Fascination

D

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: A lot of drinking and smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril, some killed, graphic violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

Lust. Betrayal. Revenge. Greed. Murder. Somehow, all of these things become dull in the preposterous and yet decidedly un-fascinating “Fascination,” a movie that plays as though the script was being made up on the spot. By aliens not quite familiar with human beings or the English language but who had seen a couple of Ed Wood movies.

Wealthy Patrick Doherty (James Naughton), a former Olympic swimmer, is killed in a swimming accident. His widow, Maureen (Jaqueline Bisset), comes back from a post-funeral cruise with a new boyfriend and marries him a week later. Her son, Scott (Adam Garcia) finds this at first unsettling and then suspicious. But his attempts to investigate the possibility that Maureen and her new husband, Oliver (Stuart Wilson), may have murdered Patrick are sidetracked by his attraction to Oliver’s daughter Kelly (Alice Evans), who slinks around looking femme fatale-ish in a series of the most hideously fluttering little outfits ever worn in a movie.

The set-up is not so bad. At least it wasn’t the last time I took a look at, what was that again — oh, yes, Hamlet. But the stunning incompetence of every single aspect of this movie makes it such a thudding bore that it does not even rise to the level of being laughable. That’s despite howler plot turns that include a do-it-yourself exhumation, a character who appears to be turned on by bloody wounds, a character who has some weird unexplained throat injury (an indicator that the film was rechopped at some point, giving rise to the concern that there may be an even worse version out there) and another man with a bloody wound who can somehow wake up on sheets as pristine as though they came from a commercial for laundry detergent. Badly written, poorly acted, horrendously edited, dreadfully directed, the only thing worth watching in this movie is the still-lovely Bisset and some nice location photography.

Parents should know that this movie includes explicit sexual references and situations, including some with incestuous overtones. Characters drink and smoke and use very strong language. There are several violent situations and characters are killed.

Families who see this movie should talk about the difficulty Scott and his mother had in trying to communicate with each other.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the overheated Hush with Jessica Lange and Gwenyth Paltrow and better movies like Body Heat and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

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Hide and Seek

B

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Mild for an R
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, prescription medication
Violence/ Scariness: Intense peril and violence, characters killed, grisly and explicit images, suicide, on-screen murder, child threatened, references to child’s death, intense peril, atmospheric creepiness, cruelty to animals
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

A spooky child, creepy rural setting, and eccentric characters are the key props in this atmospheric thriller, where strong acting and quiet scenes are more terrifying than on-screen mayhem.

Dr. David Callaway (Robert De Niro, in a solid but uninspired performance) is a quietly grieving widower who takes his daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning) away from the city to live in a small town in the woods of upstate New York to help her escape the memories of his wife’s suicide. Emily discovered her mother’s dead and bloody body in the bathtub and has withdrawn into near-total silence in response to the trauma.

Once they move into the town of Woodland (population 2,206), they meet the local police officer, the jumpy real estate agent, and a married couple who live next door, trying to cope with the recent loss of their daughter, who was Emily’s age. David seeks out the company of vivacious Elizabeth (Elisabeth Shue), baby-sitter to her niece, Amy, also Emily’s age. And he reaches out to child psychiatrist Katherine (Famke Jannson), who is the understanding adult trying to help Emily and coach David through the grieving process.

With the stage set, Emily introduces a new character into their lives when she starts talking about all the fun games she is playing with “Charlie,” her imaginary friend. The disfigured dolls, scrawled threats, and dead cat that follow alarm David enough to leave his study, where he spends most of the day listening to music on his headphones and writing up Emily’s behavior. The strange drawings Emily has been hanging up in her room hint that Charlie might be positioning himself to be Emily’s only friend, and the mysterious death that follows finally drives father and daughter to action.

To say anything more would make Charlie very, very angry.

Most of the movie comprises a slow but steady-paced thriller with the camera drinking in little Emily’s eerie stare and propensity for standing in the doorway whenever something spooky is happening.

The last twenty minutes of the movie will satisfy audiences looking for a cathartic terror and a good twist. For some jaded audiences, however, the ending might seem self-conscious, forced, and dragged-out, especially when Charlie’s secret is revealed.

Dakota Fanning does a lovely job in this movie, out-gothing even Wednesday Addams (The Addams Family) and out-acting the grown-ups with breathtaking grace and dignity. She genuinely seems to break, well, just like a little girl when during the big showdown. At the end, you wish you could give this talented young actress a break and take her to something like The Incredibles so she could laugh and be a normal kid for once.

Parents should know that it is a very scary movie with intense peril and upsetting deaths. For those who have dealt with loss, the killer, “Charlie” will be especially disturbing since he wins Emily as a friend when she most needs someone to help her. Issues of trust and the suffering of main characters, including a child, are themes in this movie. Relationships are strained by inability of characters to handle trauma. There is social drinking, infidelity, and implied psychological spousal abuse.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Emily did not feel like she could talk about her emotions directly and what other characters might have done to let Emily know she was not alone. What does the last picture that we see on-screen mean about Emily and about the future?

Families who enjoy watching scary movies together might want to see taut psychological thrillers like Identity, The Shining, The Sixth Sense, or The Ring. Each feature child protagonists that hold the key to a mystery that the adults cannot see or solve. And they will enjoy the very chilling story about a child whose father refuses to believe in his imaginary friend, Thus I Refute Beezly by John Collier.

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Alone in the Dark

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MPAA Rating: R
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and graphic violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

There’s something far scarier about this movie than its CGI monsters, whose lack of any apparent weight makes them seem as threatening as the floating Clifford balloon in the Macy’s parade. What’s scary is the premise: it’s based on a computer game by Atari.

Yes, video games can have ominous atmosphere and relentless bad guys, but they seldom provide much by way of dialogue, character, or plot. You know, those things in movies that make up for the absence of a joystick that enables the player to blow stuff up.

The movie tries to create a story with an astoundingly boring 10-paragraph crawl at the beginning of the film, some mumbo-jumbo about a lost civilization, blah blah, and then there is a second prologue with a child being chased through the woods as a stock company mad scientist explains to a nun why she must support his story about the 20 children he has taken from the orphanage for medical experiments. “It’s not about a few children!” he barks at her. “It’s about the future of our species!”

Finally, we make it to the present day, and that runaway child, Edward (Christian Slater), is all grown up and a paranormal investigator who is being followed by some guy who really, really wants this artifact that Edward has hidden in his snazzy leather jacket. And then it turns into one of those now-they-battle-bad-guys-in-the open market, the Chinatown warehouse, the deserted underground laboratory, etc. etc. movies. There are a couple of good “boo!” surprises, a couple of cool fight moves, and some gross-out visuals, but they keep getting lost under the cardboard dialogue, the throbbing bass accompaniment to both a sex scene and a shoot-out, and the absence of that thing we often look for in movies — what is it again? Oh, yes, acting.

If I almost forgot that for a minute, it’s because everyone in the movie seems to have forgotten it, too. Slater just appears embarassed, understandable in these circumstances. And if our expectations for Tara Reid are low, also understandable in these circumstances, she still does not quite manage to live up to them. The pixels in the CGI monsters give a more believable performance than she does. Preposterously cast as an archeologist, with her hair pulled back and drugstore black-rimmed specs on her nose, she delivers her lines as though she is calling for another round of Mai Tais for the house. And no one seems to have explained to her that in English, the interrogative is usually expressed with a rising inflection.

Parents should know that this is a horror film with constant, intense, graphic violence. Many characters are killed in a wide variety of creative manners, including being impaled. There are monsters and other grisly images. Characters use some strong language and there is a moderately explicit sexual situation.

Families who see this movie should talk about the “greatest good for the greatest number” approach taken by Hudgens.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the movies that handle these themes far better, including Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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Not specified

A Love Song for Bobby Long

C

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Characters abuse alcohol and smoke
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2004

This is one of those insufferable movies where three bundles of quirk and backstory intended to approximate characters are thrown together because of some writer’s fantasy. The writer may hope that he can show them learning something from each other or meaning something to each other but the real fantasy is that just putting it all on screen together will make it into something worth watching. It isn’t.

And by the way, the idea that by giving your characters quotations by great writers as dialogue will make them seem smart is a fantasy, too. And so is the idea that grandeloquence in Southern accents transforms trashy behavior and tired formulas into something grand and gothic. If you’re going to Faulkner-ize squalor, you’ve got to write better than this.

This film is fundamentally misconceived. If it had a sense of humor about itself, it might have found some energy and spirit, but its inflated view of its own insights and its essential phoniness make it a long slog to the unsurprising surprise ending.

Pursy (Scarlett Johannson) finds out belatedly from her trailer park boyfriend that her mother has died. By the time she arrives, the funeral is over. Two hard-drinking, literature-loving men tell her that her mother left her house to the three of them, because she wanted them to live together.

Pursy moves in. Will she find a way to forgive her mother for abandoning her? Will she find resources in herself that she could never have imagined? Will she discover that those two lushes have deeply poetic souls and loving hearts? Will there be important revelations about Mom and…Dad? You betcha. Will we care about any of it? Not so much.

Parents should know that the movie has extremely strong language and explicit sexual references. Characters smoke and abuse alcohol.

Families who see this movie should talk about what drew the characters to each other and the ways that people try to create families for themselves.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Crimes of the Heart and Miss Firecracker.

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Assault on Precinct 13

B+

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Constant strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, pills, drug dealer
Violence/ Scariness: Constant graphic violence, grisly images, many characters killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

A juicy premise, a powerhouse cast, and energetic direction combine for a satisfying thriller about a police station under seige. It’s a big-budget remake of John Carpenter’s 1976 film of the same title. Carpenter wrote, produced, edited, and scored the film with a cast of unknowns for $100,000. This version does not have the original’s raw power, but it substitutes a tough, sharp script and glossy production values, and gets the job done just fine.

Ethan Hawke plays Jake Roenick, a cop now working a desk job after an undercover operation he was directing went wrong and two officers were killed. Jake is uncooperative with the mandatory therapy, though drawn to Alex, his pretty therapist (Maria Bello). He is still taking painkillers, though it is not clear whether it is physical or psychic pain they are supposed to numb.

It’s New Year’s Eve and the last night for the old police station at Precinct 13. All of the equipment and computers and staff have been moved to the new location. Jake, along with Iris (Drea De Matteo), a miniskirted secretary who has a weakness for “bad boys,” and Jasper (Brian Dennehy), a veteran cop just short of retirement are there to finish shutting everything down, toast the new year, and turn out the lights.

Meanwhile, Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne), the deadliest crime kingpin in town, has just been captured. As he and a varied group of bad guys are being transported by bus to a holding facility, it gets trapped in the snow right outside the old police station. So they decide to keep the prisoners there until the next morning.

And then they get attacked. The attackers want Bishop. Everyone in the station is at risk. Before the night is over, loyalties and alliances will shift a dozen times as cops and prisoners and bystanders have to constantly realign their forces to try to stay alive.

It is that fluidity of relationships that gives this story extra energy and sizzle that takes it beyond the usual shoot-out and explosion-movie standard. Star power helps a lot, too, with Fishburne, Hawke, and Gabriel Byrne giving depth and wit to their roles and strong support from Bello and John Leguizamo.

Parents should know that this film has non-stop action violence with some very graphic injuries and many characters are killed. Characters use very strong language. There are some sexual references. Criminal characters include a drug dealer and killers. Characters drink and smoke and one abuses prescription drugs.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Jake’s earlier experiences affected his judgment — for better or worse — when the precinct was attacked.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Die Hard, Under Siege, The Rock, and Air Force One. They might also enjoy the 1976 original, directed by John Carpenter and the classic western Rio Bravo, which inspired it.

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