Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


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Love is Strange
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language
Release Date:

 

Adventure Planet
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:

The November Man
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use
Release Date:
August 27, 2014

 

Blended
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and language.
Release Date:
May 23, 2014

If I Stay
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

 

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some scary images and mild peril
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

XXX: State of the Union

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

Can we ever see Ice Cube as a gangsta again after Barbershop and Are We There Yet?

Do we want to?

Ice Cube is a fine actor who can do a lot with a strong script (Boyz n The Hood and Three Kings). But he seems to be phoning this performance in between development deals. Since the writer and director appear to be on automatic pilot, too, even a movie that has no aspirations beyond generic guns and explosions multiplex fodder manages to disappoint.

The original XXX, starring Vin Diesel, was a sort of James Bond movie on crack, with an extreme sports nut brought in on a spy mission for “deep cover agents with special skills.” It had some cool stunts and got the job done.

In this sequel, as soon as Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson, returning from the first film) explains that the first Triple X is dead so they need to go off the grid again to find someone even tougher, it’s clear that this is less script than set-up. When Willem Dafoe turns up as the Secretary of Defense to give a report to the President (Peter Strauss), it’s clear that he’s not in the movie to be a second-tier good guy. I’d say it was less a movie than a cross between a rap song and a computer game, but it is not nearly as well-written as either. There’s no wit or imagination, just the thump thump thump of exposition and explosions.

Yes, there are barked orders about breaching the perimeter and guys in serious-looking black hoods with fancy guns and other toys, a handy nerdish hacker, and big shots asking each other “Who the hell is this guy?” The new Triple X is a former Navy Seal serving a 20-year prison sentence who gets sprung for a top-secret mission. The good guys have become the bad guys, so we need some bad guys to be the good guys.

There are competently filmed stunts and explosions at a variety of Washington DC locations, including a non-existent bullet train. There are a couple of good lines, including quotes from Thomas Jefferson and Tupac, and it is fun to see Ice Cube go undercover as two characters that play off of white expectations. But the movie has an unpleasantly sour tone that is too far off the grid to give the stunts any narrative or emotional heft. When Triple X is explaining to a friend why he should help save the day, the best he can do is tell him that they are fighting for the right to keep stealing cars. And the movie’s treatment of a standard-issue rich blonde ice queen in a slinky suit and a fast car is so rap-style misogynistic that it takes you out of the story. Nona Gaye (Ali) tries to channel Pam Grier as the woman Triple X can’t forget, and her scenes with Ice Cube have enough warmth and sparkle to remind you how much the rest of the film is lacking. Even with all the pounding music and ear-splitting explosions, this XXX should be rated zzzzzzz.

Parents should know that the movie has non-stop PG-13-style violence, with a lot of explosions and shoot-em-ups. Many characters are killed. Characters use brief bad language (one f-word, a few b-words) and there are some mild sexual references, including a prison rape joke.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Darius did not follow orders and how he decided what mattered to him. Characters use different arguments to try to persuade each other in this movie. Which are the strongest? Why?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original, with Vin Diesel as the first Triple X and the classic The Dirty Dozen.

The Game of Their Lives

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

When a movie is called “The Game of Their Lives,” you know they’re not going for subtlety.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

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

“Ask why.”

That was the question at the end of the television commercials for Enron, five years in a row Fortune magazine’s “most innovative company” for the way it revolutionized the market for natural gas. But, as we all now know too well, its greatest innovation was in the area of financial fraud. It went from being the seventh largest company in the country in 2000 to the then-largest bankruptcy in American history. More than $60 billion just evaporated, much of it the retirement savings of workers at Enron and other companies. This movie asks: why?

And while it does a good job of explaining some of the financial shenanigans in a manner that is not just clear but entertaining, the great strength of the film is its conclusion that this is not a story about numbers; it is a story about people.

And the people at Enron made up a cast of characters no fiction writer could top. There’s former Enron vice chairman Cliff Baxter, whose suicide begins the story. He was one of the “men with spikes” the tough guys who created Enron’s macho culture. His bi-polar disorder problems made him especially suitable for the job of deal-maker for the company because of the energy and drive he had during the manic phases. But when things spun out of control, he was so completely devastated that he spiraled into depression and killed himself.

And there’s Enron founder Ken Lay, the son of a poor preacher, whose driving ambition led him to reward the perpetrators of an early fraud, thus setting the foundation for a corporate culture that rewarded people for the money they brought in, regardless of the violations of ethics or laws. Lou Pi was the executive who got away before it all fell apart, retiring to Hawaii with his stripper wife. Sherron Watkins was the whistleblower who first identified the accounting fraud in an email that warned, “I am incredibly nervous that we will implode in a wave of accounting scandals.” James Chanos was the man who tipped off Fortune Magazine writer Bethany McLean to the fact that Enron was not all it wanted people to think it was. (The movie does not reveal that he was a short seller who had a lot to gain if the stock declined in value.) John Olson was the securities analyst who was fired because he dared to criticize Enron. His firm got a huge business deal from Enron as soon as he was gone.

At the heart of the story, though, are two people, Jeff Skilling and Andrew Fastow. Former CEO Skilling remade himself from a pudgy in glasses who sat at a desk to a guy with Lasik surgery who took everyone on extreme outings to see who was tough. More consultant than operating executive, he cared only about “big ideas,” and had no patience for the details of execution. Skilling accepted the job at Enron contingent on the company’s agreement to use a very agressive form of accounting called “mark to market,” meaning that they booked all of the potential returns from a deal the minute the deal was signed, without waiting to see if the deal proceeded as anticipated. So when a huge energy plant was built in India, they booked all the potential revenue of their rosy predictions immediately even though the energy produced by the plant turned out to be too expensive for the community to support, so instead of making money, it lost money. One of the film’s most stunning moments is video footage of a company skit in which Skilling jokes about using “hypothetical future value” accounting. But for Enron, that’s what “mark to market” really was.

But where they really got into trouble was when CFO Andrew Fastow created a series of “special purpose entitites” to hide the company’s debt. The board waived the conflict of interest rules to allow Fastow to be an officer of those companies and to essentially be selling assets to himself –and paying himself very, very well — he made $30 million from those deals. Meanwhile, the Enron traders (as one Senator says, “that’s t-r-a-d-e-r-s,” not “traitors”) were manipulating (and cheating) to squeeze Californians by denying them electricity so they could drive up the prices.

The movie has stunning documentation, including footage of a sales pitch by Fastow, looking like the cat who is still licking the cream off his whiskers, and audiotapes of the rapacious and ruthless California t-r-a-d-e-r-s. Writer/director Alex Gibney was fascinated by the way that the Enron executives were, in a real sense, telling a story almost as though they were making a movie. He uses the techniques of film-making, from stock footage inserts (gamblers, a magician) and historical context to soundtrack choices and and present-day interviews to reveal that their “real” story was fiction. He noted that one stock shot of a sky-diver, intended to convey risk-taking, in the context of the film is a reminder of Icarus, the boy who fell into the sea because he flew too close to the sun.

What made it possible for them to lie so much and so long? Part of it was that they really believed in what they were doing. They thought that if they just cheated a little bit, long enough to fool people while they got the thing going, eventually it would work the way they designed it. But it never did. They frantically tried to expand their original good idea, trying to make markets in everything from broadband to weather. They even (not shown in the film) created a fake trading floor to fool the securities analysts who flew in for a tour. What they saw were secretaries, pulled in from other floors, who pretended to be traders buying and selling when they were really just talking to each other.

This is a story about hubris; an updated version of an ancient Greek drama. Like Icarus, the Enron executives flew too close to the sun. It’s a story of greed, arrogance, selfishness, and a complete lack of empathy or consideration for others. Most of all, though, it is a story of people who, contrary to the slogan they touted in their ads, never asked “Why.”

Parents should know that this movie is unrated. It includes very strong language (many uses of the f-word) and brief footage of strippers. It also includes the portrayal of selfish, greedy, unethical, and illegal behavior.

Families who see this movie should talk about the importance of “asking why.” Why didn’t more people ask “why?” How do people allow themselves to become part of a culture of corruption? Who do you think is most responsible for what went on at Enron? Families should talk about some of the ethical dilemmas they have encountered and observed as well. They may also want to learn more about the famously “shocking” Stanley Milgram experiments shown in the movie.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the documentary The Corporation and fictional portrayals of corporate corruption like Wall Street and the delicious comedy The Solid Gold Cadillac. Those who want more information should read the book, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, by Bethany Mclean and Peter Elkind, and Power Failure, co-authored by whistleblower Sherron Watkins, who appear in the movie.

When I am not watching movies, I am o
ften writing about Enron and other corporate governance meltdowns. You can see my interview with the director of this film on my blog and the textbook I co-authored, Corporate Governance, has a DVD devoted to the Enron story.

King’s Ransom

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

At times, during this movie, I looked up at the ceiling, not so much casting my eyes heavenward for assistance as trying to find something more interesting to look at than what was on the screen. The ceiling won, hands down.

Then there were other moments when I watched the movie trying to imagine how it would have been different if the screenplay had been written, not by Wayne Conley of Nickelodeon’s “Kenan & Kel” and “Nick Cannon Show” but by the Grand Klagon of the Ku Klux Klan, and deciding that other than possibly being more sophisticated and less racist, there would have been almost no difference at all.

This is a dumb, offensive, poorly paced, and downright incompetent movie about three different plans to kidnap a very wealthy and obnoxious man named King (Anthony Anderson) who is about to get divorced. He plans his own kidnapping to keep his assets away from his wife. Meanwhile, an aggrieved employee (Nicole Ari Parker) wants revenge and a guy who lives in his grandmother’s basement (Jay Mohr) needs $10,000 for his gangsta sister.

The three plans collide, giving rise to a series of scenes in which people either explain what is going on or make fake jokes, mostly low comedy-style insults and comments indicating that the characters are rapacious, greedy, stupid, liars, old, have too much sex, or have too little. Then it sinks even lower as the kidnap victim teaches the kidnapper to be more assertive (by smacking him in the face with a mustard-smeared slice of bread) and the estranged couple has to find a way to work together and it brings back fond memories. The comic timing is way off and even talented performers like Anderson, Mohr, Parker, and Regina Hall (as the mistress) do little more than shout and wave their arms. I think I caught a couple of distress signals; I know I wanted to send one back.

Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of crude humor, including “jokes” about menstruation, bikini waxes, prison rape, and oral sex and some homophobic situations. There is some strong and raunchy language and potty humor. Characters drink and smoke. The movie has a good deal of “comic” violence, including a punch in the crotch.

Parents who see this movie should talk about what was important to King, Andre, Miss Gladys, and Renee. They should also talk about the movie’s use of caricature.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the classic kidnap comedy (mature material) Ruthless People, 9 to 5, and the one that started it all, The Ransom of Red Chief. The Ref is a scathing comedy about a robber who holds a warring couple hostage, with outstanding performances by Denis Leary, Kevin Spacey, and Judy Davis.

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