Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


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A Will for the Woods
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
August 15, 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

The Expendables 3
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for violence including intense sustained gun battles and fight scenes, and for language
Release Date:
August 15, 2014

 

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

Let's Be Cops
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity, violence and drug use
Release Date:
August 15, 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

Cheaper by the Dozen 2

posted by jmiller
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for some crude humor and mild language.
Movie Release Date:2005
DVD Release Date:2006

As synthetically generic as a “Happy Holidays” card from your realtor, this by-the-numbers pratfall-fest is, at least, a teensy bit better than the 2004 original. I’ll explain why in a moment. But first, I want to say something about montages.


Montages are the music-video-style interludes in movies. One you see quite often is the falling-in-love montage, with some sweet pop song in the background as our lovebirds ride a bicycle built for two, squirt water pistols at each other and squeal with laughter, walk hand-in-hand through an outdoor market, and smooch in the moonlight. Once in a while they genuinely help to tell the story, but most of the time they are just a lazy way to keep the audience feeling good without doing any actual work by writing, you know, dialogue to show us why these two people really like each other.


Then there are the trying on clothes montages (Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman) and the getting yourself or your team or your house in shape montages (Rocky running up the steps) and the passage of time montages. Again, it’s usually just laziness.


When I tell you that this movie features not one but three montages, you get the idea. On the other hand, it’s kind of a relief to be spared the sitcom-style dialogue.


Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt return as Tom and Kate Baker, parents of 12 children. As their children are growing up, with the two oldest girls moving out of town, they plan one last family vacation at a house on a lake they used to go to when the children were younger. At the lake, they run unto Tom’s old nemesis, the ultra-competitive Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy), with his beautiful trophy wife Serina (Carmen Electra) and eight high-achieving children.


Tom feels diminished by Jimmy, though their children get along very well, especially two budding romances between the 8th graders and the college-age children. Various fracases and pratfalls later (not once, but twice a guy in a wheelchair who has no other connection to the story falls into the water), the two families square off in a pentathelon of camp contests, a battle of egg-toss, three-legged race, volleyball. Everyone learns again the importance of family. Martin even gets a chance to shed a tear about how wonderful it all is to love your family so very, very much.


I’m still angry that these films appropriate the title of two of the best books for children ever written and then give us something that has no relationship whatsoever to the books or the astonishing, hilarious, and touching real-life story they portrayed about “motion study” pioneers Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and their twelve children.

Put that to one side, and it’s just a super-sized “Brady Bunch” episode with a lot of dumb-daddy pratfalls and some crude humor (including two completely inappropriate anti-gay jokes). Hillary Duff, now that she’s lost the babyfat that gave her face some sweetness, just looks horsey in a thankless part.

What it does have going for it is a trophy wife (Electra) who is not a stereotype. She is generous and tells her husband when he is behaving badly. Martin and Hunt have an easy chemistry, and one of the kids, Alyson Stoner, is a stand-out who makes a real impression, a genuine achievement amid all the crowd and noise. But the movie’s fundamental superficiality is clear in the absence of any notion of what family really is. There’s some sloppy sentimentality, but not a single moment of genuine parenting — no instruction, guidance (even when a child shoplifts, which is treated as evidence of insecurity not as theft), support, generosity, or even listening. The movie’s idea of what it means to be a parent is not much more than affectionate proximity. What’s cheap here is the sentiment.


Parents should know that the movie has some crude language and jokes, including potty humor, a hit in the crotch, and homophobic references. One girl calls her young sister “butch” because she doesn’t like make-up and it is supposed to be funny that when a man puts his arm around another man’s shoulders, people think they are gay. Character drink (including drinking to make themselves feel better). Misbehavior is endorsed (even encouraged) or overlooked, including shoplifting and destructive pranks.

Families who see this movie should talk about what the best — and worst — parts of having such a large family would be. Why did Tom care so much about what Jimmy thought of him? Why did Jimmy want Tom to care so much? Families should also talk about how they feel as the children grow up and what families do to stay close to each other.


Families who enjoy this movie should read the book and its sequel, and see the original movies.

Last Holiday

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some sexual reference.
Movie Release Date:2005
DVD Release Date:2006

Every night, Georgia Bird (Queen Latifah) cooks a spectacular meal, arranges everything perfectly, takes a picture of it for her “possibilities” scrapbook and then feeds it to the boy who lives next door while she microwaves a frozen diet dinner for herself. She works at a store where she meekly goes along with whatever her nasty boss tells her and she can barely speak when dreamboat Sean (LL Cool J) walks by.


Then she finds out that she has a serious condition and only three weeks to live. So she takes all of her money out of the bank and decides to blow it all on a trip to a fabulous resort. The woman who has been so careful for so long has no reason to be careful anymore. The woman who has been saving everything for someday decides that the time has come to spend.


Queen Latifah has a warm and lovely screen presence and it is a pleasure to see her light up as Georgia comes alive. We are immediately on her side as the caterpillar and we can’t help thrilling as she begins to kick up her heels and spread her wings as a butterfly. Yes, there will be a trying-on-fancy-clothes-montage when Georgia decides to replace her drab wardrobe. Yes, Georgia will run into her hero, the resort’s French chef (Gerard Depardieu) and the mega-millionaire who owns the store she works in, visiting the resort to hobnob with bigwigs. And yes, everyone will assume she’s a bigwig, too (why else would she be throwing so much money around) and yes, everyone will be charmed by her freshness and honesty. And yes, Georgia will wonder why it took dying to teach her how to live.


And yes, we enjoy seeing it all unfold. The script is pure formula, but Queen Latifah is having such a ball that we are happy to be invited along. At times it feels like an extended trailer for itself with silly set-pieces (Georgia base-jumps! Georgia cooks with the chef!), but we are on her side all the way and when the happily-ever-ending arrives, we’re as happy as she is.

Parents should know that the movie has an extremely crude joke about oral sex for a PG-13 movie. There is some comic peril, some strong language, and some social drinking. The theme of a fatal disease may be disturbing to some audience members.


Families who see this movie should talk about what they might put in their own “possiblities” books — and what they can do to make those possibilities into realities. Why did it take a diagnosis of a serious disease to make Georgia brave enough to try out her dreams?


Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate Queen Latifah’s fine performances in Chicago and Living out Loud (both with mature material). They might enjoy the original version of this movie, starring Alec Guiness (the original Obi-wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.

Munich

posted by jmiller
A
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for strong graphic violence, some sexual content, nudity and language.
Movie Release Date:2005
DVD Release Date:2006

Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meier said, “I can forgive them for killing my children. I cannot forgive them for forcing my children to kill theirs.”


At the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, there was very little security because the Germans were hoping to counter memories of the Nazi-run 1936 Olympics in Berlin. In what later became known as the Black September attack, terrorists broke into the athletes’ living quarters and took members of the Israeli team hostage. They killed two of the team members and released a list of demands. They wanted the release of 234 Arab and German prisoners held in Israel and West Germany. And they demanded that three planes be fueled and made ready for takeoff. At the airport, a failed effort to rescue the hostages led to disaster. All of the hostages and five of the eight terrorists were dead. The three terrorists who were captured were released a few months later in an airplane hijacking that was later acknowledged to be engineered by the German authorities.


This movie is the story of what happened next.


And it is the story of what we face today. Thousands of years of history have given us no roadmap for responding to terrorism. All of the options are unthinkable.

Meier (Lynn Cohen), criticized for refusing to negotiate with the terrorists, authorizes an attack by air on guerrilla targets in Lebanon and Syria. And she directs that the organizers and perpetrators of the Black Sunday attack be hunted down and killed. Not captured, not tried in court. Killed.


The leader of this off-the-books venture is Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana), an officer in Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency) with a wife who is seven months pregnant. Israel will have no official knowledge of their activities, but will support them with cash and resources.


Like a real-life Mission Impossible, Avner has a team of experts. One knows bombs. One knows how to forge documents. One “worries” — he’s the guy who makes sure they don’t leave any clues behind.

They have thousands of American dollars to give to those who can help them find their targets. And very quickly, they find their first target. He is not in hiding. In fact, he is due to appear at a promotional event for his new book, a translation of the Arabian Nights into Italian.


They follow him as he stops to pick up groceries and has a pleasant exchange with the shopkeeper. They confront him in the stairwell of his apartment building. They shoot him, and his blood mingles with the spilled milk from the shattered bottle.


Avner makes contact with Louis (Mathieu Amalric) a man who explains that he is “ideologically promiscuous” and will do anything except do business with any government. Avner assures him he is working for “rich Americans” and Louis begins to give him names and provide support for the operation. But how do you trust someone who is (apparently) honest about his untrustworthiness, especially when you’re lying to him? Louis (possibly a reference to the initially amoral Louis in Casablanca) makes no promises that he will protect Avner if another client is looking for him. But Louis has what Avner will not find from an upstanding citizen — the names and locations of the people Avner is looking for and the means to help Avner and his team kill them.


It would have been natural, even easy, for the Steven Spielberg of 20 years ago to make this into a sort of “Indiana Jones and the Terrorist Assassins” story, with Avner as something between a cowboy and a comic book hero specializing in do-it-yourself justice. Revenge is a narrative propulsion engine that always works well in movies and Spielberg is a master of pacing and storytelling. All of that is brilliantly applied here. But he does not let us get caught up in the good guys vs. the bad guys shoot-em-up. The first hit is not just excruciatingly tense; it is excruciatingly difficult. We want them to shoot, but we also don’t want them to.


Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner (Angels in America) do not just show us all sides; they show Avner and his team all sides, and let the characters and the audience agonize over what they and we have become. In one scene, Louis has unintentionally (or intentionally) double-booked two teams of assassins into a room in an ironically-termed “safe house.” After an all-guns-drawn stand-off, Avner persuades the other group they are not there to hurt them, and everyone lies down to try to get some sleep. There’s a bit of a struggle over the radio until they find a station everyone can agree on — American R&B. Meanwhile, Avner and the leader of the other group talk about the future of Israel and Palestine. The next time they meet, talking is not on the agenda.


Spielberg is a master of point of view, making us care about and root for the movie’s “hero.” We happily root for the good guys when it’s three guys against a shark or some scientists and kids against the dinosaurs or Indiana Jones (or Schindler or the soldiers looking for Private Ryan) against the Nazis. Here, he uses that skill to tell Avner’s story, making it clear that he is the hero, and yet keep us off-balance as he and Kushner add layers of heart-wrenching detail and complexity.

Like most Spielberg movies, the theme of this story is home, and what makes it heartbreaking is the way each of the characters is just trying to do the best he can to protect his home and his family. What makes it even more heartbreaking is the way that all of them, in their own way, end up as exiles. Avner can no longer live in the land for which he sacrificed so much, including his time with his family and his peace of mind. Others lose the home they thought they had as a part of a culture committed to righteousness, not revenge.


Like Avner, we get numb to the killing. The first one is heart-breaking; after the fourth (or is it the fifth?), you’re just thinking about the logistics.

How do you kill a monster without becoming one yourself? How do you look in the eyes of a monster without seeing his humanity? The first of Avner’s targets explains that the Arabian Nights stories are enduring because of the power of narrative. Each of the characters in the story (as well as Spielberg, Kushner, and the real-life Avner who cooperated with a book about what happened) have a story to tell. The movie ends, but the story goes on.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent movie with constant peril and many injuries and deaths and a child in peril. This is not a mindless Hollywood shoot-em-up; it is a real-life story and Spielberg and Kushner make you feel how agonizing each encounter really is. There are also explicit sexual situations (some nudity). The language is less strong than in most R-rated films; someone gives the finger.


Families who see this movie should talk about what the options are for preventing and responding to terrorist attacks. How does each of the people in this movie define the “home” he or she is protecting? How do each of them decide what the limits are — what they will and will not do? How do you decide what your own defition of home and limits are? Black September and the Israeli response (which they called “Wrath of God”) were both in large part intended to affect the public perception of the righteousness of the causes of their organizers. How effective were they? How do you decide who is in your “us” and who is in your “them?” What does Meier’s quotation mean?

Families who appreciate this movie should see the Oscar-winning documentary One Day in September about the capture and killing of the Israeli Olympic athletes, which makes clear the devastation of the loss of the Israeli team members and explores the ineptitude of the German officals and the callousness of the Olympic community. More information about the Black September attack and its aftermath can be found here, here, and here. A Woman Called Golda has Ingrid Bergman as Golda Meier, the Milwaukee schoolteacher who became the second Prime Minister of Israel.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

posted by jmiller
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for battle sequences and frightening moments.
Movie Release Date:2005
DVD Release Date:2006

The perennial children’s classic by C. S. Lewis has been lovingly, thrillingly, enchantingly, brilliantly brought to screen in this flawless adaptation of the first of the “Narnia” series. (Note for purists — yes, it is chronologically the second in the order of the story, but it was the first Lewis wrote.) It is one of the best films of the year for any and all ages.


Four children, oldest brother Peter (William Moseley), sister Susan (Anna Popplewell), brother Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and youngest Lucy (Georgie Henley) are sent to a huge old house in the country for safety during the bombing of London in World War II.

Told to stay out of the way of its owner, “The Professor” (James Broadbent), and stuck inside on a rainy summer day, they play hide and seek. Lucy sneaks into a huge “wardrobe” (a piece of furniture that is something like a closet). Behind all the fur coats, she finds pine branches and suddenly under her heel, there is a crunching of snow.


She meets a faun named Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy) who at first thinks she must be some kind of beardless dwarf and then realizes she is a “daughter of Eve” — a human. He tells her she is in Narnia and invites her to tea. Enticed by his offer of friendship and the promised sardines, she goes with him to his little house. But it turns out he did not have friendship in mind. The evil witch who calls herself a queen has kept Narnia in a perpetual winter without Christmas for a hundred years has issued an order that any humans must be brought to her because of a prophecy that four humans will reclaim the kingdom.


Tumnus cannot go through with it, so he tells Lucy to leave before the witch finds her. Lucy goes back through the wardrobe where only a moment has passed in the professor’s house, though she had been gone for hours. No one believes her story.

Edmund goes to Narnia with her and meets the witch (Tilda Swinton), who promises him treats and a throne, but when he comes back, he says she made it all up. Soon all four children are in Narnia. While Peter, Susan, and Lucy join with Aslan the lion and those who want to melt the hundred-years winter and bring freedom back to Narnia, Edmund’s vanity and loneliness cause him to side with the witch. Dire battles lie ahead — a battle of armies and a battle of the spirit.


The design and effects are stunning, with completely believeable centaurs, fauns, cyclops, wolves, and foxes. Narnia feels truly magical.

The performances of the four leads, especially Henley’s Lucy, are unaffected and sincere. Swinton’s flat face and almost-invisible brows and lashes float above stiff, even sculptural gowns and there is never a hint of a wink or a holding back because this is a kids’ story. She brings the absolute focus and conviction to the part of the witch she might bring to a performance as Lady Macbeth and it is shiveringly evil. Liam Neeson provides the voice of Aslan, the wise and generous leader of the rebellion, and Ray Winstone and Dawn French are the endearing beavers. The script, co-written by director Andrew Adamson — hmmm, son of Adam — (Shrek) is wise and genuinely witty. It delicately but thoughtfully manages to achieve a balance between fairy tale and religious allegory so that audiences in search of either will find what they are looking for and be satisfied. And that is a very deep magic indeed.

Parents should know that this movie has very intense and explicit battle violence for a PG movie, close to the edge of a PG-13. Characters are injured and (apparently) killed. Children are in peril and one is smacked, imprisoned, and treated cruelly. Parents of younger children and those not familiar with the story will want to make sure that children who see the movie know what to expect. We first see the children hiding as London is attacked by bombs during WWII, and then they are sent away by their mother to live with someone they do not know. Some children may need some historical context (and some reassurance) to understand this part of the story.


Families who see this movie should talk about the tradition of “enchanted place” stories and why they are so enduringly popular. How is this story like — and not like — other stories about children who wander into magic lands? One reason this story has been popular for so many years is that it works on many levels. Some families will want to discuss the Christian symbolism in the story, which was written by a distinguished theologian. Others will want to focus on other themes, like trust, loyalty, and courage. What was Edmund so ready to believe what the Queen said? Why did he try to make a joke out of everything? What did Aslan mean by understanding sacrifice? Why was Aslan so willing to forgive Edmund? If you could create a magic land, what would it be like?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the books and the BBC miniseries. They will also enjoy other “enchanted places” stories in books and movies, from classics like Alice in Wonderland, The Secret Garden, and The Wizard of Oz to newcomers like Time Bandits, the books of Edward Eager and E. Nesbitt, and the His Dark Materials trilogy. Older viewers who would like to know something more about the author of these books will enjoy Shadowlands (or the equally good British version), about the very unexpected (especially by Lewis) love of Lewis’s life, Joy Gresham (whose son Douglas was co-producer of this film, and who provides the voice of the radio announcer at the beginning).

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