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Freaky

Posted on November 12, 2020 at 5:51 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Profanity: Strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Kisses
Alcohol/ Drugs: Teen drinking, mother abuses alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Constant very intense and graphic horror violence, many grisly murders, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: November 13, 2020
Copyright Blumhouse 2020

If you read my reviews, you know I usually skip the horror movies. So, forgive me if my thoughts on “Freaky” reflect my ignorance. But I was intrigued by the premise of a large male serial killer switching bodies with a blonde teenage girl. And I like the cast, so I watched it, and it’s pretty fun.

But I don’t know enough about horror films to tell you whether the pedestrian set-up and stock characters are just a shortcut because the filmmakers don’t care — and know the audience doesn’t care — and everyone just wants to get to the good stuff, or because they are making some sort of meta-commentary on the whole idea and genre of teen slasher movies. Maybe both. Probably it does not matter. So, let’s just get to the good stuff.

Certainly, the movie wastes no time in getting there. It begins, as all good self-aware teen slasher movies should, with teens in a luxurious but still somehow creepy setting, outside a mansion, trading stories about a legendary serial killer known as the Blissfield Butcher. Some say he’s just a legend. Some say he re-appears every year. We have just enough time to see how arrogant and obnoxious these overprivileged kids are (that’s how we feel better about their horrific murders, right?) before the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) arrives, killing them in various creative but grisly and very bloody ways.

Then we meet Milly (Kathryn Newton of “Big Little Lies”), who lives with her recently widowed and therefore vulnerable and clingy mother and her older sister, a police officer. Milly is in high school. She has two devoted best friends, Josh (Misha Osherovich) and Nyla Celeste O’Connor. But she also has bullies, including tiny but fierce mean girl Ryler (Melissa Collazo), some guys, and her shop class teacher (Alan Ruck, yes, Cameron in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”).

After the homecoming football game (which does not get cancelled even though a group of students have all been horribly murdered, but okay), Milly is left alone waiting for her mother to pick her up. The Butcher attacks her with a mysterious knife he stole from the mansion. And it turns out to have magical powers or a curse or whatever. When the Butcher stabs Milly, their bodies switch. And, as they will later find out, if they don’t switch back by midnight the next day, they’ll be stuck that way.

This is where everyone starts to have some fun. Vaughn is a hoot trying to persuade Nyla and Josh that it is really Milly inside that 6’5″ middle-aged male body. And Newton has a blast with her new bad self inside the body of a high school girl. Milly is not able to muster the courage to stand up to her shop class teacher or the bullies or to talk to her crush, Booker (Uriah Shelton), but Milly on the outside, Butcher on the inside usually does. Let’s just say that there’s a reason it’s the SHOP class teacher who has been so mean to her.

And of course it all ends up at a big teen party.

In between all of the murders and mayhem, there is room for some sly humor and some genuine warmth as Milly-in-the-Butcher’s-Body hides out in a discount store dressing room and talks to her mom on the other side of the door, and some romance as she and Booker have a quiet, very sweet conversation in a car. There’s a vicarious thrill at seeing the Butcher-in-Milly’s-body stand up (even if it is in a murderous manner) to the people who treated Milly badly.

I’m still not a horror fan, but I enjoyed this one, and if you are a horror fan I’m pretty sure you will, too.

Parents should know this is a full-on horror movie with many disturbing images and grisly murders. Characters use strong language and there are references to sex (some crude) and to alcohol abuse.

Family discussion: What did Milly learn about her mother in the dressing room? How would you convince someone that you were you if you suddenly looked completely different?

If you like this, try: “Jennifer’s Body” and “Shawn of the Dead”

Hillbilly Elegy

Posted on November 11, 2020 at 10:00 am

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some violence, language throughout, and drug content
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references including teen pregnancy
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drug abuse, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Domestic violence and family dysfunction
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie is economic diversity
Date Released to Theaters: November 13, 2020

Copyright 2020 Netflix
“Hillbilly Elegy” had just one job: to give us a sympathetic and relatable portrait of people we might dismiss as “rednecks” and, well, hillbillies, without being superficial or condescending. It fails, with a portrait of one dysfunctional Ohio family with roots in the Kentucky hill country that never knows what story it is trying to tell. It is closer to an episode of Jerry Springer than it is to an insightful portrait of the obstacles to opportunity that prevent people, with rare exceptions like Vance, to keep from repeating the same mistakes. (For genuine and meticulously researched understanding, try White Trash by Nancy Isenberg.)

The film is based on the best-selling memoir/anthropological study by J.D. Vance. The timing contributed to its success because it was thought to explain to book-buying, educated, urban voters the perspective of those who supported the election of a failed businessman turned reality TV star in 2016, including policies that seemed to be contrary to their own interests. As we see in this movie, that is consistent with personal choices that are devastating to their own interests, and the interests of the next generations.

The movie arrives at a different time. The resentful rural voters are no longer as exotic or unknown, and they have less political power. Nevertheless, as Democratic voters are still being urged to have empathy for the other side, to the extent there is curiosity about these communities, this is not a movie that is going to provide any enlightenment. It is most telling that it spends much too much time on the blandest and least interesting of the characters, the one based on the author of the book. And so it becomes about his struggle to accept and forgive his family and their history instead of being about them, their lives, their challenges, their choices.

We go back and forth in time with Vance, from the idyllic summers with his Kentucky “hillbilly” relatives to his life with an intelligent but overwhelmed single mother (Amy Adams as Beverly), who makes one catastrophically bad choice after another, and with his tough grandmother Mamaw (Glenn Close), who left home, pregnant, at age 13 and scrabbled a life for herself and her family.

J.D. (Owen Asztalos as a young teenager) tells us the summers in Kentucky were his happiest times, but as we see him with his cousins, we may wonder why. He finds a turtle with a wounded shell and wants to heal it, while his cousins tell him to tear off the shell or throw the turtle. J.D. explains that the turtle’s ribcage is connected to the carapace, which leads them to beat him up, which leads to everyone piling on. It might be worth exploring why there is so much suspicion of knowledge and institutions, why members of this family are unable to consider that the institutions that provide opportunities for economic stability and advancement, as imperfect as they are, may be a more reliable path. That they do not think it within the range of possibilities is rooted in innumerable factors and failures well worth exploring or even portraying, but this movie never tries. All it has to say is that these people think family comes first when it comes to faking drug test results or lying to the police but not so much when it comes to providing guidance, support, consistency, or a good example.

The shifts in time are more distracting than revealing. J.D. (now played by an expressionless Gabriel Basso) is a student at Yale Law School, after serving in the Marines and attending Ohio State. He is interviewing for summer jobs at tony law firms, essential to get the money he needs to pay the tuition for his final year of school. But he feels at a disadvantage compared to his Ivy League classmates, who have social ease. He has to make an emergency call to his girlfriend (Frieda Pinto in the thankless role of beautiful, endlessly patient and understanding support system) to ask which fork to use. This is not only an unforgivable cliche; it gives us no reason to feel sympathetic. A Marine Yale Law student is more than able to look that up before a fancy dinner or just watch what the host does.

J.D. gets an emergency call. His mother is in the hospital. She overdosed. On heroin.

He drives all night to get to Ohio. And we see incidents from the past as Bev struggles with drug abuse (once asking J.D. to pee into a cup to use for her drug test, another time impulsively marrying her supervisor and moving J.D. into his house, getting fired from her nursing job for taking a patient’s medication. If we learn anything it is that having an adult who is committed to keeping a child on the straight and narrow makes a difference. But why there was only one in this child’s life, why his sister seemed to do okay without going to live with Mamaw, and why Mamaw was able to learn from mistakes is all glossed over.

Even Amy Adams and Glenn Close are unable to make this work. They yell at each other with colorful countrified expletives (Close actually has to say at one point, “Kiss my ruby red asshole!”) sounding more like the caricatures on “Mama’s Family” than human beings with vulnerabilities and intimate connections. As we see home movies of the real characters over the credits, our only conclusion is that the filmmakers spent more time getting the outside right than the inside. The members of this community deserve better from the haves in our society, but they deserve better from this movie, too.

Parents should know that this movie includes extensive family dysfunction, substance abuse, and domestic abuse as well as constant strong language. Family members and teenagers use drugs. Domestic violence includes punching, dangerous driving, negligence, and setting a husband on fire.

Family discussion: Why was J.D. able to make a different life for himself? Should he have stayed with his mother when Mamaw wanted to take him? When he left for the interview?

If you like this, try: “White Oleander” and White Trash

Books for Veteran’s Day 2020

Posted on November 11, 2020 at 8:00 am

Copyright 2019 Miniver Press

Men who were there tell their stories in two WWII books and one about the Korean War:

WWII in the South Pacific is the story of my uncle, Stanley Frankel, including his experiences with Rodger Young, whose heroism was honored with a song by Frank Loesser.

Based on his diaries and letters, it has his recollections of his time in the 37th Infantry Division, including The Luzon Beachhead, the battle of Balintawak, and the rescue of Bilibid Prison. It’s available on Amazon and The full text of the book is online.

Copyright 2013 Miniver Press
The Deadly Skies: The Air War in Europe 1940-45 is a comprehensive history from my friend Bernard Nolan.

The history of air combat in Europe during WWII is grippingly described by a man who was there and who has had decades of experience and research to put his experiences in perspective. Focusing on the Royal Air Force, the U.S. Army Eighth Air Force and the Luftwaffe, the book covers how the WW II air campaign in Western Europe unfolded, how it ended, and its cost in terms of human life – not only for the aircrews in those unfriendly skies, but the innumerable innocents who suffered through the carnage in European cities caused by bombing. The aircraft and equipment, the battles, the strategy, and the people are all described by Bernard Nolan with the insight of an insider and the expertise of a scholar, and with detailed illustrations from aviation artist Matt Holness. From Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain to D-Day, B-17s, B-24s, P-47s, P-51s, and Spitfires, this book takes the reader inside the air battles that played a decisive role in WWII. Chapters sections include: The Bomber Will Always Get Through, The Schneider Trophy , The Messerschmitt Bf 109, Dunkirk, Unternehmen Seeloeven (Operation Sea Lion), Adlerangriff (Eagle Offensive), Chain Home Radar System, Adlertag (Eagle Day), Bombs Fall On London, Goering Blinks, The Hardest Day, Blitzkrieg, Hitler “Postpones” The Invasion The Battle Of Britain Ends, RAF Bomber Command, The Butt Study, The Casablanca Conference, Happy Valley, The Dam Busters, The Battle Of Berlin, Dresden, The Norden Bombsight, Superchargers, The B-24, The Fw 190, Regensburg-Schweinfurt

Copyright 2020 Miniver Press
Korea is “the forgotten war.” But to those who fought in it, it was the “unforgettable war.” If the names of all those killed were put on a wall, it would be larger than the Vietnam Wall. And Korea lasted only three years, Vietnam about ten. The agony of the winter of 1950-51 is an epic to compare with Valley Forge and the Bulge. John Holway’s Bloody Ground is the only oral history of American Black soldiers in the Korean War, our last segregated armed conflict.

This is the story of the black 24th Infantry Regiment, told in the words of the men themselves. Like all black troops since the Civil War, they were reviled by whites and their own commander for “bugging out” – running before the enemy. The charge can still be read in the Army’s own official histories. Yet the 24th left more blood on the field than their white comrades – if they did bug out, they must have been running the wrong way.

This is the story of those unsung heroes, who helped turn the Communist tide for the first time. The men bring that forgotten war and their own unsung bravery to life in their own sometimes funny, often heart-breaking, and always exciting words.

Hollywood Treasures Auctioned This Week by Profiles in History

Posted on November 9, 2020 at 1:23 pm

Movie fans will love this catalogue from the latest Profiles in History auction of Hollywood costumes and props. Would you like to have one of the Munchkin costumes from “The Wizard of Oz?” The iconic white Ursula Andress bikini from “Dr. No?” The special Oscar presented to silent movie director Mack Sennett or the prop Oscar “won” by Bette Davis’ character in “The Star?” Costumes worn on screen by Groucho Marx , Errol Flynn, or Humphrey Bogart?  Or Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable costumes from “Gone With the Wind?’

There are TV goodies, too, with a Tina Louise (Ginger) costume from “Gilligan’s Island,” a Sally Field habit from “The Flying Nun,” Urkel’s jacket from “Family Matters,” and a Fred Gwynne costume from “The Munsters.” There’s a model of the Ingalls’ home in “Little House on the Prairie” and Mork’s spaceship egg from “Mork and Mindy.”

If you’ve got room in your garage, you can get Luke Perry’s Porsche from “90210” or Boss Hogg’s Caddy from “The Dukes of Hazzard.” And if you’re feeling like a little magic, you can get “I Dream of Jeannie’s” bottle, though there’s no guarantee of any wishes. Same with Thor’s hammer and Wonder Woman’s lasso.

If you are a successful bidder, let me know!

And coming up next, the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer collection!

 

 

 

Let Him Go

Posted on November 2, 2020 at 8:00 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence
Profanity: Mild language
Nudity/ Sex: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking, alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and very tense peril and violence, sad death, characters injured and killed, guns, ax, fire
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 6, 2020

Copyright 2020 Focus Features
We think George (Kevin Costner) and Margaret (Diane Lane) Blackledge are dressing for a funeral. In the first moments of “Let Him Go” their adult son was killed in an accident on their farm, and their expressions and clothes are somber. But it is three years after their son’s death and they are dressing for a wedding, not a funeral. Lorna (Kayli Carter), the widow of their son James and the mother of his now-three-year-old son Jimmy, is getting married to a man named Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain) and leaving their farm to live with him. They reassure themselves that they will still see Jimmy. But then Margaret sees them when they don’t know she is there, and Donnie hits Lorna. And then, without any notice, Donnie, Lorna, and Jimmy disappear. He has gone home to his family, leaving no way to contact them. It is the 1960s, and it was easier to hide in those days, whether from grandparents or from law enforcement.

Margaret decides to go after them, to bring Jimmy home to live with them. George agrees to go along, but he does not think they can get Jimmy away from his mother and his new family. He wants to give Margaret a chance to say goodbye.

“Let Him Go” is based on a book by Larry Watson, adapted by writer/director Thomas Bezucha. He makes great use of the majestic scenery of the northwest, especially when George and Margaret encounter a lone young Native American named Peter Dragswolf (Booboo Stewart). Just as in the classic westerns, the landscape emphasizes the opportunity — and the dangers — of a world where there is so much land and people are so isolated.

Lane and Costner, who played a couple in two Superman movies, have an easy chemistry that makes us believe there is a long history between them. Neither George nor Margaret say much, in part because they know each other so well there is little more to say, and that includes understanding that there is no point in trying to persuade each other on issues that they know too well will never be resolved. “Sometimes that’s all life is, a list of what we’ve lost,” George says. But Margaret is not going to give up.

Bezucha knows how to create tension, even with seemingly simple comments or undramatic settings, which only adds to the sense of dread. You don’t find a Weboy, a relative tells them. “You let it be known you’re looking for a Weboy. They find you.”

And they do, at a place so far off the map they could never find it without being led by Donnie’s uncle. They are invited to dinner by Donnie’s mother Blanche, played by the unsurpassable Lesley Manville, in one of the year’s best performances. She can make the offer of pork chops sound ominous. And she does. She rips into the role and is absolutely electrifying. And terrifying.

Two solid citizens up against a family of feral outlaws, an updated western with good guys and bad guys leading to an intense and violent battle. The set-up is conventional, but the direction and performances make it memorable.

Parents should know that this film is an exceptionally tense thriller with peril, abuse, and violence that includes guns, an ax, and fire. Characters are injured and killed.

Family discussion: Why did George and Margaret have different ideas about what they wanted to get from finding Jimmy? What do we learn from Peter’s story?

If you like this, try: “The Lookout” and “The Highwaymen”