The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Posted on April 21, 2022 at 5:50 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language, crude sexual references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Extended acton-style peril and violence, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 15, 2022

copyright Lionsgate 2022
I’m not sure what it says about where we are in history that 2022 has become the year of movie meta-verses but, oh, forget it, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is a total hoot, and hilarious fun on every one of its meta-levels.

Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage is played by….Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage as a heightened (and lessened) version of himself, the best. and by that I mean most committed version of that since John Malkovich in “Being John Malkovich.” The movie version of Nicolas Cage has all of his credits, a dozen of which are amusingly referenced throughout the film. And the movie version plays on news reports of Cage’s sometimes-volatile personal and financial life, with a second Nicolas Cage playing the younger version of himself and with the situation that set up the film. Movie Nicolas Cage (just referred to as Cage from now on) loses out on a big role in a film and is locked out of his hotel room for failure to pay. His 16-year-old daughter is barely speaking to him because he is so self-involved. His agent (Neil Patrick Harris) tells him he has been offered a million dollars to attend a birthday party in Mallorca. He reluctantly accepts.

At first, he something of a diva, insulting his host, Javi (a sublimely unhinged performance by Pedro Pascal). Surprisingly, it turns out that Javi is something of a kindred spirit, almost as in love with cinematic story-telling as he is. Javi’s unabashed fanship is also a solace for Cage’s bruised ego. Perhaps less surprisingly, in fact most predictably, like everyone else who strives for an encounter with a movie star, Javi has written a script.

This is when the CIA shows up (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz). Javi is an international arms dealer and they think he has kidnapped the Spanish President’s daughter. They cannot get into Javi’s compound, so they want Cage to spy for them.

The story works on many levels, as the kind of buddy story Javi wants to write, as the kind of action story they conclude they can get financing for, and above all as a knowing comedy with many references to Cage’s wide-ranging oeuvre, from “Cross 2” to “Guarding Tess,” “The Wicker Man” to “Con Air,” “Face-Off,” and “The Rock,” and to over-arching issues of the way movies tell stories and the way movies get made. Of all the Cage movies it nods to, the most foundational one is “Adaptation.,” itself a meta-movie about cinematic story-telling (and a lot of other themes), with Cage playing a version of the movie’s screenwriter and talking to himself, or close to himself, because he plays twins.

And like that film it is is very funny. Cage and Pascal have terrific chemistry and are clearly having a blast. Sharon Horgan is terrific as Cage’s ex-wife, but Barinholtz and Haddish are under-used and the mayhem is not always as effectively handled as it should be to work as action or as commentary on action. Or maybe it is commentary on the silliness of action. By that time, there are so many layers you are likely to have found at least two or three to enjoy.

Parents should know that the movie has very strong language and crude sexual references, alcohol and drug use, and extended and intense peril and violence, with many characters injured and killed.

Family discussion: Why did Nicolas Cage want to spoof himself this way? What do you learn from his conversations with his younger self? Why was it hard for him to connect to his daughter?

If you like this, try: Some of the movies referred to in this one like “Con Air,” “The Rock,” and “National Treasure” and “JCVD” with Jean-Claude van Damme spoofing himself and his films

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The Bad Guys

Posted on April 21, 2022 at 5:36 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated.PG for action and rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended cartoon action-style law enforcement peril and violence
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 22, 2022

Copyright 2022 Universal
“The Bad Guys,” based on the popular series of graphic novels by Aaron Blabey, is an adorable animated film about guys who are not as bad as they think. They are seen as the scariest animals on earth, but even when they are committing crimes, they do not realize that they have good qualities, too. They are loyal friends, for example, and honest some of the time. We first see Wolf (Sam Rockwell) and Snake (Mark Maron) in a diner, where Wolf not only celebrates Snake’s birthday but even when there’s no one to pay for the meal, they make sure to pay for it anyway.

And then they rob the bank across the street. Okay, they’re bad. That could be, though, because they are just behaving the way people expect. Wolves, sharks, snakes, tarantulas, and piranhas have bad reputations. So they’re just living up or rather down to what the humans around them expect.

Adults watching with their children may notice the resemblance to some very adults-only movies, the first scene a tip of the cinematic chapeau to “Pulp Fiction,” not just the diner setting but the rhythm of the dialogue and the editing. Like the “Sesame Street” versions of adult content, it is there to entertain the grown-ups, but it is also there because even toned-down, it is fun to watch.

“The Bad Guys” has the fun of another genre kids do not often see, the heist film, with all kinds of problem-solving, setbacks, and teamwork. In addition to Wolf, the cool, Danny Ocean planner-type, and Snake, an escape artist, the gang also includes, of course, a tech whiz, Awkwafina as Tarantula, and eight legs come in very handy working on keyboards. Shark (Craig Robinson) is the master of disguise. And Piranha (Anthony Ramos) is the muscle. (The movie characters wisely have more diversity than the books.) The voice talent is superb. Not all actors can do voice work. It makes sense; they’re used to being able to rely on their faces and bodies to express emotion. But Sam Rockwell gives one of his all-time best performances as Wolf, perfectly matching the cool sophistication of the character and his moments of doubt and vulnerability. The animation is outstanding, stylish and dynamic when it needs to be, touches of anime, especially with the police officer voiced by Alex Borstein, and a bit of a hand-drawn feel to prevent CGI over-perfection.

There are some fun surprises and twists along the way and of course some lessons on the satisfactions of being a good guy. But not too good; we want to leave room for some sequels.

Parents should know that while it is all done with humor, this is a movie about characters who commit crimes, mostly theft. There are some chases and some cartoon-style peril and a mind-control machine, but no one gets hurt. The movie also includes some rude humor and schoolyard language.

Family discussion: What makes someone bad or good? Why is it hard for the bad guys to consider others’ rights and feelings? Which is your favorite bad guy character and why?

If you like this, try: the book and its sequels and “Zootopia”

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Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

Posted on April 14, 2022 at 8:32 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some fantasy action/violence
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy peril/action/violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 15, 2022

Copyright Warner Brothers 2022
“Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” comes from the world of Harry Potter, so it is about magic. But it is also about that most human of connections: brothers. It’s also about chiseled cheekbones; this is a movie that even by movie-star measures has an exceptional assortment of beautifully sculpted faces. Contrary to the title, it is not so much about Dumbledore’s secrets as it is about his efforts to stop someone he once loved from destroying both the magic and human worlds. And in doing so, it includes some political commentary that may seem pointed given its depiction of corruption, nativism, and the appeal of an autocratic leader. It relies on a level of knowledge about the Harry Potter cinematic universe that does not make this two and a half-hour movie easy for viewers who are not as familiar with the characters.

We got a glimpse of Dumbledore’s backstory in the last volume of the Harry Potter series, so we know that when he was a young man, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) was in love with Gellert Grindelwald (now played by Mads Mikkelsen), and that during that time they created one of the wizarding world’s most powerful charms that protects each of them from being harmed by the other.

But as we learn in the opening scene, as the two wizards meet again after distance in time and in life choices. Dumbledore is now a teacher at Hogwarts, devoted to justice and decency. Grindewald has become an agent of chaos who wants to destroy the structures of both the wizard and non-wizard muggle worlds. “With or without you,” Grindewald says, “I will burn down their world and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”

Dumbledore has to find a way to prevent that despite the obstacle of the charm that binds them and Grindewald’s ability to see the future, thanks to a rare creature stolen just after birth by Grindewald’s henchpeople. But they don’t know that there was a twin, rescued by magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne).

And so, they have to find a way to proceed that cannot be traced by Grindewald, whose coterie includes mind-reader Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) the love of muggle friend Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). It also includes ailing Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), severely traumatized by being told his was abandoned by his birth parents and by the virulently anti-magic woman who raised him.

Credence is the son of Dumbledore’s bitter, estranged brother Aberforth (Richard Coyle). There is another tragic loss that divides the brothers as well. Newt is helped by his brother Theseus (Callum Turner, a perfect choice for a fraternal resemblance). Another member of Dumbledore’s group is Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), a brother motivated by the loss of his sister, but willing too relinquish his memories of her to take on a dangerous role.

Yes, it is all very complicated. This is not for the kind of audience who is new to the world of Harry Potter. This is for the kind of audience who will be delighted to glimpse a young Minerva McGonagall and will get the joke about Slytherin. Those not already invested in Queenie, Jacob, and Credence will have some catching up to do.

The production design by Stuart Craig and Neil Lamont and costumes by Colleen Atwood are never less than spectacular. Despite the best efforts of the cast, the look of the film does better in telling they story than the screenplay.

Parents should know that this movie has extensive fantasy peril and violence including some scary creatures. There is some social drinking and some verbal harassment.

Family discussion: Why did Dumbledore and Grindewald take such different paths? Why did so many wizards and witches support Grindewald? Why did Dumbledore turn down the position?

If you like this, try: the other Harry Potter world books and movies

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Ambulance

Posted on April 7, 2022 at 5:32 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for intense violence, bloody images and language throughout
Profanity: Very strong language, n-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended, intense peril and violence, guns, explosions, chases, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 8, 2022

Copyright 2022 Paramount
There’s a reason this movie is named after its mode of transportation instead of its characters. The humans in the story have less depth. It might most accurately be named “Michael Bay Movie,” a title that would convey all you need to know, which is that this is a movie about chases and explosions and shoot-outs. It’s a good thing studios do not have to certify that no vehicles were harmed in the making of the movie because the list of destroyed cars would be longer than the screenplay.

In between the chases and explosions and shoot-outs there is a thimble-full of a story. There are two brothers, Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Danny’s family took in Will when they were childhood best friends. As adults, Danny followed his father into the criminal activity and Will went in the other direction, enlisting in the military. But he is struggling in civilian life. His wife needs an expensive operation that is not covered by insurance and they have a young baby. And so he goes to Danny for help.

Danny says the only way he can help is by bringing Will along on a bank robbery that is happening immediately. With no time to think, no other options for saving his wife, and Danny’s assurances that everything was under control, he agrees.

Everything was not under control. Everything goes very badly, and the only members of the bank robbery gang to survive are Danny and Will. A young police officer who came into the bank not because anything looked suspicious but to ask a pretty teller on a date, tries to capture them and Will shoots him. An ambulance arrives with an EMT named Cam (Eiza González, on the other side from her bank robber role in “Baby Driver”). Danny and Will see that an ambulance with an injured can get through the police dragnet, so they hijack it, taking Cam and Keith, the badly injured police officer, hostage.

And then, well, a lot of chases and explosions and shoot-outs. Somewhere in there are tiny moments of character, mostly not very interesting (the head cop has a very big dog, Cam has a reputation for being chilly and we find out why. the FBI man in charge (Keir O’Donnell) is younger than the LAPD guy in charge (Garret Dillahunt) so there are some generational and turf-y struggles. Olivia Stambouliah makes an impression as the LAPD surveillance expert and González manages to creat a real character amidst the mayhem. Gyllenhaal, stuck with a character whose choices and responses are increasingly difficult to parse, does get in a few good moments. I particularly like his reaction after a character sprays him with a fire extinguisher, only upset about his sweater. “It’s CASHMERE!”

The action set-pieces are staged with relish for the crashes and destruction but not the kind of style and energy we get in the “Fast and Furious” franchise. Those scenes are occasionally punctuated with Bay’s odd trademark focus on random objects. Like the police chief’s gigantic dog, they add less to the pacing and tone than Bay appears to think. Or maybe we’re just too exhausted to care.

Parents should know that this film has constant peril and action violence with many characters injured and killed and some very graphic and disturbing images. Characters use strong language and commit crimes.

Family discussion: Why did Cam go to see Lindsay? Why didn’t Keith tell the truth?

If you like this, try: “16 Blocks,” “Copshop,” and both version of “Fort Apache the Bronx”

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Morbius

Posted on March 31, 2022 at 11:57 am

C-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some frightening images, intense sequences of violence, and brief Strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Mind and body-altering medication
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic-book/fantasy peril and violence, vampires, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 31, 2022
Date Released to DVD: June 13, 2022
Copyright 2022 Sony

More like “Bore”-bius, amirite?

Sorry, couldn’t help it. I don’t know if it was the absence of Marvel MCU mastermind Kevin Feige (this movie comes from Sony, which has the rights to Spider-Man and the characters from his comics) or if they’re just digging down so deep into the MCU to find new IP, I mean new characters to develop and have run out of all the good ones, or both. But whatever the reason, “Morbius,” with Jared Leto is something no superhero movie should ever be — dull. The action scenes are poorly staged and the special effects are awful. Plus, it spends much too much time on the origin story somehow without ever making us connect to the title character.

Leto plays Michael Morbius, an only-in-comics character who is severely disabled and a genius. And, of course, something of a renegade. He is so dazzlingly brilliant that he is the youngest scientist ever to win a Nobel Prize, but such a rapscallion that he waits until he is wearing white tie at the ceremony to tell the King of Sweden he is turning it down. He is in a furious race against time to find a cure for his debilitating genetic disorder. The funding for his rogue lab comes from the childhood friend played as an adult by Matt Smith (“Dr. Who,” “The Crown”). They met in a residential treatment facility run by kind-hearted doctor Emil Nikols (Jared Harris). When they first meet, young Michael dubs the new arrival Milo, though his name is Lucien, to indicate that he is just another in an endless line of young patients who die so quickly it is not worth learning their names. Nevertheless, they become friends and he continues to be known as Milo.

Their shared problem is some blood-related thing, so Morbius comes up with the idea that one way to cure it could be to combine his DNA with the DNA of the only animal that lives solely on blood, the vampire bat. What could go wrong?

This experiment is unethical, illegal, and extremely expensive. So, with Milo footing the bill, Morbius and his beautiful colleague Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona) try the DNA mixture out on a cargo ship in international waters. Think of it as his version of a radioactive spider bite except that (1) he does it on purpose and (2) vampire bats have qualities that are generally considered to be problematic, starting with an unquenchable thirst for blood.

So Morbius is an anti-hero, which means we have to have an all-out bad guy so he will be not so bad by comparison. The film expects us, like the FBI agents played by woefully underused Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal that the first few murders did not matter because the people killed were not good guys, and it is only when a nice single mom gets all of the blood sucked out of her that we should care about who did it. Michael feels bad about what he did and is a scientist and wants to stop even worse things from happening, so we’re supposed to be on his side. The scientific discovery he should be focusing on is how much crime a white guy in a hoodie can get away with.

Even those who come to superhero movies just for the fights and special effects will be disappointed. The CGI is primarily used to make the faces of the two vampires go back and forth from skeletal to normal, plus some meaningless dust trails that their superpowers somehow manifest. Many scenes have drab lighting that for want of a less vampiric word, sucks the life out of the story. Matt Smith is a brief bright spot but Leto spends most of his time trying to look soulful. He says that despite the poor reviews, he’s committed to a sequel. Please, no MORE-bious.

NOTE: Stay through the credits for extra scenes.

Parents should know that this film has extended comic-book style peril and violence, including vampires, with some graphic and disturbing images. Characters use mind- and body-altering medication and strong language.

Family discussion: Why did Milo/Lucien and Michael respond to the treatment differently? Why did Michael reject the Nobel?

If you like this, try: The Spider-Man movies

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