The Lookout

B+

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Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, some violence and sexual content.
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Tense and violent situations, some graphic, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2007
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000QFCD8Q

In this tense and twisty thriller, our narrator and central figure is Chris (the stunning Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a one-time high school hockey star and dreamboat who was brain-damaged in a car crash on prom night. Now, he works as the night janitor in a bank and goes to life skills classes to practice “sequencing” and tone down the “disinhibition” that allows him to make inappropriate comments to his pretty caseworker. At night, while he is at work, a friendly cop comes by to bring him donuts and sometimes he plays janitor hockey with his mop and thinks about how much he wants to be “who I was.” The hardest part of sequencing is finding a way to move his own story forward.


“I wake up,” he says. “I shower. With soap.” But is that before shaving or after? And “I cry sometimes” — is that supposed to be there? Chris has a little notebook for writing everything down to make sure he gets the sequences right.


But the sequences don’t seem to be right. He has the patient guidance of Lewis (Jeff Daniels), the blind roommate he met at the life skills center. And he has the confused affection of his wealthy family. They have kept his old room the way he left it, filled with trophies and the wheelchair from rehab folded up in the corner. His father still expects him to play chess. They seem to have more trouble than he does sequencing him into his future.


And then Chris meets Gary (Matthew Goode), who remembers him the way he was and doesn’t seem to think he’s changed much. Gary introduces him to Luvlee (Isla Fisher of The Wedding Crashers) and she seems to think he’s pretty great the way he is. They show him a heady glimpse of himself as powerful, wanted, friended by people who see no reason to feel sorry for him.


And capable of…something adventurous and dashing? Gary wants to rob a bank. The one where Chris and Barney Fife have donuts every night. Has Chris missed a step in his sequence and gotten himself into a situation he can’t sequence himself out of?


The genre of the “impaired narrator” provides instant interest for audiences, who must try to guess what is going on based on limited information from the character who is telling it. Of course, writers always dole out information in a highly controlled way. But this personification of narrative control creates a puzzle that immediately makes our involvement more intense and alert.


Gordon-Levitt is the real deal, a fascinating performer who creates the pre-crash Chris so compellingly in a few brief moments that we can miss him — and glimpse him under the slightly scrambled version he becomes. We’ve seen too many showboat-y performances by actors who love to play the look-at-me-act-with-one-hand-behind-my-back award-bait disabled roles. But Gordon-Levitt and Daniels give us characters who happen to have some disabilities, fascinating for who they are, not for what they can and cannot do. And Goode is…great. In the past relegated to playing the cute English guy with the cute English accent in movies like Match Point and Chasing Liberty, here he is as silky and menacing as a cougar. First-time director Scott Frank makes the most of his own tightly-written script, never neglecting character for action. He makes our hearts pound, but he also makes us care.

Parents should know that this movie has very mature material, including explicit and graphic peril and violence, with many characters injured or killed. Characters use very strong language, drink, smoke, and use drugs. Many of the characters are criminals who threaten, bully, cheat, and steal. There are sexual references and situations, including nudity. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of disabled characters who are capable and dedicated.


Families who see this movie should talk about “sequencing,” and why it is important for the characters and in storytelling. How does the structure of this movie help to make that point?

Audiences who enjoy this film will also enjoy Memento. They will also enjoy other outstanding tense thrillers like A Simple Plan, Shallow Grave, and Out of Sight, with a superb screenplay by this film’s writer-director.

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Crime Drama Movies Thriller

Blades of Glory

B

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Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language, a comic violent image and some drug references.
Profanity: Some strong and very crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drug references
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, including comic decapitation
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2007
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000R7I3XM

Will Ferrell seems to be working his way through every sport ever covered on ESPN. With figure skating, he has found a target-rich environment for comedy. The collision of sport and showbiz is nowhere more intense than in an Olympic event that features what one of the characters in this movie would call “mind-bottling” feats of athleticism plus sparkly costumes and syrupy music.


Ferrell is Chazz Michael Michaels, a skating bad boy who comes out in cowboy gear and whose choreography seems to have been inspired in part by Chippendale’s. His archrival is Jimmy MacElroy (Napoleon Dynamite‘s Jon Heder), all rainbows and unicorns. He all but twinkles across the ice. When the two of them share a gold medal, they end up shoving each other off the podium and getting banned from competition.


After an unhappy period away from the big time, they are reunited through a loophole. They’ve been banned from singles competition, but not from pairs. And just because pairs have always been a man and a woman, well, does that mean it has to stay that way? Not in this movie!


So, after the obligatory resistance and hostility evolve into the obligatory mutual admiration and loyalty, they’re ready for the big time, competing against reigning champs, the brother and sister team Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (“Arrested Development”‘s Will Arnett and his real-life wife, “Saturday Night Live”‘s Amy Poehler).


The comedy may be predictable, but it keeps moving briskly, thanks in part to the conventions of sportscasting. Backstories are economically handled through “Up Close and Personal”-style summaries of the characters’ lives. Ferrell and Heder, who appear in one event as “Fire and Ice,” are well matched, Heder holding his own in his first adult role, one that allows him to be more than just a clueless doof. Not much more, of course — this is the story of two clueless doofs after all. But they are clueless doofs who train hard and dream big and we want to see them get the gold.


Parents should know that this movie is at the edge of an R, with very raunchy, gross, and crude humor, language, and situations, including a meeting of a support group for sex addicts and references to masturbation, condoms, incest, and adult films. There is comic peril and violence, including a “humorous” and somewhat graphic decapitation, a bow and arrow, many crotch hits, a reference to deaths in a car crash, and a joke about a possibly murderous stalker. Characters smoke and drink (including alcohol abuse) and there are drug references, including an overdose joke. Some audience members may be bothered by the portrayal of an adoptive father who abandons his son for making a mistake. There is also some intrusive product placement.


Families who see this movie should talk about the kinds of pressures athletes face from their families and coaches and from the press and the public. Why was winning so important to each of the characters? Why does Katie do what her brother and sister tell her?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Ferrell’s other movies, including Anchorman – The Legend Of Ron Burgundy (very raunchy humor) and the underrated Stranger Than Fiction. They may also enjoy some of the skating movies whose themes are spoofed here, including The Cutting Edge and Ice Castles. For a look at real-life figure skaters, including some who have cameos in this film, families can watch Olympic Figure Skating Greatest Performances In History Volume I and Volume II.

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Comedy Movies Romance

The Hoax

B

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Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language.
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense and emotional scenes, fighting
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2007

What is it about liars that makes them the focus of so many movies? In the past few months alone we’ve had Breech (from the same writer/director who gave us another real-life liar story, Shattered Glass) and Colour Me Kubrick: A True…ish Story. And now we have “The Hoax,” based on one of the most famous liars of the 1970’s, Clifford Irving, who got a $1 million advance for writing “the most important book of the century,” the authorized biography of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. The lie? Well, he made up the whole thing, including forged handwritten letters and having his wife pose as “Helga R. Hughes” to cash that million-dollar check.


Irving knew quite a bit about big-time fraud. His previous books included Fake! about art forger Elmyr De Hory, whose “Vermeers” and “Modiglianis” were considered masterpieces until it was discovered that they were forgeries.


Irving was apparently more inspired by the fraud part of this story than the consequences. According to this film, based on Irving’s own book written after he got out of prison, his frustration at having his publisher first accept and then reject the book he hoped would make his fortune created a sense of entitlement fueled by a bitter wish for revenge. Irving (Richard Gere) was also an accomplished liar — he had affairs and lied about them, he spent more than he had, and he was something of a fabulist, drawn to characters like de Hory and an aspiring novelist.


And so, with a combination of denial, bravado, audacity, research, forgery, and (poorly) calculated risk, and with the help of researcher/sidekick Dick Suskind (Alfred Molina), he told McGraw-Hill that he had made a deal with Hughes, figuring that Hughes was so reclusive he would never bother to refute it. And he quickly learned that the more outrageous his demands, the more believeable they were. When his materials passed a handwriting test and an evaluation by someone who knew Howard Hughes, Irving figured he was unstoppable.


But it turned out that Hughes had his own ideas. And that Irving was not the only liar around.


Richard Gere is superb as Irving, capturing the brio and smooth charm but also the barely subliminal anger, neediness, and desperation. Irving worked as hard on this project as if it had been legit. In one of the movie’s most interesting choices, he actually dresses up as Hughes to be “interviewed” for the book. It isn’t clear whether this is his imagination, the way that any writer must dissolve his individuality into the subject of his story, some momentary fantasy that he really was writing the Hughes story, or some elaborate real-life strategy like the way they stole files from the Pentagon.


The film is less successful in trying to make the case that Irving’s lies were related to and even dwarfed by the other big lies of the era, like Watergate. But he does gain our sympathy. We almost hope he will get away with it. For a moment, as he and his editor wait for Hughes’ helicopter to land, we almost believe it ourselves.

Parents should know that this is a movie about a massive fraud, and many of its characters are unabashed liars and cheats with no consideration for the people whose lives and reputations they are damaging. Characters drink and smoke and use strong language. There are sexual references and non-explicit situations, including adultery and prostitution. And there are tense and emotional confrontations and betrayals.


Families who see this movie should talk about what motivated Irving to commit fraud and what this version of the story, based largely on his own book, tells you about how he feels about it now. What do you think about his efforts to put it in perspective by bringing the Nixon administration into the story? Families might want to read or see other movies about Howard Hughes, including the straight biopic, The Aviator and the imaginative fable Melvin and Howard, which deals with another story of possible fakery and fraud.

Audiences who enjoy this movie will enjoy seeing a much younger Richard Gere acting opposite the real-life Nina van Pallandt in American Gigolo. She can also be seen in Orson Welles’ fascinating documentary about lies and frauds, F for Fake. It was inspired in part by Clifford Irving’s book about art forger Elmyr de Hory, Fake!. The Criterion edition of Welles’ film includes as an extra Howard Hughes’ press conference denouncing Irving’s book. Irving’s own book about the Hughes book fraud might also be of interest.

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Comedy Drama Movies

Meet the Robinsons

B+

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Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Cartoon-style peril, including dinosaur, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2007
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000ROAK2W

At times, all of us feel like strangers in the world. In Disney’s bight, colorful, CGI animated film (available in 3D in some locations), Lewis (voice of Daniel Hansen) is left on the steps of an orphanage as a baby and rejected by over 100 prospective parents. He constantly invents machines that will help solve problems. But his love for inventing just seems to make him feel more separate from the world, more isolated, more weird. It seems he will ever find a family or a place where he feels at home.


Mildred (voice of Angela Bassett), who runs the orphanage, is sympathetic and fond of Lewis, but that is not the same. He has a roommate, Michael “Goob” Yagoobian (voice of Matthew Josten), who is just as lonely as he is. Lewis is better at understanding the problems of machines than he is at understanding what makes people work — or not work. His head is so full of plans that he does not always see what is going on in front of him.

When he takes his latest invention to the school science fair, he does not notice that two very unusual people have taken an interest in it. One is “Bowler Hat guy,” an even apter name than first apparent. The other is a boy named Wilbur Robinson who says he is from the future and he needs Lewis to accompany him there right away.


In keeping with its theme, the movie is visually inventive, especially in 3D. The story is uneven and a little too long, its wacky characters not as adorable as it wants us to think they are, and the ending not quite as logically consistent as it should be. But any movie that has a chorus of frogs singing Big Band music and a healthy respect for failure is worth seeing.

Parents should know that the movie’s themes include parental abandonment and rejection by potential adoptive parents, which may be disturbing for some children. There is some cartoon violence and peril, including a scary dinosaur. No one is badly hurt, though a child has a black eye and refers to having been beat up. There is some schoolyard language and a reference to being over-caffeinated.


Families who see this movie should talk about what it means to keep moving forward and to let go of the hurts of the past. Why did Lewis change his mind about what he thought he wanted? They may also want to talk about the many different ways people create families — and about some of the more unusual hobbies of their family members.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy the book, A Day with Wilbur Robinson, by William Joyce. They will also enjoy the dazzlingly inventive graphics in another animated film about an inventor based on Joyce’s work, Robots. The bowler hat guy is a little reminiscient of villain played by Terry-Thomas in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or Jack Lemmon in the delightful Great Race.

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Action/Adventure Animation Comedy Family Issues Movies Science-Fiction

The Last Mimzy

B

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Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some thematic elements, mild peril and language.
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and confrontations, some tense scenes and possible peril
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2007
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000Q66FB6

Two children find toys that make them more intelligent and powerful and send them on an adventure in this fine story for 4th-8th graders and their families. After he plays with the toys, Noah (Chris O’Neil) doesn’t need his glasses any more. He can hit a golf ball like Tiger Woods. Instead of struggling in school, he puts together a science fair project that could earn him a Nobel Prize. Noah’s little sister Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) can make the rocks that came with the toys spin. She can create some sort of vortex and stick her hand inside, making its atoms come apart. And one of the toys seems to be a kind of a generator, so powerful that it blows out all the electricity in the city.


These are not the kind of toys you can find at the store. Noah and Emma find them in a box washed up on the shore near their family’s weekend home on the coast of Washington state. And shutting down the electricity in Seattle is not something that goes unnoticed, not in these days of the Patriot Act, where, as Noah’s father is reminded by Nathanial Broadman of Homeland Security (Michael Clarke Duncan), the government no longer needs a warrant to search your house.


Noah and Emma will need all of their new powers and the help of some grown-ups — their parents (Timothy Hutton and Joely Richardson) and Noah’s teacher Larry (“The Office’s” Rainn Wilson) and his wife to solve the deeper riddle behind the toys and help save those who sent them.


The very part of the story that is most likely to appeal to children — making the kids the central characters and giving only them the power to save the day — is also its weak point. A great deal rests on its young actors, and Wryrn falters in the big scenes, seeming to be repeating her lines rather than feeling them. The updates to the 1943 short story feel shoehorned in and the scenes of the government coming in to investigate are like an echo of the unforgettably powerful scenes in E.T. But the film wisely does not try to wow the CGI-savvy audience with its special effects, keeping them low-key enough to feel enticingly possible. And its respect for studying science, for taking responsibility for addressing the problems around us, and for family commitment, communication, and loyalty are lessons this toy of a movie teaches very nicely.

Parents should know that this movie has some tense scenes with some mild peril. There is some kissing with a very mild sexual reference and an unmarried couple lives together.


Families who see this movie should talk about the idea of “cultural pollution” and how each of us can take responsibility for protecting our environment and our communities. Why would someone send such an important message in the form of toys?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Edward Eager’s delightful Tales of Magic books. The title of this movie comes from Lewis Carroll’s famous Jabberwocky nonsense poem from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.

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Action/Adventure Drama Family Issues Fantasy Movies Science-Fiction
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