Tag Archives: family movies

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies

Confession #1: I had no earthy idea what or who the teen titans were. We had tickets to a press screening and passed them to some kids we knew who were keen to go – we were at a comedy festival seeing Will Forte and not that sad to miss it. The kids were big fans of the movie and it was only a couple of days later I found myself actually paying to see this movie because it was in the right time and place.

Confession #2: When the movie started, I was surprised to find that it was about young, recognizable super heroes – super girl, bat girl, etc. Then it ended. Because it wasn’t the movie, it was just a short before the movie. So, okay, not super heroes then. That makesMV5BNGZlZjYwZjEtMDQzYS00MThlLTljNGYtM2ZkYWRmYmQ4ZGNiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzExMzc0MDg@._V1_ more sense. Then the real movie begins, and it turns out it IS about young, recognizable super heroes, just different ones. The group is helmed by a young Robin, and includes Cyborg, and 3 others who I’d never heard of before: Raven, Starfire, and Beast Boy.

Confession #3: Okay, I lied. I have heard of Beast Boy before. In fact, I’ve played it with my little nephew, Ben. It’s just that at the time I assumed Beast Boy was a PJ Mask, a compatriot of Catboy, perhaps. Turns out these are DC characters who have been around as long as I have (do not be fooled by an extensive Stan Lee cameo!). Though they live in Jump City, they exist in the same world as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, who all make appearances in this film.

In fact, the old guard kind of get the whole thing going. The Teen Titans kind of live in their shadow, never really getting the opportunity to fight true crime, and certainly never getting to star in their own movie. And it’s the movie big that really rankles, particularly for Robin. He pursues fame quite single-mindedly. And if the only way he can land a movie deal is to find an arch nemesis, he’s not afraid to put friendship on the line and travel back in time to get the job done.

Surprisingly (to me), Teen Titans is full of songs and in-jokes. There were definitely a few winks to the parental audience, but this is firmly a kids’ movie, barely more than an extended episode. Charming enough, I suppose, with bright colours and a certain brand of zany fun. Fart joke within the first 5 minutes. That kind of thing. The kind of movie where every single kid the audience can take a bathroom break, maybe two (AND THEY DID) and not miss much at all. On the upside, I’ve really informed my Beast Boy cosplay, and I know a 4 year old who’s about to be super impressed! That’s right, Ben, Aunt Jay has done some research!

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Duck Duck Goose

Peng is the self-proclaimed best flyer in his gaggle. He’s a loose canon, an inveterate bachelor – the kind of gander who’d rather stick to himself and fly solo(other than that attractive goose, JingJing, but her dad’s a real pill). When he accidentally plows through a whole flock of ducks, he’s labelled as “not family friendly” and is asked to leave the park. This is ironic because a) Peng is voiced by Jim Gaffigan, often styled the “family friendly” comedian because of his clean humour (and his 5 children), and b) Peng’s about to act as a “mother” to a couple of ducklings, Chi (Zendaya) and Chao (Lance Lim), who happen to imprint upon him.

Peng is not exactly in this arrangement for selfless reasons, but he agrees to help the ducks migrate south. He’s injured and can’t fly, they’re small and helpless, and he figures MV5BYmYzODQ4YjktYTI0OC00OGI2LTkyN2YtYTYwZTkzOTRkYzgyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjM4NTM5NDY@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,744_AL_if he can’t take to the sky to dodge predators, at least he can outrun two fluffy baby ducks. Not exactly honourable motivation.

In addition to Jim Gaffigan, who is a favourite of mine, the voice cast comprises several other stand-up comics, like Greg Proops, and Natasha Leggero, and all-around funny folk such as Carl Reiner, and Stephen Fry. This movie is a Netflix original, and newly released, and couldn’t come at a better time, comedy wise, since Just For Laughs is just starting up down the street from us in Montreal, where we’ll be seeing other favourites of ours like Will Forte, Maria Bamford, and Tig Notaro.

Anyway, given even this very vague set up, I bet you know how the movie unfolds. It feels like an 80s sitcom in a lot of ways: unlikely dad is in over his head with hilarious parenting issues, has as much to learn from the kids as they do from him. Sound familiar?

For the most part this movie is a throw-away. It’s not garbage but there’s nothing new about it, and nothing particularly good. It’s adequate animation, a predictable, bare-bones script, some charming characters, a couple of laughs. Kids may find it acceptable, although it’s not as flashy or frantic as most other cartoons. It’s generic and safe and it stays just on the other side of bad thanks to a heartwarming ending.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

In my opinion, the Hotel Transylvania franchise is completely devoid of charm, wit, imagination, or life. It’s the barest of bare minimums. It treats children like nitwits and may actually be worsening their little attention spans by assuming they have none.

But if your kids are already attached to this hotel full of monsters, chances are you’re going to have to sit through this one too, so here’s what you’re dealing with: Drac (a vampire voiced by Adam Sandler) manages a hotel for monsters. His daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) shocked the monster community by marrying a human, Johnny (Andy Samberg) and producing a half-human, half-dracula child they inexplicably named Dennis. So that’s basically the first two movies, distilled into two sentences, and let’s faceMV5BY2ZiMWFkZDEtMTgxNy00ZDdkLTlkYzgtYWNlYTcxN2M0NDcwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_ it, with some clever punctuation, it could have been just the one. Anyway. The hotel is populated by various monsters such as Frankenstein (Kevin James) and his lovely wife Eunice (Fran Drescher), Mr & Mrs Werewolf (Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon), the invisible man (David Spade), and a mummy called Murray (Keegan-Michael Key). And in this third installment, Mavis gets it in her head that her dad has devoted his life to perfecting other people’s vacations and deserves one of his own. So somehow the whole gang schleps off to a monster cruise, helmed by the beautiful captain Ericka (Kathryn Hahn). Only problem is: Drac has already “zinged” once (“zing” being the monster version of love at first sight, and true love forever, and love being once in a lifetime). So he’s nervous about it, and Mavis is unexpected not that cool with it. But even more worryingly, Drac’s old nemesis Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) might still be after him after decades of cat and mouse. So that’s disappointing.

Spelling it out like this actually makes it seem like this movie has a plot, and I guess it does in the very vaguest of terms. But plot in this case is just filler in between out of the blue musical numbers \ dance sequences where it is clear that a) Sony isn’t shelling out for good or current music and b) the animators are super duper lazy and praying we won’t notice.

Anyway, Hotel Transylvania is as big a snore as the first and second. The only thing it has going for it is a giant puppy named Tinkles, even though he’s criminally and surprisingly effectively disguised by a small hat for most of the movie (which manages to confound all of the grown-ups until it falls off and his true identity is revealed). I was never in danger of laughing. I had low expectations for this movie and it met them – good thing it was the only thing playing at the drive-in.

Incredibles 2

Taking up pretty much where the last film left off, Bob, Helen, and the whole Incredible family are in hot water for the havoc they’ve been wreaking while saving the world, and even the super hero witness protection program is folding. Luckily, a rich benefactor named Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and his genius-inventor sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), step in with a plan to bring supers out of hiding and back into the light.

To do that, they need Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) to don her tights to pull some major super hero moves while Mr. Incredible stays home to be Mr. Dad to daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), son Dash, and baby Jack Jack, who is just starting to come into his own powers. MV5BNTZhODcwN2EtYWI3ZS00NGU1LTlkYWEtMzgzNmY0MGViYmI0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzc1MTQ5MTI@._V1_Mr. Incredible is feeling more like Mr. Second Banana being relegated to the side lines, but Pixar is famous for doing a protagonist switcheroo for its sequels: Finding Nemo became Finding Dory, Monsters University was about Mike instead of Sully, and Cars 2 followed Mater rather than Lightning McQueen. I think it’s a great idea, in 2018, to give Elastigirl top billing (even if it’s still the 60s in the Incredibles’ universe), but I wish they had kept that messaging consistent enough not to have her waist be about the same size as her neck, or to have her fighting crime in thigh-high pleather high-heeled boots that would have Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman blushing.

Other than those qualms, Incredibles 2 (they dropped the The!) is a pretty fun ride. It feels less emotionally complex than some of Pixar’s most beloved offerings, and Matt thought Elastigirl’s new kickbutt attitude came at the expense of a real character arc for her. But Incredibles 2 is full of giggles. There were a lot of kids in the audience around us (some of them in adorably muscled Mr. Incredible cosplay), and they laughed at the most unusual, nonsensical times (not just the fart stuff!), which made me grin as well.

Baby Jack Jack is not a new character but the sequel finds him in the process of discovering his new powers, which both thrills and terrifies his proud and exhausted dad. Jack’s powers include but are in no way limited to: combustion, levitation, duplication, and laser eyes! The more ridiculous his powers, the funnier it plays. He’s a baby AND he’s a weapon of mass destruction! Imagine having to babysit that!

Incredibles 2 isn’t quite as incredible as its predecessor but it’s got some really cool set pieces (planes, trains, and incredimobiles!), and both the old guard and new friends are fun to spend time with. Most of all though, I have to say the animation itself was spectacular. You can see the wrinkles in Mr. Incredible’s linen shirt. That’s how specific and crisp the animation is – what a discernible difference 14 years makes! Incredibles 2 is a visual delight and has massive appeal for the whole family, whether you’re super or just really, really great.

Early Man

A tribe of bunny-hunting cavemen has a sudden clash with bronze-age humans a little further up the evolutionary ladder. This strikes me as very fertile ground for interesting and tragic stories despite the language difficulty, but Aardman Animations took it another way. The bronze boobs are all set to enslave the cavemen and steal their land when Dug, a plucky, dreamy caveman, proposes a deal: neanderthals vs homo sapiens in a football match for their lives.

Yeah, I mean obviously it makes no sense. But that’s it, that’s all you get in terms of story. This may be the early bronze age, but plot is in as short supply as dinosaurs in this film, who have just been demolished by a comet that seems to have spared the people, an opening sequence suggests. I love stop motion animation as a rule, and Aardman has had a string of successes, which have fooled me into thinking I might like Early Man. I didMV5BMWQ3MTVjZGItNGFhNC00NzllLWFmMjEtNjk0NjgyMWZhNTRjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_ not. There is little room for imagination, and too little of the gentle humour I’ve come to expect. I suppose a lot is lost on myself, a North American dwelling in a country where soccer is the #1 sport played by children under the age of 8, and the #0 sport for all other humans and dogs. So you can imagine that a historically inaccurate (I’m guessing) origin story featuring a sport that already bores me out of my gourd is not exactly championing its cause. And I’ve actually got plenty of soccer in my life – played by a couple of 4 year olds. Their version of soccer is agonizingly slow, uncomplicated by rules, embellished with dandelion picking and popsicle breaks. And it’s still boring as shit. Thank goodness the players themselves are endearing as hell, in t-shirts down to their knees and wearing shin pads that just shout optimism, as if any of them are actually going to get near the ball, which spends most of its time looking forlorn.

And yet watching children’s soccer is still more entertaining than watching Early Man. Plus it tends to be mostly pun-free, which is something I only wish I could say about today’s movie, which was replete with the fuckers. Featuring voice talent such as Eddie Redmayne, Timothy Spall, and Tom Hiddleston, you’d think they would have spent at least as much time on character building as the average United player spends crying on the pitch, faking an injury. Early Man is another kind of painful, a kind that made me miss Volvo-driving soccer moms and orange slices. And you can guess how many times I’ve said that in my life.

Sherlock Gnomes

It was 2011 when we first met garden gnomes who come to life when no humans are watching. Back then, two rival yards, that of the Montagues, and the Capulets, were at war, except Gnomeo fell in love with the forbidden Juliet, and they all got a happier ending than the one Shakespeare wrote for them, set to a soundtrack of Elton John songs.

Cut to: the May long weekend, 2018. Jay and Sean are in the mood to kick off the summer in style, so they drive to the nearest open drive-in, which is playing a TRIPLE feature which we only realize in retrospect was a night of sequels: Sherlock Gnomes, Deadpool 2, and Super Troopers 2 (in order of how they played, and how much I enjoyed them).

As you may have gleaned from the title, instead of revisiting Shakespeare, this time the gnomes tackle Arthur Conan Doyle. London is being terrorized by a garden gnome thief, MV5BM2RhOTI1YjktOGYwMS00MDdkLTg0MWYtNGIxNmRkMWM4NDI5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODEyMzI2OTE@._V1_which may sound petty to you, but if all your friends and family are gnomes, you’d understand why Gnomeo and Juliet are so concerned. Luckily London is also home to the kind of taste-makers likely to have literary garden gnomes in their flower beds, so a ceramic version of Sherlock himself (and his ceramic sidekick Watson) show up to solve the crime and save the day.

I liked Gnomeo and Juliet in a “just fine” kind of way, and was surprised to find that a sequel, 7 years after the first, was to be released. I wasn’t even sure if it was a sequel. The first had big names as voice actors – Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, and Emily Blunt and James McAvoy in the titular roles. I assumed they couldn’t possibly be back for a sequel with little to no promotion, and yet they were, in addition to Johnny Depp as the master detective and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the beleaguered Doctor Watson.

The thing is, this movie is once again strictly fine. But it doesn’t have much raison d’etre. It doesn’t aim for much more than kid appeal, which makes its sporadic attempts at literary humour feel out of place. It’s hard to believe that a movie, and in fact two movies, were green-lit specially for the crowd (which I need to believe is pretty small) who find garden gnomes wearing thongs to be hilarious, and movies based on that one running joke to be oddly satisfying.

I didn’t really love this movie, but then I saw Super Troopers 2 and realized that I could probably find just a little bit of leniency for any movie that wasn’t it.

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.

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.