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edgeofseventeencoverGrade: A-/B+
Entire family: No (17 and older)
2016, 104 min., Color
Rated R for sexual content, language, and some drinking, all related to teens
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: D
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Amazon link

More than a few critics have remarked how ironic it is that some 17 year olds might not be able to get past the ticket-taker to see the R-rated film The Edge of Seventeen, which stars 20-year-old Hailee Steinfeld as a teen whose world is turned upside down after her only friend starts dating her only sibling—a brother who is everything she’s not, and who has never shown her any kindness. In fact, the only person young Nadine felt connected to died several years ago, and that’s no spoiler: we see it fairly early in the film.

edgeofseventeenscreen2Nadine and best buddy Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) really capture the behavior of teenager besties, while Blake Jenner as the got-everything-going-for-him older brother struts his stuff—those perfect abs, great hair, and jock standing that make him popular. The gap between the outgoing and accomplished Darian and his introverted and awkward sister is so great that you wonder if they’re really brother and sister . . . until you see more of the mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and realize how incapable she seems of handling life’s problems. The ratings paradox, meanwhile, is the result of another gap: the one between reality and standards of decency. Are today’s teenagers drinking, swearing, and having sex? Not all, and maybe not even most . . . but many, certainly. Do parents feel comfortable admitting this? Not remotely.

The Edge of Seventeen is a film that teenagers would like, and a film that ultimately models the kind of behavior most parents would hope would be their children’s default, no matter how much they experiment or stray (as even the best ones are apt to do). Nadine sexts the boy she’s crushing on and she goes with him in his car to an isolated spot, but her default morality kicks in when it matters most. It’s implied that another couple has had sex, since they’re in bed together, but aside from bare shoulders and a hand moving up and down under the blanket, nothing is shown. Aside from teens making out at a party, that’s the extent of the sex in this 2016 film from newcomer Kelly Fremon Craig. I’ve seen PG-13 films that have had more explicit moments.

edgeofseventeenscreen1So what makes The Edge of Seventeen R-rated? Language, mostly (some of it sexually explicit), plus teenage drinking and puking—the filmmakers certainly don’t glamorize partying. Nadine says the f-word a lot, and her teacher almost matches her. Woody Harrelson makes a small role large as the acerbic Mr. Bruner, who has embraced deadpan understatement as a defense against students who tend to be overly dramatic . . . like Nadine. There’s a certain amount of shock value attached to hearing a teenage girl talking like a phone sex operator, but it’s part of life—at least part of her life while she tries to get it together.

“There are two types of people in the world: the people who naturally excel at life, and the people who hope all those people die in a big explosion,” Nadine says in voiceover. Nadine has issues, to put it mildly. While The Edge of Seventeen isn’t as edgy a film as the title implies, it provides enough space for her to grapple with those issues and emerge by film’s end a better person. It’s not exactly a caterpillar-to-butterfly tale. More like a grub to a beetle—a different kind of coming-of-age story, yet one that’s oh so familiar as Nadine learns to appreciate the people right there at arm’s reach.

The cover says this is one of the “best reviewed comedies of all time” and the trailer makes it seem like it’s going to be a laugh-fest, but The Edge of Seventeen is a drama with comedic moments, some of them laugh-out-loud. Think Juno, but a little edgier. With a lot more F-bombs.

Language: Pretty much a steady stream that eventually tapers off
Sex: Other than what I’ve written in the review, nothing else
Violence: Nothing here
Adult situations: The Edge of Adulthood is probably a more exact title, as all the situations are adult or borderline adult
Takeaway: Being a teenager used to seem so much easier, and yet some things never change

THE COMMITMENTS (25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray)

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CommitmentscoverGrade: B+
Entire family: No
1991, 118 min., Color
RLJ Entertainment
Rated R for language throughout
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B+
Amazon link

Like Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins), who auditions people in his home for a band he fantasizes will be the next big musical act to come out of Dublin, director Alan Parker listened to a non-stop parade of raw home-grown talent: 64 bands, 1500 individuals at an open casting call, and another 1500 audition tapes. Not coincidentally, they both came up with the same people to form The Commitments—one of the great movies about rock ‘n’ roll . . . or, more precisely, soul, of the Wilson Pickett, Mary Wells, James Brown, Otis Redding variety.

Parker was famous for directing Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982), and The Commitments is his light side of the moon tribute to rock ‘n’ roll—a love letter to American soul music and the gritty side of urban Ireland.

Commitmentsscreen1Like Almost Famous and This Is Spinal Tap, The Commitments is one of the classic behind-the-scenes movies about the life of a band. It’s funny, it’s raw, it’s energetic, it’s authentic, and it’s filled with wall-to-wall music and images of Dublin that tourists never see. But don’t expect much in the way of plot. We see a little where-they-are-now before Jimmy does his auditioning, and after that the band rehearses, performs, rehearses, performs, and gradually gets on each others nerves so you can see why, by movie’s end, they will eventually break up—though they sound so good you want them to stay together.

In a six-page booklet that comes with the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray, Parker writes, “It was pointed out to me that there were as many as 1200 bands playing in Dublin, which is extraordinary in a city of just over a million people. . . . I think the film captures a little of the spirit and spunk of the working-class kids in Dublin’s Northside.” It looks great on Blu-ray and Parker’s commentary track and additional bonus features are well worth watching.

Though rated R, The Commitments has just pair of minor incidents of violence and one bedroom instance of implied coupling innocent enough to be included on the trailer. There’s really nothing that would make it inappropriate for young teens except the language, which is non-stop. And hey, all the characters are Irish, so it’s tough to understand half of those swear words anyway—so much so that RLJ Entertainment felt the need to provide a glossary on the inside cover.

Commitmentsscreen2The Commitments practice and perform a lot during the film, and at least three songs are complete. They’re so entertaining that you’re glad of that, and glad that Parker made the decision to go with near-constant music. By the end, you’ve absorbed so much that you really feel as if you’ve experienced the band and not just witnessed it. Along with a later cover by Buddy Guy, their rendition of “Mustang Sally” could be one of the best I’ve heard. And the shots of Dublin’s “mean streets” and alleyways are mesmerizing, almost lyrical, given the musical backdrop.

For many viewers, Colm Meaney will be the only recognizable cast member. Meaney plays Mr. Rabbitte, whose reverent obsession with Elvis is illustrated by the fact that a painting of Presley hangs just above a portrait of the Pope. But you’ll also see two people whose names were not familiar then but are well-known now: Glen Hansard (“Once”) as one of the band members, and Andrea Corr (The Corrs) in a non-singing role as Jimmy’s sister. And that’s okay. Not knowing any of the actors adds to the realism to where it almost feels like a guerilla-shot documentary—especially with Jimmy doing imaginary press interviews about the band throughout the film.

Both of our teens liked it a lot, and The Commitments remains a gem of a movie even a quarter century after it was filmed. Crank up the volume and enjoy!

Language: F-bombs dropped by characters of all ages, plus lesser swearwords and Irish variations; it’s pretty much nonstop
Sex: It’s implied that one “player” has been intimate with three women, but nothing is shown
Violence: One band member is beaten up and bloodied, and another bar fight emerges
Adult situations: Lots of smoking and drinking, plus a bar brawl
Takeaway: The Commitments still feels fresh because it has always felt honest and a word that’s often used today:  immersive

KEANU (Blu-ray)

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KeanucoverGrade: B
Entire family: No way
2016, 100 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated R for violence, language throughout, drug use and sexuality/nudity
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C-
Amazon link

It’s rare when Family Home Theater reviews R-rated movies, but the line between PG-13 and R movies has been blurring as of late. And nothing blurs the line more than a cute little kitty.

Keanu (2016) is a cat-lover’s movie, an action comedy that will appeal to anyone who has dressed a pet in an elaborate costume and taken pictures. In terms of its comedic structure and spirit, Keanu is a lot like the PG-13-rated Date Night, in which Steve Carell and Tina Fey were a boring couple whose night started to fall like a string of dominoes after they assumed the identity of another couple in order to get a table at a swanky restaurant, and it got them involved with all sorts of unsavory characters. Only here, the premise is that a kitty like Keanu is so darned cute that people—ruthless people—will do anything to keep him or get him back. In other words, Keanu is more like Date Night meets the Coen Brothers. It’s for families with high school students who like buddy cop flicks and crime capers.

The violence is mostly comic, the drug use isn’t much different from what you typically see in a PG-13 movie like Date Night, and there’s one very brief background moment of female frontal nudity—which also has been getting by the PG-13 censors. The one big difference is in the language. F-bombs and “mother” F variations are almost as common as the liberal use of the “n” word. But savvy parents know that high school students already hear it all on a daily basis.

keanuscreen1Keanu is the brainchild of MADtv alums Key & Peele, whose Comedy Central sketches have been a favorite of teens and twenty-somethings. The comic duo plays a pair of cousins who are about as streetwise as the nerdiest black characters TV sitcoms have given us over the years.

Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) is so straight-laced that he’s more at home in the suburbs than the streets and hasn’t learned how to let his hair down. When his wife and daughter go out of town on a trip with another family, he checks up on his cousin, Rell (Jordan Peele), whose girlfriend just dumped him. But fate intervenes. A cute kitty that Rell names Keanu turns up on his doorstep, and in no time at all the little guy becomes the focus of his life. Rell turns the house into a cat “pad” and spends all his time shooting a Keanu calendar in which the cat is shown in different movie scenes. Cute? You bet. And all that cuteness is a terrific counterweight to the tongue-in-cheek unsavory elements.

Keanuscreen2When Rell’s apartment is trashed and Keanu turns up missing, Rell’s marijuana-dealing neighbor (Will Forte) tells him that a local gang called the 17th St. Blips might have been responsible. Once Rell convinces his cousin to impersonate street toughs “Tectonic” and “Shark Tank” and enter that world of gangs, gangsters, drug dealers, and killers, the comic dominoes start to fall.

Key & Peele are, in fact, hilarious as two would-be bad asses, and I wouldn’t be the first critic to comment on how especially funny it was to see a cross-cut scene of Clarence sitting in a getaway car outside a mansion teaching a carload of gangstas to love and sing along with George Michael while Rell was inside with a tough gangsta gal named Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish) playing a life-or-death game of Truth or Dare with Anna Faris and her houseguests.

Keanu won’t be for everyone, and it’s definitely only for families with children in high school who can handle the sometimes bloody comic violence and non-stop language. But it’s a funny buddy crime comedy with a kitty that constantly threatens to upstage everyone—no matter how bad-ass they are.

Language: F-words, mother-f variations, and liberal use of the “n” word and street language throughout
Sex: One strip-club scene shows background frontal nudity for a very brief moment
Violence: Mostly comic, including the bloody stuff; people are shot at point blank range and there are threats of cutting off fingers
Adult situations: Drug use and mention throughout, with drug dealers at the center of the plot
Takeaway: The only thing funnier than watching white people try to act like streetwise blacks is watching two nerdy blacks attempt it

THE SUM OF US (Blu-ray)

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SumofUscoverGrade: B
Entire family: No
1994, 100 min., Color
Olive Films
Rated R for language, sex talk and sexual situations
Aspect ratio:  1.85:1
Featured audio:  DTS 2.0
Bonus features: n/a
Amazon link

Russell Crowe’s first appearances in feature films came in 1990, when the New Zealander began working in the Australian film industry. Just two years later Crowe would be cast to star as a tough skinhead in Romper Stomper, while in 1994 he would show his sensitive side playing a dutiful gay son in The Sum of Us—the last Australian film he would make before taking his talents to Hollywood.

For that reason alone, The Sum of Us will be of interest to movie-lovers—though it would be an unusual and unlikely choice for family viewing, unless the family wanted to face issues like sexual orientation and elder care head-on. David Stevens adapted his own play for the screen, and he and directors Geoff Burton and Kevin Dowling are absolutely clear about what message they want audiences to take away from the film: Life is short; love people for who they are, as they are not an aberration, but the sum of family members who passed on their DNA or helped shape them in other ways.

The Sum of Us is a study in contrasts. Widower Harry Mitchell (Jack Thompson, The Man from Snowy River) lives with his adult gay son, Jeff (Crowe), and Harry is the poster child for unconditional parental love. He not only accepts his son for who SumofUsscreenhe is, but he tries to understand what it means to be gay—yes, that includes going to clubs with his son—and he encourages his son to talk openly about his relationships. However, when Jeff brings his latest boyfriend-to-be home, Greg (John Polson) is shocked by Harry’s openness. Greg’s parents don’t even know he’s gay, and when they find out, the father wants nothing more to do with his son and the mother is so shocked into dumb silence that she can’t stop the father from kicking the young man out of the house. It’s clear which way is right, if for no other reason than Harry himself is a likeable, blunt force of nature. He loves life and makes it clear how much he loves his son and accepts him and everything he does. The film’s other main contrast comes from a woman that Harry meets through a dating service. Joyce (Deborah Kennedy) got divorced after her husband left her and she’s ready for love again. With Harry, she seems to have found it. But like Greg’s parents, she has a hard time dealing with homosexuality. Will it get in the way of her happiness and Harry’s? Will Greg and Jeff get together despite Greg’s discomfort over Harry’s full knowledge of what they do in the sack?



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BreakfastClubcoverGrade: B+
Entire family: No
1985, 97 min., Color
Rated R for language and sex talk
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 widescreen
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital HD
Bonus features: B+

In high school, which one were (or are) you? One of the popular kids, a jock, a disturbed misfit, a hood/criminal, or a nerdy brain? These days there are a few more sub-categories, but writer-director John Hughes pretty much nailed the stereotypes back in 1985. And though they’re stereotypes, as one cast member stressed they’re not caricatures. That’s a big reason why The Breakfast Club became such an instant classic film about teenagers and their problems. The other reason is that Hughes captured the way teens talk, and he made sure that his script worked by allowing his young actors to ad lib.

Hughes’ “Brat Pack”—Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, and Judd Nelson—did a lot of that, as you’ll discover if you choose to watch the digitally remastered and fully restored (from hi-res 35mm original film elements) 30th Anniversary Blu-ray with pop-up trivia cards. It’s a great way to experience a film that looks terrific with the new transfer, even if the cards linger on the screen a little long (have reading levels dropped that much since 1985?).

Entertainment Weekly called The Breakfast Club “the best high school movie of all time,” and the R rating—for language (including F-bombs), sex talk, and marijuana use—hasn’t stopped generations of teens from watching it. Let’s be honest. Parents know that kids talk this way, or else they hear kids talking this way every day at school. And Hughes captures that part of the culture where everything revolves around the teen and his or her standing among peers. So let your teens watch, if they want. It’s nothing they haven’t seen before.   More