Ah, the freedom of childhood: 11-year-old boys playing in mud, wrestling, out-bellowing each other, oblivious of skin color.
Still, despite its family themes, compelling cinematography, evocative score, and impressive acting, The Last Tree is not for kids. It’s worth seeing if you’re ready for an unvarnished, revealing journey into the world of a foster child struggling to find his identity, torn between cultures.
The film centers on three chapters of a Nigerian boy’s life in Lincolnshire (England), London, and Lagos. Femi spends his carefree childhood in the countryside with Mary, the loving, white foster mom he adores. She promises: “She’s not coming to take you away.”
In the next scene, his birth mom returns to take him to dreary London where his troubles begin, including racial tensions between other blacks. We watch him grapple with relationships and life-defining choices. A compassionate teacher who recognizes himself in Femi intervenes in a turning-point moment to hug away the teen’s anger, allowing him to finally sob. Healing begins.
Both moms are described as Christians, although one admonishes harshly. A pastor is a louse. F-bombs fly occasionally. Several characters smoke marijuana. The independent film can be purchased and streamed through a number of virtual cinemas.
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Lots of action, little restraint
My Spy isn’t quite a kid or adult movie
by Marty VanDriel
CIA operative JJ (a tough-looking Dave Bautista) doesn’t do subtle. In My Spy’s opening scene, he blows his mission by blowing up too many people. The violence is somewhat comical and artsy, but JJ does a lot of killing for a PG-13 film (available on Amazon Prime).
JJ’s boss gives him one more chance with a new mission: Surveil widow Kate and her 9-year-old daughter Sophie. Kate’s brother-in-law Victor is a bad dude up to no good.
JJ and partner Bobbi (hilariously played by character actor Kristen Schaal) embark on a routine, boring assignment, until young Sophie (Chloe Coleman) busts them.
The plot unfolds without too many surprises: Sophie learns how a spy thinks and acts. JJ helps her with the challenges a kid without a dad faces.
Although contrived and predictable, the movie is enjoyable and genuinely funny at times. In an idyllic skating scene, Sophie asks JJ what he sees around him: “Ninety civilians. Minimal security. Soft perimeter. No cover.”
“I just see people smiling and having fun,” she responds.
Viewers may wonder about the intended audience of the poorly reviewed film: too much violence and coarse language for youngsters, but not sophisticated enough for adults. Producers are careful to avoid F-bombs in a PG-13 movie but have no filter when it comes to using God’s name in vain. Viewers may want to pass.
Top-Grossing Spy Movies
1. Despicable Me 2 (2013): $368 million
2. Skyfall (2012): $304 million
3. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007): $227 million
4. Mission Impossible II (2000): $215 million
5. Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002): $213 million
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Niko Tavernise/Sony Pictures
Almost A1 cinema
Film about the Battle of the Atlantic has good elements but needs more to get past middling
by Megan Basham
It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good. And the pandemic that exploded Hollywood’s traditional release model has acted as jet fuel to the expansion plans of streaming outlets. Case in point: Greyhound.
Based on the 1955 C.S. Forester novel The Good Shepherd, the World War II, inspired-by-true-events drama is about as prestige as it gets. Its writer and star is arguably the most A-list performer of our time, Tom Hanks. He plays United States Navy Cmdr. Ernest Krause. He and his crew must provide escort to a convoy of Allied ships bringing troops and supplies across an area of the Atlantic known as the “Black Pit,” due to it being out of range of air cover. No surprise, Greyhound was originally scheduled to hit theaters on Father’s Day weekend—perfect timing to capitalize on summer crowds in the market for a dad-pleasing option.
When COVID-19 nixed that plan, many industry insiders expected Sony to shelve the film until fall. Instead, the studio partnered with Apple TV+ to release it on July 10 in a move entertainment news site Deadline described as “a real shocker.” Apple’s $70 million purchase marked the company’s biggest feature film commitment so far and could signal a turning point in the war for entertainment dominance. It could also signal that the streaming platform intends to make its mark by going less gritty than competitors Netflix and Amazon.
The thrilling action sequences and patriotic themes make it a shame other elements of the film don’t hold up as well.
As the USS Keeling, better known by call sign “Greyhound,” begins the hazardous trek toward Great Britain, Krause, who’s never commanded before, finds his tactical skill tested to the breaking point.
Often when studios promote films to Christian press as having a “faith element,” it means a character mentions a Bible or maybe wears a cross around his neck. Not so with Greyhound. Krause is no blink-and-you’ll-miss-it believer. In various situations he prays for wisdom to execute his mission, thanks God for preserving his life, and prods the men under him to remember casualties as “souls.”
More specifically, as he squints into the distant sea weighing how best to thwart Nazi U-boats known as “the wolfpack,” he counsels himself with Matthew 10:16: Be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove. The film is rated PG-13 for war violence and language, but quick asides of, “Sorry Captain,” whenever the crew let slip a profanity make it clear Krause doesn’t approve, no matter the provocation.