Wonder Park

Posted on March 14, 2019 at 5:09 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and action
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Serious illness of a parent, action/fantasy peril and some violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 15, 2019
Date Released to DVD: June 17, 2019

Copyright 2019 Nickelodeon
I’m pretty sure that the people behind Nickelodeon’s animated feature “Wonder Park” snuck a little love letter to their own childhood selves in this tribute to the power of imagination. They also bring the insight of their adult selves to the film’s most important insight: Not only do imagination and creativity enrich our lives and satisfy our souls; they are also vital for processing our most challenging moments. It is a welcome reminder for families raising the generation of children who will never remember a time when there wasn’t a screen to distract them within arm’s reach and the parents who check their social media when they stop for red lights. Plus it has the best song about math since Danny Kaye sang about the square of the hypotenuse in “Merry Andrew.”

June (Brianna Denski) and her mother (Jennifer Garner) love to spend time together imagining the details of a fabulous theme park called Wonderland. June has planned out all of the details, from the animal characters who welcome all the visitors to the merry-go-round with flying fish instead of horses. Like Christopher Robin, June has created a magic land for her toys, including genial Boomer the bear (Ken Hudson Campbell), who struggles with a hibernation-related form of narcolepsy, energetic beavers Gus (Kenan Thompson) and Cooper (Ken Jeong), nervous porcupine Steve (John Oliver), voice-of-reason wild boar Greta (Mila Kunis), and Peanut the chimpanzee (Broadway star Norbert Leo Butz, who translates June’s plans into the park’s attractions. June does more than imagine — she builds a scale model of the park that extends through the house. And she builds a go-kart with her best friend, Banky (Oev Michael Urbas) that works very well except for the steering and the brakes, which leads to quite a wild ride through the neighborhood.

June gets into trouble for that, but there is something much more devastating ahead — her adored mother is very sick, and must leave home for some special treatment. June’s entire sense of the world is turned upside down. She destroys her model of the Wonderworld. And, as people often do when they cannot handle uncertainty in one part of their life, she becomes fixated on what she can control, trying to take care of her father by worrying much too much. The milk in the fridge is just three days from its expiration date! Better get rid of it!

On the bus to math camp, June decides it is too much of a risk to leave her father alone, so she gets Banky to pretend to be sick and sneaks out to walk home through a forest. She discovers a version of the very Wonderland she designed, but it is under siege by tiny little zombie creatures (but cute ones, not super-scary). Only she can save the day.

It is too bad that the character design is bland as written and visualized, despite the best efforts of the talented voice performers. There are unaccountable and annoying detours into crushes — Banky’s on June and Steve’s on Greta. But the Wonderland is indeed wonderful and the message of imagination as a sustaining source of comfort and a path to understanding is wonderful as well.

Parents should know that this film includes fantasy-style peril and action violence and serious illness of a parent, some schoolyard language, and some childhood and animal character crushes and a kiss.

Family discussion: Why did Peanut hide out? What kind of amusement park ride would you like to create? How do you keep the light inside you shining?

If you like this, try: “Inside Out” and “Surf’s Up”

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Animation DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format

A Bad Moms Christmas

Posted on November 2, 2017 at 6:00 am

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some drug use
Profanity: Very strong, explicit, and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drunkenness, substance abuse humor, drinking to deal with stress, drinking as a bonding experience, drugs,
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Mild racism portrayed as humorous
Date Released to Theaters: November 3, 2017
Date Released to DVD: February 5, 2018
Copyright 2017 STX

If you think these things are hilarious, then “A Bad Moms Christmas” is your movie:

1. A young child repeatedly saying the words that go with OMFG, which she explains she heard when her daddy and his girlfriend were yelling at each other in the bedroom, and the girlfriend punched through the wall and they did it seven times.

2. A character who works in a spa meets the man of her dreams when he asks her to wax his private parts, which he describes in detail, so he can participate in a “Sexy Santa” male stripper competition.

3. At the competition, one of the strippers is revealed to be overweight.

4. Three moms deal with holiday stress by getting drunk at the mall, grinding on Santa, and then stealing a Christmas tree decorated with sneakers from Footlocker.

5. A mother slams her teenage son in the crotch with a foam bat, just for fun.

6. An extended product placement for a trampoline-jumping party place.

I do not.

I didn’t like the first Bad Moms movie, either. Like the original, this is a slack and lazy script that pretends to be all “you go, girl” empowerment but in reality has contempt for its intended audience, clearly thinking we don’t know or won’t care that we are being insulted. The pressure women are under to be everything to everyone and the complicated relationships women have with their mothers and daughters is well worth exploring and well worth exploring via comedy. But the men who wrote this have no particular interest in exploring it. This is just a bunch of dumb scenes strung together with so few ideas that they have to throw in some truly excruciating product placement with an extended scene in a trampoline playground until it is blessedly time to go home. It is a real shame to waste the monumentally talented cast on this smug and silly story, including the criminally underused Jay Hernandez. It’s bad enough that his role in the film is “perfect boyfriend,” but the script inflicts some casual racism on him as well. A wealthy woman mistakes him for a bellhop, in the home of his girlfriend, not even a hotel! Oh, my aching sides!

Oh, and the trampoline playground people should get their money back because this movie makes it look like the most un-fun thing ever, except for maybe watching this movie.

In the first film, Amy, a harried newly single mother (Mila Kunis), Kiki, an overwhelmed stay at home mom (Kristen Bell), and Carla, a hard-partying pottymouth with a teenage son (Kathryn Hahn) join forces to oppose the impossible standards of perfection and the mean girl PTA President (Christina Applegate) who embodies them. In the sequel, they face two of any mother’s most high-pressure situations: Christmas and the arrival of their own mothers.

Amy’s mother is a demanding perfectionist who insists that the family attend the five-hour version of “The Nutcracker” in the original Russian and sing at 300 houses dressed as characters from “A Christmas Carol” (Amy as Scrooge) with a choir as back-up so they can win a caroling contest. Carla’s mother (Susan Sarandon) is a rock and roll party girl who calls herself Isis (“like the terrorist group,” she explains), constantly either high, “borrowing” money, scamming someone, or all three at once. And Kiki’s mother (Cheryl Hines) is somewhere between smothering, helicoptering, and Single White Female crazy stalking.

A bunch of random stuff and outrageous chaos happens before the heart-to-heart talks that belatedly sort everything out, including some sort of job interview that occurs late on Christmas eve for no other reason than that they want to tie things up and figure no one will notice, to say nothing of a complete personality change here and there. It isn’t that we expect realism from a broad comedy, but it is fair for us to expect that once we enter the movie’s world, its premises will remain consistent enough for us to enjoy the payoff. Instead, we get this, and a lump of coal in the stockings of all who were responsible.

Parents should know that this movie has extremely raunchy humor with many explicit and crude sexual references and some sexual situations and very strong language used by and in front of children. Characters drink and use drugs, and they drink to deal with stress and to bond with each other. There is comic violence and peril, but no one gets hurt, and there are conversations about death and divorce of parents and about poor parenting.

Family discussion: Who is responsible for the standards the moms felt they had to live up to? What should the moms have said to their mothers? Why didn’t they say it?

If you like this, try: “Bridesmaids”

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Reviews Series/Sequel

Bad Moms

Posted on July 28, 2016 at 11:18 pm

Even the most outrageous comedy has to have some grounding in reality, if only through taking place in a world that is consistently imagined. If we don’t know where we are, there may be jokes, but it is not truly comedy.

Writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are not people with a lot of ideas. Their “21 and Over” was pretty much the same movie as their “Hangover.” And the big innovation here is that this time it’s girls-gone-wild instead of boys. But it plays like it was inspired by a couple of women’s magazine articles about the impossibility of “having it all.” The movie says it comes down on the side of not judging other mothers, those who seem to be losing it and those who seem to be holding it together. The message is that it’s good to forgive yourself for not being able to be perfect all the time. And it’s important to understand that loving your children means letting them learn to be responsible and not doing everything for them. But those good thoughts are undercut by the unexpectedly sour triumph of the main characters, with antagonists who must be shown as spineless or pitiful.

The reality of women’s lives is a target-rich environment for comedy and the reality of mothers’ lives is especially so. But this script is so lazy that it does not meet the level of basic cable sitcoms for originality and wit. Those shows may be bland and formulaic, but they have humor in 22 minutes than “Bad Moms” does in 101.

This is a movie that is supposed to be about female empowerment. There are two specific instances that involve women telling their cartoonishly awful husbands that they need to take more responsibility for their children and their households. And yet, this is a movie that consistently shows the PTA as apparently entirely made up of women, with the exception of one man who is shown at a PTA meeting specifically so he can be humiliated in public by his wife. Funny. amiright? And this is a school that apparently includes elementary, middle, and possibly high school students, does not notice when a mother does a child’s homework, and has a pot-smoking principal who can’t stand up to the President of the PTA. What?

“Hangover” worked because most of the movie was about dealing with the horrible consequences of a major sort-of-accidental bender. “Bad Moms” tries to persuade us that a bender and attendant irresponsible behavior are signs of liberation. The bender is a mild one, no tigers or tooth extractions. On the other hand, the issue of money is raised but in the kind of fairy tale way that suggests no one connected with the movie has had to think about how to pay for groceries — or damage inflicted on a grocery store — in a very long time.

We’re supposed to believe them when they talk about how much they love their kids and would do anything for them, but they don’t really seem to enjoy or support them.

And newsflash — jokes about foreskins, butt stuff, and girl-on-girl kisses as a sign of rebellion and edginess are so 1998.

The one-dimensional characters are as follows: Mila Kunis plays Amy, the exhausted mom of two who boots out her childish, cheating husband. She’s had no sex in years. Kristen Bell is Kiki, the exhausted mom of four whose husband treats her like Cinderella. They have sex once a week (“After “Blue Bloods!”) but he is not very, uh, excited or exciting. And Kathryn Hahn is Carla, the happy, unreliable slut who does not even know what a standardized test is, much less whether her son has to take and pass them. She talks about sex all the time but does not seem to be having any either. Christina Applegate is Gwendolyn, the Mean Girl (with henchmen played by Jada Pinkett-Smith and “Bridesmaids” co-writer Annie Mumolo (who should have done a major rewrite here).

One thing Lucas and Moore get right is the combination of the humblebrag and the insult-wrapped in a compliment handed out by the ladies who run the school. Yes, when they flutter their eyelashes and say, “I don’t know how you do it,” to Amy, she understands that they mean, “You’re doing it badly.” And there is a lot to be said about impossible standards and judgey people, especially when it comes to parenting. But that requires actually saying something, not just pointing it out.

Amy blows her top, decides not to try to be everything to everyone any more, and then when Gwendolyn lashes back, involving Amy’s daughter (in the Bizarro world of this movie, the head of the PTA is in charge of everything in the school), Amy decides to run against her, on a platform similar to but less authentic than that of Tammy in “Election.” Even in a PTA election, someone has to propose something more than “let’s do less and not judge each other.”

All four women are brilliant actors and comedians and make as much of this material as they can, but they all deserve much better. Jay Hernandez transcends the thankless role of the hot guy, making him the only male in the film who is not completely infantilized. Someone needs to put him in a leading man role. And someone needs to start putting women in the leading role of writing and directing stories about women, or at least men who can do better than this.

NOTE: The highlight of the movie is the series of conversations over the credits with the actresses and their real-life mothers, filled with exactly the wit and heart missing from most of the film.

Parents should know that this film is crude and explicit language throughout including very strong and crude language, drinking, drugs, sexual references and explicit nudity, and comic peril and violence.

Family discussion: Who is responsible for the standard the moms felt they had to live up to? How would this be different if it was about dads?

If you like this, try: “The Hangover”

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Not specified

Jupiter Ascending

Posted on February 5, 2015 at 5:55 pm

Copyright 2015 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2015 Warner Brothers

“Jupiter Ascending” was released in early 2015 but it was originally scheduled for release in the summer of 2014. It does feel like a summer movie. Somehow warm weather makes us more in the mood for explosions and less in need of superfluities like plot, character, and dialogue that never feels snicker-worthy. It is not quite up to snuff for this time of year. The story feels like a mash-up of sci-fi/fantasy movies past (especially “Terminator” and “Star Wars”), with a little “Cinderella” and “Princess Bride” added in for romance and some rage against the one percent to add some political heft. It is often downright silly, even snicker-worthy. It is well over the quota for just-in-time saves, both in the falling and about-to-make-an-irrevocable-decision categories.

And yet, it is fun, especially on a big, big screen. And there are even a few moments that are shrewdly conceived and hit the mark. The Wachowskis (“The Matrix” trilogy, “Cloud Atlas,” “Speed Racer”) specialize in vast, colorful, grandly conceived new worlds and in this film they mean that literally. We visit several planets, and each is visually complex, sumptuous, and wildly imaginative, often dazzling. If you’re in the mood for eye candy, head for the box office. Don’t wait to see this one at home.

Mila Kunis plays Jupiter, an illegal alien (get it?) from Russia, working in Chicago as a maid and living with her extended family. “I hate my life,” she says when she has to get up at 4:45 am for another day of scrubbing toilets. But like Neo and Speed Racer, she is special. Not for a particular talent or quality of character but because of her very essence. Like infinite monkeys banging away on infinite typewriters until one of them randomly produces “Hamlet,” it seems that throughout the universe there are so many humans that every so often the random accumulation of cells produces a genetic mix identical to someone who has already lived. Jupiter, whose father was a British astronomer killed in a robbery, turns out to be identical to an intergalactic royal, which makes her a threat to three battling siblings in a dispute over their inheritance. Yes, this is a story about inheritance and real estate. We might as well be back at Downton Abbey or in “King Lear.” The particular piece of real estate they are so concerned about: Earth.

One of the noble siblings wants her captured. Another wants her killed. Just as assassins are about to take her out, Caine (Channing Tatum), a pointy-eared hunk arrives to carry her off like Richard Gere at the end of “An Officer and a Gentleman.” Except that this is the beginning, and he will have many more opportunities to lift her in his manly arms as things develop. He has some cool toys, too, especially some wonderful shoes that operate like a hoverboard crossed with ice skates, so that he glides through the air.

There are some clangers ahead, like the fact that Jupiter’s special genetic makeup is recognized by bees. But there is some fun stuff, too, especially an extended sequence through a delightfully steampunk series of bureaucratic offices that show that even the most highly evolved civilizations we can imagine still have not found a way around petty rules and red tape. In the rare category of both clangish and fun is Eddie Redmayne as Balem (the names are all faintly Latinate, “Hunger Games”-style). If Mount Everest were built on top of wherever over the top lives, he’d be on top of that. But I got a kick out of his full-on commitment to petulant decadence turned up to 11.  And Gugu Mbatha-Raw shows that a spectacularly beautiful and talented woman can take a costume reminicient of John Candy in “Spaceballs” and make it work.

It’s long and messy and unforgivably silly in place, but somewhere under all the eye candy and under-written dialogue there are some interesting ideas about the true meaning of consumption and what, if we had all the time in the world, we would do with it.  I wasn’t sorry to spend some of my limited time seeing Channing Tatum treat the air like a 3D ice rink.

Parents should know that this film has extended sci-fi/fantasy peril and violence, some graphic images including brief torture, characters injured and killed, rear nudity, some strong language, and drinking and sexual references.

Family discussion: If life requires consumption, how do we make responsible choices? How were the siblings different?

If you like this, try: “The Princess Bride,” “Looper,” “The Matrix,” and the “Star Wars” series

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3D Action/Adventure Fantasy Science-Fiction

A Trailer for A Movie You’ll Never See: Moonquake Lake with Mila Kunis and Rihanna

Posted on December 17, 2014 at 3:54 pm

“Moonquake Lake” has a lot of star power behind it — “LEGO Movie” directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord and stars Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, and Rihanna. And it looks….intriguing, some sort of “Twilight”-style supernatural teen romance.

It just isn’t real.

“Moonquake Lake” is a movie within a movie. In this week’s release “Annie,” the stars go to a movie premiere and we get a glimpse of the movie they see. Here’s the trailer:

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