Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some rude humor
Profanity: Schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic peril and violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 19, 2017
Date Released to DVD: August 7, 2017

Copyright 2017 20th Century Fox
Copyright 2017 20th Century Fox
Ah, the family car trip. Often excruciating, frequently tedious, always unforgettable. For this third in the “Wimpy Kid” movie series, based on the wildly popular books by Jeff Kinney, the story moves from the schoolyard to the highway as Greg and the Heffley family leave home for his great-grandmother’s birthday party. The kid actors from the first movie have grown up. Remember, one of the characters was played by Chloe Grace Moretz, recently in “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.” And if that doesn’t make you feel old, consider this: the entire cast has been replaced, with “Clueless” star Alicia Silverstone now playing the mom. Tom Everett Scott takes over the dad role from his “That Thing You Do” co-star Steve Zahn.

The Wimpy Kid stories are funny and reassuring for kids and tweens because they can laugh at and with Greg Heffley (now played by Jason Drucker) as he careens from one excruciatingly disgusting encounter to another, many involving human and animal bodily functions and the products thereof. “I like my family and all,” Greg explains, “I’m just not sure we were meant to live together.”

Greg has a dim older brother named Roderick (Charlie Wright), who mistakes the motel safe for a microwave, subjects Greg to an endless stream of demeaning comments, and explains his secret: “I spent years lowering Mom’s and Dad’s expectations.” He has a toddler younger brother who becomes a rage monster without the pacifier Dad has left behind because what better time to wean him than the road trip? Eventually, they will be joined by another passenger, a baby pig, won by the toddler at a county fair.

Along the way, the family encounters filthy motels, a rude bully Greg terms “Beardo,” and the worst horror of all — a Mom-demanded relinquishment of all devices. “This is an unplugged road trip,” she smiles at the boys. “The only connecting we’re going to do is with each other.” She even forces them to listen to dreadful music like — wait for it — the Spice Girls. And Greg has a secret goal. Trying to overcome public humiliation that has gone viral (“Now I’m a meme!”), he is determined to meet and create a video with his gaming idol at a Comic-Con-style gathering just “two inches on the map” from the party.

The kids in the audience, mostly fans of the book series, enjoyed it very much, but adults are likely to find it a very long haul indeed.

Parents should know that this film includes slapstick comic peril and violence (no one hurt), bodily function humor, and some schoolyard language.

Family discussion: Why do the worst parts of the trip make the family feel closer together? What was your favorite road trip with the family and why?

If you like this, try: the other “Wimpy Kid” movies and the books and “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”

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Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Family Issues Series/Sequel Stories About Kids

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, hallucinogen
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and intense fantasy and human peril and violence, swords, arrows, explosions, torture, fights, characters injured and killed, monsters, some graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 12, 2017
Date Released to DVD: August 7, 2017

Copyright 2017 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2017 Warner Brothers
Director Guy Ritchie pretty much makes the same movie every time. Even when it is set in Victorian England (“Sherlock Holmes” with Robert Downey, Jr.) or Cold War-era Europe (“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.“), or based on a classic book (“Sherlock” again) or a remake of an Italian comedy (“Swept Away”), it’s really pretty much about corkscrew story-telling with tricked-up juxtapositions of quick cuts and slow motion, and flashbacks and side-cuts for emphasis and illumination. The characters are a motley crew of cheeky lower-class rapscallions taking on the rich and powerful. They range from wildly proficient to borderline incompetent, often damaged but usually pretty good with a quip, assuming you can understand the argot, and with their own kind of honor.

So, why not take that formula and set it in the Middle Ages, featuring some of the most enduring characters in the Western canon? What’s that, you say? Because it’s already been done by Monty Python? But they were using coconuts for horse clop clop, and we have all this lovely lolly for computers and explosions and fight scenes, that’s why! This begins with a riderless horse running from an exploding building and goes on to include a sort of three-headed mermaid octopus, a gigantic snake, and a therapeutic iowaska-style trip. Plus, of course, that sword gets pulled from the stone.

And that is how we come to have the ponderously, if generically, titled “King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword,” pretty far from the essential elements of the Arthurian legend, literally two pie slices short of a round table and no Guinevere or Galahad in sight, but per the title we do get a lot of Excalibur the sword and a bit of Arthur’s dad Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), plus, as noted, a lot of magic and fights and explosions, plus a very cool monster, all of which are a good bit of fun.

As the story begins, the longtime pact between men and mage (magicians) is coming to an end. Uther is King, but his brother Vortigern (Jude Law, lounging menacingly in what looks like disappated British rock star garb) is so jealous that he will destroy what he loves most to get the throne, unleashing the power of the mage, which in this case includes rampaging giant elephants.

Soon Uther and the queen are dead and young Arthur is sent off in a boat, ending up in a brothel, where we see him grow up in a kaleidoscopic flurry of images that show us that he is (1) very buff (ultimately ending up as Charlie Hunnam), (2) very canny at collecting coins, (3) learning how to fight, and (4) very loyal to his friends, including the prostitutes who raised him.

Arthur’s uncle has become king. He rules with fear, which he considers not a necessary evil but the primary benefit of his position. He says it is intoxicating, that it “takes you completely.” In video game fashion, he can only assume total power if he is able to prevent Uther’s true heir from touching Excalibur to some sort of altar and completes the building of a tower. To find and kill Uther’s son, he requires every man of the right age to try to pull the sword. Thus, Arthur is revealed, though he says and possibly means that he never wanted power.

With the help of his rag tag friends from his days on the street and a mysterious mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), Arthur takes on the king and his army of Blackleg soldiers. But this is exactly the problem; the one thing the audience must have in a fight is a good sense of the stakes and challenges. With magic on Arthur’s side, we never know what is really possible. And psychobabble about his not being able to access the full power of the sword until he is willing to confront his painful memories just sounds silly, in part because Hunnam, a true Ritchie not-so-anti-hero, never seems vulnerable enough to need any additional soul-searching.

It is kinetic, fast, and fun to watch, though the rumored prospect of five more in a projected series has me wishing for a mage to make it stop.

Parents should know that this film includes extended fantasy/action peril and violence, with explosions, swords, fights, arrows, torture, and monsters. Characters are injured and killed, including beloved parents, children, and spouses. There are scenes in a brothel, sexual references, and characters use some strong language, alcohol, and drugs.

Family discussion: Why does Arthur say he never had any desire for power? How do we know when is it time to face painful memories?

If you like this, try: “Excalibur” and “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels”

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Action/Adventure Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Epic/Historical Fantasy Remake

The Circle

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for a sexual situation, brief strong language and some thematic elements including drug use
Profanity: Very brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, mention of drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Peril, car accident, sad death, illness
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 28, 2017
Date Released to DVD: July 31, 2017

Copyright 2017 STX
Copyright 2017 STX
Show of hands: how many of you listed nine concerts you’ve attended and one you didn’t on Facebook this week? Those lists were as inescapable in April of 2017 as they will be forgotten in May of 2017, except by the clever little bots who now, thanks to new legislation can not only collect all of the information you make available online — they can sell it. So, every bill you pay, app you buy, search you make and much much more will be used to make it possible for corporations to monitor and target you. Those who listed Motley Crue on their concert list will get different ads from those who listed Adele. And maybe that information will be made available to employers or insurers or the IRS or your spouse’s divorce attorney as well. The online world is always a balancing act between super-cool and time-saving functionality and super-creepy intrusiveness.

So “The Circle,” based on the book by Dave Eggers and adapted by Eggers and director James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now,” “The End of the Tour”), imagines a corporation that is like a combination of Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon filtered through the dystopian dreams of Edward Snowden and the cultish appeal of, well, pick your favorite charlatan-led cult. Unfortunately, the corporation is more interestingly portrayed here than the characters, and not in a good way. Our heroine is Mae (Emma Watson), a good girl who loves her family and is thrilled to leave her temp job in a drab utility company cubicle to work in the most exciting company in the world, The Circle, on a beautiful and self-contained campus that is part prestige liberal arts college and part Pepperland. She is initially assigned to “customer experience,” where every transaction is immediately rated with either a smile or frown and a numerical score, both instantly transmitted to her supervisor and analyzed by algorithms. The company’s goal is to “make the chaos of the web simple and elegant,” to give customers (some 83 percent of the population) one place for all their needs. That is even more true for the employees, who are not exactly required to rely on the company for all of their personal and social interactions, from support groups (there are two for those like Mae who have a parent with multiple sclerosis) to parties — with live music by Beck — and health care. Those services may be free, but all your data, including biodata are belong to them.

This seems blissful for a while, especially when The Circle generously puts Mae’s parents on the company health plan. But there are VERY CLUNKY harbingers of complications, then problems, then danger. And if by some chance you do not pick up on them, the cardboard-like characters will explain them to you, including one who not only has no reason to be there but has many reasons not to be but is nonetheless there just in case you need someone to warn you about the intrusiveness of this technology. In other words, “The Circle” goes nowhere.

You will probably not need much explanation when Mae agrees to become The Circle’s first fully transparent employee, wearing a webcam (it is on her shirt facing out but somehow is able to broadcast images of her face, a technological challenge even The Circle probably cannot master) 24/7, with timed bathroom breaks, that this is not going to turn out well and that she will carelessly humiliate people she cares about.

The questions posed are important and urgent, and Tom Hanks is superb as the big boss who has mastered Silicon Valley’s faux “don’t be evil,” we just want to make the world a better place post-corporate demeanor and rhetoric. But the last forty minutes it becomes clear that the people behind it have not thought very deeply about those questions, much less the answers, and its complete denial of a character’s moral responsibility for a tragic outcome just makes it all more disconnected and hollow.

Parents should know that this film has very brief strong language, non-explicit sexual situation, some peril including a fatal car accident, illness, alcohol and a reference to drug use.

Family discussion: Would you be willing to be transparent? Does this film change your mind about what you share online?

If you like this, try: “Disconnect” and “Snowden”

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Based on a book Drama DVD/Blu-Ray

How to Be a Latin Lover

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for crude humor, sexual references and gestures, and for brief nudity
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, cigar
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence including automobile accident
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, intended humor about disabilities
Date Released to Theaters: April 28, 2017
Date Released to DVD: August 14, 2017

Copyright 2017 Sony
Copyright 2017 Sony
I like everyone connected with this movie so much that I am especially sorry to give it a bad review. Mexican star Eugenio Derbez is a wonderfully engaging performer with enormous warmth and charm, as we saw in “Miracles From Heaven,” where he played the doctor. The supporting cast includes Salma Hayek, Kristen Bell, Rob Riggle, Raquel Welch, Michael Cera, Michaela Watkins, Rob Lowe, and even Weird Al Yankovic. The director is the very funny Ken Marino (“Burning Love”). And it introduces a terrific young actor, Raphael Alejandro, who is the highlight of every scene he is in. But all of that talent cannot overcome a painfully unfunny script by Chris Spain and Jon Zack.

In the opening scene, a young brother and sister see their father drive into their house, creating an explosion that kills him and destroys their home. There’s a way to start a comedy!

This is an important lesson in the uncertainty of life, which the boy interprets as: Find a wealthy lover and be pampered for as long as you live.

As a healthy and handsome young man (played by Derbez’s very attractive young son), Maximo woos a wealthy, middle-aged lady (Renee Taylor). Twenty-five years later, Maximo (now played by Derbez) is living a blissful Richie Rich life, except that he has to sleep with a very old lady. A battalion of servants attends to his every wish, even turning his poolside lounger to follow the sun or turning the pages of his e-reader. He never even has to take a step: he glides through the mansion on a hoverboard. The most exercise he gets every day is reaching over to his wife every morning so he can put a mirror under her nose to see if she is still breathing. And maybe pointing to the new sportscar he says he is buying for her but is really buying for himself.

Unfortunately, the car salesman sells himself along with the car, and Maximo is out on the street with nothing but a faint memory of an ironclad pre-nup. He needs a new old lady to marry, and until then he needs a place to stay. Which is how he ends up knocking on the door of his sister Sara (Hayek), a widow with a young son, Hugo (Alejandro). Many slapstick encounters ensue, including a guy in a wheelchair getting hit by a car three different times, a tenderhearted girl getting shredded by her cats, but mostly about Maximo helping Hugo talk to Arden, the girl he has a crush on (Mckenna Grace of “Gifted”) so he can make a move on Arden’s rich grandma, played by Raquel Welch. Yes, let that sink in for a moment: Raquel Welch. Also, some guys want to beat him up but I don’t need to say why because you can assume that pretty much everyone is on their side by this point. I’m guessing you will be, too, when I explain that in addition to the wheelchair “joke,” it is also supposed to be humorous that Maximo removes a disabled character’s prostheses and that when he tries to dye his hair with shoe polish and dives into the pool, everyone things, well, you know what’s hard to tell from Shinola. I’d say the same for this screenplay.

Parents should know that this movie has material that pushes the limits of PG-13 with a lot of crude humor and comic peril and violence. There is very strong language, some to a child, alcohol, sexual references and situations, and “humor” about disabilities.

Family discussion: Was any of Maximo’s advice to Hugo worth following? Why did Maximo choose that career?

If you like this, try: “Stuck on You” and “Shallow Hal”

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray

The Fate of the Furious

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content, and language
Profanity: Some strong language
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style violence, guns, explosions, chases, crashes, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 14, 2017
Date Released to DVD: July 10, 2017

Copyright Universal 2017
Copyright Universal 2017
Before we get into it, let’s take a moment to remember how we got here. The first “Fast and Furious” movie was comparatively modest in scope, the story of a cop (Paul Walker as Brian) going undercover to investigate illegal street racers, led by Dom (Vin Diesel). The cop falls for the sister of the racer and for the living-life-a-quarter-mile-at-a-time existential rush. Think “Point Break” with cars instead of surfboards. Somehow, now on the eighth movie since the 2001 original with two more in the planning stages, it has turned into an X-Games version of “Mission Impossible.” It’s 3/4 chases, crashes, shoot-outs and explosions, 1/8 bro-mance (“I don’t have friends; I have family”), and 1/8 quippy humor with a dash of fan service for anyone who has been paying enough attention to remember who all of the characters are. That leaves no room for plot or logic, but you can’t have everything, and this one goes with star power instead.

So over the course of eight films we’ve gone from living life a quarter mile at a time racing souped-up home brew stock cars to globe hopping save-the-planet adventures with the help of grateful no-name international law enforcement (literally, Kurt Russell as Mr. Nobody, now with an intern played by Scott Eastwood, known as Little Nobody), increasingly improbable settings and vehicles (a nuclear sub in this one, pretty much all that’s left for Chapter 9 is a “Moonraker”-style spaceship), and increasingly improbable co-stars. Helen Mirren is in this movie. Let me say this again. Helen Mirren is in this movie. And she’s not the only Oscar-winning actress in the eighth “Fast and Furious” film. It also stars Charlize Theron as the ice queen villain.

Our merry little gang of rascals has gotten so cozy that in order to have any dramatic tension at all we have to unscramble that egg a little, and what better way to do that than to have Dom go to work for the bad guy?

We begin with an opening scene in which we are reminded that Dom (a) adores his wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), now recovered from her amnesia and honeymooning with Dom in Havana, and (b) is a man who exemplifies integrity, grace, courage, and determination, and who could probably win the Indy 500 in a golf cart. And so, perhaps we are expected to be surprised when shortly after that, when the team, with regulars Hobbs the cop (Dwayne Johnson), Roman the comic relief (Tyrese Gibson), and Tej the computer guy (Chris “”Ludacris” Bridges), is called in by Mr. Nobody to rescue some big scary bomb, Dom and Letty are on board and then all of a sudden Dom makes off with the big bad bomb and apparently is in cahoots with Ms. Big, Theron as uber-hacker Cipher.

There’s nothing quite as crazy as the car leaping between buildings in the last film, and nothing near as touching as the finale, with its tender tribute to the late Paul Walker (his character is lovingly addressed). There’s a wild bumper-cars-on-crack scene as Cipher takes control of all the automobiles, even the ones that are parked, in the middle of New York City. And some very fancy vehicles get trashed. And then there’s the sub. And a lot of thousand-yard stares and macho wisecracks and people who have a history as enemies having to work together and grudgingly develop some respect. In other words, it’s just what you expect from the eighth “Fast and Furious” movie.

Parents should know that this film has constant action-style violence, crashes, explosions, guns, fights, extended mayhem of all kinds, some sexual references and crude humor, and some strong language.

Family discussion: Which was the best stunt? What makes someone who is not related “family?”

If you like this try: the rest of the “Fast and Furious” films and “The Italian Job”

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Action/Adventure DVD/Blu-Ray Series/Sequel
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