The Hurricane

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter triumphed over a brutal childhood to become a contender for the middleweight boxing championship, through pure determination. Then, wrongfully sentenced to three life terms for murders he did not commit, he used the same discipline, integrity, and ineradicable sense of dignity that served him as a fighter to survive in prison.

Denzel Washington’s dazzling portrayal as Carter makes us see the man’s courage and heart. And the astounding story of chance, loyalty, and dedication that led to his release gives us a chance to see true heroism and redemption.

Carter emerged from his first trumped up prison sentence (for running away from an abusive reformatory) determined to make his past work for him by making sure he would never return. He becomes a powerful boxer by channeling his rage into his fights: “I didn’t even speak English; I spoke hate, and those words were fists.” When his worst nightmare is realized, after a racist policeman coerces witnesses and suppresses evidence, and he is sent back to prison, he turns to that same focus to keep his core self free. He refuses to wear a prison uniform. And he refuses to accept privileges so that nothing can be taken away from him. He says, “My own freedom consisted of not wanting or needing anything of which they could provide me,” and “it is very important to transcend the places that hold us.” He makes a new goal: to “do the time,” meaning to do it his own way. If that requires cutting himself off from anything that makes him feel vulnerable, including his family and everyone else in the world outside the prison, he will. He says, “This place is not one in which humanity can survive — only steel can. Do not weaken me with your love.”

Meanwhile, a boy named Lasra Martin, living in Canada with people who took him in to provide him with an opportunity to get a better education, buys his first book for twenty-five cents. It is Carter’s book written in prison, The Sixteenth Round. Lasra writes his first letter. Carter answers.

They develop a close relationship, and Lasra introduces Carter to his Canadian friends, who become so committed to him that they move to New Jersey, vowing not to leave until he goes with them. They uncover new evidence, the lawyers develop a new theory, and finally, 20 years later, Carter is freed.

The devotion of the Canadians and the lawyers is truly heroic and very moving — the movie gently contrasts them with the celebrities who stopped by long enough to get their photographs taken, and then moved on to other causes. But, contrary to many “victims of racism saved by rightous white people” movie portrayals, the real hero of this story is Carter himself. In his first days in prison, locked in “the hole” for refusing to wear a prison uniform, we see him forging the steel that will keep his essence free, no matter how many locks are on the door. Then, in scenes that are almost unbearably moving, we see that he can still allow himself to hope and to need others. He has protected himself from dispair and bitterness in refusing to be a victim.

Families should talk about the struggles for racial equality in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and about what has and has not changed. And they should talk about the way that Carter keeps his spirit alive, in part by identifying himself with prisoners of conscience like Nelson Mandela and Emile Zola, and by writing, “a weapon more powerful than my fists can ever be.” Teens might want to read Carter’s book or the book Lazarus and Hurricane, which was the basis for the movie. They will also appreciate another dazzling performance by Washington in another tribute to an extraordinary historical figure, Malcolm X.

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Based on a book Based on a true story Biography Courtroom Documentary Drama Epic/Historical Family Issues

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Four couples sort out their romantic entanglements in Shakespeare’s most magical love story. Hermia and Lysander love each other, but her father wants her to marry Demetrius. Demetrius loves Hermia, but is loved by her friend Helena. When Hermia and Lysander run off together, Helena tells Demetrius, and he chases after them, with Helena chasing him. Meanwhile, as the four lovers wander in an enchanted forest, the fairy queen and king argue over custody of a changeling child. The local Duke prepares for his marriage to a woman who seems not entirely sure she wants to marry him, and a group of workmen rehearse a play to perform at the wedding celebration.

With the help of his mischevious companion, the fairy king obtains the juice of a magical flower that causes people to fall in love with whomever they first see after they wake up to his queen and to Lysander and Demetrius. The queen falls in love with a man who has a donkey’s head. Lysander and Demetrius both fall in love with the neglected Helena, forgetting all about Hermia. But by morning, everything is sorted out, and the wedding festivities end with the workmen’s remarkable play.

Filmed several times before, most famously with James Cagney as Bottom and Mickey Rooney as the Puck, this sumptuous version manages to be both earthy and enchanted. The cast includes Hollywood royalty (Michelle Pfeiffer as Fairy Queen Titania, theater-trained performers (including Ally McBeal’s Calista Flockhart and and Kevin Kline, magnificent as Bottom the would-be actor), international stars Sophie Marceau and Rupert Everett, and “new vaudevillian” and MacArthur genius grant award-winner Bill Irwin. The resulting mix of acting styles clashes at times, as does the mix of music and the switch of setting from ancient Athens to 19th century Tuscany, arias and all. Ultimately, though, it is charming, an accessible introduction to the works of that guy in the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow.

Parents should know that there is some earthiness (including an inexplicit scene of Puck relieving himself, some brief nudity, and Hermia’s firm resolve not to have sex with Lysander until they are married).

Kids will enjoy the movie more if they have some basic introduction to the plot. They may want to talk about an era in which a father could order his child to marry the person he chose, about “the course of true love,” and how people work out the problems in relationships. Older kids may like to talk about the metaphor of an enchanted forest as a place to find self-knowledge and to resolve issues.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton version of “Taming of the Shrew” and the Franco Zeffirelli version of “Romeo and Juliet.”

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Based on a play Drama Romance

Fly Away Home

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Amy, a 13-year-old girl from New Zealand (Anna Paquin), wakes up in a hospital bed after an automobile accident to see her father, Tom (Jeff Daniels), whom she barely knows. Her mother was killed in the crash, and she must go back with him to his remote farm in Canada. He is an eccentric sculptor and inventor, preoccupied with his work and unsure of how to try to comfort her. Amy does not want to be comforted, and wanders silently through the marshes. When developers illegally mowing down the marsh kill a goose, Amy finds the eggs she left behind, and begins to resolve her loss by mothering the goslings. Since she is the first thing they see when they hatch, they “imprint” her, and think of her as their mother, following her everywhere, even into the shower. The local authorities insist that their wings be clipped, since without their mother they cannot learn to migrate, and will cause problems for the community when they try to fly. But Amy and her father will not allow the geese to be impaired.

Tom devises a way for Amy to play the role of “Mother Goose” in teaching the geese to migrate, by learning to fly herself, in an ultralight plane, and leading them south. With Tom’s brother (Terry Kinney) and girlfriend (Dana Delany), they plot a course to a wetland preserve that is scheduled to be developed unless geese arrive by November 1. As they work together, Amy finds a way to begin to heal her loss of her mother and her relationship with Tom.

This is a thrilling adventure, exquisitely told, by the same director and photographer who made “The Black Stallion”. Ballard has the patience to let the story tell itself, and the quiet moments are breathtakingly beautiful and heartbreakingly touching. PARENTAL NOTE: There is one profanity in the movie, demanded by the studio, who insisted that the movie must have a PG rating so that it would not scare off school-age kids. Of more concern to many parents will be Amy’s nose ring, inserted with Tom’s approval.

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Action/Adventure Drama Family Issues For all ages

The Insider

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), a research scientist for a tobacco company, tells “60 Minutes” to reveal that the company is more aware of the addictive properties of nicotine than its executives claimed and in fact manipulated the delivery of nicotine. Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino), a producer of the show, promises to protect him. But CBS executives cut Wigand’s portion from the broadcast because they are worried about a potential lawsuit by the tobacco company.

Although the movie is based on a real-life incident, some of the names and details have been changed.

Wigand and Bergman are caught in parallel moral dilemmas. Both are loyal to their organizations until they witness what they perceive as acts of corruption. Both respond by making their stories public, resulting in struggle and sacrifice. The question is not one of disloyalty, but of conflicting loyalties. Wigand knows that telling the truth will hurt him and his family more than it hurts the tobacco company.

Families should be sure to discuss the point of view of the movie. Director/co-screenwriter Michael Mann very skillfully makes every shot and every note of the soundtrack help shape the story so that the viewer sees Bergman’s perspective. (One hint: the Bergman character is unerringly fair and honest.)

Families should discuss how the would movie be different if it was told from Wigand’s, Wallace’s, or the tobacco company’s point of view. And they should take a look at the tobacco company’s rebuttals to the movie, in full-page ads and on its website http://www.brownandwilliamson.com/1_hottopics/insider_frame.html.

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Based on a true story Documentary Drama Inspired by a true story

Boiler Room

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Seth (Giovanni Ribisi) wants two things very badly. He wants to make a lot of money quickly, and he wants the respect of his father (Ron Rifkin), a federal judge. Seth drops out of college to run a highly profitable business. His entrepreneurship and work ethic are impeccable. But his line of business — a casino run out of his home — is not.

A casino customer tells him about a way to make a lot of money as a stockbroker. At a huge cattle call of an interview, Jim Young (Ben Affleck) promises that everyone who stays in their program will become a millionaire within three years, tossing the keys to his Ferrari on the table as proof. Seth signs up as a trainee at J.T. Marlin, a Long Island stock brokerage firm.

Seth quotes a rap song that says that to make money fast “you have to have a jump shot or sling crack,” and adds that for white boys, the equivalent of slinging crack is selling stock. And the stock he sells, like crack, provides a giddy, addictive high while it is destroying the victim’s finances, and more. Seth finds that it can destroy the seller as well as the buyer.

First time writer-director Ben Younger creates a realistically edgy world that runs on rap music and testosterone. Rival brokers taunt each other like Sharks and Jets in Armani suits. They spend money on huge toys and empty mansions, and watch a video of “Wall Street” together, reciting the lines along with Gordon Gekko. And their mantra is taken from “Glengarry Glen Ross:” “ABC-Always Be Closing.” Each sale is a victory in a war against loneliness and loserdom. They just want to win. They don’t care at what, as long as everyone else loses.

These are lonely, insecure, immature men. The ironically named Jim Young points out that at age 27 he is one of the oldest people in the firm. When Seth asks Chris why he still lives with his mother, Chris does not understand the question. They travel in packs and except for Seth we never see them with families or on dates. They’re like Long Island Lost Boys, in a perverse Never Neverland.

Seth is drawn to this world in part because the masculine leadership and approval makes up for his emotionally absent father. But he is unable to turn away from his growing awareness that something is wrong and that J.T. Marlin is far more corrupt than his casino operation.

This movie has one of the best scripts in many months. In one superb scene, Seth is so proud of his skill as a salesman that he coaches a telemarketer who calls to sell him a newspaper subscription. Younger has a fresh and clever take on things and his music video experience lends a raw, hyper, thrill-seeking tone to the movie. The young performers do very well, especially Vin Diesel as Chris and Nia Long as Seth’s love interest.

Parents should know that the primary reason for the R rating is very strong language, including racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-semitic epithets. Characters smoke, drink, use drugs, and beat people up. Two characters have an affair, though nothing is shown. Families whose teens see this movie should talk about how moral choices are made, how consequences are evaluated, and how difficulties in family communication can affect behavior outside the family. They might want to check out the film’s website before seeing the movie, to familiarize themselves with terminology like IPO, cold call, and rip.

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Crime Drama Family Issues
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