'Spiderwick' weaves web of fun, lessons


By Phil Boatwright
The Movie Reporter


The Spiderwick Chronicles
Stars: Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, Sarah Bolger, with Joan Plowright and David Strathairn and the voices of Seth Rogen and Martin Short

Director: Mark Waters
Rating: PG for some language and scarry creature action and violence, peril and some thematic elements

From the beloved best-selling series of books comes The Spiderwick Chronicles, a fantasy adventure for the child in all of us. Peculiar things start to happen the moment the Grace family (Jared, his twin brother Simon, sister Mallory and their mom) leave New York and move into the secluded old house owned by their great, great uncle Arthur Spiderwick. Unable to explain the strange disappearances and accidents that seem to be happening on a daily basis, the family blames Jared. When he, Simon and Mallory investigate what’s really going on, they uncover the fantastic truth of the Spiderwick estate and the creatures that inhabit it. 


Imagination stirring and action packed, Spiderwick Chronicles is for adolescents the stuff that dreams are made of. And, if you look beyond the maniacal hobgoblins and ogres, the magical griffins and trolls and the dainty fairies and sprites, you’ll find a life lesson or two. The kids battle the villainous creatures of the forest using their wits and anything else they can muster to cause the green-blooded ghouls to go splat. The girl even gets to do battle with a sword. It’s energetic, fast-paced and imaginative. But beware; it is a bit frightening for very little ones. 


Step Up 2 The Streets
Stars: Briana Evigan, Robert Hoffman, Will Kemp
Director: Jon Chu
Rating: PG-13

Follow-up to Step Up, has rebellious street dancer Andie (Briana Evigan) landing at the elite Maryland School of the Arts. There she finds herself fighting to fit in while also trying to hold onto her old life. When she joins forces with the school’s hottest dancer, Chase (Robert Hoffman), to form a crew of classmate outcasts to compete in Baltimore’s underground dance battle The Streets, she ultimately finds a way to live her dream while building a bridge between her two separate worlds.


If you’re 14, the premise of this film won’t seem overly familiar, you’ll relate to the baggy pants and backwards ball caps, the slang “Yo,” “Dude” and the term of endearment “This is my boy…” will no doubt be a part of your cultural communiqué, and you won’t be aware that screen acting consists of more than furrowing your forehead to convey frustration and removing your T-shirt to portray animal magnetism. 


The film contains positive messages, including showing respect for yourself and others, the importance of team work and the need for family. It avoids sexual promiscuity and most harsh language, and though the characters have tons of attitude, teen viewers may relate to the angst and the style of the leads. 


Overall, the dancing is unspectacular, as is the poorly photographed choreography. The acting is poor, the humor fledgling and the dialogue unmemorable.


Hayden Christensen, Rachel Bilson, Samuel L Jackson, Jamie Bell, Diane Lane
Director: Doug Liman
Rating: PG-13 for language and adult situations


Jumper is a science fiction-action-thriller that combines cutting-edge special effects with globetrotting action. In the film, a genetic anomaly allows a young man, David Rice (Hayden Christensen), to teleport himself anywhere. He discovers this gift has existed for centuries and finds himself in a war between “jumpers” and those who have sworn to kill them.


The intriguing premise goes the way of spirited action adventure rather than dramatic metaphor. For those looking for intense adventure rather than insightful drama, Jumper should satisfy. 


As with most films of this era, a liberal dose of abusive language and premarital sex are incorporated as the norm. The lead robs a bank in order to secure his lifestyle; he struggles with the morality of the crime, but only briefly; this could have been an important element, but it is avoided, the hero’s wrongs ignored. So, does a glut of anti-biblical directives mingled with Hollywood make-believe influence the culture? Though our society is shaped by the media’s teachings and lifestyles, we as Christians are supposed to be guided by a higher power. Hollywood isn’t going to change, but if our youth are instructed in God’s word, they will be able to see past Hollywood’s hypnotic lure.


Fool’s Gold
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Donald Sutherland
Director: Andy Tennant
Rating: PG-13 for language and adult situations
Ben “Finn” Finnegan (Matthew McConaughey) is an affable, modern-day treasure hunter who is obsessed with finding the legendary 18th century Queen’s Dowry — 40 chests of priceless treasure that was lost at sea in 1715. In his quest, Finn has sunk everything he has, including his marriage to Tess (Kate Hudson).  Just as Tess has begun to rebuild her life, working aboard a mega-yacht owned by billionaire Nigel Honeycutt (Donald Sutherland), Finn discovers a vital clue to the treasure’s whereabouts.

Much to Tess’s consternation, Finn maneuvers himself aboard Nigel’s yacht and, using his roguish charm, convinces the tycoon and his daughter, Gemma (Alexis Dziena), to join him in the pursuit of the Spanish treasure. But they are not the only ones after the prize.

Good title, the scenery is beautiful and the leads are attractive. Shall we just leave it at that or do you want me to comment on the energy-less direction, the inaneness of the plot or the adolescent TV sitcom-like dialogue? 

With just a bit of screenwriting effort, the story and the characters could have contained more depth, more layers, more humor. But evidently studio moguls don’t require such screenwriting intricacies.