28 Days Later

Posted on June 25, 2003 at 7:11 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Extremely intense peril, graphic violence, characters killed, very scary
Diversity Issues: Strong female and minority characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

Activists release animals from a lab, ignoring warnings that they are infected with a highly contagious “rage” virus. 28 days later, almost everyone is gone. Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a hospital bed and wanders out into the deserted London streets.

This is a movie about a viral apocalypse. It has very scary zombies and jump-out-at-you attacks, but that is not what is most unsettling. Like the small group of survivors, we are cut off from any information and don’t know whether it is London, the UK, or the whole world that has been almost entirely wiped out. There is no way to know who or what to trust, no basis on which to evaluate alternative courses of action. When anyone becomes infected with the virus, there are only 10-20 seconds to kill him before he becomes a crazed, lethally infectious zombie. There is no time to plan to rebuild civilization. Survival is the only imperative.

And then, just as we begin to process — if not accept — all of that, the movie shifts into a whole other level of scariness. The zombies are terrifying, but they are not as bad as the “human” survivors, those people capable of higher reasoning and moral principles, and therefore of the most profound and disturbing betrayal.

Director Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting”) keeps the audience off-balance. Nightmarish quick cuts and digital video give the look of the movie a gritty, hallucinatory immediacy. Boyle also makes brilliant use of the empty artifacts, from the deserted London streets to a once-magnificent Gosford Park-style country house, now occupied by military, who eat rotting food around the table once used for glittering parties.

Each character gets just one defining quality (idealistic Jim, tough Selena, stout-hearted Frank, ingenue Hannah), but that just adds to the sense of urgency — we don’t have time to get to know them, just as they don’t have time to get to know each other.

Parents should know that this movie is very scary and deeply disturbing. It has has extreme and graphic peril and violence. Many characters are killed. Characters use very strong language. There is frontal male nudity. Characters drink and take drugs. There are sexual references, including rape.

Families who see this movie should talk about the different characters’ responses to ultimate questions about the meaning of life. Who is responsible for what happened? What will the world be like 10 years later? They should also talk about the enduring appeal of apocalyptic stories and the way they present moral choices in sharp relief.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other zombie-fests like the classic “Night of the Living Dead” and “Evil Dead,” and some of the other end-of-the-world movies like “On the Beach,” “The Road Warrior” trilogy, and the brilliant “12 Monkeys.”

Related Tags:

 

Movies

From Justin to Kelly

Posted on June 20, 2003 at 6:12 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Profanity: Very mild
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking in bar
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

Just about everyone already knows when Justin Guarini really met Kelly Clarkson — they were the two finalists on the wildly popular first season of “American Idol.” This quickie film was rushed into theaters to expand and extend their 15 minutes of fame; instead, it may extinguish it. This is not a terrible movie. It just isn’t a very good one.

A slight story about spring break romances is the excuse for a series of forgettable musical numbers, each delivered with the same shake-the-rafters power ballad punch.

Kelly’s namesake character is a waitress/singer in a Texas country and western bar who is persuaded by her two friends, scheming party girl Alexa (Katherine Bailess) and smart, loyal Kaya (Anika Noni Rose) to go to Miami for spring break. Also arriving in Miami are party promoter Justin and his two friends, party boy Brandon (Greg Siff) and nerdy Eddie (Brian Dietzen). The ensuing romantic intrigue includes jealous Alexa’s attempts to derail the romance between Justin and Kelly, Kaya’s dates with a poor but proud busboy, Brandon’s encounters with a stern female cop, and Eddie’s missed meetings with his online dream date.

It tries to be an updated Frankie and Annette beach party movie with cell phones and whipped cream bikini contests, but Frankie and Annette showed more energy, charm, and heart before the opening credits than this movie can manage in all of its seems-longer less-than-90 minutes. Guarini and Clarkson are game and clearly like each other, but there are no romantic sparks between them and they both seem a little dazed by the movie-making experience. Let’s just say that if there was an American Idol for acting, they would not have made it to the finals. The musical numbers are intermittently mildly enjoyable, but at about the level of a theme park variety show.

Parents should know that the movie has some mild swearing and sexual references. Kelly objects when Justin and his friends organize a whipped cream bikini contest. Some characters talk about “party” behavior (in mild terms), but the behavior they exhibit would impress even Annette and Frankie. Justin and Kelly share just one kiss. Characters drink in a bar. It is worthwhile to note that there are inter-racial friendships and romances, positively portrayed.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Alexa was jealous of Kelly and why it took Kelly so long to figure out that Alexa was disloyal?

Families who enjoy this movie might enjoy “Beach Party” and the other movies in the series. Fans of musicals that — to be kind — had trouble finding their audience might enjoy “Xanadu,” “Can’t Stop the Music,” “Lost Horizon,” and “At Long Last Love.”

Related Tags:

 

Movies

The Hulk

Posted on June 18, 2003 at 4:08 am

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Mild
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Intense action and peril
Diversity Issues: All major characters white (or green)
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

If what you want from a comic book movie is to see the hero fight the bad guys, this is not your movie. Director Ang Lee creates images of great grace, elegance, and dignity, but he tries to make the inner conflicts the focus of the story and it does not work. It is also really, really, really long.

Eric Bana plays Bruce Banner, a scientist who has repressed memories of childhood trauma and as a result represses his emotions as well. He cares for fellow PhD Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) but is unable to let her get close to him. When he is exposed to gamma rays in a lab accident, it triggers a genetic mutation that was the result of his father’s experiments. When all that repressed anger is released, he becomes the physical embodiment of rage: an enormous green guy known as the Hulk.

Lee beautifully creates the sense of the comic book page with intercut scenes that show how comics and movies, popular entertainments that began at the same time and became art forms, influenced each other. But the story moves too slowly. And the Hulk moves too fast — the decision to make the Hulk character entirely computer-animated was a mistake. Computer animated characters can feel completely “real” in an entirely animated film, as shown by “Shrek” and “Finding Nemo,” and even in a live-action film, as with “The Two Towers'” Golum. But they had human actors providing the voices, giving great depth and character to the performances. The Hulk does not speak (except briefly), so he never comes to life. Furthermore, his interaction with the real physical world is not believable. He is supposed to be extremely dense and heavy, but when he jumps, he lands like a grasshopper, absurdly resembling a Gameboy version of Super Mario.

We never really care about him or root for him, and his fights, while impressively staged, are never compelling. He does not fight bad guys; he fights the Army, which is trying to stop him from destroying everything around him. He is more like King Kong than Spider-Man (and therefore truer to the comic book version of the character than the television version).

Like all superheroes, the Hulk is really the fantasy id unleashed. That could probably be turned into a good movie, but this isn’t it. Jennifer Connelly looks lovely, but basically carries over her “Beautiful Mind” role, except this time instead of being in love with a brilliant crazy guy she’s in love with a brilliant green crazy guy. Nick Nolte, looking more crazed than in the mug shot for his recent arrest for driving under the influence, overdoes the mad scientist bit as Bruce Banner’s father. His character is supposed to add dark, Oedipal themes of destiny and consequences, but his appearances frequently sparked laughter from the audience and his final conversation with his son plays like a parody of Sam Shepherd as translated from the Finnish. Eric Bana as the Hulk in human form just looks sorry to be there. When he cries at last, we feel his pain.

Parents should know that the movie has a great deal of comic-book-style “action violence,” meaning that there is a lot of destruction, but it is not very graphic. Some viewers may be upset by the tragic family events in the story.

Families who see this movie should talk about the appeal of comic book characters, especially the Hulk, the tangible representation of repressed anger.

Families who enjoy this movie might like to see the original “King Kong,” also about a misunderstood giant creature who loves a beautiful woman and is hunted by the military. They should also see some of the other comic book-based movies, including “Superman,” “Batman,” and “Spider-Man.”

Related Tags:

 

Movies

Alex and Emma

Posted on June 18, 2003 at 3:31 am

Kate Hudson is so irresistibly charming that it is easy to forget how tepid and uninspired this movie is. It is always a delight to see Hudson’s saucer-eyed smile and impeccable timing, but it would be just as entertaining to watch a 90-minute documentary of Hudson shopping for groceries.

“Alex and Emma” gives us two stories, neither especially romantic nor comic. Luke Wilson, believably seedy but not a believeable leading man, plays Alex, a successful novelist who is into some very mean loan sharks for $100,000 in gambling debts. He has just 30 days to get them the money, and the only way to do that is to complete his novel and get the rest of the advance from the publisher. The problem is that he has not started.

He hires a stenographer named Emma (Hudson) so he can dicate the entire novel to her. As he tells her the story of a love triangle set in the 1920’s (with characters also played by Hudson and Wilson), the story in the book both reflects and influences the relationship between the writer who is telling the story and the woman who is listening and writing it down.

Alex tells Emma that he does not need to know where his story is going because the characters will take over. This was probably wishful thinking on the part of the four screenwriters behind this movie (including director Rob Reiner), because its first big problem is that the story — in fact, both stories — just keep stalling. Maybe that is because these people are not really characters, just collections of quirks and quips.

All romantic comedies have a fairy tale quality, so an element of fantasy is not just expected, but welcome. And it is not only acceptable in fairy tales for people to behave foolishly or to fail to ask simple questions; it feels psychologically true as a metaphor for the irrationality of falling in love. But this movie topples from fantasy to carelessness, abandoning the most basic elements of reasonableness in a way that is just sloppy. If Reiner wants to appear as the publisher-cum-fairy-godfather, that’s fine. But absent some sort of magic wand, it is preposterous to the point of lack of respect for the audience to expect us to go along with the movie’s set-up, from Alex’s on-again-off-again gambling problem, writer’s block, and romantic entanglements to the basic facts of how writers, editors, and publishers operate.

Parents should know that the movie has sexual references and situations, including a comic but graphic sexual encounter with partial nudity that is strong for a PG-13. Characters have sex without any meaningful commitment. Characters drink and use strong language. There is peril and violence in a comic context but constituting a genuine threat and a death (from natural causes) that is played for grisly humor.

Families who see this movie should talk about differences between love “with laundry” and without. When you feel attracted to more than one person, how do you decide? When you have been hurt, how do you know when to forgive?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Kirk Douglas in “My Dear Secretary,” about another author with writer’s block who hires a pretty secretary. They will also enjoy seeing Hudson’s equally adorable mother, Goldie Hawn, in a better romantic comedy that is also set in a seedy apartment with a bed that is reached by a ladder, “Butterflies are Free.” And every family should try to see the delightful musical “Bells Are Ringing,” about a woman who helps a writer get back to work.

Related Tags:

 

Comedy Romance

Winged Migration

Posted on June 16, 2003 at 4:30 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Birds face peril, including hunters, industrial sludge, turbines, avalanches and other birds, some are killed.
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

When was the last time you saw a movie where the audience cheered for characters who accomplished amazing feats without ever exposing a mid-rift or flexing a dramatic muscle, and never once relied upon special effects to gild their achievements? Most of us would be hard-pressed to come up with a handful of examples, much less a single movie where those characters are birds. In this 85 minute feast for the eyes, you are treated to breathtaking footage and the adventures of thousands of avian protagonists as they face adversity on their travels across the globe. “Winged Migration” is as pretty and light as a feather on the wind; never stopping long enough to get mired down in detail, while always keeping your imagination on the wing.

The movie, as the name would suggest, is about migrations although a fair share of the footage is of fuzzy nestlings and quirky mating dances. The camera spends so much time in the air that you feel wind-blown and tired from the work necessary in flying across continents and oceans. When several geese hitch a ride on a ship’s deck during a storm in the middle of a sea, the audience breaths a collective sigh of relief and it is, perhaps, our connection to the birds that is the most interesting achievement of the movie. That we are flesh and they are fowl is irrelevant as they pursue lives as fragile and mesmerizing as any caught on film.

For ornithologists or those who watch an inordinate amount of animal shows, this movie might seem oddly naked, devoid as it is of any real data or facts. Instead of David Attenborough’s breathy insights to avian habits, “Winged Migration” lets the birds honk, squawk, trill and sing for themselves. We are not told why the Clark’s Grebe pops up on top of the water to dash around like a feathered water skier or how the Greater Sage Grouse makes those popping sounds with its inflated chest. Director Jacques Perrin, whose documentary “Microcosmos” (1996) swept the audience into the world of insects, again prefers beautifully filmed vignettes of life with minimal human interjections.

Lovely as it is, there are two aspects of this movie that do not fly; the soundtrack and the sporadic commentary by Perrin. The second-rate New Age soundtrack makes you long for those moments where the only music is beating wings and the raucous honks of our feathered friends. Perrin, who sounds like a bored Jacques Cousteau, provides no insights into the birds when he does feel moved to speak, but plenty of penny ante philosophy which does not do justice to the heroic journeys on-screen.

The film’s direction seems without reason at times, drifting between continents and species without that instinctual compass so vaunted in its subjects. However, there were no complaints from an audience willing to glide on its journey from the African White Pelican to Antarctica’s Rock-hopper Penguins to the flamboyant characters of an Amazon jungle. If you dream of flying to far-off lands but do not want to dwell on reason or details, then “Winged Migration” might be the gust of wind to take you there.

Parents should know that the birds face peril on land and on the wing. Several are shot, a couple of them are caged, and some are preyed upon by other birds. A Red-Breasted Goose flounders in an oil refinery’s effluent and is left behind by the flock in one scene while in another it is implied that a penguin chick is eaten by a scavenger. Young children might be disturbed by the inability of an injured Tern to escape from attacking crabs.

Families who see this movie might wish to count each scene where a bird is helped or hindered by humans or something human-built. Is the help or hindrance intended? What could your family do that might make an impact on the lives of birds?

Families who enjoy this movie should see “Microcosmos” (1996), Perrin’s loving look at the insect world. Those looking for adding detail and depth to their bird knowledge might be interested in the ten part series, “The Life of Birds” (1998), which is narrated by David Attenborough and aired on PBS in 1999. For those looking for story and adventure featuring geese on the wing, “Fly Away Home” (1996) is a lovely little movie.

Related Tags:

 

Movies
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2019, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik