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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

 

Unbroken
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

Home
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

Severance

posted by jmiller

Severance is a quirky yet compellingly gory tale of
a few great characters begrudgingly forced to spend a weekend
together. And then they are hunted down, suffer grizzly deaths, and
are, for the most part, never heard from again. Writer/director
Christopher Smith (Creep) has never, apparently, had much sympathy for
those who get sentimental and teary-eyed when lamenting the question
of why bad things happen to good people.


Filmed with a great appreciation for atmosphere and undeniable skill
in sound editing, Severance introduces us to the sales division of
weapons company Palisade Defense as they embark upon a company retreat
to Eastern Europe. On the retreat is Jill (Claudie Blakley): odd,
endearing and intelligent; Gordon (Andy Nyman): bestowed with
indefatigable good spirits; Steve (Danny Dyer): immature and harmless;
and a few others whose characters are difficult to watch be snuffed
out in the name of the ever-more-popular “quirky horror” genre.


Smith takes his characters and floods their retreat with
some of the most gag-inducing horror scenes, resulting in a
dreadfulness that makes one wonder why these great characters couldn’t
live long enough to star in a funny, original, imaginative and
enjoyable film. Severance might be funny (at times), original and
imaginative, but until watching likeable people suffer unspeakable
fates is enjoyable, it can hardly be labeled as such. The most
redeeming element, aside from the technical skills displayed in
filming, is the nagging suspicion that it’s better to have really
liked and lost than never to have liked at all.


And while watching the endearing troupe perform team-building
exercises would have been infinitely more fun, the horror is still
unquestionably effective. Whereas some comparable films tend to begin
in horrorland, that place where things are so ominous from the start
that being burned alive or suffering decapitation and loss of limb is
simply the “next step,” Severance starts in utter normality. The
anxiety stems from the loss of control felt in the smooth and speedy
progression from normal life (riding a rented bus with coworkers) to
horror-movie life (running from crazed killers, losing limbs, nursing
stab wounds, etc). It helps (if that’s the right word) that the
characters are highly believable; more importantly, however, is the
fact that the horror doesn’t grow from one or two hugely bad decisions
— instead it grows organically and almost imperceptibly from the
characters’ realistic ordinariness as they make decisions that don’t
seem so different from what the average person would do. The result is
a horror that could happen to even the best people, no matter how
clever, how rational, how likeable. And that, perhaps, is scarier than
anything else.


Parents should know that this film presents perverse and sickening
scenes, including but not limited to decapitation, explosion, torture,
and implied cannibalism. The killings are not censored, and a live
burning includes a sympathetic character splashed copiously with
gasoline while gagged and tied to a tree. There is also a scene where
a character’s leg is caught in a bear trap, and is severed in the
resulting struggle to free it. A character is shown chewing and
discussing hallucinogenic mushrooms in the very beginning, and the
language is mostly mild but gets heavy in isolated instances.


Families who see this film should discuss the ethical considerations
behind plot elements. The premise is that Palisades employees are
being hunted because their weapons were used to destroy a mental
hospital, and the escapees vowed to exact revenge. Parents might
discuss with teenaged children the ethical considerations of working
for a company that provides weapons. In the film, Jill speaks with
another character about her desire to build “human” land mines — ones
that do not cause such indiscriminate destruction. Parents might
discuss how creativity and ingenuity can be used to improve present
conditions. Because the images can be disturbing and terrible, parents
might also wish to have their children express common fears and
approach them logically, deciding which ones are reasonable and which
ones can only be reasonably expected in horror films.


Families who enjoy this film might also appreciate Eli Roth’s Cabin
Fever, in which five young friends meet blood-soaked tragedy in a
wooded cabin. For a film with more comedy and stylized gore, families
might enjoy Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead.

Thanks to guest critic AB.

Mr. Brooks

posted by jmiller

I have to give this film credit for embracing its craziness. This is one movie that proudly raises its freak flag high and lets it wave. But that does not mean it works.


Mr. Brooks (Kevin Costner) is an upstanding member of the community, a very successful businessman, and a loving husband and father. He is also a compulsive serial killer who relishes — fetishizes — the preparation and clean-up every bit as much as the act itself. His compulsion is personified by William Hurt, who shows up like one of those little devils who sit on Sylvester’s shoulder, whispering in his ear that Tweetie-Pie looks mighty yummy.


Mr. Brooks goes out on one last hit and makes one big mistake. This leads to a nasty encounter with one “Mr. Smith” (comic Dane Clark). He doesn’t want money; he wants to come along on the next kill.


Brooks has another problem, too. His daughter (Danielle Panabaker) has dropped out of school and isn’t telling him the whole truth about why. And there is a very determined detective (Demi Moore) who seems to be getting closer.


It has some style, and Costner makes good use of his weak chin, turning his aw-shucks All-American quality on its side. There’s a moment when Costner and Hurt turn to each other and laugh demonically that has some grab to it. But for a movie about a guy who plans everything so meticulously, the script is a mess, with careless distractions that seem helpless and random, impossible coincidences that make it appear that there are only about six people living in Portland, and one big fake-out that is nothing but a giant bloody speed-bump on the way to the who-cares-at-this-point conclusion.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent film with scenes of very graphic murders and shoot-outs with a lot of blood. The main character is a serial killer who kills because he enjoys it, because he is addicted to the thrill and sense of power. There are explicit sexual references and situations, including nudity and an out of wedlock pregnancy. Characters use very strong language. They drink alcohol and there are references to substance abuse.


Audiences who see this film should talk about the way that Earl’s compulsion is portrayed. Is he right in describing his impulse to kill as an addiction? Why is Mr. Smith interested in coming along? Do you believe Atwood’s explanation?

Audiences who enjoy this film will also enjoy the underrated Panic, with William H. Macy as a reluctant hit-man following in a family tradition, One Hour Photo, and the Showtime series “Dexter.”

Surf’s Up

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for mild language and some rude humor.
Movie Release Date:2007

Every so often an unpretentious little charmer like “Surf’s Up” darts ahead of the pack of big, over-hyped, over-long, resistance-is-futile summer blockbusters lumbering into multiplexes. This one is as refreshing as an ice cream cone after a hot day.


The concept does not sound promising — it is yet another penguin story about yet another underdog. But the movie is beguiling, thanks to vibrant visuals, superb voice talent, wit without ironic air quotes or snark, a sweet storyline, and a brisk running time. Like the sport it salutes and the island where it takes place, the movie has a laid-back vibe, taking its story, its humor, and itself lightly.


Cody (voice of Shia LeBeouf of Holes and the upcoming Transformers) is a penguin from Shiverpool, Antarctica who loves to surf and dreams of someday competing like his idol, surf legend Z. Cody gets a chance to go to Hawaii to compete in the Big Z Memorial Surf Off on Pen Gu Island. But it turns out he has a lot to learn about surfing. And he has even more to learn about competition, friendship, and winning.

With the help of fellow surfer Chicken Joe (voice of Napoleon Dynamite‘s Jon Heder), a dry-witted but warm-hearted lifeguard named Lani (voice of Zooey Deschanel), and a reclusive coach with a big secret (voice of Jeff Bridges), Cody takes on the current champ, the trophy-loving Tank (voice of “The Drew Carey Show’s” Diedrich Bader).


It is structured as a documentary, with scratchy black and white “footage” of Z’s early years, characters explaining what is going on to the camera, and understated “mistakes” like protruding boom microphones and drops of ocean water on the lens. This format lends itself to an appealingly non-linear story-telling style, making room for commentary from a colorful range of characters, including the harried Surf Off organizer (voice of James Woods) and three adorable penguin babies who look like fluffballs with beaks.


It has the meticulously hyper-real textures and breathtaking vistas we have come to expect from CGI but clever use of focus and angles and interaction with the “documentary” cameramen make it seem more intimate, less like a bunch of pixels. And voice talent of great warmth and spirit will make audiences feel ready to catch the wave and hang ten.

Parents should know that this movie has some crude schoolyard humor, including potty jokes, a comment about “showering together,” and some implied nudity (nothing shown). Characters use some schoolyard language. There are references to (off-screen) deaths and there is some cartoon-style peril and violence (no one hurt). There are diverse characters, but all of the competitors are male.


Families who see the movie should talk about what was most important to Cody, Z, Tank, Chicken Joe, and Lani and why. What feels best about winning a prize? What are some feelings that are even better? What does it mean to “let the wave do the work?” Families can also talk about some of the coaches or other teachers who taught them the most.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy surfing classics Step into Liquid (with a real-life surfer from Chicken Joe’s home town of Sheboygan, Wisconsin) and The Endless Summer. They will also enjoy comparing the beautiful computer-generated Hawaiian scenes in this film with the gorgeous hand-painted locations in Lilo & Stitch. They might enjoy the classic Gidgetfilms that helped make surfing popular with teen-agers. They will also enjoy other CGI animated films like Over the Hedge and Robots. And they will enjoy Napoleon Dynamite, featuring two of the voice talents from this movie, Jon Heder and Diedrich Bader.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence and some frightening images.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:December 4, 2007

Even in a summer blockbuster, sometimes less is more.


Especially when it comes to the story. They throw in so many plots, so many battles, so many tonal shifts, so many characters, and ultimately so many Captain Jack Sparrows that it is clear they are hoping we won’t notice that it really is something of a mess.


It’s a very entertaining mess, though. Like the first two in the series, this ostensible last chapter is filled with visual sumptuousness and splendor, inspired by the classic illustrations of Howard Pyle. Every splintering floorboard, every barnacle, every piece of eight, every skittering crab, every cannon, is brilliantly imaginative. The action sequences are a marvel as well. Though nothing reaches the level of the sensational swordfight on a rolling mill wheel in #2, there are plenty of swashbuckling set-pieces to keep pulses pounding.


That sneery Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) is after the pirates again, and the only way for Elizabeth Swann (Kiera Knightly) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) to stay alive is to get something that Beckett wants very badly from pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), who was last seen being consumed by a monster and must now be rescued from an existential crisis in a sort of metaphysical desert at the end of the world.

Lovebirds Will and Elizabeth are each hiding secrets that will test their love and their trust. Sparrow and the formerly dead Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), brought back to life by Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris), are on hand to help retrieve Sparrow and bring together all of the pirate kings to battle Beckett, now working with squid-faced Davy Jones (Bill Nighy).


Or something like that. It’s very hard to keep track of who is on which side at any given moment, not to mention which ship we’re on or which body of water we’re in at any given moment. Or who knows which secrets or even who is dead, formerly dead, un-dead, or ferrying the dead.


The problem is not the incomprehensibility of the plot; it has been conclusively proven that coherence is not necessary in a summer explosion movie and may even be a distraction. The problem is the tonal shifts; at the same time the movie asks us to care enough about its characters to accept some bittersweet, even tragic outcomes, it throws in some references to suspension of civil rights in wartime (hmmm), and then it also pushes the limits of po-mo ironic self-consciousness with over-the-top in-jokes, silliness about whose, um, telescope is bigger, and a mid-battle wedding ceremony with “I dos” in between ripostes (both literal and metaphoric). This movie’s tongue is pushed so far into its cheek that it could reach Davy Jones’ locker. In the midst of all the visual treats, the movie both takes itself too seriously and not seriously enough. The combination feels sour and overheated, purloining some of the fun that kept the first two so dazzlingly buoyant.


Parents should know that like the other two in the series, this one is filled with non-stop action-style violence, including many fights with swords, guns, hangings, cannons and explosives. Characters are injured and killed, including two who are impaled and some executions. There are macabre and gross-out images. Characters use some salty pirate language and drink rum. There are some mildly ribald comments and some kisses. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of strong female and minority characters. It is also worth noting that this film’s language is slightly less salty than its predecessors and that it is subtly but clearly shown that the main characters wait until they are married to do anything more than kiss.


Families who see this movie should talk about the issues of trust and betrayal. They might also want to talk about how the film-makers made the pirates the good guys by making the people on the other side even worse.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the earlier episodes, Dead Man’s Chest and The Curse of the Black Pearl. They will also enjoy some other pirate movies, including the sly satire The Pirate, with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, and the classic swashbucklers The Crimson Pirate with Burt Lancaster, and Captain Blood with Errol Flynn. Families might also like to see the books and illustrations from Howard Pyle, whose paintings inspired the look of these films.

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