The Kid Who Would Be King

Posted on January 24, 2019 at 5:32 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, and language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy peril and violence with monsters, characters injured and killed, beheading, swords, car crashes, references to mental illness and alcoholism of a parent, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: January 25, 2019

Copyright 2018 20th Century Fox
Every once in a while, a kid has to pull a sword from the stone and save the world. And what makes this particular kid the right one is thoughtfully presented in this present-day retelling of the story of Arthur, the once and in this case literally future king. Louis Ashbourne Serkis plays Alex, a 12-year-old who is very close to his single mother (Denise Gough). His best friend is Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), who is regularly bullied by Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris). Alex comes to his defense and gets into a scuffle with the much bigger, tougher, bullies, but refuses to tell the headmistress or his mother who started it.

On the run from Lance and Kaye himself, Alex hides out in a construction site, where he sees a sword stuck in a stone and pulls it out. At home, he finds a book his father had given him about the story of King Arthur, inscribed to him: To Alex, the Once and Future King. At school, a gawky new student named “Merton” is so strange he seems like good news to Bedders, who tells Alex he will deflect attention from them as the formerly most tempting targets at the school. But “Merton” is in fact Merlin (Angus Imbrie), who is actually very old but looks like a teenager because he is living backwards, except when he flickers back into his actual age and looks like Patrick Stewart.

Merlin tells Alex that the sword is King Arthur’s Excalibur, to be used to defeat Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), who has been waiting for the world to achieve a level of turmoil that would make it possible for her to return. If you’ve read the news lately, you will not be surprised to learn that the necessary level of turmoil has been achieved and surpassed.

Alex decides he has to find his father for guidance, and he asks Lance and Kaye to join him, noting that their names recall King Arthur’s closest allies, Sir Lancelot and Sir Kay, as well as Bedders/Sir Bedivere. Lance and Kaye may be bullies, but they are strong and brave, and may be persuaded to follow the Chivalric Code (or pretend to).

Meanwhile, Morgana is getting stronger, and she sends flaming skeleton emissaries on horseback to attack Alex. Merlin introduces the group to the real purpose of Stonehenge and the other prehistoric standing stone structures throughout England (think of them as subway stations) and gives them a sword-fighting tutorial with trees come to life in one of the movie’s best scenes.

Alex is very familiar with “chosen one” stories like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, where the hero is “chosen” in significant part from his biological heritage, and he believes that the gift from the father he never knew is proof of his own heritage as the reason for his fitness to carry Excalibur. The movie makes it clear that this is not the case. Alex will have to think about what it is that made him able to get the sword and how he can use those qualities to defeat Morgana.

Both Serkis and Imrie have some hefty heritages of their own, one the son of motion-capture wizard Andy Serkis and the other the son of “Calendar Girls” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” star Celia Imrie. Like the other young cast members, they have appealing screen presences, and Imrie in particular has loads of lanky charm, wearing a Led Zeppelin 1975 tour t-shirt and snarfing down the 21st century equivalent of his elixir. Director Joe Cornish of the cheeky “Attack the Block” keeps things lively, with plenty of humor to balance the action and a rousing finale with the entire school joining the fight.

Parents should know that this film has extensive fantasy peril and violence, with some scary images and monsters, chases, bullies, car crashes, a beheading, brief comic nudity (non-explicit) and some schoolyard language.

Family discussion: Why was Alex the right person to have the sword? Why did he choose Lance and Kaye to help him? Could you follow the movie’s version of the Chivalric Code?

If you like this, try: “A Kid in King Arthur’s Court,” “The Sword in the Stone,” and “Camelot”

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Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle

Posted on November 29, 2018 at 5:25 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence including bloody images, and some thematic elements
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Intense peril from animals and human hunter, characters injured and killed, some graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 30, 2018
Copyright Netflix 2018

“Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle” is not the “Bear Necessities” Disney version of Rudyard Kipling’s story about the boy raised by wolves and befriended by a cuddly bear and an elegant panther. This is more like Tennyson’s vision of nature as red in tooth and claw. Andy Serkis, master of the art of motion capture acting, has directed this much darker version of the story, with simultaneous release this week in theaters and on Netflix. The motion capture performances are striking. Parents need to know, however, although this is the story of a young boy befriended by talking animals, this is not for young children or for the faint of heart of any age.

Serkis brought along some of his “Hobbit” co-stars, and the movie opens with an introduction from Kaa the snake, voiced by Cate Blanchett telling us that the jungle traditions are being challenged, presumably from the incursion of humans. When a couple are killed by the tiger Shere Kahn (Benedict Cumberbatch), a baby is abandoned. The death of the parents is off-camera, discreetly shown by an overturned, single shoe. But the baby is smeared with blood. Like Harry Potter, he is the Boy Who Lived, and he is special.

A wolf pack wants to adopt the boy they call Mowgli, and that means a meeting of the council of animals. It is agreed that he can stay and we will learn that is only in part because it is in the nature of the wolf mother to feel tenderness toward a helpless baby of any species. While some of the animals fear that keeping Mowgli will bring man into the jungle looking for him, others think that he will help keep them safe from humans. And all of them know that Shere Kahn will be back for Mowgli, and that it will take the full force of the pack to keep him safe.

Mowgli grows up (Rohan Chan), very much at home in the jungle, though painfully aware that he does not have the natural abilities of his wolf brothers. They are being coached by Baloo the bear (Serkis) to pass a racing test to qualify them to become full members of the pack. Mowgli cannot keep up with them if he races on all fours, as they do.

The motion capture work is excellent, as expected from Serkis and the images and camera work are striking, worth seeing on a big screen. But the storyline never fully escapes its colonialist origins. There’s a reason we refer to “the law of the jungle” and no simple way to make that into a workable metaphor about the human world. Think of “The Lion King,” for example (with a live-action version coming next year). It’s fine to sing about the circle of life if you’re at the top of the food chain. Bagheera the panther (Christian Bale) explains to Mowgli that animals who kill must look their prey in the eye as they are dying “so that the soul does not depart alone.” Not much comfort to the departing soul. Mowgli finds appropriate ambivalence in the human world, where the native community has brought in a white hunter (Matthew Rhys) who is kind to Mowgli but will never appreciate the animals like the boy who lived with them. Like the boy himself, the movie is not able to resolve its conflicting dualities.

Parents should know that this film includes animal and human peril and violence, with characters injured and killed, some disturbing and graphic images, guns, fire, animal attacks, sad death of parents (off-screen), drinking and drunkenness.

Family discussion: How are the wolves different from the other animals? What kinds of tests do humans try to pass? Do you agree with Mowgli’s choice about where to live?

If you like this, try: Disney’s animated and live-action “Jungle Book” movies

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Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

Posted on October 12, 2018 at 1:00 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for scary creature action and images, some thematic elements, rude humor and language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style fantasy/mild horror peril and violence, creepy creatures. boo-scares
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 12, 2018
Date Released to DVD: January 14, 2019

Copyright 2018 Columbia
My review of Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is on rogerebert.com.

The first “Goosebumps” movie was a lot of fun, with Jack Black playing real-life author R.L. Stine, whose hundreds of spooky-fun books for tweens have sold hundred of millions of copies. This sequel, with only a brief appearance by Black, is blander, with lower-wattage talent on and behind the screen. But the special effects are still top-notch and it is a pleasant little scare-fest for the Halloween season.

Parents should know that this film includes extended spooky-scary content with scary monsters, ghosts, witches, boo-scares, peril, action/cartoon-style peril and violence, some potty humor and schoolyard language.

Family discussion: Which is the scariest monster in the movie? Why do people like scary movies?

If you like this, try: “Monster House” and “Paranorman” and the Goosebumps books and first film

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

Posted on May 18, 2017 at 5:15 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some rude humor
Profanity: Schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic peril and violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 19, 2017
Date Released to DVD: August 7, 2017

Copyright 2017 20th Century Fox
Copyright 2017 20th Century Fox
Ah, the family car trip. Often excruciating, frequently tedious, always unforgettable. For this third in the “Wimpy Kid” movie series, based on the wildly popular books by Jeff Kinney, the story moves from the schoolyard to the highway as Greg and the Heffley family leave home for his great-grandmother’s birthday party. The kid actors from the first movie have grown up. Remember, one of the characters was played by Chloe Grace Moretz, recently in “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.” And if that doesn’t make you feel old, consider this: the entire cast has been replaced, with “Clueless” star Alicia Silverstone now playing the mom. Tom Everett Scott takes over the dad role from his “That Thing You Do” co-star Steve Zahn.

The Wimpy Kid stories are funny and reassuring for kids and tweens because they can laugh at and with Greg Heffley (now played by Jason Drucker) as he careens from one excruciatingly disgusting encounter to another, many involving human and animal bodily functions and the products thereof. “I like my family and all,” Greg explains, “I’m just not sure we were meant to live together.”

Greg has a dim older brother named Roderick (Charlie Wright), who mistakes the motel safe for a microwave, subjects Greg to an endless stream of demeaning comments, and explains his secret: “I spent years lowering Mom’s and Dad’s expectations.” He has a toddler younger brother who becomes a rage monster without the pacifier Dad has left behind because what better time to wean him than the road trip? Eventually, they will be joined by another passenger, a baby pig, won by the toddler at a county fair.

Along the way, the family encounters filthy motels, a rude bully Greg terms “Beardo,” and the worst horror of all — a Mom-demanded relinquishment of all devices. “This is an unplugged road trip,” she smiles at the boys. “The only connecting we’re going to do is with each other.” She even forces them to listen to dreadful music like — wait for it — the Spice Girls. And Greg has a secret goal. Trying to overcome public humiliation that has gone viral (“Now I’m a meme!”), he is determined to meet and create a video with his gaming idol at a Comic-Con-style gathering just “two inches on the map” from the party.

The kids in the audience, mostly fans of the book series, enjoyed it very much, but adults are likely to find it a very long haul indeed.

Parents should know that this film includes slapstick comic peril and violence (no one hurt), bodily function humor, and some schoolyard language.

Family discussion: Why do the worst parts of the trip make the family feel closer together? What was your favorite road trip with the family and why?

If you like this, try: the other “Wimpy Kid” movies and the books and “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”

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Just Jesse the Jack is Back! An Exclusive Trailer — “A Doggone Hollywood”

Posted on May 4, 2017 at 11:45 am

A Doggone Hollywood,” starring Just Jesse the Jack, will be available on VOD and DVD June 6, 2017.

He’s got the number one show on television (starring Cynthia Rothrock, An Eye For An Eye; and Paul Logan (Sniper: Special Ops) and millions of adoring fans think he doesn’t have a care in the world. But the truth is, poor Murphy (YouTube’s “Just Jesse the Jack”) doesn’t have a friend in the world! True, he gets top billing on his weekly TV series ‘Doggie 911,’ but the old Hollywood adage – ‘It’s lonely at the top’ – certainly applies to this canine super-star. Then one day, fate steps in and some young fans (Sydney Thackray, Walker Mintz) accidentally let the little guy loose. The grateful pooch follows the kids home and they agree to hide him.

Meanwhile, the studio boss (Shadoe Stevens, The Late Late Show) has offered a big reward for his safe return, so the local sheriff (Michael Paré, (The Infiltrator) and some unscrupulous ‘agency men’ (Jaret Sacrey, Freddy James) are determined to track the dog down at all costs. So now, with dark forces closing in from all sides, can the kids save the dog, and can a lesson be taught the studio to be good to the hand that feeds them? Wagging his little tail with confidence, Murphy firmly believes he’s up to the task.

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