CrunchyMetroMom

Trying to create balance…

How to make your kiddo’s first movie enjoyable for everyone (within reason) July 21, 2014

Filed under: parenting — crunchymetromom @ 7:19 am
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Recently, a friend of mine who has a 4yo son asked me if I’d written something about how to decide when it’s okay to take your kiddo to their first movie, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t yet covered that (although I do talk about the kid-freak-out-potential in my movie reviews). In the spirit of fairness, I figured I’d write up a longer version of what I discussed with him, since this was something that I was worried about when my kids wanted to start going to movies.

Let me preface this by saying that I love going to the movies. Seriously, I adore it. There’s something about going to this magical building where you can be transported away to some other time and place through sound and images. It’s a link with culture and the arts, it’s escapism, and it’s stories brought to life by people with incredible talent (both in front of and behind the camera). The first real opportunity dd had to attend a movie was when she was 4-1/2yo and one of her friends invited her to a birthday party at the local movie theater, to see “Hop”. Not being a tremendous fan of Russell Brand, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I dutifully took her to the theater. When other parents did the “drop-off” thing (leaving their kiddos in the care of the parent[s] in charge of a party), I stuck around and bought a ticket for myself so that I could be there for her. It’s not that what those other parents did was wrong and what I did was right, but I wasn’t sure that bringing my daughter to her first immersive movie experience and then leaving her there would’ve been the wisest move I could make.

Turns out I was quite right. During the previews (the PREVIEWS!), she had a freak-out at the violence in the trailer for a “Kung-fu Panda” movie. Having been raised primarily on The Wiggles and PBS Kids shows to that point, she didn’t see violence. Ever. And even cartoonish violence can cause massive panic. I don’t recall if I offered her my lap or if she just cuddled up with me, but she was fine by the time the feature came on. There were moments where she snuggled up close, not because “Hop” has any especially scary parts but more because – at age 4-1/2 – she just wasn’t able to process all of this information without it overloading her to some extent.

By the time ds was ready to hit the theaters, it became more apparent that the “cuddle up” message had to be made and reinforced – early and often. The “cuddle up” rule for movie-going in our family is that if something on screen causes someone to get scared, they need to “cuddle up” with the nearest parent. If I take the kids on my own, then they each get an arm (it’s only fair). For the most part, ds has been fine; he hasn’t yet needed to see an entire feature on my lap, but he did get very upset when Constantine brandished a gun at the end of “Muppets: Most Wanted”, and there were tears. Since then, he’s asked for scare-level information about each movie we’re considering, so he can decide whether he wants to see it or not. Contrast this with some girlfriends whose similarly-aged kids have seen “Marvel’s The Avengers”; not every kid hits the panic button about violence, and some of it may just go away on its own. Each kiddo is different.

We’ve been to several movies with the kids (as a complete family and one parent + one or two kiddos), so at this point I feel like we have it down fairly well. With that in mind, here are five suggestions for those who are considering taking their young child to their first movie and would actually like the experience not to suck to be a good one for everyone involved:

 

1. Make sure your kiddo can get through a whole movie at home first.

If they can’t get through a whole movie at home, then attention span may be an issue. All you need is your kiddo to get bored in the theater and you’ll both be climbing the walls. Between previews and a feature, a movie experience may run 1-1/2 to 2 hours for a beginner movie; if your kiddo is unable to sit still and pay attention for that long a time, then heading out to the theater may not be the right move yet.

 

2. Check the ratings and reviews before heading to the theater.

I consider this the “Cars 2 Rule”. One exceptionally hot day, following an tent concert by The Wiggles that nearly made both of us melt, I took dd to “Cars 2” as a way to cool off. I made that spur-of-the-moment decision not knowing that “Cars 2” was rated PG. When the movie started out with a shootout, I realized I’d taken her to the WRONG FILM. I trusted that the “Cars” label meant “kid-friendly” and didn’t expect that it was really “kid-friendly at a certain age”. The new Planes: Fire and Rescue is also PG, so buyer beware.

 

3. Consider nap and meal schedules.

This one should be a gimme: if your kiddo is used to naps at the time when you want to go to the movie, consider the likelihood of a meltdown and plan accordingly. Similarly, check to see what your local theater offers for food if you’re going near a meal time. Nicer, newer theaters will often have anything from hot dogs and pizza to chicken nuggets and fries. Not every kid will eat well when you’re in a theater (sensory overload), but it may be easier to aim for a movie at lunchtime and head home for nap than to go to a mid-afternoon movie that may not exist. (Movie theaters just don’t consider nap schedules well enough when setting movie times!)

 

4. Use the bathroom right before the previews come on.

It doesn’t matter whether your little one is potty trained or still in diapers; odds are, if you don’t check right before the movie starts, you’ll end up missing part of the movie for time in the bathroom. That old adage of “Always go before you go” is still great advice.

 

5. Reinforce “the cuddle rule” right before the feature comes on.

Make sure that your kiddo knows that they should cuddle up if they get scared and that you’re there for them. Even if they don’t take you up on it, knowing that the offer is open (and reminding them to the point of having them repeat it) removes one potential source of stress for them. That way, if they do get worried or scared, they immediately start clinging and you both know that’s the signal that you need to “protect” them.

 

Additional things worth considering:

  • Sitting on the aisle, in case you need to make a speedy getaway (either a bathroom run or just a run for somewhere that wailing is acceptable)
  • Finding baby/kid-friendly movie showings, often a special program run by certain chains (such as Showcase), that have lower sound volume and slightly brighter overhead lighting
  • Getting the booster from the customer service desk can make it easier for kids too small (light and/or short) to see properly from their seat; the alternate is typically that YOU become the booster seat (which you may or may not like)

 

When all else fails, try just renting something from Redbox or grabbing a movie off OnDemand/Netflix/Amazon Prime, popping some popcorn and springing for $1 boxes of movie theater candy at the local drug store. Really, there’s nothing to stop you from having a “movie viewing” at your house that mimics the experience well enough – but at a price tag and with amenities – that are a little more everyone’s speed.

 

 

Movie Review: “Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs 2 3D” September 27, 2013

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

It’s been four years since we last saw Swallow Falls, the little town hidden just below the “A” in “Atlantic” on the world map. At that time, the island was recovering from the aftermath of local crackpot inventor Flint Lockwood’s overtaxed “Flint Lockwood’s Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator” (FLDSMDFR for short). The wacky food machine had created rains of food for the town so sick of nothing but sardines, but a malfunction caused on by the local gourmands brought food hurricanes and spaghetti tornadoes to the island, among other oversized food-based calamities. Flint (Bill Hader of “Turbo” and “Monsters University”) shut down his machine just in time to save the island, and “Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs 2” opens in the moments just following the climax of the first film, when Flint and his band of friends are celebrating their amazing survival.

This delightful sequel is one of the rare times where a second film keeps pace with the high quality of the original; as someone who hadn’t seen the original before I caught the sequel, I was pleased that the opening brings viewers up to speed without any loss of quality in storytelling. (I managed to watch the original the day following the screening, so I am now fully up to speed!)

At the start of the film, Flint and the gang –  best friend and girlfriend Sam Sparks (Anna Faris of “Movie 43” and “Yogi Bear”), father Tim (James Caan – who needs NO introduction), clueless Brent (Andy Samberg of “SNL”), jack-of-all-trades Manny (Benjamin Bratt of “Private Practice” and “Law & Order”), earnest policeman Earl (voiced this time by Terry Crews of “Arrested Development” and “The Newsroom”), and talking monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris of “The Smurfs” and “How I Met Your Mother”) – are sketching their design for their own company: SPARKSWOOD. Each of the group claims a place in their new venture, giving the sense that they will stay together forever. Their happy plans are immediately interrupted by the arrival of a helicopter from LIVE Corp, the primary venture of Flint’s childhood hero: inventor Chester V (Will Forte of “SNL” and “The Cleveland Show”). A holographic Chester V emerges from the copter and explains to the townspeople that LIVE Corp has been contracted to clean up the entire island, and all they have to do is evacuate to San Franjose, where housing and jobs await them for the short period of their displacement.

Steve and Flint tour LIVE Corp headquarters with Barb

Steve and Flint tour LIVE Corp headquarters with Barb

The residents decamp for the mainland – some more grudging than others – and Flint is immediately taken under the wing of Chester V, who brings him on staff at LIVE Corp and challenges him to earn one of the coveted “Thinkquanaut” orange vests by having the best invention of all company employees. Flint throws himself into the challenge with gusto, continuing to invent silly idea after silly idea, including a day-glow, confetti laden party in a box that seems to be an IED from Party City. When Flint isn’t chosen at the “vesting” ceremony and instead accidentally detonates one of his parties in a box, Chester V realizes the time is ripe for the picking.

On the pleasant island of Swallow Falls, Chester V’s Thinkquanauts have been working hard to pick apart and find the coveted FLDSMDFR, and they’ve been having poor luck. Chester V seizes the opportunity to recruit the down-and-out Flint to find the machine himself, selling Flint on the idea that the FLDSMDFR has reactivated and has created monster cheeseburgers with french fry legs that are sure to leave the island any minute now and destroy the Statue of Liberty. Although Flint is charged with handling the task alone, Sam and his other friends – even his father – all bundle together on a boat and head out for Swallow Falls to save the world.

Steve, Flint and Sam

Steve, Flint and Sam

When they arrive, they find “foodimals”, animals derived from food in rather hilarious ways. Some are merely cute, such as the massively adorable strawberry Sam immediately names “Barry”, and others are built for easy laughs, such as the pickles that are reminiscent of South Park’s Terence and Philip. Plays on words, such as “shrimpanzees”, “susheep” and “watermelephants” provide clever visuals and excellent puns. These jokes may mostly go over kids’ heads, but playing to the entire audience is a really good thing.

Steve vs a shrimpanzee

Steve vs a shrimpanzee

Flint and co. explore the island and use varied means to locate the FLDSMDFR; Swallow Falls has turned into a foodimal Lost World with more cute than danger – but the number of pitfalls, detours and distractions is by no means small. When Chester V and his second-in-command, the unflappable chimpanzee-turned-scientist Barb (Kristen Schaal of “The Daily Show” and “30 Rock”), head out to the island to intercept and motivate Flint, cracks form in Flint’s fellowship. In the end, it’s up to more than just Flint to find a way to save Swallow Falls and his search party, and this sweet, cute film finds a way to wrap things up without putting little kids on the receiving end of too many scares.

Chester V and Flint lead the search for the FLDSMDFR

Chester V and Flint lead the search for the FLDSMDFR

I brought both of my kids to this screening, so I can say that little kiddos don’t appear to have too much to worry about from this film; there’s little frightening in it and the jokes are aimed more at adults than at kids (sailing well over the heads of my 4yo ds and 6yo dd). As to the question of whether this is a movie that should be seen in 3D, I can say that the 3D is nice but not required. The bright visuals would look just as good in 2D, and the added depth of the 3D is attractive but not necessarily worth the additional cost, if you’re not typically inclined to paying for 3D movies.

3-1/2 out of 4 stars

“Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs 3D” opens nationwide on September 27, 2013. This movie is rated PG (Parental Guidance suggested) for mild rude humor.

 

Movie Review: “Planes 3D” August 9, 2013

Planes

 

“From above the world of Cars…” is the teaser from the promos, intended to remind potential viewers that “Planes” is another view into a beloved universe created by the folks at Pixar. This teaser ends up being rather unnecessary – since everything about the movie, from the cow-tractor cameos to the underpinnings of the storyline cherry-picks liberally from the “Cars” franchise. As it happens, while the world was created by Pixar, the movie was created by DisneyToon – originally intended as a direct-to-DVD production and then shifted to a theater release.

The movie centers on Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook of “My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Good Luck Chuck”), a crop duster with dreams of becoming a racer. Dusty wants to compete in the “Wings Around the World Rally”, an around-the-globe challenge that would pit him against the world’s fastest planes. It’s a 7-leg challenge, stretching from New York City to Iceland, Germany, India, Nepal, China, and Mexico, before finishing back at the starting line in New York. In desperate need of a real trainer, Dusty and his trusty sidekick, the gasoline tanker Chug (“Everybody Loves Raymond” actor Brad Garrett), enlist war hero Skipper (Stacy Keach, a TV/movie veteran of everything from “Mistral’s Daughter” to “The Bourne Legacy”). The cranky Skipper is highly dubious that Dusty has what it takes to win, especially when it’s revealed that Dusty is terrified of heights and will only fly less than one thousand feet off the ground.

 

Dusty Crophopper

Dusty Crophopper

 

Nevertheless, Skipper trains him – and then off goes Dusty for a Rally qualifier. He manages to hold his own but initially fails to make the cut-off; however, thanks to the aerial equivalent of doping discovered in another racer, Dusty squeaks into the qualifying group and heads off for the Rally. It’s there that he meets a suite of racers from around the world – including the refined and sarcastic Bulldog (“Monty Python” icon John Cleese), the amusing and sweet El Chupacabra (Carlos Alazraqui of “Reno 911!”), and the dastardly and arrogant Ripslinger (Roger Craig Smith of “Wreck-it Ralph” and “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble”).

 

Dusty and Ripslinger

Dusty and Ripslinger

 

Dusty squares off against a field of talented and much faster planes, trying to prove to himself – and to others – that a simple crop duster can manage to be something more. As Dusty explains while wistfully examining the Rally’s course on a world map, “I’ve flown thousands of miles and never been anywhere.” He struggles with his own limitations as much as others struggle with them, but the more he competes the more he’s able to stretch even his own idea of what he can and can’t do.

The only problem with “Planes” is that, as much as it’s a new production, there’s little about it that’s truly original. The concept of a young hotshot in need of guidance from someone more seasoned is territory well-mined in the relationship between Lightning McQueen and Doc Hudson in the first “Cars” film. Keach’s gravelly voice makes the cantankerous Skipper a gray, aerial Doc, and the green villain, Ripslinger, was very much Chick Hicks with a propeller. Even the idea of a multi-leg, around-the-world race between a mouthy, arrogant nemesis and the good guy was well-covered in “Cars 2”.

 

Chug and Dottie

Chug and Dottie

 

The only real original bits came with El Chupacabra, especially around his romantic intentions towards Rochelle, a French Canadian plane voiced by the ever-talented Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Seinfeld” and “Veep”, among many others). The rest of the movie seemed very much a recycling of “Cars”-world motifs and storylines, sometimes with the roles reversed, but ultimately so similar that this wasn’t so much “from above the world of Cars” as it was just “from Cars”.

A cute tale with only a small amount of scary bits in it, “Planes” is a perfectly fine film for kids. The run time is just about 90 minutes, so it’s a quick enough film for viewers of all ages. Also, I saw this movie in 3D and while I’m sure it’ll be available in 2D, there’s something to be said for seeing this with the additional depth that 3D brings.

While this movie used some of the same technologies routinely employed by Pixar and even had some Pixar heavyweights in lead positions (like Executive Producer John Lasseter), this was a Disney-made movie. Clearly, the cross-over worked well from a technical execution standpoint; the renderings were nicely done, with good texture on the trees, grass and other items that have variable surfaces. The smooth surfaces of cars and airplanes tended to look too shiny and unreal – but this is how things looked in “Cars”, as well, so I’m less likely to think that a limitation of the DisneyToon team. As an approximation of a Pixar flick not from Pixar itself, this is very decent work.

For fans of “Cars” and that universe, this is a fun, brief diversion. If you’re looking for something original and breathtakingly new from Disney, this won’t really get you there…but maybe the upcoming sequel (“Planes: Fire & Rescue” – advertised at the end of the credits) will provide something new for Dusty and Co.

 

2 out of 4 stars

 

“Planes 3D” opens nationwide on August 9, 2013. This movie is rated PG (Parental Guidance suggested) for some mild action and rude humor.

 

Movie Trailer World Premiere: “Delivery Man” July 2, 2013

What does family mean to me?

I was posed this question by my friend at Disney, who asked me (along with 532 other “mommy bloggers”) to participate in a unique stunt: to offer the premiere of the official trailer for the new Vince Vaughn movie on our websites. By now, y’all are used to me saying that I DO NOT shill. So, let me start this off by reminding everyone that I don’t shill and that I only write about or promote things of interest to me. Disney didn’t pay for this space and there’s no quid-pro-quo going on. I’m writing and posting this trailer because the topic is of interest to me and…really, if the trailer is an indication, this is a movie that’s got some serious promise.

Before I get back to the question at hand, let me give a brief take on what “Delivery Man” is all about. Vince Vaughn (“Swingers”, “The Internship”) plays the lead – David Wozniak – a bit of a loser, a drifter, someone who doesn’t seem to have his act quite together and who is failing at his attempts to hang onto his girlfriend (Colbie Smulders – whose jumpsuit alone stole many scenes in “Marvel’s The Avengers”). Wozniak’s life takes a decidedly left turn when he’s informed that his decades-prior sperm bank donations prolifically spawned 533 children, 142 of whom are suing the sperm bank so they can find out the name of their dad. Wozniak then stumbles through trying to learn what it means to be a dad by playing “guardian angel” to some of those kids, against the arm-waving advice of his attorney  friend, played by Chris Pratt (“Parks and Recreation”, “Zero Dark Thirty”).

Chris Pratt and Vince Vaughn

Wozniak gets schooled on what it means to be a parent

Clearly, the movie has some classic elements of the typical Vince Vaughn comedy – he pratfalls, he acts the oaf, he does things that make you wince and squirm in your seat because no well-adjusted person would do half of what he does. However, the movie also appears to have a strong emphasis on what it means to step up to the plate to be a dad, even when your family is as non-traditional as they come. Pratt’s character clearly provides not only the voice of caution but also that of experience: playing a dad on-screen, he’s showing what the traditional dad figure looks like, which is a stark contrast to the converted dad played by Vaughn.

Wozniak looks over profiles of his kids

Is this Vaughn’s shot to show he has range?

I can’t truly predict whether this movie will be one-star or four, but I can say that it’s intriguing to see Vaughn try to branch out into something a bit more dramatic. This has the potential to be his “Truman Show”, which displayed Jim Carrey’s solid dramatic chops in a fashion that took seemingly everybody by surprise. Having seen Vaughn be ever so money in “Swingers” years ago, and loving him as the “EARMUFFS!” dad in “Old School” and Wes Mantooth in “Anchorman”, I’d like to see if he has some serious range.

So, then, back to the idea of family…and this is where the whole Vince Vaughn piece really comes together for me. When you’re a parent, you can’t always be serious – it would be too exhausting. Kids want, need, and crave playfulness, humor and a sense that a smile is always around the corner. On the other hand, you can’t always just be a playmate – you have to provide structure and security, things that kids need but can’t create easily on their own. Family structures have evolved so much over generations, and the family image some people loudly deify as “traditional” isn’t even a century old. Go back hundreds of years and traditions involved families run by and around the mothers or grandmothers, families where multiple generations lived under the same roof, and families where children followed only in the footsteps of their father. Well, male children, at least.

What family means to me is the people that I come home to – whether that home is my house or somewhere else. For so many years before I started dating dh, my friends extended the family into which I was born; in addition to my parents and my sister, I had several close friends with whom I share everything but a common genome. Ten years ago, I decided to make a family with my best friend by marrying him, and then we expanded our family further by having dd 3 years later and ds 3 years after that. Our family unit may seem “traditional”, but I think we’re no more or less valid as a family than unmarried couples with kids, families with parents of the same gender, single parents, childless couples…

To me, family is whatever you make of it. It’s the people who support you and who love you, even when you’re driving them up the wall. Family doesn’t have to be one-man-one-woman. Families are based on love, not on chromosomal content.

So, without any further ado, here’s the official trailer for Disney’s, “Delivery Man”, which opens in theaters on November 22, 2013. And before you get any ideas about taking YOUR family to see it, please note that it is rated PG-13 for mature themes, so it’s probably not appropriate for the smallest members of your brood.

  

 

Movie Review: “Monsters University 3D” June 21, 2013

Filed under: movie reviews — crunchymetromom @ 7:49 am
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Monsters University

  

In a time when sequels and reboots abound, Pixar decided to breathe a little new air into the “Monsters, Inc.” universe with a prequel to explore how Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. “Sulley” Sullivan (John Goodman) became friends. When we first saw Mike and Sulley in “Monsters, Inc.”, they were an unbeatable “Scare Team” at Monsters, Inc.: a company that harnessed frightened children’s screams to generate power. “Monsters University” opens with a fresh-faced Mike as an elementary school student on a field trip to Monsters, Inc. It’s on this trip that Mike falls in love with the idea of being a “Scarer”, and he’s encouraged by one of the hot-shot scarers to go to his alma mater: Monsters U.

  

Mike Wazowski arriving at MU

  

Fast-forward a few years, and Mike is now a retainer-mouthed freshman at Monsters University, majoring in Scaring. His roommate is the terribly insecure Randy (the character of Randall, reprised by the remarkable Steve Buscemi), whose chameleonic powers are exceeded only by his creepiness. As Mike attends his first scaring class, he’s introduced to the most powerful person on campus: Dean Hardscrabble (played delightfully by Helen Mirren). The Dean has a warning for all potential scarers: failure to pass the semester final exam will result in expulsion from the Scaring program.

  

Mike Wazowski vs Dean Hardscrabble

  

Mike hits the books, while classmate Sulley spends all of his time partying with the alpha fraternity, RΩR (pronounced “Roar Omega Roar”), led by BMoC Johnny Worthington (Nathan Fillion). Come the final, Mike knows all the theory forwards, backwards, sideways and down but lacks the technique to pull off a true scare. Sulley, riding the coattails of his father’s legacy, has the roar without any of the book-smarts. It’s easy to see where “Animal House” provided ample material for Pixar; there’s even an (accidental) guitar-smashing moment that’s vaguely reminiscent of Bluto’s run-in with a guitar during the Delta House’s toga party.

  

Oozma Kappa Fraternity

  

When the two are dropped from the Scaring program, Mike blames Sulley and charges out on his own to win back his shot at being scary through the “Scare Games” – an inter-fraternity scaring challenge that’s some kind of Pan-Hellenic nightmare tour. Requiring a Greek sponsor, Mike and Sulley join up with OK – Oozma Kappa – the misfit fraternity that’s clearly chronically under-recruited and undesirable. This is where the movie mines the “Revenge of the Nerds” oeuvre rather liberally, with results as satisfying as those when Lambda Lambda Lambda went up against the Alpha Betas in the Greek Games.

  

Roar Omega Roar

  

There are still challenges left for Mike and Sulley, but most of those revolve around the pair’s complex relationship: built first on mutual dislike that eventually turns into respect and true collegiality. You see the delicate machine of their Scaring Team come together brilliantly by the end of the film, and the pair really learn how to leverage each others’ strengths to win – together.

  

Scare Games

  

While Mike and Sulley’s story is satisfying from a perspective of “Ah, this explains everything“, it’s not exactly original – and that’s really the only issue I have with the film. I came out of it having definitely enjoyed myself, but it was all too easy to see where the filmmakers had taken a bit too much inspiration from teen/college/coming of age movies that came before – “Animal House”, “Revenge of the Nerds”…even “Carrie”. At least Dean Hardscrabble wasn’t the fool Dean Wormer was, but it’s impossible to imagine Helen Mirren ever playing the fool. “Monsters University” was an enjoyable and amusing film, but it lacked the originality and spark that so many prior Pixar films showed (including the original “Monsters, Inc.”).

  

From a technical perspective, I have to say that this was a delightful view in 3D. I’m sure that it’s fine in 2D, but the depth and scale of both the characters and the Monsters University campus really stand out far more with the very well-done 3D. The voicework is fantastic, with the reprising actors (including Crystal, Goodman, and Buscemi) all turning in great performances.

  

The movie is rated G – raising the natural question: “Should I take my kids to see Monsters University?” I can’t speak for all kids, but for little ones that had no trouble dealing with the scare factor in “Monsters, Inc.”, “Monsters University” should be fine. I actually found this movie less scary than the first movie in the franchise, so I’d say this movie should appeal well to little ones and grown-ups alike. “Monsters University” is preceded by a really fantastic short film – “The Blue Umbrella” – providing ample reason to make it to the seats on-time.

  

3 out of 4 stars

“Monsters University 3D” opens nationwide on June 21, 2013. This movie is rated G (General Audiences).

 

Movie Review: “The Blue Umbrella” (Short) June 19, 2013

Filed under: movie reviews — crunchymetromom @ 7:16 am
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The Blue Umbrella

  

Last year, I extolled the virtues of Disney returning animation to its true form with “Paperman”, a short I was sure would win an Oscar (and it did). This year, Pixar’s short “The Blue Umbrella” presents yet another wonderfully done sweet tale of love – albeit with a twist.

As the scene opens, a city starts to experience the first few fat drops of rain from an oncoming shower. Inanimate objects on the city streets begin reacting to the rain with muted joy and subtle smiles as they soak it in. Umbrellas soon emerge as the protectors of the various passers-by, mostly the generic, stalwart black umbrellas sported in every city. There’s one standout, though: a blue umbrella. This bright blue umbrella revels in the rain, clearly enjoying the shower as much, if not more so, than the other supposedly lifeless characters on the street.

Waiting at a light, the blue umbrella spots another colorful protector in the crowd; a lovely red umbrella shares a shy, coy moment with the blue umbrella until they’re cruelly separated by their owners heading in opposite directions. The two umbrellas are heartbroken, and the blue umbrella does his best to make his way back to his beloved – to sometimes jarring consequences. In the end, love does conquer all, even the rain, providing a wholly satisfying ending for the adorable pair.

  

Blue and Red Umbrellas

  

The more I think on “The Blue Umbrella”, the more I think it certainly has a decent shot at winning the Oscar this year. It’s a sheer joy to watch, and the computer graphics feel and look so real as to be wholly believable. Well, if you believe that umbrellas can fall in love…and really: why not?

  

4 out of 4 stars

“The Blue Umbrella” will be shown in theatres prior to viewing of “Monsters University”, which opens nationwide on June 21, 2013.

  

   

 

Movie Review: “Oz the Great and Powerful 3D” March 6, 2013

Filed under: movie reviews — crunchymetromom @ 7:25 am
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Oz the Great and Powerful

I’ll admit it: I came into this movie with expectations deeply tempered by all of the CGI-backlash fueled by recent big-budget box office flops. I’ve also seen prequels that couldn’t match up to the movie they were attempting to lead in, after the fact (I’m looking at you, George Lucas). Detractors beware: this movie actually really IS worth seeing. It’s also worth pointing out that, although this film will also be shown in 2D and IMAX, I really enjoyed seeing it in 3D. Sure, some of the 3D usage is a bit gratuitous (c’mon, they spent $200 million on the CGI!), but much of it is just so well done that I found myself marveling at it and really enjoying the added depth it gave to the picture rather than finding it distracting or overwhelming.

The movie opens in a boxed format and black-and-white tone that suggests you’re seeing something limited, something from the past that doesn’t quite meet current supersize, full color expectations. It’s the early 20th century, and dusty Kansas is receiving a visit from a traveling circus that’s home to a young con man named Oscar Diggs (James Franco – “Spiderman”, “Eat, Pray, Love”), who bills himself as Oz – a magnificent wizard extraordinaire whose powers require only that you believe (a constant thread in L. Frank Baum’s original story). As part of the early prequel setup, a sweet visitor from Diggs’ past runs through town, Annie (Michelle Williams – “Dawson’s Creek” and “My Week With Marilyn”), tries to goad him into committing by notifying him that she’s been offered the hand of Frank Gale. Diggs decides to let Annie go to a better future with a better man, but before he can truly finish saying goodbye he finds himself chased out by the circus’ strongman, intent on punishing him for taking advantage of a female member of the troupe. Diggs seeks shelter in a hot air balloon, taking with him only a few key belongings tossed up by his faithful assistant, Frank (Zack Braff – “Scrubs” and “Garden State”).

A tornado soon enters the picture, pulling Diggs seemingly to his doom. It’s here that the 3D effects start to pour in; the twister is far more terrifying than the one in the 1939 “The Wizard of Oz” based on Baum’s tale (which I still find frightening to this day), with projectiles coming at Diggs from nearly every possible angle. His trip finally ends as the twister spits him out the top of the funnel and down he descends into a technicolor world that suddenly expands the picture to fill the entire screen: the land of Oz. The landscapes unfold in blistering bursts of color and sound that are lushly beautiful in a way that down-on-its-luck early century Kansas can’t match. He soon meets Theodora (Mila Kunis – “That 70’s Show” and “Black Swan”) and works his charms on her as she explains that he must be the one who will fulfill the prophecy that looms large over the kingdom: the wizard who comes to Oz bearing the very same name will be the one who frees it from the tyranny of the Wicked Witch. As they begin traveling together, they come across Finley, a small flying monkey of the variant from the “The Wizard of Oz”, voiced by Braff in one of several multi-role turns evocative of the 1939 film.

Diggs and Theodora approach the Emerald City

Diggs and Theodora approach the Emerald City

Theodora brings Diggs to the Emerald City and introduces him to her sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz – “The Mummy” and “The Bourne Legacy”), the King’s advisor. Evanora wastes little time in trying to drive a wedge between Theodora and Diggs, while she seduces him with the idea of wealth beyond his wildest dreams. All he has to do is go to the Dark Forest and kill the Wicked Witch. Diggs resists, but ultimately his greed wins out and he heads out on his quest. On the way to the Dark Forest, Diggs and Finley find Chinatown and rescue a young China Girl (Joey King – “Ramona and Beezus” and “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”) who joins them on their quest. The witch Diggs has been sent to kill turns out to be none other than Glinda (also played by Williams), the Good Witch of the South.

Diggs and Glinda

Diggs and Glinda

At this point, Diggs’ life takes a serious left turn. What he thought was up turns out to be down, and what he believed to be true turns out to be completely otherwise. The various characters sprinkled throughout played by the same actors (such as Braff’s Frank and Finley, or Williams’ Annie and Glinda) serve much the same purpose as those from the 1939 film, providing the same measure of support and guidance in each of the worlds without the protagonist really understanding why. Of course, knowing that Diggs remains in Oz until Dorothy’s arrival, you don’t expect him to wake and find them all standing above him. So, to that end, this movie serves as a point for you to search for the clues – how will they make the origin story?

Diggs and Finley

Diggs and Finley

Much to my enjoyment, several pieces from the original book live on in the movie: Chinatown existed in the book but never made it to the 1939 film, and Glinda is restored to her role as the Good Witch of the South (instead of the North). The Quadlings, who had little billing before, took center stage for the latter third of the film. The silver slippers (turned ruby for the 1939 film to help showcase the advance in color film technology) did not appear, that I was able to discern, but the measure of Diggs’ ingenuity in setting up the mechanisms to allow him to appear omnipotent to his subjects is explored well enough that you get the sense that he really is the savvy con man seen both in the book and the 1939 film.

Evanora and Theodora

Evanora and Theodora

So, what does the movie do well? The CGI and 3D are really the stars of the show. Oz is gorgeous, otherworldly and magical, just as you would expect if you’d read Baum’s work. King is lovely as the China Girl and Williams is as sweet and gentle as Billie Burke had been in 1939. Kunis and Weisz give decent performances, although some of the contrivances added to Kunis’ performance in the latter quarter of the film seem a bit forced and unnatural. Still, it all comes together quite nicely. The beauty of “Oz the Great and Powerful” isn’t the attempt to get the Oscar – it’s the aim to tell a part of a story we never really heard before in such a way as to fascinate and excite us. It’s escapism at its height, pulling us so far our of our reality that we fall into another world entirely, just like Diggs.

If the movie suffers from one down side, it’s a bit too much James Franco. He’s one of these incredibly frustrating actors who may have potential but seems to spend a bit too much time not feeling comfortable in his character’s skin. I had a hard time finding myself convinced that he was a slick con-man. It’s only towards the very end of the movie that he seems to be fully in command of Diggs, and perhaps that’s just because it’s only then that Diggs really sees how he himself is able to do what must be done. Still, it leaves too much of the film with Franco putting in a performance that doesn’t match quite as well as those of sweet, earnest King or the amusingly eager Braff. Keep an eye out for a late appearance by Bruce Campbell (“Evil Dead”); he’s a staple of director Sam Raimi (the “Spiderman” trilogy) and one of my favorite easter eggs in any Raimi production.

As for the question of whether this movie is appropriate for young kids, I’d have to say that it’s not really one I’d recommend for those under the age of 8. There are some scary scenes, especially towards the end of the film, and the Wicked Witch’s flying baboons might be enough to send a Kindergartner into a crying jag. Add the extra punch of really well-done 3D (which this really was) and it might be a bit much for the truly younger set.

Having years ago read the presumptive (and completely unrelated) literary prequel, “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire, and having walked out during the intermission of the eponymous musical (which I couldn’t have loathed more if I tried), I can say this is a decent enough take on the prequel concept without the political intrigue built into Maguire’s book. There’s plenty of setup without it all being over-the-top, and you could follow from this right into the 1939 movie without all of the drama and nerdy shouts of “CONTINUITY ERROR!” that occurred when Lucas decided to make prequels for the “Star Wars” trilogy.

Lastly, make sure you’re there for the start of the film. The opening credits take full advantage of the 3D in a way that’s just utterly lovely, and they’re not to be missed.

3-1/2 out of 4 stars

“Oz the Great and Powerful 3D” opens nationwide on March 8, 2013. This movie is rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested) for sequences of action and scary images, and brief mild language.

 

Movie Review: “Finding Nemo 3D” September 13, 2012

Filed under: movie reviews — crunchymetromom @ 7:38 am
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Finding Nemo 3D

 

Somehow, when “Finding Nemo” came out in theaters the first time, in 2003, I missed out on seeing it. I can’t remember if it was a lack of other people who wanted to go see an animated film or if I was just too overloaded with grad school and work to notice that there were movies in the theater. Regardless, there’s no time like the present to catch up and see a really cute film.

The story opens with two clownfish parents, Marlin (the truly wonderful Albert Brooks) and Coral (Elizabeth Perkins), cooing over their bountiful brood of baby clownfish eggs. Circumstances interrupt their joy, seeing as how the ocean isn’t really as peaceful as all that, and we’re soon left with Marlin carefully cradling a single egg and calling the baby fish therein “Nemo”, the name Coral had wanted at least one of the babies to have. As the movie then quickly fast-forwards to Nemo’s first day of “school”, you see that Marlin’s experience with loss has made him a neurotic mess. This is exactly where Brooks shines, and as a big fan of his prior works as neurotic messes in movies like “Broadcast News” and “Defending Your Life”, he’s just the perfect casting for the role.

 

Finding Nemo 3D - Nemo and Marlin

Nemo and his dad, Marlin, head off to the first day of school

 

The young Nemo, played by Alexander Gould, chafes at his father’s over-protectiveness and his attempt at rebellion ultimately lands him in the net of a Sydney dentist looking for an exotic present for his brace-faced, clueless niece. The movie then kicks into high gear, switching back and forth between Marlin’s search for Nemo and Nemo’s experience in the tank at the dentist’s office. (The dentist is played by the late Aussie legend Bill Hunter, who I adored in “The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert” and “Muriel’s Wedding”.)

Marlin’s adventures are fueled and facilitated by Dori, a blue-finned and forgetful fish voiced by comedian/talk show host Ellen Degeneres, in easily the most flexible role of her life. She was really astonishing in this role, as she pitched from silly to sweet and back again. Nemo’s tank-based adventures are directed by Gill – an angelfish with an attitude, cleverly voiced by Willem Defoe – and the fish is as no-nonsense as Defoe has ever been in any of the roles where I’ve seen him before (such as “Wild at Heart”). Other supporting actor gems include Nigel, a kind-hearted pelican, played by Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush, and an entire school of fish voiced by Pixar mainstay John Ratzenberger.

 

Finding Nemo 3D - Dori and Marlin

Dori and Marlin on their adventure

 

The movie swings back and forth between the two sides of the story – the penitent father who fears everything but ultimately risks it all to save the son who’s willing to try anything because he doesn’t really understand the value of maturity and wisdom. Both move along quickly in their progression, Marlin coming more out of his shell and testing his limits, with Dori either leading the way or (unwittingly) forcing him to risk his life, while Nemo learns about patience and persistence under Gill’s tutelage.

Marlin’s journey through danger and wonder is clearly a metaphor for what every parent experiences as they try to raise their children; you’d walk across glass to save your child, if you could, and the fish version may just include swimming into water infested with sharks, jellies and other nasties that show the darker side of life in the ocean. Nemo’s maturity is accelerated but seems right in line with what all children eventually have to learn about independence, patience, and determination.

 

Finding Nemo 3D - Nemo and Gill

Nemo and Gill sharing quality tank-time

 

And then we get to the 3D. Really, I think it was just very nicely done. At no point did I feel like it was distracting or overbearing; the 3D work gave the film depth without having fish flying at your head. Many of the effects were subtle and simply made it seem a bit less like a flat, two-dimensional cartoon. In other words, it worked really nicely. DD, who attended the screening with me, gaped at the screen when she finally allowed me to put the glasses on her head. “It’s like you’re IN the movie,” she gasped. Why yes, that’s how it’s supposed to feel.

My only potential beef with the movie is in the rating. While it’s rated G, there are clearly a number of scenes where Marlin, Nemo and other key characters are put at considerable risk or where there are “scary” parts. I’m not sure that this should have been rated PG, but I can say that dd spent the first half of the movie with her head in my left armpit, and it took a considerable amount of convincing to get her to dislodge it. Given that she’s at the low-end of the target age (five, turning six in a couple of months), it’s possible that she just wasn’t as ready for it, but this wasn’t her first viewing of the film and her experience seeing it the first time caused her to worry about seeing it again. So, take that for what you will. If you bring small children, they may or may not react well to the scary parts.

Overall, I think Pixar did a great job with this one. It’s a cute film with really excellent acting and the usual high-quality Pixar animation, this time with the 3D effects to add a little more realism to the display. For those looking to bring their kids to a fun film that’s gorgeous to watch, this is definitely worth checking out.

 

3-1/2 out of 4 stars

“Finding Nemo 3D” opens nationwide on September 14, 2012. This movie is rated G (General Audiences).

 

Movie Review: “Paperman” (short) August 10, 2012

Filed under: movie reviews — crunchymetromom @ 8:09 am
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Paperman

Nearly a century ago, Disney pioneered really amazing animation – stories that didn’t always have words but that conveyed rich meaning, stories that needed no dialogue to show depth of feeling. “Paperman”, a new short film set to air before showings of “Wreck-It Ralph”, is a brilliant example of what Disney has been doing since the dawn of the studio.

The story unfolds on an elevated train track in mid-century New York City, as two commuters briefly share what could only be described as a “meet cute”. Naturally, things can’t be all THAT simple, so some complications are thrown in their path. The title’s derivation soon becomes quite apparent and the audience is provided ample opportunity to root on the potential lovebirds. And, this being Disney, the people on the screen aren’t the only animated elements in this short film that want these two to get together.

 

Paperman

Paperman

Paperman

 

As a longtime fan of animation – and a collector of animation artwork (such as production cels) – I loved seeing “Paperman” come to life on the screen, even if only lasted for a few minutes. Whether it was the simplicity of the black-and-white presentation or the delightful lack of clutter from having it be dialogue-free, “Paperman” was a sweet amuse-bouche to open our screening of “The Odd Life of Timothy Green”. For those who love animation at its greatest, I highly recommend making it out to “Wreck-It Ralph” early enough to see “Paperman”. Based on what I saw, the next time you may see it after that is at the Oscars.

4 out of 4 stars

“Paperman” will be shown in theatres prior to viewing of “Wreck-It Ralph”, which opens nationwide on November 2, 2012.

 

Movie Review: “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” August 9, 2012

Filed under: movie reviews — crunchymetromom @ 7:58 am
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The Odd Life of Timothy Green

 

Set in the fictional “pencil capital” of Stanleyville, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” is a sweet, modern-day fairy tale about family and relationships. Jennifer Garner (“13 Going on 30”) and Joel Edgerton (“Warrior”) star as Cindy and Jim Green, a young couple whose simple life only seems to lack the one thing biology is outright refusing them: a child. Faced with the reality that they can’t have children of their own, the Greens spend a cathartic evening with a bottle of red wine, a pencil and a small notepad, writing down all of the qualities their dream child would possess. Before they head off to bed, they bury these pages in a small wooden keepsake box out back in Cindy’s lovingly tended garden. Later that night, a wet and dirt-covered 10-year-old appears in their house and informs them that he is, in fact, Timothy – the son they always wanted but weren’t destined to have. Played by doe-eyed CJ Adams, Timothy is the picture of everything the Greens want, a sweet boy with a gentle heart, a ready wit, and a charming personality.

 

The Odd Life of Timothy Green - The Greens

The Greens (left-to-right): Cindy (Jennifer Garner), Timothy (CJ Adams), and Jim (Joel Edgerton)

 

As they begin to introduce him to extended family, you start to see the exceedingly small cracks in Peter Hedges’ script, where Jim and Cindy’s relationship with Timothy speaks more about how they relate to their own family members than about how they relate to Timothy. He becomes a means to an end, a way for Jim to settle up with his often-absentee father, Big Jim (David Morse), and for Cindy to stand toe-to-toe with her tiger mother of a sister, Brenda (Rosemarie DeWitt). There’s also a side story about Timothy and how he explores relationships of his own as he befriends the cool, semi-goth Joni Jerome (Odeya Rush). You get only glimpses into the relationship formed between Timothy and Joni, but what you see is clearly reflective of deep friendship that turns into first love.

 

The Odd Life of Timothy Green - Timothy and Joni

Timothy (CJ Adams) and Joni (Odeya Rush)

 

An additional thread involving the town’s central structure, the pencil factory managed by Franklin Crudstaff (Ron Livingston, “Office Space”), provides the opportunity for Livingston to play the full-on jerk you never really saw in his role on “Sex and the City” as well as a way for Jim to stand on his own two feet for the first time in his life. Timothy is part of the transformation of his parents, seemingly within a matter of weeks, allowing them to work through their own daddy and sister issues while they hover relentlessly over his soccer coach (the deliciously scene-stealing Common).

 

The overwhelming majority of those of us attending the screening were parents, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house at the end of the film, although I’ll spare any further plot details so as to leave the mysteries intact. Suffice to say that it’s worthwhile to grab some extra napkins at the concessions stand when purchasing your popcorn; you’ll need it. “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” is a genuinely sweet film, and it’s one that will make you want to run home and hug your kids, if you didn’t bring them along with you. Its minor trips with the one-dimensional stereotypes of the super-competitive, arrogant mom (Brenda) and the domineering, lying boss are easily forgiven once you look into Adams’ sweet eyes. For her part, Rush is likely to be a star any day now. The Israeli-born actress looks like a pint-sized Mila Kunis and, while she’s beautiful now, she’s likely to venture into knockout territory by the time she’s in her upper teens. Garner and Edgerton turn in heartfelt and (at times) heartwrenching performances as Timothy’s parents, supported by a solid cast that includes industry veterans like Dianne Wiest (“Edward Scissorhands”) and M. Emmet Walsh (“Blade Runner”). Ahmet Zappa’s story of miracles, love and loss is definitely one worth sharing with the whole family.

 

3 out of 4 stars

“The Odd Life of Timothy Green” opens nationwide on August 15, 2012. This movie is rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested) for mild thematic elements and brief language.

 

 
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