Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


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Black or White
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language, thematic material involving drug use and drinking, and for a fight
Release Date:
January 30, 2015

 

The Book of Life
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

Black Sea
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language throughout, some graphic images and violence
Release Date:
January 30, 2015

 

The Judge
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language including some sexual references
Release Date:
October 10, 2014

Strange Magic
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some action and scary images
Release Date:
January 23, 2015

 

Fury
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

Mean Girls

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

Author Judith Viorst once wrote about a little girl who looked over at another child and reported on her assessment. “Her dress is very pretty,” she said, “but mine is very prettier.”

She was clearly on her way to becoming what we now call an “alpha girl,” one of those impossibly perfect beings who mask ruthless domination with artificial sweetness. Just as everyone else seems to be a hopeless mess of hormones in the midst of an ever-changing and incomprehensible world, there are these creatures who seem to have understood and mastered whatever they do not actually control. Queen Bees and Wannabes, a non-fiction book by Rosalind Wiseman about alpha girls and the impact they have on everyone else, has been adapted by Saturday Night Live head writer (and Weekend Update anchor) Tina Fey into a movie about a girl who takes on a ruling clique called “the Plastics.”

Cady (Lindsay Lohan) arrives in Evanston, Illinois after growing up in Africa with her zoologist parents who taught her at home. So everything about the high school experience is completely new to her, and she ends up as something of a zoologist herself. She brings an outsider’s perspective to the social interactions of the suburban teenager, drawing a social network map based on the seating selections in the school cafeteria. And she compares the teenagers to African animals, seeing mall as though it was a watering hole in the savannah. She learns about the difference between “animal world” and “girl world.” In girl world, she decides, you have to be sneaky.

Cady finds herself having a hard time understanding the social norms in the school. “I had never lived in a world where adults didn’t trust me,” she says. And the approach that had always worked for her in the past — assuming that everyone was sincere and meant what they said — turns out to be inadequate. Even dressing up for Halloween is more complicated than she thought. No wonder Cady is happiest in math class, where everything makes sense.

There’s another reason to like math class, a very cute boy whose desk is next to hers. Here, too, she feels like there is some rule book she’s never seen that everyone else has read. She does not even seem to know herself any more. “Apparently there are a lot of things that can be wrong with your body.”

Cady is befriended by two kids who are very comfortable being different. But she is also drawn to the queen of “the Plastics,” the aptly named Regina (Rachel McAdams). When her friends assign her to inflitrate the Plastics, she is filled with loathing but also with longing. Their plots to humiliate her backfire — Regina is such an undisputed style-setter that when they vandalize her shirt everyone else just adopts it as the latest fad. Cady’s real friends feel betrayed by what Cady has to do to make Regina think she is on her side. And even Cady starts to wonder whose side she is on, admitting that “I could hate [Regina] but I still wanted her to like me.”

Screenwriter Fey, who also appears as a sympathetic teacher, has a good sense of how girls like Regina operate to establish their domination, appearing to be sweet and supportive but in reality being competitive, duplicitous and manipulative, and always surrounding themselves with people who will add to their power and not challenge them. And Fey’s superb sense of comedy gives the script some biting humor. Her Saturday Night Live colleagues lend support to the cast, with Tim Meadows as the school principal, Ana Gasteyer as Cady’s mother, and Amy Poehler superb as Regina’s mother, who insists, “I’m not like a regular mom; I’m a cool mom!”

There is much that is fresh and sharp in this movie. But it has an uncertain hold on its plot and ends up pulling some of its punches and throwing in teen comedy cliches we have seen endlessly in dozens of movies that all blur together.

Parents should know that this movie has some mature material for a PG-13, including crude humor, sexual references, underage drinking, and comic violence. There is a prank involving a pregnancy test. Cady allows her home to be taken over by partying teens, gets drunk and throws up. A child watches “Girls Gone Wild” and imitates it. A girl refers to herself as “half a virgin” and there is a joke about girl-girl kissing. A strength of the movie is its positive portrayal of diverse characters, including disabled, gay, and minority students.

Families who see this movie should talk about how the elements that determine status for teenagers are different from those that determine status in the adult world, at work and with friends and family. They should use this movie to begin a discussion about the way that the girls they know treat each other, and what they can do to encourage them to be kinder and more supportive. They should talk about Wiseman’s book, which says:

Your daughter’s friendships with other girls are a double-edged sword — they’re key to surviving adolescence, yet they can be the biggest threat to her survival as well. The friendships with the girls in her clique are a template for many relationships she’ll have as an adult. Many girls will make it through their teen years precisely because they have the support and care of a few good friends. These are the friendships where a girl truly feels unconditionally accepted and understood — and they can last into adulthood and support her search for adult relationships.

On the other hand, girls can be each other’s worst enemies. Girls’ friendships in adolescence are often intense, confusing, frustrating, and humiliating, the joy and security of “best friends” shattered by devastating breakups and betrayals. Girls’ reactions to the ups and downs of these friendships are as intense as they’ll later feel in intimate relationships.

Find out more about Wiseman’s Empower program and workshops to help teenagers and adults learn better systems and techniques for more constructive and satisfying interactions. And take a look at the Words Can Heal website for some ideas about stopping gossip and put-downs. Why does Cady say that she could hate Regina but still wanted her to like her? What do you think about Regina’s mother, who wants to be “the cool mom?” Does she get what she hopes for? Families should also discuss the idea that “there are people who do evil stuff and people who see evil stuff and don’t stop it.” And they should talk about why Cady thought she had to pretend to be less smart than she was to get a boy to like her.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Drew Barrymore’s Never Been Kissed and the John Hughes high school classics Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. The ultimate alpha girl movies are Heathers with Winona Ryder (some mature material) and Election (extremely mature material).

Shaolin Soccer

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2004

You know, we just don’t get enough kung fu soccer fairy tale movies.

At least, I know it now, because this one is such fun I can’t wait to see another. The most successful Hong Kong film ever, this is a very traditional underdog sports team story told in a delightfully untraditional style, with whimsy, fantasy, and heart.

A group of Chinese people spontaneously break into a dance number to the Kool and the Gang song, “Celebrate.” Soccer players fly through the sky and kick the ball the length of the field. A sweet bun maker (that is, a sweet maker of sweetbuns) uses kung fu to mix the flour and gets fired when the buns get sour after her tears fall into the batter. And the hero tells the heroine she is beautiful before her makeover.

Just to make it absolutely clear who is who, on one side we have “Team Evil,” led by Hung, a ruthless mogul who treats his black-clad team with “American drugs” and has set up a special underwater laboratory to perfect their kicking skills. (A nice touch — the underwater scientists wear waterproof lab coats.) And on the other side is a — you guessed it — a ragtag bunch of brothers who have never played soccer before but have this theory about bringing their mastery of Shaolin kung fu to the sport, led by a former soccer superstar once called “Golden Leg” Fung who had 20 years of humiliation working for Team Evil’s owner after his leg was shattered by a hoodlum.

Fung sees Sing (played by writer-director Stephen Chow), who dreams of having the whole world live according to the principles of Shaolin, everyone aligning themselves with the ways of nature. Sing is not making much progress by demonstrating Shaolin and calling out to passers-by on the street. When Fung sees that Sing’s ability to kick trash could make him a great soccer player, Sing realizes that becoming a soccer champion by using the techniques of Shaolin could bring his message to the masses, and he agrees to help Fung start a team. Together, they visit Sing’s brothers to invite them to play. All say no, but all show up. At first, they suffer humiliating defeat. When they register for the big tournament, the owner of Team Evil laughs at them.

But then the games begin. The Shaolin team’s magical leaps and kicks bring them to the final round where they must face Team Evil. When the goalie is injured, who will replace him?

The movie is pure silly fun with such wonderful spirit that even the dumbest jokes and most predictable developments seem brighter. Its visual imagination and effervescent good spirits are pure delight.

Parents should know that the movie has some comic violence and crude humor, including a scene of a man peeing on a wall. There is some action/fantasy violence and characters are wounded. Characters smoke and drink and there is a reference to “American drugs” (presumably steroids). A character mentions suicide as a response to humiliation. There is a joke about being in love with a married woman. A character removes his pants (off camera) and makes another character wear his underpants on his head to humiliate him.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Sing saw Mui as beautiful even when no one else did. How did he know? What made it possible for the Shaolin team to begin to win? Families should also talk about the way that Sing made Shaolin into a way of life that affected everything he did.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Mighty Ducks, Bend it Like Beckham (some mature material), and Sidekicks. They might like to watch some other sports fantasy movies like The Absent-Minded Professor and It Happens Every Spring and read the classic book The Five Chinese Brothers. They also might like to learn more about Shaolin and soccer.

Clifford’s Really Big Movie

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Preschool
Movie Release Date:2004

Clifford is not just a Big Red Dog; he’s a big, red phenomenon, hero of a series of books by Norman Bridwell, an animated PBS series, and even a live road show. Now he has moved (briefly) to the big screen with a low-key feature destined for a quick theatrical release on its way to video and DVD.

Clifford is a really, really big red dog, part of his appeal to toddlers, who live among giants and are thus drawn to huge, powerful but kind creatures who love children (like Barney). Children also like the way that Clifford explores the world around him, learning gentle lessons about getting along with others and solving problems like finding lost toys and not being afraid of a storm.

Clifford (voice of the late John Ritter in his last role) lives with Emily Elizabeth and her family on dogbone-shaped Birdwell Island. His best dog friends are T-Bone (voice of Kel Mitchell) and Cleo (voice of Cree Summer). When Clifford overhears Emily Elizabeth’s parents talk to a neighbor about how much he eats, Clifford thinks he is too much of a burden for the family and decides that he, T-Bone, and Cleo should join an animal act and compete for a prize of a lifetime supply of pet Tummy Yummies.

The animal act includes a trapeze artist ferret named Shackelford (voice of Wayne Brady) and a tightrope-walking cow named Dorothy (voice of Jenna Elfman). They are managed by Larry (voice of Judge Reinhold), who loves them very much but has not been able to make the act successful. Their only chance is to win that contest. But, Shackelford says, in order to do that, they need something big. Enter Clifford.

As soon as Clifford and his friends arrive, the act comes together and audiences love it. But Shackelford gets jealous of all the attention Clifford is getting. The daughter of George Wolfsbottom (voice of John Goodman), the wealthy man who owns the Tummy Yummies company, wants Clifford to be her pet. And Emily Elizabeth misses her beloved Clifford, and he misses her, too. Fortunately, everyone in this movie is kind and understanding and loyal, though it takes some longer to get there than others.

The limited animation style looks static on the big screen and the movie is too long for its age group even at 75 minutes. (Actually, I felt it was too long for my age group, too.) The children at the screening I attended fidgeted during the musical numbers and some seemed uncomfortable with even the mild tension in the story. The story itself is questionable, with Clifford and his friends leaving home without thinking about how upsetting that will be for their families. The song lyrics justifying it were downright unsettling at times; it cannot be wise to sing to children about how “You’ve got to be lost if you want to be found….It only gets better after it gets worst, happy ever after needs the scary part first.” It’s fine to let children know that problems can be solved, but this suggests that they cannot be happy unless they make sure something bad happens first.

Parents should know that there is some mild peril and some emotional tension. Some children may be upset when Clifford and his friends leave home or when the dogs lie about not having owners.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Clifford got the wrong idea by hearing only part of what Emily Elizabeth’s parents said about him. What should he have done instead of leaving? Make sure children know that it is never all right for anyone to leave home without talking to the family about what is wrong. Families should also talk about the lie the dogs tell about their dog tags, and about Dorothy’s saying that Shackleford is “not the most secure ferret in the world, but he means well.” Why does Mr. Wolfsbottom’s daughter want to have the biggest of everything? What does it mean to say that “okay does not dazzle?”

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the Clifford books and videos. They will also enjoy the books and video starring Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, especially the animated version, which has outstanding songs and voice talent. And they might like to try to make snickerdoodles, the cookies Dorothy and Cleo promise to make together.

Close Your Eyes

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

Those who like atmospheric thrillers that feature pentagrams and second sight and mysterious incantations from ancient texts will enjoy guaranteed goosebumps in this story of a doctor who tries to help the little girl who escaped from a serial killer but is too traumatized to give the police any information.

“ER’s” Goran Visnijk plays Michael, a hypnotherapist who has come to London to escape his past. He is trying to make a life for his pregnant wife (Miranda Otto of Lord of the Rings and their daughter by hypnotizing people who want to quit smoking. He treats a police officer (Shirley Henderson) who is impressed with his insight and ability and persuades him to come with her to see Heather (Sophie Stuckey), mute since she ran away from the “tatoo killer.”

Heather’s are not the secrets that will be uncovered as the movie takes us through the quintessential thriller tropes, storytelling shorthand for some sort of concept that the audience will recognize and understand instantly. So our heroes have to consult a creepy loner with expertise in the occult (In America’s Paddy Considine) and have to confront bellowing bureaucrats who don’t understand that this is the only way to find the killer. There are fake-out moments when we think something bad is going to happen and it doesn’t and freak-out moments when we think nothing bad is going to happen and it does, and we even get one of those “don’t go into the house” moments where someone who would be crazy to enter alone without telling anyone does. Except instead of a house, it’s a church. And there are some logical loopholes and some clunky lines (“Men choose to be weak because power frightens them!”).

But it is directed with such atmosphere and acted with such conviction that it does the job it is trying to do very nicely.

Parents should know that this is a horror movie with disturbing themes, intense peril, grisly images, torture, and murder. There are references to the serial killing of several children, though it is made clear that they were not sexually assaulted. Characters smoke, drink, and use very strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about their own views on extra-sensory perception or hypnosis. What do you think Michael will do next?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Rosemary’s Baby. Some of the same themes are explored in Dead Again and in a completely different genre in Being John Malkovich.

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