Unaccompanied Minors

Posted on December 7, 2006 at 12:44 pm

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild rude humor and language.
Profanity: Mild schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Brief references to alcohol, hangover
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000QXDEG8

In “Unaccompanied Minors,” a group of young travelers are stranded in Chicago’s fictional Hoover Airport on Christmas Eve. Lead to a room full of other children but decidedly empty of Christmas spirit, five break away from the chaotic “rec room,” holding pen, prompting an airport-wide chase that fuels the rest of the film.

The kids all run for different reasons, some deeper and more touching than others (although that’s not saying much, as one youngster bolts in search of a bathroom). There’s even the rebel who resents the “rich kid” but turns out to be sticking around not because she has to, but because she wants to.


If this last part sounds at all familiar, it’s a safe bet the rest of the film will, too. It’s The Breakfast Club for middle schoolers with slightly lower-grade angst and a less memorable soundtrack.


It’s forgettable mutliplex fodder, but it does have occasional and even endearing moments of originality. Although “Minors” characters never really break from the teen-dramedy stereotypes, the likeable cast kicks the Home Alone-in-an-airport script up a notch. As a veteran writer for television’s cult favorite “Arrested Development” as well as “The Office,” director Paul Feig boosts a comedic pedigree the leaves the film with a few genuine laughs.


Parents should know that that while this film is a fairly harmless holiday comedy, it’s content at times is more appropriate for the middle-school crowd than for younger children. The children explore family dynamics and their own experiences with divorce. One character says of her parents: “They just don’t seem to like it when I’m around,” a conflict that is never quite resolved. Family is a major theme of the film, and although the characters remain optimistic, Feig’s overriding cynicism keeps the film from ever getting too emotionally satisfying.


An airline employee (Zach Van Bourke, played by Wilmer Valderrama), is clearly conflicted about letting the children be children while also enforcing the discipline his supervisor pressures him to enforce. Families who see this film might talk about the decisions Van Bourke makes, and how he negotiates is personal beliefs with his professional duties. Families should also discuss the roles of the parents in the film — what traits are portrayed as “good” in parents? What traits are presented as representative of “bad” parents? What prompts the children to talk about their feelings, and how do they become closer to each other by doing so? How might things change if the kids were to open up to their own families?


Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy the holiday classic Home Alone, which is intended for roughly the same age group but contains more violence and more potentially scary scenes. Families might also appreciate 1993’s The Sandlot and 1985’s tale of adolescent teamwork and bonding, The Goonies.

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Comedy Family Issues Movies

Blood Diamond

Posted on December 6, 2006 at 12:47 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence and language.
Profanity: Very strong language, some racial epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drugs, including illegal drugs given to children
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and graphic violence with many injuries and deaths, including mutilation of children
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000MZHW40

December brings us the thinking person’s thrillers — all of the explosions and shooting and close calls of a summer movie, but with a more serious purpose and a more distinguished pedigree.


Like Syriana and Traffic, this is the story of deeply entrenched corruption on a global scale, corruption that permeates all levels of society and sustains governments, corporations, and wars. This time it is not oil or drugs. It is diamonds. The diamond industry sells them as magic, the essence of romance. “A diamond is forever.” Three months salary is the right amount to spend for an engagement ring. And the engagement ring is just the beginning — there’s the anniversary band. And there’s the right-hand ring. Every girl can feel a little bit like a movie star or a princess if she looks down at her finger and sees a little bit of what was once a lump of coal and now sparkles when it catches the light.


But on its way to the velvet-draped pedestals at the mall jewelry shops and the red carpet bling, the diamonds are used to support oppression, weapons trade, brutality, and a wide range of illegal activity.


This story is illustrated here through the stories of three fictional characters, a soldier of fortune (Leonardo DiCaprio as Danny Archer), a farmer (Djimon Hounsou as Solomon), and an American journalist (Jennifer Connelly as Maddy Bowen).


Solomon’s peaceful life is ripped apart when his village is attacked by rebel forces. He is kidnapped and forced to labor in the diamond mines. His young son is forced to become a “soldier,” given drugs and abused so thoroughly that he loses any sense that the world can be sane or fair.


Solomon comes upon a rare pink diamond of extraordinary size. He wants to use it to find his family. But everyone around him quickly begins plotting to get it for themselves, by any means necessary. He reluctantly joins forces with Danny. Both have dreams of leaving the brutal world of casual corruption that surrounds them.

But they’re not the only ones who want out. They have to run and hide as they try to track down the diamond, now in rebel-occupied territory, and locate Solomon’s family.


Performances filled with conviction and dignity from all three principal actors, powerful action, and a strong structure that ties together all of the strands of the story and all of the reaches of the diamond industry, from the child soldiers to the glossy magazine ads make this a stirring and powerful story.

Parents should know that this movie has extreme, intense, and graphic peril and violence. Many characters are injured and killed. Rebels and government forces shoot at each other and at civilians, including children. All forms of brutality and violence are described and depicted, including rape, torture, mutilation, and turning children into “soldiers.” Children and adults are kidnapped and forced into labor with rebel forces or the diamond mines. Characters use strong language, including racial epithets. There are sexual references. Characters smoke and drink and children are given drugs. The movie includes depictions of a wide level of corruption and betrayal.


Families who see this movie should talk about what people meant when they said “TIA.” Who is in the best position to change the situation depicted here? Why? Can a moment of love give meaning to a life? How? Families might want to look at the UN’s report on conflict diamonds and the Kimberley Process for ensuring that diamonds are legitimately mined and sold.


Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a classic story of the impact of the prospect of great riches. They will also enjoy Syriana and Traffic.

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Action/Adventure Drama Movies Thriller

We Are Marshall

Posted on December 5, 2006 at 3:46 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for emotional thematic material, a crash scene, and mild language.
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extremely graphic and intense peril and violence, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B00005JPBO

At least in movies, sports are almost always about redemption, community, and triumph. Sports — like movies — provide a controlled world with boundaries within which we can work through issues that seem insurmountably complex outside the chalk lines on the field or the edges of the movie sceen. In this movie, based on a true story, a community shattered by a devastating loss finds a way, through football, to begin to heal, and to find some meaning, not in the tragedy but in the way they respond to it.


In Huntington, West Virginia, Marshall University’s school and the community join together to cheer the football team. One night in 1970, following an away game, 75 players and coaching staff were killed in an airplane crash. Everyone in Huntington knew the players and their families. The grief was so enormous, the loss so senseless that they are numb, hopeless, shell-shocked. Cancelling the football program seems like the only option.


Those who were not on the plane must struggle not just with the teammates they lost but with their own sense of survivor guilt. Red Dawson (Matthew Fox), the one coach who was not on the plane because he had a recruiting appointment, cannot face the fact that 20 of the boys on the plane were ones he brought into the program, assuring each of their parents that he would look out for them. A player who missed the game because he overslept cannot understand why a mistake like that should have saved his life. He cannot bear to suit up and enter the field without his teammates.


But Nate Ruffin (Anthony Mackie), who had been kept home with an injury, knows that the tribute to the lost team that would make the most difference is to keep the program going. And Wooster Ohio coach Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) calls to say that he thinks he can help. With some help from the NCAA, which bends the rules to let freshmen play, some players brought in from other sports, and some montages of 70’s songs and fall foliage/scrimmage scenes, we’re ready for game day.


Ready to play, that is, not necessarily ready to win. But for this team, playing is winning enough.


McConaughey seems to be channeling Columbo as he tries to prove he is not just a movie star but an actor. He hunches over and talks out of the side of his mouth, but the performance is as much about the hair — a bad comb-over — as about his delivery.


The movie falters when it goes in too many directions. Its strongest section is the story about the rebuilding of the team and what it means to the school. But its power dissipates by spreading over too many characters without grounding us enough in their stories, relying too much on signifiers of loss and moving on that are too familiar.

Parents should know that this film is about devastating losses. There is some sports violence, some drinking, and some strong language. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of loyalty, respect, and friendship between diverse characters.


Families who see this movie should talk about what each of the main characters found most difficult and what each of them found most meaningful. Why was rebuilding the team so important to the school? What does that tell us about the role sports plays in our lives?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Remember the Titans.

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Drama Movies Sports

Apocalypto

Posted on December 5, 2006 at 1:09 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sequences of graphic violence and disturbing images
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extremely graphic and intense peril and violence, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000NOKFHQ

There are at least three movies here and two of them are great. There is the classic adventure saga of the hero who is trying to get home and save his family. Mel Gibson, as director, has created brilliant action sequences that make the best possible use of the settings and the loyalty he inspires for his characters. Second is a morality tale played out in a culture that is at the same time fascinatingly different and essentially the same as our own. A peaceful tribe is all but wiped out by marauding invaders from a more “developed” and complex culture, as the prospect of an even more “developed” and complex culture is about to arrive and create even more destruction.
And then there is that third film, a further exploration of Gibson’s fetishistic expiation through mortification of the flesh. The violence in this movie is so intense, so graphic, so overwhelming, so pornographic that it is like a whole separate movie, one that initially distracts from and then undermines the legitimacy of the other two.
Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) is the son of the chief of a small group of peaceful hunter-gatherers. When their community is destroyed by ruthlessly predatory attackers, he is able to hide his pregnant wife and son before he is taken away as a prisoner. The rest of the story is his escape, pursued by vicious warriors who will not stop until they have secured their revenge and their honor.
Gibson’s audacity pays off brilliantly in using mostly native performers and filming entirely in Mayan dialect (with subtitles), making us feel we are truly and vitally present in a world that has had no exposure to anything outside of a hunter-gathering society unchanged for millenia. Every one of the performances is stunningly open, intimate, brave, and natural.
Heart-stopping action sequences all but explode off the screen. Jaguar Paw’s desperate escape involves a vertiginous plunge down a thundering waterfall, darts poisoned with tree-frog venom, and an improvised grenade made from a beehive. The visuals are mesmerizing, from the smallest leaf of the rain forest to the grand sweep of great natural landscapes and a dizzyingly vast and complex pre-Columbian city with a palace, an arena, a towering altar for human sacrifice, and a marketplace for the sale of slaves.
No one expects a story like this to be bloodless. But the level, frequency, level of graphic detail, and intensity of the violence here is not about telling the story, and it inflicts damage on the narrative that even the movie’s compelling strengths cannot overcome.

Parents should know that this is one of the most explicitly violent movies ever made. It has extreme, intense, and graphic violence with many characters injured and killed. A community is pillaged with all kinds of butchery and assault, including rape and casual murder of children. Other scenes include suicide, human sacrifice, and a gladiator-like exercise in which humans are used for target practice. Characters, including children and a pregnant woman, are in constant peril. There is some strong and crude language. Characters wear revealing native attire and there is a non-explicit childbirth scene.
Families who see this movie should talk about the similarities to our culture (macho posturing, shared jokes, tenderness toward family, struggles with mothers-in-law, tribalism and hostility toward those who are different) and the significance of the final group of invaders. Characters in this movie have to decide what compromises and sacrifices they will undertake to stay alive or protect those they love. How do they make those choices? What is the significance of the name “Almost?”
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Aguirre, the Wrath of God.

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Action/Adventure Drama Movies

The Good German

Posted on December 5, 2006 at 12:52 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, violence and some sexual content.
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril, injured, and killed, references to Holocaust
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000OY8NBK

Director Steven Soderbergh has created a loving tribute to the films of the 1940’s that is more accomplished than effective. It is such a meticulous re-creation of the techniques and technology of the era that it seems jarring to see contemporary faces and hear four-letter words. From the very first moment, where the film seems to jump a bit before settling into the projector gate, every detail from the font for the opening credits to the score by Thomas Newman (son of 1940’s movie soundtrack maestro Alfred Newman) and the cinematography and editing (done by Soderburgh himself under pseudonyms).


All of this is intended to create the mood and setting of Berlin just as WWII was ending. The war was already over in Europe and Berlin was occupied by the conquering forces, including the United States and the Soviet Union. New Republic journalist Jake Geismer (George Clooney), arrives to cover the Potsdam Conference, with heads of state Harry Truman, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill Clement Atlee meeting to discuss post-war arrangements in Europe and strategies for the continuing war against Japan. His driver is Tully (Tobey Maguire), something of a wheeler-dealer who is not above lifting a wallet or buying forged papers to get someone out of the country.


That someone turns out to be Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett), widow of a mathematician who died in the war. With no other options, she has become a prostitute, with Tully her most frequent customer. It turns out that Jake and Lena knew each other before the war, when she worked for him as a stringer and they were romantically involved. And it turns out that they are connected again through a murder that brings them together again in a web of conflicting loyalties and values that play out in their relationship and in the political trade-offs around them. How do you decide who is culpable after a war? An entire population cannot be tried and punished. Should the focus be on what they have done in the past or on what they can do to help shape the future?


George Clooney and Cate Blanchett fit their 40’s wardrobe and dialogue well. But despite some sharply drawn parallels to current events, it feels more like a stunt than a story. In part, that may be due to our familiarity with the actors. Those whose faces beam down on us from magazine covers can act in period films without disturbing out ability to suspend disbelief in part because those films, while set in the past, are made in the current style of scene-setting and acting. There is something jarring about seeing the familiar contemporary faces clamped into old-fashioned static set-ups in front of rear projections. It feels like a film school exercise and that interferes with its substantial and very provocative agenda.


Parents should know that this movie includes intense peril and violence. There are references to the Holocaust (which, at the time this movie takes place, was only beginning to be uncovered.) Characters are injured and killed. They also smoke, drink, and use strong language. There are explicit sexual references and situations, including prostitution.


Families who see this movie should talk about the confliction priorities and values the characters had to reconcile. A “Good German” is an expression referring to someone who goes along and abides by the rules, no matter how offensive they are. Who in this movie does this term apply to? Families may want to find out about historical characters like Werner Van Braun, whose stories inspired this screenplay. Families may want to learn more about different ways of achieving a sense of justice following war or other massive change, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and the current war trials of world figures like Saddam Hussein.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Third Man and Judgment at Nuremberg, which deal with some of the same issues raised by this film. Every family should see the brilliant and hugely influential Casablanca, which helped inspire this film as well. Blind Spot – Hitler’s Secretary is a documentary interview with the woman who worked for Hitler through his last days in the bunker.

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Drama Movies Mystery Thriller
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