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Zathura fun and exciting

By Lady Liberty
web posted November 14, 2005


*** out of ****

ZathuraThere were a couple of movies I really wanted to see this weekend, and surprisingly, one of them was Zathura. While the trailers were intriguing, the early buzz about the film was even better. Obviously aimed at a very youthful market — the kind of thing I don't typically care for, frequented by audiences I care even less for — my one concession was to go to a very late night showing in the hopes there would be few if any small children in the theatre. The movie (and, frankly, the showtime) turned out to be a good choice.

In the opening scenes of Zathura, we meet Danny (Jonah Bobo) and Walter (Josh Hutcherson), two brothers who can't — not even for a few minutes — get a long. The pair fight incessantly, and vie non-stop for the attention of their harried father (Tim Robbins). Even when Dad tries to intervene, Walter can't hide his contempt for his little brother, and Danny can't stop antagonizing him.

It's a Saturday afternoon, and although their father doesn't want to work, he's got no choice but to go to his office for a brief while. Knowing better than to leave the boys to their own devices, he leaves them in the charge of their teen-aged sister, Lisa (Kristen Stewart). Lisa, of course, would just as soon sleep as so much as acknowledge her younger brothers' presence.

While Lisa naps, yet another fight erupts. With Walter's limited patience well over its limit, Danny knows he'd better hide! Alone in the basement, he sees a colorful box hidden under the stairs. In large and inviting letters, the box says "Zathura." Forgetting how angry Walter probably still is, Danny grabs the box and runs off to show his brother. In the hopes that Walter might play with him, Danny opens the game and takes the first turn. A card pops out of a slot in the game. "Meteor shower," the card says. "Take evasive action."

Walter reluctantly helps Danny read the card. No sooner has he done so than a meteor shower begins. In their living room. And with all of the accompanying destruction you might expect from such an event. Taking evasive action seems like good advice, and so the boys hide in the fireplace until the storm is over. It's then that they discover something even more astounding: their house is floating in space around some unnamed ringed planet. And the only way they can get back home is to keep playing Zathura until somebody wins.

Jonah Bobo is good; Josh Hutcherson is even better. It's a good thing that's the case because the two largely carry this movie on their small shoulders alone! Tim Robbins is there at the beginning and again at the end; Kristen Stewart contributes ably now and then. But Zathura almost exclusively focuses on the boys and their struggle to get along and to get back home. At one point, the pair are aided in their quest by the mysterious rescued astronaut (Dax Shepard) who proves an excellent foil for the melodramatic kids, but his role, too, is secondary to that of the boys.

Director Jon Favreau probably remains better known in front of the camera than behind it (he's played various supporting roles in a number of films), but don't be fooled: this is the man with the wonderful Elf on his directing résumé. With Zathura, he's taken an entirely different twist on the fantasy genre, but again, he's done it very well. The special effects are good; the sets are excellent. The script is deceptively simple while conveying warmth, humor, and the very real relationship between two brothers.

Yes, Zathura is complete and unrealistic fantasy. No, it doesn't obey even the most rudimentary of the laws of physics. As science fiction goes, it's all fiction and no science. But you know, in the middle of a Zorgon attack or a lost astronaut rescue, it doesn't really matter. Whatever its lack of realism, Zathura is fun and exciting to watch. I don't necessarily go to the movies to learn something. I go to be entertained. And watching Zathura, I most thoroughly was.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Zathura is rated PG for "fantasy action and peril, and some language." Although I don't really see much of a problem with the language, I do believe that some of the peril is going to prove too much for little ones. I found myself getting nervous a few times, and for a movie as implausible as Zathura is, that's saying something! As a whole, I'd say Zathura would be great for kids about age 7 or 8 and up. And if you go with them, I strongly suspect you won't regret having bought a ticket for yourself.


**1/2 out of ****

DerailedI like Jennifer Aniston fine, but I really like Clive Owen. Besides, Derailed was marketed as a psychological thriller, and I do love a good thriller! There wasn't much question I'd be handing my money over for a ticket to this one...

Charles Schine (Clive Owen) is a Chicago ad executive. He has a house in the suburbs he shares with his schoolteacher wife, Deanna (Melissa George) and his daughter Amy (Addison Timkin). He's also bored. Enter Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston), a financial advisor Charles meets on a commuter train. Lucinda isn't entirely happy with her marriage, either. What begins as the chit chat of strangers deepens to the point where each seems to feel the other understands, and then goes still further until the two are at the brink of an affair.

Charles and Lucinda are nervous, but a few drinks seems to wipe away many of their second thoughts and the two end up in a seedy hotel room. But just as they appear ready to throw all caution to the wind, career criminal Philippe Laroche (Vincent Cassel) breaks into their room and takes their money at gunpoint. His assault leaves the pair shattered and confused as to what they ought to do next. The one thing the two do agree on is that they can't report the incident to the police without their spouses learning of their near-infidelity.

Thinking that the horrifying matter is at least closed, Charles is soon appalled to discover that he's being blackmailed by his attacker. Without the cash he's demanding, Laroche threatens to tell Charles' wife everything. In desperation, Charles talks to a co-worker, Winston Boyko (RZA). Winston happens to be not only a friend but an ex-con, and Charles is hoping he can shed some light on Laroche's mindset. Since he can't call the police, Charles if left with little choice but to take matters into his own hands.

Jennifer Aniston is, as we all know, a formidable comedic talent. In The Good Girl, however, she proved her dramatic chops, which, in turn, stood her in good stead in Derailed. Clive Owen is also very good. But I personally thought that Vincent Cassel outperformed them both. His malevolent turn as Laroche is creepy at best, and downright terrifying when he wants it to be.

The direction and editing are fine, and the script is well crafted. But the real standout in Derailed is the plot. We knew on the way in the door that, as a psychological thriller, there'd be a twist. What we didn't know is just how many twists and turns we'd see taken before the story ran its full course! That unpredictability over the long term added greatly to the movie's overall effect. I enjoyed the movie not just because it was reasonably well crafted but because it was consistently surprising. And if there's a better definition of "thriller," I'm not sure what it might be.

POLITICAL NOTES: The cops who are peripherally involved in Derailed have a little too much in common with too many real-life law enforcement agencies these days. For example, a search is conducted of a hotel facility without a warrant; cooperation is sullen, but without a fight. Unfortunately, this is yet another fictional instance where we know the cops need to look, and we know they'll find something that will prove helpful, and so we tend to want them to just go ahead and search. The more we're indoctrinated into the "necessity" of such searches by TV and movies, the more we'll be inclined to cut police some Fourth Amendment slack in the real world. In the end, that will prove bad news for the guilty, but even worse news for the innocent.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: Derailed is rated R for "strong disturbing violence, language, and some sexuality." The rating is unquestionably warranted. I personally wouldn't recommend this movie for children under the age of 16. In fact, there are going to be some adults who will find themselves cringing during some scenes if they're the sensitive type. For everyone else who appreciates a good thriller, however, you could do a whole lot worse than Derailed!

Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.

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