Nanny McPhee

Posted on January 22, 2006 at 12:09 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild thematic elements, some rude humor and brief language.
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Sherry
Violence/ Scariness: Comic violence and peril, no one hurt, but there are shots of dead bodies in a mortuary
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000F1IQNM

There are seven children in the Brown family, and they are all very clever and exceedingly naughty. The 16th nanny has just quit because she thought she saw the six older children eating the baby. The nanny agency refuses to send over another candidate. Mr. Brown (Colin Firth) does not know what to do. And rich Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) says that if he doesn’t get married by the end of the month, she will stop sending the money they need to pay for their house.


Enter Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson). She has two huge warts, a nose like a potato, and a snagletooth. She also has a big, gnarled staff, and when she hits the ground with it, surprising things happen. She tells the children that when she is needed but not wanted, she will stay, but when she is wanted but not needed, she will go.


Thompson, who also wrote the screenplay, clearly enjoys her outlandish get-up and her crisp but understated and dryly humorous delivery is perfectly suited to the part of the un-ruffleable nanny. Firth’s addled but affectionate father and Kelly Macdonald as a sympathetic housemaid add some substance and sweetness. Thomas Sangster (Love Actually with Thompson and Firth) as the oldest of the Brown children, has a light comic touch.

The movie is a little too self-consciously charming, set in a village so twee it would not be out of place in a Christmas display, with owlish children making adorably precocious quips. And some of the humor seems forced or even creepy, as when we see Mr. Brown working in a mortuary. But it is highly entertaining to see the children misbehave — and to see them get their comeuppance, and the happy ending, if unsurprising, is welcome and satisfying.

Parents should know that there is some gruesome humor and comic peril (no one hurt). There is a comic situation involving some accidental but graphic groping and a woman who takes this as evidence of her sexual attractiveness and a brief crude joke with the implication of incest. Some audience members may be disturbed by the (offscreen) death of the children’s mother or the potential wicked stepmother or loss of the family’s home. Mr. Brown works in a mortuary and the film includes shots of dead bodies.


Families who see this movie should talk about why the children were so naughty. What was the most important thing they learned from Nanny McPhee? What do you think about her rules? Why do her looks change? If you were nanny to the Brown children, what would you do? What does it mean to be needed but not wanted or wanted but not needed?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Mary Poppins, the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books, and The Storyteller, the classic story of a man who finds a very clever way to quiet some annoying children. Like the author of the books that inspired this movie, he knows that kids love stories about naughty children.

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Comedy Family Issues Fantasy Movies

Underworld: Evolution

Posted on January 20, 2006 at 12:12 pm

F+
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for pervasive strong violence and gore, some sexuality/nudity and language.
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Wine
Violence/ Scariness: Extremely intense and graphic peril and violence, many characters killed
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000F6IOBG

“Is that the same guy that was just sucking the blood out of the dead horse?”


That was my question to the critic sitting next to me in the middle of the movie. I liked the first Underworld. I thought it was comic-book fun and enjoyed its punk-gothic attitude and flashy design. But this sequel is an incoherent mess covered in sticky, goopy blood without one interesting action scene or fresh stunt.


Once again, it’s about the centuries-old battle between the lycans (werewolves) and the vampires. It turns out it all goes back to two brothers, one bitten by a wolf, one bitten by a bat. Selene (Kate Beckinsale, looking very fine in her leather jumpsuit) and mutant/hybrid Michael (Scott Speedman, mostly looking confused) found out at the end of the last movie that Victor (Bill Nighy, whose brief appearance that is the movie’s only bright spot) had lied to her about, well, pretty much everything, and now it is up to them to, I don’t know find something or kill someone or somehow save the world or at least themselves with a bad guy who looks like an anatomical drawing of the muscular system who has wings that act as a sort of impaling truth serum.

The juxtaposition of portentious “my lords,” “so the legend is true” and “you are unwelcome in my presence”-type talk with computers and helicopters is mildly fun. It’s handly to have the kind of fingernails that can pierce a paint can lid, and it’s cute when Selene crisply tells a man who says he isn’t afraid of her, “We’re going to have to work on that.” But it’s all kind of murky and never makes you care enough to figure our whatever it is.


Parents should know that the movie is very violent. A head is sliced off, bodies are burned, and many, many people/creatures are shot, impaled, blown up, and otherwise maimed and killed. Characters use some strong language and there is nudity and explicit sexual situations including a decadent setting with a man and two women.


Families who see this movie might want to find out more about the origins of the legends of vampires and werewolves.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Blade and the original Underworld.

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Action/Adventure Fantasy Horror Movies Thriller

The New World

Posted on January 18, 2006 at 12:14 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some intense battle sequences.
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Some Violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B001BNFRB2

It is beautiful to look at. Director Terrence Malick knows how to create images of stunning beauty and power. Those images are especially compelling in this story of Captain John Smith and the because they show us what it was like to come
Q’Orianka Kilcher

Parents should know that the movie includes some violence and sad deaths. There is some romantic snuggling between an adult man and a young girl.


Families who see this movie should talk about the myth and the reality of Pocahontas and why her legend has been so enduring. How well does this version present her point of view? They may also want to visit Jamestown.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Last of the Mohicans.

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Action/Adventure Biography Drama Epic/Historical Movies Romance

End of the Spear

Posted on January 11, 2006 at 12:18 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence.
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Graphic and gory battle violence with spears and arrows, many deaths
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000EXDS4I

Can you forgive the unforgiveable?


Fifty years ago, five American missionaries were killed by members of the most violent culture ever studied by anthropologists, the Waodani tribe in Ecuador. The homicide rate was 60 percent. The widows and children and one sister of the murdered men reached out to the Waodanis, helped care for their children, and through the power of their forgiveness and generosity forged a friendship that transformed them all.


The film-makers, who began by making a documentary version of the same story called Beyond the Gates of Splendor, have now made a feature film, with Chad Allen (of television’s “Dr. Quinn”) as both the missionary Nate Saint and his son, Steve, who came back as an adult to live with the Waodanis again. (The real Steve Saint did the stunt flying for his father’s character in the film.)


Even with subtitles, it is a little hard to follow and it sometimes veers into Sunday school-style sugar. But the story has great power and the film-makers resist condescending to the natives. Still, the footage of the real characters over the closing credits is so vivid and engaging that we wish the entire movie had been letting them tell their own story.


Parents should know that the movie is very violent for a PG-13, with many characters murdered or injured. There are some mild sexual references.


Families who see this movie should talk about forgiveness, and what makes it possible or necessary for people to forgive the most devastating injuries. Why didn’t the missionaries try to defend themselves? What could they have done to better protect themselves? Families may also want to talk about the ethical issues that arise in imposing one culture’s ideas about “civilization” on a native population.


Families who appreciate this movie may also enjoy The Gods Must be Crazy. And they will like my interview with Steve Saint about his experiences.

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Drama Movies

Hoodwinked!

Posted on January 10, 2006 at 12:26 pm

Adorable Little Red Riding Hood opens the door to Granny’s charming cottage in the woods and walks into the bedroom with her basket of goodies. But Granny looks a little different. It is the wolf, in disguise. He lunges toward Red, who, instead of screaming and running away, says, “You again? What do I have to do, get a restraining order?” and goes into her judo stance.


So it’s pretty clear right from the beginning that this computer-animated retelling is not your grandmother’s fairy tale. The characters are the same: Red, the wolf, the sweet grandmother (tied up in the closet), and an enormous woodsman who crashes into the cabin, ax in hand. But then things get a little twisted and a little po-mo — all of a sudden there is yellow crime scene tape surrounding the place and the police — a stork, a bear, and a frog — are there to interrogate the witnesses.


It seems that this may be tied to a crime wave — the theft of the best recipes from everyone in the community.


Still, we think we know what’s coming. RRH was on her way to bring her sweet, gentle, grandmother a basket of treats, the wolf is there to eat Red and Granny, and the woodsman was coming to the rescue, right?


Well, not so much.


As each of the witnesses takes a turn, we find out that nothing was what we thought. Each one has secrets and surprises.


The script is fast, fresh, and witty, with great characters, some clever satire, a couple of surprising plot twists, and a lot of good old-fashioned silly fun.

It has outstanding voice talent as well. As Red, Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries) has a nicely dry delivery that really gets a chance to shine when it is not connected to her princessy prettiness. Glenn Close gives Granny a lot of spirit, and Patrick Warburton (“Seinfeld’s” Puddy) is a master of understated wit. They get able support from Anthony Anderson as the stork, rapper Xzibit as the bear, and David Ogden Stiers (television’s “M*A*S*H” and Beauty and the Beast) as the detective frog.


What’s best, though, about the film is the way it keeps tweaking your expectations. As each story unfolds, we have to confront our assumptions and prejudices in a way that not only keeps us guessing about the real culprit but gives us some real insight into the importance of keeping an open mind.


The animation is just serviceable — the film was made with a limited budget that would barely cover one of Chicken Little’s feathers. That means the textures are superb, but the movements and facial expressions are static and sometimes distracting. The action sequences work pretty well, but when characters are just standing and talking to each other or making smaller movements, the film slows down. But thanks to the clever script and witty performances, this is as filled with goodies as Little Red’s basket.


Parents should know that the movie has some cartoon-ish action sequences and peril that may be too intense for younger children, even though no one gets hurt. Characters use some fresh and sassy language.


Families who see this movie should talk about why we are surprised when the characters do not conform to our expectations. This is a terrific opportunity to talk about point of view and about how different people can draw different conclusions from the same set of facts. They can have some fun taking some other well-known stories and seeing if they can re-engineer them. What would “Goldilocks” be like if the story was told by the bears?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the brilliantly hilarious books A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears by Jules Feiffer, 10 in a Bed by Allan Ahlberg, and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

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Animation Comedy Family Issues
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