Detroit Rock City

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This movie follows four high school boys who are die-hard KISS fans in spite of the overwhelming popularity of disco and the objections of the adults (“KISS stands for Knights In Satan’s Service!”) as they do everything they can think of to get seats to the concert in Detroit. There is little originality, wit, or credibility in the script, but in its own way it is genial and unpretentious and ultimately more winning than some recent overly focus-grouped big studio releases.

One of the mothers burns their tickets and carts her son Jam (Sam Huntington) off to a Catholic boarding school that looks like it was dreamed up by Charles Addams. The other three have to figure out a way to spring him and to find four new tickets so they can see the show. This involves taking another mother’s Volvo, feeding hallucinogenic mushroom pizza to a priest, entering a male stripper contest, foiling two separate robberies, stopping to have sex (one couple loses their virginity in a confessional), sneaking backstage, beating up some disco fans, getting beat up by various other people and by each other, and eventually making it into the sanctum sanctorum of the KISS live performance.

Much of the humor in the film will be lost on people who don’t know every KISS lyric and remember the KISS comic with the band’s blood mixed into the red ink. And it is something of a valentine to sex, drugs, and rock and roll, to say nothing of lying, cheating, stealing, destroying property, and cutting school. Furthermore, it is very much a male fantasy movie, with four teen-age boys triumphing over huge bad guys and winning over beautiful women. It also includes one of the key cliches of the teen movie — the character who has sex for the first time becomes suddenly more mature, braver, wiser, and more powerful. Parents of kids who see this movie may want to discuss these issues.

Most kids will not be interested, however. To the extent that the movie has appeal beyond hardcore KISS fans and those who appreciate the 1970’s references, it is due to its young stars (including Edward Furlong, Natasha Lyonne, and Melanie Lynskey) and the loyalty they show to each other, to their idols, and to their dreams. This lends the movie a welcome sweetness that leaves the audience almost as happy that they make it into the theater as they are.

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Comedy High School

Jackie Robinson Story

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

For Black History Month, take a look at this neglected gem about the first black baseball player to play in the major leagues. The primary appeal of this movie is that Robinson plays himself (with Ruby Dee as his wife). It is forthright about the racial issues, but inevitably appears somewhat naive by today’s standards.

Connections: Dee appears as Robinson’s mother in a worthwhile made-for-television movie called “The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson.” Older kids might enjoy the episode of the Ken Burns “Baseball” series that covers the integration of the major leagues. And mature teens should see “Bingo Long Travelling All-Stars and Motor Kings,” a lively (and sometimes raunchy and violent) story about the last days of baseball’s Negro League.

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Based on a true story Biography Sports

Patch Adams

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

If the real-life Robin Williams were a doctor, he would be the real-life Patch Adams, who believes that doctors should treat the patient, not the disease, and that sick, frightened people need to feel that those who take care of them are paying attention. So it is easy for us to come to this movie prepared for something warm and reassuring. Unfortunately, the movie is so unforgiveably manipulative and shallow that in the concluding climactic scene, set in a courtroom just in case you weren’t sure who the good guys and the bad guys were, you may find yourself rooting for the uptight by-the-rulebook dean of the medical school.

We meet Patch when he is a patient in a mental hospital, where he learns that his mental health is improved more by helping other patients than by treatment from the doctors. From there, it is off to medical school, where he manages to be at the top of his classes while spending most of his time at the hospital making the patients laugh. How could the faculty object to this? Could it be because a first-year medical student might interfere with a patient’s treatment and cause serious harm? No, it can only be because they are fuddy-duddies who just can’t remember how to have fun! And while we’re on the subject of fun, how about stealing supplies from the hospital for a little clinic that Patch and his friends set up in their spare time? And what goes on at that clinic? Medical students who have no idea how serious the problems are “treat” patients with bandages and kindness. When the inability to diagnose the severity of illness has the most profoundly tragic results, Patch only has a brief crisis before putting that darn clown-nose back on and getting back to the serious business of making patients laugh.

There are a lot of important points to be made here about the dignity that all of us deserve when we are scared and vulnerable and about the importance of humor in the direst of circumstances. But this movie undercuts its own arguments by presenting us with a hero who is more narcissistic than humanitarian. The old joke about Hollywood is that the only thing that matters there is sincerity, and once you learn to fake that, you’re all set. This movie, with its adoring bald kids and old lady swimming in noodles and bedpan clown shoes, cannot even manage to fake it.

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Comedy Drama

The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

When Elmo’s favorite friend, his beloved blanket, is tossed into Oscar’s trash can, Elmo goes in after it, only to find himself transported to Grouchland, where grouches cut off the flowers and keep the stems and you get put in jail if you ask for help.

The Sesame Street characters all go to Grouchland to try to find Elmo, but by then Elmo is on his way to get his blanket back from mean Mr. Huxley (Mandy Patinkin), who takes everything he sees and has a big machine to stamp “MINE” on everything he takes.

Fans of Sesame Street will love this movie, which has all of the Sesame Street trademarks — subtle puns for the parents, delightful silliness for the kids, and gentle lessons about cooperation, loyalty, sharing, and believing in yourself for everyone, all told with their characteristic warmth, good humor, and kindness. Even Oscar the Grouch admits that Elmo is his friend. And at the few moments of mild tension, Ernie and Bert appear to reassure kids that everything is all right.

Patinkin and Vanessa Williams (as the Trash Queen) provide some star power, but the real stars are the Muppets (whose colors and textures are wonderful on the big screen), and the audience — who are invited to participate in the movie at crucial moments.

Families will want to discuss their own “special” toys and other transition objects, and why it can be hard to share sometimes. Some children may be concerned that Elmo does not seem to have any parents, and may need some reassurance. And it can be a lot of fun to spend a couple of hours pretending the whole family is in Grouchland!

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For the Whole Family Stories About Kids

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.

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Action/Adventure Based on a true story For the Whole Family Inspired by a true story
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