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Believe Me
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:

Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

The Fault in Our Stars
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language
Release Date:
June 6, 2014

Tracks
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some partial nudity, disturbing images and brief strong language
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo
Release Date:
June 27, 2014

The Boxtrolls
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Neighbors
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

Yours, Mine & Ours

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:2005

This one is straight off the sit-com conveyer belt, all pratfalls and spit-takes. What little gloss it gets from star power is buried under forced humor about a pet pig (The pig swallows a cell phone! The pig eats the wedding cake!), about predictable “Odd Couple”/red state vs. blue state style culture clashes (The hippie kid has to room with the straight-arrow! Multiplied by 9!), and about “feminine” behavior by young boys — genuinely weird and icky in addition to being downright inappropriate for the target age group.

Like the original Yours, Mine, and Ours, this is based on the true story of widower Frank Beardsley (Dennis Quaid), father of eight children, who married Helen North (Rene Russo), a widow with ten.

In this version, Frank is a Coast Guard admiral who keeps his family in ship shape to ensure smooth sailing. Everyone knows the rules, and when he calls formation, everyone shows up and salutes. Helen is a free spirit who believes in the talking stick and the group hug. They were high school sweethearts who run into each other when he returns to duty in Connecticut and impulsively elope about a minute later so we can get to the good stuff — the all-out war between the North and Beardsley children. The next thing you know, there’s a school bus just for the family, a schedule for the bathrooms, and a chore chart the size of a tablecloth. And everyone gathers around to try to get all 20 names on the answering machine message, emphasis on “try.”

The kids battle each other and then we’re on to chapter two as the warring factions join forces against a common enemy; they decide to break up their parents. Didn’t we see this on “The Brady Bunch?”

Quaid and Russo manage to locate some chemistry, despite his being relegated to messy pratfalls and her almost-as-thankless task of basically being an inconsiderate ditherbrain. The kids are pretty much interchangeable, with the exception of hippie chick Danielle Panabaker, who has a very appealing screen presence. Oscar-winner Linda Hunt is criminally wasted as the housekeeper.

This is one of those series-of-skits-then-heartwarming finish formulas that makes your head hurt if you try to think about it too much. For example, for two people who keep talking about how much they love their families, Frank and Helen don’t do much actual parenting. While it’s true that the movie would never end if it tried to give us some actual interaction between parent and child, the absence of a single moment of homework help, emergency room visit, heart-to-heart talk, or expression of concern about a scraped knee or a hurt feeling gives it a phony, pre-fab tone. There isn’t one authentic or imaginative moment. Yours, mine, ours? Keep it.

Parents should know that the movie has some crude humor, including comic barfing. There are some weird and tasteless homophobic jokes. One boy is portrayed as (humorously) effeminate. The children attempt to rattle their Admiral father by having two other boys dress up like girls and pretend to have a tea party. The children also discuss upsetting him further by having the two teenage girls kiss each other. There is a thong joke and there are some mild references to a married couple wanting to have some privacy so they can go to bed together. Two teenagers have a lingering kiss (but no affection or commitment). There are kegs of beer at a teen party and it is supposed to be funny that the children’s housekeeper pours herself a martini. The movie has a good deal of comic slapstick violence of the head-bonking, slip and fall variety, school bullies, and some mild peril. No one is hurt. Some audience members may be disturbed by the fact that each of the children in this movie lost a parent. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of devoted multi-racial siblings.

Families who see this movie should talk about what the best (and worst) thing about having 17 siblings would be and which members of the North/Beardsley family they would most like to have as friends. They may also want to talk about how the Beardsleys and Norths were more alike than they seemed. Both were loving and devoted families. And both were reacting to the feeling of lack of control that tragedies can bring — one by hanging on too tightly to rules and one by being unwilling to hang on to anything too tightly at all. Where does your family fall on the continuum of rules vs. creative chaos?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the original, starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball (in a performance her biographer called the best of her career). Families might also like to see documentaries about real families with 12 or more children, including the Oscar-winning Who are the DeBolts? and My Flesh and Blood (both with some very sad moments as well as some very inspiring ones) and read books about large families like Cheaper by the Dozen and The Family Nobody Wanted. They can find out more about the real North/Beardsley family (twenty children, including the two Frank and Helen had together) on this website.

Get Rich or Die Tryin’

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

It begins with a burst of energy and charisma as Marcus (rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) and his friends break into a store so they can rob it. They don’t break in so much as explode in. Director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America) creates an electric sense of high testosterone and tension. And then Marcus looks over at the terrified child of the store proprietors and gives him a reassuring wink.

But it’s downhill from there. Like 8 Mile, the film starring 50 Cent’s mentor, Eminem, this film has a top-level screenwriter and director adapting his life story. But it is not as successful, because, despite his unquestionable charisma and buff torso, 50 Cent is not an actor. He has attitude. But he only has one attitude. He might as well be botoxed (or still have his jaw wired shut from the bullet wound); whether he is supposed to convey sorrow, regret, fear, love, anger, or ambition, it’s all just the one facial expression.

The story isn’t much more gripping than the performance. We’ve seen it before, not just in gangtsa movies, but before that in gangster movies, Westerns, and just about any other “how I triumphed over all my obstacles” story. It’s a little bit 8 Mile (young man from poverty dreams of rapping), a little bit Goodfellas (rise and fall of a gangster), and a little bit Oliver Twist (the only father figures a poor boy can find are the local bad guys who show him attention just so they can use him).

Marcus/50 Cent never knew his father and his mother, a drug dealer, died when he was 8. He went from being the well-loved son of a mother who was not around much but showed her love by buying him “the best of everything” to being one of a large, scruffy bunch fighting for space, food, and the good pair of shoes at his grandparents’ apartment. After he gets kicked out of a bed shared by several people, his grandfather sets up a cot next to the washing machine, asking the child, “You gonna be all right here for a few years?”

So it wasn’t long before Marcus went into “the family business,” selling drugs on a street corner to buy the two things he most wanted — a fancy pair of sneakers and a gun. The message all around him is that the only thing that matters is “respect,” and the only jobs that get any respect — the only occupations with any authenticity — are gangster and rapper. Best of all is both. “After Tupac, everyone wanted to be a gangsta rapper.”

Marcus knows that on an hourly basis he is making less than minimum wage, and that the job he has taken will inevitably get him shot, put in jail, or both. But “respect is the most important thing in life” and living the thug life gets him the only kind of respect that he, well, respects. He says, “My mama didn’t raise no second-class n—–; I’m a gangsta, Grandpa, and proud of it.” He never thinks about the effect of what he is doing on his own life, the lives of the people who care about him, or his community. He wants is to run with the big dogs (he tells the kingpin, “You’re like a god to me”). And he wants to find his father, and kill the man who killed his mother, even if they might be the same person.

There are some very strong moments and some very impressive performances, especially Terrence Howard, this year’s breakout star, with another incendiary appearance. Howard conveys more with the angle of his hat or the way he exhales cigarette smoke than 50 Cent does in his most dramatic moments. The always-impressive Viola Davis is fine as the grandmother who has seen too many people she loves get shot. Joy Bryant lends some grace to the thankless role of “fantasy girlfriend,” ever loving and true-hearted, despite the fact that her boyfriend provides almost no financial or emotional support and puts not just himself but also her and her baby at risk.

Director Sheridan has a good feel for place and there are some vivid images, especially a brutal fight in a prison shower, followed by a conversation between men who happen to be lying down, cuffed, and naked. But the story is predictable (especially since it is told in flashback after Marcus is shot and we all know he survives and becomes a star). At crucial moments, it falls back into formula or, worse, a winking self-referential love letter to 50. One nemesis is a rapper named Dangerous (Michael Miller), supposed to be based on 50′s feud with Ja Rule. But 50 is more interested in dissing Ja Rule by portraying “Dangerous” as a wimpy wannabe who looks like a woeful fetus than he is by creating an arresting dynamic between the two characters. It’s not the predictability of the movie that is the problem; it is the emptiness. 50 Cent doesn’t want to rap because he has something to say (like Eminem). He just wants to rap because it’s cool. We never get a sense of his learning, growing, or giving back. 50 Cent fans would be better off with a concert film. But at least he makes his priorities clear; it’s not called “Make a Good Movie or Die Tryin’.”

Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of very intense adult material that makes it unsuitable for younger audiences or sensitive audience members of any age. Characters use extremely strong language, including the n-word. There is a great deal of peril and graphic violence, including shooting, stabbing, and punching and references to rape and suicide. Many characters are hurt and some are murdered. Most of the characters are drug dealers and many are drug users. There are sexual references and situations and sexual and non-sexual nudity, including a fight in a prison shower that includes frontal male nudity.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Marcus felt his best option for getting what he wanted was to become a “gangster,” even though he knew that on an hourly basis he was making less than minimum wage. What do you think about the priority the characters in this movie put on “respect?” How did they define what respect meant to them? Why did they believe that “love will get you killed?” Families should also talk about how much the drug business in this movie resembles any other business or, indeed, any other organization, with (literal and metaphorical) turf battles, communication issues, leadership, motivation, and vision concerns, succession planning concerns, and even research and development of new products.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy New Jack City, Boyz N the Hood, and 8 Mile. They willl also appreciate the outstanding documentary, Tupac: Resurrection.

Zathura

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

There’s a lot to look at in this movie, but unpleasant characters keep getting in the way. And I don’t mean the bad guys.

In this follow-on to Jumanji, like this movie, based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg, children once again come upon an old board game that turns out to be real. So when Danny (Jonah Bobo) draws a card that says, “Meteor Shower: Take Evasive Action,” and asks his big brother Walter (Josh Hutcherson) what it says, a tiny but very real meteor burns through the card before Walter can finish reading it aloud. And then things really get out of hand — and out of this world. When they open up the front door, they are in outer space.

The only way to get back home is to keep playing until someone wins. And that means picking card after card to move around the board. An astronaut (Dax Shepard) needs to be rescued. A robot needs to be reprogrammed. And there’s an attack from alien lizards called Zorgons who like to burn things and eat people.

Through all this, Danny and Walter (and, near the end, their sulky teenage sister Lisa) need to find a way to get over their sibling animosity and develop some mutual respect and teamwork.

The good news is that this movie avoids some of the mistakes of Jumanji. It doesn’t waste our time with a distracting backstory or superfluous Big Star. This is all about the visuals and special effects, and they are superb. The game itself has an engagingly authentic retro feel and the special effects serve the action without being overly intrusive.

I wish I could say the same for the kids, who are dismally unappealing. If you’re going to have the plot center on sniping siblings who need to learn how much they really care about each other, there has to be some spark of heart from the beginning. They have to show us that they behave that way because they are hurting, that they are not just brats. No luck here. Director Jon Favreau did well with Elf because he was directing pros like Will Ferrell and James Caan. He shows no skill whatsoever with the children; he barely seems interested in them as more than props. The robot gives a more believable performance. Favreau allows the kids to use unforgiveably crude and downright mean language and their older sister to come across as unforgiveably skanky for a movie directed at children. That gives it an unsavory tone that further undermines the cozy conclusion. It doesn’t feel heartwarming; it feels more mechanical than the Zorgon spaceship.

Parents should know that this movie continues the MPAA’s disturbing trend of allowing very crude langauge in PG movies. One child calls another a “dick” (though gets a quick reprimand for it). Another uses the word “bi-atch.” And (spoiler alert) there is a really ewww-ish moment as a character has brief romantic feelings toward someone who turns out to be a relative. Of more concern is the overall behavior of the siblings in this movie. They are consistently unkind to each other and generally bratty in a way that goes far beyond anything that can be redeemed with the brief reconcilliation at the end. Parents should also know that there is a great deal of action-style peril and violence in the movie, though no one gets hurt except for an alien or two. Some families will be concerned about the issue of separated parents and the impact that has on the way the children see their role in the family (and their responsibility for the divorce).

Families who see this movie should talk about what kind of game they would like to be able to make real. They should also talk about why the children in this movie are so mean to each other and what kids can do to respond to feelings of being hurt and lonely.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Jumanji and the books by Chris Van Allsburg, especially The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.

Chicken Little

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

You know that nightmare of appearing at school in your underwear? That happens to poor Chicken Little (voice of Zach Braff of TV’s “Scrubs”), a tiny little chick with big glasses perched uncertainly on his beak, but he has the heart of a lion. And Disney’s first-ever fully computer-animated movie movie has a wonderfully fresh and unpretentious energy that is a lot of fun to watch.

How does his story begin? Disney signals this film’s departure from the grander traditions of the past by addressing that question head on. Should we try the old but reliable “Once upon a time….?” No. How about a huge orange sunrise over the Serengeti? It’s been done. The classic beginning — a leather-bound book, pages fluttering artistically as it opens to a lovely old illustration? Nope. This one is going to begin right in the middle of the action, with Chicken Little ringing the town’s alarm bell and everyone in the town of Oakley Oaks getting, well, very alarmed. That underpants incident turns out to be the least of his problems.

It turns out that what Chicken Little thought was the sky falling on his head was just an acorn. At least, that’s what his father (voice of Garry Marshall) sheepishly admits in his apology to the town. He doesn’t believe his son’s story about being hit by a stop sign-shaped piece of the sky.

Chicken Little is sure he can start over and prove to everyone that he’s not a lunatic and a loser. But things get off to a bad start on the first day of school when he misses the bus and loses his pants. Mean girl Foxie Loxie (voice of Amy Sederis) keeps cough-insulting him. But Abby, the kind-hearted and wise Ugly Duckling (voice of Joan Cusack), a merry little fish (with a diver’s helmet to keep his head in water), and the anxious but sweet-natured piggy named Runt (voice of Steve Zahn) believe in Chicken Little and he believes in himself.

That’s how he knows that he can prove himself to everyone by becoming the star of the baseball team, just like his father. “All I need is a chance to do something great and my dad will finally have a reason to be proud of me.”

There is one very small problem however, and that is Chicken Little’s very small stature. On the one hand/wing, he has an almost-microscopic strike zone. On the other hand, he can barely lift the bat. Meanwhile, Foxy Loxy is the closest thing to Babe Ruth that Oakley Oaks has ever seen.

Still, Chicken Little seems to be making some progress when once again he is the only one to see that the sky seems to be falling. Will he risk his refurbished reputation to warn everyone?

The computer animation is meticulously crafted, from the broadest gag to the tiniest detail. Each of Chicken Little’s over 70,000 feathers is individually and perfectly rendered and each joke/visual pun/pratfall/wisecrack/political satire is perfectly paced to balance the tension and sentiment. Yet the film still has a nicely casual feel, due in part to a mix-tape selection of pop standards but mostly to not taking itself too seriously. A meta-moment at the end proves a perfect capper.

The voice talents are exceptionally well chosen, especially Marshall and Cusack, along with hilarious bits from Don Knotts (as ever-equivocal Mayor Turkey Lurkey), Patrick Warburton, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, and Adam West. The visuals are technically superb, but we take that for granted now. What captures us is the worth-a-second-viewing visual wit, from a chameleon who changes color with the traffic light to a china shop proprietor who happens to be…a bull, and the subtle chicken theme in everything from a hood ornament to the wallpaper pattern and a three-eyed Mickey Mouse (trust me, it makes sense).

The artists have a lot of fun with the physical properties of their animal characters, especially the bulky rooster (watch him try to get up from the bed). And the story is a sweet reminder of unconditional love and the importance of “talking about something until it’s resolved.” Unlike its hero, this film does not swing for the fences, and that works in its favor. The technical focus on detail is balanced with a nice, casual looseness on the story side. The folks at Disney all know that even something as small as an acorn can still make a difference.

Parents should know that (spoiler alert) some children may be frightened by the tentacled aliens and apparent evaporation of some characters, though it all turns out fine. There is brief crude humor (character in underpants) and a sweet kiss. Some children may be upset by Chicken Little’s having lost his mother. Spoiler alert again: Some audience members will also be concerned about Foxy Loxy’s transformation from a rude but confident and athletic girl into a simpering, ruffle-wearing “girly” girl.

Families who see this movie should talk about Abby’s advice to Chicken Little. What is “closure?” How can we make sure that families always talk about the things that are important to them? Why do family members sometimes find it hard to see how much they are loved? Or that they don’t need to prove themselves? They should also talk about Chicken Little’s courage and resilience in looking at each day as a new beginning.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy The Emperor’s New Groove, Lilo and Stitch, and A Bug’s Life.

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Tomorrow on PBS: The Makers: Comedy
Be sure to tune in to PBS tomorrow night for what is sure to be one of the highlights from one of the all-time best series on PBS: "The Makers," the story of women in America.  Tomorrow's episode is about women in comedy. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHxHMgSF7UI[/youtube]

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