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11 February 2016
16 For '16 - Movie Reviews for Kids

Here are the 16 films I'm most looking forward to for the remainder 2016 (not to worry, we haven't missed much in Jan. or Feb.)

"The BFG" - Steven Spielberg re-teams with his "Bridge of Spies" Oscar nominee Mark Rylance to bring Roald Dahl's classic book (a tale I enjoyed reading in Elementary School) to life. July 1

"Boo! A Madea Halloween" - Tyler Perry pulled-off "A Madea Christmas" and now his feisty, iconic character will tackle another holiday, hopefully with hilarity. Oct. 21

"Christine" - Straight out of Sundance comes this buzzed-about true-story drama with Rebecca Hall as Florida TV news anchor Christine Chubbuck, who committed suicide on the air. Hall's performance has earned rave reviews, and Michael C. Hall and Tracy Letts are also being praised in this inevitable Awards contender. Release Date TBA

"Collateral Beauty" - "The Devil Wears Prada" director David Frankel tackles this "ad man goes on a downhill spiral" drama with an all-star cast of Will Smith, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Edward Norton, Michael Pena and Naomie Harris ("Spectre"). Dec. 16

"Finding Dory" - 13 years after "Nemo", Pixar takes us back under the sea for the continuing adventures of a father and son clownfish and their forgetful, fun-loving friend. June 17

"The Founder" - Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald's in director John Lee Hancock's follow-up to "Saving Mr. Banks". Nov. 25

"The Girl on the Train" - Maybe Emily Blunt will finally get an Oscar nomination for this "Gone Girl"-esque thriller based on a 2012 novel, brought to the screen by "The Help" director Tate Taylor. Oct. 7

"Hello, My Name Is Doris" - Those who've seen it say Sally Field is outstanding as an older woman looking for a younger man in this indie comedy. Mar. 11

"Kevin Hart: What Now?" - It's Hart's latest stand-up comedy concert movie - and I was at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field for the filming of it! The goal: spot myself on screen! Oct. 14

"Kubo and the Two Strings" - Following Oscar nominees "Corpse Bride", "Coraline", "ParaNorman" and "The Boxtrolls", Laika Animation may just have their most ambititious stop-motion project yet with this family adventure. Aug. 19

"La La Land" - "Whiplash" director Damien Chazelle depicts a modern musical romance set in Hollywood. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone team-up for the third time and J.K. Simmons plays a guy named "Boss". July 15

"The Light Between Oceans" - Derek Cianfrance ("The Place Beyond the Pines") directs Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander in this novel adaptation set in Australia. Sept. 2

"The Meddler" - Rose Byrne, Susan Sarandon and Simmons headline the latest indie dramedy from Lorene Scafaria ("Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"). Apr. 22

"Money Monster" - George Clooney plays a popular financial TV host who is held hostage live on-air and Julia Roberts is the producer who must try to get him out alive in this Jodie Foster-directed thriller. May 13

"Sing!" - Illumination Entertainment (the makers of "Despicable Me") treat the holidays with an animated musical comedy about an all-animal singing competition. Dec. 21

"Sully" - Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood could become the pair of the year as they bring 2009's heroic "Miracle on the Hudson" story to the screen. Sept. 9

In Theaters

Deadpool (R) D-

Deadpool (R) D- - Movie Reviews for Kids

For 18-35 year-old comic book, superhero, Marvel, “X-Men” and diehard Ryan Reynolds fans - “Deadpool” will likely be your movie of the year. The makers clearly set-out to make the ultimate R-rated “anti-superhero movie” superhero movie, packed with ultra-violence, raunchy humor and an unlikable lead character. And in that respect, they succeeded brilliantly. But for regular moviegoers who are looking for originality, suspense, and fun from this blockbuster action film, well…there’s none of that here.

About 30-seconds into an opening credits montage that features a cover of Reynolds’ “Sexiest Man Alive” issue of People Magazine, an obvious Green Lantern reference and ridiculous nicknames for the cast and crew, I knew it was going to be a long and bumpy ride. And if the Deadpool character had used that line at some point in the movie, there’s no doubt it would have been part of a tasteless sex joke.

There’s no escaping the fact that Deadpool is - as his arch-enemy in the story refers to him at one point - really, really annoying. He made me feel exactly like how (in their first film) a certain giant green ogre couldn’t stand a talking, singing, waffle-loving donkey. However, Shrek and Donkey grew to tolerate each other - and their dialogue was clever and timing impeccable. Deadpool is certainly no Donkey - but he is a jack***.

What’s his superpower? Sarcasm. And Reynolds proves that a little of that goes a long, long way. Pretty much every line Reynolds delivers is arrogant, irrelevant, smutty and - here’s the biggest sin - NOT FUNNY. In fact, co-star T.J. Miller has the funniest (or, I should say, only funny) scene in the movie - and it’s basically a throw-away joke.

But let’s take away the red suit and foul mouth and break down the actual story of “Deadpool”: Guy gets girl. Guy gets life-threatening disease. Guy goes through “superhero movie” procedure to try to save his life. Guy lives, but becomes deformed. Guy seeks revenge. Girl gets kidnapped by enemy. Guy must try to save her. We’ve only seen this a hundred times before. This comic book-basic script needed an infusion of SOMETHING - and a lot less Reynolds.

There’s also a closing credits scene, teasing “Deadpool 2”, which is already in production. You’ve been warned. As for whether this is better than Reynolds’ “Green Lantern”, I’m giving it the same grade, and for the same reason: I liked the makeup. On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Deadpool” gets a D-.

Hail, Caesar! (PG-13) C+

Hail, Caesar! (PG-13) C+ - Movie Reviews for Kids

The Coen Brothers have crafted the latest in a recent string of movies about movies with “Hail, Caesar!” - a comedy designed around a major, fictitious Hollywood studio of the 1950s.

Josh Brolin is terrific as Eddie Mannix, the head of production of Capital Pictures. Dressed more like a detective that a studio big shot, Mannix is the man who makes sure that all the shoots are going smoothly, all the actors and directors are taken care of and that they’re properly represented in the press - even if that means drastically changing their images and personal lives.

The studio’s biggest production of the year is the biblical epic, “Hail, Caesar!” starring A-lister, Baird Whitlock (played by the current king of Hollywood George Clooney). But when Whitlock is kidnapped by a mysterious group called The Future, Mannix must find a way to get him back.

While the trailers and commercials lead you to believe otherwise, this plot development isn’t really what “Hail, Caesar!” is all about. This isn’t a “who kidnapped the big star?” film. In fact, this is the weakest part of the film, as it’s awkwardly presented, oddly executed and provides no legitimate payoff. There isn’t much deep meaning behind anything in “Hail, Caesar!”, though some of it is highly creative and entertaining.

Much of the movie focuses on the daily workings of a big-time movie studio and on Mannix, the man in charge of keeping all the balls in the air. The Coens weren’t afraid to devote chunks of time to lengthy production scenes - and most of them produce smiles and even some laughs. Ralph Fiennes is great in a small role as director Laurence Laurentz. And about halfway in, we head into Soundstage 8 for a memorable Channing Tatum-led sailors dance number. This scene gives us an indication of what, I think, the Coen Brothers were going for - for “Hail, Caesar!” to be both a farce and an homage to this period in cinema.

But their script is unfocused, surprisingly safe, and not as consistently clever as it thinks it is. As for Clooney, he's actually miscast - he’s about 10 years too old to play this goofy character. Scarlett Johansson, as the starlet of the aquatic movies, isn’t very convincing, either. And Jonah Hill (seen on the poster) and Frances McDormand are in just a single scene each.

Yes, some of the movies back in the 50s were lightweight and corny and may not have had much of a point. But just because this is a movie about those movies didn’t mean it had to follow that same formula.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Hail, Caesar!” gets a C+.

2016 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Animation (NR) C

2016 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Animation (NR) C - Movie Reviews for Kids

I look forward to checking-out The Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films every year. Normally, within the group of five, there are at least one or two standouts. However, that’s not the case this year. Instead, we have a lineup that is universally weak in story and largely unimpressive. Here are the Nominees:

"Bear Story" (Chile, 11 min.) - This short comes from Chile. It’s about a male bear who’s created a wind-up diorama of his tragic life with his wife and son. The soft animation works but the tale is slow and not nearly powerful enough. C+

"Prologue" (UK, 6 min.) - The animation is hand-drawn pencil and paper from the legendary Richard Williams. That, itself, is quite an achievement. But the thin Athens vs. Sparta battle story is so basic, and the outcome so meaningless, that it left me flat. C

"Sanjay's Super Team" (USA, 7 min.) - Pixar's nominee debuted in theaters with “The Good Dinosaur” back in November. It tells the (mostly) true story of little Sanjay who prefers watching his favorite superhero TV show to doing his Hindu rituals with his father. But he uses his imagination to bring these two worlds together. I didn’t love this the first time I saw it, but I actually appreciate it more after the second viewing, and out of this group of five, it’s by far the most positive, commercial and effective. B-

"We Can't Live Without Cosmos" (Russia, 16 min.) - The first half is largely comedic, as two life-long best friends go through rigorous training to qualify to become cosmonauts. There is a dramatic twist midway through, but I can’t say I was surprised by it or what happens next - and definitely not as emotionally invested as I wanted to be. B-

"World of Tomorrow" (USA, 17 min.) - It’s about a little girl named Emily who is contacted by a third-generation clone of herself, informing her of what is going to happen to society in the future. The sarcastic, quite dark humor is sharp, and this sci-fi satire does have a lot to say. But it could’ve been much stronger if it was shorter and tighter. B

And the four "Highly Commended" shorts shown are:

"Catch It" (France, 5 min.) - Meerkat mayhem ensues when they battle with a vulture for a delicious treat. Very basic and unimaginative, with a really goofy ending. D+

"If I Was God..." (Canada, 9 min.) - This tale of a grade-school boy and his science class frog is rough to watch. C-

"The Loneliest Stoplight" (USA, 6 min.) - For me, this is best short of the nine. Bill Plympton's comedic look at a stoplight (voiced by Patton Oswalt) is creative, quirky and memorable. B

"The Short Story of a Fox and a Mouse" (France, 7 min.) - Not terrible, but it's a story we've seen before so many times (including in these Animated Shorts competition practically every year). C

Overall, On The Official LCJ Report Card, the "2016 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Animation" gets a C, the lowest grade I’ve given this program in the seven years I’ve been seeing/reviewing the animated shorts.

Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG) B

Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG) B - Movie Reviews for Kids

"Kung Fu Panda 3" is DreamWorks Animation's 32nd theatrical feature, but their first ever released in the month of January. A big-budget, high-quality animated film this early in the year is rare, and while this third chapter of Po the Panda, Master Shifu and the Furious Five doesn't quite live-up to the original, it's fast, furry-ous, and a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

At the tail end of 2011's "Kung Fu Panda 2", a message from "The Universe" was sent to Po's biological father, living in a far-off location, alerting him that "My son is alive." "KFP3" picks-up right from there...well, sort of...since father Li (voiced by Bryan Cranston) needs some time to journey from his hidden Panda village in the mountains to reunite with his long-lost son in China's Valley of Peace.

Meantime, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) has asked Po (the always highly-energized Jack Black) to take-over as teacher of the Furious Five. Po has a difficult time handling his new responsibility, as well as mastering the art of Chi, which is the foundation of the group's ancient beliefs. But when an old enemy - the bull Kai (J.K. Simmons joins the voice cast), returns with plans to wipe-out all the masters and rule China, Po's teaching and spiritual skills are put to the ultimate test. 

DreamWorks continues to raise the bar when it comes to visionary animation. The action sequences are well-staged and some of the more dramatic and symbolic moments feature characters surrounded by bright and beautiful visuals. And the creation of an entire village filled with pandas, each with its own, distinctive personality, is a major success. This is the aspect of "Kung Fu Panda 3" that kids will enjoy the most. Seeing Po playfully interacting with fellow pandas in this new environment provides many of the films memorable scenes.

Directors Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni deal with the elephant in the room head-on: Po now has two dads. Is Po's adoptive father, Mr. Ping, jealous of the new father - and vice versa? There are some effective moments involving family and relationship dynamics that feel authentic and aren't over-done, and they allow for this third installment to have a much more fun and consistently positive tone than "KFP2". 

What "Kung Fu Panda 3" lacks is a gripping story arc. There are hardly any real surprises and the climax isn't as inspiring or motivating as it needed to be. The entire A-list voice ensemble is strong, and there are flashes of smart dialogue, a few solid running jokes and gags, particularly during scenes at the panda village. However, the final 20 minutes aren't po-werful enough and the script, as a whole, is a little too basic.

But, overall, this is an impressive-looking and entertaining addition to the series, and hopefully not the last we've seen of these characters and this saga on the big screen.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Kung Fu Panda 3" gets a B.

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"2016 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Animation" review

What's Next?
  • "Race" - Friday
  • "Eddie the Eagle" - Feb. 26
  • "Zootopia" - Mar. 4
  • "10 Cloverfield Lane" - Mar. 11
  • "The Brothers Grimsby" - Mar. 11
  • "The Divergent Series: Allegiant" - Mar. 18
Best @ the Box Office
  1. "Kung Fu Panda 3"  $21M
  2. "Hail, Caesar!"  $11.4
  3. "The Revenant"  $7.1
  4. "Star Wars: Force"  $6.9
  5. "The Choice"  $6.1
  6. "Pride/Zombies"  $5.2
  7. "The Finest Hours"  $4.7
  8. "Ride Along 2"  $4.5
  9. "The Boy"  $4.1
  10. "Dirty Grandpa"  $4.1
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