Jet Li’s Fearless

Posted on September 20, 2006 at 2:38 pm

C-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and martial arts action throughout.
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, scenes in bar
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and graphic violence, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000K2UW06

It does not have the ravishing images of Hero but it does not have the cheesy plot of Cradle 2 the Grave, either. For his last action film, Jet Li has decided to give us a reverential biopic about Huo Yuanjia, hero of the Chinese people and founder of a school of martial arts.


Action films need to get us on the side of the hero quickly so they can get to the good stuff — the action. The quickest way is revenge, as Tarantino showed with Kill Bill. It can help to give us a reluctant hero who tries to avoid violence and is drawn into it, a theme brilliantly tweaked in A History of Violence. That gives us the best of both worlds because the violence is forced upon the hero, so we can enjoy it without guilt. And once in a while we get a hero who begins violent and then learns a better way. And then gets violent again, but in the more in sorrow than in anger variety. That way, we get to enjoy the angry violence and the righteous violence, too.


It is this last category that Jet Li has chosen; perhaps he is saying that like the hero he plays, he has decided that there are more important things than fighting. Huo begins as an arrogant, hot-tempered, impetuous man who fights out of pride. But after he causes great tragedy in his own family and another, he learns that martial arts are about honor, discipline, and concentration, and that winning is not what he thought it was.


The movie begins in 1910. Huo (Jet Li) walks into the ring. Everyone in the audience knows that this fight represents more than a contest between two people. It is a fight for the honor of the Chinese culture, under assault from Westerners who think that no one in China has the strength or intelligence to defeat their champions.


Huo is scheduled to take on not one but four champions from the other side. In three thrilling bouts, he defeats the challengers. Then, as he gets ready for the fourth, we go back in time to see what brought him to this place.


The middle section sags, as Huo takes on a bigger entourage than MC Hammer, refusing to acknowledge that they only follow him because he buys them drinks. And then Huo goes off and learns about the Meaning of Life from Simple Country Folk who know enough to stop planting rice and feel the breeze. Yes, the blind girl in the hat is the only one who truly sees, get it?


Without the sweep and scope of the great Chinese films, this rests on the fight scenes, which are beautifully staged but never transcend the kicks and punches to power the story.

Parents should know that this movie has intense and graphic scenes of violence. Characters are injured and killed, including a woman and a child. There is brief strong language. Characters drink and there are scenes in a bar and references to abusing alcohol.


Families who see this movie should talk about what the last fight shows us about the combatants’ ideas about honor. Why was what Huo learned about planting rice important? What did he mean about learning from the best?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Hero and House of Flying Daggers.

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Drama Epic/Historical Movies

Flyboys

Posted on September 18, 2006 at 3:11 pm

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for war action violence and some sexual content.
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and graphic battle violence, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000LAZE8C

Has this script been in a drawer somewhere since 1942?


It sure seems like it. It’s “inspired” by the absorbing true story of Americans who enlisted with the French armed forces in World War I, flying aircraft that were more like orange crates than planes, in a style of combat that was being invented moment by moment. The flying scenes are thrilling but the screenplay stalls.


It was just 13 years after the Wright Brothers flew 120 feet at Kitty Hawk, long before the use of airplanes for mail or commercial transport. Hardly anyone knew how to fly and no one knew how to use this new technology in war. This was before planes were equipped with parachutes or made from steel. Top speeds were about 100 miles per hour. There was no such thing as reconnaissance. And, as one of the characters tells the new recruits, the life expectancy for the pilots is three to six weeks.


A group of Americans arrives for training, each with something to prove. One is a rich kid whose father thinks he can’t do anything. One is a maverick who’s never belonged anywhere. One is a black man who had to leave America to be treated with respect. The guy with the great cheekbones will meet a pretty girl in a brothel and assume she is a prostitute, but it turns out she is a nice girl who just happened to be there that day and even though they don’t speak the same language they fall in love and even though he is ordered not to he takes a plane so he can rescue her. It all plays out as cardboard as the dialogue, as drearily predictable as a quadrille and embarrassingly jingoistic as well.


And that is a shame, because it does evoke the thrill and terror of those early days of inventing a new style of fighting. While below them men were shooting at each other from trenches, in the sky the men looked straight into each other’s eyes and developed the kind of honor and respect that reflected their shared bond as the pioneers of a new era. Like these characters, the movie is at its best in the air.

Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of graphic battle violence. Many characters are killed. Soldiers and civilians, including women and children, are in dire peril. There are some sexual references, including scenes in a brothel. Characters drink and smoke and use some strong language. There are references to the racism of the era and racist behavior, though a strength of the movie is the portrayal of a man who will not allow himself to be diminished by racism.


Families who see this film should talk about what led these men to fight for another country. They should also talk about the way that even those who loved flying could not imagine how airplanes would transform the way we live and the possibilities of some of today’s new technologies. They should also talk about the origins and consequences of the first world war (then just called The Great War) and why the hopes that it would be the last war were not realized.


These early air skirmishes so captured the imagination of the Americans that another brand-new technology, the movies, had more hours of dogfight footage than actually occured in the war. One example was the very first film to win an Oscar, Wings. Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy other movies about air combat, including Memphis Belle and Only Angels Have Wings. They can find out more about the era here and at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Drama Movies Romance War

Open Season

Posted on September 18, 2006 at 3:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some rude humor, mild action and brief language.
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, tranquilizer gun, hunters are the bad guys, no one badly hurt
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000L22SG6

I love CGI. I love the textures, the way every single hair and feather, every leaf and raindrop, every shiny, fuzzy, smooth, rough, soft, hard surface is perfectly perfect. But I realized, as I watched this movie, that one of the things I’ve missed in CGI is the elasticity and bounce, the freedom of hand-drawn cartoons. One of the great pleasures of this movie is the way it takes the physical properties of the real world as a starting point for a wildly hilarious and fantastically silly extravaganza.


The themes are nothing new, but they are executed with so much wit and brio that they feel close to classic. We have the incompatible duo on a journey who learn to trust and respect each other. We have the search for the meaning of home, and we have the great metaphor for growing up — going out into the wild world and becoming independent.


Boog (voice of Martin Lawrence) is a bear who has it made. He lives in a garage and tender-hearted park ranger Beth (voice of Deborah Messing) makes sure he has food, “Wheel of Fortune,” his snuggly stuffed toy and soft bed. She even sings him Teddy Bears’ Picnic every night as a lullabye. It is perfect.


Then a one-antlered mule deer named Elliot (voice of Ashton Kutcher) shows up and ruins everything. He is captured before hunting season by an animal-hater named Shaw (voice of Gary Sinese), who plays air guitar on his rifle and has a cabin filled with trophies. Boog frees Elliot, and then Elliot gets Boog in trouble so that Beth takes him deep into the woods just as open season for hunters is about to begin. Boog needs to get home, and much as he hates the idea, he needs Elliot to help him get there.


And so the two embark on a journey that will bring them many adventures, introduce them to some (literally) wild characters, and give them a great deal of knowledge about themselves and the world. Fortunately, it is also very funny. Especially the porcupine. Lawrence’s low, grumbly voice is perfect for Boog and well balanced by Kutcher’s goofy energy. Billy Connelly brings Scots asperity to his Braveheart-style squirrel, and Patrick Warburton (“Seinfeld’s” Puddy) is all manly, well, stag-ly posturing as the head of the herd. The visual and verbal gags keep things moving briskly, and the characters keep our interest and earn our affection.


Parents should know that this movie has some crude schoolyard language and humor (references to “nuts,” barfing, “the f-word” — fight, tush jokes). The theme of animals being hunted may be disturbing to some audiences; other audience members may not like the portrayal of hunters as mean and not very smart.


Families who see this movie should talk about why Beth was proud of Boog. What makes a home?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Over the Hedge and the classic Yogi Bear cartoons.

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Animation Comedy Family Issues Movies

All the King’s Men

Posted on September 18, 2006 at 2:42 pm

Huey Long was man of gigantic proportions, an epic, almost operatic figure who rose to power as the greatest of populists, succumbed to corruption, and was murdered at age 42. His story inspired a Pulitzer Prize-winning book and an Oscar-winning film. That has now been remade with Sean Penn as Willie Stark, the man who tells the poor people of Depression-era Louisiana that they should trust him because he’s a “hick” like them.

As in the original movie, what we most want from this story is what is left out. We want to see that moment when Stark stands on the brink between idealism and expediency. But we don’t. The movie, instead, focuses more on what Stark’s corruption does to those around him, and after decades of political scandals that story is just not as gripping as it once was.

Penn is convincing as a man of complicated fury whose sense of thwarted entitlement on behalf of his community metastasizes through his administration. Sadie (Patricia Clarkson) and Jack (Jude Law) are a political aide and a reporter who begin as cynical but are moved by Willie’s sincerity and his role as David against the political machine’s Goliath but are soon swept into his tumble into personal and professional corruption. Anthony Hopkins plays a judge who stands in Willie’s way and must be persuaded — or destroyed.

But the focus of the story is Adam Stanton (Mark Ruffalo), an idealistic doctor and Jack’s closest friend, and his sister Anne (Kate Winslet), whose faded, crumbling mansion symbolizes the failing grandeur of their ideals. When Anne makes compromises in order to help her brother, it shatters Adam and Jack and leads to Willie’s downfall.

The top quality cast and screenwriter/director Steven Zaillian (Searching for Bobby Fischer) give it their all, if never quite convincingly Louisianan. Patrizia von Brandenstein’s production design and Pawel Edelman’s cinematography have all the appropriate slanted, golden light and hanging Spanish moss. But the story never connects; it seems to be somehow off-register. We need to believe that Willie is on our side and we need to see him leave us; instead we get the same old Southern decay.

Parents should know that the movie has some graphic violence, including an assassination. Characters drink and smoke and use some strong language, including racial epithets of the era. There are sexual references and non-explicit situations, including adultery. The theme of the movie is corruption and there are many examples and variations.

Families who see this movie should talk about the moments in which each character made the choice from which there was no turning back. How can you tell the difference between a compromise and a sell-out? Can you stop on the way from idealism to expediency without becoming corrupt? What figures in today’s world are most like those in the movie?

Related Tags:

 

Classic Drama

Gridiron Gang

Posted on September 13, 2006 at 3:14 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some startling scenes of violence, mature thematic material and language.
Profanity: Some strong language including racial epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drug references
Violence/ Scariness: Violence and peril, sports violence, characters injured and killed, sad death
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000KHYN9C

The biggest shock in this film comes at the very end. It is not a spoiler to say that there’s the usual “here’s what happened to the characters” round-up. The shocker is the reminder that the murderers and drug dealers who left the detention facility and continued to play football did so not in the pros or in college, but in high school.


We are greeted with statistics. There are 120,000 kids in the juvenile detention system. Seventy-five percent of them end up in prison. Once in a while, someone asks if there is something we can do to give them a choice.


In a hard-core facility, correctional officer Sean Porter (the Rock) decides the answer to that question might be football. Sports teach the importance of being punctual, accepting authority, accepting criticism, being part of a team. Sports can give a kid self-respect and pride and what it feels like to earn something. “Teenage boys would kill to play football,” Porter urges. “That’s what everybody’s afraid of,” says his boss. But he agrees to let them try.


Sports can teach them other things, too. The first time Porter has them call off the letters to spell out the name of the team, it turns out that no one there knows how to spell M-U-S-T-A-N-G-S.


It’s about as subtle as a tackle by a 300-pound tight end, but is is a pleasantly heartwarming journey. Sean and Assistant Coach Malcolm More (quietly effective rapper Xzibit) quote the Bible at the head of a Christian school to get him to let their team play his students. Kids learn to believe in themselves. And the adults in their lives learn to believe in them, too. Plus, they get to hurtle themselves at each other and try to keep the other guys from getting the ball.


Parents should know that this movie has some very strong violence, including gang violence and sports violence. Characters are wounded and killed. A person in authority hits a kid in the juvenile facility. The characters in this movie have been found guilty of a variety of illegal acts involving drugs, gangs, and other crimes. There are references to domestic abuse and characters use strong and ugly language. Teenagers are parents. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of strong, loyal, and dedicated minority characters.


Families who see this movie should talk about what got these boys into trouble and what this program taught them. What does it mean to say that they needed to fill a void? How can you be loyal to a friend without getting into situations you know are wrong? How do we give people power over us when we don’t forgive them? Why does Sean stay out of the locker room in the last game’s half-time?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the 1993 documentary about the real-life Sean Porter, as well as The Longest Yard (the original is a far better movie than the Adam Sandler remake), M*A*S*H, The Dirty Dozen, and Greenfingers (all with mature material).

Related Tags:

 

Crime Drama Movies Remake Sports
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 1995-2020, 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