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

Paradise

Posted on November 14, 2013 at 11:06 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual material, substance abuse, some language, and thematic elements
Profanity: Very strong and explicit language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril, references to a tragic accident.
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: November 15, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00FJVCERC

movies-paradise-julianne-hough-russell-brandOscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (“Juno”) tries directing for the first time with “Paradise,” based on her own script about a girl from a very conservative religious background whose faith is challenged after a terrible accident.  Even she acknowledges that she is better as a writer than a director — she has already said she does not plan to direct again.  It isn’t that it is poorly directed.  It is more like barely directed.  She met the first task of a director exceptionally well, picking an excellent cast and giving them roles that allow them to make some surprising choices.  It would be nice to see a version of this story where the director made some surprising choices, too.

Julianne Hough plays Lamb (as in “lamb of God”), a sheltered young woman from a devout Christian community.  After a devastating plane crash that left her with burn and skin graft scars over much of her body she feels that everything she thought she understood about the world no longer applies.  So, instead of donating the money she received in compensation for her injuries to her church, she decides to go as far in the opposite direction as possible.  She goes to Las Vegas.

Some people do not have the gift for sin.  There is a lot of charm in some of the film’s early scenes, as Lamb checks transgressions off her list that include rhythmic moving to music and getting a microscopic tattoo.  Lamb meets a British bartender (Russell Brand, raffishly engaging) and a singer (Octavia Spencer) who take her out in part to enjoy seeing her reaction to the debaucheries of Las Vegas and in part to protect her from them.

Cody tweaks or avoids the usual Vegas tropes.  She gets nicely meta, with Spencer explaining why she is not going to be the “magical Negro” stereotype minority character whose purpose in the story is to bring a greater humanity to a white person.  And Brand gets to add a bit more depth to his usual persona.  Lamb is an endearing character.  It is fun to see her get a little wild and satisfying when all three characters and some unexpected others show that they already have the greater humanity they need.

Parents should know that this movie is about a young woman who wants to explore sin and it is set in Las Vegas.  There is more discussion of sin than portrayal of it, however.  The movie includes some strong language and risky behavior and discussion of tragedy and a sad death.  A character is a prostitute and characters drink to deal with stress.

Family discussion:  Which character changes the most?  If you had Lamb’s money, what would you do with it?

If you like this, try: Hough’s remake of “Footloose”

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Comedy Drama Movies -- format

Rock of Ages

Posted on June 14, 2012 at 6:00 pm

The era of big power ballads reaching to the back rows of big stadiums filled with big crowds of fans with big hair is paid big tribute in this irresistibly entertaining anthem-rock love letter to the 80’s.  Sung almost entirely by actors rather than rockers, the music is homogenized, somewhere between a “Glee” episode and a real glee club performance.  But, let’s face it.  Some of these songs were close to parody even at the time.

Marx famously said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce.  When it comes to music, history repeats itself, too.  First — at least ideally — it is raw and authentic expression of emotion and, as “School of Rock” reminds us, “sticking it to The Man.”   When it repeats itself, it is The Man.  Yes, “Rock of Ages” is a jukebox musical that turns the barbaric yawps and screeches of rock and roll into something between karaoke, elevator music, and Up with People.  Journey’s “Anyway You Want It” is currently being used as an insurance company jingle and background music in an animated kids’ film, Madagascar 3 and Dee Snider sings in an ad about cleaning the rock and roll out of your carpet.  So it’s hard to say that it dilutes the authenticity of these songs to be performed by Mary J. Blige, Constantine Maroulis, and Julianne Hough.

Various romantic, business, and existential conflicts provide excuses for songs from Bon Jovi, Guns N Roses, Def Leppard, Twisted Sister, Poison, and Pat Benetar.  Hough plays Sherrie (how did they not include “Oh, Sherrie?”), a small-town girl, living in a lonely world, who takes not the midnight train to anywhere but the midnight bus from Oklahoma to Los Angeles, in search of the excitement and adventure she has glimpsed through her beloved collection of record albums.  They — along with everything else she owns — are stolen as soon as she arrives.  But Drew (Diego Boneta), a city boy who works at a club and wants to be a singer, gets her a job as a waitress.  The club is owned by Dennis (Alec Baldwin), who is hoping that an upcoming show from a superstar rock group he helped in their early days will solve his financial problems.  His devoted techie (that’s sound technology, not computers, back in the 80’s) is Lonny (Russell Brand).

The group is the fictitious Arsenal and this is their last show.  Their rock god frontman, Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) is leaving them for a solo career.  Also arriving is the Rolling Stone reporter who is, uh covering Jaxx (Malin Ackerman).  And also on her way is the wife of the mayor (Catherine Zeta Jones), leading the charge against rock and roll for its outrageous lyrics and sexual rhythms, in support of her husband’s plan to drive out sex, drugs, and rock and roll so he can let his business cronies gentrify the area.  The irony is not lost that the storyline in the movie gentrifies not only the music it portrays but the plot of the already-prettied-up musical playing since 2009 near the already-gentrified Times Square.  The script has a few choice moments, including a funny joke about another element of 80’s music — boy bands.  And it is cute to have the protesting women sing a real rock anthem, “We’re Not Going to Take It” while the rock fans sing the song even the Jefferson Starship (nee Airplane) is embarrassed by, “We Built This City.”  (Look carefully in the crowd for some real 80’s stars including Debbie Gibson and Sebastian Bach.)

If the songs are a little soft in the middle, well so are the teenagers of the 80’s who are this film’s target audience.  Hough and Boneta are so bland they all but disappear fromt the screen.  The only real singer in the cast is Mary J. Blige, but Cruise vamps like a superstar and his performance is choice.  As the rock star who is as zonked by ennui as he is by substance abuse and groupies but who comes alive on stage imploring us to pour some sugar on him, he is a hoot.  He is clearly having the time of his life and the pure enjoyment he, Baldwin, Brand, and Zeta Jones bring to the film is as buoyant as the still-hummable music.  Yes, we were young, heartache to heartache we stood, and like the brick-sized cell phones, buying albums at Tower Records, and cassette tapes,  the memories bring a smile.  And some devil’s horns.

Parents should know that this film includes gay and straight sexual situations and explicit situations including groupies and strippers, drinking and drunkenness, and some strong language.

Family discussion: What has changed the most in popular music since these songs were hits?  Which of today’s songs will still be popular 30 years from now?

If you like this, try:  “Across the Universe” and concert films from some of the groups whose songs are featured in this movie like Def Leppard’s “Rock of Ages,” Bon Jovi’s “Life at Madison Square Garden,” and Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Use Your Illusions” I and II

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Based on a play Comedy Music Musical Romance Satire

Arthur

Posted on April 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Russell Brand takes over the title role in this unnecessary remake of the better-remembered-than-re-watched 1981 film starring Dudley Moore and the Oscar-winning Sir John Gielgud. It’s harder to find a perpetually substance-abusing hedonist funny these days than it was back in the Reagan Administration era.  There have just been too many boy-men comedies and too many episodes of “Celebrity Intervention” since then to give this idea the freshness it had 30 years ago. Compare the advertising taglines for the films.  Circa 1981: Not everyone who drinks is a poet, some of us drink because we’re not.  Circa 2011: No Work. All Play.  Crisper, perhaps, but dumbed down and not too ambitious or intriguing.

Brand, who can do quite well when he essentially plays himself, his offhand delivery contrasting nicely with the outrageousness of the comments, is a comedian, not an actor, and he seems lost just when his character most needs to demonstrate the depth to persuade us that two fine women see something worth loving in him. When Brand shows up in the opening credits as not just star but co-producer, it becomes drearily obvious that this movie was the result of nothing more than a “let’s find a vehicle for Russell” meeting.  There is no sense at any point that anyone connected with the film had any special inspiration about either remaking or updating the original.  We hear a few notes from the original film’s Oscar- and Grammy-winning song (“When you get caught between the moon and New York Ciiiity….”), but just a few flickers of what made the Moore version so appealing.

As in the first film, Arthur is a fabulously wealthy man who tries to amuse himself by over-spending or over-indulging in alcohol and women or preferably both at once.   His loyal nanny (Dame Helen Mirren replacing Gielgud as the butler) is the only one who is close to him and the only one who cares about him.  His mother is a tycoon who would hold him in disdain if she thought he was worth the effort.  The girl he slept with the night before tucked his watch into her purse.  The cops get a bit annoyed when he floors it in his Batmobile.  And somehow showering money and gifts on random strangers does not win him friends, either.

Arthur’s mother gives him an ultimatum.  Either he marries the rapaciously ambitious Susan (Jennifer Garner, having a lot of fun but not quite managing to squelch her innate niceness) or he is cut off from the fortune and must find some other way to support himself.  Even though he has just met a girl named Naomi who might make him happy (indie darling Greta Gerwig in her first big-budget leading role), he agrees.  The dilemma gets amped up as Arthur becomes more attached to Naomi and when he meets Susan’s father, played by Nick Nolte in a tasteless role as a nouveau riche bully who casually plucks out the nails Arthur accidentally shot into him and forces Arthur to put his tongue in a buzz saw.  And then Arthur, who has always been taken care of, has to care for someone else when his nanny becomes, as she would say, ill.

“I like earning something,” Naomi tells Arthur, “And I know you don’t know what that feels like.  It is great.”  I like movies that earn the respect and affection of their audience with diligence, sincerity, and imagination.  The people behind this movie do not know what that feels like, and that doesn’t feel great.

(more…)

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Comedy Remake Romance

Hop

Posted on March 31, 2011 at 6:00 pm

“Hop” would more accurately be titled “Stumble,” a disappointing follow-up from the producers of one of last year’s best family films, “Despicable Me.” It is just another story of a hapless live action character who has his life turned upside-down by an animated animal, as in “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” also from director Tim Hill. Character design by New Yorker artist Peter de Sève and some subversively cheeky asides from Russell Brand are not enough to make up for a dull script, pointless celebrity cameos, and an overall nutritional content lower than a stale Peep.

As a little bunny on Easter Island, E.B. looks up to his father, the Easter Bunny (aristocratically voiced by “House’s” Hugh Laurie). He is dazzled by the vast underground factory. Enticingly elaborate assembly lines produce all the candy for the annual Easter basket delivery, with the help of second-in-command a big, fluffy yellow chick named Carlos (voice of Hank Azaria). But when he grows up, E.B. (Brand) no longer wants to take over his father’s egg scepter and delivery duties; as the song goes, he just wants to bang on his drums all day. Just before he is about to go on his first delivery, he runs away to the place where dreams come true: Hollywood.

Fred (James Marsden) is another son whose lack of focus and responsibility is a disappointment to his father (Gary Cole). His frustrated parents throw him out of the house to force him to get a job. Sam, his sympathetic sister (“The Big Bang Theory’s” Kaley Cuoco), gets him a job interview and a place to stay, house-sitting in a mansion to care for her boss’s dogs. He literally runs into E.B., and takes him to the mansion to recover.

E.B. creates chaos and frustration for Fred in various locales including the mansion, the job interview, and a school play. But E.B. also inspires Fred by validating his childhood memory of seeing the Easter Bunny’s egg-shaped flying ship, pulled by a flock of yellow chicks. If E.B. does not want to be the Easter Bunny, Fred resolves that he will do the job. But someone else also has his eye on the post – Carlos.

“Hop” repeatedly gets in its own way by establishing intriguing set-ups without any satisfying resolution. It is pointless to have Fred interviewed by a notoriously outrageous comedian (Chelsea Handler as “Mrs. Beck”) if she is not going to have anything funny to do. All she does is look a little annoyed when he is late and show him around the office. And it is not much better to have the “Pink Berets,” commando bunnies sent to Los Angeles to bring E.B. back, without finding something clever or interesting for them to do. They’re super-effective and powerful until for no special reason they are not. It all feels slack and sloppy, less a story than one under-written set-up after another, cut and pasted together with little sense of moving forward.

It has a poor sense of its audience as well. Kids will not understand or care that E.B.’s first destination is the Playboy Mansion because he is “a sexy bunny” or recognize Hef’s voice on the intercom. Even adults are more likely to find that encounter more skeezy than humorous. David Hasselhoff is a good sport about spoofing himself as the host of a talent show, but how many in the audience will get the KITT joke? When Carlos offers to take over the Easter Bunny duties, the only reason the boss turns him down is a broad and dismissive “a chick can’t be the Easter bunny.” Compared to the generosity and insight shining through the comedy of “Despicable Me,” this seems clumsy and thoughtless – and not much of a message for kids about tolerance.

The Easter Bunny has nothing like the secular appeal or extensive mythology of Santa Claus and this movie does nothing to make us wish he did. Despite some surface appeal, it is as hollow in the center as a chocolate rabbit.

(more…)

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Animation Comedy Fantasy
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