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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

Old School

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

After a long, long series of gross-out slob would-be comedies that thought it was enough to be disgusting, it is a relief if not always a pleasure to see one that has some very funny moments. Yes, it is morally bankrupt and completely politically incorrect. But what can I say, I laughed.

Think of “Old School” as the reunion of the gang from Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds. Three 30-year-old men, feeling squashed by responsibilities (represented by women), end up turning a house into a fraternity with all of the fun of torturing pledges, throwing wild parties, and essentially relinquishing all trappings of civilization.

In even the best of this genre, there is about a five-to-one joke ratio of failures to successes. It really isn’t very funny when a character finds out after the fact that the young lady he had sex with while drunk was not just a high school student, but the daughter of his boss; when a character calls out “earmuffs” to his six year old son so that the boy will cover his ears when his father is about to use bad language; when a character’s wife asks for a divorce just weeks after their marriage; or when an elderly character is so struck by the sight of slicked-up topless girls waiting to wrestle him that he keels over dead. But over and over, Will Farrell and Vince Vaughn throw themselves so completely into the material that they make it work much more often than it deserves.

Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of very mature and sometimes offensive material. There are homophobic references, a stereotyped Jewish character (wearing a “chai” necklace) shows up for group sex, characters drink to excess, and have casual sex. There are references to group sex and to other activities like wrestling with topless girls covered in KY jelly. There is a “fun” blow-up doll. A group of women hire a man to teach them how to give oral sex and we see them practicing on vegetables. The fraternity is welcoming to men of all races and ages and — aside from some hazing of the pledges — the men are all very supportive of each other. One character who seems most bent on abandoning all rules turns down sex with a young women because he will not cheat on his wife.

Families who see this movie should talk about whether people need to feel that their responsibilities are suffocating when they become adults.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, and a more serious treatment of some of these themes, Lord of the Flies.

Gods and Generals

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

Sometimes, what is best for history is not best for drama. And here, where we know how the story of the Civil War ends, the film-maker’s relentless even-handedness removes whatever drama the story might have had by making every one of the characters endlessly honorable, devoted to God, home, and family, good to the slaves, and able to spout poetry, the classics, or the Bible in the midst of the direst circumstances.

This is a movie where the Confederate general Stonewall Jackson (still so revered in Virginia that the place he died is not called a memorial, but a shrine) calls the black man he is about to hire as a cook “Mr. Lewis,” and where Mr. Lewis is so well educated, despite being from a part of the country where educating black people is illegal, that he quotes Napoleon. Later on, General Jackson explains to Mr. Lewis that the South would like to free all the slaves. It just wants to do that without being forced to by the federal government, so that the South can build an enduring friendship with the people who were kidnapped and sold into bondage. Meanwhile, on the other side, a Northern officer who will become the most decorated soldier in the Union army, tells his brother that the war was not fought about slavery, but now that it is underway, it is so terrible that it has to be justifed by making some great, sweeping, change for justice.

So, the bottom line is that this careful, meticulous, lovingly crafted three and a half hour movie feels even longer. Its PG-13 television-ready (it will be expanded to six hours for a miniseries) level of violence may make it suitable for junior high history class field trips, but does not truly convey the tragic carnage of the war that had Americans fighting with each other. All the soldiers have nice uniforms and enough to eat. Officers at the front get visits from their devoted wives at places that 150 years later will be made into quaint bed and breakfast inns. And everyone is on the right side.

And — everyone encompasses a lot of people. Hard core Civil War buffs (there were a couple in the screening I attended in full uniform) may be able to follow the endless series of characters and their advances and retreats, all identified with brief subtitles, but anyone else will have a hard time.

The movie gives us too little information, but it also gives us too much, telegraphing its developments and themes. We can tell when an officer tells a general that he has a better idea and the general rejects it because his plan has been approved by Lincoln that it is a mistake. And we can tell when an impossibly cute little girl becomes too important to a character that she won’t make it to the end of the story.

Parents should know that the movie has sustained battle violence and bloody scenes of caring for wounded soldiers. Many characters die.

Families who see this movie should talk about the way that more than 160 years later, people in the United States still disagree about the causes and effects of the Civil War (which some still call the War Between the States). What did the soldiers on both sides have in common? What were their differences? Given what is going on in the world right now, what did we learn?

Families who want to know more about the Civil War should watch the superb PBS series by Ken Burns, which makes its characters more vivid and its storyline more compelling than this fictional version. They should also see three outstanding movies about the Civil War, Glory, Friendly Persuasion, and The Red Badge of Courage. Thoughtful teens and adults should read the Pulitzer prize-winning The Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz, about the power that the Civil War still holds over many Americans today.

Dark Blue

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

This is an ambitious movie. It takes a cop who is corrupt in an ends-justify-the-means sense and contrasts him with a cop who is corrupt in a what’s-in-it-for-me sense and arranges for them to clash just as the jury in the first Rodney King case is deliberating on a verdict.

But when this movie succeeds, it is not in its attempt at a broader statement about integrity and responsibility in a world that is racist and dishonorable. Its strength is in its fine performances and in its smaller moments. Its weakness is a climax that is both melodramatic and formulaic and its unfortunate resemblance to the flashier Training Day by the same screenwriter.

Like that movie, this is the story of a rogue police detective teaching a young partner how to do things his way. Eldon Perry, Jr. (Kurt Russell) comes from a family of lawmen as far back as anyone can remember. He learned from his father what he is trying to pass on to his new partner, Bobby (Scott Speedman) — anything he can do to rid the world of one more bad guy is all right. Bobby is the nephew of Eldon’s mentor and boss, played by Brendan Gleeson (Gangs of New York).

The movie is not subtle. The cops who wear the uniform are the good guys and the bad guys are very, very bad. The quadruple homicide-robbery that puts the story into play is, even these days, shockingly casual in its brutality. And the last twenty minutes are embarassingly preposterous. But Russell, an underappreciated actor, gives a thoughtful, heartfelt performance that beautifully illuminates the movie’s themse of decay and redemption.

Parents should know that this movie includes extreme peril and brutal violence. Innocent people are casually murdered. Characters abuse liquor, smoke, and use drugs. There is extremely strong language, including racist epithets. There are sexual references and situations, including adultery and a sexual relationship between people who intentionally know nothing about one another. A theme of the movie is the parallel between the corruption of the police force and the corruption of the surrounding society, and that is reflected in behavior that is greedy, disloyal, bigoted, and cruel.

Families who see this movie should talk about how even people who abandon core values have their own value systems. Where do we see TK’s limits? What makes him hit bottom and decide to change? Family members too young to remember the Rodney King trial should look at this site for further information. And everyone should remember King’s famous question, “Can’t we all get along?”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Training Day and Internal Affairs.

Daredevil

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

This may be another Marvel comic superhero movie rated PG-13, but it is a much darker story than “Spiderman,” and parents whose 8 and 9 or even 13-year-olds loved that movie should think carefully before agreeing to let them see this one.

Matt Murdock lives in “Hell’s Kitchen” a tough part of town where bullies of all kinds prey on the vulnerable. His father, a boxer, is killed for refusing to take a dive in a fixed fight. Matt, blind from an accident that also left him with his other senses super-enhanced, vows to become a righter of wrongs and a force for justice.

But is he a force for justice or a murderous vigilante? When he loses a case in court, allowing a rapist to go free, Daredevil doesn’t just go after him; he slaughters a whole roomfull of bad guys. At least, they must be bad guys, even though we don’t really see them do anything bad except for looking tough and fighting for their lives. Even Daredevil himself is not entirely sure that he is one of the good guys.

Murdock meets Elektra, whose fragrance is so tantalizing that he follows her out of a coffee shop. They end up taking each other on in a fight in a playground that serves the same function for them that dance numbers did for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers — it’s their way to size each other up, and it’s their foreplay. At one point, he says, “Are you holding back?” she says, “Yes,” and he says, “Don’t.” Clearly, they were made for each other.

But there are complications, mostly the work of a crime kingpin named…Kingpin and his hired Irish assassin, Bullseye (Colin Farrell, for once using his original accent). There are misunderstandings, choices, and lessons, but mostly there are fights.

The fights are very good, but it is clear that that is where most of the creative energy went in this movie. Affleck does not act very much, and if he did, most of it would be hidden by Murdock’s sunglasses and Daredevil’s mask. Garner brings energy and freshness to her role, and Farrell is, as usual, the most watchable part of the movie. There are some fun in-jokes, including appearances from Marvel’s Stan Lee and onetime Daredevil writer Kevin (Chasing Amy and Dogma) Smith. But the script is flat, mostly just space between fights. Sometimes loud noises incapacitate Daredevil, sometimes they don’t. He is badly injured, and then he isn’t. These are continuity errors that are evidence either of laziness or, more likely, some recutting after early screenings.

Parents should know that this movie is more somber and much more violent than Spiderman, including many deaths. There are sexual references and non-explicit sexual situations, including a reference to rape and a sexual encounter between people who do not know each other very well. There is some strong language and some drinking and smoking.

Families who see this movie should talk about why we don’t take the law into our own hands. How do you become a killer without being one of the bad guys? Why, when most superheroes have fantasy special powers, is a character who is disabled so appealing?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy X-Men and Blade.

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