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I’m not sure when exactly “family-friendly” became code for “condescending and/or milquetoast,” but that’s pretty much where we are as far as Hollywood is concerned. The truth is that there are plenty of ways to make a movie for younger audiences that engages with them in a manner that treats them with respect – folks like Steven Spielberg did it all the time in the 1980s.

So when word of “The House with a Clock in its Walls” came out, I was cautiously optimistic. The original source material – a 1973 YA magic mystery by John Bellairs and illustrated by Edward Gorey that was the first of a dozen in the series – had the requisite spookiness. Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment production company is prominently involved. The cast – led by Jack Black and Cate Blanchett – is strong.

But there were questions – and the biggest involved the man sitting in the director’s chair. Eli Roth built his career on brutal, bloody genre fare – the choice to hand what is essentially a movie for kids over to the dude who made “Hostel” is an odd one. It seemed like a jarring, unconventional marriage unlikely to succeed.

Instead, it turned out to be an ideal pairing, with Roth bringing his visceral sensibility to the PG-realm with nary a hiccup, resulting in a children’s movie that isn’t afraid to spend some time in the shadows and bring genuine scares to the screen.

Published in Movies

One of the realities of Hollywood’s love of sequels, remakes and reboots is that you’re guaranteed a fairly wide range of quality, though history shows that you’re much more likely to get a dud than a diamond. The most effective projects seem to be the ones that can manage to update a property while still retaining the aspects that made them successful in the first place.

That said, be honest – you’ve probably never spoken aloud (or even thought) the sentence “I sure would like to see an updated reboot of the 1995 family film ‘Jumanji’ – preferably starring The Rock.”

And yet that’s what we’ve gotten with “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” It probably seems odd to be getting a movie like this some two decades after the original, but that’s not even the biggest surprise about the whole thing. The biggest surprise?

It’s actually pretty good.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 03 February 2016 16:08

Kicking it with Kung Fu Panda 3'

Animated sequel familiar, but still plenty of fun

As much as we might bemoan the lack of originality in Hollywood, there's no denying the reality that there's a lot of money to be made by giving people what they've already shown that they like.

Animated movies are among the guiltiest of offenders. Any animated film that achieves even a modicum of success swiftly becomes a franchise, a family-friendly cash cow that can be counted on to generate serious box office and merchandising revenue over and over and over again. Granted, all of these animated franchises fall prey to the inevitability of diminishing returns, but some manage their drop-offs better than others.

'Kung Fu Panda 3' is a good example of that sort of quality management. The folks at DreamWorks have never been shy about hitting the same notes repeatedly ('Shrek,' 'How to Train Your Dragon' and most egregiously 'Madagascar'), but they've handled this particular series with a lighter touch. The end result is a film that, while undeniably familiar, still manages to retain a bit of freshness.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 19 October 2011 11:18

'The Big Year' not for the birds

Comedy driven by performance, plumage

Of all the hobbies that one might choose to make a film about, bird-watching would seem to be fairly low on the list. There would appear to be nothing truly dynamic inherent to quiet guys quietly picking their way through the woods and watching birds - quietly.

However, 'The Big Year' would beg to differ.

It's the story of three men who have decided to attempt what is known in birding circles as a 'big year.' The gist is that you try to see and catalog as many different species of birds (in North America) as you can in one calendar year. The person who puts up the biggest number is acknowledged as the world's best birder.

Published in Movies

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