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Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Posted on August 8, 2019 at 5:48 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action and some impolite humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language ("freakin' awesome")
Nudity/ Sex: Potty humor, teen kiss, reference to animal mating
Alcohol/ Drugs: Hallucinogenic pollen
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style peril and violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 8, 2019

Copyright 2019 Nickelodeon
Six year old Dora and her cousin and best friend Diego are enjoying their dinner in Dora’s home in the rainforest. Dora thinks the food is “delicioso!” She turns to the screen and asks us in the audience: “Can you say delicioso?” Her father (“Ant-Man’s” Michael Pena) looks confused about who she’s talking to, but reassures her mother, “She’ll grow out of it.”

This is how the new live-action movie inspired by the animated series “Dora the Explorer” lets us know that its Dora, is a bit more grown-up than the Dora the Explorer we know from Nickelodeon. Following the prologue, a farewell dinner with Diego as he leaves for the United States, Dora is a 16-year-old (wide-eyed Isabella Moner, still rocking Dora’s headband and backpack, still the cheerful, curious, adventuresome girl with the monkey sidekick and the handy backpack. Her parents send her to stay with Diego’s family while they search for a legendary lost city filled with gold called Parapata.

Like Cady in “Mean Girls” and Mimi-Siku in “Jungle 2 Jungle,” Dora approaches her first experience in what some people think of as civilization as an amateur anthropologist. For Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), like many teenagers, feels like high school is “a horrible nightmare” and “a matter of life or death,” death, in his view, being noticed or embarrassed in any way. He tells Dora to be cool” and “keep a low profile.” He pleads with her, “For one day, stop being you.” “Is this to fit in with the indigenous people?” she asks.

Dora is not cool and she is incapable of keeping a low profile. In fact, the opposite of a low profile. She is seen as a threat by the school’s ambitious top student, Sammie (Madeleine Madden), the kind of girl who comes to a “come as a star” costume party as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Dora also befriends a picked-on science buff named Randy (Nicholas Combe), and she happily does a dorky dance at a school party.

On a school field trip to a natural history museum, Diego, Randy, Sammie, and Dora are teamed up for a scavenger hunt. As they look through the museum’s basement, they are kidnapped and flown to the jungle, where a bunch of bad guys want to use Dora to find her parents, and, through them, find the lost city of gold. Dora’s parents explain in the first scene in the movie that they are explorers, not treasure hunters. The bad guys are not about hunting treasure; they want to steal it. They are looters, not explorers. For Dora’s parents, “the discovery of new places is the treasure.”

The teens are rescued by Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), who explains that he is a professor friend of Dora’s parents. The teens and Alejandro race toward the lost city, trying to get there before the bad guys, with many challenges, adventures, and “jungle puzzles” — and a hallucinogenic pollen-induced cartoon sequence — along the way.

As a junior-sized “Indiana Jones,” this movie does pretty well, with adventures pitched at the right level for the 7-14 crowd. The script, co-written by Nicholas Stoller (“The Muppets,” “The Five Year Engagement”) and Matthew Robinson (“Monster Trucks”) has a buoyant sense of fun and a heroine whose greatest act of courage may be the way she accepts herself and those around her.

There has been a bit of controversy about this film following a review that seemed confused about the idea of aging up the cartoon character, suggesting there was something wrong about her portrayal. But this Dora, charmingly played by Moner, is not supposed to be a hormonal teenager. She is a child’s aspirational vision of an older child, someone who has more knowledge, ability, independence, and strength. And it is great to have a movie about a teenager where the resolution does not depend on her being attractive to a boy. Which is not to say that there is no boy-girl emotion in the film; it just isn’t the point, which is just right for its audience. “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” is an exciting adventure with a boots-wearing monkey, a thief of a fox (watch for a funny PSA-style disclaimer at the beginning), and a heroine whose integrity, spirit, kindness, and curiosity about the world should inspire people of all ages.

Parents should know that this movie includes extended peril and mild action and violence (no one hurt), some potty humor, and some schoolyard language. The characters inhale some hallucinogenic pollen and there is a teen kiss.

Family discussion: Why doesn’t Dora follow Diego’s advice in school? Why does Sammie change her mind about Dora? What would you like to explore?

If you like this, try: the “Dora the Explorer” series and “Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain”

The Peanut Butter Falcon

Posted on August 8, 2019 at 5:38 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic content, language throughout, some violence and smoking
Profanity: Strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Kissing
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and violence, character injured
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: August 9, 2019

Copyright 2019 Roadside Attractions
The story behind the making of “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is as sweet and inspiring as the one on the screen. Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz met ZacK Gottsagen when they were working at an arts program for people with disabilities. Gottsagen, who has has Down syndrome, told them he wanted to be an actor, and asked them to write a movie for him. So they checked some books about screenwriting out of the library and came up with this script, which is not just about a character based on Gottsagen, but about their community of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The sense of place (though it was filmed in Georgia) is as important to the film as the characters on an unexpected journey.

It is remarkably assured for a first film, with an excellent supporting cast of talented pros and superb cinematography and music choices. The genuine affection and — especially — the respect Nilson and Schwartz have for the real-life Zack and the character he plays keep this story from being condescending or sugary.

Gottsagen plays a character also named Zack, a young man with no family and no resources who has been placed by Virginia authorities in the only facility they could find for him, a nursing home for the elderly. His roommate there is a retired engineer named Carl (Bruce Dern), who helps him escape, after watching Zack’s VHS tape of his favorite wrestler, the Salt Water Redneck for the zillionth time. Zack wants to be a wrestler, and his dream is to get to the Salt Water Redneck’s training facility in Florida. This is not one of those “there is none so cognitively impaired as those who will not think” movies.

Importantly, Zack is not a narrative convenience for the other characters to learn lessons and feel better about themselves. Zack (the character) is a real person with some limitations but a cheerful disposition and a true heart. His view of the world is as constrained by the restricted environment he was put in as by his cognitive ability. “The state has to put you somewhere and this happens to be that place,” he is told. You do not have to have a PhD to know that does not make much sense. And you don’t have to do higher math or be able to explain the metaphors in Moby Dick to know that people want to be with friends and follow their dreams. This movie is very much his story and he is very much at the heart of it.

The nursing home administrator does not want to report Zack’s escape to the police, so he sends a sympathetic aide (Dakota Johnson as Eleanor) to find him. Zack’s lack of planning (he escapes wearing nothing but underpants and has no money) helps in a way because he is seen as vulnerable and non-threatening. Tyler (Shia LeBoeuf) is a tidewater fisherman who has fallen on hard times, in part due to his bitterness and grief and guilt over the death of his brother (Jon Bernthal, glimpsed in wordless flashbacks). His own poor judgment escalates a fight with another fisherman (John Hawkes), who comes after him. Tyler does his best to avoid taking responsibility for Zack, but gives in when he sees how much Zack needs help. On the road, they have adventures, encounter interesting people, and begin to first trust and then like one another.

One of the highlights of the film is when they meet a blind man who insists on baptizing Zach. Tyler refuses, saying he prefers baptism by fire. It is presented with sincerity and a delicate lyricism that helps elevate the folkloric tone, as does the exceptional soundtrack and the exquisite cinematography, all of which set the tone for the satisfying conclusion.

Parents should know that this movie has some peril and violence, including arson, shooting, and an attack with a tire iron and an off-screen fatal car accident. There is some strong language, a character runs around in underwear, drinking and drunkenness, and a kiss.

Family discussion: What made Tyler change his mind about helping Zack? Why did the Saltwater Redneck encourage Zack to fight? What will happen next?

If you like this, try: “Little Miss Sunshine” (rated R) from the same producers, “Where Hope Grows,” and “Up Syndrome”

Amazing Grace

Posted on August 4, 2019 at 2:12 pm

A
Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: None
Nudity/ Sex: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 5, 2019
Date Released to DVD: August 5, 2019

Copyright 2019 Neon
Amazing Grace” is 87 minutes of pure joy. No matter who you are, any one of any age, race, or religion, this film of a 1972 recording session in a small church in Los Angeles, will lift your spirit to the sky. Aretha Franklin, still in her 20’s and one of the top recording artists in the world, returns to the music of her youth to record what is still the number one gospel album of all time. A young filmmaker named Sidney Pollack was there to record it. But for a number of reasons, including an audio track that was not in sync with the visual, it was never shown to audiences.

Now it is here. Ms. Franklin barely says a word. Her father does, though, as does another preacher, James Cleveland. Other than that, it is just music, one of the greatest voices in history singing the church music she grew up with, accompanied by a choir led by Alexander Hamilton (that is his name), whose conducting is a movie of its own.

Watch her raise the roof.

Hobbs & Shaw

Posted on August 1, 2019 at 5:30 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material and some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Some crude humor, kiss
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive action-style peril and violence, chases, explosions, guns, fire, clubs, torture, some injuries and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 2, 2019

Copyright Universal 2019
This is the summer movie you’ve been waiting for. “Fast and Furious” spin-off “Hobbs & Shaw” takes two of the series’ most popular characters, throws a silly McGuffin and a super-motivated, super-powered bad guy at them, adds in some family members, and plays up their animosity for a big-time buddy cop action comedy full of one-liners, chases, crashes, explosions, punches, kicks, improbable stunts, impossible stunts, and stay-to-the-end-of-the-credits extras. Plus Dame Helen Mirren talking like Eliza Doolittle when she was still selling flowers and looking very elegant in her orange prison jumpsuit. Suspend your disbelief and pass the popcorn!

You’ve never seen a “Fast and Furious” movie? No problem. You do not ever have to have seen a movie of any kind. You barely have to be a sentient life form to be up to, uh, speed, on this story. This is a movie where the bad guy introduced himself by telling you he is the bad guy. Where the leading lady fights like an MMA champ without ever smudging her eye-liner. And where two Hollywood stars show up in silly cameos because why not?

Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson) was in US law enforcement as an agent of the Diplomatic Security Service. He was originally supposed to track down and arrest the “Fast and Furious” members, but once it was clear they were framed, he became their ally. He is a devoted father of a young girl.

Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is British, from a family of grifters headed by Queenie (Helen Mirren!). In the British military he was involved in some black ops, disgraced, and became a mercenary. He also entered the series as a antagonist and is now, as Dom would say, family.

In an opening reminiscent of “The Patty Duke Show’s” identical cousin song, we see Hobbs and Shaw, on opposite sides of the world literally and metaphorically, waking up and starting their days. They both start with eggs, but Hobbs chugs his raw, and Shaw makes an omelet in his elegant, immaculate kitchen and then drives off in his cool sports car.

And then they get the call. The world needs to be saved. A deadly virus that could wipe out half the planet in just two days has been stolen by a rogue military operative named Hattie (Vanessa Kirby, a long way from playing Princess Margaret in “The Crown”). Both agree to track down the virus. But both insist that there is no way they will work together. Oh, and by the way, Hattie is Shaw’s sister, who has not spoken to him since he he went rogue.

The guy who introduced himself as the bad guy is Brixton (Idris Elba), a surgically and mechanically enhanced soldier with superhuman fighting skills who has a history with Shaw. He works for a Thanos-like organization with vast technology and a plan to release the virus and reboot humanity. The leader uses voice distortion to disguise his or her identity, so we expect some surprise from the past.

The odd couple duo hop around the world, including a visit to Hobbs’ birthplace (Hawaii playing the part of Samoa), with all kinds of crazy stunts, punctuated by quippy wisecracks. Director David Leitch is a former stunt-man and co-director of “John Wick.” I was especially taken with Brixton’s motorcycle, which seems to be operating on some almost-telepathic AI. When both men have to get past some bad guys in separate rooms and show off for each other was a highlight. There’s a lot of “What? You didn’t do that bad thing I thought you did?” Does it make sense? Nope. Is it fun? Yes.

NOTE: Stay all the way to the end for the extra scenes.

Translation: Extended peril and violence, chases, explosions, shooting, punching, knives, clubs, torture, some disturbing images and injuries, family issues, some strong language, some sexual references

Family discussion: Why do Hobbs and Shaw dislike each other so much? What do we learn about Hobbs and Shaw from seeing their families? How is Brixton’s group like Thanos in the MCU?

If you like this, try: the “Fast and Furious” movies and “The Transporter”

Tribute: Russi Taylor

Posted on July 31, 2019 at 9:54 am

We mourn the loss of sweet-voiced, sweet-spirited Russi Taylor, who was the voice of Minnie Mouse and many other animated characters. Michael Cavna has a lovely tribute to her in the Washington Post, and to her made-for-a-movie love story with — wait for it — the guy who voiced Mickey. They met when she was cast as Minnie in 1986, and fell in love.

She did other characters as well.

“When they were together, like Laurel and Hardy, they were just meant to be together as a team — and as a lifelong team,” Farmer said. “If you looked in Webster’s and saw the word ‘marriage,’ it should have a picture of Wayne and Russi.

“They were just so in love and so wonderful together. I think that love came through in their performances, and gave it a little something extra.”