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

Ella Enchanted

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2004

In keeping with the fairy tale theme, I will begin this review with a warning: If you want to experience the real pleasures this movie has to offer, do not expect a faithful re-creation of the book. The plot, the characters, even the tone are very different, and the fans of the marvelous book, who can all but recite it by heart, may feel affronted. But the book’s theme and lessons are all there, and in its own way, the story it tells is endearing, enduring, and lots of fun.

Both book and movie start with the question a 21st century girl would ask about the classic Cinderella fairy tale. Why did Cinderella do whatever her evil step-mother and step-sisters told her to? According to author Gail Carson Levine, it’s because a well-meaning but careless fairy named Lucinda (Viveca A. Fox), tried to give a gift to Ella (Anne Hathaway) when she was born, and cast a spell so she would always be obedient. But that meant that whenever Ella was given a direct order, she had to do whatever she was told. Literally. This is an inconvenience in a loving household but becomes downright dangerous when Ella’s mother dies and her father marries nasty Dame Olga (Joanna Lumley). And it becomes downright deadly when an evil usurper orders Ella to commit murder.

Ella’s journey to find a way to break the spell has its own dangers as she meets up with elves, ogres, giants, fairies, and of course a very charming prince (Hugh Dancy).

Like Shrek, this is a fairy tale with some broad (and occasionally crude) humor and winking references to modern times. Ella attends the local community college and shops at the Galleria include the “Crockery Barn.” The soundtrack includes covers of pop classics from “Respect” to “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart.” And Ella’s support for the rights of ogres, giants, and elves (including an elf who wants to be a lawyer despite rules that require all elves to be entertainers) shows us her heart and spirit and gives her something to discuss with the prince beyond who should rescue whom and his latest appearance in Medieval Teen magazine.

The movie works so hard to be entertaining that it can feel a little hypercharged at times, cluttered with too many talented performers with too little to do. But the production design helps maintain the sense of magic, with storybook castles and forests. And Hathaway (now something of an expert in this genre after The Princess Diaries) is so radiantly lovable that she could make an ATM withdrawal feel like a fairy tale. When Ella is ordered to entertain the guests at a giant’s wedding celebration, she breaks into Queen’s “Somebody to Love” and dances across the tabletop with such joyous gusto that even Freddie Mercury would approve. Dancy makes the prince more than the usual arm candy/swordsman and the way they learn to trust and respect each other enough to stop fighting the attraction they feel is unexpectedly tender.

Parents should know that the movie has some crude language (“bite me” “cute butt”) and social drinking. It is supposed to be humorous when a character gets tipsy and has a drinking problem. There is violence, including fighting, knives, and swordplay and characters are in peril. A character is hit in the crotch in a slapstick fight. In a more serious fight, it appears that a character is killed, but it turns out not to be the case. Ella’s mother becomes ill and dies. Ella is ordered to shoplift and due to the curse, must obey. An ogre’s pants reveal the top of his butt crack. One strength of the movie is that it deals with themes of discrimination and prejudice as Ella fights the kingdom’s restrictive laws segregating giants, ogres, and elves. And Ella herself is a strong, brave, independent, and loyal role model.

Families who see this movie should talk about what it was that made it possible for Ella to break the curse? What did she have to learn or feel to make that happen? They may want to talk about the theme of discrimination and segregation in the story. What creates prejudice? Part of the fun of the movie, and explored in more detail in the book, is the way that the literal meaning of the words in direct orders to Ella have unexpected results. Families should talk about the way that the way listeners hear words can mean something different from what the speaker intends.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy another modern re-imagining of the Cinderella fairy tale, Ever After with Drew Barrymore. How does that movie handle the problem of explaining why the main character allows herself to be treated so badly? They will also enjoy more traditional versions, including Rodger and Hammerstein’s musical Cinderella made for television with Lesley Ann Warren 1965 and remade as Cinderella in 1997 with Brandy and Whitney Houston. Along with Disney’s animated Cinderella all are a treat for families. And every family should see The Princess Bride, with Cary Elwes, who plays Prince Char’s uncle in “Ella Enchanted,” as the dashing hero. Robin Wright is the woman he loves who is betrothed to a prince who is anything but charming. Families should read Gail Carson Levine’s superb book and might also want to try some other modern takes on fairy tales, including a thoughtful literary retelling of Beauty and the Beast called Rose Daughter and the story collections The Outspoken Princess and the Gentle Knight and Tatterhood and Other Tales.

Hellboy

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2004

In the “it was a dark and stormy night” genre of graphic novels (that’s comic books with literary aspirations), we are guaranteed to find a Sam Spade-inspired anti-hero with a wicked sense of humor and a weakness for a dangerous dame. Frank Miller’s “Sin City” series is among the most impressive of the type. Comic book creator Mike Mignola, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft and his sci-fi pioneering colleagues, made his main character a real bruiser with the body of a Hell-spawned demon and the heart of a human.

Of course it begins on a dark and stormy night. And cut right to the chase with everyone’s favorite bad guys, the Nazis, aided by Rasputin, the infamously hard to kill “mad monk” of Russian lore. They have commandeered a Scottish island for the purpose of opening an intergalactic portal to the Gods of Chaos, who float in the ether like inky space squid waiting for a chance to come to Earth. Luckily the plucky American military, aided by young scientist Dr. Broom, closes the portal before the inter-galactic cephalopod overlords can enter. All that comes through the door is a cute little demon toddler with a weakness for Baby Ruth candy bars.

Flash forward to the present and the now grown Hellboy, complete with tail, huge stone hand and red-on-red natural body art is the supersized ward of Dr. Broom and the Bureau for Paranomal Research and Defense (BPRD). As Broom tells a new recruit, there are creatures who go bump in the night and he and his little group are the ones who bump back.

Abe Sapien (voiced by David Hyde Pierce), is elegant, sensitive, erudite, and a fish-man. Cigar-munching, cat-loving Hellboy (Ron Perlman) has a huge stone hand and forearm that help him to pummel baddies who look like they are fresh off the set of Men In Black. He is their most famous inmate, despite the fact that the U.S. government does its best to deny that Hellboy exists. The official assigned to supervise the BPRD (Jeffrey Tambor) would prefer that they didn’t. But when Rasputin, et al, are back with some rather nasty Hounds of Hell to try to bring the octopus overlords to this dimension yet again, it’s time to call in Hellboy & Co.

Hellboy is endearingly human, with a penchant for wiseguy understatement and his love for his adopted family of misfits at the Bureau, especially doe-eyed and dangerous Liz Sherman (Selma Blair looking angsty). They seem literally made for each other as the woman who has trouble controlling her pyrotechnics wouldn’t want a boyfriend who wasn’t fireproof.

Director Guillermo Del Toro’s “Blade 2” blazed with whirling swords, back-flipping vampires and frenetic action, at times rendering the fights an incomprehensible blur. Del Toro does not make that error again, introducing a comparatively sleepy pace for Hellboy that seems to stretch its 132 minute length into a much longer movie, padded in parts by unnecessary and clichéd scenes and overkill in the squiggly monsters in dripping cavernous cellars category. To his credit, he captures some of the visual color, tone, and, yes, beauty of the comic book, but he sometimes makes you feel like you are reading it over someone else’s shoulder and that person takes too long to finish a page.

Parents should know that this movie contains frightening images, a dark and at times macabre tone and the sad death of a central character. There is a great deal of violence in the fight scenes, which are at times bloody, and characters must wrestle with the deadly consequences of their actions. A scary character is addicted to self-surgery, while one of the creatures summoned by the Nazis is a Hell-hound that will frighten younger audiences. Several characters (including one major character) die violent deaths. The inability of one of the characters to control her powers causes the off-screen death of innocents, which might frighten even the most mature of audiences.

Families who watch this movie might wish to discuss the father-son bond between Dr. Broom and Hellboy, why they fight and how this relationship impacts both of their characters. Neither Abe Sapien nor Hellboy can “pass” as humans yet they both embrace very human traits. Which traits are these and why might exposure to people outside the BPRD not be a good thing for these characters? The movie touches on an issues that runs throughout the comic book series, that of Hellboy’s commitment to defense of humans despite his demon form. What does being human mean for Hellboy? Where does he have the power of choice?

Families who enjoy this movie for its mix of humor and paranormal/extra-dimensional action will also appreciate Ghostbusters, X-Men, or Men in Black. Those who wish to see the prolific Ron Perlman without the red skin and horns, should rent the surreal but lovely City of Lost Children and the very funny Happy Texas. His voice can also be heard in numerous cartoons, including as the character “Clayface” on the 90’s excellent “Batman: the Animated Series.”

Mignola’s comic book, “The Corpse”, is a light, short vignette worth reading, from which Del Toro borrowed some of the funniest scenes in “Hellboy”. Families should be aware that the “Hellboy” graphic novels contain mature themes and an overall macabre tone that might frighten some readers.

Walking Tall

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

Apparently, the people who stage professional wrestling matches looked for the story that was most like a wrestling match and picked the story of Buford Pusser, the sheriff who cleaned up a small Southern town. That is, if your definition of cleaning up includes smacking the bad guys with a 2×4. This might work as a WWE grudge match, but it does not work as a movie because it undermines the story it is trying (if half-heartedly) to tell.

The original 1973 movie with Joe Don Baker playing the real-life Pusser teetered on the brink of vigilantism. This remake produced by World Wrestling Entertainment unhesitatingly dives in with a triple gainer.

Over the opening credits, a big guy with an army duffel bag comes home to find that the mill has been closed, the old sheriff has died, and the town is now dominated by a casino. We then get about 20 minutes of “Look who’s back in town” moments, with ominous comments like, “I don’t know if you noticed, but this ain’t exactly home any more.” Then we get about an hour of smackdowns as our hero (now named Chris Vaughn and played by The Rock) gets a beating that would kill a normal man and then does a lot of get-well sit-ups so he can take that 2×4 and open up some cans of whup-ass on the bad guys.

Vaughn’s nephew (Khleo Thomas of Holes) has been buying drugs at the casino. So Vaughn takes a cedar plank to the casino and smashes up the slot machines and many of the people who work there. When he is put on trial, he does not deny what he did. But he tells the jury that if they acquit him, he’ll run for sheriff and clean up the town.

Yes, they know how to stage fights, though these are more intense and graphic than the MPAA normally permits in a PG-13. But the story requires a level of credibility and sympathy for the characters that it cannot come close to earning. Instead, it just assumes it, dissipating whatever built-in goodwill any movie about beating the bad guys should generate.

The Rock has a great deal of charm, and Johnny Knoxville brings a wry warmth to the standard best friend role. But in a telling detail about the crude-ifying of this story, instead of the sweet wife in the original movie, Vaughn gets a stripper girlfriend (Ashley Scott), who shows up at the sheriff’s office with a home-cooked meal and fires off rounds while looking fetching in a red lace bra.

We’re supposed to cheer for Vaughn when he breaks the law just because he’s on the side of the good guys. It’s impossible not to like The Rock, but a battle inside or outside the ring has to feel a little bit fair and this one just doesn’t. It’s just not as fun as it is supposed to be when Vaughn smashes the tail-lights of the bad guy’s Porsche or beats someone up while explaining his official sheriff’s office policy of “delicacy and precision.” It’s not a good sign when you start to feel sorry for the bad guys. Maybe it’s not as much fun to have a sheriff recite the Miranda warnings, but there has to be more reason than we are given here for beating everyone up without trying to arrest them. And as for the dialogue — I think “I put down my gun for good” has to be just behind “I’ll be right back” as the top candidates for the “movie words spoken just so they can almost immediately be wrong” award.

Parents should know that this movie is close to an R for extreme and graphic violence and very strong language. Characters are drug dealers and a young boy smokes marijuana and takes crystal meth. Characters drink and smoke. There are scenes in a casino including scantily-clad dancers. There is a non-explicit sexual situation. One of the strengths of the movie is its portayal of a loving and very functional inter-racial family.

Families who see this movie should talk about the difference between being a law enforcer and being a vigilante.

Families interested in finding out more about the man whose life inspired this movie can read about the late Buford Pusser here. Those who will be near Pigeon Forge, Tennessee can visit his museum. Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy seeing The Rock in The Rundown and The Scorpion King.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

posted by rkumar
A
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:1936

Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper), of Mandrake Falls, Vermont, is a quiet bachelor who writes rhymes for birthday cards and plays the tuba for concentration. Informed that he has inherited twenty million dollars, he goes to New York City to collect it.

Swarms of people come after him to try to get some of the money, but the only one he will talk to is Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur), who attracts his attention by fainting. She tells him she is an unemployed secretary, but in reality she is a tough journalist out for a good story. He has a lot of fun feeding doughnuts to hungry cab horses and chasing fire engines.

When some snooty poets make fun of his rhymes, Deeds says, “I know I must look funny to you. Maybe if you came to Mandrake Falls, you’d look just as funny to us…. But nobody’d laugh at you and make you ridiculous-’cause that wouldn’t be good manners.” He tells Bennett his impressions of the city, explaining that the wealthy people in New York “work so hard at living, they forget how to live … They’ve created a lot of grand palaces, but they forgot about the noblemen to put in them.”

Bennett writes a newspaper story making fun of him, calling him “The Cinderella man,” and he becomes a figure of ridicule. But she realizes she has fallen in love with him, with his innate goodness and sincerity and his ability to have fun.

Heartbroken by her betrayal, and disgusted with life as a wealthy man, Deeds makes plans to give the money away to help poor farmers. But unscrupulous relatives take him to court, arguing he is not competent and they should have control of the money. He is too miserable to defend himself. But Bennett persuades him that she loves him and he must try. And the judge concludes, “In my opinion, you are not only sane, you are the sanest man who ever walked into this courtroom.”

This is one of Frank Capra’s populist classics, and its Depression-era sensibility is still appealing. Finding meaning in life through helping others is well-presented, as are the issues of what makes people important (Deeds says, “All famous people aren’t big people”). The public policy issue of how much help we give to those “who can’t make the hill on high” is something teenagers with an interest in politics might like to pursue.

The issue of the role of the press is even timelier now, as public figures and even private ones are considered fair game.

More important, and more relevant to young people, especially teenagers, is the issue of cynicism as a mode of approaching the world. Bennett says, “He’s got a lot of goodness, Mabel. Do you know what that means? No, of course you don’t. We’ve forgotten. We’re all too busy being smart alecks.” That’s a good description of teenagers who put on a cynical demeanor to protect themselves from being vulnerable.

A thoughtful journalist once said that a reporter’s responsibility was to be skeptical without being cynical, and that statement is a good way to open a discussion of this issue. Deeds’s statement that “It’s easy to make fun of someone if you don’t care how much you hurt ‘em” is also something for kids to think about.

It is also worthwhile to consider how the same facts can be interpreted differently. Deeds plays the tuba, feeds doughnuts to horses, and wants to give money away. Those actions can be seen as foolish (as portrayed in Bennett’s newspaper), crazy (as portrayed by the lawyer), or endearing (as portrayed by Cooper and Capra). What does that tell us about being careful to challenge “spin”?

Families who see this movie should talk about Why Babe Bennett’s editor wanted her to make fun of Deeds. What do you do to help you concentrate? If Mr. Deeds inherited the money today, what group do you think he would give it to? What would you do if you inherited twenty million dollars?

This movie popularized two words: “doodle” and “pixilated.” As Deeds points out, doodling is highly individual. A dreadful 2002 remake starring Adam Sandler is not worth watching.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy It Happened One Night and You Can’t Take it With You, also Capra classics. Let the kids “doodle” while watching the movie, and see what they come up with. They might also like to try making up some words of their own.

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