Stealth

C+

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Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Some strong and crude language, bathroom humor
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, scene in bar
Violence/ Scariness: Constant action-style violence, characters killed, suicide
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

The middle of the summer is always the time for a big, dumb, loud explosion movie, with a lot of thumping bass to show how manly it all is, and “Stealth” has arrived right on schedule. Its name is a likely indicator of its performance at the box office.

Normally, I try not to describe movies in terms of other movies, but this lazy cut-and-paste doesn’t deserve any better. So, basically, it’s Top Gun meets War Games.

Three hotshot “Mod Squad”-style fighter pilots (one black guy, one white guy, one white woman) are assigned to work with a new partner — a robot-controlled plane called EDI that has been programmed with every possible kind of data, strategic option, and gizmo. Of course it has very fancy artifical intelligence and the “capacity to learn.” On its first mission, it observes Ben (Josh Lucas) defy orders to destroy a target, and it adopts this strategy and begins to break the rules, starting with some real bad-boy behavior: downloading music from the internet (“How many songs?” “All of them.”) Either they’re right about what loud music does to your brain or it was that lightning strike the plane took, but its neural pathways get scrambled and reconnected and during the next mission it decides to think for itself, with its own survival as top priority.

Have we seen this before? Well, start with “The Sorceror’s Apprentice,” and Frankenstein and Icarus and every other hubris story ever written, and then think about Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and Failsafe. And Short Circuit. And a little bit of the legend of John Henry, who thought that people could work better than machines.

Somewhere amidst the explosions there are some embarrassed-looking actors who are much more talented than this movie deserves. As the three pilots, Josh Lucas does most of his acting with his dimple, Jamie Foxx has a good moment dancing in his cabin but otherwise looks like he is hoping that Oscar will give him some better opportunities next time, and Jessica Biel looks brave and smart and wears a bikini well. Sam Shepard as their commanding officer looks like he’d rather be writing plays. Joe Morton adds some dignity and class as the Captain of the aircraft carrier.

The dialogue is clunky technobabble and clunkier attempts at attitude. “Records are made to be broken,” says one hotshot. “Rules, too, if I remember your philosophy,” responds a commanding officer. Oh, and “It’s not a clock radio we’re dealing with!”

The story is clunky, too. Isn’t it handy that three of the world’s most dangerous terrorists happen to be all together in an abandoned building so that if we blow it up no one else will get hurt? And isn’t it even handier that somehow all US and international laws have been suspended so that we’re allowed to send in the Navy to kill them even though they have never been tried, aren’t doing anything right now to threaten anyone, haven’t consulted with any other countries, and are far from any place where we’re at war? Who cares, when it’s a chance to blow stuff up?

“I don’t think war should be a video game,” says one character. Well, I don’t think a movie should be, either.

Parents should know that the movie features non-stop action violence, including shooting and dropping bombs. There is some discussion of the moral issues with regard to collateral damage (injury to innocent civilians). Characters are hurt and killed and there is a suicide. Characters use strong and crude language, give the finger, and drink (scene in a bar). There are sexual references including a joke about group sex and references to casual sex. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of srong and capable diverse characters working together with respect and loyalty, though (spoiler alert) the movie perpetuates one cliche about the disposability of the minority character.

Families who see this movie should talk about how we can make the best use of machines and humans. How do we know when to follow the rules?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Top Gun and War Games as well as Failsafe and Behind Enemy Lines.

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The Island

B+

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Strong language and bathroom humor
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, reference to getting tipsy
Violence/ Scariness: Physical mutilation, organ extraction, frequent peril, violent deaths, reference to mass murder, development of bodies in plastic sacks
Diversity Issues: Strong woman and minority character
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

Director Michael Bay knows how to blow things up. Between Armageddon, Pearl Harbor and, now, “The Island,” he has boldly used his camera for visual extravaganzas that are designed to amaze even the jaded summer audience. What he has seldom done until now is to pay a jot of attention to the inter-personal pyrotechnics, and as a result his movies tend to feel like attending a crowded fireworks display — a lot of work for 20 minutes of awe. This time around he (almost) gets it right. For audiences seeking an entertaining get-away, this “Island” might just be your destination.

Lincoln (Ewan McGregor, looking positively in love with life post-Star Wars) lives in a highly sterile, self-enclosed planet of a place, monitored constantly along with the hundreds of others who, like him, wear white track suits and abide by the rules set by black-clad staff. The denizens of this next generation health spa have their dreams, behavior, exercise, interaction, meals and “work” monitored constantly and disruptions in any of their activities or thoughts get them a counseling appointment with Merrick (Sean Bean). They all believe that they are living in a sterile environment to protect them from the contamination outside but that they will each have the chance to one day go to the “island”, the last ecologically viable place where they can live out their days in the natural light.

A questioning mind, Lincoln finds a flying bug that leads him to the truth about the place. The giant compound is “hatching” cloned humans in order to provide organs and other bits and pieces to rich, powerful people outside in the real world. He grabs best friend, Jordan (Scarlett Johansson), and makes a break for it with the reluctant assistance of mechanic, McCord (Steve Buscemi). Needless to say, Merrick has something to say about their escape and the resulting chase scenes, greatly enhanced by the presence of Albert Laurent (Djimon Hounsou), cause enough explosions to rattle your popcorn and take you to the edge of your seat, if not to the promised island paradise.

Are there scenes here that seem borrowed? Yes, Blade Runner, Freejack, The Matrix, The Tower, even The Blue Lagoon, and others have clearly inspired some of the dialogue, even sections of the plot. However, the beauty of many of the scenes as well as the lead characters keep it from feeling stale and the innocence factor is certainly a welcome touch, as light and original as a first kiss. The commercials in this movie weigh it down more than any awkward plot or dialogue patches and the resulting breaks in momentum make the ride seem bumpy until the next explosion distracts the senses again.

Parents should know that there is significant violence, bloodshed, and death both onscreen and implied in this movie. Characters are killed, in several cases after they have fulfilled their “function” by either giving birth or having body parts removed. There are references to debilitating diseases, injuries, sexually transmitted disease, mass-murder, and acting illegally for gain. There is an implicit sex scene, references to sex and to homosexuality. Characters lie, deceive and kill to cover up their secrets. Frequent peril and lengthy, loud chase scenes will scare younger viewers, as will the sight of the cloning “sacks”, filled with living tissue.

Families that see this movie might like to discuss the relationship between Lincoln and his clone. Lincoln says he has been searching for something that his clone has found, how are their lives contrasted? They might also wish to discuss the frequent references to doctors with “god-complexes” and how the character of Merrick personifies this approach. How does Merrick make his work possible and acceptable?

Families that enjoy this movie might like to watch “Bladerunner”, which picks up on the theme of humanity in androids instead of clones. Themes of justice and rights in the future are also raised in Minority Report.

They might also like to read such books as “Spares” (about clones) or “The Handmaiden’s Tale” (about using people as breeders), both of which have mature content.

Thanks to guest critic AME.

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Sky High

A-

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Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Profanity: Very mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Cartoon-style peril and violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

It’s the classic anxiety dream — embarrassing yourself in front of the whole class on the first day of school. Now imagine that instead of being called upon to answer some question about the summer reading, you’ve been brought onstage to demonstrate your super-power. And you don’t have one. And the teacher who thinks you do have superpowers asks for a car to be dropped on you to demonstrate those powers.

That’s the fate of Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano of “Will and Grace” and The Lords of Dogtown). His parents are the greatest superheroes in the world. Their secret identities are suburban realtors, but in reality they are The Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston). He is superstrong, she can fly, and together they can defeat any giant robot, monster, or evil villain. They are excited about having Will attend their alma mater, Sky High, the school for the children of superheroes, and look forward to having him join them as a force for good. Will’s feelings about all of this are mixed. He’s proud of his parents, and he wants them to be proud of him. But he is also a teenager, which means he finds the whole thing more than a little embarrassing. “You see the defenders of the planet. I see my dad in red tights.”

Will’s best friend is Layla (pre-Raphael-ite beauty Danielle Panabaker). She has a pacifist/vegetarian outlook and the superpowers to go with it — she can make plants grow and do pretty much whatever else she wants them to. All the other kids seem to have grown into their powers. As the freshmen demonstrate what they can do, they are classified on the basis of their powers as either ***HERO*** or sidekick (sometimes referred to by the politically correct as “hero support”).

When Will is unable to demonstrate any powers at all, he is designated as a sidekick. He asks the school nurse (Cloris Leachman) when his powers might show up, and she tells him that while kids exposed to radiation or dunked in toxic waste get their powers the next day (“Or, they die”), kids with one or both superhero parents grow into theirs…usually. In at least one case, the child of superheroes never developed any powers whatsoever. Now he’s Sky High’s school bus driver.

Will likes his friends in the “hero support” class but he is afraid to let his parents down by telling them the truth. There are some bullies in the “hero” group who are giving him a hard time. Will is dazzled by a beautiful senior girl and doesn’t know if she even notices him. In other words, it’s just a typical high school, except the students can fly, freeze things, stretch like a rubber band, turn into a huge rock guy, melt into a puddle, become a one-girl cheerleading squad, or burst into flames.

Oh, and that flame guy? Even when he’s not literally smouldering, he seems to be. Turns out his father was a villain sent to jail by the Commander. So he’s waiting for the right moment to get some payback.

This is a great set-up and it really delivers, with a clever and perceptive script that is one of the best of the year for any-age audience. The dialogue is geniunely witty and, like Harry Potter, The Incredibles, and Spy Kids, the story makes the best possible use of its situation by putting the perils of adolescence and the pressures of family life on the same level with fights against monsters and giant robots and bad guys who want to take over the world. There really isn’t that much of a difference between a high school that classifies everyone as “hero” or “sidekick” and your average, every-day middle or high school with its intricately stratified in-crowd/out-crowd social hierarchy. And Will’s uncertainty about his superpowers is no different from any teenager’s feelings about assuming the “powers” of the grown-up world. All of this is handled with energy and good humor and a lot of panache.

Russell and Preston are perfect as loving parents who happen to be superheroes and as superheroes who happen to be parents. The young stars are all terrific, especially newcomer Steven Strait as the flame guy (named Warren Peace), Panabaker, Angarano, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the senior girl Will likes. They get great support from Leachman and from former Kids in the Hall castmates Dave Foley (A Bug’s Life, as a sidetracked sidekick and Kevin McDonald are the teachers, along with Lynda (“Wonder Woman”) Carter as the principal and cult hero Bruce Campbell as coach “Sonic” Boom.

The action sequences are fun without being too frightening (with one possible exception) and no one gets hurt. Even the bad guy is not too bad, with the worst of the dastardly deeds deliciously silly, not scary. It’s funny and fun and the best family movie of the summer.

Parents should know that the movie has some cartoon-style violence and peril. While no one gets hurt, some younger children might be frightened by some scenes, especially involving fire. It also includes some mild language, some potty humor and some teen kisses.

Families who see this movie should talk about why it was hard for Will to tell his parents the truth. What can you do about groups in school who think they are better than other people?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Spy Kids, the Harry Potter movies, and The Incredibles. They may also enjoy My Bodyguard, the story of a new kid in school who has to deal with a bully.

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Devil’s Rejects

A

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Extremely strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, and drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Exceptionally violent and graphic images of slaughter and torture
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

The Movie Mom wants to make it clear that this film is not for children or for most adults. It is unrated for its graphic depiction of violence, including sexual violence and torture, strong language, substance abuse, and anything else they could think of to shock and disturb. For those who find that sort of content appealing, and especially for those parents whose teenagers want to see the movie, I hereby turn the review over to my college age son, a horror fan:

If film reviews are meant to make the reader decide whether or not they want to see a movie, then reviewing “The Devil’s Rejects” is rather pointless. Anyone who knows anything about this movie and wants to see it should go at once, and everyone else will know to avoid it. Chances are the critical response to “Devil’s Rejects” will have no effect on its box office gross or future cult status. That being said, for those who love horror, “The Devil’s Rejects” is pretty damn great.

Picking up three years after where writer/director/rock star Rob Zombie’s debut, House of 1,000 Corpses, left off, the family of killers/torturers (including Bill Moseley, Zombie’s wife Sheri Moon, and Leslie Easterbrook replacing Karen Black from the first film) now dubbed “the devil’s rejects” by the media. Psychologically disturbed Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), whose Lieutenant brother had his brains blown out in the first film, is perusing them relentlessly, from engaging in a shootout at the film’s beginning to bringing in a movie critic to find out why the family have taken their names from characters played by Groucho Marx.

The Devil’s Rejects, meanwhile, are looking for a place to hide and torturing various parties along the way, most memorably a traveling band called Banjo and Sullivan.

Overall, The Devil’s Rejects is much darker than House of 1,000 Corpses. It is much more violent and replaces much of House’s humor with genuine chills. The humor is still very much intact, from darkly funny killings to the way the Devil’s Rejects interact (the gruff Otis Driftwood, the sexy Baby Firefly, and the fantastically repulsive Captain Spaulding), but The Devil’s Rejects’ unpredictability and lack of boundaries put me on the edge of my seat for much of the film.

Like Quentin Tarantino, Rob Zombie unabashedly loves loud rock music, comic books, grisly B-movies, and overall trash culture. Similarly, Zombie’s movies feature several B-movie stars only hardcore movie buffs would know (including the frequently Tarantino-cast Sid Haig) and inspired musical choices (you may never think of “Free Bird” the same way after this), although his movies never pretend to be the artistic triumphs that are Tarantino’s.

Zombie also contributes to each of the aforementioned fields. In addition to being part of one of the most popular metal acts in the world, he is a prominent creator of several comic books and graphic novels (not to mention animating the unforgettable hallucination sequence in The Beavis and Butthead movie), and has now written, produced, and directed two of the best horror flicks in recent years. His ability to play with the audience’s dread and anticipation, as well as his wildly original visuals’ seamless mix of hardcore grisly material and sharp humor have made him one of America’s best horror directors. Zombie’s name may soon be mentioned with those of his heroes, including Roger Corman, George Romero, and Russ Meyers.

People who enjoy this movie should check out House of 1,000 Corpses, as well as some of Zombie’s influences, including the original versions of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead.

The Devil’s Rejects is rated R for strong, graphic, almost nonstop violence, including torture and sexual abuse, pervasive strong language, strong, graphic sexual content, and drug use.

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Must Love Dogs

B+

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Some tense and emotional scenes
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

Those out there who are still hoping for Lloyd Dobler to stand outside their window holding up a boombox playing “In Your Eyes” may be glad to hear that a movie that tries to be Say Anything, Part 2: After the Divorce has now been released. It tries, that is, but it doesn’t come close.

This movie begins by introducing us to two recently divorced sweethearts who are clearly Destined For Each Other but it has to take them an entire movie to figure that out or it would be over before we finished our popcorn.

Sarah (Diane Lane) is just about perfect in every way, with one of those “Oh, am I beautiful? I didn’t notice because I was so busy being warm-hearted and sensitive and enjoying my huge beautiful house that would in real life cost about 20 times my salary as a kindergarten teacher” vibes. Jake (John Cusack) is pretty close to perfect, too. His vibe is more like, “I’m so sensitive and romantic that I can hardly bear to try again.” He constantly rewatches Doctor Zhivago, so we know he’s tender-hearted. But he also wears a Ramones t-shirt, so we know he’s not too drippy.

Dating is a pretty excruciating experience even when you’re young enough not to have stopped believing all that media baloney about how much fun it is. And it is close to unbearable when you’ve already found out that happily ever after may not be your destiny.

That’s where Sarah and Jake are. She has a big, loving (and intrusive) Irish family, each of them with candidates for her to consider. Jake has a lawyer-friend who wants him to get back in the game. Some online ads and misfires later, it looks like it might be happily ever after time after all.

There are some better-than-average quips and wisecracks and a couple of situations that are almost as funny as they try to be. But, not having read the book this is based on, I still bet it works better than this movie. It feels like an uncertain adaptation of material that probably comes off much better in print. Subtle and messy are fine in movies, even romantic comedies, but this one is distractingly cluttered where it should be clear. Predictable is okay, too, but only when the characters make us care about them and believe in them more than this one does. Here, the pacing is as jerky as a broken manual transmission, the behavior of the characters (not just Sarah and Jake but everyone else) is inconsistent and the situations are not nearly as charming as they try to be. I don’t believe Jake supports himself building boats or would have such an unappealing best friend; I don’t believe Sarah would pay attention to a man described as “incorrigible;” I don’t believe the whole Stockard Channing subplot (though she, too, is always a pleasure to watch); and I don’t even believe anyone in this movie really loves dogs.

What this movie has going for it is two unquestionably appealing leads who are always a treat to watch, especially when they are exchanging getting-to-know-you barbs. Cusack, whose Raomones t-shirt at times looks like an “I’m hipper than this — please rescue me” flag, reportedly wrote his own dialogue, and it’s the best part of the movie. Jordana Spiro gives the usual airhead/bimbo part a tasty spin and Julie Ganzalo’s warmth shines in a brief role as Sarah’s co-teacher. But like the computer-ad dates on screen, this promises much more than it delivers.

Parents should know that the movie has some sexual references and situations, including a humorous search for condoms and a one-night stand with unhappy results. Characters use brief strong language and there is some social drinking. Some viewers may be disturbed by the discussion of separation, betrayal, and divorce.

Families who see this movie should talk about how to make sure that the pain we endure enlarges our hearts instead of making us afraid to try again.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Nora Ephron’s popular romantic comedies, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. They will also appreciate other movies about people recovering from the loss of a love, including Starting Over, with Burt Reynolds and Jill Clayburgh. Next Stop Wonderland has Hope Davis as a woman recovering from a break-up and Moonlight and Valentino has Elizabeth Perkins (who plays Carol in this movie) as a widow trying to find a way to go on with the help of Whoopi Goldberg, Kathleen Turner, and Gwenyth Paltrow. Families might want to check out the movies the characters watch in the movie, including Beaches and, of course, Doctor Zhivago. And everyone should read the poem read aloud by Sarah’s father, one of the most beautiful love poems ever written, Brown Penny by Yeats.

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