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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Clifford the Big Red Dog

Posted on November 9, 2021 at 5:00 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic element, mild action, impolite humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Mild fantasy peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 10, 2021

Copyright Paramount 2021
The title Clifford the Big Red Dog tells it all: this is a movie about a little girl who fills a red dog with so much love he becomes giant-sized overnight. He causes a lot of chaos. A bad guy tries to steal him. That’s the story.

It began with a 1963 book by Norman Bridwell, a very simple story designed for pre- and beginning readers, about a girl named Emily Elizabeth and her gigantic red dog. He isn’t perfect. He did not win a prize at the dog show. But she loves him the way he is. This led to 79 more books, with Clifford doing everything from going to the hospital and learning about opposites, numbers, school, and friendship to celebrating Hanukkah, Mother’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day. Clifford also appeared on television in animated series, voiced originally by the late John Ritter, and in video games.

In this live-action feature, Clifford does not speak. And we learn a lot more about Emily Elizabeth, played by the very appealing Darby Camp. She lives with her loving but overstressed single mom, Maggie (Sienna Guillory). Emily Elizabeth is having some problems in school, because some mean girls make fun of her for being a scholarship student. When Maggie has to go out of town on a business trip, she reluctantly has her brother Casey (Jack Whitehall) move out of the van he has been sleeping in and into her apartment to take care of Emily Elizabeth. Casey is well-meaning but immature and about halfway between haphazard and criminal neglect. (Question to ponder: Why doesn’t Whitehall use his actual British accent since he is playing the brother of an English woman who does have an accent and it requires a useless explanation for why he has an American accent.)

At a pet fair, they meet a mysterious and possibly magical guy named Bridwell (a tribute to the author the books), played by John Cleese with a twinkle in his eye. Among the exotic animals is an adorable tiny little red puppy. “How big is he going to get?” “It depends on how much you love him,” Bridwell tells her. It’s a lot of love because the next morning he is the size of a one-story house. Oh, and there is a strictly-enforced no pets policy in the building, enforced by the super (David Alan Grier).

There are no surprises in the movie and it may drag for anyone over 8, but it is nicely diverse, with a sense of community and a strong supporting cast that includes “SNL’s” Kenan Thompson as an obliging veterinarian and Tony Hale as the tech CEO who is willing to do anything to find the source of Clifford’s growth. It is not necessary to make her one supportive classmate have a crush on her instead of just being a friend. But it is nice to see that friend’s father and some of the other adults so helpful and kind. It’s by no means a classic but kids will enjoy the comic mayhem and happy ending and parents will enjoy their enjoyment.

Parents should know that there is some mild fantasy peril and mayhem, some bullying, and some potty humor.

Family discussion: Why are the girls at school so mean to Emily Elizabeth? What makes them change? Would you like to have Clifford as a pet? How would you take care of him?

If you like this, try: the books and the animated feature film, “Clifford’s Really Big Movie

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Ron’s Gone Wrong

Posted on October 21, 2021 at 5:15 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some rude material, thematic elements and language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril nd violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 22, 2021

Copyright 2021 20th Century
“Ron’s Gone Wrong,” the first feature from Locksmith Animation, has excellent voice talent but average character design and storyline. And it is unfortunately similar in theme to other films including the recent and much better “Mitchells vs. the Machines.” Its heart is in the right place and it is reasonably entertaining for children but forgettable.

Like “Short Circuit,” it is the story of a malfunctioning robot that is better than a correctly functioning robot because its imperfections make it more human and relatable, more “real.” The storyline is reminiscent of many other films including “Big Hero 6” and “E.T.”

Barney (voiced by the terrific Jack Dylan Grazer of “Shazam”) lives with his single dad, Graham (Ed Helms), and his Bulgarian grandmother Donka (Oscar-winner Olivia Coleman). Money is tight, and Graham, while devoted to his son, is often distracted and worried.

Marc (Justice Smith) is a young tech whiz who has a big announcement at his Apple-like computer company. He is presenting his latest invention, the ultimate accessory, a rolling robot friend, a cross between the Amazon Echo, the Apple Watch, Al Capp’s Shmoos, and Robby the Robot from “Forbidden Planet.” While Marc’s plan is just to create a machine that will learn all about its owners so it can be ever-interested, ever-responsive, an ideal companion. His colleague Andrew (Rob Delaney) sees the purpose of the cute little B-Bots differently. All that information about your background and preferences you so willingly share with your B-Bot? Andrew is going to make a ton of money selling it!

Barney feels like an outcast at school. His teacher pushes him to sit on the “Buddy Bench” at recess to let his classmates know he would like to make a friend, but he feels humiliated. All the other kids have B-Bots, which they use for everything from “influencer” social media posts to games, communication, so much of social interaction that they have just about forgotten how to talk to each other directly. But Barney does not have a bot because his father cannot afford it.

And then it is his birthday, and Donka surprises him with a bot, except that this one is unauthorized because it was damaged falling off a truck. That is Ron (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), and he and Barney begin to get to know one another, Ron’s mistakes, mostly from being overly literal, only endear him to his new owner/friend.

So, unlike Ron, as far as the script goes all the pieces are in place for Barney and his classmates to learn some lessons about friendship and not relying on social media for feedback and approval and for some of the grown-ups to learn some lessons about priorities and the risks of capitalism. It all unfolds as expected with not enough original moments along the way. The movie needs to learn its own lesson that a safe, predictable by-the-numbers formula is a little boring.

Parents should know that this movie has some schoolyard language and some peril and mild violence. Barney is mourning his late mother.

Family discussion: Why was it hard for Barney to make friends? What else could he have done? Would you like to have a B-Bot? What would you do with it?

If you like this, try: “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”

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The Boss Baby: Family Business

Posted on July 1, 2021 at 5:59 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG (Rude Humor|Mild Language|Some Action)
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Potion
Violence/ Scariness: Extended cartoon-style action, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 2, 2021
Date Released to DVD: September 13, 2021

Copyright 2021 Universal
2017’s “Boss Baby” was a happy surprise. It took the classic theme of sibling rivalry to a hilarious extreme, revealing that the family’s new baby, Theodore (“Ted”), is literally a boss. He arrives complete with suit, tie, Rolex, briefcase, a job at Baby Corp, and the ultra-adult voice of Alec Baldwin. The older brother, Tim, is initially jealous and hostile, but ultimately joins forces with him to complete his mission.

In this sequel (following the interactive Netflix film, “Boss Baby: Back in Business”), Ted (Baldwin again) and Tim (James Marsden) are grown up. Tim is very happy as a devoted and imaginative stay-at-home Dad to Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt), the brightest student at a fancy private school) and her baby sister Tina (Amy Sederis), but he misses Ted, who is now a very successful executive who works all the time and instead of spending time with the family just sends “inappropriately lavish gifts,” including a horse named Precious. Tabitha seems to be following in her uncle’s footsteps, telling her dad she is too old for bedtime stories and goodnight kisses.

It turns out that it is Tina who is really following in her uncle’s first tentative toddler footsteps. She is a boss baby in a pantsuit, and on behalf of BabyCorp, she is there to bring her father and uncle back together and, while they are sorting things out, to save the world.

In the first film, Baby Corp had to save the world from a villain who was trying to make puppies cuter than babies. This time it is Dr. Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum), the founder and principal of Tabitha’s school who is plotting a baby takeover by zombie-fying the adults, starting with the parents of his students when they are all together at the school recital. Ted and Tim drink a potion that will return them to babyhood (Ted) and childhood (Tim) so they can infiltrate the school and stop Armstrong’s evil plot.

Like the first film, this one has a delightful mix of understated humor (wait until you see the holiday pageant song about climate change), wild fantasy, cheeky needle-drop songs and pop culture references (from “Rocky Horror’s” “Time Warp” to Flock of Seagulls, “Norma Rae,” and a “comfort plant”). Plus some of the best-constructed action scenes in animated films, exciting, fun, and funny, and then exciting again. And there are some great moments with my favorite character, Wizzie the Wizard toy, magnificently voiced by James McGrath in tones usually heard only in Shakespeare’s plays or “Lord of the Rings” or supervillains. It’s fast, fun, and funny, but it is the heartfelt sense of joy in family, however different we may be, that keeps me hoping for another sequel.

Parents should know that this film has extended cartoon-style peril and action including chases, ninjas with swords and throwing stars, and vertiginous climbs. Characters use some schoolyard language and there is potty humor. A theme of the movie is sibling rivalry and family estrangement.

Family discussion: Is Tina a different kind of boss than Ted? Why are Ted and Tim so different? Why didn’t Armstrong like grown-ups? What name would you choose for your secret identity? What do you think is more important than money?

If you like this, try: the other “Boss Baby” movies and “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”

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Luca

Posted on June 16, 2021 at 1:55 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for rude humor, language, some thematic elements and brief violence
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and violence
Diversity Issues: Disability issues, diversity a theme of the film
Date Released to Theaters: June 18, 2021

Copyright Disney Pixar 2021
I’ll get to the details in a moment, the story, the characters, the music, the themes, and of course the inevitable Pixar movie question — Will it make you cry? But first, maybe because of the whole cooped up inside the house for more than a year thing, I have to tell you about the sunlight on the water in “Luca,” Pixar’s film set on the coast of Italy. As Carlos Saldanha did with Brazil in “Rio,” director Enrico Casarosa brings us his deep love for the place he grew up, and every moment brims with tender affection for the Mediterranean setting. This movie may not make you cry but for sure it will make you sigh in appreciation. And it has a spit take for the ages.

Luca, voiced by Jacob Tremblay of “Room” and “Wonder,” lives under the sea off the coast of a fishing village called Portorosso. This is not the underwater place of Nemo or Ariel, but its own very distinctive and fully-imagined world. Luca is not a merman or a fish, exactly. He is a young sea monster, the son of loving parents Daniela (Maya Rudolph) and Lorenzo (Jim Gaffigan). He is responsible and well-behaved, herding a school of fish. But like Ariel, he is curious about the world outside the water and wants to learn more about what his family calls “land monster town.” His mother cautions him that it is dangerous. But he meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer of “Shazam”), who shows him that sea monsters turn human when they are out of the water and introduces him to some of the wonders of the human world: sunlight, gravity, music, gelato, and…Vespas. Alberto’s dream is to have a Vespa and explore the world.

The — I’m just going to call them boys — try to build a Vespa on their own. But when they meet a spirited human girl named Giulia (Emma Berman) who tells them about a three-part race with a Vespa as the prize, they join forces. This being Italy, the three parts are: swimming, biking, and eating pasta.

But the five-time previous champion, a bully named Ercole (Saverio Raimondo) will do whatever it takes to win again. A single drop of water turns the boys back into their sea monster form, so when the sky starts leaking, I mean when it rains….well, it’s a challenge. Luca’s parents have taken human form to find him, tossing water on every boy they see.

The voice talent is exceptional, with Tremblay, Grazer, and Berman creating distinctive, endearing characters. A brief betrayal is shocking and dismaying because we are invested in their friendship. The film manages to weave in a number of themes with subtlety and insight as the character navigate their differences, as parents learn to love and let go and friends discover that you can stay friends even if you take different directions. Now excuse me while I put on some Puccini and cook pasta for dinner.

NOTE: Watch the credits for some sketches that continue the story and an extra scene with a character voiced by Sasha Baron Cohen.

Parents should know that this film includes peril and some violence. A disabled character is presented as strong, confident, and capable. A character has divorced parents and divides her time between their homes and another child is abandoned by his parents. Differences and acceptance are a theme of he movie. And while underwater Luca is a protective guardian of fish, somehow on land he has no problem helping Giulia’s father catch a boatful so he can sell them.

Family discussion: When should you say, “Silencio, Bruno!” and when should you listen to “Bruno?” Who in your life is an underdog? What do you do when friends want different things? Why did Alberto tell Luca to leave?

If you like this, try: “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory”

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