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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

The Chronicles of Riddick

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

Pitch Black was an outer space horror film about a group stranded on a planet with some very scary creatures. One member of the group was Riddick (Vin Diesel), a convict being transported to prison. His ability to see in the dark made him the group’s best hope for survival.

In this vastly less ambitious sequel of sorts, Riddick (Deisel again) is once more the best hope for survival, this time of just about everyone.

As explained to us in numbing sci-fi blah blah crisply delivered with impeccable diction by Oscar-winner Dame Judi Dench, an evil race called the Necromongers is capturing planets as it moves toward its interplanetary version of something between Mecca and Valhalla. They offer the inhabitants of each planet two choices — surrender or death — and they don’t really care which one they pick. The leader of the Necromongers, Lord Marshal (Colm Feore) has been told that he will be killed by a member of the Furia race, so he has ordered all of them killed. But one remains — Riddick — and as soon as he says, “It’s not my fight,” you know he’ll be opening up a can of whup-ass on just about everyone pretty soon or it would be a pretty short movie.

It almost makes it as a brainless popcorn summer explosion movie. The movie’s graphics are very striking, especially the neo-fascist baroque of the Necromonger’s massive weapons, armor, machinery, and monuments and the enormous underground prison on a planet with temperature swings of hundreds of degrees. It’s nice to see someone thinking up advanced technology that is not computer based. Instead of digital read-outs there are some fascinating mechanical contraptions. There are also some good action sequences and some cool special effects.

But the script is a dumbed-down version of The Matrix, complete with characters who are hooked into soul-destroying machinery through their necks, with a little bit of The Wizard of Oz and (heaven help us) Battlefield Earth thrown in for bad measure. The names are so unimaginatively obvious they border on parody, with the angry race called the Furia and the hot planet called Crematoria. The dialogue is dreadful, both the faux portentious exposition (“They are a plague that now sweeps through the worlds of man leaving behind a trail of dead planets and towering icons, monuments to their unholy crusade”) and the faux tough-guy talk (“Sister, they don’t know what to do with just one of me.”) Thandie Newton plays the Lady Macbeth-style scheming wife of one of Lord Marshal’s henchmen with a space-age mullet. She looks lovely but gives a ludicrously over-the-top performance, swinging her hips until they almost smack into the walls on both sides as she walks. And the big finish is just a little too convenient.

Parents should know that the movie has intense and graphic violence for a PG-13, including people getting fried in intense heat and a lot of fighting. Characters are in constant peril and many are killed. There are a few four-letter words. A character speaks of being forced into prostitution. A strength of the movie is the diverse characters on both sides and the way it makes clear that the good guys stand for tolerance.

Families who see this movie should talk about the inspiration for some of the movie’s terms like Necromonger and Crematoria and some of its themes, patched together from sources like the Bible (especially the story of Moses and the Pharoah) and Shakespeare (especially Macbeth). They may also discover parallels between the conflicts in the movie and some historical conflicts between totalitarian regimes and those who fight for freedom.

Families who enjoy this movie might enjoy the Star Wars series and the R-rated Pitch Black, which introduced the Riddick character. They will also enjoy the R-rated The Matrix and its sequels. And they might enjoy the space-movie parody Spaceballs, which has more in common with this movie than one might think.

Before Sunset

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

Fair warning: five minutes into this film the critic checked out of my head and the fan took over. It may not be great art and it won’t work for everyone, but it kept me smiling all day.

Nine years ago, in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, two young people met on a train and impetuously agreed to spent a day together in Vienna. Jesse (Ethan Hawke), an American student on his last day in Europe, and Celine (Julie Delpy), a French student on her way back to Paris, talked as though they had known each other forever. Or maybe it is better to say that they talked as though they knew they would never see each other again — with complete openness.

In Fear of Flying, Erica Jong famously wrote of the fantasy “zipless” sexual encounter, an almost magical connection with no psychic, physical, or logistical clumsiness to impede it. Perhaps, though, the idea of a “zipless” emotional encounter is even more compelling. In Before Sunrise the talk is a sort of nonstop jazz improvization of such dizzying open-heartedness and intimacy that it is one of the most heart-wrenchingly romantic and truly sexy films ever made, at least for those who consider great talk the ultimate in exquisite seduction. When the stars and directors re-united to allow us to see the characters nine years later, it was like getting a chance to catch up with people we have genuinely missed and wondered about.

And so we have Before Sunset. Jesse has now written a book about what remains the most vivid encounter of his life, and he comes to Paris for a book-signing. Celine is there. And once again, he has a plane to catch and they have just a few hours to walk through a European city and talk and talk and talk.

And once again, it is pure pleasure to share that with them. There is still a powerful connection between Jesse and Celine and it still makes a powerful connection with the audience. It is not so much what they say. Though they talk about big issues — relationships, finding meaning in life, God, sex, regrets, romance vs. cynicism — their insights are not especially fresh or well-expressed. But Hawke and Delpy (who wrote the script with director Linklater) understand the rhythms of conversations between two people who use words less to enlighten than to draw each other closer, words for flirtation and seduction, rapturously romantic. Sometimes they use what they say to hide. Notice how often they say something teasing or slightly askew to get a laugh and to protect themselves from risking too much openness. But sometimes it is to reveal.

All of this unfolds in real time with a driver standing by to take Jesse to the airport, leaving them and us a bit breathless. Their journey as they walk through a garden, hop on a boat, and get into the back seat of the limo is a journey of the heart and spirit you will want to take with them.

Because they helped to develop and co-wrote the script, Hawke and Delpy inhabit the characters fully, with performances of great sensitivity and vulnerability. We are pulled toward them as they are pulled toward each other. They don’t have the buoyant optimism of their first meeting. They are both a bit more fragile, but that means they are more aware of the preciousness and importance of what they hope to find in each other.

If you are looking for action or plot twists or something with guns and explosions, ignore my recommendation. But if you would rather listen to good talk between people who make talk into an art, you will find much to delight and charm you.

Parents should know that the movie has very explicit sexual references, including adultery, as well as drinking and smoking.

Families who see this movie should talk about what might have happened if Jesse and Celine had stayed together in Vienna. Would they have been ready for a relationship when they were younger? What do you think it is that draws them to each other? If Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy get together in another nine years for another film, what will it be about?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Before Sunrise and the brief scene featuring Jesse and Celine in Linklater’s animated film, Waking Life. They will also enjoy the classic French romances A Man and a Woman and And Now My Love. Linklater’s other films include Dazed and Confused and the hit comedy School of Rock. For a thoughtful discussion of this fascinating director, check out this website. The songs of the late Nina Simone are well worth a listen.

Napoleon Dynamite

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for thematic elements and language.
Movie Release Date:2004

When you are hurtling through adolescence, overcome with warring emotions and desperately trying to learn a whole new set of rules for status and interaction, everything you thought you knew seems suspect and even your own body is completely unfamiliar and terrifyingly out of control. It sometimes seems that the best anchor to keep you from levitating off the ground over the intense humiliation and the overwhelming injustice of it all is to adopt an air of ferocious perpetual exasperation and disdain. But what keeps you going are those few moments when a tantalizing glimpse of the possibility of pure pleasure provokes the ultimate accolade: “Sweet!”

So, when our eponymous hero, Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) climbs onto the schoolbus and slumps into a seat in the back and an admiring younger kid asks him, “What are you going to do today, Napoleon?” his reply is, “Whatever I feel like I want to do! Gosh!” Then whatever he feels like he wants to do turns out to be tying a muscle man action figure to a string and throwing it out the window to pull along behind the bus. Sweet!

And when he he opens the door to find a shy classmate peddling Glamour Shot photos and lanyard keychains, he disdainfully tells her, “I got like a finity of those I made in summer camp.”

And when his older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) taunts him, “Napoleon, don’t be jealous that I’ve been chatting online with babes all day. Besides, we both know I’m trying to become a cage fighter,” he replies, “Since when? We both know you’ve got like the worst reflexes of all time!” Then he has to try to prove it, and it appears that in the race for that title, they may be in a tie.

And when Napoleon sees his new friend Pedro’s (Efren Ramirez) bike, he says, “Dang! Ever take it off any sweet jumps?” When he tries, it doesn’t work out very well.

Life seems so unfair. Women only like men who’ve got skills, and to Napoleon that means numbchuck skills, computer hacking skills, or maybe some really sweet dance moves. Those endless arms and legs don’t seem to want to cooperate well. Heder is a brilliant physical performer, showing us everything about Napoleon in the way he stands, sits, walks, and responds to everything just a half-second too late.

Then there’s Napoleon’s uncle and his schemes to make a lot of money and go back in time to that crucial turning point in a high school football game, Pedro’s campaign for class president against alpha girl Summer (played by Haylie Duff, older sister of Hillary), and what happens when Kit’s online babe shows up. And the young photographer who tells her subject, “Just imagine you’re weightless, in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by tiny little seahorses.”

The movie’s deliriously specific detail, superb use of the Idaho setting, affection for its characters, unexpected developments, and most of all its genuine sweetness keep us laughing with Napoleon, not at him. He may be clueless, but he has a great heart and we know he will be fine, not just for a satisfyingly happy ending for the movie but beyond. He might even develop enough perspective on his life to be able to make a movie about it.

This movie is the first feature from 24-year-old director Jared Hess, who wrote the film with his wife Jerusha. They met co-producer Jeremy Coon and 26-year-old John Heder at Brigham Young University. To put it in Napoleon’s terms, they all got skills. I’m looking forward to whatever they do next.

Parents should know that the movie contains some implied sexual encounters between adults. School bullies use headlocks and punches. There are some accidents used for comic effect and an animal is killed off-screen. A character sells purportedly breast size-enhancing herbs. Parents should make sure that kids and teens know that it can be very dangerous to give personal information to people you meet online. A strength of the movie is the friendship between Napoleon and Pedro.

Families who see this movie should talk about the writers’ answer when asked when it takes place: “Idaho.” How does it seem like or not like your own experiences of adolescence? How would you list your skills? Does Napoleon seem like the kind of guy who will be able to write a movie like this just a few years later?

Families who appreciate this movie will also enjoy Gregory’s Girl, Lucas, My Bodyguard and, for more mature audiences, Rushmore, Election and American Splendor.

Garfield

posted by rkumar
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2004

Garfield is a big, orange, lazy glutton of a cat created by cartoonist Jim Davis in 1978. His musings on life’s essential concerns — meaning mostly how he can get more of everything, especially food and attention, without any effort — work pretty well in a three-panel comic. At least they work well enough so that, as someone once said about the “Nancy” comic strip, it is easier to read it than not to read it. If only that were true of this movie, which requires real effort to endure.

The real genius Davis showed was not in humor; it was in marketing. Several Garfield books, just collections of the strips, were on the best-seller list at the same time in the 1980’s. And the strip led to animated television specials with Lorenzo Music providing Garfield’s voice. And that has now led to a live-action movie, with Bill Murray providing the voice and Breckin Meyer playing Garfield’s owner, Jon.

In order to make a three-panel joke that is not specifically directed at children into a feature film that is, the people behind this movie have tried to have it both ways. Garfield begins as the unabashedly self-centered, wisecracking, lasagne-loving fur-covered id character from the comic strip, but then undertakes a rescue mission, somehow transformed into a loyal friend who is willing to exert enormous effort and take big risks to save the dog he once considered an appalling intruder. As a result, none of this makes much sense or captures our interest. But there are some pleasantly silly moments along the way.

We first meet Garfield as the “so much time and so little to do” cat who cares for nothing but food (especially lasagne), attention, and being in charge. Life feels pretty good for him until a pretty veterinarian (Jennifer Love Hewitt as Liz) persuades Jon to take home a dog named Odie.

Garfield experiences severe sibling rivalry, especially when his efforts to control Odie backfire. Then Odie is taken by an ambitious animal trainer, the decidedly un-happy Happy Chapman (Stephen Tobolowsky), who plans to make him perform on television, and Garfield goes to the rescue.

As in the comic strip, the human characters are so bland they are barely visible. The characters with personality are the animals, real with some special effects enhancement except for the all-CGI Garfield and all with top voice talent except for the silent Odie. Highlights include a dance-off between Garfield and Odie to the Black-Eyed Peas song “Hey Mama,” a wild ride through airducts and stairs as Garfield tries to find Odie, and some just-to-keep-the-parents-awake references to Jerry Maguire, Apocalypse Now, Elvis, Billy Joel, and even Shakespeare’s Henry V.

Parents should know that the movie has some comic violence, including a shock collar used on both a dog and a human. No one of either species is seriously harmed. There is some PG-style crude language (“butt,” “blow chunks,” “suck-up”) and brief vulgar humor. There is also some intrusive product placement for Wendy’s, though the product that makes the greatest impression is the lasagne.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Garfield was jealous of Odie and Happy jealous of his brother and why it was so hard for Jon and Liz to tell each other how they felt.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Cats and Dogs, Teacher’s Pet, Lady and the Tramp, and Air Bud. Older viewers will also enjoy seeing Murray and Tobolowsky together in Groundhog Day.

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A Child's Christmas in Wales
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posted 12:06:45pm Dec. 21, 2014 | read full post »


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