The Water Man

The Water Man

Posted on May 6, 2021 at 5:38 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic content, scary images, peril and some language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril, references to child abuse and neglect, critical illness of a parent
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 8, 2021

Copyright Netflix 2021
“The Water Man” is a rare film that exquisitely captures the liminal moment at the end of childhood when we are old enough to begin to understand some of the complications and unsolvable problems of life but still young enough to believe in magic. Lonnie Chavis (“Magic Camp,” “This is Us”) plays 11-year-old Gunner, who is very close to his loving mother (Rosario Dawson) but not aware enough to realize that she is very sick. He is creating a graphic novel about a detective who must solve his own murder and he is fascinated with clues and deductions, but cannot recognize what is heartbreakingly clear to us as we see an IV stand in the bedroom and suspect that the colorful turbans hide a bald head.

Gunner is less close to his father Amos, played by director David Oyelowo, a military officer just returned from a long detail in Japan. His mother loves his art; his father wants him to toss a football.

When he realizes how sick his mother is, Gunner is determined to save her by tracking down a mythic creature known as The Water Man, said to have eternal life. A slightly older girl named Jo (Amiah Miller of “War for the Planet of the Apes”) tells stories of The Water Man, pointing to a scar on her neck as proof that she has not just seen him but been close enough for him to wound her. Gunner does not realize, as we do, that Jo, who lives in a tent by herself, is not as confident and independent as she seems. He agrees to pay her to take him to The Water Man, who is thought to live deep in the forest.

Like the Halloween scene in “Meet Me in St. Louis,” this film lives in the perspective of a young character, while allowing us to understand more than he does. Oyelowo and his Director of Cinematography, Matthew J. Lloyd, use color to tell what Oyelowo describes as an “elemental” story. Gunner’s mother is swathed in warm yellows and oranges, echoed in the backpack Gunner carries on his quest. The inside of Jo’s tent is a deep red. The forest is lush green, but the colors get less saturated and more muted as he gets further from home.

The young actors are both exceptional, very natural and believable, and their scenes together are some of the best in the film. But there is also strong support from an outstanding cast that includes Alfred Molina as an adult who has spent years looking for The Water Man and Maria Bello as the local sheriff who helps Amos try to find his son. Oyelowo is clearly inspired by “ET” (note Gunner’s ET lunchbox), and does a good job of creating a sense of wonder and showing us how all of us, at any age, can struggle to adapt to the unacceptable. Being present for those we love, the families we create, learning to love others for who they are instead of who we want them to be, all come together in a scene as warm as the sun-colors that surround Gunner’s mother.

Parents should know that this film concerns the critical illness of a parent. There is some peril and a creepy fantasy character along with some jump-out-at-you surprises, some schoolyard language, and shoplifting, and there are references to child abuse and neglect.

Family discussion: What are some of the myths or folklore of your community? Where do these stories come from?

If you like this, try: “Bridge to Terabithia,” “Time Bandits,” “Finding ‘Ohana,” and “The Odd Life of Timothy Green”

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Posted on March 8, 2018 at 12:39 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, violence and sexual content
Profanity: Constant very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs and drug dealing, alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Constant peril and violence with many graphic and disturbing images, characters injured and killed, guns, car chases and crashes, torture, kidnapping
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 9, 2018
Copyright Amazon 2018

“Gringo” is the story of a hapless dupe named Harold (David Oyelowo, showing deft comic timing) who gets stuck in the middle of a lot of bad people and bad decisions.

Harold is an immigrant from Nigeria, married to Bonnie (Thandie Newton, criminally underused), and in financial trouble. “Are you saying I’m cash poor?” Harold asks his accountant. “No, I’m saying you’re poor poor, ,” he replies.

The accountant also tells Harold that his company may be merging, and he could lose his job. But Harold reassures himself that his boss Rich (Joel Edgerton) is an old friend, who has even hired Bonnie to decorate his apartment, and will not let him down. Rich reassures him as well, reminding him that he promised Harold’s life would look like a rap video if he stayed at the company. It’s obvious to us that Rich is a crook and a liar, but Harold has no clue.

Rich’s co-president of the company is Elaine (Charlize Theron, having a lot of fun as a ruthless executive whose self-pep talk includes “Who’s Daddy’s Blue Ribbon girl?”). They come along on Harold’s business trip to Mexico, where the company’s marijuana-based pills are manufactured. That merger means the end of lucrative off-the-books sales to a powerful drug dealer. And that leads to mayhem involving a fake kidnapping, a real kidnapping, a toe sent by international mail, a murder for failing to give the right answer to a question about which Beatles album is the best, a mercenary, and many betrayals.

Nash Edgerton (Joel’s brother) directs with high energy and clearly relishes very dark humor of the story, with many twists and turns as the various bad guys collide with each other. Paris Jackson (Michael’s daughter) has an impressive cameo as a girl enticing a hapless guitar salesman into helping her steal some of those marijuana pills. If you like your crime stories to be nicely nasty, this one does the trick.

Parents should know that this film includes extensive and graphic violence, chases, shootouts, torture, disturbing images, many characters injured and killed, drugs and drug dealing, alcohol, very explicit sexual references and situations, and very strong and crude language.

Family discussion: Was Harold’s father wrong? Why was it hard for him to see what was happening? What is the point of the banana/carrot story?

If you like this, try: “Big Trouble” and “Midnight Run” and, also from the Edgerton brothers, “The Square” (not the recent Cannes award-winner, the Australian crime drama)

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A United Kingdom

A United Kingdom

Posted on February 9, 2017 at 5:12 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language including racial epithets and a scene of sensuality
Profanity: Some strong language including racist epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Peril, threats, violence including street fight
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 10, 2017
Copyright Harbinger Pictures 2016

In Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Lysander says, “aught that I could ever read/Could ever hear by tale or history/The course of true love never did run smooth.” It may just seem that way because the most enduring loves are those where challenges bring the couples together instead of tearing them apart. To quote Shakespeare again, this is the love that “looks on tempests, and is never shaken.” “A United Kingdom” tells the true story of a love that triumphed over the most intense opposition from both families and at least three countries.

Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo of “Selma” and “Queen of Katwe”) is studying law in post-WWII London when he meets Ruth (Rosamund Pike of “Gone Girl”) and they are instantly drawn to each other. They share a love of jazz music and a passionate commitment to the public good. Before they realize what is happening, they are deeply in love. Seretse explains that he is not just another law student; he is heir to the throne of his country, and his uncle is acting as Regent until he returns. He asks Ruth to take time to think about marrying him but she does not need time to think.

Even though they have already experienced some unpleasant, even threatening responses to their relationship, they believe that their good intentions and mutual devotion can overcome any obstacles. They will see that post-war optimism about a new era of tolerance and mutual commitment to continuing the progress toward freedom tested more intensively than they could have imagined.

Ruth’s sister is sympathetic, but she correctly predicts that their father “will hate him on sight. He is cleverer than him and he is black.” And indeed, he says, “You may deserve a life of insults and shame, but what about us? I can’t see you again.”

And then they go to Botswana, where his uncle and the community see his marrying a foreigner and a commoner as a betrayal, calling into question his loyalty and his ability to understand them. Has his time in London caused him to abandon the ways of his people?

And might his uncle have other reasons for wanting to stay in power?

The British government, in the form of the wonderfully condescending Jack Davenport (“Pirates of the Caribbean”), is even more disturbed. They have important business and political interests in the region, particularly in the adjoining country of South Africa, which is in the middle of adopting the 20th century’s most viciously racist laws, known as Apartheid.

Director Amma Asante (“Belle”), the British-born child of Ghanaian parents, has a sure sense of the worlds she is depicting. The Botswanans and their land are portrayed as respectfully and “normally” as the Londoners, with no sense of quaint or lesser “otherness.” And while the culture is not entirely equal (apparently only men vote), the female characters, including Seretse’s sister, have dignity and agency. This is a true love story, not just between Seretse and Ruth, but between the filmmakers telling this story and the people and the country where it is set.

Parents should know that the theme of the movie concerns an interracial marriage that was objected to by both families and their governments. There are some scenes of peril including racist street thugs, some strong language including racial epithets, and a sexual situation.

Family discussion: How did Ruth prove her sincerity to the Botswanans? Why did the British government intervene?

If you like this, try; “Loving” and the BBC program about Seretse and Ruth Khama.

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Posted on September 17, 2015 at 8:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving violence and substance abuse
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs and discussions of drug abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Prison escape, violent murders, tense confrontations, hostage situation
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: September 18, 2015
Copyright 2014 BN Films
Copyright 2014 BN Films

Two desperate people who think they have nothing discover that there is still a lot more to lose in this fact-based story about an escaped prisoner and the woman he held captive.

The story made headlines throughout the country. Ashley Smith, a young widow still in her 20’s, was in the early, fragile stages of recovery from drug abuse. Her daughter was living with Smith’s aunt, but Smith was working hard to be able to care for her. Brian Nichols was in prison, charged with rape. When he was being transferred for his trial, he beat the security guard, stole the civilian clothes he was to wear for the trial, and went on the run, killing a judge and three other people. He grabbed Smith, and forced her to let him into her apartment. He held her there for seven hours before she was able to leave and call 911. While they were together, they talked, she made him pancakes, and she read aloud to him from Rick Warren’s best-seller, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?. The book was given to her by a woman in her 12-step group, and she tossed it in the garbage. But it was waiting for her again at her job. The woman who gave it to her got it out of the garbage can and left it for her.

Kate Mara plays Smith and David Oyelowo plays Nichols, and the heart of the movie is seeing each of them find some humanity in the other. Neither has any reason to trust, and neither does much to earn trust, either. “I’m a mother!” she says when he first captures her. She wants him to see her as a person, and as a person someone else depends on. But she tells him the truth, that her daughter is not there and will not be returning. And then she lies to him and says that her husband is coming home soon. He asks her for weed, and she says there isn’t any, but he can tell from the way she says it that she is holding something else. It is “ice” (meth) and it is in a small packet she almost could not resist shortly before Nichols captured her.

He takes some and tries to force her to take the rest. But she realizes that she would literally rather die than start using again, and it is the strength of that moment that is the turning point for her. Hopped up on drugs, Nichols says he wants Smith and her daughter to come with him to Mexico. He will kidnap his infant son and they can all be together. But he knows it is impossible. Listening to the book, or perhaps seeing Smith get the message that she can still have a purpose even after all her mistakes, helps him understand what he must do. Smith herself says that moment was when faith in God’s love filled her heart and she knew she would be all right.

The movie loses momentum when it shifts to the law enforcement efforts to track Nichols. What matters is two people who think they have lost everything and how one of them chooses life, hope, and purpose.

Parents should know that this movie includes a prison escape with four brutal murders, guns plus reference to drug dealing and another murder, hostage, drugs and discussion of drug abuse, some strong language, and issues of child custody and parental fitness.

Family discussion: What were the most meaningful parts of the time they spent together to Ashley? To Brian? What book would you want to read to someone afraid and in pain?

If you like this, try: the book by Ashley Smith Robinson and Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life

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