Hostage

B

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Extreme, intense, and graphic violence, many injuries and deaths
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

Three combustible forces come together in one fortress of a mansion in this bloodbath of a hostage drama. First is Jeff Talley (Bruce Willis), a former big-time hostage negotiator who was shattered by a tragic failure and gave it up to become a small-town police chief. Second is three strung-out teens who decide to steal an SUV but end up in the house when things get out of control, taking the owner and his two children hostage. Third is a group of ruthless professional bad guys who have no interest in the boys or the hostages but will do whatever it takes to retrieve a DVD with some very important files that is hidden inside the house, its location only known to a man who is unconscious.

Nice set-up. The contrast between the impulsive, hot-headed amateurs and the implacable, cold-blooded professionals as they interact with the hostages and the increasingly compromised Talley take this story above the usual guns and explosions multiplex fodder.

The film also has some good performances, especially Ben Foster as the most volatile of the boys. It has a sensational opening credit sequence. But the dialogue is stock UPN-drama and a promising premise disintigrates quickly into standard guns and explosions fare.

Parents should know that this is an exceptionally violent movie with extreme, intense, and graphic images and many kinds of weapons. Characters are in severe peril, including children and a young girl who is bound and threatened with rape. Many characters are wounded or killed. Characters drink and use drugs and use some very strong language. A strength of the movie is strong minority and female characters.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Talley responded the way he did to the tragic outcome of the first hostage situation in the film. How can a negotiator gain the confidence of someone who may be disturbed or irrational?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the first and third of Willis’ “Die Hard” movies and The Negotiator.

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Man of the House

B-

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Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Scenes in bar, social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: A lot of action violence including gunfire, characters wounded and killed, brief graphic images
Diversity Issues: A strength of the movie is its diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

“One riot, one Ranger.” That’s the Texas Rangers pledge. But apparently, it now needs to be revised: “Five cheerleaders, three Rangers.”

Tommy Lee Jones, in gloriously full crag mode, plays a Texas Ranger named Sharp assigned to protect cheerleaders who witnessed a murder. This provides opportunities for many culture clashes and learning experiences.

Unfortunately, most of those opportunities are neglected in favor of cheap humor and cheesy formula. We don’t even get to see much cheering. The girls are cute. And Tommy Lee Jones is cuter. There is some mild humor and some mildly involving action.

But the movie tries too hard to be a little of everything. There are “cheerleaders are dumb party bunny” jokes. One of them, told Sharp is a Ranger, asks, “Do you know Derek Jeter?” One of them plagiarizes a school paper and two others sneak out to play pool in a bar. But later we are expected to see them as hard-working, clever, and devoted, sort of fairy godmothers with pierced navels who advise Sharp on getting close to a pretty literature professor (the always-welcome Anne Archer) and communicating better with his high school senior daughter.

There are the obvious middle-aged male vs. young female jokes as Sharp winces over the skimpy clothes and installs a air conditioner the size of a condo to chill the girls into covering up. Sharp has to run to the store for feminine products, and gets a makeover complete with nose-hair trim and cucumber face mask. And then there is a “this has nothing do to with anything else in the movie but Cedric the Entertainer is funny” scene, with Cedric as a former con turned preacher who shows off some of his best cheerleading moves.

Cedric and Jones are pros who perk up a lackluster script. The girls are not quite interchangeable, with pop star Christina Milian a standout as the captain. Paula Garces (Clockstoppers), relegated to a stereotyped spitfire role, still shows some genuine spirit. It’s frequently almost cute, almost funny, almost touching. Give it one cheer.

Parents should know that the movie includes some violence, including gunfire. Characters are injured and killed and there are some brief graphic images. There are sexual references and the cheerleaders wear skimpy clothes. The movie includes social drinking and a scene in a bar, with a reference to a character’s having given up drinking.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it was hard for Sharp to talk to his daughter. What were the most important things that he and the cheerleaders learned from each other?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Miss Congeniality.

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The Jacket

A-

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: A lot of smoking, drinking, abuse of medication, character abuses drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Intense, disturbing, and graphic images, violence (including guns), murder, reference to child molestation, shock therapy
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

A Gulf War veteran whose injuries have left him with an uncertain memory walks along a highway then stops to help a mother and daughter whose car has stalled. He gets the car started, but the mother is high and disoriented and screams that he should get away from her daughter. So he keeps walking until he gets picked up by a guy who seems friendly until they get stopped by a policeman. The next thing he knows, Jack (Adrien Brody) is on trial for killing the policeman. Even he is not entirely sure that he didn’t do it.

Jack is found not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to a mental hospital. Drugged and subjected to a horrifying test treatment, Jack begins to grope toward a memory of what really happened when the policeman gets shot. And he begins to travel? hallucinate? see a vision? of himself in 2007, befriended by a waitress who has a connection to his past.

Like Jack, who was diagnosed with “possibly acute retrograde psycho-suppression,” we are not sure of what is real and what is imagined, hallucinated, dreamed, or real. Is it psychotropics, stress, madness? Or has Jack found some sort of portal into the future by being drugged, strait-jacketed, and shoved into a drawer designed for housing dead bodies, literally filed away? Is it a coincidence that he is Jack, the waitress is Jackie, and the treatment is named not after the drug or the drawer but the Jacket they use to strap him down? Or that at three crucial moments he stops what he is doing to help a child?

The tests are being conducted by soulless Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson), even though past efforts had disastrous results and his junior colleague Dr. Lorenson (Jennifer Jason Leigh) urges him to stop. “He’s not a lab animal. You can’t reprogram these guys.” Becker explains that “you can’t break something that’s already broken.”

Jack comes to want more of the treatment because it is his escape, whether real or imagined. Jackie in 2007 has the key to solve a mystery more pressing than the murder of the policeman. Jack will die in just a few days. Can he prevent it? Can he at least find out what happens? Or what happened?

This is a smart thriller, with above-average heft and imagination in the story, the structure, and especially in the striking visuals. Oscar-winner Brody makes Jack capture our loyalty and makes us believe that he could capture the loyalty of the strong but damaged Jackie. Kiera Knightly delivers not just an American accent, but an impressively specific one, an accent that helps convey the character. It goes a bit off the rails as it pulls everything together at the end, especially with regard to the medical judgment of Dr. Lorenson (Jennifer Jason Leigh), but by then your heart is so much on the side of the characters that it hardly matters.

Parents should know that the movie includes intense, graphic, grisly, and disturbing images, guns and other kinds of violence (characters killed), and abusive medical treatment. There is a sexual situation and some sexual and non-sexual nudity. Characters drink, smoke, abuse drugs, and use some strong language. Some audience members may find the themes of the film upsetting as well.

Families who see this movie should talk about how we can test what we think we know to determine what is real. Have you ever had a strong memory of something that happened to you and then realized it was from a movie or photograph? How do we know which experiments to allow, understanding that that some will fail and leave the subjects worse off than they were?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Jacob’s Ladder, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Frequency.

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Sahara

B-

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Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking, social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic book-style peril and action violence
Diversity Issues: Dated portrayals of women and minorities
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

“Sahara,” based on one of Clive Cussler’s series of novels about dashing adventurer Dirk Pitt feels more like a 1940’s serial than a book written in 1991 or a movie made in 2005. The characters are too thin, the violence too careless, the suspension of disbelief required too strenuous, the treatment of non-whites too stereotyped. All of that keeps getting in the way of some terrifically exciting stunts and some spirited action.

Matthew McConaughey plays Dirk, a former Navy SEAL with a wisecracking best pal (wisecracker extraordinaire Steve Zahn as Al Giordano). They work for steely-eyed former Admiral Sandecker (William H. Macy), seeking sunken treasure, rescuing beautiful doctors, expediting regime change and otherwise causing headaches and saving days. We know they must be cool because they are irreverent and play rock music very loud and know all kinds of clever Navy SEAL maneuvers. And because everyone else is just too corrupt or incompetent or blind to get things done.

There are two treasure hunts — a beautiful woman is hunting a microbe and a handsome explorer is hunting for a ship lost more than 100 years ago.

The beautiful doctor is Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz) of the World Health Organization. She is an epidemiologist seeking the source of a mysterious disease that is killing people quickly. No one takes her seriously except for her dedicated colleague (Glynn Turman) and a mysterious turbaned man who is stalking her.

The second treasure hunt is for a Confederate Civil War ship that Dirk thinks made it all the way to Africa as the Confederacy was falling and is now buried in a desert. Yes, I said desert.

In the middle of all this is corrupt French industrialist Yves (Lambert Wilson). For some reason they make a point of mentioning that his name is pronounced just like the doctor’s, but then they start calling her AY-va instead of EEV-a for no particular reason.

But come on, this is a movie about a guy whose name is trademarked by the author. This is a movie that asks us to believe that a ship is in a desert and Penelope Cruz is a neurologist. (She must be from the same medical school/casting agent that gave us fellow neurologist and fellow Tom Cruise alum Nicole Kidman in Days of Thunder). In other words, this movie is all about the action, and we get plenty, along with one very cool car, a clueless bureaucrat, a bomb about to go off that has to be defused, sprays of bullets that always just miss when aimed at our heroes but are sharpshooter-on-target when fired by them, a fight on the very small top of a tall, tall tower, a big, fat, coincidence or two, and a bad guy who “put the war back in warlord.” And Cruz in a bikini. Now that performance, I do believe.

All of this would be good, All-American, popcorn fun except that as you try to put your brain to sleep to sit back and enjoy the action, two things keep nagging at you. The first is not so bad — okay, the whole thing is preposterous and the characters are thinner than tissue paper, but we can handle that. The careless carnage is more serious. Dirk and Al have no hesitation in blowing away battalions of uniformed troops without any real justification. The African bad guy says that “No one cares about (killing) Africans,” but no one making the movie seems to have got the memo about how that was a bad thing. One saintly African-American doctor does not make up for portraying the Africans as evil, ineffective, or, worst of all, expendable.

Parents should know that the movie has non-stop “action” violence, which means that our intrepid heroes get shot at a lot but never get hit while their own shooting is almost unfailingly on target. Despite the fact that it is based on a book written in the 1990’s and includes some positive black characters and a female doctor, the movie has an unpleasantly retro approach to women and minorities, approaching racism in its casual attitude toward killing Africans.

Families who see this movie can learn more about groundwater contamination issues at this site and about the Navy SEALs here. Cussler has used some of his book royalties to set up a real-life NUMA organization.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy National Treasure and classics like King Solomon’s Mines and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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Constantine

B+

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Character has lung cancer from constant smoking, drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and graphic violence and disturbing images, suicides
Diversity Issues: Some racial issues
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

Take a 1930’s movie detective, a guy who shoots straight and talks tough. You know, the kind of guy who may have a soft spot for a dame in a jam but that doesn’t necessarily mean he believes what she tells him. The kind of who always seems to be walking down a rain-soaked street on a moonless night, smoking a cigarette.

Put him in today’s Los Angeles. So he has lung cancer from all that smoking and a bit of a punk-ish edge. And this detective has been to hell and back — literally.

John Constantine (Keanu Reeves), originally a character in the graphic novel series, “Hellblazer,” is tracking targets from another plane. It seems that long, long ago God and the devil made a bet about humans. Angels and demons can attempt to influence the outcome but they must stay in their own plane, except, apparently, for a sort of everything-goes, supernatural version of Casablanca’s Rick’s Cafe Americain, complete with an “I stick my neck out for nobody” nightclub proprieter named Midnite (the fabulous Djimon Hounsou, who lights up every scene he is in, which is not enough).

Constantine’s job is to send the devils and demons back to hell.

There is a Raiders of the Lost Ark-ish artifact that is uncovered and starts making trouble right from the yow-inducing beginning. Then we get to see Constantine in action at an The Exorcist-style confrontation with a demon that has taken over the body of a young woman. Then a policewoman named Angela — do you think that name could mean something? — (Rachel Weisz) goes to confession and then has a shocking dream in which she jumps or falls from the top of a tall building. But it isn’t about her; it is about her identical twin sister, Isabel (which means “pledged to God,” by the way). And the dream is true.

All of this comes together in some way or other, but forget about all that; this movie is all about the visuals and the attitude, and both are are cool and striking, reflecting its comic book origins and music video sensibilities. Highlights include a battle with a rock star-like demon (played by real-life rock star Gavin Rossdale) in a sleek corporate boardroom, a sort of elevator to hell through immersion in water, and swarming CGI creatures and insects. Tilda Swinton as a furious Gabriel and Peter Stormare as Satan are nicely twisted but the usually-terrific Pruitt Taylor Vince and Shia LaBeouf have little to do but whine and nag.

The film plays with some fundamental philosophical and theological puzzles, but the concepts and the language are all sizzle, no steak. That’s more that can be said for the relationship between Reeves and Weisz. He achieves a nicely cool vibe somewhere between zen and exhaustion, but that never connects with Weisz’s earnestness and sense of loss.

Parents should know that the movie has extensive, intense, and graphic peril and violence, disturbing images, and suicides. Chracters are injured and killed. There is some strong language, though less than in many R-rated movies. Characters drink, and a character is a chain smoker and is dying of lung cancer. Some viewers may be concerned about the portrayal of theological concepts, clergy members, angels, and demons. Some viewers may be offended by the portrayal of the demonically possessed Mexican characters.

Families who see this movie should talk about their own notions of heaven and hell and free will. What matters most to John? To Angela? To Midnite?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy comic book movies like X-Men and Hell-Boy and other movies with striking visual effects like What Dreams May Come and The Cell. They may also enjoy Kevin Smith’s very controversial Dogma, a satiric take on the idea of angels and demons in the modern day with a couple of intriguing parallels to this film.

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