American Pie

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 10:34 am

This is a movie about teenagers who promise each other that they will have sex before the night of the prom, and then do whatever they can to make it happen. It is one of the raunchiest and most explicit movies ever released by a major studio. The title, for example, refers to an apple pie that the main character masturbates in. A girl explains that she used her flute to masturbate. A boy ejaculates into a glass of beer. Boys hide a camera so they can broadcast pictures of a girl changing her clothes over the internet. A little boy hides in a closet so he can see teens have sex.

Parents whose kids see this movie may want to see it themselves, so they can give kids their own ideas about the appropriate ways to make responsible choices about sex, showing respect for themselves and their partners.

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Comedy Series/Sequel

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some scary moments and mild language
Profanity: Some mild language ("bloody")
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril, minor injuries, tense scenes, some graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse cast, strong female characters, all major characters white
Date Released to Theaters: 2001
Date Released to DVD: July 11, 2011
Amazon.com ASIN: B000W74EQC

Prepare for the final movie in the Harry Potter series by watching the first one again:

I loved it. And I can’t wait to see it again.

Based of course on the international sensation, the book by J. K. Rowling, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is filled with visual splendor, valiant heroes, spectacular special effects, and irresistible characters. It is only fair to say that it is truly magical.

Fanatical fans of the books (in other words, just about everyone who has read them) should take a deep breath and prepare themselves to be thrilled. But first they have to remember that no movie could possibly fit in all of the endlessly inventive details author J.K. Rowling includes or match the imagination of readers who have their own ideas about what Harry’s famous lightning-bolt scar looks like or how Professor McGonagall turns into a cat. Move all of that over into a safe storage part of your brain and settle back with those who are brand new to the story to enjoy the way that screenwriter Steven Kloves, production designer Stuart Craig, and director Chris Columbus have brought their vision of the story to the screen. Even these days, when a six year old can tell the difference between stop-motion and computer graphics, there are movies like this one to remind us of our sense of wonder and show us how purely entertaining a movie can be.

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), of course, is the orphan who lives with the odious Dursleys, his aunt, uncle, and cousin. They make him sleep in a closet under the stairs and never show him any attention or affection. On his 11th birthday, he receives a mysterious letter, but his uncle destroys it before he can read it. Letters keep coming, and the Dursleys take Harry to a remote lighthouse to keep him from getting them. Finally one is delivered to the lighthouse in the very large person of Hagrid, a huge, bearded man with a weakness for scary-looking creatures. It turns out that the letters were coming from Hogwarts, a boarding school for young witches and wizards, and Harry is expected for the fall term.

Hagrid takes Harry to buy his school supplies in Diagon Alley, a small corner of London that like so much of the magic world exists near but apart from the world of the muggles (humans). We are thus treated to one of the most imaginative and engaging settings ever committed to film, mixing the London of Dickens and Peter Pan with sheer, bewitching fantasy. A winding street that looks like it is hundreds of years old holds a bank run by gnomes, a store where the wand picks the wizard, and a pub filled with an assortment of curious characters.

Then it’s off to the train station, where the Hogwarts Express leaves from Track 9 ¾. On the train, Harry meets his future best friends, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) and gets to try delicacies like chocolate frogs (they really hop) and Bertie Bott’s Everyflavor Beans (and they do mean EVERY FLAVOR).

And then things really get exciting, with classes in potions and “defense against the dark arts,” a sport called Quidditch (a sort of flying soccer/basketball), a mysterious trap door guarded by a three-headed dog named Fluffy, a baby dragon named Norbert, some information about Harry’s family and history, and some important lessons in loyalty and courage.

The settings manage to be sensationally imaginative and yet at the same time so clearly believable and lived-in and just plain right that you’ll think you could find them yourself, if you could get to Track 9 ¾. The adult actors are simply and completely perfect. Richard Harris turns in his all-time best performance as headmaster Albus Dumbledore, Maggie Smith (whose on-screen teaching roles extend from “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” to “Sister Act”) brings just the right tone of dry asperity to Professor McGonagall, and Robbie Coltrane is a giant with a heart to match as Hagrid (for me, the most astounding special effect of all was the understated way the movie made him look as though he was 10 feet tall). Alan Rickman provides shivers as potions master Professor Snape, and the brief glimpse of Julie Walters (an Oscar nominee for last year’s “Billy Elliott”) as Ron’s mother made me wish for much more. The kids are all just fine, though mostly just called upon to look either astonished or resolute.

A terrific book is now a terrific movie. Every family should enjoy them both.

Parents should know that the movie is very intense and has some scary moments, including children in peril. Children are hurt, but not seriously. There are some tense moments and some gross moments. A ghost character shows how he got the name “Nearly Headless Nick.” There are characters of many races, but all major characters are white. Female characters are strong and capable.

Families who see this movie should talk about what made the books so popular with children all over the world. Why did Dumbledore leave Harry with the Dursleys? Why did Harry decide not to be friends with Draco? Harry showed both good and bad judgment – when? How can you tell? What do you think are some of the other flavors in Everyflavor Beans?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

DVD notes — this is one of the most splendid DVDs ever issued, with an entire second disk of marvelous extras including deleted scenes, a tour of Hogwarts, and CD-ROM treats.

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Action/Adventure Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy School Series/Sequel

Ice Age

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild peril
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril, off-screen deaths including family members of main characters
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2002

Ice Age” is a clever, funny, and touching story of an unlikely trio of animals who band together to return a human baby to his family.

The story is set when glaciers covered much of the earth, 20,000 years ago. As all of the other animals migrate south in search of food, three characters are moving in the opposite direction. They are a wooly mammoth named Manny (voice of Ray Romano), a sloth named Sid (John Leguizamo), and a saber tooth tiger named Diego (Denis Leary). In classic road movie fashion, they don’t like or trust each other very much at the beginning and the journey becomes a psychological one as they share experiences and confidences that make them see each other – and themselves – very differently.

This does not reach the level of Shrek for wit, there is no romance to keep the grown-ups happy, and the plot has no surprises. But it is told with terrific energy, imagination, visual invention, and humor and it moves along very quickly. Interestingly, the three lead voices are provided by performers who began as stand-up comics rather than actors. Their voices are edgy and distinctive, perfectly matched with their characters.

The computer animation is truly magnificent, from the majestic ice-covered mountains to the acorn treasure toted around by a hilarious squirrel who shows up over and over again in the travels of our heroes. The texture of the fur and feathers, the glint of the sun on ice, and soft sparkle of the snowflakes falling at night are perfectly rendered. The pristine settings convey a sense of vastness and promise that will make grown-up viewers pause to think about whether civilization has been all that civilized. All ages will enjoy the facial expressions, body language and — I have to say it — performances of the ice age mammals, so vivid and so true that you may forget that they are pixels, not people.

Parents should know that the characters face peril several times throughout the movie, and it may be upsetting for younger children. The mother of a young child is killed (off-screen) saving the child’s life. Another character recalls the death of his family. While it is fairly mild on the “Bambi” scale, the issues of human hunting of animals, animal predators, and extinction are raised. A character makes a skeptical comment about “mating for life.” There is some mild diaper humor.

Families who see this movie should talk about what Manny says about members of a herd being willing to risk their lives for each other. Why was it so important for Manny to return the baby, even though the humans had hunted his herd? How did that help to heal some of Manny’s sadness? Why did Diego change his mind about Manny? Why did Manny change his mind about Sid? Was it because of something Sid did or because of something Manny learned about himself, or both? What is different about the way that Diego and Manny react to human attacks?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy learning more about the real Ice Age, and should visit a local natural history museum or look at this virtual tour from the Smithsonian Institution’s museum in Washington. They should take a look at the real cave paintings from that era to see paintings of mammoths and saber tooth tigers by people who really saw them. Families with younger children will also enjoy the “Land Before Time” series of videos and Disney’s “Dinosaur.

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Animation Movies Series/Sequel Talking animals

Rocky

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Plot: Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a sweet-natured but not very bright boxer and small-time enforcer for a loan-shark. He has a crush on Adrian (Talia Shire), the painfully shy sister of his friend, Pauly (Burt Young). Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is the heavyweight champion, whose big upcoming fight is canceled when his opponent is injured. Creed and his promoters decide to give an unknown a shot at the title, and pick Rocky.

Rocky has never really committed to anything before, but this opportunity galvanizes him. He works with Mickey (Burgess Meredith) a demanding trainer. He takes Adrian on a date, and they fall in love. When her brother becomes furious over their relationship, she moves in with Rocky. Rocky knows he cannot beat Creed; his goal is to “go the distance,” to conduct himself with class and dignity in the ring and still be standing at the end of the fight. Apollo, sure of himself and busy marketing the fight, neglects his own training. Apollo wins, but it is a split decision. Rocky goes the distance. Surrounded by fans and the press, he bellows over and over “Adrian!”

Discussion: In Rocky’s first fight, we get a glimpse of his potential. But it is also clear he has failed to make a commitment to anything. Mickey wants to throw him out of the gym because he doesn’t take boxing seriously enough. It is less an insult to boxing than an insult to himself. He takes pride in small things, like his pet turtles, and the fact that his nose has never been broken. When he gets the call from Apollo, he assumes that he is going to be invited to be a sparring partner for the champion, the greatest honor he could imagine for himself.

But Apollo’s impetuous offer gives Rocky a chance to see himself differently. That offer does for him what Paul does for Billie in “Born Yesterday,” what Miss Moffat does for Morgan in “The Corn is Green,” or Obi-Wan does for Luke in “Star Wars.” Rocky has a chance to think of himself as someone who can hold his own with the world champion, and once he has that image of himself, it is just a matter of taking the steps to get there. That image also gives him the courage to risk getting close to Adrian. Rocky also gives Adrian a chance to see herself differently. He was told when he was young that he was not smart, so he should concentrate on his physical ability; she was told she was not pretty, and should concentrate on her mental ability. Each of them sees in the other what no one else did. He sees how pretty she is; she sees how bright he is; each sees the other as loveable, as no one has before. This, as much as anything, is what allows both of them to bloom.

Rocky is realistic about his goal. He does not need to win. He just needs to acquit himself with dignity, to show that he is in the same league as the champion. In order to achieve that goal, he will risk giving everything he has, risk even the small pride of an unbroken nose. He develops enough self-respect to risk public disgrace. This is a big issue for teenagers — adolescence has been characterized as the years in which everything centers around the prayer, “God, don’t let me be embarrassed today.” Rocky begins as someone afraid to give his best in case it is not good enough, and becomes someone who suspects that his best is enough to achieve his goals, and is willing to test himself to find out.

It is worth taking a look at Creed as well. Like the hare in the Aesop fable, he underestimates his opponent. He is so sure of himself, and so busy working on the business side of the fight that he comes to the fight unprepared.

It is especially meaningful that the action behind the scenes paralleled that in the movie. Stallone, a small-time actor, was offered a great deal of money for this script, which he wrote. But he insisted instead on selling it for a negligible sum, provided that he play the lead. The entire movie was made for less than $1 million. Stallone beat even longer odds than Rocky did when the movie went on to win the Oscar as Best Picture. Stallone also became only the third person in history (after Charles Chaplin and Orson Welles) to be nominated for both Best Actor and Best Screenplay.

Questions for Kids:

· Why did Mickey want to throw Rocky out of the gym?

· Why didn’t Rocky have higher aspirations, until after he got the offer from Apollo?

· How is Apollo like the hare in the fable about the tortoise and the hare? Why is it so hard for Rocky and Adrian to get to know one another?

Connections: There are four sequels, all increasingly garish and cartoonish. They are barely more than remakes, and are only for die-hard fans.

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Drama Series/Sequel Sports

Spy Kids

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Profanity: One brief almost-swear word
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril, mostly comic
Diversity Issues: Strong female characters, several Latino leads
Date Released to Theaters: 2001
Date Released to DVD: August 15, 2011
Amazon.com ASIN: B004SIPAFK

This week’s release of the fourth in the “Spy Kids” series is a good reason to revisit the original.

Imagine James Bond crossed with “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and you might have an idea of what to expect in “Spy Kids,” the best family movie of the spring. It has just the right combination of giddy fantasy, exciting adventure, wonderful special effects, and sly comedy to be ideal for 7-12 year-olds and their families. It is doubly welcome, after the terrible “See Spot Run,” and especially because it features strong females and characters and performers from the Latino culture.

Carmen and Juni Cortez (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) are the children of Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino), once the cleverest spies in the world, but now loving parents who make a living as consultants. Or so they say.

It turns out that once the kids go to bed, Gregorio and Ingrid flip a few switches to connect to a command center that keeps them involved in spy missions, though now from a safe distance.

When top secret agents start disappearing, Gregorio and Ingrid call on “Uncle Felix” (Cheech Marin) to watch the kids and climb back into their spy gear to go off and save the world. But then they, too, disappear, and it is up to Carmen and Juni to rescue their parents, and, while they’re at it, the rest of the world, too. But first, they have to learn to respect and trust each other.

They also have to learn how to use a bunch of gadgets that would leave James Bond, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, and even Inspector Gadget green with envy. I loved the way that instead of ray guns or other destructive devices the kids use fantasy versions of stuff that kids know best. They fight the bad guys with bubble gum that gives the enemy an electric shock, silly string that turns into cement, and, that ultimate dream, a back-pack-y sort of thing that enables them to fly. Similarly, instead of scary ninjas or soldiers, most of the bad guys are either thumb-shaped robot creatures who are literally all thumbs or a bunch of robot children whose most menacing aspect is glowing eyes and super strength.

Any good adventure story needs a great villain, and this one has the always-great Alan Cummings as Floop, the star of Juni’s favorite television program who is also the mastermind of the plot to create an army of robot children. His sidekick is Minion (Tony Shaloub), who transforms the captured spies into backwards-speaking, silly-looking mutants for Floop’s show. But one of the interesting things about the movie is that nearly everyone turns out to be something different than what they or others thought, even Minion and Floop. The transforming in the movie is not limited to the mutants.

Parents should know that the movie includes a little bit of potty humor (which most kids will find hilarious) and one almost-swear word. Younger children might be frightened by the mutant creatures, but most will find them more silly than scary. Characters are in comic peril and there is a certain amount of head-bonking violence, but no one even gets a scratch except for one villain whose encounter with flames leaves her having a very bad hair day.

Be sure to tell kids that the thumb-robots were inspired by drawings writer/director Robert Rodriguez did when he was 12, and ask them to come up with some pictures of things they’d like to put into a movie someday. Good topics for family discussion include how to know which secrets to share, the challenges of siblinghood (a two-generation challenge in the Cortez family) and the movie’s conclusion that spy work is easy compared to keeping a family together, which is not only more of a challenge, but more important.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach.”

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Action/Adventure DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Family Issues Series/Sequel Spies Stories About Kids
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