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If I Stay
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Release Date:
May 2, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

 

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

When the Game Stands Tall
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

 

Need for Speed
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language
Release Date:
March 14, 2014

Casa de Los Babys

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

John Sayles is not going to make it easy for you.

He is much more interested than questions than answers. Sayles is the ultimate “on the other hand” guy, which may make for more thoughtful understanding but which is difficult to translate to film, a medium better suited to the dynamic, the opinionated, and the one-sided.

Most directors try to grab you. But from the matter-of-fact opening of “Casa de los Babys”, showing an unspecified Latin American city waking up with people coming down from the hills to work and the street urchins beginning to stir, director John Sayles gently tugs on your sleeve.

One of the most prolific of American directors, Sayles has a knack for bringing together complex characters, a sense of history, and subtly revealed longings to create a photo album of being human onto which the audience can project its own conclusions. Here, with an ambitious kaleidoscope of images to coordinate, Sayles does the directorial equivalent of tossing them all into a shoe box to let the characters –- and the audience -— sort them out. The end result is a handful of memorable scenes amidst a jumble of vignettes that never quite feel like a story.

The camera cuts between six visitors and several locals, as their lives cross in that unnamed Latin American city. The visitors are American women, come to adopt local babies and waiting out the months of paperwork, isolated by language. They have nothing in common except for the one thing that matters more to them than anything else. They are together by necessity and get to know one another with a traveler’s intimacy, fully aware they are unlikely to ever meet again, and maybe a little relieved about it.

They represent a spectrum of personalities, from the world-weary Leslie (Lili Taylor) to the childlike Jennifer (Maggie Gyllenhaal), each there for the same reason — a child — and yet each for different reasons, with different dreams.

With one simple scene where she mutely inspects a doll, Nan (Marcia Gay Harden, Oscar winner for Pollock) shifts from tense future soccer mom to truly sinister suburbanite with an understated psychosis reminiscent of Annie Wilkes (Cathy Bates in Misery) on a bad day. Gayle (Mary Steenburgen) is a study in bland normality, attending AA meetings despite the language barrier, while Skipper (Daryl Hannah) is a soft-spoken exercise addict, using her incessant workouts as penance for her inability to have children. Susan Lynch gives a stand-out performance as the down-to-earth and sweetly natural Eileen, who is rapidly running out of money for her stay.

The limbo which these women occupy is a peaceful hotel enclave decorated in light pinks and populated by more staff than guests. The hotel is run by Sra. Munoz, a stern vision in coiffure and heavy jewelry played by the always impressive Rita Moreno (West Side Story). She has her own maternal concerns — her revolution-minded son, recently released from jail for starting fires is talking alarmingly about the parasitic capitalists who come to snatch babies from local women.

While the Americans wait for their promised babies to be relinquished by the stork of bureaucracy, the audience gets to know some of the locals, including one of the hotel maids whose youth belies her responsibility as household head, and a young girl whose pregnancy rests in the hands of a forceful mother, intent on putting the baby up for adoption. A homeless little boy, trying each day to scratch out enough money to buy spray paint to inhale with his two brothers, dashes in and out of the street scenes and adds one of the movie’s more disturbingly lovely shots as he lies on the beach at night with his cherubic features smudged with gold paint and watches the falling stars.

Sayles wants to keep you off balance, never letting you root for any character for more than a few minutes. Is it wrong to have the country’s primary export be its babies? Is it more wrong to leave the babies where they are and let them grow up to be homeless? There are some beautifully written scenes, especially Gyllenhaal on the phone with her husband and the exquisite dialogue between the young maid and Eileen, connecting despite language.

Parents should know that the movie contains strong language in both Spanish and English, and mature themes. The young boys live in extreme poverty, are addicted to paint sniffing, and support themselves by begging and stealing. One of the adult characters lies and steals from the hospitality cart at the hotel. Discussions between characters cover topics including infant illness, medical procedures for fertility and sexual orientation. A character is an alcoholic. Two characters are encouraged if not forced to put their babies up for adoption.

Families who see this film should discuss the different worlds that people are living in within the same hotel. The man at the fort who explains some of the city’s history is desperately trying to leave his country for Philadelphia. Movies directed by Sayles often have history as a theme. Why does history matter so much to the character of the desperate tour guide? Why would Sayles introduce this character in a movie about the “house of the babies”? Characters in this movie have to decide how much they can do to address the problems they see. Families might want to discuss one’s existential response to the question of what to do about an unfit mother: “Be really good mothers to ours.”

Families who enjoyed this movie might wish to see other John Sayles films including The Return of the Secaucus Seven (which is said to have inspired The Big Chill). For those who enjoy Susan Lynch’s performance, Waking Ned Devine is a wickedly funny little movie. One of Francois Truffaut’s best films is Small Change, a lovely and touching film about children.

Mystic River

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

“Looks like damaged goods to me,” says a character at the beginning of this movie, and that could refer to everyone we will meet in a story that explores the impact of an unbearable tragedy on two generations in a community bounded by the river of the title.

It wants to be a big, serious movie. It has big, serious star power and big, serious themes. There are moments of power and flickers of meaning but it is ultimately hollow and unsatisfying.

Three men are forever bound to each other by something that happened when they were children. Jimmy, Sean, and Dave were playing street hockey and writing their names in wet cement when a man got out of a car, flashed a badge, and then told just one of them — Dave — to get in the back of the car. The man was not a cop. He was a pedophile. He and another man molested Dave for four days until he ran away.

As adults, Jimmy (Sean Penn), Dave (Tim Robbins), and Sean (Kevin Bacon) are no longer friends but they have stayed in the same neighborhood and are always aware of each other. They are brought back together by another devastating loss, the murder of Jimmy’s daughter Katie (Emmy Rossem).

Sean is the police detective assigned to the case, along with his partner Whitey (Laurence Fishburne). Dave and his wife Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) provide comfort and support to Jimmy’s family after Katie’s death.

As Jimmy and Sean both use whatever resources they have to find out what happened to Katie, the past pulls at them.

The characters and their stories grow more and more tangled, like strands of seaweed swept by strong current.

A lifetime of history in the same place has all of the characters overlapping, intersecting, and echoing each other’s lives. Katie’s boyfriend has a brother who is mute. Sean has an estranged wife who calls him but cannot bring herself to speak. Other characters speak, but not about the things that tear at them. Or they speak, but they lie. Three wives must respond to their husbands’ involvement in terrible deeds. A child loses a parent and a parent loses a child. We see the sacred (Bacon’s character is named Devine) and the profane (Jimmy’s hoodlum buddies are the Savage brothers). The names are another indicator of the movie’s heavy-handedness.

Jimmy and Sean, like characters from an old James Cagney/Pat O’Brien movie, are boyhood friends who ended up on opposite sides, one cop, one ex-con with strong ties to unsavory characters. Each struggles in his own way with survivor guilt over not being the one who got in the molester’s car and with a resulting sense of what it takes to achieve justice. Each struggles with the attempt to find meaning after an incident with such a sense of randomness and such devastating consequences. Dave struggles with his sense of himself as “the boy who escaped from the wolves” but who never really escaped. In one of the movie’s most chilling moments, he tells his wife that he was no longer himself after the assault and that “once it’s in you, it — stays.”

Director and jazz fan Clint Eastwood plays his big, showy cast like a jazz ensemble, giving each one a chance to step forward for a spotlight moment. Rossem’s brief appearance makes her character’s death a wrenching loss. Robbins, Harden, Robbins, Laura Linney, and Penn are each given a moment to step forward and pull out all the stops. This is a cast that can deliver the goods in the big moments, but at other times the performances feel condescending, as though the actors have to work hard to play characters who are not as smart as they are. At the end it is all about the show, not the substance, and these themes and these stories deserve better.

Parents should know that the movie has graphic violence, including murders. While some of the violence and the child molestation occur off-screen, the depictions are still deeply disturbing. Characters drink and smoke a great deal and use very strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about the way that even people who are not directly victims of tragic events can be as haunted by them as those who are. They should also talk about the way that different characters in the movie think about justice.

Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate The Shawshank Redemption.

Duplex

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

“Duplex” is a cartoonish black comedy about a young couple driven to financial ruin and finally to plotting murder by their elderly tenant.

Alex (Ben Stiller) and Nancy (Drew Barrymore) think they’ve found their dreamhouse, a spacious duplex in Brooklyn with three fireplaces. At first, their upstairs tenant, Mrs. Connelly (Eileen Essel), seems like a sweet old lady with a lilting Irish accent. They also figure that she’s so old, she won’t be around long. But after they move in, she constantly interrupts Alex, who is trying to finish writing a book, to ask for help or complain about a problem with the apartment. Her television blasts all night at full volume. And she seems to be determinedly healthy.

As in director Danny DeVito’s other comedies, Throw Mama From the Train, The War of the Roses, and Death to Smoochy, the humor stems from watching nasty people torture each other. Co-screenwriter Larry Doyle’s background writing for cartoons may be the reason this feels like it was written for Sylvester and Tweetie-Pie. Except with less heart.

There are some funny moments as Alex and Nancy helplessly try to set some boundaries only to find themselves caught up in yet another excruciating errand for Mrs. Connelly, and when their schemes to get her out of the house backfire (once literally). Barrymore is refreshingly without any movie star vanity and seems to relish the chance to look silly. But with no one to root for, it all gets tired quickly, even at less than 90 minutes running time, and the pay-off is not worth the wait.

Parents should know that the movie has a lot of comic violence (as in a cartoon, everyone survives without serious injury), including a gunshot wound. There are some gross-out moments. Characters use strong language and there are non-explicit sexual references and situations.

Families who see this movie should talk about how they have handled difficult people and situations.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy that classic of the hit-on-the-head comedy genre, Weekend at Bernie’s and the wildly funny Ruthless People (for mature audiences), with DeVito as a man who plots to murder his wife (played by Bette Midler). One possible inspiration for this movie is the brilliant British comedy The Ladykillers, about a group of crooks who rent a room from a genuinely sweet old lady. That movie does everything right that this one does wrong. It is scheduled to be remade in 2004 by the Coen brothers (Fargo). Families who’d like to see this situation played for terror may like Pacific Heights with Michael Keaton as the memorably creepy tenant of Matthew Modine and Melanie Griffith.

The Rundown

posted by rkumar
B
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:2003

“The Rundown” is a likeable action movie with an almost-loveable star, World Wrestling Entertainment’s The Rock as Beck, an enforcer for a nasty bad guy named Walker.

We first meet Beck in an entertaining nightclub brawl when he takes on a football team’s entire offensive line to get some collateral on a gambling debt. His next assignment, the action-movie staple last big job that will free him and give him the stake to realize his dream (a restaurant), is to retrieve Walker’s son Travis (American Pie’s Seann William Scott) who is off seeking treasure in Brazil.

Beck and Travis end up on an Indiana Jones-style quest for a golden idol, fighting both sides in a local rebellion and fending off a pack of amorous monkeys. Christopher Walken brings his usual weird vibe to the role of Hatcher, local oppressor.

Director Peter Berg (best known as an actor on “Chicago Hope”) keeps things moving briskly and knows how to show off the Rock’s charm as well as his expertise at throwing people around. Berg does not do much with the talented Scott or the beautiful and talented Rosario Dawson (The 25th Hour) who is saddled with a dreary spunky-girl role and an even drearier accent. Co-produced by the WWE’s Vince McMahon, it has no aspirations for subtlety or wit, but it’s mildly entertaining and, like its heroes, manages to avoid most of the obvious pitfalls.

Parents should know that the movie has a lot of “action violence” (non-graphic). Beck makes it clear that he does not like guns because he believes he does too much damage with them. He does end up using guns and doing a lot of damage. There is a mild sexual reference and a few bad words. Characters drink and smoke and ingest an hallucinogenic fruit.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Beck does not like guns.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Rock’s The Scorpion King.

Previous Posts

If I Stay
Hamlet asked it best. "To be, or not to be: That is the question." We struggle through, worrying about whether someone likes us or whether we will be accepted at the school of our choice

posted 6:00:09pm Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
If you want to not just see but hear an eyeball being pulverized, then see "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For."  If you want to see and hear it in the company of an audience who thinks that's

posted 5:59:27pm Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »

When the Game Stands Tall
This dreary assemblage of every possible sports cliché has one thing in common with the game it portrays. Every time it seems to be going somewhere, it stops. More frustratingly, it wastes the opportunity to tell a good story by trying to squeeze in too many great ones. There are too many crises

posted 5:59:00pm Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Christian Indie Films of 2014
This year has already seen a remarkable and perhaps unprecedented number of Christian and Biblically-based films, from big-budget epics like "Noah" and "Son of God" to small faith-oriented films like "God's Not Dead."  There is an excellent summary of four Christian independent films of 2014 on In

posted 3:59:03pm Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Frank: The Real Story of the Singer With the Paper-Mache Mask
One of the handsomest men alive spends almost the entire movie wearing a huge round paper maché head in "Frank," a moving film inspired by the real-life story of the late Frank Sidebottom.  Michael Fassbender plays Frank, a sweet-natured but very quirky musician who wears his big head mask even in

posted 9:10:16am Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »


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