Holiday

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

After a whirlwind romance at a ski resort, Johnny Case (Cary Grant) is on his way to meet his new fiancée, Julia Seton (Doris Nolan). Overwhelmed by the mansion at the address she gave him, he assumes she must be on the staff, and goes to the back door to ask about her. But she is the daughter of the wealthy and distinguished family that occupies the house. He is surprised and amused, and enjoys meeting Julia’s sister Linda (Katherine Hepburn) and brother Ned (Lew Ayres). They promise to help him win over their father, who is likely to object to the engagement, because Johnny is not from an upper-class wealthy family.

Johnny is a poor boy who has worked hard and done very well. Julia likes him because she sees a similarity to her grandfather, who made a fortune. She wants him to do the same, and tells him, “There’s nothing more exciting than making money.” But Johnny, who has just taken the first vacation of his life, only wants to make enough so that he can take a “holiday,” to “find out why I’ve been working.” As the movie begins, he is about to achieve that goal.

Linda thinks this is a great idea. She is something of an outsider in the family, forsaking the huge formal rooms of the mansion for one cozy place upstairs, which she calls “the only home I’ve got.” She tries to persuade Julia and their father that Johnny is right. Even though he completes the deal that gives him enough for his holiday, Johnny gives in and promises Julia to try it her way, and go to work for her father for a while. As her father presents them with a honeymoon itinerary and explains he is arranging for a house and servants for them, Johnny balks. He knows that if he accepts all of this, he will never be able to walk away from it. Julia breaks the engagement, and Linda joins Johnny on his holiday.

Kids should talk about why it was so important to Linda that she be allowed to give the engagement party. Why did Johnny change his mind about trying it Julia’s way? If you were going to take a holiday, what would you do? Remember, this is more than a vacation, it is more like a journey of discovery. Where would you go? What would you hope to find? How do you think people decide what jobs they want to have? Ask your parents what they thought about in choosing their jobs, and whether they ever took (or wanted to take) a “holiday.” What do you think Johhny will do at the end of his holiday? If Linda thought making money was exciting, why didn’t she want to do it herself?

Many kids will identify with the feeling of wanting to take a holiday, to step back from daily life and study the larger picture. The idea that other things are more important than making money and living according to traditional standards of success may also have some appeal. This is a good opportunity to talk with them about what success really means, and about finding the definition within yourself instead of putting too much weight on the definitions of others. There is nothing inherently wrong with making a fortune, of course, just as there is nothing inherently wrThis movie has two exceptionally appealing characters in Johnny’s friends the Potters, played by Jean Dixon and Edward Everett Horton. Their kindness and wisdom contrasts with the superficial values of the Seton family.

Cary Grant began in show business as an acrobat, and you can see him show off some of that prowess in this movie. The same stars, director, author and scriptwriter worked on another classic, “The Philadelphia Story.”

 

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Peter Pan

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril; a swordfight
Diversity Issues: Sexist comments about girls, insensitive comments about Indians
Date Released to Theaters: 1953
Date Released to DVD: February 4, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00A0MJ9ZA

Disney’s latest release is a beautiful Blu-Ray of one of its animated classics, the Disney version of the Victorian classic about the boy who would never grow up. Wendy, Michael, and John Darling, three London children, meet Peter Pan, a boy who can fly. He has been drawn to their warm, comfortable home, and to Wendy’s stories. He sprinkles them with fairy dust and they fly off past the “second star to the right,” where he lives in a magical place called Neverland. There they rescue an Indian princess, and fight pirates led by Captain Hook, before returning home to wave goodbye as Peter returns to Neverland without them.

The animation in this movie is as lively as its energetic hero. The scenes set in Victorian London are beautiful, and the shift in perspective as the children round Big Ben and fly off to Neverland is sublimely vertiginous.

Most children see Peter as that wonderful ideal, a child with the power to do whatever he pleases for as long as he pleases. The story does have moments that are whimsical but also very odd — the nanny is a dog, the crocodile that ate Captain Hook’s hand keeps following him for another taste, Peter loses his shadow, the Lost Boys have no parents, and unlike Peter, no special powers, fairy guardian, or unquenchable brio. Some children find this engaging, but a few find it troublesome, or worry about what happened to Peter’s parents and whether he will be all right without them. They may also be sad that the story ends with Peter bringing the Darling children home and then going back to Neverland without them.

Parents should know that the “What Makes the Red Man Red” song is embarrassingly racist and sexist. There is also a sexist overlay to the entire story, with Peter rapturously adored by all the females and at best indifferent in return. A best-selling pop psychology book of some years ago played off of this notion, theorizing that some men suffer from “The Peter Pan Syndrome” (fear of commitment), dividing women into two categories, mother-figure “Wendys” and playmate “Tinkerbells.” Tinkerbell, who is, of course, a fairy, is the only female in the story who is capable of much action other than nurturing, and she is petty and spiteful (though ultimately loyal). When he first meets Wendy, Peter says “Girls talk too much,” which one boy who watched with me thought was rapturously funny.

Families who watch this movie should talk about these questions: Have you ever thought that you didn’t want to grow up? Have you ever thought that you’d like to be a grown up right now? What would you do? Would you like to visit Neverland?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the many other versions of this popular story. Interestingly, this animated version was the first to feature a real boy (instead of a woman) in the title role. The Mary Martin version for television that parents of today’s kids may remember from their own childhoods is available on video, with Cyril Ritchard impeccable as Mr. Darling/Captain Hook, and a terrific score that includes “I’m Flying” and “Tender Shepherd.” A remake with Cathy Rigby as a very athletic Peter is also very good. Don’t waste your time on Steven Spielberg’s 1991 sequel, “Hook,” with Robin Williams as a grown- up Peter Pan who must go back to rescue his children from Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook with the help of Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell. The stars, the production design, and some spectacular special effects cannot make up for the incoherent joylessness of the script and genuinely disturbing moments like the death of one of the lost boys.

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10 Things I Hate About You

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Bianca, a beautiful high school sophomore, longs for a social life. But her father will not let her date until her older sister Kat does. Sound familiar? This is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” set in a Tacoma, Washington high school. The movie benefits from appealing performers and some genuinely fresh and funny dialogue, but parents should know that it contains a good bit of material that may be inappropriate for younger teens.

Commedian Larry Miller is terrific as the girls’ father, overprotective because their mother abandoned the family and because as an obstetrician he sees too many pregnant teenagers. But the teachers in the movie are more juvenile than the kids, including a guidance counselor more concerned with writing a very steamy novel than with the behavior and well-being of the students, an English teacher who insults the kids and is arbitrary with discipline, and a soccer coach who is all but comatose at the sight of a girl’s breasts, which she flashes to distract him from a boy’s escape from detention.

Parents should also know that there are a great many references to sex, even by the standards of teen comedies, and especially a number of references to male genitalia, including a boy who draws a picture on the face of another and a boy who pretends to expose himself in the lunchroom, using a bratwurst, as well as the usual teen references to who has “done it.” There is a wild party, with teen drinking and smoking, and brief references to drug use. The scene mentioned above, in which a girl bears her breasts to a teacher, is worth discussing.

On the positive side, the heroines demonstrate a very healthy attitude and strong self-esteem, defending their hearts and their bodies very capably. One admits to having had a bad sexual experience in 9th grade, then deciding she was not ready for sexual involvement, and learning to think for herself in the future. And when one of the characters decides to drink tequila at a party, she ends up dancing in an embarassing fashion and then throwing up in front of the boy she likes.

Kids who enjoy this movie should watch the video of The Taming of the Shrewstarring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The many parallels will make them appreciate this version even more.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Four couples sort out their romantic entanglements in Shakespeare’s most magical love story. Hermia and Lysander love each other, but her father wants her to marry Demetrius. Demetrius loves Hermia, but is loved by her friend Helena. When Hermia and Lysander run off together, Helena tells Demetrius, and he chases after them, with Helena chasing him. Meanwhile, as the four lovers wander in an enchanted forest, the fairy queen and king argue over custody of a changeling child. The local Duke prepares for his marriage to a woman who seems not entirely sure she wants to marry him, and a group of workmen rehearse a play to perform at the wedding celebration.

With the help of his mischevious companion, the fairy king obtains the juice of a magical flower that causes people to fall in love with whomever they first see after they wake up to his queen and to Lysander and Demetrius. The queen falls in love with a man who has a donkey’s head. Lysander and Demetrius both fall in love with the neglected Helena, forgetting all about Hermia. But by morning, everything is sorted out, and the wedding festivities end with the workmen’s remarkable play.

Filmed several times before, most famously with James Cagney as Bottom and Mickey Rooney as the Puck, this sumptuous version manages to be both earthy and enchanted. The cast includes Hollywood royalty (Michelle Pfeiffer as Fairy Queen Titania, theater-trained performers (including Ally McBeal’s Calista Flockhart and and Kevin Kline, magnificent as Bottom the would-be actor), international stars Sophie Marceau and Rupert Everett, and “new vaudevillian” and MacArthur genius grant award-winner Bill Irwin. The resulting mix of acting styles clashes at times, as does the mix of music and the switch of setting from ancient Athens to 19th century Tuscany, arias and all. Ultimately, though, it is charming, an accessible introduction to the works of that guy in the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow.

Parents should know that there is some earthiness (including an inexplicit scene of Puck relieving himself, some brief nudity, and Hermia’s firm resolve not to have sex with Lysander until they are married).

Kids will enjoy the movie more if they have some basic introduction to the plot. They may want to talk about an era in which a father could order his child to marry the person he chose, about “the course of true love,” and how people work out the problems in relationships. Older kids may like to talk about the metaphor of an enchanted forest as a place to find self-knowledge and to resolve issues.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton version of “Taming of the Shrew” and the Franco Zeffirelli version of “Romeo and Juliet.”

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