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Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Moms' Night Out
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

John Wick
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Earth to Echo
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some action and peril, and mild language
Release Date:
July 3, 2014

23 Blast
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some teen drinking
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Snowpiercer
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for violence, language and drug content
Release Date:
July 2, 2014

State and Main

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2000

“Shoot first — ask questions afterward.” That’s the motto on the lucky pillow carried to location by director Walt Price (William H. Macy). This is actually the second choice of location, a last minute substitution for the original small New England town in Vermont. That site did not work out, partly because the town was asking for more money, but partly for another reason that Price will only reveal in a whisper. They have now come to Waterford, New Hampshire, in part because of a brochure about the town’s historic old mill, which would be the perfect setting for one of the movie’s most important scenes.

The cast and crew arrives and takes over the town’s small hotel and they are almost ready to go when they find out that the old mill pictured in the brochure burned down in 1960. Price is unflappable — he tells screenwriter Joe White (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to rewrite the scene. The stunned look on White’s face may be explained as the camera pulls back to reveal the title of the movie they are about to shoot: “The Old Mill.”

Meanwhile, Price and the movie’s producer, Marty Rossen (David Paymer), have to cope with an array of problems from charming the town’s mayor into giving them a permit to shoot on Main Street to persuading starlet Claire Wellesley (Sarah Jessica Parker) to do a nude scene and keeping Hollywood hunk Bob Berrenger (Alec Baldwin) away from underage girls. Joe White, beguiled by Ann Black, the local bookstore owner (Rebecca Pidgeon), has to keep producing rewrites on demand. And the cinematographer has to figure out a way to shoot around the antique stained-glass window in the town’s historic firehouse.

Writer/director Mamet clearly relishes the chance to skewer some of the people he has met on his previous movies, but it is done with a light, even romantic, touch. White and Black find a way to communicate despite the chaos around them. In one of the movie’s funniest scenes, Mamet turns the most well-established conventions of farce upside down as, for once, a character behaves sensibly and trusts another character instead of believing the circumstantial evidence. Then, just to make sure we don’t take anything for granted, he has another character do the same thing and be completely wrong.

Mamet does not make this a story of city slickers taking advantage of country yokels or of crafty country people triumphing over the corrupt city folks. Both sides have a range of characters with a range of motivations and moral compasses.

White keeps saying that his movie is about purity and second chances. So is this one, with a lulu of a second chance for one character who really needs it. Consistent with Mamet’s duality throughout the movie, other characters who do not deserve second chances get them, but those are probably just “a second chance to make the same mistake again.”

Parents should know that one character is attracted to underage girls and has sex with a girl who, despite clear indications that she approached him, is too young to legally consent to sex. There are other sexual references, including a character who takes off all her clothes as a way to seduce another character and a discussion about whether Claire will do a nude scene, as provided in her contract. Characters drink and smoke and use strong language. Many make moral compromises that parents will want to discuss with teens who see the movie.

Families who see this movie should talk about the characters’ priorities and choices. Walt and Marty just want to make the movie, and will do anything to get it done. White is trying to keep his story’s integrity (and his own). Claire takes what appears to be a moral stance, but is willing to back down for more money. Another character backs down from an apparently moral stance for money and a chance at power. White is given a choice between his honor and his career — what helps him decide? Families might want to talk about some of the characters’ names. Why is the director named “Price?” Why does the mayor have the same name (George Bailey) as the Jimmy Stewart character in “It’s a Wonderful Life?” What about the names “White” and “Black?”

Families who enjoy this movie might also like Mamet’s version of “The Winslow Boy,” also starring Pidgeon (Mamet’s wife). They will also like the cult classic, “The Stunt Man.” Be sure to stay throughout the credits (“2 animals were harmed in the making of this movie…”) and check out http://www.oldmillmovie.com/ for a hilarious parody of movie promotional websites.

Star Wars

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:1977

In what is now Episode 4 but what was the first episode filmed, the story starts right in the middle of the action, with a battle on a spaceship. Two robots or “droids” escape, the elegant C-3PO and his counterpart, the gurgling and beeping R2D2. They carry a message from Princess Leia to Obi-Wan Kenobi, asking for help. When they arrive at a desert planet, they are bought by Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who is then captured by “sand people,” but rescued by Ben Kenobi (Alec Guiness). Ben gets the message from Princess Leia and tells Luke they must go to help her fight the Empire. He tells Luke that his father was once a great fighter, a Jedi knight, “the best star pilot in the galaxy and a cunning warrior.” Luke says he cannot. Although Luke is restless and eager to explore the universe — he had begged his farmer uncle to let him go — he tells Ben, “I can’t get involved. I have work to do.” He will do as his uncle insisted and stay on the farm another year. Besides, this is not his fight. It all seems very far away.
But he gets back to the farm to find his aunt and uncle have been killed by Empire warriors trying to capture the droids. He and Kenobi hire Han Solo, a sometime smuggler, to get them to a planet called Alderan. Ben teaches Luke about “the force,” a power within and around everyone.
They arrive only to find that Alderan has been destroyed. The Empire has a new weapon capable of eliminating whole planets. Luke, Leia, and Han, trapped on this “death star,” must first escape, and then find a way to destroy it.
Discussion: George Lucas, who wrote and directed this movie, was deeply influenced by Joseph Campbell’s work on myths, and by his love for the great movie classics. This movie is rich in classic themes from both. The scene in the bar, with all the aliens, is very much like the bar scene in a Western movie. Han Solo resembles the cowboy ideal, the loner with no loyalty to any cause, but with his own sense of morality. Even his costume is reminiscent of a cowboy outfit, with boots and a gun holster at the hip.
Han and Luke must both decide whether to join the fight. At first, both are reluctant; in fact, Han leaves. But they accept the responsibility, as they must. The concept of “the force” in the movie may be something your children want to know more about.
Questions for Kids:
· Why does Luke decide to fight the Empire? Why does Han?
· Why does Han leave, and why does he come back?
Connections: There are two sequels, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” both re-issued in 1997 with additional scenes and special effects, and both exciting adventures. A new cycle of three movies, set a generation before “Star Wars” is currently in production, with Ewan McGregor as the young Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Startup.com

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2001

Jehane Noujaim left her job at MTV to make documentaries just as her roommate, Kaliel Isaza Tuzman, was leaving his job at Goldman Sachs to run a new Internet company. They combined their two ventures when Noujaim, in conjunction with Chris Hegedus (maker of “The War Room,” about the first Clinton campaign) agreed to follow Tuzman’s venture to tell the story of what they were sure would be a sensational success. Instead, they ended up telling the story of a spectacular failure.

We first see Tuzman leaving Goldman Sachs for the last time, kicking the cardboard box with his belongings out to the street. He is about to join his high school best friend, Tom Herman. Tuzman will be the CEO and Herman will be in charge of technology. The company, which they decide to call govWorks.com, will be a place for citizens to pay parking tickets, taxes, and other fees to local governments. Tuzman’s first job is to raise money.

From 1999 to 2001, govWorks went from eight employees to more than 200, and then down to none. They raised $60 million and ended in bankruptcy.

Noujaim and Hegedus shot over 400 hours of film, not just in the office, but in the bedroom, the gym, the car, in a pizza parlor, on a company retreat hosted by Herman’s parents, and even at the circus. We see Herman braiding his daughter’s hair and hear Tuzman’s soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend complaining that he does not call her. We see arguments over priorities and presentations. A competitor visits the office and then there is a mysterious burglary that appears to be espionage. Finally, we see the almost unbearably painful moment when the friendship is shattered by the business, as Herman leaves and then, on advice of counsel, tries to return only to be formally terminated. Herman says, “I’d rather see govWorks fail than risk personal relationships.” Tuzman says, “The thing that I’ll remember most from last year is when you told me you don’t trust me.” At the end, though, Herman, still wearing the t-shirt of the failed firm, tells Tuzman that “I had a great time over the last year and I love you.” And we see from the end credits that they are still in business together – using their expertise to advise distressed dot.coms.

In finding one story to tell among 400 chaotic hours of footage, there were probably a million options. They story the filmmakers chose to tell is the story of the Herman/Tuzman relationship and the way that the very qualities that made the two men good complements for each other ultimately led to catastrophe. Maybe it is because their access to the principals of the firm was extensive but they were not allowed to film the backers or board, so the story they told was determined by the pictures they had to show it. Maybe it is because the filmmakers were women, so they saw the story with a Deborah Tannen-esque yang to Tuzman’s testosterone-driven yin.

Parents should know that the movie includes very strong language and tense and emotional moments. One of the great strengths of the story is the way in which a group of people from very diverse backgrounds and cultures works together with great loyalty and commitment.

Families who see this movie should talk about how we make choices when our work and professional lives conflict. At one point in this movie, Tuzman, under intense deadline pressure, calls for an all-weekend meeting. Herman refuses, saying that he promised to be with his daughter. Families should talk about what happens next, and what they would do in that situation.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “The War Room.”

Stalag 17

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:1953

Plot: As the movie opens, the narrator says that the movies he has seen about WWII are about “flyboys” in leather jackets, and do not reflect his own experience as an American prisoner of war in a German Stalag (prison camp). This is that story.

Sefton (William Holden) is a cynical loner who bets (successfully) that his fellow prisoners will fail in their attempt to escape. He manages to scrounge or trade for many small luxuries, including a bar of soap and an egg. When the others show their contempt, he says, “So maybe I trade a little sharper. Does that make me a collaborator?” and sums up his philosphy, “This is everybody for himself, dog eat dog…You can be the heroes, the guys with fruit salad on your chest. Me, I’m staying put, and I’m going to make myself as comfortable as I can, and if it takes trading with the enemy to get me some food or a better mattress, that’s okay with Sefton.”

The other men in his barracks start to suspect him of trading more than cigarettes and silk stockings with the Germans. When Lieutenant Dunbar, a wealthy Bostonian who is in the barracks on his way to the officer’s prison camp, is arrested for sabotage, they conclude that Sefton told the Germans that Dunbar was the one who blew up the train filled with ammunition. They beat Sefton severely. He tells them that two people know he is not the one who is telling the Germans their secrets — Sefton himself and the one who is really doing it. Sefton starts to watch the others, to find the spy, and figures out who it is. But what can he do? If he says nothing, the spy will continue to betray the Americans. If he tells the others, the spy will just be sent to another Stalag. If they kill the spy, they will be killed as punishment. Sefton finds a way to reveal the identity of the spy, and the prisoners use him as a decoy, so that Dunbar can escape. Sefton insists on being the one to take him, telling the others that the risk of escaping has been outweighed by the chance at a reward from Dunbar’s family.

Discussion: This is an exceptionally exciting drama, based on a play by two men who were prisoners in Stalag 17. Holden’s superb performance won a Best Actor Oscar , and the rest of the cast, some who were also in the Broadway play, is excellent. This movie provides a good opportunity to talk about the role of humor, especially “black” or “gallows” humor, in adapting to the harshest circumstances. A former Communist bloc comedian once said that every joke is a “tiny revolution.” Here, when all control over their lives is taken from them, the prisoners try to establish some sense of control with jokes and pranks, and again, we see that, as W.H. Auden said, “a laugh is less heartless than tears” (see “Sullivan’s Travels”).

Examine the other strategies and responses the prisoners had to adapt to their circumstances. Sefton adapted by trying to make whatever small improvements to his life that he could, helping him to maintain some sense of power, choice, and control. Animal and Harry use dreams to help them feel better; also giving them a sense of control, even if it is only for the future. Joey plays an ocarina, and becomes completely withdrawn. Interestingly, the camp commandant, Von Sherbach (Otto Preminger), a ruthless man, is nevertheless shown as feeling his own loss of control, because he has been assigned to the backwater of the war effort. He hopes that identifying Dunbar as the one who blew up the train will bring him to the attention of those who may move him to something more prestigious.

Sefton is interesting (the narrator says he would fit into one of the Reader’s Digest series about the “most unforgettable character”) because he has none of the redeeming qualities we expect of our heroes. In contrast to Dunbar, who is rich, handsome, charming, unpretentious, modest, and brave, Sefton is selfish, cynical, and hostile. In his last words to the group as he leaves to rescue Dunbar, he says that if they should ever run into him after the war, to pretend they don’t know him. When he says he is motivated by the prospect of a reward, we believe him. Heroes are just as complicated as everyone else, possibly more so.

This movie also provides an opportunity to talk about justice and fairness. The evidence was very strongly against Sefton, and his unpleasant personality made him a natural object of hostility and suspicion. Contrast the process for finding Sefton guilty with the process the commandant uses to interrogate Dunbar (who was “guilty”).

Questions for Kids:

· Why did Sefton give his egg to Joey?

· Why was Sefton so consumed with his own comforts and privileges?

· Why did the others suspect Sefton?

· How did the prisoners use humor to keep their spirits up? How do the film-makers use humor to break the tension?

· How can there be “rules” like those of the Geneva convention in a war? How can those rules be enforced?

Connections: Other outstanding movies about prisoners of war include “The Great Escape.” “The Rack” stars Paul Newman as a soldier accused of treason following his release from a Korean prison camp.

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