The Dressmaker

Posted on September 22, 2016 at 5:29 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for for brief language and a scene of violence
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and tipsiness, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and violence, murder, sad deaths
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 23, 2016

Copyright 2016 Amazon Studios
Copyright 2016 Amazon Studios
Kate Winslet plays Tilly Dunnage, a woman with secrets who returns to the tiny Australian town that threw her out as a child. She has become an accomplished couturier, working in London, Paris, and Milan. And she is a master of the bias cut, pioneered by Vionnet, whose photograph she carries with her for inspiration. This film, based on the novel by Rosalie Ham is also, in its way, cut on the bias, alternately wildly funny, wildly romantic, wildly satiric, and, at the same time, dark and tragic. Some will find that disconcerting; others will find it refreshing.

It is 1951. Tilly arrives home in the dust-covered town, her stylish heels stepping off the bus onto the dirt road. She goes up the hill to her mother’s shack, when there is a question from the local sheriff. “Is that…….Dior?” It is not; it is one of Tilly’s own designs. But she acknowledges the Dior inspiration. Sargent Ferrat (Hugo Weaving) is dazzled by the bold colors and sumptuous fabrics of Tilly’s designs. He’s a secret cross-dresser.

Winslet is marvelous as Tilly, who has come home to see her mother, known as Mad Molly (Judy Davis of “My Brilliant Career”), to find out the true story of what led to her exile, and to extract some revenge, both of the “living well is the best” variety and of the old-fashioned “make them suffer” variety as well. Tilly, then known as Myrtle, was abused by her teacher and the students in her class because she was poor and because her mother was not married. After an incident that resulted in the death of a boy in her class, she was sent away. The experience was so traumatizing that she cannot let herself remember exactly what happened, and worries that she was responsible, as everyone thinks. “Am I a murderer?” she asks of her mother.

Director Jocelyn Moorhouse and editor Jill Bilcock bring a vibrant energy to the storytelling that suits the theme of Tilly’s force and focus having an impact on the insular little town, and it is a lot of fun to see assumptions challenged and relationships in upheaval. There is a woman crippled by her wife-beating husband, a pharmacist who seems to be suffering from ankylosing spondylitis as he is bent over parallel to the ground. A civil leader gives his wife, agoraphobic and germophobic since the death of their son, knock-out medicine and then rapes her when she is unconscious. There are vicious gossips and snobs. And there are a few kind-hearted people, Ferrat, who regrets his treatment of Tilly and Teddy (Liam Hemsworth, clearly relishing the chance to speak in his native accent and very swoon-worthy when he removes his shirt). Molly becomes less mad and more feisty under Tilly’s care. Ferrat is not the only one who cannot resist the chance to wear something spectacular. “A dress never changed anything,” a local girl longing to be noticed by the town’s most eligible bachelor says to “Tilly.” “Watch and learn, my girl. Watch and learn.” And we know a Cinderella at the ball moment is coming — when it does, it is breathtaking. Soon, the tiny backwater is populated with ladies wearing haute couture. This has to be a dream assignment for a costume designer, and Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson (Winslet’s clothes) rise to the occasion with fabulously gorgeous and entertaining dresses.

The heightened quality of the story makes the darker turns unexpected and disconcerting. It is not as much of a feel-good movie as it originally promises. But it has its odd pleasures, and one of them is that, like its heroine, it has style to space.

Parents should know that this movie includes some strong language, drinking and drunkenness, sexual references and situations with some nudity, adultery and questions of paternity, domestic violence, murder, and very sad deaths.

Family discussion: What did Tilly want from her return home? Why was Teddy different?

If you like this, try: “Strictly Ballroom” and “Muriel’s Wedding”

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Comedy Drama Movies -- format Romance Satire

Independence Day: Resurgence

Posted on June 24, 2016 at 12:33 pm

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2016
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2016

Twenty years ago, Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith flew into an alien mothership and uploaded a computer virus in a movie that is still one of the definitive summer blockbusters, Independence Day. Two decades later, moviemaking technology has made a lot of progress, and it has some striking visuals, but it is missing a lot of the brio of the first, especially Will Smith. This is one of those movies with a story that involves billions of people around the world but pretty much the same six people keep running into each other and their relationship issues are as important as the impending attack that in military terms is deemed “extinction level.”

The alien attack of 1996 did something humans were not able to accomplish on their own after thousands of years. It united the world, which came together to adapt the alien technology and develop a comprehensive monitoring and defense system, including space stations and an outpost on the moon. The US President (Sela Ward) coordinates with other world leaders in what seems to be an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity, if operating under the constant pressure of recovering from unprecedented losses and the fear of another invasion.

In the first film, a nerdy scientist named Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) who had been hidden away in Area 51 was used as something like a ventriloquist’s dummy by an alien and has been in a coma ever since, tenderly care for by his partner. All of a sudden, his eyes fly open and he is awake. There are other indications around the world that dormant capacities for communication are being triggered by what could be another approaching invasion. That includes the former President (Bill Pullman, with beard, cane, and PTSD) who not only inspired the world with a great speech but personally flew a fighter plane to attack the alien ship.

David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), who in the last film was a cable company computer technician who was the first to identify the anomalies that indicated an alien interference, visits Africa to speak to a warlord whose people engaged in hand-to-tentacle combat with aliens. The ex-wife played by Margaret Colin in the last film has vanished from the storyline, without even the half-sentence explanation that lets us know what happened to Will Smith’s character. Instead, we meet a scientist played by Charlotte Gainsbourg who says she has identified some symbols, especially a circle with a horizontal line through it, that people who have had some alien contact feel impelled to draw or paint. And the aliens who have been locked up in Area 51 for 20 years are suddenly awake and screaming…or celebrating. Yes, they are back and they are big. One thing the movie does well is show us the scale and scope of this new invasion.

But what it does not do well is connect us to the characters. There are utterly pointless and unconvincing subplots about a past between Goldblum and Gainsbourg, who have no chemistry whatsoever, but still find more sizzle than the subplot about the hopelessly bland trio of the three fighter pilots, the daughter of the former President, the son of the Will Smith character from the last movie, and Liam Hemsworth, trying to be all “Top Gun”-adorably dashing but more “Starship Troopers.” The actors do their best, but they are stuck with clunky sci-fi cliche dialog. The first film had some clever references to classics like “2001,” but this one just borrows shamelessly from other, better films. The aliens may be bigger and better in this return, but the script is not.

Parents should know that this film has extended sci-fi peril and violence with some disturbing images and characters who are injured and killed, including vast destruction and genocide. Characters use some strong language and there is brief potty humor.

Family discussion: What should the President have considered in deciding about the orb? What would you want to ask it?

If you like this, try: the original “Independence Day” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”

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3D Action/Adventure Science-Fiction Series/Sequel

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Posted on November 19, 2015 at 5:52 pm

MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Constant and intense peril and violence, guns, explosions, arrows, mines, zombie-like creatures, many adult and child characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: November 20, 2015
Date Released to DVD: March 21, 2016 ASIN: B0189HKE5Q

Copyright Lionsgate 2015
Copyright Lionsgate 2015

Can we all just agree that from now on we’ll try to keep it to one book/one movie? This final entry in the Hunger Games series will give the fans what they’ve been waiting for. It’s faithful to the book and it’s perfectly fine. But part 4 is not as good as part 3 and I am not persuaded that it needed to be a separate film.

Jennifer Lawrence is still very much the Girl on Fire and still the heart and soul of the entire series as Katniss Everdeen, whose archery skills, heart, and integrity inspire a rebellion.

Those qualities also make her a double target, wanted by both of the opposing forces. Dictator President Snow (Donald Sutherland) wants to get rid of her. But the leader of the rebel group, President Alma Coin, wants to use her for propaganda purposes. As soon as Katniss recovers from the injuries she suffered in part 3, she is back in the field, not so much to fight as to appear to fight, with a camera crew following along.

Also at the end of part 3 we saw that Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who was tortured by Snow’s “Peacekeepers,” is now convinced that it is Katniss who is the enemy. Even the gentle Prim Everdeen (Willow Shields) cannot reach him.

Katniss is deeply conflicted. She has pretended to be in love with Peeta to win the Games and is so disconnected from her feelings she has no idea whether she loves him or not, or, if she is, if he will ever be himself again. Her old friend Gale is in love with her and she does not know how to respond to him, either. While she is passionately committed to bringing down President Snow, she is not willing to go along with the tactics President Coin believes are necessary. She finds it hard to trust anyone, even herself. The abrasive Johanna Mason (Jenna Malone, a refreshing break from the earnest doggedness of just about everyone else) reminds her that some people say what they mean.

All Katniss is certain of is that President Snow must die and she wants to be the one who kills him. So she and a group of rebel soldiers (don’t get too attached — they’re mostly red shirts) set off with one map showing where the mines and traps have been laid out and, for each of them, a capsule of poison to kill themselves in case of capture.

The middle section of the film is more FPS video game than story as the group faces one diabolical threat after another and it becomes numbing, even comedic as we go from guns and traps to a toxic inky flood and then some zombie-esque creatures, as though it is not just President Snow but author Suzanne Collins who wants to make sure no possible destructive force is overlooked.

There is a brief respite at the home of Tigris (a slinky and imposing Eugenie Bonderant, a woman who has been surgically modified to resemble a jungle cat. Like “Ender’s Game,” another story with very young heroes, the climax does not come where you think, in a manner that allows Katniss to evade genuine resolution of the moral quandaries of ends and means.

Director Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer) has steered this big, unwieldy ship of a story safely into harbor. If he erred on the side of satisfying the books’ fans over those who might come to the story first on screen, that is understandable. But it means that at least half of the relief at having it resolved will be that no one is planning a part 5.

Parents should know that this film includes intense, extended, and sometimes graphic peril and violence with many adult and child characters injured and killed, as well as references to torture, guns, explosions, murder, chase scenes, themes of dystopia and tyranny.

Family discussion: Could the rebels have won without Coin’s decision? Was it worth it? Why are Snow’s forces called Peacekeepers?

If you like this, try: the other films in the series and the books by Suzanne Collins

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Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy Series/Sequel Stories about Teens

Trailer: The Dressmaker with Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth

Posted on August 15, 2015 at 8:00 am

Kate Winslet plays a glamorous woman who returns to her small town in rural Australia. With her sewing machine and haute couture style, she transforms the women and exacts sweet revenge on those who did her wrong.

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips
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