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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material
Release Date:
November 21, 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

Foxcatcher
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence
Release Date:
November 21, 2014

 

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

Rosewater
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language including some crude references, and violent content
Release Date:
November 14, 2014

 

Into the Storm
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references
Release Date:
August 8, 2014

Hollywoodland

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for language, some violence and sexual content.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Is there a more heartbreakingly unsolveable mystery than a suicide? The only person who really knows what happened is gone. Even if we find out the how, we who are left behind will always wonder why. Those who are still here have made a decision to live. Whether or not we have ever explicitly considered Hamlet’s question, “to be or not to be,” the option is always there, and there is a dreadful fascination with those who made the other choice. Were they braver? Wiser? Were they disturbed? Was there something anyone could have said or done to change their minds?


In 1959, George Reeves, one of the biggest stars of the early days of television, committed suicide. Reeves played Superman and was a hero to the first generation of kids to grow up with television. He was a brand new kind of superstar. But his very ubiquity as Superman made it difficult for casting directors to see him in any other role. Finally, in dispair over his lack of professional prospects, he shot himself.


But like many other Hollywood deaths, from Virginia Rappe to Thomas Ince to Paul Bern to The Black Dahlia, speculation about a possible cover-up has led to one or more movies “inspired by” real events.


It is Hollywood, after all, or Hollywoodland, as the famous sign originally read. The name of a modest housing development has now become a word that means glamour and fantasy. Both make us wonder — could anyone who was famous in Hollywood want to die? And if someone wanted a cover-up, isn’t Hollywood the place where they know how to make us believe whatever they want us to?


There is some symbolism, maybe some irony in Reeves’ famous role being the split character of both Superman and his mild-mannered secret identity, reporter Clark Kent. Anyone in Hollywood can be both Kent and Superman. When we meet Reeves (Ben Affleck, looking beefy), trying to get his picture taken at a glamorous nightclub. Like every other aspiring actor, he thinks that inside him there is a star waiting to be born. He has just appeared in a very small part in the biggest movie ever made, Gone With the Wind. He thinks he is on the brink of having his dream come true.


He begins an affair with an older woman (Diane Lane), the wife of a studio executive. And he gets a job in television. He thinks it is silly, but it becomes enormously successful, and he is so identified with the role that no one else will hire him. His one big break, a part in a very important film, falls apart when a test audience won’t buy him in another part.


Is that a reason to die? Reeves’ mother hires a private detective (Adrien Brody) to find out. But there are those who do not want him asking questions. And he has his own problems.


The film evokes the time beautifully, with meticulously chosen sets, costumes, and music. The re-creations of the old “Superman” television show are especially well handled, both the behind-the scenes moments (a red and blue costume would not photograph properly in black and white) and the cheerfully cheesy show itself. The brief scene with Affleck as Reeves as Superman as Kent is so true to the original that viewers old enough to remember watching it in its original broadcast will expect it to be followed by commercials for Maypo and Pepsodent.


The performances are outstanding. Lane is exquisite at showing conflicting motives and emotions. She is a woman both sure of her beauty and honest that it is on the wane, comfortable being sexually agressive but wanting to be wooed. Affleck, relieved of the burden of being a leading man, is gratefully enigmatic. What does Reeves want? To be an artist? To be a star? To be married? Is he talented? Is he smart? Affleck and the script let us wonder if Reeves himself could have answered those questions.


But that ambiguity is both the movie’s strength and its weakness. The movie fails in trying to make Reeves’ story a big metaphor, and the attempts to find some parallels in the story of the detective’s own troubles is only a distraction. The characters are too remote to make us care about their tawdry problems. Like the audiences he looked down on, we’d rather see Reeves play Superman.

Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of mature material, beginning with its theme of suicide, with graphic and disturbing images. There are explicit sexual references and situations, including adultery. Characters drink and smoke and use very strong language. There are graphic scenes of violence, including a character who is badly injured by thugs.


Families who see this movie should talk about how everyone — not just actors — must learn to find a balance between what we want and what we can get, who we are and who others want us to be.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Sunset Boulevard, L.A. Confidential and Chinatown (the last two with very mature material).

The Wicker Man

posted by jmiller
F+
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for disturbing images and violence, language and thematic issues.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Fans of the original The Wicker Man appreciate the film for many reasons: Its dichotomy of paganism and Christianity, its skillful use of Celtic folk music, its eerie and overbearing ambience. Although some might find it slow, disturbing, and at times absurd, it is redeemed by a general sense that the actors and filmmakers felt a genuine passion about setting a mood, posing philosophical questions, and making the audience feel and think. Somehow, with the mystery and horror meant to achieve a higher goal than just shock and alarm, so it’s not a total enigma — on some levels, anyway — why some consider the 1973 film a “classic.”


A classic remake, on the other hand, tends to be an oxymoron. Unless classic is used as a sarcastic term, and remake in the most derogatory sense of the word, which, in the case of director Neil LaBute’s version seems entirely appropriate.


While the original relies on an impending sense of doom to carry viewers to the chilling end, the remake piles on a steady steam of violence, flashes of very disturbing and shocking images, and outbursts of nonsensical emotion to give the film weight. The gimmicky horror-flick conventions ultimately drag the film to a screeching halt when it becomes clear that no deeper meaning will be found and no redemption attained. Most bizarre, however, is the film’s attempt at humor. Comic relief to break the tension in the action/horror genre is not uncommon — take, for example, Lake Placid, Anaconda, and to recent extremes Snakes on a Plane — but this film’s almost slapstick stunts, most courtesy of star Nicholas Cage, have no continuity or context. Most of the concepts presented — such as human sacrifice, betrayal, murder of one’s own family members, and mutilation — have no place alongside desperate attempts to garner laughter at the absurdity of life.

Ultimately, even as the film leaves viewers with a terrible and horrific final scene, the audience leaves questioning not the meanings of evil and murder in our society but the validity of a film that puts such concepts on display with no greater purpose or goal.


Parents should know that this film has many highly disturbing images and presents upsetting concepts such as human sacrifice and torture. In one scene, a car blows up with a mother and daughter inside, and in another a young girl is tied to a tree with the implication that she is to be killed as a sacrificial offering. The individual relationships in this film are meant to shock and awe, such as a woman deceiving her ex-fiance to his death and a daughter lighting the fire that is used to kill her father.Many images are as shocking as they are memorable, and impressionable children and adults alike may be left with highly unpleasant images in their mind.


Some main themes of the film include a female-dominant society (in this case, unfortunately tied to the negativity of the film) and betrayal of loved ones. Families should discuss the meaning of community, and what makes some communities healthy and some oppressive. Families should also talk about different cultures and societies, and what makes our societies and others prosper or fail.


Families who enjoyed this film might also enjoy 1973’s Soylent Green, and the original Wicker Man of the same year.

Crank

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, sexuality, nudity and drug use.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Crank — as in the highly potent and highly agitating street drug, as in cranked up, as in dizzying cuts and swoops with the camera to replicate a disorienting strung-out high followed by an even more disorienting and strung-out crash.


Actually, it begins with the crash. Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) wakes up feeling like death, which turns out to be just about right. According to a DVD left for him, he has been injected with poison and has about one hour left to live. But Chev is a guy who knows how to fill an hour. He needs to get his revenge, say goodbye to his girlfriend, and look very, very hard for a loophole.


And he has to do it at full speed. The poison he’s taken can be slowed down if he can keep his adrenaline pumping. You might think that just knowing you’ve been poisoned and racing around trying to find the guy who did it before it kicks in would be enough to keep the fight-or-flight juices going, but Chev finds a way to kick it up a notch with just about everything available, from cocaine to sex to defibrillator paddles and a waffle iron as he races around in real time, crashing his car through a shopping mall, trying to get a shot of epinephrine from a hospital, and knocking his girlfriend’s purse out of her hands so she won’t notice that he’s knocking off some baddies as she retrieves her keys and lipstick.


Statham’s coolness is always a treat to watch and the movie has some great set-pieces and action sequences. But it overdoes the gallows humor (okay, you slice a guy’s gun hand off with a meat cleaver, maybe the hand will still be on the gun when you pick it up, but do you have to keep it on while you shoot and then throw the hand at a guy?). Amy Smart brings a lovely slow vibe counterpoint as Chev’s warm-hearted but clueless girlfriend, even when she is called upon to participate in a bizarre sex scene in front of fascinated crowd inlcuding a schoolbus of girls in uniforms. Country star Dwight Yoakum is terrific as Chev’s unschockable doctor. But as the body count mounts up, the story runs out of ideas, and it goes from crank to crummy.

Parents should know that this movie has non-stop and very graphic and grisly violence. Not only is a man’s hand sliced off, the hand is still holding the gun when it is picked up, it gets thrown at someone, and it is later displayed on a table. There are guns and knives, car crashes, punches, head butts, and kicks, a guy gets thrown off a building, another guy gets tortured and killed, and of course the main character is poisoned. Characters drink, smoke, and abuse street and pharmaceutical drugs, and they use very strong and crude language, including the n-word (used humorously to refer to a white man). There are explicit sexual references and situations and sexual and non-sexual nudity.


Families who see this movie should talk about what their priorities would be if they had one hour to live.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the 1950 version of D.O.A., about a man who must solve his own murder before the poison kills him, and the 1988 remake with Dennis Quaid. They will also enjoy Speed, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch.

Crossover

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

This is one air ball of a movie, a talented cast and an appealing idea stranded by a clunky script. It shoots. And it shoots and shoots and shoots, but it never scores.


Tech (Anthony Mackie) works in the mall, studies for his G.E.D., hustles money at the basketball court, and plays “street basketball” under the direction of Vaughn (Wayne Brady). The losing team gets $1000 each, the winners get $2000, the high-rollers get to place bets and see some X-treme b-ball, with every basket a dunk and only “flagrant fouls” prohibited.


Tech’s best friend is Noah Cruise (Wesley Jonathan, “Sweetness” in Roll Bounce), planning to go to college on a basketball scholarship, and then to med school. He will lose his eligibilty for the scholarship if he plays for money. But Tech, remininding Cruise that “you owe me,” persuades him to join the team, Enemy of the State” for one game. They lose to the champions, led by the arrogant Jewelz (Philip Champion).


Tech and Cruise meet two girls, Eboni and Vanessa and quickly become involved. They bring the girls with them to LA for Cruise’s college orientation and Tech’s chance to shoot hoops in a television commercial. But things begin to go badly, and by the time one final streetball game against Jewelz’ team a great deal is depending on the final score.


There are a couple of good ideas here. An early shot shows girls seated at computer terminals managing the betting line in an understated parallel to the many similar set-ups in movies about drug dealers. It’s nice to see the portrayal of a character whose highest aspiration is not an NBA contract. And the cast does its best with what it has, especially Jonathan and Lil JJ as Tech’s young friend Up.


But the dialogue is deadly, either clunky exposition (“Joe’s in jail and he didn’t pay the light bill!”) or faux “street” (“I can’t front. I’m feeling you. But I can’t put myself out there unless I know if you’re for real.”) the only person who can sustain this kind of melodrama mashup is Tyler Perry, and this doesn’t have anything close to the sincerity that anchors his films. The tricked-up MTV-style quick cuts are tired. So I’m not fronting when I say that I’m not feeling it. None of the characters or relationships or situations or dialogue is for real, you hear what I’m sayin’?

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language, a graphic car/motorcycle crash, and sexual references and non-explicit situations. Couples have sex the same day they meet, with consequent issues of betrayal and trust. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of values of loyalty and independent thinking, taking responsibility for your actions, and the importance of education.


Families who see this movie should talk about how far you must go and how much you must risk to repay a friend who does you a great favor. They should also talk about why Cruise trusted Vanessa and why Tech did not trust Eboni, and about the ultimate choices Cruise and Tech make about their futures.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Fast and the Furious. This film lifts many of its plot developments from better movies, including An Officer and a Gentleman, Body and Soul, and Angels with Dirty Faces.

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