Tag Archives: family movies

Peter Rabbit

I’m not a Peter Rabbit purist and I don’t much care that the movie deviates conclusively from Beatrix Potter’s beloved children’s series. I do care, however, that this movie was 90% montage, more the sort of Youtube video my 6 year old nephew might put together than an actual movie made by an actual studio. The soundtrack must be in the neighbourhood of an astounding 37 discs, although who would buy them is a bit of a mystery. Most songs featured are older than the audience will be, lots even born in the previous century. And I realize that Galaxy of the Guardians banks on exactly this formula, and we can sit here and debate just how much the 80s deserve to be revered, but I’m nearly 110% certain that no one will be on the “pro” side of the same debate in honour of Len’s Steal My Sunshine, which cannot be forgotten soon enough and certainly didn’t need a Peter Rabbit remix.

Peter Rabbit and his friends are delightfully rendered in CGI, very sweet and cute looking, with just enough clothing to anthropomorphize but never enough to be very confident something rude’s not going on. But don’t let their looks deceive you: these bunnies are homicidal. They’re ruthless and entitled and they’re pretty shitty MV5BZjg0Mjk0NTUtYWU3NS00ZmVmLTk3ZmUtODEyN2FhMTA4ZmZmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_neighbours, to be honest. I mean, they have a whole forest they could forage for food, but instead they repeatedly pillage a garden lovingly tended by an old man mourning the death of his beloved wife. And they don’t just want to steal his cucumbers, they want him dead (although where would the garden be without a gardener, huh, bunnies, did you even stop to think of that?). No, the bunnies, who are obviously thoughtless millennials in this incarnation, only think of themselves, and their stealing is somehow justified.

And not to shock you, but they actually do succeed in killing old man McGregor – only to find that his nephew, who inherits the place, is much worse. So they set about murdering him too. Sure, they mistakenly bring a tomato to a dynamite fight once, but the rest of the time they aim to kill. Sean was pretty shocked when they knowingly choke the guy with food he’s known to be deathly allergic to. Too far, he thought, and yet this was only one small battle in a very long war savagely fought. These are no innocent rabbits. Of course, sweet Bea next door is appalled that anyone should deny her fluffy-tailed friends all the produce they can eat and waste, but not so appalled, I noticed, that she would bother to plant a garden herself. But of course, the rabbits aren’t stealing out of hunger, they’re doing it out of spite, and though it’s played incessantly for laughs, I just don’t know why we need these kinds of stakes in a kids’ movie.

To me, the children’s books were warm and gentle and sweet and the movie seems to strive to be the complete opposite: rude and obnoxious and totally devoid of charm.

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Miracles From Heaven

Can an atheist such as myself give an unbiased review of a movie with a distinctly Christian bent?

For reals: I don’t think I can. And I’m doing everything I can to be fair here, trying to look beyond the bible-thumping to find something else to focus on, and maybe even, to enjoy.

Okay, let’s talk about Jennifer Garner. It took me a long time to come around to her. Back in her Alias days, I kind of disliked her, for not big reason that I can relate. She married Ben Affleck in 2005 and that softened her for me. And now that they’re divorced, I like her even more, for being stoic and strong and not running her mouth. For putting her family first. For helping him get sober even as he runs around with a new girlfriend. For being a good person, too good for stupid Ben Affleck. I suppose her loving a man who didn’t deserve her makes her pretty damn relatable. And now that she’s “free” she’s a little more present on social media – and she’s funny, and dorky, and unselfconscious. She’s also very hands-on with her 3 kids, taking them to school, to get ice cream, to church.

So I suppose this movie kind of makes sense for her – it’s family-friendly, and it’s churchy, MV5BNDJjNjM2ZTQtMGZlOS00ZDAxLWEyZTMtODMwODY1MGM3MmU3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc3MjUzNTI@._V1_as evidenced by her rather large, Texan hair and the lively church services she attends, the kind with the “funny” pastor and the earnest rock band praising jebus. She plays a real-life mother of 3 named Christy Beam who goes through one of the very worst things a mother can experience: a sick kid. A very sick kid. Her middle daughter, Anna, comes down with one of those mystery illnesses that doctors can’t diagnose so they ignore, while a little girl writhes in pain and wastes away. And only because her mother is persistent does she eventually get a prognosis that isn’t very helpful: she has a severe and incurable disease where she basically doesn’t process food, and she will die from it.

So that’s terrible to watch. If you have kids, or, scratch that, any loved one at all, you know how hard it is to watch them be so sick when you are powerless to help. Even 24 hours of vomiting can undo a family – imagine if that became your life. [And side note: does everyone have a “sick bowl” – that special bucket that Moms seem to keep on hand specifically for those times you can’t quite make it to the toilet? Is that a thing in other families?]

So Christy’s faith is tested, because why would a loving god allow her innocent child to be sick? And her faith is further tested when other “Christians” accuse her of deserving it – whether through her own sins, her husband’s, or potentially even Anna’s. It’s the kind of thing that makes even a hardened atheist such as myself roll her eyes and whisper “Oh lord.” Even poor little Anna is starting to wonder why god hasn’t healed her. Is it possible he doesn’t care (or, um, exist?).

But no. This is a Christian movie, destined to be screened by church groups and almost no one else. So of course, a miracle must occur, and if possible, perhaps even the voice of god himself could make itself known. And if that doesn’t stun you into prayerful submission, someone will offer that miracles are god’s way of letting us know he’s here (don’t ask yourself what god is telling us when he lets other little kids die left and right).

So as much as I might praise Garner for her performance, I can’t really look past the message of this film, which is preaching to the choir at best, and downright insulting at worst. They wring this story for all it’s worth, and while I was sorry for the real Anna’s pain, and happy that she survived (make no mistake: there is no doubt that she will survive – the only question is how long they’ll string us along for first), I find it dangerous to label something a “miracle from heaven” when it really seems like a “coincidence on earth” and “an accident in an old tree”. Because otherwise we’d have to ask ourselves what makes one child more worthy of a miracle than any other, and I really, really, really hate where that takes us. That kind of fear and competitiveness makes nice, casserole-toting, big-haired church ladies into real bitches – so where would that leave the rest of us?

 

Paddington 2

I’m not sure what happened, really. I saw Paddington 2 all by lonesome in a cozy dark theatre on a snowy afternoon and then promptly forgot to tell you all about it, apparently. I think it got swept up by the Black Panther press screening we attended later (is that right? I don’t even know anymore!).

Anyway, the bear. The bear is cute and cuddly and everything that is right with movies generally and family movies in particular. It does not particularly pander to adults (aside from that nostalgia factor) but its earnestness and whimsical panache will reel you in like a bear to marmalade.

Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville are back and Mary and Henry Brown, the big-hearted couple who adopted sweet Paddington in the first movie. He’s well ensconced in the Brown family, but gets into a bit of a scrape when his plan to earn money doing odd jobs (VERY odd jobs) for his aunt Lucy’s birthday present goes Brody-Paddington-2awry. Basically he’s chosen too good a gift, and someone beats him to it – a thief! But it’s poor Paddy who gets the blame, and somehow he gets thrown into gen pop prison, even though a) he’s a bear and b) he’s really just a cub. It says terrible things about Britain’s criminal justice system, when you think about it. Anyway, while in prison he falls in with rather a rough crowd, as tends to happen, and soon he’s Knuckles’ bitch. I mean, it’s decidedly less vulgar than I’m implying. He and Brendan Gleeson basically make sandwiches together until until either they escape or the Brown family gets their shit together.

Hugh Grant joins the cast as a rather seedy actor, a part he seems quite qualified to play. In fact, a whole Boaty McBoatload of famous British actors line up to do these movies so you can basically play a rousing round of who’s who Bingo and never come up short.

Paddington 2 still enjoys a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and I’m certainly not going to be the difference maker. It’d charm the pants right off you, if only Paddington was the sort of bear who wears pants (he’s not; he thinks a coat and hat suffice). It’s awfully sweet but not tooth-decayingly, and it’ll warm up your hibernating heart.

 

Ferdinand

Ferdinand is a big, beefy bull who accidentally destroys a village and gets branded a beast. The biggest, most monstrous bulls get chosen by the matador for bullfights, MV5BZWQ5ODZiMWMtYjM1Yy00ZDlhLTkwYzctNTQxNzE5MDRhNmIxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjA0MTc4OQ@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,738_AL_but Ferdinand has never aspired to such fame. He’s a gentle soul, really, a pacifist. The other bulls are quite judgmental about his lack of fight but Ferdinand stays true to himself.

And that’s all I really have to say about it. This is not Pixar; it’s not intended for adults, or particularly bright children. Ferdinand is forgettable. It doesn’t even try to surprise you. But John Cena as Ferdinand is pretty okay and Kate McKinnon as a “calming goat” is sometimes nearly funny, so I guess there’s that. It just feels lackluster, and lazy.

 

My Little Pony: The Movie

I was once a My Little Pony playing girl but the truth is, My Little Pony left fans like me behind a long time ago. It was rebooted in 2010 and found a surprise demographic: not just the expected little girls, but grown men as well. What the heck? These fans, who call themselves by the shudder-worthy nickname “bronies”, were brought to my attention in the 2012 documentary, Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Ponies.  It’s fascinating to watch in a train wreck kind of way and if you have to choose between it and this animated film, definitely definitely go for the documentary.

Anyway, whatever these adult fans see in the series is beyond me. And though I’ve now racked up 11 nieces and nephews between the ages of 2 and 9, there is not a single My Little Pony fan between them. To whom does this series appeal?

The film opens up with The Go-Go’s We Got the Beat playing – or is it? In fact, the lyrics giphy (1)have been tampered with. What I thought might be an appeal to our inner 80s kid turns out to be just an extended pony play on words. The song plays as Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship (the horse community has a stunningly high proportion of royalty vs subjects), is preparing Equestria for a festival of friendship when the party’s invaded by a dark force, led by Tempest Shadow and The Storm King, who encase the upper pony echelons in rock and prepare to do some evil, conquery thing to the happy go lucky ponies.

So the “Mane 6” (Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Rarity) go on a journey that I suppose the creators have sold as “exciting” and “unforgettable” but in actual fact, My Little Pony: The Movie has no discernible difference in quality between its theatrical release and whatever passes for acceptable on early-morning kids programming. It feels like an extended episode of something really shitty, with bland, cornball songs thrown in for good measure, spouting predictable lyrics about working together and how anyone can do anything if only the put their mind to it (actual song titles: We Got This, I’m the Friend You Need, Time to Be Awesome). The main characters are all voiced by the same no-names who do the morning cartoons but new characters developed strictly for the film are voiced by the likes of Emily Blunt, Zoe Saldana, Sia, Taye Diggs, Liev Schreiber, Uzo Aduba, and Michael Pena, which in no way makes the film even remotely more watchable, and in fact, Emily Blunt isn’t even doing her own natural accent, so she’s easy to miss.

The ponies pay lip service to the sharing and caring type shenanigans you’d expect but when the chips are down, some pretty entitled bullshit really drives the plot. The good news is, you’re only likely to be subjected to this if you’re a parent, and there’s truly no other reason to watch it except under duress. And any road trip longer than an hour with kids under 10 counts as duress. The hard part is, I know that in lots of houses with young kids, certain movies get stuck on repeat. At my sister’s house, it’s currently “Woody” (Toy Story) and “Choo Choo” (The Polar Express), which aren’t too bad all things considered. But even Oscar winning fare gets tedious after its eleventh straight viewing. If you’re currently living through a similar My Little Pony scenario, may Pegasus help you.

 

Goosebumps

20151007fdGoosebumps.6c5f8Turns out, it’s Jack Black week around these here parts. Today’s instalment is Goosebumps, a movie written for (and possibly by) people a third of my age or less. And those damn tweens must have seen this one a LOT of times because a sequel is coming out this fall just in time for Halloween.

First things first: Goosebumps is not scary at all. Planet Earth II is more harrowing.  Though in fairness, the Planet Earth segment with the snakes chasing an iguana is one of the scariest things ever:

There is no chase sequence in Goosebumps that even comes close to that level of terror, but that’s by design. Goosebumps is completely non-threatening right down to its protagonist, who you might recognize as the non-threatening guy from 13 Reasons Why if, like me, you watch too much Netflix.  He is perfect for Goosebumps because in his spare time he is a singer/rhythm guitarist for a band that got its break at a social inclusion and autism awareness concert (that’s right, two non-threatening causes at once)!

There are monsters in Goosebumps but they are the kind that chase you with a smile on their face. The kind that Jay would adopt and make me build a shelter for in our backyard. The kind that I can watch with my nephews and not get dirty looks from their parents. The kind that must make Goosebumps author R.L. Stine pat himself on the back for being as non-threatening as the guy from 13 Reasons Why (it helps immensely that Stine has written dozens of joke books and G.I. Joe choose-your-own-adventures under the pen names “Jovial Bob Stine” and “Eric Affabee”).

The only way Goosebumps will give you goosebumps is if you watch it while your furnace is broken. But I’ll take that over nephew nightmares any day of the week.

 

Merry Christmas – Love, Netflix

A Dogwalker’s Christmas Tale

Luce is a spoiled little rich girl who LOVES Christmas. But her perfect Christmas is threatened when her imaginary boyfriend breaks up with her and her parents fly to Botswana for charity work. Left alone in a big empty house, her neighbours ask her to walk their adorable dog Hank while they’re busy over the holidays. At the dog park she meets a keen young man named Dean who’s everything the pretend boyfriend was not, but his love of animals means he pressures her to broach the subject with her new dog employers – because of course they’re the nasty developers responsible for tearing down the dog park.

It almost sounds like someone picked random holiday elements out of a jar and strung them together (loosely) in this movie. It’s pretty awful, but you can spice things up by counting the times you’d like to throw an ice-encrusted, gravel-stuffed snow ball straight through Jonathan Bennett’s perfect, shit-eating grin. Will they save the park? Will they fall in love? Of course they will, it’s a goddamn Christmas cliche-a-thon. Oh, and Sean suggests fans of Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers may enjoy a mini reunion: Dina Meyer and Patrick Muldoon both find themselves in this spectacular ensemble.

How Sarah Got Her Wings

Sarah is a good person; in fact she dies performing an act of kindness. Spoiler alert! She dies! And she “wakes up” in The Lobby, the purgatory outside the gates of Heaven, and she “isn’t on the list.” Which is confusing because she’s prudish, non-smoking, church-going, and charitable – what more does Heaven want? She gets sent back to Earth and she’s got until Christmas Eve to do whatever she must to earn her wings, as such.

Trouble is, Sarah’s ghost gets sent some hot, naked dude’s apartment. Even better: it’s her ex-boyfriend, whom she unceremoniously dumped last Christmas! Now it’s her task to, I don’t know, make his Christmas dreams come true or possibly just get him to shave. But earning a spot in Heaven won’t be as easy as she thinks…after all, there are 90 whole minutes to fill! Added bonus: features a Steve Jobs cameo – or at least the back of the head of an actor pretending to be Steve Jobs’ ghost.

Back to Christmas (or as it’s known on IMDB: Correcting Christmas)

Last year, Ali expected a ring for Christmas from her boyfriend Cam but she didn’t get one, and promptly broke up with him. This year, the normally Christmas-obsessed Ali is down in the dumps, but a roast-beef-loving angel lets her take a mulligan on that fateful Christmas. She Groundhog-days the Christmas Eve that sealed her fate, and this time she’s determined to be totally cool about it for the health of her relationship. But just because she’s repeating Christmas doesn’t mean it’s going to play out exactly the same!

People in Christmas movies never love Christmas a regular amount, they always have to be weird about it. Like, DSM-diagnostic weird. But then, Ali seems to love her brother a not-regular amount also, so passion just runs high in these films and if you can’t deal with it, I guess you’d better chug a little eggnog to make up the difference.

 

 

The Worst Thing on Netflix

There’s good stuff on Netflix, and plenty of bad, and then there’s the stuff that only Sean could find during his endless scrolling – find, and watch. What he subjects me to on Netflix could probably be defined as spousal abuse, and there’s no better evidence than Pup Star: Better 2gether.

Now, as the rest of you can probably guess from the “clever” use of the number 2 in the word together, this is a sequel. Have we seen the first? No we have not. Did we even know that a first one exited? No we did not. Did we start with the first? Of course we did not: we jumped right in to the complex world building of the Pup Star universe and took our chances.

Tiny is an adorable little Yorkie who apparently in a previous film, won the hearts of MV5BZTk4MjMwNWEtMmVhNy00YTdmLWIzNmYtNWE5MDU5OGNmYWU5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDQ0MDI4OA@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_America and the Pup Star singing competition. This film she’ll have to defend her championship BUT some gangsters are getting in her way! They dognap Tiny and replace her with a street-smart rapping Yorkie who looks identical, called Scrappy. Scrappy says “yo yo yo” a lot, usually in front of “rap lyrics” that sounds like they’re being read directly from a Hallmark card. But anyway, Scrappy’s a ringer who will pose as Tiny only to throw the competition at the last minute. Meanwhile, Scrappy gets pretty comfy cozy in Tiny’s lavish lifestyle, and Tiny makes some new friends hanging with Scrappy’s rap crew.

This is NOT a cartoon, folks. They’re real dogs with moving lips superimposed onto their faces. They speak English and are understood by humans. There are dog characters with racially-based personalities and names like Guido and Rasta. There’s a disconcerting amount of human-based slapstick. And there’s a very confusing ‘cameo’ by Dave Coulier. I found I could only take the nonsense for a max of about 10 minutes at a time so we actually watched this movie over a series of 7-10 nights, over a period of maybe 2 months.

Why though? Especially when we have our very own cute and cuddly Yorkie at home.

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That’s Fudgie. He was a unicorn for Halloween. He’s an amazing dancer.

 

 

What’s the worst thing you’ve been duped into watching?

The Princess and the Frog

As a young girl, Tiana loved making gumbo with her father, and the two dreamed of opening up a restaurant together. Even after he passes away, she keeps the dream alive, though she doesn’t have the means to make it come true. Meanwhile, Prince Naveen is in town, setting all young hearts aflutter. Unbeknownst to them, the prince is actually broke and needs to marry a wealthy socialite to keep up his lifestyle. Both of our leads are in desperate situations that cause them to act rashly. Naveen strikes a deal with a voodoo doctor, who transforms him into a frog, and thinking that her magical kiss will transform him back, Tiana does so – only it turns her into a frog as well!

Then the adventure really begins, and they traverse New Orleans, befriending MV5BMjE2OTg0NDk2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTUwMjIyNw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1723,1000_AL_a trumpet-playing alligator and a Cajun firefly along the way. You may have heard that Sean and I are in New Orleans at the moment and time will tell what sort of friends we’ll make – but you can keep in touch on Twitter – @assholemovies.

The Mama Odie character was inspired and by the famed New Orleans storyteller Coleen Salley, even down to her voice. Coleen consulted with the director several times, but never lived to see the completed movie. Her name is mentioned in the credits. Dr. Facilier, the bad voodoo doctor, also takes sinpiration from New Orleans trandition: he looks just like the voodoo god of magic, ancestor-worship, and death, Baron Samedi. The trumpet blowing alligator is named Louis in honour of – you guessed it – Louis Armstrong. Another alligator, a hungry one who tries to eat our heroes, is named Marlon, after Brando star of A Streetcar Named Desire. Marlon is voiced by New Orleans celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, and even uses his signature catchphrase “Bam!”

Alicia Keys and Tyra Banks both lobbied personally for the part of Tiana. Beyonce was considered but refused to audition (I mean, really). Instead it went to Anika Noni Rose who was relatively unknown to those outside Broadway audiences. She was 41 when she gave voice a 19 year old.

Tiana was of course the first black Disney princess, and though it was about damn time, it wasn’t without controversy. First, Disney had to change the film’s title. Originally called The Frog Princess, the Internet informed them how terribly this sounded, and The Princess and The Frog was born. And Tiana too was renamed – originally she went by Maddy, which the peoples thought sounded too much like Mammy. Because of Disney’s history of being 99% white and 1% ugly stereotype, it’s only natural that this film was experienced under a microscope. And it’s kind of too bad that our first African-American princess spends most of the film as a frog instead of, you know, a black princess.

But it does get to splash the fun, colourful New Orleans as a background, from city scenes to the bayou. And directors Rom Clements and John Musker did some good while they were in town, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.

If we’re in the neighbourhood, we may just pop into Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. Leah Chase is the inspiration for Tiana. Known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, she’s cooked for the likes of Quincy Jones, Jesse Jackson, Ray Charles, and Barack Obama. Dooky Chase’s Restaurant was one of the only public places where mixed race 28-leah-chase-obama.w710.h473.2xgroups could meet, so it became home Civil Rights meetings, even though it was illegal.  Leah is also a patron of the arts, and her restaurant was once considered New Orleans’ best collection of African American art. Dooky”s reopened after Katrina but now operates under limited hours, a decision Leah’s family has made since the 94 year old woman still works as the head chef during its opening hours. Yes, you read that right. Forget Disney princesses: Leah is a formidable woman, and Tiana should be so lucky.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure

Anna and Elsa ring the bell to mark the beginning of Arendelle’s yuletide season, their first since the gates have reopened, but then the crowds disperse, leaving the Frozen ladies to contemplate their lack of holiday traditions. Moved, their good buddy and everyone’s favourite snowman, Olaf, goes off in search of other people’s customs in order to find the right ones to adopt.

Originally Disney planned for this to be a televised episode but as production continued they felt it was too “cinematic” and deserved to be on the big screen, which is how it wound up in front of Pixar’s Coco. It’s only the second time that a MV5BMTg0MDc1ODY2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODg3MTE2MjI@._V1_CR0,60,640,360_AL_UX477_CR0,0,477,268_AL_.jpgnon-Pixar short is in front of a Pixar film (the first time, for Toy Story, was the Roger Rabbit short, Roller Coaster Rabbit) but like any blended family, the Disney-Pixar merger has now been solidified, and when better to spend time together than the holidays? In fact, the two do seem to be appropriate companions since they’re both about appreciating different cultures. However, audiences in Mexico were less than thrilled with the “short” (it’s 21 minutes!); impatient to get to the movie that pays homage to their country, they rebelled until theaters dumped the short altogether.

Like Frozen Fever that came before it, the ladies seem to be confronted yet again with emotional loose ends, as it were, which means this short serves as a bridge to the inevitable sequel. And Olaf is evolving too. A kid favourite, the child-like snowman with a sense of wonder has always entertained, but in this short, he’s becoming more thoughtful and self-aware. He’s not just a side-kick anymore. And at 21 minutes, this short has time for 4 new original songs; That Time of Year is a particular stand out, and I was tickled by the mental comparison between Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad) knocking on villager’s doors, and Gad doing door to door with the ding-dong song Hello from Book of Mormon.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is fun in a giddy kind of way and fans of Frozen will be glad to revisit their old friends – though I do wonder if the fans aren’t sort of ageing out of the Princess phase by now. But Elsa and Anna still have a long way to go before their healing’s complete, so there are plenty more ways for Olaf to save them, and he’s always going to be enchanting as heck while he does it.