Posted on June 20, 2024 at 9:34 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language
Profanity: Strong language for a PG-13
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 21, 2024

It is a joy to watch “Thelma,” inspired by the love writer/director Josh Margolin has for his own Thelma, his now-103-year-old grandmother we get a glimpse of over the closing credits. And it is a joy to watch 95-year-old June Squibb, the best thing in too many movies, in a first-time lead role, and a lead role in an action movie to boot. Squibb gives a performance of endless charm and wit as a loving grandmother who gets scammed and then deliciously, hilariously, and very satisfyingly, gets revenge.

Copyright 2024 Magnolia

Thelma and her grandson Daniel (Fred Hechinger) have a warm, loving relationship. We first see him in the classic grandchild role of guide to computers and the internet, with endless patience and good humor. They are very comfortable together and show tender concern for one another, but they are not always honest. Each wants the other to think they are busier and more secure than they really are. Before he leaves, he insists she put on a life alert, which she removes after he’s gone. And she assures him she has plenty to do, but she does not.

The real Thelma got one of those scam calls from someone pretending to be her grandson, saying he was in jail and needed cash to bail him out and her family stopped her before she sent any money. But the movie Thelma gets so upset she races to the post office with cash in an envelope and mails it. When she finds out she has been tricked, she is determined to get her money back.

This requires her to visit two friends, first a retirement home to visit Ben (a charming Richard Roundtree in his final role), an old friend who has a romantic interest in her that she does not reciprocate. He does have something she wants, though, a scooter, which she will need to get around. He insists on coming with her, even though he is starring as Daddy Warlocks in “Annie” at the retirement home that night. Together they visit Mona (a sweetly dotty Bunny Levine), who has a gun in a box on top of an armoire in her bedroom. Ben has to distract her and Thelma has to figure out a way to reach it.

And then they’re off, on the motorized scooter, for a wild adventure that I will not spoil, except to say that her determination and quick thinking are great fun. This is an action movie where the vehicle’s top speed is 25 mph and does not go very far before it needs to be recharged. When Thelma and Ben do the classic action movie slo-mo walk away from an explosion, it’s not because they are tough and cool; it’s probably because they are hard of hearing and do not know it happened. And yet, it is genuinely exciting. You want to argue with me that it is not realistic? Dude, it is as realistic as a street racer flying a car out of a skyscraper and disarming bombs or a hotel that caters only to assassins.

Squibb, who did some of her own stunts, uses every wrinkle on her face to show us Thelma’s fierce independence, love for her grandson, and refusal to give up on her money, on her justice, and on proving that she can take care of herself. Parker Posey and Clark Gregg as Thelma’s daughter and son-in-law and Daniel’s parents are terrific as the middle of the concern sandwich and Malcolm McDowell is most welcome as another wily senior.

This is everything you’d hope from a festival favorite, smart, fun, funny, and heartwarming. I’d love to see a sequel. There are a lot of scammers out there and not enough Thelmas or Squibbs.

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language for a PG-13, con artists, some peril, references to and depictions of ailments and predicaments of the elderly, a gun, an explosion, and family stress

Family discussion: Why don’t we see more movies about elderly people? Why is Daniel so close to Thelma? Ask the older relatives in your family about their adventures.

If you like this, try: “Lucky Grandma”

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The Bikeriders

Posted on June 20, 2024 at 5:25 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, violence, some drug use and brief sexuality
Profanity: Very strong language, constant f-words
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, constant smoking, marijuana, brief image of character using heroin
Violence/ Scariness: Very strong and graphic violence, fights, knives, guns, accidents, attempted rape, characters injured and killed, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Toxic masculinity
Date Released to Theaters: June 21, 2024
The Bikeriders
Copyright 2024 Focus

Writer/director Jeff Nichols tells the story of a Chicago motorcycle gang through the recorded interviews of Kathy (Jodie Comer), who married one of the Vandals five weeks after meeting him, and stayed with him through the brawls, arrests, and accidents. “The Bikeriders” is based on the book of photographs by Danny Lyons, who followed the Vandals from 1965-73. Lyons is played in the film by Mike Faist, who makes the most of a role that is mostly listening while holding a microphone from a reel-to-reel recorder, showing Lyons as curious but sympathetic.

The bike rider Kathy married is Benny (Austin Butler), who we first see refusing the demand of two very big guys in a bar, who tell him to remove his “colors,” the denim gang jacket with the patch on the front of a hand giving the finger and the gang’s name and a skull on the back. He is badly beaten (we find out how badly when the scene recurs after a flashback that brings us up to that date). As we learn with Kathy, Benny’s core attribute is that nothing matters to him but riding with the Vandals.

The leader of the bikeriders is Johnny (Tom Hardy), the only one who has a job and a family. He saw Marlon Brando in “The Wild Ones” on television, responding to the question, “What are you rebelling against?” with the essence of cool, “Whatdaya got?” He creates The Vandals, and like the Jets in “West Side Story” and the goodfellas in the movie of that name, it becomes a family for its members, with a sense of belonging, of home, of manhood.

And as in so many other stories, and so many other lives, it is great until it is not. The success of the Vandals inspires other bikeriders in other areas to want to join. And then it inspires a younger generation to want to join, and to be tougher and take bigger risks than Johnny’s original group. That group smoked cigarettes and drank beer. The Vietnam veterans who join smoke weed and sometimes shoot heroin.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols said that the most interesting character in the book is Kathy. Her tape-recorded interviews with Lyons were unusually candid and her perspective as an outsider who saw everything and spent much of her time with the Vandals but was not a part of them appealed to him, and he decided to tell the story from her perspective, making one big change. He set up something of a love triangle, with the Vandals being the third side. A key scene in the film has Kathy asking Johnny to kick Benny out of the Vandals so she can have him all to herself.

The movie is shot superbly by Adam Stone, with powerful images throughout. A lone cycle running out of gas by a cornfield. An intimate conversation between Benny and Johnny, illuminated by firelight. Every performance is outstanding. Jodie Comer delivers another impeccable accent, and she makes Kathy simple but not unintelligent. She does not spend time thinking about motivations or consequences, but she is direct and honest, making her an idea navigator for Lyons and for us. As Benny, Butler has a challenge in playing a character who is not expressive. But he shows us how magnetic he is for both Kathy and the Vandals. When he recognizes his limits and when he finally shows some emotion, Butler makes it organic and meaningful. There is strong support from Michael Shannon and a near-unrecognizable Norman Reedus as bikeriders.

The film may not be as meaningful as Nichols intends, but it is a strong story, well-told, and worth the ride.

Parents should know that this fact-based movie is very violent, with characters injured and killed and disturbing and graphic images, including brawls, knives, guns, accidents, and attempted rape. Characters use constant strong language, drink, smoke, and use marijuana and, briefly, heroin.

Family discussion: What did the club mean to Johnny? To Benny? To the younger people who joined?

If you like this, try: “Goodfellas,” “The Wild One,” “Biker Boyz,” and “Why We Ride” and Lyons’ book.

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Inside Out 2

Posted on June 12, 2024 at 2:43 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements
Profanity: Mild schoolyard language
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and chaos, plus teen angst
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 14, 2024
Copyright 2024 Disney/Pixar

Okay, Pixar, you got me. I cried and laughed within the first ten minutes of “Inside Out 2,” an adorable, heartwarming and fully up-to-the-original sequel to the beloved story of Riley and her middle school emotions. And then I cried two more times and laughed many times. Okay, maybe there might have been a little PTSD about being an adolescent and living with a few, but this movie is so brimming with empathy and understanding, I think there was some healing, too.

In the midst of the colorful, endearing characters and witty screenplay of the first film, there was the kind of insight it could take years of therapy to discover. The characters were the emotions Riley feels: Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Tony Hale replacing Bill Hader), and Disgust (Liza Lapira replacing Mindy Kaling). What they learn, so we do, too, is that what may feel like disturbing or negative emotions are necessary to keep us safe and help us understand the world around us.

As the movie begins, Riley is feeling like she has it all together. She’s gotten a lot taller. She has braces and feels confident about herself and her friendships, getting really good at ice hockey, invited to a three day elite hockey camp by the coach at the high school she will be attending. She’s a teenager now, blowing the candles on her 13th birthday cake. If she doesn’t know what’s coming yet, her face does. There’s a pimple coming on her chin. And for the first time, she wakes up feeling insecure and under too much pressure.

But then the console inside her head suddenly has a big, red, button labeled “Puberty.” And a group of very unsettling new emotions arrive: Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ado Edibiri), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), and Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos). I absolutely love the idea that this movie will inspire a bunch of 8-year-old to tell their parents they are experiencing an emotion usually associated with characters in novels by Sartre or Sagan.

Joy is very distressed by the new emotions, especially Anxiety, who seems to think she should be in charge. She explains that while Fear makes Riley afraid of what she can see, Anxiety makes her afraid of what might happen, and indeed, later in the film, we see an entire bullpen sitting at desks like those of the old-school Disney animators, imagining everything that might go wrong.

As they did before, Pixar has personified and made literal an array of internal and abstract concepts with wit, charm, and telling detail. Erik Erickson and Karl Jung would be impressed. The stream of consciousness is an actual stream. That hallmark of this stage of development, sarcasm (sorry, parents, try to think of it as an emblem of developing appreciation of layers of meaning), is an actual chasm. Nostalgia is a patient, elderly woman (June Squibb) who has to be told to go back to her room until she is needed, after “a couple of graduations and a best friend’s wedding.” Construction workers arrive for “demo day” to take out the old console, a moment that rivals the dissolving of Bing Bong in the first film. Memory, buried secrets, beliefs, sense of self, are all brilliantly imagined. The emotion characters zoom in on Riley’s friends’ faces to decipher their expressions, the kinds of details a younger person might overlook. We also get to see a hilarious “Blue’s Clues” or “Dora the Explorer”-like cartoon character from Riley’s early childhood, named Bloofy (Ron Funches), who asks the audience to help him solve problems.

And as in the first, the voice talent is superb. Poehler is just right for Joy’s natural energy and ebullient enthusiasm, sometimes masking her own anxious feelings about keeping everyone confident and happy. Hawke’s slightly husky voice is perfect for Anxiety, who gives us a glimpse of her own confidence and even joy in giving Riley the tools she needs to navigate the challenges of adolescence. We can see the anxiousness in Joy and the joy in Anxiety as Riley moves toward integration of the emotions, with a very sweet moment as both the hockey players and the emotions move toward teamwork. It is a treat to hear Paula Pell as the anger inside Riley’s mom and Pixar completists might recognize the voice of “Inside Out’s” director and this film’s executive producer, Pete Docter, as Riley’s Dad’s anger. The reference to his home state of Minnesota is another nod.

Screenwriters Dave Holstein and Meg LeFauve and director Kelsey Mann were advised by a teams of experts, including psychologists and the real experts, teenage girls. This film is an exciting adventure of the heart and spirit and I look forward to happily crying through it again.

NOTE: Stay ALL the way to the end of the credits for an extra scene

Parents should know that this film has a lot of teenage angst and some mild schoolyard language. They should also know it will have a powerful impact on the parents as they remember their own adolescence and consider the emotions they fell over their children growing up.

Family discussion: How do each of the emotions help Riley? Ask members of the family how they learned to solve problems.

If you like this, try: “Inside Out” and “Everybody Rides the Carousel”

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Bad Boys: Ride or Die

Posted on June 4, 2024 at 3:29 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence, language throughout and some sexual references
Profanity: Very strong and crude references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drug dealers
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and very gory violence, many characters injured and killed, knives, pistols and. machine guns, chases, explosions, fire, alligator
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 7, 2024
Copyright Sony 2024

What’cha going to do? You’re going to go see this silly summer movie because it has Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, a lot of winks and in-jokes, and some eye-popping chases and explosions. Plus, a very funny joke featuring a country superstar.

The original Bad Boys starred two very popular television actors and cast them against type as cops. Real-life homebody Will Smith was the playa with the cool car and real-life sometime-volatile Martin Lawrence played the devoted family man. The film was an exemplar of the buddy cop genre along with “Lethal Weapon,” balancing between wild, stunt-tastic action sequences and the chemistry between the two performers, both exceptionally good at bickering repartee with an underpinning of understanding and dedication to the job and to each other. There’s a reason almost 30 years after the first one, we’re up to number four, with the last one called “Bad Boys for Life” and this one “Ride or Die.”

Produced by too-much-action-is- never-enough Jerry Bruckheimer and the two stars, this latest episode has plenty to reward the fans, starting from the opening, which harks back to chapter one with Mike (Smith) terrifying Marcus (Lawrence) by driving his flashy car at top speed through the streets of Miami. Marcus insists on stopping for some ginger ale to settle his stomach. Mike tells him he has just 90 seconds at a convenience store and better not buy anything else. And of course Marcus is in the middle of buying two things he perpetually craves, Skittles and a hot dog with everything when a robber with very unfortunate timing decides to hold up the cashier. Exciting and comic confrontation ensues, and we are solidly in the land of the perpetual Bad Boys. No one would even think of trying to call them Bad Men.

The only element that might count as a surprise in this film is what the Bad Boys are racing toward in that first scene. It is a wedding, not of one of Marcus’ children (we’ve already seen that his daughter Megan is married to Reggie, played by Dennis Greene) but of ladies’ man Mike, marrying Christine (Melanie Liburd), the beautiful physical therapist who helped him heal after he was shot in the third film. Pretty soon, for reasons no one needs to worry about or remember, Mike and Marcus are being hunted down by both good and bad guys and they are reunited with the son Mike first found out about in chapter 3, the drug dealer and assassin now in prison, but not really a bad guy at heart.

The filmmakers, including screenwriter of the original film George Gallo, paid more attention to the details of the earlier chapters than the audience ever did. The most devoted fans will recognize characters and plot points from chapters 1-3. There is another cameo from Michael Bay, a brief return of the character played by DJ Khaled, a posthumous appearance by the Bad Boys’ beloved Captain Howard, played by the very much still alive Joe Pantoliano, and, the scene that got the most cheers from the audience, an opportunity at last for Reggie to show what a Marine can do. Smith and Lawrence still pack a lot of star power. But the film criminally misuses Tiffany Haddish in a thankless and unfunny role. She looks good, though.

But most ticket-buyers will just be there to see the chases and explosions, which are as chase-y and explosion-y as anyone could hope for, along with shoot-outs, stabbing, and let me just put it this way, (spoiler alert, but not too much) when they Scooby-Doo a climactic confrontation in an abandoned amusement park and happen to mention that “legend has it” the park’s famous gigantic albino alligator named Duke is still swimming around the area, you can bet Duke will make an appearance. Or two. Just like you can bet we’ll be seeing “Bad Boys 5” before too long.

Parents should know that this is a very violent movie with many characters injured and killed and many graphic and disturbing images. There are many chases and explosions and fires, guns, including machine guns, knives, punches, and an alligator. Characters use strong and very crude language and there are crude sexual references.

Family discussion: Why have Mike and Marcus remained partners? Which character would you most like to be like?

If you like this, try: the other “Bad Boys” movies and the “Letha Weapon” series

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Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Posted on May 22, 2024 at 5:51 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sequences of strong violence, and grisly images
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some substance use
Violence/ Scariness: Constant peril and violence, torture, guns, knives, fire, characters injured and killed, disturbing, graphic, and grisly images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 24, 2024

It is always a thrill to enter George Miller’s dystopian vision, now approaching the half century mark of eye-popping design and heart-in-the-throat action. The first “Mad Max” film premiered in 1979, and it was like nothing we had seen before. Mel Gibson had the title role as a cop turned warrior in a post-apocalyptic world of brutal savagery, humans almost feral, with survival the only goal. The films borrow themes from classic genres, myths, knights and chivalry, wasterns, even sci-fi, but they build on those themes like the characters build massive machines out of junk piles. This series creates something new, enthralling, terrifying, dark and disturbing cautionary tales but with a glimmer of humanity.

The fifth in the series is both sequel and prequel. “Fury Road” is a transition from the original Mad Max character, Tom Hardy taking over for Gibson, to a new character, Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron. Furiosa, with a mechanical prosthetic arm, is a warrior as fierce as her name. In “Fury Road” she is trying to rescue young women from a harem/breeding farm under the control of Immortan Joe (originally played by the late Hugh Keays-Byrne, in this chapter played by Lachy Hulme).

While the last film spanned just three days, this one tells us the story of Furiosa from childhood to what appears to be her mid-20s. We first see the young Furiosa (played by a very compelling Alyla Browne), reaching up to pick fruit from a tree and about to pick a second one for another girl, perhaps her sister. This is more than a Biblical metaphor. The tree is in a small, Edenic green space in the midst of the devastated, parched desert world we know from the earlier films. That means it must be kept secret.

Though she is very young, Furiosa knows what to do when intruders approach. She tells her companion to be invisible and she races off to cut the fuel lines of their motorbikes. The intruders grab Furiosa. Her mother chases them, on horseback the first of a series of catch-your-breath chase scenes. Eventually, Furiosa is adopted by Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), the leader of the gang that snatched her.

Dementus is a charismatic but volatile leader. He wears a billowy white parachute and has a small stuffed bear, a relic of his ruined life. He calls her his daughter and lets her hold the stuffed bear that belonged to his children. He tells Furiosa she does not have to look as he tortures her mother. But her gaze is steady.

For a movie that is always hurtling between three major outposts, with different factions battling each other for the scarce resources, gas, water, and ammunition, it takes its time getting us to Anya Taylor-Johnson as the adult Furiosa. She is an ever scarcer resource; she is healthy, and there is a moment when she is placed with the harem, with the thought that she might be able to produce a healthy baby. She escapes and finds a way to work as a mechanic and later riding shotgun on the gas tanker, driven by Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke).

This edition is more of an origin story than the others, which centered on characters who were already fully formed. There is less focus on the way that the scarcity of the resources that give weight to the stakes. But these are relatively minor points when the screen is all but exploding with intense action and mesmerizing visuals. Every detail of Miller’s world (with the help of Production Designer Colin Gibson) is intricate and meaningful. Jenny Beaven’s costumes define the characters and show us the defects and disabilities that are the result of their deprivations and depraved sensibility. The details also show us how parched the world is, not just the aridity of the desert landscape but the absence of any capacity for progress, any thought beyond what can be obtained and who can be vanquished as quickly as possible.

That means many chases, and no one is better at making us lean forward to watch than Miller. Those scenes are a lesson in timing, camera placement, and editing (by Margaret Sixel, married to Miller, and Eliot Knapman). They crackle with energy and excitement. And a scene near the end with Furiosa and Dementus is almost Shakespearean in its scope, is beautifully performed by Hemsworth and Taylor-Joy. Miller is an extraordinary film and this series continues to be powerful and provocative.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent movie with many characters injured, tortured, and killed and many grisly and disturbing images. A child sees her mother murdered. Characters use strong language.

Family discussion: What makes Furiosa different? Do you think the story Furiosa told about what happened at the end is true?

If you like this, try; the other Mad Max movies

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