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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

 

The Maze Runner
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images
Release Date:
September 19, 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 Passion of The Christ

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

This is both more and less than a movie. In one sense, it is less a movie than the heartfelt prayer of a gifted film-maker. In another it is a narrow and harrowing perspective on a story that, no matter what your faith, is bigger than any attempt to portray on film.

Mel Gibson has made this movie to convey his view of the last hours of the life of Jesus. It is not history and not drama, though it has elements of both. It is not a full retelling of the Gospels or of the life of Jesus. It is a personal and spiritual statement about the view that the suffering Jesus endured in the last hours of his life demonstrated his divinity and his sacrifice in taking on the sins of the world.

According to the film’s website, the use of the word “passion” is taken from the Latin for suffering, but is also used to mean a profound and transcendent love. The theme of the movie is Jesus’ statement, “You are my friends, and the greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them.”

I give this movie a “B” because I have to assign a grade. But truly, there is no way to rate this movie as one would the usual multiplex fodder or quirky indie. Without being a theologian or an historian, all I can do is respond as a movie critic, and urge those who want to see it to use it as an opportunity to consider their own faith and the way that reactions to the film highlight our global struggle for peace and understanding.

As a movie, it has great strengths. It is a respectful and reverent treatment of a story that has probably been more influential than any other in the history of the world. It has moments of great power. It has extraordinary cinematography by the brilliant Caleb Deschenal (The Black Stallion) and some stunning images. The shot from above just after Jesus dies on the cross is breathtaking.

But as a movie, it has some weaknesses. Any attempt to reduce even a part of the story of the New Testament to a feature film will not be able to convey all of its power, complexity, and meaning, but even within that context, this version is limited. It does not give those unfamiliar with the details or the import of the story enough of an understanding of Jesus and the other characters to convey all that it hopes to.

This movie tells only a part of the story of Jesus, taking place almost entirely in the last 12 hours of his life. The characters speak in the languages of the time: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin (with subtitles in English). There is little effort to explain what happened before Jesus is captured in the Garden of Gethsemane, why his followers were so loyal and why his accusers were so threatened, or who all of the characters are and how they relate to each other. For that reason, the movie will be most appreciated by those who are already familiar with the Gospels or as a starting point for those who want to learn more.

Some of the scenes are particularly awkward, especially a scene showing Jesus and Mary speaking playfully to each other and one with grotesque children taunting Judas. Other scenes can seem overwrought without the missing context. The violence is intended to be upsetting, and it is extensive, detailed, and disturbing to watch. For those who do not share Gibson’s view about the significance of each physical assault on Jesus, it may appear overdone, even shocking or fetishistic.

Experts will have to evaluate the movie as history and as a representation of religious belief. Ultimately, each member of the audience will have to evaluate it as an affirmation of faith or as an invitation to those who are still searching.

Parents should know that this movie is extremely violent in an intense, graphic, personal, even intimate manner, much more powerful than other R-rated movies with cartoon-style explosions and shoot-outs. We see Jesus brutally beaten for much of the movie. We hear his flesh tear as he is whipped. We see his blood splatter and drip. The nails are driven through his hands and feet. His side is pierced with a spear. Two other men are crucified and one’s eyes are pecked out. There are other disturbing images, including the character of Satan and some grotesque children who taunt Judas. We also see Judas commit suicide by hanging. Gibson has said that the agonizing, unbearable torture is a key part of the story, and parents who are considering whether this movie is appropriate despite the R-rating should see it first themselves to judge how their children might respond to it.

The movie has also stirred up a great deal of controversy about the portrayal of the Jewish elders who ordered the capture of Jesus and urged Pontius Pilate to sentence him to death. Unlike the recent The Gospel of John, this movie does not include a disclaimer to make it clear that the Jewish elders in the story are not intended to represent all Jews then or now. But I do not believe it is necessary. While some people who are already anti-Semitic may willfully misinterpret the movie to support their views, there is nothing in the movie to suggest that it is in any way intended to explicitly or implicitly connect the Jewish people as a whole to the death of Christ. The Jewish elders in the movie are a small group of powerful people who feel threatened by someone who does not support them. There are Jews in the story who are very positively portrayed, including Mary (who quotes from the Passover haggadah in Hebrew), Jesus and his followers, and the people who help him on the way to the crucifixion, especially Simon (a wonderfully compassionate performance by Jarreth Merz). The worst characters are the Roman soldiers, who laugh and taunt Jesus as they beat him and gamble for his robe while they wait for him to die.

Families who see this film should talk about how it fits into their own faith tradition. They should take this opportunity to explore the ways that groups of all kinds have responded to the story of Jesus and to consider the controversy this film has raised about its portrayal of the Jewish elders. There are many fine resources available on the web, including here, herehere, here, and here.

Families might like to look at some of the paintings of Caravaggio, which inspired director Gibson and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel to create the look and the lighting for this film.

Families who appreciate this film might like to compare this to other movies about Jesus, like The Gospel of John, or King of Kings. They might also like to watch a lovely Italian movie, The Gospel According to Matthew, filmed at some of the same locations as “The Passion of the Christ.” These may be more appropriate for children and others sensitive to violence than this film or for those looking for a fuller depiction of Jesus’ life and teachings. They might also like to watch movies that depict the impact of Jesus on people of the time, like Ben Hur and The Robe. Another very controversial depiction of the crucifixion is The Last Temptation of Christ.

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen

posted by rkumar
B
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:2004

Lindsay Lohan plays a 15-year-old who has a lot to be dramatic about, or at least she thinks she does. First of all, her parents had the bad judgment to name her “Mary,” when she was born to be a “Lola.” No one seems to understand the importance of her dream of being an actress. In her family, she is “a flamingo in a flock of pigeons,” fighting not just against gross injustice, but also against “ordinariness.” But what is really devastating is that she has to move from New York City, which she thinks is the center of the planet, to New Jersey, which seems like the farthest end of the universe. At least, if you’re a drama queen. And there’s more stress to come. Her favorite rock band is breaking up. And she has to compete with a mean and snobbish alpha-girl for the part of Eliza in an updated version of “Pygmalion” called “Eliza Rocks!”

Lola copes with all of this and more, but sometimes she resorts to more than drama, including some real misbehavior that the movie does not take very seriously. She tells her best friend a terrible lie about her father “to seem more interesting.” She gets another friend to help her steal a costume so she can wear it to a party. She lies to her mother and tries to sneak into a concert and a rock star’s party. She almost lets down the “Eliza Rocks!” cast and audience by refusing to appear. She learns some lessons and faces some consequences, but parents will want to talk to kids who see this movie about how they see her choices.

The best part of the movie is Lohan. She is a delight. Kids will enjoy identifying with her as she tries to both fit in and be different, and as she tries to follow her dreams while coping with New Jersey and other obstacles. Parents may be more willing to put up with the movie’s logical loopholes than its casual treatment of behavior they would not want their children to imitate.

Parents should know that the movie has a couple of PG-level bad words. Of greater concern is that Lola lies, steals, and takes risks with very mild consequences, though she learns some lessons. She wears very skimpy clothes more revealing than even a free-spirited mother who throws pots for a living would permit. A character has an alcohol abuse problem. We see him drunk, and later he says he is getting treatment. In a very odd moment, Lola’s big triumph comes when he returns her necklace to her in front of her friends, seen merely as proof that she told the truth when she said she had been at his party. No one questions why she was taking her necklace off at his apartment or whether she was doing anything risky or improper there.

Families who see this movie should talk about Lola’s comment that she lied to make herself seem more interesting. Why does Carla pretend that she got the part she really wanted? Are there girls like Carla in your school and how do people feel about them? Why was Ella so surprised that her parents would let her go to the concert? How does Lola feel about Stu after she meets him?

Find out about the story of Pygmalion and see if you can figure out what it has in common with Lola’s story. If you were going to pick a new name for yourself, what would it be? Who in your family is a drama queen?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Never Been Kissed and a classic movie about teenage girls who have a crush on a musician, The World of Henry Orient. They might want to watch Camp (some mature material) about a summer camp for kids obsessed with theater. Families will also enjoy Lohan’s performances in The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday. And they should see Pygmalion and the musical version My Fair Lady.

Welcome to Mooseport

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

It’s a juicy premise: The most popular President of modern times retires to his summer home in the tiny town of Mooseport, Maine and ends up running for mayor against the handyman who owns the local hardware store — and dating his girlfriend, too.

And it’s an even juicier cast, with two Oscar winners and three top talents from television: Gene Hackman as former President Monroe Eagle Cole, Marcia Gay Harden as his longtime aide, Ray Romano (“Everyone Loves Raymond”) as “Handy” Harrison, Maura Tierney (“ER”) as the veterinarian who has been dating Handy for six years and is getting tired of waiting for him to propose, and Christine Baranski (“Cybill”) as Cole’s ex-wife.

So, if the script never rises above the sitcom level, at least the lines are delivered by people who are so good they almost seem like wit. Romano makes a respectable transition from television to film, and if he looks uncomfortable in the love scenes, at least that works with the character. Hackman is sheer pleasure, showing us everything that made Cole want to be President, get to be President, and succeed as President. There are some nice low-key details and some sly digs at modern politics and celebrity. But please, can we now have a moratorium on guys-who-can’t-take-risks-or-commit plot lines? And shrewish she-got-the-mine-I-got-the-shaft first wives? And long-suffering-but-devoted-aides-de-camp with a crush on the boss? And cutesy old folks who use terms like “booty poodle?”

Parents should know that the movie has some crude humor and non-sexual nudity (rear view of a nude male jogger). Characters drink in response to stress and get tipsy and there is a marijuana joke. Characters use brief strong language and there is some comic violence.

Families who see this movie should talk about their own elected officials and whether they would ever like to run for office.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy My Fellow Americans and Guarding Tess.

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights

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

Somebody, please put this baby in a corner.

Before we get into the reasons, let’s recap briefly why the original Dirty Dancing was so irresistibly watchable, because that will remind us of everything that this version is missing. The original had: Jennifer Gray, who lit up the screen. Wonderfully steamy dancing and music that made you long for summer nights in the Catskills. The sparks and even wit that Gray and Patrick Swayze brought to each other. A genuine sense of lessons learned and hearts expanded. All of this made up for an unabashedly cheesy script and everyone went home happy.

Despite the name, this movie is not a sequel. In Hollywood terms, it is a “re-imagining” of the first film, which basically means it has attempted to recreate it but completely missed the point. It does not have the characters, setting, or plot of the original. It does not have the heart or the charm or the chemistry. Worst of all, it does not have the dancing.

There are some slinky moves, but the camera keeps cutting away from the big dance numbers for reaction shots. Since there is barely enough of a plot to sustain a heartbeat, this probably means that the leads were not good enough dancers to do several different steps in a row, and it was intended to be distracting, pretty much defeating the entire purpose of the movie in the first place.

It all takes place before the first movie, in 1958 Cuba, just before Castro’s revolution. Kate (Romola Garai) and her family have just arrived. It does not take her long to figure out that the other American kids are rich snobs and that what she really wants to do is dance with the pool boy, Javier (Diego Luna). Her parents (James Slattery and Sela Ward) were once dancers, but gave it up to provide a conventional and comfortable home for their family. While they think she is with the boy they want her to date, she is off practicing with Javier so they can enter the dance contest and he can win enough money to take his family to America.

I have seen mayonnaise with more personality than the stars of this movie. And I have seen jello with more excitement than the plot of this movie. It isn’t that Garai and Luna have no chemistry with each other. They have anti-chemistry so powerful it seems to slow down the whole time-space continuum.

There’s a subtle reprise of the first movie’s theme song and Patrick Swayze appears briefly as a dance teacher, just to underscore’s this version’s inferiority.

Parents should know that the movie is rated PG-13 “for sensuality,” but that it is very mild compared to most PG-13 releases. As per the title, the dancing is suggestive. There is a discreet sexual situation — a couple spend the night together on the beach and the next morning she is wearing his shirt. Characters drink and smoke and use some mild language, including an ugly racial epithet. There is some violence connected with the revolution, but nothing graphic.

Families who see this movie should learn more about what happened in Cuba in the 1950’s and the results of the revolution led by Fidel Castro. They should talk about why Kate lied to her parents and how they feel about the way Kate blackmailed James into lying for her. Fans of the original movie should talk about what a better sequel would have included.

Families who enjoy this movie should watch the splendid documentary Buena Vista Social Club about Cuban musicians and their music. And of course they should watch the original Dirty Dancing.

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