Being A Dad

A while back, while putting off working, I watched some trailers for upcoming movies. Yeah, I'm one of those guys that loves the previews before movies. Can't get enough of them. Anyway, one that caught my eye that day was Real Steel. When I found out it was based on the same short story (by Richard Matheson) as a great episode of The Twilight Zone (with Lee Marvin) my interest was further piqued. 

And then I forgot about it, figuring I'd catch it late one night on of the countless movie channels we get. 

But then, about a month ago, I started to hear whispers that this was actually a family film. The previews would never reveal that because studios are afraid they will scare away the all-important teenage and young adult audience. But I read a few reviews and they did indeed confirm that this was a family friendly flick.

I asked Jackson if he wanted to go and he enthusiastically said yes. Technically that's not true. Very few kids use the word yes. It could have been a yeah, but just as likely it was a head nod or perhaps a grunt. Regardless, we made a plan and went. 

And I have to say, it was awesome. Sure it's cliche-ridden and you can see plot points coming a mile away but judging from the amount of cheering Jackson was doing during the movie, I'm guessing he didn't care much about those details. 

In essence, the movie is Rocky meets Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots. Lots of action, lots of loud music, lots of robots smashing robots - perfect for any red-blooded boy (and their immature dads). 

There's some objectionable language but it was nothing Jackson hadn't heard already while we're watching the Jets play. And there's one scene of people on people violence that is a little disturbing but it doesn't last too long. 

Oh, and one other thing. When we were making the plans to see the movie, Jackson suggested we invite my dad, figuring he'd enjoy it too. It was the first time I've gone to the movies with both my son and my dad and it made for a pretty great moment. 
Right up to the point where dad got kicked out for throwing popcorn at a group of kids a few rows in front of us. 

And... I'm back.

It's not a stretch to say Eddie Murphy's cinematic output since the days of 48 Hrs., Trading Places and Coming to America has been spotty at best. And even that is being overly complimentary. But I've always liked him. Which is part of the reason, I suppose, why I liked Daddy Day Care.

Now there are two reasons I'm not going to try to convince you this movie is the modern day equivalent of Citizen Kane. 1) it's not. And 2) I never really liked Citizen Kane.

Regardless, this movie has a lot going for it especially the casting of Jeff Garlin and Steve Zahn as Murphy's two main co-horts. Other recognizable faces include Angelica Huston, Regina King and Lisa Edelstein. And there's a performance by Cheap Trick and a kid who spends most of the movie dressed in a Flash costume. So I mean, really, what more could you want?

There's plenty of physical stuff for the kids to enjoy, with a healthy dose of poop jokes thrown in for good measure (my boys never met a poop joke they didn't like). Jackson and Griffin both have their favorite rewind moments and it's safe to say the movie holds up to repeat viewings.

So if you're looking for something to watch with the kids, give this movie a shot. Or maybe take them outside. I hear that whole fresh air thing is pretty good too.

This is a tricky one.

On one hand, I really liked it. On the other hand, it's not really for kids.

Let's tackle the second issue first. Rango is certainly being marketed for kids - the trailer appeared in front of every kids movie for the past six months or so and Burger King is even giving away Rango toys (even though this is the least cuddly cast of characters since Deliverence). But unless your kid recognizes and appreciates references to Don Knotts, Lee Van Cleef, John Huston, Clint Eastwood, Hunter S. Thompson, or Apocalypse Now, he or she is probably not the target audience for this movie. And remember how confusing the plot of Chinatown was? Well, Rango is basically using the same premise. Throw in a bunch of killings and a pace that's more Leone than Pixar and you realize this isn't your typical animated fare (as an aside, what do we call these movies? They're not cartoons, they're not live action, they're animated but by computers... any suggestions would be appreciated).

Cautionary tales aside, there's a lot to like here. For starters, it looks amazing (and not a third dimension in sight, bless their hearts) and the soundtrack is really good (featuring one of my personal faves, Los Lobos). And it's kind of refreshing to see a movie like this that makes no attempt to cater to a younger audience (no Bieber references, for example). The cast, led by Johnny Depp, is top notch too.

So leave the little ones at home and take the older kids - just don't be surprised if they start showing an interest in Walter Brennan and rolling their own cigarettes.

Recently, we took the kids to see Gulliver's Travels. The theater we went to was only showing it in 3-D, which was more than okay for Jackson and Griffin. I asked for 4 tickets, 2 children and 2 adults. 56 bucks. I can't recall my exact reaction but I'm pretty sure I made Raisinettes in my pants. 

I realize it's a cliche to suggest going to the movies is too expensive. And it is. But we don't go that often (I think the last non-kids movie Kristin and I saw in the theaters was The Turning Point....Might have been An Unmarried Woman) and we were looking forward to doing something fun with the kids. Plus, you can usually save money by catching a matinee but unfortunately there are no discounts for 3-D.

The other issue is - spoiler alert - 3-D adds absolutely nothing to this movie. It's not a great movie, but it's got some fun parts and the kids enjoy their Jack Black as much as mom and dad do but 2-D would have been more than fine, thank you very much.

Plus, my glasses had a big old thumb print on one of the lenses which added a very unwelcome fourth dimension to the proceedings. 

Here's the deal - all kids movies are being made in 3-D now and initially both the 3-D version and the 2-D version would play in most multiplexes so you had a choice whether or not you wanted to cash in your 401k or not to see the film. But I fear that 3-D only is coming our way and I can't imagine anyone will be able to keep up with these prices. 

For an industry that practically invented the "shameless money grab" and who continues to crank out movie after movie filled with one-dimensional characters and stories, 3-D is at least one D too many. 

I should start off by saying that I did doze a bit during the movie.  But that had more to do with the 3-year old sleeping on my lap than my interest level.  The part that I was awake for was pretty good.

Somehow our kids completely missed the more recent wave of Disney animated movies - Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, etc.  I bring that up because Tangled, while not traditionally animated, fits right in with those films.  Which is why I think (at the risk of sounding sexist) that girls will love this movie.  There's some serious girl power going on (courtesy of Rapunzel) along with the  prerequisite wicked stepmother (courstesy of Donna Murphy although I thought it was Bebe Neuwirth until the credits rolled).  The derring-do is supplied by Flynn Ryder - a character name that both Jackson & Griffin (once he woke up) found hysterical. 

Much in the Disney tradition, characters break out in song at the drop of a hat (or hair, as the case may be) which is why you should expect Tangled - The Musical to hit Broadway sometime in the near future. 

I just read that this is the first Disney "princess" movie to get a PG rating and I suppose that's appropriate but there's very little here that could possibly cause nightmares and it's relatively tame compared to most children's fare.  Unless there was a decapitation scene when I was sleeping, then I might change my mind.   

Oh, and one other thing - your kids will want to see this in 3D because all kids want the extra "D", but there's nothing to justify the extra money you'd have to spend on a ticket.  If they really want to see 3D, tell them to look out a window. 

There are many reasons I really enjoyed this movie...

Will Ferrell - Supposedly, the role of Megamind was offered to both Ben Stiller and Robert Downey, Jr. and I don't think it would have been nearly as funny without Ferrell.  Thumbs up to Tina Fey, Brad Pitt and David Cross for their voice work as well. 

Melancholy - you'll never want to pronounce it the same way again.

Fun for kids, fun for grownups - while there's plenty here for the kids to enjoy, there's just enough for us old folks as well, from a fresh twist on Obama posters to a great Donkey Kong sight gag.

The geeks shall inherit the earth - this is a superhero movie after all, so obligatory comic book references are essential and there are some good ones here - from Superman to the Flash to Green Lantern. 

Most importantly, I've always loved going to the movies.  Before the kiddos came along, the Mrs. and I used to go all the time.  Now that our income and time isn't nearly as disposable as it used to be, we seem to talk about going to the movies more than we actually go to them.  So it was with great pleasure that we got to take the boys this past Saturday morning and experience the whole thing through their eyes (while they were open, anyway - Griffin fell asleep on my lap with about a half an hour to go). 

And while a massive bucket of popcorn at 10:30 in the morning might not be an ideal breakfast, it can't be any worse than their daily meeting with that lucky leprechaun and his magically delicious marshmallows. 

I was never a big Ben Stiller fan.  I can appreciate his talent but always found him to be a bit unlikable on screen. Oddly enough, that wasn't the case with the second installment of the Night at the Museum franchise and I think that's part of the reason I prefer the sequel to the original.  

Another reason is the supporting cast.  I love Dick Van Dyke (one of the villains in the first movie), but he didn't have a lot to do and was absent for most of the film.  The MVP of Smithsonian has got to be Hank Azaria.  Playing the main heavy, Kahmunrah, with an accent borrowed from Boris Karloff along with providing the voices of The Thinker and Abe Lincoln, Azaria really delivers.  His scene with a certain green muppet and a black cloaked bad guy is hysterical.  

Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan, returning as miniatures brought to life, are very funny as is Bill Hader as a crazed General Custer.  I can never tell Amy Adams and Amy Ryan apart but I can assure you one of them is in this movie playing a fast talking Amelia Earhart (I almost said whip-smart, but I can't stand that phrase).   And while Jonah Hill might already be overstaying his 15 minutes of fame, his scene here with Stiller is pretty strong.  

The only disappointment is the usually dependable Christopher Guest has absolutely nothing to do here as Ivan the Terrible.  Oh, and the Jonas Brothers make an appearance but it's brief so no real harm done.  

I can't say I'm looking forward to Night at the Museum: Brunch at the Whitney (in 3D), but as long as this one stays in heavy rotation at our house, I can't complain.  

We rented this DVD late last week and Jackson has already watched it start to finish three times.  So I think it's safe to say it gets a healthy thumbs up from him.  

I wanted to see the film when it was in the theaters but like so many other releases over the past few years, we missed it.  So one night after everyone went to sleep, I watched it and loved it.  

I never read the book (written by Roald Dahl) so I can't speak to how faithful an adaptation it is, but I definitely recognize Dahl's trademark darkness as well as his fascination for pretty despicable human beings.  The other major element at work here is the director Wes Anderson, who has a healthy bag of idiosyncrasies of his own. I happen to be a fan of Anderson's films but of course your mileage may vary.  

The film stars George Clooney, perfectly cast as Mr. Fox, and Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox. Jason Schwartzman, who I sometimes like, sometimes don't, is great here as their son Ash.  Other standouts include Wally Wolodarsky as Kylie, Eric Anderson as Kristofferson and Michael Gambon as the hideously evil Mr. Bean.  

Completing the experience is an old school stop motion animation reminiscent of the old Davey and Goliath show and a great soundtrack that includes the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, the Bobby Fuller Four and Burl Ives.

There are a couple of scenes that are pretty intense, including the killing of some animals, so keep that in mind if your kids are sensitive to that sort of thing (as opposed to the kids who relish it, I suppose).  

Judging by the box office totals, I am officially the last man on the planet to have seen Toy Story 3 and news flash - it's awesome.  

Jackson's birthday is coming up and he wanted to take a bunch of his buddies to the movies and this was his movie of choice.  Having loved Toy Story and Toy Story 2, I wasn't disappointed one bit with his selection.  Plus we decided Inception was probably not appropriate for 6 and 7 year olds.  Yes, we were probably being overly protective, but better safe than sorry.  

Anyway, as you probably know by now the film packs a lot more emotion than the first two and to paraphrase the old Superman tagline, you will believe a Dad can cry. I'm pretty sure Jackson's friends think there's something seriously wrong with me but that's okay because I'm positive there's something seriously wrong with most of them.  So now we're even.  

I'm not going to go over the plot points because you really should see it for yourself but high points include the opening action sequence, the Ken doll (voiced by the very under-appreciated Michael Keaton) and of course the returning cast of characters led by Woody and Buzz.  

A word of caution, however, goes to those with really young ones - there are some very intense scenes that would probably be too much for kids of a certain age.  Griffin just turned 3 and I'm pretty sure he would have been running to the lobby on more than one occasion had we chosen to take him.  

My only complaint - we saw the movie in 3D and I had several problems with this growing trend.  First of all, the movie would have been just as good in 2D.  3D added very little to the experience.  Hell, the Fifth Dimension could have sat down next to me and sang "The Age of Aquarius" during the previews and it still would've been a great movie.  Also, we sat on the side of the theater and the angle didn't quite work. But most importantly, it was 4 bucks extra per ticket and movie tickets aren't exactly a bargain to begin with.  Granted, the site of 10 kids all wearing oversized wayfarers was pretty funny to look at but was it worth the extra expense?  I say no.  

So by all means see the movie - and bring some tissues - but save the extra dough and skip the 3D.  

It took me a while to figure out why this movie didn't do it for me and now, after 70-80 viewings, I think I got it...

First of all, it should go without saying that even a bad Pixar movie is still better than almost every other kids movie out there (it should have gone without saying, but I said it anyway).  

Also, I'm in the minority here - there are a lot of people who love this movie. There are also a lot of people who love sour cream, though, and we all know how gross that is.  

Now then, back to the movie - one positive thing I can say about it is it looks amazing.  Especially the views of Paris. Unfortunately, the realism is also one of its faults.  Any of the scenes that feature hundreds, if not thousands, of rats scurrying about is just nauseating.  Not to mention the scenes where they're preparing food.  

My main complaint, though, is with the characters themselves.  There's hardly anyone likable in this movie, which is very unusual for a Pixar, who traditionally have a knack for making even the most obnoxious creatures entertaining.  

But not here.  Remy, the main rat, is essentially a snob who longs for finer food and a more cultured life than the typical rat living on the tracks of the E train.  He's voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt, who has a cult like following, but to me has a voice that's like fingers on a blackboard.  And I don't mean that in a good way.  

The other lead, Linguini, Remy's human counterpart, is basically a whiny bitch (not surprisingly, the whiny bitch action figures under-performed at Toys R Us).  

The rest of the cast isn't much better - the only real humor comes from Remy's rat brother who is perfectly content eating anything and everything.  Everyone else is just pretty mean.  

Ultimately, there are many lessons to be learned from this film but the main one for me is that France has a massive, extremely animated, rat population.  That's gotta be great for tourism.