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Believe Me
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:

Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

The Fault in Our Stars
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language
Release Date:
June 6, 2014

Tracks
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some partial nudity, disturbing images and brief strong language
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo
Release Date:
June 27, 2014

The Boxtrolls
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Neighbors
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

Dragonslayer

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:1981

Plot: Set in medieval times, the story begins as villagers with torches approach the home of a famous sorcerer (Sir Ralph Richardson). They need his help to fight a dragon. If they do not sacrifice a virgin twice a year, he will destroy their community. The sorcerer agrees, but he is killed when a warrior with the group insists on a test. The sorcerer’s apprentice, Galen (Peter MacNichol) goes in his place, telling them “I am the sorcerer you seek.”

On the way to the village, Galen discovers that Valerian, the boy who spoke for the group, is in fact a girl brought up as a boy to protect her from the lottery used twice a year to select a female virgin for sacrifice. They reach the dragon’s lair, and Galen casts a spell that causes an avalanche. Sure that the dragon is killed, they celebrate, and Valerian appears in a dress. The King is worried, telling Galen, “You came here to toy with a monster? Who are you to risk these people’s lives?” It was he who agreed to sacrifice the girls, after his brother was killed by the dragon. He throws Galen in the dungeon.

Galen is freed by the princess, who is horrified when Galen tells her that she has not been included in the lottery. She had been assured that she ran the same risk as everyone else, and she feels betrayed and ashamed. It turns out that the dragon has not been killed, and it is time for another sacrifice. The princess puts her name on all of the lots, to make up for the risks she avoided over the years. The king, heartbroken, begs Galen to fight the dragon. But the warrior tries to stop him, believing that the sacrifice is the only way to keep the rest of the village safe. As they fight, the princess is killed and eaten by the just-hatched baby dragons.

Galen fights the dragon with a shield made of dragon scales by Valerian and a sword made by her father. He is defeated and starts to leave, when he realizes that the sorcerer can still help him. He uses his magic to bring back the sorcerer, who fights the dragon until they destroy each other. It is not just the end of the two of them, but the end of that era, as Christianity replaces sorcery.

Discussion: When the community is at risk, how do you decide what to do? History is filled with problems created by people who made the wrong choices. Many people criticize those who tried to compromise with Hitler. Many criticize those who decided Americans should fight in Viet Nam. The king here makes the decision to compromise after his brother is killed. He negotiated a terrible deal with the dragon, but it was better for his people than the uncertainty they had before. In contrast, Galen wants to risk his own destruction and the town’s by fighting. When he loses, he leaves until he figures out a way to defeat the dragon.

And what about the king’s compromise, the lottery itself, and its fairness in theory and as practiced? The way we evaluate risks and benefits in making our choices (sometimes emotionally rather than analytically) is demonstrated here. Note the King’s change of heart when his own daughter is at risk.

Like the other famous sorcerer’s apprentice (memorably portrayed by Mickey Mouse in “Fantasia”), Galen doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. He thinks because he knows a few tricks, he has enough magic to defeat the dragon. But he is wrong, and the princess dies because of his mistake. He doesn’t know what he does know, either — it takes him a while to figure out why the sorcerer allowed himself to be “killed” before starting on the journey. But when the time comes, and he has to know the right moment to destroy the amulet, he is able to trust himself, and he gets it right.

Sorcerers and dragons cannot exist without each other. Valerian’s father says approvingly that magic is dying out. Particularly well handled here is the notion that religion replaced magic.

Questions for Kids:

What do you need to know in deciding whether to fight, compromise, or run? How have you seen those questions presented?

What adjustments might be difficult for Valerian after the way she grew up?

What was the point of having both the king and the priest claim credit for defeating the dragon?

What do you think about the princess’ decision? Why did she say that putting her name on all of the tiles “certified” the lottery?

Connections: Other “sword and sorcery” movies include “Labyrinth” and “Ladyhawke.”

Activities: Read Shirley Jackson’s famous story, “The Lottery” about a small town that uses a lottery to determine which of its citizens will be sacrificed.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2002

All of the ingredients for a good, old-fashioned chick flick are here – an Oscar-winning cast willing to pull out all the stops; quirky, flawed, but relentlessly adorable and completely devoted characters with cute names; handsome, supportive, understanding, and completely devoted boyfriends (one with a cute accent); and a mother-daughter reconciliation. Everyone is just as colorful as can be. It even has a built-in audience of fans who made the book into a sleeper sensation.

But it doesn’t quite make it into the pantheon of chick flick greatness, alongside such classics as “Terms of Endearment” and “Steel Magnolias.” The story has more flash than heart, and the resolution is a little too pat and easy. We hear a lot about the great friendship but don’t really feel it. There is something truly unsavory about the portrayal of knocking someone out and abducting her as madcap and charming. And the plot is a Swiss cheese of logical holes. Still, it is a great pleasure to watch these fine actresses give their all, and to hear the soundtrack by T. Bone Burnett, the guy behind the magnificent Grammy-winning soundtrack of “O Brother Where Art Thou.”

Playwright Sidalee Walker (Sandra Bullock), preparing for a Broadway opening of her autobiographical play, tells a reporter for Time Magazine that her childhood was troubled, and her mother, Vivi (Ellen Burstyn) throws a fit and stops talking to her. So Vivi’s lifelong friends, who as children in a moonlight ceremony involving blood, chocolate, and very elaborate headgear, declared themselves to be the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, take off for the Big City to kidnap Sidalee so that they can explain a few things to her.

Now it would all be too easy for them to just sit down with her in her apartment in Manhattan and talk to her. So, they put knock-out-powder in her drink (am I the only one who thinks that it is impossible to make a rufie anything but horrifying) and, with the help of her devoted Irish fiancé Connor (Angus MacFadyen), pour her into an airplane seat. She wakes up in a secluded cabin, where the Ya-Yas present her with a scrapbook that will help her understand and forgive her mother.

So, we go back in time and meet Vivi as a spirited young girl and teenager, and, after her fiancé is killed in World War II, a broken-hearted young woman, and a loving but overwhelmed mother. She drinks and smokes a lot. She doesn’t love her husband – she is still angry with him because he is alive and the man she really loved is dead. She tells Sidda to pretend to drown so that she can pretend to rescue her. But when it comes time for a real rescue, when the kids all get sick at once, she cannot handle it and runs away. And of course the children blame themselves.

Sidda learns that it was not her fault and it was not really Vivi’s fault, either, and Vivi learns a few things, too, so there is a happy ending for everyone. But it never feels real. Part of it is the absence of the people far more likely than Vivi’s friends to help Sidda sort through everything – where are her sisters and the other petites ya-yas (children of the Ya-Yas)? It is superficial and a little manipulative – the big revelation that is supposed to answer all questions is not so big and leaves more than a few questions still open.

The acting is a joy, though, especially the divine Maggie Smith as a steel magnolia who drags around an oxygen tank and tosses off quips drier than any martini. Burstyn and Judd do a terrific job of melding their performances so that you can believe they are playing the same character.

Parents should know that the movie features characters who drink and smoke a lot, and drinking is shown to be a light-hearted way to bond with friends, though alcohol abuse is shown to be painful for the children of the drinker. There are mild sexual references including inexplicit nudity. While the main characters object to racist remarks in very strong terms, and the feelings of one black character are treated respectfully, the treatment of the black characters is stereotyped. They are portrayed as devoted family retainers. A character abuses prescription drugs, apparently inadvertently. A mother neglects and abuses her children.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it was so difficult for the characters to talk with each other about their feelings.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Where the Heart Is, Fried Green Tomatoes, Steel Magnolias, and Postcards from the Edge.

Die Another Day

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

Bond, James Bond, has returned to the big screen once again. This time, as with every effort in the Pierce Brosnan series, producer Barbara Broccoli and MGM studios will try and out do the explosions, the sex, and the witty dialogue that has permeated the countless entries in the spy films. “Die Another Day,” the latest Bond adventure, should be praised though, as it succeeds in giving the audience the most thrilling Brosnan adventure since his debut film, “Goldeneye.” What this latest entry in the Bond films does is reminds us is why 007 is still so appealing after all these years. Unlike this summer’s loud and crass rip-off, “XXX,” the James Bond films have class and tradition, a certain familiar thrill as well as a hero whose arrogance is charming, not brutish and dull.

This film starts out with 007 going undercover to assassinate the son of a South Korean leader. When things go wrong, Bond is captured and tortured, while his homeland denies he exists. After being traded for a ruthless Korean killer (who now has diamonds embedded into his face, thanks to our hero), James must find out who double crossed him in Korea and why. Along the way, he meets a female American counter-part, Jinx, played by Oscar winner Halle Berry.

Berry is fine in the film, though her role is not nearly as large as the trailers show and that turns out to be a good thing. As the past two films have proven, not enough action involving Bond just slows the pace in the formulaic series. The first hour is truly thrilling and actually succeeds for once at adding depth to Bond. There is some great comedic bits involving John Cleese, the fantastic locales that Bond movies are famous for, and a fun if unrealistic car chase. Serving as both distractions and annoyance in the film are cameos by American tough guy Michael Madsen and singer Madonna. Madonna may have crafted a fun modern techno song for the film, but her acting is still as stale and laughable as it was ten years ago. All and all, “Die Another Day” is a fun Bond entry that has enough great stunts and excitement, that, by the time the movie tales off in the last 20 minuets, the viewer can forgive its bland conclusion.

Parents should know that the movie is rated PG-13 for excessive violence, sex, partial nudity, mild profanity, and many off-screen deaths. This film pushes the PG-13 rating hard, even for a James Bond film. The film is almost non-stop action scenes, some of which include graphic is if rather bloodless deaths. This includes one impaling, a knife in the neck and another in a chest, a character being sucked into a plane engine, while another is pinned to a hovercraft before plunging to his death at the bottom of a waterfall. The film also includes many explosions and scenes in which death is implied, but not shown. There is almost constant shooting, and James Bond’s ambiguity about violence may trouble younger viewers. The film shows James Bond smoking in numerous scenes. The movie is also filled with sex and sexual dialogue. One sex scene is rather graphic, while the other two imply it. There is also a view of a woman naked from the back, as well as numerous silhouettes of nude women during the opening credits. The film also includes numerous sexual innuendos, including two that are rather graphic, one coming at the end of the feature. The film briefly address James Bond’s womanizing, but makes light of it rather then condemning his behavior.

Families who see this film should talk about why James Bond is so loyal to his country. If it means so much to him, why do they deny his existence? It could also be addressed why Bond turns to violence so often, and that, although it works in the film, it destroys many people’s lives in the process. Why does the American government and the British government work together despite disagreements? Why does the South Korean general disapprove of his son’s violent methods? It could also be discussed why Bond treats women they way he does and how this film presents him with a strong female counter-part. What is it about how she treats him that makes Bond question how he acts towards women? Families should also talk about how the Bond movies in general treat women and possibly how it has changed since the series incarnation.

Families who enjoyed this movie will also enjoy “Goldfinger,” “The Bourne Identity,” and “Mission: Impossible.”

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

posted by rkumar
A+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:1977

Plot: When Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) and Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) “encounter” a UFO, they travel to its landing site, Devil’s Tower, Wyoming. Jillian is seeking her son, who disappeared with the alien ship, but Roy is strangely compelled to go in a way that is incomprehensible to him. Obsessed with recreating the monolithic Devil’s Tower out of shaving cream, the mashed potatoes on his dinner plate, and finally out of mud, in a massive sculpture that takes over the living room, Roy drives his family away.

Roy meets Jillian, also drawn to the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. They find that they are not the only ones who feel they have been called there. French scientist Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut), a top-secret U.S. government installation, and others feeling the same compulsion are there to meet the enormous spacecraft, which returns dozens of humans taken over decades (including Jillian’s son). Then the aliens leave the ship, and Roy joins the group boarding the ship in an intergalactic exchange program. In the reissue, which added some new scenes, we get a glimpse of the inside of the spacecraft.

Discussion: This is a thrilling adventure story and a brilliant example of the art and craft of movie making. The craft is in the way the story is told. It unfolds with extraordinary power, involving us as much in Roy’s inexplicable compulsion as in Jillian’s search for her son. The art is in the story itself, the idea not just that “something” is out there, but that it is something wonderful. Watch how Spielberg lets us know that the aliens are friendly. In one of several tributes to Disney, the interplay between the large and small spaceships has a fond, protective, almost maternal quality. This is a device Disney uses over and over, perhaps most memorably with the dancing mushrooms in “Fantasia.” And there is something very believable and compelling about the way that the aliens use music to communicate, and to teach the people on earth. They use art as well — Roy’s sculptures and Jillian’s drawings help the message to reach their conscious minds. Spielberg creates a sense of wonder not just in Jillian’s son Barry (Cary Guffey) but in the adult characters and in the viewers, making them children again, with the aliens as the “adults,” who reassuringly, look and behave like gentle children, giving us a sense of comfort.

Questions for Kids:

Why was music a good way for the aliens to communicate with the people on Earth?

What did the scientist mean when he said it was the first day of school?

What movie did Roy want his family to see? What does that tell you about him? How does that movie relate to this one? (Hint–listen for a familiar song.)

Do you think aliens will come to Earth? What will they be like?

What do you think would happen in a sequel to this movie?

Connections: Francois Truffaut was a distinguished French film critic and director (“The 400 Blows,” “Small Change”).

Activities: Kids can draw a picture of what they think the aliens’ planet looks like. Do they live in cities? What kinds of inventions do they have that we don’t have? Make a model or draw a picture of the planets in our solar system. Go the library or a museum to get information about space travel. Check out NASA on the World Wide Web at http://www.nasa.gov to get information about the next space mission. Or write to The SETI Institute, 2035 Landings Drive, Mountain View, CA 94043 for the latest research on UFOs and extraterrestrials.

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