Tom and Jerry

Tom and Jerry

Posted on February 26, 2021 at 3:59 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG PG for rude humor, cartoon violence, and brief language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic mayhem
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: February 26, 2021

Copyright 2021 Warner Bros.
Making a live action movie about the cartoon characters Tom (the cat) and Jerry (the mouse) was a bad idea. These “let’s see what we can dig up from the intellectual property hiding in our files” reboots usually end up as lifeless as we can expect when they are inspired by balance sheets instead of characters. But “Tom and Jerry” misses even that low bar, dispiriting in its waste of the iconic cartoon characters in the title, a usually reliable director, and some of the most talented performers in movies today.

It may be impossible to make a feature film out of a one-joke set-up that more likely to be sustained in a seven-minute animated short. Certainly, if that question ever goes to court, this movie will be introduced as evidence.

A refresher: Tom wants to catch Jerry and Jerry outsmarts him. Think Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote without access to Acme explosives and anvils. But while Road Runner is being chased around spare western landscapes, Tom and Jerry often create chaos and mayhem indoors. So a lot of Tom and Jerry is things falling over and crashing and smashing.

None of that is especially well staged here. The mayhem/slapstick scenes seem to have been set up based on what they could convey with technology given the interaction between two-dimensional cartoon characters and physical reality, rather than what is involving or engaging. Slapstick has its charms, but it requires a precision of timing that allows us to appreciate the destruction before moving on to the next faceplant. And even though they are 2D cartoon characters, and thus instantly restored to perfect condition after every encounter, setting it in a 3D environment hampers some of the ebullience of the forces of id.

The biggest mistake, though, is expecting, even demanding, more affection from the audience for the characters than it earns. There doesn’t have to be a likable character to root for in a movie, but it helps.

Tom plays the piano in Central Park, busking to make money (what is he going to use it for?), pretending to be blind to make even more from guilt and pity. Jerry comes along, covers his sign with one of his own, and starts collecting from the crowd until Tom sees him and the crowd sees that he can see. Chases ensue.

Meanwhile, Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz) loses one job because Tom crashes into her bike and spills all the clean laundry she is delivering (which is not even in a bag, but okay). And so she gets another by lying about her credentials. So 20 minutes in, two of our main characters are cheaters.

Kayla’s new job is as a temp at a super-luxurious hotel which needs support for a very high-profile, no expenses spared wedding of two mega-celebrities. (Note to Hollywood: It is time to stop trying to seem relevant by creating characters who are influencers.) Kayla is there to help make everything go smoothly, even when the groom wants elephants and military-grade drones, when the bride’s ring goes missing, and when Jerry is spotted in the kitchen. At the hotel, she has a rival who sees her as a threat and gets help from a ditsy bell girl.

Kayla brings in Tom to help catch Jerry. It does not go well. That’s it. That’s the movie.

The excellent cast does its best, and believably interacts with the animated characters. But no one can make the dreary dialogue sound smart or even interesting. The problem is not that the animated characters are 2D. The problem is that the script is 1D.

Parents should know that this film includes comic violence and mayhem including fire, chases, and crashes. There is brief potty humor.

Family discussion: Why did Kayla lie? Why couldn’t Ben and Preeta tell each other the truth? How did Kayla try to fix the problems she created?

If you like this, try: the original Tom and Jerry cartoons and the Road Runner cartoons.

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Animation Based on a television show Comedy Fantasy movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Talking animals
Interview: The Miseducation of Cameron Post’s Chloe Grace Moretz, Desiree Akhavan, and Mathew Shurka

Interview: The Miseducation of Cameron Post’s Chloe Grace Moretz, Desiree Akhavan, and Mathew Shurka

Posted on August 7, 2018 at 3:42 pm

Copyright FilmRise 2018
Sundance winner “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” takes place in 1993, when a teenager is sent to a Christian “gay conversion” program something between boarding school, boot camp, rehab, and prison. Chloe Grace Moretz gives a performance of great subtlety and sensitivity in the title role. My friend and fellow critic Leslie Combemale and I spoke to Moretz, director Desiree Akhavan and gay conversion survivor and activist Mathew Shurka about the film.

I always think that one of the greatest challenges an actor can have is a part like this one where your character is so much an observer, with no big speeches.

Chloe Grace Moretz: What’s beautiful about the film is that it really is an ensemble piece. It’s called “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” but I walk through it with you guys, perceiving and understanding and taking in and comprehending this space that I’ve been thrust into. We shot the movie chronologically. We only had 23 days to shoot the movie. It was wonderful because we just walked through each beat. Because we didn’t have much rehearsal time, there wasn’t much to do other than feel and hear and listen and perceive.

Because my character didn’t have a lot of lines, all this stuff is happening to her and around her and she’s having all these projections put on her about of what she is and what her problems are. And all she says is, “I don’t think so.” It all happens in her head and it was really fun for me to play with that and depict it all through my face and my eyes. It’s what I like doing best as an actor, ever since I was a little girl. It’s always been something I enjoy, showing context and subtext in my head and having it pushed it out through my eyes, not having to vocalize it. A lot of times in life, when you’re faced with sadness and depression and anger you can’t really formulate words for that. When someone is looking at you and telling you everything you’re doing is incorrect, sometimes the best you can do is say, “I don’t think so.” You internalize that.

Desiree Akhavan: That was the character. Someone who wasn’t that talkative. An introverted, athletic lesbian, an ode to every woman I’ve ever loved. I was building a type. I’ve been asked if that was something that changed specifically through casting Chloe, because she has a strength for communicating without words, but it was just a happy marriage, when the character meets the right actor.

Copyright FilmRise 2018

Mathew Shurka: It was incredibly powerful to see that in Chloe. It is so hard to turn conversion therapy into a film. All the subtleties are really clear in the film. My favorite part is when she just walks into the conversion therapy center and Reverend Rick is playing the guitar. There’s a shot of Chloe’s face. There’s doubt, there’s fear, and “where am I” and it’s every teenager. As a survivor, it read really clear to me, what was going on with her character.

We’d like to believe we are wiser now than in 1993, when this movie takes place, but how many states still allow conversion therapy?

Mathew Shurka: Only 14 states have banned conversion therapy for minors, which means that some form of it is still permitted in 36. But it’s legal for adults in all 50 states. A majority of conversion therapy programs are religion-based, but not all. This movie shows both, an actual therapist and a pastor. In reality, that’s how it goes. All of my treatment was conducted by licensed professionals. My father, who was the one who was really adamant about me going into conversion therapy did his due diligence and he wanted someone who had gone through the training of a therapist to conduct this.

They’re fighting these bills so a lot more are getting licensed as therapists to have more credibility, because they are fighting these bills. There are licensed and there are unlicensed and then the overlap who are both, pastors and licensed therapists. We say you have to choose. In the states where we passed those bills, people say, “What if there’s a pastor who wants to conduct conversion therapy?” and we say, “You have to honor and obey the terms of your therapist license.” You have to choose. You want to be a pastor and have those rights, fine, but if you’re acting as a therapist you have to honor that license.

Because these issues are still so present, did you ever think of setting the film in the present instead of in 1993?

Desiree Akhavan: We thought about it because it would have been cheaper. But no, it was always really important that they were as isolated as possible. For the dramatic stakes to be as high as possible, Cameron could not even know about other gay kids, let along see them on Instagram or reach out and ask for help. I didn’t want there to be a world outside of what they knew around them. I wanted to be loyal to the book but I also didn’t want to deal with technology and the whole host of changes that would bring to their lifestyle and personalities and their identity and their self-expression. The way kids live right now is very different from the way they lived in 1993 and it was important to keep it that way. But it is a very relevant film and when I began this process I didn’t realize how relevant it would become through the course of production.

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The Miseducation of Cameron Post

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Posted on August 2, 2018 at 5:29 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Off-screen self-mutilation and attempted suicide
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: August 3, 2018

“Pray the gay away.”  That is the idea behind “gay conversion” facilities, now thankfully outlawed in fourteen states as contrary to both science and human dignity. But “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” based on the novel by Emily M. Danforth, is set in 1993. It might as well have been 1793 for the Puritanical attitude of the God’s Promise facility the title character is sent to when her date discovers her making out with a girl on prom night.

Copyright FilmRise 2018

Cameron (a performance of exceptional sensitivity by Chloe Grace Moretz) is packed up immediately by her aunt and uncle (her parents are dead) to become a “Disciple” at God’s Promise, run by the guitar-strumming, upbeat Reverend Rick, played by John Gallagher, Jr., showing us flickers of anxiety as he tries to reassure the teens at the facility that if he could be “cured” of being gay, so can anyone. The resident bad cop to Reverend Rick’s relentless cheer is Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), who runs a tight ship, whether she is telling Cameron that she will not allow her to be called “Cam” (“Cameron is already a masculine name. To abbreviate it only exacerbates your gender confusion.”) or directing the “Disciples” to reveal their most private conflicts in publicly posted iceberg diagrams. What is important lies beneath the surface, and that is dangerous enough to sink the Titanic, she explains.  There is a pretense of choice, as Cameron is given a contract to sign, though she is underage and has no alternative.

Marsh tells the teenagers that “There’s no such thing as homosexuality. There’s only the sin we all face.”  She compares being gay to dangerous, self-destructive behavior: “Would you let drug addicts throw parades for themselves?”  And she posits the cause of what they term SSA (same-sex attraction): “too much bonding with a father over sports,” for example.

A quiet tone keeps the outrageous setting from turning into parody, even when they watch the (real) Christian workout video, “Blessercize,” and the teenagers are asked leading questions like, “When did you let same sex attraction get in the way of your goals?”  While a non-conversion facility might impose some restrictions on interactions between the boys and girls, there are few here.  Presumably, despite professed very strict rules about sexual behavior, Marsh and Reverend Rick are hoping the opposite genders will tempt each other.

The film won the top award at Sundance, a tribute to the understated mood and to an outstanding performance from Moretz, who allows us to observe her as she observes those around her. Neither she nor we are miseducated by the end.

Parents should know that this film includes explicit sexual references and situations, homophobia, some language, and marijuana.

Family discussion: What does it mean to say, “when I am weak, I am strong?” What ideas have changed since 1993?

If you like this, try: “But I’m a Teenager” and the upcoming “Boy Erased”


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Based on a book Drama movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Stories about Teens


Posted on October 30, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, some sexual material and teen partying
Profanity: Strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Adult and teen drinking and drunkenness, drunk driving
Violence/ Scariness: Car crash, tense emotional confrontations
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 31, 2014 ASIN: B00OUNNWPS

Lynn Shelton is known for writing and directing small, intimate, independent films with a lot of improvised dialogue (“Humpday,””My Sister’s Sister,” “Touchy Feely”), often using the same small group of actors. With “Laggies,” she moves seamlessly to working with a more conventional screenplay, written by someone else (novelist Andrea Seigel), and with a higher-profile Hollywood cast, but the film maintains a nice indie sensibility that lets the characters speak for themselves.  For example, the only time the word “laggie” is used, it is not directed at any of the main characters and it is never explained, but we get the point.  The laggie is Megan (Keira Knightley), who has lagged behind her close-knit group of friends from high school.  Ten years later, all of them are established in careers and relationships.  You can tell they all have mortgages and 401(k)s.  But Megan, who has an MA in counseling, is currently working as a “sign girl” for her accountant father (Jeff Garlin), standing on the sidewalk twirling an arrow sign advertising his firm.  She is living with Anthony (Mark Webber), the boyfriend she has been with since sophomore year of high school.

At a bridal shower for her friend Allison (Ellie Kemper), her friends find her joking immature and she finds them stuffy.  And at Allison’s wedding (with a hilariously pretentious First Dance), two developments shake Megan badly.  Anthony proposes. And Megan sees her father kissing (and more) Allison’s mother.  Megan leaves the wedding and meets four teenagers hanging out in front of a convenience store.  They ask her to buy some booze for them and she reasons that since someone did it for her, she should do it for them.  “It’s a rite of passage,” she reassures herself.

With no interest in returning to her messy life, she spends some time with the kids.  They think she is cool, and she likes being thought of that way.  Annika (Chloë Grace Moretz) gives her a phone and asks her to stay in touch.  When Megan gets back to her apartment, she accepts Anthony’s proposal and agrees to elope with him in a week.  Before they go, she tells him, she wants to attend the week-long personal development seminar that made such a difference to him (he learned that his spirit animal was a shark and that made him realize he had to start making decisions in his life because if a shark doesn’t move, it dies).

She has no intention of attending the seminar.  She just needs time to think.  And then Annika calls and asks her to pretend to be her mother for a parent conference at school.  Megan puts up her hair and fakes her way through.  And then she asks Annika if she can stay at her house for a week without her father finding out.  One of the many nice touches in this movie is that of course he finds out immediately.  This is not a sitcom.  The set-up may be artificial, but the characters have real-life reactions.

Annika’s father is Craig (Sam Rockwell), a divorce lawyer and single dad.  Annika’s mother left them years ago and he spends his days working with unhappy, angry couples.  Annika thought she could hide Megan because Sam was supposed to be at a mixer, but he comes home early.  I loved the detail that his name tag was on his arm and his conversation with Megan about how women at mixers like that tap him on the arm to show that they are listening.  There are lies, and excruciating confessions, and lessons learned, but the progress is organic as everyone from the school counselor who thinks Megan is Annika’s mother to the real mother (the always-excellent Gretchen Moll) to Megan’s old friends from high school and even Craig seem to be carrying a message about growing up even though you don’t have it all figured out. Shelton has enough confidence in the story, the characters, and her outstanding performers to avoid the easy exaggerations of the genre and show us real people who are essentially decent struggling to find the courage to move forward, even when they don’t know where that will take them.

Parents should know that this film includes strong language, drinking by adults and teenagers, drunk driving, car crash, sexual references, some crude, and non-explicit situations, and infidelity.

Family discussion: What animal would you pick to represent your spirit? How can you tell when you’ve outgrown your friends?

If you like this, try: “Girl Most Likely” and Sam Rockwell films like “Galaxy Quest” and “The Way Way Back”

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Drama Movies -- format

The Equalizer

Posted on September 25, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs and drug dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and very graphic violence, with many characters injured and killed and graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: September 26, 2014
Date Released to DVD: December 29, 2014 ASIN: B00NX6WZIS
Copyright 2014 Columbia Pictures

The only thing nicer than having a real-life friend who could circumvent any obstacle of power or law or, you know, logic to deliver the roughest but most just of rough justice would be to have that friend be Denzel Washington. And that’s the story of “The Equalizer,” very loosely based on television series starring Edward Woodward, but in theme and character closer to a superhero saga.

Washington plays Bob McCall, a kind and quiet inventory clerk at a big box store, but we can tell right away that he has seen some stuff and knows even more stuff.  His alarm clock goes off in a room so spare it might be occupied by a monk.  But the bed has not been slept in.  Bob prepares for the day, serious, precise, and methodical. He does one thing at a time.  At work, he eats his bag lunch and gently but firmly coaches his young colleague Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis) on losing weight and working on the skills he will need to pass the test for security guard. And at night, he brings a book to the diner (Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea), sits at a table, unwrapping the tea bag he brought with him, and exchanges a few words with Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young “escort.”  “The old man met his adversary just when he thought that part of his life was over,” Bob tells Teri. “The old man got to be the old man. The fish got to be the fish.  Got to be what you are in this world.”  But what is Bob?  And what is Teri?

We do not know Bob’s past, but we know he has one (especially if we’ve seen the trailer).  If, as Spider-Man learns, with great power comes great responsibility, then with great power come some wrenching conflicts as well.  When Ralphie and Terri get in trouble, Bob will step in, risking escalation, retribution, and blowing whatever cover he has worked very hard to create. On the other hand, if he does not step in, it will not be much of a movie. And if you have any question, his next choice of classic literature will make it clear: Don Quixote, who “lives in a world where knights don’t exist anymore.”  In his own way, Bob is a Knight of Rueful Countenance. But unlike Don Quixote, Bob does not tilt at windmills. He takes on very bad people and he is very, very good at it.  “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why,” the film tells us at the beginning, quoting Mark Twain.  Bob was not born to haul sacks of gravel.

A superhero movie has to have a character with power, whether it is money plus gymnastics and cool toys (Batman) or extra strength and speed (pretty much all of the Avengers). But we usually like them to have a secret or at least downtime identity — Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, Tony Stark. There’s a lot of satisfaction in seeing them take down the bad guys. But there is even more satisfaction in what I call the “who is that chef?” moments (a reference to Under Siege). It’s not enough to kick the butt of the bad guy, you have to have the vast, immense, profound satisfaction of letting him know just how massively he has underestimated you. I mean Bob.

We get a lot of both in this film as Bob takes on bigger, meaner, and tougher bad guys in bigger, meaner, tougher confrontations.  Bob likes to set his stopwatch so we know he is setting himself against more than the bad guys; he is still in some competition with, what?  His abilities when he was younger?  Or, as he says, “progress, not perfection” — is he moving toward some goal that is still just out of his reach?

Basically, this is a slow burn movie, with a build-up to introduce us to the characters and then a series of action sequences, all well staged but very, very violent, as to be expected from director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”).  The bad guys are very, very, very bad.  The good guy is very, very, very, very good.  Denzel Washington is as good as it gets.  

And a sequel is in the works.

Parents should know that this movie is extremely violent, with many characters injured and killed and many explicit and disturbing images.  Characters use strong language.  Bad guys use every possible kind of weapon and engage in every possible kind of criminal behavior including sex trafficking, extortion and arson, and drug dealing.

Family discussion:  Why did Bob go to see his former colleague? What did he learn from the classic books he read?

If you like this, try: “Training Day”

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Action/Adventure Based on a television show Crime DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Remake
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