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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

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Release Date:
May 2, 2014

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

 

Bears
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
G
Release Date:
April 19, 2014

When the Game Stands Tall
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

 

Need for Speed
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language
Release Date:
March 14, 2014

Mr. 3000

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

Bernie Mac doesn’t hit this one out of the park, but he manages a solid double in his first starring role, as a retired baseball player who has to get back into shape and suit up for three more hits.

Mac plays Stan Ross, known as “Mr. 3000.” As soon as he got the 3000th hit that he thought would ensure him a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame, he announced his retirement from the Milwaukee Brewers. He got his and that was all he cared about. He opened up a strip mall with a pet store (3000 Paws), a cell phone store (3000 beeps), a Chinese restaurant (3000 Woks), a hair salon (3000 cuts) and a bar with a wall of 3000 baseballs.

But then the hotshot statisticians in Cooperstown found out that one of Stan’s games was counted twice. He’s not Mr. 3000. He’s Mr. 2997. So, he has a month to get back in shape and suit up, to try to get those last three hits in the final month of the season. And who should show up to report on the story for ESPN but Stan’s on-and-off love, Mo (Angela Bassett). Stan has to learn that he needs more than a swing and more than a hit to win.

There are no surprises here, but director Charles Stone III provides a little of the flair he showed us with the marvelous Drumline. There are some disappointing musical choices (really, how many times has “Let’s Get it On” been used for romantic interludes) but also some charmingly surprising ones (the portion of “The Nutcracker Suite” best remembered as the music for the mushroom dance in Fantasia as the ball players warm up). Bernie Mac is wonderfully assured. We knew he was funny, but he is unexpectedly tender here as well. Angela Bassett allows herself to be a little more vulnerable than we have seen before, making their romance something we really root for.

Parents should know that the movie has strong language for a PG-13 with a wider range of bad words than normally occur in movies of this kind. There are a series of jokes about the inability of a Japanese ballplayer to curse correctly. The movie has non-explicit sexual situations and explicit sexual references. Characters discuss what made sex with each other the best either of them had ever had and make Viagra jokes. There is a reference to an alcohol abuse problem and there are many scenes in a bar. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of intelligent and capable African-American and female characters.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Stan did not care about his team and what made him realize how his behavior had affected other people. How would he have reacted if someone had spoken to him the way he spoke to T. Rex? How did Mo’s not having faith in Stan make him feel? What makes people feel like a team? This is a good movie to prompt a discussion of what it means to “burn our bridges,” and how decisions we make (and feelings we hurt) can have long-term consequences we may not anticipate.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy some of the many classic baseball films including Pride of the Yankees, It Happens Every Spring, Damn Yankees, and (for mature audiences) Bang the Drum Slowly and Bull Durham. They will also enjoy the fantasy comedy Angels in the Outfield and the 1994 remake with Danny Glover.

I Heart Huckabees

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

We don’t think about it much, but most comedies are about existential crises.

Whether it’s the bewitched lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, an heiress grappling with a leopard in Bringing Up Baby or Moe bopping Larry, and Curly, comedies let us laugh at characters who are trying to make sense of an absurd world. And that makes us feel a little better and surer about our own attempts to find purpose and meaning.

And they do it in movies, which, like all stories, have an internal logic, a narrative arc, even a sense of inevitablilty due to the economies of time, which dictate that every detail revealed in the movie will have some relevance to what develops. So no matter how chaotic the situation faced by the characters, there is at some level a sense of order that is almost as reassuring as the chance to laugh.

There aren’t many comedies about existentialism, though, at least not explicitly, and the brilliance of this movie is the way it uses the form of the screwball comedy to both represent and explore existential themes. In other words, while it will be fodder for late-night dorm debates and cultural studies theses for decades, it is also a ton of fun.

Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) is having problems at work. The Open Spaces coalition he put together to oppose development of a marsh and woods is losing its focus, thanks to the charm and dazzle of Brad Stand (Jude Law), a smooth public relations guy from a WalMart-like chain called Huckabees, “the everything store.”

But what Albert wants to understand is a coincidence. He has seen the same tall young African man three times in three very different circumstances and wants to know what that means. So he goes to a husband and wife team of “existential detectives,” Vivian (Lily Tomlin) and Bernard Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman) and asks them to investigate. He just wants them to examine the coincidence and tells them to stay away from his office, but since they believe that everything is connected they accept no limitations; they may not even see any.

Meanwhile, another client of the existential detectives is having, well, an existential crisis. A fireman named Tommy (Mark Wahlberg) is reading a book by Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert) that says nothing in life is connected or meaningful, and that feels much more real to him than what the Jaffes have been telling him. Brad Stand has also hired the Jaffes, and is not prepared for what happens when they begin talking to his girlfriend, Dawn (Naomi Watts), the bikini-wearing Huckabees spokesmodel.

The movie has a sure sense of comic structure and timing, with classic comedy conventions like high-speed dialogue, wild plot permutations, family craziness, over-reaction to trivial things, under-reaction to non-trivial things, some sharp satire about our consumer culture, a little slapstick, some terrible poetry, and of course a few romantic complications. And, as Brad knows, a stop-by from a real celebrity doesn’t hurt, either.

In addition, it has meta and meta-meta messages, the form of the movie tied to its content about the debate between those who believe that everything is connected and meaningful and those who think everything is, well, nothing. In a sense, like Huckabees, the Jaffes operate an “everything store.” Caterine, their former student and now rival, operates the “nothing store,” telling Tommy and Albert that life is random, brutish, and meaningless and so the best thing to do is knock yourself out of the awareness of it all.

The movie is clearly the product of someone who has waded through teutonic philosophy and eastern mysticism and fortunately come out the other side with his sense of humor intact. The words may be the same as a philosophical treatise, but when recited while dodging a lawn sprinkler or getting hit in the face with a ball, it completely transforms, even transcends the meaning, a philosophical statement of its own. It makes the same point as in Stardust Memories, when the supersmart aliens tell Woody Allen that if he wants to help humanity he should write funnier jokes.

Director and co-screenwriter David O. Russell has a lot of fun playing with the classic philosophical dualities/debates:

  • The nihilist/isolationist approach to the meaning of life versus the “we’re all connected and inseparable and the center is everywhere” approach;

  • The shallow, successful materialist dressed in pastel colors versus the dark, mopey, sincere poetic failure dressed in black and white;

  • The beautiful model who exploits her physical appearance versus the reformed girl who seeks a higher meaning covered in dirt and overalls;

  • The disavowal of physical reality versus completely carnal wallowing in the mud; and

  • The duality of an “other” (doppelganger/ secret sharer type) who is used as a buddy in a support program. We also see “others” in the Vivian/Bernard, Vivian and Bernard/Caterine and Albert/Brad relationships.

Russell also manages to throw in debates about politics, economics, psychology and religion, and utilitarianism versus idealistic extremism.

And, just as Vivian and Bernard explain, everything is connected. In casting Schwartzman’s real-life mother, Talia Shire (best known as Connie in The Godfather saga and Adrian in Rocky) as his mother in the movie, is Russell making a meta-comment about connectedness? Or is he making a meta-meta-comment about our fascination with celebrities? Or is he just doing it for fun, which, if you think about it, is a kind of meta-meta-meta comment? Probably all of the above, just as Vivian’s getting hit by the sprinklers as she spies on Brad is both a statement about the obstacles to transcending physical reality and pure giddy slapstick pleasure.

Brad and Albert have a lot more in common than they think. Their names put them next to each other at one end of the alphabet with 24 letters yet to go. They are both competing for the support of the coalition and for control of the woods and marsh. They both compartmentalize, each willing to save just part of the undeveloped area and call it a success — though their ideas of how much should be saved differs.

The difference between philosophy and art is that philosophy tries to deal with these dichotomies in a logical and linear way, while art is free to ricochet back and forth between them like a pinball machine. Russell shows that when the characters floundering for meaning go off to sit on a big rock fenced off from the rest of the world, and with lots of sight gags, as with the polaroid of on character crying digitally turns into his nemesis.

Russell directs his crackerjack cast at top speed and they all perform with buoyant conviction and pure comic energy that is delicious to watch. Hoffman, Tomlin, and Wahlberg are all marvelous. This is Law’s best performance so far, stunning in its fearlessness and control of tone. He keeps Brad a character and not a caricature, when he is at his most charming and when he begins to unravel. His Brad is himself a master actor, always checking out the audience reaction, capturing attention and drawing people in by excluding someone else. Law lets us see how effective Brad can be, and then what happens when the facade begins to crack. In another movie, it would be the stand-out, but in this ensemble, it is just one more reason to say that I HEART “I HEART Huckabees.”

Parents should know that the movie has extremely strong language (it begins with a very colorful stream of epithets), and some sexual references and one brief explicit sexual situation. Characters drink and smoke. The movie includes mild comic peril and some tense confrontations.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy the other movies by David O. Russell, including Three Kings (also featuring Wahlberg) and Flirting with Disaster (also featuring Tomlin) and Schwartzman’s performance in Rushmore. They will also enjoy movies about being fully conscious like Waking Life and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Families may also enjoy finding out more about existential philosophy, psychology, and analysis.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

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

Dashing pilot Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan (Jude Law) and intrepid reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) investigate the disappearance of a group of top scientists and the invasion of enormous robots in this magnificently imaginative tribute to the adventure films of the 1930′s. Solving the puzzle — and saving the world — takes them from Manhattan to Tibet, from an aircraft landing strip that floats above the clouds to a dynamite-packed abandoned mine and the depths of the ocean. And every bit of it except for the actors, costumes, and a few props, is made from nothing but imagination and pixels.

The story is an unabashed and un-ironic tribute to the days of cliff-hanger adventure serials. There are plenty of thrills and some so-so antagonistic-lover banter that gets a boots from its rat-tat-tat delivery, with the snap of a stick of Wrigley’s gum, briskly chewed. And there’s a lollapalooza of a last line, one of the choicest ever.

No matter how exciting, I’m not sure that any movie could eclipse the story behind this one, almost a fairy tale in its own right. Writer/director Kerry Conran spent ten years creating this film on his computer. The actors stood before a green screen and every set, building, car, airplane, robot, street, abandoned mine, even the ocean, even every snowflake and raindrop, were all straight from computer to screen.

So, it is not always easy to step back from amazement and admiration for the technology of the film to just enjoy the story. One reason is the imbalance — the script is only good, but the visuals are spectacular.

Conran does more than create arresting pictures. He creates a world with consistent (and very dramatic) light sources and a sense of three-dimensional believability that makes the floating airstrip and underwater airplane as real as Radio City Music Hall. The scenes are so superbly imaginative they get distracting. There is so much richness of detail that they feel half-remembered, even when re-creating the New York City of the 1930′s with Godzilla-sized Art Deco monster robots stomping down 6th Avenue or an airplane that turns into a submarine. I was especially taken by another set of robots with arms like spaghetti and by an elephant small enough to hold in a hand. The overall look of the movie is a little soft and glowing, not quite sepia-toned, but the explosions are sharp and bright.

Paltrow and Law are fine, as are Giovanni Ribisi as Law’s mechanical whiz buddy who gets kidnapped by the robots and Angelina Jolie with an eye-patch as the endlessly sporty Commander Franky. They all spent weeks in an empty room being told to move precisely two feet to the right and then look amazed or resolute, difficult enough. But then they also had to find a way to pay tribute to the 30′s films with their performances without seeming arch or winking at the audience.

Still, it might have made more sense to go all the way and computer-generate the actors, too. After all, Shrek, Donkey, and Fiona gave remarkably expressive and vivid performances that could only be described as acting, even if the voice and animation talent have to share the credit. Conran hints at the possibility of an all-computerized movie by using one long-departed actor whose “performance” was created by using old footage in a new context. Maybe Shangri-La for director/screenwriters is not having to deal with actors at all.

Parents should know that the movie has a good deal of intense peril and violence including gunplay and explosions. There are some grisly images (skeletons, dead body) and some scary-looking robots. There is brief crude humor including non-sexual nudity (nothing shown). A strength of the movie is its very able and courageous female characters but some viewers may be uncomfortable with the portrayal of a character who appears to be based on “dragon lady” stereotypes in films and comic strips of that era.

Families who see this movie should talk about what they would photograph if they only had two shots left. Why? Why would Conran have The Wizard of Oz playing when Polly was at the theater? Why that particular scene? If you could design an entire movie, when and where would it take place and what would it look like? Conran’s reported next film will take place on Mars!

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Raiders of the Lost Ark and the other Indiana Jones movies, Rocketeer, and the classic sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still, one of Conran’s inspirations. The special effects look endearingly amateurish by today’s standards, but the story is still powerful. Older children and adults who enjoy the stylized design of this movie will also appreciate Metropolis and Things to Come. You can read the poem Joe quotes here and learn something about navigating by the stars here.

Ladder 49

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2004

This is one of those “they don’t make them like that anymore” movies, an unabashed love letter to firefighters that might as well have been made sixty years ago.

It is irony-free, which is fine — certainly, we could all use a vacation from irony and its lite version, snarkiness. But it makes the mistake of allowing its resolute decency to idealize the characters. That can make a heartwarming Saturday Evening Post cover, but makes the movie seem one-dimensional, if touching. The relentlessly wholesome characters all blend together, all as adorable as Ewoks. The only dramatic tension comes from the fires, which begin to blend together, too.

We first see Jack (Joaquin Phoenix, looking chunky and snaggle-toothed) heroically saving a man from a fire at great risk to himself. Then he is injured and trapped in the burning building. And we go back in time to see what brought him to that moment.

Jack shyly enters the firehouse to introduce himself to the chief (John Travolta, also looking chunky — they must have had quite some caterer on this film). After some good-natured hazing, he is one of the guys.

Jack meets a beautiful girl named Linda (Jacinda Barrett of The Human Stain). They fall in love, get married, and have children. She worries terribly that Jack will be injured or killed, but understands (most of the time) why he loves being a firefighter and why he cannot take a safer job.

With one exception, every one of the characters is kind, honorable, dedicated, thoughtful, and devoted. Actually, the exception is all those things except maybe kind; he’s a little bitter and cynical. But the only bad guy in the movie is the fire. The characters are all so decent that they are practically interchangeable, and that keeps them at more of a distance from us than the movie intends.

It’s fine to be sincere, but the film is unnecessarily obvious, with “That’s Just Love Sneaking Up on You” as a couple falls in love and that wavery Irish flute music to strum our heartstrings. But the fire-fighting sequences are excitingly staged and I’ll freely admit to a couple of tears and the sense that I am privileged to share the planet with people of such honor, courage, and dedication.

Parents should know that the movie has frequent and very intense peril and violence relating to firefighting. Characters are badly wounded and some are killed. There is brief strong language. Characters drink a lot including drinking games and drinking to excess. Alcohol is portrayed as bonding and healing, and a way to prove oneself as “one of the guys.” The movie includes a mild gay joke, some sexual references, and a non-explicit sexual situation. Strengths of the movie include the portrayal of diverse characters who are loyal and committed to each another, though all of the firefighters are male.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Jack took risks even after he had a wife and children who depended on him. What kind of people become fire fighters, police officers, soldiers, and others who face death every day? Families should also talk about how people who see terrible tragedies handle the stress. Notice the use of humor, sometimes rather wild and outrageous, which can be the best adaptive mechanism for dealing with terribly difficult situations, the comment about finding God, and the idea that “we honor Dennis” by “sticking together.”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the underrated Ron Howard film about firefighters, Backdraft and the classic disaster film, The Towering Inferno. They may also appreciate other movies about people who risk their lives on the job like The Perfect Storm and Gardens of Stone.

Previous Posts

If I Stay
Hamlet asked it best. "To be, or not to be: That is the question." We struggle through, worrying about whether someone likes us or whether we will be accepted at the school of our choice

posted 6:00:09pm Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
If you want to not just see but hear an eyeball being pulverized, then see "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For."  If you want to see and hear it in the company of an audience who thinks that's

posted 5:59:27pm Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »

When the Game Stands Tall
This dreary assemblage of every possible sports cliché has one thing in common with the game it portrays. Every time it seems to be going somewhere, it stops. More frustratingly, it wastes the opportunity to tell a good story by trying to squeeze in too many great ones. There are too many crises

posted 5:59:00pm Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Christian Indie Films of 2014
This year has already seen a remarkable and perhaps unprecedented number of Christian and Biblically-based films, from big-budget epics like "Noah" and "Son of God" to small faith-oriented films like "God's Not Dead."  There is an excellent summary of four Christian independent films of 2014 on In

posted 3:59:03pm Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Frank: The Real Story of the Singer With the Paper-Mache Mask
One of the handsomest men alive spends almost the entire movie wearing a huge round paper maché head in "Frank," a moving film inspired by the real-life story of the late Frank Sidebottom.  Michael Fassbender plays Frank, a sweet-natured but very quirky musician who wears his big head mask even in

posted 9:10:16am Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »


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