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If I Stay
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Release Date:
May 2, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

 

Bears
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
G
Release Date:
April 19, 2014

When the Game Stands Tall
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking
Release Date:
August 22, 2014

 

Need for Speed
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language
Release Date:
March 14, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

posted by Nell Minow
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Adult
MPAA Rating:Not rated
Movie Release Date:August 22, 2014
Copyright 2014 The Weinstein Company

Copyright 2014 The Weinstein Company

If you want to not just see but hear an eyeball being pulverized, then see “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.”  If you want to see and hear it in the company of an audience who thinks that’s funny, buy a ticket.

Like the first “Sin City,” this sequel is co-directed by Frank Miller, who created the comic book series that inspired it, and Robert Rodriguez, and they have again perfectly transferred the dark pulp sensibility and striking visuals from page to screen.  Like the first film, it is in stark shades of black, white, and gray, with splashes of color — bright red lips, shining blonde hair, sleek blue satin — and, of course, blood.

Sin City is a place of corruption, betrayal, and decay, of haunted souls who can’t remember or who remember too much.  “How did I get here?  What have I done?  And why?” Marv (Mickey Rourke) asks as the film opens and he finds himself with some dead and dying guys.  He does remember “wishing I had an excuse to break somebody’s face.”  When he gets an excuse, he says he feels like Christmas.

The interlocking stories center on a young gambler named Johnny who wants to bring down crooked Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), who controls just about everything and everyone in Sin City, a private detective named Dwight (Josh Brolin) who takes photos of indiscretions for his clients and who knows he should not trust the woman he loved and lost to a man who could afford her (Eva Green as Ava), and a stripper named Nancy (Jessica Alba), who cannot decide whether she should kill the man who murdered her lover or just drink herself into oblivion and hope she can forget him.

People say a lot of tough things to each other.  “They’ll eat you alive,” someone tells Johnny.  “I’m a pretty tough chew,” he answers.  Everyone in this film is a pretty tough chew.  “Death is just like life in Sin City,” another one says.  “There’s nothing you can do and love don’t conquer anything.”  There are monsters everywhere in Sin City, and some of the most painful struggles are with the monsters within.

But that doesn’t keep people from trying.

There is a lot of artistry in “Sin City,” but it is so stylized that it calls attention to itself instead of its story, characters, or themes.   The artistry in visuals and storytelling is so self-conscious it is fetishistic.  It always keeps us at arm’s length.  Despite superb work from everyone in the cast, especially Brolin, Willis, and Gordon-Levitt, the visuals are more striking than the story.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent movie with themes of corruption and betrayal.  People are injured, maimed, mutilated, and killed by a wide variety of weapons including a sword, knives, guns, pliers, and arrows.  There are graphic and disturbing images and sounds.  It also includes explicit sexual references and situations and nudity and strong language.  Characters smoke, drink, and use drugs.

Family discussion:  How do Dwight, Johnny, and Marv define justice?  What do we learn from stories of corruption and betrayal?

If you like this, try: “Sin City” and the Frank Miller comics

When the Game Stands Tall

posted by Nell Minow
C
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking
Movie Release Date:August 22, 2014


Copyright 2014 Sony Pictures
This dreary assemblage of every possible sports cliché has one thing in common with the game it portrays. Every time it seems to be going somewhere, it stops.

More frustratingly, it wastes the opportunity to tell a good story by trying to squeeze in too many great ones. There are too many crises, too many story arcs, too few resolutions, too few reasons for us to invest in the outcome. When a movie is based on (or even “inspired by”) something that really happened, the first step has to be deciding what the theme is and streamlining all of the real-life details that are not central to that theme. Or, as a coach might say, “Don’t lose focus.”

The real-life high school football team that inspired this story is Concord, California’s De La Salle Spartans, from a small, all-boys Catholic school. They hold the all-time winning streak record for any sport in any category and at any level. We meet the team just as the streak is about to end. The last game of the season is the 151st win in a row. But then Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) has a heart attack.  A player is killed in a drive-by shooting.  Another one becomes an orphan, responsible for his younger brother.  The other teams do not want to play the Spartans anymore, so they take on the number one team in the state (in a game that is the subject of a book. The winning streak that went from 1992-2004 came to an end.

That’s an interesting place for a sports movie to begin, a refreshing change from the over-familiar sports movie storyline of a scrappy group of underdogs who have to learn to work together.  And the film is sincere and good-hearted, though not much we haven’t learned from reading Kipling’s If, especially the part about understanding that winning and losing are both imposters.  But the dramatic force of the narrative keeps being mowed down by so many over-familiar sports movie lines that the film’s greatest appeal may be as a drinking game.  How many times do we have to hear about how the teammates are family, especially when we hear it more than we see it?  (Though I did enjoy seeing the team come on the field holding hands like a kindergarten field trip.)

There is a lot to explore here about what we learn from winning and how much more we learn from losing.  Ladouceur’s techniques include “commitment cards” with training goals, practice goals, and game goals, each one written by a player and shared with a teammate to help them understand they are responsible for each other’s performance as well as their own.  It is good to hear a coach say that end zone antics are inappropriate and that the purpose of the training is not to produce great high school football players but responsible men.

A number of issues are set up or glancingly referred to without any real connection or follow-through, including some of the coach’s lessons about what matters more than winning.  The coach’s son says that when he needed a dad he got a coach and when he needed a coach all he got was a “lame dad.”  The coach’s wife (a criminally under-used Laura Dern) says he does not share himself with her or their children.  Ladouceur acknowledges that he has been “a bad husband and a worse dad.”  But all we see as a response is Ladouceur burning some burgers when he tries to grill.

We do not get enough of the history between the two players who struggle over whether they will stay together through college for it to be meaningful.  A brutish father (Clancy Brown) pushes his quarterback son to break the state record in scoring, but the resolution is not set up in a way that makes it a triumph for anyone.  Intrusive product placement from a sporting goods store is a distraction as well.  As though to keep us on track, equally intrusive sports announcers keep reminding us what the stakes are.  Even more intrusive is a musical score that is ploddingly obvious, with hip-hop in a black player’s home and syrupy pop over the white characters. Meanwhile, over on the sidelines (literally), Michael Chiklis as the assistant coach turns in the film’s most intriguing performance.

“It’s no longer about who the bigger, stronger, faster players are,”  the coach who has the bigger, stronger, faster players says about playing against the Spartans.  (You can tell what’s coming next, right?) “It’s about who plays with more heart.”   The heart in this film is mostly over the end credits, where we see the truly inspirational Ladouceur and wish we had just seen a documentary about him instead.

Parents should know that this film includes the tragic murder of a teenager, serious illness of a parent, death of a parent, parental abuse of a teenager, scenes of wounded warriors in rehab, smoking, and brief crude sexual references

Family discussion: What goals will you put on your commitment card? Why didn’t the coach want his players to pay attention to the streak? What was his most important lesson?

If you like this, try: “Friday Night Lights” (the movie and the television series) and “Remember the Titans,” as well as the books about the Spartans: When the Game Stands Tall: The Story of the De La Salle Spartans and Football’s Longest Winning Streak and One Great Game: Two Teams, Two Dreams, in the First Ever National Championship High School Football Game

Christian Indie Films of 2014

posted by Nell Minow

This year has already seen a remarkable and perhaps unprecedented number of Christian and Biblically-based films, from big-budget epics like “Noah” and “Son of God” to small faith-oriented films like “God’s Not Dead.”  There is an excellent summary of four Christian independent films of 2014 on Indie Outlook from the perspective of a church-going film critic.

In just the last several months, an assortment of independent filmmakers have achieved the success that forever eluded Fox Faith. Numerous grassroots productions have screened in theaters located not in big cities but small towns and suburbs (many of them found in the South). These films don’t have big budgets, big names and are usually not screened for critics. And yet, they have struck a chord with American audiences, proving that there is a hunger for pictures that cater to a spiritually convicted crowd routinely ignored by Hollywood. The target audience is, again, evangelical Christians, only this time, they’re turning out in droves.

Frank: The Real Story of the Singer With the Paper-Mache Mask

posted by Nell Minow

One of the handsomest men alive spends almost the entire movie wearing a huge round paper maché head in “Frank,” a moving film inspired by the real-life story of the late Frank Sidebottom.  Michael Fassbender plays Frank, a sweet-natured but very quirky musician who wears his big head mask even in the shower.

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The film is co-written by journalist Jon Ronson, based on his own experiences playing keyboards for Frank Sidebottom, the stage name/head of the late Chris Sievey.

There was something fantastically warped about the act, which was four men assiduously emulating and fleshing out with real instruments the swing-beat chord sound of a cheap children’s Casio keyboard, with a living, slightly eerie cartoon character prancing around at the front, singing in a nasal Mancunian twang, as if he had a swimming peg attached to his nose. Each song ended with the same words: “You know it is, it really is, thank you.”

In those days, the identity of the man under the head was the subject of great speculation. On many occasions, Sidebottom fans would barge into the dressing room before a show and refuse to leave until the real Frank revealed himself. They’d go around the room: “It’s you, isn’t it? No. You’re Frank, aren’t you?” On most occasions, the only person they wouldn’t bother asking was the unassuming Chris [Sievey], who blended into the wall.

The New York Times writes that the film version of Frank includes attributes of several quirky performers.

Thanks to the head, “Frank” the film functions as a biopic mash-up of multiple artists. “We spent a lot of time together hammering out how this hidden character could contain almost any number of influences and traits,” said the director, Lenny Abrahamson. “And as we went on, it became clear that the most exciting thing for us would be to make him stand for and refract lots of these outsider musicians.”

And so Frank is the eccentric Syd Barrett. Frank is Lee (Scratch) Perry. Frank is Brian Wilson. Frank is Roky Erickson. The deeply troubled but beloved Austin, Tex., singer songwriter Daniel Johnston is under that head as well. And when the fictional band decamps to a remote home in the countryside, “That’s a riff on Captain Beefheart’s recording of ‘Trout Mask Replica,’ ” Mr. Abrahamson said, referring to the 1969 classic.

Eliminating the burden of fact freed the filmmakers to explore the madness involved in creating art itself rather than the minutiae of one particular artist. It’s at heart a slapstick comedy, albeit one about extremely messed-up souls. “You’re just going to have to go with this,” a band mate played by Scoot McNairy explains to the fictional Ronson.

Here’s Frank Sidebottom performing Queen covers.

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The real Sievey’s best-known song was with his earlier group, The Freshies.

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