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Lucy
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R For strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality
Release Date:
July 25, 2014

 

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

And So It Goes
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and drug elements
Release Date:
July 25, 2014

 

Sabotage
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R For strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use
Release Date:
March 28, 2014

Wish I Was Here
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Release Date:
July 18, 2014

 

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 Number 23

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for violence, disturbing images, sexuality and language.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

There are 23 things wrong with this movie.


Or maybe there are 24. Or 165. To be honest, I lost count. Despite this film’s best efforts, it never persuaded me that there was anything special about the number 23.

It began a moody but nicely stylish little thriller with some striking visuals, strong performances, and a provocative premise. Animal control officer Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) is late meeting his wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen) on his birthday, February 3 (2/3, get it?). While she waits, she wanders into a small used bookshop and begins reading a novel about a man obsessed with the number 23. She buys it as a birthday gift for Walter, and he gets caught up in the book and its parallels to his own life. He begins to be haunted by the book, envisioning himself as its main character, a detective. He dreams that he is committing crimes.

And he begins to see 23′s everywhere. Everything adds up to 23. But nothing adds up.


Perhaps that is in part because it’s never clear whether 23 is a good number or a bad number, a blessing or a curse. And then there’s the fact that it’s something of a stretch to tie everything to the number 23. It seems to count if it just connects to 2 and 3 or 32 or to some other number that — gasp! — has some relationship with the number 23, even if it’s not much more than the fact that they are both numbers. There’s reason number one. It’s hard to make something so vague feel menacing. Reason number two: the obviousness of the fake-outs. Reason number three: the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-ness of the characters’ decisions in trying to track down the mystery. Have these people never heard of Google? Or the public library? And don’t they know that you’re not supposed to investigate creepy places at night by yourself? Reason number four: there are several major logical flaws in the big reveal. Reasons number five through twenty-three: if you take the first two reasons and the last three reasons and put the numbers next to each other, it will say 23. This makes as much sense as anything in the story.


In other words, 23 is an unlucky number for Jim Carrey, Virginia Madsen, and anyone who goes to this movie.

Parents should know that there are a number of disturbing themes and images in the movie, including graphic, bloody suicides, murders and mental illness. Characters and a dog are in peril and some are injured and killed. There is brief strong language, and there are some sexual references and situations, including some bondage and masochistic fantasies.


Families who see this movie should talk about their own superstitions and the idea of apophenia, the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data, for which human brains are hard-wired. This is what makes it possible for us to read, make maps, and develop strategies, but it is also what sometimes has us projecting patterns on to Rorschach ink blots and other random shapes. For a delightful and very provocative discussion of this issue, see Michael Shermer’s lecture at Ted Talks.


Viewers who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Dead Again and Identity. They may want to read the Wikipedia entry on the superstion surrounding the number 23.

Ghost Rider

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for horror violence and disturbing images.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

“Ghost Rider” needs a new ghost writer.


Well, it needs something. You might not think that a movie based on a comic book about a flaming skeleton in a leather outfit who rides a (literally) hot motorcycle and has a (literally) penetrating stare would be dull, but this one is.


Johnny Blaze has a motorcycle carny act with his father, riding through fire. The night before Johnny is to run away with his true love, Roxanne, a stranger (Peter Fonda) appears, telling Johnny that he can cure his father’s lung cancer if Johnny is willing to trade his soul.


Johnny does not believe and does not exactly agree, but he spills his blood on the contract, and that is good enough for the stranger, who turns out to be none other than Mephistopheles. Meph, a master of the loophole, cures the cancer, but Johnny’s father dies anyway. And now he belongs to the devil, who tells him he’ll be back when he needs a rider.


Flash forward a couple of decades and Johnny (now Nicolas Cage) is a sort of Evil Kneivel with a bit of Tony Hawk, and a touch of rock star. He performs daredevil stunts in front of huge arenas, his latest a plan to jump the length of a football field. And who should show up to interview him for television but his old friend Roxanne (now Eva Mendes), last seen as he left her standing in the rain.


He persuades her to meet him for dinner, but before he can get there, another old friend shows up, that mysterious stranger again. It turns out that it is now time for Johnny to become “the devil’s bounty hunter” and chase down Blackheart (American Beauty’s Wes Bentley) before he can beat Meph to a missing list of promised souls.


It just doesn’t work. Writer/director Mark Steven Johnson showed with Elektra and Daredevil that he has no feel for comic book stories. The pacing is sluggish and the action scenes are static and repetitious. There are some nice special effects as GR uses a chain like a flaming lasso and Blackheart’s henchmen exert their power over air and water. But the movie violates its own rules so frequently that it removes any real sense of involvement or meaning. Blackheart and his thugs seem like weak attempts to recreate Kevin Smith’s clever street punk demons in Dogma. And as Blackheart himself, Bentley smolders less persuasively than he did as the drug-dealing, video-taking teenager in American Beauty. When the poor guy is called upon to make sarcastic clapping work in a key confrontation, it teeters on the brink of parody.

A hero with a skull face is a cool idea in a comic, but in a movie the inability to show any kind of expression makes it difficult for it to seem menacing or sympathetic, and it is impossible to take advantage of all Cage (a comic book fan whose very stage name is a tribute to another comic book character) can do. Since he can’t play a skull, he is limited to a few expressions of agonizing isolation, longing, and painful transformation. If Ghost Rider wanted to fetch something of value, he should have been out there looking for a better script.

Parents should know that this film has a number of disturbing images, including a flaming skull and other grotesque characters and graphic violence and injuries. Characters drink and smoke and use brief bad language. The issue of selling a soul to the devil and damnation may be upsetting to some audience members.


Families who see this movie should talk about some of the other stories about characters who sell their souls to the devil and what they think about Johnny’s decision at the end of the movie.

Fans of this movie will enjoy reading the graphic novels, starting with Essential Ghost Rider, Vol. 1.

Hannibal Rising

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for strong grisly violent content and some language/sexual references.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

My first Hannibal Lecter was Brian Cox in Manhunter . As dazzling as Anthony Hopkins was, that’s still my favorite Hannibal portrayal. Like Hopkins, Cox showed us Lecter’s mesmerizing stillness and unnervingly penetrating mind. In both Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs, what made Hannibal-the-Cannibal so intriguing was that he was not center stage. In both, he was assisting law enforcement officials in tracking down other serial killers. In exchange for his insights and clues, he got the pleasure of probing their minds, getting the same kind of pleasure a cat gets from playing with a mouse before having it for dinner.


But it was less interesting when he took center stage in Hannibal. When he was alongside the central story we were kept remote, limited to glimpses of his combination of intellectual ferocity and appetite for exquisitely calibrated murders. What fascinates is the juxtaposition of his near-omniscience (“you use Evian skin cream, and sometimes you wear L’Air du Temps, but not today”) with his coolness as he destroys (“his pulse never got above 85, even when he ate her tongue”). Giving us so little information allows us to project onto him the boogiemen deep in our subconscious, and that is what makes him so scary. But this time, as we get a chance to see him as a child and a young man, our curiosity may be satisfied, but the additional detail that humanizes him makes him far less interesting.


We first see Lecter as a child, playing with his little sister Mischa near the family castle in Lithuania. They are soon hurried away by their loving parents to a cottage in the woods. The Nazis are approaching. But Hannibal’s family is killed by a brutal group of Lithuanian collaborators led by Vladis Grutas (Rhys Ifans). After the way, Lecter (now played by French actor Gaspard Ulliel) finds himself at a Communist-run school located in what had once been his home.

As they say on report cards, he does not work well with others. Criticized for “not honoring the human pecking order,” he extracts revenge from his chief tormenter and runs away to France to find his last relative. She is the Japanese widow of his late uncle, Lady Murasaki Shikibu. And she is played by Chinese actress Gong Li, showing off two of her most famous features, the ability to make tears well up in her eyes several different ways, all both beautiful and compelling, and that quality which, since her part of the story is set in France, we can refer to as her belle poitrine.


Lady Murasaki provides some sympathy — and some martial arts training and he goes to medical school, with a work-study job preparing bodies for autopsy, all of which will come in handy as he decides to track down the people who killed his family. Meanwhile, a French cop (Dominic West) is getting suspicious.


So, what we have is less the deliciously shivery “fava beans and a nice chianti” than a brutal, but understandable and even sympathetic quest for vengeance. Lecter’s otherness is lessened; he almost seems ordinary. What comes next is all pretty standard — track them down one at a time and kill them in very unpleasant ways, tossing in a couple of visual references to the earlier (when they were made)/later (when they take place) works, generally more striking than relevant.


By the time we get to one last revelation, the one that is supposed to kick-start Lecter from revenge killing into psychotic killing, well, the thrill is gone. Having Lecter scarred by someone who is as completely over-the-top loathsome as Grutas creates a dilemma. Does he become the new monster? Is the next sequel/prequel going to give us his backstory? As serial killer movies go, this one is all right. As Hannibal Lecter movies go, it’s a long way from whatever is in second-to-last place.


Parents should know that this this movie features extreme and graphic peril and violence, including grisly images, torture, and cannibalism. It includes WWII battle violence (guns, tanks, a plane) and war crimes, including Nazi execution of a Jew and a Gypsy and the butchery of a child. Characters use some strong and crude language. There are some crude sexual references, including prostitution. There are racist references and we see Nazis order the execution of a Jew and a Gypsy.


Families who see this movie should talk about the way people respond to the dire situations of war. They may want to learn about war crimes tribunals like those at Nuremberg and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. What crimes are and are not being addressed by our global legal systems today?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the other Hannibal Lecter movies, especially Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs. They will also enjoy the classic serial killer film, No Way to Treat a Lady. If families want to learn more about resistance and complicity with the Nazi occupation during WWII, they should see Partisans of Vilna and The Sorrow and the Pity.

Norbit

posted by jmiller
F
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, some nudity and language. (edited for re-rating)
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

Eddie Murphy has taken his love for playing multiple roles, his love for Jerry Lewis (who also loved playing multiple roles), his love for racial humor, his love for crude humor, his love for himself, and — to be charitable — his deeply conflicted feelings about women, and made a movie that is disgusting, unfunny, dull, and an appalling waste of talent.

Its only entertainment value is in a couple of good gospel songs and its only shred of interest is as a disturbing piece of forensic evidence to help explain why one of the most talented and successful stars of the 1980′s has been making nothing but kiddie movies. Any respect he engendered by his comeback performance in Dreamgirls will be obliterated by the creepy non-funniness of this atrocity.
Eddie Murphy plays the title character, a nerdy wimp raised in an orphanage, by the choleric Chinese Mr. Wong (also Murphy). The only bright spot in his childhood is is friendship with Kate. After she is adopted, he has no one, until a large girl named Rasputia shows up and tells him he’s her boyfriend. When he grows up, he goes to work for her three thug brothers, who make a living doing construction and shaking down local businesses. And he marries Rasputia (Murphy again), now with huge, heavy rolls of fat and long, long nails.
Kate (Thandie Newton) shows up, planning to buy the orphanage and run it with her fiance, Deion (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). Is Deion sincere in his affection for Kate? Will Norbit find the courage to tell her how he feels? Will we have to see Rasputia in a skimpy bathing suit covered by rolls of fat? And getting a bikini wax?
I so wish I did not know the answers to these questions. I’d love to be able to eject all memories of this movie from my head.

Newton is so slender she makes Audrey Hepburn look like a linebacker. It’s as though she is trying to diet herself into invisibility, understandable given the hideous misogyny of the film and the thanklessness of her role. The closest thing to a bright moment comes from Eddie Giffin and Katt Williams as pimps named Pope Sweet Jesus and Lord Have Mercy. They do more with less material than Rasputia does with her skimpy lingerie.

Murphy’s real face, as the Norbit character, looks oddly stretched. And, though the story takes place in Tennessee, Norbit has a slight New York accent that echoes Jerry Lewis. His characters are all about the externals, shtick-ish and superficial.

In one scene, Norbit puts on a puppet show for the children and can’t help himself from turning it into a crude fight about infidelity. You get the sense that this is what Murphy is doing here, with the characters he plays the puppets he is using to express some of his anger at the people who want something from him, especially those rapacious women.

Murphy’s idol, Richard Pryor, had the same facilty for creating characters. And, like Murphy, he had some anger issues. But all of Murphy’s meticulous observation of Pryor missed the key point — Pryor brought a depth of understanding, humanity, and compassion to his characters — even a drug addict, even a neighbor’s dog that killed his favorite pet monkeys, even a crack pipe, even, though also the subject of some of his anger, himself. Murphy keeps it superficial and self-servingly egotistical, with characters and situations barely enough to sustain a seven-minute skit. No matter how many characters he plays, they are as artificial as Rasputia’s nails. Under the latex there is nothing but more latex.

Parents should know that this is an extremely crude and vulgar film, with much of the humor based on the idea of having sex with an enormously overweight woman. Two characters are pimps and there are references to prostitutes and paying for sex, to “old pervs,” and to a bar with nude entertainment. There is brief nudity. Characters use crude and strong language and racial epithets and insults, including inappropriate material in front of children.
Families who are interested in this film will probably prefer the better slob- comedies-with-heart Shallow Hal, Saving Silverman, The Jerk, and Big Mama’s House. They will also enjoy Murphy’s best work, on “Saturday Night Live” and in 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop and some of the Jerry Lewis films that inspired him, like Cinderfella.

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