Movie Mom

Movie Mom

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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

 

Moms' Night Out
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

St. Vincent
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 For mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use, and for language
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

 

Earth to Echo
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some action and peril, and mild language
Release Date:
July 3, 2014

Dear White People
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language, sexual content and drug use
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

 

Snowpiercer
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for violence, language and drug content
Release Date:
July 2, 2014

A History of Violence

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005

Flies buzz and bump against a window as a woman looks out helplessly at a scene of terrible violence on her once-placid front lawn, in her once-peaceful community. A little girl wakes up from a dream of monsters and is comforted by her loving family at the same time that another little girl walks into a murder scene to see a gun pointed at her. A teenage boy outwits a bully without getting into a fight, but then the bully comes back at him and this time won’t be stopped with a wisecrack. A woman deplores violence until her family is at risk. And a violent man is a hero or a bad guy, depending on who is watching.

This is an outstanding — and deeply unsettling exploration of the conflicts all humans have about violence, simultaneously drawn to it and frightened by it, even revolted by it. It is hard to find a movie in the list of top-grossing box office hits that is not scary or violent. Before violent movies, there were violent plays. Shakespeare wrote one where a man chopped up his enemy’s children and fed them to him in a pie and ancient Greek plays featured murder and suicide. Before plays, there were myths and legends and stories around the campfire. Violence is exciting, cathartic, ultimately (in story form), even reassuring, because (usually) justice triumphs, and, when it doesn’t, well, we’re still here, unharmed, after hearing about it.

After a Sam Shepard-esque opening scene juxtaposing understated tough talk with casual brutality, two men drive away from a cheap, dusty, isolated motel. We then meet our hero, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen). As he comforts his little girl by telling her that there’s no such thing as monsters and picks up some trash on the windowsill of his little small-town diner before going inside to get behind the counter, we see that he is a good, loving, gentle man. When his wife decides to give him the teenage sex they never got to share by putting on a cheerleader outfit, we believe him when he says he is the luckiest man in the world.

And then — enter the menace. Our two bad men from the first scene arrive and don’t take it well when Tom politely tells them that the diner is closed. One of them points a gun at a waitress and Tom slams a coffee pot into the other’s face and leaps over the counter to go after the other one. Tom is injured, but the men are dead. And Tom is a hero. He sits on the side of the hospital bed, waiting to be picked up by his wife Edie (Maria Bello), looking a little balefully at the television screen as his face is on every newscast. He is a hero.

And then — enter a bigger menace. A man with a terribly scarred face and a squad of tough-looking goons comes to the diner. He insists that Tom is really someone named Joey from Philadelphia. Tom politely explains that the man must be mistaken, but, even after being warned off by the sheriff, he will not be deterred.

Tom’s teenage son Jack (Ashton Holmes) is proud of his father for protecting the town, but it makes him question his own non-violent response to the high school bully. Tom is his example of what it means to be a man. When we first see Jack and Tom they are tenderly comforting Jack’s little sister. But now he has another side of his father to think about and another example to follow.

Edie knows her husband very well and is certain he has nothing to do with the man with the scary scar. But then he asks her, “How come he’s so good at killing people?” and she begins to wonder whether, deep inside her gentle, loving husband there is a volatile, violent man named Joey.

The performances are gorgeously expressive. Bello and Mortensen are real, heartfelt, drawing us deep into the characters’ lives until we feel we know them, then surprising us, but always perfectly integrated to keep us connected to the characters. In the more outsize bad guy roles, Stephen McHattie, Ed Harris, and William Hurt find the strength in unsettlingly understated performances that convey the coiled anger inside them, ready to spring. Director David Cronenberg beautifully frames each shot, each scene, to lead us to ask ourselves whether there is a Joey inside anyone we know — whether there is a Joey inside each of us, whether we need him there. Enter an even bigger menace — as Pogo used to say “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent movie with intense and brutal fighting and gunplay, a child in peril, and graphic images of wounded and dead bodies. Characters use very strong language, including crude insults. There are explicit sexual references and exceptionally explicit sexual situations, including one that involves force. Characters drink and smoke and teenagers smoke marijuana.

Families who see this movie should talk about the way it ties together many different threads and themes about the role of violence in our lives and the way we feel both drawn to it and revolted by it. The movie also raises questions about the way we see our families — as harbors of safety and as places of danger. Families may want to talk about their own experiences with violence.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy classics about peace-loving men in a violent world, High Noon, The Friendly Persuasion, and Destry Rides Again. They will also appreciate Crash, which explores the insidious role of racism and violence in modern life. This movie covers only a portion of the graphic novel that it is based on, so families who enjoy this film should take a look at the book by John Wagner and Vince Locke.

Flightplan

posted by rkumar
D
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005
DVD Release Date:2005

It’s always a bad sign in a thriller when the big reveal is greeted by hoots of derisive laughter, and that’s what happened at this movie. It’s an even worse sign when two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster is out-acted by a child who is missing or unconscious for most of the movie, but that happened, too.

Just-widowed Kyle Pratt (Foster) is flying from Berlin to New York with her 6-year-old, Julia (Marlene Lawston), taking her husband’s casket home to be buried. They are exhausted and shaken, so they find some empty rows in the back of the plane and go to sleep. When Kyle wakes up, Julia is gone. As she searches the plane, getting more and more worried, the attitude of the flight attendants shifts from helpful to wary to hostile. It seems there is no evidence that Julia ever boarded the plane. A federal air marshall travelling undercover believes Kyle is delusional, and so does the captain. Kyle starts to wonder if they could be right.

Then it all veers into a level of preposterousness that would be too silly to go into even if it didn’t contain spoilers. There are some tense moments, but unlike the other recent airplane thriller, “Red Eye,” this one never creates a sense of claustrophobic containment. Kyle, an engineer who helped to design this aircraft, the largest ever, understands the blueprints well enough to know where to look, and as she keeps exploring new places, some of which appear positively cavernous, it dissipates the tension. So do the below-par one-note performances from Foster, Sarsgaard, and Sean Bean (as the pilot). This film may be called “Flightplan,” but it never takes flight and there is nothing that rises to the dignity of a plan of any kind. Discuss. But don’t bother with the movie.

Parents should know that this movie has intense peril and violence, including shooting, explosions, and references to murder, suicide, kidnapping, and molestation. There is some strong language, though less than average for a PG-13. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of a strong woman and the way it raises the issue of bigotry when some passengers assume that the Middle Eastern men on the airplane must be untrustworthy.

Families who see this movie should talk about how national security issues have affected the way people feel about air travel. They should also talk about the various arguments Kyle used and which ones were most persuasive.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy some of the far-better disappearing person classics, especially The Lady Vanishes (from which this film lifts one of its key clues), Bunny Lake is Missing, and So Long at the Fair, as well as Foster’s last Mother Courage performance in Panic Room all of which have vastly more satisfying conclusions than this one.

MirrorMask

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:2005

A curiously distant story is surrounded by enchanting visuals and special effects in this Alice in Wonderland-style tale of a young girl who has to solve a puzzle in a magical land in order to get back home and help her mother get well.

Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) has, as her mother points out, a life most kids her age would love to run away to. Her parents own a little circus. Helena performs as a juggler, but wishes she could stay in her room, making up stories and drawing pictures. Other girls might wish they could join the circus, but Helena wishes she could run away to “real life.” In an angry moment, she says she wishes her mother was dead.

And then Helena’s mother (Gina McKee of Notting Hill) becomes ill and has to have surgery. While she is gone, Helena somehow gets transported to The Dark Lands, a place of fantasy and magic. Nothing is right because the Queen of Light is sleeping and cannot awaken until a missing object is found.

Helena doesn’t just not know where it is; she does not know what it is. Still, she is confident she can find it. She sets off with Valentine (Jason Berry), an adult but an unreliable companion. Helena has to answer the riddle, find the key, and outsmart those who try to stop her to figure out why there is a young woman who looks just like her in what looks like her bedroom, behaving in a way that appalls her. She meets up with two queens, one asleep, one who will do anything to keep her, both looking a little familiar. And through these adventures she learns more about herself and begins to grow up.

But this movie is all about the sights, not the story, and the sights are glorious, all burnished shades of gold and scritchy lines. The magical images will engage and fire the imagination of the audience, even if the story sometimes feels cool and understated.

Parents should know that sensitive viewers of all ages may find some of the images and characters in this movie disturbing. Characters are in peril and a young girl worries about whether her mother will survive an operation. There are unhappy confrontations. Teenagers kiss, which another character finds gross and upsetting.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Helena wanted something different from a life that many kids her age would love to have. What was the most important thing she had to learn on her journey? What was the most important thing that Valentine had to learn? Parents and children often feel, like Helena, that adolescence is like swapping the person you know for someone who looks the same but feels and behaves very differently, the “real” one feeling as though he or she is living in a strange new place. What stories, like this one, have that as a theme?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy The Wizard of Oz and (for older children and teenagers) Return to Oz, as well as other movie visits to fantasy lands like The Never-Ending Story, Labyrinth, Willow, The Dark Crystal, The Phantom Tollbooth, My Neighbor Totoro and Alice in Wonderland. They may want to take a look at the work of Saul Steinberg and Ronald Searle, whose drawings may have inspired some of the images in this film. And they will enjoy the novels of Neil Gaiman.

Good Night, And Good Luck.

posted by rkumar
A+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2005

I love this movie so much I wanted to go up and hug the screen when it was over. And then I wanted to sit down with everyone I know and watch it over again.

It’s a triple threat, and then some. It is the story of vitally engaging characters, of people of courage and integrity taking on a powerful bully — and the story of how seductive certainty is in an uncertain world. It’s a reminder of a real-life moment in history that has enormously complex resonance for us today. And it is sensationally entertaining, with dialogue so dazzlingly literate it’s like sending your ears on vacation. Yes, children, there was a time when people who were on television talked as though they read books in their spare time, as though it was as natural to quote Shakespeare as it was to know who Zsa Zsa was married to this week.

Director and co-screenwriter George Clooney plays producer Fred Friendly and David Strathairn plays Edward R. Murrow. Together, they created the gold standard for television news, producing pioneering documentaries like Harvest of Shame, a searing look at the plight of migrant workers.

They weren’t the only journalists to take on Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy. They weren’t even the first. But that does not take away from the honor and courage they brought to the decision about how to raise their concerns.

This was a definitional moment in the history of television news. Unlike newspapers, television networks get their licenses from the government, and, in those early years, they were very nervous that appearing to be too critical of elected official might lead to retaliation, even being replaced. We see Murrow meet with CBS founder Bill Paley, whose support is exquisitely calibrated. The political and commercial viability questions are crucial. Murrow and Friendly end up subsidizing one show after the advertiser pulls out. But the journalism questions are definitional. Any story-telling, whether fiction or non-fiction, depends on the selection of details. When does that shift from reporting to editorializing?

Murrow’s controversial documentary was touchingly mild by today’s Limbaugh/O’Reilly standards. He just showed footage of “the junior Senator from Wisconsin.” He made it clear that it was possible McCarthy’s accusations that particular government officals were communists, and, if so, those were charges that needed to be investigated thoroughly. But he also made it clear that if we allowed those allegations to lead to abandonment of the core principles of due process, the damage to our freedom and our national character would be immeasurable.

Clooney recreates the era and the feel of the newsroom has a wonderful authenticity, with its whip-smart overlapping dialogue. It has an intimacy, too, a sense of a documentary filmed with a long lens, so the subjects lose any sense of self-consciousness. Friendly’s signals in that touchingly low-tech era are taps on Murrow’s knee with a pencil, as Friendly sits at his feet. The relationship between the two of them feels completely real, people who finish each other’s sentences and who respect, trust, and most of all enjoy each other.

Just as Arthur Miller commented on McCarthy at the time by writing a play about an earlier witch hunt (literally), The Crucible, Clooney’s story harks back two generations to tell a story with ripple effects and resonance that does better at illuminating and commenting on our time than any expose or op-ed possibly could.

The film takes some risks that succeed brilliantly. It cuts from newsroom scenes to stirring performances by jazz singer Dianne Reeves that complement and comment on the story. Perhaps the most daring is the use of real footage of Murrow’s “Person to Person” interview with Liberace, who explains that he’d like to get married if he found just the right girl. But instead of coming across as an easy “now we know” joke, it beautifully deepens the movie’s commentary about what we know, what we can know, and what we need to know about the people who influence our lives. We see the origins, for good and bad, of advocacy/adversary journalism (“60 Minutes” — produced by one of Murrow’s collegues — to Fox News) and of our celeb-ocracratic obsessions.

The film is shot in black and white, which evokes the era and makes it possible to blend in archival footage (reportedly, preview audience thought the actor portraying Joe McCarthy over-acted, not realizing it was actual footage of McCarthy himself). Clooney knows that the movie’s most heartbreakingly compelling moments come from the seamlessly integrated real-life footage. He keeps the new material low-key enough to stay out of its way. A scene from a hearing in which a former cafeteria worker named Annie Lee Ross is accused of aiding the communists by passing secret messages is one of the most unforgettable moments on screen this year. Ms. Ross’ quiet dignity is as beautifully portrayed as any performance we will see this year. And this film is as beautifully rich as any we will see in any year.

Parents should know that characters in this movie smoke constantly. They also drink (scene in bar) and one has a hangover. A character commits suicide. While the movie is rated PG because it does not contain any of the usual material that may make it inappropriate for children (the closest it comes to a sexual situation is a couple who are secretly married), the subject matter and manner of presentation will not be of much interest to children younger than middle school, and middle and high schoolers will probably need some background in order to be able to appreciate it.

Families who see this film should talk about how television has and has not changed since Murrow’s day. Who in your family watches thoughtful, sometimes upsetting documentaries and who prefers to be entertained?

Families who would like to know more about the era and people portrayed in the film can see the broadcasts depicted in this movie and more in the Edward R. Murrow Collection. Joseph Wershba (played by Robert Downey Jr. in the film) shares some of his thoughts about Murrow here. The speech Murrow gives in this movie is well worth reading in full, for the pleasure of the language as well as the power of the ideas.

“Everybody Loves Raymond’s” Peter Boyle starred as Joe McCarthy in a very strong made-for-television film called Tail Gunner Joe. An even better one about some of the same characters is Citizen Cohn, with James Woods as McCarthy’s counsel, Roy Cohn. There are many books and films dealing with the impact of McCarthy’s red scare tactics on Hollywood, including Hide in Plain Sight and The Front. Movies from Spartacus to the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers were inspired by or reflected the experience of the blacklist.

When asked at a recent discussion of the film why he did not attempt to recreate the real Friendly’s outsize personality onscreen, Clooney explained that any attempt to portray Friendly‘s manner would have taken all of the attention away from the other characters. But families who are interested can see Friendly in his PBS series and the Socratic seminars he inspired.

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