Domino

C+

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, marijuana, mescaline
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and extreme graphic violence and peril, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, strong woman
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

“Based on a true story.”

“Sort of.”

Domino Harvey was the daughter of British movie star Laurence Harvey (The Manchurian Candidate<img src="http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=nellminowthemovi&l=ur2&o=1" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;"). She grew up in luxurious surroundings, worked as a model, and then became a bounty hunter. She died of a drug overdose a few months before the movie’s release date.

You’d think all of that would be plenty for a movie, but director Tony Scott (Top Gun, Days of Thunder) feels he has to MTV it up with quick cuts, swooping pans, what feels like half the shots either sped up or slowed down and “Three Hours Later”-type titles marching across the screen.

It’s not enough that Domino (Kiera Knightly, about as tough as Bounty Hunter Barbie) and her colleagues break into a trailer after some stolen loot, bringing a severed arm with the combination to the safe on it; the trailer has to have the television on so Domino can see her father and Frank Sinatra in a scene from The Manchurian Candidate.

It’s a lot of sizzle with no steak, all style and attitude but no real energy or flair. Scott is using the same tricks that were tired in his last film, Man on Fire, and what makes us tired, too, is the way he expects us to think it all means something.

There are brief glints of something more, thanks to a script co-written by Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko). The narration explains that the one place everyone has to go through is the DMV, which means that the world is run by “sassy black women.” We meet one of them, Lateesha (Mo’Nique Imes-Jackson) as she is putting the finishing touch on fingernails as intricate as an illuminated manuscript, looking past them at her next customer with infinite contempt. Lateesha (who later identifies herself as a “Blacktina” and as the world’s youngest minority grandmother) will turn out to have more to do with that situation in the trailer with the tv set and the severed arm than we think.

Less successful is the attempt to be searingly provocative about such over-worked topics as our fascination with celebrity (two Beverly Hills 90210 alums either get props for being good sports or are way too desperate for jobs or money).

It’s loud, it goes on too long, it never makes us care about the title character or about what happens to her, and its uneven tone and pacing make the violence seem excessive and distracting and literal overkill. A diversion into reality television would be a complete waste of time except that it includes the two best performances in the movie, from Christopher Walken and Mena Suvari who counterpunch with clever underplaying and make everyone else look even sillier and more shrill. A last minute redemption and reconciliation are insincere and unsupported. The movie is loud and empty, and I don’t mean sort of.

Parents should know that this is a very violent movie, with intense and graphic fighting, gunplay, and explosions. A man’s arm is hacked off and characters are wounded and killed. Characters smoke, drink, and use drugs. They also use very strong language. The film includes nudity and sexual references and situations, porn, a lap dance, and scenes in a strip club.

Families who see this movie should talk about the appeal of the bounty hunter life for a young woman raised in Beverly Hills and about the movie’s perspective on “celebrity.”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the better Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Get Shorty.

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Oliver Twist

A-

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking (including underage)
Violence/ Scariness: Violence and peril, child beaten, (offscreen) murder, blood, gunshots
Diversity Issues: Class issues
Date Released to Theaters: 2005
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Waiting

F

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Extremely strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drug use by adults and underage teens, including huffing
Violence/ Scariness: Disgusting behavior
Diversity Issues: Homophobic humor
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

I’ve said it before, but apparently some out there were not listening, so here I go again.

Disgusting is not the same as funny.

Now, please, pay attention this time, because I do not want to have to sit through another endlessly tediously mind-meltingly worthless and utterly predictable movie that is so hopeless it appears that even the cast lost interest long before the movie was over.

Disgusting can be funny. But it isn’t enough. If there was ever any question about that, this movie can serve as exhibit one for the prosecution.

It’s about waiters at a restaurant chain called Shenaniganz. Like the Smurfs, everyone in the cast has just one identifying characteristic. Naive new hire Mitch (John Francis Daley) is assigned to too-cool-to-take-anything-or-anyone-seriously Monty (Ryan Reynolds), which gives us chance to follow them around and meet everyone else. Dean (Justin Long) is feeling down because his high school classmate has graduated from college with a degree in electrical engineering. There’s one with anger management issues, one who is too shy to make a move on a girl (he has a shy bladder, too), a Yoda-esque dishwasher (Chi McBride) imparting wisdom, a couple of busboys who talk like rappers and huff whipped cream, and, of course, the foolish manager who enjoys petty power plays and doesn’t realize how lame it all is.

There is nothing in the characters or dialogue of any entertainment value whatsoever. The script covers something that cannot really be called a plot because it barely rises to the level of incidents. These moments attempt and fail to find humor in commiting various atrocities on food as revenge on rude customers, would-be wisecracks and insults that fall below the level of “I’m rubber, you’re glue” (except with four-letter words), and something I can only describe as an extensive discussion of and participation in a game that consists of the males flashing each other with a form of genital origami. This is the primary activity and interest of our merry little band.

The atrociousness is amplified rather than muffled by incompetent direction, so that even talented performers like Long, McBride, Luis Guzman, and Anna Faris look bored and embarrassed. Even the make-up is amateurish.

There are two points that take it from vile to virulent. First, the message that anyone who buys into traditional measures of success is a sucker or a loser comes across as juvenile instead of subversive. Second is the level of sophomoric homophobic humor, insufferably immature for anyone over the age of 12. Both shamefully reveal that the core audience intended for this film will not be the 17-and-ups its R-rating suggests but the DVD-renting middle schoolers who make the theatrical release of films like National Lampoon’s Van Wilder (also featuring Reynolds) a loss leader for the (often unrated) DVDs.

Those of any age who sit through to the end of the film hoping to find anything worth watching are doomed, like the cast, to waiting.

Parents should know that this is an extremely raunchy movie with near NC-17-level sexual references, language, and nudity. Just about every possible bodily function is included or described. Characters participate in a game that involves flashing their genitals at each other. Characters (including teenagers) drink, smoke, and use drugs. There are homophobic comments. The movie also features a lot of atrocious behavior, though, in fairness, I should point out that one character turns down the opportunity to have sex with another because she is under age (though he promises to take her up on it in a few days, after she turns 18).

Families who see this movie should talk about Dean’s response to the promotion offer and why people stay in jobs that don’t make them feel proud or engaged.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the far better Office Space.

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Serenity

A-

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Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Sci-fi action violence, creatures that torture and eat humans, characters (including children) injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, strong women and minorities
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

Creator of Buffy the the Vampire Slayer Joss Whedon has populated another world with tough, smart-talking characters fighting the darkest evil. And once again the heart of the force for good is a not entirely unconflicted or uncomplicated adolescent girl.

Buffy was a teenager whose high school happened to be located on the Hellmouth. Her vampire-slaying powers and inspired more academic papers than any other television program, even an entire online international journal devoted to topics in fields from classics to cultural studies to sexuality and computer science.

The sensationally entertaining “Serenity” takes place 500 years in the future. The earth’s resources have been depleted and humans have colonized another solar system. heroine is River (Summer Glau), a damaged young woman rescued from the totalitarian Alliance by her brother Simon (Sean Maher), a doctor.

River’s powers include the soft (telepathy) and the hard (some mad kick-boxing skills).

They are hiding out on a beat-up rocket ship captained by Mal (Nathan Fillion), once a rebel fighter, now a guy who will take on any job that pays and does his best to stay out of the way of the Alliance. The crew includes navigator Wash (Alan Tudyk), his wife Zoe, the first mate (Gina Torres), tough guy Jayne (Adam Baldwin), and mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite).

The friends who help them along the way include a “companion” named Inara (Morena Baccarin) (think Miss Kitty in “Gunsmoke,” a gentle, devout man named Book (Ron Glass), and a guy who seems to Tivo the galaxy named Mr. Universe (David Krumholtz).

The man they’re trying to stay away from is The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an understanding but terminator-like ends-justify-the-means type who wants River and will do anything or kill anyone in order to accomplish this goal.

The movie benefits tremendously from a likeable cast with enormous appeal and chemistry perfected over the 14 “Firefly” episodes, from Whedon’s trademark genre mash-ups (the characters often talk like cowboys and the script tweaks classic Western tropes), from tough and genuinely clever wisecracks, and from expert seasoning of action with humor — and humor with action. Whedon continually creates expectations and then confounds them, a po-mo twist here, some unexpected sincerity there.

And the action is terrific, without a hint of a wink or anything less than total commitment.

At one point the Operative says, not without sympathy (Ejiofor has the most expressive eyes since Al Pacino), “It’s worse than you know,” and Mal replies, “It usually is.” Where Whedon is concerned, it’s always as good as you hope.

Parents should know that this movie as a lot of sci-fi “action” violence (lots of shooting, not much blood, but scary-looking characters who torture and eat humans). Characters are injured and killed, including children. There are some mild references to the “companion” and a pleasure robot. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of capable and brave women and minorities and loyal and dedicated relationships between people of different ethnic groups.

Families who see this movie should talk about the obligations and choices facing people who oppose a totalitarian state. How do you decide when to risk your life for the greater good? Why was “Firefly” so popular with some people but not successful enough to succeed on television? How (and why) does this story feel like a Western? Why is the ship called Serenity?

Families who enjoy this film should watch the television series, Firefly. Like all cult favorites, this one has inspired a lot of analysis. Some of the most provocative essays are included in Finding Serenity by Glenn Yeffeth. Families will also enjoy the very clever Futurama as well as the Star Wars series and the parodies Galaxy Quest and Space Balls. Fans of Firefly (violence and occasional sexual references) and “Serenity” will also enjoy Wedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.”

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A History of Violence

A-

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, teens smoke marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Very intense and graphic violence, characters injured and killed, grisly images of wounded and murdered characters
Diversity Issues: Strong woman character
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

Flies buzz and bump against a window as a woman looks out helplessly at a scene of terrible violence on her once-placid front lawn, in her once-peaceful community. A little girl wakes up from a dream of monsters and is comforted by her loving family at the same time that another little girl walks into a murder scene to see a gun pointed at her. A teenage boy outwits a bully without getting into a fight, but then the bully comes back at him and this time won’t be stopped with a wisecrack. A woman deplores violence until her family is at risk. And a violent man is a hero or a bad guy, depending on who is watching.

This is an outstanding — and deeply unsettling exploration of the conflicts all humans have about violence, simultaneously drawn to it and frightened by it, even revolted by it. It is hard to find a movie in the list of top-grossing box office hits that is not scary or violent. Before violent movies, there were violent plays. Shakespeare wrote one where a man chopped up his enemy’s children and fed them to him in a pie and ancient Greek plays featured murder and suicide. Before plays, there were myths and legends and stories around the campfire. Violence is exciting, cathartic, ultimately (in story form), even reassuring, because (usually) justice triumphs, and, when it doesn’t, well, we’re still here, unharmed, after hearing about it.

After a Sam Shepard-esque opening scene juxtaposing understated tough talk with casual brutality, two men drive away from a cheap, dusty, isolated motel. We then meet our hero, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen). As he comforts his little girl by telling her that there’s no such thing as monsters and picks up some trash on the windowsill of his little small-town diner before going inside to get behind the counter, we see that he is a good, loving, gentle man. When his wife decides to give him the teenage sex they never got to share by putting on a cheerleader outfit, we believe him when he says he is the luckiest man in the world.

And then — enter the menace. Our two bad men from the first scene arrive and don’t take it well when Tom politely tells them that the diner is closed. One of them points a gun at a waitress and Tom slams a coffee pot into the other’s face and leaps over the counter to go after the other one. Tom is injured, but the men are dead. And Tom is a hero. He sits on the side of the hospital bed, waiting to be picked up by his wife Edie (Maria Bello), looking a little balefully at the television screen as his face is on every newscast. He is a hero.

And then — enter a bigger menace. A man with a terribly scarred face and a squad of tough-looking goons comes to the diner. He insists that Tom is really someone named Joey from Philadelphia. Tom politely explains that the man must be mistaken, but, even after being warned off by the sheriff, he will not be deterred.

Tom’s teenage son Jack (Ashton Holmes) is proud of his father for protecting the town, but it makes him question his own non-violent response to the high school bully. Tom is his example of what it means to be a man. When we first see Jack and Tom they are tenderly comforting Jack’s little sister. But now he has another side of his father to think about and another example to follow.

Edie knows her husband very well and is certain he has nothing to do with the man with the scary scar. But then he asks her, “How come he’s so good at killing people?” and she begins to wonder whether, deep inside her gentle, loving husband there is a volatile, violent man named Joey.

The performances are gorgeously expressive. Bello and Mortensen are real, heartfelt, drawing us deep into the characters’ lives until we feel we know them, then surprising us, but always perfectly integrated to keep us connected to the characters. In the more outsize bad guy roles, Stephen McHattie, Ed Harris, and William Hurt find the strength in unsettlingly understated performances that convey the coiled anger inside them, ready to spring. Director David Cronenberg beautifully frames each shot, each scene, to lead us to ask ourselves whether there is a Joey inside anyone we know — whether there is a Joey inside each of us, whether we need him there. Enter an even bigger menace — as Pogo used to say “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent movie with intense and brutal fighting and gunplay, a child in peril, and graphic images of wounded and dead bodies. Characters use very strong language, including crude insults. There are explicit sexual references and exceptionally explicit sexual situations, including one that involves force. Characters drink and smoke and teenagers smoke marijuana.

Families who see this movie should talk about the way it ties together many different threads and themes about the role of violence in our lives and the way we feel both drawn to it and revolted by it. The movie also raises questions about the way we see our families — as harbors of safety and as places of danger. Families may want to talk about their own experiences with violence.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy classics about peace-loving men in a violent world, High Noon, The Friendly Persuasion, and Destry Rides Again. They will also appreciate Crash, which explores the insidious role of racism and violence in modern life. This movie covers only a portion of the graphic novel that it is based on, so families who enjoy this film should take a look at the book by John Wagner and Vince Locke.

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