Luca

Posted on June 16, 2021 at 1:55 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for rude humor, language, some thematic elements and brief violence
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and violence
Diversity Issues: Disability issues, diversity a theme of the film
Date Released to Theaters: June 18, 2021

Copyright Disney Pixar 2021
I’ll get to the details in a moment, the story, the characters, the music, the themes, and of course the inevitable Pixar movie question — Will it make you cry? But first, maybe because of the whole cooped up inside the house for more than a year thing, I have to tell you about the sunlight on the water in “Luca,” Pixar’s film set on the coast of Italy. As Carlos Saldanha did with Brazil in “Rio,” director Enrico Casarosa brings us his deep love for the place he grew up, and every moment brims with tender affection for the Mediterranean setting. This movie may not make you cry but for sure it will make you sigh in appreciation. And it has a spit take for the ages.

Luca, voiced by Jacob Tremblay of “Room” and “Wonder,” lives under the sea off the coast of a fishing village called Portorosso. This is not the underwater place of Nemo or Ariel, but its own very distinctive and fully-imagined world. Luca is not a merman or a fish, exactly. He is a young sea monster, the son of loving parents Daniela (Maya Rudolph) and Lorenzo (Jim Gaffigan). He is responsible and well-behaved, herding a school of fish. But like Ariel, he is curious about the world outside the water and wants to learn more about what his family calls “land monster town.” His mother cautions him that it is dangerous. But he meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer of “Shazam”), who shows him that sea monsters turn human when they are out of the water and introduces him to some of the wonders of the human world: sunlight, gravity, music, gelato, and…Vespas. Alberto’s dream is to have a Vespa and explore the world.

The — I’m just going to call them boys — try to build a Vespa on their own. But when they meet a spirited human girl named Giulia (Emma Berman) who tells them about a three-part race with a Vespa as the prize, they join forces. This being Italy, the three parts are: swimming, biking, and eating pasta.

But the five-time previous champion, a bully named Ercole (Saverio Raimondo) will do whatever it takes to win again. A single drop of water turns the boys back into their sea monster form, so when the sky starts leaking, I mean when it rains….well, it’s a challenge. Luca’s parents have taken human form to find him, tossing water on every boy they see.

The voice talent is exceptional, with Tremblay, Grazer, and Berman creating distinctive, endearing characters. A brief betrayal is shocking and dismaying because we are invested in their friendship. The film manages to weave in a number of themes with subtlety and insight as the character navigate their differences, as parents learn to love and let go and friends discover that you can stay friends even if you take different directions. Now excuse me while I put on some Puccini and cook pasta for dinner.

NOTE: Watch the credits for some sketches that continue the story and an extra scene with a character voiced by Sasha Baron Cohen.

Parents should know that this film includes peril and some violence. A disabled character is presented as strong, confident, and capable. A character has divorced parents and divides her time between their homes and another child is abandoned by his parents. Differences and acceptance are a theme of he movie. And while underwater Luca is a protective guardian of fish, somehow on land he has no problem helping Giulia’s father catch a boatful so he can sell them.

Family discussion: When should you say, “Silencio, Bruno!” and when should you listen to “Bruno?” Who in your life is an underdog? What do you do when friends want different things? Why did Alberto tell Luca to leave?

If you like this, try: “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory”

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Eat, Pray, Love

Posted on November 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Here’s a word I never thought I would use about Ryan Murphy: safe. The guy behind the twisted pleasures of the television series “Nip/Tuck” and “Glee” has made sensationally entertaining comedy-dramas about ambition, competition, beauty, and self-expression. He has specialized in creating larger-than-life but still very relatable characters and making us care about them. He has taken big risks and made them work. And now, as co-writer and director of a big-budget movie based on an international best-seller and Oprah-certified sensation, he has decided to play it safe. Instead of a story of anguish and struggle and triumph through pain and work, he has made “Eat Pray Love” into an upbeat tale of self-actualization. This is a movie about a self-obsessed woman who seems to learn that the wisdom of the ancients is that she should be even more self-obsessed. Murphy has taken what was messy and heartfelt and made it neat and cute. And dull. And long.

A movie called “Eat Pray Love” about a woman’s spiritual journey of healing through Italy, India, and Bali should get us started on that journey by the time the opening credits have ended. Instead, we get a half hour of unnecessary and distracting backstory that makes our heroine so self-absorbed and annoying that only the unstoppable appeal of Julia Roberts keeps us from reaching for the remote and then remembering this isn’t the Lifetime Movie Channel.

Roberts plays Elizabeth Gilbert, a writer (in the movie, a playwright, in real life, a journalist), and a woman who has so little sense of who she is and what she wants that she loses herself in relationships and then panics and leaps into another passionate romance. She thinks that makes her feel more alive but in reality it makes her feel — less of everything. She leaves her husband (Billy Crudup) even though he wants to stay married. And then she leaves the boyfriend she found as her marriage was ending (James Franco). And then, finally, she leaves the country.

She begins in Italy, where she studies the language and has raptures over the food. Then she goes to India, for a spiritual retreat at an ashram. And then she goes to Bali, where a shaman once told her that she would have two marriages, one long and one short, that she would lose all of her money, and that she should come back to help him learn English and learn from him about his secrets.

But all of this relies on our being on her side and we have lost some of our enthusiasm for her journey during that first half hour. It would have made much more sense to start with the trip and then give us brief illuminating flashbacks as necessary, as the book did. Instead, incidents that are intended to make us sympathetic backfire, making her come across as selfish, superficial, and disloyal. The flashbacks we do get only muddle things more. We’re asked to believe that her new relationships are healthier than the old ones, but none of them are especially credible or appealing.

Even Roberts’ dazzling smile can’t prevent Gilbert from coming across as an insensitive American dilettante, expecting everything to happen when and where she wants it. When the shaman tells her she must hand copy his books, the woman who is supposed to thoroughly understand meditation practice does not realize that the experience of putting in that work is what he wants her to do; she thinks it is fine to run off to the local photocopier. She also thinks it is fine to abandon her commitment to meet with him every day for a two-week frolic. The entire notion of discipline and mindfulness and responsibility never seems to come through to her. Events from the book occur but without any sense of the meaning or context. One of the incidents is unforgivably distorted to make what was in real life a learning experience for Gilbert about the limits of understanding and control into yet another American-saves-the-day story.

And it lurches from safe to soporific with over-used and predictable music choices. How did the man who created a mash-up for “Glee” of “Smile” songs from Charlie Chaplin and Lily Allen think that the moment our heroine starts to feel comfortable on her own should be underscored with the all-but-inevitable “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” from Sly and the Family Stone? And “Heart of Gold,” really? Really? Kool and the Gang and “Celebration?” This is greeting card commercial stuff. And then something that makes no sense at all. You’re in Italy, you want to play some opera, I get it. But why a German opera? You’re in Italy!

Elizabeth (the character) accuses one of the characters of speaking in bumper stickers but that is pretty much what this whole movie is, completely undermining the notion of the real work involved in what she is attempting. The emphasis on forgiving oneself instead of repairing the damage is cringe-inducing. The book allowed Gilbert (the author) to come to grips with failure and ambiguity, but the movie resorts to easy answers and convenient resolutions. At the risk of sounding like a bumper sticker myself, convenient resolutions on screen are inconvenient and unsatisfying for the audience because they don’t ring true.

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Letters to Juliet

Posted on September 14, 2010 at 8:56 am

Two bad signs. One is when you spend the entire movie thinking that a couple of Google searches would have made it possible for everyone in the story to save a week’s effort and everyone in the audience about an hour of viewing time. Another is when the B couple is twice as interesting as the A couple and sets off ten times the romantic electricity.

But the Italian scenery is very pretty.

Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is a fact-checker for the New Yorker who dreams of being a writer but is too insecure to insist on a chance. She and her restaurateur fiance Victor (Gael García Bernal) go to Italy on a pre-wedding vacation, but he gets caught up in work and leaves her on her own to explore.

In Verona, best known as the setting for “Romeo and Juliet” and the real-life story that inspired it, Sophie finds that a small group of women gather up the letters left in Juliet’s wall by lovers looking for help. And then they write answers providing sympathy and guidance. She finds a letter that had been inside the wall for 50 years, from an English girl who lost her nerve and went home instead of meeting the boy she loved to run away with him. And she decides to answer it.

The letter-writer turns out to be Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), who arrives in Verona with her grandson, inspired by Sophie’s letter to try to find the man she left behind half a century before.

Can Sophie come along? Can this be the story that will move her from fact-checker to writer? Is Claire’s grandson, who initially appeared to be so arrogant and unlikeable, in fact a hottie and a sweetie? Will someone end up on a balcony? Naturalmente, senza dubbio!

Redgrave is radiant as the woman who is hoping for a romantic miracle. Claire never stopped loving the boy she met in Italy but she did not let her regret interfere with a life of purpose and loving relationships. Still, the encouragement from Sophie’s letter has her hoping for a miracle — that she can find her lost love and that he still cares for her. Redgrave shows us Claire’s resolve and her vulnerability, her practicality and her optimism. She is pure magic and she makes us want to see Claire find some magic, too.

But she is so good that she casts a spotlight on the weaknesses of the rest of the movie. Her grandson Charlie (a bland Christopher Egan) is rude and dull. Of course the first thing he will do on accompanying his grandmother to Verona is take time out to track down Sophie so he can yell at her. Yes, we like to see lovers begin with antagonism so we can enjoy the delicious moment when they make a deep connection and have to admit to themselves that they like each other. But the antagonism is so arbitrary it makes Charlie unlikeable. And that moment? They smash ice cream cones into each other’s faces. That doesn’t exactly get us rooting for them to get together. Too much in the movie makes too little sense. Why do they have to drive around to ask dozens of men with the same name whether they are the one? Why is Bernal playing such a stock character (and yet still showing more chemistry with Seyfried than Egan)? Why, why, does there have to be a last-minute fake-out to drag things out further?

Juliet, if you’re out there, I’d welcome a letter in reply.

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A Room With a View

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Plot: Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) arrives in Italy with her strait-laced aunt Charlotte (Maggie Smith). Disappointed at not getting the room with a view they had been promised when making their reservations at the inn, they are not sure whether it is proper to accept the offer of Mr. Emerson (Denholm Elliot) and his son George (Julian Sands), staying at the same inn, to switch rooms so they may have a view after all. Reassured by the clergyman, Mr. Beebe (Simon Callow), they agree.

Later, out in the countryside, George impetuously kisses Lucy, and her aunt, horrified, whisks her back to England. There, Lucy is engaged to Cecil, a prissy man, who likes Lucy’s “freshness” and “subtlety,” and kisses her lightly, only after asking her permission. Mr. Beebe says that “If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays (the piano), it will be very exciting–both for us and for her.” He clearly does not think the engagement to Cecil is evidence that she has.

The Emersons move into a cottage near the Honeychurch family, invited by Cecil, who does not realize that Lucy knows them. Lucy is distressed, partly because she wanted two elderly ladies she met in Italy to live there, and partly because having George so near is disturbing to her. She does her best to resist her attraction to him and to the passionate reality that he offers, but ultimately breaks the engagement to Cecil, marries George, and returns with him to the room with a view.

Discussion: Lush natural settings have a powerful affect on fictional characters, especially those in love, or wanting to fall in love. In Shakespeare, lovers go to the woods to straighten things out. In the British literature of the 19th and early 20th century, they often go to Italy, which represents freedom from repression, with “Enchanted April” and this film as prime examples. The wheat field where George kisses Lucy is in sharp contrast to the manicured lawns of the Honeychurch home, as the precise and cerebral Cecil is in contrast to the passionate George.

This is a movie about having the courage to face one’s feelings, and to risk intimacy, fully knowing and being known by another person. George never hesitates to take that risk. Cecil, sensitively played by Daniel Day-Lewis as a full character and not a caricature of a fop, has feelings but will never be able to “take to live as (he) plays.” Clearly, he does care deeply for Lucy, but he does not have the passionate nature to respond to hers fully, as George does. As George says, Cecil “is the sort who can’t know anyone intimately, least of all a woman,” someone who wants Lucy as an ornament, perhaps to enjoy her passionate nature by proxy, not realizing that his own proximity is likely to stifle it. George wants Lucy “to have ideas and thoughts and feelings, even when I hold you in my arms.”

Questions for Kids:

· Mr. Emerson refers to a “Yes! And a Yes! And a Yes” at the “side of the Everlasting Why.” What does this mean?

· What leads Lucy to break her engagement to Cecil? What leads her to accept her feelings for George?

· What is the meaning of the title?

Connections: Some of the themes of this movie are reminiscent of movies like “I Know Where I’m Going,” “Born Yesterday,” “Sabrina,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “It Happened One Night,” and others in which the leading lady ends up marrying someone other than the man she planned to marry, choosing true love and intimacy over comfort and a relationship that seemed safer.

Activities: Teenagers might enjoy the book by E.M. Forster, and some of his other books, including Howard’s End.

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