A Wrinkle in Time

Posted on March 8, 2018 at 5:38 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements and some peril
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and some violence, some scary images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 9, 2018

Copyright Disney 2018
Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is one of my all-time favorite books. I loved it when I was 11, read it aloud to our children, and went on to read all of the sequels and most of her other books as well. So it was with a lot of anticipation, excitement, and not a little trepidation that I looked forward to the film.

On the one had, the book had been dismissed over the decades as unfilmable due to its planet-hopping storyline, fantastical characters, and genre-straddling themes. On the other hand, I have the utmost respect for director Ava DuVernay (“Selma,” “13th”) and co-screenwriter Jennifer Lee (“Frozen,” “Zootopia”) and the all-star cast looked promising. I held my breath, crossed my fingers, and leaned forward and caught my breath as the iconic Disneyland castle in the opening logo suddenly…wrinkled.

Most of what I love about the book was beautifully realized, and the movie is sure to be a middle school sleepover perennial and a family favorite for generations. It’s made straight from the heart of people who remember what it feels like to be 12 — and the way we all become 12 again in moments of uncertainty. If there’s a bit more Oprah-esque “you go girl” and “living your best life” than in the book, well, the movie features not just Oprah (who was also in “Selma”) but a house-sized Oprah with lips and eyebrows that look like someone went overboard on the Bedazzler.

Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is the daughter of two scientists (Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Chris Pine). She was once a gifted and attentive student, but since the disappearance of her father, four years before the movie begins, she has been sullen and uncooperative. Mean girls pick on her, and when she responds by throwing a ball at the ringleader, she gets in trouble. Nothing makes sense to her, and she wonders if her father left because she was not good enough.

Meg has an exceptionally precocious six-year-old brother named Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). In the book, he is her bio-brother and they have two older brothers as well but in the movie it is just the two of them and Charles Wallace was adopted just before their father disappeared. Charles Wallace is one of the major challenges of adapting the book, because on the page he is endearingly hyper-aware and ultra hyper-articulate, but on screen it is difficult to make him believable and keep him from being annoying. It is one of the film’s most salient weaknesses that this critical character does not work.

Meg gradually learns that Charles Wallace has been befriended by three extraordinary and very strange women known as Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs Which (Oprah Winfrey). (NOTE: L’Engle insisted that there be no period after “Mrs” in the British style.) As disturbing as it is reassuring, they seem to know what the Murrys were working on, a form of “wrinkling” time and space to permit instantaneous travel to other planets that they call a tesseract. (For some reason, the explanation appears in the trailer, but not the film.)

Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller), is a well-liked, confident boy who seems to have nothing in common with the Murray children. But one day he impulsively visits them, and stays for dinner, appreciating the warmth and acceptance in their home. And then the three ladies explain why they are there. They have heard a call for help. It is the children’s father. And they are there to help Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace rescue him from “the darkness.”

And so, the rest of the film is candy-colored CGI, as the group visits first a paradisiacal planet for no particular reason other than a romp through a delightful garden of gossipy flying flowers who communicate via color and a soaring tour on a creature like a flying green manta ray with a rainbow Reese Witherspoon face. They visit a psychic called the Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis) for more information about where Dr. Murry has gone, and finally they get to the planet where he is being held captive by an all-controlling force. The film brings to life one of the book’s most vivid scenes, with a pristine suburban street where every house has a child standing in the driveway bouncing a ball in perfect rhythm and all of the Stepford-style moms come out at the same moment to call them in to dinner. The book was written a a time of post-WWII concerns about conformity and “houses made of ticky-tacky that all look just the same.” But the image is just as compelling today. The 1950’s may have led to an explosion of “do your own thing” individuality in the mid-to late 1960’s and self-actualization in the me-decade 70’s, but the importance of intellectual courage, thinking for yourself, and challenging assumptions is even more important in the era of fake news and “both sides.”

The book’s most memorable message comes when Meg is told that what will help her to rescue her father is her faults. Though how those faults help is not as explicitly explained in the film, that idea retains its power here. That makes up for some faltering in the climax, some under-imagined images, and some distractions that seem to stem from a lack of trust in the audience. We don’t really need that extra back story on the mean girl or Calvin (an odd change from his home life in the books, which will be a problem if they decide to film the sequels) to understand what their insecurities are or the time spent cheering Meg on (and apologizing to her and deferring to her) without making it clear what her strengths are and how they are connected to her faults. It would be better to focus on the book’s rare combination of both faith and science and how important both are. In the book, the children visit the planets to learn about the darkness and to see that it can be overcome (Mrs Whatsit is the result of one such triumph). The movie leans more toward an Oprah-eque message of empowerment, so the focus is more on individual self-realization (and being appreciated by others, including Calvin, which seems to be his primary purpose in the story).

The three Mrses are not quite as fun as the movie thinks, though Mrs Who’s Bumblebee-like “post-language” use of quotations (always noting the nationality of the author, from Rumi and Shakespeare to Lin-Manuel Miranda and OutKast) is charming. But Reid is a heroine to root for, and the Murry family is one we are, like Calvin, glad to have a chance to visit.

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi/fantasy peril with some violence and scary images, issues of an absent father, a school bully, and an abusive parent.

Family discussion: What are your most valuable faults? Why was Meg so important to IT?

If you like this, try: “The Neverending Story,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and the Narnia series

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Family Issues Fantasy movie review Movies Movies Science-Fiction Stories About Kids

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Posted on May 9, 2017 at 3:13 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, hallucinogen
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and intense fantasy and human peril and violence, swords, arrows, explosions, torture, fights, characters injured and killed, monsters, some graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 12, 2017
Date Released to DVD: August 7, 2017

Copyright 2017 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2017 Warner Brothers
Director Guy Ritchie pretty much makes the same movie every time. Even when it is set in Victorian England (“Sherlock Holmes” with Robert Downey, Jr.) or Cold War-era Europe (“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.“), or based on a classic book (“Sherlock” again) or a remake of an Italian comedy (“Swept Away”), it’s really pretty much about corkscrew story-telling with tricked-up juxtapositions of quick cuts and slow motion, and flashbacks and side-cuts for emphasis and illumination. The characters are a motley crew of cheeky lower-class rapscallions taking on the rich and powerful. They range from wildly proficient to borderline incompetent, often damaged but usually pretty good with a quip, assuming you can understand the argot, and with their own kind of honor.

So, why not take that formula and set it in the Middle Ages, featuring some of the most enduring characters in the Western canon? What’s that, you say? Because it’s already been done by Monty Python? But they were using coconuts for horse clop clop, and we have all this lovely lolly for computers and explosions and fight scenes, that’s why! This begins with a riderless horse running from an exploding building and goes on to include a sort of three-headed mermaid octopus, a gigantic snake, and a therapeutic iowaska-style trip. Plus, of course, that sword gets pulled from the stone.

And that is how we come to have the ponderously, if generically, titled “King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword,” pretty far from the essential elements of the Arthurian legend, literally two pie slices short of a round table and no Guinevere or Galahad in sight, but per the title we do get a lot of Excalibur the sword and a bit of Arthur’s dad Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), plus, as noted, a lot of magic and fights and explosions, plus a very cool monster, all of which are a good bit of fun.

As the story begins, the longtime pact between men and mage (magicians) is coming to an end. Uther is King, but his brother Vortigern (Jude Law, lounging menacingly in what looks like disappated British rock star garb) is so jealous that he will destroy what he loves most to get the throne, unleashing the power of the mage, which in this case includes rampaging giant elephants.

Soon Uther and the queen are dead and young Arthur is sent off in a boat, ending up in a brothel, where we see him grow up in a kaleidoscopic flurry of images that show us that he is (1) very buff (ultimately ending up as Charlie Hunnam), (2) very canny at collecting coins, (3) learning how to fight, and (4) very loyal to his friends, including the prostitutes who raised him.

Arthur’s uncle has become king. He rules with fear, which he considers not a necessary evil but the primary benefit of his position. He says it is intoxicating, that it “takes you completely.” In video game fashion, he can only assume total power if he is able to prevent Uther’s true heir from touching Excalibur to some sort of altar and completes the building of a tower. To find and kill Uther’s son, he requires every man of the right age to try to pull the sword. Thus, Arthur is revealed, though he says and possibly means that he never wanted power.

With the help of his rag tag friends from his days on the street and a mysterious mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), Arthur takes on the king and his army of Blackleg soldiers. But this is exactly the problem; the one thing the audience must have in a fight is a good sense of the stakes and challenges. With magic on Arthur’s side, we never know what is really possible. And psychobabble about his not being able to access the full power of the sword until he is willing to confront his painful memories just sounds silly, in part because Hunnam, a true Ritchie not-so-anti-hero, never seems vulnerable enough to need any additional soul-searching.

It is kinetic, fast, and fun to watch, though the rumored prospect of five more in a projected series has me wishing for a mage to make it stop.

Parents should know that this film includes extended fantasy/action peril and violence, with explosions, swords, fights, arrows, torture, and monsters. Characters are injured and killed, including beloved parents, children, and spouses. There are scenes in a brothel, sexual references, and characters use some strong language, alcohol, and drugs.

Family discussion: Why does Arthur say he never had any desire for power? How do we know when is it time to face painful memories?

If you like this, try: “Excalibur” and “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels”

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Just Jesse the Jack is Back! An Exclusive Trailer — “A Doggone Hollywood”

Posted on May 4, 2017 at 11:45 am

A Doggone Hollywood,” starring Just Jesse the Jack, will be available on VOD and DVD June 6, 2017.

He’s got the number one show on television (starring Cynthia Rothrock, An Eye For An Eye; and Paul Logan (Sniper: Special Ops) and millions of adoring fans think he doesn’t have a care in the world. But the truth is, poor Murphy (YouTube’s “Just Jesse the Jack”) doesn’t have a friend in the world! True, he gets top billing on his weekly TV series ‘Doggie 911,’ but the old Hollywood adage – ‘It’s lonely at the top’ – certainly applies to this canine super-star. Then one day, fate steps in and some young fans (Sydney Thackray, Walker Mintz) accidentally let the little guy loose. The grateful pooch follows the kids home and they agree to hide him.

Meanwhile, the studio boss (Shadoe Stevens, The Late Late Show) has offered a big reward for his safe return, so the local sheriff (Michael Paré, (The Infiltrator) and some unscrupulous ‘agency men’ (Jaret Sacrey, Freddy James) are determined to track the dog down at all costs. So now, with dark forces closing in from all sides, can the kids save the dog, and can a lesson be taught the studio to be good to the hand that feeds them? Wagging his little tail with confidence, Murphy firmly believes he’s up to the task.

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Descendants 2 is On the Way!

Posted on April 25, 2017 at 10:01 am

Disney’s “The Descendants” was an immediate smash, with one of the biggest audiences ever for a cable movie on its premiere and over 100 million viewers since then. “High School Musical’s” Kenny Ortega was behind the smart and engaging story of the children of some of Disney’s most popular characters, including good guys like Belle and the Beast and villains like Cruella De Vil, Jafar, and Maleficent. The sequel will be available on the Disney-owned networks plus on-demand on the Disney Channel, ABC, Freeform and Lifetime apps, beginning Friday, July 21, at 10:00 p.m. EDT/7:00 p.m. PDT; and on Disney Channel, ABC, Freeform and Lifetime VOD beginning Saturday, July 22).

In “Descendants 2,” the story deepens as the Villain Kids (AKA “VKs”) – Mal, Evie, Carlos and Jay – continue to try to

Copyright Disney 2017
Copyright Disney 2017

find their place in idyllic Auradon. When the pressure to be royal becomes too much for Mal, she returns to her rotten roots on the Isle of the Lost where her archenemy Uma, the daughter of Ursula, has taken her spot as self-proclaimed queen of the run-down town. Uma, still resentful over not being selected by Ben to go to Auradon Prep with the other Villain Kids, stirs her pirate gang including Captain Hook’s son Harry and Gaston’s son Gil, to break the barrier between the Isle of the Lost and Auradon, and unleash all the villains imprisoned on the Isle, once and for all.

Stars include Dove Cameron (“Liv and Maddie”), Cameron Boyce (“Jessie”), Sofia Carson (Hollywood Records recording artist, “Adventures in Babysitting”), Booboo Stewart (“X-Men Days of Future Past”), and Mitchell Hope reprising the roles of Mal, Carlos, Jay, Evie and King Ben, respectively. Starring as the new villains are China Anne McClain (“A.N.T. Farm”) as Uma, the daughter of Ursula; Thomas Doherty (“The Lodge”) as Harry, son of Captain Hook; Dylan Playfair (“Some Assembly Required”) as Gil, son of Gaston; and Anna Cathcart (“Odd Squad”) as Dizzy, daughter of Cinderella’s evil stepsister Drizella and granddaughter of wicked stepmother Lady Tremaine. Also reprising their roles in this sequel are Brenna D’Amico as Jane, the daughter of Fairy Godmother; Melanie Paxson as Fairy Godmother; Dianne Doan as Lonnie, the daughter of Mulan; Jedidiah Goodacre as Chad, the son of Cinderella; Zachary Gibson as Doug, the son of Dopey; Keegan Connor Tracy as Belle and Dan Payne as Beast.

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Fantasy Series/Sequel Television


Posted on April 13, 2017 at 5:22 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, alcohol abuse, drunkenness, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Sci-fi/action monster violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 7, 2017
Date Released to DVD: July 31, 2017

Copyright 2017 Neon
Copyright 2017 Neon
I’m less interested in whether a movie scares me than whether it surprises me, and “Colossal” is a little bit scary but deliciously surprising. You think you’re going to see a movie with the gorgeous Anne Hathaway and Dan Stevens in a lovely New York City apartment as characters who break up in the beginning of the story, and you think you know where it is going. You don’t.

Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo wants you to come to the movie with expectations. You think that when you see doe-eyed Anne Hathaway with her cute rom-com bangs and English-accented boyfriend and drinking problem serious enough for memory loss but not serious enough to give her unsightly bloat that you know not just where this is going but how many minutes it will take to get there. You see Gloria (Hathaway), having lost everything, move back into her empty childhood home in a small town and immediately run into Otto (Jason Sudeikis), a regular American guy who with whom she clearly has history and chemistry and who seems to exemplify wholesome hometown values. He offers her a job at the bar he inherited from his dad and you think you know where it’s going. You think that the scenes of an enormous dinosaur-ish sort of monster attacking Seoul mean some lead character will fight it and someone will have to be rescued. Not really. Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo (“Timecrimes”) is here to mess with your expectations the way the monster messes with South Korea, and the job you happily accept is to sit back and enjoy it.

What that means, though, is that there isn’t much more I can tell you about what actually happens in this movie, except to say that the connections between these characters and the monster evolve in very unexpected ways and there are surprises around every corner.

You want to understand how all what happens/happened happened? This is not your movie. You want to consider it a metaphor that explores American insularity and arrogance? Be my guest, as long as you don’t think about it too hard, because it will not withstand an extended deep analysis. You want to see monsters? Well, this isn’t “Pacific Rim,” but there are some pretty cool monsters and they do a lot of damage. But I cannot promise you anything except something you haven’t seen before, and that’s good enough for me.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and crude language, monster violence with characters injured and killed, drinking and drunkenness, and sexual references and a non-explicit situation.

Family discussion: What are the best and worst things about controlling a monster? What connected these characters to the monsters? What monster would you like to control?

If you like this, try: “No Such Thing”

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