Movie Reviews

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The Meddler (PG-13) A-

The Meddler (PG-13) A- - Movie Reviews for Kids

“The Meddler” is writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s extremely personal follow-up to her innovative 2012 indie “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”, with Steve Carell and Keira Knightley finding humor, and each other, on the cusp of the Apocalypse. For her latest film, Scafaria turns to a more low-key, but just as enriching and relatable story of a woman with undeniably good intentions, trying to mend broken hearts and please everyone in her life - aka: Mom.

Susan Sarandon gives the best on-screen performance of the year so far as Marnie, a widow and mother to Lori (played by Rose Byrne), a screenwriter living in LA. Following the death of her husband, Brooklyn native Marnie moves to a nice apartment near The Grove so she can be close to Lori, who is still single. Marnie resembles someone that just about everyone has known during their lifetime. She’s overprotective, doesn't understand boundaries (a point Lori makes very clear to her several times) and loves helping people (whether it’s complete strangers, those closest to her, or anyone in between) with their problems.

Marnie’s husband left her with plenty of money, enough so she can buy three tickets every time she goes to an action movie: one for her - one for her deceased mother and the other for her dead husband. She doesn't get to spend as much time with Lori as she'd like to, so she spends that time and money on strangers: shelling-out $13,000 to help pay for the wedding of one of Lori’s friends (“SNL”’s Cecily Strong), even though she doesn't even know her last name; befriending the Apple store employee who helps her in getting her iPhone up and running - driving him to night school three times a week. And when it comes to her daughter’s love life, Marnie is right there at the center of the drama - or as far as Lori will let her be.

But clearly money and good deeds can't fill the hole in her life or her heart. And being a "meddler" won't get her the type of relationship with her daughter that Marnie desperately wants and needs. She gets an appointment with Lori's therapist in hopes of snooping into her personal life but refuses to share any of the pain she's feeling.

Scafaria intentionally overwhelms us in the first 15 minutes of “The Meddler” with Marnie’s bold personality. Sarandon delivers several funny and spot-on authentic lines. But then, slowly, as the film progresses, Scafaria pulls back on the zaniness, and we begin to see a different side of Marnie, or more accurately, begin to understand that she may not be as inappropriately over-the-top as we first thought. 

“The Meddler” keeps you engaged, with Marnie at the center of multiple storylines throughout the film. It often takes you by surprise, going in humorous, serious and personal directions. There's a showcase scene when Marnie visits Lori at work on the set of her TV pilot in New York that includes all three. The emotional level builds, resulting in a final act that’s a bit extensive, and a tad too mainstream, but touching and fulfilling nonetheless.

Byrne has some strong moments, and J.K. Simmons, in a refreshingly restrained role, is terrific as Zipper, a retired LA cop who gets caught-up in Marnie’s charm. But this is Sarandon’s movie. It’s a dynamite character and a once-in-a-lifetime role for an actress who, in recent years, has rarely garnered the leading lady spotlight. It’s only Spring, but she should be in the conversation when awards season rolls around in seven months (unquestionably Best Actress in a Comedy consideration from the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards voters). Scafaria has written a full character here - someone who is both annoying and loving, nosy and generous, someone Lori can't live with and can't live without. Isn't that the true definition of a mother?

In making this sweet, sincere, and heartfelt tribute to her own mother, Scafaria has given all of us a little something to think about, with some laughs, and maybe even a few tears, along the way.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Meddler” gets an A-.

Barbershop: The Next Cut (PG-13) B

Barbershop: The Next Cut (PG-13) B - Movie Reviews for Kids

Let's "cut" to the chase: "Barbershop: The Next Cut" is a rare threequel that works as a standalone film. 14 years after the original and 12 years after "Back in Business", stars Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer return to tell a straightforward story, but one that has legitimate purpose: "Barbershop 3" doesn't simply entertain, it has something to say.

Calvin's Barbershop is located in the south side of Chicago, and Cube sets the tone during an opening montage that gun violence, particularly involving young Black men, has escalated in the past decade. Cube's Calvin is genuinely concerned about raising his 14-year-old son, Jalen, in a neighborhood that's turned into a war zone.

This script doesn't shy away from topical and controversial subjects. Race, black-on-black violence, gangs, prejudice, politics, including the performance of President Obama, sexism and even the public school system are all discussed and debated by the various characters working in and visiting the barbershop. In one scene in which an argument is made that "Right now is the best time in America to be a Black Person", Rashad (played by actor/rapper Common) runs down the long list of real names of young black men who have died in recent years nationally at the hands of police officers, and that nothing is being done to prevent this from continuing to happen. It's a powerful moment.

But "Barbershop: The Next Cut" is still, first and foremost, a comedy. And the entire cast delivers their share of funny one-liners and sarcastic remarks about relationships and family values that ring true. For me, Cedric the Entertainer's elderly Eddie steals the show. Others may give that nod to Nicki Minaj - simply for her 30-seconds of twerking - but she does actually hold her own with the much-more experienced cast. Subplots involving Anthony Anderson as a greedy food truck owner and J.B. Smoove, as a shady "businessman" who's into just about everything, are corny, distracting and over-the-top.

"Barbershop: The Next Cut" succeeds as both entertainment and social commentary. Considering that most films with such intentions don't even get one of those things right, director Malcolm D. Lee and company deserve a ton of credit.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Barbershop: The Next Cut" gets a B.

The Jungle Book (PG) B

The Jungle Book (PG) B - Movie Reviews for Kids

Nearly 50 years after The Mouse House first adapted Rudyard Kipling's iconic literary works for the screen with their animated musical "The Jungle Book" (the last film Walt Disney produced), a new version for a new generation has arrived. The 2016 "Jungle Book" is directed by Jon Favreau, whose diversity of films include innocent "Elf", a smart-aleck "Iron Man", a whole-hearted "Chef" and some "Cowboys & Aliens" that even he'd like to forget about.

The story of "The Jungle Book" centers around young man-cub Mowgli (here played by newcomer Neel Sethi), who was left abandoned in the jungle as an infant. A protective panther named Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley) discovers and protects Mowgli, taking him further into the jungle to be brought-up with a pack of wolves. Bagheera is the best character in this movie, with Kingsley delivering an outstanding, at times quite moving, voice performance.

The evil tiger, Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba) feels threatened by Mowgli (since he's a human) and wants him dead. There are a handful of "jump-out-at-you" moments, especially involving the menacing Khan, that will definitely scare younger kids. Mowgli is in peril throughout the entire film, whether it's during his interaction with the slithering and hungry boa, Kaa (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), who tempts him to "trust" in her, chased by Khan, or being surrounded by fire ("The Red Flower"). I applaud Favreau for not playing it safe with the violence, as it allows the audience to feel the danger the young boy is in - within PG-rated limits.

But, as gritty and dark as it is, "The Jungle Book" also has its lighter moments, mostly with Mowgli's friendship with bear Baloo. You'd think Bill Murray was an inspired choice to voice Baloo. But the problem is Murray doesn't do a character voice. He simply says his lines with his extremely recognizable Bill Murray voice. This definitely takes you out of the moment and is quite challenging to get used to.

I was curious if/how Favreau was going incorporate the iconic songs from the original into this version. He does with full production numbers of both "The Bare Necessities" and "I Wanna Be Like You" (performed by Christopher Walken as ape King Louie). These scenes definitely break-up the dramatic flow, but they're also welcome and memorable. And they may give little kids something to think about on the way home - instead of the nightmares they may have about Mowgli's multiple brushes with death. 

The main hook of "The Jungle Book" is the look. Favreau shot all of Seethi's scenes (and he's in practically ever scene in the movie) on soundstages in draped with green-screens. All the animals were brought to life through the technique of photorealism animation, and the results are amazingly impressive, technically flawless, and rarely distracting. However, outside of a few key scenes with Mowgli and Bagheera, including one involving a herd of elephants, the story doesn't provide much of an emotional spark. None of the relationships between friends or foes work to the level that you become deeply invested in how this tale is going to play out. And the ending - let's just say it lacks the impact of the '67 classic.

Favreau is ambitious and successful with practically every other aspect. But in order for this "Jungle Book" to be on par or exceed its hand-drawn predecessor, having Walt's ability to make us care deeply about these characters was a necessity.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Jungle Book" gets a solid B.

Criminal (R) B-

Criminal (R) B- - Movie Reviews for Kids

"Criminal" is your textbook "Popcorn Movie". The cast includes big names: Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman and even Ryan Reynolds in a small role. It's action-packed with plenty of violence - and some unexpected bloodshed. There are elements of danger, suspense, weird science and a hint of mystery. "Criminal" doesn't break any new ground, but its execution of the simplistic formula makes it more than satisfying.

Reynolds owns the first five minutes. He plays CIA agent Bill Pope, who gets murdered while on an important mission. But government officials still want the info Pope has in his head. So they recruit Dr. Franks (Jones), a brain specialist, to transfer Pope's memories into the mind of a Death Row inmate named Jerico (Costner). His brain (for reasons I won't give here) is perfect for this experiment.

Following the procedure, Jerico wakes-up with the mother of all headaches, but he also starts thinking and acting like Pope and begins working with top CIA agents Quaker (Oldman) and assistant Marta (Alice Eve from "Star Trek Into Darkness") to hunt down an evil, cyber hacker closing-in on access to all the codes of the weapons of mass destruction throughout the world.

Jerico's Jekyll and Hyde act, as he becomes more and more like Pope, translates into awkward, unpredictable and sometimes violent interactions with total strangers. Costner commands these scenes, and his attempts to do right (even in the most challenging of circumstances) keep you glued to the action. This one of the most appealing aspects of "Criminal".

The scenes involving Jerico and Pope's grieving wife (played by Gal Gadot - aka Wonder Woman) are fairly strong, though a young daughter is one of the most poorly written child characters in recent movie memory. This child latches-on way too quickly to a total stranger (who broke into their house and tied mommy up, by the way), inviting him to stay for dinner, teaching him to play the piano, and then kissing him on the cheek before she goes to bed. Yes, Jerico tells the girl he knew her father, but the instant relationship between these two isn't close to being believable.

Oldman can add his role to a resume packed with "supporting characters who yell a lot and order people around". And Jones, not in charge for a change, provides some innocent-looking facial expressions I hadn't seen from him in a while.

"Criminal" does have some ridiculous elements and few surprises in the story department, but I have to admit I was never bored, instead going with the premise and staying in the zone through the predictable ending.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Criminal" gets a B-.

Demolition (R) C+

Demolition (R) C+ - Movie Reviews for Kids

Jake Gyllenhaal has delivered a recent string of impressive performances in "Prisoners" (2013), "Nightcrawler" (2014) and "Southpaw" (2015). "Demolition" is another great vehicle for him, but overall, the film is not as strong director Jean-Marc Vallee's past two efforts. His 2013 drama "Dallas Buyers Club" earned Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto Oscars, and his 2014 hiking tale "Wild" sent Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern to the Academy Awards as nominees.

Vallee certainly doesn't waste any time setting the stage and tone of "Demolition". In the opening scene Davis (played by Gyllenhaal) is in the passenger seat next to his wife Julia when their car is involved in a serious crash. She's pronounced dead a short time later at a nearby hospital. Davis, understandably in a bit of a fog, attempts to get a bag of M&Ms from a hospital vending machine, but the bag gets stuck. He immediately turns his attention to the vending machine company, writing the first in a series of letters explaining his frustration - in great detail.

But Davis also uses these letters to express his emotions over the loss of his wife, but in a strangely straightforward way (complete with monotone narration from Gyllenhaal). And outwardly, Davis doesn't seem to be too upset about his wife no longer being in his life. This frustrates his father-in-law (played by Chris Cooper), who's also his boss at a NYC investment firm. Davis' true, off-beat colors begin to show, especially as he develops a unique relationship with the vending company's customer service representative, Karen (Naomi Watts), who is moved by his letters. 

The first two-thirds of "Demolition" are solid. I bought into this story and was genuinely curious to see where Davis was headed or if and when he would finally crack from the grief of the tragedy. Gyllenhaal is one of the rare actors who always keeps you interested because you never know where he'll take his character. Here he has nice chemistry with Watts, and Cooper, as the devastated father, has some nice showcase scenes early on. Vallee's filmmaking style is quite reminiscent of his previous films - and the techniques make sense within the structure of this script.

But in the last half-hour, once Davis begins to spend time with Karen's 15-year-old son, "Demolition" becomes an overly dramatic soap opera. Vallee pours-it-on with at least three "twists", taking the movie from quirky to conventional. His previous films had meaning and purpose behind them - with powerful and bittersweet endings. "Demolition" had potential, especially with Gyllenhaal as the lead, but, unfortunately, in the final act, it breaks apart in a big way.

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

The Boss (R) C

The Boss (R) C - Movie Reviews for Kids

Melissa McCarthy has proven she can deliver plenty of laughs, both on TV and the big screen. But a pattern is starting to emerge when it comes to her movie projects: With McCarthy's most successful films ("Bridesmaids", "St. Vincent", "Spy"), she and husband Ben Falcone were NOT the screenwriters, and Falcone wasn't behind the camera as director. However, the pair teamed-up for 2014's underwhelming "Tammy", and they're at it again - with results being pretty much the same.

In "The Boss", McCarthy plays Michelle Darnell (a character she originated at The Groundlings comedy club in LA 16 years ago). In a brief but humorous backstory we see how Darnell went from a being an orphan to eventually becoming a financial powerhouse - proudly the 47th richest woman in America and author of the self-help book Money Talks, Bulls*it Walks.

Moments later we get Darnell entering Chicago's United Center riding on a golden phoenix to a crowd of thousands of screaming fans - some with their hair dyed a similar color red. And she sings and dances to "All I Do is Win". All of a sudden - T-Pain runs out on stage to sing the chorus and finish the song with her. OK - we're off to a great start.

But the momentum doesn't last. We're introduced to Darnell's assistant Claire (played by Kristen Bell) and her bodyguard in a long scene that largely falls flat. A short time later Darnell is sent to prison for 5-months for insider trading. During this time, her company goes belly-up, her mansion is foreclosed on and she hardly has a dime to her name. So Claire and her daughter Rachel decide that Darnell can stay with them in their tiny apartment until she can get back on her feet.

Darnell tries to sleep on Claire's pull-out sofa bed - and the results are hilarious. It's no surprise that this is the scene that's been used most often in the trailers, commercials and on McCarthy's promotional tour because it's the strongest gag in "The Boss", and one of only a handful that actually work. After visiting Rachel's scout troop and realizing that selling treats can actually be a legitimate business, Darnell recruits two dozen girls to sell brownies, and make a 10% commission from the sales. She believes "Darnell's Darlings" will be the key to her comeback. But, of course, it won't be that easy.

Michelle Darnell is a fun character. McCarthy delivers several smart one-liners and some offensive remarks as well - the trademark brand of humor that has gotten her movies to a nearly $1 billion domestic box office total since 2011. And in the more dramatic and sentimental moments, McCarthy proves that she can elevate this character above the base-level script, which simply doesn't provide many genuinely entertaining situations.

Like "Tammy", "The Boss" lacks a sharp comedic punch. A scene where Darnell goes on a talk show hosted by Gayle King is tame when it could've been dynamite. A brief glimpse at Darnell selling the brownies on HSN could've been turned into a hilarious five minute sketch. And a better developed relationship storyline between Darnell and her mentor (Kathy Bates) would've added some welcome bite to the story.

There are lengthy, 10+ minute stretches of "The Boss" that provide no laughs. And the script relies way too heavily on rude, tasteless humor (especially in the final half hour) and over-the-top/"shock-value" scenes, which come-off as desperate and absolutely ridiculous - including an insane brawl in the middle of a street between rival scout troops (that you'd ONLY see in the movies) and an awful climax involving a rival business mogul (Peter Dinklage).

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Boss" gets a C. Even with two disappointing efforts in a row, McCarthy and Falcone have already signed-on for "Life of the Party", a college comedy that will begin shooting this summer. Here's hoping their third time will be the charm.

Hardcore Henry (R) C-

Hardcore Henry (R) C- - Movie Reviews for Kids

"Hardcore Henry" has a unique hook: this relentless, incredibly violent, sci-fi action extravaganza was shot almost entirely with GoPro cameras, and told completely from the first-person perspective of Henry - a half-man, half-machine.

Much like "Mad Max: Fury Road", "Hardcore Henry" relies heavily on wild, zany chaos and incredible stunts. And while I wasn't a huge fan of George Miller's one-note Australian outback saga, "Hardcore Henry" makes "Mad Max" feel like "Mary Poppins".

The problem is, this film is more of an “exercise” than a movie.

A cyborg with mechanical limbs and a power supply, Henry (whose face we only see once, late in the film) has the strength and juice to kill any enemy in his path. His only goal is to take out a ruthless, mad scientist bent on instilling havoc upon the world. Yes, the plot is as basic as you can get. Writer/director Ilya Naischuler (who shot the film in his native Russia) almost HAD to keep the story simple - to be able to showcase the style and technology.

However, the non-stop, brutal violence is consistently - and literally - in-your-face…and is just overwhelming. The editing techniques and shaky camera movements (because Henry is always on the run) make things even more insane, as you try, desperately, to keep up. The pace allows very little time to catch your breath - forcing you to stay glued at all times, because you’re experiencing EVERYTHING through the eyes of this one character.

Positives? the stuntwork is amazing; there’s one, very creative action scene; Sharlto Copley’s Jimmy, Henry's one, true friend, is a memorable character; and the first-person technique, in general, does work. But all of this is overshadowed by the extreme level of utter mayhem, though I appreciate that many diehard action fans will enjoy watching someone get shot, stabbed, or beaten to death every-second of a 90-minute film.

Above all else, "Hardcore Henry" is an experience. There’s no denying that.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Hardcore Henry" gets a C-.

I Saw the Light (R) C

I Saw the Light (R) C - Movie Reviews for Kids

Recent biopics that dissected the lives of popular musicians and groups, including James Brown, Frankie Valli, Brian Wilson and N.W.A., all had some bold and powerful statements to make. The main problem with “I Saw the Light”, which chronicles the brief but amazing career of Hank Williams, is that it fails to give the country legend’s life the gold-star treatment.

35-year-old Tom Hiddleston (Loki in the “Thor” and “Avengers” movies) stars as Williams, who is 21 when we are first introduced to him, alongside his soon-to-be new bride, Audrey (played by Elizabeth Olsen) in 1944. Williams isn’t a phenomenon yet, but he has a dream: to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. Unfortunately “I Saw the Light” hardly delves into this quest or the aspects of Williams’ life once he became a superstar, turning-out one "honky tonk" hit after another.

Instead, writer/director Marc Abraham focuses more on the troubles that faced Hank and Audrey - his drinking, her ego, his women on the side - which threaten to derail their relationship. Hiddleston and Olsen’s on-screen chemistry holds your attention during the stronger and much more interesting first half. The musical performances do as well. Hiddleston sings all of Williams’ tunes - and there are quite a few. These renditions serve as comfort food throughout the film, as we starve for some purpose from the non-musical scenes. 

Abraham's screenplay is scattered and the on-screen narrative flow is blatantly uneven. There are random edits and odd jumps in time that open-up gaping plot holes. And, let's be honest, a famous performer having problems with alcohol, cheating, and not being able to keep up with a demanding tour schedule is something we’ve seen depicted numerous times before - and more dramatically. Over the course of the second hour, “I Saw the Light” gradually loses what appeal it had, concluding with an abrupt and emotionless final scene.

Hiddleston is consistently solid. The age difference didn’t really bother me, though he does have a bit of a mature presence for the role. And, as I predicted after I first saw her in “Godzilla”, with the perfect role, Olsen is destined to win an Oscar. Her work here is another step in that direction. However, there’s just nothing in this story that’s gripping or powerful enough to warrant a recommendation. Williams, undeniably one of the most significant singer-songwriters in the history of popular music, deserved more than this movie delivers. 

On The Official LCJ Report Card, “I Saw the Light” gets a C.

Midnight Special (PG-13) C

Midnight Special (PG-13) C - Movie Reviews for Kids

"Midnight Special” comes from “Mud” writer/director Jeff Nichols, who was clearly inspired by the sci-fi movies of his childhood when it came to crafting this script. And for the first hour or so, Nichols really makes you work to try to piece everything together. Normally that's a good sign of things to come.

Instead of a set-up, Nichols drops us right in the middle of a Texas Amber Alert. Eight-year-old Alton (played by “St. Vincent”’s Jaeden Lieberher) has been abducted by Roy (Michael Shannon). We’re not exactly sure why, or their relationship. Lucas (Joel Edgerton), a friend of Roy’s, is also involved.

We soon learn that young Alton has special abilities, and that he is the spiritual leader and prophet of a local cult, which the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have been watching. Now, with Alton missing, both the cult leaders and the federal government want him, while his captors are trying to get him to a secret location for a major event. NSA investigator/interrogator, Sevier (Adam Driver, most recently seen - masked and unmasked - in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), is brought-in to try to help figure out the methods and the motives of the adductors. Kirsten Dunst plays Sarah, another important figure in Alton’s life and key player in his ultimate quest.

As "Midnight Special" was unfolding, a nagging thought developed in the back of my mind: “It can’t simply turn-out to be what I think it’s going to be.” But, sure enough, by the third act “revelation”, we get what was coming to us - and none of it is special (and I still don’t know how the title applies to anything in the movie).

Alton’s plight was intriguing enough early on, but once Sarah proposes a question to Roy with about a half-hour to go, I gave-up on the possibility of having any element of originality in the film's closing scenes. Driver’s character seems like he comes out of about a dozen other films in the sci-fi genre. And there's an obvious similarity between "Midnight Special" and an all-time classic movie (no spoiler here), and this new version comes-up way short.

At least Shannon, who’s been getting a lot of showcase roles lately (including “99 Homes”) gives a genuine performance. He is the only true bright spot in this otherwise complicated, but ultimately quite simple, disappointment.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Midnight Special” gets a C.

Hello, My Name is Doris (R) C+

Hello, My Name is Doris (R) C+ - Movie Reviews for Kids

Relationships are complicated. In "Hello, My Name is Doris", Sally Field stars as the title sixty-something-year-old single woman who sports a wig extension, wears up to two pairs of glasses at once, and is clearly the oldest employee at her longtime NYC office job. Doris is mourning the recent death of her mother, and her brother and his wife think this is the perfect opportunity for the clutter-obsessed Doris to get rid of all the random (and heavily sentimental) items that fill her house and move to an apartment. What's holding Doris back is her lasting devotion to her mom, who dominated much of her life, even ruining a potential marriage some four decades earlier.

But Doris soon experiences a new sense of freedom from an instant attraction to a much younger co-worker. John (played by "New Girl"'s Max Greenfield), is an art director who was transferred from Malibu to the NY office. He's half Doris' age, but this doesn't discourage her one bit. However, at this point in the script, Doris unfortunately says "hello" to the "Cinematic Cliche Crush Path": she secretly obsesses over John (including daydreams that we see on screen); obviously he just sees her as a co-worker/new friend. But then their relationship strengthens, and even when road blocks enter the picture, Doris finds the motivation and strategy to keep things going.

"Hello, My Name is Doris" suffers from a story that is undeniably familiar. And yet - it's through Doris that we find ourselves not wanting her to fall into the trap that unrequited love can produce. Doris is quirky, honest and innocent beyond comprehension. She instantly embraces a motto from a self-help expert, who turns the word impossible into I'm Possible.

The Doris character is a lot to buy into, and several of her blatantly over-the-top and goofy scenes don't help. However, there are just as many realistic and on-point ones. Like someone in love for the very first time she keeps mementos, including a pencil from her initial, elevator encounter with John and uses Facebook (with the help of a friend's 13-year-old daughter) to learn his interests. She's eager to simply chat with him in the hallways about random topics. She completely, and wholeheartedly, lets this connection take over her life. And when pushed to the limit, she makes mistakes, but defends the type of person she is and stays true to herself even when things seem to have fallen apart.

"Hello, My Name is Doris" is not nearly as interesting, nor as funny, as it could've been. It's Field's performance that saves the film from being completely irrelevant. The veteran actress makes us care about Doris from the first scene to the last, even though we can see the triumphs and troubles of her situation coming from a mile away.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Hello, My Name is Doris" gets a C+.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (PG-13) D+

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (PG-13) D+ - Movie Reviews for Kids

It’s The Man of Steel vs. The Knight of Dark in the most anticipated “Summer Blockbuster Released in the Spring” of all-time. “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” definitely has a nice ring to it and a star-studded cast that rivals Marvel’s “Avengers”. Problem is - there’s just nothing special about this film.

Nearly the first two-thirds of “BVS” are devoted to establishing the rivalry and building-up the anger between our two DC superheroes before their inevitable showdown. There’s just so much of this - dialogue, flashbacks, “he said-he said” - OK - you don’t like each other - let’s get it on! But no, we need more set-up. The only scene during this entire time that actually works takes place inside the Capitol Building - and Batman’s not even there!

Ben Affleck’s beefed-up Caped Crusader (the Bat Signal is noticeably plus-size) doesn’t come with much personality. He’s always got that stone-cold, kinda dopey Ben Affleck expression on his face. Henry Cavill’s second go-around as Clark Kent feels as stiff as the first. Amy Adams (nearly 10 years older than Cavill) slightly phone-booths it in this time as Lois Lane. Jesse Eisenberg tries to emulate Heath Ledger’s Joker in his manic take on the evil Lex Luthor and the results are more embarrassing than menacing.

But the biggest reason why “BVS“ doesn’t work (and this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering his less-than-“Super” work that came before this), is the vision of director Zack Snyder. He gives the comic book fans plenty of va-va-voom with the franchise introductions of Wonder Woman and a handful of other cameos. And he creates colossal sequences filled with CGI, tons of explosions and ear-bending NOISE.

But - ultimately - the Batman/Superman “no-cage match” is underwhelming - granted it’s much more appetizing than anything that comes before it - and  the finale that follows is so uninteresting that even the movie character version of Anderson Cooper (who does some play-by-play commentary of the battle) makes it clear he doesn’t care who wins - he just wants to get back to reporting serious news.

And that’s the thing about “BVS” - it’s difficult to take this superhero movie seriously because of the constant slow-motion moments, the goofy dialogue, laughable sound effects and melodrama overdose. And the pivotal moment of the entire story comes down to - well - let’s just say “It’s all in a name“. Sadly - this film is an Epic failure.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” gets a D+.

Miracles from Heaven (PG) B+

Miracles from Heaven (PG) B+ - Movie Reviews for Kids

"Miracles from Heaven" comes from the same studios behind 2014's emotionally effective faith-based, true-story family drama "Heaven is for Real". That film starred Greg Kinnear as a minister and father of a little boy who suffered a near-death experience and, once he recovered, claimed to have seen and talked with God. Much of the focus of that film was on the impact that revelation had on their family, the community and the national media.

On the surface, "Miracles from Heaven" seems very similar to "Heaven is for Real". It's also based on a true story, with a big-name star. Jennifer Garner plays Christy Beam, the mother/wife of a devout Christian family living in rural Texas. One of her three daughters, Annabelle (played by 12-year-old Kylie Rogers), gets a rare and incurable intestinal disease. Her agonizing, inspiring and powerful experiences while dealing with her illness dominate "Miracles from Heaven". The narrative also includes some religious elements, but, unlike with "Heaven is for Real", "Miracles" hardly spends any time on the "controversy" that comes from Anna's claim that she spoke with God. More than anything else, this is a story of faith.

"Miracles from Heaven" is one of the most intense movies I've seen in quite some time, proving that you don't need big-budget explosions or graphic fight scenes in order engage an audience. The combination of pain, frustration and drama on screen is compelling. Garner pours her heart into her role, portraying a mom who goes to every possible length to make sure that her daughter gets seen by the right doctors and is treated to their best care. There are so many scenes that are difficult to watch, particularly when Christy and her husband Kevin learn of Anna's condition. A conversation between Anna and another sick girl in their Boston Children's Hospital room is heartbreaking. And there's a phone conversation between Christy and a doctor, who explains how she'll get an appointment with a specialist, that is stunning in its power.

Mexican actor, writer and director Eugenio Derbez ("Instructions Not Included") is terrific as Dr. Nurko, the child-friendly doctor who treats Anna in Boston. He becomes just one "miracle" in the Beam family's life. Another is waitress Angela (played by Queen Latifah), who sees value in random customers Christy and Anna and befriends them. She offers to give these needy strangers a tour of Boston, including a visit to the Aquarium, whose beautiful creatures amaze Anna and enrich her spirit. Latifah's slightly over-the-top character is a little too Hollywood, taking you out of the moment a bit, but she is vital to the overall message.

If you know the real story of the Beam family going into "Miracles from Heaven", or have just seen the trailers, that's exactly what you get here. There are no twists or shockers. And the spiritual aspect of the film is very subtle compared to others in this genre. But all of that is OK. This film is about the determination of a mother, the courage of a little girl, and about finding light, and God, even in the most frustrating and challenging times. And the payoff, shown through a finale montage, is completely unexpected, smart and really affective. It may take some faith on your part to see "Miracles from Heaven" but, just as what happens to the characters in the film, that faith will be rewarded.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Miracles from Heaven" gets a B+.

The Divergent Series: Allegiant (PG-13) D

The Divergent Series: Allegiant (PG-13) D - Movie Reviews for Kids

I guess you could call this another version of “March Madness”. For the third year in a row, the third month of the year treats us to another installment  in “The Divergent Series”. The popularity of this big screen adaptation of the teen action novel series has been dropping with each new chapter. This third edition, “Allegiant”, is the worst one yet.

Shailene Woodley’s Tris and boyfriend Four (Theo James) are STILL trying to make it out of Dystopian Chicago. About 20 minutes into “Allegiant”, they and a few members of their gang are finally able to scale the wall and see what life’s like out in the “real world”.

Tris and the others are quickly welcomed into the high-tech metropolis of the Purists, where Bureau head David (played by Jeff Daniels) recruits Tris, who’s the only “pure” member of the group - the rest are all “damaged” - to help him with a plan to make the entire country great again. That campaign slogan actually works as Tris falls for David’s propaganda, though Four is suspicious… And for good reason - as the “good guys” quickly learn that, even in the distant future - the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

There’s a point when a memory eliminating gas is introduced to the story. I kept hoping that management would start pumping it into the theater so I could forget my two hours watching “Allegiant”. There’s hardly anything interesting here: The script is below the basic standards for this genre and the dialogue is bland. The best line actually comes from a random bad guy. He and his fellow soldiers are ready to kill our protagonists, but instead he drops his gun and says, “Screw This! I’m Outta Here!” I wish I could’ve said the same thing - but instead I gave “Allegiant” a fighting chance to redeem itself with a suspenseful climax and exciting cliffhanger - since this is Part 1 of a two-part series finale. But director Robert Schwentke couldn’t even get that right.

Naomi Watts and Octavia Spencer are back, but it’s Daniels who gets most of the screen time and NEVER STOPS TALKING! He wears the same suit throughout the entire movie, which hopefully means he got to do all his scenes in one day.

A couple of the action scenes do work. But if you weren’t invested in this franchise from the beginning, there’s no reason to start now. And if you saw the first two “Divergents” and hope No. 3 is a winner, you can safely wait next year’s finale and won’t really have missed anything.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Divergent Series: Allegiant” gets a D.

The Young Messiah (PG-13) B

The Young Messiah (PG-13) B - Movie Reviews for Kids

"The Young Messiah" is the latest in a series of successful faith-based films to hit theaters in recent years. This one comes from producer Chris Columbus ("The Help", "Night at the Museum") and is taken not only from Biblical text but is also based on Anne Rice's 2005 novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.

Adam Greaves-Neal gives an effective performance as seven-year-old Jesus in this inside look at one year of Christ's childhood. He, Mary, Joseph and their extended family travel from Egypt back to Nazareth after Joseph's dream reveals that King Herod has died. Young Jesus has begun performing miracles (though he's not sure how or why), and he has many questions about who he really is. Mary and Joseph aren't ready to tell him everything, instead wanting to keep him safe and allow him to have a "normal" childhood. This character study and family dynamic provides much of the interest of "The Young Messiah".

A buzz has started about the miracle worker throughout the land. Once it reaches Herod's son, he orders Centurions to find Jesus and kill him. British actor Sean Bean (most recently seen in "The Martian") plays Severus, the Chief centurion. He was also involved in the slaying of all the newborn boys, ordered by Herod, seven years earlier when Jesus was born. Bean handles the unique and conflicted role quite well.

"The Young Messiah" takes this story and subject matter very seriously with dramatic and adult elements, including scenes of violence and torture. However, the narrative is straightforward and tame enough for children to follow and understand. The second half does drag a bit more than the first, and there's not much suspense generated from a climax that can only go one way. "The Young Messiah" is a solid, sophisticated and engaging portrayal of an aspect of the life of Jesus that we haven't see often on screen - through the bright eyes of innocence, wonder and ever-growing wisdom.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Young Messiah" gets a B.

10 Cloverfield Lane (PG-13) C+

10 Cloverfield Lane (PG-13) C+ - Movie Reviews for Kids

J.J. Abrams produced, but didn't direct, 2008's "found footage"/handheld camera sci-fi thriller "Cloverfield". It is, however, the film that put his company, Bad Robot, on the movie map - and made us all unable to look at the Statue of Liberty the same way ever again. Eight years later, Abrams is producer of the carefully-crafted spinoff and franchise creator "10 Cloverfield Lane".

Paramount hadn't originally intended for this to be a continuation of the cult hit, as earlier titles of the project ranged from "The Cellar" to "Valencia" before the finalized name was announced to the masses only two months ago. Going in knowing the events of "Cloverfield" surround and shape this story does lower the suspense level a bit. But "10 Cloverfield Lane" still keeps you guessing, even when you think you've already figured everything out.

John Goodman has given showy performances recently in "Argo", "Flight", "Inside Llewyn Davis", "The Gambler" and "Trumbo". But his work in "10 Cloverfield Lane" is easily his most impressive in a long time. Goodman plays Howard, a survivalist who rescues (or so he claims) a young woman named Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) following a car accident. He brings her into his underground shelter because a surprise attack on the US by an unknown enemy has wiped-out much of the population. Emmet, a former handyman (John Gallagher, Jr.), is the third person now living in the shelter.

Howard believes the attack has made the air above too toxic for humans to breathe - and that he and these two strangers will be living in the shelter for at least a year or two. Michelle isn't convinced. She desperately wants to get out and contact her family, as well as her boyfriend (a cameo appearance by an A-lister like you've never seen him before). So the question is: Is Howard a savior or a maniacal wacko? Clues to back both options are sprinkled throughout the tight script.  

Along with its mother movie, "10 Cloverfield Lane" features elements from "Room", "The Silence of the Lambs", last year's M. Night Shaymalan's thriller "The Visit", "Alien" and even "The Truman Show". But while it lacks in originality, "10 Cloverfield Lane" is saved by Goodman, whose dialogue delivery and quick changes in facial expressions and tone always keep us engaged in his character.  

However, as intricate and appealing as this story is, there are slow and predictable chunks of the film that causes the mind to wander and anticipate what's to come - and that's a problem. The fact that the audience (if they saw "Cloverfield") knows more about their situation than the characters do hurts the impact of the final 20 minutes, and it allows all the prior events to be interpreted individually, resulting in a bunch of questions. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I'm really interested enough to care about the answers to those questions.

On The Official LCJ Report Card, "10 Cloverfield Lane" gets a C+.


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