Fracture

Posted on April 13, 2007 at 12:10 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some violent content.
Profanity: Some very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, reference to getting drunk as a way to deal with bad news
Violence/ Scariness: Shooting, attempted murder, suicide, some graphic images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2007
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000R4SMCW

This is not a who-dun-it. It’s a will-they-be-able-to-prove-it. As in the old Columbo television series, we know from the beginning who pulled the trigger. We see Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) shoot his wife in the head because she was having an affair. We see the police come for him. And we see hotshot prosecutor Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) get what looks like a slam-dunk case: the police have the gun and a confession.


Then Ted and Willy face off against each other. Ted likes to create intricate, meticulously designed machines with all kinds of rolling balls and shifting gears. His fondness for complicated puzzles is an indication that it isn’t going to be a slam-dunk case after all. At least not for the prosecution.


This is one of those films that really boils down to what goes on between the two men. There’s a distracting and predictable backstory about whether Willy will sell out and go to work for the big corporate law firm with the pretty senior associate yadda yadda. But all that matters is the cat and mouse game between Ted and Willy, especially because it is not clear who is the cat and who is the mouse. And because Ted and Willy are played by actors who know how to work it. Gosling’s Oakie accent gets a bit wearing, and even Hopkins’ accent seems to waver at times, but the script gives them some juicy twists and relish-worthy lines and when the two of them get going, you can feel the air between them crackle.

Parents should know that this film has brief but intense violence with a man shooting his wife at point-blank range and an off-camera suicide. The issue of “pulling the plug” on someone with no brain activity is raised. Characters use some strong and ugly language. There are sexual references, including adultery and a non-explicit sexual situation.


Families who see this movie should talk about what was important to Willie and how his priorities — or his understanding of his priorities — changed. What will he do next?


Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the classic Witness For the Prosecution and more contemporary courtroom thrillers like Primal Fear and Presumed Innocent. They might also appreciate the television series Columbo.

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Crime Drama Movies Thriller

Disturbia

Posted on April 11, 2007 at 12:30 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 on appeal for sequences of terror and violence, and some sensuality.
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and graphic peril and violence, decayed bodies and some other very grisly images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2007
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000RO6K9E

This nicely nifty little thriller takes Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window and updates it to the era of cell phones and webcams.


Kale (Shia LeBeouf) is under house arrest for hitting a teacher. For three months, he has to wear an ankle bracelet that will bring the police to his house in seconds if he strays past the radius of the transmitter. His mother has turned off the Xbox, iTunes, and the television. The “natural side effect” of sheer boredom is for him to turn his eyes outward. He makes the world his cable channels, switching from one to the other by looking out different windows. One channel shows his lissome new neighbor, swimming, sunning, stretching. Outside another window, a married neighbor is having an affair. And outside another, Robert Turner, could be a serial killer.


At first, it’s fun to spy on him. It feels like some sort of 3D Xbox game. Kale’s friend Ronnie (the very likeable Aaron Yoo) and that pretty neighbor (Sarah Roemer of the Gwenyth-like cheekbones as Ashley) set up a stakeout. But then it gets deadly serious. The watchers are themselves being watched.


LeBeouf continues to develop into one of the most talented and appealing young actors in Hollywood and Morse has a doughy predatory quality with flickers of oily charm. Crisp performances, a creepy bad guy, absorbing plot twists, capable direction by D.J. Caruso (of television’s “The Shield”), who knows how to build tension and when to break it, and a script that has some telling points to make about the way we saturate ourselves with media make this thriller, like Kale’s neighbors, very watchable.

Parents should know that this movie has intense peril and violence and some very grisly and disturbing images, including a dead animal, a fatal car crash, and decomposing bodies. Characters use some strong language and drink alcohol. There is some nudity (including brief shots of pornography being viewed by children), references to adultery, and some kissing.


Families who see this movie should talk about how our access to media helps and hurts our connection to our communities and our sense of privacy.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Cellular and the classic Rear Window.

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Comedy Crime Drama Movies Romance Thriller

Perfect Stranger

Posted on April 6, 2007 at 12:34 pm

F+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sexual content, nudity, some disturbing violent images and language.
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, references to getting drunk as a way to celebrate
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and graphic peril and violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2007
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000RO9Q7W

Was Ashley Judd at the hairdresser the day this script came in? She’s usually the star of movies like this — the low-level potboiler with the plucky girl in jeopardy, and Morgan Freeman around somewhere to give some sage advice. But in the Ashley Judd role this time we have Oscar-winner Halle Berry, whose post-Oscar choices have included the notorious duds Catwoman and Gothika. Please, fire your agent, Ms. Berry. Whoever told you to make this movie should be…sentenced to have to watch it.


Berry plays Rowena, an investigative journalist who gotcha’s a Mark Foley-style conservative Senator with some incriminating photos. But the story gets spiked when he pulls some strings, and she quits her job.


When a childhood friend is murdered, Rowena decides to go undercover to investigate. The friend had been having an affair with Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), a big-time CEO she met online. He’s the kind of guy who when he kicks someone out for sharing secrets with the competition he really KICKS the guy out. She gets a job as a temp working in Mr. Big’s office and starts snooping around. And she starts chatting with him online, too. Pretty soon they’re typing back and forth about her underwear.


Her skeezy sidekick in all of this is Miles (Giovani Ribisi), a guy who is very big with getting around firewalls and seems a little too into Ro. There’s also an ex-boyfriend who is back in the picture but who was once involved with the murdered girl. Hill has a jealous wife. If Rowena isn’t careful, she could end up like her friend.


And if Halle Berry isn’t careful, she can end up having to give back her Oscar. This movie is all sensation, no sense or sensibility. The jump-out-at-you scares are all in the trailer, the backstory is cliched and obvious, and the big bad reveal at the end is laughably over the top. Strange, yes. Perfect — about as far as you can go in the other direction, which is where audiences should head when this movie hits the theaters.

Parents should know that this movie is filled with truly nasty stuff, including explicit and sometimes twisted sexual references and situations. There are references to adultery, promiscuity, sexual harassment at the workplace, online sex, gay sex involving someone in the closet, obsessive fixation, and child molestation. Characters use strong language (mostly the f-word) and drink (including references to celebrating by getting drunk). There is a scuffle and characters are injured and killed.


Families who see this movie should talk about why people are drawn to anonymous online relationships.


Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy better thrillers like Charade and The Silence of the Lambs and a better film by this director, Confidence.

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Crime Drama Movies Thriller

The Reaping

Posted on April 5, 2007 at 12:38 pm

F+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, disturbing images and some sexuality.
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, implied date rape drug
Violence/ Scariness: Explicit and graphic peril and violence, including rape, decomposing dead body, child in peril, graphic suicide
Diversity Issues: Strong female and minority characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2007
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000U7169M

Ancient scrolls foretell the birth of an evil child begat of an unholy union between an episode of “The X-Files” and Nicolas Cage’s The Wicker Man, from the branch of the family that produced Children of the Corn. Okay, so scrolls didn’t really warn us about “The Reaping.” But someone should have.


The action begins as we find ourselves on a mission with ordained priest Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank). Having left her life as a religious missionary, she now travels the world to sleuth out scientific explanations for so-called “religious” phenomena. After her husband and young daughter were brutally killed during a disastrous trip to the Sudan, she renounced her faith and began life as an academic and “The Reaping” centers on Winter’s experience in a small town that seems to be going through the biblical plagues at the hand of a young child.


Surprisingly, the film begins strong, as it definitely gets its first hour from the “X Files” side of the family. A lovingly platonic and likable relationship between Winter and a former-student-turned-colleague, Ben (Idris Elba), and a sincere handling of the human fascination with supernatural phenomenon echo some of the best episodes of the late television show. There are still, of course, uninspired moments such as one where Winters and Ben roll down a dirt path in an oversize SUV, waving their respective cell phones, looking for service and practically screaming, “No service! You know what this means!” (It means we’re in a horror movie).


But as the intriguing and even somewhat innocent “river of blood” and “storm of frogs” give way to incredibly gruesome scenes, including but not limited to a mangled, decomposing body, hanging child skeletons, a man burned alive in a locked room and adults attempting to strap a screaming and terrified child down so they can kill her in the name of sacrifice, it quickly becomes clear that no horror film could be good enough to justify such horrific things.


What once held some promise of being a clever film explodes into a mess of trite plot devices and sad attempts to explain the rapidly degenerating vision of the filmmakers, who seem hell-bent (pardon the pun) on imparting some sort of religious lesson (As the end draws near, a newly re-religious Winter proclaims with fervor, “It’s God’s will!”). Any sincere motives in reaching spiritual conclusions are nullified by the sickening and horrendous use of child sacrifice as the premise of a film meant for entertainment. As a cynic, Winter states, “The only miracle is that people keep believing”. When the credits roll, you realize the only scary thing about this film is that filmmakers thought it would be the least bit entertaining.


Parents should know that there are many disturbing scenes and concepts in this film, including several deaths and scary moments such as a suicide where a woman is shown placing a handgun into her mouth (with gunshot heard directly after). There is also a fairly extensive sex scene (later revealed as a drugged rape) with limited nudity and menstruation is discussed as a character is shown with blood down her leg at the age of 12.


Families who see this film might want to discuss which aspects of the film they found scary and frightening in a fun way and which aspects may have been deeply disturbing and upsetting. What makes an enjoyable horror film? How might the plot have gone differently to make the thrills more innocent and less offensive?


Families who enjoy this film might also enjoy the similarly themed Rosemary’s Baby and The Devil’s Advocate.

Thanks to guest critic AB.

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Movies Thriller

Grindhouse

Posted on April 4, 2007 at 12:43 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong graphic bloody violence and gore, pervasive language, some sexuality, nudity and drug use.
Profanity: Very strong language, including racial epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Extreme, intense, graphic, and grisly violence, guns, knives, fighting, torture, many characters injured and killed, attempted rape
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2007
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B003VMFWYI

NOTE: This movie has extremely graphic, grisly, violent, and disgusting images, situations, and characters. It is not appropriate for anyone under 18 or for many adults. The positive rating is only for its intended audience, fans of this genre.


Famously violent but critically acclaimed film-makers Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez are fans of “grindhouse” movies. A grindhouse was a theater specializing in exploitation films — movies made with no artistic pretense or aspiration, with more attention to the advertising than the storyline. These films were usually not just low-budget but almost no-budget, poorly shot, poorly acted, poorly written. But they had a visceral appeal — usually visceral in literal terms because what they lacked in refinement or insights about the human condition they made up in shock and outrageousness. Despite their undisguised origins as purely commercial — exploitation king Roger Corman is proudly the only producer in history who has made money on every single film — these movies have an unpretentious appeal and even a gritty sincerity that can hold up well against Hollywood confections, especially those that try to hide their resolute commercialism under a veil of pomposity.


Tarantino and Rodriguez have re-created an evening at a grindhouse or a drive-in, circa 1970. It’s a double feature complete with fake trailers (from up and coming directors Eli Roth of Hostel, Edgar Wright (Shawn of the Dead, and Rob Zombie House of 1000 Corpses) and a commercial for the restaurant next door (note that characters from the movie are drinking sodas with its logo), faux scratches on the film and “missing frames” and reels and perfect replica opening credits. Somehow, the stories retain their 70’s vibes, even though they include a few updates like text messaging and references to the war in Iraq.


The first movie is “Planet Terror,” a zombiefest directed by Rodriguez. A pole dancer named Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan of “Charmed”), her former boyfriend Wray (Freddie Rodriguez of Showtime’s “Six Feet Under”), a sheriff (Terminator’s Michael Biehn) and his barbecueing brother (Jeff Fahey), an adulterous doctor with three big needles of anesthetic, and her squabbling twin babysitters face off against some oozing flesh-eaters in a battle so completely over-the-top that it almost makes sense when the lovely leg that got chomped off is replaced by a machine gun as a prosthetic. Talk about your pistol-packin’ mama. And when the zombies come, it’s like the “Thriller” video, without the dancing — or the happy ending.


The second film, directed by Tarantino, is “Death Proof,” starring Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, a guy who drives a souped-up “death proof” stunt car and likes to use it as a weapon of mass destruction. Some of the pretty ladies he goes after include Sydney Poitier (daughter of the Oscar-winner), Tracie Toms and Rosario Dawson (both from Rent), and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who appeared with Russell in the very different Sky High). This film has some characteristically choice Tarantino dialogue, cheerfully profane, hilariously frank, and divinely corkscrew, like a mash-up between Preston Sturges and Richard Pryor. The first half is mostly talk, talk that manages to mingle street insults, girly confidences, and Robert Frost, plus of course a lot of movie name checks. But when the don’t-take-rides-from-strangers action starts, it is stunning.

The break-out star here is real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell (playing a stuntwoman named Zoe). She more than holds her own as an actress — while she is in the midst of one of the most astonishing stunts in movie history, the “captain’s mast” — with a devilish sizzle and fearless spirit that seem completely natural and utterly engaging.


Rodriguez and Tarantino also bring high spirits that give an organic brio to their mastery of story, tone, and visual story-telling. Their unabashed affection for the grindhouse genre keeps them from becoming arch, po-mo, or self-consciously ironic. This is a tribute, not a parody. At times, they seem to fetishize everything, even the literal film stock itself. There are loving close-ups of female curves, gleaming weapons, and gory wounds. There is sheer delight in the over-the-topiness: when someone says “no-brainer,” he means it literally. They have honored the sources that inspired and entertained them with a low-down, dirty, crazy, joyride that is packing heat, along with some nastily entertaining thrills.

Parents should know that this film includes just about everything that could be of concern in evaluating its appropriateness. It has non-stop intense, gross, graphic, grisly, and disgusting images of violence, including zombies chomping on bodies, attempted rape, torture, and every possible kind of homicidal butchery. Characters use very strong language, smoke, drink, and smoke marijuana. There is nudity, and there are sexual references and situations including a same-sex kiss and adultery. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of loyal friendships between diverse characters.


Audiences who see this movie should talk about how some of today’s most acclaimed directors were inspired by low-budget movies with no artistic aspirations.


Audiences who appreciate this movie will appreciate the other films by its directors, including Pulp Fiction and the Robert Rodriguez Mexico Trilogy, (El Mariachi, Desperado, and Once Upon A Time In Mexico). They may also enjoy some of the movies that inspired this one, including Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat Kill!..kill!, Vanishing Point, and Gone in 60 Seconds (the original, of course). And they will enjoy the comic books that inspired some of these movies, like those collected in The EC Archives: Tales From The Crypt Volume 1.

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Action/Adventure Movies Science-Fiction Thriller
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