Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

Posted on December 21, 2023 at 2:12 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language and sci-fi violence
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Beer
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic-book style fantasy action, some disturbing images of characters getting burned and stabbed, zombie-like characters, monsters
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: December 22, 2023

Copyright WB 2023
I get the feeling everyone was just calling it in on this one. The DCCU is getting a makeover under James Gunn and Peter Safran and who knows what will happen given the prospect of the catastrophic leadership of David Zaslav burying his bad decisions and collecting a huge paycheck with a possible sale of Warner-Discovery to Paramount. And Jason Mamoa already made it clear this was his last Aquaman movie. Whether the behind-the-scenes is the reason for this lackluster, derivative entry in the DC Cinematic Universe or not, the movie is a wait-for-streaming for all but the most devoted fans.

In our last episode, Aquaman (Momoa) killed a pirate named Jesse Kane, and his son, David (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) vows to kill Aquaman in revenge. And Aquaman seizes control of the underwater kingdom from his half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson). An extra scene in the credits has David Kane joining forces with marine scientist Stephen Shin (Randall Park), who promises to help David get his revenge if David will help him find the lost kingdom under the sea.

We pick up a few years later, where, in the first of a series of clangingly obvious foreshadowing signals, Arthur/Aquaman is now married to Mera (Amber Heard) and he tells us the most important thing in the world to him is their baby son, Junior. Aquaman divides his time between his home at the shore, with his human father, Tom (Temuera Morrison) helping to care for Junior, and his undersea kingdom. He is often frustrated with the bureaucracy of the kingdom’s council. And he is very concerned about the land countries destroying the environment, but, with his kingdom’s long history of secrecy, he cannot reach out to the upper world.

David has found the lost kingdom and the source of immense evil power in the black trident. A frozen spirit who looks like a cross between Groot and the Green Goblin says he will give that power to David if he will bring him the descendent of his enemy, which turns out to be guess who.

Actually, it’s guess whos, but that comes later. In order to fight David, Aquaman will have to team up with Orm, the half-brother who tried to kill him, and who is now in prison. The council will never approve, knowing that breaking Orm out of prison will start a war with his captors, but no matter, Aquaman does it anyway.

Much of the storyline is similar to “The Black Panther,” a kingdom with superior technology trying to decide whether to let the rest of the world know who they are and a villain seeking revenge with a conclusion for one character very reminiscent of Killmonger. And the mechanical octopus-like machine seems an awful lot like the one from “The Incredibles.” Topo, the real (CGI) octopus, is, fun, though, and I wish we’d seen more of him. The special effects range from okay to pretty good. Martin Short makes the best of a character who seems like a cross between Jabba the Hutt and a champion from RuPaul’s drag race.

It swings back and forth between meaningless nods to the issue of climate change (the most damaging technology is imaginary), action scenes with lots of monsters and machines, cliche dialog (“It’s time for me to reclaim my destiny!”), and corny winks at the audience. Here’s hoping the Gunn/Safran regime can do better.

NOTE: Stay for one mid-credits scene

Parents should know that this film has some strong language and constant comic book-style action with some grisly images of monsters. Characters are in peril and there are graphic wounds.

Family discussion: What influenced the relationship between Arthur and Orm? How would we think of environmental threats differently if we thought humanoid creatures lived there? Why did Aquaman try to save David?

If you like this, try: the other DC comics films and the comic books, especially the Neal Adams versions

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Moonfall

Posted on February 3, 2022 at 5:30 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence, disaster action, strong language, and some drug use
Profanity: A handfuls of bad words
Alcohol/ Drugs: Medication and marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and intense natural and unnatural disaster, mayhem, floods, earthquakes, looting, guns, suicide, explosions, monster, sacrifice, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 4, 2022

Copyright Lionsgate 2021
If movies had IQs, this one would be in the low double digits; it may even leave the viewer’s IQ a couple of points lower. But, hey, this is a Roland Emmerich end-of-the-world special effects extravaganza and it has tsunamis and looting and nuclear bombs, and chases and explosions and more explosions, so if that’s your jam, by all means go for it.

And you can probably preserve those IQ points by just not paying too much attention to what there is of a plot or to some weird elements like the unnecessary reference to “our friends at SpaceX” and a character wondering “What would Elon do?” There’s an endorsement of religion, perhaps to counter a plot turn that undermines some core beliefs of some faiths. A moment that is supposed to be tender and heartwarming as characters reconcile in the face of mass extermination is awkward and random. And the movie does not seem to know how to make the most of genuine big movie star and brilliant actress Halle Berry, stuck much of the time with exposition, cheering other characters on, and wrinkling her lovely brow to show concern.

This is one of those movies where a “fringe” (other people might use the word “crackpot”) “scientist” (not if your definition includes peer review) is the only person who has figured out that the moon is hollow because it is mechanical, constructed, as in not natural. That is space-obsessed KC Houseman (John Bradley), who has a cat named Fuzz Aldren, an English accent, and a tiny following in conspiracy-minded corners of the internet.

What the actual scientists have begun to figure out, and which KC believes confirms his theories, is that the moon’s orbit is shifting and this is deeply concerning because it moderates our home planet’s wobble on its axis, leading to a relatively stable climate and causes the tides. So if it gets out of whack, even a little, it affects everything on earth, from our days and months to our oceans. And if it gets too much out of whack, it collides with us, causing massive tsunamis and earthquakes and ultimately killing everyone. Furthermore, “city-sized pieces of moon debris” hitting the earth could destroy everything.

In other words, it’s a big deal and someone better figure out a way to stop it. In other other words, this is basically “Don’t Look Up” without the satire. That means that most of the people in any kind of position of power either lie (nice cameo by Donald Sutherland who wisely says his lines and gets out), dither around, throw nuclear missiles at everything or or duck out. Most of the people not in power descend into “everyone for himself” chaos. So only our scrappy little group working outside the system can save the day. They do accept help, though, from techies, scientists, and the military.

That team consists of our fringe “scientist,” and astronauts Jo (Halle Berry) and Brian (Patrick Wilson), one the closest of colleagues but estranged for ten years following a failed mission where their colleague was killed. We go back and forth between their mission to somehow knock the moon back on course and the perils faced by their children trying to get to Colorado, which for some reason has been picked as a safe place. That’s Brian’s college-age son (Charlie Plummer) with his mother, her Lexus-dealer second husband (Michael Pena) and their young daughters and Jo’s young son and his nanny. I did enjoy the Roche limit developments that took advantage of the gravitational changes as the moon approached earth.

The sketchy storyline borrows shamelessly from “Superman,” “Battleship Earth,” and “Contact” without adding anything new. Explosion movies don’t need to be smart but they shouldn’t be this dumb. “Everything we thought we knew about the universe is out the window,” a character says. Maybe they should have thrown this script out of the window at the same time.

Parents should know that this film has end-of-the-world scenes of massive natural and un-natural disasters, guns, suicide, looting, sad deaths including a parent who sacrifices himself to save his child, a handful of bad words, marijuana and medication.

Family discussion: Who would you see if you were interacting with the AI and why?

If you like this, try: “2012,” “Independence Day,” and “The Tomorrow War”

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Trailer: Moonfall

Posted on January 6, 2022 at 5:38 pm

Halle Berry (“Jocinda Fowler,” left) and Patrick Wilson (“Brian Harper,” right) as stranded astronauts in the sci-fi epic MOONFALL.

When the moon explodes, who can save the day? Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Michael Peña, Charlie Plummer, Kelly Yu, Eme Ikwuakor, Carolina Bartczak, and Donald Sutherland! The Lionsgate film will open in theaters on February 4, 2022.

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Midway

Posted on November 7, 2019 at 5:40 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of war violence and related images, language and smoking
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking
Violence/ Scariness: War-related peril and violence, characters injured and killed, guns, bombs, aerial battles, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Portrayal of historic events reflects the era's attitudes
Date Released to Theaters: November 7, 2019
Date Released to DVD: February 17, 2020
Copyright 2019 Summit Entertainment

The shocking attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in December 1941 was not just a devastating loss, the “day that will live in infamy,” as President Roosevelt said. It was a humiliating failure of our intelligence operation. We were not prepared for war with Japan in terms of personnel, weapons, or planes. And we continued to suffer brutal defeats in the first months. If America could not start to win some battles, Japan would begin to invade our west coast.

Six months later, the three-day battle of Midway was a critically important victory for the United States. From June 3-6, 1942, American forces gave Japan its first significant defeat of the war, the result of strategy, tactics, better intelligence, and, most of all, the unimaginable dedication and honor of the Greatest Generation. This re-telling of the story has the bombast we expect from director Roland Emmerich, but the stirring story and appealing characters make it a worthy tribute for Veteran’s Day weekend.

In Midway, creenwriter Wes Tooke (television’s “Colony”) balances the big picture battles and tactical overlay with the stories of a small group of real-life heroes. At the heart of the story is Dick Best (Ed Skrein) as the cocky pilot who shuts off the engine before landing on an aircraft carrier, just for practice. His wife Anne (Mandy Moore) is as tough as he is. If this movie had been made in the 80’s, Best would have been played by Tom Cruise. If it had been made in the 40’s, it would have been Clark Gable. Skrein makes Best the quintessential American hero, cool under pressure, confident, a bit of a cowboy. Luke Kleintank plays Earle Dickenson, the first Naval pilot to be awarded three Navy Crosses. If this were made in the 1940’s, his character would be played by Spencer Tracy.

Roland Emmerich knows how to make the battle scenes tense and exciting. He shows us just how fragile and vulnerable the planes were; it feels like they’re up in the air in an orange crate. He shows us how all the pieces came together, including the quirky code-breaker Joseph Rochefort (Brennan Brown) and Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson), who had served in Japan, and whose warnings were ignored. Bull Halsey (Dennis Quaid) struggled with excruciatingly painful illness as he became America’s most acclaimed fighting admiral. Mandy Moore as Ann Best shows us the spirit of the home front. And Nick Jonas will break your heart as a machinist captured by the Japanese.

We look back at history and we cannot help taking it all for granted. Movies like this remind us how close we came to disaster and how many lives were lost to keep us safe.

Parents should know that this film includes WWII battle footage with bombs, explosions, fire, and guns. Characters are injured and killed.

Family discussion: Why is this film dedicated to the military on both sides of the Midway battle?  How were Best and Dickenson different and how were each one’s strengths reflected in their choices?

If you like this, try: Books: The Battle of Midway, by Craig L. Symonds, and The Flying Guns: Cockpit Record of a Naval Pilot from Pearl Harbor Through Midway, by Earle Dickenson, played by Luke Kleintank in the film. There is also a 1976 film starring Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda.

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Big Stone Gap

Posted on October 8, 2015 at 5:51 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief suggestive material
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkeness
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations, sad death
Diversity Issues: Ethnic diversity
Date Released to Theaters: October 9, 2015
Copyright 2015 Picturehouse
Copyright 2015 Picturehouse

Even in small towns, big things can happen. Sometimes the most famous movie star in the world stops by and makes international headlines. And even bigger things happen, too — they just don’t get into the newspapers. Adriana Trigiani’s best-selling novels about her home town of Big Stone Gap, Virginia are loving tributes to the down-home values and adorably quirky characters she grew up with. Big things happen. There are sad losses and disappointments. But there is love and honor and generosity, too. In her first feature film as a director, Trigiani has assembled a superb cast, mixing top Hollywood and Broadway talent with some locals. Ashley Judd is at the center as a woman whose discovery of a secret about her past makes her think differently about her future.

It takes place in 1978. The woman is Ave Maria Mulligan, the owner of the local pharmacy. With a name like that, there has to be a story. When her beloved mother dies, she learns for the first time that her mother’s husband was not her father, as she thought. Her mother has left her a letter explaining that her father was a man she loved in Italy. Ave is determined to find her real father, though she has never traveled anywhere. She has great friends with colorful names and personalities, especially wisecracking Fleeta Mullins (Whoopi Goldberg) and starry-eyed bookmobile librarian Iva Lou Wade (Jenna Elfman). Then there’s Theodore Tipton (John Benjamin Hickey), the high school band and choral director who works with her on the town’s legendary annual “Trail of the Lonesome Pine” pageant and is Ave’s sort-of boyfriend and a handsome coal miner with the rare ordinary name of Jack (Patrick Wilson), who has a very possessive girlfriend (Jane Krakowski as Sweet Sue Tinsley).

It takes place in an eternally cozy past where coal mining is romantic because it creates electricity and there’s no mention of black lung disease. It’s corny cornpone, but unpretentious and it goes down easy, like sweet tea brewed by sunshine.

Parents should know that this film has some sexual references including potency, paternity, and a closeted gay character and non-explicit situations, drinking and drunkenness.

Family discussion: How is Ave Maria different from the people around her? Why did her mother keep the secret so long?

If you like this, try: the book series by Adriana Trigiani and the film “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!”

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