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Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Moms' Night Out
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

John Wick
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Begin Again
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:

Release Date:
July 2, 2014

23 Blast
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some teen drinking
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

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

Casino Royale

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

They got a lot right with this new rebooted Bond, but — let me get this straight — when Bond and the Bad Guy have their big confrontation, it’s…a poker game?


First things first. Daniel Craig is a great Bond, with Steve McQueen-style cool and jungle cat grace. He runs like an Olympic athlete and looks great in — and out of — a dinner jacket that is, in the words of Dorothy L. Sayers, “tailored to the swooning point.” It’s a great idea to re-introduce us to the Bond character at the beginning of his career. When he rises from the water in a wry homage to both Bond’s first film, Dr. No, and to images of the Birth of Venus, he is almost impossibly golden.

He is also impetuous and a little messy. He makes mistakes. His first kill (we learn it takes two for that 00 designation) is far from elegant. It’s downright grubby. It is fascinating to get to see Bond learn from his mistakes. As we get to know him, he is getting to know himself. That run of his is not just athletics; it is acting. It is full-on, the only time he lets himself be wholeheartedly committed to anything. We see how he analyzes people and situations, still a little show-offy because he is still a little insecure. He is even, for a brief moment, vulnerable, and we get to see why he won’t be any more. Origin stories often get heavy-handed with portentous foreshadowing as Our Hero meets up for the first time with characters and objects that we know will be important to him. But this film has a light touch when we see Bond meet his Aston-Martin and find that he hasn’t learned the difference yet between shaken and stirred.


Bond feels younger, fresher, brasher, and much of the film does, too, not weighed down with the intrusive product placement that at times made the recent films feel like infomercials (though the director noted in an interview that “Every terrorist and every person in the world [of the movie] has a Sony Erikson phone. If you look in the car park, there are a lot of Fords.” They’ve dispensed with one of the highlights of the Bond franchise, though, the gadget overview with Q, always a delicious way to set the stage for the rest of the movie as each of them gets used. In a world of text messaging and Google, the real-life toys pretty much do everything you need. Okay, that in-car defibrillator comes in handy, but Q could probably pick up one of those at The Sharper Image. And then there are the guns, of course. Lots and lots and lots of guns.


Plot? Who cares? There are only three things we want to know about a Bond film. Who’s the bad guy? And who’s the girl? And how’s the action — especially, how much stuff gets blown up?


Two out of three. The girl is Eva Green. She, too, looks beautiful in evening wear, and she is just about believable as a brainy banker who doesn’t think much of Bond until…she does. She has a lot of warmth and sizzle. The action, aside from the dull patch during the poker game, is very fine, especially an early-on chase and fight scene around and in and on top of a skyscraper construction site. Lots of shooting and lots of explosions. The bad guy is not creepy or menacing enough to be interesting and the object of all the attention — some terrorist money — is not as interesting as a secret weapon or formula or combination to a master safe. And that poker game, with helpful commentary by Giancarlo Giannini as though he’s reporting for ESPN slows things down until they are almost inert.


Parents should know that this film includes extensive action-style violence. Many characters are shot and injured or killed. There is an intense torture scene, other references to torture, and a suggested suicide. Characters drink alcohol and use some strong language. There are sexual references and some non-explicit sexual situations with some brief nudity.


Families who see this movie should talk about the different takes on Bond and the bad guys over the years.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the other Bond films, especially those starring Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan. They might like to take a look at the very silly but fun previous version of Casino Royale, with a variety of James Bonds, including David Niven and, believe it or not, Woody Allen. And they will enjoy Daniel Craig’s stylish gangster film, Layer Cake (mature material).

Happy Feet

posted by jmiller
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for some mild peril and rude humor.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

It’s official. The cutest thing on the planet is penguins singing “Boogie Wonderland.” Especially if one of them is tap-dancing. This movie is a straight shot of sunshine. I defy anyone to watch it without smiling. Just as important, I defy anyone to watch it without thinking. This is a PG computer-animated film that raises issues from fundamentalism to the environment to bigotry in a manner that is accessible without being heavy-handed, condescending, or overly simplistic.


It begins like a sequel to March of the Penguins. As just about everyone on the planet knows now, the daddy penguins balance the eggs on their feet and huddle together for warmth while the mommies go on a long march to the water to get food to bring back for the new baby chicks. In real life, penguins recognize each other through the unique song each one sings. In this movie, those songs include memorable numbers from the Beach Boys, Freddy Mercury, Prince, and, of course, Elvis.


Norma Jean (voice of Nicole Kidman) sings Prince’s “Kiss.” Memphis (voice of Hugh Jackman) sings Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel.” Their eyes meet, their songs entwine, and soon Memphis is shielding the egg from the icy wind. But it rolls away from him and bumps.


Perhaps that is why, when Mumble is born, he is different right from the beginning. He has blue eyes, for one thing. He can’t sing. And he never loses his baby fluff. But he can dance. Boy, can he dance (voice of Elijah Wood, dancing by tap superstar Savion Glover).

Mumbles’ mother is sympathetic and his friend Gloria (voice of Brittany Murphy) is supportive, but his father wants him to conform. The other penguins cast him adrift. He meets up with another breed, Adelies, penguins who are warm and friendly and a little rambunctious. They have a seer named Lovelace (voice of Robin Williams) who wears a necklace made from a plastic six-pack ring.


Mumble returns, but he is rejected by the elders, who blame his non-conformity for the disappearance of the fish they need for food. Mumble finds Lovelace being strangled by the six-pack ring. He believes if he can get Lovelace to the place the ring came from, he can find out what happened to the fish and maybe appeal to the better nature of the “aliens” he thinks must be responsible, maybe he can help to get the fish back and save his community.


The animation is brilliant, making full use of the technology for wild swirls down icecaps and through water. The textures are almost tactile and the scope and perspective are stunning, creating a fully-realized environment that feels perfectly authentic from every angle. Penguins move like loaves of bread with feet, but the animators make them thrillingly distinctive and expressive, and the musical numbers are pure pleasure. In a wise move that adds to its sense of vitality, the animators seamlessly integrate real-life footage for the brief appearances of humans in the film.


But what makes the movie memorable is its story, which has real substance beyond the simple formula of “hero is different/hero is outcast/hero goes on journey/hero saves the day.” It manages to touch on the impact of humans on the environment, the inclination of creatures of all kinds to fear and distrust anything new or different — and to blame it for anything that goes wrong, the importance of having a dream to aspire to and a challenge to struggle against, and the role that songs of all kinds play in our lives and connections. Like a great tune, this movie will resonate within those of all ages as they find their own heartsongs.

Parents should know that there are some moments that may be too intense for younger children, including a predator with a lot of teeth. There are some scary surprises and some moments of peril, including some chases and a hit in the crotch. There is brief potty humor with a little schoolyard language. The issue of environmental degredation and the impact of development on the natural world is raised in a gentle (if simplistic) and positive way.


Families who see this movie should talk about times they felt different or reached out to someone who was different. Families should talk about the people they look up to most to think about how each of them at some time or other felt like an outcast for being different. They should talk about what, if they were penguins, their song would be and why. What, for humans, is the equivalent? What does it mean to appeal to someone’s better nature? They should talk about the importance of asking questions and insisting on answers, and about the risk of blaming innocent people when things go wrong. Why were the penguins in the zoo so dazed when they had everything they needed?

Families should also learn about emperor penguins and about efforts to protect the environment of Antarctica.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy March of the Penguins and some of the classic stories about characters whose differences turned out to be good ones: Ferdinand the Bull to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and The Ugly Duckling. Every family should see Finding Nemo, which has an understated but very sensitive treatment of the “lucky fin” that makes Nemo different. Believe it or not, Cary Grant once starred in a movie about a boy who had a dancing caterpillar named Curly, Once Upon a Time. And the original spectacular combination of pop music, animation, and witty and exciting story is the glorious Yellow Submarine.

Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content and drug use.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

If you’re going to make an unapologetic slob/druggy/rock and roll comedy it has to be snark-free, without a hint of irony. Self-deprecation is welcome, but winking at the audience spoils the effect. And this movie winks at its winking, a sort of infinite regression of snark. That’s how the undeniably funny Kyle Gass and Jack Black have produced an over-stretched skit rather than a movie, a script as saggy as the bare tushes they show off as they explain how they got the name of their group. It’s for hard-core (and half-baked) fans only. If you’re not familiar with their previous work, you’ll come away from this either mystified or bored.


Gass and Black, of course, are Tenacious D, the mock rockers. This film purports to be the story of how they got started. We see young JB rocking his heart in a family that doesn’t understand. So he leaves home in search of Hollywood, on the advice of Ronnie James Dio. But it takes him many years to get there because there are a lot of Hollywoods. Once he arrives, he meets KG, a street performer with a lot of attitude, who agrees to teach him how to be a rocker. Eventually, they form a group (their name taken from matching birthmarks on their tushes) and they learn (from an unfunny Ben Stiller in a cameo as a music store salesman) that there is a guitar pick made from the tooth of the devil with great powers. If they can steal it from the Museum of Rock and Roll despite the best efforts of the security guards and a mysterious guy who wants it, too (an unfunny Tim Robbins), nothing can stop them!


So, they go after the Pick of Destiny (unfunny, dragged-out heist sequence), and then, once they get it, they have to battle the devil for it, because he wants his tooth back (the devil, played by rocker David Grohl, does have some funny moments).


Mike White understood how to make Black’s passion for rock music endearing in School of Rock, where the purity of his character’s love for the music and the “stick it to the man” message didn’t just make up for his selfishness; it put it into perspective. Here, though, it seems it’s the culture and the attitude he loves. And the drugs.


It has too little humor and too much of what it does have is inside, “we get it but the rest of the world doesn’t” jokes to sustain a movie. Remember that Stonehenge routine in This Is Spinal Tap? This is like that, only not funny, intentionally or otherwise.

Parents should know that this film has extremely strong and crude language, some sexual humor and non-sexual nudity, and drinking, smoking, and drug use. There is some comic peril.


Families who see this movie should talk about how rock and roll keeps re-inventing itself every time it begins to feel mainstream.


Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy The Blues Brothers and School of Rock. They might also like to see Tenacious D – The Complete Master Works.

Opal Dream

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for mild thematic elements, language and some violence.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote in The Little Prince, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” That is the theme of this gentle story about a little girl whose two invisible friends are more real to her than the desolate landscape and desperate hopes of her opal-mining community in Australia.


Kellyanne Williamson (Sapphire Boyce) lives with her brother and her parents in the South Australian opal mining community of Coober Pedy. Her family’s views of her two imaginary friends ranges from sympathetic (her mother) to impatience (her brother) and increasing concern (her father), but mostly they play along. But when the friends are lost and Kellyanne is devastated, her father and brother — and ultimately the whole community — learn how real imaginary friends can be.


The story is presented in a low-key, naturalistic manner that has us feel we are evesdropping on a real family. The story is a bit contrived, but the sweetness is genuine. In a world of slam-bang, loud and clanging, overdone and over-the-top entertainment for children and families, it is a pleasure to watch a quiet story about imagination and the power of belief.


Parents should know that this movie has some tense scenes, some peril, and a sick child. The death and burial of the imaginary friends may be upsetting for younger or more sensitive children.


Families who see this film should talk about their own imaginary friends. If they never had them, what kind would they like to have? What made some people change their minds about Kellyanne’s friends?


Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Hand in Hand, a lovely film about a Jewish boy and a Catholic girl who find a way to be friends in a world that emphasizes their differences. As in Opal Dreams, the depiction of an imaginary friend is delicately handled.

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