July 29, 2010

Despicable Me (2010)

LAST WEEK WAS YET another FilmFather first: My wife and I took Dash to his first PG-rated movie in a theater: Despicable Me.

Not that we did it flippantly or without consideration: We Googled and Bing’d a-plenty, looking for examples of why Despicable Me was rated PG. I even asked a couple of fellow parent bloggers for specifics after seeing their reviews (thanks, Daddy Geek Boy and Weirdgirl!).

Based on everything we heard and were told, we decided to take the plunge…

As evil supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) plans to steal the moon using a shrink-ray – with the help of his little yellow minions and the inventive Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) – the weapon is stolen from him by rival villain Vector (Jason Segel). Unable to penetrate Vector’s lair, Gru sees who does get access: three orphan girls (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, and Elsie Fisher) selling cookies. Gru then adopts the girls strictly for getting into Vector’s hideaway, but wouldn’t ya know…the girls grow on him, showing him how to love children despite his own loveless childhood under his domineering mother (Julie Andrews).


I gotta be honest: The trailers for Despicable Me didn’t offer me much hope for the film – mostly mediocre jokes, half of which relied on scatological humor for laughs. Luckily, the movie leaps past those promotions and delivers a commendable balance of humor and heart.

At its core, Despicable Me’s formula is familiar – kids warm the cold heart of a Grinch-type meanie – but directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud (with a script by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul) wrap an original story around this idea so it doesn’t feel like you’ve seen it a million times before. In fact, the film is a fresh, welcome entry to the ever-growing, ever-competitive world of animated films (imagine if Pixar and Dreamworks had a love child).

And while Gru may be the lead baddie here, it’s the minions who steal the show – a mob of thigh-high yellow workers who speak their own language of gibberish and follow Gru’s orders with slapstick-laden results.

While Despicable Me may not be a timeless classic – and Pixar has nothing to worry about – it’s definitely better than the majority of animated films being served up these days.

And here comes my pandering pull-quote for the ad...

“If you miss this movie, then despicable YOU!” – FilmFather


What did Dash think?
Dash loved Despicable Me, laughing especially loud at the minions’ antics and Gru trying to reign in the three girls. Our choice for his first PG movie in a theater was a good one.

Is it suitable for your kids?
Despicable Me is rated PG for “rude humor and mild action.” It features a noticeable amount of potty humor in various forms: Gru says “fart” and writes a Post-It note that says “PEE & POO;” the girls draw a picture of Gru sitting on the toilet; Gru’s mother shows the girls his baby photo with his bare bottom exposed; and Dr. Nefario mistakenly invents and demonstrates a “fart gun,” complete with a brown, billowy cloud. Also, some of the action sequences may be too intense for very young children (lots of loud explosions and screaming).

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
My FilmMother really enjoyed Despicable Me. I would think yours will as well.

Oh great...it's raining infared lasers again.

Despicable Me
* Directors: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
* Screenwriters: Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul
* Stars: Steve Carell, Russell Brand, Jason Segel, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher, Julie Andrews
* MPAA Rating: PG (rude humor and mild action)

Buy Despicable Me from Half.com (DVD) >>
Rent Despicable Me from Netflix >>

July 19, 2010

Captain Sabertooth (2003)

HERE’S A UNIQUE ENTRY in the FilmFather canon: an animated film largely unknown in the US, but whose title character has quite the following in Europe…

Based on a long-running series of plays and books (as well as a theme park attraction) by Norwegian singer/actor Terje Formoe, Captain Sabertooth tells the story of, um, Captain Sabertooth (Eric Myers) – a tyrannical pirate who sails the high seas in search of the long-lost treasure of Gory Gabriel. On board his ship is young Tiny (Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin), who dreams that one day Sabertooth will see him as a real pirate – and a brave one, too.

Originally a Norwegian production but dubbed here with English-speaking actors, Captain Sabertooth ambitiously packs a lot into its 75 minutes – there’s plenty of pirate-y action and swashbuckling to be had. Still, it kinda left me with an empty feeling. The animation is direct-to-video quality (though done in a unique style I haven’t seen before), the musical numbers are “meh,” and it could have had a better ending.

But that’s just the grown-up talking. Dash thoroughly enjoyed the film (see below) – and he’s probably the age that the makers of Captain Sabertooth had in mind.


What did Dash think?
While I thought Captain Sabertooth was merely passable, Dash really dug the adventures. He laughed several times at the antics of some of the goofy pirates, and really got involved in the film as Tiny and Sabertooth join forces in an effort to defeat the mean, greedy Happy Jack (Gary Martin).

Is it suitable for your kids?
Captain Sabertooth is rated PG for mild adventure action. There’s run-of-the-mill pirate peril, including swordplay, cannons blasting, Sabertooth shooting open a lock, and Happy Jack torching a few houses to ensure we know he’s the real bad guy. There are also a couple of references to wine, and one brief scene of a drunken cook.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
There are worse ways for her to pass the time watching a film with the kids; still, if Dash is any indication, they’ll probably enjoy it more than she will.

Arrrr…stop yer fancy bartendin’ tricks and fetch me bottle o’ rum!

Captain Sabertooth
* Directors: Stig Bergqvist, Rasmus A. Sivertsen
* Screenwriters: Arthur Johansen, David Regal
* Stars: Eric Meyers, Jimmy Chamberlin, Gary Martin, Jo Wyatt
* MPAA Rating: PG (mild adventure action)

Buy Captain Sabertooth from Half.com >>
Rent Captain Sabertooth from Netflix >>

July 14, 2010

Interview with ManCry

IT'S ANOTHER FILMFATHER FIRST: I've gone from interviewer to interviewee.

After conducting a couple of interviews with people in the moving pictures business (here and here), I was recently interviewed by Doug at ManCry, a blog where men can share thoughts and memories of films that have made them well up, weep, or flat-out bawl.
Of course, the patron saint of ManCry is the Kevin Costner baseball flick Field of Dreams.

"Hey...Dad...you wanna have a catch?"

If you're a guy, you're probably crying right now just reading that line, let alone hearing Costner say it.

So man up and go check out ManCry. It's okay...

My interview with ManCry
ManCry Home Page

July 12, 2010

Congrats to the winners of the Despicable Me Prize Packs!

Andie & Jay: Please e-mail me your mailing address to receive your prize pack.

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest!

July 8, 2010

FilmFather turns 2!

Today marks the two-year anniversary
of FilmFather!

Hard to believe it's been two years since our first review.

Thanks to everyone who's stopped by and read what Dash and I are saying about the wonderful world of moving pictures.

(Earn bragging rights by naming the movie this image came from.)

July 3, 2010

Orca (1977)

THIS WEEK MARKS the 35th anniversary of Jaws, with many movie blogs posting about the greatness of that film, and rightly so.

Since there’s probably not much I could say about Jaws that hasn’t been said already, I’m taking a different approach and reviewing one of the many “giant killer animal” imitators that came in Jaws’ wake (i.e., Sasquatch, Grizzly, Tentacles) and was arguably the most high-profile: 1977’s Orca: The Killer Whale.


While pursuing a great white shark, big-game fishing captain Nolan (Richard Harris) watches a killer whale attack and kill the shark when it threatens to eat the partner of marine biologist Rachel Bedford (Charlotte Rampling). Nolan then decides to set his sights on capturing a killer whale and selling it to a zoo for profit. But when he accidentally harpoons and kills the pregnant mate of a male killer whale, the whale seeks revenge by sinking boats in the harbor where Nolan docks and dining on a few of his crew members.

Bedford tells Nolan that the whale is deliberately seeking him out, wanting him to come back in the ocean. But will Nolan take everyone’s advice in his small fishing town and leave the area, or will he turn and face the killer whale in a to-the-death showdown?


In Orca, everything feels second-rate compared to Jaws – not only in terms of story and execution, but in the quality of the production:
  • poor special effects, even for the ‘70s (the whale’s attack on the shark is especially bad)
  • a lack of continuity that’s laughable at times
  • a sparse, sporadic narrative by Rampling’s character that adds nothing
  • an underdeveloped backstory for Nolan as to why he can relate to the whale’s grief
  • a score by Ennio Morricone that sounds like it could have come from (or could easily fit into) one of his famous spaghetti western soundtracks
As for “Orca” himself, he’s a combination of an animatronic whale and stock footage of killer whales from the now-defunct Marine World (source: IMDb). The close-ups of the whale poking his head out of the water and leaping in the air were obviously shot in a fresh-water tank.

In terms of the cast: Harris brings more energy and gravitas to the role of Nolan than the film deserves, while Rampling does her best to look stern when lecturing Nolan as their love/hate relationship develops. (The cast also includes a post-Cuckoo’s Nest Will Sampson and a pre-10 Bo Derek).

Despite the overall shoddiness of the film, Orca does have some merit: The scenes of the whale pushing his dead mate to shore are touching and sad. Cinematographer Ted Moore captures some fascinating shots of the open sea and the shores of Newfoundland (where Orca was shot). And one way Orca differs from Jaws is that, to an extent, you find yourself rooting for the creature in the ocean, not the humans hunting it down.

Unfortunately, the very point where Orca should pick up steam – when Nolan sets out to sea in pursuit of the whale – is where the film drags, until it reaches an ending that’s strangely both satisfying and anti-climactic.

Overall, Orca only succeeded in doing one thing: making me appreciate Jaws even more (if that’s possible).

  • Despite a lackluster film, Orca had pretty awesome poster art (click to enlarge). Unfortunately, it’s a scene that never happens in the movie.
  • While the whale killing a shark in Orca was probably a dig at Jaws, the makers of Jaws 2 got their revenge: In that sequel, a mauled killer whale washes up on shore, with giant bites out of its body.
  • Bedford claims that killer whales have a “profound instinct for vengeance.” To any marine biologists who might be reading: Is this true? (If it is, that’s pretty amazing.)

Is it suitable for your kids?
I remember seeing Orca at a drive-in as a kid (I would have been about 8), and I think I was in a bit over my head. There are many violent scenes, including:
* After being harpooned, the pregnant whale swims into the boat’s propeller to try and take its own life
* The miscarriage of the baby killer whale onto Nolan’s boat deck is especially traumatic
* The whale dines on several of Nolan’s crew, though with little bloodshed; however, he does bite the leg off one unfortunate crew member, briefly revealing a spurting, bloody stump
* A crew member is killed by an iceberg avalanche

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
I can’t imagine the appeal Orca would have to her, especially with a pregnant mammal dying and miscarrying in the same scene. But if she’s looking for high-sea thrills and a giant fish, there’s this movie that came out back in ’75…

Rule #1: Always keep killer whales at arm's length.

* Director: Michael Anderson
* Screenwriters: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Donati, Robert Towne (uncredited)
* Stars: Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, Will Sampson, Bo Derek, Keenan Wynn, Robert Carradine, Scott Walker, Peter Hooten
* MPAA Rating: PG

Buy Orca from Half.com (DVD) >>
Rent Orca from Netflix >>


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