Crossover

C

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Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some language.
Profanity: Some strong language, including the n-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, references to drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Car accident, character injured, punch in the nose
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000LRZHR8

This is one air ball of a movie, a talented cast and an appealing idea stranded by a clunky script. It shoots. And it shoots and shoots and shoots, but it never scores.


Tech (Anthony Mackie) works in the mall, studies for his G.E.D., hustles money at the basketball court, and plays “street basketball” under the direction of Vaughn (Wayne Brady). The losing team gets $1000 each, the winners get $2000, the high-rollers get to place bets and see some X-treme b-ball, with every basket a dunk and only “flagrant fouls” prohibited.


Tech’s best friend is Noah Cruise (Wesley Jonathan, “Sweetness” in Roll Bounce), planning to go to college on a basketball scholarship, and then to med school. He will lose his eligibilty for the scholarship if he plays for money. But Tech, remininding Cruise that “you owe me,” persuades him to join the team, Enemy of the State” for one game. They lose to the champions, led by the arrogant Jewelz (Philip Champion).


Tech and Cruise meet two girls, Eboni and Vanessa and quickly become involved. They bring the girls with them to LA for Cruise’s college orientation and Tech’s chance to shoot hoops in a television commercial. But things begin to go badly, and by the time one final streetball game against Jewelz’ team a great deal is depending on the final score.


There are a couple of good ideas here. An early shot shows girls seated at computer terminals managing the betting line in an understated parallel to the many similar set-ups in movies about drug dealers. It’s nice to see the portrayal of a character whose highest aspiration is not an NBA contract. And the cast does its best with what it has, especially Jonathan and Lil JJ as Tech’s young friend Up.


But the dialogue is deadly, either clunky exposition (“Joe’s in jail and he didn’t pay the light bill!”) or faux “street” (“I can’t front. I’m feeling you. But I can’t put myself out there unless I know if you’re for real.”) the only person who can sustain this kind of melodrama mashup is Tyler Perry, and this doesn’t have anything close to the sincerity that anchors his films. The tricked-up MTV-style quick cuts are tired. So I’m not fronting when I say that I’m not feeling it. None of the characters or relationships or situations or dialogue is for real, you hear what I’m sayin’?

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language, a graphic car/motorcycle crash, and sexual references and non-explicit situations. Couples have sex the same day they meet, with consequent issues of betrayal and trust. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of values of loyalty and independent thinking, taking responsibility for your actions, and the importance of education.


Families who see this movie should talk about how far you must go and how much you must risk to repay a friend who does you a great favor. They should also talk about why Cruise trusted Vanessa and why Tech did not trust Eboni, and about the ultimate choices Cruise and Tech make about their futures.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Fast and the Furious. This film lifts many of its plot developments from better movies, including An Officer and a Gentleman, Body and Soul, and Angels with Dirty Faces.

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Action/Adventure Drama Movies Sports

Little Miss Sunshine

B+

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, some sex and drug content.
Profanity: Extremely strong and crude language, including bad language used in front of a child
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, references to drug abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Tense and sad situations, suicide attempt (off-screen), sad death
Diversity Issues: A strength of the movie is its portrayal of a gay character
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2007
Amazon.com ASIN: B000K7VHQE

When the family in this movie learns that their van cannot be repaired in time for them to get to the Little Miss Sunshine competition, they decide to drive it as is. And that means that in order to get it to start, they all have to get out and push, then chase after it and jump in. And so every time they have to stop for food or gas or adolescent meltdown or illness or being pulled over by a cop, even when they are miserable and furious with each other, they all have to get out and push together and then run and jump inside. And every time that happens, all of them laugh and feel somehow proud and happy and connected.


All of them means: Richard (Greg Kinnear), the father, a motivational speaker and writer who knows everything about winning except that he hasn’t been able to actually succeed at anything, Sheryl (Toni Collette), the mother, who is doing her best to hold everyone together, including her brother, Frank (Steve Carrell), who recently attempted suicide over the loss of his lover to the second-most important Proust scholar in the country (he explains that he is the first), teenage son Dwayne (Paul Dano), who has taken a vow of silence because, as he explains in writing, he hates everyone, Grandpa, Richard’s father (Alan Arkin), who got kicked out of the nursing home for profanity and heroin-snorting, and of course Olive (Abigail Breslin), the Little Miss Sunshine contestant herself.


“Everybody just pretend to be normal, okay?” begs Richard, as a highway patrolman pulls them over. But what is great about this family is that, while they are far from the idealized notions of normality presented in television commercials and Hallmark cards, they are in fact very normal. Sometimes that works better for them than others. Richard’s most “normal” quality is his effort to be normal, to succeed in conventional terms. His desperate attempt to think of himself as not only successful but as someone who can define success for others as a career is a reflection of the American spirit — its unquenchable hope, ambition, and belief in the future. Sheryl has a different kind of unquenchable hope. She is not convinced that Richard knows what he is doing and she is not always able to live up to her own expectations, but she is clear about her commitment to her family and her own ability to provide the support that they need.


The script is uneven, but every one of the performances is a gem. Breslin (Signs) has a quiet dignity and a beautifully natural quality that makes every one of her responses feel fresh and endearing. Carrell is brilliant. He even runs in character. Dano makes his silences eloquent. There is not a more tender moment in any movie this year than when Olive comforts him after he gets some devastating news.


This is a family that makes a lot of mistakes. They hurt each other, and they fail quite often. But when they have to get the van to move, they all push and run after it and jump inside. And when one member of the family faces public humiliation, in a moment of great, jubilant abandon, they throw themselves into a solution that is both heart-stoppingly tender and outrageously hilarious.

Parents should know that this movie has extremely strong material including very profane language (used in front of a child). Characters purchase pornography and there are explicit sexual references. A character abuses drugs and one attempts suicide. The issue of sexualization of little girls in beauty pageants is presented. There is a sad character death. Some audience members may be disturbed by the provocative material and gallows humor, much of which is observed by a child in the film.


Families who see this movie should talk about the way Richard and Sheryl respond to their children. How will things be different after the pageant?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Happy, Texas.

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Comedy Drama Movies

Idlewild

B

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Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity and language.
Profanity: Very strong language including the n-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, scenes in speakeasy, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Graphic violence, characters shot, injured, killed, scenes in mortuary with many dead bodies
Diversity Issues: Strong, independent minority and female characters in an era when that was rare
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000JJSL1W

Percival, a mortician by day/speakeasy piano player by night, sleeps under an assortment of singing cuckoo clocks and serenades a lovely corpse dressed as a bride. The engraved rooster on a silver liquor flask talks to its owner, also named Rooster. This stylized and stylish love and bullets prohibition-era story from Outkast is more of an extended music video than a movie, but it is eye- and ear-filling entertainment.


Andre (Andre 3000) Benjamin is Percival and Antwan A. (Big Boi) Patton is Rooster. The boisterously rowdy speakeasy is run by Sunshine Ace (Faison Love), a man of great appetites who is only too happy to feed them all at the illegal club called Church hidden behind his car repair shop. He gets his illegal liquor from Spats (Ving Rhames). Rooster performs at the club and helps manage it as well, causing his wife and the mother of his five daughters some distress. Like Ace, Rooster enjoys partaking of the pleasures of this Church, sometimes the very same one, in the person of the lovely Rose (Paula Jai Parker).


Spats wants to retire, and offers Ace the opportunity to buy him out for $25,000. Ace has a plan to get the money – he has arranged for the renowned singer Angela Davenport to perform. But Spats’ henchman, Trumpy (Terrence Howard) has plans of his own, and they involve his gun.


At times, it feels like the story is less an idea than a list made by Benjamin, Patton, and first time director/screenwriter Bryan Barber (director of Outkast’s most memorable videos) of what and who would be fun to shoot – either by film or by (pretend) gun.


As one might expect, the musical numbers are brilliantly handled, with music video-style sweeps and cuts that make the camera as much a part of the choreography as the dancers. Barber’s approach is to evoke rather than reproduce the 1920’s, with many modern touches in the look, script, and especially the sound, which has only the slightest connection to the music of the era. The evident affection for this romanticized vision of the era saturates the film like the warm sepia tones of its palette. There is something liberating about seeing a beautiful, elegant black woman buy a first class train ticket from a white man behind the ticket counter (the only white person in the film) in 1935 Georgia, without any concern that he might display any bigotry.

Barber achieves a dreamy synthesis that works very well, but has less of a sure hand at creating characters and directing actors. Even the experienced and superbly talented Howard, Cecily Tyson, Ben Vereen, and Rhames are not able to make their one-dimensional characters compete with the film’s visual flair. But that flair, with the dizzying mash-up of old and new, the embracing of some cliches and the turning inside out of others, makes this film entertaingnly audacious and highly watchable.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong language, explicit sexual references and situations, nudity, and a great deal of mobster-style violence. Much of the action takes place in a nightclub specializing in illegal alcohol and prostitution. Characters are shot and killed. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of confident, independent black characters in an era in which that would have been very difficult.


Families who see this movie should talk about why it was hard for Percival to do what he wanted and why it was too easy for Rooster to do what he wanted. They might like to find out more about the history of that era.


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Chicago, Moulin Rouge, and O Brother Where Art Thou.

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Crime Drama Movies Musical Romance

How To Eat Fried Worms

B+

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Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild bullying and some crude humor.
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Funny but gross-out worm-eating humor
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000J10FLY

This is a delightfully snips and snails and puppy-dog tails-style movie, with kids who look and act refreshingly like real kids. It’s based on the book by Thomas Rockwell that has delighted and happily grossed out kids since 1973.


A cute credit-sequence cartoon introduces us to Billy (Luke Benward), who has a sensitive stomach, and his little brother Woody, who happily eats everything. They’ve just moved to a new town. Woody has quickly become the toast of the pre-school with his rendition of “Baby Beluga” but finding his way in 5th grade is trickier for Billy.


The kids are not friendly, except for one very tall girl who always seems to be one step ahead and one semi-outcast who warns him that Joe (Adam Hicks), the school bully, has a special ring — if he punches you, you die, but not until 8th grade so he can’t get blamed.


When Joe taunts him, Billy rashly boasts that he can eat 10 fried worms in one day, with the bully selecting the worms to be eaten and the, um, recipes to be used. Joe and his minions do everything they can to win the bet, cooking the worms with the most disgusting ingredients they can think of, from marshmallow to hot peppers. To make things worse, Billy has to take care of his little brother and keep his parents from finding out what is going on.


Kids will enjoy the extravagently and hilariously repulsive items presented to Billy and the spirit and determination he demonstrates in taking them on (and in). The kids in the movie look, talk, and act like real kids, not glamourized sit-com fast-food-commercial Hollywood types. They have a natural but endearing approach to negotiating rules, evaluating their options, and interactiing with each other and the adults. “Ed’s” Thomas Cavanagh and Father of the Bride’s Kimberly Williams-Paisley are sympathetic as Billy’s parents but they don’t try to solve his problems for him. Billy learns the expected lessons, and the ultimate resolution is sweet and very funny.


Parents should know that the concoctions Billy eats are extremely disgusting and may be disturbing to sensitive audience members. Note, though, as the credits make clear, no worms were harmed in the making of the movie. And no children were, either. The kids use some kid-like crude language, in particular a reference to a particular body part.


Families who see this movie should talk about why bullys think it will make them feel strong and important to insult other people and tell them what to do. Why do some of the kids change sides during the course of the bet? What’s the most disgusting thing you ever ate? Why does Billy’s father say he had to eat worms? How are their experiences alike?


Families who enjoy this movie will want to read the book. Author Thomas Rockwell is the son of illustrator Norman Rockwell, whose pictures showed the same appreciation of real kids. Every family should take a look at Rockwell illustrations like “A Day in the Life of a Boy” and “A Day in the Life of a Girl.” Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Because of Winn-Dixie (also featuring Benward), The Sandlot, My Dog Skip, The Best Christmas Pagent Ever, A Christmas Story, and Pollyanna. Families will also enjoy Bill Harley’s hilarious Dinosaurs Never Say Please and his other CDs for families and My Bodyguard, about a middle school boy’s response to a bully.

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Comedy Family Issues Movies

Material Girls

F+

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Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for language and rude humor.
Profanity: Some strong language for a PG, including the s-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some social drinking, characters smoke
Violence/ Scariness: Mild peril, references to sad offscreen death and divorce
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000JFY05W

The problem with a movie about rich people learning about real life that is written by rich people who have no idea about real life is that you end up with something like this — a movie about two rich girls, heirs to a cosmetics fortune, who lose everything, discover what really matters, and end up demonstrating that by making the cosmetics affordable so that prostitutes can buy them.


I’m not kidding. I wish I was.


Real-life sisters Hillary (Lizzie Maguire) and Haylie (Napoleon Dynamite) Duff play Tanzy and Ava Marchetta, whose late father founded a successful cosmetics company. They are due to inherit when they come of age, but his best friend, the current CEO (Brent Spiner) recommends that they sell the company to its rival, run by Fabiella (Anjelica Huston). Before they can agree, a news report that one of the products caused severe skin damage throws the company into chaos. And the girls accidentally burn down their house and turn over their car to someone they assume is a valet but who turns out to be a thief.

They have nowhere to go but the apartment of Inez (Maria Conchita Alonso), their maid.


Ava’s TV star boyfriend dumps her — through his agent. Their fancy party friends don’t want to know them any more. Fabiella makes another offer, much lower. If they sell, the company their father built will no longer exist.


Yes, of course it all turns out fine and there’s a happily ever after ending complete with cute new boyfriends. But on the way there, the movie has a surprising number of bad choices ranging from the odd to the unfortunate, inappropriate, and downright ugly, considering the target audience and the PG rating.


For example, inspired by watching Erin Brocovich, Tanzy uses a skimpy outfit to entice a young man to let her look at some hidden records. She is arrested and put into a cell with three prostitutes who stroke her arm in a menacing fashion — then she turns it all around, using sand caught between the toes of one as she ran from the cops, to by teach them how to exfoliate their skin.


The girls also use some strong language for a PG movie. What is the purpose in a movie like this of a line like “screwier than Courtney Love?” Or “I’m so sorry I slept with your dad?” There is disturbing footage of skin disorders. Most important, the very values the movie purports to communicate are undermined by the approval it expects for its characters’ choices. The great revelations the girls have about the importance of helping the poor are supposed to be shown by their commitment to cheaper cosmetics and arranging for a friend’s children to be allowed into the country.


Superb actors like Anjelica Houston, Obba Babatunde, and Lukas Haas (Witness) are criminally wasted and only make the Duff sisters’ very limited acting skills look even weaker by comparison.


Parents should know that this movie has, as noted, very strong language and references for a PG, including the s-word, a reference to “white trash” (supposed to be funny), jokes about using Preparation H to get rid of eye bags (especially idiotic given that the girls are supposed to know all about cosmetics), “you practically jump each other,” “I heard that on the bus people pee on the seats,” “he was going to go straight for us,” and more. Character (briefly) drink and smoke (though one expresses horror at cigarettes). Characters are prostitutes. Tanzy wears skimpy clothes to get a young man to let her get what she wants. There is a reference to an overdose of birth control pills. A character has a nose job so she can look like Tanzy. Overall, even the supposedly reformed behavior of the girls is not what parents would like their children to imitate.


Families who see this movie should talk about why the girls were so spoiled and inconsiderate. Why does Tanzy say she wished her father had been harder on her? Why does Ava say she didn’t like how hard their father was on her?


Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Lizzie Maguire and the much better film Cow Belles.

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Comedy Drama Family Issues Movies
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