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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

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).

The Wicker Man

posted by jmiller
F+
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for disturbing images and violence, language and thematic issues.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Fans of the original The Wicker Man appreciate the film for many reasons: Its dichotomy of paganism and Christianity, its skillful use of Celtic folk music, its eerie and overbearing ambience. Although some might find it slow, disturbing, and at times absurd, it is redeemed by a general sense that the actors and filmmakers felt a genuine passion about setting a mood, posing philosophical questions, and making the audience feel and think. Somehow, with the mystery and horror meant to achieve a higher goal than just shock and alarm, so it’s not a total enigma — on some levels, anyway — why some consider the 1973 film a “classic.”


A classic remake, on the other hand, tends to be an oxymoron. Unless classic is used as a sarcastic term, and remake in the most derogatory sense of the word, which, in the case of director Neil LaBute’s version seems entirely appropriate.


While the original relies on an impending sense of doom to carry viewers to the chilling end, the remake piles on a steady steam of violence, flashes of very disturbing and shocking images, and outbursts of nonsensical emotion to give the film weight. The gimmicky horror-flick conventions ultimately drag the film to a screeching halt when it becomes clear that no deeper meaning will be found and no redemption attained. Most bizarre, however, is the film’s attempt at humor. Comic relief to break the tension in the action/horror genre is not uncommon — take, for example, Lake Placid, Anaconda, and to recent extremes Snakes on a Plane — but this film’s almost slapstick stunts, most courtesy of star Nicholas Cage, have no continuity or context. Most of the concepts presented — such as human sacrifice, betrayal, murder of one’s own family members, and mutilation — have no place alongside desperate attempts to garner laughter at the absurdity of life.

Ultimately, even as the film leaves viewers with a terrible and horrific final scene, the audience leaves questioning not the meanings of evil and murder in our society but the validity of a film that puts such concepts on display with no greater purpose or goal.


Parents should know that this film has many highly disturbing images and presents upsetting concepts such as human sacrifice and torture. In one scene, a car blows up with a mother and daughter inside, and in another a young girl is tied to a tree with the implication that she is to be killed as a sacrificial offering. The individual relationships in this film are meant to shock and awe, such as a woman deceiving her ex-fiance to his death and a daughter lighting the fire that is used to kill her father.Many images are as shocking as they are memorable, and impressionable children and adults alike may be left with highly unpleasant images in their mind.


Some main themes of the film include a female-dominant society (in this case, unfortunately tied to the negativity of the film) and betrayal of loved ones. Families should discuss the meaning of community, and what makes some communities healthy and some oppressive. Families should also talk about different cultures and societies, and what makes our societies and others prosper or fail.


Families who enjoyed this film might also enjoy 1973’s Soylent Green, and the original Wicker Man of the same year.

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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