Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


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Lucy
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R For strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality
Release Date:
July 25, 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

And So It Goes
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and drug elements
Release Date:
July 25, 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

Wish I Was Here
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Release Date:
July 18, 2014

 

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

Smart People

posted by Nell Minow
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for language, brief teen drug and alcohol use, and for some sexuality.
Movie Release Date:April 11, 2008

A burned-out literature professor named Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) has written an “unpublishable” book called The Price of Postmodernism: Epistemology, Hermeneutics and the Literary Canon. Of course it is unpublishable. Everyone knows that the part of the title that comes before the colon in literary works is supposed to be self-consciously cutesy. A book like that should be called something like A Bad Slammin’ Groove: Epistemology, etc. I suppose it is a symptom of Lawrence’s ennui and disconnection that he has lost the essential ability for preserving that academic necessity: a snarky combination of smug superiority over popular culture and even smugger superiority over the ability to speak in its patois.

Lawrence, his college-student son James (Ashton Holmes from “A History of Violence”) and his college-applying high school senior daughter Vanessa (“Juno’s” Ellen Page) are each floating around in separate bell jars, suspended in space, all the air sucked out by anger and loss, all three unable to communicate and unaware of how much pain they are in. Lawrence’s brother Chuck (“my adopted brother,” he reminds everyone — played by Thomas Hayden Church) moves in. Yes, he will prove to be the life force confronting the dessicated souls so out of touch with their true feelings. But Church and the screenwriter, novelist Mark Poirier, give him more perspective and more spine than these characters usually display. “These children haven’t been properly parented in many years,” he tells one visitor. “They’re practically feral. That’s why I was brought in.” And he believes it.

Poirier appreciated literature and he knows how to create characters who talk (and don’t talk) about what is going on like educated people. He has not quite worked out the difference between a novel and a movie, however; he still tells too much and shows too little. An exceptional cast takes the material as far as it can go, but it still feels synthetic and its sense of tone is uncertain, biting here (faculty committee, unpublishable tome), sentimental there (how many times do we have to see a grieving spouse who can’t clean out the closet?). Quaid is especially strong and Parker lets us see her sweetness and longing, but Page’s and Church’s characters are underwritten and it feels like it all gets tied up too hastily. The characters might be too smart for their own good, but the movie could use a few more IQ points.

Interviews: The Visitor

posted by Nell Minow

“The Visitor” is the new movie by writer/director Thomas McCarthy. Like his award-winning “The Station Agent,” it is the story of characters from different backgrounds and with different interests who must overcome loss, fear, and isolation to find a way to connect to each other. Richard Jenkins plays a professor of economics who leads an isolated life following the death of his wife until he meets two illegal immigrants, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) from Syria and his girlfriend Zainab (Danai Gurira) from Senegal. When Tarek is sent to a holding facility for detainees, Walter and Tarek’s mother, Mouna (Hiam Abbass) join forces to try to help him.

As with the earlier film, McCarthy involved his actors early in the process, working with them to develop the script. I spoke to McCarthy and the four stars of the film.

Who is the visitor? It seems that any or all of the four leading characters could be considered visitors.

Tom McCarthy: All of them are! Everybody in his own way is a visitor. Each of us is a visitor in his life in a way. Having the title in the singular gives the story a more individual touch. It is individual stories connecting to each other, nicer and more poetic.

Richard Jenkins: I think Walter [his character] is the visitor (laugh)! There is a program where you visit detainees. You can be a visitor to detainees you don’t know. That is how Tom was introduced to the detainees. So there is a lot of depth and complexity in that title.



Your character is a devoted mother but you do not share any screen time with your son. How do you convey that feeling?

Hiam Abbass: Sometimes it is so hard when you’re playing the mother of someone but you have no scenes with him, and still I had to believe. Out of the set we were such great friends, connected in a completely different level. I am not adult enough to be his mother in real life!

This is really how it connects. When I met Tom and he was writing he would ask me, “Not you but another traditional Arab woman in this situation, how would she react?” I was obliged to dig, forget modern ways of living, the way I live in Paris. There are so many things from you that you put in but limit them.

And your character is very reserved. You had to convey a great deal without using many words. Was that difficult?

Danai Gurira: It was very hard for me because I am a talker as these two know. I was playing a character who is a lot more still than I am. I am a kind of spastic energy type. It was refreshing to not be me in a way. I understood her. She lived in a world, where her experience was that running your mouth off is not beneficial as it has been for me. I enjoyed that transition, stepping into a stiller person’s skin. It added to the circumstances of the character. She’s the one who has dealt with the horrors Tarek’s now experiencing in a way that has made her more guarded and cautious. He is more exuberant. She does not feel powerful as the system exists.

Your character is exuberant, and he often expresses himself most fully through music. Are you also a musician?

Haaz Sleiman: I am a singer. Tarek and I had similar paths, very Arabic, moving from wherever you’re at to Michigan, moved to New York to pursue music. He represents the Arab culture, very welcoming, very hospitable. As soon as Walter lets them into the apartment, it’s almost as if he owes Walter his life. It is a natural thing for the friendship to grow. Music added depth and dimension to the relationship. And there is vulnerability in that, too.

What makes you laugh?
Hiam Abbass: Myself! If you can laugh at yourself you can laugh at other things. I work hard to have that distance from myself.

Danai Gurira: I laugh at her! The people I love make me laugh. There are different kinds of humor. Sometimes it is based in the idiosyncrasies of the culture, very specific to the world where people are coming form, sometimes universal. Some people who are bilingual can hook into my Zimbabwean humor quicker.

Hiam Abbass: From the first day, we have so much trust, that is important for laughter. The more you connect to different cultures, the more you develop your sense of humor in a universal way.

Haaz Sleiman: Making silly noises, cartoon-like, animal-like, being silly.


Why does music communicate so powerfully?

Haaz Sleiman: It always has, way back from when they were using bones, it’s another language.

Hiam Abbass: It’s a universal language, everyone gets it, feels it. It’s the least tampered with language, no motives rather than just connecting. You can be from two different cultures completely and love the same music, each for its own reasons.

Haaz Sleiman: The CD that Tarek gives Walter in the movie is the music of Fela Kuti. He is the Zimbabwean Jimi Hendrix, a great musician.

What do you want people to learn from this movie?

Haaz Sleiman: Embrace differences and be excited about the differences.

Interview: Young@Heart

posted by Nell Minow

“Young@Heart” is a documentary about a Northampton, Massachusetts-based choir of elderly performers who sing rock songs — not soft rock or pop but raw punk rock. It is not at all stunt-ish or cutesy. It turns out that these songs written by angry young men to — as Jack Black said in “School of Rock,” “stick it to the man” take on a new and profound resonance when they are sung by these people in their 80′s and 90′s. You might think that by this time they are “the man.” But in a very real sense, they have more cause to stick it to the man than performers in their 20′s could imagine. For them, “the man” is loss, death, making the most of the time they have left. The lyrics of songs like the Ramones’ “I Want to Be Sedated,” The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia,” James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can,” and Cold Play’s “Fix You” are heartbreaking and touching when sung with such ferocity and humor. The Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” takes on much more meaning when sung by someone who fought in World War II. Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” becomes ineffably touching when sung by people who find such joy in performing and learning even in their ninth decades.

I spoke to three members of the choir, music director Bob Cilman, and the man who made the movie, documentarian Stephen Walker.

Chorus members Brock Lynch, Leonard Fontaine, and John Larareo

Movie director Stephen Walker

How did you find out about the Young@Heart chorus?

They were performing in London. My partner Sally George said she had tickets to a show that could be quite interesting — a bunch of old people singing rock and roll music. I thought weird, gimmicky, had a faint image of a dancing bear, but they had brilliant reviews. They are much better known in Britain. I thought the show was just amazing and the audience demographic was interesting, lot of people in their 20′s and 30′s. They were were really responding.

What would you say the movie is about?

It’s about life and death, the way the meaning of words you know well is completely changed. It’s a film about old age through rock music. Other generations can identify with it because it is like a rock opera about old age. Issue led movies about old age are really boring. But looking at those fantastically interesting people, 87-year old Lenny singling “Purple Haze,” it becomes a metaphor for dementia.

The movie features music videos. It’s unusual for a documentary to include material that presented more impressionistically.

The film was hand in glove with the music videos. It was really interesting to break away into an out of time space, to have a commentary on the rest of the film. “Sedated” gets huge cheers in screenings because people see the punk in the 80-year-olds. They’re singing angrily about what it can be like.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

That mixture was one of the hardest challenges in the film to pull off, the tightrope between humor and sadness. It is quite a hard thing to pull off. If you get it wrong it can be a car crash. I had no idea that there would be deaths while we were filming. I never thought there would be a death. The worst we thought would happen would be that someone could fall or stumble on stage — we agreed at the beginning we would not humiliate anyone or make them look vulnerable or helpless. Oh, and I learned right from the beginning that two words could get me ejected immediately: “cute” or “adorable.” No infantalizing.

What is next?

We’d like to make a feature film about the group.

Street Kings

posted by Nell Minow
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for strong violence and pervasive language.
Movie Release Date:April 11, 2008

“Street Kings” is a like a Cliff’s Notes version of Training Day not that Training Day was any special challenge to the mental muscle. Corruption is bad, we get it.

At least that movie had a sizzling performance and an intriguing premise, a young cop’s introduction to the seamy underworld. This one has neither. It is big, dumb, loud, generic, and, worst of all, pretentious.

Keanu Reeves plays Tom Ludlow, and we meet him in what appears to be his daily waking ritual — grab gun, barf, and stop at the liquor store, as the bass line bangs away portentously. Then he and some gangstas try to out-tough each other with threats and insults over some deal. To no one’s surprise except the gangstas, he turns out to be a cop. He goes into the bad guys’ house, guns blazing, and takes everyone down all by himself, for no reason whatsoever except showing off.

Detective Washington, Tom’s former partner (Terry Crews) has been telling Internal Affairs about some of the ways that Tom and his colleagues under Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker) cut corners. Let’s just say that they are not exactly scrupulous about due process. When Washington is killed, Tom is the likely suspect. Investigating that crime exposes the vast reaches of corruption and betrayal. And it provides the opportunity for many, many shoot-outs and other violent confrontations.

It is all supposed to be very tough and meaningful, but even an exceptionally strong cast can’t save dialog like, “This is your mess and I’m cleaning it up,” “It’s time to turn the page and close the book,” and “I gotta watch my own back these days.” Anyone who has ever seen a movie will be able to guess the twist within the first 10 minutes. After that, it’s just waiting for Tom to catch up to you.

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