Saturday, February 28, 2009


Whaledreamers is a documentary by musician Julian Lennon and director Kim Kindersley that is hugely earnest and well meaning but layers on so many ideas and causes at once that it’s difficult to fully embrace. I’m sort of a sucker (when I’m in the right mood) for “let’s become one and save the world” theology, and so I stayed to the end and was, in fact, doing a little weepy, “why-oh-why-
does-the-world-work-this-way?” soul searching when K walked in and said, “Oh. It’s sad,” and walked out. He was not interested.

Which is good, because this is not for kids!

Ok, before you scurry away, let me clarify: it’s not for young kids.

I thought it was, which is why I watched it, and even after realizing it was not really appropriate kiddie-viewing, I stayed with it so I could give you an accurate report. (Okay, that, and I kind of liked it.)

Though the film at first focuses on Australia’s displaced indigenous Mirning people and their deep cultural bond with whales, it deals with so much more: global warming, industrialization, corporate greed, the Iraq war, among other things. In addition to being rife with these complex issues, there are also difficult images (starving children, war casualties, whale slaughtering, recollections of “disappeared” loved ones, etc.). It’s a rather slow moving piece of work and, frankly, it’s a bit of a muddle. Narrating voices don’t always make their point clear and it’s hard to know who’s speaking at times; certain cultural terminology could stand some clarification; the pacing and editing could have used a surer hand.

However, it’s also a passionate call to arms, with some very moving and beautiful images and ideas. This could work for older kids -- mature tweeners and teens -- who need something to chew on, or who are feeling budding pangs of empathy or curiosity for the natural world. The tough stuff in the film is offset by some really astounding cinematography, and by immensely touching scenes such as the director’s tale of an encounter with dolphins that changed his life. The summoning of various indigenous people to the Mirning land in Australia was quite a feat, and scenes of people as disparate as Northwest Native Americans, Maori of New Zealand, indigenous Hawaiians, Congolese and South Americans, sharing in rituals and storytelling, is educational, interesting and inspiring.

The sniffling comes late in the film, when we learn that one of the young men involved in this “summit,” an American translator and environmental activist, was later kidnapped and killed in South America where he was involved in protests against petroleum developers in the forest. Two other indigenous activists were also murdered. It’s a tough moment to get through. In fact, this event stopped the director and Lennon in their tracks; grief stricken and questioning, the Whaledreamers project came to a halt for several long years.

I think for the right young people, this can be a (painfully) eye opening and perhaps motivational experience. The world ain’t a perfect place, and those in charge are not always right and don’t always know what they’re doing. The concept of ecological “oneness,” that we are all in this together and that everything is connected, is certainly something our children should know about as they prepare to go out into the world and, hopefully, make it a better place.

Whaledreamers can help them on their journey.

(This film is not rated; I consider it to be somewhat equivalent of a PG-13 rating.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Maybe this is cheating. I mean, who doesn’t know about the incredible Blue Planet and Planet Earth series’ that ran on the Discovery Channel (Blue Planet ran in 2001, Planet Earth in 2007)?

Well, maybe you don’t have cable. Or maybe your kids were infants and you weren’t yet a fan of the Discovery Channel. Anything’s possible.

At any rate, I stumbled on these the other day while cruising Netflix, and son K was looking over my shoulder.

“Oh, wow ... I would see any of those again, mom! Put ‘em on the list!”

Hmm. I guess being surprised by this was enough to make me think that perhaps we need to make sure they’re included here on KidsFlix. After all, G-rated nature films that the whole family truly enjoys are not all that common; you can only watch March of the Penguins so many times!

Both series, produced by the BBC and by Alastair Fothergill, are now available on Netflix, and I presume at most decent DVD stores. The Blue Planet series was K’s favorite of the two, especially the episode entitled "The Deep," where some pretty bizarre creatures who live in the black depths of the ocean are captured on film, some for the first time. It examines different marine environments throughout the series, from frozen seas to coral reefs and coastal waters. There are so many, many amazing scenes, but one particularly memorable (and difficult) scene depicts orca whales at high tide invading a beached sea lion colony in order to dine on the young. (Yes, this serves as a warning that the vicious and harsh side of nature is well represented in these series.)

The Planet Earth series was my favorite, offering such a wide range of wildlife habitats and cinematic delights that each episode stands alone as an epic adventure. Planet Earth won both an Emmy and a Peabody Award, and David Attenborough’s narration was, for some reason, replaced on the American version by Sigourney Weaver. The series covers arctic tundra, jungles, deserts, African savannas and plains, oceans and caves, and more, and has some of the most stunning cinematography you’ll ever see.

If you haven’t seen these yet, lucky you. You’re in for a treat.

(You can get great detail on each episode by looking up each title over at Wikipedia.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Random Act of Self Indulgence .08

Ok, enough time has passed that I can now write about my huge disappointment in not being able to see the Oscars last night. We had a monster snowstorm last night, and lost our ABC affiliate about 20 minutes into the Big Show.

I don't know if I've ever scowled quite like I did last night, or cursed my rural state quite as much or as colorfully as I did.


Not a big deal. We kept our power, and many people lost it and are just getting it restored. I'm grateful for that (really ... I am...).

I'm thrilled at the Sean Penn win and the screenwriting win for Milk, as well. Yay. Yay. Yay.

I've heard mixed opinions on the show: refreshing, with all the song-and-dance stuff? Lively and entertaining? Or Dullsville?

What did you think?

One thing: I'm pretty sure the Oscars should include clips from the films and performances that are nominated. Pretty sure. You?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Random Act of Self Indulgence .07

As the Oscars get underway, and we make our own preparations here in Maine with a fried seafood and martini extravaganza, I thought I’d throw out a dash of “awards” news, plus a slightly disturbing tidbit. (Re: the Oscars, the only category I’m a bit flummoxed about is Supporting Actress.... I’d love to see Marisa Tomei win, but Penelope Cruz is the favorite. I guess I call Tomei as the dark horse winner! And I'd fall over if Melissa Leo won Best Actress for Frozen River, a film I beg you to see, but it does seem like it's Kate Winslet's year...)

First, the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday bestowed honors on Mickey Rourke for his stunning work in The Wrestler, on Melissa Leo for her equally stunning work in Frozen River (I couldn’t be happier with these two wins!), and on Man on Wire for best documentary. This one was a tough call for me, as I did love the film, but I carry a torch of sorts for Werner Herzog, whose Encounters at the End of the World was also up for an award (see my post on it here). Anyway, great news for Rourke who is really very deserving, even being up against Sean Penn who was so stellar in Milk.

The annual Tokyo Anime Awards was swept, more or less, by Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo On The Cliff by The Sea, mentioned earlier here on KidsFlix. We can’t wait to see it! An odd thing about these awards, however, is that the Foreign Film prize went to Kung Fu Panda, and after much searching, I couldn’t find a nominees list, so I don’t know for certain if Wall-E was even nominated or not. I did find this on an anime forum:

Poster 1: Kung Fu Panda beat Wall-E...I guess that makes sense, Wall-E never did as well in Japan as many American analysts thought it would.

Poster 2: I went to this international competition in China last year, and while doing idle chat with one of the Chinese participants she told me that Kung Fu Panda was one movie that was quite well received on the East, because for once they saw a Western movie that actually got the majority of the Eastern ideas and ways of thinking it uses right, so it was like a novelty for them.


Here it is: John Boorman (Hope and Glory, Excalibur, Exorcist II, Deliverance) is allegedly heading up a completely computer-animated version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It won’t be a musical. That's about all we know at this point.

I don't know why, but this just leaves me feeling a bit sad.

Onward: Happy Oscar-ing tonight!

Friday, February 20, 2009

This Week's Classic Kids' Movie

Time Bandits, from 1981 (and rated PG), is a darkly imaginative fantasy directed and written by Terry Gilliam of Monty Python (and director of such movies as Baron Munchausen -- which I’ll write about another time -- Brazil, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 12 Monkeys, The Fisher King, and more). He’s an incredible talent, and rumors have persisted for years of a sequel to Time Bandits; I’d be one of the first in line!

It’s difficult to know whether this film was conceived as a true kids’ movie, or a film that would appeal to teens and young adult fans of Monty Python. There is so much about it that seems directly aimed at a child’s imagination (which is, in fact, what the film is about: the battle between unfettered, free imagination and the constraints of society/religion/technology -- yeah, the philosophy is a bit of a blur), but as noted in my opening sentence, it is rather dark. It may also not sit well with deeply religious viewers who may not favor the idea of questioning our origins or the existence of a true “Supreme Being.” Uh, it may also not sit well with parents who may be taken aback at the end, when our child hero’s parents are apparently zapped and disappear for good (this is an inconsequential component to the story, really, not much of a spoiler; and the parents weren’t very nice, although, honestly, I didn’t think they were that bad; maybe I missed something).

Regardless, its redeeming features far outweigh its questionable ones. It is brilliantly detailed and rendered, from sets to costumes and special effects. It’s mind bogglingly creative, and tons of fun, and also has moments of the absurdist Python humor that is so much fun. (Warning: if you are thinking your 11 or 12-year old might be ready for MP & the Holy Grail or Life of Bryan, know that the latter is rated R and the former is only PG, but has some parental warnings you may want to know about -- check IMDB.)

Supreme Being: I should do something very extroverted and vengeful to you. Honestly, I'm too tired. So, I think I'll transfer you to the undergrowth department, brackens, more shrubs, that sort of thing... with a 19% cut in salary, backdated to the beginning of time.
Randall: Oh, thank you, sir.
Supreme Being: Yes, well, I am the nice one.

Robin Hood, Napoleon, the Titanic, and King Agamemnon of Ancient Greece make appearances, and in one most amazing scene, the gang fall from a time hole onto a ship where a horrible, hungry ogre and his beautiful wife makes plans for an unfortunate feast; the rest of this scene is a sublime testament to Gilliam’s artistic vision and talent, especially considering the clunky special effects tools that were available back in the dark ages of 1981.

Robin Hood: [Departing cheerfully, saying goodbye to the Time Bandits--] Thank you very much! Thank you very much! Thank you very, very, very much.
[Under his breath]
Robin Hood: Awful people.

Have fun.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Ok, the last in our recent Trio of Failure is -- hard to believe, but true -- the lovable screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby (1938). Delightful! Charming! Hilarious! And with star power like Katharine Hepburn (oh, there she is again!) and Cary Grant, you just can’t go wrong -- right?

Well, I have to say it was a FAIL for K. Now, it may be different with your kids (and I’m wondering if girls may respond differently than boys: the costuming is just eye popping, with nightgowns that rival today’s Oscar gowns, and it is, after all, a love story at heart). But my kid got bored rather quickly with the storyline of the pet leopard (“Baby”) and our hero’s attempt to disentangle himself from the leopard owner (Hepburn), who’s a walking disaster and accident magnet, and who has fallen hopelessly in love with Grant the day before his wedding.

Screwball comedies work because the dialog is so robust, so sparkling and fast moving, full of wit and double entendres, that if you tune out for a second you might miss the best line; each one seems better than the previous.

But even if you have a smart, fast-thinking kid (who is also accustomed to black and white films, so no distraction there), they just won’t get some of the lingo, and let’s face it: they want more action, and less talk.

Susan Vance (trying to convince a cop she’s a gang moll and Grant is a gangster): Sure, I wouldn't be squealing on him if he didn't give me the run-around with that other twist.
Constable Slocum: Oh, so he's a lady killer.
Susan Vance: A lady killer! He's a regular Don Swan. Loves the ladies, don't ya, honey (glancing at Grant)? He pops them off, one, two, three.

I’m sure K had no idea what any of that meant (and the lines were delivered with machine-gun speed).

K kept reaching for the remote to skip through the movie (and I kept slapping his hand), grimacing and saying, “This scene is just too long.” I must admit his reaction was disappointing.

So keep this in mind with the "screwball comedies" of the ‘30s and ‘40s. They’re marvelously entertaining for adults, but I suspect they don’t quite connect with most kids.

Although, I just added Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to our Netflix list. I loved that film, and am busily convincing myself that K will love it, too.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


It’s all fine and well to write about films we like and recommend, but it’s just as helpful to tell you about our failed experiments, too.

First up, briefly, I was actually looking forward to City of Ember, thinking it might be a kind of Bladerunner for kids and offer them a more sophisticated movie experience. I honestly didn’t pay much attention to the reviews, so if it received a generally lukewarm or thumbs-down response, and you already know this, apologies for being late to the game.

We rented it recently and as much as I liked the visuals and the texture of the movie, it lacked a strong core. The message was clear (it’s an environmental fable), but for some reason it just misses the mark. The main thing I want to convey here is that it is a rather dark film, and if you’re considering it for kids under 10, you may want to reconsider. Many unpleasant things plague this underground society, and one of them is a truly hideous and horrific monster that would scare the pants off most kids. (I hated this thing.)

So, City of Ember: a reluctant Don’t Go There.

Next, I listened to my inner voice and watched a true classic, The Lion in Winter (1968), with Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole, on my own. I’d seen a comment on Netflix saying “Even though it’s rated PG, it’s not for kids,” but they didn’t say why. (The parental warning content on IMDB was also scant.) I’d put it on my Netflix list because it’s a classic I’ve never seen (we have hundreds of films on our Netflix list; how many do you have? Are we crazy to think we’ll see them all?) and I thought, when it arrived, it would appeal to K, who of course gets excited by all things medieval right now. (The year is 1183, and King Henry II gathers his family -- including the exiled Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine -- for Christmas in 1183; he intends to name one of his sons successor to the throne.)

I knew it features a dysfunctional family, to put it mildly, full of betrayal and scheming and lies, and figured there may be some bloodshed, but, considering K’s Xbox games, I wasn’t too worried. But for some reason, I decided to watch it one evening when K was elsewhere, just following a hunch, and was glad I did. Yes, it’s a Machiavellian Home for the Holidays, and is a very adult story, with complex relationship issues (loving a spouse you despise and keep locked in a tower!), and sibling rivalry that is literally murderous. But beyond that, there are issues such as the king’s sexual promiscuity and his young mistress (whom he wants to marry off to a son, intending to continue their relationship), the homosexuality of another son, the queen’s alleged dalliance with the king’s father, etc., not to mention references to syphilis and sleeping with sheep.

So much for a lighthearted historical romp at the movies.

Whew. PG? Are they kidding?

For you grown-up types, it’s a stunning piece of Oscar-winning cinema, and something to see if you haven’t. The script is awesome, and Hepburn is of course brilliant and sharp as a dagger. The chemistry between her and Peter O’Toole is super charged, and two hours just fly by. For this one, I say, Date Night!

Eleanor: Henry?
Henry II: Hmmm?
Eleanor: I have a confession.
Henry II: Yes?
Eleanor: I don't much like our children!

My last in the Trio of Failure taps into a whole genre, which may be particularly useful for you. I’ll post that tomorrow.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

This Week's Classic Kids' Movie

In this week's classic kids' movie focus, we go with the excellent Tarzan series. These were quite often on television when I was a kid, on Saturday or Sunday mornings, but I can't remember the last time I caught one on TV. What happened to programming great old movies for kids on weekend mornings? My parents would snooze away while my sisters and I watched Tarzan, or Abbott and Costello, or Ma and Pa Kettle (ok, there's some ancient history for you).

There were six MGM Tarzan films made between 1932 and 1942, starring Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan and Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane. Having seen a handful of them over the years, I’ll stick to these, although there were more titles to follow (mostly for RKO, and without Maureen O’Sullivan). 1943’s Tarzan Triumphs was the largest grossing of the post-MGM films. No wonder, as Tarzan was fighting Nazis and of course, World War II was in full bloom ... movie fans were desperate for heroes.

What follows is a list of the MGM films, and any one of them should make fine Sunday afternoon viewing (we’re still in bitter cold winter mode here; maybe in your world being inside on Sunday is just wrong).

Remember that there is some violence in these films (a stabbing here and there in particular), menacing bad guys and man-eating crocodiles. And then there’s this trivia tidbit about Tarzan and His Mate, courtesy of Wikipedia:

The infamous scene with Jane skinny dipping (her clothes were snagged on a tree branch and pulled off, as Tarzan threw her playfully into the water) was initially cut by the Production Code Administration when the film was first released but was restored in 1986 by Turner Entertainment for its video release. Maureen O'Sullivan did not play the naked Jane in the scene. Instead she was doubled by Olympic swimmer Josephine McKim, who competed in the 1928 games with Johnny Weissmuller.

(The scene is fairly long and memorable. Also of note, in 2003, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.)

  • Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
  • Tarzan and His Mate (1934)
  • Tarzan Escapes (1936)
  • Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939)
  • Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941)
  • Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942)

Friday, February 13, 2009


"A lot of people say, I can’t do it because I’m blind, or I have red hair, or my feet are too big. Get the right team around you, don’t set boundaries and go for it.” — Sabriye Tenberken

A movie like Blindsight might make even the most virtuous and well meaning among us think we don’t do enough with our lives, that we can always do more. (We can, and we should.)

The people in this move will astound you. You may have to help your kids understand just how astonishing this story is, but your editorial input and clarifying comments will be worth any interruption. (I’m recommending this for patient kids 10 and up, hopefully with a little documentary experience under their belt.)

Blindsight follows a group of six blind Tibetan teens, who ascend a 23,000-foot Himalayan peak. They are mostly poor, shunned by varying degrees by their families and villages, and certainly know nothing about climbing as the story begins. They learn everything, slowly and patiently, with a gleam in their eyes and nervous grins; they are seeing so much more than a mountaintop in their dreams.

Blinded at age 12, Sabriye Tenberken is a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Mother Theresa Award recipient and the founder of Braille Without Borders, a foundation that has transformed
attitudes about the blind (and of the blind) in some pretty remote places. One of them is Tibet, where she traveled from Germany, alone at age 26, to set up a blind school for Tibetan children. She set out on horseback with a Tibetan woman as her guide, to find blind kids who had been ostracized by their families and neighbors, and literally gave them new lives. She also created the Braille text for the Tibetan language.

(And she hasn’t won a Nobel Prize?)

“Just because you lose your sight,
it doesn’t mean you lose your vision.
- Erik Weihenmayer

Also completely blinded at age 12 (the same year he lost his mother in a car accident; imagine that for a moment), Erik Weihenmayer became the first blind person, in 2001, to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. He is one of only 150 mountaineers to climb the “Seven Summits,” the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, and the only sightless person in their numbers. Erik is also a para-glider, snow skier, long distance cyclist, skydiver and marathon runner. I could go on, but I don’t want to make you feel bad.

(Oh, and Sabriye and Erik are two of Oprah’s "favorite people." Yeah, now you get the gist of their greatness.)

Ok, so long story shortish: Sabriye gets the crazy idea to take a handful of the most driven kids on a climbing expedition. Maybe a just a short one. She contacts Erik, who lives in Colorado, and asks if he’s interested in heading up the adventure. Of course he says yes, and before you know it, six shy, excited and terrified students of Sabriye’s are preparing for their trip up Lhakpa Ri on the north side of Everest.

The viewer is in on the planning, the training, the conditioning, the fear and trepidation, and when the climb is finally underway, it seems impossible, like it was just a crazy idea that should never have been undertaken. Seeing Weihenmayer, from an earlier trip, climbing up a sheet of ice or traversing a crevasse (with a bottomless drop) on a wobbly ladder -- blind, remember? -- is
enough to make you hold onto your armchair or nearest loved one and not want to let go. These kids can barely walk in boots, over rocks, how in the hell are they going to climb a 23,000 foot peak?

That’s for you to find out.

This may be a little slow going for some kids. You may want to plan breaks or special treats to dangle like carrots and serve when their patience wears a little thin. Oh, there is also the matter of Life is a Bitch, Part XXII, where nobody wants you if you’re blind in places like Tibet, where they think you are possessed by demons or some equally horrid thing and you are either tethered (er, figuratively, in these particular stories) to your home without much of a future, or, worse, traded away. A western (sighted) climbing guide confesses to the camera that he’s pretty sure one kid has cigarette burns on his body, obtained during a particularly dreadful phase in his life.

That stuff may be hard on the kiddies. It will be hard on you. But it’s worth it in the end.
Think you can do it? You can. You can.

And you should.

Trailer below, and more on Erik, Sabriye and the film here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sneak Peek at "Up"

The folks over at got a sneak peek at the first 45 minutes of Disney/Pixar’s latest, Up, and by all accounts they left with smiles on their faces. It was a fun read, and seems to point to it being a more interesting kids’ movie than I’d previously thought from the previews I’d seen. Take a quick look over at FirstShowing.

While you're there, you can be one of the first to see a trailer for the new Quentin Tarantino film, Inglourious Basterds. (Could this be the first blog post to be both about Tarantino and a Pixar film? Nah.) Ladies, if you have a thing for Brad Pitt, you may not want to see this movie (nor do you want to see it if you have a weak stomach). I must admit I'm a Tarantino fan, even his violent tendencies usually come across as pretty brilliant cinema to me... and one of my favorite films ever is Reservoir Dogs. Jackie Brown might also make a Top Something-Or-Other list if I took another look at it just before composing such a list; what a criminally underrated piece of work it is.

Ok, so FirstShowing is a pretty cool and well-informed site, even if all the editors look like they're about 12 and not one of them lists Woody Allen or Werner Herzog as favorite directors.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

GODZILLA! (and other Japanese Monsters)

It’s funny, but the 1950s/'60s Godzilla franchise is a huge part of our lives here, and yet I haven’t written about it until now! It might be because I found it daunting in its hugeness, but that was before I actually gave it more than two minutes of thought. Once I did that, I realized the best thing to do is tell you why we love ‘em and how far you can go with this genre. (The short answer to that last part is: to about 1972.)

Again, I must mention that my husband is a huge fan of monster and horror films in many guises (the more low budget and unknown, the better), but these in particular have always struck a chord with him, and he o
nce dreamed of having a kid who loves them as he does. And gee, his dream has come true (not without a little work!). K’s idea of a good time with dad is watching Godzilla vs. the Seamonster. I’m sure this will change sooner than we want to admit.

The Godzilla films and their many spinoffs begin, of course, with the original Godzilla (1954), from which all the others came. The key thing about these movies (for inquiring parents) is that they are for the most part, pretty innocuous, with crude special effects and monsters that are kind of lovable in their primitive renderings. (In one film, Godzilla does a little victory dance after battle with one of his nemisises, and the moves are now a staple in our house. It’s crazy cute.) When you’re dealing with younger kids, it certainly helps to see the strings attached to flying gigantic moths, or to point out that Godzilla is really just a guy in a rubber suit (ok, only go there if you really need to).

Another positive is consistency. There are consistent themes throughout that look pretty much like this:

- The movies are dubbed, clumsily, in English
- Cites will be stomped on and crushed
- There will be fire
- The armies of the world are incredibly inaccurate when it comes to big guns and missiles
- Godzilla is usually a good guy
- There will be scenes of panic and running in the streets
- Surprisingly, there is often a smart, attractive woman helping the scientist/army guy/genius figure out what to do

These things can be counted on in the genre.

So you always know, pretty much, what you’re going to get with one of these movies. Even the offshoot films, like All Monsters Attack!, follow the same basic formula, and have the same lovably cheesy quality (D would strongly disapprove of the word “cheesy” here).

You know your kids better than anybody, so using this basic knowledge about the films’ content, you should be pretty well armed to decide if these are appropriate for your seven- or nine-year old. (For the record, I believe K started watching these with us at about age seven.)

Now, the caveat is that you don’t want to go too far into the ‘70s, and certainly not into the ‘80s.

(Wait, let me clarify: you can wander, at your own risk, of course, but we did a couple of times,
and just FYI, we regretted it at least once. Things tend to get dicier in terms of language, innuendo and, later, in more intense violence.)

Here is a list of films that worked well in our household (yeah, we’ve seen all of these!):

Gojira, or Godzilla (1954) Japanese version, without Raymond Burr
Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956) American edit, with Raymond Burr (many say the original is the better film)
Return of Godzilla or Godzilla’s Counterattack (1955)
King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964)
Godzilla vs. Monster Zero ( (1965)
Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966)
Godzilla’s Revenge (1969)
Son of Godzilla (1967)
Godzilla vs. Smog Monster (1972)

Rodan (1956)
Gamera Return of the Giant Monsters (1966)
Gamera vs. Monster X (1967)
All Monsters Attack (1969)

Ok, that's a lot to chew on, for now. I have a feeling there are some other Japanese monster movies I've missed, so I'll consult D and see if we have some gaps to fill in.

There are a couple of titles here that the guys have watched twice now, so believe me when I say they have a huge fun factor built in.

Happy Godzilla-ing!

Happy Feet? ... Not So Much

Food for thought:

NPR aired an interesting piece by Michel Martin about what is "wrong" with the kids’ movie Happy Feet (you know the cute animated penguin movie? where they dance, dance, dance? and in fact, their dancing is what saves them?). It’s posted on NPR’s web site, and I thought I’d share it with you.

Did she “overanalyze” the movie? Or express some valid insights?

Here are some of her points:

What's troubling about it, if indeed a kiddie movie about penguins can be said to be troubling, is the suggestion that the penguins weren't saved from starvation and extinction because they had intrinsic worth ... but rather, they deserved to be saved because they were entertaining.

... Entrenched interests reflexively fight any suggestion about changing the status quo for kids, especially kids who aren't making it ... We care about the cute ones, the smart ones, the little Dakota Fannings and Tiger Woodses, the little Olympic gymnasts, the little perfect SAT scorers, the precocious Oprahs-in-training ... But the rest, well, maybe next lifetime, kid.

Read the full article here, and if "comments" are 'closed' (an annoying feature of the NPR site), feel free to comment here!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Candy Land, the Movie! Monopoly, the Movie!

So you’ve probably heard by now about the G.I. Joe movie being made, along with a sequel to Transformers (see my anti-Transformers rant here), but did you know that this Hasbro deal with Universal is pretty much busting out all over? There’s a film version of Candy Land on the way, with director Kevin Lima (Enchanted) and writer Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder and Madagascar 2) taking the reins. There must be endless story opportunities here that escape me at the moment, because there are a bizarre number of homemade Candy Land movies on YouTube. I kid you not.

Monopoly is also coming down the pike, with director Ridley Scott (Ridley Scott?!) “attached” to the project, either as producer or director, or both. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Scott is “attached to helm the project, with an eye toward giving it a futuristic sheen along the lines of his iconic ‘Blade Runner.’”

Ok, this could be awful or really fantastic. Rich Uncle Pennybags as a rogue android? The roadster as a futuristic killing machine? The thimble as ... a transforming explosive device bent on taking over the world?
Hmmmm. And, seriously, what would this be rated? I'll bet a buck it will be an unfortunate PG-13. (There's really no reason a thrilling, entertaining movie can't be made with a PG rating.)

For documentary lovers, Monopoly is the topic of Under the Boardwalk, similar (perhaps) to Word Wars, the documentary covering the crazy world of competitive Scrabble players ( a really fun movie, by the way). Under the Boardwalk is filming now, and will continue throughout 2009, following through with the Monopoly Championships in October in Las Vegas. The filmmakers are seeking people with Monopoly stories of their own; so if that’s you, or you’re interested in the tournament in October, visit their web site for more info. (You can see a trailer there, too.)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

This Week’s Classic Kids’ Movie

There are so many classic movies for kids out there (that is, films intended for kids, unlike, say Planet of the Apes or Jackie Chan movies) which I may never get to, that I’ve decided to feature one every week, with a very brief blurb on it, just to remind you they’re out there.

This week, we point you to the Iron Giant, which is not that old, but I have very fond recollections of K at about age 6 watching this at a birthday party with some dear friends back in SF; the kids just loved it. (Hmm. Come to think of it, they were probably a little on the young side for it, really, but I remember they were glued to the screen and obviously enjoyed it. K asked to see it again a few years ago.)

It’s animated, and is rated PG as it does deal with some suspense and peril, and it also has some juvenile potty humor and language (er, certainly nothing worse than “penis breath” muttered by a kid in E.T. -- ah, you’d conveniently forgotten that, hadn’t you?). Like the aforementioned E.T., it deals with a creature taken in and loved and protected by our child protagonist, but there are deeper subtexts that are quite moving and poignant. In fact, it’s a little on the heavy side.

Ok, so forget I mentioned six-year-olds.

We were all, clearly, bad parents.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Tim Burton's 9

I just happened on a tidbit about a new Tim Burton film coming later this year (on 9/9/09, to be exact), called 9. Here's the storyline:

When 9 (The Lord of the Ring's Elijah Wood) first comes to life, he finds himself in a post-apocalyptic world. All humans are gone, and it is only by chance that he discovers a small community of others like him taking refuge from fearsome machines that roam the earth intent on their extinction. 9 convinces the others that hiding will do them no good. They must take the offensive if they are to survive ... the very future of civilization may depend on them.

stars Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau, Christopher Plummer and Crispin Glover and features the music of Danny Elfman (er, and Coheed and Cambria, apparently).

I'm pretty sure K will be in line for this one (ok, so will I: Crispin Glover's in it, for Godssakes!).


So, who knew that Washington D.C. and a third grade class in Wuhan, China pretty much operate on identical levels when it comes to politics and election shenanigans?

This charming little documentary (58 minutes) should delight all parents, but will perhaps only engage some kids. I’d think those around the same age group as the students -- and a little older -- might enjoy Please Vote For Me, as it’s a straightforward look into the growing pains and heartbreak of schoolyard politics -- and what kid isn’t familiar with that, on some level? (Did this touch me in particular, as I remembered running -- and losing -- for Class President in the sixth grade? I got beat by a red haired, bullyish boy, and the pain was palpable, long after his coronation and even after I faded into the background, becoming a quiet, bell-bottomed, skinny girl with braces who never ran for anything again. That was the end of my political career. Who needed the agony?)

Um, back to the film (which I watched when K wasn’t around, unfortunately, so I can’t give you his take on it): Here we have a slightly mystifying and completely engaging documentary, focusing on three kids running in a democratic election for Third Grade Class Monitor, in the People’s Republic of China in 2006, when the country is clearly being torn in many different political and cultural directions and tentatively dipping its toe in the murky waters of democracy ... How and why did this film get made? Was it “sanctioned” by the government? Did they feel it portrayed the democratic process as a failure, as unfair, as being riddled with cruelty fueled by the darkest and most deceptive motivations inherent in the human psyche?

Aren’t we awful, us democratic societies?

Or, is the filmmaker a secret lover of democratic principles, and camouflaged the obvious upside to the process with the downside (Machiavellian scheming, corruption, temper tantrums) to allow it to pass Party scrutiny?

Ok, I’m really not smart enough, or deep enough, to provide you with answers here. You can read more about the film and filmmaker as part of the project, Why Democracy, on their web site (and find more interesting films while you’re at it), and perhaps put things in context a bit more before you watch.

But it was fascinating -- both as a parent and as an avid consumer of political drama -- to observe these adorable, smart, driven kids, doing whatever it takes to win. (I confess, it was fascinating in that car wreck sort of way, where you don’t want to watch, but you can’t stop. And it’s not nearly as heartbreaking as some documentaries [speaking of the human psyche, good God, have you seen Errol Morris’ Abu Ghraib documentary, Standard Operating Procedure?], and it does remind us, perhaps unpleasantly, that kids are much, much smarter than we often give them credit for. Some of ‘em are sharks, I tell you.)

Conclusion: Score one for democracy -- I think.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Sometimes we parents need to be a little duplicitous. Sometimes we need to act dumb. Sometimes we need to do both at the same time.

“So, watch this movie with me, will ya? It’s about a couple of kids growing up in New York City... and, you know, you were just there and everything. It could be fun.”

I tried not to sound like I cared much one way or the other.

“Well, what’s it about?” K asked.

“About two kids growing up in New York City,” I repeated, with an emphatic “Duh!” unspoken but firmly implied.

“But what is it about? Sports? Getting lost? Monsters in Manhattan?” He was impatient, furiously drumming along to a Dinosaur Jr. song (I forgot how good they could be!) on "Rock Band 2." (Thank God it’s not all Survivor, the Go Gos and System of a Down.)

“I don’t know. They just ... live there.”

“I’m going to watch it, even if you don’t.” I almost blew it, forcing the nonchalance, but I can proudly say that I had just the right tone of not really caring. I’m no amateur.

If I told him Little Manhattan was about an 11-year-old kid (who happens to live in NYC) and his first love, I would have been laughed out of the room and that would have been the end of it. I had to play it right.

“Why don’t I just start it in a bit, and if you don’t like it after ten minutes, you can do something else. But I want to see it .... ‘cause... you know ... it’s New York.”

Silence (except for the sloppy drumming).

“Ok,” he grunted in between fills.

So, an hour and a half later, we’re grinning and talking about what a fun movie it was.

(Yeah, that’s how you do it!)

So, yes, a big thumbs up here. Little Manhattan is totally charming, sweet, not embarrassing to watch with your own 11-year-old kid, and I wondered why I hadn’t heard of it before. Was it a straight to DVD movie?

It came out in 2005, and is directed by Mark Levin, who was a writer and co-producer for the television show “The Wonder Years.” Remember “The Wonder Years?” This film shares that style of narrative ( the story being told by the boy) and also shares its knack for not presenting kids as silly and dismissive, but rather as curious, bright and impatient masses of matter -- with brains and emotions firing in all directions -- trying to find their way.

Levin also directed Nim’s Island, and wrote 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, both pretty decent kid films. He knows what he’s doing.

Get Little Manhattan, watch it with your kids -- act surprised that it has anything to do with embarrassing, budding emotions and hormones, but revel together in all the life-stuff you share with the film: the agony of belt acquisition in karate class (or your own sports drama equivalent); bullies; the “iron curtain” that falls between boys and girls and their friendships somewhere around first or second grade; a tweener boy constantly being mistaken for his mom on the phone (what could be more embarrassing for him?); and perhaps even the throbbing pain of divorce (the boy’s parents are in the horrible, awkward throes). Admire New York (and wonder if a good parent would really let their kid ride all over NY -- even the upper West Side -- on a scooter, for hours on end) and remember how much you loved Bradley Whitford in “West Wing” (and maybe you loved Cynthia Nixon in “Sex and the City;” I could never get through an episode of that show).

And the best part: steal surreptitious glances at your progeny during the cheesy but bittersweet “this-crush-is-gonna-kill-me" scenes, and glean something about your kid and the future.

Hey, it’s gotta happen sometime.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Redbox Reservations

Did you know you can reserve a film to be picked up at a Redbox location? I didn't, until I clicked on one of those little text ads (the ones we all ignore) on another movie blog.

This could come in handy if you live in a populated area and use Redbox (which is pretty cool, really -- a movie for a buck!). I doubt we'll ever need it here, where there are more moose than people (especially considering the movies we tend to pick), but it's good to know.

Actually, come to think of it, we haven't used Redbox since we hooked up the Xbox 360 to stream movies directly from Netflix (which is even cooler, let's face it). But still.

(More on streaming via Netflix here.)

Random Act of Self Indulgence .06

First, I'm delighted to have discovered a little film called Medicine for Melancholy, thanks to the film blog Cinematical (love this site!). It’s a love story, sort of, set in San Francisco -- the city I miss deeply -- and looks like the kind of film I would rush to see at the Roxie or the Castro back in the day. Here’s a trailer (and a write-up at Cinematical):

Ok, I’m really telling you too much about me in also revealing my utter adoration of people like Will Farrell and Ben Stiller. Uh, did I mention Jack Black?

You may have caught these trailers during the Super Bowl, if you were so inclined. If not, here are peeks at two stupidly funny films coming out this summer (not necessarily for the kiddies). (Oh, I also {heart} Paul Rudd.)

Land of the Lost:

Year One:

Speaking of Paul Rudd, another adult comedy coming out this summer is I Love You, Man, where Rudd is a man in search of a new man friend to be his best man at his wedding. Some very funny stuff here ... and I think I’m now a fan of Jason Segal.

Ok, and I have to do something for the kids here, don’t I? Dunno how I overlooked giving a little nod to Monsters vs. Aliens, coming out in late March. Not sure if this one will be a home run or not.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


One of Japan’s leading animation directors, Hayao Miyazaki makes supremely beautiful movies, offering rather surreal escapes with recurring themes such as flying, the supernatural, magic and the fragility of the natural world. It’s not unusual for characters to be on a moral journal of some sort, starting out as troubled or even unlikable, and growing through their experiences into smarter, respectful, more likeable people (or dead people/beings, if they’re really bad) in the end.

His films have been nominated for Oscars and other prestigious prizes (his Spirited Away won Best Animated Feature in 2003), and he’s considered to be at the top of the anime game at the moment.

His latest work, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, has been released already in Japan, and will open in summer here in the U.S. (thanks to Film Femme for bringing it up in a comment here!). The English version will feature the voices of (ready?) Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, Betty White and Cloris Leachman. The story centers on a 5-year-old boy and his relationship with a “goldfish princess” who longs to become human. (Trailer at end of post.)

Here are some quick takes on other films by Miyazaki (in order of their release). Note that some are really not appropriate for younger kids.

NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind (1984) (PG): This is highly rated by Miyazaki fans, and has an environmental theme, about the planet being in peril and the ensuing battle to save it. The heroine, Nausicaa, has her hands full and must use her head and her warrior skills in the best way possible. There is a bit of violence and perhaps some frightening creatures, but nothing too intense (I haven’t seen it, but did some research). K saw this without me when he was about nine or 10 and says now, “I love it.”

My Neighbor Totoro (1988) (G): This is a sweet, fantasy filled film that we all adored and had on video for years. There are gentle spirits and pixies and dancing by moonlight and a flying cat bus, and of course the cuddly, lovable Totoro... the film has an idyllic, happy vibe. (Um, except for the underlying story that the two young sisters’ mom is seriously and in the hospital, and I held my breath for the longest time thinking she was going to die: Jeezus, I wondered, do we really need to go there now?) (Spoiler: she doesn’t die.) This is fine for the younger kids, who may or may not worry about the mother like I did.

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) (G) K saw this one years ago, but I didn’t, and after looking it up on IMDB, I’ll give it a thumbs up here for the younger ones. He liked it at the time, I remember, and it sounds like it’s a sweet as Totoro. Kiki is a young witch who sets up a flying delivery service. No big meanies here.

Princess Mononoke (1997) (PG-13): (13!) Another environmental theme here. K has seen this on TV twice, and says it’s his favorite. It’s “totally awesome and amazing.” I doubt it was edited for TV, and the description on IMDB does make it sound pretty graphic. Go at your own risk.

Spirited Away (2001) (PG): I have to say I like this one the least of all, for various reasons, and many Miyazaki fans consider this is best (it won an Oscar!). I found it sort of dark and scary, and it didn’t have that flight of fancy that I find so charming in other titles. One scene I remember in particular is early on, when a young girl’s parents are suddenly turned into pigs (most of the story is her working to turn them back). This was rather disturbing for K, who was maybe nine when we watched it. There is also a bit of violence and some menacing creatures, a bit of blood (splattering) and some cruel characters; the kind you want to protect your kids from even knowing about at a tender age.

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) (PG): This is the story of a young woman turned into an old hag by a nasty witch, and she stumbles into a young wizard who is also dealing with his own troubles. The wizard, Howl, lives in a fantastic, moving castle that is the height of imagination: the lush detailing of its mechanical form and its ambulatory grace is just astonishingly beautiful. This was nominated for an Oscar, but didn’t win (but it lost to Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, so it's OK). It’s my favorite Miyazaki film, and despite its PG rating, it’s very safe; a few dark magic moments might scary the very youngest ones.

Maybe I’m just a wuss.

There are more in the mighty Miyazaki’s oeuvre, and if you haven’t checked him out yet, I think you’ll be glad you did. They’re truly artful pieces of cinema. (You can get some of these in paperback graphic novel/comic form, if you’re trying to find more ways to get your non-reader interested in books. And since they’re Japanese, they read from right to left, which is sort of fun for kids, too. They’re not hard to find, just ask your local bookseller. Also, Howl’s Moving Castle is a novel by Diana Wynne-Jones, as is another Miyazaki film, Castle in the Air.)

Here are trailers for the upcoming Ponyo and for my favorite, Howl's: