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Birthday Girl

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual situations, including bondage and prostitution
Alcohol/ Drugs: A lot of drinking and smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Scary situations including violence
Diversity Issues: Cultural differences
Date Released to Theaters: 2002

A very uneven thriller-romance is brightened by dark comedy and another magnetic performance by Nicole Kidman as the 21st century equivalent to a mail order bride. Shy bank teller John (Ben Chaplin) orders his bride from an internet company called “From Russia With Love.” He orders a brand new double bed and cleans up his little suburban house in anticipation, though he is not able to (foreshadowing alert) rid his house of an infestation of ants, and then goes off to the airport to pick her up.

The good news is, well, she looks like Nicole Kidman. The bad news is that she does not speak English, she smokes, and on the way home from the airport she has to throw up.

John has some second thoughts, but he can’t get anyone from the agency on the phone. Meanwhile, Nadiya efficiently discovers his stash of porn and even more efficiently makes herself sexually indispensible.

Nadiya stays at home and knits, and John goes off to the bank with a spring in his step and the ring she brought him on his finger. He presents her with a Russian/English dictionary and she uses it to tell him that it is her birthday. But the celebration is interrupted by the arrival of her cousin and his friend.

At this point, things start to go wrong. Many betrayals, a bank robbery, a lot of smacking around and threats with guns later, there is a resolution as uneven as the movie’s tone. There are some signs of real talent here in John’s generic performance evaluation and the bank’s “trust” exercises, Nadia’s monologue about her binoculars and her bright red knitting. The movie’s director, screenwriters, and producer (three brothers) clearly intended to make a movie that transcends genre, but it does not really work. It just feels unsettlingly muddled.

Parents should know that the movie has very strong language, a lot of violence and explicit sex, including bondage, references to prostitution, and an out of wedlock pregnancy. Stealing and corruption are positively portrayed.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Kidman’s sensational performance as a woman who entices two teenage boys to kill her husband in To Die For and Francois Truffaut’s mail-order bride thriller Mississippi Mermaid.

Black Knight

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Strong language for a PG-13
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references and situations
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Sword and arrow battles (characters injured and killed), beheading, fist fights
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2001

Martin Lawrence is a very funny guy who is usually a lot better than the movies around him, which tend to play as though half the script reads, “Martin enters and does funny things.” This time, the material comes a little closer to his talents, in a story inspired by Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”

Lawrence plays Jamal, an employee of a run-down medieval theme park who is vastly more attentive to brushing his teeth than he is to anything relating to his job. When a rival theme park called Castle World moves to his neighborhood, he tells his boss that it is time for her to sell out and retire. She tries to explain that she has a commitment to creating good jobs in the community, but he does not understand.

Then, grabbing for a mysterious amulet while cleaning the moat, he falls into the water and comes up in a lake. The people he meets are so authentically medieval in dress and speech that he thinks he must have landed at Castle World. But it turns out that he has somehow landed in 1328, in the court of a usurper king who has mistaken him for a Moorish messenger sent by a Duke.

Lawrence gets to show various kinds of astonishment at the odd world of the medieval folks (They behead people! And they have awful bathrooms!), and they get to show various kinds of astonishment at his behavior (of course he has to be asked by the king to show off his riding and dancing skills). He gets interested in a pretty chambermaid who is a part of a conspiracy to bring back the real queen. And the daughter of the usurper king goes after Martin, especially after he teaches her some new kissing techniques. It’s a classic comedy set-up that could easily have starred any movie comedian skilled in pratfalls, from Buster Keaton to Jerry Lewis to Jim Carrey.

There is a lot of slapstick, a little romance, fights with swords, arrows, and a couple with fists, and it all moves along pretty painlessly, helped by some good gags and Lawrence’s facility with physical comedy.

Parents should know that the movie has very strong language for a PG-13, including a slightly obscured four-letter word that normally would get an R-rating. In addition to the violence mentioned above (mostly comic and bloodless, but with real injuries and deaths), there is a beheading. There are a number of sexual references and situations, including a discussion of “French” kissing, characters making sounds so that people nearby will think they are having sex, and a man who has sex with a woman because he thinks she is a different woman. Minority and female characters are smart and brave (though not always seen that way by others).

Families who see this movie might like to see some of the other versions of this story, including one starring Whoopi Goldberg called A Knight in Camelot.

Blade II

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

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.”


Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

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.”

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.