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DOCTOR STRANGE (3D Blu-ray combo)

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doctorstrangecover

Grade:  A-/B+
Entire family: No
2016, 115 min., Color
Marvel Studios/Disney
Action-Adventure
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B+
Includes: 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Best Buy link

Who knew that Earth had a Sorcerer Supreme protecting it from outside magical and supernatural threats? Or that Marvel still remembered how to produce a straight-up origin story without feeling the need to overpopulate it with Marvel Universe heroes and villains? Some fans accustomed to crossover confusion may wish for a more complex plot than we get in Doctor Strange, but I find it refreshing to be able to focus on a single character’s journey from supreme jerk to Sorcerer Supreme.

doctorstrangescreen1Benedict Cumberbatch might not fit the leading man profile, but he wears the Doctor Strange uniform well. In the early going he’s especially perfect as an arrogant neurosurgeon who has a career-ending accident and, embittered, travels to Nepal to seek a mind-over-matter healer that would help him get his career back. As is often the case in life, when one door closes, another one opens . . . only this portal opens into the astral dimension and time-space continuum.

Doctor Strange looks great in standard Blu-ray, but if ever a film was made for 3D, it’s this one. Unlike some 3D movies that look as if the filmmakers occasionally threw in some effect so it looks like it’s flying at you, Doctor Strange features mostly remarkable depths of field in plot-grounded scenes that are so mind-bending it’s hard to describe. As the sorcerers do battle they rearrange buildings, roads, and whole cities as if they were Tetris blocks, turning them sideways, upside down, and creating fields of battle that keep shifting. Amazingly, it only seems to shift for those in attuned to the supernatural. Streets and cars and people seem to carry on even as their world is turned sideways or upside down. In 3D it’s especially “marvel”ous, though it’s still pretty awesome on 2D Blu-ray.

doctorstrangescreen2By contrast, Stephen Strange’s journey is surprisingly straightforward: he arrives at the door of Kamar-Taj and, refused, sits there until the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) decides to take him under her wing and teach him mystical powers and the secrets of being able to access and manipulate other dimensions, like the Mirror Dimension or the Astral Plane. Strange is no stranger to hard work and studying. After all, he made it through med school. A quick study, he always wants more than he’s allowed—especially when it comes to the sorcery books in the Ancient One’s library. Along the way he learns that the only thing keeping Earth safe from other dimensions is a spell involving three buildings in New York, London, and Hong Kong. When a former pupil (it’s always a former pupil, isn’t it?) named Kaecilius steals pages from the book detailing the most powerful secrets of time and immortality and returns with a force of underlings, the sorcerers must stop them—whether Doctor Strange feels ready or not. Much of it—even the idea of turning back time, which we saw in GalaxyQuest and other films—is old news. But it works.

doctorstrangescreen3Strange is an interesting hero because he’s a fence-straddler. He’s much too selfish to be a true superhero—at least at first—and he has an arrogant streak in him that drives him to do what he wants to do, thinking that rules don’t apply to him. So when he secretly studies the book that Kaecilius read and learns the language that would reveal its secrets, and when he takes the Eye of Agamotto and uses it to bend time, he’s actually going rogue rather than following the Sorcerer Supreme’s—the Ancient One’s—instructions. Yet he also understands the stakes and seems ready to take up the Cloak of Levitation and protect Earth.

Swinton and Cumberbatch are both “large” characters, but Kaecilius doesn’t really stand out as a villain. That’s less the fault of Mads Mikkelsen’s acting than it is the limitations of the role. Despite the inevitable battle, the character frankly seems like part of an ensemble, no more or no less significant than Strange’s surgical colleague Christine (Rachel McAdams), mystic librarian Wong (Benedict Wong), or mystic arts master Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Regardless, Doctor Strange is a successful film and a worthy addition to the Marvel cinematic universe. Look for Thor to pair up with him the next time around, as the ending and credits sequence reveals. And in the spirit of that pairing, Disney has released a fun Thor YouTube video and a clip that reveals how they came up with the end tag for Doctor Strange.

Language: There’s so much action that foul language takes a back seat. Only once does a swearword (a-hole) stand out; otherwise its the cursing version of fecal matter
Sex: Nothing at all
Violence: Not as violent as some Marvel Universe films; surgeries can seem gruesome, and there are several shots of a beating and the aftermath of an impaling; otherwise, it’s all grand-scale sci-fi battling, with more buildings crashing than blood
Adult situations: The depiction of the surgeries and car accident are the “real” situations in a fantastic world; some children may find it disturbing when Strange encounters the ultimate evil in a different dimension
Takeaway: Doctor Strange may not be as well known as other Marvel characters, but this excellent cinematic adaptation should help raise his profile considerably

SULLY (Blu-ray combo)

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sullycoverGrade: A-/B+
Entire family: No
2016, 96 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: A-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

For the first 30 minutes or so, Sully is a little like the film’s namesake, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Understated and unassuming. it’s a quiet one-man show, the kind that star Tom Hanks pulled off in Cast Away. In fact, in the early going it feels a little ordinary—just a well-crafted character study that capitalizes on an actual news story.

Then something surprising happens. As the tension builds inside the pilot who made headlines and became a national hero for successfully landing a full passenger jet on the Hudson River, so does the tension build in this film by director Clint Eastwood.

sullyscreen2Before you know it, you’re wrapped up in the drama as Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) have their actions questioned and must appear in front of a hearing panel of the National Transportation Safety Board. Could two men lauded as heroes for saving 155 people have put them needlessly in danger by choosing to land on the Hudson rather than returning to LaGuardia?

Like any good courtroom drama, Sully moves back and forth in time as everyone tries to piece together what really happened. Based on Sullenberger’s autobiography, this film doesn’t start at the beginning and build to the Miracle on the Hudson. Just the opposite. We join Sully soon after his January 2009 emergency landing as he is still obviously suffering from a mild form of post-traumatic stress syndrome and still trying to process what happened . . . all while dealing with the media spotlight. By film’s end—told from Sully’s point of view—you’re thinking that the real miracle was that this ordinary man was still able to keep his wits under such extraordinary circumstances in the bureaucratic crisis that came in the aftermath of the crash landing.

sullyscreen1In the tradition of disaster movies, we really don’t get much in the way of character development outside of Sully. His relationship with his family isn’t much scrutinized, and the clips we get in flashback only give us the most basic idea of his background in aviation. Mostly, the film stays with the forced landing, the aftermath, and the hearing . . . and it turns out to be plenty satisfying. That’s due, in large part, to Hanks—an actor my teenage son said he’d love even if he played a villain.

But Eastwood also knows how to craft a film, and just as he builds tension he brilliantly diffuses it with one of the best closing lines in Hollywood history. Some dramas have very little replay potential, but ones like Sully—in which you know the outcome already, which puts an added burden on the acting and directing—rise to the occasion. Years from now, when people have forgotten about the Miracle on the Hudson, the film will only grow more powerful than it already is. Now or then, it’s also a reminder for younger viewers that well-crafted and tense movies can be made without a lot of pyrotechnics and action. And yes, the way to see it is on Blu-ray, with its superior resolution and soundtrack and great bonus features.

Language: One f-bomb and maybe a few dozen milder swearwords
Sex: Squeaky clean
Violence: Apart from bleeding on one character, there isn’t anything besides the crash landing itself and the obviously panicked passengers
Adult situations: Sully has a drink at a bar, but there is no intoxication
Takeaways: Clint Eastwood sure knows how to make a film, and Tom Hanks can still carry one

SUICIDE SQUAD (Blu-ray combo)

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suicidesquadcoverGrade: B
Entire family: No
2016, 123 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

 Suicide Squad is a high-concept film that asks, What if you plug characters from the DC Universe into the old Dirty Dozen plot? Instead of having a bunch of badasses tackle a war mission, have these imprisoned supervillains agree to work together to foil what is presumably a super-supervillian named the Enchantress in exchange for reduced sentences.

suicidesquadscreen1Sounds fun, right? But while it’s imminently watchable, Suicide Squad isn’t as fun of a ride as Guardians of the Galaxy. It could have been, with more performances like Jared Leto’s and Margot Robbie’s as The Joker and his henchwoman/partner-in-crime, Harley Quinn. Those two really go over-the-top with their roles and push their characters from celluloid right back onto the pages of a comic book, while the rest of the supervillains are played a little straighter . . . perhaps because they weren’t given as meaty (and savory) roles. But I suspect that these two just found inspired ways to play their characters.

As superhero movies go, Suicide Squad is entertaining enough to add to the family video library, but it has one big flaw. The PG-13 rated film takes a full 40 minutes to introduce the characters and basic set-up, and after that, as if making up for lost time, zips along at breakneck speed through the mission itself. What that means, of course, is that family members might squirm a bit in the early going and then sit there with raised eyebrows for the remainder of the film. It can get a little confusing. Then again, so can the set-up. You’ll want to rewatch it just to get a better handle on what’s going on, and to look for things you missed the first time around.

The action takes place after Superman’s death, when Col. Rick Flag suicidesquadscreen2(Joel Kinnaman) takes charge of a team of supervillains assembled by an intelligence officer named Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). What’s to keep them from bolting after they’re released? A micro-bomb injected into their necks that can be detonated if they even think about going rogue. But here’s where it gets confusing: one potential recruit is an archaeologist (a girlfriend of Flag) who is possessed by the witch-goddess the Enchantress, and faster than you can drag race a car she turns into a destroy-the-world threat. Meanwhile, The Joker finds a way to disable Harley’s bomb and springs her loose. In a confusing turn of events she ends up joining the original group as they battle the Enchantress . . . though this is no simple good vs. evil confrontation.

Honestly, though the Task Force X team of supervillains includes the pyrokinetic El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), the mutated Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the hitman Deadshot (Will Smith), assassin Slipknot (Adam Beach), and superthief Captain Boomerang, Suicide Squad is the Batman and Harley show. Some will say it’s hard to top Heath Ledger’s Joker, while others will be suicidesquadscreen3fans of Jack Nicholson or even TV’s Caesar Romero. That’s the way it is when you have multiple actors playing iconic roles. To be able to add something new and still believable to the character is a real feat, and that’s what Leto does here—same with Robbie. You are mesmerized whenever they’re onscreen, and because of them and the action and special effects you don’t mind as much that the plot can seem muddled. In fact, that’s all the more reason to watch it again—though this one is definitely only for teens and older. The Blu-ray comes with an extended cut that adds 11 minutes of mayhem.

Language: One f-bomb and frequent uses of other swearwords and a mention of that term President-Elect Trump used that no one seemed to mind; additional sex talk
Sex: A strip club features dancers in the slightly blurred distance, while Harley gives a tame lap dance to someone and kisses another woman; Deadshot is shown butt-naked in a darkly lit room only briefly
Violence: Shootings and mass destruction, mostly, along with prison torture and plenty of hand-to-hand fighting; the most extreme are a character whose head is blown off and others who are shot in the head point-blank, but with no blood to speak of
Adult situations: Drinking and implied smoking
Takeaway: Letto and Robbie make this film fun to watch, and a little more of that from the other characters and a few more lighter lines would have been a welcome balance to some of the more violent and serious scenes

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (2016) (Blu-ray combo)

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legendoftarzancoverGrade: B+
Entire family: No
2016, 110 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, some sensuality and brief rude dialogue
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

The Legend of Tarzan adds a nice infusion of originality and energy into an old, familiar story.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ ape man, Tarzan, has been featured in some 200 films since Elmo Lincoln first donned the loincloth in 1918, so any filmmaker would be crazy to think that he or she could come up with anything new. Yet that’s exactly what writers Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer and director David Yates have done. They’ve thrown off the loincloth, abandoned the “Me Tarzan, you Jane” talk, and turned the inarticulate noble savage into an action hero who prefers to be called John Chapman.

Calm down, purists! We still get the story of Tarzan embedded in flashbacks that are seamlessly and artfully inserted into a homecoming narrative. The premise is this: Tarzan and Jane have been living in London long enough for him to have lost all traces legendoftarzanscreen1of his wild African upbringing. Opening story tiles tell us that King Leopold II has nearly gone bankrupt trying to mine the riches of his portion of the Congo Basin claimed by Belgium, and that he needs to finance more infrastructure projects with mythic diamonds rumored to be the property of an isolated tribe. To secure those diamonds and turn his Congo venture around, the King has entrusted his envoy Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz, who plays the role a lot like Kurz in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness).

Waltz is a wonderful villain who discovers that the tribe will give him the diamonds only if he will deliver Tarzan—who killed the chief’s son many years ago. So in what amounts to an elaborate trap, he sends Tarzan and Jane an invitation on behalf of King Leopold asking them to revisit Boma and give him a report on the Congo. Complicating matters is that an American envoy named George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) tells Tarzan/Chapman that he wants to accompany him to investigate what he suspects might be the enslavement of an entire population by the Belgians. It’s a risky, politicized overhaul of a time-honored tale, but our family thought the changes made an almost too-familiar narrative more fun and interesting to watch.

Parents, be warned: enslavement and slaughter aren’t exactly topics for the timid, and The Legend of Tarzan is every bit a PG-legendoftarzanscreen213 movie. Inexplicably, Jackson’s character provides some comic relief in an otherwise serious film, but that’s about the only glaring inconsistency. As for other negatives, three of four family members thought the CGI apes were just fine, but our teenage son said he thought they took a furry backseat to the ones from the more recent Planet of the Apes creatures—especially the eyes, which he thought were more lizard-like. It’s amazing, though, to see what filmmakers can do with animals completely created on the computer, and a scene in which Tarzan and his party leap from a cliff into the jungle canopy and then start running on a labyrinth of limbs will have Tarzan fans thinking of Disney’s animated feature. It’s a fun homage/allusion, and the visuals in this film are dramatically detailed, especially in 1080p HD.

The Legend of Tarzan also surprises with the level of acting, which is a cut above what viewers usually see in an action movie. Alexander Skarsgaard is totally believable as Tarzan, and Margot Robbie manages to portray Jane as both warm and strong—someone that the villainous Rom will learn is as tough to tangle with as her husband. The three main performers are nothing short of charismatic, and that elevates the film considerably.

There are sad moments in The Legend of Tarzan and tough scenes to watch, if you have any sensitivity whatsoever, but overall it’s an adventure well worth taking.

Language: Just minor swearwords, and not all that many
Sex: Nothing much here; just kissing and cuddling
Violence: Soldiers fight tribal people, apes and crocs attack people, and people are shot, strangled, and held under water;
Adult situations: Hippos pose a threat in one frightening scene, and there are other intense scenes as well; no smoking, but there is a dinner scene where wine is served
Takeaway: Just when you thought you’d seen it all, along comes a variation that’s as convincing as it is original

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (Blu-ray combo)

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x-menapocalypsecoverGrade: B+/A-
Entire family: No
2016, 144 min., Color
20th Century Fox
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief strong language, and some suggestive images
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

The Marvel Universe is a complicated one, and the X-Men movies are among the more demanding. Viewers are expected to juggle a lot of different characters in various incarnations, and to remember each complicated film as it builds upon the others—nine now, in all. That takes a memory better than mine, which is why I waited to review this until my son took a weekend off from college to visit home again. He’s a big fan and does manage to keep it all straight. We both enjoyed the film, though his verdict was that X-Men: Apocalypse wasn’t as good as X-Men: Days of Future Past—a B+/A- rather than a solid A or A-. Why? Because it did require even more recollection of details from previous films, and the narrative also jumps around more.

I came at it from a slightly different angle. What I do tend to remember are basic plot types, and X-Men: Apocalypse recycles a familiar one: an ancient Egyptian dark force of a “man” is resurrected and seeks to destroy x-menapocalypsescreen2the world and start anew. Whether it’s world conquest or revenge, we’ve seen variations on this theme ever since the first black-and-white presentation of The Mummy way back in 1932. Only this time it’s a mutant, the first mutant, that’s unleashed. As with a film like The Matrix, you may not understand every little nuance of exposition, but Apocalypse proceeds so confidently that you feel assured that it all fits together and makes perfect sense, even if you’re not getting it in the instant. Plus, it’s easy to tolerate any momentary confusion because you’re soaking in the inventive special effects that, conceptually, rank among the best in this series. That’s something my son and I agreed was a major strength, and the sort of thing that will make you want to watch this film over and over. This X-Men is more violent that some of the previous installments, with one of the most brutal scenes the result of a surprise appearance by Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).

James McAvoy returns as Charles Xavier, aka Professor X, the telepathic genius who started a school for “gifted” teens—that term a euphemism for the catch-all phrase “mutants.” Among those also returning are Michael x-menapocalypsescreen1Fassbender as metal-manipulating Erik/Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence as shapeshifter Raven/Mystique, Nicholas Hoult as the super strong Hank/Beast, Evan Peters as the Flash-like Peter/Quicksilver, and Lucas Till as plasma-blasting Havok. Replacing other actors this time around are Lana Condor as Jubilee, Tye Sheridan as Scott/Cyclops, Olivia Munn as Psylocke, and Ben Hardy as Angel. But it’s the new people that will please fans. Oscar Isaac makes a darned good villain as En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse, while also new to the series this outing are Kodi Smit-McPhee as the slightly humorous Kurt/Nightcrawler, the weather-controlling Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and super-tracker Caliban (Tomas Lemarquis). On a side note, fans will delight in seeing Stan Lee actually turn expressive in his traditional cameo.

The set-up is, as my son suggests, confusing, but things come more sharply into focus after Apocalypse recruits some mutants—Magneto among them—and begins causing major disruptions around the world. He then kidnaps Xavier, and that launches annother explosive chain of events (pun intended). There are battles in the external world, and battles inside the mind. Through it all, the production values that have helped to make this series so successful are as slick as ever. It’s a long movie, but it doesn’t feel long.

Though Days of Future Past was an unqualified hit with fans and critics, Apocalypse received mixed reviews, mostly because some were wanting director Bryan Singer to make a different film than he did. This is a special effects movie first, and a superhero movie second. But Singer (X-Men, X2, X-Men: Days of Future Past) does a nice job of enhancing the visual effects that drive the film with near-perfect pacing and shots that often mirror character mindsets—as when he launches into a 360 POV shot to capture the aftermath of chaos. And yes, it looks spectacular on 1080p Blu-ray and sounds fantastic with a 7.1 soundtrack.

Ultimately, as with any franchise that has such rabid fans, individuals will have their own favorites. My son liked X-Men: Apocalypse more than X-Men First Class (2011), but not as much as X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). And that sounds about right to me.

Language: One f-bomb that I can recall and only a handful of other swearwords
Sex: n/a
Violence: Multiple decaptiations are partially obscured by a cloud of dust, but there are numerous scenes of combat, a broken leg, psychological paid, and mass destruction of cities seen from a distance
Adult situations: Pretty much everything, including individuals entombed, Han Solo style, as a result of Apocalypse’s power to command sand (an ingredient in concrete)
Takeaway: Marvel and 20th Century Fox really know their audience and continue to crank out installments that please

 

LIGHTS OUT (Blu-ray)

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lightsoutcoverGrade: B-
Entire family: No
2016, 81 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for terror throughout, violence including disturbing images, some thematic material, and brief drug content
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: D (deleted scenes only)
Trailer
Amazon link

I can’t explain why teenage girls like horror-thriller movies so much, but I can tell you that the two who watched Lights Out with me were satisfyingly scared. This 2016 film won’t ever be considered top-fright entertainment, yet it manages to play the genre game fairly well.

At the heart of all horror-thriller films is this simple concept: It’s HERE! No it’s not. It’s HERE! No it’s not. It’s HE—AHHHHH! Usually there’s a build-up of tension before the release, but present-day horror-thriller dabblers don’t seem interested in that or anything else besides the simple formula for scaring people.

lightsoutscreen1Lights Out is based on a short film by director David F. Sandberg, but the expansion to feature-length film doesn’t include any simmering set-up. We’re thrown right into a horror situation and then, like people corralled in a dark room, we’re subjected to the “It’s HERE” nope “It’s HERE” jumpfest—one that’s milked for all it’s worth with the addition of loud musical cues. One of the girls gave it an A-, while the other thought it a B-. Either way, both girls said they’d watch it again—and hopefully understand more about what was going on.

I doubt it. Without sliding too deeply into spoiler territory, let me just say that there isn’t a satisfactory explanation for the horror phenomenon that haunts this film, primarily because the apparition itself inexplicably changes. One minute it’s substantive, and the next minute it’s more wispy—kind of like the ending, which seems to make sense unless you think too much about it. That holds true for the beginning, too.

lightsoutscreen2What does that leave you with? The formula, of course. In this variation, when the lights go out (and sometimes they go out as a result of the horror phenomenon) an apparition appears and seeks to harm people. It’s not just anybody that the apparition targets, either. It’s a particular family. Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) moved away from her mother (Maria Bello) and much younger brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), in order to stay sane. You see, the mother talks to an imaginary person and is chronically depressed. So why is young Martin still living with her? Good question, and another one that’s never answered. All that matters is that Martin freaks out when the lights turn off and he starts seeing this apparition . . . as his older sister once did. Who is it? What is it? What is it after? Those are the questions that are never fully answered, but which drive this horror-thriller all the same.

If all you require of a horror-thriller is that it scares you, then Lights Out does the trick. If you need it to make complete sense, well . . . it’s NOT HERE! But hey, that’s the world of the supernatural. As with magic, do you really want to know everything?

Sex: People in bed after implied coupling, but nothing shown
Language: A few “shit”s and that’s about all I remember
Violence: Clawing, choking, dragging people into darkness
Adult situations: A phenomenon tries to hurt or kill people, and one death with blood is shown, while others are off-screen; a character also commits suicide
Takeaway: When the formula works, it works

WILD OATS (DVD)

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wildoatscoverGrade: C+/B-
Entire family: No
2016, 86 min., Color
Anchor Bay
Rated PG-13 for language sexual content
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: n/a
Trailer
Amazon link

Usually one “sows wild oats” in youth, but this 2016 comedy from Andy Tennant (Ever After: A Cinderella Story, Sweet Home Alabama) flips the script and gives viewers two widows in the twilight of their lives who decide to go a little crazy.

Maddie (Jessica Lange) is more crushed learning that her sixty-something husband dumped her for someone a third her age than she was by his death, and Eva (Shirley MacLaine) feels bereft after her husband—also implied to be a cheater—dies. The set-up implies that what’s good for the gander is good for the goose, and sure enough, when Eva receives an insurance benefits check for $5 million instead of the expected $50,000 she deposits it and talks Maddie into going with her on a Thelma-and-Louise-style binge in the Canary Islands. There they enjoy life to the fullest while unintentionally causing Eva’s daughter (Demi Moore) stress as the media gets wind of their escapades and the insurance company sends someone after them. But don’t expect a Thelma and Louise ending. Wild Oats is a positive film.

There’s a lot of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Wild Oats, and not just because an older cast of characters decides to really live life and sprint for the finish line rather than letting the finish line come to them. Tonally the films are similar, marked by warmth and a gentle humor, with pacing that befits a cast of sixty-somethings. The question, at least for a site like Family Home Theater, is how broad of an audience a film like this might have. That’s hard to say, especially in 2016, when an irascible old anti-establishment coot like Bernie Sanders captured the hearts and imaginations of Millennials.

There’s an anti-establishment vibe to Wild Oats too, though not a political one. It’s more a film about going against the grain, of living life to the fullest, of taking a chance—in other words, a message that might very well resonate with younger people who have been “feeling the Bern.” That trickle-down effect will probably only go as far as the last two years of high school, though. Younger than that, and I fear that younger viewers who tend to like a film only if they can identify with the characters might not be able to look past the wrinkles to see themes that do in fact speak to a broader audience. After all, they’ve got time. No need to worry about such things as living life to the fullest just yet, is there?

wildoatsscreenWild Oats is rated PG-13 for “sexual content,” and I can picture a few “ewwwws” coming from younger viewers when Lange finds herself in a Mrs. Robinson situation and, ripping the shirt off a young man, turns into a bit of a sexual tiger. Nothing is seen, but his bare chest and her writhing send a pretty clear message. So does talk of “doing it,” and when Eva says it’s been seven years it might be a little disorienting for a younger audience who’s been doing the family head count (“Let’s see, three kids means Mom and Dad did it three times!”). So while this is a gentle film and the sex is underplayed, it’s not something pre-teens and under should see—unless Grandma or Grandpa just went off the deep end in your family.

The MacLaine-Lange pairing is good but not great, though I’d be hard-pressed to tell you exactly why. Maybe it’s because you don’t feel any depth to their friendship, and they’re supposed to be best friends. Alan Arkin and Sarah Jessica Parker were originally cast as co-stars, and I can only assume that if they bolted for reasons other than scheduling it was because there’s even less depth to the supporting characters. Moore really has little to do, and the men who pursue these two women (and we’re talking about two very different types of pursuit) have only a little more. It’s really the MacLaine-Lange show, and the women seem to enjoy the spotlight in one of Hollywood’s rare films featuring older actresses as the romantic leads.

Wild Oats debuted on Lifetime before its limited theatrical release, and if you’ve seen Lifetime movies you know what to expect: nothing too complicated, nothing too crazy, nothing too original, and something that borders on the cheesy (especially the humor). That’s what we get here. Like the MacLaine-Lange pairing, the film is good but not great . . . no matter what your age.

Language: Surprisingly, one subtle f-bomb and a handful of other swearwords
Sex: No crucial body parts shown, but one graphic scene of implied sex along with a gentler one; sex talk includes talk of “doing it again” and how good one’s “ass” looks
Violence: Nothing here
Adult situations: The whole premise is a felony, and there is drinking and drunkenness
Takeaway: It’s nice to see the full range of human experience on the big screen, and I hope the Bernie phenomenon paves the way for even more films like this

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