A Walk in the Woods

Posted on September 1, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexual references
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and discussions of substance abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 2, 2015
Date Released to DVD: December 28, 2015
Amazon.com ASIN: B015YYC4C8

Copyright 2015 Route One Films
Copyright 2015 Route One Films
It isn’t getting to that point where you most often see your friends at funerals. It isn’t feeling stale because instead of promoting a new book, he’s going on some chirpy morning show to promote a reissue of his old ones.

Though both of those things are true. But Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) has a different reason for wanting to try one of the longest hikes in the world, the Appalachian Trail. He quotes the pioneering conservationist John Muir, the man who inspired the National Parks system and urged the preservation of the Grand Canyon. Muir said sometimes you just have to “throw some tea and bread into an old sack and jump over the back fence.” And it is just past Bryson’s own back fence that the AT beckoned.

If mortality was bearing down a bit hard, that just meant more “now or never” urgency. The fact that the lead actors are three decades older than Bryson was when he took the walk that led to his book, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, vastly overshadows the clutter from the superficial other issues raised by the script, often half-heartedly. Will Bryson write again? Will he re-adjust to living in the US after years abroad? Will he recover his mojo? Where is he from? Will he make it to the end of the trail alive and without inflicting some serious and possibly lethal damage on his traveling companion?

Bryson is, as the movie begins, back in the US and feeling unmoored. He decides to hike the private, non-profit, volunteer-managed Appalachian Trail, stretching more than 2000 miles from Maine to Georgia. His wife (Emma Thompson, bringing her luminous intelligence to an underwritten wife-y role) insists that he cannot go alone. Everyone he knows turns him down. And then he gets a call from his old high school friend in Des Moines, Katz (Nick Nolte, a marvel of shambling decay with a voice more growl than verbal), volunteering to come along. These guys are not exactly up to jumping over the back fence. But the longest journey begins with a single step, and so off they go.

No big surprises ahead — encounters with quirky people along the way (Kristen Schaal is a stand-out as a loony solo hiker and Mary Steenburgen is a welcome presence as always as the owner of a hotel along the trail), spectacular scenery, some historical and conservationist information, some highs and lows in the terrain, the temperature, and the reconnecting of the old friends. But it is a pleasure to see these two old pros swing for the fences one more time.

Parents should know that this movie has some very strong and vulgar language with very crude sexual references. Characters drink and discuss substance abuse.

Family discussion: How would you describe the friendship between Katz and Bryson? What adventure do you want to take and who would you take with you?

If you like this, try: the book by Bill Bryson and other walking movies like “Wild” and “Tracks” and more great books about treks like A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush

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Animals and Nature Based on a book Based on a true story Comedy Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week

Monkey Kingdom

Posted on April 16, 2015 at 5:39 pm

Copyright DisneyNature 2015
Copyright DisneyNature 2015

Disneynature’s annual wild kingdom-style nature documentary is predictably adorable but surprisingly absorbing. The toque macaque monkeys of Sri Lanka live in the 12th century ruins of Polonnaruwa in a society as rigidly structured and ruthlessly enforced as a high school cafeteria run by the mob.

After a chipper rendition of “Hey Hey We’re the Monkees” with an extra verse from former Monkee Micky Dolenz, Tina Fey’s warm and reassuring narration takes over, explaining the literal hierarchy of the monkeys, whose status is reflected by their position on their castle rock. “An intricate society of 50 monkeys band together in a strict social order.”

At the top is the alpha male, Raja, and under him are his male lieutenants/enforcers and three females known as the sisters, whose primary occupations are eating the best food and caring for Raja. Every element of the society — where the monkeys sit and sleep, what they may eat, who they may interact with — is clearly established and strictly enforced.

After we get the sense of the social structure, Fey introduces us to Maya, a young female at the bottom of the hierarchy who will be our hero throughout the story. She is a single mom with a son named Kip and since she is precluded from the literal easy pickings of the fruit tree reserved for the elite only, she has to be adventuresome and imaginative in finding food for them. Kip’s father Kumar is an outcast from his original tribe and, for showing interest in Maya and showing no fealty to Raja, from this one as well.

When a rival tribe invades, Raja’s luxurious lifestyle has left him unprepared to win a battle.  The entire group is homeless.  Maya and Kumar, who has returned, have skills that are suddenly valuable, even vital, for the survival of the monkeys.  Maya helps them get food from the nearby town.  Can Kumar help them reclaim Castle Rock?

Like all of the series, this is filled with “how in the world did that get that?” moments of extraordinary intimacy and power, like Maya’s tenderness with Kip, her harvesting of the termites who fly in just one day a year, and the monkeys’ interaction with other species, including a mongoose, a langur monkey, a monitor lizard, and, to their utter and hilarious mystification, a dog.  Children will enjoy the hijinks, especially the monkey invasion of an empty school, where they discover snacks and a birthday cake.  The predators and perils are gently presented and the issues of status and power are described in a manner that is open and accessible.  Once the cheery but corny introductory song is over, this chapter avoids some of the cutesiness that marred previous releases.  And the drama of the social structure is so intricate and abashedly familiar it will remind all of us to be a little kinder to those we consider beneath us and a little more willing to challenge the Rajas in our lives.

Parents should know that there are scenes of confrontation and predators, with some minor characters injured and killed and brief, discreet images of dead animal bodies.

Family discussion: What skills did Maya and Kumar have that were important to their group?  How are the monkeys like and not like humans?  How many ways did you see the monkeys communicate with each other and the other animals?  How should Maya treat the Sisterhood and the lower-status monkeys?

If you like this try: the other Disneynature films, including “Chimpanzee,” “African Cats,” and “Bears”

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Animals and Nature Documentary

Wild Kratts: Shark-Tastic

Posted on April 13, 2015 at 8:00 am

Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: NR
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Mild peril and some bad guys
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to DVD: April 14, 2015
Amazon.com ASIN: B00S2SYUD0
Copyright 2015 PBS Kids

PBS’s Wild Kratts is one of my favorite series for families. I love the relationship between the two real-life Kratt brothers and their enthusiasm and sense of adventure. The episodes have a nice balance between adventure, humor, and information about animals and nature. They have some fun and educational online games as well.

Their latest DVD, available April 14, 2015, is Wild Kratts: Shark-Tastic.

It includes these episodes:

1. Stuck on Sharks – Exploring the mysterious great white shark.
2. Octopus Wildkratticus – The team must save a 7 tentacle octopus.
3. Tortuga Tune-Up – The team learns from a hawksbill sea turtle how to defend against a tiger shark.
4. Speaking Dolphinese – The teams learns the dolphin language.

I have a copy to give away, along with a supplementary booklet! Send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with Kratts in the subject line and tell me your favorite undersea creature. Don’t forget your address! (US addresses only) I will pick a winner at random on April 20, 2015.

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Animals and Nature Animation Based on a television show Contests and Giveaways DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week For the Whole Family

Interview: Jean-Michel Cousteau of “Secret Ocean 3D”

Posted on April 2, 2015 at 3:51 pm

Copyright 2015  3D Entertainment Films
Copyright 2015 3D Entertainment Films

Jean-Michel Cousteau has carried on the legacy of his famous father, Jacques Cousteau, who first allowed the world to see the creatures that live in the water, through deep-sea diving and his pioneering underwater photography. Now his son has used the latest technology to show us another world previously unseen, with tiny animals and colors as bright as any garden in full flower.

I spoke to Cousteau about his latest film, Secret Ocean 3D.

He wanted to work with IMAX 3D, in order “see the behavior of things that I’m flying or swimming over all the time since I started diving when I was seven years old, fifty nine years ago. And I would be very frustrated not to be able to see the behavior of tiny little things. So they put together the prototype cameras which are allowing us now to focus in slow motion on the behavior of small creatures and see what they are doing to feed themselves, protect themselves and be of course in relationship with other creatures. So for me I am now for the first time in my life able to see things on the big screen which I cannot see when I’m under water.”

I was especially fascinated with the tiny animals who look like flowers and the squid who could instantly change color to match the environment. “The flower-like creatures are found mostly in the tropical environment. The beautiful one that you see in the show are in the tropics in the Caribbean and in Fiji. Then there were these beautiful worms which are called Christmas tree worms. The squids were in Southern California. Squids and octopus can change their color, their texture. They have no bones so they are very bendable. They can hide. They are really amazing creatures. The bad news as you probably have heard on the show is that they die every year. After they reproduce they are gone. I am totally convinced that if they didn’t die they probably would run the planet today because they have real brains and are very clever creatures.”

There is a creature that looks like a pile of sticks. In the film, we learn that it has no head or brain but can regenerate its limbs. “We have seen those creatures but usually we don’t see the same one during the day and then come back and see the same one at night. Thanks to science and scientists we are able to learn about these creatures because they capture them and they analyze them. So the instinct that they have to capture food and bring into their mouth when you realize they have no brain is just for me it’s fascinating. I’m just like a kid every time I see them. So we were very patient, we saw it. As a matter of fact we saw two of them during the daytime and we decided, okay we have to wait and come back at night and we did and they were still there. And we were able to film them.”

What surprised me most in the film was the information about the tiniest creatures, plankton, and the part they play in keeping the rest of the world breathing. “Plankton are really the foundation of life in the ocean. And you have two kinds of planktons, the big which you see which are very spectacular, many different types of species and then the tiny little ones which drift. And the big ones are animals. They are called zooplankton. And then the tiny little ones which are plants, they are phytoplankton. Now the zooplankton is feeding on the phytoplankton. They need that to feed themselves and to grow and they are what you call the foundation of all life in the ocean. Without them there would be no life. So being absorbed within the food chain, they migrate towards the surface every day. And they are very very active at night and of course there are a lot of creatures that are coming by and feeding on them, both the plants and animals. And it goes all the way up the food chain all the way to the big creatures whether they are fish or mammals, whales or sea lions or tuna. Totally every creature is dependent on these unbelievable plants and animals which are the foundation of all life in the ocean. As a result of all that about half of the oxygen that is being produced comes from the ocean. And every other breath of air that you take you are getting it thanks to the ocean. So we are totally connected and dependent on the quality of life in the ocean. Unfortunately we didn’t know that before. Now we are learning and we are learning very fast thanks to what I call communication evolution. There are people all over the planet now who are asking questions now about these creatures. We need to learn very quickly and pass on the information to the decision-makers and the future decisions makers which are the children, the young people. They need to understand that we need to stop using the ocean as a garbage can. Because all of that decomposes and it affects the food chain, it affects the plankton, it affects the creatures which are concentrating those chemicals in their system and accumulates them, and concentrates as the creatures are getting bigger and bigger up the food chain. So we are hurting that environment which means we are hurting ourselves. At the end of the day it is not just the fact that we fishing or we catching more than nature can produce. We have learned that a long time ago, we are not hunters and gatherers we are farmers. So we need to do something with the ocean but we cannot farm creatures that are disappearing and you cannot farm in the ocean where you have the storms, hurricanes and so on.”

Jean-Michel told me that his father pushed him into the water with a tank on his back when he was seven and the water is home to him. “He kept telling me, ‘People protect what they love,’ and I kept telling him, ‘How can you protect what you don’t understand?’ So thanks to my dad I have this thirst for discoveries and wanting to protect what we don’t understand.”

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Animals and Nature Directors Documentary Environment/Green Interview

Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Secret Ocean 3D

Posted on March 20, 2015 at 7:00 am

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Reference to predators
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 20, 2015

Jean-Michel Cousteau begins this dazzling underwater documentary with archival footage of his father’s pioneering work in showing us life in the other two-thirds of the planet. And then he uses the latest technology to bring those flickering monotone images up to date with spectacular visions of exquisite sea animals shaped like plants, a 30-pound snail that eats food to make it taste bad to predators, a creature that looks like a pile of twigs and has no head and no blood but can regenerate its appendages, a candy-cane striped shrimp, all in a world exotic, strange, and wondrously interdependent with our own. Plankton, we learn from narrator Dr. Sylvia Earle, is not just the source of food for many of the creatures who live in the sea (and who themselves are food for other animals), but the source of much of the oxygen we breathe. The environmental message is subtle, but powerful. These creatures cannot survive without us and we cannot survive without them.

The images are stunning beyond words, but it would have been nice to get more information about the locations and habits of the animals we are observing. Still, this is as spectacular a series of images and as provocative a series of characters as you will see on any screen this year.

Scheduled venues for Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Secret Ocean 3D:

01 – DIGITAL3D – February 20, 2015 – Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, Portland (OR)
02 – IMAX3D – February 27, 2015 – The Henry Ford Museum IMAX Theatre, Dearborn (MI)
03 – DIGITAL3D – March 6, 2015 – Moody Gardens 3D Theater, Galveston (TX)
04 – IMAX3D – March 20, 2015 – Indiana State Museum IMAX 3D Theatre, Indianapolis (IN)
05 – IMAX3D – March 20, 2015 – Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History Samuel C. Johnson IMAX, Washington (DC)
06 – IMAX3D – April 3, 2015 – Montreal Science Center Telus IMAX 3D Theater, Montreal (QC)
07 – IMAX3D – April 16, 2015 – New England Aquarium Simons IMAX Theatre, Boston (MA)
08 – IMAX2D (DOME) – No later than April 20, 2015 – Planetario Puebla Omnimax Theater, Puebla (Mexico)
09 – DIGITAL3D – May 22, 2015 – Houston Museum of Natural Science 3D Theater, Houston (TX)
10 – DIGITAL3D – May 23, 2015 – New Mexico Museum of Natural History Lockheed-Martin DYNA Theatre, Albuquerque (NM)
11 – DIGITAL3D – June 12, 2015 – Milwaukee Public Museum 3D Theater, Milwaukee (WI)
12 – DIGITAL3D – July 10, 2015 – American Museum of Natural History 3D Theatre, New York City (NY)
13 – IMAX3D (DIGITAL) – No later than August 30, 2015 – Challenger Learning Center IMAX, Tallahassee (FL)

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3D Animals and Nature Documentary Movies
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