The Flash

Posted on June 15, 2023 at 5:16 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some strong language and partial nudity
Profanity: Some strong language, several s-words, one f-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic-book action peril and violence, injuries and sad deaths
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 15, 2023

Copyright 2023 Warner Brothers
“The Flash” is centered in the sweet spot between action, comedy, and heart because is is grounded in a deep affection for the source material but is not afraid to play with some of its absurdities. I’m going to tread very carefully to avoid spoilers (and alert you to what I hope will be just two of the jokes in this review), but if you want to go into the film knowing nothing, including what is in the trailer, come back and read this after you’ve seen it.

Ezra Miller shows no signs of the instability that has led to troubling behavior and disturbing headlines in his excellent performance as not one but two Barry Allens. The storyline allows for something of an origin story without the too-often superhero film mistake of making it all about the adjustment to the use and purpose of superpowers and attendant vulnerabilities. We first see Barry Allen (Flash’s secret identity) trying to get a high-protein sandwich at a cafe counter. He is, unsurprisingly, in a hurry because first, he is running late, and two, as a result of the energy he burns in his super-fastness requires a lot of food for fuel. It’s not quite like Popeye and spinach, but it’s not not like it, either.

Barry is awkward and shy. He works as a forensic scientist, looking at evidence from crime scenes. And he is hoping to exonerate his father, Henry (Ron Livingston), who is in prison for murdering his wife, Barry’s mother, when Barry was a child. Barry knows his father is innocent, and is hoping that his friend Bruce (Batman) Wayne (Ben Affleck) can help him with a crucial piece of evidence, security camera footage from a grocery store that would substantiate Henry’s alibi. But the enhanced clarity of the tape, shot from above, does not show Henry’s face, only his baseball cap. Barry, devastated, goes for such an intensive run that he passes the speed of light and goes back in time. If he can do that, he reasons, maybe he can go back further and prevent his mother’s murder. Bruce Wayne warns him it is a big mistake. Butterfly effect, etc. He, of course, knows very well what it is like to have your entire live defined by a devastating childhood loss.

Barry cannot resist. And that is when things start to scramble. First, one very small choice somehow had a lot of major repercussions, some strangely random. Somehow, instead of Michael J. Fox coming in to replace him, the original star of “Back to the Future,” Eric Stoltz, stayed in the role. The people he knows from his timeline are either not there or very different. And second, Barry misjudged and instead of returning to the present, he finds himself 10 years ago, which means, yes, that his teen-age self is there, too. The interaction between the two Barrys (both played by Miller), one formed by the murder of his mother and wrongful conviction of his father and one who grew up in a home with intact, loving parents, is at the heart of the film. In fact, the villain (Michael Shannon as Kryptonian bad guy General Zod) is almost an afterthought in this film, relying on our remembering him and his whole deal from previous encounters.

Instead, the movie is more about Barry, both Barrys, their interaction and their growing understanding of their situation and, if it can be put this way, each other. From a small, witty hiccup in the presentation of the movie’s title to the throwaway lines about other anomalies in the pile of spaghetti that is what happens when you splinter linear time, to some funny cameos (Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth provides one of the film’s best moments), the film is more interested in concept and character than mayhem.

That’s a good thing as the mayhem is more serviceable than memorable. This is a movie that is more about the people than the powers, and that is a superpower worth having.

Parents should know that this film includes brief non-sexual male nudity (bare tush), some strong language (s-words and one f-word), and extended comic book-style peril and action violence, with injuries and some sad deaths.

Family discussion: What one small decision have you made that had a surprisingly big impact on your life? If you could go back in time ten years, what advice would you give yourself?

If you like this, try; Other time-warp movies like “Back to the Future” with Michael J. Fox and “Frequency” as well as other DC Comics movies

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Trailer: The Current War with Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Nicholas Hoult, and Michael Shannon

Posted on July 8, 2019 at 7:16 am

There is no film I am looking forward to more than “The Current War,” with an all-star cast in the true story of one of history’s most consequential competitions: Thomas Edison vs. Nikola Tesla. It looks great!

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

12 Strong

Posted on January 18, 2018 at 11:22 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for war violence and language throughout
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Portrayal of misogynistic regime
Violence/ Scariness: Extended wartime violence, characters injured and killed, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 19, 2018
Date Released to DVD: April 30, 2018

Copyright 2017 Warner Brothers
If it was fiction, you’d dismiss 12 Strong as too far-fetched. But this recently declassified military mission following 9/11, with a tiny Special Forces group, just twelve men, led by an officer who had never been in combat, were sent to Afghanistan to take out a Taliban outpost. They were vastly overmatched in terms of men and weapons. And, most improbable of all, they had to travel by horseback. Men trained to use the very latest of technology were riding the mode transportation used by knights and cowboys. These guys are the best of the best, nothing but courage, patriotism, skill, and determination all the way through. Think of them as The Clean or rather Sandy Dozen.

This film begins with a brief reminder of the terrorist attacks leading up to the airplanes that flew into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. And then, as in all films of men about to go into danger, we see happy families, just enough to make sure we care about these loving husbands and fathers. We know that Captain Nelson (Chris Hemsworth, back to being mortal after “Thor: Ragnarok” but no less heroic) is not going to be able to keep his promise to pick that adorable ladybug-drawing daughter after school, and pretty soon he knows it, too.

There are wives who bravely say that this is what they signed up for. One says, “Some wives cry; I clean,” as she scrubs her oven. Another looks at her husband grimly, insisting he give their son the bad news himself. Nelson has to undo his plans for a desk job to go back to his team. He also has to prove himself to his commanding officer, who selects him over five other teams because he seems to have the best understanding of the challenges, especially the weather that will make their mission impossible if they don’t complete it before winter makes the route impassable.

And then the twelve are on their way with just the briefest and sketchiest debrief from a CIA officer. There are three warlords in the area who all oppose the Taliban but otherwise are in mortal combat with each other. One of the challenges for the American team will be to keep that fragile alliance in place as they need the support of all of them to reach the outpost, liberating several locations along the way.

It is hard to follow at times. There are so many “the whole world depends on this next impossible thing” moments, so much bro talk, so much tech talk, so many reminders of how many days “in country,” so many similar-looking explosions and shoot-outs. But Hemsworth, Shannon, and Pena create real, relatable and yet heroic characters, and seeing them ride into battle on horseback against daunting odds is genuinely moving and inspiring. The most intriguing part is the developing relationship between Nelson and his local counterpart, General Dostum (Navid Negahban). The outcome revealed before the credits is appropriately both reassuring and disturbing.

Parents should know that this film includes extensive wartime peril and violence including guns and explosions with many characters injured and killed, some grisly and disturbing images, references to child abuse, strong language, and some sexual references.

Family discussion: What is the difference between a soldier, a warrior, and a warlord? How did Nelson and Dostum learn to trust one another? What can we tell about the man by the way they said goodbye to their families?

If you like this, try: the book by Doug Stanton and the movies “Act of Valor,” “Lone Survivor” and “Charlie Wilson’s War”

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Elvis & Nixon

Posted on April 21, 2016 at 5:30 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, references to drugs
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 23, 2016
Date Released to DVD: July 18, 2016 ASIN: B01EZ6PZSQ

Copyright 2016 Amazon Studios
Copyright 2016 Amazon Studios
Today it does not seem at all odd to see Beyoncé hanging out with the Obamas or a reality television star as a popular Presidential candidate. But in the before-social media days of 1970, celebrity culture was not as all-encompassing as it is now. Frank Sinatra memorably supported John F. Kennedy in 1960 and just as memorably was not-so-gently pushed aside when his possible ties to organized crime and general inability to follow orders became a problem. Politicians, even today, want the support of celebrity fans but do not want the controversy that sometimes comes with them. And certainly the very serious-minded Richard Nixon would not want to appear frivolous by hanging out with a singer, even the most famous singer in the world. When told that “the king” wanted to see him, he said, “The king of what?” He was used to visits from actual royalty, and prided himself on learning a few pleasantries in their native language to put them at ease. But what could be the native language of a man from Tupelo, Mississippi who was known as “Elvis the Pelvis” for his sexy, hip-swaying performances, and who sang songs of teddy bears and hound dogs that made girls swoon?

Elvis Presley and Richard M. Nixon did meet in the Oval Office. No one knows exactly what they talked about, but this charming film makes a believable case that they had more in common than we might think. As the President points out (he did insist on being briefed on Presley), they both came from humble beginnings and worked hard to rise to the top of their respective fields. They both feel badly treated by the press. They both find the Woodstock-era flower children and Vietnam war protesters disturbing, even seditious. Both are keenly aware of their level of support and power, which will never be enough. They may not be aware, but we are, that their very success has isolated them in a way that leaves them endearingly unaware of some elements of everyday interaction that the rest of us take for granted. Both have daughters they love very much. And both, constantly surrounded by young men somewhere between acolytes, enablers, managers, and favor-seekers, are, somehow, lonely.

The movie is so delightful that its shrewdness sneaks up on you. There is a very funny line about astronaut Buzz Aldrin that makes an insightful point about celebrity, as does a technique Elvis and his “Memphis Mafia” use repeatedly when they are thwarted, to greater comic effect every time. The parallel scenes as two respective entourages brief Elvis and Nixon about the appropriate protocol for the other is well done and the songs — not by Elvis but of his era — are especially well chosen, particularly when Elvis sings along to “Suzy Q.” Director Liza Johnson makes the most of a witty script (“Princess Bride’s” Carey Elwes was a co-author) and maintains a tone that is slightly heightened but just plausible, given the heightened reality of the two men at its center.

Parents should know that this film includes strong language, guns, and smoking.

Family discussion: What did Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon have in common? How did each rely on the young men around them? Why is there no Elvis music in the film?

If you like this, try: “Frost/Nixon” and “Elvis Presley: Thats the Way It Is”

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DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Inspired by a true story

Midnight Special

Posted on March 31, 2016 at 5:58 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some violence and action
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence including guns, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 1, 2016
Date Released to DVD: June 20, 2016 ASIN: B01F5ZY4G0

Copyright Warner Brothers 2016
Copyright Warner Brothers 2016
What would happen if someone appeared with strange special powers? What if the person with special powers was an eight year old boy? Would a religious group consider him an angel or maybe a savior? Would the government consider him a threat? How would his parents protect him and teach him what he needed to know when in so many ways he would be teaching them?

In “Take Shelter,” writer/director Jeff Nichols gave us Michael Shannon as a man with apocalyptic visions that might have been a mental breakdown or might have been the real thing. In “Midnight Special,” Shannon again stars, this time as the father of a boy named Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher of “St. Vincent”) who is being hunted both by a religious cult and the US government.

It takes a while to figure this out. We first hear an Amber alert about a missing child who has been taken from his parents and then we see two men in a seedy motel, the window covered with cardboard, and we have to suspect the worst. The child is sitting on the floor wearing goggles and industrial-grade earmuffs and is covered by a sheet.

It looks grim and gruesome, but as soon as Roy (Shannon) picks up the boy, it is clear that they are devoted to one another. Although the Amber alert referred to a couple as the missing boy’s parents, it is Roy who is Alton’s father. Roy and Alton are traveling with a man named Lucas (Joel Edgerton), who seems very committed to protecting them but not very knowledgeable. He often asks Roy questions about Alton, not to pry or to get to know him better but to be better able to protect the boy. At this point, we still don’t know what they are protecting him from, or why anyone would want to hurt him.

A religious group with women in the pastel prairie attire, with intricate braided hair, is led by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepherd), who leads his congregation in a recital of a string of numbers. Their prayer service is interrupted by the FBI, which takes them all away in buses for questioning. They each send search teams to find the boy. Roy and Lucas take desperate measures to keep him from being found. An official from the NSA (Adam Driver, excellent) tries to figure out how an eight year old boy has access to encrypted national security data.

We begin to learn about Alton’s gifts and vulnerabilities and about the stress both have brought to Roy and the boy’s mother, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst). Lieberher is outstanding, with a gravity and dignity that tell us more about Alton than the special effects. In the movie’s most touching moment, he tells his father not to worry about him. “I like worrying about you,” Roy says.

Parents should know that this film has violence including guns, characters injured and killed, supernatural destruction, adult and child characters in peril, and brief strong language.

Family discussion: Why does Roy say he likes worrying about his son? Who is in the best position to protect someone like Alton?

If you like this, try: “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and, for a silly and raunchy story with a similar plot, try “Paul”

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