She’s All That

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Get ready. The success of movies like “Scream” has led to an upcoming avalanche of movies transplanting every possible movie plot into high school. This one takes “Pygmalion” with a few touches from “Pretty in Pink,” “Easter Parade,” “Cinderella,” and “Can’t Buy Me Love.” It falls smack dab in the middle of a genre I call “the makeover movie,” in which Our Heroine achieves success through good grooming and accessorizing. The result here is uneven, with some good performances and even some witty commentary on teen culture, but beware — the raunchy references make this inappropriate for younger teens, and even parents of mature high schoolers might want to consider it carefully.

Zach, the most popular and talented boy in high school (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) gets dumped by his beautiful but mean girlfriend the day after spring vacation of their senior year. She has met an MTV-celebrity (Matthew Lillard, hilarious as a self-obsessed gross-out champion based on MTV’s legendary Puck). Zach and his best friend bet that he can take any girl in school and get her elected prom queen before the end of school. The choice is drab Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook), who is coping with her mother’s death by taking care of her father and brother and by worrying about problems throughout the world instead of working through her own feelings of loss.

Laney is one of the least persuasive ugly ducklings in the history of movies. She shucks her glasses and her overalls, and my goodness! She’s beautiful! And my goodness! Zach finds himself actually caring for her. The plot is almost numbingly predictable, but one of the movie’s strengths it that it makes clear that Zach and Laney have both limited themselves by defining themselves before they have really had a chance to find out who they are.

The movie’s other strengths are Prinze, who has a wonderful screen presence and the magnificent Anna Paquin as his younger sister. Cook’s performance is flat by comparison. Jodi Lyn O’Keefe is a caricature as Zach’s former girlfriend.

Parental concerns include strong language, teen drinking, and casual sex (though not by the main characters). Zach’s friend brags that he is going to get Laney to have sex with him in a hotel room he has arranged for the occasion. For some reason, when Laney’s friend overhears this, instead of making the stunningly obvious move of telling Laney what the guy has in mind, he races around trying to get the message to someone else. Parents should know that the movie includes an ugly and graphic scene in which a school bully torments Laney’s hearing-impaired brother by reaching into his pants to grab some pubic hair and putting it on his pizza. Zach then forces the bully and his friend to eat it. Yuck.

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Comedy Family Issues High School Romance

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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Based on a book Drama Epic/Historical Family Issues Mystery Romance War

The Enchanted Cottage

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

For Valentine’s Day, try this romantic classic.

Mrs. Minnett (Mildred Natwick), a widow, owns a small cottage that she rents out to honeymoon couples. Some people believe there is a magic about the house that keeps the couples safe and happy. Laura (Dorothy McGuire) is a plain girl who comes to work in the house because she responds to its special feeling. Oliver (Robert Young), rich and careless, comes to see the house and reserves it for his honeymoon. But before he can be married, he is called off to war and seriously injured. He comes to the cottage alone and bitter, to retreat from the world. Wanting to shield himself from his family and his former fiancee, he impulsively proposes to Laura, who accepts, but does not tell him that she loves him. He is so self-absorbed that he does not even wonder why she agrees.

After the wedding, they go back to the cottage, embarassed and uncomfortable. But the cottage works its enchantment, and they realize that they have become beautiful and whole, and deeply in love. They live in blissful happiness, confiding only in Mrs. Minnett and their blind friend. But when Oliver’s family arrives, they cannot see the transformation. Oliver and Laura are crushed, until they realize that the enchantment was love, and that it would always make them beautiful to one another.

Like the magic in the story, this movie is only for believers, but there are many cynics who have a special affection for what can only be called its enchantment. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery says in The Little Prince, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Many children will not have the patience for this story, but others will find it one of their favorite films.

Questions for Kids:

How do the writer and director help the viewer believe in the magic that Oliver and Laura feel?

Why doesn’t Oliver want to see his family?

Do people in love see each other differently than other see them? Can you think of other movies or books where this happens?

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Classic Romance

Titanic

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Classic Greek tragedies explored the theme of hubris as human characters dared to take on the attributes of the gods only to find their hopes crushed. This is a real-life story of hubris, as the ship declared to be “unsinkable” (and therefore not equipped with lifeboats for the majority of the passengers) sank on its maiden voyage from England to the United States.

In this blockbuster movie, winner of ten Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director and on its way to becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time, the disaster serves as the backdrop to a tragic love story between Rose (Kate Winslet), an upper class (though impoverished) girl and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), a lower class (though artistic) boy who won the ticket in a poker game. Parents should know that the movie features brief nudity (as Rose poses for Jack) and suggested sex (in a steamy car). A much more serious concern is the tragedy itself, with hundreds of frozen dead bodies floating in the water, which may be upsetting or even terrifying for some kids.

The movie raises important questions about choices faced by the characters, as we see a wide range of behavior from the most honorable to the most despicable. The captain (whose decision to try to break a speed record contributed to the disaster) and the ship’s designer (whose plan for additional lifeboats was abandoned because it made the decks look too cluttered) go down with the ship, but the owner and Rose’s greedy and snobbish fiance survive. Molly Brown (dubbed “Unsinkable” for her bravery that night) tries to persuade the other passengers in the lifeboats to go back for the rest. But they refuse, knowing that there is no way to rescue them without losing their own lives. They wait to be picked up by another ship, listening to the shrieks of the others until they all gone.

Many parents have asked me about the appeal of this movie to young teens, especially teen-age girls. The answer is that in addition to the appeal of its young stars, director James Cameron has written an almost perfect adolescent fantasy for girls. Rose is an ideal heroine, rebelling against her mother’s snobbishness and insistence that she marry for money. And Jack is an ideal romantic hero — sensitive, brave, honorable, completely devoted, and (very important for young girls) not aggressive (she makes the decision to pursue the relationship, and he is struck all but dumb when she insists on posing nude). If he is not quite androgynous, he is not exactly bursting with testosterone either, and, ultimately, he is not around. As with so many other fantasies of the perfect romance, from Heathcliff and Cathy in “Wuthering Heights” to Rick and Ilse in “Casablanca” the characters have all the pleasures of the romantic dream with no risk of having to actually build a life with anyone. It is interesting that the glimpses we get of Rose’s life after the Titanic show her alone, though we meet her granddaughter and hear her refer to her husband. Parents can have some very good discussions with teens about this movie by listening carefully and respectfully when they explain why it is important to them, as this is a crucial stage in their development.

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Based on a true story Classic Romance Tragedy

You’ve Got Mail

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

The classic story of two enemies who discover that they are really the “dear friends” who share a loving penpal relationship is deliciously updated for the era of email. Tom Hanks plays Joe Fox, scion of a family that owns a chain of enormous bookstores (think Barnes & Noble). Meg Ryan plays Katherine Kelly, owner of a beloved independent children’s book store called The Shop Around the Corner. When the new Fox store moves in around her corner, they take each other on, though it is clear from the first that they are strongly attracted to each other and would much rather be friends.

At first, both are in other relationships, she with a newspaper columnist who decries technology (Greg Kinnear), and he with a high-strung overly caffeinated book editor (Parker Posey). But as their online friendship becomes more important to them, they both realize that they cannot settle for the convenience of a relationship that should work. Knowing each other only as “Shopgirl” and “NY152,” and keeping to their resolve not to disclose personal details, they exchange emails about how they see the world around them. He is warmly supportive of her, advising her to fight her adversary, not knowing that he is the one she is writing about. The witty dialogue gets high gloss from two of the finest light romantic leads in Hollywood, whose chemistry was already proven in “Sleepless in Seattle.” It is clear to us from the beginning where it is all going, but it is also clear that they will make it a pleasure along the way, and they do.

Parents should know that the movie contains brief bad language, and that Joe’s father and grandfather become involved with a series of younger women, which is portrayed as humorous — including a comment by Joe’s father (Dabney Coleman) that he may marry the mother of his son. Sexual overtures to Joe by that woman seem inappropriate for a movie of this kind. A later reference to a woman who leaves a man for a woman is also intended as humor. Parents should also make sure that children know that they should not talk to strangers online, and should never accept an invitation to meet in person anyone they have corresponded with online.

Other good topics for discussion include how it can be easier to be yourself in email than in person and how you balance the need to stand up for yourself with the importance of not hurting others. Children who enjoy this movie may also like to see the original, like Katherine’s store called “The Shop Around the Corner” starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, and the musical remake called “In the Good Old Summertime” with Judy Garland and Van Johnson. The story was also produced and as a different musical play called “She Loves Me.”

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Date movie Remake Romance
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