Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 3

Posted on May 3, 2023 at 11:56 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi/action/comic book-style peril and violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 5, 2023
Date Released to DVD: July 31, 2023

Copyright Disney 2023
I guess it makes sense. Not the movie. Not even close. But the form = content notion that “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” the third in the series, is, like its characters a mess but a lovable and entertaining mess. By now it feels like it’s our mess. So, even though I couldn’t help imagining what Honest Trailers and Pitch Meeting are going to have so say about the very convoluted to the point of you’ve-got-to-be-kidding last 40 minutes or so and it’s well over two hours run time, I enjoyed it.

We already know something about the history of some of the characters. Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt) had an earth mother and an alien father and was taken from earth at age 8 by an intergalactic group of rogues and thieves called The Ravagers. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) were stolen from their families when their planets were annihilated by Thanos and then tortured and mutilated to turn them into assassins. But we don’t know much about Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and the tree-guy voiced by Vin Diesel.

In this chapter, we go back to Rocket’s origin story. Like Thanos’ adopted daughters and Wolverine and I’m sure lots of other fictional characters, he was operated on by a megalomaniacal villain trying to “perfect” the world. He is The High Evolutionary, played by Chukwudi Iwuji. He has already created worlds and destroyed them for not living up to his exacting standards of perfection. One of his worlds we saw briefly in the last GothG movie, with Elizabeth Debicki as Ayesha, leader of a world of spectacularly beautiful golden-hued creatures. In this film, he threatens to destroy that world unless Ayesha’s son, Warlock (Will Poulter), brings him Rocket. While the High Evolutionary is obsessed with the “improvements” he inflicts, somehow Rocket has gifts of intellect that the High Evolutionary did not create for him and he wants to understand and either copy that or destroy it.

The High Evolutionary’s experiments on Rocket and other animals were mechanical, replacing body parts with metal, so that they look Like the mutilated toys in Syd’s room in the first “Toy Story.” But it is in the adjoining cages that he finds his first family, led by the warm-hearted otter named Lylla. Rocket, using that exceptional capacity for engineering we have observed in the earlier films, manages to escape (including piloting a ship even though he has never even seen one before, much less been exposed to outer space or really anything outside of his prison).

This time, then, the Guardians are not saving the galaxy. At the beginning of the film they seem happily settled in Knowwhere with Cosmo the Soviet wonder dog, Mantis, the anntena-ed empath (Pom Klementieff), and former Ravager Kraglin (Sean Gunn). They have opened a bar. But the one doing all the drinking is Peter, who is still trying to drown his grief over the loss of Gamora. Nothing can get him to stop until Rocket is attacked. He is gravely injured and in order to save him the Guardians will need to retrieve a code to unlock a mechanism that prevents the necessary surgery and just 48 hours to do it. The Ravagers also get involved, and they now include a different version of Gamora brought back from the past who has no memory of her relationship with Peter.

There’s a hint of “Mission Impossible.” They’re even told that if they are caught, they will not be acknowledged as acting on behalf of the ruling body. And there’s a Zune vintage music player retrieved at the end of Vol 2 to follow the mix-tapes from the first two movies with some new songs for the soundtrack.

As noted, it does get messy. The group of misfit toys go off in different directions and it is hard to keep track of who is doing what where. A increasing problem with the Marvel movies is the way they keep using the stakes The High Evolutionary and Warlock have powers of near god-like magnitude. What can the Guardians do? It gets muddled. The High Evolutionary can do just about anything including creating and destroying worlds, but somehow cannot fight back from an attack with claws. There is a significant element to the story about the essential value of living beings who might not be considered “higher” life forms….until that is undermined later on. I said it was messy. As Peter said in the first one, “Something good, something bad? Bit of both.”

NOTE: Stay through the credits for two extra scenes

Parents should know that this film has extended peril and comic book/action-style violence with sometimes graphic and disturbing images. Characters are injured and killed. The film includes strong language, drinking and drunkenness.

Family discussion: Why is having a name so important? What does the name High Evolutionary mean and what does he think it means to be “perfect?” Why was the distinction about “higher forms” significant?

If you like this, try: the other “Guardians” movies

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Polite Society

Posted on April 27, 2023 at 5:52 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for strong language, violence, sexual material, and some partial nudity
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Character is drugged
Violence/ Scariness: Extended martial arts action-style violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 28, 2023
Date Released to DVD: June 19, 2023

Copyright Focus 2023
Polite Society” is a delicious breath of fresh air, smart, funny, exciting, and utterly delectable, expertly blended by Nida Manzoor of the equally adorable “We Are Lady Parts.”

Priya Kansara plays Ria, a British teenager of Pakistani heritage who lives in London. Her parents are affectionate but worried about their daughters. Ria’s older sister Lena (Ritu Arya) has dropped out of art school and is depressed and at a loss about what to do next. But she is devoted to Ria and supportive of her unusual dream: she plans on being a stunt woman. She sends emails to her idol is (real-life) stunt woman Eunice Huthart (who briefly appears as herself). Lena helps by filming Ria for her YouTube channel. Ria also has two devoted friends (they share a classic handshake ritual), Clara (Seraphina Beh) and Alba (Ella Bruccoleri), who back her up when she is bullied by a classmate named Kovacs (Shona Babayemi).

Ria’s family is unexpectedly invited to a very fancy Eid party at the home of the wealthy Raheela (Nimra Bucha) and her son, Salim Shah (Akshay Khanna), a handsome doctor and the subject of a lot of attention from highly eligible young women. Even more unexpectedly, Salim asks Lena on a date, and just weeks later he proposes and she accepts.

Her parents are delighted. And Raheela welcomes Lena warmly. But Ria does not trust Salim and she is determined to do whatever it takes to break them up. This leads to a lot of “I Love Lucy”-style antics, some more effective than others, before a wild wedding that will make you wonder why all martial arts fights don’t feature gloriously swirling saris.

All of the performances are outstanding. Arya and Kansara are both absolutely wonderful and they have terrific chemistry that really makes us believe in their connection as sisters and best friends. I don’t want to give too much away, so I will just say that the person revealed to be the bad guy is also great. As with “We Are Lady Parts,” it is grounded in a very specific sense of the particulars of the Pakistani/British immigrant community and in universal themes of parents and children, sisters, friendships, and finding your way in the world, whether you know what your dreams are or worry you don’t know where you’re going. Manzoor mixes the genres with an expert touch. Keeping the heart of the film the relationship between the sisters makes the heightened moments, including the entertaining wire work in the fight scenes and the Grand Guignol of the plot twists, organic. The film’s understated title is a wink at the audience about the combination of Jane Austen and martial arts and the movie delivers with a story that is witty, exciting, and heartwarming.

Parents should know that this movie includes extended martial arts-style peril and violence, strong language, sexual references and situations, and some graphic medical imagery.

Family discussion: Why did Ria believe in Lena more than she believed in herself? Why didn’t she trust Salim? Was there something else Ria could have done to raise her concerns?

If you like this, try: “We Are Lady Parts,” “Fighting With My Family,” and “Bend it Like Beckham”

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John Wick: Chapter 4

Posted on March 19, 2023 at 4:23 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and violence
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and very graphic peril and violence, many characters injured and killed, disturbing and gory images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 24, 2023
Date Released to DVD: June 12, 2023
Copyright Lionsgate 2023

I will begin with a quote from another Keanu Reeves movie: “Whoa.”

John Wick: Chapter 4,” almost twice as long as the original, is, like its three predecessors, non-stop action with just enough story and character to establish the stakes. And endless style. As important as the stunts, and reminder, this series was conceived by stunt coordinators, is the demimondaine, the world within a world it occupies. This is the world of assassins. They have their own rules, their own leaders, their own currency, their own telecommunications, a fascinating blend of high and low tech, and their own ultra-luxurious and ultra-discreet hotels. We will not worry about how they support themselves since most of their assassinating seems to be other members of their community, or why none of their chases and shoot-outs never attract anyone from law enforcement.

The rules are made and enforced by a group called The Table, and the person in charge is now an effete French Marquis (Bill Skarsgård just as creepy without the clown make-up as he was in “It”). He is always shown in the grandest possible settings, enjoying exquisite food, drink, art, and music.

And he has a hit out on John Wick. Many many hits out on John Wick.

That’s basically it. A lot of people are highly motivated to kill John Wick, and he goes to various places to avoid being killed and they keep coming after him and he keeps being the takes-a-licking-and-keeps-on-ticking John Wick we know and love.

The Marquis is more in the burn it all to the ground category. He de-sanctifies the Continental Hotel, the sanctuary for all Table-ers. This puts Winston (Keith David) back on John Wick’s side. Most of the intrigue in the film comes from the shifting realignments of the characters’ loyalties. We even get a glimpse of a backstory for John Wick, as he has to re-connect with his family to position himself to resolve things with the Table, permanently.

The Marquis has deployed a former colleague and friend to kill John Wick, the blind assassin Cane (a galvanizing performance by Donnie Yen). It is not about money; that would not be enough. It is the safety of Cane’s daughter. John Wick understands and even respects that. The fights with the two of them are simply spectacular and there is one falling down the steps scene that is an instant classic.

There is a new character in this film who almost steals the movie. He says he is nobody, and that is the only name he has. He has a dog sidekick. Somehow he can find John Wick when no one else has any idea where he is. And he is dazzlingly played by Shamier Anderson. Spin-off, please.

There are many striking locations. There are so so many fight scenes, featuring guns, knives, bigger guns, cars, nunchucks, martial arts, old-school punching, and swords, often combined. And an attack dog. Like all the best action/stunt scenes, they are choreographed like a ballet, even down to the spurts of blood. Even at almost three hours, the franchise has the combination of exciting stunts, expertly paced (if contrary to the laws of physics and, well, reality — and look out for that fall down the steps) and the intriguing world the characters occupy makes this all the fans could wish for.

NOTE: Stay through the credits for an extra scene.

Parents should know that this film is about assassins. There is non-stop action and peril with many characters injured and killed, including major characters, and gory, disturbing images, plus strong language

Family discussion: Why did John Wick want to be known as “loving husband?” What do you think is the meaning of “such is life?” If the series continues, who should be in the next chapter?

If you like this, try: the other John Wick movies and the Matrix series

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Magic Mike’s Last Dance

Posted on February 10, 2023 at 10:03 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sexual material and language
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 10, 2023
Date Released to DVD: April 24, 2023

Copyright 2023 Warner Brothers
Like the first “Magic Mike” movie, inspired by star Channing Tatum’s experiences as a male stripper (his term), this third in the trilogy begins with his character in financial straits. Mike’s dream in the original was to have a furniture store. With the help of his fellow stripper friends, he achieved that dream. But, we’re told by a narrator who will not be identified until later, the pandemic and economic setbacks have forced him to close down and he is working as a catering bartender. The narrator also provides some history and science about the importance of dance.

But after that, it’s basically a “Step Up”-style fairy tale (the ones after Tatum’s break-through in the grittier, more grounded original). That is probably a more appropriate response to the pandemic and the economic setbacks. None of it makes any sense, but there’s a 15-minute dance number at the end, and guys with their shirts off making a lot of ladies very happy, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

At a fancy fund-raiser, a guest recognizes Mike. “Weren’t you a cop?” she asks, and they both smile remembering that ten years before, he danced at her bachelorette party. She mentions his entertaining “silly dance” to the gala’s host, the about-to-be-divorced and fabulously wealthy Maxandra Medoza (Salma Hayek Pinault), who asks him to stay after the party and give her a dance. “Why are you moving my flowers?” she asks as he moves things around and tests the furniture for its capacity to support what he has in mind. He tests her as well; this movie is very clear about consent, about how important it is and also how erotic.

That “unexpected magical moment” inspires her to bring him to London, where she cancels the successful but old-fashioned play in her theater and tells Mike he is now choreographer of a new strip show. As befits a Cinderella story where she plays both fairy godmother and romantic interest, there is a makeover moment at Liberty of London, arriving in a pumpkin coach, I mean a Rolls. Thankfully, when she brings him to meet her friends, there is no silliness about his not knowing which fork to use or recognize their cultural references. This is not that kind of fairy tale. This is about a realizing a bigger dream than he ever dared to imagine. And that’s a pretty magical moment to enjoy.

Fans of the previous films will enjoy Mike’s Zoom call with some of most beloved characters and a throwback to Mike’s signature song, “Pony.” But you do not need any familiarity with the story to, like the female characters in the film, just sit back and enjoy the show.

Parents should know that this movie is about male strippers and there is a lot of suggestive dancing and some strong language, sexual references and non-explicit situations.

Family discussion: Why was having someone believe in him so important to Mike? What decision would you have made if you were Max?

If you like this, try: the other “Magic Mike” movies and “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” with Dame Judi Dench, based on the true story of a nude show in London.

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Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Posted on December 21, 2022 at 12:40 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action/violence, rude humor, language and some scary moments
Profanity: Mild schoolyard language and almost-language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy peril and action, comic "deaths," some scary monsters, a character embodies death
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 23, 2022
Date Released to DVD: February 27, 2023

Copyright 2022 Universal/Dreamworks
The swashbuckling fairy tale cat Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) likes to remind everyone of his heroic, adventurous spirit, his skill with a sword, and his gift for singing. When pressed, as he is in “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” by a doctor, he will admit that he is not much at math. And this is relevant because, as we know, a cat has nine lives, and if Puss had been keeping score he would have realized that he has used up…eight of them. It does not require a lot of math skills to figure out that means he is on his last one and has to be careful.

And that is how, after an opening scene filled with swordplay, acrobatics, and valor, including the defeat of a superbly designed tree giant, Puss ends up living with a cat lady (Da’Vine Joy Randolph, warm-hearted with just a touch of dottiness). “I’m always on the lookout for a new lap cat!” she says. Puss sadly buries his feathered hat and boots and resigns himself to the indignities of blue booties, eating cat chow from a trough, and using a litter box.

But then he discovers there is one chance to reboot his lives. It involves a magical map to the location of a fallen star that can grant just one wish. He is not the only one who wants that wish, though. Goldilocks (a hilarious cockney-accented Florence Pugh) and her three bear crime family (Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman, and Samson Kayo) and Big (formerly Little) Jack Horner (John Mulaney in full sneer mode) want the wish. And so does Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), whose fearlessness and swords(wo)manship are every bit a match for PiB, with a history together that makes them both wary and attracted to one another.

And so, Puss is off on a journey and in a race with the other groups trying to beat him to the wish. And as we expect from the SCU (Shrek Cinematic Universe), there will be humor ranging from sly references for the grown-ups to slapstick for the young and the young at heart. And there will be action, adventure, some heartwarming lessons about friendship and a little bit of romance. It is always fun to see or rather hear “Desperado” co-stars Hayek and Banderas together again.

The character design and movement is very well done, especially the tree giant, the wolf/bounty hunter who represents Death, and Goldilocks. And the animation style is wonderfully dynamic and expressive. I especially enjoyed the mix of animation styles. We are all used to the hyper-realism of CGI, with every hair in a cat’s fur rendered individually. So it was especially nice to see the contrast between that realism and a more impressionistic depiction of fur on the coats of the three bears or the bark on the tree giant. The combination works surprisingly well and a slight strobe effect on some of the action scenes gives them a joyfully dynamic comic-book pop.

This new chapter keeps the best of the series’ humor and heart and adds new touches to keep the story and characters vibrant. If they can keep this up, Puss should have many more lives.

Parents should know that this film has some mild schoolyard language and some almost-language, some potty humor, and extended fantasy action with some peril and violence that almost reaches the PG-13 level, including flashbacks of Puss in Boots’ first eight “deaths.”

Family discussion: If you had nine lives, what chances would you take? What was different about what Golidlocks and Jack Horner wanted to wish for?

If you like this, try: The other Shrek and Puss in Boots movies and the fairy tales and nursery rhymes that inspired them.

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