Movie Mom

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Tusk
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some disturbing violence/gore, language and sexual content
Release Date:
September 19, 2014

 

The Fault in Our Stars
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language
Release Date:
June 6, 2014

This is Where I Leave You
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language, sexual content and some drug use
Release Date:
September 19, 2014

 

Think Like a Man Too
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content including references, partial nudity, language and drug material
Release Date:
June 20, 2014

The Maze Runner
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images
Release Date:
September 19, 2014

 

Godzilla
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence
Release Date:
May 16, 2014

World Trade Center

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for intense and emotional content, some disturbing images and language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

September 11, 2001 was one of those days that cleave history in two, forever separating the Before and the After as irrecovably as it separated those who were lost from those who survived. As we watched it over and over on television, trying to make some sense of the senseless, people said the same thing, over and over, “It’s like a movie.”


And now, it is a movie, or, so far, three movies with certainly more to come.

That is a part of a tradition that goes back to sagas around the campfire and paintings on the walls of caves. We create stories to help us make sense of our past and to think about our hopes for the future. We are still telling stories about courage and loss through the lens of every major conflict in history. In the last few years we’ve seen major, big-budget movies about great tragic conflicts from the Trojan War through Operation Desert Storm. Their stories about about sacrifice and heroism are a part of the way we make sense of the world.


That very tradition, combined with events that still seem surreal to us, make it difficult for this particular take on the events of 9/11 to feel satisfying as a matter of narrative or drama. Unlike the recent United 93, which adopted an intimate, documentary style for the story of the passengers who fought back and overpowered the terrorists, this movie takes the Hollywood approach to its story of the rescue of trapped Port Authority police.

Where United 93 used unfamiliar faces to allow us to feel we were seeing the real story, World Trade Center gives us Oscar-Winner and Hollywood royalty Nicolas Cage. Where United 93 told us nothing more about the characters than was revealed in the real-time unfolding of events onscreen, making everything that happened disorienting and surprising, World Trade Center gives us the traditional Hero introduction to the characters, with flashbacks to show us their family relationships.

The film begins by telling us it is based on “actual” recollections of the people involved. The use of that word exemplifies the kind of underlining that makes it feel clumsy.


The traditional approach to telling this story only comes across as off-register because it makes it seem — like a movie. Instead of making us feel connected to the real-life events of 9/11, its rhythms and cadences recall other movies, disaster movies like The Towering Inferno, or action movies like Die Hard.


There is a disconnect, too. We are set up for heroes, and then the focus of the story is more on the endurance and anxiety of the main characters than on their heroism. And the title leads us to expect something broader and more all-encompassing. There were thousands of stories in the World Trade Center. This movie focuses on one rescue mission, a deeply affecting story but not as transcendent as its title and set-up prepare us for.


Cage and Crash’s Michael Pena play John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, Port Authority cops called in to the World Trade Center without knowing exactly what the emergency was. “We prepared for everything,” McLoughlin says. “But not for this.”


They are first responders. They take a deep breath, leave nighsticks and hats behind and grab some helmets and oxygen tanks to go into the World Trade Center complex to rescue people trapped inside. But very quickly the buildings come down and their group is trapped. And soon, they are the only survivors.


At home, McLoughlin’s wife (Maria Bello) and children and Jimeno’s pregant wife (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and four-year-old daughter wait for news. And in Connecticut, a former Marine named Dave Karnes (Michael Shannon) gets a haircut, puts on his fatigues, and goes to the World Trade Center to see if he can find any survivors.


As McLoughlin and Jimeno lie crushed under slabs of rock, with bursts of flame, exploding bullets, and falling debris, they talk to each other. They provide companionship and support and urge each other to stay awake. They talk about their families. They talk about G.I. Jane and how it said pain was your friend because at least you know you’re allive. They talk about Jesus. They don’t know that the rescue team has gone home for the night. And they don’t know that Karnes has come to the site because he believes that is what God wants him to do.


Director Oliver Stone treats the story and the characters with respect, avoiding the consipiracy themes of some of his earlier movies and focusing on the story of the two injured cops and their families. There are powerful moments, the dazed wounded, lurching through the streets like zombies, paper, ash, and debris raining down around them, the collapse of the buildings, a quiet “There’s a lot of guys not with them” from a cop as he sees only a small fraction of those who went out coming back to the station.

And there is one scene of true brilliance and shattering impact as a mother waiting for news of her son (Viola Davis) recalls that the last time she saw him she scolded him for missing dinner.


But as a whole, it is uneven, its very respect for the “actual” stories that it feels out of balance, the personal information about a rescue worker with a history of substance abuse a distraction rather than a contribution to the whole.


There will be dozens of movies about the events of that day, maybe more. This one will fit better as one tile in a larger mosaic. But now, as one of the first, it does not have enough distance to give us a clearer perspective. And it does not have the right balance to make this part of the story resonate in a way that will help to heal or illuminate the events of 9/11/2001. There are times that a small part of the story can help us to understand the whole, through a true story like Schindler’s List or a fictional version like Saving Private Ryan. Davis’ speech reminds us of that, and shows us what this movie could have, should have been.

Parents should know that this movie is about the terrorist attacks and tragic events of September 11, 2001 and it includes material that is not graphic but very disturbing, including the death of thousands of people, suicide, and severe injury and the terror and devastating grief of family members. There are brief sexual references, including a prostitute, and characters use some strong language. Strengths of the movie include the portrayal of diverse people working together, the ideals of honor, courage, and sacrifice displayed, and the role of faith in some of the character’s lives.


Families who see this movie should talk about their own experiences on 9/11. They should also talk about the choices made by the characters and about the regrets they expressed. Someone says they could not have lived with themselves if they had not gone in — that’s who they were. What does that mean? What is it you want to make sure to say to those you care about most? When will you say it?


Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate Ladder 49, United 93, We Were Soldiers, and Saving Private Ryan.

Barnyard

posted by jmiller
C-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for some mild peril and rude humor.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

In this movie, the cows are boys. They have big pink udders and manly male voices. In fact, head cow Ben has the manliest, malest, deepest voice imaginable, that of quintessential cowpoke Sam Elliott. Our hero, Otis has the voice of Kevin James. But there are some girl cows, too, Daisy (Courtney Cox), who is pregnant, and her friend and Bessy (Wanda Sykes). And, just to make things more confusing, there’s a bull off somplace, too.


It isn’t like they’re trying to make some sort of point about gender here or there’s some punchline about it. It’s just that the people who made this movie don’t care or think we won’t notice.


I blame computers for this. It used to take as long as seven years to make an animated feature film, with all those individual cells to be lovingly hand painted. So there was a sort of market reality helping to make sure that the scripts really merited that attention. All of a sudden there is software making just about any computer into a mini-Pixar and agents who tell their star clients they can be in the next Shrek. So we get a lot of mediocre films with meticulously detailed fur and feathers and leaves and sunsets and vague and generic stories and characters.


And we get junky animated movies like this one: uncomfortably interspersed with a lot of slapstick and cornpone humor is a cynically added plot line that’s a little bit The Lion King a little bit Henry IV.

Ben, a strong, wise leader has a son, Otis, who loves pleasure and partying. When Ben is killed, Otis feels responsible and unworthy but rises to the challenge of protecting his friends from the predatory coyotes.

If it was just jokes like a cow shouting “MAN-a-bunga!,” riding a mechanical man-shaped bronco, and a bling-wearing rapping rat, it might be silly fun for kids. But the scary coyotes, the sad death of a parent, and the weird wooing of a pregnant (girl) cow make it uncomfortably awkward. The cynical superficiality of the way the more serious material is presented makes it inappropriate for younger kids and unworthy of older ones.


Parents should know that this movie has some peril and violence. Coyotes attack the barnyard animals. A character is mauled. There is a sad death of a parent and a description of other sad losses. Characters use some crude language and there is some potty humor. The cows get drunk on milk and a man reaches for a six-pack of beer. There are diverse characters, but some stereotyping of the females. And there are some references to killing animals for food, which may disturb some viewers.


Families who see this movie should talk about the way parents feel when a baby is born and what it means to stand up for others. They should also talk about the way we sometimes blame ourselves when bad things happen and how we learn to take responsibility for our actions. They may enjoy talking about the ways the animals in this movie imitate human behavior.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Home on the Range and The Ant Bully.

The Night Listener

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for language and some disquieting sexual content.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Armistad Maupin (Tales of the City) didn’t trust his own story in his adaptation of his novel inspired by something that happened to him. But what could have been a thoughtful psychological drama raising issues of identity and trust and the meaning of the stories we tell deteriorates into distracting melodrama. We spend too much time worrying about whether the main character will be arrested for breaking and entering and not enough understanding what is motivating him to want to.


Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams) mines his life for stories that he tells on the radio. He is feeling very vulnerable because the man he loves, Jess (Bobby Cannavale), has moved out. When his friend Ashe (Joe Morton) asks him to read a manuscript by Pete (Rory Culkin), a 14 year old boy who had been horribly abused by his parents, Noone is touched. He calls the boy, who is sick with AIDS and being cared for by Donna (Toni Collette), the social worker who adopted him. Gabriel becomes very devoted to Pete. But something does not seem right and Gabriel begins to wonder if Pete and Donna are telling the truth, if Pete even exists at all.


He flies out to see if he can find out the truth. This section of the film feels choppy and incomplete. The real life Maupin was mining may not have provided him with any clear answers. Movies don’t need clear answers; indeed, trying to tie things up too neatly with an “aha” moment is a common mistake. But movies do need answers that meet some standard of psychological validity and this movie is not murky; it’s flimsy.

Parents should know that this movie has explict references and some graphic images depicting the most severe child molestation, abuse, and pornography. There is some strong language, alcohol drinking, and drug references. There are tense and unhappy confrontations and characters are in some peril. A theme of the movie is betrayal, which may disturb some viewers. A strength of the movie is its positive portrayal of gay characters.


Families who see this movie should talk about why Noone wanted to believe Pete? How did what was going on between Noone and Jsss make Noone more vulnerable? What does Armistad Maupin (who wrote the book and movie baased on his own experiences) think about Donna? How can you tell? Families might want to learn more about the real story that inspired the book and movie and about similar literary hoaxes like James Frey’s highly embellished “autobiography” and the books by “J.T. Leroy”, who never really existed.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Williams’ performances in Insomnia and One Hour Photo as well as his Oscar-winning performance in Good Will Hunting (all with mature material).

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language, drug references and brief comic violence.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

When we’ve seen Will Ferrell run around naked, how much fun is it to see him run around in his underpants?

The disappointment of this movie is not that we don’t see enough of Will Ferrell. It’s disappointing because what we do see, we’ve seen before, and better.


Ferrell’s appeal comes from his whole-hearted cluelessness, but that needs to be placed in the context of some kind of legitimate, grown-up world. It doesn’t have to be complicated or explained in much detail, but there has to be some kind of clash. The rumor is that this movie was greenlighted based on four words: “Will Ferrell does NASCAR.” But the movie gives us no sense of NASCAR’s conventions or why it is meaningful. It isn’t that NASCAR is portrayed as foolish; it isn’t really portrayed at all. The setting might just as well be the soap box derby.

Ferrell looks tired and uninvolved and too old for this kind of role. His best friend is played by the reliable John C. Reilly but he has nothing to do but be a second Will Ferrell. When a movie relies on kids using bad language for humor, it’s running out of steam.


Ferrell plays Ricky Bobby, born in a racing car and shortly after abandoned by his substance-abusing ne’er-do-well father. These become the two forces in his life — the love of driving very fast and the need to win his father’s love and respect. He becomes a champion and then loses everything and has to find a way to win again and learn what winning really means.


All of this is just an excuse for a bunch of skits. There are some funny moments, but much of it feels tired. If this movie was in a NASCAR race, it would still be on the track long after all the other cars were back home for the night.


Parents should know that this movie has very explicit sexual references and very vulgar language for a PG-13. There are same-sex kisses. Children use extremely crude language and get away with it for most of the film. A character gives the finger. There’s a joke about feminine products and many references to genitals. Characters commit adultery. Some viewers will be offended by the way the characters talk about Jesus. Some may also be disturbed by the portrayal of the break-up of a marriage and the former spouses becoming involved with other people. A character abuses alcohol and drugs and children and adults joke about drugs. There is some comic violence, including a graphic depiction of a knife deeply embedded in a leg, and slapping children, but no one is hurt. The portrayal of the female characters is crass and somewhat misogynistic, even for a crude comedy. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of a married gay couple, but their behavior is as silly as everyone else’s.


Families who see this movie should talk about Ricky Bobby’s belief that no one would love him unless he was a winner.


Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Elf and Old School (mature material).

Previous Posts

Tusk
You can make a good movie about slackers, for example "Slackers," from Richard Linklater and "Clerks" from Kevin Smith. But you can't make a good movie by a slacker, and Smith does not seem wi

posted 5:59:40pm Sep. 18, 2014 | read full post »

This is Where I Leave You
A toddler carries his little potty out in front of the house so he can try out his new-found skill in public. Twice. Plus another time when the contents of the potty are first displayed for the

posted 5:59:39pm Sep. 18, 2014 | read full post »

The Maze Runner
Yes, it's another dystopic YA trilogy (actually, there's a fourth volume, a prequel), and yes, only a teenager with fabulous cheekbones can save the day. But "The Maze Runner" is not a lesser repeat. It is a worthy addition to the genre, an absorbing drama with surprising turns and even more surpris

posted 5:59:23pm Sep. 18, 2014 | read full post »

The Art of John Alvin -- Designer of Iconic Movie Posters
Any fan of film history and design will love this magnificent new book devoted to the iconic movie posters and other artwork from John Alvin, assembled and written by his widow, Andrea Alv

posted 8:00:05am Sep. 18, 2014 | read full post »

Guest Post: Tara Sonenshine on "Calvary"
My deepest thanks to Tara Sonenshine for allowing me to publish her thoughtful comments on "Calvary," starring Brendan Gleeson as a troubled priest in a small Irish t

posted 11:19:17pm Sep. 17, 2014 | read full post »


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