Hannibal Rising

Posted on February 8, 2007 at 12:23 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong grisly violent content and some language/sexual references.
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Graphic peril and violence, grisly images, cannibalism, torture, battle violence
Diversity Issues: Nazi execution of a Jew and a Gypsy
Date Released to Theaters: 2007
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000NVT0SO

My first Hannibal Lecter was Brian Cox in Manhunter . As dazzling as Anthony Hopkins was, that’s still my favorite Hannibal portrayal. Like Hopkins, Cox showed us Lecter’s mesmerizing stillness and unnervingly penetrating mind. In both Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs, what made Hannibal-the-Cannibal so intriguing was that he was not center stage. In both, he was assisting law enforcement officials in tracking down other serial killers. In exchange for his insights and clues, he got the pleasure of probing their minds, getting the same kind of pleasure a cat gets from playing with a mouse before having it for dinner.


But it was less interesting when he took center stage in Hannibal. When he was alongside the central story we were kept remote, limited to glimpses of his combination of intellectual ferocity and appetite for exquisitely calibrated murders. What fascinates is the juxtaposition of his near-omniscience (“you use Evian skin cream, and sometimes you wear L’Air du Temps, but not today”) with his coolness as he destroys (“his pulse never got above 85, even when he ate her tongue”). Giving us so little information allows us to project onto him the boogiemen deep in our subconscious, and that is what makes him so scary. But this time, as we get a chance to see him as a child and a young man, our curiosity may be satisfied, but the additional detail that humanizes him makes him far less interesting.


We first see Lecter as a child, playing with his little sister Mischa near the family castle in Lithuania. They are soon hurried away by their loving parents to a cottage in the woods. The Nazis are approaching. But Hannibal’s family is killed by a brutal group of Lithuanian collaborators led by Vladis Grutas (Rhys Ifans). After the way, Lecter (now played by French actor Gaspard Ulliel) finds himself at a Communist-run school located in what had once been his home.

As they say on report cards, he does not work well with others. Criticized for “not honoring the human pecking order,” he extracts revenge from his chief tormenter and runs away to France to find his last relative. She is the Japanese widow of his late uncle, Lady Murasaki Shikibu. And she is played by Chinese actress Gong Li, showing off two of her most famous features, the ability to make tears well up in her eyes several different ways, all both beautiful and compelling, and that quality which, since her part of the story is set in France, we can refer to as her belle poitrine.


Lady Murasaki provides some sympathy — and some martial arts training and he goes to medical school, with a work-study job preparing bodies for autopsy, all of which will come in handy as he decides to track down the people who killed his family. Meanwhile, a French cop (Dominic West) is getting suspicious.


So, what we have is less the deliciously shivery “fava beans and a nice chianti” than a brutal, but understandable and even sympathetic quest for vengeance. Lecter’s otherness is lessened; he almost seems ordinary. What comes next is all pretty standard — track them down one at a time and kill them in very unpleasant ways, tossing in a couple of visual references to the earlier (when they were made)/later (when they take place) works, generally more striking than relevant.


By the time we get to one last revelation, the one that is supposed to kick-start Lecter from revenge killing into psychotic killing, well, the thrill is gone. Having Lecter scarred by someone who is as completely over-the-top loathsome as Grutas creates a dilemma. Does he become the new monster? Is the next sequel/prequel going to give us his backstory? As serial killer movies go, this one is all right. As Hannibal Lecter movies go, it’s a long way from whatever is in second-to-last place.


Parents should know that this this movie features extreme and graphic peril and violence, including grisly images, torture, and cannibalism. It includes WWII battle violence (guns, tanks, a plane) and war crimes, including Nazi execution of a Jew and a Gypsy and the butchery of a child. Characters use some strong and crude language. There are some crude sexual references, including prostitution. There are racist references and we see Nazis order the execution of a Jew and a Gypsy.


Families who see this movie should talk about the way people respond to the dire situations of war. They may want to learn about war crimes tribunals like those at Nuremberg and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. What crimes are and are not being addressed by our global legal systems today?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the other Hannibal Lecter movies, especially Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs. They will also enjoy the classic serial killer film, No Way to Treat a Lady. If families want to learn more about resistance and complicity with the Nazi occupation during WWII, they should see Partisans of Vilna and The Sorrow and the Pity.

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Drama Movies Thriller

Norbit

Posted on February 6, 2007 at 12:26 pm

Eddie Murphy has taken his love for playing multiple roles, his love for Jerry Lewis (who also loved playing multiple roles), his love for racial humor, his love for crude humor, his love for himself, and — to be charitable — his deeply conflicted feelings about women, and made a movie that is disgusting, unfunny, dull, and an appalling waste of talent.

Its only entertainment value is in a couple of good gospel songs and its only shred of interest is as a disturbing piece of forensic evidence to help explain why one of the most talented and successful stars of the 1980’s has been making nothing but kiddie movies. Any respect he engendered by his comeback performance in Dreamgirls will be obliterated by the creepy non-funniness of this atrocity.
Eddie Murphy plays the title character, a nerdy wimp raised in an orphanage, by the choleric Chinese Mr. Wong (also Murphy). The only bright spot in his childhood is is friendship with Kate. After she is adopted, he has no one, until a large girl named Rasputia shows up and tells him he’s her boyfriend. When he grows up, he goes to work for her three thug brothers, who make a living doing construction and shaking down local businesses. And he marries Rasputia (Murphy again), now with huge, heavy rolls of fat and long, long nails.
Kate (Thandie Newton) shows up, planning to buy the orphanage and run it with her fiance, Deion (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). Is Deion sincere in his affection for Kate? Will Norbit find the courage to tell her how he feels? Will we have to see Rasputia in a skimpy bathing suit covered by rolls of fat? And getting a bikini wax?
I so wish I did not know the answers to these questions. I’d love to be able to eject all memories of this movie from my head.

Newton is so slender she makes Audrey Hepburn look like a linebacker. It’s as though she is trying to diet herself into invisibility, understandable given the hideous misogyny of the film and the thanklessness of her role. The closest thing to a bright moment comes from Eddie Giffin and Katt Williams as pimps named Pope Sweet Jesus and Lord Have Mercy. They do more with less material than Rasputia does with her skimpy lingerie.

Murphy’s real face, as the Norbit character, looks oddly stretched. And, though the story takes place in Tennessee, Norbit has a slight New York accent that echoes Jerry Lewis. His characters are all about the externals, shtick-ish and superficial.

In one scene, Norbit puts on a puppet show for the children and can’t help himself from turning it into a crude fight about infidelity. You get the sense that this is what Murphy is doing here, with the characters he plays the puppets he is using to express some of his anger at the people who want something from him, especially those rapacious women.

Murphy’s idol, Richard Pryor, had the same facilty for creating characters. And, like Murphy, he had some anger issues. But all of Murphy’s meticulous observation of Pryor missed the key point — Pryor brought a depth of understanding, humanity, and compassion to his characters — even a drug addict, even a neighbor’s dog that killed his favorite pet monkeys, even a crack pipe, even, though also the subject of some of his anger, himself. Murphy keeps it superficial and self-servingly egotistical, with characters and situations barely enough to sustain a seven-minute skit. No matter how many characters he plays, they are as artificial as Rasputia’s nails. Under the latex there is nothing but more latex.

Parents should know that this is an extremely crude and vulgar film, with much of the humor based on the idea of having sex with an enormously overweight woman. Two characters are pimps and there are references to prostitutes and paying for sex, to “old pervs,” and to a bar with nude entertainment. There is brief nudity. Characters use crude and strong language and racial epithets and insults, including inappropriate material in front of children.
Families who are interested in this film will probably prefer the better slob- comedies-with-heart Shallow Hal, Saving Silverman, The Jerk, and Big Mama’s House. They will also enjoy Murphy’s best work, on “Saturday Night Live” and in 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop and some of the Jerry Lewis films that inspired him, like Cinderfella.

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Comedy Romance

Music & Lyrics

Posted on February 5, 2007 at 12:34 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some sexual content.
Profanity: Very brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Brief reference to alcohol and drug abuse, social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic violence, punch
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2007
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B00005JPE3

Comedy that is actually funny plus romance that is actually sweet equals a sunny little valentine to brighten the winter doldrums. And — I can’t help saying it — Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore go together like music and lyrics. Do I hear groaning? Okay, you see this film and see if you can resist getting a little gooey.


The movie opens with a brilliantly inspired parody of an 80’s music video, so flawlessly hook-ish and instantly familiar we’re sure we’ve seen it one some middle-of-the-night “I Love the 80’s”/”Where Are They Now” shows. It’s a little bit Wham!, a little bit Duran Duran. Alex (Hugh Grant) was once a part of this pop group, until it broke up and his bandmate went on to a successful career in recording and movies. Alex has been making a living by appearing in nostalgia venues like 20th high school reunions, state fairs, and amusement parks, booked by his manager, Chris (Brad Garrett, of “Everybody Loves Raymond”). He is currently considering a cable TV show called “Battle of the 80’s Has-Beens,” though he points out helpfully that his group broke up in 1992, which makes him a 90’s has-been.


Then Alex gets a once-in-a-lifetime chance at a comeback, if he can write a song for reigning pop princess Cora (newcomer Haley Bennett) in a couple of days. But he has two problems. First, he hasn’t written a new song in about 20 years. And second, he writes music only — he needs someone to write the lyrics. And who better to join forces with than the adorably ditsy young woman who is the substitute plant-water-er, Sophie (Drew Barrymore). Soon they are making beautiful music together.


The setbacks and sour notes that intrude are just barely troubling enough to keep the story going and to reinforce our relief when everyone settles down for a big, fluffy, happily ever after.


Grant and Barrymore are at their very best and the material is perfectly suited to their strengths. Grant’s self-deprecating delivery polishes the dry wit of his dialogue to a glossy sheen. Barrymore’s ditzily adorable way with a line is just right for a talented young woman whose confidence has just been shaken by a bad romance. The fabulous Kristen Johnson makes the most of her role as Sophie’s sister, the kind of fan of Alex’s pop group who had his lunchbox and wrote his name surrounded by hearts on her 8th grade notebook. If the portions of the story dealing with Cora and Sophie’s ex are weak, it’s just because the movie is too nice and its romantic leads too darling to skewer even the deserving. It’s as endearing as a pop song that still makes you smile, even 20 years later.

Parents should know that this is a milder-than-average PG-13. There is very brief strong language, some sexual references, a non-explicit sexual situation, and some dancing in skimpy clothes. There is a brief reference to drug and alcohol abuse, and some comic violence, including a punch.


Families who see this movie should talk about the music they like now and liked when they were younger and what has happened to some of the performers. Why do some performers seem to re-invent themselves to change with the times or to make the times change for them while others do not?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy some of the other romantic comedies featuring Grant and Barrymore, including Never Been Kissed and Four Weddings and a Funeral (some mature material). They might like to explore some 80’s pop music from groups like A Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Wham! For a good real-life example of the way a big star adapts a song for her own style, listen to Madonna’s song “Don’t Tell Me” and the original version, performed by the songwriter Joe Henry as “Stop” on his album, Scar. Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger, who wrote the song for this film, had an experience a little like that of Sophie and Alex when he entered and won the competition to write the title song for That Thing You Do.

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Comedy Movies Musical Romance

The Namesake

Posted on February 3, 2007 at 6:02 pm

Ashima (Indian superstar Tabu) pauses before entering the living room to meet her prospective bridegroom and his family. Their shoes have been left outside the door, according to the customs of her home in India. Ashima sees that inside the shoes it says “Made in the USA.” She quietly slips her foot inside, trying them on for size. This lovely moment sets the stage for a thoughtful and engrossing study of identity, assimilation, and finding the way home.
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(more…)

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Based on a book Drama Genre , Themes, and Features Reviews

The Astronaut Farmer

Posted on February 3, 2007 at 4:34 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic material, peril and language.
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Character in peril with some injuries, sad death
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2007
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B00005JPLE

Once upon a time there was a farmer who wanted to build a rocket ship and orbit the earth. And there were some evil ogres who wanted to stop him.


That’s the best way to describe this slight fairy tale of a film, where each shot is lovingly framed to show the golden light playing over the pastoral landscapes, set in a small town that makes Mayberry seem unfriendly and featuring a family so unconditionally loving and devoted that we seem to have come upon them mid-Hallmark commercial.


That is not to say that it is anything but warm-hearted and captivating. It is just to say that you can’t take it too seriously. In other words, don’t try this at home.


Billy Bob Thornton plays a farmer actually named Farmer. That is his last name and many people call him that, including his wife Audie (Virginia Madsen). He rides a horse in his astronaut uniform — the ultimate mash-up of American male icons. When he gets up to a small bit of vandalism he is sent for a psychological evaluation — to the local school nurse, who was once his prom date. Everyone in the town knows everyone else and knows everything about everyone else. But even his good friend at the bank can’t stop foreclosure proceedings when Farmer spends all his money on the rocket. And when he orders rocket fuel over the internet, he attracts the attention of some people outside the community. They are people from places that are very big on initials, like NASA and DOJ and WMD. They are people who are very big on laws like the Patriot Act. And they are people who have no imagination and no sense of humor when it comes to having private citizens launch rockets.


The good guys are cute and cuddly and believe in their dreams. They have family dinners where everyone talks about what should be packed for the mission. The children are devoted to their parents and have beautiful manners. The two little girls (real-life daughters of the twin brothers who made the film) are the most natural and appealing young performers since “In America.” Virginia Madsen is radiant as always as Mrs. Farmer. And there’s an adorably grizzled old grandpa (Bruce Dern) to tell Farmer what a great dad he is.


It works because of the conviction of its actors (including a surprise third act appearance by a major movie star) and its gentle, unassuming Capra-esque air. Its takeoff and flight is more butterfly than rocketship, but it’s a lovely ride.

Parents should know that there are some tense and scary moments. A character is in peril and is injured. There is a sad death. Characters use brief strong language and drink and there is a brief sexual reference.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Farmer’s dream was so important to him and why his family supported him. Why didn’t he accept the offer to go in NASA’s space shuttle? Was the government right to try to stop him? Why?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy films about the U.S. space program, including Apollo 13, From the Earth to the Moon and The Right Stuff. And they might enjoy the made-for-television movie “Salvage 1” with Andy Griffith, which became a series.

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Action/Adventure Drama Family Issues Movies
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