Pride and Prejudice

Posted on October 28, 2005 at 5:34 am

Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: Class issues
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the best romantic novel in the English language must perpetually be in need of a remake.

And it is equally true that movie adaptations of Pride and Prejudice face an odious dilemma. On the one side, there are the “Janeites,” those passionate Austen-ophiles who would prefer that her stories be read, preferably by candlelight, the better to appreciate every one of Austen’s exquisitely chosen words. For those fans, any new version has to compete with the previous filmed versions as well, mostly recently the acclaimed 1995 miniseries, which even the most ardent Jane-ites tolerate, partly because it had the space to include just about every detail from the book, and partly because Colin Firth was such an estimable Darcy.

On the other side are those who are allergic to “marriage plot” stories set in drawing rooms in the olden days. Discussions of who is asked to dance at which ball make them long for some nice alien or explosion to make things more exciting.

The good news is that this version will be satisfactory to both sides. Yes, there are heart-breaking omissions, as must be necessary in any 2-hour version. And no, there are no aliens or explosions. But it is a very faithful adaptation that bursts out of the drawing room into an outside world filled with mud and chickens — and passion.

Elizabeth Bennett (Kiera Knightly) is the second of five daughters. Her older sister Jane (Rosamund Pike), as sweet as she is pretty, always sees the best in everyone, is her closest confidante. But her foolish, tactless mother (Brenda Blethyn) and affectionate but disengaged father (Donald Southerland) don’t seem to realize that their two youngest daughters, Lydia (Jenna Malone) and Kitty (Carey Mulligan) are not just young and frivolous. They are dangerously silly, with no sense of propriety or honor. All they care about is going to parties with dashing officers in red coats.

The story begins with three important arrivals. The endlessly benign and highly eligible Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) has taken a house near the Bennett home, and Mrs. Bennett is determined that he must marry one of her daughters. Mr. Bingley has brought with him his closest friend, the haughty Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen), a guy whose most inviting expression is his glower. And, shortly after, Mr. Bennett’s cousin arrives. He is the unctuously obsequious Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander), a clergyman on the estate of the very grand Lady Catherine de Bourg (Dame Judi Dench), and he never tires of talking about how very grand it and she are.

Mr. Collins is determined to marry, and his ever-aware-of-what-is-proper thought is that it should be one of the Bennett girls, as the estate’s entailment requires that he inherit the property after Mr. Bennett’s death. (It was common in that era for all real estate to be kept together and inherited by the closest male relative.)

All of this provides many opportunities for love and misunderstanding, for excruciating embarrassment and transcendent displays of honor and sensitivity, for marriage proposals declined and accepted, and of course for happily ever endings, even for those not entirely deserving of them.

Director Joe Wright makes the camera energetic, but never distracting, intimate, but never intrusive. He creates a sense of freshness and immediacy through movement and through a vivid, lively world not just in the drawing rooms and at the balls but with chickens and pigs in the dooryard and muddy skirt hems after long walks through the fields. The outdoor scenes are breathtaking and the settings, particularly the magnificent Pemberly, are as vital as the human characters. He changes a display of paintings in the book to a display of sculpture. The smooth white marble is wonderfully tactile. But Wright really takes our breath away with a stunningly masterful staging of a ball, combining the intricate dance and interlaced conversations in a three-dimensional roundelay of plot, character, and music.

Wright also gives us more of a sense of class differences than we usually see in Austen adaptations. The dress and comportment of the servants in the various households speak volumes. And the difference between the gowns worn by the Bennett girls and the sisters of Darcy and Bingley remind us that there you can be “upstairs” but quite a ways down from those who live at an even higher “upstairs.”

Those who were concerned that Kiera Knightly’s modern athleticism and overpowering teeth and jaw would make her a bad fit as Elizabeth will find they must confront their own prejudices, as she gives a lovely performance, an Elizabeth whose “fine eyes” show us the merry spirit that may get her into trouble but that also makes her irresistible to Darcy and to us. She and MacFadyen give us characters who may be proud and prejudiced but who are also alert, open, always observing and thinking.

Parents should know that, as in the book, the story involves a 16-year-old girl who runs away with an officer, bringing great shame to her family.

Families who see this movie should talk about what it was about Elizabeth and Darcy that at first made them so quick to judge each other and then overcome those prejudices. Why was Elizabeth so much better able to understand the motives and consequences of her family than her parents and sisters were? What is the best way for parents to teach values to their children? Who in this story is judged by his or her family, and when is that accurate? Families should talk about how it can seem like a compliment and an indicator of friendship to share uncomplimentary confidences about a third party, but it is more likely to be an indicator of poor judgment and possible manipulation.

Families may also wish to explore some of the rich array of scholarly essays on every aspect of this novel, from Marxist to proto-feminist to discussions of Austen’s descriptions of the natural world as metaphor for what is going on with her characters. Websites like this one provide some idea of the range of topics and perspectives that have been engaged by Austen’s work.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the book, as well as the many other outstanding adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, including the justly-lauded miniseries with Colin Firth and the MGM version with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson and a screenplay by Aldous Huxley, Gwyneth Paltrow’s version of Emma and Sense and Sensibility, with an Oscar-winning screenplay by Emma Thompson, who also stars, along with Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet, and Alan Rickman, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park. Films inspired by Austen’s novels include Clueless (Emma), Bridget Jones’s Diary (note that not only is the leading man named Darcy, he is played by the miniseries’ Darcy, Colin Firth), and Bride and Prejudice, a Bollywood adaptation by Bend it Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha.

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The Weather Man

Posted on October 25, 2005 at 7:05 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, references to drug use by teenager
Violence/ Scariness: Fighting, sad death, arrows
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

In this movie, David Spritz (Nicolas Cage) pays tribute to his father, Robert (an immaculate performance by Michael Caine) by quoting a Bob Seger song. So I’ll begin my review with a quote from a Bob Dylan song: “You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind is blowing.”

Spritz is the weather man for a Chicago television station. He stands in front of a green screen and points at cold fronts and snow flurries, making cheerful jokes and predicting each week’s “nipper” (coldest temperature).

People keep throwing things at him, mostly fast food. He’s been hit by a Super Big Gulp, by hot apple pie, by a shake. He feels like he lets everyone down. He does not know what to do. He’s a whether man. There’s a constant ticking sound in the score that could suggest a clock or it could suggest a time bomb.

His Pulitzer Prize-winning father is disappointed in him. His 12-year-old daughter Shelli (Gemmenne de la Pena) is unhappy and overweight. His 15-year-old son Mike (Nicholas Hoult of About a Boy) is getting counseling because he was caught with marijuana. His ex-wife(Hope Davis) has a boyfriend who seems to get along better with his kids than he does.

David is a man whose job is predicting what the wind will do, and that feels as far out of his control as the rest of his life. He keeps thinking that if he could just “knuckle down” he would find the right words to make everyone happy with him. Or maybe, if he could just get the job of being weather man for the network “Hello America” show, then everyone would be proud of him and everything would work out at last.

And then David’s father is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and all he can think of is how little time he has to show his father that he has not completely messed up.

Cage, Caine, and Davis are always worth watching and the movie conveys well the feelng of middle-age desperation, simultaneously failing your parents and children and finding that all the “somedays” of your youth are almost used up. But even the movie’s hopeful moments have a sour feeling. Can it possibly be that the movie wants us to think that buying new clothes or punching someone is the way to solve a problem — or likely to impress either parents or children?

David might shatter the ice on an archery target with a well-aimed arrow, but he never brings that sense of control or focus to the miserable problems around him. It’s disconcerting that he continues to be self-centered and superficial while the point of view of the movie seems to be that he has had some kind of breakthrough. He may have achieved acceptance; we have not.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong and crude langauge, brief nudity, illustration of the term “Cameltoe,” and sexual references, including oral sex, attempted seduction/molestation of a teenager, and pornography, and sexual situations. Characters drink. There is a sad death, a fistfight, and one character points a weapon at another.

Families who see this movie should talk about why David found it so hard to be the person he wanted to be and the person he thought his father and children and ex-wife wanted him to be. What was David good at? What did he need to do to be a better father? A better son?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Wonder Boys and Save the Tiger.

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Posted on October 25, 2005 at 12:54 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, reference to drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Tense emotional confrontations
Diversity Issues: All major characters white
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

“Shopgirl” is a luminous, if melancholy, modern-day fairy tale about a lost princess named Mirabelle (Claire Danes) whose path to true love is complicated when she meets an evil enchanter. Okay, he’s not evil; he’s Steve Martin, who co-stars as Ray and who wrote the screenplay and the novella that inspired it. And he’s not, strictly speaking, an enchanter. But he does put Mirabelle under something of a spell, one that leads to sadness, but ultimately to what comes as close as we can see these days to a happily ever after ending.

Martin/Ray narrates the story. Despite the movie’s title, he even seems to think that he is, if not the story’s hero, at least the main character. But someone forgot to tell Danes, whose glowing performance is in every way the heart of this movie.

And it needs that heart to overcome the often-ponderous and always-superfluous narration, which makes it sound less like a story than like therapy, or perhaps expiation — not for Ray, for Steve Martin.

Mirabelle works at the glove counter at Saks. She stands behind the display, mannequin arms in long, elegant black gloves reaching toward the ceiling and rows of gloves on a glass shelf, neatly organized by color. And she waits, because not many people buy gloves anymore. These are the kind of gloves ladies wore with evening gowns back in the 1950’s.

Mirabelle has come to Los Angeles from Vermont, and she doesn’t feel connected to anyone or anything. Saks is elegant and sterile. Her apartment is tasteful, but spare. Her cat hides under the bed. At night, she takes pictures of herself and uses them to make small shaded drawings which are displayed and, now and then, sell at a local art gallery.

She meets Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman of Rushmore), another artist, at a laundromat. Jeremy is socially awkward, but he appeals to something in Mirabelle. Anyone who trips over his words as much as Jeremy does must at least be honest. And his very awkwardness makes her feel a little more sure of herself.

But then she meets Ray, who gives her another kind of confidence. Ray is a wealthy man with two homes and a private plane. He stops by Mirabelle’s counter to buy a pair of black evening gloves and then sends them to her with an invitation to dinner. He is smooth in some ways, but in others as tentative and unsure of himself as Jeremy. He apologizes for his home, which he bought already decorated. Like Ray himself, it has a sleekly prosperous surface but reveals very little about the person who lives inside.

At the restaurant, Mirabelle asks Ray a few questions to make sure he’s not weird, and he asks her even fewer, just enough to make sure that she’s not bored and that she doesn’t have any father issues that might complicate a relationship. And he tells her — after they’ve slept together — that he does not see it as a long term relationship. He assures himself and his shrink that he has been very clear with her that all he wants is some friendly sex. But Mirabelle is young, and she hopes for more. She does not know how to hold her emotions back. She is so young that she does not know that other people can.

The unforgiveable thing is that it is just that quality that draws Ray to Mirabelle. He feeds on it. He borrows her youth and freshness, and none of the lavish gifts he gives her come anywhere near approaching what he takes from her.

Martin’s script rather awkwardly gets Jeremy out of the picture for a few months by sending him on tour with a rock band. He comes back with a borrowed suit and a head full of advice from relationship books he listened to on tape. And it rather awkwardly gets Ray out of the picture after two poor decisions that can only be explained as pulling the emergency brake cord because he was afraid that he might care in spite of himself.

The script has some bright points, but it has trouble staying on track and some too-convenient . Martin wants more sympathy for Ray than he earns. But Schwartzman makes us see why Mirabelle might find him “one of the kind of people it takes time to know and then once you get to know them, they’re fabulous.” And Danes is so lovely, so open, so filled with light that we stay with it, just because we want to see her get to a happy ending.

Parents should know, first of all, that this is not a Steve Martin-style comedy. It is a melancholy meditation. The characters use some strong language and there are sexual references and some explicit sexual situations, with nudity, including sexual relations between people who do not know each other very well. Characters drink and smoke and there is a reference to drug use.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Ray and Mirabelle had different hopes and expectations for their relationship. What did Jeremy learn on his trip that made him better able to communicate with Mirabelle the second time around? What did Mirabelle learn from Ray that made her better able to appreciate Jeremy the second time around? Why was Ray unable to give more to Mirabelle? What will happen to him? How do you decide when to hurt now and when to hurt later?

Families who appreciate this movie will also enjoy Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers, both with Bill Murray, and Martin’s L.A. Story. They might also enjoy some classics with women facing similar choices between an older man and a younger one, including How to Marry a Millionaire and Cactus Flower.

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Posted on October 19, 2005 at 6:29 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Intense, graphic violence, characters wounded, mutilated, killed, and then re-killed, grisly and graphic images, lots of guns and explosions
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

The movie is called “Doom” and it’s based on a video game. So no one is expecting insights into the human condition or subtle performances. We’re here to see stuff get blown up, baby.

And that’s what we get — it’s a big, loud explosion movie, the same old bang-bang, boom-boom, yuck-yuck, wham-wham.

In an underground archeological dig on Mars, a team of Rapid Response Tactical Squad Marines are sent in to contain some sort of infestation and retrieve some data. The leader is Sarge (The Rock) and the squadron includes a kid on his first mission and a guy with a past connection to that dig — and to a woman who is still there working on it.

Then there’s a lot of shooting and a lot of tough talk with a lot of exclamation points:

“I guess you gotta face your demons sometime.”

“You hesitate — people die!”

“Now let’s see if we can find the body that goes with this arm.”

“Oh my God! There’s something in his blood!”

“I’m going to the armory. We’re going to need something with a little bit more kick.”



“What do you mean he killed himself? He was already dead!”

“Pinky! Use the grenade!”

“There’s something behind me, isn’t there?”

There are fights and explosions and shoot-outs and maulings in a number of different settings — waist-high water, a medical facility with a dissolving door, a spooky chamber — and between a number of different entities. There are gross-outs and monsters and boo-surprises and people who won’t stay dead. There are in-jokes for fans of the game. There is The Rock, without a hint of his usual self-aware humor. And there is one more big fight and finally, not soon enough, game over.

Parents should know that this movie features non-stop violence that is extremely graphic and gory. Characters fight with fists, guns (really big guns), and grenades and characters are wounded, killed, and re-killed. There are graphic and gross images of wounds, piles of guts, poop, and monsters, and a lot of jump-out-at-you surprises. Characters use strong and crude language and a character abuses pharmaceutical drugs. A female character is portrayed as intelligent and accomplished but when the fighting begins, she is either patching people up or screaming.

Families who see this movie should talk about when it is right not to follow orders. They might also want to talk about the difference between a movie and a video game and whether this qualifies as either.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Resident Evil and its sequel and The Scorpion King.

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North Country

Posted on October 18, 2005 at 8:16 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, reference to marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Tense, hostile, verbal and physical assaults, domestic abuse, sad illness
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

“North Country” was “inspired by a true story,” but instead of sticking to the undeniably moving facts of the sexual harassment suit filed by female mineworkers, this movie veers off into distracting and soapy subplots. It doesn’t trust its story, it doesn’t trust its characters, and it doesn’t trust its audience.

It’s an attempt to follow in a long and distinguished series of Oscar-bait “true” stories turned into movies named after their female leads (Erin Brockovich, Norma Rae). But there’s a reason this one changes the names of all of the characters and the mining company. It’s an “inspired by,” which means that it makes no attempt to be accurate. The result, despite sincere performances, just feels synthetic.

In this version, it’s Josie Aimes (Charlize Theron) who filed a lawsuit against the mining company that failed to protect the female employees from abuse, despite verbal and physical assaults, despite intimidation and threat of retaliation, despite the unwillingness of even one other person, male or female, to stand beside her. And in this version, the lawyer, Bill White (Woody Harrelson), is a former local hockey star who agrees to represent her only so he can enhance his reputation by making new law: the first ever class action sexual harassment claim. The others may not care or may be too scared to tell the truth, but Josie’s complaint was on behalf of all of them, alleging a consistent and management-approved policy of harassment and abuse.

This movie attacks the bad guy bosses for its “nuts and sluts” defense to charges of sexual harassment because it brought the main character’s sexual history into the courtroom. Then it does the same thing, dragging Josie’s past into evidence and making the story about her behavior as a teenager and her struggle for the respect of her father and her son, both handled awkwardly and unconvincingly. Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) has a lot of lingering close-ups of Charlize Theron’s face (a temptation hard to resist, I admit), and dilutes the power of her story with too many distractions and too-quick turn-arounds. The women of the mine deserved better from their managers and they deserve better from this movie.

Parents should know that this movie depicts the crudest and most hostile forms of sexual harassment in very explicit terms. A character is battered by her domestic partner. Characters use very strong language and there are explicit sexual references and situations, including rape. Characters drink and smoke.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it was hard for the women to insist on better treatment from the men in the mine. When is it time to “cowboy up” and when is it time to fight? They should talk about Kyle’s comment that “It takes a lot of work to hate someone. You really want to put in that kind of time?” Familiss should make sure that everyone understands that sexual harassment is not about flirting or leading anyone on and has no relationship to the sexual history of the victims. It is about power and humiliation and control. Families might also like to look at the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines and one of the judge’s decisions in the case that inspired this movie, which begins, “This case has a long, tortured, and unfortunate history,” and goes on to conclude that, “It should be obvious that the callous pattern and practice of sexual harassment engaged in by Eveleth Mines inevitably destroyed the self-esteem of the working women exposed to it. The emotional harm, brought about by this record of human indecency, sought to destroy the human psyche as well as the human spirit of each plaintiff. The humiliation and degradation suffered by these women is irreparable. Although money damage cannot make these women whole or even begin to repair the injury done, it can serve to set a precedent that in the environment of the working place such hostility will not be tolerated.”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other fact-based stories about strong women who stood up for their rights, including Sally Field’s Oscar-winning performance in Norma Rae, Julia Roberts’ Oscar-winning performance in Erin Brockovich, Meryl Streep in Silkwood, and Sissy Spacek (who plays Josie’s mother in this film) in Marie, with Fred Thompson in his first film role, playing himself.

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