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Movie Mom

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New in Theaters
  New to DVD

Tomorrowland
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements, and language
Release Date:
May 22, 2015

 

American Sniper
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references
Release Date:
January 16, 2015

I'll See You in My Dreams
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sexual material, drug use and brief strong language
Release Date:
May 22, 2015

 

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

Mad Max: Fury Road
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images
Release Date:
May 15, 2015

 

Mortdecai
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some language and sexual material
Release Date:
January 23, 2015

New in Theaters

grade:
B+

Tomorrowland

Lowest Recommended Age:
4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements, and language
Release Date:
May 22, 2015
grade:
B+

I'll See You in My Dreams

Lowest Recommended Age:
Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sexual material, drug use and brief strong language
Release Date:
May 22, 2015
grade:
B+

Mad Max: Fury Road

Lowest Recommended Age:
Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images
Release Date:
May 15, 2015

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New to DVD

pick of the week
grade:
B+

American Sniper

Lowest Recommended Age:
Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
R for strong and disturbing war violence, and language throughout including some sexual references
Release Date:
January 16, 2015
grade:
C

Strange Magic

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

Mortdecai

Lowest Recommended Age:
Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some language and sexual material
Release Date:
January 23, 2015

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Ocean’s Twelve

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2004
B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Movie Release Date: 2004

The movie’s irresistible tagline is “Twelve is the new eleven.” But this twelve is more like the old eleven, the first “Ocean’s 11″ movie, starring Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, where the chief pleasure is in seeing how much fun the cool guys are having spoofing themselves. Unfortunately, the audience doesn’t have quite as good a time as the guys up on the screen. But that still leaves a lot of fun to spread around. And a lot of cool.

In contrast to the high-gloss style of the first one, the sequel is shot in an informal, slightly gritty, almost documentary style. It starts off well, briskly bringing us up to date on what has been going on with each of the eleven who robbed three Las Vegas casinos in one night. The man they robbed, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), has tracked them all down, from Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his wife, Tess (Julia Roberts) on down to the bickering Molloy brothers (Scott Caan and Casey Affleck). And he gives them two weeks to pay it all back, with interest.

That means it’s time to go back to work. They pull off a quick heist in Amsterdam, but it turns out to be the first step in a much larger job, the usual irreplaceable treasure in the usual impenetrable setting.

There is a complication, too — they are competing with the most successful thief in the world, a fabulously wealthy and remarkably agile Frenchman with a title who has a personal reason for making sure they are not successful. There is another complication as well. Rusty (Brad Pitt) has a romantic entanglement with Isabel (Catherine Zeta Jones), an Interpol agent whose job is catching thieves.

The problem is that the movie counts too much on having us on the side of the thieves because of the first film and just because we love the performers. But it works against our loyalty by violating the first rule of heist movies — without giving away too much, I’ll just say that the resolution is not entirely satisfying. The motivation of one of the key characters is just silly. The twists are telegraphed in advance.

According to press reports, the gang wanted to work together again (especially if it meant hanging out in Rome, Amsterdam, and France) and so they grafted their characters onto another script. The seams show; they even pop at times, as when a bunch of the characters have to be waylaid before the big day just because the original script didn’t have enough things for everyone to do. Oceans Eleven had great characters and a very clever plot with a heist that had you saying “Oh, THAT’S how they did it” on the way back to your car. This one has great characters and a thin plot that gets stretched even thinner. On the way back to your car you’ll be talking about whether the popcorn was stale because if you try to untangle the plot, you’ll regret it.

Better to skim across the top of it, as the performers do, and enjoy the sly by-play from the returning players, including a witty cameo by Topher Grace and a quick appearance with Scott L. Schwartz as Bruiser. The heists themselves are not much, but it is hilarious to see the gang take time to discuss whether it’s fair to call the group “Ocean’s Eleven” when they are independent contractors or when Matt Damon as Linus explains, like a shy candidate for “The Apprentice” that he wants to assume more of a leadership role this time.

Eddie Izzard and Robbie (Hagrid) Coltrane are a pleasure, as always, in small roles. Catherine Zeta Jones and some surprise new additions are fine but it’s our old friends who, true to form, well, steal the show, with dialogue as cool and contrapuntal as a jazz riff.

Parents should know that the film has a few bad words and some mild, non-explicit sexual references. Characters drink and smoke and of course most of the movie’s heroes are thieves and liars who joke about not having any morals.

Families who see this film should talk about why it is hard for Danny to give up being a thief. Why are Tess and Isabel drawn to men who do not tell the truth? Why are movie audiences drawn to them? What matters to each of the eleven? What would you do if you had $16 million?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy both of the earlier films and other heist classics like The Italian Job, Topkapi, and To Catch a Thief.

The Aviator

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

A true story that is both touching and thrilling and tons of talent on both sides of the camera are enough to make this a good movie, but not enough to make it a great one.

It is in part the sheer grandness of the story of Howard Hughes, a story that could easily fill five or six movies, that makes even an energetic and muscular three-hour-epic feel like it is just skimming the surface of Hughes’ life and his character. There is no way to try to cover even this one section of Hughes’ life without making it feel like a “greatest hits” clip job instead of a story with a real narrative arc.

So it falls into the standard reductionist biopic traps (see Ray and Beyond the Sea) of trying to tie too much to specific childhood events and fumbling the narrative challenge of conveying an era and a life at the same time. And it never rises from incident to insight. Was the determination that led Hughes to spend more money, use more cameras, and reshoot more footage on Hell’s Angels than could ever be justified tied to the obssessive-compulsive impulse that had him washing his hands until they bled? The movie seems to tie his phobia about germs to a flashback to a weirdly sexualized bathing scene with his mother washing him as she explains a quarantine for typhus. This seems like a throwback to the era it depicts, where, in those early days of psychotherapy, everyone but Orson Welles seemed to think that any life could be explained by one childhood trauma.

The second problem is in the mis-casting of the leading man. Leonardo DiCaprio is a brilliantly gifted actor. He has made effective use of his imperishably boyish quality in Titanic, Catch Me If You Can, and especially What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. But here it works against him as he tries to play Hughes the man, and the performance often seems made up of squint, tics, and accent. As a result, Hughes seems more like a kid struggling with ADD than the tortured larger-than-life man who produced era-defining movies (Hell’s Angels, the original Scarface, and The Front Page), dated the world’s biggest movie stars (Katharine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Jean Harlow), founded an airline (TWA), owned seven Las Vegas casinos, designed and test-piloted airplanes, risked fortunes and made bigger ones, and died as a recluse, the prisoner of illness and of the greedy people around him who did whatever he said instead of insisting he get help.

But no one does pageantry better than Scorcese and this is a brilliant film, even with its flaws. Cate Blanchett evokes Hepburn’s accent and her odd and endearing combination of directness and sensitivity without making it into an impersonation. Kate Beckinsale never evokes the real Ava Gardner, but makes her character into a woman capable of a great but practical tenderness. It is a treat to watch Hughes assemble the world’s largest private air force to make his movie, design and fly experimental airplanes, analyze the cigarette girl’s smile, become imprisoned in the men’s room because he can’t bear to touch the germ-covered doorknob, and take on the most formidable of opponents from Katharine Hepburn’s family to the movie rating board and Maine’s corrupt senator. The crash scene is bone-chillingly harrowing and the scenes of old-time Hollywood reflect the director’s deep love of that era. Like the life it depicts, it is uneven and fascinating.

Parents should know that the movie has some very violent airplane crashes, some causing serious injury. Characters drink, smoke, and use strong language. There are very explicit sexual references and situations and some non-sexual nudity. Some audience members may be upset by the scenes involving Hughes’ struggles with mental illness.

Families who see this movie should talk about what made Hughes so passionate about his many projects? Why didn’t he want people to know he could not hear? Why didn’t he mind drinking from the same bottle? Why wouldn’t Ava Gardner let him buy anything other than dinner?

Families may also want to learn more about obsessive-compulsive disorder. And they may want to consider whether Hughes might have had to get treatment if he had not been surrounded by people who would do whatever he said in order to continue working for him.

Families who like this film will also enjoy Tucker and the perennial best-movie-of-all-time choice, Citizen Kane. They should see some of Hughes’ movies, like Scarface, Hell’s Angels, and the notorious The Outlaw. They should watch some of the movie featuring his glamorous escorts, like Jean Harlow, Katherine Hepburn, and Ava Gardner. And they will enjoy the fantasy inspired by the story of one of the many people who claimed to be Hughes’ heir, Melvin and Howard.

Closer

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

With an anguished wail, Larry (Clive Owen) asks where he can find intimacy. In a private room in a strip club, where the rules say that you can look, but not touch. The stripper’s ex-boyfriend is now romantically involved with Larry’s ex-wife, Anna (Julia Roberts). Does he really want intimacy or does he want revenge? Or does he just want the stripper to bend over and touch the floor?

Probably all of the above. This is a searing story of hurt and betrayal with two men and two women who reach for each other and hurt each other in almost every combination. They may get, as in the movie’s title “Closer,” but do they ever really get close?

Larry is a dermatologist. Anna is a photographer. Alice (Natalie Portman) is a stripper turned waitress turned stripper again. And Dan (Jude Law) is an obituary writer who has written a novel. Larry first talks to Anna as the result of a prank — Dan pretended to be Anna on an online sex chat and set up the meeting. Anna and Larry become a couple and then get married, but she is having an affair with Dan, who is living with Alice, the stripper turned waitress whose life inspired the main character of his novel. One of the portraits in Anna’s art show is the photograph she took of Alice, who had just discovered that Dan was attracted to Anna. And all of this roundelay is delivered in glossy dialogue by glossy people in glossy surroundings.

This film is more clever than wise, and it is not as clever as it thinks it is. Those in the audience who have been angered and betrayed by love might find it validating, but that does not make it insightful. The main characters toss around the L-word a great deal, but there is no evidence that any of them even see each other, much less know or love each other.

Neither Anna nor Alice are really characters; they are somewhere between a fantasy and a narrative convenience. Their only function is to drive the men crazy, mostly by just being gorgeous and arbitrary.

The center of the movie is the relationship between the two men. Larry and Dan send instant messages to each other in an anonymous sex chat room, Dan pretending to be a woman. Their connections with the women in their lives have more to do with the struggle between the men over power and territory than with knowing or caring for Anna and Alice. Larry demands to know Alice’s real name, but neither he nor Dan ask her for any details about her past or preferences or aspirations.

The script has some snappy lines and Nichols keeps guessing by not telling us how much time has passed between the encounters. Portman is dazzling to watch. Owen and Law do well (those who saw Law cry in the very different I Heart Huckabee’s will see his range when Dan cries here). But this is not the best use of Roberts’ considerable talents; it may be that Nichols was relying more on the shock value of hearing America’s sweetheart speak about oral sex in explicit terms than on her ability to convey a superficially conceived character. It’s always fun to watch pretty people say clever things, but for all its knowing banter about truth and lies and love, like its characters, it is a little too much in love with itself, and no wiser or happier when it’s over.

Parents should know that this movie is filled with extremely adult material, with exceptionally explicit sexual references, including adultery and oral sex. There are scenes in a strip club. Characters drink, smoke, and use very strong, explicit, and graphic language. There are tense and upsetting scenes of jealousy, anger, and betrayal.

Families who see this movie should talk about what the characters were really looking for. What did playwright/screenwriter Patrick Marber want to show us with the occupations of the four characters? What do we learn from the name on Alice’s passport? Why do two different people say “Hello, stranger?” Were Dan and Anna using Alice by writing the novel and taking her photo? They may also want to talk about how genuine trust and intimacy are established.

Families who appreciate this movie will also like Carnal Knowledge, also directed by Nichols, and Dangerous Liaisons and Valmont, two different movie versions of the epistolary novel by Choderlos de Laclos.

House of Flying Daggers

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

An officer about to arrest a beautiful blind dancer who works in a brothel tells her that if she can win the “Echo Game” he will let her go. She is surrounded by 100 drums. And then, in one of the most extraordinary scenes ever put on film, as the officer tosses stones at the drums, she must listen carefully to replicate the patterns of the sounds through her dance by tossing her long satin sleeves to strike the drums in the same precise rhythms. Her arm sweeps across so that the sleeve extends far enough to pull the officer’s sword from its sheath. And then things really start to heat up.

Director Yimou Zhang (Hero, Raise the Red Lantern) is a master of ravishing, rapturous images drenched with glowing, jewel-like colors, unfurling like a rich tapestry. The fight scenes are dramatic, as much a part of telling the story and revealing the characters as the dialogue and the plot. And they are beautiful, like exquisite blood-soaked ballets.

In the brothel, all the girls have taken fancy flower names except the beautiful blind dancer, who is simply named Mei (Ziyi Zhang). A drunken playboy captivated by her tries to rip her clothes off and an officer arrives to arrest them both. That is when Mei shows her prowess in the Echo Game. But she is arrested anyway when she attacks the officer. It seems she is an operative for the rebel House of Flying Daggers. She is about to be tortured when she is rescued by the drunken playboy, who tells her he is on her side. They escape together, followed by the soldiers.

And like all movie journeys, the characters are on a spiritual quest as they travel. Love and loyalty will be tested and lessons will be learned. The confrontations and battle scenes reveal the characters and move the story forward as they dazzle us with breathtaking images and stunning stuntwork. A shower of daggers, a bamboo-forest skirmish that looks like it was choreographed by Cirque du Soleil, and a final encounter in a snow-covered field are striking, moving, and dramatic all at the same time. But the most exquisite image of all is the face of Ziyi Zhang, a brilliant actress, a classically trained dancer, and a fearless combatant. The story may seem unfinished (there is one shot of an advancing army that leaves us wondering what happened next), but ultimately it is as spare and graceful as a calligraphic symbol.

Parents should know that the movie is extremely violent. The fight scenes are beautiful but deadly, with graphic injuries and many deaths. There are sexual references and situations including a scene in a brothel and attempted sexual assault. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of women and of Chinese men and women as strong, brave, and loyal.

Families who see this movie should talk about the difficult choices presented to Mei, Jin, and Leo. How did they decide on what was most important to them?

Families who see this movie will also appreciate Hero by the same director and the award-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, both starring Ziyi Zhyang.

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