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New in Theaters
  New to DVD

Grandma
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language and some drug use
Release Date:
August 21, 2015

 

Iris
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some strong language
Release Date:
May 1, 2015

We Are Your Friends
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language throughout, drug use, sexual content and some nudity
Release Date:
August 28, 2015

 

Aloha
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some language including suggestive comments
Release Date:
May 30, 2015

Z for Zachariah
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, partial nudity, and brief strong language
Release Date:
August 28, 2015

 

Big Game
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some language
Release Date:
June 26, 2015

New in Theaters

grade:
B+

Grandma

Lowest Recommended Age:
Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language and some drug use
Release Date:
August 21, 2015
grade:
B-

We Are Your Friends

Lowest Recommended Age:
Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language throughout, drug use, sexual content and some nudity
Release Date:
August 28, 2015
grade:
B+

Z for Zachariah

Lowest Recommended Age:
High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, partial nudity, and brief strong language
Release Date:
August 28, 2015

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New to DVD

pick of the week
grade:
B+

Iris

Lowest Recommended Age:
Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some strong language
Release Date:
May 1, 2015
grade:
B

Aloha

Lowest Recommended Age:
High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some language including suggestive comments
Release Date:
May 30, 2015
grade:
B

Big Game

Lowest Recommended Age:
Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, and some language
Release Date:
June 26, 2015

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Broken Flowers

posted by rkumar
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005
A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date: 2005

George Orwell said that by age 50 every man has the face he deserves. Now in Hollywood, by age 50 it’s more likely that movie stars pretty much have the faces they can buy (are you listening, Cher? Meg Ryan? Burt Reynolds?). We are all grateful to those, like Bill Murray, who know how to use a face that has been lived in. The pouches under his eyes tell the story and make it interesting and sad and funny all at the same time. His is just one of a set of brilliantly complex and vivid performances that make this film a moving exploration of all we do to find meaning in our lives.

In “Broken Flowers,” Murray plays Don Johnston. He keeps having to emphasize the “t” when people think he shares the name of the actor from “Miami Vice.” But his name is really a reference to the legendary ladies’ man, Don Juan. When we first see Don, he is sitting on the sofa of his big, luxurious, but somewhat sterile home, watching the 1934 movie The Private Life of Don Juan on television. The most recent of his many girlfriends (Julie Delpy) tells him she is leaving him. He is vaguely distressed, but does not try to argue with her. if he was not exactly expecting her to leave, he seems resigned to it.

Then he receives an unsigned letter typed on pink paper, from a woman who says she had his child 19 years earlier. Don’s next door neighbor Winston (the terrific Jeffrey Wright) is a loving family man and an amateur detective. He assembles a dossier for Don, complete with plane tickets and Mapquest directions on how to find the four likeliest prospects for having written the letter. He sends Don off, telling him to be alert for the color pink and for evidence of a typewriter. Don goes, not because he is as interested as Winston is in finding out whether he has a son but because he doesn’t really have anything else to do.

So, Don goes off on a journey, but, this being a Jim Jarmusch movie, it is more about mood and moment than motion. There is a sense of sequence, as each of the women is emotionally and literally less accessible than the one before.

Sharon Stone is Laura (perhaps a reference to the great love of Petrarch?), the widow of a race car driver and the mother of the aptly named Lolita. She is completely warm and inviting, with no expectations or demands, genuinely glad to welcome Don and no illusions about how long he will stay.

Dora (perhaps a reference to the great love of David Copperfield?), played by Frances Conroy of HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” is now a very proper realtor living in an antiseptic McMansion with her husband. But she manages to exchange some glances with Don that show she shares some fond memories.

Carmen (Jessica Lange) (perhaps a reference to the operatic femme fatale?) is more withholding, answering Don’s questions as though each word is costing her money. Is there a romantic relationship with her female colleague? How did she go from being a lawyer to being a…pet psychologist? And then there is Penny (maybe a reference to Penelope, who waited for Ulysses to come home), played by Tilda Swinton, almost unrecognizable under Morticia Addams-style hair. She has nothing to say to Don; she just decks him and tells the current man in her life to beat him up. The last woman on the list is dead. Don places a pink bouquet on her grave.

People keep telling Don he is a Don Juan, but if that’s true, it’s not in the traditional sense. He never tries to romance any of these women, and when a woman he meets along the way indicates that she might be interested, he does not respond to her. He seems to walk through life in a cloud. Back at home, he tells Winston the mystery has not been solved. And then he has an intriguing but ambiguous encounter that raises the question of questions themselves, and whether answers really matter.

Parents should know that the movie includes some extremely strong language, sexual references and situations, nudity, drinking and drug use, and brief violence.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Don made the choices that he did and what he and Winston think of each other. What do you think happened in his relationships with Laura, Dora, Carmen, Penny, and Sherry?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Murray in Lost in Translation and Jarmusch’s other films, including Mystery Train and Stranger than Paradise.

The Dukes of Hazzard

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005
C+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date: 2005

If you think that seeing a nutty fat guy in saggy white underpants blowing things up is funny, then this movie might be for you.

Otherwise, don’t bother. The single biggest challenge for a “lunchbox movie” (a movie that gets produced because some studio executive once had the lunchbox from the television show) is to figure out who its audience is. The Brady Bunch Movie was aimed at its now-grown-up former fans, and hit the right note of ironic nostalgia by keeping the Bradys in the 1970’s time warp by rerun-watching fans who made it a bigger hit in syndication than it was on the air. The first Charlie’s Angels took what worked about the show and updated it, balancing a bit of a self-awareness with genuine sweetness.

But “Dukes” cranks up the sunny, carefree, cornepone quality of the original television series. Instead of amplifying the simple pleasures of the original, it exposes the weak points. The humor is raunchier and the chases and explosions more intense and thus harder to think of as good-natured fun. It’s too gross for kids and too thin for teens and adults. It all backfires worse than the General Lee before a tune-up by Cooter.

The plot is exactly the same as most episodes of the television series. Will Mean Old Boss Hogg take the family farm away from the good old boys, cousins Bo, Luke, and Daisy Duke and Uncle Jesse? Will Bo and his beloved General Lee, a souped-up 1969 Dodge Charger, win the big race? Will there be some car chases and good old boy hijinks, and some gorgeous babes? Okay, we were not expecting suspense or surprises; so how enjoyable is the ride to the conclusion?

Not very. The few pleasures of this movie are just recognition laughs and signifiers. The most enthusiastic audience response in the screening I attended was when the director, Jay Chandrasekhar, appeared in a brief cameo echoing his appearance in the gross-out comedy, Super Troopers. They weren’t laughing at anything he did in this movie; they were just happy to be reminded of another movie. Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Jessica Simpson, and Willie Nelson as Bo, Luke, Daisy, and Jesse Duke, don’t even attempt to give anything resembling performances, though Knoxville scrunches up his face a time or two. Burt Reynolds enjoys himself a little too much as Boss Hogg. The most appealing performance is from David Koechner as Cooter. There is one funny joke, early on, relating to a recorded book, and the film gets some credit for attempting to address the issue of the Confederate flag image on the General Lee and for providing one police officer immune to Daisy’s appeal. But it is a dull, meandering, pointless film that takes for granted our interest in a souped-up version of the television show. The show created a Hazzard county we liked to visit, with people who had simple, good hearts. The movie, like Johnny Knoxville, has a nasty smirk that leaves you thinking that maybe strip-mining might be an improvement over this version of Hazzard County.

Parents should know that the movie is raunchy for a PG-13 with sexual humor (including a joke about beastiality and some homophobic humor) and sexual references and situations (all the girls in the movie are scantily clad and find the Duke brothers irresistible). There is brief nudity (mooning) and suggested nudity. Characters drink (scene in a bar) and there is as much drug humor as the MPAA will permit in a PG-13 film. There is some strong and crude language. A character pretends to be religious. While the film attempts to address the insensitivity of the original General Lee’s having a Confederate flag on its roof, it typically tries to have it both ways — they keep it there but it provokes some angry responses from both white and black characters. Similarly, the film tries to make bombshell Daisy Duke a bit more up-to-date but, as she says about the role she plays in Hazzard, “Those two are going to get in trouble and land in jail and I am going to have to shake my ass at somebody to get them out.” And the movie has constant “action-style” violence, meaning situations that would normally be lethal (cars crash and burst into flames) but in Hazzard County are just for grins.

Families who see this movie should talk about what makes Bo, Luke, and Daisy the good guys, even though they break the law, and Boss Hogg the bad guy, even though he more often abides by the law.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the DVDs of the original television series and the music of Willie Nelson, who sings the theme song originally performed on the television show by Waylon Jennings. An equally good theme song for this film might be Dierks Bentley’s “What Was I Thinking?” And families may appreciate the original “Appalachian-American” comedy, Li’l Abner and the original cornpone car movie, Smokey and the Bandit, with Reynolds, Sally Field, and Jackie Gleason. Fans of the television series will enjoy the website and museum created by Cooter (Ben Jones).

Stealth

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
Movie Release Date:2005
C+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Movie Release Date: 2005

The middle of the summer is always the time for a big, dumb, loud explosion movie, with a lot of thumping bass to show how manly it all is, and “Stealth” has arrived right on schedule. Its name is a likely indicator of its performance at the box office.

Normally, I try not to describe movies in terms of other movies, but this lazy cut-and-paste doesn’t deserve any better. So, basically, it’s Top Gun meets War Games.

Three hotshot “Mod Squad”-style fighter pilots (one black guy, one white guy, one white woman) are assigned to work with a new partner — a robot-controlled plane called EDI that has been programmed with every possible kind of data, strategic option, and gizmo. Of course it has very fancy artifical intelligence and the “capacity to learn.” On its first mission, it observes Ben (Josh Lucas) defy orders to destroy a target, and it adopts this strategy and begins to break the rules, starting with some real bad-boy behavior: downloading music from the internet (“How many songs?” “All of them.”) Either they’re right about what loud music does to your brain or it was that lightning strike the plane took, but its neural pathways get scrambled and reconnected and during the next mission it decides to think for itself, with its own survival as top priority.

Have we seen this before? Well, start with “The Sorceror’s Apprentice,” and Frankenstein and Icarus and every other hubris story ever written, and then think about Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and Failsafe. And Short Circuit. And a little bit of the legend of John Henry, who thought that people could work better than machines.

Somewhere amidst the explosions there are some embarrassed-looking actors who are much more talented than this movie deserves. As the three pilots, Josh Lucas does most of his acting with his dimple, Jamie Foxx has a good moment dancing in his cabin but otherwise looks like he is hoping that Oscar will give him some better opportunities next time, and Jessica Biel looks brave and smart and wears a bikini well. Sam Shepard as their commanding officer looks like he’d rather be writing plays. Joe Morton adds some dignity and class as the Captain of the aircraft carrier.

The dialogue is clunky technobabble and clunkier attempts at attitude. “Records are made to be broken,” says one hotshot. “Rules, too, if I remember your philosophy,” responds a commanding officer. Oh, and “It’s not a clock radio we’re dealing with!”

The story is clunky, too. Isn’t it handy that three of the world’s most dangerous terrorists happen to be all together in an abandoned building so that if we blow it up no one else will get hurt? And isn’t it even handier that somehow all US and international laws have been suspended so that we’re allowed to send in the Navy to kill them even though they have never been tried, aren’t doing anything right now to threaten anyone, haven’t consulted with any other countries, and are far from any place where we’re at war? Who cares, when it’s a chance to blow stuff up?

“I don’t think war should be a video game,” says one character. Well, I don’t think a movie should be, either.

Parents should know that the movie features non-stop action violence, including shooting and dropping bombs. There is some discussion of the moral issues with regard to collateral damage (injury to innocent civilians). Characters are hurt and killed and there is a suicide. Characters use strong and crude language, give the finger, and drink (scene in a bar). There are sexual references including a joke about group sex and references to casual sex. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of srong and capable diverse characters working together with respect and loyalty, though (spoiler alert) the movie perpetuates one cliche about the disposability of the minority character.

Families who see this movie should talk about how we can make the best use of machines and humans. How do we know when to follow the rules?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Top Gun and War Games as well as Failsafe and Behind Enemy Lines.

The Island

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2005
B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date: 2005

Director Michael Bay knows how to blow things up. Between Armageddon, Pearl Harbor and, now, “The Island,” he has boldly used his camera for visual extravaganzas that are designed to amaze even the jaded summer audience. What he has seldom done until now is to pay a jot of attention to the inter-personal pyrotechnics, and as a result his movies tend to feel like attending a crowded fireworks display — a lot of work for 20 minutes of awe. This time around he (almost) gets it right. For audiences seeking an entertaining get-away, this “Island” might just be your destination.

Lincoln (Ewan McGregor, looking positively in love with life post-Star Wars) lives in a highly sterile, self-enclosed planet of a place, monitored constantly along with the hundreds of others who, like him, wear white track suits and abide by the rules set by black-clad staff. The denizens of this next generation health spa have their dreams, behavior, exercise, interaction, meals and “work” monitored constantly and disruptions in any of their activities or thoughts get them a counseling appointment with Merrick (Sean Bean). They all believe that they are living in a sterile environment to protect them from the contamination outside but that they will each have the chance to one day go to the “island”, the last ecologically viable place where they can live out their days in the natural light.

A questioning mind, Lincoln finds a flying bug that leads him to the truth about the place. The giant compound is “hatching” cloned humans in order to provide organs and other bits and pieces to rich, powerful people outside in the real world. He grabs best friend, Jordan (Scarlett Johansson), and makes a break for it with the reluctant assistance of mechanic, McCord (Steve Buscemi). Needless to say, Merrick has something to say about their escape and the resulting chase scenes, greatly enhanced by the presence of Albert Laurent (Djimon Hounsou), cause enough explosions to rattle your popcorn and take you to the edge of your seat, if not to the promised island paradise.

Are there scenes here that seem borrowed? Yes, Blade Runner, Freejack, The Matrix, The Tower, even The Blue Lagoon, and others have clearly inspired some of the dialogue, even sections of the plot. However, the beauty of many of the scenes as well as the lead characters keep it from feeling stale and the innocence factor is certainly a welcome touch, as light and original as a first kiss. The commercials in this movie weigh it down more than any awkward plot or dialogue patches and the resulting breaks in momentum make the ride seem bumpy until the next explosion distracts the senses again.

Parents should know that there is significant violence, bloodshed, and death both onscreen and implied in this movie. Characters are killed, in several cases after they have fulfilled their “function” by either giving birth or having body parts removed. There are references to debilitating diseases, injuries, sexually transmitted disease, mass-murder, and acting illegally for gain. There is an implicit sex scene, references to sex and to homosexuality. Characters lie, deceive and kill to cover up their secrets. Frequent peril and lengthy, loud chase scenes will scare younger viewers, as will the sight of the cloning “sacks”, filled with living tissue.

Families that see this movie might like to discuss the relationship between Lincoln and his clone. Lincoln says he has been searching for something that his clone has found, how are their lives contrasted? They might also wish to discuss the frequent references to doctors with “god-complexes” and how the character of Merrick personifies this approach. How does Merrick make his work possible and acceptable?

Families that enjoy this movie might like to watch “Bladerunner”, which picks up on the theme of humanity in androids instead of clones. Themes of justice and rights in the future are also raised in Minority Report.

They might also like to read such books as “Spares” (about clones) or “The Handmaiden’s Tale” (about using people as breeders), both of which have mature content.

Thanks to guest critic AME.

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