Kung Fu Panda 4

Posted on March 7, 2024 at 6:33 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for martial arts action/mild violence, scary images and some mild rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style peril and martial arts fight scenes
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 8, 2024
Date Released to DVD: April 25, 2024

Skidoosh! Jack Black returns as Po in the fourth chapter of the saga about the big-hearted panda who has become a kung fu master with the title of Dragon Warrior, and earned the gratitude of his community and the respect of his colleagues, the Furious Five. If you don’t know who they are, don’t worry; they are briefly seen and not heard (very expensive voice talent) in this film.

But there’s plenty of top-level voice talent anyway, with Dustin Hoffman returning as the red panda Master Shifu, Viola Davis as The Chameleon, Black’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” co-star Awkwafina as a fox named Zhen. Also returning are Po’s two dads, his adoptive father, the excitable Mr. Ping (James Hong) and the cuddly and fearful Li (Bryan Cranston), now close friends.

A brief prologue shows the return of the first villain Po defeated, Tai Lung (Ian McShane), apparently escaped from the spirit world determined “to take what is mine, which is everything that is yours.”

Po is happy as the movie begins. He is respected and beloved in his community and welcomes customers to Mr. Ping’s expanded restaurant. He signs autographs and poses for pictures (created with a paintbrush). He has accepted the staff of wisdom from Master Shifu without really thinking about what it means — that it is time for him to ascend to the next level, “passing on wisdom and inspiring hope,” and select a successor Dragon Warrior. Po is proud of achieving that title and reluctant to let it go. When he meditates on a new Dragon Warrior, his mind quickly moves from “inner peace” to “dinner, please.”

Tai Lung has not returned. That was an even more dangerous villain, The Chameleon, a shapeshifter with powerful magic. Po meets Zhen, a thief and a liar who grew up on the streets of Juniper City. She promises to bring him to The Chameleon. But can she be trusted?

This fourth chapter meets or exceeds the vibrance and heart of the first three films. The animation is superb, with outstandingly imagined settings, camera angles, styles, and action scenes. The gentle exploration of the conflicting feelings about growing up is sensitive and insightful. Awkwafina is, as always, funny and endearing in her portrayal of a character who is seeing what it means to be trustworthy and kind for the first time. The Chameleon, marvelously designed, with voice by Davis, is an excellent villain, imperious, steely, and ruthless. And there are a number of funny supporting characters, including Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan as the leader of the underground lair of thieves, and a trio of deceptively cute but secretly bloodthirsty little creatures. The balance between action and humor is just right, with a very funny bulls in a china shop moment and a precariously balanced tavern. And Po is, as always, an appealing hero, always on the side of helping others but still with more to learn.

Parents should know that this film includes extended action- and cartoon-style scenes of martial arts peril and violence, some schoolyard language (“screwed up,” etc.), and references to orphanhood and neglect. Some families may be sensitive to the portrayal of an adopted character who is equally devoted to his biological and adoptive father.

Family discussion:

If you like this, try: the other “Kung Fu Panda” movies and “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” with Black and Awkwafina

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Sam & Kate

Posted on November 10, 2022 at 5:01 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and drug use
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Marijuana and alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 11, 2022

Copyright 2022 Vertical Entertainment

The movie is called Sam and Kate, but it is equally about Bill and Tina. And it is about the actors who play them. Bill is played by Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman. and his son Sam is played by Hoffman’s real-life son, Jake Hoffman. Tina is played by Oscar-winner Sissy Spacek, and her daughter Kate is played by Spacek’s real-life daughter, Schuyler Fisk. That real-life connection gives the film extra interest and extra grounding. There is a palpable sense of trust in the scenes of Sam and Kate interacting with their parents that lets them show frustration without making us for a moment doubt their love.

It will take a while for Sam and Kate to learn that they have a lot in common. They each lived somewhere else and have returned to a small town to help care for their parents. Bill is cranky and demanding. We first see Sam resignedly sitting on a chair in a huge big box store as Bill rides around on a scooter annoying the staff. Tina and Kate have a warmer relationship, but we will learn that Tina is more dependent on Kate than she seemed.

Sam loves to draw but he is stuck working at a chocolate factory. His Kate owns a bookstore. Both are feeling isolated and lost, though Sam has hoped that Kate will help him feel less lost. He awkwardly tries to ask her out in her store but she says she is not dating at the moment.

On Christmas, all four attend the same church service. When Tina’s car stalls in the church parking lot, Bill tries to help, and the four get acquainted. Bill takes Tina on a date and Kate agrees to let Sam take her out.

First time feature riter/director Darren Le Gallo is better with the in-between moments than the plot developments, which is often the case with beginners who have not yet learned to trust the audience. When the chaacters are just interacting quietly they convey a great deal and the events interrupt the delicacy of those scenes. Jake Hoffman, very impressive in small roles in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (as shoe designer turned felon Steve Madden) and in the otherwise disappointing “Otherhood” moves smoothly into a central role. And Fisk, an engaging screen presence going back to 1995’s “Babysitter’s Club,” has a lovely, expressive light. Watching them together as Sam and Kate begin to open up despite all of the baggage and self-protective distance and fear of vulnerability is touching and a reminder that it is those in between moments that can matter most.

Parents should know that this film has a non-explicit sexual situation and some crude sexual references, strong language, alcohol and marijuana, and a sad death.

Family discussion: Why did Sam and Kate change over the course of the film? What kind of help did they give their parents?

If you like this, try: “”Kalbuey,” “Laggies,” “Maggie’s Plan,” and “A Little Help”

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Chef

Posted on May 15, 2014 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, including some suggestive references
Profanity: Very strong and graphic language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 16, 2014
Date Released to DVD: September 29. 2014
Amazon.com ASIN: B00KQTGWPC

You’re writer/director/actor Jon Favreau.  You’ve been making big-budget films, mostly huge blockbuster successes (“Elf,” “Iron Man”), but also a big-budget bust (Cowboys & Aliens, which I liked).  This might put you in mind of a simpler, more chef poster headersatisfyingly creative time (Favreau wrote the indie smash “Swingers” and wrote and directed “Made”).  And that might inspire a movie like “Chef,” with Favreau as writer. director, and star and a small-scale story with, thanks to his connections, a big-scale cast, about an artist who, like a movie director, creates the kind of art that must be appreciated by others to be satisfying.  And director Jon Favreau brings the same loving care to the creations made by his character that the chef does himself.  This movie will be on lists of “Great Food Films” forever, along with classics like “Big Night” and “Babette’s Feast.”  The food is so lusciously photographed you can almost smell it.  And the music perfectly matches the food, sensual and spicy.  This is an utterly delectable treat.

No surprise — it is about a guy who has a big-time, high pressure job, loses his mojo, his inspiration and his sense of creativity, and then finds it again in a smaller venue.  The job is in the title.  Favreau plays Carl, a passionate chef at a high-end restaurant, frustrated because the owner (Dustin Hoffman) wants him to stick to his “greatest hits,” the solid, reliable favorites that Carl now finds boring.  “You remember what happened when you put guts on the menu?”  When an influential restaurant critic gives him a bad review, Carl quits in a fury.  Then, in an even bigger fury, he tweets what he thinks is a private response to the critic (he is not sure of the difference between Twitter and email). It goes viral.  (“You’re trending, bro.”) Carl goes into a shame spiral fueled by self-pity and blame, both self and everyone else.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tP6SE65F-h4

Carl’s passion for his job led to the end of his marriage to Inez (Sofia Vergara).  He is a devoted but harried father to Percy (Emjay Anthony), a young social media expert who enjoys the fun activities his dad plans for them when he has time but wishes they could just plain hang out more.  Inez, wanting to get Carl out of his funk, invites him to come with her on a business trip to Miami, so he can watch Percy.  It will get him away from the Twitterverse gaffe of the day crowd and give him some time with his son.  She also has another plan.  Her previous ex-husband (a movie-stealing performance by the scene-stealing master thief and “Iron Man” star Robert Downey, Jr.), who gives Carl a food truck.  Well, apparently there is a food truck there underneath the layers of grime and fry oil.  Joined by a friend (John Leguizamo) and Percy, they drive the truck back home to Los Angeles, stopping along the way to feed the people who have been following Percy’s social media updates.

There are no surprises in the story, and there is not one female character with any reason to exist other than supporting/adoring Carl, but the characters feel genuine and the food is mesmerizingly luscious.  Favreau has his mojo back, and I hope he will keep ours going by serving us food truck movies along with his five star restaurants.

Parents should know that this movie includes very strong and crude language and some vulgar references.

Family discussion: What is your favorite meal to cook?  Why was it hard for Carl to just hang out with Percy before the food truck?

If you like this, try: “Big Night” and “No Reservations”

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Trailer: Chef

Posted on April 19, 2014 at 8:00 am

Jon Favreau follows his big-budget special effects movies (“Iron Man,” “Cowboys and Aliens”) with a return to his small, indie roots (“Swingers”) as director/writer/star of the scrumptious-looking “Chef.”  (WARNING: Some strong language)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tP6SE65F-h4

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