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'The Muppets': These Are the Characters You Loved As A Kid


by Alan Mowbray

The Muppets have not seen the big screen since 1999's Muppets from Space, so Jim Henson's lovable creatures were long overdue to return to the cineplex.

In The Muppets, a fan named Walter (voiced by Peter Linz, It's A Big Big World) is on a backlot tour at the old Muppet Studios while on vacation in Los Angeles with his brother, Gary (Jason Segel, How I Met Your Mother), and Mary, Gary's girlfriend (Amy Adams, Julie & Julia).

No longer in business, the Muppets have all moved on—scattering to the ends of the earth to pursue their dreams, leaving the studio to slowly rot in disrepair. After sneaking off during the tour to take a closer, unauthorized look at Kermit the Frog's former office, Walter is almost discovered by ornery, disagreeable old Muppet characters Stadtler and Waldorf as they conduct the surreptitious presale of Muppet Studios to oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper, The Bourne Supremacy) who, unbeknownst to them, has discovered oil under the property and plans to tear the studio to the ground and drill.

After Walter informs Gary and Mary of the plot, they decide to go find Kermit and tell him of the impending sale. Kermit decides that if they can put on one more show and raise $10 million, they could make enough money to save Muppet Studios. All they have to do is round up the rest of the Muppets. The Great Gonzo is the CEO of Gonzo's Royal Flush, where they make toilets. Fozzie Bear performs in a Reno casino with a group of Muppet impersonators called the Moopets. Animal works at a celeb anger management center. On the other side of the pond, Miss Piggy is a plus-size fashion editor for Vogue Paris a la The Devil Wears Prada.

Can they pull together a show in time to save the old theater? Hilarity ensues. We've all grown up with The Muppet Show or its reruns. We know what to expect. This is classic Muppets, and it doesn't disappoint. Yes, the humor is corny. Yes, there are Muppets flying through the air, crashing into things, explosions, comic fighting and general goofiness. If you're looking for serious, you won't find a drop of it anywhere in this tale. read more

'The Secret World of Arrietty'—A Little Movie With A Big Heart


by Eric Tiansay

I didn't get to see The Secret World of Arrietty when it landed in theaters earlier this year, so my four boys—5-month old baby Blake still too small to care—were excited to catch the movie about little people.

The Secret World of Arrietty is based on British author Mary Norton's children's book series "The Borrowers," which tells the story of 4-inch tall tiny people who live under floorboards and swipe what they need from the Beans (what they call humans) upstairs.

The movie was the year's top grossing film when it was released in Japan in 2010, winning the Animation of the Year award. Translated, dubbed by an American cast and distributed stateside by Walt Disney Pictures, The Secret World of Arrietty was made by legendary Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away and Ponyo).

My wife, Tammy, had read The Borrowers to two of our older sons, Alex and Andrew, so they were obviously excited to watch the film version.

Arrietty (voiced by Disney TV star Bridgit Mendler) is a plucky 14-year-old Borrower who is eager to go on her first "borrowing" with her father, Pod (Will Arnett), on a night-time expedition into the Beans' house to get a sugar cube and one tissue.

Despite angst from her hysterical mother, Homily (Amy Poehler), Arrietty goes with her dad, but is seen by sickly 12-year-old Shawn (David Henrie), who tries to befriend her. Arrietty (AIR-ee-ett-ee) slowly trusts Shawn. However, after they have been seen, Borrowers must leave their home and relocate to a new one. Meanwhile, the suspicious housekeeper Haru (Carol Burnett) makes it her mission to nab the Borrowers. read more

'The Adventures of Tintin' Offers Thrills, Spills and Fun


by Alan Mowbray

Are you thirsty for a little adventure? How about a mysterious sunken ship? Maybe being kidnapped and loaded on to a freighter bound for ...? Want to attempt to refuel a single-engine airplane in-flight? From a bottle? And, even better—pirates.

If you answered yes, The Adventures of Tintin is your ticket. Based on a series of Belgian comic books from the 1940s, the story, set primarily in Europe, centers on Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell, King Kong), a young journalist famous for solving crimes.

The movie begins with Tintin—his trusty and amusingly perceptive dog, Snowy, at his side—perusing a local outdoor marketplace, where he spies a stunningly detailed model of an old three-masted ship set for sale. He haggles the price, pays for the man-of-war model and takes possession. Within seconds of purchase, a man with an unscrupulous look about him named Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig—the current James Bond) appears—offering a large sum in exchange. Tintin refuses the offer, setting him up for an adventure of intrigue, danger and treasure.

From the start, Tintin pulls you in with its seemingly non-stop action. As the starting credits roll, you are entertained by little animated snippets of Tintin and Snowy in some of their comic book adventures. These are fun, but when the show really starts, you forget all about the credits.

Initially, my brain had some difficulty with the incredibly detailed animation that director Stephen Spielberg was throwing at me. The Adventures of Tintin is Spielberg's first stab at motion-capture filmmaking, and with "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson working with him as second-unit director and producer, the film elevates the high-tech technique to a new level.

Reminiscent of the motion-capture treatment of The Polar Express, The Adventures of Tintin is a visual buffet of detail and realism with just enough tweaks to let you know it's not truly real. I actually missed some of the initial dialogue because I was concentrating so hard on the incredible realism before me on my living room screen. I actually had to start the DVD over to catch what I missed.

With a hint of Indiana Jones in its DNA, The Adventures of Tintin is a fun, fast-paced flick that any kid will enjoy, although some of the lines are above his or her head. You can tell that although the film garners a PG rating—for adventure action violence, some drunkenness and brief smoking—it's really geared toward the teen and above crowd in the same way that Bugs Bunny jokes mean one thing to a kid and something totally different to an adult.

The Adventures of Tintin features a very strong moral, redemptive message with clear and allegorical Christian content, including references to St. John the Evangelist, light bringing truth and good defeating evil. Bonus features: Along with the DVD and digital and UltraViolet copies, the two-disc set includes a 90-minute, 11-part making-of documentary.

Content Watch: The Adventures of Tintin features some mild language and scenes of stealing by a pickpocket. Capt. Haddock (Andy Serkis, "Lord of the Rings" series) is a drunk, so there is a lot of situations where his alcoholism causes problems. His drinking is never glamorized, although it does drive some of the comedy. In fact, Tintin attempts several times to help him get sober. There is an obvious lesson on how alcohol can ruin a life.

Alan Mowbray is a husband, father of two children and technical writer for an Orlando, Fla., area software company. Visit his blog by clicking here. read more

'Man vs. Wild Game'—Survival of the Funnest


by Eric Tiansay

Out of all the survival reality shows, Man vs. Wild—the Discovery Channel television series featuring Edward "Bear" Grylls—is my favorite.

I especially like Man vs. Wild because Bear, with his cool British accent, engaging personality and clever demonstrations with survival techniques when faced with nature's extremes, is a committed Christian.

Although Bear was recently let go from Man vs. Wild, that's a story for another time, my two older boys (10-year-old Alex and 9-year-old Andrew) and I still enjoy the show and the Man vs. Wild Game on the Wii.

The game offers in a role play-style adventure, which requires puzzle-solving tasks throughout five expeditions—stranding players in expansive areas of virtual wilderness and challenging them to make it out alive. The action begins when a player, as Bear, is dropped into extreme conditions and forced to demonstrate indigenous survival techniques such as escaping quicksand in the desert, exploring dangerous jungles, traversing ravines in the mountains and navigating some of the world's most treacherous waters. read more

'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close'—A Powerful 9/11 Drama


by Eric Tiansay

I was disappointed when I missed Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close at the cineplex this winter, so I was eager to catch it on DVD.

Based on Jonathan Safran Foer's acclaimed 2006 best-selling novel of the same title, the movie tells the story of a 11-year-old boy Oskar (Thomas Horn) who lost his jeweler father, Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks), during what he calls "The Worst Day"—the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, although it failed to win, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a powerful drama that extols the bond between a father and son, family and forgiveness. A year after his dad died in the World Trade Center, Oskar, who has problems socializing and had been tested for Asperger's Syndrome, is determined to continue his vital connection to the man who playfully pushed him into confronting his wildest fears.

While looking through his father's closet one day, Oskar finds a small envelope marked "Black," with a key in it. Oskar decides the key must belong to someone named Black, and he starts a methodical search for the right person. "If there was a key, there was a lock," Oskar surmises. "If there was a name, there was a person."

His quest is an attempt to maintain his father's memory of his father, and to participate in the sort of mysterious search that his dad sometimes sent Oskar. "If you don't tell me what I'm looking for, then how will I ever be right?" Oskar asks his father. Thomas responds: "Well, another way of looking at it is how will you ever be wrong?" read more

'War Horse'—A Wonderful, Sentimental and Thrilling Ride

by Alan Mowbray

As a movie buff, there are certain films that I consider traditional, yearly family must-sees—age and maturity permitting: Easter (The Passion of The Christ); Christmas (The Nativity Story,The Polar Express, Home Alone, Miracle on 34th Street, It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story); Memorial Day (Glory and North and South); and Veterans Day (Tora! Tora! Tora!, Saving Private Ryan and now I'm adding War Horse to the list).

Based on the Tony award-winning Broadway play and set against the sweeping canvas of World War I, War Horse tells the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and his young trainer, Albert (Jeremy Irvine). When they're forced apart by war, we follow Joey's extraordinary journey as he changes and inspires the lives of everyone he meets.

Some would say it's a formula movie designed to hold your heart for two-plus hours using every sort of cliche imaginable. Yeah, maybe ... fine. But it's also an fantastic story directed by the master Steven Spielberg and paired with a terrific score by another master himself, John Williams. I say it's a masterpiece that you get to watch with your kids. read more

'Wrath of the Titans': Predictable, Better Than Its Predecessor


by Alan Mowbray

The recipe for Wrath of the Titans: Fire. Stern looks of determination. Destruction.

Add some slimy underworld demons. Mix with an old, somewhat decrepit, dysfunctional family of Greek gods who still haven't figured out their personal differences—let alone the differences of the world. Did I say destruction?

Top it off with some loud roars of anger, more stern looks of determination, and an incredibly, unbelievable amount of computer-generated stones and rocks exploded, crushed and destroyed. Add lava and stir.

This fantasy film is a sequel to the equally destructive and surprisingly successful Clash of the Titans, released in 2010. Better CGI and 3D rendering make this installment easier to watch than the last, which was rebooted from the classic Clash of the Titans, released in 1982. This isn't a flick for those who love snappy dialogue and deep characters, but judging from the audience that loaded up the theater where I was screening, Wrath of the Titans will be a hit with the age 13-24 crowd. read more

'John Carter'—An Out-of-This-World Adventure

by Alan Mowbray

Based on Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic novel A Princess of Mars, which inspired generations of filmmakers and science fiction writers, including George Lucas, James Cameron, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury, John Carter—with its sweeping scope and $250-million budget—touches down in more than 3,500 screens this weekend.

Directed by Andrew Stanton, best known for directing the acclaimed and popular Pixar films Finding Nemo and Wall-E, the film comes across as a cinematic epic, seeking to rival movies such as Star Wars and Avatar with its look, feel and storyline.

John Carter tells the story of war-weary, former military captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch, Friday Night Lights), who is an honorable and courageous man. A veteran of the U.S. Civil War, he is broken—tired of fighting for the causes of others. His fighting spirit remains strong, but Carter has turned to self-interest, and he is done with war. read more

Green Lantern: All Flash, No Substance


by Eric Tiansay

Green Lantern was part of a crowded superhero line-up at the cineplex last summer along the likes of Captain America, Thor and X-Men: First Class.

After recently catching the movie on DVD, I would have to say it's all flash, but no substance. The 3-D special effects are visually stunning and mesmerizing, but the storyline and premise is convuluted and weak. With a $200 million budget, Green Lantern fizzled at the domestic box office, ending up with only $114 million.

The plot centers on pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), who is handed a mysterious ring by an alien whose spacecraft crashed on Earth. Hal soon learns that he has been selected for membership in the group of intergalactic peace officers called Green Lantern Corps, who promote peace, order and justice.

After, Hal recites the Corps' oath: "In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil's might, beware my power, Green Lantern's light."

Great setup for a good versus evil tale, right? Not quite. The movie's protagonit is Parallax, the ancient enemy of the Green Lanterns who has garnered the corruptive yellow power of fear, threatens all of Earth. So Hal must build up the moral courage to stand up to evil.

While trying to master the Green Lantern ring, Hal has to deal with his feelings of insecurity from his pilot father's fiery death years earlier, affections for fellow pilot, Carol (Blake Lively), and the jealousy of Dr. Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a creepy old friend who has basically been possessed by another alien.

Although the story is fairly true to the characters from DC comics, the characters don't seem believable as they might. Extras on the Blu-ray version include the theatrical version as well as an extended cut, several featurettes and a digital comic book.

Content Watch: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, Green Lantern features more than two dozen profanities, several scenes that show people drinking alcohol and an implied night of casual sex. The movie's creepy villains could be very scary for small children. I watched the film on Clearplay, which filters out most of the intense violence and all of the light obscenities. I didn't watch Green Lantern with my three oldest boys, ages 10, 9 and 5. read more

'The Secret World of Arrietty' Offers Big Lessons on Life

by Alan Mowbray

As a father of two, I'm always looking for a teachable moment. If you're smooth about it, your kids won't even know that you're instructing them on life.

Based on a children's book called The Borrowers, a popular title originally published in 1952 by British author Mary Norton, The Secret World of Arrietty is one of those covert teachable moments—actually, it features several of them.

The movie was the year's top grossing film when it was released in Japan in 2010, winning the Animation of the Year award. Translated, dubbed by an American cast and distributed stateside by Walt Disney Pictures, The Secret World of Arrietty was made by legendary Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away and Ponyo).

Arrietty (voiced by Disney TV star Bridgit Mendler) is 4 inches tall. She and her family are Borrowers. They live in the recesses of a suburban garden home, unbeknownst to the homeowner and her housekeeper Haru (voiced by Carol Burnett). Like all little people, Arrietty (AIR-ee-ett-ee) remains hidden from view, except during occasional covert ventures beyond the floorboards to "borrow" scrap supplies that their human hosts won't miss.

Arrietty is 14, and the limitation of her 4-inch stature means nothing to the girl. In Arrietty's eyes, the whole world is hers to explore, even if her easily agitated mother, Homily (voiced by Amy Poehler), and her father, Pod (voiced by Will Arnett), say otherwise. "Better be careful," they would warn, relating an oft-repeated story about a long-lost relative eaten by a frog.

One day, a boy arrives at the house. Shawn (voiced by David Henrie) is a sickly 12-year-old with a bad heart who has come to rest at his grandmother's house. He is supposed to have absolutely no excitement in preparation for a heart operation scheduled the following week or so. The first day, he spots Arrietty during one of her unauthorized forays into the real world and attempts to befriend her. Over the next few days, a secret friendship blossoms between the two—putting the lives of Arrietty and her family in danger. read more

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