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Love is Strange
Lowest Recommended Age:
MPAA Rating:

Release Date:

 

Adventure Planet
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:

The November Man
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use
Release Date:
August 27, 2014

 

Blended
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and language.
Release Date:
May 23, 2014

If I Stay
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

 

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some scary images and mild peril
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

Gracie

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for brief sexual content.
Movie Release Date:2007

When it rains, baseball players go to the locker rooms and put on their street clothes, but soccer players stay on the field, according to father/coach Bryan Bowen (Dermot Mulroney). So we get not one but two high-tension moments as drenching rain comes down on a soccer team – and on one particular soccer player — with just once chance to make the goal that will win the big, big game.


This film has a lot of the conventional high and low points of sports films, including a “Win one for the Gipper” goal of fulfilling the dream of a player who died. But the strong family ties on screen and behind the camera and some gritty authenticity of place and feeling remind us how what could have been cliché can have the power of archetype.


Gracie Bowen (“Mean Creek’s” Carly Schroeder) is the only girl in a soccer-mad blue-collar family in New Jersey. Her younger brothers tease her without mercy, but her older brother Johnny, a star athlete, always encourages her. When he is killed in an accident, she decides to make his dream of beating the rival team come true – by taking his place on the team. The boys’ team.


Bryan refuses to help her. The coach will not let her try out. For a while, Gracie gives up, trying to obliterate her sense of loss with by drowning her pain in broken rules and risky behavior. Her parents understand this is a cry for help and attention. They agree to support her. Before she can take on the rivals in the big game, she has to take on the coach, the school board, the boys on the team, and her own fears.


This was a labor of love for co-writer/director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) and his wife Elisabeth Shue (Adventures in Babysitting), who plays Gracie’s mother. The story was co-written by Shue’s brother Andrew (who plays the assistant coach), inspired by Elisabeth’s experiences as a soccer player following the death of her brother, and it was filmed on location in the town and at the school where it all happened. The story may be predictable, but it unfolds as though every one on screen and behind the camera is telling it for the first time. I could not help wishing that it had cut out about 10 minutes of inappropriate language and material to merit a PG, but I could not help appreciating its heart, commitment, and moments of specificity and wanting that last goal just as much as Gracie did.
Parents should know that this movie has about five minutes of strong and homophobic language (s-word, bastard, boobs, lesbo), teen smoking and drinking, underage driving without a license, and some risky sexual situations. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of determined female characters and their fight for equal treatment.


Families who see this movie should talk about what has – and has not – changed in sports for girls and women. They should also talk about how much it mattered to the people in this movie to have – or not have — the support of their family members. Why is it so hard for siblings to behave like Johnny? They should also talk about the different ways the family members react to Johnny’s death, some in ways that may appear to be unfeeling.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Bend It Like Beckham and Remember the Titans. They might also want to find out more about Women’s Soccer.

Severance

posted by jmiller

Severance is a quirky yet compellingly gory tale of
a few great characters begrudgingly forced to spend a weekend
together. And then they are hunted down, suffer grizzly deaths, and
are, for the most part, never heard from again. Writer/director
Christopher Smith (Creep) has never, apparently, had much sympathy for
those who get sentimental and teary-eyed when lamenting the question
of why bad things happen to good people.


Filmed with a great appreciation for atmosphere and undeniable skill
in sound editing, Severance introduces us to the sales division of
weapons company Palisade Defense as they embark upon a company retreat
to Eastern Europe. On the retreat is Jill (Claudie Blakley): odd,
endearing and intelligent; Gordon (Andy Nyman): bestowed with
indefatigable good spirits; Steve (Danny Dyer): immature and harmless;
and a few others whose characters are difficult to watch be snuffed
out in the name of the ever-more-popular “quirky horror” genre.


Smith takes his characters and floods their retreat with
some of the most gag-inducing horror scenes, resulting in a
dreadfulness that makes one wonder why these great characters couldn’t
live long enough to star in a funny, original, imaginative and
enjoyable film. Severance might be funny (at times), original and
imaginative, but until watching likeable people suffer unspeakable
fates is enjoyable, it can hardly be labeled as such. The most
redeeming element, aside from the technical skills displayed in
filming, is the nagging suspicion that it’s better to have really
liked and lost than never to have liked at all.


And while watching the endearing troupe perform team-building
exercises would have been infinitely more fun, the horror is still
unquestionably effective. Whereas some comparable films tend to begin
in horrorland, that place where things are so ominous from the start
that being burned alive or suffering decapitation and loss of limb is
simply the “next step,” Severance starts in utter normality. The
anxiety stems from the loss of control felt in the smooth and speedy
progression from normal life (riding a rented bus with coworkers) to
horror-movie life (running from crazed killers, losing limbs, nursing
stab wounds, etc). It helps (if that’s the right word) that the
characters are highly believable; more importantly, however, is the
fact that the horror doesn’t grow from one or two hugely bad decisions
— instead it grows organically and almost imperceptibly from the
characters’ realistic ordinariness as they make decisions that don’t
seem so different from what the average person would do. The result is
a horror that could happen to even the best people, no matter how
clever, how rational, how likeable. And that, perhaps, is scarier than
anything else.


Parents should know that this film presents perverse and sickening
scenes, including but not limited to decapitation, explosion, torture,
and implied cannibalism. The killings are not censored, and a live
burning includes a sympathetic character splashed copiously with
gasoline while gagged and tied to a tree. There is also a scene where
a character’s leg is caught in a bear trap, and is severed in the
resulting struggle to free it. A character is shown chewing and
discussing hallucinogenic mushrooms in the very beginning, and the
language is mostly mild but gets heavy in isolated instances.


Families who see this film should discuss the ethical considerations
behind plot elements. The premise is that Palisades employees are
being hunted because their weapons were used to destroy a mental
hospital, and the escapees vowed to exact revenge. Parents might
discuss with teenaged children the ethical considerations of working
for a company that provides weapons. In the film, Jill speaks with
another character about her desire to build “human” land mines — ones
that do not cause such indiscriminate destruction. Parents might
discuss how creativity and ingenuity can be used to improve present
conditions. Because the images can be disturbing and terrible, parents
might also wish to have their children express common fears and
approach them logically, deciding which ones are reasonable and which
ones can only be reasonably expected in horror films.


Families who enjoy this film might also appreciate Eli Roth’s Cabin
Fever, in which five young friends meet blood-soaked tragedy in a
wooded cabin. For a film with more comedy and stylized gore, families
might enjoy Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead.

Thanks to guest critic AB.

Mr. Brooks

posted by jmiller

I have to give this film credit for embracing its craziness. This is one movie that proudly raises its freak flag high and lets it wave. But that does not mean it works.


Mr. Brooks (Kevin Costner) is an upstanding member of the community, a very successful businessman, and a loving husband and father. He is also a compulsive serial killer who relishes — fetishizes — the preparation and clean-up every bit as much as the act itself. His compulsion is personified by William Hurt, who shows up like one of those little devils who sit on Sylvester’s shoulder, whispering in his ear that Tweetie-Pie looks mighty yummy.


Mr. Brooks goes out on one last hit and makes one big mistake. This leads to a nasty encounter with one “Mr. Smith” (comic Dane Clark). He doesn’t want money; he wants to come along on the next kill.


Brooks has another problem, too. His daughter (Danielle Panabaker) has dropped out of school and isn’t telling him the whole truth about why. And there is a very determined detective (Demi Moore) who seems to be getting closer.


It has some style, and Costner makes good use of his weak chin, turning his aw-shucks All-American quality on its side. There’s a moment when Costner and Hurt turn to each other and laugh demonically that has some grab to it. But for a movie about a guy who plans everything so meticulously, the script is a mess, with careless distractions that seem helpless and random, impossible coincidences that make it appear that there are only about six people living in Portland, and one big fake-out that is nothing but a giant bloody speed-bump on the way to the who-cares-at-this-point conclusion.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent film with scenes of very graphic murders and shoot-outs with a lot of blood. The main character is a serial killer who kills because he enjoys it, because he is addicted to the thrill and sense of power. There are explicit sexual references and situations, including nudity and an out of wedlock pregnancy. Characters use very strong language. They drink alcohol and there are references to substance abuse.


Audiences who see this film should talk about the way that Earl’s compulsion is portrayed. Is he right in describing his impulse to kill as an addiction? Why is Mr. Smith interested in coming along? Do you believe Atwood’s explanation?

Audiences who enjoy this film will also enjoy the underrated Panic, with William H. Macy as a reluctant hit-man following in a family tradition, One Hour Photo, and the Showtime series “Dexter.”

Surf’s Up

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for mild language and some rude humor.
Movie Release Date:2007

Every so often an unpretentious little charmer like “Surf’s Up” darts ahead of the pack of big, over-hyped, over-long, resistance-is-futile summer blockbusters lumbering into multiplexes. This one is as refreshing as an ice cream cone after a hot day.


The concept does not sound promising — it is yet another penguin story about yet another underdog. But the movie is beguiling, thanks to vibrant visuals, superb voice talent, wit without ironic air quotes or snark, a sweet storyline, and a brisk running time. Like the sport it salutes and the island where it takes place, the movie has a laid-back vibe, taking its story, its humor, and itself lightly.


Cody (voice of Shia LeBeouf of Holes and the upcoming Transformers) is a penguin from Shiverpool, Antarctica who loves to surf and dreams of someday competing like his idol, surf legend Z. Cody gets a chance to go to Hawaii to compete in the Big Z Memorial Surf Off on Pen Gu Island. But it turns out he has a lot to learn about surfing. And he has even more to learn about competition, friendship, and winning.

With the help of fellow surfer Chicken Joe (voice of Napoleon Dynamite‘s Jon Heder), a dry-witted but warm-hearted lifeguard named Lani (voice of Zooey Deschanel), and a reclusive coach with a big secret (voice of Jeff Bridges), Cody takes on the current champ, the trophy-loving Tank (voice of “The Drew Carey Show’s” Diedrich Bader).


It is structured as a documentary, with scratchy black and white “footage” of Z’s early years, characters explaining what is going on to the camera, and understated “mistakes” like protruding boom microphones and drops of ocean water on the lens. This format lends itself to an appealingly non-linear story-telling style, making room for commentary from a colorful range of characters, including the harried Surf Off organizer (voice of James Woods) and three adorable penguin babies who look like fluffballs with beaks.


It has the meticulously hyper-real textures and breathtaking vistas we have come to expect from CGI but clever use of focus and angles and interaction with the “documentary” cameramen make it seem more intimate, less like a bunch of pixels. And voice talent of great warmth and spirit will make audiences feel ready to catch the wave and hang ten.

Parents should know that this movie has some crude schoolyard humor, including potty jokes, a comment about “showering together,” and some implied nudity (nothing shown). Characters use some schoolyard language. There are references to (off-screen) deaths and there is some cartoon-style peril and violence (no one hurt). There are diverse characters, but all of the competitors are male.


Families who see the movie should talk about what was most important to Cody, Z, Tank, Chicken Joe, and Lani and why. What feels best about winning a prize? What are some feelings that are even better? What does it mean to “let the wave do the work?” Families can also talk about some of the coaches or other teachers who taught them the most.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy surfing classics Step into Liquid (with a real-life surfer from Chicken Joe’s home town of Sheboygan, Wisconsin) and The Endless Summer. They will also enjoy comparing the beautiful computer-generated Hawaiian scenes in this film with the gorgeous hand-painted locations in Lilo & Stitch. They might enjoy the classic Gidgetfilms that helped make surfing popular with teen-agers. They will also enjoy other CGI animated films like Over the Hedge and Robots. And they will enjoy Napoleon Dynamite, featuring two of the voice talents from this movie, Jon Heder and Diedrich Bader.

Previous Posts

Love is Strange
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posted 5:59:53pm Aug. 28, 2014 | read full post »

See Great Directors -- in TV and Music Videos
Top directors do more than movies.  Take a look at these clips from Emmy-nominated television series and these music videos made by some of the most talented directors working in Hollywood, including Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"), David Fincher ("Fight Club"), and Paul Tho

posted 3:46:47pm Aug. 28, 2014 | read full post »

Interview: Daniel Schechter, Writer/Director of "Life of Crime"
Newcomer Daniel Schechter, who wrote one of my favorite neglected gems, The Big Bad Swim, worked with an all-star cast in "Life of Crime," which he adapted from The Switch by Elmore Leonard and directed.  It is set in 1970's Detroit and it is the story of a woman played by Jennifer Aniston who i

posted 3:59:35pm Aug. 27, 2014 | read full post »

The November Man
Pierce Brosnan knows what it is like to play a spy in a big-budget, glamorous, blockbuster. He was the most urbane of Bonds in four movies. He knows what it is to play a seedier spy in a prestige, mildly meta movie, the 2001 film "The Tailor of Panama" (with Daniel Radcliffe in a pre-Potter role). S

posted 10:57:58am Aug. 27, 2014 | read full post »

Trailer: Thunder and the House of Magic
"Thunder and the House of Magic" opens September 5, 2014. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6VKG3lZEIg[/youtube]

posted 8:00:02am Aug. 27, 2014 | read full post »


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