When You Finish Saving the World

Posted on January 19, 2023 at 6:00 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Wine, teenage drug use
Violence/ Scariness: References to domestic abuse
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: January 20, 2023

Credit: Beth Garrabrant Copyright 2022 !24
Jesse Eisenberg’s first feature film as writer and director is reminiscent of his breakthrough performance in Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale.” They are both stories of teenagers beginning to understand themselves and their parents a little better through some of the inevitable painful discoveries of adolescence.

“Stranger Things'” Finn Wolfhard plays Ziggy, a high school student who is very proud of the 20 thousand fans worldwide who tune in to hear his weekly live streaming performances. He sings original songs he describes as “folk rock with alternative influences” and thanks them for their comments and tips in their native languages.

Ziggy lives with his parents, the reserved, bookish Roger (Jay O. Sanders) and the slightly formal and sardonic Grace (Julianne Moore), director of a shelter for women and children who are survivors of domestic abuse.

Both Ziggy and Grace make efforts to connect to new people. Abused wife Angie (Eleonore Hendricks, creating a character of great specificity and depth in her brief scenes) and her teenage son Kyle (Billy Bryk) arrive at the shelter after police intervention, and Grace is touched by Kyle’s empathy and support for his mother. She becomes over-involved in trying to help him, perhaps displacing her feelings out of frustration with Ziggy. When she brings him on errands and sees him warmly speaking Spanish with one of the shelter’s former residents, she abruptly insists on leaving. She encourages Kyle to apply to college, which makes Angie feel threatened.

And Ziggy is drawn to a girl at school. Her name is Lila (a wonderfully charismatic Alisha Boe). He awkwardly tries to impress her with his live streaming success, but sees that what she cares about is activism on behalf of social justice and the environment. He has no idea how to approach her, and his awkward attempts will be painfully familiar to anyone who has survived adolescence.

There are three kind of music in the film, perhaps three and a half. The first is the light, electronic tune played for us in the audience to establish the tone. The rest are diegetic, the music played and listened to by the characters. Grace favors classical music which she plays in the car. She listens to Bizet’s “Carmen” when she drives Ziggy to school, refusing when he asks her to play anything else. Ziggy plays his original songs on an acoustic guitar, at first about his feelings but then, as he using Lila’s poem about colonialism and exploitation of the Marshall Islands for lyrics.

Eisenberg’s screenplay, based on his Audible book, is thoughtful with an actor’s sensitivity to tone and character, with impeccable casting choices. He knows that he can tell us as much by having Ziggy and Kyle pass each other at school or by the Ziggy he walks down the same sidewalk at different times in the story as he does with Ziggy’s painfully awkward attempts to tell Lila how “lit” and “terra” she is. Moore, as Grace finally watching Ziggy’s songs on YouTube, gives another of her gorgeous performances, with so much going on underneath Grace’s air of righteousness, a sense of loss of the closeness she had to Ziggy as a child, exhaustion over the overwhelming difficulties of the people at the shelter. Some parts of the story do not quite work, but the details are thoroughly imagined and the performances are thoughtful and involving.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong language, wine, and teen drug use, with references to domestic abuse.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Grace want to listen to Ziggy’s music and what changed her mind? Why didn’t Grace tell the truth about helping Kyle? Why did Ziggy go to the shelter? What should he have said to Lila?

If you like this, try: “The Squid and the Whale” and “The Edge of Seventeen”

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Coming of age Family Issues movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Stories about Teens

Spirit: Untamed

Posted on June 3, 2021 at 5:04 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some adventure action
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Action-style peril, sad offscreen death of parent
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 4, 2021

Copyright DreamWorks 2021
If there’s an aspiring grad student looking for a sociology paper topic, a compare and contrast approach to the original “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,” released in 2002, and 2021’s “Spirit Untamed,” with references to the “Spirit Riding Free” series on Netflix. The original film was hand-drawn and the new version, like the series, is computer-animated. But the gap between the two feature films allows for distinctive evidence of changes in culture as well as technology.

The original film centered on the title character a wild horse captured by cowboys but searching for freedom. He was voiced by Matt Damon. This film, like the Netflix series, is more of a spin-off than a sequel, with another wild horse named Spirit, but the only talking characters are the humans.

In the mid-1800s, a little girl named Lucky (Fortuna to her Spanish-speaking mother, Milagro Navarro, lovingly voiced by Eiza González) is sent to live in the big city with her stern grandfather, a politician who insists that family comes first. Her mother has been killed in an accident performing on horseback, and her grief-stricken father is not able to care for her.

Ten years later, the animal-loving Lucky (voiced by Isabela Merced) manages to disrupt her grandfather’s important political appearance, and so she and her Aunt Cora (Julianne Moore) are packed off to the west, where Lucky’s father Jim (Jake Gyllenhaal) is helping to get the railroad built. Lucky and her father have not seen each other in a decade, but they awkwardly begin to get to know one another until he discovers she has been riding, and forbids her to go anywhere near a horse. The memories of the loss of Lucky’s mother are still too painful.

But Lucky has found Spirit, like the one in the original film a wild horse captured by cowboys and scheduled to be “broken.” Lucky patiently allows Spirit to feel comfortable with her. And nothing Jim says can keep her away from Spirit. She feels they understand each other.

When Lucky learns that Spirit’s family (his herd) is about to be captured and sold by wicked outlaws, she decides to rescue them, with the help of her new friends Pru (Marsai Martin of “Black-ish”) and Abigail (McKenna Grace). To get there in time will require riding their horses over a treacherous trail. But “Prescotts never give up” and Lucky is brave.

This is the best part of the film, as the girls navigate all kinds of danger with courage, loyalty, and good humor. “I rode a horse!” Lucky crows. “Around here we call that holding on for dear life,” one of her friends responds dryly. Co-writer/co-director Elaine Bogan has a perceptive understanding of the vital importance of the P-A-L (the girls’ initials) friendship. While parents will want to remind their children that no one should leave home without letting family know where they’re going and “never give up” does not mean taking unreasonable risks, this is a heartwarming story of human and equine courage and loyalty and a tribute to the wild spirit in both species that seeks adventure and rights wrongs.

Parents should know that this movie includes peril, cruel treatment of animals, very risky behavior by young girls, and the off-screen said death of a parent.

Family discussion: When is it brave to be careful? What adventures do you have with your friends?

If you like this, try: The earlier Spirit film and the Netflix series, and live action films like “The Black Stallion” and “National Velvet”

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Animation movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Series/Sequel Stories About Kids

The Glorias

Posted on September 29, 2020 at 3:13 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for R brief lewd Images and some language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Mental illness, family issues, sad death,
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 30, 2020

Copyright 2020 The Glorias
Director Julie Taymor has created a welcome remix of the standard movie biopic with “The GLorias.” It is spacious at nearly 2 1/2 hours and with four different actresses playing feminist icon Gloria Steinem (with the real Gloria herself appearing briefly at the end). At times Gloria is literally in conversation with herself, a lyrical depiction of the way we reflect on our past and our future.

Like the opening scene, these conversations occur on a bus, a literal and metaphoric representation of the experience of a woman who titled her memoir A Life on the Road. At one point in the film she admits she has spent no more than eight days at a time in her New York apartment, which she hesitates to refer to as her home. Her friends joke about staging an intervention just to get her to furnish it. This goes back to the beginning. There’s a reason she entitled her memoir, the inspiration for this film, My Life on the Road. She says in the book and slightly adapted for the movie, “When people ask me why I still have hope and energy after all these years, I always say: Because I travel. Taking to the road—by which I mean letting the road take you—changed who I thought I was. The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories—in short, out of our heads and into our hearts.”

Taymor brings her remarkable visual style to the film. The scenes on the bus are gray-scale, with flickers of color outside the windows. In a breathtaking moment near the end, the interior of the bus is flooded with color, illuminating the immensely moving commitment to equality and opportunity that continues today. The four actresses portraying Steinem all have a quiet power rooted in empathy and integrity. Alicia Vikander plays her as a young women, told in her first interview for a job in journalism that only men write for the publication; women do research. She gets the editor to let her write, but when she asks to write a profile of the mayor of NY, he suggests she write about his wife. She goes undercover as a Playboy bunny waitress in the Playboy Club, but her expose (which did lead to the end of the practice of requiring the women to have gynecological exams in order to work there) made her colleagues think of her as a bunny, not an investigative journalist.

Her two great loves, writing and dancing, were both forms of communication without having to speak, a therapist tells her. But if the media would not allow her to write about the women’s movement (“What movement?” her editor asks), she would have to become its voice. Julianne Moore takes over as the older Steinem, and the film gracefully exemplifies one of the movement’s most-repeated slogans, “The personal is political,” as it weaves together key moments and characters on and off stage. Bette Midler and Lorraine Toussaint have just the right snap as Bella Abzug and Flo Kennedy. And Vikander and Moore bring great warmth to the role of a woman whose strengths were quieter.

The film achieves what is most likely Steinem’s greatest hope; it is both inspirational and reassuring in illuminating a path forward to a more just and inclusive world, and a powerful reminder that the most important ingredient for achieving it is to listen.

Parents should know that this film includes a brief crude caricature, brief graphic images and some strong language. There is a sad death and a character struggles with mental illness.

Family discussion: Why did someone call Gloria Steinem a “celestial bartender?” How was she influenced by her parents? Why did she decide to leave journalism? What has been her most significant influence?

If you like this, try: The documentaries Dolores, Gloria: In Her Own Words, “RBG,” “Sisters of ’77,” about the National Women’s Conference, and “Mrs. America,” about the backlash to the women’s movement. And read the biographies of Wilma Mankiller, Bella Abzug, and some of the other characters in the film

THE GLORIAS is available for purchase on Digital and Streaming exclusively on Prime Video starting September 30th.

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Suburbicon

Posted on October 26, 2017 at 5:30 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, language and some sexuality
Profanity: Strong language including racist epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and graphic violence including multiple murders, many grisly and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 27, 2017
Date Released to DVD: February 5, 2018
Copyright 2017 Paramount

“Suburbicon” is like a beautifully gift-wrapped box that turns out to be empty or a shaggy-dog story that entices you with promising details and then it is supposed to be funny that there’s no ending. A script by the Coen brothers that plays like a correctly discarded early draft of “Fargo” has been tweaked by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, a long way from their brilliant “Good Night and Good Luck,” and directed by Clooney. Even full-on stars Matt Damon and Julianne Moore (in a dual role!) cannot outshine the real star of the movie, the ironic air-quoting production design. The only member of the cast who makes any real impression is Oscar Isaac as an insurance investigator who calls himself a “professional skeptic” and provides a too-brief jolt of energy and interest in a movie that is otherwise way to amused by itself.

“Suburbicon” begins with a cute commercial for a idealized 1950’s planned community that ends with a cheery, “The only thing missing is YOU!” It looks like Walt Disney, Norman Rockwell, Dick and Jane readers, and all those sitcoms with cheery moms who vacuum in pearls and full makeup got together in all of their mid-century, postwar, consumerist, idealized, sanitized, and claustrophobically conformist and Everyone is welcome, it tells us, whether you’re from New York, Ohio, or Mississippi. But all of the people in the ad are white and all of the people in Suburbicon are white….until the Myers family moves in. They are black. This is a pointed reference to the real-life experience of the real-life black Myers family who moved to the conformist, consumerist planned community of Levittown in in 1957, resulting in constant harassment, threats, and a three-week-long riot, which the family endured with grace and patience.

That goes on here, as we see Mrs. Myers (Karimah Westbrook) told by the manager at the grocery that for her the price of a gallon of milk is $20, neighbors build a fence around their yard, and a crowd gathers outside their house, taunting them and setting their car on fire.

But that is not what the movie is about. The movie is mostly about what is going on next door, where armed intruders tie up and chloroform a family, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), his wife Rose, who is confined to a wheelchair (Julianne Moore), her sister Maggie (more Moore), and his young son, Nick (an excellent Noah Jupe). Rose dies in the attack and Maggie moves into the house to help take care of Nick and Gardner.

And then things get really tangled. They just don’t get interesting. The production design and camera work are excellent, but what actually happens on screen is just a pointless escalation of deranged violence with cutaways to the poor Myers family to show how dumb it is that the neighbors are terrified of the black family while the white family is what should terrify them. But just making that point as people run around doing terrible things to each other and to a child is neither insightful nor effective.

Parents should know that this film is filled with horrifying violence, some of it very explicit and bloody. There are many murders and other bad behavior. A child is in peril, and he witnesses violence, sex, and bad behavior by the adults in his life. Virulent racism is a theme in the movie and characters use strong language including racist epithets.

Family discussion: Ask members of your family for their memories of the 1950’s. Why did the Myers family stay?

If you like this, try: “Fargo,” “Blood Simple,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” and “Serial Mom”

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Comedy Crime DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Thriller

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Posted on September 21, 2017 at 2:54 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, drugs and drug dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive, very graphic peril and violence with many characters injured and killed, sad deaths, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 22, 2017
Date Released to DVD: December 11, 2017
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2017

The ultra-elite and impeccably tailered Kingsmen are back, well, a couple of them, in this stylish and slightly less transgressive sequel from writer/director Matthew Vaughn, based on the graphic novels by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. A couple of stunning action sequences, a delicious villain named Poppy (Julianne Moore), and Elton John(!) make it a watchable entertainment, and the return of two characters who were killed in the first film makes the dispatching of many more characters more cheeky than tragic.

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has come a long way from the unrefined street kid of the first film. He is now happily living with the Swedish princess (Hanna Alström), wearing elegant bespoke suits, and still happily hanging out with his old friends and his dog, JB. But he is kidnapped by Charlie (Edward Holcroft), the former rival he thought was killed in the mayhem of the first chapter. It turns out Charlie only lost an arm, now replaced with a prosthetic that has a mind of its own, and his voice, also with a mechanical replacement. There’s a terrifically kinetic fight and chase scene, suitably accompanied by Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” that starts the movie off with a bang.

Then just about all the Kingsmen are killed off and Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong, with a Scottish burr and a soft spot for John Denver) have to meet up with their American counterparts, the Statesmen to save the world from Poppy, a ruthless international drug dealer with the demeanor of a 1950’s TV commercial happy housewife. She responds to betrayal like it is ring around the collar or waxy yellow buildup, except than instead of finding a better cleaning product, she puts those who fail her through a meat grinder. Literally.

Poppy would like to live in the world of the 1950’s, or, rather, the 50’s as portrayed in nostalgic re-creations like “Grease” and “Happy Days,” and has created an adorable Disney-style replica in the midst of the South American jungle, where she directs worldwide operations of her highly successful drug manufacture and distribution business. But she wants more.

The filmmakers are clearly having a blast and that is fun for us, except when it goes overboard. It is much too long at nearly two and a half hours. Channing Tatum is a hoot but his section of the story is entirely expendable. And it is a shame that once again, Halle Berry is utterly wasted in a role that uses her for screen candy. Same with her fellow Oscar-winner, Jeff Bridges, whose appearance is all crag and chaw. But the third Oscar-winner, Colin Firth, also playing a character who was killed in the first movie except not because who cares, is a pleasure to watch, as he has to play his character as much younger and more benignly innocent, and then again as sophisticated and determined. Elton John is a hoot as himself and the movie has a bubbly, delirious quality that excuses almost as much as it hopes it will.

Parents should know that this film includes extended very explicit peril and violence with many characters injured and killed and some disturbing and graphic images including characters being put into a meat grinder and some gruesome deaths, strong language, drugs and drug dealing, sexual references and situations with some graphic images.

Family discussion: How are the Statesmen different from the Kingsmen? Why did Merlin make that choice?

If you like this, try: the first “Kingsman” movie and “Our Man Flint”

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