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Guardians of the Galaxy
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language
Release Date:
August 1, 2014

 

Noah
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content
Release Date:
March 28, 2014

Get on Up
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug use, some strong language, and violent situations
Release Date:
August 1, 2014

 

Finding Vivian Maier
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
April 11, 2014

Magic in the Moonlight
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout
Release Date:
August 1, 2014

 

Sabotage
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R For strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use
Release Date:
March 28, 2014

Coming in August: Helen Mirren, Ninja Turtles, Step Up 5, If I Stay, The Giver, and More

posted by Nell Minow

August is traditionally a slow month for movies, with some of each year’s worst being released just before Labor Day. But this year, the last month of summer vacation leads off with a bang, Guardians of the Galaxy, plus the James Brown movie Get on Up, also worth seeing. This is a very special month. It’s very rare (though not as rare as reported) to have an August with five full weekends — five Fridays, five Saturdays, five Sundays. You’re going to need those days because there will be a lot to see, including:

into the storm vehicle

Copyright 2014 Nell Minow

FRIDAY, AUGUST 8
Calvary: Brendan Gleeson stars as a priest facing a terrible choice in a community of sad and damaged people.
The Hundred Foot Journey: Helen Mirren plays an imperious chef challenged by a talented young man from India.
Into The Storm: Professional storm chasers, thrill-seeking amateurs, and courageous townspeople are caught up in a series of tornadoes. I saw the camera-covered vehicle from the film at Comic-Con.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Megan Fox plays April and Johnny Knoxville provides the voice for Leonardo in this live-action/CGI reboot.
What If: Daniel Radcliffe’s first romantic comedy is the story about a guy who very much wants to get out of the friend zone with pretty Zoe Kazan. Also about Elvis’s favorite sandwich.
Step Up: All In:  On the one hand, it isn’t screening for critics, which is usually not a good sign.  On the other hand, I love the “Step Up” movies, no one goes to them for the plot or acting, and the trailer looks sizzling.

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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 13
Let’s Be Cops: This seems more like the typical August fare: two guys pretend to be policemen.  At first it works.  Then it doesn’t.  Maybe it will be funny.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 15
The Expendables 3: 80′s action stars to the rescue, this time with Harrison Ford.
The Giver: The classic dystopic book by Lois Lowry comes to the screen with a high-powered cast that includes Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Katie Holmes, and Taylor Swift.
Land Ho!: This low-key film about two retired former brothers-in-law who take a trip to Iceland has a, improvised, documentary feel, gorgeous scenery, and surprising charm.

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FRIDAY, AUGUST 22
Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For: A sequel to the ultra-stylized, ultra-violent 2005 film based on the graphic novel, this is again a multi-layered series of stories about tough, often brutal, characters.
When The Game Stands Tall: Jim Caviezel plays real-life high school football coach Bob Ladouceur, who took his team to a still-unbroken record of consecutive wins.
If I Stay: The YA novel about a girl in a coma stars Chloë Grace Moretz as a young cellist and Jamie Blackley as the rocker she loves.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 27

The November Man: Pierce Brosnan is back in the world of guns, chases, and secrets in this spy story that pits him against the young agent he trained.
Underdogs: Did the World Cup get you excited about soccer? Then take a look at this animated film about a rather unusual soccer challenge.

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FRIDAY, AUGUST 29
Love Is Strange: A bittersweet love story of a long-time couple who are finally able to marry but then fall on hard times, with Alfred Molina and John Lithgow.
As Above So Below: Ben Feldman stars in a horror movie set in an archeological dig.
The Trip to Italy: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have made a sequel to their fabulous film about two frenemies on a tour of exquisite dining experiences and conversations ranging from existential meaning to silly impersonations of celebrities. This time, it’s in Italy.

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Lucy and the Box Office: The Good News and the Bad News

posted by Nell Minow
Copyright 2014 Universal Pictures

Copyright 2014 Universal Pictures

Last week, “Lucy” beat “Hercules” at the box office, good news for those who still think that women-led action films can’t make money. As blog The Mary Sue put it succinctly: “Today In Female-Led-Movies-Obviously-Don’t-Make-Money News, Lucy Beat Out Hercules This Weekend.”

Make no mistake, readers: as Susana Polo pointed out in her review on FridayLucy is not a good film and probably not worth spending money on to watch in-theaters (though neither is Hercules, of course). And yet, it made about 1.5 times more than Hercules at the box office this weekend.

On the other hand, this is not exactly a big step forward for stories that illuminate the experience of being a woman.  It does not pass the Bechdel test.  Jezebel’s Powder Room blog has a thoughtful assessment from C. Rhodes.  And also

Because the titular role is the only significant speaking role for a woman in the entire damned movie. We cannot (CANNOT) settle for this being a movie “for” feminism.

Because the trope of a woman getting psychically violated and used by a group of men is old, reinforces a lot of negative gender stereotypes on both sides, and frankly if you combine Brokedown Palace and Limitless we’ve already had this movie poured into our long-suffering eye-holes.

And because, most importantly, it’s one of the most racist things on a screen right now. The bad guys? Asian men. The entire movie focuses on her need to get out from under the grips of a group of villains who are pretty exclusively people of color…and if that’s not a loaded message, I don’t know what is.

Guardians of the Galaxy

posted by Nell Minow
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language
Movie Release Date:August 1, 2014

Guardians of the GalaxyThe summer movie you’ve been waiting for has arrived, a joyous space romp that all but explodes off the screen with lots of action and even more charm.

Our recent superheros have been complex, often anguished, even downright tortured. It has been a while since we’ve had a charming rogue with a bad attitude but a hero’s heart. Enter Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who keeps trying to get people to call him Star Lord and who carries with him on his interplanetary space travels the “awesome mixtape” he was listening to as a young boy on Earth back in the 1980′s, when his mother died and a spaceship came to suck him up from the ground and take him far, far away.  One of the purest pleasures of the film is the soundtrack of 70′s gems like “Ooh Child,” “Come and Get Your Love,” and “Hooked on a Feeling” (the ooga-chacka Blue Swede version) and some others too delicious to give away, wittily juxtaposed with spaceships and aliens.

In a scene that pays homage to the classic opening of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and with a personality that owes a lot to Harrison Ford’s irresistible space rogue Han Solo, Quill enters a chamber and steals a precious orb from a pedestal, only to be stopped by Korath (Djimon Hounsou) and some other scary-looking guys with sci-fi gun-looking things.  A lot of people want the orb and are willing to take extreme measures.  Evil wants-to-control-the-galaxy guy  Ronan (Lee Pace) sends the beautiful but deadly green assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana, who seems to specialize in colorful space characters) to get it.  Also interested are superthief Rocky Racoon, a genetically modified procyonid (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his sidekick Groot, an enormous, self re-generating talking tree (voice of Vin Diesel).  Groot can only say one existential sentence, but it is remarkably expressive.  Then there’s Drax (Dave Bautista), who just wants to destroy pretty much everyone, but especially Ronan, who killed his family.  He is completely literal, with no capacity to process metaphor (except when the script calls for him not to be, but no need to get overly focused on consistency here).

This motley crew ends up in prison together, where they form a bond through an elaborate escape plan and a lot of quippy dialogue.  The  low-key, unpretentious “Bad News Bears”/”Dirty Dozen” vibe is refreshing after so much sincerity and angst in the superhero genre. It hits the sweet spot, irreverent without being snarky. And because it is set away from earth we are spared the usual scenes of destroying iconic skylines and monuments.  Instead we get a range of richly imagined exotic settings and wild characters, though Lee Pace is under too much make-up and is stuck with a one-note character as Ronan.  It is a shame that the bad guy is not as delightfully off-kilter as the good guys, but with five of them, there is plenty to keep us entertained.  I don’t want to get too picky (see consistency note above), but the orb’s purpose and powers don’t seem to be thought through too well, either.  I don’t ask for much from a McGuffin, just that it (1) propel the storyline and (2) not interfere with the storyline.  This one doesn’t quite meet #2.

But deliciously entertaining it still is, with a long-overdue star-making role for Pratt, who has been the best thing in too many second-tier movies and outstanding but under-noticed in top-level films like “Moneyball” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”  Director James Gunn, who also co-scripted with first-timer Nicole Perlman, has made the summer popcorn movie of 2014, tremendous fun, and with more heart that we have any reason to expect.  Can’t wait for the just-announced part 2.

Parents should know that this film has extended (and quite cool) science fiction/comic book/action-style peril, violence, and action with fighting and various weapons, some characters injured and killed, some disturbing images, some sexual references, and some strong language (two f-words).

Family discussion: What makes this group especially suitable for taking on Ronan? How does this movie differ from other superhero/comic book films?

If you like this, try: “Men in Black” and “The Avengers”

Get on Up

posted by Nell Minow
Copyright 2014 Universal Pictures

Copyright 2014 Universal Pictures

There are a lot of challenges in taking on the life story of James Brown, known variously as the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, the Godfather of Soul, Mr. Dynamite and others with variations on the term “Funk.” First and foremost, James Brown was one of the most electrifying performers of all time and though he is gone, the memories of his sizzling stage shows are vivid and the evidence is on YouTube.

Second is the conundrum that besets all who want to do biographical stories of well-known people, especially musicians. Is there a life as big as the work they did? We know that those who achieve greatly often pay an enormous price in personal turmoil for themselves and those around them. But those stories are not easy to tell, especially in the structure of the typical biopic, which goes from hardscrabble childhood to big dreams to first discovery by someone who can open doors to triumph, the first recording session where the heard-it-all studio technicians are blown away, the rapturous discovery by the fans, setback, the corrosive impact of fame and money, and then some catharsis and the achievement of legendary status. (I’m looking at you, “Jersey Boys.” Also “Ray,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Walk the Line,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “The Benny Goodman Story,” “8 Mile,” etc. etc. etc. etc.)

Director Tate Taylor (“The Help”) makes some good choices addressing these challenges. First, he wisely cast Chadwick Boseman (“42″) in the lead role. Boseman is an actor of exceptional ability and magnetism, and he works as hard as the man he is playing to convey the power of Brown’s stage presence. Second, Taylor, who grew up in the South, has a superb sense of place that helps evoke Brown’s world. And he is not afraid of cinematic touches to evoke what is going on in Brown’s mind, including some asides to us in the audience.

But the film frustrates us with its random swings back and forth as we get so many flashbacks we are not sure where we are. Is this Brown looking back over his life with any insight or regrets or pride? Is the layering supposed to add depth to the story? Are we supposed to make sense of the juxtapositions between scenes of the past and present, sometimes explicitly expressionistic and imagined or exaggerated? It comes across as tricked up and distracting. Boseman is outstanding in the performance scenes but trapped in the rest of the film by Brown’s thick Georgia accent and frequent habit of just not making any sense, as in the very beginning scene when he uses a gun to threaten someone for using his bathroom. It skips over at least one wife and at least seven children, various arrests, and most of the saga of his extended problems with the IRS, without making it clear how what it does tell us illustrates his triumphs, struggles, and motives.

Even more frustrating is that we get so little sense of Brown himself. He comes across as damaged but opaque. What was it that drove him as a performer? What inspired him? We see him berating and imposing fines on his band, but very little of him creating.

There are two moments in the film that could be enough for an entire feature, When he is talking to his manager (a wryly sympathetic Dan Aykroyd) on his private plane, en route to the White House, about the conflict he faces as he achieves the mainstream acceptance he strove for in meeting the President at the same time he is accused of selling out. And then there is the core relationship in the story, between Brown and Bobby Byrd (the terrific Nelsan Ellis), the long-time member of his team who finally could not take the star’s ego any more. A Peter Morgan-style story on either of those conflicts would be far more powerful and avoid the “what happened to that person/marriage/record” that this too-quick trip over a very complicated life can hold.

Parents should know that this is a movie about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, with strong material for a PG-13 with strong language including two f-words, drugs, domestic abuse, child abuse, sad deaths, brief wartime violence, and sexual references and situations.

Family discussion: Why did James and Bobby call each other “Mr.?” How do you “flip” an obstacle? What did it mean when he said, “I paid the cost?”

If you like this, try: watch James Brown’s real-life performances

 

 

Previous Posts

Coming in August: Helen Mirren, Ninja Turtles, Step Up 5, If I Stay, The Giver, and More
August is traditionally a slow month for movies, with some of each year's worst being released just before Labor Day. But this year, the last month of summer vacation leads off with a bang, Guardians of the Galaxy, plus the James Brown movie Get on Up, also worth seeing. This is a very special month

posted 6:35:33pm Aug. 01, 2014 | read full post »

Lucy and the Box Office: The Good News and the Bad News
Last week, "Lucy" beat "Hercules" at the box office, good news for those who still think that women-led action films can't make money. As blog The Mary Sue put it succinctly: "Today In Female

posted 8:00:04am Aug. 01, 2014 | read full post »

Guardians of the Galaxy
The summer movie you've been waiting for has arrived, a joyous space romp that all but explodes off the screen with lots of action and even more charm. Our recent superheros have been complex, often anguished, even downright tortured. It has been a while since we've had a charming rogue with a ba

posted 5:59:33pm Jul. 31, 2014 | read full post »

Get on Up
There are a lot of challenges in taking on the life story of James Brown, known variously as the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, the Godfather of Soul, Mr. Dynamite and others with vari

posted 5:59:21pm Jul. 31, 2014 | read full post »

Magic in the Moonlight
Woody Allen's 44th film is an amuse bouche without a meal, a dollop of whipped cream without the dessert underneath.  In last year's film, "Blue Jasmine," the strength of the performances (especially Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett) and the resonance of its Bernie Madoff-ish crossed with "Streetcar Nam

posted 5:58:31pm Jul. 31, 2014 | read full post »


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