The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid(PG Movie).  Directed by Harald Zwart. Sony Pictures, 2010. 140 minutes. $19.94

Plot: Twelve year old Dre Parker lives in Detroit, and then one day he and his mom get on a plane, and all of a sudden he is living in Bejing.  Dre’s mom has a new job in China, and he finds himself in an unfamiliar land, knowing neither the language nor the customs.  His first foray to the playground results in his finding a new friend, Mei, and being beaten up by her friend, Cheng.  Cheng does not think that Mei and Dre should be friends, and Cheng’s continued bullying of Dre make Dre’s life difficult and unhappy.  Dre decides that he needed to learn martial arts to be able to defend himself from Cheng and Cheng’s gang.  Eventually, the maintenance man, Mr. Han, becomes Dre’s Kung Fu master and they train together intensely for a tournament in which Dre has been entered.  This movie is a remake of a movie of the same name from 1984.

Review: Entertaining and exciting, this movie has a lot of great martial arts scenes as well as beautiful views of Beijing and the surrounding Chinese countryside.  Jaden Smith as Dre is cute and witty, vulnerable and brave.  Jackie Chan as Mr. Han is understated and serious, caring and strong.  Dre’s friendship with Mei, played by actress Wenwen Han, is sweet and the two support each other.  The kiss between Dre and Mei seems out of place, given their young age, and I suspect it could be the least popular part of the movie for the many young tween boys who would likely enjoy everything else about this film.  A great film for boys and girls and the whole family, the Karate Kid has positive messages including: never give up, find your inner strength, work hard and respect yourself and others.

Genre(s): Realistic Fiction, Family

Viewing/Interest Level: 9-12 years

Available in: DVD; Blu-ray

Subjects: friendship, kung-fu, dreams, inner strength, bullying

Selected Award: 2010 Kids’ Choice Awards Favorite Movie


The Spy Next Door

The Spy Next Door (PG Movie).  Directed by Brian Levant. Lionsgate, 2010. 94 minutes. $14.98

Plot: In this family comedy Jackie Chan plays Bob Ho, a Chinese spy helping the CIA with a case.  Ho is dating woman next door, a single mother of three, who doesn’t know that he is a spy.  To the kids, he seems like a boring guy, and they vow to keep him away from their mother.  But, Bob is determined for the kids to kids to like him, so he can marry their mother and the five of them can settle down as a family.  He takes on the role of babysitter to the three kids when their mother has to go tend to her injured father.  Bob is planning to retire from being a spy, but things take a turn when it seems there is a mole in the CIA, and Bob get called in, one day into his retirement, to help out.  He is in the position of managing the kids and his search for a Russian spy.  With some great fight scenes that feature Chan’s talent as a a highly skilled martial artist, this film combines elements of comedy with action and adventure to entertain the whole family.

Review: Sometimes silly, sometimes goofy, this action comedy is light on plot, but, contains enough silliness and great martial arts scenes to make it enjoyable.  Jackie Chan plays a seemingly stiff and awkward “normal” guy who is really a top-secret spy.  The fight scenes are almost comical, like a cartoon, no blood is spilled and with Chan jumping around demonstrating his agility and finesse, the bad guys don’t stand a chance.  The stereotypical Russian spies as bad guys are disappointing, but not surprising given that the plot of this movie is fairly basic and predictable.  Even with that, though, I enjoyed watching Chan as both potential step father being challenged by his girlfriend’s three kids on the one hand and being a highly competent and sought after spy on the other.

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Adventure, Family

Viewing/Interest Level: 8-12 years

Available in: DVD; Blu-ray

Subjects: spies, honesty, love, family

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Movie

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (PG Movie).  Directed by Chris Columbus. Warner Bros., 2001. 152 minutes. $19.98

Plot: Following along the lines of the book of the same name, eleven year old Harry Potter is living with his cruel and neglectful aunt, uncle, and cousin when he receives a letter telling him he has been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  Prior to this Harry had not known he was a wizard.  And, as it turns out, Harry’s famous in the wizarding world for not succumbing to an attack by the evil wizard Voldemort.  Once at Hogwarts, Harry, along with his best friends, Ron and Hermoine, get enmeshed in the mystery of the sorcerer’s stone, a magical crystal with the power of immortality.  With encounters with an angry troll, a three headed dog, and a baby dragon, the three friends show a great deal of resourcefulness, determination, and bravery, but danger seems to lurk around every corner.  Will they be able to save the sorcerer’s stone from the evil wizard searching for it?  Will they get through their first year of Hogwarts alive?

Review: Exciting and entertaining, this movie stays amazingly true to the book upon which it is based.  The characters are well developed and intriguing, with a cast of talented actors.  The special effects are well done, if not perfect.  There is a need to suspend disbelief anyway, so why not forget they’re special effects and sit back and enjoy?  The scenery is beautiful and once immersed in the magic of the movie, most viewers will not want to come back to real (I mean, muggle) life.

Genre(s): Fantasy, Adventure, Family, Mystery

Viewing/Interest Level: 8+ years

Available in: DVD; Blu-ray; Wide Screen, Full Screen, and Ultimate Editions

Subjects: magic, wizardry, spells, growing up, coming of age, family, friendship

Series Information: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first movie in an eight movie series, movies two through eight are: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (to be released later in 2011)

To Be Fat Like Me

To Be Fat Like Me (TV Movie, TV-14).  Directed by Douglas Barr. Ardmore Productions, 2007. 90 minutes. $14.95

Plot: Aly’s got it all; she’s pretty, popular, and a star player on her high school softball team.  She’s sure to get offered a softball scholarship this year, until an injury has her sitting on the bench missing all the college scout visits.  So, Aly decides to enter a filmmaking contest hoping to win the prize money to pay for college.  The topic if her film: an inside look into what it’s like to be a fat girl in high school.  Aly’s theory is that if you smile and act friendly, people will respond in kind, and that the size of your body is not relevant.  Then she puts on the fat suit.  Now Aly experiences taunts, teasing and bullying because of her apparent weight.  Will she be able to better understand what it’s like to be fat?  Will she be able to make peace with her mother, who Aly thinks hides behind her weight problems?

Review: This movie has an interesting concept.  There are probably plenty of people, fat and thin, who have ideas about what it might be like to have the opposite body type.  Perhaps this film provides some insight into both sides.  This film deals with some heavy topics: disordered eating, obesity, bullying, and prejudice, among others.  I would give it a B grade.  It provides some pause for thought, but mostly it deals in a fairly superficial way with the topics.  It is enlightening to see Aly struggle with her conflicted feelings of sympathy and empathy toward a fat friend and judgment and disapproval of her overweight mother.  The movie just misses the mark with regard to providing meaningful events.  There were also scenes that were utterly unrealistic, for example, when Aly, in the fat suit, first walked into her summer school classroom a boy in the class mooed, loudly.  He received a look of disapproval from the teacher, but nothing else happened.  This might happen once, but this type of thing happened over and over throughout the movie, lowering its credibility.  This movie covered important topics to address, but did not address them well.

Genre: Drama

Reading/Interest Level: 10-15 years

Available in: DVD, on Lifetime Cable Network, available to buy or rent on iTunes

Subjects: body image, obesity, bullying, popularity, high school, friendship, family

High School Musical

High School Musical (Movie, not rated).  Directed by Kenny Ortega. Buena Vista Home Entertainment/Disney, 2006. 98 minutes. $14.99

Plot: Originally created for the Disney Channel, High School Musical is like Grease for the present time.  Two high school students, Gabriella and Troy, come together from seemingly different worlds to make music together.  They also happen to like each other a lot too.  Gabriella is smart, pretty and being courted by the students in the scholastic decathlon to join in the competition.  Troy is captain of the basketball team, his father is the coach, and they are training for a championship game.  Troy and Gabriella both break out of their expected roles by trying out for the lead roles in the school musical; they even get called back for a second audition.  Gabriella’s friends don’t want her to be in the musical, they think she should concentrate on her studies.  The basketball team – and coach – think Troy needs to keep his “Head in the Game,” (“Keep Your Head in the Game” is also the name of a song from the movie).  Throughout it all, musical numbers with upbeat music and dancing periodically express some of the feelings the characters are dealing with.  Will Troy and Gabriella be able to break out of the roles that others have defined for them?  Will they be able to be friends, even though their friends think they area wrong for each other?

Review: Though the characters are in high school, this is a movie with major tween appeal.  By high school, this movie will likely be uncool.  There are a few worthy messages that this movie conveys: be yourself, follow your heart and dreams, accept yourself and others.  Being a Disney movie, the serious issues are addressed in a fairly superficial way; however, significant concepts are put out there and could stimulate critical thinking about peer pressure, cliques, and fitting in.  The music is an eclectic mix, mostly pop, with some hip-hop and Broadway influences.  The dancing is lively and upbeat.  Everyone is a little too beautiful and things tend to work out a little too well, but, then again, if this were just like real life, tweens probably wouldn’t be interested!  Parents and Guardians who do not like commercialism be warned: High School Musical swag comes in almost every shape and form; this is Disney, after all.

Genre: Musical

Reading/Interest Level: 7-11

Available in: DVD, Blu-ray, there are many books and other accompanying materials, including CD’s of the music from the movie, remixes of the movies, High School Musical, the Concert DVD, and much more

Subjects: high school, cliques, peer pressure, friendship, family, dreams

Series Information: There is also High School Musical 2 (2007), and High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2009)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Movie

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (PG Movie).  Directed by Thor Freudenthal. 20th Century Fox, 2010. 92 minutes. $29.98

Plot: Based on the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Books by Jeff Kinney, “Wimpy Kid” and middle school student Greg Heffley and best friend Rowley find trouble easily.  Convinced he can and must become popular, Greg attempts various activities to achieve that goal.  Rowley does not help Greg much, as, it seems, at every turn, Rowley is behaving in a way that causes Greg extreme embarrassment.  After many failed attempts at popularity, a run in with some bullies, and much gross-out humor along the way, Greg comes to a realization about what really matters.  Hint: it’s not being popular.

Review: Tweens may enjoy the gross humor and antics of Greg and Rowley, adults may not.  The first half of the movie moved slowly and lacked a cohesive plot, but the second half picked up a bit and had more substance.  For fans of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, this movie brings to life some of the familiar scenes, and cleverly integrated line drawings.  But the clever, compelling nature of the books is not paralleled in the movie.

E-Rating: ***

Genre(s): Humor

Reading/Interest Level: 9-13 years

Available in: DVD; Blu-ray; accompanying book,  The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary by Jeff Kinney

Subjects: middle school, popularity, friendship, bullying

Series Information: Movie based on the first book of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid 5-book series by Jeff Kinney

Main Characters

Greg Heffley: main character, diary writer, wimpy kid

Rowley: Greg’s, often immature and lovable, best friend

Rodrick: Greg’s older brother who is intent on torturing Greg as much as possible

Mr. and Mrs. Heffley: Greg’s not-so-cool parents

Angie: Friend of Greg and Rowley, school newspaper reporter