Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


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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

 

Finding Vivian Maier
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
April 11, 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

 

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

United 93

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for language, and some intense sequences of terror and violence
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:September 10, 2012

Someday the events of 9/11/01 will be distant enough that we will see some meaningful and illuminating works of art inspired by it.  That seems a long way off, but some filmmakers have taken the first steps in that direction.  I cannot tell you whether you are ready to see a movie about the only hijacked flight that did not hit its target on September 11, 2001 because a brave group of passengers subdued the hijackers, crashing the plane into the ground. I can only tell you that when you are ready, this respectful, heart-wrenching, quietly devastating movie will be the one you want to see.

When it happened, when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, knocking it down, and smashing a section of the Pentagon, dazed Americans everywhere said, “It’s like a movie.” It was so stunning, so unthinkable, so audacious, it seemed that those images on television just had to be CGI. This was America. We like to think of ourselves as unconquerable. Couldn’t Bruce Willis show up at the last minute to save the day?

But it wasn’t a movie. As we watch this one, knowing what will happen, though, we can’t help hoping for a Hollywood ending.
It really raises the essential core question of the meaning of stories. Since the cave days, humans have told stories to help us make sense of the world, as a dress rehearsal for our emotions, as a way to communicate our values. We are still making movies about cowboys, about WWII, about moments throughout history and moments we imagine in the future that pose the deepest questions about honor, courage, loyalty, dedication, and dreams. This movie is a preliminary step as we begin to take September 11 from shock to story.

Much like the award-winning “Elephant” (about a school shooting), this movie begins with the smallest and most mundane details of the day as people go to work and get ready for trips. They chat about their plans and their families and complain good-naturedly about inconveniences. We don’t get the usual movie-style introductions to the main characters. We meet them just as we would if we were passing by them on the way to the office or to catch a plane, quick glimpses and snatches of overheard conversations. But our own knowledge of what lies ahead of them makes the very ordinariness of it heart-breaking, terrifying.
And then come the first indications that something is wrong. But what? Why doesn’t the pilot respond? The obvious likely answer was an equipment problem. Even when it seemed that there had been a hijacking, all the people in charge could imagine was that they would want what previous hijackers had wanted — passage to some safe harbor.

What the terrorists had in mind was literally inconceivable for the flight crews, passengers, air traffic controllers, law enforcement, and military who were trying to understand and control the situation. It had been 20 years since the hijack of a commercial airliner in the United States. There was no way to try to stop them because there was no way to imagine what they were planning. Nothing so suicidal and destructive had ever been attempted before.

And that meant that there were no systems set up for communication and coordination in responding. And that makes what the passengers on United flight 93 did so moving. They called home and told their families they loved them. And then, with a quiet, “Let’s roll,” they took back the plane, crashing it into the ground but keeping it from its target, possibly the White House.

Filmed in an intimate, even claustrophobic documentary style, it keeps us, like the characters in the film and the real-life characters they portray, given little access to information about what is going on. A cast that is mostly unknown helps sustain the sense that this is footage of what really happened. Occasionally we are startled by a familiar face. But the best performance is by the FAA’s Ben Sliney, the man whose first day on the job was September 11, 2001 and the man who ordered all plans grounded, as himself.

Will the generations who watch this film a century from now think of it the way we think of the Alamo? Perhaps if they live in a time when these kinds of suprise attacks are again unimaginable, this movie will be a good reminder of the beginning of a journey toward peace and freedom.

Parents should know that the movie has intense and very sad terrorist violence. While it is not as explicit as many R-rated movies, its re-enactment of real-life events makes it much more powerful than the usual “action violence” on screen. There is brief strong language. A strength of the film is the way it shows that many of the characters — different in so many ways — respond to the direst of circumstances the same way, by praying, in their varied faith traditions.

Families who see this movie should talk about the mistakes made by the officials who were trying to understand what was going on. What should they have done differently? They should also talk about whether we are safer now, and what every American can do to help protect our country from terrorism.

Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate some of the documentaries about the events of September 11, 2001.

RV

posted by jmiller
F+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for crude humor, innuendo and language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Road movies are pretty easy. Whether the people on the journey have just met and are getting to know each other or who don’t like each other and have to overcome animosity, all we ask is two things. First, we want to see some entertaining adventures along the way, some challenges to be overcome with skill and courage to give the characters a chance to get to know and appreciate each other, and to give the audience a chance to know and appreciate them, too. Second, we want to see those moments of realization and appreciation, and we want to feel that they develop naturally, believeably, even in a silly comedy.


This movie fails in both categories. Miserably.

It is painfully phony and even more painfully un-funny. Jokes that don’t work the first time are dragged out interminably and then repeated. And far too many of them involve toilet humor. And the syrupy little lessons about the importance of family values are forced and synthetic. There’s no sense of irony when Bob (Robin Williams) tells his son Carl (Josh Hutcherson) that they should have a “Seventh Heaven” moment to talk about Carl’s feelings about being short. They don’t have any genuine examples of family communcation to draw on.


The movie begins with a sweet scene of Bob putting his little girl to bed and promising to be best friends forever. Tt then cuts to the little girl as a teenager (pop star JoJo as Cassie), treating her father with contempt as they pick up one of her friends on the way to a party for his company.


Bob (Robin Williams) misses the loving daughter he used to have. He feels out of touch with both of his children and his wife Jamie (Cheryl Hines of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). He knows that if they take their planned vacation trip to Hawaii, they will go off in separate directions. So when he is ordered to attend a business meeting in Colorado in the middle of the time scheduled for the trip, he rents an RV and tells the family they are going camping instead, with those fatal parental words, “C’mon! It’ll be fun!”


Incidents along the way designed to let the characters reveal themselves and learn lessons through challenges: bad driving, repeated problems with the seatbelt and repeated failure to remove the blocks keeping the RV from sliding away, raccoons, rain, falling down, and an excruciatingly long scene involving disposal of the “leftover” sewage, which ultimately spurts and explodes all over everything, but especially all over Bob. Funny? No. Revelatory of character or of lessons learned? No, because the characters have no, what was that word again? Character. They are just superficial generics chosen seemingly at random from one of those anyone-can-write-a-script software packages they sell in the back of movie magazines. They have all of the depth and all of the motivation of paper dolls. When, all of a sudden, the script calls for the family to decide they all love each other and nature, the moment would be shockingly abrupt if not so listlessly presented that it almost passes by unnoticed. The business conflict Bob faces is similarly uninspired and un-involving.


There are a couple of funny lines and a bright moment here and there when Williams gets to go off script and improvise. Jeff Daniels and Kristin Chenoweth bring a lot of spirit and humanity to their roles as the relentlessly cheery Gornikes, who keep showing up to get Bob and his family out of trouble and who get nothing but bigoted rudeness in return. But the paper-thin characterizations, snail-like comic timing, and absence of a single genuine feeling or action make this, as the Gorikes might say, not anyone’s cup of sunshine.

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language (two b-words, bathroom terms) and extensive, graphic, and very gross bathroom humor. There is a great deal of comic peril and violence, though no one is hurt. Characters make references to marital sex, prostitution, and teen “making out.” While the movie appears to make fun of characters who are impossibly cheerful, homeschool their children, and like to tell stories about how Jesus saved them from a tornado, a strength of the movie is that the family is portrayed as loving, honest, very close, and intelligent.


Families who see this movie should talk about why Bob did not feel he could tell his family the truth and how they felt when they found out what he was doing. They might also want to talk about the kind of compromises people make to take care of their families and the kind they cannot make without losing their sense of what is important. Why do teenagers like Cassie behave so rudely to their parents? What made the Gornike family so happy?


Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Lost in America and National Lampoon’s Vacation(both with some mature material) and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in The Long, Long Trailer.

The Sentinel

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some intense action violence and a scene of sensuality.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

What this movie gets right is the dry, cynical, slightly gallows-ish humor of people who spend their lives on constant alert, knowing that 999 out of a thousand of the “suspicious” activities they check out will be nothing. They are the guys in the corner of the picture in the paper during the President’s speech. When everyone is looking at him, they are looking at them, deciding whether the man over there is reaching for a cell phone or something more dangerous. For years at a time, they watch to make sure perameters are secure and routes are clear. They are always alert and always ready to die to save the President and his family. The script may be thin, but the performers don’t seem to notice, plowing ahead with the same dogged, somewhat humorless determination real-life agents bring to the job.


Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) took a bullet when someone tried to kill President Reagan. He’s still on the job, not enough of a rule-follower to be promoted to a management position, but trusted enough to be assigned to guard the President (David Rasche) and the First Lady (Kim Basinger).


Garrison gets evidence from an informant that there may be a traitor within the Secret Service. To make the investigation even more difficult, Garrison is having an affair with the First Lady and his former best friend David Breckendridge (Kiefer Sutherland), the chief investigator now despises him, believing Garrison caused the end of his marriage by having an affair with his wife. Can Garrison protect the First Lady and his informant while finding the mole before he can put the President at risk?


It’s a pretty solid thriller, not worth rushing out to see but worth a matinee or video rental. The transfer from book to screen is uneven. The script does not always show instead of telling — or assuming — what we need to know, especially when it comes to the relationship between Garrison and the First Lady (or between the First Lady and the President), Garrison and Breckendridge, and Breckendrige and rookie Jill Marin (“Desperate Housewives’” Eva Longoria). The characters are underwritten but the stars’ natural charisma holds our attention and keeps us on their side, the action scenes are crisply filmed, and the location shots provide an authentic feel.

Parents should know that this film has a great deal of peril and violence, with a lot of shooting. Characters are wounded and killed. There is blood, but the injuries are less graphic than some other PG-13′s. It includes a non-explicit sexual situation and references to adultery. Characters drink alcohol and use some strong language.


Families who see this movie should talk about the Secret Service and how its training and duties differ from other law enforcement agencies. Did Garrison violate his duty or his oath?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of a Secret Service agent in In the Line of Fire. They will also enjoy the superb miniseries Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, about a mole within Great Britain’s spy agency, based on the real-life case of traitors Philby, Burgess, and McLean.

American Dreamz

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

The Roman rulers used to distract the populace from the problems of corruption and decadence with “bread and circuses.” Today’s equivalent might be junk food and television, especially “reality” television. It plays to our fascination with both “real people” and celebrities and especially with the magical moment of transformation — the magical possibility of our own transformation — from one category to the other.


This wild and wildly uneven satire imagines a dim and detached President from Texas, a bald, Machiavellian Vice President who calls the shots, and a television show in which contestants compete to be selected for stardom.


Sound familiar?


Writer-director Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy) says he got the idea for this movie when he found that more people vote for “American Idol” than vote for President. He took those two things, combined them, cranked it up a notch, and tweaked it a little.


Dennis Quaid plays the distracted President, just re-elected and not able to grasp exactly what the world situation is and how he should respond to it. He just wants to stay in bed and read newsapers. Willem Dafoe is the Vice President, whose relationship with the President appears to be modeled on the relationship of a ventriloquist to his puppet.


“American Dreamz” (“with a z”) is the “American Idol”-equivalent and Hugh Grant is the Simon Cowell-equivalent, supercilious, arrogant, but looking like Hugh Grant and being on television so people let him get away with it. He hates just about everyone and everything, or he would if he had the energy to work up that much emotion. He’s more like bored and cranky.


But he’s clear on what he wants — a show everyone will watch. And so he has to make sure this year’s contestants are the most watchable ever, including Sally (Mandy Moore), a rapaciously ambitious small-town girl, and Omer (Sam Golzari), a show-tune-loving terrorist from a sleeper cell. Sally will do anything to win. Omer finds he may not be willing to do anything for his cause. And the President thinks he can improve his approval ratings by being a guest judge on the show.


The highlight of the film is Moore, a treat as Sally, clearly enjoying herself but clearly in control of the performance, so sincerely insincere that it’s almost appealing. The set-ups are better than the pay-offs, but the film effectively makes its points about celebrities — political and show business, and about American dreams (with an s), especially the foolish but endearing dream that we are all just a wish and a chance away from being a star.

Parents should know that the movie has some mature material, including some strong language and some sexual references and non-explicit situations. The subject matter, while satiric, includes terrorism and suicide. Characters drink alcohol. The movie includes diverse characters but some audiences may find the satiric exaggeration to be offensive stereotyping, or, with regard to the President, disrespectful.


Families who see this movie should talk about the appeal of “American Idol,” and why more people vote for the best singer than vote for in the presidential election. They should also talk about the role of satire as political commentary.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Wag the Dog, Saved! (with Moore), and Primary Colors (all with more mature material). They may also enjoy my interview with writer-director Paul Weitz.

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