Live Free or Die Hard

Posted on June 26, 2007 at 2:57 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for intense adventure action and some scary moments.
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Reference to medicinal morphine
Violence/ Scariness: Extreme and intense peril and violence, machine guns, missiles, explosions, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters -- both good guys and bad guys
Date Released to Theaters: 2007

Just as Entertainment Weekly picks the 1988 Die Hard as the greatest action movie of all time, Bruce Willis comma-ti-yi-yippies it up again for NYPD’s John McClane’s fourth explosion-and-wisecrack-fest. Number three is still my favorite, but this latest installment has all the essentials: over-the-top money-shot stunts (even a few that weren’t in the trailer), juicy banter, a world’s-at-stake-and-only-one-man-can-save-us storyline dire enough to explain the action without being too complicated to get in its way, and a lot of stuff that gets blown up.

Once again, McClane gets drawn into a very big mess that the bureaucrats can’t handle. He is asked to pick up a Matt, a young hacker (Justin Long of the Mac commercials) and bring him to Washington. But it turns out that the bad guys want Matt, too. He was one of several hackers who unknowingly assisted the bad guys in setting up the biggest computer meltdown of all time and they want him out of the picture. McClane rescues Matt and from then on they are pretty much getting chased or shot at or chasing or shooting at someone for the rest of the movie.

Willis and Long have great chemistry and work the old school/new school angle with relish. They have different but highly complementary natural rhythms that put just the right understaded snarky spin on smartass commentary.

The script keeps things lively with a variety of locations and characters, though Timothy Olyphant is on the bland side as the head bad guy. And the stunts are everything popcorn movies are all about.
Parents should know that the fourth “Die Hard” movie is the first in the series not to be rated R, but it is as close to an R as the MPAA would allow, with extensive, intense, and graphic peril and “action” violence, explosions, shooting, crashes, missiles, many deaths, reference to medicinal morphine, some strong language, and a college-age couple making out (with the girl setting some firm limits). Characters use some strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about what it means to be “that guy.” How have these movies changed over the years?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the previous Die Hard movies, True Lies, and Enemy of the State (all rated R), and “Independence Day” (middle schoolers and up).

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Action/Adventure Genre , Themes, and Features Movies -- format Reviews Thriller


Posted on June 24, 2007 at 3:09 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Wine, character gets drunk
Violence/ Scariness: Peril, gun, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, diverse characters, references to sexism, mild anti-French joke
Date Released to Theaters: 2007

Pixar’s latest release is brilliantly animated, and a lot of fun. But it does not have a clear sense of who its audience is, and families with children who are looking for the next Finding Nemo may find themselves puzzled. While it’s a classic underdog-with-an-impossible-dream story, it does not have easy characters or emotions for children to identify with or a bad guy it will be fun for them to root against.

Did I say underdog? It’s more like an under-rat. The film never really overcomes the ew-factor that it is about a rat in a kitchen.

Remy (voice of comedian Patton Oswalt) is a French rat with a dream. While his friends and family like to eat garbage (literally), he has a refined palate and a gift for food preparation. His idol is the late Auguste Gusteau (voice of Brad Garrett), a great Parisian chef and restauranteur and the author of a cookbook with the inspirational title: “Anyone Can Cook.”

Remy gets his chance when he joins forces with hapless klutz Linguni (voice of Lou Romano), recently hired to clean up in Gusteau’s restaurant only because his late mother knew Gusteau. Remy, tugging on Linguini’s hair like something between a puppeteer and a video game console, turns Linguini into the most celebrated chef in Paris. But challenges remain — Skinner (voice of Ian Holm), who wants Gusteau’s for himself so he can promote his horrible frozen foods, and Anton Ego (voice of Peter O’Toole), the critic whose devastating reviews can ruin even the most popular restaurant. Then there is Colette (voice of Janeane Garofalo), the only woman chef in the kitchen, scary as a supervisor and even more terrifying when Linguini thinks he might kind of…like her.

The animation is, even by Pixar standards, spectacularly dazzling. Pixar’s early films compensated for the limited technology for facial expressions and gestures by making the characters have, well, limited facial expressions and gestures. Those films were about plastic toys, insects, and monsters. But in this film, the line between humans and computer animation all but dissolves. The movements and gestures are exquisitely orchestrated. Nothing could be more expressive than the thousand different shrugs of a Frenchman, and this movie has them all. Every millimeter of every raised eyebrow is an Oscar-worthy performance, acting through pixels.

A chase through the restaurant kitchen and an escape through the sewer system are filled with a level of mastery of three-dimensional space and detail that will be even more entertaining on DVD, when you can hit the pause button. Surfaces are brilliantly realized, textures, reflections, colors all as meticulously and imaginatively rendered as Remy’s greatest culinary masterpieces. Real copper wishes it could be as coppery as the bottoms of the pans in Gusteau’s kitchen. And the food! It shimmers. It glistens. It entices. You’d swear you could inhale its fragrance, almost taste that rosemary and saffron.

And the rats! They are so…rat-like. No anthropormorphized Jiminy Crickets or Gus-Gus and Jacques for Disney this time. Remy looks like a rat, and, charming as his personality may be, it is at times difficult to get over that whole rats-don’t-belong-in-a-kitchen thing.

It evokes passion and creativity well, but the film is over-plotted and parts of the story will be unappealing or confusing for children, including a DNA test to determine paternity. Compare the idea of a critic as bad guy to the inspired choices of previous Pixar films, the cluelessly destructive little girl in “Nemo” or the resentful rejected sidekick in “The Incredibles.” Next to those, a food critic (named “Ego,” get it?) who looks like a caricature of Richard Nixon and confesses that his most brilliant review is nothing next to the most mediocre work of art seems like too much in-joke and too little comedy or threat. The script is one part of this recipe that could have used a little less seasoning.

NOTE: The short animated film at the beginning of the movie is priceless, the funniest five minutes on screen this year. Don’t miss it.

Parents should know that there is some G-rated peril, including a gun, that may be too intense for the youngest and most sensitive viewers. A character slaps another. There are brief jokes about criminal activities, bribing someone, and “messing around,” and a reference to a dead mother and a father who was never told he had a son. There is a brief shot of dead rats. Characters drink wine and one gets another drunk. There are references to an off-screen death and a character is an apparent ghost. There is a kiss and a brief bare tush and a portion of the plot focuses on mild references to a secret out of wedlock child and to DNA testing to determine paternity. A strength of the movie is its references to prejudice and the importance of giving everyone an opportunity.

Families who see this movie should talk about how we can determine our own futures and interests, even when they seem inconsistent with our backgrounds. They should talk about their favorite flavors and cooking experiences. What are some of the foods that bring back some of your favorite memories? Families might want to learn more about some of the seasonings mentioned in the film like rosemary and saffron and try cooking with them. They might even like to try making some ratatouille.

Families who enjoy this film will enjoy the other Pixar movies, including Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., and A Bug’s Life. They will also enjoy the other films from writer-director Brad Bird, The Iron Giant and Pixar’s The Incredibles. Flushed Away is another delightful animated film with a rat hero and a rat heroine as well. Older viewers will enjoy some other films about great food, including Babette’s Feast, Big Night, and Simply Irresistible. And note that John Ratzenberger, who has provided voice talent for every Pixar movie, appears in this film as Mustafa.

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Action/Adventure Animation Family Issues Movies -- format


Posted on June 24, 2007 at 3:04 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Disturbing subject matter, references to inuries, illness, and death, brief graphic wound
Diversity Issues: Racial and economic diversity themes
Date Released to Theaters: 2007

Presenting symptoms: queasiness, fever, hyperventilation, and mood swings.

Diagnosis: You’ve just seen Michael Moore’s latest film, “Sicko.” As the tagline says, “This might hurt a little.”

Moore’s record-breaking documentaries have taken on guns (Bowling for Columbine), the war in Iraq (Fahrenheit 9/11), and General Motors (Roger & Me). This time, he takes on the American health care system, comparing it to nationalized medicine in Canada, England, France, and Cuba.

Moore begins with three devastating cases. A middle-class couple were wiped out by health care costs and have to move into their daughter’s basement storage room, their lives reduced to what can fit into three dresser drawers, their pride and dignity reduced to nothing. A man who sliced off two fingers in an accident is forced to choose reattaching the ring finger for $12,000 vs. the middle finger for $60,000. Another man has to sew up his own wound. This takes just a few minutes. And then Moore tells us that this movie is not about these people, who are uninsured and thus fit into a “them” category for most people who buy tickets to movies. This movie is about “us” — the 250 million Americans who are insured, and the way the health care and insurance industries undermine our physical, financial, and political health.

Moore invited people to share their horror stories and we hear from a woman who was not able to get access to care for a brain tumor, a 79-year-old man who can never retire because he has to work at Pathmark to be able to afford his medications, an emergency ambulance ride that was not covered because it was not pre-approved, a woman who was kicked out of her coverage for not disclosing a pre-existing condition — a minor (and cured) yeast infection, a deaf child who could only get approval for a cochlear implant in one ear, and two people, one a baby, who died because they did not receive treatment.

But the real horror stories come from people within the industry, the insurance executives who explain that the payment of a claim was called “a loss,” that they were told that when they declined a claim they were not denying treatment, just denying funding, the claims adjuster who is first told that the minimum is a ten percent denial rate, then told it has to be higher, and paid a bonus based on how many claims are denied.

If our health care system is diagnosed as pathological, what is the cure? Moore visits facilities in Canada, England, and France. He speaks to Americans who have experienced medical treatment under both systems, including a young single mother who pretends to be Canadian so she can have her child treated across the border.

He traces back the origins of the problem to a moment recorded on Richard Nixon’s White House tapes, as he approves support for legislation creating a private system of Health Maintenance Organizations because “the incentives run the right way” — the less care they give, the more money they make. He shows us politicians lining up for a photo op for the signing of the prescription drug legislation, and gives each of them a dangling box showing the campaign contributions made by the industry. He sympathetically recounts Hillary Clinton’s disastrous attempt to try to create a universal health care system in the US only to see it demolished by a $100 million attack from the industry. He is less sympathetic when he ties her more recent “moderation” of her views to her own lavish campaign contributions. The health care industry employs four lobbyists for every representative on Capitol Hill. Senator Clinton receives its second-largest contributions. After the prescription drug legislation was passed, benefiting — according to Moore — the prescription drug companies more than the patients, 44 congressional aides and one Congressman went to work for the industry.

Moore shows us the shameful way we have denied treatment to the people we called heroes, the rescue workers at Ground Zero after 9/11. Yes, it is a stunt when Moore takes them to Guantanamo Bay to see if they can get the same top-notch medical care the US provides for the prisoners there, the people suspected or proven to have supported the terrorist attacks. And it is a stunt when he sets off in three little boats, like the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, to take them to Cuba, where they receive kindness and medication from the local health professionals. Like the stunt he pulled when he took a bunch of tobacco-related cancer survivors to sing Christmas carols at cigarette companies, it is horrifying and mesmerizing — and guaranteed to raise your temperature, which is the point.

The movie makes three significant contributions. First, though it does not emphasize this point, the film makes it clear that the primary benefit of the other systems is that the incentives promote prevention. A British doctor explains that he gets a bonus based on how many patients he gets to quit smoking, for example. The perverse incentives of our system promote neglect until the problem becomes dire or catastrophic.

The second theme, as in Moore’s previous movies, is the corrupting role that money plays in politics and policy. Moore does not say this, but the cost of campaigns in the United States is vastly in excess of the other countries he visits. Thus, politicians need to raise millions of dollars and thus they are vulnerable to pressure from the people who write checks.

Third and most important is the way this film shifts the burden of proof. Americans take it for granted that everything is better here than anywhere else in the world. But the movie’s statisitics about infant mortality and life span place us far down the list. Moore does not pretend to give both sides of the story. Our infant mortality rate is in part a reflection of our bringing more high-risk pregnancies to term. But Moore lays down the intellectual and moral gauntlet and dares the insurance companies and politicians to respond. The audiences who see this film will be waiting to hear what they have to say.

Parents should know that this movie has themes that may be disturbing, including injuries, illness, and death, including a baby. There is a brief graphic shot of a wound and brief strong language. The focus of the film is on unjust and unkind treatment of people who are sick and poor or middle-class, and one (white) character says she believes her husband would have received better treatment if he had been white. As with all of his movies, Michael Moore makes very provocative statements, often in a humorous way, but some audiences may find them offensive.

Families who see this movie should talk about their good and bad experiences with the health care system. They may want to talk with their health care professionals about their own experiences and what they think we can do better. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the US system? The nationalized health system? Who is in the best position to advocate for improvements? Who is in the best position to obstruct them? Moore is the first to admit that he is not a journalist but an advocate. As with any advocacy, viewers should challenge its assertions and omissions by examining the responses from other perspectives. The most important contribution of movies like this is that they inspire people to find out more and research the facts and the issues to justify their beliefs and positions.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Moore’s other films, including Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, and Fahrenheit 9/11. The John Grisham film The Rainmaker is the story of a lawsuit over the kind of insurance company policies portrayed in this film. Families should look at Michael Moore’s website and at the anti-Moore site Moorewatch, especially its response to Moore’s $12,000 check and the rebuttal film Fahrenhype 9/11. And they should view the films from The Moving Picture Institute, which uses Moore-style tactics and techniques for a conservative take on issues like environmentalism vs. economic development and freedom of speech on college campuses.

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Documentary Movies -- format

Evan Almighty

Posted on June 18, 2007 at 3:18 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild rude humor and some peril.
Profanity: Brief crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters but some stereotyping
Date Released to Theaters: 2007
Date Released to DVD: 2007 ASIN: B000UNYK4E

There isn’t one single surprise in this movie, at least not for anyone who has seen the trailer, except perhaps for its sweetness. Yes, this is another movie about a family that is brought together by an unusual adventure and a dream. What separates it from the interchangeable RV and Deck the Halls multiplex fodder is that somewhere amid all the poop jokes and Davey and Goliath-level piety there is a little glimmer of sincerity.

It us less of a sequel than a spin-off from Bruce Almighty. In that film, God (Morgan Freeman) loaned his powers to a television news correspondent (Jim Carrey), who celebrated by using them to find a great parking space, see a woman’s panties, part the red…soup, and give his girlfriend a bigger chest. He also inflicted a fury of tics and grimaces on his biggest competitor, Evan, a breakout performance by then-newcomer Steve Carell.

Now Evan takes center stage. He has just been elected to Congress, so he packs up his family in his shiny SUV and drives to Washington, all ready to deliver on his campaign promise to “change the world.”

But as they say, when people make plans, God laughs. This time, God (Freeman again) shows up and tells Evan it is time to build an ark. He presents him with a copy of Ark Building for Dummies and a pile of planks from Go-4-wood (gopher wood, get it?). And everywhere he goes he sees Gen 6:14, the Biblical reference to God’s direction to Noah to build an ark.

This is not what Evan had in mind. He is a very meticulous guy who does not like anything messy, uncontrolled, or out of place. He merrily opts for the old growth Brazilian cherry wood for his kitchen and won’t even think of allowing anything so unsanitary as a dog into the house. Evan cares very much what others think of him And he commits Hollywood’s favorite shorthand sin requiring redemption — he lets down his kids by canceling a planned outing.

He uses that time to read through some legislation he has been asked to co-sponsor by big-time power broker and neighbor in the McMansion community, Congressman Long. We know Long is a bad guy because he has the same last name as Huey Long, because he moves Evan into a fancy new office he does not deserve, and because he is played by John Goodman, whose very eye twinkles glitter with corruption.

Evan tries to get along, but it is increasingly more difficult as two of every species begin following him around and his beard becomes first unshaveable and then snowy white. Is he crazy or is that that ark going to come in mighty handy?

The warm likeability and atomic-clock comic timing of Carell, Lauren Graham (television’s Gilmore Girls) as his wife, and Wanda Sykes as his Congressional aide keep it mildly entertaining and its brief running time ensures that it ends before wearing out its welcome. But it is theologically shaky and logically even shakier. Is Evan building the ark out of respect for God’s direction or because God forecloses every other option? Who is feeding and who is cleaning up after all those animals? The ending tries to have it not just both ways, but about four or five different ways. And, speaking of miracles, how did that house go from being under construction to being complete and fully furnished in a matter of hours without a single moving van?

Parents should know that this movie has some crude potty humor, implied comic nudity, and an in-joke reference to Carell’s recent film The 40 Year Old Virgin. There is brief mild language. There is also some peril and mild fanciful violence — no one hurt. Some of the themes (political corruption, family stress, portrayal of God) may be disturbing to some audience members.

Families who see this movie should talk about what Evan meant when he said he wanted to change the world and what God meant when he said “Whatever I do, I do because I love you.” They should read one or more of the Biblical versions of the Noah story. And of course they should all try a little dance.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Bill Cosby’s classic routine about Noah and the George Burns film Oh, God!.

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Comedy Movies -- format

Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Posted on June 15, 2007 at 3:23 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for sequences of action violence, some mild language and innuendo.
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Character incinerated, reference to torture, action violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, strong disabled character
Date Released to Theaters: 2007
Date Released to DVD: 2007 ASIN: B000VI70QS

If not exactly meriting the term “fantastic” yet, this second installment is a slight improvement over the “first” film. (“First” is in quotes because there was a legendary 1994 never-released quickie made only to preserve the studio’s rights to the characters.) This is the sequel to the 2005 major release, which spent too much time on the origins of the characters’ superpowers (we get it, they got gamma-rayed and now one can stretch, one can flame and fly, one is invisible, and one looks like he is made of rock and is super-strong). Superhero movies are all about the bad guys, and the 2005 film’s Dr. Doom just didn’t seem very doom-y.

This time, things take off more quickly, Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) is less dour and the villain is the Silver Surfer, cooler and more intruiging. The premise is more involving and the action scenes more organic. Dr. Doom shows up, too, but no one pays much attention to him.

The FF are all aflutter as the “wedding of the century” is about to take place. Richards and Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) are getting married. They’ve tried three times before and been interrupted by world-in-the-balance emergencies, but this time Reed has promised nothing can get in their way. And you know what that means. Enter, Silver Surfer, looking like a hood ornament made from mercury, creating massive pock-marky round caverns around the globe.

Sue is fretting about a skin break-out on the big day and wondering whether they can ever have a “normal” life, John (Chris Evans) (“Focus testing showed that ‘Johnny’ skewed a little young”) wants so many endorsement deals that their uniforms will look like something from NASCAR, and The Thing (Michael Chiklis) is playing kissy-poo with Alicia (Kerry Washington). Then General Hager (Andre Braugher) shows up to say that the world just might explode if Reed can’t figure out what Silvy is up to and how to stop him.

Time to reschedule for wedding-of-the-century attempt number five.

In 1961, the Fantastic Four shattered superhero traditions. No secret identities. No sidekicks. And most important, no perfection. The Fantastic Four were a deliciously dysfunctional family. They might take their job of saving the world seriously, but they did not take themselves seriously. Their success led to a new generation of angsty, edgy, well, adolescent-y superheroes who have so dominated the genre that the FF seem a little, well, old.

This is in part because it has cardboard dialogue that often sounds like a parody of a 50’s cheapie: “As you may know, there have been recent unusual occurances all over the world.” And when Reed taunts Doom that he is “about to marry the hottest girl on the planet,” he sounds like a 7th grader, not a guy who squints intently at equations with little Greek letters in them all day. The “jokes” are just as weak: “My lips would be sealed if I had them.” We expect more from the “clobberin’ time” guy. And what is the deal with dance numbers in superhero movies this summer? Please, stop.

But when the action comes, it is fun, especially after one of the FF temporarily gets to try on all the powers at once, so he coils around the villain like a python at the same time that pounds him with rocky Thing-fists and goes in and out of visibility and flame. And Silvy turns out to have some depth and complexity (and the voice of Laurence Fishburne) that strengthens the story. It is good to have a PG action film for that most-neglected of audiences, kids who are getting too old for kiddie fare but are still too young for PG-13s. And at this pace, by number 5 or 6, they just might make it all the way to “Fantastic” after all.

Parents should know that a character is incinerated in this film and we see his ashy remains. There is also a reference to torture (offscreen). Other than that, we see mostly “action violence,” with a lot of peril but very few injuries. Characters use brief language (“crap,” “screwed up”) and there is some drinking. There are brief mild sexual references, but the movie makes it clear that what matters is having a committed relationship.

Families who see this movie should talk about why the FF might sometimes want to be “normal.” Which of their superpowers would you most like to have and why? What makes the Silver Surfer change his mind?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy reading the comics and learning more about Silver Surfer.

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Action/Adventure Fantasy Movies -- format Science-Fiction
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