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Lucy
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R For strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality
Release Date:
July 25, 2014

 

Noah
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content
Release Date:
March 28, 2014

And So It Goes
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and drug elements
Release Date:
July 25, 2014

 

Finding Vivian Maier
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
April 11, 2014

Wish I Was Here
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Release Date:
July 18, 2014

 

Sabotage
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R For strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use
Release Date:
March 28, 2014

Envy

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2004

I wonder how many critics are going to analogize their reviews to the wildly successful product that leads to the title emotion of this movie: “VaPOOrize,” an aerosol spray that eliminates dog poop.

Then there will be those who will focus on the title, perhaps directing their own envy toward those who did not have to watch the movie.

I am going to do my best to resist those temptations, because the movie is not that bad, though it sometimes feels as though it is.

Tim (Ben Stiller) and Nick (Jack Black) are best friends who work together. Nick is a dreamer, always coming up with wild ideas. His performance evaluation is strong in every area except for “focus.” Tim is as focused as a laser beam. Nick’s most recent idea is “Vapoorize.” Nick offers Tim a chance to invest, but the idea seems so absurdly speculative that Tim turns him down. But this time Nick’s dream comes true, and soon he is doing infomercials and raking in the loot.

Nick does not want to move, so he builds a monstrous Richie Rich-style house across the street from Tim. He has a full-size carousel, a yellow Lamborghini with a license plate that says “CACA KING,” a butler who compliments him all the time, a beautiful white horse named Corky, and a doorbell that barks “Where Has My Little Dog Gone?” And all of that does to Tim’s feelings of friendship what the spray does to the dog poop. Tim is consumed with envy and that leads to some outlandish activities involving revenge and cover-up and Christopher Walken that are supposed to be comic but mostly aren’t.

It isn’t bad; it just isn’t good enough. It’s a long, long time between chuckles. Nick is a sweet guy, which is lovely for him, but it does not make the best use of Black’s energy and it is not very funny. Stiller is always fine with repressed fury, but the script does not give him enough fury to do much repressing. He is also a pretty sweet guy, and that is also not very funny. Both men have stay-at-home wives (“Saturday Night Live’s” Amy Poehler and Rachel Weiscz) and interchangeable children. This movie has the sit, but not the com.

Parents should know that the movie has crude and macabre humor. In addition to the movie’s poop-ish theme, the carcass of a dead horse and an arrow shot into a man’s back are intended to be funny. A husband and wife tussle is mistakenly seen as sexual. Characters drink and one goes to a bar to get drunk as a way to respond to stress. There is brief strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about envy and greed. Why are they called “deadly” sins? Why was it so hard for Tim to tell Nick the truth? What did Nick’s reaction tell you about him?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Meet the Parents (more mature material than in this film) and School of Rock. They might want to take a look at a quirky, even strange, movie with a similar theme Sour Grapes, written by Larry David, who reportedly came up with the idea for this one, too. And they might want to try making some flan!

Super Size Me

posted by rkumar
A
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2004

Mordantly funny and trenchantly sobering, this is a Big Mac attack you can sink your teeth into. And then it will bite you back.

Film-maker Morgan Spurlock takes on American fast food culture in general and McDonald’s in particular in this prize-winning documentary. He takes on McDonald’s literally, eating nothing but McDonald’s food for an entire month, and promising to say “yes” whenever he is asked if he wants to supersize his order.

So, to the horror of his vegan chef girlfriend and the three doctors who monitor his 25-pound weight gain and severe liver damage, Spurlock spends a month in McDonald’s world, eating “meat, meat, sugar and fat.” At first, his body rejects the supersized food and he throws up. But by the end of the month he craves McDonald’s food and feels happier and calmer when he has eaten some.

In between meals, he travels around to talk to experts, including a surprisingly svelte man who eats his 19,00th Big Mac on camera, the lobbyist for the food companies, and a law professor who is suing McDonald’s on behalf of two obese teenagers. Spurlock visits McDonald’s franchises around the country and schools that feed students the same kind of “cheap, fat-laden” meals served by fast food outlets — provided by the U.S. government through USDA’s school lunch program. He also finds one school for kids with behavior problems in Wisconsin that is experimenting with a healthy, additive-free menu. The students are calmer and more attentive — and the meals are no more expensive.

Spurlock asks children whether they could identify the faces of some famous people. A few correctly name George Washington. None recognize the guy with the long hair and beard as Jesus. But all of them know who the guy in with the clown nose was — Ronald McDonald. And a family visiting the White House can’t quite remember the words to the Pledge of Alliegance, but have no problem reciting the ingredients of a Big Mac, down to the sesame seeds on the bun.

Spurlock strikes just the right note, frank about irresponsibility at the personal and corporate level but more bemused than outraged. America has the biggest everything, including the biggest people. We have alternatives, but we choose what is easy. We spend much more on food that is bad for us — and then on diet books — and then on treatment and lawsuits — than we do on exercise and other ways to prevent disease. The “small” size soda in the US has the same volume as the “large” sold in other countries. Yes, companies sell us food that is not good for us — Spurlock’s doctor says that his liver has gone from perfectly healthy to “pate” — but we are the ones who want to supersize everything, even ourselves.

Spurlock’s even-handed and wide-ranging look at the fast food culture covers the roles of individuals, corporations, and government but leaves out one significant factor, the role of poverty. Wealthy people may be turning their livers into pate with pricy delicacies, but they have a wider range of choices and access to better medical care to guide them. I would love to know what the average income of a McDonald’s “heavy user” is. I suspect the low prices are even more addictive than the sugar and fat in the food.

Parents should know that the movie has some sexual references (Spurlock’s sex life is adversely affected by his diet) and some very graphic images of a stomach-stapling operation.

Families who see this movie should talk about what they eat and why people do things that are bad for them. Who is responsible for America’s obesity crisis? What should we do about it? How will seeing this movie change your behavior? If you were Spurlock, what movie would you make next?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine and Roger and Me.

Laws of Attraction

posted by rkumar
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

“The Laws of Attraction” demonstrates no understanding of either attraction or laws. I don’t just mean the completely innacurate portrayal of law practice and court proceedings in the film. I mean the fundamental laws that make a movie appealing to watch.

Disastrous casting, a clunker-laden script, and snooze-inducing direction repel rather than attract. Having the set-up and the look of a romantic comedy is not enough to make it one.

Julianne Moore plays Audrey, a very successful divorce lawyer who has no interest in any romantic entanglements of her own. She is very tough but she plays by the rules. Her opposing counsel in a high profile case is Daniel (Pierce Brosnan), who infuriates her by being disheveled and disrespectful and — even worse — by being extremely capable and very handsome. He is very tough and he makes his own rules. Clearly, they are destined for each other, but it will take them much too long to figure that out. Situations are not the same thing as plot, especially when the situations are just plain dull.

At one point, Daniel and Audrey start to talk about an incident but they decide not to pursue it, probably because if we ever did find out what happened it would only demonstrate how flat and unappealing the movie’s plot is by comparison. The story simply has no place to go. I wish I could say the same for the characters, who spend far too much time flying around, with two completely irrelevant trips to Ireland (possibly it was relevant to Irish native Brosnan’s decision to appear in this film).

There are a couple of good lines. I liked it when Audrey accused Daniel of thinking, “my socks don’t match; therefore I have insight into all things.” And Frances Fisher as Audrey’s eternally-young mother is the best thing in the movie. The production design is glossy, often more fun to watch than the actors. But the very talented and beautiful Julianne Moore is badly miscast and never makes Audrey a character instead of a collection of reactions. Brosnan clearly enjoys the vacation from his usual elegant roles, but no one could reconcile Daniel’s shambling Columbo act with his underhanded tricks and unabashed affection for Audrey. Parker Posey as a designer married to a rock star gives her first bad performance and Michael Sheen gives the most annoying performance of the year as her estranged husband, with all the appeal of a car alarm. Director Peter Howitt made a promising debut with Sliding Doors, but after AntiTrust and this mess, it is clear that he is better off when he’s far away from Hollywood studios, and so are we.

Parents should know that this movie portrays drinking, including drinking to excess, as evidence of machismo and as a way to bond. Characters smoke, use strong language, and have sex without knowing each other very well. There is some crude humor, including the repeated term (I am not making this up) “goat’s nut.” There are also many references to adultery, including references to strippers, prostitutes, the “three-way bossa nova,” and sexual addiction.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Audrey was so resistant to romantic involvement. How did her mother influence her?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the vastly better movies that inspired it, from Adam’s Rib with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy to Move Over, Darling with Doris Day and Rock Hudson and Shall We Dance with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Saved

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

The first thing teenagers figure out is that it is enticingly easy to make fun of believers in any category. What’s nice about this movie is that it does so while still entirely respectful of belief. It begins as a satire of new age-y holier than thou people who spend more time worrying about the appearance of Christianity than the values. But it concludes with a renewed commitment to a faith that engages the mind and heart. You could even call it grace.

Mary (Jena Malone) is about to start her senior year at the Eagle Mountain Christian School when her boyfriend Dean confesses that he thinks he is gay. She decides to “save” him (from homosexuality and sin) by having sex with him, believing that it will not count as losing her virginity if it is for such a holy purpose. But Dean’s parents find gay porn in his room and send him off to a special facility called Mercy House where he can be “cured” (or as they put it “for de-gayification.”)

Mary finds out that she is pregnant, and that makes her begin to question whether the faith she has accepted as it was presented to her is a fair portrayal of the teachings of Jesus.

The people behind the movie, who went to Christian schools, know where the vulnerable targets are. There’s the relentlessly cheery head of the school Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), reminiscient of the “Doonesbury” character who used to call himself “the fighting young priest who can talk to the young.” He tries to connect to the kids by using words like “phat,” not realizing that even if he did happen to come upon a word whose coolness had not been exhausted, the very act of its being used by him would de-cool-ify it forevermore. Mary’s widowed mother Lillian (Mary Louise Parker), is proud of winning And there’s the school’s “mean girl,” Hillary Faye (Mandy Moore), who uses her literal “holier-than-thou” status to rule the school, especially her in-crowd group, called the Christian Jewels. On the other side because they are willing to ask questions are the school’s only Jewish student, Cassandra (Eva Amurri), who is only there because she has been thrown out of every other school, Hillary Faye’s brother Roland (Macauley Culkin), confined to a wheelchair due to a childhood accident, and Pastor Skip’s son Patrick (Patrick Fugit of Almost Famous), who is interested in Mary.

The script teeters into predictability at times but the outstanding young cast is wonderfully vibrant, especially Amurri (the daughter of Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon), whose freshness — in both senses of the word — works very well for her character. Donovan makes it clear that his character is genuinely a man of faith who is not quite sure if he has what it takes to inspire others to share what he feels so strongly in his heart. He refers to Jesus as “the ultimate rebel” to capture the attention of the students, but he himself is all about conformity and rigidity. He uses a facile notion of Christianity to cover his unwillingness to be honest with himself or others about his failing marriage and his feelings for Lillian. And Hillary Faye uses hers the way girls in secular schools use chic clothes or their status as cheerleaders, to establish her power and prestige. She, too, has a secret that fuels her need to control the way she is perceived.

The movie is not afraid to skewer its targets, but importantly it is careful to make those targets hypocrisy and arrogance and not faith. Indeed, the movie makes it clear that superficial professions of faith are a distraction from genuine commitment to the values that are the basic principles of Christianity or any religion.

Parents should know that the movie has very mature material for a PG-13, including extremely strong language and explicit sexual references and situations, including adultery, teen sex, and homosexuality. Characters smoke (smoking is portrayed as an indicator of being cool and rebellious) and drink. Characters shoot guns at a target range and there is some mild violence (no one hurt). Strengths of the movie include the positive portrayal of disabled and gay characters and the ultimate conclusion about the importance of seeking the real meaning of the Bible’s teachings.

Families who see this movie should talk about how they think about their own religion and the religions practiced by others. Mary asks “Why would God make us all different if He wanted us to be the same?”

Families who enjoy this movie might also like to see Steve Martin’s uneven but worthwhile Leap of Faith, and will especially enjoy its outstanding soundtrack.

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