Deadpool & Wolverine

Deadpool & Wolverine

Posted on July 23, 2024 at 6:15 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, gore and sexual references
Profanity: Extended very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and alcohol abuse, references to cocaine
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and sometimes very graphic comic book violence with many characters injured and killed and many disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 26, 2024

This one is for the fans. I say that with love because this movie loves the fans. I’m sure there are newcomers out there who are not deeply enmeshed in the comic book history of Marvel characters Deadpool and Wolverine, or even the canon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There may even be a ticket-buyer or two who have not seen the wildly popular earlier Deadpool and Wolverine movies, even the critically acclaimed “Logan,” and may not know how Deadpool likes to trash Wolverine in his movies in only the way that someone does (usually in middle school) when they really like someone and want that someone to like them back. Those people will enjoy “Deadpool & Wolverine” because it is smart, funny, exciting, often filthy, and even has some heart. Ryan Reynolds (who not only stars as Deadpool but co-produced and co-wrote and has been the force behind the entire Deadpool oeuvre) and Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) are having so much fun on screen it is impossible not to have fun with them. There’s also a little dog that would be very cute if it didn’t have such a weirdly long tongue, and yes, he is Dogpool.

If you have not seen the movie yet, just know that unlike other Disney/Marvel movies this one is rated R, and Ryan Reynolds has said that it is not for kids. I’ll avoid spoilers here, which is hard because there are so many of them and they are choice, but still, you do not need a review to know if you want to see it or not; if you’re a fan, just go and have a great time, then come back here and read the rest of the as non-spoilery as possible review.

It’s not a spoiler to talk about the opening credits, is it? I’ll just say that they involve some adamantium-enhanced bones used as weapons AND as informative material for listing the filmmakers. We then go back in time to see Deadpool turned down by Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) when he applies to be an Avenger. Disheartened, he gives up being a superhero and goes to work as a used car salesman, which he does poorly. In the present, his birthday party is interrupted by some scary-looking storm trooper types, who take him to the TVA.

For those of you who have not been watching “Loki,” the TVA is the Time Variance Authority. This outpost is run by Mr. Paradox, played by “Succession’s” and “Pride & Prejudice’s” Matthew Macfadyen. Basically, this is just an excuse to (1) both have fun with and (2) make fun of the concept of multi-verses and get around the fact that Wolverine DIED HEROICALLY in a previous film.

Soon, Deadpool and a version of Wolverine (so we don’t have to worry about, like, consistency or logic) are in a massive void that they acknowledge looks like it’s from the “Mad Max” cinematic universe, where they meet up with some interesting characters, good guys and bad. All I can say about that is that there are some truly wonderful surprises from the MCU, not just in who show up but how they behave. Deadpool, going back to his comic book days, has broken the fourth wall, and in this movie it is smashed into smithereens, with more self-referential in-jokes and asides than even an infinite number of multiverses can contain.

Deadpool & Wolverine Copyright 2024 Disney

I always say that superhero movies depend on the villain. That is less true in this case because Deadpool and Wolverine are anti-heroes, careless, damaged, and often mean-spirited. But the requisite British-accented bad guys are here, one with a rather preposterous link to one of the MCU’s most central characters. Most fans will be more interested in the two well-choreographed fights between the title characters than in their fights with the bad guys (also well-choreographed and very gory). To avoid spoilers I will just say that, as with Thanos (who is not in this movie), it can be difficult to come up with a bad guy (or girl) who is powerful enough to make the stakes meaningful but not so powerful that there is no understandable path (e.g. Kryptonite, Achilles’ heel) to vanquishing them.

The movie expertly balances the exciting, the silly, the references for the fans (look for Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld’s name on a shop the characters go crashing through and digs at the previous and current movie studios for the franchise, plus, for some reason, the Honda Odyssey), and the straightforward superhero stuff, even a few glimpses of actual sincerity. Reynolds and Jackman have tremendous chemistry and should make many movies together. The banter is A+ and so are the needle-drops, including Madonna, N’sync, Green Day, Grease, Aretha Franklin, and Huey Lewis and the News.

It is wonderful to see some of our old favorites from the MCU though I missed spending more time with some of the DCU (Deadpool Cinematic Universe). I want more Negasonic Teenage Warhead! Great nod to Stan Lee. Great nod to the fans from people who love these characters but do not take them too seriously, just like us.

Parents should know that this is a “hard-R” movie with constant strong and crude language, drinking and alcoholism, and extremely graphic violence with many characters injured and killed and many disturbing images.

Family discussion: How do you decide what “matters?” How do Deadpool and Wolverine and Mr. Paradox decide what matters to them? How do the villains in this movie compare to other Marvel villains?

If you like this, try: the other “Deadpool” and “Wolverine” movies and the Loki series.

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Widow Clicquot

Widow Clicquot

Posted on July 18, 2024 at 5:48 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong bloody violence, language, sexual content, nudity, and some drug use
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Very sad death, reference to war
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: July 19, 2024

I never knew that the legendary Veuve Cliquot champagne was named for the woman who created it in the late 18th century. Veuve means widow.

Copyright WME 2024

Haley Bennett, who also produced, plays Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot, devastated by the death of the husband she adored when she was still in her 20s. In flashbacks (too many) throughout the film, we see that her relationship with Francois (Tom Sturridge) was deep, intimate, and meaningful. They were both committed to full partnership in the family wine business and he had complete faith in her judgment and taste. That is why, almost unheard of in that era, he made it clear in his will that he was leaving her the vineyards and the business. Throughout the film, she faces one crisis after another as her father-in-law, Philippe (Ben Miles), tries to seize control of the company, her less hierarchical and more inclusive relationship with her workers is challenged, and production and logistics problems make it impossible for her to sell her wine. She gets support (and more) from a man who was her husband’s close friend (perhaps more) and the sales and distribution partner of the business, (Sam Riley).

Trailer for Widow Clicquot

Cinematographer Caroline Champetier, production designer Stéphane Sartorius and the sound team have created an immersive world that makes us feel like we’re inside a Napoleonic era oil painting. The creaking floorboards, high ceilings, and flickering candlelight are in sharp contrast to the natural world of the vineyard, where Barbe-Nicole is happiest and most at home. Bennett has a quiet, almost serene, quality but seems to glow from within. Her scenes with Sturridge in the blissful early days and then as he became more unstable (there is an implication that he may have committed suicide) and when she makes the decision to send their daughter away to protect her from her father’s deterioration, are subtle but effective, as is Barbe-Nicole’s passion for the vineyard and for making the most delicious champagne ever created. As she talks about the flavors and the size of the bubbles, as she talks about evading Napoleon’s restrictions on international sales, she is quiet, but sure. A defining moment is when she explains that she wants to rotate the crops because the vines need to struggle. That moment and her literal final word tell us that one of the world’s most delicate and cherished drinks is the result of struggle, one that all who embraced considered worth it.

Parents should know that this film includes a mental breakdown and a possible (offscreen) suicide, grief, some sexual situations with nudity, and the misogyny of the era.

Family discussion: Why was Madame Clicquot so confident and determined? What was unusual about the way she treated her employees? Was she right to try to evade the trade restrictions?

If you like this, try: The book by Tilar J. Mazzeo, and Bennett’s film, “Cyrano.” And, if you’re old enough, try some champagne.

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My Spy: Eternal City

My Spy: Eternal City

Posted on July 18, 2024 at 5:14 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence/action, some strong language, suggestive references, teen drinking, and a nude sculpture
Profanity: Strong language for a PG-13, f-word, s-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style violence, chases, explosions, guns, knives, punches, near-drowning, torture, attempted murder
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: July 19, 2024
Copyright 2024 MGM Amazon

Four years ago, the original “My Spy” was a familiar but mildly entertaining story about a cute 9-year-old teaming up with a gruff fighting machine, five tours in special forces CIA field agent. I questioned at the time why a movie about a 4th grader would be rated PG-13 for violence. That is an even bigger problem for the sequel, with Sophie (returning Chloe Coleman) now a 14-year-old in high school, and material that is too intense and inappropriate for young children but not interesting enough for teens and adults.

The first film matched up a fierce, all-but-emotionless tough guy who survived five tours of duty in special forces with an adorable little girl who wants to be a spy. Needless to say, no contest and — spoiler alert! — he’s pretty much a marshmallow (maybe one burnt around the edges) by the end of the movie. This one tries for the same kind of mixed match-up. The marshmallow, now the not-so-little girl’s step-dad, is up against something as daunting as a fighting machine veteran of special forces: adolescence.

Normally, I put this information at the end of the review, but because there is such a disconnect between the intended audience for “My Spy: Eternal City” and the content, I want to put it up front. This movie has some very strong language, a close-up of very accurate male genitals knocked off a statue, an adult woman advising a 14-year-old to use a lot of tongue in kissing and then (intended to be humorous) demonstrating by kissing her boss, jokes about menopause, a woman making an ugly joke insulting a male colleague about his (reference to a female body part), plus, of course, a lot of action-style violence with chases, explosions, shoot-outs, the inevitable comic crotch hit, a reference to suicide, a reference to mass killing, a near-drowning, knives, punches, torture, and terrorism, including a bomb under the Vatican. There is an extended scene where dozens of attacking little birds are sliced up into tiny pieces and it is supposed to be amusing. Not to spoil anything, but if there was a website called, this movie would be on it.

Dave Bautista returns as JJ, the tough guy who is now a doting step-dad who loves cooking, his beloved fish from the first film, Blueberry, and spending time with Sophie who is continuing her training to be an agent. Her mother is in Rwanda on a humanitarian mission so it is just the two of them at home.

As anyone who has ever been or lived with a 14-year-old or watched “Inside Out 2” knows, that is a difficult time for everyone. Sophie tells JJ he is NOT her dad and that she now has other interests that go beyond mastering spy craft and training to become a fighting machine. The interest occupying her attention is Ryan (Billy Barratt) a jock with an angelic voice and something of a Justin Bieber vibe. They sing together in the school choir, which has been selected to perform in Venice, Florence, and at the Vatican. JJ, wanting to stay close to Sophie, volunteers to be a chaperone.

Also on the trip is Sophie’s shy friend and BFF, Collin (Taeho K), basically in the Duckie role here. Coincidentally, Collin thinks his dad (Ken Jeong as David Kim) is a pediatric nurse, but in reality he is JJ’s boss at the CIA. Once they get to Italy, there is a chaotic collision of teen misbehavior and terrorism as some very bad people are getting access to some very bad bombs. In fairness, there is also some very lovely choir music and Venice, Florence, and Rome are all beautiful.

Coleman is still an appealing young performer but the switch from a child softening the heart of the tough guy to the dad trying to stay close to his daughter does not work as well. Bautista looks tired, and the script doesn’t help, getting him beat up over and over. This sequel is a superfluous and unnecessary IP extender, which might be okay if it wasn’t creating a problem for parents who have to explain to eight-year-olds why they should not see it.

Parents should know that this film has very strong language, a close-up of very accurate male genitals knocked off a statue, an adult woman advising a 14-year-old to use a lot of tongue in kissing and then (intended to be humorous) demonstrating by kissing her boss, jokes about menopause, a woman making an ugly joke insulting a male colleague about his , plus, of course, a lot of action-style violence with chases, explosions, shoot-outs, the inevitable comic crotch hit, barfing, a reference to suicide, a reference to mass killing, slaughter of attacking birds and killing of a beloved pet, a near-drowning, knives, punches, torture, and terrorism, including a bomb under the Vatican.

Family discussion: Why did Sophie like Ryan? Why didn’t David tell his son the truth? Were you surprised at who was behind the terrorism?

If you like this, try: “My Spy,” “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” and “Spy”

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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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