Jury Coordination and Notes

Molly of Denali * Delightful and Authentic Portrayal of Three Generations of Native Americans

October 16th, 2019

Molly of Denali is an American-Canadian animated television series created and produced by Atomic Cartoons and WGBH Kids for PBS Kids and CBC Television. It premiered on July 15, 2019. The series is the first ever nationally distributed children’s show to feature an Alaska Native as the main character and protagonist. Thirty-eight half-hours have been ordered. Between the two 11-minute story segments, there is a special live-action segment filmed in Alaska. The series follows 10-year-old Molly, an Alaska Native girl from the fictional village of Qyah, and her family, friends Tooey and Trini, her dog Suki, and other residents. Her family runs the Denali Trading Post. It was created by Dorothea Gillim and Kathy Waugh and stars Sovereign Bill. The Molly of Denali theme song is sung by Phillip Blanchett and Karina Moeller. KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror, Terry S. comments, “This animated show is truly delightful and quite authentic in portraying three generations –  grand parents, parents and children. The images are true to form and culture.” See her full review below.

Molly of Denali – Grandpa’s Drum and Have Canoe Will Paddles (TV series)
By Terry S., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

Molly of Denali is an animated TV series featuring a strong Native American 10-year-old girl from Alaska. The show I watched has two 11-minute episodes: Grandpa’s Drum and Have Canoe will Paddle. The focus is on problem solving, while incorporating literacy and technology skills.
Alaskan Native values are modeled including respect, sharing, team work and honoring elders, family and cultural awareness.

The program highlights a Native American community in Alaska. The lead character Molly is a strong, energetic young girl, full of life and an inquiring mind. In Grandpa’s Drum, she and Tuli find an old photograph of her grandpa when he was young together with a young girl. They discover he doesn’t like to sing anymore, because he no longer has his drum. They go on a quest to find the girl and his drum by using their research skills. In Have Canoe Will Paddle, Molly, Tuli and Trini get resourceful once again with their literacy skills to learn how to paddle a canoe. With their friendly social skills, they find an appropriate coach to teach them, so they can enter a race.

Native Alaskan children will proudly see themselves and their way of life and a broader audience will be introduced to a new culture. They will experience adventures with the lead characters and see their contemporaries problem solving, learning and having fun. In Grandpa’s Drum, they will see Molly and Trini singing and their Grandpa remembering songs with his drum and teaching them. In Have Canoe Will Paddle, they will see the steps Molly and friends make to learn how to canoe and master the race. They will learn to know that we are more alike than different. Viewers may be motivated to explore their own cultural backgrounds as a result.

This is a very engaging show with fun characters that are eager to learn. Each episode flows well, incorporating literacy and technology skills that young children can relate to. It encourages them to go out and learn the skills they need to problem solve and have fun while doing so.

Young children, parents, teachers and caregivers alike will learn about the Native Alaskan culture and learn new Native vocabulary, as well as the difference between now and then. In Grandpa’s Drum, we learn that when he was a young boy, he had to go to boarding school and was not allowed to celebrate his culture at school. Today, we find out that this does not happen. Children are at home going to school and can celebrate their culture. This animated show is truly delightful and quite authentic in portraying three generations –  grand parents, parents and children. The images are true to form and culture.

In addition to the two animated shorts in each episode, there is a live action piece. In this episode, Molly answers questions about life in Alaska. We see children who live there at the river comparing old photographs of a similar place and see what it looks like today. They learn a traditional song from an elder. One girl says, “When I am dancing with ancestors, I connect with the past.”

Molly of Denali has all the benefits of inviting the viewer to question, probe and problem solve as described above, while introducing the viewer to a new culture and environment. It encourages one to look into situations such as in Grandpa’s Drum when it helps him to reconnect with his youth, re-learning the songs he loved with his new found drum, and then teaching and passing them on to the younger generation. Viewers will be motivated and encouraged to explore their own cultural backgrounds. Similarly in Have Canoe Will Paddle where it shows how one can learn a new sport, if they so desire. The role modeling of determination is inspiring.  

The moral of the series is: if there is a will, there is a way as it models problem solving to get the results you want, gaining new skills and having fun while doing it! Molly and her friends are terrific, inspiring role models for young children to get excited about learning!

I give this series 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 4 through 8. This airs on PBS Kids and CBC Television now, so look for it. Reviewed by Terry S., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror.

Film Independent: Future Filmmakers by Gerry Orz, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

August 30th, 2019
Clara Siliezar, Lacey Brauer, Vivian Munoz, Caitlyn Phu, Chase Okimura, Riley Thomas Stewart; Images courtesy of Getty Images and Film Independent

Recently I attended Film Independent’s Future Filmmaker’s Program where they screened twelve excellent short films of all genres and styles made by filmmakers in middle school and high school. Film Independent’s event showcased the true creativity and expression that exists in kids of all ages and proved most of all that knowing the technicality of filmmaking does not make an excellent film – a vision does. 

In modern cinema, we push for VFX, complicated sets and high resolution. Sadly, for youth filmmakers like me, and the ones premiered at Future Filmmakers, such extravagance exists merely as a pipe dream. Those cameras stray far outside any reasonable budget, as does any hope of professional Pixar animation or Marvel VFX. 

Clara Siliezar, Lacey Brauer, Vivian Munoz, Caitlyn Phu, Riley Thomas Stewart; Images courtesy of Getty Images and Film Independent

In a way, this makes films produced by children and teens all the more exciting. We lack the discipline and rules that have become enlisted in the larger overarching film industry, and it shows beautifully. Artists all over have been animating in the most incredibly unique mediums, with Old Man Planet directed by Jessee Quales a prime example where he combines stop motion and drawn animation that enticed me far more than many other recent animated feature films. Both Cannibal Cat, directed by Andrew Martin and The Princess and the P.D., directed by Lacey Brauer demonstrate the pure storytelling ability of animation, where the rules of our world fade away and we can create imaginative new ones for whomever we please. 

The event also visualized a common theme that may lead to becoming a defining theme in the next generation of cinema – identity. The massive majority of youth films shown in this screening dealt with identity in some form or another with Durian, directed by Caitlyn Phu, discussing cultural identity in a very visual way where she tells the story of Clara Chu, an Asian teenager struggling to determine if she recognizes herself as Asian or American. The T is not Silent takes identity on in the LGBT context where director Clara Siliezar interviews transgender teenagers in San Diego about discovering their gender identity. 

Film Independent staff: María Raquel Bozzi, Senior Director of Education, Sarah Berkovich, Film Education Manager and Josh Welsh President of Film Independent; Images courtesy of Getty Images and Film Independent

Most importantly, in all these short films, the filmmakers show that this generation dares to show things that no other generation had dared show. This is Not a PSA, directed by Delana Lewis discusses African American culture;  Brujería,  directed by Vivian Muñoz discusses the taboo nature of receiving mental healthcare in Mexican culture. Many more demonstrate the bravery of this generation of filmmakers to go into the world and show the most unspoken aspects of our society. 

Finally, and most importantly, the next generation of filmmakers shows a willingness to create – no matter what limits they have. Many filmmakers at the event discussed the difficulties of working, either completely alone or with very small crews. They used small DSLR cameras or simple point and shoot cameras. Dyad, directed by Riley Thomas Stewart shows this most of all. The film takes place on a scorched desert world and Stewart filmed most of the story in a real desert, in order to capture the decayed quiet world he wished to create. 

Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

The commitment from these 12 creators should be an inspiration to anyone interested in telling stories, as cinema does not require money, knowledge or experience. It merely requires time and passion. 

Bunuel In The Labyrinth Of The Turtles * Rare To See Such Mature Animation Like This. Incredible!

August 18th, 2019

Paris, 1930. The infamous surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel is left penniless after the scandalous release of L’Age d’Or leads to a falling out with collaborator Salvador Dalí. On a whim, Buñuel’s good friend, sculptor Ramón Acín, buys a lottery ticket and promises to devote his winnings to fund Buñuel’s next film. Incredibly, Ramón wins the jackpot, sending the two friends to the remote mountains of their native Spain to film the documentary Las Hurdes: Land Without Bread. Driven by mad artistic impulse and haunted by childhood memories, Buñuel must confront the specter of mortality looming over the lives of his subjects and his own. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Calista B. comments, “This is an incredibly unique film. It’s rare to see such mature animation like this, and I’ve been wanting more mature animation for a while. So I was incredibly entertained.” See her full review below.

Bunuel In The Labyrinth Of The Turtles
By Calista B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 15

This is an incredibly unique film. It’s rare to see such mature animation like this, and I’ve been wanting more mature animation for a while. So I was incredibly entertained.

The film is about the Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel and it follows him as he films his documentary, Las Hurdes, which is a documentary about the Las Hurdes region in Spain. 

Now, I love animation. However, I am slightly peeved that 2D animated movies are not very popular anymore. So I was excited to learn that this film is 2D. Not only that, but it is incredibly stylized and beautiful 2D. I’ve always liked aesthetics pertaining to historical generations of filmmaking. So it’s not surprising that I love this art style. One thing I find interesting is that many scenes in the film have clips from the actual Las Hurdes documentary, sliced in with animated recreations of the scenes. I can’t really explain why, but I really like this detail.

Another interesting aspect of the animation is the imagery. Luis Bunuel is often associated with surrealism and I assume that’s why the movie includes several strange and nonsensical sequences. There’s also a consistent theme involving religion, which I didn’t really understand if I’m being honest, but it is interesting.

A major aspect of this film is Luis’s relationship with the anarchist painter, Ramon Acin. The film was made thanks to Ramon, so it’s understandable that the film heavily focuses on their friendship. It’s interesting to see their conflict on the purpose of the film, and in general it makes for some compelling drama.

In a way this can serve as an introduction to Luis Bunuel and his work. I never knew of him before this film. However, now I’m somewhat intrigued by him and his work. Although, there is something I should warn people about. Despite the film being animated, this film is absolutely not a kid’s movie. There are lots of dark jokes, mature themes and a surprising amount of animal violence. It is important to point this out as many people assume all animated films are for little kids, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I give this film 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 13 to 18. If you’re a fan of history, the art of film or both, and you can stomach some uncomfortable subject matter, I highly recommend this. It comes out on August 16, 2019.

The Farewell – Everyone Can Relate To This Film in Some Way

July 3rd, 2019

A headstrong Chinese-American woman returns to China when her beloved grandmother is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Billi struggles with her family’s decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Jolleen M. comments, “This film rocked everyone’s emotions. Although there are multiple instances where the film is a bit slow, the overall emotional impact is great. There are moments of comedic relief throughout. I think that everyone can relate to this film in some way. I made connections with some of the ideas and scenes even though I am not Chinese.” See her full review below.

The Farewell
By Jolleen Mejia, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

This film rocked everyone’s emotions. Although there are multiple instances where the film is a bit slow, the overall emotional impact is great. There are moments of comedic relief throughout. I think that everyone can relate to this film in some way. I made connections with some of the ideas and scenes even though I am not Chinese.

The Farewell is about Billi and her family’s reunion in China. They reunite because their grandma has developed lung cancer and the doctor says she only has weeks to live. The family chooses not to tell Nai-Nai (grandma) that she has lung cancer. Instead, they tell her that they are reunited for a wedding. Billi’s family tells her that the reason for not telling Nai-Nai is that it’s not the cancer that kills, but the fear. The film is all about appreciating the time you have on earth and with your family. There are many moments of stillness, included watching the wind blow through the trees, for 30 seconds or more. I find this aspect of the film beautiful, as it reminds me of the phrase, “stop and smell the roses.” But others might interpret these moments as filler scenes and pointless.

Awkwafina, as Billie, is an exceptional actress. You can feel the emotion she conveys through the screen, even if she doesn’t say anything. For her role she needs to show the audience that she is deeply troubled, but also show that she tries to hide her feelings from her grandma. That is very difficult to do and she does it perfectly. Without this, the film would lose a lot of its emotional impact.

The music sets the mood very well for some scenes, but in others silence and black screens are  set the mood. Sometimes it’s the noise of nature, like the wind blowing through the leaves. Scenes like these are what makes the film divergent.

The message of this film is about being appreciative of all aspects of life. Billie begins to realize that while she spends time with her family in China. Every moment is a gift. I love that the film is quite simple yet it has such a powerful effect.

I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 11 to 18, as well as adults. There are innuendos, use of alcohol, cigarettes and some bad language. Despite this, the film will move you to tears so check it out! It comes out July 12, 2019 in theaters!

Toy Story 4 Annie Potts Interviewed by Katherine S.

June 18th, 2019
Annie Potts (Anne Hampton Potts), and Katherine S., Toy Story 4

Anne Hampton Potts  is an American actress. She was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Corvette Summer(1978) and won a Genie Award for Heartaches (1981), before appearing in  GhostbustersPretty in PinkJumpin’ Jack FlashWho’s Harry Crumb? and Ghostbusters II. She also voiced Bo Peep in the Disney and Pixar animated films Toy StoryToy Story 2 and Toy Story 4.

Toy Story 4 is an American computer-animated comedy film produced by Pixar Animation Studios for Walt Disney Pictures as the fourth installment in Pixar’s Toy Story series, and the sequel to 2010’s Toy Story 3. Annie Potts stars as the voice of Bo Peep and is joined by the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Tony Hale, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Joan Cusack and more. Toy Story 4 will be theatrically released in the United States on June 21, 2019, in RealD 3D, Dolby Cinema, and IMAX.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Katherine S. attended a special Disney event in Orlando, FL June 7 and 8 where she got to screen the film and meet some of the talent. A highlight of the weekend was having the delightful opportunity to interview film star Annie Potts about her role in Toy Story 4! Here is what she learned.

KATHERINE: How was your preparation different for  Toy Story 4, compared to a live action movie?

ANNIE POTTS: In a normal movie, I get the chance to read the script ahead of time.  But for this movie we read the script at the studio and we never had the full script.  We normally record alone in the studio but this time I spent a lot of time with Tom Hanks in the studio recording our scenes.

KATHERINE:     That’s interesting. Do you change your voice when you play Bo Peep?  Can you give us an example?

ANNIE POTTS: Yes, I do change my voice a little bit.  I try to make it more “breathy,” like “Hi, Woody” and “Oh, Woody.”

KATHERINE: What is your favorite song from this movie?

ANNIE POTTS: “You Got a Friend in Me.”  It always makes me a little teary.

KATHERINE: Yes, I love that song too! What would you like people to take away from this film?

ANNIE POTTS: First, love is so important.  Second, you have to be able to move on in life.

Later at the Press Junket with Mark Nielson, Jonas Rivera, Josh Cooley, Christina Hendricks, Tim Allen, Keanu Reeves…

KATHERINE: It’s amazing that the first Toy Story movie came out 24 years ago and yet there are a core group of actors and characters that star in all the Toy Story movies.  This question is for all of you, what do you do to help make new actors and new characters feel like they belong?

JOSH COOLEY, DIRECTOR: That is a great question. With the new toys in this film, we looked at the toys we grew up and played with.  If you look at the original Toy Story some of those toys are more classic toys like Slinky and Mr. Potato Head.  So we went more to the 70s and 80s in terms of toys and then we just tried to figure out characters that weren’t there on the screen just to be characters, but actually helped the story move along and supported Woody as much as possible.  And overall, entertaining as well.  So it’s a great question because it’s really hard to do if you loved Toy Story already and then tried to introduce new characters and hope you like these characters just as much. Hopefully you do.

JONAS RIVERA, PRODUCER: You don’t do it just for the fun of it.  Gabby Gabby for example –  the story would not work without Gabby Gabby.  She’s an echo of Woody and we needed her to be this legit and real and truthful human character.  Same thing for Duke Caboom and Giggle and everybody new.  They’re not just for fun, although we love them, but this movie would not work without them.  And that’s kind of our metric.

Later at the Press Junket with Mark Nielson, Jonas Rivera, Josh Cooley, Annie Potts, Tom Hanks, Tony Hale

KATHERINE: For Mr. Tom Hanks, thank you for photo bombing me. 

TOM HANKS: Oh, you’re Katherine.  Stand up so I can see you.  Now was that actually, did I photo bomb you when you were presenting?  Sorry I photo bombed you. 

KATHERINE: (blushes) I just want to know if you think Woody and Bo Beep will get married because they are the cutest couple.

TOM HANKS: Awwhhhh.  Well… 

ANNIE POTTS:  Wait, this could be [Disney] talking points. 

TOM HANKS:  I will say that Woody has known since 1994 that Bo was the figurine for him.  He just always knew.  And let me check these talking points.  (Audience laughs) (Tom Hanks pulls out paper with Disney provided talking points) 

ANNIE POTTS: They’re getting harder and harder to find. 

TOM HANKS: (Reads from paper) Toy Story 4 reunites Woody and his long lost friend Bo Peep who’s become an adventure-seeking free spirit.  They discover that they are worlds apart when it comes to life as a toy and yet, they know that fate is an odd thing and there is no substitution for love in this crazy kooky confusing world.  “Come on gang!”

Here’s Katherine’s summary of her awesome visit to the event…

And here’s her review of Toy Story 4 which opens nationwide June 21, 2019.

Toy Story 4 Special Press Event by Katherine S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 10

June 11th, 2019

I had so much fun while I was at Disney World for the Toy Story 4 press events! I attended a screening of Toy Story 4, rode some great rides, watched amazing outdoor animation shows at the Magic Kingdom, took pictures with the Toy Story 4 characters and some of the voice actors of those characters, interviewed Annie Potts who voices Bo Peep and attend two press junkets! Wow! It was a very full two days.

On Thursday, I flew to Orlando with my parents and settled in. On Friday, I rode some fun rides at Disney World and went to the screening of Toy Story 4, which is the best one of the Toy Story movies. By the time the screening ended, the park was closing so I had dinner with my parents.  As the park closed, there was a vibrant display of fireworks, animation and a Star Wars laser light show.  Disney kept Toy Story Land open for the press after the park closed and I got to take fun pictures with the Toy Story characters.

When we were filming an intro for my video, Tom Hanks ran into the screen and totally “video bombed” me! That was absolutely awesome. He is such a nice person!  Then I went to two press junkets and got to ask a question in each session. The director complemented me on my questions and Mr. Hanks made me stand up during my question so that we could talk about his video bombing.  He made me laugh the entire time. Once the press junkets ended, we flew back to Chicago.

On Saturday, I interviewed Annie Potts who plays Bo Peep in the movie. Annie Potts is so, so, so  lovely and inspiring. 

My trip was one of the best ever. Everyone from Disney to the actors in the movie were so kind to me. I will remember it forever.

The Hustle – Entertaining But Filled With Raunchy Humor

June 10th, 2019

Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson star as female scam artists, one low rent and the other high class, who team up to take down the men who have wronged them. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Abraham F. comments, “The Hustle is an extremely mixed bag of a movie.  On one hand, it’s very entertaining and had the entire theatre laughing because of the raunchy humor and continuous jokes, but this is also its weak point.” See his full review below.

The Hustle
By Abraham F., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic,  age 14

The Hustle is an extremely mixed bag of a movie.  On one hand, it’s very entertaining and had the entire theatre laughing because of the raunchy humor and continuous jokes, but this is also its weak point. The jokes keep on coming and coming, but they are all so similar that after awhile they get boring. The jokes are either fat jokes or raunchy sexual jokes and easily get stale. 

The Hustle is adapted from the film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and it features two huge stars in the lead:  Anne Hathaway as Josephine and Rebel Wilson as Penny.  The story follows Penny, a con artist who catfishes men and takes their money. She is coincidentally on a train with world-class con artist, Josephine. Josephine overhears Penny’s tactic to get money from an old man. She is afraid that Penny is going to “take over the market”. So to get Penny out of the city she operates in, Josephine trains her and doesn’t pay her, just to make her mad and force her to leave. This causes Penny to retort and purpose a turf war.

The Hustle has two huge stars leading the film. Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson are both predominant stars. Anne Hathaway is an Oscar-winning actress for her works in Les Misérables and has gotten praise for her performance as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. Rebel Wilson has been in franchises like Pitch Perfect and Night at the Museum.  

My favorite part of this film is when Penny is getting trained by Josephine to be world-class con artist like herself. Josephine shows Penny how to react to any situation by teaching her tricks that are used in a heist and not really to scam a man for money.

The message in this movie is that just because you’re a con person trying to steal money from men who have done you wrong doesn’t make all men evil. This movie has a lot of swearing and crude sexual remarks, and I strongly advise parents to look into the content before taking their kids. This film is no doubt entertaining, but once the jokes get stale the film does as well. The Hustle is appropriate for children 14 to 18. I give it 2 out of 5  stars. The Hustle hits theatres Friday, May 10, 2019.  

Tolkien – An Incredibly Heartwarming Film Telling How J. R. Tolkien Drew Inspiration for His Books

May 10th, 2019

Tolkien explores the formative years of the orphaned author as he finds friendship, love and artistic inspiration among a group of fellow outcasts at school. This takes him into the outbreak of World War I, which threatens to tear the “fellowship” apart. All of these experiences would inspire Tolkien to write his famous Middle-Earth novels. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Rohan F. comments, “Tolkien is an incredibly heartwarming film telling the story of John Ronald Tolkien’s life and how he drew inspiration for his books. This film is extremely entertaining for a biopic. It tells his life story in a way that shows how events throughout his life fueled his imagination to create his incredible fantasy stories.” Calista B. adds, “A mind like Tolkien is very intriguing. I was interested in how creativity and imagination are the central focus of the movie. As I writer, I get very excited when I hear how “creativity can change the world,” because that is something I believe in very deeply. So, I enjoyed that very much. “ See their full reviews below.

Tolkien
Reviewed by Rohan Foxe, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 13

Tolkien is an incredibly heartwarming film telling the story of John Ronald Tolkien’s life and how he drew inspiration for his books. This film is extremely entertaining for a biopic. It tells his life story in a way that shows how events throughout his life fueled his imagination to create his incredible fantasy stories. It brilliantly represents how people make connections with other people and events that inspire creativity.

Tolkien begins with J.R.R. Tolkien in a small camp in a WWI trench, where he is having visions of mythical creatures battling. It then cuts to him as a child and shows how he always loved these mythical creatures that he wrote about. Suddenly, due to a lack of money, his family is forced to move to the city where he has no friends. He and his brother are admitted to a prestigious school on scholarships where he makes some lifelong friends.

The use of imagery in this film is incredible. Lots of normal things are transformed by John’s imagination into incredible creatures from myths and legends. Many of the things that John experiences over the course of his life are mirrored by the events in his books. The film excels at showing that Tolkien was really passionate about his writing and the use of language. The war scenes in the movie are quite graphic and hard to watch, but show the inspiration for Tolkien’s epic battle scenes in his writings.

(From L-R): Nicholas Hoult, Anthony Boyle, Patrick Gibson and Tom Glynn-Carney in the film TOLKIEN. Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

One thing I disliked is the way the movie starts. It begins with a scene of two CGI horses being ridden into battle. The CGI used isn’t that great and is a terrible choice for the opening scene, because it instantly turns down the audience and makes it just a little bit harder to get their support. However, the story is strong enough to compensate for that and you become quickly lost in the world of Tolkien’s imagination.

The moral of this film is that you should try to accomplish your goals and overcome obstacles. This is told throughout Tolkien’s journey. He constantly tries to accomplish different goals and is incredibly dedicated to finishing them. There is also an integral message about dealing with loss. This is shown in how he deals with the many devastating losses in his life.

The music in this film is great. It is exciting and conveys a strong tone that matches the film incredibly. It is very interesting and has a lot of variety. I give this movie 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 11 through 18, because it covers some heavy topics that are unsuitable for younger viewers. Any fan of the writings of JRR Tolkien will love this. It is one of my favorite films and I am certain I will watch it again. It opens in theaters May 10, 2019 so look for it.

Tolkien
By Calista Bess, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 15

At this point, it’s hard not to know about J. R. R. Tolkien. Given that The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings are behemoths in pop culture, you’ve no doubt heard of the author. Even though I’m not a Tolkien fan, I’ll admit this movie is quite interesting.

This movie is a biopic about the early life of J. R. R. Tolkien showing his high school years, him building his strong friendships, falling in love with Edith Bratt – all culminating in the creation of The Hobbit.

A mind like Tolkien is very intriguing. I was interested in how creativity and imagination are the central focus of the movie. As I writer, I get very excited when I hear how “creativity can change the world,” because that is something I believe in very deeply. So, I enjoyed that very much.

A big focus of this movie is about how friendships we build in school can push us and help us ascend to become better artist. Early in the movie, Tolkien befriends three boys – Robert Gilson, Christopher Wiseman and Geoffrey Bache Smith. They form The TCBS Club which created such a strong brotherhood that it probably would have lasted a lifetime, if not for the war. Most of the scenes in this movie focus on their relationship and the performances really bring their friendship to life. Speaking of which, I really enjoyed the performances in this film. The two leads, Nicholas Hoult as Tolkien and Lily Collins as Edith Bratt, work really well together. Not only do they have a lot of charm, but they also have a lot of chemistry. There’s one scene where they’re in a restaurant and talking about Tolkien’s stories and languages. The dialogue feels very natural. Something about the whole scene is very immersive and charmingly romantic, without being cheesy, which is very rare in modern cinema.

I like how references to Tolkien’s future works are sprinkled throughout the film. From he and Edith going to see an opera about a magic ring, to a very well shot scene from Tolkien’s time in World War 1 where he sees fantasy creatures throughout the battlefield, it reminded me of how I picture scenes for my own stories.

I give this movie 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 13 to 18, plus adults. It comes out May 10, 2019. Look for it, especially if you are a fan of his literature.

Fighting With My Family – Captures Your Heart With Big Family Values

March 22nd, 2019

Born into a tight-knit wrestling family, Paige and her brother Zak are ecstatic when they get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try out for the WWE. But when only Paige earns a spot in the competitive training program, she must leave her loved ones behind and face this new cutthroat world alone. Paige’s journey pushes her to dig deep and ultimately prove to the world that what makes her different is the very thing that can make her a star. KIDS FIRST! Adult Reviewer Kimbirly O. comments, ” When I heard about this film, I thought, “What a crazy title!” Well, it is not so crazy; it is enchanting.” See her full review below.

Fighting With My Family
By Kimbirly O., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

Florence Pugh stars as Paige in FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY, . Credit: Robert Viglasky / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

When I heard about this film, I thought, “What a crazy title!” Well, it is not so crazy; it is enchanting. This film is based on a true story and follows the antics of a former wrestler and his family, as they make a living wrestling in small venues in northern England. The family is in the business, and the kids dream of making it in big in the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).

While wrestling is not my jam and the film is slow at times, it captured my heart with big family values – life lessons about believing in oneself and each member of one’s family. The sibling wrestlers Saraya (Florence Pugh) and Zak Knight (Jack Lowden) have trained for the big stage of wrestling since they were young. In fact, Zak reminds us that this was his dream since he was three. When they get the call from a WWE scout named Hutch (Vince Vaughn), it is a dream come true. On the other hand, is it?

Nick Frost as Ricky Knight and Jack Lowden as Zak Knight in FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY. Credit: Robert Viglasky / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

Florence Pugh is fantastic and I cheered for her throughout the film. Her family brings a lot of comedy and grit to their roles. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is in all the trailers and has some key scenes. He will definitely help sell tickets! It is great to see Vince Vaughn in a positive and upbeat role.

I give this film 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 8 to 18, as well as adults. The stunts are detailed and outstanding. The choreography is flawless. The casting is great. The costumes are authentic and there are many laugh-out-loud lines. You do not have to be clan of grapplers in Norwich, England to like this film! The film screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and opens in theaters nationwide February 22, 2019. Look for it!

See Jane Salon – Gotta Keep on Tryin’!

March 10th, 2019

Shining A Spotlight on Women in Literature and Hollywood
Hosted by 72andSunny & LAI Communications

The 2nd Annual Black History Month celebration once again shines a spotlight on women and girls of color in Hollywood and media using literature as its entry point. The evening featured dramatic readings from the works by New York Times best-selling authors, Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant, along with the newest release of the novel, Blurred Lines, by Courtney Parker and Mona Scott Young. An empowering panel discussion followed on the current state of women of color in Hollywood and media. The panel also highlighted recent research studies by Baylor University as well as Creative Artists Agency and shift7. The former study found that movies starring women of color had strong staying power (which equals profitability) in movie theaters on an average of 20 weeks. The latter study looked at movies, from 2014 to 2017, and found that films with female leads earned more than their male-led counterparts. With all of the great successes and progress for women in 2018, there is still more work to do. We “Gotta Keep on Tryin!”

Moderator: Madeline Di Nonno, CEO, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; Panelist: Yolanda Brinkley, Founder, Diversity in Cannes; Kellee Edwards, Travel Expert & Television Host; Sharon Liggins, PR Strategist; Tyrha M. Lindsey-Warren, PhD/MBA, Business Executive, Artist, Entrepreneur; Courtney Parker, VP Alternative Programming, Adaptive Studios and Co-author, Blurred Lines; Actors: Joni Bovill, Napiera Groves, Benita Krista Nall, Fredericka Meek

Gotta Keep On Tryin’!
By Samantha Marcus, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 19

I absolutely loved attending the stage reading and panel discussion about gender in media. It left me feeling empowered, driven and motivated. While there aren’t as many women in media as there are men, we can change that. After hearing about five successful women finding their voices and making a difference in the world, I can’t wait to do the same.

Hosted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, this event highlighted the dynamics of gender in media, shining an immense spotlight on women of color in literature and Hollywood. Women of different races, backgrounds and lifestyles gathered to view stage readings from two pivotal novels: Gotta Keep On Tryin’! by Virginia Deberry and Donna Grant, and Blurred Lines by Mona-Scott Young and Courtney Parker. Both novels illuminate the power of women and recognize how women need to be a driving force in changing the way they are represented in society today. The panel discussed their career paths and struggles within our ever-growing and diverse society

The panel consisted of Yolanda Brinkley, Keller Edwards, Sharon Liggins, Dr. Tyrha Warren and Courtney Parker. Each woman emphasized how never giving up is imperative in making your dreams come true. I admire how Courtney Parker, co-author of Blurred Lines, personalized her writing passions by sharing how she questioned Goldilocks and the Three Bears, when she was only four years old. Kellee Edwards developed her own show Travel Channel after she filmed herself traveling the world on YouTube.

My favorite part was meeting Geena Davis. She is such an inspiration to me and she was so happy to take a picture with me. I aspire to be like her when I grow up. The message of this event is to find your voice. It wasn’t easy for these women, but once they did, nothing was impossible. This event was appropriate for ages 13 to 18, as well as adults. Teenage years are divine in a young woman’s life, so make the most of them. To learn more about the Geena Davis Foundation, become a member and attend their monthly events, go to www.seejane.org. To all the young women reading this, promise me you’ll let nothing stop you. If men can do it, so can we!

Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made
Shining A Spotlight on Women in Literature and Hollywood
By Jordan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 12

On February 20, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media hosted a See Jane Salon celebrating the 20th anniversary of Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made by New York Times best-selling authors Virginia Berry and Donna Grant. Held in honor of Black History Month, the event was a lively discussion about the state of people of color in media.

Founded by Academy-Award winning actor Geena Davis, the Institute is a research-based organization in the media and entertainment industry focused on eliminating bias, highlighting gender balance and challenging stereotypes.

The event featured dramatic readings from some of the authors’ most popular books including Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made, Gotta Keep on Trying, What Doesn’t Kill You and Far from the Tree. Readings featured actors Roseanne Currry, Magaly Coleman, Lisa Wilkerson and Harry Lennix.

Each of the performances took the audience through a range of topics from friendships to a troubled marriage to young womanhood. Some of the scenes were humorous and others were more traumatic and emotional. It was interesting to see all of the books portrayed live, a much different experience than just reading them. It was like watching a play in action with each book a different scene.

The readings were followed by a panel discussion on the state of people of color in the media. The panel was moderated by Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Madeline kicked off the discussion by asking each of the panelists to share their journey to success, including challenges, and then provide advice for breaking into the industry and share their thoughts on where media is now. It was a lively discussion filled with humor and honesty.

Authors Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant shared their journey to becoming best-selling authors and the challenges of breaking into the literary industry as women of color. They discussed their journey from meeting as plus size models in the fashion industry, to becoming best-selling authors. Tyrha Lindsey-Warren discussed her experience working in television and film development with the Creative Artists Agency and Edmonds Entertainment. Actor Harry Lennix, currently on NBC’s hit show The Blacklist, discussed his process to becoming a successful actor from stage to screen. He noted that in order to become an actor, you need to study the work of those that you admire. Entrepreneur Yolanda Brinkley, discussed founding Beyond Borders: Diversity in Cannes. The goal of her program is to highlight diversity in independent film at the international festival each year. Yolanda discussed the importance of people of color in Hollywood having a seat at the table. Because Beyond Borders is not yet an official part of the festival, Yolanda stressed pushing hard to advocate for what you are passionate about doing. She is still striving to make it an official event, but shared how she works to reach out to actors and filmmakers of color to get the word out and the event is growing each year.

Talking with author Virgina DeBerry about the direction of women and people of color in the media, DeBerry stated “We need to continue to get better representation, especially for women in the media. We are so interesting and have so many facets and the media tends to pigeon hole people. We need to be able to break out of the slot and show all that we have to offer.”

The event and the panel discussion was inspiring. It was good for the audience members to not only hear the journeys of the panelists, but get their advice on how to begin journeys of their own.



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