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Selma
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language
Release Date:
December 25, 2014

 

The Equalizer
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

Into the Woods
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material
Release Date:
December 25, 2014

 

Tusk
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some disturbing violence/gore, language and sexual content
Release Date:
September 19, 2014

Unbroken
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language
Release Date:
December 25, 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

Brother Bear

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Preschool
Movie Release Date:2003

The most imaginative part of this latest Disney animated feature, set in the Pacific Northwest at the end of the Ice Age, is the sunlight on the glaciers. It is magnificently rendered. Other than that lovely glimpse of majesty and artistry, the movie is right off the assembly line, an uninspired and lackluster story told with some visual flourish and a few cute moments but without much energy.

Kenai (voice of Joaquin Phoenix) is the youngest of three brothers. He is impetuous, careless, and very impatient for the coming-of-age ceremony where he will be assigned a “totem,” a symbol that will guide him through life. But he is disappointed by the symbol he receives, a bear, symbolizing love. His brother Sitka (D. B. Sweeny) has the eagle, for leadership, and his brother Denahi (Jason Raize) has the wolf, for wisdom. Kenai does not think either the bear or the love it symbolizes are very important.

Sitka is killed protecting his brothers from a bear. Kenai, enraged, kills it. The Great Spirits want to teach Kenai a lesson, so they use the Northern Lights to transform him into the creature he despises. When Denahi arrives, he thinks Kenai has been killed, and so he hunts the bear, not realizing it is his own brother.

Kenai must make a journey, physical and spiritual, before he can become his true self. Guided by a cheerfully chatty cub named Koda (Jeremy Suarez), Kenai sets off for the place where he can return to human form. But Denahi is pursuing them and other challenges lie ahead. The most important are the lessons Kenai must learn about loss, love, and brotherhood.

The grandeur of the settings is nicely evoked, especially afer Kenai becomes a bear and the screen literally opens up and brightens. There are some exciting moments when Kenai fights the bear and when Kenai and Koda race through a sulfurous geyser field. There are some funny moments with SCTV veterans Dave Thomas and Ric Moranis as a pair of silly moose brothers. But the music by Phil Collins is mediocre, even when legends Tina Turner and the Blind Boys of Alabama do their best to add some spirit.

All cultures have legends of physical transformation as a way of making more accessible the idea of spiritual and emotional change. These stories can be compelling and deeply meaningful, even for children. But here, the story is just too superficial and the script is too pseudo-mythological. The conclusion may strike some in the audience as jarring.

Parents should know that the movie has some tense scenes of peril and two characters are killed. Some children may be disturbed by the way that those characters return as spirits, but some may be reassured that love never dies. There is a little potty humor. The movie’s multi-cultural range of voices and setting in pre-historic Inuit culture add a lot to the movie’s texture.

Families who see this movie should talk about which totems they would like to pick for themselves and what animals they would most like to get a chance to be. What did Kenai learn as a bear that he could not learn as a human? There is an old Native American saying that you should not judge another person until you have walked a mile in his moccosins. How does this movie make handle that idea? What do you think about his decision at the end of the movie? Talk about the movie’s perspective on what you do to make amends when you have done something terrible, and about how siblings should support each other. Be sure that children notice how the look of the movie changes when Kenai becomes a bear. As Kenai sees through a bear’s eyes, we see through his, the entire shape of the screen changing and the colors brightening. As Kenai also learns to listen, the sound of the movie becomes fuller as well.

Families who see this movie will also enjoy Ice Age. Another Disney movie with a character who takes on animal shapes to learn important lessons is The Sword in the Stone. Families might like to find out more about the Northern Lights and about Inuit culture. They should adapt the bears’ discussion of “the most interesting thing that happened” on family dinners and car rides. And they will enjoy playing “I Spy” if they are able to make it a bit more creative than the moose did!

Scary Movie 3

posted by rkumar
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2003

The first two “Scary Movies” written and directed by the Wayans brothers, were R-rated, cheerfully raunchy, and cheekily politically incorrect parodies of popular movies, including Scream and its sequels. This latest in the series is rated PG-13 and the Wayanses have been replaced by David Zucker, director of both wildly funny comedy classics (Ruthless People and Airplane) and painfully un-funny flops (My Boss’s Daughter). This movie is somewhere in the middle, not as good as The Naked Gun series but better than Baseketball.

The plot has something to do with an alien invasion connected to a videotape and some crop circles, but that is just an excuse for a series of riffs on a couple of dozen recent movies, including Signs, The Ring, 8 Mile, and The Matrix. Some of the jokes come from juxtaposing two pop culture references, as when “American Idol’s” Simon Cowell shows up to critique an 8 Mile-inspired rap performance, when Charlie Sheen’s real-life wife, Denise Richards shows up as the dying wife of his Signs-inspired character, or when Pamela Anderson finds a The Ring-inspired videotape even scarier than the infamous video featuring her private moments with then-husband Tommy Lee.

More of the humor comes from gross physical harm or from wildly inappropriate comments or behavior in front of children. One child is hit by a car, repeatedly beaten and injured, molested by a priest, and told about his mother’s substance abuse during pregancy. A dead body is subjected to violent attempts to bring it back to life, resulting in the severing of its limbs.

The rest is that good old comedy staple — stupidity — as when a group of heavily armed gangstas show up to fight the aliens but then start arguing over who smudged whose sneakers and gun each other down instead.

There are some very funny moments, most already revealed in the movie’s coming attraction. Queen Latifah lights up her scenes as a psychic, with the able assitance of Eddie Griffin as her husband. George Carlin is a pleasure in a Matrix-inspired role. Regina Hall brings some snap to the best-friend-destined-to-die-early-on role. But this is a movie that will primarily appeal to those who can get excited about seeing performers like Ja Rule, Ghostface Killah, and Method Man acting silly, especially those who are young enough to get a kick out of the inherent subversiveness of any satire aimed at popular media, without caring too much whether any of the targets are actually hit.

Parents should know that as usual the MPAA gives a PG-13 rating to material in a comedy that would get an R-rating in a drama. There are jokes about drinking, smoking, drugs, sex, race, drunk driving, pedophile priests, gang shootings, barfing, menstruation, testicular cancer, beastiality, and people with disabilities. There are some graphic images, including severed heads and limbs, and a brief shot of a bare behind. The movie parodies racist stereotypes, but some audience members may believe that it perpetuates them as well. The movie has potty humor and shows dogs having sex.

Families who see this movie should talk about how the people who made it look at popular films to decide how to make fun of them.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original in this genre, Airplane by the same director. And they’ll enjoy the movie parodies in Mad Magazine.

The Human Stain

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2003

“The Human Stain” is a flawed but engrossing story of the way that people try to escape their pasts and the way that carefully constructed new personas, no matter how scrubbed and burnished, cannot erase the stain of the original.

A classics professor named Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) lectures his students about the Iliad. He peers into the classroom to call on two who are not present. The professor asks whether they exist at all, since he has never seen them in class. “Are they spooks?”

Instead of the mild “humor the professor” chuckles he expects, he is hit with a formal complaint. The two missing students are African-American and for them “spook” is a racist epithet.

The professor responds to the charge of racism with what traditionally constitutes evidence. As a scholar, he reaches for a reference book. The first dictionary definition of the word “spook” is a ghost. But the second is a racist epithet. The professor points out that since he had never seen the students, he did not know what race they were and thus could not have meant the word to be racist.

This rebuttal might have been persuasive in most circumstances. But this story is set in the year of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, “the summer of sanctimony” after the fall of communism and before the horror of terrorism. This was an era in which quibbles about a term like “spooks” seemed more important than whether the students had actually attended class. No one speaks up in his defense. No one points to his long-time record of support for minorities on campus.

The professor has one more rebuttal, probably the most powerful of all in a world in which the self-appointed victim is allowed to define the crime. The professor is a light-skinned African-American who has been passing as white since he was in school. People are allowed to say things about their own group that they cannot say about others. But Coleman does not claim that right. Maybe he thinks it would get him into even worse trouble. Maybe he thinks that after living for 40 years as white he no longer has that right. Or maybe, as a professor of classics, he knows enough about hubris and irony and tragic flaws (and the way that great conflicts arise over women) to believe that this idiotic charge is what, in the end, he deserves.

Coleman leaves the college. He tries to deal with the injustice of the accusation of racism by writing about it, again responding as a scholar. But it does not work. He tries to interest a reclusive novelist, Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinese) in the story. Although they become good friends, Zuckerman does not want to write that story. And then Coleman meets Faunia (Nicole Kidman), a young, beautiful women who works three menial jobs and wants to have sex with Coleman uncomplicated by any tenderness or communication. He is enchanted and energized by Faunia. He describes her as “not my first love and not my great love, but my last love.” He is as happy as only someone who thought there would never be any happiness for him again can be.

Faunia’s past has a stain, too. She has an abusive ex-husband (Ed Harris) who stalks her. Faunia has no possessions, but she is possessed by tragedy and loss.

The past bleeds through to the present as we see more and more of Coleman’s past through flashbacks. And just as Coleman and Faunia are able to reveal themselves to each other for the first time, the present bleeds through to the future and the volatile forces in the past converge inexorably and terribly.

Philip Roth’s ambitious and literary novel is awkwardly adapted for the screen. The book’s almost allegorical structure is supported by Roth’s use of language. On screen, the characters are more plot devices than people. Zuckerman (a Roth-like figure in eight books), though well-played by Sinese, is a narrative convention who adds nothing to the drama. The menace provided by Faunia’s Vietnam veteran ex-husband borders on melodrama.

The most affecting part of the story is in the flashbacks. Young Coleman (Wentworth Miller), in love for the first time with a beautiful, intelligent, and sympathetic Midwestern girl (the lovely Jacinda Barrett), experiments with the feeling of being not black or white but just free of any color. Then he brings her home to meet his mother (Anna Devere Smith), not letting either one know ahead of time that they were of different races. Nothing that happens in the Hopkins/Kidman segment of the story is anywhere near as compelling.

Parents should know that the movie has some very strong language and some very explicit sexual references and situations, including nudity. Characters drink and smoke, sometimes to excess. Characters are in peril and there are some tragic (offscreen) deaths. The movie’s themes about racism and “sanctimony” are provocatively presented.

Families who see this movie should talk about Coleman’s choices. What were the turning points? Would he have chosen differently if he had known that the world was about to change so dramatically? Did Roth mean the charges against Coleman to be ironic or, on a grander scale, tragic and inevitable?

Families who enjoy this movie may like to view some pre-Civil Rights-era movies dealing with the issue of blacks passing as whites, including Pinkie and the 1959 version of Imitation of Life, originally made in 1939. They should also take a look at an even earlier exploration of this issue in Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson. They also might like to read about one inspiration for the character of Coleman Silk, literary critic Anatole Broyard.

Shattered Glass

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2003

“If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

That’s what editors tell young reporters. Journalists believe that telling the truth is more than their job; it is almost a sacred obligation. And yet, every so often a reporter just makes up a story and it is published as fact. Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke fabricated a Pulitzer Prize-winning story about a child addicted to drugs. When reporter Jayson Blair fabricated details of his stories, the two top editors of the New York Times lost their jobs.

These scandals always get exhaustively reported, first because journalists do not want to be accused of failing to cover their own industry the way they do everyone else. And it is a very self-involved and competitive industry with journalists naturally fascinated by what their friends and competition are doing. And then there is good old schadenfreude, the pleasure people take in seeing other people suffer.

This is the story of one of the most schadenfreude-inducing scandals in the history of journalism. In 1998, the editor of the tiny but prestigious New Republic, which describes itself as “the inflight magazine of Air Force One,” found that star writer Stephen Glass had fabricated dozens of stories.

The New Republic had 15 writer/editors with a median age of 26. Glass (Hayden Christensen) was the youngest and the office pet. He dazzled everyone with charming compliments and even more charming self-deprecation. He had an intuitive sense of how to impress people without making them jealous or competitive. He brought people coffee, helped them with their stories, and, then he begged for their help, too, letting everyone know that he did not think he was as good as they were. That was an ideal mix for the hothouse environment of the magazine.

He wanted to be everything to everyone. He would do anything for attention and affection. He constantly asked “Are you mad?” “Do you hate me?” And everyone laughed and assured him that everything was okay.

The real-life Glass was perfectly named. From one angle, his shiny surface reflected back to observers whatever they wanted to see. But then the angle shifted slightly and they could see through him as though there was nothing there. At the end, when Glass is still desperately trying to be loved, making himself appear the victim, his editor says, “It’s a hell of a story. Stop pitching, Steve. It’s over.”

We know from the beginning that Glass lied, and the movie has enough respect for the complexity of human motivation not to try to explain why. So, it is a story of how the lie was uncovered, but it is less a detective story or even a rise-and-fall hubris tale than a story about how, in the end, journalism really is about telling the truth. An editor for a small, far-from-prestigious website tosses Glass’s story about a teenage hacker to Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn), one of his reporters, asking why he didn’t get that story himself. Penenberg begins to dig and finds out that only one fact in the Glass story checks out: “There does seem to be a state in the union named Nevada.” Glass and Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), his editor, find out what it is like to be under the microscope instead of peering through it.

Although the movie’s introduction makes it clear that Glass is a liar, screenwriter/director Billy Ray (Hart’s War) manages to keep us unsettled by not always letting us know what is real and what is imagined by Glass. Christensen is fine, though we are never as charmed by Glass as his colleagues at The New Republic. Maybe it is just being forewarned that makes Glass seem less ingratiating than just grating. Ray has a good feel for the culture and atmosphere of the community of Washington journalists — overworked, underpaid, and a little too smart and inbred. There are splendid performances by Sarsgaard, Zahn, and especially Hank Azaria as the late Michael Kelly.

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language and references to drug use and prostitutes. There are tense and upsetting scenes, including a suicide threat.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Glass lied and why people wanted to believe him. They might also want to take a look at The New Republic and see what those folks who fly on Air Force One are reading about.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Quiz Show, another movie about a real-life scandal. There are many great movies about real-life reporters who live up to the highest ideals of journalism, including the Oscar-winning All the President’s Men.

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