Daredevil

Posted on February 12, 2003 at 5:13 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: A few strong words
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense peril, many characters killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, strong women, minorities, and disabled character
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

This may be another Marvel comic superhero movie rated PG-13, but it is a much darker story than “Spiderman,” and parents whose 8 and 9 or even 13-year-olds loved that movie should think carefully before agreeing to let them see this one.

Matt Murdock lives in “Hell’s Kitchen” a tough part of town where bullies of all kinds prey on the vulnerable. His father, a boxer, is killed for refusing to take a dive in a fixed fight. Matt, blind from an accident that also left him with his other senses super-enhanced, vows to become a righter of wrongs and a force for justice.

But is he a force for justice or a murderous vigilante? When he loses a case in court, allowing a rapist to go free, Daredevil doesn’t just go after him; he slaughters a whole roomfull of bad guys. At least, they must be bad guys, even though we don’t really see them do anything bad except for looking tough and fighting for their lives. Even Daredevil himself is not entirely sure that he is one of the good guys.

Murdock meets Elektra, whose fragrance is so tantalizing that he follows her out of a coffee shop. They end up taking each other on in a fight in a playground that serves the same function for them that dance numbers did for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers — it’s their way to size each other up, and it’s their foreplay. At one point, he says, “Are you holding back?” she says, “Yes,” and he says, “Don’t.” Clearly, they were made for each other.

But there are complications, mostly the work of a crime kingpin named…Kingpin and his hired Irish assassin, Bullseye (Colin Farrell, for once using his original accent). There are misunderstandings, choices, and lessons, but mostly there are fights.

The fights are very good, but it is clear that that is where most of the creative energy went in this movie. Affleck does not act very much, and if he did, most of it would be hidden by Murdock’s sunglasses and Daredevil’s mask. Garner brings energy and freshness to her role, and Farrell is, as usual, the most watchable part of the movie. There are some fun in-jokes, including appearances from Marvel’s Stan Lee and onetime Daredevil writer Kevin (Chasing Amy and Dogma) Smith. But the script is flat, mostly just space between fights. Sometimes loud noises incapacitate Daredevil, sometimes they don’t. He is badly injured, and then he isn’t. These are continuity errors that are evidence either of laziness or, more likely, some recutting after early screenings.

Parents should know that this movie is more somber and much more violent than Spiderman, including many deaths. There are sexual references and non-explicit sexual situations, including a reference to rape and a sexual encounter between people who do not know each other very well. There is some strong language and some drinking and smoking.

Families who see this movie should talk about why we don’t take the law into our own hands. How do you become a killer without being one of the bad guys? Why, when most superheroes have fantasy special powers, is a character who is disabled so appealing?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy X-Men and Blade.

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The Jungle Book 2

Posted on February 8, 2003 at 2:34 pm

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Human characters all from India; different animal characters cooperate and support each other
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

There is no pretense of art or imagination in this movie. It barely qualifies as creative marketing. It’s just Disney’s latest strategy to leverage the affection that generations of viewers have for its animated classics by cranking out pallid sequels. In this case, the credits list six separate writers, but fail to mention the guy who created the characters, Rudyard Kipling. I’m sure that wherever he is, he is just as happy not to have his name associated with this movie.

As with “Return to Neverland” and the straight-to-video sequels to “Aladdin,” “101 Dalmatians,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” instead of enhancing our connection to those characters, however, these films dilute it through watered-down production values and weak story lines. The result is like a blurred fax of a fax of a fax of the original.

The original “Jungle Book” was the last animated film personally supervised by Walt Disney. The few glimmers of life in this palid sequel are reprises of some of that film’s best moments, especially the wonderful songs, “Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.” But other attempts to remind us of the earlier film will disappoint those who remember it well and confuse those who do not.

The movie begins just after the first one ends. “Man-cub” Mowgli (now voiced by Haley Joel Osment of “The Sixth Sense” and “A.I.”) has followed the girl who sang so sweetly as she filled her pitcher with water and now lives in the village, where he has been adopted by a loving family. But he misses his animal friends in the jungle. When Baloo (now voiced by John Goodman) comes to see him, Mowgli follows him back into the jungle. Shanti and a feisty toddler, thinking he is in danger, follow him and get lost. Meanwhile, the tiger Shere Kahn, furious because Mowgli defeated him, has vowed revenge.

There are some light-weight action sequences and some second-rate song numbers. The voice talents are excellent, though not up to the original’s Phil Harris and Louis Prima. And the Disney animators, even on a second-tier project like this one, still do the best work there is — viewers should be sure to look out for the meticulous work on the rippling water and some wonderfully expressive character work.

Parents should know that the movie does have some scary moments, but no one gets hurt.

Families who see this movie should talk about how we can sometimes feel divided loyalties and how by being honest with the people we love, we can find a way to be true to ourselves and those we care about. They should also talk about the end of the movie — is there a better way for Mowgli to talk to his new family about what he is doing? Families should also talk to younger children about the importance of not going off on their own and always letting their parents know where they are.

Families who enjoy this movie should see the original. They might also enjoy the live-action movie versions of the Kipling story. They might also enjoy Disney’s version of “Peter and the Wolf,” another story about a boy who goes off for an adventure with some animal friends and enemies.

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Deliver Us from Eva

Posted on February 6, 2003 at 6:56 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Characters drink and smoke, reference to alcohol abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril
Diversity Issues: All major characters African-American
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

The deliciously dishy Gabrielle Union, so memorable as the rival cheerleading captain opposite Kirsten Dunst in “Bring it On,” gets center stage in this saucy romantic comedy inspired by “Taming of the Shrew.”

Union plays Eva, the domineering big sister of the Dandridges, universally acknowledged as the four smartest and prettiest girls in the city. Eva took responsibility for the family after their parents were killed in an automobile accident, and even though they are all grown up, she still calls the shots. Her sisters’ significant others — two husbands and a boyfriend — smarting from her intrusions and insults, come up with a scheme — they will pay a “player” to win her heart and then dump her to keep her distracted and out of their lives.

The player is Ray (rap star LL Cool J), a rolling stone with charm to spare. He needs the money to buy a house, so he takes the job. But things don’t go as planned and Eva, Ray, and all the sisters and their men have some surprises in store and some lessons to learn.

There are some sharply observed moments and some barbed commentary on the war between the sexes, but what makes this movie above average is the snap, energy, and appeal of its outstanding young cast and its understated but affectionate glimpse of the community of middle class African-Americans. Union has one of the most sparkling smiles and one of the most attractive speaking voices in movies today, and LL Cool J (appearing under his original name as James Todd Smith) gives Ray not just all of his considerable charm but also some real acting to show us how Ray’s feelings for Eva change him. Director Gary Hardwick (“Brothers”) shows verve and imagination from the very first moment, when the opening credit sequence has the couples dancing Temptatations-style to Motown classic “You’re All I Need to Get By.” A parallel to “Barbershop” sets a series of scenes in the local beauty salon, where the Dandridge sisters have weekly get-togethers for pedicures, facials, and lots of girl talk.

Parents should know that the movie is rated R for some very strong language and some explicit sexual references. A gay character is mildly stereotyped, but positively portrayed. The behavior of the main characters, however, demonstrates strong values, including responsibility, self-respect, and fidelity. Characters drink and there is a reference to a drinking problem.

Families who see this movie should talk about how we can support family members without being too intrusive. They may also want to talk about how people sometimes react to loss by trying to exert too much control on the people and circumstances around them.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy some of the stories that may have inspired it, including Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” and the delightful British comedy, “Hobson’s Choice.” They should also see the marvelous “Barbershop.”

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Final Destination 2

Posted on February 5, 2003 at 12:24 pm

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Explicit drug use by several characters, including cocaine/marijuana use, abuse of prescription medication by an adult
Violence/ Scariness: Over-the-top, inventively gruesome violence, extremely explicit and gory deaths of most main characters, near constant peril
Diversity Issues: Stereotypes and cliches
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

Not bothering with everyday movie conventions like plot, acting, or logic, this wisp of a sequel found its competitive advantage in “Final Destination” (2002) and pursued it with gleeful abandon. The first movie took the time to follow teen horror flick conventions, to develop characters –as thin as they were — and to throw in some theories about why all these people were dying. In the second movie, all these time-fillers are skipped and the movie becomes a heaping helping of mind-boggling mayhem. “Final Destination 2” asks why it should bother with the parsley of plot, dialogue, or characters, when people just want a plateful of death.

In many ways, “Final Destination 2” is a stronger movie than the first. Judging by the stunned guffaws of the audience, the tunneling of all the movie’s energies into a smorgasbord of imaginative deaths works better than the heavy-handed “suspense” and overall much of a muchness of the original “Final Destination.” The movie does not waver much from the basic premise of the first and it should be noted that neither movie is particularly good.

Plot? Please. If you saw “Final Destination” or even just saw the preview for this movie then you are familiar with the plot. A group of people know that they are going to die; what they do not know is how this untimely event is going to take place. It is for this ‘how’ that the audience, eyes darting around the screen to pick out possibly lethal traps, stays riveted for most of the movie’s 100 minute running time.

As with the first movie, the premise is that we cannot escape death when our turn has come, so if we were meant to die in an accident but somehow skip this fate, then we are due another visit from death to correct the omission. In this case, strangers on the merge to the highway avoid death in the form of a fiery pile up due to the premonition of the pretty but uninteresting, Kimberly (A.J. Cook). While still congratulating themselves for not dying, the survivors begin to fall victim to a string of bizarre accidents. Kimberly seeks out the sole survivor from those fated to die in “Final Destination”, Clear Rivers (Ali Larter), who has some helpful things to say but cannot stop the body count from rising.

Acting? Mediocre at best. It is saying something when the only person who seems comfortable in his role is Tony Todd returning as the unblinking mortician, Dr. Bludworth (this movie meets no definition of the word ‘subtle’), speaking in koans and providing the riddle of survival. Do they solve the riddle in time? Few will care, considering that there is no reason to like any of the characters and the main thrill of the movie comes from the elaborate nature of the deadly accidents. After a particular accident dispatched two characters at once, a lady sitting in a nearby row complained that the audience had been cheated.

Was it supposed to be camp? If this movie is supposed to be a scary thriller, then it flies far of the mark. If, however, “Final Destination 2” seeks to take us no further than bloody spectacle, then it does a fine job indeed.

Parents should know that this movie is very gory and that death is a meaningless event held up for entertainment value. Many of the accidents involve everyday items, which might lead some audience members to view their surroundings in a much different way. Several college age kids use drugs in a casual, off-hand manner that the other characters appear to accept. Parents in this movie seem unwilling to discuss possible peril with their children and are powerless to help their teens survive.

Families who see this movie should talk about the characters’ different reactions to (a) surviving the accident, and (b) facing the continuing danger to themselves. One of the characters proclaims that he is the master of his own fate and that therefore he will not die. Parents might discuss this concept of fate and the role of our own actions to influence our futures.

Families who enjoyed this movie might wish to rent “Army of Darkness” (1993), the third movie in the horror trilogy also comprising “Evil Dead” (1982) and “Dead by Dawn” (1987). As with “Final Destination 2”, “Army of Darkness” took the original scary premise to its absurd, logical extreme, resulting in a extremely camp “horror” flick, which, with lines including “it’s a trick, get an ax”, is similarly over-the-top. For those interested in more lighthearted and, frankly, more entertaining depictions of Death as an anthropomorphized being, then the Discworld books by British humorist, Terry Pratchett, are not to be missed.

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How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

Posted on February 2, 2003 at 3:47 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language for a PG-13
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking, drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

Kate Hudson is irresistably adorable in this frothy update of the 1950’s-style battle of the gorgeous (and gorgeously-attired) sexes romantic comedy. It’s easy to imagine Doris Day and Rock Hudson as the magazine columnist and advertising executive at the center of a head-on-collision between two competing bets and one overpowering attraction.

Hudson plays Andie Anderson, who writes the “how to” column for Compusure, a popular magazine for young women devoted to fads, diets, fashion, and celebrity gossip. She wants to write about politics. She gets to write about decorating with feng shui and charming her way out of a traffic ticket. Her next assignment give this movie its title. She is supposed to pick up a guy and make every mistake women make to drive men away, to get him to dump her in ten days.

Matthew McConaughey plays Ben, a guy’s guy specializing in ads for beer and sports equipment who wants to move up to the advertising big time with a huge new account, a company that handles seventy percent of the world’s diamonds. His boss (Robert Klein) says that he can have the account if he can make a woman fall in love with him in ten days. His rivals at the advertising agency (played by supermodels Shalom Harlow and Michael Michele), knowing about Andie’s column, pick her as the subject.

The movie has some clever jabs at the war between the sexes. Andie’s glee at torturing Ben is softened a little because the torture comes from gestures that are seen as natural to women. What men see as being clingy and possessive, women see as affectionate and caring. We see this contrast in the way Andie and Ben treat (and are treated by) their friends. And we suspect that it is good for Ben to have to stick it out a little bit with a woman for a change.

Andie takes Ben to a chick flick festival and a Celine Dion concert. She gives him a houseplant and marks his apartment as her territory by spreading stuffed animals, potpourri, and feminine hygiene products all over it. Even worse, she becomes friendly with his mother, intrudes on his poker night, and gives a part of his anatomy a name that is, um, counter-productive. She even makes him go to couples therapy — and pay for it. But we also see how truly right Andie and Ben are for each other and how crazy they are about each other right from the beginning. It isn’t just the bet that keeps Ben going. It is his sense that somewhere inside this crazy behavior is a girl he really wants to get close to.

Parents should know that the movie has very mature material for a PG-13, including explicit and graphic sexual references and situations. There are references to impotence, orgasms, sex between people who do not know each other very well, and the appropriate name to give to genitals. Characters drink and smoke. Drinking to the point of drunkenness is portrayed as a way to handle unhappiness. There is also very strong language for a PG-13, including continuous use through one long scene of the word “Bull*****” in a card game my family used to just call “I Doubt It.” Most important, this is a movie in which the characters lie to each other and manipulate each other and make no effort to tell each other the truth, even after they have become very close.

Families who see this movie should talk about how men and women may have different communication styles. And they should talk about bets that may hurt someone’s feelings.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy three Rock Hudson movies: “Pillow Talk,” “Come September,” and “Lover Come Back” (all of which reflect the early 1960’s era morality).

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