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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Release Date:
December 19, 2014

 

The Maze Runner
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images
Release Date:
September 19, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for violence including battle sequences and intense images
Release Date:
December 12, 2014

 

Magic in the Moonlight
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for a brief suggestive comment, and smoking throughout
Release Date:
August 1, 2014

Top Five
Lowest Recommended Age:
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, crude humor, language throughout and some drug use
Release Date:

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Release Date:
August 8, 2014

About a Boy

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:PG-13
Movie Release Date:2002

“About a Boy” is the story of a shallow man appropriately named Will Freeman (Hugh Grant) who believes, contrary to John Donne, that every man is an island.

Or at least he believes that that a man can be an island if he tries to, and that if he tries very hard, he can be Ibiza, a highly habitable, even idyllic, self-contained island with no reason ever to leave. Will has enough money from the royalties of his father’s Christmas novelty song to pay for a fancy stereo system, espresso maker, and HDTV, and he divides his life into half-hour segments, because he doesn’t want to commit to anything much longer than that. Up to his late 30’s, he has successfully avoided any emotional entanglements, indeed, he has pretty much avoided any emotion and pretty much any thought, except the thought that his life is pretty much perfect.

In other words, chaos is about to strike, and we will have the pleasure of seeing Will’s humiliation and misery as he discovers that Donne probably had it right the first time.

Will has insulated himself so well from romantic emotional entanglements that he decides that the perfect relationship is one with a single mother. They have low expectations and a sympathetic listener can get pretty far with them. So, he pretends to be a single parent himself and makes up a two-year-old child so that he can attend meetings of SPAT (Single Parents Alone Together). A mother in the group brings a friend’s 12-year-old named Marcus (the thankfully un-movie-kid-like Nicholas Hoult) along on a picnic. Marcus is isolated but does not want to be. His single mother is severely depressed and even the outcasts at school think he is too much of a dork to hang out with.

And so, with the inability to process other people’s reactions and total disregard for his own vulnerability that only a pre-teen could survive, Marcus just shows up at Will’s home every afternoon to watch television and ultimately insists on becoming the closest thing to a friend that Will has ever known.

I know what you’re thinking – this is manipulative claptrap from a Hallmark Hall of Fame made-for-TV movie. That’s because there is so much appeal in this kind of theme that even a lousy script and poor production values can’t completely destroy it. But when it is done well, or even very, very well, as it is here, it is one of the most purely, satisfyingly enjoyable films of the year.

We know from Bridget Jones’s Diary and even Small Time Crooks that Hugh Grant relishes playing a cad. Freed from the obligation to be the Perfect Boyfriend of “Notting Hill”-type movies, he gives us a superb performance of great honesty and subtlety and flawless comedy timing. Parents should know that the movie has some strong language (two uses of the f-word, a lot for a PG-13) and some sexual references (Will is an unabashed love-em-and-leave-em guy). A parent is clinically depressed and attempts suicide and the child feels responsible. Another child becomes hysterical about the prospect of his mother dating. Marcus’ mother fears that Will has an improper interest in Marcus. Characters drink and smoke.

Families who see this movie should talk about how we decide just how much of an island we want to be. Why is it important to Will not to have any relationships? Why are the kids in school so mean to Marcus? How are Will and Marcus alike and how are they different? Is it right for him to believe that it is his responsibility to make his mother feel better? How does Will’s relationship with Marcus make him more interested in a relationship with Rachel? What kind of grown-up will Marcus be? How does helping Marcus change Will’s feelings about him? Families should also talk about the definition of girlfriend that Will and Marcus discuss and Marcus’s idea about the importance of having a back-up. Why does Will watch “Frankenstein?” Does Will create a monster? Families may also want to talk about depression and its causes and treatments.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Bridget Jones’s Diaryand Four Weddings and a Funeral (very mature material). Families with younger children who enjoy this theme should watch Disney’s delightful The Kid.

Abandon

posted by rkumar
D
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:PG-13
Movie Release Date:2002

Given the talent involved, it really is almost impressive how bad “Abandon” is.

The movie is written by Stephen Gaghan, who last won an Oscar for “Traffic” and here makes his directing debut. The direction is poor, and the screenplay is awful. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique, whose work in “Requiem for a Dream” was brilliantly innovative, manages to make Katie Holmes and Benjamin Bratt look so unattractive they should consider a defamation lawsuit.

Holmes plays a brilliant and beautiful college senior who seems to have everything. She aces an interview with McKinsey, the brass ring of employers. But she is having problems completing her thesis and she has trouble sleeping. And when a detective shows up asking questions about her boyfriend, who disappeared two years earlier, it brings back painful memories and deepens her sense of loss. The detective (Benjamin Bratt) is facing his own challenges, taking on his first case after returning from alcohol rehab.

This is one of those movies that depends heavily on bonehead plot twists in which people behave inconsistently and idiotically, including that oldest of movie plots — characters showing up alone in eerie and isolated locations for assignations with potential murderers. There are many shadowy hallways, crumbling walls, and dripping pipes. There are gratuitous scenes of college kids at a debauched party (a throwback to Gaghan’s scene of teenagers taking drugs in “Traffic”) and of Holmes changing her clothes. The missing boyfriend is supposed to be talented, arrogant, and electrifyingly seductive, but the flashback scenes of their encounters are clumsily handled. The surprise ending is telegraphed halfway through the movie.

Parents should know that the movie shows a girl’s decision to lose her virginity and her unrealistic expectations about the relationship. There are overheard sounds of a couple having sex. Characters casually drink and use drugs. One intoxicated character is so happy that she says she wishes she could always feel so “connected.” Another character struggles with alcoholism.

Families who see this movie should talk about the jealousy some characters feel. What are “problem people?” Do they choose to be (or not be) “problem people?” What does the title refer to? What do you think about the job interview scene? If you were asked to solve a problem in an interview, how would you respond? What were the students’ concerns about “selling out?”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy better performances by Holmes in “The Ice Storm” and “Wonder Boys” and a better college-based mystery, “DOA.”

8 Mile

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2002

The dialogue in “8 Mile” has a vocabulary of fewer words than the 223 in The Cat in the Hat, and that’s counting giving someone the finger as a word. Other than the usual four-letter words, with one in particular used almost non-stop, the most frequently used words are “dawg,” “all right” (pronounced “i-ite”), and “man.”

It is a little odd, then, that this is a movie about a world in which status and self-worth are achieved by wordplay. Loosely based on the real-life story of white rap superstar Eminem, this movie is very much in the tradition of other “poor kid with a dream” stories like “Saturday Night Fever” and “Rocky.” The structure of these stories is simple: a talented character has to learn to take risks and believe in himself. He has some setbacks, but ultimately triumphs.

There’s nothing wrong with that story – it is a classic because of its enduring appeal, and many movies, including the two I just mentioned, have told it well. But despite “8 Mile’s” top behind the scenes talent like director Curtis Hansen (of “L.A. Confidential” and “Wonder Boys”) and producer Brian Grazer (of “A Beautiful Mind”), this version’s primary appeal will be to the fans Eminem already has.

For those who accept the premise that rap – a series of sometimes complicated, sometimes sloppy rhymes spoken contrapuntally to music or rhythmically scratched records – is an art form, this movie will be easier to believe. This is not the genre-transcending triumph that it was intended to be, but it is far ahead of instantly outdated bombs like “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.” Eminem has the ability to hold the screen, and if he is not exactly an actor, he is able to muster the few expressions required: tender when he looks at his sister, hopeful when he looks at Alex, and sullen most of the rest of the time. Years from now, they will need subtitles – maybe even footnotes — under the dialogue to translate the early 2002 argot to future audiences. (“313″ equals “Detroit,” a reference to the area code.)

There is a sweet little sort of almost-hugging thing the guys do when they see each other and there is a charming, even witty scene as Rabbit makes up new lyrics to the song “Sweet Home Alabama,” showing the way that even music that is not his genre gives him an avenue for expression and release. Brittany Murphy and Mekhi Phifer are fine as the girl who catches Rabbit’s eye and the friend who believes he can make it.

Parents should know that the movie is rated R for nonstop profanity, violence, drug references, and very explicit sexual references and situations. Characters vandalize and burn down an abandoned house and a character accidentally shoots himself. There is a reference to child rape. Rabbit’s mother is living with a boyfriend who is Rabbit’s age, and she speaks to Rabbit in very inappropriate ways about their sexual relationship. Some viewers will be upset by the neglect of Rabbit’s sister, a little girl who witnesses violence, family fights, a mother who drinks and has sex with a young man, and other abusive situations. Most likely in response to criticism of the gay-bashing lyrics of his earlier songs, there is a scene that seems to exist for no other purpose than to give Eminem a chance to defend a gay man. The defense is somewhat weak, however, as he attempts to explain that “faggot” as a derogatory term does not mean the same thing as “gay.”

Families who see this movie should talk about what changed in Rabbit’s life to make him ready to perform. Why was his willingness to insult himself before anyone else could a show of strength that was more devastating to his opponent than an attack could be? How is Eminem in the tradition of white musicians of the past who became successful by appropriating the music developed by black performers? Why did Future support Rabbit? Why did Rabbit support Bob? Families should also talk about the way the movie makes clear that having sex with someone should not be confused with thinking that you know the person or that you have a relationship. What were the signs that Alex was more interested in her career than in getting to know Rabbit? Note that in one scene, a character watches a short excerpt from a movie called “Imitation of Life” in which a black woman discovers that her daughter has been passing for white at school. Why would the director chose that scene to include? Families should also talk about how they feel about Eminem’s lyrics and why they have been so popular with both teenagers and critics.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Rocky,” “Saturday Night Fever,” and a take on the way music can affect the lives and relationships of accomplished professionals in “Brown Sugar.”

24 Hour Party People

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2002

“24 Hour Party People” is a funny, smart, and exciting film about the early days of punk music that should give some extra exposure to its talented cast and the mainly underground music it covers.

The star is Steve Coogan, a remarkable talent who shines as Tony Wilson, a Manchester TV news reporter looking to make his mark. After witnessing an early concert by the Sex Pistols, who are on the verge of shaking up England, he gets his station to televise one of their performances. Soon he is participating in a revolution as he gives exposure to the Clash, the Buzzcocks, and several other pioneering punk acts. He comes to devote himself to it full time, founding the groundbreaking Factory Records as well as the Hacienda club, which is now considered the birthplace of Rave culture. Along the way, he watches the rise, fall, and tumultuous careers of now-infamous acts Joy Division, New Order, and the Happy Mondays.

This film has some of the best dialogue heard all year (“I was postmodern before it was fashionable!” is one of many standouts) and Coogan’s narration will have you in stitches, blow your mind, and make you looking forward to seeing his next film. The entire cast, an ensemble of eclectic British characters that Guy Ritchie would be proud of, turn in great performances, but after Coogan the most noteworthy is probably Sean Harris as Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, capturing all the distinctive aspects of one of rock’s most tragic figures.

Parents should know that this film has extremely strong language, mainly British curse words, as well as lots of drug use by the bands as well as sexual references and situations. There are also some fistfights and a suicide.

Families who see this movie should ask why Wilson had the faith that he had in the self-destructive characters, and how the Hacienda club and Factory Records flew out of his control.

People who enjoy this movie should check out the fine documentaries on the Sex Pistols, The Filth and the Fury and The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle, as well as Almost Famous and the classic This is Spinal Tap.

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