Pleasantville

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

In “Dave” and “Big” screenwriter Gary Ross gave us characters whose innocent honesty and goodness revealed and transformed the adult world. Now, as both screenwriter and director of “Pleasantville,” he has created teen-aged twins who are transported into an idyllic black and white 1950’s television sitcom where everything is perpetually sunny and cheerful, married couples sleep in twin beds, the basketball team never loses, and messy complications simply don’t exist. Tobey Maguire (David) and Reese Witherspoon (Jennifer) are well aware of the messy complications of the modern world. David has retreated into reruns of “Pleasantville,” a television show that makes “Andy of Mayberry” and “Father Knows Best” look like hard-hitting docudramas. And Jennifer is something of a self-described “slut.” When a mysterious TV repairman played by “Andy of Mayberry’s” Don Knotts gives them a magic remote control, David and Jennifer find themselves transformed into Pleasantville’s Bud and Mary Sue. As the twins interact with Pleasantville’s black and white world, they cannot help revealing its limits and ultimately transforming it. “Mary Sue” mischeviously introduces the concept of sex to her high school classmates, and then, more sensitively, to her Pleasantville mother (Joan Allen). “Bud” tells them about a world where the roads go on to other places, where the weather is not always sunny and mild, where people can decide to do things differently than they have before. As the characters open themselves up to change, they and their surroundings begin to bloom into color, in one of the most magical visual effects ever put onto film.

But some residents of Pleasantville are threatened and terrified by the changes. “No colored” signs appear in store windows. New rules are imposed. When the twins’ Pleasantville father (William H. Macy) finds no one there to hear his “Honey, I’m home!” he does not know what to do. He wants his wife to go back to black and white.

At first, Jennifer thinks that it is sex that turns the black and white characters into color. But when she stays “pasty,” she realizes that the colors reveal something more subtle and meaningful — the willingness to challenge the accepted and opening oneself up to honest reflection about one’s own feelings and longings.

High schoolers may appreciate the way that the twins, at first retreating in different ways from the problems of the modern world, find that the rewards of the examined life make it ultimately worthwhile. Topics for discussion include the movie’s parallels to Nazi Germany (book burning) and American Jim Crow laws (“No colored” signs), and the challenges of independent thinking. NOTE: parents should know that the movie contains fairly explicit references to masturbation (and a non-explicit depiction) and to teen and adulterous sex.

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Drama Family Issues Fantasy

Pokemon: The First Movie

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Human scientists have figured out a way to create a bigger and stronger clone of the most powerful Pokemon ever, Mew. The result is a sort of Maxi-Mew called Mewtwo. Mewtwo decides to go after that goal of all movie bad guys worth their salt, total world domination, by capturing and cloning all the Pokemons.

Mewtwo lures the best Pokemon masters to his island for the ultimate battle. He points out – and here I have to side with him – that the Pokemons are slaves to the humans. Then each of the Pokemons has to fight its clone in a sort of existential crisis. This was very appealing to the little boy in front of me, who chanted happily, “Two Pikachus, two Jigglypuff, two Bublasaur…” like a Pokemon Noah. Then it all ends happily – if hypocritically, with everyone in favor of cooperation instead of fighting. (NOTE: The movie is preceded by a strange short movie about a Pokemon trip to an amusement park.)

Anyone who has ever seen the TV series, played the game, or bought the cards knows what to expect here. Every generation of children has some hideously annoying cartoon series to provide parents with much agonizing and many, many buying opportunities. The characters usually undergo some transformation or make use of a secret to attain power. This theme is endlessly interesting to kids who can feel overwhelmed by a world built on a scale that is often too large for them.

Kids, especially those ages 6-10, also love to memorize and sort endless facts, whether about Pokemons, dinosaurs, cars, or Beanie Babies. It gives them a sense of mastery, especially because they can do so much better than adults. And it becomes an important part of their social development, creating a shared language with their friends. This can be particularly meaningful for kids who are insecure about talking to other children.

Still, excruciating as it can be for parents to endure, it may be worthwhile for kids to see the movie. If it makes it any easier, remember that before too long, this will be over and by the time the next one comes along your children will be past that stage.

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Action/Adventure Animation Based on a television show Based on a video game Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Fantasy Stories About Kids Superhero

Quest For Camelot

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

A young girl named Kayley dreams of being a knight like her father, who was killed defending King Arthur from the brutal Ruber. When Ruber steals Excalibur from Camelot, Kayley goes into the forbidden forest to find it. There she meets Garrett, a squire befriended by her late father, who left Camelot after he became blind. Joined by a two-headed dragon, they find the sword and fight Ruber to return Excalibur to Arthur.

This is the first attempt by Warner Brothers, home of Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck, to get into Disney territory with a full-length animated musical drama, and it is a step in the right direction, even if it does not match Disney or even non-Disney features like “Anastasia.” questforcamelot.jpg
The movie’s greatest strength is the first-class talent providing the voices: Cary Elwes as Garrett, Jane Seymour and Gabriel Byrne as Kayley’s parents, Don Rickles and Monty Python’s Eric Idle as the dragon, and (all too briefly) Sir John Gielgud as Merlin. The animation has some good moments, especially a sleepy ogre. The heroine and hero are spirited if a bit too generic. But with the exception of the dragon’s cute duet, the songs add little and slow down the story. Themes worth discussing include the importance of cooperation, loyalty, and the strengths of those considered disabled.

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Action/Adventure Animation Fantasy For the Whole Family Musical Talking animals

Sleepy Hollow

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This is less the Washington Irving story than it is “Scream” set in post- revolutionary times. Its production design by Rick Heinrichs is ravishingly eerie, all gray skies, looming spires, gnarled branches, and rearing horses. The magnificent collection of character actors is almost another element of the production design, with faces right out of Holbein or Daumier. But the spurting blood, rolling heads, and postmodern sense of irony are jarring and uneven. (It’s set in 1799, the end of the century, get it?)

Johnny Depp plays the honorable but easily frightened Ichabod Crane, in this version not a schoolteacher but a sort of 18th century detective, committed to the use of science and logic. He is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of murders attributed to the Headless Horseman, the ghost of a bloodthirsty Hessian soldier, who steals the heads of his victims because his own was stolen from his grave.

Crane insists that the murderer cannot be supernatural, until he sees it himself. Still, he analyzes the evidence to find the secrets that link the victims together and the human force driving the Headless Horseman.

The themes of science vs. supernatural and appearance vs. reality appear throughout the movie, as Crane must understand his own past in order to see the truth. He describes himself as “imprisoned by a chain of reasoning.” He keeps coming back to a toy given to him by his mother, a spinning disk with a bird on one side and a cage on the other. As it spins, the bird appears to be inside the cage, an optical illusion, and, not by coincidence, the very illusion (persistence of vision) that makes us think that the people in the thousands of still pictures that make up a movie are really moving.

Depp plays Crane with the right haunted look and rigid posture. But the ludicrousness of some of the plot turns and the exaggerated fright reactions leave him with the most outrageous eye-rolling since Harvey Korman’s imitation of a silent film star. Indeed, the movie frequently brings to mind those sublime “Carol Burnett Show” movie parodies, especially when the villain ultimately finds time for a detailed confession as the planned final victim is waiting for the Headless Horseman to arrive. The wonderful Christina Ricci is wasted in an ingenue part.

Parents should know that this is a very, very gory movie, with many headless corpses, lots of spurting blood, heads being sliced off and bouncing to the ground, various other murders, a couple of “boo!”-type scares, and of course characters perpetually in peril. The heads all show up eventually, too. There is a brief but non-explicit scene of a couple having sex, several very gross moments, and a scene of torture in an Iron Maiden. This is only for teens who really enjoy slasher movies, and then if they can’t find a video of something better, like “Poltergeist” or director Tim Burton’s own “Nightmare Before Christmas” or “Edward Scissorhands.”

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Fantasy Horror

The Matrix

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

In “A Star is Born,” Kris Kristofferson sings a song that begins, “Are you a figment of my imagination or am I a figment of yours?” This is the theme of “Matrix,” heavy on special effects, striking visuals, and brooding paranoia, but light on plot, dialogue, character and even coherence. In other words, it is the ideal movie for the kind of teenager who wishes that video games could come to life.

Though rated R for violence (zillions of guns and explosions and some some pretty gross moments, including an icky bug that enters the hero’s body through his belly button) and language, most teens 14 and up who are begging to see it should be able to handle it without a problem.

Keanu Reeves plays a computer programmer with a sideline as a hacker who gets mysterious messages that lead him to Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), leader of a rag-tag group that lives aboard a rocket-style craft. It turns out that it is not 1999 but somewhere around a hundred years into the future. All of humanity has been turned into a source of energy to keep machines “alive” by what Morpheus describes as “a computer generated dream world built to keep us under control.” The Matrix is a massive computer program that has the humans believing that they are still living in a world that has been destroyed. Morpheus believes that Neo is “the one” who can retake the world for the humans. Special agents, led by Smith (Hugo Weaving) seek out Morpheus and his followers, to destroy them.

This movie became a pheneomenon and a cultural touchstone because of its then-revolutionary special effects, especially the “bullet time” effect that quickly became an icon and then a subject for parody (the best example is in “Shrek”). But just as important in the success of the movie is the way it addresses the nagging feeling everyone (but especially adolescents) have about whether we are truly aware of the “real” reality. It also addresses the question of destiny vs. choice. The visuals are stunning and the action sequences are electrifying, but for me the most intriguing and intelligent scene in the movie is Neo’s quiet conversation about fate with a woman who is taking some cookies out of the oven.

The movie can lead to some interesting discussions about the relationship between humans and machines, and why Smith says that the first Matrix program, creating the perception of a utopia-like society, was unacceptable to the humans. Their attempt to keep the humans compliant through happiness did not work, so they had to try again with the past “reality” of a stress-filled world. There are also issues of destiny versus free will and loyalty versus self-interest. What did Morpheus mean when he said, “Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony?” Is it possible that humans could create machines that would “decide” to take over? What do the names “Morpheus,” “Trinity,” and “Neo” signify? Most important, would you choose the red pill or the blue pill, and how do we make that choice in our “real” lives? Parents should think about raising the issue of violence in movies, and the impact it has on viewers, especially impressionable or disaffected ones, as well.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy both “Terminator” movies and “Blade Runner.”

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Action/Adventure Fantasy
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