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The Woman in Gold
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and brief strong language
Release Date:
April 1, 2015

 

The Imitation Game
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking
Release Date:
November 21, 2014

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

 

Wild
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language
Release Date:
December 5, 2014

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

 

Interstellar
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some intense perilous action and brief strong language
Release Date:
November 7, 2014

RV

posted by jmiller
F+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for crude humor, innuendo and language.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

Road movies are pretty easy. Whether the people on the journey have just met and are getting to know each other or who don’t like each other and have to overcome animosity, all we ask is two things. First, we want to see some entertaining adventures along the way, some challenges to be overcome with skill and courage to give the characters a chance to get to know and appreciate each other, and to give the audience a chance to know and appreciate them, too. Second, we want to see those moments of realization and appreciation, and we want to feel that they develop naturally, believeably, even in a silly comedy.


This movie fails in both categories. Miserably.

It is painfully phony and even more painfully un-funny. Jokes that don’t work the first time are dragged out interminably and then repeated. And far too many of them involve toilet humor. And the syrupy little lessons about the importance of family values are forced and synthetic. There’s no sense of irony when Bob (Robin Williams) tells his son Carl (Josh Hutcherson) that they should have a “Seventh Heaven” moment to talk about Carl’s feelings about being short. They don’t have any genuine examples of family communcation to draw on.


The movie begins with a sweet scene of Bob putting his little girl to bed and promising to be best friends forever. Tt then cuts to the little girl as a teenager (pop star JoJo as Cassie), treating her father with contempt as they pick up one of her friends on the way to a party for his company.


Bob (Robin Williams) misses the loving daughter he used to have. He feels out of touch with both of his children and his wife Jamie (Cheryl Hines of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). He knows that if they take their planned vacation trip to Hawaii, they will go off in separate directions. So when he is ordered to attend a business meeting in Colorado in the middle of the time scheduled for the trip, he rents an RV and tells the family they are going camping instead, with those fatal parental words, “C’mon! It’ll be fun!”


Incidents along the way designed to let the characters reveal themselves and learn lessons through challenges: bad driving, repeated problems with the seatbelt and repeated failure to remove the blocks keeping the RV from sliding away, raccoons, rain, falling down, and an excruciatingly long scene involving disposal of the “leftover” sewage, which ultimately spurts and explodes all over everything, but especially all over Bob. Funny? No. Revelatory of character or of lessons learned? No, because the characters have no, what was that word again? Character. They are just superficial generics chosen seemingly at random from one of those anyone-can-write-a-script software packages they sell in the back of movie magazines. They have all of the depth and all of the motivation of paper dolls. When, all of a sudden, the script calls for the family to decide they all love each other and nature, the moment would be shockingly abrupt if not so listlessly presented that it almost passes by unnoticed. The business conflict Bob faces is similarly uninspired and un-involving.


There are a couple of funny lines and a bright moment here and there when Williams gets to go off script and improvise. Jeff Daniels and Kristin Chenoweth bring a lot of spirit and humanity to their roles as the relentlessly cheery Gornikes, who keep showing up to get Bob and his family out of trouble and who get nothing but bigoted rudeness in return. But the paper-thin characterizations, snail-like comic timing, and absence of a single genuine feeling or action make this, as the Gorikes might say, not anyone’s cup of sunshine.

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language (two b-words, bathroom terms) and extensive, graphic, and very gross bathroom humor. There is a great deal of comic peril and violence, though no one is hurt. Characters make references to marital sex, prostitution, and teen “making out.” While the movie appears to make fun of characters who are impossibly cheerful, homeschool their children, and like to tell stories about how Jesus saved them from a tornado, a strength of the movie is that the family is portrayed as loving, honest, very close, and intelligent.


Families who see this movie should talk about why Bob did not feel he could tell his family the truth and how they felt when they found out what he was doing. They might also want to talk about the kind of compromises people make to take care of their families and the kind they cannot make without losing their sense of what is important. Why do teenagers like Cassie behave so rudely to their parents? What made the Gornike family so happy?


Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Lost in America and National Lampoon’s Vacation(both with some mature material) and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in The Long, Long Trailer.

The Sentinel

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some intense action violence and a scene of sensuality.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

What this movie gets right is the dry, cynical, slightly gallows-ish humor of people who spend their lives on constant alert, knowing that 999 out of a thousand of the “suspicious” activities they check out will be nothing. They are the guys in the corner of the picture in the paper during the President’s speech. When everyone is looking at him, they are looking at them, deciding whether the man over there is reaching for a cell phone or something more dangerous. For years at a time, they watch to make sure perameters are secure and routes are clear. They are always alert and always ready to die to save the President and his family. The script may be thin, but the performers don’t seem to notice, plowing ahead with the same dogged, somewhat humorless determination real-life agents bring to the job.


Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) took a bullet when someone tried to kill President Reagan. He’s still on the job, not enough of a rule-follower to be promoted to a management position, but trusted enough to be assigned to guard the President (David Rasche) and the First Lady (Kim Basinger).


Garrison gets evidence from an informant that there may be a traitor within the Secret Service. To make the investigation even more difficult, Garrison is having an affair with the First Lady and his former best friend David Breckendridge (Kiefer Sutherland), the chief investigator now despises him, believing Garrison caused the end of his marriage by having an affair with his wife. Can Garrison protect the First Lady and his informant while finding the mole before he can put the President at risk?


It’s a pretty solid thriller, not worth rushing out to see but worth a matinee or video rental. The transfer from book to screen is uneven. The script does not always show instead of telling — or assuming — what we need to know, especially when it comes to the relationship between Garrison and the First Lady (or between the First Lady and the President), Garrison and Breckendridge, and Breckendrige and rookie Jill Marin (“Desperate Housewives'” Eva Longoria). The characters are underwritten but the stars’ natural charisma holds our attention and keeps us on their side, the action scenes are crisply filmed, and the location shots provide an authentic feel.

Parents should know that this film has a great deal of peril and violence, with a lot of shooting. Characters are wounded and killed. There is blood, but the injuries are less graphic than some other PG-13’s. It includes a non-explicit sexual situation and references to adultery. Characters drink alcohol and use some strong language.


Families who see this movie should talk about the Secret Service and how its training and duties differ from other law enforcement agencies. Did Garrison violate his duty or his oath?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of a Secret Service agent in In the Line of Fire. They will also enjoy the superb miniseries Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, about a mole within Great Britain’s spy agency, based on the real-life case of traitors Philby, Burgess, and McLean.

American Dreamz

posted by jmiller
B
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some sexual references.
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

The Roman rulers used to distract the populace from the problems of corruption and decadence with “bread and circuses.” Today’s equivalent might be junk food and television, especially “reality” television. It plays to our fascination with both “real people” and celebrities and especially with the magical moment of transformation — the magical possibility of our own transformation — from one category to the other.


This wild and wildly uneven satire imagines a dim and detached President from Texas, a bald, Machiavellian Vice President who calls the shots, and a television show in which contestants compete to be selected for stardom.


Sound familiar?


Writer-director Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy) says he got the idea for this movie when he found that more people vote for “American Idol” than vote for President. He took those two things, combined them, cranked it up a notch, and tweaked it a little.


Dennis Quaid plays the distracted President, just re-elected and not able to grasp exactly what the world situation is and how he should respond to it. He just wants to stay in bed and read newsapers. Willem Dafoe is the Vice President, whose relationship with the President appears to be modeled on the relationship of a ventriloquist to his puppet.


“American Dreamz” (“with a z”) is the “American Idol”-equivalent and Hugh Grant is the Simon Cowell-equivalent, supercilious, arrogant, but looking like Hugh Grant and being on television so people let him get away with it. He hates just about everyone and everything, or he would if he had the energy to work up that much emotion. He’s more like bored and cranky.


But he’s clear on what he wants — a show everyone will watch. And so he has to make sure this year’s contestants are the most watchable ever, including Sally (Mandy Moore), a rapaciously ambitious small-town girl, and Omer (Sam Golzari), a show-tune-loving terrorist from a sleeper cell. Sally will do anything to win. Omer finds he may not be willing to do anything for his cause. And the President thinks he can improve his approval ratings by being a guest judge on the show.


The highlight of the film is Moore, a treat as Sally, clearly enjoying herself but clearly in control of the performance, so sincerely insincere that it’s almost appealing. The set-ups are better than the pay-offs, but the film effectively makes its points about celebrities — political and show business, and about American dreams (with an s), especially the foolish but endearing dream that we are all just a wish and a chance away from being a star.

Parents should know that the movie has some mature material, including some strong language and some sexual references and non-explicit situations. The subject matter, while satiric, includes terrorism and suicide. Characters drink alcohol. The movie includes diverse characters but some audiences may find the satiric exaggeration to be offensive stereotyping, or, with regard to the President, disrespectful.


Families who see this movie should talk about the appeal of “American Idol,” and why more people vote for the best singer than vote for in the presidential election. They should also talk about the role of satire as political commentary.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Wag the Dog, Saved! (with Moore), and Primary Colors (all with more mature material). They may also enjoy my interview with writer-director Paul Weitz.

The Wild

posted by jmiller
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG
Movie Release Date:2006
DVD Release Date:2006

“The Wild” is more like “The Mild.” But it is pleasant enough; its the timing that’s rotten.

Like last year’s suprisingly successful Madagascar, this is an animated film about zoo animals who have to learn to fend for themselves in the, um, wild. Like last month’s Ice Age: the Meltdown, it has jokes about dung beetles and a character being treated like a god by the natives. In some ways, this film is better than both, but its thunder has been so definitively stolen that it may not recover in time to make much of a showing at the box office.


Kiefer Sutherland lends his warm, deep voice to Samson, the lion, a loving father who is concerned about his son, Ryan (voice of Greg Cipes). At age 11, he still has the roar of a younger cub.

Samson tells Ryan inspirational tales of his own courage back in the days when he was growing up in the wild, but Ryan can’t seem to manage anything more than a sort of mewing squeak. He is disappointed in himself and thinks his father is disappointed in him.

When Ryan impulsively stows away in a container on its way to the docks, Samson goes to rescue him, along with his best friends Benny the squirrel (Jim Belushi), Larry the snake (Richard Kind), Nigel the koala (Eddie Izzard), and Bridget the giraffe (Janeane Garafolo).

Everyone ends up going all the way to Africa, where they have to rescue themselves and each other from predators, would-be predators, and a very ominous-looking volcano.


This would make a better than average straight-to-video but it doesn’t quite have what it takes to hold a big screen. There are some cute characters and one fine, if brief, musical number. A couple of jokes are actually quite funny, making up for the more frequent un-funny ones, many involving getting bonked on the head or crotch or references to bathroom functions. The CGI animation is perfectly acceptable with glimpses of even better now and then, especially Benny’s body language and facial expressions, but from Disney animators we expect our socks to be knocked off and this movie leaves them securely on our feet. Most important, the story, even without the been-there-with-penguins feeling, is not very strong, leaving us wishing it was all a bit more…wild.

Parents should know that this film has some peril and apparent injury and death, though ultimately no one gets hurt. Some children may be upset by the separation of children from their parents, in one case apparently permanently (and following parental disapproval that could be interpreted as leading to abandonment). Characters use some mild crude language and there is some potty humor and some humor based on getting hit on the head and in the crotch. A strength of the movie is the loyal friendships (and one romance) between diverse species.


Families who see this movie should talk about how each of us must find our “roar.” They might also enjoy learning more about the Serengeti and the animals that live there. This does not include koalas, of course, who are from Australia.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Ice Age and The Lion King.

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posted 3:37:58pm Apr. 01, 2015 | read full post »

The Woman in Gold
The very title is a form of theft. When Gustav Klimt painted the portrait that gives this film its name, he called it "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer." She was a warm, vibrant young woman who was a vital part of the extraordinary period of intellectual and cultural life in Vienna known as the Sacred

posted 5:58:01pm Mar. 31, 2015 | read full post »

Interview: The Woman in Gold's Simon Curtis and E. Randol Schoenberg
Director Simon Curtis told me, "My last film was My Week with Marilyn, and this one is my century with Maria."  He is referring to "The Woman in Gold," with Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann, who brought a lawsuit to get back the portrait of her aunt Adele, painted by Gustav Klimt, which had been stole

posted 3:37:47pm Mar. 31, 2015 | read full post »

Faith-Based Movie Picks -- The Today Show
In honor of Easter and Passover, the Today Show has some good suggestions for faith-based movies, from the very serious and respectful to the light-hearted.

posted 3:13:29pm Mar. 31, 2015 | read full post »

Another "Star is Born" Movie? Possibly, with Bradley Cooper as Director and Beyonce to Star!
A movie that's already been done three times (at least) may just get yet another remake if the rumors are true that Bradley Cooper will direct and Beyoncé will appear in "A Star is Born."  The original 1937 version, said to be inspired by (among others) the marriage of aging vaudeville star Al Jol

posted 3:54:02pm Mar. 30, 2015 | read full post »


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