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Annie
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some mild language and rude humor
Release Date:
December 19, 2014

 

Pride
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language and brief sexual content
Release Date:
October 9, 2014

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language
Release Date:
December 19, 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

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

 

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

Garden State

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

Andrew Largeman’s head seems to float in the air. Largeman (director/writer Zach Braff) has been given a shirt made from the fabric left over when his mother covered the walls, so when he wears it, his body blends in with the background.

Largeman is home in New Jersey, the “Garden State,” for his mother’s funeral and even when he is not wearing the wall-blending shirt, he seems to be floating, numb, through life. The reasons are chemical as well as psycholgical. His psychiatrist father has prescribed powerful psychotropic medication for him since he was a child. Largeman’s medicine cabinet in Los Angeles has rows of little bottles. But he leaves them behind when he goes home. He has not really felt anything in a long time, and this may be the time to begin to try.

Largeman is trying to make it as an actor in Los Angeles. He had a prominent role as a developmentally disabled quarterback but is still supporting himself as a waiter in a snooty Asian restaurant. Back in New Jersey, he catches up with high school friends including Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), who is, perhaps in a nod to Hamlet, a gravedigger, along with a cop, and the investor of “noiseless Velcro,” who has tons of money but is just as lost as the others.

Waiting to see a doctor about his headaches, Largeman meets Sam, played by Natalie Portman, who manages to give the typical “quirky romantic interest who shows up to give the lead a reason to want and hope for more out of life” role a genuine, effervescent, and endearing — well, quirkiness.

Going home again helps Largeman understand who he is and who he wants to be. What is just as enriching is seeing how this movie is helping writer/director/star Braff learn who he is and wants to be. While there are some clumsy detours, particularly a meaningless visit to a peeping-Tom hotel employee, the movie is filled with outstanding performances and moments of great authenticity, sensitivity, and heart. A hungover breakfast with Mark, his mother (Jean Smart from television’s “Designing Women”), and a young man wearing a suit of armor (he works in a medieval re-enactment attraction) is a small masterpiece of acting. And a scene near the end in an ark-like structure at the bottom of a canyon is deliriously but matter-of-factly audacious. He is willing to hold back and not resolve every issue or tell us everything about his characters and that makes them feel like they exist beyond what we see on screen. Braff’s control of tone, his superb use of music, his mastery of image and feel for creating moments of moments of great sweetness and insight are the qualities of a great film-maker. He makes us want to follow Largeman’s journey as a man and continue with him on his own journey as a film-maker.

Parents should know that the movie has extensive substance abuse. Characters smoke, drink, and take a lot of drugs. There are brief but explicit sex scenes and many sexual references including a young man who is unhappy about his mother’s affair with a younger man. Characters use very strong language and engage in risky and foolish behavior. There is a discussion of suicide and mental illness. One character is a thief. A strength of the movie is its positive portrayal of a person with a disability.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it was so difficult for Largeman to talk to his father. Why was it important to the story that his father is a psychiatrist? What did Largeman learn from Sam? From Albert?

Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate Pieces of April and The Station Agent.

Collateral

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

As cool as a jazz riff from a tenor sax, this stylish and powerful thriller has it all — consistently absorbing characters, twisty dialogue and an even twistier story, and action that engages the heart as it thumps a little faster.

Max (Jamie Foxx) is a cab driver who begins his shift by wiping off the dashboard and putting his favorite picture on the visor. He takes his job seriously. When an accomplished and beautiful fare (Jada Pinkett Smith as Annie) tries to direct his route, he bets her the price of the trip that his way is faster, and he’s right, down to the minute.

She is impressed with him, and we are, too. He is used to being underestimated. He dreams of a limo company that makes each ride a perfect oasis from stress. But he is as careful in planning his future as he is in planning his routes. Maybe more so. He has had this temporary job for twelve years.

Max’s next fare is a silver-haired man in a gray suit, carrying a briefcase. He offers Max $600 to stay with him all night, through five stops. Max turns him down at first; it’s against the rules. But then he says yes. He takes the fare to his first stop. Vince goes inside while Max waits for him. And then a dead body hits the roof of his cab.

Max has picked up a hit man named Vince (Tom Cruise). Vince’s five stops are people he has been hired to kill. Can Max save any of them? Can he save himself?

When Max asks if Vince killed the man who fell on the car, Vince cooly responds, “No, I shot him. The bullets and the fall killed him.” Max cannot believe that Vince shot someone he did not even know. “What, I should only kill people after I get to know them?” Now that Max knows what Vince is doing, it’s time for “Plan B.” Vince will have to keep Max very close by to get the job done.

In the long night ahead, Vince and Max will test each other and even weirdly bond a little bit, as Vince, though clearly planning to kill Max at the end of the night, can’t help giving him advice on pursuing his dreams and Max, clearly planning to stop Vince any way he can, can’t help doing his responsible best, even trying to get Vince’s approval. And Vince can’t help trying to teach Max to be more assertive, even though it is in his own interests to keep him compliant.

Director Mann uses a silvery blue pallette and spare, reflective, glass-filled settings to keep the mood as cool as moonlight. Both Pinkett Smith and Ruffalo are endlessly watchable, giving their characters subtlety and context to make us care far out of proportion to their time onscreen.

But this is really about Max and Vince, a sort of buddy movie on crank. One is “indifferent” and one cares very much, attached to one woman he has known all his life and one he just met. Both are careful and meticulous, constantly evaluating risks; they just assess them differently. One’s completely in the moment, a devotee of improvization in life and in music, and the other is a careful guy who plans so much he does not act. One part of the score unites the themes with a jazz take on a Bach composition.

Foxx is turning into a performer of great presence and depth and he makes a convincing leading man. Cruise is a little out of his range but that works oddly well for Vince, giving him a little frisson of uncertainty underneath the Terminator-like singlemindedness of the character. And Cruise has moments of brilliance. He even runs in character, completely focused but so in each moment that he does not try to pace himself. He puts everything he has into each step forward.

Parents should know that the movie is extremely violent with constant tension and peril and many graphic shoot-outs. Many people are killed. Characters use very strong language, drink and smoke, and there are references to drugs and drug dealing.

Families who see this movie should talk about Vince’s ability to compartmentalize. He says he did not kill one of the victims, “the bullet and the fall killed him.” Notice the way that Vince is always to the left of Max except in one scene. Which scene is that and why? What were Max’s options? What is the meaning of the title? Who or what serves as collateral?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Manhunter by the same director. It is the first movie featuring Hannibal Lecter (played by Brian Cox before Anthony Hopkins took over in Silence of the Lambs and it is an overlooked gem. They may also enjoy Internal Affairs, Matchstick Men, and Narrow Margin.

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

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

This unpretentiously genial little stoner comedy has a couple of things going for it. The characters and jokes are a bit above average for a genre with admittedly low standards. And its very unambitiousness gives the film moments that almost approach charm.

That said, it’s still mostly just extremely dumb and vulgar.

The title sums up the plot. Harold (John Cho) has a job that requires him to analyze numbers and a crush on a pretty girl in his building. He also has a big assignment that has just been dumped on him by his boss. Kumar (Kal Penn) is a slacker whose only ambition is not to become a doctor like his father and brother. Oh, and to get completely baked, with which Harold concurs.

Once happily stoned, the duo realize that there is only one more thing they need to achieve perfect happiness, those scumptious square hamburgers from White Castle. But the nearest White Castle is a long drive away and it will get a lot longer as Harold and Kumar run into all kinds of characters and adventures along the way.

Many of those adventures are gross and disgusting. Then there are those that are even more gross and disgusting. Most of them are downright stupid as well. Somewhere in there, though, there are a couple of moments that are funny, sweet, and even smart, and some commentary on race and ethnicity that almost qualifies as subtle. Cho and Penn are engaging, especially when they sheepishly but then with increasing joy sing along with Wilson Phillips, and there are appearances by Fred Willard, Neil Patrick Harris (playing himself as a child star gone very, very bad), Anthony Anderson and, perhaps in a nod to Bringing Up Baby, an escaped cheetah. I also give it extra credit for avoiding the obvious forms of triumph over the bad guys.

Parents should know that this movie wallows in bad taste and is cheerfully vulgar and offensive in every possible category. It includes constant drug use, bad language, extremely explicit toilet humor, and frequent and explicit sexual references and situations. There is comic violence, some graphic, including a scene in surgery with a lot of blood and a disfigured man. While some characters are bigoted and there is a lot of homophobic and racist humor, a strength of the movie is the portrayal of diverse characters.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Harold and Kumar deal with pressure from family and co-workers. What does it mean to say that “the universe tends to unfold as it should?” They might also want to talk about their own views on alcohol and drugs. And they might want to try to find a White Castle!

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Up in Smoke.

The Village

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

The ending of this movie will infuriate some people, but for me it was a lot of fun and worked on many levels. And I thought about it all the way home.

However, it’s just about impossible to say anything more about the movie without spoiling the surprises, so you might want to stop reading right now. If not, you’ve been warned.

The people of the village of Covington live in an uneasy truce with creatures they describe as “those we do not speak about,” who live in the woods that ring their town. Of course, the villagers do speak about them all the time, as, for example, when they refer to them as “those we do not speak about.” They sometimes wonder whether they should try to leave the village — perhaps someone in one of the towns that lie on the other side of the woods might have medicine that could have saved a young boy. Fear of “those we do not speak about” keeps them well inside the boundaries ringed by ochre-colored flags. But young people are restless — and reckless — and dare each other to test the boundaries. And there is a developmentally disabled man named Noah (Adrien Brody) who does not always do what he is told.

The village schoolmaster is Edward Walker (William Hurt), who has two daughters, Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is blind, and Kitty (Judy Greer). Both are drawn to Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix), but he is interested only in Ivy, who has a warm and wise heart and a merry spirit. Lucius tries to go into the woods and it makes the creatures angry. There is an attack. But then something else goes very wrong and someone else must enter the woods, this time not to return without completing the journey.

Producer/writer/director M. Night Shyamalan knows how to use the camera to tell the story and has a sure control of tone and pace, alternating gasps and laughs to keep things moving. Working with Coen brothers’ cameraman Roger Deakins, he has created a wonderfully evocative setting. Hurt delivers one of his less mannered performances and his scenes with his daughters and with Sigourney Weaver, who plays Lucius’ mother, are movingly tender. The heart of the movie is Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of actor/director Ron Howard) as Ivy. Every moment she is on screen is fresh, touching, and real.

Even aside from the ending, there is a lot in this movie. Ever since the days of fairy tales and Shakespeare, quests that take characters into the woods have been Jungian metaphors for journeys into the soul, voyages to growth and understanding, and we get a nod to that when a young yellow ridinghood (red upsets the creatures) enters the woods on a mission of mercy. Shyamalan is not, well, afraid, to take on some big notions about fear and inhumanity and the conflicts faced by parents who want to protect their children and he creates characters we are willing to trust and care about.

Shyamalan is in some ways the victim of his own success. He is under a lot of pressure to keep pulling surprise endings out of cinematic hats. The problem is that an expected surprise is, in addition to an oxymoron, inevitably disappointing. It has become a distraction, like the cameo appearances by Alfred Hitchcock (which Shyamalan emulates). Hitchcock solved the problem by getting his appearances out of the way at the beginning of his later movies; Shyamalan might want to think about doing that with his surprises as well — he has the chops to deliver a straight, twist-free drama, and if he tries that next time, it would be a nice surprise.

Parents should know that this is a very tense and scary thriller. While much of the scary stuff is in the audience’s imagination, there are some scary jump-out-at-you surprises and some gory graphic images. Characters are attacked and killed. There is a very positive portrayal of a blind character who is exceptionally capable and courageous. Some viewers may be concerned about the portrayal of a developmentally delayed and possibly disturbed character.

Families who see this movie should talk about what drew the families in the village to settle where they did in spite of the risks. They should also think about whether there were any clues in the movie that pointed to the ultimate twist. Why did Edward send Ivy? The movie was originally called “The Woods.” Is that a better title? What is the scariest part of the movie and why?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense and Signs. They will also enjoy the classic episodes of The Twilight Zone. And they might enjoy seeing Hurt and Weaver together in a movie they made more than 20 years ago, Eyewitness.

Previous Posts

Dr. Martin Luther King's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
This week's release, "Selma," begins with the ceremony honoring The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King with the Nobel Peace Prize. Here is the real footage of his famous speech. [iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/5r98tT0j1a0?rel=0" frameborder="0"]

posted 12:00:34pm Dec. 22, 2014 | read full post »

A Child's Christmas in Wales
The whole family will enjoy this beautiful version of Dylan Thomas' classic memory about his family Christmases in Wales. [iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/GrLDaAG7j_o?rel=0" frameborder="0"]

posted 8:00:23am Dec. 22, 2014 | read full post »

Pride
The ingredients for this film were so irresistible that it is a unexpected bonus to find that it is so much better than it needed to be. It's based on a true story of extraordinary kindness, generosity, and friendship and it stars a bunch of adorable English actors (Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy) w

posted 6:00:25am Dec. 22, 2014 | read full post »

Interview: Ava DuVernay of "Selma"
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posted 9:41:45pm Dec. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Smile of the Week: A Boy and a Penguin
This reminds me a little of the depiction of a child's world in The Complete Calvin and Hobbes and Barnaby. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iccscUFY860[/youtube] Many thanks to Slate for this and the others on its list of the year's best ads.

posted 12:06:45pm Dec. 21, 2014 | read full post »


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