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NEW THIS WEEK
Ask any good chef: why do some recipes work, while others, with the very same ingredients, do not? Ah, but it's the QUALITY of the ingredients that matters, that chef will probably say.
A child is born, a family is healed, and a sermon on forgiveness is delivered with sledgehammer subtlety in "Black Nativity," a bold but clumsy attempt to bring Langston Hughes' popular musical to life onscreen.
Instead of the bygone damsels in distress — yes we're talking about you Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty — the female royals of "Frozen," Disney's latest animated wonder, are feisty, forward and independent.
Outfitted with delicious wit and a forbearing tone, the charm of screenwriter Bob Nelson's Midwest-set dramedy, "Nebraska," is rooted in its clever dialogue and novel approach to small-town dynamics.
In the 17 years since "Swingers," Vince Vaughn has cultivated the comedic persona of an obnoxious and insensitive boor, so it may come as a surprise to learn that "Delivery Man" reveals a softer side entirely. As David Wozniak, the world's most fertile sperm donor, the star plays someone who's overwhelmed as opposed to merely overwhelming. It's a welcome change, though a significant marketing challenge as well, considering DreamWorks has almost no way of letting audiences know that "Delivery Man" is virtually nothing like a Vince Vaughn movie, but rather a heartfelt celebration of the act of parenthood presented under radically exaggerated circumstances.
A considerable upgrade over the first "Hunger Games" movie, "Catching Fire" comes across more like a remake than a sequel.
It seems quite apt that "The Best Man Holiday," a film about a reunion of old friends, feels just like going to an actual reunion. In ways both bad and good.
Rarely has a story about an angelic schoolgirl been narrated by Death. But such is the case in the dark, yet wondrous Nazi Germany-set "The Book Thief." ''Here's a small fact: You are going to die," we're told via voiceover by the Grim Reaper as we meet our young heroine, Liesel Meminger, played exquisitely by 13-year-old French-Canadian newcomer Sophie Nelisse.
The best parts of "Dallas Buyers Club" are of Matthew McConaughey, as HIV-positive Texas man Ron Woodroof, bucking like a bull in a Dallas hospital he refuses to let hold him.
Comic book movies are increasingly, like Sandra Bullock in "Gravity," lost in space.
Somewhere deep into "The Counselor," I found myself mesmerized by a metaphysical monologue from one of the characters — someone who sounded strikingly similar to my college philosophy professor — and trying to figure out exactly what he meant, and how it related to the person he was saying it to.
As creaky as an arthritic hip, "Last Vegas" does for four leading stars of the '70s and '80s what movies like "Tough Guys" and "Grumpy Old Men" did for survivors of Hollywood's storied Golden Age: It lets them show they can still throw a punch, bust a move, and get it on, and that they're not quite ready for the Motion Picture Home just yet. Beyond that, this genteel "Hangover" for the AARP crowd has little to recommend it, though a smattering of funny gags and the nostalgia value of the cast keeps the whole thing more watchable than it has any right to be.
An anti-bullying allegory writ on the largest possible scale, "Ender's Game" frames an interstellar battle between mankind and pushy ant-like aliens, called Formics, in which Earth's fate hinges on a tiny group of military cadets, most of whom haven't even hit puberty yet. At face value, the film presents an electrifying star-wars scenario — that rare case where an epic space battle transpires entirely within the span of two hours — while at the same time managing to deliver a higher pedagogical message about tolerance, empathy and coping under pressure. Against considerable odds, this risky-sounding Orson Scott Card adaptation actually works, as director Gavin Hood pulls off the sort of teen-targeted franchise starter Summit was hoping for.
Is it possible to convey, through the experience of just one man, the sweep and enormity of the horror that was American slavery?
Ripped from headlines that still feel wet, "The Fifth Estate" dramatizes the fast, controversial rise of anonymous-whistleblower website WikiLeaks and its figurehead, Julian Assange.
"You will know her name," scream the posters for the new big-screen version of "Carrie," as if anyone could forget it after seeing Brian De Palma's brilliant 1976 movie or reading the original Stephen King novel.
If you saw Paul Greengrass's "United 93," a terrifying depiction of one of the doomed flights on 9/11, you know this director can evoke a harrowing, real-life event like few others. In fact, you may not have recovered yet from the experience.
Robert Rodriguez's "Machete Kills" is a sequel based on an end-credits joke from a film that was itself based on a joke trailer contained within a half-joke grindhouse homage. Exactly how many degrees such an endeavor is removed from anything resembling serious cinema would require Jean Baudrillard to calculate, yet for more immediate filmgoing purposes, all there is to see here is a surprisingly long-lived gag finally running out of gas. As violent as its predecessor yet noticeably duller and less outrageous, "Machete Kills" is dragged to the finish line entirely by its director's madcap energy and an absurd cast of major stars in strange cameos.
A story like that at the heart of "Runner Runner," about a young American gambler who gets sucked way above his head into the criminal doings of a big-time offshore operator, would have found its ideal life as a tough, punchy, black-and-white programmer back in the 1950s. Today, it would have been most viable as a grandiose character study done on an operatic scale by a filmmaker like Martin Scorsese or Michael Mann. What's actually up onscreen in this vaguely ambitious but tawdry melodrama falls into an in-between no man's land that endows it with no distinction whatsoever, a work lacking both style and insight into the netherworld it seeks to reveal. Despite an intriguing setup and Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake heading the cast, this Fox release holds a losing box-office hand.
In an age when we're able to consume content so many different ways — and that's a good thing, mostly — let's declare right now that there's only one truly correct way to experience "Gravity," Alfonso Cuaron's thrilling new space film.
Beholding the late James Gandolfini doing a lovely job in a change-of-pace role significantly intensifies the already funny/sad aspects of "Enough Said," an engaging comic romance set amid the minefields that imperil starting up mid-life relationships. The title notwithstanding, writer-director Nicole Holofcener's look at a 50-ish divorced mother with a daughter about to leave home is never at a loss for words, many of them quite amusing, making the film a leading contender for best girls' night movie of the season. For their part, men will enjoy watching Gandolfini in a relaxed, self-effacing, regular guy performance.
Jon Martello's relentless libido has a comic math to it.
The FLDSMDFR lives!
Maybe, just maybe, Ron Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan are perfect opposites: one a swinging playboy, the other a cold calculator.