Cars 3

Posted on June 15, 2017 at 5:23 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and some violence including fiery car crashes, references to sad death
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 17, 2017
Date Released to DVD: November 6, 2017
Copyright Disney/Pixar 2017

It’s better than “Cars 2,” but not as good as the first “Cars,” so it continues the saga of the second tier of Pixar movies.  Second-tier Pixar is pretty good. But this time the storyline is unlikely to be of much interest to children.  They’ll enjoy the race scenes (except for the ones that are too scary) and the silly humor.  But the theme of this film is the existential dilemma of an aging athlete.  While “Inside Out” and “Toy Story 3” addressed issues of growing older/up with infinite tenderness and sensitivity, “Cars 3,” with the help of generous samples of Paul Newman’s Doc Hudson character from the first film, has appropriated the plots of many of the “Rocky” movies, with now-champion Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) confronted with his own mortality.  I know; they’re machines, but apparently they have parents and childhoods and lifespans.

Lightning is beaten by a super-slick competitor dashingly named Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), who looks like he is visiting from another Disney movie, “Tron.”  And there’s another blow.  Lightning has loved being sponsored by his friends at Rust-Eze, but the company has been sold and his new sponsor is the smooth, corporate Sinclair (Nathan Fillion), who tells him that if he does not win his next race, he has to stop racing all together.

But racing is all Lightning knows or cares about.  If he can’t race, who is he?

Sinclair has a very high-tech training facility that’s all about cybermetrics. Lighting is assigned a new trainer, Cruz (Cristela Alonzo), who is essentially a stopwatch on wheels.  Everything is about readouts and algorithms.  Lightning takes her out on the beach to show her what real racing is.  And he decides that his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, I mean Doc Hudson, may be gone, but perhaps he can find Doc’s mentor, and gain some wisdom.

Lighting and Cruz end up competing in what they think is a race but what turns out to be a demolition derby (pretty scary for G).  They squabble and make up and Cruz confides that she once dreamed of racing.  They do find Doc’s old friends, led by Smokey (Chris Cooper) and his adorable sidekicks.

It has talking cars, and kids will like that. And it doesn’t have the bombast and over-complexity of “Cars 2.”  But it also does not have the heart we have come to rely on from Pixar, and if we feel disappointed, it is only because they have set the bar so high.

Parents should know that despite the G rating, this film has characters in peril including scary 3D car crashes and fire, many references to a sad death and to the challenges of aging, and a reference to unsupportive parents.

Family discussion: Why did Lou take other children’s toys? Who is your mentor and who can you help as Doc Hudson helped Lightning?

If you like this, try: the other “Cars” movies and “A Bug’s Life”

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3D Animation DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy Movies -- format Scene After the Credits Series/Sequel

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Posted on August 6, 2013 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for fantasy action violence, some scary images, and mild violence
Profanity: Some mild language ("screwed," etc.)
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy violence and peril with some moments that may be too intense for younger viewers including repeated apparent deaths
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, very strong and brave female characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 7, 2013
Date Released to DVD: December 16, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B008JFUNTG

The second in the series of films based on Rick Riorden’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians is even better than the first.  The young actors are more comfortable, their characters better established, and the special effects more, well, special.

Percy-Jackson-Sea-of-Monsters-Poster1We learned in the first film that Percy (Logan Lerman) is the son of Poseidon, one of the gods of Olympus and brother of Zeus and Hades. Because his mother was human, he is considered a demigod.  As this film begins, he is safely at Camp Half-Blood with the other children of gods and mortals, including Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), the daughter of Athena, goddess of wisdom, Luke (Jake Abel), the son of Hermes, god of messages and deliveries, and Clarisse (Leven Rambin), daughter of Ares, the god of war.

We see in flashback Percy’s friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), a satyr, Annabeth, and Luke first arriving at Camp Half-Blood, pursued by murderous monsters.  Another young demigod named Thalia sacrificed herself to save them, and in death Zeus turned her into a tree that provided an impenetrable safety zone around the camp.  In the present day, as Percy is losing a competition to Clarisse and feeling dejected and alone.  His mother is gone, his father does not respond, and he does not feel that he has what it takes to live up to the expectations everyone seems to have for him.  Yes, he saved the world in “The Lightning Thief,” but was that really him?  He does not feel like a hero.  The support of centaur Chiron (Anthony Head), Annabeth, and Brandon does not reassure him.

A new arrival at Camp Half-Blood shocks Percy.  It turns out, he has a half-brother.  When a god and a human have a child, the result is a demigod.  But when a god and a nymph have a child, the result is…a cyclops.  (“The politically correct term is ocularly impaired.”)  As much as he longs for family, it is hard for Percy to accept this one-eyed person named Tyson (Douglas Smith) as family.

He does not have much time to think about it.  Camp Half-Blood is attacked by a bronze Colchis bull.  Thalia’s tree is poisoned and the protective shield is destroyed.  Clarisse is assigned the task of retrieving the golden fleece that can repair the tree, but Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Tyson set off as well.  But the golden fleece is guarded by a scary giant cyclops who uses it to lure demigods so he can eat them.  And the people who want to destroy Camp Half-Blood are after it, too.  A series of CGI adventures lie ahead of them, including rides on and in various mythic creatures and a little help from Hermes (a terrific Nathan Fillion) and Poseidon.

Like the books, the films have a nice balance between the mythic scale of the adventures and the teenage problems that can feel every bit as grand and daunting, a nice balance between the classic and the modern, with a sprinkling of humor when it starts to get too intense.  Locations range from an amusement park to a UPS store to the inside of a sea monster and things move briskly along to a conclusion that is exciting and touching as well.

Parents should know that this film has a lot of fantasy peril and violence with some scary monsters.  There are several apparent deaths but (spoiler alert) just about everyone turns out to be all right.

Family discussion: How did Percy feel about his brother? Why did Percy doubt himself and what did he learn from this adventure?

If you like this, try: the books and the original film — and read books about Greek myths like Greek Mythology for Teens: Classic Myths in Today’s World and Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths

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3D Action/Adventure Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy Series/Sequel Stories about Teens Superhero

Monsters University

Posted on June 20, 2013 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Mild peril, bullies, insults, hurt feelings
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 21, 2013
Date Released to DVD: October 28, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B008JFUPLC

Monsters University Poster 2“Monsters Inc.” is one of my favorite Pixar movies, filled with wit, imagination, and heart. This prequel is a lot of fun, still very funny and wildly imaginative, but a little hollow where the heart should be.

One problem Pixar just can’t solve is that a prequel has to end before the original begins. “Monsters Inc.” has a brilliant premise: there’s a monster world fueled by the screams of frightened children. The monsters themselves are terrified of humans, even a toddler named Boo.

There is a power factory that sends them each night into children’s bedrooms. The monsters have to scare the kids without being seen by grown-ups and get home without being “contaminated” by contact.  By the end (SPOILER ALERT) the monsters have discovered that children’s laughter is an even better energy source, and the audience goes home feeling happy and reassured.  But a prequel has to stick with the idea that scaring children is a worthwhile goal, indeed it needs us to get on board with the idea that we should root for the characters to be really good at it.  We know Mike and Sully will end up as friends. So the sweetness and the dramatic tension are dialed down.

Once again, our heroes are Mike (Billy Crystal), the anxious one who looks like a green beach ball with arms and legs and one great big eye, and Sully (John Goodman), the giant polka-dotted furry guy who thinks it all comes naturally and he does not need to work.  They both pick the prestigious “scaring” major, under the stern eyes of Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren, impeccable as always) and Professor Knight (Alfred Molina).

Fans of the original will be intrigued to find that in the beginning, Mike and the chameleon-like Randy (Steve Buscemi) were roommates and friends.  How that turns to rivalry while the initial enmity between Mike and Sully turned into professional partnership and personal BFF-dom is the story of the film, with some overtones of “Animal House,” “Harry Potter,” and every ragtag group of underdogs movie you’ve ever seen.

Mike is the one who studies all the time.  Sully is the party animal who thinks that he can get by on charm and talent.  Both find themselves kicked out of the program, with just one chance to get back in.  If they can be a part of the team that wins the intramural games, they can get back in the scaring program and become professional human child scarers.  They will have to work together — and bunk together — with the oddballs and rejects at the bottom of the school’s social hierarchy, the members of a fraternity known as Oozma Kappa (OK).  Their fraternity house is the home of one of the members, with his mom as their RA and chauffeur.

The frat brothers are adorable, especially the two-headed Tracy/Traci (voices of Sean Hayes and Dave Foley), and a fuzzy purple log-shaped guy named Art who looks like a Muppet reject (Charlie Day).  Art is a new age philosophy major who eagerly presses his fellow OK-ites to try dream journals.  Don (Joel Murray) is a middle-aged guy trying for a new career (apparently there’s a recession in Monster-world, too).  None of these monsters is especially smart or strong or fast or scary.  They have to compete against the fearsome athletes of Roar Omega Roar (ROR), let by the arrogant Johnny (Nathan Fillion).

There are some exciting and funny moments in the competition, especially a too-knowing obstacle course where the teams have to avoid a truly terrifying foe: human teenagers.  The monster-ification of the classic college movie developments is a lot of fun.  In making sure each team has a quorum, Johnny sneers, “We count bodies, not heads.”  Tracy/Traci only counts as one.  Of course, the struggle to be liked by the cool kids is the same whether you’re a person or not.

They did not want to go for the usual ending here, which is admirable, but the result is surprisingly downbeat and disquietingly know-nothing.  If is not the loud, over-done “Cars 2,” it is also not the expansive, transcendent “Toy Story” sequels.  Second-rate Pixar is still better than most of what is out there, but we expect more.

P.S. As always, the movie is preceded by a marvelous animated short from up-and-coming Pixar-ians.  This one echoes last year’s “Paperman” romantic (and meteorological)  theme, with blue and red umbrellas finding each other in a rainy city.

Parents should know that this film has some mild peril, bullying, insults, and hurt feelings.  Characters cheat and have to pay a penalty.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Mike and Sully get along at first? How were they different? What was good and bad about the fraternities in the movie and how are they like groups you know?  How do they make a deficiency into an advantage?  How can you?

If you like this, try: “Monsters, Inc.,” “Sydney White,” and “The Lawrenceville Stories”

 

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3D Animation Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week For the Whole Family Series/Sequel

MVP of the Week: Nathan Fillion

Posted on June 19, 2013 at 8:00 am

CNSPhoto-Withey-FillionNathan Fillion is this week’s MVP, with performances in two very different films. In Pixar’s animated “Monsters University,” he provides the voice for the obnoxious campus jock. And in Joss Whedon’s swanky, black and white, modern-dress version of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” Fillion plays the comic law enforcement character, Dogberry. There’s a terrific interview with Fillion about making the film in New York Magazine’s Vulture blog.

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Actors

More From Comic-Con: “Firefly” 10th Reunion

Posted on July 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Okay, even by Comic-Con standards, this is spectacular. The cast of Firefly was there to tape a 10th anniversary reunion special that will be broadcast on the Science Channel on November 11 and I got to attend the press conference with Joss Whedon and the cast.  If you don’t know why that is just about the coolest thing that ever happened, check out the legendary television series from the guy behind “Buffy” and “The Avengers” and you will know what I’m talking about.

Nathan Fillion, who has tucked references to “Firefly” in his new television series, “Castle,” says it was “Firefly that “taught me how to act.  Joss would say, ‘That’s a great idea! Or…’  But he made it more simple, more human.  He told me, ‘It’s a skill not to make people around you feel stupid.'”  As in all Whedon productions, the show had exceptionally strong and interesting women characters.  “Men who are comfortable with powerful women are more powerful men,” Whedon told us.  When asked about the devotion of the fans, especially members of the military, Whedon said it was because the show was about characters who understand “war, suffering greatly, bonding in the trenches, isolation, camaraderie.  It is  very unironic look at things that make soldiers passionate.  Mal is Machiavellian but would sacrifice himself for the others.  We were trying to communicate the human condition of unity during aloneness.”

 

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