Movie Mom

Movie Mom

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The Wrecking Crew
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for language, thematic elements and smoking images
Release Date:
March 27. 2015

 

Unbroken
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language
Release Date:
December 25, 2014

Home
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action and some rude humor
Release Date:
March 27, 2015

 

Into the Woods
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material
Release Date:
December 25, 2014

Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Secret Ocean 3D
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
March 20, 2015

 

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

Honey

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

For those who think it’s been too long since a movie like Breakin’ 2: Electric Boolago, or even Lambada: The Forbidden Dance, we now have “Honey,” the story of a spunky girl who dazzles hip-hop superstars with her dance moves but whose dream is helping the kids in her neighborhood.

Jessica Alba plays Honey, a sweet and sunny girl who teaches hip-hop to kids at the community center even though her mother tells her that she should be pursuing a career in ballet.

Honey is spotted by a director of music videos (David Moscow), and before you can say “That flava’s hot!” she is lead dancer and choreographer. She is just about to achieve her dream of putting her students into a video starring Ginuwine when it turns out that the video director is interested in more than her dance skills. She turns him down and he fires her. Even worse, he fires the kids and makes her tell them.

She doesn’t mind losing the job except that she does not know how she will get the money to buy that building she wants to turn into a dance studio so that she can give kids an alternative to thug life. How can she raise the money? Hey, let’s put on a show!

Alba has a lovely smile and Joy Fisher (Antwone Fisher) adds some verve to the sassy best friend role. Hip-hop fans will enjoy seeing favorite performers like Tweet, L’il Romeo, and Missy Elliot. And the movie is very short, less than 90 minutes. This is the good news. The bad news is that it is just dumb, way past cheesy-but-fun into the realm of “From Justin to Kelly”-level you-must-be-kidding. Its efforts to be hip make it as instantly out of date as if the characters used words like “groovy” and “out of sight.” When Honey is under pressure to improve her choreography for one video, she gives the dancers a (presumably very expensive) break and goes for a pensive walk, where she draws inspiration from the moves of kids playing basketball and jumping rope. I’m not kidding. It wouldn’t be so terrible that the plot, dialogue, and performances were so poor if the movie’s reason for being — the music and dance numbers — had more energy and style. Worst of all, the movie fails to take advantage of the talents of performers like the glorious Lonette McKee (Jungle Fever) and Mekhai Phifer, who pretty much stand around looking embarrassed.

Parents should know that the movie has strong language for a PG-13, with references to “hooker heels” and a Monica Lewinsky joke. Characters drink and sell drugs. There are some tense confrontations and threatened violence. One strength of the movie is its portayal of sexual values. Honey is very clear with her boss about boundaries and her romance with a local barber is sweet and understated.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Honey decided what was important to her and about the answer to the question “How come you turned out so well?” They might also want to talk about what people a few years from now will think about the styles of dance and slang in this movie.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Flashdance (mature material). They might also like to compare it to some of the classic Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movies about putting on a show.

The Haunted Mansion

posted by rkumar
D
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2003

When Disney makes a movie based on a theme park ride, it is not about inspiration, it is about branding. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl managed to be a delight — and a huge hit — but that’s because it had imagination and verve. Apparently, there was none left over.

This is an overstuffed and under-imagined attempt to turn a six-minute ride into a 90 minute picture. The plot is as thin as spider webs and is as predictable as a Scooby-Doo episode. The result is barely worth the price of a video rental, even from 99 cent bin.

Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy whose role as an eager-to-please realtor tests even his facile smile) and his lovely wife Sara (Marsha Thomason) spontaneously head out of town to celebrate their wedding anniversary and spend some time with the family. He has two kids, Megan (Aree Davis), the fearless and bossy big sister, and Michael (Marc John Jefferies) the timid and arachnophobic young son. Jim neglects his family for “it will only be 20 minutes” business meetings that turn into hours, and his wife and children are unhappy.

A mysterious caller requests that Sara be the agent for a mansion outside of town, and Jim insists on another one of his “just 20 minutes” stops to seal the deal. Of course, a storm rolls into the bayou and the family must stay overnight as a guest in the atmospheric household of Edward Gracey (Nathaniel Parker) and his spooky butler Ramsley (Terence Stamp). Once the doors slam shut, the family must solve the mystery of the mansion before they can leave together again.

The theme park ride moves quickly. Although the people in it race around, the the movie drags. While Jim’s spiel is a lighthearted patter complemented by his kids’ matter of fact acceptance of their surroundings, the resulting dialogue feels off-key and smarmy. Madame Leota (Jennifer Tilly) and the barbershop quartet of singing sculptures keep filler scenes from becoming too slow, but you have to wonder at a movie where disembodied heads turn in the movie’s most interesting performances. Thomason, as Mrs. Evers, shows little acting range beyond looking doe-eyed and bewildered at the ghost who has mistaken her for his long-ago love, while Terence Stamp’s place-holder of a performance as the disdainful Ramsley appears to tap the actor’s immense desire to be out of the movie.

Parents should know that there are lots of chases and peril involving ghosts and skeletons, and children are in danger. The atmospherics of the crypt scenes might scare younger viewers. A ghost is dragged into a fiery pit while other ghosts dematerialize to ascend into the heavens and there are many grisly and gross images, including a rotted corpse, that might upset sensitive viewers.

There is a brief shot of drawings on a tarot card with frontal nudity and Jim says the ghost wants to “get jiggy with” his wife. Jim steals a cigar and matches. A character is poisoned and another commits suicide by hanging. Younger children might be scared when the Evers parents, Jim and Sarah, are threatened. It is not addressed explicitly, but the tragic romance that led to the house being haunted was between a black woman and a white man, which was why it was so harshly viewed. One strength of the movie is the portrayal of a loving and committed relationship between Jim and Sarah. Jim may be distracted, but he is devoted to his wife and family.

Families should discuss priorities and how different people in the same family might view an action in a very different light. For example, Jim argues that he is trying to succeed in business so that his kids will have everything they want, whereas his kids argue that they really only want time with their parents. Families might also wish to discuss being scared and how Jim explains overcoming one’s fears to his son. Should he have told his son to “be a man?”

Families who enjoy Wallace Shawn’s performance as the super-cautious ghost man-servant, will appreciate his best role as a kidnapper in the classic The Princess Bride. “Haunted” houses with plenty of eccentric characters appear in The Addams Family and Beetlejuice and classics The Cat and the Canary and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.

Cheaper by the Dozen

posted by rkumar
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:2003

This is not a movie; it is a product, with a script right off the assembly line, a mix of Teen People pin-ups to attract tween demographics, apparently directed on cruise control. Its intended audience of 8-14-year-olds will probably enjoy it very much. But those who care about that audience will be disappointed that the people behind this movie do not realize that they owe those children some imagination and sincerity.

The movie takes its title and family size from the classic book about the real-life Gilbreth family but has no other connection to the original and is inferior to it in every aspect.

Steve Martin plays Tom Baker, a coach who is offered his dream job at his alma mater just as his wife Kate (Bonnie Hunt) hears that her book about the family has been accepted for publication. The eleven children still living at home do not want to move, but Tom promises that it will make them a stronger and happier family. But the new job is very demanding, and when Kate has to go on tour to promote the book, Tom is quickly overwhelmed by the challenges of taking care of his children.

There are the predictable “aww” moments (death of a pet, reminder that the kids might fight with each other, but they really love each other) and the predictable “ewww” moments (one child barfs and another slips and falls on it). The script is slack and lazy, incapable of a satisfying resolution for even the most reliable family-movie plot devices like a mean bully or snobby, over-protective neighbors.

Parents should know that the movie includes some schoolyard-style naughty words and PG-style sexual references that get close to a PG-13. When asked about his 12 children, Tom smirks about his wife: “I couldn’t keep her off me.” He explains that he had a vasectomy but did not wait for it to become effective, resulting in the second set of twins. And part of the plot concerns the oldest child (an adult) moving in with her boyfriend (which does not bother her parents) and whether they should be allowed to sleep together when they visit the family (which does). Some audience members may be offended by the portayal of the family as vaguely Catholic, with references to Jesus and a rosary but no evidence of religious observance. There is comic peril with some minor injuries. The product placement (Crate & Barrel) is particularly (and annoyingly) intrusive.

Families who see this movie should talk about how they work together to make sure that they achieve a balance between time for work and time for each other. How do you make sure that the family comes first? They should also talk about the way that the Baker family supports each other and what they think of Dylan’s parents.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy another big-family comedy inspired by a real story, Yours, Mine, and Ours, starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball. They should see the original Cheaper By the Dozen, based on the Gilbreth family, headed by pioneering efficiency engineers who used their “motion study” techniques to raise their children. The book, written by two of the children, has the best dedication in the history of literature: “To Father, who had only twelve children, and to Mother, who had twelve only children. It is well worth reading aloud to the whole family, along with its sequel, “Belles on Their Toes.” Other classic movies about the demands on parents include Martin’s Parenthood (some mature themes) directed by Ron Howard, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (starring then-child actor Ron Howard), and the Oscar-winning drama Kramer vs. Kramer along with silly comedies like Mr. Mom and Daddy Day Care.

House of Sand and Fog

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

Pride, anger, loss, desperation, law, love, strength, and weakness collide to create vast tragedy in this story of a battle for a house that overlooks the water.

It begins as a clearly distressed woman is asked, “Is this your house?” She does not answer.

The woman is Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), and to her, the house is her refuge after a marital break-up. The house was built by her father, who left it to her and her brother in his will. It is all she has, and she has retreated so completely that she has not read her mail, which included an erroneous notice of an overdue tax bill. Because she did not respond, the county evicts her and auctions the house for a fraction of its value.

The buyer is an immigrant, an Iranian colonel named Behrani (Ben Kingsley). He has spent almost all of his savings to maintain a lifestyle that enabled his daughter to marry well. For him, buying the house will make it possible for him to quit his construction job. He plans to sell the house at a profit to start his return to a position consistent with his education and ability.

Behrani likes to remember that at his home in Iran he ordered the trees cut down so that he could have a clear view of the water.

For Kathy and Behrani the fight is not about money; it is about home. The house is a refuge. It is a part of them. When Behrani tells his wife he has bought the house, she does not want to leave their apartment. For her, home is the place you stay, or you are a nomad. Kathy feels safe inside the house. Once she leaves, she begins to unravel, starting to smoke and drink again, unable to stay away from the house. She begins to fall in love with Lester, the cop who evicted her (Ron Eldard). Kathy must return to the house to be healed. But she cannot do that without destroying the lives of other people.

The lives of Kathy and Behrani circle, parallel, and intersect each other. Both must take on menial jobs and change their clothes in public bathrooms. Both are too proud to tell their families the truth about their situations. Behrani’s devotion to his children parallels Kathy’s loss of her father and the house he left to her when he died, as well as her own longing for a child. The Behrani family alternately treats Kathy as an intruder, a guest, and ultimately almost as a member of the family when they take her in at her most devastated and care for her as though she was a child. She wakes up the next morning in the house, swathed in silks like an Arabian nights princess. But the fairy tale becomes a nightmare.

Connelly, Kingsley, Eldard, and Shohreh Aghdashloo as Mrs. Bahrani are all superb, and the adaptation of the award-winning book is a thoughtful and serious, if uneven, translation of the book’s language and tone. It fails to sustain a sense of tragic inevitability and that prevents it from being truly involving.

Parents should know that the movie has extreme, graphic, and tragic violence including murder, attempted and successful suicides, domestic abuse, and an accidental shooting. There are explicit sexual references and situations, including adultery and nudity. Characters drink and smoke, including an alcoholic character who ends a period of sobriety. Characters use very strong language and there are many harsh and painful confrontations.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it was so hard for Kathy and the Colonel to come to some kind of compromise. Does the movie make a distinction between what is legal and what is right? What is it? How do the different characters define home? The book has an epigraph by Octavio Paz: “Beyond myself/ somewhere/ I wait for my arrival.” How does that apply to this story?

Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate the Oscar-winning performances of leads Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) and Ben Kingsley (Gandhi).

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Ebertfest 2015
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