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

 

Pride
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language and brief sexual content
Release Date:
October 9, 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

A Prairie Home Companion

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for risque humor.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Garrison Keillor’s voice is a national treasure. It is so warm, so magnetic, even hypnotic that it lulls you into a whole different dimension, an idealized past located somewhere between innocent nostalgia and ironic self-awareness, as though Norman Rockwell painted an episode of “Seinfeld.” His long-running radio program appeals to those who appreciate the authenticity of the roots music, performed with utter sincerity, and the slyly skewed humor that keeps it from getting sugary. He tells stories of Lake Woebegon (“Where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average”) and has faux ads for products like Powdermilk Biscuits, which “give shy people the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.” Keillor may be the only one in history to keep happy both the sentimentalists who love Kinkade and the cynics who love po-mo happy, each thinking they’re the only ones who really get him.

The film describes the radio program as one that “died 50 years ago but someone forgot to tell them — until tonight.” Keillor is nostalgic, faux-nostalgic, and a commentator on nostalgia all at the same time.


Director Robert Altman is a perfect match for Keillor’s sensibility, and this intimate, backstage look at the radio program’s last broadcast mingles real (with some of Keillor’s regulars as themselves) with fiction (Kevin Kline as Keillor character Guy Noir, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as singing sisters and Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as singing cowboys who love bad jokes — and of course the radio program is not on a commercial network and is not ending) and fantasy (Virginia Madsen as a mysterious and mysteriously powerful stranger). The narrative is more layered than the radio program and Altman’s understated documentary style never intrudes, but no fleshing out can possibly compare to the complexity and intimacy of a listener’s imagination.


Parents should know that the movie has some strong and crude language, some sexual references, sexual humor and sexual situations, reference to suicide, and deaths of characters (at least one sad).


Families who see this movie should talk about the enduring appeal of Keillor’s radio program. What can you tell about the relationship between Yolanda and Rhonda? Yolanda and GK? How does the relationship of Yolanda and Lola change and why?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the beloved radio show. They will also enjoy some of Altman’s other ensemble movies like Nashville and Gosford Park. You can also sign up to get daily emails with Keillor’s Writer’s Alamanac, a daily poem and literary trivia segment broadcast on NPR.

The Break-Up

posted by jmiller
F+
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for sexual content, some nudity and language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Someone should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission about false advertising for this film. The trailer and the ads indicate that it is a romantic comedy. But it is, in fact, neither romantic nor a comedy; it’s more like an episode of Dr. Phil. Of course the trailer and the ads also indicate that it is enjoyable, and that, too, turns out not to be true, but if the FTC filed complaints every time that happened it would need more employees than the Defense Department.


The title says it all. Before the credits, we meet Brooke (Jennifer Anniston) and Gary (Vince Vaughn, who wrote the original story and produced the film) as they meet each other at a Cubs game. The next thing we see are those essential if overly familiar incidica of movie love: pictures showing our lovebirds making funny faces in a picture-taking booth, feeding each other, and decorating their new condo.

But then Gary and Brooke have their families over for dinner and get into a dispute about cleaning up. Brooke takes a stand and breaks up with Gary, hoping to make him realize how much he cares about her. But Gary, either because he takes her at her word or because his feelings are hurt, does not respond. So she raises the ante, trying to make him jealous, and he raises the ante, trying to prove he doesn’t care.


So, the whole movie is a game of one-upsmanship, as each one tries to make the other more miserable. It gets increasingly ugly and painful. Then it ends.


What is so disconcerting about all of this is that the performers seem to think they’re in a comedy and their performances have a comedy, even a sit-comedy rhythm. Anniston can be a fine dramatic actress (see the underrated The Object of My Affection) and has some of the best comic timing aound. Vaughn’s oddball ticcy rhythms, like Michael Keaton’s, work surprisingly well to convey either vulnerability or menace, sometimes both (see his underrated Clay Pigeons). But both of them are off here, as though they are lost in a script that does not match the tempo of its characters or story. The situations that are supposed to be funny are so mean-spirited and juvenile that they come across as creepy and nasty. We never believe they were a couple or that they should be a couple. they have nothing in common, no affection, no tenderness, no connection, no enjoyment of each other. They just get annoying; if we cared more, we would ask why they couldn’t just talk to each other instead of resorting to power games and indirection. But we don’t, so all we want is for them to shut up. And it seems to suggest that the problem was all Gary’s fault. Brooke talks about all she did and how under-appreciated she felt. Gary never suggests that she should have tried to find out if what she did was what he wanted and needed; he didn’t appreciate it because — he didn’t appreciate it.

The only way this story could possibly work is if it was set in a high school. We can forgive teenagers — and identify with them — for being so immature and clumsy. But having people in their 30’s say things like “Now I have him where I want him” and “Why didn’t you ever tell me?” induces not sympathy, not identification, just impatience and misery.

We keep hoping for more from the exceptional supporting cast, including Judy Davis as Brooke’s domineering boss, Ann-Margret as her mother, John Michael Higgins as her a capella-loving brother, and Jason Bateman and Jon Favreau as friends. Whenever the camera turns back to Gary and Brooke again, we sigh in resignation.


As for the ending, all I can say that at the screening I attended it literally provoked gasps of disappointment. Forget Dr. Phil; what Brooke and Gary need is a script doctor.

Parents should know that this film has some very raunchy material for a PG-13 (including a “Telly Savalas” bikini wax and two hooker jokes in the first ten minutes); as usual, the MPAA takes this material far less seriously when it is in a comedy than if it occured in a drama. There is some strong language (one f-word) and some crude language. Characters drink and smoke and there are sexual references and some nudity (bare male and female tushes, strip poker) and some implied nudity. Overall, the movie concerns some mean, dysfunctional, and petty behavior and it includes some tense and unhappy interactions.


Families who see this movie should talk about why it was so hard for Brooke and Gary to speak directly to each other about their feelings and concerns. What did they learn?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The War of the Roses, Ruthless People, and another movie set in Chicago, About Last Night. They might enjoy some of the classic comedies about battling couples who find each other again like The Awful Truth and Move Over Darling.

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.

Previous Posts

Dr. Martin Luther King's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
This week's release, "Selma," begins with the ceremony honoring The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King with the Nobel Peace Prize. Here is the real footage of his famous speech. [iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/5r98tT0j1a0?rel=0" frameborder="0"]

posted 12:00:34pm Dec. 22, 2014 | read full post »

A Child's Christmas in Wales
The whole family will enjoy this beautiful version of Dylan Thomas' classic memory about his family Christmases in Wales. [iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/GrLDaAG7j_o?rel=0" frameborder="0"]

posted 8:00:23am Dec. 22, 2014 | read full post »

Pride
The ingredients for this film were so irresistible that it is a unexpected bonus to find that it is so much better than it needed to be. It's based on a true story of extraordinary kindness, generosity, and friendship and it stars a bunch of adorable English actors (Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy) w

posted 6:00:25am Dec. 22, 2014 | read full post »

Interview: Ava DuVernay of "Selma"
My favorite movie of the year is "Selma," the story of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King's march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital, Montgomery, to bring attention to the barriers the

posted 9:41:45pm Dec. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Smile of the Week: A Boy and a Penguin
This reminds me a little of the depiction of a child's world in The Complete Calvin and Hobbes and Barnaby. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iccscUFY860[/youtube] Many thanks to Slate for this and the others on its list of the year's best ads.

posted 12:06:45pm Dec. 21, 2014 | read full post »


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