The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie

Posted on November 13, 2004 at 12:01 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Profanity: Very mild schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Spongebob gets "drunk" on ice cream
Violence/ Scariness: Comic violence, peril, and mayhem
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2004

“Spongebob Squarepants” is a pleasantly silly animated television show for children that has earned the gratitude of parents for not being sugary or dull. It also has a bit of a cult following among college students and other fans around the world. And Nickelodeon says that one-third of its audience is adults. It is a merchandising powerhouse. Spongebob, only five years since creation, is ahead of Spiderman on the Forbes list of top ten-earning fictional characters.

Having conquered television, computer games, and especially stuff to buy (you can stock every room in your house with Spongebob products — bedsheets, moonbounces, Halloween costumes, boxer shorts, backpacks, and kid-friendly snacks like string cheese, ice cream, and macaroni and cheese), Spongebob and the rest of the gang are taking on the big screen with their first feature-length theatrical release.

Television is free and the episodes last just eleven minutes. So, the challenge is creating a story that preserves the essentially silly nature of the stories while having enough narrative heft to sustain a paying audience’s attention for an hour and a half.

They get pretty close. They glitz up the highly distinctive but near-anonymous voice talent of the television series by adding some new characters, voiced by movie and television stars: Alec Baldwin as a motorcyle-riding hit-man, Jeffrey Tambor as short-tempered King Neptune, and Scarlett Johansson as his sweet daughter, Mindy, plus a guest live-action appearance by “Baywatch” icon David Hasselhoff. And they arrange their string of silly episodes around the most traditional of premises — Spongebob and his best friend, Patrick the starfish, go on an epic journey to retrieve King Neptune’s crown, stolen by perennial evil-doer Plankton to frame Spongebob’s boss, Mr. Krab.

It has wedgie jokes for the kids, snarky humor (enter Mr. Hasselhoff) and music by the Flaming Lips, Wilco, The Shins, and Avril Lavigne for college students, and some gentle lessons about compassion, loyalty, being yourself, and believing in yourself for parents. What they don’t do is find a way to benefit from the big screen. Spongebob is as trippily goofy as ever, but it’s still just a television show on a big screen, until it reappears on DVD for its natural setting, a tv set.

Parents should know that the movie is rated PG for some crude humor and cartoon-style mayhem and violence. Patrick keeps saying that Mindy the mermaid is “hot.” Advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has targeted this movie for its commercial tie-ins with junk food. Bikini Bottom seems to have an economy that is entirely fast-food-driven, which may pose a problem for families trying to teach children to eat sensibly.

Families who see this movie should talk about why being named manager is so important to Spongebob and why getting the recipe is so important to Plankton. Why did Mindy’s pretend spell make Spongebob and Patrick feel more confident? They might also want to talk about the level of merchandising promoted by Spongebob and how we decide what it is we really need and enjoy.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy seeing Spongebob’s television episode adventures as well as Teacher’s Pet and other undersea dramas for families like The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo.

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After the Sunset

Posted on November 11, 2004 at 7:31 pm

This movie features two of the most glorious sights on earth — Paradise Island and Salma Hayak in a bikini. Unfortunately, it keeps putting unappealing characters and a dumb story in front of them.

Pierce Brosnan, in movie star scruffy mode, is Max and Hayak is Lola. They are master thieves with tons of panache and style, specializing in unbreakable alibis and sending champagne and hookers to to the hapless FBI agent who has been chasing them for seven years.

Max and Lola are blissfully retired to a beautiful Caribbean Island. At least Lola is pretty blissful, looking cute in overalls and toolbelt as she expands the deck, writing wedding vows, scuba diving, and inviting boring tourists to share a lobster dinner, though it is not clear whether she is interested in company or in boosting some jewelry.

Max is not adjusting quite as well. He hasn’t managed to write his vows or find a hobby. And then come two arrivals — that FBI agent (Woody Harrelson as Stan Lloyd) and the third Napoleon diamond, the only one Max and Lola haven’t stolen…yet.

Max knows he shouldn’t steal it. But the local crime boss (Don Cheadle) wants him to get it to finance his expansion. Max has never managed to find a hobby. And that unbeatable security system is just sitting there, asking to be beaten.

So far, so good. But the jokes aren’t funny, the romantic encounters are unpersuasive, the pacing sags and drags, and the characters get less appealing as each minute goes by.

In one scene, for no possible logical reason, Max agrees to go out for a day of fishing with Stan. This provides an opportunity for a leaden episode about catching a shark that ends with Stan shooting it because it presents such a danger while it gasps for breath on the deck. The shark’s misery has nothing on ours.

There is also an excruciating scene in which Stan and Max rub sunblock on each other’s backs, which sends them into a homosexual panic, setting up an ugly situation later on when they end up in bed together (on the flimsiest of premises) and Stan’s FBI colleagues draw the “wrong” conclusion.

It’s supposed to be funny that the crime boss talks about his work in humanitarian terms, “providing diversion for the underprivileged” with hookers and drugs as he pursues a vision of free love inspired by the songs of the Mamas and Papas. Nope. And it is supposed to be charming that Lola and the local law enforcement officer (Naomie Harris of 28 Days Later) trade compliments on a revolver and a pair of Chanel shoes. Not really.

Parents should know that the movie has some strong sexual references and situations for a PG-13. Characters drink, smoke, and use strong language. A character is a drug dealer. There is fighting and gunplay. Characters are shot and one is killed. The main characters are jewel thieves and the story includes lying and betrayal. The movie is oddly homophobic, with humor built on misinterpreted situations. A strength of the movie is positive portrayals of female and minority characters and inter-racial relationships.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Lola and Max had different attitudes toward retirement. Are you or aren’t you the kind of person who enjoys watching a sunset? Why?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy some of the classic heist films, including To Catch a Thief (the DVD Stan takes from Max), Topkapi, Oceans 11 (with Cheadle), and both versions of “The Thomas Crown Affair,” the original with Steve McQueen and the remake with Brosnan.

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Not specified

Saw

Posted on November 10, 2004 at 2:15 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking, references to drug addiction
Violence/ Scariness: Exceptionally graphic and disturbing images, constant peril, death by numerous grisly methods, life of a child threatened, reference to suicide, many characters die
Diversity Issues: A couple of strong minority and female characters; but the movie’s view is that all characters are equally fragile and flawed
Date Released to Theaters: 2004

Grizzly does not mean scary, which is a lesson that first-time director James Wan and co-writer (and actor) Leigh Whannell do not master in this 100 minute long mish-mash of a horror flick.

A thoroughly intriguing if ghoulish premise, some original nightmarish images, and a young director eager to show off his talents make the movie atmospheric and intense. However, the whole thing gets caught in the razor wire of shoddy acting, a sociopath who makes you go “huh?”, a lack of engaging characters, and a morass of internally inconsistent details. The bitter taste in your mouth when you leave will not be fear, but instead will be disappointment, that what could have been a smart, original horror-fest turned into such an uneven wannabe.

Anyone who has seen the brilliant and intense trailer will be familiar with the key plot elements. Three men –a doctor, a corpse, and a voyeuristic photographer—are locked in a windowless room for reasons unknown. The doctor, Lawrence (Cary Elwes, who spends several scenes substituting a smirk for acting), is sleepily calm, seeming to accept his lot, whereas Adam (Leigh Whannell) vacillates between empty rage and suspicion. Together with the clues that they have been given, including a mini-cassette player, photographs and two small saws, Adam and Lawrence seek to solve the riddle and escape.

As with many intriguing 30-second concepts, the execution of the story starts getting bogged down within minutes. Lawrence and Adam alternate telling their stories in flash-backs, which lay out what they know about their situation and the person responsible, known as the “Jigsaw Killer”. When the movie jumps into the past, it follows two detectives (Danny Glover and Ken Leung) investigating a series of murders, where individuals are left in deadly traps and must do something horrific to survive. For example, a woman must root out a key in a man’s intestines to unlock the deadly “reverse bear trap” strapped to her head even though the man is drugged but alive. The killer lets it be known that the point of her situation –as with each of his macabre traps— is to teach her to appreciate life more. Or something. By this point, the audience is just there to see what the next life-threatening situation will be and whether Lawrence and Adam will ever get around to sawing through their legs to get out of the room.

Wan and Whannell clearly have been influenced by modern horror stalwarts like “Se7en”, “28 Days Later”, and “The Ring”, which results in a stilted form of brinksmanship where the end game is the most memorable gruesome image. Tying the scenes together, much less ending the movie with a tight little knot, is beyond their story-spinning ken this time. However, they deserve recognition for aiming high and for providing an engaging if ultimately disappointing ride.

Parents should know that this movie is the stuff of nightmares, even if the inured horror aficionado might not find it scary. The images of torture and death are brutal and explicit, lingering in mind long after the movie ends. There are multiple on-screen deaths, a child’s life is threatened, characters die, a father is forced to make terrible decisions to protect his family, and there are no scenes free of peril. There are references to suicide, adultery, drug addiction, madness, and self-mutilation. There is strong language, and characters smoke. Underlying the killer’s motive is the notion that everyone deserves to be tortured and that there are no innocents.

Families who do choose to see “Saw” might wish to discuss the killer’s motivation, whether the deaths are consistent with that motive, and what the characters might have done differently. They also might wish to talk about the resonance (or lack thereof) of movies where characters face death and re-evaluate their lives and priorities. Do Lawrence or Adam become more appealing characters as you know them better and as their fate looks bleaker? Do their choices become clearer as they reassess their priorities? What do you think the “right” life would be like so as not to attract the killer’s attention?

Families who enjoyed this movie should see the scarier and more clever “Se7en”, which also features a grotesquely creative killer with an upside-down moral compass, devious deaths, and the no-loose-ends denouement that this flick aspires to but cannot provide. Other recommended movies that seem to leave their fingerprints on “Saw” include 28 Days Later, The Usual Suspects, The Ring and Trainspotting, all of which feature disturbing violence, mature content, and grizzly, bizarre, macabre and just plain bloody images.

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Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Posted on November 5, 2004 at 4:03 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, "magic mushrooms," character is a drug smuggler
Violence/ Scariness: Comic fighting
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2004

In the first movie, Bridget Jones (Renee Zellwegger) learned that she could be loved just as she was. Now she has to figure out whether she can love herself.

As the sequel begins, she has had six blissful weeks with Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), the man of her dreams. But happily ever after does not work for movies, so something has to go wrong.

Bridget’s fears about her own inadequacy lead her to break up with Mark just as who should show up as the latest addition to her television news program, but Daniel (Hugh Grant), still the all-but-irresistible bad boy who knows just what Bridget wants to hear. When they are assigned to work together on a travel piece about Thailand, Daniel expresses an interest in Bridget and her giant panties. Bridget will have to choose between two men and two notions of herself.

And along the way she will do all the Bridget things we love to see, mostly meaning making a fool of herself by squeezing into a too-tight dress, speaking out at the wrong time, or managing to give the camera a close-up of her rear end.

In other words, this is pretty much the same movie as the first, but both the heroine and her story have lost a good deal of their charm.

What we loved about Bridget was the spirited way she took on the world. Bridget may have been clumsy, physically and socially, but she had so much heart that we, like Mark, loved her just the way she was. Not so much anymore, no matter how much we want to. She comes across as not just graceless but thoughtless and careless. Either because of its own insecurity about the appeal of its heroine or an effort to up the fantasy ante, the film keeps telling us how much EVERYONE loves Bridget. But that is not the same as making us love her.

The incidents in the film are just repetitions of the first (discussions of large panties, ugly Christmas sweaters, completely inept Mark/Daniel fight scene) or outlandish variations that fall a little flat. In a particularly outlandish development, a Midnight Express/Brokedown Palace plot twist lands Bridget in a Thai jail, accused of cocaine smuggling. There is simply no way to handle a scene like this in a romantic comedy, and the efforts to make Bridget’s prison experience endearing by having her loan out her Wonderbra and teach her cellmates to sing Madonna songs are a little creepy.

Firth, Grant, and Zellwegger are always a pleasure to watch, the script has some funny moments, and it’s always nice to see Bridget find a way to a happy ending. But what would have made this one a happier ending for all of us is if they just let her keep the first one, just as it was.

Parents should know that the movie has explicit sexual references and situations including prostitution and a pregnancy scare, very strong language, a great deal of drinking and smoking, hallucinogenic mushrooms, a character who is a drug dealer, and a lot of very irresponsible behavior handled in a light-hearted fashion with not much by way of consequences. There is some comic violence.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it was hard for Bridget to trust Mark’s feelings for her. They should also talk about the problems Bridget encountered in Thailand.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the first movie, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Notting Hill, and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

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