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Lucy
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R For strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality
Release Date:
July 25, 2014

 

Noah
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content
Release Date:
March 28, 2014

And So It Goes
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and drug elements
Release Date:
July 25, 2014

 

Finding Vivian Maier
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
April 11, 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

 

Sabotage
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

Surviving Christmas

posted by rkumar
D
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

In what is intended to be one of the most revealing and touching scenes in “Surviving Christmas,” the main character turns a lovely gesture into a crass, garish, and cringe-inducing display. Take away the revealing and touching part, and you’ve pretty much got a description of the movie itself.

After an opening montage of Yuletide misery concluding with a sweet grandmotherly woman putting frowns on her gingerbread men and then sticking her head on the oven (funny, huh?), we meet Drew (Ben Affleck), a wealthy advertising executive. He is pitching a new campaign for spiked eggnog and the theme he proposes is that the best way to get through the holidays is to have everyone in the family a little shnockered. And the client goes for it! Funny, huh? Um, no.

Oh yes, it’s that kind of movie. Failed attempts at humor land with a crash on top of failed attempts at plot.

Drew’s girlfriend dumps him because he has never introduced her to his family and wants to go to Fiji for Christmas. Horrified at the thought of being alone on Christmas, he offers the family now living in his childhood home a quarter of a million dollars if they will pretend to be his family through Christmas.

This idea of a spoiled young man hiring a family worked poorly in Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star and it works just as poorly here. The family is headed by the unhappily married Tom (Gandolfini) and Christine (Catherine O’Hara). Their son Brian spends all his time in his room surfing the internet for porn.

Their daughter Alicia (Christina Applegate) is horrified to find her family rented out for the season and refuses to participate. Then we have a long, inexorable, almost unendurable slog through the “aw” moments when everyone starts to develop warm feelings for everyone else and the “oops” moments when the former girlfriend with the stuffy family gets his expensive gift and thinks she will drop in on Drew to start things up again. Oh, yeah, Drew gives Christine a makeover with a photo shoot and the pictures turn up on Brian’s favorite porn site. And oh, the lack of hilarity when the actor Drew hires to play his grandfather sends his understudy. And then there is the painful attempt at humor in having Drew’s girlfriend see him kissing Alicia and thinking it’s his sister. And then the big reveal which pretty much undercuts the entire premise of the movie, not that anyone should devote the brain cells necessary to attempt to resolve the inconsistency.

James Gandolfini does his best to pretend he is not actually in this slack, dumb, boring, and charmless movie by hiding behind a beard. The rest of the cast look as though they wish they had thought of it, too. They all have that bleak, glazed, “maybe, with any luck, this will go straight to video and never be heard from again” look. As for me, I sat there with a bleak, glazed, “maybe this movie will be over and I can go home and try to keep people from going to see it” look. Surviving Christmas? All I wanted was to survive the movie.

Parents should know that the movie includes jokes about incest, pornography, cross-dressing, masturbation, Sonny Bono’s death, and marijuana. Characters drink and smoke and use some strong language. There is comic peril and violence, including smacking someone with a shovel. The happy families Drew sees on Christmas include a gay couple, but this is intended to be humorous, not inclusive.

Families who see this movie should talk about how difficult it can be to try to measure our own relatives by the idealized families portrayed in holiday movies and television shows.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other dysfunctional family holiday movies like The Ref, Home for the Holidays (both with some mature material), Home Alone (also starring O’Hara), and of course the classic A Christmas Story.

Alfie

posted by rkumar
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:R
Movie Release Date:2004

What’s it all about, Charlie?

Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers used to be married and they used to make movies together (Baby Boom, the remakes of Father of the Bride and The Parent Trap). Now they are divorced, and they make movies separately. Hers: the very successful What Women Want and Something’s Gotta Give; his: the less successful The Affair of the Necklace and now this remake of the 1966 Michael Caine film. The two of them seem to be working through something as both of their recent films were about the exact same thing — the comeuppance of what we used to call a cad.

This film may have had some theraputic value for its director. Its value as entertainment and illumination is uneven at best.

The performances are all top-notch. Each of the women creates a full and complex character, especially Nia Long as the woman Alfie’s best friend loves, Susan Sarandon as an older woman as predatory as he is, Marisa Tomei as a single mom, and Sienna Miller as a beauty whose instability is at first a turn-on and then a turn-off.

The film’s primary and very significant asset is Jude Law, who is brilliant in the title role. He has to make us almost as charmed by Alfie as the women he goes after, even while he is confiding in us what he is really thinking. Very few actors can make an unsympathetic character so appealing or pull off a role that involves speaking directly to the audience, and Law is constantly ingratiating, fascinating, and even touching.

That is less true, however, of the rest of the film. The movie feels as empty as Alfie’s heart.

Parents should know that the movie has very explicit sexual references and situations. Characters use very strong language, drink, smoke, take drugs, and have unprotected sex. There are tense situations and references to abortion. A strength of the movie is its positive portrayal of inter-racial relationships, though a theme of the movie is the way Alfie betrays just about everyone with whom he comes in contact.

Families who see this movie should talk about what Alfie (and the audience) learns from each of his encounters, including the old man in the bolo tie. Which one is the most meaningful to him? Why? What is Alfie looking for? How will that change?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original Alfie with a star-making performance by Michael Caine. They will also enjoy About a Boy and The Tao of Steve.

The Grudge

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

This is one of those “Don’t go into the house” movies, a remake of a popular Japanese horror film by Takashi Shimizu, the writer/director of the original.

It is again set in Japan, but this time, it is a group of Americans at the center of the film. As a part of her training, an exchange student exchange student (Sarah Michelle Geller as Karen) is sent out as a substitute for the caregiver of a woman suffering from some dementia. The woman is an American, living with her son and daughter-in-law, and with a daughter living nearby. It turns out the house was once the site of great rage and anguish, giving rise to a curse that attacks anyone who enters. The rest of the movie is basically seeing how all of that plays out.

Shimizu makes good use of shifts in time to pull us into what little story there is. The usual ghost activities (messing up the house, stalking people) are updated a little bit. These ghosts can call a cell phone and get from the lobby to the 16th floor very quickly. There are some creepy images and gotcha scares but nothing can disguise the fact that this is just a “who gets it next and how does he get it” movie. Too much of it is familiar, though, from the mysteriously feral child to the backwards-crab-crawling guy looking horrified at some looming presence. You know if a bloody jaw with teeth shows up, eventually we’re going to have to find out where, or should I say who it came from.

Indeed, the biggest problem with the film is that, like many American remakes (Wicker Park is one recent example), feels it has to explain too much. We get a helpful little ghost re-enactment of the whole story. Horror movies are much more horrifying when they leave the explanation to that part of our imagination where our own deepest fears lie, so each of us can feel personally unsettled right where we live.

Parents should know that this is a very scary movie with a great deal of tension, many jump-out-at-you surprises, graphic violence, and frequent grisly and disgusting images, including graphic wounds, suicide, dead bodies and, pieces of dead bodies. Characters also drink and smoke and use strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about the enduring appeal of ghost stories and their own views on whether strong emotions can continue to “occupy” a place. They might want to take a look at websites like this one and this one to find out more about efforts to investigate real-life reports of ghosts and curses.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the original Ju-On: The Grudge and its sequels and some of the other haunted house movies like The House that Dripped Blood, The Haunting, The People Under the Stairs, Poltergeist, and William Castle’s Homicidal, the movie that had a “Coward’s Corner” with a booth set up to provide refunds to people who did not want to see what happened when the character ignored the warning not to go into the house.

The Incredibles

posted by rkumar
A
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2004

Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), a superheroine whose limbs and torso can stretch the length of an Olympic swimming pool, pauses for just a second on the way to saving the world to check out her rear end in the form-fitting super-suit. Seems that after three children, there’s a bit of stretching there that doesn’t have anything to do with superpowers. Her super-strong husband, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) finds that if he is not careful in throwing massive evil robots around, he can throw his back out, too.

These are superheroes who find that everyday life is just as much of a challenge as taking on the bad guys, especially when that challenge includes a baby, a super-speedy son and a middle school daughter who can create a force field.

People began suing the “supers” for malpractice, so the government established a relocation program to set them up with “normal” lives. Mr. Incredible, now known simply as Bob Parr, works in a cubicle for an insurance company. Though he is told to deny all claims, he is such a do-gooder at heart that he can’t help telling people how to get around the bureaucracy. Elastigirl, now known as Helen, is preparing leftover dinners and coping with the children, and that means making sure they don’t use those special talents and blow their cover.

Characters with super-powers that essentially super-size traditional family roles gives great resonance to the story: the father strong, the mother stretched in a dozen different directions, the hyper-active son and the daughter who just wants to be invisible and create a force field to keep the world away — and who can do it, too.

What is most incredible and most engaging about “The Incredibles” is how, well, credible it is. Writer/director Brad Bird and the brainiacs at Pixar have climbed the Mount Everest of animation and created human characters as vivid and believable and utterly endearing as any who have ever appeared on film — animation, live-action, and everything in between.

In a witty prologue, we see the superheroes being interviewed. As Mr. Incredible leans toward the television camera, he gets slightly out of focus. It must have been tempting to take advantage of the endless precision of computer images to keep the edges sharp. But this is a movie that is clever and confident enough to permit a little imperfection in pursuit of perfect believability.

The action sequences are superbly staged, inventive and exciting, especially the fights with a many-tentacled robot, and when the Incredible family is joined by the very, um, cool Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), who can create ice out of the water molecules in the air.

It helps to have superb voice talents. Hunter, Jackson, and Nelson create marvelously warm and vivid personalities. NPR essayist Sarah Vowell’s adolescent growl is perfect for pre-teen Violet. Jason Lee is terrifically petulant as the bad guy, and and Elizabeth Pena is a sultry femme almost-fatale.

It’s also one of the funniest movies of the year, hilarious at every level from school-age snickers to good-natured teen-age snarkiness and good, old-fashioned knowing and subtle grown-up laughter. Bird himself plays the funniest character in the film, but I would not think of spoiling the surprise by telling you which one.

Most of all, though, the movie has wisdom and tons of heart. It is a smart, fresh, and funny movie about the real superheroes — families.

Parents should know that this PG movie is more violent and scarier than the previous G-rated Pixar films and may be too intense for younger children. While the violence is low-key and not graphic, even comic, it may be upsetting for some children. A character makes some mild exclamations (“My God!”, etc.). There is also a reference to attempted suicide that some audience members may find disturbing.

Families who see this movie should talk about what superpowers they would most like to have and why. What would your uniform look like? Why did Violet begin to wear her hair back after she used her superpowers? What made Syndrome so angry?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy other Pixar/Disney classics like Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., and A Bug’s Life. They should also see Bird’s previous movie, the under-appreciated The Iron Giant, an exciting and touching story featuring a combination of computer and traditional animation and the voice talents of Jennifer Anniston and Vin Diesel. And they will enjoy the Spy Kids series, also about a family of heroes.

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