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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

 

The Maze Runner
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images
Release Date:
September 19, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for violence including battle sequences and intense images
Release Date:
December 12, 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

Top Five
Lowest Recommended Age:
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use
Release Date:

 

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

Gridiron Gang

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some startling scenes of violence, mature thematic material and language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

The biggest shock in this film comes at the very end. It is not a spoiler to say that there’s the usual “here’s what happened to the characters” round-up. The shocker is the reminder that the murderers and drug dealers who left the detention facility and continued to play football did so not in the pros or in college, but in high school.


We are greeted with statistics. There are 120,000 kids in the juvenile detention system. Seventy-five percent of them end up in prison. Once in a while, someone asks if there is something we can do to give them a choice.


In a hard-core facility, correctional officer Sean Porter (the Rock) decides the answer to that question might be football. Sports teach the importance of being punctual, accepting authority, accepting criticism, being part of a team. Sports can give a kid self-respect and pride and what it feels like to earn something. “Teenage boys would kill to play football,” Porter urges. “That’s what everybody’s afraid of,” says his boss. But he agrees to let them try.


Sports can teach them other things, too. The first time Porter has them call off the letters to spell out the name of the team, it turns out that no one there knows how to spell M-U-S-T-A-N-G-S.


It’s about as subtle as a tackle by a 300-pound tight end, but is is a pleasantly heartwarming journey. Sean and Assistant Coach Malcolm More (quietly effective rapper Xzibit) quote the Bible at the head of a Christian school to get him to let their team play his students. Kids learn to believe in themselves. And the adults in their lives learn to believe in them, too. Plus, they get to hurtle themselves at each other and try to keep the other guys from getting the ball.


Parents should know that this movie has some very strong violence, including gang violence and sports violence. Characters are wounded and killed. A person in authority hits a kid in the juvenile facility. The characters in this movie have been found guilty of a variety of illegal acts involving drugs, gangs, and other crimes. There are references to domestic abuse and characters use strong and ugly language. Teenagers are parents. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of strong, loyal, and dedicated minority characters.


Families who see this movie should talk about what got these boys into trouble and what this program taught them. What does it mean to say that they needed to fill a void? How can you be loyal to a friend without getting into situations you know are wrong? How do we give people power over us when we don’t forgive them? Why does Sean stay out of the locker room in the last game’s half-time?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the 1993 documentary about the real-life Sean Porter, as well as The Longest Yard (the original is a far better movie than the Adam Sandler remake), M*A*S*H, The Dirty Dozen, and Greenfingers (all with mature material).

The Last Kiss

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for sexuality, nudity and language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

A man tells his pregnant girlfriend he will marry her when she can name three couples who have been happy together for more than five years. She offers her parents and “that cute couple from the pond.” He reminds her that ducks don’t count.


Fans of Zach Braff may be disconcerted to see him as Michael, a more complex and unlikeable character than his sweet and adorably lost characters in “Scrubs” and Garden State. But that is a function of his character’s age and situation more than his personality. Michael is 29 years old and his girlfriend is pregnant. The stakes are much higher. Bad decisions will have devastating consequences. And that is what makes it interesting. Although at first it has the feel of a safe romantic comedy-drama, this is not an “almost” story. People inflict great pain on each other, and we don’t get a lot of tidy happy endings.


Michael is an architect who wants to let more air and light into his buildings. He’s feeling a little claustrophobic in his life, too. The pregnancy was unplanned. Now other scary words are coming into the conversation — house, m-m-marriage, c-c-commitment, n-n-n-n-never. That last one refers to when he will get to kiss another girl. Yes, Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) is beautiful, sexy, smart, and devoted. But she is just one woman. Will that be enough for him?


Michael’s old friends don’t present him with any appealing alternatives. One has become a near-stalker of the woman who broke up with him. One is a bartender who parties all the time. One is a new father feeling inadequate and smothered. And his girlfriend’s parents (Blythe Danner and Tom Wilkenson), the ones from the example of long-term relationships, are separated. An appealing alternative is Kim (Rachel Bilson), a music student, whose openness and admiration makes him feel ten years younger. Can you have a mid-life crisis at age 29? Is anything ever as uncomplicated as it seems?


Braff creates a likeable character who makes some unlikeable choices. But none of the ultimate resolutions feel as satsifying as they are intended to, and Kim always seems like a plot device, not a person. She is as imaginary as the Bo Derek character in the similarly-themed 10, but this story, like its main character, fails to give her the consideration she deserves.

Braff, who produced the superb soundtrack for Garden State, delivers another superb selection of heartfelt indie gems. But this time, they are more heartfelt and memorable than the movie they adorn.

Parents should know that this movie has very explicit sexual situations and references and very strong language. Characters drink, sometimes to excess. They make foolish and hurtful choices and there are tense and emotional confrontations.

Families who see this movie should talk about some of the tough choices we make when we grow up and what we do to learn to forgive and heal and move on after terrible and painful mistakes. Who in this film do you respect and why?


Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Diner, The Wood, and the grand-daddy of all groping toward grown-up intimacy movies, the Oscar-winning Marty.

The Black Dahlia

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

Director Brian de Palma is all about the look and the mood and paying tribute to the classic old movies he loves. He loves them so much he crawls inside them. He imitates them like an art student sitting in front of an old master at a museum, matching every brushstroke. If his characters capture the audience’s interest or the story makes sense, it’s almost an afterthought or happenstance. This time he takes a famous real-life unsolved murder and makes it a starting point for a murky story of corruption, betrayal, and duality.

One boxer is called fire and one is called ice. One’s name suggests black: Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and one’s suggests white: Leland “Lee” Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart).

But they have a lot in common. Both leave the fight game and become cops. First assigned to fight each other as a publicity stunt, they become partners, and then friends. And they have one more very important thing in common. Bucky likes Lee’s girl Kay (Scarlett Johansson) very much.


Kay’s hair is blonde and her clothes are, too, soft white sweaters and champagne satin peignoir and step-ins. She is the only one who calls Bleichert “Dwight.” She lets him know she is interested, but he is loyal to his friend and partner.


Bleichert is also drawn to a brunette who dresses in black, a spoiled rich girl named Madeleine Linscott (Hillary Swank). She may know something about the shocking murder and mutilation of an aspiring starlet named Elizabeth Scott (Mia Kirshner), another dark-haired woman who loved black.


By the time all of this gets sorted out, the fire and ice cops and the blonde and brunette women will come into contact with every imagineable kind of degredation and corruption and more lives will be destroyed. It’s plenty stylish, with its dusty golden sepia tones, fedoras, and cigarette holders. In a nightclub, k.d. laing croons in a tux. Even the blood splatter and the falling bodies have a twisted elegance. And there are assorted references to film canon masterpieces, especially The Big Sleep, with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.


But De Plama losses control of the tone as the story and its characters spin wildly over the top. As we see the dead girl in bits of screen test footage, there is a greater and greater gulf between her natural, heart-breaking performance and the shrill and screechy rest of the film.

Parents should know that this movie has very mature material in every category. There is very graphic and intense violence. Characters injured, mutilated, and killed in brutal boxing match, shoot-outs, knives, punching, and falling. Characters use very strong language, including ethnic slurs. The film includes explicit sexual references and situations, gay and straight, including pornography, references to prostitution, and implied incest.


Families who see this movie should talk about the meaning of the many dualities it includes and how this contemporary re-telling draws on the tropes and conventions of the movies of its era.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy DePlama’s The Untouchables and the films that inspired this one, including The Big Sleep, The Blue Dahlia, Chinatown, L.A. Confidential, or True Confessions, also inspired by the Black Dahlia murder. Those who are interested in the story might like to read the book or find out more about the real-life Black Dahlia murder that inspired it. There are a number of books and websites that purport to solve the murder, but no one really knows for sure.

Everyone’s Hero

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated G
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

The indomitable spirit of Christopher Reeve shines through this little story of a boy who will not give up his quest to retrieve the baseball bat belonging to the greatest player ever, Babe Ruth.


Ten-year-old Yankee Irving (that’s his name) loves baseball, but when he stands at the plate, the kids in the outfield jeer, “Easy out!”


He loves the game and dreams of playing in the major leagues. But he is ready to give up trying to play when he finds a talking baseball (voice of Rob Reiner) in the sandlot. He brings it home and then takes it with him to bring dinner to his father, who works at Yankee Stadium. While he is there, Babe Ruth’s bat Darlin’ is stolen by a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. But Yankee Irving’s father is blamed, and he is fired. Yankee and his talking baseball go out to bring it back home.


They have many adventures and encounters along the way, most notably with a young girl who teaches him to throw a ball. When he tells her he needs to get to Chicago to give the bat to the Babe, she sends him to her baseball player father so he can travel on the team bus, where he gets some lessons about balance and hitting a ball. He finally makes it to Chicago, where he gets a chance to make his grandest dreams come true.


The animation is uninspired, except for a couple of lively moments, most notably a chase scene when Lefty the cheating Cubs pitcher has to dodge a barrage of hazards. And the voice talent adds some warmth and character, especially Whoopi Goldberg as Darlin’ the bat, William H. Macy as Lefty, and the world’s most instantly recognizable “surprise guest star” as the choleric head of the Cubs. The late Dana Reeves is quietly lovely as the voice of Yankee’s mother, and the poignance of her loss as well as her husband’s adds to the movie’s theme of never giving up on dreams.

Parents should know that this movie has some mild schoolyard language and potty jokes. The issue of the segregated Negro League is handled in a respectful, understated way, but parents should be prepared to talk with children about why whites and blacks played on different teams.

Families who see this movie should talk about who in the movie is everyone’s hero? Why? What does it mean that “it’s not the bat, but the batter” and “just keep swinging?” Have you ever had something that made you feel lucky? Why were the bullies so mean to Yankee at the beginning of the movie? What will they be like when he gets home? Families with very young children will want to remind them that in real life children are not allowed to go off without their parents.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Chicken Little and some of the many wonderful films about baseball, especially It Happens Every Spring (a professor becomes an unbeatable pitcher when he invents a chemical to put on the ball that repells wood), Angels in the Outfield (the original is the best version but the remake is pretty good, too), Take Me Out to the Ballgame (with Gene Kelly as a dancing ball-player), Damn Yankees (a Washington Senators fan sells his soul to the devil to beat the Yankees), Rookie of the Year, The Sandlot, and The Rookie. Older audiences should watch Ken Burns’ 9-part series Baseball. They might also like to visit the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

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