Movie Mom

Movie Mom

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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

The Ant Bully

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for some mild rude humor and action.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

A boy beset by bullies turns bully himself, going after the ants in his family’s back yard. But the ants shrink him down to their size and he learns something about ants, about empathy, about himself, and about how to beat a bully without becoming one himself.


This Aesop-like fable is brought to life with cheery good humor — and some potty jokes — both of which will be a hit with school-age kids. And there are some nice lessons about teamwork and empathy to keep the adults happy.


As his parents go away for the weekend, leaving him with his alien-fearing grandmother, ten-year-old Lucas Nickle (Zach Tyler Eisen) is feeling humiliated and unhappy. The neighborhood bully gave him an atomic wedgie and everyone laughed at him. He thinks it will make him feel strong and powerful if he destroys the ants. But ant wizard Zoc (Nicolas Cage in a full-blooded and vivid performance) creates a potion which, poured in Lucas’ ear, shrinks him down to ant-size. He is brought before the ant Queen (a warm and wise but suitably regal Meryl Streep), who orders him to learn to live as an ant. Zoc’s sympathetic girlfriend Hova (Julia Roberts, maternal, if a little colorless) befriends Lucas, and he also gets some help from Fugax (a very funny Bruce Campbell) and Kreela (the wonderfully husky-voiced Regina King) in retrieving some treats for the ants. But before he was shrunk, Lucas signed a contract for an exterminator (this summer’s all-purpose animated film bad guy here and in Over the Hedge). Can he save his new friends? Can he save himself?


Parents should know that this movie has some schoolyard language and crude humor (bare tush, potty jokes, inexplicit reference to potion via suppository). There is some peril and tension and mild action-style violence.


Families who see this movie should talk about why it seems that taking your unhappiness out on others will help you feel better, and about why it doesn’t. How do we learn to be empathetic? What do you think about the queen’s reasoning? What made Lucas agree to sign the exterminator’s contract? Families may want to learn more about ants, too.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other animated bug movies like Antz, A Bug’s Life, and one of the very first animated features, Hoppity Goes To Town. And they will enjoy the live-action Honey I Shrunk the Kids. They might like to take a look at the book. Families who want to know more about the movie can read my interview with the writer/director here.

Scoop

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some sexual content.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Woody Allen’s recent scripts, yes, even the revered Match Point, are so lightweight the pages must just float up into the air. His latest is “Scoop,” no relation to the Evelyn Waugh comic novel about journalists, just a weak, stale, uncomfortable rehash of some of his favorite recurring themes. There is the stage magician (see Curse of the Jade Scorpion, New York Stories, his play “The Floating Light Bulb”), the amateur sleuth (Manhattan Murder Mystery), the corny vaudevillian (Broadway Danny Rose), the contrast between the New York Jew and the WASP-y world (you name it), the young girl as repository of all wisdom and overall life essence (Manhattan, Husbands and Wives). But instead of variations and new insights, all we get are are whiffs, references, patchwork.

It is the story of a college student who gets a tip from a ghost on a career-making story — a handsome, wealthy nobleman may be the mysterious serial killer who, like Jack the Ripper, has been murdering prostitutes in London.


Scarlett Johansson plays Sondra Pransky, an American journalism student visiting a friend in London. We first see her foolishly allowing herself to be seduced by someone she hopes to write about, then being so flustered she forgets to get the interview.


But when she volunteers to go on stage during a magic act and is ushered into the cabinet where she will “disappear,” the ghost of a brilliant, adventuresome reporter who has recently died (played by “Deadwood’s” Ian McShane) comes to tell her that on Charon’s boat to Hades, he has learned the identity of the notorious serial killer. He believes it is ultra-eligible bachelor Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman). This is the scoop of a lifetime.


Who does she enlist to help her get the proof? The dear friend she is visiting (the underused Romola Garai)? A professional journalist? A detective? No, she calls on the magician with the cabinet for no other reason than that he is played by writer/director Woody Allen. Sondra gets him to pretend he is her father. They grow to like each other. Oh, and his act, which would have seemed amateurish and out of date in the days of Major Bowes, always has a sold-out crowd applauding wildly. Is this a movie or just a hit parade of self-indulgent fantasies?


From the moment Sondra and the magician join forces, character is continually sacrificed to convenience, as everyone behaves so inconsistently you’d think they were getting script pages seconds before filming. People are smart or dumb, brave or scared, close or distant, honest or insincere, depending on the most arbitrary of motivations. This would work if the result was funny or insightful, but it isn’t. There are some good wisecracks and a couple of promising set-ups, but the whole thing starts off wobbly and then spins completely out of control to an awkward, even disturbing conclusion. Like the character he plays, Allen’s shtick has worn out its welcome.


Parents should know that the movie has some sexual references and non-explicit sexual situations. Sondra makes some risky and foolish choices in terms of her sexual relationships and her physical safety. Characters drink and smoke and use some strong language. The story includes (off-camera) murders, attempted murder, and accidental death.


Families who see this movie should talk about the choices reporters must make in pursuit of a story. What did the editor find inadequate about Sondra’s story and why? What do reporters have to do to be fair to those they write about? How can you maintain objectivity if you get close to your subject?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery, Broadway Danny Rose, Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and Bullets Over Broadway.

Miami Vice

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

The original “Miami Vice” was Michael Mann’s decade-defining television show. It ran from 1984-89 and everything about it was fresh, edgy, and influential. The t-shirt under the Armani jacket with photogenic beard stubble look, the best-selling techno-synth musical theme that won a Grammy, the pastel colors and quick cuts all became cultural touchstones and signifiers. The idea was inspired by a two-word memo from a network executive — “MTV cops” — and by a ruling that permitted the use of goods confiscated from criminals in other police-related work — thus, the cops who drove a Ferrari. It was cool. But that was then. Now, it’s just cold.


So when Mann adapted the television show with this new movie, he excised all of its signature elements, so permanently wedded to the 80′s. But he didn’t add anything to make it worth watching.


Mann’s movies are usually smart and stylish. They usually have a visceral, vital quality. Not this one. He gives us no reason to care about the characters or the story. There’s not even any special sense of place; it could just as easily be called “Generic Canadian City Vice.”


Jamie Foxx replaces Philip Michael Thomas as Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs and Colin Farrell fills in for Don Johnson as James “Sonny” Crockett. They are brought in after the feds have failed in an undercover investigation of a drug dealer. After a brief interlude permitting Tubbs and his girlfriend (the wonderful Naomie Harris from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest) to get soapy in the shower, they get hired as deliverymen. Then they get caught up — personally and professionally — in the organization, which is (yawn) much larger and more far-reaching than they anticipated.

They have to prove themselves. Crockett gets involved with the drug operation’s CFO, Isabella (Gong Li), who dresses like an investment banker. But, like Melanie Grffith in “Working Girl,” she has a head for business and a bod for sin, and pretty soon she and Crockett are getting soapy in the shower.


The drug kingpin’s latest recruits have to prove themselves and work their way up the organization. The plot, however, mostly consists of bang bang bang, even the shoot-outs and explosions are not well-staged and the pacing is a slog. It seemed to take forever to load the darn drugs onto the darn boat. Foxx and Harris manage a little sizzle, but there is no chemistry of any kind between Foxx and Farrell or Farrell and Li. One reason is that Foxx and Farrell sport hairdos that all but emit chemistry repellent. The colors are dull. The pacing is dull. How long do we have to watch drugs being loaded onto a boat? Even the music is dull, as generic as a third-rate cover band. Even the preposterous ending is dull.

The dialogue is dull, too, all faux-tough, keeping-it-real we-can’t-trust-anyone-but-each-other-because-we’ve-shared-unspeakable-reality-and-know-things-the-rest-of-those-corrupt-and-incompetents-don’t malarky. It all sounds like something written by a computer tuned into the Spike channel. The only point in its favor is that there could be quite an active drinking game if viewers took a shot every time someone in the movie says something like, “Here’s how it’s going to be” or “Here’s how it’s going to happen.” It would have the advantage of both providing a more interesting distraction than the movie and rendering participants less concerned about the two hours and ten minute running time, the only theft in this movie anyone will care about.

Parents should know that this is a “hard-R” movie with extremely intense and graphic violence, including heavy artillary, a lot of blood splatter, and suicide. Characters are injured and killed. Characters are drug dealers and undercover cops who try to stop them. Characters drink and smoke (scenes in clubs) and use strong language. There are explicit sexual references and situations. A strength of the movie is the positive portrayal of inter-racial relationships, but some may find the South American drug dealers to be stereotyped.


Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy the original television show and Mann’s other movies, including Hannibal Lecter’s first appearance in Manhunter and Will Smith’s brilliant performance in Ali. Mann’s last film, also featuring Foxx, is the much better Collateral.

My Super Ex-Girlfriend

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for sexual content, crude humor, language and brief nudity.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Even with a face contorted with rage and vengeance and a voice echoing through the streets of New York as well as the theater, it’s difficult not to like Uma Thurman as the needy, controlling and manipulative Jenny Johnson/G-girl. The odd sensation of not disliking someone that, well, dislikable seems to stem from the movie’s greatest asset: its understanding that evil can be a misguided outlet of the chronically insecure.


As she tells her story to Matt Saunders (Luke Wilson) – our good-natured protagonist with the requisite New York apartment, reluctance to believe beautiful women might dig him and sex-obsessed, super-vocal best friend – we are introduced to a Jenny Johnson who only wants to be liked and accepted. An outcast in high school, Jenny and her best friend, a schoolmate named Barry, are fooling around in a car when Jenny hears something. Rushing to the site, Jenny and Barry discover a meteor that explodes violently when Jenny touches it, thereafter imparting her with the super powers that turn her into G-girl, an indestructible protector of Gotham and savior to the seriously put-out.


In her story, Jenny becomes more confident at school, and blossoms with her new-found poise. She claims that she and her friend Barry simply grew apart. What we see, however, is a best friend left behind to fend for himself, which explains why in adulthood, Barry has become Professor Bedlam, G-girl’s arch-nemesis played by Eddie Izzard. The catch is that G-girl’s saving grace in high school has become her burden in the real world – her super power secret seems to have kept her from getting truly close to anyone and when she finds Saunders, she’s so hungry for human affection and acceptance that she fumbles and foils her way through a whirlwind relationship that quickly sours as Saunders realizes he can’t handle her neediness and that he is, in fact, in love with a coworker. The main plot of the movie takes us through Saunders’ relationship and breakup with G-girl.


So now you see the problem. We have a needy, whining, guilt-tripping girlfriend with a rage problem, and a weasel-ly, conniving evildoer for a nemesis, and we can’t help but try to collect our melting hearts while wishing both of them the best. (The best, in the form of a “happily-ever-after-ending,” does come, by the way.) Add to this pair our “everyman” Saunders, a role custom-made for likeability and played very well by Luke Wilson, and the raunchy best friend who dishes out bad advice aplenty with comic irreverence, played by Rainn Wilson of television’s The Office fame, and we have a movie with characters you like being allowed to like (despite their imperfections).


Parents should know that although the film is sweet and somewhat cheesy, it contains very adult-targeted sexual references and humor, including brief scenes with implied sex but little nudity, as well as direct references to masturbation and oral sex. The characters have sex without knowing each other well or establishing a caring relationship. Crude language is used abundantly and mostly for comic effect, but includes Thurman’s character referring to another woman as a “slut.” There is some action-style and comic violence, most in the form of Jenny/G-girl attempting to exact revenge on Saunders, including throwing a thrashing, gnawing shark through the window at him and targeting her laser eyes on his pet goldfish.


Families who see this movie should talk about the effects of alienation at school and changes in close relationships. They should also talk about Jenny’s actions as they discuss revenge and jealously, and appropriate ways for addressing insecurities. Effective communication and honesty in relationships are also relevant, and families might explore how Saunders and G-girl could have better handled their breakup.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The 40 Year Old Virgin, which has similar adult-oriented humor and the same “everyman with the raunchy friends” feel, and Office Space.

Thanks to guest critic AB.

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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