The Trip to Spain

Posted on August 24, 2017 at 5:08 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 18, 2017
Copyright 2017 IFC

In the third “Trip” movie, with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon again traveling through gorgeous countryside, eating exquisitely prepared meals, and trying to top each other’s impressions, Coogan does something we have not seen before.  He laughs.  The series plays deftly with what is real (the actors’ names, the general outline of their careers, their improvised banter) and what is fiction (their heightened characteristics and tension between them, their family members, romantic interests, and professional colleagues played by actors and the created relationships and developments, the fact that they do not acknowledge they are being filmed).  Coogan’s character, that is, the version of himself he plays in the films, is at the same time insecure and superior, and therefore he usually responds to Brydon’s comments and performances by either insulting them or topping them.  But in one scene here, he can’t help himself; he just laughs, more than once, and we see a very different, more relaxed, genuine, and appreciative, perhaps more “real” Coogan.

In this third “trip,” the pair goes to Spain, where the literary overlay is Don Quixote (they even dress up as Quixote and Sancho Panza for a photo shoot), the impressions are as funny as ever (Mick Jagger, John Hurt, Roger Moore talking about the Moors), and the subject of aging comes up now and then. They assure each other that in their 50’s they are in the “sweet spot,” still attractive to women and if, too old to play Hamlet, still too young for Lear. Coogan, always wanting to appear erudite and successful, finds a way to mention the Oscar nominations for “Philomena” (he co-wrote and starred in it), and his new script, called “Missing.” And Brydon points out that “Philomena” was the story of a mother looking for her son and “Missing” is the story of a father looking for his daughter, so perhaps it might be time to go in another direction.  The two men go back and forth, jockeying with each other in a dozen different ways, as they obliquely and sometimes directly engage with the passage of time, between glimpses of flaming pans and delectable sauces being spread just so.

Coogan and Brydon are more comfortable and compatible in this version, and, as always, very, very funny.   If they get on each other’s nerves, for us in the audience they are excellent traveling companions.  The poignancy of their choices and disappointments adds some welcome depth and complexity.  There have been some complaints and controversy about the end of the film, which is jarring and out of place with the mood of the series.  I am not sure what it is intended to do, but I hope that there will be another trip to find out.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong language, alcohol, teen pregnancy, sexual references, and some implied peril.

Family discussion: Why do Rob and Steve enjoy impersonations so much?  Do you agree with Rob’s decision?  What should Steve have said to his son?

If you like this, try: the other “Trip” movies with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, and of course “Philomina”

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Trailer: The Dinner with Richard Gere and Steve Coogan

Posted on February 28, 2017 at 3:20 pm

Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall, and Steve Coogan star in “The Dinner,” based on the international best-seller by Dutch author Herman Koch. At an elegant dinner the topic of conversation is far from elegant — what to do about two 15-year-old boys who have done something terrible.

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

The Secret Life of Pets

Posted on July 7, 2016 at 5:50 pm

Copyright 2016 Illumination
Copyright 2016 Illumination

Most of us probably think — or wish — that our pets are like Max (voice of Louis CK) in “The Secret Life of Pets” who lives with Katie (Ellie Kempner). “I’ve got big plans,” he tells his neighbor Gidget (Jenny Slate). “I’m going to sit here by the door and wait for Katie to come home.”

But we know better. We’ve come home to inexplicable disarray and disappearance. And in this cute romp filled with colorful characters we get to find out about the parties, the mischief, and the adventures and misadventures our furry and reptilian best buddies get up to when we’re off at work or out with friends. There’s an odd sourness to the story and it gets lost when the animals leave their homes, but the premise, the animation and the and outstanding voice performances make it worth seeing, if not right for the littlest kids.

The story is uncomfortably close to the original “Toy Story.” Max is Woody, the reliable, loyal, loved and loving star of the show who is not at all happy when a new rival (huge, furry Duke as Buzz Lightyear) comes to live with him and Katie. Just as in “Toy Story” Max and Duke end up away from home and in trouble. But in this case, the scenes outside of the apartment are not as intriguing and the adventures, well-staged as a matter of mechanics, do little to enhance the story. Max and Duke meet up with a gang of “flushed pets,” abandoned animals (does this sound like “Toy Story 3?”) led by Snowball, a tiny, fluffy white bunny hilariously voiced by Kevin Hart. Pursued by Snowball and the dogcatchers, Duke and Max have to find a way to get home before Katie gets back.

Individual moments are very funny, even joyous, but the storyline wavers in tone, with references to killing owners, a supposed hero whose motivation has to be a crush rather than friendship or honor, a sad offscreen death that is unearned, unnecessary, and distracting, and a disability that is played for humor. The motive and resolution for the villain are unsatisfying, and the best jokes are directed at the adults in the audience. Our furry friends deserve better, and so do we.

Parents should know that this film has extended peril and action, references to killing humans and animals, a sad offscreen death, disabilities portrayed as humorous, and some potty humor.

Family discussion: What does your pet do when you are away? Which do you like better, dogs or cats? Why didn’t Max like Duke?

If you like this, try: “Zootopia” (also featuring Jenny Slate) and the “Toy Story” films

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3D Animation Talking animals

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Posted on December 18, 2014 at 5:23 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language
Profanity: Brief schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 19, 2014
Date Released to DVD: March 9, 2015 ASIN: B00SSI2PKO
Copyright 2014 Twentieth Century Fox
Copyright 2014 Twentieth Century Fox

Fans of the first two “Night at the Museum” films will like this one because it is pretty much the same film. They go to another museum, this time the British Museum in London, and the exhibits come to life and create chaos. The good news: it’s a zippy 90 minutes. The bad news: way too many of those minutes involve a peeing monkey.

The most popular characters from the earlier films are back, including the late Robin Williams in an especially poignant role as Teddy Roosevelt and the late Mickey Rooney as a retired museum guard. Dick Van Dyke almost steals the movie in a brief appearance showing that he can still get down and boogie.

But once again the focus of the story is on Larry (Ben Stiller), museum security guard turned wrangler of the exhibit figures when they come to life at night. The museum director, Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais), thinks that Larry has created some sort of special effects, but when a fundraising gala is held at the museum after dark so the guests can marvel at what they think is some kind of animatronic display things go very wrong. The ancient Egyptian tablet that creates the magic is becoming corroded and the result is like a corrupted computer code. The exhibits go wild, and the director is fired.

Young Egyptian King Ahkmenrah (the terrific Rami Malek) says that the only way to figure out what is wrong with the tablet is to take it to his parents, who are exhibits at the British Museum. With Dr. McPhee’s help, Larry brings Ahkmenrah to the British Museum for “conservation.” Once he arrives, he finds that there are some stowaways — Teddy Roosevelt and Sacajawea (the lovely, elegant Mizuo Peck), a prehistoric man who looks very familiar (Stiller again as Laa), Dexter the monkey, and our fierce little toy soldier-sized friends Octavius the Roman centaurian (Steve Coogan) and Jedediah the cowboy (Owen Wilson).

Ahkmenrah is reunited with his parents (Sir Ben Kingsley and Anjali Jay) who explain the problem — like an iPhone, the tablet need to be recharged. All it needs is moonlight, but getting it there in time is a problem, especially when it is stolen by a very confused Sir Lancelot (“Downton Abbey’s” Dan Stevens). Lots of hijinks and slapstick stunts ensue, with a highlight being entry into a vertiginous M.C. Escher drawing.

There are Muppet Movie’s worth of guest appearances, including Rebel Wilson riffing as a security guard. It zips along briskly, not wasting any time in this episode on any kind of love interest for Larry, though there is a dreary detour about Larry’s high school senior son (Skyler Gisondo taking over for Nick Daley) not wanting to go to college. We’re there for the stunts and special effects, and mostly for the dream that maybe some night at some museum, it does all come to life.

Parents should know that this movie includes comic/fantasy peril. Some characters appear to be hurt but are fine. There is also potty humor and brief schoolyard language.

Family discussion: Do you agree with Nick’s decision about the tablet? Which museum would you like to see come to life and why?

If you like this, try: the first two movies — and read about the real legends and histories of Theodore Roosevelt, Camelot, Sacajawea, ancient Egypt, and M.C. Escher.  And visit your local museum to imagine your own adventures.

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Action/Adventure Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy Series/Sequel


Posted on November 24, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 on appeal for some strong language, thematic elements and sexual references
Profanity: Very strong, frank, and explicit language for a PG-13
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Sad deaths and abuse
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, issue of anti-gay bigotry is discussed
Date Released to Theaters: November 22, 2013
Date Released to DVD: April 14, 2014 ASIN: B00GSBMNOQ

Philomena-dench-movieDame Judi Dench has played many strong-minded, determined characters, from Queens (Victoria and Elizabeth I) to the even more imperious head of the MI6 who can take on James Bond with an air of crisp authority.  As the title character in “Philomena,” she shows us the radiance and inner core of strength in a woman we might otherwise find easy to overlook.

Martin Sixsmith (co-screenwriter Steve Coogan) underestimates her at first, too.  Sixsmith is a journalist-turned politician smarting from a public humiliation after he was fired for something he did not do.  He gets little sympathy from those around him and it seems clear that being aggrieved has only fed his sense of superiority, isolation, and entitlement.  He mutters something about writing a book on Russian history, though he realizes no one is very interested in reading it.  When he meets a young Irish woman who offers him her mother’s story of a half-century search for the son she was forced to give up for adoption, his first reaction is a haughty, “I don’t do human interest stories.”  The truth is, he is not really interested in humans, in part because they have not done a very good job of being interested in him.

Sixsmith did eventually write some books about Russia.  But first he decided to give human interest a try.  The result was Philomena: A Mother, Her Son, and a Fifty-Year Search.

When she was a teenager, Philomena (Dench) became pregnant and her parents sent her to the now-notorious Magdalene Sisters workhouse.  The girls were forced to work for years to pay (financially and spiritually) for their sins.  The abused and underage girls also signed away all of their rights to their babies, including access to information about where they were placed.  Philomena (Sophie Kennedy Clark as a young woman) was working in the laundry when her son was taken from her and adopted by an American family.  For half a century, as she became a nurse, married, and had more children, she missed him and worried about him.  Sixsmith found an editor to pay him to write the story, covering expenses for a trip to America to see if they could track him down.  She hopes the story will have some lurid details.  “Evil is good — story-wise, I mean….It’s got to be really happy or really sad.”

Coogan knows he is at his best playing slightly high-strung, slightly self-involved guys who are too smart for the room and usually end up outsmarting themselves (see “The Trip”).   It is especially satisfying to watch his character go from irritation to respect and then affection.  There’s a reason the movie is named for her.  Philomena is a surprise.  If she has awful taste in books and movies, it is because she has the gift of being able to be pleased.  When it comes to the big things, she is refreshingly clear-eyed and open-minded.  And  she understands what it takes to not let anyone make you a victim.

More improbable than any fictional story would dare to be, the journey taken by Philomena and Sixsmith is bittersweet and ultimately transcendent.  Performances by Dench and Coogan of great sensitivity illuminate this story of a quiet heroine and the man who was lucky enough to learn from her.

Parents should know that this movie was initially rated R and then given a PG-13 on appeal.  It concerns young teenagers put in a home for out-of-wedlock pregnancies and forced to give up their babies for adoption and there is frank discussion of sex and a childbirth scene, the abuse of the young women by the nuns who ran the home, and the life of a character as a closeted gay man.  Characters use very strong and explicit language and there is some drinking.

Family discussion: Why did Martin and Philomena feel differently about forgiveness?  Did she find what she was looking for?

If you like this, try: “The Magdalene Sisters” and “The Trip”

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