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Annie
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some mild language and rude humor
Release Date:
December 19, 2014

 

Pride
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language and brief sexual content
Release Date:
October 9, 2014

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language
Release Date:
December 19, 2014

 

Magic in the Moonlight
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout
Release Date:
August 1, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Release Date:
December 19, 2014

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Release Date:
August 8, 2014

The Nativity Story

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for some violent content.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Jean Kerr once wrote of school Christmas pageant with a moving depiction of the nativity that consisted of two young children crossing a bare stage. They stopped briefly. Joseph said, “Mary, ’tis a cold, cold night.” “‘Tis,” she replied. And they walked on.


Anyone who wants to try to tell the story of the birth of Jesus faces a daunting challenge. The two advantages of the version Kerr described were that it immediately captured the goodwill of the audience by casting not only children, but children of their community, and that its pared-down simplicity let the audience project their own ideas and feelings about the story onto what they saw.

This sincere and respectful version tries to do what it can with a different set of tools, and it admirably attempts to meet the needs of those who will come to it, whether they are looking for worship, for history, or for narrative. It is more successful in the first category than the other two.


Director Catherine Hardwicke’s two great strengths are in having the location help to tell the story (she was originally a production designer) and a sensitivity to the portrayal of teenagers (her two previous films as director are thirteen and The Lords of Dogtown). So here she makes good use of the settings (Italy and Morocco standing in for Biblical locations) and makes its young central figures very appealing. Whale Rider’s Keisha Castle-Hughes has a shy but dignified and resolute air. She glows believably as the very young woman who is selected as the mother of Jesus. And newcomer Oliver Isaac effectively conveys tenderness, doubt, courage, and transcendence as Joseph.


It is a daunting challenge to try to make icons into dramatic characters who feel human enough to be real but heroic enough to fit our notions of greatness. The movie’s commitment to reverence gives it a certain stiffness, as though it is an animatronics display, and the international cast does not always mesh into a consistent ensemble. Those who are already intimately familiar with the story are most likely to be satisfied, but those who are not may be confused at who the characters are and how they come together. An attempt at making the three kings into comic relief falters. But there are moments, as the star guides the characters on the journey to Bethlehem, when audiences may get that same feeling Kerr had in watching the scuffed stage at her children’s school, or when the harmonies of carols play as that star seems to shine brighter in the sky.

Parents should know that in a low-key way this movie raises the question of whether Joseph believes Mary’s story of the virgin birth. There is discussion of persecution and murder, including murder of babies.


Families who see this movie should talk about how it fits with their ideas of the story. Why is the part of the story about the three kings important? What does the star signify? Why was Jesus born in a stable? They may want to talk about their favorite Christmas carols and how those songs and hymns pay tribute to different parts of this story.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the Italian film, The Gospel According to St. Matthew and the The Gospel of John. My interview with Oscar Isaac, who plays Joseph, is here. And my interview with director Catherine Hardwicke is here.

Deck the Halls

posted by jmiller
F+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for some crude and suggestive humor, and for language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Another year, another cheesy, hypocritical movie about how the true meaning of Christmas gets lost in the madness of Christmas. Except that this movie is, in itself, Exhibit A in the Christmas Madness category. And, to boot, it has unforgiveably crude, ugly and homophobic “humor.” Doesn’t that sound like fun for the whole family!


Steve (Matthew Broderick) is an ophthalmologist (Get it? He helps people to see clearly but he isn’t seeing clearly!) who runs Christmas celebrations — his family’s and his town Christmas festival — like a military campaign. He explains to his wife (“Sex in the City’s” Kristin Davis), “I’m not intense; I’m just extremely organized.” She responds, “When you’re talking about Christmas carols, you shouldn’t have to use the term ‘flanking maneuver.'” But Steve was an army brat who always longed for the kind of stability a full-scale Christmas celebration exemplified. And that means that he has his own five-year-at-a-time Christmas tree-growing plot and that every year his family wears matching sweaters for their annual Christmas card photo.


For every id movie character who is “extremely organized” there must be a superego character who is a disruptive free spirit. Cue Danny DeVito as Buddy, a genial salesman who is looking for a way to do something “big, important, monumental.”


When his daughters show him that their community can be seen on the internet via satellite, but their house does not show up, he knows what that big, important, monumental achievement will be. He will decorate their home so brightly that it will be seen by the satellite.


And thus we are subjected to a series of foolish and destructive one-upsmanhip battles to be “the Christmas guy,” as Steve’s and Buddy’s families stand by and shake their heads in disapproval and disbelief. The film even has the nerve to try to rip-off/parody the classic It’s a Wonderful Life.


I no longer find it ironic when movies purport to pay tribute to the true meaning of Christmas as they perpetuate the synthetic, over-the-top commercialism of the season; I just find it tedious. The characters in this movie do take time away from their silly competition to….enjoy quiet moments with their families? Come up with ideas for thoughtful, low-key gifts? Go to church? Help those less fortunate? Nope, to watch movies — better movies that do have messages about the true meaning of Christmas, like Miracle on 34th Street and Meet Me In St. Louis. My recommendation to anyone who is looking for a movie about the true spirit of Christmas and a meaningful way to connect with family is to skip this cynical junk and watch those instead.

Parents should know that the movie includes some crude humor about a cross-dressing man whose lacy underwear is visible under his clothes, peeping toms, men in a sleeping bag who are naked for warmth, fathers who ogle pretty girls (“Who’s your daddy!”) only to find they are their daughters (“Oh no! I’m your daddy!”), racing off to splash holy water in their eyes to purify themselves, some humor about young teenagers dating sailors and faking IDs, a joke about a man exposing himself, and mild sexual situations and references involving married couples, including a reference to a stripper pole in the bedroom. There is a some comic peril and violence, with no one badly hurt. Characters’ behavior is foolish, egotistical, and selfish.


Families who see this movie should talk about how other parts of their lives affected the way that Buddy and Steve felt about Christmas and about the parts of their own celebrations that are most meaningful to them.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy A Christmas Story, Home Alone, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

Deja Vu

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, disturbing images and some sensuality.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

A heart-pounding thriller with a time-travel twist, “Deja Vu” will not leave you thinking you’ve seen it all before.


Denzel Washington plays Doug Carlin, an ATF agent called in to investigate a bombing. Someone, perhaps a terrorist, has blown up a ferry boat filled with families. Carlin is smart, knowledgeable, dedicated, and persistent. He knows who he is and he knows what he knows and how to find out what he doesn’t know.


And one thing he knows is that someone may have intended the body of a lovely young woman named Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton of Idlewild) to look as though she was one of the ferry passengers, but she was not. As he begins to track down her story, he begins to unravel the events that led to the bombing. He starts to feel he knows her so well, that he is connected to her somehow that he feels her loss sharply. He wants more than to solve the crime. He begins to wish that he could somehow rescue her. With all of his analytic ability, all of his power to make the confusing fit into neat rows of facts and circumstances, there are some odd, even impossible factors that catch at him. Like the message in magnetic letters on her refrigerator: U CAN SAVE HER. And there’s the matter of his fingerprints in her house.


“There are some time constraints,” says another federal investigator (Val Kilmer), inviting Carlin onto a task force. It turns out there is a secret government program (thank you Patriot Act funding) to essentially TIVO the world. And then it turns out that the “tapes” he is watching of Claire Kuchever’s last days are not exactly tapes. Yes, they are the past. But they are a glimpse of a past that is within reach. Carlin may be able to go back in time. He may already have done it; he just needs to remember how and what to do once he gets there.


All of this is the icing — the cake is the good, old-fashioned action, with lots of chases, fights, and explosions, expertly presented by action masters director Tony Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. What makes it work, though is Washington, Hollywood’s top go-to guy for the whole package — he brings such conviction to the role that we are ready to believe it, too, and such a jolt of pure movie star power that we are with him every pulse-pounding step of the way. You might have to see this one twice — to put all the pieces together and, knowing where it’s all going, just to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Parents should know that this film has a lot of violence for a PG-13, including the bombing of a ship carrying civilians and children. There is some strong language. Characters drink and smoke. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of strong, capable, loyal, and diverse characters.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Time After Time, in which Victorian-era author H.G. Wells chases Victorian-era serial killer Jack the Ripper through modern-day San Francisco and Minority Report where technology enables the government to see and prevent crimes before they happen.

Casino Royale

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

They got a lot right with this new rebooted Bond, but — let me get this straight — when Bond and the Bad Guy have their big confrontation, it’s…a poker game?


First things first. Daniel Craig is a great Bond, with Steve McQueen-style cool and jungle cat grace. He runs like an Olympic athlete and looks great in — and out of — a dinner jacket that is, in the words of Dorothy L. Sayers, “tailored to the swooning point.” It’s a great idea to re-introduce us to the Bond character at the beginning of his career. When he rises from the water in a wry homage to both Bond’s first film, Dr. No, and to images of the Birth of Venus, he is almost impossibly golden.

He is also impetuous and a little messy. He makes mistakes. His first kill (we learn it takes two for that 00 designation) is far from elegant. It’s downright grubby. It is fascinating to get to see Bond learn from his mistakes. As we get to know him, he is getting to know himself. That run of his is not just athletics; it is acting. It is full-on, the only time he lets himself be wholeheartedly committed to anything. We see how he analyzes people and situations, still a little show-offy because he is still a little insecure. He is even, for a brief moment, vulnerable, and we get to see why he won’t be any more. Origin stories often get heavy-handed with portentous foreshadowing as Our Hero meets up for the first time with characters and objects that we know will be important to him. But this film has a light touch when we see Bond meet his Aston-Martin and find that he hasn’t learned the difference yet between shaken and stirred.


Bond feels younger, fresher, brasher, and much of the film does, too, not weighed down with the intrusive product placement that at times made the recent films feel like infomercials (though the director noted in an interview that “Every terrorist and every person in the world [of the movie] has a Sony Erikson phone. If you look in the car park, there are a lot of Fords.” They’ve dispensed with one of the highlights of the Bond franchise, though, the gadget overview with Q, always a delicious way to set the stage for the rest of the movie as each of them gets used. In a world of text messaging and Google, the real-life toys pretty much do everything you need. Okay, that in-car defibrillator comes in handy, but Q could probably pick up one of those at The Sharper Image. And then there are the guns, of course. Lots and lots and lots of guns.


Plot? Who cares? There are only three things we want to know about a Bond film. Who’s the bad guy? And who’s the girl? And how’s the action — especially, how much stuff gets blown up?


Two out of three. The girl is Eva Green. She, too, looks beautiful in evening wear, and she is just about believable as a brainy banker who doesn’t think much of Bond until…she does. She has a lot of warmth and sizzle. The action, aside from the dull patch during the poker game, is very fine, especially an early-on chase and fight scene around and in and on top of a skyscraper construction site. Lots of shooting and lots of explosions. The bad guy is not creepy or menacing enough to be interesting and the object of all the attention — some terrorist money — is not as interesting as a secret weapon or formula or combination to a master safe. And that poker game, with helpful commentary by Giancarlo Giannini as though he’s reporting for ESPN slows things down until they are almost inert.


Parents should know that this film includes extensive action-style violence. Many characters are shot and injured or killed. There is an intense torture scene, other references to torture, and a suggested suicide. Characters drink alcohol and use some strong language. There are sexual references and some non-explicit sexual situations with some brief nudity.


Families who see this movie should talk about the different takes on Bond and the bad guys over the years.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the other Bond films, especially those starring Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan. They might like to take a look at the very silly but fun previous version of Casino Royale, with a variety of James Bonds, including David Niven and, believe it or not, Woody Allen. And they will enjoy Daniel Craig’s stylish gangster film, Layer Cake (mature material).

Previous Posts

A Child's Christmas in Wales
The whole family will enjoy this beautiful version of Dylan Thomas' classic memory about his family Christmases in Wales. [iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/GrLDaAG7j_o?rel=0" frameborder="0"]

posted 8:00:23am Dec. 22, 2014 | read full post »

Pride
The ingredients for this film were so irresistible that it is a unexpected bonus to find that it is so much better than it needed to be. It's based on a true story of extraordinary kindness, generosity, and friendship and it stars a bunch of adorable English actors (Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy) w

posted 6:00:25am Dec. 22, 2014 | read full post »

Interview: Ava DuVernay of "Selma"
My favorite movie of the year is "Selma," the story of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King's march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital, Montgomery, to bring attention to the barriers the

posted 9:41:45pm Dec. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Smile of the Week: A Boy and a Penguin
This reminds me a little of the depiction of a child's world in The Complete Calvin and Hobbes and Barnaby. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iccscUFY860[/youtube] Many thanks to Slate for this and the others on its list of the year's best ads.

posted 12:06:45pm Dec. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Mel Torme and Judy Garland: Christmas Song
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaEedtRHklg[/youtube] I love it that Judy Garland sings "rainbows" instead of "reindeer."

posted 8:00:57am Dec. 21, 2014 | read full post »


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