Wish

Posted on November 21, 2023 at 5:40 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements and mild action
Profanity: NOne
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy-style peril and some violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: November 22, 2023

Copyright Disney 2023
The animators at Disney, now celebrating their 100th anniversary, have had a lot of time to think about wishing. From Disney’s first feature film, “Snow White,” which had a heroine warbling about the day her prince would come to their second feature film, with the greatest wishing song of all time, the one we still hear every time a Disney movie begins with a view of Cinderella’s castle and “When You Wish Upon a Star,” to all of the princesses singing their wishes — “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” “A Part of His World,” “Once Upon a Dream,” Belle singing she wants more than “this provincial life,” Moana singing about “How Far I’ll Go,” no one’s movies do better at giving us characters with wishes we want to see come true. So there’s no better way to pay tribute to Disney history than “Wish,” a movie about wishes, with loving references to many of their most beloved classics.

Oscar-winner Ariana Dubose provides the voice of Asha, a 17-year-old girl who lives on an island in the Mediterranean Sea with her mother, Sakina (Natasha Rothwell), and grandfather, Sabino (Victor Garber). Like Disney animation, Sabino is reaching his centenary. Like most Disney heroines, she has cute sidekick, a goat named Valentino (Alan Tudyk).

Their island is governed by King Magnifico (Chris Pine). The people of the kingdom believe that he will grant the wishes they share with him when they turn 18. But as Asha finds when she becomes his assistant, he hoards the wishes, which appear in floating translucent spheres. When people turn their wishes over to him, they lose their memory of what it was they aspired to, and they become docile and easily governed.

Asha makes her own wish the old-fashioned way, on a star, just like Geppetto in “Pinocchio.” To her surprise, the star responds by flying down from the sky to help her out, starting with giving Valentino the ability to speak. Asha originally only wanted to make the wishes of her mother and grandfather come true. But she realizes that she has to give all of the wishes back to the people who wished them. In addition to the star and the goat, she gets some help from her seven friends, who adorably match up with the seven dwarfs from Disney’s first feature. One Is sleepy, one is grumpy, one is bashful…you get the rest. The “Doc” character is Asha’s best friend Dahlia, the King’s chef, voiced by Jennifer Kumiyama. To honor the actress, who uses a wheelchair, Dahlia uses a cane, welcome representation for audience members who use adaptive equipment and their families, and welcome normalization for those who may not yet have those people in their lives.

The character design here is understated by contemporary animation standards, perhaps another nod to the classical era. The backgrounds and settings are pure Disney magic, though, delicately colored, stunningly beautiful, and bursting with imagination. Asha’s home and Magnifico’s castle are fairy tale delights. The musical numbers are lovely and the one with dancing chickens is a highlight.

And the story is well designed, exciting and heartwarming. It has a gentle but skillful exploration of the meaning of wishes, how they help us imagine what is most significant to us and think about how to get there, and about the importance of finding our own way to make our dreams come true and support the dreams of those around us. Asha is an endearing heroine, unsure about herself but always sure about what is right. When key characters switch loyalties at meaningful moments, as the king becomes more ruthless, it underscores the importance of values as well as aspirations — just as we would hope as Disney starts on its next century as the gold standard in family movies.

NOTE: Stay ALL the way to the end of the credits for a sweet extra snippet.

Parents should know that this film has a mean, selfish villain who attacks people with sometimes-scary green lightning. There is a reference, as in most Disney films, to a parent who died.

Family discussion: What is your wish? What did the king mean by “safe” and was he right? How many references to other Disney movies did you catch?

If you like this, try: the other animated Disney classics like “Snow White,” “Pinocchio,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Frozen,” “Mulan,” and “Encanto” and the live-action fairy tale, “Stardust”

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Napoleon

Posted on November 20, 2023 at 7:06 am

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence, some grisly images, sexual content and brief language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Very graphic and disturbing images in scenes of battle
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 22, 2023

Copyright 2023 Columbia
Napoleon Bonaparte is one of history’s most consequential figures but you will not understand him or his influence any better after watching Ridley Scott’s almost-three-hour epic. Joaquin Phoenix plays the general-turned emperor-turned exile-turned emperor again and then again turned exile, and Vanessa Kirby plays his wife, Josephine, to whom he wrote sizzling love letters, some included in the film, along with some of the gigantic battles he fought and won and one he lost so resoundingly that its name persists hundreds of years later as a term for career-ending failure.

The press notes for the film tell us that we will see Napoleon’s life “through the prism” of his volatile relationship with Josephine. It does not do either. Phoenix, who makes little effort to change his age or facial expression as the film covers decades, is burdened with some truly terrible dialogue, including what may be this year’s single worst line: “Fate has brought me to this lamb chop.” The legend of Napoleon inspired the name of the psychological syndrome of grandiosity, a supreme, all-encompassing sense of superiority. In this film, that is indicated with comments like, “I admit when I make a mistake. But I never make a mistake.”

As for that prism of the relationship, it does not live up to the love letters. Napoleon seems to be obsessed with Josephine, more about possessing her than being close to her or even considering her feelings in any way. He makes love like he wages battle — it’s about moving fast and destroying the other side.

Josephine’s feelings about Napoleon are more practical. When they meet, her confinement as a political prisoner is so recent her hair has not grown out. She showed her survival skill by escaping the fate of her first husband, who was executed, by getting pregnant. about her survival and then, as he rises in stature, she seems to enjoy the attention and fancy clothes and parties.

The movie careens back and forth between the zoomed-in, intimate but chilly portrayal of the marriage and the zoomed-out epic battle scenes, artfully staged but even with graphic carnage, remote. As the Duke of Wellington, Rupert Everett, arriving well past the two-hour mark, reminds us what a vivid and arresting performance brings to a film.

Director Ridley Scott has promised a four-hour version for streaming, so maybe that will be smoother and do a better job of integrating the different parts of the story. In that case, perhaps it is best to think of this as a very long trailer.

Parents should know that this is an R-rated film with graphic and disturbing images of battles that include guns and swords. As we are told before the closing credits, millions of people were killed, and we see some of the injuries and deaths in very explicit detail. A character is killed offscreen by guillotine, to the approving cheers of a crowd. There are sexual references, including adultery, and very explicit sexual situations. Characters drink and use some strong language.

Family discussion: What were Napoleon’s greatest strengths and weaknesses? Why did the French return to a monarchy?

If you like this, try: the silent Abel Gance classic, “Napoleon”

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The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Posted on November 16, 2023 at 5:45 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for largely bloodless child death and disturbing content
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol, drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and graphic peril and violence including teens murdering teens. Characters are shot, impaled, poisoned, bitten by snakes, and hung.
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 17, 2023
Copyright Sony 2023

The Hunger Games prequel is a villain origin story. The popular trilogy centered on rebel Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), in a dystopic world ruled by Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). Author Suzanne Collins was flipping channels one night and saw both sports events and news footage of the Iraq War. This inspired her idea of a future society where entertainment — and the fundamentals of a totalitarian society — rest on a television show with teenagers competing to the death like gladiators. The grotesquery of the competition is reflected in a perverted concept of the selection process as patriotic and the young competitors paraded in glamorous attire before the “games” begin.

Collins has said she was drawn to “the idea of an unjust war developing into a just war because of greed, xenophobia and longstanding hatreds.” With this new installment, we get a better look at how that happens, on both a structural level and a personal one. Young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), whose name harks back to the title character in a Shakespearean tragedy about a general who is a hero in battle but becomes resentful that he is not honored enough by his community and then loses his own honor. As this story begins, he is a senior at the country’s prestigious school, barely scraping by with his grandmother (Fionnula Flannagan) and cousin who is like a sister (Hunter Schafer as Tigris). He does his best to keep up appearances as he hopes to win the school’s lucrative top prize for academic achievement. But there is an announcement — the prize has been canceled. The games, in the 10th year and much less elaborate than the ones we know from the original trilogy, are losing their audience. And so the candidates for the prize will each be assigned a games contestant to “mentor.” The contestant who does best — that means “spectacle, not survival.” The mentor who wins will be the one whose contestant gets the most support from the audience.

At this point, Coriolanus is devoted to his family and a loyal friend. He meets his assigned contestant, Lucy Gray (“West Side Story’s” Rachel Zegler) and quickly shifts from wanting her to be spectacle to wanting her to survive. Lucy is the songbird of the title, a roots-style singer with spirit and a strong sense of community.

The “games” are nowhere near as flamboyantly extravagant as the ones we have seen in the earlier films, and it is intriguing to see the foreshadowing and origins of the familiar elements. Jason Schwartzman as oily weatherman/magician/emcee Lucky Flickerman is not as outrageous as Elizabeth Banks’ Effie Trinket, but we can see the origins of the gulf between the “entertainment” and lethal in the tone of the events. Coriolanus himself is responsible for coming up with some of the most significant elements of the later games. Viola Davis has a lot of fun as mad, gene-splicing, snake-loving scientist Dr. Volumnia Gaul (Ms. Collins is quite the name-giver!) and Peter Dinklage shows us the terrible compromises of the school’s Dean, (another bonkers name) Casca Highbottom.

Fans of the series and the book will appreciate this faithful version, but others may find the relentless butchery outweighs the lessons about morality, trust, and resilience, leaving open the question of whether lethal gladiator games, even by proxy, are inevitably seen as entertainment.

Parents should know that this film includes intense and graphic violence including many murders with teenagers attacking other teenagers and military attacking civilians. Characters are shot, impaled, poisoned, bitten by snakes, and hung. The MPA’s “largely bloodless” rating is an inadequate description of the images, many of which are graphic and disturbing.

Family questions: Were there any indications in the early scenes that Coriolanus might turn out the way he did? Was he trustworthy? Why did he record Sejanus? What made Lucy Gray change her mind?

If you like this, try: the other “Hunger Games” movies and the books

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Next Goal Wins

Posted on November 9, 2023 at 5:44 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language and crude material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Reference to very sad death of a child, comic vehicular injury
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 10, 2023

Copyright 2023 Searchlight
Two coaches are fired for dismal performance at the beginning of “Next Goal Wins,” the fact-based story of the worst professional soccer team in the world, based on the 2014 documentary of the same name. The team that not only never won a game but never scored a goal is on the tiny US territory of American Samoa. Still smarting after the worst defeat in the history of international soccer, 31-nil against Australia, Tavita (Oscar Knightley) reluctantly fires the team’s gentle coach, and announces he is bringing in someone from the outside world.

Meanwhile, in one of the funniest scenes of the year, Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) is also being fired. To make it even more painful, the message is coming from the sport’s supervising panel, which includes his soon-to-be-ex-wife (Elisabeth Moss as Gail) and her new boyfriend (Will Arnett as Alex). They are not unsympathetic, but Tom’s performance and that of the team he coaches have deteriorated badly and they think he needs a chance of scene. There’s hardly a bigger change than a team in a tiny island on the other side of the world. Without any alternative, he goes, bringing a suitcase full of alcohol with him.

Taika Waititi, who co-wrote and directed the film and appears briefly as a minister, benefits from one of the most enduringly popular of all genres, the fact-based underdog team combined with the redemption arc for the coach story — think of “The Bad News Bears” or “A League of Our Own.” He is very aware of the minefield that is impossible to avoid in a story of people of color whose job in these stories is usually to be cute and a little bit simple and to be both enlightened by the more sophisticated, if troubled, white coach and to enlighten him as well with their folk wisdom. Waititi, who grew up in New Zealand with a white, Jewish mother and a Maori father, has a delicate touch, and calls out the issue explicitly a couple of times to let us know that these characters and this film may be whimsical, almost a fairy tale, but these are real people who are very aware of these tropes not just in stories, but in their lives. They even joke about not wanting Tom to be a white savior and about pretending to share mystical native wisdom to inspire him. There is gentle humor about the Samoans, but not at their expense. We do not get to know too many of the players, but Tavita and his wife Ruth, played by the wonderful Rachel House, have significant roles.

Waititi’s character almost winks at us as he introduces the film, telling us it is a true story “with a couple of embellishments.” But the parts you might guess are made up really did happen. One of the team’s star players was Jaiyah Saelua, a trans woman in our terms, but in Samoan culture a part of a third gender called fa’afafine that is not only accepted but cherished. In real life, Tom was supportive of Jaiyah without any hesitation, but the film adds some tension by giving Tom some trouble accepting Jaiyah (a heartfelt performance by non-binary actor Kaimana). And the basics of the story really happened, including the ignominious Australia game and how meaningful the experience was for Tom and the Team.

It is warm-hearted and endearing. It has the same appealingly modest tone that the team does; it just wants to have fun and score one goal.

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language, drinking, a very sad off-screen death, a vehicular injury played for comedy, and some discussion of being uncomfortable around non-binary and trans people (note, in real life, as you can see in the documentary, Rongen was unhesitating and unequivocal in his support for the trans player).

Family discussion: Have you ever had a coach who made a difference in your life? What would you do if you were asked to coach this team?

If you like this, try; “A League of Their Own,” “The Damned United,” and “Ted Lasso”

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The Marvels

Posted on November 9, 2023 at 5:24 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for action violence and brief language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic book/action-style violence, references to genocide
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: November 10, 2023

Copyright 2023 Marvel Studios
“The Marvels” is not your father’s superhero movie. If you don’t want to see superheroes cry or apologize, skip this one. If you’re looking for grand-scale, innovative action sequences with wow-inspiring special effects, maybe wait for “Dead Reckoning; Part 2.’ In other words, “The Marvels” is not what many ticket-buyers and comic book fans look for in an Avengers movie. But for those who are looking for something other than the usual CGI superpowers, it has some satisfying pleasures.

Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) can be a problematic character because even in the world of superheroes, she is the first among equals. She can pretty much do anything and has very little in the way of a kryptonite-style vulnerability. That is why she is the Marvel version of the Lone Ranger, used only sparingly in the Avengers movie, with the explanation that she is so powerful her highest and best use is somewhere out in the galaxy. There is such a thing sa being too super; it means the stakes are not dire enough to be interesting. So her vulnerabilities are one internal — some memory loss — and one external — she has made mistakes with tragic consequences. What made the first Captain Marvel movie its superpower was the realization that what she had been taught about who were the good and bad guys was not true.

As “The Marvels” begins, Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers is using a memory band to try to restore the blank spots. Meanwhile, Monica Rambeau (Teyhonah Harris of “Chi-Raq” and “They Cloned Tyrone”), the daughter of Carol’s best friend, has grown up and is an astronaut. She also has some superpowers involving electrical energy. Also meanwhile, Kamala Kahn (the adorable Iman Vellani from the Disney+ series) is a high school student with powers that are also elextricity-based, thanks to a cuff bracelet she was given by her grandmother. When she is not doing her homework, spending time with her close-knit Pakistani-American family, or saving the day, she creates fan-fiction about joining forces with her idol, Captain Marvel.Her comic strips are amusingly animated for us to enjoy.

and *also* meanwhile, we have Dar-Benn, played by Zawe Ashton. She has Kintsugi’d teeth and the indispensable quality of a supervillain, an imperious British accent (though very far from “Mr. Malcolm’s List”). Ashton is really underused here, stuck with a one-note villain role that has her more petulant than evil. Also, even by comic book standards, that is an unimpressive name. After what appears to be a long and arduous search, she has found one super-power-granting cuff bracelet, and now must locate the other one of the pair, the one currently on the wrist of a Pakistani-American teenager. Dar-Benn wants to use the power of the bracelets to save her people, and if that means wiping out another group of refugees, no problem, perhaps a side benefit.

Somehow, whatever tear Dar-Benn has made in the fabric of the universe or time or reality or all three leads to a very entertaining glitch. Captain Marvel, Monica, and Kamala discover that when they use their powers at the same time, they switch places. So Captain Marvel finds herself in a teenager’s suburban bedroom and Monica (who, like Captain Marvel, can fly) and Kamala (who cannot, though she can create presumed energy blocks that can help protect her from a fall) find themselves in Captain Marvel’s spaceship or outside of Nick Fury’s outpost.

Finally the three Marvels get together, with Goose, the cat-appearing Flerken, and go after those “surges in the jump point systems” that lead to Dar-Benn.

So, be aware: this movie is more about relationships than bam-pow-chase-explosion. There is crying and there are apologies and even some praying. There’s one scene that is so over-the-top it involves the word “princess” and singing. Goose gets into some Tribble-ific territory with a song from “Cats” on the soundtrack. I was into it; many people will not be.

NOTE: Watch the credits for one extra scene.

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language and extended comic book-style action and peril with characters injured and killed (or killed-ish). There is a situation where not everyone can be saved, and it is handled clumsily.

Family discussion: Should Carol have gone home as she promised? Why didn’t she? What do you think the legal issue was on the ocean planet?

If you like this, try: the other “Captain Marvel” movies, the “Ms. Marvel” series, and the comic books

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