The Marvels

Posted on November 9, 2023 at 5:24 pm

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

Related Tags:


movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Scene After the Credits Series/Sequel Superhero

Quiz Lady

Posted on November 2, 2023 at 5:26 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, some injuries
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 3, 2023

Copyright 2023 Hulu
Sandra Oh and Awkwafina playing sisters in a comedy? Sign me up!  They’re two of my favorites. There’s one wild sister with blue hair extensions, big earrings, and no impulse control and one shy, serious sister who dresses in drab monotone and watches her favorite game show with her 20-year-old dog every night? Sounds like fun! And Oh, the dramatic actress from “Killing Eve” is playing the wild one and Awkwafina, the comic who first came to public attention with a song about her private parts is the shy, serious one? Wait, what?

Yep. And it is clear that both of them had a blast making this outrageous comedy, which makes it all the more fun for us. Oh plays Jenny Yum, ten years older than her younger sister, Anne (Awkwafina), the responsible one who works in a CPA office, where she stays in her cubicle as her co-workers celebrate a birthday because no one thought to invite her and she would not join them even if they had.

Jenny and Anne had a chaotic childhood. Their single mother was off partying and gambling. Jenny responded by getting as far away as soon as possible. She has failed after half-hearted attempts at several careers but has developed some survival skills, small-time scams, asking her sister for money, and suing a restaurant for a fish bone found in her filet. Anne takes care of their mother, now in assisted living. She devotes herself to Linguine, the dog Jenny left behind, and to her favorite television show, a “Jeopardy”-like competition called “Can’t Stop the Quiz.” The kindly, bow-tied host, Terry McTeer (Will Ferrell) is a stable force in her life, almost a father figure. She finds his nightly sign-off, “Don’t go anywhere; I know I won’t,” reassuring.

Their mother runs away from assisted living, leaving behind an $80,000 gambling debt. The sisters are given two weeks to pay it back, with the loan shark holding Linguine as hostage. Jenny thinks the only way to get the money is for Anne to win it on “Can’t Stop the Quiz.” Anne, who cannot bear to have anyone look at her, is horrified by the idea of being on television. But she is desperate to get Linguine back.

All of this is just an excuse for extended farce as the sisters interact with a powerhouse cast of supporting actors, including Holland Taylor as a grumpy neighbor who loves Alan Cumming, Tony Hale as the owner of a Ben Franklin-themed inn, and Jason Schwartzman as the quiz show’s smarmy current champion, with ultra-white teeth veneers that practically glow in the dark. Plus there’s a display of hundreds of bow ties that is the background for a very sweet conversation. Wild physical comedy and surreal interactions are grounded by the way the sisters begin to resolve their differences. It is funny, it is outrageous, and it is surprisingly tender-hearted.

Parents should know that this film has mature material including drinking and drug use (an extended humorous drug trip sequence), comic peril and violence and very strong language.

Family discussion: Why did Jenny and Anne respond so differently to the way they grew up? If you were trying to play charades with a member of your family, what could you do that no one else would understand?

If you like this, try: “Lucky Grandma” and “Rat Race”

Related Tags:


Comedy movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews

The Holdovers

Posted on November 2, 2023 at 5:25 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, some drug use and brief sexual material
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril, teen scuffles, references to wartime death, grief, and loss
Diversity Issues: Economic and racial diversity a theme of the movie, mental illness
Date Released to Theaters: November 3, 2023

(l-r.) Dominic Sessa stars as Angus Tully, Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb and Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham in director Alexander Payne’s THE HOLDOVERS, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Seacia Pavao / © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC
Barton is one of those posh boarding schools weighted with the history of generations of highly privileged, casually arrogant, hormonally charged teenager boys. “The Holdovers” takes place there over the Christmas holidays of 1969-70. Barton has buildings with just the slightest touch of casusually arrogant shabbiness found only where there are multiple generations of wealth and status who understand it’s much snobbier not to rush to fix and replace everything. And of course the buildings are surrounded by snowy expanses.

The faculty members have the crucial pedigree of having gone to Barton. This, of course, inspires respect and courtesy from the students. No it doesn’t! The students barely respect their prestigious and wealthy parents, but even they rank higher than someone who is still at Barton, decades after graduation. Perhaps the faculty member held most in contempt is Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti), who has three strikes against him. He looks and smells weird. He teaches a class on Ancient Greece, which the students find useless and monumentally boring. And he is incorruptible and brutally strict. Even his former student, now the school’s headmaster, is furious with him for refusing to give the son of a powerful and wealthy donor a better grade, costing him his college admission.

That is how Hunham gets stuck with staying at the school over winter break, overseeing the students whose parents cannot or will not let them come home. They’re called the holdovers. The students are miserable, especially when they learn that they all have to bunk together in the infirmary because the heat to the dorms has been shut off, and that Hunham has a rigorous schedule of study and exercise planned for them. Everyone else has gone home for the holidays except for Mary Lamb, the head chef, who will be cooking for them. She is in mourning for her son, recently killed in Vietnam. He was a Barton graduate who could not get a draft deferment like his classmates because they could not afford college tuition. And she is played by an exceptionally moving Da’Vine Joy Randolph, so good in “Dolomite Is My Name” and briefly glimpsed this month in “Rustin” as Mahaliah Jackson.

We’ve all heard about the best-laid plans going awry. And I’m sure we’ve all experienced that terrible plans tend to go awry, too. So before too long, the other holdovers have been whisked away, all that are left are Hunham, Mary, and one smart, rebellious, deeply grieving, and extremely angry student who would have been graduating if he had not been kicked out of three other schools. That is Angus Tully, played with exactly that mix of qualities by newcomer Dominic Sessa.

Director Alexander Payne likes to make movies about people who are extremely passionate about issues others do not take too seriously. In “Election,” it’s a high school election. Who can forget one of the great moments in movie history, when one student calls out the ones who care about it. And we all remember this film’s star, Paul Giamatti, getting way too passionate about his disdain for merlot. In “Nebraska,” a senior citizen is over-committed to the idea he has won a sweepstakes.

Here, the always-brilliant Giamatti gives one of the best performances of the year as a kind of tribute to the bitter boarding school classics teacher in “The Browning Version,” and something of a classics version of a Miniver Cheevy, the only way he can make any sense of his lonely, disappointed, unappreciated life is to wrap himself up in a notion of antiquity that is vastly more honorable or at least understandable than what he has. In his mind, every failed student his his “no, in thunder!” to the weak ambiguities and moral compromises and overall unfairness of the modern world. The students — and the other faculty — may be younger, more handsome, richer, more confident, more popular, and more privileged than he is, but Hunham can still feel superior about what he has decided matters more, like his fondness for the the Meditation of Marcus Aurelius.

Mary, Hunham, and Angus each in their own way stuck, have experiences, adventures, mistakes, confidences, and expanded understandings over the course of the holidays. Each scene is a small gem, the ensemble work is as good as it gets, the screenplay by David Hemingson is smart, funny, and touching, and the superb cinematography by Eigil Bryld captures the chilly landscape of the almost-deserted school and the warmth of some of the other locations. This is one of the best films of the year, with career best work by all involved.

Parents should know that this film has very strong language, some peril and injury, family conflicts, mental illness, loss and grief, drinking and drunkenness, smoking, and some drug use.

Family discussion: What should the teachers in charge of students left behind over the holidays do? What are the differences between the time period of the movie and today?

If you like this, try: “The Browning Version” and its remake — both good, but I prefer the original with Michael Redgrave

Related Tags:


Comedy Drama movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews

Killers of the Flower Moon

Posted on October 19, 2023 at 5:34 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, some grisly images, and language
Profanity: Strong and racist language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence including murder, guns, explosions
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 20, 2023

Copyright AppleTV 2023
Martin Scorsese brings everything he knows to the fact-based epic “Killers of the Flower Moon,” everything he knows about filmmaking and everything he knows about the conflicts and betrayals in American history, despite all efforts to remove them from curricula and libraries, continue to pulsate through our culture.

The film is based on the prize-winning book of the same name by David Grann, set about a century ago in Oklahoma. America forcibly relocated the Osage tribal members to a part of the country they thought was valueless. Times change. Technology changes. And it turned out that what was under that land was suddenly accessible and valuable: oil. The bounty the Osage never sought brought them riches they never dreamed of. The money brought the kind of people who will do anything to get it. That includes bending the law to the breaking point, with the government placing severe restrictions on Osage access to the money, appointing white “guardians” to oversee every expenditure and getting paid to do so, exploitation and con artists, price gouging, getting access to the money by marrying Osage women, and murder.

As the film begins, the approximately 2000 Osage are among the most prosperous communities in the world. They live in gracious, beautifully appointed homes. They have white servants. The women wear the latest fashions and expensive jewelry. Their towns are vibrant and modern. They go to a white church but retain many of their tribal traditions.

The most prominent white member of the community is William King Hale (Robert De Niro). “Call me King,” he says genially but meaningfully to his nephew, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), a WWI veteran who has just arrived in town. Ernest swiftly moves from driver to husband to Mollie, one of the Osage sisters who are prominent holders of “headrights” to the revenues from the oil, yet still needing permission to spend the money. Those rights cannot be sold or given away, but they can be inherited. So, many white men, like Ernest who candidly admits that he loves money and liquor and hates to work, marry Osage women, putting them in line to inherit. Even better if they can accelerate that transfer by accelerating their deaths.

Spectacular production design by Jack Fisk and cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto (who also did “Barbie,” so he’s having quite a year), editing by Scorsese favorite Thelma Schoonmaker, and music from The Band’s Robbie Robertson (who grew up on a native reservation) create a world that is vivid and specific but also a metaphor that resonates with America’s founding themes and failures to live up to the promise of the Declaration of Independence. Mollie and her sisters are doubly restricted as Indians and women and Mollie is additionally vulnerable because she has diabetes. At the sometimes poisonous heart of the film is the Ernest/Mollie relationship. From their first magnetic conversation when Mollie accurately but somehow also fondly calls Ernest a coyote who wants money, the themes of love and betrayal intertwine. Ernest’s increasing corruption shows on DiCaprio’s face, disintegrating like Dorian Gray’s portrait. De Niro shows us Hale’s smooth veneer, as he pretends to be devoted to the Osage, especially Mollie and her sisters, and as he speaks of murder as though he is making plans for a picnic. A white man is asked to kill someone and instantly refuses until he is told the target is an Indian. That alters the transaction. And it makes clear the othering that expands as the envy of the white Oklahomans distorts their thinking.

The book focuses on the pre-FBI investigator (Jesse Plemons, genial, implacable, incorruptible, and determined) working under J. Edgar Hoover, the movie, with a script by Scorsese and Eric Roth, wisely makes Mollie the center. Gladstone is a wonder, showing us her mingled love for her husband and her people, her devastating grief over the loss of her family, and her growing recognition that she has been betrayed. The film calls on us to keep watching her face, calm to the point of stoicism as she sits with her grief and her shrinking options.

The film takes its time, over 3 1/2 hours, but every minute is earned. This is a rare film that is not just excellent, but important.

Parents should know this is a fact-based story of racism, plunder, murder and exploitation. Characters are in peril and are murdered by guns and an explosion and fire. There is an attempted murder by poison and references to suicide. There are intense and graphic images. Characters use strong language, drink, and smoke.

Family discussion: Is there a way to find justice for these abuses? Who should be responsible? What does the relationship between Mollie and Ernest symbolize about the relationship between the US and its people?

If you like this, try: the book and the documentary, and read this piece by Sarah Knight Adamson

Related Tags:


Based on a book Based on a true story movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews

The Creator

Posted on September 28, 2023 at 5:39 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence, some bloody images and strong language
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action, peril, and violence, some involving a child and a pregnant woman, disturbing and grisly images, very sad death of a major character
Diversity Issues: Some concerns about racial stereotypes
Date Released to Theaters: September 29, 2023

Copyright 20th Century 2023
“The Creator” is an apocalyptic sci-fi story about a war with AI that looks great but has a storyline that is an overlong (2 1/4 hour) mash-up of better, more thought-provoking films with more skillfully constructed world-building. I wonder how many reviews will suggest that if this is the kind of project we can expect from bot screenwriters, humans don’t have much to worry about.

Science fiction often extrapolates current conflicts by imagining the worst-case scenario of current technological developments or mirroring historical conflicts. “The Creator” does both, drawing from classics like “Terminator,” “Blade Runner,” “Her,” “Captain Marvel,” and “Apocalypse Now,” maybe a bit of “Dances with Wolves,” but just highlighting how much better those films are than this one.

The best moments are the film’s opening, with what appear to be archival black and white newsreels from the 1950s and 60s, chirpily introducing wonderful new thinking machines that will take over our most tedious tasks, make life easier, and free up our time for people and activities we love. They amusingly capture the upbeat tone and aesthetics of the post-WWII era.

But then we learn that (as in “Terminator”), the artificial intelligence humans created began thinking for itself, and what it thought was that it did not want to be the servants of humans anymore. And so, we are told, the AI dropped an atomic bomb on Los Angeles, wiping out the city. The AI robots are now so advanced that some, called simulants (think “Blade Runner’s” replicants) have faces and skin like humans, though no back of the head, and big, whirring, empty metal circles behind their ears. The humans and the AI are at war.

Humans have recently gained an edge when the story picks up in 2065. A military installation in the sky called NOMAD is powerful enough to track and destroy AI bases. Joshua (John David Washington), a former soldier with robotic arm and leg prosthetics, is living peacefully with his pregnant wife, Maya (Gemma Chan) in a house on an isolated beach. Around them is a community of friendly simulants.

They are discovered by NOMAD. Joshua, who turns out to have been undercover, trying to locate the mysterious person known as Nirmata, considered the creator and leader of the AI, tries to save Maya, but she appears to bekilled with the blown-up and shot simulents. Joshua is devastated. When military officers approach him to help them find a new weapon, reportedly the most powerful ever developed, he refuses, until Colonel Howell (Allison Janney) shows him evidence that Maya is still alive.

Joshua agrees to guide the mission to what was Maya’s community, and there he finds that the “weapon” is a highly advanced stimulant in the form of a little girl with a shaved head. She looks like she is about six years old. She can control power circuits and absorb information at an exponential rate. And so, like “The Last of Us,” a man and a young girl go on a journey. In this case, they are being chased by both the AI entities and the humans.

The action set-pieces are ably staged and the settings are striking. But the story is weak and superficial. Basically, the white people with cities and fancy weapons are the bad guys and the AIs, who mostly look Asian and live gently on the land, just want liberty and peace. A simulant says that it was human error that led to the bombing of LA. But one could just as easily say that it was human error that lead to artificial intelligence that violate Asimov’s laws of robotics, with no harm to humans an essential rule. Why do simulants eat and sleep? If they are so smart, why haven’t they learned from history that building the most powerful weapon has never led to peace? If they are so smart, why don’t they develop some proposal for peaceful co-existence?

More important, what does the movie want us to feel about all of this? Its politics are as muddled as the inconsistent world it invites us to consider.

Parents should know that this film has extended peril and violence, some involving a child (or an entity that looks like a child) and a pregnant woman. Many characters are injured and killed, including sad deaths of major characters, and there are onscreen deaths and some graphic, bloody images. Characters use strong language. There are unfortunate racial stereotypes, even with non-human AI.

Family discussion: Why make an AI in the form of a child? What kinds of rules should we impose on the corporations who develop and sell AI?

If you like this, try: “Blade Runner,” “The Tomorrow War,” and “Terminator”

Related Tags:


Drama movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Science-Fiction
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2023, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik