Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


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Fury
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

 

Moms' Night Out
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

St. Vincent
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 For mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use, and for language
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

 

Earth to Echo
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some action and peril, and mild language
Release Date:
July 3, 2014

Dear White People
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language, sexual content and drug use
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

 

Snowpiercer
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for violence, language and drug content
Release Date:
July 2, 2014

11th Hour

posted by Nell Minow
B
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for some mild disturbing images and thematic elements.
Movie Release Date:November 16, 2007
DVD Release Date:April 9, 2008

Leonardo DiCaprio has produced a thoughtful, important film about a vitally important subject, the devastating impact of industrial development on the fragile environment. He has assembled an impressive collection of scholars and world leaders to emphasize the precariousness of the situation and the urgency of action to reverse the effects of human opportunism and greed, to change our idea of “progress” from growth and acquisition to sustainability and respect for the fragility of the environment that sustains us.


He is so concerned about not being overly alarmist or controversial that it is all a bit too stately. DiCaprio and his experts are specific and vivid when talking about the “infected organism” our environment has become, where “every system is in decline and the rate of decline is increasing….There isn’t one living system that is stable or improving.” But when they talk about the failures of our institutions to consider the long-term effects, they get vague. They briefly point to corporations and government. This is where he needed Al Gore to come in with some Powerpoint, or better yet, Michael Moore to name names and show exactly who got how much money from lobbyists for which companies.


The movie’s greatest strength is its breadth of compelling participants. They do more than describe our failures and the damage we have done. They question our assumptions, our smug certainty that nature exists to serve humans and will be eternally replenished. They explain that the uniquely human ability to think about and affect the future has created this problem; but that it can also help us to recognize and solve it. And they provide assurances that all the technology we need is already available; all it takes is the will.


Each of them has an important lesson to teach. Perhaps the one that is by iteself the reason for every middle- and high-schooler to see the film is this quotation from Eric Hoffer: “We can never have enough of that which we really do not want.”

Parents should know that some of the images and themes of this movie may be disturbing to audience members. Scenes of environmental degradation and damage, including brief footage of an animal being killed, and descriptions of potential consequences that could include extinction are intended to be provocative. Even though they are presented as a call to action and there is reassuring material about choices that can make a difference, it may be very upsetting.


Families who see this movie should visit the movie’s website to learn more about the scientific data on climate change and the technologies that can make a difference.

Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate An Inconvenient Truth, Who Killed the Electric Car?, Koyaanisqatsi – Life Out of Balance, and The Future of Food.

‘Sleuth’ vs. ‘Sleuth’ and Twin vs. Twin

posted by Nell Minow



This morning I saw the remake of “Sleuth.” Like the original, it stars Michael Caine, but this time he plays the role of the older man, a mystery writer whose visit from his wife’s young, handsome lover turns into a battle of wits and power. In 1974, the older man was played by Laurence Olivier. In 2007, the younger man is played by Jude Law, took over another of Caine’s iconic roles in “Alfie.” The original was an entertaining potboiler with one of theater and movie history’s cleverest surprises (incomprehensibly omitted from the new version). In 2007, it gets a high literary sheen with a new screenply by Harold Pinter and direction, in between Shakespeare adaptations, from Kenneth Branaugh.

The play was written by Anthony Shaffer, identical twin brother of Peter Shaffer, who wrote “Equus” and “Amadeus.” The themes of competition, identity, and duality run through the work of both brothers. I think their story would make quite a movie.


The Nanny Diaries

posted by Nell Minow
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for language.
Movie Release Date:2007

Oh, we all love to feel superior to rich people, don’t we? It makes us feel so nice and smug. They may have the fancy apartments and couture, but we have a lock on authenticity and unpretentiousness, right? That’s what “The Nanny Diaries” wants to tell us, anyway. Its talented cast and some inspired visuals cannot enliven a superficial story.


Annie (Scarlett Johansson) has just graduated from college with a degree in business. Her mother, a nurse, wants her to get a job on Wall Street. But she bungles the interview. Later, in Central Park, a wealthy woman referred to only as Mrs. X (Laura Linney) from Manhattan’s tony East Side offers her a job as a nanny. No one on Wall Street may be interested in her, but she learns she is “the Chanel bag of nannies,” the ultimate accessory, because she is white, single, and has a college education.


She tells her mother she took the Wall Street job, but moves into the luxurious East Side apartment to take care of Grayer (Nicholas Art). It turns out that Mrs. X expects Annie the nanny to do everything from preparing French food for Grayer to help him with his study of the language to photocopying his recommendations for the fancy school he is applying to, come to a 4th of July party dressed as Betsy Ross, pick up the dry cleaning, and pretty much be on duty 24/7. Mrs. X organizes galas to raise money to help children and goes to elegant functions to discuss child development issues, but she never has time for Grayer. When Grayer runs ahead of her in the park, she says, “Forgive my feral child.” Her favorite accessories are shopping bags from luxury retailers filled with lots of new accessories. She wears headbands. She all but purrs about the luxuries she will rain down on Annie if she becomes their nanny, making it sound as though Annie will become part of the family. But then she is imperious, neglectful, and remote and hides a security camera in a teddy bear to spy on her.

And then there is Mr. X (Paul Giamatti), whose job in the movie is to be much too busy to spend time with Grayer or Mrs. X. His only concern about Grayer is that he get into the most prestigious school. He barks “I’m just trying to earn a living!” when anyone asks him to pay attention to his family, and, of course, he is having an affair with some financial ace from the office and trying to exercise droit de seigneur on the poor righteous nanny.


Director/screenwriters Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini of the brilliantly innovative American Splendor seem to believe that a studio movie has to play it safe and the result is predictable and dull. Though Linney portrays the desperation behind Mrs. X’s behavior, the Xes are stereotypes and caricatures, the plot developments are sitcom-ish, and despite her claims that she cannot leave because of her devotion to the child, there is no chemistry at all between Annie and Grayer. Chris Evans (“The Fantastic Four”) makes a good impression as the “Harvard Hottie” who lives downstairs, and singer Alicia Keys has a lovely, natural quality as the obligatory Best Friend (with the obligatory Gay Roommate). There are hints of worthwhile issues about race and class, the pressures of conformity, materialism, competitiveness, and snobbery, and conflicts between home and work. But all of that was far more deftly handled in one brief segment of Paris Je T’Aime than in all of this movie’s hang-wringing about the oppression of the working class by the Marie Anoinettes of the Upper East Side.

Parents should know that this movie deals with issues some audience members may find disturbing, including marital problems, adultery, and sexual harassment. Characters drink, smoke, and use some strong language. There are emotional confrontations and references to divorce and death of a parent.


Families who see this movie should talk about how different families and different cultures have different ideas about raising children. They may also want to talk about the pros and cons of the child care arrangements in their own families and the importance of treating everyone with kindness and respect.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Devil Wears Prada and nanny classics like Mary Poppins and Mrs. Doubtfire. The red umbrella logo has been re-obtained by its original company, Traveler’s Insurance, and will be appearing in their new ads.

Jeffrey Blitz of ‘Rocket Science’

posted by Nell Minow

Jeffrey Blitz, director of the award-winning spelling bee documentary Spellbound, was in Washington to talk about his first feature film, the semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story, “Rocket Science.” He and I had a wonderful talk at the Georgetown Ritz hotel. We got off to a good start when we discovered we were both on our way to Comic-Con.

Most people would say that the lifetime period of greatest anxiety and misery is ages 13-15. What is it about that time of life that interests you so much?

You live an inwardly raw life at that age, you haven’t got an ability to protect yourself from your own emotions and the world. You are ripe –when you fall in love you really fall inlove, when your heart is broken, your heart is really broken, you don’t yet have the inner resoures to protect yourself or be anything less than completely that feeling.

It must be a challenge to ask kids to access and express emotions that are still unfamiliar to them. How do you work with these young actors?

The biggest part of it is casting. When you cast well you are casting someone who can access what needs to be accessed for that part. It was a low budget movie but we put whatever resources it had into casting. The great story about finding Reece [Thompson, who plays the lead] is that we had looked for six months and finally HBO, who was financing, gave us a two week grace period, or we’d have to shut down. And then one day someone was walking through the production office with a bunch of tapes that had been sent in unsolicted. Normally, we would not have watched them but we were ready to try anything. Reece’s came from Vancouver and his agent sent it in. It was like when yiou meet someone you want to be friends with or fall in love, you don’t ask why It’s him, he thoroughly inhabits the role.

The big challenge was that in this case, we had a main character who stutters. It’s like learning a very difficult accent. Sometimes a performance suffers because the actor’s brain is working on the mechanical stuff their mouth has to do instead of what they need for the scene. We looked for six months, everywhere, we tried actual stutterers, but this character had a very particular kind of stuttering that is more amenable to the way of comedy, to set-ups and punchlines, it has a rhythm.

Our female lead, Anna Kendrick, came in very early into the process. After her audition, I wrote down Anna Kendrick is Ginny Ryerson, but because it was so early we thought we should keep looking. But she was one of the few girls we auditioned who could grasp everything she was saying, not just rattle off all those serious SAT words.

Boys and girls at that age seem to be from completely different species. How would you describe their differences and how does that affect their ability to communicate with each other?

We tried to get out of the idea that boys and girls are of completely different realms. Everyone in the movie is lost when it comes to love and romantic relationships and that defines them more than any differences. Ginny is very ambitious, not a typical girl role. They’re all kind of gender neutral in a way, all striving.

The adults in the film all seem to be dealing with their own difficulties. Despite the fact that the characters are surrounded by parents and teachers who theoretically have a commitment to concern for the kids, most of them do not seem to be capable of it. What is their role in the story?

We were not trying to make a comment about adults in general or say that adults are useless. If my main character is lost and all he needs to do is turn to his parents, there’s no story. It is so much more interesting if he has to solve things on his own. It’s not about debate, not about who wins; it’s about kids who are trying to grapple with questions that are bigger than they are. You can love but still not feel you understand it. The adults are childlike, all at the mercy of the mystery of love. The Violent Femmes (whose song is played in the movie) are so expressive of the anger of love gone bad. I love the idea that the adults’ idea of therapy is to do a cleaned up, dainty version of the songs that are roiling with such anger.

In a movie about the power of speaking to express oneself, why have a narrator? He seems to be omniscient, not just older and wiser. Who is he and what does he contribute to the movie?

Hal is a character who essentially has no voice and is struggling to find his voice. He has a fantasy of a voice like James Earl Jones. With a narrator, we had one character with no voice and one who is noting but a disembodied voice, a purely articulate voice. It shows the gulf between who Hal is and who he wishes to be. You are given Hal’s dream voice and confronted with his real voice. I love the idea of a torrent of words. When you grow up as a suttterer you are very aware of the power of words.

What do you want to do next?

I’m working on a documentary about lottery winners. It is another low budget scrappy project, just me operating the camera and producer/sound man. It is a great thing to go back and forth between big productions with a crew of 100 people and this little two-person movie. In a bigger production, you speak in a different language to the cinematographer and the production designer and the cast, many different languages all day long, saying the same thing over and over again. On this new film, I just put the camera exactly where I want to put it. I don’t have to say anything to anyone, I just start to shoot. There are two American myths about the lottery. One is the Protestant work ethic, it’s tainted, bad, and you’re cursed if you did not earn the money. The other is that it solves all your problems. The reality is that your sense of scale shifts, your sense of the money that you need or want shifts. If you have more money, you have more financial concerns. And family members and friends expect you to help them out.

Can you give examples of the kinds of movies and directors who have inspired you?

Hal Ashby — I watched his films again and again, the cinematography and production design. He has a masterful blending of absurd comedy and naturalism. His characters do outrageous things that are not of the real world and yet I feel like he’s someone I know. I did not want a Wes Andersen snowglobe artificial world. I wanted characters with real human emotion but exaggerated. I watch a lot of Billy Wilder films, the way he brings intelligence and humanity into whatever genre he was working in. I love the idea of being able to genre-hop the way he did. He brought his stamp to every one of his films, and I would love to be able to do that.

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