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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

 

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

Under the Skin
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language
Release Date:
April 11, 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

Rio 2
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
G
Release Date:
April 11, 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

Rat Race

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2001

Rat Race” is a loving salute to the spirit of “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,” a splendid salute to slapstick that featured just about everyone who happened to be in Hollywood in 1965. “Rat Race” has an all-star cast playing characters who all want to be the first one to a $2 million treasure and will do anything — ANYTHING to get it. It is outrageous, cheerfully vulgar, undeniably lowbrow, and very, very funny.

John Cleese plays a Donald Trump-style casino owner who has a plan to attract the really high rollers. He will let them bet on a race between creatures who can think, plan, and lie — humans. Six randomly selected customers of the casino are each given a key to a box in a train station in Utah. Inside the box is $2 million, and the first one there gets it all. The six include Rowan Atkinson as a narcoleptic Italian, Cuba Gooding, Jr. as a disgraced football referee (he blew the call on the coin toss), Whoopi Goldberg as a woman just reunited with the daughter she hasn’t seen since she was a baby, Brecken Meyer as a conservative lawyer who always plays by the rules, Jon Lovitz as a father on vacation with his family, and Seth Green and Vince Vieleuf as small-time con artists. Along the way, they meet up with the prettiest helicopter pilot in the world (Amy Smart, brilliantly funny), neo-Nazis, real-life superlawyer Gloria Allred, a rocket car, a truck driver delivering some very important and delicate cargo, and a bus full of Lucy impersonators. There is a lot of good, old-fashioned, hit-on-the-head humor, but it’s like a Road Runner cartoon — everyone bounces back without a scratch in the next scene, ready to get right back into the game.

Director Jerrry Zucker, shows the sure hand with sight gags that brought us “Airplane!” While this does not have that movie’s surreal moments of comic ecstasy, its stronger narrative coherence and more interesting characters make it almost as satisfying. All of the performances are delights. Kathy Bates’s brief cameo as a woman who really likes squirrels and Amy Smart’s expression when she dive-bombs her cheating boyfriend (played by TV Superman Dean Cain), Vieluf’s encounter with his multi-pierced dream girl, Seth Green’s encounter with a monster truck rally, and Kathy Najimy’s encounter with the Barbie Museum are among the funniest movie moments in years. And the final resolution beats “It’s a Mad…World” by a thousandfold.

Parents should know that the PG-13 rating comes from some vulgar humor, including bathroom jokes, a weird proposition made to a prostitute, an offensive porn movie title, and a cross-dressing man. A multiply-pierced woman flashes her breasts as a way of flirting with a man she does not know (nothing seen).

Families who see this movie should talk about Brecken Meyers’s statement that “Good things take time, but great things happen all at once.” Why does money make people take such foolish risks? Who were you rooting for? Why? Compare the amount at issue in this movie with the amount that people were racing for in “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.” Why is it so much more?

Families who see this movie will also enjoy “Airplane!,” “Top Secret,” and “Blazing Saddles” (all with some vulgar humor). And every family should watch “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

Quiz Show

posted by rkumar
A+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:1994

Plot: This true story takes place in the early days of television. One of the most popular and successful program formats was the quiz show, in which contestants competed for huge cash prizes by answering questions. Charles Van Doren (played by Ralph Fiennes) was a member of one of America’s most distinguished literary families, and he became an immensely popular contestant, on “Twenty-One.” When it turned out that the quiz shows were fixed, and that contestants were supplied with the answers by the shows’ producers, Van Doren became the symbol of betrayal.

In this film, Van Doren is contrasted with Herb Stempel (John Turturro), and Congressional staff investigator Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow). Stempel, a Jewish man from Brooklyn with “a face for radio” is bitter over being pushed aside for the impeccably WASP-y Columbia professor. Goodwin shares the Jewish outsider’s background with Stempel and the Ivy League polish (as he frequently mentions, he was first in his class at Harvard Law School) with Van Doren. Dazzled by Van Doren, Goodwin does not want to believe that he, like Stempel, participated in the fraud. When he finds out that Van Doren did, Goodwin tries to protect him from being discovered. He wants to bring the real culprits, the network executives, to light. But when the hearings are held, the Congressmen’s cozy relationships with the network executives prevent any tough questions from being asked. The producer takes the blame.

Eight years later, the producer was back in television. Stempel became a bureaucrat. Van Doren, forced to leave Columbia, lived very privately, working for Encyclopedia Britannica. Goodwin went to work for President Kennedy and later wrote highly respected books.

Discussion: This is an outstanding drama that provides an excellent opportunity for examining the way that people make moral choices. Stempel cheats because he wants to be accepted and respected, and because he believes that is the way the world works. Nevertheless, he is outraged and bitter when he finds that he has been cheated, that the producer has no intention of living up to his promise to find him a job in television. And it is important to note that his decision to tell the truth was based on vengeance, not on taking responsibility for a moral failure.

When first presented with the option of cheating, Van Doren reflects (“I’m just wondering what Kant would make of this”), and then refuses. Indeed, he concludes this is just a test of his suitability, and one that he has passed. Once on the program, however, he is given a question he had answered correctly in the interview. He knows the answer, but he also knows that it is not a legitimate competition for him to answer it. (He does not know that Stempel has agreed to fail). At that moment, what is he thinking? What moral calculus goes through his mind? Is this the decision to cheat, or is that a separate decision, later? In the movie’s most painful scene, Van Doren must tell his father what he has done. At first, Van Doren makes some distinctions between being given the questions, so he can get the answers on his own, and being given the answers. But he knows that both are equally wrong.

Why, then, did he do it? The movie suggests that it was in part a way to establish himself as independently successful, out of the shadow of his parents and uncle. He enjoyed the fame and the money. He argues that no one is being hurt by it. Goodwin, on the other hand, sees that it is wrong, and never for a moment hesitates when the producer tries to buy him off. Yet, as Goodwin’s wife points out, he makes his own moral compromises when he tries to protect Van Doren. In part, he does it because he is after those he considers the real culprits. But in part he does it because he likes Van Doren, and because as much as he takes pride in being first in his class at Harvard, some part of him still thinks that the Van Dorens are better than he is.

Questions for Kids:

· Why did Stempel agree to cheat? Why did he tell the truth to the investigators? Why did Van Doren cheat?

· What were some of the feelings Van Doren had about his parents? How can you tell?

· In what ways was Goodwin like Stempel? In what ways was he like Van Doren? Why was Goodwin intimidated by the Van Dorens?

· Who was responsible for the “quiz show scandals?” Was the outcome fair? Who should have been punished, and how?

Connections: Goodwin’s account of the story can be found in his book, Remembering America: A Voice from the 60s. “Champagne for Caesar,” a light satiric comedy on the same subject, was produced in 1950, several years before the events portrayed in this movie. It is very funny, with outstanding performances by Ronald Coleman as the professor/contestant and Celeste Holm as the femme fatale brought in to shake his concentration. The question they find to stump him with is a lulu! Van Doren’s father is played by Paul Scofield, who appeared as Sir Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons.” Goodwin’s wife is played by future Oscar- winner Mira Sorvino.

Quiet Man

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:1952

Plot: Tall American Sean Thornton (John Wayne) arrives in Innisfree, a small, beautiful Irish village and meets Michaeleen Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald), who drives him into town. Something of a busybody, Michaeleen is very curious, and is delighted to find that Sean was born in Innisfree, and that he has come back to buy back his family home and settle there. Over the objections of “Squire” Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen), a huge firey man, Sean buys the cottage, called White O’Morning, from the Widow Tillane (Mildred Natwick), a wealthy woman who owns the adjoining property, and settles in.

Sean sees Will’s sister, Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara) out in a field and is immediately struck by her. Sean finds her in his cottage, “being neighborly” by cleaning it for him, and he grabs her and kisses her. He sees her again at church. He approaches her as he would an American girl, but finds that the customs are different in Ireland, and that if he wants to court Mary Kate, he must do it according to quaint, old-fashioned rules, with the permission of her brother. Will’s objections to their courtship are overcome by Father Lonergan (Ward Bond) and others, who persuade Will that he must allow Mary Kate to marry in order to be able himself to marry the Widow Tillane. He grudgingly consents, and allows them to proceed under the eye of a chaperone, none other than Michaeleen, who reminds them that “The proprieties must be observed.” They drive off with Michaeleen, sitting on opposite sides of a wagon, but they get off the wagon and run away together, and as they are drenched by a sudden rainstorm, they cannot wait for “the proprieties” any longer, and they kiss.

At the wedding, Will finds that he has been tricked, and that the Widow Tillane does not want her acquiescence to marry him taken for granted. He is furious. He refuses to give Mary Kate her dowry or the fine furniture she inherited from her mother. Sean does not care, and cannot understand why it is important to Mary Kate. All he wants is her. But far from being reassured by this, Mary Kate is hurt. She feels that her things and her dowry are part of who she is and part of what she brings to the marriage, and that if Sean cared about her he would fight for them. They sleep apart.

The next morning, their friends arrive with the furniture. They have “persuaded” Will to give it to her. But he still won’t give her the dowry. Although they love each other deeply, Sean and Mary Kate cannot resolve that problem. Mary Kate is ashamed of herself and ashamed of Sean, and goes to the train station, planning to leave him. He follows her and drags her back to a confrontation with Will, telling Will that if he will not pay the dowry, he must take her back. Will gives them the money, and together, they burn it. Mary Kate smiles with delight and tells Sean she will go home and prepare supper for him.

Will and Sean then enter into an epic fistfight, that takes them all the way through the town, as crowds gather to watch, cheer, and bet on the outcome. Finally, bruised, drunk, and happy, they arrive at White O’Morning for supper, Will bawling happily, “Bless all in this house.”

Discussion: Some critics have claimed that this is an anti-feminist movie, but that is a very superficial perspective. The furniture and money are important to Mary Kate because she wants to enter the relationship as an equal. She believes that without them she will be to Sean what she was in Will’s house, just someone to do the work. She says, “Until I’ve got my dowry safe about me, I’m no married woman. I’m the servant I’ve always been, without anything of my own!” But it is just as important to Sean to let her know that what he cares about is his love for her, and that alone is enough to make her an equal partner. For this reason, burning the money, which might otherwise seem foolishly wasteful, was a way for them to each win a victory.

Sean also has to conquer his fear of fighting, which requires him to open up emotionally. As “Trouper Thorn,” a professional boxer in the U.S., he accidentally killed an opponent in the ring. This left him afraid to let go. In the fights with Will and Mary Kate he learns that he can let go physically and emotionally and strengthen his relationships. Notice how Sean and Mary Kate seem to affect even the weather as they fall in love. Gusty winds and torrential rain reflect the emotions they are feeling for each other.

Questions for Kids:

· Sean and Mary Kate loved each other very much, but had a hard time understanding each other. Why was Mary Kate’s dowry so important to her? How did Sean show he understood that?

· Why did they burn the money? Was that a good way to solve the problem of the dowry for both of them?

· How did Sean’s friends persuade Mary Kate’s brother to let Sean marry her? Was that fair?

· Why did Sean and Will like each other better after fighting each other?

Connections: One of the highlights of “E.T.” is the scene in which E.T. is in Eliot’s house alone, watching “The Quiet Man” on television. We see his connection to Eliot; E.T. sees Sean kiss Mary Kate as the wind rushes through the cottage, and Eliot, at school, grabs a classmate and gives her a kiss.

Maureen O’Hara, born in Ireland, was never more ravishing than here on her home ground, shot in magnificent technicolor. She and Wayne made four other films together, including “Rio Grande,” also directed by Ford. She also plays the mother in “Miracle on 34th Street” and “The Parent Trap.” This was quite a family affair. Reverend Cyril Playfair is played by character actor Arthur Shields, in real life the brother of Barry Fitzgerald (Michaeleen). Francis Ford, who plays the man who gets off his deathbed to watch the fight, is the older brother of director John Ford. Wayne’s four children and two of O’Hara’s brothers also appear in the movie.

Ford won an Oscar for Best Direction.

Proof of Life

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

Another stunning performance from Russell Crowe holds together a movie that is otherwise not sure exactly what it wants to be.

Inspired by a magazine article about “K and R” consultants and a real-life hostage negotiation, this is the story of an American executive who is kidnapped and held for ransom. That’s what “K and R” stands for — “kidnap and ransom,” and not, as one might think, “kidnap and rescue.” But the movie makers know that audiences expect to see more than tense bargaining over price. They want some Rambo action, and in this movie, they get it.

The story begins with its hero, Terry Thorne (Crowe) sitting in a conference room giving a dry recital of his most recent success, the official report belied by scenes of what really happened, a shoot-out and perilous rescue by helicopter.

Then we see Alice and Peter Bowman (Meg Ryan and David Morse), a loving but discontented couple living in South America, where Peter is supposed to be overseeing construction of a dam. Alice is frustrated and unhappy, still mourning a miscarriage eight months earlier. Peter is also frustrated, because none of his equipment has arrived as promised, and because he feels that he cannot make Alice happy.

Then Peter is kidnapped, and Terry arrives to handle the negotiations — until it turns out that Peter’s company has not paid its insurance premiums, and Terry’s firm orders him home. Terry leaves, but then returns, out of a sense of honor or because he is drawn to Alice, or both.

The story shifts back and forth from Terry’s attempts to get the kidnappers to agree to a ransom Alice and Peter’s sister can pay to Peter, being held in the mountains. Peter’s scenes are intended to show his response to the deprivation and torture and his efforts to fight back or escape, but they are the weakest in the movie, failing to maintain tension or even sympathy. Meanwhile, Terry learns that he will have to go in commando-style to rescue Peter.

Crowe is magnificent, a reluctant hero out of a Bogart movie, with Bogart’s combination of ideals and complete lack of illusion. Offscreen, Ryan and Crowe had a romance that made headlines, but onscreen, there is not much beyond some meaningful glances and one brief conversation that Crowe makes heartbreaking. Ryan does her best to make Alice smart and tough, but neither she nor Morse as Peter are able to make us care very deeply. Pamela Reed makes a welcome appearance as Peter’s sister and David Caruso is excellent as Terry’s friend and compatriot.

Parents should know that the movie is very violent, with a lot of shooting and explosions and many deaths. Characters use very strong language. One of the bad guys uses drugs, and some of the good guys drink as a response to stress and as a way of bonding.

Families who see this movie should talk about how people evaluate risks and how they decide whom to trust. Why did Terry come back? What will he do next?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Missing” with Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek.

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