Movie Mom

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Fading Gigolo
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some sexual content, language and brief nudity
Release Date:
April 19, 2014

 

Philomena
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 on appeal for some strong language, thematic elements and sexual references
Release Date:
November 22, 2013

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

 

The Nut Job
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor
Release Date:
January 17, 2014

Bears
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
G
Release Date:
April 19, 2014

 

Grudge Match
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sports action violence, sexual content and language
Release Date:
December 25, 2013

The Grapes of Wrath

posted by rkumar
A+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:1940

Plot: The classic John Steinbeck novel about dust-bowl farmers emigrating from Oklahoma to California became a classic film with Henry Fonda as Tom Joad and Jane Darwell (in an Oscar-winning performance) as his mother. Tom returns home after serving time in prison for manslaughter to find that his share-cropper family is preparing to leave. They have lost the right to farm the land, so they are setting off to find jobs in California. Ma takes one last moment in their shack of a home, holding her earrings up to her ears, and then all twelve of them pile into the truck, including Casey, a former minister. On the way, their grandfather dies, and they bury him themselves. The grandmother dies, too, but Ma holds on to her and does not tell anyone until they get to California. Thousands of migrants have arrived for the 800 available jobs. Exploited and even robbed by the bosses, the workers are so desperate that they will do anything for any wage. They are too frightened to organize and insist on better treatment.

The bosses have hired thugs who prevent anyone from objecting to their treatment. Tom kills one to protect the people he is shooting at and Casey takes the blame. Casey is killed, and Tom kills the assailant. Wanted by the authorities, Tom cannot stay with his family, which has now found a government-sponsored work camp with better conditions. He tells his mother farewell: “Well, maybe it’s like Casey says. Fella ain’t got a soul of his own. Just a little piece of a big soul. One big soul that belongs to everybody… I’ll be around in the dark— I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look—wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beating up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be there in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be there in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry, and they know supper’s ready, and when people are eatin’ the stuff they raised, and livin’ in the houses they built, I’ll be there, too.” After he leaves, Ma says, “Rich fellers come up. They die. Their kids ain’t no good and they die out. But we keep a-comin’. We’re the people that live. Can’t wipe us out. Can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, ’cause we’re the people!”

Discussion: This brilliant film shows us a family of enormous dignity and commitment. Though Ma says that they are not “the kissin’ kind,” and they show little emotion (except for Ma’s delight in Tom’s return from prison) there is clearly a great deal of love in the family.

Questions for Kids:

· Director John Ford was famous for using the landscapes in his movies to help create the mood and tell the story. How did he do that here?

· Casey is often considered to be a Christ-like figure. What causes people to make that comparison?

· What do you think about Tom’s comment that we all have “a piece of a big soul”? About Ma’s comment that “the people will go on”?

· What is the life of migrant workers like today? To the extent that it has improved, what and who made it better?

Connections: John Ford won an Oscar as Best Director. Darwell can be glimpsed as “the bird lady” in “Mary Poppins.” Carradine is the father of actors Keith and Robert Carradine.

Activities: Teens should read the book by John Steinbeck. They may also appreciate his books Of Mice and Men and East of Eden, and the films based on them.

The Gift

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2000

Cate Blanchett plays Annie Wilson, a widow from rural Georgia who has the gift of second sight. She supports her three sons by doing readings with cards, so she hears a lot of problems and secrets. Her clients include Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank), a battered wife and Buddy Cole (Giovanni Ribisi), a troubled garage mechanic.

The local belle, Jessica King (Katie Holmes), disappears, and her father, her fiancé, and the police come to Annie to ask if she can help them find her. Annie sees nothing at first, but later she is able to lead them to a pond on the property of Valerie’s abusive husband, Donnie (Keanu Reeves). Annie’s testimony helps to convict Donnie, but then she begins to get visions that lead her to believe that Donnie was not the killer.

Director Sam Raimi is a master of horror and suspense. He knows how to make the bayou trees hang down ominously and the heavy mist and mournful violins prickle the hairs on the back of your neck. This is one of those movies where someone hears a funny noise inside the house and goes in to investigate, where someone agrees to go to a deserted pond on a rainy night, where a child asks, “Is everything going to be all right now?” and is reassured that it is, despite the fact that there is still about half an hour to go in the movie and it’s pretty clear that it isn’t going to be spent showing how relieved and happy everyone is to have it all over.

The plot is a little predictable, but first-class atmosphere and performances make it a superior entry in the horror genre. Cate Blanchett is quietly moving and completely convincing as a woman who is at times more at home with her second sight than with her first. Giovanni Ribisi gives great depth and humanity to the part of the troubled mechanic who sees Annie as his only friend. Keanu Reeves struggles to appear menacing, but manages to do better when he has to testify in the murder case. Katie Holmes shows her ability to create a complete character with the toss of her hair as the glossy Veronica to Annie’s Betty.

Parents should know that the movie is very scary, with a lot of tense moments, characters in peril, jump-out-at-you surprises and fake-out twists and turns. There is a nude dead body, a battered wife, an an inexplicit scene of characters having sex, and a reference to child sexual abuse. A character is doused with gasoline and then lit. The movie has very strong language, including a racist and anti-Semitic comment.

Families who see the movie should talk about why people go to see Annie. It seems that they care more about being listened to and heard than about hearing what she has to say. Why are Valerie and Buddy unable to help themselves? What are their options? Annie faces a moral dilemma when she realizes that Donnie is not the murderer. How does she handle it? Should she have warned Jessica about what she saw with her ESP? Should she have warned Wayne about what she saw at the country club? Annie tells others that they should face up to their problems, yet she has a hard time talking to her children about her late husband. How does that change?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “The Sixth Sense” and “Don’t Look Now.”

The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Preschool
Movie Release Date:2000

First things first — it is better than the original, famously troubled 1994 version that sank under the weight of too many screenwriters (reportedly over 30) and too many commercial tie-ins. This prequel benefits from lower expectations (it was originally intended as a straight-to-video release) and improved technology (the CGI dinosaurs are terrific). Okay, it begins with a fart joke (the guilty party — a dinosaur — says, “Hey, I got three stomachs, cut me some slack!”). And the rest of the humor is only slightly more elevated. And some of its jokes are older than the Stone Age. But it is not too bad, there are even a couple of genuinely funny moments, and it can provide for a moderately enjoyable family outing or a first-class birthday party for anyone in the 5-8-year-old range. The kids at the screening I attended cheered and applauded.

Mark Addy (from “The Full Monty”) and Stephen Baldwin (from “The Usual Suspects”) play Fred and Barney as though they are really enjoying it. The wonderfully talented Kristen Johnston (“Third Rock from the Sun”) is sadly underused as Wilma, but she looks sensational in her “Isaac Miz- rock-hi” animal skins. Wilma is the pampered daughter of the snobbish Pearl Slaghoople (Joan Collins in sort of prehistoric “Dynasty” mode) and the loving but addled Colonel (Harvey Korman). She has no interest in a life of country clubs and snobs. She runs away and is befriended by waitress Betty O’Shale (Jane Krakowski of “Ally McBeal”). They meet Fred and Barney and all goes well until Chip Rockefeller (“Dharma & Greg’s” Thomas Gibson), who is after Wilma’s fortune, invites them to his new resort in Rock Vegas. But all ends well, and we even get to see the origins of Wilma’s upswept hairstyle and pearls.

The highlight of the movie is Alan Cummings. He plays both Gazoo, the space alien who comes to earth to observe human mating rituals, and Mick Jagged, the (what else) rock star, frontman for (what else) the Stones. It’s a real pity that he plays only two roles – the movie fades whenever he is off screen. In the soundtrack’s highlight, Ann-Margret simultaneously salutes two of her career highlights — the original Flintstones cartoon (as “Ann Margrock”) and “Viva Las Vegas” with a terrific rendition of “Viva Rock Vegas.”

Parents should know that there are a few naughty words and mild sexual references (one afternoon Betty tells Barney that she wants to come back to his apartment and make him breakfast, and he wonders what she wants to do until morning), and some pie-in-the-face/pratfall cartoon violence.

Families who see this movie should discuss why Wilma feels unsatisfied despite her wealth, why Fred feels that he has to make a lot of money to compete with Chip, and how Betty and Barney create trouble by jumping to conclusions instead of telling each other about what worries them. Parents will also want to talk about Betty’s decision to go off with Mick when she thinks Barney has been unfaithful. Whether it is out of spite or a way to bolster her spirits, it is a foolish response.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the old Flintstones and Jetsons cartoons, and may even get a kick out of looking for the similarities between them.

The Filth and the Fury

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2000

More than 20 years ago, the Sex Pistols made one album, were let go by two record companies, one after only one day, and had the number one song in the UK, though it was so controversial it could not be played on the radio or even named on the published top 40 list. They were prouder of the blank space on the top of the charts than they would have been to see their names there.

Twenty years ago, director Julien Temple made “The Great Rock and Roll Swindle,” a documentary about the Sex Pistols from the point of view of their manager, Malcolm McLaren, who was presented as a Svengali who conceived and marketed the group. He said that they were the clay and he was the sculptor. Now, Temple returns with another take on the same story, as the surviving Sex Pistols tell their side.

According to the band members, McLaren was incompetent and corrupt. He played no part in creating the band; all he did was market them badly and take all their money. Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) talks about their origins as furious and iconoclastic working-class boys who wanted to make people think about what was going on all around them – and about what was not going on. When the Sex Pistols got together, the economy in England was stagnant. Garbage strikes led to streets piled with trash for months, job losses led to thousands being on welfare, and cuts in services left people feeling helpless. The Sex Pistols wanted them to feel angry. For a brief time, they served the role of the fictional character in “Network” who urged people to go to their windows and scream, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!” They said their music was “almost a battle cry.” They wanted the working class to question the system, and to fight back.

They pierced their skin with safety pins and wore shredded clothes. “Wear the garbage! At least you’re dealing with it!” They did everything they could to offend and enjoyed the horrified reactions. But there were a few things that they were not at all prepared to deal with.

The first was McLaren. The Sex Pistols were not the kind of rock and roll band who trash the establishment on stage but act like the establishment off-stage. They never gave any thought to money or made any plans. They trusted McLaren, who is portrayed in this movie wearing a bondage mask of the kind he used to sell when he first met the members of the Sex Pistols in his store. Or perhaps it is more likely to say that they did not pay much attention to him. He gave them a few pounds a week spending money, and the rest is gone. The Sex Pistols faced all of the problems of any young, uneducated, unsophisticated kids who become famous very quickly, but to make it worse they got the fame without the fortune.

They were also not prepared for the problems that face all people who rise to fame on shock value. There is inevitably a Catch-22 dilemma. First, audiences get over shock very quickly, and as soon as the act is popular it immediately becomes no longer shocking, but normal. One day, punks are appalling everyone by sticking safety pins in their ears and wearing shredded clothes and the next day some enterprising soul is selling special piercing safety pins and pre-shredded clothes. The fans pay tribute to role-shattering rock stars by imitating them, and suddenly they are the new role model instead of the one rebelling against role models. The alternative is for the fans to compete by trying to be even more outrageous. So the fans spit on the band members and slash them with razors.

Even in the world of rock and roll, which has always relied on challenging the accepted and rebelling against authority, the Sex Pistols were so shocking that no one would record them or book them. One of their tours was called SPOT (“Sex Pistols on Tour”) so that the authorities would not know who was booked. When they put a sign on their tour bus that said “Nowhere,” they did not know it would literally be true.

One of the things they rebelled against was the notion of competence. When one member was told he had to learn to sing, he said, “Why?” You can rebel against the whole oppressive notion of success being tied to talent, but it is difficult to get anyone to buy your records. Another problem was that they were a lot better at knowing what they didn’t like than what they did like. The shelf life of anyone who criticizes without presenting an alternative is even briefer than the shelf life of someone who markets offensiveness. The most poignant moment in the movie is when they perform at a benefit for the children of striking fire fighters. The band has come together musically and at last they are about something that is meaningful to them. But it is too late.

By then, they were on an irreversible downward spiral. Lydon says, “Yes, I could take on England, but I couldn’t take on one heroin addict.” When Sid Vicious becomes involved with Nancy Spungen and with heroin, that is the beginning of the end. Today, speaking in shadows, Lydon breaks down in tears when he talks about how he could not save his friend.

Temple, who was around when the band was together, clearly has the trust of the surviving members. He shoots them in shadows, so our visual image of them is not diluted by signs of aging. We see their present-day recollections over footage of themselves more than two decades ago. Temple skillfully intercuts scenes from music hall performers, Laurence Olivier’s “Richard III” and “Hamlet,” contemporary commentators, and “The Great Rock and Roll Swindle” to provide a sense of context and contrast. There are some fascinating details about the band members. Lydon had meningitis as a child, and lost his memory. It may have been his having to learn everything again that led to his insistence that everyone question their assumptions. And Sid Vicious was not from a lower-class family. He was the son of a prestigious Grenadier guard, which must have made for some interesting conversation at home when their controversial salute to the Queen was banned from the charts.

The Sex Pistols were enormously influential, and many rock bands found some inspiration in their willingness to take on any authority. For a brief time, they played the role of the child who tells the emperor he has no clothes. As one band member says, “I question everything. I always have done.” Not a bad slogan for rock and roll, for adolescence, or even for everyone.

Parents should know that this movie includes very strong language, drug use (though a powerful anti-drug message), and explicit sexual references.

Families who see this movie should talk about the role of rebellion, the influence of the Sex Pistols, and who is closest today to the role they played. People who like this movie will also like Julien Temple’s “Absolute Beginners.”

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