Movie Mom

Movie Mom

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Lucy
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R For strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality
Release Date:
July 25, 2014

 

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

And So It Goes
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and drug elements
Release Date:
July 25, 2014

 

Sabotage
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R For strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use
Release Date:
March 28, 2014

Wish I Was Here
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Release Date:
July 18, 2014

 

Transcendence
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality
Release Date:
April 19, 2014

Spider-Man 2

posted by rkumar
A
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:2004

This is why they invented movies.

It is a dazzling story of love, loss, adventure, courage, heartbreak, tough choices, and tender feelings with a rescue from a burning building, a runaway train, a world-class villain, and a really great kiss. It is smart and funny and touching and exhilaratingly entertaining. S2 has sensational special effects integrated with a first-rate script and outstanding peformances to illuminate the characters and tell the story — and to show us something about ourselves. But most of all, this is why they invented movies because director Sam Raimi knows how to make things MOVE.

Few movies have so mastered motion. Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) swoops through the skyscrapers. A train hurtles across a track that just abruptly stops. A car flies through the air. Raimi is all but re-inventing cinematic story-telling before our delighted eyes.

In the first movie, we saw Peter Parker’s joy in the powers he developed after being bitten by a genetically modified spider. When his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) was killed because he failed to stop a thief, he resolved to devote his life to helping people. And that meant no close attachments because anyone he cared about would be vulnerable to attack by bad guys who wanted to pressure him.

As this movie opens, things are not going well for Peter. Even his Spidey powers can’t get those pizzas delivered by the 30-minute deadline when there are people to save along the way. Aunt May’s application for a loan to save her mortgage from being foreclosed has been turned down. He is having trouble in school because he doesn’t have time to do his homework. His best friend Harry (James Franco) is still angry because Peter will not tell him what he knows about the night Spider-Man killed his father. Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), the girl he loves, is giving up on him because he can’t tell her who he really is or how he really feels. He can’t even do a load of laundry without making things worse. That Spiderman suit chafes. Spidey can’t even sling those webs the way he used to. The last hors d’oeuvre at the party is always snatched away just as he reaches for it. Maybe it’s time to quit.

Harry introduces Peter to the brilliant scientist, Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), whose devotions to his wife and his work are inspiring. Harry is financing the doctor’s experiments with fusion energy, so complex and dangerous that they must be conducted with tentacle-like mechanical arms that are controlled by artificial intelligence. But in the grand hubris tradition of myths and comic books, the experiment goes terribly, tragically wrong and the doctor’s wife is killed. The four artifical arms are fused to Octavius’ spine. Devastated by the loss and overtaken by the arms which move like serpents in the garden of Eden, he becomes a villain known as Doc Ock, stealing what he needs to resume his experiments.

But Harry controls one of those ingredients, and he says he will give it to Doc Ock in exchange for Spider-Man. Molina is brilliant in both incarnations. His kind Doctor Octavius has a glimmer of benign madness. And his Doc Ock shows us the tortured soul that cannot help being thrilled by power. The weakest part of the first movie was the villain, with his dopey mask and over-the-top monologue. But Molina’s Doc Ock is a villain for the ages, a man who shows us his real face so we can feel the struggle for his soul.

The comic book elements are all here, with spectacular fight scenes and teen-friendly existential themes. Peter has to struggle with feelings of isolation and and not being understood or appreciated. He is aware of the irony of his working for justice for others when his own life is filled with people who judge him unfairly.

One of the screenwriters was Michael Chabon who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about comic book creators The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and his rich appreciation for the mythic appeal of the comic book tradition brings vibrance and depth to the story. Spider-Man and Doc Ock have many parallels. Both were granted extraordinary powers through physical distortions caused by accidents in scientific experiments. Both struggle with their alternate identities, represented in visual terms by frequent use of reflections. Both struggle with devastating losses. In a nice moment that gently underlines and broadens what is going on with the characters, Peter watches Mary Jane perform in a production of The Importance of Being Earnest, in a scene where Cecily talks to Algernon about his pretending to be someone he is not. And a street musician sings the Spider-Man song, at first a little tentatively and off-key but then, as Spidey re-discovers who he is, with more assurance, hitting the right notes.

This is a sumptuous summer treat that succeeds on many levels. It is that rarest of treats, a popcorn pleasure with heart, soul, and insight.

Parents should know that the movie has a lot of comic-book-style action violence, though slightly less than the first movie. Characters are in frequent peril, and some are killed. There is some mild language and some social drinking, and one character abuses alcohol to drown his pain.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Peter Parker would want to stop being Spider-Man. How do we know when to give up our dreams for others? Families should also talk about the statement that “If you keep something as complicated as love bottled up inside it can make you sick” and Aunt May’s comment that there’s a hero in all of us who allows us to die with pride. Why does Peter feel that he cannot share his real self with anyone? How do we know when to trust someone with our secrets?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original Spider-Man and other comic book movies like Superman and Batman. Adult viewers may enjoy Wonder Boys, another Michael Chabon movie starring Maguire. And they might want to take a look at some love poetry!

Two Brothers

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2004

This is the story of magnificent creatures gorgeously photographed in a story that is quietly told and genuinely touching.

Two tigers meet in the jungle of Southeast Asia and are drawn to one another. Soon they have twins, shy Sangha and adventurous Kumal. They frolic, explore, and tease each other in the huge, vine-covered ruins of what was once a great temple. Then an adventurer named Aidan McRory (Guy Pearce) arrives in search of sacred sculptures he can sell to collectors.

The father tiger, trying to protect the twins, attacks one of the hunters, and McRory shoots and kills him. The mother tiger was able to carry Sangha to safety, but Kumal is left behind. McRory befriends him, but must leave him with the village leader who permitted him to steal the statues. Kumal ends up in a circus, being trained to act fierce and jump through a hoop of fire.

Meanwhile, McRory helps a French official set up a staged tiger hunt for a cruel and insecure prince. The tiger he captures for the prince to shoot is the twins’ mother. Sangha goes to live with the official’s young son who loves him and cares for him tenderly. But Sangha is given to the prince, who wants to see him fight another tiger — Kumal.

The images are stunningly beautiful, with breathtaking close-ups of the twin tigers, who are expressive and moving both as frisky cubs and as adults. The story is truly told from their point of view, with long spaces of no dialogue. It is a true gift to see a story that trusts its audience enough to let them discover the story for themselves and that understands the eloquence of silence. The human characters are vivid enough to give the story more depth and context, but not so much that they interfere with the fairy-tale like journey of the heroes of the movie, Sangha and Kumal.

Parents should know that the movie has some very sad Bambi-style moments and some violence, mostly off-screen. The tiger cubs’ father is killed and their mother is shot and wounded. Sangha mauls a dog (we only hear about it and it is made clear that the dog was not killed) and Kunal is beaten (off camera). There are tense confrontations and unhappy relationships. Some children may find it uncomfortable when a mother is attracted to someone other than her husband and believes he is flirting with her, when a child loses his pet, or when characters speak harshly to each other. A strength of the movie is the positive portrayal of an inter-racial and inter-cultural romance.

This movie provides a very thoughtful introduction to complex issues. McRory and an English-speaking native (who will become his wife) debate the morality of killing wild animals and taking sacred artifacts from ruins. Families who see this movie should talk about the different ways that people see those issues but also about the way they discuss them with each other. What kinds of arguments are persuasive? How did his father’s disappointment in him affect the prince? How do you know when it is “good to take a chance?”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Bear by the same director, and movies with similar settings, including The Lion King, Born Free and The Jungle Book. Older viewers should read Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem The Panther, which is very much like Kumal’s experience in the circus. Younger viewers will enjoy the humorous Zebra in the Kitchen.

Fahrenheit 9/11

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

This is the movie that won the movie world’s highest accolade — a sort of international Oscar — the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme D’Or. And it is the movie that columnist Christopher Hitchens attacked as “a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of ‘dissenting’ bravery.”

It is a furious, scathing, obnoxious, engrossing, frustrating, terrifying, heart-rending, and unabashedly partisan challenge to the current administration. But, most important, it is a passionate challenge to all who accept what they are told about anything without questioning.

William Butler Yeats said, “out of our arguments with the world, we make propaganda; out of our arguments with ourselves, we make art.” Writer/director/court jester Michael Moore does not do much arguing with himself. And yet, that is exactly what he challenges us to do. The real contribution of this movie is its recognition that sometimes you have to make people angry to get them to think. And Moore does enjoy making people angry. An advertising tagline for this movie asks coyly, “Controversy…What Controversy?”

Movie provocateur Moore has pioneered a form of advocacy documentary. His films are more like op-eds or partisan leaflets than like news stories. He uses the techniques of film-making that feature film-makers use to tell a story and advertisers do to sell products, but he uses them to take a stand and he likes to stir things up. In his previous films, Moore took on American icons General Motors and the gun industry. This time, he takes on the Bush administration and the war in Iraq.

His charges include:

  • George W. Bush stole the 2000 election with the help of his brother, the Governor of Florida, and his “Daddy’s friends on the Supreme Court.”
  • In his first eight months in office, he spent 42% of his time on vacation.
  • President Bush is not very smart or effective, especially in his response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
  • The Bush family’s ties to the Saudis have influenced the President’s decisions and compromised his ability to act in the best interests of the American people.
  • Rich old white Congressmen, Senators, and Bush administration officials are sending poor young minority soldiers to fight and die in Iraq for a war that is killing civilians and is more for the benefit of American corporate interests than national security or Iraqi freedom.

Moore makes these points with an avalanche of facts, wisecracks, cheap shots, some less cheap but still mighty inexpensive shots, and sometimes-outraged and often-snarky commentary. He starts with a fact like the percentage of vacation days. Then he amplifies it with sitcom music and juxtaposed stock or out of context footage that makes the President and the members of his administration appear foolish or ineffective.

Of course, anyone looks foolish being powdered by a make-up artist in preparation of an appearance on television. (For more evidence on this, see a surreal 1992 documentary about the New Hampshire primary called Feed.) Moore includes other clips so unfair that they boomerang and make the movie less persuasive. Is it fair to play the President’s gentle jokes about the net worth of his supporters at a white-tie dinner as though it was a meeting of a secret society plotting to take over the planet like Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil? Do we really learn anything by hearing Britney Spears say that she trusts the President?

It’s enough that a Congressman, clearly enjoying himself, tells Moore that no one on the Hill reads the bills they sign. It detracts rather than adds when Moore then borrows an ice cream truck on Capitol Hill to bellow the Patriot Act’s provisions over the loudspeaker.

Surely Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz has better moments than sticking a comb in his mouth to help make his hair stay in place, but that is the one Moore selects. Attorney General John Ashcroft may not be a good singer but that’s not what we pay him for. Presidents get asked questions about all subjects wherever they are, because the press follows them wherever they go. So when President Bush speaks of the importance of stopping terrorism while he’s on the golf course and then turns back to his golf swing, the implication that he is a modern-day Nero is overblown. Some of this is wickedly enjoyable, but some of it is clutter and some undercuts the power of the points Moore is trying to make.

Moore makes much of the President’s staying on in a classroom visit for seven long minutes after being told that America was under attack, speculating about what he was thinking. It is chilling to see him sitting there, looking blank and indecisive. But does it really matter what kind of linen he slept on the night before?

The peaceful, even idyllic footage of Baghdad the day before the U.S. started bombing is as obviously misleading as efforts to portray all of Iraq as the embodiment of evil. Moore is clear that Saddam Hussein was a despicable tyrant (a point made while showing footage of current U.S. officials greeeting him warmly). But there are many tyrants around the world who are not the target of the U.S. and that is not the reason that the administration used to justify the war. The justification was alleged Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction. The administration’s basis for believing or alleging both is now in question.

Moore believes that the real reason was something else, perhaps the interests of the President’s corporate cronies. Moore shows us some ghoulish scenes of thinly disguised capitalist glee at the prospect of all those new customers in Iraq who will be doing a lot of rebuilding and a return to the free-flowing era of the cost-plus contract. One says, “The good news is, whatever it costs, the government will pay you!” Or maybe it was the President’s fury at Saddam Hussein’s plan to kill his father, the first President Bush. Or, maybe it was, as former White House anti-terrorist specialist Richard Clarke suggests, “because there were no good targets in Afganistan.”

The movie has moments that may be manipulative, but are nevertheless unassailably genuine. A visit with the mother of a soldier who was killed in Iraq is moving not just for her loss but for her ideals and her devotion to her family and her country. Glimpses of terribly wounded soldiers on both sides and Iraqi civilians are shocking, as they should be. Juxtaposing that with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explaining the “humanity” of our surgical strikes is chilling, as it should be. A shot of flag-draped coffins is all the more powerful because it is an image suppressed by the Bush administration.

Then there are Moore’s trademarks. One is capturing real-life moments that are surreal, poignant, and hilarious all at once. A promoter proudly shows off a new product, a “safe” hiding place in case of attack that is like a cross between a 1950′s bomb shelter and a cast-iron port-a-potty. A Marine recruiter approaching young shoppers in the mall on the poor side of town brightly tells one prospect who seems interested in music, “[Pop star] Shaggy was a Marine!” He goes on to explain that the discipline of the Marines will help him make it in music and manage all that money he’ll make. We meet a sweet little group of Fresno peaceniks who were infiltrated by a federal agent and a nursing mother whose breast milk was considered contraband by a zealous airport security guard. And Moore shows us how, now as throughout history, wars are declared by the powerful and fought by the poor. “Those who have the least are the first to step up to support that system.”

Another Moore trademark is making fun of dumb bureaucrats and hypocrites. Rep. Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says in an on-camera interview that anyone with con
cerns about intelligence collection could call a toll-free number. Words flash across the bottom of the screen explaining that actually, that is not true; but Moore is happy to give us Porter’s office number instead. Moore’s other trademark is a sort of political Punk’d — stunts and pranks. We meet other Congressmen who duck when Moore asks them if their children will enlist to fight in the war they voted for.

What is new for Moore is this movie’s moments of subtlety. The scenes of the 9/11 terrorist attack are on a black screen, sounds only, until after the second plane hits the World Trade Center and we see the faces of those who are watching. Moore is less intrusive in this film than in his others, and when he lets the people tell the story themselves the movie is at its most powerful, far more so than when he makes overbroad claims: “When a President commits the immoral act of sending kids to war based on a lie, this is what we get — torture [of prisoners].”

Much of the material Moore covers is already well-known to people who follow the news carefully. But assembled as a dossier or a mosaic of complex inter-relationships, conflicts of interest, ignorance, and thuggishness, it is a devastating attack.

Some viewers will be offended. But they should take it as an opportunity to consider the way that all media sources select and comment on the facts they report. It is a powerful film that should be seen and responded to. Even Moore would rather have people argue with him about the implications of what he presents than to have anyone unthinkingly accepting his conclusions.

We will not know for a generation or more whether it was right for the US to invade Iraq. That is the way of history. But arguments like those posed in this movie will help us to think carefully not just about the topics it covers but also about the larger question of how we gather and respond to the information we need to make important decisions. This movie and the howls and rebuttals it provokes are exactly what is meant by the famous assertion by anti-slavery activist Wendell Phillips: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” In that context, the Britney Spears clip turns out to make sense after all. It resonates for all of those who will not think about what is going on. So in the words of American Revolution hero Patrick Henry, “If this be treason, make the most of it!”

Parents should know that this movie includes war violence with very explicit footage of wounded soldiers and civilians. We see a beheading (from a distance). There is brief very strong language. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of a very loving and devoted inter-racial family.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Moore uses cinematic techniques like music and the juxtaposition of film footage to underscore his points. Everyone who sees this movie should read some of the responses to its facts and conclusions, especially two pieces in Slate, this article by Christopher Hitchens quoted above and this column by Jack Shafer about Moore’s threats to bring libel suits against those who criticize the film. Moore’s rebuttals to critiques of the film will be posted on his website. This is one example.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Moore’s other documentaries, Roger & Me and the Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine. They should also appreciate Control Room, about the way that the Arab news network, Al-Jazeera, covers the war in Iraq and about the larger issue of bias in reporting. They should also read or see the movie version of the dystopian Ray Bradbury story that inspired the title of this movie, Fahrenheit 451, about a book-banning future society where the “firemen” are those in charge of burning the books. Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which they burn. What burns at Fahrenheit 9/11 may be another story.

White Chicks

posted by rkumar
D
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

Appealing performers and a couple of very funny moments don’t make up for a lazy and generic script in this predictable farce about two black male FBI agents who go undercover as spoiled rich white girls. I knew we were in trouble when there was a “Hammer Time” joke in the first few minutes, a reference way past its sell-by date. And a Bjork swan-dress joke? In white chick terms, that’s so yesterday.

In rap music terms, this movie samples characters and plots from many other movies, including the already vastly over-used (attractive and principled but do-things-their-own-creative-way law enforcement types always getting chewed out by choleric superiors until one of their wacky schemes pays off and they get to be heroes) and the already done so brilliantly and distinctively that no one should ever try them again (whoever thought of appropriating the “Junior” plot twist from Some Like it Hot should be sent to the screenwriter equivalent of solitary confinement).

Even the movie doesn’t even appear to paying attention to its plot. Movies don’t have to be logical; they don’t even have to make sense. But sloppy inconsistencies like the ones here become a distraction that interferes with the ability of the audience to enjoy even the jokes that work.

Shawn and Marlon Wayans, apparently both the Zeppo Marxes of the talented Wayans family, play FBI agents Kevin and Marcus Copeland. It is typical of this movie’s problems that no one had the energy to give these characters anything resembling a personality. They are almost indistinguishable from each other except that one has a hysterically jealous wife and the other has a goatee and is single.

After they bungle a drug bust, they are assigned to escort the Wilson sisters (think Paris and Nicky Hilton), who may be targets for a kidnapper. They are on their way to a weekend at the Hamptons where they hope to be photographed for the cover of a magazine. A minor car accident on the way there leaves them with scratches on their faces and they refuse to be seen that way. So, the Copelands call in the FBI’s crackerjack undercover make-up team to transform them into the Wilsons. Conveniently, they both already have earrings.

Despite the fact that they are taller than the girls and the latex masks applied to their faces make them look like victims of Botox overkill, no one in the Hamptons seems to notice anything significantly different about “the girls” (one friend guesses that they’ve had collegen treatments to turn their lips from “Cameron Diaz to Jay-Z”). The Copelands squeal and giggle, shop with the girls, go all mean girls on the snooty rich snobs, and participate in a fashion show and a dance-off (okay, that dance-off is pretty funny). They also go out on dates, Marcus in drag with a smitten athlete (the very funny Terry Crews) and Kevin as a man but pretending to be someone else to impress a pretty reporter.

Gender and race-switching are inherently funny but the situations and jokes in this script do very little to build on that energy and sometimes actually get in the way. There are predictable culture clashes, as when the society girls sing along to Vanessa Carleton’s “1000 Miles” and the Copelands have to pretend to know the words. Then, when the rap song comes on…well, you know where this is going. (A twist on this scene later on provides the movie’s most sustained laugh.) There is a lot of gross-out humor involving various body parts and functions, and some leering double entendres. There are also predictable life lessons as the Copelands develop more empathy for women and encourage the society girls to have more self-respect, to insist on the best for and from themselves. Too bad the Wayans forgot to learn that lesson themselves; the insights are delivered with no more enthusiasm, sincerity, or imagination than the comedy.

Parents should know that the movie has very crude and vulgar material for a PG-13, with comedy based on sexual references (including a game where players have to choose between two unappealing sexual encounters), drug jokes, insult humor, and a lot of graphic potty humor. Characters use strong language, not just the usual “almost-R” words but also terms that may concern parents like “yeast infection,” “coke whore,” “bitch fit,” and the n-word. Racial insults and stereotyping are intended to be comic. The movie has some comic and action violence, meaning that a lot of punches are thrown and a few shots are fired but no one is seriously hurt.

Families who see this movie should talk about what Kevin and Marcus learn from pretending to be white women. Why was it so hard for Karen, Lisa, and Gina to feel good about themselves and their relationships?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the better movies it borrows from, like Some Like it Hot, which was first on the American Film Institute’s funniest movies of all time, and Tootsie, which was second. They may also enjoy Martin Lawrence in drag as an undercover cop in Big Momma’s House. The freshest and funniest Wayans film is still I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.

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