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Blade II

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references and situations
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Intense peril and violence
Diversity Issues: Strong black hero
Date Released to Theaters: 2002

An ordinary sequel to the first Wesly Snipes vehicle, based on the Marvel Comics superhero, this bloody punch-fest lacks the charming antagonists that livened the original movie.

Wesley Snipes plays the title character, Blade, a half-vampire whose mother was bitten hours before he was born. This mixed parentage gives him superhuman virtues without the traditional vampire sensitivities to sunlight, silver and garlic, which he uses, along with an arsenal of hi- tech weaponry, to avenge himself on the vampire community for their manifold sins.

When last we left our hero, his mentor and gunsmith Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) has been vampirized and abducted by the undead, and held suspended in a blood-support tank to endure eternal torture. With the help of his new idea-man, Blade breaks Whistler out, and cures him of the vampire virus with an injection and a 24 hour dry-out program.

Meanwhile, a mutant super-vampire sneaks into a corrupt Czech blood bank, and eats the vampire-phlebotomists with his daringly different super- vampire bloodsucking anatomy.

The waxy emperor is forced to offer a truce to Blade, in order to fight their mutual enemy. But it is immediately clear that the truce can only be temporary.

Snipes is occasionally funny, though not as often as he should be. Most of the rest of the cast is not funny, except Ron Perlman, re-doing his lovable thug routine (Cronos, Alien Resurrection) as an evil vampire hitman.

Parents should know that the movie has intense gore, which falls just on this side of a slasher film. All kinds of decapitations, bloodletting, tracheotomies, etc., are inflicted on various human-like beings. Although the vampires combust in a cloud of sparks when killed, it comes too late to avoid seeing brains, hearts and tendons, and oceans of blood. Blade, at one point, gets strapped to an impalement table, which shoots spikes through various limbs and organs. There is also a scene of horrible vampire self-mutilation. Even by action-movie standards, it is very graphic. Characters use strong language and there are sexual situations. Interestingly, in the original Blade, the vampires were a rainbow nation of evil with many different ethnic groups represented, but in Blade II, there are two ethnic vampires on Blade’s hit-squad, but none in the crowd scenes, or as antagonists.

Families who see this movie should talk about its themes of betrayal and loyalty. For what it’s worth, Blade is a black superhero. He calls the shots, is never condescended to, and shows loyalty, courage and integrity. Parents may want to discuss the nature of wish-fulfillment, and the way violence and problem-solving are conflated in the movies versus the way they interact in real life.

Families who enjoyed this movie will also enjoy the original “Blade” and “Darkman.”

Bounce

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Brief strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references and situations, including one-night stand
Alcohol/ Drugs: Character abuses alcohol, character tries to give up smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death in plane crash
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2000

Like “Return to Me,” this is a love story that is better than its gimmick. In a variation on the “cute meet” of romantic comedies, this movie has a “buried secret that will be revealed at the worst possible time” meeting of its leads, with a final plot twist that is one of the most obvious and creaky screenwriter ploys of the year. But the ability, chemistry, and charm of Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow manage to keep it afloat.

Affleck plays Buddy Armaral, an advertising executive who is a closer. He is a charming guy who gets the deal done. As this movie begins, he has just landed a huge account for his advertising agency. But on his way home from O’Hare, he runs into travel hell (he looks at the list of delayed flights in a shot almost identical to one in “Forces of Nature”). He impetuously gives up his boarding pass to a guy who is anxious to get back to his family, not because he is generous, but because he is hoping for a one-night-stand with another stranded traveler. The plane crashes, and Buddy is overcome with survivor guilt. He drinks so much that he lands in rehab. When he gets out, he looks up the widow of the man who flew on his ticket. Abby (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a struggling realtor, and Buddy helps her get a nice commission. He falls for her and they become very close, until she discovers why they met.

Families should know that Buddy is an alcoholic who makes an embarrassing acceptance speech when his firm gets an advertising award. He goes into rehab. When he gets out, he almost takes a drink. Abby smokes as a way of getting over an addiction to nicotine gum. A character mentions that he is gay. Characters wake up in bed together after a one-night stand. There is brief strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about how, after someone dies, the survivors may feel angry and guilty. Buddy, Abby, and Abby’s son all feel guilty for the death of Abby’s husband. How do they show it? How do they resolve it? Both Buddy and Abby lied at their first meeting — why? And why did Buddy notice the way Abby jumped up to remove the toilet paper from the girl’s shoe? What did he learn from that?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Passion of Mind.”

Down to You

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Teenagers, especially teenage girls, may want to see this movie, a romantic comedy staring teen dreams Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Julia Styles. Parents need to know that it contains material that they may consider inappropriate, including several explicit sexual references that are well into R territory, despite the film’s P-13 rating.

For example, the movie opens with one character bragging about his success as a porno star and then making a bet with another character about whether he can find a girl who will have sex with him that night. He does, and then freaks out because she does something in bed that he has not previously done, as he explains, in tears, to the leading man. All of this occurs in the first ten minutes. The main couple’s less than completely successful first sexual encounter is shown. A character attempts suicide over a broken heart, a serious issue poorly handled. Furthermore, the characters, college students for most of the story, drink and smoke constantly and use drugs. A character drives while drunk and crashes the car.

Somewhere in all of that, there is a sweet story about two college kids who fall in love and find more than they are able to handle. The movie shows us that they get into trouble for trying to take on an adult relationship without the emotional maturity it requires. They break up because they are not capable of talking to each other honestly about their fears. When they have a pregnancy scare, they realize that they are not prepared for the consequences of their actions. Desperate for a separation to give her space to grow up, the girl breaks up with the boy the only way she can think of — by having sex with someone else.

Parents of kids who see this movie should use it as an opportunity to talk about the choices that are available to kids when they leave home to go to college, including the choice of friends, romantic partners, alcohol and drug use, the decision to have sex, decisions about classes and careers, and how they make those choices.

October Sky

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This true story of a boy from a small town who dreams of becoming a rocket scientist is one of the best films ever made about the thrill and hard work of science and a great family movie.

In 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made orbiting satellite. Thanks to Miss Riley (Laura Dern), a gifted teacher, Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his high school friends peer up into the clear October sky over their tiny West Virginia coal mining town to see its tiny spark drift across the stars. Homer dreams of being a rocket scientist. His father, John (Chris Cooper), the mine supervisor, does not understand Homer’s longing for wider horizons. But others do. Miss Riley roots for “the unlucky ones.” Homer’s mother covers the kitchen wall with a mural of the seascape she longs to see. Homer’s friends are glad to be a part of something new and important, and the community is proud to have a hero.

We know from the beginning where this story is going, just as we know with “Rocky.” The triumph of the underdog is one of literature’s most enduring themes. As long as it is done well, audiences are happy to go along and it is never done better than it is here. The script, the production design, and the acting are all superb. Gyllenhaal’s expressive eyes show his longing for the stars a million light years away and for his father’s approval in his own home. Cooper makes a role that could have been a one-dimensional tyrant multi-layered and complex, even sympathetic. Plot twists that might seem heavy-handed or melodramatic work because we know they really happened, and because these characters make us believe. We care so deeply about them that when we see real home movie footage of the real-life Homer’s experiments over the closing credits we feel as though they are a part of our family.

Parents should use this movie to talk to kids about how Homer, not a great student and not especially strong in math, became so inspired by an idea that he begins to think in new ways. Using math and science to solve problems made it real to him, and the work involved was — like the eight- mile walk to his experimental launch site — unquestionably worth it. They should also talk about why it was hard for John to support Homer’s ambitions, why his mother saw it differently, whether Homer made the right choice in going to work in the mine — and in leaving it, how kids at school treat the “nerds” and why, how people are evaluated differently in school than they are once they get out, and how life in 1999 is different from the world of 1957.

Parents should know that a drunken stepfather beats up one of Homer’s friends in one scene (and is stopped by John) and that there are some very mild sexual references.

Kids who enjoy this movie might also enjoy “The Corn is Green,” another true story about a boy from the coal mines who is transformed by education. Two different versions are available, one with Katharine Hepburn and one with Bette Davis.

One True Thing

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Based on Anna Quindlen’s novel, this is the story of a young writer who learns the value of her mother when she goes to care for her during her treatment for cancer. Renee Zellweger plays Ellen Gulden, a New York Magazine writer who has always rejected her mother’s homey values to follow the career of her father, a distinguished literary critic, professor, and author. As Ellen cares for her mother, she finds that her father is less than she thought, and her mother is more. In understanding and accepting her parents as fully human, Ellen begins to be more fully human herself. She gains an appreciation for her mother’s strength. The community and domestic projects Ellen had seen as unimportant busywork she learns to see as an essential source of sustenance. Meryl Streep shines as Ellen’s mother Kate, not afraid to show us the irritating side of Kate’s sunny personality and the impatience she reveals as she acknowledges that she has to insist on her opportunity to talk about what is important to her before it is too late. William Hurt plays Ellen’s father George. He show us that his hypocricy comes from weakness, insecurity, and fear, in a way harder for Ellen to take than if it had been based only on selfishness.

Parental concerns include the brief profanity that earns this film an R rating as well as intense and disturbing scenes concerning Kate’s illness and the issue of euthanasia. The movie probably will not have much appeal for teens, who are seldom ready to consider their parents as fully human, but those who want to see it may come away with a better appreciation for the complexity of relationships and the diversity of accomplishments.