Stick It

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some crude remarks
Profanity: Some crude language, including b-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Characters take risks, some injuries, none serious
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: July 29, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B00005JOZC

If the Olympics has sparked an interest in gymnastics, take a look at this fresh, fun, funny, and smart story about a teenager “sentenced” to return to the gymnastics training she thought she had left behind.  It has all the sizzling attitude of a great floor routine, and all of the discipline and heart as well.

Missy Peregrym plays Haley, who walked away in the middle of the world championship competition, forfeiting her team’s chance for a gold medal. She got her high school equivalency degree at age 15 and spends her days doing extreme bike stunts and getting into trouble. And she wears everyone’s favorite signifier of punk attitude: a Ramones t-shirt. One of the stunts lands her in front of a judge who gives her a choice: a military academy or a gymnastics academy. She opts for the military, but her father and the judge decide otherwise.

So, she walks into “the middle of an ‘I hate you’ sandwich,” the gymnastics training facility run by Vic (Jeff Bridges). The other gymnasts don’t want her there. Some of them are still angry about her walk-out; some don’t like her attitude; some don’t want the competition. She does not want to be there. She has no respect for a sport that gives judges the power to reward conformity and tradition instead of risk-taking and innovation. And she doesn’t want to cooperate with or trust anyone, especially a grown-up.

But Vic allows her to train her own way and tells her that the prize money from the upcoming competition could help her pay for the property damage she caused. And he shows her that she can’t calcute danger and risk if she does not respect the rules.

Sure, we’ve seen it before, the kid and the mentor learning to trust each other, the first trial, the set-back, the training montage-with-rock-song, the lessons learned, the triumph. That saga is so indestructable it could produce an acceptably entertaining movie on automatic pilot. Indeed, it has, many, many times. Those films are as safe and conventional and sythetic as the color-inside-the-lines athletes Haley refuses to be like when she advises a team-mate: “If you’re going to eat mat, eat mat hard.”

What makes this movie irresistable is that the people making it don’t care how many times it has been done before. They don’t even seem to know. They make us feel that this isn’t just the only sports movie ever made; it’s the only movie ever made, and they came to play.

That means that they abandon, re-think, and transcend the conventions of the genre. It is filmed in a brash, insoucient style but with a sense of humor about itself and its audience and an assured and always -engaging visual style, starting with the graffiti-style credits. The gymnastic routines are kinetically staged (though cut around the limitations of the performers, who are athletic but not competitive gymnasts). A Busby Berkeley-style kalideoscopic version of one set of exercises is delightful but also genuinely breathtaking. And a romp through a department store is a slyly post-modern and slightly gender-bending take on Brady Bunch-style musical numbers.
The movie also deserves a lot of credit for giving us a heroine who defines herself and does not need a makeover to feel pretty or a boyfriend to make her feel complete. Most arresting and unusual, though, is its take on the sport itself and the nature of competition and teamwork, which is exceptionally well handled. Jeff Bridges brings both warmth and edge to the part of the coach and Pergrym knows how to make both attitude and vulnerability believable. The film is far better than it had to be, entertaining and reassuringly meaningful as well. If it were a gymnastics routine, I’d give it a 9.

Parents should know that characters use some strong and crude language (the s-word, the b-word) and there is some disrespectful, rule-breaking, and rude behavior. There is a reference to adultery, to being “hit on” and a gay joke. There are some dangerous stunts with injuries and a reference to serious injury. A strength of the movie is its frank and direct exploration of some of the issues of competition and a sport that gives the judges the power to decide who wins. And another is the way it avoids the usual romantic happily ever after ending.

Families who see this movie should talk about what the movie has to say about competition, cooperation, and teamwork. Hayley learns to respect some rules but not others. How does she determine the difference? Vic tells Hayley, “For someone who hates being judged, you’re one of the most judgmental people I ever met.” Where do we see her being judgmental and where do we see her changing some of her judgments? The girls who do gymnastics have to give up just about everything else in order to succeed. What would you be willing to give up to achieve something that was important to you? What does Haley learn from the judge’s comment that “A lot of great people have jerks for parents?” How do people overcome those kinds of disappointments?

Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Bring it On (some crude humor) and The Cutting Edge (some mature material) and Flashdance (more mature material).

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Comedy Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Sports

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

A-

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Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, character gets tipsy
Violence/ Scariness: Sad deaths
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000GYI3PY

Mrs. Palfrey (Joan Plowright) did not think of herself as someone who would live in the shabby gentility of the Claremont, a residential hotel in London. We never learn the details of what brought her there or keeps her there, but we do not need to. We learn everything we need to know from the resigned but not cheerless sigh of acceptance as she sees her room for the first time, and from her quiet courage as she walks into the dining room

Mrs. Palfrey has hopes of hearing from her grandson, who works in London. And she may have hopes of finding companionship at the Claremont. But it is an unexpected encounter with a young writer named Ludovic (Rupert Friend) that leads to a true friendship.

A lovely antidote to summer movies filled with crashes, explosions, aliens, and teenagers, this is a bittersweet but touching story for grown-ups told with grace and wisdom.

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Comedy Drama Movies

United 93

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MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, and some intense sequences of terror and violence
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Terrorism violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: September 10, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B000GH3CR0

Someday the events of 9/11/01 will be distant enough that we will see some meaningful and illuminating works of art inspired by it.  That seems a long way off, but some filmmakers have taken the first steps in that direction.  I cannot tell you whether you are ready to see a movie about the only hijacked flight that did not hit its target on September 11, 2001 because a brave group of passengers subdued the hijackers, crashing the plane into the ground. I can only tell you that when you are ready, this respectful, heart-wrenching, quietly devastating movie will be the one you want to see.

When it happened, when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, knocking it down, and smashing a section of the Pentagon, dazed Americans everywhere said, “It’s like a movie.” It was so stunning, so unthinkable, so audacious, it seemed that those images on television just had to be CGI. This was America. We like to think of ourselves as unconquerable. Couldn’t Bruce Willis show up at the last minute to save the day?

But it wasn’t a movie. As we watch this one, knowing what will happen, though, we can’t help hoping for a Hollywood ending.
It really raises the essential core question of the meaning of stories. Since the cave days, humans have told stories to help us make sense of the world, as a dress rehearsal for our emotions, as a way to communicate our values. We are still making movies about cowboys, about WWII, about moments throughout history and moments we imagine in the future that pose the deepest questions about honor, courage, loyalty, dedication, and dreams. This movie is a preliminary step as we begin to take September 11 from shock to story.

Much like the award-winning “Elephant” (about a school shooting), this movie begins with the smallest and most mundane details of the day as people go to work and get ready for trips. They chat about their plans and their families and complain good-naturedly about inconveniences. We don’t get the usual movie-style introductions to the main characters. We meet them just as we would if we were passing by them on the way to the office or to catch a plane, quick glimpses and snatches of overheard conversations. But our own knowledge of what lies ahead of them makes the very ordinariness of it heart-breaking, terrifying.
And then come the first indications that something is wrong. But what? Why doesn’t the pilot respond? The obvious likely answer was an equipment problem. Even when it seemed that there had been a hijacking, all the people in charge could imagine was that they would want what previous hijackers had wanted — passage to some safe harbor.

What the terrorists had in mind was literally inconceivable for the flight crews, passengers, air traffic controllers, law enforcement, and military who were trying to understand and control the situation. It had been 20 years since the hijack of a commercial airliner in the United States. There was no way to try to stop them because there was no way to imagine what they were planning. Nothing so suicidal and destructive had ever been attempted before.

And that meant that there were no systems set up for communication and coordination in responding. And that makes what the passengers on United flight 93 did so moving. They called home and told their families they loved them. And then, with a quiet, “Let’s roll,” they took back the plane, crashing it into the ground but keeping it from its target, possibly the White House.

Filmed in an intimate, even claustrophobic documentary style, it keeps us, like the characters in the film and the real-life characters they portray, given little access to information about what is going on. A cast that is mostly unknown helps sustain the sense that this is footage of what really happened. Occasionally we are startled by a familiar face. But the best performance is by the FAA’s Ben Sliney, the man whose first day on the job was September 11, 2001 and the man who ordered all plans grounded, as himself.

Will the generations who watch this film a century from now think of it the way we think of the Alamo? Perhaps if they live in a time when these kinds of suprise attacks are again unimaginable, this movie will be a good reminder of the beginning of a journey toward peace and freedom.

Parents should know that the movie has intense and very sad terrorist violence. While it is not as explicit as many R-rated movies, its re-enactment of real-life events makes it much more powerful than the usual “action violence” on screen. There is brief strong language. A strength of the film is the way it shows that many of the characters — different in so many ways — respond to the direst of circumstances the same way, by praying, in their varied faith traditions.

Families who see this movie should talk about the mistakes made by the officials who were trying to understand what was going on. What should they have done differently? They should also talk about whether we are safer now, and what every American can do to help protect our country from terrorism.

Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate some of the documentaries about the events of September 11, 2001.

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Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Epic/Historical

RV

F+

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Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for crude humor, innuendo and language.
Profanity: Some crude language, including b-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: A lot of cartoon-style comic violence; no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000GCFNZO

Road movies are pretty easy. Whether the people on the journey have just met and are getting to know each other or who don’t like each other and have to overcome animosity, all we ask is two things. First, we want to see some entertaining adventures along the way, some challenges to be overcome with skill and courage to give the characters a chance to get to know and appreciate each other, and to give the audience a chance to know and appreciate them, too. Second, we want to see those moments of realization and appreciation, and we want to feel that they develop naturally, believeably, even in a silly comedy.


This movie fails in both categories. Miserably.

It is painfully phony and even more painfully un-funny. Jokes that don’t work the first time are dragged out interminably and then repeated. And far too many of them involve toilet humor. And the syrupy little lessons about the importance of family values are forced and synthetic. There’s no sense of irony when Bob (Robin Williams) tells his son Carl (Josh Hutcherson) that they should have a “Seventh Heaven” moment to talk about Carl’s feelings about being short. They don’t have any genuine examples of family communcation to draw on.


The movie begins with a sweet scene of Bob putting his little girl to bed and promising to be best friends forever. Tt then cuts to the little girl as a teenager (pop star JoJo as Cassie), treating her father with contempt as they pick up one of her friends on the way to a party for his company.


Bob (Robin Williams) misses the loving daughter he used to have. He feels out of touch with both of his children and his wife Jamie (Cheryl Hines of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). He knows that if they take their planned vacation trip to Hawaii, they will go off in separate directions. So when he is ordered to attend a business meeting in Colorado in the middle of the time scheduled for the trip, he rents an RV and tells the family they are going camping instead, with those fatal parental words, “C’mon! It’ll be fun!”


Incidents along the way designed to let the characters reveal themselves and learn lessons through challenges: bad driving, repeated problems with the seatbelt and repeated failure to remove the blocks keeping the RV from sliding away, raccoons, rain, falling down, and an excruciatingly long scene involving disposal of the “leftover” sewage, which ultimately spurts and explodes all over everything, but especially all over Bob. Funny? No. Revelatory of character or of lessons learned? No, because the characters have no, what was that word again? Character. They are just superficial generics chosen seemingly at random from one of those anyone-can-write-a-script software packages they sell in the back of movie magazines. They have all of the depth and all of the motivation of paper dolls. When, all of a sudden, the script calls for the family to decide they all love each other and nature, the moment would be shockingly abrupt if not so listlessly presented that it almost passes by unnoticed. The business conflict Bob faces is similarly uninspired and un-involving.


There are a couple of funny lines and a bright moment here and there when Williams gets to go off script and improvise. Jeff Daniels and Kristin Chenoweth bring a lot of spirit and humanity to their roles as the relentlessly cheery Gornikes, who keep showing up to get Bob and his family out of trouble and who get nothing but bigoted rudeness in return. But the paper-thin characterizations, snail-like comic timing, and absence of a single genuine feeling or action make this, as the Gorikes might say, not anyone’s cup of sunshine.

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language (two b-words, bathroom terms) and extensive, graphic, and very gross bathroom humor. There is a great deal of comic peril and violence, though no one is hurt. Characters make references to marital sex, prostitution, and teen “making out.” While the movie appears to make fun of characters who are impossibly cheerful, homeschool their children, and like to tell stories about how Jesus saved them from a tornado, a strength of the movie is that the family is portrayed as loving, honest, very close, and intelligent.


Families who see this movie should talk about why Bob did not feel he could tell his family the truth and how they felt when they found out what he was doing. They might also want to talk about the kind of compromises people make to take care of their families and the kind they cannot make without losing their sense of what is important. Why do teenagers like Cassie behave so rudely to their parents? What made the Gornike family so happy?


Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Lost in America and National Lampoon’s Vacation(both with some mature material) and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in The Long, Long Trailer.

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Action/Adventure Comedy Family Issues Movies

The Sentinel

B

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Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some intense action violence and a scene of sensuality.
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: A lot of peril and violence, shooting, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B00023P4UQ

What this movie gets right is the dry, cynical, slightly gallows-ish humor of people who spend their lives on constant alert, knowing that 999 out of a thousand of the “suspicious” activities they check out will be nothing. They are the guys in the corner of the picture in the paper during the President’s speech. When everyone is looking at him, they are looking at them, deciding whether the man over there is reaching for a cell phone or something more dangerous. For years at a time, they watch to make sure perameters are secure and routes are clear. They are always alert and always ready to die to save the President and his family. The script may be thin, but the performers don’t seem to notice, plowing ahead with the same dogged, somewhat humorless determination real-life agents bring to the job.


Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) took a bullet when someone tried to kill President Reagan. He’s still on the job, not enough of a rule-follower to be promoted to a management position, but trusted enough to be assigned to guard the President (David Rasche) and the First Lady (Kim Basinger).


Garrison gets evidence from an informant that there may be a traitor within the Secret Service. To make the investigation even more difficult, Garrison is having an affair with the First Lady and his former best friend David Breckendridge (Kiefer Sutherland), the chief investigator now despises him, believing Garrison caused the end of his marriage by having an affair with his wife. Can Garrison protect the First Lady and his informant while finding the mole before he can put the President at risk?


It’s a pretty solid thriller, not worth rushing out to see but worth a matinee or video rental. The transfer from book to screen is uneven. The script does not always show instead of telling — or assuming — what we need to know, especially when it comes to the relationship between Garrison and the First Lady (or between the First Lady and the President), Garrison and Breckendridge, and Breckendrige and rookie Jill Marin (“Desperate Housewives'” Eva Longoria). The characters are underwritten but the stars’ natural charisma holds our attention and keeps us on their side, the action scenes are crisply filmed, and the location shots provide an authentic feel.

Parents should know that this film has a great deal of peril and violence, with a lot of shooting. Characters are wounded and killed. There is blood, but the injuries are less graphic than some other PG-13’s. It includes a non-explicit sexual situation and references to adultery. Characters drink alcohol and use some strong language.


Families who see this movie should talk about the Secret Service and how its training and duties differ from other law enforcement agencies. Did Garrison violate his duty or his oath?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of a Secret Service agent in In the Line of Fire. They will also enjoy the superb miniseries Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, about a mole within Great Britain’s spy agency, based on the real-life case of traitors Philby, Burgess, and McLean.

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Action/Adventure Crime Drama Movies Thriller
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