Supercross

Posted on August 15, 2005 at 3:25 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
Profanity: Brief profanity
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, reference to drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Intense action scenes, some crashes and injuries
Diversity Issues: Strong female characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

I’ve got to give this movie some credit for its lack of pretense and the modesty of its goals. The title says it all. This movie is called “Supercross” and that’s exactly what it is. It’s pretty much just supercross racing — motorcycle cross-country racing on off-road tracks with added extreme man-made obstacles. That’s all there is to it.

Oh, there’s a little sprinkling of something sort of wispily plot-ish. There are some moderately attractive performers who appear to be portraying some sort of characters who have a few things to say to each other, fall in love, and learn some lessons in between races. But all of that has the good sense to stay out of the way of the movie’s theme and reason for being, which is, let me say it again, supercross. The movie’s brief running time (about an hour and 15 minutes) is mostly taken up with shots of motorcyle races, with lots of slo-mo jumps.

Two brothers make their living cleaning pools but live for racing motorcycles. KC (Steve Howey) is the “old school,” more conservative one, and Trip (Mike Vogel) is more impulsive risk-taker. KC gets a “factory ride” (corporate sponsor), but is disappointed to find out that they don’t want him to win — they just want him to clear away the competition so the boss’ son can be the first to cross the finish line. Trip competes as a “privateer” (without a sponsor), his bike provided by a man who has a pretty daughter who knows everything about motorcycle engines (Cameron Richardson).

Some romantic encounters, some sibling rivalry, some “what do I want out of life” moments, a brief appearance by a Teen Beat cover boy (singer Aaron Carter) and a lot of motorcyle jumps, races, and crashes later, it’s over before anyone has time to think too much. It’s got all the depth and insight of a video game, but it manages to stay out of the way of its minor pleasures by not trying to be more complicated than it needs to be.

Parents should know that there is brief bad language and characters drink (scenes in bar). There is a brief reference to drug use when someone advises a racer that there is no drinking or drug use permitted during training. There are some intense racing scenes, including crashes, and some injuries.

Families who see this movie should talk about the differences — and the similarities — between the brothers. Why did KC change his mind about the factory deal? What was the difference between what KC did for Rowdy and what Trip did for KC? What did it mean when Piper said, “It’s a good thing you don’t race this scared?”

Families who are interested can find out more about supercross and motocross racing. Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Fast and the Furious and Days of Thunder.

Related Tags:

 

Movies -- format

Valiant

Posted on August 13, 2005 at 10:31 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Low-key wartime violence including plane crash
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

Like its title character, this little animated film has heart and charm. What it will have trouble finding is an audience to appreciate it. This is a computer-animated film with a G rating that assumes its viewers will understand references to Edith Piaf and the Invasion of Normandy. If there are any children out there who were born in th 1940’s, this could be just the movie for them.

It is set in World War II London, where carrier pigeons played a crucial role by bringing essential information to the fighting forces. A small pigeon named Valiant (voice of Ewan McGregor) dreams of being one of them. He is not exactly up to the literally high standards of the Royal Air Force Homing Pigeon Service, but their forces have been terribly depleted by capture and casualties and they have to take what they can get.

Squadrons A, B, C, D, and E are no longer available. So, Valiant is reluctantly accepted for training in Squadron F, along with Bugsy (voice of “The Office’s” very funny Ricky Gervais), his messy, cowardly, dishonest, but somehow endearing friend. There is an important message to be delivered, some carnivorous German falcons to be evaded, some captured colleagues to be rescued, a problem only someone much smaller than the usual carrier pigeon can solve, and, of course, freedom to be fought for and a pretty nurse pigeon to come home to.

This is the traditional G-rated underdog theme, but it is first and foremost a very traditional WWII movie, down to the saucy French resistance fighter and the salty veteran of the previous war who always has a drink on the house for a brave lad, I mean pigeon.

It doesn’t have the immediate accessibility of most animated films or most G-rated films of any kind. Its greatest charm lies in its understated humor and its affectionate salutes to the familiar characters of the era. But this is likely to be confusing or completely above the heads of children, even most teenagers. Unlike its title character, this is a film that is not quite sure how to deliver its message.

Parents should know that there is some mild wartime violence, including a plane crash, some injuries, and some off-camera fatalities. There are some mildly grisly images, including bombed-out buildings, the bones of birds that have been eaten, a gargoyle, and the squishing of a fly. Characters are in peril in secenes that may be too intense for younger children. There is some mild crude humor.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Valiant wanted to be a part of the messenger corps. Why did Valiant want to be a part of the fight? Why did Bugsy not want to, and why did he come back? They may want to find out more about the use of animals in wartime. The real life Dickin medal awardees are discussed on these BBC programmes. And families may also want to find out about the real-life Normandy invasion.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Chicken Run.

Related Tags:

 

Movies -- format

The Skeleton Key

Posted on August 12, 2005 at 9:31 am

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: mild profanity
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking and smoking, drunken mob behavior
Violence/ Scariness: Racial killings, characters wounded, frequent peril, references to voodoo-like practices, spooky atmosphere, issues related to hospice care and death of loved ones
Diversity Issues: Strong female characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

Buoyed by Gena Rowlands’ magisterial presence, this mediocre little bit of hoodoo-voodoo mystery casts enough of a spell to propel it through the trancelike lethargy of the first 80 minutes until it double, double, toils and troubles to reach its frenzy of a finale. “Skeleton Key” is neither magic nor mundane but for some it will unlock a satisfying enough set of twists and turns for a summer escape into a bayou thriller.

Loaded up on the guilt of losing her beloved but estranged father, Caroline (Kate Hudson) is candy-striping herself toward atonement. She ditches her job at a New Orleans hospice to take care of Ben (John Hurt), a stroke victim, living out his last days with wife Violet (Gena Rowlands) in a spooky manor house, an hour outside of the city and a hundred years outside civilization. After poking further into the house than privacy dictates, Caroline realizes that the mansion’s macabre history might have some bearing on her future and that Violet has no intention of giving her the true skeleton key to unlock the mystery of the past.

Hudson does a decent job of playing a part that at times begs for disbelief to be suspended a bit beyond the stretching point. Peter Sarsgaard plays family lawyer, Luke, with a spot-on blend of practicality and Southern bonhomie. It is Rowlands, however, who steals scenes with her tough-as-nails, genteel belle presence and makes the story credible.

Director Iain Softley pares down the ingredients in this potentially complex mix of themes and superstitions, until the movie is nothing but lean, hard plot. Seemingly distrustful of his audience’s ability to stay focused on the story, the sparseness of the characters mean that everybody has a role to play and every utterance is a clue to the mystery of the house. He does not spare much thought for originality of setting – the attic is the archetypal black magic lair with old jars of floating things, spell books and albums – and lulls the audience with familiar signs (a blind woman full of bayou wisdom, a cautious roommate) down the road to get to the final twist of an ending.

Parents should be aware that this movie is borderline horror, with many scenes of peril, and it touches on mature themes. In flashbacks to the early 1900’s, the story of a lynching is shown and the crowd responsible is a drunken mob, too well-heeled to be punished. Hospice care, the death of family members who were loved or shunned, as well as the difficulty of caring for ailing kin are all issues covered in the movie. The belief –or not—in superstition and “hoodoo” (voodoo’s non-religious, folk-magic counterpart) is a central theme of the movie. Partial, non-explicit nudity scenes include a scantily-clad woman, a character in the shower and another in the bath. The overall Spanish-moss laden spookiness of the isolated mansion, with hidden secrets, will scare more sensitive viewers, as will some of the Gothic residents of the nearby bayou. There are the obligatory jars of yucky things in bottles to signify dark magic. There is an implicit reference to spousal abuse. Characters smoke and drink socially. A night of excessive drinking leads to bloodshed.

Families who see this movie might discuss the impact on Caroline of losing her father and the ways this loss guides her guilt, her choice of profession, not to mention her actions. The theme of “hoodoo” provokes questions about what superstitions you might believe in, whether there are paranormal things that you believe can protect or hurt you. The “evil eye”, for example, is a theme in cultures throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Even though few people say they believe in it, the blue-glass eyes, red-string bracelets and the eye-within-the-hand-motif, all symbols to ward off this curse, have never been more popular in jewelry and decoration. Why do some people in this movie choose not to leave even though they say they do not believe?

Families who enjoy this movie might like “K-PAX”, also directed by Softley and featuring a similar pace and prettiness, if radically different themes.

For those looking for a genuinely scary, horror/suspense flick with voodoo themes might watch “Angel Heart” (mature content). Other recent supernatural thrillers include “Constantine” and “Dream Catchers”.

Related Tags:

 

Movies -- format

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Posted on August 12, 2005 at 7:05 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
Profanity: Extremely strong language, including n-word and other racial epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and mild violence, brief clips from horror movie
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, "gay" used as all-purpose insult
Date Released to Theaters: January 1, 1970
Copyright Universal 2005

Andy (Steve Carell) collects “action figures” from movies, comic books, and television series, maintaining them with curatorial scrupulocity in their meticulously preserved original packaging. He is pretty meticulously preserved himself. Like his collection, he is an action figure who gets no action. Andy is, as the title says, a 40-year-old virgin.

Andy is a sweet guy who had a couple of bad experiences as a teenager and then just gave up. The pent-up longing has him so tightly wound that he moves as though it requires his full concentration to make sure that he doesn’t explode into a volcano of denied desire. He believes that if he just ignores it, it will all go away. So he spends his weekend making egg salad, and then doesn’t eat it. And the highlight of his social life is watching television with his elderly neighbors. And the whole world seems to exist to torture him. He can’t even escape a sexy bus poster for a cologne called “Eruption.”

When Andy’s colleagues at an electronics store discover his secret, they vow to help him cross the threshhold into sexual relations with a woman. They have a lot of theories and a lot of advice. Andy ends up trying everything from taking a drunk girl home to speed-dating and a “sure thing,” but everything goes excruciatingly, humiliatingly — and hilariously — wrong.

Meanwhile, Andy meets Trish (Catherine Keener), a warm-hearted woman who owns a nearby “Sell it on Ebay” store. The more he comes to like and feel close to her, the more he fears disappointing her or looking foolish due to his lack of experience.

This is a performance anxiety movie, a sort of American Pie for grown-ups. It reaches into our deepest fears of appearing ignorant or foolish or clumsy and shows us that as horrifying as our worst fears are, it is possible to come up with scenarios that are even worse. And because they are happening to someone else, they are not just very funny, but very cathartic.

That makes it the best kind of funny. The clever script is more than just a series of skits and the characters are real and endearingly romantic. The script’s structure sets up the narrative direction and the change in the lives of the characters beautifully. The already-legendary chest-waxing scene (no special effects or tricks — that’s Carell’s hair getting yanked out) is not just a comedy bit. It is sort of primal scream therapy for Andy and — like all of his other encounters — a crucial step on his road to getting in touch with all of his feelings.

Too many raunchy comedies make the mistake of confusing outrageousness with humor (take a look at the horrible Say it Isn’t So as one atrocious example). The ones that get it right make sure that we are rooting for the characters. What makes this movie work is that the under-used organ it focuses on is Andy’s heart.

Parents should know that this is not intended for or appropriate for kids or most teenagers. It is a raunchy sex comedy with very strong language and very explicit and crude sexual references (including teen sex) and situations, some homophobic humor, and some non-sexual nudity. Characters drink (some get drunk) and smoke marijuana. There is comic peril (no serious injury) and comic barfing, and condom humor, along with some brief horror movie clips from Dawn of the Dead. One strength of the movie is that it comes down very clearly on the side of truly intimate, monogamous, and romantic relationships. And another is its portrayal of diverse characters who demonstrate loyalty and compassion. And while there is some sexist and mysogynistic talk, the behavior of the men in the movie and the lessons they learn come down on the side of commitment and love.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it was so hard for Andy to tell the truth about himself and what he learned about honesty. They might also want to talk about some of their own experiences and fears and about the feelings everyone has in evaluating the risks of intimacy. And they can talk about the idea that if what feels right doesn’t work, how you can tell when it is time to try something else and what that should be.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy American Pie.

Related Tags:

 

Movies -- format

Broken Flowers

Posted on August 5, 2005 at 6:31 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Fight
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters are friends
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

George Orwell said that by age 50 every man has the face he deserves. Now in Hollywood, by age 50 it’s more likely that movie stars pretty much have the faces they can buy (are you listening, Cher? Meg Ryan? Burt Reynolds?). We are all grateful to those, like Bill Murray, who know how to use a face that has been lived in. The pouches under his eyes tell the story and make it interesting and sad and funny all at the same time. His is just one of a set of brilliantly complex and vivid performances that make this film a moving exploration of all we do to find meaning in our lives.

In “Broken Flowers,” Murray plays Don Johnston. He keeps having to emphasize the “t” when people think he shares the name of the actor from “Miami Vice.” But his name is really a reference to the legendary ladies’ man, Don Juan. When we first see Don, he is sitting on the sofa of his big, luxurious, but somewhat sterile home, watching the 1934 movie The Private Life of Don Juan on television. The most recent of his many girlfriends (Julie Delpy) tells him she is leaving him. He is vaguely distressed, but does not try to argue with her. if he was not exactly expecting her to leave, he seems resigned to it.

Then he receives an unsigned letter typed on pink paper, from a woman who says she had his child 19 years earlier. Don’s next door neighbor Winston (the terrific Jeffrey Wright) is a loving family man and an amateur detective. He assembles a dossier for Don, complete with plane tickets and Mapquest directions on how to find the four likeliest prospects for having written the letter. He sends Don off, telling him to be alert for the color pink and for evidence of a typewriter. Don goes, not because he is as interested as Winston is in finding out whether he has a son but because he doesn’t really have anything else to do.

So, Don goes off on a journey, but, this being a Jim Jarmusch movie, it is more about mood and moment than motion. There is a sense of sequence, as each of the women is emotionally and literally less accessible than the one before.

Sharon Stone is Laura (perhaps a reference to the great love of Petrarch?), the widow of a race car driver and the mother of the aptly named Lolita. She is completely warm and inviting, with no expectations or demands, genuinely glad to welcome Don and no illusions about how long he will stay.

Dora (perhaps a reference to the great love of David Copperfield?), played by Frances Conroy of HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” is now a very proper realtor living in an antiseptic McMansion with her husband. But she manages to exchange some glances with Don that show she shares some fond memories.

Carmen (Jessica Lange) (perhaps a reference to the operatic femme fatale?) is more withholding, answering Don’s questions as though each word is costing her money. Is there a romantic relationship with her female colleague? How did she go from being a lawyer to being a…pet psychologist? And then there is Penny (maybe a reference to Penelope, who waited for Ulysses to come home), played by Tilda Swinton, almost unrecognizable under Morticia Addams-style hair. She has nothing to say to Don; she just decks him and tells the current man in her life to beat him up. The last woman on the list is dead. Don places a pink bouquet on her grave.

People keep telling Don he is a Don Juan, but if that’s true, it’s not in the traditional sense. He never tries to romance any of these women, and when a woman he meets along the way indicates that she might be interested, he does not respond to her. He seems to walk through life in a cloud. Back at home, he tells Winston the mystery has not been solved. And then he has an intriguing but ambiguous encounter that raises the question of questions themselves, and whether answers really matter.

Parents should know that the movie includes some extremely strong language, sexual references and situations, nudity, drinking and drug use, and brief violence.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Don made the choices that he did and what he and Winston think of each other. What do you think happened in his relationships with Laura, Dora, Carmen, Penny, and Sherry?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Murray in Lost in Translation and Jarmusch’s other films, including Mystery Train and Stranger than Paradise.

Related Tags:

 

Movies -- format
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 1995-2022, 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