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Battle of the Sexes

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B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity
Profanity: Some strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references and situation, issues of coming out
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, cigarettes
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 22, 2017

Copyright Fox Searchlight
“You’ve come a long way, baby!” was the 1970’s slogan for a cigarette for women. Virginia Slims were marketed as a badge of liberation and sophistication. They had a woman’s slightly naughty-sounding name and a word with a lot of appeal to female consumers (and a suggestion that they would aid in keeping weight down). They had a kicky advertising campaign. And they were the only commercial product willing to sponsor the brand new Women’s Tennis Association, founded by tennis champion Billie Jean King to protest the pay differential in professional tennis, with women making a fraction of the prize money awarded to the men. When they raised the issue, they were told that women’s tennis was not as interesting (even though they sold as many or more tickets at the same price as the tickets to see the men play) and because the men had families to support. It may now seem absurd, or at least off-brand to have a women’s athletic competition sponsored by a cigarette, but probably no more absurd than the argument that “the men’s tennis is more exciting to watch; it’s biology.”

One-time men’s tennis champ Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was a bit of a sexist and more than a bit of a showman, and much more than a bit of a gambler. And so he bragged that even in his 50’s he could beat the top-ranked women’s player. Margaret Court accepted the challenge, and he triumphed in a humiliating defeat. And so, Billie Jean King agreed to play him in something between a sporting event and a three ring circus, complete with marching band, scantily dressed cheerleaders in Sugar Daddy outfits, and the ceremonial presentation by King to Riggs of an actual pig.

So, not your usual night on ESPN, which, of course, had not been invented yet. This was front-page news in the midst of the fight for what people were still calling “women’s liberation.” This was consciousness raising whether you liked it or not.

It is especially suitable that this film was directed by a female/male team: Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (“Little Miss Sunshine”). They found the human story, the vulnerability, the drive, the fear, the resolve behind the hoopla and hyperbole, and they have made a film about real people that is moving and, even though we know the outcome of the game, suspenseful.

Bobby Riggs would have been a public feminist if he could make a dollar at it. (A dollar, by the way, is what the original players in King’s Women’s Tennis Association were paid to sign up.) He would cheerfully admit, except possibly to his wealthy wife (Elisabeth Shue), that he was more of a showman and a huckster than an athlete. Billie Jean King was a determined, disciplined athlete at the forefront of the Gloria Steinem era of feminists. She was companionably married to Larry King (not the TV show host), but she was beginning to admit to herself that she was attracted to women. Her hairstylist, Marilyn (Andrea Reisborough), leans in and brushes her hand on Billie Jean’s cheek. The woman who never allowed herself any distractions has met a distraction she cannot ignore.

Faris and Dayton create the environment of the 70’s without any air quotes. The cinematography, the score, the deft use of Howard Cosell’s actual commentary during the match (at one point, he says approvingly that King moves like a man), evoke the era without exaggeration or snottiness. Every performance shines, including Sarah Silverman in the Eve Arden wry sidekick role. The film is generous to all of its characters, even the real and metaphorical pigs.

Parents should know that this film includes sexual references and an explicit situation with some nudity, issues of sexual orientation, some crude language, alcohol, cigarettes, sexism, and homophobia.

Family discussion: What is different today and what hasn’t changed? Why did Billie Jean King decide to play Bobby Riggs?

If you like this, try: Footage of the real King/Riggs game

The LEGO Ninjago Movie

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B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor
Nudity/ Sex: Brief potty humor
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy/cartoon peril and violence, mayhem but no one seriously injured or killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 22, 2017

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2017
It’s colorful and entertaining, but it does not come close to its hilariously meta predecessors, “The LEGO Movie” and “LEGO Batman.” It does not draw from as rich a cultural vein as the first two and we have become accustomed to the once-astonishingly meticulous and mischievous use of the LEGO bricks and people. Some children may be upset about the theme of parental abandonment and a father who is a bad guy, even though it is portrayed with gentle humor. But it is often quite cute and it has a couple of very funny ideas.

The movie begins with live action, when a boy (Kaan Guldur) who carries a LEGO figure in his pocket ducks into a curios and antiques store to avoid some bullies and meets Mr. Liu (Jackie Chan) and the store cat. Liu takes the battered little figure and turns him into a ninja as he begins to tell the boy a story.

At the center of the now-animated story is Lloyd (Dave Franco), on his 16th birthday. He lives with his mother, Koko (Olivia Munn) and faces bullies at school (“Have you been to high school?” he asks his mother. “It’s judgey.”) And he faces widespread derision pretty much everywhere because his father, who abandoned him as a baby, happens to be the power-mad villain Garmadon (Justin Theroux). A butt-dialed call from Garmadon, who has no interest in Lloyd and remembers him only dimly as having no hair or teeth (“That was when I was a baby!”) leaves Lloyd feeling wounded. Garmadon may be an evil genius with four arms who throws minions who displease him away via volcano, but he is still Lloyd’s dad, and Lloyd just wishes they could hang out and do guy stuff like tossing a ball.

It turns out that while the cool kids at school think they are unpopular nerds and dorks (like Clark Kent), Lloyd and his friends are secretly (like Power Rangers) super ninjas, with extremely cool “mecs” (transportation and fighting machines shaped like dragons, spiders, and robots). Their teacher, Master Wu (Chan) explains that they also have and elemental (like “Avatar”) powers over earth, water, ice, and lightning. Lloyd just has “green” power, whatever that is.

Meanwhile, after the ninjas thwart his invasion, Garmadon orders his generals to meet him by the fireplace (“The room with the lava or where people get fired?” Turns out to be both). They are quickly dispatched, and he gets back to work. But Garmadon’s next invasion is halted by an unexpected force: the (very funny and unexpected) “ultimate weapon.” Now the ninjas will have to beat or join forces with Garmadon to get the “ultimate ultimate weapon” and save the city.

As with the other films, there are knowing meta-isms, as when Master Wu explains that he won’t die unless it is to teach the ninjas a lesson. Franco and Theroux, along with Kumail Nanjiani as one of the other ninjas and Olivia Munn as Koko, are excellent voice talent. And there are some clever callbacks on Lloyd’s wish that his father would teach him to catch and throw. But it is too long and lacks the imagination and verve of the first two. I hope that’s not too judgey.

Parents should know that this film has a lot of cartoon-style peril and action (no one injured or killed but a lot of mayhem and destruction), issues of parental abandonment and villainy, and some bullying.

Family discussion: When have you shown courage, hard work, and patience? When did you see something in a new way? Why did Lloyd forgive his father?

If you like this, try: “The LEGO Movie” and “LEGO Batman”

Stronger

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B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, some graphic injury images, and brief sexuality/nudity
Profanity: Constant very strong language, some crude
Nudity/ Sex: Nudity, sexual references and situation
Violence/ Scariness: Drinking and drunkenness
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 22, 2017

Copyright 2017 Lionsgate
“Stronger.” As in the “Boston Strong” motto that the city claimed and earned following the terrible bombing at the finish line of one of the city’s most cherished annual events, the Boston Marathon. And “stronger” as in what that which does not defeat you makes you. “Stronger” is the real-life story of a man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and who became a symbol of hope in the midst of wrenching loss. It is also the story of that man’s struggle to acknowledge to himself, his family, and the media the darker reality of his struggles with post-traumatic stress caused by the bombing, the long, slow, painful rehab, and by the pressure put on him by everyone to be a hero.

Imagine you are standing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon to cheer on your estranged girlfriend and then wake up in a hospital bed to the news that your legs are gone. What would be the first thing you would say?

Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), still groggy from the anesthesia, shock and pain, unable to speak because of tubes, gestured for a pen. He wrote three messages. The first asked if the girl he was there to support was all right. She was. He then wrote “Lt. Dan,” as in the Gary Sinise character in “Forrest Gump,” who loses his legs in Vietnam.

And then he wrote: “I saw the bomber.”

Bauman’s description gave law enforcement essential details that helped them track down the Tsarnaev brothers.

Director David Gordon Green and screenwriter John Pollono, working from Bauman’s book are especially good at putting us in Jeff’s world, in the midst of his noisy, hard-drinking, combative, sports-loving, and fiercely loyal family. They travel as a pack.

Jeff’s divorced parents, Patty (Miranda Richardson) and Big Jeff (Clancy Brown), his brother and friends are there for him in the most literal sense, at the hospital. One of the movie’s best scenes is at the hospital just after the surgery, when Jeff’s supervisor from Costco (Danny McCarthy) arrives and they begin to yell at him and each other, partly because they are all frantic and need to let off steam and partly because they are the kind of people who yell a lot. When they discover he is there to provide insurance information and assure Jeff that he still has a job, it is deeply moving.

They are all there again when he returns to his mother’s apartment. They are more concerned about the party to welcome him home and the chance to show him all the letters and packages he has been sent than to consider the logistics of his having to maneuver up a steep staircase. Erin (Tatiana Maslany), who broke up with Jeff just before the marathon, becomes a full-time caretaker. He is under enormous pressure to be the resilient guy who came out of the hospital with a thumbs up sign for the cameras.

Gyllenhaal, who makes some of the most thoughtful and challenging choices of any actor his age, gives a performance of great sensitivity, capturing Jeff’s offhand, offbeat humor as well as his physical and emotional anguish. He shows us the integrity Jeff himself did not understand he had. In another exceptional scene, Jeff does very little talking. He finally agrees to meet Carlos (Carlos Sanz), the man in the cowboy hat who saved his life, and who was included with him in one of the iconic images captured that day. The story Carlos tells is a turning point for Jeff, and it is all in Gyllenhaal’s posture and expressions. There are huge cataclysmic events, but it is in the small details that this film has the most power.

Parents should know that this movie concerns a terrorist bombing with severe injuries and amputation, post-traumatic stress, drinking and drunkenness, nudity, a sexual situation, and constant very strong language.

Family discussion: What do the three comments Jeff wrote tell us about him? What did he learn from Carlos?

If you like this, try: “Patriot’s Day”

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

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B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material
Profanity: Some strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references and explicit situations, some crude, some graphic
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, drugs and drug dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive, very graphic peril and violence with many characters injured and killed, sad deaths, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 22, 2017

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2017
The ultra-elite and impeccably tailered Kingsmen are back, well, a couple of them, in this stylish and slightly less transgressive sequel from writer/director Matthew Vaughn, based on the graphic novels by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. A couple of stunning action sequences, a delicious villain named Poppy (Julianne Moore), and Elton John(!) make it a watchable entertainment, and the return of two characters who were killed in the first film makes the dispatching of many more characters more cheeky than tragic.

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has come a long way from the unrefined street kid of the first film. He is now happily living with the Swedish princess (Hanna Alström), wearing elegant bespoke suits, and still happily hanging out with his old friends and his dog, JB. But he is kidnapped by Charlie (Edward Holcroft), the former rival he thought was killed in the mayhem of the first chapter. It turns out Charlie only lost an arm, now replaced with a prosthetic that has a mind of its own, and his voice, also with a mechanical replacement. There’s a terrifically kinetic fight and chase scene, suitably accompanied by Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” that starts the movie off with a bang.

Then just about all the Kingsmen are killed off and Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong, with a Scottish burr and a soft spot for John Denver) have to meet up with their American counterparts, the Statesmen to save the world from Poppy, a ruthless international drug dealer with the demeanor of a 1950’s TV commercial happy housewife. She responds to betrayal like it is ring around the collar or waxy yellow buildup, except than instead of finding a better cleaning product, she puts those who fail her through a meat grinder. Literally.

Poppy would like to live in the world of the 1950’s, or, rather, the 50’s as portrayed in nostalgic re-creations like “Grease” and “Happy Days,” and has created an adorable Disney-style replica in the midst of the South American jungle, where she directs worldwide operations of her highly successful drug manufacture and distribution business. But she wants more.

The filmmakers are clearly having a blast and that is fun for us, except when it goes overboard. It is much too long at nearly two and a half hours. Channing Tatum is a hoot but his section of the story is entirely expendable. And it is a shame that once again, Halle Berry is utterly wasted in a role that uses her for screen candy. Same with her fellow Oscar-winner, Jeff Bridges, whose appearance is all crag and chaw. But the third Oscar-winner, Colin Firth, also playing a character who was killed in the first movie except not because who cares, is a pleasure to watch, as he has to play his character as much younger and more benignly innocent, and then again as sophisticated and determined. Elton John is a hoot as himself and the movie has a bubbly, delirious quality that excuses almost as much as it hopes it will.

Parents should know that this film includes extended very explicit peril and violence with many characters injured and killed and some disturbing and graphic images including characters being put into a meat grinder and some gruesome deaths, strong language, drugs and drug dealing, sexual references and situations with some graphic images.

Family discussion: How are the Statesmen different from the Kingsmen? Why did Merlin make that choice?

If you like this, try: the first “Kingsman” movie and “Our Man Flint”

Our Souls at Night

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B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Mild language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references and non-explicit situation
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drunknenness
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death, family troubles
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 29, 2017

Copyright 2017 Netflix
Our Souls at Night was the last novel written by best-selling author Kent Haruf, published after his death, and it has an elegiac quality. The film, the fourth pairing of Robert Redford and Jane Fonda and the first in 38 years, has a rare quality in film, quiet grace. Movies love to tell us the story of young love, impetuous, volatile, and thrilling. But there is something even more moving about last love, the love that happens when you are old enough to understand how precious it is and old enough to know how foolish it would be to waste any more time.

Addie (Fonda) and Louis (Redford) are longtime neighbors. They know each other a little in the way people in small communities do. He was her daughter’s teacher. Both widowed, they have been living alone. And then, one night, she knocks on his door to ask him a question: would he like to come over to her house and sleep with her? Not sex, she assures him quickly. It’s just lonely in bed, and it would be nice to have someone to talk to at the end of the day.

He asks for time to think about it, and then says yes, coming over to her house with his pajamas in a paper back and going to the back door to keep the neighbors from gossiping. They get to know one another, in simple, spare, but profoundly honest conversations about their most painful experiences, told without rancor and told with a simple generosity of spirit.

When Addie’s young grandson comes for an unexpected visit, she and Louis become even closer as they give the boy a chance to open up. They have an idyllic moment, almost as though it is a second chance for them to correct the mistakes they made in their first families, and learning more about each other through him. Then other ties and complications return.

It is a joy to see these two marvelous actors with their chemistry undimmed, performers with a deep understanding of craft and a deep trust in each other, take on these roles. Like the characters they are playing, they are beyond pretense, with the sureness of experience and the joy of cherishing each moment that only comes with age.

Parents should know that the film has references to sad and difficult family situations including the death of a child. Characters drink and one drinks too much. There are sexual references and a non-explicit sexual situation and characters use some mild language.

Family discussion: Why does Addie pick Louis? Why does Louis say yes?

If you like this, try: “On Golden Pond” and “Barefoot in the Park”