Movie Mom

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Believe Me
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:

Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

The Fault in Our Stars
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language
Release Date:
June 6, 2014

Tracks
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some partial nudity, disturbing images and brief strong language
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo
Release Date:
June 27, 2014

The Boxtrolls
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for action, some peril and mild rude humor
Release Date:
September 26, 2014

 

Neighbors
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for pervasive language, strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use throughout
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

What Lies Beneath

posted by rkumar
D
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2000

Think “Fatal Attraction” crossed with “Poltergeist” and considerably dumbed down, and you have an idea of what this movie has in store for you. There are a couple of surprises and chills, but I am sure it is nothing compared to the horror in store for whomever persuaded Harrison Ford to follow up “Random Hearts” with another movie that fails so miserably.

And that horror is nothing compared to what is in store for the idiot who decided that the advertising campaign for this movie should give away one of the two big surprises. To the extent that the first half of the movie had any suspense or interest whatsoever, it has been destroyed by telling the audience that it is all a red herring before they even come in the door.

The story is about Norman (Harrison Ford), a professor of genetics, and his wife Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer), a former cellist who is a bit at a loss after her only daughter leaves for college. But it turns out that her empty nest is not quite as empty as she thought. There seems to be a malevolent presence in the house. Norman, a scientist, does not believe in such things, and sends her to a psychiatrist (the wonderful Joe Morton). At first, Claire thinks it is the spirit of a murdered faculty wife. I won’t compound the mistakes of the ad campaign and give away any more developments, except to say that there are some scary surprises (usually telegraphed by the music and camerawork), some tense and creepy moments, and what lies beneath turns out to be, well, lies. In case you need help on that last part, a store that literally plays a key role is called “The Sleeping Dog.”

The movie seems to try to follow a recipe — two parts Hitchcock to one part ghost story — with elements from “Rear Window,” “Vertigo,” and “Rebecca.” Doors swing open. Hinges squeal. Shadows loom. Music swells. And Michelle Pfeiffer, looking a little skeletal herself, gasps and runs from menaces from this world and the next.

This movie tries to do for baths what “Psycho” did for showers. But it doesn’t work. Hitchcock knew that suspense had to be about something. He brilliantly universalized his own neuroses to tap into the audience’s horrified fascination. Director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump,” “Back to the Future”) tries to do that here, enticing us with the messy reality under the surface of the apparently perfect couple. But Norman and Claire (and Ford and Pfeiffer) don’t draw us in. Norman’s insecurity over his father’s achievements and Claire’s loss of a sense of self over giving up her career seem colored-by-numbers. And, though they are two of the most talented and entrancing stars ever, neither of them is up to the tasks set before them by this script.

Parents should know that the movie may scare young teens, especially those without much exposure to the conventions of horror movies. Younger teens may also be concerned about the marital conflicts and adultery displayed in the film. The movie has sexual references and situations, brief strong language, and many scenes of peril, suspense, and betrayal.

Families who see this movie should discuss whether they believe in the supernatural, and what they might do if they felt a ghost had moved into their home. Some teens will be interested in finding out about the paranormal research facilities at Duke. Families should also talk about the way that all actions have consequences, on a psychological level, if not a supernatural one.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Hitchcock suspense classics like “Rear Window,” “Suspicion,” and “Notorious” and, if they like ghost stories, “Poltergeist.”

Waking Life

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

People will react very strongly to this movie – they will either love it or hate it. And after some consideration, I’ve decided that I love it.

Those who will enjoy it are people who have a lot of tolerance for all-night college dorm discussions of the meaning of life, because this entire movie is a series of monologues and dialogues that are variations on that theme.

It does not really tell a story. It is just a journey by an unnamed main character (played by Wiley Wiggins) who wanders through an Alice-in-Wonderland-style journey that may or may not be a dream, meeting all kinds of very odd people, many of whom tell him their views on consciousness and the purpose of existence.

It recalls director/screenwriter Linklater’s first film, “Slackers,” which showed us a series of loosely linked people expressing views on everything from Madonna’s pap smear to the assassination of William McKinley, and his later film, “Before Sunrise,” in which a young couple meets on a train and spend the rest of the movie walking around Vienna and talking about just about everything.

The couple from “Before Sunrise,” Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, reprise their roles in one scene in “Waking Life,” lying in bed talking about consciousness after death. Other actors and characters from Linklater’s earlier films flicker through this one as well, their out-of-context familiarity adding to the dreaminess and disorientation.

But there is a crucial difference between this film and Linklater’s earlier works. This film is animated. Actually, it is rotoscoped, which means that it was originally shot on film (digital film, in this case). Then, instead of creating animation cells or computer pictures from scratch, animators paint over the photographed images of real people. Each scene or character had a different group of animators, though the overall look of the film is very consistent.

The combination of the floating animation on top of real images also adds to the dreamlike quality of the film, especially in contrast to the very authentic-sounding audio. Animated films, highly artificial, usually have pristine, tightly controlled audio (with rare exceptions, like the pioneering John and Faith Hubley). But in “Waking Life” we get an extraordinary sense of documentary, even hyper-reality from the ambient noise of the audio and the fact that many of the monologues are delivered by people who are not actors. For example, some of Linklater’s college professors deliver portions of their lectures. This “real”-sounding audio contrasts with the vibrating fluidity and impressionism of the visual images.

At times, shapes shift to reflect the discussion. As a man says he would rather be “a gear in a big deterministic physical machine than just some random swerving,” his face briefly turns into a purplish gear. Another character briefly turns into clouds or smoke. But mostly, the images stay close to their original form and shape, except that the settings around them float, shift, and quiver, perhaps like “some random swerving.” Animation serves the dialogue in this movie as it served the music in “Fantasia.” Instead of Mickey Mouse carrying buckets or hippo ballerinas, we get a literally red-faced prisoner threatening the direst revenge on just about everyone and a man in a captain’s hat driving a boat on the road.

The monologues themselves are like jazz improvisations, wildly playful, bringing in an astonishing assortment of references and concepts. I think the secret to enjoying this movie is not to engage too much with the individual arguments and points of view but just to allow your ears and spirit to enjoy the fact that there are people who feel passionately about these ideas and who are willing to talk about them to other people with an openness that is both humbling and touching.

I enjoy that kind of talk, whether I agree with it or not, and it is a pleasure to see language used to create such intimacy and connection. The Delpy-Hawke scene shows how purely sexy conversation can be, something pretty much lost to movies since they started permitting nudity. The people who want “real human moments,” or “holy moments” of genuine connection come across as authentically vulnerable. Of course, other characters come across as people who talk all the time and barely notice if anyone is listening, but most of the people Wiggins meets want to help him in their own way.

Parents should know that the movie has some very strong language and scenes of cartoon violence, including a shoot-out and a self-immolation. Some teens may be upset by the discussions of death.

Families who see the movie will want to talk about their own views on the meaning of life and which, if any, of the characters are closest to their own thoughts about dreams and reality. Is it possible to create “lucid dreams?” Is there a reason that a film-maker might be particularly attracted to this idea – could film be a kind of generalized lucid dream? When you are dreaming, are you aware that you are dreaming? How do you know? What does it mean to say that there’s only one moment or to talk about the eternal yes? Does this movie make you want to know more about any of the authors or ideas it raises?

Families who see this movie will also enjoy “Everyone Rides the Carousel” with animation by Faith and John Hubley, based on the works of Erik Erikson.

X-Men

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:2000

Let’s get right to the point. Extremely cool special effects? Check. Highly overqualified actors bringing Shakespearian line readings to comic book dialogue? Check. Highly attractive young stars bringing sensational bodies to skin-tight costumes? Check. Really fun action sequences, at least one involving a national landmark? Check. Just the right balance of irony, self-awareness, and oh, what the heck, check your brains at the door, grab some popcorn and let’s just go with it? Check. And did I mention the extremely cool special effects? Check!!

In other words, this is the summer movie for teenagers and anyone who’d like to pretend to be one, which is just what summer movies are all about.

At a time in the not too distant future, some humans are mutating. Around the onset of adolescence, they develop strange powers (and to-die-for cheekbones and abs). Politicians are in an uproar — should they be registered, like weapons? Or are attempts to track them down a new form of McCarthyism — or worse? The movie’s opening scene hints at worse when it shows us a boy whose powers are first revealed when he and his parents are taken to a concentration camp.

But the appeal here is not to the political, but the personal. X-Men comics have been popular for decades because, like many successful comic book stories, they key into the insecurities and sense of outsiderness of adolescence. They may be outcasts, but they have great powers that their friends and families could never dream of!

The mutants have two elder statesmen, old friends and adversaries. One, wheelchair-bound Professor Charles Francis Xavier (Patrick Stewart), has established a school for mutant teen-agers. He wants to cooperate with humans and teach the mutants to use their powers for good. The other, Magneto (Ian McKellen) is after our old friend, total world domination — “We’re the future, Charles, not them! They no longer matter.”

Two mutants, Logan, known as “Wolverine” (Hugh Jackman), and a teenager named Marie, known as “Rogue” (Anna Paquin) arrive at Professor Xavier’s school after a battle with one of Mageneto’s henchmen (a wookie-looking guy played by wrestler Tyler Mane). Wolverine’s mutant strength and healing powers have enabled him to be surgically altered so that long, sharp, metal blades can pop out of his knuckles, but he has no memory of how that happened. Rogue draws the life force and powers out of anyone who touches her skin. At the school, they meet Storm (Halle Berry), who can call on lightning; Cyclops (James Marsden), whose eyes shoot laser-like beams; and Jean (Famke Janssen), who does not have a cool mutant name but does have telekinesis and telepathy. And of course great cheekbones. There are a bunch of other characters who barely show up, and may be there just for fans of the comics and to lay a foundation for big things in the sequel. If it all seems a little bit like the Justice League of America crossed with the Backstreet Boys, well, the movie has enough of a sense of humor about itself to make it work as well as possible. As usual, the villains are more fun to watch than the good guys. Magneto’s chief sidekicks are Toad, played by Ray Park of “Phantom Menace” and the shape-changing Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), both absolutely terrific. We can only hope that Storm and Cyclops and some of the others will have more interesting things to do in the inevitable sequel.

Kids will get a big kick out of the movie, and parents may even be able to entice them to talk about some of the implications of the movie, the ends-justify-the-means approach of Magneto, the way that the humans and mutants fear each other, the issue of registration of a minority group, and the way that Logan begins to learn to trust for the first time. Parents should also make sure that kids know that the creator of the X-Men and many other comic book superheroes, Stan Lee, has a brief appearance as a hot dog vendor.

Parents should know that the movie’s rating comes from comic-book-style violence that will not be upsetting to most kids of middle-school age or older. There are a few naughty words.

Families who enjoy this movie might like to watch other comic book-inspired movies like “Superman” with Christopher Reeve and “Men in Black” with Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith.

What Women Want

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2000

Mel Gibson shows us just what women want in his first-ever romantic comedy — we want Mel Gibson.

Mel plays Nick Marshall, a Chicago advertising executive who is successful at work (he thinks up ideas like the Swedish bikini team) and with the ladies, whom he wheedles and charms but never really thinks about. His ex-wife (Lauren Holly) says that he never understood her, but, even on the day of her marriage to someone else, she still softens when she speaks about him. His 15-year-old daughter says that he is more like an “Uncle Dad” than a father.

Nick is pretty sure he has it all figured out, until the day that instead of getting promoted to Creative Director, he gets a new boss, Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt). It turns out that the advertising agency needs to appeal to women consumers, and the Swedish bikini team just does not send the right message. Darcy hands out a pink box filled with products for the staff to explore, and Nick does his best, experimenting with mascara, leg wax, nail polish, and exfoliater. But an accidental near-electrocution leaves him with a new power — the ability to hear women’s thoughts.

At first horrified, Nick realizes that there are some real advantages to being the only straight man in the world who knows how women think. He uses it to manipulate women, including Darcy and a pretty coffee shop waitress (Marisi Tomei). But it turns out that women do not think about Nick the way that he thought they did, and he is forced to think about himself in a new way. Nick has never listened to women before, but now he can’t help it. He sees the damage that he has done, and he begins to correct it. And of course he begins to fall in love with Darcy and to connect to his daughter.

Gibson is sheer heaven in the movie, dancing to Frank Sinatra in his apartment, watching his daughter try on prom dresses, or just reacting to snippits of thoughts he hears from girls, women, and even female dogs as he walks down the street. He has the physical grace of a leading man and the timing and unselfconsciousness of a comic. The script sags in places, but Gibson keeps the movie floating in the clouds.

Parents should know that the movie has stronger language than indicated by the previews. Nick manipulates the waitress into having sex with him by reading her thoughts. He is apalled to hear her thoughts in bed and find out what a poor lover he is. So, he listens to her thoughts and is able to give her an extraordinary experience which leaves her deeply touched. He then forgets all about her, until she confronts him a week later. He take the only out he can think of to explain why he had not called her — he tells her that he is gay.

Nick hears his daughter thinking that she has promised to have sex with her boyfriend on prom night. After an awkward attempt to talk to her about it, he neglects her until crisis strikes. Fortunately, she manages to make the right decision without him, and he is there after the fact to provide some support. Nick drinks a lot, and another character responds to stress by smoking a joint. In an embarassing moment, Darcy says, “A smart person would get very drunk now.” And a character plans to commit suicide.

Families should talk about whether it is hard for men and women to figure each other out, and how they can do better. They may also want to talk about the pressure Nick’s 15-year-old daughter feels to have sex with her 18-year-old boyfriend and how she decides what to do about it. They should also talk about how a small act of kindness can be very important to someone who is coping with depression. (But make sure that children know that clinical depression is a serious illness that cannot be “cured” by a few kind words.)

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “You’ve Got Mail.”

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