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Believe Me
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:

Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

The Fault in Our Stars
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language
Release Date:
June 6, 2014

Tracks
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some partial nudity, disturbing images and brief strong language
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo
Release Date:
June 27, 2014

The Boxtrolls
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Neighbors
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

The Hulk

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

If what you want from a comic book movie is to see the hero fight the bad guys, this is not your movie. Director Ang Lee creates images of great grace, elegance, and dignity, but he tries to make the inner conflicts the focus of the story and it does not work. It is also really, really, really long.

Eric Bana plays Bruce Banner, a scientist who has repressed memories of childhood trauma and as a result represses his emotions as well. He cares for fellow PhD Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) but is unable to let her get close to him. When he is exposed to gamma rays in a lab accident, it triggers a genetic mutation that was the result of his father’s experiments. When all that repressed anger is released, he becomes the physical embodiment of rage: an enormous green guy known as the Hulk.

Lee beautifully creates the sense of the comic book page with intercut scenes that show how comics and movies, popular entertainments that began at the same time and became art forms, influenced each other. But the story moves too slowly. And the Hulk moves too fast — the decision to make the Hulk character entirely computer-animated was a mistake. Computer animated characters can feel completely “real” in an entirely animated film, as shown by “Shrek” and “Finding Nemo,” and even in a live-action film, as with “The Two Towers’” Golum. But they had human actors providing the voices, giving great depth and character to the performances. The Hulk does not speak (except briefly), so he never comes to life. Furthermore, his interaction with the real physical world is not believable. He is supposed to be extremely dense and heavy, but when he jumps, he lands like a grasshopper, absurdly resembling a Gameboy version of Super Mario.

We never really care about him or root for him, and his fights, while impressively staged, are never compelling. He does not fight bad guys; he fights the Army, which is trying to stop him from destroying everything around him. He is more like King Kong than Spider-Man (and therefore truer to the comic book version of the character than the television version).

Like all superheroes, the Hulk is really the fantasy id unleashed. That could probably be turned into a good movie, but this isn’t it. Jennifer Connelly looks lovely, but basically carries over her “Beautiful Mind” role, except this time instead of being in love with a brilliant crazy guy she’s in love with a brilliant green crazy guy. Nick Nolte, looking more crazed than in the mug shot for his recent arrest for driving under the influence, overdoes the mad scientist bit as Bruce Banner’s father. His character is supposed to add dark, Oedipal themes of destiny and consequences, but his appearances frequently sparked laughter from the audience and his final conversation with his son plays like a parody of Sam Shepherd as translated from the Finnish. Eric Bana as the Hulk in human form just looks sorry to be there. When he cries at last, we feel his pain.

Parents should know that the movie has a great deal of comic-book-style “action violence,” meaning that there is a lot of destruction, but it is not very graphic. Some viewers may be upset by the tragic family events in the story.

Families who see this movie should talk about the appeal of comic book characters, especially the Hulk, the tangible representation of repressed anger.

Families who enjoy this movie might like to see the original “King Kong,” also about a misunderstood giant creature who loves a beautiful woman and is hunted by the military. They should also see some of the other comic book-based movies, including “Superman,” “Batman,” and “Spider-Man.”

Alex and Emma

posted by rkumar
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:PG-13
Movie Release Date:2003

Kate Hudson is so irresistibly charming that it is easy to forget how tepid and uninspired this movie is. It is always a delight to see Hudson’s saucer-eyed smile and impeccable timing, but it would be just as entertaining to watch a 90-minute documentary of Hudson shopping for groceries.

“Alex and Emma” gives us two stories, neither especially romantic nor comic. Luke Wilson, believably seedy but not a believeable leading man, plays Alex, a successful novelist who is into some very mean loan sharks for $100,000 in gambling debts. He has just 30 days to get them the money, and the only way to do that is to complete his novel and get the rest of the advance from the publisher. The problem is that he has not started.

He hires a stenographer named Emma (Hudson) so he can dicate the entire novel to her. As he tells her the story of a love triangle set in the 1920′s (with characters also played by Hudson and Wilson), the story in the book both reflects and influences the relationship between the writer who is telling the story and the woman who is listening and writing it down.

Alex tells Emma that he does not need to know where his story is going because the characters will take over. This was probably wishful thinking on the part of the four screenwriters behind this movie (including director Rob Reiner), because its first big problem is that the story — in fact, both stories — just keep stalling. Maybe that is because these people are not really characters, just collections of quirks and quips.

All romantic comedies have a fairy tale quality, so an element of fantasy is not just expected, but welcome. And it is not only acceptable in fairy tales for people to behave foolishly or to fail to ask simple questions; it feels psychologically true as a metaphor for the irrationality of falling in love. But this movie topples from fantasy to carelessness, abandoning the most basic elements of reasonableness in a way that is just sloppy. If Reiner wants to appear as the publisher-cum-fairy-godfather, that’s fine. But absent some sort of magic wand, it is preposterous to the point of lack of respect for the audience to expect us to go along with the movie’s set-up, from Alex’s on-again-off-again gambling problem, writer’s block, and romantic entanglements to the basic facts of how writers, editors, and publishers operate.

Parents should know that the movie has sexual references and situations, including a comic but graphic sexual encounter with partial nudity that is strong for a PG-13. Characters have sex without any meaningful commitment. Characters drink and use strong language. There is peril and violence in a comic context but constituting a genuine threat and a death (from natural causes) that is played for grisly humor.

Families who see this movie should talk about differences between love “with laundry” and without. When you feel attracted to more than one person, how do you decide? When you have been hurt, how do you know when to forgive?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Kirk Douglas in “My Dear Secretary,” about another author with writer’s block who hires a pretty secretary. They will also enjoy seeing Hudson’s equally adorable mother, Goldie Hawn, in a better romantic comedy that is also set in a seedy apartment with a bed that is reached by a ladder, “Butterflies are Free.” And every family should try to see the delightful musical “Bells Are Ringing,” about a woman who helps a writer get back to work.

Winged Migration

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2003

When was the last time you saw a movie where the audience cheered for characters who accomplished amazing feats without ever exposing a mid-rift or flexing a dramatic muscle, and never once relied upon special effects to gild their achievements? Most of us would be hard-pressed to come up with a handful of examples, much less a single movie where those characters are birds. In this 85 minute feast for the eyes, you are treated to breathtaking footage and the adventures of thousands of avian protagonists as they face adversity on their travels across the globe. “Winged Migration” is as pretty and light as a feather on the wind; never stopping long enough to get mired down in detail, while always keeping your imagination on the wing.

The movie, as the name would suggest, is about migrations although a fair share of the footage is of fuzzy nestlings and quirky mating dances. The camera spends so much time in the air that you feel wind-blown and tired from the work necessary in flying across continents and oceans. When several geese hitch a ride on a ship’s deck during a storm in the middle of a sea, the audience breaths a collective sigh of relief and it is, perhaps, our connection to the birds that is the most interesting achievement of the movie. That we are flesh and they are fowl is irrelevant as they pursue lives as fragile and mesmerizing as any caught on film.

For ornithologists or those who watch an inordinate amount of animal shows, this movie might seem oddly naked, devoid as it is of any real data or facts. Instead of David Attenborough’s breathy insights to avian habits, “Winged Migration” lets the birds honk, squawk, trill and sing for themselves. We are not told why the Clark’s Grebe pops up on top of the water to dash around like a feathered water skier or how the Greater Sage Grouse makes those popping sounds with its inflated chest. Director Jacques Perrin, whose documentary “Microcosmos” (1996) swept the audience into the world of insects, again prefers beautifully filmed vignettes of life with minimal human interjections.

Lovely as it is, there are two aspects of this movie that do not fly; the soundtrack and the sporadic commentary by Perrin. The second-rate New Age soundtrack makes you long for those moments where the only music is beating wings and the raucous honks of our feathered friends. Perrin, who sounds like a bored Jacques Cousteau, provides no insights into the birds when he does feel moved to speak, but plenty of penny ante philosophy which does not do justice to the heroic journeys on-screen.

The film’s direction seems without reason at times, drifting between continents and species without that instinctual compass so vaunted in its subjects. However, there were no complaints from an audience willing to glide on its journey from the African White Pelican to Antarctica’s Rock-hopper Penguins to the flamboyant characters of an Amazon jungle. If you dream of flying to far-off lands but do not want to dwell on reason or details, then “Winged Migration” might be the gust of wind to take you there.

Parents should know that the birds face peril on land and on the wing. Several are shot, a couple of them are caged, and some are preyed upon by other birds. A Red-Breasted Goose flounders in an oil refinery’s effluent and is left behind by the flock in one scene while in another it is implied that a penguin chick is eaten by a scavenger. Young children might be disturbed by the inability of an injured Tern to escape from attacking crabs.

Families who see this movie might wish to count each scene where a bird is helped or hindered by humans or something human-built. Is the help or hindrance intended? What could your family do that might make an impact on the lives of birds?

Families who enjoy this movie should see “Microcosmos” (1996), Perrin’s loving look at the insect world. Those looking for adding detail and depth to their bird knowledge might be interested in the ten part series, “The Life of Birds” (1998), which is narrated by David Attenborough and aired on PBS in 1999. For those looking for story and adventure featuring geese on the wing, “Fly Away Home” (1996) is a lovely little movie.

Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd

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

This movie begins with the birth of one of the characters — from the baby’s point of view. He begins to emerge, then he bites the doctor and goes back inside. If he had to watch this movie, he would have stayed there.

No one expects greatness from a movie called “Dumb and Dumberer.” It would be dumb, dumberer, and dumberest to expect much by way of humor or plot or character or energy. Even so, this manages to be disappointing.

So, those who fondly remember the original “Dumb and Dumber,” starring Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey should watch it again rather than sit through this lame prequel, showing Harry and Lloyd in high school back in the 1980′s.

The film tweaks the 80′s as a kind of dumb and dumberer decade, with 80′s relics like acid washed jeans, Vanilla Ice, Devo, and Bob Saget (whose part consists of screaming the same four-letter word over and over). There are some good moments with always-terrific Eugene Levy as the corrupt principal who wants to embezzle the money that is supposed to go to the special needs class so he can buy a condo in Hawaii. SNL’s Cheri Oteri has some funny blank looks as his game but addled lunch lady co-conspirator. But the only newcomer whose career will probably survive this movie is Eric Christian Olson, as Lloyd (the character played by Carey in the original). Olson does not imitate Carey; he more or less channels his physical elasticity and dumb-but-thinks-he’s-got-it-all-figured-out look, and he adds his own goofy sweetness, creating a real presence in the midst of what is otherwise close to a complete waste of time.

Parents should know that in addition to being dumberest, this movie has strong language and raunchy double entendres that 14-year-olds will probably find hilarious. A melted chocolate bar turns into an extended graphic excrement joke that is repeated later with mud. There is some stereotyping about a foreign exchange student, though she turns the tables on those who make assumptions about her.

Families who see this movie should talk about how “special needs” kids are treated in school.

There have been wonderful, classic comedies about people who were not very smart. But this isn’t one. Those that are include the films of Laurel and Hardy and even the Three Stooges. Families who enjoy this movie should take a look at “Big Business” or “Two Tars” to see how geniuses can make brilliant comedy out of simple-mindedness.

Previous Posts

Believe Me
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posted 11:06:16am Sep. 30, 2014 | read full post »

Gone Girl's Rosamund Pike
Rosamund Pike delivers a stunning breakthrough performance in this week's "Gone Girl." She's been a favorite of mine for a long time, for her elegant voice and precise acting choices. It's a good

posted 8:00:23am Sep. 30, 2014 | read full post »

Telling Time in "All That Jazz"
One of my favorite writers provides insights into one of my favorite (if flawed) movies -- Matt Zoller Seitz created a beautiful video essay about Bob Fosse's autobiographical "All That Jazz" for the Criterion Edition, and then they were unable to use it due to rights problems with the movie clips h

posted 3:19:48pm Sep. 29, 2014 | read full post »

Tomorrow on PBS: The Makers: Comedy
Be sure to tune in to PBS tomorrow night for what is sure to be one of the highlights from one of the all-time best series on PBS: "The Makers," the story of women in America.  Tomorrow's episode is about women in comedy. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHxHMgSF7UI[/youtube]

posted 8:00:45am Sep. 29, 2014 | read full post »

Tomorrow on HBO: "The Fifty Year Argument" -- Scorsese on The New York Review of Books
Once upon a time, there was no internet. And instead of bloggers and pundits and tweets we had something called public intellectuals, people who read widely, thought deeply, and wrote long, passionate, carefully reasoned, thoroughly documented and beautifully written articles about the important is

posted 3:59:26pm Sep. 28, 2014 | read full post »


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