Movie Mom

Movie Mom

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Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
Release Date:
October 24, 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

John Wick
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Earth to Echo
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some action and peril, and mild language
Release Date:
July 3, 2014

23 Blast
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some teen drinking
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Snowpiercer
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for violence, language and drug content
Release Date:
July 2, 2014

Find Me Guilty

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for strong language and some violence.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Director Sidney Lumet revisits the themes of two of his most memorable films in this movie, but with less success. Like Dog Day Afternoon, it is a true story with colorful characters and both comic and tragic overtones. Like 12 Angry Men it is a story of the way justice is — and is not — served by our judicial system. Like both of those films, Lumet convincingly creates the New York setting. Most of the film is set in the courtroom and the grandeur of its aspirations and the grit of its experiences is evocatively portrayed. But an uncertain point of view leaves the story and characters less clear and the resolution unsatisfying.


It is the story of the longest criminal trial in U.S. history, with charges against 20 alleged members of the Lucchese crime family led by Newark, New Jersey mob boss Anthony Accetturo. It took the government two years to present its endlessly complicated case. In the midst of testimony about a tangled web of alleged criminal actions involving gambling, drugs, theft, and murder, one of the defendants attracted the most attention. He was Giacomo “Fat Jack” DiNorscio (Vin Diesel, unrecognizable but for his gravelly voice under a wig and some extra weight). And while the other defendants each had his own lawyer, DiNorsico represented himself, a source of intense frustration for the prosecutor and the judge but welcome comic relief for the jury. “I’m a gagster, not a gangster,” he told them. And they laughed.


The prosecutor was dumbfounded and furious. He could not understand how a jury could be sympathetic to a group of people who not only stole from just about everyone but now and again, actually killed people who got in their way.


And you know, that’s the problem. He’s right. The trial was a circus. It was a mistake to put all of those defendants, each with is own lawyer, into the same case. In the midst of the numbingly complex details, the jury appears to develop some strange offshoot of the Stockholm Syndrome, identifying not with the prosecutors but with the defendants. For all their alleged crimes, they seemed more authentic and relatable than the prosecuting attorneys.


But we are not the jury, tied up with this crowd of “gagsters” for two years. And DiNorsico is not an endearing shlub like Al Pacino’s Sonny in Dog Day Afternoon, holding up a bank to get a sex change operation for his boyfriend. These are guys who stole much more for reasons that were far less romantic.


Lumet does a much better job evoking the time and place than he does making us sympathetic to DiNorsico. All of the performances are excellent, especially Peter Dinklage, superb as counsel for one of the other defendants, and Annabella Sciorra, blazingly hostile in one brief scene as DiNorsico’s ex-wife. Diesel shows us DiNorsico’s Runyonesque charm and his strong, if oftem misplaced, sense of loyalty, but we never feel the sympathy Lumet clearly thinks he deserves. At the end of the movie, we feel, instead, like the jury, that we have spent too much time and understood too little.

Parents should know that this movie concerns the trial of a group of men charged with serious crimes ranging from drug dealing to gambling and murder. Characters use very strong language and there are references to violence and drug use. A character tries to kill another with a gun, shooting him several times. Characters complain about ethnic stereotypes but it can be argued that the film also perpetuates those stereotypes.


Families who see this movie should talk about why the jury found Jackie appealing — and why director Lumet found his story appealing. How did Lumet make clear his own feelings about Jackie?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Goodfellas and Lumet’s 12 Angry Men and Dog Day Afternoon. Those who want to learn more about the real case should read The Boys from New Jersey.

The Hills Have Eyes

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for strong gruesome violence and terror throughout, and for language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

If these hills only had eyes, it would be one thing but parents should know that they also have mutants wielding pickaxes which results in a disturbingly graphic movie not suitable for sensitive audiences of any age or species.


Even some horror movie fans might be put off by this graphically violent flick about a mutant band of robbing and raping cannibals that make short work of a vacationing family until they push the family dog and the self-important son-in-law too far and end up in a bloodbath. French director Alexandre Aja, who made last year’s ambitious but disappointing “High Tension”, turns out a solid if not outstanding update of Wes Craven’s “The Hills have Eyes” from 1977, which taught the world that family vacations are just not safe.


The fairly disagreeable Carter family, comprising husband, wife, three children, son-in-law, grandchild and two dogs, are driving out to the coast through the desert to celebrate the senior Carters’ twenty-fifth anniversary. When a conflicted gas station owner tells them about a shortcut to the highway, the bickering family set out across the rocky desert and into a trap. With the truck totaled and the sun setting, the family realizes that they are not alone in the hills and that the others out there give new meaning to the phrase “playing with your food.”


Aja expends little effort on altering the script of the original but instead adds in marginally better actors, a few heavy handed political asides, a ponderous explanation, a lot more explicit violence and a slightly jaunty sensibility that seems intended to pass for humor. This is not a psychological thriller – this is a gore fest, so audiences should not be surprised when supposedly sensible characters act irrationally, such as going off alone, calling out in the dark and not warning others that the family dog has been disemboweled. In fact, the most sensible and selfless behavior of all is demonstrated by a mutant girl and a German Sheppard, which means that many audiences will not care much who ultimately survives the escalating body count.


For slasher fans, Aja’s lush style and loyalty to the original will make this a worthy wander but for all others be warned, do not enter them there hills.


Parents should know that this is a graphically violent horror movie with constant peril and the violent deaths of almost all on-screen characters. Most of a family is slaughtered and bodies are eaten onscreen. Even fans of the original might be disturbed by the extremely graphic gore and the rape scene. Parents should know that a baby is taken away to be eaten, that a dog is disemboweled and consumed, that characters are killed onscreen in a range of explicit deaths, many involving pickaxes, and that female characters are subjected to sexual assaults. Characters swear, smoke and refer to marijuana use. Political jibes and name-calling highlight friction between family members.


Families who see this movie might talk about the nuclear testing in the Southwest, which is the back story for the movie and for the rage of many of the characters. Why might the juxtaposition of the 1950’s style family homes and mannequins be an effective horror technique? How does the desert play a part in the story?


Families who are interested in the inspiration for this movie, might like to read more about the legend of Alexander “Sawney” Bean, who supposedly was a Scotsman married to a witch living in the late 1300’s as the head of a cave-dwelling family which survived by robbing English travelers and eating their corpses. The legend is considered by many a boogeyman tale about the Scots, who were in conflict with the English at the time, but generations have been chilled by this bloody story, described in detail down to King James’ manhunt and the ensuing executions of the Bean family.


For families looking for movies with similar thrills and kills, the 1977 original “The Hills have Eyes” helped launch Wes Craven’s fame as a horror-director. Both versions of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” feature people going off the beaten path and being hunted down by a terrifying family.

Thanks to guest critic AME.

The Shaggy Dog

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated G
Movie Release Date:1959
DVD Release Date:2006

A ring falls into the pants cuff worn by teenager Wilby Daniels (Tommy Kirk) while he is visiting a museum, and, not noticing, he carries it home with him. The ring’s ancient spell turns him into a huge shaggy dog, identical to the one owned by his pretty new neighbor, Franceska (Roberta Shore). Wilby’s father (Fred MacMurray) is allergic to dogs, so Wilby hides out in Franceska’s house, where he overhears Franceska’s father plotting to steal secret missile plans. Still a dog, Wilby has to figure out a way to foil the spies and save Franceska.

This low-key fantasy/comedy is a long-time family favorite, and children love to see the dog driving the car and wearing pajamas.

The 1976 sequel, The Shaggy D.A. was followed by more two made-for-television sequels starring Harry Anderson.

The Shaggy Dog

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for some mild rude humor.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

An uninspired all-the-best-parts-are-in-the-trailer remake, this is a showcase for two things: Tim Allen’s mugging and some computer wizard-style special effects. The limited entertainment value of both items and a solid supporting cast are not quite enough to make up for a predictable script and faux aw-moment theme.


Allen plays Dave, an assistant District Attorney in the middle of a big trial that is his chance to show he can handle the top job. A high school teacher is charged with starting a fire in a lab that tests animals for medical research, and Dave wants the jury to find him guilty.


He is so preoccupied with the trial that he doesn’t notice the problems at home. His son is failing math. His daughter is one of the protesters at the lab and she thinks her teacher is a hero and her father is the bad guy. And his wife (“Sex in the City’s” Kristen Davis) feels neglected and abandoned.


It turns out something fishy, or, I should say doggy is going on at the lab. Dr. Kozak (Robert Downey, Jr.) has captured a mysterious sheepdog that is still healthy and youthful although it is 300 years old and is trying to find a way to transfer his genetic makeup to humans. When Dave is bitten by the dog, he starts scratching behind his ear, lapping up his food, and growling at his opposing counsel. Then he turns into a dog.


This sets the stage for two developments: mildly amusing mix-ups as Dave-the-dog tries to navigate the human world, transforming back and forth from mannish-dog to doggish-man and lessons learned as Dave discovers how many things he wants to be able to say, now that he can’t do anything but bark. The lab experiments include CGI genetic cross-breeds like a dog-frog combo that exemplify this movie’s own uneasy mixture of slapstick and sentiment.

It feels too long, even at 98 minutes, over-stuffed with an under-used supporting cast that includes Davis, Downey, Danny Glover, Jane Curtin, and Philp Baker Hall. Craig Kilborn, in a brief role, manages to wear out his welcome quickly and then hang around to wear it out again.

Whether it’s a fantasy-comedy or a fantasy-drama, whether a magical spell or some plot-driven subterfuge, transformation in a movie plays the same role as any other epic journey. It gives the character a chance to understand who and what he was and to learn what he can do better.


All of that happens here, as Dave learns that he wasn’t really paying attention to his family and how much he needed them. But the set-up is so indestructible and the dog is so irresistible that, buoyed by Allen’s willingness to do whatever it takes for a laugh provide some light-weight pleasure.


Parents should know that this movie has some crude language and humor for a PG, including bathroom jokes and and references to body cavity searches, getting “fixed,” and being “sold” in prison. At one point, the kids are concerned that their parents are splitting up. A strength of the movie is the positive portrayal of a friendship between people of different genders and races.


Families who see this movie should talk about what being a dog helped Dave to see differently. Why did he neglect his family? Would you like to live for 300 years? What would you do differently? Families who want to find out more about the issue of animal testing can find it here and here.


Families who enjoy this movie should see the original, with Fred MacMurray and the sequel with Dean Jones, The Shaggy D.A..

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