Happy Independence Day! There’s only one possible pick of the week for the 4th of July.
This rousing musical about the Declaration of Independence makes the Founding Fathers vivid, human, and interesting characters, and is so involving that you almost forget that you already know how it all turned out. William Daniels is the “obnoxious and disliked” John Adams, Ken Howard is Thomas Jefferson, who would rather be with his wife than work on the Declaration, and Howard da Silva is a wry and witty Benjamin Franklin. As they debate independence, we see the courage that went into the birth of the United States, and as they compromise with the South to permit slavery in the brand-new country we see the tragedy. It is outstanding family entertainment.
A California law that would prevent the sale of violent video games to children has been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The 2005 California law has never been enforced because it was found unconstitutional in the lower court as well. The 7-2 ruling (Breyer and Thomas dissenting) said, “The State wishes to create a wholly new category of content-based regulation that is permissible only for speech directed at children. That is unprecedented and mistaken. This country has no tradition of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence.”
Supporters of the legislation tried to make the case that exposure to violence is a public health issue, like smoking and alcohol. Opponents argued that games are protected speech, like a book or a movie. While the industry may choose to adopt its own rules voluntarily (as the movie industry has with its ratings and the theaters have done with their ticket sales policies), the government may not impose these restrictions.
Parents will have to continue to be especially vigilant about the restrictions on video games in their own homes and, the bigger challenge, in the homes of the friends where children go to play. Start with the ESRB ratings and then check out the ratings from Common Sense Media.
Beastly This modern-day version of Beauty and the Beast is surprisingly appealing. In an era of bullies and mean girls, “Gossip Girls” and “Pretty Little Liars,” it’s nice to have such a tenderhearted fairy tale.
Sucker Punch Girls in thigh-hi stockings and tiny spangled miniskirts take on steam-powered corpses, WWI bi-planes, samurai robots, and an angry dragon, along with a series of odiously predatory men in the latest film from Zack Snyder. His versions of “300? and “Watchmen” overwhelmed the storylines with striking, provocative visuals. Here, he solves that problem by pretty much not having any storyline at all. He literally and metaphorically cuts to the chase. It’s not so much punch, a bit more sucker.
Season of the Witch. This is sword-and-sorcery film named after a Donovan song that features a joke swiped from “Jaws” — a priest looks balefully up at a looming demon and actually says, “We’re going to need more holy water.” It is a hopeless mish-mash that feels like they were making it up as they went along. It’s also dull.
The Eagle The classic book for kid by Rosemary Sutcliff is an epic story, lavishly filmed, but empty at the core. Without a reason to care about the quest, it does not matter how skillfully the battle scenes are filmed.
Unknown There are some good chases through Berlin and even twistier plot developments even if the end is kind of silly in this story of a man on the way to an academic conference who wakes up after an accident with amnesia and finds that someone else has taken over his life. Worth seeing for one scene between veterans Bruno Ganz and Frank Langella.
Barney’s Version Paul Giamatti makes us understand and even forgive a man who leaves his own wedding reception (second marriage) to run after a woman he has just met (Rosamund Pike), who will be the great love of his life. Based on the last novel by the great Canadian author Mordecai Richler, this is a sprawling, episodic story of a man who is not always likable but the performances by Giamatti, Pike, and Dustin Hoffman has his policeman father over the decades are magnificent.