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Lucy
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R For strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality
Release Date:
July 25, 2014

 

Heaven is for Real
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic material including some medical situations
Release Date:
April 16, 2014

And So It Goes
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and drug elements
Release Date:
July 25, 2014

 

Sabotage
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R For strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use
Release Date:
March 28, 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

 

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

Nicholas Nickleby

posted by rkumar
A+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:2002

Screenwriter/director Douglas McGrath has produced a respectful condensation of Charles Dickens’s rich and sprawling novel of the young sister and brother who find memorable friends and foes when they venture to London for the first time after the death of their father.

This is the story that the Royal Shakespeare Company turned into a stunning almost-word-for-word 9-hour version starring Roger Rees. There is no way that any two-hour version could compare with one of the most unforgettable theatrical experiences of the last century, and it does not try. McGrath has focused on the heart (in both senses of the word) of Dickens’ story, the struggle by Nicholas against his uncle’s attempts to corrupt or destroy him. Although he has had to jettison many colorful characters and huge sections of the story, his skillful paring preserves the essence of the novel’s tone and themes and the result is thoroughly satisfying on its own terms.

Nicholas (Charles Hunnam) and his sister Kate (Romola Garai) grow up in a small house in the country, the devoted children of devoted parents. But their father speculates unwisely in an attempt to follow the example of his successful brother. When he dies, the family must go to the brother for help. The brother is Ralph Nickleby, who lives in a huge house filled with a collection of stuffed and mounted animals that seem to be poised to pounce on anyone who is careless enough to look away.

Nicholas and Kate take the jobs Ralph procures for them. They are so kind themselves that they do not realize that he sees them the way he would see a shilling – only worth his time if he can use them to his advantage. He sends Nicholas off to become a teacher at a boys’ school in Yorkshire and he sends Kate off to work for a dressmaker.

The school is run by Wackford Squeers (Jim Broadbent) and his wife (Juliette Stevenson). They starve and beat the boys and steal the money and gifts sent to them by their families. One particular boy, known only as Smike (Jamie Bell of “Billy Elliot”), is the most severely abused, because he has no family.

Nicholas does the best he can to teach and befriend the boys, but his gentle upbringing has not prepared him to take on such unabashed cruelty. When he spurns the advances of the Squeers’ daughter, her parents decide the best way to hurt Nicholas is to abuse Smike. Nicholas, unable to bear seeing Smike beaten again, thrashes Squeers and he and Smike escape.

On their way back to London, they meet up with literature’s most irresistible troupe of actors, the company established by the spectacularly theatrical Vincent Crummles (Nathan Lane) and his wife (Barry Humphries of “Dame Edna Everage” fame). Their special attractions include their daughter — a perpetual juvenile of indeterminate age billed as “the Infant Phenomenon,” and a real working pump that he tries to work into every production just because it is such a novelty to see on stage. They welcome Nicholas and Smike warmly and invite them to join them in their production of “Romeo and Juliet.”

Nicholas and Smike are very happy there until they get a letter from Kate. Ralph has allowed his unsavory business associates to treat her disrespectfully. Like Nicholas, she does not have enough experience of the world to abandon her natural gentility and the circumstances and conventions of her culture and era give a woman without the protection of a man few options in responding to abuse.

Nicholas returns to London with Smike and denounces his uncle, who swears he will get revenge. With the help of the kind and generous Cherryble brothers and a few melodramatic revelations, Nicholas and Kate manage to find true love and happiness.

Dickens books lend themselves beautifully to film. He created strong, very distinctive characters, gorgeous dialogue (the movie is worth seeing just for the way Lane delivers Crummles’ speeches), and wonderfully dramatic stories with all the audience-pleasers Vincent Crummles would love to put on for an audience – dastardly villains, true-hearted heroes, love, hate, revenge, comedy, tragedy — and a working pump. McGrath and his actors clearly view this as a labor of love, and every detail is beautifully realized, with one of the best ensemble performances of the year. The one exception is Hunnam as Nicholas. It is a challenge for any actor to play a good-guy hero whose job is to react to all of those vivid characters, but Hunnam never manages to show us anything of Nicholas’ growing depth and resolve.

Parents should know that the movie has child abuse, some tense and upsetting family scenes, and sad deaths. A character commits suicide and it is portrayed as a just response to a terrible revelation. There is a brief and somewhat graphic childbirth scene with a nude baby.

Families who see this movie should talk about how parents can both protect their children and prepare them for a world in which not everyone will be as kind to them as their families are.

Families who enjoy this movie should see McGrath’s similarly meticulous version of Jane Austen’s “Emma,” starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam. They should also see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 9-hour version, a magnificent achievement, and they might want to see some of the many other movie versions of Dickens’ books, including “A Christmas Carol,” “Great Expectations,” and “David Copperfield.”

Two Weeks Notice

posted by rkumar
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2002

For many of us, romantic comedies are like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, providing comfort food and simple consistency in a messy world. We relax and enjoy the familiar experience, knowing that there will be no discomforting surprises or soul-searching involved. This simple fare can be especially welcome during the frenetic holiday seasons, so if you like the taste of romantic comedies, then “Two Weeks Notice” might just be the meal for you.

Let’s be clear from the start, “Two Weeks Notice” is not a great romantic comedy. There are no real sparks between leads Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant, some of the humor you can foresee (and start wincing at) long before it arrives, and, if you have seen the preview, you have a pretty good sense of where the movie is going.

From the moment the opening credits roll –complete with childhood snapshots of the lead characters and the Counting Crows’ neutral cover of Joni Mitchell’s classic “Big Yellow Taxi”—we know we are in familiar territory. All that remains to be seen is who Cupid’s lucky victims will be this time and what odd turns of fate will keep them apart until the credits roll again.

Enter stage left Lucy Kelson (Sandra Bullock), who in the first scene is bailed out of jail by her approving parents (Dana Ivey and Robert Klein) for protesting the demolition of an old theater. Clever us, we know that she is the good-hearted liberal cause girl in the sensible shoes. A proud denizen of Brooklyn, Lucy is a bright legal aide, fighting the just fight and protesting demolitions in her spare time. Her fight is about to take her up against the Wade Corporation.

Enter stage right George Wade (Hugh Grant), who is the “face” of the Wade Corporation, working in tandem with the “brain”, his financially savvy but less attractive brother, Howard (David Haig). George is immensely wealthy, self-absorbed and oblivious. Challenged by Howard to find a Chief Counsel with more upstairs, womanizing George sets off to hire a genuine Harvard Law graduate. Guess who he finds?

Lucy dedicates herself 110% to her job, which, as the months go by, she comes to realize is 109% more than what she needs to do to fulfill her role as a glorified baby-sitter to her pleasure-seeking ward. It is when Lucy decides to quit and George begins questioning a life without Lucy that the “romantic” part of “romantic comedy” is supposed to appear.

Where the comedy of this movie is consistently strong, it is the romance that is even less believable than the embarrassing baseball game and the unnecessary bathroom scene in the recreational vehicle. Neither Lucy nor George seem entirely human, with their simple characters writ large but they have a lovely ability to laugh at and with one another, so perhaps those romantic sparks are not really necessary. After all and caveats aside, none of the movies shortcomings will really matter to those with a craving for something sweet and light.

Parents should know that this movie has a brief scene of potty humor, in addition to references to casual relationships and infidelity. Two of the characters participate in a non-explicit game of strip chess. A woman’s head gets stuck on a man’s pants in a suggestive way.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Lucy and George are molded by their families’ (very different) expectations. Lucy says that she will never live up to her mother’s expectations, how does this drive her behavior? Why does George say that it is worse when one’s family has no expectations at all? How do the characters change as they are influenced by one another? Are these changes always for the good?

Families who enjoyed this film might consider watching other light comedies with Hugh Grant or Sandra Bullock such as “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, “Notting Hill”, and, “Miss Congeniality”. For those who want to laugh and watch sparks fly between leads, movies such as “His Gal Friday” and, more recently, “The Hudsucker Proxy” might appeal.

A Goofy Movie

posted by rkumar
A
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:1995

One of the great existential questions of childhood, memorably explored in “Stand By Me,” is “If Mickey is a mouse, and Pluto is a dog, what is Goofy?” Goofy may be in a class (and genus) of his own, as we see in this thoroughly enjoyable film. At the center of the story is Max, struggling through the torturous insecurity and self-consciousness of adolescence. Like all teens, he is humiliated by his father’s goofiness. But the movie’s great joke is that in this case, his father is not just goofy, he is Goofy, the Goof of all Goofs, the Uber-Goof!

When a prank at school gets Max in trouble, Goofy decides that what Max needs is some quality time with his father. So he takes him on a fishing trip, not knowing that Max will have to miss his first date with his adored Roxanne, and that in order to get out of the date, Max has lied to Roxanne, telling her his father is taking him to a rock concert. It takes a while (and a run-in with Bigfoot) for Goofy and Max to start talking to each other instead of at each other. But they ultimately strengthen their connection and find a satisfying resolution. Free of the pressures that sometimes smother the big Disney releases, this movie has a refreshingly casual, even insouciant feel, with some sly humor (look fast for a glimpse of Elvis at a remote lunchcounter), even daring to poke fun at Disney itself. The teen characters are contemporary without the prepackaged feel of other Disney productions (like “The New Mickey Mouse Club”), and there are lively songs performed by by Tevin Campbell.

Although the material in this movie is certainly suitable for all ages, younger kids may be uncomfortable with the strain between Max and Goofy. It’s a shame that the G rating scared off the film’s optimal audience, the 10-14 age group. If you can persuade them to take a look, they will find much to enjoy and identify with, and, if parents and kids watch it together, it can inspire some good discussions about parent-child communication.

Far From Heaven

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2002

The 1950’s was a time of peace and plenty, but it was also a time of conformity. It was especially inconvenient to be female, gay, or black. In “Far From Heaven,” characters struggle with all three.

Writer/director Todd Haynes sets his story not in the world of the 1950’s but in the world of 1950’s movies. It is inspired by the films of Douglas Sirk, whose specialty was stories of women suffering nobly in fabulous clothes, accompanied by Chopin-inspired music on the soundtrack. Sirk, long dismissed as a maker of “women’s movies,” is having something of a renaissance this year. One of his films, “Imitation of Life,” is briefly glimpsed in “8 Mile,” as a character watches a scene about a black girl who is trying to pass as white. “Far From Heaven” is a tribute to Sirk’s “All that Heaven Allows,” in which widow Jane Wyman loses her heart to gardener Rock Hudson.

The world of Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) seems perfect. She lives in a suburban home with her husband and two children and they look like a slightly more stylish version of the family in the Dick and Jane readers. Her home is as immaculate, coordinated, and generic as a furniture showroom. She has gloves to match every outfit, every hair is perfectly curled and sprayed in place, and she wears an apron over her bouffant skirts. Her children call her “Mother” and mind their manners and her black maid wears a starchy apron and calls her ma’am. She spends her days caring for her family, organizing social events for her husband’s company and for the community, and talking to her friends, whose lives all seem exactly like hers. Everyone knows the rules and the rules seem to work.

But the Technicolor burnished leaves of the trees in autumn are about to fall on Cathy’s neatly manicured lawn, signaling decay and, ultimately, renewal. Cathy’s husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) is struggling with his longing for other men and with the self-hatred it engenders. When he is picked up by the police, Cathy believes his story that it was a mistake. But then she decides to bring him dinner when he is working late one night and discovers him kissing another man.

Frank goes to a doctor who is, well, frank about the likelihood of a “cure.” And just as Frank needs an honest relationship, Cathy does, too. She begins to feel drawn to Raymond (Dennis Haysbert), her gardener, who is black. Like the character who inspired him, the gardener played by Rock Hudson in Sirk’s “All That Heaven Allows,” Raymond symbolizes the natural man in an artificial world, and Haysbert (currently seen as the President in television’s “24”) plays him with dignity, warmth, and a subtle magnetism that shows us how Cathy can feel safe enough to allow herself to be drawn to him.

Moore and Quaid, too, give performances of breathtaking sensitivity and courage. But it is not clear whether the movie is set in the 1950’s as a way to show us what Sirk could only hint at about that era or whether it is an attempt to say something about our own. It is tempting to distance ourselves from the problems faced by the people in this movie. They have no context or vocabulary to talk about the disconnect between what they feel and what they are expected to feel. Though the point of view of the movie is sympathetic, it feels distant. While Sirk’s movies can still move me to tears, this movie did not. The meticulous re-creation of the movies of the era, down to the style of the credits and the music by the legendary Elmer Bernstein, feels more elegiac than immediate, more admirable than involving.

Parents should know that the movie deals with mature issues, including bigotry, homosexuality, and adultery. Characters make comments that are anti-Semitic and racist remark. Characters drink and smoke. Frank gets drunk in an attempt to numb the pain he feels about not being true to himself.

Families should talk about why the story is set in the 1950’s and about what has changed. Younger family members may want to know more about the older members’ recollections of that era. Did Raymond and Frank make different choices when it came to what was best for their children? What do those children think about what is going on around them? How will film-makers 50 years from now see today’s movies and what will they pick to pay tribute to?

Families who enjoy this movie should compare it to some of Sirk’s classics, like “All that Heaven Allows,” “The Magnificent Obsession,” and “Imitation of Life.” They might also like some of the other films of that era like “The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit,” “Strangers When We Meet,” and “A Summer Place.”

Previous Posts

Lucy
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posted 6:00:51pm Jul. 24, 2014 | read full post »

And So It Goes
A second marriage is, as Samuel Johnson famously said, "The triumph of hope over experience." And as lyricist Sammy Cahn wrote in the song Bing Crosby sang in "H

posted 6:00:13pm Jul. 24, 2014 | read full post »

The Memory Book -- This Saturday on the Hallmark Channel
A budding, young photographer stumbles upon an old photo album chronicling the ideal romance of a happy couple. Intrigued by their love and unable to find her own “true love,” she sets out to find the couple and figure out if true love really exists.  The film stars Meghan Ory (“Once Upon a T

posted 8:00:57am Jul. 24, 2014 | read full post »

Interview: Michael Rossato-Bennett of "Alive Inside"
Michael Rossato-Bennett agreed to spend one day filming Dan Cohen's remarkable music therapy work with people struggling with dementia. He ended up spending three years there and the result is "Alive Inside," an extraordinary documentary about the power of music to reach the human spirit, even when

posted 3:58:01pm Jul. 23, 2014 | read full post »

Movies' Greatest Mirror Scenes
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posted 8:00:51am Jul. 23, 2014 | read full post »


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