Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


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Annie
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some mild language and rude humor
Release Date:
December 19, 2014

 

The Maze Runner
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images
Release Date:
September 19, 2014

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language
Release Date:
December 19, 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

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Release Date:
December 19, 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

An Inconvenient Truth

posted by jmiller
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for mild thematic elements.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

No zombies. No chain saws. No mutants. No aliens. No meteors hurtling toward Earth. And yet, this is the scariest movie of the year, not, as some jokes suggest, because it is a two-hour Power Point Presentation by famously un-exciting former Vice President Al Gore, but because this is real, this is happening, and we can’t count on Bruce Willis or Will Smith to save the day.


Al Gore first became interested in the problem of climate change as a result of a visionary teacher he had in college who was the first person to begin to map the increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He has now given this presentation more than 1000 times, going from flip charts to fancy animated graphics. His somewhat stiff but clearly deeply felt delivery turns out to be just right for this material. Anything else would sound shrill and shriek-y. And as he presents the science of the causes, the impacts so far, and the prospects for the future, his relentless but calm tone makes it possible for us to stay with the story without feeling shrill or shriek-y ourselves.


There are a few welcome digressions into Gore’s personal life that help us understand why he feels that this is not a polticial or a scientific issue as much as a moral one. There is an unwelcome and distracting digression into the 2000 election that wafts a whiff of sour grapes over the description of the Bush administration’s policies. But other than that brief derailment, the movie is mesmerizing. Ultimately, crucially, it is hopeful, ending with a sense of purpose and confidence that we can do what is necessary.

Families who see this movie will want to find out more about the problems it describes and what they can do to help. The film’s website is a good place to start. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s global warming site has information for adults and children. Another point of view is here, produced by a conservative think tank called the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Slate Magazine’s Gregg Easterbrook challenges some of the moral and scientific points made in the movie here. A search for “climate change” or “Kyoto accords” on the website maintained by the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives will provide an update on current proposals and debates. Other resources include the Pew Center and the Exploratorium.

Families should talk about how we sort through different opinions, sometimes even different facts presented by a range of sources. They should also talk about the range of responses for individuals and communities.

Families who appreciate this film will also like Darwin’s Nightmare, Koyaanisqatsi, March of the Penguins, The Future of Food, and The Yes Men.

X-Men: The Last Stand

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, some sexual content and language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

A concerned father bangs on the door of the bathroom, insisting that his son open the door. Inside, his son sobs as he tries frantically to get rid of the evidence that his body is changing in a way he cannot control. It seems he is…growing wings.


Like many comic book stories, the X-Men, mutants with secret powers who are unappreciated and misunderstood by their families, are a superb allegory of adolescence. The X-Men are mutants with special powers that make “normal” humans feel threatened and uneasy. Some humans want to accept the mutants. In this third chapter, there is a U.S. President who has even appointed a mutant to a cabinet position, Secretary of the Department of Mutant Affairs (who coordinates with the Department of Homeland Security, of course). That would be Dr. Hank McCoy, otherwise known as Beast, looks sort of Muppet-y with his blue fur and sounds like Dr. Frasier Crane because he is played by Kelsey Grammer. For once, the students at the school led by Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) can focus on learning to use their powers instead of hiding from the authorities.


But just as a political balance seems possible, with a big blue guy wearing suit and glasses consulting with the President in the Situation Room, technology turns everything upside down, providing ammunition to the separatist mutants led by Magneto (Ian McKellen). That same father from the other side of the bathroom door has discovered a “cure” for mutantism. Should it be offered to the X-Men? Should it be forced on them? Are the mutants “sick” or is it the humans who are now substandard, with the mutants a new normal?


Interestingly, the “cure” itself comes from a mutant (Cameron Bright), whose special power is that he disables any mutant power that comes into contact with him.


The result is a story that is as absorbing as the special effects and stunts. The movie takes on a number of challenging issues, from prejudice and distinctions within the mutant communities to the notion of a “cure” — “Since when do we become a disease?” asks Storm (Halle Berry) — that becomes a weapon to the deeper problems of genocide. Magneto shows the number tattooed on his arm by the Nazis and we know why he will always feel like a rejected outsider. And, as in previous chapters, it has a subtle and complex approach that goes beyond the usual good guy/bad guy divisions.

And once again, we have the pleasures of classically trained actors giving Shakespearean line readings to comic book dialogue (“Will you control that power or let it control you?”) and American actors toss off tough-sounding wisecracks and a few longing glances while a lot of stuff explodes all around them. Once again, the low-key, throwaway effects are as dazzling as the let’s-rip-apart-the-Golden-Gate-Bridge stunners. Hurray for summer movies!


As in the other films, there are so many tantalizing characters that we never get to spend enough time with them, and those unfamiliar with the comics may have a hard time remembering who has what powers (and what friends/romantic involvements/enemies). That contributes to the fast pace and the sense that we are getting a glimpse of a fully realized world. You won’t want this to be the last chapter. And if you stay all the way until the end of the credits, past the caterer’s niece’s special assistant, you might find some reason to hope that this isn’t the last last stand after all.


Parents should know that the movie has a great deal of intense comic book-style action violence, some graphic. Many characters are wounded or killed. There is some strong language (the b-word, etc.) and brief nudity and a sexual situation. A character smokes a cigar. A strength of the story is its literal and metaphorical treatment of diversity.


Families who see this movie should talk about the story’s parallels to some current events (like the division between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims or the Palestinians and the Israelis) and to issues about “cures.” For example, there are debates and lawsuits over the use of cochlear implants to treat deafness. Some syndromes that were considered in need of a cure in the past are now generally considered healthy expressions of inddividual biochemistry or choice. They might like to explore these themes in a short story by Kurt Vonnegut called Harrison Bergeron.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the first two in the series. They will also enjoy the Harry Potter movies, a funny treatment of some of the same issues for kids in Sky High, and Men in Black.

The Da Vinci Code

posted by jmiller

A character in this movie’s version of the Catholic organization Opus Dei explains that their mission is to follow doctrine very strictly. That was director Ron Howard’s secular mission as well with this adaptation of the world-wide best-seller. He and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman knew that the fans of the book would want to see every word up on the screen. And that’s pretty much what they give us, a color-by-numbers adaptation of the book instead of a movie.


Indeed, the book was more cinematic than its on-screen version, with little description, a lot of dialogue, and short, propulsive scenes with a lot of cliff-hangers. The very act of adapting it throws it out of balance. What is left to the imagination in the book comes across as heavy-handed and over the top on screen, from the very first appearance of Paul Bettany as Silas, with a sit-com-style Italian accent. The gossamer-thin plot is even wispier on screen and the book’s eneergetic pacing is slowed down by overly cautious and respectful direction. Its equally thin characterizations give even talented and charismatic performers like Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Bettany, and Alfred Molina too little to do. Only Ian McKellen as scholar Leif Teabing brings his character to life.


Hanks plays “symbolgist” Robert Langdon, in Paris to speak about his new book. Policeman Bezu Fache (Jean Reno) asks him to take a look at a recent homicide victim, a curator at the Louvre who had been scheduled to meet with Langdon that day. As Langdon observes the body, naked and arranged in a peculiar way, and the message he wrote in his own blood, they are interrupted by a police cryptographer, Sophie Neveu (Tautou). Soon after, Langdon and Neveu find themselves on the run from the police and some bad guys as they try to solve a mystery that is hundreds of years old.


It is fun to see the real locations portrayed in the book and there are some good twists in the plot. But Hanks looks tired and distracted and Tautou (of the lovely Amelie) does not seem comfortable with the English dialogue. The same is true for some of the Americans and Brits in the cast, though and it’s tough to blame them as some of the lines must have felt like chewing on wood: “We cannot let ego deter us from our goal.” “The mind sees what it chooses to see.” The historical flashbacks are overdone, with the exception of one subtle flicker between present and past that works nicely. Fans of the book may find what they are looking for, but everyone else may feel that it is a watered-down and dragged-out version of an Indiana Jones movie.

Parents should know that the movie has a good deal of peril and violence. Characters are shot, punched, killed in a car crash, and poisoned. There are also explicit scenes of a character hurting himself as an expression of his religious commitment. A character is an intravenous drug user. There is some strong language (spelled out in subtitles when characters swear in French). The movie also has themes that some audience members may find disturbing, even heretical. While the film-makers have stated clearly that the incidents depicted in the film are fantasy, some audience members may be upset by allegations of illegal activity on the part of some church members or the challenges to traditional doctrines.


Families who see this movie should talk about different groups through history that have believed that information needed to be kept from others. They may also want to talk about the views of different religions and cultures and eras about the role of women.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy reading the book. They will also enjoy movies like National Treasure, Die Hard 3 (very strong language), Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. They should learn about the real Opus Dei (whose response to the movie is here) and the real-life characters and locations, including Leonardo da Vinci and the Louvre. They may also want to explore some responses and critiques like this one and this one. Author Dan Brown responds here to questions about what is fact and what is fiction in the book and why he believes his book should not be considered offensive but an invitation to exploration and dialogue.

Over the Hedge

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for some rude humor and mild comic action.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Computer technology has always had the advantage in animation when it comes to texture and three-dimensionality, and it is superb for physical properties like “shiny” and “bouncy,” but it has lagged behind hand-drawn when it came to expressions. “Over the Hedge” takes a big leap forward with computer animation that adds a delightful elasticity and verve to the characters’s “performances.”


Raccoon R.J. (voice of Bruce Willis), a brash scavenger, tries to steal the enormous pile of goodies that a big bear named Vincent (voice of Nick Nolte) had hidden away for a post-hibernation breakfast. When the food is destroyed, Vincent gives him one week to replace it all, including the red wagon and blue cooler. R.J., very much a loner, needs some help.


Waking up from their own hibernation nearby are Verne the turtle (voice of Garry Shandling), a sweet-natured porcupine family headed by Lou (voice of Eugene Levy) and Penny (voice of Catherine O’Hara), a highly excitable squirrel named Hammy (voice of Steve Carrell), a possum dad (voice of William Shatner) and daughter (voice of pop star Avril Lavigne), and an outspoken skunk named Stella (voice of Wanda Sykes).

R.J. arrives just as they learn that while they were sleeping, suburbia took over most of their woods. He tells them that this is very good news because people bring FOOD — and not just bark and berries. He introduces them to nacho chips and cookies and, despite Verne’s best efforts to persuade them to be cautious, there’s no turning back.


R.J. plans to teach the group to forage in human territory and then steal it all to give to Vince. But R.J. starts to have second thoughts when he begins to learn that he likes having friends. And the head of the new community’s homeowners’ association (voice of Allison Janney) hires an exterminator (voice of Thomas Hayden Church) to get rid of any animals that come through the hedge separating the houses from the woods.


The characters are clever and endearing and the script is fast and funny, keeping the focus on the story and avoiding the stream of pop-culture wisecracks that these days pass for humor in most animated films. Instead, the laughs come from the situations and the relationships. The voice talent is perfectly matched, especially Nolte’s growl, Sykes’ snap, and Carrell’s hyper but always piercingly sincere screech. One caveat is the mildly retro portrayal of the female characters. But with just the right balance of heart and comedy, this will be a pleasure for kids and their families.

Parents should know that this movie includes a good deal of peril and cartoon violence (no serious injuries) other than the zapping of a bug. There is some potty humor and schoolyard-style crude language (references to “licking privates” and “find my nuts”). A mother tells upset children to go watch television to calm down. The characters, appealing as they are and as much as we root for them, are stealing food, and parents may want to talk to kids about why that is wrong. While the movie has diverse characters, its retro attitude toward the females (one gets a makeover so she can use her “feminine wiles,” pretending to like another character as a way of distracting him) is something families may wish to discuss.


Families who see this movie should talk about the different ways the characters approach problems, from “playing possum” to lying and trying to exploit others to working together. They can also talk about what makes a leader. What made the others decide when they wanted to follow R.J. and when they wanted to follow Vern? What is important to you about a leader and when do you like to be a leader? And they should talk about the animals’ ideas about the role that food and television play in the lives of humans — and about the impact that junk food has on animals and on people.


Families who enjoy this movie should read the comic strip that inspired it. They should also go outside and see what creatures they might have been overlooking. What is the best way for humans and animals to live together? Families will also enjoy A Bug’s Life and look at the comic strip that inspired this film, which won the Religious Communicators Council’s 1998 Wilbur Award for “excellence in the communication of religious issues, values and themes.” And they will want to check out the difference between reptiles and amphibians.

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