Best Movies to share with your children

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure Poster

I don't have children. Someday, fingers crossed, but for now the only young'n unfortunate enough to be taken under my wing is the son of my father's girlfriend. I've made a conscious effort to pass my good taste onto him, and my love for cinema is certainly no exception. I recently showed him one of my childhood favorites, which is what inspired this list. Everyone will have a different list, as they should, but here are a handful of films that I believe should never be forgotten.

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

It only makes sense to start this list with the film that kicked off the idea. I was obsessed with Mr. Herman as a child, so much so that I dressed up in a gray suit and red bow tie for Halloween. I was a fan of the show, Pee-Wee's Playhouse, but it was Pee-Wee's Big Adventure that really stuck with me. When most people think of Tim Burton, they think of Beetlejuice or Edwards Scissorhands. I think of this film, Burton's feature-length directorial debut. Now it's 25 years later and not only is it every bit as entertaining, but more so now that I can fully appreciate some the more sophisticated humor. And I wasn't the only one who liked it. My honorary little brother loved it, and audiences liked it enough that it earned almost six times its budget, convincing Warner Bros. to hire Burton to direct Batman.

Harry and the Hendersons

The legend of Bigfoot, as it is now, has been around for over fifty years. The idea of an elusive ape man hiding out in the woods is admittedly a little scary. That is, unless you grew up with Harry and the Hendersons as I did. Then you're well aware that Bigfoot is simply misunderstood; a gentle giant, if you will. He may wreak havoc and destruction, but rarely intentionally. Harry and the Hendersons defines classic family entertainment and it spawned a legion of John Lithgow fans long before 3rd Rock From the Sun.

The Sandlot

I'm not a sports guy nor have I ever been. I played here and there as a kid, as all kids do, but I never had any desire to play on any school teams or in any sort of official capacity. I just wasn't a fan. That didn't stop me from instantly falling in love with a film that centers around baseball. Of course, it's about a lot more than that, with childhood dreams, fears, and friendship being a major theme. There's also a menacing dog that resides behind a fence and devours baseballs. Up until the end of the film, when the dog is finally revealed, you can only guess at its size. And since you're a kid, you can only assume that the dog is the size of a house. The dog in the Sandlot is the stuff of legends, as is the movie itself.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

When I was young, I never thought that animation and live action could be combined in such a way as in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It wasn't that I didn't think it could be done, the concept had just never occurred to me. When it happened, it was an absolute treat that hit all the right chords. I loved Roger Rabbit much more so than I ever cared for Bugs Bunny and Bob Hoskins's Eddie Valiant is just a living cartoon, as is Christopher Lloyd's menacing Judge Doom. Throw in the numerous cartoon character cameos and the sultry Jessica Rabbit, who made me think thoughts highly inappropriate for a child, and I was in Heaven.

I thought about rounding this list to five and select them from a working movie website, but I feel that it would be gimmicky and dishonest. These are four childhood favorites that I hold above all else and I didn't want to discredit them by throwing in a runner-up. Truth is, there are plenty more films that I plan to show my kid, but as far as I'm concerned, these are required viewing.


Despicable Me Movie Review

Despicable Me Movie Scene

Despicable Me is a very enjoyable computer-animated movie which stars Gru (voiced by Steve Carell - I'm not quite sure what accent he was aiming for, but whatever it was, he missed), criminal mastermind and leader of a fearsome army of minions. Well, kinda cute, harmless, stupid minions... but criminal minions nonetheless. After an upstart criminal mastermind steals the Great Pyramid and replaces it with an inflatable replica, Gru is determined to find a way to outdo even that with the greatest theft of all time - and even his mother might show him a bit of respect and appreciation if he manages that. First though he'll have to convince the bank manager, Mr Perkins (Will Arnett), to lend him some money to build a spaceship...

He also has to contend with new kid on the block Vector (Jason Segal), who seems able to outdo him in every way and captures the Shrink Ray, which is vital to Gru's plans. Though he tries everything, Gru is unable to get past the incredible defences of Vector's fortress... but then three little girls selling cookies manage to get in, and Gru hatches a plan... He decides to adopt the three girls, and so his diabolical plan nears completion. However something unexpected happens (well, not unexpected to any adults and probably not many of the children watching, but unexpected to Gru himself) - he and the girls start forming a family unit, much to the disgust of his accomplish Dr Nefario (voiced by Russel Brand). The plot is fairly predicable, but there are some great moments even though you can see them coming a mile off.

The visuals are top quality, and with Hans Zimmer composing you know the music's going to be great. The voice acting is mostly very good, aside from Carel - I just wasn't quite sure if he was supposed to have an accent, supposed to be putting on an accent in order to fit in with his character's stereotype, or what - and Miranda Cosgrove as Margo, eldest of the adopted girls, sounded much older than her character. The movie was a bit lacklustre to start with - though it was enjoyable enough it all seemed a bit pedestrian for much of the first half. The second half was much better; things moved faster, the humour was better with laughs coming thicker and faster, and the characters developed. There were actually some very touching moments in Despicable Me, particularly when Gru saw the drawing the girls had added to the bottom of his family tree. Some other things to look out for are the Godfather parody when Gru wakes up to find a doll's head in his bed, and Edith uttering the line ": When we got adopted by a bald guy, I was thinking it'd be more like Annie". There could perhaps be more for older members of the audience to enjoy, but there was certainly enough to make Despicable Me worth watching, and the kids in the audience I was in seemed to love it. It's not among the very best computer-animated movies - and for something a little similar that I enjoyed more, see Monsters vs Aliens - but it's good and definitely worth watching.


Movie Review - Robin Hood (2010)

Movie Review - Robin Hood

It would be easy to think that Robin Hood's story is one that really doesn't need yet another retelling, but Ridley Scott's movie is nothing like any Robin Hood movie you've seen before. Though most of the characters you'd expect are here - Little John (Kevin Durand), Allan A'Dayle (Alan Doyle), Marian (Cate Blanchett), Prince John (Oscaar Isaac), Will Scarlet (Scott Grimes), King Richard (Danny Huston) etc - they are very different from the characters you thought you knew. This movie's story starts off in France, with Robin Longstride being an archer in King Richard's army. He finds out to his peril that, although Richard realises just how far he has fallen during his efforts to be "holy", the king is not a big enough man to accept the criticism that he asks for. Robin and a few others defect from the army, but along the way they encounter part of a plot to destroy the English throne and claim it for France - though they have no idea at the time what they've really stumbled on. Robin is charged with keeping a promise for a certain Robert Loxley - as those with a smattering of knowledge about the Robin Hood legend may guess from that, Robin ends up assuming his identity - though not for the reason you might have thought.

Ridley Scott may have felt that casting two Australians in the lead role for such a quintessentially English story would invite criticism, but unlike certain others, at least Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett make a real effort to sound like they're from somewhere in the region of Nottinghamshire. While Crowe's accent isn't 100% convincing, he sounds authentic enough to be believable and Blanchett's accent, while not exactly regional, sounds English enough. Both of them give strong performances; Crowe's Robin Hood is a man of integrity though not without flaws, and Blanchett's portrayal of Marian as a feisty, compassionate and frustrated woman fighting against the odds makes her both believable and sympathetic. King John's character in this version is interesting - you never quite know if he's turned a corner from being an evil despot, though you always suspect he's up to something devious whenever he appears to be being nice. Oscar Isaac plays this role well. Walter Loxley, father of Robert, is played by Max von Sydow who gives a great performance as an old man, now blind, stricken with grief but never willing to give up. The slogan "Rise and Rise Again Until Lambs Become Lions", attributed to Robin Longstride's father and embossed onto the sword of Robert Loxley, finds its ultimate embodiment in Walter Loxley, who will fight for what's right against absolutely any odds.

There are plenty of other interesting characters in Robin Hood - interesting for how they're different from our established perception of them, and just interesting in themselves. It's this and the constant changing of pace and mood from traumatic battle sequences with frenetic camerawork to personal introspection to romance to scenes of feudal injustice that make Robin Hood such a fascinating movie from start to finish. With good period detail, great cinematography and plenty of intrigue as well as well-filmed battle sequences, what could have been a stale retelling of a legend becomes a fresh, vibrant, original re-envisaging. The main villain of the piece, Godfrey, is played superbly by Mark Strong. Strong is one of the most menacing Hollywood villains around, and after his slightly disappointing performance in Sherlock Holmes, he's back to his best here. Matthew Macfadyen's Sherriff of Nottingham is reduced to a bit part in this particular version of Robin Hood, while Mark Addy steals every scene he's in as Friar Tuck. William Hurt's performance as Marshal, one of Prince John's advisors, also stands out.

To me the movie has only one major failing, and that's in the development of Robin Hood himself. His transition from a foot archer to horse-riding, sword-wielding general just didn't seem quite right. Perhaps army recruits were by default trained in horsemanship and swordsmanship even if they ended up being in the infantry or archery; maybe being leader of a small band of archers prepared him for greater things, or his impersonating a knight and the respect people gave him contributed to him becoming a great leader of men. However neither idea really came through clearly and watching him charge along the battle lines on horseback, sword in hand, just never really seemed right - it was almost as if he'd accidentally wandered off the filming of Gladiator onto this one. The claims of some that this movie is merely Gladiator in another guise are, in my opinion, way off the mark though.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this 2010 version of Robin Hood; it gives a whole new spin on the popular legend, and to be honest comes across as more likely as probably nearer the truth than the laughing cavalier type character we've seen before. Of course, it helps that he actually sounds English (never mind that he's not, at least he sounds right!). Robin Hood (2010) is rated 12A (UK)/ PG-13 (USA)for violence including intense sequences of warfare, and some sexual content.


Best Movies that aren't by PIXAR

Best Animated Movies

It's no secret that Pixar is the go-to studio when it comes to quality CGI films. Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wall-E - these are considered by many to be some of the best films of all time, and that's only a small portion of the studio's work. But while Pixar may be the best in town, it doesn't mean that the competition stinks. And with Dreamkworks's superhero romp Megamind in theaters now, it's a good time to look back on some great CGI films that Pixar had nothing to do with.

1) Shrek

This was the first movie that came to mind. While the merit of the sequels can be debated, there's no arguing that the original Shrek was a monumental hit, and deservedly so. It was funny, exciting, and boasted an excellent voicecast. Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy have never been better (though fans of Austin Powers may disagree), John Lithgow made a deliciously evil villain, and while I'm far from a fan of Cameron Diaz - she did a wonderful job of bringing Fiona to life. There was - and still is - a lot to love about Shrek.

2) Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, like the food that rains from the movie's sky, was a welcome surprise. While I braced myself to watch Hollywood ruin a beloved book from my childhood, the movie ended up having a big heart and even bigger laughs. And while the voice acting wasn't as memorable as other movies, Bill Hader is a likable guy with a likable voice. And just to ensure that there was something for everyone, they even threw in a monkey!

3) Ice Age

While some CGI films take viewers to extraordinary new worlds, Ice Age kept it close to home, only some 2 million years in the past. Like Shrek, Ice Age gave way to numerous sequels of varying quality, but the first film, released in 2002, seemed to be a hit with audiences and critics. There was something about John Leguizamo as a sloth, Denis Leary as a sabre-toothed tiger, and Ray Romano as a woolly mammoth that just resonated with people. And like Eddie Murphy, John Leguizamo is much more tolerable when he's just a voice.

4) Kung Fu Panda

This list features a startling number of actors that should stick to voicework. The nearly-unbearable Jack Black is next in line. I know he's popular, but his style of humor wears thin with me very quickly. However, even I can't disagree that he was fantastic as Po, an adopted giant panda who spends his days working in his father's noodle restaurant and his nights dreaming of being a kung fu legend. Kung Fu Panda contained heart, soul, and all the stuff that makes a great family film. It also had an impressive cast featuring Angelina Jolie, David Cross, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, and appropriately, Jackie Chan.

5) How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon is just out of the gate, but already it's an instant classic, with a whopping 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. It tells the story of Hiccup, a young viking desperate to impress his father, but lacking a certain heroic quality. Luckily for him, he makes a friend in a dragon, which is something I think we've all wanted at some time or another. Again, this is another one that boasted a fantastic cast, including late night host Craig Ferguson

As you can see, Pixar doesn't have to be involved for a CGI film to turn out great, though it certainly doesn't hurt!