Walking Tall

C

Posted onPosted on

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Characters are drug dealers, child takes drugs, drinking and smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense violence for a PG-13
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2004

Apparently, the people who stage professional wrestling matches looked for the story that was most like a wrestling match and picked the story of Buford Pusser, the sheriff who cleaned up a small Southern town. That is, if your definition of cleaning up includes smacking the bad guys with a 2×4. This might work as a WWE grudge match, but it does not work as a movie because it undermines the story it is trying (if half-heartedly) to tell.

The original 1973 movie with Joe Don Baker playing the real-life Pusser teetered on the brink of vigilantism. This remake produced by World Wrestling Entertainment unhesitatingly dives in with a triple gainer.

Over the opening credits, a big guy with an army duffel bag comes home to find that the mill has been closed, the old sheriff has died, and the town is now dominated by a casino. We then get about 20 minutes of “Look who’s back in town” moments, with ominous comments like, “I don’t know if you noticed, but this ain’t exactly home any more.” Then we get about an hour of smackdowns as our hero (now named Chris Vaughn and played by The Rock) gets a beating that would kill a normal man and then does a lot of get-well sit-ups so he can take that 2×4 and open up some cans of whup-ass on the bad guys.

Vaughn’s nephew (Khleo Thomas of Holes) has been buying drugs at the casino. So Vaughn takes a cedar plank to the casino and smashes up the slot machines and many of the people who work there. When he is put on trial, he does not deny what he did. But he tells the jury that if they acquit him, he’ll run for sheriff and clean up the town.

Yes, they know how to stage fights, though these are more intense and graphic than the MPAA normally permits in a PG-13. But the story requires a level of credibility and sympathy for the characters that it cannot come close to earning. Instead, it just assumes it, dissipating whatever built-in goodwill any movie about beating the bad guys should generate.

The Rock has a great deal of charm, and Johnny Knoxville brings a wry warmth to the standard best friend role. But in a telling detail about the crude-ifying of this story, instead of the sweet wife in the original movie, Vaughn gets a stripper girlfriend (Ashley Scott), who shows up at the sheriff’s office with a home-cooked meal and fires off rounds while looking fetching in a red lace bra.

We’re supposed to cheer for Vaughn when he breaks the law just because he’s on the side of the good guys. It’s impossible not to like The Rock, but a battle inside or outside the ring has to feel a little bit fair and this one just doesn’t. It’s just not as fun as it is supposed to be when Vaughn smashes the tail-lights of the bad guy’s Porsche or beats someone up while explaining his official sheriff’s office policy of “delicacy and precision.” It’s not a good sign when you start to feel sorry for the bad guys. Maybe it’s not as much fun to have a sheriff recite the Miranda warnings, but there has to be more reason than we are given here for beating everyone up without trying to arrest them. And as for the dialogue — I think “I put down my gun for good” has to be just behind “I’ll be right back” as the top candidates for the “movie words spoken just so they can almost immediately be wrong” award.

Parents should know that this movie is close to an R for extreme and graphic violence and very strong language. Characters are drug dealers and a young boy smokes marijuana and takes crystal meth. Characters drink and smoke. There are scenes in a casino including scantily-clad dancers. There is a non-explicit sexual situation. One of the strengths of the movie is its portayal of a loving and very functional inter-racial family.

Families who see this movie should talk about the difference between being a law enforcer and being a vigilante.

Families interested in finding out more about the man whose life inspired this movie can read about the late Buford Pusser here. Those who will be near Pigeon Forge, Tennessee can visit his museum. Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy seeing The Rock in The Rundown and The Scorpion King.

Related Tags:

 

Movies

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

A

Posted onPosted on

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Deeds gets drunk
Violence/ Scariness: A few punches
Diversity Issues: Tolerence of individual and class differences
Date Released to Theaters: 1936

Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper), of Mandrake Falls, Vermont, is a quiet bachelor who writes rhymes for birthday cards and plays the tuba for concentration. Informed that he has inherited twenty million dollars, he goes to New York City to collect it.

Swarms of people come after him to try to get some of the money, but the only one he will talk to is Babe Bennett (Jean Arthur), who attracts his attention by fainting. She tells him she is an unemployed secretary, but in reality she is a tough journalist out for a good story. He has a lot of fun feeding doughnuts to hungry cab horses and chasing fire engines.

When some snooty poets make fun of his rhymes, Deeds says, “I know I must look funny to you. Maybe if you came to Mandrake Falls, you’d look just as funny to us…. But nobody’d laugh at you and make you ridiculous-’cause that wouldn’t be good manners.” He tells Bennett his impressions of the city, explaining that the wealthy people in New York “work so hard at living, they forget how to live … They’ve created a lot of grand palaces, but they forgot about the noblemen to put in them.”

Bennett writes a newspaper story making fun of him, calling him “The Cinderella man,” and he becomes a figure of ridicule. But she realizes she has fallen in love with him, with his innate goodness and sincerity and his ability to have fun.

Heartbroken by her betrayal, and disgusted with life as a wealthy man, Deeds makes plans to give the money away to help poor farmers. But unscrupulous relatives take him to court, arguing he is not competent and they should have control of the money. He is too miserable to defend himself. But Bennett persuades him that she loves him and he must try. And the judge concludes, “In my opinion, you are not only sane, you are the sanest man who ever walked into this courtroom.”

This is one of Frank Capra’s populist classics, and its Depression-era sensibility is still appealing. Finding meaning in life through helping others is well-presented, as are the issues of what makes people important (Deeds says, “All famous people aren’t big people”). The public policy issue of how much help we give to those “who can’t make the hill on high” is something teenagers with an interest in politics might like to pursue.

The issue of the role of the press is even timelier now, as public figures and even private ones are considered fair game.

More important, and more relevant to young people, especially teenagers, is the issue of cynicism as a mode of approaching the world. Bennett says, “He’s got a lot of goodness, Mabel. Do you know what that means? No, of course you don’t. We’ve forgotten. We’re all too busy being smart alecks.” That’s a good description of teenagers who put on a cynical demeanor to protect themselves from being vulnerable.

A thoughtful journalist once said that a reporter’s responsibility was to be skeptical without being cynical, and that statement is a good way to open a discussion of this issue. Deeds’s statement that “It’s easy to make fun of someone if you don’t care how much you hurt ’em” is also something for kids to think about.

It is also worthwhile to consider how the same facts can be interpreted differently. Deeds plays the tuba, feeds doughnuts to horses, and wants to give money away. Those actions can be seen as foolish (as portrayed in Bennett’s newspaper), crazy (as portrayed by the lawyer), or endearing (as portrayed by Cooper and Capra). What does that tell us about being careful to challenge “spin”?

Families who see this movie should talk about Why Babe Bennett’s editor wanted her to make fun of Deeds. What do you do to help you concentrate? If Mr. Deeds inherited the money today, what group do you think he would give it to? What would you do if you inherited twenty million dollars?

This movie popularized two words: “doodle” and “pixilated.” As Deeds points out, doodling is highly individual. A dreadful 2002 remake starring Adam Sandler is not worth watching.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy It Happened One Night and You Can’t Take it With You, also Capra classics. Let the kids “doodle” while watching the movie, and see what they come up with. They might also like to try making up some words of their own.

Related Tags:

 

Movies

Home on the Range

A-

Posted onPosted on

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Profanity: Very mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in some peril
Diversity Issues: Strong female characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2004

I love it when Disney doesn’t take itself too seriously.

No one tried to reach for the stars or make this into a classic. It’s just a cute little story about some not-so-contented cows who save the day. It modestly aspires to be nothing more than a lot of fun, and it does that job very well.

Maggie (voice of Roseanne) is a brassy but warm-hearted cow who arrives at the Patch of Heaven Dairy Farm just as the bank is about to foreclose its mortgage and put it up for sale. Her previous farm was sold after cattle rustler Alameda Slim (voice of Randy Quaid) stole the rest of the herd. Mrs. Calloway (voice of Dame Judi Dench), the highly civilized alpha cow of Patch of Heaven, is offended by Maggie’s brash wisecracks, but the other animals are more welcoming, and Maggie is determined not to lose another home. When she comes up with a plan to save the farm by capturing Alameda Slim for the reward money, Mrs. Calloway and gentle but tone-deaf Grace (voice of Jennifer Tilly) go along.

They meet up with Buck (voice of Cuba Gooding, Jr.), a horse who wants to be a hero, and with Lucky Jack, a peg-legged jackrabbit (voice of Charles Haid). In the movie’s just-over-an-hour running time the five animals will get in each other’s way more often than they help each other, but they will provide moments of wit and heart and even a thrill or two, along with sparkling musical numbers from Disney’s best contemporary composer, Alan Mencken (The Little Mermaid and Aladdin), sung by country stars k.d. lang, Tim McGraw, Bonnie Raitt, and The Bleu Sisters.

The style and music of the film harks back to Disney’s 1950’s featurettes like “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom,” “Donald in Mathmagic Land,” and “Pecos Bill.” Pearl, the owner of the Patch of Heaven farm (voice of Carole Cook), could be Sluefoot Sue, thirty years later. The characters are vivid, the animation is superb, and the balance between sweet, silly, and exciting is expertly handled.

Parents should know that the movie has some peril (no one hurt) and mostly comic action sequences. A roller-coaster-ish ride may be too intense for the youngest children. The movie has brief crude humor, including a quick cross-dressing joke, and some mild language. Some children may be upset by the idea of having a bank foreclose a mortgage and might need to be reassured that their home is safe.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Mrs. C and Maggie don’t get along. How are they different and how are they alike? Why did Alameda Slim want all the land for himself? What made the animals at the Patch of Heaven farm feel like a family? How are they like your family?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the farm animal stories Babe, Milo and Otis, and Charlotte’s Web (be sure to read the book, too). They might also like to try to yodel!

Related Tags:

 

Movies

The Punisher

C+

Posted onPosted on

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Character abuses alcohol, reference to alcoholism, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Extreme violence with graphic injuries, many characters killed, including a child, attempted suicide
Diversity Issues: Gay character is blackmailed
Date Released to Theaters: 2004

It’s not as easy to turn a comic book into a movie as you might think, even though comics and illustrated novels are closer to cinema in conception than any other art form. But as this second attempt to turn the story of comic hero The Punisher into a movie shows, translating tone and pacing from page to screen requires an understanding of both forms can be tricky. X-Men got it right. But this Punisher needs a time out.

Thomas Jane is square-jawed, recruiting- poster-handsome and most of all heroic undercover agent Frank Castle. The target in his last big case unexpectedly brings a friend along to the takedown, and when things go wrong, the friend is killed. It turns out he was the son of big-time bad guy Howard Saint (John Travolta), whose lady Macbeth-like wife orders the slaughter of Castle’s whole family, conveniently all vacationing together on an island. After much too much time on how wonderful it is that Castle is now going to live happily ever after with his too-perfect-to-make-it-into-the-second-reel wife (Samantha Mathis) and just-there-to-crank-up-the-guilt son, we then spend much too much time mowing down everyone Castle loves. Castle himself is attacked and badly wounded, but the explosion that is supposed to finish him off blows him to safety. Then a quick montage later he is a lean, mean revenge machine with a newly low and growly voice. He moves into a crummy apartment building and devotes all his time to drinking and orchestrating the destruction of everything Saint cares about.

But the problem is that it is orchestrated too much and too little. The revenge is too elaborate to be viscerally satisfying, slowing the story down. And it is not intricate enough to be intellectually satisfying, too dependent on a highly improbable chain of events all coming together at just the right moment for everything to work.

Jane gives Castle-turned-Punisher notes of desolation and hunger for justice, and he has what it takes to hold the screen. But Travolta’s villain is never more than a posturing despot. John Pinette, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, and Ben Foster are appealing but superfluous as neighbors who befriend Castle. Their stories seem more interesting than his. The fight scenes are, well, punishing, well-staged but so brutal that they throw the thin plot out of balance. The pacing is poor. It takes much too long to get to the massacre of Castle’s family, then the slaughter itself is dragged out unnecessarily and then it is reprised even more unnecessarily.

Parents should know that the movie has intense and graphic violence with many characters killed, including the Punisher’s parents, wife, and child. Characters are tortured and beaten. A character attempts suicide. Characters drink (and Castle abuses alcohol). They also smoke and use bad language.

Families who see this movie should talk about the risks that undercover law enforcers take and what they can do to protect their families. How can good memories save your life? Families should also talk about the line between justice and vengance. What is the answer to the question about what makes Castle different from Saint? What does it mean to say “if you want peace, prepare for war?”

Families who enjoy this movie might want to compare it to the earlier version of The Punisher, starring Dolph Lundgren. They might also like to see the X-Men movies and Tim Burton’s Batman.

Related Tags:

 

Movies

The Ladykillers

B+

Posted onPosted on

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Extremely strong language including n-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drug references
Violence/ Scariness: Comic violence, many characters hurt and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2004

Tom Hanks and the Coen brothers take the title, the concept (sweet little old lady outwits criminals), the teeth, and the slightly sepulchral laugh from the 1955 English black comedy classic. They may miss the primary point (and joke) of the original, and they tone down their usual corkscrew dialogue and mordant humor, but they still manage to provide some wicked pleasures.

The Coens love characters who are sweet but not very bright, especially when they manage to foil characters who are crooked but not very bright. And Hanks likes to play against his type as the all-American guy we’d like living next door.

Hanks plays Professor Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, PhD., a man who dresses like Colonel Sanders and talks like Senator Claghorn. The curlicues of the professor’s baroque rhetorical flourishes are as tangled as a kudzu vine.

Dorr rents a bedroom in the home of Mrs. Munson (Irma P. Hall) and tells her that he and his friends want to use her root cellar to practice their music. His real plan is to drill a tunnel from her house to the counting room of a nearby riverboat casino so that they can rob it. Through an ad, he puts together a less than crackerjack team, including experts in ordnance Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons) and The General (Tzi Ma), Lump (Ryan Hurst), a big guy for the heavy lifting, and McSam (Marlon Wayans) their “inside man,” a janitor at the casino.

Mrs. Munson is a fine, upstanding, church-going woman who wears a hat and gloves and talks to the portrait of her late husband that hangs over the fireplace and proudly sends $5 a month to Bob Jones University. She may not understand the details of what is going on around her, but she knows right from wrong (no smoking, bad language, or stealing, even a penny). She is as quick to insist on good behavior as she is to offer her cinnamon cookies. The fun is in seeing a sweet little “Land o’ Goshen”-ing lady innocently foiling the plans of the would-be criminal masterminds.

The movie is set in an idyllic Mississippi Bible belt town somewhere between Mayberry and a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover and some time gently nestled between the Depression and hip-hop. The humor comes from a colorful assortment of injuries, ailments, and casualties, along with some choice dialogue. If the Coens and Hanks are a little too far outside the boundaries of their best work, their second-and third-best is also watchable, at least for those who find a professor with bad teeth and a big vocabulary, a dog with a gas mask, a cat with a severed finger, and a garbage scow with a dead body funny.

Parents should know that the main characters are despicable criminals who lie, steal, and kill, all played for comedy. The humor is very macabre and may offend some viewers. Characters drink, smoke, and use extremely strong language, including sexual references and the n-word.

Families who see this movie should talk about whether it is true that no one gets hurt when insurance pays for the stolen goods.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the original The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob. They might also enjoy other comic heist films like Big Deal on Madonna Street and The Hot Rock.

Related Tags:

 

Movies
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2017, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik