Movie Mom

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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

 

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

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

 

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

Rosewater
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language including some crude references, and violent content
Release Date:
November 14, 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

Love Don’t Cost a Thing

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

This teen makeover movie has had a makeover of its own, updating the durably popular 1987 hit Can’t Buy Me Love, the one where brainy-but-unpopular Patrick Dempsey unforgettably teaches the kids the Anteater Ritual dance and they think it is cool.

I suppose every generation is entitled to its own “boy pays girl to make him popular” movie. So, once again, it’s time for a nerdy teenager who dreams of popularity to learn that what really matters is being true to yourself, only this time the story is hip-hopped up with with an African-American cast using Hollywood’s idea of cool slang and wearing Sean John sweats, and a denouement in the bleachers of a high school basketball court. Unfortunately, what could have been a slam-dunk of a film quickly becomes an air ball. It is painful to observe. Silly, even dumb would have been okay (see the original). But this movie is awkward and unpleasant, even smarmy, particularly offensive in a movie for this age group.

The protagonist’s little sister at one point says “Urkel’s gone gangster” (referring to geek-hero Steve Urkel from ‘90’s TV staple, “Family Matters”) and that sums up the plot pretty fairly. Alvin Johnson (Nick Cannon) is the engineer-to-be who, unsatisfied with his nerdy reputation and his fellow outcast friends, takes dramatic steps to become popular in his last months in high school. Alvin has saved up enough cleaning pools to buy a key part in the engine he is building to win a contest which would result in a full scholarship for college.

Meanwhile, Paris Morgan (Christina Milan) is the most popular girl in the class and is dating an NBA rookie who just graduated from their high school. After she crashes her mom’s SUV, Paris finds she needs exactly the same amount of money to fix the car as Alvin has saved up to finishing building one. In comes Sir Alvin in his shiny armor to solve Paris’ problems for the small cost of popularity: she must pretend to date Alvin for two weeks.

Paris soon transforms Alvin into “Al”, who dresses in expensive clothes and hangs out on the “Elite” corridor at school. As in the earlier version and just about every other movie set in a high school, popularity is instantly confered. Gradually, Paris and Al become friends, each finding strength in the other’s advice and support. But power goes to Alvin’s head and he jeopardizes everything –- including his friendships and his scholarship -— when he places his newly found popularity above all else.

This otherwise mediocre bit of cinematic fluff adds some painfully inappropriate plot devices that bring what little energy the movie to a crashing halt. The most clumsy scenes are between Alvin and his family but the ones between Alvin and his friends and the ones between Alvin and everyone else are not much better. The only scenes which seem unforced and natural are when Alvin and Paris are on their own, only because of Christina Milan. At one point, while Cannon, who seems to have left all his talent on the set of Drumline, is wildly overacting, Milan has to tell him how to get a reputation as a player by giving him tips on how to treat women badly. She manages with charm and even some dignity.

Troy Beyer’s awkward direction is another distraction. She shoots the big “son, no matter what, I’ve always been proud of you” scene lit from below as if Alvin and his father had accidentally wandered onto the set of a Spielberg movie. Beyer worked with Michael Swerdlick (who wrote the screenplay for Can’t Buy Me Love) on the update, so both must take the blame for the dialogue. Even the final “love me as I am” scene when Alvin declares who he is to the applause of the crowd falls flat.

Parents should know that there are plenty of flinch-inducing situations, many of them between Alvin and his father. Steve Harvey seems intent on appropriating and expanding Eugene Levy’s role as the uncomfortably understanding father in the American Pie movies. In his desire to relive his own adolescence as a Don Juan, Al’s father pressures his son to have sex without any regard to his son’s emotional maturity or to the strength of the relationship his son might have. The most painful of these scenes involves Mr. Johnson demonstrating how to put a condom on a bottle with one hand while keeping the attention of an imaginary girlfriend. While scenes like this one might work in Harvey’s stand-up comedy routines (including some of the finer segments in Spike Lee’s Original Kings of Comedy, for mature viewers), it is entirely inappropriate and downright seedy for the intended audience for this movie.

Even worse, young men are repeatedly told that they should be players, not respecting their female counterparts as people but seeing them instead as objects. Finally, as with “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the movie seems to buy into a high school notion of metit, with a person’s worth measured by who they are dating and which expensive labels they wear.

Families should discuss Paris’ view on popularity. They might also want to discuss why Paris was unable to express her aspiration to be more than “an NBA wife” and why her friends might resist the idea of her wanting to be something beyond their ken, such as becoming a songwriter. How does the relationship between Alvin and his father change over the course of the movie?

Families who enjoy this movie should see the original, Can’t Buy Me Love, a Saturday afternoon cable classic, which is by no means a work of art, but which is a nice relic of the 80’s and has much more heart than its imitator.

For those who enjoyed the message that the insiders and the outsiders are all essentially the same (makeovers or not) and that the most important thing is that you have to be yourself – then you can draw from the cornucopia of teen flicks sporting this motif including: Never Been Kissed; 10 Things I Hate About You; She’s All That; Save The Last Dance; Drive Me Crazy; Clueless; Bring it On; Pretty in Pink; Breakfast Club; Sixteen Candles; Say Anything; and pretty much anything directed by John Hughes.

Honey

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

For those who think it’s been too long since a movie like Breakin’ 2: Electric Boolago, or even Lambada: The Forbidden Dance, we now have “Honey,” the story of a spunky girl who dazzles hip-hop superstars with her dance moves but whose dream is helping the kids in her neighborhood.

Jessica Alba plays Honey, a sweet and sunny girl who teaches hip-hop to kids at the community center even though her mother tells her that she should be pursuing a career in ballet.

Honey is spotted by a director of music videos (David Moscow), and before you can say “That flava’s hot!” she is lead dancer and choreographer. She is just about to achieve her dream of putting her students into a video starring Ginuwine when it turns out that the video director is interested in more than her dance skills. She turns him down and he fires her. Even worse, he fires the kids and makes her tell them.

She doesn’t mind losing the job except that she does not know how she will get the money to buy that building she wants to turn into a dance studio so that she can give kids an alternative to thug life. How can she raise the money? Hey, let’s put on a show!

Alba has a lovely smile and Joy Fisher (Antwone Fisher) adds some verve to the sassy best friend role. Hip-hop fans will enjoy seeing favorite performers like Tweet, L’il Romeo, and Missy Elliot. And the movie is very short, less than 90 minutes. This is the good news. The bad news is that it is just dumb, way past cheesy-but-fun into the realm of “From Justin to Kelly”-level you-must-be-kidding. Its efforts to be hip make it as instantly out of date as if the characters used words like “groovy” and “out of sight.” When Honey is under pressure to improve her choreography for one video, she gives the dancers a (presumably very expensive) break and goes for a pensive walk, where she draws inspiration from the moves of kids playing basketball and jumping rope. I’m not kidding. It wouldn’t be so terrible that the plot, dialogue, and performances were so poor if the movie’s reason for being — the music and dance numbers — had more energy and style. Worst of all, the movie fails to take advantage of the talents of performers like the glorious Lonette McKee (Jungle Fever) and Mekhai Phifer, who pretty much stand around looking embarrassed.

Parents should know that the movie has strong language for a PG-13, with references to “hooker heels” and a Monica Lewinsky joke. Characters drink and sell drugs. There are some tense confrontations and threatened violence. One strength of the movie is its portayal of sexual values. Honey is very clear with her boss about boundaries and her romance with a local barber is sweet and understated.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Honey decided what was important to her and about the answer to the question “How come you turned out so well?” They might also want to talk about what people a few years from now will think about the styles of dance and slang in this movie.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Flashdance (mature material). They might also like to compare it to some of the classic Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movies about putting on a show.

The Haunted Mansion

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

When Disney makes a movie based on a theme park ride, it is not about inspiration, it is about branding. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl managed to be a delight — and a huge hit — but that’s because it had imagination and verve. Apparently, there was none left over.

This is an overstuffed and under-imagined attempt to turn a six-minute ride into a 90 minute picture. The plot is as thin as spider webs and is as predictable as a Scooby-Doo episode. The result is barely worth the price of a video rental, even from 99 cent bin.

Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy whose role as an eager-to-please realtor tests even his facile smile) and his lovely wife Sara (Marsha Thomason) spontaneously head out of town to celebrate their wedding anniversary and spend some time with the family. He has two kids, Megan (Aree Davis), the fearless and bossy big sister, and Michael (Marc John Jefferies) the timid and arachnophobic young son. Jim neglects his family for “it will only be 20 minutes” business meetings that turn into hours, and his wife and children are unhappy.

A mysterious caller requests that Sara be the agent for a mansion outside of town, and Jim insists on another one of his “just 20 minutes” stops to seal the deal. Of course, a storm rolls into the bayou and the family must stay overnight as a guest in the atmospheric household of Edward Gracey (Nathaniel Parker) and his spooky butler Ramsley (Terence Stamp). Once the doors slam shut, the family must solve the mystery of the mansion before they can leave together again.

The theme park ride moves quickly. Although the people in it race around, the the movie drags. While Jim’s spiel is a lighthearted patter complemented by his kids’ matter of fact acceptance of their surroundings, the resulting dialogue feels off-key and smarmy. Madame Leota (Jennifer Tilly) and the barbershop quartet of singing sculptures keep filler scenes from becoming too slow, but you have to wonder at a movie where disembodied heads turn in the movie’s most interesting performances. Thomason, as Mrs. Evers, shows little acting range beyond looking doe-eyed and bewildered at the ghost who has mistaken her for his long-ago love, while Terence Stamp’s place-holder of a performance as the disdainful Ramsley appears to tap the actor’s immense desire to be out of the movie.

Parents should know that there are lots of chases and peril involving ghosts and skeletons, and children are in danger. The atmospherics of the crypt scenes might scare younger viewers. A ghost is dragged into a fiery pit while other ghosts dematerialize to ascend into the heavens and there are many grisly and gross images, including a rotted corpse, that might upset sensitive viewers.

There is a brief shot of drawings on a tarot card with frontal nudity and Jim says the ghost wants to “get jiggy with” his wife. Jim steals a cigar and matches. A character is poisoned and another commits suicide by hanging. Younger children might be scared when the Evers parents, Jim and Sarah, are threatened. It is not addressed explicitly, but the tragic romance that led to the house being haunted was between a black woman and a white man, which was why it was so harshly viewed. One strength of the movie is the portrayal of a loving and committed relationship between Jim and Sarah. Jim may be distracted, but he is devoted to his wife and family.

Families should discuss priorities and how different people in the same family might view an action in a very different light. For example, Jim argues that he is trying to succeed in business so that his kids will have everything they want, whereas his kids argue that they really only want time with their parents. Families might also wish to discuss being scared and how Jim explains overcoming one’s fears to his son. Should he have told his son to “be a man?”

Families who enjoy Wallace Shawn’s performance as the super-cautious ghost man-servant, will appreciate his best role as a kidnapper in the classic The Princess Bride. “Haunted” houses with plenty of eccentric characters appear in The Addams Family and Beetlejuice and classics The Cat and the Canary and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.

Cheaper by the Dozen

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

This is not a movie; it is a product, with a script right off the assembly line, a mix of Teen People pin-ups to attract tween demographics, apparently directed on cruise control. Its intended audience of 8-14-year-olds will probably enjoy it very much. But those who care about that audience will be disappointed that the people behind this movie do not realize that they owe those children some imagination and sincerity.

The movie takes its title and family size from the classic book about the real-life Gilbreth family but has no other connection to the original and is inferior to it in every aspect.

Steve Martin plays Tom Baker, a coach who is offered his dream job at his alma mater just as his wife Kate (Bonnie Hunt) hears that her book about the family has been accepted for publication. The eleven children still living at home do not want to move, but Tom promises that it will make them a stronger and happier family. But the new job is very demanding, and when Kate has to go on tour to promote the book, Tom is quickly overwhelmed by the challenges of taking care of his children.

There are the predictable “aww” moments (death of a pet, reminder that the kids might fight with each other, but they really love each other) and the predictable “ewww” moments (one child barfs and another slips and falls on it). The script is slack and lazy, incapable of a satisfying resolution for even the most reliable family-movie plot devices like a mean bully or snobby, over-protective neighbors.

Parents should know that the movie includes some schoolyard-style naughty words and PG-style sexual references that get close to a PG-13. When asked about his 12 children, Tom smirks about his wife: “I couldn’t keep her off me.” He explains that he had a vasectomy but did not wait for it to become effective, resulting in the second set of twins. And part of the plot concerns the oldest child (an adult) moving in with her boyfriend (which does not bother her parents) and whether they should be allowed to sleep together when they visit the family (which does). Some audience members may be offended by the portayal of the family as vaguely Catholic, with references to Jesus and a rosary but no evidence of religious observance. There is comic peril with some minor injuries. The product placement (Crate & Barrel) is particularly (and annoyingly) intrusive.

Families who see this movie should talk about how they work together to make sure that they achieve a balance between time for work and time for each other. How do you make sure that the family comes first? They should also talk about the way that the Baker family supports each other and what they think of Dylan’s parents.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy another big-family comedy inspired by a real story, Yours, Mine, and Ours, starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball. They should see the original Cheaper By the Dozen, based on the Gilbreth family, headed by pioneering efficiency engineers who used their “motion study” techniques to raise their children. The book, written by two of the children, has the best dedication in the history of literature: “To Father, who had only twelve children, and to Mother, who had twelve only children. It is well worth reading aloud to the whole family, along with its sequel, “Belles on Their Toes.” Other classic movies about the demands on parents include Martin’s Parenthood (some mature themes) directed by Ron Howard, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (starring then-child actor Ron Howard), and the Oscar-winning drama Kramer vs. Kramer along with silly comedies like Mr. Mom and Daddy Day Care.

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