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Heaven is for Real
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic material including some medical situations
Release Date:
April 16, 2014

 

Philomena
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 on appeal for some strong language, thematic elements and sexual references
Release Date:
November 22, 2013

Under the Skin
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language
Release Date:
April 11, 2014

 

The Nut Job
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Release Date:
January 17, 2014

Rio 2
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
G
Release Date:
April 11, 2014

 

Grudge Match
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sports action violence, sexual content and language
Release Date:
December 25, 2013

Adaptation

posted by rkumar
A
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:R
Movie Release Date:2002

There are people who care so passionately about something that it fills them up completely. And then there are the rest of us, who can never lose themselves that way, people who divide their interest and attention and always hold a little bit of themselves back to observe and judge.

“Adaptation,” like the book that inspired it, is about both kinds of people and the way that each sometimes longs to be in the other category. The book is The Orchid Thief by New Yorker author Susan Orlean. By nature, by culture — by definition — a writer is at the furthest end of the scale in the observer/judge category. Orlean begins to write about Lohn Laroche, a man who even by the fevered standards of those utterly captured by “orchidelerium” is utterly obsessed. She realizes that she is not just writing about Laroche or about orchids but about the nature of obsession itself. In a way, she becomes obsessed with obsession.

The main character in the movie becomes obsessed with Susan Orlean’s obsession with John Laroche’s obsession with orchids. He is Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage), the Hollywood screenwriter hired to adapt Orlean’s book for the screen.

The real-life Kaufman wrote the beguilingly twisted “Being John Malcovich” and the all-but-unseen “Human Nature.” The movie opens with Kaufman’s attack of insecurity as he meets with a producer to discuss The Orchid Thief. As he struggles to adapt it, his self-doubt, underscored by the contrast with his confident identical twin brother Donald (also played by Cage) becomes an almost insurmountable obstacle. But the real obstacle is not his weakness, but his strength. While his brother casually dashes off a ludicrous screenplay about a serial killer with multiple personalities, utterly unconcerned about issues like consistency, Charlie agonizes about the imperviousness of Orlean’s book to adaptation. Finally, he decides that he movie should be about that problem, and he proceeds with such girl-on-a-ketchup-bottle-with-a-picture-of-a-girl-on-a-ketchup-bottle thoroughness that in the opening moments, the screenplay is credited to both (the real-life) Charlie and (the fictional) Donald.

Like “Malcovich,” this movie has moments of bizarre humor in the context of profound and genuine questions about identity, inversion, inspiration, obsession, and meaning and meta-meaning and meta-meta-meaning. Kaufman loves writing for the same reason Laroche loves the orchids — for their difficulty and fragility. It has some sharp Hollywood satire and some wildy funny plot twists. This is the kind of movie that makes fun of emotional turning points inspired by platitudes but then, when it throws one in (in the middle of a jungle environment that is real and symbolic), it’s a very nice one: “You are what you love, not what loves you.”

The performances are marvelous, particularly Meryl Streep as Orlean and Chris Cooper as Laroche. Ron Livingston’s performance as Charlie’s agent is a small comic gem, Brian Cox is masterful as a screenwriting expert, and Judy Greer is radiant as an orchid-loving, pie-serving waitress.

Parents should know that the movie has very mature material, including very strong language, brief nudity, sexual references and situations (including masturbation and a porn website), drinking, smoking, and drug use. There is a brief but very explicit scene of a baby being born. The movie has quasi-comic violence, but characters are injured and killed. Characters break the law, including stealing from nature preserves and making psychotropic drugs.

Families who see this movie should talk about how we chose our passions – or whether they choose us. Do Laroche and Orlean envy each other? Does Charlie envy Donald? Why did Charlie the real-life screenwriter divide himself in two in the movie portrayal? Why did he take real-life characters like Susan Orlean and John Laroche and have their movie characters do things that they never did? What do you learn from Laroche’s reason for not fixing his teeth? If you were going to re-create yourself as a movie character, what would you write? This movie both uses and makes fun of many movie conventions – which ones did you spot?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy seeing “Being John Malcovich” (very mature material) and other dark movies about Hollywood like “Day of the Locust” and “The Player.” They might also enjoy Cage in the face-switching movie “Face Off” and some other twin movies like “A Stolen Life” and “The Parent Trap.”

Chicago

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2002

Like the case put on by the defense in the leading lady’s murder trial, “Chicago” is all razzle-dazzle – and it is only about razzle-dazzle, too.

The story is based on a real-life jazz age murder trial that inspired a non-musical play and two movies (one starring Ginger Rogers) before “Cabaret’s” Kander & Ebb turned it into a musical. Bob Fosse’s original Broadway version of “Chicago” was not a smash success in 1975. But when it was remounted with choreography by Fosse’s companion, Ann Reinking, nineteen years later, it became a worldwide hit. In the era of OJ, the idea of the celebrity defendant putting on a show for the jury had more resonance. But times change, and “Chicago’s” particular brand of cynicism may not be as much a fit in 2003.

In the movie version of the musical, director/choreographer Rob Marshall channels Bob Fosse to produce slinky dance numbers and sinuous camera work. As in Fosse’s brilliant Cabaret, the musical numbers are staged as nightclub performances and separate from the action to serve as counterpoint and commentary, illuminating the story and underscoring the theme of show over substance. Perhaps it is show instead of substance, or even show to make us forget that there is no substance.

One reason it feels so empty at the core is that the story does not have a single likeable character, honest statement, unselfish motive, or generous gesture.

Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) is a former chorus girl turned unhappy wife who has gone from sleeping around (“they buy you dinner”) to fooling around (“they don’t”). She has an affair with a furniture salesman who promises to introduce her to a guy who works in a nightclub. She wants to be a star. But when the guy dumps her and tells her he never knew anyone at the nightclub, she shoots him.

In jail, she meets a cadre of women who killed the men in their lives. They explain how it all happened in “He Had It Coming.” Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta Jones) is a headliner who shot her sister and boyfriend when she found them together. She is the jail’s biggest star until lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) takes Roxie’s case and sells her to the media as an innocent bride corrupted by jazz. The ultimate showbiz razzle-dazzle is the trial, complete with costumes, props, script, and 12 very important audience members – the jury.

I have never been a fan of the play, which I found sour in tone and superficial in theme. The movie version does not add any depth. But the razzle does indeed dazzle and the musical numbers are sensational. Zellweger is in fine form in both senses of the word – that Bridget Jones weight gain is long gone. If she is not quite up to the role, perhaps she doesn’t have it in her to portray such a trashy, despicable character. Zeta Jones, with a Lulu haircut and legs made for sparkly tights, is mesmerizingly beautiful and alone has all the razzle-dazzle a movie needs. Gere clearly enjoys his return to his musical theater roots and handles the musical numbers well, especially his big tap dance. Queen Latifah as the prison warden has a lot of snap and verve and a fabulous voice. But none are a match for the real dancers in the chorus.

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language and sexual references and situations, briefly explicit. A possible pregnancy by a lover is an element of the plot. All characters are amoral, even sleazy.

Families who see this movie should talk about some of the current celebrity trials, like Robert Blake and the corporate scandals. How can we ensure fair treatment of all defendants, regardless of fame or fortune?

Families who enjoy this movie might like to see Ginger Rogers in Roxie Hart and Moulin Rouge. They may also want to try Cabaret.

The Wild Thornberrys Movie

posted by rkumar
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2002

“The Wild Thornberrys” are a family that travels to exotic locales all over the world to film nature documentaries for television. The on-camera talent is the relentlessly cheerful father, Nigel (voice of Tim Curry) with a frightfully posh, “Mumsy, do have a spot of tea”-style British accent. Behind the camera is the efficient but affectionate mother, Marianne (voice of Jodi Carlisle). The heroine of the story, though, is their daughter, Eliza (voice of “Party of Five’s” Lacy Chabert), a kind of Dr. Dolittle in braids and braces. She can understand and communicate in animal language thanks to special powers given to her by a shaman, on condition that she never tell anyone about it. Eliza has an older sister, Debbie, who would much rather be at the mall talking with other teenagers about what is and isn’t cool.

The family also has a pet chimpanzee named Darwin (voice of Tom Kane), who is Eliza’s best friend. And they have adopted a toddler named Donnie (voice of rock star Flea). It is an amusing twist that the chimp is more human than monkey, almost excessively civilized while the human baby (as explained in another movie, raised by orangutans) is more monkey than human and just about feral.

The Thornberrys are filming in Africa. One night, while Eliza is playing with some cheetah cubs, one is snatched via helicopter by a poacher. Eliza risks her life to save the cub, but is knocked to the ground when the poacher cuts the rope ladder. Her parents, worried for her safety, send her to England to boarding school and Darwin goes with her by hiding in her suitcase. But she and Darwin return to Africa when she learns that the poachers are after a herd of elephants. It’s up to Eliza to save the day, and it will require great courage and the willingness to sacrifice anything, even her ability to talk to animals.

Like “Rugrats,” created by the same team, “The Wild Thornberrys” is a popular series on Nickeoldeon. So, like “Rugrats,” it is wholesome enough to appeal to parents and funny enough to appeal to kids. The series is affiliated with the conservation group the National Wildlife Federation and so occasionally there are nuggets of nature facts thrown in to add a little substance. Eliza is in the grand tradition of adventuresome pre-adolescent fictional heroines like Alice, Pippi, Dorothy, and Pollyanna. She is brave, smart, loyal, and empathetic. She has good judgment most of the time, but when she doesn’t, she learns from her mistakes.

The voice talent is first-rate, including Rupert Everett, Lynn Redgrave, Marisa Tomei, and Alfre Woodward. The action sequences are handled well and there are some witty moments, as when Debbie tries to explain to her father that she is trying to be sarcastic. It is nothing more than a supersized version of the television series projected onto a theater screen, but it never pretends to be anything more and is relatively pleasant for children and relatively painless for parents.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Eliza and Debbie feel so differently about the animals. They should also talk to children about why Eliza’s decision to run away from school without telling her parents was wrong, no matter how worthwhile her reasons. They should discuss the way that Eliza keeps a very big secret from her family and how to know when you should not keep a secret from your parents. Some families will also want to discuss the religious figure who bestows “powers” on Eliza and how we can respect and find common ground with other religions but still remain true to our own faith.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Rugrats: The Movie” and “The Crocodile Hunter.”

Star Trek: Nemesis

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2002

Star Trek has a language and following all its own. For those who are not devotees of the series, the way the characters speak often needs to be decoded, causing the viewer to spend more time trying to figure out what the characters are saying rather then why. After a while, if the story doesn’t make itself clear somehow, the viewer loses interest.

This is important to remember during the latest installment of the ever going “Star Trek” franchise, “Star Trek: Nemesis.” The story follows the “Next Generation” crew and their captain, Jean-Luc Picard (the always wonderful Patrick Stewart). A clone of Picard’s younger self, Shinzon, has somehow overtaken the Romulan senate and wants to make peace. Picard and his crew don’t trust this sneaky “clone,” and are suspicious of his origins and what they portend. Of course, treachery is afoot and the crew must stop the Romulans before they destroy or conquer, well, pretty much everything.

The series has had its up and down moments, ranging from excellent, (“The Wrath of Kahn”), to overly silly (“Star Trek V”). It has also had its share of “we’re running low on new ideas,” and “Nemesis” skirts the edges of that territory.

The film does have a few good action sequences, and some solid acting from Stewart, Brett Spiner as the android Data, and Tom Hardy as Shinzon. Hardy’s performance carries the movie in many of its otherwise sub-par scenes, and he and Stewart give the dialogue a lot of help. But the film is too muddled in “Trek talk” and way too overdramatic at times. Its conclusion is not just easy to predict, but laughable. “Star Trek: Nemesis” is not a bad film, but one that will most likely only leave the ever-devoted “Trekkers” as the only completely-satisfied customers.

Parents should know the film contains some violence, most of it sci-fi oriented. Lots of laser beam shooting occurs, almost all of it bloodless. The villain cuts his hand at one point and gives the bloody knife to Data. The beginning contains a rather intense and scary sequence in which a Romulan places a disk in the senate which lets out “spores” that land on the Romulans. These “spores” make the aliens begin to wither away, and then turn them to stone. One then crashes on the floor. There is also a quite surprising and graphic love scene in which two senior officers who have recently married begin to sleep together. During the scene, Commander Troy begins to see Shinzon instead of her husband, and struggles to get him away from her.

Families who see this film should discuss the many positive messages in the film. “Star Trek” has always been about gaining peace, and unlike many movies now, one gets the sense the crew does try to use the least amount of violence necessary to accomplish this mission. Parents may want to discuss why this is, and point out Picard’s constant reluctance to fight. Parents also should discuss the idea of forgiveness preached in the film. Why does it bother Picard so that this clone reminds him of his former self? Another discussion topic may be how we deal with loss, since a major character does meet his end in this film. Why do Picard and his crew toast their fallen comrade and hide their grief?

Families who enjoyed this movie will also like “Star Trek: First Contact,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Minority Report.”

Previous Posts

Trailer #2: The Box Trolls
Did I mention how excited I am about this?  Coming in September, from the people who did "Coraline" and "ParaNorman." [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDr_ZY37RFg[/youtube]

posted 12:12:22pm Apr. 16, 2014 | read full post »

Heaven is for Real
A movie like "Heaven is for Real" requires two different reviews, one for believers/fans of the 1.5 million-volume best-selling book, one for those who are unfamiliar with the book and whose views about faith and heaven and proof may differ from the evangelical beliefs of the Wesleyan pastor who wro

posted 6:00:04pm Apr. 15, 2014 | read full post »

Heaven is for Real: The Real Story
"Heaven is for Real" opens tomorrow, with Greg Kinnear as Todd Burpo, a Nebraska pastor whose four-year-old son says that he visited heaven during surgery for a ruptured appendix.  It is based on a best-selling book Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back,

posted 3:59:56pm Apr. 15, 2014 | read full post »

Movie Critic Ann Hornaday Comes Out as...a Christian
Washington Post movie critic Ann Hornaday wrote a brave and very moving essay about being a writer sustained by Christian faith and how that affects the way she approaches all films and especially those with religious themes. As a critic, my first obligation is to assess each of these films not as

posted 3:59:22pm Apr. 15, 2014 | read full post »

Trailer: Gone Girl with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike
Take a look at the very creepy trailer from director David Fincher for the upcoming "Gone Girl" based on the best-seller by Gillian Flynn. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esGn-xKFZdU[/youtube]

posted 2:33:38pm Apr. 15, 2014 | read full post »


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