The Water Man

Posted on May 6, 2021 at 5:38 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic content, scary images, peril and some language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril, references to child abuse and neglect, critical illness of a parent
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 8, 2021

Copyright Netflix 2021
“The Water Man” is a rare film that exquisitely captures the liminal moment at the end of childhood when we are old enough to begin to understand some of the complications and unsolvable problems of life but still young enough to believe in magic. Lonnie Chavis (“Magic Camp,” “This is Us”) plays 11-year-old Gunner, who is very close to his loving mother (Rosario Dawson) but not aware enough to realize that she is very sick. He is creating a graphic novel about a detective who must solve his own murder and he is fascinated with clues and deductions, but cannot recognize what is heartbreakingly clear to us as we see an IV stand in the bedroom and suspect that the colorful turbans hide a bald head.

Gunner is less close to his father Amos, played by director David Oyelowo, a military officer just returned from a long detail in Japan. His mother loves his art; his father wants him to toss a football.

When he realizes how sick his mother is, Gunner is determined to save her by tracking down a mythic creature known as The Water Man, said to have eternal life. A slightly older girl named Jo (Amiah Miller of “War for the Planet of the Apes”) tells stories of The Water Man, pointing to a scar on her neck as proof that she has not just seen him but been close enough for him to wound her. Gunner does not realize, as we do, that Jo, who lives in a tent by herself, is not as confident and independent as she seems. He agrees to pay her to take him to The Water Man, who is thought to live deep in the forest.

Like the Halloween scene in “Meet Me in St. Louis,” this film lives in the perspective of a young character, while allowing us to understand more than he does. Oyelowo and his Director of Cinematography, Matthew J. Lloyd, use color to tell what Oyelowo describes as an “elemental” story. Gunner’s mother is swathed in warm yellows and oranges, echoed in the backpack Gunner carries on his quest. The inside of Jo’s tent is a deep red. The forest is lush green, but the colors get less saturated and more muted as he gets further from home.

The young actors are both exceptional, very natural and believable, and their scenes together are some of the best in the film. But there is also strong support from an outstanding cast that includes Alfred Molina as an adult who has spent years looking for The Water Man and Maria Bello as the local sheriff who helps Amos try to find his son. Oyelowo is clearly inspired by “ET” (note Gunner’s ET lunchbox), and does a good job of creating a sense of wonder and showing us how all of us, at any age, can struggle to adapt to the unacceptable. Being present for those we love, the families we create, learning to love others for who they are instead of who we want them to be, all come together in a scene as warm as the sun-colors that surround Gunner’s mother.

Parents should know that this film concerns the critical illness of a parent. There is some peril and a creepy fantasy character along with some jump-out-at-you surprises, some schoolyard language, and shoplifting, and there are references to child abuse and neglect.

Family discussion: What are some of the myths or folklore of your community? Where do these stories come from?

If you like this, try: “Bridge to Terabithia,” “Time Bandits,” “Finding ‘Ohana,” and “The Odd Life of Timothy Green”

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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

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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The Outside Story

Posted on May 4, 2021 at 2:17 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Mild, including arrest of a Black Man
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 30, 2021

Copyright 2021 Samuel Goldwyn Company
It takes a long time to make a film, from concept to screenwriting to financing, casting, and shooting and distribution. Even the fastest, lowest-budget film takes months, if not years. You’re always creating something for an audience in a future you cannot predict. And yet the magic of the best films is that they arrive at exactly the right time. “The Outside Story,” a slim little gem under 90 minutes long, is about a man who leaves his apartment after a long time inside, and it comes just as many of us are venturing out of our homes post-vaccination, almost having forgotten what it feels like to be out in the world, blinking and disoriented like the returnees at the end of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” And here, gently encouraging us, is this love letter to its characters, its performers, its Brooklyn setting, and to going outside into the world.

Bryan Tyree Henry has been a standout in films like “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “Widows,” on television in “Atlanta” and other shows, and on Broadway, where he was nominated for a Tony for his performance in “The Book of Mormon.” In his first lead role, he is never less than outstanding as Charles, a man whose ambitions have shrunk as he has been more and more homebound. Once working on a documentary about artificial intelligence and being a friendly and outgoing attendee at parties (where he brought homemade desserts), he now works for Turner Classic Movies putting clips together for pre-obituary tributes to filmmakers and actors who seem like they might die soon. A (fictitious) big star named Gardner St. James is reportedly near death and Charles’s boss is sending him a series of urgent texts insisting he send the tribute in immediately, but Charles is still tinkering with it, trying to get one last clip to convey the star’s career.

Charles is also distracted and depressed. He has just broken up with his long-time girlfriend Isha (a radiant Sonequa Martin-Green), because she cheated on him. He is waiting for her to pick up her stuff, but, per the central imperative that rules the lives of New Yorkers, he has promised to move her car to comply with the alternate side-of-the-street rules and keep her from getting a ticket. When his take-out food order arrives, he doesn’t have enough money on hand for a tip, annoying his regular delivery guy. Back in his apartment, he discovers some extra cash in a pants pocket, and goes running after the delivery guy in his stocking feet to give him a tip. He grabbed his keys on the way out of the door, but it turned out they weren’t his keys; they were his ex’s car keys. And he is locked out.

The guy who would not leave the apartment cannot get back in. And the rest of the movie is just his encounters as the day goes on with neighbors who mostly had never seen him before. Each one is a little haiku of a scene, gorgeously acted, especially by Sunita Mani (“GLOW”) as the cop issuing parking tickets, Lynda Gravatt as a feisty widow, and the superb Olivia Edward as a young girl living with a mother who is somewhere on the continuum between high-strung and disturbingly unstable. The smart script by writer/director Casimir Nozkowski unfolds with distinctive, illuminating details (I love his job) and subtle shifts in Charles’s attitude, as he begins to open up to the world. Henry is a knock-out in the role, utterly present for everything the outside world throws at Charle, adjusting o each situation initially in whatever way he thinks will help him get back inside, though not always hiding his frustration, and then starting to listen, to find ways to help others, to connect. It is like watching a flower bloom in time-lapse photography. When he is unexpectedly given a chance to hear some music, it is powerfully moving to see him so moved. Flashbacks give us insight into his relationship with Isha, and how it relates to where Charles is now and what he is learning.

Increasingly, some of my favorite films can be described as “Nothing happens. And everything happens.” That’s this film, and it is a joy to watch.

Parents should know that this film includes sexual references, including infidelity and polyamory, and some strong language. A parent appears to be unstable and abusive.

Family discussion: What changes for Charles during the day and why? Why didn’t Charles want to go outside? Have you ever been locked out? What did you do?

If you like this, try: “Columbus,” “Pieces of April,” and “The Day-Trippers”

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Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse

Posted on April 29, 2021 at 5:34 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and action-style violence including shooting and fight scenes, many characters injured and killed, including assassinations and the murder of a pregnant woman
Diversity Issues: Some references to historical abuse
Date Released to Theaters: April 30, 2021

Copyright Amazon Studios 2021
Let’s get right to the good stuff. As we should expect from a 1993 action-adventure spy story based on a book by Tom Clancy, this movie has all kinds of shoot-outs and fights plus two excellent underwater scenes. Also, Michael B. Jordan is, as ever, wonderfully charismatic as an actor and he takes his shirt off, also very charismatic. The cast also includes Guy Pearce and Jamie Bell, always good to see and, as always, nailing their American accents.

Let’s face it, that’s pretty much what we’re looking for here, and it delivers pretty much what we expect, unless you’re looking for the characters and events of the book, which is set in 1970 during the Vietnam war and differs in most of the details.

Nevertheless, the problem is that everything else is pretty much what we expect, very predictable given the author and the title. The focus is more on action and on creating a heroic franchise-worthy character than in making the story particularly compelling or credible.

Jordan plays John Kelly, a Navy SEAL we first see on a mission to rescue a hostage in Aleppo that does not go well. Later, he is at a party at his home, getting water for his wife, Pam (Lauren London), who is weeks from the due date for delivering their daughter. But the SEALS who participated in the Aleppo mission start getting murdered. They come for John, who is seriously wounded, and Pam is killed.

John’s first words when he regains consciousness in the hospital: “I just need a name.” Nothing matters to him anymore but destroying whoever it was who destroyed his life. He needs his former colleagues in the military and the CIA to help him get the information he needs. His equivalent of Liam Neeson’s “special set of skills” comment is in one of the movie’s best lines: “You need someone like me. And there is no one else like me.”

This story takes place in the TCCU, Tom Clancy Cinematic Universe, and John’s military contact is Karen Greer, niece of the Vice Admiral/Deputy CIA Chief played by James Earl Jones in the Jack Ryan movies. Unfortunately, the role is poorly cast, and the reserved delivery and statuesque beauty that made Jodie Turner-Smith so compelling in “Queen & Slim” does not work well for that character. In fairness, even Bell and Pearce fade into the background for much of their time on screen, partly because of their thinly written characters but mostly because Jordan is fierce and compelling and so fiery on screen you need someone with the pure star power of Tessa Thompson (“Creed”) or Chadwick Bozeman (“Black Panther”) to match him. Ideally, you’d want a script worthy of him, but for now, the action scenes will do.

Parents should know that this is an extremely intense and violent film with many scenes of military/spy peril and violence, including shoot-outs, fights, stabbing, fires, and drowning. A pregnant woman is murdered and many characters are injured and killed. There is also some strong language and social drinking.

Family discussion: How did John decide who he could trust? How did his training help him do what he wanted to do? When did he show his emotions?

If you like this, try: “Taken” and the John Wick movies

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The Mitchells vs. The Machines

Posted on April 29, 2021 at 5:23 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action and some language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended cartoon/action-style peril and violence, no one seriously hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 30, 2021

It’s refreshing to see a movie for families that is not only exciting and delightful but one that acknowledges a crucial truth we usually pretend to ignore. And that truth is: families are weird. All of them. Yes, even yours. And there’s more: family weirdness is awesome and wonderful and, it turns out, exactly what we need to defeat the robot apocalypse, as well as any other daunting but less drastic challenges like everyday life.

The Mitchell family is four people who love each other and drive each other crazy. The one telling us the story is Katie (Abbi Jacobson), a teenager getting ready to go to college at her dream school, where she will pursue her passion, filmmaking. She is very close to her dinosaur-loving little brother Aaron (voiced by very much not a little kid Michael Rianda, who also co-wrote and directed and provides some of the other voices). But her struggles with her dad, Rick (Danny McBride) go beyond the usual teenage separation because there seems to be no middle place between their interests. Hers is in making films, many featuring the family’s very goofy-looking wall-eyed dog Monchi, plus hand puppets and a lot of graffiti-like digital effects. His is in nature and more analog craftsmanship and fix-its. Katie’s mother, Linda (Maya Rudolph), tries to act as mediator between them, but the relationship is strained. Katie can’t wait to get to school, where she is sure she will be with people just like her.

And then Rick changes the plans without asking or even telling Katie. Instead of her flying across country to get to school in time for orientation, the family is going to drive her there. And family car trips are known stress-relievers, right? Yeah, I know, quite the contrary.

Meanwhile, at an Apple-like company run by Mark Bowman (Eric Andre) is introducing its latest line of gadgets, personal robot assistants who clean and bring you refreshments and do so many cool things that their predecessor, a SIRI or ALEXA-type voice assistant, gets tossed aside. Remember “Terminator?” And “Wargames?” and “I, Robot?” and lots of other movies where technology gets literally out of hand? Not to mention centuries of stories about hubris and what happens when humans go too far?

And that is how the Mitchells end up being the only ones who can save the world. If they can learn to work together and to try some skills outside their comfort zones.

The movie is fast and fun and funny and exciting. It does not take itself too seriously and it has a vivid, poppy energy with a hands-on look in contrast to the chilly perfection of some computer animated films. We get glimpses of Katie’s “sweded”-style films and I loved the way her aesthetic appeared in the large film we were watching as well, with some hand-lettered commentary and sticker/emoji-style effects. But most of all, it is a heartwarming tribute to families and to the unconquerable spirit that lurks within the weirdness.

Parents should know that this film has extended fantasy/cartoon-style peril but very little violence and no one gets seriously hurt. There is some schoolyard language and family stress.

Family discussion: How would your family fight the robot apocalypse? Can you try to make a movie like Katie or make something with your hands like Rick?

If you like this, try: “The LEGO Movie” and its sequel

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