Grammy-award winning singer-storyteller Bill Harley has a great new concert performance DVD for families called Yes to Running: Bill Harley Live. Harley is best known for his funny and clever songs and stories for kids (with some parent-friendly lessons about courage, loyalty, and good manners) like “Zanzibar”, “Monsters In The Bathroom”, “50 Ways To Fool Your Mother”, “You’re In Trouble”, “Dad Threw The TV Out The Window”, “Down in the Backpack” and “The Ballad of Dirty Joe.” You can also hear him on NPR. My favorite of his collections is Dinosaurs Never Say Please, with 50 Ways to Fool Your Mother a close second, and my husband will admit we sometimes play his music even when the kids are not in the car.
A coalition of disability group has called for a boycott of the R-rated satire Tropic Thunder. They are asking people not to see the movie because they say it demeans, insults, and harms individuals with intellectual disabilities by using the “R- word.” Furthermore, it perpetuates derogatory images and stereotypes of individuals with intellectual disabilities including mocking their physical appearance and speech, supports the continuation of inappropriate myths and misperceptions, and legitimizes painful discrimination, exclusion, and bullying.
Special Olympics Chair Timothy Shriver said Some may think we ought to lighten up and not get so worked up because this is, after all, just a film. But films become part of pop culture and character lines are repeated in other settings time and time again. It’s clear to me that lines from this particular film will provide hurtful ammunition outside the movie theatre. While I realize that the film’s creators call this a parody and they never intended to hurt anyone, it doesn’t mean those words won’t.
I respect their concerns for the dignity of the disabled, but they are simply wrong and their comments reflect such a fundamental misunderstanding of the film that it is impossible to believe that anyone connected with these statements actually saw it. I side with the other movie critics who have said that this film is not disrespectful or inappropriate in the treatment of disabled people.
The movie in no way makes fun of developmentally disabled people. On the contrary. It makes fun of pretentious actors who think they can win awards by portraying developmentally disabled people.
Don’t try to swat that enormous insect buzzing a few inches above your popcorn. It’s a hologram-like image hovering in front of you and it is part of the movie. Yes, you have to wear the clunky glasses, but within moments you will forget all about them and be caught up in the pure magic of the 3D technology in the first feature-length animated film completely produced in that format. It is stunningly beautiful and almost hyper-real in its depth of field and meticulousness of detail. The virtual reality is so believable you will feel as though you can reach into each shot and rearrange the furniture.
Unfortunately, the dull characters and weak story keep getting in the way of the gorgeously produced backgrounds. The plot about three young flies who hitch a ride on Apollo 11’s trip to the moon is almost an afterthought.
The starring role here is played by the techies, who focused not just on the 3D effects but also on the science and engineering of the Apollo 11 mission. They relied on NASA records, blueprints of the rocket ships and equipment, and even the audio recordings of the flight to bring extra verisimilitude to the screen. This part of the movie is a flat-out marvel, and the shots of the moon are breathtaking.
The artists who designed the environments designed a community for the houseflies that has some clever detail and some lovely touches, especially the rippling water, so tactile you may feel a little damp.
But all of the imagination seems to end there. The history of animated movies is abuzz with cute cartoon insects, from one of the very first animated features, “Hoppity Goes to Town” to the dapper Jiminy Cricket in “Pinocchio,” “A Bug’s Life”, and “The Ant Bully.” But there is no effort of any kind to give the characters here any distinctive fly qualities. They just look like little humans with antennae and wings, and they are almost interchangeable, with each assigned just one identifying characteristic. One is the leader, one has glasses, and one is fat. Then there are the Soviet flies who want to prevent the rocket from reaching the moon before they do, just poor copies of Boris, Natasha, and Fearless Leader from “Rocky and Bullwinkle.”
But the biggest disappointment is the script, as arid as last year’s Tang. It fails to make us care about the characters or identify with the flies’ dream of going to the moon. It was inspired by a fly grandfather’s reminiscence of saving pioneering pilot Amelia Earhart by flying up her nose (I am not kidding). It is not based on any interest or understanding beyond a vague quest for adventure. It assumes much too much knowledge from today’s children about the space race and the 1960’s. Kids are likely to be confused by the Cold War bad guys and the retro portrayal of the female characters. The girl flies toss their ponytails and giggle and the lead fly’s Stepford-like mother is pretty much limited to fussing over her larvae babies, making dinner, and fainting(!) whenever she is upset. The action scenes are poorly choreographed and hard to follow and the comedy tends toward potty humor and fat jokes. And then the big happy ending is followed by a live action coda with real-life astronaut Buzz Aldrin reminding us that it was all pretend.
The dazzling technology just puts a spotlight on the lackluster script, like a high-definition picture of an out-of-focus subject . If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they tell a better story about sending some flies along for the ride?
August is usually the time of the movie year for silly gross-out comedies, cheaply-made slasher films, and studio inventory they never found the right time to release. And Hollywood is usually very uncomfortable dealing with spiritual themes or religion as anything other than a sham. That makes two of this year’s August releases especially refreshing.
“Henry Poole is Here” is the story of a man who thinks there is nothing left for him. He finds that what he sees as a bad stucco job appears to his neighbor (whose name is Esperanza, which means “hope”) and to the check-out girl at the grocery story (whose name is Patience) like the face of Jesus. And then what looks like a drop of blood appears on the wall. The movie is surprisingly respectful of faith — and doubt — and the clergyman, played by George Lopez, is a thoughtful and compassionate man. The story is a bit reminiscent of the underseen Tortilla Heaven.
And then there’s last year’s Sundance hit, “Hamlet 2.” It is very raunchy and profane. In part, the plot deals with an outrageous high school production of an original play that has Hamlet going back in time to prevent tragedy. Yes, there is a musical number called “Rock Me Sexy Jesus.” Unquestionably, it will offend some in the audience. But in the film, the believers who come to the play to protest end up applauding because, the Jesus character is the one who inspires everyone else to be better and more forgiving. I found it unexpectedly sweet, sincere, and even reverent.
Critics: Which Movied Get Childhood Right? Thanks to Sam Adams and Indiewire for including me in their survey of critics about our favorite movies from the perspective of a child. Here was my answer:
"To Kill a Mockingbird" somehow captures the voice of the novel in allowing us to see ...
Trailer: Honeyglue [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHHQD3RfCA[/youtube]
"Honeyglue" follows the story of Morgan (Adriana Mather), who flips her conservative, protected life upside down after learning she has three months left to live. She sets out on ...
Interview: Jalmari Helander and Onni Tommila of "Big Game" Big Game, now in theaters and on VOD, is an exciting action movie about Oskari, a Finnish kid on a solo hunting trip, who has to save the President of the United States when he is ejected from Air Force One during an attack. I spoke to ...
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