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Believe Me
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:

Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

The Fault in Our Stars
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language
Release Date:
June 6, 2014

Tracks
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some partial nudity, disturbing images and brief strong language
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo
Release Date:
June 27, 2014

The Boxtrolls
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Neighbors
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

Mr. & Mrs. Smith

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005

Can This Marriage Be Saved? (With apologies to the Ladies’ Home Journal)

John’s turn: We got married before we really knew each other. Now I wonder whether we’ll ever know each other. She always seems so controlled and controlling. I told her I didn’t like the drapes, but she doesn’t listen to me. We actually have dinner conversation about peas. Basically, I’m bored.

Jane’s turn: He never pays any attention to the things that matter to me. he doesn’t even remember how long we’ve been married. I just can’t talk to him. I don’t think we have anything in common.

The counselor’s turn: Jane and John had a strong attraction and married quickly without really understanding each other. Now they find little to say to each other. I think what they need is to find something they can do together.

Well, finding something they have in common and can enjoy doing together is what this movie is about. It seems that Jane (Angelina Jolie) and John (Brad Pitt) Smith have more in common than they know. They are both world-class assassins for hire. And when both are sent on the same hit and both fail, they are assigned to take each other out, and I don’t mean to a movie. Now that’s bringing your work home with you, big time.

Some movies illuminate the human condition. Some make us laugh and some make us cry. Some just show us beautiful people blowing stuff up, and that’s as good a reason to buy a ticket as there is, especially in summer. I suppose someone could try to make this movie a metaphor for the modern marriage and the challenges of communication and keeping love vital and new, but we will only pause there long enough to allow it to make us feel a little more comfortable about the fact that our two lovebirds have killed more than 400 people. What matters here is that Jolie and Pitt have sizzling chemistry and are clearly enjoying themselves and that director Doug Limon (The Bourne Identity) knows how to make action scenes work (and when to stop worrying about whether the plot makes any sense). After all, what’s more important — that we remember why any given character is shooting at another or that everything stops in the middle for Jane and John to do a tango? I rest my case.

Parents should know that despite its light, cartoonish tone, this movie has extensive and graphic “action” violence and peril, pushing the edge of the PG-13. The main characters are paid assassins and we see them killing and trying to kill lots of people. There is some strong language and there are some PG-13-ish sexual references and situations, including a bondage outfit.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it was hard for Jane and John to communicate and trust one another and what will be likely to happen to them in the future.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Prizzi’s Honor, a more serious look at a similar situation. They might also enjoy a sweet WWII-era film about a boring couple who discover a great deal about themselves and each other when they join the war effort, Perfect Strangers.

The Longest Yard

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005

After a series of interchangeable slacker movies with scripts that felt like two lines scribbled on a pizza box cover and a couple of sensitive performances in movies by A-list directors, Adam Sandler seems to be growing up at last. Instead of the boy-man with the strangled voice, he’s allowing himself to play a competent, if flawed character. And instead of winking at the camera, he’s allowing himself to play a character who confronts some significant choices in a meaningful way.

He’s got the help of a rock-solid script by Tracy Keenan Wynn, filmed once before in 1974, directed so you feel the punches by the cheerfully testosteronic Robert Aldrich, whose own The Dirty Dozen provided the template, a sort of a Dirty Dozen football team. The premise is simple: a bunch of bad and crazy guys who don’t work well with others take on a task no one else could or would. This version is slightly sweetened (from an R to a PG-13) and updated (O.J. Simpson joke, cross-dressing cheerleaders) but it’s still rough, and pleasurably so. It avoids the walrus-barf humor of Sandler’s previous scripts (though not the middle-school level sex jokes about fear of women and homosexuals). Sandler football movies have come a long way since Waterboy.

Paul “Wrecking” Crewe (Sandler) is a onetime star quarterback on probation after having been indicted — but not convicted -for shaving points in a game. When a drunken driving spree in his girlfriend’s Bentley ends in a pile-up, he is sent to prison for violating his parole. And this prison is not one of those country clubs with the Wall Street guys and Martha Stewart. He’s set for three years of hard time in Texas, where they “take two things very seriously — prisons and football.”

It turns out the football-loving warden (James Cromwell), who hopes to run for governor, has pulled some strings to get Paul sent to his prison. He wants Paul to help coach the prison guards’ football team. When Paul suggests the guards find a weak team to play as a warm-up before their first big game, the warden tells him to create a team from the inmates.

With the help of Caretaker (Chris Rock), the prison’s top scavenger and fixer, Paul puts a team together — they may not exactly be team players, but it turns out that telling them they get to tackle the guards is highly motivational. The men don’t know much about playing football, but some are big, some are mean, some are reckless, and some are fast. And they really want to hurt those guards.

The movie is about two things: Paul’s journey to find some kind of honor and seeing big men slam the heck out of each other many, many times. It wisely devotes most of its time and attention on the latter, with just enough narrative and character to make some of the slamming and crunching and crunching a bit more distinctive or to help it move the plot forward along with the football.

Sandler is better at acting like he doesn’t care than acting like he does. He doesn’t “act” so much as let himself be comfortable onscreen, which most of the time suits the character well. Rock seems to pick up on that vibe, and is relaxed and sweeter than he has been in other films. Rap star Nelly makes a fine impression, especially in a scene where he has to keep his temper while being taunted by the guards. Former Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin and an assortment of other very, very large former football players and wrestlers enjoy themselves on screen and we enjoy watching them. And it’s nice to see the star of the original film, Burt Reynolds, as a former Heisman Trophy winner who coaches the prisoners and helps this film cross the goal line. Cromwell is not a match for the original film’s flinty performance by Eddie Albert, and Cloris Leachman is sadly wasted in an embarrassing role as the warden’s secretary who has especially warm memories of Paul’s underwear ads (a brief glimpse of the obviously computer-generated ad is more preposterous than funny). The original film still beats this one when it comes to touchdowns, but the remake will do as above average silly summer fare.

Parents should know that the movie has rough material for a PG-13, with very strong language (including the n-word, used both with and without intended offense), sexual references and situations, brief non-sexual nudity, humor about genital size and arousal, and references to straight and gay sex. There is some locker-room humor including brief silly slightly homophobic insults. Characters cross-dress and move suggestively. Some drink (including drunk driving), smoke, and take steroids and there are references to illegal street drugs as well. Many of the central characters are doing hard time for various criminal acts and other characters behave abusively or unfairly. The movie includes brutal beatings and more-than-full contact sports violence.

Families who see this movie should talk about whether it has a “happy” ending in traditional terms. What made Paul change his mind? What did he decide was most important to him, and why?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy seeing the original The Longest Yard with Burt Reynolds as Crewe and some other movies with football themes, including The Replacements and M*A*S*H. They may also enjoy the classic prison drama Cool Hand Luke.

Madagascar

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2005

Some charming performances and saucy humor cannot save this movie from its surprising insensitivity. Its core question is what happens to best friends in captivity, who, once returned to the wild, realize they are predator and prey.

The makers of this film might have had an idea that they were giving the audience an example of how even those with very different natures and cultures can find a way to live together, but this is not about conflict between the star-bellied sneetches and the plain bellied sneetches or even the ranchers and the farmers. This is about a lion whose best friend the zebra looks increasingly delicious as the zoo animals have to learn why it’s called “the wild.” The film does not gloss over or cute-ify that conflict the way The Lion King did with its salute to “The Circle of Life.” That film somehow managed to omit the details about the benefits of being at the top of the food chain, even if you’re a bug-eating lion. In this one, the lion looks at the zebra and is horrified to discover that his best friend is starting to look….delicious.

As the story begins, Alex (voice of Ben Stiller) is perfectly happy as the star of the show at the Central Park Zoo. He’s a downtown sort of lion, who loves being pampered and having his nice juicy steaks brought to him on a platter. His best friend, Marty (voice of Chris Rock) dreams of being in the savanna. He gazes at the mosaic mural of the veldt and wonders what it would be like to run without any cages to stop him.

When Marty escapes from the zoo, Alex and their two other friends, a warm-hearted and sensible hippo named Gloria (voice of Jada Pinkett Smith) and a hypochondriacal and nervous giraffe named Melman (voice of David Schwimmer) go after him. After they are recaptured, the authorities decide to send them to an animal preserve in Africa. But things go wrong and they end up on the shores of Madagascar. How will they survive without humans to take care of them? What will they do without audiences to entertain?

Up to this point, the movie is pleasant, even witty, with the reliable combination of cute characters, potty humor, and slapstick to appeal to kids and knowing wisecracks and pop culture references (“Twilight Zone” to “Planet of the Apes” and “Castaway” plus a managed care joke) to appeal to teens and parents. But then things go badly when the last part of the movie turns into an existential crisis for Alex, who realizes for the first time what being a carnivore really means. He doesn’t just want to have them to dinner — he wants to have them as dinner.

This fails its intended audience on the merits of the story and as a matter of appropriateness of content. Wile E. Coyote may chase after the Road Runner and Elmer Fudd may chase after Bugs Bunny, but in both cases the fun of the cartoons is seeing the prey outsmart the predator. The antagonists are not friends; there is no sense of betrayal.

The shift in tone is uneasy and sour, and the conclusion is too unsatisfying. Then the movie doesn’t end. It just stops, which is even more unstatisfying.

And there just isn’t enough in the rest of the film to make up for that mistake. The design is very good but animation looks a bit two-dimensional. We’ve seen computer wizards can make fur and water look even more real than reality before, so the technological marvels are all taken for granted.

The performances are nothing special, either. As is usual in animated films, the stand-up comics do better than actors in providing voices as vivid and colorful as their cartoon avatars. Rock, along with Cedric the Entertainer and Sasha Baron Cohen (Ali G) as lemurs outshine Stiller, Smith, and Schwimmer. But the show is stolen by the penguins, who are by far the funniest and most engaging and exciting characters on screen. If the movie had been about them, it could have been terrific.

Parents should know that a major element of the plot concerns whether Alex will eat his friends, which may be disturbing to some children. In addition to this and other references to predators, there is cartoon-style violence, including a kick in the crotch and guns that shoot tranquilizer darts. The inconclusive ending may also be unsettling. The characters use some crude schoolyard language and there is some potty humor. Parents may also want to reassure young children that telling your wishes is not “bad luck.”

Families who see this movie should find Madagascar on a map and learn more about the animals, including lemurs and foosa. They may want to visit the Central Park Zoo and the famous San Diego Zoo, described admiringly by the characters in the film. Families should talk about why Alex liked the zoo but Marty wanted something different. What does it mean to say that “everyone has a day when they think the grass is greener someplace else?” What should Alex and the others have done when they found out Marty left the zoo? Why did Marty and Alex find it hard to forgive one another? What did they learn from their time in the jungle? How did Alex learn to do something that was contrary to his nature as a lion?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Racing Stripes, about a zebra who wants to race horses, and Disney’s animated The Jungle Book and the live action The Jungle Book made 25 years earlier. They will also appreciate Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson and the classic Born Free (whose theme song can be heard at the beginning of this film), based on the real-life story of a tame lion who had to be taught to live in the wild. The film is a bit dated now in its portrayal of colonialism, but it is still a moving story. Families with older children should read Last Chance to See, the hilarious and touching book by Douglas Adams (of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” series) about his real-life travels to see endangered species, including a Madagascar lemur called the Aye-Aye.

Lords of Dogtown

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005

In the late 1970′s, a group of kids in Venice, California who loved to surf invented a new kind of skateboarding and a new kind of cool.

Three ingredients came together. The first was technology. Skateboards were a fad that had pretty much gone the way of the hula hoop. The clay wheels broke easily. But the invention of polyurethane wheels meant more speed and durability, and they had enough of a grip to enable skateboarding on ramps and other stunts.

The second was empty swimming pools. California was experiencing a drought, and throughout Venice people drained their pools to conserve water.

And the third was time. The kids had a whole summer with nothing else to do. No one was paying much attention to them; they were like Peter Pan’s Lost Boys and Venice was their Neverland. They figured out that they could apply surfing techniques to the newly souped-up skateboards and ride the sides of the pools like concrete waves. Until then, skateboarding had always been horizontal and its few tricks were things like handstands. The polyurethane wheels in the empty pools led to the discovery of “the vert.” The Venice Lost Boys found a way to make their skateboards go up the sides of the pools, spin around in the air, and skate back down.

And they did it with attitude. They were rude, arrogant, explosive, extreme. Of course they became a sensation.

A local surf shop called The Zephyr sponsored them as a team, so they became the Z-Boys. When they showed up for their first competition, Skip Engbloom (Heath Ledger), slammed the entry fee down on the registration table and demanded they hand over the prizes. If the skateboarding world up to then was like a soundtrack by Herb Alpert and Jan & Dean, the Z-Boys arrived to the tunes of Aerosmith and Jimi Hendrix. They changed the rules and soon they ruled the world. When all they wanted was to create cool tricks, they were friends to the end. But then they wanted different things, as though each of them could only hold onto one third of their dream. Peralta wanted to use skateboarding to lead to other opportunities, Alva to being the greatest skateboarder in the world, Adams to being cool and outside. Each thought he was being true to where they came from.

Success is a tougher challenge than a multiple 360, espcially when your coolness comes from being an outsider. The Z-Boys who maintained their balance on the most dangerous skateboard stunts began to wipe out the way anyone who has ever watched an epsiode of VH1: Behind the Music knows all too well.

This story, originally told in a superb documentary, Dogtown and Z-Boys, has now been turned into a feature film, written by Stacy Peralta, one of the original Z-Boys, and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, whose thirteen was a searing portrayal of a middle-schooler who was enticed by a “cool” friend into drugs, shop-lifting, and sexual experimentation. They do a good job of creating the real and gritty feel of the hormone-charged impetuousness and taut, sinewy energy of a group of teenaged boys no one was paying much attention to. As in her previous work as a production designer (Laurel Canyon, Three Kings) she is able to tell us a lot about the characters and the story with the setting, and as in thirteen, she shows sensitive and perceptive insights into the mixture of bravado and insecurity of adolescence.

But the script falls short for a couple of reasons, one small, one big. The small reason is that it is supposed to be an objective look at the entire group but is limited by Peralta’s own experience and occasionally self-serving viewpoint. While it may be true that he was more stable and mature than the two other Z-boys who are given most of the attention here, Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk of Raising Victor Vargas) and Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch), at times the Peralta character (John Robinson) looks like an angel and seems almost saintly.

The more serious problem is that in both form and content it is all but impossible not to suffocate the appeal of the outsider and the rebel by trying to contain or imitate them. The very accidental nature of the Z-boys’ inventions and the found art aspect of the amateurish early footage in the documentary are what provide authenticity and a sense of discovery. Any attempt to re-create, especially as a PG-13 version of a very R-rated story inevitably feels forced and formulaic. Hardwicke has a superb sense of the time and place — you can almost smell the ocean and even the faint residue of chlorine in the empty pools. Hirsch and Rasuk are excellent and the wonderful Michael Angarano (of television’s “Will and Grace) has a fresh but low-key quality as a guy who can hang on to friends more easily than he can hang on to a skateboard, but it is a shame to see thirteen’s Nikki Reed and Real Women Have Curve’s America Ferrera relegated to arm candy. The one who fares worst, though, is Ledger, who acts as though he’s afraid those prosthetic teeth are about to slide out of this mouth. His performance is a wipe-out.

Parents should know that the movie has very strong material for a PG-13, on the edge of an R-rating. There are sexual references and situations, including groupies. Characters, including those who are underage and one who is a parent, drink, smoke, use drugs, use very strong language, and engage in a lot of high risk, irresponsible, and illegal behavior. A character goes to jail on drug-related charges. There are tense and unhappy scenes between friends and family members and there is a sad death.

Families who see this movie should talk about why the boys went in different directions. Was it the influence of their families? Was it because they wanted different things?

Families who enjoy this movie should see the superb documentary, Dogtown and Z-Boys, written and directed by Stacy Peralta and narrated by Sean Penn. They should also see Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator, a documentary about skateboarding champion Mark Rogowski, who spun out of control and is now serving a life sentence for rape and murder. They will also appreciate two documentaries about surfing, Step into Liquid and one by Peralta, Riding Giants.

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