Movie Mom

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The Wrecking Crew
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for language, thematic elements and smoking images
Release Date:
March 27. 2015


Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language
Release Date:
December 25, 2014

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action and some rude humor
Release Date:
March 27, 2015


Into the Woods
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material
Release Date:
December 25, 2014

Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Secret Ocean 3D
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
March 20, 2015


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Release Date:
December 19, 2014

License to Wed

posted by jmiller

The best thing about “License to Wed” is that John Krasinski and Mandy Moore have enough of that ever-elusive quality — chemistry — that an impending marriage seems possible if not likely. They easily get us on their side. The chemistry even spills over a little into their paper-thin characters, Ben Murphy and
Sadie Jones. But a little chemistry, a few genuine laughs, and a premise that is adequate if not inventive only barely make up for flip-flopping, underdeveloped characters and a storyline that refuses to surprise, even given multiple opportunities.

The path to wedded bliss begins when Ben proposes to Sadie in front of friends and family, who then support her request to marry at a church that has family significance. The minister of the church, Reverend Frank (Robin Williams) has one stipulation for all couples he marries: They must take — and pass — a premarital course designed specifically to subversively test the limits of their relationship and also to develop and strengthen the bond they share. Potential for
ulterior motives, cheesy but thoughtful lines, unexpected actions, and accomplishment abound, but sadly the film takes the low road through all the above territory, rendering the motives unexciting, the lines simply cheesy, the actions numbingly predictable, the slapstick uninspired, and the accomplishments nothing more than satisfactory. The trials Ben and Sadie go through are nothing compared to the obstacle course inflicted on the audience, who has to work very hard to find anything entertaining or enjoyable.

Ben loves Sadie for the standard Hollywood reasons: she’s Smart, Funny, Attractive, etc, but really, when was the last time a movie
character wasn’t? Now, apparently. Sadie works through the course with trust, sincerity and such lack of personality that it’s hardly believable (at least not believing it is preferably to thinking she
really could be that devoid of character). Her puppy-dog loyalty and blind devotion to the program and its teacher are made all the more incongruous given Ben’s description of her as independent, “smart, so smart” and a “take charge” personality. Ben on the other
hand, is blessed with the good-natured expressions Krasinski employs as Jim in NBC’s The Office, and comes across as lovable, trusting, happy and kind without being a pushover. He makes a great romantic lead, but in a film that remains so run-of-the-mill, the thrill is quickly gone. It’s not a union that anyone would be unhappy to see, but in a world where romantic comedies can be so much more than simply romance and comedy, it’s hard not to crave a film that is, dare I say,
Smart, Funny, and Attractive.

Parents should know that the film is aimed at adults, and while not often raunchy, does include discussions of sexual fantasies and
depictions of women in labor. Reverend Frank is offbeat and at times more than a little off-color, and makes jokes about adultery, sexually transmitted disease, and murder. His tactics include having couples simulate fights, which result in name-calling and verbal abuse.

One of the most purportedly humorous tasks involves a pair of purposely ugly
mechanical twins Frank gives to Ben and Sadie, and most scenes with the twins involve their ugliness as a running gag. At one point, however, Ben shakes the robo-baby violently and repeatedly, making for
an uncomfortable allusion to shaken baby syndrome.

Families who see this film will want to discuss the commitment of marriage, and what couples should be sure of before entering into marriage. The concept of needing someone and respecting his or her opinion is pivotal in the film; how can people toe the line between independence and sharing a life with someone else? Child rearing is also explored — what types of responsibilities, large and small, might come along with having children? How might a couple or an individual best prepare for the demands, sacrifices, and joys of having a child? What type of support system might one reach out for?

Families who enjoy this film might also enjoy 2002’s A Walk to
Remember, also starring Mandy Moore, and The Runaway Bride with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere.

Thanks to guest critic AB.

Live Free or Die Hard

posted by jmiller
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for intense adventure action and some scary moments.
Movie Release Date:2007

Just as Entertainment Weekly picks the 1988 Die Hard as the greatest action movie of all time, Bruce Willis comma-ti-yi-yippies it up again for NYPD’s John McClane’s fourth explosion-and-wisecrack-fest. Number three is still my favorite, but this latest installment has all the essentials: over-the-top money-shot stunts (even a few that weren’t in the trailer), juicy banter, a world’s-at-stake-and-only-one-man-can-save-us storyline dire enough to explain the action without being too complicated to get in its way, and a lot of stuff that gets blown up.

Once again, McClane gets drawn into a very big mess that the bureaucrats can’t handle. He is asked to pick up a Matt, a young hacker (Justin Long of the Mac commercials) and bring him to Washington. But it turns out that the bad guys want Matt, too. He was one of several hackers who unknowingly assisted the bad guys in setting up the biggest computer meltdown of all time and they want him out of the picture. McClane rescues Matt and from then on they are pretty much getting chased or shot at or chasing or shooting at someone for the rest of the movie.

Willis and Long have great chemistry and work the old school/new school angle with relish. They have different but highly complementary natural rhythms that put just the right understaded snarky spin on smartass commentary.

The script keeps things lively with a variety of locations and characters, though Timothy Olyphant is on the bland side as the head bad guy. And the stunts are everything popcorn movies are all about.
Parents should know that the fourth “Die Hard” movie is the first in the series not to be rated R, but it is as close to an R as the MPAA would allow, with extensive, intense, and graphic peril and “action” violence, explosions, shooting, crashes, missiles, many deaths, reference to medicinal morphine, some strong language, and a college-age couple making out (with the girl setting some firm limits). Characters use some strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about what it means to be “that guy.” How have these movies changed over the years?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the previous Die Hard movies, True Lies, and Enemy of the State (all rated R), and “Independence Day” (middle schoolers and up).


posted by jmiller
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated G
Movie Release Date:2007

Pixar’s latest release is brilliantly animated, and a lot of fun. But it does not have a clear sense of who its audience is, and families with children who are looking for the next Finding Nemo may find themselves puzzled. While it’s a classic underdog-with-an-impossible-dream story, it does not have easy characters or emotions for children to identify with or a bad guy it will be fun for them to root against.

Did I say underdog? It’s more like an under-rat. The film never really overcomes the ew-factor that it is about a rat in a kitchen.

Remy (voice of comedian Patton Oswalt) is a French rat with a dream. While his friends and family like to eat garbage (literally), he has a refined palate and a gift for food preparation. His idol is the late Auguste Gusteau (voice of Brad Garrett), a great Parisian chef and restauranteur and the author of a cookbook with the inspirational title: “Anyone Can Cook.”

Remy gets his chance when he joins forces with hapless klutz Linguni (voice of Lou Romano), recently hired to clean up in Gusteau’s restaurant only because his late mother knew Gusteau. Remy, tugging on Linguini’s hair like something between a puppeteer and a video game console, turns Linguini into the most celebrated chef in Paris. But challenges remain — Skinner (voice of Ian Holm), who wants Gusteau’s for himself so he can promote his horrible frozen foods, and Anton Ego (voice of Peter O’Toole), the critic whose devastating reviews can ruin even the most popular restaurant. Then there is Colette (voice of Janeane Garofalo), the only woman chef in the kitchen, scary as a supervisor and even more terrifying when Linguini thinks he might kind of…like her.

The animation is, even by Pixar standards, spectacularly dazzling. Pixar’s early films compensated for the limited technology for facial expressions and gestures by making the characters have, well, limited facial expressions and gestures. Those films were about plastic toys, insects, and monsters. But in this film, the line between humans and computer animation all but dissolves. The movements and gestures are exquisitely orchestrated. Nothing could be more expressive than the thousand different shrugs of a Frenchman, and this movie has them all. Every millimeter of every raised eyebrow is an Oscar-worthy performance, acting through pixels.

A chase through the restaurant kitchen and an escape through the sewer system are filled with a level of mastery of three-dimensional space and detail that will be even more entertaining on DVD, when you can hit the pause button. Surfaces are brilliantly realized, textures, reflections, colors all as meticulously and imaginatively rendered as Remy’s greatest culinary masterpieces. Real copper wishes it could be as coppery as the bottoms of the pans in Gusteau’s kitchen. And the food! It shimmers. It glistens. It entices. You’d swear you could inhale its fragrance, almost taste that rosemary and saffron.

And the rats! They are so…rat-like. No anthropormorphized Jiminy Crickets or Gus-Gus and Jacques for Disney this time. Remy looks like a rat, and, charming as his personality may be, it is at times difficult to get over that whole rats-don’t-belong-in-a-kitchen thing.

It evokes passion and creativity well, but the film is over-plotted and parts of the story will be unappealing or confusing for children, including a DNA test to determine paternity. Compare the idea of a critic as bad guy to the inspired choices of previous Pixar films, the cluelessly destructive little girl in “Nemo” or the resentful rejected sidekick in “The Incredibles.” Next to those, a food critic (named “Ego,” get it?) who looks like a caricature of Richard Nixon and confesses that his most brilliant review is nothing next to the most mediocre work of art seems like too much in-joke and too little comedy or threat. The script is one part of this recipe that could have used a little less seasoning.

NOTE: The short animated film at the beginning of the movie is priceless, the funniest five minutes on screen this year. Don’t miss it.

Parents should know that there is some G-rated peril, including a gun, that may be too intense for the youngest and most sensitive viewers. A character slaps another. There are brief jokes about criminal activities, bribing someone, and “messing around,” and a reference to a dead mother and a father who was never told he had a son. There is a brief shot of dead rats. Characters drink wine and one gets another drunk. There are references to an off-screen death and a character is an apparent ghost. There is a kiss and a brief bare tush and a portion of the plot focuses on mild references to a secret out of wedlock child and to DNA testing to determine paternity. A strength of the movie is its references to prejudice and the importance of giving everyone an opportunity.

Families who see this movie should talk about how we can determine our own futures and interests, even when they seem inconsistent with our backgrounds. They should talk about their favorite flavors and cooking experiences. What are some of the foods that bring back some of your favorite memories? Families might want to learn more about some of the seasonings mentioned in the film like rosemary and saffron and try cooking with them. They might even like to try making some ratatouille.

Families who enjoy this film will enjoy the other Pixar movies, including Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., and A Bug’s Life. They will also enjoy the other films from writer-director Brad Bird, The Iron Giant and Pixar’s The Incredibles. Flushed Away is another delightful animated film with a rat hero and a rat heroine as well. Older viewers will enjoy some other films about great food, including Babette’s Feast, Big Night, and Simply Irresistible. And note that John Ratzenberger, who has provided voice talent for every Pixar movie, appears in this film as Mustafa.


posted by jmiller
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
Movie Release Date:2007

Presenting symptoms: queasiness, fever, hyperventilation, and mood swings.

Diagnosis: You’ve just seen Michael Moore’s latest film, “Sicko.” As the tagline says, “This might hurt a little.”

Moore’s record-breaking documentaries have taken on guns (Bowling for Columbine), the war in Iraq (Fahrenheit 9/11), and General Motors (Roger & Me). This time, he takes on the American health care system, comparing it to nationalized medicine in Canada, England, France, and Cuba.

Moore begins with three devastating cases. A middle-class couple were wiped out by health care costs and have to move into their daughter’s basement storage room, their lives reduced to what can fit into three dresser drawers, their pride and dignity reduced to nothing. A man who sliced off two fingers in an accident is forced to choose reattaching the ring finger for $12,000 vs. the middle finger for $60,000. Another man has to sew up his own wound. This takes just a few minutes. And then Moore tells us that this movie is not about these people, who are uninsured and thus fit into a “them” category for most people who buy tickets to movies. This movie is about “us” — the 250 million Americans who are insured, and the way the health care and insurance industries undermine our physical, financial, and political health.

Moore invited people to share their horror stories and we hear from a woman who was not able to get access to care for a brain tumor, a 79-year-old man who can never retire because he has to work at Pathmark to be able to afford his medications, an emergency ambulance ride that was not covered because it was not pre-approved, a woman who was kicked out of her coverage for not disclosing a pre-existing condition — a minor (and cured) yeast infection, a deaf child who could only get approval for a cochlear implant in one ear, and two people, one a baby, who died because they did not receive treatment.

But the real horror stories come from people within the industry, the insurance executives who explain that the payment of a claim was called “a loss,” that they were told that when they declined a claim they were not denying treatment, just denying funding, the claims adjuster who is first told that the minimum is a ten percent denial rate, then told it has to be higher, and paid a bonus based on how many claims are denied.

If our health care system is diagnosed as pathological, what is the cure? Moore visits facilities in Canada, England, and France. He speaks to Americans who have experienced medical treatment under both systems, including a young single mother who pretends to be Canadian so she can have her child treated across the border.

He traces back the origins of the problem to a moment recorded on Richard Nixon’s White House tapes, as he approves support for legislation creating a private system of Health Maintenance Organizations because “the incentives run the right way” — the less care they give, the more money they make. He shows us politicians lining up for a photo op for the signing of the prescription drug legislation, and gives each of them a dangling box showing the campaign contributions made by the industry. He sympathetically recounts Hillary Clinton’s disastrous attempt to try to create a universal health care system in the US only to see it demolished by a $100 million attack from the industry. He is less sympathetic when he ties her more recent “moderation” of her views to her own lavish campaign contributions. The health care industry employs four lobbyists for every representative on Capitol Hill. Senator Clinton receives its second-largest contributions. After the prescription drug legislation was passed, benefiting — according to Moore — the prescription drug companies more than the patients, 44 congressional aides and one Congressman went to work for the industry.

Moore shows us the shameful way we have denied treatment to the people we called heroes, the rescue workers at Ground Zero after 9/11. Yes, it is a stunt when Moore takes them to Guantanamo Bay to see if they can get the same top-notch medical care the US provides for the prisoners there, the people suspected or proven to have supported the terrorist attacks. And it is a stunt when he sets off in three little boats, like the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, to take them to Cuba, where they receive kindness and medication from the local health professionals. Like the stunt he pulled when he took a bunch of tobacco-related cancer survivors to sing Christmas carols at cigarette companies, it is horrifying and mesmerizing — and guaranteed to raise your temperature, which is the point.

The movie makes three significant contributions. First, though it does not emphasize this point, the film makes it clear that the primary benefit of the other systems is that the incentives promote prevention. A British doctor explains that he gets a bonus based on how many patients he gets to quit smoking, for example. The perverse incentives of our system promote neglect until the problem becomes dire or catastrophic.

The second theme, as in Moore’s previous movies, is the corrupting role that money plays in politics and policy. Moore does not say this, but the cost of campaigns in the United States is vastly in excess of the other countries he visits. Thus, politicians need to raise millions of dollars and thus they are vulnerable to pressure from the people who write checks.

Third and most important is the way this film shifts the burden of proof. Americans take it for granted that everything is better here than anywhere else in the world. But the movie’s statisitics about infant mortality and life span place us far down the list. Moore does not pretend to give both sides of the story. Our infant mortality rate is in part a reflection of our bringing more high-risk pregnancies to term. But Moore lays down the intellectual and moral gauntlet and dares the insurance companies and politicians to respond. The audiences who see this film will be waiting to hear what they have to say.

Parents should know that this movie has themes that may be disturbing, including injuries, illness, and death, including a baby. There is a brief graphic shot of a wound and brief strong language. The focus of the film is on unjust and unkind treatment of people who are sick and poor or middle-class, and one (white) character says she believes her husband would have received better treatment if he had been white. As with all of his movies, Michael Moore makes very provocative statements, often in a humorous way, but some audiences may find them offensive.

Families who see this movie should talk about their good and bad experiences with the health care system. They may want to talk with their health care professionals about their own experiences and what they think we can do better. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the US system? The nationalized health system? Who is in the best position to advocate for improvements? Who is in the best position to obstruct them? Moore is the first to admit that he is not a journalist but an advocate. As with any advocacy, viewers should challenge its assertions and omissions by examining the responses from other perspectives. The most important contribution of movies like this is that they inspire people to find out more and research the facts and the issues to justify their beliefs and positions.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Moore’s other films, including Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, and Fahrenheit 9/11. The John Grisham film The Rainmaker is the story of a lawsuit over the kind of insurance company policies portrayed in this film. Families should look at Michael Moore’s website and at the anti-Moore site Moorewatch, especially its response to Moore’s $12,000 check and the rebuttal film Fahrenhype 9/11. And they should view the films from The Moving Picture Institute, which uses Moore-style tactics and techniques for a conservative take on issues like environmentalism vs. economic development and freedom of speech on college campuses.

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