Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


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

Mortdecai
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some language and sexual material
Release Date:
January 23, 2015

 

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

Cake
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language, substance abuse and brief sexuality
Release Date:
January 24, 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

Hairspray

posted by jmiller

I am not sure which is the more amusingly surprising — the idea that one of the most painful struggles in American history could become the subject of a light musical comedy, or the idea that it comes from one of the most profoundly transgressive writer/directors in film history. Nineteen years after John Waters’ most accessible film, Hairspray gave us an irresistible heroine whose mastery of the Madison and audacious hair-teasing helped to bring about integration of a teen dance television show. Later, it became a wildly successful Broadway musical. And now it returns to the screen with an all-star cast of Hollywood heavyweights (so to speak), starring an adorable newcomer, Nikki Blonsky. Like all good Cinderella stories, this one has some grounding in reality, as this is Blonsky’s first professional role and she was working at her job at an ice cream store when she got the word she had the part.


Blonsky plays the irrepressible Tracy Turnblad, the daughter of the ever-ironing Edna (John Travolta) and Wilbur (Christopher Walken), the owner of the “Ha Ha Hut,” a whoopee cushion and handshake buzzer emporium.

In her opening number Tracy greets her home city of 1962 Baltimore, with unabashed affection for everyone from the neighborhood flasher (played by Waters) to the bum on the barstool. Like every self-respecting musical comedy heroine, Tracy has a dream. She wants to appear on the popular teen dance program, “The Corny Collins Show.” Lo and behold, an opening occurs and she auditions. Station manager Velma Von Tussle (Michele Pfeiffer), a former “Miss Baltimore Crabs,” whose standards of beauty are limited to the blonde and willowy, whose standards of inclusion are limited to the Aryan and WASP-y, and whose standards of appropriate behavior are unlimited when it comes to whatever will make her daughter Amber (Brittany Snow) Miss Hairspray for the third time. Velma sees short and chubby Tracy as a threat to everything she believes and wants, especially when she flunks the interview question about integrated swimming pools.


Segregation was not limited to the South in the pre-Civil Rights Act era, and the “Corny Collins Show” is all-white, all the time, except for the once a month “Negro Day” hosted by Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah). At a dance, the white and black kids are separated by a rope. Tracy does a dance she learned from Seaweed J. Stubbs (an electrifying Elijah Kelley) (with his permission) and lands a spot on the show.


Things heat up when Negro Day gets cancelled and Tracy and her friends organize a protest march. Velma goes to extremes to stop Tracy from being named Miss Hairspray. And everyone sings and dances through it all, and it is sweet and funny and as much fun as a sock hop where everyone gets asked to dance.

Parents should know that even though the movie is rated PG it has some mild content issues including humorous references to teen pregnancy, a flasher (played by writer/director Waters), alcoholism, teenagers stuffing bras and pants, and some potty humor. Characters smoke and drink, including smoking by teens and by pregnant women. There is some mild language in lyrics and dialogue (“I screwed the judges,” “French kissing,” “kiss my ass”). Amber tries to destroy Tracy’s reputation by spreading rumors that she did a crude drawing of the teacher and had sex with the football team. Characters are upset by suggestive dance moves. As in all previous versions of this story, a female character is portrayed by a male actor, though there is no suggestion that she is a male in drag or anything but completely female. The movie deals with themes of racial discrimination and some characters make racist and other bigoted comments. A strength of the movie is its frank (if idealized) portrayal of some issues of the civil rights era, though, like most mainstream films, it focuses on the white characters and their roles.


Families who see this movie should ask why Tracy was so free from the assumptions and fears of her household and her community. It is almost impossible for today’s children and teenagers to imagine that within the lifetimes of their parents and grandparents such blatant racism was an accepted way of thinking. Families should see films like Boycott and Eyes on the Prize for a better sense of the courage and determination of the real-life heroes of the civil rights movement.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original and another musical set in the same era, That Thing You Do!.

Resurrecting the Champ

posted by jmiller
C-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some violence and brief language.
Movie Release Date:2007

Critic-turned-writer/director Rod Lurie produces old-fashioned potboilers, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. His unabashed melodramas can be refreshing in an era when very little of what we see onscreen takes on big issues or provocative positions. But this time, working from a screenplay written by others, based on an article written by someone else and “inspired by” true events, he goes off course and ends up undermining his premise and leaving the audience feeling cheated.


Erik (Josh Hartnett), a reporter based on Pulitzer prize-winner J.R. Moehringer, starts to explain the meaning of the term “irony” to homeless “Champ” (Samuel L. Jackson). Erik thinks it was ironic that his father, a famous radio sportscaster, developed throat cancer, the disease attacking him in the very place that was the basis for his career. “I know what irony is,” the Champ says with some asperity. They are speaking of the colloquial definition of irony — a pungent contrast, not the rhetorical definition relating to the disconnect between what the speaker knows and what the audience knows. By either definition, there is a good deal of irony in this movie about honor and integrity and reputation that itself plays fast and loose with the underlying story.


In the movie version, Erik meets Champ when he is feeling stalled in his life. His wife, a brilliantly accomplished and beautiful journalist at the same paper, has left him. He is devastated at the thought that he will be as absent in his six-year-old son’s life as his father was in his. His editor, Metz (Alan Alda) says he writes like a machine. All the facts are there, but there is nothing memorable, no personality or turn of phrase. So Metz keeps him covering boxing when he longs for the glamour beats of football and basketball.


Champ tells Erik he is Bob Satterfield, a former boxer. A homeless man who was once a contender for the heavyweight championship is a story. Erik believes Champ is his “title shot.” It is his chance to move up to the newspaper’s magazine section. He puts his digital recorder down on the table, orders up some beers, and listens to Champ talk about his fights with the greats — LaMotta (the Raging Bull), Rocky Marciano, and Ezzard Charles.


Erik publishes the article and it is a huge success. He gets a chance to go on Showtime. His son is proud of him. And then it turns out that both Erik and the Champ have to learn some lessons about trust and truth.


And so does Lurie. The reporter’s name is changed in the story, but Satterfield was a real boxer and Moehringer did write about his descent into poverty. Young journalists are told on their very first day, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” What is the point of making a story about a journalist’s judgment and integrity if you are going to pervert the facts?

Parents should know that this movie has some strong language, drinking, smoking, and mild sexual references. There are tense emotional confrontations, some street fighting and some powerful punches in the footage of boxing matches.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Lurie’s political dramas Deterrence and The Contender. They will also appreciate Jackson’s performance as a different kind of homeless man in The Caveman’s Valentine.

Transformers

posted by jmiller

The surprising transformation here is not from machines into enormous robots but from a modest Saturday morning cartoon based on a line of toys into 2007’s most exhilarating summer movie, able to transform audiences of all ages into 12-year-old fanboys.


The robots are just so cool.


The humans are cool, too. This summer’s Most Valuable Player, Shia LeBeouf (already in the season’s best thriller, Disturbia and the adorable animated Surf’s Up) plays Sam, grandson of an arctic explorer who may have uncovered a cube of great power. His new car seems to have a Herbie-esque mind of its own, expressing itself through the songs on its radio.

A race of giant robots who can transform into ordinary-looking machinery like boom boxes and cars has come to earth in search of the cube. The good guy robots are led by Optiumus Prime and like humans. The bad guy robots are led by Megatron and would be fine with the result of their capture of the cube being the destruction of all human life as well. Most of the movie consists of their fights with the humans on and in their way and with each other and the adventures of the humans who try to stop or help them.


Director Michael Bay ably manages the pacing of the action, comedy, and romance, never letting us get tired despite an almost 2 1/2 hour running time. He knows how to hit the sweet spot between the nostalgic affection felt by kids who grew up back when we still called the shows “cartoons,” not “animation” and winning over those who have no previous connection and just want to see some slam-bang robot-on-robot action. He knows the movie is about the robots and gives us robots to swoon over, brilliantly constructed, every rivet filled with both personality and possibilities. The special effects wizardry is seamless, every movement logical and believable, every interaction with the surrounding environs magestic and weighty. And each of them has his own utterly engaging personality. One can only speak through clips recorded from songs and movies. Another has feet with wheels and races along like a speed skater. Another talks like he’s been listening to hip-hop. And the good guy robots have such friendly and expressive eyes. I admit it, I got a little misty when it looked like one of them might not make it.

And Bay gives us humans who are every bit as engaging as well. LeBoeuf is superb as Sam, struggling with parents who want him to improve his grades and do his chores, trying to figure out how to talk to a pretty girl (Megan Fox), figuring out why his new car seems to have a mind of its own, oh, and being entrusted with the future of the planet. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson as survivors of a robot attack on a US military outpost in Qatar strike just the right note of conviction and all-American heroism. John Turturro as a bully from a secret federal agency and John Voight as the Secretary of Defense provide additional depth and interest.


The Transformers, like other kid favorites Power Rangers, Pokemon, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as well as comic book superheroes from Captain America to the Fantastic Four, tap into the fascination and the fantasy of being able to tap into a hidden source of transformational power (“more than meets the eye”). This idea has special appeal to kids, who are very aware of their vulnerability and curious about the power the adults around them exercise, the power they may have as they get older, and to young teens, on the brink of their own transformations. When a young human character inspires the devotion and loyalty of the powerful creatures (think of Aladdin, or even Elliot and E.T.), that adds to the story’s attraction, another way to tap into the dream of hidden strength.

And then there is the idea of The Ghost in the Machine, the personality that we project on to the gadgets and equipment that make modern life possible, it is we who find ourselves transformed, into fans — who will never look at our cars, boom-boxes, and cell phones the same way again and who, for 2 1/2 happy hours, will believe in enormous, friendly robots.


Parents should know that this film has non-stop “action” violence, which means a lot of peril, robot-on-robot action, and property destruction but no blood, serious onscreen injuries, or deaths. There is some potty humor, there are some crude double-entrendres that middle-schoolers will find edgy (and funny), and there are some vulgar sexual references and brief drug and alcohol references. A mother asks her son if he has been masturbating. A character gives the finger and characters use some mild language (“bitch,” “ho”). Parents should also be aware that while the movie is PG-13, it is being heavily marketed to younger children through the sale of toys and other tie-ins. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, asking them to work with the media and toy industries to establish a consistent set of ratings for toys and the media they are based on and to establish clear, enforceable guidelines for the marketing of PG-13 movies.

Families who see this movie should talk about what Optiumus Prime thinks makes the human race worth saving and what has made the Transformers popular over the years. What things will you look back on in 50 years and be glad that you did?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy some of the earlier versions of the Transformers and movies like The Iron Giant, Men in Black and the animated The Transformers movie.

License to Wed

posted by jmiller

The best thing about “License to Wed” is that John Krasinski and Mandy Moore have enough of that ever-elusive quality — chemistry — that an impending marriage seems possible if not likely. They easily get us on their side. The chemistry even spills over a little into their paper-thin characters, Ben Murphy and
Sadie Jones. But a little chemistry, a few genuine laughs, and a premise that is adequate if not inventive only barely make up for flip-flopping, underdeveloped characters and a storyline that refuses to surprise, even given multiple opportunities.


The path to wedded bliss begins when Ben proposes to Sadie in front of friends and family, who then support her request to marry at a church that has family significance. The minister of the church, Reverend Frank (Robin Williams) has one stipulation for all couples he marries: They must take — and pass — a premarital course designed specifically to subversively test the limits of their relationship and also to develop and strengthen the bond they share. Potential for
ulterior motives, cheesy but thoughtful lines, unexpected actions, and accomplishment abound, but sadly the film takes the low road through all the above territory, rendering the motives unexciting, the lines simply cheesy, the actions numbingly predictable, the slapstick uninspired, and the accomplishments nothing more than satisfactory. The trials Ben and Sadie go through are nothing compared to the obstacle course inflicted on the audience, who has to work very hard to find anything entertaining or enjoyable.


Ben loves Sadie for the standard Hollywood reasons: she’s Smart, Funny, Attractive, etc, but really, when was the last time a movie
character wasn’t? Now, apparently. Sadie works through the course with trust, sincerity and such lack of personality that it’s hardly believable (at least not believing it is preferably to thinking she
really could be that devoid of character). Her puppy-dog loyalty and blind devotion to the program and its teacher are made all the more incongruous given Ben’s description of her as independent, “smart, so smart” and a “take charge” personality. Ben on the other
hand, is blessed with the good-natured expressions Krasinski employs as Jim in NBC’s The Office, and comes across as lovable, trusting, happy and kind without being a pushover. He makes a great romantic lead, but in a film that remains so run-of-the-mill, the thrill is quickly gone. It’s not a union that anyone would be unhappy to see, but in a world where romantic comedies can be so much more than simply romance and comedy, it’s hard not to crave a film that is, dare I say,
Smart, Funny, and Attractive.


Parents should know that the film is aimed at adults, and while not often raunchy, does include discussions of sexual fantasies and
depictions of women in labor. Reverend Frank is offbeat and at times more than a little off-color, and makes jokes about adultery, sexually transmitted disease, and murder. His tactics include having couples simulate fights, which result in name-calling and verbal abuse.


One of the most purportedly humorous tasks involves a pair of purposely ugly
mechanical twins Frank gives to Ben and Sadie, and most scenes with the twins involve their ugliness as a running gag. At one point, however, Ben shakes the robo-baby violently and repeatedly, making for
an uncomfortable allusion to shaken baby syndrome.


Families who see this film will want to discuss the commitment of marriage, and what couples should be sure of before entering into marriage. The concept of needing someone and respecting his or her opinion is pivotal in the film; how can people toe the line between independence and sharing a life with someone else? Child rearing is also explored — what types of responsibilities, large and small, might come along with having children? How might a couple or an individual best prepare for the demands, sacrifices, and joys of having a child? What type of support system might one reach out for?


Families who enjoy this film might also enjoy 2002’s A Walk to
Remember, also starring Mandy Moore, and The Runaway Bride with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere.

Thanks to guest critic AB.

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