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The Wrecking Crew
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for language, thematic elements and smoking images
Release Date:
March 27. 2015

 

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

Home
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action and some rude humor
Release Date:
March 27, 2015

 

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

Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Secret Ocean 3D
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
March 20, 2015

 

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

Stormbreaker

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for sequences of action violence and some peril.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

I never thought I’d miss Cody Banks. But the dull and lifeless Alex Rider brought back surprisingly fond thoughts of the better-than mediocre Agent Cody Banks and the terrific first two Spy Kids. Even the lousy third one was better than this dreary, too-violent, talent-wasting mess, based on the successful series of James Bond-for-kids books. It’s too violent for younger kids and too dull for older kids.


Alex Pettyfer plays Alex Rider, an English orphan who lives with his never-there uncle (brief appearance by a dashing Ewan McGregor) and a daffy but devoted American housekeeper/nanny (Alicia Silverstone) with a penchant for exotic cuisine. When his uncle is killed in the line of duty, Alex discovers that he was a spy. And all his uncle taught him about languages, martial arts, and extreme sports was his way of training him to be one as well. Sophie Okonedo and Bill Nighy are the spy chiefs who recruit Alex to pretend to be the winner of a computer competition, so he can find out what bad guy Boris, I mean Darius (Mickey Rourke) and his henchwoman Natasha, I mean Nadia (Missy Pyle) are up to.

There’s a lot of chasing around and some cool stunts, but it has a flat, draggy feel to it, some creepy moments of oddly insensitive interactions, and no sense of genuine enthusiasm or adventure.


Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of action-style violence. This means that there is no blood, but it is still disturbing; characters are killed and Alex uses guns.


Families who see this movie should talk about what qualities and education are required to be a spy.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the much better Agent Cody Banks and Spy Kids.

The Queen

posted by jmiller
A
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) is feeling more triumphant than nervous as he goes to Buckingham Palace for the queen’s formal invitation to serve. He and his wife all but snicker as they consider the anachronism of royalty in the modern age.

And then he goes in to meet her (Helen Mirren) and finds that she is, surprisingly…regal. She may dress in the world’s most expensive dowdy cardigans and head scarves and have the hairdo of a grade school principal. But there is something about her that reminds him that the British are not citizens but subjects. It’s not just that she gently reminds him of her place in history by mentioning her connection to both Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill as she coaches him through the protocol. She has her place in history. But there is something about her that is far from an historic leftover, something vitally present today.


Both Blair and the queen will shortly have to think more carefully about where the royal family is on that continuum between tradition and relevance. Almost immediately after this meeting, the queen’s former daughter-in-law, Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a shocking automobile crash. She was no longer a member of the royal family, but she was the mother of the heir to the throne. She was also the most widely recognized woman in the world. The very traits and faults that made her such an embarrassment to the royal family were the touches of humanity that millions of people found endearing. She was sometimes foolish but always genuine and she indisputably loved her sons with great warmth.


To her former in-laws, this was one final embarrassing and excessive incident. There seemed no question about the way to respond. Diana was no longer an official member of the Royal family, and it would be handled as a private matter with no public statement or display of grief and certainly no state funeral. The queen and her family went to their estate in Scotland.


But Blair, as a politician, knew that the people wanted more, needed more. He made his own deeply sympathetic statement. This only sharpened the contrast with the royal family. As literally tons of floral tributes were piled up by sobbing Brits outside the deserted Buckingham Palace, Blair knew his first great challenge as Prime Minister was to ask the queen to break with tradition and make a public statement about her loss as queen and grandmother to two now-motherless boys.


The performances are impeccable. Mirren, always splendid (most recently in the far showier role of the earlier Queen Elizabeth for HBO), here gives a performance of breathtaking tenderness and delicacy in evoking the subtle and complex conflict of emotions felt by the queen, the woman, the daughter, the mother, the grandmother, the prisoner of history and the maker of history. At one point, she and a huge stag being hunted by Prince Philip stop and gaze at each other. They understand each other, and that moment helps us to understand her.


Queen Elizabeth must find a way to bridge the assumptions and rules of the times of Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill to those of the time of cell phones that beam photos around the world. Her ancestor Henry VIII split the church to get a divorce and her great-uncle abdicated the throne to marry a divorced woman, making her father the king and putting her next in line for the throne. Her sister was not allowed to marry the man he loved because he was “unsuitable” because he was divorced. So, she married a suitable man she did not love and herself became a divorced woman. Three of Queen Elizabeth’s children are divorced. Where are the other royal families? The children of the Grimaldis of Monaco have out-of-wedlock children. How can a monarch retain credibility in a world that now believes in meritocracy? All she had was history and mystery. Both are not worth what they once were. Like Blair, we are moved from skepticism to sympathy and ultimately to respect by the exquisite performances and a perceptive screenplay that manages to be thoughtful not just about politics and celebrity but family, loss, and destiny. Like the queen, we know that a stag’s mystery and majesty may be both the reason for its appeal and the reason it is seen as prey.

Parents should know that the movie has brief strong language and references to adultery and to the car crash that caused the deaths of the former Princess of Wales, Dodi Al-Fayed, and security man Henri Paul. There are references to hunting and dead animal carcasses are displayed. There are some tense and sad family moments.


Families who see this movie should talk about why Tony Blair changed his mind about the queen. What was the influence of her uncle’s abdication? Who in this story has your sympathy and why?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the BBC series House of Cards. And they will enjoy a very different story about a very different princess, Roman Holiday, from an era when both princesses and journalists had a different idea about honor and responsibility. They can read Tony Blair’s statement on Diana’s death Time Magazine’s coverage of Diana’s life is here. The official website of the Royal Family has a great deal of historical and biographical information.

The Departed

posted by jmiller

Brilliantly acted, enthrallingly told, this vast, operatic saga centers on two men, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) and William Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), both Boston Southies. Both are pretending to be the opposite of what they really are. Both are caught between the fear of having their true selves revealed and the fear of hiding themselves so completely they can never come back.


It opens with a voice. A man is telling us how it works, and we can hear in his tone that he expects to be listened to, not just because he knows what he is talking about, but because he is used to power, having it and making the most of it, and especially enjoying it. We see him shaking down a store owner. His crude comment to the man’s young daughter shows more about his power over them and he fear he uses to wield it than the menacing men in his shadow. And we see that he plans to be around for a long time as he tosses a kid some money and plants a seed that there is more money to be had.


When that boy grows up, the man, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) tells him to get a job as a cop so he can provide information and cover from the inside. Sullivan proves to be a top student and is quickly promoted to the elite detective squad assigned to bring in Costello and his men.


Meanwhile, the chief detective, Oliver Queenan (Martin Sheen), has the same idea. He takes Costigan, a promising rookie with family ties to Costello and a history of getting into trouble, and sends him deep undercover in the Costello organization, starting with a bogus guilty plea and a real jail sentence. To protect Costigan, only Queenan and his deputy, Dignam (Mark Wahlberg in a brilliantly fiery and hilariously profane performance) know his identity. So as Sullivan and Costigan circle each other, each trying to find the mole in the other’s operation, they also become involved with the same woman (Vera Farmiga), a therapist.


She is just one of several mirrors that provide Costigan and Sullivan with reflections of themselves. The movie is filled with parallels — Costello and Queenan as well as the two young men they send into danger both psychic and mortal. Scorcese’s muscular mastery of story and action, the themes of loyalty, identity, power, and seduction, and the powerhouse cast make this one of the most compelling films of the year.

Parents should know that this is an extremely intense and disturbing film with frequent graphic violence, mostly with guns but also knives, fists, and slamming people with and into many blunt objects. Many characters are injured and killed and there are shots of bloody injuries. A character holds up a severed hand. There are explicit sexual references, many very crude and insulting, and non-explicit situations. Characters drink, smoke, and use and abuse drugs, street and medicinal. Characters use very strong language, including racial, ethnic, and homophobic epithets. Many characters are criminals and many lie, steal, murder, and betray each other.


Families who see this movie should talk about the compromises the people in the story must make in order to achieve their goals. When do you stop being one of the good guys (or bad guys) because you have to prove yourself to the group you are pretending to be a part of? What qualities are necessary to go undercover for such protracted periods? Why was Costigan chosen for the job, and what does the way he was interviewed tell you about what they were looking for?


Families who enjoy this movie should watch the Hong Kong original, Infernal Affairs. They will also enjoy Kurt Vonnegut’s book about an American who goes undercover during WWII as a Nazi, Mother Night, the BBC series, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and Scorcese’s other films, especially Goodfellas.

School for Scoundrels

posted by jmiller
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for language, crude and sexual content, and some violence.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2007

This movie asks the age-old question: Do nice guys finish last? Kind of the evil twin of last year’s Will Smith romantic comedy Hitch, this, too, is about a life coach who helps awkward, insecure men who want to attain beautiful women. But where Hitch taught them to listen, to be considerate, and to lean just 90 percent of the way into a kiss, Dr. P (Billy Bob Thornton) takes the scorched earth/whatever works route. He tells his students to lie, cheat, steal, and, if necessary, blow the competition out of the water.


One of those students is Roger (Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder), as mild as a glass of warm milk. By day, he drives a little car that could be lapped by a golf cart, writing parking tickets. The rest of the time, he pines for his pretty Australian grad student neighbor, the very sweet Amanda (Jacinda Barrett). He is so meek that he ends up not just paying for a ticket he gives to a couple of tough-looking guys, he loses his offical, department-issued sneakers to them as well. He is so unprepossessing that even the kids in the Big Brother program don’t want to spend time with him. He is so unsure of himself that when he tries to speak to Amanda, he keels over like a fainting goat.


So, Roger signs up for a class on how to be tough, manly, and competitive, for $5000 cash payable in advance. But once he starts to show some spirit, and once Dr. P gets a look at Amanda, it becomes a horns-bashing, head-butting, alpha-male battle.


Better at set-up than delivery, this is an underwritten movie with a lot of lags between laughs. Thornton is far better than his material, Michael Clarke Duncan is wasted on an ugly subplot and Sara Silverman, as Amanda’s roommate barely does more than a quick snarl. Heder’s move from playing an adolescent to an adult is uneasy, in part because the script does not seem to have any idea who Roger is. Barrett, using her native Australian accent for once, has a sweet, appealing presence. But the film’s flabby, vague tone gets more enervated as it runs out of ideas.

Parents should know that the movie features extended “humor” about rape. There is some strong language and some scenes take place in a bar. There is some comic violence with a lot of hit-in-the-crotch jokes.


Families who see this movie should talk about why the male characters have so much trouble standing up for themselves and going after what they want. What is the most important thing Roger learned?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Old School (mature material. They might also like to see the British film of the same name that inspired this one.

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