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Into the Woods Movie Review

into-the-woods-movie-quotesWith no prior knowledge of the Sondheim musical, I walked into the theater simply excited to see Meryl Streep as an eccentric witch and Johnny Depp as the Big Bad Wolf.

Into The Woods blew me away.

Although I didn’t get as much Depp as I had hoped, Disney’s venture down a dark and controversial path sends shivers down spines with stunning visuals and electrifying performances. I wanted to burst into applause after every song—the music is seamlessly integrated—and our audience actually did, after the marvelously comedic rendition of “Agony” by Chris Pine, who plays the Prince, and Billy Magnussen who plays The Other Prince. It’s a musical score worthy of accolades with vocals that do not disappoint.

Movie-making aside, the core story is nothing like the happy-go-lucky Disney retellings—and I love it. From what I’ve read of the musical synopsis, the movie takes leaps in bringing the story to life without sacrificing the essentials. Into The Woods follows the original Grimm fairytale endings more closely than any interpretation I’ve seen before, and it’s truly a treat when these well-known characters, fresh in our eyes, cross paths.

Keep in mind that while this Disney movie deals with death, lying, stealing, child abandonment, and infidelity, it doesn’t glamorize these themes or push them under the carpet. Instead, the reader is allowed to make his own conclusions. The woods, a character in itself, exemplify life as a metaphor, augmenting both the good and ugly human qualities. The message closest to my heart is in the song “No One is Alone,” a song about loss that struck a deep chord. The movie also presents a warning about wishes and actions that can turn into generational curses. The richness of each character, the comedic/dramatic balance, and the powerful songs coalesce to form one of the best movies of 2014, and one of the best musical adaptations ever.

First Publised @ 

DIVERGENT Movie Review

ImageBased on the best-selling novel by Veronica Roth, Divergenttakes place in the future in a seemingly perfect, utopian society where there are five factions, or categories, in which people develop a certain virtue (Dauntless, the brave; Erudite, the intelligent; Abnegation, the selfless; Amity, the peaceful; and Candor, the honest). 16-year-old Tris Prior is Abnegation-born. When she takes the test to help determine which faction she belongs in, her results come up inconclusive and she learns she is “Divergent.” Her mind cannot conform to a single way of thinking for long. She chooses Dauntless to hide herself within the dangerous, thrill-seeking faction, but when she discovers a scheme that will undermine her world, her life is not the only one that is in danger.

Inevitably, many critics will want to compare Divergent to The Hunger Games. The only thing the two drastically different movies share is a stubborn female protagonist fighting in a dystopian world. This movie stays very true to the book in bringing alive the complex world and interesting premises. The detailed sets are simply stunning in their authenticity from the Dauntless Pit to the Chicago skyline. Every single actor was top notch. Shailene Woodley (Tris) brought vulnerability and strength to her role while co-star Theo James (Four) was perfectly mysterious yet emotionally open on screen. Their chemistry was communicated through both the dialogue and their expressive eyes. The rest of the cast was phenomenal as well.

Aside from having an underdeveloped plot and a long run time of 140 minutes, Divergent was overall very likable from the grounded real sets to the talented cast. Although it doesn’t reach the scope and high stakes of The Hunger Games, Divergent was, at its core, an action movie with guns galore without feeling too much like an action blockbuster. The line between war games and real war begins to blur towards the end. The overwhelming violence during the Dauntless training is also brutal, so parents should be aware of the film’s PG-13 rating. Divergent is an exhilarating thrill-ride, and audiences will love the rush of adrenaline in this dystopian film.

Monsters University Movie Review

ImageGet Excited About MU

Pixar is bringing back the characters we all love and know in the ultimate “Flashback Friday” to the college days of Mike, Sulley, and a whole new crew. Travel back in time to the moment where Mike and Sulley meet in MONSTERS UNIVERSITY, and are instant rivals from the start. Their rivalry gets them in the least scary fraternity, the Oozma Kappas, abbreviated “OK”. Can Mike and Sulley overcome their differences and lead their team to victory in the famed Scare Games?

I am a huge fan of Pixar and Disney, and I especially love not only the characters from MONSTERS, INC., but the very concept itself. Who would have ever thought that a movie about children’s nightmares would ever be so popular? The storyline itself is absurd, laughable even, and that’s the great thing about Pixar – they do the impossible and create an entire, wonderful universe centered on a fresh, out-of-this-world idea. That’s why I looked forward to this movie. In the middle, I realized that Pixar’s goal for this movie shifted just a bit. Although the core idea is no longer new, MONSTERS U is meant to bring back feelings of nostalgia. We can connect to the well-established characters on an even deeper level.

There are many times in the movie when I get so sucked in that I nearly stand up and cheer loudly. I rooted for Mike and Sulley from the bottom of my heart. The visuals are top-notch – I could see all the textures of the Sulley’s fur to Mike’s hat as clear as day. I absolutely loved the score, which went perfectly with the movie – either upbeat and classy, or shiver-inducing and chilling when needed. Voice-overs by Billy Crystal and John Goodman are, of course, hilarious and heartfelt. And you can’t forget the all-important scare-factor, but if kids enjoyed MONSTERS, INC., MU should not be too frightening for them.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY is a clear step-up from Pixar’s last movie BRAVE. I raise my glass to you, Pixar, for raising the bar and bringing back the standards of TOY STORY, WALL-E, FINDING NEMO, etc. My paradox is clear: If Pixar made more movies each year, my life would be complete, but their standards would probably drop. For now, the anticipation of one excellent movie a year is enough. MU is a movie for the entire family to enjoy! Ages 5+

First Published @kidspickflicks

Frankenweenie (2012) Movie Review

Grade  A

MPAA Rating  Rated PG

Genre Animation

The idea of a stop-motion black-and-white 3D horror-movie homage for kids is, at most, laughable. But somehow, directorTim Burton makes it work. Burton manages to twist a spoof of horror movies into a heartwarming story filled with comedy and unsettling ideas. The revival of his dark, twisted, bizarre, style will please die-hard Burton fans, making “Frankenweenie” superior to the last two live-action films he directed, “Alice in Wonderland” and “Dark Shadows.”

Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) is an introverted, clever boy whose only friend is his dog, Sparky. He spends most of his time in his “lab” fixing things and conducting experiments. When Sparky unexpectedly dies in an accident, Victor is devastated and uses lightning to bring him back to life. However, Victor learns that science can result in monstrous consequences.

At its core, the story is really about a boy’s love for his dog. With that said, the animals have more life than the humans—although the neighborhood kids’ individual personalities are very Burton-like and often times humorous, Sparky steals the show, even through stop-motion animation. The voice talents did not get the recognition they deserve—however, Atticus Shaffer, who’s mock impish voice fits perfectly with his agitated hunchback character Edgar “E” Gore, managed to impress me even with his limited lines. The word “stupid” is used once, but other than that, the film is completely clean in that aspect.

The film pays homage to classic horror movies, filled with Easter eggs that will thrill old-school movie lovers. With that said, this movie is not suitable for young sensitive children. The storm in which Sparky is revived will seem intense to kids. The mutated resurrected creatures may seem cheesy to older viewers, but when put in black-and-white on a 3D screen, kids below the age of six will cover their own eyes.

In the movie, a character blackmails Victor to tell him his secret. Other characters act dishonestly, and there is some mild verbal bullying. Proverbs 11:3 tells us that we should act with integrity instead.

“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.”

Many of the characters seem gothic due to the black-and-white tone of the film, and although it is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, kids may adopt their subdued behaviors. The most gothic character mutters, “I welcome death.” Although she may not have meant it, as Christians, we should know that death and life lies on the tongue, just like the Bible says in Proverbs 18:21.

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

In the movie, there is also a cat that prophesies the future of others in its own laughable way. However, the Bible cautions us to beware of mystics in 1 John 4:1.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

The idea of bringing back the dead is quite disturbing at the core, even for non-Christians. This brings up questions such as, “What’s the boundary between life and death?” and “What would happen if we brought humans back to life?”

As Christians, we know that only God can resurrect the dead. The Bible says in Deuteronomy 32:39,

“See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.”

This year, the film industries have been zoning in on kiddie horror movies. Unlike the other movies, I can happily say that “Frankenweenie” does not involve any sort of witchcraft, but rather, science.

One of the messages of the movie is that science is not only facts and figures, but sentiment and heart as well. A great topic for parents to discuss with children is why Victor’s experiment with Sparky worked, and other experiments did not. Victor conducted his experiment out of love for his dog. However, the other kids had other motives for resurrection.

Although “Frankenweenie” may inspire kids to get more involved with science, Christiansshould be aware that this movie might encourage people to believe more in science than in God. Contrariwise, Genesis 1:1 clearly tells us that God is the Creator of all.

“In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

All in all, I enjoyed this film very much,— especially the antics of adorable Sparky. While “Frankenweenie” may not be Burton’s best, it brings back his past wit and brilliance, thrilling the Burton enthusiasts once again.

Movie Review : Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Encounter mermaids, zombies, and Blackbeard on May 20

By Cassandra Hsiao

On Stranger Tides in Disney Digital 3D™

Rated: PG-13

Opens: Friday, May 20, 2011

Running Time: 141 min

When Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides sails into theaters this May 20, it won’t start on a pirate ship, or in the Caribbean. In fact, it starts in London.

Actor Johnny Depp returns to the symbolic role of Jack Sparrow—ahem, Captain Jack Sparrow—as he makes his exit out of London in a dynamic escape, only to find himself on the ship of legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Jack soon finds himself on an unexpected journey and race to the Fountain of Youth.

Pirate fans will be hit with fresh spray of seawater—the unfathomable Angelica (Penelope Cruz) is the first female pirate to be included in the series. She is every bit as tricky and cunning as Jack, so perhaps Jack has finally found his equal.

When she forces him onto the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s ship, Jack must outwit Blackbeard, sly Angelica, deadly zombies, and a cunning mermaid.

Geoffrey Rush returns as Captain Barbossa and Kevin R. McNally as Jack’s comrade Joshamee Gibbs. New characters include British actor Sam Claflin as young Phillip, a missionary, and French actress Astrid Berges-Frisbey as the mystifying, alluring mermaid.

There are stunning visuals in this film, and I caught my breath in wonder at the beautiful Fountain of Youth. A fight scene between Captain Jack and Barbossa on an unbalanced ship protruding from a high cliff is simply thrilling. It kept the audience on the edge of their seats.

The film was also witty, with the humorous dialogue and swashbuckling antics of Jack Sparrow and the pirates. Some of the dialogue is garbled or hard to catch due to the half-dozen different accents in the movie.

The plot gives the audience a series of unexpected turns and twists. This fourth film of the Pirates franchise is less gory and disturbing than the other three. The only thing that may be disturbing to younger viewers is the concept of the mermaids.

These are not the mermaids of Disney’s Little Mermaid. These mermaids are beautiful women on land, but at the same time vile creatures underwater, doing whatever it takes to seduce the pirates. Parents need to know that there are a few scenes that could be intense and downright scary for younger viewers.

All of the Pirates movies have been rated PG-13, which is intended for older audiences who can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. The mermaid scene was quite alarming, and there were some points when I couldn’t bear to watch. On the other hand, I was amazed by the depth of character that Astrid Berges-Frisbey brought to Syrena, the main mermaid in the movie.

In my opinion, the best part of the film is the characters themselves. Angelica is full of contradictions. She is manipulative, wily, and devious, yet she has another side of her that is fair and kind. Jack Sparrow is once again bold and daring, having plenty of pirate in him. The feeling is certainly contagious.

Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Rob Marshall, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in Disney Digital 3D will sail you through the high seas of the Caribbean to the Fountain of Youth. Who will attain the magical potion that just takes one sip to eternal life? Will Jack be the one who lives forever? Start sailing with the pirates on Friday, May 20, 2011 to find out!

Check out Kid Reporter Cassandra Hsiao’s video coverage on the black carpet at the Disneyland premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides!Also, find out what was happening on the black carpet and who else this Kid Reporter talked to! @Scholastic, INC First Published at

Sam Claflin (Philip)

Penelope Cuz (Angelica) by Getty Image


Born to Be Wild IMAX 3D Movie Review

Born to Be Wild IMAX 3D
Rated: G
Opens: Friday, April 8, 2011
Running Time: 40 min. (exclusively in IMAX theatres)

Born to Be Wild will transport you to the lush green jungles of Borneo to see orphan orangutans with primatologist Dr. Birute Galdikas. You will also follow elephant specialist Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick in the rough savannahs of Kenya as she nurses orphan elephants.

The Warner Bros. documentary Born to Be Wild is magnificently captured in IMAX 3D. It tells the stories of two amazing, remarkable women who have dedicated their lives to rehabilitate animals back into the wild. Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman lends his distinctive and authoritative voice to the narration.

The film captures the orangutans’ sense of adventure and humor. Scenes of mischievous orangutans trying to swing on a clothes line, or spilling milk all over themselves, or baby orangutans taking a bath had the audience bursting with laughter.

Along with the humor, comes heart-gripping emotion, as Dr. Galdikas and her team release the orphans who are old enough to live on their own into the forest.

Let’s not forget the elephants! I soon learned from this movie that elephants are fun-loving, family oriented creatures. They love to wrestle and enjoy daily mud baths. One of the fantastic scenes was a crazy soccer game with elephants running around, people hooting, and dust flying up.

Elephants are extremely social, so the keepers not only spend their days nurturing the elephants; they also sleep beside them in their stalls.

In the movie, Dr. Sheldrick explains that the elephants “choose” their keepers. I could immediately see the intense emotional impact between keeper and animal.

Orangutans and elephants are on the verge of extinction. Born to Be Wild shows what we do can to make sure these amazing animals will always be loved, free, and wild.


Mars Needs Moms Movie Review- Go on a thrilling mission to save mom from Martians

First published at Scholastic

Mars Needs Moms 3D and IMAX 3D

Rated: PG for Sci-fi peril
Opens: Friday, March 11, 2011
Running Time: 88 min.

What’s the big deal about moms? They make you eat your broccoli and do chores. Nine-year-old Milo (Seth Green) doesn’t think there’s anything special about that. However, when Martians abduct his mom (Joan Cusack) to discipline their own young, Milo changes his mind and embarks on a quest to save her.

Produced by the team behind Monster HouseThe Polar Express, and Disney’s A Christmas Carol, Director Simon Wells’ breathtaking Mars Needs Moms in Disney Digital 3D and IMAX will take you on an ultimate adventure through space.

In the movie, Milo meets Gribble (Dan Fogler), a boisterous, tech-happy, ’80s-speaking underground earthman who has a treehouse made out of trash. He also hooks up with a strong-willed Martian named Ki (Elisabeth Harnois) who learned to speak English by watching a ’70s sitcom. Gribble and Ki help Milo stop the heartless Martian leader, the Supervisor (Mindy Sterling), from taking his mom away forever.

From the setting to the clothing, meticulous and accurate attention was paid to every single detail. The movie was filmed through the process of mocap, or motion capture. The action is filmed using real actors in skintight suits with digital monitors embedded. The animation is then imposed on the live action for a more realistic look and feel. It works!

I could almost taste Mars’ famous red dust. The scenes where Milo is tumbling down mounds of trash or when he is blasting off on the spaceship are like being on a rollercoaster ride at a theme park! Seeing the movie in IMAX 3D enhances these stimulating and exhilarating scenes.

The music intertwines with not just the action of this fast-paced film, but the touching moments as well. It brilliantly reflects personal, emotional detail of individual character. The scene where Gribble reveals his past is so touching, my eyes even got misty toward the end.

This movie is based on a book by famed cartoonist Berkeley Breathed, who was inspired to write the book when his own son Milo had a disagreement with his mom over broccoli. Milo thought that he would be better off without his mom. The movie used the key elements in the short picture book and added unbelievably spectacular 3D scenes littered with funny characters, adventure, fantastic humor, and great performances.

Mars Needs Moms has an amazing message beneath all the comedy, action, and special effects. Start your journey to Mars with Milo when Martians land in U.S. theaters on March 11, 2011!

Find out what the actors think in Kid Reporter Cassandra Hsiao’s story about the press day promoting Mars Needs Moms. And check out her post about the movie on the Scholastic Kids Press Corps Blog!@Scholastic Inc

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