Movie Mom

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Believe Me
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:

Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

The Fault in Our Stars
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language
Release Date:
June 6, 2014

Tracks
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some partial nudity, disturbing images and brief strong language
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo
Release Date:
June 27, 2014

The Boxtrolls
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Neighbors
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

Cheaper by the Dozen

posted by rkumar
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2003

This is not a movie; it is a product, with a script right off the assembly line, a mix of Teen People pin-ups to attract tween demographics, apparently directed on cruise control. Its intended audience of 8-14-year-olds will probably enjoy it very much. But those who care about that audience will be disappointed that the people behind this movie do not realize that they owe those children some imagination and sincerity.

The movie takes its title and family size from the classic book about the real-life Gilbreth family but has no other connection to the original and is inferior to it in every aspect.

Steve Martin plays Tom Baker, a coach who is offered his dream job at his alma mater just as his wife Kate (Bonnie Hunt) hears that her book about the family has been accepted for publication. The eleven children still living at home do not want to move, but Tom promises that it will make them a stronger and happier family. But the new job is very demanding, and when Kate has to go on tour to promote the book, Tom is quickly overwhelmed by the challenges of taking care of his children.

There are the predictable “aww” moments (death of a pet, reminder that the kids might fight with each other, but they really love each other) and the predictable “ewww” moments (one child barfs and another slips and falls on it). The script is slack and lazy, incapable of a satisfying resolution for even the most reliable family-movie plot devices like a mean bully or snobby, over-protective neighbors.

Parents should know that the movie includes some schoolyard-style naughty words and PG-style sexual references that get close to a PG-13. When asked about his 12 children, Tom smirks about his wife: “I couldn’t keep her off me.” He explains that he had a vasectomy but did not wait for it to become effective, resulting in the second set of twins. And part of the plot concerns the oldest child (an adult) moving in with her boyfriend (which does not bother her parents) and whether they should be allowed to sleep together when they visit the family (which does). Some audience members may be offended by the portayal of the family as vaguely Catholic, with references to Jesus and a rosary but no evidence of religious observance. There is comic peril with some minor injuries. The product placement (Crate & Barrel) is particularly (and annoyingly) intrusive.

Families who see this movie should talk about how they work together to make sure that they achieve a balance between time for work and time for each other. How do you make sure that the family comes first? They should also talk about the way that the Baker family supports each other and what they think of Dylan’s parents.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy another big-family comedy inspired by a real story, Yours, Mine, and Ours, starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball. They should see the original Cheaper By the Dozen, based on the Gilbreth family, headed by pioneering efficiency engineers who used their “motion study” techniques to raise their children. The book, written by two of the children, has the best dedication in the history of literature: “To Father, who had only twelve children, and to Mother, who had twelve only children. It is well worth reading aloud to the whole family, along with its sequel, “Belles on Their Toes.” Other classic movies about the demands on parents include Martin’s Parenthood (some mature themes) directed by Ron Howard, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (starring then-child actor Ron Howard), and the Oscar-winning drama Kramer vs. Kramer along with silly comedies like Mr. Mom and Daddy Day Care.

House of Sand and Fog

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2003

Pride, anger, loss, desperation, law, love, strength, and weakness collide to create vast tragedy in this story of a battle for a house that overlooks the water.

It begins as a clearly distressed woman is asked, “Is this your house?” She does not answer.

The woman is Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), and to her, the house is her refuge after a marital break-up. The house was built by her father, who left it to her and her brother in his will. It is all she has, and she has retreated so completely that she has not read her mail, which included an erroneous notice of an overdue tax bill. Because she did not respond, the county evicts her and auctions the house for a fraction of its value.

The buyer is an immigrant, an Iranian colonel named Behrani (Ben Kingsley). He has spent almost all of his savings to maintain a lifestyle that enabled his daughter to marry well. For him, buying the house will make it possible for him to quit his construction job. He plans to sell the house at a profit to start his return to a position consistent with his education and ability.

Behrani likes to remember that at his home in Iran he ordered the trees cut down so that he could have a clear view of the water.

For Kathy and Behrani the fight is not about money; it is about home. The house is a refuge. It is a part of them. When Behrani tells his wife he has bought the house, she does not want to leave their apartment. For her, home is the place you stay, or you are a nomad. Kathy feels safe inside the house. Once she leaves, she begins to unravel, starting to smoke and drink again, unable to stay away from the house. She begins to fall in love with Lester, the cop who evicted her (Ron Eldard). Kathy must return to the house to be healed. But she cannot do that without destroying the lives of other people.

The lives of Kathy and Behrani circle, parallel, and intersect each other. Both must take on menial jobs and change their clothes in public bathrooms. Both are too proud to tell their families the truth about their situations. Behrani’s devotion to his children parallels Kathy’s loss of her father and the house he left to her when he died, as well as her own longing for a child. The Behrani family alternately treats Kathy as an intruder, a guest, and ultimately almost as a member of the family when they take her in at her most devastated and care for her as though she was a child. She wakes up the next morning in the house, swathed in silks like an Arabian nights princess. But the fairy tale becomes a nightmare.

Connelly, Kingsley, Eldard, and Shohreh Aghdashloo as Mrs. Bahrani are all superb, and the adaptation of the award-winning book is a thoughtful and serious, if uneven, translation of the book’s language and tone. It fails to sustain a sense of tragic inevitability and that prevents it from being truly involving.

Parents should know that the movie has extreme, graphic, and tragic violence including murder, attempted and successful suicides, domestic abuse, and an accidental shooting. There are explicit sexual references and situations, including adultery and nudity. Characters drink and smoke, including an alcoholic character who ends a period of sobriety. Characters use very strong language and there are many harsh and painful confrontations.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it was so hard for Kathy and the Colonel to come to some kind of compromise. Does the movie make a distinction between what is legal and what is right? What is it? How do the different characters define home? The book has an epigraph by Octavio Paz: “Beyond myself/ somewhere/ I wait for my arrival.” How does that apply to this story?

Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate the Oscar-winning performances of leads Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) and Ben Kingsley (Gandhi).

Timeline

posted by rkumar
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2003

Hollywood sometimes seems to operate under some unnamed Law of Plots, where certain themes and stories must be recycled on a schedule so predictable that it makes the daily orbit of the Earth around the Sun look as ungoverned as kindergartners playing dodge ball in the dark. Heeding our charts, we find that we are due for another time travel movie, but since the movie on hand is unspectacular we can relax, letting this one pass unobserved while knowing that another one will not be far off in the future. For the dedicated genre fans, “Timeline” is barely entertaining enough to stay well above the nadir of truly bad movies but it lacks any force or energy to release it from the pull of total mediocrity.

Based on Michael Crichton’s uneven but entertaining book of the same name, Timeline launches with a secretive company in the midst of a cover-up after one of its employees dies of sword-inflicted injuries. Apparently, International Technology Corporation (ITC) has discovered a wormhole through time and space, which allows its employees to “fax” themselves back in time to 1357 onto a battlefield between the English (bad) and the French (good) for control of an impenetrable fortress on a hill.

To better understand the era, ITC sends back Professor Johnson (Billy Connolly, bleary-eyed and numb), the top historian specializing in that particular battle, who sports a Scots brogue as thick as Dundee marmalade. Fellow Scot and assistant professor Andre Marek (Gerard Butler), Johnson’s supremely American son Chris (Paul Walker of The Fast and the Furious), his love-interest, Kate (Frances O’Connor in cute and feisty mode), and a few other don’t-get-too-attached-to-me characters soon follow Johnson back in time. Once there they are swept up in the intrigue and battle, not realizing that they may never make it back to the future.

The six hours that the team is supposed to spend in 1357 is filled with pre-battle maneuverings and hustling in and out of captivity since the English take them as spies for the French and the Scots side with anyone against the English. Despite much scurrying about the ramparts and the frequent use of the mellifluous word “trebuchet” (a super-powerful medieval catapult), the battle scenes are a pale repetition of any movie where a castle is stormed. In fact the one distinguishing feature about “Timeline” is a generally hurried feel as if all those involved wanted to wrap up the flick and head home. For those seeking familiar themes in an ever-popular genre, “Timeline” is weakly entertaining enough to fill the space, but those seeking something new under the sun should peek down another wormhole.

Parents should know that “Timeline” is exactly what they would expect of a Hollywood medieval movie, featuring swordfights and siege warfare, including burning arrows and those aforementioned trebuchets. Several unarmed characters are killed with swords, bow and arrow, and other weapons of the time. What is especially alarming is the casual ease with which the students take the lives of the 14th century soldiers, showing -– with one exception -— no remorse. Although this war is shown to take place at a time when violent death is all but the norm, there is little explanation of why these modern young historians embrace their role as soldiers or their side of the battlefield so easily.

Families might wish to discuss the theme of making one’s own history and how they would want their own lives remembered. Also, if you found a wormhole to another time, which time would you most want it to be and why? Andre calls the 14th century a time of honor. Would existing in that time make you a different person with a different code of ethics? How might your priorities and behavior change?

Families in the mood for more medieval movies might wish to watch A Knight’s Tale, Black Knight, or First Knight (which has mature themes and also takes itself much more seriously than the other “Knights”). For those inclined to peruse the Classics section of the video store, The Court Jester starring Danny Kaye is a fabulously fun take on the times or the more serious Ivanhoe with Elizabeth Taylor.

Families in search of more time travel movies might wish to see the brilliant Time Bandits or even the silly Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Those who like to read entertaining tales of inept time travel might wish to read Michael Creighton’s Timeline or the very entertaining books by Connie Wills (especially To Say Nothing of the Dog or the more serious Doomsday Book). Of course, one of the best books of the genre is the original, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

The Missing

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2003

“The Missing” is a disappointment, relentlessly politically correct and even more relentlessly bleak and brutal.

Cate Blanchett plays Maggie, one of those indomitable frontier women who can yank an infected tooth, chop the firewood, handle a pouting teenager, and still find time for a romantic interlude with a handsome cowboy. She is known as a healer, and never turns anyone away, even her estranged father (Tommy Lee Jones in full crag), who deserted her family when she was a child and has been living with the Indians.

She will treat him, but she will not forgive him. But then, when an Indian shaman and his henchmen (some Indian, some white) murder Maggie’s lover and kidnap her daughter to sell her into prostitution, Maggie has to ask her father to help her track them so she can bring her daughter home.

In some ways, this is a very traditional set-up, with the quintessential movie plot — two people who do not get along forced to take a physical and psychological journey together in pursuit of a goal, here in one of the most enduring of movie settings, the old West, 1885 New Mexico. We see the first glimpses of modernity with the appearance of the telegraph, gramophone, and camera, in contrast to the last glimpses of the old, as ancient curses require ancient cures. And the movie reflects its own modernity and underscores its themes of duality, making sure that there are Indians, whites, and Mexicans as both good and bad guys.

Director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13) sustains the bleak and ominous atmosphere with images like a riderless horse returning home, a coyote on the dining room table, rattlesnakes hanging from trees in the midst of a terrible stillness, and with the the pale vistas of the terrain itself, bleached out, craggy, and unyielding.

And the story has some resonance, with themes that circle back. The shaman tells Maggie’s father that he has two dogs inside him, a good one and a bad one. Which one will win? He answers, “The one I feed the most.” Maggie and her father exchange necklaces — Indian beads and a silver crucifix — for protection, and Maggie and her father use the healing methods of their cultures on each other. One parent left a child and another cannot leave a child. Another parent who loses a child cannot continue.

Lilly, the about-to-be-kidnapped daughter, angry because her mother will not let her go to town to see the newfangled invention that records people’s voices, says she was born into the wrong family. She is not the only one who thinks that. Maggie is still bitter because her father left. And her father, having lived more with Indians than with white people, is very aware that he is not a part of either. It is an Indian who sent him back to the world he left. He only sought Maggie out because the medicine man said he had to care for his family if he wanted to survive a rattlesnake bite. He knew which “family” that had to be. As Maggie stands near the telegraph while the operater sends the message about Lilly to the cavalry, she sees the girls experimenting with the gramophone that Lilly had asked to see.

This movie has two dogs inside it, a good one and a bad one, and neither one wins. It has strengths, including the willingness to attempt some thematic complexity, reliably solid performances by Blanchett and Jones (with good but brief appearances by Val Kilmer and Aaron Eckhart) and the outstanding Jenna Boyd. But it does not address its themes with enough depth to justify its darkness, and thus does not succeed.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent movie, with frequent and exceptionally graphic brutal images and many injuries and deaths, including death of a child. A character commits suicide. There are sexual references and non-explicit sexual situations. The plot revolves around a plan to sell the girls into prostitution. Characters drink alcohol and use some strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about the dualities it emphasizes, including the white/Indian cultures. They should also talk about how the characters determine what their responsibilities are. Could Maggie have left with only two girls? Should the cavalry or the sheriff have abandoned their other duties to find Lilly?

Families who enjoy this movie should see the classic The Searchers, one of the most influential movies ever made. They may also enjoy Silverado and Shane.

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