Movie Mom

Movie Mom

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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

Girl with a Pearl Earring

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

A portrait by Johannes Vermeer inspired a best-selling novel by Tracy Chevalier, who imagined the relationship between the artist and his subject, not as a Shakespeare in Love-style romance but as a commentary on artistic imperatives and the creative process and the way we look at things. And power and money and sex.

Chevalier imagined that the girl in the painting was Griet (Scarlett Johansson), the daughter of a man who worked in the famous Delft tileworks until he was blinded in an accident. So she is hired out as a maid to the chaotic Vermeer household, where everything depends on the productivity of an artist who works very slowly and the whims of a patron who may be more interested in the model than the paintings.

Griet barely speaks. She wears the nun-like head covering of the era that hides her hair. She does what she is told and keeps to herself. But she notices things. She knows that she should not wash the windows in Vermeer’s studio because it will change the look of the light he is trying to capture. She knows that a prop should be moved to improve the composition of the painting. Vermeer (Colin Firth), not a person of words either, responds to the way she responds to the art. He asks her to help him mix his paints. He shows her how he uses a camera obscura to capture the images.

Vermeer’s patron, Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), is drawn to Griet, too, but not for the way she responds but the way she does not respond. It is her reserve that captures his interest. And since his interest is vital to the survival of the Vermeer family, Vermeer’s steely mother-in-law (Judy Parfitt) will do anything she can to keep him happy.

The movie superbly captures the shadows and lights of Vermeer’s Delft. Johannson’s face is as complex and haunting as the portrait of the anonymous girl she portrays. She is a marvel of delicate expression. When she must lick her lovely full lips she tells us volumes about Griet’s conflicts and longings. When at last she removes her headdress and we see her hair it is almost unbearably intimate and erotic.

But the movie is less successful at addressing some of the issues it raises about the other members of the household, including the clashes of art and commerce, sex and power, master and servant, parent and child. Griet’s resolution of her situation is clumsily handled, almost an afterthought. Perhaps the ultimate clash is between book and movie. Vermeer himself would understand the way that the images overpower the ideas. At the end, after being teased and seduced, we are at last allowed to gaze on the famous portrait itself, still more fascinating and more complete than any attempt to build upon it.

Parents should know that the movie has sexual references and situations and powerful erotic images.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Griet makes the choices she does and how in real life the painting made centuries earlier inspired the imagination of a writer to come up with this story. They might also like to talk about how this movie demonstrates that subtle glimpses can have more emotional and erotic power than our over-saturated media culture might expect. How did the film-makers use light and shapes to help create the sense of the world of Vermeer’s paintings?

Mature audiences who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Shakespeare in Love. They might also like to see some of the other films about artists, including Lust for Life and Surviving Picasso.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

posted by rkumar
A+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2003

Take a moment to breathe a sigh of relief and satisfaction before this movie begins. You’re in good hands. And enjoy that breath because it may be your last for the next three hours.

One of the most ambitious projects in the history of film-making comes to a heart-poundingly thrilling conclusion in “Return of the King,” the last episode in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy directed by Peter Jackson.

The second installment opened in the middle of the action, but this one begins with a flashback. It’s not there to repeat anything we’ve seen before — there’s no time for that. This glimpse of the past is just to tell us something more about Gollum, the twisted, tortured creature who is supposed to be leading Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) to Mount Doom. It is also there to tell us more about the power of that ring to make anyone willing to give up all he has to possess it.

After that very brief prologue, we are back where we left off, a literal cliff-hanger. Frodo, Sam, and Golum are crossing the stark peaks on the way to the volcano in the heart of Mount Doom. That is where the ring was forged and the only place where it can be destroyed. Meanwhile, the other remaining members of the Fellowship of the Ring prepare for battle with the forces led by Sauron.

As with the first two chapters, Peter Jackson’s rendition of the J.R.R. Tolkien classics is astonishingly inventive and new and yet so clearly right that it seems as though it always existed inside us. Every detail is just right, from the leaf-shaped clasps on the rough wool cloaks to the huge mumakils, mastodon-like creatures carrying Haradim warriors in vast contraptions that look like masted schooners.

And from the struggles of three very small creatures to stay alive as they scale sheer rock to the huge battles with hundreds of thousands of warriors, Jackson makes every moment vivid, exciting, and moving, filling every frame with wonders. That means not just Middle earth citadels, a giant spider, a battering ram that is an ironwork boar filled with fire, and thousands of phantom combatants, but also smaller moments of equal power. Sam and Gollum each try to make Frodo mistrust the other. The steward eats alone at his table, bright red juice dripping down his chin, as his son leads men into a doomed battle.

There are villains, grotesque and powerrful, weak and greedy. And there are heroes, loyal, brave, devoted, honorable. Told that death is certain and there is small chance of success, one replies, “What are we waiting for?” Who needs to breathe when there is all this to see?

The tone is epic and majestic, the battles brilliantly staged, the vistas magnificently conceived. But it is still all about the story. Characters learn and deepen. Even little Pippin and Merry go from cute comic relief to genuine heroes.

There is so much going on that some characters feel like not much more than cameo guest appearances, especially Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchette). And the post-ending endings, after more than three hours, may seem a bit too much. But this is still an epic to satisfy the most devoted fans of the books and viewers who are new to Middle Earth. In its own way, it is as thrilling an adventure in story-telling on film as the quest it portrays.

Parents should know that the movie has intense battle violence, graphic for a PG-13. Characters are injured and killed. While there is no modern-day profanity, characters use some strong language. A strength of the movie is the way its diverse characters learn to trust each other and work together. Some critics have accused the original books of racism, with dark-skinned, slant-eyed bad guys fighting pale-skinned good guys. But there is no evidence of any such intent, even unconscious, in Tolkien’s work or in this movie.

Families who see this movie should talk about what it was that made Frodo more resistant to the evil pull of the ring than anyone else. How are Frodo and Aragorn alike and how are they different? Why did Frodo and Sam make different choices at the end? What is the answer to the question, “Why should we ride to the aid of those who did not come to ours?” Why? What is the role of choice and what is the role of fate in this story? Why can’t Gandalf just use his powers to make sure the good guys win? Who surprised you by doing more than you thought they could? Who surprised themselves?

Families who enjoy this movie might want to look at pictures of some of the real-life creatures that inspired those in this story, including pterodactyls and mastodons. And every family will enjoy reading aloud the entire trilogy, or listening to it on the superb BBC audio edition.

Mona Lisa Smile

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

In “Mona Lisa Smile,” a vibrant and independent-minded teacher shows her students a paint-by-numbers kit for a Van Gogh picture to demonstrate the difference between art that is insightful and meaningful and mindless repetition of pretty images. The problem is that the movie itself has a paint-by-numbers script and little more to offer than pretty images. The result has some glossy entertainment value but a long way from art.

Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) is an art history teacher who comes to Wellesley, “the most conservative college in the nation” in the very conservative 1950′s. Just to make sure we don’t miss the point, we are told right from the beginning that Katherine “made up in brains what she lacked in pedigree” and that she did not want to fit in; she wanted to make a difference.

At first, Katherine is intimidated by the students. They have an easy mastery of the reading material and a “claws underneath their white gloves” ruthlessness in preserving the status quo, which means their position at the top of the social hierarchy.

Betty (Kirsten Dunst) is the most ruthless and acts as the leader of the girls. It may be her uncertainty as she approaches her wedding and what she says is everything she ever wanted that makes her so resistant to any attempt to think independently. Or it may be that she treats the other girls the way her mother treats her because that’s all she knows, or because it gives her a sense of control, or because it lets her believe that her mother must care about her.

Katherine’s other students include brainy Joan (Julia Stiles), insecure Connie (Ginnifer Goodwin), and reckless Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal). In between their lessons on poise and how to entertain their future husbands’ bosses, Katherine tries to teach them to question the conventional assumptions about art and about their dreams about the lives they want to lead. This is all a bit too subversive for the authorities, leading the the inevitable “I’ve been getting some calls about your teaching methods. They’re a little unorthodox for Wellesley” conversation. Katherine must examine her own dreams in order to teach her students the lesson she wants them to learn.

All of the actresses look wonderful in their elegant little hats, white gloves, twin-sets, tulle, and pearls. And teacher-student is one of the most reliably appealing relationships to portray in a movie. Add in the ups and downs of five different romantic relationships and the sheer pleasure of seeing some of the most talented and engaging young stars in Hollywood and there is plenty that is fun to watch.

But there is no real insight or spirit in the movie and its dumbed-down portrayal of the post-WWII, pre-Betty Friedan era is particularly disappointing, limited to images of conformity like girls rowing crew and practicing synchronized swimming and a poster explaining the ladylike way to cross one’s legs and references to the wish to return to the “normal” days before the war. It is just too easy to have Katherine’s colleague and landlady say “Don’t you love chintz?” and turn down a chance to go out in the evening so she can stay home and watch television.

Juliet Stevenson brings warmth and depth to a regrettably brief appearance as a gay school nurse and Marcia Gay Harden does her best with an under-written role as a stereotypical “old maid” that is more a relic from the 1950′s portrayals than a commentary on them. Katherine’s character is inconsistent to the point of being erratic, especially with regard to her own romantic involvement. Roberts is reduced to relying on her most reliable movie star tricks — her “game girl” laugh, dazzling smile, and moist gaze — to fill the gaps. It isn’t enough. In this paint-by-numbers movie, most of the spaces are left blank.

Parents should know that the movie has very explicit sexual references for a PG-13 movie, including promiscuous characters, adultery, and discussion of birth control (which was illegal in the era portrayed in the movie). Characters drink, some get tipsy, and some abuse alcohol. Just about everyone smokes. Characters use strong language including an ugly anti-Semitic epithet. Strengths of the movie include its efforts to address the issues that would be raised by the feminists of the 1960′s and its positive portrayal of a gay character who is accepted without prejudice (though dismissed from her position for other reasons).

Families who see this movie should talk about why each of the characters makes the choices that she does.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy other magnetic teachers who inspire students and get in trouble with administrators in Dead Poet’s Society and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The classic if overwrought The Group is based on the experiences of author Mary McCarthy and her friends at Vassar and after graduation. Another in this genre is the Wendy Wasserstein play Uncommon Women…and Others, about a group of students at a Wellesley-style college in the late 1960′s.

The Company

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

Form follows content in Robert Altman’s latest film. As in the lives of the ballet troupe it portrays, it is the dance that takes center stage. The rest of the characters’ lives are glimpsed only around the edges. The result is intimate and moving, with dance numbers that are thrillingly filmed and backstage stories that are quietly observed.

This is not about nutcrackers and tutus. This is about people who make the ultimate commitment to art and, especially, it is about the art that they make. Altman is not just showing us dancers here. He is showing us himself.

Neve Campbell (the Scream series, “Party of Five”), a former ballet dancer, brought the idea to Altman (M*A*S*H, Gosford Park) and she stars as Ry, a member of Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet. As the opening credits begin, we hear the usual pre-performance announcements directing the audience to turn off their cell phones and reminding them that photography is prohibited. Then we see a stunning performance of a ballet called “Tensile Involvement,” a postmodern angular variation on a maypole dance (or maybe the ribbons on a toeshoe), with dancers interacting with stretched banners and the credits crossing the screen as though they were a part of the choreography.

The off-stage scenes have a loose, documentary feel but they are as meticulously observed and as carefully positioned as a ballerina en pointe. Ry’s two sets of parents — divorced mother and father and their new spouses — each bring flowers. When she gives them back for a moment so that she can talk with someone, the two couples wait a beat, look at each other, and then switch flowers, so each holds the ones they originally brought to her. Dancers battle the limits of the physical world as they try to transcend their own sometimes reluctant bodies as well as the pulls of gravity, and of time. Ry’s non-dancer boyfriend shows that he brings the same kind of care, artistry, and precision to his work that she does to hers.

The rehearsal scenes mix art and drama as the choreographers treat the primary dancers the way sculptors treat clay while the back-up dancers are “marking” the moves off to the side. Dancers matter-of-factly handle injuries, juggle other jobs, and borrow space for their sleeping bags on each other’s floors. The company director breezily shmoozes and evades with just about everyone, but when he accepts an award he is bracingly honest about the way he was treated as a young boy who loved dance.

One technical point worth noting is that this is the first film to use a new post-production process called Darbee Vision, which adds depth and vivid color to video, and which is ideally suited for photographing the dance numbers, which are, after all, center stage. They are lovely, even the weird and garish number that looks something like a Chinese New Year parade, and especially an exquisite pas de deux to a melancholy “My Funny Valentine,” danced outdoors in pouring rain.

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language, locker-room nudity, and sexual references and situations. There are tense scenes and injuries. Characters drink and smoke.

Families who see this movie should talk about the commitment required for the dancers and the people who run the company.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Turning Point about two friends, one who stayed in the ballet company and never had a family and one who left to raise her children, who envy each other’s lives. They should also see the brilliant The Red Shoes.

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