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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

The Black Dahlia

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for strong violence, some grisly images, sexual content and language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Director Brian de Palma is all about the look and the mood and paying tribute to the classic old movies he loves. He loves them so much he crawls inside them. He imitates them like an art student sitting in front of an old master at a museum, matching every brushstroke. If his characters capture the audience’s interest or the story makes sense, it’s almost an afterthought or happenstance. This time he takes a famous real-life unsolved murder and makes it a starting point for a murky story of corruption, betrayal, and duality.

One boxer is called fire and one is called ice. One’s name suggests black: Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and one’s suggests white: Leland “Lee” Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart).

But they have a lot in common. Both leave the fight game and become cops. First assigned to fight each other as a publicity stunt, they become partners, and then friends. And they have one more very important thing in common. Bucky likes Lee’s girl Kay (Scarlett Johansson) very much.


Kay’s hair is blonde and her clothes are, too, soft white sweaters and champagne satin peignoir and step-ins. She is the only one who calls Bleichert “Dwight.” She lets him know she is interested, but he is loyal to his friend and partner.


Bleichert is also drawn to a brunette who dresses in black, a spoiled rich girl named Madeleine Linscott (Hillary Swank). She may know something about the shocking murder and mutilation of an aspiring starlet named Elizabeth Scott (Mia Kirshner), another dark-haired woman who loved black.


By the time all of this gets sorted out, the fire and ice cops and the blonde and brunette women will come into contact with every imagineable kind of degredation and corruption and more lives will be destroyed. It’s plenty stylish, with its dusty golden sepia tones, fedoras, and cigarette holders. In a nightclub, k.d. laing croons in a tux. Even the blood splatter and the falling bodies have a twisted elegance. And there are assorted references to film canon masterpieces, especially The Big Sleep, with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.


But De Plama losses control of the tone as the story and its characters spin wildly over the top. As we see the dead girl in bits of screen test footage, there is a greater and greater gulf between her natural, heart-breaking performance and the shrill and screechy rest of the film.

Parents should know that this movie has very mature material in every category. There is very graphic and intense violence. Characters injured, mutilated, and killed in brutal boxing match, shoot-outs, knives, punching, and falling. Characters use very strong language, including ethnic slurs. The film includes explicit sexual references and situations, gay and straight, including pornography, references to prostitution, and implied incest.


Families who see this movie should talk about the meaning of the many dualities it includes and how this contemporary re-telling draws on the tropes and conventions of the movies of its era.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy DePlama’s The Untouchables and the films that inspired this one, including The Big Sleep, The Blue Dahlia, Chinatown, L.A. Confidential, or True Confessions, also inspired by the Black Dahlia murder. Those who are interested in the story might like to read the book or find out more about the real-life Black Dahlia murder that inspired it. There are a number of books and websites that purport to solve the murder, but no one really knows for sure.

Everyone’s Hero

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated G
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

The indomitable spirit of Christopher Reeve shines through this little story of a boy who will not give up his quest to retrieve the baseball bat belonging to the greatest player ever, Babe Ruth.


Ten-year-old Yankee Irving (that’s his name) loves baseball, but when he stands at the plate, the kids in the outfield jeer, “Easy out!”


He loves the game and dreams of playing in the major leagues. But he is ready to give up trying to play when he finds a talking baseball (voice of Rob Reiner) in the sandlot. He brings it home and then takes it with him to bring dinner to his father, who works at Yankee Stadium. While he is there, Babe Ruth’s bat Darlin’ is stolen by a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. But Yankee Irving’s father is blamed, and he is fired. Yankee and his talking baseball go out to bring it back home.


They have many adventures and encounters along the way, most notably with a young girl who teaches him to throw a ball. When he tells her he needs to get to Chicago to give the bat to the Babe, she sends him to her baseball player father so he can travel on the team bus, where he gets some lessons about balance and hitting a ball. He finally makes it to Chicago, where he gets a chance to make his grandest dreams come true.


The animation is uninspired, except for a couple of lively moments, most notably a chase scene when Lefty the cheating Cubs pitcher has to dodge a barrage of hazards. And the voice talent adds some warmth and character, especially Whoopi Goldberg as Darlin’ the bat, William H. Macy as Lefty, and the world’s most instantly recognizable “surprise guest star” as the choleric head of the Cubs. The late Dana Reeves is quietly lovely as the voice of Yankee’s mother, and the poignance of her loss as well as her husband’s adds to the movie’s theme of never giving up on dreams.

Parents should know that this movie has some mild schoolyard language and potty jokes. The issue of the segregated Negro League is handled in a respectful, understated way, but parents should be prepared to talk with children about why whites and blacks played on different teams.

Families who see this movie should talk about who in the movie is everyone’s hero? Why? What does it mean that “it’s not the bat, but the batter” and “just keep swinging?” Have you ever had something that made you feel lucky? Why were the bullies so mean to Yankee at the beginning of the movie? What will they be like when he gets home? Families with very young children will want to remind them that in real life children are not allowed to go off without their parents.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Chicken Little and some of the many wonderful films about baseball, especially It Happens Every Spring (a professor becomes an unbeatable pitcher when he invents a chemical to put on the ball that repells wood), Angels in the Outfield (the original is the best version but the remake is pretty good, too), Take Me Out to the Ballgame (with Gene Kelly as a dancing ball-player), Damn Yankees (a Washington Senators fan sells his soul to the devil to beat the Yankees), Rookie of the Year, The Sandlot, and The Rookie. Older audiences should watch Ken Burns’ 9-part series Baseball. They might also like to visit the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

The Protector

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for pervasive strong violence and some sexual content.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Martial arts actor Tony Jaa’s follow-up to his breakout performance, 2003’s Ong-bak, could be called Kill Bill with a conscience. The violence is so pervasive that viewers can’t help but become increasingly desensitized, and there’s a clear attention to style that results in some brilliant scenes dripping with flair and fashion. But where directors like Quentin Tarantino revel in the
gratuitousness of their films’ guts and gore, Prachya Pinkaew, director of The Protector, seems unwilling to have a bloody mess without a message.


The result, as can be guessed, is a rather conflicted film. Its personality lies somewhere between the story-book
sincerity of The NeverEnding Story and the slash-happy wantonness of Tarantino, resulting in an unclear message and an ambiguous intended
audience (children will identify with the bond between Kham and his elephant, but will likely be disturbed by the violent images and unexpected deaths).


The premise is both absurd and intricate — boiled down, the plot is that Kham (Jaa) follows the thieves who have murdered his father and also stolen his father’s elephant to Australia. With the exception of a few pastoral scenes and the
pivotal moment when the elephant-stealing takes place, most of the film is set in a dark underbelly of Australia, where meetings are held in backrooms and basements and life is corrupt, depraved, and cheap. With Kham’s arrival, this underbelly becomes the backdrop for
a battle between good and evil.


Kham, with his respect for the “old-ways” and his
appreciation of friendship and loyalty, kicks and screams his way
through countless enemies. He’s no less violent than his
counterparts, yet it’s made abundantly clear that he’s fighting
for “honorable” reasons — mainly fighting on behalf of those who
have been wronged and cannot fight for themselves — while the
enemies are unmistakably driven by greed, power, and selfishness.


But let’s face it, this film is not about the plot. It is about the fight scenes. Jaa’s signature is performing without tricks of any kind — no wires, no sped-up cameras, no special effects. He is his own special effect and his ability and speed is astonishing.


Parents should know that this film is exceptionally
violent, and that while some aspects of the plot notably its themes
of friendship, loyalty, and passion — are suitable for young
children, there are many elements of the film that are not.
Characters are killed in unexpected and brutal ways, and violence is
the first resort in conflict resolution. The physical combat
overshadows the relatively mild language, but nudity and sexual images with very
disturbing contexts are strong in some scenes.


Families who see this film should discuss what Kham is
fighting for, and how, although combat and injuring others is
portrayed as “cool,” there are ways of impressing others with
physical strength that make physical injury a last resort. For
daughters and sons interested in martial arts, Parents might suggest
forms that focus on self-defense, confidence and evasion of contact.
Families might also discuss the film’s villains, and talk about what
paths they could have chosen that would have been more virtuous and
rewarding.


Families who enjoy this film might also enjoy Ong-bak,
as well as Jet-Li and Jackie Chan films and the ultra-violent, Tarantino’s films,
notably Kill Bill and Kill Bill 2. For more light-hearted fare, families will enjoy
Stephen Chow’s films, especially Shaolin Soccer.

Hollywoodland

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for language, some violence and sexual content.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Is there a more heartbreakingly unsolveable mystery than a suicide? The only person who really knows what happened is gone. Even if we find out the how, we who are left behind will always wonder why. Those who are still here have made a decision to live. Whether or not we have ever explicitly considered Hamlet’s question, “to be or not to be,” the option is always there, and there is a dreadful fascination with those who made the other choice. Were they braver? Wiser? Were they disturbed? Was there something anyone could have said or done to change their minds?


In 1959, George Reeves, one of the biggest stars of the early days of television, committed suicide. Reeves played Superman and was a hero to the first generation of kids to grow up with television. He was a brand new kind of superstar. But his very ubiquity as Superman made it difficult for casting directors to see him in any other role. Finally, in dispair over his lack of professional prospects, he shot himself.


But like many other Hollywood deaths, from Virginia Rappe to Thomas Ince to Paul Bern to The Black Dahlia, speculation about a possible cover-up has led to one or more movies “inspired by” real events.


It is Hollywood, after all, or Hollywoodland, as the famous sign originally read. The name of a modest housing development has now become a word that means glamour and fantasy. Both make us wonder — could anyone who was famous in Hollywood want to die? And if someone wanted a cover-up, isn’t Hollywood the place where they know how to make us believe whatever they want us to?


There is some symbolism, maybe some irony in Reeves’ famous role being the split character of both Superman and his mild-mannered secret identity, reporter Clark Kent. Anyone in Hollywood can be both Kent and Superman. When we meet Reeves (Ben Affleck, looking beefy), trying to get his picture taken at a glamorous nightclub. Like every other aspiring actor, he thinks that inside him there is a star waiting to be born. He has just appeared in a very small part in the biggest movie ever made, Gone With the Wind. He thinks he is on the brink of having his dream come true.


He begins an affair with an older woman (Diane Lane), the wife of a studio executive. And he gets a job in television. He thinks it is silly, but it becomes enormously successful, and he is so identified with the role that no one else will hire him. His one big break, a part in a very important film, falls apart when a test audience won’t buy him in another part.


Is that a reason to die? Reeves’ mother hires a private detective (Adrien Brody) to find out. But there are those who do not want him asking questions. And he has his own problems.


The film evokes the time beautifully, with meticulously chosen sets, costumes, and music. The re-creations of the old “Superman” television show are especially well handled, both the behind-the scenes moments (a red and blue costume would not photograph properly in black and white) and the cheerfully cheesy show itself. The brief scene with Affleck as Reeves as Superman as Kent is so true to the original that viewers old enough to remember watching it in its original broadcast will expect it to be followed by commercials for Maypo and Pepsodent.


The performances are outstanding. Lane is exquisite at showing conflicting motives and emotions. She is a woman both sure of her beauty and honest that it is on the wane, comfortable being sexually agressive but wanting to be wooed. Affleck, relieved of the burden of being a leading man, is gratefully enigmatic. What does Reeves want? To be an artist? To be a star? To be married? Is he talented? Is he smart? Affleck and the script let us wonder if Reeves himself could have answered those questions.


But that ambiguity is both the movie’s strength and its weakness. The movie fails in trying to make Reeves’ story a big metaphor, and the attempts to find some parallels in the story of the detective’s own troubles is only a distraction. The characters are too remote to make us care about their tawdry problems. Like the audiences he looked down on, we’d rather see Reeves play Superman.

Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of mature material, beginning with its theme of suicide, with graphic and disturbing images. There are explicit sexual references and situations, including adultery. Characters drink and smoke and use very strong language. There are graphic scenes of violence, including a character who is badly injured by thugs.


Families who see this movie should talk about how everyone — not just actors — must learn to find a balance between what we want and what we can get, who we are and who others want us to be.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Sunset Boulevard, L.A. Confidential and Chinatown (the last two with very mature material).

Previous Posts

Transcendence
Think of it as "Her 2: The Revenge of Him." Or Samantha infected by Heartbleed. Just as in last holiday season's Her, "Transcendence" is the story of an artificial intelligence contained in a computer program that becomes or is seen as human consciousness.  Instead of the warm, affectionate voic

posted 6:00:39pm Apr. 17, 2014 | read full post »

Bears
This year's Disney Nature release for Earth Day is "Bears," the story of an Alaskan bear named Sky and her twin cubs, Scout and Amber, their trek from the den where they've hibernated all winter t

posted 6:00:05pm Apr. 17, 2014 | read full post »

Interview: Martha Williamson of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered"
Talking to Martha Williamson is pure positive energy and a real treat. The creator of "Touched by an Angel" has a new series on the Hallmark channel. It's called "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" and it is about a USPS dead letter office where a quirky but very dedicated group of people track down the rec

posted 8:00:57am Apr. 17, 2014 | read full post »

Trailer #2: The Box Trolls
Did I mention how excited I am about this?  Coming in September, from the people who did "Coraline" and "ParaNorman." [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDr_ZY37RFg[/youtube]

posted 12:12:22pm Apr. 16, 2014 | read full post »

Heaven is for Real
A movie like "Heaven is for Real" requires two different reviews, one for believers/fans of the 1.5 million-volume best-selling book, one for those who are unfamiliar with the book and whose views about faith and heaven and proof may differ from the evangelical beliefs of the Wesleyan pastor who wro

posted 6:00:04pm Apr. 15, 2014 | read full post »


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