Monday, December 29, 2014

Unbroken spotlights the strength of the human spirit

 Movie:  Unbroken

PG-13, 2 hours 17 minutes

Grade:  B+

In a Nutshell:  This is an inspiring, true story that features the strength of the human spirit against all odds.  Director Angelina Jolie was so taken with Lauren Hillenbrand’s best-selling novel, that she felt compelled to bring it to the big screen.  The story is fascinating, but the viewing is exhausting and heart-wrenching.

Uplifting Theme:
·         The end of the movie reminds us that “the way forward is not revenge, but forgiveness.”  In fact, the movie leaves out 2 extremely important chapters of the book that reveal the challenges Louis Zamperini faced when he returned home.  Check out this inspiring video that tells the rest of the story.about the power of forgiveness.
·         “If you can take it, you can make it.” – Louis’ brother, Pete

Things I liked:
·         The main actors dieted for months to appear as their characters would have looked after surviving 47 harrowing days on a raft in the oceanThey lost even more weight in the prisoner of war camps.  That’s dedicated acting.
·         The casting was very good.  Young Louis looked just like the older Louis.
·         The audience laughed when the starving soldiers on the raft punched a fish and a shark in order to eat them.  There were a few moments of subtle humor, but otherwise, this film is extremely sobering.  It should make you hesitate before complaining about anything again.
·         The cinematography of Roger Deakins (True Grit and Skyfall ) is very well done. Some of the vistas were extraordinary.
·         I always appreciate it at the end of a true story when the audience is shown how things ended up years later.
·         Jack O’Connell (Louis Zamperini) did an outstanding job.  Takamasa Ishihara was so believably cruel as Watanabe that the audience cringed every time he appeared on the screen.

Things I didn’t like:
·         The film is pretty long and your heart can’t take much more.  You feel like you’ve been punched in the gut, although your spirit soars with hope as you watch Louis stand up each time he falls. Angelina Jolie chooses to spend 2 hours focusing on how Louis was tortured in various ways and very little time showing us more about his character development.
·         I’m sad that the real Louis Zamperini died right before the movie came out.  What an amazing man he was.  I’m especially impressed that he returned to Japan to face his tormentors and forgive them.
·         As inspiring as the story is, there should have been more powerful and emotional moments in the telling.

Inspiring lines:
·         “A moment of pan is worth a lifetime of glory.” – Pete
·         “Here’s the plan…you go on living the best you can and try to have some fun along the way. – Phil
·         “We beat them by making it to the end of the war alive.” – Blackie
·         “It is necessary to have respect.  No respect, no order.” - Watanabe
·         “I’m glad it’s you. “ – Phil
“I’m glad it’s me too.” - Louis

Tips for Parents:  There are intense sequences of brutality and violence, as well as some charred bodies in one scene in particular.  There is some profanity, but not much, especially considering this is a war movie.  People used to call Italian immigrants WASPS and DAGOS.  After the movie, you can talk to your kids about bullying and name calling.

To learn more about the amazing life of Louis Zamerini, check out the following items:


Friday, December 26, 2014

Into the Woods brews mixed messages for adults and children

Movie:  Into the Woods
PG, 2 hours 5 minutes

Grade: A-

In a Nutshell:  Once upon a time, there was a Broadway musical that Disney remade as a feature film for families. This deconstructed twist on some of the familiar The Brothers Grimm fairy tales is an interesting brew of humor, music, slanted wisdom, dark moments, and unsatisfying endings.  

I had such high hopes for this movie. Two years ago we all laughed and cried and sang to Les Miserables (2012) on Christmas day.  This is definitely no Les Miserables (2012) .  It's not even last year's Frozen .  I wish…

Uplifting Theme:
      ·         Be careful what you wish for.
  •          You are not alone.  No one is alone.
  •          “Careful the tale you tell.  That is the spell.”   That’s good advice for Director Rob Marshall and Stephen Sondheim.

Things I liked:
  •          I’ve always loved Chris Pine and his beautiful blue eyes.  Who knew he could sing too?  In an interview with Anna Kendrick, she said that Chris was very shy about his singing voice.
  •          With very little CGI, the scenery and landscapes in the film are beautiful and feel like fairy tale settings. 
  •            Lilla Crawford, who was FANTASTIC, replaced another girl as Red Riding Hood, after only one week into filming!  Her voice sounded like a real Broadway voice, unlike in this year’s Annie, starring Quvenzhane Wallis.
  •       Some of the lyrics are pretty witty, evoking eager laughter and winces from the audience I sat with.
  •       The story has not one prince, but two, played by Chris Pine and Tony nominee Billy Magnussen.  Their duet together is hilarious.
  •        Anna Kendrick does a great job as Cinderella and will soon grace the big screen again in Pitch Perfect 2.  I have high hopes for that movie too.

Things I didn’t like:
      ·         For a Disney musical, the ending was a downer.  It had a dark satire like Sondheim's style in 
            the incredibly disgusting Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street .
      ·         The messages in the songs are mixed.  Life is full of moral dilemmas and so is this story.
  •      None of the melodies are very memorable.  I do remember they sang "Into the Woods!" a lot.  ha ha  Quite a few songs from the original musical were cut from the movie.
  •     Several people die horrible deaths.  It’s not an innocent movie for children and is very dark in spots.   Jack’s mother smacks him often and the audience gasped each time.  Cinderella’s step-sister smacks her.  Red Riding Hood stomps on the baker’s foot.  There are some gruesome moments, but I won’t give you any spoiler alerts….just a head’s up for parents.
  •   Johnny Depp's role is way too short. I would have liked to see Christine Baranski sing more as well.  She and Meryl Streep created a fun spark together in Mamma Mia! The Movie

Funny lines:
·         “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.” – Cinderella’s Prince   (The audience booed when he said that.)
·         “I wish my house were not a mess.”  - Jack’s mother (Tracey Ullman)  Me too, Tracey.  Me too.
·         “Perhaps it’ll take two of us to have this child.” – Baker
·         “This is ridiculous!  What am I doing here?  I’m in the wrong story!” – Baker’s wife
·         “I’ll gladly help you with your house.  There are times I actually enjoy cleaning.” – Cinderella

Interesting tidbits:
  •  Director Rob Marshall almost chose some of the actresses he had already worked with for the role as the witch, such as Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago), Kate Winslet, Nicole Kidman, and Penelope Cruz.  Can you believe he didn’t pick Idina Menzel?  Still, Meryl Streep did a great job.
  •    You may have recognized the young boy who played Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) from Les Miserables (2012) .
  •  James Corden plays the baker.  He begins hosting his new talk-show in just a month.
  • In the original musical, there was a role of narrator.  Some big names were considered for this part as well: James Earl Jones, John Cleese, Alan Rickman, Christopher Plummer, and even Disney favorites Julie Andrews and Angela Lansbury!
  • Emily Blunt, who is warm and charming as a baker’s wife who can’t bare children, was actually pregnant during the filming!  You can notice her baby bump in one of her later scenes with Cinderella's Prince.
  • You might also have recognized one of Cinderella’s step-sisters, Lucy Punch.  This is her 4th time playing this role: Ella Enchanted [HD] , Cinderella 2000, and a BBC version of Cinderella.
  •  Emily Blunt (the baker’s wife) and Meryl Streep (the witch) also starred together in The Devil Wears Prada .

Tips for Parents:  There are several themes that are too adult for young children, even though this is a Disney production.  There is some violence and morbid scenes.

 If you liked this movie, you might also like:


Monday, December 22, 2014

The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies satisfies the army of fans who want to see the final installment

PG-13, 2 hours 24 minutes

Grade:  A-

In a Nutshell:
Fans will be mostly satisfied with the way the end is handled and how introductions are made to step viewers into the Lord of the Rings trilogy, as we go full circle.  I think J.R.R. Tolkien would have been very proud of the way Peter Jackson has presented both of his stories, and especially impressed by how Peter Jackson was able to squeeze 3 entire movies out of his Hobbit tale.  

I didn't think The Hobbit movie trilogy wasn't quite as awesome as the Lord of the Rings trio, but it's still a fine companion in the storytelling and worth the visit to CGI Middle Earth.  Easily the most violent of all of the films in the series, the battle of five armies includes the army of fans who will see the final installment and make Peter Jackson's movies go down in history as one of the most beloved cinematic stories.

Uplifting Theme:
·         “You should never underestimate dwarves.” – Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage)
·         “Don’t underestimate the evil of gold.” – Gandolf
·         What is your true treasure?
·         Cowardice vs. true bravery
*    "Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? I don't know. Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage."   - Gandolf

Things I liked:
·         The action starts exactly where it left off in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug .  If you missed Part 2, then the beginning of this movie and subtle plots and characters will probably be confusing for you. Better to start from the beginning.  To see my movie review of the previous Hobbit movie, click here.
·         The cliffs in 3D are magnificent and scary!
·         The landscapes are stunning.  The aerial views are just beautiful.
·         Smaug is magnificent.  I love it when his belly glows before he hurls fire at his enemies.  Did you see him as a guest on The Colbert Report?  Hilarious.  While you’re at it, watch the recent Saturday Night Live skit of TheOffice: Middle Earth., hosted by Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins). Super funny.
·         FINALLY, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) actually runs out of arrows.  Ha ha
·         I can never get enough of seeing the gorgeous, majestic elves with their silky long hair, and elegant poise.  The moose that Thranduil (Lee Pace) rode was awesome.  Watching the synchronized army in battle was cool too.
·         The IMAX 3D version of the film offers incredible clarity.  If you’re a big fan of this trilogy, it's worth it to pay extra for it.
*    Aiden Turner (Kili) is so cute!  Former heart-throb Orlando Bloom (Legolas) is starting to look old because of the odd CGI work they did on his face.
*    Two words: Benedict Cumberbatch.

Things I didn’t like:
·         I hate looking at Alfrid’s zit face.  He’s such a greasy little weasel that you love to hate.
·         Gandolf is such a helpless wizard.  Seriously, he rarely uses his wisdom and power until after suffering peril for a long time.
·         Remember the fake CGI scene in the last Hobbit movie when Legolas was jumping on barrels in the river?  Well, there’s some more of that awkward action, but this time there are rocks that are crumbling and falling down mid-air as he unbelievably climbs up them.  There are a few other times when the CGI looks more like a video game than cool imagery.  Whatever.  The movie is still visually amazing.
*  Considering Bilbo is THE hobbit that this trilogy is named after, he played a somewhat minor role in this last film.
*   While it's always lovely to see Cate Blanchett, that green, psycho look on Galadriel isn't becoming on her.  ha ha

Funny lines:
·         “I may be a burglar, but I like to think I’m an honest one.” – Bilbo
·         “Not every man is brave enough to wear a corset.” - Alfrid

Interesting lines:
·         “What is it you know?” – Thorin
“Nothing for certain.  It is what may come I fear.”  - Legolas
·         “It is your king’s command.” – Tauriel  (Evangeline Lilly)
“He is my king, but he does not command my heart.” – Legolas
·         “If this is love, I do not want it.  Take it from me.  Why does it hurt so much?” – Tauriel
“Because it was real.” – Thranduil
·         “If more people valued love above gold, this would be a far more merry place.” – Thorin
·          "I will not hide when others fight our battles for us."  - Kili
*     "You started this.  You will forgive me if I finish it."  - Thranduil

Tips for Parents:

·         The title of this movie includes mention of five armies…let that be a warning to you…there are a lot of battle scenes, violence, and gruesome death scenes, including decapitation and burning bodies....kinda icky and scary stuff for young children!

Check out these fun Hobbit products for Christmas:

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Night at the Museum nods a fond farewell to fans, Robin Williams, and Mickey Rooney

Movie:  Night at the Museum 3
PG, 1 hour 30 minutes

Grade: B

In a Nutshell:  If you’re a fan of this edutainment franchise, you’ll enjoy seeing some of your favorite characters again, as well as meeting a few new ones, including a Neanderthal that looks like Larry Daley (Ben Stiller)  and Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens from Downton Abbey Season 1-3 ).  We get to visit the famous British Museum while slapsticking our way through calculated goofy moments and funny lines.

The door is always open for another sequel, but it also feels like the dust may settle on this one as an appropriate and fond farewell.  There are a few touching moments and enough humorous ones to keep the entire family entertained.

Uplifting Theme:
·         Be careful or the magic might die.  (Is that a lesson that the new writers learned while writing this?)
   *  Family is who you surround yourself with.
   *  Enjoy every moment of life.
Things I liked:
·         It was wonderful seeing Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt again.  We miss you.  Before the credits rolled at the end, the screen displayed the words “In loving memory of Mickey Rooney and Robin Williams.  Magic never dies.”  Sweet.
·         I also loved seeing Dick Van Dyke.  He’s still got moves!
·         Hugh Jackman makes a cameo performance, playing himself.  Ben Stiller's character runs past him and says “I just want to say, you’re the whole package.”
·         The star constellation performance was super cool.   "Of course they're special effects!  How could they not be special effects?"   (Dr. McPhee)
·         Capuchin on silks.  Ha ha
·         I thought the research librarian was hilarious.   “Oo la la.”
·         Great aerial views of London.  I’m going there next June with the fam!
·         Ricky Gervais does a great job playing the quirky Dr. McPhee.  The comedic timing during his awkward moments scene with Larry was fantastic.
·         Nick Daley is almost all grown up now. Skyler Gisondo has natural talent.  You might have seen him in The Amazing Spider-Man ; The Amazing Spider-Man 2 , as well asHalloween .  I'd like to see more of him.
  .    Rebel Wilson as Tilly the British Museum security guard was hilarious and should have been used more.
Things I didn’t like:
·         Jedediah (Owen Wilson) and Octavius (Steve Coogan) don’t have the same magical spark they did in the first installment of this trilogy, but they were still cute.
      I would have liked to see more exhibits and characters in the British museum come to life.  There were so many more ways the movie could have poked fun at our beloved Britts.
Funny lines:
·         “Who would have ever thought…I’m wax and she’s polyurethane, but it works.” – Teddy Roosevelt
·         “Summon the apparatus!” – Octavius
·         “I don’t know what’s come over me, but I like it.” – Jedediah
·         “You’ll rue the day you mocked us with your hypnotic blue eyes.” – Octavius
·         “Keep the scrunchies.”  - Tilly
·         “You can’t catch light.  It’s as evasive as human happiness.”  - Jedediah as he watches YouTube videos of kittens chase a flashlight.
·         “My boyfriend says he doesn’t like the way I do my hair.  He says it looks like a golden poo.” – Tilly
·         “With their size, they’ll bake like tiny, little scarabs in the Egyptian desert.  Too dark?” –  Rami Malek

Interesting things:
·         The investor guy with glasses in the beginning of the movie looked like the bad guy in Indiana Jones' Raiders of the Lost Ark. He says “I can’t help but feeling we’re making a terrible mistake.”   The Indiana Jones character in this movie then says “We’re not making a mistake; we’re making history.”
·         You don’t need to stay until the end of the credits.  There are a few clips of the crew dancing, but nothing else shows once the credits begin rolling.
Tips for Parents:

·         Octavius makes several odd homosexual innuendos about Sir Lancelot.

In case you missed the first 2 installments, check them out here for cheap!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The new Annie is just ok for a Redbox slumber party

Movie:  Annie
 PG, 1 hour 58 minutes

Grade: B

In a Nutshell:   In the midst of the current Sony hacking drama, the studio released a family-friendly film that is loosely based on the original comic strip by Harold Graycorny, as well as the 1982 movie.  It’s a modern take that is somewhat cheesy, and sometimes charming.   Selfies, cell phones, Social Media, and high-tech gadgets speak to a younger generation who is discovering Annie’s uplifting tale for the first time.  (I’ll bet you didn’t know there was a cell tower in the Statue of Liberty, eh?) 

This modern “Harlem” version of Annie includes some new songs, but don’t expect the big production numbers you saw in the original movie.  It’s not as magical as I wanted it to be, but it’s certainly  Redbox-worthy for a girls’ slumber party.

Uplifting Theme:
·         The sun will come out…tomorrow.  Duh.
·         “No matter who you are or what you are, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.” – Will Stacks
·         “Sometimes what you’re looking for is right in front of you.” – Will Stacks

Things I liked:
·         Jamie Foxx (Will Stacks) is the highlight of the movie and the best singer by far.
·         Miss Hannigan is always playing good dance music in her apartment.  The soundtrack to the movie should be popular with young girls.  They might even turn off Frozen for a few minutes.
·         I loved Will Stacks’ “Smart House” apartment with the awesome, digital, changing wall designs and dancing fountains, not to mention the incredible view of New York City. 
·         New York City stars in the movie. The cast spends quite a bit of time flying around in a helicopter, giving you plenty of beautiful aerial views of the Big Apple.  We took the fam there a couple of years ago and had a great time.  What an incredible city.

Things I didn’t like:          
·         Quvenzhane Wallis (Annie ) is charming at times, but doesn’t have the million dollar voice that Broadway Annies are known for.  She should dazzle when compared to the other orphans surrounding her, but she often looks like she’s acting, and sometimes even has a vacant stare.
·         Bad transitions and editing pull energy out of scenes.
·         The moment Annie meets her parents should be more powerful since the story leads up to it, but it seemed pretty bland and dismissed quickly.
·         While I really like Cameron Diaz, I’m sad to say she can’t sing.  (I can’t either.) During her big moments, the music played louder than her voice and I wondered if it was intentional to cover up the lack of talent.  It’s not very believable to cast a beautiful young woman as the curmudgeonly foster care mother to begin with.  Strange choice.
·         While the movie is a fresh take on the original, the dance moves and music feel like the movie was made a decade ago.

Fun cameo celebrity moments:
·         Michael J. Fox      Will Stacks says “Michael J. Fox is a saint. “   Guy (Bobby Cannavale) then says “I hear there’s a tape…”
·         Rhianna
·         Mila Kunis
·         Where was Emma Thompson?  She helped write the script!
·         Where were Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith?  They helped produce this Broadway classic, along with Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, Laurence “Jay” Brown, and Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith.

Funny lines:
·         “I’m ten.  I’m not an idiot.” – Annie
·         “I haven’t been to Disneyland, but I don’t think they have a paperwork ride.” - Annie
·         “Wanna go out tonight?  I got my dance pants on.”  -  Lou (David Zayas)
·         “He has nice hair.” – Grace
“I wouldn’t bank on the hair, sista.” - Annie
·         “Don’t pick that one – it’s licking it’s own hoohah.” – Will Stacks while letting Annie choose a pet dog

Interesting lines:
·         “I think when people say no, they’re really afraid of saying yes.” – Annie
·         “People shouldn’t be scared of governments.  They should be scared of cell phone companies.” –  Adewale   (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje)

Tips for Parents:
·         Some “light” foul language.
·         Sexual innuendos, including a hooker joke.  In a kid movie? Really?

·         Four barfing scenes…count them.
Want to see the original musical or hear the new soundtrack? Check out these products on sale now: