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Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
Release Date:
October 24, 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

John Wick
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Earth to Echo
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some action and peril, and mild language
Release Date:
July 3, 2014

23 Blast
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some teen drinking
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Snowpiercer
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for violence, language and drug content
Release Date:
July 2, 2014

The Tuxedo

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

Four words I didn’t plan on saying: Bring back Chris Tucker!

The bad guy in the movie may be evil, but he doesn’t do nearly as much damage to Jackie Chan as the script does. It’s a cute idea, miserably executed.

Chan plays Jimmy Tong, a guy who knows nothing about kick-boxing (“Everyone in China is not Bruce Lee,” he tells a friend) but drives very, very fast. He ends up as a chauffeur for a James Bond-style spy named Clark Devlin (Jason Issacs, as cool as a vodka martini). When the spy is injured, Jimmy puts on Devlin’s tuxedo, a high-tech wonder that gives its wearer the power to defy gravity, sing and dance to soul music, and, oh yes, fight.

Devlin’s new partner is Del (Jennifer Love Hewitt), a newbie out to prove herself. She thinks Jimmy is Devlin, so the two of them go off to save the world from a deranged wacko who wants to control the world’s drinkable water supply. There is too much time spent doing everything except what Chan is really good at, and when we finally get down to the fight scenes, they are nowhere near his usual standard, except for one brief moment when, wearing only the tuxedo pants and not the jacket, only his legs “know” how to fight.

The plot is even dumber than most of these things (oh yeah, I always schedule a huge formal party at my house the same night I plan to put my plan for total world domination into play), the attempts at humor are far below average, and there is no spark at all between Chan and Hewitt. The usual outtakes at the end show us one supposedly funny moment that perhaps reveals more of the reason for the lack of chemistry on screen than they intended. The movie is too gross for kids and too uninteresting for anyone else.

Parents should know that the movie has crude humor and gross violence. There are some vulgar sexual references. Characters drink and smoke (there is an anti-smoking joke). Del uses her cleavage to get past a security guard and both spies pretend to romance people to find out what they are hiding.

Families who see this movie should talk about the different kinds of courage. Jimmy is very brave about some things but not about others. What are you brave about? What do you find harder to be brave about?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Chan’s much better films, including “Rush Hour” and “Shanghai Noon,” and especially his early Hong Kong work on movies like “Drunken Master” and “Miracles.”

The Truth About Charlie

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

I can’t figure out how a studio decided to take “Charade,” one of the world’s most delectable movies, and remake it without a single one of the ingredients that made it great. The dreamy theme song by Henry Mancini is gone, except for a dozen brief, quiet bars almost lost amidst the screeching, thumping soundtrack. The witty dialogue is gone, except for a couple of quips. They left out one of the best last lines in the history of movies. But, worst of all, the star power is gone, too. This movie has some attractive and talented actors. But I think I can state without fear of contradiction that Mark Wahlberg is no Cary Grant. And he should stay away from berets.

If we were to erase every memory of the original, this movie would simply be a pedestrian and mildly weird standard romantic thriller, below average but not unwatchable. Thandie Newton plays Regina Lampert, a British woman living in Paris. Three months earlier she impulsively married a wealthy Swiss art dealer but has resolved to get a divorce because she feels it was a mistake. Before she can tell him, she arrives home to find their apartment empty and gutted. He liquidated everything they had and left without leaving a message. She learns that he has been killed. And then she learns that he was not Swiss and not an art dealer. He had stolen some money while on a military operation for the United States. The money has disappeared, and the people he first stole it with and then stole it from want it back. And so does the U.S. Government.

Josh Peters (Wahlberg) arrives just as she is feeling like a damsel in distress and he befriends her. At first, she relies on him, but then she finds out that he has not been honest with her, so she has to use her own judgment and courage to decide who to trust and to solve the mystery.

Director Jonathan Demme undercuts the suspense with clumsy exposition and poorly handled characterization. Wahlberg looks puffy and unhappy and has no chemistry with Newton. And there are some surreal moments (possibly tributes to the French New Wave films of the 1960’s) that do not work at all. Josh plays a CD by French legend Charles Aznavour for Regina and all of a sudden, Aznavour is in the room, singing. A strange nightclub scene brings all of the characters together in a mad tango. The credit sequence also takes some of the characters in a playful direction that has no connection to the mood of the rest of the movie.

Parents should know that the movie includes nudity, an adulterous sexual situation, extreme peril and violence, strong language, and drinking and smoking. There is an off-camera but vivid search of a dead body. Regina responds to the stress of having to identify her late husband and being questioned by the police by getting drunk.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Regina decides whom to trust.

All fans of mystery and romance should see the classic “Charade” with Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, and Walter Matthau, and, if possible, they should also watch the DVD with delightfully witty commentary by the director and screenwriter. Families will also enjoy the companion movie, “Arabesque,” with Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren.

The Transporter

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

Pure popcorn pleasure, this is a heady combination that is half testosterone, half attitude, and all action. “The Transporter” really delivers.

Don’t pay much attention to the plot – no one connected to the movie does. Just pay attention to the chases and explosions, staged with style by Corey Yuen, a veteran Hong Kong actor/director and co-written by Luc Besson, whose wildly imaginative visuals ignited “The Fifth Element” and other films.

Together, they have produced a straight shot of movie adrenaline. Jason Statham (best known for his appearances in tough-guy movies “Snatch” and “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels”), plays Frank, a former military man who now serves as a “transporter.” He will deliver anything from one place to another, as long as his price and conditions are met. The price is high. The conditions are these: no names on either side, no changes to the deal once it’s set, and no looking into the package. The movie kicks off with a heart-thumping chase scene as Frank transports three bank robbers and their swag (though he won’t budge until they get rid of a fourth robber who wasn’t part of the deal). We see that Frank is both a meticulous planner and fearless under pressure, whether he is being chased by dozens of cops or penetratingly questioned by just one smart one.

Then Frank takes on another job and for once he breaks one of the rules. He looks in the package he is transporting and finds a young woman named Lai (Shu Qi). If he hesitates about delivering her to her destination, it is only briefly, because he takes her to the drop-off and accepts another job from the man who receives her. It is only when that package turns out to be a bomb intended to kill Frank that he returns to retrieve Li and extract some revenge.

Frank starts to care which side he’s on and he starts to care about Li, then thinks he can’t trust her, then learns he really can. No surprises with the story – this is straight out of screenwriting 101. But there are some very cool surprises in the chases and explosions as Frank and Li take on the bad guys and the bad guys chase after them.

Statham is a fine action hero, handling kick-boxing and dialogue with wit, grace, and style. Qi, who learned English (or some English, anyway) to take on the role, has a fresh, appealing presence, and François Berléand is superb as the policeman caught between suspecting Frank and admiring him. The bad guys played by Matt Schulze and Ric Young are not as interesting as they could be, but the movie moves so fast you won’t have much time to think about it.

Parents should know that the movie features intense, non-stop peril and action violence, with massive destruction of property. Many people are killed. Characters drink and smoke and use very strong language. In the coming attraction and commercial, Lai tells Frank he is in “deep trouble.” The word in the movie is not “trouble.”

Families who see this movie should talk about how Frank appears once to have been an idealist; what made him decide not to try to work to make things better any more? Why did the policeman let Frank go after the bad guys instead of sending the cops? What do you think Frank and Lai will do next? What makes this chase and explosion movie better than so many others?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Snatch” and “The Fifth Element” as well as Hong Kong kick-boxing classics like “A Better Tomorrow” and “Once Upon a Time in China” (all very violent).

The Secret Garden

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

Plot: Mary Lennox is a sour and selfish girl, spoiled by an Indian nanny and neglected by her parents. When they are killed, she is sent back to England to live with her uncle Archibald Craven, a mysterious and lonely man. He rarely returns to his home in Yorkshire, and leaves Mary to the care of Mrs. Medlock, the housekeeper, and Martha, the maid. Both are busy, and Mary has nothing to do but wander around the moors.

One day, Mary finds the key to a secret garden, once the favorite place for her uncle and his wife, whom he adored. After she died, he locked it up and swore no one would go in there again. Mary is determined to find it.

Following the sound of crying she often hears in the night, she finds that there is another child living in the house. It is her uncle’s son, Colin. He has been confined to bed all his life and is spoiled and demanding to the point of hysteria. Mary soothes him by telling him about the garden. Later, when he has a tantrum, she is the first person ever to impose limits on his behavior. He tells her that he is afraid he will have a hunched back like his father, and she tells him his back is fine.

Mary finds the garden, and she and Colin and Martha’s brother Dickon work to bring it back to life. As they do, Mary and Colin get stronger in body and in spirit. When Archibald returns, he meets them in the garden. They run to him, and it is clear that the garden will heal him, too.

Discussion: Every child should read this book and see at least one of the filmed versions. Children respond to Mary Lennox because (at least in the beginning) she is so unlikable, a relief from all the Pollyannas and Cinderellas who are rewarded for their relentlessly sunny characters and good deeds. And then there is the pleasure of meeting Colin, who is even worse, a “young rajah” who has had his every wish granted instantly and is surrounded only by those who live in terror of his hysteria. Mary and Colin are a perfect match for each other, and the scene in which she responds to his tantrum with fury is one of the most satisfying in any children’s book — indeed, in any book, as is the scene in which they enter the garden together, a wonderful metaphor for all that is going on inside their spirits.

T

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