Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


New in Theaters
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Love is Strange
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language
Release Date:
08/22/2014

 

Moms' Night Out
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

The November Man
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use
Release Date:
August 27, 2014

 

Blended
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and language.
Release Date:
May 23, 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

 

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some scary images and mild peril
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

Clash of the Titans

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:1981

Director Louis Leterrier (the second “Hulk” movie) says that he was a big fan of the 1981 Clash of the Titans when he was a child. Perhaps that is why he has remade the wrong parts of that film. Nearly 30 years later, fans of the film are willing to overlook its essential cheesiness because of their affection for its special place at the apex of old-school analog special effects before the rise of computer-generated images. People did not watch the movie to see classically trained British actors slumming for a paycheck; they watched it to see the last creatures created by special effects superstar Ray Harryhausen. Each one was meticulously crafted and, as often happened in Harryhausen films, they often seemed more alive than the human performers. Note, too, that the movie was shot in 2D and then reconfigured after the fact for 3D, a very different effect than the fully-realized, fully-immersive experience of a movie conceived and shot in 3D.

This remake is bigger and grander but it is missing just that sense of life that Harryhausen brought to his fantastic creations, which were always astonishing and unique. Instead, we get the same CGI-fest we have seen so many times, with nothing especially imaginative or memorable.

The same can be said for this generation of classically-trained British actors, including Liam Neeson as Zeus, in a shiny (and anachronistic) Joan of Arc-style suit of armor and Ralph Fiennes as Hades, the god of the underworld, dressed like a Norwegian death metal band member trying to play Richard III. They are the titans who clash by proxy.

The gods need the loyalty of humans to survive. Zeus insists that they will get more fealty with love; Hades, still bitter and jealous that it is his brother who is king of the gods, believes in ruling by fear. The winner of their battle will be decided by a fight to the death of their progeny. Perseus (Sam Worthington in an even more anachronistic buzz cut) is Zeus’s son; the sea monster called the Kraken is the child of Hades. The arrogant king and queen of Argos have committed the sin of hubris, thinking they are more important and powerful than the gods. So Hades tells them that he will destroy the city unless they sacrifice their daughter, Andromeda to the Kraken. Perseus is determined to fight the Kraken and save the princess. And he is determined to “fight as a man,” not to use any of the powers or tools of the gods because he blames Zeus for the death of his mother and his adoptive parents.

With a small band of allies, Perseus travels to the three Stygian witches, who share one eye, to find out how to defeat the dragon. The journey involves battles with giant scorpions and trip into the underworld to fight the serpentine Medusa, the snake-headed lady whose eyes can turn a person to stone. And then, he must make it back to Argos in time to save Andromeda and defeat the giant sea monster, to the tune of some even more anachronistic rock chords.

The effects would be more impressive than the original’s only if you were still living in 1981. Today we take for granted that anything is possible on screen. But possible is not good enough; there has to be something truly striking. The witches and desert djinns look like they are wearing Halloween masks and the creatures look like variations on one predictable theme. There is a demigoddess whose powers seem to vary from scene to scene. The liberties taken with the original myths and the 1981 version’s story seem purposeless. And Worthington just seems lost, as though he wandered in from the set of “Avatar” and is looking around for the exit. I know how he felt.

City by the Sea

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

“City by the Sea” is an ambitious drama that never reaches any of its goals but has some watchable moments along the way.

It is based on a true story, but one so improbably agonizing that it feels more like an ancient Greek drama. A boy whose father was executed for murder is raised by the cop who arrested his father. He grows up to be a cop himself, with an exemplary record until, investigating the murder of a drug dealer, he begins to believe that the killer he is looking for could be his own son, a drug addict.

Robert DeNiro plays the cop, Vincent LaMarca, a man who has survived since he was a child by being unarguably on the side of the good guys to distance himself from his father. He also distances himself from his ex-wife (Patti LuPone), his girlfriend, Michelle (Frances McDormand), and his son, Joey (James Franco, last seen as Peter Parker’s best friend and romantic rival in “Spider-Man”). The pain of his loss is so profound that he cannot bring himself to share it with anyone. Yet he finds himself continuing the cycle of abandonment, and when the movie starts, just before the drug dealer is killed, Vincent has not seen Joey in years.

The drug dealer’s body washes up in Manhattan, where Vincent works. But his driver’s license shows that he lived in Long Beach, so Vincent begins a physical and emotional journey to the place he once lived with his wife and son, a once-beautiful, now decayed and deserted beach town.

When Joey is implicated, Vincent is clear about his obligations as a detective and as a father. He wants to bring him in before he gets hurt or hurts someone else. But he wants to bring him in – as they walk up to his ex-wife’s house, Vincent tells his partner to cover the back door in case Joey is inside and tries to flee. Joey is not there, and things get complicated. Vincent’s chief removes him from the case. Another person is killed. And Joey wants his father to be less of a cop and more of a dad.

The movie tries to accomplish too much and ends up getting lost. It uses the almost pornographic seediness of the location and the drug subculture to illustrate the emptiness of the lives of the characters. The movie raises issues of choice and fate that tie in to its overtones of Greek drama. Its female lead makes the typical movie relationship demand that her beau tell her more about himself (“Sometimes I think I know you and other times I don’t think I know you at all”). But then, when he does, in a scene that was so awkward it provoked some laughter from the audience, the movie takes an almost unprecedented chance by showing that she is so stunned that she is not sure she can stay in the relationship.

This is another in the series of movies that the New York Times has called the 2002 summer of the sad fathers (with movies like “Minority Report” and “The Road to Perdition”), and, as in “Minority Report,” there is a maudlin watching-the-old-family-movies scene that feels very heavy-handed. Director Michael Caton-Jones handles the atmosphere well, and DeNiro, McDormand, and LuPone are always worth watching, though this is probably DeNiro’s weakest performance, especially in his final scene with his son.

Parents should know that the movie has violence, including shooting and murder, graphic drug use, very strong language, and sexual references and situations, including a child born out of wedlock. Characters drink and smoke. There is a reference to domestic abuse. A character attempts suicide.

Families who see this movie should talk about Vincent’s statement that he doesn’t like to have dinner at his partner’s home because “You got a lot of love in your house and when I go there I feel uncomfortable.” Different characters make reference to “the real me” or “the real you.” What do they mean? How does the director use the burned-out landscape of Long Beach to tell us something about the characters?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy The Big Sleep and Insomnia. For a classic, preposterously melodramatic and very creepy movie that raises questions about a genetic predisposition to murder, see The Bad Seed. Families may also want to take a look at this website about the real City by the Sea, complete with live webcams showing what the beach looks like right now.

Bowling for Columbine

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

Any documentary about gun violence in America in which the single most intelligent and insightful comment is made by a guy named after a dead beauty queen and a serial killer is worth a look. Then there is the bank that gives out free rifles to customers who open up new accounts, a guy who sleeps with a gun under his pillow, and of course Charlton Heston standing up at a meeting of the NRA just after the shootings at Columbine and yelling “From my COLD DEAD HANDS!”

So shock-rock star Marilyn Manson sounds positively statesmanlike when film-maker Michael Moore asks him what he thinks of the two boys who listened to his music before they took guns into their high school and killed 13 people and injured 21 more before turning the guns on themselves. Mason, wearing his garish stage makeup but speaking quietly, compares the endless media coverage of the Columbine shooting to the way the media all but ignored the record-breaking U.S. bombing in Kosovo that same day, the most extensive bombing expedition in world history. And then, when Moore asks what he would say to the boys in Columbine, Manson says simply, “I wouldn’t tell them anything, I would listen to what they had to say– which is what no one did.”

Moore is deeply concerned and the ultimate bleeding heart liberal, but he is not an ideologue. He learned to shoot in high school and is a life member of the NRA. When the bank gives him a rifle, he casually checks the action while he asks if anyone ever considered that maybe guns and banks were not the best possible combination. Much of the time he lets the story tell itself, as when he interviews the brother of Timothy McVeigh’s co-conspirator, Terry Nichols. John Nichols, who sleeps with a gun under his pillow, says that he believes that anyone should have access to guns or even bombs. Then Moore asks whether he thinks that anyone should have access to nuclear weapons, and McVeigh looks at him like he is crazy and says, “No! There are some real crazies out there!” Sometimes, Moore becomes the story, as when he brings two young survivors of the Columbine shooting to K-Mart’s national headquarters to protest their selling of ammunition, including the bullets still in the bodies of the two young men. After a day of deliberation, a K-Mart spokeswoman reads a statement

This is more mosaic than polemic and mordantly funny, though it does veer a bit over the top when Moore tries to link television producer Dick Clark to the murder of a six-year-old by a six-year-old, because the boy who killed his classmate had a mother who worked at one of Clark’s restaurants in a welfare-to-work program. And his relentless questioning of a clearly memory-impaired Charlton Heston, leaving a photo of the murdered girl in Heston’s home after Heston stalks out of the interview, has the unintended result of making Heston seem more sympathetic.

But the movie confronts complex questions fearlessly, even as it acknowledges that it does not have the answers. Why do our fellow North Americans in Canada, who have proportionately the same number of guns, shoot each other only one-tenth as often? Why are Americans fearful even out of proportion to the amount of violence we subject ourselves to? The movie’s violation of strict “documentary” standards by shifting some scenes around has been criticized. For one example, see this website. Moore’s response to some of the questions about the movie is here.

Parents should know that the movie’s subject is violence and it includes explicit real-life footage of the shootings at Columbine. It also includes very strong language and brief references to drinking, smoking, and sex.

Families who see this movie should talk about the questions Moore raises. Why do Americans shoot each other so much more often than any other country? Why don’t Canadians lock their front doors? Why was Moore successful in persuading K-Mart not to sell ammunition any more? What can you do to try to reduce violence or to change other things that matter to you?

Families who enjoy this movie should see Moore’s first film, “Roger and Me,” about General Motors and Moore’s home town of Flint, Michigan.

Blue Crush

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

If you want to ride this movie the way its heroine rides the waves, the best thing to do is bring a walkman and a really good pair of headphones and watch it while listening to your favorite assortment of surfer hits. A compilation of Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and, of course, the classic Surfari rendition of “Wipeout” will be a far better accompaniment to this movie’s visuals than the dreary attempt at story, acting, and dialogue.

And oh, those visuals! Some of the most glorious cinematography of the year takes you right inside those Hawaiian “pipe” waves that the big-time surfers master. Hawaii’s glorious natural resources, including many very pretty girls in very tiny bikinis, are lovingly photographed.

The story is one of those eye-of-the-tiger, Flashdance on a surfboard, will she believe in herself enough to follow her dream sagas with no special insight or freshness. Kate Bosworth plays Ann Marie, a cute tough-on-the-outside-but-vulnerable-on-the-inside surfer girl who has what it takes to be world-class if she can just (1) get over the fear she has had since almost drowning, (2) manage to train for her big chance while supporting herself and her younger sister, and (3) not get distracted by Prince Charming, a cute quarterback named Matt. Pals played by Michele Rodriguez and real-life surfer Sanoe Lake provide support.

The surfing scenes are breathtaking and by themselves worth the price of a ticket. The water is the most vivid and memorable character in the movie. MTV-style camera tricks will be annoying to some, but there are no tricks that can spoil the shots of the massive, thundering, walls of water that writhe like a sea serpent the size of a skyscraper.

The three actresses have a nice, easy camaraderie and it is easy to believe that they have lived together forever with a mixture of familial bickering and unquestioned loyalty and understanding. I was especially impressed with the surfer sisterhood that had one of the world champions taking time in the middle of a competition to give encouragement to a young competitor. And it was nice that Prince Charming (Matthew Davis, last seen as the boy who broke Reese Witherspoon’s heart in Legally Blonde), when asked for advice, instead provides support for Ann Marie and gently reminds her that she is a girl who does not need anyone else’s advice.

On the other hand, amidst all of this female empowerment there are some issues that make the characters less than ideal role models. Parents should know that Ann Marie accepts a lot of money ($1000 for “surfing lessons”) and expensive gifts from the quarterback. She has sex with him after knowing him for a couple of days and then is horrified to overhear a conversation that makes her think that he does not think of her as marriage material.

Parents should also know that the movie has strong language and a lot of vulgarity for a PG-13. We see a mess in a toilet bowl and a used condom. Ann Marie is a poor guardian for her 14-year-old sister. She chases after her sister when she sneaks out to go to a raucous party and worries about her smoking and ditching school, but makes very little effort to set an example or impose limits. Parents of younger kids who want to see a movie about two sisters in Hawaii who go surfing should watch Lilo and Stitch.

Families who see this movie should talk about the obstacles Ann Marie must overcome – not just the finding a way to support herself and doing all the training but overcoming her fears of failing and of succeeding. Some viewers may conclude that her attraction to Matt was in part a way to give herself an excuse not to do her best in the competition. Families might also want to talk about the way that the Hawaiian natives feel about the tourists (one tells a tourist to leave the beach he likes to surf, saying “We grew here; you flew here”).

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the surfer classic The Endless Summer and the recent documentary about the beginning of extreme skateboarding, Dogtown and Z-Boys. And of course there’s always Gidget!

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