Movie Mom

Movie Mom

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Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Moms' Night Out
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

John Wick
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Earth to Echo
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some action and peril, and mild language
Release Date:
July 3, 2014

23 Blast
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some teen drinking
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Snowpiercer
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for violence, language and drug content
Release Date:
July 2, 2014

Young@Heart

posted by Nell Minow
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for some mild language and thematic elements.
Movie Release Date:April 21, 2008

In School of Rock Jack Black taught a classroom of 10-year-olds that rock and roll music is always about one thing: Sticking it to The Man. A new documentary about a chorus of performers in their 80’s and 90’s shows that no one has more reason to stick it to The Man than people who are most defiantly not going gently into that good night.

This is not your grandfather’s choir. Instead of singing songs from their youth like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” or “Sentimental Journey” these old folks tap their orthopedic shoes, tug along an oxygen tank, and slam into the music of their great-grandchildren’s generation. They’ve gone straight from 78’s to iPods, literally without skipping a beat.
It sounds cute. Old people are settled, conservative. They are The Man, aren’t they? There is something deliciously incongruous about very old people singing the songs of very young people.

But it is not cute. Their set list is not soft or easy. No Billy Joel, Neil Diamond, or Beach Boys, no gentle harmonies or catchy melodies. This is raw and angry. They sing hard rock (Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”), punk rock (The Ramones’ “I Want to Be Sedated”), and blues (“I Feel Good” by James Brown). This is real rock and roll, written to be shocking, provocative, subversive. It is stirring, and deeply moving, finally transcendent. Music videos for songs like Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia” and the Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” have a surreal, dream-like quality, good-humored but poignant as they add moments of fantasy and release. The Man they are sticking it to is loss of all kinds.

The movie takes us from the first rehearsals to a sold-out performance in the chorus’ home town of Northampton, Massachusetts. Continually frazzled but continually optimistic choir director Bob Cilman makes no concessions, artistically or generationally. This is not occupational therapy; it is art and it is show business. He insists on a top-quality professional production.

Cilman presents the chorus with Allen Toussaint’s tongue-twistingly syncopated “Yes We Can Can,” which has the word “can” 71 times. Form equals content and the medium becomes the message as they struggle to master the intricacies of the song.

Director Stephen Walker’s interviews occasionally seem intrusive, even condescending, but perhaps he, like Cilman, gets a little flustered at the inability to maintain any sense of control over the feisty singers. Early in the film, 92-year-old soloist Eileen Hall flirts with Walker – probably just to keep him off-base, at which she is entirely successful. Hall’s elegant British diction makes the opening lines of the Clash song, “Should I Stay or Should I Go” sound as though she is asking whether we want cream or sugar. But then the song turns into a goose-bump-inducing negotiation with life and death.

Two members who have been very ill, Fred Knittle and Bob Salvini, return for a duet, the Coldplay song, “Fix You.” But Salvini dies before the show. The chorus gets the news as they sit on a bus, about to leave for a performance at a local prison. No one knows better than they do that the show can and must go on.

They stand in the prison yard singing Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” voices quavering perhaps just slightly more than usual as they remember their friend. The prisoners are transfixed. Then, at the concert that concludes the film, “Fix You” is performed as a solo by Knittle, his oxygen tank beside him. He sings “when you lose something you can’t replace…I will try to fix you…lights will guide you home” and it is impossible not to feel that these performers understand those words better than the young men who wrote them. And when they nail “Yes We Can Can” it becomes an anthem of defiance, survival, and, yes, sticking it to The Man.

88 Minutes

posted by Nell Minow
C-
Lowest Recommended Age:Adult
MPAA Rating:Rated R for disturbing violent content, brief nudity and language.
Movie Release Date:April 19, 2008

eighty_eight_minutes.jpg This non-thrilling thriller is so full of howlers and slippery plot holes that it should slide off the screen, which would be a relief to everyone there. It is at least 88 minutes too long.

Al Pacino plays Dr. Jack Gramm, a forensic psychiatrist-as-rock-star type who is a major celebrity and has a big fancy office and what appears to be an even bigger and fancier apartment. On the day that a serial killer he helped to convict is to be executed, he gets a call on his cell phone, telling him he has 88 minutes to live. Tick Tock. That’s a quote.

If you eliminate the first 88 things a rational person would do after receiving such a call, you might come up with the boneheaded shenanigans that follow as Gramm and his trusty (OR ARE THEY????) teaching assistant Kim (Alicia Witt) and office sidekick Shelley (Amy Brenneman) race around Vancouver (pretending to be Seattle) trying to figure out who might be behind all of this. Meanwhile, they struggle with clunky dialogue and a soundtrack that seems to have been lifted from some Quinn Martin production of the 1970’s. The outcome is both predictable and boring. And the movie is far too infatuated with the torture scenes so that we begin to wonder whose side it is on.

This is a huge waste of top talent and a huge waste of time for anyone unlucky enough to buy a ticket.

List: Great Movie Professors

posted by Nell Minow

about-indiana-jones-1.jpgAnn Hornaday’s excellent Washington Post essay on college professors in movies included some of my favorites. I especially liked the comments from first-time screenwriter Mark Jude Poirier, the son of a college professor, who has spent time teaching himself. His new movie, “Smart People,” stars Dennis Quaid (who was also a college professor in D.O.A.) as a scruffy Victorian literature scholar with an “unpublishable” new book called The Price of Postmodernism: Epistemology, Hermeneutics and the Literary Canon.

One advantage to making his protagonist a literature professor, he says, was that he could endow the character with eloquence and self-awareness without straining credulity. At a pivotal point, for instance, Wetherhold tells another character that he hasn’t had any “great epiphanies” or made “sweeping changes” to his personality. “That’s something a professor would say,” Poirier says. “They’re living in a world of literature, a world where they’re thinking about epiphanies and character changes all the time. So it seems natural that they’d apply that to themselves.”

In other ways, the bored or blocked professor — teaching the same texts in the same rooms to the same if interchangeable students, day in, day out, semester after semester — perfectly embodies the ennui of any job. But in this case, that job brings the added value of involving performance. Thus the professor is the ideal personification of inertia without inert ness, suggests Poirier. “He’s onstage every day.”

Certainly, the overly introspective professor who has given up caring about much of anything appears frequently in movies. But we also see the expert who provides exposition for the audience and guidance for the hero/heroine with some expertise about arcane subjects ranging from anthropology to chemistry, history, literature, even the the occult. Sometimes they are there as a romantic interest. Then there are the absent-minded professors who create potions and machines that either result in chase scenes or comedy, occasionally both. And sometimes professors lead the action — remember, Indiana Jones teaches archeology when he isn’t out tracking down the Lost Ark or the Holy Grail.

Even future President Ronald Reagan played a psychology professor in Bedtime for Bonzo. Not his best role, but still a very cute little movie with a lovely performance by Diana Lynn as his wife.

Here are some movie professors who get A’s from me.

1. Wonder Boys Michael Douglas spends much of the movie in a ratty old bathrobe, trying to stop writing a book that has reached 2000 pages and is still going, and juggling a highly talented but depressed student, several ex-wives and a pregnant mistress who is inconveniently married to the dean, and Marilyn Monroe’s sweater. A beautifully literate script, beautifully performed and directed, with an outstanding soundtrack.

2. Monkey Business The ever-elegant, ever debonair Cary Grant is not a likely candidate to play an absent-minded professor but his impeccable timing is just right for this role, especially after the professor and his wife (Ginger Rogers) accidentally try out a youth serum that have them reverting to childhood. Watch for a very young Marilyn Monroe in a small part.

3. The Absent-Minded Professor Fred MacMurray appears in this Disney classic about “flubber” — flying rubber — that can make cars fly and basketball players jump like pole vaulters.

4. A Beautiful Mind Russell Crowe was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as John Nash, a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician who struggled with mental illness.

5. Raiders of the Lost Ark Harrison Ford does not spend much time in the classroom or the library in one of the most exciting — and popular — adventure films ever made, a loving salute to movie serials from Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.

6. Educating Rita Another scruffy, bearded, burnout, this time it is Michael Caine as a professor of literature who learns as much from his student (Julie Walters) as she does from him.

7. Stranger Than Fiction Will Ferrell has to consult an expert in literature to try to figure out why someone seems to be narrating his life “accurately, and with a better vocabulary.” He finds Dustin Hoffman, who explains that he wrote a whole paper on “had he but known” and teaches him how to tell whether he is in a comedy or a tragedy.

8. Holiday This time, Cary Grant is befriended by a married couple, both professors, played by Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon as the Potters (frequently called Porter by the snooty relatives of Grant’s fiancee).

9. ShadowlandsThe author of the Narnia books, C.S. Lewis, is played by Anthony Hopkins in this tender story about his late-life romance with an outspoken American (Debra Winger). There is also a very fine made-for-British-television version by the same name starring Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom.

drumline_007.jpg 10. Drumline Sometimes the job of the professor in a movie is to teach the main character some important lessons about responsibility, integrity, and goals. That’s what Orlando Jones does for Nick Cannon in this delightfully engaging movie about a talented but undisciplined drummer on a marching band scholarship.

Coming soon….Great Movie teachers in elementary, middle, and high school. Stay tuned.

Can a movie change the world? Pangea Day Wants to Try.

posted by Nell Minow

Pangea Day is an ambitious effort to bring the entire world together in one conversation about connection and unity through the power of film. On May 10, for four hours, people all over the world will gather to share their stories. There will be films, speakers, and live music. Queen Noor of Jordan, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, musician/activist Bob Geldof and Iranian rockers Hypernova will appear. The website has information about how to participate.

Here is an invitation:

Here are two from a remarkably moving series of films showing countries saluting each other by singing their national anthems. France sings America’s:

And Japan sings Turkey’s:

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