The Prom

Posted on December 10, 2020 at 5:44 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive/sexual references, and language
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, homophobia
Date Released to Theaters: December 11, 2020

Copyright Netflix 2020
Irving Berlin was right. There’s no people like show people. And no one knows and loves show people as much as other show people, which is why “The Prom” is 20 percent sly satire and 80 percent love letter to the craziness that goes into entertaining audiences.

“The Prom” was a mildly successful Broadway musical about Broadway stars who want to restore their reputations after their new show has a disastrous opening night (a musical about Franklin and Eleonor Roosevelt). They see an injustice on Twitter. A small Indiana high school has cancelled its prom rather than allow a student to bring a same-sex date. And so, not even sure where Indiana is or what it is, they get on a bus, sure that their Broadway luster and can-do spirit will teach those people in flyover country about respect and inclusion. “This will be the biggest thing that’s happened in Indiana since..whatever the last big thing that happened in Indiana was,” one declares.

As you might guess, the Hoosiers are not impressed, even when Broadway leading lady Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) pulls out her two Tony Awards, which she apparently has on hand at all times, in case someone does not who Who She Is. The high school student at the center of the fuss is Emma (a star-making turn from Jo Ellen Pellman) has a bigger problem than the prom; the girl who would be her date is the daughter of the woman fighting to prevent same-sex couples from attending (Kerry Washington as Mrs. Greene). Caught in the middle is the high school principal, Tom Hawkins, who happens to be a fan of Broadway musicals, especially those featuring Dee Dee (Keegan-Michael Key).

The story adds some unexpected sweetness and reconciliation but really the entire production is just a change to have some fun with some inside theater humor and put on a big, colorful, splashy show with a bunch of Tony and Oscar-winners. Streep has a blast as a larger-than-life personality who is only at home on stage. After letting down someone who genuinely cares for her, the only way she can apologize is to reprise one of her career’s signature numbers. Andrew Rannells (a Tony Award winner for “Book of Mormon”) has a huge musical number with local kids in a shopping mall. Nicole Kidman plays the kind of chorus line hoofer who goes from show to show but never makes it into a lead role, and James Corden is a gay man who sees Emma’s problems in very personal terms because his parents rejected him after he came out.

You don’t have to understand the relative status of a Tony vs. a Drama Desk award or remember which musical had the most performances before “Cats” to sit back and enjoy the good-hearted fun, clever lyrics (by Chad Beguelin), and the jubilant dance numbers choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. It most important message is not inclusion but about the power of art itself, especially big, splashy, energetic, colorful musical, to bring us together and heal what hurts.

Parents should know that the theme of this movie is homophobia and inclusion. It includes some sexual humor and some sexual references, some alcohol, and some strong language.

Family discussion: What would you say to Mrs. Greene? What’s your favorite musical?

If you like this, try: “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Footloose,” “Hairspray,” and “High School Musical”

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Based on a play Comedy GLBTQ and Diversity movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Musical VOD and Streaming

Peeples

Posted on May 9, 2013 at 6:04 pm

peebles posterSometimes I think that all the myths and fairy tales about scary monsters, dragons, and ogres are just metaphors for life’s most terrifying meeting — the introduction to the family of one’s beloved.  Every family is its own country, with its own language and customs.  The pressure of trying to make a good impression while navigating the dynamics and cultural imperatives of another family and supporting the significant other is terrifying.  And when it happens to someone else, it is funny, which makes it a popular theme in movies going back to “Abie’s Irish Rose,” and up through “Meet the Parents.”

Tyler Perry loves raucous family conflicts, and here he produces the latest “meet the family” comedy, written and directed by Tina Gordon Chism (“Drumline”).  Wade (funny man Craig Robinson in his first romantic and leading role) wants to propose to Grace (“Scandal’s” Kerry Washington).  But she has never let him meet her family, an intimidating group of high-achievers he refers to as “the chocolate Kennedys.”  “Peeples,” the homey family name that makes them sound a little bit like Weebles, is a sly contrast with a group so imposing and remote a better name for them could be “the chocolate Mt. Rushmores.”

Wade decides to surprise Grace by showing up at her family’s magnificent home on the beach.  (“You probably have Oprah dollars.”)  He’s the one who gets surprised when he finds out that his girlfriend has not even told her family that she is seeing someone.  It turns out that her stern and demanding father Virgil (David Alan Grier) has such impossibly high standards that she does not even want to risk allowing him to apply.  Virgil is a judge by profession and a judge by nature.  Grace knows that the easy-going Wade, whose current job consists of singing a song about potty training to children, will not fit in with her highly competitive, uptight family.

But Wade sees immediately that Grace’s family is not as perfect as they want to pretend to themselves and everyone else.  Grace’s mother Daphne (S. Epatha Merkerson) has a couple of secrets.  So do Grace’s broadcast journalist sister (Kali Hawk) and teenage brother (Tyler James Williams).  At first, Wade makes things much worse when he tries to fit in and begins to feel threatened and insecure.  Things get more complicated when his own brother (Malcolm Barrett) shows up.

The humor is often crude and silly, but it is so good-hearted and the performers are so appealing that like Wade and the Peeples, it might win your heart.

Parents should know that this film as very crude and raunchy humor, explicit sexual references and situations, drinking, marijuana, and very strong language.

Family discussion:  What is the scariest thing about meeting the family of your significant other?  What did Grace’s family learn from Wade?

If you like this, try: “Jumping the Broom” and “Meet the Parents”

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Comedy Family Issues Romance

Django Unchained

Posted on December 24, 2012 at 6:00 pm

How do you solve a problem like Tarantino?

The prodigiously talented writer/director is a master of style, sensation, and a uniquely muscular kind of cinematic storytelling that builds on a stunning ability to mash up high and low art in a singular and wildly entertaining combination shot through with pure cinematic testosterone and filled with saucy variations on dozens of other films.

But then there is the content of the films, which it seems that Tarantino looks at as just another tool for jacking up a movie’s adrenalin.  In “Pulp Fiction,” there was the shock of a literal shot of adrenalin to the heart of an overdosing character and the frisson of hired killers whose biggest concern about blowing someone’s head off is the challenge of getting the blood off the car upholstery.  The purest expression of Tarantino’s art is in the “Kill Bill” movies, where he wastes no time on plot, just the minimum nod to the simplest and most relatable of  motives — revenge.

In “Django Unchained,” as in his last film, Tarantino uses an actual historic atrocity almost as an afterthought or a placeholder.  Like The Bride’s revenge motive, the Holocaust and slavery — and endless uses of the n-word by both black and white characters — are used to justify massive carnage, and, apparently, for no other reason.  With “Kill Bill,” the less we knew about the specifics of the reason for the revenge, the better.  With “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained,” we are already aware of the horrors that give the characters license to wreak destruction (artfully).  But it is, ultimately, empty.  Put another way: sound and fury, check.  Signifying: nothing.

Foxx plays the title character.  As the movie begins, slave dealers are marching a group of slaves in leg irons and with the scars of whip marks along their backs, through the wilderness.  A cheerful man with an elegant, cultured manner pulls up in a cart with a big tooth mounted on a spring.  He is passing as a dentist.  He cordially offers to buy a slave but when the brutish, dull-witted men refuse, and the first massive slaughter of the story is underway, and all the other slaves set free.  The man is Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar as a Nazi for Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”).  He is a bounty hunter who hunts down “wanted dead or alive” men and kills them to collect the reward.  In those pre-Google image search days, he needs Django to identify three brothers.  The information on the wanted posters is not enough for a positive identification.  He is opposed to slavery, so he makes a deal.  He will keep Django a slave only long enough to complete the job.

Django proves so adept at the bounty hunter business that Schultz offers to bring him on as a partner.  “Kill white people and get paid for it? What’s not to like?” Django replies.  Django wants to rescue his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).  When they tried to escape from their owner, they were separated and sold.  Schultz says that Django will not be able to do it alone, and promises to help him get her back.  Their travels take them through several different adventures and many nods and winks to other films (Franco Nero, the original Django, shows up in a brothel bar), including a completely hilarious scene with a bunch of proto-Klan types who can’t get the eyeholes right in their masks and some completely horrifying scenes with a slave torn apart by dogs and a seemingly endless “mandingo fight” to the death.  Broomhilda is now owned by a man named Candy (his plantation is called Candyland).  He is utterly corrupt and despicable, but even worse is his house slave (Samuel L. Jackson), because he betrays other slaves.

Tarantino gets top marks for style, as always.  The violence and historical reversals are possibly intended to be empowering (oddly, Broomhilda is surprisingly less powerful than the usual Tarantino female characters).  On the contrary, it is dispiritingly disrespectful to the people who suffered unspeakable atrocities.  And Tarantino’s increasing distance between style and substance grows less palatable with each film.

Parents should know that this film includes extremely brutal, graphic, bloody, and disturbing violence with many characters injured and killed, an extended fight to the death, whipping and torture, prostitutes, slaves, some nudity, and constant very strong language including many uses of the n-word.

Family discussion:  Why did Stephen tell Calvin his suspicions about Django?  How does this movie show the influences of spaghetti westerns, American westerns, and “Blazing Saddles?”  Any other inspirations?

If you like this, try: “Inglourious Basterds” and “Kill Bill”

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Action/Adventure Drama Epic/Historical Western

April’s TV Highlights

Posted on April 3, 2012 at 3:00 am

There’s good news for television viewers this month as there are fresh episodes of favorite series, big-time guest stars, and premieres of high-profile new shows.  I’m especially looking forward to:

Scandal This show, inspired by a real-life (and very low-profile) White House aide turned “crisis management” consultant, stars the brilliant and beautiful Kerry Washington.  You know her from supporting roles in films like Ray and “Fantastic Four,” but a better opportunity to see what she can do is in the outstanding independent film, “Lift.”

Magic City The look of this series about cut-throat 1959 Miami mob battles is stunning and it stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan (“Watchmen,” Denny on “Grey’s Anatomy”) and Danny Houston. It looks like “Mad Men” crossed with “The Godfather.

Revenge Emily Thorne and those rich meanies return April 18, which gives you just enough time to catch up with the deliciously twisty plot so far.

Saturday Night Live “Modern Family’s” Sofia Vergara hosts on April 7.

Veep The hilarious Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Seinfeld,” “The New Adventures of Old Christine”) plays the Vice President of the United States in a new HBO series from the people behind the sharp and wildly funny political satire, “In the Loop.”

The Big Bang Theory Fanboy heaven.  Last week Leonard Nimoy provided the voice for an action figure from “Star Trek.”  Next week, the man even Sheldon Cooper must admit is the greatest living physicist, Stephen Hawking, will make a guest appearance.

 

P.S. Thanks to jestrfyl for correcting my mistake about sweeps months!

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Television

A Thousand Words

Posted on March 9, 2012 at 9:59 am

C-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual situations including dialogue, language, and some drug-related humor
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, including drinking to deal with stress
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, references to sad death of parent and dementia
Diversity Issues: Homophobic humor, diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 9, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B005LAIGIM

“A Thousand Words” was filmed four years ago, when George W. Bush was President and a joke about the massive popularity of Hannah Montana was timely.  Four years later, it is being not so much released as exorcised as Dreamworks cleans out its backlog.  It isn’t a horrible movie, at least not in comparison to Norbit from the same star and director, but it is a dispiritingly dull and cynical one.  Nicolas Cage is listed as a producer, which suggest that at some point he might have planned to play the lead role of a fast-talking literary agent who learns that he is down to his last 1000 words.  Once he used them all up, he will die.  Cage might have brought something interesting to the role of a man who speeds through life and then has to learn to choose his words very carefully and to begin to listen to others.  But Murphy is barely present in the role at all, throwing some wild gestures and facial expressions at us and failing completely at conveying any sort of lessons learned.

Murphy plays Jack, who will say anything to anyone to get what he wants.  He lies about his wife being in labor to get to the front of the line at the coffee shop (intrusive product placement alert).  He lies about having read the books he is supposed to represent.  He is inconsiderate to his wife and their toddler son and nasty to his assistant (Clark Duke), forcing him to pick all of the marshmallows except for the yellow moons out of his breakfast cereal.  At his therapists, he talks non-stop but does not say anything.

Dr. Sinja (handsome Cliff Curtis, maintaining some dignity) is the nation’s most prominent spiritual leader and Jack is determined to represent him in the sale of his book.  He promises to devote himself fully to Sinja’s project but he does not mean it.  And then a mysterious tree appears in Jack’s yard, and it loses a leaf for every word he says.

He uses up a lot of words arguing and complaining and then we get to see him struggle at work (he cannot speak in meetings) and at home (he cannot communicate with his wife).  It is supposed to be funny when poor Ruby Dee, as Jack’s mother struggling with dementia, talks crudely about the body parts of another resident of her assisted living facility, and when Kerry Washington, as Jack’s wife, puts on bondage gear and offers to perform “all the naughty things you want” — and he can’t ask, get it?  It is even less funny when Jack mistakenly knocks on the hotel door of an overweight gay man expecting a male prostitute.  The condescension and superficiality of the closing scenes, complete with choir-of-angels soundtrack with not just a reconciling visit to a cemetery but a healing conversation with Jack-as-a-child, is painful.  Murphy’s great strength is his extraordinary verbal facility. His great weakness is a palpable anger that sometimes comes across as contempt for his audience and his material.  A movie about an actor with prodigious talents who keeps coming back to material so wrong for what he has to offer — now that might be a movie worth seeing.

Parents should know that this film includes some crude sexual humor, some strong language (s-words), some homophobic humor, a woman in bondage gear, drinking to deal with stress, and references to dementia and a sad death of a parent.

Family discussion:  How did not being able to talk make Jack a better listener?  What were the most important words that he said and why?

If you like this, try: “Shallow Hal,” “Liar, Liar” and “Bruce Almighty”

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Comedy Fantasy Movies -- format
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