Four Kids and It

Posted on June 29, 2020 at 5:37 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements, some rude/suggestive comment, fantasy violence, and language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy peril and some violence, guns, explosion
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 30, 2020
Copyright 2020 Kindle Entertainment

Let’s get one thing clear before we talk about “Four Kids and It.” We’re going to set aside our deep affection for E. Nesbit’s book Five Children and It for a moment. That classic has at best a homeopathic relationship to this film, which is based on a sort of inspired by, sort of sequel, touch of rip-off called, without much imagination, Four Kids and It. In both cases, the story is about children who discover a magical sand-dwelling creature called a Psammead who can talk and grant wishes. And in both cases, the wishes do not exactly turn out the way the wishers hope, creating a learning experience for the wishers and some fun for the readers/audience. I’ll take a moment to warmly recommend the truly classic original, preferably read aloud and with the Paul O. Zelinsky illustrations, and get on to this far lesser but still pleasantly entertaining version.

A single dad (Matthew Goode as David) and a single mom (Paula Patten as Alice) decide for no reason whatsoever other than being idiot adults in a movie about kids, that what they should do is not tell their children that they have been dating, it is serious, and both sets of children will be staying in the same remote house along the Cornwall coast.

The children do not consider this a good surprise, especially David’s bookish daughter Ros (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen), who has brought a copy of Five Children and It along with her, and Alice’s daughter Smash (Ashley Aufderheide), a sk8r grrl with a massive attitude problem. Both girls miss the parents who abandoned them. Ros hopes her mother will come back and Smash hopes her father will let her come live with him. The two younger children are David’s son Robbie (Billy Jenkins), who spends all day on his gaming device and five-year-old Maudie (Ellie-Mae Siame), who just wants everyone to get along.

On the beach, the children discover the Psammead, delightfully voiced by a perfectly grumpy Michael Caine. He agrees to grant one wish a day, but each one will expire at sundown.

The house they are staying in is owned by a wealthy and eccentric man named Tristan Trent III (Russell Brand with a beard). He seems very interested in Ros and puts a tracking device on her shoe. While the children are making their wishes and the parents remain clueless, he is trying to find the Psammead.

The fantasy elements and fending off Trent are fun. What matters, though, is the way that Ros and Smash begin to understand how acknowledging they cannot have what they really want makes it possible for them to begin to move forward, starting with developing a friendship. That’s the real magic.

Parents should know that this movie has fantasy peril and some violence, including guns, falls, and an explosion, though no one is badly hurt. There are family issues and confrontations, including two parents who walk out on their families, causing a lot of distress. Characters use some schoolyard language and are rude to parents. There are some mild sexual situations involving adults and there is some potty humor.

Family discussion: If you saw a Psammead, what would you wish for? If you could go back in time, when would you pick?

If you like this, try: Five Children and It and its sequels by E. Nesbit

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Based on a book Fantasy movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Stories About Kids

What Happened to Romantic Comedies?

Posted on July 16, 2013 at 8:00 am

More than halfway through the year, we have not seen a single high-profile romantic comedy.  Once a reliable staple of the cineplex, the “we know they are destined to be together before they do” movie starring America’s sweethearts like Meg Ryan, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez, and Katherine Heigl seems to be beyond the capabilities of Hollywood at the moment.  Even the romantic dramas have underperformed this year, though I liked the sci-fi/fantasy films “Upside/Down,” “Warm Bodies,” and “Beautiful Creatures.”

One problem is that these days it becomes increasingly harder to think of reasons to keep a couple apart, which is one element the supernatural can bring to a story.  Coming up later this year, we have two movies that seem drearily familiar.  Paula Patten stars in “Baggage Claim,” about a 35-year-old who devotes 30 days to finding a husband which sounds a lot like the awful “What’s Your Number?” “About Time” has Rachel McAdams falling for a time traveler.  She must have a sense of deja vu — she did the exact same thing in “The Time Traveler’s Wife.”

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Disconnect

Posted on April 18, 2013 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rate R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, language, violence, and drug use, some involving teens
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Tense emotional confrontations, some violence, gun
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 19, 2013

Viewers will spend much of this movie mentally imploring the characters on screen not to do what it is all too disturbingly clear that they are ineluctably drawn to do.  This is a very scary movie with three stories about the disastrous consequences of revealing too much online.  And the scariest part is off-line.  Far more devastating than the painful consequences of the bad choices they make is the reason they make them, the yearning for connection.

Grief over the death of a baby drives a couple apart and they separately seek online support to make them feel less helpless and isolated and are ensnared by an identity thief.  A devoted but distracted father does not know that his shy, sensitive son is being catfished by a couple of classmates, much less that the boy .  An ambitious television reporter wants to write a story about an underage online sex worker, and that means she must get him to trust her.  In their own ways, each of them is seducing the other for professional reasons.

These fact-based stories could easily come across as cheesy Lifetime dramas, but documentary director Henry-Alex Rubin (“Murderball”) gives it an intimate, natural tone.  Sensitive performances from the entire cast are absorbing, especially Jason Bateman in his first full-on dramatic role as the father of the boy who thinks he has an online girlfriend and that she has asked him to send her a nude photo and Frank Grillo as the single father of one of the boys whose prank turns tragic.

The weakest of the stories involves the grieving couple, who decide to take things into their own hands when identify theft drives them to the brink of financial ruin and the revelations of their online activities drive them to the brink of marital disaster.  But even that storyline has some gripping moments as the experience shocks them into talking to each other with more singularity of purpose and honesty than they have shared in a long time.  The journalist’s involvement with the underage online sex worker has some superficially sleazy moments, but Andrea Riseborough (Wallis Simpson in Madonna’s “W.E.”) is  excellent in showing us the character’s struggle with ambition, compassion, professionalism, and vulnerability.  “It’s my job!” various characters cry out at different moments in the movie.  It is just a way of declaring how that makes them responsible, and how it defines them.

As we have had to develop a new term, catfishing, to describe online relationships based on fictional character attributes, and even an entire television series  on the subject, we are only just beginning to understand the way our brains are constructed to fill in the missing elements of these connections with elements from our own subconscious, a sort of romantic Rorschach test.   What draws us in to these stories is the recognition that we bring so much hope and need to these online connections.  But what keeps us thinking afterward is its reminder that while the in-person, real-life connections are what scare us most, it is because that is what we long for so deeply.

Parents should know that this cautionary tale includes nudity, explicit sexual references, very strong language, drinking and drugs, and underage sex workers.

Family discussion: Does this movie make you think differently about your online presence?  How should the rules be changed?  Why was it easier for these people to open up online than in person?

If you like this, try: “Trust”

 

 

 

 

 

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Drama Movies -- format

Jumping the Broom

Posted on May 4, 2011 at 6:00 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some sexual content
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense family confrontations, slap
Diversity Issues: Race and class issues
Date Released to Theaters: May 6, 2011
Date Released to DVD: August 8, 2011
Amazon.com ASIN: B003Y5H58S

Sabrina (Paula Patton) is from a wealthy, upper-class family with a mansion on Martha’s Vineyard.  Jason (Laz Alonso) is from a blue-collar family in Brooklyn.  They fall in love, he proposes, and there’s just one obstacle to their happily ever after ending — bringing those two families together for the wedding. When Shakespeare said that the course of true love never did run smooth, it might very well have been the culture clash that accompanies any joining of two families he was thinking of.

We meet Sabrina as she realizes she is about to take the walk of shame.  It is the morning after what she thought of as a promising relationship but he thought of as a one-night stand.  She decides to make a major change.  If God will send her a true love, she will honor herself and that relationship by not having sex until they are married.  And then she literally runs into Jason.  They have to make a decision about their future together very quickly when she is transferred to China.  He proposes, she accepts, and their perfect little bubble of love is intruded on by just about everyone.  It’s hard to say which is worse, the family members who are trying to hide their feelings or the ones who are over-sharing.

Sabrina’s parents (Angela Bassett and Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell) are barely speaking to each other.  She thinks he is having an affair and is hurt and angry.  Jason’s mother (Loretta Devine) feels neglected and intimidated.  As often happens at weddings, the happy couple reflects the strains of their family conflicts and has some of their own, as the “ever after” part of the deal sparks some panic.  And, as often happens at weddings, a lot of the attendees are looking for love or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

Patton and Alonso are in every way the heart of the film.  Patton is as effervescent and refreshing as a chilled glass of champagne and Alonso is endearingly open-hearted and gallant.  While the script requires them to behave so inconsistently and immaturely at times that even by wedding craziness standards it is hard to reconcile, they are performers of such immeasurable grace and charm that we keep rooting for them.  The script also throws a seasons worth of soapy complications their way, but director Salim Akil is skillful in balancing the drama and melodrama along with some romance and comedy as well.  The situations and dialogue  may be overdone but the characters always feel real, their poor behavior coming believably from fear and pain and not just the need for another confrontation.  He stays well on the safe side of caricature but is not afraid to weigh into tough questions of race, class, faith, money, and identity — and to allow every  side some dignity and grace.

(more…)

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Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Family Issues Romance

Just Wright

Posted on September 14, 2010 at 8:07 am

If you’ve seen the trailer, you know exactly what’s coming here, but there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, you know what’s coming when you combine eggs, flour, sugar, and vanilla to make a cake, and you still enjoy eating it. It is as predictable as, well, you’d expect, for a movie cake made from the Ugly Duckling crossed with Cinderella and a little bit of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” must be. But appealing performers, a heart-warming story, and some genuine on-screen chemistry make this movie the best romance of 2010 so far.

Queen Latifah plays Leslie Wright, who has a weakness for fixer-uppers. She drives a banged-up car. She buys a house that needs a lot of work. She works in rehabilitation as a physical therapist. She takes in Morgan (Paula Patten of “Precious”), a friend who has no job or family. Leslie is comfortable with who she is and it may be in part the ease she projects on dates that keeps her in the friend zone. She just feels too safe.

Leslie is a big Nets fan. One night, after a game, she sees the team’s star, Scott McKnight (rap star Common) at a gas station trying to figure out how to open his gas tank. They hit it off and he invites her to his birthday party. Leslie brings Morgan, who is going after her dream of being married to a player in the NBA the way Sir Edmund Hillary went after Mount Everest.

It works at first. But when Scott is injured and needs physical therapy, he gets a chance to discover what we’ve known all along, and not just because she is being played by the movie’s star and producer, that Leslie is a very special woman. The plot has the standard ups and downs but an always-likable cast keeps us rooting for Scott and Leslie to realize what we’ve known from the gas station — that they are just right. Common is not an actor, but like most musical performers he has superb timing and the on-screen confidence to let us see Scott thinking. It is his willingness to be quiet on screen that establishes Scott as a sincere and decent man who loves to play basketball and is committed to his team but never lets the glamor go to his head. He has some moves in the basketball scenes and a bunch of real-life athletes show up to give the game scenes some authenticity and make Common’s acting skills look Oscar-worthy by comparison. The lovely Pam Grier and Phylicia Rashad play the moms and both create real characters who are warm, smart, strong, and loving.

Queen Latifah is also completely at ease on screen and she is utterly endearing as Leslie, a woman who knows who she is and just wants someone who can understand how much she has to give. The film doesn’t think it needs to start with the couple disliking each other; it is captivating that Leslie and Scott instantly like each other as friends. The connection is so strong that we look forward to seeing them discover it for themselves. When they sit down together at a piano, we know they will be in tune. And knowing it only adds to our pleasure in watching it unfold.

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Date movie Romance
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