Movie Mom

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Fading Gigolo
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some sexual content, language and brief nudity
Release Date:
April 19, 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

Transcendence
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality
Release Date:
April 19, 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

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

Pearl Harbor

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

Remember when Humphrey Bogart told Ingrid Bergman that “it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world?” Well, this is a story that comes down on the side of the hill of beans.

Although it tries mightily to follow the “Titanic” formula, “Pearl Harbor” is not going to inspire the same “let’s go see it again” spirit. Like “Titanic” (and “The Perfect Storm,” and “Twister,” and a zillion others), this movie attempts to tie a love story to a catastrophe, with the theory that if it can make us care, make us gasp, and make us cry, they’ll have a box-office bonanza. But both the love story and the war story have a synthetic feel to them that does not permit us to care enough. It’s worth seeing – but only once.

After a brief prologue, in which we meet the two male leads as young boys to see their passion for flying and their loyalty to each other, we open as the war is going on in Europe. America is sending equipment and supplies, but has not yet entered the war. The two boys, Rafe (Ben Affleck) and Danny (Josh Hartnett) are army pilots. Anxious to get some action, Rafe volunteers to go to England, where he can join an American division of the RAF. Before he leaves, he meets a pretty nurse named Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale) and they fall in love. He leaves for England, and Danny and Evelyn are assigned half a world away, to the Naval Station at Pearl Harbor. When Rafe is reported killed, Evelyn and Danny are devastated. They comfort each other, and become involved. Rafe arrives to find them together, just before the Japanese attack. That attack, lasting just about as long on screen as it did in reality, is devastating to the unprepared Naval Station and to a country that thought it could stay out of the war. But Rafe and Danny train for a counter-attack on Tokyo to send Japan a message that America can and will punish those who attack us.

Director Michael Bay (“Armageddon”) has visual flair and superb command of action sequences. There are some nice moments, like Evelyn’s arrival at the hospital in Pearl Harbor, rows of neat white beds with just one occupant, being treated for sunburn. Dan Ackroyd is fine as an intelligence officer and Jon Voight, somewhere under a lot of make-up, shows us FDR’s compassion, political skill, and intelligence. Affleck, Hartnett, and Beckinsale look gorgeous and do their best to give some depth to the cardboard characters, but they cannot overcome a soapy plot and dialogue that is often wooden and sometimes wildly anachronistic. I do not think that anyone in 1941 spoke of somone’s “having too much time on their hands.” And I am pretty sure that no one, seeing the bombs dropping on Pearl Harbor, concluded that “World War II has just started.” For one thing, the war in Europe had been going on for a while, and for another, they had not started calling “The Great War” “World War I” yet. Rafe writes a lot of letters for a guy who is dyslexic. And can we please, please agree never again to have one of those scenes where some hot-shot flyboys break the rules and are then called on the carpet by crusty commanders who come across all disciplinarian but call them son and thinly disguise the “that’s just how I used to behave” twinkle in their eyes? We know producer Jerry Bruckheimer had a hit with “Top Gun,” but he does not have to make this one into “Maverick and Goose Go to War.”

Like last year’s “The Patriot,” the movie fails to provide any sense of the reason for the conflict. When asked why he fights, a character says nothing about freedom or fighting the Nazis. He just says that he wants “to matter,” a disconcertingly me-oriented answer from a would-be representative of the greatest generation.

No one wants them to demonize the people we fought in World War II, but they go too far in the other direction. It’s almost as though they were more interested in selling tickets in Japan than in giving any substance to the story. Cuba Gooding, Jr. does his best with a part that is awkwardly inserted into the main storyline.

The movie bends over backwards to be fair to the Japanese, portraying them as brave and loyal. But it is also dismayingly US-centric, showing (inaccurately) both the English and the Japanese in awe of American spirit and strength. The Japanese general says that he fears they have “awakened the sleeping giant.” And Rafe’s British commander says that if other Americans are like Rafe, he feels sorry for anyone who goes to battle with the US.

Parents should know that the movie features extended and intense battle violence with thousands of casualties, including characters we care about. Soldiers use strong language and joke about seduction techniques. A couple decides not to have sex because they do not want to have any regrets. Another couple does have sex and the woman becomes pregnant. Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays a real-life hero of World War II, the first black man to win the Navy Cross. The woman may be there because they thought it would be exciting and they would meet men, but when they are needed, they are strong, brave, and dedicated.

Famiies who see this movie should talk about the events that led to World War II and about some of the real-life characters who are depicted. Make sure that they know that in 1941 the armed services were segregated. The character played by Cuba Gooding, Jr., Dorie Miller, like most other black soldiers, was not trained to fight and was assigned to cooking and menial jobs.

Characters in the movie face choices that are well worth family discussion. Why didn’t the US realize how vulnerable it was to attack? How do you decide which wounded to help? What should Evelyn have done when Rafe returned? Why did the pilots volunteer for the raid on Japan?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other Michael Bay action spectaculars like “Armageddon” and “The Rock.” Fans of WWII movies will do better with “Saving Private Ryan,” “Mr. Roberts,” and “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” with Spencer Tracy as the real-life James Doolittle, portrayed in “Pearl Harbor” by Alec Baldwin. Mature audiences will also appreciate “From Here to Eternity,” a brilliant movie about soldiers stationed at Pearl Harbor before the attack.

Pay it Forward

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

A child challenged to change the world comes up with a plan. He will do three important favors for people who need them. Then, instead of allowing them to pay it back, he will ask each of them to “pay it forward,” doing three favors for other people, and asking them to do the same. One character describes it as a “Mother Theresa conga line.” The principle is the same as multi-level-marketing, except that instead of soap or vitamins, it’s “generosity between strangers” that is being passed on exponentially.

Trevor has every reason to believe that life is harsh and painful. His parents are alcoholics and his father is either absent or abusive. He walks into school every day through a metal detector. Outside his classroom window is an endless expanse of desert. And his mother works two jobs in a city filled with despair, Las Vegas.

But Eugene encourages his students to “backflip” the world into something better. He does not expect much — maybe a clean-up of some graffiti. But he gets Trevor’s utopian idea.

If that theme appeals to you and you’d like to see three of the finest actors ever put on film, then you are the audience for this movie. If it sounds syrupy, go see something else. As for me, I’m in the first category, and my heart was happily warmed and my tears happily jerked.

Trevor, the 7th grader who comes up with the idea, is played by Haley Joel Osment, nominated for an Oscar last year for his performance in “The Sixth Sense.” Again, he shows us an extraordinary child, wise and sensitive beyond his years because of what he has had to face, but still completely believeable as an 11-year-old. Helen Hunt is heartbreaking as Arlene, a recovering alcoholic with a history of loss and abuse. And Kevin Spacey is breathtaking in a role that is a departure from the tough and wily guys he played in “The Usual Suspects,” “Wiseguy,” “Swimming with the Sharks,” and “L.A. Confidential.” He plays middle school teacher Eugene Simonet, scarred inside and out. One of Trevor’s favors is to bring Eugene and Arlene together, though it turns out that is is not just to make them happier.

Arlene and Eugene put all of their effort into making sure they do not get hurt again until they learn that it is risking hurt that makes us alive. Trevor’s idea does not always work, but when it does, people are transformed, not by the favors others do for them as much as by the favors they do for the next people in the chain. We get a glimpse of its impact as the story is interwoven with scenes four months into the future, as a reporter tries to track down the source of the mysterious acts of generosity.

Parents should know that there is some strong language, and characters abuse alcohol and drugs, including heroin and marijuana. There are references to the most severe domestic abuse. There are some fights, one resulting in mortal injury. A character attempts suicide. Another shoots his gun, though no one is injured. There is some strong language. A character dies tragically. There are sexual references, including references to having to be drunk to have sex and there is a discreet sexual situation. Scenes take place in a tawdry Las Vegas setting with skimpy clothing and strippers. A character’s burn scars may be upsetting. Pre-teens and teen-agers may be especially concerned by the violence that occurs at a school, despite the metal-detectors kids walk through as they enter.

Families should talk about the pay it forward idea. Would it work? What favors would family members like to do? Why is “routine” so important to Eugene? Why do we see him ironing his shirt twice in the movie? Why do we see Eugene sitting at a student’s desk when he talks to Trevor? Why does Trevor say that “it has to be hard?” Families should also talk about Trevor’s comment that the most important thing is watching people, paying attention to things they may not even know they need. Some families will also want to dicuss whether there is a religious allusion in the death of one character.

Families who enjoy this movie will also like “Magnificent Obsession” and “Field of Dreams.”

Passion of Mind

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

This is the movie equivalent of a juicy beach book, an old-fashioned guilty pleasure chick flick.

The plot is “Sliding Doors” crossed with the fairy tale of the dancing princesses with a touch of “Truly Madly Deeply.” Demi Moore plays a woman with two lives: Marty, a successful New York career woman and Marie, an American widow living in the French countryside with her two daughters. Every night, when Marty goes to sleep, she dreams of Maria’s life in France, and when Marie goes to sleep, she becomes Marty in New York. Both wonder which is real, and each is afraid to find out.

The two lives echo each other, and each seems to provide something missing in the other. But one thing is missing in both – love. Marty meets Aaron (William Fitchner) and Marie meets William (Stellan Skarsgård).

Both relationships begin with conflict. Marty confronts Aaron for capitulating to a client’s request to settle a lot of money on an unfaithful spouse and Marie has given a bad review to William’s book. Both men are completely captivated by the elusive woman/women. And both courtships are rapturously romantic – this movie has two of the all-time great movie boyfriends.

At first, the two storylines provide counterpoint. One relationship becomes physically intimate. The other becomes emotionally intimate because she tells him of her double life. Then both relationships deepen and the two lives begin to provide some resolution for one another. Items from one life begin turning up in the other. She begins to understand that she can take what she needs from her dreams and make it work in real life.

It is very schmaltzy. But I found myself beguiled by its unabashed romanticism. There are some nice subtle touches – the clusters of hats, Marty’s relationship with her therapist, Marie’s relationships with her daughters and her confidant – and the resolution has some psychological validity, at least in movie terms.

Parents should know that the movie has sexual references and situations (frank but not graphic), some strong language, and smoking and drinking.

Families who see the movie will want to talk about the way that people consciously and subconsciously work through unresolved issues, and the way that opening oneself up to being known by someone else can seem scary. If your real-life self had a dream life, what would it be?

Families who enjoy this movie will like “Truly Madly Deeply” and a Bette Davis oldie, “A Stolen Life.”

Panic Room

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2002

This thriller, in the claustrophobic mode of “Rear Window”, finds Meg (Jodie Foster), a recent divorcee, and her combative daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart), trapped in the secret vault/bomb shelter/safe room set up by their apartment’s previous owner, a paranoid millionaire with a squabbling family. The least favorite cousin, Junior (Jared Leto), has broken into the apartment with the help of security expert Burnham (Forest Whitaker) and tag-along psycho Raoul (Dwight Yoakam). The bad guys want in to the vault, where the old millionaire hid his millions. The girls just want to get out, but the protected phone line inside the room hasn’t been activated yet (they just moved in).

This is not a movie about insight into the human condition or subtle, complex characters. This is just a movie about scaring the heck out of you, and it does that very expertly.

Jodie Foster’s inner mama tiger takes over and escalates as the burglars take more and more drastic steps to try and enter the impregnable vault, and Kristen Stewart moves from being a tough, sullen teen to a tough, sullen, wily teen. On the outside, Forest Whitaker gets to play the good bad guy, while Mr. Leto and Mr. Yoakam act progressively more evil.

For a story which should have been a claustrophobic battle of wits, too often it’s simply a battle of violence, although there are some riveting action sequences. And while the family dynamics are underdeveloped, the film does show how divorced parents and their children can remain a family even after separation.

Parents should know that the movie has extreme suspense and some graphic violence. A child is in peril. Characters use strong language.

Families who see this movie should discuss what the characters do to escalate the level of violence, and how acting from emotions as opposed to reason can aggravate problems, no matter how satisfying it may seem at the time. Divorced families will be especially interested in Sarah’s father, who has in no way abandoned his daughter.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the director’s other movies (very mature material), “Seven” and “Fight Club.”

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