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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

 

The Maze Runner
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images
Release Date:
September 19, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for violence including battle sequences and intense images
Release Date:
December 12, 2014

 

Magic in the Moonlight
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout
Release Date:
August 1, 2014

Top Five
Lowest Recommended Age:
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use
Release Date:

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Release Date:
August 8, 2014

The Grudge

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

This is one of those “Don’t go into the house” movies, a remake of a popular Japanese horror film by Takashi Shimizu, the writer/director of the original.

It is again set in Japan, but this time, it is a group of Americans at the center of the film. As a part of her training, an exchange student exchange student (Sarah Michelle Geller as Karen) is sent out as a substitute for the caregiver of a woman suffering from some dementia. The woman is an American, living with her son and daughter-in-law, and with a daughter living nearby. It turns out the house was once the site of great rage and anguish, giving rise to a curse that attacks anyone who enters. The rest of the movie is basically seeing how all of that plays out.

Shimizu makes good use of shifts in time to pull us into what little story there is. The usual ghost activities (messing up the house, stalking people) are updated a little bit. These ghosts can call a cell phone and get from the lobby to the 16th floor very quickly. There are some creepy images and gotcha scares but nothing can disguise the fact that this is just a “who gets it next and how does he get it” movie. Too much of it is familiar, though, from the mysteriously feral child to the backwards-crab-crawling guy looking horrified at some looming presence. You know if a bloody jaw with teeth shows up, eventually we’re going to have to find out where, or should I say who it came from.

Indeed, the biggest problem with the film is that, like many American remakes (Wicker Park is one recent example), feels it has to explain too much. We get a helpful little ghost re-enactment of the whole story. Horror movies are much more horrifying when they leave the explanation to that part of our imagination where our own deepest fears lie, so each of us can feel personally unsettled right where we live.

Parents should know that this is a very scary movie with a great deal of tension, many jump-out-at-you surprises, graphic violence, and frequent grisly and disgusting images, including graphic wounds, suicide, dead bodies and, pieces of dead bodies. Characters also drink and smoke and use strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about the enduring appeal of ghost stories and their own views on whether strong emotions can continue to “occupy” a place. They might want to take a look at websites like this one and this one to find out more about efforts to investigate real-life reports of ghosts and curses.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the original Ju-On: The Grudge and its sequels and some of the other haunted house movies like The House that Dripped Blood, The Haunting, The People Under the Stairs, Poltergeist, and William Castle’s Homicidal, the movie that had a “Coward’s Corner” with a booth set up to provide refunds to people who did not want to see what happened when the character ignored the warning not to go into the house.

The Incredibles

posted by rkumar
A
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2004

Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), a superheroine whose limbs and torso can stretch the length of an Olympic swimming pool, pauses for just a second on the way to saving the world to check out her rear end in the form-fitting super-suit. Seems that after three children, there’s a bit of stretching there that doesn’t have anything to do with superpowers. Her super-strong husband, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) finds that if he is not careful in throwing massive evil robots around, he can throw his back out, too.

These are superheroes who find that everyday life is just as much of a challenge as taking on the bad guys, especially when that challenge includes a baby, a super-speedy son and a middle school daughter who can create a force field.

People began suing the “supers” for malpractice, so the government established a relocation program to set them up with “normal” lives. Mr. Incredible, now known simply as Bob Parr, works in a cubicle for an insurance company. Though he is told to deny all claims, he is such a do-gooder at heart that he can’t help telling people how to get around the bureaucracy. Elastigirl, now known as Helen, is preparing leftover dinners and coping with the children, and that means making sure they don’t use those special talents and blow their cover.

Characters with super-powers that essentially super-size traditional family roles gives great resonance to the story: the father strong, the mother stretched in a dozen different directions, the hyper-active son and the daughter who just wants to be invisible and create a force field to keep the world away — and who can do it, too.

What is most incredible and most engaging about “The Incredibles” is how, well, credible it is. Writer/director Brad Bird and the brainiacs at Pixar have climbed the Mount Everest of animation and created human characters as vivid and believable and utterly endearing as any who have ever appeared on film — animation, live-action, and everything in between.

In a witty prologue, we see the superheroes being interviewed. As Mr. Incredible leans toward the television camera, he gets slightly out of focus. It must have been tempting to take advantage of the endless precision of computer images to keep the edges sharp. But this is a movie that is clever and confident enough to permit a little imperfection in pursuit of perfect believability.

The action sequences are superbly staged, inventive and exciting, especially the fights with a many-tentacled robot, and when the Incredible family is joined by the very, um, cool Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), who can create ice out of the water molecules in the air.

It helps to have superb voice talents. Hunter, Jackson, and Nelson create marvelously warm and vivid personalities. NPR essayist Sarah Vowell’s adolescent growl is perfect for pre-teen Violet. Jason Lee is terrifically petulant as the bad guy, and and Elizabeth Pena is a sultry femme almost-fatale.

It’s also one of the funniest movies of the year, hilarious at every level from school-age snickers to good-natured teen-age snarkiness and good, old-fashioned knowing and subtle grown-up laughter. Bird himself plays the funniest character in the film, but I would not think of spoiling the surprise by telling you which one.

Most of all, though, the movie has wisdom and tons of heart. It is a smart, fresh, and funny movie about the real superheroes — families.

Parents should know that this PG movie is more violent and scarier than the previous G-rated Pixar films and may be too intense for younger children. While the violence is low-key and not graphic, even comic, it may be upsetting for some children. A character makes some mild exclamations (“My God!”, etc.). There is also a reference to attempted suicide that some audience members may find disturbing.

Families who see this movie should talk about what superpowers they would most like to have and why. What would your uniform look like? Why did Violet begin to wear her hair back after she used her superpowers? What made Syndrome so angry?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy other Pixar/Disney classics like Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., and A Bug’s Life. They should also see Bird’s previous movie, the under-appreciated The Iron Giant, an exciting and touching story featuring a combination of computer and traditional animation and the voice talents of Jennifer Anniston and Vin Diesel. And they will enjoy the Spy Kids series, also about a family of heroes.

Team America: World Police

posted by rkumar
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the team behind “South Park,” take such pleasure in being naughty that it makes their work more silly than smutty. It’s all just too cheerful to be shocking, even with a character made out of human excrement (the “South Park” television show), a singing sexual organ (the “South Park” movie), or naked marionettes in a variety of sexual acts and positions (“Team America: World Police”). In their best work, the outrageousness is in aid of a statement, a sharp attack, so that the four-letter words and cheerful bad taste transcend their schoolyard shock value to work as satire.

But when there is no special point of view and they just decide to bash everyone on all sides, it runs out of steam quickly. This latest venture would have made a hilarious 15-minute short film, but at feature length it gets repetitive and tiresome.

Inspired by the British children’s television show of the 1960’s, “Thunderbirds,” Parker and Stone have created a fabulously intricate puppet world, with replicas of iconic monuments from Mount Rushmore and the Sphinx to the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal. The puppets themselves are sensationally funny. The heroes are all square jaws and twinkling eyes and possibly a millimeter less wooden than the hunky heroes who inspired them. (Though I can’t imagine how Stone and Parker missed one obvious convention of the genre, the minority member of the team to lend a little coolness to the whitebread heroes.)

Team America is a sort of world-class SWAT team, five all-American, good-looking heroes who are masters of everything from kick-boxing to rocket science. They toss off brave wisecracks while gunning down evil-doers, with time for a slow-motion hair-toss when it’s over. And they have a cool clubhouse inside Mount Rushmore, equipped with every kind of transportation and weapon system and a swinging cocktail lounge.

But one of the team is killed, just as he is proposing to another team member, Lisa. To replace him, the team’s major domo/coach, Spottswoode (Daran Norris, sounding like Peter Graves), recruits…an actor!

Yes, Gary, star of the hit Broadway musical, “Lease” (skewering “Rent” with a showstopping final number, “Everyone has AIDS!”), is brought on board because the most important skill for fighting terrorism is acting ability.

Spottswoode tells Gary (like many of the characters, voiced by Parker), “as an actor with a double major in theater and world languages, you’re the perfect weapon!” At first Gary says no, but there is something about saving the world, or maybe just something about wanting to see Lisa again that makes him change his mind.

So, Gary gets a makeover and infiltrates the terrorists. But things go wrong, and the country loses faith in Team America. Meanwhile, Kim Jong Il is plotting total world domination and a bunch of Hollywood celebrities think they have the solution for world peace.

When the movie is good — its dead-on production design and the never-flagging hilarity of the marionettes doing just about anything — people who want to fight terrorists, people who don’t want to fight terrorists, people who are terrorists, and people who just have really, really inflated senses of their importance in the world — it is very funny. A song comparing how much Gary misses Lisa to how bad Pearl Harbor was, a musical salute to the montage, and Kim Jong Il’s plaintive lament about how lonely he is are all sharply funny. Stone and Parker go after everyone here — people who want to fight terrorists, people who don’t want to fight terrorists, people who are terrorists, and people who just have really, really inflated senses of their importance in the world, so the satire is therefore too scattershot to sustain the film.

Parents should know that this movie is not for children or even for many adults. It is intentionally offensive and extremely vulgar and raunchy, with exceptionally strong language and graphic sexual references and situations. Naked marionettes engage in a Kama Sutra of sexual acts and positions. The movie is oddly homophobic. The organization based on the Screen Actors Guild is called the Film Actors Guild so it can have the initials F.A.G. A male character forces another male character into a sexual encounter not because they are gay but as an expression of power. Later, the experience is made public to humiliate the one who had to submit. There is a lot of graphic puppet violence, with characters getting shot, blown up, decapitated, sliced in half, mauled, and burned. Characters drink and smoke. And there is an extended gross-out barfing sequence.

Families who see this movie should talk about why celebrities speak out on politics and how effective they are. They should also talk about what makes the marionettes so funny. Would the movie work as well if it was animated or live-action?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Airplane and Austin Powers and its sequels. They may also like to see save-the-world movies like Three Days of the Condor and Foul Play.

Taxi

posted by rkumar
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2004

“Superman has kryptonite,” explains Washburn (Jimmy Fallon), showing that even the greats have their weaknesses. “Indiana Jones has snakes. Whitney Houston has Bobby Brown.” (Ba-dum-pump) He might as well have added that movies have former Saturday Night Live stars, who are brought in to sell tickets and add comedy to weak scripts just by virtue of their presence.

This is a “oneza” movie — you know, one’s a dedicated cop who is the world’s worst driver (Fallon) and one’s a speed-loving would-be NASCAR driver on her first day with a souped-up taxicab (Queen Latifah as Belle). When he hails her cab to get to a bank robbery, it leads to all kinds of misunderstandings, shoot-outs, and car chases before they catch up with the culprits, a gang of (yes, really) four Brazillian supermodels.

Queen Latifah and Fallon have strong screen presences and great comic timing and the movie has a few moments of silly fun and a couple of slick stunts. The talented Jennifer Esposito gives the exasperated police lieutenant role, always required in movies like this one, some warmth and appeal. Supermodel Giselle Bundchen is primarily called upon to lean over in low-cut shirts and to have extremely long legs, both of which she does well. She is also occasionally called upon to act, which she does not do well.

The movie has some numbingly obvious musical cues and even more numblingly obvious jokes, with situation after situation rather than story. The script is so sit-com-ish you almost expect a laugh track. You almost even think the movie could use one, especially for uninspired set-ups with no possible reason for the story, like having Washburn and his boss/former girlfriend dress up in completely unbelieveable outfits for an undercover operation, and too-convenient resolutions that remove whatever comic or narrative impact the situations might have had. It all seems a little tired, from the lead-off to the tune of a hit song from a year ago to the attempt to find some humor in a character who has the same name as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia. This is one “Taxi,” you should think twice before hailing. (But if you do see it, wait until the very end because the best joke in the movie comes during the outtakes over the credits.)

Parents should know that the movie has a very light-hearted, even cavalier attitude toward substance abuse. Washburn’s mother is an alcoholic, and this is primarily played for comedy. Washburn and Belle are exposed to nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”), also played for comedy (including a side effect of making their voices deeper, a sort of anti-helium). Parents should make sure that children and teens who see this movie understand that inhaling nitrous oxide for non-medicinal reasons can be dangerous. The movie has a few strong words, including some not usually found in PG-13’s, like an anatomical term and the n-word (heard in a song lyric). The movie has a lot of comedy-style violence, with many car chases and explosions and some shoot-outs. Some characters are injured, but no one is killed or badly hurt. There are some mild sexual references. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of capable and intelligent minority women and inter-racial respect and cooperation.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Washburn was a bad driver and what makes someone a good driver.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy D.C. Cab and Quicksilver. They might want to take a look at the far better French original version also called Taxi.

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