ATL

B+

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Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for drug content, language, sexual material and some violence.
Profanity: Some strong language, including the n-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Characters deal drugs, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Violence, including punching and shooting, characters steal
Diversity Issues: Economic, racial, and gender diversity a theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000FS9UL2

The star of this movie is first-time director Chris Robinson, who took an appealing but conventional story of five friends on the brink of adulthood and made it come alive with a vibrant, pulsing, slightly cynical but ultimately hopeful tone that perfectly matches its characters.


In voice-over, Rashad (rap star T.I.) tells us that “down south you grow up quick.” A senior in high school already supporting his family, he no longer has a child’s “luxury of dreams.” And over the credits we see the “ATL,” the bleak landscape of Atlanta’s south side, and we hear Ray Charles’ sentimental tribute “Georgia” turned into a hiccuping stuck record mixed with something harsher. This mash-up sets the stage for the conflicts the characters face between where they’ve been and where they want to go.


Esquire (Jackie Long) is ambitious. He attends a tony private school and works at an even tonier country club. He needs a letter of recommendation to get a scholarship to attend an Ivy League school. His guidance counselor advises him to try to get someone important to write the letter — “Sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know.”

Some of Esquire’s friends are ambivalent about whether they should want to leave their neighborhood, but Esquire is very clear that he wants what the greater world has to offer, maybe even a Picasso in his home like successful businessman .


Rashad is less concerned about his own future than he is about his brother, Ant (Evan Ross Naess, son of Supremes star Diana Ross). Their parents were killed in a car crash and their uncle sees them as a burden. Rashad supports the family cleaning office buildings at night. He meets “ghetto fabulous” New New (Lauren London) whose faith in him inspires him, but who has a secret that will come between them.


Rashad’s other friends are Brooklyn (Albert Daniels) and Teddy (Jason Weaver), who seem to find what they are seeking without leaving home.


Robinson uses techniques from music videos (he has directed top-rated videos for a galaxy of hip-hop stars) to silent films (title cards help introduce the characters and scenes and in one witty conversation subtitles translate the otherwise impenetrable vernacular used by a character). The energetic camerawork is always superbly controlled, the edits evoking the restlessness and uncertainty of the characters but always making us feel that we are in the hands of an assured story-teller with a compellingly authentic sense of place and character. The story by Antoine Fisher reflects the real-life experiences of a number of performers from that neighborhood, including Outkast star Big Boi, who appears as a drug dealer ready to step in to become a father figure for a young man looking for a role model. (Note the small shout-out to one of Fisher’s most famous lines in the film about his own life when someone asks Esquire if he is hungry.)

Robinson also works well with his young cast. They each make strong impressions but what is most impressive is the ensemble; you don’t just think they’ve been acting forever — you think they’ve been friends forever. he shows us that it is indeed not what you know but who you know — what matters to these characters is that they know each other and what matters to us is that Robinson knows them, and that, as this movie unfolds, we feel that we do, too.


Parents should know that the film has a lot of mature material. Characters use strong language for a PG-13, including the n-word. Characters smoke, steal, and deal drugs. There are sexual references, some crude, and sexual situations, including casual sex (seen as triumphant from the male point of view). There is also some violence, including shooting and punching. There are tense family confrontations and references to the death of parents. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of some of the challenges of discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and class.


Families who see this movie should talk about why these characters were friends. What was New-New afraid would happen if she told the truth? What did she want that she could not find at home? What did Esquire want that he could not find at home? Who in the movie uses different ways of talking in different situations? Why? What was it that the characters loved about the Cascades and why did there seem to be so many possibilities there? What does it mean to be “ghetto fabulous?” How does it affect Rashad to have New New believe in him and how does it affect Ant that Rashad says, “I believe in you even when you’re too stupid to believe in yourself?”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Roll Bounce, a sweeter, lighter, more nostalgic take on some of the same themes, along with the many other classics about friends on the brink of adulthoood, including Breaking Away, Raising Victor Vargas, and American Graffiti. They might also enjoy this interview with director Chris Robinson.

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Drama Movies

Basic Instinct 2

F-

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong sexuality, nudity, violence, language and some drug content.
Profanity: Extremely crude, vulgar, and profane language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Intense peril and graphic violence, characters murdered
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000FS9UKI

Someone should tell Sharon Stone that you can’t step in the same river twice. Or you can’t go home again. Or that for every Godfather II there are a hundred Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloos.


Anything to stop another big, boring mess like this one.


A bit of credit to director Michael Caton-Jones, who knows how to shoot sleeky, sexy architecture, even if his idea of symbolism is to have the office of his psychiatrist leading man in London’s striking, if often jeered-at “gherkin” building. And even if he makes the sets more lively than the actors. Indeed, when one character is supposed to become catatonic, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference.


Stone returns as bad girl Catherine Davis Tramell a “risk addict” whose sensational novels are inspired by her even more sensational life. Before the credit sequence has ended, we see her having sex with a drugged-out partner while driving a car over 100 miles an hour. The car crashes into the Thames, and the man, a well-known soccer star, is killed. Dr. Michael Glass (his name is this movie’s idea of subtlety) (David Morrisey) is brought in to determine whether Tramell is culpable for his death.


Then a bunch more people get killed in scenes that are more static than scary and there are some sex scenes that are more clinical than sultry.


And there is a lot of dialogue with a chasm so yawning between its intention (provocative) and its reality (see previous reference to yawning) that it starts to sound like the adults in Charlie Brown cartoons: “Waughghgh Waughghg Waughghgh”


They may think that if they surround her with people who have English accents it will all seem less shlocky. No such luck.


Marlene Dietrich was once supposed to have complained to her cameraman that he was not making her look as good as he had a decade earlier. “But Miss Dietrich,” he is said to have assured her gallantly, “I was ten years younger then.”


Sharon Stone was fourteen years younger when she made the first Basic Instinct. And so were we. This creates two sets of problems.


First, she can’t surprise us any more. Both actress and character were new to us in 1992; now that famous dress, chair, cigarette, and leg-cross are an icon. At the time, it was all new. She pushed the boundaries. But those boundaries have been shoved another couple of football fields since then, and Stone and her director and screenwriter have not managed the delicate task of finding that precise spot between provocative and gross.


Second, instead of rethinking the character, Stone tries to go back to where she was and it just doesn’t work. If Tramell had actually survived another fourteen years of sex, drugs, and lots of people turning up dead wherever she went, she would be affected by that. Stone’s astonishing, assured performance in the original movie was a model of careful calibration of the power of her sexuality and daring. But the sexual power of a 48-year-old is different from the sexual power of a 34-year-old. Stone, whose portrayal of mature sexiness was breathtaking in last year’s Broken Flowers, is so over-the-top here that Tramell appears to be channeling Cruella De Vil. Or maybe Carol Burnett vamping as “Nora Desmond.” “Time is a weapon,” one character says in this movie. In this case, a lethal one.


Parents should know that this movie has just about every kind of material that is inappropriate for younger viewers or sensitive viewers of any age, with extremely strong, crude, and profane language, drinking, smoking, drug use, intense peril and graphic violence, murders, and general bad behavior in all categories.


Families who see this movie should ask why anyone would be “addicted” to risk. How are we supposed to feel about Catherine at the end of this movie? What is a “masked psychotic” and is there one in this story?


Families who enjoy this movie should see the original. They might also enjoy The Jagged Edge, Sea of Love, Final Analysis, Whispers in the Dark, and Dressed to Kill.

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Crime Drama Movies Mystery Thriller

Ice Age: The Meltdown

B-

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Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild language and innuendo.
Profanity: Some crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Tension, peril, characters killed, references to extinction
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000GUJZ00

Once again, as in the first Ice Age, wooly mammoth Manny (voice of Ray Romano), sloth Sid (John Leguizamo), and saber tooth tiger Diego (Denis Leary) set off on a journey. This time, they have to lead their friends out of the valley before the ice melts and it becomes flooded.

Along the way, Manny wonders if mammoths are about to become extinct because he seems to be the only one left, until he meets Ellie (Queen Latifah), a mammoth who thinks she is a possom. Sid meets up with some miniature sloths who think he is their Fire King. And all of the characters face predators and other obstacles as they try to beat the water to the edge of the valley. And every now and then we get to see the continuing saga of Scrat the prehistorical squirrel and his Sisyphus-like quest to get and keep an acorn.
Even by the low standards of sequels (it’s fair to expect at least a 30% drop-off in quality), this is a disappointment. There are brightly funny individual scenes, especially the “Fire King” encounter (though it seems to have been taken straight from one of the Hope and Crosby “Road” movies — or, come to think of it, all of them), but it doesn’t have the power or imagination of the original. Instead, itt has a cluttered plot with a formulaic mix of potty humor, mostly kid-appropriate scariness, and some encouraging lessons about responding to fear and the imprtance of family.

The primary relationship issues between the three leads were resolved the first time around and the new characters don’t add much interest or do much to propel the story. On the contrary, they serve as a distraction, especially the resolutely un-cute and un-cuddly mischievous possums. When their very un-possum-ish sister natters about her feelings as though she was in the middle of a Dr. Phil show instead of a life and death struggle to save members of her group, it is less likely to be amusing for children and their parents than annoying. A well-designed Busby Berkeley-style dance number to the Oliver! song “Food Glorious Food” is sung by vultures hoping that the characters we are rooting for don’t make it, so they can feast on the “putrid” meat.
This last example is a good indicator of the movie’s primary problem — an uncertain sense of its audience. A crowd old enough to recognize references that are 40 and 60 years old? A crowd old enough to find some dark humor in having vultures sing about how excited they are that animals we have just spent most of a movie with are going to die so they can eat them? As Ben Stein said so memorably in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “Anyone? Anyone?”

 

Parents should know that the movie has some tense and scary moments with characters in frequent peril. Predatory fish with many very sharp teeth chase after the characters. At least one character is killed (offscreen and discreetly) and another has a near-death experience. There are discussions of possible extinction. Characters use some crude and insulting language (“idiot,” “moron,” “crap”) and there is some potty humor. An odd near-death visit to Heaven may be disturbing to some audience members.
Families who see this movie should talk about how we recognize and deal with our fears. Why were Ellie’s feelings hurt? How do you feel about the way Ellie and Manny resolved their argument about which way to go? Several characters in the movie were lonely. How can you tell, and what did they do about it? What does it mean to be “the gooey, sticky stuff that holds us together?” And they should talk about endandered species and efforts to protect them. Families might also want to learn more about wooly mammoths and other ice age animals.
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the original Ice Age as well as The Land Before Time and its sequels.

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Action/Adventure Animation Comedy Epic/Historical Family Issues Movies Series/Sequel Talking animals

Take the Lead

B

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Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material, language and some violence.
Profanity: Some strong language including the n-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: References to alcohol and drugs, character abuses alcohol, drug dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Guns, references to murders, a father hits his son, some sad and scary moments
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000FUTVLY

It never fails.


No matter how many times rap songs win the Oscar, no matter how many years have passed since Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were at the top of the box office as they danced the Carioca and the Continental, no matter how many twists, hustles, lindys, frugs, bus stops, bumps, mashed potatoes, madisons, crunks, and funky monkeys have come along since, there is and will always be something imperishably magical about a gentleman reaching his hand out to a lady as an invitation to waltz. Or tango. Or, as long as it’s not debutante- or country club-style, even the foxtrot.


“Believe me,” says the tired and cynical principal (Alfre Woodard) of the embattled urban high school, “The one thing they know how to do is dance.” But that’s not the kind of dancing the man who has just shown up in her office has in mind. He is Pierre Dulaine (Antonio Banderas), and he is proposing to teach her students ballroom dancing.


Even if these kids did want to learn anything from anyone, it would not be ballroom dancing, which they think of as from another planet — they tell him it is for rich white folks, slave-holders. Did Martin Luther King learn the cha-cha? And that old-timey music by Cole Porter and Irving Berlin hurts their ears so much they even agree to listen to him talk rather than have it turned up too loud.


Dulaine tells them that ballroom dancing is for warriors and empresses, that it is about strength and romance. And when they see him do a very hot tango number with his studio’s top student, they start to get interested. And there’s a big competition coming up….


The dance steps are less predictable than the plotline here: gradual building of trust, setbacks, growth experiences, tenderness, the big event. But we, too, find it hard to resist the invitation to the dance. Banderas is simply marvelous, not just in the sizzling tango but in his interaction with the kids and the flinty principal (Alfre Woodard). The story is formulaic and overplotted, descending into a sort of To Sir With Love with dancing, but the performances are sincere and the music is heavenly.

Parents should know that this movie has some strong language, including the n-word. There are non-explicit references to prostitution and there is an attempted sexual assault. Characters use guns and there are references to murders and to drugs and alcoholism. There are sad and scary moments and teenagers who have taken up the responsibility of caring for their families.


Families who see this movie should talk about why the students changed their mind about ballroom dancing. What appealed to them the most? What was the most important thing they learned? Why did Pierre (the real one and the one in the movie) decide to teach the kids? Families should also try some ballroom dancing”> themselves.

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Strictly Ballroom, Shall We Dance, Footloose, and Fame (some mature material). They will also enjoy some of the classic teacher in a tough school movies, from The Blackboard Jungle to Up the Down Staircase, Dangerous Minds, and Stand and Deliver.

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Drama Movies Musical

Inside Man

A-

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Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some violent images.
Profanity: Very strong language including racial epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Tense and scary scenes, gunfire, characters injured and shot
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, references to racism
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000GFLKF8

Spike Lee’s brilliant direction and a clever and surprising script from first-timer Russell Gewirtz provide an ideal setting for four of the most watchable actors in the business in a heist film that transcends and tweaks its genre. It has brains, heart, and a sizzling fireball of sheer star power, and it is a dazzling tour de force.


Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) tells us his story and then we see it unfold from the beginning, with little forward glimpses of post-robber interviews by detectives Frazier (Denzel Washington) and Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Four people enter a bank dressed as painters. They take out the security cameras with powerful lights and then tell everyone to lie down. They are there to rob the bank and all of the employees and customers are hostages.


Even though he is dealing with his own problems at the office, including a matter of some missing money that may be a frame-up by an angry drug dealer, Frazier is sent to negotiate with the robbers. The police captain (Willem Dafoe) secures the area. And the chairman of the board of the bank (Christopher Plummer) makes his first call to a mysterious woman named White (Jodie Foster), as silkily menacing when asking a favor, proposing a bribe, or making a threat. Indeed, there seems to be no difference between the three. It seems that the chairman has some very important items in a safe deposit box in the bank that is being robbed. Those contents must be protected or destroyed and he must be assured of compete discretion. So she will have to find a way to negotiate with the robber, too.


Lee drives the film through the twists and turns of the plot as though it was a European sportscar. When he shoots his own scripts, it is easy to forget what a superb director he is because the stories are so provocative they distract from his skill in telling the story. But in this film, every choice of shot, every point of view, every edit serves the story and Lee’s superb control of tone, pacing, and setting are almost another character in the film. And so is the city. Lee’s obvious affection for the city’s structures and people is evident throughout, and many of its brightest moments come from the wide range of characters who are vividly realized even in brief appearances.


Denzel Washington may be the greatest movie star of our time. There is no one who can match him for sheer star power and charisma, and no one who comes close to the way he is as in control of that power in service of the story and the character. His Frazier is a man who takes his time in the midst of chaos to calm a witness, to ask a beat cop about a past experience, to pay attention to every detail and make them part of the narrative and part of the unraveling of the mystery. In their fourth film together, Lee shows once again that he knows how to use Washington’s confidence and natural charm to pull us into the story and the small moments as meaningful as the guns and all those piles of cash.

Clive Owen, who has to do most of his acting behind a mask, has a steely resolve, but in scenes with Washington and with a child who is one of the hostages, he shows self-assured wit that is completely engaging. Washington, Owen, and Ejiofor play off each other as though they are tossing off jazz riffs — it seems effortless and improvised but it all fits together like a jigsaw puzzle with no missing pieces. Only Foster disappoints, waggling her head as an attempt to show gravitas. And maybe the way it all comes together is a little too cute. There are a couple of “wait a minute….” thoughts on the way to the parking lot. Overall, though, it is the most satisying film of the year so far, by far.

Some people will complain that Lee has become an “inside man,” trading his tough, highly individual, fully engaged films about big issues for a genre piece. I don’t agree. What he has done here is show that he knows how to make a mainstream film that works on many levels, one of them being sheer entertainment. If that’s “inside,” so what? Let him take the money and the clout and do something else next time.


Parents should know that this movie has very strong and crude language, including racial epithets and sexual references. There is some violence, including shooting and apparent killing. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of intelligent and capable diverse characters who are honest about bigotry but do their best to work together.


Families who see this movie should talk about how Frazier, Russell, White, the mayor, and Case decide what their priorities are. Who makes the biggest compromises? What will happen next?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy other heist movie classics, like $, Die Hard 3, the original Thomas Crown Affair, The Great Train Robbery, The Taking of Pelham 123, Dog Day Afternoon, and the underrated Bill Murray comedy Quick Change.

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Crime Drama Movies Thriller
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