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Wish I Was Here
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Release Date:
July 18, 2014


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

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use
Release Date:
July 18, 2014


Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R For strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use
Release Date:
March 28, 2014

Planes: Fire & Rescue
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for action and some peril
Release Date:
July 18, 2014


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

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

posted by rkumar
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2005

Like a bowl of peanut butter-pretzel, chocolate ice-cream with a marshmallow swirl, this “Charlie” is a delicious confection that is gluttony for the senses and has novel twists placed in a familiar favorite. True to form, director Tim Burton has scooped a rich treat that is a feast for the eye but might be too much for some sensitive viewers.

Young Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore, who co-starred with Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland) is as poor as a church mouse and gentle as a lamb, a stark contrast to the other children in the movie who are beasts of very different natures. He lives with his parents (Noah Taylor and Helena Bonham Carter, stretching credibility with her upper-crust accent) and four bed-ridden grandparents eating cabbage soup in a crooked little house, where he can watch the snow fall through a hole in the roof. He loves his annual birthday chocolate bar and hearing Grandpa Joe (David Kelly, the scene-stealing co-star of Waking Ned Devine) tell stories about working for reclusive chocolate maker, Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp), in by-gone days.

When a special lottery is announced and Willy Wonka proclaims that five lucky children will be allowed into his factory, Charlie longs to find one of the five golden tickets. What results is pure fairy tale and closer to Roald Dahl’s original book, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” then to the 1971 movie version, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, that starred Gene Wilder. The factory is everything a child -– and most adults — would wonder to see, with fabulous confections, curious people, and imaginative rooms behind every door. While Charlie and Grandpa Joe see delights of all kinds, they do not fall prey to their own weaknesses the way the four other children do with such memorable results. Johnny Depp plays Willy with a quirky, almost prissy tone, a lonely child in an adult’s body, who reveals in flash-back his own uneasy youth and his estrangement from his dentist father.

With Danny Elfman’s music, Roald Dahl’s text, and Tim Burton’s eye for scenery, this visual and musical feast will appeal to viewers who enjoy odd and, at times, biting humor. The movie’s stylish tone, relevant message, fabulous sets and imaginative story make it worth a bite.

Parents should know that, as in the original book, this movie has an atmosphere that might unnerve sensitive audiences, indeed a five-year-old child at this screening left crying after the candy boat ride down the chocolate rapids. There are some brief disturbing images, including burning, melting dolls, an attack by and nut-sorting squirrels, comic but sometimes grisly injuries, and a grotesque dental appliance. Depp’s portrayal teeters into creepiness. But the really creepy people in this movie are the children in who fall to their weaknesses (loosely speaking: gluttony, avarice, pride, and sloth) and are punished for not heeding warnings. The punishments appear dangerous, even fatal, but are not –- in all cases, the punishments are leveled as much at the parents who allow these characteristics as much as at the children. Characters are on a rough boat ride, on a magical elevator, play violent video games. They disobey parents, and name-call in a quirky but honest way. Characters who behave well are rewarded.

Families who see this movie might wish to discuss the differences between the five children who win the golden tickets and how the “lessons” -– sung by the Oompa Loompas (all played with panache by Deep Roy) —- have stayed relevant over the years since Roald Dahl first penned them in 1964. They might wish to discuss how the lessons highlight not just the child’s behavior but that of the parent. Which characters do you admire? What traits to you see you in yourself?

Families that like this movie should read some of Roald Dahl’s books, including “Mathilda”, “The Witches”, “James and the Giant Peach” and, of course, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”.

All of the aforementioned have been made into enjoyable movies, including Tim Burton’s animated version of James and the Giant Peach. Parents might want to share the original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) with their children.

Thanks to guest critic AME for this review.

Dark Water

posted by rkumar
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005

No matter how many times they film it, the “something creepy is going on in my house” story has a lot of potential. We’ve all heard creaks and wondered, on dark and stormy nights, if anyone — or anything — was out there. And most of us have enjoyed watching people on screen wonder the same thing…especially if it turns out to be true.

Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) is Dahlia, a vulnerable young mother recently separated from her husband. We’re not sure whether to believe her or not. Her husband tells the mediators that she “lives in a world of her own.” He even says she is crazy. We know she is haunted by her memories of feeling abandoned by her mother. But she seems to have a very loving and healthy relationship with her daughter, Ceci. They look at an apartment in a run-down building on Roosevelt Island. At first Ceci says she does not want to live there, but after she disappears and Dahlia finds her on the roof holding a brand-new Hello Kitty backpack, she tells her mother she wants to stay. It’s near a good school and they don’t have much time, so she takes the apartment.

And of course immediately things start to go wrong. There is an oooky drippy leak in the corner of the ceiling, and the building manager and the off-the-books handyman give her the runaround about getting it fixed. Ceci’s nice new teacher (a sympathetic Camryn Manheim) tells Dahlia that Ceci is paying a lot of attention to an imaginary friend named Natasha that Dahlia doesn’t know anything about. Or is she real? Dahlia’s been taking pills and sleeping a lot. She discovered the apartment above hers was flooded with water the color of Coca-Cola. Or was it a drug-induced dream?

There are some good “boo” moments and director Walter Salles shows a flair for creepy images and an atmosphere of dread. Tim Roth and John C. Reilly add strong support as Dahlia’s lawyer and the building manager, two more people who are not entirely truthful. But like one of the images that flickers eerily in an elevator shaft, the scares are fleeting. It asks a lot of nicely disturbing questions but then tries to tie it up too quickly.

Parents should know that this is a creepy horror film with very intense scenes of peril and some violence. [Spoiler alert] There are some graphic images, including a dead child. Characters drink and use pharmaceutical drugs. There is brief strong language. Some viewers may be disturbed by the tense secens between an estranged couple or by the supernatural themes.

Families who see this film should talk about times they have felt creeped out and how they responded. Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy The Others, Bunny Lake is Missing, and Panic Room. They may also want to compare this to the original 2002 Japanese version.

War of the Worlds

posted by rkumar
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for frightening scenes of sci-fi violence and disturbing images
Movie Release Date:2005
DVD Release Date:November 22, 2005

“Is it the terrorists?” a frightened child asks, because that is the scariest thing she knows. But what makes this thing scary is that it is something no one knows. It is beyond our knowledge, even beyond our imagination. Earth is under attack and no one knows by whom or what they want.

These are not the “let’s play musical notes together” aliens of Close Encounters of the Third Kind or the Reese’s Pieces-loving, bicycle-flying botanist alien from E.T.: The Extraterrestrial. There’s no “Take me to your leader,” or Klaatu Barada Niktu. These aliens don’t even want to keep humans on as slave labor as in Battlefield Earth. They don’t want us to understand or negotiate with them. It does not seem to be about power or plunder. They just want to destroy us. As one character says, “This is not a war any more than there’s a war between men and maggots. It’s an extermination.”

Steven Spielberg knows two things better than anyone else who ever made a movie, and both are in top form here. First is his extraordinarily evocative sense of family life, the way every detail of home and connection (even, maybe especially the most frayed of connections) tell the story and make us care about it. A ribbon, a mirror, a boot, a box of family photographs, a Beach Boys song –- the juxtaposition of the ordinary with the unthinkable sustains a “golly” factor that grabs our throats and our hearts at the same time.

The special effects in the movie are dazzling. Just when we thought that we were so accustomed to the limitless wonders of CGI that we could never be stunned in a theater again, Spielberg just plain knocks our socks off. My husband counted eight spontaneous “Oh my Gods” coming from me during the movie. It isn’t just that it all looks real, seamlessly integrating the effects. It’s that what looks so real is so “Oh my God.”

The images are fresh and imaginative and yet perfectly believable, mixing the normal with the inconceivable, from the vast alien machines to the buckling of the earth and the apocalyptic landscapes. The most vivid images are when we see the trappings of everyday life transformed. In one moment of complete insanity, the bells at a railroad crossing start to clang, and the striped barriers come down as though it is a perfectly ordinary day and the commuter train is about to arrive on schedule. Everyone stops and takes a breath and then the train comes in, filled with flames.

Spielberg’s other great trick is his mastery of scale, and again, that use of context brings the story literally home. At least half of the “Oh my Gods” were responses to wow-style reveals of new threats, new invasions.

And Spielberg makes invasion into a theme, from the very beginning, when with stunning economy he sets the stage for all that is to come.

Our hero-to-be, Ray (Tom Cruise) arrives home late. His ex-wife Mary Ann (Miranda Otto), pregnant by her new husband, is standing there with a hand on her hip. The new husband is handsome, a little sleek-looking in a black turtleneck, but clearly so nice you can’t even bring yourself to hate him, though Ray has clearly tried. Even though the ex-wife is late, she decides to carry their daughter’s suitcase into Ray’s house. Ray is very uncomfortable as she opens his all-but-empty refrigerator and peeks into his messy bedroom. He feels invaded. His children seem alien. And yet, in one of the most understated but meaningful moments in the movie, a shared joke between Ray and Mary Ann shows us a glimpse of Ray’s asperity and resolve.

But all of that is under the surface. When we meet him, Ray has long been used to disappointing people. It is not clear which is worse, the sullen animosity of his son Robbie (Ray wears a Yankees baseball cap; Robbie pulls out one with a Red Sox logo) or the patient lack of expectations from his daughter, Rachel (Dakota Fanning). But when it becomes clear that something very, very bad is happening, Ray will do anything to keep his family safe. This will be his story more than it is the story of the battles. The movie is at heart, well, heart.

And Cruise does heart well. He and Fanning anchor the film with outstanding performances of conviction and charisma. Rachel’s protection of her “space” and Ray’s efforts to care for her memory and spirit all echo the invasion theme. The story moves well from the large scale destruction of a city to a small-scale intrusion into a shattered basement retreat occupied by three people. Throughout, the focus is on Spielberg’s favorite subject, the family as fortress. The government barely exists, the army is dedicated and honorable but overmatched.

And, as Ray points out, the humans are almost as dangerous as the aliens. Ray is not the only one who will do anything to keep his family alive and the ochlochratic chaos means that nowhere is safe.

The story is affecting, the action scenes are thrilling, the issues are resonant. Yet it is not ultimately as satisfying as less skillful movies like Independence Day. It may be wiser and it may have more artistic validity, but summer explosion movies call out for a more complete resolution than the Wells book allows. A valid but subtle point is lost, not for lack of respectful presentation, but perhaps because ot it.

Spoilers alert: Parents should know that this is an extremely tense and intense movie, with constant peril and violence. Many characters are killed. Many are neatly vaporized, but there are scenes with dead bodies, a brutal off-camera murder, a death by impalement, guns, grenades, lasers, and other weapons, and some grisly images. Characters use brief strong language. There are tense confrontations between family members. Some viewers will find the behavior of the humans more disturbing than that of the aliens.

Someone once said that the aliens in movies tell us more about what we are thinking about than about any likely real-life extraterrestrials. The UFO movies of the cold war era were, under this analysis, a reflection of our fears about communism and the atomic bomb — with the 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Day the Earth Stood Still as examples, contrasted with the more benign aliens of Spielberg’s other movies. What does this movie tell us about our current fears?

Families who see this movie should talk about how the story has changed since it was originally written by H.G. Wells more than 100 years ago. How was that era’s interest in the relatively recent scientific discoveries reflected in the book and how has the current version used modern concerns to connect to a contemporary audience? What do you think about the balance of the story between the action and the personal drama as Ray’s character has to become more responsible and
find a way to communicate with his children. How did both parts of the story help each other? In a situation like this, who do you help? Who do you accept help from?

Families who appreciate this film may enjoy listening to the legendary Orson Welles broadcast. This version of the book has the radio script as well. The text is also available online at Project Gutenberg. The new version has a small tribute to the George Pal movie. They will also enjoy Independence Day, one of the all-time best alien invasion movies, and they might get a kick out of Battlefield Earth, one of the worst, and Signs, one that has a bit of both.

George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead

posted by rkumar
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005

A groaning buffet table of cannibalistic carnage and cheesy dialogue, “Land of the Dead” unevenly masks its stale plot elements with campy winks and a dash of humor. The extreme carnivore’s ultimate popcorn genre, the zombie flick, is back in the trustworthy hands of legendary cult-movie director, George Romero, although some might not recognize his touch, cloaked as it is in a big fat budget. This movie is not for sensitive audiences of any age: as a litmus test, if you ever felt queasy hearing a friend describe a medical procedure, this movie is not for you.

Inured to the now-predictable threat of zombies, a city has walled itself off, protected on three sides by water and the fourth by electric fences. Hired scavengers led by Riley (Simon Baker) and Cholo (John Leguizamo) foray into surrounding towns in armored trucks to scavenge food and medical supplies while distracting the zombies with fireworks. Back in the city, all-powerful Mr. Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) runs the city as a three-class system with the “haves” shopping and amusing themselves in a central tower named “Fiddler’s Green” (wink), the “have-nots” providing services (wink-wink) and amusements to the “haves” and the security teams who protect the perimeter.

Riley and slow-talking burn-victim, Charlie (Robert Joy), observe a handful of zombies in one town who demonstrate some basic intelligence and communication, lead by “Big Daddy” (Eugene Clark). A confrontation between Cholo and Mr. Kaufman results in Fiddler’s Green being held hostage as these new, “thinking” zombies advance on the city. The last twenty minutes brings an explosion of gore, violence and frantic races by the living to escape an array of gruesome deaths. The penultimate scene is so hokey that getting eaten alive by the undead suddenly might not seem so bad, however, for the most part the movie feels exactly like a summer screamer should feel – mindless, gross and perversely fun.

Romero is the Godfather of zombie flicks, having made his name with the horror classic Night of the Living Dead (1968) and its more popular sequel Dawn of the Dead(1978). Clearly someone who appreciates scabs, scars, ingestion of body parts, and things that make others say “ewwwww”, Romero gleefully turns the camera to zombies tearing the flesh off bones or pawing through a corpse’s chest cavity to extract the juiciest organs. Parents should know that there is more butchery here –- of the walking undead and of the ill-used living—then in most abattoirs. Explicit depictions of human flesh being consumed make this inappropriate fare even for many mature viewers.

While the undead zombies are predictable in their behavior, the living exhibit all sorts of reprehensible behavior. Characters kill for financial and political gain. The most dependable and loyal character is mocked and called names, and those who cheat or lie die horrible deaths. There is a brief scene of two women kissing, of a barroom stripper topless, and of a character caged for the amusement of onlookers. Parents should be aware that there is frequent and strong profanity as well as several slurs on ethnicity and intelligence. Some characters drink and smoke.

Families who watch this film might want to discuss the political allusions to revolution as well as to several current events. How are the immoral punished and how are the people who keep their word rewarded? They might want to laugh together at all the nicknames people go by and what they would call themselves if they lived in a b-movie such as this one.

Families who enjoy this genre of movie might consider other Romero zombie flicks, keeping in mind that the special effects now look quite dated, or 28 Days Later, a grittier and more intelligent movie (with zombies who move very quickly). Similarly, they will want to check out Shaun of the Dead or Army of Darkness, both of which have a strong measure of humor caged for the amusement of onlookers. Both, of course, have intense and graphic violence and other mature material.

Many thanks to guest critic AME.

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