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McFarland USA
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic material, some violence and language
Release Date:
February 20, 2015

 

Big Hero 6
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements
Release Date:
November 7, 2014

The DUFF
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual material throughout, some language and teen partying
Release Date:
February 20, 2015

 

Horrible Bosses 2
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong crude sexual content and language throughout
Release Date:
November 26, 2104

Kingsman: The Secret Service
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content
Release Date:
February 13, 2015

 

Beyond the Lights
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sexual content including suggestive gestures, partial nudity, language and thematic elements
Release Date:
November 14, 2014

Lady in the Water

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some frightening sequences.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

There is no conventional rating scale that could do justice to this film. It is a terrible movie, but it is terrible in an interesting and often highly watchable way. There have been better films that I have enjoyed less. The C grade is not an indication of mediocrity; it is an average of the movie’s successes and failures.


Let’s start with the successes. First and most important is that M. Night Shyamalan is unquestionably a superb director with a brilliant understanding of how to use the camera to tell a story. Second is Paul Giamatti, who plays handyman/caretaker Cleveland Heep with sensitivity and conviction. Sarita Choudhury also brings a vibrant and lively spirit to the film.


But it is in a way the extraordinary ability and subtlety of those elements that undermine the film as a whole by providing a contrast to the stunningly self-indulgent claptrap they are attempting to serve.


Director Shyamalan makes the mistake of working from a fundamentally unworkable script by, who was that screenwriter again? Oh, yes, M. Night Shyamalan, who seems to be, as we say, working through some issues.

We see some of his favorite themes — the damaged doctor, the wise child, the characters stunned by devastating trauma, the spooky creatures lurking somewhere out there. But we also see what looks like petty payback. This is a story in which story-tellers are magically powerful while those who criticize them are half buffoon and half pompous but ineffectual know-it-all, and doomed to a uniquely awful fate. This is the movie equivalent of Barry Manilow wailing about how he writes the songs that make the whole world sing with an extra verse more than an hour long about how no one understands and appreciates him enough.


Though set in a dingy apartment complex outside of Philadelphia, this is a fairy tale. As the movie begins, we are told with simple line drawings of a time in which another race of beings called the Narf were in contact with humans. But then humans became greedy and wanted to own the land and the Narf could not communicate with them any more.

Heep (the names in this film make Pilgrim’s Progress looke subtle) discovers something, someone swimming in the pool at night. It is a narf (Bryce Dallas Howard from Shyamalan’s The Village). She has been called from her world to deliver a message to someone in the complex who is trying to write something. Her name is….Story.


Heed asks around to figure out which resident is in need of the message. It turns out there are several writers on the premises, including a book and film critic named Farber, perhaps named for legendary critic Manny Farber (Bob Balaban). But the Writer sought by Story because his writing will change the world is….none other than our very own story-teller, writer-director Shyamalan as Vick Ran, who has been stuck in the middle of writing a book about his ideas.


Does Story have a message for Vick? A story to tell him? No, it turns out one look from her is like a mega-dose of Ritalin; all of a sudden he is completely clear and focused and bangs that sucker out in a few hours.


The rest of the film is about getting Story back home. All Heed has to do is persuade one of the residents, a Korean woman, to tell him the bedtime story she heard from her mother, which has all of the details about every obstacle the Narf will face and every kind of help that is available to her.

The disparate residents of the complex may have been drawn there because they have exactly the talents she needs, but how to know who has what? Fortunately, no one wastes any time doubting Heed’s story. Unfortunately, instead they waste their time trying to sell this flimsy, self-serving mush.


Shyamalan promised that there would be no surprise twist ending this time. He is right. Although there are some good spooky moments and some surprisingly comic ones, you can tell where this one is going right from the start. But he is also wrong. The surprise twist is how far this is from what we know he can do. Shyamalan is a truly great story-teller. This is just a truly empty story.

Parents should know that this is a very intense film with a good deal of peril and suspense and some jump-out-at-you surprises and ominous portents. While most of the violence occurs off-screen, we do see graphic wounds. Characters smoke cigarettes and there is some social drinking. A strength of the movie is the way diverse characters live in a community of tolerance and lack of prejudice.


Families who see this movie should talk about the kinds of myths and other stories that transcend all cultures and the reason that stories — like movies — are important. Are you more like a healer, a symbol interpreter, a guardian, or part of a guild?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Sixth Sense, Signs, and The Village.

Little Man

posted by jmiller
C-
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor throughout, language and brief drug references.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

The Wayans family is better at making money than making movies. They know that if they keep the budget low and the humor even lower, they can keep making money. In fact, according to Entertainment Weekly, they are the most successful family in Hollywood. “Over the past 20 years, Wayans sibs like Kim (Juwanna Mann) and Damon (ABC’s My Wife and Kids) have written, directed, produced, and/or starred in more than 45 movies and television shows…And the family boasts a combined domestic box office of over a billion bucks — a hefty $331 million of which comes from the powerhouse trio at the forefront of the Wayans dynasty, Keenen, 48, and brothers Shawn, 35, and Marlon, 33.” Like Adam Sandler, they figure that if they can make that kind of money without paying much attention to the script, why bother?


Most of the budget for their latest movie went to special effects. Actually, one effect. Marlon Wayans plays Calvin, a tough, mean career criminal who is the size of a one-year-old. His head is imposed on the body of a little person or a child throughout the film.


Calvin and his partner (SNL’s Tracy Morgan) have stolen a great big diamond. But they had to stash it in the purse of the upwardly mobile Vanessa (Kerry Washington), who is resisting the urging of her husband Darryl (Shawn Wayans), who wants to have a baby. So Calvin puts on a diaper and a bonnet and masquerades as a baby to get taken into their home and steal back the diamond.


Vanessa and Darryl don’t know much about babies, so they can’t tell the difference between an adult male (even one with a full set of adult teeth with bridgework and a tattoo) and a toddler. Somehow, even their friends who have children and a pediatrician they consult don’t figure it out, either. This creates an opportunity for Calvin as baby to get access to female bodies that Calvin as man enjoys very much. And it creates an opportunity for Calvin as baby to inflict pain on male bodies that Calvin as man seems to enjoy even more.


Then there are the unintentional indignities imposed upon Calvin, most vividly the rectal thermometer.


This is among the intentional indignities inflicted on the audience, along with a plot that even by the low standards of dumb comedies makes no sense. Calvin is treated like a one-year-old in some scenes, like a five or six-year-old in others. The adult characters are inconsistent, behaving fairly normally in some scenes and then going over the top when the movie is lagging, which is just about all the time. Marlon makes a lot of faces (that’s all he has to act with). Shawn shows some actual appeal that could make him a very effective performer in a movie that gave him more to do than act as straight man to a demon child. The exquisitely talented Kerry Washington (Ray) is wasted in a part that has a supposedly successful professional woman squealing over her aging father and not noticing that she is having sex with someone considerably shorter than her husband. And, again, they steal and debase jokes from better movies, this time a final twist from one of the Hope and Crosby “Road” movies. Little man, little effort, little result.

Parents should know that this movie features a great deal of very crude humor including jokes about genital size, pregancy, pretending to be a woman’s husband to have sex with her, breast-feeding, child molesting, and prison rape. There is also a great deal of crude bathroom and body part humor. Characters use crude language and some four-letter words and one of them gives the finger. There is a great deal of comic (and less comic) violence including many crotch hits, head bonks, and gun threats. A character engages in some macho discussion of the importance of men being tough and beating each other up in a football game and the point of view of the movie is that the way to respond is to beat up the people who say that.


Families who see this movie should talk about how people decide when they are ready to have children and why Calvin’s feelings and priorities changed when he was treated kindly.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other Wayans brothers movies (very crude humor).

You, Me and Dupree

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief nudity, crude humor, language and a drug reference.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Remember the classic comedy The Odd Couple? This is sort of the same movie, only it’s the odd triple and it isn’t very funny.


Adorable newlyweds Molly (Kate Hudson) and Carl (Matt Dillon) are just back from their honeymoon when Carl’s best friend Dupree (Owen Wilson) loses his job and his apartment. So, Carl invites him to stay with them for a few days.


But Dupree is a case of arrested development crossed with poor impulse control who somehow missed that train to grown-up-ville. He breaks things. He intrudes. He creates chaos. He seems hurt that he isn’t Carl’s top priority anymore, even jealous. So, he does what has always worked at getting Carl’s attention. He listens and supports Carl and he encourages him to go back to a carefree bachelor life.


While this is going on, in what appears to be a plot from another movie, Carl is having problems with Molly’s over-attached and highly competitive father (Michael Douglas), who happens to be his boss, and gives him a big promotion while urging Carl to change his last name and get a vasectomy.


There have been many memorable, touching, and very funny movies about free-wheeling character who shake up the lives of sober, responsible people, but this is not one. It is unpleasantly misogynistic, the women all prudes and scolds, the men all terrified of what might happen if they break the rules.

Wilson, who also produced, switched directions mid-movie. Dupree starts out as an immature clod and then turns into a supposedly-loveable Lost Boy who was somehow left behind and serves as an innocent inspiration until he is lucky enough to find his own path to growing up. That’s where the movie goes off the rails. Wilson makes the same mistake the character does of assuming that he is irresistibly forgiveable, a crime in itself unforgiveable. He wears out his welcome even faster than Dupree does.

Parents should know that this has some very strong material for a PG-13, including some strong and crude language and sexual references. A character is called a slut, characters talk about porn and discuss titles of various Asian porn movies, and a character masturbates to porn, there is discussion of vascectomies with a diagram showing what is done. The movie has some violence, mostly comic, with minor injuries. For no reason whatsoever, a minor character is supposed to be Mormon and therefore straight-laced.


Families who see this movie should talk about friends who are not always accepted by their families and how sometimes we can be close to people and then grow in different directions or have to rethink the relationship when the other person does not grow. They should also talk about why it was hard for Carl to talk about his feelings and why Molly and Carl liked different things about Dupree.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Odd Couple and The Man Who Came to Dinner. A slyly spicy movie about a three-way relationship is Noel Coward’s Design for Living. Families will also enjoy some of the cast’s earlier work, including Dillon’s My Bodyguard and Wilson’s Bottle Rocket. Charles Dickens wrote about Dupree-like characters Mr. Dick in David Copperfield and Harold Skimpole in Bleak House.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

posted by jmiller
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of adventure violence, including frightening images.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

This is what big summer blockbuster studio movies are all about — love, honor, humor, villains evil enough to make it really satisfying when they are beaten and scary enough to keep you wondering whether it’s possible, and thrilling stunts and big explosions.

It’s summer. We don’t want to think too hard. A little silliness is fine, and we’re more than willing to abandon any thoughts about whether this bears any relation to history or reality or the laws of time and space. We do ask, though that someone has thought it through at least enough so that we can enjoy it without any intrusive “Hey, wait a second” moments. And of course it helps to throw in some cannibals, a voodoo enchantress, an undead monkey, a guy with an octopus head, and the return of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. The result is a perfect popcorn pleasure, one of the most sensationally entertaining movies of the year.


It is supposed to be the wedding day for Elizabeth (Kiera Knightly) and Will (Orlando Bloom). But they are arrested for helping Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) escape. Unless Will can find him and bring back something in Sparrow’s possession to give to the ambitious aspiring governor, they will both be executed. So Will goes off in search of Sparrow and Elizabeth goes off in search of Will.


But they are not the only ones looking for Sparrow. There are some cannibals who are deciding whether they will be better off with him as their god — or their main course. And then there’s the little matter of Davy Jones, he of the “locker” where the spirits of the deep are kept. He sails in the famous ghost ship called the Flying Dutchman with a part human/part sea-creature crew that includes Will’s father. And they want something from Sparrow, too.


This gives us plenty of time for swashbuckling sword fights (including one on a mill wheel that is near Indiana Jones quality), deliciously dangerous predicaments and clever getaways, true love, and non-stop adventure. The screen almost explodes with visual splendor so witty and imaginative that the production designer shouldn’t just get an Oscar; he should get a MacArthur genius grant.


So does Bill Nighy (the addled rock star from Love, Actually) for managing to not just make us believe in the octopus-face, but managing to act through it as well. His eyes and voice are magnificently expressive and deliciously malevolent. Naomie Harris has a blast with a deliciously witty performance as a voodoo priestess who has what appears to be squid ink leaking from her tattoos. She has no illusions about Captain Jack Sparrow but gets quite a kick out of him.


Director Gore Verbinski stages the imaginative stunts with high spirits and keeps things moving. He also manages to give the audience enough time with the characters to keep us involved and on their side. And the cliff-hanger ending — and promise of Keith Richards as Sparrow’s father — leave us happily hungry for part III.

Parents should know that this movie has non-stop action-style violence, including a scary sea monster with a zillion teeth. At times it is very intense, with characters injured and killed. A son is whipped by his father leaving bloody wounds. While most of the rest of the film is not gory, there are some gross images some audience members will find funny but others may find disgusting and overly graphic. There are some mild sexual references, and characters drink rum. It does not include the usual four-letter words, but there is some vivid and salty sailor-talk. Some audience members may be disturbed by references to the occult.


Families who see this movie should talk about why the compass stops working for Jack. What is important to him? How can you tell? Families might also like to investigate the source of some of the legends in this film like the flying Dutchman and Davy Jones’ locker.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original, The Crimson Pirate, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, Gene Kelly and Judy Garland in the musical The Pirate, and the underrated Shipwrecked. The classic ride at Disneyland and Disney World has been redesigned with changes from the movies, including the addition of Captain Jack Sparrow. Check here for updates.

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