Trailer: Indignation

Posted on May 16, 2016 at 8:00 am

Based on Philip Roth’s novel, “Indignation” takes place in 1951, as Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a brilliant working class Jewish boy from Newark, New
Jersey, travels on scholarship to a small, conservative college in Ohio, thus exempting him from being drafted into the Korean War. But once there, Marcus’s growing infatuation with his beautiful classmate Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), and his clashes with the college’s imposing Dean, Hawes Caudwell (Tracy Letts), put his and his family’s best laid plans to the ultimate test.

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Based on a book Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Fury

Posted on October 16, 2014 at 5:58 pm

fury brad pittHistory, Winston Churchill reminds us, is written by the victors. But sometimes those victors have some second thoughts, more complex thoughts, about the nature of heroism, patriotism, and the spoils (in both senses) of war. And sometimes people want to comment on contemporary conflicts but find that it is more compelling in an historical framework. That is how we get “Fury,” a fictional story set in the last days of WWII, with Brad Pitt as “Wardaddy” (everyone gets a “war name”), the leader of a tank team pushing through an increasingly desperate Germany.

“Fury” is what is painted on the gun barrel of the tank. Death, both German and Allied Forces, is everywhere. Our forces, we are told at the beginning, are “outgunned and out-armored,” with “staggering losses.”

The first person we see looks like a cowboy hero, a lone figure on a horse, silhouetted against the sun.  He is not a cowboy and he is not a hero.  He is about to be killed, and not in a Hollywood, glamorized, bang bang way.

“It will end, soon,” Wardaddy tells Norman (Logan Lerman), his fresh-faced and terrified new driver, a kid fresh from the typing pool who has never been in a tank or fired a gun in combat. “But before it does, a lot more people have to die.”

I’m in favor of movies that show war as brutal, morally compromised, and horrific. Ultimately, though, it has to have more to say than that.  It is a movie, a work of drama, and if it is not going to be about something bigger than how terrible war is, it runs the risk of making the very horrors it depicts turn into entertainment and have exactly the opposite impact from the original intention.  Steven Spielberg did it with “Saving Private Ryan,” making both the personal story of the individual characters and the larger story about sacrifice and honor compelling and meaningful.

But writer/director David Ayer, whose previous films included the pulpish law-and-order “SWAT,” “Sabotage,” and “End of Watch,” is no Spielberg (though this film borrows a lot from “Saving Private Ryan”).  This film tells us very little about history, war, or the human experience.

Parents should know that this film includes very intense and graphic wartime violence with many characters injured and killed, executions, disturbing images, sexual assault, looting, constant very strong and crude language, drinking, smoking

Family discussion: How does this differ from other portrayals of WWII combat? What are the different ways the men in this movie cope with the moral compromises of war? Why did the men choose “war names” and what did they signify?

If you like this, try: WWII dramas “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Big Red One” and the Israeli film “Beaufort”

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Action/Adventure Drama War

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Posted on August 6, 2013 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for fantasy action violence, some scary images, and mild violence
Profanity: Some mild language ("screwed," etc.)
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy violence and peril with some moments that may be too intense for younger viewers including repeated apparent deaths
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, very strong and brave female characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 7, 2013
Date Released to DVD: December 16, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B008JFUNTG

The second in the series of films based on Rick Riorden’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians is even better than the first.  The young actors are more comfortable, their characters better established, and the special effects more, well, special.

Percy-Jackson-Sea-of-Monsters-Poster1We learned in the first film that Percy (Logan Lerman) is the son of Poseidon, one of the gods of Olympus and brother of Zeus and Hades. Because his mother was human, he is considered a demigod.  As this film begins, he is safely at Camp Half-Blood with the other children of gods and mortals, including Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), the daughter of Athena, goddess of wisdom, Luke (Jake Abel), the son of Hermes, god of messages and deliveries, and Clarisse (Leven Rambin), daughter of Ares, the god of war.

We see in flashback Percy’s friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), a satyr, Annabeth, and Luke first arriving at Camp Half-Blood, pursued by murderous monsters.  Another young demigod named Thalia sacrificed herself to save them, and in death Zeus turned her into a tree that provided an impenetrable safety zone around the camp.  In the present day, as Percy is losing a competition to Clarisse and feeling dejected and alone.  His mother is gone, his father does not respond, and he does not feel that he has what it takes to live up to the expectations everyone seems to have for him.  Yes, he saved the world in “The Lightning Thief,” but was that really him?  He does not feel like a hero.  The support of centaur Chiron (Anthony Head), Annabeth, and Brandon does not reassure him.

A new arrival at Camp Half-Blood shocks Percy.  It turns out, he has a half-brother.  When a god and a human have a child, the result is a demigod.  But when a god and a nymph have a child, the result is…a cyclops.  (“The politically correct term is ocularly impaired.”)  As much as he longs for family, it is hard for Percy to accept this one-eyed person named Tyson (Douglas Smith) as family.

He does not have much time to think about it.  Camp Half-Blood is attacked by a bronze Colchis bull.  Thalia’s tree is poisoned and the protective shield is destroyed.  Clarisse is assigned the task of retrieving the golden fleece that can repair the tree, but Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Tyson set off as well.  But the golden fleece is guarded by a scary giant cyclops who uses it to lure demigods so he can eat them.  And the people who want to destroy Camp Half-Blood are after it, too.  A series of CGI adventures lie ahead of them, including rides on and in various mythic creatures and a little help from Hermes (a terrific Nathan Fillion) and Poseidon.

Like the books, the films have a nice balance between the mythic scale of the adventures and the teenage problems that can feel every bit as grand and daunting, a nice balance between the classic and the modern, with a sprinkling of humor when it starts to get too intense.  Locations range from an amusement park to a UPS store to the inside of a sea monster and things move briskly along to a conclusion that is exciting and touching as well.

Parents should know that this film has a lot of fantasy peril and violence with some scary monsters.  There are several apparent deaths but (spoiler alert) just about everyone turns out to be all right.

Family discussion: How did Percy feel about his brother? Why did Percy doubt himself and what did he learn from this adventure?

If you like this, try: the books and the original film — and read books about Greek myths like Greek Mythology for Teens: Classic Myths in Today’s World and Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths

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Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Posted on June 22, 2010 at 8:45 am

A teenager feels like he doesn’t fit in anywhere. It all comes together when he finds out that he has inherited some special powers from the father he last saw when he was seven months old. And he soon finds himself in a special school with other kids like him, where they can learn to make the most of their powers.Sound familiar? It does have something in common with Harry Potter, including a successful series of books now made into a movie. They even share a director; Chris Columbus did the first two Harry Potter films, and so he is an old hand at translating a beloved series of novels about kids with special powers on screen. Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) loves his mom (Catherine Keener) but his step-father is obnoxious and abusive. He has a loyal friend named Grover, but he is dyslexic and has ADHD so school is difficult. He is most happy and comfortable in the pool. On a field trip, the gray-haired substitute teacher turns out to be a fury. As in a shrieking flying monster. And the teacher in the wheelchair (Pierce Brosnan)? He turns out to be a centaur, half man, half horse. Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), who walks with crutches, is a satyr (goat-legs) assigned to protect him. And Percy is the son of Poseidon, the God of the Sea. He is to water like Popeye is to spinach, and then some. Water gives him strength and healing powers and he can also control it. Someone has stolen the lightning bolt from Zeus (Sean Bean). And he suspects his two brothers, the gods of the sea and the underworld. He thinks Percy is hiding the bolt — and so do a number of other creatures. Percy has to find the bolt and return it to Zeus before the summer solstice. He gets a bit of training at demigod boot camp and is soon off on his quest with a shield from the son of Hermes, and a pen from the centaur, accompanied by Grover and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), the swashbuckling daughter of Athena. Writer Rick Riordan is not in J.K. Rowling’s league when it comes to inventiveness, intricacy, imagination, or heart. But he has a good sense of the way a young teenager sees the world. I like the way that the things that bother Percy most in his old life turn out to be strengths in his new life. He is dyslexic with English because his brain is hard-wired to read classic Greek. He is ADHD because he has the reflexes of a warrior. And his mother stuck with the odious step-father because, well, I’ll just say because it was the best way to keep Percy hidden. I like the overlay of Greek mythology. But the attempts to bring a modern sensibility to the adventures sometimes feel forced and awkward. Lerman is a bit bland, leaving Grover to capture much of our attention and interest.But the main thing this movie seems to be missing is classically trained British actors. Brosnan is nicely majestic in a brief role and Steve Coogan brightens things up considerably as Hades. But we realize how much the Harry Potter movies benefited from top performers like Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon. Uma Thurman re-creates her all-time weakest performance by making Medusa into a snake-headed version of Poison Ivy and the usually-terrific Rosario Dawson seems lost as Persephone. We need a bit more “Clash of the Titans” and a bit less of “Circus of the Stars.” (more…)

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