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If I Stay
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
Release Date:
August 22, 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

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

 

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

When the Game Stands Tall
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking
Release Date:
August 22, 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

Hoot

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for mild bullying and brief language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Kids take on developers to protect endangered owls in this mildly pleasant story based on the award-winning book by Carl Hiaasen. Parents will admire some of the messages — care for the environment, self-reliance, loyalty, and communication skills. But they will be less pleased with a one-sided, ends-justify-the-means approach that suggests that any action taken on behalf of endangered species is justified.


“Six schools in the last eight years? What are you, in the Witness Protection Program?”


14-year-old Roy (Logan Lerman) felt at home for the first time in Montana among the horses and the mountains. He is not at all happy about being uprooted to Florida, about as different from Montana as you can get.


It doesn’t help that there’s a big, mean bully on the schoolbus. But Roy is not afraid of him. He is curious, though, about a boy he sees running very fast, barefoot, and about a girl who seems angry at him but won’t tell him why.


It turns out Beatrice (Brie Larson) and her step-brother Mullet Fingers (Cody Linley) have a lot of secrets. For one, he is supposed to be away at boarding school. And for another, he is the one who has been vandalizing the site for a new pancake house to hold up construction because he wants to protect some burrowing owls.


Despite the efforts of the bully, an earnest but dim policeman (Luke Wilson), and an executive with the pancake company who has a secret of his own, the three kids find a way to bring about a happy ending for everyone, especially the owls.


All of the kids have a nice, natural quality and an easy chemistry with each other. Co-producer Jimmy Buffett appears as their marine biology teacher. He’s no actor, but it is so clear they all are enjoying themselves that it makes us want to enjoy them, too.

One of the movie’s great strengths is the way Roy avoids many of the usual problems of middle schoolers — especially those in movies. He is not afraid of the bully or of Beatrice. His frankness and courtesy in talking to her about the way she treats him is something every teenager can learn from — and a few parents, too. Roy’s parents trust and respect him, even when his behavior concerns them. This partially makes up for some cheesy slapstick and caricatured bad guys, but the superficial approach to the issues and casual attitude toward dangerous and illegal behavior by the kids undermines the story’s credibility. Nature boy Mullet Fingers may be all about protecting those darling owls, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about the poisonous snakes he captures or the dogs he sics them on. Or the humans they might easily reach.

Parents should know that the movie has some schoolyard language (“screwing up”) and some bullying and name-calling. Roy is derisively called “Cowgirl.” Parents should also know that the children’s behavior in the movie raises many parental concerns, including vandalism, theft, lying, truancy, and violence.


Families who see this movie should talk about whether the ends here (protecting the owls) justified the means (breaking the rules and the law). When do you cross the line? What consequences must you be prepared to accept? Families should also learn more about the Endangered Species Protection Program and about things that kids can do to help protect the environment.

Families who enjoy this film should read the book and see Al Gore’s new movie, An Inconvenient Truth. They will also enjoy Holes. And they should listen to my podcast interview with co-star Brie Larson.

Stick It

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some crude remarks
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:July 29, 2012

If the Olympics has sparked an interest in gymnastics, take a look at this fresh, fun, funny, and smart story about a teenager “sentenced” to return to the gymnastics training she thought she had left behind.  It has all the sizzling attitude of a great floor routine, and all of the discipline and heart as well.

Missy Peregrym plays Haley, who walked away in the middle of the world championship competition, forfeiting her team’s chance for a gold medal. She got her high school equivalency degree at age 15 and spends her days doing extreme bike stunts and getting into trouble. And she wears everyone’s favorite signifier of punk attitude: a Ramones t-shirt. One of the stunts lands her in front of a judge who gives her a choice: a military academy or a gymnastics academy. She opts for the military, but her father and the judge decide otherwise.

So, she walks into “the middle of an ‘I hate you’ sandwich,” the gymnastics training facility run by Vic (Jeff Bridges). The other gymnasts don’t want her there. Some of them are still angry about her walk-out; some don’t like her attitude; some don’t want the competition. She does not want to be there. She has no respect for a sport that gives judges the power to reward conformity and tradition instead of risk-taking and innovation. And she doesn’t want to cooperate with or trust anyone, especially a grown-up.

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But Vic allows her to train her own way and tells her that the prize money from the upcoming competition could help her pay for the property damage she caused. And he shows her that she can’t calcute danger and risk if she does not respect the rules.

Sure, we’ve seen it before, the kid and the mentor learning to trust each other, the first trial, the set-back, the training montage-with-rock-song, the lessons learned, the triumph. That saga is so indestructable it could produce an acceptably entertaining movie on automatic pilot. Indeed, it has, many, many times. Those films are as safe and conventional and sythetic as the color-inside-the-lines athletes Haley refuses to be like when she advises a team-mate: “If you’re going to eat mat, eat mat hard.”

What makes this movie irresistable is that the people making it don’t care how many times it has been done before. They don’t even seem to know. They make us feel that this isn’t just the only sports movie ever made; it’s the only movie ever made, and they came to play.

That means that they abandon, re-think, and transcend the conventions of the genre. It is filmed in a brash, insoucient style but with a sense of humor about itself and its audience and an assured and always -engaging visual style, starting with the graffiti-style credits. The gymnastic routines are kinetically staged (though cut around the limitations of the performers, who are athletic but not competitive gymnasts). A Busby Berkeley-style kalideoscopic version of one set of exercises is delightful but also genuinely breathtaking. And a romp through a department store is a slyly post-modern and slightly gender-bending take on Brady Bunch-style musical numbers.
The movie also deserves a lot of credit for giving us a heroine who defines herself and does not need a makeover to feel pretty or a boyfriend to make her feel complete. Most arresting and unusual, though, is its take on the sport itself and the nature of competition and teamwork, which is exceptionally well handled. Jeff Bridges brings both warmth and edge to the part of the coach and Pergrym knows how to make both attitude and vulnerability believable. The film is far better than it had to be, entertaining and reassuringly meaningful as well. If it were a gymnastics routine, I’d give it a 9.

Parents should know that characters use some strong and crude language (the s-word, the b-word) and there is some disrespectful, rule-breaking, and rude behavior. There is a reference to adultery, to being “hit on” and a gay joke. There are some dangerous stunts with injuries and a reference to serious injury. A strength of the movie is its frank and direct exploration of some of the issues of competition and a sport that gives the judges the power to decide who wins. And another is the way it avoids the usual romantic happily ever after ending.

Families who see this movie should talk about what the movie has to say about competition, cooperation, and teamwork. Hayley learns to respect some rules but not others. How does she determine the difference? Vic tells Hayley, “For someone who hates being judged, you’re one of the most judgmental people I ever met.” Where do we see her being judgmental and where do we see her changing some of her judgments? The girls who do gymnastics have to give up just about everything else in order to succeed. What would you be willing to give up to achieve something that was important to you? What does Haley learn from the judge’s comment that “A lot of great people have jerks for parents?” How do people overcome those kinds of disappointments?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Bring it On (some crude humor) and The Cutting Edge (some mature material) and Flashdance (more mature material).

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

posted by jmiller
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Mrs. Palfrey (Joan Plowright) did not think of herself as someone who would live in the shabby gentility of the Claremont, a residential hotel in London. We never learn the details of what brought her there or keeps her there, but we do not need to. We learn everything we need to know from the resigned but not cheerless sigh of acceptance as she sees her room for the first time, and from her quiet courage as she walks into the dining room

Mrs. Palfrey has hopes of hearing from her grandson, who works in London. And she may have hopes of finding companionship at the Claremont. But it is an unexpected encounter with a young writer named Ludovic (Rupert Friend) that leads to a true friendship.

A lovely antidote to summer movies filled with crashes, explosions, aliens, and teenagers, this is a bittersweet but touching story for grown-ups told with grace and wisdom.

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.

Previous Posts

If I Stay
Hamlet asked it best. "To be, or not to be: That is the question." We struggle through, worrying about whether someone likes us or whether we will be accepted at the school of our choice

posted 6:00:09pm Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
If you want to not just see but hear an eyeball being pulverized, then see "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For."  If you want to see and hear it in the company of an audience who thinks that's

posted 5:59:27pm Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »

When the Game Stands Tall
This dreary assemblage of every possible sports cliché has one thing in common with the game it portrays. Every time it seems to be going somewhere, it stops. More frustratingly, it wastes the opportunity to tell a good story by trying to squeeze in too many great ones. There are too many crises

posted 5:59:00pm Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Christian Indie Films of 2014
This year has already seen a remarkable and perhaps unprecedented number of Christian and Biblically-based films, from big-budget epics like "Noah" and "Son of God" to small faith-oriented films like "God's Not Dead."  There is an excellent summary of four Christian independent films of 2014 on In

posted 3:59:03pm Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Frank: The Real Story of the Singer With the Paper-Mache Mask
One of the handsomest men alive spends almost the entire movie wearing a huge round paper maché head in "Frank," a moving film inspired by the real-life story of the late Frank Sidebottom.  Michael Fassbender plays Frank, a sweet-natured but very quirky musician who wears his big head mask even in

posted 9:10:16am Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »


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