Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Concussion earns Will Smith a Golden Globe nod

Movie Title:    Concussion

Grade:  A-

Rating:  PG-13

In a Nutshell:    Will Smith rightly deserves the Golden Globe nomination he earned from his role in this “David vs. Goliath” story.  His Nigerian accent is great and his depth of emotion superb.

This is not the typical underdog football story.   It’s based on the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who tried to go head on with the National Football League when he discovered a medical link to brain damage and playing football.

The end of the movie mentions Junior Seau’s recent suicide.  I remember how traumatic that announcement was because Seau and his foundation had just given one of my sons a college scholarship.  We were heartbroken to hear the news.  I remember being shocked and wondered how someone who seemed to have everything would choose to end his life.  Now I understand a little better.  This film presents important information and does it in a very tasteful, interesting way.

Uplifting theme: 
  • “Need is not weak.” – Dr. Bennet Omalu  (Will Smith)
  • “You have to be the best version of yourself.  If you don’t know what that is, you pick something and fake it.” –  Dr. Omalu
  • “If you know, you must come forth and speak.” – Prema Mutiso (Gugu Mbatha-Raw)
  • “When you have truth, the thing you are told you cannot do is the thing you must do.  Embrace that and nothing created by man can bring you down.” – Prema
  • “The gift of knowledge is a great gift, a dangerous gift.” – Dr. Omalu
  • Guilt, integrity, honor, respect

Things I liked:
  •  I loved the imagery and use of hands throughout the entire movie.
  •  Alec Baldwin makes me laugh, even when he’s in a dramatic role.
  • I always appreciate it at the end of movies when they tell you what has happened after the movie left off.  The statistics presented are sobering.
  • I thought it did a good job being sensitive to all the football fans out there.
  • Albert Brooks was made to look like a balding, older man.  Young fans will recognize his voice from the huge Pixar hit “Finding Nemo.”  They’ll be happy to know that he still has a full head of hair.  He provides some much needed humor to this cautionary tale.
  • I appreciated the respectful discussion about religion vs. science.
  • Paul Reiser and Luke Wilson play roles, although small ones in the film.

Things I didn’t like:
  •  You will see a lot of football collisions and crunches.
  • Fans hoping to see a lot of football action will be disappointed. 
  • It’s tough to say who the target audience is for this film and who will or can take action after seeing it.

Funny lines:
  •  “I had quite a revelation tonight.  This body was made for dancing.  When they say dancing machine, I am what they mean.” – Dr. Omalu
Interesting lines:
  • “All we have to do is finish the game.  If we finish, we win.” – Mike Webster (David Morse)
  • “I am not interested in common sense.  I’m interested in science.  Science is knowing.” – Dr. Joseph Maroon  (Arliss Howard)
  • “The NFL owns a day of the week.” –  Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks)
  • “Everyone has been in the dark and you have turned on the light and given this Boogeyman a name.” – Dr. Julian Bailes  (Alec Baldwin)
  • “Tell the truth.  Tell the truth!” – Dr. Omalu
  • “There is no coincidence in this world.” – Prema
  • “If you don’t speak for the dead, who will?” – Prema
  • “You know, it is a mindless, violent game…and then it’s Shakespeare. I mean, to me, it’s like life that way.  I know you can’t see how exciting and beautiful all that is and I don’t blame you.” –  Dr. Bailes

Tips for parents:   

  • There is some profanity.
  • This is a serious, slow-moving “talking” movie that may bore young children.
  • Discussion of suicide and miscarriage.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip will make you roll your eyes and tap your feet

Movie Title:    Alvin and the Chipmunks Road Trip

Grade:  C

Rating:  G, 1 hour 26 minutes

In a Nutshell:    

Young kids will laugh with delight.  Parents will roll their eyes.  Everyone will tap their feet.

Voice talents include Justin Long, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Christina Applegate, Ana Faris, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Jesse McCartney.

Uplifting theme: 
  •  “When words aren’t enough, we sing.” – Alvin
  • Dads are important.
  • Friendship, forgiveness

Things I liked:
  • It's fun to see Jason Lee and Eddie Steeples together again.  (They were both in the hit TV comedy "My Name is Earl".)  Did you know Jason Lee used to be a professional skateboarder?
  • I appreciate the little details in the animation, like the facial expressions, ear twitches, and body movements.  The visual effects and animation teams did a great job.
  • Redfoo makes a cameo performance at the beginning of the movie.
  • There are several cute dance numbers. IMDB lists the entire cast and crew for the movie and described several roles as "Dance enthusiast".  They WERE pretty enthusiastic.  The music will get your feet tapping, even if you're rolling your eyes at the dumb jokes and gags.
  • I like that they run like real chipmunks, rather than fuzzy short people.  It's hard not to like these furry little guys.
  • The Chipmunks franchise always tries to include what’s currently trending in American pop culture (at least when they wrote the movie). 
  • I love the song “Uptown Funk”, but I'm glad they changed the words to make it more kid-friendly.
  • The Chipettes are adorable in all of their scenes. 
  • Is that the same monkey from Night at the Museum?
  • Kimberly Williams-Paisley has a one-dimensional character, but I've always thought she was cute.
  • My eyes always perk up whenever I see a Papillon dog in a movie, because I have one too!
  • Pitch Perfect 2 fans will be happy to see Flula Borg.  His YouTube videos crack me up. 
  • Keep watching during the rolling credits at the end to see a little scene about Agent Suggs.  (Tony Hale)

Things I didn’t like:
  • Sometimes it’s hard to understand what the chipmunks are saying in their high-pitched fast voices.
  • Because it's a kids' movie, you can expect lots of farting, belching, and discussions about pee and poop.
  • The target audience may not be familiar with some of the less popular songs, as well as some of the older cultural references.
  • Product placements always annoy me.  This film has a TON.
  • Josh Green's character, Miles, is super annoying.  The writing for him was terrible.  The entire script was very weak.

Funny lines:
  • “Theodore, get our Speedos!” – Simon
  • “That sounded way less weird in my head.” – Simon
  • “I could go for miles on Miles.” - Alvin
  • “Break a leg!” – Dave
“That kind of doesn’t apply to doctors.” – Simon
“Good luck!” – Dave
“Um, you kind of hope your surgeon doesn’t need luck.” – Simon
“Uh, have fun!” – Dave
“Nailed it!” – Simon
  • “Girls are scientifically proven to mature faster than boys.” – Theodore
“Whatever.” – Simon
  • “We’re going to be doing tons of bonding.  Where’s the Superglue?” – Miles  (Josh Green)
  • “Just a doll.” – Miles, when showing the TSA agent a chipmunk doll that is really Alvin looking stiff
“Chucky was just a doll.” – TSA agent (Uzo Aduba who plays“Crazy Eyes” on the hit TV show "Orange is the New Black")
  • “I have a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired…” – Agent Suggs
  • "Does this look like a face that could survive prison?" - Alvin

  • Tips for parents:   
  • Several people get drunk and behave badly.
  • It’s mostly harmless, colorful fun for all ages.
  • I like that the worst profanity you’ll hear the chipmunks say is “Nuts!”

Monday, December 28, 2015

Daddy's Home is dumb and delightful

Movie Title:    Daddy’s Home

Grade:  B

Rating:  PG-13, 1 hour 36 minutes

In a Nutshell:    

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg definitely have chemistry together.  You can see jokes coming a mile away, but they’re still pretty funny.  Critics are ripping the movie to shreds, but the audience I watched the movie with was rolling on the floor with laughter and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Maybe it was all that Christmas sugar going to their heads that made them not care that the movie was formulaic and lazy. 

Uplifting theme: 
  • “A real dad wouldn’t give up on his kids so easy.” – Griff  (Hannibal Buress)
  • “You can find the good in just about anything.” – Sarah to Brad   (What a nice compliment.  I hope people can say the same thing about me.)
  • “It takes a real man to show his emotions.” – Sarah (Linda Cardellini)
  • The movie begins with a question: “What do kids need more – a father or a dad?  What’s the difference?” 

Things I liked:
  • Normally, product placement in movies drives me nuts, but it’s actually pretty clever in this film.  Director Sean Anders pokes fun at blatant merchandising and it ends up actually being funny.  You’ll never think of Cinnabon and the Ford Flex in the same way again.
  • The movie begins with fairly morbid, but funny kid drawings by Megan.  Scarlett Estevez is absolutely adorable as Megan.
  • There’s a super short clip of one of my favorite movies of all time “The Princess Bride.”
  • Mark Wahlberg’s character is described as what would happen if Jesse James and Mick Jagger had a baby.  He’s hilarious.
  • There were several jokes about the movie Frozen that got the audience howling.
  • I’ve liked Thomas Haden Church ever since he was a young guy on Wings.  His character in this film is ridiculous, yet surprisingly likeable.
  • The ending was precious.

Things I didn’t like:
  •  I never like it when kids swear in movies.  The audience laughed, but I cringed.
  • Any movie with Will Ferrill is sure to include crude humor that features poop, animals humping, testicles and tampons.  This one delivers.
  • With all the money Will Ferrill makes, why doesn’t he get his teeth fixed?
  • There is a reference to the Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda TV shows that no one under 50 will even understand.
  • There are some stunts and CGI that look totally fake.
  • There is a whole series of racist jokes that are funny and awkward at the same time, including a deserved slam about Paula Deen.

Funny lines:
  •  “I’m a hot habanero pepper right now.” – Brad
  • “You must be the new and improved husband.” – Mark
  • “If this guy were my wife’s ex, I’d put a bullet in my head.” – Leo

Tips for parents:   

  • Profanity.
  • There are actually some good parenting tips in the movie, such as having “kind, but firm boundaries.”
  • While the movie is completely goofy, families might benefit from a discussion about some of the issues that are brought up in the film: parenting, love, respect, boundaries, family. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Point Break is a remake on steroids

Movie Title:     Point Break (2015)

Grade:  B-

Rating:  PG-13, 1 hour 53 minutes

In a Nutshell:   In the words of Keanu Reeves from the original 1991 Point Break hit, “Whoa.”   The stunts in this film are EXTREME.  In an effort to appeal to more audiences than just surfers, this remake is an ode to extreme sport “poly-athletes” with a little “eco-warrior” bank robbing mixed in for good measure.   

Leading man Luke Bracey’s Rotten Tomatoes movie rating has never been higher than 35% and is only receiving a 7% with this film, despite his hotness score.  Poor guy.  His character is conflicted and so are audiences.

Uplifting theme: 
  • “Ideas can be powerful.” – Johnny (Luke Bracey)
  • “If not ideas, what else is there?” – Johnny
“Action.” – Samsara (Teresa Palmer)
  • “You choose your path.” – Samsara
  • “We can only be responsible for our own path, brother.” – Bodhi
  • Honor the forces of nature.
  • “The man that pushes the boundaries tends to break.” - Bodhi   

Things I liked:
  • You will see some gorgeous sites from around the world.  The aerial views are stunning.  
  • Ericson Core must have been drinking a lot of Red Bull while directing this adrenaline rush of a movie. You feel your body tense up when they’re doing extreme sports.  A few times, you'll even jump out of your seat.
  • Even though Johnny finds Onno Ozaki and his teachings on Wikipedia, Warner Brothers has confirmed that the legendary teacher who inspired their crazy heists on different continents is pure fiction.
  • If you enjoy this film, check out the 1991 original hit starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves.  The new movie is that, but on steroids.
  • Most of the sets look very real, although there are a few noticeable CGI moments that look stupid and fake.   
  • Someone tell me if it's really true that you can surf in the middle of the ocean, like the movie showcases in Birratz, France.  That was crazy awesome.

Things I didn’t like:
  • In the original movie, the main character had to learn how to surf, so he felt fear and then elation when he conquered the sport.  In this film, the star is already an expert in every sport, so there is no character growth or discovery.  He is conflicted, but you don't get to watch him go through an emotional journey, like Keanu Reeves did in the first Point Break.
  • I couldn’t understand most of what Pascal Al Fariq (Nikoli Kinski) said.
  • Lots and lots of tattoos.  Ha ha
  • There is some Spanish spoken, but no subtitles.  Don’t worry.  It’s not much.
  • If you’re afraid of heights, some of the scenes will make you queasy.  If you love the thrill, see this in 3D if you can.
  • Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez) spouts off all kinds of supposedly wise sayings, but he's sadly misguided.
  • The ending had more impact when Patrick Swayze did it.
  • SPOILER ALERT:  It's pretty dumb the supposed enlightened search for nirvana leads to suicide.
  • Sure, the people loved Robin Hood, but he was still a thief.  Just because you give away some of the money you steal, doesn't mean it's OK.  I hope young audience goers don't emulate Bodhi's morality or dangerous stunts.

Funny lines:
  •  “If a tree falls in the forest and no one puts it on YouTube, did it really happen?” – Bodhi

Interesting lines:
  • “I see a lot of taking on the way to enlightenment.  What’s being given back?” – Johnny Utah
  • “You have to reach the point.” – Chowder (Tobias Santelmann)
“What point?” – Johnny
“The point right before you break.” – Chowder”
  • “Nature will always find a way to make you feel small.” Samsara
  • “This is how the FBI works.  Generally, it’s dirty, it’s pedestrian, and it’s down-right boring.” – Angelo Pappas (Ray Winstone)
  • “You’re going to steal it?” – Johnny
“No, we’re going to liberate it.” – Bodhi
  • “Bodhi doesn’t see these as crimes.  He sees them as offerings.” – Johnny
  • “It’s ugly.” – Johnny
“Ugly is what we do, son.” – FBI Instructor Hall (Delroy Lindo)
  • “We’re all going to die.  The only question is how.” – Bodhi
  • “We’re not trying to reach nirvana, but to try to save this place by becoming one with it.” – Bodhi

The Ozaki 8:
  1. Emerging force
  2. Birth of sky
  3. Awakening earth
  4. Life of water
  5. something Asian-sounding
  6. something profound
  7. something I couldn't catch
  8. something written on a chalkboard

Tips for parents:   
  • These are not role models for your kids.  They participate in VERY extreme sports where most people would die.  Cool?  Yes, but safe for your kids to try?  Absolutely not.  (Hey, I’m a mother.  What did you think I was going to say about this film?)
  • There is a cliché sex scene on furs.  You only see some skin and kissing for about 15 seconds.
  • Some profanity and lots of partying.
  • Hand-to-hand combat and violence with firearms.
  • "Enlightened" people committing lots of crimes.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Joy might inspire future women entrepreneurs

Movie Title:    Joy

Grade:  B

Rating:  PG-13, 2 hours

In a Nutshell:    
The movie informs you at the beginning that it was “inspired by true stories of daring women.”  It’s based loosely on the true rags-to-riches story of Joy Mangano, inventor of the “Miracle Mop” and “Huggable Hangers”, a business titan on QVC and HSN.   

Jennifer Lawrence does it best when she plays an underdog with natural talent and hope.
Your heart will sink and soar with Joy as she journeys through the perilous business world.  This movie will make you want to take a leap of faith and invent that thing that’s been in your head for years…or hide from the world, watching soap operas all day.   

Uplifting theme: 
  • “Hope springs eternal.” – Grandma Mimi
  • “You can’t let the practical get you down.  You got to keep moving to what you love.”  - Tony (Edgar Ramirez)
  • Persistence, determination, hard work, hope.
  • “We got here from hard work, patience, and humility.  Don’t think the world owes you anything, because the world owes you nothing.” - Joy

Things I liked:
  • It’s always great to see Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro, Diane Ladd, Isabella Rossellini, and Virginia Madsen.  It’s impressive how they were able to deliver some of their ridiculous lines with straight faces.
  • I love the soap opera that is layered throughout most of the movie.  (Director and co-writer David O. Russell should have brought it back in the end.)  I especially love that it features the queen of all soap operas, Susan Lucci.  It’s cute how it showcases the decades through their clothing and hairstyles.  It made me laugh because my mother used to “tape her shows” and watch them every day.
  • I liked the comparison of the cicada hiding for 17 years, like Joy did.
  • The music gave the movie a magical story feel.
  • I love that sisters Joy & Peggy looked like sisters.  Nice casting.
  • Even Joy’s loved ones put down her ideas, but she never gives up on herself or them.  Life keeps pushing her down, but she never gives up.  I admire that tremendously, because I’m often too quick to quit.
  • I admire how she keeps control of her temper. 
  • In the scene in Texas, Joy follows a great rule of negotiation: stop talking and let the other guy make the first offer.
  • It paints a fairly realistic picture of the business world and how difficult it can be to begin and maintain a successful business. 
  • Joan Rivers was played by her rea life daughter Melissa Rivers.  That must have been so much fun for her.
  • Drena De Niro plays Cindy.  She is the adopted daughter of Robert De Niro and has played bit parts in several of his films.

Things I didn’t like:
  • Jennifer Lawrence is the bright star in this movie.  You kind of don't care about any of the other people.  They're too over-the-top "characters" to feel real.
  • I never like watching families fight.
  • Joy’s mother gets sucked into soap operas and spends her life in front of a TV, rather than truly living her life.
  • I don’t like it when kids call their parents by their first names.
  • The trailer didn’t explain the movie very well.
  • Director Russell starts with an interesting style in the beginning of the movie and then drops it completely mid-way.   
  • While Russell is great at creating damaged characters, they’re often one-dimensional.
  • Jennifer Lawrence speaks Spanish a few times, but there aren’t any subtitles.  Her accent is pretty good!

Interesting lines:
  • “When someone sees a weakness in me, I turn that weakness into a strength.” – Danica – (Susan Lucci)
  •  “The funny thing about hiding…you’re even hidden from yourself.” – young Joy (Isabella Crovetti-Cramp)
  • “We’re doing an invention.” – Joy’s daughter
“Why?” – Grandma Mimi
“Because we are.” – Joy
“It’s very serious.  It’s priorities.” – Joy’s daughter
  • “There’s no shame in hard work.” – Joy
  • “Everybody starts out with some kind of dream about what life will be.” – Grandma Mimi  
Morris’ 4 questions of financial worthiness:
1.      Where did you go to high school?
2.      Who were you in high school?
3.      Are you prepared, within 6 months of financing this venture, to show adequate returns?
4.      You are in a room and there is a gun on the table and the only other person in the room is an adversary in commerce.  Only one of you can prevail, yet you have protected your business and Morris’ money.  Do you pick up the gun?

Tips for parents:   

  • This isn’t a movie that young children will enjoy or understand very well.  Teenage girls may be interested and inspired by Joy’s tenacity to live their dream.
  • Some profanity and fighting.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is everything you wanted it to be!

Movie Title:     The Force Awakens (Star Wars)

Grade:  A+

Rating:  PG-13, 2 hours 16 minutes

In a Nutshell:    YESSSS!   Episode VII is everything you hoped it would be!  I loved it!  The fans that filled the theater to capacity where I watched it cheered and cried and loved it too.  It has just the right amount of “old stuff” with respectful nods to the past, yet it’s also full of new, interesting characters, creatures, and special effects.  It's beautifully shot and will saturate your eyes with awesomeness.  Every frame could be turned into a popular movie poster.

With plenty of humor, action, lightsaber duals, space chases, and exciting thrills, it FEELS like a great Star Wars movie.  Everything looks real, not a bunch of hokey CGI or fake green screen trickery.  How do I get to be an Extra in the next movie?!!  Did I ever tell you when I played an Extra on a telenovela that never made it to the screen?  It was called "Saints and Sinners."  I played a Congressman's wife. So fun!

In the words of Supreme Leader Snoke, “There’s been an awakening. Have you felt it?”  In a word, YESSSS!

Uplifting theme: 
  •  “Don’t give up hope.” – Rey
  • “The crazy thing is it’s true.  The Force.  The Jedi.  All of it.  It’s all true.” – Han Solo
  • “Feel the light.  It surrounds you.  It will guide you.” – Maz
  • “May the Force be with you.” – Leia
  • “Hope is not lost today.  It is found.” – Maz
  • Like Rey, we don't realize the greatest inside us.

Things I liked:
  • The audience immediately liked the new characters, yet applauded and cheered like crazy when former characters made their appearances on the screen.  Director and writer J.J. Abrams has successfully created new characters that you care about.  He has done a great job with the Star Trek franchise and now the Star Wars phenomena.  He shows great respect for what has been and knows how to make new episodes fresh and new.
  • Familiar characters, but with a new twist, like a Storm Trooper with a heart.  It's seriously impressive how well they kept the secrets about this script and cast before releasing the film.
  • I love the small details.  For example, Rey makes this really cool bread that only appears on screen for about 10 seconds, yet it’s memorable.  She also eats a really cool piece of fruit in the bar scene.
  • Cool new creatures we haven’t seen before.
  • I love that Daisy Ridley (Rey) can cry so easily without having her entire face turn red like mine does.  She just releases dainty, yet believable tears at the perfect time, a director’s dream.  She is an unknown actress who is brilliant in this film.  She is the heart and soul of this movie.  How refreshing and wonderful to have a female heroine and one who is good and kind.
  • Supreme Leader Snoke is pretty darn cool.  I want a bad guy to look creepy and amazing at the same time.  Mission accomplished.  Even more is that he is voiced by Lord of the Ring's talented Andy Serkis who gave us the unforgettable Gollum.
  • Maz is awesome!  My fave!  She is voiced by the lovely Lupita Nyong'o.
  • The scenery is beautiful and believable with great sweeping vistas.
  • See it in 3D if you can! 
  • It makes WAY more sense to have a droid with that roller ball base, so he can get around on the sand and even stairs, unlike R2-D2.  R2-D2's unrealistic transport mode always bugged me.  BB-8, the new droid, also has some fun features, like the cigarette lighter that elicited laughter from the audience when he holds it up to show his enthusiasm for something.  Did you know funnyman Bill Hader is the voice of BB-8?  BB-8 is cute, but not overly like Jar Jar Binks who annoyed the heck out of everyone.
  • Welcome to stardom, John Boyega (Finn).  He does a great job and is quickly likable and enthusiastically charismatic.
  • SPOILER ALERT:  It was great to see Mark Hamill again as Luke Skywalker.
  • Great sound effects and that epic sound track by John Williams!  Check out this fun video that Jimmy Fallon and "The Roots" made with some of the cast to pay tribute to the epic music:

Things I didn’t like:
  •  It cracks me up how everyone can understand what BB-8 says. 
  • Some things are brushed off without explanation.  That being said, fans have been critical of some of the previous episodes that told us what was happening, rather than show us.  I like that this movie shows us!
  • Leia (Carrie Fisher) should be dressed more like the queen that she is, but doesn’t until the end of the movie.  I used to adore her mother, the talented Debbie Reynolds.
  • Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has some serious anger management issues.  Ha ha  He does an excellent job and I appreciate the good script-writing that gave us a villain with motivation and depth.
  • Don't be impatient that there is a cliff hanger at the end.  You already know that there are more episodes coming to complete the trilogy, so don't leave the movie disappointed.  Enjoy this one.

Funny lines:
  •  “Women always figure out the truth.  Always.” – Han Solo
  • “I’ll show you the dark side!” – Kylo Ren
  • “So, who talks first?  You talk first?  I talk first?  It’s just hard to understand you with all that apparatus.”  - Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac)
  • “Look how old you’ve become.” – Kylo Ren
“Something far worse has happened to you.” - Lor San Tekka played by award-winning Max Von Sydow, who was also featured recently in the movie "The Letters", which is also in theaters currently.
  • “Don’t do that.” – Leia
“Do what?” – Han Solo
“Anything.” – Leia   
  • “You know you can’t trust those little freaks.” – Han Solo
  • “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” – Han Solo
  • “This is not how I thought this day was going to go.” – Han Solo
  • “Whatever you do, don’t stare.” – Han Solo
“At what?” – Rey, Finn
“Any of it.” – Han Solo
  • “That light saber…it belongs to me.” – Kylo Ren
“Come get it.” – Finn

The line that got the audience to cheer the loudest:
“Chewy, we’re home!” – Han Solo when he steps onto the Millennium Falcon.  It's so great to see Harrison Ford revisit his role as the lovable Han Solo.  He and Chewbaca banter back and forth and it was more than wonderful to see the two of them together on screen again.

Tips for parents:   

  • The language is clean and there is plenty of action and fun creatures to keep young kids entertained. 
  • There is a lot of violence and fighting.  Umm…it’s a Star Wars movie.  It might be interesting to talk to your kids about which kind of fighting affects them more or has more of an emotional impact: close-up light saber duals or the big space battles?
  • There are plenty of heroes in this film.  Ask your kids who they are and how they show bravery, courage, loyalty, teamwork, and hope.
  • There are common themes that run through all of the episodes.  Help your kids identify some of them: good vs. evil, fatherhood, power, loneliness, hope, mentorship, etc.
  • Ask your kids how marketing affects them.  Invite them to point out all of the merchandising they have seen.

'STAR WARS' MAKED OVER $100 MILLION: Star Wars: The Force Awakens broke box office records, raking in more than $100 million on its first day in theaters, according to studio estimates. The previous record holder was the second installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which made $91 million on its first day. The Force Awakens also broke preview records, selling $57 million in tickets.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Miracle Maker reminds us to be the miracle we wish to see in our lives

Movie Title:    Miracle Maker

Grade:  B-

Rating:  G

In a Nutshell:    Mean, rich man gets a soft heart.  That’s not exactly a new story, especially around Christmas, yet this simple tale is a gentle reminder that we can make the miracles we want to see in our life.

Uplifting theme: 
  • True happiness lies in making others happy.
  • When the director, John Lyde, was asked what he hoped audiences will take away from this film, he said “I hope they can see that we can create our own miracles, that we shouldn’t wait around for them, but we can solve our own problems and help bring miracles to others.”
  • Big miracles start with small seeds.
  • If you want to change your life, change yourself.

Things I liked:
  • If you liked the movie “Once I Was A Beehive”, you’ll be happy to see Paris Warner in it.  Unfortunately, she plays an extremely small part this time.
  • It definitely feels old-timey, both in its style and simplicity.
  • Fans of Charmed will recognize Brian Krause, who plays Mr. Booth in Miracle Maker.  Fans of other Mormon-made movies will recognize a lot of the other actors in the film.

Things I didn’t like:
  • The sets look like sets.  The acting looks like acting.
  • The script makes it almost feel like a stage play.
  • Clichéd characters: a boy who hasn’t talked since his mother died, a heartless landlord, town gossips, a little girl with a lisp, a dog wearing a bandanna around its neck, handsome stranger. Don’t get me wrong, I never mind a handsome stranger.  (Jason Wade)

Did you know?
  • The director said his hardest scene to film was the one with the mice.  They just wouldn’t sit still, even for cheese or mouse treats!  After an hour of filming them, he finally got a snippet he could use in the movie.
  • The movie was only a 12 day shoot!  Filming was done in Salt Lake City, Old Heber City and American Fork, all in Utah.  Filming started in June and the edits were done by September. 
  • The movie is based on a short story by Ann Action and reminded me of another popular book from the 80’s called “Joseph”, where a stranger comes into town and works spiritual miracles in the lives of the people.  Speaking of Ann Action, what an awesome name she has, especially if she were a movie director, because then she could yell "Ann Action!"
  • In case you’re wondering how you missed this at the theater, it’s because it went straight to DVD in November 2015, just in time to give as a stocking stuffer for Christmas!
Interesting lines:
  • “I suppose a miracle maker could be someone who does something out of the ordinary, something remarkable to better the world.” – Pastor
  • “Did you follow in the right footsteps?  Did you ask?” – Miracle Maker

Tips for parents:   

  • This is an extremely safe movie for the entire family to watch.  There is absolutely nothing offensive, scary, or crude in this film.  It’s rare that I get to report that in my reviews!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

In the Heart of the Sea offers amazing cinematography and CGI

 Movie Title:    In the Heart of the Sea

Grade:  A-

Rating:  PG-13, 2 hours 1 minute

In a Nutshell:     1820. A giant, vengeful whale.  A ship.  A determined captain.  Man vs. beast.  Imagine Entertainment and Director Ron Howard create a visual masterpiece with unbelievable cinematography, sailing you to the “edge of insanity.”

This seafaring yarn graphically illustrates how Herman Melville’s famous novel Moby-Dick came to be.  While the screen definitely captures your attention, the storytelling has movie critics disappointed.  I was entertained and intrigued, as well as disgusted and exhausted. 

As always, the book is better than the movie, but these special effects are innovative and effective.

Uplifting theme: 
  • “Can man bend nature to our will? – Captain Pollard  (Benjamin Walker)
  • Persistence and tenacity will see you through.
  • Integrity is worth more than reputation or money.

Things I liked:
·         THOR!  If you’re not in awe of the giant whale, then you have handsome and studly Chris Hemsworth to stare at.
·         Believe it or not, I actually like it when there are water spots on the camera lens.  That tells me there was real water in the scene and not just CGI.  Then again, some of the scenes made me wonder if the water spots were CGI!  If so, nice detail!  The water scenes are so well done that sometimes you even feel like you’re going to get splashed on.
·         The scene with the blood raining from above was disgusting and extremely powerful.
·         I liked learning more about Melville, the author of Moby-Dick, and played by Ben Whishaw.
·         How did they get some of those amazing scenes?  Drones? 
·         Interesting camera angles.  I also love how the camera goes under the water and back above the water seamlessly.  Great underwater scenes.  You might feel like holding your breath.
·         I thought the whale pins were cool.  In order to earn one, young Tom Nickerson (Tom Holland) is told that “you have to thrust a killing lance into one of the largest beasts to grace this earth.”
·         I love the mention of Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Tom Nickerson asks “Have you read Hawthorne, Mr. Melville?  There’s a writer, great writer.”  Apparently, Herman Melville was quite taken with Hawthorne and even dedicated Moby-Dick to Hawthorne whom he compared to Shakespeare and called a genius.
·         Great sound effects, although sometimes a bit too loud.
·         I’ve always liked Charlotte Riley and wonder why we don’t see her more often.  She was really great in Ridley Scott’s medieval drama “World Without End.”
·         I’m always impressed with characters who rise above their temptations, like Cillian Murphy’s character, Matthew Joy. His resolve to not drink alcohol, even when things got tough, was inspiring and not seen often enough in movies.
·         I love that they included a quick shot of the words “Call me Ishmael” on the screen, which is the first sentence in the book Moby-Dick.

Things I didn’t like:
·         See it in 3D if you can, unless you get motion sickness.  You might get sea sick watching some of the scenes.  Just close your eyes for a few seconds and you’ll be fine.
·         Some scenes have so many loud noises between people yelling and waves crashing and boats creaking that you can’t quite understand what anyone is saying.
·         Animal activists will find many of the scenes unnerving.
·         I’ve never understood how all those sails and ropes work, but it’s always fascinating to watch sailors work it.
·         The scene that shows the ocean view from Owen’s house looks terribly artificial, but all of the other CGI scenes were very believable.

Interesting lines:
·         “Sometimes, the fewer questions one asks, the better.”   - Matthew
·         “I’ll come back as quick as a summer’s eve.” – Owen
“Just come back.” – Peggy
·         “Without you, the world plunges into darkness.” – Pollard senior
·         “Monsters, are they real or do the stories exist to respect the sea’s dark secrets?  The question both vexes and excites me.” – Herman Melville
·         “The whale?  So, it’s true?” – Melville
“Yes.  Too much is true.” – Nickerson
·         “The devil loves unspoken secrets.” –  Melville
·         “No right-minded sailor discards what might save him.” – Owen Chase
*    "We will surely perish out there." - Captain Pollard
       "We might also survive."  - Mr. Chase

Tips for parents:   
  • The sailors draw a picture of a topless woman.
  • Some profanity.
  • Several intense scenes with lots of blood and guts. 
  • Skeletons of dead guys might frighten young children.
  • Explain to your kids that a “greenhorn” is the old-fashioned way of saying “newbie”.

Sailing definitions:
Doldrums: an equatorial region of the Atlantic Ocean with unpredictable and often no winds
Port side:  left-hand side of a ship
Squall:  a sudden violent storm

I always do all the “talking” in these reviews, but I want to hear what YOU liked and didn’t like!  Please comment below!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Letters honors Mother Teresa's humble service

Movie Title:    The Letters

Grade:  B-

Rating:  1 hour, 54 minutes

In a Nutshell:    This inspiring bio drama is narrated by a priest whose task it was to research and petition for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the Catholic Church.  While she still has not received full sainthood status, her “missionaries of charity” have grown from just a handful to thousands today.  The movie features her humble journey from nun to a world icon of hope and service.  The title refers to letters she wrote to the leadership of the Catholic Church, expressing her private worries and admission of loneliness during her struggles.

Unfortunately, the movie spends a lot of time on the red tape involved in the Church’s various decisions that affected Mother Teresa’s ministry, but it was still fascinating to learn more about her life’s work.  It made me want to be a better person.  It was interesting to learn that she felt so abandoned by God while surrounded by people who were blessed by her God-like service and love.

Uplifting theme: 
  • "A little bit of God's love...that's all we can do." - Mother Teresa
  • “It’s not my work.  It’s God’s work.  I’m just a pencil in God’s hand.” – Mother Teresa     (Oh, that we could all be as effective in God’s hand as she was.)
  • St. Francis of Assisi is attributed to writing this prayer, which inspired Mother Teresa, as well as many others still today: “Lord, make me a channel of thy peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love.  Where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.”

Things I liked:
  • Juliet Stevenson did a great job honoring Mother Teresa.  I have always liked her body of work.  Mother Teresa was from Albania, so Juliet tried to do her best eastern European accent. 
  • I thought the contrast between Mother Teresa’s sweet, peaceful spirit of humility and that of Mother General’s jealous attitude was interesting.
  • It was sweet to hear the vow the nuns took to care for the hungry, naked, homeless and crippled.  Their desire to serve the lowest in India’s society was very touching and humbling.
  • For just a brief moment, you get to see a bird’s eye view of 1949 New York City, which is pretty cool-looking.
  • It was nice to see Rutger Hauer, who usually plays a bad guy in movies, as a thoughtful priest in this film.
  • Did you know Max von Sydow has won tons of acting awards from various countries?  He added a distinguished air the film.
  • I really love the movie poster.  

Things I didn’t like:
  • Even though Mother Terea wasn’t supposed to be that old in the movie, Juliet Stevenson slouched over a lot, making her look oddly older.
  • The film jumps forward and back, which can be a little confusing at times and make the story feel a bit disjointed.
  • Isn’t it ironic that the Hindus, who abandoned their temple, threw rocks at it because Mother Teresa was inside helping people not of their faith?  They said it was sacred to them, yet what she was doing inside was truly divine. 
  • Terrible actors, but authentic extras.
  • The film shows Mother Teresa receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, but doesn’t mention the other awards she received over the years.
  • The music tried to be inspiring, but sometimes its sweeping dramatic score didn’t quite match what was being shown on the screen.
  • It could have been epic, but it is very simple...just like Mother Teresa.

Interesting lines:
  • “She possesses depths of holiness far deeper than any of us imagined.” – Priest  
  • “We pray.  We trust in God.  God will give us an answer.” – Mother Teresa
  • "The greatest suffering is to feel unloved, unwanted, alone." - Mother Teresa

Tips for parents:   

  • Whenever your kids complain about having to sweep as a chore, have them watch the scenes where the nuns sweep the floor with a few twigs wrapped together!
  • Sobering images of death and suffering.
  • Parents may need to explain to their children about the caste system in India.
NEW UPDATE (as of 12/19/15)
Pope Francis on Thursdayapproved a decree recognizing a second miracle attributed to Mother Teresa, paving the way for the Roman Catholic nun to be made a saint next year. The miracle involved the alleged healing of a man who was suffering from multiple brain tumors, according to Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian Catholic bishops conference. Mother Teresa died in 1997 at the age of 87 and was beatified, which is the first step toward sainthood, in 2003. The second miracle is required for canonization. The paper reports that the pope would likely hold a canonization ceremony for the Nobel Peace laureate in early September. A Vatican spokesman said he had no information about the report.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Miss You Already celebrates besties and BFF's

Movie Title:    Miss You Already

Grade:  B

Rating:  PG-13, 1 hour 52 minutes

In a Nutshell:    With such a title, you already know how this movie ends. 

It’s a sad journey that will make you laugh and cry, especially if you’ve ever watched someone you love fight the cancer battle. 

Sure, the script is designed to attack your tear ducts, but the target audience (women besties) won’t care.  While new ground isn’t uncovered in this film, it’s a BFF reminder to live with love.

Uplifting theme: 
  • A true friend loves and forgives in good times and in bad.
  • Life.  It’s precious.  Live it.
  • Your loved ones are precious.  Love them every day the very best you can.
Things I liked:
  • Toni Collette has lost weight and looks great.  She has come a long way from “Muriel’s Wedding.”  She gives a truly stellar performance.
  • Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette have great chemistry together.
  • It’s a fairly accurate representation of the emotional and physical ups and downs of going through cancer.
  • You get to see some beautiful landscapes of England.
  • The baby birth scene was hilarious and beautiful.
  • I didn’t recognize Jaqueline Bisset at first as a blonde.  She’s beautiful in any hair color.

Things I didn’t like:
  • Milly and Jess had their first kiss at the same time with the same boy. Gross.
  • There is a lot of drunk singing, bad behavior, and emotional manipulation of the audience.
  • It takes some people longer to grow up and overcome selfishness.

Funny lines:
  •  “It’s too late for drugs.”  - Nurse who is helping Jess in the birthing room
“It’s never too late for drugs.” –  Jess
  • “I should have called an Uber.” – Miranda
  • “How could the tumor have gotten so big?” – Jess
“Because it’s aggressive, like you!” – Milly
  • “That was after Milly ate…organic mushrooms.” - Jess

Interesting lines:
  • “Try saying no to someone with cancer.” - Jess

Tips for parents:   

  • This is a very slow-moving drama that won’t interest most kids.  The subject matter is serious and a wide range of adult behavior is displayed (drinking, adultery, partial nudity, drugs, cancer.)
  • Millie has breast cancer, so you see X-rays of her chest, as well as everything else that goes with the topic (discussion, vomit, etc.)
  • Some profanity, as well as British profanity  

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Christmas Eve is sometimes merry and bright

Movie Title:   Christmas Eve

Grade: C+

Rating: PG, 1 hour 35 minutes

In a Nutshell:  This Christmas comedy features people trapped in various elevators on Christmas Eve in Manhattan and the insights they discover during their cramped, reflective moments.  It tries pretty hard to be profound and has a few shining moments. 

 If I had to be trapped in one of those elevators, I’d probably pick the one with the musicians, because at least they could pass the time with beautiful music.  Which one would you choose?

 Uplifting theme: 

  • Christmas Eve is the moment of hope, the night before the world changed.  Hope is a powerful thing.   You can change your world by changing yourself.
  • “There’s no such thing as a question without an answer.  You might not know it now, but it’s out there, waiting to be found, wanting to be found.  It’s almost always simple, so simple it’s almost silly and when you find it, well, there’s no feeling like it in the world.”  - Nick  (Taylor James)
Things I liked:

  • The cast includes a few famous people you’ve heard of: Patrick Stewart, Jon Heder, Cheryl Hines, Gary Cole, James Roday and Julianna Guill.  It’s also full of a lot of unknown actors who share the screen with equal time.  Good on them.
  • I got a kick out of seeing James Roday.  I haven’t seen him in anything since his hit TV crime comedy “Psych”.
  • Jenny Oaks Baker, who plays the violin player Mandy, is an accomplished violinist in real life!  She sent me a quote for one of my books and is a wonderful person!  I loved watching her play "Silent Night."
  • The script was realistic enough to show that at least one of the people stuck in the elevator for hours had to pee.
  • There is a group of medical providers stuck in one of the elevators who have a science vs. religion discussion, which makes the movie feel like a Christian film.  While a lot of Christian movies usually have a high “cheese” factor, I appreciated this element in a movie about Christmas.
  • I thought the “art tour” that Glen (Steve John Shepherd) took his trapped companions on was very sweet.  He revealed some important life lessons and elevated the movie during that one scene.
  • I like how the people’s lives were intertwined.
  • Keep watching during the rolling credits for two more little bits.  I wish B had said something like “Living” or “Photographing people who are alive” or something better than what he did.

Things I didn’t like:

  •  It would have been more fun to watch with more celebrities in the bit parts.
  • There are quite a bit of stereotypes and overacting that plays like farce, rather than clever comedy.
  • Patrick Stewart nailed it in A Christmas Carol several years ago, but in this film his Scrooge-like character monologues his change-of heart-crisis alone in his elevator, usually while yelling.

Did you know?

  • Surprisingly, the entire movie was filmed in Sofia, Bulgaria!
  • This is CNN talk-show host Larry King’s first time at producing a feature film.  His wife (the 7th one!) plays Nurse Byrnes who discusses religion with Dr. Roberts and encourages him to believe in “things unseen.”  Her name is Shawn Southwick King and she is a Mormon.  Jon Heder and Jenny Oaks Baker are two other Mormons in the film.
  • Mitch Davis also directed the Mormon-based film “The Other Side of Heaven”, which starred Anne Hathaway.  He must like that look for an actress, because every time I saw Margaret Clunie in this film, I thought of Anne.

Funny lines:

  • “I don’t live here.  I pop in.  I make a difference.  I pop out.”– B (James Roday)
  • “Do you play Fantasy Football yourself?” –  Randy (Max Casella)
           “No.  I’m not a loser.” – James (Jon Heder)

  • “Well, I’m Molly and I’ve been sober for 45 minutes.” – Molly (Roxanne Cook)
  • “We’re headed to a Salsa bar to dance with illegals. It’s our little Christmas charity.” – Molly
  • “I just want to say. I’m not afraid to eat you, if that’s what it comes down to.” – Walt
          “I think I figured out why you’re still single, Walt.” - Mandy


Interesting lines:

  • “Look, let’s be honest…God, white beard, angels.  Isn’t that the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard?” – Dr. Roberts (Gary Cole)
  • “Is there anything about our existence that isn’t ridiculous?” – Nurse Byrnes
  • “The mind controls the body.  The body serves the mind.” –  Glen  (Nate Fallows)
  • The French art critic Andre Gide famously stated that art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does, the better.” – Glen
  • “No one even knew we were here.” – Molly
         “But we did.” –  Sherry

  • “Everything that has ever occurred, everything that ever will occur is subject to laws that are knowable and with enough of that knowledge, you could literally understand everything. And to live in recognition of that goal, between what is knowable which is everything and what is what we do know, which is nothing, well that’s more than sad; it’s the ultimate human tragedy.” – Nick

Tips for parents:   

  • An adult farts and another one throws up, but you don’t see it.
  • Some fighting and gun shots.
  • Very little profanity.
  • Children will probably be bored, as this is not a traditional Christmas movie with Santa Clause and lots of jingle-bell action.