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03 July 2015
Awards Season Buzz in the Summer - Movie Reviews for Kids

Critical darling "Boyhood" was released in the middle of a crowded Summer 2014, but the groundbreaking drama kept the attention of moviegoers and critics all the way to and through Awards Season, earning four Critics Choice Movie Awards, three Golden Globes and an Oscar for Patricia Arquette.

So far this Summer there have been only two candidates for possible major Awards Season honors: A longshot for Best Picture consideration, mostly in the minds of its diehard fan base, is the wild action/adventure "Mad Max: Fury Road". The other is Disney/Pixar's animated "Inside Out". Not only are Best Animated Feature and Original Score nominations in the forecast, but Best Picture buzz has emerged as well.

However, there are several more potential candidates that will be released from now until Labor Day: Woody Allen's latest dramedy, "Irrational Man", with Joaquin Phoenix and Hollywood's "it-girl" Emma Stone, opens in limited release on July 17. One week later, Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a struggling boxer in the drama "Southpaw". Ghyllenhaal was nominated for the Critics Choice, SAG and Golden Globe Best Actor awards last year for his incredible performance in "Nightcrawler", but with "Southpaw", he could get his revenge over being snubbed by the Academy.

And then there are the ladies: Meryl Streep will be going for Oscar nomination #20 as rock singer Ricki Rendazzo in "Silence of the Lambs" director Jonathan Demme's "Ricki and the Flash" (Aug. 7). Original screenplay consideration is also a possibility for "Juno"'s Diablo Cody. And as the title character in "Grandma", Lily Tomlin is already receiving major buzz. She stars in this comedy, which comes out in limited release Aug. 21.


In Theaters

Terminator Genisys (PG-13) D

Terminator Genisys (PG-13) D - Movie Reviews for Kids

“Terminator Genisys” is the fifth installment in the now-31-year-old-franchise. The main reason why this sequel hoped to erase 2009’s “Terminator Salvation” from the minds of most diehard fans is that ARNOLD is back! But I actually liked “Salvation” and now even more after experiencing “Genisys”, which is dull, dry and disappointing.

Schwarzenegger receives top-billing, but at no point in “Genisys” is his Guardian character (he’s not listed as a Terminator) the main focus. Yes, he’s part of most of the action scenes, does the time traveling thing and delivers some corny one-liners, but nothing, including the much talked about motion-capture stunt double aimed to look like a younger version of Arnold, is worth getting excited about.

In this version Jason Clarke (“Zero Dark Thirty”) plays John Connor. It’s 2029 and he and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney of “A Good Day to Die Hard”) are finally about to take-down Skynet. But problems arise when a time travel device produces the younger Arnold, and John realizes that his mother - Sarah Connor (“Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke) must be rescued. So he sends Kyle back to 1984, but Sarah’s all good because of middle-aged Schwarzenegger, who’s been protecting her since she was 9.

So then THEY decide, based on visions into the future, that they can prevent Judgment Day from ever happening by destroying Skynet (which is being passed-off on humans as “Genisys” - a digital sync service) before it goes on line. So it’s back to the year 2017, where Kyle and Sarah meet-up with the gray-haired Arnold. This is also where a detective played by Oscar winner J.K. Simmons enters the picture. He’s been trying to figure-out this case for the past 30-years - I had a hard time staying interested in this film for 2-hours.

“Terminator Genisys” bounces around with the past, present and future, and plays fast and loose with logic - and yet this is a very straightforward film with nothing new to offer in terms of story and character development. And the only real “twist”, which is basic and unimaginative, will likely upset diehard fans of the series.

The visual effects, once a highlight of this series, are uninspired and the action scenes don’t produce a single “wow” moment. And I still can’t believe that it takes Kyle and Sarah basically the entire movie to realize that bullets will NOT stop the T-1000s. Didn’t we learn that in “Terminator 2”? But was that before or after “Genisys” - or both? Frankly, I’m just happy to have survived this mess. And if there is a “Terminator 6” - I can confidently say…“I WON’T be baaaack.”

On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Terminator Genisys” gets a D.

Max (PG) C

Max (PG) C - Movie Reviews for Kids

Six months after their release of "American Sniper", Warner Bros. is out with a family-friendly war-themed (of sorts) film, as a Marine service dog returns from battle and has trouble adjusting to homelife in "Max". As the opening credits reveal, K-9s have been used in the military since WWI.

Max, a Malinois Shepherd, was the companion of Marine Kyle Wincott. While on a tour in Afghanistan, Kyle is killed in a firefight. Max can't cope without his dear friend, so he's given to the Wincott family - father and former Marine Ray (played by Thomas Haden Church), mother Pamela (Lauren Graham) and Kyle's younger brother Justin (Josh Wiggins), who Max takes a liking to. Justin normally spends his time playing war video games (and sells bootleg copies), but that now changes as he decides to take care of Max and become his new human companion.

Justin's stereotypical best friend Chuy and his equally annoying cousin Carmen assist Justin in training Max. Many of these scenes play-out in cyclic fashion without much point or advancing of the story. The focus of "Max" early on is about Justin and his parents grieving over the loss of Kyle and the growing bond between Justin and Max. But the tone changes drastically in the second hour when the plot turns into a doggie version of "Mission: Impossible", complete with chase scenes, kidnappings, arms deals and Max having to fight a pair of evil Pit Bulls. Unfortunately, all of this is too predictable and far-"fetched" to be effective.

Wiggins is solid, and it's nice that veterans Church and Graham don't phone-in their performances. We learn at the end of the film that more than two dozen military service dogs and their handlers have been killed in the line of duty since 2003. At times within the story, director Boaz Yakin ("Remember the Titans") does a nice job honoring service men, women and animals. This isn't Hallmark Hall of Fame-level corny. However, an edgier, more compelling script would have helped "Max" rise about its level of "Mediocre in Show".

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Max" gets a C.

Batkid Begins (PG) B

Batkid Begins (PG) B - Movie Reviews for Kids

On Friday, November 15, 2013, San Francisco was transformed into Gotham City as five-year-old leukemia patient Miles Scott became Batkid for the day. He and Batman saved citizens from danger and defeated their arch-enemies The Riddler and The Penguin. The day, which began as a simple request to The Make-A-Wish Foundation, turned into one of the biggest events in that organization's history, truly going above and beyond in making Miles' wish of becoming his all-time favorite superhero come true.

As the documentary "Batkid Begins" details, 21st century word-of-mouth, a.k.a. social media, played a major part in this becoming one of the most inspiring and memorable stories of 2013. Thousands of people poured into SF that day from all over the world to help make this day as special as possible for Miles and his family. And millions, including Hollywood celebrities, actors who have played Batman over the years, and President Obama, joined via Twitter and Facebook.

In the first half of "Batkid Begins" (which is being distributed Warner Bros., the studio behind the big screen Batman franchise) focuses on all the efforts it took to make Batkid Day a reality. It's presented in a TV news special style, including interviews with officials of Make-A-Wish, the SF police department, the mayor's office, and the key people who would play the characters in this elaborate real-life action story. Credit goes to those smart enough to capture all of this on camera at the time it was happening. Without this footage an effective documentary would have been impossible. We also learn a little about Miles' parents, who, like everyone else, quickly become overwhelmed by the explosion of publicity their son is generating.

Everything presented involving the build-up to the big day is interesting, including how "Dark Knight" composer Hans Zimmer lended a hand, writing Batkid theme music. Sadly, the facts, details and snipits of dialogue from all those involved come at us in such rapid-fire fashion that, often, I wished the pacing would slow way down, allowing the filmmakers to spend more time delving deeper into certain important and interesting aspects of this unique story.

The second half of the film chronicleis the day itself, with footage of all of Miles' amazing adventures. There are moments that will surprise you, make you smile, and tear-up as it all comes together in a remarkable way. Again, the authentic video in crucial, and we get every angle and clear audio from young Miles and all the participants, including actual news media footage and interviews and shots of the tremendous crowds of strangers who packed the streets and venues to show their suppoprt for this young cancer victim. We see that it took so many superheroes to make Miles dream come true. 

The ending of "Batkid Begins" does present some questions, especially after hearing a few candid comments. How did this day really impact Miles? Did it mean more to the city of San Francisco? Did Make-A-Wish go too far? A potential financial controversy is swept away rather quickly. I would've been fine with sitting through another 20 minutes or so and having these issues analyzed and disected, but that isn't the movie director Dana Nachman wanted to make. This is simply designed to be a "feel good" film about a little Caped Crusader who inspired the world to come together for one, special day. 

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Batkid Begins" gets a B.

Julia Roberts is producing and plans on starring in a fictionalized, Hollywood version of the Batkid story, which will reportedly focus on events following Batkid Day. Since we learn late in "Batkid Begins" that Miles' parents shut-down the media circus and their son's appearances shortly after his big day, it'll be interesting to see what Roberts can do to advance this story and top this very effective, if overly simple, documentary.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (PG-13) C-

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (PG-13) C- - Movie Reviews for Kids

"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" is the film adaptation of the popular YA novel. The movie won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Clearly, those voting groups were made up of diehard indie lovers who easily embrace quirky. However, when you look at "Me and Earl" as a movie and not a demonstration of low budget, arthouse filmmaking, it comes off as an all-too cliche and cookie-cutter summer dramedy.

Thomas Mann (who co-starred with Victoria Justice in the worst movie of 2012 - "Fun Size") plays Greg. He's a high school senior looking to finish-out his high school career doing what he's always done - flying under the radar, staying out of trouble, and getting along with, but not getting close to, every stereotypical group of students. The only friend (or "co-worker" as Greg puts it because he doesn't want to admit he has a legitimate friend) is Earl. Their "thing" is making film parodies of classsic Hollywood's movies, though they do it in secret and don't show their films to anyone.

Greg's life changes when he learns a girl in his school named Rachel has been diagnosed with Leukemia. Greg and Rachel hardly know each other, but Greg's mother insists that Greg visit Rachel so she has some company during this difficult time (Greg is far too selfish to think of doing this himself). A friendship forms between the two, but as narrator Greg informs us on multiple occasions, this is far from a typical romance and they are not boyfriend and girlfriend. In the Hollywood version, these teens fall for each other and learn lessons about life and love until she dies.

Thankfully this story avoids that predicatable path. But sadly, it goes in a different, but equally disappointing direction. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon bluntly borrows from indie king Wes Anderson throughout the entire film, particularly in the quirky heavy first half, packing "Me and Earl" with weird camera angles, snipits of stop-motion animation and on the screen titles. This movie suffers from "Too Cute for its Own Good Indie Disease." Gomez-Rejon also forces way too many attempts at humor into the story, especially from over-the-top supporting cast members Nick Offerman and Molly Shannon. 

Greg and Earl's movies (including knock-offs of "A Clockwork Orange" and "Midnight Cowboy") got me thinking of Michel Gondry's 2008 indie comedy "Be Kind Rewind", in which Jack Black and Mos Def made their own versions of such classics as "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Ghostbusters". The parodies actually had more purpose and relevance in that film. Here they're simply a plot device.

"Me and Earl" is a difficult film to enjoy mainly because, for the first 95% of the movie, Greg is a really unlikable character. It's his story, but it's impossible to feel anything for him. And as Rachel deals with her chemo treatments, it's impossible not to feel sorry for her. But the script provides no emotional suprises or impact. Cancer is a touchy subject to tackle on film, and there are a few very appropraitely serious scenes that deal with the challenges and frustrations of the disease. These are really the only effective moments of "Me and Earl", which lacks the power and insight of last year's entry in the Teen Dying of Cancer genre - "The Fault in Our Stars".

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" gets a C-.


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