Archive for May, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story – An Essential Watch for Any Star Wars Fan

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

During an adventure into a dark criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion. Described as a space western, the film centers on the young Han Solo and his adventures with his Wookiee side-kick Chewbacca, including their encounter with Lando Calrissian. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Arjun N. comments, “Solo: A Star Wars Story is a perfectly serviceable origin story for the famous titular character. The acting and direction provide an outstanding mix of visuals and characterization.” KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror, Kimbirly O. adds, “Howard’s optimistic effort on this prequel doesn’t save the film. He made a good film, but if it was a stand-alone film, I would not predict a plethora of sequels.” See their full reviews below.

Solo: A Star Wars Story
By Arjun N., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a perfectly serviceable origin story for the famous titular character. The acting and direction provide an outstanding mix of visuals and characterization. This is definitely an essential watch for any Star Wars fan.

The movie follows young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) on his journey to become the famed hero pilot. As a talented maverick, Solo joins forces with the thief Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his crew to escape poverty and become part of something bigger. However, one of their heists goes wrong resulting in a life or death deal with Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) which will determine the fate of their lives. To rectify this, Solo and newfound friend Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) enlist the help of old flame Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and the charming Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) to take part in the second heist.

Alden Ehrenreich, as Han Solo, wonderfully portrays his hero’s journey from a poor, oppressed dreamer to heroic pilot. His mannerisms and line delivery excellently match up to the standard set by Harrison Ford. Joonas Suotamo, as Chewbacca, encompasses an extraordinary counterpart Peter Mayhew’s mantle as he perfectly portrays his growing friendship with Han. Donald Glover, as Lando Calrissian, is my favorite character due to his exact interpretations of Billy Dee Williams’s zany parlance. His banter with Solo only forwards the character’s legacy. Woody Harrelson, as Beckett, provides for a flawed yet effective mentor to Solo by guiding him about motivations and how to deal. Emilia Clarke, as Qi’ra, is great with what she is given, but her character falls into the stereotypical “will they or won’t they” love interest loop. Paul Bettany, as Dryden Vos, is menacing with his passive aggressiveness building to volatile outburst when his orders are disobeyed.

Ron Howard efficiently grasps all the characters’ tales by providing great interactions with known Star Wars lore. My favorite scene is the initial train heist as it showcases how unprepared Beckett’s gang was and is intense as regards the fates of all characters involved. Also, there are great displays of special effects with the train’s movement patterns. The one flaw is that it really doesn’t Solo any character transformation as he always remains heroic with the only change being how he goes from rags to riches. The love triangle between Solo, Qi’ra and Dryden also feels uninspired.

The message of the movie is to always abide by morals rather than selfish instinct. I give this film 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 10 to 18 because of its intense action. The movie releases in theaters May 25, 2018, so check it out.

Solo: A Star Wars Story
By Kimbirly O., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

I was excited to see the origin story of Han Solo, as he has been a character favorite of mine for years. The young man was boosting scams from age 10 and lived a life of adventure, for sure! Learning how his last name came to be was interesting – think passport control questioning. But, I digress.

While the film strives to tell the story of how Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and Chewbacca, everyone’s favorite Wookie (Joonas Suotamo) became BFFs after a contentious beginning, it had some stalls and at times, I wondered if Han was attempting to be our hero or villain. I felt the origin story of Han Solo did not go deep enough to show us who he is, and what lead him to be, Solo.

The most interesting character is Becket, played by Woody Harrelson. He is a true team player, but what team does he play for? His chameleon-like persona is wonderful to see and a testament to this talented and beloved actor.

The film begins centered on a bunch of bad dudes who all fear the reptilian and then, our hero Han, who eventually joins the Imperial armed forces to reconnect with his love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Being the rebel he is, Han is kicked out of pilot training and ends up in one of the many Empire wars. His quest to find Qi’ra lands him in the clutches of the dreadful mob boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) and a gambler named Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover).

Long ago, in a vision far-away, original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were off-loaded from the payload and rescued by super Director Ron Howard. Howard’s optimistic effort on this prequel doesn’t save the film. He made a good film, but if it was a stand-alone film, I would not predict a plethora of sequels.

I give this film of 4 out of 5 stars for the performances, which are spectacular, especially Glover, Harrelson and Ehrenreich, along with special effects, creepy wardrobes, action scenes and Star Wars references that any true fan will ‘get’ (like the Kessel Run, the Millennium Falcon and of course, the necklace hanging on the rearview mirror). I recommend this film for ages 8 to 18. I caution younger viewing due to adult themes and fight scenes which may be disturbing to younger children.

Photo by Jonathan Olley - © 2018 - Lucasfilm Ltd.

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Applejack – Wonderfully animated, delightful stories, great lessons!

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

Think work on the farm is easy? Then you don’t know jack – Applejack, that is! Honesty, patience and friendships are tested in a new collection of adventures featuring everypony’s favorite four-hooved apple lover! Join Applejack and her very best pals – Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Fluttershy and Spike – as they experience the power and magic of true friendship. Bonus Feature: sing-along. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Calista B. comments, “Even though these episodes are clearly for younger kids, I can’t deny that I actually really like these episodes. I don’t think I’ll actually start watching the show, but this show can be enjoyed by the whole family because it is very entertaining.” Adult juror Kimberly M. adds, “I love the humor in these stories, the visual appeal, interesting storylines and great morals that children can easily pick up. The animation is big and colorful.” See their full reviews below.

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Applejack
By Calista B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 14

Even though these episodes are clearly for younger kids, I can’t deny that I actually really like these episodes. I don’t think I’ll actually start watching the show, but this show can be enjoyed by the whole family because it is very entertaining.

This DVD is a collection of five shorts from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, with most of the episodes centered around the character, Applejack. She is an important character in every episode, even the ones that are not centered around her. I am aware that My Little Pony actually has some pretty interesting stories and can get pretty dark, but these episodes are filler. They do also reference major events in past episodes and one episode has two characters who appear to be recurring characters, so I really wouldn’t recommend this DVD as a way to fully understand what takes place on the show.

That being said, Applejack has a sweet southern accent, works on a farm and appears to epitomize honesty. I like that My Little Pony shows have a moral compass that teach positive lessons. This show should make lots of parents happy.  My Little Pony has a ton of effort and care put into each episode. I’m very impressed with this show. Often times in shows, filler episodes are boring and they make you wish you were watching a story driven episode. This isn’t the case with these stories!

Now, My Little Pony has some really interesting characters. I love character driven stories and that best describes this series. The main cast consists of six characters, or “The Mane 6” as they’re often referred to outside the show. By the way, it’s an amazing pun. I really like when shows have a large cast of recurring characters that really make their world feel real. It helps world-building, character dynamics and of course, I love talking about characters in media. As I mentioned, these episodes focus mainly on one character, Applejack, but sometimes the other members of The Mane 6 share the spotlight.  If you like Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash and Rarity, then you will love this series because they are highly featured. My main issue is that, ironically, my favorite member of The Mane 6, Fluttershy isn’t in any of these episodes. I know the episodes are about Applejack, but from what I’ve seen of recent My Little Pony, Fluttershy is the most under-developed of the group. So please, My Little Pony creators, show some love and character development to Fluttershy.

I give this DVD 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 4 to 12. The DVD is available now, so look for it.

My Little Pony: Friendship and Magic: Applejack
By Kimberly Mullins, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

I found this DVD quite charming and filled with great lessons. Each episode in this collection is approximately 25 minutes in length. The storylines are very straightforward and the moral messages are charming and clear. They are very engaging for the target age. The characters draw you in with their multi-dimensional human personality traits. The language is quite suitable for the audience as well, although younger kids may not pick up every single word. The overall messages are what are important. Applejack, the main character, maintains an integrity even if others do something different. If she does something wrong, then she accepts the mistake as well as its consequences and, more importantly, apologizes. The other characters hold the same level of integrity as well. Questioning and probing are developed when certain problematic situations take place. An example is when a pair of scam artists dupe a crowd at a circus presentation into believing that a miracle product cures ills, Applejack instantly feels there is something fishy going on and is concerned when grandma pony purchases the elixir. In another episode, Applejack’s younger sisters and friends want to help build carts for a race, but the older sisters take over designing the carts. The race ends in a big crash, destroying the carts. The younger siblings assert that the holder ones took over their project and the resolution is for the younger ponies to rebuild their carts without interference from the older siblings. I love the humor in these stories, the visual appeal, interesting storylines and great morals that children can easily pick up. The animation is big and colorful. There are five episodes and bonus singalong. The messages address how to be a person of high character, getting along with others, owning up to mistakes and apologizing. I give this 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 4 through 9.

 

RBG – An Intimate Portrait of an Unlikely Rock Star – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Friday, May 11th, 2018

An intimate portrait of an unlikely rock star: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. With unprecedented access, the filmmakers explore how her early legal battles changed the world for women. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Gerry O. comments, “This documentary, RBG, tells you about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and not only inspires you, but motivates you to change the world just as she did.” Ranny L., KIDS FIRST! Juror adds, “She is an inspiration in so many ways. Shy and somewhat introverted, she never let that keep her from pursuing a career path that was unique for woman at the time.” See their full reviews below.

RBG
By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 16

In one of the most divided political times in the recent history, it is good to look back to the previous decades and see the changes and inspiration that occurred in America. This documentary, RBG, tells you about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and not only inspires you, but motivates you to change the world just as she did.

At its core, this documentary will inspire people. It doesn’t hide the many aspects of life’s challenges. Throughout Ruth’s life, there are moments of romance as well as drama. On the opposite side of the coin, there are many comedic moments, ranging from fun antidotes about Ruth’s workaholism to Saturday Night Live skits.

Starting from her childhood to the present day, RGB reveals the essence of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She is the female attorney who, not only fought for women’s rights in the United States, but also spent years on as a Supreme Court Justice fighting for women’s rights. This film truly gives real insight into the fight for women’s education, equal payment in the workplace and equal treatment in every situation. Despite gender discrimination (which still occurs worldwide), few know the efforts women have gone through, in order to receive the same rights and treatment that men have. The film also shows many aspects of her personal family life as well as struggles she has survived, such as surviving cancer.

One of my favorite parts of the film is when it shows how political differences don’t mean that two people cannot get along. Antonin Scalia, also a Supreme Court Justice, and Ruth were best friends for many years. Scalia was a staunch conservative and Ruth was always quite liberal. Often, in court, they differed in opinion. Yet, as the film shows, they were friends in real life, with no hard feelings despite their political differences. Their friendship delivers an important message for our nation today – that politics should not be something that breaks and blocks relationships.

RBG doesn’t rely on a single narrator to explain the life of Justice Ginsburg, there are many people who talk about her. Throughout the documentary, the person we hear from the most is Justice Ginsburg herself telling her stories. Skilled research and editing incorporate real-life speeches at the Supreme Court, as well as many hearings when Ruth was a lawyer. This gives a unique realistic feel to the film. Instead of being lectured about the subject, you feel as if you are part of her story. This also has its downsides. The documentary flows chronologically, but it also focuses on many aspects of Ruth’s life. In some ways, the film deals with so much information that it can become overwhelming.

While Ruth’s story is something we all should hear, it is complex with many mature details and important subjects. I recommend this film for ages 13 to 18 as well as adults. It truly is a film that teenagers should see, as it demonstrates how anyone is capable of change. I give the film 4.5 out of 5 stars.

RBG
By Ranny Levy, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

I have been a fan of Justice Ginsburg since she first came into focus in the 70s, as an advocate of women’s rights. This documentary about her life offers insight into her personal history and the people around her who supported her for so many years. She is an inspiration in so many ways. Shy and somewhat introverted, she never let that keep her from pursuing a career path that was unique for woman at the time. She entered Harvard Law School in 1956, one of 9 women in a class of 500 men. I resonated with her story about the Dean reportedly asking the female law students, “How do you justify taking a spot from a qualified man?”

Justice Ginsburg proudly speaks about being born and bred in Brooklyn. In the 70s she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU. We listen to Gloria Steinem and Nina Totenberg reveal tales of her past that make you realize how pivotal her involvement in the women’s movement was. Filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West dig into the substance of this woman with a judicious zeal usually reserved for our deceased heroes. As a staunch feminist, her nomination to the Supreme Court could have been way-laid had not President Clinton been wowed by her in the first 15 minutes of her interview with him. Then, he knew that he had to put her on the Court.

The love story between Ruth and Martin Ginsburg is nothing less than awe-inspiring. I love how she tells about her undergraduate years at Cornell where there was a four to one ratio of boys to girls. “Every mother wanted to send their daughter there because, if you couldn’t find a husband there, you were hopeless.” She reveals that during her freshman year, she never dated the same boy twice. That is, until she met Marty, who was the first guy that recognized she had a brain. When President Carter brought her to the federal bench, Marty gave up his success career as a tax attorney in New York to move to DC to support her. He recognized Ruth for the super star that she is and later, when she was nominated to the Supreme Court, rallied on her behalf with endless enthusiasm. Also noted is that he was the cook in the family. Her children tell how they had to keep her out of the kitchen.

One thing I really like about this film is that it focuses on Justice Ginsburg’s life long fight against gender discrimination. She experienced it first hand as a fresh law school graduate that could not get a job in any law office in New York City because “they didn’t hire women.” She has never given up the fight, and there have been many – for women in the military who were discriminated against for pay and benefits, for widowed men who couldn’t get survivor benefits. She chose her plaintiffs carefully, picking a male to show that gender discrimination worked against both men and women.

Although this film may lack verve in terms of groundbreaking filmmaking, it is stunning beautiful in telling the story of a contemporary hero. 84-year-old Justice Ginsburg is an icon of our times. A woman who has weathered extremely difficult conditions and sits on the highest court in the country as someone dedicated to equality – for women, for people of different races and cultures – for all of us. She is a modern heroine and, as shy and quiet as she is – carries a big stick! I have been touting this film to all the young women and men in my universe and sending them to it. Most walk away stunned. My 20-year-old friends never even knew who she was before going to see the film.

Many weep as they watch it. Now, that’s something. That’s important. If this film manages to get one young person’s attention and give them the courage to stand up for what they believe, then Directors Julie Cohen, Betsy West have something to be outrageously proud of. I believe they have.

Photos, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Pup Star: World Tour – Entertaining, Witty, Sassy And Completely A Family Friday-Night Movie.

Friday, May 4th, 2018

Pup Star is back, with an all-new movie that takes the popular singing dogs on trip around the world, where Tiny and friends find fantastic new songs and meet exciting new canine singers that prove music really is the universal language. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Calista B. comments, “Because almost the entire cast is comprised of talking dogs, the editing needs to look good. And, like previous movies, it really does look like the dogs are talking. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to film and edit this movie.” Nathalia J. adds, “I am totally into this movie! It is absolutely hilarious – very entertaining, witty, sassy, incredible and completely a family Friday-night movie to enjoy. It is also perfect for dog lovers.” See their full reviews below.

Pup Star: World Tour
By Calista B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 14

This movie is definitely made for younger kids. The storyline isn’t very complicated and it is pretty predictable, but still very enjoyable for the whole family. The story is about the puppy celebrity Tiny, now a Judge on Pup Stars World Tour, and has selected a dog named Julio as her representative. The issue is, Julio is helping Bark, the villain from the first two movies, win Pup Stars.

 

Because almost the entire cast is comprised of talking dogs, the editing needs to look good. And, like previous movies, it really does look like the dogs are talking. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to film and edit this movie. In the scenes where Julio performs, he does all these crazy moves and twists and –  he looks really good. Kudos to the editors, Jason Dale and Nik Svab. They say it is difficult to work with kids and animals.

One thing I liked in the previous Pup Star movie is the song that Tiny sang. It really was an ear worm. In Pup Star: World Tour there are tons of new songs, with some really talented singers and interesting cultural backgrounds. Because each contestant is from a different country, the songs differ depending on the culture. I really like that about these songs. It fits well with the message they are trying to spread about being united through music. Shout Out to Brahm Wenger.

I feel that, in this movie especially, the writers work with the fact that dogs in this make believe world are actors, singers and similar. There are dog soap operas and there are also tabloids covering dog news. It is as if dogs are not our pets, but more like our equals. Some people already consider them their kids, so I guess it is not that far fetched. Little stuff like that really helps the world building. Also, one of my main issues with the second Pup Stars movie was that I felt the human characters were too oblivious and easily manipulated by the villain’s plans. Thankfully, it’s different here. The villain’s plan is a little more complicated, so I could actually see how the human characters could believe what was going on. Also, I surprisingly laughed a lot. The way certain scenes are shot and acted is just hilarious!

Now, my one question is, how many more Pup Stars movies will there be? The ending of this movie serves really well as the conclusion to the series. But, my guess is that this won’t likely be the last movie.

I give this film 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 4 to 18. If you like dogs and music from all over, I recommend this for you in particular. It comes out on May 5, 2018 so look for it.

Pup Star: World Tour
By Nathalia Maria Jackson, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 9

  Pup Star is back and bigger than ever, as the hit singing pup competition goes global! I am totally into this movie! It is absolutely hilarious – very entertaining, witty, sassy, incredible and completely a family Friday-night movie to enjoy. It is also perfect for dog lovers.

I love this heart-warming film because it is different, talking dogs… now that’s pretty different. The dogs bring a fun and quirky style with the singing and dancing that will bring the best out of you. This is definitely a fun, big scale musical adventure.

The story follows Tiny, a charming Yorkie, as she joins the launch of the Pup Star World Tour as a celebrity judge. It takes the popular singing dogs on a trip around the world where Tiny and friends find wonderful new songs to sing from different countries. Each judge chooses their favorite contestant to compete for the new title of Global Pup Star Champion. This film literally makes you get up and dance. When the contest faces a severe threat from a trio of conspirators, you have go see the movie to find out how that is resolved.

Directed and written by Robert Vince, the lead characters and the talent that voices them include Tiny (Kaitlyn Maher), Julio (Jorge Diaz), Grandpa Growl (John Ratzenberger), Simon Growl (Steve Valentine), Bark (George Newbern), Shep (Reggie De Leon), Rover (Jonathon Mangum), Jimmy Kibble (Brian Hull), Steven (David DeLuise), Butch (Danny Woodbury), Raji (Maulik Pancholy), Lou (Makenzie Moss), Ming (April Hong), Juan (Steve Zaragoza), Kano (Diedrich Bader), Dog Gnarly (Ziggy Marley) and many more.

The dogs’ costumes are glamorous, with all the sparkles, glitter and beautiful colors. The colors really bring great visual effects to the film. When all the dogs from different countries come out to sing in their cultural customs, it really drew my attention. I loved seeing all the different backgrounds and vibes in all of the dogs. The music is remarkable. It really fits the theme of the film and paints pictures of all the different cultures.

My favorite characters are Tiny, who unquestionably is the most adorable judge, Shep, the funny service manager and Julio, the Mexican pup with a big heart. Most importantly, all the characters are amazing. My absolute favorite part is when the cheaters (I’m not going to tell you who they are) get disqualified from the competition.

The message of the story is “cheaters never win; winners never cheat.” I’ll admit, I’ve never understood the utility of cheating. This film definitely calls you to action. It has a positive message that promotes positive social behavior.  I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and definitely recommend it for ages 5 to 14 years old, as well as adults. The film will be released on May 5, 2018 in Canada and USA so look for it!

 

Coming soon! The One and Only KIDS FIRST! Film Critics Boot Camp: June, July, August – 8 Cities Nationwide

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

The KIDS FIRST! Film Critics Boot Camp is coming to eight cities this summer, enabling kids to learn how to become entertainment reporters after spending a week practicing their on- and off-camera skills. Taught by leading producers, directors and filmmakers, children ages 11 to 17 truly have the opportunity of a lifetime in this unique star-making program. Beginning in Denver June 4-8, the camp then travels to Miami, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Old Bridge (NJ), Seattle, Los Angeles and New York City.

My eldest son, Rohan participated in the KIDS FIRST! Film Critics Boot Camp in 2016 and has been a part of the KIDS FIRST! Film Critics national  team since. It has been amazing watching his confidence grow over the last two years. His teachers have also noticed a huge improvement in his writing ability. He attended the advanced camp in 2017 and learned a lot about video editing and improved his interviewing skills. Jennifer F., New York City

The KIDS FIRST! Film Critics Boot Camp is designed to offer young people the opportunity to learn the skills they need to critique and review films, present their reviews on-camera and interview celebrities. “Children will learn a variety of behind-the-scenes film industry skills as they watch and critique the latest films, write reviews, develop on-camera reporting and interviewing techniques and meet working film critics, celebrities, directors and producers of some of their favorite films,” said Ranny Levy, KIDS FIRST! Founder and President.

“It made me improve my vocabulary and write even more because I didn’t use to like writing,” said Angel David Gonzales who participated in the 2017 camp in Brooklyn, NY last summer. The normally shy Gonzalez’s teacher, Madeline Rodriguez commented that participating in the camp boosted his confidence as well.  “It’s really nice to see him open up from his shell, to really embrace this experience and opportunity,” she said.

Following the camp, campers will have the opportunity to join the KIDS FIRST! Film Critics team of reporters. Reviews by KIDS FIRST! Film Critics reach more than seven million viewers every month through affiliations with broadcast, print and online publications including Huffington Post, Kidzworld.com, GRAND Magazine, Kidsville News, Working Woman and many more. Take a look at ABC News Entertainment Reporter Sandy Kenyon’s story on one of our previous camps:  https://7ny.tv/2KvqYMt

KIDS FIRST! FIRM CRITICS BOOT CAMP DETAILS:

Learn more and register at:  http://www.kidsfirst.org/become-a-juror/2018.BootCamp.html

ABC Eyewitness News coverage by Sandy Kenyon of 2017 New York City camp.

The KIDS FIRST! Film Critics Boot Camp takes media literacy to a new level and engages kids actively doing something they enjoy, acting as accountable youth reporters. Kids love it! Parents love it! Teachers love it! Take a look at this clip from News12 showing how Bronx students have incorporated what they learned at boot camp into their every day lives. http://Bronx.news12.com/story/36688518/students-use-summer-camp-film-lessons-in-everyday-life

KIDS FIRST! is a project of the 26-year-old national nonprofit (501-c-3) Coalition for Quality Children’s Media whose mission is to  teach children critical viewing skills and to increase the visibility and availability of quality children’s media. The KIDS FIRST! Film Critics Boot Camp has taken place on the lot at Walt Disney Studios, the Paramount Pictures lot, Discovery Communications Headquarters and Hispanic Information and Technology Network in New York City. KIDS FIRST! is supported by major entertainment industry leaders, teachers, librarians, media professionals, lobbyists, policymakers, child advocates, educators, parents and families nationwide with a cumulative membership of over 17 million.