Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


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Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Moms' Night Out
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

John Wick
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Earth to Echo
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some action and peril, and mild language
Release Date:
July 3, 2014

23 Blast
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some teen drinking
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Snowpiercer
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for violence, language and drug content
Release Date:
July 2, 2014

March of the Penguins

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2005

In the coldest place on earth, the only place where it is safe to care for newborns is 70 miles from the only place to find food. And so, the Antarctic’s hardiest and most determined inhabitants, the emperor penguins, must march, trudge, waddle, and slide on their bellies, back and forth hundreds of miles to raise the next generation so that they can march in their turn.

This extraordinary documentary brings us inside the penguin community with footage of heart-stopping beauty and a story of poignancy, inspiration, and resilience. The purity of the setting — blue shadows on white ice, literally a world away from the soot and grime of modern life — lulls us so that for a moment we forget how unforgivingly brutal it is. The elegance and tenderness of the penguins beguiles us so that for a moment we forget how brave and resolute they are.

Every year, the penguins march 70 miles over the ice to their breeding ground, a place where the ice is so thick it will not crack under their weight as they stay long enough to hatch the eggs and raise the chicks until they are able to make the trek back to the water, where they can get food.

When they arrive at the breeding ground they have what can only be described as a mixer. Like hopeful eHarmony subscribers, they circulate nervously in search of a mate. It’s a very serious choice, as penguins are monogamous during each breeding season and the decision can literally make the difference between life and death.

As explained with warmth and sympathy by Morgan Freeman in voiceover narration, the couples share parenting duties from the very beginning. When the mother has laid her egg, she carefully hands it over — no, she foots it over — to the father, who gathers it under his feathers and huddles against the freezing winds with the other daddy penguins, taking turns at the center of the group, while the mothers, reduced to half of their pre-march bodyweight, trudge back the 70 miles to get some food for the family. Then, when Mom arrives back at the breeding ground just as the chick has been born and Dad is near starvation, it is his turn to trek back to the water again.

There are hazards along the way. Predators pick off some of the penguins, but the more serious challenges come from the near-lethal living conditions. Still, the elegant creatures persevere with touching grace and even tenderness.

This is a beautiful, touching, and inspiring film.

Parents should know that while the movie is rated G it may be upsetting to younger or more sensitive viewers. Life in Antarctica is extremely harsh and many of the penguins, including the babies, do not survive.

Families who see this movie should talk about what makes the penguins persevere and how they depend on each other to survive. What about the penguins is like human behavior? What is different?

Families who enjoy this movie can learn more about the emperor penguins and Antarctica, which is larger than Australia and the sub-continent of Europe, with 98 percent ice and 2 percent barren rock. They will also enjoy National Geographic and Discovery Channel documentaries and feature films like Two Brothers and The Story of the Weeping Camel.

The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl in 3-D

posted by rkumar
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:PG
Movie Release Date:2005

This movie spends a lot of time and energy on the importance of dreams and imagination, delivering its message in both form and content. I wish it had spent a little more time and energy on the importance of structure, character, story, and depth.

Yes, of course dreams and imagination are necessary, but without focus and meaning they are cotton candy — a sweet delight for a moment until it melts away, leaving a sugar buzz and a sticky film on your teeth.

Dazzling effects and whimsical humor don’t make up for a flabby and uninspired story. It’s not a watered-down version of The Wizard of Oz; it’s a watered-down version of The Neverending Story, which itself teeters on the edge of being a watered-down version of The Wizard of Oz.

Max (Cayden Boyd) is a dreamy kid who keeps a notebook filled with stories about the characters he has imagined, including Sharkboy, a boy raised by sharks, and Lavagirl, who can shoot fire from her fingertips. Kids at school make fun of him and his practical-minded mother (Kristen Davis) reminds him to stick to reality: “Dreaming keeps you from seeing what’s right in front of you.”

But one day, what’s in front of Max is Sharkboy and Lavagirl in person. They come right into his schoolroom and tell him they need his help to save their home on Planet Drool, which is being attacked by Mr. Electric (George Lopez), his sidekick Minus, and an army of electric plugs. Max hops into their spaceship, and off they go.

The stars of the movie are real kids, not Hollywood kids. That means that they have a nice, unaffected quality, but it also means that they are not really actors. The real stars of the movie are the special effects, which are as much fun as a banana split (actually, one of the best really is a banana split). There are some charming ideas, like a real-life “Stream of Consciousness” but there is too much to see and not enough to think about. The people who made this movie should have taken the advice of Tobor the robot to “dream a better dream, a useful dream.”

Parents should know that the movie has a lot of mild peril and some action-style violence, including getting hit in the crotch and getting an electric shock (no guns and no one badly hurt). There is brief schoolyard language and some barfing and spitting. A strength of the movie is its positive portrayal of strong, capable female and minority characters who demonstrate loyalty and respect for each other.

Families who see this movie should talk about who was right, Max’s mother or father. Is there a way to make both happy? Why did the teacher say he was “an awakener?” How do teachers learn from their students? Families might want to talk about bullies and how to respond to them. And they should also think about keeping a journal like Max’s.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Neverending Story, Time Bandits, and Spy Kids and its sequels. They will appreciate the deliciously silly Captain Underpants series of books. Every family should read the wonderful The Phantom Tollbooth, which deals with many of the same issues as this movie. And every family should try Boomerang, the audio magazine for kids that inspires, amuses, and teaches kids about the world they live in.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for thematic elements, some sensuality and language.
Movie Release Date:2005

This is a story about one summer in the life of four friends, told with sincerity, heart, and a little bit of magic — the very same qualities that made the original book and its sequels a “you have to read this” classic for young girls.

Four 16-year-olds, friends since before birth, when their mothers met in a prenatal exercise class, are about to be separated for the summer for the first time ever. Just before they leave, they find a mysterious pair of blue jeans that somehow fit each of them perfectly, even though their sizes as shapes are as different as their personalities. They decide to share the pants as a way of sharing their experiences over the summer. As they mail the pants back and forth to each other, the jeans will help them share their stories and stay connected.

The first to wear the pants is shy artist Lena (Alexis Bledel of television’s Gilmore Girls) goes to Greece to visit her grandparents. On the island of Santorini she meets Kostas. Despite a multi-generation feud between their families — and a promise never to see him again, Lena and Kostas fall in love.

Outgoing and athletic Bridget (Blake Lively) goes to soccer camp. She thinks a romance with her handsome coach is what she needs to make up for the emptiness that she has felt since her mother died.

traveling pants.jpgAspiring writer Carmen (America Ferrera of Real Women Have Curves) goes to South Carolina to see her father (Bradley Whitford), who did not tell her that he was living with a woman (Nancy Travis) with two children and planning to get married.

And rebellious would-be film-maker Tibby (Amber Tamblyn of television’s Joan of Arcadia) stays home, working at a huge discount store called Wallman’s and trying to make a movie about how bleak and meaningless everything is. She meets a girl named Bailey (Jenna Boyd) who becomes her film crew.

Each of the girls wears the pants and sends them on to the next with a letter. As they all try on new experiences and emotions and feel a little lost and vulnerable, the pants and their friendship keeps them feeling close and supported.

What takes this above the level of the average something-for-everyone collection of stories with a group hug at the end is its willingness to keep things a little complicated and messy instead of tying everything up neatly into the TV-style resolutions most people think are required in stories for young audiences.

Characters make real mistakes, not cute flubs that are either quickly corrected or happy accidents that work out even better than the original plan. Some characters learn lessons and change their minds or their behavior, but others do not. Some wounds are healed and some of what is lost is found, but some not. This is more reassuring, rather than less, because in our hearts even kids know that is true; all endings are not happy. It is good to see how people handle that — and can even be enlarged by it.

The film benefits, too, from sensitive and committed performances by its five young stars (including the precociously centered Boyd, a real presence on screen here as she was in the otherwise awful Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star). They make us believe in the connection between very different characters. It’s almost possible to think of them as different aspects of the same adolescent — shy and bold, thoughtful and impulsive, cynical and hopeful. Together, like the movie itself and like those magical Levis, they are more than the sum of their parts.

Parents should know that there is a subtle reference to a sexual encounter [spoilers alert] that one of the characters initiates but later considers a mistake. This is handled sensitively and responsibly. The same is true of other difficult issues the characters must face, including the suicide of a parent, a difficult adjustment to a divorced parent’s re-marriage, and a very sad death.

Families who see this movie should talk about what makes such different girls such loyal and devoted friends? What are the most important lessons each one of them learns over the summer? Why don’t the pants fit Bailey? Families should talk about why this movie does not try to give everyone a happy ending or even an ending at all. Why was Bridget so wrong about what she thought would make her feel less lonely? How did her mistake help her to share her feelings with her friends in a way she could not before? What could Carmen have done to try to get to know her father’s new family better?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy The Baby Sitters Club. And, of course, they should read the bookand its sequels. They might also enjoy a different kind of story about a magical piece of clothing shared by a disparate group of people in a life-changing series of adventures, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit.

Rock School

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005

As adorable as Jack Black’s fictional portrayal was, there is something inherently disturbing about the idea of a real life School of Rock for 9-17-year-olds. Of course there is the problem of the music itself, loud, profane, and rude, promoting drug use and misogyny.

And then there is the problem of the people who love the music — in this case, Paul Green, who runs the school, who is loud, profane, and rude.

But the fundamental problem is that rock music is about anarchy and insolence and rebellion and shock and volcanic uncontainability, and, as in the name of a Red Hot Chili Peppers album, “Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik” (sic), so the idea of sitting down with a bunch of kids and using rock to teach them rules and discipline is almost impossible to imagine.

Children are supposed to be learning songs about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, not paranoia and devil worship. They have to develop their belief system fully before they can reject it as teenagers. If ten-year-olds with Mohawked hair shriek Ozzy Osborne songs, what will they do to rebel, sing Guy Lombardo?

So, can kids survive real rock? And can rock, which has survived even having its anthems turned into elevator music and advertising jingles, survive this? The problem inherent in this question is illustrated by the fact that this movie about a teacher of 9 to 17-year-olds is rated R as unsuitable for 9 to 17-year-olds due to near-constant use of the f-word by the teacher.

Paul Green wanted to be a guitar god. Sometimes he still does. But he realized when he saw the film Almost Famous that he wants to be a rock star in 1972, not in 2005. He knows he has to “reconcile Paul the guitar player with Paul the guitar teacher” and that means being willing to teach the kids to be better than he is. He loves to teach and has a gift for “big ideas I was able to express in concrete terms so that kids could understand.” So he established an after-school program teaching kids to play rock and roll.

His standards are as exacting as any symphonic tyrant. It’s “not ‘come look at kids play music’ — it’s ‘come look at kids play music well.'” He insults and bullies the kids; he compares the kids to each other; he threatens to throw them out. The “Suggestion Box” sign is posted over the garbage can. And most of the time, the kids love it.

We see Paul and his students prepare for three big performances — salutes to Black Sabbath and “guitar gods,” and a trip to Germany for a performance at Zappanale, a global gathering of Frank Zappa tribute bands. There are crises — a star performer has an emergency operation, a newspaper story causes controversy. There is pressure — they will be performing not just in front of thousands of Zappa fanatics who know every note of the music but in front of some of the musicians who played with Zappa.

There are mistakes and there are tears. And there are triumphs. There are kids whose souls open up to new feelings and experiences, kids who find a home or a sense of mastery they did not know was possible. And there is a “soccer mom without the soccer” painting a cross (but not a pentagram) on a kid with black fingernail polish and a mohawk, a Quaker rap group called the Friendly Gangstaz, and some face-melting metal music, and a moment of recognition and appreciation that is as moving and tender as any ever put on film.

Parents should know that this movie is serious about hard, loud, and angry rock music and does not tone it down for children. It includes frequent and colorful bad language used in front of and by children and teenagers. While it is unassailably clear to us and to the students that Green loves the kids and loves teaching them, he often speaks to them in very harsh terms, a sort of rock and roll equivalent of a drill sargeant. There is a mention of a drug reference in a song and Paul talks about alliegance to Satan. A student mentions suicide attempts and depression.

Families who see this film should talk about Paul’s teaching style. Is it abusive? Is it demanding? Is it too demanding? Was it a good experience for Madi? For Will?

Families who enjoy this film and want to know more about Paul Green can read this article or look at Green’s own website. Be sure to take a look at Green’s manifesto, which explains:

“Shows are picked for their educational merit and content (e.g. Queen to learn about harmony, punk to develop performance and stage presence, Zappa for a crash course in musicianship. It is never even suggested that these kids shouldn’t be able to learn and play their parts. Thus, if they fail, they fail at aiming at the best. And when they succeed, which is more often than not, they have accomplished something extraordinary.”

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