June 28, 2010

Win a Despicable Me Prize Pack!

YOU COULD WIN one of two prize packs from the upcoming Universal Pictures animated film Despicable Me, starring the voice of Steve Carell and opening July 9th in theaters.

Each prize pack includes:
* Youth Shirt
* Youth Hat
* Moo-Can (it really moos!)
* Pencil with Minion Topper
* Balloon
* Minion Ink Stamp

How to Enter:
Comment on this post by July 11, 2010. I will then pick two comments at random and post the winners on July 12. (Winners will then have to e-mail me their mailing addresses to receive their prizes.)

  • You must have a link to your e-mail address on your Blogger profile page. If not, you must provide your e-mail address in your comment.
  • Prizes are available to United States mailing addresses only. (International readers can enter if they have a friend in the States who can accept their prizes by mail.)
For more information about Despicable Me, see my earlier post here.

Good luck!

June 21, 2010

Toy Story 3 (2010)

BECAUSE OF THE BUILT-IN AUDIENCE, the pedigree of Pixar, the near-universal agreement of critics, and its recent multi-record-breaking weekend at the box office, it really doesn’t matter what I say about Toy Story 3.

However, since I was fortunate enough to see it on opening weekend as part of my family’s Father’s Day celebration, I feel compelled to provide a timely review…

11 years have passed since Toy Story 2 (how is that possible?), and little Andy is now heading off to college, leaving his toys – led by Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) – worried about what will happen to them. Fearing they’ll be thrown out as trash, they get themselves donated to a local daycare center, whose toys are presided over by the avuncular Lotso-Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty). But Woody, Buzz, and the gang soon realize the daycare center is more of a prison than a playplace – and the only way they can escape is through a daring, dangerous breakout.


Because of the iconic status of Buzz and Woody, and how often the first two Toy Story sequels have been played in my home, it felt almost surreal to see Andy’s toys in the new environments of this third installment. I actually felt a bit emotionally detached from the action for the first half of the film, as the toys discover their new home at the ironically named Sunnyside day care center.

That’s not to say the first half of Toy Story 3 isn’t enjoyable; the new toys that Buzz and Woody’s gang meet at Sunnyside are a fun mix of new and familiar, including breakout character Ken (Michael Keaton). And the attention to detail that director Lee Unkrich and the Pixar animators bring to scenes, such as Lotso giving Andy’s toys a tour of Sunnyside, are beyond belief.

Midway through Toy Story 3 is where things kick into high gear. Realizing that a carefully plotted escape is the only way out, Andy’s toys embark on an elaborate breakout a la The Great Escape that must have taken the Pixar team months to storyboard.

But it’s the film’s third act where Unkrich and screenwriter Michael Arndt save the heavy emotional stuff that comes from knowing these characters for the past 15 years. The final scenes involving Andy and his mom, as well as Andy and his toys, are bittersweet but realistic…a testament to the powerful impact of this animated feature.

It’s almost getting tedious to say it with each new release, but with Toy Story 3, Pixar has indeed done it again.

  • While we saw the 3D version of Toy Story 3 (it’s all Dash would talk about when mentioning TS3 over the last six months), it adds very little except to the price of your tickets – and Jack-Jack, our 4-year-old, refused to wear the 3D glasses after 20 minutes. So unless your kids are clamoring for the 3D experience, stick with the 2D version.
  • In the bedroom toys of Sunnyside preschooler Bonnie (Emily Hahn), watch for a cameo by the titular character of Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro. Disney/Pixar chief creative officer John Lassetter (who directed Toy Story and Toy Story 2) idolizes Miyazaki, and Disney is the US distributor of Miyazaki’s films.
  • Actor John Morris has been the voice of Andy for all three Toy Story films.

What did Dash think?
Dash wasn’t disappointed after building up his excitement for Toy Story 3 over the last few months. He was completely engaged in the film, laughing often and loving it all – without the need for a single bathroom break.

Will your kids like it?
* Something tells me your kids will love, not like, Toy Story 3. The film is full of action, colorful characters (in both personalities and hues), and humor for all ages.
* There are a couple of spots where the film gets dark in tone, particularly a perilous scene near the end involving Andy’s toys. And while my family found the cymbal-clanging monkey who guards Sunnyside at night to be hilarious, the close-ups of him shrieking and wailing had a couple of little kids crying in our theater.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
I hope she would, and I hope she will.

Toy Story 3
* Director: Lee Unkrich
* Screenwriter: Michael Arndt
* Stars: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, Blake Clark
* MPAA Rating: G

Rent Toy Story 3 from Netflix >>

June 15, 2010

Iron Man 2 (2010)

LIKE MOST MOVIEGOERS (and comic book fans), I was happily surprised at the greatness of 2008’s Iron Man.

On paper, it shouldn’t have worked: a movie starring a formerly uninsurable actor as a B-level comic superhero, directed by the guy who made Elf. But Iron Man was a worldwide critical and financial smash, so a sequel was simply a question of when, not if, it would be made.

And like many other superhero sequels, Iron Man 2 stacks its deck with more characters, both heroes and villains, as if to laugh in the face of those sequels that sucked when they did the same thing. (Batman Forever, anyone?)


Ever since playboy millionaire magnate Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) revealed he’s Iron Man at the end of the first film, he’s amassed a rockstar-like following by the public, while congressmen and the US military demand he hand over the Iron Man suit in the name of national security.

With his newfound fame and success as Iron Man, Stark is even cockier and more reckless than before – throwing his weight around and frustrating both the government (including buddy Lt. Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle)) and his co-workers (especially newly appointed Stark Industries CEO Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow)).

Watching all of Stark’s shenanigans from Russia is Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), who has a score he intends to settle with the Stark family. Further complicating things is smarmy government weapons contractor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who’s jealous of Stark’s success. And to top it all off, the mini reactor that gives both Iron Man and Stark life (Stark’s heart was severely injured in the first film) is slowly killing him by turning his blood toxic.


Much like Tony Stark, Iron Man 2 lacks a true heart. Despite a handful of explosive action scenes and hero/villain posturing, there’s something missing that makes it more of a passive, detached experience than it should be. Not that director Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Thoreaux don’t try to make things engaging and deep, including Stark and Vanko wrestling with daddy issues during their sins-of-the-fathers plotline.

And a warning to anyone who (like me) geeked out at the early footage of Rourke as Whiplash, as he tore things up at the Monaco Grand Prix: Savor what you saw, because that’s all you get of Whiplash until the finale. In between, Rourke is simply Ivan Vanko, a thug with a physics degree who helps Justin Hammer create military drones to outperform Iron Man and make him obsolete.

On the plus side, most attempts at humor succeed. And things get blowed up real good during the action sequences (the finale involving Iron Man, War Machine, an army of killer robot drones, and Whiplash 2.0 is off the hook). But in the end, Iron Man 2 seems to be missing an intangible modicum of fun that made the original such a blast.


Is it suitable for your kids?
Iron Man 2 is rated PG-13 for “intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language.” Some examples:
* Vanko breaks a prison guard’s neck
* Lots of explosions, comic-book fighting/violence, and a mayhem-laden finale in which a main character dies in a fiery bomb blast
* A drunk Stark celebrating at his birthday party
* Innuendos and profanities

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she’s a fan of Iron Man or Downey, then probably. Even so, wait for the rental.

Ess not to lett…to vip it…vip it goot.

Iron Man
* Director: Jon Favreau
* Screenwriter: Justin Theroux
* Stars: Robert Downey, Jr., Mickey Rourke, Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Garry Shandling
* MPAA Rating: PG-13

June 10, 2010

Shaun the Sheep: One Giant Leap for Lambkind (2010)

I TRY TO MAKE IT a personal policy to review only full-length feature films at this blog (hence its name).

However, I’ll make an exception on the rare occasion – which is exactly what I’m doing today by reviewing a brand-new collection of episodes from Aardman Animations’ Shaun the Sheep, entitled Shaun the Sheep: One Giant Leap for Lambkind.


Currently seen in the US as 5-minute vignettes between shows on the Disney Channel, Shaun the Sheep features the adventures of Shaun and his flock of followers on a farm. While these sheep act like plain ol’ sheep when their farmer’s around, they do very non-sheep things when he’s out of sight – such as walk on hind legs, play games, use tools, operate machinery, or hatch wacky plans to solve prickly predicaments.

Shaun the Sheep: One Giant Leap for Lambkind includes six episodes:
  • Shaun Encounters – the farm is invaded by two little aliens who cause trouble for Shaun and the gang.
  • The Bull – the farm’s bull sees red in various items on the farm, much to the chagrin of the sheep but to the delight of the farm’s three mischievous pigs.
  • Hiccups – Shirley, the biggest sheep in Shaun’s flock, gets an incurable case of the hiccups.
  • Bitzer Puts His Foot In It – Bitzer, the farmer’s loyal dog and sheep wrangler, must guard the farmer’s newly set cement from the sheep’s antics.
  • Save the Tree – Shaun and the sheep try frantically to prevent the farmer from chopping down their favorite tree.
  • The Visitor – an alien’s spaceship breaks down on the farm, and the sheep try to help him get back home.

Don’t let the fact that Shaun the Sheep airs mainly during Disney Channel’s preschool-age programs fool you – its comedy appeals to all ages, including adults.

Not a word is spoken in Shaun’s shorts, not even by the farmer (who just grumbles and yells in unintelligible gibberish) – the comedy is all done through silent-movie-type sight gags and gestures, often with very funny results.

And while kids will eat up the wacky situations and laugh-out-loud payoffs, parents will appreciate the subtle jokes the team at Aardman (Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run) has added for grown-ups, including hilarious nods to Spinal Tap and Riverdance.

The next time you’re looking for something to share with your kids, be they toddler or tween, check out Shaun the Sheep: One Giant Leap for Lambkind. Ewe won’t be disappointed.


What did Dash think?
While I couldn’t get Dash to pinpoint his favorite episode on the DVD, he did say that “they’re all funny.” He also walked around with the DVD box for days following our first viewing, and he now wants the theme song on the next CD mix I make for him.

Will your kids like it?
Shaun the Sheep: One Giant Leap for Lambkind should appeal to viewers of any age in your house. That being said, depending on your sensitivities, be aware there’s one brief shot of the farmer’s naked derriere, and in one episode the solution to a problem is sheep dung. (Then again, what child doesn’t laugh at poop and butt jokes?)

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
I think she’d find it fun viewing, and a good opportunity to share a laugh with the kids.

Say, “Probe!”

Buy Shaun the Sheep: One Giant Leap for Lambkind from Half.com >>

Rent Shaun the Sheep: One Giant Leap for Lambkind from Netflix >>

June 4, 2010

Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

WHEN I SAW THE TRAILER FOR Law Abiding Citizen last fall, it looked like a delicious tale of one man’s revenge on the men who killed his family – and on the justice system that failed to punish them.

While I didn’t get a chance to catch it in theaters, it finally worked itself up the ranks in my Netflix queue, and into my mailbox last week.


Philadelphia inventor Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) has his world torn apart when two men barge into his home, beat and stab him, rape and murder his wife (Brooke Mills), then kill his little girl (Ksenia Hulayev). The criminals, Darby (Christian Stolte) and Ames (Joshua Stuart), are caught, and the case goes to hotshot prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx). Realizing he can’t win a first-degree murder case, he cuts a deal where Darby – who actually committed the rape and murders – will testify against Ames and receive a lesser sentence, despite tearful pleading from Shelton.

Fast-forward 10 years. Darby has served his time and is back to his hoodlum ways, while Ames receives his death penalty, which goes horribly wrong. Meanwhile, as Darby escapes a police raid on his apartment, he’s kidnapped by Shelton, who brutally tortures Darby to death (and to pieces). Shelton is soon arrested, and from behind bars he somehow begins to kill off people in the legal system he feels are responsible for going easy on his family’s killers. How? Turns out Shelton’s really a government spy – a “brain” who figures out ways to kill people, according to a former colleague, “without ever being in the same room.”


As much I was hoping to enjoy Law Abiding Citizen – and its potential to raise debate over what is truly justice, and whether revenge ever brings peace to those who exact it – the film is flawed from the start. We are given literally three minutes to meet Shelton’s family before they’re slaughtered, providing the viewer with zero chance to create an emotional investment in them or in Shelton’s love for them.

And without that opportunity to make an emotional investment, we’re left seeing Shelton the way Nick and the film’s legal system see him: as a case, not a person. Even five more minutes of Shelton loving his family, or a scene of him grieving for them, before we leap forward ten years would have helped.

But even if that additional emotional display had been provided, it still wouldn’t solve Citizen’s other problems, one of the biggest being its inability to define itself. Is it a crime thriller? A revenge yarn? A murder mystery? A mental chess match between two determined men? An indictment of the legal system? Unfortunately, it’s a little of each, and ultimately it’s the film’s downfall.

Director F. Gary Gray (Friday, The Italian Job) peppers Citizen with many aerial and crane shots – including two separate flies past the William Penn statue atop City Hall as if to say, “Hey don’t forget; this takes place in Philly!” Add to this his overuse of Brian Tyler’s sweeping score, and it creates a false sense of epic scope.

As a married dad of two kids, I was really hoping to have more a visceral reaction as Shelton carried out his vengeance on Ames and Darby. Yes, the scene of Shelton describing to Darby what’s he going to do to him is both horrifying and exhilarating – but it’s over within a few minutes, and we’re tossed back into a film that’s lacking an identity. That’s not to say Citizen doesn’t try to mimic other greater films’ identities to create its own – its over-atmospheric interiors, with their hazy lighting, makes one think instantly of The Silence of the Lambs or Seven. (The bad news: You’re not watching either of those creepy classics; you’re stuck with this uneven story for 109 minutes.)

With Law Abiding Citizen, the worst crime committed isn’t the killing of Shelton’s family, or Shelton’s reign of terror on the city. It’s that the film simply doesn’t make us care enough about anyone involved: Not Shelton and his trail of vengeance, not Nick and his family when Shelton gets close to them, not Nick’s coworkers as they are picked off…and most tragic of all, not Shelton’s wife and daughter.

Sorry, Mr. Gray: You can have Shelton stare at that DADDY charm bracelet from his daughter in scene after scene to try and emotionally manipulate the viewer…but the fact that you and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer give literally less than five minutes of screen time to her and her mother is truly the ultimate sin of the film.


Is it suitable for your kids?
Law Abiding Citizen is justifiably rated R and is rife with violence, starting with the opening scene of Shelton’s family being attacked. It’s an especially bloody film, including the aftermath of Clyde’s murder of Darby (body parts are everywhere), Shelton stabs his cellmate to death with a spork (yes, a spork), a rigged cell phone blows someone’s head half off, and there are multiple deaths by explosions and gunfire. So no, it’s not suitable for your kids…until maybe they reach their early to mid-teens, at least.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she’s a fan of either Butler or Foxx (which I know many women are), they may want to see Citizen. You could do worse, but you could also do a lot better.

Whaddya mean, you didn’t think Wanda was funny?

Law Abiding Citizen
* Director: F. Gary Gray
* Screenwriter: Kurt Wimmer
* Stars: Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx, Bruce McGill, Colm Meaney, Leslie Bibb, Regina Hall
* MPAA Rating: R (strong bloody brutal violence and torture, a scene of rape, pervasive language)

Buy Law Abiding Citizen from Half.com (DVD) >>
Buy Law Abiding Citizen from Half.com (Blu-Ray) >>

Rent Law Abiding Citizen from Netflix


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