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Transcendence
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality
Release Date:
April 19, 2014

 

Philomena
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 on appeal for some strong language, thematic elements and sexual references
Release Date:
November 22, 2013

Bears
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
G
Release Date:
April 19, 2014

 

The Nut Job
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Release Date:
January 17, 2014

Heaven is for Real
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic material including some medical situations
Release Date:
April 16, 2014

 

Grudge Match
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sports action violence, sexual content and language
Release Date:
December 25, 2013

Die Another Day

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2002

Bond, James Bond, has returned to the big screen once again. This time, as with every effort in the Pierce Brosnan series, producer Barbara Broccoli and MGM studios will try and out do the explosions, the sex, and the witty dialogue that has permeated the countless entries in the spy films. “Die Another Day,” the latest Bond adventure, should be praised though, as it succeeds in giving the audience the most thrilling Brosnan adventure since his debut film, “Goldeneye.” What this latest entry in the Bond films does is reminds us is why 007 is still so appealing after all these years. Unlike this summer’s loud and crass rip-off, “XXX,” the James Bond films have class and tradition, a certain familiar thrill as well as a hero whose arrogance is charming, not brutish and dull.

This film starts out with 007 going undercover to assassinate the son of a South Korean leader. When things go wrong, Bond is captured and tortured, while his homeland denies he exists. After being traded for a ruthless Korean killer (who now has diamonds embedded into his face, thanks to our hero), James must find out who double crossed him in Korea and why. Along the way, he meets a female American counter-part, Jinx, played by Oscar winner Halle Berry.

Berry is fine in the film, though her role is not nearly as large as the trailers show and that turns out to be a good thing. As the past two films have proven, not enough action involving Bond just slows the pace in the formulaic series. The first hour is truly thrilling and actually succeeds for once at adding depth to Bond. There is some great comedic bits involving John Cleese, the fantastic locales that Bond movies are famous for, and a fun if unrealistic car chase. Serving as both distractions and annoyance in the film are cameos by American tough guy Michael Madsen and singer Madonna. Madonna may have crafted a fun modern techno song for the film, but her acting is still as stale and laughable as it was ten years ago. All and all, “Die Another Day” is a fun Bond entry that has enough great stunts and excitement, that, by the time the movie tales off in the last 20 minuets, the viewer can forgive its bland conclusion.

Parents should know that the movie is rated PG-13 for excessive violence, sex, partial nudity, mild profanity, and many off-screen deaths. This film pushes the PG-13 rating hard, even for a James Bond film. The film is almost non-stop action scenes, some of which include graphic is if rather bloodless deaths. This includes one impaling, a knife in the neck and another in a chest, a character being sucked into a plane engine, while another is pinned to a hovercraft before plunging to his death at the bottom of a waterfall. The film also includes many explosions and scenes in which death is implied, but not shown. There is almost constant shooting, and James Bond’s ambiguity about violence may trouble younger viewers. The film shows James Bond smoking in numerous scenes. The movie is also filled with sex and sexual dialogue. One sex scene is rather graphic, while the other two imply it. There is also a view of a woman naked from the back, as well as numerous silhouettes of nude women during the opening credits. The film also includes numerous sexual innuendos, including two that are rather graphic, one coming at the end of the feature. The film briefly address James Bond’s womanizing, but makes light of it rather then condemning his behavior.

Families who see this film should talk about why James Bond is so loyal to his country. If it means so much to him, why do they deny his existence? It could also be addressed why Bond turns to violence so often, and that, although it works in the film, it destroys many people’s lives in the process. Why does the American government and the British government work together despite disagreements? Why does the South Korean general disapprove of his son’s violent methods? It could also be discussed why Bond treats women they way he does and how this film presents him with a strong female counter-part. What is it about how she treats him that makes Bond question how he acts towards women? Families should also talk about how the Bond movies in general treat women and possibly how it has changed since the series incarnation.

Families who enjoyed this movie will also enjoy “Goldfinger,” “The Bourne Identity,” and “Mission: Impossible.”

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

posted by rkumar
A+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:1977

Plot: When Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) and Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) “encounter” a UFO, they travel to its landing site, Devil’s Tower, Wyoming. Jillian is seeking her son, who disappeared with the alien ship, but Roy is strangely compelled to go in a way that is incomprehensible to him. Obsessed with recreating the monolithic Devil’s Tower out of shaving cream, the mashed potatoes on his dinner plate, and finally out of mud, in a massive sculpture that takes over the living room, Roy drives his family away.

Roy meets Jillian, also drawn to the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. They find that they are not the only ones who feel they have been called there. French scientist Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut), a top-secret U.S. government installation, and others feeling the same compulsion are there to meet the enormous spacecraft, which returns dozens of humans taken over decades (including Jillian’s son). Then the aliens leave the ship, and Roy joins the group boarding the ship in an intergalactic exchange program. In the reissue, which added some new scenes, we get a glimpse of the inside of the spacecraft.

Discussion: This is a thrilling adventure story and a brilliant example of the art and craft of movie making. The craft is in the way the story is told. It unfolds with extraordinary power, involving us as much in Roy’s inexplicable compulsion as in Jillian’s search for her son. The art is in the story itself, the idea not just that “something” is out there, but that it is something wonderful. Watch how Spielberg lets us know that the aliens are friendly. In one of several tributes to Disney, the interplay between the large and small spaceships has a fond, protective, almost maternal quality. This is a device Disney uses over and over, perhaps most memorably with the dancing mushrooms in “Fantasia.” And there is something very believable and compelling about the way that the aliens use music to communicate, and to teach the people on earth. They use art as well — Roy’s sculptures and Jillian’s drawings help the message to reach their conscious minds. Spielberg creates a sense of wonder not just in Jillian’s son Barry (Cary Guffey) but in the adult characters and in the viewers, making them children again, with the aliens as the “adults,” who reassuringly, look and behave like gentle children, giving us a sense of comfort.

Questions for Kids:

Why was music a good way for the aliens to communicate with the people on Earth?

What did the scientist mean when he said it was the first day of school?

What movie did Roy want his family to see? What does that tell you about him? How does that movie relate to this one? (Hint–listen for a familiar song.)

Do you think aliens will come to Earth? What will they be like?

What do you think would happen in a sequel to this movie?

Connections: Francois Truffaut was a distinguished French film critic and director (“The 400 Blows,” “Small Change”).

Activities: Kids can draw a picture of what they think the aliens’ planet looks like. Do they live in cities? What kinds of inventions do they have that we don’t have? Make a model or draw a picture of the planets in our solar system. Go the library or a museum to get information about space travel. Check out NASA on the World Wide Web at http://www.nasa.gov to get information about the next space mission. Or write to The SETI Institute, 2035 Landings Drive, Mountain View, CA 94043 for the latest research on UFOs and extraterrestrials.

Clash of the Titans

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:1981

Director Louis Leterrier (the second “Hulk” movie) says that he was a big fan of the 1981 Clash of the Titans when he was a child. Perhaps that is why he has remade the wrong parts of that film. Nearly 30 years later, fans of the film are willing to overlook its essential cheesiness because of their affection for its special place at the apex of old-school analog special effects before the rise of computer-generated images. People did not watch the movie to see classically trained British actors slumming for a paycheck; they watched it to see the last creatures created by special effects superstar Ray Harryhausen. Each one was meticulously crafted and, as often happened in Harryhausen films, they often seemed more alive than the human performers. Note, too, that the movie was shot in 2D and then reconfigured after the fact for 3D, a very different effect than the fully-realized, fully-immersive experience of a movie conceived and shot in 3D.

This remake is bigger and grander but it is missing just that sense of life that Harryhausen brought to his fantastic creations, which were always astonishing and unique. Instead, we get the same CGI-fest we have seen so many times, with nothing especially imaginative or memorable.

The same can be said for this generation of classically-trained British actors, including Liam Neeson as Zeus, in a shiny (and anachronistic) Joan of Arc-style suit of armor and Ralph Fiennes as Hades, the god of the underworld, dressed like a Norwegian death metal band member trying to play Richard III. They are the titans who clash by proxy.

The gods need the loyalty of humans to survive. Zeus insists that they will get more fealty with love; Hades, still bitter and jealous that it is his brother who is king of the gods, believes in ruling by fear. The winner of their battle will be decided by a fight to the death of their progeny. Perseus (Sam Worthington in an even more anachronistic buzz cut) is Zeus’s son; the sea monster called the Kraken is the child of Hades. The arrogant king and queen of Argos have committed the sin of hubris, thinking they are more important and powerful than the gods. So Hades tells them that he will destroy the city unless they sacrifice their daughter, Andromeda to the Kraken. Perseus is determined to fight the Kraken and save the princess. And he is determined to “fight as a man,” not to use any of the powers or tools of the gods because he blames Zeus for the death of his mother and his adoptive parents.

With a small band of allies, Perseus travels to the three Stygian witches, who share one eye, to find out how to defeat the dragon. The journey involves battles with giant scorpions and trip into the underworld to fight the serpentine Medusa, the snake-headed lady whose eyes can turn a person to stone. And then, he must make it back to Argos in time to save Andromeda and defeat the giant sea monster, to the tune of some even more anachronistic rock chords.

The effects would be more impressive than the original’s only if you were still living in 1981. Today we take for granted that anything is possible on screen. But possible is not good enough; there has to be something truly striking. The witches and desert djinns look like they are wearing Halloween masks and the creatures look like variations on one predictable theme. There is a demigoddess whose powers seem to vary from scene to scene. The liberties taken with the original myths and the 1981 version’s story seem purposeless. And Worthington just seems lost, as though he wandered in from the set of “Avatar” and is looking around for the exit. I know how he felt.

City by the Sea

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2002

“City by the Sea” is an ambitious drama that never reaches any of its goals but has some watchable moments along the way.

It is based on a true story, but one so improbably agonizing that it feels more like an ancient Greek drama. A boy whose father was executed for murder is raised by the cop who arrested his father. He grows up to be a cop himself, with an exemplary record until, investigating the murder of a drug dealer, he begins to believe that the killer he is looking for could be his own son, a drug addict.

Robert DeNiro plays the cop, Vincent LaMarca, a man who has survived since he was a child by being unarguably on the side of the good guys to distance himself from his father. He also distances himself from his ex-wife (Patti LuPone), his girlfriend, Michelle (Frances McDormand), and his son, Joey (James Franco, last seen as Peter Parker’s best friend and romantic rival in “Spider-Man”). The pain of his loss is so profound that he cannot bring himself to share it with anyone. Yet he finds himself continuing the cycle of abandonment, and when the movie starts, just before the drug dealer is killed, Vincent has not seen Joey in years.

The drug dealer’s body washes up in Manhattan, where Vincent works. But his driver’s license shows that he lived in Long Beach, so Vincent begins a physical and emotional journey to the place he once lived with his wife and son, a once-beautiful, now decayed and deserted beach town.

When Joey is implicated, Vincent is clear about his obligations as a detective and as a father. He wants to bring him in before he gets hurt or hurts someone else. But he wants to bring him in – as they walk up to his ex-wife’s house, Vincent tells his partner to cover the back door in case Joey is inside and tries to flee. Joey is not there, and things get complicated. Vincent’s chief removes him from the case. Another person is killed. And Joey wants his father to be less of a cop and more of a dad.

The movie tries to accomplish too much and ends up getting lost. It uses the almost pornographic seediness of the location and the drug subculture to illustrate the emptiness of the lives of the characters. The movie raises issues of choice and fate that tie in to its overtones of Greek drama. Its female lead makes the typical movie relationship demand that her beau tell her more about himself (“Sometimes I think I know you and other times I don’t think I know you at all”). But then, when he does, in a scene that was so awkward it provoked some laughter from the audience, the movie takes an almost unprecedented chance by showing that she is so stunned that she is not sure she can stay in the relationship.

This is another in the series of movies that the New York Times has called the 2002 summer of the sad fathers (with movies like “Minority Report” and “The Road to Perdition”), and, as in “Minority Report,” there is a maudlin watching-the-old-family-movies scene that feels very heavy-handed. Director Michael Caton-Jones handles the atmosphere well, and DeNiro, McDormand, and LuPone are always worth watching, though this is probably DeNiro’s weakest performance, especially in his final scene with his son.

Parents should know that the movie has violence, including shooting and murder, graphic drug use, very strong language, and sexual references and situations, including a child born out of wedlock. Characters drink and smoke. There is a reference to domestic abuse. A character attempts suicide.

Families who see this movie should talk about Vincent’s statement that he doesn’t like to have dinner at his partner’s home because “You got a lot of love in your house and when I go there I feel uncomfortable.” Different characters make reference to “the real me” or “the real you.” What do they mean? How does the director use the burned-out landscape of Long Beach to tell us something about the characters?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy The Big Sleep and Insomnia. For a classic, preposterously melodramatic and very creepy movie that raises questions about a genetic predisposition to murder, see The Bad Seed. Families may also want to take a look at this website about the real City by the Sea, complete with live webcams showing what the beach looks like right now.

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Transcendence
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posted 6:00:39pm Apr. 17, 2014 | read full post »

Bears
This year's Disney Nature release for Earth Day is "Bears," the story of an Alaskan bear named Sky and her twin cubs, Scout and Amber, their trek from the den where they've hibernated all winter t

posted 6:00:05pm Apr. 17, 2014 | read full post »

Interview: Martha Williamson of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered"
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posted 8:00:57am Apr. 17, 2014 | read full post »

Trailer #2: The Box Trolls
Did I mention how excited I am about this?  Coming in September, from the people who did "Coraline" and "ParaNorman." [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDr_ZY37RFg[/youtube]

posted 12:12:22pm Apr. 16, 2014 | read full post »

Heaven is for Real
A movie like "Heaven is for Real" requires two different reviews, one for believers/fans of the 1.5 million-volume best-selling book, one for those who are unfamiliar with the book and whose views about faith and heaven and proof may differ from the evangelical beliefs of the Wesleyan pastor who wro

posted 6:00:04pm Apr. 15, 2014 | read full post »


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