Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild language and rude humor
Release Date: December 19, 2014
The Maze Runner
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images
Release Date: September 19, 2014
Magic in the Moonlight
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout
Release Date: August 1, 2014
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Release Date: December 19, 2014
When a studio is fairly certain it will not get a single good review it simply refuses to let the critics get a look before the release date. That’s called a “cold open.” Usually, movies that open cold are based on video games and/or very graphic horror films and/or directed by the legendary Uwe Boll (generally considered the worst director currently working in movies), and/or directed by Tyler Perry (no idea why this is because I really like his movies), and/or a very dumb generic gross-out comedy, especially of the “Scary Movie,” “Date Movie,” “Epic Movie,” etc. franchise.
And traditionally, Labor Day weekend is the worst weekend of the year for movies, when the studios release films that they have no expectations for whatsoever.
Thus, we have three cold opens this weekend. One is the action film “Babylon A.D.” with Vin Diesel. The last film by this director was “Gothika,” which gave rise to my well-known “Gothika rule” (if a movie has a mind-numbingly horrible ending I will give it away to anyone who sends me an email). Even he is telling people not to see this movie.
“I’m very unhappy with the film,” Mathieu Kassovitz tells amctv.com. “The script wasn’t respected. Bad producers, bad partners. It was a terrible experience…” [W]hile he was attracted to the material’s dense geopolitical themes, Fox, the studio co-financing the movie, only wanted “pure violence and stupidity … Parts of the movie are like a bad episode of 24.” He tells the website that Fox “made everything difficult from A to Z.”
The other two movies opening this week are comedies. “Disaster Movie” is from the people who gave us “Date Movie” and “Epic Movie.” They have yet to give us “Good Movie.” I feel confident in saying that Josh Levin’s Slate review of a previous film in this tired franchise is vastly more entertaining than any of their movies. And then there’s “College.” Its poster features a kid throwing up in a toilet. Enough said.
Now would be a good time to enjoy those last summer swims and barbecues, do some back-to-school shopping, catch up on some of the big releases you might have missed or see your favorites a second time — and get ready for the fall. In September alone we have the new Tyler Perry, the new DeNiro/Pacino movie, “Igor” with John Cusack, and the new Coen brothers movie, starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt. I can’t wait!
Just in time for the political conventions, NPR lists the best political movies. Bob Mondello divides them into three categories: manipulating the media, manipulating the candidate, and manipulating the process. Well, if someone isn’t manipulating something, there’s no need for a hero. I was glad to see one of my favorites like The Best Man, based on a play by Gore Vidal and starring Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson. Today’s viewers might be confused by the idea that the candidate was not actually selected until the convention but the strategies and moral conflicts will seem very contemporary.
Another one of my favorites is All the President’s Men, based on the true story of the young reporters who investigated the Watergate break-in and found layers of deception and cover-up that led to the only Presidential resignation in US history. And I was glad to see the only Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn movie directed by Frank Capra on the list, State of the Union. He plays an industrialist encouraged to run for office by a manipulative political operator and she is his estranged wife, brought into the campaign because — in those days — a candidate had to have an intact family. I’d also recommend another of their lesser-known collaborations, “Keeper of the Flame.” He is a reporter writing about her late husband, a revered statesman with what turns out to be a very ugly secret. A Congressman once told me the movie that seemed most authentic to his experience in politics was The Seduction of Joe Tynan, with a sensational early performance by Meryl Streep. And I would also add Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and the musical about the political meeting that started it all for the United States, 1776.
A timely story, some welcome complexity, and a compelling performance elevate this story of terrorism above the usual bang-bang.
Don Cheadle plays Samir, a person of interest being tracked by the authorities for his possible involvement in terrorist activities. He witnessed his father’s death from terrorism in Sudan when he was a child. Later he became a US Special Forces soldier trained in munitions. He is a devout Muslim. Whose side is he on now? We follow Samir as he is imprisoned for terrorism in the Mid-East. At first, Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui) the Muslim leader of the toughest gang in the prison, sees him as a challenger because he does not immediately ask for protection. But he grows to respect and then feel friendship for Samir and helps him to escape. Together, with the help of a wealthy supporter, they plan an audacious attack on the United States.
Meanwhile, American agents led by Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) are trying to find Samir. The characters constantly criss-cross the globe and seem to move just as easily across geographic borders as they do across legal, cultural, and moral lines. As the FBI tries to figure out whether Samir is a good guy or a bad guy, we must make the same calculation about them.
The story for this film was created by comedian/actor Steve Martin along with director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, who wrote the screenplay. It has a welcome murkiness that shows more insight and respect for the complexities of global affairs than the usual cliches and stereotypes. If that seems at first less satisfying it is because it is more demanding. The audience can’t hold on to superficial signifiers and has to be willing to shift its own allegiances throughout the story. If that makes the ending less immediately satisfying, it makes it more thoughtful, more resonant. And through it all, Cheadle’s courageous and focused portrayal of a devout man who is trying to find a way to reconcile his beliefs with his experiences shows his sincere loyalty to his story, his character, his audience, and his own search for truth.
The disability advocates who are picketing “Tropic Thunder” should take a look at “The House Bunny.” It is a much more worthwhile target for their complaints. In that movie, the title character becomes the house mother for a sorority of dorks and losers. She transforms them all with a little mascara, some skimpy clothes, and some tips on how to talk to boys. A few free drinks and an “Aztec virgin sacrifice” party blow-out later, and they’re the most popular girls on campus. One of characters is a young woman wearing a brace for scoliosis, played by Rumer Willis, daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore (far right in the photo). The movie also includes a character whose only characteristic is being very short, another defining condition played only for laughs. You can see only a portion of her arm in this publicity photo, which tells you everything you need to know about the role she plays in the movie.
As usual with a disabled character like the girl in the brace, the disability is her only characteristic and we never learn anything else about her. SPOILER ALERT: Incredibly, the plot resolution for this character is that the brace simply falls off of her as she runs (like “Forrest Gump”), with a little help from the former bunny. It turns out she has not needed the brace for four years but kept it on because she was shy. Instead of taking the opportunity to show us a disabled character who is comfortable with her disability and is able to have a full life of studies and friends, the movie implies that no one can be popular and confident with a back brace.
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