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23 August 2014
And The Emmys Will Go To... - Movie Reviews for Kids

It's still television's biggest night: The Primetime Emmy Awards are Monday and "Late Night" host Seth Meyers promises some "really good jokes". Most importantly, who will take home the gold statuettes? Can "Modern Family" tie "Frasier" for the most Best Comedy wins in history (5)? Can Julia Louis-Dreyfus go 3 for 3 with "Veep"? Will there be a fitting tribute to exiting "Breaking Bad"? And can either Jimmy beat Letterman's next-in-line Stephen Colbert? Here are my predictions:

Actor in a Comedy: Ricky Gervais ("Derek") - Certainly an upset, and a hot start of the evening for Netflix

Actress in a Comedy: Melissa McCarthy ("Mike & Molly") - I have an inkling that the "Tammy" star will be leaving with her second trophy

Supporting Actor in a Comedy: Ty Burrell ("Modern Family") - With the funniest performance on the popular show, he deserves another win

Supporting Actress in a Comedy: Kate McKinnon ("Saturday Night Live") - One of the strongest talents on "SNL", her characters always make us laugh

Actor in a Drama: Matthew McConaughey ("True Detective") - Sorry, Cranston, Mr. "Alright x3" will become the third actor (first male) to win an Oscar and Emmy in the same year

Actress in a Drama: Robin Wright ("House of Cards") - Kevin Spacey will lose and so will the show, so recognition for Wright will be just right

Supporting Actor in a Drama: Jon Voight ("Ray Donavan") - The guy's a legend!

Supporting Actress in a Drama: Anna Gunn ("Breaking Bad") - The only honor for one of AMC's biggest hits

Outstanding Variety Series: "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" - Continues an increbile year

Outstanding Reality-Competition Program: "The Voice" - will claim its second prize in a row in this category

Outstanding Comedy Series: "Orange is the New Black" - a coin flip win over "Modern Family"

Outstanding Drama Series: "True Detective" - Just trust me.


In Theaters

If I Stay (PG-13) B-

If I Stay (PG-13) B- - Movie Reviews for Kids

"If I Stay" is the "End of Summer of 2014 Tween/Teen Romantic Tearjerker". Based on the popular 2009 novel by Gayle Forman, Chloe Grace Moretz ("Kick-Ass") stars as 17-year-old Mia. She lives with her parents and younger brother Teddy in Portland, Oregon. Mia's love of music was inherited from her mom and dad, but they were rockers and she plays classical cello. Adam (Jamie Blackley) is the lead singer of a local rock band. He instantly falls in love with Mia while watching her play the cello in school, and together they form what they believe will be an unbreakable bond.

But that all changes when Mia, Teddy, and their parents get into a serious car accident. Mia survives the crash but slips into a coma. Yet (as a cinematic device) she is able to step away from her body and watch as the rest of the day unfolds, and her fate, and those of her parents and brother, are decided. At the same time, through flashbacks, we get to see the key moments in Mia's life - from early childhood to the current day, as she's deciding whether or not to fight to stay alive.

"If I Stay" is stronger than I expected, both structurally and emotionally. It doesn't quite provide the punch of the "Beginning of Summer Tween/Teen Romantic Tearjerker", the surprise hit "The Fault in Our Stars", but it's close. Moretz and Blackley have a likeable chemistry and are most believable in their pre-ER scenes. Mireille Enos ("The Killing", "World War Z") and Joshua Leonard ("The Blair Witch Project") are solid as the ex-rocker parents. And Stacy Keach, as Mia's supportive grandfather, has two showcase scenes that are the most authentic and heartbreaking in the entire film.

There are predictable elements in "If I Stay", and minor details are given away early that take away from some of the suspense in the final act. Some scenes are stretched-out simply to fill time, which is necessary since the main storyline ("Will she stay or will she die?") is fairly thin. And judging from the reaction of the mostly female YA audience in the theater I was in, there may be some dissatisfaction with the rather abrupt ending. Overall, veteran TV/documentary director R.J. Cutler deserves credit for taking this material, including the "out there" premise and making a film that, for the most part, is genuine and effective.

"If I Stay" is rated PG-13 for some language, adult content, dramatic elements and medical scenes. There were tears flowing freely in the theater, so keep that in mind before deciding if this subject matter is for you.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "If I Stay" gets a B-.

When the Game Stands Tall (PG) C-

When the Game Stands Tall (PG) C- - Movie Reviews for Kids

I give the team behind the new sports movie, "When the Game Stands" a lot of credit for pulling-off something nearly impossible: they've made a film about the most successful high school football team of all-time that's about as exciting as a 0-0 tie in an NFL exhibition game.

"When the Game Stands Tall" is based on the true story of Concord, California's De La Salle High School football program, and head coach Bob Ladouceur, who lead the team to the longest winning streak in sports history - 151 games in a row - from 1992-2003. However, like all  unprecedented accomplishments, De La Salle finally lost and the streak ended in the '04 season opener. The film looks at the coach and his players before, during and mostly after they suffer their historic loss.

In the months leading up to seeing the film I had watched the unapologetic Regal Cinemas First Look preview for "Game" over a dozen times, and it gave away nearly every major plot point. The summary (SPOILER ALERT if you haven't been to a Regal theater in awhile) said it all: "Bob has a heart attack, a very popular player is tragically killed, and they lose the streak - all within a couple of months." Well, what's left?

So, while the clock was ticking along as I was watched "Game", I kept waiting for something genuinely surprising or interesting to take place. And nothing does. Instead we get a script packed with cliches, countless forced speeches and stereotype characters, from the hot-shot player, to the ignored wife, to the worst stage parent in the history of high school football. Coach Ladouceur is played by "Person of Interest" star Jim Caviezel with all the energy and enthusiasm of a zombie. An almost unrecognizable Michael Chiklis is the way too sensitive assistant coach, and Laura Dern's best scene, as Bob's wife, is a bizarre monologue which comes out of nowhere and doesn't fit at all.

A subplot involving QB Chris Ryan ("The Hunger Games"' Alexander Ludwig) and his father Mickey, who's obsessed with his son breaking a touchdown record, gets way over-the-top in the "all-football" second half. The actor who plays Mickey is Clancy Brown, the voice of Mr. Krabs on "SpongeBob SquarePants". Both characters are greedy, but I'll take Mr. Krabs, who's genuinely loyal to his "son-like" fry cook over this wacko father any day (who by the way, wasn't a real person, but made-up for the movie).

Many of the predictable themes of "When the Game Stands Tall" involve friendship, brotherhood and bonding over, as the Coach puts it, "just a high school football game". Yet there's only one brief classroom scene and no discussions about the importance of academics. Though they try to deny it, this film is all about the game. Technically, director Thomas Carter ("Coach Carter") succeeds with the well-shot football scenes. And a stretch in a rehabilitation facility (also fiction) is a nice change of pace. But the announcer voice-overs are amateurish and completely unrealistic and there are so many obvious and sloppy mistakes that the editors must have been rookies.

"When the Game Stands Tall" is rated PG for brief violence, smoking, and mild thematic elements. Diehard football fans expecting an inspiring film with emotionally charged moments will be disappointed with this unsatisfying and corny take on a coach and team that deserved much better.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "When the Game Stands Tall" gets a C-.

The Giver (PG-13) D+

The Giver (PG-13) D+ - Movie Reviews for Kids

At one point in "The Giver", Meryl Streep tells fellow Oscar winner Jeff Bridges: "When people have the freedom to choose - they choose wrong." This seems to apply perfectly to the decision that Bob & Harvey Weinstein made to finance this big-screen adaptation of one of the most popular tween books of the last 25 years. I had several opportunities to read The Giver in grade school, but after hearing things about the story, I decided the premise was a little too "out there" for my taste. The same can be said for the film version.

The first thing readers of the novel will notice is that Bridges doesn't have the beard and long white hair of The Giver on the cover of the book. The filmmakers decided to "giver" the hair extension to Streep instead. She portrays the Chief Elder, who rules over a large, futuristic colony where the people have no emotions, don't experience pain, have no authentic feelings, don't know color or the meaning of love.

On Graduation Day, 18-year-old Jonas (played by Brenton Thwaites - Prince Philip in "Maleficent") is assigned to his life-long job - a special one where he gets to work with The Giver himself as the new Receiver of Memories. But when Jonas begins to learn how life used to be, and how everyone in the community is being deceived, he decides he needs to do something about it.

The overriding problem with "The Giver", is that the narrative is simply too tame. There are some potentially interesting concepts here, but the  elementary school-level script never goes deep enough to explore them. Since it's based on a tween novel I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but the film is PG-13 and needed much more depth.

Bridges and Streep attempt to elevate "The Giver" with their performances, but director Phillip Noyce ("Salt") is too restrained with them as well. Many scenes come-off as hokey, including several sledding rides, practically every scene involving Jonas' zombie-like parents (played by Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes) and his naive girlfriend Fiona (Odeya Rush), and a hologram cameo performance by singer Taylor Swift, who plays the piano while trying to act alongside the veteran Bridges. And on top of all of this is a "sing-songy" score that won't get out of your head for weeks.

"The Giver" is rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action/violence, disturbing images and a whole lot of peril for one brave little baby. If the serious themes had been developed at all, "The Giver" may have been worth recommending. But as is, "The Giver" takes (time and $$) much more than it gives.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Giver" receives a D+.

The Expendables 3 (PG-13) B

The Expendables 3 (PG-13) B - Movie Reviews for Kids

"The Expendables 3" boasts the most star-studded cast of any film this year - from Hollywood heavyweights to an actual welterweight, a sitcom star, a vampire heartthrob, the Governator, and an ex-con who, both in real life and in this backstory, served time for tax evasion. And at the center of it all, once again, is Sylvester Stallone, who has crafted a third successful movie franchise (following the combined 10 "Rocky" and "Rambo" films) with a little help from his friends, who also happen to be some of the most iconic action figures of all-time.

This third chapter in "The Expendables" series is funnier than the previous two, largely due to brilliant new cast members. Wesley Snipes cracks several great one-liners, as does Mr. "Air Force One" himself, Harrison Ford, whose character admits at the end of the film - "This is the most fun I've had in a long time" - and you can tell that Ford is talking about himself. Antonio Banderas, whose Galgo desperately wants to join the team and talks non-stop, provides most of the comic relief. But it's the only character who doesn't fire a gun or kill anyone who steals the show: Kelsey Grammer's Bonaparte, who in a series of scenes, takes Stallone's Barney on a search for some new, younger crew members, gets most of the best lines and delivers them in that classic, Grammer style.

Unfortunately, it's when these rookie recruits take center-stage, that the energy level and excitement of "The Expendables 3" takes a major hit. Kellan Lutz ("Twilight"), MMA fighter Ronda Rousey (who's got a lot of training to do in the acting department), boxer Victor Ortiz, and up-and-coming actor Glen Powell can't bring nearly the same energy or command of the screen as the likes of Jason Statham, Randy Couture, Dolph Lungdren, Jet Li, Terry Crews and yes, Arnold. And who wants to see 20-somethings fighting bad guys in an "Expendables" movie?

This time around the plot centers on the hunt for just one man: ex-Expendables member Conrad Stonebanks, who has gone to the dark side. And believe it or not, Mel Gibson is excellent in the role. He actually creates one of the best movie villains we've seen in some time. This guy doesn't just talk tough - he means business (no telephone necessary).

"The Expendables 3" is rated PG-13 for loads of action/violence and some obligatory language. The action scenes are as wild and outrageous as you'd expect, and new director Patrick Hughes is able to handle all the frantic staging and gunplay with ease. There are a few "wow" moments, but much of visual look is rather cheesy, because the majority of the budget probably went to paying all the stars. And it's the performances and not the explosions and death toll, that make this threequel work as pure summer entertainment.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Expendables 3", like its two predecessors, gets a very solid B. It'll be interesting to see if Stallone decides to continue onward or pull an Arnold by bidding "Hasta La Vista, baby" to the franchise.


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"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" review

What's Next?
Best @ the Box Office
  1. Teenage/Ninja Turtles  $28.4M
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy  $24.7
  3. Let's Be Cops  $17.7
    (5-Day: $26.1M)
  4. The Expendables 3  $16.2
  5. The Giver  $12.8
  6. Into the Storm  $7.7
  7. The Hundred-Foot Journey  $7.1
  8. Lucy  $5.3
  9. Step Up All In  $2.7
  10. Boyhood  $2.15
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