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The Other Woman
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual references and language (on appeal from the original R rating)
Release Date:
April 25, 2014

 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some crude comments, language and action violence
Release Date:
December 25, 2013

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

 

Ride Along
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, sexual content and brief strong language,
Release Date:
January 17, 2014

Walking With the Enemy
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
April 28, 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

Away From Her

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some strong language.
Movie Release Date:2007

Parents should know that this is a very sad movie with themes that may be disturbing to some audience members. Characters use brief strong language.


Families who see this movie should talk about some of their own stories about losing people who were dear to them. Do you agree with what Grant did?


Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate I Never Sang for My Father and Iris. And they should see the other fine films of Oscar-winners Julie Christie and Olympia Dukakis, including Darling, Doctor Zhivago, and Moonstruck.

I Think I Love My Wife

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for pervasive language and some sexual content.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

Chris Rock has often said he admires the work of Woody Allen, and in Rock’s latest film, “I Think I Love My Wife,” the comedian tries to channel a very “Allen” vibe. Like Allen, he writes, directs, and stars. And the story is a classic Allen-esque set-up, as a married man wonders whether he would be better off single. But, as with the lesser Allen films, it never achieves a heightened level of dialogue or insight.


Based on a 1972 Eric Rohmer film Chloe in the Afternoon, in this version, it is “Nikki” who presents temptation by repeatedly visiting a married man at work and insisting on less-than-innocent lunches. Richard Cooper (Rock) is a family man who excels in business but finds his personal life intolerably “boring.” He questions the fairness of fidelity and laments the lack of intimacy with his wife. When Richard runs into Nikki — an old friend whose only purpose in life appears to be garnering attention from men, married or not — the rest of the film is not hard to guess.


The concept of a rumination on temptation, especially one that deals with the notion of what it really means to cheat (Nikki and Richard remain platonic; is it “cheating” even if no sex is involved?) is not a terrible idea in itself. As far as realizing the idea, Rock does an adequate job of portraying the ways in which Richard and Nikki’s “platonic” relationship becomes detrimental to his wife and family. Even though no sex is involved it forces Richard to concoct elaborate lies and detracts attention from his other relationships. The film ultimately fails to make Nikki an enticing character. She is just a one-dimensional manipulator. This removes the drama, the danger, and the interest from the story. With no charm in her personality, it becomes painfully clear how heavily her controlling personality highlights the deficiencies of others (most notably, Richard and his inability to say “Go away”). The near entirety of the film has audiences accompanying Richard to crossroad after crossroad, only to watch him make bad choice after bad choice. The overwhelming sense is that Richard is likeable, but sympathy wears thin as it becomes obvious that he’s not a victim of Nikki’s persistence as much as he is a victim of his own lack of resolve.


Parents should know that although the film seems intended to be quirky, the very adult themes of sex and lust are crucial aspects of both plot and dialogue. Rock’s well-established observations on racially determined cultural stereotypes are also extremely prevalent. Viewers should know that the n-word appears repeatedly in conversational dialogue.


Families who see this film should discuss the concept of marriage and what it can mean for a couple to be in a committed relationship. At which point did Richard’s relationship with Nikki become a threat to his marriage? Can the moment be pinpointed to a specific incident, such as when Richard lies to his wife about how long it’s been since he last saw Nikki? Or is it more general, such as the fact that spending time with Nikki begins to have a negative effect on his job performance and leads him to be argumentative with his wife and friends? Richard is also depicted as being devoted to his children; parents might discuss how this devotion could translate into better choices, such as focusing on providing a safe atmosphere at home and building a more positive relationship with his wife.


Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Alfie, the story of a womanizing Londoner that first came to theatres in 1966 and has since been remade to star Jude Law. Families might also consider watching any of the many available Woody Allen films, including Manhattan and Stardust Memories, which focus on sex, fidelity, and relationships.

Premonition

posted by jmiller
F+
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some violent content, disturbing images, thematic material and brief language.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

With little style and no substance, this low-wattage forgettable thriller plays like a rejected episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Linda (Sandra Bullock) wakes up every day in a different reality (and a different sleeping outfit — she has quite the collection of nighties and pajamas). One day, she opens the door to a cop who tells her that her husband has been killed in a car accident. The next day, he’s in the kitchen having breakfast and watching television. Another day, it’s his funeral, and she can’t remember how her daughter got cuts all over her face and some scary people are coming to take her to a hospital. Another day, she goes to see him in his office and wonders if there might be something going on with that pretty new assistant manager (Amber Valetta). She begins to figure out that she’s living the days out of order. Can she change the future she has already experienced?


Bullock is appealing and committed as always, Valetta shows again that she has a sympathetic screen presence and can make the most of a few moments, and Nia Long as Linda’s best friend makes us wish the movie was about her. But the two things you are entitled to expect from a movie like this one are some “aha” moments as all the pieces of the plot come together and some “ahh” moments as the main characters learn something meaningful. What we get instead are a couple of “gotcha” fake-outs that are more exploitive than spooky (and no surprise to anyone who has the vaguest idea of the movie’s premise) and a “that’s it?” moment at the end that makes Linda’s character seem creepy rather than sympathetic.


Haven’t we lived through this before? And was it just as bad the last time? One reality she unfortunately can’t change is the ineluctable trudge toward the appallingly boneheaded ending.

Parents should know that this movie has some intense peril and disturbing images. A character is killed and a child is hurt. There is a bloody dead bird (later we see what happened to it). Characters use brief strong language, smoke, drink wine, and pharmaceutical medication is prescribed and forcibly injected. There is a non-explicit sexual situation and there are references to adultery. Issues of destiny and premonition may be upsetting to some audience members. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of a close friendship between diverse characters.


Families who see this movie should talk about times they have felt they knew something that was going to happen. What did Linda decide was worth fighting for?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the much better Frequency and Deja Vu (intense and graphic violence and terrorism). The Family Man and Me, Myself & I are non-thriller explorations of roads not taken in family relationships.

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.

Previous Posts

The Other Woman
The latest in a female-centered revenge comedy genre that extends from "9 to 5" through "She-Devil," "The Other Woman" is intended to be a merry little tale of female empowerment and grrrl power.  Instead it is soggy, haphazard, poorly paced slapstick mansplained by director Nick Cassavetes from a

posted 6:00:59pm Apr. 24, 2014 | read full post »

Finding Vivian Maier
Vivian Maier was a Chicago-area nanny.  Only the children in her care knew how much she loved taking pictures.  After her death, the possessions she had in storage were auctioned off and a man named John Maloof bought some boxes of negatives, thinking he might finds some images for his research ab

posted 6:00:24pm Apr. 24, 2014 | read full post »

Walking With the Enemy
Why do we keep making movies about the Holocaust? Because we are still trying to understand one of the most shocking, inhumane tragedies in history. Because it is the essence of heightened, dramatic storylines, with the most depraved real-life villains, the bravest heroes, and the direst moral di

posted 6:00:01pm Apr. 24, 2014 | read full post »

Ebertfest Kicks Off With "Life Itself"
Steve James ("Hoop Dreams") presented "Life Itself," the documentary about Roger Ebert, last night at the majestic Virginia Theater in Roger's home town of Urbana, Illinois, where Roger watched films as a boy and as a college student at the University of Illinois.  He told us he had always thought

posted 9:28:24am Apr. 24, 2014 | read full post »

Cameron Diaz
Cameron Diaz stars in the revenge comedy, "The Other Woman" this week, so it is a good time to look back at some of the highlights of her remarkably varied career. Director Charles Russell said he wanted to give Diaz the full movie star glamor treatment in her first feature film appearance in "Th

posted 8:00:04am Apr. 24, 2014 | read full post »


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