DisneyNature: Penguins

Posted on April 18, 2019 at 7:57 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: Brief mild word
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Low-key peril and violence, predators eat an egg and try to eat the penguins
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 17, 2019

Copyright Disney 2019
If there’s anything cuter than an Adelie penguin, it has to be a penguin voiced by Ed Helms (“The Office,” “The Hangover”). He provides the perfect slightly nerdy but always hopeful narration for the story of Steve, a young penguin on his first trek to find a mate, raise some chicks, and get them home.

As we know from “March of the Penguins,” it’s a long trek. Steve tells us it’s “a monumental expedition that favors the early bird and Steve is the last one to the party.” He gets lost on the way and ends up confusedly consulting some Emperor penguins, who smack him away. “I just got beat up by a baby,” he says dejectedly. It’s pretty disorienting even when he gets back to his own species. The millions of black and white birds look like that page in Where’s Waldo? that’s all Waldos.

We see Steve painstakingly collect stones to build a nest so he can tempt one of the female penguins, despite the efforts of the older penguins to steal them away. But Steve succeeds, and he does attract a female named Adeline. They tenderly sing to one another, memorizing each other’s voices, which they will recognize for as long as they live.

The film takes us through the year as Adeline lays her eggs, they hatch, and their penguin parents feed them (by barfing into their mouths, Steve explains). There are predators and other challenges, but there are also pop songs (REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight this Feeling Anymore”) and Steve’s bumbling but sincere devotion to Adeline, the chicks, and, well, life, is very touching.

Parents should know that this film includes a gentle depiction of some of the harsher aspects of nature and environmental challenges and a brief mild word.

Family discussion: How is Steve most like a human? Why did the other penguins want to steal Steve’s stones? What could he do to stop them?

If you like this, try: “Monkey Kingdom,” “Bears,” and “Born in China” and of course “March of the Penguins”

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Share the Stories of Martin Luther King on MLK Day 2019

Posted on January 20, 2019 at 12:41 pm

As we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, every family should take time to talk about this great American leader and hero of the Civil Rights Movement. There are outstanding films and other resources for all ages.

I highly recommend the magnificent movie Boycott, starring Jeffrey Wright as Dr. King. And every family should study the history of the Montgomery bus boycott that changed the world.

It is humbling to remember that the boycotters never demanded complete desegregation of the public transit; that seemed too unrealistic a goal. This website has video interviews with the people who were there. This newspaper article describes Dr. King’s meeting with the bus line officials. And excellent teaching materials about the Montgomery bus boycott are available, including the modest and deeply moving reminder to the boycotters once segregation had been ruled unconstitutional that they should “demonstrate calm dignity,” “pray for guidance,” and refrain from boasting or bragging.

Families should also read They Walked To Freedom 1955-1956: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Paul Winfield has the lead in King, a brilliant and meticulously researched NBC miniseries co-starring Cecily Tyson that covers Dr. King’s entire career.

The March, narrated by Denzel Washington, is a documentary about the historic March on Washington with Dr. King’s famous “I have a dream” speech.

The brilliant film Selma tells the story of the fight for voting rights.

The Long Walk Home, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek, makes clear that the boycott was a reminder to black and white women of their rights and opportunities — and risk of change.

Citizen King is a PBS documentary with archival footage of Dr. King and his colleagues.

Martin Luther King Jr. – I Have a Dream has his famous speech in full, still one of the most powerful moments in the history of oratory and one of the most meaningful moments in the history of freedom.

For children, Our Friend, Martin and Martin’s Big Words are a good introduction to Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement.

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Bathtubs Over Broadway

Posted on December 16, 2018 at 11:08 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 14, 2018
Copyright 2018 Focus Features

There are really three stories in this adorably engaging documentary about “industrial musicals,” the wildly elaborate in-house productions big corporations used to motivate their employees in the 1950’s-70’s. The first is the story of our guide to this world, Steve Young, a writer for David Letterman’s Late Show who describes himself as comedically “damaged” after years of evaluating everything in the world as comedy material. There was almost nothing that made him laugh anymore. The best he could muster was an analytic, “that’s funny.” “We’ve become hard laughs,” he tells us. Over the course of the film, he will lose the job he has had for two decades when Letterman decides to retire. The second, as in many documentaries, is the story of a tiny sub-culture of people who are deeply passionate about something the rest of the world considers odd or quirky or has never heard of. This one lives “at the far horizon where the adjectives of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ don’t apply anymore.” Young may have found them as something to laugh at but he soon develops affection and then passion for them, and by the end of the movie, we can understand why and feel some of it ourselves.

“How can there be something so large and so crazy in the world that we had no idea of?” Young asks. But the answer we get is to a different question: How can an “eccentric adventure” soothe and enlarge a “comedy-damaged” soul? By the end of the film, Young tells us that delving into this odd world has “opened up my ability to be receptive to people.” Anyone he meets can have this kind of history.

And the third is the story of the musicals themselves, often produced, directed, and performed by actual or future Broadway stars, making a very good living doing something they loved and could learn from instead of waiting tables. Just to give you an idea: one of these musicals had a budget of three million dollars. The original production of “My Fair Lady,” which opened the same season on Broadway, had a budget of $466,000. Were they works of art? Well, no, they had singing and dancing spark plugs and ballads about toilets and an opera about spaghetti sauce called “Raguletto.” But they were very professionally done, often quite clever, astonishingly elaborate, and in their own way artifacts of an era of corporate optimism that saw endless possibilities for itself as providers of consumer goods and great jobs. Of course those jobs were for white males, as we see in the glimpses we get of the audience, all wearing near-identical suits and ties.

“I played a trick on history,” Young tells us. These shows were created for the most specific of audiences and were never intended to be seen by outsiders. The biggest surprise is that these most commercial of enterprises are so free from any kind of cynicism. There’s an innocence about them because they come from the post-WWII era, when America seemed unbeatable, and technology seemed thrilling. The “man in a grey flannel suit” corporate employees were “being shown a version of their world where they’re heroes.” If a marvelous new substance called silicone had 180 uses, why not create a song about it? What better way to introduce fabulous new products to the sales team than a catchy musical number? It may have been the “strangest dead end of show business,” with the idea of “What shouldn’t we write a musical about? Let’s write it and make it good and not let anyone see it!” But companies with lavish budgets created souvenir records for their employees to take home and that is how Young began to discover this world of unseen, un heard entertainment. Over the course of the film he tracks down some of the creators and performers, including Susan Stroman (“The Producers”), who explains that she learned a lot from choreographing industrial shows, Martin Short and Florence Henderson, who talk about the pleasures of performing for wildly enthusiastic audiences (Henderson compares it to a revival meeting), and composer Sid Siegel, who specialized in industrial musicals — and who kept a treasure trove of an archive. They were “selling Tupperware but also selling America,” and their unabashed boosterism makes it impossible to be snarky or condescending, leaving us entertained, and perhaps a little wistful.

Parents should know that this film includes brief strong language and a sad death.

Family discussion: If you were going to create a musical about your job or school, what would you sing about? Which production was your favorite?

If you like this, try: the shows by Sheldon Harnick, Chita Rivera, and Martin Short, and the book by Steve Young. Some of the songs are available, too.

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Critics Choice Documentary Awards 2018

Posted on November 11, 2018 at 9:55 am

As a very proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, I am delighted to announce this year’s documentary film awards. This was an extraordinary year for documentary films and I wish we could have given out a dozen more prizes. But it was a genuine honor to be able to pay tribute to these outstanding films.

Best Documentary: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Best Limited Documentary Series: The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

Best Ongoing Documentary Series: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

Best Director: Morgan Neville for Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Best First Time Director: TIE: Bing Liu for Minding the Gap, and Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster for Science Fair

Best Political Documentary: RBG

Best Sports Documentary: Free Solo

Best Music Documentary: Quincy

Most Innovative Documentary: Free Solo

Best Cinematography: Free Solo

Best Editing: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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In Washington DC: A Special Event for One Of The Year’s Best Docs, America to Me

Posted on September 21, 2018 at 9:49 pm

On rogerebert.com, Brian Tallerico wrote an all-out rave about “America to Me,” the new documentary series on STARZ from the director of “Hoop Dreams.”

A momentous achievement, both a statement on where we are right now in terms of race and how we need to work together to get somewhere better. As he has with films like “Hoop Dreams,” “Life Itself,” and “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” James and his team find a way to place their empathetic, individual stories against a larger backdrop of social issues across the country. James is one of our most humanist filmmakers—someone who not only knows how to draw out the most interesting aspects of his subjects’ lives but seems to honestly care about who they are and where they’re going. He’s a cinematic listener, someone who gets comfortable enough with his subjects that he allows their best selves to come out on-screen, and allows us the optimism to think that there are people like the kids and teachers in “America to Me” all around this country—people just trying to get through the day, have their voices heard, and maybe make a difference.

On Thursday, September 27, the 10-city America To Me: Real Talk campaign is coming to Washington, DC with a powerful screening and discussion about race and bias in schools across America and in DC in particular, with leaders including former Secretary of Education John King. The America To Me: Real Talk campaign had its auspicious beginnings in DC – the result of a brainstorm between former classmates Jacquelyn Davis, an attorney turned education reformer and Partner at Education Forward DC, and Holly Gordon, Chief Impact Officer at Participant Media. To attend on the 27th, click here.

Copyright STARZ 2018

Produced by Participant Media and Starz, the America To Me: Real Talk 10-city campaign is galvanizing a movement nationwide, with thousands of high schoolers, teachers and administrators embracing the series to confront hard questions, address implicit bias, and take action to create more equitable and inclusive schools. So far, more than 1,000 people have attended America To Me: Real Talk screening events, while 590 individual citizens are leading watch groups and 7,083 more have signed up to participate. Kartemquin has more information here..

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