Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Posted on June 29, 2023 at 5:24 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, language and smoking
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and action-violence, characters injured and killed, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 30, 2023

Copyright 2023 Disney
It’s been a long time since the archeology students of Dr. Henry (Indiana) Jones, Jr. (Harrison Ford) gazed longingly at him in the lecture hall. In the first movie of this now-five chapter series, one of them even wrote: “love you” on her eyelids. That was in the 1940s, and we get a flashback to that era with Indy captured by his old foes, the Nazis, and then his thrilling escape with his friend, Basil Shaw (Toby Jones). Just as in the first film, they were seeking the Ark of the Covenant because Hitler coveted its power, in this flashback they are looking for something almost as legendary: a compass-like dial from the Ancient Greek scientist/mathematician Archimedes.

But the now of this movie takes place in the summer of the first moon landing, 1969, and Indy is being grumpy at his retirement party (which, oddly, occurs before the end of the semester, despite his just having told his bored students what will be in their exam, but okay).

Basil’s daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) surprises Indy, who has not seen her since she was a little girl. Her father’s obsession with Archimedes’ dial ruined his life. But Helena is now looking for it, too. And so is that Nazi officer (Mads Mikkelse), who, like Werhner von Bron, was brought to America instead of tried for war crimes, because his scientific knowledge was essential to the development of the space program.

As with the third and fourth films, we get just enough about what is going on with Indy to add some emotional heft to all of the action scenes. We learn why he is estranged from Marian (Karen Allen). We learn about his relationship with Basil and Helena and some regrets he may feel about all three of them. We also get to catch up briefly with some friends from the earlier films, including the warmhearted Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and his family. There are some callbacks to the earlier films, and of course one of the all-time classic John Williams movie scores, guaranteed to make pulses race. Are there snakes? You’ll just have to wait and see.

And of course we have lots of action. The opening chase scene on and on top of a train is everything we hope for in an Indiana Jones movie, witty, exciting, well-paced. Director James Mangold (“Logan,” “Walk the Line”) ably takes over for Steven Spielberg, with inventive stunts making the most of the props and settings. One under-water section is not as effective as the high-speed chases. There are some poor and tonally inconsistent choices about outcomes for some characters and a switch of allegiance that is not adequately supported by the storyline. There is an un-earned death of a character that takes us out of the film and it takes a leap near the end that did not always work for me. But we’re there to see Harrison Ford, with hat and whip, dazzle us with his action scenes and pure star power, and that is more valuable than an ancient treasure.

Parents should know that this film includes extended peril and action-style violence, with characters injured and killed. There are references to a sad death of an adult son in combat and a sad death of a parent due to a preoccupation that took over his life. Characters use strong language and drink some alcohol.

Family discussion: If you could go back in time, what time would you pick? How has Indy changed over the years? Which is your favorite Indiana Jones movie and why?

If you like this, try: the other Indiana Jones movies

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The Call of the Wild

Posted on February 21, 2020 at 5:30 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some violence, peril, thematic elements and mild language
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence, human and animal characters injured and killed, animal abuse, guns
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: February 22, 2020

Copyright Twentieth Century 2020
My review of “Call of the Wild” is on An excerpt:

Harrison Ford made me believe he was talking to Greedo and Jabba the Hutt in the early “Star Wars” films and those characters were as low-tech as Gumby and Pokey compared to the technology used to create Ford’s canine co-star in “The Call of the Wild.” And yet, I never bought it. Instead of getting caught up in the story, I kept wondering how they achieved the effects, like the interactions between the CGI dog with the real-life people and props around him. A lot of work clearly went into scanning a dog from every angle, and getting the muscles, fur, weight, and shape to look real. But the dog still seems synthetic compared to the animals in movies like “A Dog’s Purpose” and Disney’s own annual nature films (even compared to fully animated characters in the original “101 Dalmatians” and “Lady and the Tramp”). And so does the story.

The problem is less the technology, which is very impressive, than it is the uneven storyline, which zigzags from slapstick to poignance to action. The Alaskan and Canadian scenery is spectacular, the production design is exceptional, and Ford brings heart and dignity to his role, including the narration throughout the film. But the movie is uneven in tone and in its sense of its audience—it is too sad and violent for young children and too superficial for older audiences. The many-times-filmed story has here been sanitized a bit for modern audiences (less racism, for example), but it is rougher than the typical PG film, including animal abuse, and sad deaths of both canines and humans.

Parents should know that this film includes peril and violence affecting animals and humans, sad deaths of dogs and people, guns, animals beaten with clubs, and some mild language.

Family discussion: What did Buck learn from his first experience pulling a sled? From his rescues? From the wolves?

If you like this, try: “A Dog’s Purpose” and “A Dog’s Way Home”

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Blade Runner 2049

Posted on October 3, 2017 at 1:59 am

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and explicit peril and violence, characters injured and killed,
Date Released to Theaters: October 6, 2017

Copyright Warner Brothers 2017
I’ve got a bit of a conundrum here. As has been widely reported, the filmmakers have asked the critics to avoid spoilers (no problem, we are always careful about that), but they have done so with a very specific list of topics/characters/developments they don’t want us to reveal, so exhaustive that it leaves us with little to say beyond: the camerawork is outstanding (please, give Roger Deakins that Oscar already) and the movie is magnificently imagined, stunningly designed, thoughtful and provocative, and one of the best of the year.

I hate to admit it, but I think they’re right. I really do want you to have the same experience I did, including all of the movie’s surprises. So forgive me for being oblique, and after you’ve seen it, come back and we can discuss it in detail, all right?

In the original “Blade Runner,” based on the story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick, Harrison Ford played Deckard, a 21st century detective sent to find and terminate four “replicants,” humanoid robots created to perform physical labor but who somehow are evolving to the point where they want to be independent of human control. Replicants are so close to being human in appearance and manner (and, in the future, life is so dystopic that humans have become less feeling, less compassionate) that it is increasingly difficult to figure out who is human and what being human means. Like Deckard, K (Ryan Gosling) is a blade runner, sent by Joshi, his human boss (Robin Wright), to find the older generation of replicants and terminate them. The new generation of replicants is more obedient, or at least that is the way they are programmed. “It’s my job to keep order,” she tells him. She gives him a new assignment and when he hesitates she asks, “Are you saying no?” “I wasn’t aware that was an option.” “Atta boy,” she says approvingly. K has uncovered something that Joshi believes is an extermination-level threat to humanity as what accountants call a going concern.

This film explores ideas of memory, identity, and, yes, humanity. And it does that through a detective story that is grounded in a Raymond Chandler noir world of deception and betrayal, taking place in a gorgeous, brilliantly designed dystopian future of perpetual rain where organic material is barely a memory and huge, Ozymandias-like ruins carry faint reminders of better times and grander ambitions. Most people have never seen a tree, even a dead one, and a crudely carved wooden toy is priceless. A woman creates pleasant childhood memories to be implanted so that replicants will be more stable, more empathetic, and easier to control. The trick about control, though, is that nature will rebel against it, and those who try to maintain control by sending people or replicants or anyone out to investigate and ask questions is going to find that knowledge can dissolve authority.

That’s about all I can say except to add that Gosling and Ford are outstanding and Sylvia Hoeks is a standout as a character I can’t tell you anything more about, while Jared Leto is the movie’s weak spot as another character I can’t tell you anything about. So I’ll end by saying that this is that rare sequel deserving of its original version, not because it replicates — for want of a better word — the first one, but because it pays tribute (note touches like the see-through raincoat) and then finds its own reason for being, and we are lucky enough to come along.

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi/action violence with graphic and disturbing images, characters injured and killed, reference to torture, drinking, smoking, some strong language, sexual references and situations, prostitutes, and nudity.

Family discussion: What elements or concerns about today’s society are the basis for this vision of the future? What rules would you make about replicants? What is the most human aspect of the replicants?

If you like this, try: the original “Blade Runner,” “Terminator 2,” “Total Recall,” “Children of Men,” and the writing of Philip K. Dick

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Indiana Jones 5 is Coming!

Posted on March 16, 2016 at 1:02 pm

Clear your calendars for July 19, 2019 — Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford are teaming up for a fifth Indiana Jones movie. Producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall are also returning, but George Lucas is not.

“Indiana Jones is one of the greatest heroes in cinematic history, and we can’t wait to bring him back to the screen in 2019,” Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn said in a statement. “It’s rare to have such a perfect combination of director, producers, actor and role, and we couldn’t be more excited to embark on this adventure with Harrison and Steven.”

Despite the nuke-the-fridge disappointment of “Crystal Skull,” I’m excited.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Posted on December 16, 2015 at 3:01 am

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Scene in a bar
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive sci-fi action-style violence with guns and explosions and many characters injured and killed, sad death
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: December 16, 2015
Date Released to DVD: March 27, 2016 ASIN: B018FK66TU
Copyright Disney 2015
Copyright Disney 2015

The force is strong in this thrilling new chapter in the story set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Fans will get goosebumps right from the start as the familiar logo and musical theme are followed by a scrolling summary to bring us up to date — without a single mention of a tariff or bureaucratic squabbling. Instead, it has words of near-incantatory power: Luke is missing. Leia is a General. An old ally has provided a clue to Luke’s whereabouts and the best pilot of the rebel forces has been sent to retrieve it.

That pilot is the irresistibly dashing Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, who finally seems on the brink of the superstardom he has long deserved). Like Leia in “A New Hope,” he stashes the information in a droid, the adorable B-88, and then he is captured by stormtroopers representing the dark side of the force.  Now called First Order, it is a group that has risen from the ashes of the Empire and threatens to take over again. And we know they’re evil because they mostly have plummy British accents and when they give speeches they dress like they’re appearing in a Leni Riefenstahl recruiting video.

Stormtroopers are indistinguishable in their white armor and helmets, but in the attack on a civilian village one stands out. He seems dazed and disoriented. He shows compassion for a downed member of his battalion.  After returning to the ship, he is ordered to reprogramming to make sure he will never again fail to carry out an order to kill and destroy.  He decides to run away. He does not know how to fly, but there is a prisoner who happens to be the best pilot of the rebel forces, our new friend Poe.  “Why are you helping me?” Poe asks with understandable suspicion.  “Because it’s the right thing to do.” Our Poe is not fooled.  “You need a pilot,” he wisely responds.

Whatever. They both want to get the heck out of there, and that is good enough for the moment. Plus, the defecting stormtrooper speaks with an American accent (even though he is played by British actor John Boyega), so he must be okay.

Meanwhile, a scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley, yes she has an English accent but is so obviously honorable and kick-ass great that it just sounds elegant, not evil) encounters B-88. And some old friends from the original trilogy show up for call-outs, tributes, and variations on beloved memories.

Co-writer/director J.J. Abrams has a deep understanding and respect for the original characters and themes going back to the very first episode, now chronologically chapter IV and retitled “A New Hope.” He co-wrote this film with Lawrence Kasdan, the screenwriter of Chapter V: “The Empire Strikes Back,” generally considered the strongest in the series.  They seamlessly bring the story forward with new characters who are vital and engaging. The special effects and mechanics are superbly designed and the action is brilliantly staged.

I wish I could tell you more but I can’t spoil the wonderful surprises, so just let me just say that this is the “Star Wars” you’ve been looking for. Be sure to check out the deleted scenes and other extras on the splendid DVD/Blu-Ray

Parents should know that this movie has extensive sci-fi peril and violence with many characters injured and killed and a very sad death. There are issues of totalitarianism, loss, and betrayal.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Finn have a name? How are Ren and Hux different? Who do you think Rey’s parents are?

If you like this, try: the original “Star Wars” trilogy

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