Movie Mom

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Black or White
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language, thematic material involving drug use and drinking, and for a fight
Release Date:
January 30, 2015

 

The Book of Life
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

Black Sea
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language throughout, some graphic images and violence
Release Date:
January 30, 2015

 

The Judge
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language including some sexual references
Release Date:
October 10, 2014

Strange Magic
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some action and scary images
Release Date:
January 23, 2015

 

Fury
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

Cars

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated G
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Look closely at the little flying bugs buzzing and bumping in the hot light of the desert. They are, of course, Bugs: VW Bugs with wings. In the world of this story, all of the characters are cars and all of the world around them is car-iffic. Even the buttes of Monument Valley — excuse me, I mean Ornament Valley — are shaped like car features.


It has all of the flawless technical facility we have come to rely on from Pixar, but this time the story does not quite match the wow-factor of the visuals. The result is perfectly entertaining but it does not have the power of Finding Nemo or The Incredibles. Those films tapped into profound themes about the way parents and children interact with the big, scary outside world where danger and adventure are. “Cars” has a standard story about friendship and standard characters — the veteran, the upstart, the comic bumpkin who knows things that the city slicker still has to learn, and the story sags a bit in the middle. As far as the script goes, “Cars” is a little bit pedestrian.


It starts with the biggest race of the year. All eyes are on three competitors — the reigning champion (voiced by race car veteran Richard Petty), perennial runner-up Chick Hicks (voice of Michael Keaton), and the rookie, Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson), who takes pride in being a loner. A three-way tie means there has to be another race, one of the biggest ever, to take place a week later, in California.


Lightning is in a hurry to get to there early so he can ingratiate himself with the champion’s sponsor, but he gets sidetracked and ends up in a little town called Radiator Springs, far from the interstate highway. He gets into trouble and the local judge (voice of Paul Newman) sentences him to repairing the road before he can leave. With the help of a sweet-natured tow truck named Tow Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy) and a spirited blue Porsche with a law degree who runs the local motel (voice of Bonnie Hunt), Lighting learns some lessons about friendship, cooperation, and even about racing and what it really means to win.


Pixar, as always, creates a thrillingly imaginative but always believeable world with eye-filling details. We believe these are cars, but we also believe they are characters. They have all of the properties of steel and paint and rubber but all of the expressiveness of human eyes and mouths and even noses. Wilson’s slacker surf bum voice is just right for Lightning and Newman gives Doc warmth and wisdom. But the story and characters are not as engrossing as the visuals. The script has a too-many-cooks feeling and it’s about fifteen minutes too long, ten of which is mostly Larry the Cable Guy. And there’s something a little hollow in the endorsement of homespun, non-commercial values in a film so relentlessly marketed, its endorsement of low-tech delivered through technology that is many degrees of separation from paintbrush and cel. Pixar’s lesser effort still beats most of what plays in theaters, but we realize during the credit sequence that it has more heart and humor than the movie that came before it.

Parents should know that there is some brief G-rated crude language and mild crude humor and vandalism. Characters are in peril and there is some mild violence, but no one gets hurt.


Families who see this movie should talk about how different ways of saying “yeah, okay” can mean different things. Why did Lightning think he liked to do things by himself? Doc and Sally had different reasons for coming to Radiator Springs. What were they? Families who see this film should also talk about their favorite car trips and where they would like to go on the next one. They can find out more about Route 66 here or here.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the other Pixar films, including A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 1 and 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. They will also enjoy other family movies featuring cars, including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the Herbie movies, starting with The Love Bug, and The Great Race.

The Omen

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for disturbing violent content, graphic images and some language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Director John Moore knows one thing — how to compose some compelling images with swirling white (flakes of snow, scraps of paper) and something creepy and scarlet to catch your eye. But those swirling flakes and glimpses of red have more movement than the film itself; most of it is just a bunch of static set-pieces that will be overly familiar to anyone who has ever heard a ghost story.


As in the 1976 original starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, a mysterious priest tells Robert Thorn (Liev Schreiber), an American diplomat, that his newborn baby has died. Another woman has just died in childbirth, and the priest persuades Robert to take that child as his own, telling no one about the substitution, not even his wife Katherine (Julia Stiles).


As Robert achieves extraordinary success, becoming Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Katherine is left to care for the child, Damien. But Katherine cannot feel close to him and many disturbing incidents and dead bodies later, Robert begins to learn the truth about Damien’s real parents.


Scheiber acts as though he’d rather be back in Ukraine directing Everything is Illuminated. He and Stiles (who played siblings in Hamlet) are supposed to have a loving relationship, but there is no chemistry whatsoever. Indeed, hardly anyone in this movie seems to have any connection with anyone else; it’s as though each actor performed in front of a blue screen and chroma-keyed in later. The only exceptions are Mia Farrow as Damien’s mysterious nanny (and what a trippy experience it is to see the star of Rosemary’s Baby playing the Ruth Gordon-ish role) and David Thewlis as a photographer who discovers a strange stripe of smoke as a portent in his pictures of people who are later killed.


There’s a long tradition of stories based on scary evil children. It taps into some nicely primal and disturbing feelings we have about these adorable creatures who take over our lives. But when it isn’t done well, it just seems silly, and this child’s supposedly feral stares just seem petulant.

Yes, the gory gross-outs are there, with various characters getting impaled, beheaded, hanged, and knocked off a balcony. But the in between scenes, what is supposed to be a creepy increasing dread is just time to check your watch and munch some popcorn before the bad stuff starts up again. If it gets too dull, you might try counting the parallels to “Harry Potter,” with two of the same actors and a similar theme of a young boy with strange powers revealed at a zoo….


Parents should know that this is an intense and creepy thriller about the spawn of the devil. There are graphic scenes of peril, injury, and death. Characters drink and use some bad language. Some audience members may be disturbed or offended by the portrayal of some clergy and a devil child.


Families who see this movie should talk about why Robert agreed to the priest’s proposal and why he did not tell Katherine or anyone else what he was learning about Damien. Families may also want to discuss their own beliefs about God and the devil.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Da Vinci Code, The Name of the Rose, Rosemary’s Baby (starring Farrow),and the original.

A Prairie Home Companion

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for risque humor.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Garrison Keillor’s voice is a national treasure. It is so warm, so magnetic, even hypnotic that it lulls you into a whole different dimension, an idealized past located somewhere between innocent nostalgia and ironic self-awareness, as though Norman Rockwell painted an episode of “Seinfeld.” His long-running radio program appeals to those who appreciate the authenticity of the roots music, performed with utter sincerity, and the slyly skewed humor that keeps it from getting sugary. He tells stories of Lake Woebegon (“Where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average”) and has faux ads for products like Powdermilk Biscuits, which “give shy people the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.” Keillor may be the only one in history to keep happy both the sentimentalists who love Kinkade and the cynics who love po-mo happy, each thinking they’re the only ones who really get him.

The film describes the radio program as one that “died 50 years ago but someone forgot to tell them — until tonight.” Keillor is nostalgic, faux-nostalgic, and a commentator on nostalgia all at the same time.


Director Robert Altman is a perfect match for Keillor’s sensibility, and this intimate, backstage look at the radio program’s last broadcast mingles real (with some of Keillor’s regulars as themselves) with fiction (Kevin Kline as Keillor character Guy Noir, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as singing sisters and Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as singing cowboys who love bad jokes — and of course the radio program is not on a commercial network and is not ending) and fantasy (Virginia Madsen as a mysterious and mysteriously powerful stranger). The narrative is more layered than the radio program and Altman’s understated documentary style never intrudes, but no fleshing out can possibly compare to the complexity and intimacy of a listener’s imagination.


Parents should know that the movie has some strong and crude language, some sexual references, sexual humor and sexual situations, reference to suicide, and deaths of characters (at least one sad).


Families who see this movie should talk about the enduring appeal of Keillor’s radio program. What can you tell about the relationship between Yolanda and Rhonda? Yolanda and GK? How does the relationship of Yolanda and Lola change and why?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the beloved radio show. They will also enjoy some of Altman’s other ensemble movies like Nashville and Gosford Park. You can also sign up to get daily emails with Keillor’s Writer’s Alamanac, a daily poem and literary trivia segment broadcast on NPR.

The Break-Up

posted by jmiller
F+
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for sexual content, some nudity and language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Someone should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission about false advertising for this film. The trailer and the ads indicate that it is a romantic comedy. But it is, in fact, neither romantic nor a comedy; it’s more like an episode of Dr. Phil. Of course the trailer and the ads also indicate that it is enjoyable, and that, too, turns out not to be true, but if the FTC filed complaints every time that happened it would need more employees than the Defense Department.


The title says it all. Before the credits, we meet Brooke (Jennifer Anniston) and Gary (Vince Vaughn, who wrote the original story and produced the film) as they meet each other at a Cubs game. The next thing we see are those essential if overly familiar incidica of movie love: pictures showing our lovebirds making funny faces in a picture-taking booth, feeding each other, and decorating their new condo.

But then Gary and Brooke have their families over for dinner and get into a dispute about cleaning up. Brooke takes a stand and breaks up with Gary, hoping to make him realize how much he cares about her. But Gary, either because he takes her at her word or because his feelings are hurt, does not respond. So she raises the ante, trying to make him jealous, and he raises the ante, trying to prove he doesn’t care.


So, the whole movie is a game of one-upsmanship, as each one tries to make the other more miserable. It gets increasingly ugly and painful. Then it ends.


What is so disconcerting about all of this is that the performers seem to think they’re in a comedy and their performances have a comedy, even a sit-comedy rhythm. Anniston can be a fine dramatic actress (see the underrated The Object of My Affection) and has some of the best comic timing aound. Vaughn’s oddball ticcy rhythms, like Michael Keaton’s, work surprisingly well to convey either vulnerability or menace, sometimes both (see his underrated Clay Pigeons). But both of them are off here, as though they are lost in a script that does not match the tempo of its characters or story. The situations that are supposed to be funny are so mean-spirited and juvenile that they come across as creepy and nasty. We never believe they were a couple or that they should be a couple. they have nothing in common, no affection, no tenderness, no connection, no enjoyment of each other. They just get annoying; if we cared more, we would ask why they couldn’t just talk to each other instead of resorting to power games and indirection. But we don’t, so all we want is for them to shut up. And it seems to suggest that the problem was all Gary’s fault. Brooke talks about all she did and how under-appreciated she felt. Gary never suggests that she should have tried to find out if what she did was what he wanted and needed; he didn’t appreciate it because — he didn’t appreciate it.

The only way this story could possibly work is if it was set in a high school. We can forgive teenagers — and identify with them — for being so immature and clumsy. But having people in their 30’s say things like “Now I have him where I want him” and “Why didn’t you ever tell me?” induces not sympathy, not identification, just impatience and misery.

We keep hoping for more from the exceptional supporting cast, including Judy Davis as Brooke’s domineering boss, Ann-Margret as her mother, John Michael Higgins as her a capella-loving brother, and Jason Bateman and Jon Favreau as friends. Whenever the camera turns back to Gary and Brooke again, we sigh in resignation.


As for the ending, all I can say that at the screening I attended it literally provoked gasps of disappointment. Forget Dr. Phil; what Brooke and Gary need is a script doctor.

Parents should know that this film has some very raunchy material for a PG-13 (including a “Telly Savalas” bikini wax and two hooker jokes in the first ten minutes); as usual, the MPAA takes this material far less seriously when it is in a comedy than if it occured in a drama. There is some strong language (one f-word) and some crude language. Characters drink and smoke and there are sexual references and some nudity (bare male and female tushes, strip poker) and some implied nudity. Overall, the movie concerns some mean, dysfunctional, and petty behavior and it includes some tense and unhappy interactions.


Families who see this movie should talk about why it was so hard for Brooke and Gary to speak directly to each other about their feelings and concerns. What did they learn?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The War of the Roses, Ruthless People, and another movie set in Chicago, About Last Night. They might enjoy some of the classic comedies about battling couples who find each other again like The Awful Truth and Move Over Darling.

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