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

The Missing

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2003

“The Missing” is a disappointment, relentlessly politically correct and even more relentlessly bleak and brutal.

Cate Blanchett plays Maggie, one of those indomitable frontier women who can yank an infected tooth, chop the firewood, handle a pouting teenager, and still find time for a romantic interlude with a handsome cowboy. She is known as a healer, and never turns anyone away, even her estranged father (Tommy Lee Jones in full crag), who deserted her family when she was a child and has been living with the Indians.

She will treat him, but she will not forgive him. But then, when an Indian shaman and his henchmen (some Indian, some white) murder Maggie’s lover and kidnap her daughter to sell her into prostitution, Maggie has to ask her father to help her track them so she can bring her daughter home.

In some ways, this is a very traditional set-up, with the quintessential movie plot — two people who do not get along forced to take a physical and psychological journey together in pursuit of a goal, here in one of the most enduring of movie settings, the old West, 1885 New Mexico. We see the first glimpses of modernity with the appearance of the telegraph, gramophone, and camera, in contrast to the last glimpses of the old, as ancient curses require ancient cures. And the movie reflects its own modernity and underscores its themes of duality, making sure that there are Indians, whites, and Mexicans as both good and bad guys.

Director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13) sustains the bleak and ominous atmosphere with images like a riderless horse returning home, a coyote on the dining room table, rattlesnakes hanging from trees in the midst of a terrible stillness, and with the the pale vistas of the terrain itself, bleached out, craggy, and unyielding.

And the story has some resonance, with themes that circle back. The shaman tells Maggie’s father that he has two dogs inside him, a good one and a bad one. Which one will win? He answers, “The one I feed the most.” Maggie and her father exchange necklaces — Indian beads and a silver crucifix — for protection, and Maggie and her father use the healing methods of their cultures on each other. One parent left a child and another cannot leave a child. Another parent who loses a child cannot continue.

Lilly, the about-to-be-kidnapped daughter, angry because her mother will not let her go to town to see the newfangled invention that records people’s voices, says she was born into the wrong family. She is not the only one who thinks that. Maggie is still bitter because her father left. And her father, having lived more with Indians than with white people, is very aware that he is not a part of either. It is an Indian who sent him back to the world he left. He only sought Maggie out because the medicine man said he had to care for his family if he wanted to survive a rattlesnake bite. He knew which “family” that had to be. As Maggie stands near the telegraph while the operater sends the message about Lilly to the cavalry, she sees the girls experimenting with the gramophone that Lilly had asked to see.

This movie has two dogs inside it, a good one and a bad one, and neither one wins. It has strengths, including the willingness to attempt some thematic complexity, reliably solid performances by Blanchett and Jones (with good but brief appearances by Val Kilmer and Aaron Eckhart) and the outstanding Jenna Boyd. But it does not address its themes with enough depth to justify its darkness, and thus does not succeed.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent movie, with frequent and exceptionally graphic brutal images and many injuries and deaths, including death of a child. A character commits suicide. There are sexual references and non-explicit sexual situations. The plot revolves around a plan to sell the girls into prostitution. Characters drink alcohol and use some strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about the dualities it emphasizes, including the white/Indian cultures. They should also talk about how the characters determine what their responsibilities are. Could Maggie have left with only two girls? Should the cavalry or the sheriff have abandoned their other duties to find Lilly?

Families who enjoy this movie should see the classic The Searchers, one of the most influential movies ever made. They may also enjoy Silverado and Shane.

The Last Samurai

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2003

For better and worse, this is what Hollywood knows how to do — a grand and eminently watchable epic with no expense spared, ambitious in scope, thoughtful in execution. If it is not particularly original or meaningful, and if it is a bit too careful, at least it avoids some of the usual pitfalls. It includes some outstanding action scenes and some memorable performances. But it never makes us care enough about the conflicts it portrays — those between the warring factions or those within the leading character.

Tom Cruise plays Nathan Algren, a Civil War veteran reduced to whiskey-soaked exhibitions for a gun manufacturer. He feels irredeemably corrupted by atrocities in fighting the Indians and has lost any sense of honor. When he is offered a job to train Japanese soldiers in modern fighting techniques, he does not car whose side he will be on. “For 500 bucks a month, I’ll kill whoever you want,” he tells his former commanding officer (Tony Goldwyn). “But keep one thing in mind. I’d happily kill you for free.” He is still haunted by a raid that killed civilian Indians and admits to himself, “I have been hired to suppress the rebellion of yet another tribal leader.” But it is the only job for which he is suited. The sustaining force of honor, dignity, and meaning are gone and all that is left is skill for which he no longer has any respect. “I am beset by the ironies of my life.”

Algren is lost in the gulf between his ideals and the world he sees around him.

In Japan, he meets Simon Graham (Timothy Spall), an expatriate Englishman who serves as his translator and our exposition-provider (“I have a tendency to tell the truth in a country where no one ever says what they mean. So now I translate other people’s lies.”) Graham helpfully lets us know that “The ancient and the modern are at war for the soul of Japan.”

Algren goes to work training soldiers in modern tactics so that they can defeat a samurai rebellion led by Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe). Against his best judgment, the troops are sent in against the samurai too soon. They are defeated, and Algren is captured.

Rebellion is in the eye of the beholder. Algren learns that the samurai believe that they, not the troops Algren who has been training, who are doing what the emperor needs. He is impressed and ultimately moved by them. “From the moment they wake, they devote themselves to perfection of whatever they do.” Algren — or at least the man he once was — has more in common with the samurai, who live a life of “service, discipline, and compassion,” than he has with any of his peers. That includes a Miniver Cheevy-ian sense of being born in the wrong time. But it also includes all the honor and self-respect that Algren left behind when he followed orders he despised. Instead of training troops to fight the rebellion, Algren is trained by the samurai in the ancient arts, which include not just fighting but living.

The movie’s greatest strength is its scope. Just as Algren admires the idea of spending a life searching for a perfect blossom, director/co-author Edward Zwick imbues every part of the screen with respect, even majesty. The epic reach of the movie is grounded in committed and thoughtful performances, especially Wantanabe and Koyuki as Taka, his sister. Cruise delivers his usual performance, sincere and loaded with movie star charisma. His mastery of the samurai fighting techniques is impressive but his acting shows us nothing we have not seen from him before.

The movie’s greatest weakness is that not every part of the screen is due that level of respect. It may be more fair to give both sides of the story, but it interferes with our commitment to the outcome. We know that Algren’s commanding officer is not a good guy and that the emperor is a weak guy advised by a greedy guy, and that Katsumoto is a good guy. But we never understand the substance of the conflict well enough to take sides. One side may be corrupt, but it is grappling with the inevitable in engaging with modernity. The other side may have honor and dignity, but in embracing its own extenction it seems to have forgotten how to do anything but fight, no matter what the consequences to its community. And the last 20 minutes or so are disappointingly formulaic, undercutting the power of everything that went before and teetering into the “movie that is ostensibly about the non-whites but turns out to be about the white guy who gets paid the big bucks” category.

Parents should know that this movie has extreme and graphic violence with many grisy wounds and a lot of blood. Many charactrs are killed, including some we have come to care about. Parents should especially be aware of the way that this movie portrays the traditional samurai notion of suicide as an honorable choice in the event of a defeat. The movie also includes some strong language, alcohol abuse, smoking, and sexual references. One of the movie’s strengths is its respect for the Japanese culture and its portrayal of strong and respectful relationships between people of different races and cultures.

Families who see this movie should talk about what it means to say that “A man does what he can until his destiny is revealed.” Why was Algren able to find redemption in Japan and not in the United States? How did he know which side he was on? Who won that last battle? Why? What is important to know about your enemy? Given the inevitability of changing times and technologies, how do you know what you should change or adapt to and what you must hold on to?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Glory, by the same director, and also Dances with Wolves, Braveheart, Henry V, and The Seven Samurai. They can check here and here for more information on the battle of Thermopylae and here for more information on 19th century samurai warriors.

Bad Santa

posted by rkumar
D
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2003

This is a movie about a very bad Santa, indeed. He’s worse than bad. He’s vile. He’s disgusting. Billy Bob Thornton plays Willie, a department store Santa who is constantly either drunk, horrifyingly inappropriate and obscene to the kids, or having sex, sometimes all three at the same time.

Willie and his partner Marcus (Tony Cox), an African-American little person, get jobs as Santa and elf in a different department store every December. Then they rob the store’s safe on Christmas eve and pretty much blitz out until the next year.

It’s a pretty close call as to whether Willie is more throroughly disgusted with himself or the rest of the world. But it doesn’t much matter to him. He seems incapable of holding onto a thought of any kind, much less a goal or plan. Then, in a demented twist on the usual movie plot, Willie meets a boy (Brett Kelly) who appears to really believe he is Santa and whose completely pathetic disaster of a life begins to wake Willie up to some all-but-vestigal notion of compassion.

Most of the movie is the same joke over and over — Willie’s grossly (in both senses of the word) inappropriate behavior. Willie tells a child he got into trouble for having sex with Mrs. Santa’s sister. This is supposed to be funny. Then, when the child walks in on him while he is having sex with a pretty bartender who has a Santa fetish (Lauren Graham of television’s “Gilmore Girls”), the child says matter-of-factly, “Hello, Mrs. Santa’s sister.” This is supposed to be even funnier. I am always up for something twisted and demented, especially in the midst of the overstuffed and over-marketed holiday season, but “Bad Santa” just gets sad.

The movie begins to feel more shoddy and exploitive of the child than Willie is as it tries to have it both ways, skewering and embracing the conventions of the holiday movie and the holidays themselves. Despite some funny moments, the best efforts of Thornton and Cox, and top-notch support from John Ritter as an anxious store executive and Bernie Mac as the store detective, the movie runs out of steam and becomes just unpleasant.

Parents should know that this movie has extremely mature material, including non-stop smoking, drinking, and profanity (often in front of or addressed to children), exceptionally explicit sexual references and situations, and graphic violence, including a suicide attempt, hitting below the belt, murder, and shooting.

Families who see this movie should talk about what made both Willie and Marcus decide to change.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the rude humor of Ruthless People and The Opposite of Sex. Other twisted holiday tales include Scrooged, Gremlins, and the brilliant A Christmas Story.

Dopamine

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2003

“Dopamine” is Mark Decena’s first journey as a director and it shows. While there are some lovely scenes and an evocative remote feeling, the dialogue and MESSAGE are as facile and meaningful as Snapple cap quotes. Decena has made a promising start here and the spunky performances by the leads (and its brief length at 84 minutes) keep the movie’s slow trot of a pace from getting dull. However, similar to those seemingly amazing ideas that result from philosophical discussions in the wee hours of the night, this movie loses brilliance in the light of day.

Rand (John Livingston) is a regular guy who is working hard on creating an interactive computer friend named Koy Koy with co-partners Johnson (Rueben Grundy, a dread-locked designated decent guy) and Winston (Bruno Campos, whose alpha-male persona from “ER” is given free rein here). Meanwhile Rand is trying to reconcile his conflicting feelings about romantic relationships as he watches his father retreat from loving husband into bitterness in response to his wife’s Alzheimer’s disease. Rand chooses to hide from intimacy by explaining away love as a chemical reaction hard-wired into our DNA, acting as drug whose effect is doomed to wane over time. The closest he gets to an intimate relationship is in his feelings for his own creation, Koy Koy.

The plot is fairly simple, which is a good thing. The psychology is equally simple which is not as good a thing. Rand might as well be reciting Bio 101 for all the passion he commits to his argument. Johnson is a disturbingly patient fount of good advice on how to be human, while Winston is an anthropomorphized id, greedy and self-absorbed. Against these emotional primary colors, the deus ex machina for life (and plot) development are the venture capitalists, who force the three partners to “test” their product’s synchronicity with the perceived target market: kids. Enter Sarah (TV’s Sabrina Lloyd), the petite teacher/artist, whose saucer-eyes are haunted by a past unresolved relationship which has “left deep holes to fill” (yeesh).

Johnson makes the first move on the passive Sarah but it is Rand who spends the majority of the movie courting her in his own conflicted way. The scenes between them alternate between sparkling and soggy as they tread over-familiar ground in their journey to understand love. It gives nothing away to say that along the way they learn a little about themselves and a lot about the nature of loving relationships, which is the MESSAGE after all and is not a bad message to have at that. But it could have been delivered with a little more, well, heart.

This film is the first that was incubated from beginning to end at the Sundance Institute, and that is why it seems oddly overly structured for an independent film. That is usually more of a problem for an overcooked studio creation as a result of input by too many executives and not enough faith in the audience’s ability to figure things out on its own. “Dopamine’s” characters seem pinned down by the motivations assigned to them, as though their behavior was programmed — like Koy Koy’s.

Parents should be aware that sexual relations are both extremely casual and alternately devoid/laden with psychological implications. Characters use drugs to deal with a stressful work situation. Smoking and drinking are the social norm. Emotional detachment, refutation of love’s existence by a husband for his sick wife, and passivity in slipping into relationships are adult themes that will not be suitable for kids and young teens.

Families should discuss different types of relationships that exist and how they change over time, under duress or during the upheaval of personal growth. How is the relationship between Johnson and Rand different at the end of the movie? How might the creation of Koy Koy’s mate represent a more complicated emotional step for Rand than for his partners?

Families also might discuss whether the vocabulary of “love” is misleading here, from Rand’s description of the initial, chemical feeling of attraction versus Sarah’s search for something more meaningful.

Families who enjoy this movie might wish to see Singles, which shares a similarly ambivalent take on love in relationships between twenty-somethings. Those who enjoy William Windom’s performance as Rand’s father might wish to see him in the classic To Kill a Mockingbird.

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Transcendence
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Bears
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posted 6:00:05pm Apr. 17, 2014 | read full post »


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