Archives for July 22, 2021

A Cinderella Story: Starstruck * A Uniquely Humorous Family Film With Great Characters And Even Better Actors

Finley Tremaine, a small town farm girl, longs to spread her wings and soar as an aspiring performer. When a Hollywood film crew arrives in her sleepy town, she is determined to land a role in the production and captures the attention of handsome lead actor, Jackson Stone. Unfortunately, a botched audition forces her to change course. Now, disguised as cowboy “Huck,” Finley finally gets her big break. But can she keep the charade a secret from everyone, including her evil stepmother and devious step-siblings? KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Kyla C. comments, “Do you love Cinderella stories? Are you looking for a brand new, humorous and unique family film that has excellent characters and even better actors? You need to watch A Cinderella Story: Starstruck. It’s one of my favorites of 2021 so far, and it’s suitable for nearly any audience!”

A Cinderella Story: Starstruck

By Kyla C, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 12

Do you love Cinderella stories? Are you looking for a brand new, humorous and unique family film that has excellent characters and even better actors? You need to watch A Cinderella Story: Starstruck. It’s one of my favorites of 2021 so far, and it’s suitable for nearly any audience!

Finley Tremaine (Bailee Madison) is not your average Cinderella and neither is this story. Finley aspires to be a Hollywood star, so when a new action film comes to town, bringing famous actor Jackson Stone (Michael Evans Behling) along with it, she becomes focused on the audition stage. The film spirals into drama as Finley faces a constant inner conflict and tries to be more than one person. Will she keep her secret? The fear of discovery is constant, and she soon realizes that honesty could truly be the best policy, especially when it comes to her dream.

A Cinderella Story: Starstruck checks every box. The cinematography is better than most of what I’ve seen. The lighting and perspective make the images natural, and they use tons of creative angles. The cinematographers seem to have lots of tricks up their sleeves to make this film look amazing. Settings are chosen with precision; though some do seem a bit extraordinary for a normal town and farm land. However, we constantly see colorful views that leave me in awe. The film is a Cinderella story, but it isn’t easily predicted like most new versions are. It’s probably the most innovative princess story I’ve ever seen. The resemblances to the original Cinderella are hard to find, but are there nonetheless. Instead of mice, Finley’s support friends are the farm animals. There’s a unique addition behind every twist and turn of the plot. One of the best touches that I like is including a stepbrother, Kale (Richard Harmon), along with the traditional stepsister, Saffron (Lillian Doucet- Roche). These two siblings argue a lot; another different aspect between this version and the original. The stepmother, Valerian (April Telek), is as unbearable as always, though she’s still a great character. Lastly, the acting is truly magnificent. It doesn’t feel like acting. The actors seem to have real bonding, which is special. Richard Harmon as Kale, Bailee Madison as Finley and Michael Evans Behling as Jackson give some of the best performances. Kale is a difficult character to play, as there aren’t really similar characters in other Cinderella stories. Richard Harmon pulls off the role with astounding ability, setting a great example for any future step brothers.

The message of A Cinderella Story: Starstruck is to follow your dream. Parents should be aware that there is some mild language and action.

I give A Cinderella Story: Starstruck 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 9 to 18, plus adults. It releases on digitally June 29, 2021 and on DVD July 12, 2021, so don’t miss it!

A Fun-Filled Musical Comedy Perfect For Theatre Kids And Musical Lovers!

A couple, Melissa and Josh, go on a backpacking trip in an attempt to patch up their failing relationship, only to find themselves still arguing. They then discover a magical town called Schmigadoon, which is perpetually trapped in a Golden Age-style musical, and slowly realize that they cannot leave until they find true love. The title and concept is a parody of the 1947 Broadway musical Brigadoon. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Katie F. comments, “Schmigadoon! is a fun-filled musical comedy perfect for theatre kids and musical lovers! The cast of this new series has some famous faces like: Keegan-Michael Key, Dove Cameron, Kristen Chenoworth and many more!” See her full review below.

Schmigadoon!

By Katie F., KIDS FIRST! Film Critics, age 12

Schmigadoon! is a fun-filled musical comedy perfect for theatre kids and musical lovers! The cast of this new series has some famous faces like: Keegan-Michael Key, Dove Cameron, Kristen Chenoworth and many more! 

On a bonding trip, lovers Josh and Melissa accidentally find themselves in the 1940’s musical town of Schmigadoon. Josh and Melissa see everyone bursting into song and dance and soon discover that they can’t go home until they find true love. Do they have it? Will they find it? Watch Schmigadoon! to find out!

The cast of Schmigadoon! stands out and so do the sets  Josh Skinner (Keegan-Michael Key) is not excited about this musical town and tries everything he can to get away from all the singing and dancing. Josh experiences many emotional highs and lows: engagement, break-ups and drama. Melissa (Cecily Strong) is the one who decides on the bonding trip which leads them to Schmigadoon!  She does enjoy the musical town and, eventually, joins in on the fun.

The scary Mrs. Mildred Layton (Kristen Chenoworth), wife of Reverend Layton, is the leader of the “Mothers of the Future” organization and isn’t very fond of Josh and Melissa’s arrival. As well as Josh, Mildred is also trying everything she can to get them to leave, as she thinks they are ruining “her” town. Betsy (Dove Cameron) is a young waitress who takes a quick interest in Dr. Skinner and tries to be his true love.  Enchanting and wise school teacher Emma Tate (Arianna DeBose) doesn’t care much for love and focuses on teaching the children, but all that changes when she meets Josh. 

The set replicates a genuine theatre stage set, creating a definitive boundary between the real world and Schmigadoon!’s stage set—I love that. The music is all taken from mid-1900s musicals, but the words have been changed. You’ll spend all day singing the tunes in your head, trying to figure out what the original songs are. I love the contrast in costumes from Josh and Melissa’s modern day clothes to the town’s 1940’s outfits. 

While there is more than one message to the story, the main one is that when hope looks lost don’t give up (and maybe add a bit of song and dance).

I give Schmigadoon! 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18, plus adults, but strongly recommend this for theatre kids. This series does contain strong language and some slightly inappropriate scenes. You can find Schmigadoon! starting July 16, 2021 on Apple TV. I’m looking forward to a season 2 already!

Black Widow * Everything A Classic Marvel Fan Would Enjoy, Yet Is Easily Understood By Newcomers

In Marvel Studios’ action-packed spy thriller Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.

Black Widow is a 2021 American superhero film based on Marvel Comics featuring the character of the same name. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it is the 24th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film was directed by Cate Shortland from a screenplay by Eric Pearson, and stars Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow alongside Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, Olga Kurylenko, William Hurt, Ray Winstone and Rachel Weisz. Set after the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016), the film sees Romanoff on the run and forced to confront a conspiracy tied to her past.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Jude A. comments, “Black Widow! Black Widow has everything a classic Marvel fan would enjoy, yet is easily understood by viewers with no prior knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Behind all the superhero cowls is fantastic character development.” See his full review below.

Black Widow

By Jude A., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

After multiple delays, Marvel Studios finally delivers on their promise to bring forth the new action-packed superhero blockbuster, Black Widow! Black Widow has everything a classic Marvel fan would enjoy, yet is easily understood by viewers with no prior knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Behind all the superhero cowls is fantastic character development. Each character experiences a different emotional journey, finding themselves in an extremely different emotional place compared to the beginning of the film.

Black Widow serves as a prequel to Avengers: Infinity War, shining light on plot lines we had no clue occurred. The film picks up right after the events of Captain America: Civil War where Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is on the run from the U.S. government. When Natasha is attacked by the iconic villain Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko), she is led to confront her past. When she learns the Red Room is still functioning (kidnapping and training widows), she must team up with unlikely allies to defeat the organization once and for all.

For comic book junkies there is always a worry that superhero movies will sometimes be a bore, because you already know the story so well. Black Widow abolishes this worry with multiple twists and turns that are new to comic book fans, yet are very respectful to classic superhero origins. When people think of the character Black Widow, they extremely undermine the grittiness of her backstory. Director Cate Shortland is marvelous at mixing in Natasha’s dark past to boost her character development and show what drives her day today.

Black Widow is one of the darkest Marvel movies to date. Throughout the film, rough and sensitive topics present themselves such as child trafficking, drug use and suicide. The film also includes multiple curse words and many different instances of intense action. Despite the gloomy tone, the film explores themes of family and reminiscence. Morals are taught to younger viewers demonstrating the message that people can change; you just need to give them a chance.

I give Black Widow 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 13 to 18, plus adults. You can stream Black Widow on Disney+ with premiere access or watch it in your local theater on July 9, 2021. Make sure to check it out!

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain * A Personal, Honest Look Into The Life Of Anthony Bourdain

It’s not where you go. It’s what you leave behind…. Chef, writer, adventurer, and provocateur: Anthony Bourdain lived his life unabashedly. Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at how an anonymous chef became a world-renowned cultural icon. From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?), this unflinching look at Bourdain reverberates with his presence, in his own voice and in the way he indelibly impacted the world around him. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Eshaan M. comments, “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain offers an incisive look into the life and times of an enigma who raced through life with ferocity, grit, and a truly remarkable nonchalant attitude. A tale of a man who continued to barrel through life like a steam locomotive, picking up emotional baggage, shattering relationships, and joking about darkness all along the way.” Benjamin P. adds, “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is a personal, honest—albeit loving—look at and into the life of Anthony Bourdain and all the various detours it took.  This documentary charts his journey from chef to writer to acclaimed TV host, as told by his closest friends, the people he worked with, and his family.” See their full reviews below.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

By Eshaan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain offers an incisive look into the life and times of an enigma who raced through life with ferocity, grit, and a truly remarkable nonchalant attitude. A tale of a man who continued to barrel through life like a steam locomotive, picking up emotional baggage, shattering relationships, and joking about darkness all along the way. A great story of one of the greatest raconteurs whose story ended too quickly. This is Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.

Renowned chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain seduced New Yorkers’ stomachs years before he enraptured audiences with shows like A Cook’s Tour, No Reservations, and of course, the famous Parts Unknown. And even before his culinary career, Bourdain hit one of the lowest lows of his life, with a destructive heroin and cocaine addiction that he attributes to a visceral, angry response to the love and affection of his parents. Roadrunner largely summarizes Tony Bourdain’s adolescence, skipping to the publication of his bestselling memoir Kitchen Confidential which first launched him overnight into the show-biz. The film chronicles Bourdain and his crew’s adventures, getting caught up in the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in Beirut, eating exotic items in the far reaches of East Asia, and making deep and long-lasting friendships all along the way. Bourdain forsook his home life for these travels. The film also documents the later chapter of Anthony Bourdain’s life, wherein he was betrayed by love, struggled to cope with his emotions, his agoraphobia, and his growing sense of insecurity about fatherhood. In a heart wrenching sequence, the film documents Bourdain’s suicide and the responses of his loved ones to this event.

It’s an incredible film, a journalistic undertaking by award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville that won my heart. The magical voice of Bourdain guides the film. Scenes from his shows, archival footage, Bourdain’s Instagram stories, and interviews with his close circle of friends and family, including his second wife Ottavia Busia-Bourdain and his friend Chef Eric Ripert, are tied together to tell an enchanting story that genuinely is not depressing or dark. To paraphrase Busia-Bourdain’s quote in the film, Anthony Bourdain was more than the acts he committed near the end of his 61 years of life, and much like him, Roadrunner brings much light into the viewers’ hearts. The editing and musical score, especially the careful inclusion of the title song from the 1970 film “Violent City,” about a man who takes revenge on his unfaithful lover, help move the story forward and provide a deeper meaning to an already superb film.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is a reminder to all of us that we have someone we can reach out to, we have a reason to live, we have a reason to enjoy every moment of our lives, and we have a reason to be the best version of ourselves. Given Bourdain’s colorful personality, one wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there is cursing throughout the film and mentions of suicide and taking drugs also pop up over the course of the 2-hour piece.

I give Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 15 to 18, plus adults. The film had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 11, 2021. It is scheduled to be released on July 16, 2021, by Focus Features, after which it will air on CNN and HBO Max on an unspecified date.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

By Benjamin P., Kids First! Film Critic, age 15

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is a personal, honest—albeit loving—look at and into the life of Anthony Bourdain and all the various detours it took.  This documentary charts his journey from chef to writer to acclaimed TV host, as told by his closest friends, the people he worked with, and his family.

After an opening credits sequence that runs through the years leading up to Bourdain’s career as a chef, Roadrunner begins its sprint in 1999 after he’s secured a deal to write a book about his experiences in the restaurant world, Kitchen Confidential, the New York Times bestseller that would put Bourdain on the talk show circuit, and kickstart his ascent towards celebrity. In preparation for writing his second memoir, A Chef’s Tour, he was approached by TV producers who pitched an ongoing series in tandem with the upcoming book, thus forming a partnership that would spawn multiple shows, win several Emmys and begin Bourdain’s long tenure on television screens and secure his status as a world-famous traveler.

This film is a challenge on many levels.  For starters, Bourdain’s suicide is still a recent event in the public eye, and, I’m certain, a fresh wound for those who knew him. It’s difficult to watch a feature-length story of someone’s whole life, knowing that it’s going to end so inevitably, suddenly, and sadly; however, Roadrunner succeeds by showing us Bourdain in his totality which balances the sadness of his inevitable end. And yet, audiences may find it unavoidable to wonder who he really was, along with his loved ones striving to answer the question: Who was Anthony Bourdain off-screen?

Roadrunner mirrors Bourdain’s own frequent departures from home and journeys to parts unknown, taking us back and forth from his television world and his home life with his daughter. We see a conversation between Bourdain and a friend, where they discuss the paradox of wanting to return home when they’re away, but immediately wanting to get back on the road when they get home. This tragic conversation gets right to the heart of the movie’s title, Roadrunner, and just how reflective it was of Bourdain’s own everyday life.

After a TV episode goes awry, Bourdain talks about his faltering belief in the power of the table at which we eat and share, yet Roadrunner becomes a testament to that power. Nearly every interview in the film is organized across a table, where deeply personal details and anecdotes from those who knew Bourdain are exchanged. Director Neville operates with a wealth of outtakes from his TV shows and all the excess footage of Bourdain’s 20 years on screen, but it’s these genuine moments with Bourdain’s tribe that cut the deepest.

I give Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 15 to 18, plus adults, for mild language and strong themes throughout. Roadrunner lands in theaters on July 16, 2021.

We the People * Innovative Way To Teach Civics And Citizenship With Lots Of Music And Animation

Learn the basics of rights and citizenship with upbeat songs by popular artists like Janelle Monáe, H.E.R., Adam Lambert, Brandi Carlile and more. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Nathalia J. comments, “I love the catchy tunes, the perfectly rhyming lyrics, the animation and the lessons of the new ten episode series, We the People. I love how it includes animations such as women and men united, jumping above the clouds, almost like collecting all the facts as they jump in the air.” Zoe C. adds, “We The People is a very innovative way to learn about history and social studies. Most importantly, it helps us understand things that are part of our everyday lives that we either take for granted or don’t fully understand or appreciate. These things help us to live better in our community and society. I also love that the show also explores a new way to incorporate music videos and listen to music with a purpose.” See their full reviews below and Nathalia’s interview with creator/director Chris Nee.

We the People

By Nathalia J, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

I love the catchy tunes, the perfectly rhyming lyrics, the animation and the lessons of the new ten episode series, We the People. I love how it includes animations such as women and men united, jumping above the clouds, almost like collecting all the facts as they jump in the air.

Created by Chris Nee, the award-winning creator of Doc McStuffins and Vampirina, and executive produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, We the People takes civics lessons to a whole new level for kids like me.

This series is a call to action to rethink civics as a living, breathing thing as it reframes the understanding of what government and citizenship mean in the modern world. The opening minutes of each episode give you a preview of what’s to come, sharing minor facts about the topic the episode addresses before it plunges into the specifics. Each topic is covered thoroughly, which helps young viewers grasp the importance of each topic and not simply focus on the catchy tune that accompanies it. For example, instead of just talking about the federal vs. state power, a song explains how choices by the feds or the state affect our daily lives and how we have a choice in who holds positions of power. The songs included are all upbeat original songs performed by popular contemporary artists such as H.E.R., Janelle Monáe, Brandi Carlile, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Adam Lambert, Cordae, Bebe Rexha, KYLE, Andra Day and poet Amanda Gorman.

A huge part of this series is the animation which, as a visual person, attracts and holds my attention. When the facts are played out in powerful pictures with great colors and cool designs, I’m immediately hooked! Ten of the world’s leading animation directors contributed to this show – men and women, LGBTQ+ and various ethnicities, including Oscar winner Peter Ramsey (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), Jorge R. Gutierrez (Netflix’s Maya and the Three), Trisha Gum (The Lego Batman Movie), Jorge R. Gutierrez (The Book of Life), Victoria Vincent (A Dog That Smokes Weed), Benjy Brooke (Teen Titans Go! To The Movies), Mabel Ye (Kid Cosmic), Tim Rauch (Mushroom Park), Daron Nefcy (Star vs. the Forces of Evil), Everett Downing (My Dad the Bounty Hunter) and Kendra Ryan (We the People). I love that this film practices its message of inclusivity behind the scenes as well as on-screen. My favorite episode is most definitely episode three, “Taxes.”

The message of this film is that we are the future and we have a voice! Let’s continue to educate ourselves and our peers and speak up for the right, against the wrong. Let’s make a difference and help one another. We are the people. 

I give We the People 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 10 to 18, plus adults. It releases July 4, 2021, on Netflix. Look for it!

We The People

By Zoë C., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

We The People is a very innovative way to learn about history and social studies. Most importantly, it helps us understand things that are part of our everyday lives that we either take for granted or don’t fully understand or appreciate. These things help us to live better in our community and society. I also love that the show also explores a new way to incorporate music videos and listen to music with a purpose.

I didn’t know what to expect from this ten part series; I love that the episodes are very short, because they are just the length of a song. Each composition has a different style in terms of animation and color palette; all according to the story. We the People consists of ten eye-candy episodes with captivating lyrics, contemporary rhythms, lots of creativity and fundamental storytelling.

We The People is produced by accomplished children’s television writer Chris Nee who began her career at Sesame Street International and has been honored with a Peabody, Humanitas, NAACP and Emmy awards. In this project she teamed up with Barack and Michelle Obama with whom she previously worked pm other educational and fun projects. This is the content we need and our generation should appreciate it. The production company Higher Ground which produced the series was created with the purpose of creating not only entertaining programming, but informative and inspirational as well. I can affirm that this content positively impacted me and I am happy to spread the word and recommend it. The series proves the great power of music in establishing strong and effective connections with audience. The inclusion of the artists that participate is brilliant and includes some of the top music artist such as H.E.R, Cordae, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Janelle Monae. The powerful poet, Amanda Gorman, is also an important voice in this series. Each episode has a different director and the topics range from “Active Citizenship,” to “Taxes,” “Immigration” and more.

I give We The People 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 7 to 18, plus adults. Although the themes are more appropriate for late elementary and middle school kids, really everyone in the family will love the music, the message and the beautiful images.

Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One * Batman’s Early Years Before He Became Who He Is Now

It’s a dark time in Gotham City. Held hostage by the powerful Falcone crime family, the city is rife with crime and corruption. Adding to the chaos is the mysterious Holiday killer, who has been targeting the underworld and leaving a trail of terror… and body bags. Batman, Lieutenant Gordon, and D.A. Harvey Dent race against the calendar as it advances toward the next ill-fated holiday. Based on the critically acclaimed graphic novel, Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One begins a twisted chain of events that will forever change the Dark Knight. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Ayden P. comments, “Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One offers a decent take on Batman’s early years before Batman evolved into the great detective he is now. Like the other Batman films, Gotham does not appear to be the best place to live. This film stands apart from other animated Batman films because it shows Batman as a novice detective.” See his full review below.

Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One

By Ayden Payne, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One offers a decent take on Batman’s early years before Batman evolved into the great detective he is now. Like the other Batman films, Gotham does not appear to be the best place to live. This film stands apart from other animated Batman films because it shows Batman as a novice detective.

The story begins with a brutal murder on Halloween, which prompts Batman (Jensen Ackles) to team up with the two uncorrupt lawmen Police Captain James Gordon (Billy Burke) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel). They team up to take down Roman, the head of the notorious and powerful Falcone Crime Family. As the team works together, something unexpected occurs. There is a string of deaths that occurs on holidays; then the three realize that they are dealing with a holiday killer. After some investigation, with Batman following the clues, he thinks he knows who the holiday killer is, but he discovers the high cost of being wrong.

Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One incorporates settings that are typical in a Batman film. Since the film takes a look at Batman in his earlier years, it helps viewers to understand why he feels compelled to over analyze things. The film’s lack of transition between holidays, which is integral to the plot, is a little confusing; the story moves swiftly from one holiday to the next, and only when something occurs related to the holiday do we know when it is taking place. The animation is reminiscent of Batman the Animated series – nothing too exciting, but workable. The images have lots of straight lines, which gives a different look to the characters, but not so much that it distracts from the plot. Batman is still my favorite character and I like seeing his evolution in the film; as the seasons come and go, he grows.

The message of this film is that sometimes you have to rely on others to help you overcome big problems. Another reminder is to not be afraid to question the evidence before assuming someone is guilty.

Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One gets 3 out of 5 stars and I recommend it for ages 12 to 18, plus adults. This is available now on DVD and on demand.