Phantom

C

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Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drinking game, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended violence, characters injured and killed, suicide
Diversity Issues: Cultural differences
Date Released to Theaters: March 1, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00B635CPI

Submarine movies are immediately gripping because they are powerful microcosms that amplify conflict.  A small group of people in very close quarters, highly trained and with an explicit mission are then completely disconnected from the rest of the world.  When problems arise, they have to decide what to do with very limited information and no access to authority outside the ship.  Great drama, when it works.  This time, though, not so much.

Theoretically “inspired by true events” but more like “a massive flight of fantasy and speculation slightly tied to one possible thing that might have happened,” this submarine story begins with a promising twist.  American actors play members of the Soviet navy during the Cold War.  We might expect Ed Harris, William Fitchtner, and David Duchovny to be the Americans fighting the Soviets.  It takes a few moments to get used to the idea that we are rooting for the guys in the striped shirts pushing the buttons with Cyrillic labels, or at least some of them.

Ed Harris plays Demi, a captain with a dark past (yes, we’ll find out what that’s about) who gets unexpected orders to ship out on a secret mission, his last, on a sub that makes the assignment somehow even more meaningful and ironic (yes, we’ll find out that, too).  It is the sub’s last mission, too, before it will be sold to the Chinese.

Because it comes up so suddenly, he gets a new crew, along with two passengers operating under some higher authority but not revealing very much about what they are doing.  The leader is Bruni (Duchovny), whose arrogance seems to outweigh Demi’s air of resignation.

Demi is still anguished about a mistake made early in his career and the sense that only his father’s high rank and prestige kept him from being discharged dishonorably.  When he discovers that Bruni’s plans would put the entire world at risk, he has to become the leader he once dreamed of being.

Writer/director Todd Robinson clearly cares passionately about the material but he often loses track of the narrative.  There are many scenes of people racing and chasing down narrow corridors and men staring and analog instrumentation.  There are so many shifting power plays that it is difficult to keep track, and the story escalates so preposterously that it is difficult to care.

Parents should know that this is an intense Cold War story that deals with issues of nuclear war and includes extended sequences of peril and violence, with many characters injured and killed.

Family discussion: How should Demi decide which orders to follow?  Listen to and discuss the “This American Life” story about the real-life notes provided to British officers in nuclear submarines to be opened in case of catastrophe.  What should the note say?

If you like this, try: “Crimson Tide,” “The Hunt for Red October,” and “K-19: The Widowmaker”

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Drama Epic/Historical Inspired by a true story Movies Thriller

Jack the Giant Slayer

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images, and brief language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy and action violence, characters in peril, injured, and killed, some graphic and disturbing images, monsters
Diversity Issues: Class issues, strong female character
Date Released to Theaters: March 1, 2013
Date Released to DVD: June 17, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00CFA222M

More action, more romance, more spectacle, a brave princess who wears armor and does not wait to be rescued, and lots more giants — this is a grand bedtime story 21st century-style.  As a boy, Jack (“Warm Bodies” Nicholas Hoult) loved to hear the stories about the time that giants ruled the earth and the magical crown that keeps them confined to their home above the clouds.  It turns out they were more than stories.

As a young man, Jack lives with his uncle, who sends him to town to sell their horse.  The movie Jack is a bit less credulous than the one in the story.  He does end up with magic beans, but not because he believes a story about them. He is given them by a man desperate to keep them from being used to bring the giants back to earth.

Jack is warned not to let the beans anywhere near water, but you know what happens.  Pretty soon a beanstalk grows five miles up into the sky, taking Jack’s house with it.  And, since Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) happened to stop by Jack’s house to get out of the rain, she is up the beanstalk, too.  The king sends a rescue squad after her led by Roderick, his highest-ranking courtier and — despite her objections — Isabelle’s fiancé.  Also making the climb are a group of soldiers led by Elmont (a gallant but under-used Ewan McGregor), and a volunteer — Jack.

And they find a big community of giants — all male, which may explain some of their anger issues as well as a disturbing lack of attention to personal hygiene.  Production designer Gavin Bocquet and costume designer Joanna Johnston have created an eye-filling world that feels fairy tale fantastic but not musty or old-fashioned.  Aside from a few clunkers in the dialog (in no fairy tale is it ever appropriate for a character to say “okay” or “pissed off”), it remains inventive and entertaining.  The giants are imaginatively designed, with the leader a motion capture performance by Bill Nighy (as at least one of the two heads).  Tucci clearly enjoys himself as the ruthlessly ambitious courtier and it is a nice twist to have the real bad guy be someone more close to home than the giants.  Jack and Isabelle have a sweet and almost immediate connection, wasting little time on the usual back-and-forth of learning to trust themselves and each other.  And that makes the idea of a happily ever after ending even more satisfying.

Parents should know that this movie includes a great deal of fantasy/action violence, with characters injured and killed and some scary monsters and disturbing images like skeletons and skulls and an eye that pops out — plus some giant nose-picking.  There is also some gross/crude humor and brief strong language.

Family discussion: What is Roderick’s plan?  How does he show that he cannot be trusted?  What does Jack to to earn the respect of Elmont and Isabelle?  What does Roderick mean by saying that they all think of themselves as the hero of the story?

If you like this, try: Disney’s “Mickey and the Beanstalk” and “A Knight’s Tale”

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3D Action/Adventure Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Epic/Historical Fantasy

21 and Over

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MPAA Rating: Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, some graphic nudity, drugs, and drinking
Profanity: Constant very strong, crude, and offensive language including homophobic and racial insults
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drinking games, drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence including gun, reference to suicide
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 1, 2013
Date Released to DVD: June 18, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00BT7664M

The writers of “The Hangover” have written and directed a new film so close to the original they could sue themselves for plagiarism. Once again, it is the story of a a wolf pack of bros looking for a good time who have a wild night with an important deadline the next day, told in a flashback.

We meet our two main characters, Miller (Miles Teller of “Rabbit Hole” and “Footloose”) and Casey (Skylar Astin of “Pitch Perfect”), walking across a university campus at 6 am, naked except for a tube sock each, their rear ends inflamed.  Then we go back a day to find out how this happened.

Miller and Casey (who appear to have just one name each) arrive at the campus of the fictitious Northern Pacific University (filmed at the University of Washington in Seattle) to surprise their high school friend, Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), who is always referred to by his full name.  It is Chang’s 21st birthday, and they want to be there to celebrate by geting him legally drunk.  But Chang’s stern father is there to make sure that his son sticks to his studies and is ready for a very important med school interview at 8 the next morning.  At first, Chang insists that he cannot go out with his friends.  But soon he says he will have just one drink.  And they assure him they will take good care of him and get him right back for a good night’s sleep.  They’re both wrong.

They go to a bar and Chang gets drunk.  When he passes out, Miller and Casey cannot remember where he lives, and so they end up dragging Chang around like a sack of potatoes through a Latina sorority, a pep rally, and a party where Miller and Casey have to win a series of party games, mostly involving more drinking, plus a prank that involves gluing a plush animal to a very personal body part.  It’s regrettably retro, with drinking as an emblem of freedom, an aversion to growing up that would embarrass Peter Pan, and (sigh) heterosexual girl/girl kissing as super-hot but heterosexual boy/boy kissing as unquestionably disgusting and worthy of an old-fashioned homosexual panic.

“The Hangover” worked because it allowed the audience the best of both worlds — to enjoy the unleashed id of the debauched night through the lens of the consequences.  It also benefited from characters like Mr. Chow, Black Doug, Jade, and Mike Tyson, and from the talents of supremely gifted performers.  Teller and Astin are able and likable performers with a good feeling for the rhythms of bro-speak but neither they nor the one-dimensional characters they are given to play are enough to sustain our interest, much less our sympathy.  The story wants to be deliciously outrageous and transgressive.  It is just tawdry and juvenile.

One more note: the producers are adding two additional scenes to the version being released in China.  A Chinese company providing production money insisted that the dubbed version be refitted as a story of a Chinese student who discovers the decadence and other evils of Western ways and returns home a wiser and more obedient young man, a sort of Chinese “Hell House.”  I’m sure that version will not be any better, but I can see their point.

Parents should know that this movie has just about every kind of bad behavior including drinking to excess and drinking games, drugs, extremely strong and crude language including ethnic and racial slurs, and comic violence including a gun, assorted mayhem, a car chase, a one-animal stampede, discussion of assault and attempted suicide, explicit sexual references and nudity.

Family discussion:  What should Jeff say to his father?  Why were these guys friends?  How do you find a balance between doing what is best for your future and finding time to have fun?

If you like this, try: “The Hangover,” “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” and “Superbad”

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Comedy Gross-out

Contest: Laughing On Purpose DVD

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Family-friendly comic Michael Jr. has a delightful new DVD called “Laughing on Purpose,” filled with gentle but insightful humor and I am lucky enough to have one to give away!

Send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with “Laughing” in the subject line and tell me a joke!  Don’t forget your address (US addresses only).  I’ll pick a winner at random on March 4.  Good luck!

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Comedy Contests and Giveaways

Decoding a Movie’s “Billing Block”

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What’s the difference between an executive producer and an associate producer?  Between screenwriters billed as “Smith and Jones” and “Smith & Jones?”  Which actors get an “and” or a “with” or an “as?”  What are all those “in association with” companies on the poster and in the credits?  The New York Times has a very handy guide to a movie’s “billing block,” dictated by an intricate intersection of individual and group contracts and MPAA rulings.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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