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In Canada in 1896, a train led by a steam locomotive arrives in a small town not too far from Vancouver. The exact date is not that important, though "1896" appears on screen, but later a tombstone says 1898 even though it is not possible for two years to have passed.
The woman who gets off the train is Emily, an attractive and nicely dressed woman from Chicago. She pays Laser (pronounced lass-er, not lai-zer), whose ad was responsible for attracting the members of the group who Laser intends to lead to Dawson to search for gold. The journey will be a difficult one because there is not a clear route, though Laser has marked the approximate route on a map, showing that rivers will be used at some point.
Carl takes care of the horses which most of the members of the group ride and there is potential for romance between him and Emily Marie appears to be the cook, and her husband Otto takes care of the food. They have a covered wagon. Muller is a journalist whose primary interest is documenting the journey.
It's not long before Laser shows evidence that he doesn't know what he's doing, but that he only wanted the other people's money. And more than once, the group is advised not to continue by people in the towns because it will be very difficult to get to Dawson. Indians are helpful, though they want money, and not everyone believes they should be trusted, even though Indians would know more than the others who have not been there. Most of the members are very determined to continue despite many obstacles.
Two men show up in one town and ask "Grandpa" if he saw a group of Germans. They appear to desire harm to the group.
In the wilderness, justice and medicine are very different from how they are in town. And not everyone is going to make it to Dawson. I won't say whether anyone actually does.
Is this any good? Maybe. It illustrates the difficulty of being among the first in an area, and having to cope when there is no one else around for miles to help. Sometimes there is merely tension, sometimes danger, and sometimes the mood is just plain dismal.
Much of the acting is the same quality as what might be expected when a group sits around the table reading the script for the first time. Some acting is better than that. Even if the acting isn't all that good, the story is good, if you like this sort of thing. I wasn't all that entertained but this just isn't my type of movie.
Though this is supposedly set in 1896, a lot of the "music" sounds more like 1996. It might actually be appropriate but so much of it seems like just noise. Several scenes do benefit from an eerie new age sound that could actually have been performed during the time period, enhancing a very dismal atmosphere. Rossmann does play the banjo, but not nearly enough. He's pretty good, meaning real.
The scenery is beautiful. Some areas don't have trees and don't look quite as good, but that doesn't mean it's not still impressive. Personally I like the trees better than what looks like desert.
I forgot to look for the statement that no animals were harmed. Assuming there was one, a couple of horses do some good stunt work. Or at least someone does a good job of making it look like a horse had an impressive fall.
The movie doesn't quite live up to its title, but it's not too bad, I guess.
A Perfect Christmas List (2014)
Pleasant and funny holiday story
Sara is a successful children's author. Shortly before Christmas she is touring and reading her books about a mouse to children, and her new book is about to hit the shelves.
But in her home town of Sunny Valley, California, Sara's grandmother Evie falls and is taken to the hospital. Sara's father Tim calls her and asks her to come home, which she is reluctant to do not only because she has her obligations related to her book series, but because she and her critical and perfectionist mother Michelle don't get along.
As expected, the minute Sara arrives, the nasty comments from her mother start. But Evie is in good spirits as her daughter and son- in-law take her home to stay with them for Christmas. Evie may have problems other than her injury, and she must stay in bed except for using a walker to get to the bathroom.
Michelle believes Evie needs to move out of her condo and in to a better place for someone in her situation, but Evie is so independent she doesn't believe Evie will listen.
Amazingly, Evie's young good-looking doctor Brandon makes house calls. Sara meets the man and I think we all know where this is going.
While Brandon is examining Evie, they talk about Evie's future plans. Evie actually agrees she needs to move into a better place. But Michelle only overhears part of the conversation and believes her mother has a week to live. Oh, no! Now she has to do everything Evie wants to make her last days happy. And she can't tell Sara.
Sara visits with her grandmother and learns of her 'Perfect Christmas List". While Evie is not actually dying, she doesn't know how much time she has left and she wants to do everything on a very complicated list while she still can.
Naturally, Michelle agrees to do whatever her mother wants, and she even seems to be getting along with her daughter, even as she continues to show perfectionist tendencies. Any comment that reminds her that her mother might be dying upsets her and makes it absolutely necessary that she put her mother's needs first. This is, of course, hilarious. Ironically, it is Sara who disagrees with the idea of eating processed foods and other junk. And Michelle is not the only one Sara has to convince: on a trip to the grocery, she meets the doctor (what were the chances?) who is buying numerous hot dogs, lots of lemonade, and bacon flavored butter. A doctor? Really?
This is only the first opportunity that Evie's list gives Sara to meet up with the doctor, though that wasn't the intention. And yes, I believe we all know how this will end up.
Who is that handsome soldier in the photograph?
Evie's list gives Michelle and Sara several opportunities to make up for past wrongs and to enjoy the holidays even more. And the ending offers us an important message about the holiday's true meaning.
This is a nice family movie with plenty of humor. It is mostly a formula movie, but I like the formula.
Marion Ross is her usual self. Quite good, at least given this material.
Beth Broderick has some really good scenes as her character must deal with some unpleasant realities, other than what she believes about her mother.
Yanellie Ireland does a great job as a deaf child abandoned by her parents who lives in a children's home.
Is this appropriate for family viewing? Pretty much. You just have to be prepared for some of what might be called "adult themes", but nothing that older children shouldn't see, and probably not a problem for most young children.
The one thing I disliked: Christmas music should not be rock and roll from the 50s or even 70s soft rock performed by cutesy female vocalists. And I am not open to new songs about Christmas. A couple of the old favorites are here, with "Silent Night" as pleasant background music, and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" on a saxophone outside the grocery. The sax player is part of a memorable scene involving a concert everyone seems to enjoy, though some of the instruments are heard only by the movie audience. The real "performers" work at the grocery and are playing non-traditional "instruments".
It's a nice experience for the holidays.
Hairspray Live! (2016)
I saw the John Travolta movie some years ago, but don't remember a whole lot about it.
However, NBC got it right again this year. I don't recall any weaknesses other than the sound being poor in a few cases, and I wasn't able to hear dialogue.
Apparently having an unknown as the lead is the best idea. it worked last year, and Maddie Baillio did a great job. she can sing and dance and has a nice personality.
Harvey Fierstein makes an ideal drag queen. That voice!
Martin Short is surprisingly good as Tracy's father. He is basically the same character Martin Short always plays, but he just stands out so much more than I expected.
While I am kind of a square, most of this music isn't too bad compared to what passes for music in 2016. And there were even songs for someone with my particular taste.
Jennifer Hudson does a great job. her style of singing isn't really my taste, but that's not important. She steals the show when she sings. People will like her.
Ariana Grande is so adorable as the shy best friend, but she really shows her singing and dancing talent later, and she looks good in a short skirt.
What a hypocrite Kristin Chenoweth is! All this emphasis on high moral standards but she shows off her chest. Great job, and she even hits those really high notes.
Dove Cameron does a nice job as the spoiled daughter who thinks she will be Miss Hairspray because of all the strings being pulled.
Ephraim Sykes is quite appealing as Seaweed, the teen who is tired of being a second-class citizen and teaches Tracy the moves she needs to make it, and he really stands out.
I'm sure I left someone out, but I can't think of anyone who didn't do a good job.
I was surprised by the amount of time devoted to the quest for integration, but it's an important message here.
NBC needs to keep doing these musicals.
Holiday Miracle (2014)
Pleasant and funny family holiday fantasy
In Rockford, Michigan, Rick is the sheriff. He won't be much longer, as he has been offered a job as police chief of Grand Rapids. He is alone when he gets a call from daughter Kara. He is pleased to hear from her, but Kara's mother Diane, who Rick describes as "The Spawn of Satan", demands she hang up and go to bed. Rick and Diane are no longer together, and Diane is with Frederico (who is nice) and won't let Kara see her dad for the holiday.
Kara falls asleep and dreams she is at the North Pole where a friendly elf lets her meet Santa Claus and ask him for what she wants for Christmas. She whispers her wish, so we don't hear, and Santa says it will be difficult but he will try.
Tom is one of Rick's deputies and in line to take over. Shirley is the other. Tom brings in a couple of juvenile delinquents and behaves much like Barney Fife, scaring the boys. Then Rick acts as the diplomatic Sheriff Andy, friendly but firm, giving the boys appropriate consequences. The Mayberry similarities don't end there, as Raynor the town drunk comes in wanting to be locked up.
Mr. Harold is depressed because he will be alone this Christmas, as his son lives in Chicago and won't be coming home this year.
Rick seems so nice, but he believes Christmas is a made-up holiday whose purpose is for people to buy junk they don't need. When he gets to go home, where he lives alone with his German Shepherd Max, he is acting like Scrooge and the neighbors annoy him with their demands that he put up lights like they do. He did, however, have a couple of wreaths.
Once inside, Rick is startled by an intruder. It is a kind old man with a white beard, wearing a red and black flannel shirt and faded blue jeans. The man seems to know everything about everyone and he cannot be shaken even by Rick pulling a gun and calling for backup. That means Tom, who was relieved not to have to be around his critical mother-in-law Sylvia who is still pretty and refuses to be called Grandma. Or his son who wanted a Commando video game that cannot be found anywhere.
The old man is taken down to the station and locked up along with Raynor. He continues to behave in certain ways suggesting he is you- know-who, including reciting lyrics from a song about a certain man coming to town. Rick continues to be a Scrooge. Meanwhile, Lucy and her bratty teenage daughter Alana are new in town. The kind Rick shows up again and invites them to the church's Christmas pageant, and to a party Tom and his family are having afterward.
At one point Rick dreams everyone in his life is Santa Claus. This is funny.
I think we can all predict the various events that will happen. And, yes, there are multiple Christmas miracles in this corny but family- friendly story.
Paul Hopper makes the perfect Santa Claus. He never says his name, but at least one person knows that's who he really is.
James Cowans playing Mr. Harold gives another standout performance. Mark Boyd as the town drunk is quite good too. These are the only acting performances really worth mentioning, but this a corny family holiday story and that's what you would tend to expect.
The Christmas pageant is not shown in its entirety but in what we do see, the kids seem to understand the important messages. And there is a hilarious moment that Alfonso Ribeiro should be introducing. Not that the pastor agrees; he is a Scrooge himself, saying The Lord has no sense of humor and never has.
I wish there had been more good music. There's not a lot of Christmas music, or if there is it's not recognizable as Christmas music to me. Most of the so-called "music" is the sort of thing young people enjoy.
I am curious about the V-chip rating used when I saw this. No one (except for one time) curses except the pastor (who apologizes) and even Clark Gable was worse than that, if you know what I mean. Most of the time when a person is about to curse the person is admonished not to. The words "cram it" are quoted from a message from Diane about Kara, but the quote is quickly stopped because no one needs to hear any more.
It's a wonderful family film if you don't have really high expectations. If you're turned off by formula feel-good fluff, turn somewhere else.
Well done, inspiring
Once again, Dolly Parton's family is struggling. It is almost Christmas and the children's presents will total about $25. That's a lot of money for these people. But Dolly's mom won't get anything. She'd like the wedding ring at Mrs. Bass' store and Lee (who once called a ring just metal) would like to give it to her, but the family just doesn't have the money for something like that.
And it's time for the Christmas pageant. Dolly wants so much to be Mary and the other girl gets to do it every year. Her best friend Judy is expected to be the rear end of the donkey. But Dolly asks that Judy be the angel Gabriel, and it causes problems with their friendship since Judy seems to think Dolly is saying Judy isn't good enough for her.
Dolly does get the part of Mary, but Rudy is Joseph and that's not ideal. Judy does get to be Gabriel but it doesn't make her happy, and she and Dolly will have lessons to learn about friendship. Meanwhile, the patient Miss Moody takes Goody's headache powders, again and again.
The Parton kids figure out they can get their mom that ring if they sacrifice their Christmas gifts. And sell everything in sight. And if Dolly cleans Miss Moody's fabulous house (no, teachers aren't paid that well; it was her parents'). And if Dolly sings on the street--and of course we know she's very good. Uncle Billy comes for a visit and Lee does not approve of his way of making a living. Uncle Billy, a singer, reminds his sister Avie Lee that she could have been a celebrity if she had kept singing. And we do get to see she is really good as she performs with the family. And Uncle Billy wants to see Dolly get the chance her mom never had. Dolly will even skip school to do it. Lee won't hear of his daughter having that kind of life.
A new complication: a painted harlot appears dressed all in red with a red Thunderbird and way too much makeup. Mrs. Bass wants that sinful woman to go away. But she keeps coming back, giving Dolly encouragement and even money. Which Mrs. Bass takes away from the little girl because the money (apparently) came from sinful behavior. The painted angel, as Dolly refers to her, returns several times but is never anything but wonderful.
Lee can't get his truck to work and that means trouble for the family, since selling wood he has cut is the only source of income, unless he goes to the mine. There are good-paying jobs there, but it is dangerous work.
More sacrifices are made, more generous gifts given, more lessons learned about the true meaning of Christmas.
And so Christmas arrives. Has the family made enough money for the ring? Forget that. Lee is determined to provide for his family, so he makes that terrible choice. And the family has one crisis after another, and some of these are life-threatening. Will the family make it through? You know they will have to. But it's amazing to watch their mother go through being concerned and then stronger than she has ever had to be.
Once again, we get more wonderful performances. Alyvia Alyn Lind is the perfect young Dolly. When she sings in one scene I actually think I'm hearing the real Dolly.
Jennifer Nettles should have been Emmy nominated last year, but cable shows seem to get most of the nominations, and she's fantastic again but it just won't happen because last year was slightly more challenging.
Gerald McRaney is of course quite good as the preacher grandfather who is so grateful his son-in-law is finally on the right track. And the baptism scene is funny.
Mary Lane Haskell does an outstanding job as the patient teacher, who along with Dolly has an amazing scene in Miss Moody's house.
Hannah Nordberg does a good job as Dolly's best friend.
Farrah Mackenzie is so cute as young Stella, while the real Stella gives us a great performance as the snooty businesswoman who learns an important lesson.
And for someone who was once told she can't act (Her response I believe was something like "Honey I know I can't act. It's your job to make me look good."), well of course Dolly herself does a wonderful job essentially playing herself, but really acting as a sort of angel to her younger self.
The real Dolly also sings several nice songs. They wouldn't be among my choices for a Christmas music radio format. But here they were nice and I'm sure people would like them.
Have I left anyone out? They were all good.
Nothing here is really inappropriate for young kids, but I would be concerned about how some kids handle the life-threatening situations. It's pretty scary. But the way everyone handles what could have been disasters is nothing short of amazing. You know in a kids' movie things will have to work out.
It's a Christmas miracle that everything worked out. A wonderful and inspiring experience for the whole family, with real messages of faith.
The Moment (2013)
Complicated, confusing but apparently well done
The movie begins with a lot of photos of African and Middle Eastern people, in countries where there is instability. What have I gotten myself into? But this is the excellent work of photographer Lee, who is back home in the United States. She has broken up with boyfriend John, but she needs some of her equipment back from him and he's not answering the phone. She goes to his house and it's obvious the place has been abandoned, but there is food no one has eaten (no one human, anyway). Something has happened. She goes to the cops. Sgt. Goodman seems helpful. Later it is clear he has done a thorough job of investigating, and he does come up with answers.
Lee goes to an exhibit of her photography. Her daughter Jessie is also a photographer, but her photos are merely art (very good art, too) rather than serving any substantial purpose. Jessie and Lee have a difficult relationship since Lee was hardly ever around when she was a child. And Lee's father Malik is now her ex-husband but they seem to have a friendly relationship.
The photos are reminders of traumatic events, and with all that is going on in her life, Lee ends up in a mental institution.
Four months earlier, Lee was recovering in a rehab facility from a bombing in Somalia. That's where she met John, who was also hurt and was so nice to her there.
Then we go back to the present. Peter, a lawyer is also in the hospital receiving therapy. Dr. Bloom is treating them both. What a shame. I was enjoying the scenes from the past.
But we'll get back to that. Lee will get out of the hospital and see the storage facility where John works and homeless Thomas lives. Lee and John have an enjoyable relationship which starts with her taking photos of him. Only later does it get troubled.
And back to the present. It gets very confusing. Lee continues her therapy, worried that she killed John because she remembers doing something that could have killed him. Did she really? And Lee and Peter meet and become friends. One reason she likes him: he looks like John, but without a beard. And this is connected with the fact that the credits list a "Real Peter". I won't say why.
Lee's relationship problems are complicated further, both four months ago and in the present, by her difficulties with Jessie.
Also, we get to see Lee at work in Somalia with her translator. I'm going to guess her name is Hawa, from looking at the credits, but I didn't get her name from watching. Actually, I'd like to have seen more of these scenes.
If the back and forth isn't confusing enough, some scenes are repeated, with some missing detail included on the second, third or fourth time.
And we finally get some answers. Not the ones I was expecting or hoping for.
Jennifer Jason Leigh is not that cute teenager from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High". I forget how many years ago that was. Someone in the movie comments that Lee looks younger than her age, but I think she looks her age. In some scenes she makes an effort to look good, but really her looks aren't that important since she has such an appealing personality. When she's not depressing. Even in those other scenes, I eventually adjust because Leigh does such a good job overall. She gives us quite a range of emotions and feelings, from nearly helpless or mentally incapacitated to troubled and confused to very confident, though I'm happiest when she's pleasant and funny. Yes, this is occasionally a romantic comedy.
Martin Henderson effectively shows us two very different characters.
Marianne Jean-Baptiste makes an excellent therapist. I would have been happier if the camera operator could have stayed still in her scenes.
I was very surprised to see Meat Loaf in the credits. I don't care for the singer at all, but I knew the actor playing Sgt. Goodman did a good job, but I never suspected, even though I had seen the name earlier, that it was him.
Alia Shawkat does a good job too as the troubled daughter.
Overall, this is worth seeing, if you're willing to be challenged.
The Last Showing (2014)
Creepy thriller; Englund outstanding
At the start of the movie it's not clear what is going on, but everything seems creepy because of the editing, the camera work, and the music. There is little or no sound telling us what is happening, but there seems to be a party with young people, and we also see a movie theater.
In England, Martin and Allie are a young couple out on a date. He gives her jewelry and then takes her to a multiplex with 12 theaters. Their plan is to watch a horror movie. What they don't know is they are about to be in one.
Stuart is not at the concession stand like he is supposed to be. He is actually in a room where he can watch footage on security cameras. His boss Clive is not happy. He tells Stuart to run the concession stand, and Stuart says there is something wrong with one of the movies. Clive said Stuart is not qualified to fix it because he hasn't had the training in digital movie technology, and that is why after more than 20 years, he is also no longer the projectionist. Stuart protests that he is smart enough to continue as the projectionist, and to fix whatever needs fixing. Still, Clive is the boss. But as we see throughout the movie, Stuart is brilliant at dealing with new technology.
The couple buys their popcorn. There is something wrong with the lemonade, as Allie discovers when she tries some. Stuart has actually tampered with it. And the adventure begins ...
I have seen Robert Englund, but I don't recall whether I've seen him as a horror movie villain, and I certainly haven't seen his trademark role. He is outstanding here as a villain, and now I want to see him in the other role. Here, he is creepy but calm and intelligent, sometimes friendly, occasionally funny, rarely angry. I'm not saying I was rooting for him, but Stuart is the type of villain one is tempted to see succeed.
Emily Berrington does a good job as well. She's pretty and adorable but slightly edgy and quite tough. We don't actually see that much of her, and much of the movie is a cat and mouse game involving Martin and Stuart. Finn Jones is capable of handling himself, but it is a challenge.
Malachi Kirby is tough as a boss when he has the authority, but in a crisis he's more of a coward. That still could mean a good performance.
I don't know the name of the police officer in charge, but he's really good.
There is some violence, but mostly the movie is very tense. It's effective as a thriller. There are so many challenges to be met.
I'm not a fan of horror, but this was really good, mainly due to Englund.
Not too bad but no classic
I saw the original some years ago. I think it was on Fox too. I don't remember much except that Tim Curry's Frank-n-Furter was disgusting.
At the start of this production, a female usher sings outside a movie theater. She goes inside as others arrive to see the movie. She goes behind the concession stand counter, where prices are ridiculously low, but judging from the music, clothing styles and cars, maybe this is supposed to be the 60s. She shines her flashlight on a couple in the theater, so they START kissing.
Then the main feature begins. Tim Curry, known for his role in the original, sits behind a desk and occasionally narrates. He's pretty good at first, but considering he is Tim Curry, there's nothing special about his other appearances. I could even say he seems bored. With him is a woman dressed for business success 1980s-style, with a Sia wig and too much makeup. She acts strange but I'm not sure about her purpose.
And now the real movie starts. A bride and groom exit a beautiful old church resembling Duke University chapel except the Gothic tower is in the middle, not the back. They leave in a '61 Ford Falcon. Brad has something special to say to Janet. Wait, was there a funeral going on at the same time as the wedding? I get the impression we weren't really supposed to notice them, but the funeral participants follow Brad and Janet to the cemetery and sing along as Brad proposes.
Brad and Janet leave in their car, but I can't remember what kind. It's dark and rainy. They see the biker. Then the road dead-ends and they get a flat tire. The two head for a castle that is nearby. And then the fun begins.
Brad and Janet end up in their underwear and are held prisoner and the cast does the first big song and dance number, the one whose name is in the title of this production. Pretty good, actually. And there's a band. I don't remember if that was in the original.
Periodically, the audience reacts. I don't think enough use was made of them. I figured they'd do everything costumed audiences have done at special showings of the original movie for decades. And they may have, in the few cases the audience was shown. "Great Scott!" And everyone pulls out a roll of toilet paper, for example.
We are introduced to the Frankenstein-type creation named Rocky. Nothing that special about him. My first impression was he had Tom Hanks' face, Billy Idol's hair and Arnold Schwarznegger's body.
Our heroes have to escape. But how? And then Janet falls for Rocky, and Frank falls for both Brad and Janet--he's trisexual--and Scott shows up in a wheelchair. And things get weird.
With all the commercial breaks, I was really surprised at how short this actually was. This was supposed to be a great classic movie? I couldn't really figure out why, because it never seemed to amount to anything.
Still, the individual acting and musical performances were quite good for the most part. The music was good if this is what you like. Mostly early 60s-style jazz-influenced rock and roll with a detour into heavy metal at one point. The costumes were great too. And some visual effects were used toward the end--nothing fancy, though, but there was some magic, including freezing some characters. Although they may have been really good at keeping still, not even blinking.
Laverne Cox was deliciously nasty, if you like that sort of thing. I didn't, but I believe it was a fine performance. Just don't try to tell me that was supposed to be a man in drag. Not once did I feel it was a man.
Reeve Carney did a great job as the butler. From his very first line I thought he was one of the best actors.
Annaleigh Ashford did a perfect Cyndi Lauper with attitude, except when singing. She has a different singing style.
Victoria Justice was beautiful and had quite a good singing voice. I loved the look on her face during the big song and dance number, which must have been terrifying to these poor kids. She was at her best later when she seemed to accept being a prisoner. And did I mention she spent most of the movie in underwear?
Adam Lambert didn't fully reach his potential. I know he has talent but Eddie the biker didn't do much. However, I don't think he should have been Brad, who was more of a Clark Kent and not really the type of role that one would associate with Lambert. Ryan McCartan seemed suited to that role.
Ben Vereen is also a talented actor. I don't know what to think of what he did here. It's not his fault. It's the material.
Anyway, I expected this to be another big classic, and while it wasn't anything like that, and not really my taste to begin with, it wasn't a failure either.
The Dog Who Saved Halloween (2011)
Was this Halloween really worth saving?
Ted and Stewey are out of jail. George, Belinda, Zeus and the kids are the new neighbors and it is all they can do to keep from seeming weird. For example, George is out with Zeus the dog, who is scared of thunder, and as a result, George makes a mess of neighbor Eli's Halloween decorations. And the whole neighborhood witnesses George's shame. Eli is a creepy old man resembling Christopher Lloyd with a mean dog Medusa, who never seems to interact with others and appears to have mysterious things going on in his house.
In addition to breaking Eli's Halloween decorations, George appears to have broken something else because he is walking around with a cast or something on his leg and using a cane. For some odd reason, he can get around just fine to investigate the mystery of Eli Cole, but he can't go to work. Belinda goes to work and the kids go to school, leaving George and Zeus to get themselves in various situations.
And what about Ted and Stewey? It is the job of demanding Chloe Cloverfield to see that they do everything right or they're going back to jail. And not for a short time, if she has anything to say about it. Their first job? Cleaning up at a dog park. Apparently this job is done for you if you bring your dog, so you don't have to do it yourself.
George finds his way into Eli's house with Zeus. Eli is not too happy about the situation, but he is friendly in his own creepy way. He doesn't reveal too much other than the fact he is a college professor, but George knows some generators have been stolen from a local power plant and he has seen similar looking equipment delivered to Eli's house.
The neighborhood watch meeting goes pretty much as one might expect. The neighbors aren't any more impressed with the Bannisters than they were the other night. By the way, the gorgeous Monique has lost her beloved black cat Rufus. And one has to wonder how the nerdy web designer Max ended up married to HER?
So how will George solve the mystery? There is another attempt to investigate with his kids. But it's not enough. As you might expect, he takes Zeus to the dog park, where he meets you-know-who. Stewey wants to go straight and become a butcher, but Ted believes he can't succeed in life without doing something illegal which he knows he can get away with if he can just escape afterward. While in yoga class (another of Cloverfield's requirements) they discuss the details, much to the dismay of the instructor, while an actual dog does downward dog.
The big Halloween party is the Bannisters' next chance to impress the neighbors. But what is George doing? You guessed it. So now we'll finally find out what the big mystery is and have some fun along the way.
This is a kids' movie. There are numerous jokes involving bodily functions (both human and dog), some cartoon violence that includes incidents which could kill a person in real life, and one scene where Monica is showing too much of her chest. But it's appropriate family viewing. It would have to be because no one but kids under 12 could possibly be that impressed with it.
Joey Diaz is a great moron who gives the standout performance as Stewey. Dean Cain has done better in his career but he's entertaining enough.
Lance Henriksen gives a quality performance (for this material), at least in his first scenes with George, just creepy enough but not truly scary, so there's no concern for the kids.
Elisa Donovan is the voice of reason and out of the remaining actors playing humans comes the closest to giving a good performance.
Ariana George as Shelley the Spider, Eli's pet, gives us an interesting performance. Only other animals can hear her. Mayim Bialik as Medusa is also pretty good, more angry Blossom than shy scientist Amy.
Zeus is well trained, but his voice actor is nothing to write home about, except in one memorable scene where the dog tries on Halloween costumes.
Mindy Sterling (as Grandma) is not Lily Tomlin. There is a resemblance but Tomlin is better.
The visual effects are effective but not too scary for kids. Eli's house is appropriately scary with moving suits of armor, paintings with eyes that move, and the other kids' horror movie stereotypes.
As for the solution to the big mystery, and the heroic deed of Zeus: only kids will be impressed. The only reason for the movie's name is to connect it with what appear to be numerous sequels to the first one. I can hardly wait.
Oh, well, I had a good time.
Enjoyable adventure with some laughs
The movie begins with home movies of David and his mother bird watching. These home movies show up occasionally.
In New York state, David's mother died a year ago and his father Donald is marrying her nurse Juliana. David is not happy about this.
David continues to enjoy bird watching, and he's a talented artist as well. And of course he draws birds. His father's interest in birds involves killing them; he runs a small chain of fast food restaurants.
David's best friend Timmy likes Evelyn, who is beautiful but may just like Timmy because he does her math homework.
Timmy, David and Peter are members of the high school's bird watching club. In fact, one girl has quit and the guy who joined because he wanted to be with her is kicked out. So the three guys are the only ones left. How to increase membership?
While riding his bike, David sees a duck he thought was extinct. He quickly takes a picture with inferior equipment, but the photo is not good enough to confirm what kind of bird he saw. He and the others consult Dr. Konrad, a bird expert. He gives them advice, including a prediction that the bird is migrating and will stop at a certain lake in Connecticut. David secretly plans a road trip with the guys that his father wouldn't approve of--especially since David could be late for the wedding.
David asks Ellen for the key to the photo lab, and when Ellen discovers a special lens missing, she finds David and asks that it be returned. But when the guys explain, she agrees to let them keep it--IF she gets to go along AND take the special photo.
And so the adventure begins. The kids need a car but only Peter is a licensed driver, and he's kind of a nerd and very nervous. Up until now he has been very confident and very logical. Timmy's cousin Eric has a car and he doesn't actually agree to let the boys borrow it. And are those drugs in the car? And who are those people in the van with the guns? Are they the people Eric is selling drugs for? And how did Evelyn get involved?
The adventure includes laughs, arguments, serious discussions and even some danger. The kids learn a lot about each other and about life. And, yes, we see some birds too, and we hear them. This time they are not just background sounds. David knows the birds by the sounds they make. The scenery is great too.
The big questions: Will the kids find the previously extinct bird? Will it in fact be the bird David thought it was? Will there be a romance? And will David make it to the wedding?
This is a pleasant enough story, with apparently intelligent writing about birds and about life as teenagers. Alex Wolff is the standout actor here, if you don't count Sir Ben Kingsley. More about him later. But Timmy is a great character. And Katie Chang makes quite a contribution also. Ellen has a nice personality and is smart, but she has had trouble making friends because she moves a lot.
Kodi Smit-McPhee does a good job of being an ordinary kid, and is most effective when David has to show grief.
Ben Kingsley makes the most of what turns out to be a small role, but his first scene is not the only one. He really shows his ability later. This isn't the type of movie you would expect him to be in, but his presence adds to the movie.
Is this is good clean family film? Not quite. There is some sex talk and some words make it to broadcast TV that younger kids shouldn't hear, though others have multiple meanings and must therefore be all right. When I saw this, fairly often, the sound went out and a character's mouth was blurred. One word in particular was actually used twice (though I heard a P once before the rest of the word was bleeped), once in subtitles when the guys were speaking Latin, and not to refer to a cat. But I don't think the revelation that Donald Trump used the word in a more vulgar way had any influence on the censors. I think they did their job long before the news about the Donald.
I didn't care for most of the music (but of course this a film for teens), but the guys do like classical music, and several scenes involving the grownups, including the wedding, had jazz that would have fit perfectly in the great Woody Allen movie set in 1940 that I saw the same weekend I saw this.
It's a worthy effort.