Jury Coordination and Notes

Archive for the 'Film Critics Blog' Category

Order of the Night Jay: The Forest Beckons * Heartwarming Graphic Novel With A Tale of Friendship

Sunday, September 18th, 2022

Making friends can be hard for a nervous bear, even at summer camp. But Frank’s about to discover a mystery… and the camp needs him to save the day!

Frank is perhaps the most un-bear-like bear Camp Jay Bird has ever seen. Actually, he’s probably the ONLY bear Camp Jay Bird has ever seen. And there are tons of bugs, he’s getting picked on, and he can’t seem to earn a single badge! But there’s Ricky, an excitable little raccoon who shares Frank’s love of Mega Bunny comics. But Ricky’s friendship might be more than Frank can handle. After breaking camp rules, getting lost in the woods, and discovering ancient secrets about the long-forgotten Order of the Night Jay, how will Frank explain all this to his dad?

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Nyara A. comments, “Order of the Night Jay: The Forest Beckons is a heartwarming graphic novel that shares a tale of friendship, bravery, and discovery. Through detailed and colorful graphics, the reader journeys with a bear named Frank during his first experience at summer camp.” See her full review and interview below.

Order of the Night Jay: The Forest Beckons by Jonathan Schnapp
By Nyara A., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

Order of the Night Jay: The Forest Beckons is a heartwarming graphic novel that shares a tale of friendship, bravery, and discovery. Through detailed and colorful graphics, the reader journeys with a bear named Frank during his first experience at summer camp. My favorite parts of the book are the letters that Frank sends to his father describing his daily adventures.

Order of the Night Jay follows the protagonist Frank, a shy, anxious bear, who is just looking for some friends. Because he is the only big animal at camp he feels out of place. Teased due to his size, he worries whether he will ever fit in. When he meets Ricky, an extroverted and bubbly racoon, his whole outlook begins to change. On an overnight trip, the two friends discover a secret code. What does this code mean? And most importantly, where will this code lead them?

Author Jonathan Schnapp engages the reader with earthy and original graphics. Even though the characters are animals, the drawing style makes their emotions relatable and their facial expressions almost human. By using letters home, we get a glimpse into Frank’s mind. And Frank writes his own comic, within the comic, so we are able to see the creativity behind his quiet and shy facade. The words he uses are ones we have used or could easily relate to. Each of the characters has a unique backstory and graphics, too.

This book is perfectly suited for any child who is about to start something new, like a new school year, a new activity after school, or even going to summer camp for the first time. The graphics are most appropriate for elementary school-aged children. The story could start a little more quickly, so I would encourage readers to keep going because the story gets good!

I give Order of the Night Jay: The Forest Beckons 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 8 to 12. It is available September 20, 2022 at online retailers and in bookstores.

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Maika: The Girl from Another Galaxy * Adorable, Impeccably-Filmed Sci-Fi Adventure

Sunday, September 11th, 2022

After losing his mother to illness and his best friend to an unexpected move, a young boy discovers a crashed spaceship and makes a new friend with awesome powers (although she does need a little help with her earthly social skills). Together, they embark on a zany, fun-filled adventure while taking on the bad guys and helping Maika find her way home.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Eshaan M. comments, “Maika: The Girl from Another Galaxy is an adorable and impeccably-filmed story of friendship and exploration. It’s the perfect sci-fi adventure for the whole family this September.” See his full review below.  

Maika: The Girl from Another Galaxy 
By Eshaan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

Maika: The Girl from Another Galaxy is an adorable and impeccably-filmed story of friendship and exploration. It’s the perfect sci-fi adventure for the whole family this September.

Maika: The Girl from Another Galaxy follows the story of Hung (Phu Truong Lai), a young boy in Vietnam. After Hung’s mother Hang (Elyse Dinh) passes away from lung disease, and he loses his best friend My to an unexpected move to Saigon, he discovers a crashed spaceship and makes a new friend, Maika (Chu Diep Anh), with powers. Together, they embark on fun-filled adventures while taking on various villains like the head of an aeronautical company before helping Maika find her way back to her home planet.

Ham Tran’s direction truly ties this film together; even though the film is based on a Czechoslovakian TV series that became a cultural sensation in Vietnam in the 1980s and ‘90s, it comes across as an original film. My favorite part of the film was the special effects, as I think it should be in a sci-fi film. When Maika does her “magic,” purple beams emanate from her fingers; it is beautiful! The performances by Chu Diep Anh as Maika and Hung by Phu Truong Lai steal the show; I was moved by Lai’s emotive performance in the initial scenes where his mother is hospitalized, and An’s chirpy, bubbly character stole my heart.

Maika: The Girl from Another Galaxy promotes finding your own adventures, fostering positive friendships, and overall being a good, virtuous person. There is one scene to watch out for where Maika, unaware of Earthly social norms about clothing, pounces on Hung naked; she is shown from the neck up, though.

I give Maika: The Girl from Another Galaxy 4 stars out of 5 and recommend it for ages 8 to 12.  Maika: The Girl from Another Galaxy debuts on digital outlets on September 6, 2022.

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Songbirds * Touching Documentary About The World’s Largest Collection Of Vintage Guitars Housed In Songbirds Museum In Chattanooga, TN

Friday, August 26th, 2022

The Songbirds guitar museum hosted the world’s largest collection of vintage guitars. Covid-19’s devastating blow to the music industry forced the museum to permanently close. This documentary film explores the final hours and cultural impact of this special collection.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Zoe C. comments, “Songbirds is a touching documentary film about the world’s largest collection of vintage guitars housed in the museum of the same name located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The film is written and directed by Dagan Beckett, who has a special connection with the place and was able to write, produce and film the documentary in record time: just two weeks before the museum closed its doors in 2020.” See her full review and interview below.  

Songbirds
By Zoë C, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 13

Songbirds is a touching documentary film about the world’s largest collection of vintage guitars housed in the museum of the same name located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The film is written and directed by Dagan Beckett, who has a special connection with the place and was able to write, produce and film the documentary in record time: just two weeks before the museum closed its doors in 2020. The result is a love letter to the guitars, to his hometown and to a legacy that extends the life of the museum in a sort of digital memento.

Doyle Dykes Performing at Songbirds Museum

Beckett is a professional musician and also a filmmaker, so combining both disciplines generates a fascinating work for all music lovers, young and old. Over 1,500 guitars, including rare and vintage are part of the collection and displayed throughout the film. The narration combines interviews with historians, artists, visitors and workers with footage of the museum with music clips of live bands that performed at the venue. The audience discovers how guitars are made, how they change through the years and why they mean so much to artists. Opened in 2017 and closed due to the pandemic, Songbirds was a museum like no other, but the maintenance of these relics requires a lot of effort and the operative cost was impossible to maintain during the pandemic, forcing Songbirds to close and relocate the guitars.

Inside Songbirds Museum, empty

What I love the most is how Songbirds captures the emotion of how visitors experienced the opportunity to visit, work or simply be around this unprecedented collection of guitars that hold so much history and beauty. The documentary provides the viewer with the joy of discovering all these treasures, and the stories behind them, which produces a connection to these guitars through images and testimonies. For musicians like Joe Bonamassa, Vince Gill, John 5 and John Schneider, among others, Songbirds was like an artist’s playground—while having all these special guests in the film sharing their thoughts was another challenge for the director.

Museum-Curator-Irving-Berner-With-69-Telecaster

Songbirds has received five awards including a regional EMMY in the Documentary Film-Topical category and is part of the official selection of multiple film festivals around the world. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars, and I recommend this film for ages 12 to 18, plus adults.  Songbirds is now available on multiple streaming platforms in VOD including iTunes.

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Petit​e​ Maman * A French Coming Of Age Sci-Fi Hybrid That’s A Warm Bundle Of Cinematic Magic

Thursday, August 18th, 2022

Céline Sciamma continues to prove herself as one of the most accomplished and unpredictable contemporary French filmmakers with her follow up to PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE, the uniquely emotional, PETITE MAMAN. Following the death of her beloved grandmother, 8-year-old Nelly accompanies her parents to her mother’s childhood home to begin the difficult process of cleaning out its contents. As Nelly explores the house and nearby woods, she is immediately drawn to a neighbor her own age building a treehouse. What follows is a tender tale of childhood grief, memory and connection.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Benjamin P. comments, “Petit​e​ Maman is a warm bundle of cinematic magic. Director Celina Sciamma’s French coming of age sci-fi hybrid never gets too bogged down in tedious specifics of its fantastical set-up. Petit Maman bends time to tell the story about the bond between a daughter and her mother that transcends it.”  See his full reviews below.

Petit​e​ Maman
Benjamin P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 16

https://youtu.be/LVRWJv9qW0Q

Petit​e​ Maman is a warm bundle of cinematic magic. Director Celina Sciamma’s French coming of age sci-fi hybrid never gets too bogged down in tedious specifics of its fantastical set-up. Petit Maman bends time to tell the story about the bond between a daughter and her mother that transcends it.

Petit​e​ Maman, which I had the pleasure of seeing at the Middleburg Film Festival, centers itself around a little girl named Nelly (Josephine Sanz) and her family, reeling after the death of a loved one, as they spend some time in Nelly’s mother’s childhood home. Nelly’s mother leaves the family behind in the midst of the immense grief she’s suffering, leaving her husband and daughter with little idea of when she’ll return. In the meantime, Nelly ventures into the woods, where she meets and begins to pal around with a young girl, who she learns, by some twist of cosmic fate, is a much younger version of her own mother, who faces trials of her own.  A single stretch of woods bridges decades between them. Together, they try to help each other cope in these moments of personal turmoil and Nelly can maybe get to understand why her mother left and what she’s going through.  This movie quite literally follows its two leads after their meeting, making food, building forts, making believe. Petit Maman uses those pastimes of youth to hit audiences with a surprisingly layered exploration of something as monumental as grief from a kid’s perspective. 

I loved, loved, loved the setup of this movie—it doesn’t ever seek to explain how Nelly and this younger version of her mother meet in terms of time and space, but it uses that heightened concept to speak to something more human. Here, two children reckon with fear and their powerlessness in the conflicts they face, and in the comfort and security they give each other lies the courage to face them.

The lesson of Petit​e​ Maman is just to be there for the people you love in times of great difficulty. 

I give Petit​e​ Maman 3.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 5 to 12. It’s an understated, but moving little gem that I hope doesn’t escape people’s radar. Petite Maman is currently streaming on various VOD platforms including iTunes and Vudu.

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Happy Day * Kid-Friendly, Energetic & Fun With An Organic Energy And A Sense Of Wonder

Friday, July 29th, 2022

Family-friendly, rocking kids’ tunes for all ages to enjoy. Fun and educational songs with positive messages about appreciating our environment, using our imaginations, and validating the one and only you, plus a wonderfully relaxing sleep song and even a tune with a yak’s perspective, co-written with the author of Yak Girl.

KIDS FIRST! Music Specialist, John Wood comments, “Jenn Cleary has created an accessible, appealing musical experience in this CD Happy Day. There’s an organic energy to the tracks that Cleary’s voice rides with a sense of wonder – nothing is unappealing… The album is custom made for its audience. The songs are kid-friendly, energetic and fun.” KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Kira O. comments, “Jenn Cleary is great at creating fun songs such as “I Like Candy.” Her voice is clear and upbeat. She has the kind of voice that younger children will find appealing and soothing. Although the music is appropriate for kids younger than me, I still enjoyed many of the songs.” Ava C. adds, “The most appealing thing about the music on the Happy Day CD is that it is upbeat and it should capture the attention of little kids very well. Little kids like fun, catchy music, which most of the songs on the CD are.” Ashleigh C. wraps it up with, “Funky and fun, Jenn Cleary’s Album Happy Day is sure to make you gleeful and ready to bust out your best moves while learning! Happy Day is a CD filled with jazzy and groovy music that shares a variety of topics that teaches us about loving ourselves and also our planet.”

Happy Day
By Ava C., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 13

The most appealing thing about the music on the Happy Day CD is that it is upbeat and it should capture the attention of little kids very well. Little kids like fun, catchy music, which most of the songs on the CD are. The least appealing thing for me is the type of music. It seems more like folk music, but that’s just a personal thing.

My favorite thing about the songs is that they all have positive messages and an upbeat tone. I played a couple songs for my twin three-year-old nieces and they really liked the songs titled, “Turtle Time” and “Happy Days.” The lead singer, Jenn Cleary, has a fun, soothing voice. I like how she includes the kids singing in the song, “Happy Days.” I also like the instrument choices. The guitar and harmonica bring a fun vibe to the music. The music is age appropriate for its audience. The vocabulary is well chosen and the words are easy to understand and sing along to. The children can relate to the lyrics in the songs. I found myself singing along with my nieces with the chorus for “Happy Days.” We played the song about three times. The quality sounds really good. Everything is clear. It is a professional level production. I’ve always wanted to start a garden and the song, “Plant A Garden” inspired me to want to do it even more.

This is a fun CD and adds a new flare to teaching children about the world around them, rather than the traditional ABC and nursery rhyme songs.

I give Happy Day 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 2 to 8. It is available now on digital platforms.

Happy Day
By Ashleigh C., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 18

Funky and fun, Jenn Cleary’s Album Happy Day is sure to make you gleeful and ready to bust out your best moves while learning!

Happy Day is a CD filled with jazzy and groovy music that shares a variety of topics that teaches us about loving ourselves and also our planet. This album features Jenn Cleary and includes Mad Dog Freidman. There are a total of ten songs on the CD, each one averages around three minutes.

Jenn Cleary’s vocals are engaging, fun and calming, when appropriate. Most songs have a twangy, country vibe that is sure to make your head bob and foot tap. The instrumentals in this album are all fantastic; my favorite is It’s Time to Go to Sleep. This particular song reminds me of the meditation app Headspace that helps relieve the listener of stress, which is exactly what this song does. All the way down to the sound effects in the background, each song has a story that reminds me of a podcast. This is a CD parents wouldn’t mind sharing the aux for.

The message of Happy Day is to have fun and let loose, but don’t forget to take a nap once and a while. This CD promotes positive social behavior.

I give Happy Day 4 out 5 stars and recommend it for ages 5-8. It is available now on all audio streaming platforms such as Spotify. Be sure to give a listen!

Happy Day
By John Wood, KIDS FIRST!

The artist – Jenn Cleary – has created an accessible, appealing musical experience in this CD Happy Day. There’s an organic energy to the tracks that Cleary’s voice rides with a sense of wonder – nothing is unappealing.

“I can hear Cleary now!” The album is custom made for its audience. The songs are kid-friendly, energetic and fun. The continuity of the ten songs flows flawlessly. It’s professionally written and presents a wide variety of musical styles. It’s totally appropriate for a youth audience, but families will also enjoy on road trips. Love of animals, love of the environment and love of self are all emphasized. The artist does not talk down to her audience and makes familiar subject matter fresh with a twist of whimsy. There is a genuine respect in the lyrics and a positive message throughout.

All the performances are first-rate, especially the lead vocals. The musicians rock and the production is excellent. With all the negativity in the world that children assimilate, positive input from music and stories such as this can have a lasting positive effect. One would hope that the loving appreciation of animals and the environment would be further fostered.

Jenn Cleary’s terrific album is a bright sunshiny day on the children’s musical horizon. Clear and present vocals, terrific musicians and stellar production value make this recording a winner – winner winner chicken dinner. When a song is lovingly scribed to the hard-working good old yak you can’t go wrong. Imagination, magic, wonder and discovery make a fragrant potpourri of uplifting sounds and Happy Day delivers on all counts!

I give Happy Day 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 5 to 8, plus adults. It definitely meets or exceeds the KIDS FIRST! criteria, is well produced, entertaining and has a place in the world of children’s music.





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Zombies 3 * This Zombie-Filled, Beastly, Out-Of-This-World Film Is Everything A Disney Fan Could Want!

Monday, July 25th, 2022

Zed anticipates an athletic scholarship while Addison is gearing up for Seabrook’s international cheer-off competition. Then suddenly, extraterrestrial beings appear around Seabrook, causing more than friendly competition.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Tiana S. comments, “This Zombie-filled, “cheertastic,” beastly and out-of-this-world film, is everything a Disney movie fan could want! With the same original characters from Zombies 1 and 2, as well as, some new extra-terrestrial friends, Zombies 3 will have fans singing, dancing, cheering and feeling every emotion.” See her full review below.

Zombies 3
By Tiana S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

This Zombie-filled, “cheertastic,” beastly and out-of-this-world film, is everything a Disney movie fan could want! With the same original characters from Zombies 1 and 2, as well as, some new extra-terrestrial friends, Zombies 3 will have fans singing, dancing, cheering and feeling every emotion.

Zombies 3 is about Addison (Meg Donnelly) who is still trying to find where she belongs and graduate from Seabrook High along with her zombie boyfriend, Zed (Milo Manheim), who is trying to break history as the first monster to go to college. While humans, zombies and werewolves have learned to co-exist in Seabrook, everything changes when aliens show up on Earth on a mission to uncover a code that leads them to their home planet. Will the aliens be able to reach their goal while the Seabrook students fight to win the Cheer Cup during their last year in high school?

The main characters are Addison, Zed and the aliens. As the third installment of the Zombies’ franchise, this film still has the same spirit as the previous ones. The soundtrack is quite different, with more of an “alien-like” vibe to it.

I love the aspect of inclusion in this film and how, even though the franchise is called Zombies, it includes many types of monsters with different powers among the humans. It’s heartwarming to see how Addison is always there for everyone and welcomes them to Seabrook High. She is the activist, leader and overall best friend of everyone at Seabrook, plus newcomers.  This film is based on Secrets Galore. Be prepared to be stunned by what is revealed in Zombies 3.

Some lessons from Zombies 3 are that anything is possible when you try, trust is always the key, and people have to do what they need to get what they want and need in life. This is demonstrated when Zed advocates to become the first zombie to go to college, how Addison trusts the aliens and welcomes them to join the Cheer Cup, despite their entrance and alien bodies, and how the aliens come to earth to find the most precious thing and will do whatever it takes to achieve that.

I give this film 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 8 to 12, plus adults. You can watch Zombies 3 on Disney+ now.

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Into Flight Once More * An Engaging, Educational Documentary About Honoring The Veterans Of World War II

Thursday, July 21st, 2022

Into Flight Once More, narrated by Gary Sinise, brings the history of June 6, 1944 to the present through the lens of one squadron and their epic recreation journey across the North Atlantic to Normandy for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.  Along the way we meet some of the last remaining D-Day veterans and younger generations of men and women who have re-charted their path to honor their sacrifice and thank them for their service.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Benjamin P. comments, “Within the film, we get to see some of the brave pilots and servicemen who helped secure victory on that historic day. We also follow the teams of crafts persons and aviation enthusiasts who dedicated sweat, tears and valuable time to making sure this show of appreciation for those who served went down as planned.” See his full review below.

Into Flight Once More
By Benjamin P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 16

Into Flight Once More is an engaging, educational documentary about honoring the veterans of World War II.<p>Into Flight Once More follows the flight of restored vintage aircraft to the beaches of Normandy to mark the 75th anniversary of D Day. For those who are unaware, D Day marks the Allied powers siege on the beaches of Normandy to take back Nazi-occupied France. It is often marked as a major turning point in World War II that ensured an Allied victory.

Within the film, we get to see some of the brave pilots and servicemen who helped secure victory on that historic day. We also follow the teams of crafts persons and aviation enthusiasts who dedicated sweat, tears and valuable time to making sure this show of appreciation for those who served went down as planned. The intercutting of footage is very effective in this film. Not only is there some striking aerial footage where the camera is seated on the wing, but it also includes some black and white archival video captured during almost a century ago. There are also animated portions that illustrate the intricacies of the feat that took place on D Day.

The frequent visual reserves keep the documentary consistently interesting. This film reminds us that we have a thin window of opportunity to show our appreciation for the sacrifices our WWII veterans made, as mentioned frequently in the documentary by many who participated in this commemorative flight. The chief reason for making sure this flight happened is to demonstrate a level of admiration to these veterans for their bravery and to do it while they’re still here.

The lesson of Into Flight Once More is to understand and appreciate the sacrifices of those who fought and those who died to preserve our freedoms and way of life here in the U.S.A.

I recommend Into Flight Once More for ages 8 to 18, plus adults.  It helps to have some understanding of D Day because that puts the ultimate value of this endeavor in perspective.  I give Into Flight Once More 4 out of 5 stars. I implore you to seek this one out. It’s currently streaming on several video on demand platforms.

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The Lonesome Trail * A Dramatic And Heartwarming Cowboy Story Of How Faith Helps Us Keep Hope During Dark Times

Monday, July 18th, 2022

The story begins when a cattle baron starts using trail hands to terrorize homesteaders in a small mining town a preacher comes to the rescue. With a Bible, not a gun this man is able to sway the homesteaders into standing their ground for their rights to free land. The homesteaders are rallied by preacher Carson to hold their position and not be frightened away by the constant barrage of raids on their families. Mike McCray, the cattle baron, doesn’t stand for the resistance, claps back and causes much damage to the preacher’s family and homesteaders. Frustrated with the outcome, one of the preacher’s own family members turns against him and sides with the McCray clan.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Ashleigh C., comments, “A blast to the past! The Lonesome Trail captures the dramatic and heartwarming history of how faith is used to keep hope during dark times. “ See her full review below.

The Lonesome Trail 
By Ashleigh C., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 18 

A blast to the past! The Lonesome Trail captures the dramatic and heartwarming history of how faith is used to keep hope during dark times.  

The Lonesome Trail, set in the American cowboy era, follows a preacher named Brent Carson (Peter Wray) who just recently moves to a small mining town. With the help of the local teacher Elizabeth Turner (Kelly Schwartz), he makes it his mission to ensure that the new visitors are welcomed and accepted despite their race and ethnicity. However, he faces some challenges when the town founder Mike McCray (Donald Imm) starts plotting to remove him and other new residents out of town. 

The Lonesome Trail captures the true environment of an old western film quite well. I am a big fan of Western films starring Black actors such as Buck and the Preacher with the award-winning Sidney Poitier. However, some modern elements do not mesh well in this film such as the appearance of some of the characters where the haircuts of the male characters are too modern. The sets and props are authentic to the time. The cinematography gives us an old Western vibe however; in some instances you cannot fully see the characters because the lighting overexposes the actors. Another thing that makes a Western film special is the set. This was clearly shot against a greenscreen and I missed having it take place on an actual Western set. I am curious if director Arlette Thomas-Fletcher did this intentionally in order to provide the audience with what a film may have looked like in the 1950s.  The music is appropriate to the theme. The twangy, western tune that is often heard during tense moments makes the film feel familiar and nostalgic. My favorite character is Preacher Carson because, in every scene, he seems like a genuine person that you would want to get to know in real life. My favorite scene is when Preacher Carson stands up to Mike McCray. I love how he uses faith to combat the hardships he faces. What an important lesson, especially in times of difficulty. 

The message of The Lonesome Trail is to be true to who you are and be kind to others. In times of inequality and unfairness, we must respect each other and have faith. You should be aware that this film contains scenes that mention racial inequality. 

I give The Lonesome Trail 4 out 5 stars and I recommend it for ages 5 to 18, plus adults. The Lonesome Trail comes out on digital July 12, 2022. 

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Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song

Wednesday, July 13th, 2022

Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song is a definitive exploration of singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen as seen through the prism of his internationally renowned hymn, “Hallelujah.” This feature-length documentary weaves together three creative strands: The songwriter and his times; the song’s dramatic journey from record label reject to chart-topping hit; and moving testimonies from major recording artists for whom “Hallelujah” has become a personal touchstone. Approved for production by Leonard Cohen just before his 80th birthday in 2014, the film accesses a wealth of never-before-seen archival materials from the Cohen Trust including Cohen’s personal notebooks, journals and photographs, performance footage and extremely rare audio recordings and interviews.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Zoe C. comments, “This captivating documentary shows the origins and evolution of the iconic song “Hallelujah,” written by poet, author, singer/songwriter and musician Leonard Cohen. A song that transcends generations, ‘Hallelujah’ is more than music; it is a work of art and this film is an immersive exploration of this iconic song.”  See her full review below.

Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song
By Zoe C., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 13

This captivating documentary shows the origins and evolution of the iconic song “Hallelujah,” written by poet, author, singer/songwriter and musician Leonard Cohen. A song that transcends generations, “Hallelujah” is more than music; it is a work of art and this film is an immersive exploration of this iconic song.

The documentary narrates how Cohen started his music career back in the ‘60’s. Disappointed by his lack of success in the literary world, Cohen decided to explore a career in music, despite not intending to sing or play an instrument. In fact, Cohen didn’t start writing songs until age 30. The narration in the film explores his early success in music and other aspects of his life, including his Jewish roots, politics, relationships and more. He was a spiritual seeker and his oeuvre constantly gravitated around spirituality. “Hallelujah,” his most renowned song, was released in 1984. The song is a moment of realization—a revelation—about love and loss, and it touches the listener in so many different ways. The song is so larger-than-life it’s almost its own person, and we see how it has become an anthem.

As of today, there are over 300 cover versions of “Hallelujah.” Originally 150-180 verses were written for “Hallelujah” until the perfect edition of the song was written. More popular versions have come from artists Eric Church, Jeff Buckley and John Cale. Through many different interviews, the documentary shows how most people know the song through Jeff Buckley and many thought he wrote it. It was really interesting to me to see how a lot of the film is devoted to Leonard’s spirituality. One of my favorite clips was the 2009 Coachella concert where Cohen sang “Hallelujah,” and you could really feel how moved and captivated the audience was.

The visuals, the archived interviews and footage are all nicely arranged. I particularly enjoyed listening to the interviews with various artists, reporters and people that were close to Cohen and to witness the warmth that emanated from him. One I found very interesting was with Vicky Jenson, where she talks about how “Hallelujah” was used in the movie Shrek. Another washow singer Judy Collins remembers when she first met him how he didn’t believe in his own music. Cohen’s work was not always praised as some music labels rejected his albums, but his talent has proved to be immortal.

The message of the film is that music is cross-generational, and it establishes an emotional connection that unites people in a powerful way.

I give Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for audiences 12 to 18, plus adults. Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song opens in select theaters July 15, 2022.

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The Sea Beast * An Amazing Film About Fantasy, Family And Comedy; Lots Of Hilarious Moments

Tuesday, July 5th, 2022

In an era when terrifying beasts roamed the seas, monster hunters were celebrated heroes – and none were more beloved than the great Jacob Holland.  But when young Maisie Brumble stows away on his fabled ship, he’s saddled with an unexpected ally.  Together they embark on an epic journey into uncharted waters and make history.  From Academy Award winning filmmaker Chris Williams (Moana, Big Hero Six, Bolt), The Sea Beast takes us to where the map ends, and the true adventure begins.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Keila V. comments, “The Sea Beast is an amazing animated film that I and my family loved! It has lots of hilarious moments and some sad moments. The cast is first class, and the movie is about fantasy, family and comedy.” See her full review below.

The Sea Beast
By Keila V., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 9

The Sea Beast is an amazing animated film that I and my family loved! It has lots of hilarious moments and some sad moments. The cast is first class, and the movie is about fantasy, family and comedy.

The storyline follows an orphan girl named Masie (Zaris Angel Hator) who wants to be part of a ship’s crew, but is too young to participate. However, after the ship almost sinks, Masie has an opportunity to be accepted by the crew and their leader Jacob (Karl Urban).

The Sea Beast is a fantastic movie.  It has an exceptional combination of sad, funny and happy scenes. One of the sad scenes is when Masie tells the crew why she is an orphan living at a big orphanage and how her parents passed away when she was very young. There are also several funny scenes such as when Masie and Jacob travel inside of one of the sea beasts and explore the insides of the monster. Another funny one is when a sea beast named Red starts playing with Jacob, making him go up and down on a rope. One of my favorite scenes is when Masie finds a tiny sea creature and wants to keep it, although Jacob doesn’t quite agree with her wishes.

I love the animation; it looks so realistic. All the characters are wonderfully drawn and developed.  Masie is terrific because she is so brave and persistent. She never gives up her dream of becoming a sea beast hunter or helping those she trusts and loves the most. There isn’t much background music, but at times the music matches the scene perfectly like when everyone from the ship is at a bar and Masie tries to become one of them.

The message of The Sea Beast is that “No matter who you are or what you look like you can do anything! And don’t always believe the past.” 

I give The Sea Beast 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 5 to 18, plus adults. It is available now on Netflix. 

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