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Till

Posted on October 13, 2022 at 5:18 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic content involving racism, strong disturbing images and racial slurs
Profanity: Racist epithets
Nudity/ Sex: None

Copyright 2022 Orion Pictures
In March of 2022, President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, making lynching a federal hate crime. It only took 67 years.

It was in 1955 that a 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago named Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman. “Till” is his story, but it is more importantly the story of his mother, who responded to the greatest pain a parent can experience with determination to save other families from that kind of tragedy. I will give her the respect denied her by the white people of Mississippi and refer to Till’s mother, later known as Mamie Till-Mobley, as she was by the Black people who honored her during this period, Mrs. Bradley. She is played with infinite grace and dignity by Danielle Deadwyler in a performance that is one of the most thrilling of the year.

Emmett (Jalyn Hall) was a happy, friendly, high-spirited boy who was devoted to his single mother and thought the world was a safe place. We first see him with his mother at Chicago’s famous department store, Marshall Field’s, politely responding to a clerk who suggests that she shop in the basement, clearly a racist response. Mrs. Bradley tries to warn Emmett that things are different in the Jim Crow South, that he must be careful, ultra-respectful, and, if called upon, get down on his knees and beg forgiveness for any suspected slight. But Emmett is young and a bit of a show-off. His casual demeanor and his speaking to the 21-year-old white woman at the cash register was considered an insult. And so, Her husband and his friend banged on the door of Till’s relatives, took him from their home at gunpoint, and murdered him.

Mississippi wanted to bury him there, along with the story. But with the intervention of the NAACP, his body was returned to Chicago, so abused and mutilated that it was barely recognizable as human. The mortician urged her not to look and to close the casket at the funeral because, he says carefully, “He’s not in the right shape” to be seen. But Mrs. Bradley insisted that he must be seen, that what happened to him must be understood. The moments of her communion with her son’s body, the faces of those viewing him at the funeral, and Deadwyler’s description in court testimony of how she was able to identify him as her son are galvanizing. “He is in just the right shape. The world is going to see what they did to my boy,” she says. That legacy continues with this important, impactful film.

Parents should know that this movie is the true story of a brutal hate crime. The murder is sensitively handled, but we do see, as Mrs. Bradley would have wanted, his body and the reactions of the people who viewed the open casket. Characters smoke, drink and use racist language, including the n-word.

Family discussion: How does the experience of Emmett Till relate to the issues raised by Black Lives Matter today? What do we learn from her conversation with Preacher? Why did Mrs. Bradley’s decision to speak out make a difference?

If you like this, try: “The Murder of Emmett Till” from the PBS series “American Experience,” the “Eyes on the Prize” series, “For Us the Living,” about Medgar Evers, and “Ghosts of Mississippi,” about the lawyers who finally brought his murderers to justice. You can read about the 2022 decision not to charge the woman who wrongly accused Emmett Till here and contribute to the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation here.

Rosaline

Posted on October 12, 2022 at 9:52 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material and brief strong language
Profanity: Strong language (s-words, one f-word)
Nudity/ Sex: Mild references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some swordplay and fight scenes
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 14, 2022

Copyright 2022 20th Century
Most people do not remember that before he met Juliet at the masked ball and instantly fell in love with her as they communicated not just by iambic pentameter but by sonnet, Romeo was in love with Juliet’s cousin Rosaline. She was also a Capulet and a part of the family of his family’s sworn enemies. It’s easy to forget her because Romeo did. Though the whole reason he snuck into the party was to see the girl he described as “the all-seeing sun ne’er saw her match since first the world begun,” as soon as he sees Juliet, it is as Benvilio correctly predicted: “Compare her face with some that I shall show, and I will make thee think thy swan a crow.” Next thing we know he’s telling Friar Lawrence, “I have forgot that name, and that name’s woe.”

Ever wonder how the story might look from Rosaline’s perspective? Author Rebecca Serle did, with her novel, When He Was Mine, now the basis for a witty romantic comedy starring the wildly talented Kaitlyn Dever (who also executive-produced) as the woman scorned. It is sly, clever fun on its own, but the better you know Shakespeare’s play, the more you will enjoy it.

it begins on a balcony. Rosaline’s balcony. Romeo is telling her about his feelings, in words that will seem familiar. And, as will also seem familiar, their secret tryst is interrupted by a call for her from inside. Like Juliet, she has a nurse/confidant (a terrifically dry Minnie Driver), and a father who is eager to marry her off (Bradley Whitford). Rosaline believes that she and Romeo are meant to be together (though she is not quite ready to say, “I love you”).

And then, while on a boat with one of the suitors her father has foisted on her, she misses that Capulet masked ball, and, well, we know that part of the story. That suitor is Dario, played with full Shakespearian dash, wit, and gallantry by Sean Teale, and in true Shakespearian fashion, when not writing about instant true love, they begin as hostile combatants. He even calls her a shrew. This is a reference, of course, to another Shakespeare play, but no one gets tamed in this one.

But, in this version, Rosaline, the woman scorned, does go all-out “My Best Friend’s Wedding” on her cousin, and tries every way she can think of to get her boyfriend back. She even enlists Dario’s help. Like the recent “Catherine Called Birdy,” much of the humor comes from a very modern sensibility, with contemporary language, pointing up some of the absurdity of the canon.

Juliet is played by sweet-faced Isabela Merced. At first, she is intrigued by what Rosaline has to show her about the bigger world. When she realizes that Rosaline has not been honest with her, she pursues the relationship with Romeo and comes up with a plan to pretend to be dead. Rosaline says what audiences have been waiting to say for centuries. It is a dumb plan. And those audiences will appreciate what Rosaline and Dario work out as a better ending, especially with a mid-credit. sequence harking back to Dario’s description of what he thinks love is. Romeo may be great at poetic speeches on balconies, but you need more than that on life’s journey.

For the record, this movie does not “ruin” or even disrespect “Romeo and Juliet.” The play and its many versions and variations are still with us, from the Franco Zefferelli and Baz Luhrmann films to the Gounod opera and “West Side Story.” They are all still there, intact, and easy to access. What this does is remind us that even minor characters in our stories can have value and agency, that exploring other perspectives can increase our understanding and empathy. And that it can be a lot of fun.

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language and swordplay violence.

Family discussion: What story would you like to re-tell from a minor character’s perspective? What made Rosaline and Dario change their minds about each other? What do you think of Dario’s description of love?

If you like this, try: “Ophelia,” a smart and serious version of “Hamlet” from the perspective of the young woman, “Catherine Called Birdy,” another sharp modern take on a medieval story about a young woman, and “A Knight’s Tale”

Amsterdam

Posted on October 6, 2022 at 5:20 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for brief violence and bloody images
Profanity: Brief strong language
Nudity/ Sex: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Very graphic bloody images, wartime violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 7, 2022

Copyright 2022 20th Century
David O. Russell’s new film, “Amsterdam” has a powerhouse cast, a wisp of a true story and a wildly uneven and overly complicated script. The results are, therefore, messy and mixed. As a fellow movie-goer told me, watching the movie was like bobbing for apples. Much of the time we felt like we were under water and then all of a sudden something good would pop up.

Amsterdam (the city) appears in the film only in a brief happy moment in the lives of the three main characters, who have sworn to be best friends and protect each other. They are two WWI veterans, Harold Woodman (John David Washington), who would become a lawyer, Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), already a doctor, and Valerie (Margot Robbie), a nurse who cared for them in a French hospital for wounded soldiers. Harold is Black and Burt is half Jewish and lower class than his high society wife, and bigotry is evident throughout the story. Indeed, as we see in a flashback, they met when Black US soldiers in France objected to their racist white officers — they were not even allowed to wear the uniform of their country — and Burt was assigned by the kind, honorable General Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.) to treat the Black soldiers with honor and dignity.

In the movie’s present setting of 1933 New York, both Burt and Harold are devoting their lives to helping other wounded veterans. They themselves bear the scars of combat and Burt has a glass eye due to his injuries (second movie with Bale losing a glass eye after “The Big Short”). He is also experimenting with pain medication for his patients and taking a lot of it himself. The men are working on a gala dinner honoring their fellow veterans that will become of increasing importance.

Every role, even the smallest, is superbly cast, with Robbie as the high-spirited, dada-esque artist, Zoe Saldana as a sympathetic nurse passing for “Portuguese,” Beth Grant as a bouillabaisse-making devoted wife, Matthias Schoenaerts and Alessandro Nivola as police detectives, significantly one also a wounded vet and one who did not serve, Timothy Olyphant, almost unrecognizable in a role I won’t spoil, and Michael Shannon and Mike Myers — yes, that Mike Myers) as bird-loving “benefactors” who may not be completely forthcoming about their real interests. Every performance is outstanding, but so much so that they begin to throw the storyline out of whack. In films like “Silver Linings Playbook,” “American Hustle,” and “Flirting with Disaster,” Russell made the mixture of bittersweet situations and some leavening humor work to reveal the characters and move the story. Here it just gets distracting.

The daughter of General Meekins (Taylor Swift, yes, that Taylor Swift), asks Harold and Burt for help. Her father died on a ship returning from Europe, and she suspects that he may have been murdered. The efforts to investigate result in another murder, with Burt and Harold as the prime suspects. This leads to a series of encounters, revelations, and twists that I will not spoil. Also, I’m not sure I understood all of them.

I did understand the last 20 minutes. Everyone understood the last 20 minutes, thoug. I’m pretty sure you didn’t even have to watch the movie to understand the point. Russell bangs on his message with a sledgehammer, and then, just in case he wasn’t banging hard enough, he shows us archival footage of the person who inspired the character played by Robert De Niro. Even those sympathetic to the points he is trying to make about the parallels between the political conflicts of the pre-WWII era and today will find it overly didactic. Too much water, not enough apples.

Parents should know that this film includes bloody, graphic images of an autopsy and wartime violence, bigotry, alcohol and drug use (portrayed as comic in some instances), and brief strong language.

Family discussion: What parallels is Russell drawing to the politics of 2022? Why is the movie called “Amsterdam?” Read up on General Smedley Butler and the “Business Plot.”

If you like this, try: “Keeper of the Flame” and “State of the Union,” both starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy

Bros

Posted on September 29, 2022 at 5:53 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
Profanity: Very strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references and very explicit situations, nudity
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 30, 2022
Date Released to DVD: November 21, 2022

Copyright 2022 Universal
Two very different people claim that they have no interest in love and relationships but love will outsmart you and — at least in movies — love loves a challenge. “Bros” is the first Hollywood studio romantic comedy about a gay couple, and it arrives with solid credentials: produced by Judd Apatow (“The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up”) and co-written and directed by Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Get Him to the Greek”).

The other screenwriter and star is Billy Eichner, playing a heightened version of his real-life persona: cynical and often abrasive. He has said in interviews that he was determined not to make this story comfortable for “normies” by simply replicating cis-het rom-com tropes. This is not a script that could be easily retrofitted for some pretty Jennifer or Jessica to sparkle through some misunderstandings and end with an apology and a proposal. “Love is not love!” he says, explaining that expecting gay couples to replicate the dynamics of straight couples just to make them more acceptable is refusing to recognize that their differences are who they are. This is more of a “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it” attitude. Everyone in the film, including the actors playing straight characters, is gay, except for a few celebrity cameos.

Eichner plays Bobby Leiber, a popular podcaster who has just accepted a new job as the head of the country’s first museum of LGBTQIA history. Some of the movie’s best scenes are in the museum’s conference room, as Bobby and the staff argue about the best way to represent their community. They want to be honest but they also want to get the funding they need to open the museum. So, does that mean an exhibit about Abraham Lincoln, because some people think he was gay? Or does it mean an exhibit with a car that travels through a hall of gay trauma proposed by a wealthy donor? That potential donor, by the way, is played by “SNL’s” Bowen Yang, and he is hilarious.

Bobby insists that he likes being alone and independent. When two friends excitedly announced that they have invited a third man into their relationship to become a thruple, he says he does not even want to be part of a couple. He insists that he is doing fine with brief encounters with strangers found via apps, and tells us that walking home afterwards he feels warm and connected. And then he sees Aaron (Luke Macfarlane). While he won’t admit it to himself, he likes Aaron and he like likes Aaron. And that means he has to think about something he has spent his whole life not thinking about: whether anyone will like like him.

There’s a bushel basket of witticisms and pop culture references. The film also captures the way “S’up?” both stands for and impedes communication. Without getting too heteronormative, there is also a lot of heart. Everyone in the film is clearly very happy to be there and to tell this story, and I was happy to be able to watch it.

Parents should know that this movie includes sexual references and very explicit sexual situations and nudity, strong language, alcohol and drug use.

Family discussion: What was Bobby wrong about? Would you like to visit that museum? What should be in it?

If you like this, try: “Fire Island,” also featuring Bowen Yang.

The Good House

Posted on September 29, 2022 at 5:40 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: NA
Profanity: Strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Partial nudity, explicit sexual situation and sexual references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and alcoholism, marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Reference to two suicides (off-screen), some scuffles, lost child
Diversity Issues: Neurodivergent child
Date Released to Theaters: September 30, 2022
Date Released to DVD: November 21, 2022

Copyright 2022 Lionsgate
Hildy Good (Sigourney Weaver) tells us she was “born three drinks short of comfortable.” She tells us a lot in “The Good House,” based on the 2013 novel by Ann Leary. Hildy and her ancestors going back to one Sarah Good, hung for being a witch back in the late 1600s, have always lived in a Massachusetts town on the shore of the Atlantic ocean. By nature, culture, and profession she is utterly attuned to the emotions and the stories around her. As a realtor, she has to be able to assess immediately the needs and dynamics of the prospective buyers and sellers. Divorce may be a personal catastrophe for the people splitting up, but for her it is a business opportunity. Hildy has to balance the necessity of being pleasant and supportive to everyone with the necessity of boundaries that keep her from getting too emotionally involved. But they also keep her from being as perceptive about herself as she is about others. Hildy narrates a lot and she is always charming, often a little wry, but as we go on we see what she is leaving out of the story.

The good news about a small town is that everyone knows everything about everyone. That can be a source of comfort and help people feel grounded. The bad thing about a small town is that everyone knows everything about everyone. That can be a source of claustrophobia and make people feel trapped. The local psychiatrist, for example, is Peter (Rob Delaney). Hildy will always see him in part as the little boy she used to babysit for. Even if she does not, he will always think she does.

There is an increasing gulf between the way Hildy wants to be seen in the community, the way she is seen, and the way she is. We learn that her daughters and ex-husband organized an intervention because of her drinking, and she has been to rehab. And she is still drinking. A lot. She believes it is important for her to appear successful, so she drives a car she cannot afford. She is struggling and feeling the pressure from a former assistant who has become a competitor.

The trailer may suggest that the focus of the movie is the romance as Hildy connects with Frankie (Kevin Kline), a contractor she loved when they were teenagers. But it is really the story of Hildy coming to terms with the loss and fear she has pushed away and refused to acknowledge since she was a child. Often it was alcohol that she used to make reality less painful. This is a gorgeous role for the endlessly talented Weaver, who gives a layered, deeply lived-in performance, one of the best of the year. She shows us Hildy’s cool, pulled together, ABC (Always Be Closing), performative self, the one she shows to clients, potential clients (that means everyone), even her two daughters. Her wry humor at first looks like some self-awareness, but as it goes on, we see it is just another way to avoid seeing the truth. The same with the details she confides in us. At first they seem disarming and candid. But we learn more about what she is leaving out. And her chemistry with her “Dave” and “The Ice Storm” co-star Kline is genuine and touching.

There’s an engaging shagginess to the story that reveals its origins as a novel. Directors and co-screenwriters (with Thomas Bezucha) Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky leave in some of the messy details of the novel that most writers would smooth over in a movie adaptation, where there is a limited time so that every aspect has to push the story forward. This gives the film a sense of atmosphere and community that we can believe goes beyond the edges of the frame.

Parents should know that this film deals with alcoholism, depression, and suicide. A child is in peril. Characters use some strong language.

Family discussion: Why did Hildy tell Rebecca she could not get involved? Do you believe Hildy had special powers of perception?

If you like this, try: “Dave” and “Our Souls at Night” and, by these same screenwriters, the excellent autobiographical “Infinitely Polar Bear”