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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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We Are Your Friends

posted by Nell Minow
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, drug use, sexual content and some nudity
Movie Release Date:August 28, 2015
B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, drug use, sexual content and some nudity
Movie Release Date: August 28, 2015

Copyright Warner Brothers 2015

Copyright Warner Brothers 2015


Director Max Joseph brings some of the “Catfish” sensibility to “We Are Your Friends,” with an intimate, documentary feel and a storyline about people in their 20’s who have big dreams but not much understanding about how to achieve them or even about the nature of their relationships. Joseph is the quieter co-host of “Catfish,” the MTV series sequel to the film that added its name to the lexicon, meaning an online relationship with someone who is not as described or presented. In “We Are Your Friends” (named for the Justice vs. Simian song) four bros hang out together, trashing each other and everyone else, promoting parties, enjoying easy access to drugs and girls, and reassuring each other that fame and fortune lies ahead. They feel like besties, but it’s just inertia and a shared fear of moving forward. In reality, they are very different.

Cole (Zac Efron) is a talented DJ who knows how to combine “the rhythm of a caveman” with a kickin’ bass line to “get the crowd out of their heads and into their bodies.” His pals are hot-tempered Mason (Jonny Weston), low-key drug dealer and aspiring actor Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez) and quiet but thoughtful Squirrel (Alex Shaffer of “Win Win”). They get jobs facilitating real estate deals (calling people in foreclosure) for a wealthy businessman (Jon Bernthal, all rough charm and menace in an excellent performance). And Cole meets James (Wes Bentley with Wolverine-style facial hair), a big shot DJ who has performed all over the world and who has a girlfriend/assistant named Sophie who looks like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, because she is played by Emily Ratajkowski, who is one. Ratajkowski was better in “Gone Girl.” Here she does more posing than acting.

There’s nothing wrong with a coming of age story about a young person with a strong creative drive who needs to learn to develop a singular voice, and Efron is, as always, an appealing actor. But too much of it seems borrowed from other films and the situations and settings (San Fernando Valley, aimless young men who party too much and wear their pants too low, the empty and foreclosed houses and predators who flip them) are washed out and played out. The big lesson for Cole is learning to develop a distinctive sound. But the scene where the scales fall from his eyes — or ears — so that he begins incorporating the sounds around him like that wacky carriage ride scene in “The Great Waltz” is just silly. It never persuades us that EDM is anything but derivative, mostly because the movie is, too.

Parents should know that this film has a lot of adult material including very strong language, crude sexual references and situations, nudity, drinking, smoking, extended drug use and drug dealing including marijuana, PCP, ecstasy, and cocaine, a fatal overdose, and a painful scene of foreclosure.

Family discussion: Why did Squirrel say the best part was before the evening began? What did James mean about the meaning of the word “irreparable?”

If you like this, try: “Magic Mike” and “Echo Park”

Z for Zachariah

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

In 1959, a movie called The World, The Flesh And The Devil imagined a post-apocalyptic world with three surviving humans. In the words of the 1960’s television series, “The Mod Squad,” they could be described as “one black, one white, one blond.” Harry Belafonte, Mel Ferrer, and Inger Stevens played characters who might be the last people on earth but who still carried with them the fears, angers, and prejudices of the civilization now destroyed.

Fifty-five years later, “Z for Zachariah” is another post-apocalyptic story about a black man, a white man, and a beautiful younger woman who may be the only survivors following a catastrophic, toxic event that has poisoned the whole world, except, perhaps, for a tiny, edenic farm that appears to be free from deadly radiation. And once again, human frailty creates conflict at the most fundamental level. The themes of the 1959 film reflected post-WWII concerns like the atomic bomb and racial bigotry. “Z for Zachariah,” based on the posthumously and pseudonymously published book.

Ann (Margo Robbie) lives on her family’s farm. She believes her family will return from their scouting expedition. And she believes that she and her dog and her farm were preserved by God. Periodically, she puts on protective gear to go into the deserted town and scavenge from the shelves of the stores. She grows food on the farm and visits the tiny church her father built to play the organ and worship.

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Then John (Chiwetel Ejiofor) arrives. He is also wearing protective gear (it turns out he was one of the engineers who designed it), but foolishly removes it to bathe in a pond that has been contaminated. Ann rescues him and nurses him through radiation poisoning.

They are very different. John is a man of science and rationality. He sees that he can create hydropower through the waterfall, but only if he can use the wood from the walls of the church. Ann believes the church is what has kept her alive; John believes repurposing the planks will enable them to establish a sustainable source of food for…well, with a man and a woman, perhaps there will be more people to feed at some point. In the old world, they would never have met, and if they had, they would have had little to say to one another. But they understanding, respect, and affection are beginning to grow, and the need for connection and comfort is near desperate in both of them. And then Caleb (Chris Pine) — a character not in the book — arrives. He has something John cannot have, a community and cultural connection to Ann. He is young and handsome.

Like director Craig Zobel’s last film, “Compliance,” this is also a tense story of three people in an enclosed, isolated space finding their most profound values tested. Even in the most extreme circumstances imaginable, humans still struggle with morality, trust, honesty, power, forgiveness, and love. It is deceptively understated and quietly compelling.

Parents should know that this film features a disturbing apocalyptic setting, discussion of cataclysmic events, sexual references and situations with partial nudity, brief strong language, homicide.

Family discussion: What do Ann and John have in common? What do Ann and Caleb have in common? What happened when John and Caleb were together? What will happen next?

If you like this, try: “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil” and “On the Beach”

Being Evel

posted by Nell Minow
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating:Not rated
Movie Release Date:August 28, 2015
B+
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Movie Release Date: August 28, 2015

Evel Knievel was an international celebrity in the 1960’s-70’s, known for three things: showmanship, stunts that succeeded, and stunts that failed. He was recognized for jumping over 19 cars in his motorcycle, for crash-landing after trying to jump over the fountains of Caesars Palace, and holding the Guinness Book of World Records title for the most broken bones. He was an iconic figure in his white leather jumpsuits trimmed with stars and stripes. Over the 37 years that ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” seven of the top ten rated episodes, including the most-watched of all time, featured Knievel.

He influenced and inspired a generation of daredevil kids, those who transformed his stunts into a whole new category of amateur and professional competition called extreme sports (“having a high level of inherent danger”). And he inspired a lot of idiotic behavior from people like Johnny Knoxville, who made a career out of doing stupid stuff on television and getting hurt, and who has now made a documentary about the man he says he thought of not as a daredevil but as a superhero. He was a star for what he dared to do but he was a bigger star for staying with it even when he failed. “Fast, faster, and disaster,” says Knoxville, but, as the film makes clear, “He captured my imagination like nobody else.”

Knoxville warns us up front that Knievel was not entirely admirable. And, as a friend comments in the film, his career followed the same arc as his famous “Skycycle” stunt, when he attempted to ride what was essentially a small rocket across a canyon. What went up, came down, eventually, in a spectacular crash.

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This portrait, co-produced by George Hamilton, who played Evel in a 1971 film, is frank but sympathetic, with archival footage and interviews with Knievel’s friends, family, and fans.

Robert Craig Knievel was born in Butte, Montana in 1938, where he was raised by his grandparents. He was close to his first cousin, Pat Williams, elected to Congress nine times. In the 1940’s, Butte was a town of coal miners and prostitutes, where disputes were settled by fistfight and no one took a misdemeanor like petty theft personally. When a cop referred to him as “Evil” Knievel, Robert adopted the name, changing the i to an e, to make it “less evil.”

Knievel married a girl from Butte (she admits that he sort of kidnapped her, but she did not seem to mind) and they had three children. He sold insurance for a while, getting mental patients to sign up for policies to set a sales record and then he sold motorcycles. To promote the motorcycles, he started doing stunts. And then he kept doing stunts to promote himself. “How do you convince people to come to a sport they never heard of?” Evel knew how to tell a good story. We see him on talk shows, and later, after the Hamilton film, we see him spouting some of the dialogue written for his character. He didn’t like the film, but he knew a good line when he heard it. “He created the character and then tried to live the part,” says one of his friends.

He was a showman and a salesman. He had sponsors and licensing agreements. The Ideal action figure was one of the most popular toys of the era. He made a fortune and he spent it — planes, boats, jewelry. His enormous safe had a gold-plated motorcycle covered with cash.

This all happened during the 70’s. Knievel’s star-spangled stunts were a welcome distraction from the corruption and disappointment of the Watergate era. But Knievel was less successful at clearing his own distractions. All those injuries meant painkillers. That might have been a factor in his brutal attack on a former colleague, which ended in a guilty plea, a jail sentence, and the cancellation of lucrative endorsements and licensing deals. All those fans meant lots of girls. His wife left him. His health was shot; he had a liver transplant, a hip replacement, a spine fusion. His money was gone. Perhaps most difficult for him, his audience was gone.

Knoxville is an unabashed fan, but he is honest about Knievel’s failings. The movie has some unexpected revelations and telling details, but audiences are unlikely to agree that inspiring a generation of kids to risk their lives in crazy stunts is especially admirable. Knievel’s legacy, for better and worse, is more clearly tied to marketing and celebrity than to courage or integrity. The problem with making a reputation for stunts is that eventually, you crash and burn.

Parents should know that this movie includes a lot of preposterously risky behavior and injuries, references to sex, including sex with groupies and the effects of strong pharmaceuticals, and some strong language.

Family discussion: Who is most like Evel Knievel today? What was his most important influence?

If you like this, try: “Senna” and “Dogtown and Z-Boys”

Rosenwald

posted by Nell Minow
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Not rated
Movie Release Date:August 28, 2015
B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Movie Release Date: August 28, 2015

Aviva Kempner, the director of the acclaimed documentaries about baseball star Hank Greenberg and television pioneer Gertrude Berg, has a new film about early 20th century Chicago businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald. Like the prior films, this one is filled with meticulously curated archival footage, illuminating historical insights, and thoughtful comments from experts and family members. And as in the earlier films, Kempner has found a fascinating story. Julius Rosenwald is little discussed now, in part because at his direction his charitable foundation was closed down after his death and in part because some of his initiatives to build schools for black children in the South were wrongly considered a perpetuation of the despicable “separate but equal” policy. This film shows what a significant, even definitive impact Rosenwald had in the era leading up to the Civil Rights movement. And an understated final revelation shows how far ahead of his time he really was.

When Jewish immigrants came to the United States from Eastern Europe — think of Tevye and his family at the end of “Fiddler on the Roof” — many of them became peddlers, or traveling salesmen. They didn’t even have to know English. They just had to be willing to trudge from farm to farm and town to town with a suitcase of goods. One of the highlights of the film is the compilation of depictions of these salesmen in popular culture, including an episode of “Rawhide” with Clint Eastwood trying to use Yiddish(!).

Rosenwald’s father was a traveling salesman who settled in Springfield, Illinois, where he knew Senator and then President Abraham Lincoln. Rosenwald and his brother followed their father into retail and later teamed up with Sears and Roebuck. Sears was a great salesman but a poor businessman, but Rosenwald developed the business practices, efficiencies, reliability, and use of new technologies to make the company into the biggest retailer and one of the biggest companies in the United States. His idea was that the then-new Sears catalog was a way to “drop a peddler in the mailbox” of Americans who were too far from the cities to shop in the stores. The catalog was aspirational — you could see what was possible. Congressman John Lewis appears in the film, explaining that he first knew he wanted an education when he saw in the Sears catalogue what educated people with jobs could buy.

When they needed more capital, Sears had one of the country’s first public offerings of stock. Rosenwald became very wealthy.

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He was very influenced by his rabbi, Emil Hirsch, who taught him of the importance of tikkun olem — that it is the obligation of each of us to “heal the world.” And Rosenwald drew a direct parallel between the pogroms that Jews were experiencing in Europe and the racist assaults on blacks in the American South. In Hebrew the word for “charity” also means “justice.” And he was influenced by Booker T. Washington’s passion for education and empowerment. Washington brought Rosenwald to the Tuskegee Institute, where he was deeply moved by the self-reliance of the student body and the spirituals sung by the school choir.

With the same vision and focus on efficiency and responsibility he brought to his company, Rosenwald developed an ambitious program to build schools for black children in the South. The communities themselves had to raise part of the money and they had to build the schools themselves, similar to the approach of Habitat for Humanity in building homes. This meant that the communities were vitally involved and committed to the schools. With over 5300 schools giving black children the best educational opportunity they had ever had, the schools taught a generation who would grow up and provide the foundation for the Civil Rights movement. He also made grants to artists and scientists, including Marian Anderson, who used hers to study singing, and Dr. Charles Drew, whose innovation in blood transfusions has saved innumerable lives. He even gave a few grants to white southerners — Kempner shows us an application filled out by Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, better known as Woody.

And, as a title card informs us at the end, he contributed a third of the costs for the Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit that made his schools near-obsolete. That is vision.

Kempner’s film shows the difference one person can make by telling Rosenwald’s story, a critical history lesson and a welcome reminder of our own tikkun olem obligations.

Parents should know that this film includes discussion and depiction of bigotry, including lynching.

Family discussion: Who is most like Rosenwald today? What can you do to heal the world?

If you like this, try: Kempner’s other documentaries

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