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New to Theaters
B-

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and destruction, and for some language Release Date: June 24, 2016
B+

Lowest Recommended Age: High School MPAA Rating: Rated R for brutal battle scenes and disturbing graphic images Release Date: June 24, 2016
B+

Lowest Recommended Age: High School MPAA Rating: Not rated Release Date: June 24, 2016
New to DVD
Pick of the week
B+

Midnight Special

Lowest Recommended Age: High School MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some violence and action Release Date: April 1, 2016
C

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material Release Date: March 25, 2016
B+

Eddie the Eagle

Lowest Recommended Age: High School MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material, partial nudity and smoking Release Date: February 26, 2016
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Copyright 2016 Bron Capital Partners

Copyright 2016 Bron Capital Partners

For writer/director Noah Buschel, “The Phenom” is clearly a labor of love. For the audience, it is a small gem filled with unexpected insight and performances of exceptional precision and intelligence. We may think we know what to expect from a film about a gifted athlete who explores the impact of his abusive father with the help of an understanding therapist. But each scene has surprises, with sharp dialogue, vivid characters, and a lot to say about the business of both sports and media. This is a sports movie that quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald. And there’s a brief but powerful scene as the athlete talks to the press that reminds us of how mch this film rewards careful attention.

Johnny Simmons plays Hopper, a “phenom” of a pitcher who has had trouble delivering in the major leagues. He’s sent to the team’s psychologist, a former phenom himself, who was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine at age 22 because of his pioneering work in helping athletes achieve focus and overcome fear. Dr. Mobley is played by Paul Giamatti, who has another connection to baseball — his father, Bart Giamatti served as the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Giamatti’s Dr. Mobley is understated, reassuring, and accessible. “A lot of young pitchers struggle with control,” he tells Hopper. It’s “a passing thing.” He does not even want to give it a name because that would “legitimize” it. He tells Hopper that it can be good to look back because damage from the past can be “vaseline on the lens” that interferes with our ability to understand the present and accomplish what we hope for.

Hopper’s whole life has been about getting to the major leagues. His father, Hopper senior (Ethan Hawke) is a volatile bully Hopper’s teacher describes as “an expert at cutting corners and when there weren’t any corners, he’d make circles around her.” He constantly berates his son, bragging that he taught him everything he knows, forcing him to run splits as punishment for smiling. “Never show emotion on the mound. And you’re always on the mound.” He tells Hopper to develop an “intimidation face.”

Hopper has dinner at his girlfriend’s house and is so disconnected from life off the field that he has no idea of how to respond in a home where people discuss ideas and events at the dinner table. Later, when he hurts the girl’s feelings and she speaks up, he tells her the only thing he knows: “You need to toughen up.”

Hopper clearly has to choose between father figures — his biological father, whose approval he cannot help seeking, and Mobley, whose safe space could be something Hopper could learn to trust. Simmons finds a way to show us the feelings the repressed young pitcher still cannot acknowledge, and his scenes with both Giamatti and Hawke are all the stronger for not being overly dramatic. Owing more to “Ordinary People” than to baseball classics like “Bang the Drum Slowly,” this is a touching drama made up of small moments told with truth and care.

Parents should know that this unrated film has some adult material including drugs and drug dealing, an abusive parent, and strong language.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Hopper know how to talk to Dorothy? Should Dr. Mobley have told him the truth? What was his best advice?

If you like this, try: “Ordinary People” and “Fear Strikes Out”

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Copyright 2016 Piki Films

Copyright 2016 Piki Films

Writer-director Taika Waititi brings the same wild imagination and subversive wit to “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” that he did to the vampire comedy “What We Do in the Shadows.” Based on the book by New Zealand favorite Barry Crump, it is the story of “a real bad egg,” a boy named Ricky (Julian Dennison) who has been in an endless series of foster homes and finally comes to live out in the wilderness with the warmhearted Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and silent, reserved Hec (Sam Neill). Just when Ricky begins to feel at home, a tragic loss has him running away into the bush, followed by Hec, and then followed by the social worker (Rachel House) and the cops.

Waititi’s films have a lively energy that provides a delicious counterpoint to the understated comedy. The story is told with wry chapter titles, beginning with “A Real Bad Egg.” Ricky is described as “a bit of a handful” with a history that includes “disobedience, spitting, running away…and that’s just the stuff we know about.” But we can see that this chubby kid who says he intends to grow up to be a drug dealer and rap star and get killed in a drive-by wants to be part of a family, even though he does not know exactly how. Bella has just the combination of bluntness and generosity of spirit to make Ricky begin to feel welcome. He’s not looking for cuddles and compliments. There is a bracing reality to Bella that begins to help him thaw. She kills a pig with a knife and says, “There’s dinner, sorted. Want to help me gut it?” He gets a dog and comes up with three possible names: Psycho, Megatron, or Tupac. This is a place where those names are just fine.

On the run, he is back to trusting no one but himself. He says he lives in Rickytown, population: Ricky. Hec tells him it’s time to get back to Realitytown. But that trip has to wait when Hec is injured and they have to stay in “Broken Foot Camp” until he is well enough to walk. And that gives them a chance to get to know each other, and become enough of a team to take on some of the challenges they meet along the way.

They meet some delightfully quirky characters, including three hunters who mistake Hec a child molester (an attempt at humor that does not work at all well), a paranoid hermit known as Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby), and a girl on a horse who brings Ricky home, where her father asks him if he can take a selfie. Waititi’s affection for the independent spirits of the people who live in the wilderness make us, like Ricky, glad to spend time with them.

(NOTE: look for writer/director Waititi in a small role as a clergyman)

Parents should know that this film includes extended peril and some violence including guns, with characters injured, a sad death, themes of abandonment, references to molestation, a drug reference, and some strong language.

Family discussion: When did Ricky and Hec begin to trust each other? When were they in the greatest danger?

If you like this, try: “Big Game” and “The Dish”

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The new film about group who refused to fight for the Confederacy and established a free community in Civil War-era Mississippi is based on a true story. Matthew McConaughey stars as Newton Knight, a nurse in the Confederate Army who deserted because he did not want to fight for slavery or for wealthy plantation owners. In “Free State of Jones,” co-written and directed by Gary Ross (“The Hunger Games”), Knight is a Robin Hood-like figure, with a swamp taking the place of Sherwood Forest.

There was a Newton Knight and he did lead a rebellion, one of several groups who seceded from the Confederacy as the Confederacy seceded from the United States. The story was filmed in 1948 as “Tap Roots,”with Van Heflin, Susan Hayward, and Boris Karloff (as an Indian).

“Free State of Jones” is based on more recent research that indicates that Knight was opposed to secession and considered his “Jones” state a part of the union. The film’s website has detailed information with citations explaining the historical basis for characters like the real-life Newton Knight and Rachel and characters like Moses who are based on several real-life former slaves. The Smithsonian has a comprehensive article with the history of the story and the film.

Incidents described in a book by Sally Jenkins, including Knight’s rescue of an “apprenticed” black child captured by a plantation owner during the post-Civil War period and his decision to live in an all-black community, are in the film. The film also depicts the 1948 miscegenation trial of one of Knight’s descendents, who, allegedly one-eighth black, had violated the law by marrying a white woman. The real story is not as romantic as the one portrayed in the film, but the film is correct in stating that the ruling against the couple was overturned on appeal on a technicality because the Mississippi court did not want a Constitutional challenge to its laws prohibiting marriage between people of different races. Those laws would remain in place for almost 20 more years, and a film based on that case, Loving v. Virginia, will be released later this year.

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PrettyFamous has a graph showing which summer blockbusters made the most money. What will 2016 show?

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