Popcorn Parents - Family Movie Reviews

Movie Tuesday: Pinocchio, a look back

Because there was no first-run movie appropriate for Movie Tuesday, we asked Jared Peterson to re-watch and write about the first movie he saw in the theater. Below is what resulted.

 

Puppet State
Pinocchio once had me rolling in the aisles—how does it hold up today?
By Jared Peterson

All I remember is the whale.

It was my first big-screen movie, Disney’s rerelease of Pinocchio. I was four years old, I think. It’s been a blur all these years, except for one short burst of startling detail—a giant whale, three stories high, right before my eyes. I remember its blue-black hide darkening the entire screen, save for a red-and-white slash of its fearsome teeth. It bellowed and thrashed and charged straight at me.

I dove for cover. Behind a seawall of seats, I crouched on hands and knees… and listened. The chaos roiled, then dulled, then faded away, and when finally I peeked again at the giant screen, the monster was gone. The brave little puppet, his kindly maker and a surprisingly tough cricket had all made it ashore. Humbled and sticky, I retook my seat.

I couldn’t have known it then, but that’s what you pay for, isn’t it? To surrender to something larger than life, to be transported—if only as far as the floor. So recently I watched Pinocchio again—with the lights up this time, on a flat-screen I knew I could wrestle to the ground if necessary. And it still manages to impress, sixty-eight years after it was first released and thirty-odd years after it made me hit the deck. I was pleased to find it as satisfying an animated experience as any you could computer-engineer today.

I was especially charmed by the opening scenes, guided by the dapper, diminutive Jiminy Cricket. We enter the story by his invitation and at his level, from which we can savor along with him the nooks and crannies of a mantle full of knickknacks and the warmth of a cozy matchbox bed. Once inside Geppetto’s lamp-lit workshop, crammed with toys and gizmos, the pace slows, allowing us to linger over sublime details: the rippling distortions glimpsed through a fishbowl, the slink of a sleepy cat at his master’s feet, the subtle mechanics of a chiming cuckoo clock. I can see now how this languorous introduction sets up the peril to come, making it all the more shocking and powerful to young eyes. The stakes are raised gradually as Pinocchio makes his hapless way from the wrong side of town to the far side of the world. The scope of the story soon becomes grand and imposing, and it reaches its climax in the belly of the proverbial beast. It was, and is, a great ride. (I know. I fell off.)

The film shows its age, certainly, in its themes as much as its visuals. Pinocchio was an event film for the children of the Greatest Generation, and it draws a firm line between good and evil. The moral of this fable—“Be good or else”—is simplistic by today’s standards, and Pinocchio’s road to ruin is quaint at best, paved as it is with ‘sinful’ indiscretions ranging from roughhousing to cigar smoking to a brief stint in community theater. I found it hard not to think about how much family fare has changed over seven tumultuous decades. Compared with Pinocchio, Disney’s 1995 Toy Story is a postmodern tangle—a Woody Allen movie for the playground set. On that go-round, the puppet hero confronts the dangers of the big bad world while simultaneously working through his abandonment issues. Oh, the places you’ll go after fifty years of psychoanalytic theory.

Rest assured, Pinocchio has plenty of angst-free fun for today’s families. Parents will get a chuckle from Jiminy Cricket’s wry musings, which bring a (then) modern sensibility to the fairy tale proceedings. (I especially enjoyed his weakness for the ladies—he stops for a wink and a nudge every time a hot little figurine catches his eye.) And millennial youngsters should recognize the familiar parade of talking puppets, adorable pets and goofy pratfalls, not to mention the musical numbers, which they always seem to instantly learn and then sing (and sing and sing).

Just keep an eye on them when the whale shows up.

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Jared Peterson will overanalyze anything ya got, for a small fee. Sample some of his work below, or at http://proweirdo.blogspot.com.

Movie Tuesday: Igor (PG)

Hunch Break
Frankenstein’s little man gets his big chance
By Jared Peterson

In the tradition of Shrek and Wicked, the animated tale Igor offers a sarcastic twist on a classic monster tale.

The story takes place in a land called Malaria, where it’s always a dark and stormy night and where the chief export is doomsday devices. Two distinct classes comprise the workforce. At the top are the Evil Scientists, who dream up horrible weapons with which to blackmail and terrorize the world. Far below are the meek, hunchbacked servants known as Igors, who are made to affect clichéd limps and lisps, absorb abuse from their masters and, occasionally, make a big show of throwing a switch.

Of all the Igors, one Igor (our hero Igor, voiced by John Cusack) dreams impossible dreams of improving his lot and entering his own project in Malaria’s annual Evil Science Fair. When his imperious master Dr. Glickenstein (John Cleese) accidentally dooms his own day, the lab is free and Igor sees his chance. In secret, he puts together his monster—a monsterette, actually—your standard Frankenstein number, cobbled together from mismatched body parts. The switch is flipped. An enormous, lopsided creature rages, escapes and heads straight for a school for blind orphans. Ehhhh-xcellent.

But turns out the creature is a big ol’ softie. She’s great with kids. She won’t harm a soul or hurt a fly. And her roar mellows into a sweet, tentative lilt (provided by Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon). Now, in this world evil is a career move, not a moral choice. Igor isn’t vengeful or cruel—at worst, he’s a little snippy—but he needs a mean machine to win the Science Fair, so he tries to coax some bad behavior out her. But as he tries to cajole, brainwash, and eventually trick the monster—who calls herself Eva—into performing her duties, her sweetness and naïveté begin to soften his hunch.

Igor is a bit like the guy at the party with the lampshade on his head. At various times the filmmakers seem to coax, beg or even dare you to laugh. Quips, asides and witty retorts come fast and furious and from all sides. But the result, if somewhat scattered, is a family film with something for absolutely everybody. Besides the standard cartoon chases and pratfalls, there are familiar exchanges of sitcom-style barbs and insults. Two sidekicks (Steve Buscemi, dour and exasperated; and Sean Hayes, frenetic and dense) pile comic relief on top of comic relief. And the villain (voiced by the droll comedian Eddie Izzard), is a smart-alecky and casually cruel evil genius called Dr. Schadenfreude (a name sure to amuse ten year-olds who have recently completed Intro to Psych.)

There are a couple of mild swear words and a smattering of bathroom jokes. The movie earns its PG rating, however, with an unwavering devotion to the macabre. In an evil industry town, shoptalk includes casual mention of axe murderers, severed limbs and torture. (I guess you were going to have to explain ‘aggressive interrogation’ to your kids eventually.) Igors are sometimes slapped around. Spare body parts are treated as, well, spare parts. And there’s one rather jarring violent moment, in which Buscemi’s sidekick character—a former science project who is incapable of dying—is accidentally shot through the head; we’re treated to a brief view through the hole (why I can not say). As if part of a perpetual Halloween, these morbid moments are mainly atmospheric—but you’d hate for them to make their way onto the playground.

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At a September 20th screening, the only previews were for Delgo, a computer-animated sci-fi adventure; and Inkheart, a literary fantasy based on a popular young fiction novel.

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Jared Peterson writes movie reviews and articles on popular culture for the magazine. He thinks he could save Hollywood a lot of trouble if they’d only ask his opinion before green-lighting a film. He channels his resentment into a blog, http://proweirdo.blogspot.com.

Movie Tuesday: Eagle Eye (PG-13)


Can You Fear Me Now?

Big Brother’s big sister wreaks havoc in Eagle Eye
By Jared Peterson

For any of you who have ever felt victimized by the cheerful automated voice that stands between you and flight information or tech support, Eagle Eye is your nightmare scenario. In this techno-thriller, a smug and detached artificial intelligence manipulates innocent people into following baffling commands with unknown consequences. But rather than just fraying nerves, the woman behind the curtain is intent on using terrorism to destabilize the world order. Press “1” to continue…

Her first contestant is Jerry Shaw (Transformers’ Shia LaBeouf), an underachieving copy shop employee, who she motivates by stuffing his apartment with terrorist toys and calling the FBI. Then she talks him through his escape and teams him up Rachel (Michelle Monaghan), a single mom whose young son will be killed if she doesn’t cooperate.

This telephonic puppetmaster is jacked directly into the grid of our computerized lives, seeming to see and know all. She can manipulate anything electronic—traffic lights, automated machinery, even power lines. As Rachel and Jerry rush from task to task—receiving instructions from LED displays, GPS navigation systems and ubiquitous television screens—we follow their progress through the unblinking eyes of an endless surveillance network. Bouncing like pinballs through a dizzying urban maze, their way is cleared by the malevolent eye-in-the-sky, who then sows chaos in their wake—police, FBI and scores of innocent bystanders shoved violently aside.

Eagle Eye
treads the familiar ground of 21st-century thrillers like as Enemy of the State and the later Die Hard films. The action is edited sharply and with manic intensity, and the camera stays tight on our heroes’ harried faces as they strain and struggle—LaBeouf with the quick mouth and wide eyes of a kid trying to hold his own, and Monaghan with the frantic expression of a young mother who has lost her child in the world’s most dangerous mall. The plot lines are intricately woven, becoming more mysterious and foreboding as other coerced citizens appear out of the woodwork to hand off a package or clear an obstacle. Surprises pile on top of one another as gaps are filled in and the menace spreads to the highest levels of power.

Though certainly derivative, Eagle Eye manages to cop to, and then somehow disarm, some of the genre’s clichés. For example, like most everyman heroes Jerry and Rachel display flashes of unlikely bravado, jumping from cars and wielding weapons with seeming ease and aplomb. But the movie calls attention to this in a scene with the FBI’s agent in charge (Billy Bob Thornton), in which he deduces that the suspects probably aren’t trained operatives because they act like people whose only experience with firearms comes from… over-the-top action movies. Also, as in many such popcorn flicks, Eagle Eye’s main characters are somewhat thinly drawn, their personalities cobbled together from off-the-shelf personal problems (Jerry is estranged from his family; Rachel’s ex-husband is a deadbeat dad). But we find out later that they were chosen for manipulation based on specific “data points” that stem from their unstable lives and troubled histories.

The violence of the film can be summed up in one phrase: “collateral damage”. There’s little blood, but the melee of flying bullets and crushed and mangles cars leaves no doubt as to the human toll taken. (My audience ooh-ed, aah-ed and cheered at the hyperkinetic chase scenes, but were reduced to quiet nervous laughter when an innocent family van gets puckered with stray gunfire.) On two occasions human beings are vaporized—a Muslim funeral is mistakenly bombed by US forces, and an unlucky man is caught between the ground and a power cable. There are one or two notable double entendres, and characters under stress swear at PG-13 levels.

Eagle Eye is no better but certainly no worse than the wild-ride action thrillers it mimics. And it’ll have you clamoring for a real live person the next time a friendly machine answers the phone.

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At a September 26th screening, the following previews were shown: Death Note II (unrated, but would probably be an R), a Japanese action film being screened two nights only in mid-October; Pride and Glory (R), a cop thriller with Colin Farrell and Edward Norton; Valkyrie (PG-13), a historical drama with Tom Cruise as a good Nazi; Quantum of Solace (PG-13), with any luck, the second-awesomest Bond film ever; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (PG-13)—this looks like a dark, bizarre Forrest Gump; Changeling (R), a missing-child drama with Angelina Jolie; and The Soloist (not yet rated), a feel-good drama with Robert Downey, Jr. and Oscar winner Jamie Foxx.

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Jared Peterson will overanalyze anything ya got, for a small fee. Sample some of his work at http://proweirdo.blogspot.com.

DVD Review: Soccer Mom

I must make a confession.  I have a penchant for kiddie movies.  I own everything Disney ever made and I have to admit I actually sat down, of my own volition, to watch It Takes Two, starring the Olsen twins.  So, as you can imagine, I was actually looking forward to settling in and watching Soccer Mom.
Soccer Mom stars Emily Osment of the "Hannah Montana" TV show.  I had a chance to watch that show this past weekend and it was cute; a totally clean kids show.  I rolled my eyes a couple of times, but overall I enjoyed it and I wouldn't mind sitting down with my thirteen-year-old niece to watch it.  I wish I could say the same for Soccer Mom.
The premise of Soccer Mom is that Becca's (Emily Osment) father passes away ,leaving the anti-motivator, Coach Kenny (played by Steve Hytner), to coach her soccer team.  Coach Kenny must resign after his day job transfers him to Milan.  He tells the team he has convinced his "friend", the renowned Italian soccer player Lorenzo Vincenzo, to come and coach the team.  Per Coach Kenny's instructions, Becca's mom arrives at the hotel to pick up the famous Lorenzo Vincenzo.  Due to a huge coincidence (that some might call a plot gap) Lorenzo happens to be at the hotel, but he makes it clear to Becca's mom that he has not arrived in the United States to coach "the little girl's soccer".  Now, Becca's mom Wendy must step up.  She proceeds to make herself over (with the help of her hairdresser co-worker, who, oh yes, happens to be an out-of-work special effects creator) into Lorenzo Vincenzo.  Sound familiar?  Yes?  That's because Robin Williams already did this, only better, and without all of the sleazy sexual innuendos.
I found myself cringing as Lorenzo made very inappropriate hand gestures to indicate how Becca's mom might "convince" him to coach the team.  My mouth dropped to the floor when he told a "fan" to meet him at the hotel wearing a zoo keeper's uniform, after she informed him that she had "been a very bad girl".  This movie is rated PG!  Other movies also rated PG: The Incredibles, Lilo and Stitch, and Enchanted.  I hardly consider these to be in the same category.  I would have been embarrassed to be sitting next to a child during this movie.  As a kid who actually had to wait until she was 13 to see a PG-13 movie and, much to my mortification, 17 until I was able to watch anything rated R, I think that the writers could have shown some restraint.
It's a sweet story!  The mother really wants to help her daughter and I was rooting for the Bad News Bears gone soccer team to win.  Sadly, I know children who have lost a parent much too young.  I think having outlets such as soccer, or even your favorite tween star Emily Osment, to help those children feel not-so-alone is great, critical even.  I just wish that they had decided to tell this story, no matter how many times we've heard it before, with a little class.

 

by Amy Dawson Henrickson

Movie Tuesday: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (PG-13)

weTunes
Nick and Norah spend a night in shuffle mode 
By Jared Peterson

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist depicts a long night’s journey into day, with two teens roaming the streets of New York City and slowly surrendering to their perfect musical chemistry.

It’s strange that Nick and Norah didn’t meet sooner. Nick (Juno’s Michael Cera) is a sweet and beleaguered bass player who’s smarting from a recent breakup with Tris (Alexis Dziena), a pretty but wholly unpleasant girl from a neighboring high school. And Tris, it so happens, is friends with Norah (The 40 Year-Old Virgin’s Kat Dennings), a deeply-feeling doormat who plays den mother to her party-girl friends and adores Nick’s heartfelt mix CDs. One night in the city, Nick and his band cross paths with Norah and her pals, where they discover a common goal: to locate a secret performance by their favorite band. Still hung up in previous entanglements, Nick and Norah share stumbling small talk and deadpan banter, then set off in Nick’s barely functioning Yugo—a fitting metaphor budding companionship only a bump away from a breakdown. The rest of the evening is devoted to turning circles—around town in search of a rock show, and around the mounting signs of a match made in iTunes.

Nick and Norah is a love letter to New York City and its neo-punk scene. With locations and bands ripped from the pages of the Village Voice, it strives to capture the texture and soundscape of a sleepless night in lower Manhattan and environs. (One notable slip in authenticity is the absurdly providential parking the characters manage to find.) The writing is clever and knowing but not overwritten—like a Juno with age-appropriate turns of phrase and a measure of restraint. Especially praiseworthy, comically if not morally, is a subplot involving the drunken wanderings of Norah’s friend Caroline (played expertly by Ari Graynor) which rises above slapstick to become a pitch-perfect rendering of the vagaries of inebriation.

Oddly, in this tale of musical destiny, music has a more limited role than you might think. (Parents looking to learn more about their teenagers’ tastes may leave as clueless as they came.) Bands and songs are more often simply listed, rather than debated or discussed. And while music thrums in the background in nearly every scene, we never hear a full track, let alone witness the magic that happens when someone really listens. But a playlist is only part of the connection between Nick and Norah—what they really share is self-consciousness, sensitivity and a passion for something that promises deliverance from the ordinary.

N

The playlist of adult content here, though hardly infinite, is broad and liberal—the film unapologetically depicts the escapades of the young and unchaperoned. Many characters drink, swear and demonstrate a distressing familiarity with sex. There’s no nudity, but we’re afforded several glimpses of young ladies’ fine washables. One or two scuffles break out, with a head butt here and a sucker punch there. Nick and Norah, it should be said, are punk-rock goodie-goodies who embrace the music but eschew its traditional excesses. (This hard-core philosophy, it turns out, has a name—“straight edge”—and a surprisingly long history.) But they eventually consummate their union with a sweetly fumbling sexual experience that we don’t see—thanks to a respectfully wandering pan shot—but are forced to listen to. All told, unaccompanied teens may laugh; accompanied teens and their escorts will squirm.

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At an October 4th screening, the following films were previewed: Death Note 2, a Japanese action film; The Uninvited, an evil stepmother thriller with the usually nice Elizabeth Banks; Role Models, a men-in-their-thirties-just-can’t-grow-up comedy; Confessions of a Shopaholic, based on the novels and starring designer shoes; The Haunting of Molly Hartley; a supernatural horror film (the preview has the requisite inhuman hands and faces popping suddenly into view); and Paul Blart: Mall Cop, a slapstick comedy with Kevin James.

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Jared Peterson will overanalyze anything ya got, for a small fee. Sample some of his work below or at http://proweirdo.blogspot.com.

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