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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material
Release Date:
November 21, 2014

 

If I Stay
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

Foxcatcher
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence
Release Date:
November 21, 2014

 

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

Rosewater
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language including some crude references, and violent content
Release Date:
November 14, 2014

 

Into the Storm
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references
Release Date:
August 8, 2014

Derailed

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005

This movie sets out for intense, psychological thriller but ends up in an unrealistic dead-end thanks to misguided casting, implausible character development and a whole lot of bad behavior on the part of nearly everyone onscreen. “Derailed” indeed. Stuck on the same train as this lot, many audience members might prefer to walk.

Like the book, the movie follows Charles Christopher Schine (Clive Owen), who is just trying to be a nice guy. He is numb with loneliness as he goes from his rocky marriage to hated advertising job, unable to change tracks while his daughter, Amy (Addison Timlin) is ill and in need of expensive trial drugs. The spark between Charles and his wife (Melissa George) is smothered under the weight of worry for Amy and lack of communication, all of which leaves our protagonist ripe to make some very, very bad decisions.

An attractive leg on his morning train ride takes hold of Charles’ attention and desire. The leg belongs to finance expert Lucinda (a spectacularly miscast Jennifer Aniston), who is like him in sticking with her loveless marriage for the sake of a daughter but unlike him has verve and self-confidence to spare. As they edge towards an adulterous tryst, a robber/rapist Philippe Larouche (Vincent Cassel) hijacks the ride and in a string of physical and psychological attacks exploits Charles’ guilt and desire to please for blackmail. Will our hero save the lady and save the day? By the end of the movie, viewers might not care – idly wishing for a different hero, lady and day, preferably one that did not feature “Derailed”.

The redeeming features of the movie include some interesting scenes and insights, mostly stemming from Charles’ friendship with Winston (RZA), which in a platonic sense is a warmer, more intimate relationship than the one Lucinda offers. The twists and turns of the blackmailer’s con will offer some surprises for the less-jaded travelers but the epilogue will be the last stop for any passengers who managed to suspend disbelief through this uneven journey. The least credible turn of the movie is Charles’ jerky character development. Where the book might have explored this area better, here it runs out of steam.

Parents should be aware that this violent movie and its near-constant threats -– physical and psychological -— render it inappropriate for younger viewers or sensitive audience members of any age. Characters are killed, bloodily beaten, threatened, blackmailed, recklessly endangered and demeaned. There is an implicit rape, the threat of sexual attacks against a young girl, and the theme of adultery. All characters act in self-serving ways and stretch the limits of empathy.

Families may wish to discuss what makes a character sympathetic or not and why they side with Charles in his struggles. What would you have done differently?

Families who wish to see the actors here shine in other movies, might wish to see Greenfingers, which also starts and ends in prison but allows Clive Owen to show humor and timing or Croupier (mature themes), which first brought him to the attention of American audiences. Jennifer Aniston’s flat and distant dramatic persona works much better in the depressing The Good Girl and The Object of My Affection (mature themes), but true fans might stick with Picture Perfect or old episodes of Friends.

Thanks to guest critic AME.

Walk the Line

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

At first it just seems like a pulse. Then we realize it is a sound. Then we realize it is a very loud sound, muffled because it is on the other side of some very thick walls. Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) is about to perform at Folsom Prison, and the inmates are calling for him in a controlled (maybe only temporarily) thump, thump, thump. He pauses, his finger touching lightly on the buzz saw, and he remembers.

Is it possible to overcome the Behind the Music/E! True Hollywood Story-ism in a movie biograpy of a legendary musician?

Maybe somewhere out there is a story about a sensationally talented performer who managed to achieve success without neglecting family members, agonizing about the meaning of it all, and what BtM/THS always call “the descent into drugs and alcoholism.” Maybe that story will not start with a critical moment in the performer’s adult life and then shift back to take us through his childhood, with his dream of making it big, and then through his success, discovering that his dream was not all he hoped.

Someday, somewhere, but not in this movie. But for now, that’s okay. Like Ray, this is a good, if predictable movie with great performances and great music.

Joaquin Phoenix is a deep and complex actor, a good fit for the man in black. He shows us Cash’s vulnerability, his loneliness, and, above all, his aching, overwhelming, yearning for June Carter. He heard her 10-year-old voice on the radio when he was a boy and it drew and sustained him. Like Cash, Phoenix expresses himself less through his words than through gesture, movement, music. We see his anguish, his shame, and his hope of redemption in the way he walks, the way he holds his shoulders and turns his head, and especially in the way he looks at June.

Witherspoon matches him on every beat — she’s the more arresting character here, and we wish we could get to know her side of the story better. When we first see her, she’s the essence of a trouper; she’s been performing all her life. She thinks she knows her place in her famous family and in the larger family of performers: “I learned to be funny so I’d always have something to do.” She thinks tt’s her sister who has the voice; she uses charm and personality to captivate the audience. But the character she plays on stage is not really her. Johnny sees the real June just as she sees the real Johnny.

He first sees her backstage and snags her dress on his guitar, just to have the chance to be close to her. After she extricates herself, he holds onto the little piece of fabric torn from her dress and looks out at her on stage. Later, they share coffee at a diner. She tells him that his music is “strong as a train, sharp as a razor,” and encourages him to feel proud of what he has done. He tells her about the loss of his brother. They become close friends. And she stands by him as he grapples with substance abuse, finding that difficult balance between being supportive and insisting that he be clean. He helps her find her voice as she helps him find peace. Their personal, artistic, and professional lives connect and intertwine.

The movie has all the usual steps on the rise, fall, and rise story — the “Daddy’s going to be home real soon” and “I got you all this stuff — what do you want from me?” exchanges with the family, the touchstones as we see Johnny write his Folsom song and begin to wear black (because it was the only color he and his bandmates all had). Then there are the meetings with famous people before they were famous, the stardom, the discovery that stardom is not enough, and the second rise, the one that means something because it is built on something real. That’s all capably done, but it is the performances of Phoenix and Witherspoon and the conviction they bring to the connection between Johnny and June, the way a deep friendship led to love and personal and artistic renewal that makes the movie work, that takes us into their burning ring of fire.

Parents should know that this film includes brief strong language, the death of a child (some graphic injuries), alcohol and prescription drug abuse, smoking, and some very tense and emotional confrontations. Children witness a particularly ugly fight between parents. A character undergoes detox. There are some sexual references and non-explicit situations, including groupies and adultery.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it was so hard for Johnny Cash’s father to show his pride in his son. What made that so painful for Johnny? Why was the Folsom concert so important to him? If you only had time to sing one song, what would it be?

Families who enjoy this film should listen to the legendary At Folsom Prison recording, as well as recordings by Jerry Lee Lewis, Waylon Jennings, Buddy Holly, and, of course, Elvis. They might also enjoy learning more about the legendary Sun Records, run by Sam Phillips, and listening to the music of the Cashes and Carters, including Roseanne Cash, Carlene Carter, and the Carter Family. And they will appreciate The Prophet, the book June gave Johnny, which was a great influence and inspiration for both of them.

Yours, Mine & Ours

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

This one is straight off the sit-com conveyer belt, all pratfalls and spit-takes. What little gloss it gets from star power is buried under forced humor about a pet pig (The pig swallows a cell phone! The pig eats the wedding cake!), about predictable “Odd Couple”/red state vs. blue state style culture clashes (The hippie kid has to room with the straight-arrow! Multiplied by 9!), and about “feminine” behavior by young boys — genuinely weird and icky in addition to being downright inappropriate for the target age group.

Like the original Yours, Mine, and Ours, this is based on the true story of widower Frank Beardsley (Dennis Quaid), father of eight children, who married Helen North (Rene Russo), a widow with ten.

In this version, Frank is a Coast Guard admiral who keeps his family in ship shape to ensure smooth sailing. Everyone knows the rules, and when he calls formation, everyone shows up and salutes. Helen is a free spirit who believes in the talking stick and the group hug. They were high school sweethearts who run into each other when he returns to duty in Connecticut and impulsively elope about a minute later so we can get to the good stuff — the all-out war between the North and Beardsley children. The next thing you know, there’s a school bus just for the family, a schedule for the bathrooms, and a chore chart the size of a tablecloth. And everyone gathers around to try to get all 20 names on the answering machine message, emphasis on “try.”

The kids battle each other and then we’re on to chapter two as the warring factions join forces against a common enemy; they decide to break up their parents. Didn’t we see this on “The Brady Bunch?”

Quaid and Russo manage to locate some chemistry, despite his being relegated to messy pratfalls and her almost-as-thankless task of basically being an inconsiderate ditherbrain. The kids are pretty much interchangeable, with the exception of hippie chick Danielle Panabaker, who has a very appealing screen presence. Oscar-winner Linda Hunt is criminally wasted as the housekeeper.

This is one of those series-of-skits-then-heartwarming finish formulas that makes your head hurt if you try to think about it too much. For example, for two people who keep talking about how much they love their families, Frank and Helen don’t do much actual parenting. While it’s true that the movie would never end if it tried to give us some actual interaction between parent and child, the absence of a single moment of homework help, emergency room visit, heart-to-heart talk, or expression of concern about a scraped knee or a hurt feeling gives it a phony, pre-fab tone. There isn’t one authentic or imaginative moment. Yours, mine, ours? Keep it.

Parents should know that the movie has some crude humor, including comic barfing. There are some weird and tasteless homophobic jokes. One boy is portrayed as (humorously) effeminate. The children attempt to rattle their Admiral father by having two other boys dress up like girls and pretend to have a tea party. The children also discuss upsetting him further by having the two teenage girls kiss each other. There is a thong joke and there are some mild references to a married couple wanting to have some privacy so they can go to bed together. Two teenagers have a lingering kiss (but no affection or commitment). There are kegs of beer at a teen party and it is supposed to be funny that the children’s housekeeper pours herself a martini. The movie has a good deal of comic slapstick violence of the head-bonking, slip and fall variety, school bullies, and some mild peril. No one is hurt. Some audience members may be disturbed by the fact that each of the children in this movie lost a parent. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of devoted multi-racial siblings.

Families who see this movie should talk about what the best (and worst) thing about having 17 siblings would be and which members of the North/Beardsley family they would most like to have as friends. They may also want to talk about how the Beardsleys and Norths were more alike than they seemed. Both were loving and devoted families. And both were reacting to the feeling of lack of control that tragedies can bring — one by hanging on too tightly to rules and one by being unwilling to hang on to anything too tightly at all. Where does your family fall on the continuum of rules vs. creative chaos?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the original, starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball (in a performance her biographer called the best of her career). Families might also like to see documentaries about real families with 12 or more children, including the Oscar-winning Who are the DeBolts? and My Flesh and Blood (both with some very sad moments as well as some very inspiring ones) and read books about large families like Cheaper by the Dozen and The Family Nobody Wanted. They can find out more about the real North/Beardsley family (twenty children, including the two Frank and Helen had together) on this website.

Get Rich or Die Tryin’

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

It begins with a burst of energy and charisma as Marcus (rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) and his friends break into a store so they can rob it. They don’t break in so much as explode in. Director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America) creates an electric sense of high testosterone and tension. And then Marcus looks over at the terrified child of the store proprietors and gives him a reassuring wink.

But it’s downhill from there. Like 8 Mile, the film starring 50 Cent’s mentor, Eminem, this film has a top-level screenwriter and director adapting his life story. But it is not as successful, because, despite his unquestionable charisma and buff torso, 50 Cent is not an actor. He has attitude. But he only has one attitude. He might as well be botoxed (or still have his jaw wired shut from the bullet wound); whether he is supposed to convey sorrow, regret, fear, love, anger, or ambition, it’s all just the one facial expression.

The story isn’t much more gripping than the performance. We’ve seen it before, not just in gangtsa movies, but before that in gangster movies, Westerns, and just about any other “how I triumphed over all my obstacles” story. It’s a little bit 8 Mile (young man from poverty dreams of rapping), a little bit Goodfellas (rise and fall of a gangster), and a little bit Oliver Twist (the only father figures a poor boy can find are the local bad guys who show him attention just so they can use him).

Marcus/50 Cent never knew his father and his mother, a drug dealer, died when he was 8. He went from being the well-loved son of a mother who was not around much but showed her love by buying him “the best of everything” to being one of a large, scruffy bunch fighting for space, food, and the good pair of shoes at his grandparents’ apartment. After he gets kicked out of a bed shared by several people, his grandfather sets up a cot next to the washing machine, asking the child, “You gonna be all right here for a few years?”

So it wasn’t long before Marcus went into “the family business,” selling drugs on a street corner to buy the two things he most wanted — a fancy pair of sneakers and a gun. The message all around him is that the only thing that matters is “respect,” and the only jobs that get any respect — the only occupations with any authenticity — are gangster and rapper. Best of all is both. “After Tupac, everyone wanted to be a gangsta rapper.”

Marcus knows that on an hourly basis he is making less than minimum wage, and that the job he has taken will inevitably get him shot, put in jail, or both. But “respect is the most important thing in life” and living the thug life gets him the only kind of respect that he, well, respects. He says, “My mama didn’t raise no second-class n—–; I’m a gangsta, Grandpa, and proud of it.” He never thinks about the effect of what he is doing on his own life, the lives of the people who care about him, or his community. He wants is to run with the big dogs (he tells the kingpin, “You’re like a god to me”). And he wants to find his father, and kill the man who killed his mother, even if they might be the same person.

There are some very strong moments and some very impressive performances, especially Terrence Howard, this year’s breakout star, with another incendiary appearance. Howard conveys more with the angle of his hat or the way he exhales cigarette smoke than 50 Cent does in his most dramatic moments. The always-impressive Viola Davis is fine as the grandmother who has seen too many people she loves get shot. Joy Bryant lends some grace to the thankless role of “fantasy girlfriend,” ever loving and true-hearted, despite the fact that her boyfriend provides almost no financial or emotional support and puts not just himself but also her and her baby at risk.

Director Sheridan has a good feel for place and there are some vivid images, especially a brutal fight in a prison shower, followed by a conversation between men who happen to be lying down, cuffed, and naked. But the story is predictable (especially since it is told in flashback after Marcus is shot and we all know he survives and becomes a star). At crucial moments, it falls back into formula or, worse, a winking self-referential love letter to 50. One nemesis is a rapper named Dangerous (Michael Miller), supposed to be based on 50’s feud with Ja Rule. But 50 is more interested in dissing Ja Rule by portraying “Dangerous” as a wimpy wannabe who looks like a woeful fetus than he is by creating an arresting dynamic between the two characters. It’s not the predictability of the movie that is the problem; it is the emptiness. 50 Cent doesn’t want to rap because he has something to say (like Eminem). He just wants to rap because it’s cool. We never get a sense of his learning, growing, or giving back. 50 Cent fans would be better off with a concert film. But at least he makes his priorities clear; it’s not called “Make a Good Movie or Die Tryin’.”

Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of very intense adult material that makes it unsuitable for younger audiences or sensitive audience members of any age. Characters use extremely strong language, including the n-word. There is a great deal of peril and graphic violence, including shooting, stabbing, and punching and references to rape and suicide. Many characters are hurt and some are murdered. Most of the characters are drug dealers and many are drug users. There are sexual references and situations and sexual and non-sexual nudity, including a fight in a prison shower that includes frontal male nudity.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Marcus felt his best option for getting what he wanted was to become a “gangster,” even though he knew that on an hourly basis he was making less than minimum wage. What do you think about the priority the characters in this movie put on “respect?” How did they define what respect meant to them? Why did they believe that “love will get you killed?” Families should also talk about how much the drug business in this movie resembles any other business or, indeed, any other organization, with (literal and metaphorical) turf battles, communication issues, leadership, motivation, and vision concerns, succession planning concerns, and even research and development of new products.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy New Jack City, Boyz N the Hood, and 8 Mile. They willl also appreciate the outstanding documentary, Tupac: Resurrection.

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