Friday, May 29, 2015

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules (Family Movie Review)

My older son, nearly a teenager, doesn't often sit through family movie night. So when he asked if he could pick the next film I was beyond thrilled. He wanted to watch Diary of a Wimpy Kid. "Which one?" I asked. He said I could choose.  Having seen them all multiple times, I went with my favorite, Rodrick Rules, the second film, but this review is applicable to all three films.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick RulesThe film series of Diary of a Wimpy Kid is based on the extremely popular book series of the same name written by Jeff Kinney and is responsible for making "the cheese touch" a household term.  While the novels follow a young boy, Greg, trying to "avoid the pain" in middle school, the books tend to attract younger readers (second graders and up) and consequently, so do the films.  If you allow your children to read the books, the films will be fine.  If you're unfamiliar with the books, or just want to know if the films are worth watching, keep reading. 

Rodrick Rules is the second film and focuses on the strained relationship between Greg and his older brother, Rodrick, played by a favorite of mine, Devon Bostick, who does a spectacular job in these films and is undoubtedly my favorite character.

"You may be my brother, but you'll never be my friend." ~ Rodrick to Greg

Having successfully survived sixth grade, Greg is now confident in his place at school. However, he and his classmates are still dealing with the complete and utter social awkwardness that comes with the age. In addition, he has a pesky baby brother and a pain-in-the-butt older brother that are making his life a living hell.  Throw in some embarrassing parents played by Steve Zahn and Rachael Harris (whose performances are highlights of these films) and you are dealing with every adolescent's nightmare existence.

Greg's mother, tired of the constant bickering between her two older sons, comes up with an incentive plan that will reward the two for spending quality time together - WITHOUT fighting. Sounds simple enough. But when attempts at a truce fail, the boys are grounded and find themselves home alone. They learn that there is no better way to bond then to get into mischief together and then try and cover it up! 

"You know, you may not be half as lame as I thought you were." ~ Rodrick to Greg

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules is rated PG for some rude humor and language.  I agree there is quite a bit of crude adolescent humor, but it is all innocent fun for the right audience.  Both my sons love these films.  As I've mentioned, Rodrick Rules is my favorite of the three, primarily because of the performances of Bostick, Zahn, and Harris, but also because of the tender moments between Rodrick and Greg.  As a mother of two boys, I am no stranger to sibling rivalry, and this film helped put it all  into perspective and give me some hope that it may eventually cease!

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

My Year as a Stay-at-Home Midlife Mom

I know it is a cliché to comment on how quickly time passes, but it really is true! It has been a year since I left my teaching job to take some time off and stay at home. Let's see how the last twelve months have gone.

Stay-at-home midlife momsThe biggest question I get from friends is do I miss teaching?  The answer is simple. Yes. I miss teaching and I particularly miss my students.  However, I do NOT miss our education system and I made the right decision to leave when I did. That is all I'm going to say on that topic.

As you know, because you are here reading it, I started a blog.  This was a rare, spontaneous decision on my part.  That alone was an accomplishment and I wish I could make other decisions so efficiently and with such conviction.  

While my initial intentions were to blog about my days at home, it quickly branched into other areas, such as my popular BOOK and MOVIE REVIEWS. Since my film reviews are geared toward popular family flicks, they are particularly fun for me to write because they involve spending time with my sons. Plus, my sons have taken an interest in them giving me valuable input. It's fun to have them pick out films for us to watch together and I love when they pick out quotes I should feature in the reviews. Movies were always a bonding experience for us, but the blog reviews have given that favorite past-time a new element. 

I have enjoyed the time at home, picking up my boys, volunteering at their school, and chaperoning FIELD TRIPS, even when I thought those outings would be the death of me.  I have taken advantage of meeting friends for coffee or lunch on occasion, honestly I would have liked more of those opportunities, and I managed to incorporate exercise into my regular routine.  My greatest accomplishment in the last year has been my decision and success with GOING VEGAN.  

However, the benefit that I am most grateful to have had this last year, is the irreplaceable quality time I had with my dear cat, HUNTER, who in his final months needed a great deal of personal care from me.  A year ago I never would have thought he wouldn't be with me today, but the quiet moments we shared during his final days are memories I will carry in my heart forever. 

Unfortunately, there were some goals I did NOT accomplish this past year such as getting "out there" more and taking cooking or photography classes.  But I can still look into those things when the time is right. School gets out in six days and I am now focusing on planning fun summer adventures with my boys - who I'm confident would rather sit on the couch and watch television all day, ggggrrrr.  THAT will drive me nuts, so my immediate mission is to avoid it at all cost. 

stay-at-home midlife moms

I cannot express enough gratitude for all my readers worldwide and for all the professional connections I've made with other bloggers whose insight, support, and technical assistance have been invaluable.  I have no idea what the next twelve months hold for me - a position that can be liberating but also very scary.  The most important thing is that I continue on this journey and take one day at a time. 


I enjoy the menagerie of topics I explore, but I am curious to hear from my readers. Which posts do you like the most?  Do you prefer one of my specific series or my personal experiences and rants?   Leave a comment and let me know.  As always, thanks for reading and being part of my journey. 

Read some of my personal favorites from the last year. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tomorrowland: Dreamers Wanted (Family Movie Review)

Disney's Tomorrowland

For some reason, I wasn't very excited to see Disney's latest motion-picture release, Tomorrowland, starring George Clooney and Britt Robertson. Although I found the premise intriguing, the idea that the most brilliant minds of today could come together in a futuristic dimension to help save the world, I wasn't convinced that Disney's execution of it would deliver. 

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." ~ Albert Einstein

So what is my final verdict? Does Tomorrowland live up to all the hype?  Drum roll please.........well, sort of.  On one hand, the film's story was filled with holes and moments that could have, and should have, just been edited out.  Moments that were so over-the-top, I rolled my eyes. However, as far as it being Disney's attempt at waking up humanity to save our planet, I would say it is definitely worth seeing.  And, visually, this film was a thrill on the big screen. 

Two Wolves Native American ProverbWe are taken back to the 1964 World's Fair in New York - a time when the prospects of the future were exciting and limitless. Fast-forward to 2015 where humanity finds itself looking down the barrel of a gun in regards to the future of our planet. Where everywhere we turn, we are reminded of the unavoidable dystopia humanity is headed toward.  But, Tomorrowland asks its viewers - can we fix the future or has the human race given up? In essence have we given in to the self-fulfilling prophecy that the end of the world is imminent?  Are there any dreamers still out there that are willing to fight for our existence? 

Disney's Tomorrowland reminds us that inspiration can absolutely make the world a better place. Dreamers and thinkers that stick together can save the world. WE make our own destiny. But, we must stop feeding the wrong wolf.  The end of the film is a not so subtle challenge to today's youth to stand up and fight for our planet.  A challenge I hope younger generations take. 

There were plenty of moviegoers in attendance sans children indicating Tomorrowland is a safe bet for all fans of high-action, fantasy/sci-fi films. Even though I wasn't overly impressed with the film as a whole, the message is an important one and I liked it more than I was expecting.  Parents may need to discuss the film with their children afterwards.  I asked my 10-year-old what he got out of the movie (he loved it, by the way) and he said to never give up on your dreams (bingo!) and that humans are really messing up the planet (double bingo!).  However, I had to steer him toward the biggest message which was that it's not too late to FIX the future.   

Watch Official Trailer

PARENTS: Tomorrowland is rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril (lots of robots that look like humans getting decapitated, no blood, and intense explosives), thematic elements (the message is sophisticated and can be difficult to follow for younger viewers), and MILD language. 

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews

Friday, May 22, 2015

Galaxy Quest: Family Movie Review

Galaxy Quest is a blast from the past that my 10-year-old and I found on Netflix. And, despite being "from the 1900s" - as my son would say - he agreed to watch it with me AND then proceeded to request that I feature it as a my weekly family movie-night pick. 

Galaxy Quest which was released in 1999 became a cult classic among science-fiction fans and won numerous industry awards. The cast consists of Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman and countless others including a very young Justin Long.  The film is a clever spoof on the fandom that surrounds Star Trek even to this day. 

Galaxy Quest

Have you ever wondered if there are alien civilizations out there modeling their entire existence, all their technology, on our popular science-fiction movies? Well, that's exactly what happens in Galaxy Quest.  The film follows the washed-up actors of a popular television show, Galaxy Quest, from the 70s and 80s as they continue to profit from the show's success largely because of  its die-hard fans. The actors are now making a living by booking special appearances and, naturally, attending the annual Galaxy Quest conventions. 

However, when a group of real aliens come to earth seeking the help of these fictitious space heroes, these actors must prove that they can live up to their characters' expectations. Will they be able to pull from their knowledge of their television scripts, channel their inner strengths, and succeed in the mission?

Watch Official Trailer

Galaxy Quest is parody at its finest. It is full of laughs and is a bit goofy with cheesy special effects. However, this is what gives the film charm making it a classic.  Science-fiction fans of any age will certainly appreciate this film, but I feel there is enough here for the entire family to enjoy.  The film is rated PG for fantasy violence and action, mild language and some adult content. There are some creepy alien creatures that may not be suitable for very young viewers, but overall, this is a fun, action-packed film the entire family can view for movie night. 

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Miss America (Book Review)

I always love to see the reactions of people, most people anyway, when I say I'm a Howard Stern fan. Their looks are often ones that indicate I shouldn't admit to it. That always makes me laugh.  In fact, if you don't like Howard Stern, go ahead and stop reading now. My review of his 1995 memoir, Miss America, isn't going to change your mind.  Or will it?

I grew up in N.Y. and feel like I always knew who Howard Stern was. But, I certainly wasn't supposed to listen to him, right?  He's crude, sexist, and downright offensive.  Isn't that what his critics say?  What his critics won't tell you is that he is probably the best interviewer out there, even better today than in my earlier years of listening to his show. 

It wasn't until the release of Private Parts in 1997, the film adaptation of Stern's first book, when I discovered how talented this radio personality really is.   He's been called the ultimate shock-jock, the King of All Media, but whatever you want to call him - he is one brilliant entertainer.  In fact, I'd call him the most successful radio broadcaster of all time. 

After watching Private Parts, I started listening to Stern's radio show and was hooked immediately. Of course, that all changed in 2006 when Stern took his show and moved to satellite radio. Can't say I blame him, but that was the end of my Stern days.  Thank you very much, FCC.

Until that is, this year when I traded in my car for one with satellite radio. After three months of a trial, I was once again hooked and, needless to say, subscribed to the radio service after my trial was up. I can go into a million reasons why I love his show and even tell you which segments I like and which I get bored with, but let's get back to the point of this post - a review of his second autobiography, Miss America.

"...when you truly innovate, the public and critics often react to an irreverent new show negatively." ~Howard Stern, Miss America

First, let me say that this memoir is not for everyone.  Miss America will most likely shock, if not offend, most readers at least once (maybe even once per page), so, yes, you have to be open-minded. BUT THAT'S THE BEAUTY OF IT. Stern is a master at poking-fun at serious issues in such a politically incorrect manner, that listeners (or readers in this case) have to laugh. His entire persona laughs at the hypocrisy of society - particularly calling out people who take themselves too seriously. Plus, half the time he's making fun of himself.

Miss America starts off with a bang, no pun intended.  Stern openly discusses his escapades, addiction rather, with online porn and chat rooms. He openly discusses other personal demons such as his bullied youth, his experimentation with drugs, his struggle with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and his self-proclaimed small penis.  All of which die-hard listeners today already know. His honesty is what makes his radio show and his two books so deeply personal and intriguing.

"With the OCD, I was just substituting another box that kept me from the dangers of the outside world." ~ Howard Stern, Miss America

Miss America covers the highlights of his career and his relationships with on-air personalities listeners have all grown to love (or hate) over the years.  He recounts classic on-air shenanigans and the time he dabbled in NY politics. He vents his frustration with the radio industry and even says it was making him crazy and that he should get out of it. Well, twenty years later, the King of All Media still, thankfully, lives on. 

I recommend Miss America to all Howard Stern fans and readers (18 and older) who enjoy autobiographies of interesting public figures.  It is an honest and humorous look at one of the most brilliant masterminds in radio history.  The writing is pure Stern. You will feel like you are in a room with him reminiscing over a cup of coffee.  Is it outrageous? Yes. Does it get raunchy? Absolutely. But, like with everything Stern puts his name on, it is brilliantly funny, entertaining and just might make non-fans take a second look at the man. 

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Into the Woods: Family Movie Review

From the get-go the Disney film, Into the Woods, released in theaters on Christmas Day, 2014, has the spectacle of a Broadway musical. That's because it is an adaptation of a theatrical production from the 1980s featuring a score from none other than Stephen Sondheim. The fact that it is a musical may be enough to turn some people off.  However, the songs are not just fillers. The song lyrics are the core of the story and one must be able to listen to them for they tell the tale and do so beautifully in this film. Into the Woods is a must-see for theater buffs.  Continue reading to determine whether or not it is suitable for your family.

My 12-year-old son would have no part of it, not even when I tried to entice him by telling him Captain Jack Sparrow - I mean Johnny Depp - is in it!  (Although, honestly, that may have been more of an incentive for me.) My younger son, aged 10, is the film buff and, therefore, sat down to watch out of curiosity if nothing else.  

Into the Woods: Family Movie Review

The story takes four favorite Grimm Brothers' fairy tales: Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel, tweaks them just a bit, ties them together with an original story of a childless baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt - who is magnificent) and meshes them together into one musical extravaganza. 

The plot centers around Baker and his wife trying to procure the ingredients the witch (played by Meryl Strep) is demanding in order for her to reverse a curse on the couple that has rendered them childless: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold. Sound familiar?

Into the woods the Baker goes in search for the items requested by the witch.  But these aren't any ordinary woods.  These are fairy tale woods where wishes do come true and where "right and wrong doesn't matter." You know that old saying, "be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it"? Well, we're about to learn that not all fairy tales end happily ever after.

"Careful the path they take, wishes come true, not free." ~ Children Will Listen (song)

The woods are where we stray from the path, in other words, make mistakes. But it is also here that we learn our strengths and re-emerge, back on the path, stronger than ever knowing we are not alone. 

Into the Woods is rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material and is now available for home viewing. It has a star-studded cast too big to mention, although I'd like to because they all did an impressive job!  The costumes, set designs, not to mention the incredible music, all make for a magical movie experience. There are a few "dark" scenes, plus a not-so-scary witch and a giant that is "terrorizing the kingdom" that might scare very young viewers. Otherwise, if you don't object to the almost constant singing, you will enjoy this film.  My son complained about the singing throughout the entire movie, BUT guess who was humming the songs the following morning?

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Looking Forward to Reading More by This Author (Book Review)

Riding Lessons Sara Gruen

"There's no profit in examining the past." ~ Riding Lessons

A couple of fellow bloggers were discussing other novels by this author, when I decided to check her out. Sara Gruen, best known for Water for Elephants, is another new author for me. However, instead of going for her most popular or her latest, The Water's Edge, I decided to read her debut novel, Riding Lessons, published in 2004. 

As those of you who read my reviews regularly know, the two things I look for in a book are characters I can relate to and unpredictability. Riding Lessons has both!

"I was always searching, always seeking the next big thing, because that was the thing that was going to make everything all right again." ~ Annemarie, Riding Lessons

From the very beginning I connected with Annemarie. In fact, even when I wanted to knock her upside the head, I loved her and can't remember the last time I cheered on a character as much. Now 38 and a single-mom of a headstrong teenager (aren't they all), Annemarie returns to her native New Hampshire to help her mother with the running of the family's horse farm. Her father's battle with Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) is deteriorating rapidly. Twenty years after her near fatal fall that cost her the prospect of becoming an Olympic equestrian contender, Annemarie returns home to face several unresolved issues and a father she cannot even look in the eye.

"Then I have the most hideous thought of all: maybe we already were on the same page, and I simply never took the time to find out." ~ Annemarie, Riding Lessons 

All these years, Annemarie believed she was her parents' biggest disappointment. But, it's funny how we can live our entire lives affected by false perceptions. Will Annemarie get past her resentment toward her parents and allow herself to live again?

Riding Lessons has many different components. It deals with forgiveness and letting go, relationships and love, and unexpected second chances. Sometimes things done out of love do not seem right at first. What I also found interesting was the look into the sometimes brutal world of equestrian sports. No surprise, however, was the novel addressing the very deep bonds that develop between humans and animals. Riding Lessons is charming and heart-warming and emotional at times. I recommend it to fans of family and women's fiction and anyone whose life has ever thrown them from a horse, so to speak, and had to learn to get back on.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Rare Venture into Gothic Fiction: The Wolf Gift (Book Review)

".....we have to live with unanswered questions all our lives." ~ Reuben, The Wolf Gift

A friend recently recommended The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice claiming it was her best work. I have to admit, I have never read any of Rice's novels, never even saw the film adaptation of Interview with the Vampire.  However, while I am not a huge horror fan, the Gothic world does fascinate me and I figured I'd give it a try.  This is how I stumbled upon The Wolf Gift, the first novel in Rice's werewolf series. I decided almost instantaneously to read this novel before The Vampire Lestat - blame it on the fact that perhaps I'm a bit vampired-out!

The Wolf Gift takes place in modern-day San Francisco.  Our protagonist, Reuben Golding, is a young, handsome reporter who is sent to interview Marchent Nideck, the owner of the Nideck family mansion located between the remote redwood forest and the Pacific Ocean. She inherited the home from her uncle, archaeologist Felix Nideck, who disappeared twenty years earlier under suspicious circumstances. Wanting to sell the historic home and move on with her life, Marchent is hoping an article on the history of the magnificent estate will entice potential buyers.

Reuben is instantly drawn into the essence of the mansion and begins to ponder the idea of buying the home himself. There is an immediate attraction between Reuben and Marchent, and what ends up being a passionate night between the two strangers, ends in unexpected tragedy where Reuben is accidentally bitten by a mysterious beast. Reuben discovers that whatever bit him that night gave him the "Wolf Gift." Reuben spends the rest of the novel dealing with his new reality while trying to keep it a secret from his family, the media, and the medical world. At the same time, he attempts to uncover the mystery behind the "Wolf Gift" and the disappearance of Felix Nideck.

"Our doubts, like our misfortunes, are the price we have to pay for the fulfullment of the universe.....Evil is inevitable in the course of a creation which develops within time." ~  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin as quoted in The Wolf Gift

From the very first chapter, Rice's writing immerses the reader into the scene - the sights, the smells, the sounds, even the textures. The attraction between Reuben and Marchent is sexy yet brilliantly subtle. However, after the initial rush, I found I had to push past the monotony of the plot. While intoxicating at times, Rice tends to become too verbose, and if I had to read one more gory werewolf attack scene, I would've died from boredom.  I was also a bit disturbed by the relationship between Reuben and Laura feeling the author took the whole beauty and the beast tale to an odd, if not inappropriate, level.  While Laura offers understanding and compassion to Reuben during his time of transition and isolation, her character wasn't fully developed and was, therefore, not believable. Something was missing to allow me connect with her.

So, what kept me reading - besides the fact that I rarely quit reading a novel?  REUBEN! I became enthralled with this young man who, after spending his entire life drowning in insecurities for never living up to anyone's expectations, was now coming into his own. Finally, people will look past his boyish good looks and see him as this great presence, perhaps even a hero.  He would no longer be a disappointment to anyone.

And then I reached it - the brilliant writing, clever dynamics and tension of Chapter 28. This chapter alone would have made the entire novel worth reading.  Happily, for the remainder of the novel, Rice kept up this poetic prose and finally I witnessed vintage Rice. The novel becomes a philosophical, scientific, and theoretical history of the human race.  It was at this point that I could not put the book down. 

"It's the nature of mediocre human beings to believe that lies are necessary, that they serve a purpose, that the truth is subversive, that candor is dangerous, that the very scaffold of communal life is supported by lies." ~Margon, The Wolf Gift

At one point, however, I thought Rice missed the mark with Man-wolf's tendency to go after wild animals for revenge or pure fun, not necessity, since these types of kills are unprecedented in the wild kingdom. But then she slams the reader with the brutal dark-side of human nature, admitting it is the human side of the Man-wolf that engages in such atrocities.  I was glad she addressed this distinction. 

I will not go as far as to say I loved this book because there were too many things I did not like. I kept waiting for the unexpected to happen, yet it never came. Although the climax was exciting, it was not a surprise and, honestly, most of the novel was very predictable. For horror fiction, it was gory, but certainly not scary and it lacked suspense. I was, however, seduced by the lore of the werewolf, and the history that is revealed in the final chapters was truly mesmerizing. I am looking forward to reading the second novel in the series, The Wolves of Mid-Winter, where I hope Rice takes us deeper into werewolf mythology.

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Monday, May 4, 2015

Family Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

"A thing isn't beautiful because it lasts."

Avengers:Age of Ultron

Opening weekend of Avengers: Age of Ultron AND a visit to our local comic book store in celebration of National Comic Book Day made for a memorable Saturday with  my ten-year-old son.

Before I continue, I will admit that I have VERY limited Marvel knowledge.  I am without a doubt a Marvel newbie.  Besides seeing one of the Iron Man movies - so long ago I couldn't even tell you which one or what happened - my only other real experience was in the fall when my son and I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy.

I will remind readers that my reviews are geared toward helping parents determine if a film is suitable for their children. With that said, I'm going to start with the rating which I normally list at the end. However, I was SHOCKED at the number of little, I mean LITTLE, children in the theater. Avengers: Age of Ultron is rated PG-13 and, I will stress, is not suitable for young viewers for several reasons.

FIRST, the film has several intense action scenes that are violent, loud, and fast-paced and include vast destruction and civilian distress. SECOND, there are quite a few sexual innuendos including a reference to a game of "hide the cucumber" and my favorite by Iron Man to Hawkeye in reference to Thor's hammer:

"You've had a hard week, we won't hold it against you if you can't get it up."

I know what you're thinking. Such comments will go over the heads of young viewers so what's the big deal? My response would be, "See reason number one."  THIRD, there is some mild language. FINALLY, and generally something parents don't think about, the previews accompanying a PG-13 movie can be inappropriate. I had to tell my son to turn his head so he wouldn't get freaked out by the preview of Insidious 3.  Hell, I was freaked out by it!

With all that said, if you still think your young child is ready for it, I say that the plot itself is too mature for young audiences so why bother?  The film deals with artificial intelligence and the ethics of human meddling. Have your four-year-old explain that! 

"Ultron can't see the difference between saving the world and destroying it. Where do you think he gets that from?"

Okay, now that I got my parental warnings out of the way, let me say this - Avengers: Age of Ultron was freaking awesome!  The entire cast was wonderful but it was Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner (Hulk) that touched me the most. Plus, the dynamics between Dr. Banner and Natasha aka Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johansson) were nothing short of endearing and sexy. I also wasn't expecting it to be so funny.  The constant banter between the characters was great, with Robert Downey, Jr. running away with the one-liners.

Watch Official Trailer

Of course, there are some background elements of the story and the characters that perhaps only true fans will be privy to.  I know I had to turn to my son for further explanation on more than one occasion. But overall the filmmakers did a decent job of explaining things to us newbies. The film delivered big as promised and it concluded with one hell of a finale. There are some fun superhero action scenes that children may enjoy, but the majority of the film is best suited for pre-teens and older audiences.  I wasn't sure if my own son caught all the themes, but afterwards he said to me, "I think Ultron has a point - all humans do is make our earth dirty, but anyone can change." Well, that certainly is a vital take away. 

Are you a Marvel fan? I would love to hear your perspective on the film. 

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Family Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2

My sons and I missed How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Dreamworks) when it was out in theaters. Therefore, we caught it on Netflix streaming for our family movie night.  Let me start off by saying, if you haven't seen the first film, watch it! Otherwise, you'll be completely lost in the sequel. (AND, honestly, the first one is SO much better, but that's not the point of this review, so I'll continue.)

It's been five years since we were first introduced to our likable array of characters, both Viking and dragon.  The stars of the film are Hiccup, played by Jay Baruchel, who is in line to become the next Chief of Berk, and his dragon, Toothless, who is more adorable than ever!  

The film starts off with Hiccup still searching for his purpose, but by the end, Hiccup proves that he has the "heart of a chief and the soul of a dragon."  

"Once you've earned his loyalty, there is nothing a dragon won't do for you."

In the first film, Hiccup taught us that love, compassion, and trust is how one trains a dragon, not brute force! He taught the village people that dragons are gentle and intelligent creatures, forever altering the way dragons were perceived and treated in Berk. 

In How to Train Your Dragon 2, the village once again relies on Hiccup's peacekeeping skills to prevent a takeover by a war-hungry Viking, Drago, played by Djimon Hounsou, who is kidnapping dragons for his dragon army. 

"Good dragons under the control of bad people, do bad things." 

In the search for Drago, Hiccup stumbles upon a secret safe-haven for dragons led by a mysterious figure who seems to have a knack for relating to these misunderstood creatures just like he does. Turns out this "dragon whisperer" is Hiccup's estranged mother, Valka, played by the very talented Cate Blanchett. Together with Hiccup's team of dragon riders, they will try to defeat Drago and free his enslaved dragons. 

Watch Official Trailer

The biggest theme in both films, and one that alone makes the films worth watching, is the idea that mutual respect, not domination, is the key to human-animal relationships. Once that bond is established, it can never be broken. 

Overall, I thought the film was cute and suitable for the entire family, although my older son slipped out partly through it.  It is rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor. There are some amazingly beautiful flight sequences that must have been spectacular on the big screen.  It is important to note that there are several strong female characters. After all, they are Vikings! While I didn't feel this sequel had all the magic of the first, it did have its sentimental moments and, whether it was hormones or not, I did find myself sucking back a few tears toward the end.  

Read more of my Family Movie Favorites