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Selma
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language
Release Date:
December 25, 2014

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Tell Them Who You Are

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

A young man sees someone he would like to meet, but he is shy and unsure of how to approach him. His father pushes him, saying, “Tell them who you are.” What he means is, “Tell them you’re my son.”

The father, two-time Oscar winner for cinematography, leftist political activist and high-maintenance pain in the neck Haskell Wexler.Haskell Wexler, knows that his name is will open doors for his son. The son, Mark Wexler, knows that when you use someone else’s name to open doors, even your father’s, it doesn’t count. He grew up to make this movie about his father as a way of telling us who he is.

For starters, he is not his father, the genius cinematographer who thinks he could have done a better job than any of the directors he ever worked with — including this one. From the very first moment, when Mark asks his father to tell the audience where he is, Haskell tells him he doesn’t need to, and he spends the rest of the movie arguing with his son about how the shots should be set up, what the movie should include, whether he will sign the release and allow the movie to be made at all, and just about everything else, especially politics.

I am very taken with the growing movies-as-therapy genre of “working out my issues with Dad” documentaries. Part history, part biography, part appreciation, and all therapy, it is a funny, wrenching, profound, and deeply moving film, reminiscient of the brilliant My Architect. This time, the subject of the film is very much alive, and his efforts to direct the movie and his son provide some of the film’s most meaningful moments.

Parents should know that this movie has extremely strong language and some sexual images and some references to sexual situations, including adultery. Some viewers may also be disturbed by the tense family scenes and a sad scene of illness.

Families who see this movie should talk about what Mark and his father are proudest of about each other. How did making the film change their relationship? Why did Mark decide to include the scene with his mother?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy other worthy films in this category, including My Architect, and Five Wives, Three Secretaries and Me, Tessa Blake’s 1998 documentary about her multi-married Texas millionaire father, whose relationships with his secretaries lasted longer than any of his marriages (and whose wives had even more cordial relationships with each other than their still-friendly relationships with him). Two fine movies with related themes are Tarnation, Jonathan Couette’s movie about his mentally ill mother, and Martha and Ethel, Jyll Johnstone’s film about two nannies who played a larger role in the lives of the film-makers than their parents did.

Ladies in Lavender

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2005

The title of the movie suggests faded characters fussing over antimacassars and sipping tea. But the beauty of this film is that it shows us that the feelings of these women are anything but simple and their scope is as broad as the ocean outside their home.

Janet (Maggie Smith) and Ursula (Judi Dench) are sisters who live together in pre-World War II Cornwall. Janet is slightly more practical and worldly. She has loved and lost. Ursula is slightly more tender-hearted and vulnerable. One day, they find a unconscious young man named Andrea (Daniel Bruhl of Goodbye, Lenin) washed up on their shore. They bring him back to their house and care for him. He will not be the only one in the house who is awakened. And when he does wake up and it turns out he does not speak English (he is Polish), he will not be the only one who learns something new.

Andrea’s presence is disturbing, causing the sisters to feel emotions so new the sisters barely recognize them. They have no framework, no vocabulary for them. Andrea is exotic in every category, in a time and place when there wasn’t much that was new or surprising. His newness, his non-English-ness, his youth, his masculinity, and, when he gets a chance at a violin, his music — all are stirring.

If the story had been written by D.H. Lawrence, it could have gone in another direction, all undercurrents and disruption. But it was written by William J. Locke and adapted for the screen by first-time director Charles Dance with a delicacy that these two great ladies (and grandes Dames) have responded to with brilliantly subtle performances of stunning skill and beauty. It would be so easy to make the ladies look foolish and skittish. But Dance, Smith, and Dench give us characters who remind us that even ladies in lavender have hearts and minds and memories and longings.

Parents should know that the movie has brief strong language and social drinking and smoking.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Ursula and Janet responded differently to Andrea. How did Andrea feel about them?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Enchanted April and Room With a View. They should also see more of the two leading ladies, including their Oscar-winning performances in California Suite, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and Shakespeare in Love

Unleashed

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

A series of ugly, brutal fight sequences surround a sweet story of healing in an uneasy combination — or perhaps in view of the content of this movie, collision. But it is what the movie does not show that, for better or worse, takes it out of the category of the typical action movie. It is not the movie(s) you see that are hard to enjoy; it is the movie you don’t see, the one that lurks under the surface.

Jet Li plays Danny, a man who has been programmed by being treated like a dog. He has been conditioned by “Uncle Bart” (Bob Hoskins in an incendiary performance) to follow orders, especially this one: “Get him.”

He lives in a cage. His only possessions are an old stuffed bear and an alphabet book. He turns the pages, looking at K for Kiss, L for Love, and P for Piano. Then he gets pulled out to beat up whoever has made the mistake of failing to pay Bart the money he owes. Or he is entered in a gladiator-style fight to the death for the amusement of the people who find that entertaining.

One day, while Bart and his thugs are in the next room, putting pressure on the owner of an antique store, Danny sees Sam (Morgan Freeman), a blind piano tuner. More important, he hears the piano. Even the untuned notes mean something to him. Sam’s kindness means more. Both give him his first glimpse of compassion and beauty.

When circumstances give him a chance to escape, he finds Sam, who takes him in and does not ask questions. Sam’s stepdaughter, Victoria (Kerry Condon), a music student, introduces him to silverware, pajamas, laughter, kisses, ice cream, and movies. And feeling safe.

But then Bart gets Danny back again. And Danny will have to fight to return the people he loves.

The dramatic scenes are exceptionally rich, warm, and touching. Li gives his best performance since he started making movies in English. And he still has it in the fight scenes, which are imaginatively staged, especially one battle in a tiny bathroom with a huge, pale, hairless, combatant. Li’s grace and speed are always beautiful to watch, even when he is twisting bones until they snap, crackle, and pop.

But the unspeakable abuse that is the premise of the movie is so deeply disturbing that it throws the entire film out of balance. It is difficult to let go of the story enough to find the action entertaining when we are asked to buy into a story of such unspeakable cruelty. Instead of making us connect more to the characters, it feels manipulative and disturbing.

Parents should know that this movie is, even by the standards of its genre, exceptionally violent. The fight scenes are graphic and brutal, with a lot of bone-crunching sound effects and just-short-of-sadistic injuries. Furthermore, the plot of the movie is based on the premise of the most unthinkably atrocious abuse of a child and adult. Characters use strong language. There are sexual references and situations and a brief glimpse of non-sexual nudity.

Families who see this movie should talk about the idea that a young child can be “programmed” as Danny was in this story. Why did Sam and Victoria trust Danny? Why did he trust them? Why did Bart tell Danny that he could keep life simple?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy other performances by Jet Li, including Hero and Kiss of the Dragon.

Kicking & Screaming

posted by rkumar
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2005

Will Ferrell is to this movie (and pretty much any movie he is in) what the Italian ringers are to the soccer team his character coaches in the film. As long as he keeps getting the ball, he scores.

Ferrell’s shtick is his imperishable innocence. Everything is always completely new to him and every response from him is completely fresh and blissfully un-self-conscious. We know what will happen and we know we can’t help loving him for it. Like a perpetual baby enchanted with the world or a benign alien experiencing Earth for the first time, Ferrell always reacts with absolute freshness, openness, directness, and purity. He can’t seem to hold onto more than one emotion at at time. So, each feeling is complete and each one takes him over completely. He has no ability to hold anything back or try to seem cool and on top of things. When he cries, he gives it everything he has. Many comedians draw humor from trying to look cool, but Ferrell barely seems to grasp that there is such a thing as coolness. Because his responses are always as sweet as they are silly, we laugh and we love him every single time.

When Phil (Ferrell’s character) is first presented with a cup of coffee, he looks at it like Eve looked at the apple, a mix of dread, longing, and utter fascination. When he discovers how delicious it is, he goes all out. Assuming everyone is as new to the world as he is, he happily explains to another customer that the coffee is very, very HOT. Then he starts mainlining it, lugging an espresso machine to the soccer games.

Phil’s father, the intensely competitive Buck (Robert Duvall), always made Phil feel inadequate and unappreciated. Buck is the coach of The Gladiators, the soccer team that includes Phil’s son, Sam, and Buck’s other son, Bucky, who is Sam’s age and an outstanding athlete. Phil’s insecurity and disappointment turn to “a tornado of anger” when Buck trades his own grandson, Phil’s son, Sam. Phil decides he will coach Sam’s new team, the last-place Tigers. He invites Buck’s next-door neighbor and arch-nemesis to be assistant coach. The neighbor happens to be the legendary coach of the Superbowl champion Chicago Bears, Mike Ditka.

Okay, we all know what happens in movies about scrappy little underdog sports teams. Everyone learns some important lessons about teamwork and what winning really means. And there are a lot of meant-to-be-funny moments along the way. If most don’t make it all the way to “funny,” many qualify as mildly amusing. Ditka turns out to have a great screen presence and top-notch comic timing and Ferrell is always a treat, especially when he’s jonesing for a coffee hit or doing his best to channel Ditka. That’s enough to keep a soccer team of 10-year-olds happy.

Parents should know that there is some crude material in this movie, including bathroom humor, and comedy based on lesbian mothers, a sex-change wisecrack, a child eating worms, characters covered with cow’s blood after helping out in a butcher shop, and a sports store’s slogan: “I’ve got BALLS!” Characters use some harsh schoolyard insults and brief strong language (“screwed up,” “go to hell”). Some audience members may be disturbed by the pressure the coaches put on the kids (though the point of the movie is clearly against that behavior) or some rude comments by the kids to the adults. There is comic violence, including characters getting hit in the crotch. Some family members may be disturbed by a father re-marrying and having another child or by a coach telling his team to “play dirty and don’t get caught.”

Families who see this movie should talk about how adults and children should respond when they have made mistakes. Why do we play games like soccer? Why do parents sometimes feel competitive with or on behalf of their children? Why is it important to learn how to accept a compliment?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the many films about scrappy underdog sports teams, including Sandlot, Rookie of the Year, The Mighty Ducks, Air Bud, and The Bad News Bears (very strong language). They will also enjoy The Rookie.

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