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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

Memoirs of a Geisha

posted by rkumar
A
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005

Movies can show us visions of other worlds, exotic vistas, customs, fashions, rules. And they can show us visions of ourselves, with our longings, our fears, our dreams, the and the way love can include them all. “Memoirs of a Geisha” does both. It’s a story of a time and place whose mysteries have kept it hidden but whose secrets turn out to be our own — the need for love, the courage to survive, the profound effects of cruelty and of kindness, the dream that is so deep inside that we barely breathe when we think of it.

Sold by their father, Chiyo (Suzuka Ohgo) and her sister are taken with no warning from their small fishing village to the city of Kyoto. At the doorway of a geisha house, Chiyo is grudingly accepted but her sister is not. Chiyo will later find that she has been taken to a house of prostitution. Geishas are not prostitutes — the word means “artist.” The most successful geisha’s command huge sums for their ability to entertain and to charm. Their appeal in part is in what they do not reveal, what they hold back. While they are not chaste — they begin their careers by having their virginity auctioned off to the highest bidder — they are not afterward expected to provide sexual favors. It is this idea of being elusive but not unobtainable (or at least not unobtained) that is a part of their attraction and their power.

Chiyo is treated cruelly and beaten. She and her sister plan an escape, but she is unable to be at the meeting place. After that, the closest thing she has to a friend is fellow slave Pumpkin. The owner of the house is the chain-smoking O-Kami, who cares only about survival, and that means money. The most successful geisha in Kyoto, Hatsumomo (Gong Li) lives in their house and she is threatened by Chiyo.

Two tranforming events occur. One day, Chiyo meets a man who buys her a flavored ice and gives her his handkerchief. He is the Chairman (Ken Wantanabe). He becomes her hero. For the first time she has a dream — she wants to be his geisha. She does not receive the proper training until Hatsumomo’s rival Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) takes her on. Whether it is kindness, ambition, or just a strategy to further infuriate Hatsumomo — or a combination of the three, Mameha devotes herself to her pupil. In a very short time she teaches Chiyo, now renamed Sayuri (and played by Ziyi Zhang) all of the arts and artifices of being a geisha. There are thousands of exquisitely intricate rules governing everything from the position of the hand in pouring tea to the position of the fan in performing a dance to the ability to cast a glance so devastating it can knock a man off his bicycle.

Sayuri is soon a sucess, and it requires even more diplomacy and strategy to maintain her position as her competitors use manipulation and deceit to try to discredit her. She again meets the Chairman and is admired by his close friend and colleague. Then the war comes, and when it is over, her geisha skills again provide opportunity and risk.

Sayuri is told that she has a lot of water in her, while her sister is wood. “Water flows from place to place quickly and always finds a crack to spill through. Wood, on the other hand, holds fast to the earth.” Sayuri must be as adaptable as water, but she must hold fast to the earth, too.

The outlines of the story may seem soapy, but the details of the place, time, and culture used to tell the story elevate it to a meaningful and moving saga of identity, longing, and resiliance, as exquisitely presented as a silk kimono.

Parents should know that this movie is about women who are not prostitutes but who do sell their companionship in a manner that can involve sexual favors. Violence includes beating a child and some wartime scenes. Characters drink (one drinks to excess) and smoke. Some audience members may be upset by scenes of children being taken from their parents and sold into what is essentially a form of slavery.

Families who see this movie should talk about the way one small act of kindness can transform a person’s life. What acts of kindness have been important to you? What acts of kindness can you perform? Why did the culture of the geisha become so important in that society? They might also want to talk about the controversial decision to cast Chinese actresses in this very Japanese story — a story, by the way, written by an author who was not a geisha, not Japanese, and not a woman. When can — and when can’t — one person truly understand the experience and perspectives of another culture?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Last Emperor. They might also enjoy a comedy about an American woman played by Shirley MacLaine who disguises herself as a geisha called My Geisha and the dated but still moving Oscar-winner Sayonara, about a soldier’s love affair with a Japanese actress. And they should read the award-winning novel by Arthur Golden.

Just Friends

posted by rkumar
D
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005

The worst thing about this movie is not how dumb it is, or how much talent it wastes. The worst thing is not how crude it is or how ugly the humor (more accurately, intended humor) is, and how cynically it exploits the inadequacies of the MPAA in attempting to provide parental guidance. No, the worst thing about this movie is how evident the entire cast’s lack of interest is. With one exception, they all look either embarrassed or bored or both.

So let’s talk about the one exception, the fabulous Anna Faris who is full-on fearless as Samantha, a pop star who put the “high” in “high maintenance.”

Samantha’s high maintenance is currently the responsibility of Chris (Ryan Reynolds), a former high school overweight sweetie still hung up on Jamie (Amy Smart), the girl who never let him out of the “friend zone.” Now he’s slim, successful, and a ladykiller, and determined to stay as far away as he can from the place he came from and the person he used to be.

So of course a microwave mishap on Samantha’s plane means a forced landing you-know-where. Chris tries a number of annoying techniques to capture Jamie’s heart (okay, some of the time his interest is in other portions of her anatomy), leading to much humiliation and mayhem, all of it either teeth-grindingly tedious, heart-sinkingly crude, or just plain boring, often all three at once.

Smart and Julie Hagarty as Chris’ mother are underused in roles that are under-written. Chris Klein does pretty well as a rival for Jamie’s affections. But Reynolds, as usual, looks like he can’t believe he’s stuck doing this stuff. He’s better off than those of us who have to watch it.

Parents should know that this movie take advantage of every loophole in the MPAA’s formulas to push the edge of the envelope on the PG-13. It has a great deal of material that is not just “mature” or “edgy” but very vulgar and crude. “Raise your hand if your brother is a homo!” is the merry jape Chris’ little brother tosses off repeatedly, along with “Did you boink her yet?” The overall idiocy of pop tart Samantha, including promiscuity, is also a source of intended humor. Chris’ promiscuity is supposed to be dashing and charming. It isn’t. There is a same-sex kiss (also supposed to be funny). Characters drink and get drunk and a character’s abuse of Vicodin is supposed to be funny. There is a lot of comic violence.

Families who see this movie should talk about why our adolescent insecurities continue to haunt us.

Families who appreciate this movie will also enjoy the much better Stuck on You.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

posted by rkumar
A
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2005

No recap. No amusingly horrifying opening appetizer at the Dursley’s house. No intriguing Diagon Alley detours. Someone shouts at Harry to hold on and he is whooshed into his next adventure as we are whooshed along with him.

It turns out he’s been told to grab on to what looks like a boot, but what is in reality a “portkey,” an ordinary object enchanted so that anyone who touches it will be transported to another location. And Harry and the Weasleys have been transported to a huge open field that is the site of the Quidditch World Cup. Harry ducks to walk inside the modest little tent, only to stand up inside and gaze around at a spacious and inviting space inside. “I love magic,” he says happily. And we know just how he feels.

Young orphaned Harry Potter is thrilled to find himself at the World Cup just as is about to begin his fourth year at Hogwarts boarding school for witches and wizards. But the wizarding equivalent of a terrorist attack shuts everything down. And since Harry was found at the scene of the crime, some suspect he may have had something to do with it.

As headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) says, “Dark and difficult times lie ahead, Harry. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right…and what is easy.” Harry knows that his old foe Voldemort is getting stronger and nearer. Of course, there is a new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, one Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson). Hogwarts plays host to a sort of inter-mural Iron Man competition, as three schools each nominate one candidate for the biggest competition of all, the Tri-Wizard Tournament. And Harry, now 14 years old, is having some very troubling feelings about one special girl named Cho Chang (Katie Leung).

Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Enchanted April) manages to bring off something of a tri-athletic feat himself. He creates a sense of seamless continuity with the three previous films (the first two directed by Chris Columbus, the third by Alfonso Cuaron) while bringing his own sensibility to the story. The young actors and their characters, too, seem to be evolving right on schedule, fully inhabiting their characters. Newell gets lovely, open performances from Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (best friend Ron Weasley), and Emma Watson (smartest girl in school Hermione). And he expertly makes the smallest moment of adolescent longing as vivid and meaningful as the WOW-worthy special effects.

And WOW-worthy they are from the stunning arena for the World Cup to the torture of an insect in Mad-Eye’s demonstration of the three unforgiveable curses.

There’s a carriage drawn by winged horses that brings the lovely jeune filles of Beauxbatons and a three-masted ship that rises from the depths of the sea carrying the competitors from Durmstrang to the tournament. There’s a mermaid, and a visit with Moaning Myrtle, the ghost in the bathroom. There’s a reporter with a voice as skritchy as her quill pen that writes by itself. There are four fire-breathing dragons. There’s a ball to attend, if one can get up the courage to invite a date, and there are the dates one didn’t ask in time, for one to glare at hotly and say things one instantly regrets.

The first of the supersized Harry books posed a challenge to any adaptation that you could watch without packing a lunch and your pajamas. But they’ve done a marvelous job of packing in a lot of detail and richness while keeping the story moving straight ahead. If we miss seeing the this year’s affront to the Dursleys and spending more time with old friends and foes like Snape, Dumbledore, McGonagall, Malfoy, and Hagrid, it is only a reflection of Harry’s stage of life, with his friends becoming the more prominent focus.

As Harry gets older and the stories get more complex and intricate, hints of themes from earlier chapters becoming deeper and more resonant, the series is becoming one of the most reliably satisfying in modern movie history. And that’s what magic feels like.

Parents should know that as in the books, Harry’s adventures and reactions become more complex and his challenges become more dangerous, the series has moved from a PG rating (albeit one that was right up at the edge of a PG-13) to a full-on PG-13. The bad guys are scarier, both in looks and in the threat they pose. There is a great deal of intense peril and some scary monsters. An important character is killed and the movie, even more than the book, makes you feel how searing a loss that is.Characters use brief strong language (“bloody hell,” “piss off”) and there is some very mild adolescent romance (a crush, concerns about who is going to ask whom to the dance and the jealous consequences thereof).

Families who see this movie should talk about how Harry, Ron, and Hermione are beginning to relate to each other differently as they get older.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the rest of the Harry Potter series. The books that inspired them have much more detail and are great fun to read, alone or aloud. Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Willow, Labyrinth, and The Princess Bride.

Derailed

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005

This movie sets out for intense, psychological thriller but ends up in an unrealistic dead-end thanks to misguided casting, implausible character development and a whole lot of bad behavior on the part of nearly everyone onscreen. “Derailed” indeed. Stuck on the same train as this lot, many audience members might prefer to walk.

Like the book, the movie follows Charles Christopher Schine (Clive Owen), who is just trying to be a nice guy. He is numb with loneliness as he goes from his rocky marriage to hated advertising job, unable to change tracks while his daughter, Amy (Addison Timlin) is ill and in need of expensive trial drugs. The spark between Charles and his wife (Melissa George) is smothered under the weight of worry for Amy and lack of communication, all of which leaves our protagonist ripe to make some very, very bad decisions.

An attractive leg on his morning train ride takes hold of Charles’ attention and desire. The leg belongs to finance expert Lucinda (a spectacularly miscast Jennifer Aniston), who is like him in sticking with her loveless marriage for the sake of a daughter but unlike him has verve and self-confidence to spare. As they edge towards an adulterous tryst, a robber/rapist Philippe Larouche (Vincent Cassel) hijacks the ride and in a string of physical and psychological attacks exploits Charles’ guilt and desire to please for blackmail. Will our hero save the lady and save the day? By the end of the movie, viewers might not care – idly wishing for a different hero, lady and day, preferably one that did not feature “Derailed”.

The redeeming features of the movie include some interesting scenes and insights, mostly stemming from Charles’ friendship with Winston (RZA), which in a platonic sense is a warmer, more intimate relationship than the one Lucinda offers. The twists and turns of the blackmailer’s con will offer some surprises for the less-jaded travelers but the epilogue will be the last stop for any passengers who managed to suspend disbelief through this uneven journey. The least credible turn of the movie is Charles’ jerky character development. Where the book might have explored this area better, here it runs out of steam.

Parents should be aware that this violent movie and its near-constant threats -– physical and psychological -— render it inappropriate for younger viewers or sensitive audience members of any age. Characters are killed, bloodily beaten, threatened, blackmailed, recklessly endangered and demeaned. There is an implicit rape, the threat of sexual attacks against a young girl, and the theme of adultery. All characters act in self-serving ways and stretch the limits of empathy.

Families may wish to discuss what makes a character sympathetic or not and why they side with Charles in his struggles. What would you have done differently?

Families who wish to see the actors here shine in other movies, might wish to see Greenfingers, which also starts and ends in prison but allows Clive Owen to show humor and timing or Croupier (mature themes), which first brought him to the attention of American audiences. Jennifer Aniston’s flat and distant dramatic persona works much better in the depressing The Good Girl and The Object of My Affection (mature themes), but true fans might stick with Picture Perfect or old episodes of Friends.

Thanks to guest critic AME.

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