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

Serenity

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2005

Creator of Buffy the the Vampire Slayer Joss Whedon has populated another world with tough, smart-talking characters fighting the darkest evil. And once again the heart of the force for good is a not entirely unconflicted or uncomplicated adolescent girl.

Buffy was a teenager whose high school happened to be located on the Hellmouth. Her vampire-slaying powers and inspired more academic papers than any other television program, even an entire online international journal devoted to topics in fields from classics to cultural studies to sexuality and computer science.

The sensationally entertaining “Serenity” takes place 500 years in the future. The earth’s resources have been depleted and humans have colonized another solar system. heroine is River (Summer Glau), a damaged young woman rescued from the totalitarian Alliance by her brother Simon (Sean Maher), a doctor.

River’s powers include the soft (telepathy) and the hard (some mad kick-boxing skills).

They are hiding out on a beat-up rocket ship captained by Mal (Nathan Fillion), once a rebel fighter, now a guy who will take on any job that pays and does his best to stay out of the way of the Alliance. The crew includes navigator Wash (Alan Tudyk), his wife Zoe, the first mate (Gina Torres), tough guy Jayne (Adam Baldwin), and mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite).

The friends who help them along the way include a “companion” named Inara (Morena Baccarin) (think Miss Kitty in “Gunsmoke,” a gentle, devout man named Book (Ron Glass), and a guy who seems to Tivo the galaxy named Mr. Universe (David Krumholtz).

The man they’re trying to stay away from is The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an understanding but terminator-like ends-justify-the-means type who wants River and will do anything or kill anyone in order to accomplish this goal.

The movie benefits tremendously from a likeable cast with enormous appeal and chemistry perfected over the 14 “Firefly” episodes, from Whedon’s trademark genre mash-ups (the characters often talk like cowboys and the script tweaks classic Western tropes), from tough and genuinely clever wisecracks, and from expert seasoning of action with humor — and humor with action. Whedon continually creates expectations and then confounds them, a po-mo twist here, some unexpected sincerity there.

And the action is terrific, without a hint of a wink or anything less than total commitment.

At one point the Operative says, not without sympathy (Ejiofor has the most expressive eyes since Al Pacino), “It’s worse than you know,” and Mal replies, “It usually is.” Where Whedon is concerned, it’s always as good as you hope.

Parents should know that this movie as a lot of sci-fi “action” violence (lots of shooting, not much blood, but scary-looking characters who torture and eat humans). Characters are injured and killed, including children. There are some mild references to the “companion” and a pleasure robot. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of capable and brave women and minorities and loyal and dedicated relationships between people of different ethnic groups.

Families who see this movie should talk about the obligations and choices facing people who oppose a totalitarian state. How do you decide when to risk your life for the greater good? Why was “Firefly” so popular with some people but not successful enough to succeed on television? How (and why) does this story feel like a Western? Why is the ship called Serenity?

Families who enjoy this film should watch the television series, Firefly. Like all cult favorites, this one has inspired a lot of analysis. Some of the most provocative essays are included in Finding Serenity by Glenn Yeffeth. Families will also enjoy the very clever Futurama as well as the Star Wars series and the parodies Galaxy Quest and Space Balls. Fans of Firefly (violence and occasional sexual references) and “Serenity” will also enjoy Wedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.”

A History of Violence

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

Flies buzz and bump against a window as a woman looks out helplessly at a scene of terrible violence on her once-placid front lawn, in her once-peaceful community. A little girl wakes up from a dream of monsters and is comforted by her loving family at the same time that another little girl walks into a murder scene to see a gun pointed at her. A teenage boy outwits a bully without getting into a fight, but then the bully comes back at him and this time won’t be stopped with a wisecrack. A woman deplores violence until her family is at risk. And a violent man is a hero or a bad guy, depending on who is watching.

This is an outstanding — and deeply unsettling exploration of the conflicts all humans have about violence, simultaneously drawn to it and frightened by it, even revolted by it. It is hard to find a movie in the list of top-grossing box office hits that is not scary or violent. Before violent movies, there were violent plays. Shakespeare wrote one where a man chopped up his enemy’s children and fed them to him in a pie and ancient Greek plays featured murder and suicide. Before plays, there were myths and legends and stories around the campfire. Violence is exciting, cathartic, ultimately (in story form), even reassuring, because (usually) justice triumphs, and, when it doesn’t, well, we’re still here, unharmed, after hearing about it.

After a Sam Shepard-esque opening scene juxtaposing understated tough talk with casual brutality, two men drive away from a cheap, dusty, isolated motel. We then meet our hero, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen). As he comforts his little girl by telling her that there’s no such thing as monsters and picks up some trash on the windowsill of his little small-town diner before going inside to get behind the counter, we see that he is a good, loving, gentle man. When his wife decides to give him the teenage sex they never got to share by putting on a cheerleader outfit, we believe him when he says he is the luckiest man in the world.

And then — enter the menace. Our two bad men from the first scene arrive and don’t take it well when Tom politely tells them that the diner is closed. One of them points a gun at a waitress and Tom slams a coffee pot into the other’s face and leaps over the counter to go after the other one. Tom is injured, but the men are dead. And Tom is a hero. He sits on the side of the hospital bed, waiting to be picked up by his wife Edie (Maria Bello), looking a little balefully at the television screen as his face is on every newscast. He is a hero.

And then — enter a bigger menace. A man with a terribly scarred face and a squad of tough-looking goons comes to the diner. He insists that Tom is really someone named Joey from Philadelphia. Tom politely explains that the man must be mistaken, but, even after being warned off by the sheriff, he will not be deterred.

Tom’s teenage son Jack (Ashton Holmes) is proud of his father for protecting the town, but it makes him question his own non-violent response to the high school bully. Tom is his example of what it means to be a man. When we first see Jack and Tom they are tenderly comforting Jack’s little sister. But now he has another side of his father to think about and another example to follow.

Edie knows her husband very well and is certain he has nothing to do with the man with the scary scar. But then he asks her, “How come he’s so good at killing people?” and she begins to wonder whether, deep inside her gentle, loving husband there is a volatile, violent man named Joey.

The performances are gorgeously expressive. Bello and Mortensen are real, heartfelt, drawing us deep into the characters’ lives until we feel we know them, then surprising us, but always perfectly integrated to keep us connected to the characters. In the more outsize bad guy roles, Stephen McHattie, Ed Harris, and William Hurt find the strength in unsettlingly understated performances that convey the coiled anger inside them, ready to spring. Director David Cronenberg beautifully frames each shot, each scene, to lead us to ask ourselves whether there is a Joey inside anyone we know — whether there is a Joey inside each of us, whether we need him there. Enter an even bigger menace — as Pogo used to say “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent movie with intense and brutal fighting and gunplay, a child in peril, and graphic images of wounded and dead bodies. Characters use very strong language, including crude insults. There are explicit sexual references and exceptionally explicit sexual situations, including one that involves force. Characters drink and smoke and teenagers smoke marijuana.

Families who see this movie should talk about the way it ties together many different threads and themes about the role of violence in our lives and the way we feel both drawn to it and revolted by it. The movie also raises questions about the way we see our families — as harbors of safety and as places of danger. Families may want to talk about their own experiences with violence.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy classics about peace-loving men in a violent world, High Noon, The Friendly Persuasion, and Destry Rides Again. They will also appreciate Crash, which explores the insidious role of racism and violence in modern life. This movie covers only a portion of the graphic novel that it is based on, so families who enjoy this film should take a look at the book by John Wagner and Vince Locke.

Flightplan

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

It’s always a bad sign in a thriller when the big reveal is greeted by hoots of derisive laughter, and that’s what happened at this movie. It’s an even worse sign when two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster is out-acted by a child who is missing or unconscious for most of the movie, but that happened, too.

Just-widowed Kyle Pratt (Foster) is flying from Berlin to New York with her 6-year-old, Julia (Marlene Lawston), taking her husband’s casket home to be buried. They are exhausted and shaken, so they find some empty rows in the back of the plane and go to sleep. When Kyle wakes up, Julia is gone. As she searches the plane, getting more and more worried, the attitude of the flight attendants shifts from helpful to wary to hostile. It seems there is no evidence that Julia ever boarded the plane. A federal air marshall travelling undercover believes Kyle is delusional, and so does the captain. Kyle starts to wonder if they could be right.

Then it all veers into a level of preposterousness that would be too silly to go into even if it didn’t contain spoilers. There are some tense moments, but unlike the other recent airplane thriller, “Red Eye,” this one never creates a sense of claustrophobic containment. Kyle, an engineer who helped to design this aircraft, the largest ever, understands the blueprints well enough to know where to look, and as she keeps exploring new places, some of which appear positively cavernous, it dissipates the tension. So do the below-par one-note performances from Foster, Sarsgaard, and Sean Bean (as the pilot). This film may be called “Flightplan,” but it never takes flight and there is nothing that rises to the dignity of a plan of any kind. Discuss. But don’t bother with the movie.

Parents should know that this movie has intense peril and violence, including shooting, explosions, and references to murder, suicide, kidnapping, and molestation. There is some strong language, though less than average for a PG-13. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of a strong woman and the way it raises the issue of bigotry when some passengers assume that the Middle Eastern men on the airplane must be untrustworthy.

Families who see this movie should talk about how national security issues have affected the way people feel about air travel. They should also talk about the various arguments Kyle used and which ones were most persuasive.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy some of the far-better disappearing person classics, especially The Lady Vanishes (from which this film lifts one of its key clues), Bunny Lake is Missing, and So Long at the Fair, as well as Foster’s last Mother Courage performance in Panic Room all of which have vastly more satisfying conclusions than this one.

MirrorMask

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:2005

A curiously distant story is surrounded by enchanting visuals and special effects in this Alice in Wonderland-style tale of a young girl who has to solve a puzzle in a magical land in order to get back home and help her mother get well.

Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) has, as her mother points out, a life most kids her age would love to run away to. Her parents own a little circus. Helena performs as a juggler, but wishes she could stay in her room, making up stories and drawing pictures. Other girls might wish they could join the circus, but Helena wishes she could run away to “real life.” In an angry moment, she says she wishes her mother was dead.

And then Helena’s mother (Gina McKee of Notting Hill) becomes ill and has to have surgery. While she is gone, Helena somehow gets transported to The Dark Lands, a place of fantasy and magic. Nothing is right because the Queen of Light is sleeping and cannot awaken until a missing object is found.

Helena doesn’t just not know where it is; she does not know what it is. Still, she is confident she can find it. She sets off with Valentine (Jason Berry), an adult but an unreliable companion. Helena has to answer the riddle, find the key, and outsmart those who try to stop her to figure out why there is a young woman who looks just like her in what looks like her bedroom, behaving in a way that appalls her. She meets up with two queens, one asleep, one who will do anything to keep her, both looking a little familiar. And through these adventures she learns more about herself and begins to grow up.

But this movie is all about the sights, not the story, and the sights are glorious, all burnished shades of gold and scritchy lines. The magical images will engage and fire the imagination of the audience, even if the story sometimes feels cool and understated.

Parents should know that sensitive viewers of all ages may find some of the images and characters in this movie disturbing. Characters are in peril and a young girl worries about whether her mother will survive an operation. There are unhappy confrontations. Teenagers kiss, which another character finds gross and upsetting.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Helena wanted something different from a life that many kids her age would love to have. What was the most important thing she had to learn on her journey? What was the most important thing that Valentine had to learn? Parents and children often feel, like Helena, that adolescence is like swapping the person you know for someone who looks the same but feels and behaves very differently, the “real” one feeling as though he or she is living in a strange new place. What stories, like this one, have that as a theme?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy The Wizard of Oz and (for older children and teenagers) Return to Oz, as well as other movie visits to fantasy lands like The Never-Ending Story, Labyrinth, Willow, The Dark Crystal, The Phantom Tollbooth, My Neighbor Totoro and Alice in Wonderland. They may want to take a look at the work of Saul Steinberg and Ronald Searle, whose drawings may have inspired some of the images in this film. And they will enjoy the novels of Neil Gaiman.

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