A Birder’s Guide to Everything

Posted on March 20, 2014 at 5:55 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 on appeal for language, sex and drug references, and brief partial nudity
Profanity: Strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drug references
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death (offscreen)
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 21, 2014
Poster courtesy of Dreamfly Productions, Lavender Pictures, and There We Go Films
Poster courtesy of Dreamfly Productions, Lavender Pictures, and There We Go Films

First rule: do NOT call them bird watchers. These are seriously ornithophilic teenagers and the correct term is “birder.”

Maybe one reason they like birds so much is that the three members of the high school birder society — all male — are odd birds themselves. When one of them catches a glimpse of what just might be a duck previously thought to be extinct, that is exactly the adventure they had been hoping for, something big and meaningful and important, something to prove to everyone around them and maybe to themselves, too, that what they care about really matters. And an adventure would also be a good excuse to get away from some uncomfortable situations at home and school and be in a place that feels like a truer home.

David (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is more than uncomfortable. His mother has died. She had been a birder, and being passionate about birds makes him feel close to her. Now his father (James LeGros), who “literally kills birds for a living” (he owns chicken restaurants) is about to marry the nurse who took care of his mother.  She is a warm-hearted and sympathetic person, but to David she is an intruder, especially when she accidentally lets her robe slip and he gets a look at her breasts.  He is the one who gets a quick, blurry picture of the possibly-rare duck and he takes it to an expert (Ben Kingsley), who confirms that it could be a Labrador duck, and who shares some memories of David’s mother.

If it can be confirmed that the Labrador duck is not extinct, this would be very big news.

The other two members of the Young Birders Society (high-spirited and highly hormonal Alex Wolff and nerdy control freak Michael Chen) “borrow” a relative’s car and go off in search of the possible Labrador duck.  They try to “borrow” camera equipment, too, but are discovered by a girl from the photography club, (Katie Chang) who insists on going along so she can be the one to take the pictures.

It’s an often-told coming-of-age journey tale, but nicely understated and there are some unexpected twists and sensitive performances.  The people who made this film brought the same loving attention to the characters that the characters do to the small feathered creatures they care for so deeply.

Parents should know that there is some teenage strong and crude language, brief nudity and sexual references.

Family discussion: Why was the duck so important to David?  To the others?

If you like this, try: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and watch some birds

 

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Coming of age High School Movies

The Jungle Book

Posted on February 9, 2014 at 9:55 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril, predatory animals
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 1966
Date Released to DVD: February 10, 2014
Amazon.com ASIN: B00GDT5T9Y

jungle book diamond editionThe last animated film personally overseen by Walt Disney  is “The Jungle Book,” inspired by the Rudyard Kipling story of a boy abandoned in the forest who is raised by the animals.  It has some of the most endearing and memorable characters in all of Disney animation, including two voiced by top musician/singers Baloo the Bear (Phil Harris) and King Louie (Louis Prima).  And it has some of Disney’s all-time best songs from the Sherman Brothers (the brother team recently portrayed in “Saving Mr. Banks”), featuring “The Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You.”

A panther named Bagheera (the aristocratic-sounding Sebastian Cabot) finds a baby in a basket deep inside the jungle.  It is Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman, the son of director Wolfgang Reitherman).  Bagheera knows the infant will not survive unless he can find someone to care for him.  So, he takes him to a wolf, who raises him for ten years along with her cubs.  The animals call Mowgli “man-cub,” and he grows up happy and well cared for.

But then  Shere Khan, a man-eating Bengal tiger (silkily voiced by George Sanders), returns to the jungle, and it is clear that Mowgli is not safe.  Bagheera agrees to escort him to the village, where he can be with other humans.  But Mowgli does not want to leave the only home he has ever known.  He loves the jungle.  And the animals she sees along the way only make him more sure that he wants to stay in the only home he has ever known, even after he is hypnotized and almost killed by Kaa the python (husky-voiced Sterling Holloway, best known as Winnie the Pooh).  He marches with the elephant troops led by Colonel Hathi and his wife (J. Pat O’Malley and Verna Felton of “Sleeping Beauty”).  King Louie is an orangutan who promises to keep Mowgli in the jungle if he will teach him the secrets of being a human, like making fire.  But Mowgli was raised in the jungle, so he does not know how.  He loves the easy-going Baloo the bear best of all.

But the jungle is dangerous.  When Baloo tries to tell Mowgli that he has to go to the village, Mowgli runs away.  Kaa and Shere Khan are after him.  The animals who love Mowgli will have to find a way to show him that it is time for him to leave the jungle.

This is one of Disney’s most entertaining animated classics, and it is a pleasure to see this gorgeous new Diamond edition.

 

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Animation Based on a book Classic Coming of age DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy For the Whole Family Remake Stories About Kids Talking animals

The Sword in the Stone

Posted on August 5, 2013 at 4:00 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Cartoon violence and peril
Diversity Issues: Class issues
Date Released to Theaters: 1963
Date Released to DVD: August 5, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00CUDD0XO

SwordInTheStone50thAnnB_lurayComboDisney is celebrating the 50th anniversary of one of its animated classics with a beautiful new Blu-Ray edition.  Based on The Once and Future King by T.H. White that also inspired the musical “Camelot,” “The Sword in the Stone” is the story of the early years of King Arthur.

Nicknamed “Wart,” the future King Arthur is squire to a knight when he meets Merlin the magician, who promises to take on his education. Merlin turns the boy into a fish, a bird, and a squirrel to teach him lessons like the importance of brains over brawn. He gets to see this in action when Madame Mim, Merlin’s enemy, challenges Merlin to a duel by magic, and, though she cheats, Merlin is able to defeat her.

Wart still has his duties as a squire, and, having forgotten the sword for a jousting match, he runs to get it. He sees a sword stuck in a stone and pulls it out, not knowing the legend that whoever will pull the sword out of the stone will be the rightful king. He becomes King Arthur, and listens when Merlin reminds him that knowledge is the real power.

The Arthur legend has fascinated people for centuries, and this story about Arthur’s childhood as special appeal for children. Aside from the fun of seeing what it is like to be a bird, a squirrel, or a fish, and from having your very own wizard as a teacher, there is the highly satisfying aspect of having one’s worth, unappreciated by everyone, affirmed so unequivocally.

Parents should know that this film has some mild peril and family issues.

Family discussion: What made Arthur the one who could pull the sword out of the stone?  What did he learn from his adventures with Merlin?  How will what he learned help him to be a good king?  How did Madame Mim cheat?  How did Merlin fight back when she did?

If you like this, try: Older kids may like to see “Camelot,” the musical by Lerner and Lowe (of “My Fair Lady”), to find out some of what happened to Arthur later (note that the focus of that movie is on Guinevere’s infidelity with Lancelot). Mature teenagers might like the rather gory “Excalibur,” which has some stunning images.

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Animation Based on a book Based on a true story Classic Comedy Coming of age DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Epic/Historical Fantasy For the Whole Family Stories About Kids

The Way Way Back

Posted on July 5, 2013 at 9:12 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language, some sexual content, and brief drug material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, drug reference
Violence/ Scariness: Emotional confrontations
Diversity Issues: Insensitive treatment of a person with a disability
Date Released to Theaters: July 5, 2013
Date Released to DVD: October 21, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00DL46ZN8

THE WAY, WAY BACKNat Faxon and Jim Rash, Oscar winners for the screenplay of “The Descendants,” have written, produced, and directed an endearing coming-of-age story called “The Way Way Back,” appearing in it as well. At times it seems there have been as many movies of the summer that changed some adolescent’s life as there have been adolescents to face the daunting challenges of growing up. It is a daunting challenge, as well, to make this story fresh and meaningful, but Faxon, Rash, and their exceptionally capable cast have managed, with a story that is specific enough to feel new but universal enough to hit home.

Liam James plays Duncan, who gives the movie’s title its double resonance as we first see him, facing the back window of an old station wagon driven by his mother’s new boyfriend, riding in the “way back.”  We can feel everything he knows, everything that feels like home and welcome and normal to him receding into the distance.  He’s looking back.

Trent (Steve Carell), the boyfriend, in the driver’s seat, is looking back, too.  He is sizing Duncan up in a primal urge to establish Duncan’s mother, Pam (Toni Collette), as his territory.  We see his eyes in the rear view mirror.  The tone is friendly, avuncular, even paternal but the words are devastating.  He asks Duncan how it rates himself on a scale of one to ten.  When Duncan ventures a six, Trent tells him he’s a three.  And he expects Duncan to use his time at the beach house to “get that score up.”

Duncan is in teen hell.  And his mother’s happiness makes him feel at the same time happy for her and fury and isolation at her inability to see that Trent is a bully and a liar.

THE WAY, WAY BACKThen one day Duncan wanders off and finds a water park called Water Wizz, where he meets an amiable slacker of a manager named Owen (Sam Rockwell).  Soon, he is working there.  He’s found his home.

It would be so easy to mess this up.  Trent could be a caricature. Owen could be idealized.  But Faxon and Rash wisely let us understand that we are seeing both of them in slightly exaggerated form through Duncan’s eyes.  We know that Trent is not as bad nor Owen as good as Duncan thinks they are.  Duncan sees Trent as a liar and a cheat, but does not see him struggle to deserve a woman like Pam.  Duncan sees Owen as a courageous free spirit.  Owen loves being seen that way, but he knows and we know that he is irresponsible and ashamed of his life.  Faxon and Rash, who contribute their own performances of wit and heart, make the movie a safe place for us as Water Wizz is for Duncan.

Parents should know that this film includes drinking, smoking, strong language, drug use, sexual references, infidelity, and bullying.

Family discussion: What did Pam and Trent see in each other? How do the various children and teens in this story respond when they cannot find support and understanding at home? What other stories are examples of this?

If you like this, try: “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Adventureland” (both rated R)

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Comedy Coming of age Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Stories about Teens Teenagers
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