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McFarland USA
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic material, some violence and language
Release Date:
February 20, 2015

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material
Release Date:
November 21, 2014

The DUFF
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual material throughout, some language and teen partying
Release Date:
February 20, 2015

 

Foxcatcher
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence
Release Date:
November 21, 2014

Kingsman: The Secret Service
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content
Release Date:
February 13, 2015

 

Horrible Bosses 2
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong crude sexual content and language throughout
Release Date:
November 26, 2104

Secret Window

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

We know what scares Stephen King. That most prolific of writers is still terrified by an empty computer screen, or, even worse, a screen with writing that is unfixably bad. And that author whose imagination has kept millions of happily terrified readers up all night is still scared of losing control of that imagination or having it disappear completely.

And so in this movie, King gives us our hero — Morty (Johnny Depp), like King a write of scary stories. And our villain, a menacing man in a broad preacher’s hat, who says that his name is John Shooter and that Morty has stolen his story.

Living in a remote cabin after splitting with his wife, Morty mostly mopes and sleeps. He loves his adorable dog and he literally won’t hurt a mouse.

But he can’t seem to get back to work. The best he can do is delete what he has already written. And then there is a knock at the door.

Now that we have our sensitive and vulnerable hero, and our eerily knowing menace, all of the traditional thriller elements follow: the red herring, the seemingly ineffectual sheriff and the seemingly powerful ally, the property damage, the shocking deaths, the framing of the hero for the crimes, the creepy music, the tight close-ups that keep us from knowing what’s outside the frame, and of course, the a-ha moment.

It all feels recycled and re-recycled. Depp is always wonderfully watchable and he seems to be enjoying Morty’s long solo scenes as a sort of on-camera acting exercise. There are a couple of tingly reveals and creepy fake-outs, but overall it’s just too familiar, especially for fans of this genre. John Shooter tells Morty that his story needs a better ending. So does this movie.

Parents should know that the movie has a great deal of tension, peril, and brief graphic violence, with grisly dead bodies. Characters are injured and killed. An animal is killed and a house is torched. There are sexual references and situations, including adultery and brief language that is stronger than most PG-13s. Characters smoke and drink and there is a reference to alcohol abuse.

Families who see this movie should talk about the clues that indicate what the final twist will be, including the very first scene and the scene in the bathroom. Why is it important that Morty had a past experience with a charge of plagiarism?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Shining, Swimming Pool (mature material), and Identity.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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

This fabulously imaginative and deliciously loopy romance is the sweetest movie yet from the magnificently twisty mind behind Adaptation, Human Nature, and Being John Malkovich.

Once again Charlie Kaufman plays with the themes of identity, time, memory, and attraction in a slightly off-kilter world that seems oddly homelike and familiar. The movie is tougher, truer, more heart-breaking and then more heart-healing than a video store shelf of Julias, Megs, Reeses, and Sandras.

Joel (Jim Carrey) is a shy man whose heart is broken when impulsive and free-spirited Clementine (Kate Winslet) leaves him. When he finds out that she has arranged to have all of her memories of him erased, he decides to do the same.

It all seems so simple. Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkenson) of the Lacuna corporation is smoothly assuring. When Joel asks if the procedure could cause brain damage, Dr. Mierzwiak cheerily assures him that “Technically, it is brain damage, about on a par with a night of heavy drinking.” All Joel has to do is bring everything from his apartment that reminds him of Clementine and dictate all of his memories of her into a tape recorder. Then Stan (Mark Ruffalo), the Lacuna technician, maps every part of the brain containing a memory of the formerly loved one. That night, while Joel is asleep, Stan will come in and, using the map, erase every memory of Clementine in Joel’s brain. Then Mary (Kirsten Dunst), Lacuna’s receptionist, mails out postcards to all of Joel’s friends asking them never to mention Clementine again, and it’s as though he never met her.

But erasing someone from the mind the mind is one thing; erasing someone from the heart is another. As Pascal told us, “The heart has its reasons that reason does not know.” Stan zaps the memories from Joel’s brain, while Joel, sound asleep under a helmet that looks like a stainless steel colander, realizes that he does not want to let Clementine go after all. There are memories he wants to keep. And then we are inside Joel’s brain (or were we there all along?), as he and Clementine race to find a place to hide, where the memories will be kept safe. Or are those new memories? And is that Clementine who is advising him on how to hold on to her or is it his memory of her?

Shot in a style that is both gritty and dreamy, the movie’s insinuatingly casual tone gently nudges the concepts along so that it almost begins to make more sense than real life. Of course Valentine’s Day would be Lacuna’s busiest time of year. And of course the technicians would be bored by erasing the memories that tear us apart, and so would spend their time getting high and looking through our stuff. And of course the best place to hide a memory you don’t want erased is….no, I’ll have to let you enjoy finding that one out for yourselves.

Carrey and Winslet risk making their characters as maddening to us as they are to each other and are ultimately as irresistable, too. Ruffalo, Wilkenson, and Dunst are impeccable, providing a bittersweet counterpoint of imperfection and longing. Director Michel Gondry matches Kaufman’s script with understated but brilliantly original images of memory and forgetting. As Joel and Clementine speak in front of bookshelves, the books become paler and paler, the titles and authors disappearing. Walls crumble and fall away. In his memory, Joel is first his adult, then his child self, then both. Time and space between locations flicker, overlap, disappear. Clementine’s ever-changing hair color becomes not just a symbol of her impulsivity and inconsistency but just another detail that slips out of reach as we try to remember who it is we care about.

Parents should know that the movie has extremely strong language and very explicit sexual references and situations. Characters drink and smoke cigarettes and marijuana.

Families who see this movie should talk about which memories they might think about erasing and which ones they will always make sure to keep. They might also like to look up the meaning of the word “Lacuna,” talk about some of their favorite quotations and read some of the brilliant poetry of Alexander Pope. The poem that gives this movie its title is about one of the most famous tragic love affairs in literature, Abelard and Eloisa (also called Heloise). Fans of Kaufman’s Being John Malkovich will remember that it features a puppet show based on their story.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Kaufman’s other films and some other stories about repressed men who become involved with free spirits, including Cabaret, Bringing Up Baby, and The Sterile Cuckoo. Another great romance about memory loss is Random Harvest.

Non baby-boomers who don’t recognize the reference to Huckleberry Hound can visit this website to learn something about the cartoon character. A nice counterpoint to the theme of the movie, Huckleberry Hound joined the French foreign legion to forget his girlfriend Clementine, but was reminded of her when he started singing the old folk song, which, by the way, itself ends with the singer forgetting all about his “lost and gone forever” Clementine as soon as he kisses her sister!

Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London

posted by rkumar
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:PG
Movie Release Date:2004

Frankie Muniz returns as junior secret agent Cody Banks in a moderately cute action comedy that will satisfy its target audience of 8-14-year-olds.

Cody is the superstar of the secret CIA training camp for spy kids. He helps the camp director escape in what he thinks is a simulation exercise. But it turns out that it was not a simulation. Diaz has escaped with the CIA’s secret mind control software. Cody has to go undercover as a member of an international classical music group for teens to track him down before he can gain control of the world’s leaders at a meeting in London.

Cody is assigned to work with Derek (Anthony Anderson). They are not very impressed with each other at first. Cody says, “I don’t need a handler,” and Derek responds, “And I don’t need a white Mini Me, but here we are.”

Cody gets an assortment of cool new gadgets, including a retainer wired to permit him to eavesdrop on the bad guys and a package of exploding Mentos mints. And he gets some unexpected help from Derek, who turns out to have some talent as a spy (and a chef), and from a pretty British undercover operative (Hannah Spearritt) as well. In addition to using the gadgets and tracking the bad guys, Cody has to pretend to play the clarinet. When he gets spotted by Diaz, he is used as the guinea pig for the mind control device implanted in his tooth.

The movie does not have anywhere near the imagination and wit of the Spy Kids movies, but it is a pleasantly diverting adventure for a too-often-neglected segment of the audience. Muniz has an appealing screen presence, and if Anthony Anderson is coasting a little bit with his usual shtick, the audience in the screening I attended did not seem to mind one bit. The action sequences are only fair, but there is one scene with a lot of exploding water containers that is a lot of fun.

Parents should know that the movie includes some mild schoolyard language (“screwed up,” “hell,” “haul some ass,” “sucks”) and some potty humor. There is action violence and peril, including a lot of punching and kicking and some explosions, and someone gets hit in the crotch, but no one really gets hurt. A character says that she is “pickled” from cold medicine. A character kisses a girl on the cheek. Some audience members may be uncomfortable when a bad guy tells his wife he is leaving her (she is not upset). A strength of the movie is the way that male and female characters of different races and cultures work together.

Families who see this movie should talk about what Diaz said to Cody: “Trust equals death. Trust nobody — including me.” Why did he say that? How do we know who deserves our trust? What do Cody and Derek learn from one another? Families might like to look at the CIA website, which explains how students can best prepare themselves for a career in the CIA: “Our best advice to you is to do your very best and strive for good grades. Fluency in a foreign language is a good addition. Above all, understand that your choices and behaviors now are a reflection of your personal integrity, character and patriotism.” And they might like to listen to the music played by Cody’s friends, including the Edwin Starr song “War (What is it Good For)” (later covered by Bruce Springsteen) and the William Tell Overture (better known as the theme song to The Lone Ranger). This website explains something about the G8 (formerly the G7), whose meeting in London is a key element of this movie.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original Agent Cody Banks and the first two of the Spy Kids movies. They will also enjoy Camp Nowhere, about some kids who fool their parents into thinking they are summer camps with intensive programs for self-improvement when they are really just having fun.

Starsky & Hutch

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

This is the latest in the genre I call lunchbox movies. Here is how these movies get made. A 30-something studio executive’s eyes light up when someone suggests a movie based on a cheesy-but-popular 1970’s television show. “I had that lunchbox!” he says. “Do you think we can get the original stars to do a cameo?” All that’s left is to sign up a couple of rising stars and license some oldies for the soundtrack, and we should be good to go.

But it’s trickier than it seems to get the tone right, as the producers of The Avengers and The Mod Squad found out. It has to have both genuine affection for the original and just the right touch of snarky post-modernism. It has to be funny but it also has to keep us engaged enough in the story to keep things moving. This movie gets it right.

Ben Stiller plays Starsky, the play-by-the-rules cop who takes everything very seriously, especially his beloved red Gran Torino with the white vector stripes. He has to try to live up to the standard set by his policewoman mother, but he acts as though he’s following a script. When there’s a shoot-out, Starsky always drops and rolls just a beat before or after it might possibly be necessary and he can’t seem to walk by that cool car without rolling across the hood.

Owen Wilson plays Hutch, the take-it-easy cop whose casual attitude makes him popular with everyone from pretty cheerleaders to cute neighborhood kids to slightly shady informants (including rapper Snoop Dog, the essence of real-life cool as Huggy Bear).

Starsky and Hutch are assigned to work together as punishment by their chief (70’s icon Fred Williamson). And of course at first they do not get along, and of course they then develop grudging respect for each other, and then affection and true partnership.

Cynical observers used to wonder whether the warm friendship between Starsky and Hutch was really deeper than 1970’s television could contemplate. This movie tweaks the idea a little, with the pair stumbling cluelessly through some mildly suggestive situations that feel like a part of its retro vibe.

Vince Vaughn brings his edgy silkiness to the role of the bad guy, a high class drug dealer. Will Ferrell contributes a funny cameo as a prisoner who likes dragons — embroidering them and having men pretend to be them. But the movie is all about the chemistry between Stiller and Wilson, now in their sixth film together, bring out the best in each other. Starsky narrows his eyes intensely as he looks down at a dead body. “You’ve punched your last ticket, amigo.” Hutch peers over at him. “Are you trying to tough talk a dead guy?”

After that, it’s just ringing changes on the most appallingly cheesy aspects of that cheesiest of decades. The soundtrack features “Afternoon Delight,” “I Can’t Smile Without You,” and the hit song by original Hutch David Soul — “Don’t Give Up on Us, Baby.” The clothes are one hilarious “what were we thinking” after another.

S&H go undercover in Easy Rider drag as “Kansas” and “Toto” (you’ll get that if you remember the 1970’s) to question the owner of a biker bar. They interrogate a cheerleader (and are struck speechless when she takes her clothes off). There’s a hilarious disco dance-off. Someone actually says “Sit on it.” And the original Starsky and Hutch show up for a funny cameo.

It’s silly, but it’s a lot of fun. Hmm, speaking of lunchboxes, I wonder if they can get the rights to “Adam 12?”

Parents should know that this movie has very explicit sexual situations and references for a PG-13, including “comic” gay overtones, a threesome (with girls kissing each other), and the swapping of mildly sexual favors for information from an informant. A character accidentally ingests cocaine and his strung-out meltdown is played for humor. Other characters drink and use cocaine (off-camera) and the plot centers on a huge cocaine deal. Characters are in peril. One is killed and a child is injured. There is some strong language, including racist epithets. A strength of the movie is the way that diverse characters work together. Some audience members may be offended by the fact that the villain is Jewish.

Families who see this movie should talk about what made Starsky and Hutch change their minds about each other. Why is it good to have friends who are not just like us? What does it mean to say “To err is human, to forgive divine?” (By the way, contrary to the two mis-attributions in the film, that was said by Alexander Pope.)

Families who enjoy this movie will get a kick out of the fan website for the television series. They might also enjoy other TV-inspired movies like Charlie’s Angels, The Brady Bunch, and SWAT. They should also take a look at the other Stiller/Wilson movies — five so far, including Zoolander, Meet the Parents, and The Royal Tannenbaums (all with some mature material).

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