Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


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Fading Gigolo
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some sexual content, language and brief nudity
Release Date:
April 19, 2014

 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some crude comments, language and action violence
Release Date:
December 25, 2013

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

 

Ride Along
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, sexual content and brief strong language,
Release Date:
January 17, 2014

Bears
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
G
Release Date:
April 19, 2014

 

The Nut Job
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Release Date:
January 17, 2014

2001: A Space Odyssey

posted by rkumar
A+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:1968

In this science fiction masterpiece, Stanley Kubrick tracks the odyssey of mankind, from the dawn of man four million years ago to the exploration of deep space. The film begins with a desolate time when our ape-like predecessors led frightened and brutal lives, scrounging for food and huddling against the cold night while wild animals howled in the distance. In a few short minutes, Kubrick has spanned the epochs, depicting the origins of tribes and the miraculous morning when apes awoke and learned how to use tools. With this ability, mankind was launched on its journey to the stars. On Kubrick’s timeline, it is just a small next step to the exploration of the moon. And from the moon, mankind heads off to Jupiter. But what is triggering these immense changes? Why are humans evolving and what is their destiny? At transforming moments along this odyssey, a mysterious black monolith appears, drawing humans ever forward. But toward what? The surprise ending to this film is legendary, and has probably inspired more late night discussions in college dorms than any other movie.

For children 12 or older, 2001 can be a mind-boggling experience. In a series of dramatic vignettes, it introduces children to cosmic mysteries, and gives them an opportunity and an incentive to grapple with issues that span the millenia, rather than dwelling on their last argument over a toy. Younger children may be impressed by the drama, the special effects and the beautiful music, but may have a hard time following the plot. In addition, they will lose patience with some of the longer segments dealing with space exploration. (The special effects used by Kubrick were revolutionary in their day, but will seem commonplace to children raised on Star Wars and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even twelve year olds may not appreciate the subtle references to political rivalries and intrigue on earth, the cover-up of mysterious developments on the moon, or the more ironic aspects of the clash between man and machine (HAL the computer plaintively crying that he is afraid and that he can feel his mind going is a poignant example). In fact, the cryptic ending of the movie was famous for stumping even adults when the movie first came out.

Most teenagers cannot help but be swept up in this film, which stretches their minds and gives them mysteries and uncertainty instead of endings where everything is neatly tied up with a bow. As children strive to deal with the uncertainty of the ending, and fill in its gaps and illuminate its gray areas by drawing upon their own personality and sense of the world, they are on their way to appreciating greater and more mature forms of art.

Questions for Kids:

Why is the moment the apes use tools a turning point?

What does the monolith represent?

HAL says he was made in 1992 — now that we have passed that date, how many of the film’s ideas about the future seem to be accurate?

HAL says he can “feel” — what does “he” mean?

What happens to Dave at the end? Why?

Connections: A sequel, “2010,” was made in 1984, with author Arthur Clarke appearing briefly on a park bench. It answers many of the questions raised in “2001,” at least in a literal sense, but is not as satisfying as the more open-ended original. Kids who like this movie should read some of Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction books, especially Childhood’s End, and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy.

Activities: Teens may want to use the internet to learn more about artificial intelligence and space travel.

Vanilla Sky

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2001

This movie has a lot of surface appeal, but at its core it is as vacant as the story’s main character.

It tries to be a sort of “Sixth Sense” with sex, a trippy mind game movie about a rich, successful, handsome, but superficial man named David (Tom Cruise), whose life turns upside down when he meets a woman who stirs him (because she is “guileless”). But then he must pay the price for his casual negligence. A woman becomes jealous, and drives them both off an embankment. She is killed, and he is badly hurt and disfigured. The life he took for granted is shattered.

At this point, a fairly conventional narrative is shattered, like David’s arm and his face. It becomes impossible to say much more about it without spoiling the surprises. David tries to piece together his story and we do the same, though sometimes based on conflicting information.

Like last year’s “Cast Away,” this is something of a vanity production. I suspect that Tom Hanks created the ultimate acting exercise for himself, based on what he feared most – being separated from his family. Cruise, who also produced this movie by purchasing the rights to the original, Spanish-language version, has done the same here. He may have chosen what he fears most – losing his looks and easy grace, losing his knack for owning the room. And, like Hanks, he selected a story that provides the opportunity for tour-de-force acting. In many scenes, Cruise’s famous face is covered with a latex mask, leaving him only his body and his eyes to convey all of the character’s emotions.

Cruise works hard and makes some arresting choices. Diaz turns in a terrific performance and Tilda Swinton is excellent in a brief role as an executive. But Kurt Russell seems a little lost as a therapist, and Penelope Cruz, repeating her role from the original, says her lines as though she is not really fluent in English yet.

Parents should know that the movie has very strong language and explicit sexual situations and references. One character smothers another, and a different character kills herself and is unsuccessful at killing her lover. The facial disfigurement is graphically portrayed and may be very upsetting to some viewers.

Families who see this movie should talk about why David feels unsatisfied at the beginning of the movie, and whether he should have made a pass at the woman his best friend brought to a party. How much of the world around us do we control? How much would you like to control? If given the choice presented to David at the end of the movie, what would you choose?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “The Sixth Sense,” “The Matrix,” and possibly “A.I.” They might also like to see “Waking Life,” an animated film that makes many of the same points.

Unstrung Heroes

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:1995

Plot: Steven Lidz is the son of Sid (John Turturro), an inventor. He is a distracted man who “believes in documentation” and empirical data. Steven is closer to his warm-hearted mother, the emotional center of the family. When she becomes ill, he goes to live with his father’s two brothers (Michael Richards and Maury Chaikin), both borderline (and sometimes more than borderline) mentally ill. They are hoarders, with huge piles of newspapers filling every bit of available floor space, paranoid, telling him there are only eight trustworthy people in the world (the other four have been killed), and delusional. But they love Steven very much, and see in him a strength and ability to be great that he finds very comforting. They rename him “Franz” because they think it suits him better than Steven.

Franz picks up some of his uncles’ peculiarities (singing the “Internationale” in school while the other kids recite the Pledge of Allegiance), but also draws strength from what they tell him. They encourage him to connect to his heritage by studying for his bar mitzvah. And his uncle’s fascination with objects inspires him to hold on to a bit of his mother by collecting small items that make him feel close to her. When she dies, he retrieves hours of “documentation” (film of experiments and family home movies) from the garbage. He and his father watch them together, and, with the uncles, begin to document the family again.

Discussion: Based on the autobiographical novel by sportwriter Franz Lidz (he kept the name his uncles bestowed on him), this is a quietly moving story of a boy growing up in the midst of incomprehensible loss. Perhaps it is the very incomprehensibility of it all that makes his uncles seem understandable by comparison. Or perhaps they just have a less frightening way of being impossible to understand. To Steven, they are almost like children, the way they play with the “high-bouncers” from the collection of lost rubber balls that “hold the sounds of the children who played with them.” He makes pancakes for them the way his mother made pancakes for him and his sister. He protects them from the landlord who wants to see them evicted. They have time for him, which his parents don’t. They have answers for him, which no one else does. They see him as “Franz” and “Franz” is who he decides he wants to be.

This is a movie about loss, but more than that it is a movie about families, and the acceptance of family members who are not always easy to understand. This includes Sid as well as the uncles.

The movie raises the question of faith. Sid is relentlessly scientific and is furious that his brothers have encouraged Franz to study Judaism. He tells them that “religion is a crutch, only cripples need crutches.” But Franz’s mother, dying, says maybe Franz is right.

Franz’s attitude toward his uncles is very sympathetic, even protective. But Franz and his friend Ash play a prank on Uncle Danny, slipping him a note that sends his paranoia into overdrive. Danny commits himself, and when Franz admits that he wrote the note, Danny tells him it is all right, that it made it possible for him to get help.

Questions for Kids:

· Why does Steven give up instead of giving his speech?

· Why does Steven decide to go live with his uncles? Why do his parents let him?

· Why do Sid and his brothers have different ideas about religion?

· What does “documentation” mean, and why is it important here?

· What does Sid mean by an “undisciplined mind”?

Connections: This was the first feature film directed by actress Diane Keaton (“Annie Hall” and “Father of the Bride”).

Activities: Older kids, particularly those familiar with Lidz’ sports writing, may want to read the book. Those who are not familiar with the Bar Mitzvah ceremony may enjoy attending one.

Unbreakable

posted by rkumar
D
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2000

The big surprise ending of “Unbreakable” is what a disappointment it is.

The writer/director of “The Sixth Sense” begins with many of the same elements — Bruce Willis, a Philadelphia setting, a strained marriage, a child who is grappling with some big issues, elements of the supernatural, and a twist at the end. Once again, he creates a haunting and portentous mood with subdued performances, somber hues, and fluid camera movements. But unlike “The Sixth Sense,” in which a surprise at the end kicked the entire movie into a higher gear (and inspired audiences to go see it again to help them unravel it), this one has an ending that inspired hoots and boos at the screening I attended. In particular, the “what happens after the movie ends” description that come up on the screen just before the credits is the worst I have ever seen.

Bruce Willis plays David Dunn, a security guard who seems disconnected from his own life, unable to remember very much about his past and unwilling to connect to his wife and child. When he is the only survivor of a train crash, walking away without a single injury, bruise, or scratch, he is contacted by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic art dealer who has a congenital bone disease. Price has bones that break easily; Dunn has bones that never break. Price believes there must be a connection, and that he must help Dunn find his destiny.

Comic book themes of good and evil, hero and enemy, strength and vulnerability, thesis and antithesis, and destiny and choice appear throughout the movie. Several times, characters see something upside down at first, and then have to turn it around to see it clearly. Price helps Dunn realize that he is more than a security guard. He is a protector. When Dunn begins to use his gifts, he begins to lose the sadness that has always engulfed him. When he tells his wife he had a nightmare, he is not referring to the murderer he has just battled but to a past in which he was able to sense tragedy around him but was not aware that he had the ability to protect people from it.

Parents should know that this movie has a lot of violence. Although most of it is offscreen, its themes, including sexual assault, murder of the parents of two children, and genocide, may be especially disturbing. A child uses a gun. There is a brief vulgar reference and an implication of date rape.

Families who see this movie should talk about how we find our “place in the world,” and the importance of recognizing our special gifts so that we can make the best use of them. If members of the family enjoy comic books, they may want to talk about the tradition of pictoral story-telling, the themes of hero and arch-villain and what makes them so enduring. We often think of good guys and bad guys as opposites, but we should also think about what they have in common.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “The Sixth Sense” and a better teaming of Willis and Jackson in “Die Hard: With a Vengeance.”

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