Movie Mom

Movie Mom

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Believe Me
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:

Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

The Fault in Our Stars
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language
Release Date:
June 6, 2014

Tracks
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some partial nudity, disturbing images and brief strong language
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo
Release Date:
June 27, 2014

The Boxtrolls
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Neighbors
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

Shaolin Soccer

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2004

You know, we just don’t get enough kung fu soccer fairy tale movies.

At least, I know it now, because this one is such fun I can’t wait to see another. The most successful Hong Kong film ever, this is a very traditional underdog sports team story told in a delightfully untraditional style, with whimsy, fantasy, and heart.

A group of Chinese people spontaneously break into a dance number to the Kool and the Gang song, “Celebrate.” Soccer players fly through the sky and kick the ball the length of the field. A sweet bun maker (that is, a sweet maker of sweetbuns) uses kung fu to mix the flour and gets fired when the buns get sour after her tears fall into the batter. And the hero tells the heroine she is beautiful before her makeover.

Just to make it absolutely clear who is who, on one side we have “Team Evil,” led by Hung, a ruthless mogul who treats his black-clad team with “American drugs” and has set up a special underwater laboratory to perfect their kicking skills. (A nice touch — the underwater scientists wear waterproof lab coats.) And on the other side is a — you guessed it — a ragtag bunch of brothers who have never played soccer before but have this theory about bringing their mastery of Shaolin kung fu to the sport, led by a former soccer superstar once called “Golden Leg” Fung who had 20 years of humiliation working for Team Evil’s owner after his leg was shattered by a hoodlum.

Fung sees Sing (played by writer-director Stephen Chow), who dreams of having the whole world live according to the principles of Shaolin, everyone aligning themselves with the ways of nature. Sing is not making much progress by demonstrating Shaolin and calling out to passers-by on the street. When Fung sees that Sing’s ability to kick trash could make him a great soccer player, Sing realizes that becoming a soccer champion by using the techniques of Shaolin could bring his message to the masses, and he agrees to help Fung start a team. Together, they visit Sing’s brothers to invite them to play. All say no, but all show up. At first, they suffer humiliating defeat. When they register for the big tournament, the owner of Team Evil laughs at them.

But then the games begin. The Shaolin team’s magical leaps and kicks bring them to the final round where they must face Team Evil. When the goalie is injured, who will replace him?

The movie is pure silly fun with such wonderful spirit that even the dumbest jokes and most predictable developments seem brighter. Its visual imagination and effervescent good spirits are pure delight.

Parents should know that the movie has some comic violence and crude humor, including a scene of a man peeing on a wall. There is some action/fantasy violence and characters are wounded. Characters smoke and drink and there is a reference to “American drugs” (presumably steroids). A character mentions suicide as a response to humiliation. There is a joke about being in love with a married woman. A character removes his pants (off camera) and makes another character wear his underpants on his head to humiliate him.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Sing saw Mui as beautiful even when no one else did. How did he know? What made it possible for the Shaolin team to begin to win? Families should also talk about the way that Sing made Shaolin into a way of life that affected everything he did.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Mighty Ducks, Bend it Like Beckham (some mature material), and Sidekicks. They might like to watch some other sports fantasy movies like The Absent-Minded Professor and It Happens Every Spring and read the classic book The Five Chinese Brothers. They also might like to learn more about Shaolin and soccer.

Clifford’s Really Big Movie

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Preschool
Movie Release Date:2004

Clifford is not just a Big Red Dog; he’s a big, red phenomenon, hero of a series of books by Norman Bridwell, an animated PBS series, and even a live road show. Now he has moved (briefly) to the big screen with a low-key feature destined for a quick theatrical release on its way to video and DVD.

Clifford is a really, really big red dog, part of his appeal to toddlers, who live among giants and are thus drawn to huge, powerful but kind creatures who love children (like Barney). Children also like the way that Clifford explores the world around him, learning gentle lessons about getting along with others and solving problems like finding lost toys and not being afraid of a storm.

Clifford (voice of the late John Ritter in his last role) lives with Emily Elizabeth and her family on dogbone-shaped Birdwell Island. His best dog friends are T-Bone (voice of Kel Mitchell) and Cleo (voice of Cree Summer). When Clifford overhears Emily Elizabeth’s parents talk to a neighbor about how much he eats, Clifford thinks he is too much of a burden for the family and decides that he, T-Bone, and Cleo should join an animal act and compete for a prize of a lifetime supply of pet Tummy Yummies.

The animal act includes a trapeze artist ferret named Shackelford (voice of Wayne Brady) and a tightrope-walking cow named Dorothy (voice of Jenna Elfman). They are managed by Larry (voice of Judge Reinhold), who loves them very much but has not been able to make the act successful. Their only chance is to win that contest. But, Shackelford says, in order to do that, they need something big. Enter Clifford.

As soon as Clifford and his friends arrive, the act comes together and audiences love it. But Shackelford gets jealous of all the attention Clifford is getting. The daughter of George Wolfsbottom (voice of John Goodman), the wealthy man who owns the Tummy Yummies company, wants Clifford to be her pet. And Emily Elizabeth misses her beloved Clifford, and he misses her, too. Fortunately, everyone in this movie is kind and understanding and loyal, though it takes some longer to get there than others.

The limited animation style looks static on the big screen and the movie is too long for its age group even at 75 minutes. (Actually, I felt it was too long for my age group, too.) The children at the screening I attended fidgeted during the musical numbers and some seemed uncomfortable with even the mild tension in the story. The story itself is questionable, with Clifford and his friends leaving home without thinking about how upsetting that will be for their families. The song lyrics justifying it were downright unsettling at times; it cannot be wise to sing to children about how “You’ve got to be lost if you want to be found….It only gets better after it gets worst, happy ever after needs the scary part first.” It’s fine to let children know that problems can be solved, but this suggests that they cannot be happy unless they make sure something bad happens first.

Parents should know that there is some mild peril and some emotional tension. Some children may be upset when Clifford and his friends leave home or when the dogs lie about not having owners.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Clifford got the wrong idea by hearing only part of what Emily Elizabeth’s parents said about him. What should he have done instead of leaving? Make sure children know that it is never all right for anyone to leave home without talking to the family about what is wrong. Families should also talk about the lie the dogs tell about their dog tags, and about Dorothy’s saying that Shackleford is “not the most secure ferret in the world, but he means well.” Why does Mr. Wolfsbottom’s daughter want to have the biggest of everything? What does it mean to say that “okay does not dazzle?”

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the Clifford books and videos. They will also enjoy the books and video starring Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, especially the animated version, which has outstanding songs and voice talent. And they might like to try to make snickerdoodles, the cookies Dorothy and Cleo promise to make together.

Close Your Eyes

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

Those who like atmospheric thrillers that feature pentagrams and second sight and mysterious incantations from ancient texts will enjoy guaranteed goosebumps in this story of a doctor who tries to help the little girl who escaped from a serial killer but is too traumatized to give the police any information.

“ER’s” Goran Visnijk plays Michael, a hypnotherapist who has come to London to escape his past. He is trying to make a life for his pregnant wife (Miranda Otto of Lord of the Rings and their daughter by hypnotizing people who want to quit smoking. He treats a police officer (Shirley Henderson) who is impressed with his insight and ability and persuades him to come with her to see Heather (Sophie Stuckey), mute since she ran away from the “tatoo killer.”

Heather’s are not the secrets that will be uncovered as the movie takes us through the quintessential thriller tropes, storytelling shorthand for some sort of concept that the audience will recognize and understand instantly. So our heroes have to consult a creepy loner with expertise in the occult (In America’s Paddy Considine) and have to confront bellowing bureaucrats who don’t understand that this is the only way to find the killer. There are fake-out moments when we think something bad is going to happen and it doesn’t and freak-out moments when we think nothing bad is going to happen and it does, and we even get one of those “don’t go into the house” moments where someone who would be crazy to enter alone without telling anyone does. Except instead of a house, it’s a church. And there are some logical loopholes and some clunky lines (“Men choose to be weak because power frightens them!”).

But it is directed with such atmosphere and acted with such conviction that it does the job it is trying to do very nicely.

Parents should know that this is a horror movie with disturbing themes, intense peril, grisly images, torture, and murder. There are references to the serial killing of several children, though it is made clear that they were not sexually assaulted. Characters smoke, drink, and use very strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about their own views on extra-sensory perception or hypnosis. What do you think Michael will do next?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Rosemary’s Baby. Some of the same themes are explored in Dead Again and in a completely different genre in Being John Malkovich.

Kill Bill Vol. 2

posted by rkumar
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

Be careful what you ask for.

In my review of Kill Bill Vol. 1, I admired its pure style and mastery of the language of pure cinema but said that I hoped the sequel would provide more character and texture. Well, that is what screenwriter/director Quentin Tarantino has done, or at least tried to do with Vol. 2, but the result is a less successful movie than the original.

In Vol. 1, a woman known only as “The Bride” (Uma Thurman) awoke from a coma to seek revenge on the squad of assassins who gunned down everyone at her wedding and left her for dead. The film was dazzling in its combination of narrative minimalism with maximization of just about everything else, an onslaught of images, genres, action, and carnage.

While admiring the supercharged audacity and astonishing technical control of the first “volume,” for me it felt less pure than sterile. Revenge is the simplest and most convenient engine for a movie plot. It takes just a moment to set it up and then we are on the Bride’s side for as long as it takes for her to cross each name off her list. The hints of more details about the elite squad of assassins, each with aliases of deadly snakes, were so tantalizing. Where were they from? What did they do and how did they learn to do it? Why did it all change?

Now we get to find out much of that and you know what? It was better not to know. Tarantino is far better at, well, pulp fiction than at drama. The dialogue sounds like imitation Tarantino and the exposition plays like it should have stayed on the cutting room floor. This movie, for all of its showmanship and technique, diminishes the first one. We were better off imagining the left-out details or projecting them onto spareness of the movie like a Rorschach inkblot.

It was better to know the heroine only as “The Bride” and wonder about her name than to find out that her name is Beatrix Kiddo. It would be like telling us what really is inside the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. We’re better off putting into it what each one of us wants it to be.

The scene where Beatrice learns why she must leave the DiVAS (Deadly Viper Assassination Squad) has some juicy juxtaposition along the lines of the first one’s battle with Vernita, interrupted to welcome her little girl home from school. But the reason itself, as corny as Kansas in August, doesn’t work as drama or as archly meta-archetypical post-modern commentary. Discussions of the stringent standards of Pai Mei (Hong Kong martial arts movie star Chia Hui Liu, voiced by Tarantino), his “the wood should fear your hand, not the other way around,” and the dressing-down of a bouncer by a bar-owner put a drag on the movie’s momentum and the additional brutalization of The Bride, even in Tarantino-world, is just overkill.

There are some great set-pieces, including ingeniously constructed confined-space battles and an escape from being buried alive. And there are some great lines. A character refers to “what women call the silent treatment. We let them think we don’t like it.” I liked the discussion of what makes Superman different from other superheroes without entirely buying it. But it all gets a little too cute and self-aware, with The Bride telling us that we have referred to her “roaring rampage of revenge” and mentions of The Postman Always Rings Twice and Shogun Assassin. At his best, Tarantino runs the zillions of movies he loves through his brain, chops them up and recombines them to show us what they say about the way we want to see ourselves and the way we really do. But at his worst, it’s all just a little closed loop of inside references. To speak to him in the movie language he knows best, it’s all just a little too much “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

Parents should exercise the strongest possible caution in deciding whether this movie is appropriate for their families, even for those over 18. This movie is an outrageous and over the top story about people who kill other people for money and for pure enjoyment. It is extremely violent with graphic and exceptionally explicit fight scenes. There are many horrifying images including a squashed eyeball, a badly scarred prostitute, and a dessicated corpse. Many characters are killed. Characters use extremely strong language and they drink and smoke.

Families who see this movie should talk about what led Beatrice to become an assassin and what made her decide to quit. What do these characters tell us about their notion of justice? What are we supposed to admire about them?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy the original Kill Bill and Tarantino’s other films, including Pulp Fiction (extreme language, violence, and drug use).

Previous Posts

Believe Me
Will Bakke has followed his two thought-provoking documentaries on faith with a remarkably smart, funny, brave, and heartfelt first feature film that explores religion and values without ever falling

posted 11:06:16am Sep. 30, 2014 | read full post »

Gone Girl's Rosamund Pike
Rosamund Pike delivers a stunning breakthrough performance in this week's "Gone Girl." She's been a favorite of mine for a long time, for her elegant voice and precise acting choices. It's a good

posted 8:00:23am Sep. 30, 2014 | read full post »

Telling Time in "All That Jazz"
One of my favorite writers provides insights into one of my favorite (if flawed) movies -- Matt Zoller Seitz created a beautiful video essay about Bob Fosse's autobiographical "All That Jazz" for the Criterion Edition, and then they were unable to use it due to rights problems with the movie clips h

posted 3:19:48pm Sep. 29, 2014 | read full post »

Tomorrow on PBS: The Makers: Comedy
Be sure to tune in to PBS tomorrow night for what is sure to be one of the highlights from one of the all-time best series on PBS: "The Makers," the story of women in America.  Tomorrow's episode is about women in comedy. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHxHMgSF7UI[/youtube]

posted 8:00:45am Sep. 29, 2014 | read full post »

Tomorrow on HBO: "The Fifty Year Argument" -- Scorsese on The New York Review of Books
Once upon a time, there was no internet. And instead of bloggers and pundits and tweets we had something called public intellectuals, people who read widely, thought deeply, and wrote long, passionate, carefully reasoned, thoroughly documented and beautifully written articles about the important is

posted 3:59:26pm Sep. 28, 2014 | read full post »


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