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21 April 2014
May we Hit a Record May? - Movie Reviews for Kids

This time last year, I wrote a blog predicting box office totals for each of the major May films. The closest result (I was only off by $4M) was "Star Trek Into Darkness", which grossed just under $229 million. Combined, the eight films made over $1.4 billion domestically. But that total could actually be surpassed this May. Time to tackle the month again and see how the numbers add up. Here are my picks for May's 10 wide releases:

May 2 - "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" (PG-13) Spidey's back with a new set of foes to face. I'm expecting big things, both from the film itself and from ticket sales. If the film that kicks-off the all-important Summer Movie Season disappoints, it could mean we're in for a rough 4 months. Don't think that will happen. Opening Weekend Prediction: $125M; Total Gross Prediction: $290M

May 9 - "Neighbors" (R) I've already seen this raunchy Seth Rogen/Zac Efron comedy, and it's very uneven. Nonetheless, those who've enjoyed Rogen's films in the past (including last Summer's "This is the End") should happily shell-out $$ for this one. OWP: $35M; TGP: $90M

"Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return" (PG) Advertised as the sequel to "The Wizard of Oz", this will be the first big animated film in a month. However, it comes from a very small studio (Clarius Entertainment) and looks it. Still, "The Nut Job", which opened in January, was sub-par and still grossed $65M. "Oz" may follow the same road. OWP: $20M; TGP: $60M

"Moms' Night Out" (PG) This family comedy starring Sean Astin, Patricia Heaton and Trace Adkins looks downright terrible. Going up against  "Spider-Man" and "Oz", this doesn't have a chance. OWP: $10M; TGP: $25M

May 16 - "Godzilla" (PG-13) Marks an eagerly anticipated return of the classic monster to the silver screen. Godzilla is, by definition, both a popcorn and Drive-In movie. OWP: $75M; TGP: $180M

"Million Dollar Arm" (PG) Jon Hamm ("Mad Men") stars in this Disney baseball drama about a sports agent who hoping to turn some Cricket players into MLB pitchers. Kevin Costner's NFL "Draft Day" hasn't connected with audiences, and I'm not confident this will either. OWP: $15M; TGP: $45M

May 23 - "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (PG-13) While "The Wolverine" and "X-Men: First Class" were disappointments when compared to the original three "X-Men" movies, this latest in the series combines both sets of characters into one super, superhero movie. Diehard fans have been waiting for this origin backstory for a long time, and it looks like it should deliver. OWP: $120M; TGP: $275M

"Blended" (PG-13) It appears that Adam Sandler has a chance to hit a new, all-time low with this "comedy", co-starring Drew Barrymore. But there are a ton of Sandler fans out there, though having "X-Men" as direct competition could be a fatal blow. OWP: $30M; TGP: $95M

May 30 - "Maleficent" (PG) Angelina Jolie stars as the title villain in this Disney prequel to "Sleeping Beauty". In the right hands and with the right script this could be the perfect match. But since the film's rated PG, how dark and scary/violent can it be? OWP: $60M; TGP: $155M

"A Million Ways to Die in the West" (R) Seth MacFarlane follows-up "Ted" with this wacky, adult, comedy Western. The trailers are downright awful. How many millions will be made? Not nearly as many ($218M) as the pairing of Mark Wahlberg and his Teddy Bear. OWP: $30M; TGP: $85M

If my projections are close we'll fall just a little short of last year, with a $1.3 billion total. It'll be very interesting to see how it all plays out.

In Theaters

Bears (G) B

Bears (G) B - Movie Reviews for Kids

Disneynature has had much success with their annual Earth Day documentaries. "Earth", "Oceans", "African Cats", and "Chimpanzee" each had memorable stories with beautiful photography. Last year the studio took an unexpected hiatus, but is back with one of its better G-rated nature docs, "Bears".

Narrated by John C. Reilly, who also voiced the title character in Disney's 2012 animated "Wreck-It Ralph", "Bears" tells the story of the first year of a mother Alaskan Brown Bear named Sky and her newborn cubs, Scout and Amber. As they journey from the snowy mountains, following hibernation, to the beaches, grasslands, and rivers looking for food, Sky must protect her cubs from deadly predators (including rival bears) and make sure they have enough stored up in their bodies to survive the next winter. Along the way Sky teaches Scout and Amber how to interact in the wild and shows them just how tough a mother she can be.

The Disneynature filmmakers are top-notch when it comes to capturing the authentic footage. The gorgeous scenery and tight shots of the animals and their movements are always impressive, even more so than ever during "Bears." The end credits once again include a fascinating "Making of" montage. An entire documentary on what it takes to make these films would be a must-see.

"Bears" is under 80 minutes, but it moves along at a nice pace. We quickly become attached to Sky and her cubs, and since none of the animals' actions are scripted, it's pretty amazing to witness how this saga plays out.

Reilly has a strong, genuine voice, and he's able to balance his inflections: reserved in the dramatic moments and playful in the lighter scenes. At times the dialogue is a little goofy but the film has an overall positive tone (with a traditional, upbeat Disney score) that makes it appealing to both kids and adults.

"Bears" is rated G. There is some aninal on animal violence, scenes of peril and a little blood, but it's suitable for kids 6 and up. This is a solid, engaging nature documentary that celebrates this wonderful, loveable species.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Bears" gets a B.

Next year, Disneynature returns with "Monkey Kingdom". And based on the teaser trailer shown prior to "Bears", these primates will be joined by a few other animal friends as well.

Transcendence (PG-13) D

Transcendence (PG-13) D - Movie Reviews for Kids

After last Summer's "The Lone Ranger", I thought Johnny Depp couldn't hit a new low in his career. But that was before I experienced "Transcendence". This sci-fi romantic thriller immediately shoots right to the bottom of Depp's long resume.

Depp plays scientist Will Caster, the technology wizard behind the theory of Transcendence - the state of ultimate Artificial Intelligence. His wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) is a strong supporter of his work. Following a speech at a prestigious conference, Will is shot by a member of a radical anti-technology group, one of a series of attacks that take place all over the country, specifically targeting AI research.

It is soon revealed that the bullet contained a deadly poison, which means Will only has a month or so to live. He decides that he's not going to continue his research, and spend his final days with Evelyn. However, she comes-up with a wacky plan to save Will - or at least his mind - by uploading his brain to a series of computers. A recent experiment on a chimp using the same procedure worked like a charm. But monkeying around like this on a human could only lead to trouble. Will (his body) dies, but he is reborn inside these machines, and is able to see and talk with Evelyn and his former partner Max (played by Paul Bettany). But soon Will needs more power and data to feed his growing appetite as a super computer. And that's just the beginning of the problems.

Evelyn and Will set-up a secret headquarters in a small town where he can grow and continue his work. But the anti-tech group finds-out what's going-on, and sets out to destroy them, along with the FBI and former colleague and friend Joseph Tagger (played by Morgan Freeman).

"Transcendence" is likely one of the easiest films Depp's ever made, since he spends most of the film standing and talking to the camera. And it's also one of the worst. In one scene, a character secretly hands another character a note that reads "Run from this place". At that point in the film I wanted to do the same exact thing. This is one of the dullest 2-hour movie experiences I've endured in a long time. The basic premise is uninteresting, and nothing happens along the way to put a charge into the flat-lined script. The age-old sci-fi dilemma: "Should it be shut down or not?" is incredibly predictable.

No suspense, no surprises, no excitement, and no attempts at humor (outside of the overall cheesiness). Even the visual effects are bland. And "Transcendence" is an early frontrunner for Worst Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. All the techno noises must've driven the editors crazy (my mind was on the verge of exploding). The multiple shots of Freeman (who basically plays the same character in every movie, but we still love him because he's Morgan Freeman) wearing a jungle hat and dark sunglasses, lowering his binoculars down while his jaw drops to the floor, are priceless.

"Transcendence" is rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action/violence (it's brief) and language. It's appropriate for kids 12 and up. I tried to stay with this film as long as I possibly could, but eventually I had to pull the plug. When Freeman states that mankind wasn't ready for this (referring to the technology), I interpreted it as him talking about the movie, and I couldn't agree more.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Transcendence" gets a D.

Heaven is for Real (PG) B+

Heaven is for Real (PG) B+ - Movie Reviews for Kids

"Heaven is for Real" is based on the best-selling book of a boy's near-death, life-changing experience. Director Randall Wallace follows-up his 2010 horse-racing drama, "Secretariat", with another inspiring true story.

Greg Kinnear is excellent as Todd Burpo, a loving husband to wife Sonja (Kelly Reilly from "Flight") and father to daughter Cassie and fun-loving four-year-old son Colton (played by first-time actor Connor Corum). Todd works several jobs in order to support his family, but is primarily a minister for a small-town Nebraska parish.

A few days after Todd is forced to deal with a few painful medical issues, Colton, out of the blue, comes down with a dangerously high temperature. Todd and Sonja take him to the local medical center, where he is forced to undergo emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix. The doctors don't think Colton is going to survive the operation, but he miraculously does.

Soon, Colton begins to reveal to Todd that during the procedure, he went to Heaven, where he met Jesus, among others, and discovered just how beautiful Heaven is. Todd now must struggle to determine if and how he can believe what his son is telling him, whether these experiences actually happened. All the while Colton continues to amaze Todd and others with revelations about his incredible journey.

"Heaven is for Real" does take a little while to get going. The first half-hour is upbeat, setting a positive tone for how Colton sees his life. When the near-tragedy strikes, the film shifts focus to balance serious themes and spiritual messages. But the execution is handled so well that the story never gets preachy and will likely bring many to tears by the end.

There are hardly any moments in "Heaven is for Real" that come-off as cheesy or forced. Wallace does include a few scenes of Colton's description of Heaven. Thankfully, the media aspect takes a back-seat to the more crucial problems of the family - both financial and spiritual. And all the performances are quite believable. Thomas Haden Church and Margo Martindale shine as parishioners who are having an uneasy time accepting Todd's stance on Colton's beliefs.

"Heaven is for Real" is rated PG for language and some heavy material. It's suitable for kids 10 and up. Whether or not you believe that Heaven exists, it's impossible to overlook the emotional impact this film provides. It's powerful, thought-provoking and incredibly moving.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Heaven is for Real" gets a B+.

Draft Day (PG-13) B-

Draft Day (PG-13) B- - Movie Reviews for Kids

Kevin Costner has a long history with sports movies. He made "Bull Durham" and "Field of Dreams" back-to-back in the late 80s, took a swing at golf with "Tin Cup" in the mid-90s, and returned to baseball "For the Love of the Game" at the end of that decade. 2014 marks Costner's return to the sports drama genre. He'll play a track coach in "McFarland" (out Nov. 21). And currently, as Cleveland Browns GM Sonny Weaver, Jr., Costner takes part in the most outrageous "Draft Day" in NFL history.

Diehard football fans are likely going to blast "Draft Day" for its mostly unrealistic interpretation of the Draft Day process. There are several situations over the course of the film that would never happen in real life. These include last minute revelations about players that would've been discovered months before and the incredible chaos on the actual day, including the wheeling and dealing of draft picks.

However, as someone who's not obsessed with this annual NFL event, the lack of authenticity didn't bother me. "Draft Day" isn't a touchdown by any means (and nowhere close to the level of "Field of Dreams", which other critics have suggested), but it works as a relationship drama with some effective twists, solid performances, and sprinkles of humor.

Costner's Sonny Weaver, Jr. is beginning his third year as the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, who are coming-off yet another losing season. When we first meet Sonny, he's not exactly having the greatest draft day of his life. His father, a legendary coach of the Browns for years, has recently died. The Browns' owner (Frank Langella) is pressuring Sonny to "make a splash" with their 1st pick in the draft day (#7 overall) or he'll likely be fired. And team attorney Ali (played by Jennifer Garner) has just told him they're expecting a child.

So Sonny tries to change his luck by swinging a trade with the Seattle Seahawks for the #1 overall Draft Pick. All the analysts, and the Browns' outspoken head coach (Denis Leary) think it's now obvious that they'll take the top prospect to come out of college ball, Heisman Trophy-winning QB Bo Calahan. But Sonny's not completely convinced. There are other possible choices, or maybe another trade or two. And the clock is ticking.

"Draft Day" starts-out very slow and doesn't pick-up momentum until about a half-hour in. Director Ivan Reitman (coming-up on 30 years since "Ghostbusters") showcases strategy scenes (both in person and over the phone) in an effort to pull-in the diehard football fans. He also uses NFL graphics, logos and actual locations, along with commentary from real-life NFL TV analysts, to explain the basics of the draft to those who aren't as knowledgeable of the process. One oddity that Reitman uses is a split-screen graphic in which characters over-lap each other, walking into the others' half of the screen. It's as bizarre and distracting as it sounds.

However, and this is rarely the case, it's the subplots of "Draft Day" that make the movie a success. 81-year-old Ellen Burstyn is very good in a small role as Sonny's mother, grieving over the loss of her husband. Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson in "42") stands-out as a hot-shot potential draft pick. And the scenes between Costner and Garner, who are struggling to figure-out where to take their relationship, work as well.

"Draft Day" is rated PG-13 for some brief strong language. There are moments when this film scores with its "inside football" look and feel, while other times it fumbles badly. And it's much tamer in tone than it could have been (a somewhat watered-down, football version of "Moneyball"). But overall, it's entertaining, honest, and quite likeable within its "What if" premise.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Draft Day" gets a B-.

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"Heaven is for Real" review

Best @ the Box Office
  1. Captain America: Winter  $26.6M
  2. Rio 2  $22.5
  3. Heaven is for Real  $21.5
    (5-Day - $28.5M)
  4. Transcendence  $11.2
  5. A Haunted House 2  $9.1
  6. Draft Day  $5.9
  7. Divergent  $5.75
  8. Oculus  $5.2
  9. Noah  $5.0
  10. God's Not Dead  $4.8
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LCJ and Toni Collette

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