Friday, April 24, 2015

Egg and Spoon

Author:  Gregory Maguire

Rating:  **  (2 stars out of 3, "B")

Audience:  5th Grade and Up

This whimsical youth novel by Wicked Author Gregory Maguire defies categorizing:  Part folk/fairytale, part fantasy, part allegory, but full-on creative entertainment.  I had never read anything quite as charming or challenging before.

The overall story is one of mistaken identity, Prince and Pauper-style.  It is turn-of-the-century (1900) Tsarist Russia, and impoverished villager Elena Rudina finds herself exchanging places with Princess Ekaterina ("Cat") on a train bound for St. Petersburg.  Along the way, the reader encounters the harsh realities of peasant life, along with the delightful Russian folklore of Baba Yaga (the wise-cracking, time-traveling witch whose house walks about on chicken legs), the Fire Bird (a Russian Phoenix), Faberge eggs, nesting dolls, soldiers, and an Ice Dragon.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Movie

Production Team:  Disney/Jim Henson; Miguel Arteta, Director; Ron Lieber, Screenplay

Rating:  * (1 star out of 3 possible, C-)
              Recommended with Reservations

Audience:  4th Grade and up, PG

I couldn't pass up the chance to help families avoid this weak effort by Disney to adopt a beloved children's book.  My family sat through 80 painful minutes with barely a chuckle, waiting for the storyline to improve, for the actors to improve, for the writing to improve, for the movie to improve.  Really, I feel it is more of a "D" effort, but I gave it a "C" as the family at least comes together in the end to support each other.

It seems like Disney spent all their money on Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner to play the parents, and there was no money left to hire talented young actors to play the kids.  Steve and Jennifer did not have much of a script to work with, but if there are any laughs in the movie, they all belong to Pirate Steve. ("Look!  Me arms are okay!  ARGGHH!")

Perhaps it is cruel to draw attention to a child's speech impediment, but if you want a future acting career, Ed Oxenbould (Alexander), you'd better get that annoying lisp fixed.  Your older brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette), and older sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey) spent most of the film over-acting.  No complaints about cute-as-a-bug baby brother Trevor (played by twin girls).

The storyline was tedious and fakey.  Alexander is the family scapegoat, who wishes everyone else could understand how a horrible day feels.  His wish comes true, and the audience uncomfortably watches as the parents' jobs are jeopardized.  Meanwhile, we can find no empathy in our hearts for the teenage brother and sister who only seem to get what they deserve, after watching their selfish tantrums and immature choices for half the movie.

Crude language and teen attitudes make this a film to skip for most families.  Trust me, you won't be missing a thing.

If, however, your family would like a quality substitution, I recommend a film from 2012:  Parental Guidance, starring Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as grandparents trying to fit in with grandkids they barely know.