Thor: Love and Thunder

Posted on July 7, 2022 at 8:10 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence, action, language, partial nudity and some suggestive material
Profanity: S-words, mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic book/action-style peril and violence, characters injured, sad death
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 8, 2022
Date Released to DVD: September 26, 2022

Copyright 2022 Disney
Taika Watiti’s sly, understated. offbeat humor is a great match for Thor, a superhero who is literally a god with a post British accent. Thor could come across as stiff and stuffy if not for the combination of Watiti and Chris Hemsworth, who has the rare ability to be effortlessly hilarious while still being a completely believable superhero god. I’ve often said that superhero movies are made or lost based on the villains, not the heroes. On that basis, “Thor: Love and Thunder” is less successful. But it is so much fun along the way, and often genially goofy, two words that don’t usually apply to superhero movies, that it is satisfyingly entertaining.

The last time we saw Thor he was looking more like The Big Lebowski than a god of Asgard and his planet had been destroyed. He pulled himself together for “Avengers: Endgame” and New Asgard is now up and running under the rule of King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). Thor spends his days in quiet contemplation until he is called upon to save the world again, which he does with brio and then returns to his solitude. Asgard is a quaint little town by the water and has become a favorite tourist destination. One popular attraction is the re-enactment of some of the highlights of Asgardian history, with performers played by Matt Damon and Luke Hemsworth plus two I won’t spoil).

Meanwhile, Thor’s ex, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), has Stage 4 cancer. And somehow she is called to or by the legendary Mjolnir, the once-shattered hammer that has re-assembled itself like the silvery guy in “Terminator 2.” This makes her into Thor, apparently in addition to, not instead of the Thor who was named by his father, Odin. One of the most endearingly goofy elements of the film is the way original Thor’s new weapon, the axe called Stormbreaker, is sensitive and a bit worried about its predecessor returning. Original Thor is better at sharing his feelings with his weapons than he is with human beings. I predict that Brene Brown will be using clips from this movie to illustrate future lectures about the importance of vulnerability.

And then, the bad guy. Christian Bale plays Gorr, who we first see as a devoted acolyte in a destroyed world. He has lost everything, including his daughter, but believes in the salvation and afterlife his religion has promised. When he learns that his god cares nothing for humans and there is no eternal life he grabs the Necrosword and the combination of grief, anger, betrayal, and the sword’s magic turns him into something of a Terminator of his own (though looking more like zombie Voldemort), with just one imperative — killing all the gods.

The action scenes are great fun and there are a lot of delightful small details you might miss the first time through, but is it the humor, the characters, and the warmth of their connection that stand out. Watiti returns as Thor’s sidekick Korg, his quiet, tentative voice an amusing counterpart to his enormous rock body. In the vast assemblage of gods, Russell Crowe appears as a lightning bolt-throwing Zeus. Thompson and Portman have great chemistry and Hemsworth is as good at comedy as he is at looking like a Norse god, which is as good as it gets. Korg tells us that coming out of his depression, Thor went from dad bod to god bod. It is good to see him here going from sad guy to, well, you’ll see.

NOTE: Stay through the end of the credits to see two extra scenes.

Parents should know that this movie has many s-words and extended peril and comic-book style action violence with many characters injured, cancer treatment, and a sad death. There is also a brief flash of rear nudity.

Family questions: What would you choose for your catch phrase? How do you make sure you don’t wall off your feelings after being hurt?

If you like this, try: the other “Thor” movies and Watiti’s “What We Do in the Shadows” film and television series

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The Mummy

Posted on June 9, 2017 at 10:41 am

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended wartime and fantasy violence, chases, explosions, attacks, guns, knives, murder of parent and child, plane crash, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 9, 2017
Date Released to DVD: September 18, 2017
Copyright 2017 Universal

Disney has almost all of the Marvel superheroes. Warner Brothers has DC superheroes. 20th Century Fox has the Fantastic Four and perhaps someday will make a movie worthy of them. And so Universal wanted its own universe of supernatural characters. It does not have the rights to any superheroes, but it does have the monsters, including Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein’s monsters, Wolfman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Mummy.

This film is the first in a planned series of high profile, high-budget, interlocking stories featuring big stars, big stunts, and big special effects, set in what Universal has dubbed The Dark Universe. So, get ready for an Avengers/Justice League-style series of partnerships, cross-overs, and mash-ups.

We begin with “The Mummy,” possibly because the dashing Brendan Fraser updates starting in 1999 have made the story more familiar to 21st century audiences. Of course, those films were inspired by the Boris Karloff classic. This reboot retains very little from either beyond the idea of a deadly mummy from ancient Egypt.

This mummy is female. Her name is Ahmanet and she is played with feral ferocity by the very limber Sofia Boutella of “Star Trek: Beyond.” She was once in line to become ruler of the kingdom of ancient Egypt and be worshipped as a god. But when her father had a son, he became heir to the throne. Enraged, she murdered her father and the boy and his mother and traded her soul for power of life and death. She could not die, but she could be stopped with an elaborate mercury solution, and so she had been in a tomb in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) for thousands of years until American soldier and tomb raider Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his quippy sidekick Chris (Jake Johnson) come along to release her and her curse on the world.

With them is beautiful blond archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis of “Peaky Blinders”), along for exposition, retro rescuing, and some tiresome banter about a one-night stand with Nick.

Russell Crowe shows up as well, as a doctor who is obsessed with evil, though whether for it or against it is not entirely clear. To say more would be to spoil one of the film’s best ideas.

The real stars of the film are the stunts and special effects, which are great. Adrenalin junkie Cruise clearly has a blast racing ahead of, well, blasts, in the battle scenes, and, later, zombies as well. A plane crash scene is viscerally exciting, and sets up the movie’s funniest line later on.  But it cannot make its mind up whether it wants to be a high-concept adventure, a horror movie, or a campy comedy (zombie Jake Johnson continues to be quippy).

And Cruise is simply miscast. He is too old for the part of yet another of his callow cases of endearing arrested development.  It is one thing for a guy in his 20’s to joke about a one-night stand; it is uncomfortably skeevy for a guy, however handsome and eternally young (and still able to run very fast) in his 50’s.  By the time we see where this character is going in the movie’s final scenes, it is clear that this should have been the first act, not the last, and that this Dark Universe thing is going to be a long slog indeed.

Parents should know that this film includes extended fantasy/mythological violence and peril, undead, military weapons and explosions, plane crash, some graphic and disturbing images, characters injured and killed, some nudity and sexual references and insults

Family discussion: Was Nick telling the truth about the parachute?  What made him change his mind about Jenny?

If you like this, try: the earlier “Mummy” movies with Brendan Fraser and Boris Karloff

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The Nice Guys

Posted on May 19, 2016 at 5:38 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use
Profanity: Very strong, crude, and explicit language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive graphic violence, guns, explosions, fighting, falls, many characters injured and killed, grisly images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 20, 2016
Date Released to DVD: August 22, 2016 ASIN: B01F5ZY596

Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers
Shane Black at his best lives in the sweet spot he pretty much mapped out himself in his 20’s when he wrote the screenplay for “Lethal Weapon.” He figured out that hard-boiled action could be both exciting and funny. His characters have no illusions and few scruples, but in the tradition of loner anti-heroes from westerns to films noir, they have their own set of ethics. They do not like authority and they do not always obey the rules but they will represent the interests of their clients against corruption and bullies.

Black’s mismatched and yet perfectly yin-yang characters have included a “too old for this” cop paired with a wild younger one in “Lethal Weapon,” a cop and a thief-turned-accidental-actor in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” and now a small-time private detective and single dad named Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and a muscle-for-hire guy named Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe). Healy, hired by a pretty young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) to dissuade the men who are looking for her, goes to March’s home to punch him in the nose and break his arm. “We’re going to play a game. Shut up unless you’re me.”

March has been hired by a woman who says that her niece, porn star Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio), reported killed in an automobile accident, is still alive. March was looking for Amelia because he thinks she may have information about Misty. Healy is almost clinical in his communication with March. “Give me your left arm,” he says, not unkindly. “When you’re talking to your doctor, tell him you have a spiral fracture.”

But soon Healy himself is visited by some tough guys who rough him up for being in touch with Amelia. They even kill his fish. So he goes back to March to ask him to help find Amelia, and that leads them into a pervasive, murky mess of corruption, betrayal, pornography, a wild party, the Detroit auto industry, and a hit-man named John Boy (a “Waltons” reference, played by Matt Bomer), with many excellent 1970’s songs on the soundtrack.

Black is a master of the deadpan wisecrack that nails the essence of character, setting, and story, and Crowe and Gosling deliver with snap and relish. “There’s whores and stuff here,” says March’s young daughter, played by the marvelously poised Angourie Rice as Holly, the closest thing the story has to a grown-up with a conscience.” March, the sometimes hapless father who loves her dearly, is quick with a paternal correction. “Don’t stay ‘and stuff.'”

The mix of wit, slapstick, and mayhem has some dead-on period detail and some shrewd commentary on contemporary issues. Gosling’s comic timing is pure pleasure, especially in a gem of a scene where he juggles a lit cigarette, a magazine, and a gun, with his pants down. Crowe is fine, too, especially in his interactions with Rice. With any luck, they’ll be back for as many sequels as “Lethal Weapon.”

Parents should know that this film features extensive violence including mayhem, auto accidents, and guns, characters injured and killed, grisly and disturbing images, nudity, very explicit sexual references including pornography, very strong and crude language, smoking, drinking, drugs, and much of this is witnessed by a child.

Family discussion: How would this story be different if it took place today? What was the point of the Nixon story?

If you like this, try: “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” from the same co-writer/director and “Get Shorty”

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The Water Diviner

Posted on April 23, 2015 at 5:58 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for war violence including some disturbing images
Profanity: Brief language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Wartime violence with battles and terrorist attacks, characters injured and killed, graphic and disturbing images, suicide, mercy killing
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 24, 2015 ASIN: B00WFNPPVY
Copyright 2015 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2015 Warner Brothers

Before it detours into not one, not two, but at least three preposterous Hollywood twists, “The Water Diviner” is an absorbing drama about Joshua Connor, an Australian farmer (Russell Crowe, making his directing debut as well) who travels to Turkey to find the remains of his three sons, all killed in the battle of Gallipoli, so he can bring them home for burial. We first see Joshua dowsing for water. He selects the spot he is drawn to, then digs with skill, focus, and determination, until he hits water. He has a well.

He returns to the house where his wife tells him to read a bedtime story to their three sons. It is too much for her to accept that they are long gone to war and killed in battle. Finally, she is so overwhelmed by grief that she commits suicide. Joshua insists that she be buried in the church cemetery, and then leaves to bring their sons home and bury them next to her.

Crowe’s greatest asset as a director is himself as leading man, and his performance is powerful, with a muscular masculinity and sense of honor, but shredded by the loss of his family and by his fears that he may be responsible because he “filled their heads with heroic nonsense.” The clash of cultures and the unthinkable tragedies are intriguing. The best part of the film is the depiction of the way the defeated Australian command must work with the Turkish nationals to bury their dead as respectfully as possible, the tensions are inevitable. Was the end of the battle a “retreat” or an “evacuation?” “You killed my sons.” “You sent them. You invaded us.” Both, of course, are right. When one says, “I don’t know if I forgive any of us,” the other side has to agree.

“Four years ago you’d have given me a VC for shooting that bastard,” one of the ANZAC (Australian/New Zealand) officers growls. “That bastard” is Major Hasan (Yılmaz Erdoğan). The former enemies must work together on a task of unimaginable sadness and defeat, creating a sacred burial ground for thousands of dead soldiers, who will remain for eternity in the site of their defeat. “This is the first war anyone has given a damn,” to do even that much, says an ANZAC officer. Previous war dead were piled into pit graves with the horses.

Joshua finds a place to stay — or rather, it finds him, as a boy takes his bag and runs to the home where his mother and uncle have established a small hotel. They do not want an Australian there, but they need the money, so they gingerly make him welcome. The boy’s mother, Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), is still insisting that her husband will return from battle, to keep her son’s hope alive more than her own, and perhaps also to protect her from the pressures put on a single mother to remarry. Joshua is forbidden from going to the burial ground, but Ayshe helps him find a way. Once he gets there, no one wants to help him. But “because he is the only father who came looking,” they grudgingly allow him to look through the piles of bones.

And then it starts to get Hollywood. The water diviner somehow uses that same skill to locate the remains of two of his sons. And then it may be that the third is still alive. The last section of the film takes a turn that even Indiana Jones would find daunting and a romance even Nicholas Sparks would find improbable. It is too bad that the earlier part of the film’s appreciation of conflicts and complexity is followed by a fairy tale ending.

Parents should know that this movie features wartime scenes of battle violence and terrorism with some disturbing and graphic images and a suicide and a mercy killing. Characters are wounded and killed. In addition, it includes some strong language, domestic abuse, sexual references, drinking, and smoking.

Family discussion: What did Joshua and Major Hasan have in common? What do we learn from the flashback to the sandstorm? What should Arthur have done?

If you like this, try: Gallipoli and “A Very Long Engagement”

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Drama Inspired by a true story Movies -- format War


Posted on March 27, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Disturbing images, peril, chaos, characters injured and killed, dead bodies, violence, attacks, sexual assaults, girls sold into slavery
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 28, 2014
Date Released to DVD: July 28, 2014 ASIN: B00JBGWP3Y

Noah_poster“Noah” is a serious, thoughtful, reverent movie that, like its title character, wrestles with the big issues of morality, survivor guilt, and strengthening a connection to the divine.  It is also a big, grand adventure with drama and special effects.  It should satisfy believers, seekers, and those who just want an exciting story, well told.

Writer/director Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”) shows us a Noah (Russell Crowe) who struggles to be a good man and do as God wants. Only ten generations from Adam and Eve, he is haunted by the stories of the Fall and Cain’s murder of his brother. When he was a boy, he witnessed the murder of his own father at the hand of the brutal leader of the descendants of Cain (Ray Winstone as Tubal-Cain). Now, he tries to protect his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and three sons from the marauders.

Noah lives lightly on the earth, gently chiding his son for picking a flower because that interfere with its work of spreading seeds. He and his family do not eat animals; they respect the innocence of all creatures, unlike Tubal-Cain who defines himself as someone who takes without regard for anything but his own urges and lust for power.

Noah is filled with an ominous sense that he is receiving omens and seeks the advice of his mystic of a grandfather, Methuselah (Sir Anthony Hopkins).   He begins to understand that he is commanded by The Creator to build an ark and collect the animals of the earth and to preserve them in the coming storm that will wipe out all of life on Earth.  He will be helped in this by The Watchers, fallen angels who were once pure light but are now punished for their mistakes by being imprisoned in enormous bodies of mud and rock.

As Auden reminds us, the grand, sweeping events of the world do not happen purely.  They occur in the midst of human lives that are messy and imperfect.  While Noah struggles to follow the will of The Creator, he has to deal with problems at home.  Ila (Emma Watson), a girl Noah and his family rescued after her entire community was slaughtered by Tubal-Cain, is loved by Noah’s son, Shem (“Romeo & Juliet’s” Douglas Booth), who loves her, too.  But due to her injuries, she cannot have children, and she does not want to keep him from being a father and creating a new generation.  Ham (Logan Lerman of “Percy Jackson”) is furious that there is no prospect of a wife and family for him.

And then there is Tubal-Cain, used to taking whatever he wants.  He will do anything to stay alive through the flood and become king of whatever the world will be afterward.   And he senses that Ham may be susceptible to joining him.

We rarely see Bible stories told with such artistry and power.  The acting is superb and the special effects are well done.  The big moments, the flood, the omens, the Watchers, the thousands of animals moving inexorably toward the ark, are all handled with meaning and import.  When Noah tells his family one of the few stories that they have in this still-new human world, the story of creation, we feel the nothingness that was before.  Story-telling itself becomes a way to shape the world and form an understanding of patterns, purpose, and meaning.

Men wind a snakeskin around their arms in the earliest of rituals and prayers and we see the flicker of what would become a daily observance for Orthodox Jews over the millennia through the present, the phylactery leather strips that men use in their morning prayers.  We are reminded that this is a time before Jesus and before Abraham, when there was no organized religion and no established set of beliefs and practices.  There is not even the word “God.”  It is just “Creator.”

The innocence and the impulse to reach out toward the heavens are very moving.  So is the way that Noah grapples with what today we might call survivor guilt or PTSD.  And he struggles to find his better angels.  Tubal-Cain is not just a man who wants to fight him; he is that part of Noah himself that is all lower urges toward flesh and power, the impulse to trap and smash and to break laws even in a world where laws have not been established.

While some viewers and some who have not even seen the film have objected to this portrayal (or, in the case of strictly Muslim groups, any portrayal of a religious figure), most should see this film as an eternal story well told in a manner that is itself a form of worship in prompting us to think more profoundly about our own choices and connections.

Parents should know that this film includes epic/Biblical violence including murder, battles, flood, some disturbing images, parent killed in front of child, character trampled to death, discussion of infanticide, some disturbing images, non-explicit sexual situation, and childbirth.

Family discussion: Why did the two groups of humans develop so differently? What should Noah have done about Na’el? Why did he separate from the family after the flood?

If you like this, try: “The Fountain” and “Pi” by the same director and Biblical-era classics like “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments”

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Action/Adventure Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Epic/Historical
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