My Dog Skip

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This is a good, old-fashioned boy and his dog movie, based on the memoir of Willie Morris, who grew up in 1940’s Mississippi, a small, sleepy town of “ten thousand souls and nothing to do.” It is lyrical and very touching, with many important issues for family discussion.

Willie (“Malcolm in the Middle’s” Frankie Muniz) feels like an outsider, bookish and unathletic. He does not have a single friend to invite to his 9th birthday party. But one of his birthday presents is a friend, a puppy he names Skip.

Willie’s “lively and talkative” mother (Diane Lane. luminous as always) gives him Skip over the objections of his “stern and overbearing” father (Kevin Bacon). One of the most interesting scenes in the movie for older kids is the parents’ debate. Willie’s mother says, “He is a responsible boy who needs a friend.” His father says that pets are “just a heartbreak waiting to happen.” Having lost his leg — and much of his sense of hope about life — in a war, he wants to protect Willie from loss as long as he can. But Mrs. Morris knows that loss is the price we pay for caring, and that what we gain from caring — and from loss — is well worth it.

Skip and Willie find “unconditional love on both our parts.” Skip is a good listener and a loyal companion. Together, the boy and dog explore an ever-widening world. Skip helps Willie develop confidence and make friends with other boys and with the prettiest girl in school. Willie grows up in the segregated South, but Skip makes friends without regard for color, and takes Willie along.

Some of the adventures Willie and Skip share are scary (like an all-night stay in a cemetery that turns into an encounter with moonshiners) or sad (Willie’s hero, a local sports star, returns from combat in WWII very bitter and humiliated). Willie learns about the world with Skip. He learns about himself, too. Angry and embarrassed at his poor performance in a baseball game, he hits Skip, who runs away, devastating Willie. Taking responsibility for his behavior and facing the consequences start him on the road to his adult self.

Families who see this movie will have a lot to talk about. Parents should give kids some background to help them understand WWII-era America, with ration books and scrap drives. Be sure to point out the evidence of segregation, including separate ticket booths and seating areas at the movie theater and an adult black man calling a white boy “sir.”

Talk about what makes bullies behave the way they do and how the skills that make a child successful are very different from the skills that make an adult successful. This is shown by Willie and by his althetic friend Dink, who went to war filled with bravado and returned badly shaken. Discuss the way Willie and his friends respond to Dink’s return, especially in connection with Willie’s comment as an adult that “loyalty and love are the best things of all, and surely the most lasting.” Ask kids what they think of the way Willie’s parents disagree about whether he should have Skip, and how parents want to protect their kids, sometimes maybe too much so.

The movie tells us that even as a grown-up, Willie thought of Skip every day. Ask kids what there is in their lives right now that helps them grow up, and what it is that they will think of when their “memories of the spirit linger on and sweeten long after memories of the brain have faded.”

Warning: spoilers ahead. Parents should know that there are a couple of strong words in the script, a deer is killed by hunters, a child tells a scary story, menacing bad guys threaten Willie and Skip, and Skip is badly injured. When Skip finally dies (of old age) it is still very sad. A four-year-old boy sitting near me was inconsolable and kept repeating, “Skip died?” all the way to the car.

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Based on a book Based on a true story Drama Epic/Historical Family Issues For all ages For the Whole Family Inspired by a true story

Anna and the King

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This is the fourth movie version — and the second this year — of the story of Anna Leonowens, brought to Siam in 1864 by King Monghut to teach his children. Anna and the King end up teaching each other a few things, too.

Of course, the best-remembered is the classic with Yul Brynner, Deborah Kerr, and the unforgettable songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein. This version has spectacle to spare, but no “Getting to Know You,” no “Whistle a Happy Tune,” no genuine connection between the two leads (though we are supposed to believe that they are in love with one another), and a script that teeters between stolid and awful.

Jody Foster plays Anna, a widowed Englishwoman who lived most of her life in India. The king hires her because he wants his children to learn more about the world outside of Siam. She respects his culture, but she is appalled by the cruel treatment of bonded servants and urges him to make changes. The king is very progressive in some ways. He respects her independent spirit and values her counsel, but he forbids her to talk to her students about that issue.

Siam is independent, but bounded by colonies of France and England, and vulnerable. Anna aids the King in persuading the English that Siam is stable and “civilized.” And when the King and his children are in danger, Anna provides support.

It’s best to watch this movie with your eyes more than your ears. It is a visual treat. Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (“The Black Stallion”) creates stunning images of splendor. But the dialogue is dreadful and the plot does not hold together, especially in a bizarre Mulan-style rescue. Worst of all is the all-but-loony way that the two leads, both playing highly principled people deeply aware of their responsibilities linger over a goodbye when the bad guys are charging, dance romantically in the middle of a state dinner, and generally act like Archie and Veronica at the malt shop.

Parents should know that the movie has some very intense violence, including battle scenes, bloody beatings, and non-graphic but very tense beheadings. Dead bodies hang from a tree and soldiers are poisoned. There is a very sad death of a child. There are references to the king’s many wives and concubines and one reluctant concubine is shown being prepared for her first night with him, and being reassured that he is a generous lover. The king smokes cigars and the boys try one.

As with the earlier, better, versions (including another non-musical version with Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison), topics for discussion include cultural diversity and how we distinguish between fundamental truths and cultural differences, the challenges of power (for example, the constant threats from those who want to seize it), and the importance of surrounding ourselves with people who tell us the truth, even when it is hard to hear.

Related Tags:

 

Drama Epic/Historical Inspired by a true story Remake

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.

Related Tags:

 

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

Cradle Will Rock

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

How do you stay true to ideals when there is pressure to compromise in order to make a living? How can you sell without selling out? These questions are provocatively posed in “mostly true” intersecting stories surrounding a pro-union play funded — and then closed — by the U.S. government.

Today’s teens live in a world in which politicians squabble about whether an “elephant dung Madonna” should be hung in a government-funded museum exhibit and rap stars famous for being outrageous and outspoken issue bowdlerized versions of their recordings in order to meet the requirements of chain stores. Older teens, who try to grapple with the problem of holding onto integrity in a complicated world, will appreciate the way those issues are raised in this movie, thoughtfully constructed by writer/director Tim Robbins to show characters with a range of dilemmas and priorities.

We see artists who want to make political statements, artists who want to make money, and artists who are thrilled by art for its beauty. The director — 22-year-old Orson Welles, just before going to Hollywood to make “Citizen Kane” — simply says that his goal is ‘to all the right people.”

We see a young businessman (Nelson Rockefeller) who wants to use his fortune for art – as long as its message is one that does not make him too uncomfortable. An older businessman wants to use his fortune to buy Old Masters — and to buy the support of politicians, so he can make more money.

Teens should notice the irony and symbolism, like the rich people dressing as Marie Antoinette’s court for a costume party and the opening newsreel showing art being censored in Nazi Germany. Why does the movie show Welles objecting to a union-required break during rehearsal? Why does the ventriloquist leave his dummy on the stage? Why is the main character of the play a prostitute? Why does Diego Rivera refuse to paint the design he agreed to?

Be sure to ask teens what they think about the movie’s final image, an attempt to tie the story directly to the present day. See if they think that the movie has any heroes, and if so, how they can tell.

Parents should know that the movie has strong language, nudity, including an artist’s nude models, and sexual references, including references to homosexuality.

FAMILY PROJECT: Welles went on to annoy one of the most powerful men in the country, William Randolph Hearst, with his next project, “Citizen Kane,” number one on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest movies. Teens might want to read more about Nelson Rockefeller and check out Digeo Rivera’s surviving murals at http://www.diegorivera.com. For more on the Federal theater project, read Hallie Flanagan: A Life in the American Theatre, by Joanne Bentley or Flanagan’s own book, Arena: The Story of the Federal Theatre.

Related Tags:

 

Biography Documentary Inspired by a true story

The Straight Story

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Do not let the G-rating and the Disney label mislead you – this is an adult movie in the old-fashioned sense of the word, meaning that its story and themes will most appeal to adults and some teens. It gets a G rating because it does not have any of the usual triggers for a PG or PG- 13 rating. There are no four-letter words or nudity, and there is nothing in the movie that is likely to cause offense or trauma. Still, it is not for most younger kids, who will be bored and restless. Thoughtful middle- and high schoolers and adults, however, will find a lot to appreciate and talk about in this seemingly simple story of 73 year old Alvin Straight, who sets off to visit his estranged brother, after hearing that he has had a stroke.

Alvin uses two canes and cannot see well enough to drive. So he hitches a trailer to his riding mower and sets off on a 300-mile journey from Iowa to Wisconsin, encountering along the six-week drive a range of people, landscapes, and adventures.

Children who watch a lot of television and movies often develop what psychologists call the “mean world” syndrome. Based on what they learn about the adult world from the media, their estimates of the incidence of murder and corruption are distorted way out of proportion to reality. And our cautions about not talking to strangers contribute further to their sense that the world is a dangerous place. This movie is a nice antidote to that. Alvin meets an engaging assortment of people, including a teen- age runaway, a team of bicyclists, twin repairmen, and a man who spent his career working for John Deere, and is unfailingly treated with kindness and dignity. It is good to let kids know that they can meet strangers like that, and even better to let them know that they can be strangers like that.

The essential decency of all of the movie’s characters is a good subject for family discussion. So are his comments on family. Hoping to get to his brother in time, he speaks feelingly to people he meets about the importance of the bond between siblings. This is a point that is always worth raising to kids who think that there may never be a day when they will have more to talk to their brothers and sisters about than whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher.

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Based on a true story For the Whole Family Inspired by a true story
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2021, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik