“Kong: Skull Island” -2017

So this is probably a bit of an ‘adult’ movie to include here, but I figured I’d do a write up on it anyway.  Kong has been out in theaters for a couple weeks now, and the boys and I hit it up last weekend. Who doesn’t love a good action flick with a giant gorilla, right?

My 12 year old desperately wanted to see this, and when we were about half hour into the movie I began to question the wisdom in bringing him! I’ll just say that the PG-13 rating is most definitely deserved. There’s a spectacular multi-helicopter crash scene when the crew first arrives on the island, lots of bodies flying, getting squished, helicopters flying around out of control all willy-nilly. Lots of people get eaten/killed by various assorted creatures, including one who gets impaled through the mouth by a giant spider, and the ‘skull-chasers’, one of which barfs up a human skull owl-pellet style. So for little kids I’m gonna have to say this isn’t for them. My 12 year old was definitely on the cusp of being too young to be there.

Kong starts with a WWII crash scene. An American and a Japanese pilot become stranded together on a remote island, where they meet Kong. Cut away to the Vietnam era and John Goodman’s character who wants to investigate an uncharted island and gets a military escort to take him there. A lady photographer, some scientists and a British ‘tracker’ round out the crew. They get far more than they bargained for on an island where what’s on the surface isn’t necessarily what’s out to kill you. The group has two days to make it to the other side of the island for their pick-up rendezvous, and along the way they meet up with John C. Reilly’s character (the now 17 year-older WWII pilot).

Is the story/situation “believable”? Hell no. But that’s okay, it’s Kong. It’s a movie about a giant gorilla, just go with it. There’s awesome helicopter scenes, lots of explosions, Kong picking up the helpless girl…. and arguably the best part of the entire movie: the soundtrack. My parents were hippies and I have a big love of Vietnam era music. This movie’s soundtrack is kick ass.  Here’s a link to a website with the songs: Kong Soundtrack 

If you liked 2014’s “Godzilla” (as I did), you’ll probably like “Kong”. If you thought “Godzilla” was silly and dumb, you’ll probably think the same here. Bonus: at the end of “Kong” there’s an easter egg preview of an upcoming “Kong vs. Godzilla”. We’ll see how that plays out!

Read More

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015)

Yes, I know this movie came out in December, and has been thoroughly reviewed by every Tom, Dick and Harry not to mention every other movie reviewer out there. So why write this now? I dunno.. I figured it had aged enough I guess. Also the blu-ray/DVD release date is quickly approaching (5 APR 2016) and I am greatly looking forward to seeing it again. I only made it out to the theater once for this, and I really think I missed a few things with the complete and total awesomeness that was on the screen that day.

First, I’ll say that SW:TFA has a PG-13 rating. Therefore, please be advised that it’s not “for kids”. My personal recommendation is 8 and up. Yes, someone important gets stabbed in the midsection. I was very angry about this (pretty sure I still am), and I’m 40. Doubtful that little kids will have the same grasp of the history of the characters as I do, but this and other action scenes still could be kinda scary to little kids. (Don’t throw tomatoes for the almost-spoiler there, it’s March now and I’m pretty sure everyone who really cares about ‘no spoilers for Star Wars’ has already seen it.) Btw, kudos to the internet for keeping the spoilers to themselves with this movie. Every review I read when it first released to theaters did not give out the major plot points. I’m sure spoilers were out there, but they had to be hunted for and searched out, the mainstream media and most reviewers did not spoil it. I’m proud of you, internet!

For the kids that are going to see it, do them a favor and make them sit and really watch ALL the previous SW movies. I don’t think it would be as good without having seen the originals and the prequels. (I don’t care if you didn’t like the prequels, make them watch them anyway. Nobody likes to eat their vegetables, but they’re important so suck it up, buttercup.) This story is one of the most transcendent and epic of our time. Watch it all from the beginning.

I’m of the age where I got to watch the originals as a kid, the prequels as a young adult, and now I get to share the sequels with my own kids as a middle-ager. We’re the oldest that have really grown up with this series, playing with the same characters as toys as a kid that we get to buy for our own kids. I love it. I damn near cried when the opening bars played, and I don’t cry at movies.

Episode VII felt like a Star Wars movie. So much more so than any of the prequels. I won’t bash the prequels (like many like to) but they just didn’t have the same “feel”. Abrams captured it. I hate what Abrams did to Star Trek, but I think he nailed Star Wars. Very well. I think he did a good job of incorporating the old characters, while introducing the new with just enough nostalgia to be awesome but not so much that it was overdone and sappy. Like I said, we do lose a much beloved character… but I think I’ve come to terms with it, and I suppose it’s better to go out on the writer/directors’ terms than have the actor die or something and have to come up with some excuse as to why he died off-scene or (god forbid) have someone else try to play him.

The introduction of the new “bad guy”, Kylo Ren (son of Han and Leia), felt kind of weird with the mask he had. Vader had the mask and suit because of Anakin’s injuries sustained on Mustafar. He needs that suit and mask as a “portable iron lung”, of sorts, to be able to breathe. Kylo doesn’t need such a getup. So why wear it? To be a bad guy? To impress the girls? It seems a bit weird. And kinda pathetic. I think Disney meant for Kylo to become a ‘favorite’ character, but it seems he’s pretty much been panned as an emo wussy boy. I wasn’t smitten with his character. Tons of Kylo Ren merchandise out there in the stores though… do you have any idea how hard it was to buy a Rey doll?! (Finally found one at Fry’s Electronics, thanks Fry’s!) Maybe the later movies will make me care more.

We’re all set up for the next movie to see what happens with the re-introduction of Skywalker and the mystery of who is Rey, who are her parents and why was she abandoned on Jakku. In that way it felt a bit prequel-ish, in that it left obvious open story lines… but we all know there’s going to be more SW movies.

So, we meet some new characters, we see some old friends, have some adventures, a bit of nostalgia and a lot of action. What’s not to love. Now I’m all excited about getting the blu-ray in just over a month! Can’t wait to see it again!

Read More

“The Good Dinosaur” (2015)

Today I review Disney/Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur”.  Usually I am a huge, huge, huge fan of Pixar’s work. Love pretty much everything that comes out of their studios. However, they completely missed the mark with this one. I was really excited about this movie, my younger son is a huuuuuuge dinosaur buff and I thought, “Hey! Dinosaurs and Pixar! Saweeeeet!”  Only to have my hope dashed and smashed. Let’s break it down:

To start with, I have yet to figure out why the movie is named “The Good Dinosaur”. The movie’s main character, Arlo, is the runt of a “litter” of 3 siblings. He’s afraid of everything, and when given a task of catching and killing a “critter” that’s eating the family’s food supply he gets scared of the “critter” (which turns out to be some sort of deranged toddler human creature that acts like a dog). I hated that deranged toddler human creature from the moment he makes his first appearance in the movie, stealing corn from the family’s corncrib. (I can’t stand thieves. Even when they’re supposed to be “adorable” or “charming”, which this creature completely fails to be.) But I digress… so Arlo is supposed to ‘make his mark’ on the world and accomplish something great. His dad takes him outside the confines of the family farm to show him the big bad world, and in a spectacular display of poor parenting takes him out in a storm and the dad ends up dead. So Arlo goes home, sees the human-dog-creature again and chases him, falling into a river and getting swept away himself. The adventure is in his return home… but I still don’t get why he’s a “good dinosaur”? What’s “good” about him? The title of the movie just doesn’t really fit the plot.

I read a LOT of complaints online about scare factor in this movie. Lots of kids under 8-ish crying, with the dad dying (in yawningly familiar Disney style), an insect animal having its head ripped off, the family (upon Arlo’s return) being in very poor condition, and the separation of the new “friends” at the end. I can see where this would be disturbing for small kids. Keep in mind this movie is NOT G-rated, it has a PG rating. I would say this is earned, and to proceed with caution with small kids despite the “Disney/Pixar” name.

The visuals of this movie are amazing. For the sets/backgrounds. For the animals/dinosaurs themselves the animation is very “balloon-ish” and cartoony. It’s a bit disjointed like that.

The plot is rather bland, all in all. The dino is the runt of the littler, a parent dies, runt has to prove himself and overcome his fears.. *yawn*. It just didn’t inspire me. I never really cared about any of the characters. The little human-dog creature annoyed the ever loving crap out of me, and I hated him through the entire movie. I never, at any point, felt ANY positive vibes towards this creature. I was incredibly annoyed at seeing a small human scampering on all fours with his tongue hanging out. It just wasn’t cute, funny, endearing or charming. Maybe I’m cold and heartless. I dunno.

So while we do watch it now and then, because dinosaurs. I can’t say that there’s anything of real redeeming value here. If you want a really great Pixar production, watch “Inside Out”.


Edit to add: I dislike this movie more and more every time I see it. I think we’ve watched it 4 or 5 times now, and the toddler human-dog creature gets more and more annoying every time. Not like, Calliou-level of annoying, yet, but it’s getting there. It just doesn’t get better with repeated viewings.

Read More

“Hotel Transylvania 2” (2015)

Hotel_Transylvania_2_posterOh Mah Gawd!! We all loved the first Hotel Transylvania, and I was a bit leery of a sequel as sequels rarely keep the momentum and magic of an original. Hotel Transylvania 2 was an absolute delight.

All the characters return for the follow-on to 2012’s “Hotel Transylvania”. The movie opens with Mavis and Jonathan’s wedding, continues with short clips of their lives for the next five years, including the baby announcement, toddlerhood and depositing us on the cusp of baby Dennis’ 5th birthday.

Dracula is concerned young Dennis doesn’t have his vampire fangs, he desperately wants his grandson to be a vampire and not just a regular human. He is unsuccessful in “inspiring” Dennis to pop his teeth by taking him on an “adventure” while babysitting as Mavis and Jonathan visit California, but a visit from Dracula’s own father at Dennis’ birthday party brings about a wonderful “family moment”.

I love the underlying messages of acceptance and inclusion. Ultimately, we have no control over what our kids become. We just have to be their parents and love them no matter what.

Considering it is a movie about monsters, vampires and the like, yes there are some moments of mild scare factor. Nothing of any great significance though, and all the situations turn out okay.

A darling early Halloween treat, in 3D or standard.

Read More

“Monsterous Holiday” (2013)

I was sent a pre-release-date copy of “Monsterous Holiday” to watch and review here. To get the best possible review, I sat down with the boys (8 and 10 now) and we all watched it together. My first impression was that the animation was a bit dated-looking (early 2000s) but considering I can barely draw stick people I really have no right to throw stones about how other people draw. So we’ll just let that go and say that the animators draw much, much better than I ever could. I did wonder though, why on earth is the mom character’s butt so damn big? The mom character has a huge booty and the dad character has shoulder girth the size of Texas. They’re the only characters with SUCH largely out-of proportion body parts it was kinda weird. Not all moms have big butts!

Okay, moving on from the size of characters’ body parts… The storyline is pretty simple and comfortingly predictable. Boy (Andy) isn’t interested in sports, football coach dad can’t see past the whistle on his face to think that perhaps there’s more to life than sports, boy wants to do science fair, dad puts him on the football team… Personally I have a HUGE issue with the domination of sports in our culture, and would LOVE to see more emphasis and glory put in schools’ science labs as there is on the football field. There is so much more to life than sports. I liked that “MH”, in it’s own somewhat cheesy way, carried the message of “there’s more in life than sports”. Yes, they did play “the big game”, and Andy’s new friend who didn’t get out much gets to live his dream of actually playing football, but it wasn’t the biggest thing in town that day.

I asked the boys if they liked it, they both said “yes”. I asked what their favorite part of the movie was, and A (age 10) said, “When Andy blows everything up”. Figures, who doesn’t like a good explosion now & then, right? B said he didn’t have a favorite part, he just liked it all. Could be he really loved the whole movie, could be he liked the fact he got to stay up 15 minutes past his bedtime to finish watching it. Either way, it was enjoyed all around. At roughly 45 minutes long, it’s not so much a ‘movie’ as it is kind of a long-ish TV show. I appreciated the brevity, to drag the story out longer would have been a detraction. It’s paced such that it moves along well, doesn’t drag, and hold kids’ attention. No scary moments to note here, this is safe for any age or anxiety level.

“MH” is a direct-to-DVD release, releasing on 15 Oct of this year (2013). Amazon has it available for pre-order now, Netflix wasn’t showing it in their selection at all yet. If you’re looking for something quick, Halloween-y and good for any age kid, go for it.

Read More

“John Carter” (2012)

Disney’s telling of the Edgar Rice Burrows “Princess of Mars” story hit theaters last week to mediocre attendance and reviews. The week before it’s release I  received an email from Disney to my yahoo account proudly proclaiming “COME SEE THE YEAR’S FIRST BLOCKBUSTER!!!”… it would seem public opinion of their “blockbuster” has been rather underwhelming.  Perhaps Disney fancied “John Carter” to be the next “Avatar”? (Personally, I didn’t then, and still don’t see what all the hoopla was about Avatar, it was pretty “meh” to me, but that’s for another review)

The history of Burroughs’ writings is extensive, and if you’re a sci-fi fan I highly recommend taking a long look at his works. Most are available free for any eReader thanks to the wonderful Project Gutenberg. Like most book-to-movie experiences, no the movie is not 100% true to the book.  They never are, and to expect it to be so is a massive flaw on the part of any movie-goer.  Accept that there WILL be differences, and deal with it, or you’ll be unhappy with the theatrical result, no matter what.  The movie adaptation has been “in the works” for decades, and passed around & sold from company to company for some time before seeing the final result that we see from Disney.

“John Carter” starts out with Carter’s nephew (Edgar Rice Burroughs) rushing off to tend to his uncle’s estate, after his death. The nephew is given Carter’s personal journal, and as he reads the journal we are transported to when Carter was a Confederate Civil War veteran gold speculating in Arizona. He stumbles upon a cave in the desert where he finds a gateway and accidentally transports himself to Mars. We follow his adventures as he is taken prisoner by native creatures and becomes involved in the planetary conflicts of Barsoom (the Martian name for Mars).

Disney has the financial ability to afford the very best in animation and CGI, and it shows. It’s made to be visually stunning, and is, but it seems we’ve become accustomed to such things, and it just isn’t as “Glorious” to us now, as “Star Wars” was with it’s groundbreaking effects. The story was well told and well acted, with enough humor to be funny and enough seriousness to be strong.

I didn’t take my kids to see this, not because of the story, or worries of violence or anything inappropriate, but because of the runtime of the movie.  At 2 hours 12 minutes I didn’t think my kids would have the patience to sit through it.  To watch at home on blu-ray, I’m sure they’ll be fine with it, but it would have been asking too much of them to sit still & quiet for that duration for a movie that I don’t think would have fully captured & engaged them.  A lot of negative reviews include the bloated runtime as part of it’s problem, but I’m not sure that the full story could have been told had there been a half hour chopped out. There is a fair amount of low-grade violence in John Carter, sword fights, fistfights, gunshots.. but nothing gruesome or overtly scary. I would not say that this movie is inappropriate for kids at all, just make sure that a young audience you may share it with is into sci-fi action flicks, or they’ll be bored. Any kid under 7-ish probably won’t be able to follow the storyline, but again there’s nothing in it that I would call necessarily inappropriate for any age.

I am only about 1/3 of the way through the first “Barsoom” series book (A Princess of Mars), and am looking forward to finishing it and to reading the rest of the series. It would be nice to see this movie bring about renewed interest in Burroughs’ writing, his work is very good. I liked the Disney version of this story, I wouldn’t call it a Blockbuster, as they so proudly declared in their email, but it’s not bad.  (ps. ignore the “click to look inside” arrow on the artwork in the upper left corner.. it was the best I could find.)

Read More

“The Lorax” (2012)

Yes, I’m a bit late with the review of Lorax, I know. My bad. “The Lorax” has been a very, very highly anticipated and marketed film for some time now, so of course I was excited to get to see it. I went in with great hopes, and had probably bought in too much to the hubbub surrounding it… Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” was published in 1971, and is an environmental warning tale of what happens to the environment and our natural resources when corporate greed runs amok.

It is visually very stunning, featuring the typical bright primary colors of Dr. Seuss’ books.  The vocal talents of Taylor Swift, Zac Effron, Betty White and Danny DeVito are perfect matches to their characters.  It was well-paced, not too fast, not too slow, and would entertain anyone of any age. I think toddlers, preschoolers and school-age kids will all be engaged throughout.

Personally, I felt there were WAY too many very over-done musical numbers… though admittedly I’m not a big “Musical” fan at all. It also seemed excessively loud in the theater, though that was probably more the specific theater’s issue than the movie itself.  We did the full-bore 3D IMAX viewing, which may feature overall louder volume than standard screens. I wasn’t impressed with the 3D or IMAX… and should have saved the money and just seen it in 2D, as my 7 year old wouldn’t keep his glasses on anyway.

I do like the overall message of “Lorax”, that environmental responsibility is important.  But what I wonder is, if the Once-ler had the last seed all along, why the hell didn’t he plant it himself sooner?!

Yeah, “Lorax” isn’t as good as the hype would lead one to believe, but it’s not bad… if you haven’t seen it already, you can probably wait to catch it on DVD. I don’t really have much to say about it, if you’ve read the book you already know the story.  It’s neither superbly amazing nor utterly sucky.

Read More

“The Secret World of Arrietty” (2012) (aka “The Borrowers”)

The story of “The Borrowers” is retold and released in the U.S. by Studio Ghibli & Disney as “The Secret World of Arrietty”.  It has several other names, depending on country of release, I believe the Japanese language version is already available on DVD, with English subtitles.  I’m always curious how accurate the translations are when they do that!  Alas, translation or not, it still a sweet movie that is typical of Ghibli and Miyazaki.

It is a typical Miyazaki film, with the big-eyed, fluffy-haired characters and casually-paced storyline.  The story of the ‘Borrowers’ has been told many times, little people who live in the walls & under the floors in houses, living off of borrowing things from the humans in the house.  The do not “steal”, only “borrow” what they need; things that are undetected and unmissed, like sugar cubes, kleenex, thread, pins, etc. If discovered by humans they must move as the human’s curiosity will not rest until the Borrowers are discovered and they live in fear of being eaten by pets or killed by humans.  It is a story of learning to trust, and learning to believe, as the Borrowers must trust the newest young human who comes to live in the house, and his believing in the Borrowers teaches his grandmother to believe in them too. I do love how the ending isn’t the quintessential “Happy Ending”, it’s not a *bad* ending, but not what we’re conditioned to expect from kids’ movies… and I loved it!

“Arrietty” is rated G, and it is fully deserving of the G rating. At one point the Borrower’s house ‘roof’ gets ripped off as the nosy housekeeper goes prying up the floor in the closet [that is the ‘roof’ of the Borrower’s house], but that’s about the scariest moment in the movie, and even that is mild and doesn’t rank very high on the ‘scare’ meter.  So no worries about anything scary.  It is not a action-packed, loud, fast-paced film, it’s a nice, strolling story, so relax & enjoy the calm pace.

I remember this story from when I was young, and enjoyed sharing it with my kids.

Read More

“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” (2012)

“Journey 2”, a sequel to 2008’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, was released just in time for my little guy’s 7th birthday. Being that he adores animals, dinosaurs and adventures it was a given that this is the movie we were going to see on his birthday.  I don’t think I really had much of a choice in the matter, but that’s okay.

Journey starts off with Josh Hutcherson revisiting his role as Sean Anderson, an irritated teenager who doesn’t let a little thing like breaking and entering or evading arrest stop him from getting the radio signal transcript broadcast by his grandfather.  His new step-dad (eye candy replacement for Brendan Frasier from the first movie, Dwayne Johnson) desperately wants to connect with the teen, and utilizes his convenient military experience as a code breaker to help Sean read the message and discover the lat/long coordinates of the fabled “Mysterious Island”.  A chartered helicopter takes the pair to the island, where they meet up with the grandfather and can only escape the island by means of an ancient sea-faring vessel left dormant for 140 years.

Fairly predictable, this movie is, however charming enough to maintain interest. Johnson’s character, Hank, and the grandfather, played by the almost-as-magnificant-as-Sean-Connery Michael Caine trade amusing alpha-male-ish bantering and jabs, predictably ending in mutual admiration and respect. The special effects are well-done, the actors, young & old, do a fine job. It’s not going to win any Oscars but it’s a delightful way to spend a couple hours this winter out of the cold.

There are some gratuitous 3D effects usage, like bouncing berries off of Hank’s dueling pec muscles. Juvenile, silly humor? Sure. But come on, this isn’t “King’s Speech”, it’s just fun entertainment. Go with it.

The helicopter crash scene is on the scary side, and could be VERY scary for a kid. They show a lot of close-ups of the characters’ faces, screaming and terror is well-shown in their expressions, and they show the helicopter ripping apart and pieces flying all around.  Being in aviation myself, I know a ‘real’ crash like that would be completely unsurvivable… but this isn’t real life, it’s science fiction. So they all wake up on the beach, without a scratch.

The are many animals and bugs, what we know as BIG animals are tiny (like a small cat-sized elephant) and what we know as small are BIG, like big bugs, insects and lizards. If a kid is afraid of bugs or lizards, it could be a little scary.  Both my kids did fine with the critters and the helo crash, but be advised (especially the crash scene) COULD possibly scare kids. As always, you know your kid, use your own judgement.

“Journey 2” is a good story, good effects, good acting… and we all liked it a lot. Don’t go expecting any work of cinematic wonder, lest ye be disappointed, but go expecting a fun entertaining tale.

Read More

“Big Miracle” (2012)

I was a bit on the fence about taking my kids (almost-7 and 8 ) to see this, as it’s not really a “kids” movie, and is significantly more story than action. It is, however, a true story and an engaging story and it has whales and a great big Russian boat so I thought what the heck I’ll give it a try.

I’m very glad I did. “Big Miracle” proved to be a well-told presentation of a true story from 1988 of 3 whales trapped in the ice near Barrow, AK, unable to get to the open ocean.  It’s kind of like “Apollo 13”, yeah, we all know how it ends, but it’s still an engaging movie to watch.  I was 13 when the event happened, and I don’t remember much about it. It’s a story about caring about what happens to others, and that even supposed enemies can work together sometimes and make good things happen.  Yes, the 2 adult whales do get freed, but it takes a massive combined effort to make it happen.

A spoiler (well, I don’t know how much of a spoiler, as being a true story the details are already known) is that the baby whale dies, and doesn’t make it to the ocean. This could be quite upsetting to some kids, mine dealt okay with that part of it, but it is pretty sad and the actors do a spectacular job of portraying the sadness felt when that happened.  At the end when the massive Russian/Soviet ice breaker rams the ice shelf, it’s an impressive sight. My 8 year old was gasping at the magnitude and power that was very well conveyed in the film.

I absolutely loved the use of real news footage. Hours must have been spent pouring over archived newsreels to find the TV coverage that was used! Impressive attention to detail there. At the end, real pictures of the real people were shown side-by-side with the actors so you could see the ‘real’ people.

Any kids under 6 or so won’t be impressed with it, nor will they be able to follow the story as it’s not a quick-paced, action-packed kind of movie.  There’s nothing inappropriate for any age, but make sure your kid will be able to sit for a 2-hour long story before taking them, or they probably just won’t get a lot out of it.

Read More