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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

 

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

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

 

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

Chasing Liberty

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

Pop princess Mandy Moore plays the President’s runaway 18-year-old daughter in this formula romantic comedy designed for middle school girls and not of much interest or appeal for anyone else.

Anna (Moore) is a sweet kid who understands that being followed by secret service agents and having her picture taken with tourists and dignitaries is part of the job decription. Like any other 18-year-old, she thinks her parents are too protective. Her secret service code name maybe “Liberty,” but she feels anything but free. On a trip to Prague, her father (Mark Harmon) breaks his promise to limit her secret service protection to two agents, so she runs away, with the help of a handsome guy named Ben (Matthew Goode) with all three requirements to make any pop princess swoon — a dazzling smile, a moped, and a British accent.

It turns out that Ben is in the secret service, too, but the President orders him not to tell Liberty, so that she can have the illusion of an adventure. Things do not go as planned, and they end up having more of an adventure than they expected.

The movie has pretty things to look at, especially Prague and Venice and newcomer Goode who is very good indeed. And we want to root for the overprotected Liberty, never alone but always lonely, to take some risks and have some fun. But Moore is so limited as a performer, the plot and dialogue are so superficial and unimaginative, and the lack of chemistry between the leads is so intrusive that a recap montage of the would-be high points near the end just seems painful.

Parents should know that characters use some strong language in the movie (about the level of night-time network television) and characters smoke (there is a running joke about the President liking cigars) and drink (while they make it clear that Liberty is not breaking the law because it is legal to drink at age 18 in Europe, she does get tipsy and behaves foolishly as as result). Characters also lie and steal without any second thoughts or consequences. Liberty and Ben leave a restaurant without paying and lie to get a free gondola ride.

The movie has sexual references that are much spicier than the sexual situations. A girl begins to explain the appeal of a pierced tongue, but is stopped before she can finish. Liberty complains about not getting a chance to get to “third base.” Liberty twice takes her clothes off in front of Ben (nothing shown), once intending to seduce him, but he refuses. Even after they declare their feelings for each other, they do not have sex, a refreshing departure for the norm in this genre.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Liberty’s situation is just an exaggerated version of the struggles that all parents and teenagers have over independence. Why did Liberty try to get Ben to have sex with her? Why did he turn her down? What made them like each other? Families might want to read up on Alice Roosevelt, the headstrong and outspoken daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt. When asked why he did not stop her from getting into trouble, he replied that he could control the affairs of state, or control Alice, but could not possibly do both.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy two classics of the lonely, overprotected rich girl runaway genre, the multiple Oscar-winning It Happened One Night and Roman Holiday, must viewing for all families with young girls. Older viewers might enjoy another peek at romance in the White House with Michael Douglas and Annette Benning in An American President. A bittersweet story about the relationship between a President’s widow and a Secret Service agent is Guarding Tess. The script is not very imaginative, but the movie is worth watching for lovely performances by Shirley Maclaine and Nicolas Cage.

Monster

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2003

Aileen Wuornos peers into the murky mirror of the gas station bathroom. Somewhere in that lumpy, mottled face, she catches a glimpse of a girl who dreamed of being admired and cared for. We glimpse that girl, too, hopeful, even loving. But we see no trace of the woman who is portraying her. Glamour girl Charlize Theron’s breathtaking, heartbreaking transformation makes this movie about the woman called America’s first female serial killer an astonishing achievement.

Aileen was an abused child who began turning tricks at age 13. She thinks she has nothing to live for. But then she meets Shelby (Christina Ricci), a shy and needy lesbian. Even though Aileen is not gay, she is drawn to Shelby. She finds that being able to take care of someone is even more important to her than being taken care of. For a moment, it seems that she can find a new life for herself. But she has no skills and no capacity to get a legitimate job. She is forced to go back to prostitution to take care of Shelby, and when a customer rapes and beats her, she snaps, and she kills him. She takes his money and his car.

And then she begins to entrap and kill more men, each less justified than the last as she becomes more desperate and ultimately delusional. The last victim is portrayed by Scott Wilson, perhaps in an echo to his own star-making role as a real-life headline-making killer in In Cold Blood.

At one point, Aileen planned to kill herself as soon as she spent her last five dollars. As she used it to buy a drink, she met Shelby, who gave her a chance to mean something to someone but at the same time showed her more devastatingly than ever how far she was from being able to live in a way that could make her feel loved and proud. The first murder may have been self-defense. It may have been her way of striking back at a world that had struck her once too often. The movie wisely does not pretend to explain what was going on in the mind and soul of a woman who was mentally ill. Unlike the similar Boys Don’t Cry however, it is unable to elevate the facts into a larger story about identity and intimacy.

What makes the movie worthwhile is Theron’s performance, open, vulnerable, tragic, moving, and most of all, honest. Aileen’s behavior is contradictory, volatile, and disturbed. She loses control and lashes out irrationally. There are moments when I was not sure whether Theron was acting or just trying to keep her dental appliance from slipping, and no one could make some of those voiceover speeches work, but with the ferocity of her grip on the character she never lets us lose sight of Aileen’s humanity. Theron’s portrait of Aileen is sympathetic without pretending that she is more of a victim than the men she killed.

Parents should know that the main character in this fact-based story is a serial killer and a prostitute. The movie has explicit sexual references and situations, including gay sex, prostitution, and rape, extremely strong language, violence (including a brutal rape and several murders), smoking and drinking. There are tense and upsetting scenes.

Families who see this movie should talk about who is the “monster.” If it is Aileen, what made her that way? What could have prevented it? In what ways is the movie sympathetic to Aileen, and in what ways is it not? How can you tell?

Families who appreciate this movie should look at the two documentaries about Aileen Wuornos by Nick Broomfield. In 1992, he made Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer which focuses on the way the people around Wuornos, including her lawyer, a woman who “adopted” her, and even the police who arrested her exploited her arrest. Eleven years later, he made Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, focusing on Wuornos as she approached her execution, defiantly and impatiently. Those who appreciate this movie will also appreciate Boys Don’t Cry, based on the true story of the murder of a young woman who was passing as a man.

Paycheck

posted by rkumar
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2003

Scientists will discover a way to bend the laws of time before anyone remembers that a movie about bending the laws of time has to have some way of handling the problem of determinism versus free will that is if not plausible then at least consistent.

The idea (from Blade Runner’s Philip K. Dick) is an intriguing one — a super-smart computer whiz who trades not only his intellect but his memory for big bucks.

Ben Affleck plays Michael Jennings, a brilliant engineer. In two months, he takes apart a revolutionary project for its competitor and makes it all but obsolete. Then the client writes him a big check, his friend Shorty (Paul Giamatti) zaps out his memory of the last eight weeks, and Michael is off to make the kind of memories he likes to keep, all of which seems fine to him. When Shorty tells him to think about stopping, Michael says, “My memories are basically highlights. The stuff you erase doesn’t matter.”

This of course is the set-up for that great movie plot device, the one last big job that is going to give Michael walk-away money for life.

Cue evil mogul Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart), who offers Michael a three year project. Then cut to three years later. Michael’s memory is gone, and so is the $90 million he was supposed to be paid. All he has is a manila envelope with a bunch of mundane items — hairspray, a fortune from a fortune cookie, a pack of cigarettes, a paperclip, a matchbook. He knows it was a message he sent to himself before his memory was wiped. But what does it mean? And will he ever remember his relationship with a beautiful biologist (Uma Thurman)?

Even on one of his good days, this set-up would have been a challenge for director John Woo, whose stylish staging has turned less-than-impressive scripts into highly watchable films. But Woo seems to have taken a hit from that memory-eraser. We can stand it when a thriller requires some suspension of disbelief (see Woo’s entertainingly preposterous Face-Off). But the one thing we cannot forgive in a would-be thriller is boredom, and this movie just sags, even in the action scenes. Without spoiling what little suspense there is, all I can say is that the big “reveal” removes any sense of narrative tension by making the outcome all but inevitable. Even Woo’s trademarks, the fluttering birds and the two-gun stand-off, feel perfunctory.

Parents should know that the movie has extended action violence with guns, chases, kickboxing, explosions, and character deaths. Characters use strong language, smoke, and drink, and there are mild sexual situations.

Families who see this movie should talk about whether there are memories they would like to or be willing to erase. If you, like Michael, wanted to make sure that someone really knew you, what question would you ask?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the superior Terminator 2: Judgment Day (also featuring Joe Morton) and Minority Report, with similar themes. And they might enjoy director John Woo’s better films, including Face-Off.

Peter Pan

posted by rkumar
A
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for adventure action sequences and peril
Movie Release Date:2003
DVD Release Date:May 4, 2004

Oh, the cleverness of storyteller James M. Barrie, who gave us Peter Pan, Captain Hook, Tinkerbell, a St. Bernard nanny, Tiger Lily, and the crocodile that ticks because it swallowed a clock! And oh, the cleverness of P.J. Hogan, the director and co-screenwriter who has brought us this sumptuously beautiful re-telling of the classic story that maintains its timeless charm.

This is the story of Wendy Darling and her brothers Michael and John, who fly to Neverland with Peter Pan, the boy who would not grow up. Neverland has pirates, mermaids, and no baths, bedtimes, or schoolwork.

But there are no mothers, either, and without mothers, there are no stories. So Peter leaves Neverland at night to come listen to the stories that Wendy tells her brothers. One night, his shadow is caught in the window. When he comes back to get it, Wendy sews it back on, and Peter invites the Darling children to fly with him back to Neverland and tell stories to the Lost Boys. There Wendy and her brothers meet up with the Lost Boys, and battle Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs, “Harry Potter’s” Lucius Malfoy).

The production design is simply gorgeous. A storybook Victorian London is imagined with exquisite period detail. Even state-of-the-art special effects like flying and computer graphics are consistently conceived and gratifyingly believable. The jarring notes are Peter’s (unforgiveably) American accent and some anachronistic-sounding music. Swimming Pool’s Ludivine Sagnier does her best, but Tinkerbell is probably best portrayed as a spot of light. And some Pan lovers will object to a bit of gentle tweaking of the story. But it is not so much to be politically correct or bring it up to date as it is to remove any distractions from what in today’s view would be seen as sexism.

The story is about growing up, after all, and it is not a coincidence that Wendy flies away with Peter on what is supposed to be her last night sleeping in the nursery with her brothers before she must start to become a young lady. But even though, like her mother, Wendy has a kiss hiding in the corner of her mouth, she is not at all sure that she wants to become a young lady.

Part of the charm of the story is the way it looks at the terror and wonder of that bittersweet moment on the cusp of an adventure that can be scarier and more thrilling than a battle with pirates. Barrie thought that it was really Wendy’s story. Though Peter is the title character, it is Wendy who is the heroine because she makes a journey. When she kisses Peter to bring him back to life, both of them wake up.

When Wendy follows Peter to Neverland, he tells her she will never have to grow up but then he makes her into the mother of the Lost Boys. She assures him (and herself) that they are only playing, but she feels the pull of the adult world. She even tells Peter that Captain Hook is “a man of feeling” while he is just a boy. And feelings are taken very seriously in this story. Fairies like Tinkerbell can have only one feeling at a time. Peter cannot answer when Wendy asks him what his feelings are. And Hook has a deadly poison made up of “a mixture of malice, jealous, and disappointment.”

As Barrie requested in the notes for the play, one actor plays both Hook and Wendy’s father. But it is Hook and Peter who are truly linked. Wendy observes that Peter has no unhappy thoughts and Hook has no happy ones. Hook tells Peter, “You will die alone and unloved, just like me.”

All of this is there to give depth and resonance to an enchanting classic story which is lovingly, even tenderly told in a movie that will become a classic itself. Thrilling adventure, touching drama, and delightful comedy will give audiences of all ages all the happy thoughts and fairy dust it takes to fly.

Parents should know that the movie has a lot of fantasy violence, including swordfights, guns, and hitting below the belt. Pirates are killed. There is a brief graphic image of Captain Hook’s amputated arm as he puts on one of his hooks. We see boys’ bare behinds. There are a couple of sweet kisses and some subtle references to puberty. Characters drink and smoke and a pirate offers liquor and cigars to a child.

Families who see this movie should talk about why someone might not want to grow up. What do grown-ups do to keep the best part of childhood inside themselves? Is that what Barrie was doing in writing this story? There is a lot of talk about feelings in this movie. What does it mean to say that fairies can only feel one thing at a time? Why does Wendy tell Peter that she thinks Captain Hook is “a man of feeling?”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy comparing it to other versions of the story, including the Disney animated musical (but parents should be aware that it includes material that is insensitive about girls and Indians by today’s standards) and the live-action musical, which is available on video starring Mary Martin and Cathy Rigby. But stay away from Steven Spielberg’s sour Hook, an unfortunate variation starring Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter who returns to confront Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook. For more about Peter Pan, try this site or this one.

Families might also enjoy other movies with similar themes, including Mary Poppins and Gigi.

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