Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


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A Will for the Woods
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
August 15, 2014

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Release Date:
May 2, 2014

The Expendables 3
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for violence including intense sustained gun battles and fight scenes, and for language
Release Date:
August 15, 2014

 

Bears
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
G
Release Date:
April 19, 2014

Let's Be Cops
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity, violence and drug use
Release Date:
August 15, 2014

 

Need for Speed
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language
Release Date:
March 14, 2014

Alpha Dog

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

“This whole thing is about parenting,” explains the ironically named Sonny Truelove (Bruce Willis). He is telling an off-screen questioner about his son Johnny (Emile Hirsch). Or, the questioner is trying to get some answers from Sonny, but not making much progress.


The credits come up as Eva Cassidy sings “Over the Rainbow,” and we see tender home-movie footage of sweet children playing at home, on the beach, at parties, a bar mitzvah. And then we see Johnny, a drug dealer always surrounded by his posse and their girlfriends, in a constant haze of pervasive anomie characterized by exhausted macho and empty sensation-seeking. They bump blindly through an endless series of joyless thrills — video games, rap music videos, insults and posturing, sex, drugs, drinking, and smoking, an R-rated version of the Pleasure Island where Pinocchio turned into a donkey. There are petty quarrels and petty protestations of loyalty, both involving outlandish posturing followed by interest fading as fast as whatever buzz they’re on. Two people owe Johnny money. First is Elvis (Shawn Hatosy), who is paying it off by performing menial tasks and enduring abuse, choking back his fury. Second is Jake (Ben Foster), hot-headed and with no patience for being told what to do.

The dispute escalates when Jake trashes Johnny’s house. Johnny, out with a couple of his friends looking for Jake, sees Jake’s 15-year old half-brother Zach (Anton Yelchin). At first they start to beat him up but then they take him, a human marker for his half-brother’s debt.


Hopped up on drugs, desperation, and gangsta fantasies, they tug Zach from one house to another in a kind of floating party. Zach is happy to go along with it. In some vague way, he thinks he is helping Jake. The pretty girls call him “Stolen Boy,” and he enjoys the attention and the drugs. It is thrilling to hang out with people who seem so tough and cool. And back home, his parents are waiting to yell at him about the bong they found in his room. “It’s a story to tell my grandchildren,” he says, turning down several chances to get away.


But he won’t have any grandchildren. And he won’t make it home to get in trouble over the bong. Johnny panics and offers call it even with Elvis if he will get rid of Zach for good. Elvis sees a chance to get out from under and stop being treated like less than a man.


With a feeling of terrible inevitability from the beginning, the story unfolds, day by day, identifying characters and passers-by as witnesses so we know that sometime in the future they will be swearing to tell the truth before they tell the story of what they saw. There are half a dozen “almost” moments as various people offer Zach a chance to escape, start to back out, or go along or ignore what was going on. There were so many reasons this should not have happened. These boys came from affluent communities. They did not grow up seeing drive-by killings or wearing gang colors. Except on rap videos.

Without any guidance from their parents, the line between the fantasy of the rap lyrics and the reality of taking a life disappears. Every adult in the movie is ineffectual, narcissistic, childish, or absent.

Writer/director Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook) says he was inspired to make this film because his daughter attended the same school as the real-life inspiration for Johnny Truelove, the gaudily named Jesse James Hollywood. He conveys the blankness and bleakness of this culture so well that it seems at times like just another rap video, more likely to inspire just another set of foolish, trigger-happy kids than to scare them straight. Hirsch, Timberlake, Milchan, Foster, and Hatosy all give excellent performances, despite the limited vocabulary
that requires most of what they do to be literally between the lines. But Willis and Sharon Stone as Zach’s mother do not fare well in the bleached-out tones of the cinematography. Stone stays at one shrill note except for her last scene, in a fat suit so distracting and bizarre that it obliterated her sensitive handling of the distraught mother’s grief and elicited laughs from the audience.


Hollywood, captured by the FBI in 2005 after a five-year search, was featured on “America’s Most Wanted.” His flashy name and comfortable background attracted a lot of interest from the press and the public. But it is not always easy to make a true crime story dramatic instead of sensational, and that is where this film falters. It is all sensation rather than insight.

The characters are all flash and emptiness, but so is the story. Yes, the parents are clueless, neglectful, or worse — a mother tells her distraught daughter she can’t talk because she is high, and Johnny’s drug business is overseen by his father. Yes, the guys got swept away in their own gangsta dreams and drug-addled grandiosity. But this movie has nothing more to tell us, and is more a high-style “America’s Most Wanted” re-enactment than a drama.

Ultimately, they were just dumb. And it seems solipsistic, superficial, and short-sighted to put so much energy into the story of this murder when so little attention is paid to murders of non-white, non-suburban kids. It’s not a problem that the movie does not try to answer the why of the murder but it is a serious failure that it never answers the why of its own purpose.

Parents should know that this film has extremely mature material, including constant profanity and bad language, drug use and drug dealing, smoking, drinking, fighting, and very explicit sexual references and situations, including group sex. A 15-year-old is abducted, given drugs, seduced, and murdered. There are profoundly dysfunctional families. Friends abuse each other with mock — and serious — insults and destructive pranks. There are disturbing interactions and there is an overall tone of amoral sensation-seeking that is unsettling.

Families who see this movie should talk about who could have stopped this crime and why they did not. Why does it begin with home movies? Do you agree with Sonny’s statement that the story is about parenting? Why did Zach cooperate with his abductors? Did Elvis and Frankie have different reasons for doing what Johnny told them? What were they?

Viewers who appreciate this film will also like River’s Edge, Wonderland, and The Lost Boys. For more information about the real-life murder of Zach Markowitz and the long search for the man called Johnny Truelove in this film, see this article.

Arthur and the Invisibles

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for fantasy action and brief suggestive material.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

Director Luc Besson is known for his striking visuals and his mash-ups of sentimental, even corny moments with intense, graphic violence. At his best, in films like The Professional and The Fifth Element, these juxtapositions work well. But here, in his first film for a family audience, it feels more like a collision. The combination of themes and tones comes across as uncomfortably jarring.


It begins in live-action, beautifully designed to look like traditional children’s book illustrations, with golden tones and intricate details. The characters, language, and behavior also have a timeless feel. Though it is set in the 1950′s, it could easily be taking place in the Depression, especially given the musty colonialism of the set-up. Even the main character’s inexplicable English accent contributes to the feeling that perhaps this is a forgotten classic from the same shelf as The Secret Garden or Wee Willie Winkie.

Arthur (Freddy Highmore of Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and his grandmother (Mia Farrow) will lose their home if they cannot find the treasure hidden by Arthur’s grandfather before he disappeared. The only chance is for Arthur to get help from the Minimoys, a community of very tiny creatures Arthur’s father brought from his travels, who live somewhere deep inside the back yard.


But as soon as Arthur finds the Minimoys, the live action turns into animation, the ungainly and distracting roster of star vocal talent steps in, the tone begins to go haywire, and the story begins to fall apart.


While the opening sequence is understated and reassuringly old-fashioned, the underground adventures are an unfortunate mixture of po-mo snark and potty humor (some just plain pot humor as well). There might be some way to put Robert DeNiro, David Bowie, Jimmy Fallon, Madonna, and Snoop Dogg into the same environment, but Besson hasn’t figure it out, and the voice talents all sound forced and unhappy.

The action sequences are sluggish. The quips are even more sluggish. There are jokes about the age of the character voiced by Madonna, which are weak. But then there is something of a love interest between Arthur and her character, which is downright creepy. The movie tries to appeal to children looking for fairy tales, teens looking for satire, and college kids looking for something trippy. The result is too snotty to be genuine, too sugary to be witty, too uneven to be worthwhile for any audience.


Parents should know that the film has a great deal of cartoon-style action violence. Characters use some schoolyard language. Arthur’s grandmother take sleeping drops and he increases her dose so she will not know what he is doing. Some audience members may be upset that Arthur’s parents do not make it home for his birthday. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of capable, courageous female characters.

Families who see this movie should talk about how children sometimes feel responsible for solving the problems of adults. What was the most important thing Arthur learned?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Secondhand Lions, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, and The Ant Bully.

Code Name: Cleaner

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for sexual content, crude humor and some violence.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

With a script that couldn’t find 22 minutes of jokes to fill a sitcom on the USA Network, even Cedric the Entertainer can’t make this attempt at comedy anything but inert. It want to be a spy spoof. It’s a spy doof. I know, that isn’t funny, but after sitting through a very long 84 minutes of “Code Name: Cleaner,” my standards are pretty low.


Jake (Cedric) wakes up in a hotel room next to a dead FBI agent and a suitcase filled with cash. He can’t remember who he is or how it got there. He grabs the case and runs…into a beautiful blonde (Nicolette Sheridan), who tells him that he is a very wealthy man and she is his wife. But something about the luxurious estate she tells him is his home doesn’t seem right to him, so he runs…into a beautiful waitress (Lucy Liu) who says she is his “boo” and tries to help him figure out what is going on.


Chase, joke, shoot-out, would-be joke, product placement, kick-boxing, more product placement (it feels like an infomercial for a candy and a fast food place), desperate attempt at a joke, and, 84 long minutes later, it’s all over but the credit-sequence outtakes, livelier than anything the previous 83 minutes had to offer. Cedric might just want to clean this one right off his resume.

Parents should know that the movie has some action-style violence — shooting, punching, kick-boxing, car chases. There is a dead body with some blood. Characters use brief strong language and there are some crude sexual humor, including making fun of a gay man and spanking an elderly lady (who enjoys it), and some bathroom jokes. Women wear scanty clothing. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of diverse characters.

Families who see this movie should talk about why there are so many movies about loss of memory.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Man Who Knew Too Little and Johnny English. They may also enjoy 60′s spy spoofs Our Man Flint and the Matt Helm series.

Happily Never After

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

As an Empress of Evil announces that she is in charge and from now on it will be “happily NEVER after,” the film appears to jump off the sprockets of the projector and a narrator interrupts with an important announcement. It seems the owner of a light blue coach with Narnia plates…and at this point the fairy tale is clearly off its sprockets as well.

It seems that the wise wizard from the Department of Fairy Tale Security who presides over the scales that balance the forces of good and evil (voice of George Carlin) has gone to Scotland to play golf. His assistants, Munk (voice of Wallace Shawn) and Mambo (voice of Andy Dick) let the scales slip. Cinderella’s evil stepmother Frieda (voice of Sigourney Weaver) does a “hostile takeover,” seizing the Wizard’s magical staff, changing the ends of all the fairy tales, inviting the trolls, ogres, and witches to take over, appointing herself Empress, and taking on Rumplestiltskin as a sidekick. All of fairy tale land is in need of a happy ending and the only people who can save the day are Cinderella (voice of Sarah Michelle Geller) and the Prince, I mean the guy who does the Prince’s dishes and laundry, Rick (voice of Freddie Prinze, Jr.).


This most recent po-mo take on fairy tale may be “Shrek”-lite, but it is just cute enough. A dim-witted character is “a couple of Hansels short of a Gretel,” the clueless prince (voice of Patrick Warburton) is “Blondie McBiceps,” and Rumplestiltskin is “still going for custody.” The animation is more video game than feature film, all textures but limited expressions, and stock-style characters moving like marionettes.

Parents should know that the movie has cartoony peril and violence. The hulking ogres and trolls are more silly-looking than scary. Dwarves don cammo and shoot diamonds at the bad guys. A magic staff shoots laser-beam-ish rays. There is some schoolyard language (“screw up,” “shut up,” “a butt the size of a shopping mall,” “eat this”) and some diaper humor. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of a strong and capable heroine and a commoner hero.


Families who see this movie should talk about how the Prince cannot improvise — when life doesn’t follow the story, he does not know what to do. Why are Rick and Ella better at adjusting to the unexpected? Why does Ella think she loves the Prince? Families should also talk about Frieda’s answer when asked why she hates Ella. They can also talk about why the Cinderella story has been so popular in so many forms ove the centuries. If you were going to write your own version of the Cinderella story, how would it end?


Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Shrek and its sequel and Hoodwinked. They will also enjoy the many variations on Perrault’s original story, including Disney’s Cinderella, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Ever After – A Cinderella Story, Ella Enchanted and the book that inspired it, and even Jerry Lewis in Cinderfella. Other funny takes on traditional fairy tales include Once Upon a Mattress, Shelley Duvall’s “Faerie Tale Theatre,” and Jules Feiffer’s hilarious A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears.

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