The Good Shepherd

Posted on December 20, 2006 at 11:43 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some violence, sexuality and language.
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence, characters killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000MXPE7O

You can see what drew director Robert DeNiro and co-producer Francis Ford Coppola to this film about the beginnings of the CIA. It resonates with many of the same themes as their great triumph Godfather II. In both stories, men make brutal choices, chosing expedience over process, secrecy over fairness, while anxious and bitter wives stay in the background and in the dark and children grow up both spoiled and needy and ultimately pay the price.


But this time, it happens to the good guys.


Well, maybe not so good after all, and that’s the point.


This is not James Bond. There are no impeccably tailored dinner jackets to wear while sipping stirred martinis, no brainy bombshells to seduce, no cool gadgets, no sportscars. This is dirty — in all senses of the word — tradecraft. This is betrayal upon betrayal, with the similarities between opponents greater than their differences. You never know who is on your side, you never know who is on the other side, and you never know who just switched. You only know that treachery will come from the last place you expect.


Matt Damon plays Edward Wilson, who learns about secrets when he is still a little boy, and learns more about secrets when he is inducted into Yale’s famous Skull and Bones club, a club so private its members are not permitted to acknowledge their affiliation. Asked to spy on a favorite teacher, Edward does not hesitate to turn him in. And soon he is involved in helping to set up the new Central Intelligence Agency in post WWII Europe.


Edward loves a sweet deaf girl but marries the daughter of a senator (Angelina Jolie), then leaves her for years at a time to run covert operations. The weakest part of the film is the family stress; the professional struggles are far more absorbing.

Parents should know that this movie has some peril and spy-type violence. Characters are injured and killed. There are sexual references and situations, some explicit, with references to adultery and homosexuality. Characters smoke and drink. They also engage in illegal and treacherous behavior.


Families who see this movie should talk about what was accomplished here, at what cost. They will enjoy visiting The International Spy Museum in Washington DC, which includes a seal of the United States presented to a US ambassador to the USSR that hung in his office…until someone realized it had a bug in it. The Museum also features tours of real-life local spots associated with clandestine activity.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy miniseries and its sequel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Three Days of the Condor, and The Parallax View.

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Drama Movies Thriller

Rocky Balboa

Posted on December 18, 2006 at 11:53 am

C
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for boxing violence and some language.
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Characters drink and smoke, character abuses alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Intense fight scenes, characters injured, references to sad death
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000N4SHPS

“You throw a big shadow,” someone tells Sylvester Stallone in his sixth appearance as heavyweight Rocky Balboa, the character he created for the Oscar-winning Rocky). And those five previous films throw a big shadow, indeed, making this slight coda seem quite small.


That’s not always a bad thing, given the elephantiasis and overkill of the last couple of Rocky movies. This one can almost be called understated by comparison. But Rocky, it’s time to stay down for the count.


It doesn’t matter if you missed the first movie because writer-director Stallone helpfully gives us a recap, reminding us of a time when the story and characters were fresh and when most of the parts of Rocky’s face still moved. These days, whether its scar tissue or Botox, even the jowls barely budge. One thing hasn’t changed, though — the hair is still black.


Just as Rocky goes on an annual “tour” of the important places he shared with Adrian (Talia Shire, appearing in flashback footage) on the anniversary of her death, Stallone takes the audience on a tour of the previous movies and the previous themes. The appeal comes from our affection for the original rather than from engagement with this version.


Once Rocky has achieved his dream in the first movie, each succeeding film had to knock him down in some way to give him some new dream to achieve and some new reason to get back in the ring to beat some new opponent undeserving of the championship. Rocky III was about the “eye of the tiger,” the fire inside that made Rocky’s need to regain the title so ferocious. This time, it’s (I’m not kidding) “the stuff in the basement.” I don’t think anyone’s going to make a hit song out of that one. This is Rocky’s reason for wanting to get back in the ring, after he sees a computer simulation showing that in his prime he would have beaten current champ, whose name is, I’m not kidding, Mason Dixon (real-life light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver as this movie’s Apollo Creed), a bout billed as “Skill vs. Will.” And once again we have the tortoise and the hare as Dixon takes it for granted that it will be a “glorified sparring session” so skips his training while Rocky is back wailing on sides of beef and puffing up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Cue “Gonna Fly Now.”


Most of the movie consists of pep talks because a lot of people try to talk Rocky out of getting into the ring with an undefeated champion a third his age and he has a lot of comebacks: “You think you gotta stop trying things forever because you had a few too many birthdays?” But there’s still time for Rocky to help out a single mother and her son and resolve some conflicts with his own son (“Heroes'”
Milo Ventimiglia).


In the quiet moments, there are flickers of the original’s charms, and it is nice to see an old warhorse gird for battle. But despite the talk of wanting to “go toe to toe and say ‘I am,'” this effort to ring changes on the film that came in fourth on the American Film Institute’s list of the all-time most inspiring films is unlikely to end up on anyone’s list of the top 100 anything. The tag line for this film is, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Rocky, it’s over.

Parents should know that this movie has some brutal boxing violence, especially for a PG movie. Characters drink and use some mild language. There are tense emotional confrontations and references to a sad death. There are some mildly bigoted comments, but a strength of the movie is the portrayal of inter-racial tolerance and affection.


Families who see this movie should talk about why Rocky and his son had a hard time communicating and what made a difference. How did Rocky help Marie? Why was getting back into the ring important to him? Families may want to learn about real-life heavyweight champ George Foreman, who regained the title at age 45, and about real-life light heavyweight champ Antonio Tarver, who plays Rocky’s opponent in this film. They may also enjoy the new book Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope, and Happiness at America’s Most Famous Steps, with stories of “Rocky runners” who come from all over the world to run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art — as Sylvester Stallone did in Rocky.


Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the original Rocky and other classic boxing movies like Body and Soul and Golden Boy.

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Drama Movies

Miss Potter

Posted on December 13, 2006 at 11:56 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG brief mild language
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Mild reference to abusing alcohol, social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death, emotional confrontations
Diversity Issues: Class and gender equality is a theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000N4SHOE

As delicate as the title character’s watercolors, this gentle story about the author and illustrator of The Tale of Peter Rabbit very winning.


Renee Zellwegger plays the quiet daughter of conventional parents who don’t quite know how to respond to a young woman who calls the animals in her paintings her friends. These friends help give her the courage to oppose her parents and conventional society. Originally taken on by a family-run publisher as a sure-fire failure to keep an inept brother tied up so that he couldn’t meddle in anything important, it turns out that the brother (Ewan McGregor as Norman Warne) is just the right partner for Miss Potter, a kindred spirit in every way.


Beatrix and Norman fall in love, sweetly and tenderly. But her parents object, and insist on delay that turns into disaster. Still, Norman’s love and the support of his sister, who became Beatrix’s lifelong friend, give Beatrix the strength to think about what she really wants. In a lovely scene, she shyly asks a banker whether she might possibly have enough money from book sales to buy a farm. It turns out she has no idea that she has become a wealthy woman due to the popularity of Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin, Benjamin Bunny, and her other friends.


Some may dismiss the film as too twee and “Masterpiece Theatre”-ish. But those who come with a little patience and an open heart will find themselves moved by seeing Beatrix discover her strength and embrace the world. And those who think of her as just a painter of pretty pictures and a teller of pretty stories will find themselves inspired by her pioneering work on behalf of the environment.

Parents should know that the movie has some very mild references to propriety concerns of the era and a mild reference to alcohol abuse. There is a sad death. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of early concerns about class and gender equality and the environment.


Families who see this movie should talk about how some ideas about families and class and gender distinctions have changed since Beatrix Potter’s time. They should also talk about why Potter’s mother and father had different reactions to her work and why her work was so important to her.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy reading Beatrix Potter’s books. Potter’s characters are so popular they even appear in a ballet. Families will also enjoy the book and movie versions of “Alice in Wonderland.” In You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown the Peanuts characters sing a wonderful song about a book report on Potter’s most famous book, “Peter Rabbit.”

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Biography Drama Movies

Eragon

Posted on December 12, 2006 at 12:07 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for fantasy violence, intense battle sequences and some frightening images.
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fanstasy-style peril and violence, bows and arrows, spears, swords, fire, torture, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Strong minority and female characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000NA28I4

The fact that the CGI dragon gives the best performance in this film is not going to impede the enjoyment of its intended audience, which is 9-12 year olds. It may, however, make it a bit of a long haul for accompanying family members.


This story has all the strengths and weaknesses of its origin as a best-selling book written by then-15-year old Christopher Paolini. The strength comes from the author’s conviction and enthusiasm for the story but the weakeness comes from its key elements being renamed rather then re-imagined.

Like all classic adventure sagas, it relies strongly on those Joseph Campbell archetypes — the reluctant “chosen one” hero (newcomer
Edward Speleers in the title role), who has no parents but does have (1) a wise mentor/teacher giving Shakespearean line readings to dialogue de(in this case, Jeremy Irons as Brom, a sort of cross between Obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda) and (2) a special force-like innate talent that competes with an impetuous nature, or, as they say in this film, “one part brave and three parts fool.” We have the meanies, lead by John Malcovich as evil King Galbatorix and Robert Carlyle, unrecognizeable under scrofulous make-up, as his even more evil henchman Durza. And we have the rebel forces, led by Djimon Honsou, and the brave but beautiful girl (Sienna Guillory). And we have a whole new vocabulary of not just words but of properties, principles, powers (including a grok-like draco-vision) and limits, which always has a lot of appeal for those young enough to have the brain space to absorb and store it without worrying about whether it will displace the few things they are already struggling to remember. And, of course, we have dragons, or at least one dragon, a devoted mind-melding, blue-eyed sweetheart of a flying dragon with the lovely voice of Rachel Weisz.


Even at 100 minutes, it drags, taking a long time to get going and relying on too much jaw-breaking exposition that even Iron’s velvet tones and Honsou’s quiet dignity cannot bring to life. The perfume-ad settings are lovely but static and the same could be said about the teen-dream cast. Speleers’ idea of acting is a slightly knit brow, an attempted hard stare, neither of which work very well. It was a big mistake to cast pop star Joss Stone as the blind fortune-teller. It isn’t just that she doesn’t make a believeable blind fortune-teller or even a believable middle ages character. She doesn’t make a believeable human being. Garrett Hedlund as Murtagh seems to be able to hold the screen, but it is hard to tell under the meticulously arranged bangs that hang over his eyes, unforunately making him look like a Pokemon bad guy.

Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of fantasy violence and peril with some sad deaths. Characters fight with arrows, swords, fire, and magic.


Families who see this movie should talk about what it means to be one part brave and three parts foolish. What decisions did Eragon later regret? What decisions did Brom later regret, and why? When characters say they expect someone who was more…what were they expecting? Would you believe Murtagh? Why?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy reading the books. They will also enjoy Ladyhawke, Dragonslayer, and The Lord of the Rings – The Motion Picture Trilogy.

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Action/Adventure Family Issues Fantasy Movies

The Pursuit of Happyness

Posted on December 11, 2006 at 12:20 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language.
Profanity: Some mild language, f-word visible in graffiti
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Sad and disturbing situations, character hit by car
Diversity Issues: An unstated theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: May 27, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B000N6U0E2

This week’s release of “After Earth,” starring Will Smith and his son Jaden, is a good time to take another look at their first co-starring film, based on a real-life father and son:

If a man goes from homeless single dad to multi-millionaire stockbroker, you know there has to be a movie. This one has the good sense to star Will Smith and his real-life son Jaden.
Their natural chemistry and Smith’s natural charisma help this story work.
The story does not have the usual feel-good arc. Even though it omits some of the real-life obstacles and setbacks faced by its main character, it is still more grounded in what happened than in the established beats of narrative and the conventions of story. So even the considerable charms of both Smith and the personable character he plays may not be enough to keep audiences from growing impatient to get to the good stuff.

Chris Gardner (Smith) is a Navy vet, first in his high school class and good with numbers. But his decision to invest everything he had in a portable bone density scanner “that takes a slightly better picture for twice the money” has left his family in a financial position that teeters between precarious and dire. His wife (Thandie Newton) is tired of pulling double shifts and bitter about the way their dream of the future seems to be impossible. She loves their son, but feels overwhelmed. Gardner has to sell two of the heavy machines a month to be able to pay the rent. He is determined to sell them all, but for both of them, the machines he lugs around are like anchors or leg irons.
Chris has one dream that is even more important to him than selling the scanners. He wants to be the father he never had. And he is devoted to his son, endlessly patient and involved. But when his wife leaves, everything begins to slip away. He loses his apartment. And there’s no panic as deep as the fear of not being able to care for your children.
Chris sees a man with a great car and asks what he does. When the man says he is a stockbroker, Chris decides to apply for an internship at Dean Witter.
There are a few obstacles. Chris does not have a college degree. He has no background in the stock market. The internship is six months of intense, demanding, and unpaid work, competing with dozens of others who have more time and better educations. And at the end, only one may be offered a job. Oh, and Chris shows up for the interview covered with paint, in a t-shirt and battered pants. Why? Because he spent the night in jail due to unpaid parking tickets and didn’t have time to change.
His unpretentious charm — and mastery of the then-brand new Rubik’s Cube — gets him the job. And then things get really tough as Chris and his son become homeless and have to spend nights in a shelter or riding public transportation. Chris is handed two near-impossible tasks — to master the fine points of securities analysis and to make cold calls to a list of prospects and turn them into clients. He has a supervisor who keeps sending him for coffee. And while the other interns work late, he has to be at the shelter by 5:00 to make sure he gets in.
Smith has the courage to turn the pilot light down on his powerful movie star charisma and let us see that despite Chris’ intelligence, optimism, and drive, he is vulnerable and scared.

Parents should know that the movie has some tense and unhappy moments that may be disturbing for some audience members, including the break-up of a marriage. A character gets hit by a car.
Families who see this movie should talk about why the word “happiness” is misspelled in the title, when spelling it correctly was so imporant to Chris. What do you learn about him from the way he pursued the stolen scanners? From his decision to sell the scanners in the first place? From the way he handled the job interview? Why did he tell his son not to dream of playing basketball? What was the most important factor in his success? They should talk about how Chris was constantly teaching his son. And they should talk about the insensitivity people showed Chris because they had no idea of his situation; one of the movie’s most important lessons is that we should always remember that we do not know what anyone else is dealing with when we form our expectations.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Erin Brockovich (some mature material) and Rudy (some strong language).

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