Galaxy Quest

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This is one of the funniest movies of the year, hilariously but affectionately skewering television sci-fi, its stars, and its fans. Not since William Shatner told Trekkers Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz to “get a life” back on Saturday Night Live has there been such a sublime look at this world, reminding us, in these days of Adam Sandler and the Farrelly brothers, that intelligence and humor are not mutually exclusive. The fast, funny, and fresh script takes a terrific premise and unreels it in a tightly constructed farce that is filled with surprises. Perhaps the biggest one is that we really come to care about the characters.

Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, and Sigourney Weaver play former stars of a cheesy “Star Trek”-style show that ended nearly 20 years ago. Their only paying jobs are appearances at conventions of fans and store openings with their co-stars. A group of aliens who received the television transmissions of the program’s reruns and thought they were documentaries comes to Earth to ask for their help.

The TV stars find themselves on a real-life replica of their television series spaceship, lovingly constructed by the aliens to replicate every detail from the show. And they find themselves in a real-life confrontation with a lizard-looking tyrant named Sarris, trying hard to remember lines and plots from old episodes to help them defeat him.

The people behind this movie have watched a lot of Star Trek. Rickman, who played a character somewhere between Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock, stares glumly at his alien gill make-up in the mirror and murmurs about the time he got five curtain calls as Richard III. Sam Rockwell (very far from his role earlier this month as the evil prisoner in “The Green Mile”) plays an extra who was killed on one episode, worries that he’ll be killed for real on this mission, because “my character is not important enough for a last name.” Tony Shaloub, as the Scottie equivalent tries to reassure him: “Maybe you’re the plucky comic relief!” The responsibility assigned to Sigourney Weaver, the Lt. Uhura equivalent, is repeating everything the computer says (and wearing a low-cut uniform).

After a string of slob comedies, it is a special joy to see one that is so sharply written and performed. Acting! Satire! Dialogue! Plot! I remember those! I’m just glad someone else does, too. If movies got curtain calls, I’d give this one five. (Be sure to check out the brilliantly designed “unofficial” website at http://www.galaxyquest.com/galaxyquest)

Parents should know that there is some cartoonish sci-fi violence, some of it rather gross, and one sad death, a character gets so drunk he passes out, and is then very hung over, and there are mild references to Allen’s character sleeping “with every Terakian slave girl and moon princess” on the show.

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Comedy Satire Science-Fiction

The Waterboy

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

If you’ve seen the coming attraction and you still want to see this movie, then you are probably between the ages of 12 and 16 and will probably recognize all of the “played by themselves” sports stars who make cameos. Adam Sandler plays Bobby Boucher, a 31 year old man who lives with his mother and cares only about providing the freshest, most delicious water for the football team. Fired by the coach (Jerry Reed), he volunteers to be the unpaid waterboy for a team that hasn’t won a game in four years. Although his mother has raised him to avoid all relationships and he hates confrontation, it turns out that when he gets angry he can tackle a Mack truck. So, he becomes a football star, gets the girl (Fairuza Balk as a tatooed felon, but a loveable one), and teaches his mother and himself that he can be more independent. Sandler uses an especially annoying voice throughout and there isn’t much energy in the script or performances. I cannot recommend it, but recognize that many adolescents will enjoy it, if only to be able to trade the punchlines with their friends. Parents should know that the movie has locker-room style bad language and mild sexual references.

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Comedy Sports

Life is Beautiful

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This Oscar-winner for Best Actor and Best Foreign Film is a “fable” is about a father’s love for his wife and son in the midst of the Holocaust. Writer/director Roberto Begnini stars as a Chaplinesque character who charms a beautiful teacher by creating a world of gentle magic around them. The first half of the movie is their sweet love story, with only faint foreshadowing of the tragedies that lie ahead.

But then Begnini and his wife and child are sent to a concentration camp. To protect his son’s life, he teaches him to hide from the guards during the day. To protect his son’s heart, he constructs an elaborate fantasy that they are participating in a very difficult contest to win the ultimate prize, a real tank. And his son finds that this make sense, and he goes along with it.

This movie inspired a lot of controversy from people who said that it was an inaccurate portrayal of the Holocaust, and that it was wrong to set a comedy, even a gentle bittersweet one, in a concentration camp. But the movie is never less than respectful of the suffering during the Holocaust, and of the impossibility of any kind of real portrayal of that experience. Even “Schindler’s List” is not a portrayal of the Holocaust. That experience is fundamentally incomprehensible. The best we can hope for from art is that it gives us glimpses. This movie gives us such a glimpse, but it is really about love, and the indominability of humanity even in the midst of inhumanity.

We often see in life and in movies that people react to extreme adversity by magnifying whatever sense of control they have left — think of Mrs. Van Dam’s focus on her coat in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” absurd in light of the fact that they never go outside, so she has no real need for a coat, but important because somehow she has chosen the coat as a place to locate her sense of herself as not having lost everything. In “Life is Beautiful,” the father focuses on his special talent for creating a feeling of magic to protect his son from the worst reality of the Holocaust, the sense of utter betrayal. Very importantly, he gives his son a sense of control, by letting him think that he has made the choice to participate in the contest. And knowing that he has kept his child’s faith intact gives him a sense of control, and purpose, that keeps him going.

This is an excellent movie for families to watch together, to discuss not just the historical framework but challenges that parents face when they see their children learn about tragedy and unfairness.

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Classic Comedy Drama Family Issues Romance Tragedy

The Whole Nine Yards

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Surprisingly enough, there is a nice little comedy genre about mob hit men living in suburbia. This one doesn’t quite live up to Steve Martin’s neglected gem “My Blue Heaven,” but it has some very funny moments.

Matthew Perry plays Oz, a miserable dentist from Chicago, now living in Canada with a wife (Rosanna Arquette) who despises him. He is trying to pay off the debts of her father, who had been his partner, and who embezzled money and then committed suicide.

When the notorious Jimmy “The Tulip” Tedeski (Bruce Willis) moves next door, Oz becomes involved in a series of double- and triple-crosses, involving Jimmy’s former colleagues in the mob, an assortment of hired killers, and Jimmy’s beautiful and lonely wife, Cynthia (Natasha Henstridge, both funny and surprisingly tender).

This is a fast and funny comedy that checks morality and political correctness at the door. Perry spends most of his time falling down, when he isn’t getting beat up (mostly by “The Green Mile’s” Michael Clark Duncan). Amanda Peet is simply terrific as Oz’s sympathetic receptionist, with an unexpected expertise in hired killers. And the resolution, following a tough choice between love or money, is very satisfying.

Parents should know that this movie is rated R for language, sexual references and situations (including sex used as a negotiating technique), substance abuse (including liquor used to cope with problems), and violence (including the death of a major character).

Families who see this movie can discuss issues of loyalty and the choice put to Natasha Henstridge’s character at the end.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Married to the Mob,” with Michelle Pfeiffer.

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Comedy Crime Family Issues

Mumford

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This is a cleverly updated version of a 1930’s movie staple — a genial small-town comedy with eccentric but endearing characters and a leading man who is not what he pretends to be. Loren Dean plays Doctor Mumford, a psychologist who has become very popular after just a few months in town (also called Mumford), despite unconventional methods of treatment. He refuses to treat a patient he finds annoying (Martin Short) and casually reveals information from his sessions to other people. But he is a good listener, his patients like him, and he seems to have real insight. Most important, he really helps them.

His patients seem to have a wide variety of problems. A pharmacist lives in a world of pulp-fiction fantasies. A wealthy woman is a compulsive shopper. A teen-age girl wants to look like the models in fashion magazines. A beautiful young woman (Hope Davis) has chronic fatigue syndrome. And a high-tech billionaire named Skip (Jason Lee) just needs someone to talk to. As they talk to Mumford, though, it becomes clear that all of them have the same problem — a need to connect to another person, and a fear that they are not worthy. And it turns out that Doctor Mumford has the same problem, too. He had come to Mumford (the name and the town) to escape the mistakes of his past. When he finds a real friend in Skip, he begins to be able allow someone to know the truth about his past. And when he falls in love with one of his patients, he realizes that he has to tell everyone the truth about himself and be accountable for his past mistakes.

Writer/director Lawrence Kasden brings his “Big Chill” ability to create a believable world with many interesting and engaging characters struggling with issues of intimacy and risk. Doctor Mumford says that his hope for his pharmacist patient is to make him comfortable enough to star in his own fantasies. In a way, that is what he does for all of his patients, even himself, only to find that they can then move on to the real thing.

Parents should know that this movie has a lot of mature material, including nudity and sexual references and drug abuse. Mature teens will appreciate the struggles of the teen-age characters to find a way to feel good enough about themselves to enter into a relationship, and the disconnect between the words and the feelings of Mumford’s teen-age patient. Families should discuss the role that families play in the way each member sees himself, and how the families in the movie help or hurt each other.

Note: Listen for the pharmacist’s comment about “the lost ark,” a reference to one of Kasden’s most famous screenplays.

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Comedy Remake
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