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If I Stay
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Release Date:
May 2, 2014

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

 

Bears
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
G
Release Date:
April 19, 2014

When the Game Stands Tall
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

 

Need for Speed
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language
Release Date:
March 14, 2014

Eight Legged Freaks

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2002

“Eight Legged Freaks” is essentially a cheesy 1950’s sci-fi drive-in movie with un-cheesy special effects. There’s no sense of irony and not much of a sense of humor. Instead, it has a rather sweet sense of pleasure in its own conventions, a sure sense of pacing, and some very impressive huge spiders. And I guess we found out where that surprising hyphen came from in “Spider-Man.” It’s missing from the title of this movie, which makes it appear to be about eight creatures with legs.

These are not Peter Parker’s spiders. They don’t give you super powers – they eat you. Remember in “Annie Hall” when Woody Allen told Diane Keaton that the spider in her bathtub was the size of a Buick? These are even bigger, more like the size of an SUV.

It’s all the fault of that old movie standby, “chemicals.” A small Arizona town is on the verge of going under, about to vote to sell the entire place for what the mayor says is a highway. But he has bad teeth and icky hair and is mean to his stepson, so don’t believe him. Chris (David Arquette), the son of the man who owned the now-abandoned mine, has come back after 10 years, hoping to realize his father’s dream of tapping into a gold vein and his own dream of finally telling the girl he loves (Kari Wuhrer as Sam), now the town sheriff, how he feels.

The plot is very simple, more computer game than story, but really a classic re-creation of movies like “The Blob” and “World Without End.” A chemical spill and some undisclosed toxic waste transform an entire zoo of 200 exotic spiders into huge, hungry monsters. Then the spiders chase the people, catching many of them. At first, no one believes it, then they run away, try to hide, and then fight back.

Parents should know that, despite the smart-alecky title, this movie is not a comedy like “Evolution” (okay, that was more of an attempted comedy) and does not temper the scariness with attitude, like “Men in Black.” It is a straight-out scarefest, and right up to the farthest edges of the PG-13 rating, with very explicit and gross violence and a lot of jump-out-at-you surprises. Characters are killed and eaten. In addition, a character chain-smokes, there is some alcohol, and some strong language. There is a reference to a teen pregnancy and to adultery. A teen-age girl is extremely clear about not being ready to have sex, despite pressure from a boy she likes very much, but parents may be concerned about her use of a stun gun to make her point. The female characters are tough and brave. One of the main characters is black, and although he is portrayed as a little paranoid and crazy, he is also brave and loyal.

Families who watch this movie should talk about the different kinds of spiders, which are actually fascinating creatures who benefit humans by eating mosquitoes. They might want to do some research here.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Arachnophobia and Tremors.

Drumline

posted by rkumar
A
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:2002

John Philip Sousa and all of the Music Man’s 76 Trombones never dreamed that marching bands could be this cool. Farewell to the nerdy reputation for “band camp.” “Drumline” makes marching bands as soul-stirring as raise-the-roof gospel and more irresistibly, foot-stompingly, hip-hoppily thrilling than any video currently playing on MTV.

It’s a simple story, but very winningly told. Devon (Nickelodeon’s Nick Cannon) is a spirited kid who wins a full scholarship to college for his drum playing. The school, the fictitious Atlanta A&T, has a world-class marching band that hasn’t won the big competition sponsored by BET television, and the school’s president has put a lot of pressure on the bandmaster Dr. Lee, (Orlando Jones) to do whatever it takes to beat cross-town rival (and real-life marching band champs), Morris Brown College. But Lee believes that his job is to teach his students about music and about character, even at the cost of losing. At the center of this argument is Devon, whose flashy style and buoyant self-confidence put him at odds with the band’s most sacred commitment: “one band, one sound.”

We first see Devon at his high school graduation, adding a few unscripted licks to a drum performance, thanking his mother, and then before going to his party, stopping by to confront his father with grace and dignity, letting him know that he has managed to achieve success even without his help or support. We see that Devon is talented, confident, and headstrong, but that he is also acutely aware of his struggle to achieve all he has so far and of the challenges ahead as he leaves home for the first time.

He arrives at A&T to find something like boot camp. The student director of the “drumline,” Sean (Leonard Roberts) is the drill sergeant, and he and Devon are like two rams getting ready to head-butt each other in a battle for dominance. Devon also has to learn that his bravado won’t get him very far with Laila (Zoe Saldana), the pretty upper-classman who leads the band’s dancers. Devon has to pay the price for some mistakes, from not reading to the end of the rule-book to having lied on his application. He learns that “one band, one sound” is about more than the music.

The movie is about more than music, too. The band numbers themselves would be more than worth the price of admission, but the story and the characters hold their own. The story may be an old one, but the details of this unexplored world make it seem fresh and the very appealing performers make it seem real. Orlando Jones is one of the most talented comic actors in movies today, but in this decidedly un-comic role he manages to make Dr. Lee seem dedicated and principled without being priggish or inflexible. Cannon is outstanding, making us believe in Devon’s talent and charm. Cannon makes Devon confident and vulnerable at the same time, and lets us see Devon’s growth subtly and naturally.

Parents should know that the movie has some very strong language and there are some mild references to drinking and moderate references to sex, particularly comparing playing an instrument to making love. A character is accused of being a virgin. Nevertheless, the behavior of the characters is admirable. Laila makes it clear that she is interested in a boyfriend, not a brief encounter. Parents should also know that the movie addresses some racial discrimination concerns, as the one white student in the band is at first looked at with suspicion, but later accepted warmly.

Families who see this movie should talk about the conflict Dr. Lee faces as he tries to do what is best for the band. What does he decide is most important, and when, and why? Why was it important to show Devon’s confrontation with his father? How did that relationship affect his relationships with strong characters like Sean and Dr. Lee? What is it about Devon that Laila is drawn to? Why? What can you tell from the scene where each of the section leaders explains why that instrument is the most important? What does “one band, one sound” mean? Why does Dr. Lee think that honor and discipline are more important than talent?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Fame. Mature viewers should see Spike Lee’s outstanding film based on his experiences at a traditionally black college, School Daze. Families should also take a look at this website for more information about the real-life Morris Brown marching band.

Dragonslayer

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:1981

Plot: Set in medieval times, the story begins as villagers with torches approach the home of a famous sorcerer (Sir Ralph Richardson). They need his help to fight a dragon. If they do not sacrifice a virgin twice a year, he will destroy their community. The sorcerer agrees, but he is killed when a warrior with the group insists on a test. The sorcerer’s apprentice, Galen (Peter MacNichol) goes in his place, telling them “I am the sorcerer you seek.”

On the way to the village, Galen discovers that Valerian, the boy who spoke for the group, is in fact a girl brought up as a boy to protect her from the lottery used twice a year to select a female virgin for sacrifice. They reach the dragon’s lair, and Galen casts a spell that causes an avalanche. Sure that the dragon is killed, they celebrate, and Valerian appears in a dress. The King is worried, telling Galen, “You came here to toy with a monster? Who are you to risk these people’s lives?” It was he who agreed to sacrifice the girls, after his brother was killed by the dragon. He throws Galen in the dungeon.

Galen is freed by the princess, who is horrified when Galen tells her that she has not been included in the lottery. She had been assured that she ran the same risk as everyone else, and she feels betrayed and ashamed. It turns out that the dragon has not been killed, and it is time for another sacrifice. The princess puts her name on all of the lots, to make up for the risks she avoided over the years. The king, heartbroken, begs Galen to fight the dragon. But the warrior tries to stop him, believing that the sacrifice is the only way to keep the rest of the village safe. As they fight, the princess is killed and eaten by the just-hatched baby dragons.

Galen fights the dragon with a shield made of dragon scales by Valerian and a sword made by her father. He is defeated and starts to leave, when he realizes that the sorcerer can still help him. He uses his magic to bring back the sorcerer, who fights the dragon until they destroy each other. It is not just the end of the two of them, but the end of that era, as Christianity replaces sorcery.

Discussion: When the community is at risk, how do you decide what to do? History is filled with problems created by people who made the wrong choices. Many people criticize those who tried to compromise with Hitler. Many criticize those who decided Americans should fight in Viet Nam. The king here makes the decision to compromise after his brother is killed. He negotiated a terrible deal with the dragon, but it was better for his people than the uncertainty they had before. In contrast, Galen wants to risk his own destruction and the town’s by fighting. When he loses, he leaves until he figures out a way to defeat the dragon.

And what about the king’s compromise, the lottery itself, and its fairness in theory and as practiced? The way we evaluate risks and benefits in making our choices (sometimes emotionally rather than analytically) is demonstrated here. Note the King’s change of heart when his own daughter is at risk.

Like the other famous sorcerer’s apprentice (memorably portrayed by Mickey Mouse in “Fantasia”), Galen doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. He thinks because he knows a few tricks, he has enough magic to defeat the dragon. But he is wrong, and the princess dies because of his mistake. He doesn’t know what he does know, either — it takes him a while to figure out why the sorcerer allowed himself to be “killed” before starting on the journey. But when the time comes, and he has to know the right moment to destroy the amulet, he is able to trust himself, and he gets it right.

Sorcerers and dragons cannot exist without each other. Valerian’s father says approvingly that magic is dying out. Particularly well handled here is the notion that religion replaced magic.

Questions for Kids:

What do you need to know in deciding whether to fight, compromise, or run? How have you seen those questions presented?

What adjustments might be difficult for Valerian after the way she grew up?

What was the point of having both the king and the priest claim credit for defeating the dragon?

What do you think about the princess’ decision? Why did she say that putting her name on all of the tiles “certified” the lottery?

Connections: Other “sword and sorcery” movies include “Labyrinth” and “Ladyhawke.”

Activities: Read Shirley Jackson’s famous story, “The Lottery” about a small town that uses a lottery to determine which of its citizens will be sacrificed.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2002

All of the ingredients for a good, old-fashioned chick flick are here – an Oscar-winning cast willing to pull out all the stops; quirky, flawed, but relentlessly adorable and completely devoted characters with cute names; handsome, supportive, understanding, and completely devoted boyfriends (one with a cute accent); and a mother-daughter reconciliation. Everyone is just as colorful as can be. It even has a built-in audience of fans who made the book into a sleeper sensation.

But it doesn’t quite make it into the pantheon of chick flick greatness, alongside such classics as “Terms of Endearment” and “Steel Magnolias.” The story has more flash than heart, and the resolution is a little too pat and easy. We hear a lot about the great friendship but don’t really feel it. There is something truly unsavory about the portrayal of knocking someone out and abducting her as madcap and charming. And the plot is a Swiss cheese of logical holes. Still, it is a great pleasure to watch these fine actresses give their all, and to hear the soundtrack by T. Bone Burnett, the guy behind the magnificent Grammy-winning soundtrack of “O Brother Where Art Thou.”

Playwright Sidalee Walker (Sandra Bullock), preparing for a Broadway opening of her autobiographical play, tells a reporter for Time Magazine that her childhood was troubled, and her mother, Vivi (Ellen Burstyn) throws a fit and stops talking to her. So Vivi’s lifelong friends, who as children in a moonlight ceremony involving blood, chocolate, and very elaborate headgear, declared themselves to be the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, take off for the Big City to kidnap Sidalee so that they can explain a few things to her.

Now it would all be too easy for them to just sit down with her in her apartment in Manhattan and talk to her. So, they put knock-out-powder in her drink (am I the only one who thinks that it is impossible to make a rufie anything but horrifying) and, with the help of her devoted Irish fiancé Connor (Angus MacFadyen), pour her into an airplane seat. She wakes up in a secluded cabin, where the Ya-Yas present her with a scrapbook that will help her understand and forgive her mother.

So, we go back in time and meet Vivi as a spirited young girl and teenager, and, after her fiancé is killed in World War II, a broken-hearted young woman, and a loving but overwhelmed mother. She drinks and smokes a lot. She doesn’t love her husband – she is still angry with him because he is alive and the man she really loved is dead. She tells Sidda to pretend to drown so that she can pretend to rescue her. But when it comes time for a real rescue, when the kids all get sick at once, she cannot handle it and runs away. And of course the children blame themselves.

Sidda learns that it was not her fault and it was not really Vivi’s fault, either, and Vivi learns a few things, too, so there is a happy ending for everyone. But it never feels real. Part of it is the absence of the people far more likely than Vivi’s friends to help Sidda sort through everything – where are her sisters and the other petites ya-yas (children of the Ya-Yas)? It is superficial and a little manipulative – the big revelation that is supposed to answer all questions is not so big and leaves more than a few questions still open.

The acting is a joy, though, especially the divine Maggie Smith as a steel magnolia who drags around an oxygen tank and tosses off quips drier than any martini. Burstyn and Judd do a terrific job of melding their performances so that you can believe they are playing the same character.

Parents should know that the movie features characters who drink and smoke a lot, and drinking is shown to be a light-hearted way to bond with friends, though alcohol abuse is shown to be painful for the children of the drinker. There are mild sexual references including inexplicit nudity. While the main characters object to racist remarks in very strong terms, and the feelings of one black character are treated respectfully, the treatment of the black characters is stereotyped. They are portrayed as devoted family retainers. A character abuses prescription drugs, apparently inadvertently. A mother neglects and abuses her children.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it was so difficult for the characters to talk with each other about their feelings.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Where the Heart Is, Fried Green Tomatoes, Steel Magnolias, and Postcards from the Edge.

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