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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

Paycheck

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

Scientists will discover a way to bend the laws of time before anyone remembers that a movie about bending the laws of time has to have some way of handling the problem of determinism versus free will that is if not plausible then at least consistent.

The idea (from Blade Runner’s Philip K. Dick) is an intriguing one — a super-smart computer whiz who trades not only his intellect but his memory for big bucks.

Ben Affleck plays Michael Jennings, a brilliant engineer. In two months, he takes apart a revolutionary project for its competitor and makes it all but obsolete. Then the client writes him a big check, his friend Shorty (Paul Giamatti) zaps out his memory of the last eight weeks, and Michael is off to make the kind of memories he likes to keep, all of which seems fine to him. When Shorty tells him to think about stopping, Michael says, “My memories are basically highlights. The stuff you erase doesn’t matter.”

This of course is the set-up for that great movie plot device, the one last big job that is going to give Michael walk-away money for life.

Cue evil mogul Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart), who offers Michael a three year project. Then cut to three years later. Michael’s memory is gone, and so is the $90 million he was supposed to be paid. All he has is a manila envelope with a bunch of mundane items — hairspray, a fortune from a fortune cookie, a pack of cigarettes, a paperclip, a matchbook. He knows it was a message he sent to himself before his memory was wiped. But what does it mean? And will he ever remember his relationship with a beautiful biologist (Uma Thurman)?

Even on one of his good days, this set-up would have been a challenge for director John Woo, whose stylish staging has turned less-than-impressive scripts into highly watchable films. But Woo seems to have taken a hit from that memory-eraser. We can stand it when a thriller requires some suspension of disbelief (see Woo’s entertainingly preposterous Face-Off). But the one thing we cannot forgive in a would-be thriller is boredom, and this movie just sags, even in the action scenes. Without spoiling what little suspense there is, all I can say is that the big “reveal” removes any sense of narrative tension by making the outcome all but inevitable. Even Woo’s trademarks, the fluttering birds and the two-gun stand-off, feel perfunctory.

Parents should know that the movie has extended action violence with guns, chases, kickboxing, explosions, and character deaths. Characters use strong language, smoke, and drink, and there are mild sexual situations.

Families who see this movie should talk about whether there are memories they would like to or be willing to erase. If you, like Michael, wanted to make sure that someone really knew you, what question would you ask?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the superior Terminator 2: Judgment Day (also featuring Joe Morton) and Minority Report, with similar themes. And they might enjoy director John Woo’s better films, including Face-Off.

Peter Pan

posted by rkumar
A
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for adventure action sequences and peril
Movie Release Date:2003
DVD Release Date:May 4, 2004

Oh, the cleverness of storyteller James M. Barrie, who gave us Peter Pan, Captain Hook, Tinkerbell, a St. Bernard nanny, Tiger Lily, and the crocodile that ticks because it swallowed a clock! And oh, the cleverness of P.J. Hogan, the director and co-screenwriter who has brought us this sumptuously beautiful re-telling of the classic story that maintains its timeless charm.

This is the story of Wendy Darling and her brothers Michael and John, who fly to Neverland with Peter Pan, the boy who would not grow up. Neverland has pirates, mermaids, and no baths, bedtimes, or schoolwork.

But there are no mothers, either, and without mothers, there are no stories. So Peter leaves Neverland at night to come listen to the stories that Wendy tells her brothers. One night, his shadow is caught in the window. When he comes back to get it, Wendy sews it back on, and Peter invites the Darling children to fly with him back to Neverland and tell stories to the Lost Boys. There Wendy and her brothers meet up with the Lost Boys, and battle Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs, “Harry Potter’s” Lucius Malfoy).

The production design is simply gorgeous. A storybook Victorian London is imagined with exquisite period detail. Even state-of-the-art special effects like flying and computer graphics are consistently conceived and gratifyingly believable. The jarring notes are Peter’s (unforgiveably) American accent and some anachronistic-sounding music. Swimming Pool’s Ludivine Sagnier does her best, but Tinkerbell is probably best portrayed as a spot of light. And some Pan lovers will object to a bit of gentle tweaking of the story. But it is not so much to be politically correct or bring it up to date as it is to remove any distractions from what in today’s view would be seen as sexism.

The story is about growing up, after all, and it is not a coincidence that Wendy flies away with Peter on what is supposed to be her last night sleeping in the nursery with her brothers before she must start to become a young lady. But even though, like her mother, Wendy has a kiss hiding in the corner of her mouth, she is not at all sure that she wants to become a young lady.

Part of the charm of the story is the way it looks at the terror and wonder of that bittersweet moment on the cusp of an adventure that can be scarier and more thrilling than a battle with pirates. Barrie thought that it was really Wendy’s story. Though Peter is the title character, it is Wendy who is the heroine because she makes a journey. When she kisses Peter to bring him back to life, both of them wake up.

When Wendy follows Peter to Neverland, he tells her she will never have to grow up but then he makes her into the mother of the Lost Boys. She assures him (and herself) that they are only playing, but she feels the pull of the adult world. She even tells Peter that Captain Hook is “a man of feeling” while he is just a boy. And feelings are taken very seriously in this story. Fairies like Tinkerbell can have only one feeling at a time. Peter cannot answer when Wendy asks him what his feelings are. And Hook has a deadly poison made up of “a mixture of malice, jealous, and disappointment.”

As Barrie requested in the notes for the play, one actor plays both Hook and Wendy’s father. But it is Hook and Peter who are truly linked. Wendy observes that Peter has no unhappy thoughts and Hook has no happy ones. Hook tells Peter, “You will die alone and unloved, just like me.”

All of this is there to give depth and resonance to an enchanting classic story which is lovingly, even tenderly told in a movie that will become a classic itself. Thrilling adventure, touching drama, and delightful comedy will give audiences of all ages all the happy thoughts and fairy dust it takes to fly.

Parents should know that the movie has a lot of fantasy violence, including swordfights, guns, and hitting below the belt. Pirates are killed. There is a brief graphic image of Captain Hook’s amputated arm as he puts on one of his hooks. We see boys’ bare behinds. There are a couple of sweet kisses and some subtle references to puberty. Characters drink and smoke and a pirate offers liquor and cigars to a child.

Families who see this movie should talk about why someone might not want to grow up. What do grown-ups do to keep the best part of childhood inside themselves? Is that what Barrie was doing in writing this story? There is a lot of talk about feelings in this movie. What does it mean to say that fairies can only feel one thing at a time? Why does Wendy tell Peter that she thinks Captain Hook is “a man of feeling?”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy comparing it to other versions of the story, including the Disney animated musical (but parents should be aware that it includes material that is insensitive about girls and Indians by today’s standards) and the live-action musical, which is available on video starring Mary Martin and Cathy Rigby. But stay away from Steven Spielberg’s sour Hook, an unfortunate variation starring Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter who returns to confront Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook. For more about Peter Pan, try this site or this one.

Families might also enjoy other movies with similar themes, including Mary Poppins and Gigi.

Cold Mountain

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

Inman (Jude Law), a wounded Confederate soldier, walks away from the hospital to return to his home and to Ada (Nicole Kidman), a woman he barely knows.

But then, he barely knows himself or the world that has changed so completely around him. All around him is unspeakable brutality, terrible injury, and death. He thought he was fighting for honor and freedom. But as another soldier says, he feels that he is fighting to protect the rights of rich men to have slaves. No one around him seems to have the gentility, grace, and sweetness that he dreams that Ada had, that he dreams she still has.

Ada writes to tell Inman to come home. For her, too, if the war ever had a purpose, it now seems very far away.

So does the girl she was when the war began. Ada was raised by her minister father (Donald Sutherland) for a life of refinement and noblesse oblige. But when her father died and she was left alone she learned that she had none of the skills necessary to take care of herself. “I can embroider, but I can’t darn. I can arrange cut flowers, but I can’t grow them. If anything has a function, it wasn’t considered suitable.”

Ruby (Renee Zellweger) shows up to join forces with Ada, not as a laborer but as a partner. But the war is getting closer to them. Soldiers from both sides cover the countryside, the Confederates looking for deserters, the Union looking for provisions, both taking whatever they can.

Inman walks back to Cold Mountain, encountering an Odyssey-like assortment of characters and adventures, including a minister who is attempting to murder the slave he got pregnant (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a lonely young mother (Natalie Portman), and a man who is less friendly than he seems.

Ada is faced with challenges at home as she and Ruby try to work the farm and stay out of the way of the trouble that seems to be coming toward them from every direction. Ruby’s estranged father (Brendan Gleeson), now a musician, shows up, and she must decide whether she can trust him.

The movie benefits from outstanding performances by the lead actors and a stunning range of first-rate performers in supporting roles, including Portman, Kathy Baker, and Giovanni Ribisi. The terrain of Romania, standing in for the 19th century South, is beautifully evocative, as is the splendid soundtrack, assembled by O Brother Where Art Thou’s T-Bone Burnett and featuring traditional works performed by White Stripes’ Jack White. But, as often happens in the adaptation of literary works, without the balance of the book’s poetic language, the images tend to overwhelm the subtle issues it raises about great and small conflicts.

Kidman’s radiant loveliness persuades us that a man could develop a lifetime of devotion after one kiss, but it would be easier to believe her experience of hardship and growth if that radiance dimmed just a little now and then. Zellweger brings some spunk to a role that is reduced to a colorful sidekick that is more Andy Devine than Eve Arden. This is a thoughtful, intelligent film with lovely performances and heartbreaking themes, but like its main characters, it has great difficulty reaching the conclusion it aspires to.

Parents should know that the movie has very graphic battle violence, with many characters wounded and killed. There are explicit sexual references and situations, including nudity, prostitution, and attempted rape. Characters engage in a swindle involving seduction and betrayal, with nudity and graphic references. One character impregnates a slave and tries to kill her. Another character demonstrates his moral values by turning down sexual offers so that he can remain faithful to the woman he loves. Characters use strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about how the perspective of this movie, sympathetic to the point of view of the deserter and putting a lot of emphasis on the challenges of the people who were not fighting the battles, differs from many stories set in wartime. What does that say about that era and ours? How does that relate to the description of what happens when the bird eats a seed? Ruby and Ada were both raised by their fathers. Which father prepared his daughter best for what she would have to do? What do each of the people Inman meets on his way home add to the story? If the sky were to fall down tomorrow, what would you want to make sure you said today?

Families who enjoy this movie will also appreciate the classic Civil War stories, The Red Badge of Courage, Gone With the Wind, and The Friendly Persausion. They will also appreciate the other movies by this director, Truly, Madly, Deeply, The English Patient, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, with variations on some of the themes of this movie, including lovers who are separated. A hard-to-find but very touching movie with some similar themes is Perfect Strangers, in which Robert Donat and Deborah Kerr play a boring British couple enlist during World War II and are each revitalized by their experiences. They reunite three years later, each worried that they will have nothing in common, to find that their experiences have made them much more appealing to each other.

Stuck on You

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

The Farrelly brothers (There’s Something About Mary, Me, Myself and Irene, Shallow Hal) have shifted the mix a bit with their latest movie. There is still plenty of outrageous physical humor, but with more sweetness than slapstick. And they’ve even added a new element we haven’t seen from them before — subtlety.

Okay, someone’s head slams into a post before the credit sequence is over. And many of the jokes come from the challenges of the main characters’ physical condition. But not all the jokes are head-bonkers in the center of the screen. Some of the funniest moments come from off in the corners of the frame including sly, even understated, satire about show business.

Matt Damon and Greg Kinner play Bob and Walt Tenor, conjoined twins who own a small restaurant on Martha’s Vinyard. Bob is the shy one who is carrying on an email romance with a girl in California. Walt is the outgoing ladies’ man who wants to be an actor. Following a triumph in his production of “Tru,” the one-man show about Truman Capote, he tells Bob he wants to go to Los Angeles to try to make it as an actor. Soon they are installed in the Rising Star apartments and Walt is meeting with agents and going on auditions.

They run into a couple of celebrities, including Cher(!) and Meryl Streep(!!). Cher decides that the best thing she can do to get out of a contract to star in an idiotic television series about a lawyer/investigator team called “Honey and the Beeze,” is to exercise her right to select her leading man by insisting on Walt. Meanwhile, Bob has finally met his email-pal in person, but has kept the special nature of his relationship with Walt a secret.

Damon and Kinnear give full-scale performances and make their characters both hilarious and touching. Their relationship, especially the way they support each other physically and emotionally, is a delight. Eva Mendes is adorable as the starlet whose reaction to finding them joined at the abdomen is to ask where they had it done. Whatever “work” Cher has had done has removed some of the expression from her face, but she is game and seems to enjoy spoofing her diva image. Streep is just a hoot, especially in her last scene. Be sure to stay through the end credits for a moving speech by one of the disabled actors who appears in the movie, describing what the experience has meant to him.

Parents should know that this movie has material that would certainly have received an R rating if it had not been in a comedy. Characters use very strong language (several s-words) and there are very explicit sexual references and (off-camera) situations, including pornography and a description of masturbation. Characters drink and smoke and one gets drunk. There is comic peril and fighting. Although a theme of the movie is tolerance, the word “fag” is used as an affectionate insult to someone who is not gay.

Families who see this movie should talk about why this story might have special appeal to a team of film-makers who are brothers. What are the ways that Walt and Bob support each other?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the other films by the Farrellys (very mature material). High school and adult audiences will appreciate a very different film starring Streep and Cher, Silkwood.

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