Movie Mom

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The November Man
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use
Release Date:
August 27, 2014

 

Adventure Planet
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:

If I Stay
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

 

Blended
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and language.
Release Date:
May 23, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

 

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some scary images and mild peril
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

Seabiscuit

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2003

There is a reason that good movies about sports, almost always about an underdog who overcomes obstacles to succeed, appeal to us in such a visceral fashion. Americans fiercely love athletic heroes because we want to believe that the difference really is in something beyond the physical, that it exists in a big heart and scrappy soul. “Seabiscuit” brings every evocative notion of the underdog out of the stable in turn but manages to make a movie with familiar themes seem as handsome as a thoroughbred, albeit one that has trouble in the homestretch.

Based on Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book of the same name, “Seabiscuit” depicts the equine celebrity who came to fame as the too-small, ill-tempered horse who never should have won yet somehow managed to defeat the greatest racehorses of his day. The film places his popularity squarely in the context of the times, tying each race that he won (and indeed those that he lost) to the ability of the working folks of the day to survive the Great Depression and to believe in second chances.

The first hour of the movie is spent painting the background and laying the course for its four main characters as they converge on their rightful roles as talented jockey, proud owner, wise trainer, and superstar racehorse respectively. “Red” Pollard (Tobey Maguire looking appropriately wan and underfed) is the too-tall jockey whose family -– made destitute during the early days of the Great Depression -— gives him to a horse racer who will give him his livelihood by putting him up on his horses. Pollard, full of rage and rapidly becoming too tall for a jockey, picks up any ride he can and prizefights to survive.

Charles Howard (a jowly Jeff Bridges) is the bicycle salesman turned successful car dealer realizing the American Dream in the great new markets of the West Coast. When his young son dies in an accident and his wife leaves in despair, he wanders over the border and meets the understanding Marcela (Elizabeth Banks, in a quiet role as supporter) who gets him riding again and re-engages him in life. With his new wife and desire to own racehorses, Howard seeks out a trainer with a good heart and an understanding of horses, whom he finds in the taciturn, itinerant cowhand, Tom Smith (the ever-mesmerizing Chris Cooper).

Smith tames and heals horses while introducing Howard to the movie’s leitmotif: “you don’t throw a life away just because it’s a little banged up.” Smith finds Howard his racehorse when he sees fifteen-hands of angry outcast, Seabiscuit, who has spent the last years losing schooling races to other horses to build up their confidence. On seeing the rearing and biting misfit, most jockeys flee from the scene. However, in a nice shot juxtaposing the antisocial Seabiscuit and the angry Pollard, Smith finds his jockey and the team of people who need — and believe in — second chances is complete.

The remaining hour and a half of the movie is pure action with Seabiscuit racing and winning over fans while Howard makes his horse into the four-legged hero of the working class. The captivating match race between Triple Crown winner, War Admiral, and the little horse from the West, Seabiscuit, is the apex of the action, painted in Rocky-like shades of good vs. evil. War Admiral’s owner, Samuel Riddle (an even more jowly Eddie Jones), provides the perfect foil as the East Coast plutocrat who believes that breeding is all that matters and who has contempt for the little-horse-that-could and everything he represents.

Even after the sound victory of the little Biscuit over the big Admiral, there are still obstacles to be overcome, especially the symbiotic recovery of both Pollard and Seabiscuit from disastrous leg injuries. The earnestness of the second half of the movie is broken by the sly wit of Smith and the delightfully funny diatribes by racing announcer “Tick Tock” McGoughlin (William H. Macy, as on point as ever). Real-life champion jockey Gary Stevens adds a great deal of class and heart as jockey George Woolf. The narration by historian David Mccullough may seem unnecssary to those over 30, but will provide context and background for those who are not sure what the Depression was.

Director Gary Ross does a yeoman’s job of trying to capture varied themes in one film. If anything, the themes are kept on such tight reins and are demonstrated to the audience so often that some will find their repetition heavy-handed. Some audiences might find the parts of the movie slow going and the solemn, documentary-styled narration of PBS’s own David McCullough a bit on the heavy side. Finally, it is a minor quibble but Maguire sits too heavy in the saddle to be mistaken for a real jockey.

“Seabiscuit” has all the tension, movement and excitement audiences expect from summer flicks, but it has the added bonus of strong acting, which in the summer is often replaced by computer animation or exploding cars. It is far from perfect, but it offers good, solid, heartwarming entertainment.

Parents should know that Red’s parents are forced by their reduced circumstances to give him to someone who owns a stable and who offers to put Red up as a jockey. His parents’ unexpected abandonment scars him and might frighten younger viewers who, like Red, do not understand why his parents would leave him. There is an off-screen car crash which takes the life of Charles’ young son, followed by shock and mourning. Minority characters appear only in small supporting roles.

Red tries to make some money by amateur boxing, which proves to be a bloody and dangerous pursuit. Parents of small children will not want them to see the fights as Red sustains significant injuries and the crowd watching the fight seems quite menacing. There is another sports related injury which features Red (whose recuperative abilities are put to the test in this movie) resulting in a mangled leg. While not bloody, it is unquestionably a horrible injury to contemplate.

There are references to drinking during the Prohibition, and the radio announcer drinks quite a bit. The jockeys frequent a brothel in Mexico, where there is a scene of implied sexuality between Red and one of the ladies there.

Families who see this movie should talk about the way each of the characters react to loss — Charles with isolation and reflection, Tom with pragmatism, and Red with anger — and how these reactions might be strengths or weaknesses or both. they should also talk about how each of the characters (including Seabiscuit) transforms the others. Each member of the family should ask, “Whose life can I change?” Families should also talk about what Charles means when he says that someone who does not know he is small can sometimes do something big.

Families who enjoy this film might enjoy The Black Stallion, a magical and lovely movie based on Walter Farley’s book, which is accessible by younger audiences. Those who enjoy Ross’s style, should see his earlier work Pleasantville, also starring noteworthy performances from William H. Macy and Tobey Maguire in much different roles. They also might enjoy movies Ross wrote, especially the political version of the old prince and the pauper switch in Dave and the charming Big (both with some mature material) from the days before Tom Hanks was crowned with Oscars. They might also like to try to find the old Shirley Temple movie The Story of Seabiscuit, starring the Seabiscuit’s own son in the title role.

I Capture the Castle

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2003

If Jane Austen’s protagonists lived in a world of embroidered silk, spinning graceful webs to catch spouses in a rigid system of behavior and class, then the heroines of “I Capture the Castle” inhabit a place as charmingly eccentric as their green-dyed dresses, finding love with humor and idiosyncratic flair. This movie is a lovely coming-of-age story as rough as ripped stockings and possessing all the charm of an eccentric tea cozy. While some of the characters are thinly acted and fans of the book will feel this adaptation is wanting, the film succeeds overall due to its engaging narrator.

The movie closely follows Dodie Smith’s book, which was first released in 1948, but which takes place in 1936 during the hopeful pause between two wars. [On a side note, savvy readers might recognize Smith as the author of 101 Dalmatians.] “I Capture the Castle” was unavailable to American audiences for decades during which time old copies circulated widely with its popularity driven by word of mouth alone. Bouncing back and forth over the hurdle of maturity, the delightful Cassandra Mortain is the 17-year-old diarist who takes it upon herself to describe in endearing detail her family, their decreasingly genteel poverty, their brushes with love and, of course, their rented castle.

Cassandra (played superbly by Romola Garai) neatly transcribes the very unromantic aspects of living in a decrepit castle with not enough to eat. Distracted and caustic, her father James Mortmain (Bill Nighy), is the author of a brilliant book twelve years before who cannot find a way to start writing again but instead locks himself away to read murder mysteries while the family protects him by selling off the furniture. Cassandra’s stepmother is the practical but ethereal and free-spirited Topaz (Tara FitzGerald, clearly enjoying herself) who believes her gift is to be a muse and who routinely takes herself out of her cares by going naked into the night.

While Mortmain locks himself in the castle’s equivalent of the attic, the men of the house are younger brother Thomas (Joe Sowerbutts), who is still in school and the loyal Stephen (Henry Cavill) who remains as a servant although he has not been paid in years. Cassandra’s beautiful and ambitious older sister, Rose (Rose Byrne) was weaned on the stories of Jane Austen/the Bronte sisters and longs to escape to a world of peach colored towels and silk stockings by marrying money, which seems a highly unlikely prospect until the property’s new owners arrive.

Once the two American grandsons of the castle’s owner come back to inherit the place and its much grander neighbor, Scoatney Hall, the Mortmain family are turned upside down as the sisters fall for the brothers in a scramble, in Rose’s case, tainted by the allure of wealth. Older brother Simon (E.T.’s protagonist grown older and weedier, Henry Thomas) and Anglophobic Neil (Buffy the Vampire Slayers’ ex-boyfriend, Marc Blucas) discover the Mortmains with a mixture of awe and fear, but are quickly enamored of their quirky charms. This story does not have any “brick wall happy” endings but it is a fresh reminder of the tart taste of first love and the disarming sweetness of becoming an adult.

For those who have read the book the two-dimensionality and casting of supporting characters likely will be a disappointment. This factor is especially true for Neil, who looses his humor and gentleness in the translation to celluloid; for Thomas (Rose and Cassandra’s brother) who has become younger, less interesting and Harry Potter-esque in his looks although not his charm; and, for the much anthropomorphized pets Abelard and Heloise. The movie is still too book-bound and static, losing the subtlety of the words on the page without using film to fill it in.

Parents should know that there are mature themes to this coming of age movie. One character clearly intends to marry for money and lies about her motives. Extramarital affairs are implied in several situations. Two characters, Topaz in particular, “embrace the elements” by being nude in nature as a way of relaxing. The scenes where Mortmain loses his temper might be frightening to younger viewers, especially when he turns his anger towards his daughter.

Families might wish to discuss the issues of gender and class as they are depicted in the movie. What is Stephen’s role in the family? Why does Cassandra’s father tell her to be “brisk” with Stephen? What do the different women see as their role, and why do at least two of them seem to want to inspire art rather than create it? Why might someone in Rose’s position feel that her only option to succeed in life would be to marry someone wealthy? What would you have done if you were living in the castle in those times under those circumstances? Think about what actions Cassandra make that can be described as more “mature” and others that are more “childish;” what are the differences?

In the book, Smith makes frequent allusions to Austen/Bronte and how they influenced the Mortmain sisters. Families might enjoy discussing the differences and similarities between the Jane Austen protagonists of the early 1800’s and the Mortmain sisters in 1936.

For families who enjoyed this movie, Cold Comfort Farm is another tongue-in-cheek look at the pull of a rural English family from the thrall of the Austen Era into the “Modern Times” of the 1930’s. Also, families might be interested in seeing Gosford Park, an extremely well acted mystery with themes for more mature teens. The book “I Capture the Castle” is also a treat.

Gigli

posted by rkumar
D
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2003

This misbegotten mess is less a movie than a string of over-the-top audition monologues, those random set-pieces designed to show off an actor’s facility with language and attitude. Those can be entertaining in their own way, but they do not have anything to do with creating a character or telling a story, just two of the many movie-making essentials that are missing in “Gigli.”

Ben Affleck plays Larry Gigli (pronounced to rhyme with “really”), a small-time enforcer for a small-time hood named Louis. Larry’s latest assignment is to kidnap a retarded young man named Brian (Justin Bartha) to help Louis and his colleagues apply some pressure to Brian’s brother. So Larry picks up Brian and brings him back to his apartment.

A beautiful woman (Jennifer Lopez) who says her name is Ricki tells Larry that she has also been hired by Louis to make sure he does not mess up the job. Larry’s macho ego is affronted, but he is attracted to Ricki, even after she tells him she is gay.

A lot of bickering and bantering later, much of it involving mind-numbing debates over who is the boss and straight vs. gay sex, plus encounters with the mother of one and the ex-lover of the other, Larry and Ricki have to decide whether they are willing to hurt or kill Brian and that leads them to think differently about themselves and each other.

The movie has the traditional odd couple structure — friction, the chance to prove themselves to one another, mutual epiphinies, and finally, respect and affection. But it never finds any tone or direction or believable connection between the characters.

Larry is a one-dimensional dim but macho guy. Ricki is a one-dimensional fantasy figure. Their bickering has no spark, and the evolution of their relationship is not grounded in any way because they are not really characters, just attributes and attitude, with no internal consistency. Larry is devoted to his mother in one scene, but seems to have no thought about abandoning her in another.

The narrative is choppy. It was probably recut following test screenings, but the effect is to make the events unconnected to each other, without any direction or momentum. Let me also point out that in addition to the overdone odd couple plot device, the movie includes several elements from the “should never be in another movie” list, including a vocabulary-building hood and a noble disabled person whose disability shifts according to the requirements of each scene and who transforms the lives of the supposedly normal people around him.

Meanwhile, somewhere in there Christopher Walken (as a cop) and Al Pacino (as a crime boss) drop by for the showy audition-monologue-style scenes that have some verve but add nothing to the plot, tone, or themes of the movie. So does Lainie Kazan, in yet another ethnic earth-mother role, (we really did not need to see her thong underwear — another thing that should be on the “never in another movie list”). Indeed, there really is nothing that could be called plot, tone, or theme in this movie. For a brief, mad, moment I had a flicker of a thought that the mundane inanity of the sordid and petty imperatives imposed on Larry and Ricki might be some Samuel Beckett-style commentary on the existential void. Then I realized that watching the movie put me closer to the existential void than they ever were, and that Godot would arrive long before this movie went anywhere.

It’s not the worst movie ever. It’s not even the worst movie of the year. And it’s not as bad as the Jen/Ben backlash want it to be. But it is not a good movie, and it is a terrible waste of talent.

Parents should know that this movie has graphic violence, non-stop profanity, and extremely explicit sexual references and situations. A character attempts suicide and then disappears from the story. In a better movie, the fact that the most capable and intelligent character is a bi-sexual Hispanic woman would be more worthwhile. Bartha’s portrayal of Brian is probably the most natural and authentic of the movie, but the character of the retarded man is the stereotypical noble disabled person and really no more than a prop for the other characters to react to.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Brian made Larry and Ricki feel differently about their choice of careers. What did it mean when Ricki finally told Larry her real name? What do you think of Sun Tzu’s view that in a a conflict, “angry is a statistically stupid move?” Have you ever used anger to mask sadness? What do you think about the advice to do the thing you’re most afraid of?

Families who like this movie will like director Martin Brest’s much better odd couple movie Midnight Run, starring Robert de Niro and Charles Grodin as a bounty hunter and his bail-jumping captive. They might also enjoy Prizzi’s Honor, about another odd-couple romance of two professional hitmen (I guess a hit-man and a hit-woman) and the quirky Welcome to Collinwood, about a ragtag group of small-time crooks with the dream of just one big-time heist. Rain Man, referred to in this movie, is an Oscar-winning story about a man who meets up with his autistic brother. And in Chasing Amy (for the most mature audiences only), Ben Affleck again plays a heterosexual man in love with a gay woman.

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:2003

This movie has a better plot, better characters, and better acting than the first one, but let’s be honest about it — no one is going to see this movie for the plot, characters, and acting. The audience for this movie wants to see the movie version of the popular computer game, with Angelina Jolie in very tight clothes decking, kicking, and shooting as many bad guys as possible. All of that is there, and the distractions of plot, character, and acting barely get in the way.

Jolie plays Lady Lara Croft, archeologist/adventurer. Off the coast of San Torini, she discovers an ancient sunken library. Just as she reaches for a glowing yellow orb, the bad guys arrive. When a shot fired by one of them grazes Lara, the blood attracts a shark. Lara punches the shark in the nose and hops on board to ride it back up to the surface of the ocean. That’s the kind of movie this is.

It turns out that the orb is a map to Pandora’s Box. In the myth, Pandora was a curious woman who could not resist opening the box she was told must stay closed. Inside was all the trouble in the world. This Pandora’s Box contains virulent biological agents that will unleash a plague on the world. Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds), a former Nobel Prize winner turned international dealer in biological weapons, wants what’s in the box and Lara, at the request of the Queen, wants to stop him.

In order to do that, she has to get Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler), her one-time love-turned mercenary, out of prison. Together, they go after Reiss and the orb in exotic locations, with exotic equipment and modes of transportation, all over the world.

Director Jan de Bont (“Twister,” “Speed”) knows how to stage action, and there are some genuine thrills, especially when Lara and Terry don flying suits that have them soaring through the air like Rocky the Flying Squirrel. Jolie is always fun to watch. But the computer-game origins of the movie are replicated in the staged level-style series of action sequences, and that removes any narrative momentum.

Parents should know that the movie has a lot of violence and peril, some very graphic. Characters are hurt and killed. There are a couple of bad words, and some passionate kisses and sexual references.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Lara decides what is important to her.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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