Gran Turismo

Posted on August 24, 2023 at 5:13 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense action and some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Intense sequences of car races with crashes, explosions, and fire, characters injured and an of-screen death, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: August 25, 2023

Copyright 2023 Columbia Pictures
Imagine a Cinderella story, but instead of a fairy godmother there’s a huge multi-national corporation and instead of a glass slipper there’s a race car, and instead of a prince there’s a trophy. We do love our underdog stories, and “Gran Turismo” is a doozy because, unlike Cinderella, it is based on a true story. The millions of teenagers locked in their bedrooms all day and night playing games on their computers can now respond to the parents who urge them to get outside, get a job, and get a life by directing them to this one-in-a-million story about a guy who turned his hours in front of a computer into a career as a professional race car driver.

That guy is Jann (pronounced Yann) Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), who lives in Cardiff, Wales, with his parents, Lesley (former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell Horner), and Steve (Djimon Hounsou), a former athlete, now a rail yard worker.

Before the dreams of the teenager at the console, there was the dream of the program itself. It’s not a game, we are reminded in the film; it’s a sim (simulation). Developer Kazunori Yamauchi, an amateur race car driver, was determined to make the most authentically detailed sim in the world so that people like Jann could share the experience of driving 200 miles an hour in the most realistic cars and on the most realistic tracks in the world.

And then there was another dream. Orlando Bloom plays Danny Moore, based on the real-life executive Darren Cox. Moore goes to meet with the top Nissan executives in Tokyo to sell them on his idea: a competition among the 80 million sim players worldwide to get the best of the best, train them, and find one who can really race. It will make car buyers “associate their cars with adventure.” This is like Willy Wonka having a video candy-making competition to pick the next master chocolatier. But Nissan agrees, provided there is a master engineer to keep these competition winners safe. As that engineer, Jack Salter (David Harbour) points out, in a game when you crash, you hit reset. In real life, you could die. (Salter is a composite character, based on some real people and also, apparently, on Yoda and on Burgess Meredith, Clint Eastwood, and every crusty old character actor who has played a young boxer’s grumpy cornerman.)

The lanky Madekwe is an appealing hero, one might say an avatar for us in the audience. And director Neill Blomkamp does a terrific job of making Jann’s time at the console seem “real” and the real racetrack align with the sim. In a funny moment, Jann, who has hardly ever been behind the wheel of any car, uses what he learned in the sim to evade police after a minor fender bender. The racing scenes are dynamic and exciting. And the film parallels a game, with each goal and hazard set out clearly. And then, when the goal is achieved, the next level is unlocked and a new set of more difficult goals and hazards are in place. Most fun, we learn at the end that the real-life Jann, now a veteran of hundreds of races, is the film’s co-producer and stunt driver, a new level-up for him.

Parents should know that this film includes a scary crash with injuries and an off-screen death, other crashes, collisions, and cars repeatedly rolled over. Characters use some strong language and social drinking.

Family discussion: What did Jann learn from his crash? What would you want to create an accurate sim for?

If you like this, try: “Rock Star” and “The Last Straighter”

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The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

Posted on December 12, 2013 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 For extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive and intense fantasy-style violence with characters in peril, monsters, weapons, and fights, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, some
Date Released to Theaters: December 13, 2013
Date Released to DVD: April 7, 2014
Amazon.com ASIN: B00BEJL75I

The_Hobbit_The_Desolation_Of_Smaug_36556Everybody ups his game in this second of the three-part Peter Jackson version of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again.  The first one courageously tried out the new hyper-clear technology with twice as many frames per second that felt disorienting, chilly, and a little thin.  More seriously, it got bogged down in the storytelling.  A book about a journey became a movie that spends 40 minutes at home before anyone goes anywhere (with two different songs).  This second chapter starts right in the middle of the action and never stops.

Here’s a summary of the first film to get you up to date in case you skipped it or don’t remember: Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the title character, is accompanying a brave group of dwarves on a quest that will take them to the mountain lair of an angry dragon named Smaug who sleeps on an endless pile of stolen gold and jewels.  In part one, they made it part of the way there.  Part two begins in the midst of the action.  They are still far from their destination but every step is treacherous and every stage in the journey brings more trouble.  Middle Earth is deeply troubled by its divisions.  Dwarves and Elves do not trust one another.

Martin Freeman returns as Bilbo, whose epic travels inspire an inner journey toward meaning and purpose.  We see his struggle when he cannot bring himself to tell Gandalf (Ian McKellen) the truth about what he found.  He wants to tell the wizard about the magical golden ring he discovered.  But when the moment comes, and he can only say that what he found in the cave is his courage.  That is an intriguing statement, partly true, partly self-evidently false as he does not have the courage to tell Gandalf about the ring. But as we know from the Ring trilogy, part of the power of that plain gold band is the way it works on those who — at least temporarily — possess it.  Perhaps it is the ring that tells Bilbo to keep the secret.

But Bilbo, reluctant to join the dwarves in part one, is fully committed now, so in that sense he has found his courage, and finding it, now sees himself differently.  And it is that inner journey that holds the story together amidst the arrows and giant spiders and swashbuckling and guy with bird poop on his head and portentous statements like, “The fortunes of the world will rise and fall but here in this kingdom we will endure” (when we know they will) and “This forest feels as though a dread lies upon it” (when we know it does), and “It’s not our fight” (when we know it is).

Purists may object to the insertion of a brand-new character, but Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel, a warrior elf, is such a welcome addition that even Tolkein should be glad to add her to the cast.  And then, finally, there is Smaug, a scary monster who can see where humans, hobbits, dwarves, and elves cannot.  Benedict Cumberbatch, in his fifth major film appearance this year, provides the voice of ultimate predatory evil, and a cliffhanger that leaves us eager for the final chapter.

The intricacy of the detail everywhere you look is more than gorgeous.  It lends a timelessness to the story.  It tells us that there is a history here, that the people who created these structures intended them to be permanent and beautiful.  The fight scenes, staged as well or better than any other this year, are more than graceful violence.  They, too, communicate a seriousness of purpose and meaning that these characters bring to their lives — and inspire in ours.

Parents should know that like the other “Lord of the Rings” films, this one includes intense and sometimes graphic fantasy violence with monsters (dragon, giant spiders), weapons, fights, and constant peril, and characters are injured and killed.

Family discussion:  What title would you pick for yourself?  Why does Bilbo agree to get the Arkenstone?  Why doesn’t he tell the truth about the ring?

If you like this, try: the book by J.R.R. Tolkien and the “Lord of the Rings” Trilogy

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