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DVD Review: “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”

Based on the bestselling books by Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a funny film that the entire family can sit down and enjoy. It follows the first year of middle school for young Greg Heffley, as he does his best to become one of the most popular kids in school. His plans backfire and instead of becoming the most popular kid, he becomes one of the least popular students. Director Thor Freudenthal brings the same charm and knack for working with young actors that he brought to last year’s Hotel for Dogs. As with that film, Diary of a Wimpy Kid has a bright, enticing look and is wonderfully paced to keep everyone engaged. There is fine music and some enjoyable moments for the grown-ups, whenever Steve Zahn appears on screen. For all intents and purposes, this is a excellent movie. Well acted, beautifully shot, and it has a great message for kids about staying true to who you are and trying not to worry about the opinion of others. This message is especially important in those formative years that take place in junior high/middle school, which is where Diary of a Wimpy Kid is set.

However, I have problems with its lead character, Greg. To quote my daughter, “he’s a jerk.”  There you have it, the hero is a jerk and honestly, he really doesn’t learn any lesson by the end of the movie.  Moreover, he’s not even a lovable jerk. That bothered me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to heroes in films being jerks. I’ve sat through many feature films where the main character never changes while everyone around the, evolves. Yet, all of those films have been about adults (mostly indie films). For some reason, because this is a film about children, and it’s for children, the effect isn’t the same. Is it because children are impressionable and maybe they’ll watch the movie and think that the lead character’s behavior is okay? That’s part of it. Is it because he shows little to no remorse for his actions? Yep. Making matters worse, Zachary Gordon, the young actor playing Greg, does such an exceptional job in the role that I started to hate him before the movie was over (the character, not the actor).

Who is the favorite character in the movie? It’s not the snarky older girl, Angie (Chloe Moretz) who walks around in a beret, expounds of the dullness of trying to be popular and carries a camera, like some kind of bohemian 7th grader? No, it’s Rowley Jefferson (an adorable Robert Capron), the nerdy, awkward boy who isn’t afraid to express his feelings and proceeds through life as his own person. While watching the film with my kids, I asked them who their favorite character in the movie was. Without hesitation they said it was Rowley. Why? Because he’s the one character that stays true to himself, the one character who tries his best and isn’t afraid to fail, and the one character who is an individual and isn’t trying so hard to fit in with the cool crowd.

Perhaps that was the point Freudenthal and Kinney were going for. I can only assume, yes; but damn it, they did such a good job with this film at making the hero a jerk, that I just couldn’t love the movie as much as I wanted to.

Despite my reservations about Greg, Diary of a Wimpy kid should be checked out, even if it inspires conversations with your kids about Greg’s behavior and why Rowley is so awesome. The Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy of the movie is an excellent deal. Besides the three different formats to play the movie, there are some great bonus features, including diary pages from Rowley (written by Kinney) and deleted scenes.

DVD review: “Tooth Fairy”

Dwayne Johnson has certainly muscled out an acting career for himself, hasn’t he? Pro wrestling notwithstanding, the man formerly known as “The Rock” has been an action hero, he has shown excellent comedic chops, and now he’s nudging his way into the family film market. You know what? He’s doing a good job. The material he’s given isn’t always the greatest, but Johnson on screen is likable and isn’t afraid to make a fool of himself if it means bettering the movie. Moreover, he genuinely seems to be having a good time whenever he’s on camera. What this does is help the audience have a good time with him.

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Such is the case with his newest DVD, Tooth Fairy, a fantasy film from Walden Media and 20th Century Fox that’s more than entertaining, even if it hits most of the same notes of every family film out there.

Johnson plays Derek Thompson, a minor league hockey player past his prime.

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Instead of being a force on the ice, he’s just an enforcer, sent into games to knock out opposing players. He’s earned the nickname “The Tooth Fairy” thanks to his habit of hitting his opponents so hard they end up missing teeth. Derek eats up the attention, even though he’s seen more as a novelty than an integral part of the hockey team. This point is driven home when a hotshot young player arrives and Derek is relegated to protecting the kid on the ice so he doesn’t get hurt. The tooth fairy is now the babysitter

Thanks to Johnson’s natural charm as a performer, Derek comes across as good-natured, even though he’s pretty cynical. For example, when kids tell him they want to grow up to play hockey be just like him, Derek doesn’t encourage them. Instead, he tells them the long odds they’re against and that they should choose something else to do with their lives. Someone who is able to look past his faults is Carly, a single mom that he’s been dating. Ashley Judd, who once starred in movies but now seems relegated to supporting roles, plays Carly. She brings a lot of warmth and definitely the right amount of strength and believability to her part. Carly has two children, six year old Tess (Destiny Whitlock) and teenager, Randy (Chase Ellison), a shy boy who has channeled his feelings into becoming an excellent guitar player. Continue reading

DVD review: “Madeline: Lost in Paris”

Here’s a delightful film I’ve been aware of ever since it was released back in 2001. Back when my daughter was 3 and 4, she watched our VHS copy of Madeline: Lost in Paris so many times the tape began to wear out. Eventually she moved on to other things and the tape was placed in a box, in the garage, where the videotape is probably brittle and worthless by now. No worries, though, because Shout! Factory has just released this splendid animated feature on DVD.

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Madeline: Lost In Paris a sweet, innocent film that parents and kids can sit through together. It features Christopher Plummer’s warm voice as the narrator, Jason Alexander as the male villain, Horst, and Lauren Bacall and the villainess, Madame Lacroque.

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The plot is something right out of a turn of the century adventure story. Madeline, the spunky orphan girl who lives in a big house with eleven other girls and Miss Clavel, their teacher, receives a letter from a man claiming to be her long lost Uncle Horst. He comes to Paris to whisk her away with him to attend finishing school in Vienna.  Although saddened to be leaving her friends and Miss Clavel, Madeline is very excited to have a family. Madeline and her loyal dog, Genevieve, go away with Uncle Horst.

All is not what it seems, though, and Madeline learns this right away when Uncle Horst leaves Genevieve to fend for herself in the Paris train station and Madeline is kidnapped! Uncle Horst is not her uncle at all. He’s a scoundrel who takes orphans to work in forced labor creating delicate lace collars under the strict supervision of Madame Lacroque.

WOW! If you went by that description alone, you’d be horrified about this film. However, like any Dickens novel (which always seemed to have kids in peril), Madeline: Lost in Paris uses a light touch to keep the horrific conditions and the scary situation not so horrific and not so scary. Moreover, Madeline is such a brave little girl you don’t believe for one second that she’s going to remain trapped, nor will she allow her new friends, all of the other kidnapped children, to stay under the cruel care of Madame Lacroque.

Meanwhile, Genevieve returns to the school, signaling to Miss Clavel and the other girls that Madeline is in trouble. Immediately Miss Clavel goes to the police.

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At the same time the little girls and their next-door neighbor, Pepito, set off to save Madeline. Again, a light touch is used and you never get the sense that any of these kids are ever truly in danger.

The film moves briskly and is full of vibrant colors. Seeing a digital copy of the movie for the first time really made me realize how awful our VHS version was back in the day. It’s also wonderful to see a hand drawn animated film that doesn’t appear so cookie cutter like most of the shows you see on television. The backgrounds are all painted to look like watercolors and the character animation is quite fluid. The filmmakers really captured the feeling of the drawings from the original Madeline books. All of the actors are excellent.

It had been at least seven years since I last saw Madeline: Lost in Paris and I was curious how my daughter would react when she watched it with me. It was wonderful to sit down with her again, and with my younger son, and relive some old memories. Although she seems to have outgrown the age group of this movie, she still enjoyed it after all of these years. Madeline: Lost in Paris is a gentle and kind film that fits in nicely with all of the other movies you may own that have been produced by Disney, DreamWorks, Pixar or Nickelodeon. I highly recommend it for little girls (and boys) and I’m very glad it’s found a home on DVD through those good folks at Shout! Factory.  Although there are no bonus features, the movie is reason enough to make this purchase.