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Fading Gigolo
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some sexual content, language and brief nudity
Release Date:
April 19, 2014

 

Philomena
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 on appeal for some strong language, thematic elements and sexual references
Release Date:
November 22, 2013

Transcendence
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality
Release Date:
April 19, 2014

 

The Nut Job
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Release Date:
January 17, 2014

Bears
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
G
Release Date:
April 19, 2014

 

Grudge Match
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sports action violence, sexual content and language
Release Date:
December 25, 2013

Meet the Robinsons

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated G
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

At times, all of us feel like strangers in the world. In Disney’s bight, colorful, CGI animated film (available in 3D in some locations), Lewis (voice of Daniel Hansen) is left on the steps of an orphanage as a baby and rejected by over 100 prospective parents. He constantly invents machines that will help solve problems. But his love for inventing just seems to make him feel more separate from the world, more isolated, more weird. It seems he will ever find a family or a place where he feels at home.


Mildred (voice of Angela Bassett), who runs the orphanage, is sympathetic and fond of Lewis, but that is not the same. He has a roommate, Michael “Goob” Yagoobian (voice of Matthew Josten), who is just as lonely as he is. Lewis is better at understanding the problems of machines than he is at understanding what makes people work — or not work. His head is so full of plans that he does not always see what is going on in front of him.

When he takes his latest invention to the school science fair, he does not notice that two very unusual people have taken an interest in it. One is “Bowler Hat guy,” an even apter name than first apparent. The other is a boy named Wilbur Robinson who says he is from the future and he needs Lewis to accompany him there right away.


In keeping with its theme, the movie is visually inventive, especially in 3D. The story is uneven and a little too long, its wacky characters not as adorable as it wants us to think they are, and the ending not quite as logically consistent as it should be. But any movie that has a chorus of frogs singing Big Band music and a healthy respect for failure is worth seeing.

Parents should know that the movie’s themes include parental abandonment and rejection by potential adoptive parents, which may be disturbing for some children. There is some cartoon violence and peril, including a scary dinosaur. No one is badly hurt, though a child has a black eye and refers to having been beat up. There is some schoolyard language and a reference to being over-caffeinated.


Families who see this movie should talk about what it means to keep moving forward and to let go of the hurts of the past. Why did Lewis change his mind about what he thought he wanted? They may also want to talk about the many different ways people create families — and about some of the more unusual hobbies of their family members.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy the book, A Day with Wilbur Robinson, by William Joyce. They will also enjoy the dazzlingly inventive graphics in another animated film about an inventor based on Joyce’s work, Robots. The bowler hat guy is a little reminiscient of villain played by Terry-Thomas in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or Jack Lemmon in the delightful Great Race.

The Last Mimzy

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for some thematic elements, mild peril and language.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

Two children find toys that make them more intelligent and powerful and send them on an adventure in this fine story for 4th-8th graders and their families. After he plays with the toys, Noah (Chris O’Neil) doesn’t need his glasses any more. He can hit a golf ball like Tiger Woods. Instead of struggling in school, he puts together a science fair project that could earn him a Nobel Prize. Noah’s little sister Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) can make the rocks that came with the toys spin. She can create some sort of vortex and stick her hand inside, making its atoms come apart. And one of the toys seems to be a kind of a generator, so powerful that it blows out all the electricity in the city.


These are not the kind of toys you can find at the store. Noah and Emma find them in a box washed up on the shore near their family’s weekend home on the coast of Washington state. And shutting down the electricity in Seattle is not something that goes unnoticed, not in these days of the Patriot Act, where, as Noah’s father is reminded by Nathanial Broadman of Homeland Security (Michael Clarke Duncan), the government no longer needs a warrant to search your house.


Noah and Emma will need all of their new powers and the help of some grown-ups — their parents (Timothy Hutton and Joely Richardson) and Noah’s teacher Larry (“The Office’s” Rainn Wilson) and his wife to solve the deeper riddle behind the toys and help save those who sent them.


The very part of the story that is most likely to appeal to children — making the kids the central characters and giving only them the power to save the day — is also its weak point. A great deal rests on its young actors, and Wryrn falters in the big scenes, seeming to be repeating her lines rather than feeling them. The updates to the 1943 short story feel shoehorned in and the scenes of the government coming in to investigate are like an echo of the unforgettably powerful scenes in E.T. But the film wisely does not try to wow the CGI-savvy audience with its special effects, keeping them low-key enough to feel enticingly possible. And its respect for studying science, for taking responsibility for addressing the problems around us, and for family commitment, communication, and loyalty are lessons this toy of a movie teaches very nicely.

Parents should know that this movie has some tense scenes with some mild peril. There is some kissing with a very mild sexual reference and an unmarried couple lives together.


Families who see this movie should talk about the idea of “cultural pollution” and how each of us can take responsibility for protecting our environment and our communities. Why would someone send such an important message in the form of toys?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Edward Eager’s delightful Tales of Magic books. The title of this movie comes from Lewis Carroll’s famous Jabberwocky nonsense poem from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.

Pride

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for thematic material, language including some racial epithets, and violence.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

Like all sports stories, this is about teamwork, but the team that matters here is Terrence Howard and Bernie Mac who bring such conviction and authenticity to this story of an inner-city Pennsylvania 70′s swim team that you can smell the chlorine and half expect Fat Albert to wander in with Mushmouth.

It helps that there’s a “Soul Train”-style soundtrack featuring Aretha Franklin’s magnificently stirring “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which beautifully overlays the movie’s climax.


Howard plays real-life coach Jim Lewis. In this fictionalized version of his story, Lewis, once a competitive swimmer in college, comes to Philadelphia for an interview at an all-white prep school but is rejected by racist Mr. Bink (Tom Arnold). The only job he can get is packing up an old recreation center that is being closed because no one ever uses it. The man who runs the center is Elston (Bernie Mac), who won’t talk to him.


Lewis uses the pool to lure some of the neighborhood teenagers inside, and soon has them swimming. As they improve, they want to compete. And guess where that first meet is? Yep, Mr. Bink’s Snow White Prep. And don’t be surprised if we run into them again when it’s all on the line and Aretha’s getting ready to bring us home.


Underdog movies work if the movie carries the formula instead of letting the formula do the work. Howard makes Ellis real. His scenes with the young swimmers are so connected and intimate we feel like we are eavesdropping. When he is teaching them swimming techniques, he quietly shows his pleasure in giving them what he has learned. When they laugh off their failure, he less quietly tells them that worse than not having the respect of others is not having respect for themselves.

Howard shows us an Ellis who has conflicts and resolve, confidence and doubt, a man who makes mistakes and pays the price, a man whose dreams for his swimmers reignite his dreams for himself. Set off nicely with Mac’s dry delivery and Kimberly Elise’s sweet steel as the big sister of one of the swimmers who happens handily to be a city councilwoman, Howard’s husky harp of a voice and tender eyes just might get you to jump into the water.

Parents should know that this film depicts incidents of racial bigotry that may be disturbing to some audience members. There are some tense confrontations, including violence. There are references to gangsters, drug dealing, prostitutes, and gangster-related violence and vandalism in the neighborhood, including peeing in the pool. Characters use some strong language, including the n-word, and there is brief crude humor. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of minorities and women who triumph not only over other people’s prejudice, but of their own prejudice fueled by the bigotry around them.


Families who see this movie should talk about the three elements that make up PDR and how they are displayed and relied on at home and school and in the community. Why didn’t Jim Ellis tell the team that they were certain to lose in their first meet? What does it mean to say that you must give respect to get respect?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Remember the Titans, Coach Carter, and Glory Road.

Shooter

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for strong graphic violence and some language.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

Pulitzer prize-winning film critic Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post has seen a lot of movies, both good and bad, and this film, based on his highly cinematic novel Point of Impact, shows an able, if somewhat derivative, sense of narrative propulsion. It’s a little bit Rambo, a little bit Death Wish, a little bit Under Seige, a little bit Die Hard.


The premise almost sounds like a parody of a movie pitch: Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg), a crack shot of a Marine sharpshooter becomes disillusioned after he and his best pal and spotter are abandoned by their commanders and the pal is killed. When some big shots track him down in his cabin in the woods to tell him they need his help to stop an assassination attempt on the President, he agrees to go back into service. But he is betrayed again, and set up as the fall guy for an attempted assassination in a complex conspiracy that reaches into government and big business. When everything closes in on him, he has to rely on the generic pretty girl with spunk — the widow of his spotter (Kate Mara), the generic wiseman/expert who knows the secrets (a specialist who’s even deeper in the woods than Swagger was) and a brand new FBI agent (Michael Pena of Crash) with a fresh perspective who doesn’t buy the too-convenient story about how Swagger planned to kill the President.


The idea satisfies a deep-seated fantasy. We all think we deserve an apology from someone and we all want our special talents to be discerned and appreciated by people in positions of authority. The big shots seek Swagger out to say they’re sorry and they need him. They acknowledge that he’s the best there is.

And then, after they betray him and try to kill him, Swagger (and we, through him) gets that oh-so-nice “Who IS that guy?” gratification of outsmarting those high-powered but corrupt guys at the top. And then he gets revenge — with extreme prejudice.


Some people will find that satisfying, too, but I found it over the top, thuggish, and brutal. The movie’s strengths are its appealing hero, a performance of surprising warmth and humor by Pena, and some clever use of expertise, especially in Swagger’s explanation of the elements that have to be factored in to hit an extra-long-range target (everything, including the rotation of the earth). And those colorful flags snapping in the breeze? They’re not there for decoration.

But then there is its clunky obviousness: The name has to be Swagger? And he has to walk toward us in slo-mo? And the bad guys have to cackle over their total domination and corruption? And there have to be not one, not two, but three explaining villains? And the overheatedness gets out of control by the end, with Swagger taking too many laws and too many lives into his own hands.

Parents should know that this movie has extreme and intense action-style peril and violence with some very graphic and disturbing images. Characters are are shot, stabbed, impaled, tortured, and punched. Many are injured and killed, including a dog. Characters are assassinated and a character commits suicide on-screen. There is a pro-vigilante aspect to some of the killing that audience members may find disturbing. They may also be disturbed by references to genocide, rape, torture, and political corruption. Characters smoke, drink, and use strong language. There are some sexual references, including rape, and a character wears skimpy clothing. And there is an Anna Nicole Smith joke that was clearly made before her death.


Families who watch this movie should talk about whether and when it is appropriate to take the law into your own hands.


Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate In the Line of Fire and paranoia classics like The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, The Pelican Brief, and Under Siege. And they will enjoy the book, and sequels Time to Hunt and Black Light by Stephen Hunter.

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