Stillwater

Posted on July 29, 2021 at 5:10 pm

D
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: References to alcohol and drug abuse
Violence/ Scariness: The movie includes a murder investigation and imprisonment, abuse
Diversity Issues: Some themes of class and nationality differences and cultures
Date Released to Theaters: July 23, 2021
Date Released to DVD: October 25, 2021

Copyright 2021 Focus Features
Even the best of intentions from the most talented people can sometimes go haywire, and “Stillwater” is a good example of a bad movie despite its sincerity and the powerful gifts of the people behind it. When the best performance in a Matt Damon movie comes from a little girl who barely speaks English, you know so many things have gone wrong that even the two Oscar-winners cannot find a way to make it work.

I’m not even sure what this movie is about. The story is clear, though. Oklahoma construction worker Bill Baker (Damon) regularly travels to France to see his daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin), who is serving a nine-year sentence for murder in Marseille. She insists she is innocent. Five years into her sentence, she learns of a possible clue to locating the real killer. When her lawyer says that there is no point in trying to re-open the case based on hearsay, Bill lies to Allison, telling her the lawyer is working on it, while he tries to find the killer himself. If this sounds vaguely familiar, it may be because of its relation to the case of Amanda Knox, who spent four years in an Italian prison for the murder of her roommate until she was exonerated by the higher court.

The storyline, though, is not enough to sustain the film, careening awkwardly from Bill’s redemption following years of neglecting Allison as he struggled with substance abuse to the lukewarm, not-thrilling thriller and the zero-chemistry romance. The nearly 2 1/2 hour running time gave me plenty of room to consider whether the movie was trying to make some deeper statement about America, with Bill clearly coming from an economically depressed red state, representing America’s failures and sense of lost promise and Allison as the younger generation, rejecting her roots.

Leads Damon, Breslin, and Camille Cottin as Verginie, a single mother who becomes Bill’s translator, friend, and romantic partner have so little sense of connection to each other they seem to be performing via Zoom. It is like they are acting in three different movies. Indeed, the movie itself feels like three different movies and none of them work. In the last half hour, as the movie goes from not very good to are-you-kidding bad, they may have been trying to make a point about guilt and the consequences of bad choices. If so, it is un-earned and the worst kind of manipulative, the kind that has so little respect for the audience that it is more than a disappointment; it feels like an insult. At one point, we see a brief scene from Virginie’s performance in an avant-garde play, followed by a pointless scene where she tries to get Bill to talk to her about what he has just watched. I’d rather watch that entire play — in French — than see this movie again.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong language, violence, references to murder, sexual references and situations, and references to substance abuse and parental neglect.

Family discussion: What do you think of what we see of the French prison system and its differences from the US? How does Bill feel after his final discussion with Allison? Should they have told each other the truth?

If you like this, try: “Missing”

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Zombieland: Double Tap

Posted on October 17, 2019 at 5:25 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for bloody violence, language throughout, some drug and sexual content
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Extremely violent and gory zombie peril and action with many characters injured and killed and many gruesome images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 18, 2019
Date Released to DVD: January 20, 2020

Copyright Columbia 2019
Start lining up the cast for part three; we’re going to need another one of these every decade or so. The original Zombieland was a brash, grimly funny story about a post-apocalyptic world in which characters who would otherwise be unlikely to meet, much less spend time together, identified only by their home towns, form a kind of family in the midst of zombie attacks. They are the high-strung but determined Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), the tough, peppery cowboy Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), and two survival-savvy sisters who are skeptical of anyone else, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone).

As Zombieland: Double Tap opens, the group is moving into the White House, now surrounded by fields of overgrown vegetation. It makes a good fortress and there are lots of cool things to play with, from a Twister game to Presidential portraits and gifts given by dignitaries over the years. Columbus and Wichita are a couple, but there is a problem. In this era of chaos and unpredictability, everyone has different ideas about what makes them feel safe. Columbus keeps making lists of his rules for survival (humorously displayed on screen) and wants to make the relationship official by proposing — with the Hope Diamond, which, like everything else, is up for grabs. But Wichita feels safest not having any connections, except for her sister, and Little Rock, now a teenager, wants to find someone her own age. So they leave.

On a “retail therapy” expedition to a shopping mall, Tallahassee and Columbus meet Madison (Zooey Deutch), who has been living there. Deutch just about steals the movie with one of the truly great comic performances of the year as the perfectly ditsy girl whose understanding of what is going on may be dim and who may not be willing to shoot zombies, but who has a knack for survival on her own terms. Just as she and Columbus get together, Wichita returns. Little Rock has run off with a guitar-playing pacifist named Berkeley (Avan Jogia). So, the group goes on the road to find her, running into some new characters, including many zombies, now faster, stronger, and smarter than before, an Elvis fan near Graceland, and a duo who seem uncannily parallel to Columbus and Tallahassee (Thomas Middleditch and Luke Wilson, both terrific).

Like the original, the zombie attacks and shoot-outs are punctuated with deadpan (maybe the correct term is undead-pan) humor, brilliantly delivered by the powerhouse cast. From the opening Columbia logo showing the lady using her torch to bash some zombies, the film moves briskly along with a gruesomely delightful mix of mayhem, romance, and humor. It’s a story about family, resilience, courage, and staying limber — with a great scene over the credits featuring a not-too-surprising guest star.

Parents should know that this film includes constant zombie peril and violence with many graphic, bloody, and disturbing images, characters injured and killed, constant very strong and crude language, sexual references and non-explicit situations, and alcohol and marijuana.

Family discussion: Why did Wichita say no to Columbus? What rules do you follow?

If you like this, try: the first “Zombieland” and “Sean of the Dead”

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Contest: Adventures in Zambezia!

Posted on April 16, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Adventures in Zambezia is a colorful new animated film from South Africa and I have one copy plus an activity book to give away.  It is the story of a falcon who leaves home in search of adventure and learns that no matter where you go, what matters is community.  The voice talents include Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Abigail Breslin, Jenifer Lewis, Samuel L. Jackson, and Richard E. Grant.

Send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with “Zambezia” in the subject line and tell me your favorite bird in the movies.  Don’t forget your address!  (US addresses only.)  I’ll pick a winner at random on April 22.  Good luck!

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Animation Contests and Giveaways

Rango

Posted on March 3, 2011 at 5:37 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for rude humor, language, action, and smoking
Profanity: Some crude schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Western-style violence with shoot-outs, characters in peril, injured and killed with some graphic images, snake
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 4, 2011

“Rango” is a deliciously demented and slyly satiric take on westerns, which means it takes on America’s deepest myths about our identity. It is wild and strange and blessedly idiosyncratic, with a witty and heartfelt performance by Johnny Depp in the title role.

Don’t let the PG rating fool you. This is not a movie for kids. This is a movie for cool, sophisticated, highly discerning teenagers and adults. Children who see it will have the pleasure of decades of “Ah, that’s what that reference in Rango was about” moments as they expand their knowledge of classic film and American history and folklore. But older audiences will be able to appreciate the way the movie salutes, tweaks, and repurposes western traditions, with shout-outs to a cornucopia of films and icons, from Hunter Thompson to Clint Eastwood and joyously cracked dialogue about conflict, irony, power, heroes, and destiny. And a brave girl lizard named Beans (voice of Isla Fisher), a mayor who is a turtle in a wheelchair (voice of Ned Beatty), a scary snake (voice of Bill Nighy), and some mangy varmints who are actual mangy varmints. And an adorable bird mariachi band to comment on the story.

It begins with an actor, a literal and metaphoric chameleon in a literal and metaphoric glass cage, sealed off from the world, his only co-stars a plastic fish and a headless Barbie torso. He is so existentially changeable that he can hardly tell reality from performance and like his cinematic western forebear, he has no name.

When a highway accident tosses his lizard tank on to the desert highway, it shatters and our hero for the first time must find a destiny and an identity. A mythic armadillo directs him toward a town called Dirt so he can find water. Once there, he picks a name for himself: Rango. And soon he is made sheriff. But it takes a bit longer for him to understand what that really means and what it will take for him to protect the town.

It’s all about water. The town needs it. But “the immutable law of the desert is — control the water and you control everything.” Rango will have to become more than a chameleon — he will have to become a hero.

There is so much going on it will require a second and third viewing, each more enjoyable than the last. Just watch Rango’s attire adapt as he gets in touch with his inner hero. There are hundreds of clever details and imaginative flourishes to make this film worthy of being put into the same category as the films to which it so charmingly pays tribute.

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Zombieland

Posted on February 2, 2010 at 8:00 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for horror violence/gore and language
Profanity: Constant very bad language, some crude
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Constant peril and violence, characters injured, killed, and eaten, zombies and other graphic and grisly images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 2, 2009
Date Released to DVD: February 2, 2010

What is it about zombies?

Dating back to 1932’s “White Zombie,” the stories of the relentless, omnivorous undead and the humans who try to escape them have been one of film’s most popular genres, with sub-genres including the flourishing category of zombie comedies, best described as gallows humor, gasps of horror alternating with gasps of laughter. Zombie films turn out to provide many opportunities for some core elements of humor, especially the juxtaposition of dire circumstances with trivial detail and the deconstruction of our assumptions about what we need and the norms of lifestyle and behavior. As its title suggests, “Zombieland‘s” take is darkly comic, with zombie encounters as theme park or video game. It even ends up in a real theme park, the few remaining humans battling the hordes from rides and concession stands.

Copyright 2019 SPHE

One thing about zombies is that they thin out the herd. In this story, only four non-zombie humans seem to be left, which gives them an opportunity to try to band together with people with whom they would otherwise have nothing in common and show each other and themselves that they are capable of more in both physical courage and relationships than they ever thought possible.

The mixed bag, all known only by the names of cities, includes shy college student (Jesse Eisenberg) who tries to maintain some sense of control by compulsively making lists of rules for survival. He meets up with a modern-day cowboy (Woody Harrelson) in search of his favorite Hostess treat and a pair of sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) who have their own methods for taking care of themselves. And even though they have not much idea where they are going or why they should go there, they hit the road.

Funny zombie movies can be just as scary as straight zombie movies, but they leaven the terror with humor that comes as the characters try to find some element of normalcy in between double-tapping zombies (one of the rules), grabbing whatever they want among the abandoned cars and grocery stores. It also includes checking out the home of a major movie star who shows up for an hilariously deadpan cameo before one last zombie attack in the actual amusement park — that juxtaposition element again.

The actors, including the movie star, are all superb. Eisenberg and Stone are two of the most talented young performers in movies and they hit just the right notes here. The usual getting-to-know-and-trust-you road trip developments play out in a manner that is both endearing and funny, as when Eisenberg asks Breslin if her sister has a boyfriend as though there are any other possible candidates for dating who would have a very different idea of having her for dinner. It goes on a little too long and does not match the inspired lunacy of “Shaun of the Dead,” but it will keep zombie-philic audiences as happy as finding the very last Twinkie.

Parents should know that this film has extreme and graphic violence involving zombies, guns, characters in peril, injured, killed, and eaten, drinking, smoking, and very strong language including crude sexual references.

Family discussion: Why didn’t the characters use their real names? What do you think of Columbus’ list of rules? What makes zombie movies so popular?

If you like this, try: “Dawn of the Dead,” “Shaun of the Dead,” “I am Legend,” and “28 Days Later”

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