The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild

Posted on January 27, 2022 at 5:53 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action and mild language
Profanity: Schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended carton-style peril, fire, no one badly hurt
Diversity Issues: Disabled character
Date Released to Theaters: January 28, 2022

Copyright 2021 Disney
At this point, it almost seems as though the Ice Age movies are going to go on longer than the Ice Age itself. This latest chapter, like the recent 4th episode of “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,” is straight-to-streaming with some sound-alikes replacing the original top-talent voices, but continues in the spirit of silly humor combined with warm tributes to the importance of family.

Since many in the intended audience or even their teen-age babysitters were not yet born when the first “Ice Age” movie was released in 2002, this sixth in the series (not counting video games, television specials, and short films) begins with a recap in cave-painting style, letting us know how the various characters met and decided, even though some of them were natural predators and prey, they would become a family and protect each other. That includes Manny the gloomy mammoth (Sean Kenin replacing Ray Romano), Sid the silly, sibilant sloth (Jake Green replacing John Leguizamo), Diego the grumpy saber-tooth tiger (Jake Green replacing Denis Leary), and Ellie the warm-hearted mammoth (Dominique Jennings replacing Queen Latifah). But those characters are all at the edges of this story, which focuses on Ellie’s two “brothers,” the goofy possums Crash (Vincent Tong) and Eddie (Aaron Harris), and the swashbuckling weasel with an eye-patch, Buck Wild (returning Simon Pegg).

Ellie has cared for Crash and Eddie since the death of their mother, who took Ellie in when she was alone and frightened. But they are chafing under her efforts to keep them safe and want to go off on their own. “She’s smothering us with reasonable advice!” they complain as they dream of a cool bachelor pad where they can do whatever they want. This fantasy setting includes a bling-y necklace and a hot tub. So they go off on their own and end up in the Lost World, where giant spiders and enormous carnivorous plants live with dinosaurs and mammals. They are rescued by Buck Wild, who first appeared in 2009’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.” His Edenic garden-like area, with all of the animals living together in peace, is being attacked by a monomaniacal dinosaur named Orson (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who has returned from being banished and wants revenge. He was bullied when he was young for being small and having a big head, but he is proud of his large brain and believes it will help him take over so that he can be the boss.

Buck wants Crash and Eddie to leave because he cannot keep them from getting into trouble while he is fighting Orson. “What they lack in intelligence,” he says, “they make up for in fumbling ineptitude.” And Buck is not sure about accepting help from an estranged friend named Zee (Justina Machado), a skunk-like creature with a Batman-style utility belt. Meanwhile, Diego, Manny, Ellie, and Sid are out looking for Crash and Eddie to bring them home.

As with the other films in the series, this chapter entertainingly combines goofy humor for both kids and adults with some heart-warming lessons about standing up for what is right, working together, taking responsibility, and the families we choose. The younger audience members will enjoy outsmarting Crash and Eddie and adults will enjoy the cultural references. Yes, a character claims to “love the smell of stinky gas in the morning,” just like Robert Duvall loved the smell of napalm . Characters work out their differences, sometimes by “using feeling words,” sometimes by apologizing, and characters discover courage and strength they never realized. Some even come to understand that even families who love each other sometimes have to let go, but they can always come home.

Parents should know that this movie has references to loss of family members and a disabled character who is very capable. There is extended cartoon-style peril with fire and an authoritarian bully.

Family discussion: When should you plan and when should you improvise? What made Buck and Zee stop being friends and how did they get to be friends again? Why didn’t Zee want to tell anyone her real name? Why does Orson want to be the boss?

If you like this, try: the other “Ice Age” movies

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Rifkin’s Festival

Posted on January 27, 2022 at 5:15 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for suggestive/sexual material and some drug use, language and thematic elements
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 28, 2022

Copyright The Mediapro Studio 2021
“Stardust Memories,” released in 1980, is one of Woody Allen’s best films, a semi-autobiographical story of a writer/director who attends a film festival where he is being honored. He is surrounded by people who want something from him or try to impress him with fatuous faux-intellectual comments and struggles with his purpose as people keep telling him they prefer his earlier, funny films. He is also torn between two women, a wholesome, devoted single mother and a troubled musician. We see glimpses of some of his films and at one point he has an encounter with super-intelligent aliens who tell him that if he wants to help humanity he should write funnier jokes.

Forty-two years and almost as many films later, Woody Allen returns to the setting and some of the themes of that film with “Rifkin’s Festival,” about a man who attends a film festival and is torn between two women as he is having an existential crisis about his purpose.

That man is Mort Rifkin (Wallace Shawn), who once taught film classes about classic European cinema but is now mired in working on a novel. He is not happy about attending the festival in San Sebastián, but he is worried that his wife, Sue (Gina Gershon) has a crush on one of her PR clients, a director who is being honored at the festival. Woody Allen for decades has been more interested in churning out movies than in taking the time and care to give the characters or storylines any depth, so Mort does not respond to this concern by talking to her or trying to be more engaged and thoughtful. Instead he sulks and develops psychosomatic symptoms. The title is something of a wry joke as Mort never goes to any of the festival’s screenings or events. The only films he sees are the ones in his head.

At a superficial level, it is mildly entertaining, with some very clever lines and the fun for cinephiles of seeing Mort’s angst expressed through placing his situation in the context of his favorite films, from “Jules et Jim” to “Persona.” Mort barely qualifies as a character but thanks to Wallace Shawn he is able to get some sympathy from us. The other characters are barely sketched as concepts, Sue and her director client as antagonists created out of Mort’s deepest insecurities and Jo (Elena Anaya), the doctor he consults and starts to flirt with, just another Allen fantasy figure, though thankfully one who is an actual grown-up.

I have nothing but support for those who have concluded that they do not wish to watch any more of Woody Allen’s films because of his behavior or his alleged behavior. But for those who separate the art from the artist, I would say that this movie at least gestures at some of the criticisms he has faced (see actual grown-up point and some reconsideration of intellectual snobbery — as well as some endorsement of it. All of it is treated very lightly and so pretty to look at that for a moment it almost seems that there may have been a second draft before he said “Action.”

Parents should know that this movie has mature themes including adultery and some strong language and sexual references, drinking and drugs.

Family discussion: What should Rifkin have said to Sue about his worries? What will he do next?

If you like this, try: “Stardust Memories” and “Annie Hall”

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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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Belle (2022)

Posted on January 13, 2022 at 5:12 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic content, language, brief suggestive material, violence
Profanity: Rude language, bullies
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death of parents, child abuse, peril, scary monster
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 14, 2022

Copyright GKIDS 2021
“Belle” is a spectacularly beautiful animated film from Japan (opening theatrically in both Japanese and English versions) with dazzling images out of a classic fairy tale but a storyline that could not be more contemporary.

The film begins with a commercial for “the ultimate online community” called silly U, with more than five billion participants. It is an online “sandbox”-style game where participants has an avatar based on their own biometric data. They have endless freedom to create the world as they want it to be. It sells itself both as “another reality” where, unlike this reality, you can have a second chance and start a new life and as a place where you can be yourself in a way that the trivialities of real life like the way you look do not allow.

Suzu (Kaho Nakamura in the original Japanese cast, Kylie McNeill in the English language version) is a sad, shy, lonely teenager living in rural Japan. She is still mourning the death of her mother, who lost her life saving a drowning child as then-six-year-old Suzu watched in horror, and she feels abandoned. “Why was a stranger’s life more important than being with me?” she sill asks. Her father is remote and the only person she has to talk to is her tech-savvy friend, Ruka (Tina Tamashiro/Hunter Schafer). In these early scenes, her face is almost always obscured. We see her from the back or she puts her head down so her hair hides her face. When her classmates invite her to sing karaoke at a party she runs out of the room, sick to her stomach.

But the avatar she creates on U is another story. At first, she hesitantly types in her real name, but then erases it and creates a glamorous pop star with flowing pink hair named Bell. (Suzu keys it in with just four letters but the fans add an “e” at the end, inspired by the French word for “beautiful.”) Within days, she has millions of followers. She also has millions of critics. Ruka tries to reassure her: “Stardom is built on a mixed reception.” In real life, we see Suzu smile for the first time. Belle becomes a worldwide sensation, disconcerting the previous U world favorite.

And then, as millions are assembled for a virtual concert, it is disrupted by a dragon monster. The rest of the story is inspired in part by “Beauty and the Beast” as Suzu/Belle tries to find out who the beast really is and what he wants.

The screenplay takes a nuanced approach to the virtual world, wisely recognizing that it is just a projection of the real world, sometimes a distorted one, but one that can serve as training wheels, a Rorschach test, a beta test, or even a place to find answers not available anywhere else. Belle is Suzu, after all, and the more she performs as Belle, the more she discovers her own confidence. Finally, when she understands for the first time how her mother could take a risk to save another life, she learns that helping others is a way to find agency, connection, and purpose.

All of this takes place in a gorgeously imagined world so inviting and full of delight we almost wish for a U app on our phones. “Belle” is a touching story that is both timely and timeless.

Parents should know that there are sad parental deaths, domestic abuse issues, some harsh schoolyard insults, and some mild boy-girl interactions.

Family discussion:

If you like this, try: “Ready Player One” and another re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast, “Beastly”

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The 355

Posted on January 6, 2022 at 5:24 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, brief strong language, and suggestive material
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drinking to relieve stress
Diversity Issues: Extended action-style peril and violence, torture, murder, chases, explosions, characters injured and killed
Date Released to Theaters: January 7, 2022

Copyright Universal 2021
It’s a little bit “Bourne,” a little bit “Avengers,” and a little bit “The A-Team” except that the main characters are women and unlike “The A-Team,” the plan never really comes together. And by “plan,” I mean the script.

This is a continent-hopping spy story that has such low expectations of its audience that an establishing shot of Paris clearly showing the Eiffel Tower is helpfully labeled “Paris, France” and one of Washington, D.C. showing the Capitol and Washington Monument is helpfully labeled “Washington, D.C., USA.” At least they did not add, “Planet Earth.”

The storyline, which hardly rises to the level of a plot, is similarly simple. There’s a McGuffin (Hitchcock’s term for whatever it is that everyone in the movie is trying to get). There’s a hard drive with a program that could disrupt anything, from financial records to cell phones to airplane navigation systems. Spies from different countries are trying to keep it from the bad guys. At first, they are each on their own. But, hang on for the big surprise, they have to learn to trust each other and work together. There’s another “surprise” I won’t spoil except to say it’s clear what’s happening in the first 15 minutes and most of the movie is getting it, losing it, and getting it back again.

The spies are: American Mace (Jessica Chastain), a CIA field agent gone rogue since the death of her partner, British former MI6 computer whiz who is determined to stay away from spying Khadijah (Lupita Nyong’o), German Marie (Diane Kruger), fighting the suspicion that she may be a double agent, and Colombian Graciela (Penelope Cruz), who is a therapist, not a spy, insisting she will never use a gun, and just wants to get home to her husband and children. Other members of the cast whose roles I won’t spoil are Sebastian Stan (Bucky in the MCU) and Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing.

The title refers to a real-life female spy of the Revolutionary War era whose identity is still unknown to this day. You’d be much better off watching that story in the television series “Turn: Washington’s Spies.”Even by the very, very low standards of early January movies (Liam Neeson, where are you?), always a dumping ground for films the studios want to get off their books, and even with an all-star cast (two Oscar-winners in this mess!) “The 355” fails in its most basic tasks, telegraphing every development with a cinematic bullhorn (you think Graciela is not going to end up shooting a gun?). Only Bingbing is at all credible in the fight scenes and she arrives too late to make it worthwhile. There are a couple of brighter moments when the ladies are just hanging out, but the action scenes are poorly staged and the non-action scenes are repetitive and dull. The scariest part of the movie is the conclusion promising a sequel.

Parents should know that this movie has extended action violence with chases, explosions, shooting, torture, poison, and fight scenes.

Family discussion: Why did the spies decide to trust each other? When did they trust the wrong people?

If you like this, try: “The Transporter” and “Hobbs & Shaw,” and better films from these performers

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