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

Wallace & Gromit – The Wrong Trousers

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Oscar-winner Nick Parks’ claymation masterpieces are thrilling, witty, and enormous fun. In this one, dim inventor Wallace has created mechanical trousers designed for walking his wise but silent dog, Gromit. They are rewired by a wicked penguin who turns out to be a master thief.

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Animation Comedy For all ages For the Whole Family Talking animals

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This movie is only slightly behind “Phantom Menace” in anticipation and excitement among kids, but parents need to know that it is very, very, very raunchy, with incessant and prolonged sexual humor. Because it is a comedy, the rating system gives it a PG-13, but the material would clearly get an R if it appeared in a drama. Do not kid yourself that some of these jokes are “over their heads.” Those kids who do not see it — or who do see it and miss some of the jokes — will hear detailed explanations from those who do of references like Powers asking one woman “Which is it, spits or swallows?” and pretty much every woman “Do I make you horny?” In addition, the movie features character names Felicity Shagwell and Ivana Humpalot, a rocket shaped like a penis (described by a series of characters with every imaginable euphemism), references to a one-night stand “getting weird,” an extended sequence in which it appears that a number of objects are removed from Powers’ rectum, and Powers’ inability to perform in bed due to his missing “mojo.” There is also a good deal of potty humor, including Powers mistaking a stool sample for coffee.

The movie is very funny at times and always genial enough to inspire generosity toward the jokes that don’t work. Spy boss Basil Exposition (Michael York) wisely advises both Powers and the audience not to think too much about the plot. So we are left with a series of skits as Austin Powers (Mike Meyers) loses his wife (Elizabeth Hurley from the first movie, who turns out to be a killer robot), meets up with CIA agent Felicity Shagwell (deliciously pretty Heather Graham) and goes after Dr. Evil (also Mike Myers), still plotting world domination, with the assistance of Number Two (played by Robert Wagner in the scenes set in the present and Rob Lowe doing a great Robert Wagner impersonation in the scenes set in the past). Dr. Evil goes back in time to 1969 to steal Powers’ “mojo” with the help of a huge Scot called Fat Bastard (also Mike Meyers) and Powers goes back to 1969 to retrieve it. Meanwhile, Dr. Evil is still struggling with his dysfunctional relationship with his son (Seth Green), who goes on the Jerry Springer show to talk about it with other children of fathers plotting world domination. Dr. Evil becomes very attached to a tiny clone of himself, christened “Mini-Me” and takes time out from extorting billions of dollars from the President (Tim Robbins) to sing “Just the Two of Us” with him. And somehow everyone ends up on the moon.

This is silly fun for its core audience of college kids. They will find the jokes about the 1980’s wildly funny, though they may miss some of the jokes about the 1960’s. Parents should be very cautious about allowing children or young teens to see the movie, and should be prepared to talk with kids who see or hear about it, to answer questions, explain family standards on the use of the language in the movie, and to provide reassurance.

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Action/Adventure Comedy Satire Spies

Mystery, Alaska

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

The coming attraction makes it clear that “Mystery, Alaska” is your basic “Rocky” movie about a grown-up version of the Mighty Ducks — a team from a small, hockey-worshipping Alaska town gets a chance to play the New York Rangers. So we expect your basic redemption through sports plot, including the death of a loveable character, the healing of old wounds, the learning of important lessons about teamwork and pride, endearingly quirky players, deeper understanding and acceptance between family members, a young player just beginning and an older one approaching time to hang up his skates, and at least one speech about how our guys don’t play for money, they play for the love of the game! And we settle back, waiting for our hearts to be warmed.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The reason that formulas endure is that they usually work, as long as the details are all right and there is nothing too overtly manipulative, and nothing that interferes with our ability to suspend disbelief. And here the details are pretty good, especially the feel of the remote, snowy town, where kids skate the river and make out in snowplows and everyone turns out every week to watch the Saturday hockey game. And there are fine ensemble performances. The hockey game is pretty good, too. And there are a couple of very funny guest cameos to pick things up near the end.

Prodigal son Charles Danner (Hank Azaria), who left to be a big city writer, brings in the Rangers after his article about the weekly game in Mystery, Alaska. Despite the fact that the town judge (Burt Reynolds) cautions against it, urging the town to cling to their illusions and their dignity, the people cannot resist their chance at the big time. Local sheriff John Biebe (Russell Crowe), just dropped from the team to make room for a high school student who skates like a rocket, agrees to coach. Everyone has issues to resolve – the judge is harsh and rigid, the high school kid and his girlfriend are exploring sex, the sheriff’s difficulty in being cut from the team comes just as his wife’s former boyfriend shows up, the town lothario (Ron Eldard) has some unfinished business with a couple of different women and one angry husband, a huge chain store is thinking of coming to town to compete with the local businesses, and those Rangers look awfully big up close.

It is all very predictable, but also very watchable. I predict that they’ll get at least one “the feel-good movie of the year!” blurb for the newspaper ads. And they might even be right.

Parents should know that there is very strong and very vivid language, including locker-room style descriptions of sex, a child’s use of four- letter words played for humor, a wounded man’s use of very strong language played for humor, a character who has casual sex with almost every woman he meets (and who apologizes to the husband of one of them, with no suggestion that this might make the woman seem like property), explicit depictions of sexual encounters, including one between teenagers, and some violence (punched noses, semi-accidental shooting resulting in minor injury). The teen-age girl says that she wants to have sex because she is afraid of losing her boyfriend, which parents may want to discuss. The boy makes it clear that he is perfectly comfortable with waiting, and does not want to do it for that reason. They then go ahead, but are not able to complete the act, which causes great feelings of insecurity for both of them. Her mother, though clearly uncomfortable, responds with sympathy and support.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original Rocky and Crowe’s performances in The Insider and A Beautiful Mind.

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Comedy Family Issues Sports

Wild Wild West

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

“The Wild Wild West” has the weak, weak script. It is not unusual to see a trailer that is better than the movie, but in this case the music video is brighter, wittier, and more exciting than the movie.

Will Smith may still own the 4th of July, but this year’s entry is much weaker than his 1996-97 one-two punch of “Independence Day” and “Men in Black.” His unquenchable appeal goes a long way toward making up for poor plotting and dialogue, but not far enough, leaving us with a summer popcorn movie — impossible to resist at the time, but leaving you a bit queasy afterward.

The 1960s television show starred Robert Conrad in a bolero jacket and very tight pants as a Civil War era secret agent. Like the newly popular James Bond, West was a spy who was infinitely attractive with the ladies and who always triumphed over the bad guys, who were always maniacs intent on three things — total world domination, killing West in fiendishly complex contraptions, and making sure that they conveniently explained all their plans to West in time for him to escape from the fiendishly complex contraptions and save the world again. West’s sidekick Artemus Gordon was a master of disguise and technology. Their most frequent foe was Dr. Loveless, played in the series by Michael Dunn. And the whole thing was very much tongue in cheek.

The big-screen version has Will Smith as West, all bolero jacket, tight pants, and attitude, with Kevin Kline as Gordon, Kenneth Branagh as Dr. Loveless, and Salma Hayek as the lovely Rita Escobar, who flirts with all three men and spends much of the movie in fetching 19th century lingerie with a brief detour into a union suit with the trap door open. The plot remains the same — Dr. Loveless, vowing revenge for losing his entire lower half in the Civil War, seeks total world domination, and West and Gordon have a week to stop him. There is some attempt to deal with the fact that West is a black man at a time when most black people had only recently been freed from slavery, but the fact is that the entire movie is so completely preposterous that the effort is awkward and inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the film.

Indeed, the overall tone of the film is awkward, not giving Kline or Hayak much to do, though Kline has a nice turn as President Grant and Hayak looks fetching in her undies. Branagh is happily over the top as the bad guy, there are some cool special effects, and Smith’s charm and grace carry it a long way, but not far enough to make it anything more than a pleasant diversion less raunchy than “Austin Powers.” Parents should know that there are some PG-13 sexual references, including prostitutes and Loveless’ impotence and a lot of cartoon-style action- violence.

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Action/Adventure Based on a television show Comedy Remake Spies
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