Quality Children's Entertainment Family Movie Reviews

Secrets of Sulphur Springs * Dives Deep Into The Mysteries Of The Unknown With A Chilling Tale Of Mystery And Suspense

January 17th, 2021

Set in the fictional titular town, Secrets of Sulphur Springs follows 12-year-old Griffin Campbell (Preston Oliver), whose world has been upended by his father’s decision to move the family from Chicago to take over an abandoned hotel property, The Tremont. The Campbells, which includes Griffin’s mother and his younger twin siblings, move into The Tremont in hopes of restoring it to the vacation destination it once was. But on his first day at his new school, Griffin hears rumors that the hotel is haunted by the ghost of Savannah (Elle Graham), a girl who disappeared decades ago. Soon, he and his new friend, Harper (Kyliegh Curran), discover a portal that allows them to travel back in time and uncover clues about the town’s biggest mystery. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Carlee S. comments, “Disney’s new TV series, Secrets of Sulphur Springs, dives deep into the mysteries of the unknown.  The writers of the show weave a chilling tale of mystery and suspense that is brought to life by the cast. It is a show about new friendships and old secrets that will leave you on the edge of your seat, as it did me.” See her full review below.

Secrets of Sulphur Springs
By Carlee S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 16

Disney’s new TV series, Secrets of Sulphur Springs, dives deep into the mysteries of the unknown.  The writers of the show weave a chilling tale of mystery and suspense that is brought to life by the cast. It is a show about new friendships and old secrets that will leave you on the edge of your seat, as it did me.

In Secrets of Sulphur Springs, a music-loving middle school boy named Griffin (Preston Oliver) moves into an abandoned hotel called The Tremont that his family plans to restore. The hotel is said to be haunted by a girl named Savannah (Elle Graham) who mysteriously disappeared 30 years ago.  Griffin is missing his old town and old friends, but he finds a new friend named Harper (Kyliegh Curran). Together they are determined to uncover the truth about the hidden secrets of the hotel and find out what happened to Savannah.

One of my favorite scenes was when Griffin finds out that the old hotel is supposedly haunted—it is very fascinating to see his reaction when others tell him about Savannah haunting it.  Equally interesting is to see how the others react to Griffin when they find out he is living at the old hotel. Griffin has younger twin siblings (Landon Gordon and Madeleine McGraw) and Harper has a brother (Bryant Tardy). The relationships that Griffin and Harper have with their siblings make the characters easy to relate to. The hotel set is decorated to portray that old, abandoned, rustic style which gives it a spooky appearance. The scenes where the set is dark also add to the eerie mood.  The overall creepy setting makes the scenes more believable. The clothing choices are also well thought out, and perfect for the scenes.

The messages in this TV series are about building friendships and trust. Moving to a new town and having to make new friends at school is not always easy. Being a good friend means being kind, helpful and truthful. It also means working together. Trust is especially important because it’s hard to earn back after it’s lost. Parents may need to know that there are some suspenseful scenes that may be scary for younger viewers.

I give the new TV series, Secrets of Sulphur Springs, 5 out of 5 stars. Every scene kept me captivated and wanting more. I recommend this show for ages 7 to 16. Secrets of Sulphur Springs premieres on the Disney Channel on January 15, 2021.

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

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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Stallone: Frank, That Is * Unveils the Difficult Journey of Frank Stallone and His Pathway to Success

January 14th, 2021

Frank Stallone has seen it all. Frank Stallone has done it all. But, who is Frank Stallone? You know the name, now discover the Grammy and Golden Globe nominated singer, songwriter, musician and actor who has been entertaining audiences for over fifty years, all the while living in a giant shadow. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Dominic D. comments, “I truly enjoyed hearing from Mr. Stallone talk about how difficult his journey has been and how he hurdled so many obstacles to follow his dreams. As a young actor, I know firsthand how frustrating and disheartening it is to try to make it big within the talent world. I can relate to the look on Frank’s face when as he discusses the setbacks he has faced.” See his full review below.

Stallone: Frank, That Is
By Dominic D., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 10

I’m super excited to share my thoughts about the documentary Stallone: Frank, That Is about a Hollywood star that has seen and done it all.  I am talking about Frank Stallone who has spent nearly 50 years entertaining us with his platinum and gold albums and his amazing songs that have topped the music charts worldwide. His movie soundtracks for the most iconic films remain familiar throughout many generations. Singer, songwriter, musician and an actor…Frank Stallone is a package deal!

Stallone: Frank, That Is, a documentary written and directed by Derek Wayne Johnson, gives viewers an inside look into the life, career and struggles of a performer who has been dubbed “the most unknown famous entertainer in Hollywood.” The film takes us behind the scenes as we follow Frank Stallone’s professional journey told in words by Frank himself and people within his life who knew him best. Frank’s accomplishments seem so remarkable, however for much of his life he has lived within the shadows of his more famous brother, Sylvester Stallone. Being “Rocky’s Brother” may have been the largest hindrance to Frank’s career, yet the most beneficial, because Frank’s first real break within the industry came from his contributions to the Rocky Film Series. Frank Stallone’s story is one of perseverance, inner strength, and a passion for the arts.

Frank’s path has been filled with many opportunities and setbacks. Everyone, of course, has heard of Sylvester Stallone, yet, just as talented Frank has remained the Stallone underdog. I believe this documentary is exactly what Frank Stallone needs in order to share with the world exactly who he is, what he’s done, and just how talented he actually is. Frank is exceptionally courageous in sharing his deepest inferior feelings and reveals to the world that there is room for more than one Stallone!

I truly enjoyed hearing from Mr. Stallone talk about how difficult his journey has been and how he hurdled so many obstacles to follow his dreams. As a young actor, I know firsthand how frustrating and disheartening it is to try to make it big within the talent world. I can relate to the look on Frank’s face when as he discusses the setbacks he has faced. The industry is certainly competitive. What every entertainer needs is a will to push forward and a strong support base. The closest people in Frank Stallone’s life offer words of encouragement to this amazing entertainer, which I believe is the message of this perseverant film; lots of support and self-confidence are needed if you are going to succeed within this terribly competitive niche. You need to navigate around your obstacles in order to reach your dreams.

I give Stallone: Frank, That Is 4 out of 5 stars and I recommend it to ages 12 to 18. Adults would especially love this documentary also, as many of them are quite familiar with Frank’s music. This documentary will be released January 19, 2021.  You can watch it on Video on Demand and Digital Screenings. This is an inspiring film that you don’t want to miss.

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Wonder Woman 1984 * Magnificent Costumes, Sets, Performances. Excellent Sequel

December 26th, 2020

Rewind to the 1980s as Wonder Woman’s next big screen adventure finds her facing two all-new foes: Max Lord and The Cheetah. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Katherine S. comments, “I love Wonder Woman 1984! The costumes and sets are magnificent! And it has original music that fits perfectly with every scene! I am happy to report that this movie has a “satisfying” ending, but no spoilers here. Knowing that this movie is a sequel, I would recommend watching the first one because it sets up Wonder Woman’s backstory and other characters from the first movie. Zoe C. adds, “The greatest assets in Wonder Woman 1984 are Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) and Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig). Their characters are rich and enjoyable to watch, and they each portray a wide range of emotions. Gal Gadot as Diana Prince shines again in a role that seems tailor-made for her. She is the greatest princess: fierce, elegant and full of humanity.” See their complete reviews below.

Wonder Woman 1984
By Katherine S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

I love Wonder Woman 1984! The costumes and sets are magnificent! And it has original music that fits perfectly with every scene!

Wonder Woman 1984 takes place in 1984 (hence the name), 66 years after the original movie, Wonder Woman. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is living among the mortals and working at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. While there, the museum receives a mysterious stone that can grant one wish per person. Diana wishes to bring her long lost love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), back from the dead. Subsequently, she discovers the true power of the stone, and what would happen if it falls into the wrong hands.

I am happy to report that this movie has a “satisfying” ending, but no spoilers here. Knowing that this movie is a sequel, I would recommend watching the first one because it sets up Wonder Woman’s backstory and other characters from the first movie. One thing that really stands out to me is the attention to detail. All of the costumes, sets and dialogue are very well executed and accurate to the 80s, or so my parents tell me! I especially like Wonder Woman’s golden armor. Kudos to Lindy Hemming (costume designer) and Aline Bonetto (production designer) for the realistic look. All of the actors are strong, but the ones that stand out the most are Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig. Pedro Pascal (Maxwell Lord) really personifies the bad guy, a con man always wanting more. And as you watch Kristen Wiig’s character, Barbara Minerva, evolve during the movie, you can see the contrast between her two personalities emerge.

The main messages of this movie are to be careful about what you wish for, truth overcomes lies, and of course, girl power. There is some bad language and a lot of fight scenes – it is, of course, a superhero movie. Wonder Woman is a great role model for all people as she inspires bravery, love, and heroism.  

I give Wonder Woman 1984 5 out of 5 stars. I recommend it for ages 10 to 18. Adults will enjoy it, too. Wonder Woman 1984 will be coming out in select theaters, IMAX, and HBO Max on December 25, 2020.

Wonder Woman 1984
By Zoe C., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

Wonder Woman 1984 is a fantasy action sequel to 2017’s Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins and starring by Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig.

The movie opens with spectacular action scenes that take place in Themyscira, the ancient island where our favorite heroine comes from. We see Diana (Gal Gadot) at a very young age, competing in a warrior challenge and learning one of the most important lessons in life: the importance of being truthful.

Then, the film shifts to the 1980’s where most of the movie takes place. Diana Prince is working at the Smithsonian Institute curating ancient artifacts, and one of them, recently discovered, is a very powerful stone that grants wishes. The stone will become a powerful and destructive weapon. Diane welcomes new worker Barbara Minerva who is shy and seems to be the opposite of Diana and who is investigating the stone.

The greatest assets in Wonder Woman 1984 are Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) and Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig). Their characters are rich and enjoyable to watch, and they each portray a wide range of emotions. Gal Gadot as Diana Prince shines again in a role that seems tailor-made for her. She is the greatest princess: fierce, elegant and full of humanity.

The special effects are very well done, not perfect, but very impressive. There are a couple of sequences that are absolutely spectacular. The colors and costumes are vibrant, elegant and truthful to the era. And while the action scenes are exciting, the main story in general seems a little weak. I was on the edge of my seat at different times, but the story, at many moments is not that powerful. The music by Hans Zimmer is impeccable and adds a perfect emotional touch.

Wonder Woman 1984 is not as “wonderful” as the previous film, but is totally entertaining—and the messages are much needed in the world today: first, staying true to who we are. The other message is “be careful what we wish for” which, in this film, means it’s good to remember that what we long for should be love and kindness. 

I give Wonder Woman 1984 a 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommended to kids 10 and up (for some violent scenes) and adults as well. Wonder Woman 1984 opens on December 25, 2020, in theaters and on HBO Max.

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News of the World * Classical, character-driven Western, amped up by performances by Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel

December 26th, 2020

A Civil War veteran agrees to deliver a girl, taken by the Kiowa people years ago, to her aunt and uncle, against her will. They travel hundreds of miles and face grave dangers as they search for a place that either can call home.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Benjamin P. comments, “News of the World is a classical, character-driven Western amped up by the strength of its lead performances and cinematography. The vistas and wide plains of a Western are catnip to any cinematographer.  Dariuz Wolski creates a soft unease amid the ethereal hues of the frontier.” Abigail L. adds, “News of the World has a lot going for it and is full of creativity! While the concept of the film is original and full of potential, once the conflict is established the story doesn’t quite live up to its promise.” See their full reviews below.

News of the World
Benjamin P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 15

News of the World is a classical, character-driven Western amped up by the strength of its lead performances and cinematography.

(from left) Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel) and Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) in News of the World, co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass.

Directed by Paul Greengrass, News of the Worldstars Tom Hanks as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a veteran and former newspaper man. He charts course across a divided, post-Civil War America, going from town to town and doling out the news along with hope or despair depending on the headline. It’s on these journeys that he finds a corpse in the woods and a toppled buggy, with a lone girl inside and some papers telling her story. She’s Johanna, a German orphan adopted by Native Americans who slayed her parents and then taken from them. Kidd takes it upon himself to find her the home she’s never really had, undeterred by the challenges ahead of them.

Tom Hanks is a gem, as usual. Hanks plays Kidd as flawed—we know he’s done some things he’s not proud of prior to the events of the film. He’s atoning for those actions with an outstretched hand and caring heart for a person who needs it, a beacon of decency in a world that doesn’t always adhere to that standard and the ideal stage for Hanks to work his magic upon. Fortunately, Hanks has a more than capable scene partner throughout in Helena Zengel, who plays Johanna. Her performance is mesmerizing and layered with nuance.  She captures a character with a fiery spirit and worldly inner life.

Tom Hanks as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd in News of the World, co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass.

The vistas and wide plains of a Western are catnip to any cinematographer.  Dariuz Wolski creates a soft unease amid the ethereal hues of the frontier. There’s an air of uncertainty that comes with their arduous journey that clouds over the majesty of the terrain. Wolski’s cinematography basks in that majesty, but doesn’t let it shake its focus on the characters at the center of it all. You become enveloped in the vastness of Captain Kidd and Johanna’s travels, but fearful of what may lie ahead.

Greengrass’s film seems primed for the big screen with its wealth of set pieces motivated by scale and environment; however, in the current times, a good portion of the people who watch this movie will watch it at home, and the movie seems as appropriate for that viewing experience with its stripped-down moments in between those grander ones.

I give News of the World3 out of 5 stars and an age rating of 12 to 18 for some mild violence and moments of peril. You can see it in theaters December 25, 2020, and it will be available for home viewing within a month after its release.

News of the World
By Abigail L., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

News of the World has a lot going for it and is full of creativity! While the concept of the film is original and full of potential, once the conflict is established the story doesn’t quite live up to its promise.

(from left) Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) and Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel) in News of the World, co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass.

The story centers on Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks), a Confederate Civil War veteran, and traveling news correspondent, who finds a young girl named Johanna (Helena Zengel) who was taken by Kiowa natives years ago. Kidd agrees to take the girl to her aunt and uncle, despite her protests in a language he does not speak. The pair faces many dangers along the way as they travel the American plains, including thieves, a dust storm, and a workers’ riot, but through those challenges, they learn more about each other and how to work together.

The sets are impressive as well as the costumes. The actors are all dressed in outfits that really fit the time period and the region! I especially loved the scenes where Kidd and Johanna are traveling across the open desert because the filming locations are beautiful. My favorite part is how Kidd’s and Johanna’s relationship develops into one similar to a parent and a child, and the way it changes Kidd’s perspective on family. Tom Hanks, as Kidd, is an outstanding actor, but I think his performance is somewhat negatively affected by uninteresting dialogue and character choices. In particular, Kidd’s decision to rile the workers and fight against the mine owners while relaying the news seems a bit out of character, since Kidd is much calmer and lenient at the beginning of the movie. In fact, many scenes in the build-up of the main conflict of the story are a bit off-putting because they don’t always match up with the familial and touching tone of the beginning and end of the film.

Tom Hanks as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd in News of the World, co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass.

The message behind News of the World is that home is where the people you love are, and that family doesn’t always have to be found in blood. The awkward and eventually affectionate interactions between Kidd and Johanna prove that any two people can find a connection. This film is rated PG-13, and parents should watch out for racism, death, implied child harassment, violence including the use of weapons.

I rate News of the World 2 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 13 to 18. This film can be viewed in theaters on December 25, 2020.

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