All posts tagged Family

Movie Review: Epic

Published May 28, 2013 by mrsrag

Starring the voices of:  Colin Farrell, Beyoncé, Josh Hutcherson, Aziz Ansari, Amanda Seyfried, Chris O’Dowd, Pitbull, Jason Sudeikis, Steven Tyler and Christoph Waltz.

Rated: PG.  Animated.  Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes.

It’s been a while since a kids movie has graced the big screen, so we decided to bring our boy (age 9) with us for a peek at Epic.  And although it sported the usual makings of children’s fare, I genuinely enjoyed it.  We see so many of these movies that it’s hard not to dwell on the formulaic plot lines and clever double entendre.  But occasionally you can lose yourself in one and overlook the commonality to discover something fresh about it.  Epic has a very creative storyline with a basic, but important, lesson for viewers.  It also has some decent laughs that appeal to both young and old.  I have to give a film credit if it induces Ethan to poke either Ross or myself with the ‘Wow, that was funny…did you guys think that was funny?’ routine.  And if he recites any of the lines on the car ride home, that’s usually a sure fire sign that the jokes were pretty good.  Both of these applied in this case.  The plot centers around a hidden World that exists in the forest.  The life of the forest is comprised of flowers, trees, leaves, insects and tiny people, including a powerful Queen.  Queen Tara (voiced by Beyoncé) is graceful and has a special power that brings life wherever she desires.  She makes the flowers bloom, revitalizes dead plants and unites her people to the cause of keeping the forest vibrant, but most importantly alive.  Her nemesis is a scary looking miniature named Mandrake (voiced by Waltz), donning a rat carcass cloak and wooden staff.  His only passion is killing the forest and spreading the gray, haggard designs of his World throughout the lush greenery the Queen has sustained.  His plan is to kill Queen Tara and destroy all that she and her people represent.  It is a classic battle of good vs. evil, but fate comes into play as a regular human teenage girl finds herself right in the middle.

I’ve talked about him in our review of Django Unchained, so some of you probably know that I LOVE Christoph Waltz.  He’s won two Oscars for good reason, and in Epic, just with his voice he’s the star of the show.  One of the great bad guys of all time in Inglorious Basterds, his Mandrake is one evil, heartless dude.  And really, doesn’t the bad guy oftentimes make the movie?  Anyway, M.K. (Seyfried) is a teenage girl visiting her father Bomba (Sudeikis) who we discover has lost everything – job, wife, kid etc. because of his obsession with finding proof of the little people in the forest.  M.K. indeed ends up in the middle of the battle, and when the Queen gets mortally wounded, M.K. is magically shrunken and entrusted with an item that is paramount to the forests’ survival.  She soon meets Nod (Hutcherson , who is suddenly in everything), an irresponsible youth/warrior/love interest; and Ronin (Farrell) the leader of the Queen’s Guard who is steadfast, true, “secretly” in love with the Queen, disappointed in Nod AND looks exactly like our neighbor’s son Connor.  M.K. also has help from the snail Grub (O’Dowd) and the slug Mub (Ansari) who has most of the movies’ funniest lines.  Our group of heroes must fend off the relentless Mandrake, who needs to make everything dead and grey, just because.  The action is fast paced, entertaining, funny and sometimes a little scary.  Just what the creators wanted.     

Waltz just commands the screen in anything he’s in.  His voice is mesmerizing, his gestures are captivating and his talent is indisputable.  His presence is still felt through the animated character he is portraying.  That’s just brilliant casting to have his cold, distinct voice in contrast to Beyoncé’s warm, mellifluous tone.  Ronin really does have an uncanny resemblance to our neighbor’s little boy – Ross nailed that.  Because we see so many of these animated movies it’s easy to take the animation for granted, but I am utterly impressed by what they can do these days.  Being a child of the ’90’s Disney era, I didn’t know that one day animation would blow that stuff out of the water.  These days, the animated people really resemble people!  Not to mention the settings.  We were at home skimming through the channels and we stopped on Brave (which we have reviewed – see Archives – July 2012) for a brief second.  Even at home the visuals were spectacular and the animation was jaw dropping.  I can’t wait to see what they do next!

I agree the animation of today is spectacular (even with the 3D money grabs).  It’s so consistently good, it’s easy to take it for granted.  What is equally impressive is the ability of these studios: Disney, Pixar, Blue Sky et al, to keep churning out such enjoyable and educational stories.  The good far outweighs the bad or mediocre.  So when you come across a movie like Escape From Planet Earth for example, which wasn’t THAT bad, but is obviously inferior; it seems worse than it is.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they are reinventing the wheel with these movies, but they do make them as enticing to grown-ups as to the kids.  They fill them with life lessons without ramming them down your throat, and they make you want to see them again, which is no easy task.  Epic is another in a long line of worthy efforts.  Absolutely recommended for you, and sure take the kids along if you want.  One final note; Maria and I love to play the game of “name the voice behind the character”, and we’re usually pretty good at it.  Ethan has taken to playing with us recently and he nailed Pitbull as Bufo, a toad-like creature.  I was only average with Colin Farrell and Chris O’Dowd, easy ones.  Maria hit all the rest, including an interesting turn by Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler as Nim Galuu, a caterpillar of sorts.  This is a fun game, you should try it.  Occasionally, we get stumped and have to wait around to see the credits, for the inevitable “Oh that was so and so!” moment.  Yet another reason to sing the praises of the superior genre of animated features!

Maria’s rating: 4 Gummy Bears out of 5.

Ross’ rating: 3.75 Gummies.

Recent DVD Release: This Is 40

Published May 1, 2013 by mrsrag

Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Jason Segal, Megan Fox, Charlyne Yi, Robert Smigel.

Rated: R.  Comedy.  Running Time: 2 hours 14 minutes.

I am a fairly big fan of writer/producer Judd Apatow.  I loved Freaks and Geeks, the series that launched more careers than my daughter Gina launches F-bombs.  And there’s Ron Burgundy, 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Step Brothers, Year One, Bridesmaids.  The guy makes me laugh, most of the time.  He does throw in the occasional dud, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Wanderlust, Five Year Engagement.  But honestly, even those sub-par efforts had some decent moments and entertainment value.  This Is 40, a quasi-sequel to Knocked Up, in that we pick up the lives of the always unhappy couple Pete (Rudd) and Debbie (Mann) and their growing kids Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow), is at the very bottom of his body of work IMO.  While Pete and Debbie were fine side-kicking Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up, watching their train wreck of a marriage and life for a Hobbit-like two plus hours, was excruciating.  Businesses failing, marriage failing, oldest daughter spoiled and screeching throughout, just very few laughs in this “comedy”.  I thought the youngest Apatow was the best of the clan here.  Iris’ Charlotte was cute, wise beyond her years, and had more sense than the rest of her family.  You know a movie is in trouble when a highlight is Megan Fox.  She does a fine little parody of her persona, and seems to being having fun with it.  This Is 40 is nepotism at it’s best, or should I say worst. 

I usually love an Apatow flick.  The endless sea of hilarious one liners from the bulk of his work have been uttered from my lips millions of times.  I had a lot of hope for This Is 40.  Cute Paul Rudd.  Bitchy, but always a hoot, Leslie Mann.  I dug their take on marriage in Knocked Up.  It rounded out that little film nicely, but on its own this story of real life problems is weak.  I mostly enjoy going to the movies to lose myself or to gain a fresh perspective on something.  There was no such lesson or shred of entertainment to be gained here.  Also, it was just strange.  Was this a sequel?  Were Rudd and Mann just supposed to play the same couple in a parallel universe?  It was all very confusing.  The moments of laughter were fleeting, the story seemed forced or stretched and the cast didn’t have its usual spark of chemistry.  And it was WAY too long.  It was like an epic tale of doomed suburbia.  This film felt like the friend that won’t stop telling you about their relationship problems, but won’t do anything to resolve their issues.  Ross is definitely right in stating that the highlight of this diddy was Iris Apatow.  That little nugget has a bright future in acting.  I am not completely renouncing my allegiance to Mr. Apatow.  I would only like to say to him: “Judd, listen dude, take a little time off.  Come up with something fresh and get back to us.  Don’t just spit movies out for the cash and to distribute titty shots of your wife.  We’ve all seen them…about one hundred times since Big Daddy.  We get it – you think she’s hot.  We do too, you don’t have to keep bombarding us with it.”

Boring, long and not funny.  Definitely three things you don’t want in a comedy.  It really is hard to figure out what they were trying to accomplish here.  Did they look at this finished product and say, “Oh yeah, we nailed it!”?  Hey, I’m with Maria, I’m not giving up on Apatow, but you never know.  Look at  M. Night Shyamalan.  The guy wows with The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs.  Then slowly drags us down into the abyss with The Village, Lady in Water and The Happening.  You could draw some parallels, both have been truly great and REALLY bad.  No, no ,no, I have faith.  Judd will be back.  My advice: give Will Ferrell a call.

I stand by the fact that on the set of Signs, M. Night & Joaquin Phoenix were drinking bad water.  It seems those two lost something after that.


How’s that rap career going?  Also, quick note to self Joaquin – write the words on the opposite hand next time.  Anyways…Apatow will be back.  Just did not have the right formula for This Is 40.  If I were you, I’d just skip this one altogether.  Your welcome.

Ross’ Rating: 1 Gummy Bear out of 5.

Maria’s Rating: 1.5 Gummies.

Movie Review: The Croods

Published March 25, 2013 by mrsrag

Starring the Voices of: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Clark Duke.

Rated: PG.  Animated.  Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes.

The Croods are a family bent on survival, who often forget the importance of living.  Of course, they are in prehistoric times and face various danger every time they leave their cave.  But their overprotective father, Grug (Cage), has become excessively paranoid after witnessing the obliteration of all the neighbors.  He imposes his will on the others by sharing nightly fables outlining his rules.  Grugg’s rules consist of absolutely never trying anything new, waiting for the signal every morning before hunting as a pack and hunkering down in the cave before sunset.  These rules suit most of the family just fine, with the exception of Eep (Stone).  Eep despises the cave and hates the dark even worse.  One night, as her family sleeps, she breaks the cardinal rule and leaves the cave to further investigate some noise outside.  This event is the first in many that result in a transformation for Eep, her family and everyone’s way of life.  She also meets a male her age, appropriately named Guy (Reynolds), who introduces the family to all sorts of new things, including fire.  The entire family seems intrigued by the young man, with the exception of Grug, who feels a growing resentment toward this new leader and his innovative ideas.

We see A LOT of kids movies and most of them are very good.  The Croods is certainly no exception.  It started a little slow, but once Eep left the cave and met Guy things really opened up.  And, for the second movie in a row (Oz the G+P being the first), I felt the 3D effects enhanced the viewing experience.  The two films are a bit similar, in the rich and colorful landscapes and wildlife, and the 3D makes them burst through the screen.  A personal favorite in The Croods, is the huge flock of seemingly harmless red birds who descend upon their prey and strip them to the bone like piranhas in a matter of seconds.  Make no mistake, it’s a dangerous place where the Croods live, and they have to keep moving.  Along the way there are some wonderful lessons portrayed here.  Learning from your mistakes and admitting when you’re wrong.  Discovering how to trust and work with others.  Never giving up, and as a parent, knowing when to let go.  I’m not sure The Croods is going to crack the upper echelon of my animated favorites, but it was an enjoyable romp, well written, original and had me walking out of the theater with a smile on my face.

I agree, the 3D was a welcome enhancement once again.  As Ross just said, we see A LOT of kids movies, because we like to take Ethan with us.  I thought The Croods was the best one we’ve seen since Wreck-It Ralph, but I also don’t see it cracking my all time favorites.  Those spots are reserved for my early years of Disney movies and my coveted sing-a-longs.  The lessons were also a welcome addition and some important subjects were broached.  Like trying new things, opening your mind, staying positive and expressing your feelings.  It’s more important than ever that we try to share these lessons with young people and a lot of these movies prove to be effective segues.  Of course, you don’t always need a movie just to have a nice chat with your kids.

Absolutely, parents are the number one role models and teachers, as they should be.  But it is nice when Hollywood gives a helping hand too.  Also, voice acting is an underrated talent IMO, and this cast does a wonderful job.  Ryan Reynolds, Cloris Leachman, Catherine Keener,  Clark Duke (who sounds like a young Michael J. Fox BTW), Emma Stone and Nicolas Cage really “fit” their characters perfectly.   And in a positive side note, Maria, who is far removed from being a Nic Cage fan, didn’t have to “look at his stupid face.”  The Croods, a win-win-win movie.  Enjoy!

Maria’s Rating: 3.5 Gummy Bears out of 5.

Ross’ Rating: 3.5 Gummies.

Movie Review: Rise Of The Guardians

Published November 30, 2012 by mrsrag

Starring the voices of: Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fisher.

Rated: PG.  Animated.  Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes.

We just recently reviewed Life of Pi and I mentioned that my boy Ethan didn’t really want to see it, but went with us anyway because he’s a good sport (he ended up liking it more than we did I think).  At any rate quid pro quo was in effect, so we took him to Rise of the Guardians, and Maria and I got the best part of the bargain.  Pi was okay, Guardians was better.  A magical story that centers around Jack Frost (Pine), who is portrayed as a teenage boy who “wakes up” one day 300 years ago out of a frozen pond as Jack Frost.  He only knows who he is because the Man in the Moon “told” him so, and he has no memories at all.  Flash forward to present day, and at the North Pole, Santa Claus (as you’ve never seen him before and voiced by the unrecognizable Baldwin) gets an April visit from the ominous and long missing Pitch Black (Law) AKA The Boogeyman.  Pitch is threatening children everywhere, so Santa has to summon the rest of the guardians of children; The Sandman (who doesn’t speak), the Tooth Fairy (Fisher), and the Easter Bunny (Jackman, and again a version like you’ve never seen).  While they’re deciding what to do, The Man in the Moon (who is just a big full moon that doesn’t speak but communicates just fine to our heroes and seems somewhat “in charge”) informs the group that they will have and need, a new guardian, Jack Frost.  They all know Jack and find him an odd choice, as does Jack for that matter.

Alec Baldwin!?  I would have never guessed that in a million years.  I had thought the Boogeyman was voiced by Paul Bettany…wrong again.  And we’re usually so good at putting names to voices in these animated films.  Ross is certainly correct in saying that you’ve never seen this clan of childhood legends like this before.  They are all these badass versions of themselves armed with serious weapons and supernatural powers to better guard the children of Earth.  And these powers become quite useful as they find themselves up against Pitch and an army of nightmares.  The nightmares are children’s sweet dreams that the Sandman has given them, but Pitch has manipulated them into frightening and fearsome dark horses.  The visuals and effects of this movie were quite stunning, but the thing I found most impressive about this film was how far they pushed the envelope.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a children’s movie approach such a dark and scary subject with such vigor.  And it’s no wonder with Guillermo del Toro’s fingerprints all over this project.

I agree honey, maybe the only other person out there with a more recognizable style is Tim Burton, but Guardians has a del Toro look that is uniquely his and unmistakeable.   I’m not a super big fan of his, but “Pan’s Labrynth” was an awesome movie and the visuals there were certainly an influence here.  And as with that film, the darkness is trumped by purity, goodness and faith.  This movie is original, innovative, daring, sinister and touching.  It’s really not your standard Christmas release, the movie takes place at Easter time?  But the messages are clear and driven home with authority.  Fighting, when necessary, for what is right.  Having hope when all seems lost and never giving up.  Redemption.  The bottom line is, it boils down to a fairly basic “naughty” versus “nice” story, but I don’t see anything wrong with that, and who do you think wins?  A final note, one of my favorite characters in the movie doesn’t have any lines.  The Sandman is a central figure to the story, and simply through facial expressions, symbols and various gesticulations; he exudes kindness, playfullness and strength.  Rise of the Guardians, it’s not “It’s A Wonderful Life” (my personal Christmas favorite, “Merry Christmas Bedford Falls!”), but I think like most really good movies it will age very well. 

I sincerely enjoyed this tale and I truly appreciate the values it embodies; wishes, dreams and the wonder that surrounds childhood.  In a World where cynicism is the new fad, it’s comforting to still have something pure and idealistic to share with the children in our lives.  Obviously, as adults we know that Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Sandman, the Easter Bunny, Jack Frost and the Boogeyman don’t exist.  But what they stand for and represent are very real.  And in time as we get older, we realize that even though these iconic figures aren’t alive, we can adopt their values and share them with our family and friends at festive times of the year.  I do have one complaint regarding all children’s films that I have recently viewed.  What happened to the catchy and spectacular songs!?  I grew up during the era of Disney’s Aladdin, Beauty & the Beast, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King.  I still know every word to most of the songs featured in each of these films.  In fact, during Thanksgiving my best friend and I had a Disney sing-a-long for hours, playing all our favorites from “Little Town” (Beauty & the Beast), “A Whole New World” (Aladdin) and “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” (The Lion King).  Etc., etc., etc.!  Please bring back the catchy and wholesome tunes, I miss the music.  Guardians is a great film to bring your kids to or just something to get you into the holiday spirit, which I can attest is sometimes a challenge.  Especially when you find holiday music heinous, as I certainly do.  It just about makes Wal-Mart, which is borderline intolerable without “Deck the Halls”, that much more unfavorable.  Happy holidays to you and yours…just abstain from carolling outside my home.

Ross’ Rating: 4.25 Gummy Bears out of 5.

Maria’s Rating: 4 Gummies.

Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph

Published November 6, 2012 by mrsrag

Starring the voices of: John C. Reilly, Jack McBryer, Jane Lynch, Sarah Silverman.

Rated: PG. Animated/Comedy. Running time: 1 Hour and 41 Minutes.


Maria, Ethan and I have seen some wonderful animated films together since we started our MRSRAG blog in June.  I have pointed out on several occasions that these movies are easily and consistently better than the mainstream Hollywood offerings.  Maria has often extolled the virtues of the lessons taught and learned, some veiled and some not, for young and old alike.  Well, I will say right here that Wreck-It Ralph is hands down the best yet in my opinion.  Ralph (Reilly) is the “bad” guy in an old school video game.  He “wrecks” this apartment building, while Felix (McBryer) attempts to fix it with his magic hammer.  After the lights go out in the arcade, the video game characters have their own lives, and Ralph’s leaves a lot to be desired.  He is lonely, lives in an actual dump, never gets invited to any parties, and he is tired of being the bad guy.  He even attends AA type meetings for video game heavies called “Bad-Anon.”  These scenes will tickle even the most casual of video gamers.  The movie begins in earnest when Ralph decides to leave his game in the pursuit of a “hero’s medal”, hoping it’s aquisition will bring some happiness to his life.

I was quite excited to see this movie, mostly because of the casting of voices for the lead characters.  I am a huge fan of both Sarah Silverman and John C. Reilly, so my expectations were that the film would at least be decent.  Wreck-It Ralph pulled out all the stops and left me utterly shocked and impressed.  It had the usual makings of animated children’s films – great graphics, clever humor and pertinent lessons.  However, it added several new aspects that I haven’t seen exercised in this genre.  Firstly, there’s a twist!  I won’t embellish any further, but take it from someone who watches a lot of children’s films – there is rarely a twist that an adult won’t see coming.  Ross and I were pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case with Wreck-It Ralph.  Secondly, the plot of this film was inventive and original.  I love watching a story that’s sharp, smart and fresh.  I was recently complaining about watching the same regurgitated ideas, so I found this movie invigorating and refreshing – for a change.  Lastly, I love a film that pays homage to its roots.  Adults will love seeing jokes and references to some of their favorite childhood memories of arcade and video games.  My personal favorite nostalgic moment was when they showed an old Nintendo Gray Box controller being used as an opening device for a safe.  The Gray Box was one of my all time favorite Christmas presents ever and I will never forget playing the Super Mario Brothers game until I finally beat every single level.

Ahh the Gray Box!  Super Mario 3, Castlevania, Zelda.  And what about in the arcades, with Ms. Pacman, Donkey Kong, Galaga et al.  Wreck-It Ralph seemingly touches on them all, the new and the old.  So Ralph leaves his game and heads to Hero’s Duty, a game of warfare against some nefarious insects, where the good guys are led by the extremely hard-assed Calhoun (Lynch).  She of course gets immediately pissed at Ralph’s incompetence, but somehow he perserveres and “wins” his medal.  He promptly attempts to fly home but ultimately crash lands in a racing game called Sugar Rush, that looks a lot like the board game Candy Land.  There he meets the wise-cracking, cute, displaced Vanellope (voiced perfectly by Silverman), and their exchanges along with a growing friendship are the absolute heart of the movie.

Vanellope is my favorite.  She embodies cuteness, even with her ill-intentioned plan to “borrow” Ralph’s medal, which she needs to gain a place in competition amongst the other racers of Sugar Rush.  She convinces Ralph to help her build a race car, but they find themselves up against an overwhelming opposition to Vanellope’s participation in the race.  Predominantly the main lesson of this film is standing up for what’s right.  Ralph finds himself in a predicament after hearing misinformation from King Candy, the malicious monarch who seems bent on keeping Vanellope at a safe distance from his race and his kingdom.  Ralph learns a valuable lesson at this point in the story and decides to truly become the good guy he has always wanted to be.  With some help from his old friend Felix he becomes Vanellope’s hero and aids her in achieving her dream of racing.  Another important lesson of this film is simple kindness.  This lesson is made apparent by the other characters from Ralph’s game who never appreciated him or respected him.  These same people realize they need him and when he returns to the game where he belongs he is greeted with the kind of treatment that would have prevented his absence in the first place.  Lessons aside, I really enjoyed this movie.  It had a lot of heart and I was uncharacteristically moved by it.

I’ll be honest, I can be a pretty big softie, and Wreck-It Ralph had me misty on a couple of occasions.  It delivers some truly meaningful messages that parents should want their kids to see, hear and learn.  And what better way in this day and age to convey those messages, than through a movie based inside video games.  My boy Ethan (9) is a gamer extraordinaire, and I would guess many of you out there have one or two of your own.  He loved Ralph, and I’m sure the lessons got through to him easier and meant a bit more, because of the way they were delivered.  I would highly recommend Wreck-It Ralph to the young and the young at heart.  Not to get too deep, but on this election night in America, where we’re all on the edges of our seats, rooting for our own biases – and it seems, no matter who wins we’ll still be a nation divided; I guarantee we would all agree on the pure slice of apple pie ala mode that is the sweet, endearing and enduring Wreck-It Ralph.

Maria’s Rating:  4.5 Gummy Bears out of 5.

Ross’ Rating:  5 emphatic Gummies.