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The Wrecking Crew
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for language, thematic elements and smoking images
Release Date:
March 27. 2015

 

Unbroken
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language
Release Date:
December 25, 2014

Home
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action and some rude humor
Release Date:
March 27, 2015

 

Into the Woods
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material
Release Date:
December 25, 2014

Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Secret Ocean 3D
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
March 20, 2015

 

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Release Date:
December 19, 2014

Code Name: Cleaner

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for sexual content, crude humor and some violence.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

With a script that couldn’t find 22 minutes of jokes to fill a sitcom on the USA Network, even Cedric the Entertainer can’t make this attempt at comedy anything but inert. It want to be a spy spoof. It’s a spy doof. I know, that isn’t funny, but after sitting through a very long 84 minutes of “Code Name: Cleaner,” my standards are pretty low.


Jake (Cedric) wakes up in a hotel room next to a dead FBI agent and a suitcase filled with cash. He can’t remember who he is or how it got there. He grabs the case and runs…into a beautiful blonde (Nicolette Sheridan), who tells him that he is a very wealthy man and she is his wife. But something about the luxurious estate she tells him is his home doesn’t seem right to him, so he runs…into a beautiful waitress (Lucy Liu) who says she is his “boo” and tries to help him figure out what is going on.


Chase, joke, shoot-out, would-be joke, product placement, kick-boxing, more product placement (it feels like an infomercial for a candy and a fast food place), desperate attempt at a joke, and, 84 long minutes later, it’s all over but the credit-sequence outtakes, livelier than anything the previous 83 minutes had to offer. Cedric might just want to clean this one right off his resume.

Parents should know that the movie has some action-style violence — shooting, punching, kick-boxing, car chases. There is a dead body with some blood. Characters use brief strong language and there are some crude sexual humor, including making fun of a gay man and spanking an elderly lady (who enjoys it), and some bathroom jokes. Women wear scanty clothing. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of diverse characters.

Families who see this movie should talk about why there are so many movies about loss of memory.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Man Who Knew Too Little and Johnny English. They may also enjoy 60’s spy spoofs Our Man Flint and the Matt Helm series.

Happily Never After

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

As an Empress of Evil announces that she is in charge and from now on it will be “happily NEVER after,” the film appears to jump off the sprockets of the projector and a narrator interrupts with an important announcement. It seems the owner of a light blue coach with Narnia plates…and at this point the fairy tale is clearly off its sprockets as well.

It seems that the wise wizard from the Department of Fairy Tale Security who presides over the scales that balance the forces of good and evil (voice of George Carlin) has gone to Scotland to play golf. His assistants, Munk (voice of Wallace Shawn) and Mambo (voice of Andy Dick) let the scales slip. Cinderella’s evil stepmother Frieda (voice of Sigourney Weaver) does a “hostile takeover,” seizing the Wizard’s magical staff, changing the ends of all the fairy tales, inviting the trolls, ogres, and witches to take over, appointing herself Empress, and taking on Rumplestiltskin as a sidekick. All of fairy tale land is in need of a happy ending and the only people who can save the day are Cinderella (voice of Sarah Michelle Geller) and the Prince, I mean the guy who does the Prince’s dishes and laundry, Rick (voice of Freddie Prinze, Jr.).


This most recent po-mo take on fairy tale may be “Shrek”-lite, but it is just cute enough. A dim-witted character is “a couple of Hansels short of a Gretel,” the clueless prince (voice of Patrick Warburton) is “Blondie McBiceps,” and Rumplestiltskin is “still going for custody.” The animation is more video game than feature film, all textures but limited expressions, and stock-style characters moving like marionettes.

Parents should know that the movie has cartoony peril and violence. The hulking ogres and trolls are more silly-looking than scary. Dwarves don cammo and shoot diamonds at the bad guys. A magic staff shoots laser-beam-ish rays. There is some schoolyard language (“screw up,” “shut up,” “a butt the size of a shopping mall,” “eat this”) and some diaper humor. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of a strong and capable heroine and a commoner hero.


Families who see this movie should talk about how the Prince cannot improvise — when life doesn’t follow the story, he does not know what to do. Why are Rick and Ella better at adjusting to the unexpected? Why does Ella think she loves the Prince? Families should also talk about Frieda’s answer when asked why she hates Ella. They can also talk about why the Cinderella story has been so popular in so many forms ove the centuries. If you were going to write your own version of the Cinderella story, how would it end?


Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Shrek and its sequel and Hoodwinked. They will also enjoy the many variations on Perrault’s original story, including Disney’s Cinderella, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Ever After – A Cinderella Story, Ella Enchanted and the book that inspired it, and even Jerry Lewis in Cinderfella. Other funny takes on traditional fairy tales include Once Upon a Mattress, Shelley Duvall’s “Faerie Tale Theatre,” and Jules Feiffer’s hilarious A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears.

Freedom Writers

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for violent content, some thematic material and language.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

Here is the formula for movies about idealistic young teachers who go into bad neighborhoods:


1. Idealistic teacher goes into bad neighborhood and is aghast at poor conditions and cynicism of the school administration.


2. Students treat teacher with contempt because he/she cannot possibly understand them.


3. Dedicated teacher demonstrates through persistence and unprecedented willingness to be honest that he/she deserves their respect.


4. Students begin to get interested in learning. But there are some setbacks, often involving a student’s home situation. The teacher’s personal life can also interfere.


5. There is often a montage and/or some kind of dancing sequence.


And this one clomps along, hitting all those notes, with double-Oscar winner Hillary Swank as Erin Gruwell, doing her best in a world that just doesn’t see how much these kids have to offer. Dr. McDreamy Patrick Dempsey plays her initially supportive husband, Scott Glenn her concerned father, and Imelda Staunton the harried principal. The students are played by an assortment of actors who all look closer to 30 than to high school age.


There are indeed some inspiring moments, as Gruwell has the students read Anne Frank’s diary. They learn that they are not the only ones in the world to be surrounded by random violence and tragic loss and begin to discover the healing power of telling their own stories. There is one great scene as Miep Gies (Pat Carroll in the film’s best performance), the woman who hid the Frank family, comes to the classroom to tell them that they are the real heroes. But too much of it fails to have the vivid detail necessary to bring it to life. Swank, who also produced, makes Gruwell too saintly and the students too generic for us to feel any real connection.

Parents should know that this film deals with students who are surrounded by and sometimes involved in gangs. There are references to violence and murders and some moderately graphic situations. Characters use some strong language, including racial epithets. There are references to drugs and sex. Characters drink. The movie’s strengths include its positive portrayal of racial tolerance, the importance of integrity and education, and the dedication and sacrifice of an idealistic teacher.


Families who see this movie should read the book Gruwell and her students wrote. They should also read about Miep Gies and Anne Frank. Every teenager should read her diary. They might like to try keeping a diary themselves.


Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy To Sir With Love, Up the Down Staircase, and Dangerous Minds. They will also enjoy the outstanding documentary OT: Our Town, about a Compton class that puts on a production of Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town.”

Notes on a Scandal

posted by jmiller
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for language and some aberrant sexual content.
Movie Release Date:2007
DVD Release Date:2007

Long-time teacher Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) doesn’t even pretend to care anymore. The other teachers come back from summer break with thoughtful reports — or apparently thoughtful reports — on their departments and their plans, but she turns in three sentences, concluding that the history department’s results are “below the national average but above the level of catastrophe. Recommendation: no change necessary.”


She feels that the world is deteriorating around her. They used to confiscate cigarettes and dirty magazines from the students. “Now it’s knives and crack cocaine,” she says crisply. “And we call it progress.” At school, she no longer tries to teach or worries about holding the line. She just wants to get through it — and then to go home to feel superior about the students and other faculty members when she writes about it in her diary, a pen dipped in acid and special entries embellished with gold stars.


But her name isn’t Covett for nothing. As soon as she sees “artfully disheveled,” sweet-natured, but weak-willed new art teacher Sheba Hart, Barbara wants something very badly indeed. But what?


Her first reaction is contempt, with just a touch of curiosity. She almost despises Sheba for being ineffectual, but is glad for the chance to rescue her by stopping a fight between two students, showing off her ability to command obedience if not respect. When Sheba invites her for lunch, she is girlishly delighted, having her hair done and dressing up. She allows herself to feel special, noticed, wanted.


But she gets to Sheba’s house and it is not special after all. Sheba is married to a benign but shambling older man and is the mother of a surly teenage daughter and a son with Down syndrome. Sheba, a little tipsy and careless by nature, confides in Barbara, who feels special at last. Her secrets are like treasure locked in Barbara’s safe deposit box.


But then Barbara finds out that Sheba has a secret she has not shared. Sheba is having an affair with a 15-year-old student. Barbara finds this both intoxicating and infuriating. She had briefly thought of Sheba as a kindred spirit — or thought she thought of her that way. But now she has something even better — a reason to feel superior, all the pleasure of feeling contempt for someone who is young, beautiful, loved, and has a house in the Dordogne, and, best of all, the power of a secret. She can look around the school and enjoy knowing something no one else knows, and she can enjoy looking at Sheba and knowing she is in her power.


An incisive script by Patrick Marber (Closer), based on the novel by Zoe Heller and brilliantly ruthless performances by Dench, Blanchett, and Bill Nighy as Sheba’s husband make this an intense psychological drama with the urgency of last night’s news.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong language and explicit sexual references and situations, including adultery and an adult teacher having sex with an underage teenager student. A predatory homosexual interest is a factor in the plot. Characters drink and smoke. There are disturbing emotional confrontations, a sad death of a pet, and there is some brief violence. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of a loving and supportive family of a Down syndrome child.


Families who see this movie should talk about what was important to Barbara and Sheba and about how they thought about (or did not think about) the decisions they made. What is the significance of the characters’ names? Of the final scene? Of Sheba’s being a potter and Barbara’s being a history teacher? Who was the predator in Sheba’s relationship with Steven?


Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The History Boys, and All About Eve.

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