Posted on July 17, 2024 at 1:33 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense action and peril, some language and injury images
Profanity: Some strong la
Copyright 2024 Universal

24 years ago, a cow flew across the screen and “Twister” became an instant summer movie classic. “Twister” had the magical combination of romance and action with then-state-of-the-art special effects, a human storyline just hefty enough to add urgency without disrupting the real reason we’re there (see above: flying cows), and two future Oscar-winners, Helen Hunt and Philip Seymour Hoffman, along with Bill Paxton, Carey Elwes, and Lois Smith, who adeptly set the tone at the sweet spot between drama and melodrama.

The ingredients that made that storyline work were the ideal recipe: take one pair of parted lovers (the about to divorce storm chasers), some human conflict to unite them (Elwes’ arrogant rich guy), and some beyond-human conflict to unite them even more (see: the title, reference to the ). Add in one newbie to be the receptacle for exposition dumps and for us to look down to even though in real life we would be even more terrified (Jami Gertz, rising above a thankless role). Result: almost half a billion dollars in worldwide box office. Also result: a somewhat sequel, trying to rekindle the magic.

It begins with a nod to the original, which ended (spoiler alert) with the Hunt and Paxton characters successfully launching “Dorothy” (yes, a reference to the Kansas girl who was whisked to Oz via twister). Dorothy was dozens of little data-collecting chrome balls that provided previously unavailable information about the structure of these terrifying, vastly destructive storms. Tornadoes, for those who did not pay attention during the exposition part of the first film, are violently rotating columns of air that reach both the surface of the Earth and a cumulonimbus cloud or, in rare cases, the base of a cumulus cloud. They look like a stormy vortex in the distance, they travel very fast, and they cause hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to property and crops every year. As briefly acknowledged in this new film without any suggestion of climate change as the precipitating (in both senses of the word) factor, the number of storms is increasing.

The opening of “Twisters” takes place five years ago, when a much-too-cheerful and therefore much-too-risk-taking group of students is still working with the Dorothy machine. It is led by Kate (Daisy Edgar-Jones), who is a scientist but also has something of a second sense about storms and the direction they will take. She is hoping to get a grant to help her not just understand twisters but to extinguish them, using the same ultra-absorbent material found in disposable diapers. The group is much too adorable and foolhardy to be there for any purpose but to teach our heroine a very painful lesson. The only survivors are Kate and Javi (Broadway’s Anthony Ramos of “Dumb Money” and “In the Heights”).

In the present day, Kate lives in New York, with businesslike clothes and hair. Her only connection to twisters is safely via computer screens. Javi shows up with some new technology developed by the military. He wants her to come with him to get the first 3D mapping of what goes on inside the twister vortex. At first she says no, but when he reminds her of how many lives can be saved, she agrees to join him in Oklahoma for a week.

There they run into hotshot YouTube stars and self-proclaimed “tornado wrangler” Tyler Owens (Glen Powell) and his ragtag gang, who seem to be out there for thrills and likes. Poncho-wearing fans happily buy their merch and track them as they track the storms with go-pros, a drone, and fireworks they shoot up inside the vortex for fun.

“Twisters” gently updates the technology to the era of cell phones and MRIs, noting that these days “anyone with a $10 weather app” can be a storm chaser. The insertion of a class developer villain making “all-cash offers” to the locals is clumsier. Should they have the option to go somewhere else? And what is he going to do with land that has driven long-time residents out due to extreme weather hazards? While we’re on the subject, shouldn’t there be more storm shelters in these communities?

Like the original, this film lightly sprinkles the emotions of the characters just enough to keep us going between the special effects. The role of exposition dump character this time is played by Ben (Harry Hadden-Paton), a British journalist who is writing about Tyler’s group. Instead of former spouses, Kate and Javi are former colleagues sharing some survivor guilt and Kate and Tyler are in the classic Pride and Prejudice dynamic as they discover their first impressions (BTW the original title of P&P) are not accurate. Oh, if only we had super-powerful military-grade diagnostic machines to examine each other.

We also have a wise and kindly older family member to visit for some moments of respite, in this case, replacing the wonderful Lois Smith in the original, and here the also wonderful Maura Tierney as Kate’s mother.

So, let’s get to what really matters: how about the special effects? They are excellent. Cows do not fly, but a lot does, including large vehicles and roofs. A wind farm is an especially good spot to let us see the impact of up to 360 miles per hour. If there is less excitement on screen, it is due to CGI fatigue in the audience, not the believability of what we see. (Steven Spielberg is one of the producers.)

“Twisters” will not rise to the level of its predecessor, but it is an entertaining summer popcorn pleasure that will continue to build Powell’s stature as one of Hollywood’s most appealing young stars.

Parents should know that this movie has extended and sometimes very scary action sequences of the most severe weather. Characters are injured and killed and there are some graphic images.

Family discussion: What was your first thought when you saw Tyler and his crew? What’s the difference between a tamer and a rustler? How do you know when fear should push you forward?

If you like this, try: “Twister” and documentaries like “Stormchasers” and the Nova episodes “Oklahoma’s Deadliest Tornadoes” and “Deadliest Tornadoes”

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Fly Me to the Moon

Fly Me to the Moon

Posted on July 11, 2024 at 12:12 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language and smoking
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and smoking
Diversity Issues: Issues of perception, expectations, and treatment of women
Date Released to Theaters: July 12, 2024
Copyright 2024 Sony Pictures

Unless you care more about historical accuracy than a rollicking good story, I think you will really enjoy this movie, one of the most purely entertaining films of the year. And some of it is even true.

There are many places to get the real story of the moon landing. This has some of the story right, and some enhanced for dramatic, comedic, and romantic purposes, all of which are very well served.

Scarlett Johansson, who also produced, plays Kelly, an advertising executive who has the right combination for success in that field: she always understands her market/target/audience and she will say or do whatever it takes on its behalf. She can spin anything and that includes selling her own services.

She is approached by a mysterious man who says his name is Moe Berkus ( Woody Harrelson) and that he works for President Richard Nixon. John F. Kennedy promised an American man on the moon by the end of the decade and the end of the 60s is approaching. For the politicians, this is an essential achievement for the Cold War battle for supremacy of capitalism and democracy. If that sounds more like branding than public policy, you understand why, in the midst of some of the most divisive and troubled years of the 20th century, someone might decide that what NASA needed was an expert in marketing. After all, selling a product, whether breakfast cereal, car, or the space program, is about making the product real, immediate, personal, and aspirational. Kelly and her assistant arrive in Cocoa Beach, ready to sell the moon.

You could say the people in NASA were not happy about this, but perhaps a better term would be horrified. Their culture is about secrecy (national security), science, and control. The person in charge is Cole Davis (Channing Tatum) and he does his best to discourage Kelly. In other words, the ideal set-up for romantic sparks, and when it’s Tatum and Johansson, it’s more like fireworks. They are wonderful together.

The sharp, witty, and wise screenplay is by third-generation Hollywood writer Rose Gilroy (her grandfather was “The Subject Was Roses” screenwriter Frank Gilroy and her parents are Dan Gilroy of “Real Steel,” “Kong: Skull Island,” and “Nightcrawler” and Rene Russo). It skillfully balances the romantic comedy with the dramatic themes and the inherent tension in the goal everyone is working toward. Even if we know that indeed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin will indeed walk on the moon the question of public support, we get caught up in the surprising challenges along the way. Who could guess that having astronauts sell watches, cars, and underwear — and, of course, Tang — would make them so relatable Americans would start to root for them? What will they have do and which Senators will they have to persuade to get the funding they need? Is there a way to sell space not as a distraction but as an unassailable story of American heroes and know-how?

Cole and Kelly have real differences that give this film a welcome depth. Both on the personal and professional level, the issue of what the truth is and how and when to tell it is presented thoughtfully and with the complexity it deserves, but it is never pedantic or preachy. Jim Rash plays a temperamental commercial director Moe insists join the team to make a back-up for the broadcast. The stunning technological innovations from a group of engineers with an average age of 26, working to solve the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the history of the world, in a building tall enough to enclose four Statues of Liberty on each other’s shoulders.

And there is a wonderful black cat. Plus Johansson’s husband, Colin Jost, in a brief, funny cameo. This movie is romantic, funny, exciting, and meaningful, filled with joy, honoring the heroes of the voyage to the moon for their dedication, innovation, and courage. And it has heartwarming compassion for the vulnerability of its characters that resonates with us long after the movie is over.

Parents should know that this film has some strong language, references to criminal behavior and a shooting in self-defense. For historical accuracy, there is a lot of smoking and a character talks about the impact on his health.

Family discussion: Who changes more, Cole or Kelly? Who is currently in the International Space Station today? Would you like to go to the moon? Visit the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, where you can touch a real moon rock and see the NASA capsules.

If you like this, try: Other films about the Apollo 11 program, including “The Dish,” “Hidden Figures,” “First Man,” Tom Hanks’ excellent miniseries, “From the Earth to the Moon,” and the documentaries “Earthrise” and “Apollo 11”

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Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot

Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot

Posted on July 3, 2024 at 9:00 am

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving child abuse, some violence, language and brief suggestive material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: References to addiction and forcing a child to smoke and drink
Violence/ Scariness: References to child abuse, depiction of spousal abuse, offscreen gunshots
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 4, 2024
Copyright 2024 Angel

The members of a church in a tiny Texas town called Possum Trot (population around 700) decided they would adopt every child available for adoption in the local foster care system. Led by Bishop W.C. Martin and his wife, Donna, known as the First Lady, 22 families adopted 77 children. The story was featured in People Magazine and on Oprah, and it is now a faith-based feature film, with footage at the end showing the real-life characters (the children in the story have grown up and many have children of their own), and with W.C. and Donna Martin urging the audience to take in the 100,000 children currently waiting to be adopted.

As you might expect, it is preachy. But it is genuinely inspiring to see faith put into action with open-hearted generosity and empathy. As you also might expect for a movie about children who have been abused finding unconditional love and home, it is also very touching. “Euphoria’s” Nika King is luminous as First Lady Donna, whose faith is unwavering. She is the heart of the film, and her scenes with the traumatized children she refuses to give up on are heartwarming.

The Martins and their church are the center of the small community, mostly middle-class Black families, though with around 15 percent living below the poverty line. Donna feels content and fully occupied as the mother of two children, one with special needs, and her work with the church. When her adored mother died, though, she was devastated. As she mourned the idea of adopting children from the foster system came to her and her husband, initially reluctant, became just as committed.

They developed a close friendship with Susan Ramsey (Elizabeth Mitchell), the social worker in charge of placing children in the foster system. At first, she believes that the Martins are not prepared for what they have ahead of them. But as she sees how patient and committed they are, she is persuaded to work with the members of the church.

She warns them, though, not to try to take Terri (Diaana Babnicova), an angry and disturbed 12-year-old who was horrifically abused by her drug-addicted mother. The First Lady insists. Terri tests the Martins more than they ever anticipated. But as the First Lady says, God does not promise you will be free of trouble, only that He will be there with you.

Angel Studios, joining here with ultra-conservative Daily Wire, tries hard to make faith-based movies that meet the highest standards of mainstream theatrical releases in production qualities: actors, screenplay, cinematography, music, editing. This is not a great film by any standard. It never allows its characters to question their faith or even lose patience under the most stressful conditions. It glosses over the challenges of raising severely traumatized children and the professional support they need to process abuse, abandonment, and betrayal. But it is a sincere, thoughtful effort that could get an audience beyond the core faith community.

Parents should know that this film portrays some scenes of domestic abuse and includes references to physical and emotional abuse include rape and murder of children.

Family discussion: Why did the Martins want to take the children no one else wanted? Why was it hard for Terri to trust them? What made her change her mind? What can you do to help?

If you like this, try: “Room for One More” with Cary Grant, also based on the true story of adoptive parents.

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Despicable Me 4

Despicable Me 4

Posted on July 2, 2024 at 7:44 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action sequences and some rude humor
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy/comic peril and violence, no one badly hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 3, 2024

The latest entry in the DCU (Despicable Cinematic Universe), which includes the Minions movies, continues the saga of the once-despicable Gru (Steve Carell) with the same level of visual invention and endearing characters, plus action that strikes a kid-friendly balance between exciting and silly.

Gru is now a loving father to his three adopted daughters and his new baby with his wife, Lucy (Kristen Wiig). And he is proudly working with the AVL (Anti-Villain League). As the movie begins, Gru attends a class of 1985 reunion at his boarding school alma mater, the Lycée Pas Bon (School of the Not Good). He is not there to catch up with old friends; he is there to capture one of the world’s worst bad guys, the French-accented Maxime de Mal (last name means “of Bad,” voiced by Will Ferrell). Maxime is dating the glamorous, Spanish-accented Valentina (Sofía Vergara), with a sleek ponytail, stiletto heels, and a fluffy lapdog. He is very competitive with Gru for a reason we will learn later. And he has a surprise for his fellow alumnae. He has figured out a way to turn himself into a semi-cockroach, as he tells us, the world’s most indestructible and unstoppable creature.

After quite a scuffle, Gru and the AVL capture Maxime. But he escapes from prison, vowing revenge. The AVL moves Gru and his family to a safe house in a community called Mayflower, assigning them all new identities and names to protect them, and bringing most of the minions to AVL headquarters. They create a lot of chaos and some of them test out a new serum and develop super-powers that they have some trouble adapting to.

The next door neighbors are snobbish Perry (Stephen Colbert), his honey-voiced wife Patsy (“SNL’s” Chloe Fineman), and their young daughter, Poppy (Joey King), an aspiring villain who quickly discovers Gru’s real identity and blackmails him into helping her with a daring heist. Meanwhile, Maxime and Valentina are coming after Gru’s family in a cockroach-shaped plane.

The storyline is cluttered, with a lot of characters and locations, but that means none of it is around long enough to get tedious. Still, it is a shame to give so little time to the girls in favor of the baby. As with the other films, number 4 (six if you count the two Minions movies) is filled with delightful visual jokes and details, including some for the parents, or perhaps the grandparents (Gru in Boy George attire, singing “Karma Chameleon,” a “Terminator 2” reference). Glimpsing some of the series’ earlier villains at the end is a reminder that Maxime is second-tier compared to Vector, Belle, and Scarlet, and, like “Kung Fu Panda 4,” it seems to be transitioning to a new central character for future entries in the series. That is a wise move. Carell is still terrific, but we could use a bit more despicability in the next chapter.

Parents should know that this movie has extended fantasy/comic action sequences with weapons and characters in peril, including an infant, that may be too intense for younger kids. The movie includes a lot of exaggerated bad behavior and some potty humor.

Family discussion: Why do some of these characters want to be bad and how are they bad in different ways? Why was Margo worried about making new friends? Was Agnes right not to lie about her name?

If you like this, try: the other movies in the “Despicable Me” series, including the two “Minions” films, and some songs by Culture Club and Tears for Fears

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Kinds of Kindness

Kinds of Kindness

Posted on June 27, 2024 at 5:15 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking, characters drugged for abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Explicit, disturbing violence including self-mutilation, suicide, and rape, very graphic and shocking images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 28, 2024
Copyright 2024 Searchlight

Director Yorgos Lanthimos is more interested in shock and sensation than story or character. He reunites with his “Poor Things” stars Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe and his “The Lobster,” “Dogtooth,” and “Killing of a Sacred Deer” co-screenwriter Efthymis Filippou for “Kinds of Kindness,” which is not about kindness at all but about obsession, dominance, and sacrifice. In its almost three-hour run time it features self-mutilation, suicide, murder, rape, a valuable broken tennis racket, and a cult centered around a notion of purity, a sweat lodge, and the possibility of reviving the dead. And it features a repertory cast of actors playing different characters in three otherwise unrelated stories, each appearing with a title referring to “R.B.F.”

Those initials are glimpsed onscreen just once, at the beginning of the film. “Sweet Dreams are Made of This” by Eurythmics intones on the soundtrack, telling us what is ahead: “Some of them want to abuse you. Some of them want to be abused.” There are many symbolic allusions throughout, though most gesture toward meaning rather than attempting it. Like these: There is a street named Perdido (lost). A close-up of two mouths kissing is so extreme it may make you wonder how humans ever got started with it. There is the novel Anna Karenina. That broken tennis racket was smashed during a game by John McEnroe. There’s also a cracked helmet worn in a race by Ayrton Senna. We see a blue pick-up truck, and then two more just like it.

The first story is titled: “The Death of RMF.” A man comes to the door of a luxurious home and is let in by a beautiful young woman (Margaret Qualley) wearing a very short silk robe. She describes what he is wearing to someone over the phone, including the monogram on his shirt: RMF, which she initially mistakes for BMF, explaining that the embroidery is poorly done. The person on the other end of the phone is Raymond (Dafoe), wealthy, powerful, and obsessively concerned with controlling the most intimate details of everyone around him. One of those is Robert (Jesse Plemons), an executive in Raymond’s construction business, who lives in a modern mansion with his wife, Sarah (Hong Chau). Robert receives a hand-written note card with a minute-by-minute description of his day, from the socks, shoes, and suit he must wear to when he must and must not have sex with his wife. Robert for the first time, after ten years, tries to say no to Raymond when his first attempt to complete a dangerous, possibly deadly, task, is unsuccessful. This is when we find out what Raymond is willing to do, how much he is willing to debase himself by pleading, lying, stealing, harming himself, and worse.

“RMF is Flying” is the title of the second story, with Plemons as a police officer named Daniel whose wife, Liz (Emma Stone) is missing with her colleagues who were on a marine research trip. Daniel cannot think of anything else, worrying about what she is eating, imaging that a suspect in the police station looks like her. His partner and best friend is Neil (Mamoudou Athie), married to Martha (Qualley). They do their best to provide comfort and support, but Daniel is inconsolable. And then Liz returns. But Daniel believes something is wrong, and this being who looks and sounds like Liz cannot possibly be his wife.

The title of the third story is “RMF Eats a Sandwich.” This time, Stone plays Emily and Plemons is Andrew. They are testing young women on behalf of a group we will learn about. This is so important to her that she has left her husband, Joseph (Joe Alwyn) and the daughter they just call The Little One (Merah Benoit).

The screenplay relies heavily on the shock value, the performances and the production design by Anthony Gasparro to make the movie seem weightier than it is. And when that’s not enough, it winks at the audience to let us know that it just doesn’t care.

NOTE: Stay into the credits to see a bit more. Stone’s dance is every bit as good as the one that was a highlight of “Poor Things.”

Parents should know that this movie has pervasive adult material including sexual references and explicit situations, nudity, very strong language, alcohol and smoking, and graphic and disturbing images including suicide, murder and police shooting an unarmed man.

Family discussion: Why does Robert do want Raymond tells him to do? Why do Emily and Andrew do what Omi and Aka tell them to do? Why does the tennis racket mean so much to Sarah and so little to the people who buy it? How do you decide who you trust? Who is RMF and why does he matter to these stories?

If you like this, try: “The Lobster” and “Poor Things”

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