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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

Secret Ballot

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

Those who are interested in the Iranian election and protests should see this superb Iranian film that is one of the finest explorations of freedom, elections, democracy, and the rule of law I have ever watched on screen.

It begins with a surreal image as a solitary soldier patrolling an Iranian island coast sees a box dropped by parachute from a plane. Soon after, a boat arrives and a woman disembarks. She informs the soldier that she is there to collect as many votes as possible before 5 pm and he is to accompany her. They travel the island debating the legitimacy of the voting process and the ability of the law to ensure fair treatment. The woman is a stickler for the letter of the law, even when the result is difficult to justify. That is, until they get stopped by a broken red light and she must decide whether to stop at the deserted intersection, missing her boat and invalidating the votes she has collected, or break the law by running the light. The film, made by Canadian-Iranian Babak Payami works brilliantly as allegory and as quasi-documentary. We never learn the names of the characters; they are just “the soldier” and “the girl.” But they and their predicament are immediately involving and distinctive. Highly recommended for high school and college civics classes and for anyone who appreciates superb film-making.

Scooby-Doo

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

It’s trickier than you might think to translate a Saturday morning cartoon program into a live-action movie. The first challenge is figuring out who your audience is going to be. Is it the little kids who watch the cartoon now and want to see every detail replicated on the big screen (like the live-action “101 Dalmatians”)? Or is it the former little kids who want to see their memories of the show through a filter that is part retro, part camp, part irony (like the Brady bunch movies) and be able to recognize Scrappy-Doo, Pamela Anderson, and Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath on sight? There is not a lot of overlap, and yet this movie tries to reach both. It ends up somewhere between a live action cartoon that is much too scary for most children and Saturday Night Live sketch that goes on too long for most teens.

The Mystery Machine crew has just discovered the secret of the ghost who captured Daphne (it’s a man in a mask!), when their egos collide and they decide to go their separate ways. Two years later, they find out that each of them has been hired by Mr. Mondavarious (Rowan Atkinson), whose Spooky Island theme park is a little spookier than he had in mind. Fred, Velma, and Daphne try to solve the mystery on their own, but find that they have to work together to find…well, this time it’s not a man in a mask, exactly.

The young stars have the voices down perfectly and do the best they can to bring the characters to life, but that only emphasizes how sketchy and shallow the cartoon characterization really is. Like the Smurfs, the Scooby-Doo characters each have only one basic attribute: Fred (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) is self-centered, Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar) wants to be more than the girl who has to be rescued all the time, Velma (Linda Cardellini) is the brainy girl, and Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) is the always-hungry slacker. Prinze, who will someday find a movie that will show off his considerable talent, has his best moments when Fred becomes something like a hip-hop zombie. Lillard has his best moments anytime he is not challenging Scooby to a flatulence and burping contest.

Parents should know that the movie has a lot of intense and scary special effects. The characters are in frequent peril, though no one gets hurt. There are a couple of mild swear words and some mild drug humor (as “Pass the Dutchie” plays on the soundtrack, what appears to be marijuana smoke turns out to be something else) and some vulgar jokes and graphic bathroom humor. The girls wear very skimpy clothes.

Families who see this movie should talk about why the friends broke up and why they got back together. They might also want to talk about what has made Scooby and his pals so enduringly popular over the years.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the original Scooby cartoons like Scooby Classics (including the very first episode) and Scooby-Doo’s Spookiest Tales. If they want something a little spookier, they should try The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Road to Perdition

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2002

Road to Perdition is a powerful, beautifully made film about fathers and sons and sin and redemption, that overrides minor flaws through beautiful directing and first class performances.

Tom Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, a tough hit man in 1931 Chicago, whose loyalty and sense of duty keep him working for John Rooney (film legend Paul Newman), a friendly but firm Irish mob boss who cares about the men he works with but will not hesitate to kill anyone who gets in his way. Rooney treats Sullivan like a son. Rooney’s real son, Connor (Daniel Craig) is paranoid and impulsive.

Sullivan keeps his family out of his work, but when his curious son Michael, Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) sees something he isn’t supposed to see, Rooney’s jealous and paranoid son Connor (Daniel Craig) tries to make sure he doesn’t talk by killing Sullivan’s wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and youngest son (Liam Aiken) but missing Michael Jr. The rest of the film follows Sullivan on a road trip with his surviving son as he seeks vengeance on the hiding and protected Connor and trying to avoid his former affiliates. Along the way he robs banks, making sure the bankers give him money from other crooks (“If I find out this belonged to some poor farmers, I’m going to be very unhappy,” he tells one (not exact quote)) while his son drives the getaway car. To make matters worse, there is a sadistic, despicable man who photographs murder scenes (Jude Law, amazingly turned into something unsightly) on Sullivan’s trail, and he’s willing to assist the murder process to get a good shot. Adventures ensue, and the Sullivans meet many people and go many places with mixed results until the film’s inevitable conclusion.

This is one of the best made films so far this year, and Mendes, Hanks, and Newman are sure to be remembered during Oscar predictions at the end of the year. The story, too is interesting, with the father-son relationships and David Self’s (Thirteen Days) adapted screenplay being both realistic and intriguing. However, some important factors, such as more about Jude Law’s character and some essential aspects of Sullivan and Rooney’s relationship are ignored, as this ambitious film is scared of being overlong, an oft-criticized quality of epic dramas like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. It leaves the viewer to decide, but if it had just gone out on a limb there, the film could’ve been saved from having some baffling moments at its conclusion. Nonetheless, it is undoubtedly one of this year’s best films, and I’m hoping there will be deleted scenes on the DVD.

Parents should know that there is predictably coarse language from the 1930s gangsters, as well as some bloody murder scenes, always by gunfire. A woman and small child are killed off screen, and the main characters are often in peril.

Families who watch this movie should ask why Mr. Sullivan was so bent on killing the murderer of his family, and even what makes criminals likeable in movies.

Families who enjoy this film may also enjoy some of the classic films chronicling lives and crimes, such as Bonnie and Clyde and the Coen brothers’ Miller’s Crossing. As epic, family drama, and crime story, the The Godfather films are unbeatable.

Red Dragon

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2002

Hannibal Lecter is back in “Red Dragon,” but he cannot ever scare us again as much as he did in “Silence of the Lambs.” We know him too well. But that very knowledge becomes one of the pleasures of seeing this movie about what happened before “Silence of the Lambs.” Another pleasure is the very fine performances. But the primary pleasure is just being so scared that you might forget to breathe.

No, we don’t get to see the fava beans or the nice chianti. But we do get a glimpse of the life of Hannibal before anyone (but us) knows that he will soon be called Hannibal the Cannibal.

As the movie opens, a symphony orchestra is performing in concert, before an appreciative audience. All of a sudden, among the hundreds of people, we see a familiar face. It is Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Is he noticing that the flute-player is a little off tonight? When we next see him hosting a gourmet dinner for the symphony board, the simple sight of seeing a guest swallow a bite of food gives us goosebumps. Later, when we see the odious prison psychiatrist, Dr. Chilton (portrayed again by Anthony Heald), there is a guilty pleasure in knowing what lies ahead of him.

This story has been impressively filmed once before as 1986’s Manhunter, with Brian Cox as Lecter. But everyone wanted to see more of the Anthony Hopkins take on the character, and so we got this version, showing the best of what a big-budget Hollywood production can do. Every single part is meticulously cast and brilliantly performed. Among many notable appearances, particular standouts are Harvey Keitel and Ken Leung as FBI agents and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a tabloid reporter.

Edward Norton plays Will Graham, an FBI agent who consults Lecter on a series of murders and then is responsible for his capture, after Lecter tries to kill him. Graham retires from the FBI, but is called back in to consult when another serial killer has murdered two families. Like Clarise Starling in Silence of the Lambs, Graham visits Lecter in prison to ask for his help, and once again, as engrossing as it is to track down the new killer, the real thrill of the movie is the interaction between Graham and Lecter. Norton’s character is more of a challenge for Lecter than novice Starling, and the history between them – and some similarities between them – make for some electric moments on screen.

Ralph Fiennes plays Francis Dolarhyde, and we know very early on that he is the man Graham is seeking. At first, the effort to explain his compulsion seems overly simplistic, but the way it is used in the movie’s climax makes it work. Dolarhyde is drawn to Reba, a spirited blind woman (Emily Watson), and Fiennes makes the conflicts between the imperatives from the William Blake-inspired demons that tell him to kill and the tender feelings he has for her heartbreaking. Director Brett Ratner, cinematographer Dante Spinotti, and production designer Kristi Zea have created a world that reflects and illuminates these competing dual forces.

Parents should know that the movie has extreme peril, including a child in danger, and explicit, graphic violence. The overall tone of the movie can be deeply disturbing for some audience members and viewers of all ages should carefully consider whether it is appropriate viewing. There are some sexual references and situations.

Families who see this movie should talk about Graham’s conversation with Reba. How was what he said important to her? If the FBI comes back to Will to ask him to help again, what should he do? Why? Why are people so fascinated with the Hannibal Lecter character?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Manhunter and Silence of the Lambs. They may also want to try Psycho, inspired by the same real-life killer that inspired Hannibal Lecter. For more information about serial killers who also provided some inspiration for author Thomas Harris, see here.

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