Monday, December 30, 2013

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug simmers

Grade: B+

In a Nutshell:  Fill up your popcorn buckets early folks…this is a long movie. It feels good to be back in Middle Earth. According to the Associated Press, it looks like everyone was willing to spend Christmas with The Hobbit . The second part of The Hobbit trilogy won the weekend box office, bringing in $29.9 million over three days.  Tried and true fans of the Lord of the Rings have been supporting the Hobbit’s story, although most will admit this second trilogy isn’t quite as novel or spell-binding as the first.  (Terrible puns intended.)

Bilbo Baggins (the terrific Martin Freeman) continues his journey with thirteen Dwarves and Gandalf the Grey (beloved Ian McKellan) to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor within the grand mountain.  You can’t blame Director Peter Jackson for trying to cash in on a proven hit.  Did you know Pan’s Labryinth’s Guillermo del Toro was one of the writers?

Uplifting theme: Good vs. evil.  Light vs. darkness.  Courage vs. cowardice. In the first Hobbit movie, Bilbo was so frightened by the idea of a quest that he fainted.  With each progressing film, Bilbo develops heroic qualities and reveals hidden reserves of inner strength.  Mankind, and perhaps even WWI England, may be whom Tolkien wanted to inspire to greatness.  Epic literature often features swords with names to show the bravery of the holder, so it is fitting that as Bilbo’s courage grows, he names his short sword that killed the spiders “Sting.” 

Things I liked:  The dragon was amazing.  I loved how you could see the fire building beneath his throat and belly before he roared with flames.  Very cool.  It gives real meaning to their expression “the flames of war.” The barrel scene was whimsical and action-packed, albeit cheesy and not as polished as the rest of the CGI in the film.  You can see individual hairs blowing in the wind in the 3D version of the High Frame Rate.  At first, the 48 frames per second feels odd to the senses, but the quality is amazing.  I love the simmering Smaug played expertly by Benedict Cumberbatch. 

We learn another trick the ring can do: it allows Bilbo to understand what the giant spiders are saying.  Ick.  Fans of Lost will be happy to see Canadian beauty Evangeline Lilly take to the screen as Tauriel, one of the many new characters that don’t exist in J.R.R. Tolkien’s original book.

Things I didn’t like:  I tried to read The Hobbit when I was in college and shamefully admit I just couldn’t get into it.  While I loved The Lord of the Rings, there is something missing in this Hobbit trilogy.  It simmers just below being a really great movie. I confess that I was completely exhausted when I watched this film, so I don’t know if it was that or because the movie was dragging that caused me to doze off a time or two. 
What happened to sexy, playful Legolas?  He was angry and moody throughout the entire movie.  Poor Orlando Bloom.  Have you noticed that Orcs never walk, but are constantly running at a wicked pace?

Humans are always so greasy and dirty in these films, have you noticed?  The Master of Laketown’s assistant had some “ripe” zits that were incredibly disgusting to look at.  Gandolf’s only power (although effective) was to slam down his staff and bring evil-destroying light.  Other than that, he was fleeing on a horse or running…it would be nice if he could contribute more magic to get everyone out of their never-ending dangerous predicaments.

Funny lines:  
  • “What is that?”  “Our host!”
  • “Did he offer you a deal?”  “I did.  I told him he could #$%!#$.”  (We assume that’s some kind of profanity in Dwarf lingo.)

Insightful quotes:
  • “When did we allow evil to become stronger than us?”  - Tauriel
  • “Do not think that flattery will keep you alive.”   - Dragon
  • “What have we done?”  - Bilbo
  • “He cannot see beyond his own desire.”  - Bard the Bowman
  • “Such is the nature of evil.  In time all foul things come forth.”  - Legolas

Things to look for: 
  • The comical self-portrait and statue of Stephen Fry as Master of Laketown
  • Speaking of Laketown…did you notice Stephen Colbert in the movie?!  He played a Laketown spy and was invited by Peter Jackson who declared him the king of Lord of the Ring geeks.  Rumor has it he may in the third installment as well.
  • I know a guy in real life who looks just like the handsome Aidan Turner who plays Kili.  He’s an inspiring artist who makes super cool t-shirt designs at   He’s in the 3rd & 6th photo on the “Us” page.  There’s a shout-out for ya Nick!
  • Stunning black & white horses towards the beginning of the film
  • Cool transformation scene when the “Skin Changer” turns into a human
  • The Prancing Pony from Lord of the Rings at the beginning of the film
  • Beautiful, long Elf locks.  Someone from Loreal needs to make an Elf a spokes model
  • A quick peek at what a woman Dwarf and baby Dwarf look like in the photo inside the necklace.  Look fast!
  • The rock that looks like Rodin’s famous “The Thinker” just outside a cave

Tips for parents:  Lots of fighting and some scary scenes with spiders, Orcs, fiery dragon, and other creepy creatures.

Fun products if you're a Tolkien fan:

The Lord of the Rings (50th Anniversary Edition)
Tolkien Calendar 2014, The hobbit
Lord Of The Rings Sting Sword Letter Opener

Frozen will warm your heart

Movie Title:  Frozen

Grade: A+

In a Nutshell:  Magical.  Visually stunning. Old school Disney romance with a modern feel, similar to Tangled.  This one is worth buying on DVD for the fam.  Somehow this is going to be made into a Broadway musical some day, right?  The detail and humor are Disney perfection.

Uplifting theme:  Love IS an open door.  It’s a bit of a dramatic illustration of believing the mistaken notion to “conceal it – don’t feel it.”  Embrace yourself and your unique strengths and weaknesses. Of your worries and stresses - let it go.  Girls, your handsome prince may not wear a suit with epaulets.  Not all Disney villains are evil...some are just misunderstood.

One of the best surprise themes in this Disney heroine/romance movie is that you don't have to marry a handsome prince to be happy and if you do find your true love, he may not be the handsome prince you imagined.  Another empowering theme for young girls is that romantic love isn't the only one that will break evil spells.  (SPOILER ALERT) It's the pure love between sisters and the sacrifices they make for one another that changes them and the story.

Things I liked:  Idina Menzel 's beautiful voice…yes please. All of the snow-filled animation is simply gorgeous from the delicate snowflakes to glittering snow packs to icy palaces, foggy breath, windy flurries, and a lively snowman.  You can hear the snow crunch and you feel like you’re IN the fog and cold snow storm….watch it in 3D if you can!  The human movement, facial expressions, and Kristoff’s awesome hair are all amazing.  We’ll probably see Kristoff’s boots for sale in the Ugg store pretty soon.  Elsa’s cute figure is inspiring and yet false advertising at the same time.  Kristen Bell did a terrific job too.  Who knew she could sing?  Who knew she studied opera while growing up? She's been holding out on us!

If you LOVE the music from this movie and can't get enough, I've got great news for you!  They released another version of the movie intended as a "Sing-A-Long" where audiences can join in on the music.  Also released are some songs that didn't make it into the movie.  You can watch those at:

Things I didn’t like: The African chant music seemed out of place until a friend of mine explained it wasn't African, but actually Scandinavian.  Oh!  My son (the animation student in college) thought the artwork was so elegant that Olaf the Snowman seemed out of place and a bit of an annoyance a la Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars.  My sister disagreed and thought Olaf was a welcomed comic relief, connecting the two sisters to their childhood relationship.  Speaking of Olaf, lovable Josh Gad, who voices the enthusiastic snowman, praised Disney’s animation talent by saying “If there’s something snow can do, Disney animators have absolutely discovered it!”  The Art Direction team was sent to Norway for inspiration for snow-filled mountains and even costuming on the film.

Funny line:  “We finish each other’s….sandwiches.”

Things to look for:
  • Famous artwork on walls in the palace.  I especially love the Fragonard. 
  • Drool on Anna’s mouth when she’s asleep
  • Aurora Borealis.  That’s on my Bucket List for things to see before I die.
  • The axe in the beginning scene.
  • Romantic robot dancing from the movie Hitch when Anna and Hans sing “Our mental synchronization can have but one explanation.”
  • Anna sings through the keyhole
  • So much to see in the troll scene!
  • Flynn and Rapunzel from Tangled have a cameo performance!

Insightful quotes:
  • “Only true love can thaw a frozen heart.”  – Pabbie/Grandpa
  •  “Some people are worth melting for.”  - Olaf the Snowman
  •  “Don’t know if I’m elated or gassy, but I’m somewhere in that zone.”  - Anna
  •  “You sacrificed for me?”  “I love you.”  - Anna & Elsa   (something all sisters should say to one another)
  • “The heart is not so easily changed, but the head can be persuaded.” 
  • "People make bad choices if they're mad or scared or stressed."  - Troll 

Tips for parents:  No bad language.  Thank you! Enough action for the boys to be entertained, beautiful music for the girls to sing along to, and thought-provoking character development for adults to enjoy.  Thanks to YouTube, you’ll be able to watch some of your favorite songs and scenes again until the DVD hits store shelves.  LOVE LOVE LOVE this movie.

Don't waste your time and money on Anchorman 2

Grade: D for dumb

In a Nutshell:  Full of offensive stupidity.  I have a pretty good sense of humor and love to laugh, but this movie falls short of the cast’s talent and is a complete waste of money and time.

Uplifting theme:  Idiots can redeem themselves?

Things I liked: The slow-motion sequence in the rolling van.

Things I didn’t like:  Offensive on so many levels.  I really hated this movie.  Can you tell?

Funny line: I heard the audience laugh at terribly dumb things, so….

Things to look for:  A different movie to watch.

Tips for parents: DO NOT go.  DO NOT take your children.  Offensive jokes about race, sex, infidelity.  Bad language throughout.

Saving Mr. Banks movie review

Movie Title:  Saving Mr. Banks

Grade: A-

In a Nutshell:  This is an absolutely lovely film that wraps a perfect Disney bow around your heart.  It’s the untold back-story of how the beloved movie Mary Poppins came to be.  Walt Disney is vividly brought to life by two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks.  Until now, very few fans knew that Disney spent 20 years trying to convince the curmudgeonly author of the Mary Poppins books to allow him to turn her stories into the iconic film that we all adore today.  The fantastic Emma Thompson, also a two-time Oscar winner perfectly portrays P.L. Travers, the author who struggles with her hidden fears and the ghosts of her past and who is the one who ultimately saves Mr. Banks in the end.  Hopefully, this should be Emma Thompson’s third well-deserved Academy win…

Uplifting theme:  This spoonful of sugar touched a sensitive spot on aging Baby Boomers in the audience who cried like babies in the end. (weak grin)  While P.L. Travers reviews in her mind the tormented life of her charming father’s addictions, she too is caged by her personal demons.  SPOILER ALERT: It wasn’t until Walt Disney and P.L. Travers chose to change their painful childhood memories, focusing on the good and allowing the anger to melt away, that Mr. Banks was saved. We would be wise to do the same.

Things I liked:  While her prickly personality battles against the Disney machine during the day, she cuddles with the soft mouse at night in her hotel room.  I loved the moment when a giant Mickie Mouse offers to escort a hesitant P.L. Travers into the debut screening of the movie.  An underused gem, I loved Bradley Whitford in “The West Wing” and “The Good Guys”, so it was great to see him again.  The handsome Colin Farrell and talented character actor Paul Giamatti added nicely to the star-studded cast.

Things I didn’t like:  The medicine that was spoon-fed included a dose of Disney branding that was a bit self-serving on the eve of the half-century anniversary of Mary Poppins 50th Anniversary Edition , albeit clever marketing.  I was surprised to learn that P.L. Travers didn’t want actor Dick Van Dyke in the Mary Poppins movie…I LOVE him and thought he was truly magical in the film!

Funny line: Walt Disney says to P.L. Travers who sits awkwardly on a carousel “I had a wager I couldn’t get you on a ride.  I just won twenty bucks!”  The author of a children’s book about a flying nanny ironically questions Disney by asking “Where is the gravitas?”

Insightful quotes:
“Live a life that isn’t dictated by the past.”   - Disney
“We restore order with imagination.”  - Disney
“A leisurely stroll is a gift.”  Ralph
“A mouse is family.”  - Disney
“This world is just an illusion.”  - Robert Goff Travers

Things to look for:  
* Notice who says “Don’t leave me”, “Never.  I promise” and how it is fulfilled.
* Apparently, Walt Disney smoked like a chimney and was rarely seen without a cigarette.  It was decided in this movie to remove that portrayal, but there is one quick mention of it when Walt, himself, stamps out a cigarette to protect the children’s sensitive eyes. 

Tips for parents: Saving Mr. Banks is a bit slow-moving for children, without big action scenes to make up for it.  While it is about Walt Disney’s magical world, the film is more about character development and the magic of creating one’s future, rather than dwelling on the past.  

Interesting books to read on the subject:
How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life

The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney

Mary Poppins - The Complete Collection

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty will have you renewing your passport

Movie Title: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Grade: A-

In a Nutshell: We’re all a little bit like Walter Mitty, imagining ourselves doing great things while reality jails us in some dull cubicle to eek out a living. In this fresh remake (the 1947 version starred the lovable Danny Kaye), Walter Mitty is, ironically, a “negative asset manager” for LIFE magazine who daydreams about heroism and romance, but lives an uninspired life. Because he hasn’t done anything “noteworthy or mentionable”, he can’t seem to catch the eye of his co-worker (Kristen Wiig) until... I remember reading this James Thurber’s short story in middle school and began drafting my very first “Bucket List.”

Uplifting theme: Stop dreaming. Start living. I took my family to see this comedy directed by Ben Stiller and asked my kids what they thought. One of my sons said “Motivated.” I prompted “Motivated to do what?” “More.” Another son chimed in “Motivated to do more instead of read about it on blogs.” The magazine Walter Mitty works for is, appropriately, LIFE. Now, go out there and use your passport.

Things I liked:  Gorgeous cinematography! Inspiring visions. Some of the biggest moments of the film were the ones that featured simple joys. The subtle humor had my husband’s contagious laughter fill the theater. Ben Stiller is the king of awkward moments. The 1947 film portrayed an overbearing mother, but in this version the lovely Shirley MacLaine brings to life a supportive, but aging mom who unintentionally brings out the best in her son.

For the younger generation who never had the pleasure of reading LIFE from 1936-1972, it was the photojournalism magazine that introduced us to places all over the world. Its motto, spotlighted in the movie was: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

Things I didn’t like: Walter Mitty is in really good shape on that skateboard, considering he was supposed to have been working in a dark photography office for 17 years. I know, as if the rest of the film was entirely believable. The great cell phone reception on the mountain top of the Himalayas provided some laughter from the audience.

Funny line: “I have that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button thing.”

Things to look for:  Read all of the signs on streets, walls, and even mountains during the film for insightful narration. You won’t see Stiller’s famous “Blue Steel” humor from Zoolander , but a solid dramatic performance that is endearing.

Tips for parents: Rated PG! Yay! There are some intoxicated guys in a bar drinking REALLY LARGE glasses. A couple of “mild” swear words. A funny Ben Stiller movie with no F-bombs and crude humor…a refreshing relief. It was a nice change to see Kristen Wiig and Sean Penn with clean characters as well. Your family will enjoy the thrilling action scenes and peaceful moments of reflection.

Now I'm ready to go to Iceland or Greenland

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Thor gets hammered by movie critics

Movie Title:  Thor: The Dark World

In a Nutshell:  More Thor.  More Chris Hemsworth. More muscles and awesome abs. More beautiful Natalie Portman.  Thor has to save Earth and the Nine Realms from another evil enemy who looks like he stepped off the movie set of Star Trek.  All of Asgard’s soldiers look like they’d be good buds with the characters in the Lord of the Rings.  It feels a bit like a summer popcorn movie where yet one more superhero saves not just the helpless people of a doomed city, but the entire universe.

A lot of movie reviewers have criticized the sequel for various reasons, but if you love Thor or Chris Hemsworth, you’ll be entertained for almost two hours.

Things I liked:  The background story at the beginning is a quick refresher if it’s been awhile since you saw the first Thor movie or are unfamiliar with the comic books. Several fun twists will keep you guessing. I love the high-tech gold lace wall that keeps prisoners in their cells, as well as the barrio that rises up and around the king’s castle to protect it from incoming flying intruders.

I admired the Queen’s (lovely Rene Russo) regal bravery and (SPOILER ALERT) thought the funeral scene was touching and stunning.  Young actress Kat Dennings plays the snarky comic relief that she is known for on “Two Broke Girls” and even a recent Lipton tea commercial she was featured in. I love Heimdall’s fierce loyalty to protect Asgard, reflected in his intense eye color, as well as the cool, shimmering bridge he watches over.  Tom Hiddleston plays a deliciously conflicted Loki.

Things I didn’t like:  It’s hard to take bad guys seriously when they’re wearing the lovable Jabbawockeez dance crew face masks and beautifully intricate hair braids. It’s such a contradiction to see Asgard possess such advanced technology in one scene, along with relics from Medieval ages, such as sophisticated laser weaponry next to swords.  Another example is the futuristic medical table where nurses attend to Jane Foster, yet they aren’t able to heal a sword wound on another person.  Was it intentional that both Jane (gorgeous Natalie Portman) and the hopeful love interest (Jaimie Alexander) looked alike, including facial beautiful marks?  I wish there were more chemistry between Thor and Jane…their kiss and embraces fall fairly flat. What’s holding up King Odin’s eye patch?  Svartalfheim…really?

Uplifting theme:  Good conquers evil. Yay.  The King of Asgard (wonderful Anthony Hopkins) worries about his legacy and Thor tells him “I shall try to live with honor…is that not legacy enough?”

Funny line:  Dr. Erik Selvig is seen either nude (naughty parts blurred out) or wearing only underwear in most of his scenes.  When the danger heats up, he snaps out of his exhibitionist funk and says “I better get my pants.”  An amusing image is of Thor walking onto a modern-day subway train in London’s famous Tube and asks “How do I get to Greenwich?” sending the female passenger next to him in a smitten trance.

Things to look for:  -  Stan Lee’s cameo performance when he says “Can I have my shoe back?”  I love that he is spotlighted in every Marvel film. 
-        Digestive crackers on a table.
-        Captain America even makes an appearance.  Cute scene.
-        Harry Potter-looking book with moving images
-        Thor hangs up his hammer on a coat rack when entering an apartment.
-        Soldiers using rocket launchers next to sword fighters
-        Giant bowls of spices

Tips for parents:  You can’t expect to see a Superhero battle evil without some violence, although you don’t see gruesome blood.  (SPOILER ALERT) Thor’s hand gets cut off, but it’s a pretty sterile slice.  The kissing is also pretty sterile. No bad language. 

Grade: B+

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 Satisfies Your Craving

In a Nutshell:  "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2".  Swallow Falls has evolved into an island inhabited of living food creatures, triggered by a machine that young scientist Flint Lockwood designed in the first movie.  Flint returns to his former home with a crew of endearing characters in order to restore the island to normalcy before the food-beings swim onto the mainland and destroy it as well (a la Jurassic Park.)

Things I liked:  The animation is colorful, detailed, and very imaginative.  I can just picture the film designers sitting around a board room table, brainstorming all of the inventive food creatures in the movie which include watermelephant, susheep, shrimpanzee, flamangos, bananostrich, cheesespider, and more.  Most of them are pretty clever and creative.  I love the way the dad’s eyebrows cover his eyes and show all of the expression on his face.  He is voiced by the legendary James Caan. Barry the Strawberry leads the cute factor in the movie.  The little sounds he makes are sure to please every little girl in the audience.

Things I didn’t like:  Be prepared for lots and lots of food puns.  You had to know it was coming.  Some are witty like when the dad captains a small vessel and yells “There’s a leak in the boat!”  The camera then zooms over to a little green leek who yells back at the dad, equally frightened.  Some of the food puns will make you laugh and roll your eyes at the same time, such as “It’s jammed!”, “We’re toast!” or “This is totally bananas!”  If you liked the first movie, there really isn’t much you won’t like in this delicious sequel.

Uplifting theme:  It’s hard to say, really.  The efforts of Flint and his friends don’t really reign in the mayhem on the island, but somehow it’s ok in the end.  There is an evil character (SPOILER ALERT) who appears good, but his greedy motivations are revealed in the end.  So, the moral of the story?  Be kind?  Try hard?  Have loyal friends?

Funny line:  Many of the funny lines are spoken by the beloved cop Earl Devereaux, voiced by Terry Crews, such as “I’m not a barista…I’m a polista” and  “Police tape – the one thing I can’t break.”  The kids in the audience I sat in squealed with laughter when he repeats a phrase from the first movie “It’s enough to make a grown man cry, but not this man…get back in there, tear!”  He’s so tough he can force his own tears to return to his eyeball, and make chest hairs to grow on demand. 

Things to look for:   - The pickle who wears fishing lures as earrings.
                                   - Watch for the “Cheese, Grommit” hand motion when you hear
                                      someone say “It’s made of cheese!”  (I loved the Wallace &
                                     Grommit shorts.)
                                   -  Simon, the Electronic Memory Game

Tips for parents:   It’s easy as pie to enjoy this movie.  If you’ve seen the first “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”, then you’re already familiar with most of the characters and know what you’re in for…lots of silliness and chuckles.  There is no bad language or inappropriate material, unless you’re offended when it’s announced that someone cut the cheese.

Grade: B+