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Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)
Good (but SCARY) film for the whole family
My daughter and I saw the sneak, and we both loved it. The story was very true to the Chris Van Allsberg book on which it is based (a sequel to his earlier book, Jumanji). Best of all, we liked the realistic bickering, teasing, and cold shoulder treatment between the siblings in the story. It may have been magnified a bit for the screen, but the sibling rivalries really rang true. A lot of kids will see themselves and friends in the petty jealousies and sibling torments that are pictured here, and when the whole story is done, they will see a conclusion that has a gentle moral. There were several young children in the screening audience, and I noticed that they were nervous, clingy, and questioning in a few scary scenes. Nevertheless, the film is generally palatable, even for the young. I would target the film for kids age seven and up. The elementary age and middle school age kids will get the most out of the message of the film, but even younger kids of five and six will enjoy the movie (although they may need a parent's shoulder to hold on to in a couple of places.)
War of the Worlds (2005)
Scariest Film I've Seen in Ten Years !
I thought War of the Worlds was truly scary because it was filmed from the viewpoint of Tom Cruise as an "Everyman." I liked the viewpoint of showing the survivors....the people....the refugees....trudging along back roads in search of a safe haven. The action did not center on the fight between the aliens and the armed forces....that was a mere backdrop to the true story: a man trying to save his family. Tom Cruise didn't act like the normal action hero, saving the world from destruction. He acted like a scared human being, running from alien invaders, and doing anything he could to save his kids. The fact that he was a dock worker and a divorced weekend dad brought the level of the fear and flight down to a level of reality that audience members can identify with. I thought this was a great film, with outstanding performances, and just the right amount of very believable special effects. Some reviewers have complained that we don't understand the aliens' motivation; however, this is totally realistic. If aliens really did attack us out of the blue, they are not going to send us nice, neat messages explaining why they are attacking us. They have an agenda. They are attacking without explanation. We fight back and run to survive. What more do you need? I was especially perturbed at Roger Ebert's review where he seemed hung up on the fact that the aliens' death machines were "tripods." He stated that two or four legs are more stable than three. Did he even notice that the aliens, themselves, are tripods, with three limbs? The tripod machines would therefor be a natural configuration for the three-limbed aliens. Ebert seemed to think that Cruise and his family simply survived one impossible situation after another, making the story unbelievable. Mr. Ebert has to recognize that every major disaster or war always has survivors, and that those survivors often have to escape multiple dangers. This is simply the story of one family of survivors, and it is told in a manner to draw the audience member breathless into the everyman viewpoint. 9 out of 10 stars (I would have given it 10 stars except for a couple of glaring science errors, such as the working digital video camera after an electro magnetic pulse that wiped out every other electrical object within a five mile radius).
Cheaper by the Dozen (2003)
An acceptably entertaining film.
Predictable...and overlong....nevertheless, an acceptably entertaining film suitable for the whole family. The film was filled with likeable characters, but seemed too much like a movie made for TV that was put on the big screen simply because they couldn't get the length down under two hours. The movie seemed a little schizo in that it tried to be contemporary, but several scenes got sidetracked into a 1960's sitcom approach to family humor. My recommendation - Wait till it comes out on video/DVD.
Cold Mountain (2003)
An outstanding movie that could have been even better if....
This was a truly outstanding movie, filled with wonderful performances, played against beautiful scenery. Renee Zellweger stole every scene she was in, and deserves an Academy nod. The only thing that knocked my own rating down a notch was the unnecessary explicit sex scenes. I'm not a prude, but these scenes broke the flow of this otherwise elegant story and film. I rated it an 8, but would have given it a solid 9 with sex scenes that were more appropriate to the overall tenor of the movie. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this film.