Freedomland

Posted on February 17, 2006 at 2:17 pm

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some violent content.
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drug references
Violence/ Scariness: Intense peril and violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000FEBZ0A

This movie’s inability to live up to its potential is nearly as epic as its misleading title. In other hands, “Freedomland” might have played a jazz-like riff of personal loss and moving vignettes against the 4/4 beat of racial injustice and a community searching for peace. As it is the metronome pace clicks between black and white simplifications; further marred by jarring monologues and an out of place score.


The performances are fine and there are individual moments of insight and power, especially a monologue by “The Sopranos'” Edie Falco as the mother of a missing child. And it deserves credit for its willingness to take on issues of race and poverty and personal responsibility that most studio movies use only for shock value if they address them at all. But the uncertain transfer from novel to screenplay is ultimately so off-key that moments intended to be touching elicited laughter from the audience in the theater.


When single-mom Brenda Martin (Julianne Moore), pale as a moonbeam, wanders in a daze to a community emergency room. Her bloodied hands and story of being carjacked by a young black man in a hooded sweatshirt bring her to the attention of the police and in particular to good cop, Lorenzo Council (Samuel L. Jackson). Brenda is not easy in her role as accuser.

She drifts in and out of focus as she struggles with evident shock and uncertainty about being the center of attention. Lorenzo gently tries lead her into a place where she can help the investigation, though he is not sure he trusts her. But he wants to find her son and as tensions build he wants to end the mounting frustration of the nearby projects, locked-down until someone confesses to the crime.


Brenda is unusual because she lives in the white community but works in the projects, where her son is the only white child in the classroom. She does not feel at home in either community. Her family made her feel incompetent. Some of the people in the projects think of her kindly, but as racial tensions mount, she is quickly assigned to the enemy camp.


Both the neighboring black and communities are policed by heavy-handed cops. One of them is Brenda’s brother Danny (Ron Eldard), furious and frustrated and with no compunctions about abandoning the rules to find out what is going on. He and some of he other white cops seem happy to provoke and then beat the young black men suspected of a range of tenuous offences.

Brenda, a pre-school assistant who works with the kids of the projects, is both in and out of the community just as Lorenzo is neither one place nor another in his role as cop and self-styled father-figure. Both Moore and Jackson turn in fine performances although they cannot surmount the awkwardness of their dialogue or the artificiality of their scripted actions. Ultimately it feels like one of those “ripped from the headline” “Law and Order” episodes that provide faux insights into superficial renditions of stories that are ripped-off from the headlines instead of being based on the reality.


The firm, steady presence of Karen Collucci (Falco), a leader of a volunteer group that looks for lost children gives a glimpse of what an interesting movie this could have been if it had not faltered under director Joe Roth’s self-conscious ambitions, as admirable as those ambitions are. The title refers to an abandoned juvenile facility Karen brings Brenda to so they can look for her son, its name an ironic reminder of the absence of freedom all of the characters face.


The jarring notes that these actors are asked to play distract the ear from the bittersweet melody this movie could have been and its conclusion is awkward and disappointingly unsupported.


Parents should know that this movie deals with mature themes and issues including racial injustice, parental neglect, spousal abuse, child endangerment, accusations based on race, police brutality, and race riots ignited by mutual distrust. There are references to the sexuality of a lonely woman, an oblique reference to rape, discussion of infidelity and to an inter-racial affair. Characters use strong language and frequent expletives, including the n-word. A character refers to a drug addiction, to using drugs and another is arrested for possession. There is near-constant peril as a community builds toward rioting and as cops try to beat out confessions. A character discusses losing her child and another is visibly wrecked by the death of her child.


Families who see this movie might wish to discuss the relationship between Lorenzo and his son and how it highlights his relationships with others. Also, several characters describe the source of their actions as something that comes from beyond them, such as Lorenzo’s religious faith, what is the driver of their actions and how do they make sense of their choices? Lorenzo and Karen resspond to tragedies and devastating failures by finding a way to help others. Is there a time that approach worked for you or someone you know?


Families that enjoy this movie might want to see other movies that wrestle with racial issues and police involvement in community crimes such as Crash. They also might wish to see Clockers or The Wanderers, also based on books by Richard Price.


Thanks to guest critic AME.

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Crime Drama Movies Mystery Thriller

Final Destination 3

Posted on February 14, 2006 at 3:22 pm

F
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong horror violence/gore, language and some nudity.
Profanity: Extremely frequent, strong expletives and graphic name-calling
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: If you have a line in this movie, then the chances are good you are going to die a graphic, bloody death, near constant peril, pigeons killed
Diversity Issues: Stereotypes
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000FC2HS6

It’s like deja vu, says the main character, only of something I haven’t done yet.


Wow, get out of my head, Wendy! We are barely minutes into “Final Destination 3” and already we, the audience, are sharing her feeling. We have been here before, too. Instead, it was called “Final Destination” and then “Final Destination 2”.


If you have not had the pleasure of the prior “FDs”, there really is no reason to start now.


However, if you have seen either of the first two in the series and are looking for more, then you know exactly what is in store for you. Attractive young things narrowly avert a fatal accident due to someone’s premonition -– thanks, Wendy! — and then they spend the duration of the movie being killed off in graphic, squelchy deaths. This time around, lives are ended with props including nail guns, tanning beds, falling objects, weight-training equipment, and, yes, that initial roller-coaster debacle.


Finally, for the real FD connoisseur, 3 is more in the spirit of the original than 2, as director James Wong has opted to place back the fig-leaf of plot and character development that 2 ignored for the sake of more elaborately drawn-out gore. Is it a worthy trade-off? Most of the audience seemed not to care a whit about the characters despite many scenes of Wendy’s tear-stained cheeks.


Since nobody appears to be putting the “final” in “Final Destination”, maybe the director of FD 4 will skip dialogue all together and use the money saved to stage even lengthier scenes of decapitations and dismemberment. “FD4: Attractive Co-Ed Mimes in Danger”, Wendy, doesn’t that just give you deja vu all over again?


Parents should know that these movies are thin excuses to demonstrate random, cartoon-like violence and extremely gory special effects. There is near constant peril and almost every character with a spoken line ends up brutally killed in a range of creative accidents. The stereotypically shallow girls are burnt to death on malfunctioning tanning beds, a lecherous guy has his head partially pureed by a fan, someone is peppered by nails to the head, and the list goes on. A character shoots pigeons with a nail gun, several people die in an explicit premonition about a roller coaster accident, and there are very few carnage-free scenes. One character is more concerned with being embarrassed in death and refers to particularly graphic form of impalement. Add in the nudity, the near constant expletives, some “friendly” name-calling with graphic profanity, and this movie is rendered inappropriate for sensitive viewers of any age.


Families might want to talk about desensitization and what is shocking about these movies, if anything. They also might want to talk about how different characters react to their impending demise and how laughing at death might help some people feel power over the inevitable. Finally, the repeated references to feeling a loss of control might provoke an interesting discussion about how people often fear what they cannot control.


Families that like this movie might want to see the others in the series, or they might wish to use the time to discuss safety protocols for almost any activity imaginable.


Thanks to guest critic AME.

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Drama Horror Movies Mystery Thriller

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

Snow Falling on Cedars

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

There has never been a movie more literally true to its title — this is indeed a movie with many long, loving scenes of snow falling on cedars. There are also scenes of raindrops plopping in puddles and autumn leaves blowing and children running on the beach.

In between, there is a story, impressionistically told, about a murder trial. Late one night, in 1950 Washington State, a Caucasian fisherman named Carl Heine drowned, and circumstantial evidence indicates that he might have been murdered. The last person to see him was a Japanese fisherman, Kazuo Miyamoto, who had a motive — Heine owned land that would have belonged to Miyamoto’s family if not for the Japanese internment during World War II.

As journalist Ishmael Chambers (Ethan Hawke) sits in the balcony of the courtroom taking notes, the background is revealed in snippets and images: Ishmael and Miyamoto’s wife, Hatsue, devoted to each other as children and teenagers. Ishmael’s father, losing subscribers and advertisers because of his editorials against racism. Heine’s father, promising Miyamoto’s father that he would not foreclose while they were in the internment camp. Heine’s mother, foreclosing after her husband died. Hatsue’s mother, telling her to stay away from white boys. Ishmael, unable to stop thinking about Hatsue.

Parents should know that there are some battle scenes and a graphic amputation, and some inexplicit but intimate scenes of married couples having sex and teenagers making out.

Several characters in the movie hesitate before acting, and it is worth talking about the consequences of the delays and what factors lead them to decide the way they do. Families should also talk about this style of story-telling. Is it supposed to represent the internal thoughts of the characters or is there some sort of narrator putting together the story like a jigsaw puzzle. And families should also talk about the Japanese internment, one of the most shameful episodes in this country’s history, and about the half-century effort it took to get an apology and a small payment for damages.

Familes who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Come See the Paradise” and “A Walk in the Clouds.”

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