Movie Mom

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Fading Gigolo
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some sexual content, language and brief nudity
Release Date:
April 19, 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

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 Nut Job
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Release Date:
January 17, 2014

Bears
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
G
Release Date:
April 19, 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

Flight of the Phoenix

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2004

This trim little adventure saga about the survivors of a plane crash in the Mongolian desert doesn’t waste any time assigning heartwarming characteristics or backstories to each member of the group; we barely learn most of their names. This is not a movie about redemption or a tender love story. The characters don’t get to impress us with clever and ingenious solutions to their problems, either — it’s not one of those movies where someone makes a radio out of rocks and sand like the Professor on “Gilligan’s Island.” This is a movie that gets your heart pounding the old-fashioned way — it is just plain exciting.

Frank Towns (Dennis Quaid) and A.J. (Tyrese Gibson) are pilots sent to pick up the staff and equipment from an oil rig that is being shut down. Passengers include deal-maker Ian (Hugh Laurie), boss Kelly (Miranda Otto of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring), and her crew. And there is Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi), a stiff, odd, mystery man who correctly predicts that the plane will crash because it is carrying too much weight.

Elliott’s calm diagnosis is in sharp contrast to the crash, with swirling sand and wind so strong that it rips the propeller off and slices into the body of the plane like a buzz saw. It is an extraordinary bit of film-making.

Burial of the fatalities is dispatched quickly, as are any chance of finding help through cell phone, radio, or trying to leave the site of the camp. So is the prospect of being important enough for the company to spend much time or money trying to find them. As one crew member points out, “We hitched a ride with the trash, not the other way around.”

All that’s left is Elliott’s idea to use the parts of the plane to build a new aircraft, to be named Phoenix after the mythical bird that is reborn from its own ashes.

Towns thinks it is impossible. The odds are slim that they will be found, but he wants to maximize them by conserving food and water for as long as they can. But one of the crew persuades him that even with faster consumption, they should try to build the Phoenix. “If you can’t give them something to love, give them hope. And if you can’t give them hope, give them something to do.”

Can they work together? Can Elliott’s design fly? Will they get out before the nomads come after them? Well, this movie isn’t called “The Attempted Flight of the Phoenix.”

It holds our attention with appealing and sincere performances. Quaid is especially magnetic (and looks great with his shirt off) and he is well supported by Gibson, Jacob Vargas as Sammi the cook, Tony Curran as Rodney and Kirk Jones (rapper Sticky Fingaz) as Jeremy. The pacing is brisk and energetic and it has enough spirit to follow the unavoidable pep talk about hopes and dreams with Towns saying, “I’d do anything to avoid another hopes and dreams speech.”

Parents should know that the movie has intense peril and violence, including a very vivid plane crash, gunfire, and explosions. There are graphic images of wounded and dead characters. The movie includes some strong language (many uses of the s-word) and smoking. A strength of the movie is the portrayal diverse characters who are strong, brave, loyal, and committed and who work well together.

Families who see this movie should talk about what you can learn from the different ways that people respond to stress. How many different ways do you see in this movie? Who blames other people? Who works to solve the problem? Why does Elliott want people to say “please?” What was the right thing to do with the injured nomad? Do you agree with the statement about the difference between religion and belief?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the original, starring James Stewart, and other action movies like Apollo 13, Enemy Mine (also featuring Quaid), and Fantastic Voyage. Mature audiences will enjoy the director’s tense, exciting — and underrated — Behind Enemy Lines. They will also enjoy the television series, Lost.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:PG-13
Movie Release Date:2004

Despite lavish settings and sweeping camera movement, this sumptuously produced Andrew Lloyd Weber musical feels static, stuffy, and stagey. This is in part because so much of it takes place on a stage but more because it is mostly just people standing still and singing rather than moving or, well, acting. It’s the Branson, Missouri dinner theater edition, as decorated as a wedding cake and as tightly laced as Christine’s corset.

This is the zillionth version of the Gaston Leroux Beauty and the Beast-like story about a brilliant masked madman who lives under the opera house. He falls in love with the exquisite young soprano Christine, (played by the exquisite young soprano Emmy Rossum from Mystic River). She believes he is the angel of music, sent to teach her by her dead father.

But the Phantom is no angel. He will do anything to make Christine a star and he will do everything to possess her.

At first, Christine is mesmerized by the Phantom. He brings her to his home in the caverns far below the stages and dressing rooms and sings to her about the music of the night, charging her singing with passion. And just as the theater owner sells the place to two scrap metal dealers who know nothing about show business, the phantom arranges to have Christine get the starring role in the opera’s newest production.

The new team has a new patron — a handsome young nobleman named Raoul (Patrick Wilson) who was once Christine’s childhood sweetheart. He and Christine fall in love but the Phantom will not allow Christine to be with anyone else, even if it means destroying everything he cares about.

Sumptuous sets and costumes give this film the grandest of aspirations, but its overheated emotions set to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s purplish music are so inherently “theatrical” that the film cannnot be as effective as the stage play, and the performances are more about the music than the story. Christine, Raoul, and the Phantom sing in the theater, they sing in the caverns, they sing in a graveyard, and they sing at a masked ball. But the bland Gerard Butler as the Phantom never conveys the menace or the allure of the brilliant madman who hears the music of the night.

Parents should know that the movie includes peril and violence, with some graphic images. There are mild and non-explicit sexual situations with predatory implications.

Families who see this movie should talk about some of the fairy tales than inspired it. What is the significance of the masked ball? What did the Phantom love about Christine? Can you love people without really seeing who they are? Why was the Phantom’s face so terrifying to himself and others? How do we treat disabled people today? Families should also talk about the way the two key songs in the movie are used to illuminate different relationships and different emotions.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Chicago and some of the earlier, non-musical version of this story, from the silent version starring Lon Chaney to the 1989 version starring Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Robert Englund. They can read the original book and find out more about the story here. Rossum is always worth watching, especially as an Appalachian girl in Songcatcher, and Butler is much more at home in the appealing Dear Frankie.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

posted by rkumar
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

Another quirkfest from Wes Anderson (Rushmore, Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tannenbaums), this film has some of the most imaginatively charming images on screen this year, especially a tiny rainbow-striped seahorse and a cutaway side view of a ship that is as delightfully cluttered as a dollhouse conceived by Joseph Cornell. And it has Anderson’s trademark oddball characters from a mix of cultures, all speaking in his trademark corkscrew speech and reacting as though no two of them speak the same language.

He’s great with situations, visuals, and deadpan delivery of weird, almost absurd, dialogue. He’s a little too fond of weird names: Oseary Drakoulias and Esteban du Plantier are not as witty or engaging as he would like to think. Anderson is terrific with juxtapositions — no one else would fill a soundtrack with David Bowie songs performed bossa nova style in Portuguese. But increasingly, it all seems to be tricks without any meaning or insight behind them, cleverness for the sake of cleverness, without any heart or soul. Or art. College students can deconstruct to their hearts’ delight, but it’s their own meaning they will bring to the movie, not Anderson’s.

It’s the story of a Jacques Cousteau-like explorer named Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), who finances his expeditions by filming them. He has not had a successful movie in nine years. His wife (Anjelica Huston) strides around chain-smoking and making bitter comments. She maintains a flirty relationship with her bisexual ex-husband, istair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum), who happens to be Zissou’s rival.

Zissou’s new mission is not about science; it is about revenge. He wants to kill the “jaguar shark” that killed his friend. His motley crew includes the high strung Klaus Daimler (Willem Dafoe) and some newcomers: Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), a naval officer with the drawl of a riverboat gambler who could be Zissou’s son, Bill Ubell (Bud Cort from Harold and Maude), assigned to watch over them by the bond company, and Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett), an intrepid English journalist who happens to be six months pregnant. Steve and Ned go off in their run-down ship and end up engaging with pirates, stealing equipment from Hennesey, and developing a romantic rivalry for Jane.

Anderson benefits tremendously from the always-engaging production design by Mark Friedberg, a delightful score by former Devo-ian Mark Mothersbaugh, and the always-engaging performances by top-notch actors clearly enjoying themselves, especially Goldblum, Dafoe, and Blanchett. But the script, by Anderson and Noah Baumbach takes some bad turns in the last half hour that feel sour and unsatisfying. But Anderson is getting close to Emperor’s New Clothes time here, and eventually someone is going to point out that when it comes to the substance, he has nothing on.

Parents should know that the movie includes very strong language, non-sexual nudity (topless sunbathing), and non-explicit sexual references and situations, including pregancy from an adulterous affair and bi-sexuality. Characters drink, smoke, and smoke marijuana. Characters behave badly in many ways, from being cruel to each other to stealing. Characters are in peril and there are violent encounters with deadly animals and various weapons, including guns. Some characters are killed.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Steve seemed more attached to his friend who was killed than to anyone else in his family or crew. What mattered to him? What mattered to Ned and Jane? What did it add to her character to have her pregnant?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Anderson’s other films, Rushmore, Bottle Rocket, and The Royal Tannenbaums. They might want to learn something about Jacques Coustou, whose voyages (and the movies about them) inspired this film.

Million Dollar Baby

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

“Million Dollar Baby” is a strong contender, but it suffers a TKO in the last round.

At first, it is a fresh, assured, and evocative take on the classic boxing formula. A tired old trainer (Clint Eastwood as Frankie), abandoned by the prospect he hoped to take to the title bout, meets a scrappy but untrained would-be boxer. He initially refuses to train the kid, but is won over, at first by the persistence, then by the heart of the young fighter. There’s another connection between them, too. Frankie has no family but a long-estranged daughter. The boxer’s father is dead and the remaining family is all greedy, selfish, and lazy. The bond between them helps to ease both of their losses.

One reason the relationship becomes so important to Frankie is that the boxer is a young woman. Maggie (Hillary Swank) gives Frankie the chance to bring all that is best in him to a nurturing relationship with a young woman about the age of his daughter. And Frankie gives Maggie the chance to be a champion.

The details of the boxing world and Frankie’s relationships with Maggie and with his long-time friend Eddie (Morgan Freeman, who also narrates) are warm and richly observed. Frankie and Eddie have the bickering banter of a long-time married couple and pros Eastwood and Freeman riff off each other like jazz players who have been jamming for a lifetime. Eastwood is also marvelous with Swank, a performance that is fuller, fonder, and funnier than we have seen from him since the Any Which Way But Loose days. For the first half of the film, the narration, based on F.X. Toole’s superb book and beautifully read by Freeman, is so vivid we can smell sweat and adrenalin. A kid with more heart than arm “punches the air like he expected it to punch back.” Another fighter has “a punch that could stop a tank but a heart the size of a split pea.”

But then we hear the same stuff again. We get it, we get it — when Eddie says that “Everything in boxing is backward. Sometimes the best way to deliver a punch is to step back,” you don’t need to repeat it for us to figure out the metaphor. Same with “Instead of running away from the pain like a sane person would do, you run right into it.” The sign on the wall tells us that “Winners are simply willing to do what losers won’t.” Come on, Clint, that wouldn’t even qualify for a fortune cookie.

Frankie has made mistakes. He let Eddie fight too long, and Eddie lost an eye. He did not let a contender fight for the championship, and the contender left him. How will he know when it is time for Maggie to go for a title? He tells her that the first rule is to protect herself at all times. What does that mean when she is going into the ring to hit and be hit in return?

All of this is interesting, but then the film takes a bad punch and never gets back up off the canvas. When tragedy hits, Frankie and Maggie have to make some tough choices. So does director Eastwood, and he makes the wrong ones, going for the manipulative and the maudlin, everyone lining up as either saintly or unredeemably awful. And that narration keeps coming back to hammer in every insight.

Parents should know that the movie features brutally realistic fight scenes with graphic injuries. STOP reading now if you want to avoid spoilers. A character becomes paralyzed and asks to be allowed to die. Characters drink and smoke and use some strong language, including the n-word. There are some mild sexual references and some ugly insults. Some viewers may be unhappy with the portrayal of a priest who uses bad language.

Families who see this movie should talk about what makes someone want to be a fighter. What does it mean to say that “everything in boxing is backward” and “sometimes the best way to deliver a punch is to step back?” How does that relate to the way the characters behave? Why does Frankie argue with the priest about theology? Do you agree with the sign in the gym that says “Winners are simply willing to do what losers won’t?” What is it that winners are willing to do? How is the number one rule – “protect yourself” – applied by Frankie? By Maggie? By Eddie? Why did Maggie turn out so differently from her brother and sister? Families may also want to talk about Maggie’s request and Frankie’s decision.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the many classic movies about boxing, including Golden Boy, Body and Soul, and Rocky. Michele Rodriguez made a stunning debut as a female boxer in Girlfight. Families will also enjoy the light-hearted romantic comedy Pat and Mike with Katharine Hepburn as a golfer and Spencer Tracy as her manager. Boxing fans (and fans of great writing) will enjoy the book that inspired the movie, Rope Burns by F. X. Toole. They can find out more about women’s boxing here. And they can try to make lemon meringue pie without any stuff from a can.

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