A Dog’s Way Home

Posted on January 10, 2019 at 5:29 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements, some peril and language
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence, death of human and animal characters, characters with disabilities and PTSD
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: January 11, 2019
Date Released to DVD: April 8, 2019

Copyright 2019 Columbia Pictures
I laughed and I cried and I said, “Aww,” watching A Dog’s Way Home and that is not a bad way to begin the year.

Bryce Dallas Howard provides the voice of Bella, a pit bull pup living under an abandoned house in Denver with a bunch of homeless cats. She is loved and happy until animal control comes and takes her mother away. The mother cat adopts Bella, who is comforted and at home until the arrival of two animal welfare volunteers, who come by to leave cat food every day. Lucas (a warmly appealing Jonah Hauer-King) is a Veterans Administration employee studying for the MCATs and living with his mother, an Army vet struggling with depression. He is instantly taken with Bella and adopts her, even though his lease does not allow dogs.

Pit bulls are not allowed in Denver. It is up to the individual animal control officer to decide which dogs are covered by the ban, and one has it in for Bella. He picks her up once and Lucas pays the fine. But if he picks her up again, she will be killed. The developer who owns the property with the abandoned homes will do anything to get Lucas and the other animal lovers to stop interfering with his permits.

Lucas brings Bella to New Mexico to stay with friends so she will be safe while he moves to a new apartment outside of the Denver city limits. But Bella does not understand. She remembers that Lucas taught her how to go home, and so she runs away and begins a 400 mile adventure that will take more than two years.

Bella has encounters with humans and animals along the way, some kind, some predatory. She makes some friends and has the opportunity to find new loving homes but she wants to be with Lucas.

Having Bella as our narrator adds some charm to the movie because her understanding may be limited in some respects, but she never loses sight of the essentials. The individual encounters introduce us to a range of human characters, some worth a movie of their own, like the disabled vets who are able to experience joy and purpose through Bella (especially when they have to hide her from the doctor in charge of the VA hospital in one of the film’s best scenes). She saves one man’s life and becomes the last friend of a homeless man (Edward James Olmos). And she mothers “big kitten,” an orphan mountain lion who will someday return the favor. The footage here is heartwarming and genuinely astonishing, especially after they meet again when the majestic cat is fully grown.

This is a nice way to start the year, a story of love and loyalty, canine and human.

Parents should know that this film features humans and animals in peril, injured and killed, animal hit by a car, animal killed by hunters, character dies and the body is discovered by children, and characters who struggle with PTSD and depression.

Family discussion: What did Bella understand better than the humans did? Why did Bella make such a difference for the veterans?

If you like this, try: “The Incredible Journey” and “A Dog’s Purpose”

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Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Talking animals

Big Stone Gap

Posted on October 8, 2015 at 5:51 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief suggestive material
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkeness
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations, sad death
Diversity Issues: Ethnic diversity
Date Released to Theaters: October 9, 2015
Copyright 2015 Picturehouse
Copyright 2015 Picturehouse

Even in small towns, big things can happen. Sometimes the most famous movie star in the world stops by and makes international headlines. And even bigger things happen, too — they just don’t get into the newspapers. Adriana Trigiani’s best-selling novels about her home town of Big Stone Gap, Virginia are loving tributes to the down-home values and adorably quirky characters she grew up with. Big things happen. There are sad losses and disappointments. But there is love and honor and generosity, too. In her first feature film as a director, Trigiani has assembled a superb cast, mixing top Hollywood and Broadway talent with some locals. Ashley Judd is at the center as a woman whose discovery of a secret about her past makes her think differently about her future.

It takes place in 1978. The woman is Ave Maria Mulligan, the owner of the local pharmacy. With a name like that, there has to be a story. When her beloved mother dies, she learns for the first time that her mother’s husband was not her father, as she thought. Her mother has left her a letter explaining that her father was a man she loved in Italy. Ave is determined to find her real father, though she has never traveled anywhere. She has great friends with colorful names and personalities, especially wisecracking Fleeta Mullins (Whoopi Goldberg) and starry-eyed bookmobile librarian Iva Lou Wade (Jenna Elfman). Then there’s Theodore Tipton (John Benjamin Hickey), the high school band and choral director who works with her on the town’s legendary annual “Trail of the Lonesome Pine” pageant and is Ave’s sort-of boyfriend and a handsome coal miner with the rare ordinary name of Jack (Patrick Wilson), who has a very possessive girlfriend (Jane Krakowski as Sweet Sue Tinsley).

It takes place in an eternally cozy past where coal mining is romantic because it creates electricity and there’s no mention of black lung disease. It’s corny cornpone, but unpretentious and it goes down easy, like sweet tea brewed by sunshine.

Parents should know that this film has some sexual references including potency, paternity, and a closeted gay character and non-explicit situations, drinking and drunkenness.

Family discussion: How is Ave Maria different from the people around her? Why did her mother keep the secret so long?

If you like this, try: the book series by Adriana Trigiani and the film “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!”

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Comedy Movies -- format Romance

Trailer: Big Stone Gap with Ashley Judd, Whoopi Goldberg, Jenna Elfman, and Patrick Wilson

Posted on September 8, 2015 at 8:00 am

Set in 1978, “Big Stone Gap” tells the story of the ever-ordinary Ave Maria Mulligan (Ashley Judd) who lives a simple life with her mother, runs the pharmacy, directs The Trail of the Lonesome Pine outdoor Drama, and hopes that Theodore Tipton, her best friend and the high school band director, will take their platonic friendship in a romantic direction. Ave Maria waits, and before she knows it, she turns 40. Now the old maid of Big Stone Gap, Ave Maria decides that happiness is for other people—that is, until a long-buried family secret throws her quiet life spectacularly off-course. It is written and directed by Adriana Trigiani and features Whoopi Goldberg and Jenna Elfman.

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Based on a book Comedy Family Issues Romance Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Ashley Judd Movie, “Big Stone Gap,” Coming This Fall

Posted on May 27, 2015 at 12:29 pm

Copyright Picturehouse 2015
Copyright Picturehouse 2015
Picturehouse will be releasing “Big Stone Gap” this fall. It was filmed on location in Virginia and stars Ashley Judd as Ave Maria Mulligan, who lives a simple life with her mother, runs the pharmacy, directs the real-life tourist attraction called the The Trail of the Lonesome Pine Outdoor Drama. Mulligan hopes that Theodore Tipton, her best friend and the high school band director, will take their platonic friendship in a romantic direction. But she has been waiting for a long time. Now she sees herself as the old maid of Big Stone Gap, and decides that happiness is for other people – that is, until a long-buried family secret throws her quiet life spectacularly off-course. The cast includes Patrick Wilson,Whoopi Goldberg, John Benjamin Hickey, Jane Krakowski, Anthony La Paglia and Jenna Elfman.

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Features & Top 10s

Dolphin Tale

Posted on September 22, 2011 at 6:41 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild thematic elements
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Injured human and animal characters, offscreen wartime violence, recovering human and animal amputees, discussion of parental loss and abandonment
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: September 23, 2011
Date Released to DVD: December 12, 2011
Amazon.com ASIN: B004EPZ01G

It won’t be available for sale until next week but I just can’t wait to feature this terrific film.  I have a copy to give away so if you’d like to enter, send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with Dolphin in the subject line and don’t forget your address!  I’ll pick a winner December 16.  

Clearwater Florida’s star attraction Winter, the dolphin with the prosthetic tail, plays herself in a  heart-warming story that is one of the best family movies of the year.

The human characters are fictional, but Winter really did lose her tail and would not have survived without the development of a mechanical tail to allow her to swim. In this story, a nice connection is made not just between a lonely boy and the affectionate dolphin but between the two species who have to adjust to the loss of limbs and the use of mechanical replacements.

In this version, a boy named Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) has become something of a loner after his father left and his favorite cousin Kyle, a swim champion, joins the military.  He is unhappy about being sent to summer school.  All he wants to do is tinker with his remote controlled helicopter in his workshop and wait for his cousin to come home.

On the way to school one morning, he sees an injured dolphin on the beach.  He gently cuts her free and whistles to her to keep her calm until the Marine rescue team arrives.  Later, he sneaks into the aquarium where she is being cared for and meets the marine biologist in charge, Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.) and his young daughter, Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff).  Winter responds to Sawyer so well that they let him stay and help take care of her.

Hazel and Sawyer spend hours cradling Winter gently until she starts to try to swim.  As Winter begins to get better, Sawyer starts to become a part of the community at the aquarium.  His mother (Ashley Judd) is at first frustrated and angry that he has been ditching school.  But then she realizes that he is learning far more from being with Winter at the aquarium than he could anywhere else.  When Kyle comes back injured, both he and Winter will need to find the courage to confront their challenges.  A lovably irascible doctor at Kyle’s VA facility (Morgan Freeman) thinks he can adapt the prosthetic technology they use to help the wounded veterans to give Winter a new tail.

And then just as Winter’s survival is on track, the survival of the aquarium and the marine program is at risk.

That’s a lot to handle, but writer/director Charles Martin Smith wisely keeps the focus on Sawyer and Hazel, and it is a treat to see their passion and optimism.  Gamble and Zuehlsdorff have a lovely natural chemistry and the grown-ups in the cast provide able support.  The story has a fairy tale quality, especially when it comes to saving the aquarium, and then the footage of the real-life disabled kids visiting Winter reminds us that the true story is even more magical.

 

(more…)

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