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RK/RKAY * A Mind-Bending, Multi-Layered Film, Shot And Edited With Meticulous Care

Monday, May 10th, 2021

RK is a filmmaker, making a new film, in which he also plays the lead character of Mahboob. It’s a quaint film, like a tribute to the cinema of the sixties. People close to him are not really sure why RK wants to make this film. Edit begins and RK has a sinking feeling that this film is not going to come together, that this time he has really screwed up. His nightmares warn him of an impending disaster. Sure enough, one afternoon RK gets a call from the edit room- something terrible has happened. Mahboob has run away, run out of the film. Nobody can really understand why would he leave, where would he go. But he is not there anymore in the rushes- missing from the film negative as well. The fact is Mahboob was running away from his killers, and somehow he left the film and arrived in our world. RK finds him, brings him home- but Mahboob has no idea where he is from, or that he is any different from people around him. Slowly, he is told. They must convince him to go back to the film, so that RK can finish his film.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Eshaan M. comments, “A mind-bending film; RK/RKAY is a multi-layered film, shot and edited with care for small details. You’ll be tuned in, trying to figure out where the plot will go next, throughout the duration of the film.” See his full review below.

RK/RKAY
By Eshaan Mani, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

A mind-bending film; RK/RKAY is a multi-layered film, shot and edited with care for small details. You’ll be tuned in, trying to figure out where the plot will go next, throughout the duration of the film.

The storyline follows filmmaker RK (Rajat Kapoor) who is in the process of directing and starring in his film. He plays the lead character of Mahboob. The film opens with a nostalgic vignette for 1960s Bollywood films – the clamor on set, a high-maintenance actress as the female lead Gulabo (Mallika Sherawat) and a slight sepia tone. Everything seems to be going just fine when the editing for the film begins, but RK gets a call from the editing room. Mahboob has run out of the film and has somehow entered the real world, fleeing from the film’s cartoonish killers when RK finds him and brings him home to sort things out. RK must convince Mahboob to go back into the world of the film, as that is where he belongs.

RK/RKAY is a crowd-funded film, but you cannot tell from the incredible production quality. Director Rajat Kapoor is an experienced short and feature length film director and his expertise, even with a low budget, is evident. I am blown away by the cinematography, script and overall production quality. The film-within-a-film premise requires clear dialogue to avoid confusion, and RK/RKAY delivers. Even though it is a Hindi film, the subtitles are clear and you can easily follow what’s happening. I also love the cinematography; the film makes amazing use of light and shadows as well as colors. The film that RK is producing has a bit of a sepia or golden tint to it, as does Mahboob when he enters the real world. Depending on their mood, characters may be placed halfway, completely, or not at all in the shadow. Though the film tends to drag a bit in the second half, the whole production effort is impressive enough that one gets pulled back into the film.

RK/RKAY promotes messages of finding yourself, being dedicated to your projects, and staying true to love.

I give RK/RKAY 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 15 to 18, plus adults. RK/RKAY premieres in the US and Canada on May 14, 2021, in theatres and virtually.

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We Got You * Giving A Voice To Every Kid Who Doesn’t Have Anyone Else To Go To

Friday, April 9th, 2021

We Got You is a podcast that gives a voice to every kid out there who doesn’t have anyone to go to, with advice straight from teens who’ve been there before. We Got You is a weekly advice podcast where teens answer questions from middle schoolers across the country on life, loneliness and an uncertain future. We Got You is produced by Sonic Union. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Eshaan M. comments, “Have you ever felt like you are experiencing something negative that no one else is? Well, We Got You reassures you that there is someone who has been there and done that before, sharing the perspectives of kids on growing up, thriving and surviving in an uncertain world, and dealing with the darker aspects of life.” Avery P. comments, “The We Got You podcast is an amazing outlet for kids and teens that don’t have a voice or need extra inspiration to help cope with their challenges. This podcast is all about helping others hold onto hope. The podcast covers such topics as dyslexia, anxiety, depression, PTSD, social media, bullying and lots more.” Apurva S. wraps it up with, “In the words of Dumbledore, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, when only one remembers to turn on the light.” This describes the message of the podcast (even though it’s not said in that way), that you should never lose hope.” See their full reviews below.

We Got You
By Eshaan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

A candid and honest look at modern teens’ lives with incisive commentary on mental illness, coping with conflict and other timely topics, We Got You is a great listen for kids looking for answers.

Have you ever felt like you are experiencing something negative that no one else is? Well, We Got You reassures you that there is someone who has been there and done that before, sharing the perspectives of kids on growing up, thriving and surviving in an uncertain world, and dealing with the darker aspects of life. Each episode has two parts. First, a kid speaks about their experiences. For example, one episode centers around a girl named Asha and her experiences with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Second, the floor is opened up for questions about the subject, which are submitted through the show’s Twitter account, and the main speaker is joined by one or two other kids who share their personal experiences and thoughts. The show is hosted by actress Samantha Logan, but she takes a backseat in the podcasts, and it feels like each episode is really hosted by the kid who’s sharing their thoughts.

The kids on the show are truly skilled raconteurs, presenting their experiences in an engaging way that makes you feel for them. Many of the speakers bore their hearts on the podcast, especially in the episodes about mental health, and it is heartwarming to see that they feel confident to share their experiences and thoughts so openly. The podcast is full of earnest perspectives and the roundtable segment features lots of great questions that I would definitely have asked. The sound designer Rob Ballingall also beautifully blends together sound bites with some sound effects and background music to make the podcast even more intricate.

The message of We Got You is quite simple: you don’t have to go through anything alone. It’s a podcast with a purpose, a beautiful one at that, and it’s executed wonderfully.

I would give We Got You 5 stars out of 5, and recommend it for ages 12 to 18. You can listen to We Got You on TRAX at https://www.trax.fm/we-got-you

We Got You
By Avery P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 13

The We Got You podcast is an amazing outlet for kids and teens that don’t have a voice or need extra inspiration to help cope with their challenges. This podcast is all about helping others hold onto hope.

Writer / creator (Halle Petro) and producer (Sonic Union) proudly presents We Got You. Many episodes have guest speakers that talk about their conflicts. The podcast covers such topics as dyslexia, anxiety, depression, PTSD, social media, bullying and lots more.

I love this podcast series, because it includes so many inspirational stories. I got a sense of thankfulness while listening to the first couple of episodes. Although the podcast is audio only, it makes you take the time to settle down and listen.  The guest speakers are so strong in their ability to speak out and spread awareness. Each episode is about 15 to 20 minutes long. They are full of amazing stories and a Q and A. The Q and A at the end of each episode includes middle-schoolers from around the country that get their questions answered by teens that have been there before. Especially during these tough times due to COVID-19, taking care of our physical and mental health is important. The weekly advice in these podcasts encourages kids and teens to come of age in the world around us. In each episode the real life example is accompanied by music that transports the listener to that space. Listening to these stories can give anyone hope, courage and gratitude.

I got lots of messages from this podcast, although the one that stood out the most is to hold onto hope. Never give up; have courage!

I give the podcast series We Got You series 5 out 5 stars and recommend it for ages 9 to 16. The We Got You podcast is currently available on TRAX podcast page at https://www.trax.fm/we-got-you.

We Got You
By Apurva S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 12

We Got You is such an inspirational podcast. I love it. It shares stories from teens all over the country that have gone through hard times and makes them feel heard. This podcast also makes you feel lots of emotions and is almost as entertaining as a regular TV show.

For example, one of the episodes talks about Jaelin, an 18-year-old boy who lost both of his parents before the age of nine, and went through childhood being abused by his stepfather. His journey continues as Jaelin finds hope through his brothers and friends.

One of the best things about this podcast is the emotions. You can really feel all that Jaelin’s been through, from the death of his first parent to losing his second. His enlightening speech gives you hope that there is always a way out, no matter how much you have been through. Many movies, TV shows and podcasts use music to convey emotions. However, We Got You doesn’t need music to show what these kids are feeling; you only need to hear their stories. To be able to show emotion without music is pretty hard, so that really intrigued me.

In the words of Dumbledore, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, when only one remembers to turn on the light.” This describes the message of the podcast (even though it’s not said in that way), that you should never lose hope. There are no foul words or concepts, but there is some mention of aggressive behavior. An example is Jaelin speaking of his father both verbally and physically abusing him.

I give We Got You 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 10 to 18 and anyone who is going through a hard time. We Got You can be found on Trax at https://www.trax.fm/we-got-you.

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Stray * Brilliant Film About Three Beautiful Dogs Living on the Streets of Istanbul

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

Stray explores what it means to live as a being without status or security, following three strays as they embark on inconspicuous journeys through Turkish society. Zeytin, fiercely independent, embarks on adventures through the city at night; Nazar, nurturing and protective, easily befriends the humans around her; while Kartal, a shy puppy living on the outskirts of a construction site, finds companions in the security guards who care for her. The strays’ disparate lives intersect when they each form intimate bonds with a group of young Syrians with whom they share the streets. 

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Carlee S. comments, “Stray is a brilliant film about three beautiful dogs living on the streets of Istanbul, Turkey.  Director Elizabeth Lo gives a unique perspective that allows viewers to venture into dogs’ lives and learn a lot about the country of Turkey and the people there, as well. Through the eyes of the dogs we learn about their lives on the streets and the lives of others they interact with.” Joshitha B. adds, “The dog Zeytin is so adorable that no scene feels slow when this dog is in it. There is a particular scene which is incredibly impressive where Zeytin looks distraught and is nearly crying. These dogs have the right expression and demeanor, so credits go to Elizabeth Lo for directing in such a way that the dogs seem like actual actors.” See their full reviews below.

Stray
By Carlee S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Age 16

Stray is a brilliant film about three beautiful dogs living on the streets of Istanbul, Turkey.  Director Elizabeth Lo gives a unique perspective that allows viewers to venture into dogs’ lives and learn a lot about the country of Turkey and the people there, as well. Through the eyes of the dogs we learn about their lives on the streets and the lives of others they interact with.  We gain a better understanding of the people as we overhear conversations the citizens are having which tell us a lot about the personal lives of the people there and the living conditions. For both the dogs and some of the people, there is danger and the struggle to survive.  There are also touching moments. It is an unforgettable film that helps people understand a different part of the world, the people and animals that live there, and that they all have the same basic needs of food, shelter, and friendship. 


This documentary follows three dogs named Zeytin, Nazar and a puppy named Kartal. The camera follows the dogs at their level which is a very ingenious and a creative touch. As the camera rolls, we follow along and see how these dogs interact with other dogs and the humans they encounter. Not only do we get to experience a stray dog’s life, but the lives of a young group of boys also living on the streets. The dogs in Istanbul are allowed to roam around the city freely since the citizens fought to save them. We’re taken into these dogs’ lives and live it with them, seeing all the sights and sounds they see. 

One of my favorite scenes in Stray is when Zeytin is in the park and notices another dog approaching. You can tell from the beginning, when we first get to know Zeytin, that she is a sweet dog. She doesn’t seem to mind the other dogs she comes in contact with and is friendly towards them. Watching Zeytin and the other dogs in the park was very enjoyable. I just loved watching them run around and being very playful. It is a scene that could have been in any part of the world.  I also enjoyed watching the puppy, Kartal. The puppy’s expressions are very sweet and, the way people react to Kartal, it adds a nice touch to the film.

The message in this film is to step up for what you believe in. The citizens of Turkey made sure their voices were heard, so that dogs can freely roam, and are not to be held captive or destroyed. Every life is worth something. The dogs provide comfort to many people there. There are some warnings. Some scenes can be graphic that go with life on the streets. Some of the topics and language spoken by some of the people is also for older viewers.

I give Stray 5 out of 5 stars. I was glued to the screen and I am now a much bigger fan of documentaries after watching this film.  I plan to watch more in the future. I recommend this film to ages 13 to 20. Magnolia Pictures will release Stray in theaters and On Demand on March 5, 2021.

Stray
By Joshitha B.

Stray is a film with a unique concept that is very enlightening to watch from an outsider’s perspective. From the occasional pretty cinematography to the important issues this film highlights, Stray is an extremely well-executed documentary that I really enjoyed watching.  

Stray is a documentary following dogs in Istanbul and it really changes the narrative on how we view stray dogs by witnessing the daily lives of these uncontrollable creatures. This film invokes our empathy by documenting interactions between these stray dogs and humans in their community.

The film has lovely cinematography with plenty of pretty stills that catch your eye throughout the entire film. The aesthetic of this movie is really satisfying for the viewer. Since the main characters are dogs, there is little dialogue in the beginning, and yet the storytelling is very compelling.  The dog Zeytin is so adorable that no scene feels slow when this dog is in it. There is a particular scene which is incredibly impressive where Zeytin looks distraught and is nearly crying. These dogs have the right expression and demeanor, so credits go to Elizabeth Lo for directing in such a way that the dogs seem like actual actors.

The message of this film reflects on our own empathy for outsiders or “strays.” We all should do better to improve the lives of our furry friends globally.

I rate Stray 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18, plus adults. Stray will be available on digital platforms March 5, 2021.

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The Marksman * A Slower-Paced Action Film Starring Liam Neeson

Saturday, January 16th, 2021

A rancher on the Arizona border becomes the unlikely defender of a young Mexican boy desperately fleeing the cartel assassins who’ve pursued him into the U.S. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Benjamin P. comments, “The Marksman is a slower-paced action film set on the road from Texas to Chicago.  The filmstars Liam Neeson as Jim, a retiree who’s seen better days. There is a strong action storyline but those expecting a shoot-em-up adrenaline rush may want to look elsewhere.” See his full comments below.

The Marksman
Benjamin P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 14

The Marksman is a slower-paced action film set on the road from Texas to Chicago.  The filmstars Liam Neeson as Jim, a retiree who’s seen better days. There is a strong action storyline but those expecting a shoot-em-up adrenaline rush may want to look elsewhere.  

Jim’s wife has passed away, his finances gutted by the cost of her medical bills, and his decaying ranch adjoining the border to Mexico is under threat since he can’t keep up with his rent. Now all he’s got is his loyal canine companion and a few days left with his property. On a drive surveying his land, Jim finds a boy named Miguel and his mother Rosa, crossing the border. Members of a drug cartel are hot on their trail, eager to capture the mother and son. A shootout between Jim and their pursuers occurs and Rosa is mortally wounded. As she passes away, Jim makes a promise to get Miguel to their family in Chicago where he’ll be safe.

The Marksman is a conundrum as an action movie – as for action, it’s sparse, save for a few shootouts here and there where Neeson’s character gets a chance to live up to his Marksman moniker. When you hear Liam Neeson and action movie within the same breath, you picture Neeson defiantly doling out revenge to those who have wronged him and the people he cares about, which to some extent is what The Marksman becomes.  But it plods along its course, steeping you in the everyday life of Neesons’ Jim, before putting into perspective the predicament Miguel faces from the cartel members who killed his mother.

Jim’s encounters with the cartel are only mildly suspenseful. So much of The Marksman doesn’t fully develop Miguel and Jim’s dynamic, either. These characters spend so much time together, but, by the end, they only manage to get each other where they need to go, and nothing more. There’s humanity, but there’s no spark to it. I don’t fault the performances, as much as I do a script with not enough meaningful moments for the central pair’s bond to supplant itself deeply in the fabric of the movie.

I give The Marksman 2 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 13 to 18 for some mild violence and the killing of a dog. The Marksman comes out in theaters on January 15, 2020.

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The Magic School Bus Rides Again: Blast Off! * Kate McKinnon as Ms. Frizzle Hits it Out of the Park!

Monday, July 20th, 2020

Bus, do your stuff! Field trips with Ms. Frizzle are wilder than ever, into space, over to the Galapagos Islands even a plunge into the depths of the Sun itself. And along the way, the kids we know and love bring their science investigations into the 21st century still taking chances, making mistakes and getting messy! Climb aboard for a field trip you’ll never forget. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Jude A. comments, “This new DVD brings back the characters we all know and love and doesn’t fail to bring back that hilarious, but educational feeling we get from these fifth graders and their wacky teacher! This DVD doesn’t just deliver a flying school bus and a catchy theme song; it also delivers hilarious dialogue and creative adventures.” Allison B. adds, “While watching this DVD, many details stuck out to me. To start, the theme song is sung by Lin-Manuel Miranda! Not to mention that Ms. Frizzle is voiced by Kate McKinnon. Talk about some serious star power. On the topic of Kate McKinnon, she makes a great Ms. Frizzle, as she gives the character the craziness and yet, calm attitude that makes her really come alive. The animation in this show has a very interesting touch. While the character and objects remain cartoonish, the backgrounds look magnificently real, especially when the glass goes to space.” Selene W. wraps it up with, “Love this reboot of the magical series I grew up with.  In our household Miss Frizzle can do no wrong as she makes learning complicated science lessons easily understandable and fun.  I was worried that our family’s all-time favorite learning series would be compromised in some way, but I’m happy to share that I can’t wait to watch all the new episodes.” See their full reviews below.

The Magic School Bus Rides Again: Blast Off!
By Jude A., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

Let me take on you on a field trip because today we are learning about the new children’s DVD The Magic School Bus Rides Again: Blast Off! This new DVD brings back the characters we all know and love and doesn’t fail to bring back that hilarious, but educational feeling we get from these fifth graders and their wacky teacher! This DVD doesn’t just deliver a flying school bus and a catchy theme song; it also delivers hilarious dialogue and creative adventures.

The Magic School Bus Rides Again: Blast Off! follows the same group of students and teachers as the original 90s show The Magic School Bus. Once again, it captures the adventures that Ms. Frizzle (Kate McKinnon) takes her fifth grade class on. This DVD includes four wild adventurous episodes, including going into space and repairing near-by satellites, and flying over the Galapagos Islands.

As a fan of the original show, I was skeptical at first because remakes can sadly sometimes diminish the love for the original. The new show is a breath of fresh air and leaves you wanting more of these wild field trips. Kate McKinnon is the best possible actress for the role of Ms. Frizzle because of her overall humor and energy. What a perfect fit!

This show is educational and provides belly-laughing humor without sounding forced. Many morals are also provided as it teaches children about the importance of teamwork and friendship. Along the way, this show teaches children that mistakes are okay; the best thing about mistakes is that you can learn from them.

This DVD goes above and beyond the stars just like Ms. Frizzle and her class do and provides an educational, yet fun-loving show that all children can enjoy. I give The Magic School Bus Rides Again: Blast Off! 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 4 to 8. It’s available on DVD or Digital now so look for it.

The Magic School Bus Rides Again Blast Off! 
By Allison B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 13

I was absolutely wowed with The Magic School Bus Rides Again Blast Off! This adventurous DVD collection kept me entertained, laughing and wanting more. You will ride along with crazy Ms. Frizzle and her lovable class on the adventure of a lifetime. 3…2…1 BLAST OFF! 

The Magic School Bus Rides Again Blast Off is a collection of four episodes: Frizzle of the Future, Space Mission: Selfie, Ready, Set, Fail! and Making Magic. Each episode has a new, exciting field trip to watch and enjoy. In this series you will travel from space to the Galapagos Islands while learning lessons about failure, teamwork, getting messy and having fun while doing it all! The kids and teacher you know and love are back and better than ever, so hop on for an experience you’ll never forget!

While watching this DVD, many details stuck out to me. To start, the theme song is sung by Lin-Manuel Miranda! Not to mention that Ms. Frizzle is voiced by Kate McKinnon. Talk about some serious star power. On the topic of Kate McKinnon, she makes a great Ms. Frizzle, as she gives the character the craziness and yet, calm attitude that makes her really come alive. She isn’t the only voice actor that sticks out to me. Miles KV, as Arnold, conveys realistic emotion through his character by only using his voice. Even when listening, you can tell he is worried about Ms. Frizzle and her shenanigans. The animation in this show has a very interesting touch. While the character and objects remain cartoonish, the backgrounds look magnificently real, especially when the glass goes to space.

The message of this series is: if at first you don’t succeed, try again. The kids learn this through trying to take the perfect space selfie, to getting a magical orb that seems to hold all of life’s answers. While doing these things, they figure out that failure can be a good thing, because you can learn from mistakes. They also learn that with good teamwork and a positive mindset, anything is possible.

I give The Magic School Bus Rides Again Blast Off! 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to ages 7 to 14. This series can now be found on DVD and Digital. 

The Magic School Bus Rides Again – Blast Off!
By Selene W., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 12

The Magic School Bus Rides Again!  Love this reboot of the magical series I grew up with.  In our household Miss Frizzle can do no wrong as she makes learning complicated science lessons easily understandable and fun.  I was worried that our family’s all-time favorite learning series would be compromised in some way, but I’m happy to share that I can’t wait to watch all the new episodes.

The Magic School Bus Rides Again starts with a new Miss Frizzle and a new school year in science class.  Fortunately, we learn that Miss Frizzle is the younger sister of the original Miss Frizzle who is now Professor Frizzle, as she has been busy getting her Ph.D. and continues to be voiced by the incredible Lily Tomlin.  Like classmate Arnold, I was nervous about accepting the new Miss Frizzle, but Kate McKinnon adds her voice and personality to her role as Miss Fiona Frizzle and we soon accept her as our new teacher.  I say our because as a viewer you are pulled into the lessons being taught in each episode. 

All of the original characters return in this series except for Phoebe who has moved and we are joined by a new classmate, Jyoti.  The Blast Off! DVD contains four field trips and you will enjoy the new high-tech school bus and other updated gadgets in the new series which bring it into the 21st century.  The animation is updated by animator Matthew DaSilva; you still recognize the characters and classroom, but it has a more modern feel and integrates well with the story.  You just have to watch these episodes to see the other minor updates.

If you’re new to the series, jump on the bus!  The Magic School Bus Rides Again is such a fun way to learn, while being massively entertained.  Each episode explores a science topic and the magic of the series is that it can take you forward or backward in time, place or size and alters your appearance in an effort to experience life as the subject you are studying.

The message of this series is to learn by taking chances and making mistakes and that is still as true today as when the original series aired.  Kids learn through exploring the world around them and seeing how everything is interconnected.  Miss Frizzle not only teaches us science but life lessons as well!      

I rate this DVD 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 6 to 16 and, of course, adults will like it too as our family watched this incredible series together.  This compilation is available now on Digital or DVD from NCircle Entertainment.

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