Just Friends

Posted on November 13, 2005 at 6:05 pm

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Strong language for a PG-13
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, including drunkenness, prescription drug abuse played for humor
Violence/ Scariness: Comic violence with comic but graphic injuries
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

The worst thing about this movie is not how dumb it is, or how much talent it wastes. The worst thing is not how crude it is or how ugly the humor (more accurately, intended humor) is, and how cynically it exploits the inadequacies of the MPAA in attempting to provide parental guidance. No, the worst thing about this movie is how evident the entire cast’s lack of interest is. With one exception, they all look either embarrassed or bored or both.

So let’s talk about the one exception, the fabulous Anna Faris who is full-on fearless as Samantha, a pop star who put the “high” in “high maintenance.”

Samantha’s high maintenance is currently the responsibility of Chris (Ryan Reynolds), a former high school overweight sweetie still hung up on Jamie (Amy Smart), the girl who never let him out of the “friend zone.” Now he’s slim, successful, and a ladykiller, and determined to stay as far away as he can from the place he came from and the person he used to be.

So of course a microwave mishap on Samantha’s plane means a forced landing you-know-where. Chris tries a number of annoying techniques to capture Jamie’s heart (okay, some of the time his interest is in other portions of her anatomy), leading to much humiliation and mayhem, all of it either teeth-grindingly tedious, heart-sinkingly crude, or just plain boring, often all three at once.

Smart and Julie Hagarty as Chris’ mother are underused in roles that are under-written. Chris Klein does pretty well as a rival for Jamie’s affections. But Reynolds, as usual, looks like he can’t believe he’s stuck doing this stuff. He’s better off than those of us who have to watch it.

Parents should know that this movie take advantage of every loophole in the MPAA’s formulas to push the edge of the envelope on the PG-13. It has a great deal of material that is not just “mature” or “edgy” but very vulgar and crude. “Raise your hand if your brother is a homo!” is the merry jape Chris’ little brother tosses off repeatedly, along with “Did you boink her yet?” The overall idiocy of pop tart Samantha, including promiscuity, is also a source of intended humor. Chris’ promiscuity is supposed to be dashing and charming. It isn’t. There is a same-sex kiss (also supposed to be funny). Characters drink and get drunk and a character’s abuse of Vicodin is supposed to be funny. There is a lot of comic violence.

Families who see this movie should talk about why our adolescent insecurities continue to haunt us.

Families who appreciate this movie will also enjoy the much better Stuck on You.

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Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Posted on November 13, 2005 at 9:37 am

A
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and graphic action, characters injured, character killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

No recap. No amusingly horrifying opening appetizer at the Dursley’s house. No intriguing Diagon Alley detours. Someone shouts at Harry to hold on and he is whooshed into his next adventure as we are whooshed along with him.

It turns out he’s been told to grab on to what looks like a boot, but what is in reality a “portkey,” an ordinary object enchanted so that anyone who touches it will be transported to another location. And Harry and the Weasleys have been transported to a huge open field that is the site of the Quidditch World Cup. Harry ducks to walk inside the modest little tent, only to stand up inside and gaze around at a spacious and inviting space inside. “I love magic,” he says happily. And we know just how he feels.

Young orphaned Harry Potter is thrilled to find himself at the World Cup just as is about to begin his fourth year at Hogwarts boarding school for witches and wizards. But the wizarding equivalent of a terrorist attack shuts everything down. And since Harry was found at the scene of the crime, some suspect he may have had something to do with it.

As headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) says, “Dark and difficult times lie ahead, Harry. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right…and what is easy.” Harry knows that his old foe Voldemort is getting stronger and nearer. Of course, there is a new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, one Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson). Hogwarts plays host to a sort of inter-mural Iron Man competition, as three schools each nominate one candidate for the biggest competition of all, the Tri-Wizard Tournament. And Harry, now 14 years old, is having some very troubling feelings about one special girl named Cho Chang (Katie Leung).

Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Enchanted April) manages to bring off something of a tri-athletic feat himself. He creates a sense of seamless continuity with the three previous films (the first two directed by Chris Columbus, the third by Alfonso Cuaron) while bringing his own sensibility to the story. The young actors and their characters, too, seem to be evolving right on schedule, fully inhabiting their characters. Newell gets lovely, open performances from Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Rupert Grint (best friend Ron Weasley), and Emma Watson (smartest girl in school Hermione). And he expertly makes the smallest moment of adolescent longing as vivid and meaningful as the WOW-worthy special effects.

And WOW-worthy they are from the stunning arena for the World Cup to the torture of an insect in Mad-Eye’s demonstration of the three unforgiveable curses.

There’s a carriage drawn by winged horses that brings the lovely jeune filles of Beauxbatons and a three-masted ship that rises from the depths of the sea carrying the competitors from Durmstrang to the tournament. There’s a mermaid, and a visit with Moaning Myrtle, the ghost in the bathroom. There’s a reporter with a voice as skritchy as her quill pen that writes by itself. There are four fire-breathing dragons. There’s a ball to attend, if one can get up the courage to invite a date, and there are the dates one didn’t ask in time, for one to glare at hotly and say things one instantly regrets.

The first of the supersized Harry books posed a challenge to any adaptation that you could watch without packing a lunch and your pajamas. But they’ve done a marvelous job of packing in a lot of detail and richness while keeping the story moving straight ahead. If we miss seeing the this year’s affront to the Dursleys and spending more time with old friends and foes like Snape, Dumbledore, McGonagall, Malfoy, and Hagrid, it is only a reflection of Harry’s stage of life, with his friends becoming the more prominent focus.

As Harry gets older and the stories get more complex and intricate, hints of themes from earlier chapters becoming deeper and more resonant, the series is becoming one of the most reliably satisfying in modern movie history. And that’s what magic feels like.

Parents should know that as in the books, Harry’s adventures and reactions become more complex and his challenges become more dangerous, the series has moved from a PG rating (albeit one that was right up at the edge of a PG-13) to a full-on PG-13. The bad guys are scarier, both in looks and in the threat they pose. There is a great deal of intense peril and some scary monsters. An important character is killed and the movie, even more than the book, makes you feel how searing a loss that is.Characters use brief strong language (“bloody hell,” “piss off”) and there is some very mild adolescent romance (a crush, concerns about who is going to ask whom to the dance and the jealous consequences thereof).

Families who see this movie should talk about how Harry, Ron, and Hermione are beginning to relate to each other differently as they get older.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the rest of the Harry Potter series. The books that inspired them have much more detail and are great fun to read, alone or aloud. Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Willow, Labyrinth, and The Princess Bride.

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Derailed

Posted on November 11, 2005 at 3:10 pm

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Infrequent but extremely strong language and blasphemy
Alcohol/ Drugs: Characters drink, smoke and refer to drug using and dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Explicit physical violence, beatings, threats and murder, characters die, psychological abuse run throughout
Diversity Issues: Inter-racial friendship
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

This movie sets out for intense, psychological thriller but ends up in an unrealistic dead-end thanks to misguided casting, implausible character development and a whole lot of bad behavior on the part of nearly everyone onscreen. “Derailed” indeed. Stuck on the same train as this lot, many audience members might prefer to walk.

Like the book, the movie follows Charles Christopher Schine (Clive Owen), who is just trying to be a nice guy. He is numb with loneliness as he goes from his rocky marriage to hated advertising job, unable to change tracks while his daughter, Amy (Addison Timlin) is ill and in need of expensive trial drugs. The spark between Charles and his wife (Melissa George) is smothered under the weight of worry for Amy and lack of communication, all of which leaves our protagonist ripe to make some very, very bad decisions.

An attractive leg on his morning train ride takes hold of Charles’ attention and desire. The leg belongs to finance expert Lucinda (a spectacularly miscast Jennifer Aniston), who is like him in sticking with her loveless marriage for the sake of a daughter but unlike him has verve and self-confidence to spare. As they edge towards an adulterous tryst, a robber/rapist Philippe Larouche (Vincent Cassel) hijacks the ride and in a string of physical and psychological attacks exploits Charles’ guilt and desire to please for blackmail. Will our hero save the lady and save the day? By the end of the movie, viewers might not care – idly wishing for a different hero, lady and day, preferably one that did not feature “Derailed”.

The redeeming features of the movie include some interesting scenes and insights, mostly stemming from Charles’ friendship with Winston (RZA), which in a platonic sense is a warmer, more intimate relationship than the one Lucinda offers. The twists and turns of the blackmailer’s con will offer some surprises for the less-jaded travelers but the epilogue will be the last stop for any passengers who managed to suspend disbelief through this uneven journey. The least credible turn of the movie is Charles’ jerky character development. Where the book might have explored this area better, here it runs out of steam.

Parents should be aware that this violent movie and its near-constant threats -– physical and psychological -— render it inappropriate for younger viewers or sensitive audience members of any age. Characters are killed, bloodily beaten, threatened, blackmailed, recklessly endangered and demeaned. There is an implicit rape, the threat of sexual attacks against a young girl, and the theme of adultery. All characters act in self-serving ways and stretch the limits of empathy.

Families may wish to discuss what makes a character sympathetic or not and why they side with Charles in his struggles. What would you have done differently?

Families who wish to see the actors here shine in other movies, might wish to see Greenfingers, which also starts and ends in prison but allows Clive Owen to show humor and timing or Croupier (mature themes), which first brought him to the attention of American audiences. Jennifer Aniston’s flat and distant dramatic persona works much better in the depressing The Good Girl and The Object of My Affection (mature themes), but true fans might stick with Picture Perfect or old episodes of Friends.

Thanks to guest critic AME.

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Walk the Line

Posted on November 11, 2005 at 2:44 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some strong and harsh language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drug abuse, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Character killed (graphic wound), some additioanl mild peril, tense emotional confrontations, drug detox
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

At first it just seems like a pulse. Then we realize it is a sound. Then we realize it is a very loud sound, muffled because it is on the other side of some very thick walls. Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) is about to perform at Folsom Prison, and the inmates are calling for him in a controlled (maybe only temporarily) thump, thump, thump. He pauses, his finger touching lightly on the buzz saw, and he remembers.

Is it possible to overcome the Behind the Music/E! True Hollywood Story-ism in a movie biograpy of a legendary musician?

Maybe somewhere out there is a story about a sensationally talented performer who managed to achieve success without neglecting family members, agonizing about the meaning of it all, and what BtM/THS always call “the descent into drugs and alcoholism.” Maybe that story will not start with a critical moment in the performer’s adult life and then shift back to take us through his childhood, with his dream of making it big, and then through his success, discovering that his dream was not all he hoped.

Someday, somewhere, but not in this movie. But for now, that’s okay. Like Ray, this is a good, if predictable movie with great performances and great music.

Joaquin Phoenix is a deep and complex actor, a good fit for the man in black. He shows us Cash’s vulnerability, his loneliness, and, above all, his aching, overwhelming, yearning for June Carter. He heard her 10-year-old voice on the radio when he was a boy and it drew and sustained him. Like Cash, Phoenix expresses himself less through his words than through gesture, movement, music. We see his anguish, his shame, and his hope of redemption in the way he walks, the way he holds his shoulders and turns his head, and especially in the way he looks at June.

Witherspoon matches him on every beat — she’s the more arresting character here, and we wish we could get to know her side of the story better. When we first see her, she’s the essence of a trouper; she’s been performing all her life. She thinks she knows her place in her famous family and in the larger family of performers: “I learned to be funny so I’d always have something to do.” She thinks tt’s her sister who has the voice; she uses charm and personality to captivate the audience. But the character she plays on stage is not really her. Johnny sees the real June just as she sees the real Johnny.

He first sees her backstage and snags her dress on his guitar, just to have the chance to be close to her. After she extricates herself, he holds onto the little piece of fabric torn from her dress and looks out at her on stage. Later, they share coffee at a diner. She tells him that his music is “strong as a train, sharp as a razor,” and encourages him to feel proud of what he has done. He tells her about the loss of his brother. They become close friends. And she stands by him as he grapples with substance abuse, finding that difficult balance between being supportive and insisting that he be clean. He helps her find her voice as she helps him find peace. Their personal, artistic, and professional lives connect and intertwine.

The movie has all the usual steps on the rise, fall, and rise story — the “Daddy’s going to be home real soon” and “I got you all this stuff — what do you want from me?” exchanges with the family, the touchstones as we see Johnny write his Folsom song and begin to wear black (because it was the only color he and his bandmates all had). Then there are the meetings with famous people before they were famous, the stardom, the discovery that stardom is not enough, and the second rise, the one that means something because it is built on something real. That’s all capably done, but it is the performances of Phoenix and Witherspoon and the conviction they bring to the connection between Johnny and June, the way a deep friendship led to love and personal and artistic renewal that makes the movie work, that takes us into their burning ring of fire.

Parents should know that this film includes brief strong language, the death of a child (some graphic injuries), alcohol and prescription drug abuse, smoking, and some very tense and emotional confrontations. Children witness a particularly ugly fight between parents. A character undergoes detox. There are some sexual references and non-explicit situations, including groupies and adultery.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it was so hard for Johnny Cash’s father to show his pride in his son. What made that so painful for Johnny? Why was the Folsom concert so important to him? If you only had time to sing one song, what would it be?

Families who enjoy this film should listen to the legendary At Folsom Prison recording, as well as recordings by Jerry Lee Lewis, Waylon Jennings, Buddy Holly, and, of course, Elvis. They might also enjoy learning more about the legendary Sun Records, run by Sam Phillips, and listening to the music of the Cashes and Carters, including Roseanne Cash, Carlene Carter, and the Carter Family. And they will appreciate The Prophet, the book June gave Johnny, which was a great influence and inspiration for both of them.

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Yours, Mine & Ours

Posted on November 8, 2005 at 7:27 pm

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
Profanity: Brief crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Teen drinking, housekeeper has a martini
Violence/ Scariness: A lot of slapstick violence, some peril, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Multi-racial siblings
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

This one is straight off the sit-com conveyer belt, all pratfalls and spit-takes. What little gloss it gets from star power is buried under forced humor about a pet pig (The pig swallows a cell phone! The pig eats the wedding cake!), about predictable “Odd Couple”/red state vs. blue state style culture clashes (The hippie kid has to room with the straight-arrow! Multiplied by 9!), and about “feminine” behavior by young boys — genuinely weird and icky in addition to being downright inappropriate for the target age group.

Like the original Yours, Mine, and Ours, this is based on the true story of widower Frank Beardsley (Dennis Quaid), father of eight children, who married Helen North (Rene Russo), a widow with ten.

In this version, Frank is a Coast Guard admiral who keeps his family in ship shape to ensure smooth sailing. Everyone knows the rules, and when he calls formation, everyone shows up and salutes. Helen is a free spirit who believes in the talking stick and the group hug. They were high school sweethearts who run into each other when he returns to duty in Connecticut and impulsively elope about a minute later so we can get to the good stuff — the all-out war between the North and Beardsley children. The next thing you know, there’s a school bus just for the family, a schedule for the bathrooms, and a chore chart the size of a tablecloth. And everyone gathers around to try to get all 20 names on the answering machine message, emphasis on “try.”

The kids battle each other and then we’re on to chapter two as the warring factions join forces against a common enemy; they decide to break up their parents. Didn’t we see this on “The Brady Bunch?”

Quaid and Russo manage to locate some chemistry, despite his being relegated to messy pratfalls and her almost-as-thankless task of basically being an inconsiderate ditherbrain. The kids are pretty much interchangeable, with the exception of hippie chick Danielle Panabaker, who has a very appealing screen presence. Oscar-winner Linda Hunt is criminally wasted as the housekeeper.

This is one of those series-of-skits-then-heartwarming finish formulas that makes your head hurt if you try to think about it too much. For example, for two people who keep talking about how much they love their families, Frank and Helen don’t do much actual parenting. While it’s true that the movie would never end if it tried to give us some actual interaction between parent and child, the absence of a single moment of homework help, emergency room visit, heart-to-heart talk, or expression of concern about a scraped knee or a hurt feeling gives it a phony, pre-fab tone. There isn’t one authentic or imaginative moment. Yours, mine, ours? Keep it.

Parents should know that the movie has some crude humor, including comic barfing. There are some weird and tasteless homophobic jokes. One boy is portrayed as (humorously) effeminate. The children attempt to rattle their Admiral father by having two other boys dress up like girls and pretend to have a tea party. The children also discuss upsetting him further by having the two teenage girls kiss each other. There is a thong joke and there are some mild references to a married couple wanting to have some privacy so they can go to bed together. Two teenagers have a lingering kiss (but no affection or commitment). There are kegs of beer at a teen party and it is supposed to be funny that the children’s housekeeper pours herself a martini. The movie has a good deal of comic slapstick violence of the head-bonking, slip and fall variety, school bullies, and some mild peril. No one is hurt. Some audience members may be disturbed by the fact that each of the children in this movie lost a parent. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of devoted multi-racial siblings.

Families who see this movie should talk about what the best (and worst) thing about having 17 siblings would be and which members of the North/Beardsley family they would most like to have as friends. They may also want to talk about how the Beardsleys and Norths were more alike than they seemed. Both were loving and devoted families. And both were reacting to the feeling of lack of control that tragedies can bring — one by hanging on too tightly to rules and one by being unwilling to hang on to anything too tightly at all. Where does your family fall on the continuum of rules vs. creative chaos?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the original, starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball (in a performance her biographer called the best of her career). Families might also like to see documentaries about real families with 12 or more children, including the Oscar-winning Who are the DeBolts? and My Flesh and Blood (both with some very sad moments as well as some very inspiring ones) and read books about large families like Cheaper by the Dozen and The Family Nobody Wanted. They can find out more about the real North/Beardsley family (twenty children, including the two Frank and Helen had together) on this website.

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