Everything, Everything

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief sensuality
Alcohol/ Drugs: Medication
Violence/ Scariness: Theme of potentially deadly illness, reference to sad death, domestic abuse
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 19, 2017

Copyright Warner Brothers 2017
Copyright Warner Brothers 2017
“Everything, Everything,” based on the novel by Nicola Yoon, is an updated fairy tale about a princess trapped in a castle and the prince who does not exactly rescue her but gives her a reason to rescue herself.

It’s not an enchantment or a curse that keeps her inside. It’s an illness that means any exposure to bacteria or a virus could be fatal. Maddy (Amandla Stenberg, Rue in “The Hunger Games”) cannot remember a time when she was allowed to be outdoors.

Diagnosed at 2 with the immune deficiency SCID, Maddy lives in an irradiated and sterile environment. She has never left her home and has never met anyone other than her doctor mother (Anika Noni Rose), her nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera), and Carla’s daughter Rosa (Danube R. Hermosillo). She has books, she has an exercise machine, she has 100 identical white t-shirts, and she has an online SCID support group. She and her mother watch movies and play phonetic scrabble. Maddy studies architecture and builds model rooms, placing the figure of an astronaut in each one. This avatar is her opposite. Her world is measured in square feet; the astronaut’s is unlimited.

Maddy stands at the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the backyard and imagines what it would feel like to stand on grass or feel a breeze of unfiltered air. And she has a seat in the corner of her bedroom overlooking the house next door, which is how she peers down at a new family moving in, a new family with a boy who has a beautiful smile. He is Olly (Nick Robinson of “Kings of Summer”). He draws his phone number on his window opposite her bedroom, and soon they are texting each other, sweetly portrayed as a face-to-face conversation at a table in Maddy’s model diner, with the astronaut looking on. She wears white; he wears black. She says, “When I talk to him, I feel like I’m outside.” But when she talks to him, she wants to go outside. And both of them find their worlds getting less black and white.

The elements of a young teen romantic fantasy are all here, primarily the disapproving parent, the utterly devoted and hunky but not too aggressive young male, adoring and supportive, and the big reason that they cannot get too physical, except maybe one perfect time. In “Twilight,” he was a vampire who could lose control and kill her. Here it’s just his normal human germs. Anyone over the age of 15 may be distracted by impracticalities and plot developments that go from improbable to preposterous, but even people who know that you have to have ID to get on an airplane and money to pay a credit card bill might just enjoy the pleasures of watching Maddy wake up to the world and Olly, through her, wake up to a few of his own.

Parents should know that this film includes risky teen behavior, some strong language, serious illness, and a non-explicit sexual situation.

Family discussion: Did Carla make the right decision? Why does Maddy put an astronaut in her model rooms?

If you like this, try: “My Sister’s Keeper,” “Before I Fall” and “The Fault in Our Stars”

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“Gothika Rule” Based on a book Date movie DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Illness, Medicine, and Health Care Romance

The Promise

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material including war atrocities, violence and disturbing images, and some sexuality
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and prolonged peril and violence including war and genocide, some graphic and disturbing images, characters injured and killed, suicide, execution
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 21, 2017
Date Released to DVD: July 17, 2017
Amazon.com ASIN: B0719XBL75
Copyright Open Road Films 2017
Copyright Open Road Films 2017

The massacre was so monumental, the attempt to wipe out an entire culture and ethnicity so savage, that a new word had to be invented to describe it. The word was “genocide,” and while it would be applied many times over the course of the 20th century, it was created to describe the murder of 1.6 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) during the first World War. It is difficult to acknowledge that “The Promise,” a love story set during this period is particularly timely, released the week of the annual observance of the annual day of remembrence and the week of a troubling referendum extending the powers of the current leader.

Writer/director Terry George, served time in prison during the time of The Troubles in Northern Ireland and has devoted his life to telling stories of courage in times of the direst periods of unrest and slaughter, including the Oscar-nominated “Hotel Rwanda” and “In the Name of the Father.” With “The Promise,” he tells an epic story of love and loss in wartime, with Oscar Isaac, channelling Yuri Azhivago as soulful Mikael Pogosian, a young Armenian medical student, Christian Bale as determined American journalist Chris Myers, and Charlotte LeBon (“The Walk”), lovely and stirring as Ana, an Armenian artist and governess and the woman they both love.

As it begins, Mikael has agreed to marry a girl in his village in exchange for a dowry that will pay for medical school in Constantinople (Istanbul), where he stays with his uncle’s family, including Ana, governance to his young cousins. In these early scenes, both in the village and the city, George immerses us in an ambiance of sophistication, culture, tolerance, and prosperity. Christians and Muslims, Turks and Armenians, mostly treat each other with respect and easy comfort, even affection.

But that changes quickly as World War I begins. The Ottoman Empire joins the Germans and begins ethnic cleansing, arresting and deporting the intellectuals, forcing able-bodied men into military service or slave labor, throwing everyone else out of their homes and sometimes outright murder. Mikael’s medical exemption from military service is revoked. He is sent to a labor camp but escapes and returns home to find everyone he knows in danger. Although he is by now very much in love with Ana, he goes through with the promised marriage. Meanwhile, Chris is trying to get the story out to the rest of the world and Ana is trying to protect and help her people. All three are swept up in the tumultuous events as people around them show cruelty they could never have imagined possible.

As devastating as the historic events of the film are, the most powerful moments for today’s audiences are the ones that evoke our current conflicts. The treatment of refugees, including an extraordinary rescue effort from France, is in sharp contrast to news footage of today’s refugees, stuck for years, even decades, in perilous limbo before they can find new home, underscored by a reference to the temporary destination for the Armenians evicted from their villages — Aleppo.

Parents should know that this film concerns war and genocide, with extended peril and violence and some graphic and disturbing images. Characters are injured and killed, including an execution, and there are very sad deaths. There is some strong language.

Family discussion: What does this story tell us about today’s treatment of refugees? About how quickly a country can shift its policies on diversity and inclusion? Is survival a form of revenge?

If you like this, try: “Nahapet,” “Ararat,” and “Map of Salvation”

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Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Epic/Historical Inspired by a true story Journalism Romance War

The Lost City of Z

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence including WWI battles and attacks by indigenous people
Diversity Issues: Class, race, and culture issues a theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 21, 2017
Date Released to DVD: July 10, 2017

Copyright Amazon Studios 2017
Copyright Amazon Studios 2017
From the early 19th to the early 20th century, the British Empire exemplified a spirit of adventure, devotion to duty, and confidence bordering on hubris that led to extraordinary achievements like the Oxford English Dictionary and the arrogant imposition of colonialism around the world. All of that is in this true story of Percy Fawcett, an officer in the British Army whose eight trips to South America in search of ancient ruins inspired characters in books by H. Rider Haggard and Arthur Conan-Doyle (The Lost World) (both friends of Fawcett’s) and in movies like “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Basically, if the hero wears khakis as he slashes through the jungle, he owes something to Percy Fawcett.

Writer/director James Gray based the screenplay on the book by David Gann and the letters of Fawcett and his wife, and shaped the story to make it more accessible, turning eight trips into three and reflecting a more contemporary understanding of race and gender. That is notable in Nina Fawcett’s attempt to insist that she should accompany her husband on an expedition and in the treatment of the natives, who are portrayed with dignity and agency, and treated as such by Fawcett.

He also helps us understand the pressures of the era that helped to motivate Fawcett’s journeys. The unlimited opportunities of the uncharted jungle were especially compelling. In addition to giving him the chance to earn money for his family, a major discovery would allow him to return to England in triumph and overcome the disgrace his father had brought to the family name. We first see him outracing his fellow officers, showing us his skill and determination. When he has the opportunity to go to Bolivia to map the country’s boundaries — to protect the British business interests in South America — he does not want to leave his family but he is eager to escape the restrictions of Edwardian social class. “He’s rather unfortunate in his choice of ancestors,” one character sneers.

On the mapping expedition he hears about a place where there are artifacts of a prehistoric civilization and he is determined to find it and come home in triumph. He teams up with the loyal and capable Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson, unrecognizable behind a thick beard).

On his second visit, he brings along a veteran explorer, James Murray (Angus Macfadyen), who had been with Shackleton on his expedition to Antarctica, which turns out to be a very bad decision. But it is also the final proof for Fawcett that class and reputation are not determinative. On the third trip, after Fawcett’s return to military service in WWI, he brings his once-estranged son (Spider-Man Tom Holland) and reaches a new understanding and reconciliation.

Gray ably conveys the curiosity and wonder of the journeys and the passions that impel the adventurers. Pattinson’s performance is especially thoughtful and Hunnam does well, especially in an impassioned speech to the skeptics at the Royal Geographical Society and in showing us how his journeys change his views of himself and his world, perhaps inspiring us to imagine our own.

Parents should know that this film includes extended peril and violence including wartime battle scenes, sad deaths, some graphic and disturbing images, native nudity, brief strong language.

Family discussion: Why did Percy keep returning to his search? What did he learn from his experience with Murray?

If you like this, try: “The Man Who Would be King,” “The Lost World,” “Mountains of the Moon,” and the books by H. Rider Haggard and Arthur Conan-Doyle inspired by Fawcett’s adventures

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Based on a true story Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Epic/Historical

Colossal

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MPAA Rating: Rated R for language
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, alcohol abuse, drunkenness, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Sci-fi/action monster violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 7, 2017
Date Released to DVD: July 31, 2017

Copyright 2017 Neon
Copyright 2017 Neon
I’m less interested in whether a movie scares me than whether it surprises me, and “Colossal” is a little bit scary but deliciously surprising. You think you’re going to see a movie with the gorgeous Anne Hathaway and Dan Stevens in a lovely New York City apartment as characters who break up in the beginning of the story, and you think you know where it is going. You don’t.

Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo wants you to come to the movie with expectations. You think that when you see doe-eyed Anne Hathaway with her cute rom-com bangs and English-accented boyfriend and drinking problem serious enough for memory loss but not serious enough to give her unsightly bloat that you know not just where this is going but how many minutes it will take to get there. You see Gloria (Hathaway), having lost everything, move back into her empty childhood home in a small town and immediately run into Otto (Jason Sudeikis), a regular American guy who with whom she clearly has history and chemistry and who seems to exemplify wholesome hometown values. He offers her a job at the bar he inherited from his dad and you think you know where it’s going. You think that the scenes of an enormous dinosaur-ish sort of monster attacking Seoul mean some lead character will fight it and someone will have to be rescued. Not really. Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo (“Timecrimes”) is here to mess with your expectations the way the monster messes with South Korea, and the job you happily accept is to sit back and enjoy it.

What that means, though, is that there isn’t much more I can tell you about what actually happens in this movie, except to say that the connections between these characters and the monster evolve in very unexpected ways and there are surprises around every corner.

You want to understand how all what happens/happened happened? This is not your movie. You want to consider it a metaphor that explores American insularity and arrogance? Be my guest, as long as you don’t think about it too hard, because it will not withstand an extended deep analysis. You want to see monsters? Well, this isn’t “Pacific Rim,” but there are some pretty cool monsters and they do a lot of damage. But I cannot promise you anything except something you haven’t seen before, and that’s good enough for me.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and crude language, monster violence with characters injured and killed, drinking and drunkenness, and sexual references and a non-explicit situation.

Family discussion: What are the best and worst things about controlling a monster? What connected these characters to the monsters? What monster would you like to control?

If you like this, try: “No Such Thing”

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DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy

The Boss Baby

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: "Formula" that keeps babies from growing up
Violence/ Scariness: Cartoon-style action peril and violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 31, 2017
Date Released to DVD: July 25, 2017
Copyright Dreamworks 2017
Copyright Dreamworks 2017

Yes, sure, babies are adorable and it is wonderful fun to nibble their toes and kiss the backs of their necks. But let’s be honest. They are also tiny tyrants. Who decides when it is time to eat and sleep? It is not the adults in the household. And who is no longer the top priority in the home anymore? The older child! (Let me state for the record that my two younger sisters are lovely people and I couldn’t be luckier to have them as siblings, but those first few months are tough.)

“The Boss Baby,” inspired by the Marla Frazee book, takes these ideas hilariously to the extreme with a baby who is literally the boss.  He arrives complete with suit, tie, Rolex, briefcase, and the ultra-adult voice of Alec Baldwin. This is deeply disturbing for Tim (Miles Bakshi, grandson of animation pioneer Ralph Bakshi), whose previously blissful life of undiluted devotion from his mom (Lisa Kudrow) and dad (Jimmy Kimmel) is destroyed by this demanding creature and it seems that only Tim really understands what a monster he is.

Somehow, Mom and Dad, a sweet couple who both work for a pet food company, can only see the baby’s cute little face and have no idea that the baby is really a spy, even though “if things weren’t to his immediate satisfaction, he had a fit.”  They are so numb from sleep deprivation and so captivated by what looks to them like an infant that they never suspect there is anything unusual going on.  But Tim overhears the Boss Baby talking to his office — and then the Boss Baby blandly tosses some money his way and asks for some sushi: “I’d kill for a spicy tuna roll.”

Once Tim learns that the baby will return to his office after his mission is complete, he and the baby join forces to take on the real villain of the story — I will not spoil his very funny nefarious plan.

Director Tom McGrath says that this film is a tribute and apology to his older brother, because like all younger siblings, he was for a time the “boss baby.”  He gives the story a pleasantly retro look, setting, and soundtrack, evocative of old-school cartoons and an era before everyone was mesmerized by devices. It is surprisingly funny and even more surprisingly sweet. Tim is a great kid, brave, smart, and wonderfully imaginative, and it is nice to see a movie for children that is about something other than following your dreams or learning to be confident. It’s about visceral feelings everyone will recognize — worrying that there is not enough love to go around, jealousy, competitiveness. And it is also about feelings we should recognize but too often overlook: the importance of imagination and the pleasures of being a kid.

NOTE: Stay all the way through the credits for an extra scene!

Parents should know that there is cartoon-style peril and violence along with some potty humor and schoolyard language.  The theme of the movie centers on issues of sibling rivalry.

Family discussion:  Why wasn’t the Boss Baby sent to earth as a regular baby? What are the best and worst parts of having a sibling?

If you like this, try: the “Madagascar” films, from the same director

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Animation Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Scene After the Credits Stories About Kids
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