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Fences – Lives Up to its Award-winning Status! by Juanita Seon Leary

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

Fences_1.jpgFences is the story about an African-American father struggling with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. KIDS FIRST! juror Juanita Seon Leary comments, “Adapted from the stage play by August Wilson (who also writes the screenplay), it lives up to its award- winning status.” See her full review below.

By Juanita Seon Leary, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror                       

I saw Fences as a play with James Earl Jones years ago and was very anxious and looking forward to seeing the filmed version. Adapted from the stage play by August Wilson (who also writes the screenplay), it lives up to its award- winning status. I am a fan of both Denzel Washington and Viola Davis who star in this film.

Throughout the film, we see life through the eyes of Troy (Denzel Washington) an African American man struggling with issues of race and economics and all the events of his life.  He lives with his family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1950s.

Fences opens with Troy and Bono (Steven Henderson) riding on the garbage truck. As they work, they talk about the inequality of their jobs.  Troy questions why “a black man cannot drive the truck”? He asks the question to his supervisor who is a white man and is facing possible firing. so it is thought. Troy and Bono arrive at Troy’s house and we begin to learn about a fence.  It is Friday and payday. We see Troy and Bono sharing a bottle of liquor.  Troy tells stories and his wife Rose (Viola Davis) sits on porch and interacts to keep Troy honest. We learn about Troy’s past, his excellent skills in baseball, time he served in jail and how he met Rose.

The film has excellent scenes that let us feel and see the streets of Pittsburgh. The main center of action is the backyard. There is a baseball on a string and Troy’s baseball bat.  Rose asks Troy to build her a fence. At one point, Bono speaks to Troy about fences.  “Fences are built to keep something or someone out or to keep something or someone in.” He lets Troy know that Rose wants to keep him and their son Cory (Jovan Adepo) inside.  In Fences, we see the relationship and interaction of a father with his sons. His older son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby) comes by on paydays to ask for a loan and his younger son Cory wants to play football to attend college. 

Fences is excellent and has many lessons and messages. Because of the language and suggestive references, I recommend it for ages 14 to 18 and believe that many adults will enjoy it also. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.  It opens on December 25, 2016 so be sure to check it out.





Jackie – A Biopic Display of Grief and Its Inhibitor by Willie Jones

Friday, December 30th, 2016

Jackie.jpgJackie is a portrait of one of the most important and tragic moments in American history, seen through the eyes of the iconic First Lady, then Jacqueline Kennedy. Jackie places us in her world during the days immediately following her husband’s assassination. Known for her extraordinary dignity and poise, here we see a portrait of the First Lady as she fights to establish her husband’s legacy and the world of “Camelot” that she created and loved so well. This is an R rated film for brief strong violence and some language but we felt it important enough in terms of its historical content to review. We do recommend it for ages 14 to 18. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Willie J. comments, “Jackie is a biopic about more than Jackie Kennedy. It is a display of grief and its effects on its inhibitor. The assassination of JFK is used as a backdrop to present a portrayal of grief as something raw and gritty.” See his full review below.

By Willie Jones, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic. Age 17

Jackie is a biopic about more than Jackie Kennedy. It is a display of grief and its effects on its inhibitor. The assassination of JFK is used as a backdrop to present a portrayal of grief as something raw and gritty. The grainy cinematography expresses that. Additionally, the film humanizes a famous figure, that is all too familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

Natalie Portman plays the famous First Lady and what a transformation it is. Portman’s last great performance was in 2010s Black Swan and she is in rare form in this film. From the walk, to the signature voice, Portman embodies the ticks of Jackie Kennedy that we’ve come to know. That alone is impressive. Then, Portman adds the emotional layers to the caricature we’re accustomed to and Jackie Kennedy suddenly becomes human. Natalie Portman portrays the grief of a famous figure and makes it something down-to-earth and relatable. This performance is one to be remembered for its sensitivity, vulnerability and depth. Behind that voice is a tremble of sadness and beneath those eyes are memories of seeing a husband killed. Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career, not simply because she plays a real person who is a famous figure in history, but because she makes that figure unfeigned.

Supporting her are veterans John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup and Greta Gerwig. Sarsgaard plays JFK’s brother, Bobby Kennedy. His characterization is spot on and his eyes tell a lot. There is a brooding guilt beneath his eyes and in his face that comes out very perfectly played in a scene near the climax of the film. Gerwig and Hurt play the confidants of Jackie Kennedy, each in his own way playing the wisdom and empathy proper to each spectrum of Jackie’s grief. Billy Crudup challenges Jackie’s notion and speaks from a perspective of his search for truth. He truly attempts to uncover and peel the celebrity off of Jackie and give us the raw confession of her lies and motivations.

To further the raw portrayal of grief is the cinematography of Stephane Fontaine and the direction of Pablo Lorrain. The documentarian behind-the-scenes style plays to the fervent nature of the film. The grain of the film, conceivably, could be a testament to the imperfections of Jackie Kennedy. Perhaps the cinematography and, at times, sporadic direction is a representation of how imperfect our idol Jackie Kennedy really was. Furthermore, the editing and cinematography are sometimes very eerie, meaning there are tracking shots that come off woozy and pieces of editing that scatter. They are brilliant pieces of filmmaking because they reflect Kennedy’s mental state. It’s actually quite brilliant how much of Jackie’s emotional state is presented without a word of dialogue, but only with Portman’s face and the direction of Pablo Lorrain.Willie1.jpg

Personally, my favorite aspect of the entire film is the score by Mica Levi. The score can be described as haunting. It is laced with a foreboding, calamitous tone that injects dread to the film. It drives the grief into our catharsis and, at times, actually weighs down on us. Then, in the midst of the heavy slightly off-pitch stringing, comes a higher pitched sound that injects a sort of longing for something happier. I can’t fully express how beautiful and sad and astute the score is.

My only complaint with this film is very minimal. Sometimes the dialogue gets a little too cinematic for the tone of the film. Additionally, the plot occasionally gets slightly recurring and seems to be a bit lethargic.

With that said, I give this move 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 14 to 18. This film is in theaters December 2, 2016 so, be sure to go check it out.

Magic at the Theater By Keefer C. Blakeslee, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

CHRISTMAS.STORY_1.jpgIt’s the most wonderful time of the year. I love the Holiday Season for many reasons – being with loved ones, giving presents and of course, winter break! During this time, I like to catch up with any films I missed by creating a holiday watch list. Most people have a list of things they want for Christmas but all I want, and need, for the holidays is to watch movies with my family. Whether it’s a classic film like my favorite, A Christmas Story or a newly released film such as Hidden Figures, I make a watch list. My family and I then grab our hot cocoa and snuggle up by the digital fireplace. I was at home watching my mother’s favorite film, White Christmas, with Danny Kaye flying through the air and singing his heart out when he raises a question that sparked this blog. In one of the musical numbers, he sings, “The theater…The theater… What’s happened to the theater?” Now, in the context of this song, when he refers to the theater, he’s talking about the stage. But, it made me think about movie theaters today. White_Christmas3_1.jpg

Movies have become so easily accessible because of online outlets such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. So much so, that people would rather stay home and watch movies on their smaller screen. I can’t say I can blame them. There are many good reasons to do that. You’re more comfortable. You don’t have to worry about other people talking or texting. And, the biggest thing is its much CHEAPER. These are all very valid and understandable cases. However, I truly believe that movie theaters are magical places and, to always watch films at home can be an injustice to some films that need to be seen on a big screen. I’m not saying that you should go to the movies all the time. I just want to defend a place I hold dear and maybe encourage you to visit the theater during this season of joy.

As I have mentioned countless times, I grew up with the movies, as many of us have, and I have many memories going to the movie theaters. One of my fondest memories is watching The Polar Express on the big screen, which is a yearly tradition at my hometown theater. People are encouraged to come in their pajamas and, when the lights go down, we board the Polar Express.  At the end of the film, we are given golden jingle bells so that we never forget to “believe.” Not all movie theaters do events like this, but it brings up the point that movie theaters are like trains that transport you into worlds of stories.

Picture this: You’re in your seat, the gigantic screen stops playing ads and becomes blank. Then the house lights slowly dim until you’re in complete darkness. The only light is small aisle lights. It’s completely silent. No phones. No outside noises. Just the anticipation of what’s going to be shown on screen. Finally, the film begins and, by then you forget you’re in a theater. You’re immersed in the film.

Granted, this is a romanticized scenario. Sometimes there are people in the theater who break this illusion by using their phones and, even the movie can damage the experience by its lack of interesting characters or an engaging story. With that said, when everything goes according to plan, the experience is exhilarating. When you’re at home you’re tempted to check your phone every minute and you have other distractions. When you go to the movies, it’s like signing a contract that, for the next 90 minutes you are disconnected with the outside world.

The movies are also a sanctuary for people. Films do, or at least should, spark humanity and empathy. Whether it’s joy, sadness oKeefer.2014.5.jpgr even anger, people respond emotionally. I’ve mentioned this on our radio show before, but I’m still touched by this. I recently saw the film Loving which is based on a true love story about an African American woman and a white man struggling to protect their marriage and their life during a time of strong prejudice in the 1960s. While in the theater, I was surrounded by interracial couples. Next to me there was an older couple, a white woman and an African American man, and when the film ended, the women turned to her significant other and said, “This is our story.” Then she kissed him on the cheek. You can’t see rare moments of humanity like that at home.

I’m the type of person who loves listening in on conversations after a movie ends because everybody is a film critic. Alfred Hitchcock once said, “Drama is life with the dull bits are cut out.” Since we are all living life, humans have a connection with films. That’s another reason why I love the movie theaters because it brings people together. When watching a movie, complete strangers in one room laugh, cheer or even cry together. It doesn’t matter your faith, race or sexuality, we are all connected by the love for stories.

I could go on to talk about the importance of preserving the movie theaters, but I think these two points are the most important. The cinema is a portal that transports you out of this world and, when you return, your soul has changed. That is something that home entertainment systems just can’t capture. Happy Holidays and I’ll see you in the New Year.

What’s So Wonderful About It’s A Wonderful Life? by Clayton Pickard, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

It_s_A_Wonderful_Life.jpgMy parents have been trying to get me to watch this film every year. Finally, this year I watched It’s a Wonderful Life from start to finish. I found it absolutely magical! I now understand why it’s the most popular Christmas movie of all time.  Directed by Frank Capra, the film stars Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore. Written by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett and Capra, the screenplay was further polished by the witty Dorothy Parker, which is why the dialogue really sings. Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, a man who is dissatisfied with his life and wishes he was never born. His wish is granted by a guardian angel, Clarence. The film shows how each life has purpose and touches everyone else’s life. The movie showed me how blessed we are and how we take our lives for granted. Also, that you can be an important person without being rich and famous.  Part of the movie’s enduring appeal is its unbridled optimism. Capra made propaganda films for the US government during WWII, so he was the master at emotional manipulation.  It’s a Wonderful Life was made at the end of the war in 1946, but bombed at the box office. A copyright lapse in the 70s aided its popularity because it was then played all the time on TV. The film’s Clayton.jpglater popularity was very surprising to Capra. My favorite scene in It’s a Wonderful Life is during the High School dance when the gym floor opens up and everyone falls or jumps into the swimming pool.

Another perennial Christmas classic is Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story. I love the nostalgic humor of this movie, even though it is the most overplayed holiday film on cable TV. Some channels play the film in marathon 24/7!  A Christmas Story is based on the reminiscences of Shepherd’s 50s childhood in Indiana.  My favorite part of the film is when Ralphie, the protagonist, stands up to the neighborhood bully. My Dad’s favorite scene is when Ralphie visits Santa at the department store and is so overwhelmed that he forgets what he wants for Christmas!  A recurring joke in the film is that everyone tells Ralphie that the BB gun that he wants for Christmas will “poke your eye out kid.”

My other favorite Christmas film is Home Alone, which is just hilarious. Both the original Home Alone and the first sequel really put you in a good mood. I also love both Miracle on 34th Street films. They are the most “Santa friendly” films because they prove in a courtroom that Santa does indeed exist. Another really hilarious, light Christmas film is Elf. My favorite part of Elf is when Will Ferrell accosts a dwarf, thinking that he’s one of Santa’s elves.

Collateral Beauty explores the challenges of dealing with life’s toughest stuff by Juanita L.

Friday, December 16th, 2016

collateralBeauty_1.jpgThis story follows a successful New York advertising executive who suffers a great tragedy and retreats from life. While his concerned friends try desperately to reconnect with him, he seeks answers from the universe by writing letters to Love, Time and Death. But it’s not until his notes bring unexpected personal responses that he begins to understand how these constants interlock in a life fully lived, and how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty. KIDS FIRST! Juror, Juanita L. comments, “I enjoyed watching Collateral Beauty. It is a great example that reminds us how connected we are to people within and outside our circle.” See her full review below.

Collateral Beauty
Juanita L., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

I enjoyed watching Collateral Beauty. It is a great example that reminds us how connected we are to people within and outside our circle.

It is a story about Howard (Will Smith), a successful advertising executive who suffers deeply from the loss of his 6-year-old daughter.  Howard writes letters to the concepts of Death, Love and Time.  While others might say Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena) are really concerned about their financial situations, I feel they want to sincerely help their friend Howard through his grief.  The solution they come up with is a bit strange and might be viewed as cruel and making light of his grief. As Whit is proposing the plan, he realizes that when talking with his mother who has Alzheimer’s, that it is important to go and be inside the person and view through the world through their reality. He proposes giving Howard the opportunity to meet Death (Helen Mirren), Beauty (Keira Knightley) and Time (Jacob Latimore) face to face.  A troupe of struggling actors are hired, allegedly to help Howard’s friends prove he is unfit to continue managing the agency.  The underlying issue is that they all have a great deal to lose financially and want a remedy.

The thread running through all the characters is their connection to Death, Love and Time.  Whit looks for love with his daughter. Claire’s biological clock is running out for motherhood. And Simon is afraid of death. Collateral Beauty, filmed in various parts of New York, shows the busyness and excitement of New York City both day and night.  I enjoyed the music and the intensity of the scenes with Howard riding his bicycle against the traffic, not caring about his life.

I recommend this film for ages 14 to 18 and give it 5 out of 5 stars. Collateral Beauty opens Friday, December 16, 2016 in theaters across the country. Check it out for yourself and learn about Collateral Beauty for your life.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame Honors: Airing Nov. 23, 2016 on the CW By Morgan B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 12

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

hollywood_walk_of_fame_star.jpgThe first ever Hollywood Walk of Fame Honors will be airing on the CW November 23, 2016. I met some amazing people who have appeared in some incredible TV shows, movies, have written or sung some amazing songs and are our favorite Celebrities. So, get the turkey ready and pumpkin pie in the oven, settle down with some popcorn, get ready for black Friday, relax and enjoy the show. Get ready to make plans to walk off the holiday food by visiting the Terrazzo and brass star studded sidewalk. The Hollywood Walk of Fame is FREE and open 24-7. It is about a mile and half walk to view all the celebrities’ stars and you will know all about them when you go.

I had the pleasure of meeting some incredible people including Laura McKenzie, host of the annual Hollywood Christmas Parade. She also hosts a show on traveling, Laura McKenzie’s Traveler. Laura and I have seen each other many times at the Parade in the past and we can’t wait to see each other again this year on November 26th. Katherine (Kat) Kramer is the daughter of Stanley Kramer, the first star to be laid in the new Walk. Stanley Kramer’s star was placed on March 28, 1960, near the intersection of Hollywood and Gower.

Ron Moss (The Bay) and his wife, producer Devin DeVasquez (The Bay & 411) and their dog, Prince, were adorable. They are in the middle of filming and are having a blast on their projects. Prince, the dog, has a Facebook and Instagram account. Dr. Fariba Kalantari, Chair of the Board for Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, was lovely. She is on the committee that approves the stars for a place on The Walk of Fame. Fariba also performs the live ceremony presentations. Jeff Zarrinnam, Senior Vice Chair Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, accompanied her. There are over 2,589 stars along the walk with more being added. Gabrielle Ruiz (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) is amazing in her pink dress. She is having a great time working on her TV show, which she loves.

Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeanie, still one of my favorite shows) loves her acting career and she is very excited for the years to come. She is an adorable sweetheart who is still young at heart and looks fabulous. BC Jean, who wrote the song If I were a Boy, which Beyoncé sings, is currently engaged to Mark Ball from Dancing with the Stars. Candice Glover, who won American Idol on its 12th season, is very excited to be performing at this fantastic event and she is very thankful that they are letting her sing on stage.

Eddie Money was also there with over 40 million records to his name. I love his music. My generation knows who he is. Nicolas Coster has the record for the appearing in most Soap Operas. That number being 10. Morgan.SM.jpgHe is 82 years old and still acting. That is magnificent! Louis Gossett Jr. is an actor with a soothing deep voice who has made a ton of movies. He loves acting and his family very much. Penn Jillette and Teller are the only magicians who reveal the secrets behind their magic. They believe that everyone is a part of the act and they want to do something no one has done before.

Melissa Rivers is Joan Rivers’s daughter and she was able to present the segment on some of the best comedic women, including her mother, who have their stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Isaac C. Singleton Jr. has voiced some of your favorite characters in some of your favorite shows. He is very friendly, easy to talk to and Oh my gosh he is soooo tall.

I recommend this event to kids age 8 to 18 and adults as well. Kids will love all the guest appearances and they will learn about Hollywood’s history. Adults will see some of their favorite stars and will enjoy seeing some legendary figures in Hollywood’s history.  I give this event 5 out of 5 Hollywood Walk of Fame shinning stars.

Rachel Crow – A genuine voice by Brianna Hope Beaton

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

RachelCrow_1.JPGIf you follow my blogs, you know that I mostly write about legendary women in film or women who have made a mark in history or outstanding contributions to the film industry. However, today I’m writing about someone special who I actually met and can speak about how genuine she is – Rachel Crow, a beautiful person inside and out.

Rachel Kelly Crow was born January 23, 1998. She is a singer, comedian and actress from Mead, Colorado. She was raised by adoptive parents and became a fan favorite on the X Factor (2011) for her ability to bring maturity and skill to songs that seemed well beyond her young age. Rachel finished fifth overall which was an amazing experience and opened up fantastic opportunities. In 2012, she signed a record deal with Columbia Records and began working with Teen TV network Nickelodeon.  BriannaHopeBeaton2.jpg

From the small screen, Rachel leaped to the big screen by voicing the character Carla in Rio 2.  In my interview with her, she described her character as fun and one who loves music.  She readily identified with the character so portraying her was easy. Our conversation was upbeat, fun and genuine. I could feel her excitement for what’s happening in her life. She knows her craft and is easy to talk to, one teen to another.

Whether performing a voice-over, singing or acting, her fabulous personality and amazing talent shine through.  Rachel references a song that says “all your scars make you who you are…you know all the bad scars and the good scars.” This is her biggest X Factor lesson and it’s so true.  As I continue to work on my craft of acting, I have so many disappointments and rejections, but I learn from them every time. Rachel is an inspiration to a lot of teens out there and to me in particular.  Although she was eliminated from the X Factor, she never gave up on her dream of becoming a star.

Questioning the Legitimacy of the Academy by Willie Jones, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic age 16

Monday, October 31st, 2016

Birthofanaiton.2.jpgThe Birth of a Nation writer, director and star Nate Parker has received much controversy for a scandal at his former college. His merit as a person is in question, even though he was found innocent. His film has received positive reviews from critics, so his artistry is not in question. The Academy is not the Nobel Peace Prize committee. They are not voting on how good or bad a person is, they are voting on their cinematic work. How do I know? A man who was found guilty on invidious charges was given an Oscar for Best Director, for his work on The Pianist. And that was someone found guilty. Woody Allen continues to get nominated for his work despite allegations associated with him. So why is it that Academy members declined to see a screening of The Birth of a Nation because of Nate Parker’s scandal when they have given Oscars to those found guilty and with equally troublesome scandals? I’m not saying race is the reason, but I’m not ruling it out. Let’s analyze this further.

One Academy voter was quoted as saying that they wouldn’t see the movie because there have been too many movies with the subject of slavery recently. Since Amistad was a major Oscar player in 1997, I can only think of three major movies that deal with slavery in the last 10 years: Django Unchained, 12 Years a Slave, and The Birth of a Nation. Even if that’s “too many,” the voters who use that as an argument must not mind seeing movies about or with WWII as the backdrop. In the past 10 years there’s been: Oscar_Awards.jpgAtonement, Inglorious Bastards, Fury, The Imitation Game, Unbroken, The King’s Speech. And that list doesn’t include the, soon to be released Hacksaw Ridge and next year’s Dunkirk. That’s already more than twice the amount of films dealing with slavery and I could still go on. So why the complaint about too many movies on slavery, but not a word on the multitude of WWII movies that get nominated for numerous Oscars.

Beyond the skeptical excuses given by these Academy members for not seeing the film, how about basic integrity? If their job is to vote for the best films of the year, why wouldn’t they see as many films as possible? It’s their job and the purpose of attending a screening. The very merit of the Academy Awards takes a shot with the knowledge of this news. Academy voters purposely not seeing a film because of ludicrous reasons that they’ve only applied this one time to this filmmaker and this film. No one refused to see Midnight in Paris. No one refused to see Carnage. But they’ve refused to see Birth of a Nation. Furthermore, the Academy’s merit is also challenged by the fact that their voters have a history of voting for things they haven’t seen. I’m sure you’ll remember when news broke out that two anonymous voters admitted to having voted (ironically enough) 12 Years a Slave for Best Picture despite having not seen it. And that’s for Best Picture; imagine how many of them see the films nominated for Animated Short or Foreign Film.

Personally, I think their reasons for not seeing Birth of a Nation are absurd. Their voting history goes against any and every excuse they could possibly use. Too many movies on slavery lately? Yet, they continue to watch and nominate WWII movies. The filmmaker is too controversial? They keep nominating and awarding Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. The film is too violent or graphic? They recently nominated The Revenant, the aforementioned 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street. But beyond that, the most upsetting part has to be their lack of care for their merit and responsibility. These are people that vote for the biggest award in the film world. Careers are affected, legends are made and dreams are made or broken. Yes, I’m well aware that art is subjective and that winning an Oscar isn’t measurable of talent or deservedness, but it does have its merits. There is a certain seriousness and importance that an Academy Award poses. In a Willie1.jpgway, it separates the wheat from the chaff. It cements Hollywood legends and greats and immortalizes films. That’s a responsibility movie buffs and cinema lovers don’t take lightly. So we expect that voters for the Academy Awards would take the time to actually see as many films as they can see in order to for their vote to reflect the most educated opinion possible.

I contend that we should write the Academy. We need to make the Academy and these voters aware that we know they are not giving their all in undertaking their responsibilities. Their hypocritical excuses for excluding certain films over another will not be tolerated. If they are unwilling to do what it takes to make the most informed vote possible, then why should we be willing to watch their show and respect their institution? Whether they are honestly critical about Nate Parker’s allegations and that is keeping them from watching the film or, for racial reasons, they are shirking their duties as voters, their vote must not be compromised. And we, as fans of cinema and the Oscars cannot allow it. Pick up your pen and write them.

Disagreeing with Critics by Keefer C. Blakeslee

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

SeeYouatMovies.2.jpgHere’s something we can all relate to. I’ve recently been thinking about it because I’ve seen a lot of films recently that I’ve enjoyed and yet critics disliked. Now, film is art and art is subjective so, of course, people are going to have different thoughts about certain films. That’s what having an opinion is all about. Here are some films that come to mind.

Money Monster – This Jodi Foster directed film starred George Clooney and Julia Roberts. Just uttering those three stars should make critics go wild. Well, in fact, the opposite happened. While critics enjoyed the cast, they thought the themes of Wall Street were clouded by action. Now I can understand where they are coming from. The drama comes from George Clooney’s character becoming a hostage by a young man played by Jack O’Connell, who lost  everything by following a stock tip by Clooney. This film had the potential to use the power of film to comment about Wall street and commerce but they played it safe. I think it works. This is one of those films where it’s fueled by its actors. Lucky for Foster she has two of the best in the film industry plus Jack O’Connell  who steals the show with his performance.

Bridge of Spies – Now let’s talk about a film that was praised by critics. Many people called it Steven Spielberg’s best film and who could blame them. It stars Tom Hanks. It’s written by the Coen Brothers and Matt Charman. And, it’s based on a true story set during the cold war. I was excited for this film, which could be the reason I didn’t go nuts over it. Don’t get me wrong, I like this film and have no problems with it. However, I just didn’t get into it that much. I thought Tom Hanks’ performance was good, but not amazing compared to his other roles. The dialogue was flawless, but standard drama. Even Spielberg’s direction wasn’t anything special. Not only do I think the hype for the film influenced my opinion, but I also think it was expected to be good. With the cast and crew, I expected an amazing film, making it almost predictable. That’s where I think I didn’t connect with it. I know it sounds crazy but the film was too perfect for me to enjoy.

Ace Ventura – Here is an example of a film audiences loved but critics thought it was too obnoxious and desperate. Keefer.2014.5.jpgOne of Jim Carrey’s signature roles was disliked by many critics including my hero Roger Ebert who called the film “a long, unfunny slog through an impenetrable plot.” Yes, the film is filled with Jim Carrey’s silly comedy and even I agree it’s not his best. I have to admit, this film makes me laugh every time. I think it showcases Carrey’s best comedic attributes. His physical comedy, fast-talking quips and absurd acting ability are all wrapped up in one movie.

Now You See Me – The closer you look, the less you see.  Critics looked at this film so close, trying to find a good movie, that they missed it. Rotten Tomatoes gave this film a 49% and said, “Now You See Me’s thinly sketched characters and scattered plot rely on sleight of hand from the director to distract audiences.” I can’t disagree with the points they made but that doesn’t make it a bad film. It’s a popcorn movie! It’s meant to entertain and it does a stunning job at doing that. The story is unique and the many twists and turns keep you on the edge of your seat. So instead of trying to analyze this, you should stop looking and just enjoy the show.

Rocky and Bullwinkle Movie – Okay, this one really gets me. This film brings back the cartoon icons Rocky and Bullwinkle in a feature length film. Rotten Tomatoes said, “Though the film stays true to the nature of the original cartoon, the script is disappointing and not funny.” I totally disagree. This film has hilarious lines and action from our favorite moose and squirrel. Sure, some of the jokes are incredibly cheesy and even cringe worthy, but the original cartoon was like that as well. Even the movie makes fun of their writing at points. I believe the so-called “unfunny” parts stays faithful to the original cartoon. Compared to other adaptations, I’m looking at you Smurfs, it’s comedy gold.

Are there any films you liked and the critics hated or vice versa? In the end, there are movies we love and some we hate. While critics can influence our opinions, it’s up to you to challenge your thinking of films and figure out what you enjoy at the movies.

Labor Intensive Animation Is Still Best! By Clayton Pickard, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

hayao_mizayaki_movies.jpgAnimation is an amazing art form.  Especially, the labor intensive forms, such as hand-drawn, traditional animation, stop-motion animation and claymation. All my favorite animated films use these types of animation.  Computer generated animation (CGI) just doesn’t do it for me, especially in a feature film.

Traditional animation is known to be the oldest form of animation.  The artist has to draw every frame to fashion the animation sequence.  Numerous drawings are created and filmed to create motion.  In traditional animation, timing is very important, since each frame has to blend into the soundtrack exactly.  Some films that use classic_animated_disney_movies.jpgtraditional animation, also called ink and paint, include the classic Disney features Snow White, Aladdin, Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty. Walt Disney Feature Animation was the first studio to switch from hand-drawn to digital ink and paint, starting in the late 80s with The Rescuers Down Under.  Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke was the last feature film to exclusively employ traditional ink and paint.

In stop-motion animation, physical objects are moved around and filmed, frame by frame, but through the magic of cinema it appears as fluid movement. Stop-motion animation has been around since the invention of film when Albert Smith and Stuart Blackton made The Humpty Dumpty Circus in 1898.  Some films which use stop-motion animation are early South Park episodes, Coraline, James and the Giant Peach, Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit series and his wonderful, Chicken Run.  This year’s Kubo and the Two Strings took stop-motion animation to a whole new level. The origami characters that Kubo creates are mind-blowing in their grace and detail.  My favorite stop-motion animation film is Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.  That film not only has great visuals, but an incomparable screenplay as well.

In claymation, balls of clay are molded together to create characters.  Oil or water based clay is used to accomplish this.wallace_and_gromit.jpg  The characters are then filmed in short burst of movement to create a scene.  Most of the films that use this technique are also stop-motion animation.  Some of the best include the original Gumby series, the Wallace and Gromit shorts, Shaun the Sheep and Paranormal.  I will never forget the chase scene on the train set in Wallace and Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers.  That scene is the epitome of stop-motion animation!

Throughout the years, new modern forms of animation have been created that resemble these older styles, but take less time to make and cost considerably less.  These newer techniques are usually used in conjunction with the more traditional forms to create a hybrid animation if you will.  The newer Studio Ghibli films employ this approach, a mix of computer animation and hand-drawn cels.  This is what still gives those films such a wonderful, painterly look.

What do you think? What are your favorite animated films and what format are they created in? Let us know. We love to hear from our readers.

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