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Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some partial nudity, disturbing images and brief strong language
Release Date:
September 26, 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

The Boxtrolls
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo
Release Date:
June 27, 2014

The Equalizer
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Neighbors
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:2004

They may horrify tender-hearted parents, but the Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket (pseudonym of Daniel Handler) are wildly popular with school-age kids.

“These books are among the most unpleasant in the world,” Snicket warns crisply on the dust jacket for the first three volumes, the basis for this film, “and if you do not have the stomach for such unpleasantries as a repulsive villain, a deadly serpent, cold cucumber soup, a terrible fire, and a doll named Pretty Penny, I would advise you to read three happy books instead.”

“Unfortunate events” is an understatement. The Baudelaire children are subjected to a series of guardians who are incompetent, foolish, predatory, and cruel. In fact, all of the adults in this movie are evil, weak, or stupid. And no one ever listens to the children. Adults can get rattled by situations that make Oliver Twist look like the Care Bears, but the children who are fans of the books delighted at the way Violet, Klaus, and Sunny manage to triumph over the direst of circumstances and the most fiendish of villians.

This movie begins as a sugary but slightly off animated tale about the littlest elf, but Mr. Snicket soon interrupts, explaining that this will be quite a different kind of story.

Violet (Emily Browning), an inventor, Klaus (Liam Akin), who reads everything, and 2-year-old Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman), who loves to bite things are on the beach when Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall) from the bank comes to tell them that their house has burned down and their parents have been killed. He drives them to their nearest relative, Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), a man who calls out “Intrude!” instead of “Enter” when they knock on the door and who needs to have the children’s names written on his hands because he does not want to waste any time remembering them.

The Count puts the children to work and tries to kill them, but no one listens when they try to explain what is going on. But they finally get removed from his custody and subsequent guardians include a kindly herpetologist (Billy Connolly) and a multi-phobic grammarian (Meryl Streep). Count Olaf keeps coming back (sometimes in disguise). He wants the Baudelaire fortune and is ready to kill — or marry — anyone he has to in order to get it.

Some adults are genuinely horrified by the unabashedly creepy people in these books. It is disturbing to think of any children, even imaginary ones, being subjected to abuse. But Snicket’s talent is in understanding his audience better than anyone past the age of 12 usually can. Watch how careful he is to create an atmosphere of menace while leaving what is, if you look for it, a very reassuring zone of protection around the children. Other than one slap, the children are never touched and they never appear to be rattled or upset. The very presence of the narrator itself adds a comfortable distance. And it is always clear that if the solution isn’t found in one of Violet’s inventions or Klaus’ extensive knowledge from books, Sunny’s powerful teeth will save the day.

Family responses to this movie will depend on their taste for macabre humor. Those who are not intrigued and entertained by the grotesque storyline may find it disturbing. Fans of the book will enjoy seeing the characters and settings brought to life with great imagination and verve, though putting three books into one movie makes it episodic and draggy around the middle. The art direction is superb and the performances by both children and adults are excellent. The weakest parts of the movie are the intrusive product placement of the AFLAC duck (what is an insurance company selling in a movie for children?) and the subtitles that interpret Sunny’s babbling. The cheap humor and crude language is utterly out of tone with the rest of the film.

Parents should know that the movie may be upsetting to some children. The children in the movie are orphans who are continuously mistreated. There are constant scenes of peril and tension; though most of the violence is offscreen, we see the aftermath. An adult strikes a child and there are other assaults and murders and an apparent suicide. There is one scary surprise and several shots of creepy creatures, including rats, bugs, bats, and snakes. Some children will understand that this is intended as macabre humor but others will not, so parents should be particularly cautious about deciding whether the film is appropriate for their children. Other parental concerns include some very crude language “said” by a baby (“shmuck,” “bite me”), and a forced marriage with a 14-year-old (predatory, but only with regard to her money).

Families who see this movie should talk about how we learn to respond to the unexpected, and the importance of having a Plan B (and Plans C through Z). Some children will want to be reassured about who their guardians would be if something happens to their own parents. And families should talk about what messages they would want to read in a letter like the one from the Baudelaire parents and why books with such terrible abuse are so popular with kids.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Addams Family and Addams Family Values and Beetlejuice (all with more mature material than this film), the Addams Family and Munsters television series, and the works of Charles Addams and Edward Gorey. And they might like to try to make pasta puttanesca!

Flight of the Phoenix

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2004

This trim little adventure saga about the survivors of a plane crash in the Mongolian desert doesn’t waste any time assigning heartwarming characteristics or backstories to each member of the group; we barely learn most of their names. This is not a movie about redemption or a tender love story. The characters don’t get to impress us with clever and ingenious solutions to their problems, either — it’s not one of those movies where someone makes a radio out of rocks and sand like the Professor on “Gilligan’s Island.” This is a movie that gets your heart pounding the old-fashioned way — it is just plain exciting.

Frank Towns (Dennis Quaid) and A.J. (Tyrese Gibson) are pilots sent to pick up the staff and equipment from an oil rig that is being shut down. Passengers include deal-maker Ian (Hugh Laurie), boss Kelly (Miranda Otto of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring), and her crew. And there is Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi), a stiff, odd, mystery man who correctly predicts that the plane will crash because it is carrying too much weight.

Elliott’s calm diagnosis is in sharp contrast to the crash, with swirling sand and wind so strong that it rips the propeller off and slices into the body of the plane like a buzz saw. It is an extraordinary bit of film-making.

Burial of the fatalities is dispatched quickly, as are any chance of finding help through cell phone, radio, or trying to leave the site of the camp. So is the prospect of being important enough for the company to spend much time or money trying to find them. As one crew member points out, “We hitched a ride with the trash, not the other way around.”

All that’s left is Elliott’s idea to use the parts of the plane to build a new aircraft, to be named Phoenix after the mythical bird that is reborn from its own ashes.

Towns thinks it is impossible. The odds are slim that they will be found, but he wants to maximize them by conserving food and water for as long as they can. But one of the crew persuades him that even with faster consumption, they should try to build the Phoenix. “If you can’t give them something to love, give them hope. And if you can’t give them hope, give them something to do.”

Can they work together? Can Elliott’s design fly? Will they get out before the nomads come after them? Well, this movie isn’t called “The Attempted Flight of the Phoenix.”

It holds our attention with appealing and sincere performances. Quaid is especially magnetic (and looks great with his shirt off) and he is well supported by Gibson, Jacob Vargas as Sammi the cook, Tony Curran as Rodney and Kirk Jones (rapper Sticky Fingaz) as Jeremy. The pacing is brisk and energetic and it has enough spirit to follow the unavoidable pep talk about hopes and dreams with Towns saying, “I’d do anything to avoid another hopes and dreams speech.”

Parents should know that the movie has intense peril and violence, including a very vivid plane crash, gunfire, and explosions. There are graphic images of wounded and dead characters. The movie includes some strong language (many uses of the s-word) and smoking. A strength of the movie is the portrayal diverse characters who are strong, brave, loyal, and committed and who work well together.

Families who see this movie should talk about what you can learn from the different ways that people respond to stress. How many different ways do you see in this movie? Who blames other people? Who works to solve the problem? Why does Elliott want people to say “please?” What was the right thing to do with the injured nomad? Do you agree with the statement about the difference between religion and belief?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the original, starring James Stewart, and other action movies like Apollo 13, Enemy Mine (also featuring Quaid), and Fantastic Voyage. Mature audiences will enjoy the director’s tense, exciting — and underrated — Behind Enemy Lines. They will also enjoy the television series, Lost.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:PG-13
Movie Release Date:2004

Despite lavish settings and sweeping camera movement, this sumptuously produced Andrew Lloyd Weber musical feels static, stuffy, and stagey. This is in part because so much of it takes place on a stage but more because it is mostly just people standing still and singing rather than moving or, well, acting. It’s the Branson, Missouri dinner theater edition, as decorated as a wedding cake and as tightly laced as Christine’s corset.

This is the zillionth version of the Gaston Leroux Beauty and the Beast-like story about a brilliant masked madman who lives under the opera house. He falls in love with the exquisite young soprano Christine, (played by the exquisite young soprano Emmy Rossum from Mystic River). She believes he is the angel of music, sent to teach her by her dead father.

But the Phantom is no angel. He will do anything to make Christine a star and he will do everything to possess her.

At first, Christine is mesmerized by the Phantom. He brings her to his home in the caverns far below the stages and dressing rooms and sings to her about the music of the night, charging her singing with passion. And just as the theater owner sells the place to two scrap metal dealers who know nothing about show business, the phantom arranges to have Christine get the starring role in the opera’s newest production.

The new team has a new patron — a handsome young nobleman named Raoul (Patrick Wilson) who was once Christine’s childhood sweetheart. He and Christine fall in love but the Phantom will not allow Christine to be with anyone else, even if it means destroying everything he cares about.

Sumptuous sets and costumes give this film the grandest of aspirations, but its overheated emotions set to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s purplish music are so inherently “theatrical” that the film cannnot be as effective as the stage play, and the performances are more about the music than the story. Christine, Raoul, and the Phantom sing in the theater, they sing in the caverns, they sing in a graveyard, and they sing at a masked ball. But the bland Gerard Butler as the Phantom never conveys the menace or the allure of the brilliant madman who hears the music of the night.

Parents should know that the movie includes peril and violence, with some graphic images. There are mild and non-explicit sexual situations with predatory implications.

Families who see this movie should talk about some of the fairy tales than inspired it. What is the significance of the masked ball? What did the Phantom love about Christine? Can you love people without really seeing who they are? Why was the Phantom’s face so terrifying to himself and others? How do we treat disabled people today? Families should also talk about the way the two key songs in the movie are used to illuminate different relationships and different emotions.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Chicago and some of the earlier, non-musical version of this story, from the silent version starring Lon Chaney to the 1989 version starring Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Robert Englund. They can read the original book and find out more about the story here. Rossum is always worth watching, especially as an Appalachian girl in Songcatcher, and Butler is much more at home in the appealing Dear Frankie.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

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

Another quirkfest from Wes Anderson (Rushmore, Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tannenbaums), this film has some of the most imaginatively charming images on screen this year, especially a tiny rainbow-striped seahorse and a cutaway side view of a ship that is as delightfully cluttered as a dollhouse conceived by Joseph Cornell. And it has Anderson’s trademark oddball characters from a mix of cultures, all speaking in his trademark corkscrew speech and reacting as though no two of them speak the same language.

He’s great with situations, visuals, and deadpan delivery of weird, almost absurd, dialogue. He’s a little too fond of weird names: Oseary Drakoulias and Esteban du Plantier are not as witty or engaging as he would like to think. Anderson is terrific with juxtapositions — no one else would fill a soundtrack with David Bowie songs performed bossa nova style in Portuguese. But increasingly, it all seems to be tricks without any meaning or insight behind them, cleverness for the sake of cleverness, without any heart or soul. Or art. College students can deconstruct to their hearts’ delight, but it’s their own meaning they will bring to the movie, not Anderson’s.

It’s the story of a Jacques Cousteau-like explorer named Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), who finances his expeditions by filming them. He has not had a successful movie in nine years. His wife (Anjelica Huston) strides around chain-smoking and making bitter comments. She maintains a flirty relationship with her bisexual ex-husband, istair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum), who happens to be Zissou’s rival.

Zissou’s new mission is not about science; it is about revenge. He wants to kill the “jaguar shark” that killed his friend. His motley crew includes the high strung Klaus Daimler (Willem Dafoe) and some newcomers: Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), a naval officer with the drawl of a riverboat gambler who could be Zissou’s son, Bill Ubell (Bud Cort from Harold and Maude), assigned to watch over them by the bond company, and Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett), an intrepid English journalist who happens to be six months pregnant. Steve and Ned go off in their run-down ship and end up engaging with pirates, stealing equipment from Hennesey, and developing a romantic rivalry for Jane.

Anderson benefits tremendously from the always-engaging production design by Mark Friedberg, a delightful score by former Devo-ian Mark Mothersbaugh, and the always-engaging performances by top-notch actors clearly enjoying themselves, especially Goldblum, Dafoe, and Blanchett. But the script, by Anderson and Noah Baumbach takes some bad turns in the last half hour that feel sour and unsatisfying. But Anderson is getting close to Emperor’s New Clothes time here, and eventually someone is going to point out that when it comes to the substance, he has nothing on.

Parents should know that the movie includes very strong language, non-sexual nudity (topless sunbathing), and non-explicit sexual references and situations, including pregancy from an adulterous affair and bi-sexuality. Characters drink, smoke, and smoke marijuana. Characters behave badly in many ways, from being cruel to each other to stealing. Characters are in peril and there are violent encounters with deadly animals and various weapons, including guns. Some characters are killed.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Steve seemed more attached to his friend who was killed than to anyone else in his family or crew. What mattered to him? What mattered to Ned and Jane? What did it add to her character to have her pregnant?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Anderson’s other films, Rushmore, Bottle Rocket, and The Royal Tannenbaums. They might want to learn something about Jacques Coustou, whose voyages (and the movies about them) inspired this film.

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