City of Angels

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

The German film “Wings of Desire”, Wim Wenders’ dreamlike meditation on the angels among us, has been Hollywoodized into a dreamlike but glossy romance between an angel named Seth (Nicolas Cage) and a surgeon named Maggie (Meg Ryan). According to this film, angels appear to hold our hands as we die. Humans cannot see them, but Maggie, fighting desperately to save a patient, feels Seth’s presence, and it shakes her. It shakes him, too. He begins to wish that he could trade his existance as an angel for the chance to partake in earthly pleasures like smell, and touch, and love. He meets one of Maggie’s patients, a former angel (played by NYPD Blue star Dennis Franz) and learns that even angels have the free will to choose their destinies.

Cage is especially touching, his longing for Maggie coming from some deep place in his soul. And the movie has some good issues to raise about choices and destiny and intimacy and the importance of smelling the roses. But it has awkward construction and a maudlin conclusion. Parents should know that there are some sad deaths (including a child). They may also want to talk about why Maggie’s relationship with her colleague is so unsatisfying for her, and why Seth’s role is so unsatisfying for him.

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Romance

Ever After

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Drew Barrymore plays Danielle, according to her great-great-great grand- daughter the real inspiration for the story of Cinderella. Just as in the classic fairy tale, Danielle lives with her mean step-mother and step- sisters, after the death of her beloved father. They force her to do all the work. She meets the prince, goes to the ball wearing glass slippers, and runs away before midnight. But there are some big differences. No pumpkin coach, no fairy godmother, and no bibbity-bobbity-boo. This heroine is not meekly obedient. She stays on because she wants to take care of her home and the people who work there, because it makes her feel close to her father, and because she still hopes that somehow she will find approval from the only mother she has ever known.

The step-mother, played by Anjelica Houston in her most evil “The Witches” mode, is not going to give it to her. She tells Danielle that she sees her as a pebble in her shoe. All she cares about is making sure that the prince chooses her elder daughter, Marguerite (Megan Dodd), as his bride. She is willing to lie, cheat, and steal to make it happen.

Meanwhile, the Prince (Dougray Scott) is not quite Charming. He appears arrogant, but is really just lonely and aimless. His parents want him to marry the princess of Spain, to cement a strategic alliance, but he wants to fall in love. He meets Danielle when she is in disguise as a courtier, to rescue a family servant sold by her step-mother to pay her debts, and he is very taken by Danielle’s passion and intellect.

The stepmother finds out about their relationship, and does her best to thwart it. When the prince finds out that Danielle is not really of noble birth, he is furious, at first. But it all ends happily ever after, even without a fairy godmother (though with a little help from Leonardo da Vinci).

Sumptuously filmed at medieval castles and chateaux, with gorgeous costumes, this is is a pleasure for the eye as well as the spirit. Danielle is a very modern heroine, smart, brave, honest, and able to save her prince as well as herself, if necessary. The script is clever (though wildly anachronistic in places), and while the accents come and go (and why do French characters speak with English accents, anyway?), the performances are excellent, with particularly engaging turns by Melanie Lynskey as the sympathetic younger step-sister and Judy Parfitt as the queen. It is one of the most delightful family movies of the year, maybe of all time.

Parents should note that some profanity in the theatrical release has been removed to secure a PG rating for the video, but there is still one expletive. There is some action violence, and a sad onscreen death. The plot may be a challenge to younger children, especially those expecting the story they know, so it is a good idea to prepare them, which can lead to a good discussion of different versions and points of view. Older children will enjoy Ella, Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, a different modern retelling of the Cinderella story. And everyone should see the more traditional versions, especially the wonderful Disney cartoon and the Rogers and Hammerstein musical starring Lesley Anne Warren in the original and Brandy and Whitney Houston in the remake.

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Drama Fantasy For the Whole Family Romance

Splendor in the Grass

Posted on June 14, 2002 at 4:14 pm

In this classic of repressed teenage sexuality, set in the 1920s, Bud (Warren Beatty) and Deanie (Natalie Wood) are high school students who are newly in love and breathless with desire, physical and emotional. Deenie’s parents are unable to give her any guidance. They make her feel ashamed of her feelings. Her mother says, “Your father never laid a hand on me until we were married and then I just gave in because a wife has to. A woman doesn’t enjoy these things the way a man does. She just lets her husband come near her in order to have children.” Bud’s father, Ace (Pat Hingle) tells Bud that there are two kinds of girls, “good” and “bad,” and the “bad” ones are fair game. This apparently applies to Bud’s sister, whose reputation has been “ruined” by having sex and has come home from college in disgrace. At a party, she drinks too much and has sex with a group of men.

Deanie will not have sex with Bud, and they break up. Both suffer breakdowns. His is moral; he has sex with another girl, known to be “easy.” Hers is emotional; overcome with despair and self-loathing, Deanie has a breakdown and becomes a patient at a mental hospital. Ace will not permit Bud to go to agricultural college and insists that he go to Yale. But when the stock market crashes, Ace is wiped out and kills himself. Bud leaves college.

When Deanie comes home from the hospital, her mother does not want her to see Bud. Deanie’s father tells her how to find him, and, with some friends, Deanie drives out to the shack where Bud lives with his wife. Deanie and Bud speak, briefly, achieving some resolution, enabling them to go on, if not as they had once hoped, at least grateful for what they have had. Deanie remembers the words of the poem she learned in school: “Though nothing can bring back the hour/of splendor in the grass,/Glory in the flower,/We will grieve not, but rather find/Strength in what remains behind.”

This Oscar -winning screenplay by William Inge was immensely controversial when the film was made. (A brief glimpse of nudity as Deanie ran from the bathtub was cut from the final print.) Most teenagers face a different set of issues today, but they are presented with no less hypocrisy or more reassurance than the messages to kids like Bud and Deanie. Instead of being told that sexual feelings are non-existent or evidence of being “bad,” today’s teenagers often get the message that they are “bad” or lacking if they do not feel ready to engage in sexual activity freely almost as soon as they enter high school. The issues of honesty in communicating about sexuality and the overwhelming confusion of teenage passion remain important and valid, and this movie can provide a good opening for a talk about what has changed and how teenagers feel about the decisions and the consequences Bud and Deanie face in this movie.

Talk about:
• Why does Ace make a distinction between “good” and “bad” girls? Do people make that distinction today? What makes a girl “bad”?
• Is anyone honest with Bud and Deanie?
• What do Bud and Deanie mean when they say that they don’t think about happiness anymore?
• Why did Deanie refuse to have sex with Bud? Why did Bud refuse to have sex with Deanie? What should two people think about before they make the decision to have sex?

In another classic movie of teenage sexual repression, “A Summer Place,” Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue have sex, and she becomes pregnant. Dee’s mother is repressed to the point of hysteria, but her father, who has left his wife to be reunited with his own teenage love, is sympathetic and supportive, all to lush and unforgettable theme music by Max Steiner. William Inge (who appears as the minister) won an Oscar for the screenplay. He also wrote “Picnic,” “Bus Stop,” “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,” all about vulnerable people who must struggle to find intimacy and happiness, and especially appealing to sensitive teens.

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Classic Drama Romance

The Quiet Man

Posted on March 9, 2002 at 1:09 pm

I grew up in Chicago, a city that really knows how to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. There’s the parade, of course, and every year they dye the Chicago River green. And every year WGN shows The Quiet Man, the unabashed love letter to Ireland made by director John Ford with John Wayne and Irish and Irish-American actors like Maureen O’Hara and Barry Fitzgerald. Some people think the movie is sexist, but they ignore the movie’s key themes about how important it is for both men and women to believe that they bring something important to the relationship. In the words of Michaleen Oge Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald), it is about a love story that is impetuous and Homeric. It has passion, humor, glorious Technicolor, and one of the greatest fight scenes ever put on film. It’s a great way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

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Drama Romance
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