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:
08/22/2014

 

Moms' Night Out
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

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

 

Draft Day
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language and sexual references
Release Date:
April 11, 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

 

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

Cinderella Man

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

The people behind A Beautiful Mind have re-teamed on another real-life story, but with less successfui results. It has the ingredients — evocative portrayal of an earlier time, an inspiring story of a deeply loving and supportive married couple stuggling and triumphing over overwhelming adversity, and a beautifully sincere and subtle performance by Russell Crowe. But it is less satisfying because it tells you more than it shows you about how important it all is.

The story of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind was better suited for portayal in the movies because it was newly public. One of the biggest obstacles in a movie, whether fictional or fact-based, is trying to convey that a character captures the attention and affection of the public at large. This story, about heavyweight champion James J. Braddock (Crowe) depends heavily on the ability of scriptwriters Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman and director Ron Howard to convey its importance in part by showing that he was overwhelmingly popular and its significance in part by showing how he was a symbol of his era. Both take so much time and effort and narrative away from the story of the individuals involved that they leave little room for them to be anything but saintly.

So, we know they are honest, hardworking, loving people and we know that they are going to make it. The name of the movie is, after all, “Cinderella Man,” not “Unhappy Ending Man.” That leaves us to make a movie out of getting from the triumph to the hardship and back again, and with the narrative focus dissipated by trying to show us how much it all mattered back then, it makes it impossible to show us how much it matters now.

The movie follows Braddock and his family as they face hardship and adversity, both in the ring and out. The core of the movie is Crowe’s superb performance as the boxer Braddock with a jaunty smile and a powerful and utterly transformed physical presence that goes as far as possible to hold the story together. Paul Giamatti is excellent, as always, as Braddock’s manager, Joe Gould.

“Cinderella Man” has little of the complexity and humanity that we have come to enjoy in Ron Howard’s recent work. Don’t look for nuance of the kind found in A Beautiful Mind. You’ll find no insights here about human nature, and no cause for reflection. Instead, this is a simplistic morality play where the bad guys are really bad, the good guys are unqualifiedly good, and the conflict between good and evil is reduced to the simplicity of punching in the ring.

Braddock is portrayed as a virtuous family man who adores his wife and children, is upright and honest (he instructs his children that it is wrong to steal food even when the family is near starving), and who goes to extraordinary lengths to keep promises to children and look out for his friends. Of course, he is pitted against cold-blooded mercenary fight promoters and a demonic, vicious boxing foe with a reputation for killing his opponents.

Howard places a great deal of emphasis on the sights and sounds of the depression. The boxing scenes are thrilling and dynamic. Howard has paid attention to and learned from the many boxing films that have gone before, and has advanced the choreography of the fight, in part by using new technologies to create up close, fast-paced personal combat. But “Cinderella Man” is not just a battle between good and evil on a personal level. Braddock’s personal sainthood might be too subtle for the audience, so Braddock is also larded up as the personification of all the poor and the downtrodden workers struggling for hope and dignity during the depression, the symbolic champion of the oppressed everywhere. And just in case you might try to forget it for even a moment, a desperate Braddock finds extra inspiration for his punches in the ring from visions of the oppressed proletariat. Those montages are more heavy-handed than the thud of boxing gloves on Russell Crowe’s face.

By throwing his customary ballast overboard, and reducing everything to a simplistic conflict, Howard creates a lesser work of art but nevertheless a rousing crowd pleaser. “Cinderella Man” dedicates a film maker’s considerable skill to catching the audience and investing them in the outcome of a series of battles. The movie is beautifully filmed, with the grim, spartan conditions of the urban, depression-era winter filmed in a muted palette. The dark and grimy rooms and buildings contrasted with the blinding white snow reinforces the black-and-white morality of the film’s message.

Parents should know that the movie has many brutal boxing matches, powerfully portrayed, with serious injuries, which may be upsetting to some audience members. The themes of poverty and family stress may also be disturbing. Characters use brief strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about what it was about Braddock that made him such an appealing hero to the working people during the Depression.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy some of the classic boxing films, from Rocky to Body and Soul. They may want to learn more about Braddock. The book Cinderella Man: James Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History is a good place to start. Braddock appears in The Fight, a documentary about one of the most famous boxing matches of all time, the 1938 bout where Joe Louis beat Max Schmeling.

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2005

I admit it. My heart still starts to beat faster when I see those words: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….” And it beat faster still when I read the opening crawl and found not a single reference to tariffs or other mind-numbing political intrigue. This last of the second trilogy is the story that takes us from talented but hot-tempered Jedi Anakin Skywalker to helmet-headed Darth Vadar, of the deep, deep voice and the traveling iron lung. Just as in the original (now known as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope), we start right in the middle of the action. Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDairmid) has been taken hostage and Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and his teacher, Obi-wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) have been sent to the rescue.

Here is the good news:

  • There is a lot to look at. Those computer geniuses have spent many hours in front of banks of terminals banging away at zeroes and ones with excellent results, eye-filling vistas rich in detail.

  • The action scenes are exciting and well-staged. There are chases and light-saber fights, and battles with creatures and robots in the air, in the water, and over racing rivers of lava.

  • It ties things together nicely, meshing with the first “Star Wars” (which is now the fourth). You’ll see how Luke and Leia and the robots and Obi-Wan all end up right where they need to be in time to meet up with Han Solo and go after that deathstar.

  • Jar-Jar Binks appears only for a moment and is gone before he has time to be annoying.

Now, here’s the bad news. George Lucas is much more interested in making sure that the reflection of some planet’s third moon on a window than he is in some of the other reasons people go to movies, like acting and script. This means that:

  • The dialogue is dreadful. It’s bad enough when the characters are talking about politics and when Yoda is croaking on in that corkscrewed syntax verb-at-the-end style. But it actually gets teeth-grindingly painful when Anakin and Padme (Natalie Portman) are talking about their feelings. Here’s one exchange: “You are so beautiful.” “That’s because I’m so in love.” “No, it’s because I’m so in love with you.” And later: “Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo, so long ago when there was nothing but our love.”

  • Christensen does not have the acting chops to make use believe in Anakin’s conflict. He is supposed to be a passionate and brilliant but deeply conflicted hero with a tragic flaw. He acts like a petulent teenager who’s just been told he can’t drive the family car.

  • I miss Han Solo. He’s the best and most interesting and appealing character in any of the movies, and there just isn’t anyone in this movie with his charm and brio.

  • And, I’m sorry, I know they’re dying to see it, and have all the toys and the pajamas with Ewoks or whatever, but it’s not for young kids. Anakin has to do some very, very bad things to gain the power of the dark side of the force, and even though the worst of them are off-screen, it is still very disturbing. This is also more graphic than the previous films, both in the fight scenes and in one scene of burning flesh.

  • Finally, it just does not have the emotional resonance of the original trilogy. Yoda tells Anakin that “attachment leads to jealousy” and he should train himself “to let go of everything you fear to lose.” I’m sorry, the Jedis are not allowed to fall in love? What’s that about? And Padme says Anakin is under stress? She sounds like the wife of a guy who’s been working too late reviewing auto insurance claims. All of this undermines and trivializes the movie’s salutory attempt at grander themes, like sacrifice and honor and surrendering the perils and risks of freedom for the seductive security of dictatorship.

Parents should know that this movie is more intense and violent than the PG-rated earlier films, with graphic injuries and disturbing themes.

Families who see this movie should talk about the conflicts Anakin faces and how he decides what matters most to him. Why doesn’t he realize how Padme will see his decision?

Families who enjoy this movie should see the entire series. They may also enjoy reading The Hero With a Thousand Faces and other books by Joseph Campbell that influenced George Lucas in creating these stories. Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth includes an interview with Lucas about “The Mythology of Star Wars.”

Monster-in-Law

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

Jane Fonda is having such a blast being back on screen in a pull-out-all-the-stops performance that it seems a little stingy not to enjoy it more. But this latest variation on Meet the Parents and Cinderella is always a little less charming, a little less funny, and a lot less entertaining than it thinks it is, wants to be, and needs to be.

Jennifer Lopez brings sweetness and charisma but no special talent for comedy to the role of Charlie, a straight-from-the-romantic-comedy-heroine-store plucky but warm-hearted girl who makes a living with a jumble of “won’t this be cute” temp jobs (She walks dogs! She passes hors d’oeuvres! She is a receptionist at a doctor’s office getting handed little paper bags with icky stuff inside!). She has dreams of being a fashion designer. She meets Kevin (Michael Vartan of “Alias”). He’s cute, he’s a doctor, he’s rich and he’s crazy about her. The only thing preventing them from living happily ever after is the wicked stepmother, I mean prospective mother-in-law.

That would be Fonda as Viola, once the top interview host on television, then replaced by a teenaged pop star, now just out of the hospital after a nervous breakdown. Cue the weapons of nuptial mass destruction.

Plucky heroine, handsome love interest, and second-act complication in place. The formula also calls for wisecracking best friends. Charlie has two, a gal pal and of course a gay man (the talented Adam Scott). The 90′s called; they want their most popular accessory for rom-com heroines back. Viola has Wanda Sykes, whose imperishably acid delivery is the best part of the movie, though her character is uncomfortably reminiscient of too many black character actors playing outspoken servants in old movies. But that’s way ahead of Kevin’s best friend (thankfully onscreen very briefly) who has a not-even-a-little-bit-funny thing for very young girls. Ew.

Viola thinks Charlie is not good enough for Kevin, who wisely finds a way to leave town for most of the movie. She tries to make Charlie so miserable that she will — what? it’s never clear how the stunts she pulls relate to the idea of stopping the wedding. Lucy and Ethel could teach this chick plenty.

Things perk up a bit when Charlie decides to strike back and when Elaine Stritch arrives to show J. Lo and J. Fo how it’s really done. But the stakes seem so petty (Viola gives Charlie a gorgeous vintage that won’t fit over Charlie’s generous booty, Viola wants to wear a WHITE dress to the wedding instead of the peach horror-with-ruffles Charlie designed for her) and the tactics so unimaginative (a slap-fest and some allergy-inducing nuts) that it has the appeal of stale wedding cake and yesterday’s bouquet.

Parents should know that this movie has some raw material for a PG-13, including strong language, dogs having sex, jokes about gay sex, sexual arousal, and a man who is interested in underage girls. Some audience members may be disturbed by casual references to crucifix jewelry and church.

Families who see this movie should talk about their own experiences of meeting future in-laws and any differences of style or culture that might have caused stress. What should Kevin have done to resolve the differences between Viola and Charlie? Would Viola have been less upset if she still had her job?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy seeing Fonda in some of her early romantic comedies like Barefoot in the Park and Sunday in New York. Another double Oscar-winner, Jessica Lange, goes over the top as a monster-in-law facing off against Gwenyth Paltrow in the grand guignol drama Hush. But the prize for all-time worst movie mother-in-law is Laura Hope Crewes in The Silver Cord.

Kingdom of Heaven

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

This huge, clanging epic about the 12th century Crusades is too beautiful to be bad, too clumsy to be good, too long to be comfortable, too uneven to be powerful, and has a leading character too lightweight to be compelling. “Kingdom of Heaven” has the scope but lacks the power and resonance of the same director’s Gladiator. Ridley Scott is shooting for epic but coming up at — or just short of — entertaining.

The central core value — that peace is possible and that war is not the answer — is undermined by the director’s obvious relish for battle.

It has beautifully constructed images that convey the pageant of the fierce struggle between Christians and Muslims for old Jerusalem. But this lush depiction of the sights, sounds and smells of the age is anchored to a weak plot and an often puerile script. The characters share none of the grandeur or complexity of the scenery or the history.

As often happens, the more blood that flows on an on-screen battlefield, the more anemic the script. This may account for the thin and implausible story of an unschooled small town blacksmith who, after a few weeks of training, becomes a world-class swordsman and military tactician able to plan the movement of vast armies and defend the empire against shrewder and more seasoned veterans as well as a scientist-farmer statesman and scientist-farmer who knows how to irrigate the desert and how to create an egalatarian society. He is transformed from a bereaved widower who joins the Crusades to redeem his soul and becomes something of a modern secular humanist who just wants to save as many lives as possible and cultivate his garden. He is surrounded by the obligatory movie-isms, including father-son reconciliation and a romantic relationship with a princess with kohl on her eyes, henna on her hands, and a husband who does not understand her. It’s the one-characteristic-per-actor school of epic story-telling. It is not enough that the bad priest is a wicked and narrow-minded hypocrite, he must also be a leering sadist and, for good measure, a sneak thief in case someone in the audience is so overcome with the carnage that he missed the point.

Sometimes an movie that simplifies a story can serve as a set of training wheels to help introduce younger viewers to more complex historical material. But “Kingdom of Heaven” is not that movie. First, it has too much splattering gore (throats pierced by arrows, limbs severed, heads chopped off) to be targeted at younger and more impressionable audiences. Second, the plot is too murky and hobbled by 21st century political correctness to be compelling.

Despite its emotional immaturity, the story does attempt to depict the Rubik’s cube of treacherous alliances between confusing factions during the Crusades, and it evenhandedly makes extremists on both sides the bad guys rather than pitting the Christians against the Muslims. It also contains a message about religious tolerance in the face of “I know what God wants” zealots from both the Christian and Muslim sides. This is always a timely and important message, although as portrayed here it is heavy-handed and half-hearted. The hero preaches a suspiciously modern form of tolerance and equality while the evil villains screech a simple-minded and almost suicidal position based on “faith.”

Kingdom of Heaven is a gorgeous movie. The costumes, weapons and castles are beautifully constructed, and both the intense individual confrontations and the sweeping panorama of battle are expertly conveyed. Scott has a superb sense of pacing and knows when to show fluttering flags and when to cue the choral music. For many, this will be enough, at least while watching it. But because the plot is so thin and uninvolving, even the 2 1/2 hour running time will leave the audience feeling unsatisfied.

Parents should know that the movie has extreme and very graphic violence with a lot of slashing and burning and a lot of spurting blood. Many characters are killed. There are some grisly images, including men being hanged, heads on pikes, and the face of a dead leper and there are references to suicide. There is a non-explict sexual situation and there are sexual references, including adultery.

Families who see this movie should talk about its relationship to the battles — intellectual and literal — in the world today. Who are the moderates? Who are the extremists? How can moderates engage with extremists? How do you respond to those who claim they know the will of God? Families should also talk about the then-revolutionary concept that “you were not what you were born but what you had it in yourself to be” and the words that inspire Balian, “What man is a man who does not make the world better?”

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy epics like Ben Hur and Scott’s Gladiator. There are plenty of good texts about the Crusades, including about this fictionalized time between the Second and Third Crusades. The story of King Richard the Lionheart is a fascinating tale from his travails in reaching Jerusalem to his clashes with Saladin. Those who want to find out more might like to look at The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades by Jonathan Riley-Smith and Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf.

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