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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

Oliver!

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:1968

Plot: This glorious musical (and Oscar-winner for Best Picture) is based on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Oliver is an orphan who so outrages the staff at the orphanage by asking for a second bowl of gruel that he is sold to an undertaker as an apprentice. He runs away from the abuse, and is taken in by a group of child pickpockets, led by Fagin (Ron Moody). He is arrested for picking the pocket of a wealthy man, who becomes interested in him, and takes him home. Bill Sikes (Oliver Reed), a murderous thief who works with Fagin, kidnaps Oliver to prevent him from giving away the details of their enterprise. Bill kills his girlfriend, Nancy, when she tries to help Oliver escape. Bill himself is killed, and Oliver is returned to his friend, who turns out to be his uncle.

Discussion: Dickens wanted his readers to contrast the harshness of the approved establishment, the orphanage and apprentice system, with the friendly welcome of the street people’s demimonde. Fagin and the boys give Oliver his first sense of family, singing warmly to him that he is to “consider yourself one of us!” They are the first to see him as an individual instead of as a troublesome animal, and the first to give him any affection.

Note how some of the characters calibrate their moral choices. Bill Sikes seems entirely amoral, willing to do anything to further his own interests. Mr. Bumble and Mr. Sowerberry, both considered by themselves and those around them to be sterling, law-abiding citizens, are not much better. Like Bill, they have no compunctions about putting their own interests first, no matter what the cost is to others. But Nancy and Fagin have limits. They will engage in small crimes, but have some sense of fundamental integrity.

Parents may want to talk to older kids about Nancy’s relationship with Bill, and about the mistakes people often make when they think that loving someone can change them, or that someone who abuses others will not ultimately abuse them as well.

Questions for Kids:

· Why does Mr. Sowerberry insult Oliver?

· Oliver wants someone to “buy” his happy moment and save it for him. If you could pick a day to have saved that way, what day would you choose?

· Why did Nancy stay with Bill?

· Why does Mr. Brownlow think that he can trust Oliver? How does that trust make Oliver feel?

· What would Mr. Brownlow have done if he had not turned out to be related to Oliver?

Connections: David Lean’s superb “Oliver Twist” (with a long-delayed release in the United States for what was considered an anti-Semitic depiction of Fagin) is an outstanding version of this story, which was also adapted by Disney as “Oliver & Company.” Oliver Reed (nephew of director Carol Reed) played Athos in “The Three Musketeers.”

Old Yeller

posted by rkumar
A+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:1957

Plot: In 1869 Texas, Jim Coates (Fess Parker) says goodbye to his family, as he leaves for three months to sell their cattle. He tells his older son, Travis (Tommy Kirk) to take care of his mother, Katie (Dorothy McGuire) and his younger brother, Arliss (Kevin Corcoran). Travis asks his father to bring him back a horse. His father says that what he needs is a dog, but Travis does not want one. “Not a dog in this world like old Belle was.”

A stray dog comes to their farm and scares the horse, knocking over Travis and knocking down the fence. Travis throws rocks at the dog, saying, “That dog better not come around here while I got a gun.” But the dog comes back and Arliss “claims” him, over Travis’ objections. Later, Old Yeller saves Arliss from a bear. Travis admits, “He’s a heap more dog than I ever figured him for.” Yeller turns out to be an outstanding dog for farming and hunting.

Old Yeller fights a wolf that was about to attack Katie. She insists he be tied up, because the wolf would not have attacked unless he had hydrophobia, and Yeller may have been infected. When Yeller becomes vicious, Travis knows he must shoot him.

Jim returns, as Travis and his friend Elsbeth are burying Old Yeller. Jim tells him that the loss of Yeller is “not a thing you can forget. Maybe not a thing you want to forget…Now and then, for no good reason a man can figure out, life will just haul off and knock him flat. Slam him agin’ the ground so hard it seems like all his insides is busted. It’s not all like that. A lot of it’s mighty fine. You can’t afford to waste the good part worrying about the bad. That makes it all bad…Sayin’ it’s one thing and feelin’ it’s another. I’ll tell you a trick that’s sometimes a big help. Start looking around for something good to take the place of the bad. As a general rule, you can find it.” Jim has brought the horse Travis wanted, but says, “Reckon you ain’t in no shape to take pleasure in him yet.” Travis goes back to the house, where he sees Yeller’s pup, and knows that he won’t replace Old Yeller, but will be as good a friend as his father was.

Discussion: Jim’s talk with Travis is a model of parental wisdom, understanding, and patience. He accepts and validates Travis’ feelings completely, and does not try to minimize or talk him out of them. (Contrast that with Elsbeth, who tries to comfort Travis by encouraging him to “come to like the pup.”) Instead of telling him what to do, he says, “I’ll tell you a trick that’s sometimes a big help,” letting him decide for himself whether to take the advice and, if he does, letting him decide whether this is one of the times that it is a big help or not. By saying that Travis is not “in shape to take pleasure from the horse” yet, Jim is again letting him know that he respects his feelings of loss and sorrow, and that there will be time for him to feel happy about the horse later.

Travis is not just reluctant to adopt Old Yeller at first — he is downright hostile. The reason is his sense of loss over his first dog, Belle. His ability to accept Young Yeller more easily shows how much he has grown up.

This is one of the finest of the early Disney dramas. The fight scenes are exciting and the family scenes are sensitive and evocative. It is a classic of loss, and an excellent way to begin a discussion of those issues.

Questions for Kids:

· Why doesn’t Travis want Old Yeller at first? Why doesn’t he want the pup?

· How does he hurt Elsbeth’s feelings?

· Why does Katie say “No wonder they didn’t want him on no cow drive” about Elsbeth’s father?

· Why did Sanderson trade Old Yeller for the toad and a meal?

· Why did Sanderson say “that’s the way a man talks” when Travis told him that he was a little scared but would take Sanderson’s advice? What made that “manly”?

Connections: McGuire, Kirk, and Corcoran appeared together in “Swiss Family Robinson.”

Activities: Kids who like animal stories may enjoy the book by Fred Gipson, who co-wrote the screenplay.

Ocean’s Eleven

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2001

Almost everyone knows the original “Oceans 11,” but almost no one remembers much about it except that Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, and Joey had some plan to knock over casinos in Las Vegas and that they had more fun making it than anyone had watching it.

This loose remake kicks it up several notches with enough genuine Hollywood star power to light all the neon signs in Nevada. George Clooney plays Sinatra’s part, Danny Ocean, this time just out of prison (in the tux he was wearing when he went in) with an idea about robbing three casinos of $150 million. The only problem is that the vault that holds all of their cash is “a security system that rivals that of most nuclear silos.” But Danny figures if he can get a good team together and a bankroll for some equipment, he can make it work.

So this is one of those movies in which we spend 40 minutes meeting the cast, 20 minutes setting up the robbery, and 40 minutes breaking into the vault, “Mission Impossible”-style. It’s done with a lot of panache and is good old-fashioned, Hollywood heist film fun.

Part of the pleasure of the film is its low-key style. The echo of the Rat Pack version is the way that everyone on screen has enough confidence to pull back a little and underplay the scenes to create a kind of intimacy. We feel that we’re listening in on real conversations, and find ourselves leaning forward as though each of us is in on the deal with them.

One problem, though, is that there are just too many goodies on screen. It’s hard for us to adjust our expectations for star turns by the high-wattage cast. There are so many stars that we don’t get to spend enough time with any of them. Matt Damon’s role is criminally under-written (just think of him as “the kid”) and we want to know more about Cheadle’s cockney demolition expert, the bickering brothers played by Scott Caan and Casey Affleck, Garcia’s casino owner, and especially about Tess (Julia Roberts), formerly married to Ocean, and now involved with Garcia’s character. Old-timers Elliott Gould and Carl Reiner are magnificent in small roles, and a couple of young TV stars drop by for a slyly hilarious cameo.

It is fitting that in a heist movie someone could steal the show, and in this movie it is Brad Pitt in a walk. I give Pitt a lot of credit for wanting to show off his considerable acting chops by staying away from glamour roles and often working against his natural appeal. His performance in “12 Monkeys” was as good as any Oscar-winner on his best night. But here he just relaxes and shows us that he can turn in a performance of effortless charm, subtle and witty, completely in service to the character and the movie and yet completely movie star mesmerizing, the most appealing he has been since his breakthrough performance in “Thelma and Louise.”

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language and some violence (no one hurt). The main characters are thieves, con men, and just plain crooks, and we are expected to be on their side.

Families who see this movie should talk about why heist films are perennially popular. How do the writer and director make us root for the crooks? What is it that we enjoy so much about seeing a robbery? Is it the fantasy of instant millions? The fun of seeing how they solve the unsolvable logistical problems? Watching them respond on the spot to the unexpected? Which character did you like the most? Why?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other heist films like “Topkapi” and “The Lavender Hill Mob.”

O

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2001

Doves flutter in a bell tower as an angelic choir sings. We hear someone say, “I know you’re not supposed to be jealous of anything, but to soar and take flight — that’s living.” As he speaks of his envy of hawks, the music shifts to hip-hop, setting the state for an imaginative and arresting retelling of Shakespeare’s “Othello,” set in a contemporary southern prep school.

Instead of Othello, a Moorish conquering warrior married to Desdemona, a white noblewoman, we see Odin (Mekhi Phifer) a talented black athlete, the only black student in the school, in love with Desi (Julia Stiles), the headmaster’s daughter. Instead of Iago, the trusted friend who is consumed with jealousy, we see Hugo (Josh Harnett), the coach’s son.

“Othello” works exceptionally well in a high school setting because so much of the plot fits in with the overheated emotions and impetuousness of adolescence. The plot turns on rumors, misunderstandings, trusting the wrong people, and jumping to conclusions, all of which will seem familiar to teenagers. They will also be very familiar with the racial issues, and their impact on O’s hypersensitivity to believing that Desi is faithful to him. Hugo’s use of steroids deepens the credibility of his fury at Odin’s success.

First-time director Tim Blake Nelson (who was last seen singing “In the Jailhouse Now” in “O Brother Where Art Thou”) shows a strong command of the storyline and imaginative use of visuals that underscore the movie’s themes. He gets very strong performances from the actors, especially Harnett and Phifer and Martin Sheen as the coach.

Parents should know that the movie’s release was delayed because of its violence. As in the original play, characters are brutally murdered and there is a suicide. Teen characters smoke, drink, and use drugs. The language is extremely harsh, including the n-word and a homophobic epithet and very harsh rap lyrics on the soundtrack. A consensual sexual encounter turns into a rape, and there are other sexual references and situations. A girl is referred to as a slut.

Families who see this movie should talk about how easy it can be to shake someone’s trust, and how difficult it is to determine who we should believe. They should talk about Odin’s conflicts — the reason he doubts Desi so quickly is more a reflection of his doubts about himself than his faith in her. Would he be so quick to believe that she was unfaithful to him if Mike was black? Would Hugo be so angry at Odin if Odin was white? What do you think about O’s use of the word “nigger” and his reaction when he is told that Mike and Desi call him that behind his back?

Odin also shows his conflicts about women when he asks Desi, “If you were a virgin like you said you were how come you acting all freaky?” This is typical of immature people who cannot reconcile mature sexuality as a reflection of true intimacy. Families should discuss the scene in which Hugo is invited to have dinner with his father. Why does the camera show only Hugo? Why is Hugo so hurt by what his father says? What does Hugo want his father to see that he doesn’t?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy one of the filmed versions of Othello, especially the ones starring Laurence Olivier and Laurence Fishburne. They may also want to read or see Native Son, another tragic story about a young black man.

Previous Posts

Fading Gigolo
John Turturro wrote, directed, and stars in "Fading Gigolo," a bittersweet meditation on the ways we seek and hide from intimacy, sometimes at the same time. Turturro plays Fioravante, a florist who works part-time for Murray (Woody Allen), the third-generation proprietor of a used and rare books

posted 9:24:32pm Apr. 17, 2014 | read full post »

Transcendence
Think of it as "Her 2: The Revenge of Him." Or Samantha infected by Heartbleed. Just as in last holiday season's Her, "Transcendence" is the story of an artificial intelligence contained in a computer program that becomes or is seen as human consciousness.  Instead of the warm, affectionate voic

posted 6:00:39pm Apr. 17, 2014 | read full post »

Bears
This year's Disney Nature release for Earth Day is "Bears," the story of an Alaskan bear named Sky and her twin cubs, Scout and Amber, their trek from the den where they've hibernated all winter t

posted 6:00:05pm Apr. 17, 2014 | read full post »

Interview: Martha Williamson of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered"
Talking to Martha Williamson is pure positive energy and a real treat. The creator of "Touched by an Angel" has a new series on the Hallmark channel. It's called "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" and it is about a USPS dead letter office where a quirky but very dedicated group of people track down the rec

posted 8:00:57am Apr. 17, 2014 | read full post »

Trailer #2: The Box Trolls
Did I mention how excited I am about this?  Coming in September, from the people who did "Coraline" and "ParaNorman." [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDr_ZY37RFg[/youtube]

posted 12:12:22pm Apr. 16, 2014 | read full post »


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