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Black or White
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language, thematic material involving drug use and drinking, and for a fight
Release Date:
January 30, 2015

 

The Book of Life
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

Black Sea
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language throughout, some graphic images and violence
Release Date:
January 30, 2015

 

The Judge
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language including some sexual references
Release Date:
October 10, 2014

Strange Magic
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some action and scary images
Release Date:
January 23, 2015

 

Fury
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

An Unfinished Life

posted by rkumar
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some violence including domestic abuse, and language.
Movie Release Date:2005

A bear is wandering through farms looking for something to eat. An angry and abusive man is following the woman who left him because he wants her to come back, or because he wants to hit her again, or both. Neither appears threatening at the moment, but both can and have inflicted great damage and are willing to do more.

A man has lost his son, a woman has lost her husband, a child has lost her father. This has left each of them isolated and fragile. They will learn that it is the not the loss but the isolation that makes them so vulnerable.

Jean (Jennifer Lopez) has a fresh bruise on her jaw. Gary (Damien Lewis) tells her that he loves her and hates to hurt her, but sometimes she just makes him do it.

She has stayed, before. But this time, she takes her daughter, Griff (lovely newcomer Becca Gardner) and leaves. She had hoped never to return to the place she grew up, but she has nowhere else to go. So she returns to the ranch owned by Einar Gilkyson (Robert Redford) and asks if she can stay just until she can get enough money to leave. And that is how Griff and her grandfather Einar meet for the first time.

Einar has given up most of his cattle and spends much of his time caring for his closest friend and former ranch hand, Mitch (Morgan Freeman), now disabled. His only other regular conversation is with the grave of his son, Griff’s father. He is angry with Jean; he can barely bring himself to look at her. But he agrees to let her stay.

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Most directors would take this material and hit us over the head with it. But Lasse Hallstrom trusts us and he trusts the story and the characters, taking his time, letting the story tell itself, helping us learn to care for the characters as they learn to care for each other. We know going in that this is going to be a story with revelations and confrontations and thawing and forgiveness. Hallstrom makes it work, with the able assistance of Redford and Freeman, who make us believe that they have been working that ranch together every day of the past 40 years. They have the affectionate rhythm of an old married couple (as the indispensible Freeman did with Clint Eastwood in “Million Dollar Baby”). Lopez does not have the range to inhabit her role fully, but she has a nice chemistry with the talented Gardner and with Josh Lucas as a sympathetic sheriff.

Parents should know that this movie has some disturbing violence, including references to domestic abuse and fatal accidents, guns, punching, peril, and injuries, and a bear attack. There is some strong language. Characters drink and there are references to alcohol abuse. The movie includes sexual references, including sex without emotional involvement, and non-explicit sexual situations.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Einer blamed Jean and why Jean blamed herself. What made Jean decide to think differently about herself? What makes people decide when it is time to tell the truth about themselves? What does Mitch think about the bear and why does he want the bear to have what he cannot have? What is an unfinished life and who in this movie has one?

Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate some of Hallstrom’s other films, including Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, the under-appreciated Once Around, and The Shipping News. They will also appreciate movies Redford directed, includingOrdinary People (directed by Redford) andThe Horse Whisperer (also starring Redford and a very young Scarlett Johansson).

A Sound of Thunder

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

The most remarkable special effect in this movie based on Ray Bradbury’s classic science fiction short story is Ben Kingsley’s hair. The usually-bald actor has been given a thick thatch so white it almost glows in the dark. He even has a little white soul patch under his lip. Now that’s scary.

It is set in Chicago in the year 2055. Kingsley plays Charles Hatton, who happily admits that his ambition is to own pretty much everything. He runs a time travel tour that takes wealthy people looking for thrills on a five-minute visit to the late cretaceous era, where they get a chance to kill an allosaurus before they come back to champagne and a 3-D recording of their big adventure.

Dr. Travis Ryer (Edward Burns) works for Hatton because it permits him to pursue his own research on extinct animals — pretty much every non-domesticated species, which all died out due to a virus. Ryer is confident that the protocols they have set up will ensure that nothing in the past will change, because even the slightest interaction with the past could create a variation with massive consequences for the present, 65 million years later. The allosaurus they kill was about to die anyway, and they shoot it with bullets made from water, leaving no residue of the future.

But, as another scientist expalains, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle a sort of cosmic Murphy’s law tells us that nothing is ever fool-proof. One of the clients makes a mistake, and when the group returns to the present, time waves, like a temporal sonic boom, bring about massive evolutionary changes. Ryer and his group have to figure out what happened and then go back again to prevent it as the city crumbles around them and huge predators from an alternate evolutionary chain chase after them.

This is an excuse for a lot of racing around and a lot of CGI, all of it pretty standard and unimaginative. The characters are dull, the actors all seem to wish they were somewhere else, and some of the special effects get downright silly. Keeping up with each wave of changes as they come through is more trouble than it’s worth. Sound of thunder? More like the whine of a petulant lapdog.

Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of action-style violence and intense peril, including scary-looking monsters and poisonous plants. A character commits suicide. It also includes brief strong language, social drinking, some sexual references, and a sexual situation with implied nudity.

Families who see this film should talk about the meaning of the butterfly effect. What kinds of controls can we put in place to prevent scientific advances from being exploited for short-term gains?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Jurassic Park and some of the other movies that play with the idea of the way changing past events can affect the present, like the Back to the Future trilogy and the underrated Frequency. They may also enjoy Grand Tour: Disaster in Time. And everyone should read Ray Bradbury’s original influential and very fine short story.

The Greatest Game Ever Played

posted by rkumar
B
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:2005

When you give a movie the title “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” expectations will be pretty high. When it turns out that the game in question is a golf match that occured almost a century ago between two people most people have never heard of, expectations plummet. This movie is somewhere in the middle.

Golf is not the most cinematic of sports. Director Bill Paxton has a nicely kinetic feel for the game, and does the best anyone could to give us a sense of the game’s beauty in the power of the drives and the precision of the putts. He also gives us some insight into the mental state of the competitors, as they try to clear their minds of fears and distractions. But any golf movie is going to have many, many shots of little white balls going into (or just missing) the hole, hitting the ball out of sand traps and water hazards, men with furrowed brows peering down the course, and the spectators in the gallery trudging along to the next shot. This one, with a three-day tournament to get through, has too many players and too many holes and gets a little lost in the rough.

But straight down the middle is a nice underdog story about a 20-year-old former caddy who beats the greatest player in the world. The talented Shia LeBoeuf plays Francis Ouimet who grew up across the street from the local golf course. He loves golf, but his father forces him to give it up. Then his idol, British champion Harry Varden (Stephen Dillane), comes to play in the U.S. Open, at the very golf club across the street from his house.

Francis enters as an amateur. He is treated with contempt by the members of the club, who believe that golf is a game only for the upper classes. The only caddy he can get is a 10-year-old boy hardly as big as the bag he has to carry. But if he didn’t have what it takes, we wouldn’t be making a movie about him, now, would we?

The best part of the movie is the interaction between Ouimet and Varden, who had more in common with each other than the minor difference of a world-class competition. Varden, too, was looked down on by the British golf establishment because of his humble origins. As somone who believed that

Parents should know that the movie has brief mild language, some ugly insults, and some tense emotional confrontations. Characters smoke cigarettes and a pipe. One character punches another in the nose.

Families who see this movie should talk about why golf was so important to Francis Ouimet and Harry Vardon. Why was it important to the wealthy and powerful people to keep talented but poor players out of the game? What made Francis change his mind about playing? What made his father change his mind? Why did Francis stay an amateur? Why doesn’t he tell Varden that they met once before?

Families who want to find out more about Francis Ouimet can read the book, also called The Greatest Game Ever Played.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy some of the classic golf movies, like the Tracy-Heburn comedy Pat and Mike (featuring some of the golf legends of the era and a very young Charles Bronson, still using his original name) and Tin Cup (mature material). Golf fans will enjoy the golf stories of P.G. Wodehouse, collected in Fore!: The Best of Wodehouse on Golf.

Transporter 2

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

Silly but stylish, this sequel to The Transporter is, like the original, all about the chases and fight scenes. It’s about the usual for a sequel — 2/3 of the quality of the original, but like its title character, it still delivers.

Jason Statham returns as Frank, the unflappable former special services guy who is prepared for anything and never gives up.

We get into the action right away when Frank, now located in Miami, is the subject of an attempted carjacking by the Black Eyed Peas. Okay, the carjackers just look like them. Fergie-wannabe and the rest are quickly dispatched, and Frank is on time for his pick up — Jack, the young son of the fabulously wealthy US Drug Czar (Mathew Modine). Frank has been driving him for a month, and they have become good friends. Frank has also become friendly with Audrey (Amber Valletta), Jack’s mother. She asks Frank to take Jack to his doctor’s appointment so she can get the house ready for his surprise party. But things go wrong, and Jack is kidnapped.

It will be many car chases, shoot-outs, and kicks and punches later before it all gets resolved. The fight choreography (by fight master Corey Yuen) is imaginative and entertaining, the chases are a popcorn pleasure, and the pacing is pure adrenaline. Frank does things with a fire extinguisher that, even when seen, are hard to believe — but lots of fun to watch.

The chemistry between Frank and Audrey and the visit from Frank’s old friend Tarconi (François Berleand) are distractions that don’t add much, and there’s not a lot of interest or energy in the villains and what they are trying to do. There’s one killer (Katie Nauta) who tries to be all twisted and crazy, but doesn’t quite make it, even though she likes to shoot people while she is wearing little more than bikini underwear, stockings and garter belt and high, high red heels. But like the rest of the movie, she’s less than meets the eye.

Parents should know that the movie has non-stop action violence, with many scary and dangerous car chases, shoot-outs, and kicking/punching fights. Many characters are injured or killed. Crotch injuries are played for humor. The movie includes mild sexual references, a sexual situation, brief nudity, and someone giving “the finger.” There are references to a cocaine cartel and to bioterrorism.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Frank decides what he will and will not do. Why didn’t he work with the police? Why are he and Tarconi friends?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original The Transporter and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and The Professional (both very violent).

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