The Boss Baby: Family Business

Posted on July 1, 2021 at 5:59 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG (Rude Humor|Mild Language|Some Action)
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Potion
Violence/ Scariness: Extended cartoon-style action, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 2, 2021
Date Released to DVD: September 13, 2021

Copyright 2021 Universal
2017’s “Boss Baby” was a happy surprise. It took the classic theme of sibling rivalry to a hilarious extreme, revealing that the family’s new baby, Theodore (“Ted”), is literally a boss. He arrives complete with suit, tie, Rolex, briefcase, a job at Baby Corp, and the ultra-adult voice of Alec Baldwin. The older brother, Tim, is initially jealous and hostile, but ultimately joins forces with him to complete his mission.

In this sequel (following the interactive Netflix film, “Boss Baby: Back in Business”), Ted (Baldwin again) and Tim (James Marsden) are grown up. Tim is very happy as a devoted and imaginative stay-at-home Dad to Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt), the brightest student at a fancy private school) and her baby sister Tina (Amy Sederis), but he misses Ted, who is now a very successful executive who works all the time and instead of spending time with the family just sends “inappropriately lavish gifts,” including a horse named Precious. Tabitha seems to be following in her uncle’s footsteps, telling her dad she is too old for bedtime stories and goodnight kisses.

It turns out that it is Tina who is really following in her uncle’s first tentative toddler footsteps. She is a boss baby in a pantsuit, and on behalf of BabyCorp, she is there to bring her father and uncle back together and, while they are sorting things out, to save the world.

In the first film, Baby Corp had to save the world from a villain who was trying to make puppies cuter than babies. This time it is Dr. Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum), the founder and principal of Tabitha’s school who is plotting a baby takeover by zombie-fying the adults, starting with the parents of his students when they are all together at the school recital. Ted and Tim drink a potion that will return them to babyhood (Ted) and childhood (Tim) so they can infiltrate the school and stop Armstrong’s evil plot.

Like the first film, this one has a delightful mix of understated humor (wait until you see the holiday pageant song about climate change), wild fantasy, cheeky needle-drop songs and pop culture references (from “Rocky Horror’s” “Time Warp” to Flock of Seagulls, “Norma Rae,” and a “comfort plant”). Plus some of the best-constructed action scenes in animated films, exciting, fun, and funny, and then exciting again. And there are some great moments with my favorite character, Wizzie the Wizard toy, magnificently voiced by James McGrath in tones usually heard only in Shakespeare’s plays or “Lord of the Rings” or supervillains. It’s fast, fun, and funny, but it is the heartfelt sense of joy in family, however different we may be, that keeps me hoping for another sequel.

Parents should know that this film has extended cartoon-style peril and action including chases, ninjas with swords and throwing stars, and vertiginous climbs. Characters use some schoolyard language and there is potty humor. A theme of the movie is sibling rivalry and family estrangement.

Family discussion: Is Tina a different kind of boss than Ted? Why are Ted and Tim so different? Why didn’t Armstrong like grown-ups? What name would you choose for your secret identity? What do you think is more important than money?

If you like this, try: the other “Boss Baby” movies and “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”

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Animation DVD/Blu-Ray Family Issues Fantasy Kids movie review Movies -- format Series/Sequel Stories About Kids

Dream Horse

Posted on May 20, 2021 at 12:00 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for language and thematic elements
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, scenes in pub, alcoholic portrayed as cute and funny
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death of a parent, off-screen serious injury of a horse
Diversity Issues: Class issues
Date Released to Theaters: May 21, 2021
Date Released to DVD: July 5, 2021

Copyright 2020 Bleeker Street
Dream Horse” is a fact-based underdog, or maybe under-horse story about an improbable equine champion. But the real thoroughbred in the movie is the endlessly talented Toni Collette, who plays Jan Vokes, a cashier at a big box store in Wales, who dreams of breeding a racehorse. This is a solidly constructed feel good movie, with performances and details that make it better than it needs to be.

Even those who do not know the story and have not seen the popular documentary, “Dark Horse,” about the real story, have a pretty good idea of where this is going. There will be an impossible dream, some early signs of success, setbacks, struggles, and a triumphant conclusion, with glimpses of the real people (and horse) in the final credits. Those credits, by the way, are one of the film’s highlights; don’t miss them, as the actors and the Welsh villagers they portray sing a classic song by Wales’ favorite son Tom Jones together.

It is Collette who helps to make the story feel fresh and authentic, along with the staging of the race scenes by Welsh director Euros Lyn, so exciting we lean forward in our seats, as though it will help our favorite be first over the finish line. She is called upon in the film to sit in various owners’ seats at various racetracks and make each expression of worry, excitement, fear, and ecstatic joy look different and real and she, well, crosses the finish line ahead of the pack every time.

Jan feels stuck as the film begins. Her husband, Brian (Owen Teale) snores at night and bores in the daytime, watching reality television shows about veterinary procedures and ignoring Jan except when absent-mindedly asking what’s for tea. She has two jobs, cashier at the store and barmaid at the pub. When she isn’t being ignored by Brian, she is caring for her elderly parents. There is nothing to make her feel a sense of hope or purpose.

And then she overhears a customer at the bar talk about his time as part owner of a racehorse. He is Howard (Damian Lewis), an accountant who nearly went broke when the syndicate failed. Jan realizes that if she can just get everyone to give ten pounds a week, she can breed a racehorse by buying a retired mare and paying the stud fee to get her pregnant. A lovably quirky group of people from the village and a couple of Howard’s friends agree to join. And they agree it isn’t for the money or for the craic (Celtic term for fun, but for the hwyl (pronounced hoyle, and a Welsh term meaning more than fun, fun plus enthusiasm, spirit, and purpose). The film’s wisest choice is making it clear that the miracle is not the horse. It is the chance to believe in something and to be part of a community.

The foal is born, but the mare dies. In some other versions of the story we might spend time on how the syndicate members care for the motherless colt, named Dream Alliance, but in this one we skip ahead to bringing him to the training facility of the country’s top racehorse trainers, played by Nicholas Farrell (“Chariots of Fire”). No training montage here. We skip right from his initial no to, the “wait a minute, that horse is really fast” to, well, being off to the races.

That leaves perhaps too much time with the overly cutesy townsfolk. I think we are past the time when the town drunk is supposed to be funny or adorable. And the resolution of Howard’s conflict with his wife, who is understandably worried about a repeat of his past losses, is improbably easy. But then there is another chance to hold our breath at the races, and to cheer for Dream Alliance, for dreams, and the alliances that make them come true.

Parents should know that this film includes some potty humor, scenes in a bar, a town drunk whose alcoholism is played for humor, a sad death, and a serious injury of an animal.

Family discussion: What dream would make a difference in your community? Why was it so difficult for Jan’s father to tell her he was proud of her? How did money change the way the group made decisions? What would you do just for the “hwyl?”

If you like this, try: “Dreamer” (also inspired by a true story), “Phar Lap,” and “The Black Stallion”

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Wrath of Man

Posted on May 6, 2021 at 5:34 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some sexual references, pervasive language, and strong violence throughout
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extreme, visceral, bloody violence, many characters injured and killed, lots of blood
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 7, 2021
Date Released to DVD: July 5, 2021

Copyright 2021 MGM
So, some guy applying for a job has to score at least 70 percent on his weapons test gets exactly 70 percent. Now, that could be because he can only hit the bullseye two-thirds of the time. Or it can mean that he is so good he can make it look like he can only hit the bullseye two-thirds of the time. If Jason Statham is playing that guy, you’d be wise to bet on the latter.

Teaming up with Guy Ritchie, writer/director of the film that was a star-maker for both of them, “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels,” Statham stars as the job applicant who is more than he appears in “Wrath of Man,” based on the French crime drama “Le Convoyeur” (“Cash Truck”). The film features Ritchie favorites: brutally violent lowlife characters who like to steal and don’t mind killing in a time-twisting storyline. Statham is fine, as always, but this is second-tier Ritchie, a faint echo of what made his early films distinctive and surprising.

I’m going to minimize spoilers here, but if you don’t want any, stop reading now and come back after you’ve seen the movie.

We will call Statham’s character H. That is what he is dubbed by “Bullet” (Holt McCallany) when he applies for a job as a security guard for a delivery truck service that may carry as much as $15 million a day. We know how dangerous it is because in a pre-credit sequence we saw a robbery where the guards were all killed. So, this is the kind of environment where let’s just say there’s pervasive toxic masculinity (even the woman), a lot of tough talk, macho posturing, and cocky attitude. Part of the fun of Ritchie’s Britain-based crime films has been the delightfully audacious dialogue (remember Brad Pitt’s impenetrable accent in “Snatch”), and maybe it is the American accents or the heightened awareness that make the difference but in this film the insults and bragging are, well, a little dull.

H does not stay low-profile long. Very soon after he is on the job there is a robbery. Among the many un-surprising surprises in the film, one of the toughest-talking, most aggressively competitive security guards turns out to be not very cool under pressure. But we know H because he is played by Jason Statham and he is always cool. He surprises his new colleagues by being very very good with defending their cargo — and defending them. The big boss (Rob Delaney, last seen with Statham in “Hobbs & Shaw“) is very impressed. And the next robbery is even more impressive. Literally all he has to do is show his face, and the would-be robbers run in the other direction. This is what I call the “Who is that chef?” moment, as discussed in my “Under Siege” chapter in my 101 Must-See Movie Moments book. Those are always fun.

And this being Ritchie, now we get some backstory, seeing what happened five months earlier that led to this moment. Given the title, I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that revenge is involved. Or that you do not want Jason Statham coming after you.

Chapter titles for the flashbacks add nothing and it is a shame to see Eddie Marsan, another Ritchie regular, and Andy Garcia barely have a chance to make an impression, along with actors who can do much better given the right circumstances, Scott Eastwood, Jeffrey Donovan, and Josh Hartnett. The bang-bang is all well-staged, but it is barely enough to make up for a storyline that thinks it is more innovative than it is.

Parents should know that this film is extremely violent with shoot-outs and explosions, automatic weapons, knives, torture, a lot of spurting blood and other graphic images, and a very sad death. Characters use strong and crude language and misogynistic insults. There is a suggestive situation.

Family discussion: What made H’s team different from Jackson’s? Would you take a job working for Fortico? Why do Terry and the boss have different ideas about how to treat H following the first incident?

If you like this, try: “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” and “The Transporter”

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Action/Adventure Crime DVD/Blu-Ray Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews

Mortal Kombat

Posted on April 22, 2021 at 7:00 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some crude references, language throughout, and strong bloody violence
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Pervasive peril and violence, very gory and disturbing images, characters injured and killed including a child
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 23, 2021
Date Released to DVD: July 5, 2021
Copyright 2021 Warner Brothers

Mortal Kombat” is a movie based on a video game. So, let’s be real here. We’re not looking for or even expecting complex characters or surprising plot twists. We’re here for the martial arts carnage and a few middle-school-level wisecracks, and that we get.

Character development? I’ve seen more complex backstories on Cabbage Patch Dolls. All you need to know is there are good guys and bad guys and the stakes are the very future of the planet, which, it turns out, turns on, you got it, mortal combat, trial by combat — to the death. Oh, and don’t expect it to make a ton of sense, either. Just sit back and watch the fights.

It begins with a pre-credit sequence set in an edenic 17th century Japan, with a devoted farming couple, their gallant young son, and infant daughter. As the father (Hiroyuki Sanada as Hanzou) is out getting water, bad guys arrive, led by B-Han (Joe Taslim), whose awesome fighting skills are enhanced by his ability to manifest ice. He will later be known as Sub-Zero. He says he is there to avenge, but we do not get any details. Only the baby survives, and she is taken away by a glow-eyed guy who travels via lightning named Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano).

Skip ahead to present day, where Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is fighting for $200 a bout and not doing very well. He is devoted to his wife and daughter. And he has a mysterious dragon-shaped birthmark, which identifies him to those in the know as a champion. one of those designated to fight for the good guys. Not much time for narrative here. Or anywhere else in the movie. It’s battle, battle, training, battle all the way.

Which is a good thing, because the martial arts are great and, for those who are fans of the game, let me quote Wikipedia:

The basic Fatalities are finishing moves that allow the victorious characters to end a match in a special way by murdering their defeated, defenseless opponents in a gruesome manner.

The finishing moves/fatalities are suitably gruesome. Like guts falling out of ripped-open torsos and being sliced open by a buzzsaw like a side of beef. And gallons of spurting blood. As for the script, well, it has exactly what you’d expect, a lot of “the prophecy is upon us” and “winning Mortal Kombat cannot be left to chance,” portentousness, “if you fail to discover your inner power you will never defeat your opponent” pep talks, plus some middle-school-level “humor.”

So, fans of the game will enjoy the call-outs to their favorite characters and inside information and those who are not familiar to the game but like to see martial arts fights with lots of gore will be suitably entertained and even look forward to the sequel.

Parents should know that this film has extended and very gory and graphic peril and violence, along with strong and crude language and references.

Family discussion: Which power do you think you could manifest? How do you fight people who do not follow the rules?

If you like this, try: The game and the “Mythic Quest” and “The Guild” television series.

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Action/Adventure Based on a video game DVD/Blu-Ray Fantasy movie review Movies -- format

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
Date Released to DVD: June 14, 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 about Godzilla vs. Kong: 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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Action/Adventure DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Science-Fiction Series/Sequel
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