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Annie
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some mild language and rude humor
Release Date:
December 19, 2014

 

The Maze Runner
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images
Release Date:
September 19, 2014

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language
Release Date:
December 19, 2014

 

Magic in the Moonlight
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout
Release Date:
August 1, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Release Date:
December 19, 2014

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Release Date:
August 8, 2014

Are We Done Yet?

posted by jmiller
C-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for some innuendos and brief language.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

Is it over yet? Please?


Ice Cube’s Are We There Yet? was tough enough to sit through, though unaccountably successful. Thus, we have this doubly unnecessary sequel. It is so creatively bankrupt that it has to teeter not just on the original, which was bad enough, but it has the temerity to call itself in part a remake of the Cary Grant/Myra Loy classic Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. This movie does to that one what dry rot does to wood.


In the first film, Ice Cube played Nick, who was happily single until he saw Suzanne (Nia Long), not only beautiful but, like him, a fan of Satchel Paige. He fell so hard for her that he offered to take her children to Vancouver, which resulted in a series of mishaps that were only slightly less excruciating than the phony sentimentality. Now, Nick, pregnant-with-twins Suzanne, and the kids move out of Nick’s bachelor apartment into a beautiful house in the country that turns out to be falling apart. It will take a village to make it habitable — a very expensive village.


The screenplay is as rickety and jerrybuilt as the fixer-upper Nick moves into, all pratfalls and muckishness. Its lazy contempt for the audience means that we never believe for a moment that Nick, Suzanne, and the kids are in the same movie, much less the same family. There is no sense of connection, not even a consistent sense of character. Nick’s insistent “I can fix that” persona comes and goes, along with his plans to start a magazine. When Suzanne tells him she is pregnant, his reaction is “By who?” (a poor choice for a movie aimed at kids) and then a stiff drink (ditto). Even the lovely Long cannot make Suzanne into anything more than a vague character who urges everyone to be nice all the time. She is so clueless about what is going on with her family that she seems a little creepy. The kids make no contribution (except for another classic pop musical number from School of Rock’s Aleisha Allen). The primary relationship in the movie is between Nick and his Renaissance Man contractor, Chuck (John C. McGinley). The script tries to have it both ways, making him a slick con artist and a warm-hearted guy who just wants to be part of the family, letting any latent humor out of the situation like a slow leak from a tire. The whole movie feels like a slow leak, no chemistry, no energy, as synthetic as masonite painted to look like pine.

Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of comic peril and violence, crashing through floors and falling off roofs. There are comic scuffles and there is some crude jokes. There’s a brief shot of a workman’s bare tush and some potty humor. Nick criticizes his step-daughter’s skimpy clothes and worries that she is getting involved with boys. There are some mild sexual references and a non-explicit on-screen childbirth scene. When Suzanne tells Nick she is pregnant, he asks “by who?” Characters drink, including drinking in response to stress. There is a reference to a sad death. A strength of the movie, particularly in light of the unintended racism (by today’s terms) of “Mr. Blandings,” is the portrayal of diverse characters, thought it engages in some stereotyping and portrays disabilities as humorous.


Families who see this movie should talk about why Nick always wanted Suzanne and the kids to think that he knew how to fix everything. Why did Suzanne feel she had to move out? Families might also like to talk about some of the issues that blended families face.

Families who appreciate this film will enjoy the much better comedies about home renovation, including Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, George Washington Slept Here and The Money Pit. They might also enjoy watching “Extreme Home Makeover” and other shows about home repair and decorating.

The Lookout

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for language, some violence and sexual content.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

In this tense and twisty thriller, our narrator and central figure is Chris (the stunning Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a one-time high school hockey star and dreamboat who was brain-damaged in a car crash on prom night. Now, he works as the night janitor in a bank and goes to life skills classes to practice “sequencing” and tone down the “disinhibition” that allows him to make inappropriate comments to his pretty caseworker. At night, while he is at work, a friendly cop comes by to bring him donuts and sometimes he plays janitor hockey with his mop and thinks about how much he wants to be “who I was.” The hardest part of sequencing is finding a way to move his own story forward.


“I wake up,” he says. “I shower. With soap.” But is that before shaving or after? And “I cry sometimes” — is that supposed to be there? Chris has a little notebook for writing everything down to make sure he gets the sequences right.


But the sequences don’t seem to be right. He has the patient guidance of Lewis (Jeff Daniels), the blind roommate he met at the life skills center. And he has the confused affection of his wealthy family. They have kept his old room the way he left it, filled with trophies and the wheelchair from rehab folded up in the corner. His father still expects him to play chess. They seem to have more trouble than he does sequencing him into his future.


And then Chris meets Gary (Matthew Goode), who remembers him the way he was and doesn’t seem to think he’s changed much. Gary introduces him to Luvlee (Isla Fisher of The Wedding Crashers) and she seems to think he’s pretty great the way he is. They show him a heady glimpse of himself as powerful, wanted, friended by people who see no reason to feel sorry for him.


And capable of…something adventurous and dashing? Gary wants to rob a bank. The one where Chris and Barney Fife have donuts every night. Has Chris missed a step in his sequence and gotten himself into a situation he can’t sequence himself out of?


The genre of the “impaired narrator” provides instant interest for audiences, who must try to guess what is going on based on limited information from the character who is telling it. Of course, writers always dole out information in a highly controlled way. But this personification of narrative control creates a puzzle that immediately makes our involvement more intense and alert.


Gordon-Levitt is the real deal, a fascinating performer who creates the pre-crash Chris so compellingly in a few brief moments that we can miss him — and glimpse him under the slightly scrambled version he becomes. We’ve seen too many showboat-y performances by actors who love to play the look-at-me-act-with-one-hand-behind-my-back award-bait disabled roles. But Gordon-Levitt and Daniels give us characters who happen to have some disabilities, fascinating for who they are, not for what they can and cannot do. And Goode is…great. In the past relegated to playing the cute English guy with the cute English accent in movies like Match Point and Chasing Liberty, here he is as silky and menacing as a cougar. First-time director Scott Frank makes the most of his own tightly-written script, never neglecting character for action. He makes our hearts pound, but he also makes us care.

Parents should know that this movie has very mature material, including explicit and graphic peril and violence, with many characters injured or killed. Characters use very strong language, drink, smoke, and use drugs. Many of the characters are criminals who threaten, bully, cheat, and steal. There are sexual references and situations, including nudity. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of disabled characters who are capable and dedicated.


Families who see this movie should talk about “sequencing,” and why it is important for the characters and in storytelling. How does the structure of this movie help to make that point?

Audiences who enjoy this film will also enjoy Memento. They will also enjoy other outstanding tense thrillers like A Simple Plan, Shallow Grave, and Out of Sight, with a superb screenplay by this film’s writer-director.

Blades of Glory

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language, a comic violent image and some drug references.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

Will Ferrell seems to be working his way through every sport ever covered on ESPN. With figure skating, he has found a target-rich environment for comedy. The collision of sport and showbiz is nowhere more intense than in an Olympic event that features what one of the characters in this movie would call “mind-bottling” feats of athleticism plus sparkly costumes and syrupy music.


Ferrell is Chazz Michael Michaels, a skating bad boy who comes out in cowboy gear and whose choreography seems to have been inspired in part by Chippendale’s. His archrival is Jimmy MacElroy (Napoleon Dynamite‘s Jon Heder), all rainbows and unicorns. He all but twinkles across the ice. When the two of them share a gold medal, they end up shoving each other off the podium and getting banned from competition.


After an unhappy period away from the big time, they are reunited through a loophole. They’ve been banned from singles competition, but not from pairs. And just because pairs have always been a man and a woman, well, does that mean it has to stay that way? Not in this movie!


So, after the obligatory resistance and hostility evolve into the obligatory mutual admiration and loyalty, they’re ready for the big time, competing against reigning champs, the brother and sister team Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (“Arrested Development”‘s Will Arnett and his real-life wife, “Saturday Night Live”‘s Amy Poehler).


The comedy may be predictable, but it keeps moving briskly, thanks in part to the conventions of sportscasting. Backstories are economically handled through “Up Close and Personal”-style summaries of the characters’ lives. Ferrell and Heder, who appear in one event as “Fire and Ice,” are well matched, Heder holding his own in his first adult role, one that allows him to be more than just a clueless doof. Not much more, of course — this is the story of two clueless doofs after all. But they are clueless doofs who train hard and dream big and we want to see them get the gold.


Parents should know that this movie is at the edge of an R, with very raunchy, gross, and crude humor, language, and situations, including a meeting of a support group for sex addicts and references to masturbation, condoms, incest, and adult films. There is comic peril and violence, including a “humorous” and somewhat graphic decapitation, a bow and arrow, many crotch hits, a reference to deaths in a car crash, and a joke about a possibly murderous stalker. Characters smoke and drink (including alcohol abuse) and there are drug references, including an overdose joke. Some audience members may be bothered by the portrayal of an adoptive father who abandons his son for making a mistake. There is also some intrusive product placement.


Families who see this movie should talk about the kinds of pressures athletes face from their families and coaches and from the press and the public. Why was winning so important to each of the characters? Why does Katie do what her brother and sister tell her?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Ferrell’s other movies, including Anchorman – The Legend Of Ron Burgundy (very raunchy humor) and the underrated Stranger Than Fiction. They may also enjoy some of the skating movies whose themes are spoofed here, including The Cutting Edge and Ice Castles. For a look at real-life figure skaters, including some who have cameos in this film, families can watch Olympic Figure Skating Greatest Performances In History Volume I and Volume II.

The Hoax

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for language.
Movie Release Date:2007

What is it about liars that makes them the focus of so many movies? In the past few months alone we’ve had Breech (from the same writer/director who gave us another real-life liar story, Shattered Glass) and Colour Me Kubrick: A True…ish Story. And now we have “The Hoax,” based on one of the most famous liars of the 1970’s, Clifford Irving, who got a $1 million advance for writing “the most important book of the century,” the authorized biography of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. The lie? Well, he made up the whole thing, including forged handwritten letters and having his wife pose as “Helga R. Hughes” to cash that million-dollar check.


Irving knew quite a bit about big-time fraud. His previous books included Fake! about art forger Elmyr De Hory, whose “Vermeers” and “Modiglianis” were considered masterpieces until it was discovered that they were forgeries.


Irving was apparently more inspired by the fraud part of this story than the consequences. According to this film, based on Irving’s own book written after he got out of prison, his frustration at having his publisher first accept and then reject the book he hoped would make his fortune created a sense of entitlement fueled by a bitter wish for revenge. Irving (Richard Gere) was also an accomplished liar — he had affairs and lied about them, he spent more than he had, and he was something of a fabulist, drawn to characters like de Hory and an aspiring novelist.


And so, with a combination of denial, bravado, audacity, research, forgery, and (poorly) calculated risk, and with the help of researcher/sidekick Dick Suskind (Alfred Molina), he told McGraw-Hill that he had made a deal with Hughes, figuring that Hughes was so reclusive he would never bother to refute it. And he quickly learned that the more outrageous his demands, the more believeable they were. When his materials passed a handwriting test and an evaluation by someone who knew Howard Hughes, Irving figured he was unstoppable.


But it turned out that Hughes had his own ideas. And that Irving was not the only liar around.


Richard Gere is superb as Irving, capturing the brio and smooth charm but also the barely subliminal anger, neediness, and desperation. Irving worked as hard on this project as if it had been legit. In one of the movie’s most interesting choices, he actually dresses up as Hughes to be “interviewed” for the book. It isn’t clear whether this is his imagination, the way that any writer must dissolve his individuality into the subject of his story, some momentary fantasy that he really was writing the Hughes story, or some elaborate real-life strategy like the way they stole files from the Pentagon.


The film is less successful in trying to make the case that Irving’s lies were related to and even dwarfed by the other big lies of the era, like Watergate. But he does gain our sympathy. We almost hope he will get away with it. For a moment, as he and his editor wait for Hughes’ helicopter to land, we almost believe it ourselves.

Parents should know that this is a movie about a massive fraud, and many of its characters are unabashed liars and cheats with no consideration for the people whose lives and reputations they are damaging. Characters drink and smoke and use strong language. There are sexual references and non-explicit situations, including adultery and prostitution. And there are tense and emotional confrontations and betrayals.


Families who see this movie should talk about what motivated Irving to commit fraud and what this version of the story, based largely on his own book, tells you about how he feels about it now. What do you think about his efforts to put it in perspective by bringing the Nixon administration into the story? Families might want to read or see other movies about Howard Hughes, including the straight biopic, The Aviator and the imaginative fable Melvin and Howard, which deals with another story of possible fakery and fraud.

Audiences who enjoy this movie will enjoy seeing a much younger Richard Gere acting opposite the real-life Nina van Pallandt in American Gigolo. She can also be seen in Orson Welles’ fascinating documentary about lies and frauds, F for Fake. It was inspired in part by Clifford Irving’s book about art forger Elmyr de Hory, Fake!. The Criterion edition of Welles’ film includes as an extra Howard Hughes’ press conference denouncing Irving’s book. Irving’s own book about the Hughes book fraud might also be of interest.

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