Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™

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


Begin Again
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:

Release Date:
July 2, 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


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

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


Earth to Echo
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some action and peril, and mild language
Release Date:
July 3, 2014

Fahrenheit 9/11

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

This is the movie that won the movie world’s highest accolade — a sort of international Oscar — the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme D’Or. And it is the movie that columnist Christopher Hitchens attacked as “a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of ‘dissenting’ bravery.”

It is a furious, scathing, obnoxious, engrossing, frustrating, terrifying, heart-rending, and unabashedly partisan challenge to the current administration. But, most important, it is a passionate challenge to all who accept what they are told about anything without questioning.

William Butler Yeats said, “out of our arguments with the world, we make propaganda; out of our arguments with ourselves, we make art.” Writer/director/court jester Michael Moore does not do much arguing with himself. And yet, that is exactly what he challenges us to do. The real contribution of this movie is its recognition that sometimes you have to make people angry to get them to think. And Moore does enjoy making people angry. An advertising tagline for this movie asks coyly, “Controversy…What Controversy?”

Movie provocateur Moore has pioneered a form of advocacy documentary. His films are more like op-eds or partisan leaflets than like news stories. He uses the techniques of film-making that feature film-makers use to tell a story and advertisers do to sell products, but he uses them to take a stand and he likes to stir things up. In his previous films, Moore took on American icons General Motors and the gun industry. This time, he takes on the Bush administration and the war in Iraq.

His charges include:

  • George W. Bush stole the 2000 election with the help of his brother, the Governor of Florida, and his “Daddy’s friends on the Supreme Court.”
  • In his first eight months in office, he spent 42% of his time on vacation.
  • President Bush is not very smart or effective, especially in his response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
  • The Bush family’s ties to the Saudis have influenced the President’s decisions and compromised his ability to act in the best interests of the American people.
  • Rich old white Congressmen, Senators, and Bush administration officials are sending poor young minority soldiers to fight and die in Iraq for a war that is killing civilians and is more for the benefit of American corporate interests than national security or Iraqi freedom.

Moore makes these points with an avalanche of facts, wisecracks, cheap shots, some less cheap but still mighty inexpensive shots, and sometimes-outraged and often-snarky commentary. He starts with a fact like the percentage of vacation days. Then he amplifies it with sitcom music and juxtaposed stock or out of context footage that makes the President and the members of his administration appear foolish or ineffective.

Of course, anyone looks foolish being powdered by a make-up artist in preparation of an appearance on television. (For more evidence on this, see a surreal 1992 documentary about the New Hampshire primary called Feed.) Moore includes other clips so unfair that they boomerang and make the movie less persuasive. Is it fair to play the President’s gentle jokes about the net worth of his supporters at a white-tie dinner as though it was a meeting of a secret society plotting to take over the planet like Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil? Do we really learn anything by hearing Britney Spears say that she trusts the President?

It’s enough that a Congressman, clearly enjoying himself, tells Moore that no one on the Hill reads the bills they sign. It detracts rather than adds when Moore then borrows an ice cream truck on Capitol Hill to bellow the Patriot Act’s provisions over the loudspeaker.

Surely Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz has better moments than sticking a comb in his mouth to help make his hair stay in place, but that is the one Moore selects. Attorney General John Ashcroft may not be a good singer but that’s not what we pay him for. Presidents get asked questions about all subjects wherever they are, because the press follows them wherever they go. So when President Bush speaks of the importance of stopping terrorism while he’s on the golf course and then turns back to his golf swing, the implication that he is a modern-day Nero is overblown. Some of this is wickedly enjoyable, but some of it is clutter and some undercuts the power of the points Moore is trying to make.

Moore makes much of the President’s staying on in a classroom visit for seven long minutes after being told that America was under attack, speculating about what he was thinking. It is chilling to see him sitting there, looking blank and indecisive. But does it really matter what kind of linen he slept on the night before?

The peaceful, even idyllic footage of Baghdad the day before the U.S. started bombing is as obviously misleading as efforts to portray all of Iraq as the embodiment of evil. Moore is clear that Saddam Hussein was a despicable tyrant (a point made while showing footage of current U.S. officials greeeting him warmly). But there are many tyrants around the world who are not the target of the U.S. and that is not the reason that the administration used to justify the war. The justification was alleged Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction. The administration’s basis for believing or alleging both is now in question.

Moore believes that the real reason was something else, perhaps the interests of the President’s corporate cronies. Moore shows us some ghoulish scenes of thinly disguised capitalist glee at the prospect of all those new customers in Iraq who will be doing a lot of rebuilding and a return to the free-flowing era of the cost-plus contract. One says, “The good news is, whatever it costs, the government will pay you!” Or maybe it was the President’s fury at Saddam Hussein’s plan to kill his father, the first President Bush. Or, maybe it was, as former White House anti-terrorist specialist Richard Clarke suggests, “because there were no good targets in Afganistan.”

The movie has moments that may be manipulative, but are nevertheless unassailably genuine. A visit with the mother of a soldier who was killed in Iraq is moving not just for her loss but for her ideals and her devotion to her family and her country. Glimpses of terribly wounded soldiers on both sides and Iraqi civilians are shocking, as they should be. Juxtaposing that with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explaining the “humanity” of our surgical strikes is chilling, as it should be. A shot of flag-draped coffins is all the more powerful because it is an image suppressed by the Bush administration.

Then there are Moore’s trademarks. One is capturing real-life moments that are surreal, poignant, and hilarious all at once. A promoter proudly shows off a new product, a “safe” hiding place in case of attack that is like a cross between a 1950’s bomb shelter and a cast-iron port-a-potty. A Marine recruiter approaching young shoppers in the mall on the poor side of town brightly tells one prospect who seems interested in music, “[Pop star] Shaggy was a Marine!” He goes on to explain that the discipline of the Marines will help him make it in music and manage all that money he’ll make. We meet a sweet little group of Fresno peaceniks who were infiltrated by a federal agent and a nursing mother whose breast milk was considered contraband by a zealous airport security guard. And Moore shows us how, now as throughout history, wars are declared by the powerful and fought by the poor. “Those who have the least are the first to step up to support that system.”

Another Moore trademark is making fun of dumb bureaucrats and hypocrites. Rep. Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says in an on-camera interview that anyone with con
cerns about intelligence collection could call a toll-free number. Words flash across the bottom of the screen explaining that actually, that is not true; but Moore is happy to give us Porter’s office number instead. Moore’s other trademark is a sort of political Punk’d — stunts and pranks. We meet other Congressmen who duck when Moore asks them if their children will enlist to fight in the war they voted for.

What is new for Moore is this movie’s moments of subtlety. The scenes of the 9/11 terrorist attack are on a black screen, sounds only, until after the second plane hits the World Trade Center and we see the faces of those who are watching. Moore is less intrusive in this film than in his others, and when he lets the people tell the story themselves the movie is at its most powerful, far more so than when he makes overbroad claims: “When a President commits the immoral act of sending kids to war based on a lie, this is what we get — torture [of prisoners].”

Much of the material Moore covers is already well-known to people who follow the news carefully. But assembled as a dossier or a mosaic of complex inter-relationships, conflicts of interest, ignorance, and thuggishness, it is a devastating attack.

Some viewers will be offended. But they should take it as an opportunity to consider the way that all media sources select and comment on the facts they report. It is a powerful film that should be seen and responded to. Even Moore would rather have people argue with him about the implications of what he presents than to have anyone unthinkingly accepting his conclusions.

We will not know for a generation or more whether it was right for the US to invade Iraq. That is the way of history. But arguments like those posed in this movie will help us to think carefully not just about the topics it covers but also about the larger question of how we gather and respond to the information we need to make important decisions. This movie and the howls and rebuttals it provokes are exactly what is meant by the famous assertion by anti-slavery activist Wendell Phillips: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” In that context, the Britney Spears clip turns out to make sense after all. It resonates for all of those who will not think about what is going on. So in the words of American Revolution hero Patrick Henry, “If this be treason, make the most of it!”

Parents should know that this movie includes war violence with very explicit footage of wounded soldiers and civilians. We see a beheading (from a distance). There is brief very strong language. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of a very loving and devoted inter-racial family.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Moore uses cinematic techniques like music and the juxtaposition of film footage to underscore his points. Everyone who sees this movie should read some of the responses to its facts and conclusions, especially two pieces in Slate, this article by Christopher Hitchens quoted above and this column by Jack Shafer about Moore’s threats to bring libel suits against those who criticize the film. Moore’s rebuttals to critiques of the film will be posted on his website. This is one example.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Moore’s other documentaries, Roger & Me and the Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine. They should also appreciate Control Room, about the way that the Arab news network, Al-Jazeera, covers the war in Iraq and about the larger issue of bias in reporting. They should also read or see the movie version of the dystopian Ray Bradbury story that inspired the title of this movie, Fahrenheit 451, about a book-banning future society where the “firemen” are those in charge of burning the books. Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which they burn. What burns at Fahrenheit 9/11 may be another story.

White Chicks

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

Appealing performers and a couple of very funny moments don’t make up for a lazy and generic script in this predictable farce about two black male FBI agents who go undercover as spoiled rich white girls. I knew we were in trouble when there was a “Hammer Time” joke in the first few minutes, a reference way past its sell-by date. And a Bjork swan-dress joke? In white chick terms, that’s so yesterday.

In rap music terms, this movie samples characters and plots from many other movies, including the already vastly over-used (attractive and principled but do-things-their-own-creative-way law enforcement types always getting chewed out by choleric superiors until one of their wacky schemes pays off and they get to be heroes) and the already done so brilliantly and distinctively that no one should ever try them again (whoever thought of appropriating the “Junior” plot twist from Some Like it Hot should be sent to the screenwriter equivalent of solitary confinement).

Even the movie doesn’t even appear to paying attention to its plot. Movies don’t have to be logical; they don’t even have to make sense. But sloppy inconsistencies like the ones here become a distraction that interferes with the ability of the audience to enjoy even the jokes that work.

Shawn and Marlon Wayans, apparently both the Zeppo Marxes of the talented Wayans family, play FBI agents Kevin and Marcus Copeland. It is typical of this movie’s problems that no one had the energy to give these characters anything resembling a personality. They are almost indistinguishable from each other except that one has a hysterically jealous wife and the other has a goatee and is single.

After they bungle a drug bust, they are assigned to escort the Wilson sisters (think Paris and Nicky Hilton), who may be targets for a kidnapper. They are on their way to a weekend at the Hamptons where they hope to be photographed for the cover of a magazine. A minor car accident on the way there leaves them with scratches on their faces and they refuse to be seen that way. So, the Copelands call in the FBI’s crackerjack undercover make-up team to transform them into the Wilsons. Conveniently, they both already have earrings.

Despite the fact that they are taller than the girls and the latex masks applied to their faces make them look like victims of Botox overkill, no one in the Hamptons seems to notice anything significantly different about “the girls” (one friend guesses that they’ve had collegen treatments to turn their lips from “Cameron Diaz to Jay-Z”). The Copelands squeal and giggle, shop with the girls, go all mean girls on the snooty rich snobs, and participate in a fashion show and a dance-off (okay, that dance-off is pretty funny). They also go out on dates, Marcus in drag with a smitten athlete (the very funny Terry Crews) and Kevin as a man but pretending to be someone else to impress a pretty reporter.

Gender and race-switching are inherently funny but the situations and jokes in this script do very little to build on that energy and sometimes actually get in the way. There are predictable culture clashes, as when the society girls sing along to Vanessa Carleton’s “1000 Miles” and the Copelands have to pretend to know the words. Then, when the rap song comes on…well, you know where this is going. (A twist on this scene later on provides the movie’s most sustained laugh.) There is a lot of gross-out humor involving various body parts and functions, and some leering double entendres. There are also predictable life lessons as the Copelands develop more empathy for women and encourage the society girls to have more self-respect, to insist on the best for and from themselves. Too bad the Wayans forgot to learn that lesson themselves; the insights are delivered with no more enthusiasm, sincerity, or imagination than the comedy.

Parents should know that the movie has very crude and vulgar material for a PG-13, with comedy based on sexual references (including a game where players have to choose between two unappealing sexual encounters), drug jokes, insult humor, and a lot of graphic potty humor. Characters use strong language, not just the usual “almost-R” words but also terms that may concern parents like “yeast infection,” “coke whore,” “bitch fit,” and the n-word. Racial insults and stereotyping are intended to be comic. The movie has some comic and action violence, meaning that a lot of punches are thrown and a few shots are fired but no one is seriously hurt.

Families who see this movie should talk about what Kevin and Marcus learn from pretending to be white women. Why was it so hard for Karen, Lisa, and Gina to feel good about themselves and their relationships?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the better movies it borrows from, like Some Like it Hot, which was first on the American Film Institute’s funniest movies of all time, and Tootsie, which was second. They may also enjoy Martin Lawrence in drag as an undercover cop in Big Momma’s House. The freshest and funniest Wayans film is still I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.

Control Room

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

Truth is a mosaic. Facts are the tiles that have to be pieced together, and it is only in standing back and looking at the whole that one can see the patterns.

This documentary by Jehane Noujaim tries to provide some of that perspective by letting us look at the Arab news network Al-Jazeera and its broadcasts on the war in Iraq.

They say that history is written by the victors. But maybe that is because victory is determined by the historians. What American politicians and broadcasters portray as a “mission accomplished” may be seen very differently by the other side. Both sides may watch the bombs being dropped, but we hear the crisply uniformed officers of Central Command (CentCom) recite statistics about what has been successfully achieved while the Arab world hears women crying about the inhumanity of the world’s greatest superpower murdering civilians.

In Noujaim’s film, form and content intersect as she provides an even-handed look at four key characters, letting them speak for themselves. The most vivid and compelling are Marine Lt. Josh Rushing and Sudanese Al-Jazeera correspondent Hassan Ibrahim. Rushing, liaison to the Arab journalists, is everything you would hope for in an American and particularly the representative of America to a skeptical culture. He may be naive at times, but he is always open-minded, curious, sincere, honorable, and genuinely committed not just to telling our story but to listening to the stories of others. Ibrahim is like the character Clark Gable used to play in all those WWII-era movies about the cynical journalists with the hearts of gold. He is patient, dedicated, and even optimistic, declaring his “absolute confidence in the U.S. Constitution.”

More compelling than any protestation of journalistic ethics is a producer’s fury at being given an “expert” guest who may have been on the “right” side, but was not credible enough to support it. And we see that other concerns transcend both journalism and politics as a cynical, even bitter Al-Jazeera producer tells us “If I’m offered a job with Fox I will take it, change the Arab nightmare into the American dream.” This longing for the individual opportunities in America is in stark contrast to the passionate hatred for the collective policies of America as a character says that “Tears are too easy. For me that was a crime that should be avenged.”

Americans watch the news of the war in Iraq on CNN and the broadcast networks and believe we are getting the real story. The Arab world watches news of the war on Al-Jazeera and believe they are getting the real story. This movie watches both and gives us a different real story, or maybe another piece that helps us understand how no attempt or pretense of objectivity can ever escape bias completely.

Some scenes have more power now than they did when the movie was made. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announces that “liars will be caught” as the movie shows us a part of the truth Americans were not fully told. And it is impossible not to feel a chill as President Bush says, “I expect our prisoner to be treated humanely just like we treat theirs humanely.”

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language and graphic battle footage, including images of dead and wounded bodies and razed buildings that may be very upsetting to some viewers.

Families who see this movie should talk about how they get the news and what they do to ensure that they are getting the most complete and objective information possible. Noujaim used only a tiny fraction of the footage she shot. How did she shape the story? What do you think about the emphasis she gave to parts of the story like the translator’s reaction to the American politicians and the death of the Al-Jazeera reporter? What is the difference between reporting and propaganda? How does CNN compare to Fox? How do NBC, ABC, and CBS compare to PBS? To Al-Jazeera? How does television compare to newspapers? The internet? What can we do to make sure that we get our information from places that do more than reinforce our own perspectives? One character says he is representing his station but also representing his people. Is there a conflict there? If so, which commitment is more important?

Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate Noujaim’s previous film, as well as the documentaries by Michael Moore (which make no pretence of objectivity).

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

posted by rkumar
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for rude and sexual humor, and language.
Movie Release Date:2004

Think Bad News Bears crossed with Happy Gilmore. Except with dodgeball, which means many, many opportunities for humorous slams to the head, chest, and crotch. That pretty much sums it up.

Pete (Vince Vaughn) is about to lose his gym, the comfy hang-out “Average Joe’s,” to White (Ben Stiller), the owner of the uber-exercise facility known as Globo Gym (slogan: “We’re better than you are!”) To save the gym, he needs $50,000 in 30 days. And that just happens to be the purse for the winner of the big dodgeball tournament that one of Average Joe’s regulars finds in the pages of his Obscure Sports Quarterly magazine.

So Pete and his gang of misfits decide to take their shot. The group includes Justin (Justin Long of television’s “Ed”), Stephen Root (Office Space), and Steve the Pirate (Alan Tudyk), a guy who refers to himself in the third person and thinks he is a pirate. After winning the qualifying regional title on a technicality, they are approached by the world’s greatest dodgeball coach (Rip Torn), who reminds them that “dodgeball is a sport of violence, exclusion, and degradation” and in just three weeks turns them into a lean, mean, fighting machine. Or at least into a group that can duck when a wrench is thrown their way. And they pick up a new team member who can throw very, very hard.

Then it’s off to the big game, with preliminary skirmishes before facing the Globo team, men-mountains who all have names like “Laser” and “Taser” plus a unibrowed woman with very bad teeth.

All of this is just an excuse for pure silliness — lots of balls slamming into lots of people, some funny surprise cameo appearances, Ben Stiller’s clueless bully persona, and insult humor. Gary Cole and Jason Bateman have some good moments as sportscasters and Hank Azaria is fun to watch in an old instructional film the team uses to learn how to play. Most of the laughs are less in the “wow, that’s funny category” than in the “I can’t believe they tried that” category, as when a uniform mix-up has the Average Joes appearing at a match in bondage gear, but there aren’t many real clunkers. Pete’s slacker demeanor never gives Vaughn a chance to make use of his greatest asset, the slightly ADD vibe he showed to such advantage in Swingers and Clay Pigeons. And Christine Taylor (Stiller’s real-life wife) deserves better than a role that is essentially the same one she played in Zoolander. But it all moves pretty quickly and is over before it wears out its welcome.

Parents should know that the movie has some very mature material for a PG-13 including explicit sexual humor with jokes about adultery, group sex, pornography, genital size, bondage, and homosexuality along with some very strong language including many double entrendres featuring the word “balls.” Characters drink frequently, including drinking to dull pain. The coach taunts the team by calling them “ladies.”

Families who see this movie should talk about some of their own experience in feeling like an underdog. What should Pete have done when White made him an offer? Families should also talk about perseverance, and the comment made by one character that “if a person never quits after the going gets rough, they won’t have anything to regret for the rest of their lives.”

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Happy Gilmore, Zoolander, and, for older audiences, Old School (rated R). They can also check out this site for more information about different ways to play dodgeball (also called bombardment) or some of the news stories about efforts to ban the game at schools because of its violence and susceptibility to abuse and bullying.

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