Snakes on a Plane

Posted on August 18, 2006 at 4:13 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, a scene of sexuality and drug use, and intense sequences of terror and violence.
Profanity: Some very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extreme, intense, and graphic peril and violence, many injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000JBXHQY

If there’s ever an Oscar for truth in titling, it will go to “Snakes on a Plane.” As zillions of internet fans have noted for months, that says it all. This is the snakiest plane movie and the planeiest snake movie ever made.


The credits list four screenwriters, and I imagine they divided it up like this: “I’ll make a list of places on the plane the snakes will be found, you make a list of body parts they can bite — be sure to include them all, you make a list of items on a plane that can be used as weapons, and you make a list of things that can go wrong on a plane that will make it even more dangerous. Go ahead, throw in a thunderstorm! And don’t forget a big, juicy product placement. Okay, everyone ready — GO!”


There wasn’t much need to make a list of, for example, characters. They just took a couple from every airplane disaster movie: the children traveling alone, the supercilious British guy, the pretty girl with the yappy little dog in her purse, the fat lady with a flask of booze, the kick-boxing champion, the newlyweds with a husband nervous about air travel, the flight attendant on her last trip before starting law school, a germophobic rap star with his entourage, oh, and of course, the tough FBI agents escorting a witness who is going to testify against a very, very bad man.


And there wasn’t much need to write dialogue, with all the suggestions from the internet fans. Yes, the line the fans insisted on is in the film (though clearly a reshoot inserted after principle photography), and a very excited audience joyfully recited along. There was a lot of applause for the snake-o-vision, too, green-tinged shots from the snake’s point of view.


It’s basically a movie about two questions:


1. What is the meaning of life? Oh, sorry, wrong movie. I meant to say, how many places can snakes be on a plane and how many places on a body can they bite? Answer: all of them


2. What items on a plane can be used to combat, destroy, and barricade oneself from snakes? Answer: More than you’d think


These days, when shampoo and cologne are too dangerous to take onboard, it almost feels like a relief to have an over-the-top airplane scarefest like this. There’s a particular reference to current restrictions, as an FBI agent (Samuel L. Jackson) is looking for something sharp and all the flight attendant can offer him is a plastic “spork.”

Jackson strikes exactly the right note, never winking at the camera, simply delivering full-on star power and clearly enjoying himself immensely. Director David Ellis expertly maintains the tension, stopping for some resolution — or even a laugh — now and then. It does not take itself too seriously, but it takes its obligation to entertain seriously and, as far as movies about snakes on a plane go, it’s hard to imagine a better ride.

Parents should know that this is a very graphic, intense, and violent movie with many gross injuries and horrible deaths. A child and a baby are in peril and a dog and many, many snakes are killed. Characters use some very strong language. There is brief nudity and a sexual situation. Characters drink alcohol. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of strong, loyal, and capable diverse characters and women and a sly reversal of gender expectations.


Families who see this movie should talk about how it became an internet phenomenon, with the audience playing a role in determining the movie’s content and even its title.


Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Die Hard: With a Vengeance (also starring Jackson), 16 Blocks, and Arachnophobia as well as airborne classics like Airport, The High and the Mighty, and Airplane!. For more on this movie, see my blog posts here and here. And if you’ve seen it already or don’t mind spoilers, see this post with a link to the Slate podcast discussion, too.

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Action/Adventure Movies Thriller

The Illusionist

Posted on August 16, 2006 at 4:21 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and violence.
Profanity: Mild language and insults
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Off-screen violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000K7VHQ4

This feels like a fairy tale, so I will begin: “Once upon a time…”


…there was a princess who loved a commoner but was engaged to a cruel prince.


The commoner and the princess played together as children, but when they were discovered, he had to disappear. Many years later, he returns, transformed. Even his name is different. Now, he is the famous Eisenheim (Edward Norton), a magician who thrills audiences with his illusions.


One night, the volunteer he brings on stage to assist turns out to be the same girl he knew as a boy. She is Sophie (Jessica Biel), and she is engaged to the cruel and arrogant Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), not because he loves her but because an alliance with her will help him become emperor. And because he does not want anyone else to have her.


Leopold orders Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) to investigate Eisenheim.


Parents should know that the movie has a non-explicit sexual situation and offscreen violence. There is a murder with graphic injuries and a character commits suicide. Characters drink alcohol and one becomes intoxicated.


Families who see this movie should talk about why Leopold was so disturbed by Eisenheim’s illusions. What did Chief Inspector Uhl want from Eisenheim? How did he decide how far he would bend the rules for the prince? What situations present people with those kinds of pressures to compromise today?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Houdini.

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Drama Movies Mystery Romance Thriller

Invincible

Posted on August 15, 2006 at 12:07 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for sports action and some mild language.
Profanity: Mild language and insults
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, scenes in bar
Violence/ Scariness: Sports violence, tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000J3OTT6

In this movie, a father tells his son that one great touchdown by Steve Van Buren of the Philadelphia Eagles got him through 30 years of factory work. We often identify so completely with the teams and athletes we love that it feels like our hearts are in that ball as it crosses the goal line, swishes into the basket, or sails over the head of the guy in the outfield. Maybe our dreams don’t come true, but we can share the dreams of the guys on the field. And that is the stuff of movies.


Vince Papale, a part-time teacher and bartender became the oldest non-kicker rookie in NFL history when he joined the Philadelphia Eagles at age 30 in 1976. That sounds like a Disney movie.


And that’s just what it is, in the tradition of (and all too reminiscient of) The Rookie and Miracle. Not surprising — this film has the same producer and screenwriter.

Mark Wahlberg plays Papale, a passionate season-ticket-holding Eagles fan who is picked from an open try-out though he had never played college football. He was selected by coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) and survived training camp to play on the team.


So, we know where it’s all going from the beginning, and how successful it is in making that journey work depends on whether it can make us care about the characters. Unforunately, while it has a nicely gritty sense of time and place, some touching moments, and many very bad 1970’s hairstyles, its beats are all too telegraphed and formulaic to fully engage us.


Wahlberg brings sincerity and an easy athleticism to the role of Papale, and Elizabeth Banks has a lovely centered quality and genuine sparkle as his love interest. But the script — the disapproving wife who exits just in time for him to meet the beautiful girl who knows all about football, the down-on-their-luck friends who want to make sure that he doesn’t forget about them, the coach with high standards who is willing to take a chance, the dad who cautions him not to try for something he can’t have and then watches damp-eyed as he makes it — there’s not enough to surprise and engage us. I couldn’t help thinking as I watched Papale run through the streets of 1976 Philadelphia that maybe he’d meet up with Rocky.


Parents should know that there are a few moments of sports violence and some references to sad deaths of family members. Wahlberg’s character is a bartender, and there are many scenes in the bar with characters drinking. A character refers to a married boyfriend. Characters kiss. Some audience members may be disturbed by the break-up of Vince’s marriage and the struggles to trust enough to start a new relationship.


A main theme of the film is the encouragement and support Papale receives from friends and family. Many of his friends are portrayed as supportive, but Papale is presented as having been driven by the handful of people in his life who told him he couldn’t do it. Why did he put his wife’s note in his locker? Families who see this film should talk about the importance of having a support network, and why sometimes adversity can be the strongest motivator. Do you agree that the team with character will find a way to be the team with talent? What current athletes do and don’t meet that standard?


Families who enjoyed this movie have a wealth of football and sport-oriented films to choose from, and many are filled with remarkable sequences and riveting drama. Recommendations would be Rudy, in which Sean Astin conquers his limitations to play for Notre Dame, Paper Lion, an older (1968) film featuring a journalist who goes undercover as a quarterback for the Detroit Lions (based on a true story), and Friday Night Lights, the story of a season with The Permian High Panthers, The Replacements (some mature material), a fictional story about an all-amateur team, and a similar real-life story about a teacher who became a major league pitcher in Disney’s The Rookie. They may also want to learn more about the history of the team. And families who want to know more about the real Vince Papale, who was voted Special Teams Captain and “Man of the Year” by the Eagles, can visit his website and read his book.

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Biography Drama Movies Sports

Beerfest

Posted on August 15, 2006 at 11:56 am

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for pervasive crude and sexual content, language, nudity and substance abuse.
Profanity: Extremely strong and vulgar language with repeated references to masturbation, oral sex and prostitution
Alcohol/ Drugs: The setting is a beerfest, constant drinking and jokes about drinking too much
Violence/ Scariness: Comic violence including several deaths; two implied by gunshot, one drowning and one suicide
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters with a great deal of steretyping of minorities, non-Americans, and women
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000JJ4DNW

The boys of Broken Lizard have no shame. That’s what their fans like about them.

There’s something quant, cute and even endearing (stick with me here) about their more innocent jokes, the ones where the laughs aren’t cheap but are grounded in character and a genuine affinity for the good times. This latest film has definite moments of comedy that echo the sweeter moments in Super Troopers (Yes, there are a few!), and if you’ve ever found them charming, you won’t be disappointed. If, however, you have ever found them peurile, lazy, and repulsive, this will not be the film that will change your mind.


Lizard’s Erik Stolhanske and Paul Soter play brothers of German decent who travel to Munich with the intent of spreading their father’s ashes, only to stumble upon a sort of “drinking Olympics” that Americans have been kept determinately excluded from. Inspired to defend their country’s dignity and fueled by a personal need to restore the family’s good name, the brothers return to the states with a plan to put together a drinking team and train, with copious drinking, for next year’s competition.


The jokes are obscene and lewd, and there are moments of on-screen chaos that suggest the troupe could use someone over their shoulder to reign in the more ludicrous scenes of pandemonium. But after all the pieces that didn’t quite make sense have fallen through the cracks of memory, audiences inclined toward this kind of humor may be left with a general impression of some very funny moments. If you’re not offended by the grandmother who is revealed to have been a prostitute (revealed, of course, in much more offensive terms) or the old school friend who currently is a prostitute (played by director Jay Chandrasekhar), what you find is some surprisingly winning characters.

The sweet scientist, nerdy and too mature for his emotionally and intellectually stunted friends, played in a lab coat and thick-framed glasses by Steve Lemme, seems to put up with the others out of an enchanting loyalty that is both admirable and against his better judgment. The unimposing yet larger-than-life Kevin Heffernan plays Landfill, a staple in the competitive eating circuit whose innocence and baby-faced enthusiasm is hard to dislike, even with the abundant profanity that pours out of his mouth as easily as the beer and hot dogs pour in. The two brothers are well-conceived, and the group of actors who play the German team breath a life and vitality into the roles that will make fans of the genre of slob/gross-out/they said WHAT? humor forgive them for what doesn’t work.


Parents should know that this film is for very immature mature audiences only. The dialogue consists of extremely strong, offensive, and vulgar language inappropriate for younger viewers, and there are scenes of nudity, including scenes of women with their shirts ripped off and male nudity from the back and side. Some audience members may be offended by the objectification of women, and also by the profuse stereotyping of individuals of different nationalities. There are repeated references to masturbation, oral sex, prostitution, and, of course, reckless drinking. Parents should be very cautious that this film not be a teenager’s first introduction to any of these themes and that anyone who sees the film understands the more serious consequences surrounding these themes before seeing them presented in a humorous light.


Families who see this movie should discuss the concept of family honor, and why it’s important to protect and look after family members. Families should also discuss patriotism and sportsmanship as it relates to international competitions, and how an individual being on another team or from another country does not necessarily make him or her an adversary. Parents should also encourage their families to think about the difference between loyalty to friends and peer pressure, and how to stay faithful to friends while maintaining good judgment.


Families who enjoyed this movie will enjoy the troupe’s 2001 feature Super Troopers, the Austin Powers trilogy, and Animal House, the college comedy that Broken Lizard, a comedy troup created by a group of college friends, has cited in the past as an inspiration. (All have mature material.)

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Comedy Movies

Accepted

Posted on August 14, 2006 at 12:10 pm

Bartleby (Justin Long) has been turned down at every single college he applied to. His friends’ college plans have also turned out badly.

No problem. Bartleby is a can-do Ferris Bueller type — without “Twist and Shout,” a red Ferrari, a wealthy family, or a clever script.

He makes up a college, the South Harmon Institute of Technology. Its initials provide not only some sense of the movie’s level of humor but also the script’s most frequent word. All goes well until he realizes that he’s going to need more than a website and an acceptance letter. Eventually, the summer will end and he will need an actual place to go.

No problem.

Bartleby and his friends fix up a building and hire an alcoholic former professor-turned-shoe-salesman (Lewis Black) to act as its dean.


All goes well until it turns out a lot of other kids have gone to the fake school’s fake website and printed out what they think are real letters of acceptance, and they show up expecting to move in and to go to school.


Problem.


Fortunately, all of those kids have brought checks for their tuition, so Bartleby sets up a system of student-led learning, using that term very loosely. And all goes very, very well indeed until the snobby kids at the real college nearby decide to arrange for a simultaneous South Harmon parents’ weekend and a visit from the accredidation authorities.


Big problem.


This movie doesn’t have the intellectual heft to write its name correctly to get 200 points on its SATs, but the unpretentious good humor of its cast, brisk running time, a couple of funny lines, and the wish fulfillment fantasy of a college where you can do anything you want give it some genial appeal. It helps, too, that aside from the bad language, underage drinking, slight air of nihilism, and, what is that other thing, oh, yes, the fact that all the characters lie and cheat, there is some real sweetness in the way the characters treat each other. If this movie was a college application essay, it would be the kind that makes the office of admissions decide to overlook lackluster grades and take a chance.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong language and very crude humor for a PG-13. Characters drink and make fake IDs for those underage. There are some crude sexual remarks but the movie’s heroes and heroines do not engage in casual sex. However, the main characters engage in a great deal of risky and unethical behavior. For example, they lie, cheat, and steal.

Families who see this movie should talk about the pressure on high school students to get into the “right” college. They may also want to look at highly respected schools with alternative programs that give students the chance to design their own curriculum. Summerhill is an educational classic, now out of date but still worth reading. Do you think Bartleby’s name is a possible tribute to the Herman Melville’s character who said “I prefer not to” when asked to do his job?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Camp Nowhere, which has an almost identical plot, as well as other campus comedies from Monkey Business to National Lampoon’s Animal House (for mature audiences only), Good News, and P.C.U.

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