Resident Evil

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extreme peril, graphic violence, many characters killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse team members, strong women
Date Released to Theaters: 2002

The definitive comment about “Resident Evil” was made by my friend Luke, who walked out of the theater with me and said, “The computer game is more realistic than the movie.” At least, I think that’s what he said. My ears were still ringing from the highest decibel audio track I can remember.

Okay, no one was going in expecting insights about the human condition or Oscar-worthy performances in a movie based on a CD-ROM. All we hope for is some cool special effects and fight scenes. But even on that level, “Resident Evil” is a disappointment.

A huge corporate conglomerate operates a mysterious underground research facility called The Hive. When something goes wrong with a devastating virus experiment, the governing computer system (think “2001’s” Hal the computer with the voice of Alice in Wonderland) shuts everything down, including killing off all the people. Two amnesiac security officers are brought down into The Hive by a team of commandos. And the rest of the movie consists of the group being confronted by various booby-traps and being chased by various mutants and zombies.

For the record, I can accept forgoing insight, characterization, and even dialogue in a movie like this. But it is not okay to forego stunning visuals, clever plot twists, and a sense of humor, and here “Resident Evil” falls short. What it does have is undead humans who look like rejects from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, mutant vampire Dobermans who look like they they’ve been turned inside out, some laser beams that slice into people in a really gross way, and, on the plus side, a literally kick-ass performance by Michelle Rodriguez.

Parents should know that this movie has extremely gross and graphic violence, with many disgusting deaths and truly icky monsters. Characters are in extreme peril and most of them are killed. There is very strong language and a brief sexual situation with nudity.

Families who see this movie should talk about how people should respond if they believe that their organization is doing something wrong and about the kinds of controls our society establishes to keep private organizations from getting out of control. They can also talk about how this movie could have been better.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the much better The Fifth Element, also starring Milla Jovovich.

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Sleeping Beauty

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Very scary confrontation with the dragon
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 1959

Disney has beautifully restored one of its most treasured classics, “Sleeping Beauty,” in honor of its 50th anniversary.

The King and Queen happily celebrate the birth of their daughter, Princess Aurora. The young Prince who is betrothed to the baby and three good fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, join the celebration. But wicked Maleficent, a bad fairy, is enraged when she is not included. She arrives at the party to cast a spell on the baby Princess. When she turns 16, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel, and die.

The good fairies cannot remove the spell, but they change it from death to a deep sleep from which Aurora can be awakened only by love’s first kiss. The King and Queen try to protect the princess by sending her off with the good fairies to live in a tiny cottage in the woods until her sixteenth birthday is over. They cannot use their magic powers because it would lead Maleficent to the princess. Aurora (called Briar Rose) grows up. Out in the woods, she meets the Prince, and they fall in love, not knowing they are already engaged. But the fairies prepare for her birthday party and argue about whether the dress they are making for Aurora should be pink or blue, and cannot resist using their magic. Maleficent discovers where they are and is able to make Aurora prick her finger and fall into a deep sleep. Maleficent also captures the prince to make sure he cannot break the spell. After the fairies help him escape, Maleficent turns herself into a dragon to stop him. He kills the dragon and wakes Aurora with a kiss. At her birthday party, they dance, not even noticing that her dress turns from blue to pink as the fairies continue to argue about the color.

In this classic story, as in “Snow White,” a sleeping princess can only be awakened by a kiss from the prince. Psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim and others have written extensively about the meaning of these stories, and the ways in which they symbolize the transition to adulthood and sexual awakening. Bettelheim’s theory was that such fairy tales begin to prepare children for developments they are not ready to assimilate consciously.

There is no reason to discuss this interpretation with children, of course. But it is worthwhile to talk with them about Maleficent, one of Disney’s most terrifying villains, and why her bitter jealousy makes her so obsessed with vengeance. Is that what she really wants? Isn’t she doing exactly the opposite of what is required to achieve her real goal, acceptance? Children also enjoy the little squabbles of the three good fairies, which may remind them of arguments with their siblings.

NOTE: The Blu-Ray DVD includes a bonus “regular” DVD for families who have not yet switched to Blu-Ray but plan to in the future.

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The Basket

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Brief war scenes, character threatened with a gun
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2000

The term “family movie” tends to evoke eye-rolling and sighs from all but the youngest kids, calling up memories of sugary stories about adorable children, cute pets, and bouncy songs. What it should evoke is a movie like this one, an ambitious, complicated, thoughtful, and meaningful story of fear, loss, love, opera, and basketball.

It is set in a small town near Spokane, Washington, in 1918. A soldier has come home from the war, ill and injured. His parents are devastated, blaming themselves for letting him go. Two German orphans are taken in by the minister, over the objections of neighbors who blame them for the war. The community’s farmers need an expensive new thresher, but they do not have the money. A charismatic new teacher from Boston holds his students spellbound as he lets them listen to an opera on his gramaphone, telling them a little more of its story each day. He also tells them about a new game that has become popular back in Boston, one where the players try to throw the ball into a basket nailed to a post.

All of these stories and more come together like the musical themes in the opera played for the students by the teacher. That opera (created for this movie) is also the story of a mysterious stranger who helps a small village triumph over challenges that at first divide and then unite them.

The movie’s low budget shows, but the passion and commitment that went into making it are even more evident. Some of the situations may sound formulaic — no one thinks that the German kids will be unable to prove their value to the community or that there won’t be some surprises in the big game — but the appeal of the characters and the integrity of the production hold the interest of the audience. Peter Coyote is fine as the teacher who must grapple with the demons of his own past as he tries to help his students. Karen Allen, best known for her role in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” is very moving as the loving mother who loses her son and then almost loses her husband to isolation and guilt. Her expressions as she listens to the music and as she begins to speak about what she wants are eloquent beyond words.

Parents should know that this movie includes brief flashbacks to WWI battle scenes, including the death of civilians. A character has an amputated leg and another has epilepsy. There are sad deaths. There are also intense scenes of prejudice and cruelty that may be upsetting to children.

Families who see this movie should talk about the way it shows how basketball was played in its earliest days, when the people who shoot baskets were called “goal tossers.” How has it changed? How do you think that the way we play games like basketball and baseball may change in the future? Think about the sacrifices made by Brigitta and by Martin. What led them to make those choices? Did they get what they were hoping for? Why was it hard for some people in the community to accept Helmut and Brigitta? Which characters did not, and why? Why was the story of “The Basket” like what was going on in the town? How can stories help change the way we see the world?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Rigoletto.” Although it shares the name of a famous real-life opera, its story, about a girl who must become the maid of a wealthy, mysterious, and disfigured stranger, is very different.

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The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
Profanity: A couple of mild naughty words and some potty humor
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Cartoon-style pratfalls, pie in the face
Diversity Issues: Class issues
Date Released to Theaters: 2000

First things first — it is better than the original, famously troubled 1994 version that sank under the weight of too many screenwriters (reportedly over 30) and too many commercial tie-ins. This prequel benefits from lower expectations (it was originally intended as a straight-to-video release) and improved technology (the CGI dinosaurs are terrific). Okay, it begins with a fart joke (the guilty party — a dinosaur — says, “Hey, I got three stomachs, cut me some slack!”). And the rest of the humor is only slightly more elevated. And some of its jokes are older than the Stone Age. But it is not too bad, there are even a couple of genuinely funny moments, and it can provide for a moderately enjoyable family outing or a first-class birthday party for anyone in the 5-8-year-old range. The kids at the screening I attended cheered and applauded.

Mark Addy (from “The Full Monty”) and Stephen Baldwin (from “The Usual Suspects”) play Fred and Barney as though they are really enjoying it. The wonderfully talented Kristen Johnston (“Third Rock from the Sun”) is sadly underused as Wilma, but she looks sensational in her “Isaac Miz- rock-hi” animal skins. Wilma is the pampered daughter of the snobbish Pearl Slaghoople (Joan Collins in sort of prehistoric “Dynasty” mode) and the loving but addled Colonel (Harvey Korman). She has no interest in a life of country clubs and snobs. She runs away and is befriended by waitress Betty O’Shale (Jane Krakowski of “Ally McBeal”). They meet Fred and Barney and all goes well until Chip Rockefeller (“Dharma & Greg’s” Thomas Gibson), who is after Wilma’s fortune, invites them to his new resort in Rock Vegas. But all ends well, and we even get to see the origins of Wilma’s upswept hairstyle and pearls.

The highlight of the movie is Alan Cummings. He plays both Gazoo, the space alien who comes to earth to observe human mating rituals, and Mick Jagged, the (what else) rock star, frontman for (what else) the Stones. It’s a real pity that he plays only two roles – the movie fades whenever he is off screen. In the soundtrack’s highlight, Ann-Margret simultaneously salutes two of her career highlights — the original Flintstones cartoon (as “Ann Margrock”) and “Viva Las Vegas” with a terrific rendition of “Viva Rock Vegas.”

Parents should know that there are a few naughty words and mild sexual references (one afternoon Betty tells Barney that she wants to come back to his apartment and make him breakfast, and he wonders what she wants to do until morning), and some pie-in-the-face/pratfall cartoon violence.

Families who see this movie should discuss why Wilma feels unsatisfied despite her wealth, why Fred feels that he has to make a lot of money to compete with Chip, and how Betty and Barney create trouble by jumping to conclusions instead of telling each other about what worries them. Parents will also want to talk about Betty’s decision to go off with Mick when she thinks Barney has been unfaithful. Whether it is out of spite or a way to bolster her spirits, it is a foolish response.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the old Flintstones and Jetsons cartoons, and may even get a kick out of looking for the similarities between them.

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The Mexican

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking, character drinks too much
Violence/ Scariness: Very violent, several deaths, including major characters
Diversity Issues: Tendency to sterotype Mexican nationals
Date Released to Theaters: 2001

Two of the biggest stars in Hollywood took pay cuts to appear in what is essentially a quirky independent movie — with two of the biggrest stars in Hollywood. Even though Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts are both top-notch acting talents who do not get enough credit for taking risks (Pitt’s performance in “12 Monkeys” was one of the best of the decade), in this movie their star power overwhelms not just their acting but the movie’s story as well. The effect is like trying to juggle a bowling ball with a dozen eggs. Fortunately, when things get out of kilter or the plot begins to sag, there is all that star power to keep us happy and give us something to enjoy until it gets going again. If the movie has a lot of pieces that don’t quite fit together, at least they are all high-quality pieces. It may be something of a mess, but it is an interesting mess to watch.

Pitt and Roberts play Jerry and Samantha, a couple whose romantic relationship is complicated enough when Jerry is called on to perform one last errand for a mob boss. He has to go to Mexico to get a valuable antique gun called “The Mexican” from a man named Beck and bring them both back with him. Jerry tries to explain to Samantha that given a choice between letting down the mob and letting down his girlfriend, the fact that only one of those options involves death has to factor into the calculus. Samantha, who is a big fan of the women’s magazine school of relationships and who reads books like “Men Who Can’t Love” with a highlighter in her hand, tosses Jerry’s clothes out the window and sets off to pursue her dream of becoming a croupier in Las Vegas.

The mob guys know that Jerry’s focus and competence cannot be counted on without a little added incentive, so they arrange for Samantha to be kidnapped by a hitman named Leroy (James Gandolfini of HBO’s “The Sopranos”).

Gandolfini is just plan brilliant in the role, and the scenes between Leroy and Samantha are the best part of the movie. He explains that he is “here to regulate funkiness” and she tells him that he has “trust issues.” Soon they are giving each other relationship advice in between shoot-outs. Meanwhile, Jerry, who tends to “Forrest Gump through life,” is chasing after the gun, with intermittent success.

We want Jerry and Sam to get together, but the movie becomes less interesting when they do. Even a surprise cameo from another big star does not help us through a final act that involves the loss of characters we have come to care about. Jerry and Samantha react and behave in ways that we are not used to seeing characters played by big stars behave. Pitt and Roberts give it all they have, but the script does not have enough weight to help make that behavior consistent with what we know of the characters.

Parents should know that the movie is very violent, with a lot of shooting, graphic injuries, and the deaths of important characters. A woman commits suicide when her lover is killed. Characters drink and smoke and one character is drunk. There are mild sexual references, including a homosexual relationship. Some of the Mexican characters could be considered stereotypes, but then so could some of the American characters.

Families who see this movie should talk about how people work out the complexities of relationships and why it is that so many of the characters care more about relationships than about money or the life and death situations all around them. Leroy may have more than most people to worry about when he thinks about what a romantic prospect will think about what he does and who he is, but that is always a concern for anyone contemplating an intimate relationship. The idea that “the past doesn’t matter — it’s the future that counts” is a beguiling one — is it true? Under what circumstances? Leroy talks about being “surrounded by lonliness and finality,” and about how the people who die having loved are different from those who die alone. This is worth discussing, along with the way that Sam and Jerry begin to think about their relationship as being special enough so that they cannot walk away from it.

Families may also want to talk about the way that Jerry’s friend justifies participating in criminal acts by compartmentalizing, explaining that he is just doing his “portion.”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Raising Arizona.”

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