Titanic

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Classic Greek tragedies explored the theme of hubris as human characters dared to take on the attributes of the gods only to find their hopes crushed. This is a real-life story of hubris, as the ship declared to be “unsinkable” (and therefore not equipped with lifeboats for the majority of the passengers) sank on its maiden voyage from England to the United States.

In this blockbuster movie, winner of ten Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director and on its way to becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time, the disaster serves as the backdrop to a tragic love story between Rose (Kate Winslet), an upper class (though impoverished) girl and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), a lower class (though artistic) boy who won the ticket in a poker game. Parents should know that the movie features brief nudity (as Rose poses for Jack) and suggested sex (in a steamy car). A much more serious concern is the tragedy itself, with hundreds of frozen dead bodies floating in the water, which may be upsetting or even terrifying for some kids.

The movie raises important questions about choices faced by the characters, as we see a wide range of behavior from the most honorable to the most despicable. The captain (whose decision to try to break a speed record contributed to the disaster) and the ship’s designer (whose plan for additional lifeboats was abandoned because it made the decks look too cluttered) go down with the ship, but the owner and Rose’s greedy and snobbish fiance survive. Molly Brown (dubbed “Unsinkable” for her bravery that night) tries to persuade the other passengers in the lifeboats to go back for the rest. But they refuse, knowing that there is no way to rescue them without losing their own lives. They wait to be picked up by another ship, listening to the shrieks of the others until they all gone.

Many parents have asked me about the appeal of this movie to young teens, especially teen-age girls. The answer is that in addition to the appeal of its young stars, director James Cameron has written an almost perfect adolescent fantasy for girls. Rose is an ideal heroine, rebelling against her mother’s snobbishness and insistence that she marry for money. And Jack is an ideal romantic hero — sensitive, brave, honorable, completely devoted, and (very important for young girls) not aggressive (she makes the decision to pursue the relationship, and he is struck all but dumb when she insists on posing nude). If he is not quite androgynous, he is not exactly bursting with testosterone either, and, ultimately, he is not around. As with so many other fantasies of the perfect romance, from Heathcliff and Cathy in “Wuthering Heights” to Rick and Ilse in “Casablanca” the characters have all the pleasures of the romantic dream with no risk of having to actually build a life with anyone. It is interesting that the glimpses we get of Rose’s life after the Titanic show her alone, though we meet her granddaughter and hear her refer to her husband. Parents can have some very good discussions with teens about this movie by listening carefully and respectfully when they explain why it is important to them, as this is a crucial stage in their development.

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Based on a true story Classic Romance Tragedy

1776

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Happy Independence Day!

1776.jpg

This rousing musical about the Declaration of Independence makes the Founding Fathers vivid, human, and interesting characters, and is so involving that you almost forget that you already know how it all turned out. William Daniels is the “obnoxious and disliked” John Adams, Ken Howard is Thomas Jefferson, who would rather be with his wife than work on the Declaration, and Howard da Silva is a wry and witty Benjamin Franklin. As they debate independence, we see the courage that went into the birth of the United States, and as they compromise with the South to permit slavery in the brand-new country we see the tragedy. Outstanding family entertainment.

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Based on a true story Epic/Historical For the Whole Family Musical

Erin Brockovich

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

The poster says, “She brought a small town to its feet and a huge company to its knees.” So we know where it’s all going, and just settle back to enjoy the ride. And an enjoyable ride it is, too.

The guy who deserves next year’s best acting Oscar is the actor who has the impossible job of playing a doctor who is interviewing single mother Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) for a job and is not utterly charmed by her. The audience has no such obligation, and we lose our hearts immediately.

Erin leaves that interview, climbs into her crummy car, and gets slammed into by another doctor. When she loses her lawsuit against him, she forces the lawyer who represented her to give her a job (Albert Finney as Ed Masry). No one wants her there, and no one likes her because she has a big mouth and wears trashy clothes. But she is curious and tenacious. She gets interested in a real estate file that includes medical records, and she goes off to investigate.

It turns out that the community of Hinkley has been poisoned by hexavent chromium, leaching into the drinking water from a PG&E plant. Erin is able to gain the trust of the community and help Ed put together a case that would win the largest direct claim settlement in American history.

Julia Roberts keeps getting better and better, more luminous, and at the same time more vulnerable and more in control. She plays Erin as a woman who never stopped believing in herself and yet is deeply touched when others believe in her, too. She understands the way the people in Hinkley feel, mistrustful of lawyers and overwhelmed by the odds. She understands that “people want to tell their stories.” And she has enough confidence in herself to know that, while she might not have been able to keep her beauty queen promise of ending world hunger, this is a promise she can keep.

She understands, too, that there will be costs. A romance with a loving biker/nanny (George, played by Aaron Eckhart, who makes that combination endearingly believable) and her relationships with her children are threatened by her devotion to the case. In a heartbreaking scene, she is driving back home after a hard day and George tells her that her baby spoke her first word. Erin is overjoyed at the news and devastated to have missed it. The look in her eyes as George tells her all about it is complex, rich, perfect.

And there are many “Rocky”/”Norma Rae”-style feel-good moments, like when PG&E’s first lawyer, looking like a high school debate club president, tries to bully Erin and Ed, and when Erin uses everything from her cleavage to her baby to get access to the records she needs.

Parents should know that the movie’s R rating comes from very strong language and some sexual references (Erin jokes that she got the cooperation of the town’s residents by performing sexual favors). And no matter how high the settlement, the fact remains that children and their families were made terribly ill, and no amount of money will make up for that.

Families who watch this movie should talk about why it is that Erin is able to connect with the residents of Hinkley, why she is reluctant to accept help from anyone, and the importance of not judging people based on their appearance. They may also want to talk about the issue of corporate responsibility. No one at PG&E wanted anyone to get hurt. How do problems like lack of accountability arise?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Sally Fields’ Oscar-winning performance in “Norma Rae.”

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Based on a true story Courtroom Drama Family Issues Inspired by a true story

Jackie Robinson Story

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

For Black History Month, take a look at this neglected gem about the first black baseball player to play in the major leagues. The primary appeal of this movie is that Robinson plays himself (with Ruby Dee as his wife). It is forthright about the racial issues, but inevitably appears somewhat naive by today’s standards.

Connections: Dee appears as Robinson’s mother in a worthwhile made-for-television movie called “The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson.” Older kids might enjoy the episode of the Ken Burns “Baseball” series that covers the integration of the major leagues. And mature teens should see “Bingo Long Travelling All-Stars and Motor Kings,” a lively (and sometimes raunchy and violent) story about the last days of baseball’s Negro League.

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Based on a true story Biography Sports
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