Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


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The Drop
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some strong violence and pervasive language
Release Date:
September 12, 2014

 

The Fault in Our Stars
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language
Release Date:
June 6, 2014

Dolphin Tale 2
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some mild thematic elements
Release Date:
September 12, 2014

 

Think Like a Man Too
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for crude sexual content including references, partial nudity, language and drug material
Release Date:
June 20, 2014

The One I Love
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language, some sexuality and drug use
Release Date:
September 5, 2014

 

Godzilla
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence
Release Date:
May 16, 2014

Sideways

posted by rkumar
A
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

Miles (Paul Giamatti), dips his nose deep inside the bowl of a glass of white wine and it is clear that this is where he is happiest and most at home. All of his mind, body, and spirit are focused inside that glass as he passionately, reverently, and yes, a little pretentiously unpacks all of the influences he can identify, everything from “a hint of like asparagus” to stawberry, passion fruit, or “a nutty Edam cheese.”

He may be disappointed by his life. He is certainly a disappointment to himself. But in this one moment, when his ability to appreciate is matched by the fragile complexity of the California wine country’s elixirs, he is confident, masterful, and fully alive.

Miles is in the Santa Ynez Valley with his friend, Jack (Thomas Haden Church), a has-been actor, once co-star of a television shows, now making a living doing voice-overs and commercials. In one week, Jack will be getting married to a woman who is young, beautiful, and wealthy. This trip is his last bachelor getaway. The plan is to eat great food, drink great wine, and enjoy great scenery.

For Miles, it is a chance to get away from his life as a failed author (now working as a middle school teacher as he struggles to finish his gargantuan novel) and a failed husband (his wife has left him). For Jack, it is a chance to live it up before he has to be good — for good. For both of them, it is a chance to feel free.

But things are messy and complicated right from the beginning. Miles is late picking up Jack and then takes him on a detour. They stop to wish Miles’ mother a happy birthday but stay just long enough for Miles to steal some money from her bedroom. They leave before his sister arrives for the birthday celebration.

Miles wants Jack to appreciate the delicate beauty of the wine. But Jack, who barely waits for Miles to stop talking about the wine before he gulps it down, not even taking the gum out of his mouth, has a different kind of beauty appreciation in mind. When he finds out that an accommodating wine pourer named Stephanie (Sandra Oh) is a friend of Maya’s (Virginia Madsen), the waitress Miles has admired from afar, he invites them both to dinner. Jack tells the women they are celebrating Miles’ (nonexistent) book contract. Later he tells Stephanie she may be the woman he could spend the rest of his life with. Jack is such a master of the expedient lie and so incapable of thinking even an hour ahead that he begins to believe it himself.

Miles is not sure which is more terrifying – watching Jack mess up his marriage plans by getting involved with Stephanie or letting himself take the risk of trying to start a relationship with the newly-divorced Maya — who thinks she is talking to a man whose book is about to be published. Then things get even more messy and awkward, and complicated.

Or, to put it another way, things get richer, headier, and more complex, just like a fine wine. And in a world of multiplex formulas that are the movie equivalent of generic brand cola, that makes this one of the rare movies designed for grown-ups.

In one of the loveliest moments on screen this year, Miles and Maya tell each other what they like about wine. Miles’ favorite, pinot noir, is, he says “a hard grape to grow…thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early…Only when someone has taken the time to truly understand its potential can Pinot be coaxed into its fullest expression. And when that happens, its flavors are the most hangint and brilliant and subtle and thrilling and ancient on the planet.”

Maya says she loves the way that wine is a living thing, “constantly evolving and gaining complexity” toward its prime until it reaches its peak. They both know – as we do – that they are talking about themselves.

Giamatti and Church are magnificent, fully inhabiting beautifully written roles. They are not afraid to let us see the considerable flaws of both Miles and Jack, but they are also able to show us their humanity, their connection, and their appeal. Oh and Madsen may have the even tougher challenge, as the female characters are more superficially conceived, fantasy figures whose primary function is to desire and be desired by the men. It is even more impressive, then, that they are able to make Stephanie and Maya so touching and so complete.

Parents should know that this movie is filled with very mature material, including extremely explicit sexual references and situations (including full male nudity) and some violence which, while played for comedy, results in significant injuries. Characters drink (there is a distinction made between the appreciation of wine as a work of art and drinking to numb feelings or get drunk) and use very strong language.

Families who see this film should talk about what mattered most to Miles and Jack. Despite their differences, what kept them together as friends? What does Stephanie see in Jack? What does Maya see in Miles?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy the other films by director Alexander Payne, including About Schmidt and Election. They should also see some of the other films of Sandra Oh (Payne’s wife), including Double Happiness, and some of the other films of Paul Giamatti, including American Splendor.

Ray

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

An extraordinary actor plays an extraordinary person in “Ray,” the life of a brilliant musician and performer who triumphed over poverty, blindness, and racism through talent, passion, and courage.

It is an almost insurmountable challenge for an actor to play someone the audience knows so well, especially someone like Ray Charles. It would have been easy to make it a caricature instead of a performance, to imitate him instead of being him. But Jamie Foxx (Collateral, On Any Sunday, Ali) creates such a real and vivid person that we almost forget that he is re-enacting someone else’s life. He captures Charles’ mannerisms but not as imitation, more like channeling. The way he moves and talks and holds his head come from deep within the characterization. Foxx’s background as a musician (he has a degree in classical piano) and the prosthetics he used on his eyes that left him functionally sightless during filming lend a great deal of authenticity as well. He shows us Charles’ intensity and his charm. And he achieves the near-impossible by making us feel close to a man who did not let people close, a man who sang, “You Don’t Know Me.”

The movie’s two greatest strengths are Foxx’s incendiary and fully-inhabited performance and Charles’ peerless music. There are also outstanding supporting performances, including Kerry Washington as Charles’ wife Della Bea, Regina King as back-up singer (and mistress) Margie, and Curtis Armstrong as Atlantic records executive Ahmet Ertegun.

But it never surmounts the biopic hurdles, the ones that separate real stories from made-for-tv-style formulas.

First, it focuses too much on Charles’ personal life. What is most interesting is his music, and too often this movie tells us instead of showing us how revolutionary Charles was as composer, performer, and producer. There’s too much with people saying “You can’t do that!” and “No one’s ever done that before!” and “Look! We’re number one on the charts!” and not enough of showing us the process, the inspiration, collaboration, or the passion that made the music.

Furthermore, the movie makes the mistake of trying to cover too much, compressing decades into hours. There are peripheral characters we care about and never see again and peripheral characters we never know enough about to care when we do find out what happens.

Its biggest failing is over-simplifying the influences and developments in Charles’ life and music, with a return to the old style of biographical movie-making. It has too-frequent revelatory flashbacks that tie his reactions and each of his songs to particular revelations and turning points. It begins to feel like a “greatest hits” compilation, skipping from high point to low point (and, like Charles, from woman to woman) in a clutter of incidents instead of a story, matching songs to events as though it was a Disney musical. It is a tribute to Foxx’s commitment and focus at its center that the movie has any sense of direction at all.

But there are many moments of great power as Charles says he must be paid in singles so he cannot be cheated and insists on owning his own music instead of letting the studio control it. He breaks through musical barriers that separate R&B from country and societal barriers that allow a black man to perform in segregated venues. And every time he plays and sings, it is pure magic.

Parents should know that the movie has very strong material for a PG-13; it’s more like a PG-16. There are frequent sexual references and situations (non-explicit), as Charles has relationships with many, many women, even after he is married. One of the women becomes pregnant. Characters drink, smoke (constantly) and take drugs, including marijuana and heroin. A character OD’s (off-camera), and there is a harrowing scene of detoxing after Charles decides to end his 20-year heroin habit. Characters use very strong language. A child is killed and another loses his sight. A strength of the movie is its frank coverage of the pre-Civil Rights era, where the “Chitlin’ Circuit” was the (almost) all-black venues where black performers were booked. In one understated scene, it makes clear that no restaurants would allow black customers, so they had to make arrangements at the homes of black people along the way. In another scene, Charles refuses to perform in a facility that does not allow black customers and is sued by the promoter and banned from the state of Georgia as a result.

Families who see this movie should talk about what made Ray Charles strong and what made him weak. Should he have left Atlantic? How should he have treated Jeff after Joe told him what he did? Which of Aretha Robinson’s advice to her son was the most important to him?

Families who enjoy this movie should sit down together to listen to the astonishing range and power of the music of Ray Charles. They will also enjoy some of the best of the other biopics featuring musicians, including Coal Miner’s Daughter, with an Oscar-winning performance by Sissy Spacek as country star Lorretta Lynn, The Buddy Holly Story, starring Gary Busey as the pioneering rock musician, and Lady Sings the Blues, with Diana Ross as Billy Holliday.

Birth

posted by rkumar
D
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

In the middle of a story that lurches from unsettling to preposterous by way of sheer ookiness, there is a moment of sheer, breathtaking bravura, shared by actress and director.

At her engagement party, Anna (Nicole Kidman) has just been told by a 10 year old boy that he is the reincarnation of her late husband. Soon after, she and the fiance are at the theater, after another unsettling confrontation with the boy. Director Jonathan Glazer gives us a close-up of Anna’s face and then stays there for what is in these MTV-ADD days of skittery jump cuts and cluttered, flashy edits, a seemingly endless shot. Both Glazer and Kidman are flying without a net. A take of that length risks making the audience uncomfortable, taking them out of the story. Most actors would feel they had to do something show-offy to hold our attention. But Kidman trusts us and she trusts herself. She doesn’t use tricks. She doesn’t bite her lip or wipe away a tear. She just lets her longing and disbelief touch almost imperceptively on those impeccable features. It is a wonder to see.

But the rest of the movie is just an “I wonder what they were thinking.”

Or maybe “I wonder if they knew what they were thinking.” I’m not saying everything always has to fit together, but this movie keeps changing its mind about its most basic premise.

Ambiguity is fine — it’s always good to see a movie that has enough respect for the audience to leave something to the imagination. But inconsistency is another thing entirely, and in this movie it just leaves the viewer feeling cheated. Ambiguity only works if the incomplete pieces don’t clash with each other. It’s okay to leave blank spaces as long as the pieces that are there fit together.

The idea of having a loved one return after death is an enticing one, featured in many films, good and bad. The ones that work have some point of view that resonates with our desires (Truly Madly Deeply) or our fears (Blithe Spirit). This one seems to have given more thought to its elegant decors (marvelously evocative) than to its underlying theories. Has Sean returned to prevent Anna from marrying someone who is hiding his true nature? Was Sean less than the devoted husband Anna wants to remember? Is this just a disturbed boy, obsessed with a beautiful woman? Any of these could have been the basis for a good movie, but the film just hints in those directions and then doubles back. And what are all these grown-up people doing living together in one apartment? It’s sort of the Upper East Side version of the Ponderosa.

Meanwhile, the film gets creepy in ways it apparently does not intend. It is bad enough when Anna tries to shock 10-year-old Sean out of what she hopes is a delusion by asking him how he intends to satisfy her sexually. It is close to awful when he takes off all his clothes and climbs into the bathtub with her. And the last fifteen minutes make no sense whatsoever.

In the midst of all this mess, there are some lovely performances, especially Alison Elliot as Laura, Anna’s pregnant sister, Arliss Howard as her husband, and Ted Levine and Cara Seymour as Sean’s parents. All create real characters in their brief screen time. It’s always nice to hear Lauren Bacall’s clipped diction, but it only reminds us of the many far better movies we have enjoyed her in.

Parents should know that the movie includes sexual references, including adultery, and an explicit (and completely gratuitous) sexual situation as well as situations that come close to sexual abuse of a minor. A young boy takes a bath with an adult woman and later they kiss. Characters drink and smoke and use some strong language. The only minority cast member plays a somewhat stereotyped family retainer. The themes may be very disturbing to some audience members.

Families who see this movie should talk about their own views on life after death. What would they like to hear from those they have lost? What should we say now to those who are still here?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other movies with this theme, including Ghost, Truly, Madly, Deeply, and Blithe Spirit. They will also enjoy seeing some of Bacall’s best work in To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, and Designing Woman.

Surviving Christmas

posted by rkumar
D
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

In what is intended to be one of the most revealing and touching scenes in “Surviving Christmas,” the main character turns a lovely gesture into a crass, garish, and cringe-inducing display. Take away the revealing and touching part, and you’ve pretty much got a description of the movie itself.

After an opening montage of Yuletide misery concluding with a sweet grandmotherly woman putting frowns on her gingerbread men and then sticking her head on the oven (funny, huh?), we meet Drew (Ben Affleck), a wealthy advertising executive. He is pitching a new campaign for spiked eggnog and the theme he proposes is that the best way to get through the holidays is to have everyone in the family a little shnockered. And the client goes for it! Funny, huh? Um, no.

Oh yes, it’s that kind of movie. Failed attempts at humor land with a crash on top of failed attempts at plot.

Drew’s girlfriend dumps him because he has never introduced her to his family and wants to go to Fiji for Christmas. Horrified at the thought of being alone on Christmas, he offers the family now living in his childhood home a quarter of a million dollars if they will pretend to be his family through Christmas.

This idea of a spoiled young man hiring a family worked poorly in Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star and it works just as poorly here. The family is headed by the unhappily married Tom (Gandolfini) and Christine (Catherine O’Hara). Their son Brian spends all his time in his room surfing the internet for porn.

Their daughter Alicia (Christina Applegate) is horrified to find her family rented out for the season and refuses to participate. Then we have a long, inexorable, almost unendurable slog through the “aw” moments when everyone starts to develop warm feelings for everyone else and the “oops” moments when the former girlfriend with the stuffy family gets his expensive gift and thinks she will drop in on Drew to start things up again. Oh, yeah, Drew gives Christine a makeover with a photo shoot and the pictures turn up on Brian’s favorite porn site. And oh, the lack of hilarity when the actor Drew hires to play his grandfather sends his understudy. And then there is the painful attempt at humor in having Drew’s girlfriend see him kissing Alicia and thinking it’s his sister. And then the big reveal which pretty much undercuts the entire premise of the movie, not that anyone should devote the brain cells necessary to attempt to resolve the inconsistency.

James Gandolfini does his best to pretend he is not actually in this slack, dumb, boring, and charmless movie by hiding behind a beard. The rest of the cast look as though they wish they had thought of it, too. They all have that bleak, glazed, “maybe, with any luck, this will go straight to video and never be heard from again” look. As for me, I sat there with a bleak, glazed, “maybe this movie will be over and I can go home and try to keep people from going to see it” look. Surviving Christmas? All I wanted was to survive the movie.

Parents should know that the movie includes jokes about incest, pornography, cross-dressing, masturbation, Sonny Bono’s death, and marijuana. Characters drink and smoke and use some strong language. There is comic peril and violence, including smacking someone with a shovel. The happy families Drew sees on Christmas include a gay couple, but this is intended to be humorous, not inclusive.

Families who see this movie should talk about how difficult it can be to try to measure our own relatives by the idealized families portrayed in holiday movies and television shows.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other dysfunctional family holiday movies like The Ref, Home for the Holidays (both with some mature material), Home Alone (also starring O’Hara), and of course the classic A Christmas Story.

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