Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Posted on July 24, 2003 at 6:41 am

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
Profanity: A couple of bad words
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Intense peril, sometimes graphic, characters killed
Diversity Issues: Strong, brave female lead
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

This movie has a better plot, better characters, and better acting than the first one, but let’s be honest about it — no one is going to see this movie for the plot, characters, and acting. The audience for this movie wants to see the movie version of the popular computer game, with Angelina Jolie in very tight clothes decking, kicking, and shooting as many bad guys as possible. All of that is there, and the distractions of plot, character, and acting barely get in the way.

Jolie plays Lady Lara Croft, archeologist/adventurer. Off the coast of San Torini, she discovers an ancient sunken library. Just as she reaches for a glowing yellow orb, the bad guys arrive. When a shot fired by one of them grazes Lara, the blood attracts a shark. Lara punches the shark in the nose and hops on board to ride it back up to the surface of the ocean. That’s the kind of movie this is.

It turns out that the orb is a map to Pandora’s Box. In the myth, Pandora was a curious woman who could not resist opening the box she was told must stay closed. Inside was all the trouble in the world. This Pandora’s Box contains virulent biological agents that will unleash a plague on the world. Jonathan Reiss (Ciaran Hinds), a former Nobel Prize winner turned international dealer in biological weapons, wants what’s in the box and Lara, at the request of the Queen, wants to stop him.

In order to do that, she has to get Terry Sheridan (Gerard Butler), her one-time love-turned mercenary, out of prison. Together, they go after Reiss and the orb in exotic locations, with exotic equipment and modes of transportation, all over the world.

Director Jan de Bont (“Twister,” “Speed”) knows how to stage action, and there are some genuine thrills, especially when Lara and Terry don flying suits that have them soaring through the air like Rocky the Flying Squirrel. Jolie is always fun to watch. But the computer-game origins of the movie are replicated in the staged level-style series of action sequences, and that removes any narrative momentum.

Parents should know that the movie has a lot of violence and peril, some very graphic. Characters are hurt and killed. There are a couple of bad words, and some passionate kisses and sexual references.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Lara decides what is important to her.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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Johnny English

Posted on July 20, 2003 at 12:13 pm

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Profanity: A couple of bad words
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril including shooting and fighting, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Strong female character
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

This mild spy parody has nothing new, but Rowan Atkinson (“Mr. Bean”) is a gifted comedian who manages to wring some new laughs with material that has already been fully explored in movies from Our Man Flint and Dean Martin’s Matt Helm movies to Spy Hard and Mike Meyers’ Austin Powers series.

Atkinson plays Johnny English, a low-level bureaucrat in England’s spy service who has Walter Mitty dreams of being a field agent. When all of the agents are wiped out through his ineptitude, he gets his chance.

England’s crown jewels have been stolen by French zillionaire Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich with a Pepe LePew accent), who plans to take over England and turn it into a prison facility. It’s up to Johnny English, his sidekick Bough (pronounced “Boff”) and woman of mystery Natalie Imbruglia to save the day. The spy parts aren’t exciting enough and the funny parts aren’t funny enough, but the overall effect is mildly amusing.

Parents should know that there are a few PG-rated naughty words and some bathroom jokes. Kids not familiar with the long-term French-English political and cultural clashes may be confused by the animosity between the French and English characters.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it was so hard for Johnny English to admit that he had made a mistake.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Bill Murray’s The Man Who Knew Too Little .

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Step Into Liquid

Posted on July 20, 2003 at 6:43 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Risky surfing, disabled survivor of surfing accident
Diversity Issues: Surfers of all colors, ages, and abilities
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

The classic 1966 documentary The Endless Summer by Buce Brown introduced audiences around the world to the glories of surfing and made the search for the perfect wave thrilling and epic. Now Brown’s son Dana has produced this follow-up, another movie about surfing and the people who love it that becomes a stirring tribute to waves and sun and the people who believe that they best honor nature and the farthest potential of the human spirit by riding on the waves.

You may believe that, too, as you see the heart-stoppingly magnificent swells on the most beautiful beaches of the world and the intrepid and deeply devoted people who surf them. Brown shows us children just beginning to surf and those who have been surfing for 30 or 40 years, amateurs and world champions. Some surf in sun-drenched resort areas, on ocean waves that lap up against sparkling white beaches. But we also see the dedicated surfers of Sheboygan, Wisconsin and those who chase supertankers off the coast of Texas to surf in their wakes. Three American brothers go to Ireland to surf on the craggy shores and bring Catholic and Protestant children together to learn to surf with them. A veteran who brought his surfboard with him to Viet Nam returns with his son to surf and meets up with the tiny but dedicated surfing club there. We see the original Gidget and the women she inspired and we catch up with the surfers from the original The Endless Summer. We meet a paraplegic man who broke his neck in a surfing accident but is still happiest when he is surfing. And we see surfers take on the biggest waves in the world, a “because it’s there” dream like that of conquering Mount Everest or walking on the moon.

The stories are striking, but this movie is all about the sights, and they are, simply, glorious. The cameras take us inside the pipe waves so that we can almost smell the saltwater. It is a very sweet ride.

Parents should know that the movie has no bad language, violence, nudity, or sexual references, but some risky behavior.

Families who see this movie should talk about the way that a common passion unites all of the very different people in the movie. What do you think about the idea that the best surfer in the world is the one who is having the most fun? Is there another sport (or any other activity) where attitude and a sense of humor is considered more important than talent and achievement?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Endless Summer and its sequel The Endless Summer 2, as well as surfing classics like Gidget, Blue Crush and Point Break.

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Camp

Posted on July 19, 2003 at 4:35 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Strong language for a PG-13
Alcohol/ Drugs: Adult character abuses alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: Very diverse characters, a theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

Camp Ovation does not look like much, but to the high school kids who return there summer after summer, it is close to heaven. Heaven being Broadway, that is.

Camp Ovation is a camp for “theater kids,” those kids who may not be familiar with the songs on the radio but have memorized the entire oeuvre of Stephen Sondheim, including the legendary flops that even Sondheim has probably forgotten. They can’t catch a ball, but they know every kind of stagecraft, from tap-dancing to sword-fighting. These kids feel completely alone all year long, except when they come together each summer to put on a full theatrical production every two weeks.

If this sounds like Fame with pine trees, you’ve got the right idea. Writer/director Todd Graff filmed the story at the real-life theater camp he attended and then worked at as a counselor. His affection for the camp and the kids and and his eye (and ear) for detail are very engaging. When the kids are first gathering at the buses that will take them to the camp, one girl re-introduces herself to another with a marvelous throwaway line, reminding her that they had appeared together in the suicide drama, “‘night Mother.”

But, as it should be, what is best about the movie is the kids. At the center of the story are Vlad (Daniel Letterle) and Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat). The kids are a little suspicious of Vlad because he seems too normal — an all-American straight boy who likes to skateboard and throw a football. Ellen is a more typical Ovation camper, a sensitive and insecure girl. Her close friend Michael (Robin de Jesus), is a gay boy who was thrown out of his school prom and beaten up because he arrived in drag. Then there is Jill (Alana Allen), already a diva, and Fritzi (Anna Kendrick), her devoted sidekick.

The performances by the kids are terrific, with Broadway show tunes from “Promises, Promises,” “Follies,” “Gospel at Colonus,” and “Dreamgirls.” Kendrick and Sasha Allen (Dee) are standouts, with true show-stopping Broadway voices.

There is some sharp dialogue, well delivered. The plot is too cluttered, however, including not just the expected romantic complications, adolescent angst, and even the future of Broadway musicals, but also a one-hit composer with a drinking problem that is resolved too neatly, and an All About Eve subplot about a sabotaged performer that is resolved too messily. The Vlad character is particularly overdone, burdened with at least two too many plot twist/quirk-style complications. Letterle does his best, but no one could pull all of that off.

Parents should know that the movie has very strong language and sexual references and situations for a PG-13. An adult character is an alcoholic. One of the movie’s strengths is the way that the love for theater gives these kids so much in common that other differences, including race and sexual orientation, are warmly embraced.

Families who see this movie should talk about how several of the kids are deeply hurt by parents who do not support their interests and talents. They should also talk about Bert’s bitterness — why did he think it would make him feel better to speak to the kids the way he did? Why didn’t it?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Fame (some mature and upsetting material).

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Freaky Friday

Posted on July 19, 2003 at 2:48 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some language
Profanity: Schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: All major characters white, strong women
Date Released to Theaters: 2003
Date Released to DVD: 2004
Amazon.com ASIN: B00005JMCW

Jamie Leigh Curtis and Lindsay Lohan play a mother and teenager who switch bodies in this third version of the book by Mary Rodgers.

Curtis is Tess, a compassionate therapist and a loving, if harried mother of two children (there is a cute moment as she loads her pager, cell phone, and PDA into her purse). Her husband died three years ago, and she is about to be married to the devoted and understanding Ryan (the always-gorgeous Mark Harmon).

Lohan is her daughter Anna, and like most 15-year-olds, she thinks that she has both too much of her mother’s attention (when it comes to telling her what to do) and not enough (when it comes to knowing what is important to her, which she should just be able to intuit, since Anna does not really want to tell her anything).

When the two of them get into an argument at a Chinese restaurant, the owner’s mother gives them magic fortune cookies. The next morning, they wake up as each other. While they figure out how to return to their own bodies, each has to spend the day living the other’s life.

That means that Tess has to cope with high school, including a teacher with a grudge, a former friend-turned rival, a guy Anna has a crush on, and a big exam. Anna has some fun with her mother’s credit cards but then has to cope with needy patients and a television appearance promoting her mother’s new book. And both start to understand the pressure of the schedule conflict that is at the center of their conflict with each other — the rehearsal dinner before the wedding is at the same time as an important audition for Anna’s rock band.

Curtis and Lohan are so clearly enjoying themselves that they are fun to watch and the story moves along so briskly that its logical flaws barely get in the way.

Parents should know that characters use rude schoolyard words (“sucks,” “blows,” etc.). Anna wants to get the side of her ear pierced, and when she is in her mother’s body, she does. There is some kissing (the ew-factor of Ryan’s wanting to kiss Tess, not knowing that Anna is occupying her body, is handled with some delicacy). There are some tense family scenes and the movie deals with issues of parental control and teen rebellion.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it is hard for Tess and Anna to understand each other at the beginning of the movie. If the parents and children in your family switched places, what would be the biggest surprises? Families will also want to discuss some of the choices Tess and Anna make, especially the resolution of Anna’s problems with her English teacher and the honors exam. And it might be nice to compare this to the original movie, in which the mother is a full-time mom in a two-parent household, and the daughter’s challenges center around housework.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the original Freaky Friday or the 1995 made-for-television version starring Shelley Long. Mary Rodgers is also the author/composer of the delightful musical “Once Upon a Mattress.” It is not available on video, but you can get the marvelous original cast album with Carol Burnett on CD. And every family should see the movie musicals composed by Rodgers’ famous composer father, Richard, including Oklahoma, South Pacific, Carousel, and The Sound of Music).

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