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The Bikeriders

Posted on June 20, 2024 at 5:25 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, violence, some drug use and brief sexuality
Profanity: Very strong language, constant f-words
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual assault, sexual references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, constant smoking, marijuana, brief image of character using heroin
Violence/ Scariness: Very strong and graphic violence, fights, knives, guns, accidents, attempted rape, characters injured and killed, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Toxic masculinity
Date Released to Theaters: June 21, 2024
The Bikeriders
Copyright 2024 Focus

Writer/director Jeff Nichols tells the story of a Chicago motorcycle gang through the recorded interviews of Kathy (Jodie Comer), who married one of the Vandals five weeks after meeting him, and stayed with him through the brawls, arrests, and accidents. “The Bikeriders” is based on the book of photographs by Danny Lyons, who followed the Vandals from 1965-73. Lyons is played in the film by Mike Faist, who makes the most of a role that is mostly listening while holding a microphone from a reel-to-reel recorder, showing Lyons as curious but sympathetic.

The bike rider Kathy married is Benny (Austin Butler), who we first see refusing the demand of two very big guys in a bar, who tell him to remove his “colors,” the denim gang jacket with the patch on the front of a hand giving the finger and the gang’s name and a skull on the back. He is badly beaten (we find out how badly when the scene recurs after a flashback that brings us up to that date). As we learn with Kathy, Benny’s core attribute is that nothing matters to him but riding with the Vandals.

The leader of the bikeriders is Johnny (Tom Hardy), the only one who has a job and a family. He saw Marlon Brando in “The Wild Ones” on television, responding to the question, “What are you rebelling against?” with the essence of cool, “Whatdaya got?” He creates The Vandals, and like the Jets in “West Side Story” and the goodfellas in the movie of that name, it becomes a family for its members, with a sense of belonging, of home, of manhood.

And as in so many other stories, and so many other lives, it is great until it is not. The success of the Vandals inspires other bikeriders in other areas to want to join. And then it inspires a younger generation to want to join, and to be tougher and take bigger risks than Johnny’s original group. That group smoked cigarettes and drank beer. The Vietnam veterans who join smoke weed and sometimes shoot heroin.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols said that the most interesting character in the book is Kathy. Her tape-recorded interviews with Lyons were unusually candid and her perspective as an outsider who saw everything and spent much of her time with the Vandals but was not a part of them appealed to him, and he decided to tell the story from her perspective, making one big change. He set up something of a love triangle, with the Vandals being the third side. A key scene in the film has Kathy asking Johnny to kick Benny out of the Vandals so she can have him all to herself.

The movie is shot superbly by Adam Stone, with powerful images throughout. A lone cycle running out of gas by a cornfield. An intimate conversation between Benny and Johnny, illuminated by firelight. Every performance is outstanding. Jodie Comer delivers another impeccable accent, and she makes Kathy simple but not unintelligent. She does not spend time thinking about motivations or consequences, but she is direct and honest, making her an idea navigator for Lyons and for us. As Benny, Butler has a challenge in playing a character who is not expressive. But he shows us how magnetic he is for both Kathy and the Vandals. When he recognizes his limits and when he finally shows some emotion, Butler makes it organic and meaningful. There is strong support from Michael Shannon and a near-unrecognizable Norman Reedus as bikeriders.

The film may not be as meaningful as Nichols intends, but it is a strong story, well-told, and worth the ride.

Parents should know that this fact-based movie is very violent, with characters injured and killed and disturbing and graphic images, including brawls, knives, guns, accidents, and attempted rape. Characters use constant strong language, drink, smoke, and use marijuana and, briefly, heroin.

Family discussion: What did the club mean to Johnny? To Benny? To the younger people who joined?

If you like this, try: “Goodfellas,” “The Wild One,” “Biker Boyz,” and “Why We Ride” and Lyons’ book.

Inside Out 2

Posted on June 12, 2024 at 2:43 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements
Profanity: Mild schoolyard language
Nudity/ Sex: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and chaos, plus teen angst
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 14, 2024
Copyright 2024 Disney/Pixar

Okay, Pixar, you got me. I cried and laughed within the first ten minutes of “Inside Out 2,” an adorable, heartwarming and fully up-to-the-original sequel to the beloved story of Riley and her middle school emotions. And then I cried two more times and laughed many times. Okay, maybe there might have been a little PTSD about being an adolescent and living with a few, but this movie is so brimming with empathy and understanding, I think there was some healing, too.

In the midst of the colorful, endearing characters and witty screenplay of the first film, there was the kind of insight it could take years of therapy to discover. The characters were the emotions Riley feels: Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Tony Hale replacing Bill Hader), and Disgust (Liza Lapira replacing Mindy Kaling). What they learn, so we do, too, is that what may feel like disturbing or negative emotions are necessary to keep us safe and help us understand the world around us.

As the movie begins, Riley is feeling like she has it all together. She’s gotten a lot taller. She has braces and feels confident about herself and her friendships, getting really good at ice hockey, invited to a three day elite hockey camp by the coach at the high school she will be attending. She’s a teenager now, blowing the candles on her 13th birthday cake. If she doesn’t know what’s coming yet, her face does. There’s a pimple coming on her chin. And for the first time, she wakes up feeling insecure and under too much pressure.

But then the console inside her head suddenly has a big, red, button labeled “Puberty.” And a group of very unsettling new emotions arrive: Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ado Edibiri), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), and Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos). I absolutely love the idea that this movie will inspire a bunch of 8-year-old to tell their parents they are experiencing an emotion usually associated with characters in novels by Sartre or Sagan.

Joy is very distressed by the new emotions, especially Anxiety, who seems to think she should be in charge. She explains that while Fear makes Riley afraid of what she can see, Anxiety makes her afraid of what might happen, and indeed, later in the film, we see an entire bullpen sitting at desks like those of the old-school Disney animators, imagining everything that might go wrong.

As they did before, Pixar has personified and made literal an array of internal and abstract concepts with wit, charm, and telling detail. Erik Erickson and Karl Jung would be impressed. The stream of consciousness is an actual stream. That hallmark of this stage of development, sarcasm (sorry, parents, try to think of it as an emblem of developing appreciation of layers of meaning), is an actual chasm. Nostalgia is a patient, elderly woman (June Squibb) who has to be told to go back to her room until she is needed, after “a couple of graduations and a best friend’s wedding.” Construction workers arrive for “demo day” to take out the old console, a moment that rivals the dissolving of Bing Bong in the first film. Memory, buried secrets, beliefs, sense of self, are all brilliantly imagined. The emotion characters zoom in on Riley’s friends’ faces to decipher their expressions, the kinds of details a younger person might overlook. We also get to see a hilarious “Blue’s Clues” or “Dora the Explorer”-like cartoon character from Riley’s early childhood, named Bloofy (Ron Funches), who asks the audience to help him solve problems.

And as in the first, the voice talent is superb. Poehler is just right for Joy’s natural energy and ebullient enthusiasm, sometimes masking her own anxious feelings about keeping everyone confident and happy. Hawke’s slightly husky voice is perfect for Anxiety, who gives us a glimpse of her own confidence and even joy in giving Riley the tools she needs to navigate the challenges of adolescence. We can see the anxiousness in Joy and the joy in Anxiety as Riley moves toward integration of the emotions, with a very sweet moment as both the hockey players and the emotions move toward teamwork. It is a treat to hear Paula Pell as the anger inside Riley’s mom and Pixar completists might recognize the voice of “Inside Out’s” director and this film’s executive producer, Pete Docter, as Riley’s Dad’s anger. The reference to his home state of Minnesota is another nod.

Screenwriters Dave Holstein and Meg LeFauve and director Kelsey Mann were advised by a teams of experts, including psychologists and the real experts, teenage girls. This film is an exciting adventure of the heart and spirit and I look forward to happily crying through it again.

NOTE: Stay ALL the way to the end of the credits for an extra scene

Parents should know that this film has a lot of teenage angst and some mild schoolyard language. They should also know it will have a powerful impact on the parents as they remember their own adolescence and consider the emotions they fell over their children growing up.

Family discussion: How do each of the emotions help Riley? Ask members of the family how they learned to solve problems.

If you like this, try: “Inside Out” and “Everybody Rides the Carousel”

Bad Boys: Ride or Die

Posted on June 4, 2024 at 3:29 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence, language throughout and some sexual references
Profanity: Very strong and crude references
Nudity/ Sex: Very crude sexual references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drug dealers
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and very gory violence, many characters injured and killed, knives, pistols and. machine guns, chases, explosions, fire, alligator
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 7, 2024
Copyright Sony 2024

What’cha going to do? You’re going to go see this silly summer movie because it has Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, a lot of winks and in-jokes, and some eye-popping chases and explosions. Plus, a very funny joke featuring a country superstar.

The original Bad Boys starred two very popular television actors and cast them against type as cops. Real-life homebody Will Smith was the playa with the cool car and real-life sometime-volatile Martin Lawrence played the devoted family man. The film was an exemplar of the buddy cop genre along with “Lethal Weapon,” balancing between wild, stunt-tastic action sequences and the chemistry between the two performers, both exceptionally good at bickering repartee with an underpinning of understanding and dedication to the job and to each other. There’s a reason almost 30 years after the first one, we’re up to number four, with the last one called “Bad Boys for Life” and this one “Ride or Die.”

Produced by too-much-action-is- never-enough Jerry Bruckheimer and the two stars, this latest episode has plenty to reward the fans, starting from the opening, which harks back to chapter one with Mike (Smith) terrifying Marcus (Lawrence) by driving his flashy car at top speed through the streets of Miami. Marcus insists on stopping for some ginger ale to settle his stomach. Mike tells him he has just 90 seconds at a convenience store and better not buy anything else. And of course Marcus is in the middle of buying two things he perpetually craves, Skittles and a hot dog with everything when a robber with very unfortunate timing decides to hold up the cashier. Exciting and comic confrontation ensues, and we are solidly in the land of the perpetual Bad Boys. No one would even think of trying to call them Bad Men.

The only element that might count as a surprise in this film is what the Bad Boys are racing toward in that first scene. It is a wedding, not of one of Marcus’ children (we’ve already seen that his daughter Megan is married to Reggie, played by Dennis Greene) but of ladies’ man Mike, marrying Christine (Melanie Liburd), the beautiful physical therapist who helped him heal after he was shot in the third film. Pretty soon, for reasons no one needs to worry about or remember, Mike and Marcus are being hunted down by both good and bad guys and they are reunited with the son Mike first found out about in chapter 3, the drug dealer and assassin now in prison, but not really a bad guy at heart.

The filmmakers, including screenwriter of the original film George Gallo, paid more attention to the details of the earlier chapters than the audience ever did. The most devoted fans will recognize characters and plot points from chapters 1-3. There is another cameo from Michael Bay, a brief return of the character played by DJ Khaled, a posthumous appearance by the Bad Boys’ beloved Captain Howard, played by the very much still alive Joe Pantoliano, and, the scene that got the most cheers from the audience, an opportunity at last for Reggie to show what a Marine can do. Smith and Lawrence still pack a lot of star power. But the film criminally misuses Tiffany Haddish in a thankless and unfunny role. She looks good, though.

But most ticket-buyers will just be there to see the chases and explosions, which are as chase-y and explosion-y as anyone could hope for, along with shoot-outs, stabbing, and let me just put it this way, (spoiler alert, but not too much) when they Scooby-Doo a climactic confrontation in an abandoned amusement park and happen to mention that “legend has it” the park’s famous gigantic albino alligator named Duke is still swimming around the area, you can bet Duke will make an appearance. Or two. Just like you can bet we’ll be seeing “Bad Boys 5” before too long.

Parents should know that this is a very violent movie with many characters injured and killed and many graphic and disturbing images. There are many chases and explosions and fires, guns, including machine guns, knives, punches, and an alligator. Characters use strong and very crude language and there are crude sexual references.

Family discussion: Why have Mike and Marcus remained partners? Which character would you most like to be like?

If you like this, try: the other “Bad Boys” movies and the “Letha Weapon” series

Young Woman and the Sea

Posted on May 30, 2024 at 3:34 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements, some language and partial nudity
Profanity: Some mild language
Nudity/ Sex: Brief comic nudity (rear)
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinks in a bar
Violence/ Scariness: Some danger and scary moments
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: May 31, 2024
Copyright 2024 Disney

In 1926, an American woman barely out of her teens not only became the first woman to swim across the legendarily treacherous English Channel that separates the UK and France; she also beat the world’s record for the swim by two hours. Two million people showed up at the parade celebrating her return to New York. “Young Woman and the Sea,” based on the book by Glenn Stout, Young Woman And The Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel and Inspired the World, Disney has produced a film that tells her story. It is old-fashioned in the best sense, a straightforward story of a woman of extraordinary spirit and ability overcoming obstacles to achieve her dream.

She seems an unlikely world champion when we first see her, a young girl with a bad case of the measles in the early 20th century. Her doctor believes she will not last the night. But she survives and thrives. She was born in 1905 and in those days it was unusual for a girl to participate in competitive sports, or indeed in any athletic activity. In particular, those like Trudy (as a child played by Olive Abercrombie), who had survived measles, were considered especially fragile. Her father (, a butcher who immigrated from German, has very traditional values and refuses to let his two daughters learn to swim. But their mother (a lovely performance by Jeanette Hain) has her own reasons for insisting.

But Trudy is relentless, and finds a way to annoy her father so thoroughly he gives up and agrees. Again, though, he protests when their mother wants them to join a swim team, and again he has to give in. The coach (Sian Clifford as Lottie Epstein) accepts Trudy’s sister, Meg (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), but agrees only to let Trudy swim after training hours, if she also agrees to shovel the coal for the boiler.

Once Trudy (Daisy Ridley, who also co-produced) gets a chance to show what she can do, she joins the team and beats Australian swimming star and future movie actress Annette Kellerman (whose life story starred Esther Williams in “Million Dollar Mermaid”). She competes in the first Olympics that had a women’s swim team (the head of the American Olympic Committee and the Amateur Athletic Union, James E. Sullivan, played here by Glenn Fleshler) had previously blocked it. Sullivan insisted that the women’s team had to stay in their rooms for the entire Atlantic crossing, with nuns posted outside their doors to ensure their “protection.”

And then, she decides to swim the Channel. As we see in newsreels of the era, it was a world-wide news story when anyone succeeded. She gets reluctant support from Sullivan, who insists on replacing Epstein as her coach with a man who failed in his own attempt to swim the Channel a dozen times.

Ridley is lovely as Trudy, her tender relationship with her sister, her resilience, her determination, and her kindness. If you get a chance, see this on the big screen; the cinematography by Oscar Fuera is outstanding, whether in the grimy streets of New York or the vast expanse and turbulent waves of the Channel. The family scenes are warm-hearted, even in the struggles and disagreements. Colorful characters include Clifford and Fleshler along with an irascible successful Channel swimmer played by Stephen Graham, and an NBC radio announcer.

This movie could be called traditional or formulaic, but it is sincere and thoughtfully made, a good reminder of the importance of dreams, of heroes, and of stories that share them with us.

Parents should know that this film includes a child who is seriously ill (but recovers), family stress, a character who is not able to marry the person she loves due to family pressure, and a swim with a jellyfish attack and other dangers. A character is drugged. Some characters drink alcohol.

Family discussion: What made Trudy different? Why was she so determined? Why didn’t some people want her to succeed? What worried her parents most?

If you like this, try: “Million Dollar Mermaid,” “Queen of Katwe,” and “Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken”

Free eBook: Deadly Skies, the Story of WWII Air Combat

Posted on May 24, 2024 at 7:28 am

The Deadly Skies is free May 24-28 for Memorial Day. This ebook tells 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,

Aluminum Cages

The Messerschmitt Bf 109,

Dunkirk,

London Bound

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