Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


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Lucy
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R For strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality
Release Date:
July 25, 2014

 

Noah
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content
Release Date:
March 28, 2014

And So It Goes
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and drug elements
Release Date:
July 25, 2014

 

Finding Vivian Maier
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
April 11, 2014

Wish I Was Here
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Release Date:
July 18, 2014

 

Sabotage
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R For strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use
Release Date:
March 28, 2014

Mona Lisa Smile

posted by rkumar
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2003

In “Mona Lisa Smile,” a vibrant and independent-minded teacher shows her students a paint-by-numbers kit for a Van Gogh picture to demonstrate the difference between art that is insightful and meaningful and mindless repetition of pretty images. The problem is that the movie itself has a paint-by-numbers script and little more to offer than pretty images. The result has some glossy entertainment value but a long way from art.

Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) is an art history teacher who comes to Wellesley, “the most conservative college in the nation” in the very conservative 1950′s. Just to make sure we don’t miss the point, we are told right from the beginning that Katherine “made up in brains what she lacked in pedigree” and that she did not want to fit in; she wanted to make a difference.

At first, Katherine is intimidated by the students. They have an easy mastery of the reading material and a “claws underneath their white gloves” ruthlessness in preserving the status quo, which means their position at the top of the social hierarchy.

Betty (Kirsten Dunst) is the most ruthless and acts as the leader of the girls. It may be her uncertainty as she approaches her wedding and what she says is everything she ever wanted that makes her so resistant to any attempt to think independently. Or it may be that she treats the other girls the way her mother treats her because that’s all she knows, or because it gives her a sense of control, or because it lets her believe that her mother must care about her.

Katherine’s other students include brainy Joan (Julia Stiles), insecure Connie (Ginnifer Goodwin), and reckless Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal). In between their lessons on poise and how to entertain their future husbands’ bosses, Katherine tries to teach them to question the conventional assumptions about art and about their dreams about the lives they want to lead. This is all a bit too subversive for the authorities, leading the the inevitable “I’ve been getting some calls about your teaching methods. They’re a little unorthodox for Wellesley” conversation. Katherine must examine her own dreams in order to teach her students the lesson she wants them to learn.

All of the actresses look wonderful in their elegant little hats, white gloves, twin-sets, tulle, and pearls. And teacher-student is one of the most reliably appealing relationships to portray in a movie. Add in the ups and downs of five different romantic relationships and the sheer pleasure of seeing some of the most talented and engaging young stars in Hollywood and there is plenty that is fun to watch.

But there is no real insight or spirit in the movie and its dumbed-down portrayal of the post-WWII, pre-Betty Friedan era is particularly disappointing, limited to images of conformity like girls rowing crew and practicing synchronized swimming and a poster explaining the ladylike way to cross one’s legs and references to the wish to return to the “normal” days before the war. It is just too easy to have Katherine’s colleague and landlady say “Don’t you love chintz?” and turn down a chance to go out in the evening so she can stay home and watch television.

Juliet Stevenson brings warmth and depth to a regrettably brief appearance as a gay school nurse and Marcia Gay Harden does her best with an under-written role as a stereotypical “old maid” that is more a relic from the 1950′s portrayals than a commentary on them. Katherine’s character is inconsistent to the point of being erratic, especially with regard to her own romantic involvement. Roberts is reduced to relying on her most reliable movie star tricks — her “game girl” laugh, dazzling smile, and moist gaze — to fill the gaps. It isn’t enough. In this paint-by-numbers movie, most of the spaces are left blank.

Parents should know that the movie has very explicit sexual references for a PG-13 movie, including promiscuous characters, adultery, and discussion of birth control (which was illegal in the era portrayed in the movie). Characters drink, some get tipsy, and some abuse alcohol. Just about everyone smokes. Characters use strong language including an ugly anti-Semitic epithet. Strengths of the movie include its efforts to address the issues that would be raised by the feminists of the 1960′s and its positive portrayal of a gay character who is accepted without prejudice (though dismissed from her position for other reasons).

Families who see this movie should talk about why each of the characters makes the choices that she does.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy other magnetic teachers who inspire students and get in trouble with administrators in Dead Poet’s Society and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The classic if overwrought The Group is based on the experiences of author Mary McCarthy and her friends at Vassar and after graduation. Another in this genre is the Wendy Wasserstein play Uncommon Women…and Others, about a group of students at a Wellesley-style college in the late 1960′s.

The Company

posted by rkumar
A
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2003

Form follows content in Robert Altman’s latest film. As in the lives of the ballet troupe it portrays, it is the dance that takes center stage. The rest of the characters’ lives are glimpsed only around the edges. The result is intimate and moving, with dance numbers that are thrillingly filmed and backstage stories that are quietly observed.

This is not about nutcrackers and tutus. This is about people who make the ultimate commitment to art and, especially, it is about the art that they make. Altman is not just showing us dancers here. He is showing us himself.

Neve Campbell (the Scream series, “Party of Five”), a former ballet dancer, brought the idea to Altman (M*A*S*H, Gosford Park) and she stars as Ry, a member of Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet. As the opening credits begin, we hear the usual pre-performance announcements directing the audience to turn off their cell phones and reminding them that photography is prohibited. Then we see a stunning performance of a ballet called “Tensile Involvement,” a postmodern angular variation on a maypole dance (or maybe the ribbons on a toeshoe), with dancers interacting with stretched banners and the credits crossing the screen as though they were a part of the choreography.

The off-stage scenes have a loose, documentary feel but they are as meticulously observed and as carefully positioned as a ballerina en pointe. Ry’s two sets of parents — divorced mother and father and their new spouses — each bring flowers. When she gives them back for a moment so that she can talk with someone, the two couples wait a beat, look at each other, and then switch flowers, so each holds the ones they originally brought to her. Dancers battle the limits of the physical world as they try to transcend their own sometimes reluctant bodies as well as the pulls of gravity, and of time. Ry’s non-dancer boyfriend shows that he brings the same kind of care, artistry, and precision to his work that she does to hers.

The rehearsal scenes mix art and drama as the choreographers treat the primary dancers the way sculptors treat clay while the back-up dancers are “marking” the moves off to the side. Dancers matter-of-factly handle injuries, juggle other jobs, and borrow space for their sleeping bags on each other’s floors. The company director breezily shmoozes and evades with just about everyone, but when he accepts an award he is bracingly honest about the way he was treated as a young boy who loved dance.

One technical point worth noting is that this is the first film to use a new post-production process called Darbee Vision, which adds depth and vivid color to video, and which is ideally suited for photographing the dance numbers, which are, after all, center stage. They are lovely, even the weird and garish number that looks something like a Chinese New Year parade, and especially an exquisite pas de deux to a melancholy “My Funny Valentine,” danced outdoors in pouring rain.

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language, locker-room nudity, and sexual references and situations. There are tense scenes and injuries. Characters drink and smoke.

Families who see this movie should talk about the commitment required for the dancers and the people who run the company.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Turning Point about two friends, one who stayed in the ballet company and never had a family and one who left to raise her children, who envy each other’s lives. They should also see the brilliant The Red Shoes.

Love Don’t Cost a Thing

posted by rkumar
D
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2003

This teen makeover movie has had a makeover of its own, updating the durably popular 1987 hit Can’t Buy Me Love, the one where brainy-but-unpopular Patrick Dempsey unforgettably teaches the kids the Anteater Ritual dance and they think it is cool.

I suppose every generation is entitled to its own “boy pays girl to make him popular” movie. So, once again, it’s time for a nerdy teenager who dreams of popularity to learn that what really matters is being true to yourself, only this time the story is hip-hopped up with with an African-American cast using Hollywood’s idea of cool slang and wearing Sean John sweats, and a denouement in the bleachers of a high school basketball court. Unfortunately, what could have been a slam-dunk of a film quickly becomes an air ball. It is painful to observe. Silly, even dumb would have been okay (see the original). But this movie is awkward and unpleasant, even smarmy, particularly offensive in a movie for this age group.

The protagonist’s little sister at one point says “Urkel’s gone gangster” (referring to geek-hero Steve Urkel from ‘90’s TV staple, “Family Matters”) and that sums up the plot pretty fairly. Alvin Johnson (Nick Cannon) is the engineer-to-be who, unsatisfied with his nerdy reputation and his fellow outcast friends, takes dramatic steps to become popular in his last months in high school. Alvin has saved up enough cleaning pools to buy a key part in the engine he is building to win a contest which would result in a full scholarship for college.

Meanwhile, Paris Morgan (Christina Milan) is the most popular girl in the class and is dating an NBA rookie who just graduated from their high school. After she crashes her mom’s SUV, Paris finds she needs exactly the same amount of money to fix the car as Alvin has saved up to finishing building one. In comes Sir Alvin in his shiny armor to solve Paris’ problems for the small cost of popularity: she must pretend to date Alvin for two weeks.

Paris soon transforms Alvin into “Al”, who dresses in expensive clothes and hangs out on the “Elite” corridor at school. As in the earlier version and just about every other movie set in a high school, popularity is instantly confered. Gradually, Paris and Al become friends, each finding strength in the other’s advice and support. But power goes to Alvin’s head and he jeopardizes everything –- including his friendships and his scholarship -— when he places his newly found popularity above all else.

This otherwise mediocre bit of cinematic fluff adds some painfully inappropriate plot devices that bring what little energy the movie to a crashing halt. The most clumsy scenes are between Alvin and his family but the ones between Alvin and his friends and the ones between Alvin and everyone else are not much better. The only scenes which seem unforced and natural are when Alvin and Paris are on their own, only because of Christina Milan. At one point, while Cannon, who seems to have left all his talent on the set of Drumline, is wildly overacting, Milan has to tell him how to get a reputation as a player by giving him tips on how to treat women badly. She manages with charm and even some dignity.

Troy Beyer’s awkward direction is another distraction. She shoots the big “son, no matter what, I’ve always been proud of you” scene lit from below as if Alvin and his father had accidentally wandered onto the set of a Spielberg movie. Beyer worked with Michael Swerdlick (who wrote the screenplay for Can’t Buy Me Love) on the update, so both must take the blame for the dialogue. Even the final “love me as I am” scene when Alvin declares who he is to the applause of the crowd falls flat.

Parents should know that there are plenty of flinch-inducing situations, many of them between Alvin and his father. Steve Harvey seems intent on appropriating and expanding Eugene Levy’s role as the uncomfortably understanding father in the American Pie movies. In his desire to relive his own adolescence as a Don Juan, Al’s father pressures his son to have sex without any regard to his son’s emotional maturity or to the strength of the relationship his son might have. The most painful of these scenes involves Mr. Johnson demonstrating how to put a condom on a bottle with one hand while keeping the attention of an imaginary girlfriend. While scenes like this one might work in Harvey’s stand-up comedy routines (including some of the finer segments in Spike Lee’s Original Kings of Comedy, for mature viewers), it is entirely inappropriate and downright seedy for the intended audience for this movie.

Even worse, young men are repeatedly told that they should be players, not respecting their female counterparts as people but seeing them instead as objects. Finally, as with “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the movie seems to buy into a high school notion of metit, with a person’s worth measured by who they are dating and which expensive labels they wear.

Families should discuss Paris’ view on popularity. They might also want to discuss why Paris was unable to express her aspiration to be more than “an NBA wife” and why her friends might resist the idea of her wanting to be something beyond their ken, such as becoming a songwriter. How does the relationship between Alvin and his father change over the course of the movie?

Families who enjoy this movie should see the original, Can’t Buy Me Love, a Saturday afternoon cable classic, which is by no means a work of art, but which is a nice relic of the 80′s and has much more heart than its imitator.

For those who enjoyed the message that the insiders and the outsiders are all essentially the same (makeovers or not) and that the most important thing is that you have to be yourself – then you can draw from the cornucopia of teen flicks sporting this motif including: Never Been Kissed; 10 Things I Hate About You; She’s All That; Save The Last Dance; Drive Me Crazy; Clueless; Bring it On; Pretty in Pink; Breakfast Club; Sixteen Candles; Say Anything; and pretty much anything directed by John Hughes.

Honey

posted by rkumar
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2003

For those who think it’s been too long since a movie like Breakin’ 2: Electric Boolago, or even Lambada: The Forbidden Dance, we now have “Honey,” the story of a spunky girl who dazzles hip-hop superstars with her dance moves but whose dream is helping the kids in her neighborhood.

Jessica Alba plays Honey, a sweet and sunny girl who teaches hip-hop to kids at the community center even though her mother tells her that she should be pursuing a career in ballet.

Honey is spotted by a director of music videos (David Moscow), and before you can say “That flava’s hot!” she is lead dancer and choreographer. She is just about to achieve her dream of putting her students into a video starring Ginuwine when it turns out that the video director is interested in more than her dance skills. She turns him down and he fires her. Even worse, he fires the kids and makes her tell them.

She doesn’t mind losing the job except that she does not know how she will get the money to buy that building she wants to turn into a dance studio so that she can give kids an alternative to thug life. How can she raise the money? Hey, let’s put on a show!

Alba has a lovely smile and Joy Fisher (Antwone Fisher) adds some verve to the sassy best friend role. Hip-hop fans will enjoy seeing favorite performers like Tweet, L’il Romeo, and Missy Elliot. And the movie is very short, less than 90 minutes. This is the good news. The bad news is that it is just dumb, way past cheesy-but-fun into the realm of “From Justin to Kelly”-level you-must-be-kidding. Its efforts to be hip make it as instantly out of date as if the characters used words like “groovy” and “out of sight.” When Honey is under pressure to improve her choreography for one video, she gives the dancers a (presumably very expensive) break and goes for a pensive walk, where she draws inspiration from the moves of kids playing basketball and jumping rope. I’m not kidding. It wouldn’t be so terrible that the plot, dialogue, and performances were so poor if the movie’s reason for being — the music and dance numbers — had more energy and style. Worst of all, the movie fails to take advantage of the talents of performers like the glorious Lonette McKee (Jungle Fever) and Mekhai Phifer, who pretty much stand around looking embarrassed.

Parents should know that the movie has strong language for a PG-13, with references to “hooker heels” and a Monica Lewinsky joke. Characters drink and sell drugs. There are some tense confrontations and threatened violence. One strength of the movie is its portayal of sexual values. Honey is very clear with her boss about boundaries and her romance with a local barber is sweet and understated.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Honey decided what was important to her and about the answer to the question “How come you turned out so well?” They might also want to talk about what people a few years from now will think about the styles of dance and slang in this movie.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Flashdance (mature material). They might also like to compare it to some of the classic Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movies about putting on a show.

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