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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

 

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

Under the Skin
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language
Release Date:
April 11, 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

Rio 2
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
G
Release Date:
April 11, 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 Matrix Revolutions

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

Please someone, get me the blue pill. I want to forget that this ambitious and noteworthy series is ending so weakly.

The Matrix: Reloaded ended with the rebel forces of Zion preparing for the imminent invasion of the machines. Whatever script problems it had were more than made up for by the spectacular action sequences and the promise of a third chapter that would bring everything together. But that promise has been broken. “Revolutions” has the weakest script of the three, with pretentious dialogue that provoked laughter from the audience and a muddled structure that removes a lot of narrative tension. Worst of all, it has nothing to compare to the innovative “bullet time” effects of the first film or the sensational highway chase scene and combat between Neo and dozens of Smiths of the second. Instead of taking us to the next level, it all seems like a tired rehash.

There are two basic storylines. First, Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) has to pilot a ship through some very tricky thing while guys in huge robot things fight off zillions of cool flying octopus-like machines. Second, Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), on another ship, are heading straight for city occupied by the machines for a Dorothy-and-the-wizard-in-Emerald City-style confrontation.

There is a brief encounter with the Frenchman and Persephone (the still unimpressive Monica Belluci) in a nightclub that appears to be occupied with writhing bondage and discipline freaks. Neo visits the Oracle in her cozy kitchen (now played by Mary Alice, replacing the late Gloria Foster) and has a strange conversation about love and karma in an antiseptic train station.

The dialogue thuds, a mishmash of barked orders and cardboard heroics. But some of the performers manage to inject some life and dignity. Jada Pinkett Smith is the Matrix’s Han Solo, a charming rogue who can pilot a ship better than anyone else. Nona Gaye (Zee) makes her brief time onscreen memorable as a woman who overcomes her fear to give everything she has to the revolution. Though Mary Alice does her best, she cannot replace Foster, whose Oracle was the anchor of the other two movies. Hugo Weaving remains superb as Agent Smith. But it takes too long to get to the big final confrontation between Neo and Smith and the fight is not worth the wait.

The scariest moment in the movie was when it intimated that there might yet be another episode.

Parents should know that as with the first two films there is a great deal of battle violence. Characters are wounded and killed and there are some grisly graphic images. Characters swear a lot, mostly the s-word. There is brief nudity in a kinky nightclub scene.

Families who see this movie should talk about the source of the character names, a veritable encyclopedia of mythological references. What do the discussions of balance and choice mean? Of love and karma? Who is the Oracle? Who is the Architect? What is the train? What do you think of Neo’s answer to the question, “Why keep fighting?” What does it mean to “balance the euqation?”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the first two in the series as well as Blade Runner.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

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

This first movie based on Patrick O’Brien’s hugely popular 20-volume series of books about a ship’s captain during the Napoleonic Wars falls into the Harry Potter category: the intensely detailed books have passionate and intensely detail-oriented fans, so any movie version had to be flawlessly meticulous.

Co-screenwriter/director Peter Weir (Dead Poet’s Society, The Truman Show) has delivered a respectful but exciting film based on two of the books. He clearly intends it to be the all-but-impossible — a thoughtful and intelligent action film for grown-ups. And it comes pretty close.

Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) is captain of a tall ship called the H.M.S. Surprise in 1805, the midst of the Napoleonic Wars. His orders are to “sink, burn, or take as a prize” a French ship called the Acheron. But it is Aubrey who is surprised when the Acheron attacks. Many of his crew are injured or killed and his ship is badly damaged.

Aubrey must chart a new course on many levels. The Acheron is more powerful. Aubrey has no way of getting any information, direction, or support from home. He must lead his men (some of whom are still boys) into battle against a daunting enemy, knowing that many will be wounded or killed.

Aubrey is a good captain. He treats the men with dignity, kindness, and respect. But he understands that they need him to be a leader, not a friend, and that sometimes requires discipline and distance. Aubrey’s nickname is “Lucky Jack.” He knows that when he is in command of a group of boys and men a long way from home, it helps if they believe that he is lucky as well as wise. But that means he has to stay lucky.

The action scenes are exceptionally well-staged, putting the audience in the middle of the battles. The details are perfectly rendered — every gun, every blast, even every sound. But the action is balanced with a strong, classically structured story of the friendship between Aubrey and the ship’s doctor, Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany, last seen as Crowe’s roommate in A Beautiful Mind). They are friends and they share a great deal as they play music together in the quiet evenings. But they are very different. Aubrey is a man of action who gives and follows orders. Maturin is a man of science who believes that battles are tragic distractions from the pursuit of knowledge to make the world a better place. Their two perspectives provide balance as they struggle with their duties.

All of the performances are exceptionally strong and Crowe is splendid as Aubrey. He has the dash and the gravity and the sheer star power to provide the center of the movie, even in the midst of flying cannonballs. Weir has succeeded in making a film that is true to O’Brien’s books, utterly respectful of the history but all about the story.

Parents should know that the movie has prolonged and intense battle violence and some graphic scenes of amputation and surgery. Characters are in peril and many are severely wounded or killed, including some who are still children. A character is whipped as punishment. A character commits suicide. Characters drink and smoke and there are references to drunkenness, including the impact of extra rations of rum for the sailors.

Families who see this movie should talk about Why does Dr. Maturin say that “the deaths in actual battle are the easiest to bear?” Would Aubrey agree? How does Aubrey’s joke about “the lesser of two weevils” turn out to relate to some of the movie’s deeper themes? Why does Aubrey say, “I can only afford one rebel on this ship?” Who is he referring to? Characters in this movie are constantly making very difficult choices. Which did you think were most difficult? Which would you have decided differently?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy seafaring classics like Errol Flynn’s Captain Blood and Against All Flags and Gregory Peck’s Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N.. They will also enjoy the recent A&E television Horatio Hornblower miniseries starring Ioan Gruffudd.

In the Cut

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

Meg Ryan sheds more than her clothes in this would-be steamy thriller. She sheds her twinkle. We don’t get the nose-wrinkling smile. No adorable befuddlement. No irresistible misting of the eyes. Unfortunately, that leaves her — and us — with not much of a performance. And unfortunately the script leaves us with not much of a movie.

Ryan plays Franny, an English professor who is deeply moved by words. She drinks in the scraps of poetry on the subway placards. She writes down the latest slang terms she hears from her students. And when a police detective (always-watchable Mark Ruffalo) comes to ask whether she saw anything on the night of a murder, she writes down a word he used to describe the body: “disarticulated.” But she holds her own words in, communicating very little to anyone except for her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

Franny and the detective begin an intensely charged affair, but they know very little about each other and the very intensity in the midst of the investigation of a series of brutal makes them pull away from each other. Franny even begins to wonder whether the detective may be the killer. Threats loom all around her, including a needy ex-boyfriend (a stringy-looking Kevin Bacon) and a student (the charismatic Sharrieff Pugh) who seems interested in a much closer relationship.

Director Jane Campion uses arty tricks like a hand-held camera and a rust-colored cast to the settings to try to make the movie about something deeper. She may want it to seem dreamlike, even nightmarish. But it just feels incoherent. The verbal and physical encounters that are supposed to be dark and edgy and sexy are just flat. Ryan can handle dramatic roles, as she showed in When a Man Loves a Woman and Flesh and Bone. But she does not have enough to work with in the affectless Franny. The story itself is just weak, with an especially dopey ending that seems grafted on from another movie. If this were a smarter or more linear or more focused movie, I might think that Franny’s reaction to the detective — first impulsively getting too close and then impulsively pushing him away — was a reflection of the character’s conflicts about herself or perhaps symbolic of the human ambivalence about intimacy, physical and emotional. But I think it was just over-heated and muddled.

Parents should know that this movie is very close to an NC-17. It has exceptionally explicit sexual references and situations and extremely strong language, including racist and homophobic comments. There is nudity, including scenes in a strip bar. The movie also has very grisly images including bloody body parts and blood-drenched rooms. Characters are killed. The movie includes a lot of smoking and drinking, including drunkenness.

Families who see this movie should talk about the importance of Franny’s story about how her parents got engaged. How did the director use the way the camera moved and the color schemes of the settings to help tell the story?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the better Sea of Love and Final Analysis.

Elf

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2003

Will Ferrell is a very funny guy. His lanky cluelessness has a slightly muddled but imperishable sweetness that gives an endearing quality to all the characters he plays, from SNL’s exemplar of ultimate school spirit, Craig the cheerleader, to the streaking newlywed who stole Old School from ostensible leads Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn.

Ferrell’s first lead role is made to order, a sort of human Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a North Pole misfit who shows his value and saves the day. Ferrell plays Buddy, a human raised as one of Santa’s elves, who discovers at age 30 that he has a real father named Walter (James Caan) who lives in New York and is on Santa’s “naughty” list.

Buddy leaves the North Pole to find Walter, knowing only what he has learned from the elves. Thus, he is a whiz at making snowflake decorations and spreading good cheer, and he always assumes the best about everyone. But these are not especially useful skills in New York City.

Walter is in trouble with his boss, a publisher of children’s books, because he has to find a successful new story by Christmas Eve. At first, he does not believe that Buddy is his son, but after he passes a DNA test, Walter reluctantly brings him home to meet his wife (Mary Steenburgen) and son. When Buddy stops by the Santa display at Gimbel’s, he meets pretty Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), who is too shy to sing in front of other people. On his way to saving the day and a happy ending for everyone from the North Pole to Manhattan island, Buddy gets many chances to do silly things as he experiences New York city and gets to know Jovie and his family.

Some jokes work better than others. The movie can’t seem to make up its mind whether people should need proof of Santa’s existence or not. And the talents of Caan, Steenburgen, Bob Newhart (as Buddy’s adoptive father) and Ed Asner (as Santa) are neglected. But director Jon Favreau (who appears briefly as a doctor) shows some verve and keeps the story moving quickly enough to keep it from feeling like a series of skits. Deschanel (Big Trouble and Almost Famous) nicely shows us the way Buddy appeals to Jovie’s longing for a place where singing and sweetness are encouraged. And it’s nice to hear the Oscar-winning “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” duet sung so sweetly. Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent)has a marvelous cameo as a haughty French-cuffed author of children’s books, making his appearance much more than a sight gag. And Ferrell is just plain fun to watch. His naive pleasure in the world around him is ultimately almost as endearing to us as it is to (almost) everyone he meets.

Parents should know that the movie has some mild potty humor and a couple of gross-out gags involving burping, barfing, and eating some pretty disgusting things. The plot touches on an out-of-wedlock child and DNA testing as proof of paternity. Some younger children might be upset that Buddy’s mother died and that his father never knew about him. There is mild comic peril. A character gets drunk.

Families who see this movie should talk about how the other characters felt about Buddy’s cheer and enthusiasm. If you arrived in your town after 30 years at the North Pole, what would surprise and delight you the way that the escalator and revolving door surprised and delighted Buddy?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Santa Clause, Home Alone, and the original Miracle on 34th Street. That classic (ignore the palid remakes) is about the rivalry between Macy’s and its then-rival Gimbals, which despite its appearance in this movie, closed for business years ago. Families might even like to try some of Buddy’s holiday decorating ideas, though probably not his recipes!

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