Movie Mom

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Little Hope Was Arson
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Not Rated
Release Date:
November 21, 2014

 

The Giver
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for a mature thematic image and some sci-fi action/violence
Release Date:
August 15, 2014

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

 

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

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

 

Into the Storm
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense destruction and peril, and language including some sexual references
Release Date:
August 8, 2014

Dawn of the Dead

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

Have you ever wanted a fresh start? To live in a shopping mall without needing your credit card? How about if these fantasies and more were writ large in a movie scary enough to remind you how good life is even without forgotten pasts and satiated consumer desires? By the time the opening credits roll, “Dawn of the Dead” (2004) amply demonstrates that it will be the blood-stained, armored bus to get you there. Where “there” is, though, may not suit your –ahem— tastes unless you are a fan of a particular horror sub-genre, the zombie flick.

This remake of George A. Romero’s 1978 sequel to Night of the Living Dead soups up the zombies, takes the gross-factor to eleven, and has a lot of cheeky in-jokes about its predecessor.

The basic plot remains the same. For unknown reasons, people across the country are turning into blood-thirsty, animated corpses with rotting visages only an undertaker could love. The morning after the outbreak of a mysterious “virus”, an unlikely group of humans still capable of thought and speech converge on an empty shopping mall outside Milwaukee to escape the marauding zombies, who were until then the friends, families, neighbors of the survivors. As they fortify their defenses against the peril outside the mall walls, they must also face the threats they pose to one another. Unspecified days pass in a haze of mall enjoyment and zombie sniping until the remaining survivors opt to make a break for the nearby marina in order to escape by boat to a –hopefully—deserted island in Lake Michigan.

Besides the musical touches (ironic mall muzak includes “All by Myself”), the humor in this movie is predominately referential. Fans of Romero’s work will note the cameos by Tom Savini (special effects artist on the 1978 version) as the televised sheriff, Scott Reiniger (who played Roger DeMarco) as the General, and Ken Foree (survivor Peter Washington in the original) as the fire and brimstone preacher. Additionally, mall stores include “Wooley’s Diner” (Wooley was the SWAT team leader in the first version) and “Gaylen Ross” (the actress who played survivor Francine).

In comparison with the original, gone are the shrieking blondes and rampaging looters, while in are smart, controlled Ana (Sarah Polley as a believable nurse not afraid to wield a fire poker) and Kenneth (Ving Rhames) who is exactly the kind of cop you want walking beside you if you are facing scores of the undead. Also gone are the shambling zombies of yore. While they still wander aimlessly for the most part, when properly motivated by the presence of the living, the undead dart across parking lots, run after cars, bash through wooden obstacles, climb fences and dart through doggy doors. The pregnancy of one of the main characters is not the life-giving promise it was in the first movie. But it is in the end that the 2004 version differs most greatly from the original. (Spoiler: audience members looking for a somewhat happy ending will sprint to the exits the moment the final credits begin to roll, thus avoiding the nihilistic epilogue which is interwoven in the credits.)

If you are a fan of the horror genre, much less a “(Noun) of the Dead” fan, then this flick is a welcome, if derivative, fright-fest in the school of Romero’s classics. It is an entertaining enough trip to the kind of horror fantasy land that provides escape from ho-hum routines but ultimately it glorifies the simple pleasures exemplified in the movie’s opening scenes, of coming home from work to Date Night with your spouse, of a dear, precious normal life.

Parents should know that this movie is extremely violent, gory, and scary. Most of the characters die terrible and explicit deaths. The squeamish will be particularly disturbed by a scene of childbirth and the resulting mayhem. Characters amuse themselves by shooting zombies milling in the parking lot around the mall. There are two explicit sexual situations, including a tender one between a married couple.

Families who watch this movie might wish to discuss the different approaches taken by the survivors and the range of choices that they make. Are there times when the moral answer is at odds with the instinct to survive? How would you handle this variance?

While devoid of the aloof sexiness of the vampire or the feral force of the werewolf, the zombie continues to grip the imagination of story tellers and movies on the subject are legion. Families who enjoy this movie should see the 1978 original as well as the other two in the series, Night of the Living Dead and, the weaker, Day of the Dead. 28 Days Later is a tighter movie that deals with the many of the same themes, featuring zombie-like victims of infection. The Evil Dead series featuring zombie-like demons, especially Army of Darkness, is a classic of the genre.

For many more zombie movies, families might refer to this slightly dated but entertaining list from 1932”s White Zombie to 2002’s Resident Evil.

Those who find themselves discussing what they would do to survive in this situation might be interested in reading the humorous Zombie Survival Guide.

Families who are intrigued by similar themes of survivors isolating themselves from the infected and amusing themselves to pass the time, might enjoy The Decameron (mature content), G. Boccaccio’s classic book of 14th century nobles sitting out the plague.

Taking Lives

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

Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie) is an FBI profiler who immerses herself in her cases. She eats alone in an elegant hotel room, staring at photos of crime scenes and corpses. When construction equipment uncovers a dead body, she lies down in the muddy pit where and closes her eyes. She lies down on top of a bed that might have been the murderer’s, to see what he saw.

Scott has been brought in by the Canadian police to help them solve a murder. It turns out to be linked to other murders, probably the work of a man who kills men his age and size and then takes over their lives until it is time to move on to the next, “like a hermit crab — he outgrows one body and starts looking for a new one.”

The only witness is Costa (Ethan Hawke), an artist preparing for a big show. Illeana is not sure whether to trust him, arrest him, or fall for him. But is what draws her to him the part of her that understands killers?

Jolie’s character is inconsistently conceived, forcing her to take on almost as many personalities as the killer, cool professional, tomboy feminist, girlish romantic, and nesting loner. She has to be tough and vulnerable as the whims of the script demand, and that takes some of the steam out of the story. But director D.J. Caruso and a strong cast make the best of the potboiler material, creating a nicely creepy atmosphere and knowing when to surprise the audience with a shock — or a laugh — to release the tension. So if you don’t try to make it all make sense, you might find it to be a thriller with a couple of genuine thrills. And you can be relieved that at least this one doesn’t star Ashley Judd.

Parents should know that this is an R-rated thriller with intense and graphic violence. There are graphic injuries and grisly dead bodies, including some decomposed and one badly burned, plus a severed finger and a bloody wound. There are many tense scenes with characters in peril and one (apparently) especially horrific injury. Characters drink, smoke, and use strong language. There are sexual references and a sexual situation including nudity.

Families who see this movie should talk about what a profiler of serial killers might have in common with the killers to be profiled, a theme also explored in the Hannibal Lecter books by Thomas Harris. Families might want to take a look at the FBI’s website, which has a lot of information about their investigations, programs, and employment opportunities.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the multi-Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs and the underrated first Hannibal Lecter movie, Manhunter. They will also enjoy Jagged Edge with Glenn Close as a defense attorney who is drawn to her charming client even though he is charged with murdering his wife, and Copycat with Sigourney Weaver as a profiler stalked by a killer. And they should see Hitchcock’s great classic of the “should I trust the man I am attracted to” genre, Suspicion, with Oscar-winner Joan Fontaine wondering whether new husband Cary Grant wants to kill her with that glass of milk.

The Prince & Me

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

The title says it all. This is a classic Cinderella story about a hardworking girl from the Wisconsin dairy farm who wants to go to medical school but falls for a handsome and charming foreign exchange student who happens to be a prince in disguise. Does the course of true love run smooth? Not at first. Do they live happily ever after? What do you think?

Julia Stiles plays Paige Morgan, a serious and hard-working pre-med college student who has her whole life literally mapped out. She has a map of the world with pins showing all of the places she wants to visit after she completes her medical training and joins Doctors Without Borders.

Luke Mably plays Edvard, the heir to the Danish crown. His life is also planned for him, but unlike Paige, he is not the one who made the plans. While she is determined to follow a dream that will take her very far from the life she was born into, Edvard only wants to postpone the inevitable by having as much fun as possible before he has to take on the responsibilities of the life he was born to.

So, Edvard races cars and fools around with lots of women. He does not pay attention in important meetings and he makes headlines in the tabloids.

Edvard sees an ad for a “Girls Gone Wild” video, and decides that he wants to go to America, where girls are all pretty and willing to take their tops off for the camera. He arranges to enroll in college in Wisconsin incognito as “Eddie,” a foreign exchange student.

If you don’t know these two are meant for each other, you didn’t pay attention to the title. Edvard learns what it is like to have to earn respect and affection — and money — and Paige learns what it is like to listen to her heart and use her imagination. They each get to explore the other’s family and culture. He races a souped-up riding lawnmower in Wisconsin farm country and she stays in a castle and goes to a ball. But falling in love is easy; finding a way to make their dreams and responsibilities fit together is not.

Director Martha Coolidge (Rambling Rose, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge) has a sensitive touch in dealing with young female characters. She and Stiles do their best to make Paige more than the typical romantic comedy heroine. Mably shows some ease and charm as Eddie, who describes that other Danish prince, Hamlet, as though he is talking about himself: “The prince was young and scared and didn’t feel ready for the choices he had to make.” All of that helps to make up for a weak script that is too often too silly and too seldom original. By the time we have to sit through a scene of Paige trying on all the Crown jewels, they have long since run out of ideas.

Parents should know that this movie has some mild language and some passionate kissing and sexual references. The prince comes to America because he sees a commercial for the “Girls Gone Wild” videos and thinks that in the US girls all take their tops off for anyone who asks. There is an interrupted encounter that the couple might have intended to become more intimate, but there is no implication that Eddie and Paige go to bed together. There is a mild gay joke when characters do not understand the relationship between Eddie and the aide his family has sent to watch over him. There are scenes in a bar and characters drink, including a drinking game.

Families who see this movie should talk about what Eddie and Paige saw in each other and what challenges lie ahead of them. What would be the best thing about being a prince? What would be the worst? What made Eddie’s mother change her mind? How do the costumes and uniforms Eddie and Paige wear help tell the story? Families might also want to talk about the way Eddie approaches the labor dispute. Why was it so hard to resolve? What do Paige’s and Eddie’s mothers have in common?

Families who like this movie might want to find out more about the famous Danes mentioned by Eddie, like physicist Nils Bohr, philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, and fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen. And, of course, supermodel Helena Christensen, Mettalica drummer Lars Ulrich, and Hamlet! Families will also enjoy learning more about Denmark and the real Danish royal family (with a prince who is about to marry a commoner, probably the only thing he has in common with the prince in this movie). The full text of the Shakespeare sonnet Eddie and Paige read together is here. And the humanitarian group Paige wants to work for is Doctors Without Borders, an international organization of doctors and other health professionals who volunteer to provide medical services to those in need throughout the world.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other royal romances like the bittersweet Roman Holiday and The Swan (starring about-to-become-a-real-princess Grace Kelly), the comic Coming to America with Eddie Murphy (some mature material), and, of course the classic Cinderella and Drew Barrymore’s take on that story, Ever After. Edward Fox, whose brother James plays the King in this movie, played a real-life King who gave up his throne to marry a commoner in the miniseries Edward and Mrs. Simpson. They might like to read books by and about Americans who married royalty including Queen Noor’s Leap of Faith and Hope Cook’s Time Change.

Spartan

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

There are three different stories in this latest effort from writer/director David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, State and Main). Only one of the three is pretty good — a rescue mission to retrieve the kidnapped daughter of the President. The second is a passable, if overly familiar, story of a man developing a broader sense of his own values. And then there is a poorly handled story about government corruption and manipulation of the media. As that thread takes over in the last third, the movie falls apart.

Scott (Val Kilmer) is one of those flinty-eyed “one riot, one Ranger” tough guys who trains future flinty-eyed tough guys when he isn’t being sent on the most crucial and most morally compromising missions.

A college student is missing. Did she run away with the professor with whom she may be having an affair? Did her boyfriend kill her after a fight? Was it a random kidhapping by men who steal blonde girls and sell them into sexual slavery? Or did someone take her because she is the daughter of the President of the United States? Time to call in Scott to find out.

Speed is the top priority. Secrecy comes next. Niceties like Constitutional protections and not killing people who might be innocent are lower down on the list.

Scott and able trainee Curtis (Derek Luke, again showing great warmth, humanity, and charisma) think they are getting close to finding the girl when the word comes down that she and the professor have been found dead following a boating accident. But that is when Scott, always a “how” man, not a “why” man, finds that he cannot travel as light as he thought. It isn’t so much that he wants to understand who the bad guys are. He just wants to get the girl back. Even if she doesn’t want to or deserve to come home.

Mamet is fine when it comes to tension, confrontation, and tough attitude, but as a director his idea of action sequences is to have people unexpectedly get shot. The dialogue is Mamet lite, with none of the brilliant riffs that energize his other scripts. He fumbles the tone of the movie by committing the very last sin his characters would permit — he loses control with preposterous multiply paranoid layers that wear out instead of boring in.

Parents should know that this movie has intense peril and a lot of graphic and explicit violence, including knives and guns, and many characters are killed. Characters smoke and drink and there are drug references. There are sexual references, including references to sexual slavery, and one mild and non-explicit sexual situation. A character commits suicide (though that is later called into question). As in almost all Mamet movies, characters use very strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about the compromises made by the characters in this movie, including the willingness to violate the rights of suspects in order to get information quickly and the willingness to compromise loyalties and risk lives in order to win an election. How do they decide what their priorities are? What is the difference between the way Scott regards his orders at the beginning of the movie and the way he does at the end? Why? What does it mean to say that “We’re just two men in green?” What does it mean to say, “You’re going to be taking that fight to bed with you for a long time. You don’t gotta do it all now?” Mamet’s films often deal with people who spin stories, from con men (House of Games, Glengarry Glen Ross) to opposing sides who have completely different views of the same incident (Oleanna) to film-makers who will tell any story they need to so that they can, well, tell the story they want to tell (State and Main). How does that theme relate to this film?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy paranoia classics like Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, The Manchurian Candidate, and No Way Out. They might also like the unforgettably creepy original The Vanishing but should avoid the 1993 American remake.

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