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McFarland USA
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic material, some violence and language
Release Date:
February 20, 2015

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material
Release Date:
November 21, 2014

The DUFF
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual material throughout, some language and teen partying
Release Date:
February 20, 2015

 

Foxcatcher
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence
Release Date:
November 21, 2014

Kingsman: The Secret Service
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content
Release Date:
February 13, 2015

 

Horrible Bosses 2
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong crude sexual content and language throughout
Release Date:
November 26, 2104

V for Vendetta

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for strong violence and some language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder treason and plot. I see no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.”


Who says good-looking, brawny action flicks cannot also have brains to match? “V for Vendetta,” based on Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s ground-breaking comic books from the late ‘80’s, keeps the source’s gnarly moral issues, amps up the explosions and thins out the subplots to delight audiences looking for two-plus hours of solid entertainment who are willing to do some mental work to get there. Trust the combination of director James McTeigue and screenplay writers the Wachowski Brothers (all three of whom collaborated on the Matrix trilogy) to turn in another example of why monosyllabic action movie protagonists must blow things up to keep audiences riveted but their chatty, if insane, brethren can make the words themselves into explosions.


The plot is a complex knot that requires lots of dialogue to frame the scenes of action, which might try the patience of those looking for simpler, shoot-‘em-up fare. The opening scenes give a helpful but brief sketch of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Conspiracy and how on November 5, 1605, Fawkes attempted unsuccessfully to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Fast-forward to a near-future Britain locked down under elected-fascist “Chancellor” Sutler (John Hurt), who came to power after biological weapons reduced the country to chaos. Evey (Natalie Portman, delightfully far from her “Star Wars” role) is a young professional, orphaned by the state when the crackdown on political protesters resulted in mass disappearances of anyone the government considered “different” or rebellious, including her parents.


On Evey’s foray into London after curfew the eve of November 5, she happens across government officers who threaten her. Enter a knife-wielding man in black wearing a Guy Fawkes mask (Hugo Weaving) who saves her then treats her to a rooftop view of the fireworks and explosions as Old Bailey, London’s famed criminal court, goes up in smoke. He is V.


The duration of the movie tracks V as he exacts revenge, Evey as she is hunted for associating with V, and the police officers, Finch (Stephen Rea, as circumspect and jowly as always) and Dominic (Rupert Graves) as they try to sort out V’s history and uncover state secrets in the process. Popular television host, Dietrich (Stephen Fry, stealing scenes with ease and humor) tumbles into the mix but the driving force at the heart of the movie is Evey’s relationship with V, the man and the mask. The ticking bomb of a backdrop is V’s promise to blow up Parliament the following November and the growing rebellion that he incites along the way.


Some audiences will not like the political implications, blurred lines between “revolutionary” and “terrorist,” and the horrific means-to-an-end approach taken by government and V alike; however, there is ample beauty, dangerous ideas, special-effects fairy dust, intelligence and wit to transform the story from a “Phantom of the Opera” meets “Brazil” type melodrama into a high-caliber thinking person’s action film. With a goal that ambitious and the style to back it up, this V will be a victor to many fans.


Parents should know that this movie has mature themes including torture, terrorism, anarchy, fascism, intolerance, hypocrisy and demagoguery. Characters are killed, held in concentration-camp like prisons, tortured and persecuted. Scientific experiments are performed on foreigners, homosexuals, protesters and others. There are fight scenes resulting in much gore, scenes of mass burials of emaciated naked bodies, and vomit-stained corpses. A character is threatened with rape, a committed same-sex couple kisses, and a bishop implicitly hires child prostitutes. There is social drinking, cigar-smoking, and references to a character’s addiction to prescription medication.


Families who see this movie have a lot to talk about. Beyond the theme of fascism versus democracy or even anarchy, there is a deeper question here of whether the ends justify the means in the personal and the political realms. V sees himself as a “revolutionary” and a man looking for vengeance; however others use the term “terrorist” for him.


The original comic books were released during Margaret Thatcher’s second and third terms as Prime Minister and were seen as commentary upon the Tory government’s intolerance of dissent or difference. In them, the very common British comic book theme of chaos versus order is played out with a decidedly more sympathetic than usual approach to anarchy. How does this movie fit itself into the current political environment? What do V’s actions reflect and how would you assess his choices? The dialogue where he calls what was done to him “monstrous” and that he became a monster as a result reflects the belief that actions have equal reactions. Do you think this is true? What do you think happens the day after the last scene in the movie?


Families who enjoy this movie might be interested in the graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. The drawing and colors now might seem a little dated but this late 1980’s comic book series milestone, along with “The Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon (now in pre-production), catapulted the reclusive Moore to fame and fundamentally shook up the graphic novel world. Parents should know that the graphic novel contains mature themes and is harsher in tone than the movie.


Families might want to see the 1934 version of The Count of Monte Cristo with Robert Donat, which is a motif throughout this movie. They might also want to see Brazil or Nineteen Eighty-Four (also starring John Hurt, only this time as the victim), two British movies delving into the struggle of the one against a futuristic, powerful state where the individual has no rights. Finally, it would be impossible not to mention the Wachowski Brothers and not to mention and recommend The Matrix.


Thanks to guest critic AME.

Find Me Guilty

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated R for strong language and some violence.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Director Sidney Lumet revisits the themes of two of his most memorable films in this movie, but with less success. Like Dog Day Afternoon, it is a true story with colorful characters and both comic and tragic overtones. Like 12 Angry Men it is a story of the way justice is — and is not — served by our judicial system. Like both of those films, Lumet convincingly creates the New York setting. Most of the film is set in the courtroom and the grandeur of its aspirations and the grit of its experiences is evocatively portrayed. But an uncertain point of view leaves the story and characters less clear and the resolution unsatisfying.


It is the story of the longest criminal trial in U.S. history, with charges against 20 alleged members of the Lucchese crime family led by Newark, New Jersey mob boss Anthony Accetturo. It took the government two years to present its endlessly complicated case. In the midst of testimony about a tangled web of alleged criminal actions involving gambling, drugs, theft, and murder, one of the defendants attracted the most attention. He was Giacomo “Fat Jack” DiNorscio (Vin Diesel, unrecognizable but for his gravelly voice under a wig and some extra weight). And while the other defendants each had his own lawyer, DiNorsico represented himself, a source of intense frustration for the prosecutor and the judge but welcome comic relief for the jury. “I’m a gagster, not a gangster,” he told them. And they laughed.


The prosecutor was dumbfounded and furious. He could not understand how a jury could be sympathetic to a group of people who not only stole from just about everyone but now and again, actually killed people who got in their way.


And you know, that’s the problem. He’s right. The trial was a circus. It was a mistake to put all of those defendants, each with is own lawyer, into the same case. In the midst of the numbingly complex details, the jury appears to develop some strange offshoot of the Stockholm Syndrome, identifying not with the prosecutors but with the defendants. For all their alleged crimes, they seemed more authentic and relatable than the prosecuting attorneys.


But we are not the jury, tied up with this crowd of “gagsters” for two years. And DiNorsico is not an endearing shlub like Al Pacino’s Sonny in Dog Day Afternoon, holding up a bank to get a sex change operation for his boyfriend. These are guys who stole much more for reasons that were far less romantic.


Lumet does a much better job evoking the time and place than he does making us sympathetic to DiNorsico. All of the performances are excellent, especially Peter Dinklage, superb as counsel for one of the other defendants, and Annabella Sciorra, blazingly hostile in one brief scene as DiNorsico’s ex-wife. Diesel shows us DiNorsico’s Runyonesque charm and his strong, if oftem misplaced, sense of loyalty, but we never feel the sympathy Lumet clearly thinks he deserves. At the end of the movie, we feel, instead, like the jury, that we have spent too much time and understood too little.

Parents should know that this movie concerns the trial of a group of men charged with serious crimes ranging from drug dealing to gambling and murder. Characters use very strong language and there are references to violence and drug use. A character tries to kill another with a gun, shooting him several times. Characters complain about ethnic stereotypes but it can be argued that the film also perpetuates those stereotypes.


Families who see this movie should talk about why the jury found Jackie appealing — and why director Lumet found his story appealing. How did Lumet make clear his own feelings about Jackie?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Goodfellas and Lumet’s 12 Angry Men and Dog Day Afternoon. Those who want to learn more about the real case should read The Boys from New Jersey.

The Hills Have Eyes

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for strong gruesome violence and terror throughout, and for language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

If these hills only had eyes, it would be one thing but parents should know that they also have mutants wielding pickaxes which results in a disturbingly graphic movie not suitable for sensitive audiences of any age or species.


Even some horror movie fans might be put off by this graphically violent flick about a mutant band of robbing and raping cannibals that make short work of a vacationing family until they push the family dog and the self-important son-in-law too far and end up in a bloodbath. French director Alexandre Aja, who made last year’s ambitious but disappointing “High Tension”, turns out a solid if not outstanding update of Wes Craven’s “The Hills have Eyes” from 1977, which taught the world that family vacations are just not safe.


The fairly disagreeable Carter family, comprising husband, wife, three children, son-in-law, grandchild and two dogs, are driving out to the coast through the desert to celebrate the senior Carters’ twenty-fifth anniversary. When a conflicted gas station owner tells them about a shortcut to the highway, the bickering family set out across the rocky desert and into a trap. With the truck totaled and the sun setting, the family realizes that they are not alone in the hills and that the others out there give new meaning to the phrase “playing with your food.”


Aja expends little effort on altering the script of the original but instead adds in marginally better actors, a few heavy handed political asides, a ponderous explanation, a lot more explicit violence and a slightly jaunty sensibility that seems intended to pass for humor. This is not a psychological thriller – this is a gore fest, so audiences should not be surprised when supposedly sensible characters act irrationally, such as going off alone, calling out in the dark and not warning others that the family dog has been disemboweled. In fact, the most sensible and selfless behavior of all is demonstrated by a mutant girl and a German Sheppard, which means that many audiences will not care much who ultimately survives the escalating body count.


For slasher fans, Aja’s lush style and loyalty to the original will make this a worthy wander but for all others be warned, do not enter them there hills.


Parents should know that this is a graphically violent horror movie with constant peril and the violent deaths of almost all on-screen characters. Most of a family is slaughtered and bodies are eaten onscreen. Even fans of the original might be disturbed by the extremely graphic gore and the rape scene. Parents should know that a baby is taken away to be eaten, that a dog is disemboweled and consumed, that characters are killed onscreen in a range of explicit deaths, many involving pickaxes, and that female characters are subjected to sexual assaults. Characters swear, smoke and refer to marijuana use. Political jibes and name-calling highlight friction between family members.


Families who see this movie might talk about the nuclear testing in the Southwest, which is the back story for the movie and for the rage of many of the characters. Why might the juxtaposition of the 1950’s style family homes and mannequins be an effective horror technique? How does the desert play a part in the story?


Families who are interested in the inspiration for this movie, might like to read more about the legend of Alexander “Sawney” Bean, who supposedly was a Scotsman married to a witch living in the late 1300’s as the head of a cave-dwelling family which survived by robbing English travelers and eating their corpses. The legend is considered by many a boogeyman tale about the Scots, who were in conflict with the English at the time, but generations have been chilled by this bloody story, described in detail down to King James’ manhunt and the ensuing executions of the Bean family.


For families looking for movies with similar thrills and kills, the 1977 original “The Hills have Eyes” helped launch Wes Craven’s fame as a horror-director. Both versions of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” feature people going off the beaten path and being hunted down by a terrifying family.

Thanks to guest critic AME.

The Shaggy Dog

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated G
Movie Release Date:1959
DVD Release Date:2006

A ring falls into the pants cuff worn by teenager Wilby Daniels (Tommy Kirk) while he is visiting a museum, and, not noticing, he carries it home with him. The ring’s ancient spell turns him into a huge shaggy dog, identical to the one owned by his pretty new neighbor, Franceska (Roberta Shore). Wilby’s father (Fred MacMurray) is allergic to dogs, so Wilby hides out in Franceska’s house, where he overhears Franceska’s father plotting to steal secret missile plans. Still a dog, Wilby has to figure out a way to foil the spies and save Franceska.

This low-key fantasy/comedy is a long-time family favorite, and children love to see the dog driving the car and wearing pajamas.

The 1976 sequel, The Shaggy D.A. was followed by more two made-for-television sequels starring Harry Anderson.

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