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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

Bee Season

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

A little girl who thought she was the ordinary member of the family discovers a talent for spelling, in this thoughtful movie based on the best-seller by Myla Goldberg. But this is not a fictionalized version of the superb documentary Spellbound. It is a story about breaking apart, from the letters in a word to the connections and relationships we most rely on, and about the way we try to hold on, and, if we fail, to heal what is broken.

Images of breaking apart appear over and over again in the stories we tell. Yeats described it in his poem, “The Second Coming.” “Things fall apart,” he wrote. “The center cannot hold.” And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again. E.M. Forster said the most important rule was “only connect.” According to Jewish folklore, the world began with a great splintering when the divine light God poured into vessels shattered them. So it is the obligation of all people to put the pieces back together again. The duty is called “tikkun olam,” which means “to heal the world.”

The scholars within the Jewish community who take this command most literally are those who study Abraham Abulafia and kabbalah, from the Madonna-chic red bracelet-wearers who skim along the surface to the mystics who believe they can see the world in the patterns of its pieces.

In this story, Saul Nauman (Richard Gere) is a professor who studies kabbalah but has never achieved the transcendent ecstasy of those who have mastered it, especially Abraham Abulafia, the subject of his dissertation. He is devoted and affectionate, but not always sensitive or aware. Saul does not realize how narcisisstic his attentions are.

He does not see that his daughter Eliza (Flora Cross) feels left out and unimportant because of the attention Saul gives her brother Aaron (Max Minghella). He does not see that Aaron is seeking something to heal his own sense of being incomplete. He does not see that his wife Miriam (Juliette Binoche) feels both smothered and disconnected, that she is seeking something even she does not understand to help her make sense of her own perception of what is broken.

And he can never guess that these things will be revealed by Eliza’s simple but inexplicable gift for spelling. Somehow, she just seems to know how words break down into pieces. Saul becomes fascinated with this — can it be that she has found a way to tap into Abulafia’s ability to understand the way the patterns are where the whole universe is found?

Screenwriter Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal (mother of Maggie and Jake) creates a mosaic of her own, an assemblage out of small, shiny pieces: the family members and their various fears and dreams. Saul and Miriam see connections that do not exist while their children long for connections they wish they had.

The underrated Gere, not anyone’s first thought to play an observant Jew, is fine, in part because he makes no effort to “act Jewish.” He just acts like a man who does not recognize his self-involvement and who can only see his family as reflections of himself. Cross is solomnly lovely as Eliza, and when she looks out from the stage, visualizing the word she has to spell, we feel her sense of wonder, magic, and mastery.

This is an ambitious undertaking, and translating such an intensely metaphorical story to screen inevitably unbalances it so that it often looks like just another dysfunctional family story instead of a meditation on the nature of connection. It is uneven and ultimately, inevitably, unsuccessful in making that part of it work. But it raises the questions powerfully, and that is enough to begin that connection — that healing — it calls upon all of us to try for.

Parents should know that this movie includes brief strong language (two f-words), an explicit sexual situation and some implied nudity. There are tense and unhappy family confrontations and (spoiler alert) a character becomes mentally ill.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it was hard for the members of this family to talk to each other. They should also talk about tikkun olam and their own faith or value traditions of the responsibility for “repairing the world.”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Spellbound, the wonderful documentary about the national Spelling Bee, and Searching for Bobby Fischer, based on the real-life story of chess champion Josh Waitzkin, and the impact his experience had on his family.

Families who want to know more about Abraham Abulafia and kabbalah will find many resources online. The national Spelling Bee website has information about participation and some great materials for spellers and anyone else interested in words.

Pride and Prejudice

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

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the best romantic novel in the English language must perpetually be in need of a remake.

And it is equally true that movie adaptations of Pride and Prejudice face an odious dilemma. On the one side, there are the “Janeites,” those passionate Austen-ophiles who would prefer that her stories be read, preferably by candlelight, the better to appreciate every one of Austen’s exquisitely chosen words. For those fans, any new version has to compete with the previous filmed versions as well, mostly recently the acclaimed 1995 miniseries, which even the most ardent Jane-ites tolerate, partly because it had the space to include just about every detail from the book, and partly because Colin Firth was such an estimable Darcy.

On the other side are those who are allergic to “marriage plot” stories set in drawing rooms in the olden days. Discussions of who is asked to dance at which ball make them long for some nice alien or explosion to make things more exciting.

The good news is that this version will be satisfactory to both sides. Yes, there are heart-breaking omissions, as must be necessary in any 2-hour version. And no, there are no aliens or explosions. But it is a very faithful adaptation that bursts out of the drawing room into an outside world filled with mud and chickens — and passion.

Elizabeth Bennett (Kiera Knightly) is the second of five daughters. Her older sister Jane (Rosamund Pike), as sweet as she is pretty, always sees the best in everyone, is her closest confidante. But her foolish, tactless mother (Brenda Blethyn) and affectionate but disengaged father (Donald Southerland) don’t seem to realize that their two youngest daughters, Lydia (Jenna Malone) and Kitty (Carey Mulligan) are not just young and frivolous. They are dangerously silly, with no sense of propriety or honor. All they care about is going to parties with dashing officers in red coats.

The story begins with three important arrivals. The endlessly benign and highly eligible Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) has taken a house near the Bennett home, and Mrs. Bennett is determined that he must marry one of her daughters. Mr. Bingley has brought with him his closest friend, the haughty Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen), a guy whose most inviting expression is his glower. And, shortly after, Mr. Bennett’s cousin arrives. He is the unctuously obsequious Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander), a clergyman on the estate of the very grand Lady Catherine de Bourg (Dame Judi Dench), and he never tires of talking about how very grand it and she are.

Mr. Collins is determined to marry, and his ever-aware-of-what-is-proper thought is that it should be one of the Bennett girls, as the estate’s entailment requires that he inherit the property after Mr. Bennett’s death. (It was common in that era for all real estate to be kept together and inherited by the closest male relative.)

All of this provides many opportunities for love and misunderstanding, for excruciating embarrassment and transcendent displays of honor and sensitivity, for marriage proposals declined and accepted, and of course for happily ever endings, even for those not entirely deserving of them.

Director Joe Wright makes the camera energetic, but never distracting, intimate, but never intrusive. He creates a sense of freshness and immediacy through movement and through a vivid, lively world not just in the drawing rooms and at the balls but with chickens and pigs in the dooryard and muddy skirt hems after long walks through the fields. The outdoor scenes are breathtaking and the settings, particularly the magnificent Pemberly, are as vital as the human characters. He changes a display of paintings in the book to a display of sculpture. The smooth white marble is wonderfully tactile. But Wright really takes our breath away with a stunningly masterful staging of a ball, combining the intricate dance and interlaced conversations in a three-dimensional roundelay of plot, character, and music.

Wright also gives us more of a sense of class differences than we usually see in Austen adaptations. The dress and comportment of the servants in the various households speak volumes. And the difference between the gowns worn by the Bennett girls and the sisters of Darcy and Bingley remind us that there you can be “upstairs” but quite a ways down from those who live at an even higher “upstairs.”

Those who were concerned that Kiera Knightly’s modern athleticism and overpowering teeth and jaw would make her a bad fit as Elizabeth will find they must confront their own prejudices, as she gives a lovely performance, an Elizabeth whose “fine eyes” show us the merry spirit that may get her into trouble but that also makes her irresistible to Darcy and to us. She and MacFadyen give us characters who may be proud and prejudiced but who are also alert, open, always observing and thinking.

Parents should know that, as in the book, the story involves a 16-year-old girl who runs away with an officer, bringing great shame to her family.

Families who see this movie should talk about what it was about Elizabeth and Darcy that at first made them so quick to judge each other and then overcome those prejudices. Why was Elizabeth so much better able to understand the motives and consequences of her family than her parents and sisters were? What is the best way for parents to teach values to their children? Who in this story is judged by his or her family, and when is that accurate? Families should talk about how it can seem like a compliment and an indicator of friendship to share uncomplimentary confidences about a third party, but it is more likely to be an indicator of poor judgment and possible manipulation.

Families may also wish to explore some of the rich array of scholarly essays on every aspect of this novel, from Marxist to proto-feminist to discussions of Austen’s descriptions of the natural world as metaphor for what is going on with her characters. Websites like this one provide some idea of the range of topics and perspectives that have been engaged by Austen’s work.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the book, as well as the many other outstanding adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, including the justly-lauded miniseries with Colin Firth and the MGM version with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson and a screenplay by Aldous Huxley, Gwyneth Paltrow’s version of Emma and Sense and Sensibility, with an Oscar-winning screenplay by Emma Thompson, who also stars, along with Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet, and Alan Rickman, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park. Films inspired by Austen’s novels include Clueless (Emma), Bridget Jones’s Diary (note that not only is the leading man named Darcy, he is played by the miniseries’ Darcy, Colin Firth), and Bride and Prejudice, a Bollywood adaptation by Bend it Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha.

The Weather Man

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

In this movie, David Spritz (Nicolas Cage) pays tribute to his father, Robert (an immaculate performance by Michael Caine) by quoting a Bob Seger song. So I’ll begin my review with a quote from a Bob Dylan song: “You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind is blowing.”

Spritz is the weather man for a Chicago television station. He stands in front of a green screen and points at cold fronts and snow flurries, making cheerful jokes and predicting each week’s “nipper” (coldest temperature).

People keep throwing things at him, mostly fast food. He’s been hit by a Super Big Gulp, by hot apple pie, by a shake. He feels like he lets everyone down. He does not know what to do. He’s a whether man. There’s a constant ticking sound in the score that could suggest a clock or it could suggest a time bomb.

His Pulitzer Prize-winning father is disappointed in him. His 12-year-old daughter Shelli (Gemmenne de la Pena) is unhappy and overweight. His 15-year-old son Mike (Nicholas Hoult of About a Boy) is getting counseling because he was caught with marijuana. His ex-wife(Hope Davis) has a boyfriend who seems to get along better with his kids than he does.

David is a man whose job is predicting what the wind will do, and that feels as far out of his control as the rest of his life. He keeps thinking that if he could just “knuckle down” he would find the right words to make everyone happy with him. Or maybe, if he could just get the job of being weather man for the network “Hello America” show, then everyone would be proud of him and everything would work out at last.

And then David’s father is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and all he can think of is how little time he has to show his father that he has not completely messed up.

Cage, Caine, and Davis are always worth watching and the movie conveys well the feelng of middle-age desperation, simultaneously failing your parents and children and finding that all the “somedays” of your youth are almost used up. But even the movie’s hopeful moments have a sour feeling. Can it possibly be that the movie wants us to think that buying new clothes or punching someone is the way to solve a problem — or likely to impress either parents or children?

David might shatter the ice on an archery target with a well-aimed arrow, but he never brings that sense of control or focus to the miserable problems around him. It’s disconcerting that he continues to be self-centered and superficial while the point of view of the movie seems to be that he has had some kind of breakthrough. He may have achieved acceptance; we have not.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong and crude langauge, brief nudity, illustration of the term “Cameltoe,” and sexual references, including oral sex, attempted seduction/molestation of a teenager, and pornography, and sexual situations. Characters drink. There is a sad death, a fistfight, and one character points a weapon at another.

Families who see this movie should talk about why David found it so hard to be the person he wanted to be and the person he thought his father and children and ex-wife wanted him to be. What was David good at? What did he need to do to be a better father? A better son?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Wonder Boys and Save the Tiger.

Shopgirl

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

“Shopgirl” is a luminous, if melancholy, modern-day fairy tale about a lost princess named Mirabelle (Claire Danes) whose path to true love is complicated when she meets an evil enchanter. Okay, he’s not evil; he’s Steve Martin, who co-stars as Ray and who wrote the screenplay and the novella that inspired it. And he’s not, strictly speaking, an enchanter. But he does put Mirabelle under something of a spell, one that leads to sadness, but ultimately to what comes as close as we can see these days to a happily ever after ending.

Martin/Ray narrates the story. Despite the movie’s title, he even seems to think that he is, if not the story’s hero, at least the main character. But someone forgot to tell Danes, whose glowing performance is in every way the heart of this movie.

And it needs that heart to overcome the often-ponderous and always-superfluous narration, which makes it sound less like a story than like therapy, or perhaps expiation — not for Ray, for Steve Martin.

Mirabelle works at the glove counter at Saks. She stands behind the display, mannequin arms in long, elegant black gloves reaching toward the ceiling and rows of gloves on a glass shelf, neatly organized by color. And she waits, because not many people buy gloves anymore. These are the kind of gloves ladies wore with evening gowns back in the 1950′s.

Mirabelle has come to Los Angeles from Vermont, and she doesn’t feel connected to anyone or anything. Saks is elegant and sterile. Her apartment is tasteful, but spare. Her cat hides under the bed. At night, she takes pictures of herself and uses them to make small shaded drawings which are displayed and, now and then, sell at a local art gallery.

She meets Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman of Rushmore), another artist, at a laundromat. Jeremy is socially awkward, but he appeals to something in Mirabelle. Anyone who trips over his words as much as Jeremy does must at least be honest. And his very awkwardness makes her feel a little more sure of herself.

But then she meets Ray, who gives her another kind of confidence. Ray is a wealthy man with two homes and a private plane. He stops by Mirabelle’s counter to buy a pair of black evening gloves and then sends them to her with an invitation to dinner. He is smooth in some ways, but in others as tentative and unsure of himself as Jeremy. He apologizes for his home, which he bought already decorated. Like Ray himself, it has a sleekly prosperous surface but reveals very little about the person who lives inside.

At the restaurant, Mirabelle asks Ray a few questions to make sure he’s not weird, and he asks her even fewer, just enough to make sure that she’s not bored and that she doesn’t have any father issues that might complicate a relationship. And he tells her — after they’ve slept together — that he does not see it as a long term relationship. He assures himself and his shrink that he has been very clear with her that all he wants is some friendly sex. But Mirabelle is young, and she hopes for more. She does not know how to hold her emotions back. She is so young that she does not know that other people can.

The unforgiveable thing is that it is just that quality that draws Ray to Mirabelle. He feeds on it. He borrows her youth and freshness, and none of the lavish gifts he gives her come anywhere near approaching what he takes from her.

Martin’s script rather awkwardly gets Jeremy out of the picture for a few months by sending him on tour with a rock band. He comes back with a borrowed suit and a head full of advice from relationship books he listened to on tape. And it rather awkwardly gets Ray out of the picture after two poor decisions that can only be explained as pulling the emergency brake cord because he was afraid that he might care in spite of himself.

The script has some bright points, but it has trouble staying on track and some too-convenient . Martin wants more sympathy for Ray than he earns. But Schwartzman makes us see why Mirabelle might find him “one of the kind of people it takes time to know and then once you get to know them, they’re fabulous.” And Danes is so lovely, so open, so filled with light that we stay with it, just because we want to see her get to a happy ending.

Parents should know, first of all, that this is not a Steve Martin-style comedy. It is a melancholy meditation. The characters use some strong language and there are sexual references and some explicit sexual situations, with nudity, including sexual relations between people who do not know each other very well. Characters drink and smoke and there is a reference to drug use.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Ray and Mirabelle had different hopes and expectations for their relationship. What did Jeremy learn on his trip that made him better able to communicate with Mirabelle the second time around? What did Mirabelle learn from Ray that made her better able to appreciate Jeremy the second time around? Why was Ray unable to give more to Mirabelle? What will happen to him? How do you decide when to hurt now and when to hurt later?

Families who appreciate this movie will also enjoy Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers, both with Bill Murray, and Martin’s L.A. Story. They might also enjoy some classics with women facing similar choices between an older man and a younger one, including How to Marry a Millionaire and Cactus Flower.

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