Tag Archives: new movies

Film tackles U.N. failings

Our oldest daughter Jennifer, who studies cultural anthropology at Arizona State University, came home with passes to a new movie the other night — a Disruptive Pictures film called “U.N. Me” that’s written, directed and produced by Ami Horowitz and Matthew Groff.

It’s billed as an expose of corruption and incompetence within an international organization meant to promote world peace and universal human rights. As most folks know, the U.N. was founded in 1942.

The topic holds special interest for our family since Jennifer has long dreamed of working with the U.N. Our kids first learned of the U.N. during grade school, while participating in the Trick-or-Treat for Unicef program.

“U.N. Me” opened Friday at Harkins Shea 14 Theatre

Watching something so scathing was downright depressing. Unlike other films tackling tough issues such as failings in education, health care inequities, climate change and bullying, this movie left me feeling numb instead of moved to action.

I remember seeing “Bully” and wondering why such a significant portion of the film followed the advocacy of those whose lives were touched in tragic ways. Wasn’t it obvious that those who recognized the problem would be moved to act?

The wisdom of “Bully” filmmakers Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen grows more evident as the credits for “U.N. Me” roll. Viewers see a single sentence directing them to make a difference by visiting the movie’s website, but there’s little reassurance that taking individual action can effect change.

An Inconvenient Truth,” a film directed by David Guggenheim that explored Al Gore’s concerns about human contributions to global climate change, left me feeling a lot more empowered thanks to practical tips shared near the end of the film.

Plenty of folks who see “U.N. Me” — including those who embrace its premises — will never visit the film’s website. But there’s plenty they can do in their daily lives to fight violations of human rights. Arizona offers plenty of examples.

“U.N. Me” follows Horowitz as he talks with people from various nations who have current or former U.N. ties, plus experts in areas such as genocide and nuclear proliferation. Nobel laureate Jody Williams is the most compelling by far.

I’m not wild about the flippant approach Horowitz takes during the film. His comedic forays distract from the deadly serious subject matter. And having spent more than a decade in investment banking, Horowitz will strike many among “the 99%” as an unlikely prophet for all things pure and good.

It’ll be too easy for those who oppose the U.N., especially those who do so for political gain, to use this film to indict every U.N. program and person affiliated with the organization. Or to walk away from the personal responsibility each of us bears for two words at the heart of the film — never again.

— Lynn

Note: “U.N. Me” is currently showing at Harkins Shea 14 Theatre in Scottsale

Coming up: Remembering Anne Frank, Student art meets Arizona history

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Blood is thicker than water

Blood is thicker than water. That’s the gist of “Dark Shadows” — a new Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp as the vampire done wrong by a witch passed over generations ago for the love of another woman. It’s dedicated to the memory of Dan Curtis, who created the Gothic meets soap series aired from 1966 to 1971 — which was after-school appointment TV at my house.

The 2012 film imagines Barnabas Collins returing to the town and mansion built by his ancestors after he’s awakened by digging contruction workers in the town now dominated by the witch whose curse killed his beloved and turned him from man to monster. Still, telling monster from man is more complicated that it seems.

There’s much to love about Burton’s “Dark Shadows.” Compelling story. Groovy tunes. Smart writing. Magnificent sets. Striking landscapes. Intriguing characters. Sound acting. And oodles of homages to a decade gone by. Mirrored disco ball. TV in a box. Lava lamp. Hanging chair. “T. Rex” album. Clunky headphones. Toking hippies. Volkswagon van. Movie marquees reading “Deliverance” and “Super Fly.”

It’ll all new to Collins, who’s been coffin-bound for nearly two centuries. His clothes are weird. His vocabulary archaic. His wooing style awkward. His sleeping habits topsy turvy. But he’s got a fine memory and fierce loyalty towards the Collins family, whose fortunes fell after Barnabas went off the radar. His new mission, it seems, is restoring the family to its former glory.

Various members of the household, including a new nanny and live-in psychiatrist, react differently to the charge. Collinwood Manor is home to a strong-willed mother, an ineffectual father, a blasé teenage girl and a younger brother who sees things. Also two staffers replete with odd impediments. It’s apparent early on that this family needs a savior, and that they’ll likely find one in the most unexpected of places. Still, I never saw the hero coming.

While nothing in this film feels contrived, it’s obvious that every detail is perfectly deliberate. “Dark Shadows” is best appreciated by those who lived through the ’70s, but doesn’t rely on nods to nostalgia. Themes of family, unrequited love, abuse of power and such are plenty accessible to those who’ve never done time with the “Dark Shadows” television series or Curtis’ related films.

But this is not a movie for children. There’s blood and gore. Lots of fire. Vampire sex. And ghosts that’ll give a real fright come the middle of the night. Save it for the teens — those poor darlings who think they’re the ones who invented vampires. And fellow grown-ups accustomed to death and destruction on the big screen. “Dark Shadows” is rated PG-13.

Most haunting are images of a child who gets electroshock therapy, and scenes showing Arizona rocker Alice Cooper singing while wearing a straitjacket. Neither was necessary, and both felt incredibly offensive. I’m still deciding how many of my five stars I ought to deduct for those babies. Without them, the movie is a perfect retro roller coaster ride through the life of a family not so different from our own.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about the “Dark Shadows” cast and filmmakers

Coming up: Seeing red

Beyond bullying

Alex Hopkins, who stars in the film "Bully," is one of 13 million. And every one matters. (Photo: The Weinstein Company)

“Over 13 million American kids will be bullied this year, making it the most common form of violence experienced by young people in the nation,” according to the makers of the film “Bully” — which opens Friday in Arizona theaters. I saw the film during a Phoenix Film Festival screening earlier this month, and felt the experience was among the most devastating and important 90 minutes of my life. It’s that poignant. That gripping. That heartwrenching. And essential viewing for every parent, teacher and young person capable of seeing the harsh realities of bullying played out on the big screen.

“Bully,” which now has a PG-13 rating, was filmed over the course of the 2009/10 school year, but its release this month marks not the end of a long journey — but the beginning of a new one. “Bully,” says Cynthia Lowen, is meant to jumpstart a conversation that’s long overdue in this country. It’s time we banish the “kids will be kids” mentality, she says — because kids are hurting. And some are dying.

“Bully” was written and produced by Lowen and Lee Hirsch, who also directs the film. I was struck while watching each of five stories unfold on screen by the incredible realism of this film. Those who share their family stories are honest, courageous and absolutely committeed to seeing an end to it all — the namecalling, the bigotry, the verbal and physical aggression, the passive bystander mentality.

“Bully” puts its subject straight into the lap of those who watch it, expecting them to leave the theater with more knowledge, greater empathy and a will to action. People can help in different ways, reflects Lowen. But everyone must get involved. Start by being mindful of your children’s own experiences. It’s not always easy, observes Lowen, for children to tell parents what they’re experiencing at school. The bullied, she says, too often feel shame. And those around them too often do nothing.

Knowing that lots of parents and kids are eager to make a difference but simply don’t know how, I asked Lowen to share a few concrete suggestions. Promote effective bullying prevention programs in schools. Model civil behaviors to your children. Lose the aggressive political discourse. Get involved with anti-bullying programs in your community.

But most importantly, says Lowen, empower your children to be upstanders. Teach them ways to help and support their peers who get victimized — offering to walk a bullied student to the school office so they can file a report, volunteering to be a witness when the bullied student talks to school officials, sitting by kids who get picked on and being the student who stands up to bullying when it occurs.

Encourage your child to be the one who says something like ‘What you’re doing is wrong, and I want you to stop it.’ It’s an especially powerful message, says Lowen, when delivered by popular kids. If you’re looking for a way to make a difference today, start by taking your family to see “Bully” — and follow up with conversations about how you can, and will, make a difference.

Tomorrow I’ll share more of Lowen’s insights, and stories of the five families featured in the film. These children could be our children. In many ways, they already are. Give voice to their pain, and bring your power to protecting them. The best way to stop a bully is to stand up and stand together.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for film details, comprehensive bullying prevention resources and ways your family can get involved in The Bully Project

Coming up: Five families at the heart of “Bully”

The Woman in Black

Reviewers who’ve been referring to “The Woman in Black” as Daniel Radcliffe’s first chance to prove himself since performing the role of “Harry Potter” need to step outside of a movie theater now and then. He’s given two outstanding performances on Broadway — in a play called “Equus” and a musical called “How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying.”

Radcliffe is far past finessing his acting chops, as evidenced by how fast you’ll find yourself forgetting during “The Woman in Black” that you’re watching a man you once associated with wizards and wands — although a brief scene featuring a train winding though the countryside might trigger a short-lived flashback.

The Woman in Black” is a beautiful film. It’s technically proficient in terms of cinematography (Tim Maurice-Jones), editing (Jon Harris) and music (Marco Beltrami) — and the storytelling is grand. It’s well written, acted and directed — and features outdoor images of breathtaking beauty filmed in England. It’s directed by James Watkins, and Jane Goldman wrote the screenplay — which is adapted from the 1983 novel by Susan Hill.

It’s also more frightening than you might imagine given its PG-13 rating. There’s more then one graphic scene involving suicide, and a central plotline involving children dying horrible deaths. Everything you expect in a scary flick is there, in relative moderation but with great effect. Strange noises. Flickering lights. Dolls with eyes that seem to follow you around the room.

The elements figure prominently in “The Woman in Black.” There’s a lot of rain, mist and mud — but also images of lovely greenery mixed with ominous-looking crosses and gravesites. You almost feel at times like you’re part of the dark, dank world occupied by Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) since the death of his wife Stella (Sophie Stuckey) during childbirth.

“The Woman in Black” seems at times a nearly non-stop homage to mystery writers of earlier times. Edgar Allen Poe. Alfred Hitchcock. Arthur Conan Doyle. Think Ravens and rocking chairs. And a cap, worn just briefly by a little boy, that mirrors those worn by detective Sherlock Holmes. The dialogue smartly elucidates both sides of the early 20th century spiritualism debate.

Radcliffe delivers a compelling performance as the tenacious yet tender man charged with finding a woman’s final will and testament inside an isolated mansion that folks in the nearest town would prefer he never enter. They’re frightened by just about everything — including the town’s lone automobile.

Its driver, Sam Daily (Ciarán Hinds), is Kipps’ sole sympathizer. Daily’s son is among the many who’ve died following sightings of “The Woman in Black.” Mrs. Daily (Janet McTeer) seems to have gone mad after the ordeal. Her twins, a pair of puppies, sup at a long dining room table — and get rocked to sleep in a cradle each night. The film also features Liz White as Jennet Humfrye and Shaun Dooley as Fisher — but the Radcliffe, Hinds, McTeer trio is what makes the film so superb.

My only problem with “The Woman in Black” is the ending — which ruins the perfectly idyllic image I’d have preferred to go home with by returning to something far more sinister. Watching someone else get haunted for ninety five minutes is one thing. Feeling like you might be next in line is quite another.

— Lynn

Note: Stephen Malatratt’s stage adaptation of “The Woman in Black” continues its long run in London. Click here to learn more and here to explore related educational materials.

Coming up: Smashed!

Images: CBS Films

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

I tried reading “Extremly Loud & Incredibly Close” at the recommendation of our youngest daughter Lizabeth, who gave it great reviews. But it felt after just a few pages like it’d been written for someone used to exchanging information via text message. A string of snippets isn’t enough to capture my attention.

The film goes too far in the other direction — making what should be a gripping tale of family life in the aftermath of 9/11 seem extremely quiet and incredibly far away. The subject should make for compelling fare, but I’m just not feeling it — despite being deeply moved by visits to the World Trade Center and 9/11 memorial.

The movie feels rather neat and tidy, like a story wrapped up in a perfect little gift box. Much is done to bring nine-year-old Oskar Schell’s story full circle after his father dies in one of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11.

But another key character’s story is left dangling for those who haven’t read the book. If you’re going to present me with a meticulously-wrapped package, don’t forget to pack everything inside it first.

I was intrigued during the film by what appeared to be similar experiences of pain and loss by both Oskar and an old man dubbed “the renter.” The man never speaks, and communicates in ways that leave you wondering what sort of horrors he’s endured. But the movie never makes the cause of his suffering clear — so all that great character development feels wasted somehow.

Parents of children others see as odd may appreciate the young boy’s idiosyncracies, including too much time holding a tamborine. In some ways, the film feels like more of a testament to his way of being in the world than a movie focused on a family’s life in the aftermath of 9/11. It’s fascinating to wonder which parts of Oskar’s personality developed before what he calls “the worst day ever” — and what developed after.

The movie’s greatest strength is its portrayal of the bond between Oskar and his mother. Both go to great lengths, in radically different ways, to protect one another — often without the other’s knowledge. Both wonder why Oskar’s father, not mother, was snatched away. Both remember 9/11 in vivid detail, but can’t let go of choices made that day.

The opening scene of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” is the film’s most beautiful moment, especially once you see it revisited near the end of the movie as a little boy’s mother discovers a twist to the final page in her son’s latest expedition journal.

I suppose I’ll have to revisit the book now, hoping to learn more about the old man’s story. And to enjoy more time with the grandmother who’s hip to walkie talkies and flashlights. I hope it’ll elucidate the family’s tendency to lay low, literally, in times of uncertainty and sadness.

And give me pause to consider questions explored during the film. Why do we search so long and hard for things we’ve already encountered? Are quests to find the “Why?” always futile? What gifts do we hope to leave our children?

— Lynn

Note: Click here for film details

Coming up: I dreamed a dream…

2012 movie musings

Sometimes childhood memories shared with our own children come back to haunt us. I once told daughter Lizabeth about racing home after school to watch the vampire soap series “Dark Shadows.” Now that Johnny Depp is starring in a “Dark Shadows” film (May) that’ll fast forward Barnabas and clan to the 1970s, I’ll never hear the end of it.

Only rumors that Depp raced home to do the same thing will temper those wounds. Folks with a taste for vampire lore can also look forward to “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2” (Nov) and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (June).  I haven’t read the “Twilight” series, so I’m a bit conflicted about what color to expect for the nursery.

Lizabeth likes the Lincoln meets vampire vibe, but I’m holding out for Spielberg’s “Lincoln” (Dec) starring Daniel Day Lewis. Lincoln’s life was bloody enough. I’d like to leave it at that. I’ll also be watching for “Hotel Transylvania” (Sept) with a cast that includes two comedic Adams and one crooning Miley.

Musical theater morphs into movies at least twice this year with “Rock of Ages” (June) starring Tom Cruise (watch for tidy widy jokes) and “Les Miserables” (Dec) featuring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter and lots of other big names. I’d give you the rest of the list but it’d only leave you wishing I’d stopped after Jackman.

We’ll also enjoy a pair of films starring Harry Potter alums this season — “The Woman in Black” (Feb) with Daniel Radcliffe (whose performance Lizabeth loved in “How to Succeed…” on Broadway) and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (Fall) with Emma Watson. I was perfectly happy with the other films featuring a wallflower in black named “Snape.”

Two actresses who first performed right here in the Valley will be seen on the big screen this year. First, Emma Stone in “Movie 43” (April) and “The Amazing Spiderman” (July) — which will show her acting alongside greats like Sally Field and Richard Gere. Also Jordin Sparks in “Sparkle” (Aug), alongside Whitney Houston. Best I just let that one be for the time being.

In the classic lit department, there’s “The Great Gatsby” (Dec) starring Leonardo DiCaprio — assuming he survives the 3-D version of James Cameron’s “Titanic” (April). Also “Anna Karenina” and “Great Expectations” — both slotted for fall release. Start reading now if you want to revisit the books before these babies hit your local movie theater. Folks who favor new lit can look forward to “The Hunger Games” (March) and “Life of Pi” (Dec).

Girlpower gets its due with “Brave” (June) — Pixar’s 13th film and their first to feature a female heroine. Mean girls are headed our way with two variations on the Snow White tale. First, “Mirror Mirror” (March) starring Julia Roberts as the Queen and Lily Collins as Snow White. Then “Snow White and the Huntsmen” (June), starring Charlize Theron as the Queen and Kristen Stewart as Snow White.

For more twisted fairy tale fare, check out “Jack the Giant Killer” (June) — which Lizabeth only entertained seeing after learning it’s from the same fine fellow who brought us “X-Men: First Class.” Those of you waiting on “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” need to aim your crystal balls at the year 2013. In the interim, try “The Avengers” (May).

It’s a big year for sequels, including family fare like “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” (June), “Ice Age 4: Continental Drift” (July) and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” (Aug). Also “Men in Black” (May), “The Dark Knight Rises” (July) and “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (Dec). Lizabeth and I could never make it past the first few pages of “The Hobbit,” so I’m not holding out much hope for this one.

She’s more excited about “The Secret Adventures of Arrietty” (Feb), a Disney film based on a novel called “The Borrowers” — while I’m looking forward to “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” (March), from the folks who made “Despicable Me.” Other family fare includes a whale of a tale called “Big Miracle” (Feb) and “Disneynature: Chimpanzee” (April).

Watch for “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” (May), a film about five couples expecting babies that was inspired by the famous prenatal parenting book. I’m only willing to revisit those memories because the cast includes Matthew Morrison of “Glee.” Don’t mistake “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” (March) for an animated film about your toddler’s playdates.

My potpourri pile’s got some other films I’m still investigating — so stay tuned for a second installment. And drop a line to let me know what films you’re most excited about seeing.

— Lynn

Note: Film release dates are subject to change. Visit the websites for your favorite films/studios to follow their developments.

Coming up: Broadway meets community theater

What’s a parent to do?

A scene from "Carnage" from Sony Pictures Classics

French playwright Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage,” which won the 2009 Tony Award for best play, has been adapted for the big screen and titled simply “Carnage.” The screenplay was written by Reza and the film’s director, Roman Polanski. Unlike the original play, which was set in Paris, the Broadway production and film are set in New York.

As the movie opens, children play in a Brooklyn park — and a boy who’s being teased by fellow tweens turns to face them. A slim tree branch he swipes through the air leaves another boy injured, and the film cuts quickly to two sets of parents attempting to smooth over the hurt.

Investment banker Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet) and corporate attorney Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) are parents of the “bully,” while writer Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster) and wholesaler Michael Longstreet (John C. Reilly) are parents of the “victim.”

The Longstreets have invited the Cowans to their apartment hoping for some sort of resolution, but obstacles abound. First, Penelope’s fondness for melodrama and martyrdom. Then Alan’s inability to leave work at the office. When Penelope’s apple-pear cobbler doesn’t sit well with Nancy, things get messy.

Penelope cares deeply about everything — from the contents of her refrigerator to the plight of people in Darfur. Alan readily admits to not giving a damn about much of anything. It’s this contrast in characters, and the conflict it creates, that gives the film its bite.

Nearly the entire film, only 80 minutes in length, is shot in real time using just a single set — mainly the Longsteet’s living room. But kitchen and bathroom are sometimes called into service — as are bucket, blow dryer and bottle of Scotch.

Foster describes the film as “a comedy of manners.” Manners dissolve quickly into mayhem as marital spats and misunderstandings spiral out of control. The more civilized these couples seek to become, the more their savagery shines. It’s perfectly pleasurable to watch.

The movie feels faster and sharper than the play somehow. The dialogue feels funnier. The absurdity feels more plausible. The camera allows close-ups that just aren’t possible when watching a play performed on stage. And the movie’s ending has an unexpected twist.

Still, parents leave both play and movie asking similar questions. Were the bully’s actions justified? Should he apologize? What if the apology’s insincere? When can parents lecture other people’s children? How far does the apple (or pear) fall from the tree? Is being a “snitch” a bad thing? Should parents fight their children’s battles?

— Lynn

Note: Although “Carnage” is rated “R” for language, many parents will find it rather mild and feel perfectly comfortable taking their teens (though teens will be less amused than adults by the film’s satirical slant on parenting).

Coming up: More couples behaving badly, My favorite New Year’s message