Ron’s Gone Wrong

Posted on October 21, 2021 at 5:15 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some rude material, thematic elements and language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril nd violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 22, 2021

Copyright 2021 20th Century
“Ron’s Gone Wrong,” the first feature from Locksmith Animation, has excellent voice talent but average character design and storyline. And it is unfortunately similar in theme to other films including the recent and much better “Mitchells vs. the Machines.” Its heart is in the right place and it is reasonably entertaining for children but forgettable.

Like “Short Circuit,” it is the story of a malfunctioning robot that is better than a correctly functioning robot because its imperfections make it more human and relatable, more “real.” The storyline is reminiscent of many other films including “Big Hero 6” and “E.T.”

Barney (voiced by the terrific Jack Dylan Grazer of “Shazam”) lives with his single dad, Graham (Ed Helms), and his Bulgarian grandmother Donka (Oscar-winner Olivia Coleman). Money is tight, and Graham, while devoted to his son, is often distracted and worried.

Marc (Justice Smith) is a young tech whiz who has a big announcement at his Apple-like computer company. He is presenting his latest invention, the ultimate accessory, a rolling robot friend, a cross between the Amazon Echo, the Apple Watch, Al Capp’s Shmoos, and Robby the Robot from “Forbidden Planet.” While Marc’s plan is just to create a machine that will learn all about its owners so it can be ever-interested, ever-responsive, an ideal companion. His colleague Andrew (Rob Delaney) sees the purpose of the cute little B-Bots differently. All that information about your background and preferences you so willingly share with your B-Bot? Andrew is going to make a ton of money selling it!

Barney feels like an outcast at school. His teacher pushes him to sit on the “Buddy Bench” at recess to let his classmates know he would like to make a friend, but he feels humiliated. All the other kids have B-Bots, which they use for everything from “influencer” social media posts to games, communication, so much of social interaction that they have just about forgotten how to talk to each other directly. But Barney does not have a bot because his father cannot afford it.

And then it is his birthday, and Donka surprises him with a bot, except that this one is unauthorized because it was damaged falling off a truck. That is Ron (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), and he and Barney begin to get to know one another, Ron’s mistakes, mostly from being overly literal, only endear him to his new owner/friend.

So, unlike Ron, as far as the script goes all the pieces are in place for Barney and his classmates to learn some lessons about friendship and not relying on social media for feedback and approval and for some of the grown-ups to learn some lessons about priorities and the risks of capitalism. It all unfolds as expected with not enough original moments along the way. The movie needs to learn its own lesson that a safe, predictable by-the-numbers formula is a little boring.

Parents should know that this movie has some schoolyard language and some peril and mild violence. Barney is mourning his late mother.

Family discussion: Why was it hard for Barney to make friends? What else could he have done? Would you like to have a B-Bot? What would you do with it?

If you like this, try: “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”

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Animation movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Stories About Kids

Missing Link

Posted on April 11, 2019 at 5:14 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action/peril and some mild rude humor
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy/cartoon-style peril and violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 12, 2019
Date Released to DVD: July 22, 2019
Copyright 2019 LAIKA Studios

The latest from stop-motion animation masters LAIKA studios is “Missing Link,” another astonishing leap forward with spectacularly gorgeous settings and characters so subtly expressive that the animators are as much a part of the performances as the outstanding voice talent. With less of the sadness-tinged depth of the four previous LAIKA films, “Coraline,” “ParaNorman,” “The Box Trolls,” and “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Missing Link” has more silly humor and a grander scope of adventure. The previous films were unusual both in bringing themes of loss, grief, death, and depression into films for families as they were in the high-touch textures of the made, not digitized world. This one is more conventional in its narrative, for the first time with adults (if some immature ones) as the lead characters. Like all of the others, it is stunningly beautiful and gorgeously realized.

It is the story of a time when the combined innocence, ambition, and hubris we may now think of as privilege meant that gentlemen had a certain noblesse oblige that led to undertakings falling somewhere between audacious and downright crazy. We will see a fact-based movie about perhaps the most downright crazy later this year in “The Professor and the Madman,” with Mel Gibson and Sean Penn as two of the men behind the Oxford English dictionary, working for decades to document every single word in the English language. This was an era when an educated, if not exactly employed, gentleman was expected to be as curious and knowledgable about nature as about poetry. For these men, the world, especially the undocumented world, was one great big museum, laboratory, encyclopedia, and, we have to admit it, playground to be colonized, captured, pillaged, and otherwise grabbed. And then of course they came home so they could brag about it in their tony, mahogany-paneled, leather-chair furnished, and very, very, very exclusive clubs.

Hugh Jackman provides the voice for Sir Lionel Frost, a fearless adventurer who is on a quest for scientific discovery but also for recognition. He wants very much to be accepted by the tony Optimates Club. “Optimates” means “best ones,” and, as is so often the case, for the men in the club that means they pride themselves on keeping out anyone they do not consider “best.”

We first see Lionel trying to document the Loch Ness monster, so intrepid himself that he is unable to notice the extreme distress of his sidekick, who gets chomped as Lionel is ordering him to take a photograph. That relationship ends quickly. But Lionel gets a letter that he thinks will lead him to membership in the Optimates at last — someone wants him to find the elusive Bigfoot/Sasquatch creature, the possible missing link between apes and humans.

And it turns out that someone is Bigfoot himself, or, as he will soon be known, Susan (voice of Zach Galifianakis). Susan is the last of his kind, and he needs the help of an experienced adventurer to take him to his nearest relations, the Yeti in the mountains of Asia. Their goals are different. Lionel wants the triumph and fame of being known as the one to find Bigfoot. And he wants the Optimates Club to let him in. Can he do that and keep Susan safe?

The journey begins, from one breathtaking vista to the next. Please, see this film for the first of what I expect will be multiple viewings, on a very big screen. It will knock you out.

Lionel needs a map, which means he has to contact Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), the widow of his romantic and adventuring rival. She is every bit as brave as her husband, and joins the expedition. They go from one spectacular location to another. The fact that the characters are real-world dolls or puppets and that the environments around them are all built with meticulous attention to the tiniest of details, each frame of the 24 frames per second film shot individually makes the world of the story especially inviting, immersive, and tactile. You could spend all day watching it over and over and you still would not see how the tiny flutter of a leaf as an elephant passes by makes the world of the film so real, but subliminally it helps to create not just an authenticity of the physical world but the kind of authenticity only the vision of true artisans with endless commitment and creativity can make come to life.

Susan’s group is being tracked by Stenk (Timothy Olyphant), hired by the head of the Optimates Club to stop them. This conflict is the weaker part of the film. The theme of what groups we want or should want to be a part of and what groups want us to be a part of them is a fine one, but it is far from unexplored, especially in family movies, and does not have the nuanced portrayal we have come to expect from LAIKA. The ending is a bit abrupt, suggesting a possible mid-course change of direction in the midst of the painstaking filming process.

But the adventure, engaging chemistry between Susan and Lionel, and easy-going humor keep things moving along, with the Missing Link teaching the man something about what humanity. It is telling that when someone needs to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to an elderly woman, Lionel’s first thought is to make Susan do it and Susan’s first concern is to make sure his breath does not offend. The real star here is the visuals, from vast, breathtaking vistas to genuine emotion in the subtlest facial expression, are an extraordinary achievement. As always I look forward to whatever LAIKA does next.

Parents should know that this film includes peril and some violence (no one seriously hurt) and some potty humor and mild language.

Family discussion: How did Lionel change his mind about what was important? What will Adelina do next?

If you like this, try: the other LAIKA films and two other Bigfoot movies for families, “Smallfoot” and “Harry and the Hendersons”

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

The LEGO Batman Movie

Posted on February 6, 2017 at 5:26 pm

Copyright Warner Brothers 2017

“The LEGO Batman” movie is not just sure to be one of the funniest movies of the year, with laugh lines that come so fast it is impossible to catch your breath before the next one. It is also the most astute mash-up of love letter and take down of a popular culture icon since the brilliant “Galaxy Quest.”

“The LEGO Movie” was an unexpected blockbuster, sweet and very funny, surprisingly ambitious in scope. This spin-off is more focused, its basic structure very much in the tradition of the DC Comics character as created by Bob Kane and Bob Finger and as interpreted through the Adam West television series of the 1960’s, the Dark Knight comics and movies, and the Tim Burton movies, all of which get quick, understated, very clever nods so deeply enmeshed in the history and culture of Bruce Wayne/Batman and his world as to satisfy the heart of the most devoted fanboy. There’s even a plane from McGuffin Airlines.

The movie opens on a black screen. In case we don’t understand why, LEGO Batman explains that “all important movies begin with a black screen” and edgy music and logos. Just in case that isn’t pretentious enough, there’s also a quote on the screen…from that great philosopher Michael Jackson.

The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) has a great big bomb and is getting ready to blow up Gotham. This is very serious as it turns out Gotham is held up only by, well, pretty much a table. Batman comes in to take the bomb and save the day — also to break the Joker’s heart because he won’t acknowledge that the Joker is the most special and important of all of the villains. Pro tip: when you confiscate the Joker’s big “unnecessarily complicated” bomb, disable it before you stow it in the Batcave museum.

Gotham saved, Batman goes home to a lonely lobster thermidor dinner and a solo screening in his home theater, where he has a collection of mostly-cheesy romantic comedies. When he’s not responding to the Bat Signal and saving the day, he roams around Wayne Manor gazing pensively at old family pictures (note that on that last shot of his parents outside the theater, the nearby street sign says “Crime Alley”). But of course it would not be a Batman movie without some fancy society gala, so he dons his tux and goes to Commissioner Gordon’s retirement party. Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) is taking over and to Batman’s dismay she tells the crowd that she plans to stop relying on Batman for all of Gotham’s crime-fighting needs. (After all, even with all his skill, Gotham is still constantly being attacked by deranged and very colorful bad guys.) She wants to involve more people in law enforcement. Batman is not at all happy about this. Furthermore, he is so distracted he sort of accidentally agrees to adopt an enthusiastic orphan with big anime-style eyes (Michael Cera as Dick Grayson).

Joker has come to a similar conclusion and he decides to team up, too — with the inhabitants of Superman’s Phantom Zone, including just about every literary bad guy anyone 12 and under might know, from Harry Potter’s Voldemort to King Kong and Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West.

The jokes come very fast, usually understated and references to pop culture, which adds to the feeling of being in on something. And the visuals are delightful, perfectly evoking the adorable clunkiness of the LEGO universe. The flames are made of plastic and the guns go “pew pew pew” instead of “bang bang bang.” But the cleverest idea of all was understanding that the very same qualities that make Batman, especially in his Dark Knight persona, so compelling work even better if he acts petulant and childish instead of a brooding and mysterious. The playground-style taunts are funny because they are real and relatable, no matter how old you are.

Parents should know that this movie has cartoon-style action and peril, with no one hurt, some schoolyard language and potty humor.

Family discussion: Why is it hard for Batman to rely on other people? Why does he like to watch romantic comedies? How does he feel when he sees all the other Justice League superheroes at the Fortress of Solitude? Why does the Joker care how Batman feels about him?

If you like this, try: “The LEGO Movie”

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3D Animation Comedy Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel For the Whole Family Series/Sequel

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Posted on October 23, 2014 at 5:59 pm

michael-keaton-birdman (1)Filmed as though it was almost entirely one long, stunning, audacious, breathless and breathtaking shot, “Birdman” (subtitled “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”) explodes with ideas and visions, adopting the language of dreams to explore and upend the very idea of storytelling.

Michael Keaton plays a character in superficial ways like Keaton himself. He is Riggan, an actor who has undertaken at least three impossible tasks at once. He has adapted the acclaimed but notoriously difficult and difficult to adapt Raymond Carver collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, into a Broadway play. The translation of stories whose art is in the spareness and lyricism of the prose into a theatrical production is at best ambitious, at worst impossible. But Riggan is not just the writer. He is also the director and star. He has put his last dime into the show. If it fails, he loses everything. And there is more. His estranged and angry daughter Sam (Emma Stone), just out of rehab, is working as his assistant so he can keep an eye on her and perhaps repair their relationship. One of the actresses (Andrea Riseborough), may be pregnant with his child. And a piece of equipment has just fallen on the head of one of the actors. They are about to go into previews and he cannot perform.

Riggan and Jake, his best friend/lawyer/producer (a slimmed down and pitch-perfect Zach Galifianakis), throw out (real-life) names of possible actor replacements. The best of their generation: Michael Fassbender, Jeremy Renner, Robert Downey, Jr — but they are all in Hollywood playing superheroes. Riggan knows something about that. He played a superhero called Birdman in a series of wildly popular films. He had money, fame, success, and the kind of power all of that brings. But now he has an ex-wife (Amy Ryan), an angry daughter, a possible new child on the way, and he is risking his future on the longest of longshots, a serious play in the high-pressure world of Broadway theater, between the vicious barbs of dyspeptic, despotic critics and audiences who would rather be at the latest musical based on a movie.

Riggan and Jake argue about what to do next.  The understudy? No! “It’s not like the perfect actor is just going to knock on the door!”  Cue knock on the door.  It is Lesley, the non-possibly pregnant actress in the show (Naomi Watts), volunteering her boyfriend, Michael (Edward Norton), who is available (he just got fired or quit or both) and wants to do it.  He is a Broadway darling, a Serious Actor with a lot of fans.  Jake is ecstatic.  This will sell a lot of tickets.

Michael shows up with the script already memorized and able to give a dazzling performance that pushes Riggan to do his best. But Michael is also narcissistic and arrogant. His relationship with Lesley is deteriorating and he is hitting on Sam. Worse, he is sending her mixed signals, making her feel even more insecure and putting her recovery at risk. Riggan is under even more pressure externally and internally as a voice — his Birdman persona? His younger self? His future self? — is urging him, taunting him, distracting him.

It is a high wire act, the endless, dreamlike take festooned with farce-style slamming doors, fantasy interludes with monsters and explosions, sharp satire, poignant drama, and across the board performances of superb precision. As sheer, no-net, bravura filmmaking it is pure wonder, and if it raises more questions than it answers, at least they are the big questions of meaning, identity, work, love, art, and, of course, superheroes.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and crude language, explicit sexual references and situation, gun violence, drinking, smoking, and drug use.

Family discussion: How much of what we see in this film is “real” and how can you tell? What do you think is happening in the final scene?

If you like this, try: “All That Jazz” and Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories”

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Comedy Drama Fantasy

A Remake Planned of “The Incredible Mr. Limpet”

Posted on January 31, 2014 at 8:00 am

Richard Linklater (“Before Midnight,” “School of Rock”) is going to direct a remake of the Don Knotts fantasy The Incredible Mr. Limpet, made in 1964 but set in the early days of the second World War. It’s the story of a shy fish-loving bookkeeper who turns into a fish and helps the Navy locate German U-Boats.  The original trailer is something of an artifact of its own, featuring television personality Arthur Godfrey.

The film had some innovative use of animation combined with live action.  And its highlight is this wonderful song.

I hope the remake keeps the sweetness of the original.

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Remake Trailers, Previews, and Clips
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