The Promise

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material including war atrocities, violence and disturbing images, and some sexuality
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and prolonged peril and violence including war and genocide, some graphic and disturbing images, characters injured and killed, suicide, execution
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 21, 2017
Date Released to DVD: July 17, 2017
Amazon.com ASIN: B0719XBL75
Copyright Open Road Films 2017
Copyright Open Road Films 2017

The massacre was so monumental, the attempt to wipe out an entire culture and ethnicity so savage, that a new word had to be invented to describe it. The word was “genocide,” and while it would be applied many times over the course of the 20th century, it was created to describe the murder of 1.6 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) during the first World War. It is difficult to acknowledge that “The Promise,” a love story set during this period is particularly timely, released the week of the annual observance of the annual day of remembrence and the week of a troubling referendum extending the powers of the current leader.

Writer/director Terry George, served time in prison during the time of The Troubles in Northern Ireland and has devoted his life to telling stories of courage in times of the direst periods of unrest and slaughter, including the Oscar-nominated “Hotel Rwanda” and “In the Name of the Father.” With “The Promise,” he tells an epic story of love and loss in wartime, with Oscar Isaac, channelling Yuri Azhivago as soulful Mikael Pogosian, a young Armenian medical student, Christian Bale as determined American journalist Chris Myers, and Charlotte LeBon (“The Walk”), lovely and stirring as Ana, an Armenian artist and governess and the woman they both love.

As it begins, Mikael has agreed to marry a girl in his village in exchange for a dowry that will pay for medical school in Constantinople (Istanbul), where he stays with his uncle’s family, including Ana, governance to his young cousins. In these early scenes, both in the village and the city, George immerses us in an ambiance of sophistication, culture, tolerance, and prosperity. Christians and Muslims, Turks and Armenians, mostly treat each other with respect and easy comfort, even affection.

But that changes quickly as World War I begins. The Ottoman Empire joins the Germans and begins ethnic cleansing, arresting and deporting the intellectuals, forcing able-bodied men into military service or slave labor, throwing everyone else out of their homes and sometimes outright murder. Mikael’s medical exemption from military service is revoked. He is sent to a labor camp but escapes and returns home to find everyone he knows in danger. Although he is by now very much in love with Ana, he goes through with the promised marriage. Meanwhile, Chris is trying to get the story out to the rest of the world and Ana is trying to protect and help her people. All three are swept up in the tumultuous events as people around them show cruelty they could never have imagined possible.

As devastating as the historic events of the film are, the most powerful moments for today’s audiences are the ones that evoke our current conflicts. The treatment of refugees, including an extraordinary rescue effort from France, is in sharp contrast to news footage of today’s refugees, stuck for years, even decades, in perilous limbo before they can find new home, underscored by a reference to the temporary destination for the Armenians evicted from their villages — Aleppo.

Parents should know that this film concerns war and genocide, with extended peril and violence and some graphic and disturbing images. Characters are injured and killed, including an execution, and there are very sad deaths. There is some strong language.

Family discussion: What does this story tell us about today’s treatment of refugees? About how quickly a country can shift its policies on diversity and inclusion? Is survival a form of revenge?

If you like this, try: “Nahapet,” “Ararat,” and “Map of Salvation”

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Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Epic/Historical Inspired by a true story Journalism Romance War

Coming Through the Rye

B

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Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some drug material, sexuality and language
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Sad offscreen death,
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 14, 2016

Copyright Red Hat Films 2016
Copyright Red Hat Films 2016
“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”

That, of course, is Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s classic of adolescent anguish, Catcher in the Rye. Even more than the parts about “phonies” and the simultaneous wish to avoid entanglements to protect all that is innocent and vulnerable in oneself and somehow protect the innocent and vulnerable in others, that line packing so much understanding and such a powerful invitation has made generations of teenagers feel understood and validated. (See “Six Degrees of Separation” for Will Smith’s fascinating and disturbing speech on the book’s meaning.) More, it has made them feel invited. If Holden thinks that connecting to a work of fiction can make you feel like the author’s friend, then perhaps, despite his being the most well-known recluse of 20th Century America, Salinger might welcome a visit.

That is the basis for this film about a very Holden-esque adventure undertaken by a prep school senior who wants J.D. Salinger to approve his theatrical adaptation of Catcher in the Rye. Like Catcher, it takes its title from the folk lyric by Robert Burns. Holden imagines himself saving children who are playing in a field of rye, catching them before they go off a cliff.

Alex Wolff plays Jamie Schwartz, a sensitive theater kid (we see him exclaim “A plague o’ both your houses” as Mercutio in a school production of “Romeo and Juliet.” He has a bit of a crush on the girl who plays Juliet and does not notice that there is less flashy but far more substantial girl named Deedee (Stefania LaVie Owen) who has a bit of a crush on him. When he is the target of a bullying prank at school, Jamie and Deedee decide to take a car trip and go visit J.D. Salinger. (What is it with these Wolff boys? Alex’s brother Nat appeared in “Paper Towns,” another movie about a teen car trip.)

We know where this is going. It’s the kind of journey where a lot of growing up will happen. There are not many surprises (except for the way Jamie and Deedee finally learn Salinger’s address from the only locals not committed to protecting his privacy). Owen does more than should be possible with an underwritten character who is essentially a fantasy figure, endlessly understanding and devoted (and on the Pill but not for sex!) But she and Wolff, and Chris Cooper in a brief but telling role, make it a worthwhile trip.

Parents should know that this film includes strong language, a dangerous prank, and teen drug use. There is a sad offscreen death.

Family discussion: What author would you like to visit? Was Salinger right about not allowing Catcher to be adapted for theater or film?

If you like this, try: “HairBrained” and “A Birder’s Guide to Everything”

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Inspired by a true story Movies Romance Stories about Teens

Mr. Church

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and alcohol abuse, smoking, prescription drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Illness and very sad deaths
Diversity Issues: A theme of the film
Date Released to Theaters: September 16, 2016
Date Released to DVD: October 24, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B01JTQ3QTC

Copyright 2016 Envision Media Arts
Copyright 2016 Envision Media Arts
Eddie Murphy gives a thoughtful, nuanced, sensitive performance in a film that suffers from a too-predictable script and suffers even more from very bad timing.

Director Bruce Beresford picked the right time for the similarly themed “Driving Miss Daisy,” released in 1989, the story of a friendship between an illiterate black chauffeur and a cranky Jewish widow in the Civil Rights era South. It was a prestige and popular success, with Best Picture and Best Actress Oscars. But 27 years later, audiences are more sophisticated or less tolerant or both, and the idea of a devoted domestic who sacrifices a great deal from a combination of limited options and loyalty is not a reassuring fable of racial harmony but a grating reminder of white privilege and the prevalence of the narrative of the Magical Negro. No matter how based (as “Miss Daisy” was, as well as films like “The Help”) on real-life experiences and no matter how well-intentioned and affectionate the portrait, no matter how hard Beresford and Murphy try, it is hard to see the portrait at anything but condescending.

But I did my best to try, and watched it as writer Susan McMartin wanted it to be watched, as her sincere tribute to what she calls “a real friendship in my life.” With that context, I was able to appreciate the film’s evocative sense of time and place and Murphy’s understated performance.

Marie (Natascha McElhone) is a single mother of 10-year-old Charlotte (Natalie Coughlin). Marie is very ill, much worse than Charlotte knows. One day, Mr. Church (Murphy) shows up to cook for them. His salary is being paid by Marie’s former lover, a married man who still cares for her. Charlotte is resistant, even hostile, perhaps projecting some of her anger at her mother’s illness onto the man who seems like an intruder. She’d rather just have cereal. But she is quickly won over by his endlessly marvelous food, masterfully prepared, always while listening jazz on the radio. The economy and precision of his hands as he prepares the food is his own kind of jazz. Soon, he introduces her to something even more nourishing: his well-worn library of books, which he allows her to borrow only after filling out a check-out card.

Mr. Church’s care and her own fierce determination keep Marie going long past the predictions of her doctor, and she is able to see Charlotte (now Britt Robinson of “Tomorrowland”) go to the senior prom. But then Marie is gone, and Mr. Church saves the day by making it possible for Charlotte to go to college, until she becomes pregnant and has to drop out. With nowhere else to go, she finds herself back with Mr. Church, who takes her in and cares for her as he always has.

Even after all that, he is still “Mr. Church.” His private life is still private. And when Charlotte tries to find out more, he is furious. But they are family, and that means they find a way to go on together, until it is her turn to take care of him. (We’ve segued from “Driving Miss Daisy” to “Arthur”)

We spend too much time with Charlotte and not enough with Mr. Church. He is a far more interesting and significant character.

Parents should know that this film includes illness and very sad deaths, and smoking and alcohol abuse, and references to adultery and out of wedlock pregnancy. Her story is one we’ve seen many times before. His is one we want to know more about, and this film should have understood that he was its focus.

Family discussion: How did Mr. Church win Charlotte’s trust? Why didn’t he want her to know more about his life?

If you like this, try: “Clara’s Heart”

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Coming of age Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Family Issues Inspired by a true story

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

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MPAA Rating: Rated R for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and some graphic nudity
Profanity: Extremely strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs, intoxication
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, some injuries with graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 8, 2016
Date Released to DVD: September 26, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B01K4PDIVS

mike and dave2So, two bros — literal, biological bros and bros in the bro-iest of spirits — advertised on Craigslist for wedding dates. This being America, that got them on talk shows, which led to a book deal, which led to a movie starring four of of Hollywood’s funniest young stars. Your ability to appreciate the result of this unstoppably bro-tastic marketing juggernaut will depend entirely on your tolerance for bro humor. Be warned; mine is pretty low. Your mileage may vary.

Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) love each other and their family. They love their life of awesome parties and wild hijinks. But their parents and sister Jeannie (Sugar Lyn Beard) stage an intervention. Jeannie is getting married in Hawaii and she would like them to tone it down, so she can have an elegant, civilized celebration, nothing requiring ambulances, fire engines, or lawyers.

They come up with an idea. The worst problems seem to occur when Mike and Dave are trying to impress or party with girls. If they can find some “nice, respectable, smart girls” to accompany them to the wedding as their dates, it will have a calming effect. So, committed to #doingitforjeannie but with no idea of where to find such nice stable ponies, they of course turn to the place one goes to find used furniture, Craigslist, leading to the Wendy Williams Show, where they are spotted by Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick), two girls who are as irresponsible and wild as the brothers. But of course they have to hide that to appear suitable for this occasion and thus get two free tickets to a lavish party in Hawaii. “We’re going to flip the script and Bachelorette that s***.”

Okay, we all know where this is going. Lots of mayhem. Lots of substance abuse and outrageous behavior. An ATV stunt that leaves the bride looking like “burn victim Barbie.” An intimate massage. Many inappropriate comments to various wedding attendees.

But “oh, no, they didn’t” comedy about irresponsible and grossly inconsiderate behavior only gets you so far, even in a gorgeous setting. Four of the most talented, appealing, and very funny performers anyone could hope for cannot make what is essentially a 10-minute sketch into a movie.

Parents should know that this film has extremely graphic adult material with very crude sexual references and explicit situations, comic peril and violence with some injuries, drinking, drugs, and very strong and crude language.

Family discussion: What makes someone a good wedding date?  Why was it so hard for Mike and Dave to behave themselves?

If you like this, try: “Wedding Crashers,” “American Pie,” and “Saving Silverman”

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Comedy Gross-out Inspired by a true story

The Meddler

B+

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief drug content
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Sad offscreen death, minor accident
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 29, 2016

Copyright Sony Pictures Classics 2016
Copyright Sony Pictures Classics 2016
Marnie (Susan Sarandon) is the irresistible force who, just before this movie starts, meets the immovable object: devastating grief in the loss of her husband. She does not have the vocabulary to process this loss. And so she tries to hold onto the person she was before. And she tries to convince everyone around her — and herself — that she’s fine. “The Meddler” begins with a brief monologue about how much she loves living in Los Angeles, where she has moved to be near her only daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne). “It’s like Disneyland!” she says cheerfully.

But she has trouble filling her days and finding a place to use her generous impulses. And so, as the title indicates, she meddles. She calls Lori many times a day, and when Lori does not answer, she comes over — with a bag of bagels. Lori, grieving in her own way for her father and for a breakup with a handsome actor, does not respond, and so Marnie turns her attention to anyone who comes along, from Lori’s friends to the guy at the Apple store genius bar. What she does not feel ready to do yet is to say goodbye to her husband by burying his ashes and putting up a headstone in the family plot back in New Jersey. “It’s been a year,” she tells his brothers. But it has been two. And she is not ready to think about loving someone new, even after she meets a man who is from her home town and seems perfect for her (Michael McKean).

When Lori’s friend Jillian (SNL’s Cecily Strong) mentions that she needs a babysitter, and so Marnie shows up at her house — with bagels. Jillian says that she does not have a mother and she never had the dream wedding she wished for. So Marnie offers to give her a wedding. And when she encourages the Apple genius (Jerrod Carmichael of “The Carmichael Show”) to go back to school, she offers to drive him. She has so much to give, but the loss of her husband has left her with no place to give it and a fear of losing him even more if she changes too much or gets too close to someone else.

Sarandon gives one of her best performances, which means she is truly superb, and Byrne is excellent as well. When Lori’s ex and his new girlfriend find Marnie and Lori having dinner together on Valentine’s Day, there is a beautifully funny and heart-wrenching moment as both mother and daughter try so hard to appear to be doing fine that they do not notice they are undermining each other. In another scene of piercing bittersweetness, a day of emotional upheaval ends in mingled laughter and tears. JK Simmons brings dry wit and humanity to the role of an ex-cop and hen farmer whose quiet understanding gives Marnie her first chance to let go a little, and to acknowledge, after some resistance, that it is something she wants and needs to do, for herself and for Lori.

Writer/director Lorene Scafaria (“Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist” and “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”) has a rare gift for finding the space in between joy and grief, and a rare understanding of the power of small moments to tell a big story. As Marnie watches Lori’s script being filmed, she is moved by the way Lori has used her writing to work through her grief, and as we watch this film, we share that feeling.

Parents should know that this film has some strong language, sexual references, and drug use.

Family discussion: Why does Marnie want to help people she hardly knows? What’s the difference between being supportive and meddling and how does that change in different circumstances?

If you like this, try: “Hello, My Name is Doris” and “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”

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Comedy Drama Inspired by a true story Movies Romance
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