Incredibles 2

Posted on June 14, 2018 at 5:49 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action sequences and some brief mild language
Profanity: Schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action/superhero peril and violence, gun, sad (offscreen) murder of parent
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 15, 2018
Date Released to DVD: November 5, 2018
Copyright Disney Pixar 2018

Brad Bird knows that all families are pretty incredible, and his movies about the family of superheroes reminds us that we know it, too. The writer/director of “The Incredibles” and this sequel, “Incredibles 2” (there’s a lot going on, so this title is streamlined and has no room for an extraneous “the”) took 14 years and it was worth the wait. We are glad to be back in the world of the super-family, though for many of us, our favorite character is still super-suit designer Edna Mode (voiced by Bird himself). Edna’s comment is really the theme of the film: “Parenting done right is really a heroic act.”

One of the best ideas in the original was giving each family member a heightened version of the real-life superpowers we see in all families. The dad is Bob, otherwise known as super-strong Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson). Mom is Helen, who is always stretched in a million different directions, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter). The middle school daughter, Violet (Sarah Vowell) is invisible, because middle school is such a fraught time that many kids either think they are invisible or wish they were. And her younger brother is super-fast Dash (Huck Milner). There’s also a baby named Jack-Jack, who in the last film had not developed any superpowers yet, but in this sequel makes up for lost time with at least 17 of them.

We begin right where the first film left off. Even though they just saved the day, superheroes are still outlawed by a government that considers them too much of a risk. Violet has finally been noticed by the boy she likes. And a new super-villain, The Underminer, has attacked the town.

The Incredibles save the day, but it does not change the law. “Politicians don’t understand people who do good only because they think it right.” Even the secret government program to keep the superheroes saving the day is shut down.  The Incredible family has no place to go…until a pair of siblings who head up a huge corporation make them an offer.  They think they can persuade the government to change the law, but first Elastigirl — and only Elastigirl — will have to come with them.

The movie’s funniest moments come when Bob is left behind with the kids.  He may be able to lift a locomotive, but new math is an entirely different problem.  And Jack Jack’s new powers start popping out like jumping beans.  The concept of baby-proofing a house takes on a whole new meaning when it isn’t the baby you’re trying to protect. It’s the house that needs protection when a baby has laser beam eyes, invisibility, and a mode that can only be described as fire-breathing gorgon.  He may not be able to walk or talk yet, but a raccoon who won’t leave the yard will be very sorry about making that mistake.

Meanwhile, Elastigirl is happy to be using her powers again, but she misses her family, even when she gets a call about Dash’s missing shoes in the middle of a mission.  Of course a new villain is going to challenge the whole family, their old friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and a delightful new group of oddball superheroes. The action scenes are as thrillingly staged as all of the “Fast/Furious” films put together, the mid-century-inspired production design is sensationally sleek and space age, especially the house the Incredibles borrow. Some serious and timely issues are touched on lightly but meaningfully, including immigration, how to respond to laws you consider unfair, opting for “ease over quality” in consumer goods, and spending too much time on screens with not enough connection to people. The villain, once revealed, seems a bit patched together, however, as though there was some re-writing done over the 14-year gestation period that never got fully resolved. But there is plenty of comedy and lots of heart in a story that truly is incredible.  Please don’t make us wait until 14 years for the next one.

DVD Extras include concept art and a new feature about Edna Mode.

NOTE: Pixar continues its track record for making parents in the audience cry, this time even before the feature begins. The short cartoon before “Incredibles 2” is the story of a mom who just is not ready for her son to grow up and, I’m sorry, I must have something in my eye.

Parents should know that this movie includes an offscreen murder of a parent with a gun, extended action/superhero peril and violence, characters mesmerized and forced to obey, and brief mild language.

Family discussion:  Which is more important, selling or designing? When should you be a cynic and when should you be a believer?  What are your core beliefs?

If you like this, try: “The Incredibles,” “Monsters vs. Aliens,” “Inside Out,” and “Sky High”

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The Big Sick

Posted on June 22, 2017 at 5:53 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language including some sexual references
Profanity: Strong and explicit language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Very serious illness
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 24, 2017
Date Released to DVD: September 25, 2017
Copyright Amazon 2017

The more specific the story, the more universal. This is a very specific story. Indeed, you are unlikely ever again to see a romantic comedy with one of the pair spending half of the film in a coma. And that is not the couple’s biggest obstacle. Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”), plays a character named Kumail Nanjiani in a story based on his relationship to Emily V. Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan and called Emily Gardiner in the film), who is now his wife and the co-screenwriter of the smart, touching, heartfelt and very funny film. It is beautifully directed by Michael Showalter, as always unsurpassed in meticulous casting of even the smallest roles.

Real-life Nanjiani and his movie alter ego are Pakistani immigrants from traditional families. Every time he visits his parents for dinner, an unmarried Pakistani woman “happens to drop in.” They have made it very clear that they expect him to marry a woman who is Pakistani and Muslim. Gordon is neither; she is white and from North Carolina. Just after they break up because he could not say that they could have a future together, she suddenly becomes critically ill and is placed in a medically induced coma.  He gets the call when she is hospitalized and has to be the one to call her parents. He meets them for the first time in the hospital waiting room, where they are understandably frosty (he broke their daughter’s heart) and preoccupied (she’s in a coma).

They would rather that he not be there. And his parents find out that he has not been honest with them and they tell him they cannot accept his feelings for Emily. So, in the second half of the movie there is another kind of love story, about the love between parents and their children and the partners their children choose.

It is also a story about a man learning to be honest with himself about who he is and what he wants. What lifts this out of the recent glut of arrested development movies is its compassion for all parties (the film nicely acknowledges that Nanjiani’s brother has a very successful and satisfying marriage arranged the traditional way and presents as one of the candidates a woman so seemingly perfect for him that we almost root for her) and Nanjiani’s thoughtful, self-deprecating but confident performance. The best stand-up comics mine their own lives for material, with observations that make us see our own lives, and especially our follies and irrationalities, in sharper relief — that’s relief in both senses of the word.

Best of all, the movie itself is proof that they lived happily ever after.

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language, sexual references and non-explicit situations, family conflict, and very serious illness.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Kumail tell Emily about his family’s concerns? How should you decide what traditions to keep and which ones to leave behind?

If you like this, try: “Ruby Sparks” (also with Kazan, who wrote the screenplay) and “50-50” with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, also based on a true story

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Interview: David Gordon Green, Director of “Manglehorn”

Posted on July 7, 2015 at 3:32 pm

Copyright IFC Films 2015
Copyright IFC Films 2015

David Gordon Green has directed intimate, natural dramas (“George Washington,” “All the Real Girls”) and wild comedies (“Pineapple Express,” “Eastbound and Down”). His new film, “Manglehorn,” is a gentle story with magical realism elements, starring Al Pacino as the title character, a lonely small-town locksmith who is still mourning a long-lost love. Holly Hunter plays a sympathetic bank teller and Chris Messina is his estranged son. I spoke to Green about

It seems to me that in all of your movies I have seen, the characters are most themselves and freest when they are outdoors.

Yeah that would be me in a nutshell. It’s nice to start with a character you know in a suit. For me it’s always interesting to take a step back and see where they are in their environment and open the cameras a little bit.

What is the significant of Manglehorn’s profession?

Actually, the movie was originally going to be a children’s movie and I kind of started with the idea of thinking of him as some sort of fairytale character. Make him like a toy maker a wood cutter. But then I was getting the locks changed on my house and there was this locksmith shop about two blocks away that was kind of an amazing wonderful place. Watching them at work, I thought, ‘Why don’t we just shoot it here and have it take place here?’ Now the story that we’re going to sell is about a kind of unlikely character to follow with an old school profession, an old school craftsman and then the location is really spoke to me, so I thought we should get out there to do a little training on the keys and it worked out really nicely for us.

Chris Messina is always excellent and I really liked his performance in this film.

Well, I created it for him. He and Al had worked together years before and knew each other and there was a time when there was a little friction between them. And so when Chris told me the story and I thought he would be perfect for the son. I could use that. So they hadn’t seen each other in years when we were filming the dining room scene. I made sure that we hadn’t rehearsed. I just wanted them to jump right in and use this strange dynamic they had in their personal life. Since then they have become great friends again. It was just nice to have a sense of history between two really talented actors that I could use as a another layer within the context of the film.

Three of your actors are also directors: Messina, Pacino, and Harmony Korine. What was that like?

It couldn’t be a more pleasurable, creative, and inspiring environment on set. Usually, I like to work fast and shoot quick and I don’t like a lot of standing around but on this movie between lighting sets and things like that it was just amazing to just be able to sit around with those guys and hear the stories of their careers and professional lives.  When they had ideas, they would say that we could do the movie this way and challenge each other to not make it fall into a formula. There’s nothing standard about the way we shot the movie and edited the movie. We tried to be organic to its own strange, organic beast.
What do the costumes tell us about the characters?

Jill Newell is the costume designer that I use on most of my films.  She had the great idea of basically Al’s character as a black and white character in a very colorful world. Holly Hunter or even some of the production design were in turquoise and pastels and pinks and then we have Al in heavy fabrics, outfits of brown and grey, black and white. Try to keep him as monochromatic as possible.  And then, on occasion, bring out the purple pants, but in couple scenes of kind of emotional significance where he’ll be wearing purple and I thought that was really cool way to design these characters.

Holly Hunter is lovely in the film, warm and vulnerable.

I always loved Holly as an actress.  I guess she first got on my radar with “Raising Arizona.”  She always brightens up a movie. She has that voice and that smile. Actually, it’s not really her smile it’s the way she tries to hide her smile I find really endearing.  I sat down and talked to her about the character and she got insane ideas. I mean I loved that she was adding these details. Like she brought these pictures of her holding her pets when she was pregnant and we ended up putting them in our movie. Al goes into her bathroom when he is visiting her in the home and he goes into the bathroom and he picks up these pictures and I just thought, “What an interesting choice that an actress would have that there was this point in this lonely character’s life when she was pregnant.”   We don’t hear about her children or any other relationship and she went on a date with this guy and I was like, “So Holly, what does this mean?” And she’s like, “It means everything.” I just thought that there’s strange sadness and beauty in those type of ideas. And so if I could find somebody that brings that animated physicality and positivity with the expression on her face I know creatively she is going to be very challenging, bringing a layered, emotional depth. It was a great opportunity to work with one of my favourites.

Both of those characters really had experiences loss and a sense of isolation both of them really bonded with their pets and yet they reacted in very different ways. 

Pets are the elements of our life that don’t hold a grudge. They are forgiving. They’re there at the door for us, if we had a good day or a bad day. They’re not bringing us down. They’re there to lift us up and they don’t need much from us.  I think Manglehorn, whether it’s his granddaughter or his cat, they are these creatures of the world that challenge him.  They don’t get a vote but at the same time create who we are and how we look at our day.

Tell me about Manglehorn.

I’m sure that you know people who you love more than anyone and sometimes they’re the ones that are most challenging but are also the most rewarding. And I have a couple of friends that I have to justify that if I was going to introduce them to other circles of friends I would be like, “Just so you know guys, he tells it like he sees it. Don’t actually listen to him. He comes across as harsh; there is no polite laughter at your jokes.” But when you get to know them you find very rich, rewarding emotion inside them and so I think that’s what Manglehorn is. He’s the guy that lives down the street that weirdo man that ignores you. But there is an incredible heart.  If you’re willing to do the work, you’re going to find something within him that you can’t find in everyday love.

Letting Al loose was a amazing. He is a great technician so he shows up to set in character and if the character is going to have a difficult day, he shows up and he’s feeling the rock in his shoes you know as he’s coming in the set. I think that is an amazing attribute.  You’re connecting to the reality of the person rather than someone who just snaps into character. And we rehearsed a lot and worked out the script for months beforehand, every nuance of it. So there is always a sense of control but after three takes we always say, “Throw the script away and do whatever you want. As long as it feels right.”  We get a lot pretty inspiring elements that you can bring to the table when it wasn’t still engineered, when it was just left to the raw emotional instinct.

Like that story he tells.  That’s a real story. It came from the writer and we wrote it down and Al said, “I want to read that story in the morning and I don’t want to be worried about the technicality of it because I feel it very closely, so let me just know the storyline.”  For me it’s about finding something real, with naturalistic nuances and imperfections.

You included a very graphic scene of veterinary surgery.

I just wanted to show how difficult these types of operations are.  They are very gruesome illustrations of love. Like intercutting the very awkward, hard to watch connection between two people flirting over a bank teller counter. At the same time we’re showing veteran’s commitment to the life and wellbeing of an animal.  Both of which are hard to watch for very different reasons. And the surgery wasn’t even in the script. It was our technical consultant veterinarian, Dr. McLeod. His warmth and obsession with animals’ wellbeing and health was actually so powerful, it was funny.  When he told me about it he just showed me such joy, I saw the love of medicine and the love of science that was exuberant in this guy.  There is nothing we can do more powerful than actually hearing the joy and seeing the difficulty that people not in the medical field turn away from or shut our eyes to but know this is a miracle. I think it’s cool to challenge the viewer and challenge myself.

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