Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Movie Mom™


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Strange Magic
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some action and scary images
Release Date:
January 23, 2015

 

The Book of Life
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

Mortdecai
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for some language and sexual material
Release Date:
January 23, 2015

 

The Judge
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language including some sexual references
Release Date:
October 10, 2014

Cake
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language, substance abuse and brief sexuality
Release Date:
January 24, 2015

 

Fury
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout
Release Date:
October 17, 2014

The Miracle Worker

posted by rkumar
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:1962

Today is the 142nd anniversary of the birth of one of the most extraordinary teachers in American history, Annie Sullivan, who gave a little blind and deaf girl the power of language. William Gibson, who wrote two plays about the teacher and her student, says that when people refer to “The Miracle Worker” as “the play about Helen Keller,” he replies, “If it was about her, it would be called ‘The Miracle Workee.'” Sullivan, herself visually impaired, was first in her class at the Perkins School for the Blind. When she went to work for the Keller family she was just 21 years old. And Keller, who was blind and deaf due to an illness when she was 19 months old. When Sullivan arrived, Keller was almost completely wild, without any ability to communicate or any understanding that communication beyond grabbing and hitting was possible.

Every family should watch the extraordinary film about what happened next, and read more about Keller, who, with Sullivan’s help, graduated from Radcliffe magna cum laude and became an author and a world figure.

Ann Bancroft and Patty Duke won Oscars for their performances as Sullivan and Keller, repeating their Broadway roles and Duke later played Sullivan in a made-for-television adaptation. In this scene, after months of teaching Keller to fingerspell words, Sullivan is finally able to show her that language will give her the ability to communicate, with a new world of relationships, feelings, and learning. No teacher ever bestowed a greater gift.

Monday After the Miracle is Gibson’s sequel to the play, and Keller’s own book is called The Story of My Life. There is a photobiography of Sullivan called Helen’s Eyes.

The Mexican

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

Two of the biggest stars in Hollywood took pay cuts to appear in what is essentially a quirky independent movie — with two of the biggrest stars in Hollywood. Even though Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts are both top-notch acting talents who do not get enough credit for taking risks (Pitt’s performance in “12 Monkeys” was one of the best of the decade), in this movie their star power overwhelms not just their acting but the movie’s story as well. The effect is like trying to juggle a bowling ball with a dozen eggs. Fortunately, when things get out of kilter or the plot begins to sag, there is all that star power to keep us happy and give us something to enjoy until it gets going again. If the movie has a lot of pieces that don’t quite fit together, at least they are all high-quality pieces. It may be something of a mess, but it is an interesting mess to watch.

Pitt and Roberts play Jerry and Samantha, a couple whose romantic relationship is complicated enough when Jerry is called on to perform one last errand for a mob boss. He has to go to Mexico to get a valuable antique gun called “The Mexican” from a man named Beck and bring them both back with him. Jerry tries to explain to Samantha that given a choice between letting down the mob and letting down his girlfriend, the fact that only one of those options involves death has to factor into the calculus. Samantha, who is a big fan of the women’s magazine school of relationships and who reads books like “Men Who Can’t Love” with a highlighter in her hand, tosses Jerry’s clothes out the window and sets off to pursue her dream of becoming a croupier in Las Vegas.

The mob guys know that Jerry’s focus and competence cannot be counted on without a little added incentive, so they arrange for Samantha to be kidnapped by a hitman named Leroy (James Gandolfini of HBO’s “The Sopranos”).

Gandolfini is just plan brilliant in the role, and the scenes between Leroy and Samantha are the best part of the movie. He explains that he is “here to regulate funkiness” and she tells him that he has “trust issues.” Soon they are giving each other relationship advice in between shoot-outs. Meanwhile, Jerry, who tends to “Forrest Gump through life,” is chasing after the gun, with intermittent success.

We want Jerry and Sam to get together, but the movie becomes less interesting when they do. Even a surprise cameo from another big star does not help us through a final act that involves the loss of characters we have come to care about. Jerry and Samantha react and behave in ways that we are not used to seeing characters played by big stars behave. Pitt and Roberts give it all they have, but the script does not have enough weight to help make that behavior consistent with what we know of the characters.

Parents should know that the movie is very violent, with a lot of shooting, graphic injuries, and the deaths of important characters. A woman commits suicide when her lover is killed. Characters drink and smoke and one character is drunk. There are mild sexual references, including a homosexual relationship. Some of the Mexican characters could be considered stereotypes, but then so could some of the American characters.

Families who see this movie should talk about how people work out the complexities of relationships and why it is that so many of the characters care more about relationships than about money or the life and death situations all around them. Leroy may have more than most people to worry about when he thinks about what a romantic prospect will think about what he does and who he is, but that is always a concern for anyone contemplating an intimate relationship. The idea that “the past doesn’t matter — it’s the future that counts” is a beguiling one — is it true? Under what circumstances? Leroy talks about being “surrounded by lonliness and finality,” and about how the people who die having loved are different from those who die alone. This is worth discussing, along with the way that Sam and Jerry begin to think about their relationship as being special enough so that they cannot walk away from it.

Families may also want to talk about the way that Jerry’s friend justifies participating in criminal acts by compartmentalizing, explaining that he is just doing his “portion.”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Raising Arizona.”

The Man Who Wasn’t There

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

The Coen brothers (“Fargo,” “Raising Arizona,” “O Brother Where Art Thou”) are known for flamboyant, even grotesque, images and outlandish dialogue. They also have a deep appreciation for film history, and many of their past films have been tributes to the 1930’s and 40’s genres. With “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” they return to the inspiration for their first film, “Blood Simple,” the films noir of the 1930’s and 1940’s. With this film, a clear nod to the movies based on James M. Cain novels like “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” they go further than they have before in submersing themselves into the genre, with little of their usual ironic distance.

Billy Bob Thornton plays Ed Crane, a man who thinks of himself simply as “The Barber.” He is responsible for the second chair in a barbershop owned by his wife’s brother. He is not particularly happy with his life in a small California town called Santa Rosa, but that does not bother him too much. He does not expect happiness, and even if he did, he would not expect himself to be able to take any steps to find it. He does what he is told, not because he is meek or submissive, but because it never occurs to him that he has a choice. If he takes some quiet satisfaction in the ignorance of those around him of the cynicism of his internal running commentary, that is as far as his rebellion goes.

Ed believes that his wife, Doris (Frances McDormand), is having an affair with her affable boss, “Big Dave” Brewster (James Gandolfini). Ed is not jealous or angry. He has no particular feeling about it (or about anything else). But then he meets Creighton Tolliver (Joe Polito) who tells him that for only $10,000, Ed can invest in a new invention so strange and wonderful it would just have to make a man wealthy – “dry cleaning.”

Ed decides to blackmail Big Dave to get the money. But things go wrong, two people are murdered, and the wrong person is arrested. A pretty teenager who plays the piano makes Ed think about the world outside of Santa Rosa.

Part of the code of the films noir was that evil could not triumph. This was a literal code, the Hayes Code, which governed the content of Hollywood films until adoption of the MPAA rating system. But it also worked well for those dark films, providing morality tales for uncertain times. These times may be just as uncertain, but audience expectations have changed. This movie is so traditional in structure, tone, language (mild by today’s standards), and content (with the exception of one jolting moment in a car) that it might bewilder viewers not familiar enough with the genre to recognize that some of the names in the movie are taken from noir classics like “Double Indemnity” and Gandolfini’s performance seems to channel the brilliant, underrated 1940’s actor, Paul Douglas.

They will, however, appreciate outstanding performances from the entire cast, especially Tony Shaloub as Califonia’s leading criminal defense lawyer. Like all Coen brothers films, it is filled with stunning images, this time brilliantly filmed in black and white.

Parents should know that the movie’s themes include adultery, blackmail, murder, and the death penalty. There is a very violent struggle and a character is killed. Another dead body is briefly visible. A character commits suicide and characters are injured in car accident (off-screen). An adult has some unfocused fantasies about an intimate relationship with a teenager. Characters drink and smoke (Ed smokes constantly).

Families who see this movie should talk about how it compares to the movies that it salutes, and about whether audiences have changed. Why was Ed so passive? What else could/should he have done?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “They Won’t Believe Me” and “Double Indemnity.”

The Maltese Falcon

posted by rkumar
A+
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
Movie Release Date:1941

Plot: Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) is a private detective. A woman who says her name is Ruth Wonderly (Mary Astor) comes to see him, asking for help in finding her sister. Sam sends his partner, Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) to follow her when she meets Floyd Thursby, the man she thinks her sister is with, and both Archer and Thursby are killed. It turns out that the woman has given him a false name. She is really Brigid O’Shaughnessy, and it turns out it is not her sister she is seeking, but a small, jeweled statue of a falcon, and she is mixed up with some people who will do anything to get it.

One of those people is Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), who comes to see Sam to insist — with a gun — that he be allowed to search Sam’s office to see if it is there. Sam is not at all intimidated by Joel, but allows him to search. Also after the statue is Mr. Gutman, “the fat man” (Sidney Greenstreet), with his “gunsel,” Wilmer. They alternately threaten and attempt to bribe Sam, while Brigid appeals to his protective nature and his heart. But Sam turns them all over to the police, including Brigid, whom he loves.

Discussion: One of the most interesting aspects of this classic movie is the way that Sam Spade thinks though the moral dilemmas. When he is deciding whether to tell the police about Brigid, he is very explicit about weighing every aspect of his choices. It is not an easy decision for him; he has no moral absolutes. On one hand, he loves her, and he did not think much of his partner. On the other, he does not trust her, he does not think she trusts him, and he knows that they could not go on together, each waiting to betray or be betrayed. And he has some pride; he says that when your partner is killed, you are supposed to “do something.” While it may be good for business not to appear too ethical, it is bad for business to allow a partner in a detective firm to get killed without responding. If he turns her over to the police, he loses her. But if he does not, he loses a part of himself, his own kind of integrity.

When this movie was made, moviegoers were used to cool, debonair detectives (like Philo Vance and Nick Charles, both played by William Powell), a sort of cross between Sherlock Holmes and Fred Astaire. But Sam Spade, created by Dashiell Hammett based on his experiences as a detective, was a modern day version of the cowboy, a loner with his own sense of honor.

This was the first movie directed by John Huston, who also wrote the screenplay, but he was already a master. Watch the two scenes where Sam goes to talk to Gutman, and see how the camera angles in the first scene lead the viewer to suspect that Sam’s drink is spiked (it isn’t), and then how different angles are used in the second one to make the viewer confident that it won’t be (it is).

Questions for Kids:

· What does Sam mean when he says the statue is “the stuff dreams are made of”?

· Where is Sam faced with moral conflicts? How does he resolve them? What are his reasons?

Connections: Bogart appeared as a similarly tough detective, Philip Marlowe, in “The Big Sleep,” based on the novel by Raymond Chandler. The books by Hammett and Raymond Chandler are well worth reading. Note the director’s father, Walter Huston, in an uncredited brief appearance as Captain Jacobi. Jerome Cowan, who appears briefly as Miles Archer, plays the prosecuting attorney who tries to prove that Kris Kringle is not Santa Claus in “Miracle on 34th Street.”

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