Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


New in Theaters
  New to DVD

Laggies
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language, some sexual material and teen partying
Release Date:
October 31, 2014

 

Moms' Night Out
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Begin Again
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:

Release Date:
July 2, 2014

John Wick
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Wish I Was Here
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Release Date:
July 18, 2014

Mean Creek

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

When Sam (Rory Culkin) is beat up by a school bully, his older brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan) and his friend Marty (Scott Mechlowicz) plot revenge. They will invite the bully (Josh Peck as George) on a boating trip, telling him it’s a birthday party for Sam, and then play a cruel trick on him.

On the water, things seem different. George seems vulnerable, almost childishly happy to be included. He explains that maybe his learning disability makes him “a superior being, the future of the race” and uses his video camera to record everything he sees. His agression seems clumsy rather than hostile.

Sam’s friend Milly (Carly Shroeder), who knew nothing about the purpose of the trip, makes him promise that they won’t try to hurt George. Sam, who has begun to feel sorry for George, agrees, and Rocky reluctantly tells Marty to call off the prank. But Marty has been looking forward to this and it feels like one too many compromises when he wants something to make him feel powerful. Sitting in the boat, far from civilization, they begin a game of Truth or Dare. And then things get tragically out of control.

The movie never makes it all the way from idea to story, but the talented young performers give their characters subtlety and depth far in excess of the script. The screenplay emphasizes the obvious and the characters are too obviously created to fit into neat categories across the range of perspectives. The car they drive to the river has an “honor student” bumper sticker on it. The bully pecking order from Marty’s older brother down to Sam is as carefully calibrated as a slide rule. After-school-special level dialogue hangs heavily in the air after it is spoken.

But each member of the cast is remarkable, utterly genuine, transcending the limits of the screenplay, benefiting from sensitive direction. Peck bravely lets us share the kids’ mixture of impatience and pity toward George. Culkin provides another touchingly open and brave performance. Mechlowicz is exceptionally impressive, with real leading man potential (more than making up for appearing in the awful Eurotrip). The cinematography is superb, showing us the contrast between the placid surroundings and the explosive emotions. But it is the cast that makes this trip up the creek worthwhile.

Parents should know that the movie includes extremely strong language and very explicit sexual references, including sexual epithets. A character is called “faggot” and insulted because his fathers are gay. Middle schoolers are challenged to French kiss and others are dared to take off their clothes. There is a bare tush and implied nudity. Characters use a gun, cut their skin with a knife, and a character is beaten and another is killed. Teens and younger kids drink, smoke, and use drugs, and one who declines is insulted and pressured. The movie’s themes include vigilante justice and there is a painful reference to suicide.

Families who see this movie should talk about how and why the characters reacted differently to the situations they faced. What is the right way to deal with a bully? Why do the kids have so little faith in the adult world to help them solve their problems? Be sure to notice all of the different tactics characters use to get others to do what they want — questioning everything from their loyalty and integrity to their manhood. They should also talk about the effect that a secret has on a group and the way it makes the power relationships shift. Instead of bringing them together, it pulls them apart. What do we learn from the cameras in the movie, including George’s camera and the one in the police station?

Families who appreciate this movie should also see The River’s Edge, Tex, Rumble Fish, The Outsiders, and Lord of the Flies.

The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2004

Another sweet lollipop of a movie, “Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement” picks up five years later than the first and, though missing some of the original’s spark and humor, it’s a pleasant romp for girls of all ages. It’s the movie equivalent of a sticker scrapbook filled with rainbows and unicorns — it features not only guaranteed girl-pleasers like a princess and a romance and very cool outfits plus manages to include a princess slumber party with Disney Channel favorite Raven.

Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) is no longer a shy teenager, but a polished young woman ready to follow in her deceased father’s footsteps as the heir to the throne of Genovia, a fictional country perpetually sparkling in late afternoon sunshine. Having finished college with a degree in foreign affairs, she still dreams of a “foot-popping” kiss (a kiss so good that it makes your foot pop up) but between her studies and her friends she has not quite gotten around to relationships.

Mia and her exquisitely regal grandmother, Queen Clarisse (Julie Andrews) have developed a deep understanding and respect for one another, and the Queen believes it is time for Mia to replace her on the throne. Their plans are hampered, however, when the scheming Viscount Mabrey (John Rhys-Davies) pushes Parliament to enforce an old law that requires that a princess be married before she can become a queen, as he positions his own nephew — Mia’s distant relative — to become king. The result is that Princess Mia has thirty days to find a husband, to win over Genovia, and to learn how to be queen.

Within a week she is engaged to a sweet and slightly klutzy English duke, Andrew (Callum Blue), an honorable, accomplished, and thoughtful man who does not make her foot pop. And she has developed an “I detest you” type bickering attraction to Viscount Mabrey’s young nephew, Lord Nicholas (Chris Pine). While capturing headlines with her gaffes, Mia wins over hearts with her goodness and down-to-earth caring. Best friend Lily (Heather Matarazzo), returns to help her gain her stride and to give Mia a piece of normality in the decidedly unreal palace life.

Like many sequels, “Royal Engagement” loses some of the flavor of the first by trying too hard not to change anything in the winning formula while telling a different story. The fantasy of being a princess is not the same as that of being a queen. This make-over is more subtle than taming hair and wearing make up. Mia must establish a connection to the people of Genovia, while maturing and calibrating her own moral compass. The love story is stilted and missing some the quirky subtlety Hathaway showed in Ella Enchanted. Finally, there is a distracting deluge of under-written and overblown characters who labor too hard to keep the movie light, from the ladies’ maids to the young guardsman bellowing out orders while wooing Lily.

The scenes between Hathaway and Andrews are lovely, though, as the two are complementary souls. Grandmother Clarisse shelters Mia under the umbrella of her poise and dignity, while Mia reawakens the Queen’s sense of impish fun. With Andrews singing — albeit briefly and all in her lower register -— for the first time in years, the sleep-over scene alone is worth the price of admission.

Parents should know that there are scenes of social embarrassment and manipulation. Also, there are several kisses in this movie, including a couple of the foot-popping variety. An innocent night out that lasts until morning when the couple falls asleep (fully clothed) under the trees is portrayed in the media as scandalous. There is a brief reference to a gay character. Mia does discuss with her grandmother arranged marriages as a means to secure the throne, and there are revelations both about loveless marriages and marriage-less loves.

Families who watch this movie might wish to discuss how one’s duty to oneself might conflict with another duty, for example, when Nicholas acts in such a way as to secure the best outcome for Genovia, in his view, but he does not act honorably. Also, they might want to discuss how perspectives on a tradition change for the better or worse. Finally, they might want to talk about the different relationships in the movie and what Mia might do in the months that follow the movie’s end.

Fans of this movie should see The Princess Diaries right now if they haven’t already.

A little Princess is a sweet movie based on the classic book, aimed at the younger viewers and picking up the theme of finding one’s inner princess. Call me Madam is a fun movie with great music that involves an unpolished American taking on a delicate role in diplomatic circles beyond her ken. Mature teens and adults will enjoy watching another young lady struggle deciding between a suitable marriage and one inspired by love in the classic A Room with a View. Families might want to talk a bit about the influence of Nicolas Machiavelli, who encouraged royalty to use deceit to maintain control.

Yu-Gi-Oh!

posted by rkumar
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2004

When a movie begins by telling you that “Eternity does not last forever,” it is clear that no one behind it is paying much attention to whether the script makes sense, so you’d better not worry about it, either.

Oh, well, it’s less a movie than an infomercial, anyway. As in the television show, this is the story of champion card-player Yugi, who can access the power of an ancient pharaoh to help him triumph over all who challenge him. His perennial nemesis is wealthy Kaiba, who does not realize that his spirit has been captured by the spirit of the pharaoh’s evil enemy, Anubis. Five thousand years ago, the pharaoh vanquished Anubis for what he thought was eternity. But eternity…you know the rest.

The static visuals get tiresome quickly, and the characters are confusing to those not already familiar with them from television. The dialogue consists of a lot of boasts and threats like, “Soon worms wll feast on your flesh as they feasted on mine!” “Meet your Doom!” and “Allow me to introduce infinite power!” with a couple of crude jokes like, “I smell trouble!” “Actually, that’s me. Sorry about that.”

As with Pokemon, anyone who has ever seen the TV series, played the game, or bought the cards knows what to expect here. Every generation of children has some hideously annoying cartoon series to provide parents with much agonizing and many, many buying opportunities. The characters usually undergo some transformation or make use of a secret to attain power. This theme is endlessly interesting to kids who can feel overwhelmed by a world built on a scale that is often too large for them.

Kids, especially those ages 6-10, also love to memorize and sort endless facts, whether about Pokemons, dinosaurs, cars, or Beanie Babies. It gives them a sense of mastery, especially because they can do so much better than adults. And it becomes an important part of their social development, creating a shared language with their friends. This can be particularly meaningful for kids who are insecure about talking to other children. So, parents may decide that the movie’s benefits as a sort of training wheels for social interaction and a sense of mastery outweigh its shortcomings as a movie. Nevertheless, non-fans will conclude that eternity may not last forever, but this movie feels like it does.

Parents should know that the movie has a lot of cartoon violence, meaning that some scary-looking creatures face off against each other, including monsters and decaying mummies. There are a lot of meaningful glares and lightning-type bolts shooting out between the characters but even those who are defeated and seem to evaporate turn out not to be gone for good. Human characters are in peril, too, and sometimes seem to be hurt, but again it is only temporary and there are no serious or graphic injuries. One girl character is loyal and brave but when the creatures attack, she is the only one who cries and is incapable of fighting back. There is some mild schoolyard language like “blow chunks” and many threats, insults, and boasts. A somewhat decadent character refers to wine spritzers and is so effete that some viewers may wonder if he is supposed to be a stereotyped gay man.

Families who see this movie should talk about the characters’ view that there is nothing more powerful than friendship. They might also enjoy looking for the movie’s many references to other movies, including On the Waterfront, The Godfather, and The Wizard of Oz.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Pokemon. They might like to find out more about Anubis and some of the other inspirations for Yu-Gi-Oh characters. And they might like to try to find the original Japanese films, which have more texture and depth than the dubbed and cut down American television versions.

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi

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

There is a tap-dancing scene in the samurai film, “Zatoichi”.

For fans of the genre, using the words “samurai” and “tap-dancing” in the same sentence should capture both the eye and the quintessential weirdness that can be Japanese cinema for US audiences. But if tap-dancing is not enough to register a raised eyebrow, then perhaps the cross-dressing geisha, not to mention the theme of transvestism in feudal Japan, will do the trick.

Let’s back up here. Introduced in the early 1960’s, Zatoichi (pronounced “zah-toe-EACH-ee”) is now an archetypal character in Japanese film, inspiring over 30 movies and counting, as well as numerous television shows. Ichi (at times with the titular prefix, “Zato”, as one would say “Mr. Ichi”) is a blind masseuse ambling from town to town until some injustice or threat cause him to reveal his incomparable swordplay and samurai-styled sense of honor. Typically positioned in feudal Japan, the movies pit Ichi against gangsters, bandits, ronin (samurai with no master), and others who would do village people harm. The first movies turned star, Shintaro Katsu, into one of the most famous actors in Japan, and the director, Kenji Misumi (who went on to direct the famous “Lone Wolf and Cub” movies in the 1970’s), into an icon.

This time around, Ichi (Takeshi Kitano) wanders into a town under the sway of rival gangsters, just as a talented, young ronin and two justice-seeking geishas tip the balance of one gang’s power and paranoia. The result is bloody, with skirmish after skirmish leading to the final fights, when the formerly ambivalent Ichi is drawn into the fray.

Takeshi Kitano, both as director and actor in the character of Ichi, seems to be blending more modern influences with the older themes. While revenge is the common driver of most movies in this style, it is rare that a director will dwell on the psychological impact of the violence that inspires the revenge. In this case, a young boy is driven to prostitute himself (implicit, off-screen) to provide for himself and his sister when their parents are killed by gangsters. The movie’s pervasive blood gushing is done with computer animation, which lends a strangely toned hue to the many fight scenes. Kitano, like über-modern director Lars van Trier, has Ichi hearing the music of the sounds around him, in a similarly somber manner to Bjork’s character in “Dancer in the Dark” (2000, mature themes). Finally, Ichi sports blond hair and blue eyes in what could be an odd homage to Rutger Hauer –a favored actor in Japan—who played a Zatoichi-inspired character in the mediocre “Blind Fury” (1990).

It is said that Kitano, famed for his violent, modern films including Fireworks took on this project, his first period piece, reluctantly at the bequest and financial backing of an old friend of Shintaro Katsu. However Kitano came to film Zatoichi, fans of the samurai swordplay genre will welcome his style although it is far from traditional.

Parents should be aware that many people die in this movie and never by natural causes. Characters are harassed, beaten, and killed, which in turn motivates more deaths. Children are orphaned by thieves, leaving them to fend for themselves through servitude and then prostitution. Addiction to gambling threatens the livelihood of one character, while the lives of all characters are threatened by the gangsters that rule the town. One character commits suicide to prevent a loved one from having to act dishonorably. A male character prefers to dress as a woman.

Families may wish to discuss the appeal of a character like Ichi, whose inability to see makes him a symbol of justice and of power cloaked in a façade of powerlessness. What might explain the enduring popularity of this character?

Profit, power and revenge are the motivating factors for the deaths in this movie. How are the ronin and masseuse different from the gangsters?

Families who enjoy this movie might be interested in the original Zatoichi movies of the 1960’s, starring Shintaro Katsu, including Zatoichi Challenged, which also includes a musical number. For those who are adverse to subtitles, Blind Fury was a very derivative, American adaptation featuring Rutger Hauer. More recently, memorable samurai-styled swordplay in American cinema can be found in Volumes 1 and 2 of Kill Bill as well as in Blade, both with very mature themes.

The theme of overcoming physical challenges to become a famous warrior has been the source of a number of Asian fight movies, including ‘kung-fu’ flicks like Crippled Avengers/Mortal Combat (1978) and Master of the Flying Guillotine (1975).

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