Uncharted

Posted on February 17, 2022 at 5:28 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence/action and language
Profanity: Strong language, several s-words
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, scenes in a bar
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action/video-game style violence, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 18, 2022
Date Released to DVD: May 9, 2022

Copyright 2022 Sony
Uncharted” is most likely exactly as good as you hope it will be, and I say that as someone who hoped it was going to be a chases and stunts movie that was fun to watch. It achieves the primary goal of based-on-a-video-game movies, which is that the non-stunts parts like storyline and character don’t get in the way of the stunts parts, which are the reason we are there. There is just enough story and character to add enough emotion to the stunts to take the place of the engagement we feel when we are controlling part of the game.

It helps a lot that the two characters we are supposed to root for and identify with are played by Mark Wahlberg as Sully and Tom Holland as Nate, who bring their established star quality and connection to the audience to fill out the thinly drawn characters they are playing. Holland really takes over as a full-on action hero, even more than he is able to in the Spider-Man movies because there is no mask; he has to act his way through all of the action scenes and did I mention that the stunts are truly wild?

“Uncharted” begins with a “Fast and Furious”-level action scene that is absolutely bonkers. Huge chained-together cargo bundles are hanging out of a plane and Nate is hanging from one of them by a foot caught in the strap until he isn’t, and falls or jumps from one bundle to the other as bad guys are shooting at him and, yes, a fire-engine red sports car comes driving out of the cargo hold, which, let me remind you, is still in the back of a plane that is in the actual, okay green-screen but it looks actual, sky.

It’s the classic MacGuffin: lost pirate treasure. We don’t need to know anything else. We’re on board. Literally; pirate ships are involved and made to do things their builders could never have anticipated. There are objects that must be retrieved in order to find and access it. And there are people who team up and sometimes un-team up and sometimes fight each other to get it. That’s the storyline.

But mostly, there are some wild stunts, on land, water, and in the air. There are nods to (barely disguising lifts from) Indiana Jones, the “Fast and Furious” and “National Treasure” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, but hey, this is a movie where the heroes are thieves, so steal from the best. There are villains, meaning people who also want the treasure and are willing to take more extreme measure to get it. There is something between retaliation and revenge, the oldest of them all: “You killed my brother.”

The little hints of plot, motivation, and character never get in the way of the stunts, which are a hoot.

Parents should know that this movie has a lot of carnage for a PG-13, with video-game-like peril, injuries, and deaths. Many minor characters are killed without blood or consequences. Characters use strong language (many s-words) and drink, with scenes in bars.

Family discussion: How did Sully and Nate decide who they would trust? How did that change? How were their reasons for finding the treasure different?

If you like this, try: The Indiana Jones and “Fast and Furious” and “National Treasure” movies

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Action/Adventure Based on a video game DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Scene After the Credits

Instant Family

Posted on November 15, 2018 at 5:04 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual material, language and some drug references
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: References to drug abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Tension and some peril and accidents, brief disturbing images of injuries, family confrontations, issues of foster care
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 16, 2018
Date Released to DVD: March 4, 2019

Copyright 2018 Paramount Pictures
An adoptive mom explained to me once that most couples who adopt have “a drag-er and a drag-ee.” That can be the essence of a good partnership; parenting in any form is one of life’s greatest leaps into the unknown and it makes sense to talk it out thoroughly while understanding that no one can ever understand the terror, the exhaustion, the way children “push buttons you didn’t know you had,” and of course the unparalleled joy of being a parent until you get there, by which time you are probably too terrified, exhausted, and, yes, filled with joy to understand it even then. That is why we gravitate to movies like “Instant Family.” They give us a chance to think about how much our families mean to us.

Instant Family,” based in part on the real-life story of writer-director Sean Anders, tells us everything we need to know about Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) in the first scene, as they race through a decrepit mess of a house thrilled at the possibilities only they can see. Their optimistic vision and instinctive teamwork will be needed when a half joking remark about adopting an older child to catch yup with their contemporaries leads Ellie to start looking at websites about foster parenting and then to being the drag-er to Pete’s drag-ee. “This is what we do! We see potential in things and fix them up!” But of course, as someone said, adults do not make children; children make adults. The parents get some fixing up, too.

After some foster parent training, they go to a “foster fair,” to meet some of the children who are available. They were not planning to foster a teen, but they are drawn to a remarkably self-possessed girl named Lizzy (Isabela Moner) (and a bit intimidated by her, too). The social workers (Tig Notaro and Octavia Spencer) tell them she has two younger siblings. They are daunted by the idea of going from zero kids to three all at once, but understand the importance of keeping them together and cannot resist their adorable photos. The next thing they know, they are calling out, “Kids! Dinner is ready!” and wondering whether it will be reassuring or intrusive to kiss them goodnight.

You can tell Anders (“Daddy’s Home”) has been through it and has spent time with other foster families. The film has well-chosen details of the two steps forward-one step back relationship with the children, especially Lizzie, who is used to taking care of her brother and sister herself and still hopes that their mother will come for them. It is frank about the issues of fostering children of different ethnicities, the ambivalent feelings about the possibility of the biological mother returning, and the moments when Pete and Ellie wonder if they’ve done the right thing, and if not loving the children immediately makes them horrible people. Ellie says at one point that she feels like she is babysitting someone else’s kids. And she’s right. They don’t become hers because a social worker says so or because a judge says so. They become hers because she does not give up. And because she fights for Lizzie. And because she brushes Lizzy’s hair so gently and lovingly.

Wahlberg and Byrne are perfectly cast and the tone and pacing are exactly right for depicting family life, where tears are mixed with laughter and laughter is mixed with tears. They are hilariously funny and also touching and moving. There’s great support from Notaro and Spencer and from Margo Martindale as a feisty grandmother, and Moner is excellent as Lizzy whether she’s being defiant, manipulative, protective, or vulnerable. This story could have been cloying or it could have been soap opera. But Anders and his cast make it into a genuinely heartwarming experience that makes us wish we could be part of their family, too.

Parents should know that this is a warm-hearted comedy that is frank about some of the issues presented in foster parenting and adoption including trauma and neglect, drug abuse, predatory behavior and sexting, with some strong language.

Family discussion: What were the biggest challenges Pete and Ellie faced and how well did they deal with them? What is the best way to help kids in the foster program?

If you like this movie, try: “Room for One More” with Cary Grant and his then-wife Betsy Drake

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Based on a true story Comedy Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Family Issues movie review Movies -- format

Transformers: The Last Knight

Posted on June 20, 2017 at 5:37 pm

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language, and some innuendo
Profanity: Strong language, many s-words and crude insults
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi/fantasy violence, fire, guns, explosions, chases, characters injured and killed, reference to suicide
Date Released to Theaters: June 21, 2017
Date Released to DVD: September 25, 2017
Copyright 2017 Paramount

It is time to stop the madness. I only wish this was called “Knight: The Last Transformers Movie.” I am as happy as anyone to see robots transforming into cars and cars transforming into robots and I freely admit to tearing up once when it appeared that Bumblebee might have been mortally wounded. I’m very fond of Sir Anthony Hopkins, and I’m also very fond of Mark Wahlberg. But this big, loud, dumb, dull, nonsensical dud of a movie is two and a half excruciating hours long.

Wahlberg returns as inventor-turned-renegade Autobots protector Cade Yeager. The government has set up a special branch of the military to get rid of all of the transformers, making no distinction between the honorable Autobots led by Optimus Prime and the evil Decepticons led by Megatron. We see in a prologue set in the time of King Arthur that the Transformers go back more than 1000 years, when Merlin, who turns out to have had no magical skills at all, was given the “weapon of ultimate power,” a staff that enabled Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table to win some battle with the help of a pretty impressive three-headed dragon. The staff and an amulet that is somehow connected to it will be the McGuffins that everyone will be looking for despite the fact that we never really find out what they can do.

Sure, the stunts are fun, and I especially enjoyed seeing Wahlberg leap from drone to drone like he was a stone skipping on a pond. But without a clear idea of the stakes there is no heft to them; it’s just pixels.

And the dialog — I can’t say which is worse, the painful attempts at banter (there’s an intended-to-be cute but isn’t at all riff on the homonyms “chaste” and “chased”), the exposition-heavy portentousness (“Where in Hell is your so-called magician?” “He will be here, Lancelot.” “Why do we tell ourselves these stories? We want to believe we can be heroes in our own lives.” “Do you seek redemption?” “Only a direct descendant of Merlin can wield this instrument of immense power!”), or the faux meaningful (“You are more important than you can possibly imagine”). If someone has to be spouting off idiotic explanations, though, at least most of it is in the beautifully husky Welsh voice of Sir Anthony (though his character’s ripping a page out of an antique library book is the most disturbingly violent act in the film).

Not much makes sense in “Transformers: The Last Night.” I’m not talking about why a robot would smoke a robot cigar-type sense. We expect that going in. But why would a robot want to eat a car?
And I’m talking about the basic elements that are necessary to connect to what is going on. How do you kill a Decepticon? Sometimes robots blow apart and sometimes they just come back together like in “Terminator 2.” How do we know how we are supposed to feel if we don’t know what the impact/import of a hit is? That all-powerful weapon? We never understand what it can do and it doesn’t seem very powerful after all. What is the point of Tony Hale spouting off about physics? I will note that one completely deranged moment was actually quite fun, when a C-3PO rip-off (acknowledged as such!) turns out to be the source of the dramatic organ music in one scene: “I was making the moment more epic.” A bit more deliriously loopy stuff like that would have been a step in the right direction.

What is the point of all the jokes about how a professor at Oxford should be looking for a husband? (Or a wife?) What is the deal with way too many daddy issues? Everyone in this movie seems to be a daughter looking for a daddy or a daddy looking for a daughter. As for this daughter, I’m just looking for a good summer stunts and explosions movie. Still looking.

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi/fantasy peril and violence with chases, explosions, swords, guns, and monsters. Human and robot characters are injured and killed. Characters use strong and crude language and there is some dumb sexual humor.

Family discussion: Does it matter that Cade is “chosen?” Which Transformer is your favorite and why?

If you like this, try: the other “Transformers” movies and the television series

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3D Action/Adventure Based on a television show DVD/Blu-Ray IMAX movie review Movies -- format Series/Sequel

Patriots Day

Posted on January 12, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Copyright 2016 CBS Films

Writer/director Peter Berg and actor/producer Mark Wahlberg have now made their third film in a row on the same theme: real life stories of everyday people showing exceptional courage and dedication in the direst and most tragic circumstances. “Lone Survivor” was the story of a disastrous Navy SEAL operation. “Deepwater Horizon” was the story of the BP oil rig explosion. Now “Patriots Day” is the story of law enforcement from the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon to the killing and capture of the brothers responsible.

In all three films, Berg takes a story we know — or think we do — and creates a gripping, tense drama centered on a man who exemplifies American values of decency and integrity and shows exceptional ability to rise to the occasion. Wahlberg is a perfect choice to play those roles, and here he gives grace and dignity to the role of Tommy Saunders, a composite character based on the Boston cops who were on the ground when the bombs exploded, oversaw triage to manage the crowd and oversee emergency services and then tracked down the people responsible in just 19 hours.

And as in the earlier films, Berg’s focus is not on the people making the big policy decisions but on the people who are dealing with the consequences. He begins a brief but vivid chance to get invested in some of the key players just before Boston’s annual Patriots Day race, including some of the participants who will later be injured and Saunders, unhappy about being assigned to the race and struggling with a bad knee. Everything is the usual benign chaos until suddenly it becomes terrifying and catastrophic as the bombs explode near the finish line and no one knows what happened, who caused it, or whether more attacks are coming, with an anxious score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, as Saunders and the other cops have to try to figure out what is going on, surrounded by severely injured people and panicked crowds — and, probably, somewhere, the bombers.

The minute-by-minute procedural section is engrossing, with territorial squabbles and conflicting priorities involving the police force and the FBI. The injured people may have crucial information the cops need right away but they also have injuries that need treatment right away, treatment that could make it difficult or impossible for them to talk or remember. The press insists on releasing photos of possible suspects despite law enforcement’s concerns that it could impair the investigation. And what do you do when a key witness insists on a lawyer, or decides to leave the police station? One of the most powerful scenes in the film is the interrogation by a hijab-wearing FBI agent of the wife of one of the suspects, an incendiary performance by “Supergirls” Melissa Benoist. The film does not take a position on the abandonment of Constitutional rights in an emergency with perhaps hundreds of life at stake; it just presents it as the immensely complex problem with no right answer that it is.

And then, with ultimate respect, it concludes with footage of some of the real heroes. That’s the crying part, as it should be.

Parents should know that the theme of the film is a real-life terrorist attack with many characters injured and killed and some graphic and disturbing images of bodies and wounds; also very strong language, some bigotry, and some drug use.

Family discussion; How did social media affect the way this attack was investigated? What does this movie have in common with the two other fact-based stories from the same director and star?

If you like this, try: “Lone Survivor” and “Deepwater Horizon”

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Based on a true story Drama

FiveThirtyEight Explains All Movies Via Mark Wahlberg

Posted on October 14, 2016 at 8:00 am

I really enjoyed this discussion of Mark Wahlberg’s career on the FiveThirtyEight website. Walt Hickey’s “Hollywood Taxonomy” of the four categories of Mark Wahlberg movies can really be used to categorize pretty much all movies. It’s not just divided into serious action (“Deepwater Horizon”), less serious action (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”), arthouse (“The Fighter,” “I Heart Huckabees”), and silly (“Daddy’s Home”). Hickey says that the categories are: “A Gambler,” “Max Pain,” “More Than Meets the Eye,” and “Invincible.” That’s a pretty good set of categories for most Hollywood films.

Copyright fivethirtyeight 2016
Copyright fivethirtyeight 2016
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