Top Gun: Maverick

Posted on May 16, 2022 at 8:00 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and some strong languag
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, scenes in bar
Violence/ Scariness: Extended intense military peril and action
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 24, 2022
Date Released to DVD: November 1, 2022

Copyright 2022 Paramount
I’m happy to report that “Top Gun: Maverick” is everything a fan could hope for. It is exciting, it is endearing, it just about blows kisses at the fans, and it is guaranteed to make many new ones. You want to start right off with Kenny Loggins singing about the danger zone! You’ve got it. You want hot guys with their shirts off playing some sort of ball game on the beach! Happy to provide. You want to see Tom Cruise on his motorcycle? There it is. (No helmet though, not too happy about that.) You want to see him run very fast? Well, sorry about that. JK it’s a Tom Cruise movie, of course he is going to run and no one runs like Tom Cruise runs. You want to see some very cool and intense action in the sky, shot with lenses specifically developed for this movie? Of course you will. You want to see complex characters and believable plot lines? Oh, come on, no you don’t!

Maverick (Tom Cruise) is still the same break-the-rules hotshot he was 36 years ago. We see him working on his old plane as we hear Kenny Loggins sing. And once again (there will be a lot of “once agains” in this movie) he is in trouble for taking risks and ignoring orders. Just as before, over the objections of his commanding officer (a brief appearance by Ed Harris), he is being sent to Top Gun, the San Diego-based training facility for elite Navy fliers. He has a friend and protector fans of the original film will be glad to see again, Val Kilmer as Iceman, now an admiral.

Maverick is needed to train the best of the best of the best for an impossible real-life mission, taking out a nuclear weapons facility in the Mideast before the arrival of uranium in three weeks, when bombs would release radiation. Instead of describing the “two miracles” necessary for blowing up the construction site, I will refer you to “Star Wars: A New Hope,” because it is pretty much the same thing. I half expected one of the pilots to say, “I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home.”

The best of the best of the best have skills, but as we’ve seen, they also have a lot of ego, a lot of adrenaline, and a lot of hyper-competitive posturing. Just to make this throwback even throwback-ier, there’s a special blast from the past. Many movies have what is called a DBTA, which stands for Dead by Third Act, a character whose only role in the story is to give the main character a death to mourn and learn from. So it has to be someone we in the audience connect to as well. Goose in “Top Gun” is the quintessential DBTA. As soon as he plays “Great Balls of Fire” on the piano with his wife (Meg Ryan) and toddler son, we know he is too adorable to make it to the end of the story. That toddler son is now one of the best of the best of the best, call sign Rooster (Miles Teller), and he has a huge amount of resentment toward Maverick.

If Rooster is the new Maverick, impulsive and abrupt, then the new Iceman is the terrific Glen Powell as Hangman, careful and by the book. Maverick has to prepare the young pilots for the impossible mission while his exasperated immediate superior officer (Jon Hamm) does his best to get in the way.

The original film had a reference to some trouble Maverick got into with an admiral’s daughter named Penny. She shows up in this film as a single mom who owns the local bar and is played by Jennifer Connelly with grace and wit.

Speaking of “Star Wars,” there is also a Yoda-esque theme with Maverick stressing the importance of intuition and the human being more important than the gizmos, even a touch of the old fable of John Henry being faster than the machine. And some of the plot developments in the last half hour are near-ridiculous. That is less important than what works in the film, outstanding cinematography, editing, action, romance, terrific performances from a collection of young performers, and of course full-on movie star Tom Cruise, clearly having a blast.

Parents should know that this film has intense military action with dogfights and bombs. Characters drink and use strong language and there are sexual references and a non-explicit sexual situation.

Family discussion: If you were Penny, what rules would you adopt in the bar? Are you more like Hangman or Rooster?

If you like this, try: “Top Gun” and the “Mission: Impossible” movies and check out these thoughts on the movie from an air combat expert

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Drama DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Romance Series/Sequel

Alita: Battle Angel

Posted on February 14, 2019 at 5:36 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi/fantasy peril and violence, knives, guns, chases, many characters injured and killed, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: February 15, 2019
Date Released to DVD: July 22, 2019
Copyright 2018 20th Century Fox

The most surprising achievement of “Alita: Battle Angel,” a (mostly) live action version of a story that was originally a cyberpunk manga series of graphic novels and then an anime feature, is that somehow producer James Cameron and director Robert Rodriguez managed to make the main characters anime-style eyes a lot less weird than I expected.

The title character (Rosa Salazar Rosa Salazar) is a young female cyborg with Keane-style manga eyes, so the uncanny valley risk of her look being distracting and disorienting. But it turned out to be easy to adjust to it and almost immediately I was immersed in the dazzling world of the film and caught up in the action. Cameron (“Terminator,” “Avatar,” “Titanic”) and Rodriguez (“Sin City,” “Desperado,” “From Dusk til Dawn”) are both visual masters. The world they have created is immersive and wildly imaginative and the action scenes are staged are dynamic and compelling. There’s heart to it as well, with an appealing heroine who brings us along with her as she sorts through the moral quandaries of this brutal environment, showing herself more human than the humans.

It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which the reduced population of Earth lives on what is essentially a planet-sized junk pile. A small group of wealthy elites live on a city suspended above earth like a gigantic Macy’s Thanksgiving parade balloon, as in the Matt Damon film “Elysium.” Everyone else just scrounges, scrambles, or battles for whatever they can.

Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) does what he can to help, replacing damaged body parts with sophisticated mechanical prostheses, many of the parts found through scavenging. Searching through rubble one day he finds a mangled treasure, the head and part of the torso of a cyborg girl. He brings her home and gives her arms and legs that look like they are made of delicately carved antique ivory. Their relationship recalls Geppetto and Pinocchio. He is the fond father of an adopted child that is very much his own creation. And as we will learn, the reason he had those lovingly prostheses ready is that he created them for a child who died before he could help her. Alita may be his second chance.

But Alita is not a little girl. As her memory comes back slowly, she becomes the warrior she was designed to be. She remembers her fighting skills first. Then some of the other details of her past begin to come back. She remembers that she fights and how she fights and something of why she fights though she is not as clear on where she came from or what her place is in the world.

A man named Vector (Mahershala Ali) and his physician colleague Cherin (Jennifer Connelly) run a lethal high-speed roller derby that is a “Hunger Games”-style form of Darwinian survival of the fittest entertainment and commerce — and a cover for some less public but more deadly activities. The other major economic enterprise of this society seems to be bounty hunting (including characters played by Ed Skrein and Jackie Earle Haley) and chop shops for mechanical prostheses. One person involved is Hugo (Keean Johnson), who has to re-think what he has been doing when he finds himself falling for someone he might not have considered human before he looked into those big, big eyes.

Parents should know that this movie includes extended sci-fi/fantasy peril, action, and violence, many characters injured and killed, disturbing images, guns, chases, explosions, some strong language, and kisses.

Family discussion: What does Dr. Ido want for Alita? Why did Chiren respond so differently to the death of her daughter?

If you like this, try: The “Star Wars” movies, “Speed Racer,” and “Jupiter Ascending”

Related Tags:

 

3D Action/Adventure Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel DVD/Blu-Ray Fantasy movie review Movies -- format Science-Fiction

Noah

Posted on March 27, 2014 at 8:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Disturbing images, peril, chaos, characters injured and killed, dead bodies, violence, attacks, sexual assaults, girls sold into slavery
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 28, 2014
Date Released to DVD: July 28, 2014
Amazon.com ASIN: B00JBGWP3Y

Noah_poster“Noah” is a serious, thoughtful, reverent movie that, like its title character, wrestles with the big issues of morality, survivor guilt, and strengthening a connection to the divine.  It is also a big, grand adventure with drama and special effects.  It should satisfy believers, seekers, and those who just want an exciting story, well told.

Writer/director Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”) shows us a Noah (Russell Crowe) who struggles to be a good man and do as God wants. Only ten generations from Adam and Eve, he is haunted by the stories of the Fall and Cain’s murder of his brother. When he was a boy, he witnessed the murder of his own father at the hand of the brutal leader of the descendants of Cain (Ray Winstone as Tubal-Cain). Now, he tries to protect his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and three sons from the marauders.

Noah lives lightly on the earth, gently chiding his son for picking a flower because that interfere with its work of spreading seeds. He and his family do not eat animals; they respect the innocence of all creatures, unlike Tubal-Cain who defines himself as someone who takes without regard for anything but his own urges and lust for power.

Noah is filled with an ominous sense that he is receiving omens and seeks the advice of his mystic of a grandfather, Methuselah (Sir Anthony Hopkins).   He begins to understand that he is commanded by The Creator to build an ark and collect the animals of the earth and to preserve them in the coming storm that will wipe out all of life on Earth.  He will be helped in this by The Watchers, fallen angels who were once pure light but are now punished for their mistakes by being imprisoned in enormous bodies of mud and rock.

As Auden reminds us, the grand, sweeping events of the world do not happen purely.  They occur in the midst of human lives that are messy and imperfect.  While Noah struggles to follow the will of The Creator, he has to deal with problems at home.  Ila (Emma Watson), a girl Noah and his family rescued after her entire community was slaughtered by Tubal-Cain, is loved by Noah’s son, Shem (“Romeo & Juliet’s” Douglas Booth), who loves her, too.  But due to her injuries, she cannot have children, and she does not want to keep him from being a father and creating a new generation.  Ham (Logan Lerman of “Percy Jackson”) is furious that there is no prospect of a wife and family for him.

And then there is Tubal-Cain, used to taking whatever he wants.  He will do anything to stay alive through the flood and become king of whatever the world will be afterward.   And he senses that Ham may be susceptible to joining him.

We rarely see Bible stories told with such artistry and power.  The acting is superb and the special effects are well done.  The big moments, the flood, the omens, the Watchers, the thousands of animals moving inexorably toward the ark, are all handled with meaning and import.  When Noah tells his family one of the few stories that they have in this still-new human world, the story of creation, we feel the nothingness that was before.  Story-telling itself becomes a way to shape the world and form an understanding of patterns, purpose, and meaning.

Men wind a snakeskin around their arms in the earliest of rituals and prayers and we see the flicker of what would become a daily observance for Orthodox Jews over the millennia through the present, the phylactery leather strips that men use in their morning prayers.  We are reminded that this is a time before Jesus and before Abraham, when there was no organized religion and no established set of beliefs and practices.  There is not even the word “God.”  It is just “Creator.”

The innocence and the impulse to reach out toward the heavens are very moving.  So is the way that Noah grapples with what today we might call survivor guilt or PTSD.  And he struggles to find his better angels.  Tubal-Cain is not just a man who wants to fight him; he is that part of Noah himself that is all lower urges toward flesh and power, the impulse to trap and smash and to break laws even in a world where laws have not been established.

While some viewers and some who have not even seen the film have objected to this portrayal (or, in the case of strictly Muslim groups, any portrayal of a religious figure), most should see this film as an eternal story well told in a manner that is itself a form of worship in prompting us to think more profoundly about our own choices and connections.

Parents should know that this film includes epic/Biblical violence including murder, battles, flood, some disturbing images, parent killed in front of child, character trampled to death, discussion of infanticide, some disturbing images, non-explicit sexual situation, and childbirth.

Family discussion: Why did the two groups of humans develop so differently? What should Noah have done about Na’el? Why did he separate from the family after the flood?

If you like this, try: “The Fountain” and “Pi” by the same director and Biblical-era classics like “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments”

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Epic/Historical

Winter’s Tale

Posted on February 13, 2014 at 6:00 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Supernatural and crime-style violence, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: February 14, 2014

Winters-Tale-Movie“Winter’s Tale,” based on the acclaimed novel by Mark Helprin is deeply romantic but also pretty daffy. There are exquisite images and some grand themes but also some clangers, some murky mishmash in the set-up, poorly designed special effects, and one badly botched miscasting that throws everything out of whack.

The exquisite images are not hard to come by with Colin Farrell along with “Downton Abbey’s” Lady Sybil, Jessica Brown Findley with auburn hair that makes her look like a pre-Raphealite dream, and a white horse who looks like he should be pulling Cinderella’s coach.  The setting feels like a fairy tale, too, first turn of the 20th century Manhattan and then a fabulous snow-covered mansion out in the New York countryside.

Farrell plays Peter Lake, left behind as a baby in America when his immigrant parents were rejected for health reasons and sent back to Ireland.  They put him in a model boat with the nameplate “City of Justice” and set him off toward the shore.  When we meet him, he is a thief, formerly allied with a brutal, scar-faced crime boss named Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe).  Everyone has very literary names in this story except for the horse, who is called Athansor in the book but here is just known as Horse even though, according to one character, he is really a dog.

Now Soames is determined to kill Lake.  Rescued once by a mysterious white horse, Lake knows he has to get out of town.  He goes on one last expedition to steal enough to pay for his journey.  When he is ready to leave just before dawn, the horse refuses to budge.  Lake sees the family leaving a luxurious townhouse and decides to see what he can take.  He has an intuitive skill with mechanics and easily breaks into the safe.

But one member of the family has stayed behind.  Her name is Beverly Penn (Findley) and she is dying of consumption (the 19th century term for tuberculosis).  She has to be surrounded by cold all the time, and the family has gone to the country house ahead of her to prepare a tent for her to sleep in.  Lake steals nothing but her heart, and loses his own in return.  Because she knows she is dying, smaller problems like his being a thief do not really bother her.  “What’s the best thing you’ve ever stolen?” she asks him.  “I’m beginning to think I haven’t stolen it yet.”  Instantly, he knows that his purpose in life is to protect her.

So far, so good, but then the argle bargle about transcending time and everything being connected starts up and it feels like the rules change at random.  Or, at least, that a nearly-800 page book lost big chunks in the translation to the screen by writer-director Akiva Goldsman.  This relationship between Lake and Penn seems to have some grander purpose, which is why Soames is so determined that he must stop it.  He seeks permission from “The Judge,” played by Will Smith.  It’s not entirely Smith’s fault that it is at this point things start to completely fall apart.  The role is poorly conceived and written and he is catastrophically miscast.  Lake ends up getting somehow catapulted into the present day but without his memories.  As he tries to piece things together, the pieces of the movie come apart.  There are way too many fortune cookie-style pronouncements about eternal battles between good and evil, miracles, destiny, and how we are all connected themselves, even a few from the underused Graham Greene who appears briefly just to throw out some deep thoughts about how God, the devil, angels and demons are just “the newer names” for the forces he describes. Penn says, that “the sicker I become, the more clearly I can see that everything is connected by light.”  But by the end, nothing in this movie feels connected to anything.

Parents should know that this film has sexual references and a situation, supernatural and crime violence, some disturbing images and scary surprises, sad death, and brief strong language.

Family discussion:  How are the rules for this world established and why are they important?  What could only Beverly understand as a result of her illness?  

If you like this, try: “Stardust,” “The Adjustment Bureau,” and “The Fountain”

Related Tags:

 

Based on a book Fantasy Movies -- format Romance

9

Posted on December 29, 2009 at 8:00 am

An award-winning animated student film has been turned into a full-length feature with intricately-designed visuals but a story-line that feels stuck together with chewing gum and Scotch tape. Tim Burton protege Shane Acker has proven a better student of the letter of his mentor’s work than the spirit. Burton’s films are macabre, even grotesque. His characters may be haunted (literally or metaphorically), tortured (ditto), or murderous (ditto again), but they are as rich and complex as his strikingly imaginative visuals. Acker permits his images to overwhelm the story and the result is a film that is too dark for children and too thin for anyone else.

9 is a little burlap rag doll (voice of Elijah Wood) come to life who finds eight other doll-creatures who appear to be the only sentient survivors of an apocalypse that has extinguished all living things on earth. They are being stalked by the same murderous machines that wiped out their human creators and the movie’s greatest strength is the design and operation of these contraptions. Indeed, it is impossible not to think that the film is more interested in them than it is in its ostensible heroes.

The story keeps getting in the way of our connecting to the earnest little figures whose quest is murky at first and then undermined by an unsatisfying conclusion. “9” only gets a 6.

Related Tags:

 

Animation Fantasy Science-Fiction
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik