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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

Spider-Man

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for stylized violence and action
Movie Release Date:2002
DVD Release Date:2002

Remember when “Superman” was released with the tagline, “You will believe a man can fly?” Well, “Spider-Man” will not only make you believe that a teenager can swing from the skyscrapers; it will almost make you believe that you are up there swinging with him.

Comics were hugely popular back in the days when they could show us stories that no one else could. But now, movies can show us anything that can be imagined, and a movie like this does it so well it makes you think that this is what imagination is for.

Toby Maguire plays Peter Parker, a brilliant and sensitive high school senior, so deeply in love with his red-headed next door neighbor Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) that he can barely bring himself to say hello to her. On a school field trip, he is bitten by a genetically engineered spider and the next morning he wakes up with some distinctly arachnid-like qualities. He can see without his glasses and he has become muscular. He can climb walls, eject webbing with the swinging power of rope and the strength of steel, and anticipate danger.

So, like any teenager, the first thing he does is impress a girl and humiliate a bully. He enters a wrestling match to get money so he can buy a car to impress the girl even more. His decision not to interfere with an armed robber has tragic consequences, and so he learns that his uncle was right in telling him that with great power comes great responsibility. Great risk comes as well — everyone he cares about is put at risk because of who he is.

Meanwhile, Peter’s best friend’s father, industrialist Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) has decided to try out his company’s new product on himself. He, too, develops extraordinary power and a mad fury. He is dubbed the Green Goblin for his bizarre armor-like covering.

Maguire is just right as Peter, thoughtful, sensitive, thrilled with his new powers. You can believe that he is the kind of kid who would spend his time a little bit apart from the others, taking photographs that are clear and perceptive. The supporting cast is great, especially stage star Rosemary Harris as Aunt May and J.K. Simmons as Peter’s bombastic editor. The script is excellent, and strikes just the right note of respect and affection for the source material. It has a contemporary feel without being showily post-modern or ironic.

The special effects are thrilling. New York City is brilliantly stylized. Peter’s relationship with MJ is sweetly romantic. And when a bunch of New Yorkers throw things at the Green Goblin, yelling, “This is New York and we fight back!” it is genuinely touching.

The movie’s weakest point is that it fails in the single most important requirement for a comic book-based movie — the villain is not unforgettably crazy or evil or larger-than-life. The best Batman movies featured Jack Nicholson as The Joker and Jim Carrey as The Riddler. Willem Dafoe is a brilliant actor (just take a look at his Oscar-nominated performance in “Shadow of the Vampire”), but the part of Osborn/Green Goblin is just not interesting enough to be truly scary. The flying surfboard he rides around on is very cool, but his exoskeleton costume and mask are just dumb-looking.

Parents should know that the PG-13 rating comes from a couple of mild words, a clingy wet t-shirt, and a great deal of violence. The violence gets very intense, and includes not just fires and explosions but people getting vaporized, shot (off-camera), and impaled. Characters lose people close to them to violent deaths. A group of schoolchildren are in peril. Parents emotionally abuse their children.

For parents who are struggling with whether this movie is appropriate for kids under 13, the best guide I can provide is to say that it is about at the level of X-Men. I recommend caution, especially for children under 10. Keep in mind that just because a child can repeat after you “it’s only pretend” does not mean that he fully understands what that means until he is 10 or even older, and that the terrorist attacks may make some of the material scarier than it would have been before (scenes featuring the World Trade Center have been removed from the movie). Some kids may see the movie and appear to have no problems with it, but may act out in other ways. Be watchful for kids who respond by desensitizing themselves to violence or re-enacting it. And if you are going to let childrn see the movie, make sure that they know that this is an exception and that you will not be permitting them to see any PG-13 just because you allowed this one.

Families who see this movie should talk about the idea that the people we love make us feel good about who we are at the same time they make us see a way to be better. Do you agree that “people love to see a hero fail?” Characters in the movie keep a lot of secrets. What makes them decide not to tell, and who is and is not right in making that choice?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Superman and Batman. Mature audiences will enjoy Toby Maguire’s outstanding performances in “Wonder Boys,” “The Cider House Rules,” and “The Ice Storm.”

Spartacus

posted by rkumar
A+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:1960

Plot: Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) is a slave in the Roman empire, about 70 years before the birth of Christ. A rebellious and proud man, he is sentenced to death for biting a guard but rescued by Biatius (Peter Ustinov), who buys him and takes him to his school for training and selling gladiators. Slave women are provided to the men as rewards. Varinia (Jean Simmons), a British slave, is given to Spartacus. He is awestruck by her grace and beauty, but when he sees that Biatius is watching them, he screams, “I am not an animal!” and will not touch her.

Crassus (Laurence Olivier), a Roman dignitary, visits Biatius’ home with two spoiled and decadent women, who insist on seeing a fight to the death. Spartacus is paired with Draba (Woody Strode), an Ethiopian, who fights with net and trident. Draba corners Spartacus but refuses to kill him, and intstead rushes toward Crassus, who slits his throat. Crassus buys Varinia, and when a guard taunts Spartacus about her, Spartacus kills him, and leads the other slaves in a revolt.

They escape to the countryside, and other slaves join them as they make progress toward the sea, where they hope to escape. Varinia and Antoninus (Tony Curtis), a slave singer and magician, escape from Crassus, and join the slaves. The Romans send troops to capture them, but the slaves defeat them, sending back the message that all they want is the freedom to return to their homes. Crassus uses the slave revolt to gain political power, by promising “order” if he is given complete control. When he is successful, triumphing over his political rival, Gracchus (Charles Laughton), he cuts off the slaves’ access to ships, and surrounds them with troops. Many are killed on both sides, and the slaves are recaptured. Crassus promises them their lives if they will just give him Spartacus. As Spartacus is about to step forward, each of the slaves cries out, “I am Spartacus!” The Romans crucify them all except for Spartacus and Antoninus, lining the Appian Way with 6000 crucifixes.

Crassus takes Varinia and her new baby back to his home. He wants her affection, as the ultimate triumph over Spartacus. Spartacus and Antoninus are ordered to fight to the death, with the survivor to be crucified. Each tries to kill the other, to save him from the slow death of crucifixion. Spartacus is successful, killing Antoninus out of love and mercy, and then he is crucified. Before he dies, he is able to see Varinia and his son, now both free, thanks to Gracchus.

Discussion: This epic saga of the price of freedom is thrilling to watch, the struggles of conscience as gripping as the brilliantly staged battle scenes. When we first see Spartacus, he strikes out at an oppressor almost reflexively. He does not care that the consequence is death; as he later says, for a slave death is only a release from pain.

His life is spared when he is purchased by Biatius. His training as a gladiator gives him his first chance to form bonds with fellow slaves. His exposure to the guards and to the degenerate women from Rome, who insist on watching muscular men kill each other, shows him that power is not based on worth. When he shouts, “I am not an animal!” he is saying it to himself as much as to Biatius. When he strikes out again, he is armed not only with the fighting skills he has learned, but also with an ability to lead, founded in a new sense of entitlement to freedom.

The characters in this movie are especially vivid and interesting. Varinia has a wonderful grace and a rare humor, which adds warmth to her character. She is able to shield her emotional self from the abuse she is forced to endure without deadening her feelings. Gracchus conveys the essential decency of a man who has made many compromises, political and spiritual.

Both the author of the book and the screenwriter were blacklisted during the McCarthy era, and families should discuss how that influenced their approach to the story. Kids may also be interested to know that this was among the most popular movies show in the former Soviet Union, and should consider what it was that appealed to the communists.

Questions for Kids:

· Why was it important for the Romans to spread the rumor that Spartacus was of noble birth?

· What did Biatius mean when he said he had found his dignity? How was he changed?

· What did it mean when Gracchus responded that “dignity shortens life even more quickly than disease?”

· Why did Crassus say he was more concerned about killing the legend than killing the man?

· Why did each of the slaves claim to be Spartacus?

Connections: The movie cuts back and forth between the speeches given by Crassus and Spartacus to inspire their followers. Compare the speeches to each other, and to the most famous such speech in literature, Henry V’s “we few, we happy few” speech, delivered by Olivier (who also played Crassus) in the 1945 version of “Henry V,” and delivered with a very different interpretation by Kenneth Branagh in the 1989 version. The sense of community and loyalty of the slaves is reminiscient of similar scenes in “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”

This was the first screen credit for scriptwriter Dalton Trumbo after he was jailed for refusing to cooperate with Senater Joseph McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities, though he wrote under other names during that period, and even won two Oscars for best screenplay under other names.

Peter Ustinov won an Oscar for his performance as the slave dealer who runs the gladiator school. He is a rare actor who is able to keep his character as interesting after becoming (at least comparatively) virtuous as he was before.

All of the performances are outstanding. Jean Simmons can also be seein in “Guys and Dolls” and “Great Expectations.” Charles Laughton can be seen in “Witness for the Prosecution,” and “Advise and Consent.” The movie also won Oscars for art direction, costume design, and cinematography.

In 1991, an expanded version of the film was released, restoring scenes that had been cut for the original release, including a bathing scene with Cassus and Antoninus with an implication of sexual interest. Because the original soundtrack was not available and Olivier was dead, his voice was dubbed by Anthony Hopkins.

Activities: Kids who like this movie might enjoy the novel by Howard Fast, also the author of a novel about the American revolution, April Morning.

Space Cowboys

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

If we needed someone to save the world, wouldn’t Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner, and Donald Sutherland be the guys to do it? Or at least wouldn’t it be fun to watch those guys play “Leisure World astronauts” showing off their right stuff? If your answer is yes, this is your movie.

Four hot-dogging test pilots were thrown out of the space program and replaced by a monkey. Forty years later, they are called back into action when a Russian communications satellite begins to fall down out of the sky. It turns out that the satellite’s guidance system is, mysteriously, none other than the very guidance system set up by former hot dog Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood, who also directed). And it also turns out, mysteriously, that for unrevealed “political” reasons, NASA wants the satellite repaired, not destroyed. Less mysteriously, it also turns out that Corvin won’t fix the thing unless NASA lets him go up and do it himself, accompanied by his old team, despite the fact that “the last time they trained for a space program, people were driving cars with fins on them.”

Eastwood takes his time, giving us a prolonged black and white intro, with the stars’ voices coming from younger actors portraying them circa 1958. Then we have to get acquainted with the problem, NASA has to come to Corvin for help, he has to turn them down, then get his old nemesis to agree to let him get his over-the-hill-gang back together, then they have to go through training and show those young upstart astronauts a thing or two, and then comes ten, nine, eight, seven, and all the rest of it and we’re out in space.

The script is weak and saggy and the plot is predictable. The last scene is weirdly maudlin, even macabre. But the effortless star quality of these guys, so clearly still in their prime, is undimmed. You can’t help loving every wrinkle of those handsome craggy faces, especially if you’re old enough to have a crag or two yourself.

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language and some sexual references. Sutherland’s character is portrayed as a perpetual womanizer and this is supposed to be charming and virile, even when he makes a very vulgar comment on Jay Leno’s show. Characters drink and smoke, punch each other, and engage in other kinds of risky behavior. There is a sad death.

Families who see this movie should discuss our society’s prejudices against older people. It is important for kids to know that many old people are capable, curious, and vigorous, with experiences that are worth learning about and that it is always important to treat them with respect. Ask kids what they think they will feel like when they get to be as old as Corvin and his team. Get them to ask older relatives about some of their experiences. Families will also want to talk about the decision of one crew member to make a great sacrifice to save many others.

Families who like this movie will also like “Apollo 13″ and “The Right Stuff.” They may also enjoy some of the earlier movies of this all-star cast, including Eastwood’s “Every Which Way But Loose,” Sutherland’s “M*A*S*H” (for older teens), Jones’ “The Fugitive,” and Garner’s “Support Your Local Sheriff.”

Some Like it Hot

posted by rkumar
A+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:1959

Plot: In the first moments of the movie, what appears to be a hearse turns out to be carrying bootleg liquor, and we are prepared for a movie in which nothing will be what it seems and nothing will be treated very seriously. It is the 1920s, during Prohibition, and Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) are two musicians who play in a speakeasy. When they accidentally witness the St. Valentine’s Day massacre of a group of bootleggers by Spats Columbo (George Raft) and his mob, they have to hide out. So they accept a job with a band on its way to Florida — an all- girl band — and they dress as women, calling themselves “Josephine” and “Daphne.”

On the train, they meet the rest of the band, including lead singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe). Both men are very attracted to her. She quickly becomes friends with “Daphne” and they have a late-night pajama party. But when they get to Florida, Joe adopts yet another disguise, this time as a wealthy bachelor. Meanwhile, Osgood (Joe E. Brown), a real wealthy bachelor, is interested in “Daphne.” Joe gets “Daphne” to distract Osgood so he can use Osgood’s yacht for a date with Sugar.

Meanwhile, Spats and his gang arrive at the hotel for a conference with other gang leaders that results in even more bloodshed. Joe realizes that he does not want to mislead Sugar anymore and sends her a diamond bracelet (from Osgood) and a farewell note. But, seeing her sadness, he is overcome and kisses her, forgetting that he is dressed as Josephine. She runs after them, and joins Joe, Jerry, and Osgood as they escape on Osgood’s boat.

Discussion: This is one of the wildest farces ever filmed, but it has a lot of heart as well, with brilliant performances by all three stars. Monroe is heartbreakingly vulnerable as Sugar, explaining that she always gets “the fuzzy end of the lollypop.” Joe must become someone else in order to learn the truth about Sugar (who would never have confided in a man) and about himself (as he sees the consequences of his exploitive behavior and feels what it is like to have men try to force their attentions on him). Jerry, hilariously, turns out to be as suggestible as a woman as he was as a man. As himself, he ends up going along with whatever Joe tells him. In women’s clothes, he starts to think of himself as a woman. The scene where he tells Joe he and Osgood are engaged is a classic.

Questions for Kids:

· How does Joe change, and what makes him change?

· What does he learn from being dressed as a woman?

· How do Joe and Jerry react differently to dressing as women?

· How does Sugar behave differently with “Junior” and “Josephine”?

Connections: Other movies with male characters disguising themselves as women include the venerable “Charlie’s Aunt,” filmed seven times, including a musical version with Ray Bolger, and “Tootsie,” with Dustin Hoffman (rated PG, but with mature themes). Curtis and Lemmon also appeared together in “The Great Race.” George Raft engagingly spoofs his tough guy performances in 1930s gangster movies, even repeating his coin- flipping habit from “Scarface.”

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