Movie Mom

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Fading Gigolo
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some sexual content, language and brief nudity
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

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

 

The Nut Job
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Release Date:
January 17, 2014

Bears
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
G
Release Date:
April 19, 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

Firewall

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of violence, and for some language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

What can you do if you want to rob a bank and hotshot Harrison Ford has designed a foolproof security system? Well, firewalls may be unbreakable, but people are not. So, you tell him that if he doesn’t break into his own system, his family is dead.


Ford plays Jack Stanfield, computer security ace and loving husband and father. The bank he’s been protecting for 20 years is about to be merged, and he is suspicious of the new management (Terminator 2′s Robert Patrick) and intrigued by a possible new job offer. This distraction may explain why he’s not too suspicious when a belligerent bill collector shows up at his office, yelling about $95 thousand in gambling debts. But pretty soon some very mean guys are pointing guns at his family and wiring him for sound and pictures so they can track him when he leaves the house.


The thrills in this movie are strictly low-wattage. For a while it is fun to see Ford McGuyver his way around the security system with a fax machine, an iPod, GPS, and a cell phone, but it all disintigrates into a generic shoot-’em-up with nothing distinctive or surprising, except, perhaps, that after all these decades, Ford still knows how to act and do stunts at the same time. Virginia Madsen is wasted in the the “No, Jack, no!”/”Don’t you DARE touch my children!” role. Paul Bettany has a nicely cool vibe but his character, like the others, is underwritten, and the script’s twists won’t surprise anyone who’s ever seen a Harrison Ford movie, most of which are better than this one.

Parents should know that the movie has extreme peril and violence, including shooting, punching, explosions, and general slamming things into characters, some of whom are injured and killed. A child is in peril and nearly dies due to an allergic reaction. There is brief strong language, someone gives the finger, and there is some social drinking.


Families who see this film should talk about how to protect themselves from identify theft. They should talk about the way that some bank robbery movies get the audience on the side of the bank and others get the audience on the side of the thieves.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Air Force One and Witness, also starring Ford. They might also like to watch some other bank robbery movies, including $, the original The Thomas Crown Affair, Bandits, The Desperate Hours and its 1990 remake, and Dog Day Afternoon (mature material).

When a Stranger Calls

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for intense terror, violence and some language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

“He is calling from within the house.” What a line! Since the original version of When a Stranger Calls came out in 1979, that sentence — packed with impending terror –has resonated with babysitters and played on their fears as they sit isolated in unfamiliar houses, responsible for their sleeping charges.

The original never lived up to the line but this new version does a fairly decent job of stretching the suspense through 83 minutes of near-constant peril. Why bother to introduce any original twists when you can make a solid, if predictable, junior grade thriller with the simple notion that you are not alone in a dark maze of a house?


The scene opens with a montage of kids playing at a carnival alongside a suburban house where a ghastly murder takes place in shadow play in the upper window. It is no surprise then that we are introduced to young Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle) running sprints in her school gym. Clearly, she will need her speed again before the movie ends. The plot moves along well and in mere minutes we learn why she is heading out on a babysitting gig instead of joining her friends at the lakeside bonfire that night.

She has gone over her cell phone minutes by nearly 14 hours, talking to her ex-boyfriend, and has racked up enough debt to make her parents take away her phone and car privileges. Also, she has to pay off the phone bill, hence the babysitting stint at the “Architecture Digest”-worthy modern manse of the Mandrakis family. The thrills start when the stranger calls, asking his troubling “Have you checked the children?” mantra and causing Jill to start jumping at shadows for the long night that follows.


Needless to say the rest of the movie plays with the dark corridors (the lights all work by motion detectors), that distracting cat, the wind in the trees outside, and of course with our fear of the dark. Do people do stupid things in this movie? Absolutely, but the movie rests on Jill’s shoulders quite comfortably, never seeming to ask too much of her fine if not outstanding acting performance. While this movie is far from a “stranger”, for some it will be a predictable and welcome call worth a few shivers but ultimately forgettable as soon as you get off the line.


Parents should know that there is near-constant peril and the movie will give bad dreams to even the bravest of babysitters. There are references to horrific murder and you see a man threatening the lives of children. Two characters die and a character is stalked in a dark house. One character refers to her “tequila problem” as the reason she kissed another girl’s boyfriend and teens kiss and drink by a bonfire with little apparent oversight. There is strong language to describe a character’s actions.

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Families that see this movie might want to talk about the advice Jill’s father gives her about how acting responsibly is most important when it hurts or costs something. What does he mean in reference to the reason that Jill is being punished? What does it mean in the context of her decisions in the house? What does Jill do wisely and what would you do differently?


Families that enjoy this movie might want to watch the original with Carol Kane or get their shivers in more memorable spooky movies such as Gaslight or the original 13 Ghosts.

Thanks to guest critic AME.

Thank You for Smoking

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

Michael Kinsley famously said that the crime in campaign finance is not what’s illegal — it’s what’s legal. That also applies to campaign finance’s even sleazier cousin, lobbying.


Lobbyists are paid by groups, mostly business groups, to prevent legislators from writing laws that they perceive as harmful to their interests and encourage them to pass laws that protect and enchance their interests. Every industry, every company, every special interest, every person is represented by someone with a firm handshake and an easy smile who knows how to use money, information, friends and enemies, more money, carefully selected facts, an ability to shift the focus of the argument, publicity and secrecy and even more money, to get what they want.


And no one is better at it than Nick (as in “Old Nick?”) Naylor (as in Nail-er?), played by Aaron Eckhart. He represents the association with the most money and the worst public relations problem: the tobacco industry. Put Nick on a television talk show with cancer victims and he will explain that the tobacco industry doesn’t want anyone to die — they’d be losing a customer. Then he does a judo flip on the argument and turns it into a discussion of freedom and personal responsibility. How are you going to argue with that? A crusading senator, a scheming reporter, and a former tobacco company ad model turned anti-smoking activist find out just how hard that is.


This is not a movie about cigarettes. It is, in a way, about freedom and personal responsibility. When asked why he does it, Nick resorts to the “yuppie Nuremburg defense” — the mortgage. He’s just trying to make a living and take care of his family. How are you going to argue with that?


But there’s another reason he does it. He’s good at it. He’s better at it than he is at anything else. He is a master of misdirection. He can spin an argument like a top. That’s hard to give up.


On the other hand, Nick has lost his wife and his only friends are the lobbyists for equally unpopular clients — the alcohol and gun industries. And he has a son who is old enough to understand what he does. Can Nick spin his son? Does he want to? Can he ever stop spinning himself?


The screenplay, brilliantly adapted by first-time director Jason Reitman from the novel by Christopher Buckley, crackles with intelligence and insight, not just about the workings of Washington (and, with a
hilariously incisive cameo by Rob Lowe, Hollywood), but also about friends, parenting, work, tough choices, paying the mortgage, and, of course freedom and personal responsibility. Most of all, it is about the obligation and the challenge of independent thinking, of questioning assumptions.

Vivid performances by reliables like Robert Duvall and William H. Macy are master classes in one of the toughest categories of acting. They need to commit fully to the characters as believable dramatic figures but they need to do it to the slightly exaggerated rhythms of satire, and they both nail it. The under-rated Sam Elliott gives his best performance ever as the former cowboy symbol of a rugged smoker, now dying from lung cancer. His negotiation scene with Nick is the highlight of the movie.

Maria Bello and David Koechner are right on the money as Nick’s fellow MOD (“merchant of death”) Squad lobbyists. The weakest parts of the book are the weakest scenes in the movie — a bungled kidnapping and involvement with a pretty reporter (Katie Holmes). But, like its main character, the film is less spinning than completely winning.

Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of very mature material, including very strong and crude language, explicit sexual references and situations, some comic violence, and a lot of corrupt and unethical behavior. The main character is a lobbyist for the tobacco industry and advocates smoking. His closest friends are lobbyists for the alcohol and gun industries and there is a lot of cynical and irreverent talk about the benefits of all three.


Families who see this movie should talk about Nick’s “mortgage” justification for what he does. What is the real reason? Is he wrong? Is the system wrong? What should the rules be? Who in the movie is honest? How do you know? They might like to learn more about the current lobbying scandal involving Jack Abramoff and reform efforts currently being debated. A transcript of a real-life interview of a Tobacco Institute representative like Nick is available here.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Primary Colors, Wag the Dog, Nashville, and The Seduction of Joe Tynan.

Eight Below

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for some peril and brief mild language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

The dogs rescue the humans, but will the humans rescue the dogs? Can they?


A scientist (Bruce Greenwood) arrives at a National Science Foundation base in Antarctica, in search of a rare meteor. Vehicles are too heavy to take over the thin ice, so Gerry (Paul Walker) takes him on a sled pulled by eight dogs. They are called back early due to major storms, and one of them is injured on the return. The need for immediate medical attention and the severity of the storm means that all of the people on the base have to be evacuated. There is no space for the dogs on the plane. Katy (Moon Bloodgood), the pilot, assures Gerry that she will fly right back to get them. But because of the storm it will be months before they can return. The dogs have been left behind, tightly chained together, with no food or shelter. How can they survive?


The dogs manage to break free, and the best part of the film is seeing them explore the icy environs and learn how to care for themselves and each other. There is a nice counterpoint with the efforts of the humans, also learning and growing and ultimately working as a team to get back to Antartica and the dogs.


The story is exciting and inspiring, the dogs and scenery are breathtakingly gorgeous, and director Frank Marshall expertly balances thrills, laughs, and tender moments that are genuinely moving. Marshall handles the sad and scary material gently and gracefully.

Parents should know that the movie has very intense peril for a PG movie, including a very scary jump-out-at-you surprise, falls, animal fights, injuries to human and animal characters and (spoiler alert) the sad deaths of two of the dogs and of some birds killed by the dogs for food. There are shots of an animal carcass. Characters drink beer and Scotch (and Fresca).


Families who see this movie should talk about how we decide what risks are worth taking. What changed the way Jerry and Katy felt about each other? They might want to learn more about Antarctica, sled dogs, and the beautiful Aurora Australis or “Southern Lights” enjoyed by the dogs in this film.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Balto, an animated film about the heroic dog whose statue is in New York’s Central Park, and March of the Penguins. They will also enjoy this interview with the director.

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