Darkness Falls

Posted on January 24, 2003 at 8:34 pm

F+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extreme and graphic peril and violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

There is almost nothing positive to say about “Darkness Falls,” the new slapped-together horror movie hitting theaters. It’s filmed so poorly that it is almost impossible to see. The editing is so bad that what you can see comes at you too fast to follow. The acting is laughably amateurish. And the story is so idiotic that it makes the cheesiest of basic cable look intelligent.

The film starts with a prologue about an old woman who inhabited the town of Darkness Falls back in the days before color film existed. This woman loved children, but two missing kids were thought to have died in her care. So, the town hanged her, only to then realize that they were mistaken. As she died, she cursed the town by saying she would visit children on the night they lost their last baby tooth. If they saw her, she would hunt them and their loved ones. This earned her the nickname, “The Tooth Fairy.”

From that charming premise, we see Kyle Walsh who, as a young boy, saw the Tooth Fairy. She kills his mother, but the Tooth Fairy can’t stand the light, so young Kyle is saved by hiding in the brightly-lit bathroom. Flash-forward to the present. Kyle is a flashlight-obsessed psychotic living in Las Vegas. He is drawn back to Darkness Falls, because Michael, the brother of his childhood sweetheart, has also seen the Tooth Fairy and is being stalked by her wicked ways.

That’s basically the story, a terrible combination of “The Blair Witch Project,” “The Ring,” and every bad horror cliché in the book. “Darkness Falls” is one of the new breed of horror movies, ones that are not very gory so they can secure a PG-13 rating. To qualify for a PG-13, they emphasize suspense rather than gore. This makes sense for talented filmmakers, but the makers of “Darkness Falls” fail so mierably that their attempts are both boring and painful. The terrible acting, the awful pacing, and laughable special effects make the horror of watching this movie all too unintentional.

Parents should know that the film contains countless sequences of children in jeopardy, not to mention many (mostly bloodless) onscreen deaths. It also features some kissing between two rather young children, as well as the unpleasant sight of young kids ripping out their last baby teeth. There are jump-out-at-you surprises, suspenseful fake-outs, and also numerous scenes in which the Tooth Fairy appears and lets out a high-pitched scream.

Families who see this movie should discuss why people should not jump to conclusions about others, such as the way the townspeople did about the old woman. Why is she terrorizing the children? They should also discuss why kids should not forcibly remove their teeth.

Families who enjoyed this movie should seek out last year’s “The Ring” and John Carpenter’s horror classic, “Halloween.”

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James and the Giant Peach

Posted on January 20, 2003 at 4:01 pm

This movie may be too scary for kids under six, but older children and their families, particularly fans of the Roald Dahl book, will love this spectacular musical fantasy from Tim Burton and Henry Selick (“The Nightmare Before Christmas”).
James has a blissful life with loving parents until they are both killed by a rhinoceros. He then goes to live with his horribly mean aunts, until a mysterious stranger brings him a bag of magical crocodile tongues.
James trips and spills them on the ground, near a tree that then grows a giant peach. When James climbs inside, he meets a collection of human-sized insects, including the lovely Polish-accented spider (voice of Susan Sarandon) and violin-playing grasshopper (voice of Simon Callow). The peach takes off, and, tethered to 300 seagulls and flies to New York.
Exquisite stop-motion claymation, computer animation, and special effects combine to create real movie magic and an instant classic.
Kids who love Dahl will also enjoy the films of his other books, “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Witches” and Children will also enjoy Dahl’s “Matilda,” another story of a child overcoming cruel adults.

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Action/Adventure Animation Based on a book Fantasy For the Whole Family Talking animals

Jumanji

Posted on January 20, 2003 at 3:57 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
Profanity: Non swear-word strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: A lot of peril and action violence
Diversity Issues: Strong, smart girl; all lead characters white
Date Released to Theaters: 1995

People sometimes say that in Hollywood the real art form is the deal, and movies like this make it believable. You can just see a group of people in expensive suits sitting around a table dreaming this up — “Let’s take a brilliant children’s book (with about one paragraph of text) and add some really neat new computerized special effects. And, I know! Let’s get Robin Williams! It doesn’t matter that there are no adults in the book. He’s great at the box office.” The problem is that each of those parts is fine, but all together the movie is inconsistent and disjointed, sometimes disturbingly so.

In 1969, Alan Parrish, the child of a wealthy family, finds a mysterious board game, buried centuries before. He is sucked inside, to emerge 26 years later (as Robin Williams, who is wasted in this role), when the game is found again by two other children. These two children have moved into the old Parrish estate with their aunt, who plans to turn it into a Bed and Breakfast. They live with their aunt, because their parents have been killed.

Alan finds the girl he played with (now grown up, as he is, and played by the terrific Bonnie Hunt), and the game begins again. As each player rolls, some huge and destructive jungle curse descends, a lion, monkeys, bats, a monsoon, poisonous plants, a British hunter (who behaves more like the Terminator), a stampede of rhinos and zebras. But they must complete the game in order to get everything back to normal.

The “Jurassic Park” style computerized special effects are very good, director Joe Johnston (of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”) keeps things moving, and everyone lives happily ever after in a final scene that clears everything up a bit too hastily (leaving the children I was with asking a lot of questions).

“Jumanji” can be fun for kids who won’t be scared by the chaos and animals or bothered by plot elements like a little boy lost in the jungle for 26 years, a father who seems harsh and unloving, or orphaned children. But expect to talk with them about it afterward.

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National Security

Posted on January 16, 2003 at 7:27 pm

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Action violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

“National Security” is another in a string of indistinguishable dumb action comedies that would all run together in the mind of anyone unfortunate enough to watch them if they were not so instantly forgettable.

It is clearly modeled after classic action comedies like “Beverly Hills Cop,” but this one is less a movie than a three-minute coming attraction with 90 extra minutes of padding. Situations that can be set up in an instant are given drawn-out explanations that test the attention spans of even the most committed fans of the movie’s performers. It’s the basic buddy set-up: two security guards team up to find some bad guys.

As in all buddy films, the buddies have issues they have to resolve with each other before they can resolve the issues they have together. In the sorry history of Hollywood “meet cute” set-ups, this one is particularly weak. Police academy reject Earl (Martin Lawrence) is trying to retrieve the keys he locked in his car when police officer Hank (Steve Zahn), thinking he is trying to steal the car, asks him what he is doing. Earl’s hostile response leads Hank to begin to arrest him. Earl, already agitated, gets even more upset when a bee flies toward him. A bystander making a family movie films what looks like Hank brutally beating Earl, when all Hank is doing is trying to get rid of the bee. Like the Rodney King video, it sparks a public outcry for justice, and Hank does hard time in prison for six months.

They meet up again when the same bad guys Hank saw kill his partner show up in the warehouse Earl is guarding. They have to learn to work together and trust each other in order to save the day.

Director Dennis Dugan and his two stars seem to be making three different movies. Zahn and Lawrence have no chemistry and they careen listlessly between dull banter and dull chases and explosions. Dugan, the director of Adam Sandler movies like “Big Daddy,” has no feeling for action sequences. The only interesting moment comes when they hide something in the garage of Hank’s ex-girlfriend.

The movie wastes two exceptionally talented performers. Lawrence occasionally gets a chance to give a short riff that creates a bright spot, but Zahn seems as bummed to be in the movie as the audience was to watch it.

Parents should know that the movie has a great deal of violence, some strong language, and a kinky sex scene involving handcuffs.

Families who see this movie should talk about Earl’s views on race and how he has to rethink his own prejudices when he takes Hank’s ex-girlfriend for the maid.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the far better “Beverly Hills Cop” and “48 Hours” (both with mature material.

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Movies

A Guy Thing

Posted on January 15, 2003 at 4:29 am

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking to excess, drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Character beat up, characters trapped by dog
Diversity Issues: All characters white
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

If you made a copy of a copy of a copy of “Meet the Parents” and then ran it through one of those script-generating software programs advertised in the back of movie magazines, you might come out with something like “A Guy Thing,” a completely inept attempted screwball comedy without a single memorable moment.

Jason Lee plays Paul, a guy so risk-averse that he gives the “groom” hat at his bachelor party to his best man, so that the dancing “tiki girls” in grass skirts won’t pay any attention to him. Yet somehow he wakes up the next morning, hung over, with one of those dancing girls (Julia Stiles) in his bed. Oh, no – his fiancée (Selma Blair) is coming over and the girl can’t find her underpants. He manages to get her out of his apartment and hide the panties, but then it turns out that she is his fiancée’s cousin Becky, so she keeps turning up at all the family events. There is much faux humor about Paul pretending to have a massive gastro-intestinal disorder, getting an itchy STD and having to get some medication which is discussed loudly in the pharmacy as his future mother-in-law is standing there; the steroid rage of Becky’s ex-fiancé, an evidence-planting cop; a rehearsal dinner spiked with pot; and some dirty pictures found by a young boy that end up stuck together, not with glue.

This is a step down for everyone associated with it, including director Chris Koch, who made a promising debut with “Snow Day,” and Lee, Blair, and Stiles, who show no energy whatsoever. One reason the script seems so much like “Meet the Parents” is that the story is by the same writer, though even four screenwriters could not manage to come up with a single memorable line of dialogue, character to care about, believable motivation, or genuinely funny moment. Every joke and plot development is telegraphed so ham-handedly that it is instantly anticlimactic. There are sit-coms on the WB that have more laughs before the first commercial than this movie has in 90 minutes.

Parents should know that the movie has gross humor and very mature material for a PG-13, including graphic references to a sexually transmitted disease, masturbation, drugs, and adultery. Characters use very strong language and there is social drinking to excess, at one point resulting in the encounter that triggers the plot. A character is beat up and arrested for possession of cocaine. There is also such a weird sort of homophobic vibe to some of the jokes that for one mad moment I actually thought the big pay-off was that Paul was going to turn out to be gay.

Families who see this movie should talk about the way Paul and Becky think about fears and what his behavior and attraction to Becky should tell him about his plan to marry his boss’ daughter.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Meet the Parents” (raunchy and very crude humor) and some of the classic screwball comedies like “Bringing Up Baby” and “My Man Godfrey.”

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Movies
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