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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

Harsh Times

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for strong violence, language and drug use.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

If David Ayer the director paid David Ayer the screenwriter for this script, he should ask himself for some of his money back. The screenplay is awfully close to Ayer’s own Training Day, the film that won Denzel Washington his Oscar. Both movies take place mostly in a car, with one character a sociopath and the other too easily led. In both, the two guys drive around, abusing every possible substance, having encounters with old friends and enemies (including women in both categories), get into trouble, create trouble, and create more trouble. In both, characters demonstrate their concept of manliness through violence, substance abuse, mistreatment of women, loyalty to male friends, subversion of any form of rules, nihilism, and destruction. Furthermore, if you took out every swear word and all of the “homeys” and “dawgs,” the rest of the dialogue would fit on a page or two.


Christian Bale plays Jim, a former Ranger in Afganistan waiting to get a job with the LAPD so he can marry his Mexican girlfriend and bring her to the US. Freddy Rodriguez is his best friend, Mike, who is supposed to be looking for a job but would rather drive around with Jim and get high. He is a little in awe of Jim for his experiences (he asks what it’s like to kill someone and Jim says, “Point and shoot. Pop, pop — move on! You do not stop and think!”


Neither one of them stops to think. They have only four modes: elation (when they think they got away with something), fury (when they don’t), stupor (when they’re high), and waiting to be elated, furious, or high.


Christian Bale clearly relishes the showboaty role of Jim, intended to be a tragic figure and an indictment of our culture and our geopolitical arrogance — his behavior seems to be attributable to post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in Afganistan. And the movie isn’t called “Harsh People.”

Jim is torn apart by his incompatible passions for law and chaos. He wants to work in law enforcement, almost as though he believes that being surrounded by rules and structure will keep his uncontrollable nature in check. But he wants the law to give him permission to be lawless. A friend asks if he will toe the line if he gets the job and he says he will but he will also operate something for himself on the side.

It is this very conflict that gets him rejected by the LAPD and makes him a prize catch for the Department of Homeland Security. The special projects section takes a look at the photos of victims from one of his raids and cynically recognizes him as a kindred spirit, just right for their “trigger-time” program in Colombia. That job offer crystalizes his conflict. He wants to go back to the days of pure sensation and power. But it means he will not be able to marry Marta, the woman he loves, in the only place where he is happy. As that choice is presented to him more forcefully, he spins out of control.


Rodgriguez is fine as a weak man who mistakes what Jim has for strength, and Terry Crews and Chaka Forman make strong impressions as, well, homeys. Ayers has a feel for tough talk, though it gets over-“homey’d” quickly. But the movie falters because it tries for meaning it just doesn’t deliver. Ultimately, it is as mesermized by the flash and adrenalin as its hero.
Parents should know that the movie has deeply disturbing images of intense, graphic, explicit, mindless violence. Characters continually use the strongest and crudest possible language. There are crude sexual references and non-explicit situations. Characters abuse alcohol and drugs, deal drugs, and smoke. Characters are nihilistic and macho.


Families who see this movie should talk about how Jim’s experiences in Afganistan affected him. Why did Mike put up with him for as long as he did? Do you agree with Mike’s choice at the end?


Families who enjoy this film will also appreciate Training Day and Journey to the End of the Night.

A Good Year

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual content.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Plonk is a Britishism for cheap, low-quality wine — not undrinkable, by any means, just nothing special. As much could be said for this film, lightly based on the helium-weight plonk of a best-seller by Peter Mayle.


Some movies begin as a dream, some as a story, some as a business deal. And occasionally, there is one that begins as a vacation. Actor Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott are both fond of the south of France. Et voila! Let’s make a movie so we can write it off!


It’s a long way from their previous collaboration, Gladiator. Crowe plays a financial wiz who scores a fortune through a maneuver that might just be on the other side of that fine line that separates the legal from the il. Just then, as he is celebrating his success and preparing for a suspension pending the investigation, he learns that his uncle has died, leaving him the winery that was the place of his fondest childhood memories, but of course is a place he hasn’t given it a thought in years and years. Cue the music — we’re ready to be, as we know he must be, enthralled and beguiled. Next stop, sunny quirkville.


The setting is irresistible, of course, and it is nice to see cross Crowe coping without text messaging, assistants, or sleek, gleaming surfaces and minimalist design, and getting his hands (and more) a bit dirty. But the script doesn’t deliver on what it promises us with all that golden light and faded plaster. There’s some muddle about a possible other heir (a pretty girl) and a feisty waitress (another pretty girl). Like plonk, it goes down without much fuss, but doesn’t give us anything to remember.


Parents should know that the movie has some rough language and some sexual references, including an out of wedlock child who creates inheritance concerns. There is a lot of drinking (a character gets tipsy), some smoking, some comic peril, and a sad offscreen death.


Families who see this film should talk about the places and people that are most special to them and why.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Enchanted April and Local Hero.

Babel

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for violence, some graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

In the Bible, the story of Babel is a cautionary tale of hubris. The whole world had a common language until God, seeing that the people were building a huge tower together, “confused their speech.” They could no longer understand each other, and so they scattered all over the world, each with the people who could speak their language.


And so, Babel is the name of this last in the trilogy from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu about connections and disconnections. This time, he has expanded to global scale, with a story that unites Moroccan herders, American tourists, a deaf Japanese girl, and a Mexican living illegally in San Diego. There is a shooting and there is a wedding. In all three locations, there are cops, there are journeys, there is despair, there are people who cannot make themselves understood, and there is some realization, some increased understanding.


Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett) are the American tourists, a couple whose brittle conversation about whether it is safe to have ice cubes in their drinks lets us know right away that they have some trouble communicating. Two boys herding sheep show off with their new rifle, fire at the tour bus and Susan is hit. There is not much that feels further from home than being seriously injured in a place where you don’t know anyone and hardly anyone speaks your language. Being Americans, they demand to speak to the embassy. But the possibility that the attack could be terrorism turns it into an international incident. While bureaucrats write memos and politicians make statements, Susan lies on a dirt floor in a village with one phone.


Their children are cared for by a loving nanny, Amelia (Adriana Barraza), whose son is getting married in Mexico. She cannot bear to miss the wedding, so she takes the children with her, foolishly riding back with her nephew, who has had too much to drink. He raises the suspicions of the border guards on the way back and the nanny and children end up lost in the desert.

And in Tokyo, Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi in a brilliantly unselfconscious performance) is at home but she also feels isolated and alienated. She is deaf, shunned by the boys she wants to flirt with. And she is a teenager who feels misunderstood by everyone. Her connection to the story is not revealed until the end.


Inarritu expands the themes of his earlier films but relies on the same technique, a mosaic of scenes that gradually assume shapes and patterns. He uses non-professional actors for most of the roles and elicits beautifully natural performances, especially from the adolescents. The film’s sympathy for all of its characters is in itself the answer, or at least the beginning of one, to the questions it raises.

Parents should know that this film has very mature material and themes that could be disturbing to young or sensitive viewers. Characters use very strong and crude language and there are explicit sexual references and situations, including an young girl who flashes some boys and tries to seduce a man. Violence includes beating and shooting, and characters, including a child, are injured and killed. Children are lost and frightened. The themes of dislocation and the gulfs between people and cultures may be unsettling.

Families who see this movie should talk about the way that it raises both issues of connection and disconnection.

Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate Crash, Traffic, and the other films by this director, 21 Grams and Amores Perros.

Stranger Than Fiction

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images, sexuality, brief language and nudity.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Who among us has not leaned into the bathroom mirror as we brushed our teeth, thinking about what a narrator might be saying about us if we were in a story? “Our hero prepared for battle as though he was going on a date. He always said he found unbrushed teeth a distraction in a kung fu tournament.” Who among us hasn’t wondered if we were really the heros of our own life story? Well, Harold Crick hadn’t. Not until this movie gets underway.


Crick (Will Ferrell) is so mild-mannered he makes Clark Kent look like Kanye West. He likes everything to be neat, predictable, according to the rules, and orderly. He brushes each tooth precisely, the same number of up and down strokes every day. He works, of course, for the IRS. And he would be of no interest to himself or us or anyone at all except that a very distinguished and literary writer named Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) is writing a story about him. Not that she’s ever met him. She thinks he’s a fictional character, a figment of her imagination. And yet, perhaps the fact that she is experiencing the direst of writer’s block should give her some hint that he may be real and with a mind of his own. Especially when it comes to staying alive. Eiffel wants to kill him off. She spends her days thinking about ways to do it. But Crick becomes aware of her plans. For the first time, he realizes that he is alive, and that he wants to stay that way.


It isn’t just that he begins to hear his life being narrated (“and with a better vocabulary!”) that leads him to think about what life has to offer. There is also his latest assignment at work, an audit of a feisty but lovely and warm-hearted law school dropout-turned-baker, Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Just as Eiffel struggles with what she should do (kill off Crick), Crick struggles with what he should do (collect back taxes from Pascal). Eiffel gets some help from an aide sent by her publisher (Queen Latifah). Crick consults a therapist (Linda Hunt) and then, since his problem seems more literary than psychological, a professor of literature (Dustin Hoffman), who quizzes him to determine exactly which story he’s in, asking, for example, whether Crick has received any unusual presents lately, like, maybe, a big wooden horse?


Crick and Eiffel face the choice put to Achilles — would you rather have a short, violent, heroic life and be remembered through the ages, or a long, quiet, happy life, and be forgotten two generations after you die? Crick (perhaps named for Francis Crick, Nobel laureate for discovering the double helix of DNA), must decide whether he is a man capable of independent thought, whether he is willing to fight against what fate (well, Eiffel) has is store for him. Eiffel (perhaps named for Gustave Eiffel, engineer of the tower that bears his name as well as the Statue of Liberty) must decide whether art, even art that can inspire and illuminate the world for thousands of readers, is more important than the life of one man who is just discovering the difference between cookies from a box and cookies from the oven.


Those cookies are pulled from the oven by Pascal (perhaps named for the French mathematician/philosopher), who has already made her choice, leaving law school to become a baker, a political choice as well as an aesthetic, spiritual, and personal one. She represents more than the usual romantic comedy ideal of a quirky but warm-hearted life-force. She is a fully actualized person, so much so that it doesn’t take a great deal for her to overcome her initial dislike of Crick and see him for who he really is, even before he sees that himself.


The cast is superb, especially Hoffman as the professor, and the direction and pacing are superb, but the star, fittingly, for this meditation on the power of stories, is the script — exceptionally clever, knowledgeable about literature and narrative structure, filled with sly humor but also as warmly delectable as one of Pascal’s cookies.


Parents should know that the film has some mature material including brief strong language, sexual references and non-explicit situations, partial nudity, and comic violence and peril (no one badly hurt).


Families who see this film should talk about what it means to be the hero of your own life. If you could enter into any story, what would it be? If you could change the ending of a story, what would you pick?

Previous Posts

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posted 12:00:34pm Dec. 22, 2014 | read full post »

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

Smile of the Week: A Boy and a Penguin
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posted 12:06:45pm Dec. 21, 2014 | read full post »


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