DC Area — Join Me for a Free Screening of the Family Film “The Railway Children” on September 19 2022!

Posted on September 13, 2022 at 6:47 pm

If you’re in the Washington DC area, you can join me for a free screening of the family film “The Railway Children,” loosely based on the classic book by beloved children’s author E. Nesbit. Three evacuee children are sent by their mother to the rural English countryside to escape the bombings during WWII. A dangerous adventure ensues when they discover injured US soldier Abe, hiding out in the railyard.

RSVP here before Friday September 16, 2022. Hope to see you there!

Copyright 2022 Blue Fox Entertainment
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The Tiger Rising

Posted on January 17, 2022 at 5:46 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements, language and brief violence
Profanity: Schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Adult and school-age bullies, sad death of parent, fist-fight, animal shot and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: January 21, 2022

Copyright The Avenue 2021
Imagine the enchantment of this invitation from one lonely, sad, 10-year-old to another: “I know where there’s a tiger.” And imagine the thrill of this observation to someone whose creations have not been noticed: “You are an artist.”

“The Tiger Rising” is based on the best-selling book by Kate DiCamillo, who has called it her most autobiographical book, inspired by her childhood in Florida. In it, a boy who tries to keep his feelings inside meets a girl who pushes a lot of angry feelings out so that she does not have to admit how scared and sad she is.

The boy who discovers a caged tiger in the woods is Rob Horton (Christian Convery), who lives in a run-down motel with his father, following the devastating loss of his mother. Flashbacks show how close they were and how much she supported his gifts as an artist. He is bullied at school and the only person he has to talk to is the motel maid, Willie May (Queen Latifah, who also was a producer on the film).

Rob has developed an itchy, stress-related skin condition and the principal has sent him home until it clears up. As he goes for a walk in the wooded area across from the motel, a raindrop falls on his cheek, reminding him that when he cried at his mother’s funeral he father was harsh: “There’s no point in crying. It ain’t going to bring her back.” Rob Sr. (“True Blood’s” Sam Trammel) is struggling, working as a handyman in exchange for their room at the motel, still grieving himself and ashamed of not doing a better jog of caring for his son. And he is dealing with his own bully, the motel’s owner, Beauchamp (Dennis Quaid). So Rob and his father barely speak to each other.

There is a new girl in Rob’s class at school. Her name is Sistine, “like the chapel.” And she is played by the terrific Madalen Mills of “Jingle Jangle,” perfect for the lively, outspoken Sistine, who has no problem verbally or physically confronting bullies or telling other people what to do. She insists that she will only be in Florida for a few weeks because her father will be coming to get her. Like Rob, she has found herself alone with the parent she was less close to, and her bluster is not as effective at hiding her fear and sadness as she wants it to be.

The tiger belongs to Beauchamp, and he hires Rob to feed it, warning him not to tell anyone. But Rob brings Sistine to see it, and she is immediately determined to set it free. Rob is not so sure.

Writer/director Ray Giarratana has a background in special effects on films like “The Life Aquatic” and “John Wick 3,” and the effects here are exceptionally well done, from the tiger, magnificent in fur and muscle and movement to the subtle animation of Rob’s drawing. It lends a touch of magic that both softens some of the harsher material and helps keep us inside the children’s point of view. Thought their eyes we see that sad and scary things happen. But being honest and finding a way to help each other is what keeps us going.

Parents should know that this movie includes a very sad death of one parent and a description of another parent leaving after and affair. There are adult and child bullies with some schoolyard and rude language. Characters fight and an animal is killed with a gun.

Family discussion: What would you do about the tiger? Why does Sistine call Willie May a prophetess?

If you like this, try: “Hoot,” “The Water Man,” and “A Dolphin Tale”

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The Tender Bar

Posted on December 16, 2021 at 3:21 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout and some sexual content
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: A lot of alcohol, scenes in a bar, drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Tense family confrontations, scuffles
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 17, 2021
Copyright Amazon Studios 2021

JR Moehringer’s bittersweet memoir has been turned into a tender movie by director George Clooney. Moehringer wrote about growing up with his single mother in a ramshackle house with a mostly loving but dysfunctional extended family, learning his most important lessons about life and manhood from his bartender uncle Charlie and the regulars at the Long Island bar, improbably named after Charles Dickens.

Ben Affleck reminds us of how good he can be with a subtle, understated performance as Uncle Charlie that conveys a great deal about the character with honestly and understanding. JR (played as a child by Daniel Ranieri) and his mother (a terrific Lily Rabe) drive up to her parents home with a sense of resignation, if not defeat. She and her siblings cannot seem to get away from the house where they grew up. JR’s dad is a radio announcer and disc jockey. He has no contact with his former wife and son and JR thinks of him as just a voice.

JR’s grandfather is grumpy and often harsh. Uncle Charlie has his own issues, but he is there for JR, encouraging in their conversations and giving him an example of a man who can be relied on. His scenes are by far the highlight of the film, which goes astray after JR achieves his mother’s most important goal and is admitted to Yale. The movie spends too much time on his first romance, which like many first heartbreaks, is not as life-defining as JR (both the character and the writer) think it is.

Affleck shines here, perhaps because he does not have to be a leading man who carries the film or his comfort in being directed by his friend George Clooney, perhaps because his best scenes are with a child, and, like his character, we can see how much of what he does is in support of his young scene partner. Clooney skillfully creates JR’s world so that we can see it as adults and also understand how the young JR sees it as well. Like the bar of the title, the film is an oasis of honesty and kindness.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong language and some crude sexual references and a sexual situation.

Family discussion: What were the most important lessons JR learned from his uncle? Who are your biggest influences outside your immediate family?

If you like this, try: the book and Mary Carr’s The Liar’s Club and the Diane Keaton-directed “Unstrung Heroes.”

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Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Posted on November 18, 2021 at 5:48 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended occult-style peril and violence, sad death, discussion of parental abandonment
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 19, 2021
Date Released to DVD: January 24, 2022

Copyright Columbia 2021
They should have called this film “Ghostbusters: Half-life” because we now know that the time it takes to diminish the still-impressive special effects and supernatural action plus a very catchy theme song and off-beat comedy that was cynical but not snarky in the 1984 original to about one-half of the original entertainment value is officially 37 years. Jason Reitman takes over for his father Ivan (who produces) and yet somehow they manage to change what worked in the original, misuse what is new and keep only what shows us how much better the 1984 original was. I mean, how do you put Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd in a movie and not make use of their exceptional talents? How do you make a “Ghostbusters” movie and miss the cynical but not snarky vibe that was the heart of the now-classic? Let me put it this way, but first note: SPOILER ALERT (already spoiled in the trailer, so fair game in my opinion) — when characters from the original show up in this one and say, “Did you miss us?” the answer is “We still do.”

The original film was about three adult scientists played by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis (the last two co-wrote the film with Rick Moranis, who also appeared in the film), who with a colleague played by Ernie Hudson start a firm that will capture and imprison ghosts and other supernatural creatures. And it captured something of the gritty In Ghostbusters: Afterlife, it is tweens and teenagers who happen upon some of the ghost-busting equipment when a struggling single mom (Carrie Coon) inherits a near-collapsing old Oklahoma farmhouse from the estranged father who deserted her when she was a child. She moves in with her two children, !5 year old Trevor (“Stranger Things'” Finn Wolfhard) and 13-year-old STEM genius Phoebe (Makenna Grace in a lovely performance). They make friends with two local kids Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) and Podcast (because he is constantly recording podcasts), played by Logan Kim. When Phoebe takes a summer school science class with a bored seismologist (Paul Rudd as Gary) who is investigating the unusual earthquakes in the area, he recognizes some of the equipment she found in the house as belonging to the original Ghostbusters. They were so successful in eradicating the ghosts and other creatures (including the gigantic Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man) from New York that there was not much more for them to do.

You’d think Gary, knowing all this, would not want to open up the ghost-trap, but this not the kind of movie where characters behave in a logical manner because the plot requires them to do many dumb things, except when it requires Phoebe to be an expert at everything from lock-picking to analog mechanics. (She does get a little help from a friendly spirit.)

This one doesn’t come close to the original’s exceptionally deft balance of comedy, supernatural effects, and thrills, mostly because appealing as they are, the kids at the center of the story don’t have the raffish charm or gritty setting of the original team. It’s more of a Nickelodeon version (not up to the standards of Walden or Disney), and the underuse of Coon and Rudd is unforgivable. Like the Stay-Puff marshmallow creature update, this film is the pocket-size version, small in scares, small in laughs, and likely to be forgotten by the time you get to the parking lot.

Parents should know that this film has some strong language and extended fantasy/occult peril and violence as well as discussion of parental abandonment.

Family discussion: What surprising history can you learn about your grandparents? Would you listen to Podcast’s podcast? If you were going to make a podcast, what would it be about?

If you like this, try: the original “Ghostbusters” film and the under-appreciate 2016 reboot with Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Chris Hemsworth

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Belfast

Posted on November 11, 2021 at 5:53 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-3 for strong language and some violence
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence, mobs, sad death of a family member
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 1, 2021
Date Released to DVD: February 28, 2022
Copyright 2021 Focus

“Buddy! Buddy!” A boy is outside playing with his friends when he hears his mother is calling him home for dinner. He does not think anything of it except perhaps that it’s too bad the game has to stop or that he is hungry, but it is the kind of moment he will look back on as an adult as a moment of perfect safety and comfort, a time of feeling completely at home, supported by the family and the community, a feeling that the world makes sense. It is the kind of memory we come back to when we miss those feelings very much.

Sir Kenneth Branagh came back to those last golden moments of childhood, as many people did, during the Great Pause of the pandemic, when so many of us, even well past childhood, felt a new sense of uncertainty. And so he wrote and directed “Belfast,” based on those moments in his own life, when he was nine, and began to understand for the first time that the world can be a dangerous place.

He hears “Buddy! BUDDY!!” again, but this is not a “come home, where dinner is ready invitation from his mother. This is a sound of pure terror. Nine-year-old Buddy (newcomer Jude Hill) lives on what was once a peaceful street in Belfast, Northern Ireland, but it has. become a center for unrest and violence due to The Troubles, the struggle between the Catholics and Protestants.

Branagh skillfully shows us the world through Buddy’s eyes, though we understand more than he does. Sometimes that is amusing. Sometimes it is heart-wrenching. Buddy’s parents are almost impossibly glamorous and beautiful, as we see through his idealized perspective, and because they are played by the gorgeous (and Irish) Jamie Dornan (Pa) and Caitriona Baize (Ma). Also in the family are grandparents played with asperity and a twinkle in the eye by Dame Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds.

Gorgeous black and white cinematography gives the film the quality of a timeless memory and there are flashes of color when the family sees some Hollywood movies like “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” Another film we get a glimpse of is more to the point, “High Noon.” Buddy’s family loves their home. But The Troubles are forcing everyone to take sides. Pa, whose travel for business has added to the strain has been offered a much better-paying job in England.

Branagh expertly mingles humor and drama, shooting us what Buddy sees but does not fully understand and the way that he gives equal curiosity and weight to all of the new information he is learning and all of the new emotions that he is feeling, including some romantic sentiments about a pretty classmate. The very gifted Hill conveys the purity of these first-time experiences with great simplicity and open-heartedness. Buddy’s story (and Branagh’s) is of a very specific place and time but the bittersweet end of childhood and beginning of deeper understandings is universal and told here with tenderness and compassion.

Parents should know that this movie includes scenes of mob violence with peril and injuries and the very sad death of a family member. Characters drink and smoke and use strong language.

Family discussion: Did the family make the right decision? If you made a movie about your childhood, what story would you tell?

If you like this, try: “The Journey,” about the two men who negotiated a resolution of The Troubles and “The Commitments,” about young Irish musicians forming a music group

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