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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

Runaway Jury

posted by rkumar
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2003

John Grisham’s courtroom thriller is given the big-time Hollywood treatment and the result is as reliably entertaining — but also as forgettable — as an airplane novel. This is the kind of story that benefits from the willing suspension of disbelief (and logic) that is usually required for books designed to be read while wearing a seatbelt.

And it’s harder to be that generous in a movie when there is such a gap between the level of the script and the level of the performers. Grisham books are such a reliable franchise that it is impossible to film them without the kind of big Hollywood budget usually reserved for summer action blockbusters and Oscar-bait dramas. The perverse result is to make the result less enjoyable. As much fun as it is to see Oscar-winners Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman square off against each other, you can’t help feeling that they overpower the material. It’s like those commercials where movie stars read aloud letters from satisfied dish tv viewers as though they were sonnets. Only this is supposed to be serious. A scene in which Hackman and Hoffman, friends for decades, onscreen together for the first time, in shoehorned in so that they can face off against each other, but it does not advance the story. Star power in even the smaller roles provides more distraction than support. This movie could have worked better with a made-for-tv-movie level cast more suitable to its potboiler sensibility.

The story is about a groundbreaking lawsuit in an era in which “trials are too important to be left up to juries” and cases are won or lost before the opening arguments.

A distraught employee fired by brokerage firm returned to his office with an assault weapon and killed eleven people before turning the gun on himself. Four years later, the widow of one of the men killed has brought a suit against the gun manufacturer, charging that the company bears some responsibility because it made it too easy for a disturbed person to buy and use a gun that could have no legitimate purpose.

A lot is at stake. If the jury finds the manufacturer liable in this case, it will open the door for hundreds, even thousands of other lawsuits. It could bankrupt the industry. So all of the gun manufacturers have contributed millions of dollars to make sure that the defense team is the best that money can buy. That does not just mean top talent at the counsel table. It may be more important to get top talent in jury selection, and that means Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman).

We first see Fitch pulling a Sherlock Holmes as he glances at a photo and a parking lot stub in a cab and correctly deduces the details of the driver’s current problems. But when it comes to juries, Fitch relies on more than intuition and deduction. In a huge secret command center Fitch’s staff uses everything from high-tech databanks to low-tech surveillance to find out all they can about the pool of potential jurors. But Fitch is the best at what he does because he goes much further than psychology and percentages. He wants their secrets, their vulnerabilities. It’s good to know how people of particular backgrounds and percentages are inclined to vote, but it’s better to be able to apply pressure to make sure that they vote the way Fitch’s client wants them to, even if that means a little blackmail.

The plaintiff’s counsel, Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman), has retained a jury consultant, too. But someone else has gone a step further. Nick (John Cusack) has managed to get himself actually onto the jury. Both sides get calls from Marlee (Rachel Weisz) who tells them that she has control of the jury and will sell the outcome for $10 million. Marlee is able to demonstrate to Fitch and Rohr that her contact’s subtle powers to guide the other jurors can determine the outcome of the trial. Are they willing to bet on old-fashioned ideals like evidence and justice?

This is a courtroom drama where the drama does not come from what happens in the courtroom but what happens outside it. That leaves room for lots of intrigue and Grisham knows how to hold the attention of the audience. But the conclusion feels too easy, not earned by the way the issues have been presented throughout the movie or even the powerhouse performances. Like the insider on the jury, Grisham is a facile manipulator. But audiences are likely to be a little less willing to go along with it than the other jurors — unless they’re watching it in the same low-brain-cell-output locations the book is most often read — on an airplane or at the beach.

Parents should know that the movie has some violence and very tense moments. The movie opens with a tragic shooting (off-camera) and describes another. The movie’s theme is gun control. Characters are in peril and some are injured. There is a violent video game. Characters smoke and drink (one has a drinking problem) and use strong language. A character attempts suicide. And many of the characters in the movie are ruthless and unethical.

Families who see this movie should talk about any jury duty experiences they have had and about the movie’s (exaggerated)depiction of the corruption of the jury system. The three main characters have different ideas about justice and winning — who is right? Should gun companies be responsible for acting within the law if people who buy their products break the law? Families may also want to talk about why the tobacco company defendant in the book became a gun company defendant in the movie, possibly because tobacco companies have been found liable in court.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy some of the other Grisham movies, especially The Client, The Firm (also with Hackman), and The Pelican Brief. They will also enjoy the 1957 version of the classic jury drama 12 Angry Men starring Henry Fonda and the 1997 made-for-cable remake starring Jack Lemmon.

Kill Bill Vol. 1

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

This is a stylish and visually striking movie, but it is also a very violent movie. Make that a very, very, very, very violent movie, possibly the most violent movie ever released by a major American movie studio. The carnage is so completely and outrageously over the top that it is not disturbing in an unsettling Saving Private Ryan/this really happened way; some viewers, however, may find it disturbing in another way, as the endless slicing off of body parts and gallons (purportedly 450) of fake spurting blood may feel overwhelming or even numbing. For me, what was most unsettling was the way that the audience laughed at the movie’s most outrageously violent moments.

Drector/screenwriter Quentin Tarantino wisely used the simplest possible plot, one that can be summarized in one word: revenge. Once that plot trigger is cocked, the rest of the movie is just one fight scene after another. The revenge provides a motive and a hero, and that gives the fight scenes enough forward momentum to feel like a story.

Uma Thurman plays someone we just know as “The Bride” (her name is bleeped out). On her wedding day, the entire wedding party was killed by her former associates, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (DiVAS). The pregnant Bride was beaten and shot in the head, but did not die. She lost her baby and was in a coma for four years. When she wakes up, she seeks revenge from each of the DiVAS and their leader, Bill.

Audiences who are looking for subtlety, heart, or insights about the human condition will not find much to like in this film. But fans of this genre will find it sensationally (in both senses of the word) entertaining. Former video clerk and Cuisinart-brained film savant Tarantino pays tribute to his beloved Hong Kong and spaghetti Western films. The action scenes are brilliantly staged, including a silhouetted one-against dozens, an anime detour, and a climactic scene with heart-stopping action in a silent and gently snowy Japanese garden. Tarantino’s other trademarks — fabulously cool music selections, playing around with time sequences, and colorful dialogue mixing pop culture with offhand references to outrageous brutality and horrible crimes — are all there in full force.

Ectomorph goddess Uma Thurman gives a dazzling performance. Thurman, Viveca A. Fox, and Lucy Liu have both the acting and action chops to more than hold their own in fight scenes with eye-popping visuals that would overwhelm most performers.

A breathtaking cliff-hanger of an ending will have to hold audiences until part two is released. While this film seems all about sensation, Tarantino promises that the second half will add some depth and meaning. If he does, maybe I’ll raise the grade on this one to a B+.

Parents should exercise the strongest caution before allowing their kids to see this film. They should know that the movie has the most intense, graphic, brutal, and destructive violence imaginable (at least until Tarantino thinks up something new). Body parts are sliced off and blood gushes and spurts like a geyser. Many characters are maimed and many more are killed. A mother is murdered in front of her young child. A man’s head is sliced off and tossed around. There are references to the repeated rape of a character while she is unconscious. Characters drink and smoke and use very strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about the sources of inspiration Tarantino drew from.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the sequel Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and some of the Hong Kong action films that inspired this one.

Intolerable Cruelty

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

In Bringing Up Baby, a psychiatrist explains that “The love impulse in man frequently reveals itself in terms of conflict.” That idea may not always be true of romance, but it is at (where else) the heart of romantic comedy. That conflict is metaphor for the two steps forward-one step back or sometimes one step forward-two steps back progress of intimacy. The outlandish situations are a metaphor for the loss of control as we allow ourselves to become vulnerable (there’s a reason it’s called “falling” in love). And all of that can be fun to watch.

The Coen brothers have produced their first all-out romantic comedy, a throwback to screwball classics like The Lady Eve and The Palm Beach Story, with glamorous people trading wisecracks in escalatingly crazy situations. And that is fun to watch. Lots of fun.

George Clooney plays Miles Massey, a take- no-prisoners matrimonial lawyer who specializes in persuading juries to give everything to even the most apparently guilty spouses. The first thing we see of Miles is is teeth. He is having them whitened. Troughout the movie, he keeps checking his teeth. Miles is the lawyer as pitbull.

Wealthy Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann) is not just apparently but actually guilty of adultery. His wife Marilyn (Catherine Zeta Jones) has hired a private detective (Cedric the Entertainer) who filmed Rex at a motel with a girlfriend. Miles, despite finding Marilyn the most enthralling woman he has even seen, manages to win the day for Rex, leaving Marilyn with nothing.

Marilyn finds another rich husband (Billy Bob Thornton) and goes to Miles to get the legendary “Massey pre-nup” which has “never been penetrated.” It is an agreement to forego any claims on her new spouse’s assets if there is ever a divorce. “Only love is in mind if the Massey is signed.” Miles, knowing that Marilyn is up to something but not able to figure out what, has finally met a woman as devious as he is. He is utterly smitten.

Before it is over, in classic romantic comedy fashion, everyone will be turned upside down. It is pitbull Miles who gets bitten, literally and figuratively. And Rex may be “nailed” by one video, but a very different video will nail Miles as well.

The entire cast is just plain magnificent, tossing off the Coen brothers’ trademark corkscrew dialogue with just the right mix of understatement and deadly accuracy. It is an affectionate salute to the conventions of the classics — it even has a spit take — but it is contemporary enough for a Clarence Thomas joke and a rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” played on bagpipes. Like the classic screwball comedies by Preston Sturges and the rest of the Coen movies, there are a bunch of colorful supporting characters, particularly Cedric the Entertainer as the detective and a hired assassin named Wheezy Joe (Irwin Keyes). Clooney and Zeta Jones turn in two of the finest comic performances in recent memory. Part of it is sheer physical grace. Clooney owns his moment by the way he adjusts his cuff and cocks his head as he meets with his new client. Zeta Jones owns hers by walking down the stairs. Both are triple threats with impeccable comic timing, frst-rate acting talent and all the movie star magic in the world as well, which keeps their characters both real and sizzlingly sexy.

Parents should know that the movie has some mature material for a PG-13, including adulterous situations and some mildly kinky sexual references (nothing explicit and no nudity). It has strong language for a PG-13. There is comic violence that includes guns and one character is killed. Families who have dealt with painful divorces may not find the depiction in this film very entertaining. Some viewers may be disturbed by a character who is very ill. The characters are greedy, manipulative, and unethical, all played for humor.

Families who see this movie should talk about why independence was so important to Marilyn and why she thought that marrying a wealthy man was the only way she could achieve it. What do you think will happen to Marilyn and Miles next?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Preston Sturges classics like The Lady Eve and The Palm Beach Story along with other inspirations for this film, including My Favorite Wife (and the remake, Move Over Darling) and The Awful Truth. Fans of dark comedies about greedy characters will enjoy Ruthless People. Fans of this film will also enjoy the Coen brothers movies The Hudsucker Proxy, inspired by classic Frank Capra movies of the Depression era, and The Man Who Wasn’t There, inspired by the films noir of the 1940’s. They might enjoy the unforgettably creepy John Collier short story The Chaser, which inspired a classic episode of the Alfred Hitchcock television series.

Good Boy!

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

“Good Boy” is a not-so-good movie, but it is not so bad, either.

It’s a watered-down canine version of “ET.” It is not particularly imaginative and it goes on too long, dragging through the last half hour. But it has a cute kid and some even cuter dogs. The children at the screening I attended laughed and “awwwed” and applauded, and I found myself smiling a couple of times, too. That makes it a mild little entertainment suitable for a second-grader’s birthday party outing.

Owen (Liam Atkins) is the only child of loving but preoccupied parents (Saturday Night Live’s Molly Shannon and Kevin Nealon). He has been working hard walking dogs all summer long in order to earn the right to get a dog of his own. He picks a dog from the pound and names him Hubble. But Hubble turns out to be an inspector from the Dog Star who has been sent to earth to see how well the dogs are doing in establishing dominion over the planet. If not, all the dogs on the planet will have to go back to the Dog Star for retraining.

The dogs try to persuade Hubble that they do control humans (“You don’t see us picking up their poop!”). When that doesn’t work, they try to figure out a way to fake it so that when the ruler of the Dog Star arrives, she will let them stay. Meanwhile, Owen needs to find a way to deal with some bullies and to make friends with a dog-loving girl named Connie (Brittany Moldowan).

Atkins has a nice screen presence and a terrific smile. Shannon and Nealon are wasted in under-written roles. The script saves its best moments for the dogs, and top-notch stars lend their distinctive voices to the dog characters. Highlights include Matthew Broderick as Hubble, Vanessa Redgrave as the ruler of the Dog Star, along with Cheech Marin, Carl Reiner, Delta Burke, and Donald Faison.

Parents should know that there are some naughty words in the movie (“screwed up”), a couple of mild double entendres, and some potty jokes. The dogs are exposed to laughing gas and get a little tipsy. Characters face a little mild peril and some tense situations, but everything turns out fine. One of the movie’s strengths is its understated, even casual, portrayal of a diverse community, including a nice friendship between an African-American girl and a white boy.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it was hard for Owen to make friends and why Connie kept hanging out with the two bullies. What makes people act like bullies? What does Owen teach Hubble about the importance of encouragement? What do they teach each other about friendship? What does it mean to say that “dignity comes from within?”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the similarly-themed Cats and Dogs and the classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. They should also try the under-appreciated The Iron Giant. And they might want to check out this site to see pictures from the Hubble space telescope, which inspired the name of Owen’s dog or this site for pictures of the real dog star, Sirius.

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