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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 Wicker Man

posted by jmiller
F+
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for disturbing images and violence, language and thematic issues.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Fans of the original The Wicker Man appreciate the film for many reasons: Its dichotomy of paganism and Christianity, its skillful use of Celtic folk music, its eerie and overbearing ambience. Although some might find it slow, disturbing, and at times absurd, it is redeemed by a general sense that the actors and filmmakers felt a genuine passion about setting a mood, posing philosophical questions, and making the audience feel and think. Somehow, with the mystery and horror meant to achieve a higher goal than just shock and alarm, so it’s not a total enigma — on some levels, anyway — why some consider the 1973 film a “classic.”


A classic remake, on the other hand, tends to be an oxymoron. Unless classic is used as a sarcastic term, and remake in the most derogatory sense of the word, which, in the case of director Neil LaBute’s version seems entirely appropriate.


While the original relies on an impending sense of doom to carry viewers to the chilling end, the remake piles on a steady steam of violence, flashes of very disturbing and shocking images, and outbursts of nonsensical emotion to give the film weight. The gimmicky horror-flick conventions ultimately drag the film to a screeching halt when it becomes clear that no deeper meaning will be found and no redemption attained. Most bizarre, however, is the film’s attempt at humor. Comic relief to break the tension in the action/horror genre is not uncommon — take, for example, Lake Placid, Anaconda, and to recent extremes Snakes on a Plane — but this film’s almost slapstick stunts, most courtesy of star Nicholas Cage, have no continuity or context. Most of the concepts presented — such as human sacrifice, betrayal, murder of one’s own family members, and mutilation — have no place alongside desperate attempts to garner laughter at the absurdity of life.

Ultimately, even as the film leaves viewers with a terrible and horrific final scene, the audience leaves questioning not the meanings of evil and murder in our society but the validity of a film that puts such concepts on display with no greater purpose or goal.


Parents should know that this film has many highly disturbing images and presents upsetting concepts such as human sacrifice and torture. In one scene, a car blows up with a mother and daughter inside, and in another a young girl is tied to a tree with the implication that she is to be killed as a sacrificial offering. The individual relationships in this film are meant to shock and awe, such as a woman deceiving her ex-fiance to his death and a daughter lighting the fire that is used to kill her father.Many images are as shocking as they are memorable, and impressionable children and adults alike may be left with highly unpleasant images in their mind.


Some main themes of the film include a female-dominant society (in this case, unfortunately tied to the negativity of the film) and betrayal of loved ones. Families should discuss the meaning of community, and what makes some communities healthy and some oppressive. Families should also talk about different cultures and societies, and what makes our societies and others prosper or fail.


Families who enjoyed this film might also enjoy 1973’s Soylent Green, and the original Wicker Man of the same year.

Crank

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, sexuality, nudity and drug use.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Crank — as in the highly potent and highly agitating street drug, as in cranked up, as in dizzying cuts and swoops with the camera to replicate a disorienting strung-out high followed by an even more disorienting and strung-out crash.


Actually, it begins with the crash. Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) wakes up feeling like death, which turns out to be just about right. According to a DVD left for him, he has been injected with poison and has about one hour left to live. But Chev is a guy who knows how to fill an hour. He needs to get his revenge, say goodbye to his girlfriend, and look very, very hard for a loophole.


And he has to do it at full speed. The poison he’s taken can be slowed down if he can keep his adrenaline pumping. You might think that just knowing you’ve been poisoned and racing around trying to find the guy who did it before it kicks in would be enough to keep the fight-or-flight juices going, but Chev finds a way to kick it up a notch with just about everything available, from cocaine to sex to defibrillator paddles and a waffle iron as he races around in real time, crashing his car through a shopping mall, trying to get a shot of epinephrine from a hospital, and knocking his girlfriend’s purse out of her hands so she won’t notice that he’s knocking off some baddies as she retrieves her keys and lipstick.


Statham’s coolness is always a treat to watch and the movie has some great set-pieces and action sequences. But it overdoes the gallows humor (okay, you slice a guy’s gun hand off with a meat cleaver, maybe the hand will still be on the gun when you pick it up, but do you have to keep it on while you shoot and then throw the hand at a guy?). Amy Smart brings a lovely slow vibe counterpoint as Chev’s warm-hearted but clueless girlfriend, even when she is called upon to participate in a bizarre sex scene in front of fascinated crowd inlcuding a schoolbus of girls in uniforms. Country star Dwight Yoakum is terrific as Chev’s unschockable doctor. But as the body count mounts up, the story runs out of ideas, and it goes from crank to crummy.

Parents should know that this movie has non-stop and very graphic and grisly violence. Not only is a man’s hand sliced off, the hand is still holding the gun when it is picked up, it gets thrown at someone, and it is later displayed on a table. There are guns and knives, car crashes, punches, head butts, and kicks, a guy gets thrown off a building, another guy gets tortured and killed, and of course the main character is poisoned. Characters drink, smoke, and abuse street and pharmaceutical drugs, and they use very strong and crude language, including the n-word (used humorously to refer to a white man). There are explicit sexual references and situations and sexual and non-sexual nudity.


Families who see this movie should talk about what their priorities would be if they had one hour to live.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the 1950 version of D.O.A., about a man who must solve his own murder before the poison kills him, and the 1988 remake with Dennis Quaid. They will also enjoy Speed, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch.

Crossover

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

This is one air ball of a movie, a talented cast and an appealing idea stranded by a clunky script. It shoots. And it shoots and shoots and shoots, but it never scores.


Tech (Anthony Mackie) works in the mall, studies for his G.E.D., hustles money at the basketball court, and plays “street basketball” under the direction of Vaughn (Wayne Brady). The losing team gets $1000 each, the winners get $2000, the high-rollers get to place bets and see some X-treme b-ball, with every basket a dunk and only “flagrant fouls” prohibited.


Tech’s best friend is Noah Cruise (Wesley Jonathan, “Sweetness” in Roll Bounce), planning to go to college on a basketball scholarship, and then to med school. He will lose his eligibilty for the scholarship if he plays for money. But Tech, remininding Cruise that “you owe me,” persuades him to join the team, Enemy of the State” for one game. They lose to the champions, led by the arrogant Jewelz (Philip Champion).


Tech and Cruise meet two girls, Eboni and Vanessa and quickly become involved. They bring the girls with them to LA for Cruise’s college orientation and Tech’s chance to shoot hoops in a television commercial. But things begin to go badly, and by the time one final streetball game against Jewelz’ team a great deal is depending on the final score.


There are a couple of good ideas here. An early shot shows girls seated at computer terminals managing the betting line in an understated parallel to the many similar set-ups in movies about drug dealers. It’s nice to see the portrayal of a character whose highest aspiration is not an NBA contract. And the cast does its best with what it has, especially Jonathan and Lil JJ as Tech’s young friend Up.


But the dialogue is deadly, either clunky exposition (“Joe’s in jail and he didn’t pay the light bill!”) or faux “street” (“I can’t front. I’m feeling you. But I can’t put myself out there unless I know if you’re for real.”) the only person who can sustain this kind of melodrama mashup is Tyler Perry, and this doesn’t have anything close to the sincerity that anchors his films. The tricked-up MTV-style quick cuts are tired. So I’m not fronting when I say that I’m not feeling it. None of the characters or relationships or situations or dialogue is for real, you hear what I’m sayin’?

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language, a graphic car/motorcycle crash, and sexual references and non-explicit situations. Couples have sex the same day they meet, with consequent issues of betrayal and trust. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of values of loyalty and independent thinking, taking responsibility for your actions, and the importance of education.


Families who see this movie should talk about how far you must go and how much you must risk to repay a friend who does you a great favor. They should also talk about why Cruise trusted Vanessa and why Tech did not trust Eboni, and about the ultimate choices Cruise and Tech make about their futures.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Fast and the Furious. This film lifts many of its plot developments from better movies, including An Officer and a Gentleman, Body and Soul, and Angels with Dirty Faces.

Little Miss Sunshine

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for language, some sex and drug content.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

When the family in this movie learns that their van cannot be repaired in time for them to get to the Little Miss Sunshine competition, they decide to drive it as is. And that means that in order to get it to start, they all have to get out and push, then chase after it and jump in. And so every time they have to stop for food or gas or adolescent meltdown or illness or being pulled over by a cop, even when they are miserable and furious with each other, they all have to get out and push together and then run and jump inside. And every time that happens, all of them laugh and feel somehow proud and happy and connected.


All of them means: Richard (Greg Kinnear), the father, a motivational speaker and writer who knows everything about winning except that he hasn’t been able to actually succeed at anything, Sheryl (Toni Collette), the mother, who is doing her best to hold everyone together, including her brother, Frank (Steve Carrell), who recently attempted suicide over the loss of his lover to the second-most important Proust scholar in the country (he explains that he is the first), teenage son Dwayne (Paul Dano), who has taken a vow of silence because, as he explains in writing, he hates everyone, Grandpa, Richard’s father (Alan Arkin), who got kicked out of the nursing home for profanity and heroin-snorting, and of course Olive (Abigail Breslin), the Little Miss Sunshine contestant herself.


“Everybody just pretend to be normal, okay?” begs Richard, as a highway patrolman pulls them over. But what is great about this family is that, while they are far from the idealized notions of normality presented in television commercials and Hallmark cards, they are in fact very normal. Sometimes that works better for them than others. Richard’s most “normal” quality is his effort to be normal, to succeed in conventional terms. His desperate attempt to think of himself as not only successful but as someone who can define success for others as a career is a reflection of the American spirit — its unquenchable hope, ambition, and belief in the future. Sheryl has a different kind of unquenchable hope. She is not convinced that Richard knows what he is doing and she is not always able to live up to her own expectations, but she is clear about her commitment to her family and her own ability to provide the support that they need.


The script is uneven, but every one of the performances is a gem. Breslin (Signs) has a quiet dignity and a beautifully natural quality that makes every one of her responses feel fresh and endearing. Carrell is brilliant. He even runs in character. Dano makes his silences eloquent. There is not a more tender moment in any movie this year than when Olive comforts him after he gets some devastating news.


This is a family that makes a lot of mistakes. They hurt each other, and they fail quite often. But when they have to get the van to move, they all push and run after it and jump inside. And when one member of the family faces public humiliation, in a moment of great, jubilant abandon, they throw themselves into a solution that is both heart-stoppingly tender and outrageously hilarious.

Parents should know that this movie has extremely strong material including very profane language (used in front of a child). Characters purchase pornography and there are explicit sexual references. A character abuses drugs and one attempts suicide. The issue of sexualization of little girls in beauty pageants is presented. There is a sad character death. Some audience members may be disturbed by the provocative material and gallows humor, much of which is observed by a child in the film.


Families who see this movie should talk about the way Richard and Sheryl respond to their children. How will things be different after the pageant?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Happy, Texas.

Previous Posts

Lucy
I always enjoy Luc Besson's stylish car chases and shootouts. I like his use of locations, his strong female characters, and unexpected flashes of sentiment in the midst of mayhem.  While

posted 6:00:51pm Jul. 24, 2014 | read full post »

And So It Goes
A second marriage is, as Samuel Johnson famously said, "The triumph of hope over experience." And as lyricist Sammy Cahn wrote in the song Bing Crosby sang in "H

posted 6:00:13pm Jul. 24, 2014 | read full post »

The Memory Book -- This Saturday on the Hallmark Channel
A budding, young photographer stumbles upon an old photo album chronicling the ideal romance of a happy couple. Intrigued by their love and unable to find her own “true love,” she sets out to find the couple and figure out if true love really exists.  The film stars Meghan Ory (“Once Upon a T

posted 8:00:57am Jul. 24, 2014 | read full post »

Interview: Michael Rossato-Bennett of "Alive Inside"
Michael Rossato-Bennett agreed to spend one day filming Dan Cohen's remarkable music therapy work with people struggling with dementia. He ended up spending three years there and the result is "Alive Inside," an extraordinary documentary about the power of music to reach the human spirit, even when

posted 3:58:01pm Jul. 23, 2014 | read full post »

Movies' Greatest Mirror Scenes
Anne Billson has a great piece in The Telegraph on mirror scenes in movies, from the Marx brothers clowning in "Duck Soup" and the shootout in "The Lady from Shanghai" to Elizabeth Taylor scrawling on the mirror with lipstick in "Butterfield 8." [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKTT-sy0aLg

posted 8:00:51am Jul. 23, 2014 | read full post »


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