Never Again is Now – An Inspiring Documentary About the Rise in Anti-Semitism

January 13th, 2017

neveragain.d.jpgFrom the producers of The Blaze TV’s For the Record comes a documentary investigating the troubling rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, a story told through the eyes of a woman who fled to America in 2004 to escape it. Evelyn Markus was raised in Holland by parents who witnessed the growing anti-Jewish violence of the 1940s. Her parents survived the Holocaust when Allied soldiers liberated them in 1945. When Markus saw signs of the same disturbing trends returning to the Netherlands, she left the land her family called home for centuries. Today she confronts the hatred that drove her out, and embraces her life’s mission — to prevent one of history’s darkest chapters from repeating. The documentary is now available at The Blaze TV. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Gerry O. comments, “I absolutely love this documentary. Never Again is Now not only tells inspirational stories of the Holocaust, but also brings to light problems that are taking place in the world today that many people know nothing about.” See his full review below.

Never Again is Now
By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 14

I absolutely love this documentary. Never Again is Now not only tells inspirational stories of the Holocaust, but also bringsneveragain.aa.jpgto light problems that are taking place in the world today that many people know nothing about. In Europe, there is a rise in anti-Semitism, with no foreseeable end. This documentary informs you about this hidden threat in a compelling and passionate way.

Never Again is Now focuses on educating the world about what is happening in Europe. The stories they reveal are inspiring, but also dramatic, very sad and unbelievably real. Especially when the creator talks about how her door was marked with a pink Star of David, not just targeting her and her wife as Jews but indicating, in a Nazi fashion, that they are a gay couple.

The documentary starts with stories of families who lost someone in the Holocaust or who witnessed the horrible acts of neveragain.c.jpgNazi Germany first-hand. A unique aspect of the film shows the American Veterans who liberated cities from Nazi Germany’s hold and discovered the concentration camps. They never knew they existed, nor were they trained to ever deal with such things or to have empathy for the survivors. The movie then talks about the rise of anti-Semitism in countries such as Netherlands, France and United Kingdom. It talks about events that took place from 2001 to 2015, the rise of hate speech and assaults on Jewish people and Israel. The entire documentary keeps referring to one strong message, the necessity to inform people and not let those who try to destroy Judaism and destroy its communities win.

What Never Again is Now does so well is it tell the history of the Holocaust and draw a parallel to today, while delicately connecting the two. Many documentaries do either one but rarely both and this Neveragain.a.jpgtruly allows you to listen to people who experienced concentration camps and the Nazi rule that happened 70 years ago, is happening again. The narration is done by Evelyn Markus, who is also the creator of Never Again is Now. Her vision not only makes the whole story flow brilliantly, but has other excelling aspects. One of its most unique things it brings out is how many Islamic people were raised to believe Jewish people are horrible. It shows how these people grew up hating Jews, without even knowing anything about the atrocities of the Holocaust.

My favorite scene is when the film shows the Veterans who liberated a train heading to a death camp. We hear stories of WWII Veterans who fought bravely to free Europe from Hitler’s rule, but you never hear stories of how they handled liberating the concentration Neveragain.b.jpgcamps. A Veteran talks about how they had never heard the words concentration camp before and never were trained to be a humanitarian in any fashion. When they freed those who survived the train, they had to take them to a liberated city with artillery on its way. I love this scene because it just shows such a unique aspect I have never seen in a documentary before. The art direction is also beautiful. They make old black and white photographs look almost 3D and move just a slight bit to attempt to bring them to life.

Despite this being a film everyone should watch, it is very mature. I recommend it to ages 11 to 18. Parents should know that it does not hide the truth in any way. It talks openly and directly about issues and brutalities of the world. I give Never Again is Now 5 out of 5 stars for its fantastic narration, story, message, concept and special effects. This is one the most meaningful documentaries I have ever seen. I urge kids and adults to see it, not just because I’m Jewish, but because, when hate like this rises in the world, it eventually affects everyone, not just one ethnic group. This film is in limited release. For a list of screenings, go to

Monster Trucks - Fun, adventurous, quirky comedy. Perfect for the whole family

January 12th, 2017

Monster_Trucks.jpgHere’s a winner that you can share with the entire family. Monster Trucks is the story of a young boy who is looking for any way to get away from the life and town he was born into. Tripp, a high school senior, builds a Monster Truck from bits and pieces of scrapped cars. After an accident at a nearby oil-drilling site displaces a strange and subterranean creature with a taste and a talent for speed, Tripp may have just found the key to getting out of town and a most unlikely friend. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Morgan B. comments, “This is the fun, adventuresome comedy that is perfect for the whole family. In this stupendous movie, there is a fun story line, quirky characters and terrific graphics.” Imani adds, “It is a very action packed, science filled and exciting. It’s a film that will have younger views hooked from the very beginning. The animation, cast and storyline all help tie this movie together in a way that is so amazing.” See their full reviews below.

Monster Trucks
By Morgan B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

This is the fun, adventuresome comedy that is perfect for the whole family. In this stupendous movie, there is a fun story line, quirky characters and terrific graphics. The way they incorporate each and every person’s unique talents and personality traits is incredible. On top of that, there is an adorable comedic monster that is not scary but cute, silly and goodhearted.

This movie is about a teenager named Tripp (Lucas Till) and his tutor Meredith (Jane Levy). One day, Tripp finds a monster.f.jpgremarkable creature that has never been heard of before. He decides to keep the creature and names him Creech. Tripp makes a huge truck where he can keep Creech inside and use Creech as the engine. He then has to get Creech back home with the help of Meredith. The oil people, which only loves money, want him dead. If people find out about him they will want to study him and protect him. This would cause the company to shut down.

My favorite scene is when Creech Meredith and Tripp are hiding and doing a speed chase with the evil people who want to take Creech away from them to experiment on him. I love this because monster.d.jpgCreech is climbing walls, jumping on top of buildings and driving on top of the roofs. The graphics in this scene are spectacular and had me staring in awe at how well are executed. The characters have some hilarious jokes that had me laughing until my stomach hurt.
My favorite characters are Creech and Meredith. I love him because he is funny, adorable, sweet and silly. I usually do not like creepy squids but this one is adorable. He provides comic relief that will have you smiling and laughing all the way. Meredith is the smart, quirky kind one who just wants to do what’s right and help everyone that she can. Tripp is also very humorous and goodhearted and I love that about him. He brings the film to life and has you cheering for him throughout the movie.

I recommend this to kids ages 7 to 18. Kids will love the characters that they can relate to, the adorable monster Creech and the story. Adults will love the graphics and the well written jokes. It is perfect for the whole family as a silly, feel good movie. I give this 5 out of 5 Monster Truck Stars.

Monster Trucks
By Imani Baptiste-Green, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 15

I really enjoyed watching the film Monster Trucks. It is a very action packed, science filled and exciting. It’s a film that will monster.g.jpghave younger views hooked from the very beginning. The animation, cast and storyline all help tie this movie together in a way that is so amazing.

The story is about Tripp (Lucas Till) who lives in a small town that he isn’t all that fond of. He builds a Monster Truck from pieces of scrapped cars. After an unexpected accident at a oil-drilling site called Trevaax, a strange creature is let loose who meets Tripp and Meredith (Jane Levy). The three set out on a joyride to protect their new subterranean creature friend.

My favorite part about the film is when all three creatures reunite with each other-thanks to Tripp and the gang and are set off to return to their homes. I really like this part because it is almost a happy ending, even though it isn’t the end yet. Throughout the film, there are many pleasant scenes and I love the  positive way that we see how Tripp and Creech’s relationship grows. Friendship is a huge theme which is great because that is something that everyone benefits from.monstert.a.jpg

Without giving away the ending, the message of this film is that family and friends are very important no matter what they look like. Another message is to always fight for what you believe is right in the end. Tripp is skeptical about Creech at the beginning of the film, but as it progressed, so do his feelings for the friendly creature. They form a bond with each other to keep one another safe no matter what the circumstances. Another example is with one of the scientists who works for the “evil” oil-drilling company. He realizes towards the end that what his company is doing could be harming others and has a change of heart for the creatures. I recommend Monster Trucks for ages 5 through 13 due to the lively colors, action packed theme and fun filled excitement. I rate this film a 5 out of 5 stars for its kid-friendly, thrilling storyline and talented cast. This film opens nationwide in theaters on January 13, 2017.

Bunyan & Babe – Unique Storyline and Wonderful Message about Having a Voice

January 10th, 2017

Babe.Bunyan_1.jpgTravis (Johnny Orlando) and his sister Whitney visit their grandparents for the summer and stumble upon the evil plan of a greedy land developer (Kelsey Grammer) to steal the land of the town’s longtime residents.  While running from one of the developer’s goons, Travis falls through a magical portal which transports him to the world of American hero, Paul Bunyan (John Goodman) & his pet ox, Babe (Jeff Foxworthy).  Bunyan and Babe get wrapped up in a brand new adventure, and with the help of their new friends Travis and Whitney, they save the town.  Together they learn firsthand that you don’t have to be big to do big things. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Jolleen M. comments, “This movie is really unique and interesting. I have never before seen a plot quite like this. The events that happen are quite unusual and I really enjoyed how the ending turned out.”  Katlyn M. adds, “I really enjoyed this movie which I found to be very inspiring. At a time where so many people feel their voices and opinions are not being heard, this movie can inspire kids and even adults to voice their opinions.” KIDS FIRST! Adult Reviewer Juanita wraps it up with, “I am not a huge fan of animation, however, the animated film Bunyan and Babe about an American folk hero, has changed my feelings and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.” See their full reviews below.

Bunyan and Babe
By Jolleen M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

This movie is really unique and interesting. I have never before seen a plot quite like this. The events that happen are Babe_and_Travis.jpgquite unusual and I really enjoyed how the ending turned out.

The film follows Travis (Johnny Orlando) who encounters some challenges when he goes to his grandparent’s farm for the summer. By accident, he travels to a different world and gets some big help from the legendary Paul Bunyan (John Goodman) and his talking blue ox, Babe. When they get back to the normal world, they realize that he didn’t just end up in a different world for no reason. He is chased after witnessing Blackstone, a magician, hypnotize a store owner and force her to sell her land to him. Blackstone’s bodyguard is the one who chased him. Eventually, everyone realizes that Blackstone and his brother, Norm Blandsford (Kelsey Grammer) a greedy land developer, are working together. They realize the problem is bigger than they initially thought.

I love how John Goodman’s voice perfectly fits what I think Paul Bunyan might sound like. His voice is deep and strongBabe_and_Travis_Johnny_Orlando.jpg like a macho man, which seems really fitting. I also liked how Travis (Johnny Orlando) uses his voice to help us know what Travis is feeling. For example, when Travis wants to help Paul Bunyan find Babe, his voice sounds really determined, which shows the audience how persevering he is.

The animation is spectacular. I particularly enjoyed seeing how the body language of each character shows what they are feeling. I also enjoyed seeing Blackstone’s hypnotic device on his hand. It is amazing how the animators made the light look like it was going toward the character and not just staying on the screen of the device. I almost felt like I was being hypnotized myself!

My favorite part of the film is when Babe escapes and starts drinking the toxic water. It amused me that he was so Babe_the_Blue_Ox_Jeff_Foxworthy.jpgcareless. I couldn’t believe that he didn’t see how the color of the water was abnormal and it looked really gross. It was funny to me when Norm Blandsford sees Babe who is just lying there, out cold.

This film’s message is one that many children and even adults can relate to - even though you are small, you can still do big things. This doesn’t only mean small size-wise. It can also mean small, as in just one person in a big world. This message encourages people to keep trying and to never give up, no matter what challenges are in your way, such as being small. The message can also inspire people to not limit themselves as to what they can do, because of things they can’t control, such as being small, not pretty, or not being smart. This message is very important and could help a lot of people get over their insecurities and be more confident in themselves.

I really enjoyed watching this movie and I give it 5 out of 5 stars. I recommend it to ages of 4 to 10. You can watch this fantastic film on Google Play on January 12 and in theaters February 3. You should definitely check out this awesome movie. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Bunyan & Babe
By Katlyn M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 11

I really enjoyed this movie which I found to be very inspiring. At a time where so many people feel their voices and Paul_Bunyan_Cooking.jpgopinions are not being heard, this movie can inspire kids and even adults to voice their opinions. I hope kids who see this movie will be encouraged to stand up for what they believe, think big and become heroes.  I will definitely watch this over and over.

Bunyan & Babe starts off like any normal 3D animated movie.  It has many famous voices you will recognize. In the beginning, a boy named Travis played by one of my favorite YouTubers, Johnny Orlando doesn’t want to go visit his Grandpa (John Goodman) at his farm. Travis loves to play video games and is annoyed by his sister. His sister Whitney (Lola Wayne Villa) is a smart and active girl. Just like many brothers and sisters, they fight and think that the other sibling is annoying.  Grandma (Kay Cole) and Grandpa are nice and sweet, like most grandparents.  I love the relationship that Travis and Whitney have with each other and with their Paul_Bunyan_John_Goodman.jpggrandparents.

Norm (Kelsey Grammer) is a mean and horrible person who wants to build something big and bad on all the land in the town. Iris, Norm’s secretary, is sweet and caring.  Before they get to their Grandpa’s house, they pick up Grandma who is protesting because Norm wants everyone to give him their property.  Travis runs into some trouble throughout the movie, but learns a very important lesson - you don’t have to be big to do big things.  The moral of this story is that you should fight for what you want, no matter what size you are.  I can relate to that, because sometimes people think that kids don’t have a voice. But, I know that isn’t true and I always try to make sure my voice is heard.    I give this movie five out of five stars because it has everything you could want in a movie.  It is inspiring, heartwarming and funny.  It teaches you to believePaul__Babe_and_Travis.jpg in yourself.  I recommend it for kids ages 5 to 18 and believe adults will enjoy this movie also.  This has instantly become one of the best animated movies I have seen in a long time.  I’m sure everyone that sees this movie will love it. I know I did!

Bunyan and Babe
Juanita Seon Leary, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

I am not a huge fan of animation, however, the animated film Bunyan and Babe about an American folk hero, has changed my feelings and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. Of course, I am familiar with the story of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox which this is loosely based on. This is an entertaining and colorful adventure story with lots of comedy thrown in.  I enjoyed the combination of the small town Paul_Bunyan_and_Travis.jpgfeeling with the magical world of giants - Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Blue Ox.

The story opens with twelve-year-old Travis (Johnny Orlando) engaging in the world of technology while his mother gets him off to visit his grandparents on their farm in Delbert County. Travis is not anxious to make this yearly visit and urges his mother to send his little sister Whitney (Lola Wayne Villa) without him. Travis does not get his wish and finds himself without his cell phone and video games as he rides in the pickup truck heading to the farm.

Farm life is not Travis’ cup of tea.  In a couple of days, he begins to get into the swing of things and enjoys the chores. Paul__Babe_and_Travis.jpgHis Grandfather surprises him with a bike which allows him to ride and explore the town where he discovers that a greedy land developer, Norm Blandsford (Kelsey Grammer) has been buying up the little country town and chasing the hard-working residents off their land. Travis has a run-in with one of Blandsford’s men and is chased into the forest where he stumbles upon a magic portal a hidden world where Paul Bunyan (John Goodman)  lives.  Because of his self-imposed exile for 100 years, Paul and Babe the Blue Ox (Jeff Foxworthy) reluctantly escort Travis back to the farm.  Bunyan and Babe get wrapped up in a new adventure and together with Travis and Whitney set out to save the town.Grandpa_Mark Hamill_1.jpg

In one scene Travis tells Paul Bunyan, he wishes that he could be a giant. Paul tells him “you don’t have to be big to accomplish big things.”  This is the main lesson of this film. It shows how working together with others with the same goal can accomplish great things. I recommend this film for ages 5 to 12 and adults may enjoy it also. I give Bunyan and Babe 5 out of 5 Giant Stars.  Bunyan and Babe will be available exclusively on Google Play beginning January 12 and in theaters Feb 3, 2017. Go check it out and enjoy the adventure.

Hidden Figures – What an Inspiration!

January 6th, 2017

hidden_figures.jpgBased on a true story. A team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Talia J. comments, “This absolutely fantastic film will inspire so many people to never give up on their dreams and talents. It shows that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.” Arjun N. adds, “The movie has a positive message about never giving up, no matter how much of a struggle. Despite the racist behavior and the challenges of the job, the trio never give up. For example, Katherine is constantly faced with the cold behavior of her colleagues.” Morgan B. wraps it up with, “OK, I never have an excuse now. This inspirational movie is about three women who overcame prejudice regarding race, feminism and intelligence.” See their full reviews below.

Hidden Figures
By Talia J., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 13

This absolutely fantastic film will inspire so many people to never give up on their dreams and talents. It shows that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.

The movie takes place in the 1960s where sexism and racial discrimination is still at a high. There is fear of the Soviet hiddenf.a.jpgUnion since they already have the technology to send astronauts into space, though there is still hope for America. This is a true story which revolves around three extremely intelligent African-American women - Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) who all work for the NASA program. They are the brains behind the launch of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell). The woman struggle with using their brilliance since they live in a world where the color of their skin defines who they are and who they are not going to be.

The acting is fabulous! Taraji P. Henson is made to play Katherine Johnson. Taraji highlights the braveness and intelligence of her character, adding a bit of a quirky side as well. I feel that I know her character like a friend. Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) is my favorite character out of them all.hiddenf.b.jpg She has this determination in her that is mind blowing. She can be very serious at times, but one of the most hilarious people at others. Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) definitely takes on the leader role. When watching this film you feel for her struggles and want her to succeed so badly. Octavia brings boldness and sarcasm that just makes you adore her. I felt the strong friendship between these woman.

I could tell how much time was spent in designing the set and costumes. The sets are so realistic that I felt transformed into that time period. I loved looking at the small details added to each set. Renee Ehrlich Kalfus designed the costumes which are so colorful and suit each character perfectly. It is so interesting to see how different the clothes were back then. The costumes helped add to it being the 60s.

My favorite scene is when Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) breaks down the colored woman’s bathroom sign to show that hiddenf.c.jpgeveryone can share the same restroom. Al Harrison is the head of the NASA launch program. This is my favorite scene because I loved seeing someone who looked beyond the color of people’s skin.

The main message of this film is to never give up on your dreams, even when people tell you that you can’t. The three woman look beyond their gender and their skin color. They look at the talents they have. One example of this is when Katherine Johnson is talking to Jim Johnson. Jim is surprised as to why they are having a woman do such important things at NASA. Katherine retorts with an inspiring line “Yes they let women do some things at NASA Mister Johnson. And it’s not because we wear skirts. It’s because we wear glasses!” I recommend this film for ages 9 to 18. The younger audiences will enjoy learning about the past and be inspired to shoot for the stars. The older audiences will like the comedy and the amazing story. I give this film a 5 out of 5 astronaut stars. It opens in theaters on January 6, 2017 so go check it out!

Hidden Figures
By Arjun Nair, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

Hidden Figures is a very inspirational movie. The acting and the informative material impressed me tremendously and thehiddenf.c.jpg costume design adds to the greatness of this movie.

It is based on a true story is about three African American women living in the 1960s. Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) are gifted in math and science and the three manage to work at NASA. They face many difficulties due to their color and gender. Despite working initially in the segregated computer room, the three manage to help America in the space race which was dominated by Russia. The trio also ensure the entry and the return of John Glenn (Glen Powell), who is aboard the Friendship 7 orbiting Earth.

Taraji P. Henson’s acting is extremely powerful as Katherine Johnson. She has the look of a mathematical genius. The scene where she explains her struggles to her boss is my most favorite scene in this movie and it brings out Taraji’s excellent acting.  Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughn is great at both drama and comedy. Janelle Monae’s depiction of Mary Jackson as a determined and steadfast lady is excellent and believable. Kevin Costner is another hiddenf.d.jpgstandout performer as Al Harris, head of the Space Task Group. His caring nature of not being a racist is one of the sides of the character which is presented well, as well as his portrayal of always being focused on the task. Glen Powell brings charisma and respect in the famous astronaut, John Glenn.

Theordore Belfi’s direction gives the movie room for all three of the women to show their hardships and triumphs. The music, composed by Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams appropriately enhances the setting of the movie. The costumes, for all the characters, are well designed and really look like attire from the 1960s. My only complaint is that only Katherine Johnson gets a proper back story, explaining her past,  but we don’t really learn about the background of the other two women. The movie excels at defining the contributions of all three women.hiddenf.e.jpg

The movie has a positive message about never giving up, no matter how much of a struggle. Despite the racist behavior and the challenges of the job, the trio never give up. For example, Katherine is constantly faced with the cold behavior of her colleagues. I give this movie 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 7 to 18. The youngest audience members might be a bit bored since this is an informative type of movie, but if they are interested in math, science or history, then they should go and see it. This film is available in theaters January 6, 2017, so go and check it out for an inspirational true story

Hidden Figures
By Morgan Bertsch, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 12

OK, I never have an excuse now. This inspirational movie is about three women who overcame prejudichiddenf.f.jpge regarding race, feminism and intelligence. This is also a story about fear and change. After seeing everything these women overcame my Mom will never let me say “I Can’t” again. I learned you can overcome any obstacle.

This film is inspirational, inquisitive and all around fantastic. I love that, along with a magnificent storyline, it also talks about math, technology, NASA, women’s rights, discrimination and what life was like in the 1960s. The wonderful technologies we take for granted today were missing such as high speed computers, cell phones, social media, color TV - to name a few. While enjoying the movie I learned about history and how people were afraid of women taking their jobs, because many were threatened because of how talented and brilliant these women were. This is also the period when Martin Luther King became the hiddenf.g.jpgspeaker for Black people as a spokesperson for equal rights. We also get a behind-the-scenes look at NASA and see how they worked during that era and how they did everything without the technology that we have today.

The acting is incredible. Taraji P. Henson (Katherine Johnson) is a pure genius who can do math equations that no one else can. She is very kind at heart and brings this side of herself out in Katherine Johnson. She is powerful in her own way. People tell her that she can’t, but she does everything she can to prove them wrong and succeeds. Taraji P. Henson is perfect in this role. She puts her heart and soul into this character.  By being herself, you know when she has something to say and you should listen when she talks because she speaks her mind and is always worth listening to. This is a very different role than what she playshiddenf.h.jpg on Empire. She is patient in this role but Cookie and Katherine have a goal and do whatever it takes to get to the finish line.

Octavia Spencer (Dorothy Vaughan) is helpful and headstrong. She overcomes many obstacles. She fears that she is going to lose her job and finds a way to educate herself as well as the other women employees so that they remain relevant to NASA. The lesson, which is relevant today, is education matters. Just by reading, she makes a lifetime career for herself doing what she loves.

Janelle Monáe (Mary Jackson) is inquisitive. She has an engineering degree, is brave and determined to accomplish her dreams. One of my favorite scenes is when she has to go to court to get permission to go to school. Kevin Costner (Al Harrison) is the Boss. He only cares about one thing, beating the Russians and getting a rocket up into space. He wants the best for NASA and the astronauts.  Just his name tells you his acting is A+. Jim Parsons (Paul Stafford) is very down to earth and does everything he can to make sure that the women know they are not wanted. This is a very different role than his character on the Big Bang Theory or the animated film Home. He is actually the villain here, who dislikes working women and people of color.

The film includes pictures and videos of the original rocket ships from the 1960s. The perspective from the astronaut’s point of view is also featured. It is difficult for NASA to go into space and watching some of that actual footage reminds me that our true history and it took place not that long ago. The Race To Space with Russia is a wonderful story. I had no idea that women were involved with NASA’s success. JFK, Martin Luther King, signs for white and black bathrooms, and protesters all add to this amazingly true storyline. Be sure to watch the end to find out what actually happened to all the characters in real life. The film is rating PG-13 but younger kids will love learning about rocket ships and how they were made. History is always easier to learn and remember when it is told in the form of a great story and this is one they will remember.

I recommend this for ages 9 to 18. You should know that there is mild profanity but, the whole story is so different from the life we have today. This film shows how much we have learned and grown since the 1960s. I found this film very interesting and intriguing and appreciate how beautifully constructed it is. Hidden Figures open nationwide January at a theater near you be sure to check out this dramatic and historical film.

Lion – A Captivating Story about Family and Perseverance

January 4th, 2017

Lion.poster.jpgThis story is about a five-year-old Indian boy who gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted and 25 years later, sets out to find his lost family. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Maria G. comments, “This film captures everything that I look for in a film.  It is filled with emotional, heart-touching scenes, a powerful message and wonderful cinematography.” See her full review below.

By Maria G., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

Lion is a beautifully produced film that truly captivated my heart and became one of my favorite movies. This film captures everything that I look for in a film.  It is filled with emotional, heart-touching scenes, a powerful message and wonderful cinematography. It is very unique and special, very different from what you ordinarily see at the cinema.

The story tells about 5-year-old, vulnerable Indian boy Saroo who gets lost on a train and travels thousands of miles across India lion.a.jpgaway from his dear family. Saroo faces many hardships of life all by himself. Eventually he is taken in and adopted by a caring Australian couple. Years later Saroo feels a part of himself missing and is filled with murky memories of his past as a young child in India. Using Google Earth, Saroo is determined and passionate to find his lost family through the use of this tool.

The lovable and kind Saroo is played by the talented Dev Patel who also had the leading role in the Oscar winning film Slumdog Millionare. Dav Patel portrays Saroo’s passionate determination to be reunited with his family and country in the most believable way. Rooney Mara plays adult Saroo’s girlfriend who aids him in finding his family. Sue Brieerley, Saroo’s adopted mother is portrayed by Nicole Kidman in another stunning performance.

The film runs 120 minutes and I have many favorite scenes, but what touched me most is watching the passion that drives Saroo to find his family. Although he faces many hardships and issues, his love and passion for his lion.b.jpgfamily drive him to not quit but overcome every obstacle. Seeing his dedication to be reunited with his roots is inspiring.

The message of this film touched my heart, due to similar personal experience I share with Saroo. As someone who also left their motherland at age six to come to a country with better opportunities I, like Saroo, know how it feels to be reunited with your motherland and have only mercury memories from where you come from. So I relate very deeply to the message of not forgetting your origins and staying true to your background and roots. In addition, the film portrays the message of family and unity, which are dear to me as well.

I highly recommend this film for ages 13 to 18. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and expect to see this film be nominated for an Oscar. It is playing in theaters now so, go check it out. You will be glad you did.

Fences – Lives Up to its Award-winning Status!

January 3rd, 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! Film Critic Benjamin P. comments, “Fences is an outstanding film driven by great performances from Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. This film took me on a roller-coaster of emotions that had me in a heap of tears by its finish.” KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror Juanita Seon Leary adds, “Adapted from the stage play by August Wilson (who also writes the screenplay), it lives up to its award- winning status.” See their full reviews below.

By Benjamin P, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 11

Fences is an outstanding film driven by great performances from Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. This film took me on a rollercoaster of emotions that had me in a heap of tears by its finish.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by August Wilson, Fences is set in Pittsburgh in the 1950s and follows Troy (Denzel fences.a.jpgWashington) and his wife Rose (Viola Davis). Troy works on a garbage truck and has failed to accomplish his dreams of becoming a baseball player. He thinks life was stacked up against him and takes it out on his family. His son Corey (Jovan Adepo) dreams of playing football, but Troy is holding him back. A secret that Troy is keeping threatens to ruin his relationship with his family. As the secret and its aftermath are slowly revealed, Fences takes you on an enthralling and emotional family journey.

Denzel Washington is excellent as Troy Maxson, a man reminiscing about his failed baseball career and the cruel injustice he thinks he’s experienced in his life. Washington’s performance manages to make this character likable, but paints his character’s inner demons very well, too. Viola Davis’s performance is great. She adds so much aching, raw emotion to her performance. No other actors could have played these roles this fences.b.jpgwell. They starred in these roles on Broadway in 2010 in a revival of this play and I am convinced this helped build the bond they show as husband and wife in the film.

My favorite character is Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), Troy’s brother and a veteran with a challenging injury. He’s a very bright and almost magical character who lights up the screen every time he’s on it. He helps balance the tense dramatic scenes in this film.

Denzel Washington also directs Fences. The way he shoots this film really resonates with me as an audience member. He brings the viewer in close to the characters during tense moments and draws you into the emotional core of the scene. One thing that I don’t like about how the film is constructed is that sometimes the transitions between scenes are sudden and occasionally confusing. It makes the pacing somewhat inconsistent. But overall, this film is extremely powerful and I definitely recommend bringing tissues.fences.c.jpg

I recommend this film for ages 12 to 18 because some adult themes could be difficult for children to process as well as the racially charged and vulgar language. I give Fences 5 out of 5 stars for its superb acting, captivating characters and drama. This film is in theaters now so be sure to check it out.

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. fences.d.jpgAdapted 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. Juanita.jpgWe 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.

La La Land Delivers A Musical Like Films from The Golden Age

December 30th, 2016

Lala.poster.jpgMia, an aspiring actress, serves lattes to movie stars in between auditions and Sebastian, a jazz musician, scrapes by playing cocktail party gigs in dingy bars, but as success mounts they are faced with decisions that begin to fray the fragile fabric of their love affair, and the dreams they worked so hard to maintain in each other threaten to rip them apart.

La La Land
By Arjun Nair, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

La La Land is one of the most different and entertaining movies of recent times I have ever seen. The acting and the melodious musical numbers mesmerized me. The colorful setting and dresses also add to the cinematic flair.

The story is about two aspiring people with dreams of what they want to become, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone). Sebastian is an exceptional jazz pianist who wants to revive jazz with his own jazz club which he dreams to make and Mia dreams to be an exceptional actress. The two meet under random circumstances, somewhat rudely. Drawn together by their aspiration to do what they love, they fall for each other. However, their dreams conflict with their love for each other.

Ryan Gosling excellently expresses his love for jazz and Mia. He enacts the piano playing part exceptionally well and it really looks like lalaland.b.jpghe is a gifted jazz pianist. Emma Stone is a show stealer as Mia with her expressive eyes, aspirations and acting skills, especially during the scenes where her character auditions and her chemistry with Ryan Gosling is amazing. John Legend, as Keith, utilizes his short on-screen time well, portraying a man with a different taste in jazz which Sebastian doesn’t like, and he happens to be a good friend in need.

Damien Chazelle’s direction keeps the movie flowing from one beautiful musical number to the next. Mandy Moore’s exceptional choreography charms us, particularly in “A Lovely Night,” which was done in one-shot on a hilltop on Sunset, and includes amazing dancing from the main actors. My favorite scene is the scene in the planetarium with creative visuals such as Sebastian and Mia flying in the sky, dancing. Sebastian and Mia’s dresses in the movie are spectacular and some of the best I have seen in a movie. The film is also shotlalaland.c.jpg in cinemascope which gives it the vibe of many golden Hollywood musicals.

The movie has a positive message about Mia and Sebastian never giving up their dreams. Despite multiple failures, Mia still pursues her dreams about being an actress and the same with Sebastian about starting a jazz club. I give this movie 5, out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 10 to 18. The only inappropriate thing about the movie is some of the language, but that is infrequent. This is a movie which everyone will enjoy. This film opens in theaters on December 25, 2016, so go and check it out for a unique musical unlike any other.

Assassin’s Creed – Action Packed with Amazing Choice of Actors

December 23rd, 2016

AssassinsC.poster.jpgThrough a revolutionary technology that unlocks his genetic memories, Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) experiences the adventures of his ancestor, Aguilar, in 15th Century Spain. Callum discovers he is descended from a mysterious secret society, the Assassins, and amasses incredible knowledge and skills to take on the oppressive and powerful Templar organization in the present day. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Lizeth G. comments, “Assassin’s Creed is an action packed film filled with an amazing choice of actors and actresses. The cast is outstanding and their characters are so well written that, at points make you feel sad for them although they are considered bad people.” See her full review below.

Assassin’s Creed
By Lizeth Gallegos, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 15

Assassin’s Creed is an action packed film filled with an amazing choice of actors and actresses. Usually I don’t enjoy films that have a lot of violence in them, but this film has a storyline that always has you on the edge of your seat ready to see what would happen next.

The cast is outstanding and their characters are so well written that, at points make you feel sad for them although they are assassinsc.a.jpgconsidered bad people. This film is about Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) who finds out that he is the descendent of Aguilar the last known Assassin to have possession of the Apple of Eden. At the beginning, he is in denial of being considered part of the secret society of Assassins because, as a small child he watched his father, a member of the Assassins, kill his mother. Sofia (Marion Cotillard) is a scientist trying to find a cure for violence with the help of her father (Jeremy Irons). This leads to the wonderful sci-fi part of the film with its revolutionary technology that allows Callum to unlock genetic memory of his ancestor Aguilar.

My favorite part is when Callum goes through his genetic memory and learns the same skills his ancestor, Aguilar, had in order to fight off the people that are taking advantage of him and the other assassins. Another part that stands out is when sometimes they speak Spanish. I really like that because it shows how well thought out the film is. Furthermore the CGI is the best I’ve seen so far and I personally would go watch assassinsc.c.jpgthis film a second time. This film has many amazing plot twist that just leave you speechless, but you have to watch this film to know what I’m talking about.

I recommend this film to ages 13 to 18 due to the amount of violence shown. I rate this film 4 out of 5 stars because, although it is such a good film with its dialect, script and settings, there are very few parts that leave you confused as to what is going on. This film opens in theaters December 21, 2016 so go check it out.

Passengers – Fantastic Acting, Beautiful Visual Effects, Intense Story and Surprise Ending

December 22nd, 2016

Passengers.poster.jpgThe spaceship, Starship Avalon, in its 120-year voyage to a distant colony planet known as the “Homestead Colony” and transporting 5,259 people has a malfunction in two of its sleep chambers. As a result two hibernation pods open prematurely and the two people that awoke, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Dunn (Jennifer Lawrence), are stranded on the spaceship, still 90 years from their destination. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Gerry O. comments, “What happens when you blend fantastic acting, beautiful visual effects, intense story and a surprising ending? You get a unique and exciting film called Passengers.” Arjun N. adds, “The acting and stellar special effects impressed me. However, there are many logic errors and things, which don’t make sense. It is still very watchable.” See their full reviews below.

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 14

What happens when you blend fantastic acting, beautiful visual effects, intense story and a surprising ending? You get a unique and exciting film called Passengers. Surprisingly, the main genre is not action or adventure, but a romance. With that, of course, comes drama as well.

Passengers begins when a deep space colony ship called Starship Avalon encounters some technical issues. It has only been 30 years into its 120 year voyage and one passenger, a mechanic named Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), awakens from his hibernation pod. After a passengers.a.jpgyear of loneliness, he is joined by another person, who also wakes up named Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence). The two live on the ship completely alone and soon realize that the starship they call home needs some fixing. If they don’t do something, they and the 5,000 others aboard may die.

The concept of a romantic sci-fi is very unexpected and unique. Most viewers will be surprised because it is advertised as an action-packed adventure. It does contain some action elements, but most of the film is very romantic and dives deep into humans’ nature under unique circumstances. The romance itself is smooth and realistic. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are enjoyable as separate characters and together they are simply perfect. They talk to each other very lightly and make the story entertaining despite that we only watch the two of them for most of the film. That is another fantastic aspect of Passengers. Everything is simple from the sets to  the characters and even the story. That doesn’t make it a boring film. With dramatic acting and beautiful visual effects, it is very much an entertaining story, which is hard to achieve with so few elements.passengers.b.jpg

There is a small issue in one specific scene which slightly ruins the entire story. The scene contains a medical bed that gives you several options, including stem cell regeneration. Although this seems normal in a sci-fi film, the main problem is that it ruins the entire story. Brain stem cells allow you to live much longer than normal, which kills the whole “90 years till everyone else wakes up, and we’ll be dead” element. This is the main problem with the characters. Another big thing about the stem cell aspect, is that they never have a role in the story. It is just an option for a robotic medical bed in the background, but because the option exists, it makes a huge part of the plot questionable.

My favorite scene is when both Aurora and Jim are awake and already getting close. One day, the ship’s A.I. tells all passengers to go to the observatory as it passes very close to a star. They run to the observatory to see the flames of a red giant, with the ship almost touching the surface. I loved this because it is a stunning visual scene mixed with intense music and spectacular acting which makes your adrenaline pump.

There are several mature moments, which make this unsuitable for younger children. I recommend it for ages 9 to 18 and give it 4 out of 5 stars because, despite it being a fantastic sci-fi romance, with beautiful special effects and fantastic acting, the fact that one scene jeopardizes the main conflict of the story is a big downside.  It is still an enjoyable film which I would recommend for all to see and opens in theaters on December 21, 2016 so, go check it out.

By Arjun Nair, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

Passengers is a decent movie filled with romance and sci-fi vibes. The acting and stellar special effects impressed me. However, there are many logic errors and things, which don’t make sense. It is still very watchable.passengers.c.jpg

The story is about two passengers, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), who are stranded on a spaceship, Starship Avalon, which is on a course to the Homestead Colony. This journey Is supposed take 120 years. Unfortunately, Jim and Aurora wake up from their hibernation pods thirty years into the journey. With 90 years left in the journey, the two try to go back to hibernation, but it doesn’t succeed. During the trip, the two fall in love and try to enjoy their time spent on the Avalon, but aboard the ship a series of malfunctions occur. Jim and Aurora must figure out how to save the ship and the lives of the others in the hibernation pods.

Chris Pratt delivers an excellent multi-faceted performance and steals the show as Jim, presenting both comedy and romance. There are also scenes where Jim emotes his sadness, frustration and loneliness before he meets Aurora. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Aurora, a writer who wants to capture new adventures, has good chemistry with Chris Pratt’s character. Michael Sheen as Arthur, an android bartender, delivers good comic relief and is an interesting character.passengers.e.jpg

Morten Tyldum’s direction keeps the movie flowing at a fast pace especially in scenes when the ship is in danger.  The special effects are great, especially the space effects and the swimming pool scenes when there is a loss of gravity.  My favorite scene is the scene where Jim and Aurora first explore space. Their acting is marvelous. The idea of vending machines that can make all sorts of coffee is a cool one.  This movie does have numerous logic issues and the lack of realism makes some scenes really weird. There is a scene where Jim is faced against a big ball of fire. The only protection he has is a small shield. Also, the issues that happen, supposedly caused from something that happened two years back, are not believable because issues come immediately after such a big problem rather than in slow, short installments.

The movie has a great message.  Jim and Aurora heroically save the spaceship and more than 5000 passengers in hibernation in spite of the fact they know that they won’t be alive when they reach Homestead Colony. I give this movie 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 13 to 18 years old. I don’t recommend this movie for younger kids because it has few romantic scenes, which are not appropriate for them. This film opens in theaters on December 21st, so go check it out.

Sing – A Wonderful New Animated Film That is a Feast for Both Eyes and Ears!

December 21st, 2016

SING.POSTER_1.JPGSet in a world like ours but entirely inhabited by animals, Buster Moon, a dapper koala who presides over a once-grand theater that has fallen on hard times. Buster is an eternal, some might even say delusional-optimist who loves his theater above all and will do anything to preserve it. Now faced with the crumbling of his life’s ambition, he has one final chance to restore his fading jewel to its former glory by producing the world’s greatest singing competition. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Clayton P. comments, “Sing is a terrific new animated film that is a feast for both eyes and ears!  From the creators of Despicable Me, Minions and The Secret Life of Pets, Sing is an instant classic.”  Mia A. adds, “Illumination Entertainment has done it again! The creators of Despicable Me, Pets and Minions have brought us more talking animals to love – and, this time they sing!” See their full reviews below.

By Clayton P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

Sing is a terrific new animated film that is a feast for both eyes and ears!  From the creators of Despicable Me, Minions and The Secret Life of Pets, Sing is an instant classic.  It stars Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlet Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton and Tori Kelly. It is directed and written by Garth Jennings and co-directed by Christophe Lordelet.

The film concerns a theatrical impresario and koala bear, Buster Moon whose classic theater is not thriving.  However, he has a big Sing.a.jpgidea to bring back the audience. He decides to stage a singing contest!  The only trouble is the flyer that is produced to advertise the contest is misprinted. Instead of “winner gets $1000”, the flyer says “$100,000.”  Of course, Moon doesn’t have the money, but the show must go on!  He holds an audition and decides on the finalists who will compete for the prize.  They include Johnny, a gorilla crooner with a Cockney accent (Taron Egerton); Meena, an elephant with stage fright but a beautiful, resonant voice (Tori Kelly); Ash, a punk rockette (Scarlet Johansson); Mike, a boastful mouse who sings jazz standards (Seth MacFarlane); and Gunter and Rosita a couple of pigs who sing and dance (Nick Kroll, Reese Witherspoon).  Moon also has an elderly iguana assistant, named Ms. Crawley (Garth Jennings).  There are many subplots including the fact that Mike’s dad is a Cockney mobster who expects Mike to be the getaway driver.  Each contestant is well fleshed out with a backstory that makes us care about each one.

My favorite part is when Gunter is about to go on stage for dress rehearsal.  In his German accent he says, “This place is about to Sing.b.jpgexplode with some major piggy power.”  Another great scene is when Rosita leaves her 25 piglets at home.  She is unable to get a babysitter, so she makes robotic contraptions out of everyday materials and puts them all over the house.  It wakes the piglets up, feeds them, gets them dressed and out the door with their backpacks and one contraption even says goodbye to the husband and all 25 kids as they exit the house.  It reminded me of the toy train scene in Wallace and Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers.  This scene is visually very creative.
One of the best things about Sing is the many different styles of music.  It’s great for kids as they can learn about different music genres.  The film is bookended by The Beatles’ song Golden Slumbers.  It also includes some Motown songs, including Stevie Wonder’s Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing, jazz standards like My Way and recent pop songs like Call me, Maybe.  Overall, the soundtrack is really terrific.  According to some accounts, there are over 80 songs in the film.

Sing is perfect for the whole family.  Everyone will enjoy it.  I rate this film 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for kids ages 5 to 18 as well as adults.

By Mia A., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

Illumination Entertainment has done it again! The creators of Despicable Me, Pets and Minions have brought us more talking animals to love – and, this time they sing!sing.d.jpg

Sing is about a Koala named Buster Moon who loves the theater so much that he buys a theater and follows his dreams. His theater is going through some hard times, so he holds a singing competition. Ash, Buster Moon, Rosita, Mike, Meena, Johnny and Gunter are some of the competitors, and they all have important stories to tell.

Each character has its own small subplot, so you get some good background information on each one. Voiced by big names including Matthew McConaughey, Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon and Seth MacFarlane, we get to know and love each character.  Ash is a rock singer who lives with a stuck up boyfriend. Rosita is a pig that has many kids and a husband, but she doesn’t feel appreciated by any of them. Mike is a little street mouse or rat with attitude that gets him in some interesting situations. Meena is an elephant that is super shy and Johnny is an ape that is stuck in a family job of robbery. My favorite character is Johnny because he believes in what he loves and never stops trying to pursue his dreams. He almost runs two lives, doing what he wants to do while also participating in the family business of robbery.

My favorite scene is the car wash scene. Buster Moon has to wash cars to make some money, so his friend Eddie helps him. Buster Mia3.jpgMoon washes as Eddie dries. This scene is very funny because they use their bodies to wash and dry.

The moral to this film is to never give up on your dreams. We see how all the characters have an event in their lives that holds them back from what they really want to do and what their true talents are. This movie is called Sing, so I expected some major singing. I like that there are popular songs incorporated into the movie. All the characters have amazing voices and some are very comical. The singing really made me want to get up and start singing.

The animation is super colorful, creative and detailed. You can see small details on the animals like the fur on the apes and the quills on the porcupines. I love how the animal characteristics and human characteristics are combined and balanced out perfectly to make a human animal. The animals may walk and talk like humans, but they also have some animal traits. The porcupine’s quills fly out and the apes run on their feet and hands.

I recommend Sing to ages 6 to 18 because this is a great family movie for all ages. I give this movie 4.5 out of 5 stars. If you are looking for good clean family fun, go enjoy Sing in theaters near you!

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