Jury Coordination and Notes

Orion and the Dark * A Family Friendly Film That Includes Various Types Of Emotions Such As Sad, Happy, Afraid And More

February 11th, 2024

A boy with an active imagination faces his fears on an unforgettable journey through the night with his new friend: a giant, smiling creature named Dark.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Avalynn G. comments, “The film Orion and the Dark is a family friendly film that includes various types of emotions such as sad, happy, afraid and more.  I love the animation and the contrast between the light and dark.” See her full review below.  

Orion and the Dark
By Avalynn G., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 10

The film Orion and the Dark is a family friendly film that includes various types of emotions such as sad, happy, afraid and more.  I love the animation and the contrast between the light and dark. 

The storyline follows a boy named Orion (Jacob Temblay). Orion is terrified of the dark until one night an entity named Dark comes to his house to show him there is no reason to be afraid. He takes Orion with him to show him his job. In the process, Dark takes Orion to see the other night entities. Everytime he goes to see all the night entities’ jobs he ends up messing them up. Orion explains to the other night entities how Light is amazing and Dark is bad. Dark overhears him and thinks nobody likes him. All the other night entities quit because they want to see how the Light is. Dark has to do his job all by himself now. Dark doesn’t want to do his job alone so he goes into the light and disappears. Orion gets all the night entities back together to save Dark. To do that dream goes in his imagination and finds Dark there. In the end Orion likes the dark and appreciates them now because without dark it was too light.

A boy with an active imagination faces his fears on an unforgettable journey through the night with his new friend: a giant, smiling creature named Dark.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Avalynn G. comments, “The film Orion and the Dark is a family friendly film that includes various types of emotions such as sad, happy, afraid and more.  I love the animation and the contrast between the light and dark.”

My favorite part of this film is when Dark takes Orion to see his job. I think it is so cool to see Dark and Orion fly through the sky. I also enjoy watching the night entities doing their job. I especially love Dream’s job. It is amazing how Dream goes into people’s imagination and makes their dreams out of something that has happened in their life. It is very surprising when the audience realizes that Orion and the Dark is a story that future Orion is telling his daughter, explaining how he gets over his fear of the dark.

The film’s message is to face your fears because if you don’t you will miss out on life. At the end, Orion faces his fear! He just does it and he feels better. He feels like he can accomplish and do anything now. 

I give Orion And The Dark 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 5 to 12.  This film starts streaming on Netflix February 2, 2024.

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Stephen Curry: Underrated * An Extraordinary Documentary With Creative Editing, Accessibility, And A Compelling Story

November 18th, 2023

The remarkable coming-of-age story of one of the most influential, dynamic and unexpected players in the history of basketball: Stephen Curry. This feature documentary — blending intimate cinéma vérité, archival footage and on camera interviews — documents Curry’s rise from an undersized college player at a small town Division I college to a four-time NBA champion, building one of the most dominant sports dynasties in the world.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Daniel S. comments, “Stephen Curry: Underrated is an extraordinary documentary with creative editing, accessibility, and a compelling story. I really enjoyed it and I think others will as well, whether you are an avid basketball fan or not.” See his full review below.  

Stephen Curry: Underrated
By Daniel S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 15

Stephen Curry: Underrated is an extraordinary documentary with creative editing, accessibility, and a compelling story. I really enjoyed it and I think others will as well, whether you are an avid basketball fan or not.

Stephen Curry: Underrated follows the humble beginnings and present day life of all-star basketball player Stephen Curry. Curry starts off obsessively playing basketball as a kid, and is later mentored by head coach Bob McKillop at Davidson College where he begins to become known. Despite his small height and build, he rises up the ranks in college basketball and eventually enters the NBA. With all the odds stacked against him, we witness his journey from dreaming of playing basketball professionally to winning four NBA championships.

This film shows hos Stephen Curry is a rare example of true commitment in an athlete. Curry devotes himself, not just to his performance, but his team, leading them to success. Editor J.D. Marlow seamlessly weaves together Curry’s past and present. From the old footage, we see his improvement and growth over the years. The more recent footage, shows how Curry’s past experiences shaped the athlete and person he is now. The time periods are interlaced so well that it feels like his younger self and present self are working in unison to achieve success. The beauty of this film is that anyone will be entertained — basketball fans will appreciate how it shows the journey of one of the most popular NBA players today, but anyone will enjoy the film for its compelling story. I am not a big basketball fan, but I found myself quickly immersed and fascinated by Stephen Curry’s story. I immediately connected with Curry, and cheered him on.

The documentary kept me glued to the screen because Curry’s story is especially gripping. I felt like I was on the journey with him as the film gives a detailed telling of his story. While most see the player as a “larger-than-life athlete,” the film explores the family-oriented aspects of his character, which makes him feel well grounded. His path is unique, and inspiring.

The film’smessage is about the power of devotion and passion. Curry’s willingness to overcome obstacles, and get up after falling down solidifies his place as one of the most successful players today.

I give Stephen Curry: Underrated 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for 12 to 18, plus adults. The documentary is available now on Apple TV+. 

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Next Goal Wins * A Heartwarming And Enjoyable Film Capturing The Essence Of Teamwork, Perseverance And The Human Spirit

November 14th, 2023

Directed by Academy Award® Winner Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit, Thor: Ragnarok) and based on a true story, Next Goal Wins follows the American Samoa soccer team, infamously known for their brutal 31-0 loss in 2001. With the World Cup Qualifiers approaching, the team hires down-on-his-luck, maverick coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) hoping he will turn the world’s worst soccer team around in this heartfelt underdog comedy.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic David E. comments, “Next Goal Wins, based on a true story, is a heartwarming and genuinely enjoyable film that captures the essence of teamwork, perseverance and the human spirit. It’s a family-friendly movie that offers both humor and feel-good moments and is told with an authenticity that makes it relatable and engaging.” See his full review below.  

Next Goal Wins
By David E., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

Next Goal Wins, based on a true story, is a heartwarming and genuinely enjoyable film that captures the essence of teamwork, perseverance and the human spirit. It’s a family-friendly movie that offers both humor and feel-good moments and is told with an authenticity that makes it relatable and engaging.

The story revolves around the determined coach, Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) who takes on the challenging task of coaching an American Samoa soccer team with a historically abysmal loss record. Their only goal is to score one point, a seemingly insurmountable task.

This film is a delightful cinematic experience that celebrates the power of belief, teamwork, and the indomitable human spirit in the world of sports.  As the film develops, it dives deeper into the characters’ lives, particularly Coach Rongen and the soccer team. The connections that form between the players showcase the power of heartfelt camaraderie in sports. The film brings out both the emotional and comedic aspects of these players journey. It’s clear that the cast and crew put their heart and soul into this project, resulting in a standout film. The camera work is outstanding – it captures the action on the field with finesse, making you feel like you’re right there with the team as they strive for victory. Michael Fassbender’s performance as Coach Rongen is commendable, as he skillfully balances humor with emotional elements in the film, delivering a memorable character. Oscar Kightley, as Tavita, Coach Rongen’s right-hand man, brings a good-spirited energy to the film. His character adds to the loveable dynamic of the team, making it easy for the audience to root for them. The film’s pacing is fast-paced, keeping the story engaging and ensuring that viewers remain invested in the team’s journey from start to finish.

The film’s core message is a simple, yet powerful one: believe in yourself and have fun. It’s a message that resonates with both young and adult audiences, reminding us of the importance of enjoying the process and having faith in our abilities. It’s important to note that the film contains some profanity, alcohol use, glimpses of drug use, and a transgender lead character, which may require some parental guidance depending on the age of the viewers.

I give Next Goal Wins a well-deserved 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18, plus adults who appreciate uplifting and heartwarming stories. It releases in theaters on November 17, 2023.

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Ammu’s Treasures By Chandrika Tandon *  Great Collection With Pop Songs, Poems, Vedic Chants That Transport You To A Whole New Musical World

October 7th, 2023

Ammu’s Treasures is a gift of intergenerational love and wisdom, with profound messages for everyday living. A three-volume omnibus of 35 songs and 21 chants, Chandrika invites its listeners to reminisce or make new memories with traditional folk tunes and familiar popular songs and poems. This music collection also includes ancient Vedic chants set to Indian scales, aimed to soothe and relax. Ammu’s Treasures features many maestros including Cyro Baptista, Martin Bejerano, Peter Calo, Purbayan Chatterjee, Rakesh Chaurasia, Béla Fleck, Eugene Friesen, Maeve Gilchrist, Jamey Haddad, Bobby Keyes and more. Marc Lumer and Bob Spang contributed their talents to beautiful accompanying lyric videos.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Eshaan M. comments, “Ammu’s Treasures is great for young kids looking for auditory entertainment; with pop songs, poems, Vedic chants, and more, listeners will have more than enough to be transported to a whole new musical world.” Ella S. adds, “The children’s album Ammu’s Treasures is very well sang by Chandrika Tandon. The vocals are strong and lyrical. It brings back memories of my early childhood and the songs I used to sing, and the happy, cartoonish music videos will appeal to young kids.” See their full reviews below.

Ammu’s Treasures by Chandrika Tandon
By Eshaan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

Ammu’s Treasures is great for young kids looking for auditory entertainment; with pop songs, poems, Vedic chants, and more, listeners will have more than enough to be transported to a whole new musical world.

Ammu’s Treasures is a three-volume omnibus of 35 songs and 21 chants compiled by renowned musician Chandrika Tandon. The album features many maestros including Cyro Baptista, Martin Bejerano, Rakesh Chaurasia, the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and more.

Ammu’s Treasures is beautifully composed, with each piece clearly having hours of thought behind its instrumentals, vocals and mixing. Plus, the accompanying lyric videos by Marc Lumer and Bob Spang are vibrant and enjoyable. The album was conceptualized by Tandon as a gift to her grandchildren, and it’s evident that she painstakingly pieced together the motley array of songs in the album; I’ll admit that the mix of pop songs, nursery rhymes, chants and instrumental pieces took me by surprise at the beginning, but only those who actually listen to the songs will realize how they come together to form a beautiful lyrical panoply. My personal favorite pieces are “Chants – To the Light,” “Listen to the Pouring Rain,” and “Au Clair la Lune,” as much for their nostalgic value as for their elegance.

Ammu’s Treasures was created to spread intergenerational love through art (one of the purest kinds of love!). And you do truly feel it after listening to two or three numbers, a magical sensation that envelopes you with joy and warmth. It’s truly wonderful.

I give Ammu’s Treasures 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 3 to 5 plus adults. Ammu’s Treasures released on all major audio vendors beginning September 7, 2023.

Ammu’s Treasures by Chandrika Tandon
By Ella S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 14

The children’s album Ammu’s Treasures is very well sang by Chandrika Tandon. The vocals are strong and lyrical. It brings back memories of my early childhood and the songs I used to sing, and the happy, cartoonish music videos will appeal to young kids.

Ammu’s Treasures is a collection of 35 songs and 21 chants that range from traditional folk tunes to familiar and popular songs and nursery rhymes for multi-generations, sung by Grammy nominee Chandrika Tandon. It includes some music videos featuring an animated family of colorful bears — one of whom is dressed in traditional Indian clothing – along with other characters.

Ammu’s Treasures is appropriate for a multigenerational audience, particularly younger kids. For example, babies and toddlers will enjoy the nursery rhymes like “Teddy Bears’ Picnic,” “Hush Little Baby” and “Bye Bye Blackbird.” The colorfully animated music videos, such as “Miller of the Dee” will also attract younger viewers. Many of the songs will be familiar to both children and adults, such as “Edelweiss” and “Scarborough Fair.” Songs like “Au Clair de la Lune,” “Molly Malone,” “Vive Le Compagnie,” and “Que Sera Sera” might remind adults of their own childhoods. Ammu’s Treasures features many maestros including Cyro Baptista, Martin Bejerano, Peter Calo, Purbayan Chatterjee, Rakesh Chaurasia, Béla Fleck, Eugene Friesen, Maeve Gilchrist, Jamey Haddad, Bobby Keyes, Kevin Kliesch, Howard Levy, Romero Lubambo, Marcus Rojas, Dave Schroeder, Michael Ward-Bergeman, Kenny Werner, the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, Scott Cannizzaro, Teese Gohl, John Kiehl, Kevin Killen, Mirek Vana, and more.

Marc Lumer and Bob Spang contributed their talents to the lyric videos. Chandrika Tandon also acknowledges her Indian heritage with songs such as “Surganani.” In the song “There’s a Hole in My Bucket” the name of the girl is changed from Liza to Kavi, which is an Indian girls’ name. I like that.

Ammu’s Treasures conveys an overall happy, cheerful message meant for the ears of younger audiences. There is no inappropriate language in any of the songs.

I give Ammu’s Treasures 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 2 to 5, plus adults. Ammu’s Treasures released on all major audio vendors beginning September 7, 2023.

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Faceplant, Season 2: The Side of Success No One Talks About * Beautifully Captures The Remarkable Journey Of A Musician Who’s Weathered Life’s Toughest Storms To Reclaim His Passion

September 24th, 2023

The Singleton Foundation for Financial Literacy & Entrepreneurship is launching Season 2 of Faceplant, a documentary style series about some familiar faces, their career and life struggles, and how they overcame them to get back up stronger than ever.  From Hollywood actors, directors and producers to Olympic athletes, the show gives inspiration as we hear how they took the lemons life gave them and turned it into lemonade. Uncover the personal stories from people who discover the value of failure in pursuit of their dreams. One person highlighted in Season 2 is Damian Escobar in The Side of Success That Nobody Talks About. Originally from Jamaica, Queens, New York, world renowned violinist Damien’s inspiring journey of making it big (3rd place on America’s Got Talent), losing it all (and sleeping on his mother’s couch), fights to rebuild for a second chance at success —  because if you can get to the top, you can also surely find yourself at the bottom.

Ashleigh C. comments about this episode, “From struggle to symphony, the inspirational and moving documentary The Side of Success No One Talks About beautifully captures the remarkable journey of a musician who’s weathered life’s toughest storms to reclaim his passion.” See her full review below.

Faceplant, Season 2: The Side of Success No One Talks About
By Ashleigh C., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 19

From struggle to symphony, the inspirational and moving documentary The Side of Success No One Talks About beautifully captures the remarkable journey of a musician who’s weathered life’s toughest storms to reclaim his passion.

This short documentary is part of the popular docu-series, Faceplant, about seven entrepreneurs who share their game-changing life lessons with us. This film offers a portrait of Damien Escobar, a gifted violinist whose journey to success and back is heartwarming. From his early start in music, his acceptance into Juilliard at 9 years old and performing for three U.S. presidents, to the lows of financial hardship and personal crisis, this documentary gives us a glimpse into the rollercoaster life of a musical prodigy.

This is a short film hat will resonate with a wide range of audiences, from aspiring musicians to anyone in need of inspiration during challenging times. The film exquisitely profiles Damien and the talented and ambitious individuals who mirror him. Damien’s resilience and passion for music shine through every frame, making it impossible not to root for him, in this a classic underdog-to-hero story. One of the standout aspects of this documentary is its ability to convey the emotional depth of Damien’s journey. The audience can feel his triumphs and setbacks, and the film truly makes you emotionally invested in his story in a short period of time. Additionally, the interviews with Damien provide valuable insights into his experiences and mindset. My favorite part is when Damien shares his rediscovery of his love for music and embarks on a successful solo career. It’s a testament to the power of passion and determination, and it’s truly inspiring to witness him rise from adversity.

This film carries a powerful message of resilience, the pursuit of one’s true passion, and the importance of finding joy in the journey of life. It encourages viewers to reflect on their own paths and the obstacles they may encounter along the way.

I give Faceplant, Season 2: The Side of Success No One Talks About 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 8 to 18, plus adults. You can find it streaming online now at Millionstories.com.

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe * In This Cinema Era Of Super Heroes And Special Effects, This Offers A Refreshing Story That Is Right Up My Alley

September 16th, 2023

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is an upcoming movie based of the coming-of-age young adult novel by American author Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Set in El Paso, Texas in 1987, the novel follows two Mexican teenagers, Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza and Dante Quintana, their friendship, and their struggles with racial and ethnic identity, sexuality, and family relationships.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Zoe C. comments, “Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe emerges in this convoluted cinema era of super heroes and special effects offering a refreshing story. Everything from the storyline, to the cinematography and indie film style is right up my alley.” See her full review below.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
By Zoe C, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe emerges in this convoluted cinema era of super heroes and special effects offering a refreshing story. Everything from the storyline, to the cinematography and indie film style is right up my alley.

The story begins in 1987 with a boy named Aristotle (Max Pelayo) who keeps to himself. He goes to the local swimming pool in hopes of learning to swim and meets Dante (Reese Gonzales). The two instantly click as they realize they have a lot in common and start hanging out every day. Dante moves away for a year but the two boys exchange letters and remain in contact. Both Dante and Aristotle have a long road of self-discovery ahead, but that doesn’t interfere with the strong connection between them.

I love how this film deals with so many different themes all at once — family dilemmas, sexuality, self-growth, and ethnic identity. I always relate to seeing Latino representation in films; Aristotle is Mexican and I love that this film has a lot to do with his heritage. The cinematography is delicate and bright as is the overall aesthetic of the film. My favorite scene is when Aristotle and Dante tie their Converse shoes together and hang them on a light post at night. The lighting and simple concept of tying their shoes together is so beautiful; especially in the way that scene is shot. It is so powerful and meaningful.

The acting is also impressive. Max Pelayo’s portrayal of Aristotle is terrific – despite Aristotle having lots of inner conflicts, Max portrays him in such a beautiful way. I love Reese Gonzales as Dante as well; Dante is a very awkward person but in the cutest way and Reese captures that dichotomy and plays into that tricky kind of feel. I’m a huge fan of Eugenio Derbez, who plays Jamie Mendoza, Aristotle’s dad. He’s such an incredible actor. Eva Longoria, as Dante’s mom, and Veronica Falćon, as Aristotle’s mom, both really caught my attention. I love how both moms are so different and both love their kids infinitely. Veronica is the perfect example of a Mexican mom. I wish Eva had more screen time but nevertheless she is great. This film is based on a novel with the same name by Benjamin Alire Sáenz and is produced by Eugenio Derbez and Lin-Manuel Miranda who narrates the audio book.

The film’s message is that true love always prevails, but takes time. Please note that it contains  some strong violence, strong language, sexual material, teen drug and alcohol use and smoking.

I give Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18, plus adults. It releases in theaters, HBO and Netflix September 8, 2023.

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Grave * One Of The Most Informative And Awakening Documentaries I Have Ever Watched

September 5th, 2023

Death is the only certainty we have in life, and yet we know so little about it. This documentary explores the different aspects of the afterlife including near death experiences, channeling the dead and the attempt to extend one’s lifespan thru cryonics. After living through a global pandemic, death has been placed at the forefront of our lives however what actually happens to us when we die is still shrouded in mystery. There are some cultures that believe that death is truly the end, however there is a growing community of people around the world who claim to have had near death experiences. These people, in the 10s of millions believe that they have traveled beyond the grave and have proof of the afterlife and that consciousness lives on after our bodies die. If this is true then can the terminally ill freeze their bodies at the time of death, to be brought back to life and healed in the future? There are others who possess a sixth sense and claim to have conversations with the dead or have experienced paranormal phenomena involving visitations by ghosts. Does this mean that humans can communicate with the spirits of people who have died and if so, can these spirits come back to haunt us? Serena DC meets with the world’s leading scientists, doctors, experts, mediums & paranormal investigators to discover if there really is life Beyond The Grave.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic SaniyaRain F. comments, “Beyond the Grave is one of the most informative and awakening documentaries I have ever watched! The whole concept of it is alluring because who wouldn’t want to learn about what happens in the afterlife. I also enjoy it because of how everything is so clearly explained. The documentary covers lots of spiritual discoveries and intriguing stories.” See her full review below.

Beyond the Grave   
By SaniyaRain F., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15  

Beyond the Grave is one of the most informative and awakening documentaries I have ever watched! The whole concept of it is alluring because who wouldn’t want to learn about what happens in the afterlife. I also enjoy it because of how everything is so clearly explained. The documentary covers lots of spiritual discoveries and intriguing stories. It is also amusing to watch if you are interested in paranormal activity. 

The plot of Beyond the Grave follows Serena DC who is on a mission to figure out as much as she can about what happens after you die. She travels around meeting with different experts, doctors, mediums, and even paranormal investigators who all have stories to disclose. Throughout her trips Serena attains new knowledge that she is using to answer the main question of what really happens to one’s soul after they pass and other factors that involve their life before death. 

 Beyond the Grave has loads of information and each piece adds a bit to the puzzle. The main reason Serena interviews all of these people is because the majority of them share at least one thing, which is the fact that they faced death head on in their own way. For the ones who didn’t, they are professionals when it comes to life and death situations. One of the people she meets whose narrative touched me was Susana Grau. She gained abilities after her near-death experience to the point that she can communicate with present spirits. She gave Ms. DC some really interesting information. Another interesting person is Ellen Whealton, who witnessed things out of earth’s reach that changed her life for the better and made her who she is today. Each of the people Serena talks with explains their stories and how they changed their lives. The documentary is very well executed from the camera work to the interviews.   

The film’s message is to show and prove that death, the one assured thing in life, may sound scary but it could truly be just the beginning of something unimaginable to the human mind and its analysis should be seen as such. 
  
I give Beyond the Grave 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 13 to 18, plus adults. Beyond the Grave releases September 5, 2023, on VOD! 

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The Monkey King * Modern Twist On The Classic Chinese Tale That Takes You On An Exciting Adventure Of Discovery And Growth

August 19th, 2023

The Monkey King is an action-packed family comedy that follows a rebellious and charismatic Monkey and his magical fighting Stick on an epic quest for victory over 100 demons, an eccentric Dragon King, and Monkey’s greatest foe of all —his own ego! Along the way, a young village girl challenges his self-centered attitude and shows him that even the smallest pebble can have a big effect on the world.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Mikella G. comments, “The Monkey King is a modern twist on the classic Chinese tale. It takes you on an exciting adventure of discovery and growth, while being packed with fun and suspense.” See her full review and interview below.

The Monkey King
Mikella G., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

The Monkey King is a modern twist on the classic Chinese tale. It takes you on an exciting adventure of discovery and growth, while being packed with fun and suspense.

The storyline follows a journey of the Monkey King (Jimmy O. Yang). Although he is strong and powerful, the praise that he receives can sometimes go to his head. When he is faced with the ultimate challenge of defeating the Dragon King (Bowen Yang), he must learn to put his pride aside and work with the secretive, but friendly Lin (Jolie Haong-Rappapert) who can help him conquer this journey.

A huge standout is the character development in the film. The Monkey King changes a lot throughout the movie. He starts off conceited and relentless and, by the end, he’s changed for the better. His character learns multiple lessons along the way which helps teach young viewers about selflessness and understanding that sometimes the right answer isn’t always what’s best for you. 

I enjoy the creative storyline. The Director (Anthony Stacchi) and Producer (Peilin Chou) have incorporated aspects of traditional Chinese culture and tales to create a modern day version of The Monkey King that grasps multiple audiences. The townspeople are inspired by the Ming Dynasty, which was cool for me to see as I have been learning all about that during the past year. I always get excited when I’m able to connect and understand historical references! Lastly, the film’s animation is top notch! The quality is clear, and the color scheme really fits the aesthetic. The Monkey King feels so alive and vibrant, which definitely catches my attention.

The message of The Monkey King is that everyone has the power to create their own path in life.

I give The Monkey King 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 8 to 18. You can watch The Monkey King on Netflix beginning August 11, 2023.

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Dreamin’ Wild * Definitely Entertaining With Its Toe-Tapping Music And Sincere Performances

August 3rd, 2023

Dreamin’ Wild, the true story of love and redemption, is about what happened to singer/songwriter Donnie Emerson and his family when the album he and his brother recorded as teens was rediscovered after thirty years of obscurity and was suddenly hailed by music critics as a lost masterpiece. While the album’s rediscovery brings hopes of second chances, it also brings long-buried emotions as Donnie, his wife Nancy, brother Joe, and father Don Sr. come to terms with the past and their newly found fame. 

Dreamin’ Wild
By Eshaan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

With its toe-tapping music and sincere performances, Dreamin’ Wild definitely entertained me and I believe will enrapture pop-rock fans as well as those who have never heard of Donnie and Joe Emerson.

The film tells a true story with immense heart. It is shot elegantly and the story is fascinating; the at-times flat narration is the only chink in Dreamin Wild’s armor.

Dreamin’ Wild opens in the rural Pacific Northwest, as singer/songwriter Donnie Emerson (Casey Affleck) and his family, are approached by a representative from Light in the Attic, who says he thinks the album Donnie and his brother Joe (Walton Goggins) recorded as teenagers is the next big hit. When the album, also named Dreamin’ Wild, makes its rounds, it is hailed by music critics as a lost masterpiece. And whereas the brothers see this stroke of luck as a second chance for stardom, it also unmoors other deep-seated emotions, fears, and hopes, as Donnie, Joe, and the family come to terms with the past, present and possible future.

The moving story is shot with clarity, care and craft; the lighting and framing do justice to the Emersons’ bucolic hometown as well as their eclectic and ethereal ‘jam space.’ Casey Affleck has somewhat patented the ‘damaged man exploring his trauma’ trope, perhaps because of his real-life experience fending off his demons with alcoholism. That takes nothing away from his deep performance as Donnie in Dreamin’ Wild. His portrayal of emotional damage and hope is enough to keep you gripped.

Walton Goggins is equally spectacular. Every dialogue-heavy scene is followed by the brothers jamming, and then another dialogue-heavy scene; this format gets a little tiring by the 60-minute mark, but the plot developments and emotional performances redeem the film’s at-times slow pace.

Dreamin’ Wild encourages following your dreams but staying grounded, being hopeful but never forgetting where you’ve come from, and caring for your family and yourself.

I give Dreamin’ Wild 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18. Dreamin’ Wild will release exclusively in theaters on August 4, 2023.

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Lakota Nation Vs. United States * One Of The Few Times We See Native Americans Telling Their Stories In Mass Media

July 21st, 2023

A chronicle about how the Lakota Indians fight to reclaim control of the Black Hills. Will investigate how the sacred land was stolen in violation of treaty agreements and feature interviews with Indigenous citizens.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Eshaan M. comments, “Lakota Nation vs. United States educates and entertains with hard-hitting interviews and lyrical narration. It’s an incredible watch for history buffs, especially those looking to learn more about a significant moment in US history.” See his full review below.

Lakota Nation Vs. United States
By Eshaan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

Lakota Nation vs. United States educates and entertains with hard-hitting interviews and lyrical narration. It’s an incredible watch for history buffs, especially those looking to learn more about a significant moment in US history.

A chronicle of the Lakota people and their homeland of the Black Hills, Lakota Nation vs. United States traces the journey of a marginalized people. It starts with the Indian Wars of the 1800s, describes how sacred land was stolen in violation of treaty agreements. It progresses through the centuries all the way to today, as people protest a most ironic shrine to white supremacy, Mount Rushmore, and continue to call for the recognition of their tribal rights.

The film is unique for a variety of reasons. First, it’s co-directed by Jesse Short Bull — an Oglala Lakota man — and Laura Tomaselli, one of the few times in mass media we see Native Americans telling their stories. It is a wonderful touch that provides the whole film with a spirit of warmth and respect. The film is written and narrated by acclaimed Oglala poet Layli Long Soldier, and its narration will be the first thing to strike you in Lakota Nation vs. United States.

The rhythmic refrain of “X marks the spot,” the soft, dignified, yet strong voice of Long Soldier, and the emotional roller-coaster of the story are truly mesmerizing. Tomaselli also serves as the editor of the film, and she, along with cinematographer Kevin Phillips use a wealth of archival and modern footage and rousing interviews with activists and leaders to tell this beautiful story of a land and a people who have survived exploitation, forced migration, and genocide, and who still wait for justice to come.

Lakota Nation vs. United States promotes resilience, valuing culture, standing up to oppression, and honoring history. The Lakota provide us with so many lessons from which to learn and grow into better versions of ourselves.

I give Lakota Nation vs. United States 5 out of 5 stars, and recommend it for ages 12 to 18 plus adults. It releases July 21, 2023 in select markets and will roll out later to other locations.

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