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Waking Ned Devine

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Jackie O’Shea (Ian Bannen) lives in a tiny Irish village called Tulaigh Mhor (pronounced Tully More). Like many of the other residents, he is an enthusiastic buyer of lottery tickets, and when he reads in the paper that one of the other residents has a winning ticket, he and his wife Annie (Fionnula Flanagan) and lifetime best friend Michael O’Sullivan (David Kelly) do their best to discover the winner. All of their efforts fail until they realize that only one resident of the town failed to attend their dinner party — Ned Devine. When Jackie and Michael go to his house, they discover that indeed he was the winner, and that the shock of winning caused a fatal heart attack.

Reasoning that Ned, who had no relatives, would have wanted them to have his winnings, Jackie and Michael decide to pretend that one of them is Ned Devine, to collect the prize. Ultimately, every resident of Tulaigh Mhor participates in the plot, with one notable exception, the fierce and nasty Lizzy Quinn (Eileen Dromey).

Parents should know that there is an unmarried mother who refuses to disclose the father of her child. And, there is a good deal of very black humor, including some shenanigans with a dead body, which some children will find upsetting. But others who enjoy wicked jokes will find this movie delightful, and it can lead to a good discussion of the morality of the decisions made by the characters and what they are likely to do after the movie ends.

Wild Wild West

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“The Wild Wild West” has the weak, weak script. It is not unusual to see a trailer that is better than the movie, but in this case the music video is brighter, wittier, and more exciting than the movie.

Will Smith may still own the 4th of July, but this year’s entry is much weaker than his 1996-97 one-two punch of “Independence Day” and “Men in Black.” His unquenchable appeal goes a long way toward making up for poor plotting and dialogue, but not far enough, leaving us with a summer popcorn movie — impossible to resist at the time, but leaving you a bit queasy afterward.

The 1960s television show starred Robert Conrad in a bolero jacket and very tight pants as a Civil War era secret agent. Like the newly popular James Bond, West was a spy who was infinitely attractive with the ladies and who always triumphed over the bad guys, who were always maniacs intent on three things — total world domination, killing West in fiendishly complex contraptions, and making sure that they conveniently explained all their plans to West in time for him to escape from the fiendishly complex contraptions and save the world again. West’s sidekick Artemus Gordon was a master of disguise and technology. Their most frequent foe was Dr. Loveless, played in the series by Michael Dunn. And the whole thing was very much tongue in cheek.

The big-screen version has Will Smith as West, all bolero jacket, tight pants, and attitude, with Kevin Kline as Gordon, Kenneth Branagh as Dr. Loveless, and Salma Hayek as the lovely Rita Escobar, who flirts with all three men and spends much of the movie in fetching 19th century lingerie with a brief detour into a union suit with the trap door open. The plot remains the same — Dr. Loveless, vowing revenge for losing his entire lower half in the Civil War, seeks total world domination, and West and Gordon have a week to stop him. There is some attempt to deal with the fact that West is a black man at a time when most black people had only recently been freed from slavery, but the fact is that the entire movie is so completely preposterous that the effort is awkward and inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the film.

Indeed, the overall tone of the film is awkward, not giving Kline or Hayak much to do, though Kline has a nice turn as President Grant and Hayak looks fetching in her undies. Branagh is happily over the top as the bad guy, there are some cool special effects, and Smith’s charm and grace carry it a long way, but not far enough to make it anything more than a pleasant diversion less raunchy than “Austin Powers.” Parents should know that there are some PG-13 sexual references, including prostitutes and Loveless’ impotence and a lot of cartoon-style action- violence.

You’ve Got Mail

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The classic story of two enemies who discover that they are really the “dear friends” who share a loving penpal relationship is deliciously updated for the era of email. Tom Hanks plays Joe Fox, scion of a family that owns a chain of enormous bookstores (think Barnes & Noble). Meg Ryan plays Katherine Kelly, owner of a beloved independent children’s book store called The Shop Around the Corner. When the new Fox store moves in around her corner, they take each other on, though it is clear from the first that they are strongly attracted to each other and would much rather be friends.

At first, both are in other relationships, she with a newspaper columnist who decries technology (Greg Kinnear), and he with a high-strung overly caffeinated book editor (Parker Posey). But as their online friendship becomes more important to them, they both realize that they cannot settle for the convenience of a relationship that should work. Knowing each other only as “Shopgirl” and “NY152,” and keeping to their resolve not to disclose personal details, they exchange emails about how they see the world around them. He is warmly supportive of her, advising her to fight her adversary, not knowing that he is the one she is writing about. The witty dialogue gets high gloss from two of the finest light romantic leads in Hollywood, whose chemistry was already proven in “Sleepless in Seattle.” It is clear to us from the beginning where it is all going, but it is also clear that they will make it a pleasure along the way, and they do.

Parents should know that the movie contains brief bad language, and that Joe’s father and grandfather become involved with a series of younger women, which is portrayed as humorous — including a comment by Joe’s father (Dabney Coleman) that he may marry the mother of his son. Sexual overtures to Joe by that woman seem inappropriate for a movie of this kind. A later reference to a woman who leaves a man for a woman is also intended as humor. Parents should also make sure that children know that they should not talk to strangers online, and should never accept an invitation to meet in person anyone they have corresponded with online.

Other good topics for discussion include how it can be easier to be yourself in email than in person and how you balance the need to stand up for yourself with the importance of not hurting others. Children who enjoy this movie may also like to see the original, like Katherine’s store called “The Shop Around the Corner” starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, and the musical remake called “In the Good Old Summertime” with Judy Garland and Van Johnson. The story was also produced and as a different musical play called “She Loves Me.”

Splendor in the Grass

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In this classic of repressed teenage sexuality, set in the 1920s, Bud (Warren Beatty) and Deanie (Natalie Wood) are high school students who are newly in love and breathless with desire, physical and emotional. Deenie’s parents are unable to give her any guidance. They make her feel ashamed of her feelings. Her mother says, “Your father never laid a hand on me until we were married and then I just gave in because a wife has to. A woman doesn’t enjoy these things the way a man does. She just lets her husband come near her in order to have children.” Bud’s father, Ace (Pat Hingle) tells Bud that there are two kinds of girls, “good” and “bad,” and the “bad” ones are fair game. This apparently applies to Bud’s sister, whose reputation has been “ruined” by having sex and has come home from college in disgrace. At a party, she drinks too much and has sex with a group of men.

Deanie will not have sex with Bud, and they break up. Both suffer breakdowns. His is moral; he has sex with another girl, known to be “easy.” Hers is emotional; overcome with despair and self-loathing, Deanie has a breakdown and becomes a patient at a mental hospital. Ace will not permit Bud to go to agricultural college and insists that he go to Yale. But when the stock market crashes, Ace is wiped out and kills himself. Bud leaves college.

When Deanie comes home from the hospital, her mother does not want her to see Bud. Deanie’s father tells her how to find him, and, with some friends, Deanie drives out to the shack where Bud lives with his wife. Deanie and Bud speak, briefly, achieving some resolution, enabling them to go on, if not as they had once hoped, at least grateful for what they have had. Deanie remembers the words of the poem she learned in school: “Though nothing can bring back the hour/of splendor in the grass,/Glory in the flower,/We will grieve not, but rather find/Strength in what remains behind.”

This Oscar -winning screenplay by William Inge was immensely controversial when the film was made. (A brief glimpse of nudity as Deanie ran from the bathtub was cut from the final print.) Most teenagers face a different set of issues today, but they are presented with no less hypocrisy or more reassurance than the messages to kids like Bud and Deanie. Instead of being told that sexual feelings are non-existent or evidence of being “bad,” today’s teenagers often get the message that they are “bad” or lacking if they do not feel ready to engage in sexual activity freely almost as soon as they enter high school. The issues of honesty in communicating about sexuality and the overwhelming confusion of teenage passion remain important and valid, and this movie can provide a good opening for a talk about what has changed and how teenagers feel about the decisions and the consequences Bud and Deanie face in this movie.

Talk about:
• Why does Ace make a distinction between “good” and “bad” girls? Do people make that distinction today? What makes a girl “bad”?
• Is anyone honest with Bud and Deanie?
• What do Bud and Deanie mean when they say that they don’t think about happiness anymore?
• Why did Deanie refuse to have sex with Bud? Why did Bud refuse to have sex with Deanie? What should two people think about before they make the decision to have sex?

In another classic movie of teenage sexual repression, “A Summer Place,” Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue have sex, and she becomes pregnant. Dee’s mother is repressed to the point of hysteria, but her father, who has left his wife to be reunited with his own teenage love, is sympathetic and supportive, all to lush and unforgettable theme music by Max Steiner. William Inge (who appears as the minister) won an Oscar for the screenplay. He also wrote “Picnic,” “Bus Stop,” “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,” all about vulnerable people who must struggle to find intimacy and happiness, and especially appealing to sensitive teens.

The Quiet Man

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I grew up in Chicago, a city that really knows how to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. There’s the parade, of course, and every year they dye the Chicago River green. And every year WGN shows The Quiet Man, the unabashed love letter to Ireland made by director John Ford with John Wayne and Irish and Irish-American actors like Maureen O’Hara and Barry Fitzgerald. Some people think the movie is sexist, but they ignore the movie’s key themes about how important it is for both men and women to believe that they bring something important to the relationship. In the words of Michaleen Oge Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald), it is about a love story that is impetuous and Homeric. It has passion, humor, glorious Technicolor, and one of the greatest fight scenes ever put on film. It’s a great way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.