The Last Kid-Friendly Titles of Summer

dora

What to Watch in the Theater:
Dora and the Lost City of Gold (PG) is in theaters now. Unlike the TV series, this is not aimed at preschoolers or young kids, as the story follows a 16-year-old Dora (not a 6-year-old one). Being unfamiliar with the show was not a drawback for us. The movie is fun and campy, quickly moving from a fish out of water story with Dora in the big city, back to a jungle adventure, with some new companions who are now out of THEIR element. Of course Backpack and Boots the monkey are part of the action, but there are also some new friends and foes. The kids in our audience enjoyed the heck out of the slapstick, plus nude and poo gags. While we enjoyed the movie in general, we couldn’t help wondering about the intended audience for a teen Dora film.
Our rating: 4 out of 5

ab2

The Angry Birds Movie 2 (PG) is in theaters now. Red is enjoying his hero status on Bird Island, until the Pigs want to call a truce on the prank war. There’s another island that’s threatening both of them, and the former enemies have to learn to work together against the Eagles. This one might be even better than the first – it’s rife with pop culture references and innuendo, plus tons of celebrity voices. Standout newcomers include Leslie Jones, Tiffany Haddish and Awkwafina. This is more than just a movie based on a game, as we learn more about the characters and their families. There are Lots of laugh out loud moments here  – it’s a fun watch.
Our rating: 4.25 out of 5 

blinded

Blinded by the Light (PG13) opens today. Based on a true story, this music-infused coming of age story follows Javed, a Pakistani teen trying to navigate life in 1987 England. As economic woes hit his family, they are also targeted by bigots and hate groups. Javed is struggling to be part of his traditional family, but still grow as a person, and he grapples with father/son issues. When he discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen, he finds a new light (and love) in his life, which makes the struggle even more intense. This is an enlightening film from a historical perspective. It also strikes a chord with anyone who has struggled to become their own person, in the face of family or societal pressures. And if you love movies that take place in the 80s (including all the music, hair and wardrobe), here’s one to add to the list.
Our rating: 4 out of 5 

What to Watch at Home (Or Not):
Teen Spirit (PG13) is available for rental. This is the story of Violet, who enters a singing competition in an attempt to get out of her small town on the Isle of Wight (UK). It’s a bit weird to us that an older man, a veritable stranger to her, becomes her manager/guardian for the purposes of the competition, but his skill set does come in handy. Elle Fanning’s vocals are good, and it’s interesting to see the process of the contest and how fame affects the character. It’s a bit of a strange film but it has its moments.
Our rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Three Hits and One Miss

des3

What to Watch in the Theater:
Descendants 3 (TVG) is available on Disney Channel and DVD. When a surprising new villain wrecks havoc on Auradon, the future of all Villain Kids is jeopardized. There’s more than one surprise here, with new information coming to light, and alliances being made. This film is just as fun as the others, with great song and dance numbers, and just enough drama and twists to make it interesting. We enjoyed watching Cameron Boyce’s last performance with the VK’s, but it was bittersweet so soon after his passing.
Our rating: 4.25 out of 5

artracing

The Art of Racing in the Rain (PG13) opens today. Thankfully, this talking dog movie is only narrated by the dog – no moving lips here. Enzo the dog looks back on his life with race car driver, Denny, who struggles with his career but finds the love of his life. It’s a sweet story full of heartache, tears, and moments that will fill your heart with joy. So yes, there was room for another movie from a dog’s perspective.
Our rating: 4.17 out of 5 

What to Watch at Home (Or Not):
Loving Vincent (PG13) is available for rental and streaming on Hulu. This hand-painted animated film is beautiful and ground-breaking. We learn about Van Gogh’s life and death, as a friend digs into the details after the artist’s passing. Although the animation style is sometimes distracting, the technique is impressive and the visuals are enjoyable, especially the Van Gogh painting homages that are subtly worked into the film.
Our rating: 4 out of 5

Swiped (G) is streaming on Netflix. This film, about a hookup app developed by a brilliant college freshman, is lacking in many areas. First, it includes Noah Centineo as a playboy/bully, which goes completely against his “Internet’s Favorite Boyfriend” persona. Second, the production values are so low, it’s distracting. Third, the story is just terrible. And worst – it was written and directed by a woman – the female characters are an embarrassment to the gender.
Our rating: Skip this one

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Finding Fantasy in Many Genres

serenity

What to Watch in the Theater:
Serenity (R) is streaming on Amazon Prime. This drama/mystery is about Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey), a fishing boat owner with a past. He lives a small-town life on an island, taking tourists out for fishing expeditions. When his ex-wife, Karen (Anne Hathaway), comes back into his life with an urgent proposition, he has a lot of thinking to do. Things get a little weird, with his unusual long-distance connection to his son, and we start to realize things are not as they might seem. The twists are interesting, although the characters are not as engaging as they could be.
Our rating: 3.33 out of 5

hobbs

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (PG13) opens today. We managed to miss the entire Fast & Furious franchise, but decided to give this one a try, since we’re fans of both Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. We were left a bit curious about the backstory between the two characters and others featured here, that didn’t detract from our enjoyment of this film. The action was sometimes over-the-top, but fantastic and very exciting, and the rapport (or lack thereof) between the two was fun. Vanessa Kirby adds a strong female character, and Idris Elba makes a shockingly good bad guy. This movie stands well on its own, although we’re sure fans of the franchise will enjoy it just as much.
Our rating: 4 out of 5 

What to Watch at Home (Or Not):
Time Freak (PG13) is streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime. Asa Butterfield and Sophie Turner star in this romcom with a scifi twist. When Debbie breaks up with him after a year, Stillman builds a time machine, so that he can go back and fix everything that was wrong with their relationship. He takes along his buddy, Evan, and it’s fun to see how that side plot progresses as well. As far as time travel movies go, this one is pretty fun but also thought-provoking. Plus, the technology is a vast improvement on what we normally see in this type of movie, which makes the premise even more interesting.
Our rating: 4 out of 5

The Cat Returns (G) is available for rental. This English dub of the Studio Ghibli classic from 2002 boasts a pretty amazing voice cast, that includes Anne Hathaway, Peter Boyle, Elliott Gould, Kristin Bell, and even Tim Curry. There’s beautiful animation, as you’d expect from a Miyazaki film, as well as many fantasy elements. The story follows schoolgirl Haru (Hathaway) as she saves the life of a cat, and then discovers he’s royalty from the Kingdom of Cats, and she has a reward coming to her. Of course there’s conflict, and plenty of magic.
Our rating: 4.17 out of 5

Plus box office results, movie news, what’s new on DVD and Blu-Ray and what’s coming to Netflix this month.

Successfully Reinventing Stories

lionking

What to Watch in the Theater:
The Lion King (PG) is in theaters now. We didn’t think this “live action” (spoiler alert – there is NO live action anywhere in the film) retelling would measure up to the original, but we were pleasantly surprised. The scenes are so beautiful, it’s like watching a nature documentary. The music is just as good as the original (because it’s all the same songs, plus a new one by Beyonce). And best of all – the lip moving is so well done, it’s not like all those talking animal movies where it’s so horrifying that you can’t stop looking at their mouths. Plus Seth Rogen is absolute genius as Pumbaa, and there’s an awesome homage to another Disney movie. This one can feel the love in our movie collection, right next to the original animated version. Hakuna Matata indeed.
Our rating: 4.67 out of 5

once

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (R) opens today. This Quentin Tarantino film adds a stellar cast to a historically-accurate (or nearly so) 1969 Hollywood. In doing so, fictional characters add their stories, influencing factual characters, so that parts of history play out differently. It’s a perfect example of fact meets fiction. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt acting together so closely is a treat, and Margot Robbie is lovely and talented, as usual. It’s fun to compare that Hollywood to the way it is today, and we enjoyed the portrayals of actors from that time. And of course it wouldn’t be a Tarantino film without some scenes of horrific violence.
Our rating: 4.5 out of 5 

What to Watch at Home (Or Not):
Secret Obsession (TV14) is streaming exclusively on Netflix. Brenda song stars as a young woman trying to piece her life back together after an accident, which has left her with a form of amnesia that causes her to forget recent things in her life, like her new husband. Their life seems perfect – if only she could remember it – but was it really? Of course, all is not what it seems, and she’s in serious danger. Although some parts are predictable, the suspense was pretty good, and it was interesting to see how it played out. We did feel there were some loose ends, but not enough to detract from the overall story.
Our rating: 3.83 out of 5

Replicas (PG13) is available for rental. Keanu Reeves stars as a scientist working on a way to load a dead human’s consciousness into an artificial body. When his family is killed in a tragic accident, he must quickly perfect his technology, and pair it with his co-worker’s cloning expertise, to bring them back. Although Keanu isn’t the most believable scientist, this role does suit him, and there’s a lot of exciting stuff going on here, with a great deal of suspense and some twists and turns we didn’t see coming.
Our rating: 4 out of 5

Plus box office results, news from Comic-Con, and what’s new on DVD and Blu-Ray.