The Foreigner

C

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, language and some sexual material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended, graphic, intense violence including terrorist bombings, guns, fighting, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: October 13, 2017
Copyright 2017 Sparkle Role Media

“The Foreigner” is in a genre I refer to as “Who is that chef?” movies. An actor with martial arts skills plays a role that has everyone else in the film saying, “Wait, how come that seemingly ordinary and unprepossessing guy has such mad special ops abilities?” It’s a bit like superhero movies, where mild-mannered Clark Kent turns out to have superpowers. And it gives all of us in the audience a chance to dream that someday those around us just might have that same highly vindicating realization that we are far cooler and more powerful than they think.

This film stars Jackie Chan, who also produced, so he was able to craft it around his persona and his priorities. This is not one of his light-hearted fun action films like the wildly popular “Rush Hour” movies and the early Chinese films like “Wheels on Meals,” where his poker face and split-second athleticism showed the inspiration of his idol, Buster Keaton. This is a “serious” (meaning pretentious) saga, based on the thriller by Stephen Leather about the owner of a Chinese restaurant in London who is devastated by the murder of his daughter in a terrorist attack and — say it with me — turns out to have special ops training that makes him the wrong guy to pick on.

As the movie opens, Chan’s character, Quan, picks up his teenage daughter at school and lets us know how protective he is just in time for her to get blown up. He visits the man he thinks knows who is responsible, an Irish politician and former IRA member named Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan, working with the man who cast him in “Goldeneye”). The plot here relates to The Troubles and some renegades who want to start them up again, so get ready for lots of whiskey in cut glass highball glasses. He patiently and politely refuses to leave until he can see Hennessy, so, once he’s been patted down (“He’s just carrying his groceries,” the security guys assure their boss), he is ushered into Hennessy’s office and given the brush off. It turns out the groceries are the ingredients for a bomb, which Quan installs safely in a place that is conveniently empty. “One old man running circles around us,” says Hennessy. “I won’t underestimate him again.” Oh, yes he will.

There’s not enough substance here to make its overall dreariness worth it. And too much “how to” to watch without feeling very uncomfortable that the ones we are underestimating in real life are the bad guys.

Parents should know that this film includes extremely violent peril and action with many characters injured and killed, terrorist bombings, torture, murder, assault weapons, traps, fights, graphic and disturbing images, sad deaths, sexual references and situations including using sex to get information or access, and some strong language.

Family discussion: Should the police torture witnesses to prevent terrorist attacks? How were Quan’s actions different from the people he was fighting?

If you like this, try: The “John Wick” films

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Blade Runner 2049

A-

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and explicit peril and violence, characters injured and killed,
Date Released to Theaters: October 6, 2017

Copyright Warner Brothers 2017
I’ve got a bit of a conundrum here. As has been widely reported, the filmmakers have asked the critics to avoid spoilers (no problem, we are always careful about that), but they have done so with a very specific list of topics/characters/developments they don’t want us to reveal, so exhaustive that it leaves us with little to say beyond: the camerawork is outstanding (please, give Roger Deakins that Oscar already) and the movie is magnificently imagined, stunningly designed, thoughtful and provocative, and one of the best of the year.

I hate to admit it, but I think they’re right. I really do want you to have the same experience I did, including all of the movie’s surprises. So forgive me for being oblique, and after you’ve seen it, come back and we can discuss it in detail, all right?

In the original “Blade Runner,” based on the story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick, Harrison Ford played Deckard, a 21st century detective sent to find and terminate four “replicants,” humanoid robots created to perform physical labor but who somehow are evolving to the point where they want to be independent of human control. Replicants are so close to being human in appearance and manner (and, in the future, life is so dystopic that humans have become less feeling, less compassionate) that it is increasingly difficult to figure out who is human and what being human means. Like Deckard, K (Ryan Gosling) is a blade runner, sent by Joshi, his human boss (Robin Wright), to find the older generation of replicants and terminate them. The new generation of replicants is more obedient, or at least that is the way they are programmed. “It’s my job to keep order,” she tells him. She gives him a new assignment and when he hesitates she asks, “Are you saying no?” “I wasn’t aware that was an option.” “Atta boy,” she says approvingly. K has uncovered something that Joshi believes is an extermination-level threat to humanity as what accountants call a going concern.

This film explores ideas of memory, identity, and, yes, humanity. And it does that through a detective story that is grounded in a Raymond Chandler noir world of deception and betrayal, taking place in a gorgeous, brilliantly designed dystopian future of perpetual rain where organic material is barely a memory and huge, Ozymandias-like ruins carry faint reminders of better times and grander ambitions. Most people have never seen a tree, even a dead one, and a crudely carved wooden toy is priceless. A woman creates pleasant childhood memories to be implanted so that replicants will be more stable, more empathetic, and easier to control. The trick about control, though, is that nature will rebel against it, and those who try to maintain control by sending people or replicants or anyone out to investigate and ask questions is going to find that knowledge can dissolve authority.

That’s about all I can say except to add that Gosling and Ford are outstanding and Sylvia Hoeks is a standout as a character I can’t tell you anything more about, while Jared Leto is the movie’s weak spot as another character I can’t tell you anything about. So I’ll end by saying that this is that rare sequel deserving of its original version, not because it replicates — for want of a better word — the first one, but because it pays tribute (note touches like the see-through raincoat) and then finds its own reason for being, and we are lucky enough to come along.

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi/action violence with graphic and disturbing images, characters injured and killed, reference to torture, drinking, smoking, some strong language, sexual references and situations, prostitutes, and nudity.

Family discussion: What elements or concerns about today’s society are the basis for this vision of the future? What rules would you make about replicants? What is the most human aspect of the replicants?

If you like this, try: the original “Blade Runner,” “Terminator 2,” “Total Recall,” “Children of Men,” and the writing of Philip K. Dick

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Kidnap

D

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Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence and peril
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence including children in peril, guns, chases, crashes, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 4, 2017

Copyright 2017 Aviron Pictures
Maybe Halle Berry, who produced and stars in “Kidnap,” thought this would be her “Taken,” a big prestige star in an all-out action movie. Not so much. Instead, this is one of those movies where if anyone made a single rational decision it would be over in eight minutes, instead of the 80-some minutes that feel like 800.

Berry plays Karla, a single mom waitress in a diner who adores her six-year-old son, Frankie (Sage Correa), and has promised to take him to an amusement park. On the way there, we establish that (1) his favorite toy is a little voice recorder, and (2) Karla’s ex is now married to a doctor and Karla is doing her best to reassure Frankie that “everybody loves you” and that the grown-ups are all getting along. So, when she gets a call from her lawyer about the ex’s attempt to get custody, she tells Frankie to stay where he is and moves so that he cannot hear the discussion. When she gets back, he is gone.

At first, she thinks he is just hiding. But he has left the recorder on the bench, and then she sees him being hustled into a distinctive teal car. And so she races into her minivan, dropping her phone in the parking lot because (see above regarding the film’s duration), and chases after them.

And chases after them. And chases after them. Causing endless mayhem and at least two deaths along the way, but who cares about other people’s family members? This is HER SON and they picked a fight with the WRONG MOTHER.

Berry is so much better than this. She makes competent terrified/determined faces at the right moments, but even she cannot sell the increasing preposterousness of the storyline or make sympathetic a woman who would abandon the critically injured people who got in her way or tried to help her. She’s the one who really needs to be rescued in this saga.

Parents should know that this film includes extensive peril and violence including kidnapping, knives, shotgun, car chases and crashes, and some strong language.

Family discussion: Why did Karla leave the police station? Would the law and the news media really respond the way they did in this movie?

If you like this, try: “Without a Trace” and “Nick of Time”

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The Mummy

B-

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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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Get Out

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MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references
Profanity: Some strong language including racial epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and very graphic and scary peril and violence with very disturbing images and sounds including surgical situations, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 24, 2017
Date Released to DVD: June 7, 2017
Copyright Universal 2017
Copyright Universal 2017

Two caveats before I begin the review: First, I am not very knowlegeable about horror films and therefore do not have the context I normally bring to evaluating a film. Second and more important, this movie has complex themes about race and privilege that I do not pretend to have authority to speak to. I strongly recommend that people who are interested in understanding this film read the perspectives of critics who are African-American or people of color, and I will post links to some of the ones I especially admire at the end of this review. With those limitations in mind, here are my thoughts on “Get Out,” in my opinion a superb film on many levels.

Writer/director Jordan Peele, like his “Key and Peele” partner Keegan-Michael Key, is biracial, which gives them both a lifelong experience with being both part of and observer of black and white culture and a lifelong fascination with code-switching, as we saw in their film “Keanu,” written by Peele. Moving from comedy to horror, Peele continues to explore the themes, giving depth and emotional power to a genre film. Unlike Quentin Tarantino, who carelessly purloins historic settings as a shortcut to the audience’s emotional investment so he can get right to the gore, Peele cannily plays the conventions of the genre and the discomfort and hostility about race off of each other.

It is one of the most terrifying prospects of ordinary life: meeting the family of the significant other. This familiarly excruciating prospect can be played for comedy (“Meet the Parents”) or drama (“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”), but horror is perhaps its best fit, with room for some comedy and drama as well. The fact that Rose (“Girls” star Allison Williams) has not told her parents that her boyfriend of five months, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), is black, adds another layer of tension. She assures him it does not matter. “They would have voted for Obama for a third time if they could!”

Kaluuya gives a star-making performance with help from cinematographer Toby Oliver, who makes this that rarest of movies, one that knows how to light African-Americans, especially those with darker skin, so that we can really see what they bring to the role. Watch his face in the early scenes as Chris navigates the fatuous pleasantries of Rose’s parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener, both excellent), and then the bro-ish thuggery of Rose’s brother, and then the condescending appraisals of the friends who all seem like they are on their way to the yacht club. We see him calibrate each of these interactions, trying to be a good sport, trying to go along, trying to make his girlfriend’s family feel comfortable with him, but starting to lose his patience. One of the film’s many shrewd understandings is the way that a lifetime of having to reassure white people that he is not going to hurt them or make them uncomfortable makes him slow to pick up on or slow to doubt himself about the creepiness of Rose’s family. An early scene, where Chris and Rose get questioned by a highway patrolman after hitting a deer is subtle but sharply drawn. And before you can say “foreshadowing,” Chris is getting a tour of the house and Rose’s dad is explaining that the basement had to be sealed off because of black mold. Hmm. And did I mention the prologue when a black guy walking down a peaceful suburban street is followed and then captured? And that the only person of color beside Chris at the party (the always-great LaKeith Stanfield) is strangely subdued and doesn’t know about fist bumps?

It would be a disservice to say any more about the plot. I won’t spoil the twists. I’ll just say that Peele knows what scares us and how to scare us and make us enjoy it, and gives us a lot to think about about some comedy as well. And that it may be that the scariest thing about the movie is the reminder that it has taken far too long to shine the correct light — literally and figuratively — on stories that should be told because they are just that good.

I recommend these reviews: Travis Hopson, Aisha Harris, Jeffrey Lyles, Kevin Sampson, Stephen Thrasher, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Odie Henderson and Stephen Boone. Also, this piece on conversations with interracial couples who have seen the film.

Parents should know that this is a horror film with theme of racism and exploitation, extended peril and violence including gun, choking, and bloody, graphic, and explicit medical images and sounds, characters injured and killed, suicide, references to sad loss of a parent, some strong language including racist epithets, sexual references and a non-explicit situation, and smoking.

Family discussion: When does the story turn from insensitive to offensive to sinister? What makes Chris decide that he has to leave?

If you like this, try: “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Wicker Man” (original version) and “The Stepford Wives”

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