The Willoughbys

Posted on April 22, 2020 at 4:00 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Peril, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 20, 2020
Copyright 2020 Netflix

There are oh so many stories for children about orphans and about people who are sent to live in creepy, mysterious old houses. The Willoughbys, based on the book by Lois Lowry, tweaks those and some of the other conventions of children’s stories, and turns some of them upside down. But one key element remains the same: children have an adventure. They are brave, they solve problems, they stick together, and they end up better off than they started. And all of that happens in a movie that is a a delight for the eyes, with wildly imaginative settings and clever details. There’s even a candy factory that’s half Willy Wonka and half Pac-Man.

Deliciously gruesome (but not quite as much as A Series of Unfortunate Events), it is the story of four red-headed siblings who live in a gothic mansion squeezed between skyscrapers, with acid narration from a nearby cat (Rickey Gervais).

The Willoughbys have lived there for generations and their history hangs heavily over them. Literally. There are huge portraits of ancestors, all sporting the thick yarn hair scowling down at today’s Willoughbys.

Also scowling, when they bother to notice them, are the Willoughby parents (Martin Short and Jane Krakowski), who devote all of their affection and attention to each other and can barely be bothered to notice that they have children, much less talk to them or feed them. The oldest is Tim (Will Forte, who worked with director Kris Pearns on “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2”). Then there’s his sister Jane who loves to sing (Canadian pop star Alessia Cara). By the time the twin boys were born, the Willoughby parents couldn’t be bothered to think of two names or provide them with two sweaters. So they are both called Barnaby and share one sweater between them.

In a conventional story of an intolerable home, you might expect the children to run away. But this is a story that likes to turn things upside down. Tim likes the house and is determined to uphold the grandeur he associates with the ancestors and the Willoughby name.  He and Jane come up with an idea: their parents should run away from home. So they arrange an extended trip for their parents, a trip that just might include some dangerous activities.

What they don’t expect is that their parents might send a nanny (Maya Rudolph, delightfully whacky).  Never having been treated with kindness, Tim does not trust her at first. Also, there is an orphan baby left on their front stoop. The children drop her off at a candy factory run by a a man who looks a little foreboding but also like he’s made of candy named Commander Melanoff (Terry Crews).

And so the Willoughby children end up going on an adventure that is colorful,  funny, exciting, and satisfyingly heartwarming. The government’s child protective services are unnecessarily demonized but the message of resilience that we can create the families we want if nature gets it wrong the first time is very welcome.

Parents should know that this movie includes comic peril and violence (no one hurt) and humorously portrayed child neglect and abandonment themes.

Family discussion:  How do Tim and Jane have different ideas about the way to solve their problems? Did you ever misunderstand someone’s words as Tim did with the nanny?

If you like this, try: “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”

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Animation Based on a book Family Issues Fantasy movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews VOD and Streaming

The Winners! Golden Globes 2016

Posted on January 11, 2016 at 12:13 am

Bring back Tina and Amy! Ricky Gervais was so intent on being outrageous he forgot to be funny for much of the 2016 Golden Globes broadcast. A running gag about being bored was just, well, boring. And the insults he swapped with Mel Gibson were tasteless. It’s fine to make fun of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who vote on these awards and who are trying to overcome the reputation of giving awards to filmmakers and studios in return for a little wining, dining, meeting, and greeting, but he repeatedly insisted that no one cares about the Golden Globes so that it went past insulting the HFPA and the nominees to insult the audience as well.

Copyright A24 2015
Copyright A24 2015

Winners included well-chosen long shots like the PBS series “Wolf Hall,” the Amazon series “Mozart in the Jungle” and its star Gael Garcia Bernal, and Rachel Bloom, co-creator and star of the CW musical comedy television series “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” and front-runners like “Inside Out” for best animated film. But there were also the usual GG puzzlers like Sam Smith’s “Spectre” theme, probably the worst James Bond song in decades and certainly the worst of the nominees. It was great to see “Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm and “Empire’s” Taraji P. Henson get recognized for their outstanding work, and Henson gave one of the best speeches of the night, handing out cookies on her way to the stage, in honor of her character’s name, and showing the charm and the fire she draws on for her outrageous role. “Please wrap?” she responded to the teleprompter. “Wait a minute. I waited 20 years for this. You going to wait. Yeah, you going to give me a little more time.”

Presenters provided some bright spots, especially Jim Carrey (whose jokes about the Globes and movie star ego were as deft as Gervais’ were not), BFFs Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer (can’t wait to see the movie they’re writing) and Eva Longoria and America Ferrera, who were pointed but charming and funny about people who can’t tell Latina actresses apart.

It was great to see Brie Larson win for “Room,” and her speech was another highlight. “The Revenant” took home Best Drama, Best Actor, and Best Director awards. Matt Damon and “The Martian” won, oddly in the comedy categories. The most emotional award of the evening was Sylvester Stallone’s standing ovation win for “Creed.” Like Damon, he noted that it had been a very long time since his last Golden Globe and that he was much better able to appreciate it now. (He thanked his “imaginary friend Rocky Balboa,” but forgot to thank writer/director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan, but tried to make up for it off camera.) Lady Gaga was also very emotional as she said her thank yous for her award (“American Horror Story”). Her elegant black dress was one of the most beautiful of the evening, along with the red cut-away gown and gorgeous necklace worn by another winner, Jennifer Lawrence, for “Joy.” “I want to be buried next to you!” she cried out to writer/director David O. Russell.

Copyright Warner Brothers 2015
Copyright Warner Brothers 2015

Another highlight was the clip reel tribute to DeMille award winner Denzel Washington, a fitting reminder of the dazzling work he has done over the years. He brought his entire family (missing one son) up on stage with him to accept the award, but forgot his glasses, so stumbled through the acceptance. On one hand, he knew he was getting the award and he is a professional performer, so he should have done better. On the other hand, the Globes are known for being a bit off-the-cuff (liquor is generously served to all attendees), and it was fun to see his interaction with his wife.

The winners are:

Best Picture – Drama
“The Revenant”

Best Picture – Comedy or Musical
“The Martian”

Best Director – Motion Picture
Alejandro G. Inarritu, “The Revenant”

Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama
Brie Larson, “Room”

Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Revenant”

Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy
Jennifer Lawrence, “Joy”

Best Actor – Motion Picture Comedy
Matt Damon, “The Martian”

Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
Kate Winslet, “Steve Jobs”

Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
Sylvester Stallone, “Creed”

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
Aaron Sorkin, “Steve Jobs”

Best Foreign Language Film
“Son of Saul”

Best Animated Feature Film
“Inside Out”

Best Score – Motion Picture
Ennio Morricone, “The Hateful Eight”

Best Song – Motion Picture
“Writing’s on the Wall” from “Spectre,” by Sam Smith

Best TV Series, Drama
“Mr. Robot”

Best Actress – TV Series, Drama
Taraji P. Henson, “Empire”

Best Actor – TV Series, Drama
Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”

Best TV Series, Comedy
“Mozart in the Jungle”

Best Actress – TV Series, Comedy or Musical
Rachel Bloom, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

Best Actor – TV Series, Comedy or Musical
Gael Garcia Bernal, “Mozart in the Jungle”

Supporting Actress – TV Series, Miniseries or Limited Series
Maura Tierney, “The Affair”

Supporting Actor – TV Series, Miniseries or Limited Series
Christian Slater, “Mr. Robot”

Limited Series or TV Movie
“Wolf Hall”

Best Actor – Limited Series or TV Movie
Oscar Isaac, “Show Me a Hero”

Best Actress – Limited Series or TV Movie
Lady Gaga, “American Horror Story: Hotel”

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Muppets Most Wanted

Posted on March 20, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild action
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and action, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 21, 2014
Date Released to DVD: August 11, 2014 ASIN: B00H4RL2H2
Poster courtesy Walt Disney Pictures
Poster courtesy Walt Disney Pictures

The Muppets live up to the title in this adorable follow-up that is even truer to the essence of Muppetry than the Jason Segal predecessor because it puts the Muppets themselves at the heart of the story, not the humans. And that’s very good news. No one is better than the Muppets at creating a giddy mixture of sharp wit, delirious silliness, pop culture references (here they range from Ingmar Bergman’s scythe-bearing Death chess match to a “Producers”-inspired prison gang kick-line) and random guest stars (Lady Gaga! Tony Bennett! Together!), and a self-deprecating but irrepressibly sunny sensibility. There is always grand spectacle, romance, and heart, even a brief but telling lesson in manners. Plus, there’s another tuneful and hilarious collection of songs from Oscar-winner Bret McKenzie. The result is pure joy.

It starts about one minute after the last movie ends.  The human couple is clearly on the road to happily ever after, but what about the Muppets?  Time for a sequel! “While they wait for Tom Hanks to Make ‘Toy Story 4,'” they sing, even though “everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good.”  They also blithely explain that we can expect “a family-style adventure during which we should bond and learn heartwarming lessons like sharing and taking your turn and the Number 3.”

The Muppets hire Dominic Badguy (“pronounced Bad-GEE”) (Ricky Gervais) as their new tour manager and go to Europe to perform.  He actually is a bad GUY, however, and the tour is just a cover for an elaborate series of heists, conveniently located next door to the venues selected by Dominic.  Meanwhile, Constantine, the most dangerous frog in the world, escapes from the Siberian gulag where he has been in prison.  And he looks almost exactly like Kermit, except for a distinctive beauty mark on his cheek.  Constantine slaps a fake birthmark onto Kermit’s cheek, covers his own with green make-up, and soon Kermit is captured (vainly trying to explain that he’s an “Amphibian-American”) and sent to the gulag.

And Constantine is running the Muppet Show.  Even though he speaks with a thick accent and has a completely different personality, none of the Muppets notices the switch, especially when he tells them they can do whatever they want.  Miss Piggy does not realize that her beloved frog has been replaced.

Meanwhile, the hard core prisoners in the gulag (including Ray Liotta and a mystery guest star in solitary) figure out immediately that Kermit is not Constantine because he says “thank you.”  Even Nadya (Tina Fey), who runs the prison, knows it is not Constantine.  But her fondest dream is a first-class gulag musical show.  She won’t let Kermit leave because she needs him to direct it.  And she knows every possible trick the prisoners might try to sneak out.  She explains, “I have a Netflix account with the search words ‘prison escape.'”  Also, she likes him.  So, soon Kermit is overseeing a prison kick-line to a song from “A Chorus Line” (the guy in solitary has a great set of pipes).  And Constantine is getting ready for the biggest heist of all: the British royal family’s crown jewels, though — wait for it — “It’s not easy being mean.”

On the path of the master thieves are a pair of non-master detectives, Jean Pierre Napoleon from Interpol (Ty Burell, through no fault of his own the movie’s only weak point) and Sam the Eagle from the FBI.  Their competition over the size of their badges is rather fun, but then their appearances descend into repeated and increasingly flat jokes about Napoleon’s tiny car and constant breaks for meals and vacations.  But then we have the classic shots of newspapers to bring us up to date: “Slow News Week; Muppets Dominate Headlines” and we’re back in Muppet heaven.

Note: Be sure to get to the theater in time.  There’s an adorable “Monsters University” short before the feature starts.

Parents should know that there is some bad behavior, a very brief scary skeleton and mild peril.  Scenes in the gulag play dire prison conditions and treatment for comedy.

Family discussion: How could Nadya, Fozzie, and Walter tell the difference between Kermit and Constantine? Why didn’t anyone else figure out what was going on?  Why did Constantine let the Muppets do whatever they wanted?

If you like this, try: The Muppet Show and their feature films

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Based on a television show Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy For the Whole Family Musical Scene After the Credits Series/Sequel

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Posted on November 30, 2009 at 8:00 am

Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild action and brief language
Profanity: Brief schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive comic/action violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 22, 2009
Date Released to DVD: December 1, 2009 ASIN: B002GJTYIW

Everything is bigger, better, and especially funnier in this sequel to the surprise hit Night at the Museum. In the original, Larry (Ben Stiller) was an unsuccessful inventor who took at job as a security guard at New York’s Museum of Natural History and found that all of the exhibits came to life at night. With the help of Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams), and the young Pharaoh Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek), Larry was able to reconcile the dispute between a cowboy named Jedediah (Owen Wilson) with his neighboring diorama-mate Octavius (Steve Coogan), tame both a dinosaur skeleton and an enormous totemic sculpture, and defeat the bad guys who tried to set him up and steal the magic tablet.

As this film begins, Larry has achieved his dream of success and is doing infomercials with inventions like the glow-in-the-dark flashlight. He is so busy he seldom sees his old friends at the museum and he is shocked to find that they have all been packed up. The museum is going all 2.0 and is about to be tricked up with fancy interactive animatronics. And all of the old exhibits are being shipped off to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, not for display but for storage.

And that is how Larry, the Museum of Natural History exhibits from the first movie, and dozens of new characters from the world’s biggest museum complex in Washington DC, the Smithsonian. Ahkmenrah’s evil brother Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) wants to use the tablet to raise an army of the dead to take over the world. Larry will have to rely on his old friends and some new ones, like Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) and George Armstrong Custer (Bill Hadar) to fight Kahmunrah and his allies Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Napoleon (Alain Chabat), and Al Capone (Jon Bernthal), who is in black and white because he was brought to life from an old photograph.

Yes, even the pictures, paintings, the gift shop bobble heads and the sculptures come to life in this film and there is one sequence where Larry escapes into Alfred Eisenstadt’s classic photo of VJ Day in Times Square, and he later empties the water out of a Turner seascape. The special effects are exceptionally well done, but what makes the movie work is its inspired cast, all having a blast and trying to top each other. Over and over, the same old gag works just fine as the best all-star comedy cast since “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” finds the sweet spot between action and inspired silliness.

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Action/Adventure Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy For the Whole Family
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