Interview with the Bratz

Posted on August 3, 2007 at 10:36 pm

Talking to the girls who play the Bratz on screen is like being at the coolest slumber party in town. Like their characters, Skyler Shae (Cloe), Janel Parrish (Jade), Logan Browning (Sasha), and Nathalia Ramos (Yasmin) are big time BFFs, very different but utterly supportive, all talking at once but somehow always somehow hearing, loving, supporting, and responding to what the others are saying. In Washington, they went on a night-time sight-seeing tour of the monuments in Washington, signed autographs for fans who were all but levitating in excitement, and stopped by to visit the patients at Children’s Hospital before sitting down with director Sean McNamara for an interview.


McNamara sat back and let the girls do most of the talking – it was easy to see that he was used to that. It was also easy to see how much he genuinely enjoyed and respected the young performers. “When we announced that we were making the movie online we had 1400 submissions in one hour,” he said. “We saw over 5000 girls. We didn’t have fixed characters in mind, so we asked what they could bring that no one’s ever seen before. We looked for the ability to act, to make us believe their performance, and that special something that comes between the words. These girls got it; they created believable, interesting characters that came through.”
What’s on your iPod?
All four at once: Everything!
LB: I love everything! Let me just tell you my playlists: Country, Bumpin’, Poppin’, Rock, Indie, and Musical.
SS: I’ve got David Gray, Lonestar, Justin Timberlake
JP: I’m a theater freak. I was in “Les Miserables” on Broadway, so that is my favorite. I listen to tons and tons of Broadway. It’s my dream to be in “Miss Saigon.” I’ve also got classic rock, oldies — that’s the foundation of music. I love artists that play their own stuff, especially Holly Brook, Robin Thicke, and Alicia Keys.
NR: A little of everything, but my passion is classic rock. My dad has over 2000 records at home, lots of vinyl, (Peter) Frampton, (Eric) Clapton, Supertramp, and The Beatles. I love “Go Your own Way” by Fleetwood Mac.


You never met before the movie. How did you find ways to connect to each other to make your onscreen friendships seem real?
SS: We hung out all the time, went shopping, had our nails done.
JP: We did a lot of dancing and singing together, and we had the most fun set, with constant humor, constant jokes.
NR: We learned acting skills from each other and dance moves. Logan really inspired me.
LB: We feed off each other’s energy and make each other laugh by imitating each other. Janel has cute little baby voices. And Nat is always practical, a great advice-giver.


In the movies, the Bratz get their name from a “mean girl” who tries to boss around everyone in the school. What makes people behave that way and what makes the Bratz the only ones who don’t do what she says?
SS: People want to fit in, so they are afraid to say no to her. Because she is beautiful and controlling and powerful, and people want to go to the coolest party.
NR: She wants attention. She is insecure, so she overcompensates.
JP: I think some people who truly believe they’re better than everyone else. The Bratz show that the good relationship with their family is the foundation for having the confidence to say no to her.
LB: All the Bratz are anti-stereotypical; they do not feel they have to do what everyone else is doing.


What makes Bratz dolls so popular?
NR: They’re cute, trendy, different, young, and diverse. Each girl can relate to one of them. And we’ve seen that girls do not necessarily pick the one of the same race as their favorite.
LB: The idea behind it was girls expressing themselves different ways, finding their own way.
Bratz all have “a passion for fashion.” How do clothes help you express yourself?
SS: Chloe loves sports and film-making, so that affects her look, jeans and hoodies.
LB: We all have unique and different styles in the movie, and it helps us show who our characters are, what makes each of us unique. We all have different color palates. Sasha is very Beyoncé, very classy, and animal prints are her signature.
ND: Yasmin wears fun, flirty dresses.
JP: Jade loves very funky, old stuff, loves to take something and “Jade-ify” it, with lots of chunky skull jewelry and lots of black.



What makes girls’ friendships so special?

JP: To have someone that’s always there for you not matter what, even though you have little fights and get torn apart.
LB: I have five best friends back in Georgia. We are there for each other with family situations, with school, they’re the ones that will help you when everyone is against you, exactly like in the film.

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Actors Interview

Inappropriate Themes in ‘Ratatouille’ and ‘Nancy Drew?’

Posted on June 11, 2007 at 10:39 pm

Two movies for kids coming out this month devote a significant amount of story-telling time to plot twists involving secret out-of-wedlock children whose fathers were never told that they existed. One is the PG “Nancy Drew” and the other is the G-rated “Ratatouille.” Is there anyone who thinks that this is an appropriate storyline for movies marketed for children? Is there anyone out there who looks forward to questions from a six-year-old about what a DNA test is for or how a father could be surprised to find out that he has a grown-up child or why a mother would want to keep such a secret?
It is not as though either of these is a sensitive treatment of a subject that may be of interest or concern to children living in a world of blended families and reproductive technology. In both cases, they are tossed into the plot more for convenience than for the expression of art or creativity. If the film-makers could not show some effort in designing a plot with more imagination, they could have taken the time to think about finding a plot with more resonance for children.

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Commentary Parenting Spoiler Alert Tweens Understanding Media and Pop Culture

American Dreamz

Posted on April 18, 2006 at 6:07 pm

The Roman rulers used to distract the populace from the problems of corruption and decadence with “bread and circuses.” Today’s equivalent might be junk food and television, especially “reality” television. It plays to our fascination with both “real people” and celebrities and especially with the magical moment of transformation — the magical possibility of our own transformation — from one category to the other.


This wild and wildly uneven satire imagines a dim and detached President from Texas, a bald, Machiavellian Vice President who calls the shots, and a television show in which contestants compete to be selected for stardom.


Sound familiar?


Writer-director Paul Weitz (American Pie, About a Boy) says he got the idea for this movie when he found that more people vote for “American Idol” than vote for President. He took those two things, combined them, cranked it up a notch, and tweaked it a little.


Dennis Quaid plays the distracted President, just re-elected and not able to grasp exactly what the world situation is and how he should respond to it. He just wants to stay in bed and read newsapers. Willem Dafoe is the Vice President, whose relationship with the President appears to be modeled on the relationship of a ventriloquist to his puppet.


“American Dreamz” (“with a z”) is the “American Idol”-equivalent and Hugh Grant is the Simon Cowell-equivalent, supercilious, arrogant, but looking like Hugh Grant and being on television so people let him get away with it. He hates just about everyone and everything, or he would if he had the energy to work up that much emotion. He’s more like bored and cranky.


But he’s clear on what he wants — a show everyone will watch. And so he has to make sure this year’s contestants are the most watchable ever, including Sally (Mandy Moore), a rapaciously ambitious small-town girl, and Omer (Sam Golzari), a show-tune-loving terrorist from a sleeper cell. Sally will do anything to win. Omer finds he may not be willing to do anything for his cause. And the President thinks he can improve his approval ratings by being a guest judge on the show.


The highlight of the film is Moore, a treat as Sally, clearly enjoying herself but clearly in control of the performance, so sincerely insincere that it’s almost appealing. The set-ups are better than the pay-offs, but the film effectively makes its points about celebrities — political and show business, and about American dreams (with an s), especially the foolish but endearing dream that we are all just a wish and a chance away from being a star.

Parents should know that the movie has some mature material, including some strong language and some sexual references and non-explicit situations. The subject matter, while satiric, includes terrorism and suicide. Characters drink alcohol. The movie includes diverse characters but some audiences may find the satiric exaggeration to be offensive stereotyping, or, with regard to the President, disrespectful.


Families who see this movie should talk about the appeal of “American Idol,” and why more people vote for the best singer than vote for in the presidential election. They should also talk about the role of satire as political commentary.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Wag the Dog, Saved! (with Moore), and Primary Colors (all with more mature material). They may also enjoy my interview with writer-director Paul Weitz.

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Comedy Musical Television

Flightplan

Posted on September 19, 2005 at 8:13 pm

It’s always a bad sign in a thriller when the big reveal is greeted by hoots of derisive laughter, and that’s what happened at this movie. It’s an even worse sign when two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster is out-acted by a child who is missing or unconscious for most of the movie, but that happened, too.

Just-widowed Kyle Pratt (Foster) is flying from Berlin to New York with her 6-year-old, Julia (Marlene Lawston), taking her husband’s casket home to be buried. They are exhausted and shaken, so they find some empty rows in the back of the plane and go to sleep. When Kyle wakes up, Julia is gone. As she searches the plane, getting more and more worried, the attitude of the flight attendants shifts from helpful to wary to hostile. It seems there is no evidence that Julia ever boarded the plane. A federal air marshall travelling undercover believes Kyle is delusional, and so does the captain. Kyle starts to wonder if they could be right.

Then it all veers into a level of preposterousness that would be too silly to go into even if it didn’t contain spoilers. There are some tense moments, but unlike the other recent airplane thriller, “Red Eye,” this one never creates a sense of claustrophobic containment. Kyle, an engineer who helped to design this aircraft, the largest ever, understands the blueprints well enough to know where to look, and as she keeps exploring new places, some of which appear positively cavernous, it dissipates the tension. So do the below-par one-note performances from Foster, Sarsgaard, and Sean Bean (as the pilot). This film may be called “Flightplan,” but it never takes flight and there is nothing that rises to the dignity of a plan of any kind. Discuss. But don’t bother with the movie.

Parents should know that this movie has intense peril and violence, including shooting, explosions, and references to murder, suicide, kidnapping, and molestation. There is some strong language, though less than average for a PG-13. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of a strong woman and the way it raises the issue of bigotry when some passengers assume that the Middle Eastern men on the airplane must be untrustworthy.

Families who see this movie should talk about how national security issues have affected the way people feel about air travel. They should also talk about the various arguments Kyle used and which ones were most persuasive.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy some of the far-better disappearing person classics, especially The Lady Vanishes (from which this film lifts one of its key clues), Bunny Lake is Missing, and So Long at the Fair, as well as Foster’s last Mother Courage performance in Panic Room all of which have vastly more satisfying conclusions than this one.

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“Gothika Rule” Action/Adventure Drama

Chariots of Fire

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for adult situations and language
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense moments of competition
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 1981
Date Released to DVD: July 9, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B00284AVN

In honor of the 2012 Olympics in London, this 1981 classic and winner of the Oscar for Best Picture has been reissued.

This is the true story of two athletes who raced in the 1924 Olympics, one a privileged Jewish student at Cambridge (Ben Cross as Harold Abrahams), the other a missionary from Scotland (Ian Charleson as Eric Liddell). Wonderfully evocative of the time and place, with superb performances, the movie shows us the source of the runners’ determination, for one a need to prove his worth to himself and the society that discriminates against him, for the other, a way of connecting to God.

The movie begins with the memorial service for Harold Abrahams, and then goes back to his first day at Cambridge, just after World War I. A speaker reminds the entering class that they must achieve for themselves and for those who were lost in the war. Abrahams is a bit arrogant, but finds friends and impresses the whole university by being the first to meet a long-term challenge and race all the way around the quad within the twelve strokes of the clock at noon.

Liddell is deeply committed to missionary work. But when his sister asks him to give up running so that he can go with her, he explains that “I believe God made me for a purpose. He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”

Abrahams is devastated when he loses to Liddell, saying he won’t race unless he can win. But his girlfriend reminds him that he can’t win unless he races. Both Abrahams and Liddell make the Olympic team. There is a crisis when Liddell’s event is scheduled for a Sunday, because he will not run on the Sabbath. But Lord Lindsay (Nigel Havers) graciously allows Liddell his place in a different event, “just for the pleasure of seeing you run,” and both Liddell and Abrahams win.

Both of the athletes must make difficult choices with a great deal of opposition. One uses a coach (who isn’t even English), in defiance of tradition and expectations. The other resists the urging of his sister, the person he loves most, who wants him to quit racing and defies the Prince of Wales, who wants him to race on the Sabbath.

One of the themes of the movie is the problems that the Jewish athlete has dealing with the prejudice of society. The other athlete has to confront the conflict between the dictates of his religion and the requirements of the sport (including the entreaties of the heir to the throne) when he is asked to compete on the Sabbath.

Families who watch this movie should talk about these questions: Why was running so important to these men? Was it different for different athletes? Why does Harold Abrahams think of quitting when he loses to Liddell? Have you ever felt that way? What did you do? Why doesn’t Eric’s sister want him to race? Why does he race despite her objections? Why don’t the teachers at Harold Abraham’s school think it is appropriate to have a coach? Would anyone think that today?

This movie deservedly won the Oscars for best picture, screenplay, costume design, and music.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy a two-part made for television miniseries called “The First Olympics — Athens 1896,” about the American team entering the first modern Olympics in 1896. It features Louis Jourdan (of “Gigi”), David Caruso (of the original cast of television’s “NYPD Blue”) and David Ogden Stiers (of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”). While it does not have the resonance and meaning (or the production values) of “Chariots of Fire,” it is heartwarming, funny, exciting, and a lovely period piece. Not currently available on video, it usually shows up on television around the time of Olympic competitions. An extremely silly movie about the first modern Olympics is “It Happened in Athens,” with Jayne Mansfield and real-life Olympic athlete Bob Mathias.

“Miracle on Ice,” another made for television movie, is the true story of the 1980 U.S. hockey team, which astonished the world at the Olympics in Lake Placid. Yet another Olympic made for television movie, “The Golden Moment,” is the story of a romance between a Soviet gymnast and an American athlete. Its primary charm is the fact that it takes place at an Olympics in which, in real life, the U.S. never competed — that was the year the U.S. protested the Soviet invasion of Afganistan by boycotting the Moscow Olympics.

See also “Cool Runnings” about the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team, “The Bob Mathias Story,” with the real-life decathalon champion playing himself, “The Jesse Owens Story,” with Dorian Harewood as the legendary athlete, and “Babe” with Susan Clark as Babe Deidrickson Zaharias.

On the silly side, try “Animalympics,” an animated spoof of the Olympics with some comical moments, and the very funny “Million Dollar Legs,” with W.C. Fields as the President of Klopstockia, a country entering the Olympics.

And of course Bud Greenspan’s documentaries about the Olympics are always worth watching, for the stories and the personalities as much as for the athletic achievements.

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