Tag Archives: Adventure

Movie Review: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

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Rating: B/  I knew next to nothing about Kubo and the Two Strings going in, and I probably wouldn’t have even watched it at all had my dad not bought a copy for my sister on her 13th birthday. I had seen a few ads and knew it had a monkey in it, but overall my interest was minimal. While Kubo and the Two Strings’ plot structure is not the most original (it features a pretty standard heroes’ journey arc where Kubo picks up a couple of unlikely companions and moves from place to place trying to find items with magical properties that will help him fight an ancient evil,) it is visually astonishing and peppered with some entertaining characters and funny dialogue. Continue reading Movie Review: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

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Movie Review: Jurassic Park (1993)

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Rating: A-/ Jurassic Park is an unmitigated delight , a big, riotous, cheesy blockbuster that nonetheless has an element of believability that Jurassic World lacked . Among all the creature-feature action and dinosaur carnage is a surprisingly careful attention to characters and relationships which along with the for-it’s-time astonishing special effects makes the film a bona fide crowdpleaser.The dinosaurs are, of course, the main attraction, but the characters are also well-developed for this kind of movie, and as far as films about dinosaurs in modern settings go Jurassic Park is only about 1/10 as stupid as you might expect. Continue reading Movie Review: Jurassic Park (1993)

Up (2009)

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Not only does Up hold a long-standing place in my heart as my favorite Pixar film, it just might be my favorite animated film, period. It might be a slightly prosaic choice (as a independent movie enthusiast and borderline film snob, shouldn’t I pick something more obscurely cutting edge, maybe a mind-blowing, little-known Asian Anime?) but frankly, I don’t give a crap. It’s just that good.

My advice to the uninitiated is this- if you haven’t seen “Up”, stop reading this review right now and rent it, stream it, splurge on a purchase if you have to. Take your kid, take a friend’s kid, take yourself. It isn’t just ‘another kids movie,’ it’s got a huge spectrum of emotions and it sports one of the most beautiful opening sequences in film, period.

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Laughter, feels, and tears are all on naked display in this testament to childhood dreams and adulthood regrets as we follow elderly widower Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) and chubby eight-year-old Wilderness Explorer Russell (Jordan Nagai) on the adventure of a lifetime. Carl, age seventy-eight, is a man with a lifelong dream; to take his wife Ellie to the site of their childhood obsession, the exotic and magical Paradise Falls.

We see a sequence with Ellie and Carl as children discovering their mutual interest in visiting Paradise Falls followed by a beautiful montage of the couple growing old together, which ends, sadly and perhaps inevitably, in Ellie’s deterioration and death (gently but heartbreakingly portrayed in a few oblique scenes of a hospital stay and Carl sitting, alone and dejected, next to the casket after the funeral.)

An undetermined amount of time passes following Ellie’s death, and Carl has grown into the quintessential grumpy old man, still grieving for his wife and his own inability to take her to Paradise Falls. When a rage-fueled mishap lands Carl on the direct route to a nursing home, the retired balloon salesman ties thousands of colorful balloons to his quaint little house and- surprise!- sails away before the rest home attendants who have arrived to take him away’s very eyes.

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There’s one little problem… Russell, the Wilderness Explorer kid determined to get his final badge for assisting the elderly, who in the process of pestering Carl gets stuck on the front porch when the house sets sail. After landing (rather conveniently) in Paradise Falls, Carl and Russell encounter talking dogs, including the sweet but dim Retriever Dug (Bob Peterson,) a sexually ambiguous exotic bird, but also a maniacal villain (Christopher Plummer) intent on taking what he believes is rightfully his.

Along the way, the sheltered Russell traverses the wilderness for the first time in his life, but is is Carl who learns lessons about bravery, letting go, and moving on from unfathomable grief. The irresistible Dug offers plenty of comic relief, and an unbreakable bond is forged between man and boy, man and dog, triggering a significant change in Carl’s attitude toward himself and life in general.

You know the old adage, ‘it will make you laugh and cry?’ It’s a bit stereotypical, but “Up” is one of the few movies that actually lives up to that saying. It’s heartfelt, funny, and surprisingly deep for a kids movie. But that’s just the thing. It isn’t just for kids, it appeals to all ages with it’s genuinely emotive storytelling, bright and textured animation, and timeless story of hope and renewal triumphing over resignation and bitterness.

“Up” is cute and charming, as lovable as holding a squirming puppy in your arms, but it never stoops to kitsch or silliness, or God forbid, being TOO cute (like the maudlin “Precious Moments” statuettes that are ubiquitous on aging Mormons’ mantelpieces.) Instead of sinking to the level of Saturday-Morning cartoon slapstick, “Up” takes a real human story and infuses it with extraordinary elements (an airborne house, dogs with collars that cause them to speak and quip like human beings.)

The fact that it’s not the other way around (a fantastical story with realistic features slapped on as an afterthought) is a very important distinction to make. Only a viewer with a heart of solid granite could remain dry-eyed through this film’s heartrending first twenty minutes, but it is by no means a bleak film. It’s a celebration of life, and what all of us have to offer to  and beyond the point of old age. We recognize the characters not as cartoons, but as manifestations of our own longings and emotions; and that humanity- the kind of feeling that transcends the majority of animated films- is what makes “Up” so special.

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Into the West (1992)

Although it may be a little intense for young tykes due to its alcoholism, poverty, and prejudice themes, “Into the West” is an overall charming and appealing family film with a compelling storyline. It’s plot is hugely unbelievable (two Irish lads rescue their magnificent white horse from an abusive owner and ride across Ireland evading the authorities at every turn,) but something about this story touched a warm fuzzy place in my heart.

Gabriel Byrne plays the alcoholic father of two young boys, Ossie and Tito (Ciarán Fitzgerald and Rúaidhrí Conroy,) who live with their perpetually drunk dad in a squalid Irish tenement building. The boy’s grandfather (David Kelly) is the proud owner of Tir Na Nog, a beautiful white horse. When Tito and Ossie decide to smuggle Tir Na Nog into the apartment (not an easy feat considering the tiny size of the place is barely livable for a family of three,) the police confiscate the horse and give him to a shady and rich hobbyist.

The duo track down the horse-owner and steal back the steed, riding him across the hills and fields of Ireland and getting into all sorts of trouble along the way. Meanwhile, their father John gets back in touch with his gypsy heritage and reconnects with Kathleen (Ellen Barkin,) an old friend in an attempt to track his sons.

John is a interestingly compelling and three-dimensional character- sometimes volatile, sometimes violent, he loves his sons but constantly manages to disappoint them. He pressures the illiterate oldest (Tito) to learn to read because as it so happens, he cannot. Tito does not appreciate the fact that his father is trying to do what is best for him, and he and his brother believe John does not love them. Gabriel Byrne plays John as occasionally heroic, sometimes pathetic, but never as a blunt, angry stereotype.

There are fantasy elements considering the almost supernatural majesty of the horse, but they never take over the human element of the story, which is closer to British Social Realism than director Mike Newell’s later J.K. Rowling adaptation “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” While “Goblet of Fire” is my favorite Harry Potter adaptation, “Into the West” is a little more low-key, more about growing up and learning to let go that sorcery and magic.

There are relevant social commentary (reflected by the prejudice towards the ‘travelers,’ the pressure of impoverished conditions, and the less-than-kosher treatment of the horse by the rich horse breeder,) and the acting is pretty strong overall, especially by Gabriel Byrne and the oldest son Rúaidhrí Conroy, although the performance by Ciarán Fitzgerald (Ossie) can be a little tiresome.

Overall, “Into the West” is a good kid’s movie with a lot of heart. Consider this a a superior alternative for teens and tweens to the the “Twilight” films and “Alvin and the Chipmunks- The Squeakquel” (God help me.) It is a rarity-  strong and underrated family film that remains interesting after you turn ten. Worth watching for kids and adults alike.