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Black or White
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language, thematic material involving drug use and drinking, and for a fight
Release Date:
January 30, 2015

 

The Book of Life
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

Black Sea
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language throughout, some graphic images and violence
Release Date:
January 30, 2015

 

The Judge
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language including some sexual references
Release Date:
October 10, 2014

Strange Magic
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some action and scary images
Release Date:
January 23, 2015

 

Fury
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

Illegal Tender

posted by Nell Minow
C
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for violence, language and some sexuality.
Movie Release Date:2007

There’s a chance, but a very slight chance that 20 years from now this could be one of those films whose pulpiness overcomes its dopiness. But I doubt it.


Oh, it is fun to see Wanda de Jesus get all Pam Grier and shoot off two big guns at once after making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for her son. But the big dumb story and the big dumb dialogue keep getting in the way.


It begins in 1985, when drug dealer-but-nice-guy Wilson De Leon (Manny Perez) is killed on the same night his son, Wilson Jr., is born.


Fast forward to the present day. Wilson Junior (now played by the always-appealing Rick Gonzalez) is a student at genteel Danbury College. He lives with his mother (de Jesus as the older Millie) and little brother Randy (Antonio Ortiz) in a luxurious home in the suburbs of Connecticut. But everything changes when Millie runs into a friend from the old days. She knows this means that the men who killed her husband will be coming after her and her sons. She takes Wilson down into the cellar and opens up the safe. Inside are enough guns to arm a militia. “It’s called weight,” she explains.


But that is about all she explains. When he refuses to go on the run with Millie and Randy, she leaves him a gun and tells him to protect himself. Soon he is practicing his shooting face and taking aim at some tin cans. And soon after that he is taking aim at some assassins who come to his house, where he is staying with his girlfriend Ana (Dania Ramirez).


Her role in the story is to keep asking what is going on in a loud voice as the drug lord’s goons are tramping through the house shooting everything and call at inconvenient moments to tell Wilson she is worried. I’d be worried, too — Wilson and his mother return to the house when the bad guys are after them. Then, when they are after the bad guys, they stop for some retail therapy to pick up some bling. Millie’s explanation of her income (“You bought Microsoft?”) and justification for her late husband’s career choice (“everyone has stains”) is as silly as the rumble on the soundtrack that always seems to alert her to impending danger. A couple of developments near the end are intended to be plot twists, but there is so little to qualify here as plot that they are more like plot nudges. There isn’t much dialogue, either. At least a third of it seems to be various people saying “Wilson” when they speak to him, as though we need to be reminded who he is. And the other two-thirds is soapy tripe like, “Oh, God, I want this to end!”

Yeah. Me, too.

Parents should know that this is an intense and violent film with graphic images of shoot-outs, beatings, and torture. Characters are in peril and many are injured and killed and a character commits suicide. Characters are drug dealers and gangsters and some drink wine, champagne, and alcohol. They use strong language, including the n-word in song lyrics. The movie includes sexual references and brief explicit situations, dancers in skimpy clothes, and brief nudity.


Families who see this movie should talk about what Wilson and his mother told each other and did not tell each other.

Audiences who enjoy this movie will enjoy Pam Grier classics like Coffy.

11th Hour

posted by Nell Minow
B
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for some mild disturbing images and thematic elements.
Movie Release Date:November 16, 2007
DVD Release Date:April 9, 2008

Leonardo DiCaprio has produced a thoughtful, important film about a vitally important subject, the devastating impact of industrial development on the fragile environment. He has assembled an impressive collection of scholars and world leaders to emphasize the precariousness of the situation and the urgency of action to reverse the effects of human opportunism and greed, to change our idea of “progress” from growth and acquisition to sustainability and respect for the fragility of the environment that sustains us.


He is so concerned about not being overly alarmist or controversial that it is all a bit too stately. DiCaprio and his experts are specific and vivid when talking about the “infected organism” our environment has become, where “every system is in decline and the rate of decline is increasing….There isn’t one living system that is stable or improving.” But when they talk about the failures of our institutions to consider the long-term effects, they get vague. They briefly point to corporations and government. This is where he needed Al Gore to come in with some Powerpoint, or better yet, Michael Moore to name names and show exactly who got how much money from lobbyists for which companies.


The movie’s greatest strength is its breadth of compelling participants. They do more than describe our failures and the damage we have done. They question our assumptions, our smug certainty that nature exists to serve humans and will be eternally replenished. They explain that the uniquely human ability to think about and affect the future has created this problem; but that it can also help us to recognize and solve it. And they provide assurances that all the technology we need is already available; all it takes is the will.


Each of them has an important lesson to teach. Perhaps the one that is by iteself the reason for every middle- and high-schooler to see the film is this quotation from Eric Hoffer: “We can never have enough of that which we really do not want.”

Parents should know that some of the images and themes of this movie may be disturbing to audience members. Scenes of environmental degradation and damage, including brief footage of an animal being killed, and descriptions of potential consequences that could include extinction are intended to be provocative. Even though they are presented as a call to action and there is reassuring material about choices that can make a difference, it may be very upsetting.


Families who see this movie should visit the movie’s website to learn more about the scientific data on climate change and the technologies that can make a difference.

Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate An Inconvenient Truth, Who Killed the Electric Car?, Koyaanisqatsi – Life Out of Balance, and The Future of Food.

‘Sleuth’ vs. ‘Sleuth’ and Twin vs. Twin

posted by Nell Minow



This morning I saw the remake of “Sleuth.” Like the original, it stars Michael Caine, but this time he plays the role of the older man, a mystery writer whose visit from his wife’s young, handsome lover turns into a battle of wits and power. In 1974, the older man was played by Laurence Olivier. In 2007, the younger man is played by Jude Law, took over another of Caine’s iconic roles in “Alfie.” The original was an entertaining potboiler with one of theater and movie history’s cleverest surprises (incomprehensibly omitted from the new version). In 2007, it gets a high literary sheen with a new screenply by Harold Pinter and direction, in between Shakespeare adaptations, from Kenneth Branaugh.

The play was written by Anthony Shaffer, identical twin brother of Peter Shaffer, who wrote “Equus” and “Amadeus.” The themes of competition, identity, and duality run through the work of both brothers. I think their story would make quite a movie.


The Nanny Diaries

posted by Nell Minow
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for language.
Movie Release Date:2007

Oh, we all love to feel superior to rich people, don’t we? It makes us feel so nice and smug. They may have the fancy apartments and couture, but we have a lock on authenticity and unpretentiousness, right? That’s what “The Nanny Diaries” wants to tell us, anyway. Its talented cast and some inspired visuals cannot enliven a superficial story.


Annie (Scarlett Johansson) has just graduated from college with a degree in business. Her mother, a nurse, wants her to get a job on Wall Street. But she bungles the interview. Later, in Central Park, a wealthy woman referred to only as Mrs. X (Laura Linney) from Manhattan’s tony East Side offers her a job as a nanny. No one on Wall Street may be interested in her, but she learns she is “the Chanel bag of nannies,” the ultimate accessory, because she is white, single, and has a college education.


She tells her mother she took the Wall Street job, but moves into the luxurious East Side apartment to take care of Grayer (Nicholas Art). It turns out that Mrs. X expects Annie the nanny to do everything from preparing French food for Grayer to help him with his study of the language to photocopying his recommendations for the fancy school he is applying to, come to a 4th of July party dressed as Betsy Ross, pick up the dry cleaning, and pretty much be on duty 24/7. Mrs. X organizes galas to raise money to help children and goes to elegant functions to discuss child development issues, but she never has time for Grayer. When Grayer runs ahead of her in the park, she says, “Forgive my feral child.” Her favorite accessories are shopping bags from luxury retailers filled with lots of new accessories. She wears headbands. She all but purrs about the luxuries she will rain down on Annie if she becomes their nanny, making it sound as though Annie will become part of the family. But then she is imperious, neglectful, and remote and hides a security camera in a teddy bear to spy on her.

And then there is Mr. X (Paul Giamatti), whose job in the movie is to be much too busy to spend time with Grayer or Mrs. X. His only concern about Grayer is that he get into the most prestigious school. He barks “I’m just trying to earn a living!” when anyone asks him to pay attention to his family, and, of course, he is having an affair with some financial ace from the office and trying to exercise droit de seigneur on the poor righteous nanny.


Director/screenwriters Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini of the brilliantly innovative American Splendor seem to believe that a studio movie has to play it safe and the result is predictable and dull. Though Linney portrays the desperation behind Mrs. X’s behavior, the Xes are stereotypes and caricatures, the plot developments are sitcom-ish, and despite her claims that she cannot leave because of her devotion to the child, there is no chemistry at all between Annie and Grayer. Chris Evans (“The Fantastic Four”) makes a good impression as the “Harvard Hottie” who lives downstairs, and singer Alicia Keys has a lovely, natural quality as the obligatory Best Friend (with the obligatory Gay Roommate). There are hints of worthwhile issues about race and class, the pressures of conformity, materialism, competitiveness, and snobbery, and conflicts between home and work. But all of that was far more deftly handled in one brief segment of Paris Je T’Aime than in all of this movie’s hang-wringing about the oppression of the working class by the Marie Anoinettes of the Upper East Side.

Parents should know that this movie deals with issues some audience members may find disturbing, including marital problems, adultery, and sexual harassment. Characters drink, smoke, and use some strong language. There are emotional confrontations and references to divorce and death of a parent.


Families who see this movie should talk about how different families and different cultures have different ideas about raising children. They may also want to talk about the pros and cons of the child care arrangements in their own families and the importance of treating everyone with kindness and respect.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Devil Wears Prada and nanny classics like Mary Poppins and Mrs. Doubtfire. The red umbrella logo has been re-obtained by its original company, Traveler’s Insurance, and will be appearing in their new ads.

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