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Selma
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language
Release Date:
December 25, 2014

 

The Equalizer
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

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

 

Tusk
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some disturbing violence/gore, language and sexual content
Release Date:
September 19, 2014

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

 

Magic in the Moonlight
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout
Release Date:
August 1, 2014

The Brothers Grimm

posted by rkumar
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2005

Too scary for kids and too thin for anyone else, Terry Gilliam’s latest movie, like his heroes’ tricks, has a lot of visual flair, but no substance.

Gilliam’s version of the story about the folklorist Grimm brothers, Jacob (Heath Ledger) and Wilhelm (Matt Damon) has them as fakers and con men. They create illusions to terrify ignorant villagers so that they can get paid to rid the towns of witches and other supernatural creatures. But then when some little girls disappear into a forest that is reputed to be enchanted, Jacob and Wilhelm find that they have to rethink their ideas about fantasy, reality, and story-telling.

There are flickers of familiar characters to give us a tingle of recognition. A little girl in a red cloak with a hood goes into the forest and does not come home. Neither does another little girl who went into the forest with her brother. Hair is lowered out of a castle window. A queen wants to be the fairest of them all…forever.

And there are flickers of something more in the movie, too, some arresting and important ideas about magic and story-telling and fantasy and even politics and war. But they keep getting lost in dumbed-down slapstick. One un-funny joke has Wilhelm mistaking a village girl for a boy. This is considered so hilarious it is featured in the movie’s trailer and television commercials. But it has nothing to do with the movie’s plot or themes. Damon and Ledger seem to have no grasp of their characters and wander around the story like they are trying out for Ghostbusters: the Medieval Years. The usually reliable Peter Stormare (Fargo) is not just over the top — he is over whatever is over the top. And the usually reliable Jonathan Pryce, as a French officer overseeing Napoleon’s occupation of Germany, has almost nothing to do and does that badly. This is like a community theater production where they think that if they say everything fast and loud it will be entertaining.

At one point, a Grimm brother says to the other, “That armor is not magic; it’s just shiny.” That’s the problem with this movie. There may have been more there once — if so, I hope we get to see it on a director’s cut DVD — but for now, a few sparkles are not enough to make it watch-worthy.

Parents should know that the movie has intense peril and grotesque and grisly images. Characters are injured and killed. There is brief crude humor.

Families who see this movie should talk about the real brothers Grimm, who were pioneers in the field of folklore, traveling throughout Germany to collect German and French stories that are now familiar to children all over the world, including “Snow White,” “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Rapunzel,” and “Red Riding Hood.” Families should talk about some of the stories from their own traditions and how they are — and are not — like the Grimm stories. Mature teens and adults might enjoy Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment, about the psychological basis for these enduring stories.

Families who enjoy this film may also enjoy George Pal’s The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. And they will enjoy some of Gilliam’s other fantasies, especially Time Bandits, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and (for mature audiences only) Brazil (with Pryce) and Twelve Monkeys. And they might also enjoy the underrated The Village.

Four Brothers

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005

We start out on the side of the four adopted brothers who reunite to find the people who murdered their mother, but they lose us in this over-violent and under-sincere story that strays from justice past revenge and into mindless vigilantism.

Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan) is a tough but warm-hearted woman who spent her life getting children out of foster care and into permanent homes. But there were four incorrigibles she could not place, and those were the ones she adopted herself. She made a family with impulse-control-impaired Bobby (Mark Wahlberg), captivated by a hot-tempered honey Angel (Tyrese Gibson), family man/play by the rules Jeremiah (Outkast‘s Andre Benjamin), and would-be rock star Jack (Garrett Hedlund).

At first, it looks like Evelyn was in the wrong place at the wrong time in a random gang-bang convenience store robbery. But then it appears to have been something more sinister, an orchestrated hit. Who would want to kill Evelyn Mercer?

Her sons do not want to wait for the police (Terrence Howard and Josh Charles) to answer that question. They go off on their own, asking questions and insisting on answers. Their preferred method of insisting involves pouring gasoline on the subject and lighting a match.

Director John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood, 2 Fast 2 Furious) knows how to film action scenes, but this time he seems to have forgotten how to make us care about the outcome. Without dramatic legitimacy, it all just seems noisy and gratuitous.

We begin as sympathetic to the brothers because of their loss. But they keep telling us how endearing and honorable and committed they are instead of showing us. Howard, the summer’s breakthrough actor following brilliant performances in Hustle and Flow and Crash shows more class and charisma in his brief appearance as a sympathetic policeman than all four of the brothers combined. A movie that has so little sense of how it comes across that it overestimates the appeal of its main characters is a struggle to sit through; one that underestimates the appeal of its other performers is a crime.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent movie, not just in the portrayal of many violent confrontations with heavy artillery but in the almost nihilistically excessive nature of the damage. Characters drink and use drugs. They use strong and crude language, including homophobic insults. The bad guy is ruthless and enjoys humiliating other people. The movie has sexual references and situations and non-sexual nudity. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of strong inter-racial family and romantic relationships. But it is too bad that a movie that is so careful to avoid racial stereotypes in the good and bad guys descends to a cliched “spitfire” characterization of a Latina woman.

Families who see this movie should talk about how people like Evelyn Mercer can change the lives of people around them.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Singleton’s version of Shaft. And they might like to see the movie that inspired this one, The Sons of Katie Elder, a western starring John Wayne and Dean Martin. And they may enjoy seeing outstanding performances by Howard and Taraji P. Henson (who plays Jeremiah’s wife) in very different roles in Hustle and Flow (very mature material).

Say Anything

posted by rkumar
A
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:1989

Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) is an engagingly aimless high school graduate who likes junk food and kickboxing. Courageously, he sets his heart on Diane Court (Ione Skye), the most beautiful and brilliant girl in school, described as a brain “trapped inside the body of a game show hostess.” Lloyd has no conventional “smooth” talk but his free-association “say anything” style, good humor, and obvious genuineness make her laugh. She agrees to let him take her to a graduation party, and they have a good time together.

Diane and her father James (John Mahoney) are very close and he assures her that they can always “say anything” to each other. When Diane wins a prestigious fellowship to study in England, he tells her that it is everything they have ever worked for. One problem is Diane’s fear of flying. The other problem is her growing attachment to Lloyd.

Though she tries not to become too involved, Diane becomes closer to Lloyd. Her father feels that she is drifting away from him. Diane and Lloyd make love — a gentle, intimate experience, and she immediately tells her father about it. Finally, John forces Diane to choose, and she chooses her father over Lloyd. She tells Lloyd she just wants to be friends.

But her father’s love, which has always bordered on the obsessive, has also developed into the criminal. His nursing home is investigated for tax fraud. John has been taking money from the residents to spend on Diane. Diane is shattered. She returns to Lloyd for support. She cannot bring herself to visit her father in jail, so she sends Lloyd to see him with a letter. In an exceptionally sweet final scene, Lloyd and a terrified Diane are on the plane to England.

In this movie, the guy who appears to be aimless and incapable of achieving anything turns out to have a stronger moral code than John and to be more in control of his life than Diane. Diane may have an outstanding record, but she has missed out on making friends. Lloyd has excellent relationships with his sister and her son and with a number of friends. He is the one reliable enough to be the “keymaster” to make sure that no one leaves the party too drunk to drive. When he wavers about taking a stand with Diane, his friend reminds him not to be “a guy,” but to be “a man.” He is even willing to mediate the relationship between Diane and her father.

Lloyd waits for his future to come to him. As he says, “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.” But he knows that he wants to be with Diane, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to make that possible. Lloyd is ready to make his own choices and make his own mistakes. Diane, by contrast, has always had all her choices made for her.

The strength of Lloyd’s relationship with Diane is also contrasted with the disastrous teenage relationships of his friends, especially Cory’s broken heart over Joe. In a memorable scene, Lloyd’s buddies offer him (terrible) advice on how to treat women, and he responds, “I got a question. If you guys know so much about women, how come you’re here at like the Gas ‘n’ Sip on a Saturday night completely alone drinking beers with no women anywhere?” “Conscious choice, man” is their funny but unconvincing reply.

Diane’s father, desperate for her to succeed, is too overprotective and too involved with her. He has made her dependent. She is only able to flourish in Lloyd’s company. She appreciates Lloyd’s thoughtfulness in guiding her around some broken glass and his willingness to help her become more independent by teaching her to drive. Yet, she is still not ready to be on her own. She needs Lloyd to deliver her message to her father, and to comfort her as the plane takes off for England.

Parents should know that this movie includes brief strong language. Diane and Lloyd make love in the back of a car, an overwhelming and intimate experience for both of them. She goes home afterward and tells her father about it, pleased that she can “say anything” to him. There is liberal drinking at high-school party with a couple of students actively drunk. Lloyd is responsible for making sure everyone gets home safely. Families who see this movie should talk about why a girl as successful and ambitious as Diane would like Lloyd. If all James does is try to do what is best for his daughter, how does this go wrong? Lloyd has a lot of friends — what makes him so likeable? What will happen to Lloyd and Diane? Why do you think so?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy seeing Ione Skye (the daughter of 1960s pop star Donovan) in another story about a young man who flounders through his attraction to her, The Rachel Papers (deservedly rated R), based on the novel by Martin Amis. Cusack stars in The Sure Thing and The Journey of Natty Gan, and provides the voice of Dimitri in Anastasia. Mahoney appears on television’s “Frazier” and in the romantic Moonstruck.

Roll Bounce

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2005

In Undercover Brother, director Malcolm Lee’s shrewd but affectionate appreciation of the 1970’s was played for satire. In “Roll Bounce,” he brings that same evocative skill to a coming of age story that is sweet, funny, touching, and completely genuine. Lee creates not just the era some of us remember but also the moment all of us experience — that summer when the world opens up and you begin to see all the tantalizing and terrifying possibilities. And it has a superbly selected soundtrack of 70’s gems.

It is the summer of 1978 in the south side of Chicago. Xavier (Bow Wow), known to just about everyone as “X,” loves to skate, but the local roller rink is closing down. So, X and his friends decide to venture north to the upscale Sweetwater rink in the posh neighborhood. It is overwhelming at first. X and his friends wonder if the people at Sweetwater are better than they are, especially the local skating champion, Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan), who rules the rink with a rock-star-like entourage and his own theme music. The annual skate-off is coming up, with a $500 award for first place. X and his friends decide to compete.

X does not get a lot of support from his father (the terrific Chi McBride), who is struggling to keep the family together after the loss of his wife. He does not want his children to know that he has also lost his job. But he has not really allowed himself — or X and his sister — to mourn.

For X, friends are his family, anyway. Despite the constant tossing back and forth of insults (many relating to each other’s mothers or race), his friends are his support system, including a new friend who happens to be a girl (the sweet Jurnee Smollett as Tori).

This movie manages to pack in a lot of characters and a lot of plot and still keep a gentle, easy-going and nostalgic atmosphere. There are no surprises here. X and his father will have a confrontation and learn to understand each other better (they’ll both begin to develop relationships with lovely ladies as well) and X and his friends will wonder whether they are good enough to compete with Sweetness and then decide to give it their best shot. But the characters are endearing and genuine and it all goes down as easy as Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day.”

Parents should know that this film has brief strong language, including racial epithets. Part of the culture of this community is “the dozens,” where people try to top each other with insults, mostly directed at each other’s mothers. There are also racial wisecracks, including the n-word, often relating to the characters of mixed racial backgrounds or in inter-racial relationships, but it is done with good humor and affection. Overall, a strength of the movie is its portrayal of strong and loyal characters of diverse backgrounds. There is some adult social drinking, but X’s father explains that he does not drink. There are some tense and sad moments.

Families who see this movie should talk about why X and his father had a hard time communicating and what made it possible for them to find a way to share their feelings of loss and sadness. Why was skating so important to X and his friends? Why do X and his friends insult each other so much? How do they demonstrate their loyalty and commitment?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Drumline, starring Cannon, Cooley High, Saturday Night Fever (mature material), and Breaking Away.

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