Movie Mom

Movie Mom

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Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some mild language and rude humor
Release Date:
December 19, 2014


Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language and brief sexual content
Release Date:
October 9, 2014

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language
Release Date:
December 19, 2014


Magic in the Moonlight
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout
Release Date:
August 1, 2014

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


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Release Date:
August 8, 2014

Mad Hot Ballroom

posted by rkumar
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:2005

“Can I have the gentlemen tuck in their shirts, please?”

This is a question politely but firmly addressed to a group of underprivleged 5th graders in New York. And not in the 1950’s. Now. The 10 year old “gentlemen” do tuck in their shirts. And then they take their partners and they do the merengue and the foxtrot and the tango. They bow to their partners. And they love it.

A program to teach ballroom dancing to New York City 5th graders in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens sounds like the last thing in the world that would be interesting or relevant to today’s 5th graders. But the beauty of this movie is the way that it shows that grace, dignity, elegance, and pride in mastering a skill are important and as thrilling and transformational.

Fifth grade turns out to be the perfect age for these classes. The kids are old enough to pay attention and follow complex directions, but young enough that they’re not yet “too cool for school.” They’re willing to give the adults the benefit of the doubt and aren’t yet worried about looking dorky.

The movie follows teams through the year, from the early lessons through the citywide competition. There are brief scenes with the kids talking about dancing and about their lives. Whether repeating what they’ve been told or drawing their own conclusions about protecting themselves or about boy-girl relations, or how people become drug dealers because their parents don’t care, they are ineffably bright and endearing and filled with promise.

There are interviews with the teachers, two of whom begin to cry when they talk about how much they care about their students and what it feels like to see them try so hard and want so much. There are other glimpses of the life beyond the dance floor — a child whose religion prohibits dancing is assigned to act as DJ, a group of girls go shopping for skirts to wear to the competition and are told there is no way they are going to be showing their belly buttons. But the heart of the movie is seeing the kids learn to move to the music, to feel the rhythm, to learn the steps, to feel comfortable on the dance floor.

Just at an age when the difference between girls and boys is beginning to feel even more different, these children are told to hold onto each other, work closely together, and look into each other’s eyes “like it’s the last time in your life” (even when a boy only comes up to a girl’s shoulder) and smile at each other.

The teachers worry about whether it will harm the children’s self-esteem to participate in a very tough competition. Though the kids gamely promise not to “boast and brag about it because it will make other people feel worthless” in pre-competition discussion,” when the time comes some of those who don’t win are heartbroken. So are we. But the children learn what it means to be a part of something big, to give their hearts to it, and that losing is not the end of the world, and that’s almost as important as learning the merengue and the tango.

Parents should know that the children in this movie speak frankly (but briefly) about protecting themselves from child molesters and drug dealers. There are also references to pregnancy, puberty, and gay marriage. One of the strengths of the movie is its portrayal of diverse students and teachers and its recognition of the importance of male role models who show the boys it is all right to dance.

Families who see this movie should talk about the different views the teachers have about the benefits of competition. What is the most important thing the children learned from the dance lessons?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the documentaries To Be and to Have (about a one room schoolhouse in France), Paper Clips (about a small-town school’s study of the Holocaust), Spellbound (spelling bee), Small Wonders (violin), and the Oscar-winning He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’ (ballet dancing). They will also enjoy the UP series of documentaries that track a group of English children every seven years from ages 7 to 42. The next film in the series, “49 Up,” is currently in production. And they may enjoy seeing Strictly Ballroom, Top Hat and other movies with great dancing.

XXX: State of the Union

posted by rkumar
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005

Can we ever see Ice Cube as a gangsta again after Barbershop and Are We There Yet?

Do we want to?

Ice Cube is a fine actor who can do a lot with a strong script (Boyz n The Hood and Three Kings). But he seems to be phoning this performance in between development deals. Since the writer and director appear to be on automatic pilot, too, even a movie that has no aspirations beyond generic guns and explosions multiplex fodder manages to disappoint.

The original XXX, starring Vin Diesel, was a sort of James Bond movie on crack, with an extreme sports nut brought in on a spy mission for “deep cover agents with special skills.” It had some cool stunts and got the job done.

In this sequel, as soon as Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson, returning from the first film) explains that the first Triple X is dead so they need to go off the grid again to find someone even tougher, it’s clear that this is less script than set-up. When Willem Dafoe turns up as the Secretary of Defense to give a report to the President (Peter Strauss), it’s clear that he’s not in the movie to be a second-tier good guy. I’d say it was less a movie than a cross between a rap song and a computer game, but it is not nearly as well-written as either. There’s no wit or imagination, just the thump thump thump of exposition and explosions.

Yes, there are barked orders about breaching the perimeter and guys in serious-looking black hoods with fancy guns and other toys, a handy nerdish hacker, and big shots asking each other “Who the hell is this guy?” The new Triple X is a former Navy Seal serving a 20-year prison sentence who gets sprung for a top-secret mission. The good guys have become the bad guys, so we need some bad guys to be the good guys.

There are competently filmed stunts and explosions at a variety of Washington DC locations, including a non-existent bullet train. There are a couple of good lines, including quotes from Thomas Jefferson and Tupac, and it is fun to see Ice Cube go undercover as two characters that play off of white expectations. But the movie has an unpleasantly sour tone that is too far off the grid to give the stunts any narrative or emotional heft. When Triple X is explaining to a friend why he should help save the day, the best he can do is tell him that they are fighting for the right to keep stealing cars. And the movie’s treatment of a standard-issue rich blonde ice queen in a slinky suit and a fast car is so rap-style misogynistic that it takes you out of the story. Nona Gaye (Ali) tries to channel Pam Grier as the woman Triple X can’t forget, and her scenes with Ice Cube have enough warmth and sparkle to remind you how much the rest of the film is lacking. Even with all the pounding music and ear-splitting explosions, this XXX should be rated zzzzzzz.

Parents should know that the movie has non-stop PG-13-style violence, with a lot of explosions and shoot-em-ups. Many characters are killed. Characters use brief bad language (one f-word, a few b-words) and there are some mild sexual references, including a prison rape joke.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Darius did not follow orders and how he decided what mattered to him. Characters use different arguments to try to persuade each other in this movie. Which are the strongest? Why?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original, with Vin Diesel as the first Triple X and the classic The Dirty Dozen.

The Game of Their Lives

posted by rkumar
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:2005

When a movie is called “The Game of Their Lives,” you know they’re not going for subtlety.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

posted by rkumar
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005

“Ask why.”

That was the question at the end of the television commercials for Enron, five years in a row Fortune magazine’s “most innovative company” for the way it revolutionized the market for natural gas. But, as we all now know too well, its greatest innovation was in the area of financial fraud. It went from being the seventh largest company in the country in 2000 to the then-largest bankruptcy in American history. More than $60 billion just evaporated, much of it the retirement savings of workers at Enron and other companies. This movie asks: why?

And while it does a good job of explaining some of the financial shenanigans in a manner that is not just clear but entertaining, the great strength of the film is its conclusion that this is not a story about numbers; it is a story about people.

And the people at Enron made up a cast of characters no fiction writer could top. There’s former Enron vice chairman Cliff Baxter, whose suicide begins the story. He was one of the “men with spikes” the tough guys who created Enron’s macho culture. His bi-polar disorder problems made him especially suitable for the job of deal-maker for the company because of the energy and drive he had during the manic phases. But when things spun out of control, he was so completely devastated that he spiraled into depression and killed himself.

And there’s Enron founder Ken Lay, the son of a poor preacher, whose driving ambition led him to reward the perpetrators of an early fraud, thus setting the foundation for a corporate culture that rewarded people for the money they brought in, regardless of the violations of ethics or laws. Lou Pi was the executive who got away before it all fell apart, retiring to Hawaii with his stripper wife. Sherron Watkins was the whistleblower who first identified the accounting fraud in an email that warned, “I am incredibly nervous that we will implode in a wave of accounting scandals.” James Chanos was the man who tipped off Fortune Magazine writer Bethany McLean to the fact that Enron was not all it wanted people to think it was. (The movie does not reveal that he was a short seller who had a lot to gain if the stock declined in value.) John Olson was the securities analyst who was fired because he dared to criticize Enron. His firm got a huge business deal from Enron as soon as he was gone.

At the heart of the story, though, are two people, Jeff Skilling and Andrew Fastow. Former CEO Skilling remade himself from a pudgy in glasses who sat at a desk to a guy with Lasik surgery who took everyone on extreme outings to see who was tough. More consultant than operating executive, he cared only about “big ideas,” and had no patience for the details of execution. Skilling accepted the job at Enron contingent on the company’s agreement to use a very agressive form of accounting called “mark to market,” meaning that they booked all of the potential returns from a deal the minute the deal was signed, without waiting to see if the deal proceeded as anticipated. So when a huge energy plant was built in India, they booked all the potential revenue of their rosy predictions immediately even though the energy produced by the plant turned out to be too expensive for the community to support, so instead of making money, it lost money. One of the film’s most stunning moments is video footage of a company skit in which Skilling jokes about using “hypothetical future value” accounting. But for Enron, that’s what “mark to market” really was.

But where they really got into trouble was when CFO Andrew Fastow created a series of “special purpose entitites” to hide the company’s debt. The board waived the conflict of interest rules to allow Fastow to be an officer of those companies and to essentially be selling assets to himself –and paying himself very, very well — he made $30 million from those deals. Meanwhile, the Enron traders (as one Senator says, “that’s t-r-a-d-e-r-s,” not “traitors”) were manipulating (and cheating) to squeeze Californians by denying them electricity so they could drive up the prices.

The movie has stunning documentation, including footage of a sales pitch by Fastow, looking like the cat who is still licking the cream off his whiskers, and audiotapes of the rapacious and ruthless California t-r-a-d-e-r-s. Writer/director Alex Gibney was fascinated by the way that the Enron executives were, in a real sense, telling a story almost as though they were making a movie. He uses the techniques of film-making, from stock footage inserts (gamblers, a magician) and historical context to soundtrack choices and and present-day interviews to reveal that their “real” story was fiction. He noted that one stock shot of a sky-diver, intended to convey risk-taking, in the context of the film is a reminder of Icarus, the boy who fell into the sea because he flew too close to the sun.

What made it possible for them to lie so much and so long? Part of it was that they really believed in what they were doing. They thought that if they just cheated a little bit, long enough to fool people while they got the thing going, eventually it would work the way they designed it. But it never did. They frantically tried to expand their original good idea, trying to make markets in everything from broadband to weather. They even (not shown in the film) created a fake trading floor to fool the securities analysts who flew in for a tour. What they saw were secretaries, pulled in from other floors, who pretended to be traders buying and selling when they were really just talking to each other.

This is a story about hubris; an updated version of an ancient Greek drama. Like Icarus, the Enron executives flew too close to the sun. It’s a story of greed, arrogance, selfishness, and a complete lack of empathy or consideration for others. Most of all, though, it is a story of people who, contrary to the slogan they touted in their ads, never asked “Why.”

Parents should know that this movie is unrated. It includes very strong language (many uses of the f-word) and brief footage of strippers. It also includes the portrayal of selfish, greedy, unethical, and illegal behavior.

Families who see this movie should talk about the importance of “asking why.” Why didn’t more people ask “why?” How do people allow themselves to become part of a culture of corruption? Who do you think is most responsible for what went on at Enron? Families should talk about some of the ethical dilemmas they have encountered and observed as well. They may also want to learn more about the famously “shocking” Stanley Milgram experiments shown in the movie.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the documentary The Corporation and fictional portrayals of corporate corruption like Wall Street and the delicious comedy The Solid Gold Cadillac. Those who want more information should read the book, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, by Bethany Mclean and Peter Elkind, and Power Failure, co-authored by whistleblower Sherron Watkins, who appear in the movie.

When I am not watching movies, I am o
ften writing about Enron and other corporate governance meltdowns. You can see my interview with the director of this film on my blog and the textbook I co-authored, Corporate Governance, has a DVD devoted to the Enron story.

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