Over the Moon

Posted on October 22, 2020 at 5:11 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild action and thematic elements
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy peril, sad death of a parent, themes of dealing with grief
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 23, 2020

Copyright 2020 Netflix
“Over the Moon” is a gorgeous, candy-colored fantasy adventure based on a Chinese myth, with an appealing heroine and some sensitive and child-accessible insights about grief and loss.

Fei Fei (sweet-voiced Cathy Ang) lives happily with her adored parents, who run a food cart specializing in mooncakes, a delicacy enjoyed each year at the Mid-Autumn Festival, inspired by the myths of Chang’e, the goddess of the moon. Fei Fei’s father (John Cho as Ba Ba) wants to explain her about the science of the moon but she would rather hear her mother’s stories of Chang’e, who consumed the elixir of immortality and mourns the loss of her mortal beloved, the archer Houyi.

But Fei Fei’s mother becomes ill, and dies (offscreen). Fei Fei and her father share their grief and take care of each other. Four years later, Ba Ba wants Fei Fei to meet a woman he is seeing, Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh), who has an energetic young son, Chin (Robert G. Chiu). Fei Fei is devastated. She feels that she cannot manage any more change and that bringing another woman into their home would be disloyal to her mother. And she decides that if she could just go to the moon and prove to Ba Ba that the legend of Chang’e’s enduring love is real, he will understand that he should, like Chang’e, be devoted forever to his lost love.

Fortunately, Fei Fei has become a STEM-science and engineering student. And so, she builds a rocket ship. Actually, she builds several model rocket ships which all fail. And then she figures out a way to use something that is going on in her town to power the ship enough to take her and her pet rabbit to the moon in search of Chang’e.

But Chin stows away with his pet frog, throwing off the navigation. Things look dire until two glowing magical lions rescue them and take them to the moon, where they do meet Chang’e, who will not help them until they bring her the “gift’ she needs to reunite with Houyi.

Long-time Disney artist (and son of the “Family Circus” comic panel Bil Keane) Glen Keane brings his experience on films like “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” and “Tangled” to his first film as a director, and we can see the Disney influence in the strong, big-eyed female leads and the Broadway musical-style “I Want” and other character-revealing songs. Chang’e is voiced by “Hamilton” star Phillipa Soo.

There may be a touch of Studio Ghibli inspiration as well, especially when the characters are floating in zero gravity amid a army (that is the collective noun) of giant frogs. The candy colors of the glowing space creatures are like jelly-beans illuminated by LED lights. A highlight of the visuals was the brief hand-drawn images of the Chang’e story.And the faces of the characters are exceptionally expressive, which grounds the story.

Gorgeous images and chases scenes, including one involving giant chickens on motorcycles, make this a visual treat. The Chang’e character is so imperious that it is not easy to appreciate her learning to be better, but a rare storyline for children about grief, and especially about how good feelings and new people in our lives are not disrespectful to those we have lost, gives the film warmth and depth.

Parents should know that this film includes sad (offscreen) deaths including the loss of a parent. There is some mild fantasy-style peril.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Fei Fei want her father to get married again? Why did she change her mind about Chin? What version of Chang’e’s story do you like?

If you like this, try: “Coco” and “Inside Out”

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Animation Fantasy movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Musical Stories About Kids

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

Posted on October 12, 2018 at 1:00 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for scary creature action and images, some thematic elements, rude humor and language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style fantasy/mild horror peril and violence, creepy creatures. boo-scares
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 12, 2018
Date Released to DVD: January 14, 2019

Copyright 2018 Columbia
My review of Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is on rogerebert.com.

The first “Goosebumps” movie was a lot of fun, with Jack Black playing real-life author R.L. Stine, whose hundreds of spooky-fun books for tweens have sold hundred of millions of copies. This sequel, with only a brief appearance by Black, is blander, with lower-wattage talent on and behind the screen. But the special effects are still top-notch and it is a pleasant little scare-fest for the Halloween season.

Parents should know that this film includes extended spooky-scary content with scary monsters, ghosts, witches, boo-scares, peril, action/cartoon-style peril and violence, some potty humor and schoolyard language.

Family discussion: Which is the scariest monster in the movie? Why do people like scary movies?

If you like this, try: “Monster House” and “Paranorman” and the Goosebumps books and first film

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Based on a book Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Fantasy movie review Movies -- format Series/Sequel Stories About Kids Stories about Teens

Norm of the North

Posted on January 14, 2016 at 5:46 pm

Copyright 2016 Lionsgate
Copyright 2016 Lionsgate

“Norm of the North” is not awful, but it is also not special, not new, not funny, and not that interesting. The script is over-plotted but under-written, with confusing detours and uneven tone. It’s as though instead of coming up with an actual story the writers tried to assemble a formula from successful animated films — Cute sidekicks! Potty humor! Evil developers who want to despoil pristine environments! Random musical number! Wise advisor! A hero who is a clumsy outsider with a lot of heart! And a rescue! However, it also includes weirdly off-key or unresolved elements. There are actual stories to be told about the damage to the arctic environment and the potential for kids to make a difference in real life, but we’re going with condo developers and corrupt officials as the bad guys? And the issue of hunting other animal characters for food is clumsily handled. Kids may be reassured that Norm does not kill the sea lions, but he is not a vegetarian.

There are a couple of funny lines, but most of the wit of the movie is at the level of “I put the soul in winter soulstice!” “Who needs a bear with too much care and not enough scare?” Plus macho posturing, extended peeing into a fish tank, and a Nancy Pelosi “joke.”

Norm (Rob Schneider, who is quite good in his best-ever movie role) is a kind-hearted polar bear from the arctic who does not fit in because he is a poor hunter and not like the others. Both of these qualities relate to his ability to understand and speak “human” — meaning English. His wise and loving grandfather (Colm Meaney) has the same gift.

Norm’s arctic home is a popular site for tourists, and the animals appreciate tourism as it helps keep their home safe. If tourists want to come see the natural environment, then it will have to be kept as it is. But there is a developer named Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong) and we know he’s a bad guy because he has a dinky ponytail and yells a lot — and, of course, because he is a developer, who wants to build luxury homes for one-percenters on the polar icecap. Norm stows away on Mr. Greene’s company plane to come to the big city and stop the development. Accompanying him are three little arctic lemmings, whose primary characteristics are un-crushable resilience and public bodily functions.

Mr. Greene has a head of marketing, a single mom named Vera (Heather Graham). She is not entirely sure that the development is a good idea, but she desperately wants her daughter to get into a private school for gifted children, and Mr. Greene, as a graduate of the school, has promised an all-important recommendation if the development deal goes through. (The fact that the school produced a nutty crook like Mr. Greene does not cause her to question the school’s indispensability for her daughter.) It is a shame to hear the wonderful actress Salome Jens very briefly as a corrupt official, just there to look witchy and be bribed into approving the development.

It does not make much sense to try to explain the concept of distracting the populace with entertainment “bread and circuses” to children when the movie is a poor example of exactly that idea.

Parents should know that this film includes action-style violence and peril, a character captured and caged, chase scenes, theme of environmental destruction, corruption, mild language, and extended bodily function humor.

Family discussion: Why did Vera go along with Mr. Greene’s plan? What is the best way to protect the Arctic? How did the lemmings help Norm?

If you like this, try: the “Madagascar” movies and “Surf’s Up”

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Animation Comedy Environment/Green Talking animals

The Hangover Part III

Posted on May 23, 2013 at 11:02 am

hangover-IIILet’s hope that this movie is the much-needed stake in the heart to the triligization of popular movies (okay, with an exception for Richard Linklater’s “Before” series and “Toy Story”).  I began to think of the three films as a shell game, with the pea of novelty and humor under just one shell, and shrinking retrospectively as I was dragged through this far distant last in the series, so entirely disappointing that it diminishes any fond memories of the original.

And that is the key word.  The first chapter was original.  We got to enjoy the speculation and schadenfreude as we lived a night of mostly unintentional debauchery and mayhem backwards.  Feral man-child Alan (Zach Galifianakis), cynical Phil (Bradley Cooper), and mild-mannered Stu (Ed Helms), a hapless trio, in Las Vegas for a bachelor party, wake up in the mother of all mornings after and spend most of the movie piecing together the events of the evening before.  They have to discover how they ended up with a tiger, a baby, a missing tooth, and a hospital bracelet.  And the prospective groom is missing.

In #2, there’s another wedding to make in time, and another morning after.  Some people found the second one a garish and cynical retread.  I thought it was pretty funny and even managed to find some meta-commentary in the way it rang changes on the first one.  And I liked Paul Giamatti.

In #3, director Todd Phillips and Craig Mazin (the execrable “Identity Thief”) take over script duties from the original’s writers, who were off plagiarizing themselves with a college-age version of the very same movie.  This one jettisons the backwards-style structure, which is fine, but it plays as though they pulled it out of a slush pile and did a global search and replace to insert the first movie’s characters, who, in one of many increasingly less funny repetitions of almost-jokes we’ve increasingly tired of, are referred to by one character as The Wolf Pack.

Once again, they are separated from Doug (Justin Bartha), who is held hostage by a thug (John Goodman) while they are sent to track down their old frenemy, Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong).  We also meet up with the first episode’s characters drug dealer Black Doug and former stripper Jade (the criminally misused Mike Epps and Heather Graham).  And here is what we learn:

1. These are really unpleasant people.  They are selfish, childish, and uninteresting.

2. A little of Leslie Chow is better than a lot.

3. It is impossible to make the same joke funny three times in a row.  The second time may provide a pleasant sensation of remembered humor.  The third time is just irritating.

4. It is possible to criminally underuse even John Goodman, completely wasted here.

5. Melissa McCarthy, on the other hand, while also underused, manages to make her five minutes the highlight of the film.

6.  It is possible to miss Mike Tyson.

This movie is the bad hangover from the now-tarnished original.

Parents should know that this film includes comic and more serious violence including murder, guns, chases, characters and animals in peril, injured, and killed, extensive drug content, constant very strong language, sexual references (some crude) and situations (male and female nudity), pervasive very bad behavior

Family discussion: Which of the friends makes the best choices?  Do you think that the different structure of the story-telling works as well as the original?

If you like this, try: the first “Hangover” movie and “Cedar Rapids”

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Comedy Series/Sequel

The Hangover, Part II

Posted on May 25, 2011 at 11:15 am

What’s it called again when you suffer the morning-after consequences of a wild night of extravagent, if debauched, fun?  Oh yes, a hangover.

This second night out with the wolf pack of Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis), suffers from sequelitis, that headache-y uncertainty about exactly what it was that worked the last time and inability to make its premise seem fresh.  It feels as stale as the air in the squalid hotel room our heroes find themselves in with no idea of how they got there.  But it will still do as a taste of the hair of the dog.  The laughs may be fewer and  the gasps more “ewww” than “wow,” but there is still some pleasure in seeing those guys suffer.

A couple of years have passed and Stu is about to get married, not to the stripper he wed in Las Vegas in the first movie but to a lovely girl named Lauren (Jamie Chung).  As a tribute to her heritage, the wedding is going to take place in  Thailand.  Stu insists that brunch at IHOP with Phil and Doug (Justin Bartha) is all the bachelor party he wants (and he puts a napkin over his orange juice glass just to make sure no  one is slipping him a roofy this time).  But Doug persuades Stu to invite his brother-in-law Alan, and they are joined by Lauren’s 16-year-old brother, Teddy (Mason Lee), a prodigy who plays cello and is pre-med at Stanford.

Two nights before the wedding, after Lauren’s father insults Stu in a toast, the guys agree to have one drink on the beach before bed.  And Stu, Phil, and Alan wake up the next morning, as they did in the first one, with no memory of what happened the night before and a lot of incontrovertible evidence that what did happen was dangerous, probably criminal, and certainly disgusting.  Stu’s face bears the Maori tattoo they saw in the last movie on Mike Tyson.  There is a severed finger that appears to belong to Teddy, who is missing.  In his place is their old nemsis, Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong).  And instead of the last film’s tiger, there is a monkey wearing a Rolling Stones jean jacket.

They have somehow found themselves in Bangkok, and their search for Teddy involves an aged mute monk in a wheelchair, an American tattoo artist, a strip club, Russian drug dealers, some panicked phone calls, a Molotov cocktail, and both human and animal gun shot wounds.

The trick in comedies like this one is to find the sweet spot between the familiar and the surprising and between the shocking and the disturbing.  It misses.  Some in the audience will be happy to see the structure of the original repeated but most will wish for something new.  And the key to comedy is the “almost,” the ability to have it both ways by making sure the chaos is disruptive but not conclusively so.  Trashy is good.  Tawdry, not so much.  And aren’t we a couple of decades past finding humor in homosexual panic?

There are some very funny moments, with a hilarious password joke, Stu’s version of “Alan-town,”  and some deliciously weird comments from Galifianakis and Jeong.  But it misses the sense of genuine connection between the characters we just saw in “Bridesmaids.”  The first one ended with a satisfying sense of lessons learned.  This one should end with an intervention.

 

(more…)

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Comedy Series/Sequel
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