Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


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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

 

Heaven is for Real
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic material including some medical situations
Release Date:
April 16, 2014

Boyhood
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use
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

Planes: Fire & Rescue
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for action and some peril
Release Date:
July 18, 2014

 

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

American Splendor

posted by rkumar
A+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:R
Movie Release Date:2003

Harvey Pekar says, “Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.” His own life is a good example. He has the most ordinary of professions – he is a file clerk in a veteran’s hospital. He lives in the most ordinary of apartments — dank, drab and cluttered. He has the most ordinary of frustrations – a woman in front of him at the grocery store’s check-out counter takes too long, a look in the mirror provides “a reliable disappointment.” He faces the most minor and the most severe obstacles and problems with the same grumpy pessimism. Yet Pekar, file clerk, freelance jazz critic, comic book author, sometime Letterman guest, and now the subject of a biographical movie, has an extraordinary ability to recognize the complexity of ordinary life. Like many artists, Pekar may be too overwhelmed by life to deal with it, but not too overwhelmed to document it.

His insights and artistic sensibilities do not translate into a capacity for tolerance or intimacy. Pekar is selfish and insensitive. He does not want to be alone but he is too unpleasant and petty to live with anyone else. His first two marriages tanked, so he lives without human companionship in a dingy apartment surrounded by the clutter of his collections of old records and comic books. He spends his free time at garage sales haggling over minor purchases. He manages to alienate almost everyone around him with the exception of his small coterie of equally damaged human beings. One of the highlights of the movie is his relationship with Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis), a fan who impulsively decides to marry him after a disastrous first date, and who indeed turns out to be his ideal life companion. Like Pekar, she is relentlessly honest about her own quirks, shortcomings, and pathologies and those of others.

Pekar does not hide a single blemish. On the contrary, he seems to wear his flaws somewhere between chip on his shoulder and a badge of honor. His combination of self-awareness and self-obsession can be extremely difficult to digest in large doses. And yet, Pekar’s unpretentious candor makes him seem real, honest, and even engaging. He may not like being a file clerk, but he is not slumming and he does not feel superior to anyone there, no matter how aware he is of their deficiencies. Being a file clerk fills some need in him, perhaps for order and predictibility and authenticity.

When we first meet Pekar, he is a child out trick-or-treating on Halloween. The other kids are dressed as superheroes, but he is all he will ever be, himself. When that is insufficiently impressive to elicit candy, he gives up. He would rather be the real Harvey Pekar than a pretend comic book hero.

What is ironic, of course, is that Pekar became a comic book hero.

Okay, maybe an anti-hero, but a highly successful one. Pekar’s stories have been illustrated by the top artists working in comics today. Comic expert Don Markstein wrote, “Pekar’s critics accuse him of having founded the ‘dull autobiography’ genre of comics writing. But as is often the case, his many imitators miss the point. It isn’t Pekar’s normal, work-a-day life that draws so many readers to his work. It’s his ability to find piquant things to say about the ordinary things he sees and does.”

The artists illustrating Pekar’s stories are so many and so varied that their differing renditions of Harvey provide one of the movie’s best moments. Fan and future wife Joyce Brabner arrives at a bus station to meet Pekar (Paul Giamatti) for the first time. She looks around and before she sees the real Pekar (rather, the actor portraying him), she sees the ways he was drawn by different artists, trying to put together the Pekar of the comics with the Pekar who wrote them.

This prismatic approach to Pekar is ideal for conveying his complex ordinariness. At one point, Pekar the real person is watching Giamatti, the actor portraying him, who is watching actor Donal Logue playing Pekar in a play. Or maybe Logue is playing Dan Castellaneta, the actor who actually played the part of Pekar in that production.

The characters in this movie are so weird and their lifestyles are so odd that it is sometimes difficult to tell whether they are real people or cartoon characters. The movie brilliantly plays upon this, switching fluidly from comic book drawings to actors, to actual footage of the real people involved, then back again. The real-life characters appear as a sort of Greek chorus to comment on the story and on the movie itself. The real Pekar is, of course, reliably disappointed. Footage of Pekar’s appearances on the David Letterman show is spliced cleverly with surrounding scenes in which actors depict the events leading up to and following the show.

Pekar shows us that when you look closely enough, there is drama even in the uneventful life of a file clerk. Pekar rails against his loneliness, or talks about the sweetness of life in a way that shows he is not all that different from the rest of us. He raises himself from squalor by teaming up with a friend, the famous artist R. Crumb, to produce a whole new type of comic book. He has life-threatening medical problems which require him to confront his own mortality. And in his own way, he loves, deeply.

The overall effect of the movie is not one of slapstick but of earthy, gritty reality. Davis and Giamatti are brave, funny, heartbreaking, and simply magnificent. So are the real Brabner and Pekar.

The movie gives us a Pekar who is an interesting, angry, intelligent, multi-facted, slightly twisted man in his moth-eaten underwear and scratching himself in rude places. He may be reliably disappointed in himself, but the honesty of his take on himself and his life is, ultimately, quite beautiful. Plus, it has the best soundtrack of the year, filled with meticulously chosen classics.

Parents should know that the movie’s rating is based on language. There are some sexual references and inexplicit sexual situations. Some viewers may find the unhappiness and dysfunction in the movie disturbing.

Families who see this movie should talk about why such an intelligent and perceptive man created this kind of life for himself. What was it that appealed to him about the file clerk job? Why did he confront David Letterman? What makes Pekar happy?

Families who enjoy this film should see Crumb, a documentary mentioned in American Splendor about Pekar’s collaborator. Crumb is surrounded by similarly eclectic characters, many profoundly dysfunctional and deeply disturbing. They should also see Ghost World, based on a comic book from the same genre.

The Station Agent

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

Fin (Peter Dinklage) was a part of a small community of train lovers in Hoboken. He had a job repairing model trains. And he attended gatherings of train chasers, who showed their home movies and talked about trains.

But then his friend and employer died and the store was closed. Fin inherits an abandoned train station in Newfoundland, New Jersey and he goes there to live.

Just outside the station is the world’s least busy snack stand, run by Joe (Bobby Cannavale) because his father, who owns it, is ill. Joe tries to get Fin to talk to him, but finally Fin explains that he just wants to be left alone. Joe has tried to make friends with Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) a reclusive artist, but made no progress.

Then Olivia almost runs Fin off the road — twice — and makes amends by bringing him a book and then a camera. And Joe tags along when Fin goes to watch a train. At first, Joe is incredulous that Fin can care so much about waiting to see a train go by, but when the train finally arrives, Joe is as overjoyed as if his team won the World Series. Joe and Olivia find themselves “walking the right of way” with Fin, and when Fin and Joe use the camera from Olivia to film a train, they take it to Olivia’s house to have dinner and show it to her.

Little by little, two people who thought they did not want to be with anyone and one who is desperate for almost any kind of interaction begin to be important to each other in a way that will matter to them more than they could have imagined.

Fin is also befriended by a little girl named Cleo (Raven Goodwin) and by Emily (Michelle Williams), the local librarian. When they need his help, he learns that he can do more than he thought, and that matters to him, too.

This movie is a quiet joy, with sensitive performances of breathtaking delicacy. Dinklage gives Fin a dignity and self-possession that makes his journey infinitely touching. Cannavale gives Joe a subtle yearning quality beneath the bluster. In one scene, some guys who would seem like natural companions for Joe come by to joke around and they invite him to play ball with him. Cannavale’s reaction shows us that he understands Joe far better than Joe understands himself. Goodwin (who was also remarkable in Lovely and Amazing) is marvelously natural as Cleo sees Finn for the first time and asks him what grade he is in. Clarkson, who won an acting award at Sundance, has the showiest and most under-written role, but she gives Olivia grace and heart. These characters will stay with you for a long time.

Parents should know that the movie has extremely strong language and sexual references, including out of wedlock pregnancies. Characters smoke marijuana, drink and smoke cigarettes a lot and one becomes drunk. There are some sad deaths (offscreen) and there some mild peril (no one hurt). The thoughtlessness and prejudice Fin experiences are sensitively portrayed and there is a lovely friendship that transcends age and race.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Olivia only could be friends with Joe after meeting Fin and what made each of the characters begin to want to be with each other. What surprised you about the characters? Why are trains so important to the movie? Why did Fin change his mind about speaking to Cleo’s class?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Inside Moves and Ordinary People.

The Medallion

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2003

Did I miss a meeting or wasn’t one of the great things about Jackie Chan that he didn’t need any special effects? Back in the day, Chan was his own special effect, and that was plenty special enough.

After all those years and broken bones, it isn’t surprising that he is ready to let the technology do some of the work for him. And it isn’t surprising that Chan sees some appeal in a story about a charm that can bestow eternal life and strength. But it isn’t as much fun.

In this movie, Chan plays Hong Kong cop Eddie Yang. A bad guy named Snakehead (Julian Sands) is after a medallion and the child who can give it the power to grant eternal life. Working with officers from Interpol (British comic actor Lee Evans as Watson and Clare Forlani as Nicole), Eddie chases after Snakehead and his henchmen, from Hong Kong to Ireland. Along the way, both Eddie and Snakehead get medallion-ized superpowers. It’s fun to see Jackie try out his new powers (only Jackie would come up with superpowers that allow him to feel all the pain when he gets injured before magically healing the wounds). But no amount of flying around or recovering from massive injuries will ever be as magical as seeing Jackie fight when he was at his best.

Jackie’s action scenes are still 90% of what this movie has to offer, and there are a couple of good ones, including an extended chase that is pretty exciting, even though it relies on wires for some of the best stunts. The rest is just dumb jokes (an extended double entendre exchange that has some of the Interpol cops thinking that Eddie and Watson are gay, some potty humor), a brief love interest, and the aforementioned special effects.

Parents should know that the movie includes extensive action violence (not very graphic), including a child in peril. There is brief strong language and double entendre humor.

Families who see this movie should talk about whether they would want to have — or to be able to give — the powers granted by the medallion. What would be the benefits and what would be the drawbacks?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy some of Chan’s better films, and a compliation of some of his best work in Jackie Chan: My Stunts.

The School of Rock

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2003

If there was ever someone born to portray the true spirit of rock and roll, it is Jack Black. In this movie, that is what they needed, and that is just what he does.

Black plays Dewey Finn, a musician who doesn’t just live for rock. He barely acknowledges that there is anything else. Like the music he loves, Dewey is loud, immature, messy, self-absorbed, passionate, incapable of complying with any authority, rule, or attempt at civilization, and just about irresistable. Dewey’s love for the music is so pure and so complete that it is impossible for him to imagine that everyone might not support him.

That is why he is astonished when he is fired by his band and when his best friend Ned (screenwriter Mike White) tells him that if he does not start paying rent, he will have to move out. Ned was once a rocker with a group called Maggots of Death, but now he is a substitute teacher with a girlfriend and tells Dewey it is time to grow up.

So, when Dewey intercepts a call from Principal Mullins (Joan Cusack) offering Ned a substitute teacher position for fifth graders at a posh prep school, he accepts and shows up pretending to be Ned.

Of course he thinks he will just snooze through the classes and of course his students will be appalled (but also a little bit thrilled) by his sense of anarchy. When he tears down the neatly lettered class list of stars and demerits, they are stunned. They look around as though waiting for lightning to strike, a sort of ultimate demerit. But fifth graders are just young enough to trust their teacher and just old enough to be enthralled when he tells them that their secret new project will be to spend the entire school day creating a rock band. Once he assures them that this will impress the admissions office at Harvard, they are all on board.

Soon, everyone in the class is a part of the band, with guitar wizard Zach, back-up singers, roadies, groupies, and a stylist. The kids learn something about the history of rock, something about music, and quite a bit about expressing themselves. And Dewey learns something about what it really means to be part of a band.

This is by far the most accessible and conventional film from director Richard Linklater (Waking Life, Dazed and Confused) and White (Chuck and Buck and The Good Girl), neither of whom are known for heartwarming, feel-good movies. But that is what this is, a sort of To Sir With Love crossed with This is Spinal Tap. Black is enormously entertaining and the kids are terrific.

Parents should know that the movie includes some strong language, alcohol abuse, and drug references. A character loosens up when she gets tipsy. An unconscionable lie is portrayed as a creative solution to a problem. The overall theme of jettisoning schoolwork for rock and roll may also be a concern.

Families who see this movie should talk about how much Dewey loves rock and roll. Why is it so important to him? What does it allow him to express? What is the most important thing he learned from the kids, and what is the most important thing they learned from him?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Commitments and This is Spinal Tap and they will enjoy Black’s performance as a devoted music fan in High Fidelity (all for mature audiences). For information about Black’s own rock band, Tenacious D, check here. Families might also like to see some very different movies about music teachers who touch the lives of students, like Music of the Heart and Mr. Holland’s Opus. And they might enjoy a very different story about a music teacher who begins by being a con man, The Music Man.

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posted 8:00:40am Jul. 22, 2014 | read full post »

Boring TV Makes You Fat
A new study finds that boring television leads to mindless snacking and that leads to putting on pounds. So, watch programs that excite and engage you. Or, if the show is boring, turn off the television.

posted 8:00:05am Jul. 22, 2014 | read full post »

Switched at Birth and the End of Life
I'm a big fan of ABC Family's Switched at Birth and have appreciated its complicated characters, honest and heartfelt relationships, and compelling storylines, as well as its unprecedented, in-depth portrayal of the deaf community. Last week's episode may have been the all-time best (SPOILER ALERT)

posted 3:59:49pm Jul. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Comic-Con 2014
It's here!  San Diego Comic-Con begins Wednesday night in San Diego and I'll be there.  This is my favorite event of the year, a chance to find out what everyone will be watching, listening to, playing, and otherwise enjoying over the next few years.  As I always say, this is the Iowa caucuses of

posted 8:00:20am Jul. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Wish I Was Here
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posted 7:21:07pm Jul. 20, 2014 | read full post »


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