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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Release Date:
December 19, 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

Exodus: Gods and Kings
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for violence including battle sequences and intense images
Release Date:
December 12, 2014

 

Magic in the Moonlight
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout
Release Date:
August 1, 2014

Top Five
Lowest Recommended Age:
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use
Release Date:

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Release Date:
August 8, 2014

James C. Strouse of “Grace is Gone”

posted by Nell Minow

“Grace is Gone” is the story of a father who cannot bear to tell his daughters that their mother has been killed in Iraq, so he takes them on a road trip to a theme park called Enchanted Garden. It was written and directed by James C. Strouse, who spoke to me about making the film.
You worked with two of my favorite actors on this film, John Cusack, who played Stanley and Alessandro Nivola, who played his brother.
John wanted to try something different. It was written pretty specifically, you could see it on the page that [his character] was buttoned down and quiet, slightly repressed, and he was excited to try that. I had a backstory for him and put him in touch with a couple of people including a man who lost his wife and has three kids. John was ready to do and came up with a lot of the performance on his own.
Alessandro is just phenomenal. That was one of the last roles we cast and as soon as he read the script he said, “Yes, I’ll do it.” He’s so smart. It’s great to meet an actor who not only understands their part but the larger story as well. It’s kind of a luxury, when they understand the micro and macro at the same time. From the first take, I had very little to say because he just got it so clearly. Like his character, he was a breath of fresh air, a fun presence. The girls just instantly were smitten with him. I loved his film Junebug and I poached as many people as I could from that film, not just Alessandro but also the editor, screened the movie for Junebug’s director Phil Morrison to get his comments.
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Jeneé Osterheldt Recommends the Classics

posted by Nell Minow

The Kansas City Star’s Jeneé Osterheldt has a great column with the solution for television fans suffering from writers’ strike doldrums: go to Turner Classic Movies and enjoy the classics. When Martin Scorsese met with the Museum of the Moving Image film critics group last year, he told us he keeps TCM going much of the time he is in his office, often calling in the staff to see a great shot or scene. And this is the best time of year on TCM, when they salute the Oscars with a fabulous array of classics featuring films honored with nominations, not just for acting and directing but for costume design, screenplay, and score. Osterheldt has a terrific list of recommended classics, not just, to quote that most quotable of movies, “the usual suspects.” And she quotes my dad, Newton Minow, who called television a vast wasteland, as a reminder that even without the strike, it can be a challenge to find something worth watching. Let’s hope the strike is settled soon. But in the meantime, Osterheldt reminds us that we’ll always have Paris, I mean we’ll always have TCM, Netflix, and Amazon. Continue Reading This Post »

The Invasion

posted by Nell Minow
D
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and terror.
Movie Release Date:August 17, 2007
DVD Release Date:January 29, 2008

This fourth movie version of the Jack Finney story about “body-snatchers” again reminds us that the scariest enemies are not creatures with sharp talons and teeth, aliens with super-powerful weapons, or enormous dinosaurs with powerful jaws but the prospect of losing ourselves and those we love by having everything that makes them individuals erased by some sort of emotionless collective mind.
Unfortunately, it also reminds us that a scary premise and a top-notch cast are not enough to make a good movie. This movie does to the original Jack Finney story what the alien virus what-not does to the characters — it sucks out all of the energy and spirit. Where the original earned its thrills through good old-fashioned psychological terror, this one substitutes a couple of “boo!” moments and some gross-out effects. In the original, as people slept, their duplicates grew silently in alied pods. In this one, the virus that turns people into drone-like automatons is transmitted by — projectile vomit. Ew. And in this one, first-class performers better known for Shakespeare are covered with slime and barf on each other. Ewww.
The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a brilliantly terrifying film that resonated and illuminated the issues of its time. Liberals claimed it as theirs, arguing that it portrayed the consequence of soulless conformity. Conservatives said it was a parable about the dangers of communism. The 1978 version (rated PG) was directed by Philip Kaufman (“The Right Stuff”) and features Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams in a post-me-decade take on individualism vs. the community. In 1994, another version, this time called Body Snatchers (and rated R) was released. That version is less a political analogy than a reflection of a teenager’s conflicts over identity and separation.
And now this one which is sort of about…national security? Would it be worth it to give up our individuality and ability to feel emotions to gain what every Miss America claims as her platform, world peace? That might be worth thinking about, but thinking is something this film does not do. If it did, perhaps it could tell us how someone could avoid an impenetrable roadblock keeping anyone from leaving Washington DC by buying a ticket and taking the train. Or how sometimes the infected creatures seem to share one consciousness and other times they do not. Or why the bad guys check everyone’s IDs but don’t seem to notice that one of them has the name of someone from their Most Wanted list.
Reportedly, this film was retooled with new directors after an earlier version did not pass muster with focus groups, and some scary stuff was added in. It only serves to make the story more disjointed. The action sequences are dull and the story does not work at face value or as metaphor. It was a great mistake to remove intentionality from the threat, which weakens the story further. Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, and Roger Rees look great (except when Rees is covered with slime and creeping along the floor like Regan in “The Exorcist”), but their greatest achievement as performers in this film is hiding what must have been strong emotions about appearing in this film. Someone should check the basement of the studio for pods.

Parents should know that this is a creepy thriller with graphic shots, some jump-out-at-you surprises, chases, suicide, and some gross-out effects. There are bloody wounds, corpses, adults and children in peril, and bodies covered with ooze. Characters shoot guns, crash cars, and hit each other with various blunt objects. A child gives an adult a shot with a syringe into the heart. There is brief strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about the Russian ambassador’s statement that “in the right situation we are each capable of terrible crimes.” What evidence does the movie have for and against that view? How does this version of the movie attempt to reflect our times?
Families who like this movie will also like the book , the original version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the 1978 version with Donald Sutherland, the 1994 version, or The Faculty. This film continues the tradition of putting alumni of the original in small parts. Actor Kevin McCarthy and director Don Siegel from the original appear briefly in the 1978 version. And one of that film’s stars, Veronica Cartwright, appears in this one as Mrs. Lenk.
A grislier exploration of some of the same themes is in Night of the Living Dead and its remakes and sequels. The classic children’s book A Wrinkle in Time also deals with the same issues.

Daddy Day Camp

posted by Nell Minow
D
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for mild bodily humor and language.
DVD Release Date:January 29, 2008

This farm team follow-up to “Daddy Day Care” puts Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Paul Raye as Charlie and Phil, the parts originated by Eddie Murphy and Jeff Garlin. Note that the ads proclaim this is “from the studio” that gave us the first one. Even the writer, director, and stars of the original wanted to get as far away from this one as they could. So should audiences.
The day care center Charlie and Phil began in the first film is flourishing and their sons are now seven and want to go to camp. So, Charlie buys broken-down Camp Driftwood, the camp he went to as a kid. And of course everything goes very, very wrong. Much of it involving things that smell very, very bad. And then comes the big inter-camp competition with the rich meanies over at Camp Canola. We know they have to be evil because they have valet parking, because the owner is a bully who says he hates children, and because it is named after cooking oil.
If this was a live performance, the people in the front row of the audience would have to bring a plastic sheet, like the audience for watermelon-smashing comedian Gallagher. A lot of wet stuff flies toward the screen and there are many, many intended-to-be-hilarious gags (in both senses of the word) about things that smell bad. There are jokes about getting lost in the woods, barfing, exploding backed-up toilets, skunk odor, bees, poison ivy, burping, and more barfing. This is the part that is supposed to be funny. Not so much.
Charlie (father of what is apparently the only black family in town) has to struggle with feeling that he never got the approval of his own father, a tough military man named Buck (Richard Gant) and wanting the approval of his son Ben (Spencir Bridges). When the camp’s buildings, programs, and balance sheet begin to fall apart, Charlie has to call in reinforcements — Buck. This is the part that is supposed to be heart-warming. Not so much.
We are also supposed to care that the arrogant bully who runs Camp Canola was once responsible for Charlie’s humiliating defeat in the inter-camp Olympiad. So, even though Charlie is all about nurturing and against competition, he gets caught up in the honor of the thing and decides that for his self-esteem he needs to have his campers win this year. So it turns that that a combination of Buck’s leadership and Charlie’s supportiveness is the right answer. This is the part that is supposed to be interesting. Not so much.
A character describes camp as “all those snakes, spiders, and wedgies,” and that’s pretty much the entire movie. While neither Charlie nor Phil seems to notice this, there are some children at the camp, and Smurf-style, each is allotted one characteristic. One is a redneck with a mullet. One is a videogame freak who develops a crush on a girl and can only think to ask her if she likes “World of Warcraft.” One has a barfing problem and one has a bed-wetting problem. Each is tediously trotted out one at a time like Hansel and Gretel on a barometer to perform his or her little function (nerd! redneck! hyper-articulate! precocious about sex! secret shame!). The not-so-secret shame is what attaches to everyone involved with this cynical, pandering piece of claptrap, as unwelcome as a raging case of poison ivy.
Parents should know that this movie is filled with gross-out humor involving bodily fluids and functions. Characters use some strong language for a PG, including “crap.” There is some comic peril and some fighting, including getting hit in the crotch. Parents may be concerned by some of the values apparently endorsed by the movie, including the idea that the way to respond to cheating is to cheat better. Charlie also lies to his wife and puts the family’s home at risk.
Families who see this movie should talk about the different parenting styles of Charlie and Buck. Why was winning so important to the Canola campers?
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Camp Nowhere and Meatballs.

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