Early Man

Posted on February 15, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for rude humor and some action
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and threats of violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 16, 2018
Date Released to DVD: May 21, 2018
Copyright 2018 Summit

Even lesser Aardman is still worth watching. “Early Man” is decidedly lesser Aardman than the sublime “Wallace and Gromit” series and “Shaun the Sheep,” but that still makes it a pleasant little treat.

The “early men” are Stone Age denizens Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his friends, led by the Chief (Timothy Spall), who appears to be quite elderly, but that’s by Stone Age standards. He’s in his 30’s. These people are extremely primitive. They live in caves and their most advanced technology is Flintstones-style use of animals (beetles as hair clippers, tiny crocodiles as clothespins for what barely, and I mean that literally, qualify as clothes). They are not quite sure what it means to be human, and I mean that literally as well. One “member” of their group is a boulder they refer to as “Mr. Rock.” They barely qualify as hunter/gatherers. While they go out with spears every day to try to get rabbits to eat, they are not very good at communicating with each other, or aiming, or hitting anything they aim at.

And then one day their idyllic little territory is invaded by a group riding armor-clad mammoths. It is the Bronze Age and they want to take over the area for mining. Ultimately, it will come down to an unusual but rather progressive way for solving border disputes: a soccer game (which they call football). On one side, champions who are highly skilled professionals with lots of experience but are arrogant prima donnas. On the other side, a bunch of people who have not yet invented the wheel and have never played before. But they have two advantages: a gifted Bronze Age player who has never been allowed on the field because she is a woman (now you know why we call sexism prehistoric), and, just possibly, the ability to work together as a team.

I am a devoted Anglophile, but got the strong sense that some of the references went past me and are only understandable to true insiders, especially those who follow soccer, I mean football. Some of Aardman’s quirky whimsy flickers in now and then. The opening title cards tell us when and where we are: “The Neo-Pleistocene Era”/“near Manchester”/“around lunchtime”). The message bird played by “The Trip’s” Rob Brydon is very funny, too, and the tactile, bug-eyed goofiness of the Aardman characters is always endearing.

Parents should know that there is some comic peril and violence and threatened more serious violence as well as some schoolyard language and potty humor.

Family discussion: Why did the Bronze Age community develop when the Stone Age did not? Will the Stone Age people try to get some of the advantages of the Bronze Age? Why did learning about the past make them doubt themselves?

If you like this, try: “The Crudes” and the “Wallace and Gromit” and “Shaun the Sheep” series

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Animation Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Fantasy Sports

Thor: Ragnarock

Posted on November 2, 2017 at 10:14 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic book fantasy peril and violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 3, 2017
Date Released to DVD: March 5, 2018

Copyright Disney 2017
New Zealand director Taika Waititi is exactly what Marvel/Disney needed, a true fanboy who loves superheroes because they are fun. Away with you, brooding and tortured comic book characters! What we want to see is a superhero who gets messed with, some colorful characters, a fascinatingly deranged villain, some thrilling action and slamming special effects, a surprise cameo, and, after a suitable series of setbacks, triumph. Plus some post-credit scenes. There’s all of that in this movie, plus some of the funniest moments on screen this year. It is irreverent, even cheeky. It has a sense of humor about itself while never, ever making fun of comic books or their fans.

Waititi, with a script by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost, has taken one of the most serious of the Avengers, with only Chris Hemsworth’s imperishable charm keeping him just this side of wooden, and made use of his fellow antipodean’s true superpower, which is that he is a superb comic actor.

What does Thor have going for him? He has his dad, the king of the gods, Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins), his home, Asgard, his strength, his hair, his divinity, his confidence, and his hammer. He loses most of that pretty quickly, and stripped down Thor suddenly becomes a much more relatable character, more deserving of our support because he actually seems to need it. You might even say down to earth, except that earth does not really come into it this time.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Thor begins. “Oh, no, Thor is in a cage.” He’s not talking to us, and finding out who he is telling his story to is the first hint we get that we are operating in a slightly cracked universe. But then, reassuringly, Thor does his Thor thing and gets himself out of a big mess with endless panache.

And then things go wrong. The Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) turns up to crush his hammer in her hands. She intends to take over Asgard and there does not seem to be anything he can do about it. He ends up on a planet that is essentially a junk pile, where he is discovered by scavengers. “Are you a fighter or are you food?” they ask him. Before they can gobble him up, he is captured by another scavenger (a terrific Tessa Thompson), who turns out to have a connection to Asgard. But she sells him to the Grandmaster (a glam Jeff Goldblum), who runs a lucrative gladiator show for galactic fans. Waiting to go to battle in the arena, Thor meets the movie’s most endearing character, a rock creature named Korg, played by Waititi himself. And then Thor sees his opponent in the battle to the death: his old Avenger buddy Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). We may love seeing the Avengers join together to take on the bad guys, but we love seeing them fight each other, too, and the Thor/Hulk fight is a smash. Literally.

Loki is there, too, I’m happy to say, and I only wish that someday he will have a movie of his own. Tom Hiddleston’s silky bad boy admits at one point that his loyalties shift moment to moment, and his mercurial impishness is perfectly calibrated. Despite her best efforts, Blanchett’s villain is not nearly as interesting as the other characters, and the resolution does not have the emotional weight that it does in the comics. But she barely diminishes the sheer fun of this film and I hope Marvel keeps Waititi on the roster for as many of these as he is willing to take on.

NOTE: Stay through the credits for TWO extra scenes!

Parents should know that this is a superhero movie with a lot of peril and action-style fantasy violence and some disturbing images, some alcohol, and some strong language.

Family discussion: What does Loki want? Which Avenger would you most like to be? What makes someone significant?

If you like this, try: “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the Avengers movies

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3D Action/Adventure Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week movie review Movies -- Reviews Scene After the Credits Series/Sequel Superhero

Interview: Marc Abraham, Director of “I Saw the Light”

Posted on April 6, 2016 at 3:30 pm

Marc Abraham wrote and directed “I Saw the Light,” the Hank Williams story starring Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olson. Williams died at age 29 after years of poor health and substance abuse. In an interview, Abraham talked about the moments that meant the most to Williams and what he liked best about working with Hiddleston.

What were Hank Williams’ happiest moments?

Well it’s hard to know about people. It’s impossible to imagine that he wasn’t happy some of the time. He had the birth of a son, he loved his kid, he really loved Bocephus. He used to talk about him on the radio, used to take him inappropriately huge teddy bears from very, very early age. I think he suffered from feeling bad that his father had not around, who wouldn’t. I think he took it but probably he missed out having a dad who wasn’t present and he was determined to make sure that he was present and of course that the irony, the irony of his life, the irony of the title, the irony of the film is that, as hard as he tried he wasn’t there and he died when his son was just three years old.

Copyright Sony Pictures Classics 2016
Copyright Sony Pictures Classics 2016

I think he loved his mother but also as he got older there was a sense of rebellion against his mom. There is no question that he and Audrey had a real passion for each other and passion often has happiness involved in it but it also has some pain. He was completely besotted by Billie Jean — he married a 19-year-old woman two months before he died. I think he was happy when he got on the Opry, I think when he saw what was asked of them once he’s was on the Opry and how much work was involved on a continuing basis and he was very much a guy who didn’t like authority, didn’t like being pushed around. So I think once he started thinking he was asked to be an organ-grinder’s monkey a little bit his instincts were like, ‘I’d rather just do it my way.’ He was one of those guys. When you’ve grown up without a father and been playing and performing since he was 13 years old and you know that you’ve got something to say, you can get pretty edgy.

On the EKG graph of his life, not his actual physical EKG, it was was peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys. He was a guy didn’t take much to get drunk and then couldn’t stop. He allowed himself to be treated by a doctor who had a degree from a gas station and gave him chloral hydrate. I think that he had real moments of high and he had real moments of low and those ups and downs took their toll on him physically and emotionally and on those around him. Ultimately he caved in, it all caved in on him.

What kind of research did you do on Hank? Who did you talk to?

The thing is, if you’re doing something about a real person and you’re talking to the people in their lives it can be an impediment as much as it can be an asset.
They all kind of have an agenda and also are protective and also everybody has a different viewpoint because if you’re standing on the side of the room somebody looks this way, they are standing on that side of the room they look a different way, every room has different camera angles. What was lovely was that Hank’s daughter who was born four days after he passed away, Jet Williams talked to us. She didn’t even know for 20 or so years of her life. She was passed around from family to family from foster home to foster home. So you can imagine when she finds out she’s Hanks Williams’ daughter, once she did she was passionate about understanding her father as one certainly would be and she has devoted a lot of time to learning about him. She’s a performer in her own right and she had a lot of material. She has one of my favorite photographs of Hank which is something we tried to show in the movie. When he’s on stage we showed him in all the garb that we are used to seeing him in, the suits, the beautiful hats but when Hank wasn’t doing that he could look like a hipster from right out of Brooklyn today, wearing a fedora. And when he walked right out of the door he was really cool. She had a great picture of him at the Alamo with these really great sunglasses on and he literally looked like somebody from right now and that was something we really pushed against. We didn’t really want people to think these are people off of “Hee-Haw.” Holly showed us a sort of soulfulness and told us about some of the relationships, being Junior’s daughter and a really fine musician in her own right. but in the end even though there is very little footage of Hank, there is a lot written about Hank.

Chet Flippo, wrote a really interesting fun book but it was a lot about things that there would be no way to be able to verify. Collin Escott’s book was a very heavily researched piece of material and because he wrote the book first in 1992, a lot of guys who knew Hank were still alive. So he had a lot of interviews with people that I wasn’t even able to reach, very thoroughly documented. And so there’s a lot of interviews and there’s the documentary that Morgan Neville did. And those interviews with musicians. I was able to put together a picture of the man. And people are always protecting someone that has had a great influence on their lives, very protective but they were also willing to say Hank could be a son of a bitch, Hank was a tough guy, Hank was a guy that really wanted to get it right, he wanted to do it his way and if you don’t want to do it his way well you know what, he is going to find somebody who did want to do it his way.

And it’s like one of my favorite quotes of Raymond Chandler: “If you don’t leave, I’ll get somebody who will.” So we put that together and then you bring someone else into the process like Tom, who has his own level of curiosity, his own intellectual curiosity and he takes those things very seriously. You’ve been digging in the same sandbox but then also he goes, ‘Did you notice this rock?’ and I go “Oh man, I didn’t know that rock” And that’s what the real beauty of collaboration is because then we’re talking about things and I kind of read that whole thing but what he took out of it is different because what he was looking for is something I didn’t even think about like “Oh dude that’s a good idea”, yes and that’s what film is a different medium in terms of the creative expression. We do a take and he says, ‘No, no, I can do it better.’ And we do another one and it is better, and then he goes ‘No, no, I can do it better than that.’ He is as committed a performer as Hank Williams.”

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