Movie Mom

Movie Mom

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Fury
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout
Release Date:
October 17, 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

St. Vincent
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 For mature thematic material including sexual content, alcohol and tobacco use, and for language
Release Date:
October 17, 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

Dear White People
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language, sexual content and drug use
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

 

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

Now, Voyager

posted by rkumar
A+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:1942

Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) is the repressed and depressed daughter of an imperious mother (Gladys Cooper), head of a wealthy and socially prominent Boston family. Miserably unhappy and insecure, she spends much of her time in her room, making carved boxes and sneaking forbidden cigarettes. A sympathetic sister-in-law introduces her to Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains), an understanding psychiatrist. Under his care, at his sanitarium, she begins to develop some sense of herself as worthy, but is still terribly insecure when she departs on a cruise ship, for a rest, before returning home.

On the ship, she meets Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid), an architect. At first awkward and self-deprecating, she begins to bloom under his attention, and they fall in love. But Jerry is married to a woman whose health is too fragile to consider divorce. They say goodbye, and Charlotte returns home. Her mother is as tyrannical as ever, insisting that Charlotte must do as she says or she will refuse to support her. Charlotte meets Elliott Livingston (John Loder), a kind businessman, who wants to marry her, and her mother approves. But when she sees Jerry again, she knows it is impossible for her to marry Elliott, and turns him down. This so infuriates her mother that she has a heart attack and dies.

Overcome with guilt, Charlotte returns to Dr. Jaquith. But at the sanitarium, she meets a troubled young girl, Tina, Jerry’s daughter. In reaching out to Tina, she finds her own strength and sense of purpose. When Charlotte goes home, Tina moves in with her. Jerry at first wants to take Tina away, thinking it is too much of an imposition, but Charlotte persuades him that it is a way for them to be close, telling him, “Don’t let’s ask for the moon; we have the stars.”

This movie has a lot of appeal for highly romantic teenagers of both sexes, and for those who are interested in the dynamics and impact of dysfunctional families. Charlotte’s mother is completely self-obsessed, consumed with power, incapable of compassion, much less love, for her daughter. As Dr. Jaquith says, “Sometimes tyranny masquerades as mother love.” Never hesitating to make it clear that Charlotte was unwanted, she demands that Charlotte make up for the burden she inflicted by being born by giving in to her every demand. But it is also clear that there is no way for Charlotte to be successful in pleasing her mother.

Dependent and fearful at the beginning, she has her mother’s contempt. But, as we see at the end, her independence and self-respect are much more threatening to her mother, who literally cannot survive Charlotte’s assertion of her right to her own life.

In one sense, Mrs. Vale as ogre disappears like the Wicked Witch of the West doused with water or the Queen of Hearts when Alice tells her she is only a card. In another sense, Mrs. Vale’s attack is the ultimate booby- trap for Charlotte, who must then grapple with the guilt she feels for “causing” her mother’s death. Both Mrs. Vale and Jerry’s off-screen wife assert what F. Scott Fitzgerald called “the tyranny of sickness” or what Dr. Jaquith might call passive-agressive behavior, using powelessness as the ultimate method of exercising power. This is a very important form of emotional blackmail to be able to identify.

The title of the movie is from a line by Walt Whitman that Dr. Jaquith gives to Charlotte: “Now voyager, sail forth to seek and find.” Charlotte learns not to be afraid of what she will find, to risk getting hurt, to risk allowing herself to be known, to risk caring about someone else.

It is also worthwhile for kids to see that Charlotte must love herself before she is able to love someone else, and that just as Jerry’s love helps her to bloom, she is able to do the same for Tina. Charlotte tells Jerry, “When you told me that you loved me, I was so proud, I could have walked into a den of lions; in fact I did, and the lion didn’t hurt me.” Just as important, helping Tina is the most enduring “cure” for her sense of being powerless and without purpose, and far better than marrying the man she did not love.

These days, the decision made by Charlotte and Jerry not to stay together seems almost quaint; we tend to think that everyone should have both the moon and the stars. Their sense of sacrifice and duty is worth talking about as well.

Families who see this movie should talk about these questions: Why did Charlotte have such a hard time feeling good about herself? Why did Jerry and Charlotte decide not to see each other any more? Why did seeing Jerry make Charlotte change her mind about marrying Elliott? What did Charlotte’s mother want from Charlotte? Was that fair? What should Charlotte have said to her mother? Why did helping Tina make Charlotte feel better?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “The Three Faces of Eve.” They might also like to see Bette Davis and Claude Rains in another movie about love, sacrifice and lessons learned, “Mr. Skeffington.” Davis plays a self-centered and flighty woman who marries a man she does not love in order to protect her brother, discovering decades later how much she cares for her husband.

Novocaine

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

This is a dark and stylish tale of lies, cheating, extortion, incest, betrayal, and murder that begins in the antiseptic and meticulously maintained office of a dentist, Frank Sangster (Steve Martin).

Frank seems to have everything. He has a successful dental practice that is operated with efficient precision by his fiancée, Jean Noble (Laura Dern), yet he is vaguely unsatisfied. When beautiful patient named Susan Ivy (Helena Bonham Carter) asks for narcotic pain medication, Frank knows it is wrong, but he is drawn to Susan, fascinated, almost intoxicated by her. He agrees to prescribe 5 pills, his first small departure from a life of conventional propriety. Then the pharmacist calls to ask about the prescription, which Susan altered to say 50 pills. Frank knows it is wrong and that he could get into serious trouble, but he tells the pharmacist that it is all right and does not call the police. Susan comes to see him in the office after hours. He knows he should not perform dental work without staff around to assist him (and act as witnesses), but he agrees. They end up having sex. Every time he breaks the rules he ends up getting in deeper trying to cover up Susan’s violations and his own. Frank becomes more enmeshed and more trapped in his lies.

“Average man caught in a spiral of deceit” movies are really about the loss of control. Frank’s world at first appears to be as exact and precisely regulated as his dental office. Although he tells us in a voiceover that everything is the way he wants it, we see hints almost immediately that he finds it sterile and unsatisfying. He has not admitted even to himself that he senses something wrong, even corrupt, in his neatly ordered world.

Even before he meets Susan, we see hints of his tolerance for – and interest in – a less controlled life. Frank finds what looks like a dead body drenched in blood in his house. It turns out to be his ne’er-do-well brother Harlan (Elias Koteas), who decided to paint a room red and then took whatever drugs he could find in the house until he passed out. On his last visit, Harlan had made a crude pass at Jean, and she is impatient with Frank’s willingness to put up with him. Frank’s tolerance for Harlan at first looks like guilt – he is very successful, while his brother is a mess. But then, as we see Frank fall under Susan’s spell, it appears that Frank feels suffocated by his success and is intrigued by those who chose another path.

This movie is a throwback to classics of the “film noir” genre like “The Woman in the Window,” where a beautiful, seductive, mysterious, but possibly deceitful woman in distress draws the law-abiding hero into a web of corruption. Instead of rain-soaked streets on moonless nights, though, this film is set in the white, sun-lit environment of a California dentist. Director David Atkins and stars Martin, Dern, Koteas, and Bonham Carter make good use of the contrast between the bright, sterile setting and the dark desires of the characters, and the plot twists keep surprises coming until the very end.

Parents should know that the movie features graphic violence, murder, drug abuse, drug-dealing, and sexual situations, including incest and betrayal. Characters use very strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about how people can feel suffocated by doing everything “right.” Why was Frank so fascinated by Susan? Why did he put up with Harlan? What did he really think of Jean? Why was it so hard for him to understand what he wanted? What do you think the author was trying to tell us with the names of the characters, like Jean Noble and Susan Ivy and Frank?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Laura.

Ninotchka

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:1939

Plot: Three Soviet bureaucrats arrive in Paris to sell some jewels so they can buy tractors. But the former Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire), who lives in Paris, is outraged, because they were her jewels confiscated during the Russian revolution. Her beau, Count Leon (Melvyn Douglas), goes to court on her behalf, seeking return of the jewels. More important, he goes to the three Russians and plies them with wine, food, and fun to distract them from their mission.

The Soviets respond by sending a stern and severe senior official, Lena Yakushova (Greta Garbo), to straighten things out. Leon, who calls her by the nickname “Ninotchka,” is unsuccessful in persuading her to enjoy the pleasures of Paris. Finally, he just tries to make her laugh. She is unmoved by even his best jokes, but when he falls over in his chair, she laughs uproariously. From then on, she warms to the pleasures of Paris and the charms of Leon. She dons an elegant little hat and a glamorous gown. She drinks champagne until she is tipsy.

Swana gets the jewels from a hotel employee sympathetic to the exiled Russian nobility. She tells Ninotchka she will give them back if Ninotchka will leave Paris (and Leon) immediately. Given her duty to the Soviet Union, Ninotchka has no choice. But soon, based on the success of their mission, the same three men are dispatched to Constantinople to sell furs, and soon Leon has corrupted them again and Ninotchka is sent to straighten things out. This time Leon is waiting for her, so they can stay together forever.

Discussion: Kids will need some introduction to the issues behind this enchanting romantic comedy. A few words about the state of the Soviet Union following the revolution and the different ideas of the communists and the capitalists will prepare them. The movie is really not about politics; it is about romance, and being open to the pleasures of life. Leon learns as much about this as Ninotchka does. Before she arrives, he is in what looks more like a business partnership than a love affair with Swana. He does not introduce the Soviets to food, drink, and girls in order to teach them about having a good time, but in a calculated attempt to profit. Ninotchka makes an emotionally honest man out of him as he makes an emotionally honest woman out of her. And note that as much as Ninotchka loves Leon, she will not compromise on her duty to her country. She completes her mission, even though she knows it may mean she will never see him again.

In a way, the story is the obverse of “Born Yesterday” and “My Fair Lady.” The women in those stories grow by using their intellect; Ninotchka grows by using her emotions.

Ernst Lubitsch was the master of the sophisticated romantic comedy. Close observers of his films notice that he often uses doors to tell the story. An example in this film is the way the Count’s successful corruption of the Soviet emissaries is shown through a succession of delightful treats being delivered to them through the doors of their hotel suite.

Questions for Kids:

· If they had gone to court, who would have won the jewels? What is the best argument for each side?

· What does Swana try to do when she sees Ninotchka at the nightclub?

· What would you say the “moral” of this little romantic comedy is?

Connections: This movie had one of the most famous ad slogans of all time: “Garbo Laughs.” The mysterious dramatic actress had not made a comedy before. Director Ernst Lubitsch reported that when he was considering her for the part, he asked her if she could laugh, and she said she would let him know, and then came back the next day to say she could, and to show him. “Silk Stockings” is a musical version of this story, with songs by Cole Porter. An odd update made in 1956 with Katharine Hepburn and Bob Hope(!) is called “The Iron Petticoat.”

Compare this movie to “Ball of Fire” by the same screenwriting team, another story of an intellectual who is taught to appreciate the more frivolous pleasures of life.

Activities: Older kids may want to read more about this era in Soviet history, or find out about the fall of the USSR and the current efforts of the former Soviet states at capitalism and democracy.

National Velvet

posted by rkumar
A+
Lowest Recommended Age:All Ages
MPAA Rating:G
Movie Release Date:1944

Plot: Mi Taylor (Mickey Rooney) arrives in a small English town and meets Velvet (Elizabeth Taylor) just as she and her sisters have been let out of school for the summer. They like each other immediately, and she is delighted to learn that the reason he has come to her town is that he found her mother’s name in the address book belonging to his late father. He does not know what their relationship was, or what he hopes to find from her, but he has no other place to go.
At the dinner, Mi is tentative, not sure himself whether he is looking for a friend or an easy mark. That night, as Mrs. Brown goes over that day’s books and puts away the cash from their butcher shop, she and Mr. Brown talk about giving Mi a job. Mr. Brown is reluctant, saying they don’t need him, and that he seems to have a “sharpness” about him, but she insists. After Velvet tells him he is going to stay, he sneaks back into the house to return their money, which he had stolen.
The horse Velvet loves most is owned by a man who, angry and frustrated at his inability to control it, decides to sell it by lottery. Velvet wins and renames the horse Pi. He won’t pull the butcher shop cart, but he can jump a fence as high as the most treacherous hazard in England’s biggest horse race, the Grand National. So Velvet decides that he must be in that race, to have a chance to be the very best he can be, the very best there is.
They hire a jockey by mail, but Velvet knows the horse must be ridden by someone who loves him, and would rather not have him race at all than have a jockey who does not believe he can win. Just as Mi is about to volunteer, Velvet decides that she will ride the Pi, even if they could have had the best jockey in the world, even if they will get in trouble because girls are not allowed to race. She rides the Pi, and he wins. But they are both disqualified because she is a girl.
They come back home in triumph, knowing that they won what was important to them. Though they were not allowed to keep the title or the prize money, all charges have been dropped, and they won’t get into trouble for violating the rules. Mr. Brown is excited by all of the offers for appearances and endorsements, but Velvet knows that it would not be best for the Pi and that it is time to move on. So does Mi, who takes his knapsack and says good-bye to Mr. and Mrs. Brown. When Velvet hears that he has left, she asks if she can tell him about his father, who was Mrs. Brown’s coach, and how much he meant to her in achieving her dream. Mrs. Brown consents, and Velvet races after him, just catching up to him as the movie ends.
Discussion: “National Velvet” taps into one of the oldest, deepest dreams, the dream of horses. Every child dreams of controlling these huge, powerful, loyal creatures, of flying over hurdles on their backs, of earning their devotion and of being devoted to them in return. And then there is the dream of racing, as Velvet says in this movie, until you burst your heart, and then until you burst it again, and then until you burst it twice as much as before, until the two of you explode past the finish line ahead of everyone else.
This is the story of dreams themselves, wise and foolish, big and small, realized and impossible, and about the way all of these dreams change those who are lucky enough to dream them. It is about the importance of faith — Velvet’s faith in herself and in the Pi and in her dream, and her family’s faith in her and in Mi — and the importance of that belief and support in making the dream come true. Mi says, “You bit off a big piece of dream for yourself, Velvet.” But in one of the sweetest scenes ever filmed, Mrs. Brown takes out the 100 gold pieces she won for swimming the Channel, and gives them to Velvet. There were a thousand times the family could have used that money, but she was saving it for a dream as big as her own once was. She tells Velvet, “I too believe that everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly once in his life.”
“National Velvet” is also a rare movie that deals with what happens after the dream comes true. It sometimes seems that half the movies that are made, and well over half of the movies that are made for children, end with the hero or heroine triumphantly standing in the winner’s circle, holding the trophy overhead as the music swells and the credits roll. One of the things I like best about this movie is that it puts the dream in perspective. After they win the race, Mr. Brown is delighted with all of the offers for appearances and endorsements for Velvet and her horse. Instead of arguing with him, Mrs. Brown asks Velvet how she feels about it. Velvet thinks it might be fun for her, but says that she would never put the Pi through all of the foolishness that would be required. Velvet and her friend Mi and those around them take what they have learned from the dream and go on with their lives, something worth discussing in this era when any achievement, good or bad, becomes a miniseries.
But most of all, “National Velvet” is the story of a loving family. It is very different in many ways from the families that the American children of today know — for example, the mother and father are so reserved that they call each other “Mr. and Mrs. Brown” until the very last scene. But it is a wonderful starting point for a discussion of the ways that families of all kinds can teach and support each other.
One of the key themes of the movie is the faith that the characters have (and don’t have) in themselves and in each other. Mr. Brown is reluctant to accept Mi at first, with good reason. As Mrs. Brown says, it would be surprising for someone who had lived on the streets not to have a “sharpness about him.” But, she persuades Mr. Brown to give him a chance: “What’s the meaning of goodness if there isn’t a little badness to overcome?” Mi does steal their money, but when he learns of their faith in him, their offer of a job and a place to stay and Velvet’s acceptance of him as a friend, he puts it back. Later, when he has a chance to steal much more money from the family, he thinks about it, but decides that he can’t, because “she trusts me.”
Velvet’s faith in both Mi and the Pi is at the center of the movie. She accepts them both immediately and irrevocably, though both are mistrusted by others. She does not believe Mi when he says he doesn’t like horses, and when he says he is only interested in the race for the money. She knows that he feels as passionately for the Pi as she does, though he cannot say it.
Velvet also has faith in the future. She is certain that she will win the lottery for the horse she loves. When she tells everyone she will win, a suspicious neighbor suggests that she may have cheated by arranging for her father to pick her number in the drawing. She explains that she didn’t bother with that, she just worked it out with God. Mr. Brown responds to the neighbor’s accusation by having him do the drawing, and of course Velvet does win (after there is no holder of the first number picked). When the jockey they have hired by mail to ride the Pi in the race shows them that he not only does not believe that the Pi can win, he does not even care, Velvet knows that it would be wrong to let him ride her horse. Just like Mi and Velvet herself, the Pi deserves someone who believes in him.
Mr. and Mrs. Brown show their trust by risking letting Mi and their children make mistakes. “She has it in her to do the right thing,” Mrs. Brown says of Velvet, and lets her decide how to respond to the offers that come in after she wins the race. Mrs. Brown also lets Velvet run to school after being up all night caring for the horse. When Mr. Brown objects, she reassures him that Velvet will be back — it’s Saturday, and there is no school. But she let her go because “I like that part of her that wants to go to school after a night caring for the horse.”
Mrs. Brown not only lets Mi stay with the family, but she entrusts him to take her 100 gold pieces to London. Mr. Brown is certain he will steal it instead. But as the train pulls away, you can see Velvet reflected in the window of the train car. This symbolizes the way the image of Velvet, and her faith in him, stays with Mi, and prevents him from taking the advice of his friends who get him drunk and encourage him to steal the money. As they leave for the race, Velvet says to Mrs. Brown, “You’ll be proud of The Pi, mother.” Mrs. Brown says, “I want to be proud of you.” And she is.
Throughout the movie, Mr. and Mrs. Brown balance a spacious acceptance of their children’s passions with a firm set of values and a fairly strict set of rules. Velvet is permitted to pretend to ride in bed only one night a week, and only for fifteen minutes. At his first dinner with the family, Mi is reprimanded sharply by Mr. Brown (Donald Crisp) for feeding the dog at the table (“It will turn him into a beggar,” is a pointed comment made to the young man who has arrived at their door and may have some hope of being helped). But as we see during the course of the scene, each member of the family, including Mr. Brown, sneaks food to the dog when the others aren’t looking.
Similarly, Velvet is constantly reminded by everyone to wear her braces. When Mi does this, on the way to the race, it shows how much he has accepted the family’s set of priorities and the responsibility of caring for its members. In this case, though, he lets her take the braces out until the race is over. Like Mr. and Mrs. Brown, he knows when to suspend the rules. Mrs. Brown won’t tell Mi how much his father meant to her until he leaves them. As long as he had no faith in himself, that information would be no more than a way to get something from the Brown family. But once he no longer felt “soft and yellow inside,” he could accept it as a heritage to build on.

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