Jury Coordination and Notes

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.

 

 

American Black or British Black: Why the Discussion? By Willie Jones, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

May 11th, 2017

 

Samuel L. Jackson recently spoke about how British black actors have recently been heavily cast in roles that he feels would have benefited more had they been filled by American black actors. He was referring to actors such as David Oyelowo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Naomie Harris and Daniel Kaluuya. Jackson stated that while these actors are doing fine jobs, the roles of Martin Luther King or Chris Washington could have been more judiciously played by American black actor. Let’s evaluate this.

As of late, yes, black Brits have been coming to the U.S. and taking roles in American films. They give stellar performances as Americans and create memorable cinema. Is that bad? Not necessarily so. After all, they’re still within a minority and represent an underrepresented community. Their country of origin shouldn’t matter. However, there is a reason behind their recent surge in Hollywood.

Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson are noted thespians. They’ve been trained and have experience on the stage and that translates in their screen performances. The problem is that, they’re beginning to be a part of a minority. The likes of Ejiofor and Oyelowo are trained in England, a very theatrical country. Film is still secondary to theater there and so, actors in Britain get classical theatrical training. For the most part, thespians still garner more respect than film actors (excluding Jack Nicholson). Having theater experience is essential to be respected as an actor and Americans increasingly ignoring that. They start in film and never venture into theater until after they’re established such as Jake Gyllenhaal or Leonardo DiCaprio.

When these thespians come to the U.S., they’re cheaper than American black film actors, have more respected training and can speak with impeccable American accents. Why wouldn’t they be hired? And why does that create a rift within the entertainment community? It should inspire American black actors to seek more theatrical training. And while Sam Jackson meant no harm with his statement, there’s a rather large debate over whether or not Hollywood should keep hiring black actors from overseas and not support more American black actors. All I can say is: it’s a business. A very cutthroat business, that’s all about survival of the fittest. If a group of actors comes into Hollywood better trained, does that mean another group of actors should complain about their roles being taken away? No. It means they should sharpen their skills and advance their training.

So before this becomes a bigger issue than it should, let’s just acknowledge that, what matters in the end is good cinema. So whether Martin Luther King’s story is told by a Brit or American, as long as it’s told well, it doesn’t matter. Movies are about stories and the imagination. Those don’t see color or nationality.

Finding Oscar – A Reflection on a Horrific Story from Not That Long Ago by Gerry O.

May 4th, 2017

Finding Oscar tells the heartfelt story of the small village of Dos Erres and it makes you feel inspired and outraged at the same time. There were many horrific events humanity witnessed in the last century – many wars, and lots of innocent people suffered. One event in Dos Erres, Guatemala was a terrible genocide that killed the entire village.

Finding Oscar is a documentary that reflects on historical events and educates people, especially the younger generation. The story that Finding Oscar delves into may seem unrealistic until the viewer realizes that these events really happened and that families were broken apart and young lives were cut short. The events were devastating and the tone of the film reflects that.

In the 1980s, Guatemala was in the midst of a horrendous civil war. In October 1982, the rebels, or guerrillas, attacked a convoy near a small farm village called Dos Erres. A special ops team of the Guatemalan government, very similar to the special ops of US, called Kaibiles, dressed as rebels and infiltrated the village, thinking there were weapons there. They divided the men into one building and women and children into another. Throughout the night, they tormented the entire population of the small village, especially the women and children. In the morning, the Kaibiles killed almost every person in the village, including the children. Only a few kids survived the entire massacre by accident. Two of them were then raised by the soldiers who killed their families.

In parallel, the documentary tells the story of people attempting to bring people responsible for committing the war crimes to justice. To do so and prove their involvement, they must find witnesses of the event, both the surviving kids and the soldiers who participated in the genocide. On top of that, the film looks into the neglectfulness of not only the Guatemalan government, but also the United Sates, which supported the Guatemalan government during the civil war, despite having intelligence about the Dos Erres Massacre and many others similar to it.

Finding Oscar takes a very complex situation and dissects it perfectly. Ryan Suffern (director, producer and co-writer) really tells this story in a masterful way. One aspect I absolutely love has to do with the story. Despite being filmed in the modern world, it talks about the events that happened in chronological order. Finding Oscar doesn’t look at the information as a documentary, but instead tells a story about people who either were connected to this tragedy or feel passionate about uncovering the truth and f inding justice. It begins with explaining the civil war and its causes. It goes on to explain the massacre and its immediate results. Another part that really adds to the effect of the story is the camerawork.

The scene I found the most impactful in this film has to be when one of the survivors gets reunited with his father more than thirty years later. At this point, the boy is grown and has a family of his own. His father, however, thought that the boy and the rest of his family, including eight children, had died in the genocide. The father realizes that he not only has a son and daughter in law, but grandkids as well. The scene is beautiful and so powerful that the entire audience cries.

The message and the story of Finding Oscar are important, but it has many mature elements. I recommend this to ages 13 to 18. The dark aspects of the genocide are rather impactful and unsuitable for younger children. However, I believe this is one of the films that everyone should watch so history doesn’t repeat itself. It is scary to think that these events took place in 1980s – not that long ago. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars for its inspirational story and superb cinematography that add to the power of the plot.

Plastic is Forever – An Interview with filmmaker Dylan D’Haeze by Juanita Seon Leary

April 27th, 2017

The Philadelphia Environment Film Festival, the first of its kind in the city of Brotherly Love played Earth Day Weekend, April 21 through 23, 2017 at the historic Prince Theater in downtown Philadelphia. The festival opened on Friday night, honoring Fisher Stevens, director of the critically acclaimed climate change documentary, Before the Flood and closed on Sunday with James Cameron’s classic award-winning film, Avatar. The festival showcased dozens of new shorts and features from international and domestic filmmakers celebrating the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement, Earth Day.

Despite the rainy day and the March for Science rally, film, environmental and art enthusiasts of all ages attended the festival.  Festival founders Debra Wolf Goldstein and Alexandra Drobac Diagne said “We are extremely passionate about combining powerful moving imagery on the silver screen with educational and inspirational knowledge about the current state and future of the beautiful planet we all call home.”

My favorite part of the festival was viewing the Youth Block of Films and having the opportunity to interview the award-winning young filmmaker Dylan D’Haeze and his mother Dawn D’Haeze. Dylan’s film, Plastic is Forever was featured at the festival. Here is an excerpt of my interview with filmmaker Dylan D’Haeze and his mother and producer, Dawn D’Haeze.

Juanita: Welcome Dylan and Dawn D’Haeze to KIDS FIRST! Thank you for the opportunity to talk with me and share with our KIDS FIRST! audience points about your wonderful documentary Plastic is Forever.  Congratulations on being the youngest winning filmmaker at San Francisco Ocean Film Festival and winner of its 2017 Environmental Award. Dylan, what sparked your interest in plastic pollution?

Dylan: Thank you, Juanita. I am home schooled and it started as a project for school and, as I researched and answered the questions about plastics I became concerned about how plastic can damage the earth.

Juanita: Why did you did decide to create this documentary?

Dylan:  I made this documentary because I’ve learned about plastic pollution and how it’s affecting the planet in a very bad way. As a kid, it scares me and I feel powerless. So, I decided to make a documentary about plastic pollution and teach kids how they can help solve the problem.

Juanita:
Do you have a favorite filmmaker of director?

Dylan:  Yes, my favorite director is Kip Anderson, director of Conspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.

Juanita: What challenges did you face in bringing your son’s ideas to life?

Dawn:   Our biggest challenge was getting interviews. People were reluctant because they did not know us. However, as we continued it got better.

Juanita: Describe how you felt when you went to the beach in Hawaii.

Dawn:   The beach we shot is a two-hour drive from the city. The road is very rough and very rocky.

Dylan: The beach is covered with plastic and they had a clean-up before we visited. So much plastic, it has in the past reached almost 10 feet high. The broken pieces are becoming part of the beach. It was awful.

Juanita: What is your next step to realize your goal of showing kids they are not powerless and that their daily actions affect our future?

Dylan:  This documentary is one in a series of films I’m making called Kids Can Save The Planet. The next film will be about climate change and I’m really looking forward to start filming again soon!

Juanita: Dylan and Dawn, thank you very much for speaking with me today. I want to mention that Dylan’s film, Plastic is Forever is playing now at KIDS FIRST! Film Festivals nationwide so, be sure to check with your local festival to see if it is playing there. We look forward to your continuing series, Kids Can Save The Planet and wish you the best in your filmmaking endeavors. It’s heart-warming to see a young person such as yourself tackling this important issue.               

 

 

 

As Women’s History Month 2017 Comes To An End By Brianna Hope Beaton

April 2nd, 2017

I believe that all people are important for various reasons. However, since March is Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day was on March 8th, the importance of woman is near and dear to my heart. Instead of focusing on one person or even one group of people, I want to focus on the historical progression of woman’s rights in America.

In 1769, women had limited property rights. The colonies declared that women could not own property in their own name or keep any of their own earnings. Years later, in 1848, the first woman’s rights convention was held. Hundreds of activists gathered in New York, to work out a plan to obtain women’s suffrage nationwide. Well-known participants signed the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, modeled after the Declaration of Independence. It called for equal treatment of both genders under the law and voting rights for women.

In 1869, the racial equality problem pared with the arguments and disagreements over Amendments 13 to 15, dividing into two woman’s organizations – the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association. The two came back together in 1890 to form the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. In the same year, the territory of Wyoming passed the first law that give women, over the age of 21, the right to vote. After Wyoming joined the Union, it established itself as the first state to allow a woman the right to vote. In 1872, Congress required federal equal pay for equal work. However, this law was unfortunately not extended to the majority of female employees working for private companies until the adoption of the Equal Pay Act in 1963. Also in 1872, Victoria Woodhull claimed the title for being the first woman to be nominated for president, but ironically no woman was allowed to vote. Woman are reminded of this fact when, later in the year, Susan B. Anthony was arrested for trying to vote and was convicted of “unlawful voting.”

About 30 years later, in 1903, The Women’s Trade Union League was established, unifying women that worked and promoting better pay and working conditions. Nearly twenty years later, in 1920, the 19th amendment was ratified and women were finally able to vote!!!!! In 1963, the Equal Pay act became a federal law for all woman. In 1967, civil rights protections were extended to women. President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11375, which expanded the affirmative action policies of 1965 to cover discrimination based on sex.

A few years later, in 1972, Congress passed, Title IX of the Education Amendments, which required schools receiving federal funds to offer equal admission to educational programs for all genders. This law is credited with the fiery growth of sports for women and girls at the high school, collegiate and professional levels. The law took effect in 1976 after withstanding repeated court challenges. In 1973, the Supreme Court established the abortion right. In and after Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court determined that a woman has the constitutional right to choose whether to have an abortion or carry her pregnancy to term. In the same year, the women-only branches of the U.S. Military eliminated. Women became intergraded into all branches of the U.S Military. Five years after that, in 1978, employment discrimination against pregnant women was banned. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act ensures that employment discrimination on account of pregnancy is treated as unlawful sex-based discrimination. And last but not least, in 2009 the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed into law. The new law changed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which stated that discrimination complaints must be brought within 180 days of the discriminatory act.

As you can see, woman’s rights have come a long way. It’s good to know and understand the trials and tribulations that those who came before you had to go through for you in order to do the things that you, as a woman can do today. I hope you enjoyed your International Woman’s Month and celebrated how far we have come.

“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

My Anime Addiction By Clayton Pickard, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

March 1st, 2017

The first film that turned me onto anime was Fullmetal Alchemist. The intense, adventurous action of Edward and Alphonse Elric captivated me. I find the entire idea of alchemy quite fascinating. The first time I watched this film, I was unaware of the elaborate history of alchemy. I watched it again when I was a bit older and understood it and enjoyed it even more. I was highly bewitched by the dark background of Edward and Alphonse and what Edward sacrificed for his brother. After watching this film, both the original and the Brotherhood version a total of six times, I was finally prepared to dig deeper into the enslaving ways of anime.

The next anime I watched was Seven Deadly Sins which is very similar to Fullmetal Alchemist. They both use the Sins as essential characters, but portray them in different ways. In Fullmetal Alchemist they are the central villains that the Elricks must overcome to accomplish their dire objective. In Seven Deadly Sins they are portrayed as the preeminent heroes of the story who are sadly misunderstood by the public as monsters. After watching this series, I went onto Hunter X Hunter which is where my binding animobsession really began.

I have watched Hunter X Hunter (148 episodes; 22 minutes each) five times. The first time I watched this show I stayed in my room, binge watching it, for two and a half full days until I finished it. This is, by far, the most emotionally intense and adventurous show I have ever seen. The main characters are very relatable and remind me of my own childhood. It is about a young boy named Gon whose father abandoned him in order to take the Hunter Exam. Gon is taken in by one of his father’s childhood friends and raised by her until he decides to take the Hunter Exam, in order to search for his father. The rest of the show is Gon’s journey searching for his father, who doesn’t exactly want to see him. He feels guilty for leaving his son many years ago and makes it as difficult as possible for Gon to find him. After finally getting off my deep addiction to this show, I turned to Sword Art Online to quench my anime thirst.

Sword Art Online is highly intense and thrilling. I ended up getting sucked into it and watched it seven times. This show is about a teenager named Kirito who luckily gets his hands on a highly anticipated game, Sword Art Online. Sword Art Online is a action packed MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing games) that allows you to dive inside the game when using nerve gear. Once all the players are inside the game, it gets corrupted by the creator and everyone is trapped inside, not being able to log out, until the players beat the 100th floor. Did I forget to mention that if any person dies inside the game, they also die in real life. This anime also has the best intensely beautiful soundtrack I have ever heard, I even listen to it when I am not watching the anime.

I am currently watching the Magi series and am trying to widen my horizons to other animes, like Black Butler, Death Note, Tokyo Ghoul and Blue Exorcist. Please contact me through [email protected] if you need any other recommendations or just want to talk about anime.

The Impact Of Films by Gerry Orz, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

February 10th, 2017

In my past blogs, I often look at how film is changing due to new technologies and changing mediums. This week, I don’t want to talk about how film is changing, but how film changes the world. Despite what many think, it isn’t just documentaries that can open up people’s eyes on current issues that need to be talked about. Historically, there are many films that completely changed the world thanks to their stories, messages and legendary quality.

I recently reviewed a film called Never Again is Now which focuses on the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. It not only tells the story of horrible events taking place and their cause, but it also tells the story of Holocaust survivors. It connects the past and the present and shows how thinking that the Holocaust was one terrible event never to be repeated is far from the truth. The film focuses on current events in Europe, but that isn’t the only place it’s happening. It’s been happening in every corner in the world, including here in United States. No one can deny that there is a rise of racism that is very apparent in United States and it should not be allowed to continue. Anti-Semitism is a very strong example of how hatred is at an all time high around the globe.

This signs of hate are a massive issue that seem like no one can stop. But it is very easy to stop hatred of all types. If you see someone behaving in a racist or hateful way, stop them. Confront them. If you hear about an issue (as I learned about with anti-Semitism), don’t stay silent. Speak up. Social media has a tremendous impact on the lives of millions of people and, just a simple post on FaceBook or Twitter helps spread the word about hate. It may seem like just talking about anti-Semitism or racism as a whole won’t do anything, but it will.

In Never Again is Now, one of the most important points made is that politically, no one wants to confront the issue of anti-Semitism. Talking about specific people being racist seems politically incorrect and that makes it even worst. Simply talking about such big issues will do so much.

Like I said, films make huge impacts on society as a whole. A one hour and thirty minute film made me think of the world in a completely different way. I soon realized that I can help spread the word about what is going on around the world. I want to leave this blog with a message to you, the reader. Don’t just stay silent. People stayed silent during the Holocaust and other genocides. If people spoke up instead of staying silent, many horrible events could have been prevented, and hate as a whole might have made a much smaller and more mild impact, if at all. Don’t let history repeat itself. Let us be smart for once and actually learn from our mistakes. Let’s move on to a brighter tomorrow for the sake of our children and their future.

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