Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Posted on August 6, 2013 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for fantasy action violence, some scary images, and mild violence
Profanity: Some mild language ("screwed," etc.)
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy violence and peril with some moments that may be too intense for younger viewers including repeated apparent deaths
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, very strong and brave female characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 7, 2013
Date Released to DVD: December 16, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B008JFUNTG

The second in the series of films based on Rick Riorden’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians is even better than the first.  The young actors are more comfortable, their characters better established, and the special effects more, well, special.

Percy-Jackson-Sea-of-Monsters-Poster1We learned in the first film that Percy (Logan Lerman) is the son of Poseidon, one of the gods of Olympus and brother of Zeus and Hades. Because his mother was human, he is considered a demigod.  As this film begins, he is safely at Camp Half-Blood with the other children of gods and mortals, including Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), the daughter of Athena, goddess of wisdom, Luke (Jake Abel), the son of Hermes, god of messages and deliveries, and Clarisse (Leven Rambin), daughter of Ares, the god of war.

We see in flashback Percy’s friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), a satyr, Annabeth, and Luke first arriving at Camp Half-Blood, pursued by murderous monsters.  Another young demigod named Thalia sacrificed herself to save them, and in death Zeus turned her into a tree that provided an impenetrable safety zone around the camp.  In the present day, as Percy is losing a competition to Clarisse and feeling dejected and alone.  His mother is gone, his father does not respond, and he does not feel that he has what it takes to live up to the expectations everyone seems to have for him.  Yes, he saved the world in “The Lightning Thief,” but was that really him?  He does not feel like a hero.  The support of centaur Chiron (Anthony Head), Annabeth, and Brandon does not reassure him.

A new arrival at Camp Half-Blood shocks Percy.  It turns out, he has a half-brother.  When a god and a human have a child, the result is a demigod.  But when a god and a nymph have a child, the result is…a cyclops.  (“The politically correct term is ocularly impaired.”)  As much as he longs for family, it is hard for Percy to accept this one-eyed person named Tyson (Douglas Smith) as family.

He does not have much time to think about it.  Camp Half-Blood is attacked by a bronze Colchis bull.  Thalia’s tree is poisoned and the protective shield is destroyed.  Clarisse is assigned the task of retrieving the golden fleece that can repair the tree, but Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Tyson set off as well.  But the golden fleece is guarded by a scary giant cyclops who uses it to lure demigods so he can eat them.  And the people who want to destroy Camp Half-Blood are after it, too.  A series of CGI adventures lie ahead of them, including rides on and in various mythic creatures and a little help from Hermes (a terrific Nathan Fillion) and Poseidon.

Like the books, the films have a nice balance between the mythic scale of the adventures and the teenage problems that can feel every bit as grand and daunting, a nice balance between the classic and the modern, with a sprinkling of humor when it starts to get too intense.  Locations range from an amusement park to a UPS store to the inside of a sea monster and things move briskly along to a conclusion that is exciting and touching as well.

Parents should know that this film has a lot of fantasy peril and violence with some scary monsters.  There are several apparent deaths but (spoiler alert) just about everyone turns out to be all right.

Family discussion: How did Percy feel about his brother? Why did Percy doubt himself and what did he learn from this adventure?

If you like this, try: the books and the original film — and read books about Greek myths like Greek Mythology for Teens: Classic Myths in Today’s World and Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths

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This Week on the Disney Channel: Teen Beach Movie

Posted on July 14, 2013 at 3:59 pm

I have a lot of affection for the teen beach movies of the 1960’s starring the late Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, with guest stars including Buster Keaton and “Little” Stevie Wonder.  There was a nice update, “Back to the Beach,” and a knowing tribute to the genre in Tom Hanks’ “That Thing You Do.”  I am really looking forward to this week’s Disney Channel salute, “Teen Beach Movie,” premiering July 19.

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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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