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

Next Friday

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

On the one hand, this movie is a lazy, dumb, and misogynistic and it promotes pot smoking, unemployment, and burglary. On the other hand, it is genial and unpretentious. If it does not take drug use, crime, racism, and sexism too seriously, it does not take itself too seriously either. Almost every joke in the movie is taken from another movie, but the cast enjoys them so much that they occasionally make it work.

This is the sequel to “Friday,” a movie that performed modestly in theaters but became a hit on video. In the original, Craig (played by rap star Ice Cube, who co-wrote the screenplay) spent the day smoking pot and beat up the neighborhood bully. The sequel, again written by and starring Ice Cube, has the bully breaking out of prison and looking for revenge. Craig goes off to the suburbs to stay with his uncle, who bought a house with money he won in a lottery.

Craig again spends the day smoking pot — with his Uncle Elroy and Elroy’s sexually rapacious girlfriend, and with Elroy’s son Day-Day and his friend from work (before they get fired). When they have to raise $3600 to pay off delinquent property taxes, it never occurs to them to earn it or to go to the bank to get a home equity loan. No, clearly the best choice is to steal it from some vicious Latino drug dealers across the street.

Parents should know that the movie is extremely raunchy and includes just about every kind of material except for graphic violence that parents try to keep away from kids. Parents whose kids do see this movie should at least try to talk with them about the portrayal of women (either sexual predators, compliant bimbos or terrifying harridans) and minorities and drugs as a way to bond and to escape worries.

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Comedy Crime Series/Sequel

Run Lola Run

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Teenagers with a taste for the offbeat will enjoy this German import about a woman who gets a frantic phone call from her boyfriend and has only 20 minutes to find 100,000 marks (about $60,000), or he will be killed by the drug dealer to whom he supposed to deliver the money. Lola (Franka Potente) and her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) live in a sort of of punk post-modern demi-mondaine. The key image of the movie is Lola, with her Raggedy Ann mop of bright red hair, running to save her beloved Manni from the drug dealer, and from himself — he has threatened to hold up a store if she cannot get him the money. When she interacts with people on her way — and in her way — we sometimes get glimpses of what their lives ahead will hold.

Lola runs to her father, who works at a bank, to ask him for the money. But he has his own problems. She does not make it in time, and the result is tragic. But Lola’s determination is such that she will not let that happen. All of a sudden, we are back in her apartment and she is getting Manni’s call again. Everything starts over, this time with tiny differences that have huge consequences for Lola and Manni and for the people around them. It takes three tries before Lola’s running is over.

The movie is fun to watch, with a lot of very clever jump cuts and effects, and it can be a nice jolt for kids who are used to pedestrian big-budget film-making. Parents should know that there is some rough street language, references to out-of-wedlock pregnancy and adultery, and that the main characters live on the edge of the underworld — the money Manni leaves on a train belongs to a drug dealer. Families may want to discuss the movie’s theme about the way that the tiniest choices and interactions can have the most wide-reaching consequences.

Families who enjoy this movie will also like “Diva.”

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Action/Adventure Crime Drama Independent Thriller

The Green Mile

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

It’s pretty easy to make a movie where the hero saves the Earth from asteroids or blasts the bad guys into smithereens, because those kinds of battles give us lots of very cool stuff to look at. It’s a lot harder to make a movie like this one, holding our attention with heroism in small moments and unlikely places. Teens, who often feel that the problems of the world are too overwhelming to address, can learn from this movie that a small courtesy can have an enormous impact.

Paul Edgecombe (Tom Hanks) is a Depression-era Louisiana prison guard. His responsibility is the prisoners on Death Row, called “The Green Mile” because of the color of the floor between the cells and the electric chair. New prisoner John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) is a huge black man convicted of raping and murdering two little girls. He is a gentle man with a mysterious power to heal.

Edgecombe treats the prisoners with kindness, partly because it is the best way to maintain order, but also because he is a fair and compassionate man. In sharp contrast, another guard is petty and cruel, and a far more evil man than any of the prisoners. The plot veers into melodrama at times, with at least one coincidence that is overly convenient, but the humanity of the guards keeps the movie on track most of the time.

Talk to teens about the circumstances and views of the world that lead people to these different approaches and the way that the movie helps us to understand each of them. What do we learn from the way each character sees the mouse? What does Coffey’s character symbolize? (Note his initials.) Edgecombe is confronted with a real dilemma because he believes that Coffey is innocent, but is unable to save him. What facts led to his decision? What else could he have done? Does he become a sort of prisoner, too?

This is a thoughtful, intelligent movie with outstanding direction. Hanks is, as always, the American ideal, just, kind, capable, decent. Bonnie Hunt, for once is relieved of her usual Eve Arden-style role, and her performance as Edgecombe’s loyal, wise, patient, and very loving wife is a pleasure to watch. Doug Hutchison is terrific as Percy, the nephew of the governor’s wife who is assigned to work for Edgecome, and whose combined arrogance and insecurity lead to disaster. And Michael Clarke Duncan, one of the highlights of “Armageddon,” is deeply moving, showing us both Coffey’s innocence and his dignity.

Families will want to talk about the idea that a person might have an extraordinary talent to heal, where that power might come from, and what the responsibilities and burdens might be. Must that ability be accompanied, as it is in John Coffey, with the agonizing experience of “feeling the pain of the world?” Can a person be a healer without experiencing the pain he relieves in others? Must a person whose entire existence is about healing be willing to destroy? What can be healed, and what can not? And why set this story on Death Row? The characters tell us that “What happens on the Mile stays on the Mile. Always has.” What rules are different in these direst of circumstances, and why?

Parents should know that the movie has a horrifyingly graphic execution scene, when the wicked guard has his revenge on a prisoner who taunted him. And they should talk to teens who see the movie about Coffey’s wish to be put out of his misery, which could be seen by sensitive kids as an argument in favor of suicide.

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Crime Drama

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
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