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Movie Mom

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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

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.

Anything Else

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

Woody Allen has repackaged characters, themes, and even jokes from his best movies in this soggy and lackluster trifle about a young comedy writer stuck in various relationships.

This time, Allen has turned over the lead (essentially, the Woody Allen role) to American Pie’s Jason Biggs as Jerry Falk, with Christina Ricci as the alluring but maddening “can’t live with ‘em; can’t figure out how to set some limits” love interest, Amanda.

Jerry cannot untangle himself from his inept agent (Danny DeVito), who takes twice the normal commission and is inexplicably attached to garment district metaphors; his analyst, a traditional Freudian who never interacts with him or offers advice; and Amanda, an unending source of agonizing announcements to torture Jerry, from her mother moving in to just not being able to have sex with him.

From Manhattan we have the Woody character in a solid, nurturing relationship but drawn to the neurotic and complicated woman his friend is dating. From Stardust Memories we have the attraction to a woman whose narcissism and instability will create great misery for him. And from Annie Hall we have the joke that sums up all romantic relationships, the non-linear, story-telling, the poignant attempt to replay the wished-for relationship, the offer of cocaine, and the New York/LA contest. But instead of ringing new changes on these themes, he just repeats them off-kilter. The result is like a fax of an oil painting.

Allen still has a way with a wisecrack and he knows how to wring laughter from agony, but nothing ever goes anywhere; he of all people should know the importance of a punchline.

Ricci has shown herself to be a brilliant comic actress in The Opposite of Sex and Addams Family Values but here she says her lines as though she’s afraid she might miss a word. In Annie Hall we fell in love with Annie as much as Alvy did, but Amanda never seems anything but self-obsessed, and unpleasant. DeVito gropes to find a comic vibe for a one-note character. Allen appears as Jerry’s mentor, a sesquipadalian teacher who smashes up the car of two huge guys who take his parking spot and who insists that Jerry keep a loaded rifle in his apartment. Please, Woody, it’s time for anything else.

Parents should know that the movie has explicit sexual references and situations and very strong language. Characters drink, smoke, and use cocaine and prescription drugs. There is comic violence and a discussion about guns.

Famillies who see this movie should talk about why it was hard for Jerry to say no to the people in his life and whether it will be different in the future. What should he have done differently?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Allen’s far better movies, including the ones listed above and Sleeper.

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