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Love is Strange
Lowest Recommended Age:
MPAA Rating:

Release Date:

 

Adventure Planet
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:

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

The Lion King

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:1994

Sort of a cross between “Richard III” and “Hamlet,” this is the story of Simba (voice of Jonathan Taylor Thomas as a child, Matthew Broderick as an adult), the cub of Mufasa (James Earl Jones), the king of the jungle. Simba “just can’t wait to be king.” But his evil Uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons), bitterly jealous of Mufasa, wants to be king, so he arranges for Mufasa to be killed in a stampede and to have Simba think he is responsible.

Simba runs away, and finds friends in Pumbaa the warthog (Ernie Sabella) and Timon the meerkat (Nathan Lane), who advise him that the best philosophy is “hakuna matata” (no worries). Simba grows up thinking he has escaped from his past, but his childhood friend, Nala finds him, and tells him that under Scar’s leadership, the tribe has suffered badly. She persuades him to return to take on his responsibilities as King of the Pridelands. He learns that it was Scar who caused Mufasa’s death, and he vanquishes Scar to become King.

NOTE: The death of Mufasa is genuinely scary. More troubling is the arrogance of the “Circle of Life” explanation, which is mighty reassuring as long as you are the one on top of the food chain. And worse than that is the whole “hakuna matata” idea, which is genuinely irresponsible. Make sure that kids realize that even Simba finds out that he cannot run away from his problems.

Not just a movie, but a marketing phenomenon, this blockbuster was the highest grossing film of the year. Amazingly, it made even more money in merchandise than it did at the box office, a fact for which audiences have been paying ever since, as each subsequent Disney animated movie seems to be designed primarily as a commercial for teeshirts, lunchboxes and action figures. The score, and the song “Circle of Life,” with authentic African rhythms and instruments, won Oscars for Elton John and Tim Rice, and the movie later became a Broadway blockbuster.

The Legend of Drunken Master

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2000

One of Jackie Chan’s best Chinese films is being re-released in a dubbed version with a new score.

It is a sequel to the movie that made him an international star. Though it was made 15 years later than the first, it takes place immediately after the first, set in turn-of-the-century China. Wong Fei-Hong (Chan) is the son of a distinguished and wealthy doctor. As they board a crowded train following the purchase of herbs, Fei-Hong hides the container of ginseng in another man’s luggage, to avoid paying duty. Fei-Hong’s package is exchanged for one containing a valuable antique box. This leads to the discovery that many antiquities are being smuggled out of the country.

Fei-Hong is a specialist in “drunken boxing” (using liquor to “make the body looser and its pain threshhold higher”), and he uses his fighting skill to take on the bad guys.

The fight scenes are sensational. Chan is the most agile and acrobatic screen fighter ever. His split-second timing, imagination, utter fearlessness, and sense of humor produce mesmerizing action sequences. An early fight in a confined space beneath a train car is extraordinary, and the 20-minute final fight sequence is stunning. In this movie, even the housemaid and stepmother are kick-boxers, all the furniture seems made of balsa wood, and gangs of ax-wielding marauders can be vanquished by three or four heroes.

Fans of Chan’s American films may need to make some cultural adjustments to enjoy this movie. Although the new score and dubbed dialogue are attempts to make the movie more accessible to an American audience (one character even uses a Yiddishism to scoff at a plant: “Rootabega, shmootabega!”), some of the conventions and behavior may seem exaggerated and strange. The tone may also seem uneven, with slapstick one moment, a parent beating a child in the next, and a sad death later on. Parents may want to provide some political and cultural context to help kids understand the depiction of oppressed factory workers and the choice of the English ambassador and factory owner as the bad guy. (Interestingly, the Chinese actor portraying a bad guy is dubbed with an English accent as well!) The three stars are for those who care about what happens between fight scenes. For those who don’t care, it gets 4 1/2 stars.

Parents should know that the movie features non-stop fighting, mostly of the cartoon variety. One important character is killed, but most of the time the characters are unhurt or, if they are hurt, the wounds disappear before the next scene. There are are few uses of the s-word and other profanities. Some parents will be concerned about “drunken boxing,” in which liquor affects Fei-Hong the way spinach affects Popeye. As Fei-Hong’s father tells him, though, “A boat can float in water — and sink in it.” And when Fei-Hong overdoes the liquor, he is very sorry. Fei-Hong’s father beats him and disowns him, but later takes him back with love and pride. Fei-Hong has a warm relationship with his young and beautiful stepmother, but she is very manipulative, faking crying to get her way.

Part of the fun of a Jackie Chan movie, like a James Bond movie, is in seeing how he makes use of various props and gadgets. Kids should also note that he is as much a master of physics as of strategy in fighting. Watch how he makes use of his understanding of properties like weight, torque, and balance as he turns the enemies’ strengths against them. Watch, too, how he learns from his elders about going on from mistakes (“Tomorrow brings a whole new journey.”)

Fans of this movie will also enjoy Chan’s recent “Shanghai Noon.”

The Legend of Bagger Vance

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2000

There is a golden boy, young, handsome, a champion golfer, and he wins the heart of Adele (Charlize Theron), the most beautiful debutante in Georgia. His roots in Savannah are so deep that even his name seems spelled with a Southern accent — Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon). Then he goes off to fight in World War I, and comes home “confused, broken, and unable to face a return to a hero’s welcome.” He does not speak to Adele or see any of his old friends and he does not play golf for more than 10 years. And then Adele needs him to play the two greatest golfers in the world at an exhibition match that can keep her from bankruptcy. A mysterious stranger named Bagger Vance (Will Smith) arrives to give Junuh the guidance he needs to get back in the game.

Your ability to appreciate this movie will depend on your tolerance for larger-than life stories with allegorical, even epical, overtones. Some people will find it simplistic and clichéd. They will see Bagger Vance’s relationship with Junuh as too much like having Yoda coach Luke Skywalker on whether he should use an iron to get out of the sandtrap. Vance tells Junuh things that will either strike you as wise or fortune-cookie corny, depending on your point of view: “Golf is a game that cannot be won, only played,” “A man’s authentic swing can’t be learned, only remembered,” and “You can’t make the ball go in the hole, you can only let it.” But others, particularly those who have spent some time in the South, will recognize it as not too far off from the way things actually occur in that part of the country, especially on the golf course. They will enjoy the sun-dappled greens and the pleasures of seeing a man find a swing that makes a sound like thunder when it drives the ball.

This movie has a lot in common with what I consider director Robert Redford’s best film, “A River Runs Through It.” Like that one, this story begins with an old man remembering the sport and the setting of his youth, with golf, like fly-fishing, as a metaphor for man’s interaction with nature and fate and even love. But “A River Runs Through It” was more complex and more comfortable with ambiguity. Its message was that a person can love completely without understanding completely. This movie, with its more traditional journey of redemption, is not as wise or moving. But it is a good story, lovingly told, and beautiful to watch.

Parents should know that the movie has a brief but bloody battle scene, brief mild language, brief sexual references, and inexplicit sexual situations. A woman offers to trade a man sex for a favor. She does not go through with it, even though it is clear that she loves him, in fact, probably because she loves him. A man commits suicide (off-camera). Junuh abuses alcohol in an attempt to forget his experiences and his pain.

This is a very good film to help families initiate discussions of important issues, including how we respond when things go badly. One character kills himself when he loses his money. Another says he would rather do nothing than do something beneath his dignity. Junuh tries to make himself feel better by isolating himself and drinking and gambling. But another character insists on paying all of his debts instead of declaring bankruptcy and takes whatever job he can find so he can feed his family. And Adele, a steel magnolia in a series of divine cloche hats, refuses to give up on her father’s dream of a golf resort, showing courage, intelligence, and resilience. Junuh learns to accept the fact that he will never be the naively confident man he was before the war. He can still be someone who will take risks, even though he now knows how painful the consequences can be.

Talk to kids about Bagger Vance. Who is he? Why does he want “$5 guaranteed” instead of a part of the prize? Why does he leave when he does? Why does he tell Junuh to hook and to quit? What does he mean when he advises Junuh to see the field? Why does he leave him alone in the woods? Some families may want to talk about whether a black man would really have been called “sir” and “Mr.” and allowed to sit on a resort’s porch in 1930′s Georgia. Older kids may want to talk about the potential racism inherent in assigning a sort of magical “otherness” to the lone black character.

The movie also shows us the importance of integrity, not just for the community but for ourselves. When a character tells Junuh that one of the best things about golf is that it is the only game in which a character calls a penalty on himself, we know that information is going to be important. Talk to kids about what that means, and why Junuh makes the choice that he does. Ask them why Junuh has to find a way to feel good about himself again before he can return to Adele. And discuss the different approaches of the other golfers, one who makes every shot perfect and one who makes one brilliant shot make up for three terrible ones. Talk with them, too, about how we find our own “authentic swings,” the ones that our hands know before our heads do.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Hoosiers.”

The Last Starfighter

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:1984

Plot: This adventure saga mixes an update of the old system of “recruiting” sailors by shanghai with the fantasy of saving the universe by being a star at computer games. It turns out that one particular arcade game is really a test, put on earth by very advanced beings from another planet, to find someone good enough to be “The Last Starfighter.” And the only one to meet that challenge is Alex, who lives in a trailer park with his mother and younger brother, and who has just found out that he did not get the loan he needed for college.
Centauri (played with magnificent panache by Robert Preston) is the outer-space recruiter who takes Alex to the Starfighter deployment center on his planet and explains that Alex is the only one left who has the skill to be the Last Starfighter. Alex refuses, and is on his way back to Earth when all of the other Starfighters are destroyed by the evil Ko-Dan. When the bad guys come after him because they know he is the last remaining threat to them, he agrees to stay and fight.
Centauri thoughtfully leaves behind a “courtesy replacement simuloid,” a robot that has Alex’s looks, so his family won’t worry. The simuloid, however, has no idea of how to behave like an Earthling, and gets into all kinds of trouble.
Meanwhile, Alex is paired with Grig, a reptilian-looking alien navigator (under all of that latex is a remarkably expressive Dan O’Herlihy). Alex worries, “I’m just a kid from a trailer park.” “If that’s all you think you are, that’s all you’ll ever be.” Because all of the other Starfighters have been killed, Alex must face opposition leader Zor alone. “It will be a slaughter!” “That’s the spirit!” “No, I mean us!” But he is successful, and returns to Earth to collect his devoted girlfriend and take her back with him.
Discussion: This movie has a lot of action and special effects. The efforts of the “simuloid” to understand life on Earth provide some good slapstick. The relationship between Alex and Grig is handled nicely. The movie is no one’s idea of a classic, but kids who like space-age shoot-’em ups will enjoy it, and with the caveats noted below, it is a good family movie.
Questions for Kids:
· Why does Alex change his mind and agree to fight?
· How can he tell which are the good guys and which are the bad?
Connections: This was the last film performance by Robert Preston (“The Music Man”). Aside from Preston, the movie’s greatest asset is the production design, by Ron Cobb of “Alien,” “Star Wars,” and “Conan the Barbarian.” For a much more thoughtful and mature depiction of bonding between a human and an alien, see “Enemy Mine.”

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posted 5:59:53pm Aug. 28, 2014 | read full post »

See Great Directors -- in TV and Music Videos
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posted 3:46:47pm Aug. 28, 2014 | read full post »

Interview: Daniel Schechter, Writer/Director of "Life of Crime"
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posted 3:59:35pm Aug. 27, 2014 | read full post »

The November Man
Pierce Brosnan knows what it is like to play a spy in a big-budget, glamorous, blockbuster. He was the most urbane of Bonds in four movies. He knows what it is to play a seedier spy in a prestige, mildly meta movie, the 2001 film "The Tailor of Panama" (with Daniel Radcliffe in a pre-Potter role). S

posted 10:57:58am Aug. 27, 2014 | read full post »

Trailer: Thunder and the House of Magic
"Thunder and the House of Magic" opens September 5, 2014. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6VKG3lZEIg[/youtube]

posted 8:00:02am Aug. 27, 2014 | read full post »


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