Next Goal Wins

Posted on November 9, 2023 at 5:44 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language and crude material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Reference to very sad death of a child, comic vehicular injury
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 10, 2023

Copyright 2023 Searchlight
Two coaches are fired for dismal performance at the beginning of “Next Goal Wins,” the fact-based story of the worst professional soccer team in the world, based on the 2014 documentary of the same name. The team that not only never won a game but never scored a goal is on the tiny US territory of American Samoa. Still smarting after the worst defeat in the history of international soccer, 31-nil against Australia, Tavita (Oscar Knightley) reluctantly fires the team’s gentle coach, and announces he is bringing in someone from the outside world.

Meanwhile, in one of the funniest scenes of the year, Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) is also being fired. To make it even more painful, the message is coming from the sport’s supervising panel, which includes his soon-to-be-ex-wife (Elisabeth Moss as Gail) and her new boyfriend (Will Arnett as Alex). They are not unsympathetic, but Tom’s performance and that of the team he coaches have deteriorated badly and they think he needs a chance of scene. There’s hardly a bigger change than a team in a tiny island on the other side of the world. Without any alternative, he goes, bringing a suitcase full of alcohol with him.

Taika Waititi, who co-wrote and directed the film and appears briefly as a minister, benefits from one of the most enduringly popular of all genres, the fact-based underdog team combined with the redemption arc for the coach story — think of “The Bad News Bears” or “A League of Our Own.” He is very aware of the minefield that is impossible to avoid in a story of people of color whose job in these stories is usually to be cute and a little bit simple and to be both enlightened by the more sophisticated, if troubled, white coach and to enlighten him as well with their folk wisdom. Waititi, who grew up in New Zealand with a white, Jewish mother and a Maori father, has a delicate touch, and calls out the issue explicitly a couple of times to let us know that these characters and this film may be whimsical, almost a fairy tale, but these are real people who are very aware of these tropes not just in stories, but in their lives. They even joke about not wanting Tom to be a white savior and about pretending to share mystical native wisdom to inspire him. There is gentle humor about the Samoans, but not at their expense. We do not get to know too many of the players, but Tavita and his wife Ruth, played by the wonderful Rachel House, have significant roles.

Waititi’s character almost winks at us as he introduces the film, telling us it is a true story “with a couple of embellishments.” But the parts you might guess are made up really did happen. One of the team’s star players was Jaiyah Saelua, a trans woman in our terms, but in Samoan culture a part of a third gender called fa’afafine that is not only accepted but cherished. In real life, Tom was supportive of Jaiyah without any hesitation, but the film adds some tension by giving Tom some trouble accepting Jaiyah (a heartfelt performance by non-binary actor Kaimana). And the basics of the story really happened, including the ignominious Australia game and how meaningful the experience was for Tom and the Team.

It is warm-hearted and endearing. It has the same appealingly modest tone that the team does; it just wants to have fun and score one goal.

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language, drinking, a very sad off-screen death, a vehicular injury played for comedy, and some discussion of being uncomfortable around non-binary and trans people (note, in real life, as you can see in the documentary, Rongen was unhesitating and unequivocal in his support for the trans player).

Family discussion: Have you ever had a coach who made a difference in your life? What would you do if you were asked to coach this team?

If you like this, try; “A League of Their Own,” “The Damned United,” and “Ted Lasso”

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The Light Between Oceans

Posted on September 1, 2016 at 5:55 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material and some sexual content
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Discussion of wartime violence and loss, miscarriages, dead body
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 2, 2016
Date Released to DVD: January 23, 2017
Amazon.com ASIN: B01LDWUQ4I

Copyright Disney 2016
Copyright Disney 2016
The lighthouse is on an island called Janus, and the lighthouse keeper explains that it is named for the two-faced god who is memorialized in the first month of each year, January. One face looks to the past, the other to the future — “two ways of looking at things.”

The theme of duality and perspective resonates throughout this story of the lighthouse keeper, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) and his wife Isabel (Alicia Vikander), we see how two ways of looking at things can balance or unbalance each other.

Tom is a WWI veteran who tells the man looking for a temporary lighthouse keeper that he is not worried about the isolation of the job. “I just want to get away from things for a little while.” His mother died and he had a father who was so dictatorial that the regimentation of the military was a relief. We do not learn much about his wartime experiences except that they were brutal. He is, as he later admits, numb. The solitude and order of the lighthouse suits him.

But he meets the lively and warm-hearted Isabel, who impetuously proposes marriage, and realizes how much he had been longing for connection. She tells him, “You still have a light inside you, and I have seen it.” And he writes back, “I’ve never known it was all right to talk about the things I feel.”

They marry and are blissfully happy in their tiny little island. But after two harrowing miscarriages, Isabel is devastated. When a boat washes up near the shore containing a dead man and a crying baby, it seems that providence has given them what they were missing. It seems that way to Isabel. Tom knows that he must put the truth into his log and return the baby to her family. But Isabel is desperately in love with the child and insists that they can give her what she needs. Tom, who has promised to do everything he can to make her happy, agrees.

They adore the baby, who they name Lucy. But when Tom sees a woman sobbing in a graveyard (Rachel Weisz) and realizes she is probably Lucy’s real mother, his conscience begins to torture him. They have inflicted on her the same agony that they suffered.

The story gets soapy, and the tinkly piano score from Alexandre Desplat and scenes of waves crashing on the shore suggest literary pretensions that may work better in the acclaimed novel than they do on screen. But Fassbender and Vikander, two of the most compelling actors ever to appear on film, give powerful performances, and their on-screen chemistry, which turned into real-life romance, holds the film together when the story wavers.

Parents should know that this film has discussion of wartime violence and loss, miscarriages, a dead body, and devastating grief.

Family discussion: Who should raise Lucy? Why did she want to see Tom again? Was Frank right about forgiveness?

If you like this, try: “The Widow of Saint-Pierre”

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Based on a book Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week

X-Men: Apocalypse

Posted on May 24, 2016 at 5:18 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language and some suggestive images
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic book/action peril and violence, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: May 27, 2016
Date Released to DVD: October 3, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B01G9AXWH2
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2016
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2016

We love superheroes, but most of the time what makes a superhero movie work is the supervillain. Just as the Avengers on the other side of the Marvel Universe move into X-Men territory by having the supes fight each other, with a villain in “Civil War” who is a mere human, with the most human of motives and goals rather than Loki’s “let’s blow up the universe and roast marshmallows on the flames” sort of threat, the X-Men, whose primary plotlines rest on the shifting loyalties of its mutant members, switches direction toward a more Loki-esque bad guy.

That would be the first mutant of all, going all the way back to ancient Egypt, where he was a god. He is resurrected, he is nearly omnipotent, and he is played by one of the most exciting actors in movies, Oscar Isaac. But there are three big problems with Apocalypse, and that means there are three big problems with the movie.

First, we never really understand that “nearly” part about his powers, and therefore we cannot judge the threat he poses in any given confrontation. Second, Isaac is a superb actor with deeply expressive eyes and voice. Yet he is put into a mask that conceals his eyes and given a double-tracked distortion of his voice. The big, hulking outfit also impairs the precise, distinctive physicality he has brought to roles as different as “Star Wars” ace Po Dameron, the title folk musician of “Inside Llewyn Davis,” and billionaire Nathan Bateman (“Ex Machina”). The power of his presence as a performer is all but muted just when we need a character to be terrifying.

Plus, we’ve seen ancient Egyptian super villains before. After the many versions of “The Mummy,” we need something more than he’s from the time of the pyramids plus chanting. But there is a very cool opening sequence that brings us through history to 1983, the pre-digital era when overhead projectors in classrooms represented cutting-edge technology. And Magneto seems to have found peace, in a small town, with a factory job, and a loving wife and daughter.

Of course, that can’t last. And soon he has experienced yet another devastating loss, and returns to his bad, furious, destructive self — until someone who is even more furious and destructive comes along.

When I say that this episode is a “Muppet Babies” take on the X-Men, I do not necessarily mean that in a bad way. Origin stories are intriguing, and the X-Men have always had an adolescent quality, with the onset of their mutant powers coming with puberty and acting as a heightened metaphor to examine the sense of uncertainty, anxiety, and isolation that comes with the physical and emotional changes that separate teenagers from their childhood. It is intriguing to see Scott (Tye Sheridan) rubbing his red eyes as he becomes Cyclops. But Sophie Turner does not have the screen presence of Famke Janssen as the young Jean Grey, in part because her telepathic gift is not as cinematically dynamic.

Quicksilver (Evan Peters) once again provides the high point, not just in a darker showpiece callback to the sensational Pentagon kitchen scene in the last film but in the film’s brief but most emotionally authentic scene, involving his relationship to Magneto. In a movie about mutants with superpowers, the best moment is human.

Parents should know that this film includes extended comic book-style action violence, with characters injured and killed and some disturbing images, skimpy costumes, and some strong language.

Family discussion: What is the biggest challenge in getting the X-Men to work together? Which powers would you like to have?

If you like this try: the other X-Men movies, especially “Days of Future Past”

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Steve Jobs

Posted on October 22, 2015 at 5:01 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: References to drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Tense and angry confrontations
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 23, 2014
Date Released to DVD: February 15, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B0168UF2PS

Copyright Universal Pictures 2015
Copyright Universal Pictures 2015

If you want a straightforward, fact-checked biography of Apple visionary Steve Jobs, watch Alex Gibney’s documentary, Steve Jobs: The Man In the Machine, or the Ashton Kutcher biopic (better than its reputation), simply titled Jobs. You can read the meticulously researched biography biography by Walter Isaacson. This film, directed by Danny Boyle and written by Aaron Sorkin, does to the traditional biographical movie what Jobs himself did to traditional ideas about computers. A lot of people won’t like that, but for me, after years of diligent, comprehensive and increasingly formulaic biographical films, my view is that of Patrick Henry (who might have been considered a candidate for Jobs’ “Think Different” ad campaign) — If this be revolution, make the most of it.

So, let’s get it straight from the outset. A lot of stuff in this movie didn’t happen or didn’t happen when and where it is shown here or between the characters who appear in the film. And no one in history, even Aaron Sorkin, can snap out dialog as dazzlingly crafted as this in normal conversation.

This is not a “and then this happened, and then there was this revelation, and then there was this setback, and then there was this triumph” sort of movie. This movie respects its audience enough to assume that either we already know the parameters of Jobs’ life or that if we do not know the details, we are more interested in the essence. Think of it this way. It is not a photograph of Steve Jobs; it is an abstract painting. Or, it is not Julie Andrews singing “My Favorite Things;” it is John Coltrane’s 14-minute meditation on the Richard Rodgers tune. This is pure cinema, and it is thrilling to watch.

The movie takes place in three acts, three moments in real time, as Jobs (Michael Fassbender, capturing the fury, magnetism, brilliance, and shocking selfishness of the man). Jobs is backstage, preparing for three product launches: the Macintosh in 1984, the Next computer in 1988, and the iMac in 1998, after Jobs had been fired from Apple and then brought back in utter vindication to the company he co-founded. Each act is filmed (literally, mechanically shot) and scored to meld form and content.

Composer Daniel Pemberton wrote three entirely separate movie scores. The first was played exclusively on the technology of 1984. The second, reflecting the grand setting of the launch in San Francisco’s opera house and the operatic drama of the disastrous launch of a wildly overpriced product, is a full-scale symphonic piece with an Italian libretto (the lyrics are about machinery). And the third, with Jobs’ triumphant restoration to the role that meant everything to him, was composed entirely on Apple products.

Sorkin’s favorite tools are all here — hyper, rat-a-tat dialog as characters race around to meet a deadline, people who are superb at their jobs and lousy in their family and social relationships, and people who bring the trauma of their personal failures into the professional context (some vice versa as well). He moves people on and off stage at the pace of a door-slamming Feydeau farce. We see Jobs’ hyper-focus and grandiosity as he barks orders to (illegally) turn off the exit signs in the auditorium so the light won’t interfere with the total darkness he wants for the presentation and complains that he was not on the cover of TIME’s Man of the Year issue. He understands something important, not what people want because they do not know it exists, but what they will want. Computers are designed by engineers for engineers. He wants them to be not just tools but friends. He wants them — literally — to say “hello,” to be so “warm and playful” that English majors and bakers and fire fighters and musicians will want to use them. He wants an ad campaign that tells people they (all) can “think different” like Jim Henson (perfect for a generation that grew up on “Sesame Street”) and Cesar Chavez by using his products. And he wants to “make a dent in the universe.”

People who make a dent in the universe usually do serious damage to their relationships. We see that through the years as Jobs battles with his ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston), cruelly denying paternity of their daughter Lisa, with his longtime partner, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), his programmer (Michael Stuhlbarg), and with the professional manager he brought in to run the company, Pepsi’s John Sculley (a very sympathetic Jeff Daniels). He agonizes over the double rejection of being put up for adoption and then being brought back by the first couple who tried to adopt him. He talks to Lisa about two versions of the song “Both Sides Now,” a double double. And, crucially, he knows going into the first two launches that both will be disasters.

The film opens with archival footage of another visionary, Arthur C. Clarke, predicting the future of computers. A movie like this is what helps us understand the future of humanity.

Parents should know that one of the themes of this film is a disputed paternity test and failure to meet the financial or emotional obligations of a parent. There are references to neglect and drug usage and some tense and angry confrontations.

Family discussion: What did the revelation about the TIME cover mean to Steve Jobs? What was his most important contribution and what, at the end of his life, mattered most to him? Should he have thanked the Apple II team?

If you like this, try: the Gibney documentary, the Isaacson book, and “The Social Network”

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