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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

The Jungle Book

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:1942

Plot: Based on Rudyard Kipling’s book about a boy raised by wolves, this version concentrates on Mowgli’s return to his family’s village and the challenges he faces as he tries to adjust to “civilized” life. When Mowgli’s father is killed by Shere Kahn (the tiger), the toddler wanders off into the jungle, and is raised by wolves. He finds the village again when he is about fourteen (played by Sabu). His mother, who does not recognize him at first, teaches him how to speak their language and how people in the village behave.

Mowgli wants to buy a “tooth” (knife) to kill Shere Kahn. He buys one from Buldeo (Joseph Calleia) a hunter who hunts for reasons of pride instead of need. Though Buldeo tells his daughter Mahala not to talk to Mowgli, she goes with him into the jungle, where he shows her an abandoned palace, filled with gold and jewels. In the palace, a cobra warns them that the jewels are deadly, especially a ruby-embedded ax. Mowgli allows Mahala to take one coin. When her father finds it, he wants Mowgli to show him how to get more. He accidentally drops the coin, so that a barber and his customer see it, and they want to find the palace, too. They all find the palace, but fight over the treasure. When the barber and his customer are killed, Buldeo lights a fire in the jungle. Mowgli saves his mother, and goes back to live in the jungle.

Discussion: Visually lush and striking (produced by some of the same people who made “Thief of Bagdad”), this version is in sharp contrast with the Disney animated movie, and has a real sense of the danger in the jungle and the different kinds of dangers in the “civilized” village.

Like other “fish out of water” stories, this movie provides an opportunity to deconstruct “civilization” a bit by looking at it from the perspective of an outsider. Mowgli compares of the values of the “wolf-pack” and the “man-pack,” and finds it hard to understand why someone would take something of no inherent value (money) in exchange for something of value (a “tooth” to help him kill Shere Kahn), or why someone would kill an animal to display its hide. Children will enjoy Mowgli’s ability to talk to animals, and the way he treats them with respect and affection. He is clearly more at home with the animals than he is with the humans.

The Four Feathers

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

In what is at least the fifth filmed version of this story, a soldier ordered to war resigns his commission. He has just become engaged to a girl he adores and the concerns of a battle on the other side of the world do not seem important to him. His friends and his fiancée send him four white feathers, accusing him of cowardice, and he fears they may be right. So he disguises himself as a native and follows his former regiment to the Sudan. He will not risk his life for the honor of his country, but he will risk it to protect his friends and to prove that they were wrong about him.

This time, Heath Ledger plays Harry Faversham, the reluctant soldier, with Wes Bentley (of “American Beauty”) as his best friend, Jack, and Kate Hudson as Ethne, the woman they both love.

Director Shekhar Kapur (“Elizabeth”) stages the pageantry very well, from the scenes of red-coated officers swirling their ladies around the dance floor to the marches, battles, and prison scenes. He does fairly well by his young stars. Their British accents may falter, but he knows how to work around their weaknesses and play to their strengths, especially Ledger’s athletic charm, Hudson’s delicate dignity, and Bentley’s ability to combine strength and sensitivity. Kapur is less sure of himself in handling the very traditional structure of the story and there are some oddly disjointed transitions that undermine what should be the most dramatic moments.

Parents should know that the movie has intense battle violence with graphic injuries. Characters are wounded and killed. There is brief nudity in a locker room and a non-explicit sexual situation. The portrayal of non-whites is less offensive than in previous versions of the story, but still reflects the prejudices of the era. The enemy is referred to as “an army of Mohammedan fanatics” and “heathens” and the English think they must win because they have “nobler souls.”

Families who see this movie should talk about how it relates to current concerns about terrorism and the possibility of war. Both sides think that they are doing what God wants them to do. Is there any way to prevent war under those conditions? The director is originally from India. How do you think that affects his portrayal of an era in which British officers referred to non-whites as “wogs” and “heathens?”

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the 1939 Zoltan Korda version , the most thrilling of the many efforts to film this story. They will also enjoy a parody of this genre, The Last Remake of Beau Geste. Other movies raising similar themes about what can and should inspire soldiers to risk their lives are The Americanization of Emily , The Red Badge of Courage, and We Were Soldiers. Families may also want to try Khartoum, a slightly more fact-based movie about the battles in the Sudan.

The Emperor’s Club

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

There is a very rich tradition of books and movies set in schools. One reason is that like another popular setting, submarines, they present a closed environment. But the real reason is that schools and teachers play such a definitive role in our lives, not just during our formative years but always.

This movie is about one of those teachers. It has a lot in common with such classics of the genre as “Dead Poet’s Society,” but this time the story is told from the perspective of the teacher, rather than the students. And the teacher is the kind only the luckiest of us are able to have once or twice in our school careers.

Kevin Kline brings all of his considerable charisma and magnetism to the role of an inspiring and committed teacher of classical history named Mr. Hundert, whose high standards do not come from rigidity or humorlessness. He believes that “a man’s character determines his fate” and that it is his job to mold the character of his students. In an early scene, he gently admonishes a student not to cut across the grass, telling him to “stick to the path,” not just because it was better for the lawn, but because it was better for him. And he begins his class by having a student read aloud the boastful statement of an ancient conqueror whose name has all but disappeared from history. Hundert tells his class that “ambition and conquest without contribution is without consequence,” and he asks them, “What will your contribution be?”

A new student named Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch) provides Hundert’s greatest challenge. He is insolent. He seems to value nothing but pleasure and shocking people. He knows that he will have the protection of his father, a Senator. But he also knows that he will not have the attention or understanding of his father, and it is missing that which makes him bitter and angry.

Hundert is patient and sympathetic. We get a glimpse of Hundert’s feelings about his own father, a sense of disappointment that may make him more willing to give Bell some latitude. Hundert gently persuades Bell to care about succeeding on the school’s terms. And that means competing for the school’s highest honor – winning the “Mr. Julius Caesar” competition.

Bell does care, perhaps more deeply than Hundert knows. Hundert bends the rules to put Bell in the final competition. But he has to make an important decision that will determine the outcome, taking into account the needs not just of Bell but of the school and the other students in the competition as well. Many years later, he must revisit those choices and reconsider the role he has played in the lives of the young men put under his care.

The first three quarters of the movie works well. Like the students, we cannot help being captivated and inspired by Hunderdt. But when the scene shifts to the present day so that Hunderdt can examine his own contribution and find that he has done both more and less than he thought, the story lurches into melodrama.

Parents should know that this movie has some mature material including very strong language, nudie magazines, and a reference to co-ed skinny dipping. Characters drink and smoke. The issue of character and integrity is a theme of the movie.

Families who see this movie should talk about Senator Bell’s statement that it is his job to mold his son’s character, not the school’s. In what way did he try to mold his son’s character? How was his son like him and how was he different? Is it possible to mold someone else’s character? What role does a school play, and what role do teachers play? Who else influences a person’s character and values? How much do we create for ourselves? What do we learn from Hundert’s reaction to Elizabeth’s news about moving away? What do we learn from his reaction to breaking the headmaster’s window? What do Hundert and Bell learn from their final encounter? What will your contribution be?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy some of the school movie classics like “Dead Poet’s Society,” “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” “The Browning Version” (original version), “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “Stand and Deliver,” “Lean on Me,” “School Ties,” “A Separate Peace,” (all with mature material), “Goodbye Mr. Chips” (the first version, with an Oscar-winning performance by Robert Donat, is better than the musical with Peter O’Toole), and the neglected miniseries gem, “The Lawrenceville Stories” (sharing Edward Hermann as headmaster with “The Emperor’s Club”).

The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course

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

“The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course” is basically a 70-minute version of the show with an additional 20 minutes of an instantly forgettable premise that barely rises to the level of the term “plot.” That said, the results are often amusing and make for one of this summer’s more entertaining family films.

The disposable story is about American special agents being sent to retrieve an essential US satellite beacon that fell to earth in Australia—and was accidentally swallowed by a crocodile. Of course, Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, believes that they’re poachers and tries to save the crocodile. There’s also a grouchy farmer (“Babe’s” Magda Szubanski) who is sick of the crocodile eating her cows and is devising creative but unsuccessful ways to lure it in and kill it. But the film mainly consists of what the television show’s fans want to see — Steve, his wife Terri and their loyal (and very brave!) dog risking their lives with Gila monsters, venomous snakes, bird-eating spiders, kangaroos, and inevitably, crocodiles.

Fans of Irwin’s “Crocodile Hunter” show on Animal Planet will love this movie, while those uninterested will know to avoid it. For those who are entertained by exotic animals, it is undeniably a lot of fun. There’s never a dull moment when Irwin fearlessly goes after some wild animal that could kill him in a heartbeat, and his instantly recognizable lingo, upbeat personality, and obvious affection for the creatures give him a lot of appeal, a sort of real-life Hagrid from “Harry Potter.” While the plot is strictly from the slush pile, it never meanders. It is by no means a great piece of cinema, but it is a worthwhile introduction to another world and not a bad place to spend an hour and a half for anyone just looking for fun and adventure.

Parents should know that this film contains some violence and bathroom humor, mainly from the animals but a little from the adult characters. The Irwins do put their lives on the line to work with these animals. They also rub their hands in animal excrement and parents should warn their kids not to try this at home, even with the less dangerous creatures they’ll run into near their homes.

Families who watch this movie should discuss whether it’s worth risking your life to get a glimpse at some remarkable creatures and how to make sure that we preserve endangered species.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the Crocodile Hunter television show and should check out the first Crocodile Dundee film but stay away from the sequels.

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