Jury Coordination and Notes

Camp Cool Kids – Perfect Summer Family Movie

July 12th, 2017

Camp Cool Kids
By Morgan B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 12

Camp Cool Kids is a perfect movie for the whole family! Summer is the best time of the year for kids. We are out of school and the best kids’ movies play. I love that while I watched Camp Cool Kids, I came up with quite a few ideas on what to do for entertainment this summer. I can go outside and have fun with my family and friends. This is one of the many fun, eye-catching things that makes Camp Cool Kids so enjoyable.

I love that it includes all different kinds of sports such as swimming, rock climbing, paintball and archery. Every sport has its own scene and that is something that I really enjoyed. I was able to get a glimpse of each sport and see how they are played at summer camp. I have to say that my favorite scene would be where all the boys have a paintball war. It is hilarious and I couldn’t stop laughing.

Camp Cool Kids is somewhat religious based. They mention David and Goliath and other Bible stories. Grandpa Norman (Michael Gross) tells David’s tale and how he took on Goliath all by himself. His faith in God is what helped him through that journey.  The storyline is somewhat quirky and, although it’s not new, it does have a few twists and turns along with a new perspective. Spencer (Connor Rosen), my favorite character, is a shy, honest, goodhearted kid that wants to stay at home and be with his family during the summer. Grandpa Norman (Michael Gross) says it is time for Spencer to go to summer camp and make new friends. His older brother Dean (Sean Ryan Fox), the handsome, cool kid who seems like he has it all, goes to summer camp to make friends and meet girls. Shy Spencer goes a long way from home and off to Camp Cool Kids for the summer, against his wishes. Spencer meets many new friends that he will remember forever such as the adorable Tater (Jacob T. Phillips), his lovable twin Tot (Jordan A. Phillips), the man whose has got the fire, nickname Firefly (Tyree Brown) and the quirky, always-there-for-you kind of friend, Little John (Juliocesar Chavez).

Spencer also makes a new enemy as well, Zach (Logan Shroyer), the cute but not-so-kind villain. Zach and Dean become friends and amuse themselves by pulling a prank or two on the younger boys including Spencer, his brother. There are lots of pranks and silly fun in this adventure.

I recommend this for ages 7 to 18. Kids will love the idea of summer camp and will want to try some of the events. Adults will have memory flashbacks. It is full lessons, humor and heartfelt moments. I give this 4 ½ out of 5 swimming campers’ fun tale.

Celebrate Naturalist and 19th Century Painter John James Audubon in Audubon

July 9th, 2017

John James Audubon was one of the most remarkable men of early America. A contemporary of Lewis & Clark and Davey Crockett, he explored the American frontier in search of “the feathered tribes” he loved and studied. A self-taught artist and ornithologist, he left a legacy of art and science that made him famous in his lifetime and endures to this day. His portrait hangs in the White House, his statue stands over the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History, and his name was adopted by the nation’s first conservation organization. The program, filmed in locations where Audubon painted, brings to life his timeless paintings with dazzling footage of the living birds he immortalized and celebrates visually the natural world he described in his writings. Interviews reveal the man, explore his art and put his groundbreaking work in modern perspective. KIDS FIRST! Juror, Eli B. comments, “Audubon is such a great film about the life and contributions of John James Audubon. His struggle and journey as a Haitian immigrant to the United States of America is inspiring. The paintings he created forever immortalized the subjects (some of which are now extinct) and the research he did ultimately led to our nation’s first conservation organization.” See her full review below.

Audubon
By Elizabeth B., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

This documentary gives an in-depth history of the life of John James Audubon. There are many examples of his beautiful works of art, maps charting his journey from Haiti to America and excerpts from the journals he kept throughout his life. This DVD offers a great way to teach anyone about John James Audubon. The art and story telling is not only beautiful and interesting, but important scientifically and in regards to American history.

The film flows well with great detail and historical accuracy. The material is easily understood and, after scientific elaborations, often a more simplified explanation is given. John James Audubon was a man of incredible talent and fortitude. He faced many challenges such as childhood abandonment, adult poverty and immigration during the 1800s. The film wonderfully details not only his countless contributions to art, science and conservation, but the challenges he faced and surpassed are an equally important part of his story. This film will prompt many questions regarding many topics! Throughout it, Audubon’s travels are documented on a virtual map. The map brings about questions regarding geography, immigration, cultural differences, animal species of North America and many other topics that appeal to many age groups.

The film has great visual appeal. It is filmed in locations where Audubon painted and, throughout it, these works are shown in all their glory. Selections of Audubon’s original journal entries are seen for the first time in this film as well. The cover of the DVD and the CD have iconic Audubon images titled “Wild Turkey” and “The Great Horned Owl”. This offers the option of viewing the 90 minute theatrical version or the 60 minute broadcast version. English subtitles are available. Scene selection is not available, but you can pause, rewind or fast forward as necessary.

Audubon is such a great film about the life and contributions of John James Audubon. His struggle and journey as a Haitian immigrant to the United States of America is inspiring. The paintings he created forever immortalized the subjects (some of which are now extinct) and the research he did ultimately led to our nation’s first conservation organization. This film will prompt many questions regarding many topics including birds, painting, hiking and travel, American history in the early 1800s and more. The message of this film is in its detailed historical look at the life and contributions of John James Audubon to art, science and Conservation.

I give this 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to ages 8 to 18, plus adults. Audubon will be available on DVD June 20, 2017.  Reviewed by Eli B., KIDS FIRST! Juror.

 

The Resilient Heart – A Must See If You Have Been Touched by Heart Disease

July 7th, 2017

The Resilient Heart explores the keys to preventing heart disease on a worldwide scale. At the film’s core is the story of Dr. Valentín Fuster, a world-renowned cardiovascular scientist, and Director of Mount Sinai Heart and Physician-in-Chief at The Mount Sinai Hospital. Through his exploration of the heart at the molecular level, Dr. Fuster discovers that the real answer to defeating chronic disease lies in a much larger place: early education. By highlighting scientific contributions ranging from basic science to translational research, the film addresses the improvement of clinical and surgical care efforts to promote lifestyles that prevent or slow the progression of heart disease. Ultimately, it shows how the intersection of science, medicine, research, education and compassion bring about changes that are not only important but also replicable by physicians and patients throughout the world . The film follows Dr. Fuster and his team as they travel to Eldoret (Kenya), Bogota and more. If you or someone you know has ever been touched by a heart disease, you really must see this film. 

The Resilient Heart
By Samantha Marcus, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17 

This inspirational film kept me glued to the edge of my seat. I didn’t know that heart disease is the number one killer in society today. It fascinates me that there are incredible individuals in this world such as Dr. Valentin Fuster who want to make a difference in the lives of others, especially with a disease that is so common.  

In this documentary promoting worldwide heart health, we see cardiologist Valentin Fuster working with doctors around the globe to help individuals realize that behavior is the key to combating heart disease. Traveling to countries like Kenya, Colombia and Grenada, Fuster works with both children and adults to help facilitate healthy behavior, through group therapy sessions, classroom instruction and community volunteering. 

Valentin Fuster has the biggest heart. He flies to other countries once a week to help people. He gets up at 4:30 every morning, works 7 days a week and works with kids for 15 years to help them understand the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. I wish I could meet him, because I would love to thank him for all of the incredible work he has done for kids and adults around the world.  

I really admire that the film is not based in a single geographical location. It is fascinating to see different cultures and compare them, and see how heart disease affects poor countries, which most people are not aware of. The fact that I was able to see how different areas of the world need so much help from future generations motivates me to follow in Fuster’s footsteps – first starting in my own community, then making my impact even bigger. 

My favorite part of this film is when Dr. Fuster talks about his motivation and says that if he died tomorrow, he would be okay with it, because he has helped so many people. This is rewarding to him. The message of this film is that we have the power to keep our hearts healthy. You can start focusing on heart health at any age and, although we can’t necessarily cure heart disease, we can prevent it by exercising, eating right and avoiding incredible amounts of stress. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to kids ages 12 to 18. Adults would love it too. No age is too young to begin taking care of your heart. You can watch this film on Amazon now! This is the documentary of a lifetime.

 

The Book of Henry – Surprisingly good with excellent writing and performances

June 16th, 2017

Sometimes things are not always what they seem, especially in the small suburban town where the Carpenter family lives. Single suburban mother Susan Carpenter works as a waitress at a diner, alongside feisty family friend Sheila. Her younger son Peter is a playful 8-year-old. Taking care of everyone and everything in his own unique way is Susan’s older son Henry, age 11. Protector to his adoring younger brother and tireless supporter of his often self-doubting mother – and, through investments, of the family as a whole – Henry blazes through the days like a comet. Susan discovers that the family next door, which includes Henry’s kind classmate Christina, has a dangerous secret – and that Henry has devised a surprising plan to help. As his brainstormed rescue plan for Christina takes shape in thrilling ways, Susan finds herself at the center of it. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Willie J. comments, “However, I was pleasantly surprised by this under-the-radar film and am sure general audiences will as well. The Book of Henry is an emotionally affecting film with a few fine messages about parenthood and altruism.” See his full review below.

The Book of Henry
Willie Jones, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 18

I had no expectations going into this movie. I knew I like the director, the leading actress and it has an interesting premise. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this under-the-radar film and am sure general audiences will as well. The Book of Henry is an emotionally affecting film with a few fine messages about parenthood and altruism.

The movie actually surprised me. Perhaps it’s because I had no prior knowledge about it, but the twist (I don’t think it’s supposed to be a twist per se) in the movie is reminiscent of Psycho, in that the seeming protagonist has an interesting cinematic journey. That provides the basis of our catharsis. It’s actually very solid writing. We become invested in this character who has a charm and wit about him that’s irresistibly likable and we fall for him. We become invested in his relationships with his mother, his little brother and his neighbor. The plot is already in motion and then the twist happens.

After this twist, the true protagonist comes to the forefront and we become invested in her because we feel for her and root for her cause. The only issue – her cause happens to be literally unbelievable and predictably improbable. However, we find ourselves nearly believing it. I mean, there’s a sequence that’s utterly Hitchcockian, when there’s cross editing between two separate scenes. One scene is used as the musical background for the other and the tension is palpable. It’s reminiscent of the concert scene in The Man Who Knew Too Much. It all comes to a satisfying ending that we all knew was coming and yet, isn’t any less smile inducing.

The performances are very good. Naomi Watts is one of our generation’s most consistent actors and the youngsters Jacob Tremblay and  Jaeden Lieberher hold their weight and then some. However the score and direction deserve a lot of credit. The film is very well paced and switches between tones so seamlessly. Never are we pulled out of the film because it gets boring or it goes too quickly or it switches between genres.

A lot of reviews are bashing the film. Don’t get me wrong, it has its flaws. The foundation of the character is never told and is a glaring hole. A few plot elements are improbable, definitely. However, those are forgivable in the grand scheme. This film has charm and intrigue. I believe it’ll go down as one of those films where critics and general audiences just don’t agree. With that said, I give this movie 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 10 to 18. It can be seen at a local theater when it opens June 16, 2017.

 

Holden On – A remarkable film about a teen’s struggle with mental illness

June 12th, 2017

No longer your average boy-next-door, Holden Layfield weaves audiences through his harrowing tale in this film set in the early 1990s. After succumbing to a secret battle with mental illness, Holden evolves from a beloved, small town Georgia football player to a lost, self-medicating prophet. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Samantha M. comments, “I don’t remember the last time I laughed and cried within minutes of each other…This film helped my heart grow bigger and make me more empathetic towards others.” See her full review.

Holden On
By Samantha Marcus, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17

This exceptional film brought out all of my emotions, which is why it is one of my new favorites. I don’t remember the last time I laughed and cried within minutes of each other. I’m glad I was able to express my emotions, because that is what makes me relate to a film. This film helped my heart grow bigger and make me more empathetic towards others.

Based on a true story, Holden On is about a 17-year-old boy named Holden Layfield, who lives in a small town in Georgia and is a star athlete. Playing football like a professional, Layfield receives multiple college scholarships and is ready to begin a new chapter in his life. But, he has a big secret: he is battling a mental illness. Over a two year period, Layfield tries to keep his illness to himself and transforms from a fantastic football player to a prophet who believes he can save the world.

Matthew Fahey portrays Holden in a remarkable fashion. He acts very humble, which illustrates how kind-hearted Holden truly is. However, because of his humility, it is difficult for Holden’s family to decipher his thoughts. Fahey makes you believe that Holden is completely fine and, because he isn’t, it makes the plot even more intriguing. Steve Ellis’ portrayal of Zinte, Holden’s best friend, is humorous. Zinte truly cares about Holden and it is evident through their five year friendship. Ellis characterizes Zinte as comical, joking around with him to cheer him up. But, he is unaware of Holden’s issue. These lead actors left me on the edge of my seat for the entire film.

 I love the music in this film because which is from the 80s, opening with “It’s the End of the World” by R.E.M. The film is set in the 90s, but the music is from an older era and includes bands such as Suzie Rose and Tommy McCarthy. My favorite parts of the film are when Holden is in a situation and the camera shifts towards his point of view. For example, Holden tackles another team player on the football field before the game begins. The camera cuts to Holden’s thoughts, displaying a visual of what is going on in his brain. I enjoyed how Holden narrates his thoughts when this occurs, because I could empathize more with him.  

The message of this film is that you are not alone, even if you’re battling mental illness. Talk to your friends, family or a professional about your feelings, because there is someone who is always willing to help. Mental illness is common and not many people are aware of the help available to those who are suffering. That a movie has been created to address the issue touches my heart.  

Be forewarned that Holden resorts to drugs to cope with his illness yet, this film has such an impactful message that I wish every kid could see it. We can all help those who are dealing with mental illness. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to ages 16 to 18 as well as adults. Go to Iamholdenon.org to read about the nationwide movement supporting treating mental illness through artistic expression. Also, catch this film when it comes out June 7, 2017. It is one that you don’t want to miss.

My Cousin Rachel – Suspense, passion and psychological intrigue

June 10th, 2017

A young Englishman plots revenge against his mysterious, beautiful cousin, believing that she murdered his guardian. But his feelings become complicated as he finds himself falling under the beguiling spell of her charms. KIDS FIRST! Juror Juanita L. comments, “The detail and beauty of the 19th century in the settings of the house and grounds captivated me. The suspense and mystery of finding out just who Rachel (Rachel Weisz) is and what will happen with Phillip (Sam Claflin) kept me on edge of my seat.” See her full review below.

My Cousin Rachel
By Juanita Seon Leary, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

I like this film for several reasons. The detail and beauty of the 19th century in the settings of the house and grounds captivated me. The suspense and mystery of finding out just who Rachel (Rachel Weisz) is and what will happen with Phillip (Sam Claflin) kept me on edge of my seat. Expect candles, beds with draperies, bonnets, bumpy wagon rides and scything — as well as a modern-minded female character who may or may not be up to no good in pursuit of money.

My Cousin Rachel, adapted from a book set in the 19th Century and written in 1951 by Daphne du Maurier, is a combination of suspense, passion and some psychological glimpses of men and women in often intriguing and obsessive relationships. The story is about a rather naïve young bachelor who struggles to decide if his deceased guardian’s charming widow is the woman of his dreams or a cold-blooded killer and gold-digger seeking an inheritance. Among those disturbed by Phillip’s sudden obsession with Rachel is Louise (Holliday Grainger), his confidante since childhood who has long harbored her own unrequited crush on him.

There a moment of sexual violence when Phillip holds Rachel’s arms, demanding her to “kiss me!” and she forcefully tells him to stop and let her go. He briefly chokes her. We also see the couple having sex with their clothes on.

I recommend it for ages 14 to 18 as well as some adults. I give this film 4 out of 5 stars.  It opens nationwide June 9, 2017 so, be sure to go check it out and discover for yourself the mystery of Rachel!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Megan Leavey – Explores the emotional bond between a human and an animal

June 9th, 2017

I really enjoyed this film. It explores the emotional bond between a human and an animal.

The film is based on the true story of marine corporal who forms a unique bond with a bomb-sniffing dog. Megan Leavey (Kate Mara) enlists to get away from what seems to be a hopeless civilian life. She is an aimless young woman with a deadbeat mom, Jackie (Edie Falco). Megan struggles to fit in as a Marine and, after a disciplinary hearing due to misappropriate behavior, is caught urinating outside of the Provost office after a night of drinking. She is assigned to clean up the K-9 unit under the command of Gunny Martin (Common).  Gunny Martin is a commander who uses tough love while being a mentor.

My favorite scene in the movie is when Megan finds out that she will get a dog to train and it turns out to be a can.  It seems that newbies practice training a dog with a can. It is a bit humorous but shows Megan’s determination to get a real dog. Megan bonds with an aggressive German shepherd name Rex and is given the opportunity to train him. Megan and Rex end up completing more than 100 missions, but an IED explosion injures them both and puts their fate in jeopardy.

Megan Leavey has lots of wartime violence, strong language and intense themes including trauma and grief. It also shows the strength of women and their accomplishments while not focusing on the brutality of war. This is an inspiring film that I believe is most suited for ages 13 to 18 as well as some adults. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars.  It opens nationwide June 9, 2017 so, be sure to go see it and learn what happens to Megan and Rex.

The Mummy – Adventure, Action, Fantasy and Horror Combined

June 8th, 2017

Though safely entombed in a crypt deep beneath the unforgiving desert, an ancient princess, whose destiny was unjustly taken from her, is awakened in our current day bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia, and terrors that defy human comprehension. KIDS FIRST! Juror Juanita L. comments, “The story is not a new – disturbing an ancient evil which comes back to wreak havoc on everyone. However, the visuals are very exciting and explosive with a hint of suspense.” See her full review below.

The Mummy
By Juanita Seon Leary, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

I enjoyed watching this updated version of the classic 1932 film, wearing 3D glasses and starring one of my favorite actors, Tom Cruise. The film combines adventure and action with a sprinkling of fantasy and horror.

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), along with his partner Chris Vale (Jake Johnson) are soldiers of fortune who steal timeless artifacts from ancient sites and sell them to the highest bidders. While in the Middle East, the duo accidently uncover Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient princess awakened from her crypt beneath the desert after thousands of years. She uses her powers which evolve throughout the film to bring her revenge and furious rampage to the streets of London. 

The story is not a new – disturbing an ancient evil which comes back to wreak havoc on everyone. However, the visuals are very exciting and explosive with a hint of suspense. My favorite scene is when Ahmanet is held captive by chains, ropes and other devices to keep her from escaping. It shows her strength and power and, is the first time we’ve seen The Mummy as a woman.

You can expect strong, very loud fantasy action and violence with some blood spatters, guns and shooting, stabbings, fighting and punching, crashes and explosions, jump scares, zombies and a lab full of gross things. There are several mildly suggestive sexual references as well, including partly naked and somewhat obscured male and female bodies, kissing, a couple in bed together and other sensuality.

I recommend it for ages 13 to18 as well as some adults. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars.  It opens nationwide June 9, 2017 so, be sure to go see it and enjoy the action!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monterey Pop By Terry Solowey

June 5th, 2017

I was catapulted back in time watching the classic rockumentary Monterey Pop.  In celebration of its 50th Anniversary, D. A. Pennebaker, the original director supervised, restored and re-mastered this amazing documentary with vibrant color and sound.   Ushering in the 1967 Summer of Love, he captures the beginning of a new era of rock n’ roll music as well as a counterculture life style. This was just the beginning of the big concert formats.

Legendary performances introduce us to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding along with a diverse cast of more known artists at that time – Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas & The Papas, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Hugh Masekela and Ravi Shankar.

We observe behind the scenes’ preparations, hear concerns about crowd size, expecting 50 to 55,000 (a small number compared to the legendary Woodstock Festival of 500,000).  We must remember that this concert set a precedence for what was to come, including other charitable music events such as Live Aid and Farm Aid.

I was a teenager in the 60s and remember seeing the original film when it came out in 1968. Legendary moments of Jimi Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire and Pete Townshend destroying his are captured along with the facial expressions of an audience in amazement, shock and awe!  Janis Joplin’s performance is mesmerizing in both her stage presence and her voice.  Mama Cass’s reaction to her performance is captured in posterity and lives on. This was just the beginning of my concert going years and I enjoyed reminiscing and singing long with classic songs like “Feeling Groovy” by Simon and Garfunkel and “Today” by Jefferson Airplane among others.

Two performances really stuck out to me. Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” captured in a silhouetted camera shot, engaged the audience to sing along with him and the amazing close of the film and concert featuring Ravi Shankar, who introduced us to the sitar, the tabla and Indian ragas.  It was in this close that the director truly captured the audience’s reaction in a meditative state to a different style of music. As I looked at the audience, I related to the counter-culture clothing, hats and painted flower-power faces. The standing ovation of appreciation at the conclusion is quite remarkable and inspiring.

I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and highly recommend it to baby boomers to reminisce as well as the generations that followed from age 8 to 18 and beyond. This film allows you to witness and enjoy a remarkable and classic time in music and the beginning of a new consciousness. It opens in New York on June 14, in Los Angeles on June 15 and across the country on the weekend of June 16, alongside a new celebration of the festival in Monterey, California!

 

Hooray For OLD Hollywood By Clayton Pickard

May 18th, 2017

Last month, while visiting a college, I came upon a film on TCM called The Best Years Of Our Lives.   It’s a post WWII film about the difficulties soldiers faced in acclimating back into society after being in combat. Directed by William Wyler, it was released in 1946 and stars Myrna Loy, Fredric March and Dana Andrews. While watching the film, I had an epiphany that older movies flow much better than many current films. There isn’t any rush to change scenes, which allows the viewer to better comprehend what they’re watching. The pace also gives the actors and directors more breadth. I was really able to appreciate the humor of Myrna Loy.

This weekend, I watched Casablanca for the third time (one of my mother’s favorite films). Released in 1942, it is directed by Michael Curtiz and stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid. Casablanca is a WWII film taking place in French Morocco.  What I really love about this film and other old movies is that they have amazing close-ups, which allow the viewer to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of the stars’ faces. In this film, they show close-ups of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman that are heavenly.  Casablanca reveals the ambiguous complexity of right and wrong, unlike most movies of today. It shows the flat out truth of life, that there are no easy answers.

I also screened North By Northwest, which I’ve seen on DVD and at Film Forum. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it stars Cary Grant, Angie Dickinson and James Mason. It is a thriller/ adventure film made in 1959 about a clueless advertising executive who is mistaken for an American spy. The most extraordinary aspect of this film is that everything is shot on location, without any special effects or CGI. The iconic crop duster and Mount Rushmore scenes are done on location. This creates a real sense of verisimilitude, whereby the viewer feels as if it’s happening to them.

While I used to have a prejudice against old movies. Now, I am gaining an appreciation for them and starting to slowly move away from all the typical Hollywood blockbusters.

 

 

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