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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

Taking Lives

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

Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie) is an FBI profiler who immerses herself in her cases. She eats alone in an elegant hotel room, staring at photos of crime scenes and corpses. When construction equipment uncovers a dead body, she lies down in the muddy pit where and closes her eyes. She lies down on top of a bed that might have been the murderer’s, to see what he saw.

Scott has been brought in by the Canadian police to help them solve a murder. It turns out to be linked to other murders, probably the work of a man who kills men his age and size and then takes over their lives until it is time to move on to the next, “like a hermit crab — he outgrows one body and starts looking for a new one.”

The only witness is Costa (Ethan Hawke), an artist preparing for a big show. Illeana is not sure whether to trust him, arrest him, or fall for him. But is what draws her to him the part of her that understands killers?

Jolie’s character is inconsistently conceived, forcing her to take on almost as many personalities as the killer, cool professional, tomboy feminist, girlish romantic, and nesting loner. She has to be tough and vulnerable as the whims of the script demand, and that takes some of the steam out of the story. But director D.J. Caruso and a strong cast make the best of the potboiler material, creating a nicely creepy atmosphere and knowing when to surprise the audience with a shock — or a laugh — to release the tension. So if you don’t try to make it all make sense, you might find it to be a thriller with a couple of genuine thrills. And you can be relieved that at least this one doesn’t star Ashley Judd.

Parents should know that this is an R-rated thriller with intense and graphic violence. There are graphic injuries and grisly dead bodies, including some decomposed and one badly burned, plus a severed finger and a bloody wound. There are many tense scenes with characters in peril and one (apparently) especially horrific injury. Characters drink, smoke, and use strong language. There are sexual references and a sexual situation including nudity.

Families who see this movie should talk about what a profiler of serial killers might have in common with the killers to be profiled, a theme also explored in the Hannibal Lecter books by Thomas Harris. Families might want to take a look at the FBI’s website, which has a lot of information about their investigations, programs, and employment opportunities.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the multi-Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs and the underrated first Hannibal Lecter movie, Manhunter. They will also enjoy Jagged Edge with Glenn Close as a defense attorney who is drawn to her charming client even though he is charged with murdering his wife, and Copycat with Sigourney Weaver as a profiler stalked by a killer. And they should see Hitchcock’s great classic of the “should I trust the man I am attracted to” genre, Suspicion, with Oscar-winner Joan Fontaine wondering whether new husband Cary Grant wants to kill her with that glass of milk.

The Prince & Me

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

The title says it all. This is a classic Cinderella story about a hardworking girl from the Wisconsin dairy farm who wants to go to medical school but falls for a handsome and charming foreign exchange student who happens to be a prince in disguise. Does the course of true love run smooth? Not at first. Do they live happily ever after? What do you think?

Julia Stiles plays Paige Morgan, a serious and hard-working pre-med college student who has her whole life literally mapped out. She has a map of the world with pins showing all of the places she wants to visit after she completes her medical training and joins Doctors Without Borders.

Luke Mably plays Edvard, the heir to the Danish crown. His life is also planned for him, but unlike Paige, he is not the one who made the plans. While she is determined to follow a dream that will take her very far from the life she was born into, Edvard only wants to postpone the inevitable by having as much fun as possible before he has to take on the responsibilities of the life he was born to.

So, Edvard races cars and fools around with lots of women. He does not pay attention in important meetings and he makes headlines in the tabloids.

Edvard sees an ad for a “Girls Gone Wild” video, and decides that he wants to go to America, where girls are all pretty and willing to take their tops off for the camera. He arranges to enroll in college in Wisconsin incognito as “Eddie,” a foreign exchange student.

If you don’t know these two are meant for each other, you didn’t pay attention to the title. Edvard learns what it is like to have to earn respect and affection — and money — and Paige learns what it is like to listen to her heart and use her imagination. They each get to explore the other’s family and culture. He races a souped-up riding lawnmower in Wisconsin farm country and she stays in a castle and goes to a ball. But falling in love is easy; finding a way to make their dreams and responsibilities fit together is not.

Director Martha Coolidge (Rambling Rose, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge) has a sensitive touch in dealing with young female characters. She and Stiles do their best to make Paige more than the typical romantic comedy heroine. Mably shows some ease and charm as Eddie, who describes that other Danish prince, Hamlet, as though he is talking about himself: “The prince was young and scared and didn’t feel ready for the choices he had to make.” All of that helps to make up for a weak script that is too often too silly and too seldom original. By the time we have to sit through a scene of Paige trying on all the Crown jewels, they have long since run out of ideas.

Parents should know that this movie has some mild language and some passionate kissing and sexual references. The prince comes to America because he sees a commercial for the “Girls Gone Wild” videos and thinks that in the US girls all take their tops off for anyone who asks. There is an interrupted encounter that the couple might have intended to become more intimate, but there is no implication that Eddie and Paige go to bed together. There is a mild gay joke when characters do not understand the relationship between Eddie and the aide his family has sent to watch over him. There are scenes in a bar and characters drink, including a drinking game.

Families who see this movie should talk about what Eddie and Paige saw in each other and what challenges lie ahead of them. What would be the best thing about being a prince? What would be the worst? What made Eddie’s mother change her mind? How do the costumes and uniforms Eddie and Paige wear help tell the story? Families might also want to talk about the way Eddie approaches the labor dispute. Why was it so hard to resolve? What do Paige’s and Eddie’s mothers have in common?

Families who like this movie might want to find out more about the famous Danes mentioned by Eddie, like physicist Nils Bohr, philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, and fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen. And, of course, supermodel Helena Christensen, Mettalica drummer Lars Ulrich, and Hamlet! Families will also enjoy learning more about Denmark and the real Danish royal family (with a prince who is about to marry a commoner, probably the only thing he has in common with the prince in this movie). The full text of the Shakespeare sonnet Eddie and Paige read together is here. And the humanitarian group Paige wants to work for is Doctors Without Borders, an international organization of doctors and other health professionals who volunteer to provide medical services to those in need throughout the world.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other royal romances like the bittersweet Roman Holiday and The Swan (starring about-to-become-a-real-princess Grace Kelly), the comic Coming to America with Eddie Murphy (some mature material), and, of course the classic Cinderella and Drew Barrymore’s take on that story, Ever After. Edward Fox, whose brother James plays the King in this movie, played a real-life King who gave up his throne to marry a commoner in the miniseries Edward and Mrs. Simpson. They might like to read books by and about Americans who married royalty including Queen Noor’s Leap of Faith and Hope Cook’s Time Change.

Spartan

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

There are three different stories in this latest effort from writer/director David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, State and Main). Only one of the three is pretty good — a rescue mission to retrieve the kidnapped daughter of the President. The second is a passable, if overly familiar, story of a man developing a broader sense of his own values. And then there is a poorly handled story about government corruption and manipulation of the media. As that thread takes over in the last third, the movie falls apart.

Scott (Val Kilmer) is one of those flinty-eyed “one riot, one Ranger” tough guys who trains future flinty-eyed tough guys when he isn’t being sent on the most crucial and most morally compromising missions.

A college student is missing. Did she run away with the professor with whom she may be having an affair? Did her boyfriend kill her after a fight? Was it a random kidhapping by men who steal blonde girls and sell them into sexual slavery? Or did someone take her because she is the daughter of the President of the United States? Time to call in Scott to find out.

Speed is the top priority. Secrecy comes next. Niceties like Constitutional protections and not killing people who might be innocent are lower down on the list.

Scott and able trainee Curtis (Derek Luke, again showing great warmth, humanity, and charisma) think they are getting close to finding the girl when the word comes down that she and the professor have been found dead following a boating accident. But that is when Scott, always a “how” man, not a “why” man, finds that he cannot travel as light as he thought. It isn’t so much that he wants to understand who the bad guys are. He just wants to get the girl back. Even if she doesn’t want to or deserve to come home.

Mamet is fine when it comes to tension, confrontation, and tough attitude, but as a director his idea of action sequences is to have people unexpectedly get shot. The dialogue is Mamet lite, with none of the brilliant riffs that energize his other scripts. He fumbles the tone of the movie by committing the very last sin his characters would permit — he loses control with preposterous multiply paranoid layers that wear out instead of boring in.

Parents should know that this movie has intense peril and a lot of graphic and explicit violence, including knives and guns, and many characters are killed. Characters smoke and drink and there are drug references. There are sexual references, including references to sexual slavery, and one mild and non-explicit sexual situation. A character commits suicide (though that is later called into question). As in almost all Mamet movies, characters use very strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about the compromises made by the characters in this movie, including the willingness to violate the rights of suspects in order to get information quickly and the willingness to compromise loyalties and risk lives in order to win an election. How do they decide what their priorities are? What is the difference between the way Scott regards his orders at the beginning of the movie and the way he does at the end? Why? What does it mean to say that “We’re just two men in green?” What does it mean to say, “You’re going to be taking that fight to bed with you for a long time. You don’t gotta do it all now?” Mamet’s films often deal with people who spin stories, from con men (House of Games, Glengarry Glen Ross) to opposing sides who have completely different views of the same incident (Oleanna) to film-makers who will tell any story they need to so that they can, well, tell the story they want to tell (State and Main). How does that theme relate to this film?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy paranoia classics like Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, The Manchurian Candidate, and No Way Out. They might also like the unforgettably creepy original The Vanishing but should avoid the 1993 American remake.

Secret Window

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

We know what scares Stephen King. That most prolific of writers is still terrified by an empty computer screen, or, even worse, a screen with writing that is unfixably bad. And that author whose imagination has kept millions of happily terrified readers up all night is still scared of losing control of that imagination or having it disappear completely.

And so in this movie, King gives us our hero — Morty (Johnny Depp), like King a write of scary stories. And our villain, a menacing man in a broad preacher’s hat, who says that his name is John Shooter and that Morty has stolen his story.

Living in a remote cabin after splitting with his wife, Morty mostly mopes and sleeps. He loves his adorable dog and he literally won’t hurt a mouse.

But he can’t seem to get back to work. The best he can do is delete what he has already written. And then there is a knock at the door.

Now that we have our sensitive and vulnerable hero, and our eerily knowing menace, all of the traditional thriller elements follow: the red herring, the seemingly ineffectual sheriff and the seemingly powerful ally, the property damage, the shocking deaths, the framing of the hero for the crimes, the creepy music, the tight close-ups that keep us from knowing what’s outside the frame, and of course, the a-ha moment.

It all feels recycled and re-recycled. Depp is always wonderfully watchable and he seems to be enjoying Morty’s long solo scenes as a sort of on-camera acting exercise. There are a couple of tingly reveals and creepy fake-outs, but overall it’s just too familiar, especially for fans of this genre. John Shooter tells Morty that his story needs a better ending. So does this movie.

Parents should know that the movie has a great deal of tension, peril, and brief graphic violence, with grisly dead bodies. Characters are injured and killed. An animal is killed and a house is torched. There are sexual references and situations, including adultery and brief language that is stronger than most PG-13s. Characters smoke and drink and there is a reference to alcohol abuse.

Families who see this movie should talk about the clues that indicate what the final twist will be, including the very first scene and the scene in the bathroom. Why is it important that Morty had a past experience with a charge of plagiarism?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Shining, Swimming Pool (mature material), and Identity.

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