Serenity

Posted on January 24, 2019 at 5:34 pm

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, and some bloody images
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence, domestic abuse, murder
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 25, 2019
Date Released to DVD: May 1, 2019
Copyright 2018 Avrion Pictures

Even by the very low standards of January movies, “Serenity” is a dreary, dumb mess that makes the ultimate mistake of thinking it is smart.

At first, it wants us to think it is a throwback to the classic twisty noir thrillers like “Out of the Past” and “The Lady from Shanghai.” Matthew McConaughey plays a man called Baker Dill (note: I did not say a man named Baker Dill), a veteran who lives on remote Plymouth Island, where he takes out feckless tourists on a fishing boat called Serenity. We glimpse a Purple Heart medal in the corrugated metal shack where he lives, and we can see that he is bitter and struggling with psychological damage and maybe some physical damage as well. There’s a World’s Greatest Father mug in the shack as well. He pours his whiskey into it. Dill has an Ahab-like fascination with a giant tuna he has named….Justice. And he has a relationship with a local woman (Diane Lane, slumming), who pays him to “find her cat,” which is both literal and euphemistic. Same with the only bar on the island, which used to have Hope in its name but then switched to Rope.  This is not a subtle movie.  We also see a mysterious, very proper, precise man in a suit who carries a briefcase (Jeremy Strong), who seems to be looking for Dill. At one point, he removes his shoes to wade robotically across a stream.

And then, the second act complication arrives: femme fatale Karen (Anne Hathaway), honey blonde hair and dressed in white. She is married to Frank (Jason Clarke), a wealthy boor who abuses her and terrifies her son, who is Dill’s son as well. She says Frank will kill her if she tries to leave him, so the only way to protect her is to get Frank drunk out at sea and throw him to the sharks. If Dill will do that, he will not only save his son, but he will get $10 million in cash.

There are some hints that this is not the usual thriller story of seduction, betrayal, and murder, though all of those elements are there. Something is a little off, though. Dill has some sort of mystical mental Skype thing going with the son he has not seen in ten years.  Where is Plymouth Island? The music is Cajun and there are references to Miami but it is becomes increasingly clear that it is strangely isolated and insular. “Everyone knows everything,” we hear repeatedly. At first, it seems to refer to the gossip in any tiny community. But then we begin to wonder “What is Plymouth Island?” when it goes from “everyone knows everything” about the details of what Dill is buying and selling and catching and where he is at all times to “no one knows anything” when it comes to the choices Dill is facing and how he will decide. The best way to enjoy this film is to have a drinking game that lets you take a swig every time a character says either line.

The four leads do their best to persuade us that their stilted dialogue and increasingly artificial interactions are archetypal, not underwritten, but they never find a tone that will withstand the groaner of a twist, which I will be happy to spoil per my legendary Gothika rule*. Trust me, it’s a worthy addition.

*Gothika Rule: If is movie has a truly bad or dumb ending, I will happily give it away to anyone who sends me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com.

Parents should know that this film includes domestic abuse, murder, characters injured and killed, some disturbing images, very strong language, explicit sexual situations, nudity, drinking and drunkenness, and smoking.

Family discussion: In what way did “everybody know everything” and in what way did “nobody know anything?” What were the clues that things were not what they seemed?

If you like this, try: “Out of Time,” “Body Heat,” “The Lady from Shanghai,” and “The Cafe”

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Trailer Premiere: Same Kind of Different As Me with Greg Kinnear, Renee Zellweger, and Djimon Hounsou

Posted on August 17, 2016 at 11:18 am

The bestseller Same Kind of Different As Me is the true story of a sophisticated art dealer whose life was changed by his friendship with a homeless man. We are pleased to premiere the trailer for the film based on the book, starring Greg Kinnear, Djimon Hounsou, and Renee Zellweger.

The movie will be in theaters February 3, 2017.

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Push

Posted on February 5, 2009 at 6:00 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, brief strong language, smoking and a scene of teen drinking
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Teen drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense peril and violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: February 6, 2009

If you add up all the recent movies about ordinary-looking people who walk among us with special hidden powers, you might conclude that there are no normal people left. The accountant next door might be a secret mutant, time traveler, mythological character or cyborg, but he is rarely just an accountant.

“Push” is the latest in this genre, and director Paul McGuigan has learned from and built upon many of the films that have gone before. “Push” offers a whole bestiary of people born with special talents, including Movers, Shifters, Pushers, Sniffers, Bleeders and Watchers. Some of their talents are familiar– Watchers, for example, seem to be your standard clairvoyants. But others, such as Bleeders, are a little further off the beaten track: they scream at an ear shattering, brain-pulping pitch.

The mutants in Push are pursued by a nefarious government agency called “The Division” which wants to harness their powers and exploit them for military purposes. Those who are fortunate enough to avoid being locked up in a prison hospital and subjected to horrendous medical experiments go underground in remote locations in an effort to escape detection by the authorities. The movie opens as Nick Gant, a young boy with the telekinetic powers of a “Mover,” watches his father being murdered by agents of the Division. Gant’s father’s last desperate words to his son are a prediction that some day a girl in need of help will come to him with a flower. Years later, our hero has grown into a young man (Chris Evans) who is hiding out in Hong Kong to stay one step ahead of the agents who killed his father. Lo and behold, he is approached by a young girl with a flower, Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning) who is another type of mutant– a “Watcher” who draws pictures of the future, and the two are off and running on an adventure to find the secret suitcase and bring down the evil “Division.”

This movie is a fast moving, erratic combination of clever and cliche, of imaginative visuals and unbearably corny dialogue. There are innovative moments, such as a shoot-out in a restaurant between telekinetically manipulated guns hovering in the air, or a chase through a Hong Kong shop filled with huge fish tanks where the screams of “Bleeders” cause the fish in the tanks to burst into red blossoms. On the other hand, sometimes the lines of dialogue are so awful that the screaming of the Bleeders seems like a welcome relief.

One of the best parts is the backdrop of Hong Kong — old shops and winding streets with ancient musicians playing traditional instruments and house boats on the dock — which proves more interesting than some imaginary alien planet. It may be better than the average mutant-next-door movie, even if it doesn’t have any hidden special powers.

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Amistad

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Plot: In 1839, a group of Africans sold into slavery were being transported to the United States on a Spanish ship. Off the coast of Cuba, they escaped from their shackles and attacked the crew, leaving two crew members alive to take them back to Africa. The Spanish sailors tricked the Africans and sailed up the coast of the United States until an American naval ship off the coast of Connecticut captures them. The Africans were brought into court to determine their fate. They were claimed as property (“like livestock”) by both the Spanish crew and by the American captors.

Roger Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey), a property lawyer persuades abolitionists Theodore Joadson (Morgan Freeman) and Lewis Tappan (Stellan Skarsgård) that he has a theory that will help the Africans. He argues that it is not a property case at all. The law provides that only the child of slaves can be a slave. Since the Africans were not born slaves they are free, and their actions were merely self-defense in aid of restoring their freedom. If Baldwin can prove that they were born as free people in Africa, and not, as their captors alleged, slaves in the West Indies, they would not be considered property; they would be considered human beings.

The trial attracts the attention of President Martin Van Buren (Nigel Hawthorne), who is in the midst of a campaign for re-election and very aware that he will need the support of Southern voters to win. He is under additional pressure from the eleven-year-old queen of Spain, Isabella II, and her ambassador, who raise claims on behalf of the Spanish fleet. When the judge and jury appear sympathetic to the Africans, Van Buren arranges for a new judge to hear the case without a jury.

Meanwhile, the Africans try to understand what is going on around them. Baldwin and Joadson are able to find a man who speaks Mende, the language of Cinqué (Djimon Hounsou) and some of the other Africans. They win in court and the government appeals. Former President John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) represents them before the U.S. Supreme Court, where seven of the nine Justices are slaveholders. In a moving and eloquent argument, he persuades the Justices (with one dissenter) that the Africans were free, and that if they had been white, they would have been called heroes for rebelling against those who tried to take that freedom away.

Discussion: Adams explains that in court the one with the best story wins. Indeed, we hear many different stories in the course of the movie as each character tries to explain why his view is the right one. In the first courtroom scene we hear several different “stories” about what should happen to the Africans. All of those stories assume that the Africans are property; the only question is whose property they are. Interestingly, as “property,” they can not be charged with murder or theft. One cannot be both property and capable of forming criminal intent. The only issue before the court is where the Africans will go.

As Baldwin begins to tell Joadson and Tappan his “story” of the case, we see them slowly becoming aware of what had always been obvious to us. The Africans cannot be property. They were free, in which case their actions were not only honorable but heroic, in the same category as America’s founding fathers, our own “story” about who we are as Americans. Despite the attempts of Van Buren to subvert the legal system established just decades before, the essential commitment to freedom is so much a part of the story that, at least in this one brief moment, justice triumphed. Adams, the son of the second President, made that his story.

Questions for Kids:

· Why was it important to prove where the Africans were from?

· What was Calhoun’s justification for slavery?

· Why does Tappan say that the death of the Africans may help the cause of abolition more than their freedom?

· Why does Spielberg organize his story this way, taking the audience from the confrontation to the courtroom and only later providing the background about the capture of the Africans?

· What does it mean that there is no Mende word for “should”?

Connections: Chief Justice Storey is portrayed by real-life former Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun.

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