Movie Mom

Movie Mom

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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

Planet of the Apes

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2001

lTim Burton’s “Planet of the Apes” is less a remake than a re-imagining of the classic staring Charlton Heston. This version has no loincloth and no Statue of Liberty, and no Roddy McDowell, but Heston does show up for a surprisingly effective cameo — as one of the apes.

Mark Wahlberg plays Leo, an officer in the United States Air Force, working on a space station in 2029. An exploratory aircraft piloted by a monkey disappears into a mysterious electrical field. Against the orders of his commanding officer, Leo follows it to find out what happened. The storm hurtles him through time and space until he crashes on a planet where apes rule and humans are slaves. Ari (Helena Bonham Carter) helps Leo and some of the others escape to a forbidden city that will reveal some of the planet’s history. But General Thade (Tim Roth) and his army are in pursuit with orders to destroy them. As Burton promised in interviews, this version does not use the now-famous ending in the first film that showed them the planet they had landed on was Earth. This one ends with a twist that may even top it.

As in all of Burton’s movies, including “Beetlejuice” and “Edward Scissorhands,” the art direction is intricate, meticulous, and strangely beautiful. Every detail is a work of art, from the texture of the ape armor to the outline of the spaceship.

Wahlberg makes an appealing, all-American hero, though he is not up to the task of delivering a brief pep talk to the assembled humans. He is no Kenneth Branaugh in “Henry V.” He is not even Bill Pullman in “Independence Day.” But he is fine in the action scenes and he handles the challenge of kissing females of two different species with reasonable finesse. Overall, the simian performers are better and more believable than the humans. Bonham Carter makes a remarkably fetching ape, flirting through her bangs and using her eyes and body language to deliver a real performance. She has far more range of expression than Estella Warren (of “Driven”) as a feisty human in a costume that seems left over from Raquel Welch in “One Million B.C.” Roth is a seething presence as the bad guy, Michael Clarke Duncan gives physical and emotional weight to the role of the loyal officer, and Paul Giametti is hilarious as a slave trader held hostage.

Parents should know that the movie features intense and prolonged peril, a great deal of violence, and many deaths, including characters we care about. Characters are beaten and branded. There is a brief mild sexual situation and some strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about the way that Burton makes unabashedly clear the parallels between the views of the apes toward humans and the views of racists and other bigots on Earth. Like those who have argued for segregation, apartheid, genocide, and “ethnic cleansing,” the apes find justification for their oppression of humans by insisting that humans are inferior creatures who have no souls or by demonizing them. The apes seem to have no problem with sub-species distinctions, and different kinds of apes work and socialize without any distinctions.

Families who enjoy this movie should see the original and some of its sequels to compare them. They, too, served as a metaphor for racial divides in an era in which it was much easier to put some of the dialogue about equal rights and revolution into the mouths of apes than people. They should also read Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, a stunning book about a wise ape who teaches his human pupil to think about the world in a completely different way. I promise, when you are done with the book, you will do the same.

Peter Pan

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Movie Release Date:1953
DVD Release Date:February 4, 2013

Disney’s latest release is a beautiful Blu-Ray of one of its animated classics, the Disney version of the Victorian classic about the boy who would never grow up. Wendy, Michael, and John Darling, three London children, meet Peter Pan, a boy who can fly. He has been drawn to their warm, comfortable home, and to Wendy’s stories. He sprinkles them with fairy dust and they fly off past the “second star to the right,” where he lives in a magical place called Neverland. There they rescue an Indian princess, and fight pirates led by Captain Hook, before returning home to wave goodbye as Peter returns to Neverland without them.

The animation in this movie is as lively as its energetic hero. The scenes set in Victorian London are beautiful, and the shift in perspective as the children round Big Ben and fly off to Neverland is sublimely vertiginous.

Most children see Peter as that wonderful ideal, a child with the power to do whatever he pleases for as long as he pleases. The story does have moments that are whimsical but also very odd — the nanny is a dog, the crocodile that ate Captain Hook’s hand keeps following him for another taste, Peter loses his shadow, the Lost Boys have no parents, and unlike Peter, no special powers, fairy guardian, or unquenchable brio. Some children find this engaging, but a few find it troublesome, or worry about what happened to Peter’s parents and whether he will be all right without them. They may also be sad that the story ends with Peter bringing the Darling children home and then going back to Neverland without them.

Parents should know that the “What Makes the Red Man Red” song is embarrassingly racist and sexist. There is also a sexist overlay to the entire story, with Peter rapturously adored by all the females and at best indifferent in return. A best-selling pop psychology book of some years ago played off of this notion, theorizing that some men suffer from “The Peter Pan Syndrome” (fear of commitment), dividing women into two categories, mother-figure “Wendys” and playmate “Tinkerbells.” Tinkerbell, who is, of course, a fairy, is the only female in the story who is capable of much action other than nurturing, and she is petty and spiteful (though ultimately loyal). When he first meets Wendy, Peter says “Girls talk too much,” which one boy who watched with me thought was rapturously funny.

Families who watch this movie should talk about these questions: Have you ever thought that you didn’t want to grow up? Have you ever thought that you’d like to be a grown up right now? What would you do? Would you like to visit Neverland?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the many other versions of this popular story. Interestingly, this animated version was the first to feature a real boy (instead of a woman) in the title role. The Mary Martin version for television that parents of today’s kids may remember from their own childhoods is available on video, with Cyril Ritchard impeccable as Mr. Darling/Captain Hook, and a terrific score that includes “I’m Flying” and “Tender Shepherd.” A remake with Cathy Rigby as a very athletic Peter is also very good. Don’t waste your time on Steven Spielberg’s 1991 sequel, “Hook,” with Robin Williams as a grown- up Peter Pan who must go back to rescue his children from Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook with the help of Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell. The stars, the production design, and some spectacular special effects cannot make up for the incoherent joylessness of the script and genuinely disturbing moments like the death of one of the lost boys.

Pearl Harbor

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2001

Remember when Humphrey Bogart told Ingrid Bergman that “it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world?” Well, this is a story that comes down on the side of the hill of beans.

Although it tries mightily to follow the “Titanic” formula, “Pearl Harbor” is not going to inspire the same “let’s go see it again” spirit. Like “Titanic” (and “The Perfect Storm,” and “Twister,” and a zillion others), this movie attempts to tie a love story to a catastrophe, with the theory that if it can make us care, make us gasp, and make us cry, they’ll have a box-office bonanza. But both the love story and the war story have a synthetic feel to them that does not permit us to care enough. It’s worth seeing – but only once.

After a brief prologue, in which we meet the two male leads as young boys to see their passion for flying and their loyalty to each other, we open as the war is going on in Europe. America is sending equipment and supplies, but has not yet entered the war. The two boys, Rafe (Ben Affleck) and Danny (Josh Hartnett) are army pilots. Anxious to get some action, Rafe volunteers to go to England, where he can join an American division of the RAF. Before he leaves, he meets a pretty nurse named Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale) and they fall in love. He leaves for England, and Danny and Evelyn are assigned half a world away, to the Naval Station at Pearl Harbor. When Rafe is reported killed, Evelyn and Danny are devastated. They comfort each other, and become involved. Rafe arrives to find them together, just before the Japanese attack. That attack, lasting just about as long on screen as it did in reality, is devastating to the unprepared Naval Station and to a country that thought it could stay out of the war. But Rafe and Danny train for a counter-attack on Tokyo to send Japan a message that America can and will punish those who attack us.

Director Michael Bay (“Armageddon”) has visual flair and superb command of action sequences. There are some nice moments, like Evelyn’s arrival at the hospital in Pearl Harbor, rows of neat white beds with just one occupant, being treated for sunburn. Dan Ackroyd is fine as an intelligence officer and Jon Voight, somewhere under a lot of make-up, shows us FDR’s compassion, political skill, and intelligence. Affleck, Hartnett, and Beckinsale look gorgeous and do their best to give some depth to the cardboard characters, but they cannot overcome a soapy plot and dialogue that is often wooden and sometimes wildly anachronistic. I do not think that anyone in 1941 spoke of somone’s “having too much time on their hands.” And I am pretty sure that no one, seeing the bombs dropping on Pearl Harbor, concluded that “World War II has just started.” For one thing, the war in Europe had been going on for a while, and for another, they had not started calling “The Great War” “World War I” yet. Rafe writes a lot of letters for a guy who is dyslexic. And can we please, please agree never again to have one of those scenes where some hot-shot flyboys break the rules and are then called on the carpet by crusty commanders who come across all disciplinarian but call them son and thinly disguise the “that’s just how I used to behave” twinkle in their eyes? We know producer Jerry Bruckheimer had a hit with “Top Gun,” but he does not have to make this one into “Maverick and Goose Go to War.”

Like last year’s “The Patriot,” the movie fails to provide any sense of the reason for the conflict. When asked why he fights, a character says nothing about freedom or fighting the Nazis. He just says that he wants “to matter,” a disconcertingly me-oriented answer from a would-be representative of the greatest generation.

No one wants them to demonize the people we fought in World War II, but they go too far in the other direction. It’s almost as though they were more interested in selling tickets in Japan than in giving any substance to the story. Cuba Gooding, Jr. does his best with a part that is awkwardly inserted into the main storyline.

The movie bends over backwards to be fair to the Japanese, portraying them as brave and loyal. But it is also dismayingly US-centric, showing (inaccurately) both the English and the Japanese in awe of American spirit and strength. The Japanese general says that he fears they have “awakened the sleeping giant.” And Rafe’s British commander says that if other Americans are like Rafe, he feels sorry for anyone who goes to battle with the US.

Parents should know that the movie features extended and intense battle violence with thousands of casualties, including characters we care about. Soldiers use strong language and joke about seduction techniques. A couple decides not to have sex because they do not want to have any regrets. Another couple does have sex and the woman becomes pregnant. Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays a real-life hero of World War II, the first black man to win the Navy Cross. The woman may be there because they thought it would be exciting and they would meet men, but when they are needed, they are strong, brave, and dedicated.

Famiies who see this movie should talk about the events that led to World War II and about some of the real-life characters who are depicted. Make sure that they know that in 1941 the armed services were segregated. The character played by Cuba Gooding, Jr., Dorie Miller, like most other black soldiers, was not trained to fight and was assigned to cooking and menial jobs.

Characters in the movie face choices that are well worth family discussion. Why didn’t the US realize how vulnerable it was to attack? How do you decide which wounded to help? What should Evelyn have done when Rafe returned? Why did the pilots volunteer for the raid on Japan?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other Michael Bay action spectaculars like “Armageddon” and “The Rock.” Fans of WWII movies will do better with “Saving Private Ryan,” “Mr. Roberts,” and “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” with Spencer Tracy as the real-life James Doolittle, portrayed in “Pearl Harbor” by Alec Baldwin. Mature audiences will also appreciate “From Here to Eternity,” a brilliant movie about soldiers stationed at Pearl Harbor before the attack.

Pay it Forward

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

A child challenged to change the world comes up with a plan. He will do three important favors for people who need them. Then, instead of allowing them to pay it back, he will ask each of them to “pay it forward,” doing three favors for other people, and asking them to do the same. One character describes it as a “Mother Theresa conga line.” The principle is the same as multi-level-marketing, except that instead of soap or vitamins, it’s “generosity between strangers” that is being passed on exponentially.

Trevor has every reason to believe that life is harsh and painful. His parents are alcoholics and his father is either absent or abusive. He walks into school every day through a metal detector. Outside his classroom window is an endless expanse of desert. And his mother works two jobs in a city filled with despair, Las Vegas.

But Eugene encourages his students to “backflip” the world into something better. He does not expect much — maybe a clean-up of some graffiti. But he gets Trevor’s utopian idea.

If that theme appeals to you and you’d like to see three of the finest actors ever put on film, then you are the audience for this movie. If it sounds syrupy, go see something else. As for me, I’m in the first category, and my heart was happily warmed and my tears happily jerked.

Trevor, the 7th grader who comes up with the idea, is played by Haley Joel Osment, nominated for an Oscar last year for his performance in “The Sixth Sense.” Again, he shows us an extraordinary child, wise and sensitive beyond his years because of what he has had to face, but still completely believeable as an 11-year-old. Helen Hunt is heartbreaking as Arlene, a recovering alcoholic with a history of loss and abuse. And Kevin Spacey is breathtaking in a role that is a departure from the tough and wily guys he played in “The Usual Suspects,” “Wiseguy,” “Swimming with the Sharks,” and “L.A. Confidential.” He plays middle school teacher Eugene Simonet, scarred inside and out. One of Trevor’s favors is to bring Eugene and Arlene together, though it turns out that is is not just to make them happier.

Arlene and Eugene put all of their effort into making sure they do not get hurt again until they learn that it is risking hurt that makes us alive. Trevor’s idea does not always work, but when it does, people are transformed, not by the favors others do for them as much as by the favors they do for the next people in the chain. We get a glimpse of its impact as the story is interwoven with scenes four months into the future, as a reporter tries to track down the source of the mysterious acts of generosity.

Parents should know that there is some strong language, and characters abuse alcohol and drugs, including heroin and marijuana. There are references to the most severe domestic abuse. There are some fights, one resulting in mortal injury. A character attempts suicide. Another shoots his gun, though no one is injured. There is some strong language. A character dies tragically. There are sexual references, including references to having to be drunk to have sex and there is a discreet sexual situation. Scenes take place in a tawdry Las Vegas setting with skimpy clothing and strippers. A character’s burn scars may be upsetting. Pre-teens and teen-agers may be especially concerned by the violence that occurs at a school, despite the metal-detectors kids walk through as they enter.

Families should talk about the pay it forward idea. Would it work? What favors would family members like to do? Why is “routine” so important to Eugene? Why do we see him ironing his shirt twice in the movie? Why do we see Eugene sitting at a student’s desk when he talks to Trevor? Why does Trevor say that “it has to be hard?” Families should also talk about Trevor’s comment that the most important thing is watching people, paying attention to things they may not even know they need. Some families will also want to dicuss whether there is a religious allusion in the death of one character.

Families who enjoy this movie will also like “Magnificent Obsession” and “Field of Dreams.”

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