home — only one, Siobhan insists, no one intervenes.

There’s a sterility to the community. None of the main characters are married and we see almost no children. Siobhan is the only one who seems connected to the larger world, through a love of books the rest of the community considers mildly odd. And yet, in their own way, each of the characters is trying to find purpose. Neither Pádraic nor Colm is right. Kindness and art are both ways to find meaning. They may be wrong in considering them mutually exclusive. McDonagh pursues these questions here, as he did in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “In Bruges,” with a unique combination of dark humor, shocking violence, and an invitation to the audience that is both heightened and very real.

Parents should know that this movie included graphic and very disturbing self-mutilation, sexual and violent abuse of an adult by his parent, suicide, off-screen (real-life) war violence, strong language, drinking and drunkenness

Family discussion: Who is right about what is important in life, Colm, Pádraic, or Siobhan? Why is the story set during the time of the Irish Civil War? Why are the characters in this story unmarried and childless?

If you like this, try: “In Bruges”

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Tár

Posted on October 13, 2022 at 5:58 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some language and brief nudity
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and medication
Violence/ Scariness: Tense emotional confrontations, accident with bloody injury
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 14, 2022
Date Released to DVD: December 19, 2022

Copyright 2022 Focus
Author and New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik (playing himself) introduces us to “Tár‘s” subject, Maestro Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) at one of those events that certify the highest levels of achievement, an interview before an appreciative audience of highly cultured Manhattanites. As he reads out her almost preposterously accomplished resume, her beleaguered assistant mouths silently along. Tár is one of a tiny group to have been awarded the four prizes that make up the EGOT: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony. She has a PhD for her years of research on ethnographic music in the Amazon Basin. She has a book coming out called Tár on Tár. She has conducted prestigious orchestras all over the world and composed movie scores. And she is now in one of the most revered positions in classical music, principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. All of this is in a rarified world that has been at best unwelcoming to women (see the documentary, “The Conductor,” about pioneering maestro Marin Alsop).

I admit to wondering a few minutes into the film, “Am I at a movie or a TED Talk?” That does not mean the thoughtful questions from a very respectful Gopnik and the also-thoughtful and engaging answers from the maestro are not fascinating. But we cannot help asking ourselves where a character so completely in control and so impeccably on top of the world can possibly go from here.

The answer, of course, is down.

We get a slight hint of that possibility from the beginning, as an unseen person is texting someone about Lydia as she sleeps on a luxurious private jet. Not everyone is as unconflicted in admiring her as the New Yorker festival audience.

Still, between the deeply researched dialogue from writer/director Todd Field (in his first film since 2006’s “Little Children”) and the truly spectacular performance by Blanchett, Lydia Tár is a mesmerizing character. She seems to be supremely in command, whether rehearsing with the orchestra, responding to a student who tells her that as a “BIPOC pansexual” he cannot be interested in Bach, politely but firmly setting boundaries with an important funder who wants her to share her conducting notes, or threatening the child who has been bullying her young daughter. Blanchett’s physicality in the role is never less than stunning, the masterful arm movements as she conducts communicating to us as much as to the musicians she is leading. As Tár explains to Gopnik that she is not a “human metronome” but she does use her right hand to control “the essential piece of interpretation,” time.

As she prepares to complete her final recording for the complete set of Mahler symphonies, the legendary 5th, Lydia, always exquisitely sensitive to sound and fiercely in control, is increasingly disrupted by noises, a rattle in the car, knocks on the door of the apartment she keeps as a studio. That studio, like the other brilliantly designed settings of the film by Marco Bittner Rosser, cement and metal, stark, institutional, according to the architectural style of brutalism. Her bespoke suits, from costume designer Bina Daigeler, are impeccably tailored but similarly severe. There is no softness or vulnerability. As her wife (Nina Hoss), who is concertmaster of the orchestra, tells her, every relationship Lydia has is transactional. She excepts their daughter, but we may not agree.

The movie takes its time with the story; it is two hours and forty minutes long. But it is as spare as the settings; not a moment is wasted. As Lydia’s carefully constructed life and persona begins to unravel (we will learn just how constructed in an extraordinary scene near the end), she at first is certain she can continue to maintain control. But her failure to understand the limits of her control is evident in some key mistakes. First, just because you delete some emails does not mean they disappear from the inboxes of the recipients. Second, just because someone is an enabler who puts up with abuse for a long time does not mean that will go on forever.

The sound design will be studied in film schools; it makes a huge contribution to the atmosphere and the storytelling. The supporting cast is excellent, especially Hoss, Noémie Merlant as Lydia’s assistant (and more) and real-life cellist Sophie Kauer as a potential new member of the orchestra who attracts some special attention from Lydia. Their lunch scene together is mesmerizing as we see the unstated shifts of power. Lydia may have all of the power of her achievements and the opportunities she can bestow. But the cellist has the power of Lydia’s longing. The movie gives us an enthralling character who keeps our sympathies shifting as we consider questions of seduction, privilege, predation, and cancel culture. And its final scene is breathtaking.

Parents should know that the themes of this movie include sexual predation and #metoo issues as well as cancel culture. A child is bullied and a character has a bad fall with bloody injuries. There are tense emotional confrontations about infidelity and characters use some strong language, drink, and take and abuse medication.

Family discussion: Was Lydia Tár fairly judged? How would you have responded if you were Francesca? If you were on the board of the orchestra? What is the meaning of the final scene?

If you like this, try: Field’s other films, “Little Children” and “In the Bedroom” and the documentary about Marin Alsop, “Meeting Venus,” and “Black Swan.” You may also enjoy learning about Gil Kaplan, an American businessman whose passion for Mahler’s 2nd Symphony led to intense study and performance as a conductor with many orchestras, a possible inspiration for the character played by Mark Strong in this film, also named Kaplan.

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Amsterdam

Posted on October 6, 2022 at 5:20 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for brief violence and bloody images
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Very graphic bloody images, wartime violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 7, 2022
Date Released to DVD: December 5, 2022

Copyright 2022 20th Century
David O. Russell’s film, “Amsterdam” has a powerhouse cast, a wisp of a true story and a wildly uneven and overly complicated script. The results are, therefore, messy and mixed. As a fellow movie-goer told me, watching the movie was like bobbing for apples. Much of the time we felt like we were under water and then all of a sudden something good would pop up.

Amsterdam (the city) appears in the film only in a brief happy moment in the lives of the three main characters, who have sworn to be best friends and protect each other. They are two WWI veterans, Harold Woodman (John David Washington), who would become a lawyer, Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), already a doctor, and Valerie (Margot Robbie), a nurse who cared for them in a French hospital for wounded soldiers. Harold is Black and Burt is half Jewish and lower class than his high society wife, and bigotry is evident throughout the story. Indeed, as we see in a flashback, they met when Black US soldiers in France objected to their racist white officers — they were not even allowed to wear the uniform of their country — and Burt was assigned by the kind, honorable General Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.) to treat the Black soldiers with honor and dignity.

In the movie’s present setting of 1933 New York, both Burt and Harold are devoting their lives to helping other wounded veterans. They themselves bear the scars of combat and Burt has a glass eye due to his injuries (second movie with Bale losing a glass eye after “The Big Short”). He is also experimenting with pain medication for his patients and taking a lot of it himself. The men are working on a gala dinner honoring their fellow veterans that will become of increasing importance.

Every role, even the smallest, is superbly cast, with Robbie as the high-spirited, dada-esque artist, Zoe Saldana as a sympathetic nurse passing for “Portuguese,” Beth Grant as a bouillabaisse-making devoted wife, Matthias Schoenaerts and Alessandro Nivola as police detectives, significantly one also a wounded vet and one who did not serve, Timothy Olyphant, almost unrecognizable in a role I won’t spoil, and Michael Shannon and Mike Myers — yes, that Mike Myers) as bird-loving “benefactors” who may not be completely forthcoming about their real interests. Every performance is outstanding, but so much so that they begin to throw the storyline out of whack. In films like “Silver Linings Playbook,” “American Hustle,” and “Flirting with Disaster,” Russell made the mixture of bittersweet situations and some leavening humor work to reveal the characters and move the story. Here it just gets distracting.

The daughter of General Meekins (Taylor Swift, yes, that Taylor Swift), asks Harold and Burt for help. Her father died on a ship returning from Europe, and she suspects that he may have been murdered. The efforts to investigate result in another murder, with Burt and Harold as the prime suspects. This leads to a series of encounters, revelations, and twists that I will not spoil. Also, I’m not sure I understood all of them.

I did understand the last 20 minutes. Everyone understood the last 20 minutes, thoug. I’m pretty sure you didn’t even have to watch the movie to understand the point. Russell bangs on his message with a sledgehammer, and then, just in case he wasn’t banging hard enough, he shows us archival footage of the person who inspired the character played by Robert De Niro. Even those sympathetic to the points he is trying to make about the parallels between the political conflicts of the pre-WWII era and today will find it overly didactic. Too much water, not enough apples.

Parents should know that this film includes bloody, graphic images of an autopsy and wartime violence, bigotry, alcohol and drug use (portrayed as comic in some instances), and brief strong language.

Family discussion: What parallels is Russell drawing to the politics of 2022? Why is the movie called “Amsterdam?” Read up on General Smedley Butler and the “Business Plot.”

If you like this, try: “Keeper of the Flame” and “State of the Union,” both starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy

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Bros

Posted on September 29, 2022 at 5:53 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 30, 2022
Date Released to DVD: November 21, 2022

Copyright 2022 Universal
Two very different people claim that they have no interest in love and relationships but love will outsmart you and — at least in movies — love loves a challenge. “Bros” is the first Hollywood studio romantic comedy about a gay couple, and it arrives with solid credentials: produced by Judd Apatow (“The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up”) and co-written and directed by Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Get Him to the Greek”).

The other screenwriter and star is Billy Eichner, playing a heightened version of his real-life persona: cynical and often abrasive. He has said in interviews that he was determined not to make this story comfortable for “normies” by simply replicating cis-het rom-com tropes. This is not a script that could be easily retrofitted for some pretty Jennifer or Jessica to sparkle through some misunderstandings and end with an apology and a proposal. “Love is not love!” he says, explaining that expecting gay couples to replicate the dynamics of straight couples just to make them more acceptable is refusing to recognize that their differences are who they are. This is more of a “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it” attitude. Everyone in the film, including the actors playing straight characters, is gay, except for a few celebrity cameos.

Eichner plays Bobby Leiber, a popular podcaster who has just accepted a new job as the head of the country’s first museum of LGBTQIA history. Some of the movie’s best scenes are in the museum’s conference room, as Bobby and the staff argue about the best way to represent their community. They want to be honest but they also want to get the funding they need to open the museum. So, does that mean an exhibit about Abraham Lincoln, because some people think he was gay? Or does it mean an exhibit with a car that travels through a hall of gay trauma proposed by a wealthy donor? That potential donor, by the way, is played by “SNL’s” Bowen Yang, and he is hilarious.

Bobby insists that he likes being alone and independent. When two friends excitedly announced that they have invited a third man into their relationship to become a thruple, he says he does not even want to be part of a couple. He insists that he is doing fine with brief encounters with strangers found via apps, and tells us that walking home afterwards he feels warm and connected. And then he sees Aaron (Luke Macfarlane). While he won’t admit it to himself, he likes Aaron and he like likes Aaron. And that means he has to think about something he has spent his whole life not thinking about: whether anyone will like like him.

There’s a bushel basket of witticisms and pop culture references. The film also captures the way “S’up?” both stands for and impedes communication. Without getting too heteronormative, there is also a lot of heart. Everyone in the film is clearly very happy to be there and to tell this story, and I was happy to be able to watch it.

Parents should know that this movie includes sexual references and very explicit sexual situations and nudity, strong language, alcohol and drug use.

Family discussion: What was Bobby wrong about? Would you like to visit that museum? What should be in it?

If you like this, try: “Fire Island,” also featuring Bowen Yang.

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