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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

 

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

Under the Skin
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language
Release Date:
April 11, 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

Rio 2
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
G
Release Date:
April 11, 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

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

posted by rkumar
A
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2005

There are so many reasons to love writer-director Nick Park’s dim, gentle, cheese-loving inventor Wallace and his patient, practical, and loyal dog, Gromit. First, they are brilliant at every kind of funny, from sophisticated wit to sly parody to outrageous puns, to this-is-what-pause-buttons-on-DVD-players-are-made for detail and fall-down, lose-the-toupee farce. Second, their adventures are hilarious and genuinely exciting. And third, W&G themselves and their world are more alive and expressive and endearing than most “real life” human actors filming on “real life” locations. (Did I forget to mention that they are made out of clay and their movies are filmed in painstaking one-frame-at-a-time, one-or-two-seconds-a-day stop motion photography?)

Perhaps the best reason to love them is that they are irresistibly quirky, completely un-focus grouped, the plot never driven by product placement or marketing synergies (though the new movie does have some fast food and other tie-ins). In an era of loud, homogenized, generic, undistinguished and indistinguishable films, and CGI perfection, this is unquestionably the work of one adorably demented sensibility, with an engagingly handmade feel. It has a cheerfully, sometimes opaque, understated Britishness that doesn’t really translate (though they did redub one word — what are called “marrows” in England are referred to as “melons” in this release). And it has wildly funny tributes to a range of classic movies. It is fabulously funny, endlessly inventive, and utterly charming.

In three short films (two won Oscars; the third was nominated but lost to another one of Park’s movies), Wallace and Gromit have gone to the moon (in search of cheese, of course), rented a room to a diabolical jewel thief who happens to be a penguin, and outsmarted a sheep-rustling dog. Wallace creates remarkable contraptions (like dog-walking automatic pants) that work very well (his rocket does take them to the moon), but always create terrible problems and only Gromit can save the day. He’s a bit like a middle-class Jeeves to Wallace’s Bertie.

In their first full-length feature, Wallace and Gromit have a successful humane pest-control business serving the local gardeners, who have the very British passion for both vegetable-growing. Just about everyone in town is growing something to enter into the upcoming competition, so the prospect of a rabbit invasion is frenzy-making all around.

Fortunately, Wallace and Gromit and their company, Anti-Pesto, are on the case. At any hour of the day or night, if a rabbit appears in a garden, an alarm goes off and our heroes, using Wallace’s inventions, are almost-instantly on the job. Moments later, the rabbits are humanely extracted via Wallace’s invention. The tender-hearted W&G end up taking them all home and feeding them. The customers are very happy, especially Lady Campanula Tottington (voice of Helena Bonham Carter). But her suitor, Victor Quartermaine (voice of Ralph Fiennes), is furious and jealous. He wants to hunt the rabbits. And he wants to marry Lady Tottington.

Wallace decides that if he comes up with a machine to brainwash the bunnies so that they don’t want to eat veggies anymore, that will solve all their problems. Unfortunately, there’s a disturbance and things don’t go exactly the way Wallace planned and soon a terrifying, vegetable-loving creature is causing “califlower carnage.”

The feature length suits Wallace and Gromit perfectly. The new characters are brilliantly imagined, especially Lady Tottington and Quartermaine who both sport a W&G first — lips. Bonham Carter and Fiennes, clearly enjoying themselves, provide silly toff accents that are part Ealing comedy and part Monty Python. The result is hilarious, thrilling, and utterly engaging. If it takes five years to make one of these, I hope they’re already four years into the next one.

Parents should know that although this movie is rated G, some scenes of peril may be too intense for younger children. One character is a hunter who uses guns. There is brief crude humor, including a bare behind.

Families who see this movie should talk about which of Wallace’s inventions they might like to try or what he should make next. And they might like to try to make a claymation film (Park began making films at home when he was 12) or maybe grow their own vegetables!

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Park’s other movies, including A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, and A Close Shave, and the series Creature Comforts. They may also enjoy learning about Rube Goldberg, whose hilariously complicated contraptions would fit right into Wallace’s workshop.

The Man

posted by rkumar
D
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005

As generic as its title, this drearily predictable and tushie-obsessed buddy cop movie has just one distinction — it wastes more talent in less time than we get to see very often outside of straight-to-video releases.

We’ve seen everything here so, so, many times before and done so much better. Take one tough, break-the-rules loner ATF agent whose partner has just been killed by the bad guys (though Internal Affairs is not persuaded that he is entirely innocent). That would be Samuel L. Jackson as Van. Take one mild-mannered family man with eyebrows like caterpillers who is in town for dental supply salesmen’s conference who gets mixed up with those very same bad guys so that Van needs his cooperation. That would be Eugene Levy as Alex. There’s a long-suffering supervisor (an uncharacteristically subdued Susie Essman of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and a bad guy with an accent. Hilarity is intended to ensue. It doesn’t. Even the action scenes are dull.

This would just be another mindless time-waster without a single memorable or original idea if not for its cluelessness about how exceptionally crude and ugly its humor is. The director, the screenwriter, and the stars seem to have no idea how un-funny its “jokes” about toilet functions, prison rape, who is whose b-word, and body cavity searches are. Let’s make that potty humor even funnier by putting nuns in the scene so we can see them making funny faces about the smell!

And then it has the nerve to try to go for the cockles of our hearts with a detour into whether Van will make it to his adorable little daughter’s ballet recital. Please.

Buddy cop movies are often better than this. Jackson and Levy are almost always better than this. Go see one of those movies instead.

Parents should know that the language in this movie is strong for a PG-13, with several uses of the f-word and humorous references to one man as another’s b-word as well as other strong and crude words. There is also a great deal of crude humor including prolonged scatalogical situations and jokes about prison rape and a body cavity search. And there is a lot of violence, some played for humor, including repeated abuse of an informant and characters getting beaten and shot. Characters are in peril and some are injured or killed. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of strong and dedicated work relationships between men and women of different races.

Families who see this movie should talk about what Alex and Van learned from each other. What most surprised them about each other? Families may also want to talk about the different approaches of the two men to trust and Alex’s expectation that all relationships will end in friendship. Why does Alex say, “I couldn’t live my life like that?”

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the vastly superior Midnight Run and Die Hard: With a Vengeance (also with Jackson).

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:2005

It’s the details that matter in this movie more than the characters, the story, or even the music, all blander than in writer/director Tim Burton’s first claymation movie, Nightmare Before Christmas. Still, there is a goulishly enchanting love triangle and spectacularly spot-on voice talent. And, what really matters, every moment is filled with wonderfully witty Daumier-like caricatures and sly Charles Addams-style macabre humor. The main characters and the story are not nearly as intriguing as who and what is going on around them.

The Van Dorts have money but no social position. And they have a son, Victor (voice of Johnny Depp). The Everglots have social position but no money. And they have a daughter, Victoria (voice of Emily Watson). Victor and Victoria have not met, but what does that matter? Their parents arrange a marriage. The wedding rehearsal is about to begin. Nothing must go wrong.

Victor and Victoria meet — shyly — and are relieved and a shyly excited to find themselves drawn to one another. But Victor is so nervous that he keeps getting mixed up on his vows. He runs to the forest, practicing, and accidentally places the ring on what appears to be a twig. But it is the sepulchral finger of the Corpse Bride (voice of Helena Bonham Carter). Jilted on her wedding day, she has been waiting for a groom ever since. And now that she has one, she is not about to let him go, even though they have the pesky little problem that he is alive while she is dead and live in literally different worlds. It’s a mixed marriage at a rather fundamental level.

Victor is honorable and does not want his accidental and very sensitive bride to be hurt again. In her own way, other than the odd maggot or decaying body part, she is very appealing. He cannot allow himself to be the second man to desert her, even if that means that he will have to join her in the underworld for good.

Victoria turns out to have more spirit and determination than she or her parents expected, especially after they inform her that with Victor out of the picture, they plan to marry her off to a mysterious nobleman named Lord Barkis, who seems in an awful hurry. And Victor, in part through his struggle to decide what duty requires, discovers his own sense of purpose and independence.

Burton, always the most wildly and happily goulish of visionaries, has created a thrillingly intricate world, or, rather two of them. The gray, Victorian setting of for the Van Dorts and the Everglots is filled with looming structures and old, stately, portraits. And the world of Emily and her after-life compatriots is, well, lively and deliciously macabre, with the kind of gleefully demented pleasure of Disney World’s Haunted Mansion (the ride, not the awful movie).

Echoing dance with death themes from Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday to 1930′s cartoons with skeletons playing each other’s ribs like xylophones, this movie explores not just our fear of death but our ways of confronting that fear, from humor to myth, to music, to love. With made-for-pause-button attention to detail, some unexpectedly understated humor, and a surprisingly touching conclusion, it proves again that humanity is sometimes best found and conveyed in unexpected places.

Parents should know that this movie may be disurbing to young and sensitive viewers. It has some grotesque and scary images, including decomposing bodies and skeletons. Characters are in peril and some are injured or killed. There is some crude humor. Characters drink alcohol.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Victor ran away and why Victoria was loyal to him. They may also want to talk about the appeal of ghost stories and their own thoughts on the supernatural.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the always imaginative Burton’s other movies, including Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands (with Depp in the title role). They may also enjoy the Noel Coward ghostly romantic comedy classic, Blithe Spirit.

An Unfinished Life

posted by rkumar
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some violence including domestic abuse, and language.
Movie Release Date:2005

A bear is wandering through farms looking for something to eat. An angry and abusive man is following the woman who left him because he wants her to come back, or because he wants to hit her again, or both. Neither appears threatening at the moment, but both can and have inflicted great damage and are willing to do more.

A man has lost his son, a woman has lost her husband, a child has lost her father. This has left each of them isolated and fragile. They will learn that it is the not the loss but the isolation that makes them so vulnerable.

Jean (Jennifer Lopez) has a fresh bruise on her jaw. Gary (Damien Lewis) tells her that he loves her and hates to hurt her, but sometimes she just makes him do it.

She has stayed, before. But this time, she takes her daughter, Griff (lovely newcomer Becca Gardner) and leaves. She had hoped never to return to the place she grew up, but she has nowhere else to go. So she returns to the ranch owned by Einar Gilkyson (Robert Redford) and asks if she can stay just until she can get enough money to leave. And that is how Griff and her grandfather Einar meet for the first time.

Einar has given up most of his cattle and spends much of his time caring for his closest friend and former ranch hand, Mitch (Morgan Freeman), now disabled. His only other regular conversation is with the grave of his son, Griff’s father. He is angry with Jean; he can barely bring himself to look at her. But he agrees to let her stay.

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Most directors would take this material and hit us over the head with it. But Lasse Hallstrom trusts us and he trusts the story and the characters, taking his time, letting the story tell itself, helping us learn to care for the characters as they learn to care for each other. We know going in that this is going to be a story with revelations and confrontations and thawing and forgiveness. Hallstrom makes it work, with the able assistance of Redford and Freeman, who make us believe that they have been working that ranch together every day of the past 40 years. They have the affectionate rhythm of an old married couple (as the indispensible Freeman did with Clint Eastwood in “Million Dollar Baby”). Lopez does not have the range to inhabit her role fully, but she has a nice chemistry with the talented Gardner and with Josh Lucas as a sympathetic sheriff.

Parents should know that this movie has some disturbing violence, including references to domestic abuse and fatal accidents, guns, punching, peril, and injuries, and a bear attack. There is some strong language. Characters drink and there are references to alcohol abuse. The movie includes sexual references, including sex without emotional involvement, and non-explicit sexual situations.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Einer blamed Jean and why Jean blamed herself. What made Jean decide to think differently about herself? What makes people decide when it is time to tell the truth about themselves? What does Mitch think about the bear and why does he want the bear to have what he cannot have? What is an unfinished life and who in this movie has one?

Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate some of Hallstrom’s other films, including Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, the under-appreciated Once Around, and The Shipping News. They will also appreciate movies Redford directed, includingOrdinary People (directed by Redford) andThe Horse Whisperer (also starring Redford and a very young Scarlett Johansson).

Previous Posts

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 »

Heaven is for Real: The Real Story
"Heaven is for Real" opens tomorrow, with Greg Kinnear as Todd Burpo, a Nebraska pastor whose four-year-old son says that he visited heaven during surgery for a ruptured appendix.  It is based on a best-selling book Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back,

posted 3:59:56pm Apr. 15, 2014 | read full post »

Movie Critic Ann Hornaday Comes Out as...a Christian
Washington Post movie critic Ann Hornaday wrote a brave and very moving essay about being a writer sustained by Christian faith and how that affects the way she approaches all films and especially those with religious themes. As a critic, my first obligation is to assess each of these films not as

posted 3:59:22pm Apr. 15, 2014 | read full post »

Trailer: Gone Girl with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike
Take a look at the very creepy trailer from director David Fincher for the upcoming "Gone Girl" based on the best-seller by Gillian Flynn. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esGn-xKFZdU[/youtube]

posted 2:33:38pm Apr. 15, 2014 | read full post »


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