Movie Mom

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Little Hope Was Arson
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Not Rated
Release Date:
November 21, 2014

 

The Giver
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence
Release Date:
August 15, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material
Release Date:
November 21, 2014

 

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

Foxcatcher
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence
Release Date:
November 21, 2014

 

Into the Storm
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references
Release Date:
August 8, 2014

Catch a Fire

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving torture and abuse, violence and brief language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

A sizzling performance by Derek Luke ignites this story about Patrick Chamusso, a South African oil refinery worker who became caught up in the fight against apartheid.


Chamusso who did his best to stay out of trouble and care for his family. But as Trotsky said, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” Wrongly accused of a terrorist attack at the refinery, he is captured and tortured. But it is when his wife Precious (Bonnie Henna) is also tortured that he becomes committed to doing anything he can — anything that is necessary — to bring down the racist regime. He leaves his family and goes to Mozambique to join the rebellious ANC forces and under their direction returns to plant a bomb in the refinery.


Tim Robbins plays secret police chief Nic Vos. Like Chamusso, fear for his family leads him to do terrible things. “Twenty-three million blacks to three million whites. We’re the underdogs. We’re the ones under attack,” he says. He has convinced himself that he is not a monster because he draws a line; he will not hold a man he knows to be innocent. But he is willing to torture people he knows to be innocent. He does not seem to do it because he thinks he will get information from them or frighten them away from fighting the system. He seems to do it to convince himself that these people are less than human. He does it to convince himself that he must do it.


If Vos is not a monster, Chamusso is not a saint. He has no alibi the first time he is captured because he was with an old girlfriend, the mother of his child, and his wife may leave him if she finds out. His pride and fear and her jealousy lead to imprisonment, torture, separation, and rebellion. Chamusso emphasizes that the acts he undertakes are designed to blow up equipment, not to injure anyone. But one side’s freedom fighter is the other side’s terrorist, and many people on both sides are killed. The worst betrayal Chamusso faces is not racism but something much more personal. And the biggest challenge he faces is not racism — or fear, or torture, or guns — but forgiveness.


Luke’s African accent is understated and his effortless grace shows real star power. He is utterly convincing and utterly compelling as an easy-going man devoted to his family who is transformed into someone who believes he has nothing left to lose. His performance is all the more wrenching because he resists the temptation to showboat. There are no heroics here, no grimaces of resignation and dedication. His emotions are complex, but they are pure.

Parents should know that this movie includes disturbing scenes of torture and terrorism. Many characters are killed. There is brief strong language and some drinking. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of the agonizing consequences of apartheid.


Families who see this film should talk about the origins of apartheid and the extraordinary story of Nelson Mandela and the non-violent transition to democracy. They should learn about South Africa’s pioneering Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a tribunal that focused on integrity and validation rather than retribution. What did Vos want most? What did Chamusso want? How did each explain to themselves and their families what they were doing? There is more information about the real-life Patrick Chamusso here.


Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate Cry Freedom, with Denzel Washington as Steven Biko, Sarafina, Master Harold…And the Boys, and Hotel Rwanda.

The Prestige

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

As if we should believe him, Hugh Jackman’s character proclaims in “The Prestige” that magicians have a “circle of trust.” “The Prestige” takes that circle of trust and twists it into a Russian roulette, with Jackman betting on black and Bale on red, and both magicians playing the odds despite risk or consequence.


The film follows Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) as they duel for supremacy in 19th century England, constantly trying to top or steal each other’s tricks. They strain to impress their audiences but agonize, at the end of the day, over what the other magician thought of the show. It seems as simple as pulling a rabbit out of a hat, but having been crafted by Christopher and John Nolan (the team behind Memento), the plot is, likes its characters, a master of misdirection.


The men’s entire circle of friends, family and colleagues is affected by their contest, and even as an audience we don’t realize how far the “circle of trust” extends until we see we’ve got chips on the table, too. The ball pings from magician to magician, heavy with our emotional investment; it all seems like a game of chance until it becomes clear that, like everything else in the film, it’s rigged: the magicians are passing the audience’s trust around in the same way that they manipulate and manhandle the people close to them. The effect is feeling at once cheated and invigorated by the film’s refusal to play by the rules.


Just as with “Memento” and “Batman Begins” (also directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Bale), the film is heavy on style and concept (deliciously so), but also keenly focused on character and personal motive. Although it’s never quite clear why either man is so enchanted with magic, the rivalry is so believable and well acted that in the end the magic is just a vehicle to get to the characters (much as it is for the magicians themselves).


Surfacing just as “The Illusionist” is leaving theatres, it’s worth noting that the two films are very different. They’re both tales of top hats, trickery and trench coats, but similarities could end there. Those still debating what happpened in The Illusionist will find the explanations here more satisfying. Where The Illusionist impresses with the magic (a funny concept in the CGI age), “The Prestige” goes beyond it, showing the on-stage tricks from the beginning — essentially diverting attention to what the audience thought it wanted to see — while an entire other sequence plays out side stage.


Parents should know that the film is suspenseful and at times horrific. There are deaths involving hangings and drowning, and a suicide, and there are startling gunshot injuries in addition to other shocking “accidents.” The two characters spend much of the film sabotaging each other’s illusions, and the consequences are often appalling.


Families who see this film should discuss the themes of revenge and obsession. They might talk about what drives the magicians’ duel, and what types of sacrifices they make and whom they hurt in their attempts to get back at each other. At one point, Bale’s character professes a wish to end the rivalry. What did it take for that character to get to the point where too much had been lost? Scarlett Johansson as Angier’s assistant, Olivia Wenscombe, is also a complex character worth exploring. Why did she react the way she did to Angier’s request? In what ways did she succeed in maintaining dignity as a person? In what ways did she fail?


Families who enjoy this film might also enjoy Houdini starring Tony Curtis, or the 1998 made-for-television version. Adults and children interested in history of the supernatural might enjoy 1997’s FairyTale: A True Story based on the renowned “Cottingley Fairies” hoax committed by two young girls in England during the first World War. As the movie shows, the real-life Houdini was one of the first to say it was a fraud.

Flags of Our Fathers

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for sequences of graphic war violence and carnage, and for language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Clint Eastwood’s first of two films about the WWII battle at Iwo Jima is sincere, competent, and respectful. He powerfully conveys the madness and brutality of battle and the conflicting feelings of thosw who fight — dedication, loyalty, patriotism, fear, courage, compassion, callousness, sacrifice, self-preservation. If these issues are not as well-presented as in other films, especially co-producer Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” they are still important, meaningful, and moving.
The story shifts back and forth in time between the experiences of the men credited with raising the flag in the iconic photo, who were used to inspire support and raise money for the war effort. We see explosions overhead. Sometimes they are gunfire; sometimes they are fireworks. The three men are sometimes not sure themselves what they are doing or why they are doing it. But their orders are to raise that flag again and again, even if it’s at halftime on a football field. Suddenly, the New York Yankees are applauding for them. A replica of the men raising the flag in white chocolate has bright red strawberry sauce poured over it, creating an image that is anything but delicious.
The men were John “Doc” Bradley, a Naval Corpsman (Ryan Phillippe) and two Marines, Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) and Ira Hayes, Jr., a Pima Indian (Adam Beach). They happened to be the ones who raised the flag the second time (when the cameras were rolling). Americans at home, sick of the war loved the triumphant picture, and loved saluting real heroes. But the men did not feel like heroes. They felt guilty staying in luxury hotels and being the center of attention. The picture was not true. One of the Marines was mis-identified, which made them feel even more hypocritical and guilty, especially Hayes, who begins to crumble with survivor guilt as he remembers those who died and what he did to stay alive. But they knew that without their help, the government would not be able to raise the money it needed to support the war effort. Meanwhile, back at tiny 5-mile-long, 2.5 mile wide Iwo Jima, the battle continued for more than a month, with 6891 Americans killed.
“When the legend becomes the truth, print the legend,” says The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. “We like nice and simple, good and evil, heroes and villains,” says this film’s narrator.
War stories always reflect the times of their telling as much as they reflect the times they depict. Compare two films not just about the same battle but with the same script, the jingoistic WWII-era “Henry V” with Laurence Olivier and the peacetime version with Kenneth Branaugh. World War II was the first major conflict to be depicted on film as it was going on. The movies of the early 1940’s were as much propoganda as drama. After the war ended, there were more complex, even cynical stories, some written by men who were there, not just about heroism but about issues that spoke to the struggles of the post-war years (The Caine Mutiny, Stalag 17, Crossfire). A movie about the Korean War (M*A*S*H) reflected the concerns about the then-current Viet Nam war.
This film, or, perhaps we should say, this first half (Eastwood is working on a second film telling the story from the Japanese point of view) raises very contemporary issues about illusion and reality, about what we expect in and from heroes, about how wars are always about politicians sending young men (and now women) to be killed. Yet it fails to meet its own standards, killing off all of the characters who are pure of heart and leaving only the complicated and flawed ones alive. It keeps us curiously remote from its characters, the images more powerful than the story in an unintentionally ironic case of form over content.

Parents should know that this movie has extremely intense, brutal, and graphic battle violence, including torture. Many characters are killed and there are very graphic and disturbing injuries. A character apparently commits suicide. Characters use strong language, drink (one abuses alcohol) and smoke. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of the racism of the era and of some characters who are not bigoted.

Families who see this movie will want to learn more about the battle for Iwo Jima and the men in the famous photo. They should talk about who in the movie were the real heroes and why. Will we be making films about the War in Iraq 60 years from now? What will they say?
Families who enjoy this movie will also appreciate the many superb films about WWII and other famous soldiers and battles, including Saving Private Ryan (very intense violence), The Longest Day, To Hell and Back (with Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of the war, playing himself), and A Bridge Too Far. Movies that raise some of the issues posed by this film include The Americanization of Emily, The Caine Mutiny, The Right Stuff, and Gardens of Stone. John Wayne starred in Sands of Iwo Jima, with Hayes, Bradley, and Gagnon appearing as themselves, and Tony Curtis played Ira Hayes in The Outsider.

Marie Antoinette

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity and innuendo.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

With this third film, we can begin to see the themes emerging in the work of writer/director Sofia Coppola. Again, she has given us the story of a sensitive, vulnerable young woman trying to find a place and some meaning in an incomprehensible environment. In her last film, Lost in Translation, Scarlett Johansson was a dislocated young American wife and former philosophy major drifting in Tokyo. In the first, The Virgin Suicides, Kirsten Dunst was one of five young sisters lost in the scary world outside their home. In this one, Coppola returns to Dunst as the title character, the Austrian princess married to a French prince at age 14 and executed by guillotine along with her husband and children.


On her first morning in France, she is informed that she will be dressed and attended to every morning by the titled ladies in waiting. As she stands, naked and shivering while they sort out whose rank entitles her to bring her clothes, she laughs nervously, but acquiesces. She has been raised to do as she is told. Everyone stands around and watches as she eats her dinner. There is a constant crowd around her like that cell phone commercial with the enormous network.

As Marie Antoinette is urged, with increasingly less diplomacy, to make sure her shy husband consummates the marriage, she tries to do her best for Austria, for her mother, for everyone. She finds some diversion in what today would be called retail therapy. But she finds her greatest happiness in the smallish Petit Trianon, pretending to be an ordinary mother.


Coppola’s characteristically impeccable sense of detail ensures that every bow on every shoe, every dot of frosting on every bon-bon, every shot of Dunst’s creamy dimples, just right. She courts controversy with glimpses of modernity and a contemporary soundtrack, but it works well — a sort of John Hughes movie, The Breakfast Club Part 2: A Semester at Versailles.


But that’s not a bad take on this story of two teenagers whose response to the death of the king was “We are too young to reign.”

Parents should know that the film has some mature material, including non-sexual nudity, discussions of impotence and (non-explicit) portrayal of an affair. A child dies (off-camera). The executions are not depicted, but it is clear what is going to happen.


Families who see this movie should talk about what Marie Antoinette wanted and why. Given the extensive traditions of the court, what could she and Louis have done to prevent the revolution? Did this film make you sympathetic to them? How?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the book and Amadeus, as well as a more light-hearted mix of historical epic and modern music, A Knight’s Tale.

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