The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Posted on April 17, 2024 at 8:08 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some language and strong violence throughout
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive wartime violence with guns, knives, arrows, explosions, many characters killed, many graphic and disturbing sounds and images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 19, 2024

It is a perfect match of story and director. Guy Ritchie is at his best in high-energy stories of very attractive men with mad fighting skills and no hesitation in using them. In between shoot-outs, explosions, and high crimes, casually toss off understated quips and references to the playing fields of Eton. This is a true story with exactly those components, plus a ton of nameless Nazis and one guy who is described as even worse than a Nazi, so killing them is as close to guilt-free as possible. He has a lot of fun with it.

Copyright Lionsgate 2024

The group of highly skilled renegades are described in the book that inspired this film as the first special forces military operatives. And we hear the British commanders explain that if Hitler isn’t following the rules, they won’t either. “They’re all bad,” warns one. “They’ll need to be,” responds another.

Of course that means they do not obey orders, either, but that’s what you get when you get a man out of prison to put together a group of cut-throats and renegades, one who is also in prison, but in his case being tortured in a German POW camp. Their mission is to go to the Ivory Coast and sink the supply ship that services the U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean.

On to the strategy, the revising of the strategy when things go wrong, the stunts, the shoot-outs, the action-banter, remix and repeat, plus a thumpy score with some cowboy twang by Christopher Benstead.

Cavill, formerly clean-cut and dashing as Superman and in the under-appreciated “The Man From UNCLE,” is even better in scruffy mode here as Gus March-Phillips. “Reacher’s” Alan Ritchson and “Crazy Rich Asian’s” Henry Golding also seem to be enjoying a chance to have some fun with their roles. The team needs some back-up help from undercover operatives, which is where we get to enjoy Babs Olusanmokun as Heron, who runs the local nightclub and “Third Body Problem’s” Eiza González as Majorie Stewart, sultry singer, sharpshooter, and, as a cover, gold smuggler.

And then there is the bad guy, described by Heron as “the only guy worse than a Nazi,” the cruel local commanding officer, (Til Schweiger), providing additional menace and urgency as the final operation becomes complicated and chaotic. Ritchie gets lost in the bombast and is too cheery about the carnage. He has no time for character or emotional heft beyond our feelings based on what we know about the history. There’s no substance, but it is entertaining.

Worth mentioning: a senior office in charge, played by “The Princess Bride’s” Cary Elwes, is known as M and one of the junior officers is a young Ian Fleming, played by Freddie Fox. Yes, that Ian Fleming, and the closing credits tell us that he got some of his ideas for James Bond from this experience.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent film set in wartime, with a lot of guns, knives, arrows, and explosions, some torture, prostitutes and implied sexual abuse, with many disturbing and graphic sounds and images. Characters use strong language and there is drinking and drunkenness.

Family discussion: What rules work during a war? Why aren’t all military operations conducted this way? How is war today different from this story?

If you like this, try: the book by Damien Lewis (the writer, not the actor) and films like “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Guns of Navarone”

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Poster for Civil War

Civil War

Posted on April 9, 2024 at 8:07 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violent content, bloody/disturbing images, and language
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive very intense and graphic wartime violence, characters injured, tortured, killed, and executed, mass grave, disturbing and gory images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 12, 2024

Writer/director Alex Garland likes to present audiences with extinction level disaster, from the zombie apocalypse “28 Days Later” to the investigate-the-anomaly “Annihilation” and the AI-can- outsmart-us “Ex Machina.” In all of them, though, the story is not the causes or consequences of the unconquerable threats; it is us, and the way we respond to them. There is no zombie as terrifying in “28 Days Later” as the humans who betray one another.

Kirsten Dunst in Civil War
Copyright 2024 A24

“Civil War” is not about the issues or personalities that caused three states to declare war on the rest of the US. We learn in the first moments that two of the states are, in today’s politics, majority far-right Texas and Florida and far-left California (with strong opposite-leaning parts of the states), so there are no easy conclusions to draw. This movie is about the journalists covering the war by bringing cameras into the battles, being present as proxy, never making themselves part of the story by inserting themselves into even the most disturbing and potentially preventable carnage. The most important comment in the film, from a veteran war photographer to a 23-year-old newcomer is, “We record so other people ask.”

We will see, though, that other people do not seem to be asking. Both the veteran, Lee (Kirsten Dunst) and the newcomer, Jessie (Cailee Spaeny of “Priscilla”) are daughters of farmers they describe as pretending nothing is happening. Four journalists are trying to drive from the battleground in New York City to Washington D.C. to interview the President (Nick Offerman). They cannot take the highway that was the direct route because it has been destroyed. As they drive via back western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, they see shoot-outs and desolation, except for one small town that appears to be untouched by the war. It even has charming shops carrying items like party dresses no one has any more reason to buy. The store clerk explains that they prefer to pretend the war is not happening. As they leave, Lee sees that they are not in complete denial; there are snipers on the roofs.

The other two journalists are adrenalin junkie Joel (Wagner Moura, Pablo Escobar in “Narcos”), and elder statesman and mentor Sammy (the always-great Stephen McKinley Henderson of “Fences” and “Lady Bird”). If you get confused as they travel about who is on which side, that is the point. When they try to interview a soldier who is in the middle of a skirmish, he impatiently summarizes the situation as shooting and being shot at. Jesse Plemons has a brief scene as a terrifying figure who, though wearing a uniform, does not seem aligned with any side except his own sense of who is an authentic American.

Significantly, we never see anyone at a news organization receiving the images they send, much less a subscriber reading a news story. We are told that in Washington they are shooting journalists.

As Jessie points out, Lee’s career began with an image she took when she was still in college, a viral photograph of the “Antifa Massacre” (no indication of whether they were the killers or the victims). And she shares a name with legendary WWII photojournalist Lee Miller. Lee has a steely reserve, tempered with numbness, when photographing the most dire, dangerous, and disturbing situations. But she retains some empathy, even tenderness for Jessie, perhaps because she sees something of herself. She both wants to help her and protect her, understanding that she cannot do both.

Jessie insists on using an old camera, with film, not digital, perhaps a tribute to Lee Miller. She even carries a travel developing kit, keeping the fluid in a vial under her shirt so it stays warm. But Lee is there to tell the story, and Jessie is more like Joel, to feel the rush.

The final scenes, an attack on Washington DC, are horrifying. We’ve seen the iconic structures blown up in movies before, but the intensity and devastation of this film are unprecedented. This builds on the carefully chosen details we have already seen, a high school football field converted to a refugee center run by an international humanitarian aid group, a mass grave, those snipers on the roofs.

Garland’s words from a Daily Beast interview are the best conclusion to a discussion of the film: “More and more news organizations have become dominated by bias, so this is a throwback to an older form of journalism, which is reporting. Then, the film is attempting to function like a reporter. It’s about reporters, and it’s trying to be like a reporter itself.”

Parents should know that this movie includes intense and disturbing wartime violence with many characters injured and killed, some torture, murder, and many graphic and disturbing images including dead bodies and a mass grave). Characters use very strong language, smoke marijuana, and drink alcohol.

Family discussion: Should journalists ever intervene in the situations they are covering? What journalists do you trust and why? How are Sammy, Lee, Joel, and Jessie different in their reasons and approaches?

If you like this, try: Garland’s other films and “The Year of Living Dangerously”

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cast of Monkey Man

Monkey Man

Posted on April 4, 2024 at 5:43 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, rape, language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug use
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and very intense peril and violence, rape, arson, guns, knives, other weapons
Diversity Issues: Abuse of ethnic minorities
Date Released to Theaters: April 5, 2024

We knew Dev Patel was a talented and charismatic actor, and it turns out he is also an audacious, imaginative, and very impressive filmmaker with an exceptional gift for cinematic storytelling. If a movie’s biggest problem is that it has too many ideas, that’s a good problem to have. “Monkey Man” is clearly a passion project from someone who has absorbed the best of what movies have to offer and added some new thoughts of his own. In one scene near the end, as Patel’s character (not given a name in the film and listed as Kid in the credits) enters a room where there is a mirrored mobile. We get glimpses of him through the reflective disks. It adds to the tension of the scene and it is visually stunning.

That scene, like much of the film, is intensely violent, with very graphic and disturbing images and sounds. The plot can be summed up with one word, the simplest and most immediately powerful of all storylines: revenge.

We first see Kid losing a brutal fight in an underground club run by the sleazy impresario Tiger (Sharlto Copley), who pays a “blood bonus” for gore. Both Tiger and the audience are there for the gore, the more brutal the better. The fighters wear masks that cover their heads. Kid’s is a monkey.

Over the course of the film, we see why the monkey is meaningful to Kid. It goes back to the myths his adored and adoring mother told him about Lord Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god. Kid and his mother lived in an edenic, garden-like community, a sharp contrast in the flashbacks with the gritty reality of the urban setting in present day. It was destroyed in an ethnic cleansing and his mother was raped and murdered. His one purpose is to get close enough to the people involved to destroy them. We know, from experience stories of revenge, that it will not happen quickly and that he must learn some lessons before that can happen.

Patel draws from the myth of Hanuman but also from the history of cinema. The reflective disks I mentioned are a creative variation on the iconic mirror scene in “The Lady from Shanghai.” The “John Wick” series is cheekily called out as Kid looks over an assortment of guns, but it is reflected throughout the film in the bravura staging of fight scenes (bathrooms and kitchens are always good locations, and a giant fish tank is a nice touch) and in a big chase through the city streets. We might catch inspiration from the Bourne films and the stylishness of “Drive” and “Baby Driver” as well. But Patel does not copy or imitate. He learns.

This is very much his own story and even the smallest details reflect his singular vision. Someone should write an entire essay about his musical choices, exceptionally well-chosen. On example is in a very intense fight scene, where we might expect an energetic score; he goes in the opposite direction, a much more vivid reflection of his character’s mood and mode. And Patel is, as ever, a magnetic performer, his lanky body always elegant and graceful, which gives the fight scenes a balletic quality.

The editing is exceptionally dynamic but never kaleidoscopic or distracting. It is always in service of the story, pulling us forward into what is happening. Here and there, Patel is so intent on making sure we understand, he tells us more than we need; pulling a newspaper out of the garbage and putting food for a dog onto the page with a photo of one of the people he is chasing, picking a name from a bottle of bleach, a trans woman character explaining their identification with a statue representing both male and female gods. But the film’s evident passion and sincerity hold our affection, as does his introduction of endearing characters who care for Kid. Patel has called this “an anthem for the underdogs, the voiceless and the marginalized.” The action may be dazzling, but it is the heart that will stay with you.

Parents should know that this film is extremely violent, with graphic and disturbing images and sounds. Characters are injured and killed. A woman is raped and other women are trafficked. There are scenes of prostitution including nudity and explicit sexual situations. Characters drink, smoke, and use drugs and very strong language.

Family discussion: Why doesn’t the character have a name? What inspires him about the story of Hanuman? What does he learn from his time with the people in the temple?

If you like this, try: The “John Wick” series, “Polite Society,” and “Drive”

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The Beautiful Game

Posted on March 28, 2024 at 12:56 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language, a suggestive reference, brief partial nudity and drug references
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: References to drug abuse, alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Reference to tragic violence
Diversity Issues: Class issues

“We sat up late into the night talking about how we could change the world.” That was the origin of the Homeless World Cup. Mel Young and Harald Schmied attended an international meeting of editors, founders, and directors of street newspapers, staffed by people who were unhoused. They wanted to create an opportunity for other unhoused people to have the same opportunity to attend an international event devoted to showing their best. What could unite the world more than a Homeless World Cup of “the beautiful game” of football, the “universal language,” except, of course, when the US insists on calling it soccer.

So this is a based-on-a-true-story underdog sports team story, with touching lessons about teamwork and sportsmanship. It has extra resonance because it shows us unhoused people are individuals, and without being preachy, the film reminds us that some people in that category are damaged, have mental illness or addiction issues. Some made bad choices and some just had very bad luck. Some have just been away from regular human interaction for so long they have forgotten the basics. But with a goal and team, they have purpose. “The miracle is respect,” one of the game’s organizers says.

This film has a ton of heart, lively sports action, beautiful scenery, and the true MVP every time we see him, Bill Nighy as Mal, the coach of the English team.

Mal sees Vinny (Micheal Ward, a standout in “Empire of Light”) playing with a soccer ball in a park and offers him a chance to go to the Homeless World Cup in Rome as a part of the England team. Vinny insists that he is not homeless and is insulted for being thought to be. But the chance to play, to have something to be proud of to share with his young daughter, is too much to resist, and he finds himself on a plane with Mal and the rest of the team. The other players include Nathan (Callum Scott Howells), Aldar (Robin Nazari), and Cal (Kit Young). As we might expect, we learn something about the backstories of the team and the players learn something about teams. In this case, since the rules of the Homeless World Cup allow members of one country’s team to substitute on another, the team is soccer in the largest sense and the entire unhoused community.

It is touching to see the team checking into the modest hotel and seeing it as luxurious. “Is it okay to use the shower?” one asks, almost unable to believe. The fierce commitment of the players is touching, too, but not as touching as one team’s reminding their coach that for them, winning means being a part of something and seeing the beauty of The Eternal City. The small audience in the bleachers is almost superfluous. The players are the fans, bringing as much enthusiasm as a cheering crowd filling an arena.

The idea of “winning,” like the idea of “team” is constantly enlarged. The beats of the story are specific and meaningful. The members of the team may not have a place to live but the team is their home. Don’t let Neflix cut off the credits, as the scenes of the real Homeless World Cup participants are wonderful.

“A dash of panache, please.” “True champions show their worth in defeat” “Everyone has a reason for being here.” the name of that miracle is respect Not homeless England is their home. priests in cassocks playing with s soccer ball, scenery

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language, brief non-sexual rear nudity, and references to drug addiction, gambling addiction, and child neglect.

Family discussion: What made Vinny change his mind about the team? About acknowledging that he was homeless? Why does the World Cup mean so much to the players?

If you like this, try: “Greenfingers” and the documentary, “Kicking It.”

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Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

Posted on March 28, 2024 at 12:46 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for creature violence and action
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended monster-style peril and violence, some disturbing and graphic images
Diversity Issues: Some insensitive stereotyping

Remember, they’re not monsters; they’re titans. Earth has become accustomed to living with gigantic beasts, and even allows Godzilla to sleep in Rome’s Coliseum, curled up like a puppy on a dog bed, after a hard day’s work protecting the Eternal City from bad titans. Godzilla’s nemesis from the last movie, King Kong, is safely unreachable in Hollow Earth, a pristine world of exotic creatures, with a few human scientists to study and monitor, led by double PhD Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall). The human encampment is so large and complex there is even a school for the children of the people working there. Andrews has adopted the mute girl with the telepathic connection to the giant ape, Jia (Kaylee Hottle).

Something is wrong. Jia is having disturbing visions, creating drawings that track the anomalies showing up in the scientists’ instruments. Andrews asks conspiracy podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) to come to Hollow Earth to help. Trapper (Dan Stevens), Andrews’ classmate and former love interest, now a freewheeling veterinarian dentist to the Titans, arrives in Hollow Earth to replace Kong’s infected tooth. We know Trapper is a free spirit because (1) his name is Trapper, (2) he replaces the tooth while hanging from a helicopter AND ENJOYING IT (one of the highlights of the film), and (3) he wears a Hawaiian shirt over a hipster t-shirt and leather cord necklaces.

That is about all you need to know about the humans in the story, except that Jia has one other connection with Kong. They are both believed to be the last of their kind. That will turn out not to be the case.

There are a lot of titans in this movie. It’s like the “Avengers: Endgame” of gigantic beasts and I admit I got lost in trying to remember who was on which side. I suspect the titans did, too. And there are so many of them and they all have different powers, you need a spreadsheet. It’s getting to be kind of like Pokemon, if Pickachu was the size of a skyscraper and could breath atomic radiation.

Let’s face it. The humans are here for (1) scale, so that when Kong holds out his hand to Jia, her hand goes only partway around his fingertip, (2) exposition, to say things like, “Something down there is calling for help,” and “You’re going to think I’m completely insane,” and use words like “anomaly” and “intensity increased,” (3) looking worried or afraid (poor Jia is stuck with one anxious eyebrow expression through the whole movie, and (4) running from various dangers. Or, not be able to escape. Just like you never want to be the character in a horror movie saying, “I’ll be right back,” you do not want to be the one in the monster movie saying, “I’m the one in charge, so everyone has to do what I say.” Oh, another purpose for the humans — (5) being the chosen one from the ancient prophesy.

The monsters/titans are here to fight, and let’s face it, we’re here to see them fight. Creature designer Jared Krichevsky and the talented crew of designers and CGI experts have created titans that are true to the spirit of the classics but take advantage of the capabilities of current technology. I’m a fan of Kong’s roundhouse punches, especially with his augmented mechanical arm. And there is a titan that breathes ice, a sea serpent, and one I won’t spoil except to say it’s in the classic Kaija top ten. I admit I got a bit confused by the overwhelming number of creatures in the various locations (Rio seems to be there just for reason (6): to wear bikinis), and did not always remember who was on who’s side, but the fight scenes are as much fun as the fans could hope for.

Parents should know that this film includes extensive and sometimes graphic creature violence, injuries and deaths of a human and many monster characters, and brief strong language. Audience members may be concerned over racial stereotypes, with the one Black main character relegated to comic relief for being terrified and the stereotypical portrayal of the indigenous people.

Family discussion: Why does Dr. Andrews trust Bernie Hayes? What does Jia learn from meeting other members of her culture? Why are there apparently no female giant apes?

If you like this, try: “Godzilla Minus One,” the original 1954 “Godzilla,” and the 2005 “King Kong”

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