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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

The Legend of Zorro

posted by rkumar
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2005

Great stunts, glamorous stars, and our affection for the characters make this sequel watchable, even with a disappointing script.

The original was pure popcorn pleasure, with Anthony Hopkins as the original Zorro, the dashing masked swashbuckler who appeared wherever justice was threatened to right wrongs and of course leave the “Z.” He trained impetuous but talented Alejandro (Antonio Banderas) to take over, and soon after, the new Zorro 2.0 was leaping from roofs, showing his mastery of swordsmanship, riding the black horse Tornado, and winning the heart of the beautiful and courageous Elena (Catherine Zeta Jones). When we last saw them, they were married and had a baby.

Now their son Joaquin (Adrian Alonso) is 10 and feels that he barely knows his father. Elena thinks it is time for Zorro to hang up his mask.

But Alejandro is not ready to quit. “People still need Zorro,” he says. “No, you still need Zorro,” Elena replies. Elena files for divorce and soon renews acquaintance with a handsome and wealthy old friend from Spain, Armand (Rufus Sewell).

This sets up a series of estrangments and misunderstandings that play out predictably. It’s layered like a casserole — miscommunication/stunt/more miscommunication/more stunts. Banderas and Zeta Jones can do it all — they have authentic movie-star charisma, sizzling chemistry, top-notch acting chops and, rarest of all, a combination of total commitment to the moment and to-the-nanosecond comic timing. But the script doesn’t do them justice. It is geared for a younger audience than the original, with “comic” anachronisms like the line, “in your butt.” The stars do their best, but it’s not really a story. It’s just just pretty people, exciting action sequences with swashbuckling attitude but no real energy, and an over-the-top bad guy who falls head first into cactus. The stars may be dazzling, but the film works too hard to persuade us that we’re being entertained without taking the time to do very much that’s genuinely entertaining.

Parents should know that the movie has a lot of very intense “action” violence — it is not gory, but characters are injured and killed (including an unarmed young father) and some of it is graphic for a PG movie. A crotch hit is played for comedy. There is brief crude humor, a brief but very passionate kiss, and implied non-sexual nudity. Characters drink and smoke. Some in the audience may be upset by the couple’s estrangement and divorce and the difficulty that creates for their son. And some families may be concerned about the implication that it is natural for divorced parents to reconcile. A strength of the movie is its acknowledgement of some of the racism of the era.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it was hard for the members of this family to be honest with each other and to trust each other. They may also want to find out more about California statehood and the history of their own state and the decision to become part of the US.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Mask of Zorro, with Banderas, Zeta Jones, and Anthony Hopkins. They will also enjoy some of the more than 50 other Zorro movies, from Tyrone Power’s The Mark of Zorro (with a thrilling score by Alfred Newman) and Disney’s The Sign of Zorro with Guy Williams to the campy Zorro, the Gay Blade with George Hamilton. They will also enjoy The Adventures of Robin Hood and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2005

There is one thoroughbred on the screen in this film and her name is Dakota Fanning.

Ever since her breakthrough performance at the age of six in I am Sam, when she more than held her own with Sean Penn and Michele Pfeiffer, through her appearances with heavyweights from Robert de Niro (Hide and Seek) to Denzel Washington (Man on Fire) to Tom Cruise (War of the Worlds), Fanning has shown herself to be one of the finest actors of any age, with a dazzling combination of poise, sensitivity, and sheer star power.

Utterly natural, utterly sure, utterly in command of her performance, she trusts herself and her material. She never pushes or tries to keep our attention. She barely seems to notice whether she has it; yet we cannot take our eyes off of her.

Fanning plays Cale Crane, the daughter of Ben, a horse trainer (Kurt Russell). When, against Ben’s advice, his bully of a boss (David Morse) insists on racing a horse named Sonador, the horse is badly injured. Ben is fired, and impulsively accepts the horse in lieu of severance pay. He gives the horse to Cale.

Now Ben has no money and a daughter with an expensive horse that may be worthless. His only hope is that she may be able to breed, but it turns out she cannot.

Cale has another dream. She dreams that Sonador will race again, and win.

There are family issues and money issues and of course will-the-leg-heal issues, much of it things we’ve seen before, but Fanning makes it all work because she is so completely and definitively in the moment. When she gets up to speak for Sonador, she can make you believe that no moment like that ever happened before, on or off screen. Now that is breeding.

Fanning is surrounded by a top-quality cast of capable and charismatic performers, with Elisabeth Shue as her mother, Kris Kristofferson as her grandfather, Oded Fehr as a horse-loving prince, Ken Howard as a breeder, and Luiz Guzman and Freddy Rodriguez as Sonador’s trainers. But they wisely step back to let Fanning lap them all.

Parents should know that this movie has some tense situations, including an injury to a horse (and possiblity of humane killing) and confrontations between family members.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Cale believed in her horse when others did not. Why did her grandfather and father have problems getting along with each other? Why did that change? What did Ben learn from Cale’s story? Why is it hard sometimes to tell family members how you feel? They may also want to learn more about the horse that inspired this story. While the part about Cale and her family is fiction, the story of Sonador was inspired by a real horse who came back from a severe leg injury to a series of record-breaking wins that led to a race being named in her honor.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the two greatest kid-and-a-horse movies of all time, National Velvet and The Black Stallion (both, coincidentally, featuring Mickey Rooney).

Prime

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

Writer-director Ben Younger, who perflectly nailed the high-testosterone world of pump-and-dump stock scams in Boiler Room, is a bit more uneven with a switch over to the estrogen side of things with “Prime.” It is the story of an unusual love triangle: Rafi, a vulnerable recent divorcee (Uma Thurman), David, her passionate, much-younger lover (Bryan Greenberg), and Lisa (Meryl Streep), who is both Rafi’s therapist and David’s mother.

This is the story of all three of those relationships — Rafi and David, Rafi and Lisa, and and Lisa and David. But Younger is better at creating characters and situations than he is at resolving them. It does have lovely performances, some hilarious moments and some surprisingly touching ones, and the best pie-in-the-face gag since Mack Sennett.

With Rafi, Lisa is the ideal therapist-as-mother, warm, endlessly devoted, gently insightful, always supportive. But with David she is just like any other mother, struggling to hold on and let go at the same time. If a patient wants to enjoy some casual sex with someone who would be inappropriate as a long-term partner, that’s one thing. But if her son has a girlfriend who is both older and not Jewish, that’s another.

The who-will-find-out-what-when part of the movie and the how-will-his-friends-feel-about-her and how-will-her-friends-feel-about-him sections of the movie unroll in all-but-alphabetical order, but the conviction all three players bring to their scenes together make them work — and make us care as we laugh, and the struggles the three of them have to try to make it all work are genuinely affecting.

Parents should know that the movie is very explicit for a PG-13, with very frank sexual references and situations. Characters use strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Lisa had a different view of what was right for Rafi before she knew Ben was involved than after she learned it was him. They should also talk about their own feelings about religious inter-marriage.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Keeping the Faith.

The Squid and the Whale

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

A hyper-verbal, deeply wounded man who is almost as clever (but not nearly as brilliant) as he thinks he is has an ego that has been triply hit. His unfaithful wife wants a divorce, his writing career, once called promising, now feels like the promise was broken, and the onset of middle age has left him feeling soft and old and uncertain.

So, Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels) makes things worse, with casually but unmistakably condescending and contemptuous assessments of just about everything. He keeps putting it out there, calling what he approves of the “filet,” whether it’s a neighborhood or a novel, pretending that everyone cares what he thinks and is guided by it.

But only two people are. One is his teenaged son, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg), who is — briefly — at just that moment when his father’s combination of arrogance and certainty feels comforting to him, something to hold fast to in a world where everything is changing too quickly.

The other is a student in Bernard’s writing class, Lili (the exquisite Anna Paquin in a performance of great shrewdness). She is, briefly, at at stage where the great advantage of Bernard’s arrogance and certainty is testing the power of her youth and promise by seeing if she can make him topple. Which she can.

Writer/director Noah Baumbach based this story on his own life and he gets the details right — the shabby but dignified gentility of 1970′s Brooklyn, the acid exchanges and inconvenient longings of a dissolving marriage, the exquisite agony of those first flutterings of love and those first earthquakes of lust. The title refers to a massive display at the museum that once terrified Walt. Now, it seems less scary than the battles he lives with. Or maybe it helps him understand them.

Baumbach guides his talented cast to performances that are both sensitive and fearless. Daniels and Laura Linney as his wife are sympathetic but willing to show us the narcissism under their characters’ reactions. Eisenberg and Owen Kline as his younger brother who sides with the mother in the divorce are open and natural. The lovely Halley Feiffer as Walt’s love interest is marvelously expressive and vulnerable.

Bambach understands how everyone in the family responds to the seismic shifts by trying to hold on to what they can, by marking their territory (literally, in the case of the younger son, who wipes school lockers and library books with his ejaculate). Baumbach himself holds on to his story by telling it to us with clarity and understanding.

Parents should know that this movie includes very mature material, including very strong and crude language and inappropriate conversations between parents and children. There are explicit sexual references and situations, including adultery, references to teen sex, and masturbation. Characters drink and smoke. There are tense and emotional scenes and it appears one character is seriously ill.

Families who see this movie should talk about its autobiographical origins. How can you tell that it is from the point of view of Walt, and not one of the other characters? How does the screenwriter feel about his father now, compared to the way Walt feels in the film? How can you tell?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Rich in Love and Shoot the Moon.

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