Movie Mom

Movie Mom

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Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
Release Date:
October 24, 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

John Wick
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
Release Date:
October 24, 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

23 Blast
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some teen drinking
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

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

Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story

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

There is one thoroughbred on the screen in this film and her name is Dakota Fanning.

Ever since her breakthrough performance at the age of six in I am Sam, when she more than held her own with Sean Penn and Michele Pfeiffer, through her appearances with heavyweights from Robert de Niro (Hide and Seek) to Denzel Washington (Man on Fire) to Tom Cruise (War of the Worlds), Fanning has shown herself to be one of the finest actors of any age, with a dazzling combination of poise, sensitivity, and sheer star power.

Utterly natural, utterly sure, utterly in command of her performance, she trusts herself and her material. She never pushes or tries to keep our attention. She barely seems to notice whether she has it; yet we cannot take our eyes off of her.

Fanning plays Cale Crane, the daughter of Ben, a horse trainer (Kurt Russell). When, against Ben’s advice, his bully of a boss (David Morse) insists on racing a horse named Sonador, the horse is badly injured. Ben is fired, and impulsively accepts the horse in lieu of severance pay. He gives the horse to Cale.

Now Ben has no money and a daughter with an expensive horse that may be worthless. His only hope is that she may be able to breed, but it turns out she cannot.

Cale has another dream. She dreams that Sonador will race again, and win.

There are family issues and money issues and of course will-the-leg-heal issues, much of it things we’ve seen before, but Fanning makes it all work because she is so completely and definitively in the moment. When she gets up to speak for Sonador, she can make you believe that no moment like that ever happened before, on or off screen. Now that is breeding.

Fanning is surrounded by a top-quality cast of capable and charismatic performers, with Elisabeth Shue as her mother, Kris Kristofferson as her grandfather, Oded Fehr as a horse-loving prince, Ken Howard as a breeder, and Luiz Guzman and Freddy Rodriguez as Sonador’s trainers. But they wisely step back to let Fanning lap them all.

Parents should know that this movie has some tense situations, including an injury to a horse (and possiblity of humane killing) and confrontations between family members.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Cale believed in her horse when others did not. Why did her grandfather and father have problems getting along with each other? Why did that change? What did Ben learn from Cale’s story? Why is it hard sometimes to tell family members how you feel? They may also want to learn more about the horse that inspired this story. While the part about Cale and her family is fiction, the story of Sonador was inspired by a real horse who came back from a severe leg injury to a series of record-breaking wins that led to a race being named in her honor.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the two greatest kid-and-a-horse movies of all time, National Velvet and The Black Stallion (both, coincidentally, featuring Mickey Rooney).

Prime

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

Writer-director Ben Younger, who perflectly nailed the high-testosterone world of pump-and-dump stock scams in Boiler Room, is a bit more uneven with a switch over to the estrogen side of things with “Prime.” It is the story of an unusual love triangle: Rafi, a vulnerable recent divorcee (Uma Thurman), David, her passionate, much-younger lover (Bryan Greenberg), and Lisa (Meryl Streep), who is both Rafi’s therapist and David’s mother.

This is the story of all three of those relationships — Rafi and David, Rafi and Lisa, and and Lisa and David. But Younger is better at creating characters and situations than he is at resolving them. It does have lovely performances, some hilarious moments and some surprisingly touching ones, and the best pie-in-the-face gag since Mack Sennett.

With Rafi, Lisa is the ideal therapist-as-mother, warm, endlessly devoted, gently insightful, always supportive. But with David she is just like any other mother, struggling to hold on and let go at the same time. If a patient wants to enjoy some casual sex with someone who would be inappropriate as a long-term partner, that’s one thing. But if her son has a girlfriend who is both older and not Jewish, that’s another.

The who-will-find-out-what-when part of the movie and the how-will-his-friends-feel-about-her and how-will-her-friends-feel-about-him sections of the movie unroll in all-but-alphabetical order, but the conviction all three players bring to their scenes together make them work — and make us care as we laugh, and the struggles the three of them have to try to make it all work are genuinely affecting.

Parents should know that the movie is very explicit for a PG-13, with very frank sexual references and situations. Characters use strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Lisa had a different view of what was right for Rafi before she knew Ben was involved than after she learned it was him. They should also talk about their own feelings about religious inter-marriage.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Keeping the Faith.

The Squid and the Whale

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

A hyper-verbal, deeply wounded man who is almost as clever (but not nearly as brilliant) as he thinks he is has an ego that has been triply hit. His unfaithful wife wants a divorce, his writing career, once called promising, now feels like the promise was broken, and the onset of middle age has left him feeling soft and old and uncertain.

So, Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels) makes things worse, with casually but unmistakably condescending and contemptuous assessments of just about everything. He keeps putting it out there, calling what he approves of the “filet,” whether it’s a neighborhood or a novel, pretending that everyone cares what he thinks and is guided by it.

But only two people are. One is his teenaged son, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg), who is — briefly — at just that moment when his father’s combination of arrogance and certainty feels comforting to him, something to hold fast to in a world where everything is changing too quickly.

The other is a student in Bernard’s writing class, Lili (the exquisite Anna Paquin in a performance of great shrewdness). She is, briefly, at at stage where the great advantage of Bernard’s arrogance and certainty is testing the power of her youth and promise by seeing if she can make him topple. Which she can.

Writer/director Noah Baumbach based this story on his own life and he gets the details right — the shabby but dignified gentility of 1970’s Brooklyn, the acid exchanges and inconvenient longings of a dissolving marriage, the exquisite agony of those first flutterings of love and those first earthquakes of lust. The title refers to a massive display at the museum that once terrified Walt. Now, it seems less scary than the battles he lives with. Or maybe it helps him understand them.

Baumbach guides his talented cast to performances that are both sensitive and fearless. Daniels and Laura Linney as his wife are sympathetic but willing to show us the narcissism under their characters’ reactions. Eisenberg and Owen Kline as his younger brother who sides with the mother in the divorce are open and natural. The lovely Halley Feiffer as Walt’s love interest is marvelously expressive and vulnerable.

Bambach understands how everyone in the family responds to the seismic shifts by trying to hold on to what they can, by marking their territory (literally, in the case of the younger son, who wipes school lockers and library books with his ejaculate). Baumbach himself holds on to his story by telling it to us with clarity and understanding.

Parents should know that this movie includes very mature material, including very strong and crude language and inappropriate conversations between parents and children. There are explicit sexual references and situations, including adultery, references to teen sex, and masturbation. Characters drink and smoke. There are tense and emotional scenes and it appears one character is seriously ill.

Families who see this movie should talk about its autobiographical origins. How can you tell that it is from the point of view of Walt, and not one of the other characters? How does the screenwriter feel about his father now, compared to the way Walt feels in the film? How can you tell?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Rich in Love and Shoot the Moon.

Elizabethtown

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

I’ve always suspected that a failed Cameron Crowe movie would be more entertaining than a successful movie by most Hollywood screenwriters, and this shows I was right.

Okay, Vanilla Sky was not exactly entertaining, but it wasn’t exactly a CC movie, either. In this movie, Crowe returns to what he does best, quirky, hyper-verbal characters stumbling through life passages to a killer soundtrack. Even though the movie itself does a lot of stumbling, it is still worth seeing, to enjoy the parts that work and figure out what is wrong with the parts that don’t.

Orlando Bloom plays Drew, who is experiencing in real life one of those situations that frequently crop up in anxiety dreams. He is a shoe designer. He designed a shoe that failed so spectacularly that his employer has lost almost a billion dollars. As he returns to the office and is escorted to the inner sanctum of the CEO (another brilliant performance by Alec Baldwin, happily enjoying himself as the character actor he was meant to be), we see the pitying “last looks” he gets from people so simultaneously horrified and mesmerized by the monumental proportions of his failure (and so relieved to think that the depths of his fall are so far beyond anything they could do wrong that at least for now, they are a little bit safer).

Drew has lost his job. He has lost his girlfriend. And then things really get bad. His sister calls. Their father has died. His mother needs Drew to go to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where his father was visiting relatives, to make the arrangements.

And on the airplane, there is a flight attendant named Claire (Kirsten Dunst), who is every bit the unquenchable life force we feel entitled to look forward to in a Cameron Crowe movie.

And then things really get bad. All right, they’re still worse for Drew than they are for us, but then the movie begins to get muddled and Crowe completely loses control of the way his characters come across, particularly and most horrifyingly an awkward and clumsy memorial service that concludes with a scene even Susan Sarandon can’t make work. One reason Claire (note the name) is the only appealing character in the movie is that she is the only one who has no reason to be in mourning, so she is the only one who does not come across as oddly, ultimately chillingly, well, chilly. These people are not numb or in denial. They are just so frantically trying to show us how darned quirky and cute they are that they don’t seem to have noticed that there has been a loss.

Reportedly, a longer “unfinished” version of this film was derided by critics at the Toronto Film Festival and the movie was hurriedly recut before release. That might explain the disjointedness and inconsistency and the sense that the laws of time and space are suspended but only for some of the characters — while we and some of the characters were living through a couple of days, others seemed to have somehow gone through weeks worth of activity.

This contributes to the movie’s biggest stumbling block — the sense that the characters are not experiencing any of the emotions we associate with a devastating loss. They all seem much too chipper and self-consciously (and cloyingly) quirky and adorable, but they just come across as distant and self-involved. And the movie takes un-Crowe-ish cheap shots at its own characters, especially a too-cute bridal couple having a wedding blow-out at Drew’s hotel.

There’s a movie in there someplace worth seeing. In the meantime, there are parts of this one, especially Dunst and the soundtrack, that make the rest of it worth sitting through.

Parents should know that the movie has some tense and emotional moments, including an attempted suicide and an open-casket. There is some strong language and characters drink and smoke. The movie includes sexual references and a non-explicit sexual situation.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Drew’s mother was uncomfortable with her husband’s family and what Drew learned from his time with his father’s relatives. Why was it important to the story that Drew experience professional failure before experiencing personal tragedy? Why was it hard for him to mourn? Why did Crowe include the wedding party as a part of the story? If you were going to create a journey (complete with soundtrack) for someone you cared about, where would it be and what would you include?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Crowe’s Almost Famous and Say Anything.

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