January 31, 2012

The Great Bear (2011)

IN CASE IT NEEDS TO BE SAID, great animated films don’t always come from Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, or Blue Sky Studios. Sometimes they don’t even come from America (i.e. Japan’s Studio Ghibli, home of legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki).

If The Great Bear is any indication, we might soon be looking at Denmark as a future hotbed of well-crafted animated storytelling. The film follows big brother Jonathan (Markus Rygaard) and little sister Sophie (Alberte Blichfeldt) as they visit their grand-dad (Elith Nulle Nykjær) at his home in the woods next to The Great Forest. Grand-Dad warns the kids never to enter The Great Forest because “it’s full of strange animals,” including The Great Bear – a gigantic brown bear (we’re talking stories high) with a forest of trees growing out of its back. When Sophie mistakenly enters The Great Forest and vanishes, Jonathan goes in after her, crossing paths with a lone hunter (Flemming Quist Møller) who’s determined to kill the bear after it demolished his village.

Comparisons of The Great Bear to Miyazaki’s classic My Neighbor Totoro are fair: Both feature a pair of bickering siblings who discover magical creatures in a neighboring forest. To that extent, The Great Bear is My Neighbor Totoro’s rougher, tougher older brother. There’s danger, gunplay, and more perilous action in Jonathan and Sophie’s adventures, which has them encountering such surreal creatures as a herd of miniature moose, comical blackbirds, and frogs that bring rain when you make them croak.

Then there’s The Great Bear himself, an ursine behemoth and a masterwork of CGI animation. Yet despite his gargantuan girth, Jonathan soon learns what Sophie’s known all along: The only thing monstrous about the bear is his size. He’s actually a gentle giant who only lashes out when provoked or threatened. Jonathan then stops trying to rescue Sophie from The Great Bear and starts helping her protect him from the determined hunter.

With The Great Bear, first-time feature film director Esben Toft Jacobsen mines the many strengths of CGI animation to create a rich, deep, captivating experience, just like Miyazaki did with Totoro’s gorgeous 2-D animation nearly 25 years ago. Jacobsen’s film features beautiful, fantastic scenery, plus a distinct European style of animation that may seem slightly different (and a bit less refined) than what American audiences are used to.

A hit at international film festivals, The Great Bear touches all the sweet spots that a children’s film should: friendship, loyalty, adventure, and love for all living things. Sadly, it has yet to find a U.S. distributor. If you or anyone you know can help distribute The Great Bear in America, contact the filmmakers and let them know. This film deserves an audience here in the States. [UPDATE 6/16/14: The Great Bear is now available in the U.S., including Amazon Instant and Walmart.]

Danish, with English dubbing.

Is it suitable for your kids?
The Great Bear is not rated, but does have some violence/scariness: Jonathan tells Sophie scary stories about The Great Bear; he slaps her when she calls him “dumb;” he falls in a hole and gets a bloody wound on his wrist; he follows drops of blood to locate the bear after the hunter shoots him; and he pulls a bullet from a wound in the bear’s mouth. The size and growls of The Great Bear may be scary to very small children. The hunter gets scarier and more violent as the film progresses: He shoots into a cave, nearly hitting Jonathan; he shoots at the bear multiple times, hitting him once in the mouth and causing Sophie to plummet from the top of the bear’s head to the ground; he calls Sophie a “little brat,” takes her away from Jonathan, and locks her in a closet in his cabin; he crushes one of the blackbirds in his hand (we’re to believe it’s dead); he sets fire to the forest to flush out the bear; when Jonathan tries to stop him from shooting the bear, the hunter hits Jonathan in the face with the butt of his gun, knocking him to the ground; in the finale, he shoots the bear again, this time in the back. Also in the finale, someone is killed by a falling boulder; the screen cuts to black upon the impact. The only questionable language is Sophie calling Jonathan “dumb” and, when Jonathan says he smells something funny, she asks, “Did you fart?” 8 years and older is probably the appropriate age for viewing.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she’s a fan of animated films and magical storytelling, and can handle animals and children being put in peril along the way, she’ll surely enjoy The Great Bear.

Don’t even think of asking me if I want a pic-a-nic basket.

The Great Bear trailer:

The Great Bear
* Director: Esben Toft Jacobsen
* Screenwriters: Jannik Tai Mosholt, Esben Toft Jacobsen
* Stars: Markus Rygaard, Flemming Quist Møller, Alberte Blichfeldt, Elith Nulle Nykjær
* MPAA Rating: N/A

January 23, 2012

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2001)

I VAGUELY REMEMBER the kids cartoon The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius airing on Nickelodeon during its 2002-2006 run. But since my boys were born in ’03 and ’06, any TV time offered to them would have been in the more appropriate worlds of PBS Kids or Disney Junior (nee Playhouse Disney).

However, my wife came home recently from our local Once Upon a Child with a near-mint copy of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, the movie that begat the TV series. It follows the antics of Jimmy (Debi Derryberry), an inventive and occasionally mischievous young boy in the town of Retroville, where he lives with his doofus dad (Mark DeCarlo), strict mom (Megan Cavanagh), and trusty robot dog Goddard. All day, every day, Jimmy comes up with outlandish inventions and contraptions, including a communications device that lets him talk with unknown life forms in outer space.

Unfortunately, one of Jimmy’s conversations launches an alien invasion of Retroville, with the parents of the town being kidnapped as part of a ritual sacrifice. Initially, Jimmy and the kids of Retroville are thrilled that that are no more parents to tell them what to do. But when they soon realize that they really do need their parents in their lives, the kids – led by Jimmy and his friends – head to the alien planet to rescue their moms and dads and bring them home.

There’s rarely a dull moment in Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius – whether it’s Jimmy causing chaos with his inventions, or the kids of Retroville arriving on the aliens’ home planet to do battle and bring back their parents. (There’s an especially exciting sequence as Jimmy and the kids turn the rides of their town carnival into spaceships to go battle the aliens.) Yet director and co-writer Jon A. Davis keeps the action from getting too overwhelming, while offering just enough character depth to make you care for everyone involved, even Jimmy’s classmate and nemesis, Cindy (Carolyn Lawrence). Also, the underlying message of not chatting with unseen strangers – which is what Jimmy does, causing the aliens to invade – definitely has a parallel to the Internet safety we preach to our children.

The film also features a pretty rockin’ soundtrack, with covers of classic songs by Thomas Dolby, Kim Wilde, and The Ramones, plus original songs by Aaron Carter and N*SYNC (hey, it was 2001; those guys were popular at the time).

If your kids like the Disney Channel show Phineas & Ferb (also featuring overachieving kids making wacky inventions), they’ll probably enjoy Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. It has continuous action, peppy dialogue…oh, let’s be real: It’s about a smart kid who makes cool inventions, owns a robot dog, and travels to outer space to battle aliens. What kid wouldn’t be intrigued by a combo like that?


What did Dash and
Jack-Jack think?

Both boys really got a kick out of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. They were caught up in the action sequences, and – like any young boy – laughed at many of the jokes involving bodily functions (see some examples below).

Is it suitable for your kids?
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius is rated G, but there’s content that some parents may find objectionable…
  • Language: The following are said by different children: “barf,” “dweeb,” “nerd,” “got their butts kicked,” and “kick some alien buttocks.” There are also passing mentions of constipation, puberty, and a bachelor party.
  • Humor: The film has its share of scatological humor: Goddard, Jimmy’s robotic dog, poops out nuts and bolts in one scene; an abducted father is sitting on the toilet when the aliens beam him up to their spaceship; one kid declares, “I’m peeing in the shower!” as he is shown from the waist up; the word “POOP” is shown as graffiti on a school statue; and several characters, including Jimmy’s parents, go into belching fits after drinking some of Jimmy’s specially created soda. Dad even says, “At least it’s coming out of the attic and not the basement!”
  • Behavior: Bad-boy Nick (Candi Milo) encourages Jimmy to sneak out of his parents’ house after bedtime to go to the carnival. Jimmy does in fact sneak out, disobeying his parents’ orders.
  • Scariness: The idea of aliens kidnapping and eating kids’ parents may be a bit much for very young children (though five-year-old Jack-Jack didn’t seem fazed by it). Also, one of the aliens declares to the children, “Now, you all must die!”
Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she has no objection to the content described above, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius is a film for the whole family to enjoy, FilmMother included.

'Neutron?' Sorry, not on the list.

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
* Director: John A. Davis
* Screenwriters: John A. Davis, David N. Weiss, J. David Stem, Steve Oedekerk
* Stars: Debi Derryberry, Megan Cavanagh, Mark DeCarlo, Jeffrey Garcia, Carolyn Lawrence, Andrea Martin, Candi Milo, Martin Short, Patrick Stewart
* MPAA Rating: G

Rent Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius from Netflix >>

January 17, 2012

Tales from the Script (2009)

DURING HIS ACCEPTANCE SPEECH for his honorary Oscar at the 2001 Academy Awards, legendary screenwriter Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest, West Side Story) said, “I accept this rarest of honors on behalf of screenwriters everywhere…we have suffered anonymity far too often…please always bear in mind that a film production begins and ends with a screenplay.”

After watching director Peter Hanson’s documentary, Tales from the Script, it’s debatable whether Lehman’s plea has ever been considered. Featuring interviews with dozens of screenwriters – including William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver), Shane Black (Lethal Weapon), Guinevere Turner (American Psycho), John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing), and Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist) – the film pounds home the painful truth to those who don’t know it: While the screenplay may seem critical to a film’s creation, screenwriting is arguably the most put-upon, degraded, and ultimately discarded profession in Hollywood. “An abused entity,” as Ghost scribe Bruce Joel Rubin puts it.

Of course, Hanson is aware that people like to hear other people’s war stories, and that’s what makes Tales from the Script so engaging. Nearly every experience the screenwriters discuss has significant amounts of hardship or heartbreak. The fact that these people create stories for a living makes the tales they tell even more compelling.

But the film isn’t just a bunch of screenwriters lamenting their trade. They offer advice on a myriad of topics: how to deal with producers, directors, and actors; the screenwriter’s role on a movie set (spoiler alert: there isn’t one); and how to cope when your script or project is taken away from you (“Learn to love it,” Carpenter says wryly).

While Tales from the Script is largely about the harsh reality of being a screenwriter in Hollywood – bad pitch meetings, disingenuous agents, endless rejections, moronic “notes” from studio execs – it does have occasional bright spots. Hearing how some of these established screenwriters got their big break is fascinating, and Justin Zackham’s story of how he wrote The Bucket List (and got it made with Rob Reiner, Morgan Freeman, and Jack Nicholson) is probably the most inspiring story in the film.

If it’s not already, Tales from the Script should be required viewing for all film school students and aspiring screenwriters. Because much like Tales from the Crypt – the horror series from which this film cribs its name – the life of a screenwriter can often be scary, and sometimes downright terrifying.


Is it suitable for your kids?
Tales from the Script is not rated, but does contain about two dozen profanities, including several F-bombs. There are also a couple of brief scenes of gore from the film BloodRayne. 13 and older would probably be the appropriate age for viewing.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
She would probably find it pretty interesting. And it’s not all just male screenwriters – Hanson also has several female screenwriters telling their stories, including a doozy by Guinevere Turner and her experience writing a script for Z-list director Uwe Boll (the aforementioned BloodRayne).

Tales from the Script
* Director: Peter Hanson
* Screenwriters: Peter Hanson, Paul Robert Herman
* Stars: Scores of screenwriters
* MPAA Rating: N/A

Rent Tales from the Script from Netflix >>

January 6, 2012

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

WE SEE IT WAY TOO OFTEN: A school shooting where students die at the hands of one of their classmates. We eventually learn more about the killer – what he was like, if there were any warning signs, etc. – but what about the parents of such a child? What life is left to live after the kid you raised is responsible for a mass killing?

That’s the premise for director Lynne Ramsay’s grim and unsettling We Need To Talk About Kevin, as we follow Eva (Tilda Swinton) while she tries to rebuild her life after her son Kevin kills several classmates at his high school with a bow and arrow.

A former high-profile writer and traveler, Eva now works at a two-bit travel agency, consumes large amounts of wine and pills to dull the pain, and lives in a tiny, beat-down home that, as the film opens, has been splattered with red paint by vandals. As Eva struggles with her daily existence, we’re shown flashbacks of how she went from carefree newlywed to bearing and raising Kevin – a cold, emotionless, hurtful child played at different ages by Rock Duer (toddler), Jasper Newell (child), and Ezra Miller (teen).

Each scenario in We Need To Talk About Kevin is more unsettling and disturbing than the previous one. Ramsey and co-writer/husband Rory Kinnear make each interaction between Eva and Kevin uncomfortable, pitiful, or downright heartbreaking, and any occasional glimmer of hope for these two to form a true mother-son bond is quickly dashed by the next scene.

The performances in Kevin are top caliber. Swinton is in virtually every scene, yet barely speaks (her total dialogue is 30 minutes, tops); her expressions and body language are what speak for Eva, and in volumes. The always reliable John C. Reilly plays Eva’s pushover, all-is-well husband Franklin, who’s more of a buddy to Kevin than a father and oblivious to how Kevin treats Eva. Ezra Miller is creepily effective as teen Kevin, combining adolescent attitude with a dead-behind-the-eyes stare that gets under your skin and stays there. And while the plot of the film is pinned on Kevin’s high school rampage, it’s his years as a gradeschooler that are the most terrifying. Jasper Newell delivers a scarily realistic performance as a child who’s become a cruel, sadistic sociopath by the age of eight.

Ramsey’s use of red permeates the film, seen in everything from food and clothing to the flooding lights of emergency vehicles at the scene of Kevin’s massacre. And while Eva’s ongoing struggle to clean the blood-red paint off her porch may seem a bit too symbolic, it almost becomes its own subplot. We want to see if, both literally and metaphorically, Eva can ever cleanse herself from what happened with Kevin – or if she’ll be permanently stained, forever marked as the mom who’s kid killed his classmates.

Kevin does have its debits. Occasionally, Miller’s portrayal of the evil Kevin teeters on caricature. Some “tell-tale signs” of Kevin's penchant for violence – a fascination with weapons, killing the family pet – could be seen as a bit cliché. And the ending may have some viewers wanting more of an explanation or closure.

With We Need To Talk About Kevin, Lynne Ramsey creates one of the most gripping, unnerving horror/thrillers in recent history. It’s extremely powerful, yet very difficult to watch. That goes double if you’re a parent.

Is it suitable for your kids?
We Need To Talk About Kevin is rated R for “disturbing violence and behavior, some sexuality, and language.” There are several scenes of the aftermath of Kevin’s attack at his high school, with bloody bodies carried out on stretchers. Several people, including a young child, are shown dead by Kevin’s arrows. A few sexual situations are shown in shadows or silhouette, except for one fully lit scene where Eva catches Kevin in a compromising position in the bathroom. In terms of alcohol and drugs, Eva consumes a lot of wine and pills. Ironically, teenagers about Kevin's age and older would be the appropriate audience.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
It’s a safe bet that We Need To Talk About Kevin will be a tough film for any mother to watch, especially one with young or teenage children. You might want to watch it yourself, then decide if she’d be up for it.

We Need To Talk About Kevin
* Director: Lynne Ramsey
* Screenwriters: Lynne Ramsey, Rory Kinnear
* Stars: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell
* MPAA Rating: R

Rent We Need To Talk About Kevin from Netflix >>


Related Posts with Thumbnails