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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

 

Noah
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content
Release Date:
March 28, 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

Babel

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for violence, some graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

In the Bible, the story of Babel is a cautionary tale of hubris. The whole world had a common language until God, seeing that the people were building a huge tower together, “confused their speech.” They could no longer understand each other, and so they scattered all over the world, each with the people who could speak their language.


And so, Babel is the name of this last in the trilogy from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu about connections and disconnections. This time, he has expanded to global scale, with a story that unites Moroccan herders, American tourists, a deaf Japanese girl, and a Mexican living illegally in San Diego. There is a shooting and there is a wedding. In all three locations, there are cops, there are journeys, there is despair, there are people who cannot make themselves understood, and there is some realization, some increased understanding.


Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett) are the American tourists, a couple whose brittle conversation about whether it is safe to have ice cubes in their drinks lets us know right away that they have some trouble communicating. Two boys herding sheep show off with their new rifle, fire at the tour bus and Susan is hit. There is not much that feels further from home than being seriously injured in a place where you don’t know anyone and hardly anyone speaks your language. Being Americans, they demand to speak to the embassy. But the possibility that the attack could be terrorism turns it into an international incident. While bureaucrats write memos and politicians make statements, Susan lies on a dirt floor in a village with one phone.


Their children are cared for by a loving nanny, Amelia (Adriana Barraza), whose son is getting married in Mexico. She cannot bear to miss the wedding, so she takes the children with her, foolishly riding back with her nephew, who has had too much to drink. He raises the suspicions of the border guards on the way back and the nanny and children end up lost in the desert.

And in Tokyo, Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi in a brilliantly unselfconscious performance) is at home but she also feels isolated and alienated. She is deaf, shunned by the boys she wants to flirt with. And she is a teenager who feels misunderstood by everyone. Her connection to the story is not revealed until the end.


Inarritu expands the themes of his earlier films but relies on the same technique, a mosaic of scenes that gradually assume shapes and patterns. He uses non-professional actors for most of the roles and elicits beautifully natural performances, especially from the adolescents. The film’s sympathy for all of its characters is in itself the answer, or at least the beginning of one, to the questions it raises.

Parents should know that this film has very mature material and themes that could be disturbing to young or sensitive viewers. Characters use very strong and crude language and there are explicit sexual references and situations, including an young girl who flashes some boys and tries to seduce a man. Violence includes beating and shooting, and characters, including a child, are injured and killed. Children are lost and frightened. The themes of dislocation and the gulfs between people and cultures may be unsettling.

Families who see this movie should talk about the way that it raises both issues of connection and disconnection.

Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate Crash, Traffic, and the other films by this director, 21 Grams and Amores Perros.

Stranger Than Fiction

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images, sexuality, brief language and nudity.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Who among us has not leaned into the bathroom mirror as we brushed our teeth, thinking about what a narrator might be saying about us if we were in a story? “Our hero prepared for battle as though he was going on a date. He always said he found unbrushed teeth a distraction in a kung fu tournament.” Who among us hasn’t wondered if we were really the heros of our own life story? Well, Harold Crick hadn’t. Not until this movie gets underway.


Crick (Will Ferrell) is so mild-mannered he makes Clark Kent look like Kanye West. He likes everything to be neat, predictable, according to the rules, and orderly. He brushes each tooth precisely, the same number of up and down strokes every day. He works, of course, for the IRS. And he would be of no interest to himself or us or anyone at all except that a very distinguished and literary writer named Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is writing a story about him. Not that she’s ever met him. She thinks he’s a fictional character, a figment of her imagination. And yet, perhaps the fact that she is experiencing the direst of writer’s block should give her some hint that he may be real and with a mind of his own. Especially when it comes to staying alive. Eiffel wants to kill him off. She spends her days thinking about ways to do it. But Crick becomes aware of her plans. For the first time, he realizes that he is alive, and that he wants to stay that way.


It isn’t just that he begins to hear his life being narrated (“and with a better vocabulary!”) that leads him to think about what life has to offer. There is also his latest assignment at work, an audit of a feisty but lovely and warm-hearted law school dropout-turned-baker, Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Just as Eiffel struggles with what she should do (kill off Crick), Crick struggles with what he should do (collect back taxes from Pascal). Eiffel gets some help from an aide sent by her publisher (Queen Latifah). Crick consults a therapist (Linda Hunt) and then, since his problem seems more literary than psychological, a professor of literature (Dustin Hoffman), who quizzes him to determine exactly which story he’s in, asking, for example, whether Crick has received any unusual presents lately, like, maybe, a big wooden horse?


Crick and Eiffel face the choice put to Achilles — would you rather have a short, violent, heroic life and be remembered through the ages, or a long, quiet, happy life, and be forgotten two generations after you die? Crick (perhaps named for Francis Crick, Nobel laureate for discovering the double helix of DNA), must decide whether he is a man capable of independent thought, whether he is willing to fight against what fate (well, Eiffel) has is store for him. Eiffel (perhaps named for Gustave Eiffel, engineer of the tower that bears his name as well as the Statue of Liberty) must decide whether art, even art that can inspire and illuminate the world for thousands of readers, is more important than the life of one man who is just discovering the difference between cookies from a box and cookies from the oven.


Those cookies are pulled from the oven by Pascal (perhaps named for the French mathematician/philosopher), who has already made her choice, leaving law school to become a baker, a political choice as well as an aesthetic, spiritual, and personal one. She represents more than the usual romantic comedy ideal of a quirky but warm-hearted life-force. She is a fully actualized person, so much so that it doesn’t take a great deal for her to overcome her initial dislike of Crick and see him for who he really is, even before he sees that himself.


The cast is superb, especially Hoffman as the professor, and the direction and pacing are superb, but the star, fittingly, for this meditation on the power of stories, is the script — exceptionally clever, knowledgeable about literature and narrative structure, filled with sly humor but also as warmly delectable as one of Pascal’s cookies.


Parents should know that the film has some mature material including brief strong language, sexual references and non-explicit situations, partial nudity, and comic violence and peril (no one badly hurt).


Families who see this film should talk about what it means to be the hero of your own life. If you could enter into any story, what would it be? If you could change the ending of a story, what would you pick?

For Your Consideration

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for sexual references and brief language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

This is the time of year when ads, CDs, and DVDs marked “for your consideration” are sent out to members of the movie industry and to critics, in the hopes that those behind and in front of the camera will be considered favorably for some of the dozens of awards that are issued each year.

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

posted by jmiller
C-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated G
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Tim Allen and Martin Short are funny guys. How do we know this? Because when this movie is finally over, there are some outtakes during the credit sequence that remind us. Up to that point, it’s easy to forget.


Twelve years ago, The Santa Clause was a surprise hit, as bitter, divorced, bah humbug Scott Calvin (
(Allen) finds himself turning into ho-ho-ho-able Santa. In the sequel, he discovers that in order to stay Santa, he has to find a wife. This time it’s his son’s cranky principal who has to go from joyless to jolly and become Mrs. Claus. And now, here we are again. Mrs. Claus is about to have a baby. She misses her parents, who think their son-in-law is a Canadian toy manufacturer and have never been to visit. And Jack Frost (Short) wants a holiday of his own, and thinks it would be nice if he got to be Santa for a change.


It’s all as genuine as tinsel and as stale as last year’s candy cane, but there are a few very mild pleasures, including Alan Arkin and Ann-Margret as Scott’s in-laws and a loony dance number with Short backed by elves. Abigail Breslin, who appeared in this year’s biggest independent film hit, Little Miss Sunshine, with Arkin, adds some class when she appears briefly as an elf. (Breslin’s brother Spencer, who appeared in the two previous films, plays head elf Curtis.) The lovely young actress Liliana Mumy seems to be in an entirely different film when she shows some heart and spirit as Lucy, the daughter of Scott’s ex-wife and her new husband. You almost believe in those warm hugs of hers. And it’s nice to see a Christmas film that acknowledges that we all get a little stressed and irritable on the holidays.


But this is not enough to make up for a lightweight script that does not have enough heft to be called half-hearted. It’s more like one-eighth-hearted. There’s no pretense of consistency of characters or story. The film shamelessly borrows the Santa substitution from The Nightmare Before Christmas and the how-would-life-have-been-different from It’s a Wonderful Life, as Jack takes Scott back in time and Scott sees his sad and lonely life if he had not turned into Santa. Not only are his ex-wife and son bitter and hostile (and — what’s that — she seems to be wearing a plastic name tag from some low-level job! the horror!), all of this seems to be his fault as his abandonment of his original family somehow led to his ex-wife’s divorce from her second husband.


I’m not sure that’s any weirder than the cozy relationship he has with his ex-wife’s new family when he is Santa, with her daughter with the second husband calling Santa “Uncle Scott.” And the thing that bothered me about the first movie reappears in this one — Scott becomes Santa because he inadvertantly makes the real Santa fall off the roof and…well, die (the body conveniently evaporates). This choice incident is re-created not once, but twice in this film, a scenes that is certain to upset at least some of the younger members of the audience.


It doesn’t make the mistake of the second in the series by concluding that Christmas is all about getting the right gifts, but there is still a disquieting level of commercialism. When, during Jack Frost’s tenure as Santa, he turns the North Pole into a theme park. Given that the movie is made by Disney, no stranger to theme parks or souvenir sales, it is ironic, if not downright pot/kettle/black-ish. On my checked-twice list, let’s just say, it’s not in the “nice” column. And if they’re planning to make another, I’ll be looking for my own escape clause.

Parents should know that the movie has some crude humor, including potty jokes, and brief schoolyard language. Much of the plot concerns pregnancy and impending childbirth. There is comic peril, and, while the script glosses over it, Santa falls off the roof and disappears so that a new Santa has to take over. Parents should also know that the movie has a married couple who are close friends with the man’s ex-wife, her new husband, and their daughter, who calls him “Uncle Scott.” Some families may find this confusing; others who are not as seamlessly blended may find this awkward.


Families who see this movie should talk about why Jack Frost was jealous of Santa. What was it about being Santa that he wanted? Did he get it? How was he able to trick Curtis into telling him the secret? Why do we sometimes get irritable with our families when we are supposed to be happiest?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Christmas classics like A Christmas Story and A Christmas Carol as well as the two originals.

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