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

Little Nicky

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language for a PG-13
Alcohol/ Drugs: Characters drink and eat a cake with marijuana, joke about lowering the drinking age to 10
Violence/ Scariness: Comic violence, including body parts falling off
Diversity Issues: Mildly homophobic humor
Date Released to Theaters: 2000

There are two kinds of Adam Sandler movies: the kind where he plays a complete idiot and uses a (supposedly) funny voice through it all and the kind where he just plays a sweet doofus with his regular voice. Generally, those regular voice movies (“Happy Gilmore,” “Big Daddy,” and “The Wedding Singer”) are more broadly appealing than the funny voice movies, like “The Waterboy.” Although this movie is in the funny voice category, it benefits from higher production values and a strong supporting cast and ranks as one of the better Sandler movies. That voice gets extremely annoying very quickly, though — like after the first thirty seconds.

Sandler, surrounded by his usual gang of college pals and SNL alums, plays the title character, the third son of a loving father who happens to be Satan (Harvey Keitel). The two older sons (wrestling star Tom “Tiny” Lister, Jr., and “Notting Hill’s” wacky roommate Rhys Ifans) are furious that Satan will not allow one of them take over as commander-in-chief of hell, so they decide to leave and form their own Hell in New York City. Unless Little Nicky can get them back home within a week, their father will literally fall apart. So even though he has never been to earth before, he goes to New York to try to bring them back. A talking guardian bulldog is there to help.

Little Nicky learns important lessons about life on earth, from eating and sleeping to staying out of the way of heavy moving metal things. He also learns about the butterflies in the stomach feeling he gets from talking to a pretty girl (Patricia Arquette) and some other feelings he gets from eating a cake laced with marijuana. And he learns something about who he really is and how powerful he can be.

All of this is just an excuse, of course, for a lot of low-wattage jokes, usually repeated for no additional benefit. But the movie is enlivened by some funny cameos (Rodney Dangerfield as Satan’s father, Reese Witherspoon as an angel, Henry Winkler as himself, and a surprise visit by a rock star). Sandler fans will enjoy it, but it will not have the cross-over appeal of “The Wedding Singer.”

Parents should know that this movie is right up at the R edge of PG-13, with one use of the F-word and a lot of other strong language and sexual references. One of Satan’s daily tasks is to punish a French-maid’s-uniform-clad Hitler by inserting a pineapple into his rear end. Satan punishes another character by making realistic-looking breasts grow out of his head, and in subsequent scenes they get fondled by other characters. A character is a weird transvestite who pours hot wax on his chest and plays with his nipples. A voyeur gets sent to hell. In addition to the marijuana mentioned above, the devils lower the drinking age to 10, and we see drunken children coming out of a bar (and puking). They also change New York’s tourism slogan to “I love hookers.” And there are some jokes that can be interpreted as homophobic.

Families who see this movie should talk about the idea of a “balance between good and evil.” Is there a balance? Why? They may also want to talk about their own ideas about heaven and hell.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “The Wedding Singer” and “Happy Gilmore.”

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Movies

Moulin Rouge

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Strong language for a PG-13
Alcohol/ Drugs: Characters drink (including hallucinogen absinthe)
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril, gun, tragic death
Diversity Issues: Issues about the limited options available to women
Date Released to Theaters: 2001

This is a big overstuffed everything- and the kitchen sink mess of a movie. It is an ambitious, often gorgeous, occasionally brilliant mess. But for all its superficial abundance, there is an essential stinginess at its core. It teases the audience with glimpses of dazzling images and snippets of familiar songs but never gives either a chance to connect. It’s like one long coming attraction, without the payoff of a chance to relish the full version. There is more than enough for the eye, but nothing for the soul.

The story is supposed to be eternal, with echoes of classic themes from Orpheus to La Bohème (with references to everything from “Singin’ in the Rain” to “The Sound of Music,” Nirvana, Fellini, MTV, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, the Beatles, and even a love triangle with a gun climax right out of “Titanic”). Those may be shortcuts to pleasure and even amusement, but they don’t work when it comes time to making us care about what happens. The movie is busy to the point of hallucination, but it has so little time for its characters that it comes across more as melodrama, with young lovers menaced by a villain who all but twirls his moustache and ties her to the train tracks. The story tells us that it is supposed to be about love, but it tries so hard to be postmodern and ironic that the audience is left feeling as cold-hearted as the wicked Duke.

The movie opens brilliantly with a proscenium arch and as the curtain goes up we see the conductor and hear a song about “a very strange enchanted boy.” Christian (Ewan McGregor), a naive young poet, comes to Paris at the turn of the 20th Century and meets up with a group of Bohemian artists who want him to write a musical play for the star of a combination nightclub, dance hall, and brothel, a “kingdom of nighttime pleasures” called the Moulin Rouge. The star’s name is Satine (Nicole Kidman), and she and Christian fall in love, which is bad for business. The emcee of the show (Jim Broadbent as Ziglar) wants Satine to get the wealthy Duke to pay to transform the Moulin Rouge into a legitimate theater and back the first show. That means that she has to persuade the Duke that she is in love with him, and she has to sleep with him.

Satine wants stardom and she wants Christian. She does not have much time; she faints at the end of her big musical number, and she has been coughing up blood.

Christian learns that it is not as easy to be a Bohemian as he thought; Satine learns that acting like she loves many men is not as hard as acting like she does not love one. They both learn that the show is more real than they thought. The sitar (played by John Leguizamo as Toulouse-Lautrec) does tell the truth and love’s first kiss does wake the princess,

The highlight of the movie is the art direction. The sets and costumes are spectacular, and everything else is secondary at best. McGregor and Kidman use their undeniable star power to do as much to hold our attention as anyone could. Their singing voices are passable, but not arresting.

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language (including double entendres) and sexual references and situations. The main character is a prostitute and the atmosphere is decadent. Christian and his friends drink absinthe, and have a hallucination.

Families who see this movie should look at some of the pictures by Toulouse-Lautrec of the real Moulin Rouge. They should talk about Satine’s comment that she had learned to think that she was only worth what someone would pay for her. How did being in love with Christian change that? Did the Bohemians really change the world around them? What do you think will happen to Christian? To the Duke?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Luhrman’s other films, “Strictly Ballroom” and “Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet,” which have his trademark visual flair and clever musical selections, and which also have better scripts.

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Movies

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some smoking and drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Machine gun shoot-outs and other violence, KKK attempted lynching
Diversity Issues: Klu Klux Klan rally, racist comments
Date Released to Theaters: 2000

The Coen brothers’ latest is based in part on the Odyssey (a prologue credits the story to Homer). But its title comes from that most sublime of Preston Sturges classic comedies, “Sullivan’s Travels,” made in 1941. The title character is a successful director of silly comedies (like “Hey Hey in the Hayloft”), but he wants to make a serious movie about the Depression, and he wants to call it — “O Brother Where Art Thou.” That movie never got made, until now. But in sly Coen brothers fashion (these are the guys behind “Fargo” and “Barton Fink”), this movie has as much to do with “Hey Hey in the Hayloft” as it does with Sullivan’s vision of a penetrating dissection of the lot of the laborer.

Like the Odyssey, this is the story of a man named Ulysses who is trying to get home to his wife (here called Penny instead of Penelope) before she marries one of her suitors. There are other echoes to that classic saga, from a blind seer who predicts that they will not find the treasure they seek to a one-eyed villain and three singing sirens to distract the travelers from their journey.

But this Ulysses is no war hero from ancient Greece. It is America during the Depression, and Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) is a prisoner on a chain gang in Mississippi. He persuades the two men chained to him, Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) to esape with him so they can get a hidden treasure. They have to get to it right away because the area will be flooded in two weeks as part of a project to bring electricity to the community.

They make their way home, meeting up with an assortment of oddball characters, including bank-robbing legend George “Babyface” Nelson. They get some money by singing for a man who records bluegrass. They cross paths with two bitter opponents in an upcoming election for governor. The incumbent is Governor Menelaus “Pass the Biscuits” Pappy O’Daniel (Charles Durning). He and his cronies all have huge bellies, with pants that reach to their chests to be held by suspenders. O’Daniel’s opponent, Homer Stokes, is selling himself as a man of the little people who wants to clean house, and he makes campaign appearances with a midget and a broom to show that he means it.

McGill and his friends do their best to evade the sheriff and make their way home, amidst washed-out landscapes. As always, the Coen brothers present an array of quirky characters with astonishing faces, closer to gargoyles and caricatures than to the usual Hollywood smooth prettiness. Delmar’s lashless, lipless, neckless head makes him look like a fetus or an alien. O’Daniel almost looks like a biscuit, instead of a man who’s just eaten too many of them.

And there is the offbeat dialogue — when Delmar, just baptized, says he has been saved by Jesus and a black guitar player says he just sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads, McGill replies, “Well, I guess I’m the only one who remains unaffiliated.” He also explains that “It’s a fool who looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.” McGill is passionately devoted to a hair pommade called “Dapper Dan’s,” and spends a lot of time making sure his hair is just right, completely ignoring any other aspect of hygiene or appearance.

This is a lighter story than many of the Coens’ previous movies, which makes it easy to forgive the parts that don’t work very well, especially when we have the pleasure of the year’s finest soundtrack, sheer bluegrass joy.

Parents should know that the movie has some mild language and some incidents reflecting the racism of its setting, including a KKK rally and attempted lynching.

Families who see the movie should talk about its origins in the greatest of all epics, and how that story has endured. They might also want to talk about the symbolism of fire and water throughout the movie (notice the way that the sheriff’s dark glasses always reflect fire).

Families who enjoy this movie should see “Sullivan’s Travels” and compare the two, especially the scenes in both where the prisoners watch a movie. Families will also enjoy other Sturges classics like “The Lady Eve” and “The Palm Beach Story.”

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Movies

Save the Last Dance

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Typical high school-style strong language, very strong language in soundtrack rap songs
Alcohol/ Drugs: Teen characters drink and smoke, fake ID
Violence/ Scariness: Inner-city characters involved in violence, car crash, parental death
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2001

There is real logic and there is movie logic. Audiences are usually very forgiving of lapses in movie logic — we recognize that people always get perfect parking spaces and have correct change and live in fabulous apartments that their characters could never afford because we recognize that these elements are there to make the story movie smoothly and because they make it more fun to watch. In the spirit of movies like “Flashdance” and “Grease,” this movie requires suspension of disbelief that is close to complete abandonment of any sense of reality. This is the kind of movie in which characters who live in the poorest circumstances seem to have all the money they need to buy fake IDs or expensive theater tickets. Students who get good grades never seem to do any homework or have any books in their backpacks. A teenager with a baby never has a problem with child care. Still, no one goes to this movie to gain great insights about the human condition. It is nowhere near “Grease” or “Flashdance” in style, soundtrack, or dance (and the use of a dance double in the ballet sequences is obvious), but it may appeal to teens who see it as one big music video.

Sara Johnson (Julia Stiles) is a ballet dancer who is nervous about her big audition for Julliard. Her mother promises to be there, but she is killed in a car crash on the way to the theater. Sara leaves her home in the suburbs to live with her musician father (Terry Kinney) in a tiny apartment in Chicago’s inner city. Memories of her old life are so painful that she wants to leave everything behind.

Her new high school has metal detectors at the entrance, and almost all of the students are black. She stands in the cafeteria, holding her tray, not knowing where to sit. Chenille (Kerry Washington) welcomes Sara to her table. Chenille’s brother Derek (Sean Patrick Thomas) is a smart kid torn between his loyalty to his old friends who are increasingly involved in dangerous activities, and his ambitions to go to college and medical school. Chenille brings Sara to a dance club (after a quick style makeover) and after some verbal sparring, Derek dances with Sara, teaching her a little about hip hop. He gives her a few more lessons. They become friends, then they become romantically involved. He finds out about her passion for ballet, and urges her to apply to Julliard again. Various complications ensue, especially when Chenille becomes angry and tells Sara that white girls should not become involved with “one of the few decent men we got left after jail, drugs, and drive-by.” Sara, Chenille, and Derek have to confront their fears and think carefully about loyalty and trust. Ultimately, what Sara has learned from Derek in dance and in life, helps her to follow her dream.

This is a formulaic coming of age/teen romance with an MTV spin (MTV co-produced the movie). While the script is below average, even by the low standards of this genre, its performers are attractive and sincere (Kerry Washington is particularly appealing) and most teens are still so new to this category of film that it may not seem clichéd to them.

Parents should know that the characters use strong language and the soundtrack lyrics have even stronger language, including the n-word. Chenille has an out of wedlock child (and a difficult relationship with the child’s father). Derek has to decide whether his loyalty to an old friend (and his sense of guilt at the friend’s having taken the rap for them both) means that he must go along with him when he plans to shoot someone. Characters object to the interracial romance, mostly because they are jealous. The characters buy fake IDs so they can go to a club that serves liquor, and they drink and smoke.

Families who see this movie should talk about the choices Sara and Derek must face. Sara blames herself for her mother’s death. How does she overcome that feeling and allow herself to take the risk of auditioning again? How do Derek and Sara get into trouble by not being honest with each other about what is bothering them? How do they sort through their loyalties, Derek to his friend Malakai (Fredro Starr) and Sara to Chenille? Malakai tells Derek, “You act like you don’t know who you are anymore.” How do Sara and Derek decide who they are? Where do they find their support?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Footloose” and “Fame,” both with some mature material.

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Movies
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