Mickey Blue Eyes

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Basic Movie Plot #2 is the fish out of water, and that is because it works so well. Whether we’re talking about a mermaid coming to Manhattan, a guy from the Australian outback coming to Manhattan, or Dorothy in Oz, we are easily engaged by stories like these because they have automatic tension and conflict and because they give us a chance to look at ourselves and our culture in new ways. It was only a few months ago that we had two fish out of water in “Analyze This,” with a Jewish psychologist and a Mafia wiseguy each entering the other’s world. Now we have a very similar theme in “Mickey Blue Eyes,” except this time it’s a wiseguy and a very proper English art auctioneer. I’m sure it sounded great in the pitch meeting, but then the pitch probably left out the tired and pedestrian script and a couple of astonishingly poor plot developments that thwart the movie’s many efforts to win us over.

Hugh Grant, as the auctioneer who falls in love with the daughter of a Mafioso, does his best, and he is, as ever, a pleasure to watch. And there are some clever lines and some funny moments. But a romantic comedy, even a fairly broad one, needs to have essentially likeable characters and a consistent tone, and this movie fails in both. Near the beginning, Grant’s character tries to sneak a marriage proposal into a fortune cookie, but the scene becomes unfunny and ultimately downright nasty as the owner of the restaurant shrieks at Grant’s girlfriend (Jeanne Tripplehorn to eat the cookie and at another table another woman gets the proposal and then bursts into tears when she finds out it is a mistake. Later, a rather unsavory character is shot by mistake and it is supposed to be humorous that Grant and his future father-in-law (James Caan, reprising his Sonny role) bond over disposing of the body. Meanwhile, there are many missed opportunities for follow-through on set- ups, an indication of a movie that spent a lot of time in post-production revisions.

Parents should know that this movie includes violence and crime played for comedy. It also raises more serious issues, including the importance of honesty with those you love and the risks of making even small compromises in integrity, well worth discussing for anyone who ends up sitting through the whole thing.

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Practical Magic

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This uneven adaption of Alice Hoffman’s lyrical novel is the story of two orphan girls from a family of witches. Raised by aunts who feed them brownies for breakfast and are visited by neighbors only when they are desperate for a spell, the girls grow up looking for a way to separate themselves from their past. Sally (Sandra Bullock) longs to be “normal,” and Gillian (Nicole Kidman) longs to abandon herself to a passion that will leave her dizzy. Sally marries a man she adores and has two children before he is killed in an accident. Devastated, she blames the family curse that, according to legend, results in the early death of any man who loves an Owens woman. Gillian ends up with Jimmy Angelof, an abusive man. When Sally comes to rescue her, they accidentally kill Jimmy. Using their aunts’ book of spells, they bring him back, only to kill him again when he attacks them. They bury him in the back yard, and think they are safe. But then a policeman comes looking for Jimmy, who is not as departed as they thought.

Bullock and Kidman are ideally cast as the sisters who are very different but very devoted. Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing are delightful as the wry but wise and loving aunts, bedecked in Victorian lace. It is a pretty movie to watch, but so uneven in tone and theme that it is ultimately more frustrating than fun. We make a bargain when we go to a movie — we will accept the movie’s premise, and the film-makers won’t change the rules on us. That bargain is not kept in this movie, and the audience ends up feeling cheated.

Parental concerns include sexual references, themes of loss, tension and violence (including a scary scene with Jimmy attempting to “brand” Gillian as his possession). Some parents will also be concerned about the theme of witchcraft (benign or otherwise) and about the scenes of bringing back Jimmy from the dead and of his spirit’s possession of one of the characters.

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What Dreams May Come

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Robin Williams plays Chris Nielson, a doctor who arrives in heaven after he is killed by a car as he attempts to help the victims of an accident. His wife, Annie (Anabella Sciorra), already devastated by the loss of their two children four years earlier, begins to fall apart, and commits suicide. As Chris explores heaven, he realizes that it cannot be heaven for him without her. But, as a suicide, she is consigned to hell. With the help of a guide, he embarks on an Orpheus-like journey.

The lush visual beauty of this movie and the interesting issues it raises make it worthwhile for thoughtful teens who are drawn to questions about death and meaning and making profound connections. Those who have endured their own real losses may find it superficial, and some be disturbed to find the concepts of heaven and hell inconsistent with their own notions. They are not even consistent within their own assumptions. But some teens will appreciate the chance to use this movie to talk about what their heaven would look like (the film’s web site gives them a chance to create a version online and post it) and how the characters’ struggle makes them think differently about their relationships and priorities. They will be particularly interested in Chris’ relationships with his children, and how he thinks about what he should have done differently after their death. Teens may also like to learn about the myth of Orpheus, to see the similarities and differences.

Parents should know that there is brief strong language and disturbing imagery.

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Waking Ned Devine

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Jackie O’Shea (Ian Bannen) lives in a tiny Irish village called Tulaigh Mhor (pronounced Tully More). Like many of the other residents, he is an enthusiastic buyer of lottery tickets, and when he reads in the paper that one of the other residents has a winning ticket, he and his wife Annie (Fionnula Flanagan) and lifetime best friend Michael O’Sullivan (David Kelly) do their best to discover the winner. All of their efforts fail until they realize that only one resident of the town failed to attend their dinner party — Ned Devine. When Jackie and Michael go to his house, they discover that indeed he was the winner, and that the shock of winning caused a fatal heart attack.

Reasoning that Ned, who had no relatives, would have wanted them to have his winnings, Jackie and Michael decide to pretend that one of them is Ned Devine, to collect the prize. Ultimately, every resident of Tulaigh Mhor participates in the plot, with one notable exception, the fierce and nasty Lizzy Quinn (Eileen Dromey).

Parents should know that there is an unmarried mother who refuses to disclose the father of her child. And, there is a good deal of very black humor, including some shenanigans with a dead body, which some children will find upsetting. But others who enjoy wicked jokes will find this movie delightful, and it can lead to a good discussion of the morality of the decisions made by the characters and what they are likely to do after the movie ends.

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