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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

 

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

Bears
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
G
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

Heaven is for Real
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic material including some medical situations
Release Date:
April 16, 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

300

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for graphic battle sequences throughout, some sexuality and nudity.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

“Everyone will kneel to you — if you will kneel to me.” That is the offer made by a gold-dusted, multi-pierced Xerxes of Persia to King Lionidas (Gerard Butler) of Sparta in this visually sumptuous version of the battle of Thermopylae.

If Lionidas is tempted it is not by the prospect of ruling over thousands of people he has never met. What makes him pause is the consequence of saying no. If he refuses to kneel to Xerxes, he and his 300 warriors will be slaughtered.


Would we still be making movies about them if he accepted Xerxes’ offer?


He said no. Actually, it was more like NO. The 300 Spartans fought as hard as they could until all of them were dead. Their skill and courage rallied their Greek countrymen to fight the Persians. And their passion for freedom has kept their story vital through the centuries.

This version is based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller (“The Dark Knight,” “Sin City”). Like his book, it explodes with stunning images of breathtaking power. Ironically, though, while in the book the still images are kinetic, on screen the moving images are sometimes static. On the page, we see very striking composition but have to imagine all that happens in between and we intuitively assign the interstitial material less intensity. But director Zach Snyder tries to take our breath away with every single shot and he has so many moments in slow- and stop-motion that the film would be half an hour shorter if everything ran at normal speed. The heavily stylized compositions, balletic, blood-gushing violence, and wave after wave of different styles of marauders at times feel more like a video game than a movie.


The images are undeniably stunning, though. Almost everything was done through computer effects, which means that anything was possible — elephants hurtling over a cliff, a giant warrior, a wall of bodies, arrows that, as promised by the Persians, blot out the sun, all in a burnished, gold-washed glow accented by the red of the Spartans’ cloaks.


The best that can be said of the acting and the dialogue is that they are not overly distracting. Ultimately, like Greece itself, the movie’s strength is based in the eternal pull of its story. Like the Alamo and Masada, the story of the 300 Spartans who died in the battle of Thermopylae reminds us of the dignity, honor, and meaning that can be drawn from the direst of circumstances. That these stories span thousands of years of history should remind us of our failure to honor the memories of those who have died by learning how to prevent the need for such sacrifices.


What lessons do we learn? People on both sides have already begun to comment on the parallels between the story of Lionidas and Xerxes and the role of the United States in Iraq. But is America like the Spartans, standing up for freedom at whatever cost? Or are we the Persians, bringing our corrupt but mighty power to bear on a country that has a small fraction of our resources but many times our passion and staying power? What is most important is that retelling this story gives us an opportunity to ask those questions. This version gives us a lot to look at and more to think about.

Parents should know that this movie is filled with non-stop, extreme, and very graphic battle violence. Many, many limbs and heads are sliced off and many, many characters are wounded and killed. There are also some grotesque and graphic images of diseased and monstrous characters. There is some drinking and possible drug use, and there are are some sexual references (including homophobic insults and transgender characteristics as a sign of lack of integrity and honor) and some sexual situations, including an orgy, and some nudity. A man forces a woman to have sex and tells her that it will be painful.

Families who see this movie should talk about the concept of hubris in classical texts, the fatal mistake of placing oneself on the same level as the gods. They should talk about what mattered most to Lionidas and Gorgas, his wife. Did they make the right choices? What should Lionidas have said to Ephialtes? Why did Spartan woman tell their men to come back “with your shield or on it?” What do you think of the values of the Spartans? Are they barbaric? Why or why not? Theron calls himself a realist. What does that mean?

Families who want to know more about the history of this battle can begin with this essay by scholar Victor Davis Hanson, adapted from his introduction to the book about the making of the movie. They may want to take a look at the report of the battle by Herodotus. A 1962 movie with Richard Egan, The 300 Spartans, depicted this battle. And they may like to compare this film to Frank Miller’s graphic novel. The movie Go Tell the Spartans uses the battle of Thermopylae as a metaphor and counterpoint to the Vietnam war. A very different portrayal of Xerxes can be found in the Bible, where he is called Achashverosh, in the Book of Esther. Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Gladiator.

Zodiac

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for some strong killings, language, drug material and brief sexual images.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

We still don’t know for sure who was — or is — the California serial killer known as the Zodiac, the name he used in a series of letters he sent to San Francisco newspapers in the late 1960′s and early 1970′s. This movie is not about some big payoff. There are no “eureka” WHO moments and we don’t get to see someone solve the puzzle and get a handshake from the mayor and the thanks of a victim’s family. We don’t get an “aha” WHY moment as we find out that it all began when Zodiac was a little boy and suffered some major trauma.


A puzzle is what it is. Zodiac sent not just taunting letters to the press; he sent four cryptograms, only one of which has ever been solved. While San Francisco’s investigation is inactive, the other jurisdictions’ files are still open.


This is not the story of the Zodiac, what he did and why. It is the story of what happened to three men whose lives were taken up with their efforts to answer those questions. A superb cast and an absorbing script make a frustratingly complex story accessible and keep even the nearly three-hour running time moving quickly.


Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) is the chain-smoking hard-drinking newspaper reporter who covered the story. Downey vibrates like a tuning fork, his offbeat rhythms responding to tones only he can hear. It is is heartbreaking to see the sensitivity that makes him a meticulous observer of the world he writes about begin to implode. The movie doesn’t ask or answer whether the stress of being a possible target of Zodiac is what finally causes him to unravel or whether working on the story kept his fragile spirit together with a sense of purpose. It just shows us the toll that the story took on the man who happened to have the crime beat when the first letter came in.


David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong were the cops assigned to the case in San Francisco. They coordinated with Jack Mulanax (Elias Koteas) and Ken Narlow (Donal Logue), the police officers in the other regions where there were killings tied to the Zodiac. With literally thousands of suspects and no certainty about which crimes were committed by the Zodiac and which by copy-cats or unrelated killers, they are looking for one deadly needle in a haystack that could fill what was then called Candlestick Park.


And then there is Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal). He’s the newspaper’s political cartoonist. It isn’t his job to write about the case and it isn’t his job to investigate it. And yet, there is something that draws him into it so deeply he will ruin his marriage to devote himself to a story that is twisted and terrible, with an evil genius of a bad guy who is, well, right out of the movies.


Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Panic Room) wisely makes this story not about the monster, but about our fascination with monsters. Like Avery, Toschi, and Graysmith, we are pulled into the puzzle, horrified, but tantalized, stimulated, drawn to the edge of what separates us from a human being who could commit such atrocities and then taunt the people who try to stop him. In his letters, Zodiac may have referred to the classic film The Most Dangerous Game, about a hunter who uses humans as his game — in both senses of the word. He sees them as the only quarry worthy of him because they can truly test his skill. In a deeper sense, it is Avery, Toschi, and Graysmith who devote their lives to their own most dangerous game, tracking the Zodiac, who continues to elude them, searching for clues and patterns and meaning in a world where kids on lovers lane are killed by a man who dares the world to find him.

Parents should know that this is the story of a serial killer and there are graphic portrayals of some of the murders. Characters drink and smoke and one has some marijuana. A chain-smoking character also abuses alcohol. Characters use strong language and there are brief glimpses of pornography and references to child molestation. Some audience members will be disturbed by the themes of the story, which include serial killing and the impact on the lives and families of those who are involved in investigating the murders.


Families who see this movie should talk about why the story was so important to Graysmith and what he sacrificed in order to be able to pursue it.

Viewers who appreciate this movie will also like the classic Call Northside 777 starring Jimmy Stewart, also based on a real-life case of a reporter’s investigation of a murder. And they will enjoy other movies about murders who communicate with journalists or policemen, including Dirty Harry (inspired by the Zodiac case and briefly glimpsed in this film), The Mean Season, and No Way to Treat a Lady. Viewers who would like to find out more about the Zodiac case (and perhaps try to solve some of the still-unsolved coded messages) should read Zodiac and “This Is the Zodiac Speaking”: Into the Mind of a Serial Killer. And they might like to take a look at the classic movie that allegedly influenced or inspired the Zodiac killer, The Most Dangerous Game.

Wild Hogs

posted by jmiller
D
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and some violence.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

It was almost 40 years ago that Easy Rider made a motorcycle road trip the ultimate baby boomer emblem of freedom and adventure. Now John Travolta, William H. Macy, Martin Lawrence and Tim Allen play the uneasiest of riders in this uninspired and uninspiring formula comedy about four middle-aged friends who take their motorcycles on a road trip to find their sense of adventure.


Each of them is feeling that his life was not what he expected. Travolta is Woody, who has not told the others that he is broke and his supermodel wife has left him. Allen is Doug, a dentist, whose son doesn’t think he’s cool. Macy is Dudley, a shy geek who proudly sports a new tattoo — the Apple logo. And Lawrence is Bobby, a henpecked plumber. You know, born to be mild.


So, a bike trip from Cincinnati to California seems like just the thing to put them in touch with their inner burning man. Their droopy, mundane, and cheerless encounters include a flaming marshmallow, a cop who thinks they are a gay foursome and wants to join the fun, a bull who doesn’t appreciate being slapped, a plastic bag filled with excrement, some mean bikers led by Ray Liotta, and the sweet little country town they terrorize. Guess who will have to ride to the rescue?

The film consistently wastes even the modest opportunities it presents. When Dudley is invited to dance with the pretty owner of the town diner (Marisa Tomei, another on the list of “What are THEY doing in this movie?” actors), he has to get a quick lesson from Mr. Saturday Night Fever himself, John Travolta. Not only does a one-minute lesson somehow turn the can’t-even-speak-around-females Dudders into Arthur Murray, but the dance lesson itself is a complete waste of time, nothing more than another manliness joke.


There is no chemistry or even connection between the four co-stars, who look at each other as though they can’t wait to get back to their trailers. A last-minute appearance by a surprise guest star may save the day for the four friends, but it comes nowhere near saving the movie. The reality-show parody over the credits merits a smile, but the chance to leave the movie behind will produce a bigger one.

Parents should know that the movie has crude humor, including strong language and sexual references. An entire section of the movie is intended to find comedy in the main characters being grossed out by being thought to be gay and in the portrayal of an enthusiastic gay character who believes he may have found some action. Characters drink and smoke. There are some crude sexual references and there is a good deal of potty humor. Characters are in comic peril and there is some violence, including characters being tossed on the horns of a bull and being beaten up. There is also a good deal of macho posturing and some misogynistic humor.


Families who see this movie should talk about when it can important not to feel “too safe.” What did each of these character have to prove to himself or to someone else? Why were they friends?


Families who enjoy this movie will appreciate the better City Slickers.

Reno 911!: Miami

posted by jmiller
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language and drug use.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

Silly cops have been a staple of comedy since Shakespeare created the character of Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. They’ve been a staple of movie comedy from the Keystone Kops of the silent era through the Police Academy and The Naked Gun series and Super Troopers. There’s something enticing and reassuring about taking the police — the source of so many of our fears about powerlessness and shame — and making them into subjects for humor by exposing them as foolish, incompetent, and utterly humiliated.


And that brings us to the popular television series Reno 911, now a movie. True to form, it is the story of a group of bumbling, egotistical, petty, foolish, cowardly cops who triumph despite their own best — or worst — efforts.


The Reno sheriff’s department gets invited to a law enforcement convention in Miami, and when everyone there is quarantined due to a biohazard attack, they are assigned to handle 911 calls and other police responsibilities until an antidote is found. They have to deal with an alligator in a swimming pool and a beached whale on a topless beach, with the expected results. Bright spots include cameos from the Rock as a SWAT commander and Paul Rudd as a Scarface-style drug lord.


Fans of the television series will feel right at home, but the movie does not make much of an effort to introduce newcomers to the characters and situations. The movie derives much of its plot, energy, and humor from casual references to outrageous events and behavior (“Reno’s just like Mayberry on TV except for the crystal meth and prostitution”), from unrequited (and occasionally but briefly and awkwardly requited) romantic and sexual feelings between and among the cast, from a combination of preening self-regard, utter cluelessness, and insecure anxiety of its characters, and good old-fashioned slapstick. And it just manages to get by on its unpretentious silliness and, most important, its speedy running time.

Parents should know that this is a very raunchy and intentionally offensive comedy with extremely crude humor. Characters use strong and vulgar language, including the n-word, and there are explicit and graphic sexual references and situations, including nudity. There is drug humor, including an overdose, and comic violence with humans and animals injured and killed. Although the television series was given an award by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, some viewers may find the jokes about homosexuality to be offensive.


Families who see this movie should talk about how the portrayal of comic cops has changed over the centuries and what has stayed the same.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the (uncensored) series, Police Squad! The Complete Series, Police Academy, and The Naked Gun.

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