Osmosis Jones

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Strong for a PG
Alcohol/ Drugs: Scenes in bar
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril, characters killed, one apparent sad death
Diversity Issues: A comic theme of the movie, multi-racial cast, strong female characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2001

The Farelly brothers, whose “There’s Something About Mary” plumbed new depths of bodily function humor (and ended up on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 funniest movies) have plumbed new depths of internal plumbing in “Osmosis Jones.” It’s a PG-rated, mostly animated movie about a very hip white blood cell (voice of Chris Rock) and a cold capsule (voice of David Hyde Pierce) who fight a nasty virus (voice of Laurence Fishburne) to save the scrofulous body of zoo attendant Frank (Bill Murray).

The live action story, starring Murray with Elena Franklin as his daughter, Shane, Chris Elliott as his friend and a brief, effervescent appearance by Molly Shannon as Shane’s teacher, takes up about a quarter of the screen time. The rest takes place inside Frank’s body, cleverly conceived as a swarming metropolis with white cell cops fighting off everything from gingivitis to intestinal unpleasantness. The details — and many of the jokes — may be a little hard to follow for anyone who does not have a working knowledge of anatomy. But the basic story line of a cop who likes to do things his way paired up with a straight-arrow, by-the-books partner joining forces against a lethal bad guy is standard movie stuff, and, as usual, it works pretty well.

Parents should know that the PG rating is deceptive. The ratings board does not take cartoon violence very seriously, but some kids may be upset that characters they care about are in peril and some characters die or come very close. More than that, the movie is extremely gross, with both tension and jokes relating to every kind of bodily fluid, excretion, and function. If you see this movie, pass by the snack bar, as you will not be in the mood to eat a bucket of popcorn or anything else. Parents should also know that the movie features a child whose mother has died and who is terribly worried about losing her father, who seems bent on suicide by junk food. Some children will be upset by the way that the child has to assume the role of parent.

Families who see this movie will want to talk about how we keep our bodies strong enough to fight off infection and viruses, and the challenge of deciding between things that feel good now and those that feel good later. How does that relate to the choice between the two candidates for mayor?

What does Osmosis mean about “being too careful?” Talk about the news broadcasts that the characters inside of Frank watch. If there was one going on inside you, what would it say? Think about how well your family does on taking care of yourselves and what you can do to do better. Believe me, you won’t be stopping for fast food on the way home from this one — you may even be inspired to eat your broccoli.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Fantastic Voyage,” an exciting adventure inside a human body, and “The Iron Giant,” by the same animators. Both are outstanding family movies.

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Rush Hour 2

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Mild
Violence/ Scariness: Lots of action violence, not too gory; characters in peril, some killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, inter-racial partnership
Date Released to Theaters: 2001

Less a sequel than a remake of the first “Rush Hour,” this version sets itself up to be the next “Lethal Weapon” franchise by meticulously repeating all of the elements of the first one. Those elements are: one motor mouth LA cop named Carter (Chris Tucker), one stoic kick-boxing Hong Kong cop named Lee (Jackie Chan), and a microscopic plot that moves the story along without distracting audiences or the performers too much from the fights, explosions, and wisecracks.

The problem with any sequel to a movie like this is that once we have already spent one movie getting the characters to respect and trust one another, it is difficult to create much dramatic tension. The plot is just as thin as the first one, but inherently less compelling. In “Rush Hour,” the plot centered on an adorable kidnapped child; in this one it is something about counterfeit money. Tucker’s comic riffs and Chan’s balletic fight scenes are mildly entertaining, but have a synthetic feel.

The high points include a fight staged in a massage parlor and the pyrotechnic contributions of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s” Zhang Ziyi. She doesn’t float through the air this time, but she has the same defiant pout. Her screen presence is electric, even in Mandarin. Don Cheadle shows up for a brief scene that reminds us of what real acting looks like. The best part of the movie is the outtakes shown during the final credits, which give us an even better sense of the chemistry between Chan and Tucker than the movie does. Maybe “Rush Hour 3” will be all outtakes – that would be a sure hit.

Parents should know that the movie has a lot of action violence and comic peril. That means that the fight scenes are not very graphic. In almost cartoon-style fashion, characters get beat up badly and then are shown in the next scene without any wounds. School-age kids who see this movie may get unrealistic ideas about the consequences of fighting. The movie also has some strong language, sexual innuendo, and a massage parlor scene in which Tucker is allowed to choose from an array of girls and selects several of them.

Families who see this movie should talk about how we decide whom to trust and the risks that undercover operatives must take. They may also want to talk about the challenges of making friends with people from other cultures and the way that Carter and Lee tease each other about the differences between blacks and Asians.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original and some of Chan’s other movies, like Shanghai Noon.

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Some Like it Hot

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Sugar drinks when she is unhappy
Violence/ Scariness: Off-screen gangland slaying, characters in peril
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 1959

Plot: In the first moments of the movie, what appears to be a hearse turns out to be carrying bootleg liquor, and we are prepared for a movie in which nothing will be what it seems and nothing will be treated very seriously. It is the 1920s, during Prohibition, and Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) are two musicians who play in a speakeasy. When they accidentally witness the St. Valentine’s Day massacre of a group of bootleggers by Spats Columbo (George Raft) and his mob, they have to hide out. So they accept a job with a band on its way to Florida — an all- girl band — and they dress as women, calling themselves “Josephine” and “Daphne.”

On the train, they meet the rest of the band, including lead singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe). Both men are very attracted to her. She quickly becomes friends with “Daphne” and they have a late-night pajama party. But when they get to Florida, Joe adopts yet another disguise, this time as a wealthy bachelor. Meanwhile, Osgood (Joe E. Brown), a real wealthy bachelor, is interested in “Daphne.” Joe gets “Daphne” to distract Osgood so he can use Osgood’s yacht for a date with Sugar.

Meanwhile, Spats and his gang arrive at the hotel for a conference with other gang leaders that results in even more bloodshed. Joe realizes that he does not want to mislead Sugar anymore and sends her a diamond bracelet (from Osgood) and a farewell note. But, seeing her sadness, he is overcome and kisses her, forgetting that he is dressed as Josephine. She runs after them, and joins Joe, Jerry, and Osgood as they escape on Osgood’s boat.

Discussion: This is one of the wildest farces ever filmed, but it has a lot of heart as well, with brilliant performances by all three stars. Monroe is heartbreakingly vulnerable as Sugar, explaining that she always gets “the fuzzy end of the lollypop.” Joe must become someone else in order to learn the truth about Sugar (who would never have confided in a man) and about himself (as he sees the consequences of his exploitive behavior and feels what it is like to have men try to force their attentions on him). Jerry, hilariously, turns out to be as suggestible as a woman as he was as a man. As himself, he ends up going along with whatever Joe tells him. In women’s clothes, he starts to think of himself as a woman. The scene where he tells Joe he and Osgood are engaged is a classic.

Questions for Kids:

· How does Joe change, and what makes him change?

· What does he learn from being dressed as a woman?

· How do Joe and Jerry react differently to dressing as women?

· How does Sugar behave differently with “Junior” and “Josephine”?

Connections: Other movies with male characters disguising themselves as women include the venerable “Charlie’s Aunt,” filmed seven times, including a musical version with Ray Bolger, and “Tootsie,” with Dustin Hoffman (rated PG, but with mature themes). Curtis and Lemmon also appeared together in “The Great Race.” George Raft engagingly spoofs his tough guy performances in 1930s gangster movies, even repeating his coin- flipping habit from “Scarface.”

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The Cat’s Meow

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Illegal alcohol, smoking, drug reference
Violence/ Scariness: Shooting
Diversity Issues: All characters white
Date Released to Theaters: 2002

Peter Bogdanovich is still in love with the movies.

He has paid tribute to classic movies sucessfully (“Paper Moon,” “The Last Picture Show,” “What’s Up Doc?”) and unsuccessfully (“At Long Last Love”). At his best, he is able to not just salute, but evoke the mood and spirit of Hollywood’s golden era of innoocence and magic. At his worst, he is so caught up in his fantasies of the good old days that he becomes overly obscure and self-referential. This movie shows him at both extremes.

Once upon a time, the richest man in America was William Randolph Hearst. If anyone thinks of him today, it is either as the man who inspired “Ctizen Kane” or the grandfather of Patty Hearst, kidnapped heiress and actress in offbeat John Waters movies.

Think of Hearst as Bill Gates crossed with Michael Eisner (the head of ABC/Disney). Hearst was the wealthiest man in the United States and his newspapers were the primary source of information and enertainment for most Americans. He never divorced his wife, but he had a love affair with silent screen actress Marion Davies for 37 years.

Hearst was more powerful than anyone can ever be again because he controlled the newspapers and the newspapers were the only source of news. If he wanted a story told a particular way — or not told at all — that is what happened. When one of Hollywood’s biggest names, Thomas Ince (the man who created the Western) died after a visit to Hearst’s yacht, it was officially recorded and reported in Hearst’s newspapers as “natural causes.” Rumors, or as Bogdanovich says, “whispers” continued to circulate, and this movie tells the story that is whispered most often.

The movie is a loving recreation of the era with impeccable performances by Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin and Joanna Lumley (of “Absolutely Fabulous”) as sensational novelist Elinor Glyn. Izzard has one of the most difficult challenges an actor can face — portraying someone whose face and manner are so well documented that they will be familiar to many viewers. Those who do think they know Chaplin know the character he portrayed, or perhaps the brilliant, Oscar-nominated performance by Robert Downey, Jr. in the epic biographical film. Izzard evokes Chaplin; he does not impersonate him. And he gives us a portrait of Chaplin that is rich, complex, and intimate. We see the genius, the charm, the discipline in some things and lack of discipline in others, the neediness, and the self-awareness. Lumley’s delivers devastating commentary with scrumptious bite, timed down to the nanosecond. Edward Hermann as Hearst and Kirsten Dunst (of “Spider-Man”) as Davies are also memorable.

Bogdanovich’s mistake is in thinking that everyone is naturally as fascinated with the story and the era as he is, and so he does not have to do any work to draw the audience into the story. For that reason, it all comes across as a little too precious and distant.

Parents should know that adultery is a theme of the movie and frequently discussed. A character is shot, possibly accidentally. Characters smoke, drink (illegally) and briefly use drugs. The movie has strong language and sexual situations (not explicit).

Families who see this movie should talk about how the 1920’s differ from current times – and how they were the same. Who is most like Hearst today? Why was Davies so important to Hearst? Why was she so important to Chaplin? What was important to her?

For more about Marion Davies, take a look at Captured on Film – the True Story of Marion Davies. If you are ever in the vicinity, don’t miss a visit to San Simeon, Hearst’s preposterously lavish mansion in the mountains, where Hearst and Davies presided over celebrity gatherings that included just about everyone in Hollywood.

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The Holland Avenue Boys: A Success Story

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: None, some sad moments
Diversity Issues: Loving inter-racial relationship, friends of different ethnic backgrounds

The “Holland Avenue Boys” are a group of 14 men who grew up on or near Holland Avenue in the Bronx in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. The “success story” is their enduring friendship and loyalty. With busy working-class parents, some immigrant, they spent most of their time together growing up and raised each other as much as their families did. Indeed, they were a warm and loving family for each other, and they remain that way with annual reunions and with an unbreakable connection of trust and loyalty. The “success story” is the story of that friendship. It gives the “boys” so much pleasure and support that one of the wives says, “My only regret is that I am not one of the Holland Avenue Boys.”

This documentary, made by one of the boys with financial support from some of the others, begins with memories of growing up, endless games of stickball and piling on top of each other. When they got to high school, some of them got jobs, and they always took care of each other. The one who worked at the movie theater let them all in for free and the one who worked at the deli fed them all for almost nothing.

Though they went in many different directions professionally and geographically, they maintained close ties. The 12 surviving boys and family members all speak candidly about their lives. Their trust and affection for the member of the group who made the movie shows as they tell the camera about their successes and failures at home and at work. One confides that he does not like to describe himself as “retired,” so he tells people he is “semi-retired.” Another speaks frankly about grappling with depression when his business got into trouble. Another talks about his divorce, and his pride in maintaining a loving relationship with the mother of his children. One talks about how he feels about not having had children. Another explains that he dreamed of being an engineer until a school guidance counselor told him that he would never get a job because he was Jewish.

One became a distinguished physicist, one a doctor, one a manufacturer. One ran a museum of jazz. One flew missions in Viet Nam and then lived in Morocco helping to set up air defense systems. Through it all, they made many friends and they loved their families, but the connection between the members of the original group remained important to each of them.

Families should watch this movie together and talk about how they define success. Who are the people they feel they could call to ask for anything they needed and get whatever it was without a question? Who feels that way about them? What does it take to sustain a friendship for half a century? It can be especially useful for children to see how important it is to these men to be in touch with people who share their childhood memories. Would you like to be one of the “Holland Avenue boys?” What do you need to do to make sure that the friends you have now stick together that way and for that long?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “The Straight Story.”

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