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Love is Strange
Lowest Recommended Age:
MPAA Rating:

Release Date:

 

Adventure Planet
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:

The November Man
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use
Release Date:
August 27, 2014

 

Blended
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and language.
Release Date:
May 23, 2014

If I Stay
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

 

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some scary images and mild peril
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

Gods and Generals

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

Sometimes, what is best for history is not best for drama. And here, where we know how the story of the Civil War ends, the film-maker’s relentless even-handedness removes whatever drama the story might have had by making every one of the characters endlessly honorable, devoted to God, home, and family, good to the slaves, and able to spout poetry, the classics, or the Bible in the midst of the direst circumstances.

This is a movie where the Confederate general Stonewall Jackson (still so revered in Virginia that the place he died is not called a memorial, but a shrine) calls the black man he is about to hire as a cook “Mr. Lewis,” and where Mr. Lewis is so well educated, despite being from a part of the country where educating black people is illegal, that he quotes Napoleon. Later on, General Jackson explains to Mr. Lewis that the South would like to free all the slaves. It just wants to do that without being forced to by the federal government, so that the South can build an enduring friendship with the people who were kidnapped and sold into bondage. Meanwhile, on the other side, a Northern officer who will become the most decorated soldier in the Union army, tells his brother that the war was not fought about slavery, but now that it is underway, it is so terrible that it has to be justifed by making some great, sweeping, change for justice.

So, the bottom line is that this careful, meticulous, lovingly crafted three and a half hour movie feels even longer. Its PG-13 television-ready (it will be expanded to six hours for a miniseries) level of violence may make it suitable for junior high history class field trips, but does not truly convey the tragic carnage of the war that had Americans fighting with each other. All the soldiers have nice uniforms and enough to eat. Officers at the front get visits from their devoted wives at places that 150 years later will be made into quaint bed and breakfast inns. And everyone is on the right side.

And — everyone encompasses a lot of people. Hard core Civil War buffs (there were a couple in the screening I attended in full uniform) may be able to follow the endless series of characters and their advances and retreats, all identified with brief subtitles, but anyone else will have a hard time.

The movie gives us too little information, but it also gives us too much, telegraphing its developments and themes. We can tell when an officer tells a general that he has a better idea and the general rejects it because his plan has been approved by Lincoln that it is a mistake. And we can tell when an impossibly cute little girl becomes too important to a character that she won’t make it to the end of the story.

Parents should know that the movie has sustained battle violence and bloody scenes of caring for wounded soldiers. Many characters die.

Families who see this movie should talk about the way that more than 160 years later, people in the United States still disagree about the causes and effects of the Civil War (which some still call the War Between the States). What did the soldiers on both sides have in common? What were their differences? Given what is going on in the world right now, what did we learn?

Families who want to know more about the Civil War should watch the superb PBS series by Ken Burns, which makes its characters more vivid and its storyline more compelling than this fictional version. They should also see three outstanding movies about the Civil War, Glory, Friendly Persuasion, and The Red Badge of Courage. Thoughtful teens and adults should read the Pulitzer prize-winning The Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz, about the power that the Civil War still holds over many Americans today.

Dark Blue

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

This is an ambitious movie. It takes a cop who is corrupt in an ends-justify-the-means sense and contrasts him with a cop who is corrupt in a what’s-in-it-for-me sense and arranges for them to clash just as the jury in the first Rodney King case is deliberating on a verdict.

But when this movie succeeds, it is not in its attempt at a broader statement about integrity and responsibility in a world that is racist and dishonorable. Its strength is in its fine performances and in its smaller moments. Its weakness is a climax that is both melodramatic and formulaic and its unfortunate resemblance to the flashier Training Day by the same screenwriter.

Like that movie, this is the story of a rogue police detective teaching a young partner how to do things his way. Eldon Perry, Jr. (Kurt Russell) comes from a family of lawmen as far back as anyone can remember. He learned from his father what he is trying to pass on to his new partner, Bobby (Scott Speedman) — anything he can do to rid the world of one more bad guy is all right. Bobby is the nephew of Eldon’s mentor and boss, played by Brendan Gleeson (Gangs of New York).

The movie is not subtle. The cops who wear the uniform are the good guys and the bad guys are very, very bad. The quadruple homicide-robbery that puts the story into play is, even these days, shockingly casual in its brutality. And the last twenty minutes are embarassingly preposterous. But Russell, an underappreciated actor, gives a thoughtful, heartfelt performance that beautifully illuminates the movie’s themse of decay and redemption.

Parents should know that this movie includes extreme peril and brutal violence. Innocent people are casually murdered. Characters abuse liquor, smoke, and use drugs. There is extremely strong language, including racist epithets. There are sexual references and situations, including adultery and a sexual relationship between people who intentionally know nothing about one another. A theme of the movie is the parallel between the corruption of the police force and the corruption of the surrounding society, and that is reflected in behavior that is greedy, disloyal, bigoted, and cruel.

Families who see this movie should talk about how even people who abandon core values have their own value systems. Where do we see TK’s limits? What makes him hit bottom and decide to change? Family members too young to remember the Rodney King trial should look at this site for further information. And everyone should remember King’s famous question, “Can’t we all get along?”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Training Day and Internal Affairs.

Daredevil

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

This may be another Marvel comic superhero movie rated PG-13, but it is a much darker story than “Spiderman,” and parents whose 8 and 9 or even 13-year-olds loved that movie should think carefully before agreeing to let them see this one.

Matt Murdock lives in “Hell’s Kitchen” a tough part of town where bullies of all kinds prey on the vulnerable. His father, a boxer, is killed for refusing to take a dive in a fixed fight. Matt, blind from an accident that also left him with his other senses super-enhanced, vows to become a righter of wrongs and a force for justice.

But is he a force for justice or a murderous vigilante? When he loses a case in court, allowing a rapist to go free, Daredevil doesn’t just go after him; he slaughters a whole roomfull of bad guys. At least, they must be bad guys, even though we don’t really see them do anything bad except for looking tough and fighting for their lives. Even Daredevil himself is not entirely sure that he is one of the good guys.

Murdock meets Elektra, whose fragrance is so tantalizing that he follows her out of a coffee shop. They end up taking each other on in a fight in a playground that serves the same function for them that dance numbers did for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers — it’s their way to size each other up, and it’s their foreplay. At one point, he says, “Are you holding back?” she says, “Yes,” and he says, “Don’t.” Clearly, they were made for each other.

But there are complications, mostly the work of a crime kingpin named…Kingpin and his hired Irish assassin, Bullseye (Colin Farrell, for once using his original accent). There are misunderstandings, choices, and lessons, but mostly there are fights.

The fights are very good, but it is clear that that is where most of the creative energy went in this movie. Affleck does not act very much, and if he did, most of it would be hidden by Murdock’s sunglasses and Daredevil’s mask. Garner brings energy and freshness to her role, and Farrell is, as usual, the most watchable part of the movie. There are some fun in-jokes, including appearances from Marvel’s Stan Lee and onetime Daredevil writer Kevin (Chasing Amy and Dogma) Smith. But the script is flat, mostly just space between fights. Sometimes loud noises incapacitate Daredevil, sometimes they don’t. He is badly injured, and then he isn’t. These are continuity errors that are evidence either of laziness or, more likely, some recutting after early screenings.

Parents should know that this movie is more somber and much more violent than Spiderman, including many deaths. There are sexual references and non-explicit sexual situations, including a reference to rape and a sexual encounter between people who do not know each other very well. There is some strong language and some drinking and smoking.

Families who see this movie should talk about why we don’t take the law into our own hands. How do you become a killer without being one of the bad guys? Why, when most superheroes have fantasy special powers, is a character who is disabled so appealing?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy X-Men and Blade.

The Jungle Book 2

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Preschool
Movie Release Date:2003

There is no pretense of art or imagination in this movie. It barely qualifies as creative marketing. It’s just Disney’s latest strategy to leverage the affection that generations of viewers have for its animated classics by cranking out pallid sequels. In this case, the credits list six separate writers, but fail to mention the guy who created the characters, Rudyard Kipling. I’m sure that wherever he is, he is just as happy not to have his name associated with this movie.

As with “Return to Neverland” and the straight-to-video sequels to “Aladdin,” “101 Dalmatians,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” instead of enhancing our connection to those characters, however, these films dilute it through watered-down production values and weak story lines. The result is like a blurred fax of a fax of a fax of the original.

The original “Jungle Book” was the last animated film personally supervised by Walt Disney. The few glimmers of life in this palid sequel are reprises of some of that film’s best moments, especially the wonderful songs, “Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.” But other attempts to remind us of the earlier film will disappoint those who remember it well and confuse those who do not.

The movie begins just after the first one ends. “Man-cub” Mowgli (now voiced by Haley Joel Osment of “The Sixth Sense” and “A.I.”) has followed the girl who sang so sweetly as she filled her pitcher with water and now lives in the village, where he has been adopted by a loving family. But he misses his animal friends in the jungle. When Baloo (now voiced by John Goodman) comes to see him, Mowgli follows him back into the jungle. Shanti and a feisty toddler, thinking he is in danger, follow him and get lost. Meanwhile, the tiger Shere Kahn, furious because Mowgli defeated him, has vowed revenge.

There are some light-weight action sequences and some second-rate song numbers. The voice talents are excellent, though not up to the original’s Phil Harris and Louis Prima. And the Disney animators, even on a second-tier project like this one, still do the best work there is — viewers should be sure to look out for the meticulous work on the rippling water and some wonderfully expressive character work.

Parents should know that the movie does have some scary moments, but no one gets hurt.

Families who see this movie should talk about how we can sometimes feel divided loyalties and how by being honest with the people we love, we can find a way to be true to ourselves and those we care about. They should also talk about the end of the movie — is there a better way for Mowgli to talk to his new family about what he is doing? Families should also talk to younger children about the importance of not going off on their own and always letting their parents know where they are.

Families who enjoy this movie should see the original. They might also enjoy the live-action movie versions of the Kipling story. They might also enjoy Disney’s version of “Peter and the Wolf,” another story about a boy who goes off for an adventure with some animal friends and enemies.

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