16 Blocks

B+

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Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence, intense sequences of action, and some strong language.
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Character abuses alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Intense peril and violence, tense scenes, many characters shot and injured or killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000FFL2G6

When a cop at a crime scene needs someone to stay with the bodies until the detectives arrive, he asks “who don’t we need?” That would be tired, slow, Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis). As soon as the other cops leave, he limps into the kitchen and takes a bottle of booze out of the cabinet, then sits on the sofa, pours himself a drink, and waits until he can go.


Back at the station, he is about to sign out for the day when his lieutenant assigns him one more job. A prisoner has to testify before a grand jury 16 blocks away before 10:00, and it is now Jack’s responsibilty to deliver him.


So Jack puts Eddie (Mos Def) in the back of a squad car. On the way to the courthouse, he stops at a liquor store, leaving Eddie in the car. Two men try to kill Eddie.

It turns out that a lot of people will do everything they can to keep Eddie from testifying. And that powerful people were counting on Jack to “do what he always does.” Does that mean “mess up” or “go along?”


This movie is 2/3 video game, as Jack and Eddie find dangerous surprises around every corner and in a variety of settings, including the obligatory Chinatown scene. Bang, duck, bang, duck, bang, shoot back. But the other third makes it work — that’s the sure direction of a well-constructed script by Richard Donner, balancing tension, thrills, and a few well-placed laughs, with sharp, clever performances by Willis, Def, and David Morse as Jack’s former partner.

Willis is always underestimated as an actor. It’s easy to do because he never seems to be trying very hard. But that just shows how good he is. In the middle of an action movie he gives a subtle, complex, and nimble performance that increases the tension, never distracting from it. Mos Def gives depth and appeal to a character who has two functions in the script: contrast with Jack’s burn-out and McGuffin prop to be shot at and fought over. Eddie’s non-stop commentary could have quickly become annoying with a less skillful performer. But Def makes the rhythms of Eddie’s speech a counterpoint to the script’s ticking clock. The moment when he has to make a big decision is beautifully played. This 16 block journey is one audiences will enjoy being along for the ride.


Parents should know that this movie has non-stop action and peril with many tense situations and a lot of violence (mostly shooting). Many characters are injured and some are killed. A character abuses alcohol. Characters use brief strong language and there are some mild sexual references.


Families who see this movie should talk about whether and when people can change. Why did Jack decide to protect Eddie? Why did Eddie decide to help Jack? Why is Eddie’s riddle important?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the best in this genre, Midnight Run (non-stop very strong language), Speed, and Willis’ Die Hard 3.

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Action/Adventure Crime Drama Movies Thriller

Doogal

C

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Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Brief joke
Violence/ Scariness: Cartoony peril and violence, characters shoot lightning bolts, scary skeletons, characters apparently killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000F0V0KO

This tiresome animated quest story starts out uninspired but quickly becomes irritating. Half an hour into its 80 minute running time, the child behind me asked hopefully, “Is that the end?” If only.


Has anyone behind this movie ever met a child? The story, about an evil wizard who is after three magic diamonds and the dog, rabbit, cow, and snail who try to stop him, has some mild appeal, but the characters are so uninteresting, most of the artwork so unimaginative, and the tone so uneven that it is unlikely to hold the interest of any age group.


This is a G-rated film directed at children that tries to make jokes about the Blue Man Group, Donald Trump, Simon and Garfunkel, Austin Powers, the MTV car fix-up show “Pimp My Ride,” Mission Impossible, human resources departments and the inadequacies of interns, Dawn of the Dead, music group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. These are not the kind of keep-the-grownups-happy jokes from Shrek and The Incredibles. They are just stale throw-in-any-pop-culture-reference non-jokes-in-a-hopeless-attempt-to-sound-hip-and-snarky.


The story itself is sugary pap of the “kids don’t know any better so it won’t matter if there’s nothing especially vivid or memorable” category. It keeps telling us that friendship and togetherness are important, but we never have any reason to believe that they believe it, much less that we should. Even the voice talents of Whoopi Goldberg, William H. Macy, and Jimmy Fallon can’t make up for a lackluster script and sluggish pacing. The animation has the low-budget CGI look: meticulous textures but movement as jerky and unpersuasive as Davey and Goliath.


Originally made in England, the movie was redubbed to make it more accessible to an American audience. Apparently, they didn’t think American children would find British accents appealing. The slightly governess-y narration by Dame Judi Dench is, however, the best part of the movie, suggesting that it might have been better to leave it as it was.

Parents should know that, despite the G rating, this movie may be too intense for younger children. Wizards fight with lightning bolts, scary skeletons guard a jewel, children are locked in a frozen merry-go-round, characters are in peril and there are some apparent deaths. There is some crude schoolyard language (indcluding the expression “pimp my ride”), a brief joke about substance abuse, and some potty humor.


Families who see this movie should talk about how friendship and loyalty made it possible for Doogal and the others to succeed.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Yellow Submarine and The Thief and the Cobbler.

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Action/Adventure Animation Comedy Family Issues Movies

Madea’s Family Reunion

B+

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Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, domestic violence, sex and drug references.
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, references to drug abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Domestic abuse, spanking, hitting
Diversity Issues: A strength of the movie is the positive portrayal of minority and religious characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000F9SO0O

As the Borg say on “Star Trek,” “Resistance is futile.” Don’t even try to get in the way of Madea, that pistol-packing, Bible-thumping, larger than life powerhouse and force for good creation of Tyler Perry, who also plays the part. Perry is something of a larger-than-life powerhouse himself, this time not just writing the film, playing Madea, her brother Joe, and her nephew Brian, and composing some of the music but directing as well.


You can’t judge this movie with the same standards you would apply to the usual multiplex fodder with its neat categories and linear construction. This happy mash-up of romance, drama, low comedy and high drama works because it is all tied together by Perry’s open-hearted conviction. The sincerity of his commitment is the throughline that keeps the audience connected to the story and the characters.

In addition, the crazy-quilt shifts in tone and genre are well suited to a story of a large extended family where at any given moment characters are facing a broad variety of financial, spiritual, moral, psychological, and work-related challenges, even the dreaded math problems that Madea refers to as “Al Jarreau.” She might not know the word “algebra,” but if there is an extended family member who has a problem with it and — this is the important part — is ready to be helped, Madea will find some way and some one who can give what is needed.


The person in need of some help with homework is a young girl who comes to live with Madea when a judge gives her the choice of becoming the girl’s foster mother or going to jail for violation of her parole. Many movies would make this the center focus of the story with a series of heartwarming incidents showing us the growing respect and affection between them, but this movie doesn’t have time. Medea tells the girl (the marvelous Keke Palmer) to shape up, smacking her on the butt, stands up for her with a bully on the school bus (by hitting him upside the head), promises that homework help, and that’s it.


Madea’s niece (Lisa Arrindell Anderson as Vanessa) has moved back in with her, bringing her two children. She has given her life to God and does not want to get involved with a man. But gorgeous bus driver/painter Frank (Boris Kodjoe) is also a committed Christian and loving parent. She is drawn to him, but can she trust herself? Can she let herself trust him?


Vanessa’s half-sister Lisa (Rochelle Aytes) is engaged to a wealthy banker (Blair Underwood) who beats her. Her mother Victoria (Lynn Whitfield, channeling “Dynesty-era” Joan Collins) tells her to do whatever it takes to keep him happy.


Through all of this Madea is there to knock down those who are above themselves and lift up those who don’t ask or expect the best for themselves. Her brother Joe (also played by Perry) is there to provide vulgar humor. But the heart of the story is the relationship between Lisa and Vanessa and their mother. Perry shows us that Victoria is a victim as well as a predator but does not let that excuse her behavior. Cecily Tyson and Maya Angelou appear as family matriarchs at the reunion, standing in front of a shack that family members once lived in as slaves and then as property owners and telling the group that now is the time to begin to act with responsibility, dignity, and integrity. Madea is Perry’s creation, but it is Tyson and Angelou who deliver his real message.

Parents should know that the movie has some mature themes, including child sexual abuse, adultery, out of wedlock children, and domestic violence. There are references to prostitution and drug addiction. Madea advocates corporal punishment. She does not hesitate to whack a child or an adult. The movie also has some crude humor including potty jokes and vulgar references to sex. Strengths of the movie include the portrayal of strong, devoted, responsible, and loving minority characters, positive portrayal of religious conviction as a sustaining force in the lives of some characters, and an explicit commitment by a dating couple to remain chaste until marriage.


Families who see this movie should talk about how Madea always finds a way to help those who are willing to accept it.


Families who enjoy this film will enjoy Diary of a Mad Black Woman and the Tyler Perry collection. They might also like to try to see Perry perform in person in one of his plays.

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Comedy Drama Movies Romance

Failure to Launch

B

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Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity and language.
Profanity: Some swearing, one f-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, references to one character drinking a lot
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence including animal bites
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000FILV1Y

Trip (Matthew McConaughey) is a 35-year-old boat broker who happily resides in an assisted living facility where he is served fresh pancakes and bacon with warmed syrup and all of his clothes are cleaned, neatly folded, and placed on his bed. All aspects of his domestic arrangements are handled cheerfully by a devoted staff of two who are dedicated to his happiness and on call 24/7. They are his parents.


Mom (Kathy Bates) and Dad (Terry Bradshaw) love their son. They do everything for him, just as they always have. He even uses them to break up relationships with girls who get that look, the one that shows they’re thinking about making plans for the future. He brings them home, and when they see that he still lives with his folks, they can’t find the door fast enough.


Trip has all the pleasures of being a grown-up and none of the responsibilities. He has two friends who also live with their parents who go rock-climbing and paint-balling with him and lots of dates. But his parents, much as they love him, would like some time for themselves. They hire Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), an “interventionist” recommended by friends.


She crisply informs them that she will proceed according to a well-established formula designed to show Trip that he is ready to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. She will pretend to like what he likes, give him the opportunity to comfort her and to teach her something, earn the support of his friends, and voila — he will be ready for a delayed but successful launch.


But Trip turns out to be very different from the usual Trekkers and gear-heads she is used to coaxing into the world. Confidence and social skills are not the problem. What she finds out will leave her in need of an intervention herself.


This is a bright and bouncy date movie with some sharp lines and even sharper performances, especially from Bates and Bradshaw. The movie works a little too hard to convince us that just because Trip lives at home does not mean he isn’t completely manly — he is constantly shown climbing rocks, racing, shooting, sailing, or with his shirt off. And a recurring theme of animal bites (no kidding) really doesn’t work. The movie underuses the marvelous Zooey Deschanel in an underwritten “best friend” role. The big climactic scene is over-the-top, even within the romantic comedy genre. Both leads are a little too old for their parts (Deschanel would have been a more appealing Paula), but the energy and wisecracks keep us interested and the appeal of the characters and performers keep us involved. The movie’s take-off is as precarious as that of its main character, but the launch is successful.

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language (swearing, one f-word), non-sexual nudity (bare tush), and sexual references and non-explicit situations. Characters drink and one drinks frequently, possibly to excess. There is comic peril and violence, including spills and animal bites.


Families who see this movie should talk about how parents can teach their children to be independent. Why was it hard for Kit to let herself be happy?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Agatha Christie stories about Parker Pyne, who is often called in to solve the kinds of problems Paula tackles in this film.

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Comedy Movies Romance

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

B

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Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and sexual content.
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, references to drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Battle scenes, intense childbirth sequence, depiction and reference to severe injuries
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000EOTFBW

When in the depths of winter the dregs of the cinematic year limp into theaters, some audiences long for the more cerebral fare of spring or fall. “Haven’t we seen this plot before?” becomes a common refrain and a movie like “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” feels like a sunny spring day come early, even if its unflattering brightness is not appealing to all.


This is a movie about making a movie based on an un-filmable book; however, the audience needs to know nothing about “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman” the novel by Laurence Sterne (published in volumes from 1759 to 1767) to appreciate the film. Just as Clueless was a faithful to the tone and themes of Jane Austen’s Emma although the language and setting were utterly altered, “Tristram Shandy” the movie captures the ambition, isolation and vulnerability of the book’s eponymous center through the actor portraying him.


The book is a knotty, meandering yarn with copious digressions and post-modern flourishes like blank or black pages before there was a “modern” to be “post”. Framing his novel as a faithful autobiography, Sterne told the story of a man who could not figure out how to tell his own life story, hence a tale that jumps about from Tristram to his father to his uncle and ends up months before Tristram’s birth. The movie likewise jumps from Tristram (Steve Coogan) to Tristram’s father (Coogan, again) to Steve Coogan (Coogan), an actor trying to capture a character from a book he has never bothered to read. Coogan the actor plays Coogan the actor as he argues with the child playing Shandy as a child about how to perform his role.


Although it starts out as a brawny, mid-eighteenth century farce, the movie finds its pace in the modern day as “co-lead actors” Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (playing Tristram’s Uncle Toby) position themselves on the set with a natural humor and intimacy while they jostle for position in the story and in the movie.

Coogan throws a passive-aggressive snit about the height of his shoes while Brydon frets about the yellowness of his teeth. The attractive assistant, Jennie (Naomie Harris), who refers with passion to German Realism cinema and rails against the banality of battle scenes, evokes admiration and pompousness from Coogan, who is basking in any attention that she shines upon him. His flirtations are mildly curtailed when his girlfriend, Jenny (Kelly McDonald) and their baby show up for a brief visit.


The movie follows hurdles (will they get the funds they need to finish the film?) and distractions (is that inquisitive journalist going to reveal Coogan’s naughty shenanigans?) with a constantly moving camera, adding to the driven pace of the film and contrasting with its many moments of waiting and stillness. Because Coogan’s character is shown warts and all in his many shades of neediness, some audiences will not be bothered whether he lands on his feet, but his intelligent performance –well-framed by those of Brydon and McDonald— will win over those looking for the nuance and humor of this underappreciated British actor.


The overlapping story circles of the book, the actors and the production process for the movie could have made for a confusing mess, but in director Michael Winterbottom’s able hands the tempo, wit and robustness of the performances make the film feel alive if occasionally a bit overly precocious. Although it does not follow the book closely enough for time-constrained college kids to use it as a short cut to reading all nine volumes, this “Cock and Bull Story” will be the real Tristram Shandy for many.


Parents should know that there are mature themes throughout this movie and that the relationships between characters are complicated and dynamic. There is male and child nudity, a traumatic accident to a boy resulting in circumcision, a depiction of childbirth, an enormous model womb, and implicit sex between committed couples. Characters drink socially and refer to infidelity, unusual sex and impotence. Characters drink and refer to drug use. Strong language including British slang is used.


Families that see this movie might want to talk about the different characters depicted in the 18th century and how they mirror –- or not -— the actors who portray them. Does Coogan’s character develop over the length of the movie? If you think he changes, where do these changes come from?


Families that enjoy this movie might want to watch some other multi-layered movies about filming stories that correspond to the lives of the actors, such as The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Adaptation and other movies about making movies like State and Main, The Stunt Man, Sweet Liberty, and Day for Night. They will also enjoy Coogan’s performances in 24 Hour Party People (also directed by Winterbottom) and Coffee and Cigarettes.


Thanks to guest critic AME.

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Comedy Movies
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