Till Human Voices Wake Us

Posted on March 9, 2003 at 9:46 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Disturbing themes, sad death
Diversity Issues: Strong, capable disabled character
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

Two kinds of audiences will appreciate this movie. The first are those who will be so taken by the flashback scenes of first love between two bright, engaging 15-year-olds that they will be willing to sit through the literally murky present-day scenes that show how the events of the past continue to entangle us. The second are those who are interested in figuring out why an award-winning screenplay will not always make a good movie, especially if you let the screenwriter direct it. There are some things that work on paper and things that work on screen, and unfortunately there was no one connected with this film who knew the difference.

It’s a shame, because the flashback scenes are exceptionally well handled, with newcomers Lindley Joiner and Brooke Harmen as Sam Franks and Silvy Lewis. Sam is the son of a man who does not show him any warmth or affection, and he is not sure of how he will handle the feelings in his life. But he cannot help responding to Silvy. She is his closest friend and they communicate perfectly, whether they are challenging each other with a word association game, trading glimpses of strange and wonderful sights, or just sharing unspoken understandings.

When we first meet Sam, he is an adult speaking to a classroom of psychiatric students about how and why people block memories. His father’s death forces him to return to the place where he grew up, where it seems that his own repressed memories are waiting for him, along with a mysterious woman named Ruby (Helena Bonham Carter) who is having some memory problems of her own and is not even sure who she is. Sam meets her briefly on the train and then sees her try to drown herself. He rescues her, then takes her to the home he shared with his father to help her remember who she is. But the glimmers of memory seem to connect back to a devastating loss that Sam himself is not willing to remember.

The story is ambitious and impressionistic. Is Ruby real? Is Silvy? But it is also very clunky, especially with characters like Silvy’s father, who might as well be wearing a sign that says, “I am here to represent earthy wisdom” as try to handle the dialogue he is asked to deliver. The ending is both too revealing and not concrete enough. And the movie makes a crucial error in not exploring Sam’s role in the tragedy and how that affects his response to it.

Parents should know that the movie has a very sad death and some disturbing themes. Characters drink.

Families who see this movie should talk about the impulse to shut down our emotions to protect ourselves from being hurt. What will change for Sam and why?

Families who like this movie should see the better “Truly, Madly, Deeply.” They should also read the T.S. Eliot poem that gives the movie its name.

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Agent Cody Banks

Posted on March 9, 2003 at 6:35 am

I took four young teenagers to this movie and they loved it. But I was not as impressed.

The idea is a cute one — but it was cuter when they did the same thing in two editions of “Spy Kids.” This version is mildly enjoyable, but suffers by comparison to those wildly imaginative and funny movies.

Frankie Muniz (“Malcolm in the Middle”) plays Cody Banks, a 15-year-old who has been attending a CIA-sponsored summer camp that has given him all the training he needs to be a junior secret agent. But when he gets his first assignment, to get close to Natalie (Hillary Duff, TV’s “Lizzie McGuire”), the daughter of a scientist, it turns out that $10 million of training that covered every detail of combat and espionage left out one detail — how to talk to girls.

So, Cody gets some quick and confusing lessons and then finds himself in a new school, trying to make friends with Natalie. He finally gets the hang of it just in time to save the day when she is kidnapped and taken to that most popular of spy movie destinations, the bad guy’s arctic secret lair.

Muniz and Duff are always fun to watch and there are some nice stunts, especially a skateboard rescue of a toddler in a runaway car and a snowboard entry into the aforementioned lair. Saturday Night Live’s Darryl Hammond is a lot of fun as the equivalent of James Bond’s “Q” character, the guy with all the gadgets. Angie Harmon does not have much to do except show up in a series of outfits more appropriate for Spy Barbie. And the movie wastes the time and talents of two of Hollywood’s best actors, Martin Donovan and Cynthia Stevenson, as parents of the teens in the lead roles. The story is lifted from a combination of “Dr. No” and the recent (and better) “Clockstoppers.” The movie won’t have much appeal to anyone outside the 10-16 demographic it is aimed at, but there are so few movies for that group that it does not seem fair to complain.

Parents should know that the movie has violence, including one grisly death by disintegration. Characters use some strong schoolyard language (“screwed up,” “play doctor,” “Are you in special ed?”) and there is a locker room scene in which a woman snatches the towel from a boy’s middle and snaps it at another boy’s crotch. (The flesh-colored underpants the boy was wearing under the towel are reassuringly evident.) The adult woman spy dresses like a comic book character, but she is strong and capable. The head of the CIA ia a black man. There is a joke about using the special x-ray glasses to peek at women’s underwear and an adult makes a joke about breasts. It is highly insensitive to have characters use “special ed” as an insult. Most troubling is that one of the young people in the movie is directly responsible for the death of a bad guy — usually, in movies for this age group, they are careful to have the bad guy killed as the result of his own actions, like falling off a building when he lunges for someone. Some audience members may be upset about this.

Families who see this movie should talk about whether they would like to be spies. They might want to check out the CIA’s website. I like the description of what they are looking for in spy candidates: “an adventurous spirit, a forceful personality, superior intellectual ability, toughness of mind, and a high degree of personal integrity, courage, and love of country. You will need to deal with fast-moving, ambiguous, and unstructured situations that will test your resourcefulness to the utmost.”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Spy Kids 1 and 2, Clockstoppers, and Big Fat Liar.

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Not specified

Tears of the Sun

Posted on March 7, 2003 at 7:09 am

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language including racial epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Intense peril and battle violence, many characters killed, brutal murders
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

This movie feels like a script written for John Wayne that someone finally got around to filming 40 years later without any sense that times have changed. There are some good action sequences, but it is shamelessly one-sided and has cheesy wooden dialogue and even cheesier and numbingly predictable plot developments. This movie has every cliché except one — instead of a peppery commanding officer barking “That’s an order!” into a scratchy communications device, we get the underused Tom Skerritt pretty much telling his team to do whatever they think is best. Yeah, I’m sure that happens all the time.

Bruce Willis plays Lt. A.K. Waters, a guy who completes his missions. The latest is the rescue of an American (by marriage) doctor who runs a clinic in Nigeria that is in the path of rebel forces. The doctor is the kind you only see in movies or bodice-ripper novels — a beautiful woman whose shirt is always getting ripped in just the fetchingly right place while her make-up stays perfect, a spitfire who stamps her foot and tosses her fetchingly tousled hair and slaps A.K.’s cheek but later has to tell him that she now understands what an honorable and brave guy he really was all along.

Meanwhile, we get to see A.K. say, “I broke my own rule. I gave a ****.” For his own survival, he had shut down his emotions. But the beautiful doctor and the ravaged people taught him that what he should do is ignore his orders and put the lives of his men at risk. He and his men go into a town where the bad guys have already killed almost everyone and just mow the bad guys down with machine guns. He puts his men at risk. Many are killed and the others are severly wounded. He defies American diplomatic policy going back to the Monroe Doctrine. But the point of the movie seems to be that this is unqualifiedly a good thing and that in fact it is the job of a Navy Lieutenant to determine what our foreign policy should be and then just carry it out. There is no sense of the complexity of American intervention into a tragic civil conflict and no sense of the consequences of his choices.

A.K. may have learned to care, but that does not appear to be true of Willis. He does all right with the weary, man-of-the-world, let-me-handle-this moments. But, for example, when he is called upon to give a stirring “be a man” pep talk to a shaken Nigerian who has just seen everyone he cares about killed, the best he can do is bark, “Cowboy the **** up!” Monica Bellucci may be as talented as her press reports claim, but there is no way to tell that from her kittenish performance here.

Parents should know that the movie has very strong language, including racial epithets, intense peril, execution of non-military citizens, and brutal battle violence. Many characters are wounded or killed. A woman is mutilated.

Families who see this movie should talk about how countries decide whether to intervene in other countries’ fights. Does the movie intentionally comment on the current international situation? How well does or doesn’t it make its case? Why did A.K. stop caring and when did he start again?

Families who enjoy this movie will also appreciate “Platoon” and “Apocalypse Now.”

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