Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Boxtrolls movie is artistically outstanding, but stylistically icky

Movie Title:  The BoxTrolls

Grade:  B

In a Nutshell:  From the quirky and creepy creators of Coraline and Paranorman , this family flick has a steampunk feel to it and features the voice talents of Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Elle Fanning, and Jared Harris. 

Based on the book Here Be Monsters! (The Ratbridge Chronicles) by Alan Snow, this dark and dirty animation feels more like an unnerving mixture between Charles Dickens and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street for kids…if that’s your cup of murky tea.  While the animation is impressive, it’s not entirely appropriate for young children.

The clay-mation style is known as stop-motion, but this film also includes CGI, making it an interesting blend of actual objects and pixel magic.

Uplifting theme: 
  • “Cheese, hats, boxes…they don’t make you.  You make yourself.” – Eggs
  • Stand up and fight for yourself and what’s right.

Things I liked:
  • Laika does an amazing job with depth-of-field.  There is so much to see in each screen shot.
  • The 3D effect is pretty impressive, especially the fog and smoke.
  • Artistically speaking, the animation was outstanding.  Stylistically, it wasn’t my favorite.

Things I didn’t like:
  • There were more disgusted “ewwww’s” than charmed “ahhhh’s” from the audience.  Lots of ick moments.
  • Some of the Cockney accents were hard to understand, especially in the beginning of the movie.
  • The BoxTrolls sound like Gollum in Lord of the Rings.
  • I don't see merchandising for this movie going very far.  Who wants to play with a creepy, dirty troll in a box?

Funny lines:
  • “Do you think the BoxTrolls understand the duality of good and evil?”  - Mr. Trout
  • “If you’re going to eat me, just get on with it.  I’m sure I’m delicious.” – Winnie
  • “Be prepared to say bye-bye to your brie, cheerio to your cheddar.”  - Archibald Snatcher
  • “We’re the exterminators of justice.  We exterminate justice.”  - Mr. Pickles
  • “Curds Way? How do I get there?”  - Eggs
“Milk turns into it.”  -  Winnie   (Get it?  Curds and whey…)
  • “The Briehemouth!”  - Lord Portley-Rind
  • “A woman like that is like raw, bold, maybe a little stinky.”  - Lord Portley-Rind

Tips for parents:  This is a twisted version of Victorian England that includes some violence, but no profanity. You might need to explain to your kids how leeches were actually used as a medical device long ago and that some people are lactose intolerant.  The BoxTrolls gather discarded items, but they also steal.  The villain is an unhinged cross-dresser and truly evil. There is discussion in the movie about what a good father is and does.  I think young children will be both frightened and bored.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

My friend, James Dashner, just had his book The Maze Runner turned into a movie!

Movie Title:  Maze Runner
PG-13, 1 hour 54 minutes

Grade:  B+

In a Nutshell:   I’m so thrilled for my friend, James Dashner, who is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Maze Runner Series (Maze Runner) that this film is based on!  I first met him when he and I were doing a book signing at the same store.  People were lined up to meet him, of course, while I sat and twiddled my thumbs.  Ha ha  I have a hard time picturing my books being made into movies since I write non-fiction!

He and I are both members of the same author group and he is considered our resident rock star.  I’m so happy that his book was made into a movie!  That’s so unbelievably awesome!  Here is a picture of the two of us at a recent writers’ conference:

The story is a bit of a dystopian Lord of the Flies , as teenage boys try to figure out how they ended up on the edge of a killer maze and who put them there.  I haven’t had time to read the book, so I’m not sure what we might be missing in this suspenseful flick, but James said that the “tone and spirit and vision” of what he wrote in the book is totally in the movie.

Uplifting theme: 
Learning how to work for the benefit of others, these teenage boys also demonstrate courage, sacrifice, and teamwork.

Things I liked:
  • As a mother of 4 sons, I thought it was funny and definitely true-to-life that the boys generally spent their evenings wrestling each other.  Ha ha
  • The scary noises reminded me of the creepy alien sounds in Tom Cruise's movie The War of the Worlds .
  • The movie starts fast and throws us into the action without dilly-dallying..  I always like that!
  • All of the young actors did a great job, although I wish there had been time for more character development.

Things I didn’t like:
  • There were some plot holes that bugged me.  I’m assuming the sequel will fill them?
  • The runners wore these leathered, strappy things, but I couldn’t see what purpose they served.  They weren’t quite backpacks, so what were they for?
  • They say “W.K.D. is good.”  Really?  No, I don’t want kids thinking wicked is good.
  • Despite being trapped in a camping set-up, the boys are able to concoct some form of alcohol for partying at night.

Interesting lines:
  • “You’re not like the others; you’re curious.”  - Alby
  • “It’s not a prison; it’s a test.”  - Thomas
  • “You’ll get your name in a day or two.  That’s one thing they let us keep.”  - Alby
  • “You don’t get it.  We’re already dead.” – Minho

Funny lines:
  • “I don’t know if he’s brave or stupid.  Whatever it is, we need more of it.”  - Minho
  • (SPOILER ALERT)   “Seriously?”  - Jeff, when he sees the “Exit” sign.
  • “I thought you had the chops to be a runner…until you face-planted.” – Newt

Fun Facts about James Dashner:
  • He and I both graduated from BYU.  He majored in accounting, which seems like such a boring profession for such a creative guy!  He said “My heart bleeds for accountants.  I don’t miss it even in the slightest, tiniest, little bit.”  Ha ha
  • James is a movie buff like me and confessed that movies like “Star Wars”, Alien , The Terminator and The Matrix influenced his writing.  It was the maze in the movie The Shining that got him thinking about writing his own novel that would feature one.
  • Now that his book has been turned into a movie, he’s interested in screenwriting.  Go James!

Tips for parents:   Mild profanity, deaths, scary noises, violence.  Small children may be frightened by the “grievers” (robotic monstors that chase and kill the “gladers”).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dolphin Tale 2 continues the sweet, simple and inspiring story for all ages

Movie Title:    Dolphin Tale 2
PG, 1 hour 47 minutes

Grade: A-

In a Nutshell:   Admit it…the first time you went to Sea World, you wanted to be a marine biologist.  I think every kid has that fantasy at least once, right?  I know I did.  

A few years ago, I checked off one of the MANY items on my Bucket List: to swim with dolphins.  It was as AWESOME as I had imagined it would be.   You’d have to look really good in a wet suit to work at a marine center like that.  Have you ever tried one on?  EESH.  Be prepared for  lowered self-esteem.

If you didn’t see the first Dolphin Tale , you’ll be able to catch up with the story quickly enough.  You’ll probably want to see the first one after you see this one. The most compelling thing about this story is that it’s really true.  It’s such an inspiring story, told in an honest, sweet, and simple way that all ages will be touched.

The audience I joined was filled with young families who clapped at the end of the movie and even wiped away a tear or two.  To learn more about the true story behind both movies, go to

Uplifting theme: 
  • Young Sawyer, played by Nathan Gamble, says “We don’t know if dolphins feel the same emotions as we do: fear, sadness, joy, but it sure seems like it.”
  • Sawyer learns by experience and shares at the end of the movie “Because one door closes and another opens, life is full of possibilities.”
  • When trying to decide what to do, Sawyer tells others “I don’t want to look back on this and say we didn’t try.”  That’s great advice for all of us. 

Things I liked:
  • The fact that the story is true is what makes it so heart-warming.  While the closing credits ran after the movie ended, the audience was treated to videos of disabled veterans and handicapped children visiting the dolphin center in real life.  The impact that Winter (the disabled dolphin) has had on so many people is so touching.  Winter’s story is one of hope and perseverance and true love.
  • It seems like a lot of family movies lately are animated.  It’s refreshing to have a live-action family flick that is wholesome and appropriate for all ages.
  • The movie incorporated Bethany Hamilton, the surfer girl from Kauai who survived a shark attack when she was just 13 years old.  You can learn more about her true story in the movie Soul Surfer .  She’s not the most amazing actress, but she’s certainly an inspiring role model.  She also appeared in a Cosimin ad in the rolling stock before the movie began.
  • The pelican was adorable.  How did they train the cute creatures in this movie?!
  • The sea turtle was even more adorable.  I checked off another item on my Bucket List a few years ago when I got to put rescued baby turtles into the ocean.  Kinda weird that it was on my Bucket List, eh?  Singing with drunk Irishmen in a pub is also on my list.
  • I thought it was cute that they frequently showed the camera angle from the dolphins’ perspective during the movie.
  • Someone needs to write a book featuring all of the wise things Morgan Freeman has ever said in movies over the years.  He is great at playing the sidekick sage.
  • I like watching kids taking responsibility because they want to, not just because they have to.
  • I respected the decision the center had to make about whether or not to keep one of the rescued dolphins to be a friend for Winter.  Their motto was "Rescue, Rehab, and Release."  It's tough to fall in love with a creature and then have to say good-bye.
Things I didn’t like:
  • The beautiful ocean views reminded me that I live in the middle of the desert in Las Vegas.  Sheesh.  I used to live in gorgeous San Diego near the beach and loved every day I was there.  Hopefully life will take me back there some day.
  • I wish Harry Connick Junior could have figured out a way for his character to sing in the movie.
  • The movie runs a little slow and it isn’t any big surprise how it’s going to end, but it’s still an enjoyable, gentle journey.  No, it’s not a big action movie with special effects; it’s just a continuation of how the amazing true story continues to inspire. 

Interesting lines:
  • Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr.) says “You can’t just throw two dolphins in the water together!”  Um….why not? I thought that was a pretty silly thing to say, considering that’s how they live in the ocean.
  • A disabled vet visited the center to see Winter and asked “How come she’s not wearing her rig?”  Sawyer, who was giving him the tour, explained “She’s been kinda down lately.”  The wise grandpa responds “We all get that.”
  • “Sometimes you just have to make a decision.” – Lorraine (played by the beautiful Ashley Judd)
  • “Sometimes things have to be shaken up before they move ahead.” – Dr. McCarthy

Funny lines:
  • “That’s chicks talking trash through the fence.”  - Dr. McCarthy as he listened to the two female dolphins calling to each other

Tips for parents:   This is an extremely safe movie for all ages.  (aaaah)  The movie features a cool adventure program for high school students called “Sea Semester.”  If you’d like to know more, check out  and  
There is a side story of young love, but it doesn’t show anything inappropriate and is very innocent.

If you missed the first part of the story, you can catch it now:

Saturday, September 13, 2014

No Good Deed is predictable, but still suspenseful

Movie Title:   No Good Deed
PG-13, 1 hour 24 minutes

Grade:  C

In a Nutshell:   He’s creepy.  She’s stupid.  It’s all very predictable, but that didn’t stop the audience I watched the movie with from screaming, cheering and clapping.  And yeah, 90% of the audience was middle-aged women who were happy to see the helpless female victim finally start to fight back and kick some bad guy butt. 

Uplifting theme:  Don’t be stupid.  Don’t open your door to strangers, especially to large, menacing men who could squash you with their finger.  On a serious note, women need to know self-defense and how to handle a firearm.

Things I liked:
  • Idris Elba is excellent.  He is equally convincing as a heroic character in Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom and Thor , as he is as an escaped felon looking for psychotic revenge.
  •  Even though I thought the movie was pretty cliched, I still noticed that I was chewing my gum really fast.  Despite your head knowing what’s going to happen, your heart still races.
  • The beautiful Leslie Bibb plays Meg, Terri’s slutty and wise friend who offers some comic relief.
  • The movie takes place in Atlanta.  I lived in a suburb near Atlanta for 15 years and loved it.  The movie would have benefited, however, from a few of those magical fireflies they have in the South.
  • I wondered if this would be a remake of the 2002 Samuel L. Jackson movie No Good Deed , but it’s really not.

Things I didn’t like:
  • Terri could have gotten help from other people so many times during the ordeal.  She’s supposed to be an educated District Attorney turned stay-at-home mom, but she makes some really dumb and annoying choices.
  • It kind of feels like one of those Lifetime movies created for an estrogen-filled audience. 
  • I have to admit that I've uttered the phrase "No good deed goes unpunished" many times in my life when I have done something kind and yet it turned around to bite me.  It happens.  Still, it's important to not become so cynical that you stop serving others.  You just have to be smart about it too.
Interesting lines:
  • “I would have thought with all those brains you got, you woulda figured out what game we’re playing.”  - Colin
  • “Why are you doing this?”  - Terri
“You’ll see.”   - Colin

Tips for parents:  I’m not sure why this movie is rated R because it has 2 F-bombs.  Idris Elba steps out of a shower and is naked, but because of the lighting, you don’t see anything.  The beautiful Taraji Henson wears a tank top that gets wet in a scene…
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