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Selma
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language
Release Date:
December 25, 2014

 

Pride
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language and brief sexual content
Release Date:
October 9, 2014

Into the Woods
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material
Release Date:
December 25, 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

Unbroken
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language
Release Date:
December 25, 2014

 

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

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

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

Tim Allen and Martin Short are funny guys. How do we know this? Because when this movie is finally over, there are some outtakes during the credit sequence that remind us. Up to that point, it’s easy to forget.


Twelve years ago, The Santa Clause was a surprise hit, as bitter, divorced, bah humbug Scott Calvin (
(Allen) finds himself turning into ho-ho-ho-able Santa. In the sequel, he discovers that in order to stay Santa, he has to find a wife. This time it’s his son’s cranky principal who has to go from joyless to jolly and become Mrs. Claus. And now, here we are again. Mrs. Claus is about to have a baby. She misses her parents, who think their son-in-law is a Canadian toy manufacturer and have never been to visit. And Jack Frost (Short) wants a holiday of his own, and thinks it would be nice if he got to be Santa for a change.


It’s all as genuine as tinsel and as stale as last year’s candy cane, but there are a few very mild pleasures, including Alan Arkin and Ann-Margret as Scott’s in-laws and a loony dance number with Short backed by elves. Abigail Breslin, who appeared in this year’s biggest independent film hit, Little Miss Sunshine, with Arkin, adds some class when she appears briefly as an elf. (Breslin’s brother Spencer, who appeared in the two previous films, plays head elf Curtis.) The lovely young actress Liliana Mumy seems to be in an entirely different film when she shows some heart and spirit as Lucy, the daughter of Scott’s ex-wife and her new husband. You almost believe in those warm hugs of hers. And it’s nice to see a Christmas film that acknowledges that we all get a little stressed and irritable on the holidays.


But this is not enough to make up for a lightweight script that does not have enough heft to be called half-hearted. It’s more like one-eighth-hearted. There’s no pretense of consistency of characters or story. The film shamelessly borrows the Santa substitution from The Nightmare Before Christmas and the how-would-life-have-been-different from It’s a Wonderful Life, as Jack takes Scott back in time and Scott sees his sad and lonely life if he had not turned into Santa. Not only are his ex-wife and son bitter and hostile (and — what’s that — she seems to be wearing a plastic name tag from some low-level job! the horror!), all of this seems to be his fault as his abandonment of his original family somehow led to his ex-wife’s divorce from her second husband.


I’m not sure that’s any weirder than the cozy relationship he has with his ex-wife’s new family when he is Santa, with her daughter with the second husband calling Santa “Uncle Scott.” And the thing that bothered me about the first movie reappears in this one — Scott becomes Santa because he inadvertantly makes the real Santa fall off the roof and…well, die (the body conveniently evaporates). This choice incident is re-created not once, but twice in this film, a scenes that is certain to upset at least some of the younger members of the audience.


It doesn’t make the mistake of the second in the series by concluding that Christmas is all about getting the right gifts, but there is still a disquieting level of commercialism. When, during Jack Frost’s tenure as Santa, he turns the North Pole into a theme park. Given that the movie is made by Disney, no stranger to theme parks or souvenir sales, it is ironic, if not downright pot/kettle/black-ish. On my checked-twice list, let’s just say, it’s not in the “nice” column. And if they’re planning to make another, I’ll be looking for my own escape clause.

Parents should know that the movie has some crude humor, including potty jokes, and brief schoolyard language. Much of the plot concerns pregnancy and impending childbirth. There is comic peril, and, while the script glosses over it, Santa falls off the roof and disappears so that a new Santa has to take over. Parents should also know that the movie has a married couple who are close friends with the man’s ex-wife, her new husband, and their daughter, who calls him “Uncle Scott.” Some families may find this confusing; others who are not as seamlessly blended may find this awkward.


Families who see this movie should talk about why Jack Frost was jealous of Santa. What was it about being Santa that he wanted? Did he get it? How was he able to trick Curtis into telling him the secret? Why do we sometimes get irritable with our families when we are supposed to be happiest?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Christmas classics like A Christmas Story and A Christmas Carol as well as the two originals.

Borat

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for pervasive strong crude and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

First and foremost, let me make it clear that this movie has extremely outrageous and offensive material and is not for the faint of heart or the easily shocked, and inappropriate for sensitive or impressionable viewers. But it’s also very funny. If you’re going to this movie, take a deep breath because when you aren’t gasping with laughter, you’ll just be gasping. No matter how unshockable you may think you are, this movie is going to do its best to shake you up — at a level that is measured by the Richter scale.


British actor/comedian Sacha Baron Cohen plays Borat, a television journalist from the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan who comes to the United States with his producer, Azamat (Ken Davitian), to make a documentary. Borat is not very bright or knowledgeable but he makes up for that with boundless enthusiasm and self-confidence. In other words, he’s just the guy to update Alexis de Tocqueville and tell the rest of the world what America is all about.


Borat first introduces us to his country, smiling broadly as he explains local customs like “The Running of the Jews” and proudly introduces us to his sister as he explains that he has personal knowledge of her abilities as a prostitute.


And then he comes to the US, in what has to be the most extensive and subversive practical joke ever made by a Hollywood studio. America, you’ve been punk’d.

Apparently, the real-life participants in the film were told that it was a legitimate Kazakh documentary. They were given release forms so extensive and mundane-looking that they had no idea it was an elaborate put-on. And so the fake guileless offensiveness of the character created by a real-life comedian is somehow sanitized (nearly) by the real-life guileless offensiveness of the people he meets. Never suspecting that what they say and do will be featured in a major Hollywood feature film, they display to “Borat” — and to us — some of what is worst about America. And, once in a while, what is best, too.

Normally, I am not a fan of the comedy of discomfort and humiliation, and I especially dislike the kind of pranks that seem to me to be easy and cheap — you can always make someone look foolish by knowing something he does not know.


What makes this movie work, what in essence disinfects what would otherwise be a tedious and too-long segment of “Punk’d” or “Jackass” is that is is mesmerizingly revealing. As Rosario Dawson says in Clerks 2, “I’m disgusted and repulsed and — I can’t look away.”


Sacha Baron Cohen’s characters have been popular with Brits as part of “Da Ali G Show” since 2000. But Baron Cohen’s arrival in America –- coinciding with the stateside arrival of his Kazakh alter-ego, Borat the journalist -– has gained him both fans and enemies here in what he calls “the US and A”.


His film, endowed with the cumbersome title “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”, blends the crude humor of “South Park” and the wit of “The Daily Show,” resulting in a combination that understandably and intentionally offends viewers. As Borat, Baron Cohen walks like a stiff-legged, six-foot Pinocchio, stumbling through America as clueless as Will Ferrell’s Buddy the Elf. Like Buddy, Borat isn’t laughable because he’s stupid; he’s laughable because he’s sweet and misunderstood. Through his eyes, we can see ourselves from the outside. Borat takes America and, by exuding innocence, reveals how dark a place it can be. His racist, homophobic, and sexist comments are appalling, but that’s the joke — his eyes are sincere, his love is sweet, his heart is innocent, and his excrement is carried to the dinner table so that he can ask the hostess what to do with it. The joke is, “Isn’t it ridiculous to have extreme opinions about other people based on sex, race and ethnicity?” and the reality is that not everyone believes it is. Some people laugh uncomfortably, some people get angry, and some people agree with Borat. Some people are so ignorant about people outside the U.S. that it never occurs to them that he is not for real. That’s when the film hits on isolated but serious moments that cut deeper than most other comedy.


The genius of Baron Cohen is that in creating a racist and sexist character, he reveals the absurdity of racism, sexism and stereotyping. His film becomes sharp exploration of our own prejudices and stereotypes — Kazakhstan’s most high-profile (if most fictional) resident is portrayed as innocently uncouth and impossibly un-PC, and for much of America, he represents everyone from Kazakhstan. The ease with which Borat’s unsuspecting victim truly believe him to be genuine belies how deep the stereotypes run.


All this might make the film seem like a somber exploration of prejudice. Yet it has men running naked through hotel hallways, drunken frat boys, street kids willing to provide some coolness tips, exasperated feminists, an evangelical group only too happy to bring Borat to Jesus, a search for gypsy tears to refill his protective vial, and a Jewish couple from a bed and breakfast who bring Borat a little snack that he assumes must be poisoned. And Pamela Anderson.


In his film, Baron Cohen has Borat refer to a Trojan Horse. But just as the audience leaves the theatre wondering whose prejudices have been most exposed, the question of where the real Trojan Horse is lingers as a fake Kazakhstan anthem accompanies the credits across screen. And that’s Baron Cohen’s trick — he’s crafted an intricate invasion of America in movie form, on the surface a laugh-out-loud comedy and inside, an expose of the audience itself.


Parents should know that this movie revels in every possible category of offensive humor and is not appropriate for underage audiences or for many adults. It includes extremely strong and vulgar language, ethnic insults (while satirizing bigotry), sexist humor, explicit and crude sexual humor (including incest jokes), explicit potty humor. There is very graphic non-sexual nudity and comic violence, including a long nude wrestling match. It should be emphasized that while the characters often make racist, homophobic, and sexist comments, the movie’s intention is to satirize these views, not to endorse them. Yet Cohen is determined to be offensive, and he succeeds.


Families who see this film should discuss world geography –- perhaps placing Kazakhstan on a map -– American perceptions of other cultures and their perception of ours. How does daily contact with people from other cultures enhance understanding? What are some other ways to understand various world customs? (Reading, music, food, festivities?) Parents should also discuss ethnic conflicts with their children – what are some of the ethnic conflicts that have had the most influence on current events? What are some important historical conflicts to understand?


Families who enjoy this film might also enjoy 2004’s Team America: World Police and the film based on the South Park television series, South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut. Both films have extremely strong and potentially offensive language, scenes and concepts, but share Baron Cohen’s sense of humor.

Flushed Away

posted by jmiller
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for crude humor and some language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Aardman has applied the sweetly demented sensibility of the “Wallace and Gromit” claymation films to their first CGI film and it is an irresistible treasure. It has their trademark intricacy of design, thrilling, hair’s-breadth-timing of action sequences, mastery of physical properties and spaces, delightful characters, and fresh and funny moments from the most sophisticated (a cockroach reading Kafka) to the least (a floating brown blob in the sewer turns out, whew, to be a candy bar), to those that transcend all categories (singing slugs, trust me on this one). There are movie references from Lady and the Tramp to Terminator 2 and a merry family meal that could have been thought up by Dickens. And of course everything revolves around the World Cup.


Roddy St. James (voice of Hugh Jackman) is a pampered pet rat who lives in the posh Kensington Gardens section of London. He has everything, thanks to his doting owners. When they go out of town, he enjoys himself, racing around in his little red convertible, playing volleyball with the fashion dolls and action figures, trying out his various outfits, from the tux with the gold cufflinks to the cruise wear and the spangly late-Elvis jumpsuit.


But then a sewer rat named Syd shoots up out of the sink and starts to mess up everything — literally and metaphorically. Roddy tries to lure him into a “jacuzzi” (the toilet), but ends up getting flushed away himself, and ends up in a swarming metropolis in the swere system underneath London.


It says a great deal about the story and characters that they are able to hold the audience’s attention because the “city” is the most endlessly beguiling and clever since the metropolises of Monsters Inc. and Robots. Every detail of every street corner is made-for-the-DVD-pause-button meticulous, imaginative, and witty.

But Roddy is too determined to get back home to pay much attention, so soon he is caught between Rita (voice of Kate Winslet), the sea captain (think Han Solo in trousers made from the Union Jack) and kingpin Toad (Ian McKellan), whose neck bulges out with emotion at awkward moments.


Toad, of course, has henchmen, the dim little guy and the dimmer big guy. And then he brings in reinforcements, his French cousin (of course), Le Frog (voice of Jean Reno). He has his own back-ups, the kind of frogs who break for five-hour dinners, whose battle cry is “We surrender!” and who include, of course, a mime.


The characters are wonderfully appealing and the story is exciting, warm-hearted, and inspiring. The unabashed British perspective (with some tweaks of the Americans as well as the French) enhances its fresh perspective. And those slugs sure can sing.

Parents should know that there are some scenes of peril and confrontation that may be too intense for younger children, even though no one gets hurt. Parents of younger children will want to remind them not to flush things down the toilet. The movie includes some brief crude jokes (nutcracker as a threatened torture device, brief bare tush) and, of course, some potty humor. There is also some mild British-centric ethnic humor, with gentle ribbing of the French and Americans. Roddy does not seem to care much about the rights or feelings of the family that cares for him. A strength of the movie is the strong, brave, female character.


Families who see this movie should talk about what Rita had that that Roddy admired and envied. Why?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Aardman’s Wallace & Gromit – The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Wallace & Gromit in Three Amazing Adventures. Aardman’s website has ecards and a showreel featuring their delightful commercials.

Running With Scissors

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for strong language and elements of sexuality, violence and substance abuse.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

The appeal for actors of movies about hideously dysfunctional people is obvious. They’re fun to play, and always good for awards consideration. Which script would you go for, the umpty-umpth “meet cute” romantic comedy or the one where you play a wildly disturbed and pathologically self-centered character and get to say things like, “Let’s dig up the cat we buried. I can hear him saying he is not really dead.” The appeal for audiences of stories that teeter on the edge between horror, tragedy, and over-the-top comedy is less clear. And in this movie, brilliant performances are not enough to make up for a story that is no deeper than the perky 70’s hits on the soundtrack. The actors fill the characters with life and conflict. But they can’t fill the movie, which feels hollow.


There are movies where the heroes take on aliens or Nazis or fire-breathing dragons. And then there are movies where the heroes take on something really scary — family. Just about everyone at one time or another has rolled his eyes and confided to a friend that his family is really nutty. Perhaps that is why we are drawn to stories about families that really are crazy, whether benign and charmingly light-hearted (the Oscar-winning You Can’t Take it With You), mordantly funny (The Addams Family), profoundly tragic (The Glass Menagerie, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, both based on the authors’ own families), gothic (Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte), or downright deranged (Nothing But Trouble). This story seems to have a bit of all of the above. It’s based on writer Augusten Burroughs’ memoir of his childhood. While there have been some allegations and even a lawsuit filed by some of the people he wrote about alleging that some of the wilder stuff is not true, but it is hard to imagine anyone making this stuff up.


Augusten is raised by a distant father (Alec Baldwin) and a narcissistic mother (Annette Benning) who treats him as something between a co-conspirator and a lackey. As long as he tells her what she wants to hear (he assures her that her poem is just what the New Yorker is looking for), she allows him to skip school, polish his allowance, and fix her hair. But his parents’ marriage fractures and his mother becomes increasingly unstable — and increasingly in the thrall of a charismatic therapist named Dr. Finch (Brian Cox), who gives her drugs. She gives custody of Augusten to Finch.


Finch’s home is filthy. His family is a cracked parody of Augusten’s sitcom-inspired fantasy. They speak casually, even smugly, about the most deranged concepts and events. At one level, they enjoy trying to shock each other. Perhaps they enjoy trying to shock themselves; at least they will feel something. But other than Finch himself, who seems lost in delusions and denial (but not so lost that he can’t play power games), each of them wants desperately to be “normal.” But each of them feels so damaged that “normal” is out of reach.


Finch’s wife Agnes (Jill Clayburgh) is kindly but fragile and overwhelmed. One daughter, Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow) adores her father and is jealous of anyone else who has his attention or affection. She insists her cat talks to her. The other daughter, Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood), enjoys being outrageous. She is bitterly hurt and dreams of leaving to go to college. Another lost soul “adopted” by the Finches, Neil Bookman (Joseph Fiennes) seduces and abuses Augusten, who is so hungry for love and attention that he holds on.


Augusten keeps hoping one of his parents will come for him, but his mother is always caught up in a drug- or love- or grandiosity-induced haze and his father is distant. Ultimately, he has to discover on his own who he wants to be and how to get there.


Parents should know that this film is about very dysfunctional and abusive families and includes a great deal of inappropriate, narcissistic, and deeply disturbing behavior. Characters use very explicit language, smoke, drink, and abuse drugs in the presence of children. Underage characters have sex with predatory adults. A character attempts suicide at the direction of another character.


Families who see this movie should talk about the way that Burroughs turned the tragic events of his life into a work of art and a bridge to take him to a place of stability and satisfying work and relationships.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy the book and its sequels. This article discusses the lawsuit filed by the “Finch” family alleging that the book misrepresents them.

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