Drowning Mona

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

I guess they thought they were going to make another “Fargo.” That’s the only possible explanation for the time this talented cast spent making this awful movie.

There are movies that paint small town America as an idyllic oasis of charming quirkiness and family values. Then there are movies like this one that portray it as teeming viper pits of stupidity, cupidity, and sex in cheap motels.

Mona (Bette Midler) is a harridan universally despised by everyone in her small New York town. Her Yugo drives off a cliff into the water, and no one seems too upset. The town mortician notes, “I’ve seen people more upset over losing change in a candy machine.” When it turns out that the brakes were tampered with, almost everyone in town is a suspect. That includes her husband and son, the waitress who is having affairs with both of them, and her son’s business partner. A kindly police officer with an affection for Broadway musicals (Danny DeVito) drives (and drives and drives) all over town in his Yugo trying to sort it all out, a sort of Agatha Christie on acid as rewritten by Sam Shepard. Any movie that tries to wring humor with Yugos and funny character names (Mona Dearly, Officer Rash, Bobby Calzone) is going down for the third time, and no one should bother to throw it a life preserver.

There are a couple of funny lines, and the cast is game, but it just doesn’t work. In keeping with the 1970’s setting, Casey Affleck has a doe- eyed Shawn Cassidy look. Neve Campbell, as his fiancee, shows a nice asperity and a light touch with comedy. Midler is disappointingly uninteresting as the title character, and the ultimate resolution of the murder mystery is both obvious and unsatisfying.

Parents should know that the movie includes sexual references and situations (including a brief shot of a couple in bondage outfits), an out of wedlock pregancy, a character’s hand being chopped off (and many shots of the stump), a lot of drinking and smoking, a girl/girl kiss, a threatened suicide, and, of course, murders. Families who decide to see this movie should discuss why people may stay in dysfunctional situations.

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Comedy Crime Family Issues Mystery

Stuart Little

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

E.B. White’s story of a family whose son happens to be a mouse is lovingly Hollywood-ized. In other words, it bears very little relationship to the book but has a lot of great special effects. Fans of the book will do well to stay at home and re-read it, but families looking for some good action scenes, appealing characters, and a wise-cracking cat will enjoy it very much.

Mr. and Mrs. Little (Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis) drop son George (Jonathan Lipnicki) off at school on their way to the orphanage to adopt a child. They fall in love with Stuart (voice of Michael J. Fox), who is charming, insightful, unselfish — and a mouse. Despite warnings against “inter-species” adoption, they bring him home.

George is disappointed. He does not see how Stuart will ever be able to play with him. And maybe he is a little more jealous than he was expecting. He insists, “He’s not my brother — he’s a mouse!”

But that is nothing compared to the ferocious resentment of another member of the Little family — Snowball the cat. Snowball (hilariously voiced by Nathan Lane) is furious at being told that “we don’t eat family members,” and humiliated at having a mouse as “an owner.” He plots to get rid of Stuart.

Stuart manages to surmount the literally enormous obstacles of a world way out of proportion. He even wins over George, after he demonstrates his courage and loyalty in a boat race in Central Park. But he still feels an emptiness inside, and wonders about his birth parents.

Then two mice show up claiming to be his birth parents. Stuart realizes that the Littles are his real family. “You don’t have to look alike. You don’t even have to like each other.” Your family are the people who stick with you. His home is where they are.

This is a terrific family movie. Stuart, created entirely through computer graphics, is perfectly integrated into the live action. And I do mean action — the boat race and chase sequences are among the most exciting on screen this year. The script by the screenwriter/director of “The Sixth Sense” does not talk down to kids and has some genuine insights about sibling rivalry, the fear of failure, and family.

It is worth noting that this movie had by far the most enthusiastic audience reaction of any I saw this year, with shrieks of joy when Snowball went into the trash can and cheers at the boat race and chase scenes. I have to admit, I felt like cheering myself.

Parents should know that the movie is rated PG for brief mild language and scenes of peril.

Adoptive and foster families may want to think carefully about whether the themes will be upsetting or reassuring to their children. They should prepare adopted or foster children before they see the movie. They can emphasize the way that the Littles selected Stuart because they could tell he was right for them, and they should make it clear (if appropriate) that they would never let anyone take their children away. Like Stuart, they can explain that they recognize that families are people who stick up for each other. In the movie, it was not just Stuart who learned that lesson — the Littles also learned that they were wrong in thinking that Stuart would be happier with mice than with people.

All families who see this movie should talk about what makes people feel that they “fit in,” about jealousy and the way it makes us think that hurting others will help us feel better (but it doesn’t), and the importance of Mr. Little’s advice about trying — and George’s success in reminding him about it at the right moment.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy another movie based on a book by E.B. White, “Charlotte’s Web.”

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Action/Adventure Animation Based on a book Comedy Family Issues For all ages For the Whole Family Talking animals

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Posted on April 14, 1999 at 3:06 pm

In this technical marvel of a movie, human and animated actors interact seamlessly. It begins with a cartoon, loveable Roger Rabbit taking care of adorable Baby Herman, despite every kind of slapstick disaster. Then, as birdies are swimming around Roger’s head after a refrigerator crashes down on him, a live-action director steps in to complain that the script called for stars, and we are in a 1947 Hollywood where “Toons” are real.
A private detective named Eddie (Bob Hoskins) is hired by the head of Roger’s studio to get evidence that Roger’s gorgeous wife Jessica is seeing another man. Eddie does not want the assignment. Once a friend to the Toons, he hates them since one of them killed his brother. But he needs the money badly, so Eddie goes to the Ink and Paint nightclub, where Jessica performs, and he takes photos of her playing “patty-cake” (literally) with Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), maker of novelties and gags. Roger is distraught when he sees the photographs. But it turns out that Jessica is completely faithful to Roger, and that she is caught up in a complex plot to close down Toon Town and Los Angeles’ excellent public transportation system to build freeways. Eddie’s efforts lead him to Toon Town and then to a warehouse where the real villain is revealed.
This was a one-time opportunity for cartoon characters from all the studios to join forces, and it is one of the great pleasures in movie history to see them all together. Donald Duck and Daffy Duck perform a hilarious duet at the Ink and Paint Club. On his way out the door at Maroon studios, Eddie brushes by several members from the “cast” of “Fantasia.” The penguin waiters from Mary Poppins show up in another scene, as do Pinocchio, Mickey Mouse, and Woody Woodpecker. The mix of characters and styles works extremely well, and kids will enjoy seeing some of their favorite characters in a different context. Kathleen Turner provided the sultry speaking voice of Jessica Rabbit, but her singing voice was Amy Irving.
Children will be delighted with the Toon characters, and with the interaction of the cartoons with the human actors and with the physical world. Eddie’s venture into Toon Town is almost as good. The story is fast-paced and exciting, and the slapstick is outstanding. But the human and cartoon characters mix more smoothly than the combination of slapstick and film noir references in this movie. The plot includes murder, corruption, and suspected adultery. The premise that the only possible explanation for the traffic system in Los Angeles is that it was the vision of a sinister madman is funnier for adults than it is for kids. Eddie is not an especially attractive leading character. Still reeling from his brother’s murder, he drinks too much and is surly to his clients, to his girlfriend, and to Roger.

(more…)

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Animation Based on a book Comedy Fantasy For the Whole Family Satire
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