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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

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Release Date:
May 2, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

 

Bears
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
G
Release Date:
April 19, 2014

When the Game Stands Tall
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

 

Need for Speed
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language
Release Date:
March 14, 2014

Startup.com

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2001

Jehane Noujaim left her job at MTV to make documentaries just as her roommate, Kaliel Isaza Tuzman, was leaving his job at Goldman Sachs to run a new Internet company. They combined their two ventures when Noujaim, in conjunction with Chris Hegedus (maker of “The War Room,” about the first Clinton campaign) agreed to follow Tuzman’s venture to tell the story of what they were sure would be a sensational success. Instead, they ended up telling the story of a spectacular failure.

We first see Tuzman leaving Goldman Sachs for the last time, kicking the cardboard box with his belongings out to the street. He is about to join his high school best friend, Tom Herman. Tuzman will be the CEO and Herman will be in charge of technology. The company, which they decide to call govWorks.com, will be a place for citizens to pay parking tickets, taxes, and other fees to local governments. Tuzman’s first job is to raise money.

From 1999 to 2001, govWorks went from eight employees to more than 200, and then down to none. They raised $60 million and ended in bankruptcy.

Noujaim and Hegedus shot over 400 hours of film, not just in the office, but in the bedroom, the gym, the car, in a pizza parlor, on a company retreat hosted by Herman’s parents, and even at the circus. We see Herman braiding his daughter’s hair and hear Tuzman’s soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend complaining that he does not call her. We see arguments over priorities and presentations. A competitor visits the office and then there is a mysterious burglary that appears to be espionage. Finally, we see the almost unbearably painful moment when the friendship is shattered by the business, as Herman leaves and then, on advice of counsel, tries to return only to be formally terminated. Herman says, “I’d rather see govWorks fail than risk personal relationships.” Tuzman says, “The thing that I’ll remember most from last year is when you told me you don’t trust me.” At the end, though, Herman, still wearing the t-shirt of the failed firm, tells Tuzman that “I had a great time over the last year and I love you.” And we see from the end credits that they are still in business together – using their expertise to advise distressed dot.coms.

In finding one story to tell among 400 chaotic hours of footage, there were probably a million options. They story the filmmakers chose to tell is the story of the Herman/Tuzman relationship and the way that the very qualities that made the two men good complements for each other ultimately led to catastrophe. Maybe it is because their access to the principals of the firm was extensive but they were not allowed to film the backers or board, so the story they told was determined by the pictures they had to show it. Maybe it is because the filmmakers were women, so they saw the story with a Deborah Tannen-esque yang to Tuzman’s testosterone-driven yin.

Parents should know that the movie includes very strong language and tense and emotional moments. One of the great strengths of the story is the way in which a group of people from very diverse backgrounds and cultures works together with great loyalty and commitment.

Families who see this movie should talk about how we make choices when our work and professional lives conflict. At one point in this movie, Tuzman, under intense deadline pressure, calls for an all-weekend meeting. Herman refuses, saying that he promised to be with his daughter. Families should talk about what happens next, and what they would do in that situation.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “The War Room.”

Stalag 17

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:1953

Plot: As the movie opens, the narrator says that the movies he has seen about WWII are about “flyboys” in leather jackets, and do not reflect his own experience as an American prisoner of war in a German Stalag (prison camp). This is that story.

Sefton (William Holden) is a cynical loner who bets (successfully) that his fellow prisoners will fail in their attempt to escape. He manages to scrounge or trade for many small luxuries, including a bar of soap and an egg. When the others show their contempt, he says, “So maybe I trade a little sharper. Does that make me a collaborator?” and sums up his philosphy, “This is everybody for himself, dog eat dog…You can be the heroes, the guys with fruit salad on your chest. Me, I’m staying put, and I’m going to make myself as comfortable as I can, and if it takes trading with the enemy to get me some food or a better mattress, that’s okay with Sefton.”

The other men in his barracks start to suspect him of trading more than cigarettes and silk stockings with the Germans. When Lieutenant Dunbar, a wealthy Bostonian who is in the barracks on his way to the officer’s prison camp, is arrested for sabotage, they conclude that Sefton told the Germans that Dunbar was the one who blew up the train filled with ammunition. They beat Sefton severely. He tells them that two people know he is not the one who is telling the Germans their secrets — Sefton himself and the one who is really doing it. Sefton starts to watch the others, to find the spy, and figures out who it is. But what can he do? If he says nothing, the spy will continue to betray the Americans. If he tells the others, the spy will just be sent to another Stalag. If they kill the spy, they will be killed as punishment. Sefton finds a way to reveal the identity of the spy, and the prisoners use him as a decoy, so that Dunbar can escape. Sefton insists on being the one to take him, telling the others that the risk of escaping has been outweighed by the chance at a reward from Dunbar’s family.

Discussion: This is an exceptionally exciting drama, based on a play by two men who were prisoners in Stalag 17. Holden’s superb performance won a Best Actor Oscar , and the rest of the cast, some who were also in the Broadway play, is excellent. This movie provides a good opportunity to talk about the role of humor, especially “black” or “gallows” humor, in adapting to the harshest circumstances. A former Communist bloc comedian once said that every joke is a “tiny revolution.” Here, when all control over their lives is taken from them, the prisoners try to establish some sense of control with jokes and pranks, and again, we see that, as W.H. Auden said, “a laugh is less heartless than tears” (see “Sullivan’s Travels”).

Examine the other strategies and responses the prisoners had to adapt to their circumstances. Sefton adapted by trying to make whatever small improvements to his life that he could, helping him to maintain some sense of power, choice, and control. Animal and Harry use dreams to help them feel better; also giving them a sense of control, even if it is only for the future. Joey plays an ocarina, and becomes completely withdrawn. Interestingly, the camp commandant, Von Sherbach (Otto Preminger), a ruthless man, is nevertheless shown as feeling his own loss of control, because he has been assigned to the backwater of the war effort. He hopes that identifying Dunbar as the one who blew up the train will bring him to the attention of those who may move him to something more prestigious.

Sefton is interesting (the narrator says he would fit into one of the Reader’s Digest series about the “most unforgettable character”) because he has none of the redeeming qualities we expect of our heroes. In contrast to Dunbar, who is rich, handsome, charming, unpretentious, modest, and brave, Sefton is selfish, cynical, and hostile. In his last words to the group as he leaves to rescue Dunbar, he says that if they should ever run into him after the war, to pretend they don’t know him. When he says he is motivated by the prospect of a reward, we believe him. Heroes are just as complicated as everyone else, possibly more so.

This movie also provides an opportunity to talk about justice and fairness. The evidence was very strongly against Sefton, and his unpleasant personality made him a natural object of hostility and suspicion. Contrast the process for finding Sefton guilty with the process the commandant uses to interrogate Dunbar (who was “guilty”).

Questions for Kids:

· Why did Sefton give his egg to Joey?

· Why was Sefton so consumed with his own comforts and privileges?

· Why did the others suspect Sefton?

· How did the prisoners use humor to keep their spirits up? How do the film-makers use humor to break the tension?

· How can there be “rules” like those of the Geneva convention in a war? How can those rules be enforced?

Connections: Other outstanding movies about prisoners of war include “The Great Escape.” “The Rack” stars Paul Newman as a soldier accused of treason following his release from a Korean prison camp.

Spy Kids

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2001
DVD Release Date:August 15, 2011

This week’s release of the fourth in the “Spy Kids” series is a good reason to revisit the original.

YouTube Preview Image

Imagine James Bond crossed with “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and you might have an idea of what to expect in “Spy Kids,” the best family movie of the spring. It has just the right combination of giddy fantasy, exciting adventure, wonderful special effects, and sly comedy to be ideal for 7-12 year-olds and their families. It is doubly welcome, after the terrible “See Spot Run,” and especially because it features strong females and characters and performers from the Latino culture.

Carmen and Juni Cortez (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) are the children of Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino), once the cleverest spies in the world, but now loving parents who make a living as consultants. Or so they say.

It turns out that once the kids go to bed, Gregorio and Ingrid flip a few switches to connect to a command center that keeps them involved in spy missions, though now from a safe distance.

When top secret agents start disappearing, Gregorio and Ingrid call on “Uncle Felix” (Cheech Marin) to watch the kids and climb back into their spy gear to go off and save the world. But then they, too, disappear, and it is up to Carmen and Juni to rescue their parents, and, while they’re at it, the rest of the world, too. But first, they have to learn to respect and trust each other.

They also have to learn how to use a bunch of gadgets that would leave James Bond, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, and even Inspector Gadget green with envy. I loved the way that instead of ray guns or other destructive devices the kids use fantasy versions of stuff that kids know best. They fight the bad guys with bubble gum that gives the enemy an electric shock, silly string that turns into cement, and, that ultimate dream, a back-pack-y sort of thing that enables them to fly. Similarly, instead of scary ninjas or soldiers, most of the bad guys are either thumb-shaped robot creatures who are literally all thumbs or a bunch of robot children whose most menacing aspect is glowing eyes and super strength.

Any good adventure story needs a great villain, and this one has the always-great Alan Cummings as Floop, the star of Juni’s favorite television program who is also the mastermind of the plot to create an army of robot children. His sidekick is Minion (Tony Shaloub), who transforms the captured spies into backwards-speaking, silly-looking mutants for Floop’s show. But one of the interesting things about the movie is that nearly everyone turns out to be something different than what they or others thought, even Minion and Floop. The transforming in the movie is not limited to the mutants.

Parents should know that the movie includes a little bit of potty humor (which most kids will find hilarious) and one almost-swear word. Younger children might be frightened by the mutant creatures, but most will find them more silly than scary. Characters are in comic peril and there is a certain amount of head-bonking violence, but no one even gets a scratch except for one villain whose encounter with flames leaves her having a very bad hair day.

Be sure to tell kids that the thumb-robots were inspired by drawings writer/director Robert Rodriguez did when he was 12, and ask them to come up with some pictures of things they’d like to put into a movie someday. Good topics for family discussion include how to know which secrets to share, the challenges of siblinghood (a two-generation challenge in the Cortez family) and the movie’s conclusion that spy work is easy compared to keeping a family together, which is not only more of a challenge, but more important.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach.”

Spy Game

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2001

This is not one of those movies where the spies wear elegant dinner jackets, drink martinis, use cool gadgets and have sex with gorgeous women in between huge explosions and shoot-outs. There is no hidden fortress, secret formula, or missing computer chip. Instead, it is a smart thriller for grown-ups about spies who manipulate their “assets” (sources) with brains, not explosives. And it is about loyalty, politics, and whether the ends ever justify the means.

It begins in 1991 with a failed rescue attempt at a Chinese prison. Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) is awakened on his last day working for the CIA by a phone call from Hong Kong. An agent has been captured. We learn through a series of flashbacks that the agent, Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) was originally recruited and trained by Muir. We trace their relationship through the world’s trouble spots from Viet Nam to Beirut as they go from teacher/student to partners and then as they cannot work together any more. Bishop, code named “Boy Scout” for his true blue values, likes being one of the good guys. He likes to keep his promises. He is willing to bend rules, but only if he has to. Nathan is not sure he knows what the rules are anymore, beyond the one he tells Tom is unbreakable – save your money so that you can retire someplace warm and never spend any of it to protect an asset.

The CIA has 24 hours before Bishop is executed. Muir spends much of that time in a taped and transcribed meeting with top officials who are more concerned about maintaining trade negotiations with China than with rescuing a spy who does not seem to have been on any authorized mission. The rest of the time, he is using everything he has accumulated in his career – his experiences, his relationships, his tricks of the trade, and even his money – to get the Boy Scout back home.

Redford and Pitt (who worked together on “A River Runs Through It”) are both marvelous, their different acting styles working well to help them portray the differences in their characters. Director Tony Scott (“Top Gun” and “Crimson Tide”) shows his usual expert touch in action stories about men who have to think quickly while they struggle with problems of loyalty and independence. The scenes in Beirut are particularly unsettling and tragic.

Parents should know that the movie has very strong language and a lot of violence, including a brutal beating. We see the victims of violence, including amputees and dead bodies. There is a mild and inexplicit sexual situation.

Families who see this movie should talk about how people develop rules when their work involves breaking traditional rules. How can you tell when you stop being one of the good guys? How do they know that the rules they are breaking are in aid of a greater good? Who was betrayed in the movie?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the Tom Clancy movies, The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games.

Previous Posts

If I Stay
Hamlet asked it best. "To be, or not to be: That is the question." We struggle through, worrying about whether someone likes us or whether we will be accepted at the school of our choice

posted 6:00:09pm Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
If you want to not just see but hear an eyeball being pulverized, then see "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For."  If you want to see and hear it in the company of an audience who thinks that's

posted 5:59:27pm Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »

When the Game Stands Tall
This dreary assemblage of every possible sports cliché has one thing in common with the game it portrays. Every time it seems to be going somewhere, it stops. More frustratingly, it wastes the opportunity to tell a good story by trying to squeeze in too many great ones. There are too many crises

posted 5:59:00pm Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Christian Indie Films of 2014
This year has already seen a remarkable and perhaps unprecedented number of Christian and Biblically-based films, from big-budget epics like "Noah" and "Son of God" to small faith-oriented films like "God's Not Dead."  There is an excellent summary of four Christian independent films of 2014 on In

posted 3:59:03pm Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »

Frank: The Real Story of the Singer With the Paper-Mache Mask
One of the handsomest men alive spends almost the entire movie wearing a huge round paper maché head in "Frank," a moving film inspired by the real-life story of the late Frank Sidebottom.  Michael Fassbender plays Frank, a sweet-natured but very quirky musician who wears his big head mask even in

posted 9:10:16am Aug. 21, 2014 | read full post »


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