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Movie Mom
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A show of hands, everyone. If you think it’s a good idea to begin a movie for children by killing off a young boy in an industrial accident as his father looks on, raise your hand. Anyone?
I didn’t think so. And yet, that is how Astro Boy comes to be in this updated version of the Japanese animated series that achieved popularity in the U.S. as a television series in various versions over the years and more recently as a computer game. The title character (voice by an Americanized Freddie Highmore) is a robot re-boot created by brilliant scientist Dr. Tenma (voice of Nicolas Cage) to replace his son Toby, who was killed at Dr. Tenma’s lab when he tried to get in to see an experiment. Devastated by the loss, the scientist creates a super-robot programmed with the memory and mind of his dead child. And then he rejects the robot as an inadequate substitute. Even if the rest of the movie were “The Care Bears Meet My Little Pony,” the loss and grief of the first 20 minutes are so totally dissonant that the film cannot recover.
It’s like “Pinocchio” crossed with “Blade Runner” as Astro Boy goes through an existential crisis in discovering that he may have Toby’s memories and emotions, but he also has hands and butt cheeks that turn into artillery. He ends up being treated as a human by robots and a robot by the humans he meets, abandoned children living on the planet that everyone else has left because it is deemed no longer habitable (and yet somehow they are able to order pizza). In the midst of all of the shoot-outs there are some moments that have charm and some images that show some wit, especially an enormous junked robot that Astro brings back to life with a charge from his blue power source (unfortunately carrying the initials of an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory). But then the President (voice of Donald Sutherland) wants to use Astro’s technology for evil, and everything comes down to shooting. Any nuance or imagination or point is lost in the battle, and so is any reason to see this film.

I am thrilled and honored to be mentioned in today’s Ask Amy column. A parent wrote in about 9 and 10 year olds who had seen the very R-rated “The Hangover” multiple times. Amy Dickenson wisely suggested an honest and thoughtful response:

This presents a “teachable moment” for your kids and their friends. When other kids mention that they’ve been allowed to see or do something you don’t allow in your family, you can say, “Well, that’s an R-rated movie. R-rated means it’s really for grown-ups, not kids.”

I agree with you that “The Hangover” is highly inappropriate for children. I don’t know why parents aren’t more careful with the media their children consume, but your primary interest should be toward creating and maintaining the ethic and atmosphere in your own home. Nell Minow (“The Movie Mom”) is my favorite arbiter of what media are appropriate for kids. Her television and movie reviews can be found on blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom.

I agree with Amy that one of the most important lessons a parent can teach is that “everybody else is doing it” never works. Kids may struggle with limits — it is part of the job description for anyone who is in the process of growing up. But they respect our efforts to keep them safe. This “teachable moment” shows them more than what R-rated means. It shows them how we as adults make choices with integrity.

One of the biggest critical and box office successes of last year is The Blind Side, the heartwarming real-life story of professional football player Michael Oher, who has a homeless black teenager was adopted by a wealthy white family. Sandra Bullock’s Oscar-winning performance as Leigh Anne Touhy is outstanding but everyone in the cast, including Tim McGraw as her husband Sean and Quinton Aaron as Oher.

I have two copies to give away! Please send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with “Blind Side” in the subject line, and tell me what you like best about the movie. The first two will win the DVD.

I have seldom seen the stars of a movie look as thoroughly uncomfortable as Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant in this drearily low-concept would-be comedy, “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” Parker plays Meryl Morgan, a Manhattan real estate broker so high-powered she is featured on the cover of New York Magazine, who has recently left her husband, Paul (Grant) because he cheated on her. Paul, a high-powered lawyer, has been trying to win her back with gifts and entreaties, but she is resisting.

And then they end up stuck together, unplugged from all of their various electronic devices and their supremely efficient assistants (wasting the talented Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men”), and about as far away from Manhattan as you can get. They are sent to the small town of Ray, Wyoming by law enforcement authorities after they witness a murder to protect them from being the professional killer’s next victims. And so we’re in the land of city slickers vs the hicks as a form of extreme marital therapy. It’s all sit-, no com.

The jokes were old when “Green Acres” was new. New Yorkers can’t sleep out west because there are no sirens and car horns and they can’t breathe because the air is too clean! Isn’t it cute that people play bingo and shoot guns! (“Oh, my God, it’s Sarah Palin!” Meryl says when she sees Mary Steenburgen as a rifle-toting U.S. Marshall.) One lame stereotype after another (Meryl learns to shoot a gun and milk a cow! Paul squirts his own eyes with bear repellent! Hicks are all Republican and carnivores! Let’s bring everyone together for a dance and a rodeo!) only underscores how self-absorbed, annoying, and entirely unattractive the characters are and how much contempt the film has for its audience. Our primary motivation for wanting them to stay together is that it’s the best way to punish them for creating this awful film. Let them torture each other the way they tortured us.