Moonrise Kingdom

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and smoking
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and injury for both a dog and humans
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 25, 2012
Date Released to DVD: October 15, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B007L6VR12

Wes Anderson films are not so much directed as curated.  Often accused of being more interested in his props than his characters, Anderson’s fussy, even obsessive focus on the objects and sets gives his films a missing the forest for the trees feeling that seems claustrophobic and frustratingly precious to some audiences and astutely ironic to others.  Some, I think, see both.

On a fictional island called Penzance off the coast of mid-1960’s New England, two middle school pre-teens run away partly to be together but mostly to be someplace different from where they were.  Sam (Jared Gilman) is an owlish-looking orphan who escapes from “Khaki Scout” camp overseen by the very meticulous Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton).  He wears glasses and a coonskin cap.  He lives with foster parents who have rejected him and, as we find, after camp is over he will be sent to live in an orphanage by a woman so odiously officious the only name she goes by is Social Services (Tilda Swinton).

Suzy (Kara Hayward) is a serious and determined girl who lives with a family that does not appreciate or understand her.  She wears knee socks, packs a record-player, and is very attached to her binoculars, which give her a chance to look at places far from home.  Her mother (Frances McDormand) addresses her children in their home via megaphone.  Sam first sees Suzy when she is in costume as a bird, about to appear in a performance of Benjamin Britten’s opera about Noah and the flood.  They engage in a secret correspondence and make plans for their getaway.

Sam and Suzy create a world for themselves that is part fantasy, part very real.  They are practical, if limited, in their understanding of their situation.  Sam uses his camping skills to provide food and shelter, and they rename their site Moonrise Kingdom, establishing themselves as rulers of a place that exists in the opposite of the harsh daylight of their previous reality.  They try some kissing but sleep next to each other in complete innocence.  Suzy brought a record-player as one of her essentials, and they listen to music.

Meanwhile, Scout Master Ward, Suzy’s parents, and the local sheriff (Bruce Willis), who is having a joyless affair with Suzy’s mother, are searching the island for the missing children.  Sam, who was ostracized for being weird by the other scouts, becomes a hero for his daring and romantic adventure and they help him try to escape with the assistance of another Scout leader (Jason Schwartzman) who is less upstanding than Ward.  Even Ward ends up complimenting Sam on his “commendable” campsite.

Sam and Suzy may not have a plan for taking care of themselves past a few days and one of the things Anderson does best is conveying that exact moment between the end of childhood and the beginning of adolescence (Suzy’s home is called “Summer’s End”) when things are animated by imagination that can feel completely real.  Like Peter Pan and Wendy, Sam pretends to smoke a pipe and Suzy presides over a group of Lost Boys to create a family that allows them to be both adult and forever young.  Like the young heroes of Dickens’ story about Mr. and Mrs. Harry Walmers, Jr., the young runaways seem to have an almost incantatory faith in the power of marriage to create a bond that will protect them from the power of the grown-ups.

In many ways Sam and Suzy are more adult than the grown-ups around them, who are petty, foolish, or lonely.  And, as usual in Wes Anderson films, they are not as fully realized as the props and settings around them.  It is telling that the children assume a paper mache decoy will fool the adults; it almost does.  Suzy’s library books in particular are a marvel of period detail, so vivid and evocative audiences of a certain age will swear they had those books on the shelf next to Madeleine L’Engle and Norton Juster.  It’s details like the coonskin cap that delight his fans and infuriate everyone else.  No one in the mid-60’s and no 12 year old of any era wore a coonskin cap.  The omniscient “Our Town”-style narrator (Bob Balaban) can tell us a storm is coming but he cannot make the emotions of the story feel real or meaningful.

Parents should know that this film includes some sexual references and experimentation by middle-schoolers, teen and adult smoking and drinking, some strong language, some violence, and human and animal characters peril and injury.

Family discussion: Why did the scoutmaster change his mind about which was his “real job?”  Why did the children run away?  How does it change the story to have it set in the 1960’s instead of today?

If you like this, try: “A Little Romance” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox”

 

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Comedy Drama Romance Stories About Kids

Snow White and the Huntsman

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action and brief sensuality
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive fantasy violence with some disturbing images, battles with swords, knives, and arrows, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Strong female and dwarf characters, use of full-size actors to play dwarfs
Date Released to Theaters: June 1, 2012
Date Released to DVD: September 11, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B005LAIHSG

Director Rupert Sanders is known for making television commercials that look like fairy tales, with angels falling from the sky for a guy who uses Axe body spray and a boy battling samurai warriors with Excalibur to sell X-Box game consoles.  With his first feature film he has made a fairy tale that looks like a commercial, with every frame filled with eye-popping images and a lot of dramatic posing.  A 30 second version would have made a great commercial for perfume or skin cream.  As a movie, it is just so-so, with uneven performances and dodgy pacing.  After over 100 movie versions of the classic fairy tale about the girl whose lips are red as blood, skin is white as snow, and hair black as ebony and the evil stepmother who orders her taken into the woods and killed, the Disney animated version is still the fairest of them all.

Like Tarsem’s superior “Mirror Mirror,” released earlier this year, this version makes Snow White into an action heroine, leading the battle against her evil stepmother.  Charlize Theron plays Ravenna, who literally bewitches a king grieving for his late wife.  She murders him on their wedding night, taking over his kingdom with the help of her creepy brother/henchman Finn (Sam Spruell) and locking the young princess in a grubby tower.  Ravenna cares for just one thing — eternal beauty.  She swans around looking haughty in fabulous Colleen Atwood costumes that can best be described as haute predator couture, with all kinds of intricate spikes and skulls.  Everything is either sharp or poisonous and laced-up tightly, with talon-like finger-armor.  She stalks and flounces nicely but when it is time for her to get ferocious she is all eye-rolls and screeches, a bad version of Carol Burnett doing Norma Desmond.

Ravenna has an enormous gold mirror that looks like giant frisbee hanging on the wall, and the robed creature who lives inside assures her that she is the fairest in the land.  She also gets some reassurance from skeevy Finn, with whom she shares the creepiest brother watching his sister take a bath scene since “Bunny Lake is Missing.”  You also know he’s twisted from his terrible haircut, a sort of medieval mullet.

While Ravenna is bathing in thick cream and literally sucking the life out of young women, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is still locked in the tower.  For years.  But she stays so pure that when the birds come to perch on her window, she does not grab and eat them.  She just allows them to show her a loose nail she can use as a weapon, which comes in very handy as Finn arrives shortly to indicate some predatory tendencies and take her to the queen.  The mirror guy has informed Ravenna that Snow White has come of age.  Her purity is so powerful that she alone has the power to destroy Ravenna, says the mirror.  But her power is so great that if Ravenna can eat her heart, she will no longer need touch-ups and refills.  Her beauty will stay as it is forever.

When Snow White escapes into the Dark Forest, where everything is creepy and scary and even Ravenna has no power.  The only person who knows the Dark Forest well enough to bring her back is The Huntsman (no name), played by “The Avengers'” Thor, Chris Hemsworth.  Ravenna promises to bring his dead wife back to life if he will capture the prisoner and he agrees to go.  But Snow White isn’t the only one who gets tripped up in the forest.  Sanders gets much too enmeshed in all of the tree-branches-turning to snakes-style special effects and the forest section of the film goes on much too long, with at least three too many set-ups and confrontations, including the return of Finn.  And it gets worse when they emerge into a sort of Light Forest fairyland, when the story really starts to go haywire, with a whole “chosen one” theme that had people in the audience groaning.  Stewart is out of her league.  She is fine playing characters like the vulnerable Bella in “Twilight,” but when called on here to inspire the troops, she sounds like she is ordering pizza.

And then there are the dwarfs.  It is hard to imagine that in 2012 anyone could think it is appropriate to cast full-size actors, no matter how talented and no matter how persuasive the special effects, as little people.  It is a shame to see Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, and others in roles that should be played by little people.  By the time they show up, the plot has fallen apart, with an unnecessary love triangle and a preposterous encounter with a troll.  Nearly everyone’s accents waver, some of the dialogue is truly awful, and I am certain no one in a fairy tale should ever use the word “okay.”  Recasting Snow White as the hero of her own story is long overdue and production designer Dominic Watkins creates some real magic.  But this is not only not the best Snow White; it’s not the best one in the last four months.

 

Parents should know that this film includes fantasy and battle violence with many characters injured and killed, and some graphic and disturbing images including bloody wounds, bugs, and snakes.  There is brief partial nudity and some scenes of a brother watching his sister bathe and then suggestively touching a young woman in a predatory manner.

Family discussion:  How did Ravenna’s costumes reflect her character?  How did the three drops of blood spilled by both characters’ mothers show their connection?

If you like this, try: Some of the more than 100 other movie versions of this story including the recent “Mirror Mirror” and the Disney animated classic

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Epic/Historical Fantasy Remake

For Greater Glory

B-

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended battle violence with many characters and animals killed, children tortured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, strong female characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 1, 2012

In 1926, the atheist President of Mexico Plutarco Elias Calles (Rubén Blades) decided to secularize the country by edict.  He deported non-Mexican priests and prohibited the remaining priests from appearing outside of the churches in their cassocks.  Rebels fought back, at first with peaceful protests and then with increasing force until it became an armed conflict known as the Cristero War or Christiada.   This film, financed in part by the Catholic fraternal society The Knights of Columbus, is a faith-based and often heavy-handed retelling of the story, focusing on characters who have since been recognized by the church as martyrs and canonized.

Andy Garcia and Oscar Isaac bring some depth and dignity to a script that is sincere but clunky.  Garcia plays Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, a non-believer married to a devout woman (Eva Longoria) and a former general now painfully under-employed as a manager at a soap factory.  When the Cristeros offer him the job of commanding their troops, he accepts because he wants to do the work he was born for, because it will please his wife, and because, he discovers, he would like to believe in something.  One of his biggest challenges is winning the respect of the Cristero’s legendary fighter, Victoriano Ramirez (Isaac), known as “El Catorce” because he defeated fourteen of the President’s army by himself.  Rodriguez plays one of the women who played key roles in transporting guns and ammunition.

The battle scenes are impressively staged and there are some affecting moments, but it assumes a level of belief and commitment on the part of its audience that may not apply to those who are not familiar with Catholic teachings.  Ultimately, it is closer to worship than story-telling, more likely to validate believers than to engage new hearts.

Parents should know that this film has extended battle violence with many characters and animals injured and killed, graphic and disturbing images, and a harrowing scene of a child who is tortured and killed.

Family discussion: How does the quote at the beginning of the movie relate to the story? How did participating in the fight change the general’s mind about God?

If you like this, try: “The Mission” and “Braveheart”

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Action/Adventure Based on a true story Epic/Historical Movies War

Trailer: “Stella Days” with Martin Sheen

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In Martin Sheen’s new film, “Stella Days,” he plays a priest in a small town in rural Ireland of the 1950’s.  It is a story about the excitement of the unknown versus the security of the familiar, as those in the town find themselves on the cusp of the modern but still clinging to the traditions of church and a cultural identity forged in very different times.

It will be available On Demand nationwide starting June 20 and will be in select theaters June 22.

Stay tuned for an exclusive clip, which I’ll be posting soon.

 

 

 

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Contest: “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”

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Journey 2: The Mysterious Island  will be released on blu-ray combo pack and digital download June 5 and I have one copy to give away.

The new journey begins when young adventurer Sean (Josh Hutcherson) receives a coded distress signal from a mysterious island where no island should exist—a place of strange life forms, mountains of gold, deadly volcanoes, and more than one astonishing secret. Unable to stop him from going, Sean’s new stepfather (Dwayne Johnson) joins the quest. Together with a helicopter pilot (Luis Guzman) and his beautiful, strong-willed daughter (Vanessa Hudgens), they set out to find the island, rescue its lone inhabitant and escape before seismic shockwaves force the island under the sea and bury its treasures forever.  Michael Caine stars as Sean’s adventuring grandfather.

To enter the contest, send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with “Journey” in the subject line and tell me what is the one thing you would bring to the Mysterious Island.  Don’t forget your address!  (US addresses only)  Good luck, and I’ll pick a winner on June 4.

NOTE: I use the addresses for prize deliveries only and my policy on potential conflicts is posted.

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Contests and Giveaways
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