Book Review: Starship Troopers

Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets

sstroopers

Title: Starship Troopers

Author: Robert Heinlein

Published: 1959

Pages: 263

Genre: Science Fiction

Kid Friendly Rating: 13+ The inner workings of outer space warfare might be a little advanced for younger readers, but Heinlein goes easy on the gory details.

Synopsis:

In a flimsily-justified effort to “be his own man,” Juan “Johnnie” Rico turns his back on his father’s successful business and joins the Federation military for a contractual two-year term of service. However, as tensions mount between the Federation and the “Bug” species, Rico finds himself drawn further into military life than he ever intended.

Final Thoughts:

Most people today are probably more familiar with the 1997 movie of the same name… Oh, god. I’ve just had a thought. That was almost 20 years ago. Are you younger Millennials out there even aware of this movie? That is depressing.

Anyway, it was a movie directed by Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall, Robocop, Basic Instinct), starring Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer, and Dougie Howser Barney Stinson Neil Patrick Harris. I saw it in theaters at an outrageously inappropriate 11 years old, and it was completely full of swearing, blood, violence, and nudity. It was incredible.

Fast-forward 19 years, and I still remember it fondly, although I do respect that it is not the masterpiece of modern cinema that I once believed. It’s got sort of a small cult status now. I see memes and gifs pop up periodically, ironically or not.

 

 

In the interest of rounding out this review, I watched the movie again this week, and I did not feel let down. Possibly the single most remarkable thing about this movie, nearly twenty years on, is that the special effects actually hold up pretty well. Many sci-fi movies from the 90’s are burdened by an over-reliance on under-developed CGI effects, but this movie, either through the use of scale models and animatronics, clever lighting, or just well-thought-out usage of CGI, has largely managed to avoid that.

This is not to say you’ll think you’re watching a movie that was released yesterday. Scene transitions and some effects, particularly those used for outer space scenes, do show a bit of their age. I’d put the effects about on par with a well-produced HBO show, like Game of Thrones.

This should also go without saying, but please don’t go into this movie expecting an Oscar winner. This is a fun sci-fi action movie. Full stop. It does have a little tongue-in-cheek social and political commentary to class up the place, but the thrust of the movie is Man vs. Bug. If you can get behind that, you’re in.

If I were to register a single complaint, it would be, man, Casper Van Dien was the best they could come up with for Johnnie Rico? His acting is a little, ah, wooden. To be completely fair to Van Dien, I think the script somewhat calls for it. Johnnie Rico is a painfully earnest and rah-rah character, very much in the vein of Chris Evans’ Captain America. And boy, Van Dien sure is purdy to look at.

Now, as for the book. I did not know this book existed until a few years ago, and even after learning about it, I was not especially interested. I liked the movie. Why should I need to re-hash it in literary form? I could just watch the movie that I like again. Well, much like the lark that took Rico into military service, I finally gave it a shot, and found a surprising number of differences.

The movie was not a standard book-to-script adaptation. The love triangle between Rico, Carmen, and Dizzy which provides the narrative thrust of the movie is really nowhere to be found. Carmen exists, but only as a distant friend rather than a love interest, and Dizzy is merely a fellow male boot camp cadet who plays a minuscule role.

The movie is largely an action movie split between the perspectives of Rico and Carmen, but the book is entirely Rico’s first person narrative, and combat scenes, while present, account for a very small percentage of the book. Much of the novel focuses on Rico’s various experiences in boot camp and beyond that serve to shape him into the person and soldier he will become. The novel really doesn’t read like an action story, or even a largely sci-fi story, despite the exotic settings. With the detailed descriptions of boot camp proceedings and how infantry rankings are assigned either by recommendation, officer training, and necessity in the field, it reads almost like a real historical war account.

The book manages to be remarkably prescient for a book authored in 1959, although it is also a book of its times. One of the most strikingly dated things about the book is the treatment of female characters, along with Rico’s general viewpoints on women. Heinlein manages to be both forward-looking and endearingly chivalrous. On one hand, he has placed the majority of the female characters in his book in leadership roles within the military. By Rico’s words, women have faster reflexes and reaction times, and their superior scores in math make them prime candidates for space naval pilot and officer positions. On the other hand, Heinlein did not write a single female character placed in the Mobile Infantry, the implication being that it is the job of strong men to stand on the front lines and sacrifice themselves to protect the women. It’s sort of a dichotomy, right? Of course, one could also argue that Rico made it clear that the M.I. was his absolute last choice for military assignments, so if there were no women there, perhaps it was because they simply scored out of it.

The film treated men and women soldiers as equals without fanfare or commentary, both in the navy and within the mobile infantry, although it should be said that the majority of M.I. troopers remained men. One thing even more interesting to me about the book’s gender setup is another sharp departure from the movie. In the book, the M.I. enters combat zones within fully equipped power armor, which more or less renders the wearer’s physical strength moot (although it is reinforced several times that a soldier who is compromised physically through sickness or weariness is of no use to his fellow soldiers, power armor or not). It is interesting that even though this power armor should have theoretically leveled the playing field for all body types, the film’s depiction of lightly armored traditional ground troopers had far more diversity.

The book also seems a bit dated in its conception of soldier motivation, as Rico at one point opines that there is no greater motivation for a group of M.I.s than knowing that on every combat drop, a ship full of women is waiting behind, both depending on them and watching their backs. The idea of a female M.I., or even an M.I. who is not particularly interested in the affections of a woman, is really not even contemplated.

But, when I read a book from another time period, I believe that it is healthier to both a) accept that the book exists as a manifestation of the time period in which it was written, and b) the author’s view points are not my own, and that is OK. I understand that this particular book was controversial even when it was released for some social ideas suggested throughout the narrative, including military sovereignty in government and the nobility self-sacrifice for the betterment of society. I take these ideas as the suggestions of the characters in the book, nothing more.

In other small negatives, some readers may turned off by relatively dry passages explaining the complexities of Federation military organization and the operation of the M.I. power armor. I personally found the military rankings a bit dense hard to follow, and I consider myself somewhat interested in the subject (although I am also fairly unschooled in general real-world military rankings and procedures).

In sum, I think this was a really interesting read. I give it 4/5 stars!

Have you read this book? Let me know what you think!

 

Movie Review: Inside Out

Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets

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Title: Inside Out

Director: Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen

Release Date: June 19, 2015

Genre: Adventure, Comedy

MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 95 minutes

Starring:

  • Amy Poehler
  • Phyllis Smith
  • Bill Hader
  • Lewis Black
  • Mindy Kaling
  • Richard Kind

Kid Friendly Rating: A few moments may be scary for some children, but mostly the movie is firmly in imagination-land. There are some sad scenes, but that’s sort of the point. Recommended 6+. Click here for the Parent Rating Guide!

Personal Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

Reilly is an eleven-year-old girl whose life is upturned when her parents move from Minnesota to San Francisco for a new job opportunity. While she tries to make the best of the situation, the stressful situation combined with her developing emotional maturity quickly sour on Reilly, and she is left feeling lost and out of place.

Inside Reilly’s mind, Joy is the leader of Reilly’s five key emotions, also including Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust. Together, Reilly’s emotions work in “headquarters” to guide Reilly through her day-to-day life. In the midst of the tumultuous changes in Reilly’s life, Joy and Sadness suddenly find themselves sucked out of headquarters and lost in the vast stacks of Reilly’s memory banks. Together, they work to find their way back to headquarters to help Fear, Anger, and Disgust, who are floundering with Reilly in their absence.

Pictures:

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Memorable Quotes:

  • Congratulations San Francisco, you’ve ruined pizza! First the Hawaiians, and now YOU!
  • All these facts and opinions look the same. I can’t tell them apart.
  • Your dad’s under a lot of pressure, but if you and I can keep smiling, it would be a big help. We can do that for him. Right?
  • Things couldn’t be better. After all, Riley’s twelve now. What could happen?

Fun Fact:

According to director Pete Docter, each emotion is based on a shape: Joy is based on a star, Sadness is a teardrop, Anger is a fire brick, Fear is a raw nerve, and Disgust is broccoli.

Final Thoughts:

This movie has quickly become one of my 2.5-year-old daughter’s favorites, probably due mostly to the beautiful artwork, physical comedy, and superb voice acting by the lead characters. However, the thoughtfully written and layered innuendo which has become something of a trademark of Pixar movies ensures that there is something here to enjoy for every age group. Older audience members may find the movie somewhat more emotional than the kiddos, because there is a lot of wistful nostalgia regarding the process of growing up and maturing emotionally. There are a few laugh-out-loud situations that I don’t want to spoil, but suffice to say the actors were well-cast for their comedic roles.

If there is one real drawback to the movie, it is that there is not a ton of educational value. The various areas of the brain are cleverly plotted, but don’t offer a lot of insight on brain functions or psychology, but, perhaps this is really not the appropriate venue for those topics. On the other hand, there is one central lesson; the idea that as we get older, our emotions become less clear, and opinions about what once was simply good-or-bad, true-or-false, tasty-or-gross, may end up somewhere in the middle. And this lesson may hit home stronger with growing children than some denser educational content, anyway.

(Bad) Movie Review: San Andreas

(Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets)

TLDR: Watch for irony only.

sanandreas

Title: San Andreas

Director: Brad Peyton

Release Date: May 29, 2015

Genre: Action/Sci-Fi

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 114 minutes

Starring:

● Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

● Carla Gugino

● Alexandra Daddario

● Paul Giamatti

Kid Friendly Rating: 14+. The movie features a violent earthquake and all of the associated blood, death, and otherwise scary scenarios. Click here for the Parent Rating Guide!

Personal Rating: 1/5

Synopsis:

In the latest mega-budget apocalyptic movie, a massive earthquake has struck the San Andreas fault and laid waste to California from San Francisco to Las Angeles. Will The Rock save his marriage, his daughter, and the WORLD? Can you smell-el-el-el-el-el what The Rock is cooking?

Pictures:

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Final Thoughts:

Brad Peyton is the latest in a long line of directors to bring your real-world worldwide disaster fears to the big screen. These types of movies have a checkered past. From the historically-based (A Perfect Storm, Apollo 13, The Impossible) to the freaking crazy (2012, The Core, The Day After Tomorrow) to the vaguely plausible (Twister, Armageddon… everyone knows roughnecks make the best astronauts, Independence Day …we all agree aliens are real and will attack us, right?), these movies range from great to historically bad.

Fortunately, the viewer usually does not have to be terribly discerning to separate the decent movies from the utter, complete crap. Aaron Eckhardt was great in Thank You for Smoking and The Dark Knight, so The Core must be pretty good, right? No? Crud. Well, all children of the 80’s know John Cusack does great movies, so 2012 was a can’t-miss. Right? Foiled again!

Fortunately, patient reader, you have knauff13 to guide you through this minefield of turds.

Might as well start with the director who guided this slag heap through the finish line. Brad Peyton was the obvious choice for a big-budget action thriller, based on his overwhelming success with such vaunted flicks as, um, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012), and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (2010). Not a joke. I could probably stop right there. Seriously, everyone, someone in Hollywood is making these spending decisions. Why can’t it be you, instead? It’s hard to really tell whether the story faltered by Peyton’s ham-handed touch, or at the direction of an unforgiveable script, but either way. This is the man that put it all together for ya.

***Spoiler Alert*** I especially liked the part at the end, where a gigantic American flag materializes and gets unfurled above San Francisco in a shameless attempt to manipulate American pride in place of quality storytelling. Peyton, however, decided the viewers might not quite get the symbolism and decided to smash them across the face with it once more, as Carla Gugino asks The Rock, “What will we do now?” The Rock gazes across a ravaged landscape and solemnly intones, “Now, we rebuild.” HA! The Rock will fix everything! USA! USA!

Dwayne Johnson (I’ll give him the benefit of his chosen moniker from here out because I don’t actually dislike him) is mostly likeable as a leading man, but placing him in a role requiring some dramatic range does expose his limitations. I think somewhere in his stoic demeanor, I was supposed to detect hints of alarm for a daughter in grave danger, sadness over a long-deceased second child, and wistful regret over a marriage that failed in the wake of said lost child. Did I say Johnson is good at being stoic? The scenes requiring Johnson to act the conquering hero were believable, occasionally, but if the viewer wants any sign of emotion from a father in extreme distress, it’s not here.

And, last, but not least, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out this movie’s painful objectification of women. Look, I know it happens, even sometimes subconsciously, but this is bad even by Hollywood’s low standards. Within the first few frames of the movie, we see Alexandra Daddario in a bikini, for absolutely no narrative reason whatsoever. Later, as Daddario and her companions fight their way through the wreckage of San Francisco she literally strips off her clothing to fight through the earthquakes. Not making that up. Look at the pictures above for the before and after. The kid has managed to keep his jacket AND shoulder bag. The young man’s shirt has come untucked to show that he’s been through a scuffle. Daddario has lost two different tops in the same time. Weird. It really is a shame, because Daddario’s character is written as a remarkably savvy survivor who often puts her fellow male companions to shame.

I like Carla Gugino as an actress a lot. She’s better than this movie allows. That being said, there is a scene involving Gugino as the lone survivor of a collapsing building. She scrabbles madly and across shifting concrete and girders, finally jumping to her safety in a helicopter. In HEELS! Why??

All told, if you’re looking for a big blockbuster-type movie, you can do far better. Go rent The Martian instead.

Ancient history: Movie Review: The Princess Bride

Movie Review: The Princess Bride

            The Princess Bride is the hilarious tale of true love. Cary Elwes and Robin Wright star in the 1984 film, with acclaimed director Rob Reiner at the helm.

The film is the big-screen rendition of William Goldman’s 1970 book, The Princess Bride. The story centers around Wesley (Elwes) and Buttercup (Wright), two young lovers who are separated by poverty. Five years after their separation, Buttercup agrees to marry the prince of her land, with the assumption that Wesley–who never returned–is dead. Soon Wesley returns and immediately begins his attempts to retrieve Buttercup from the evil prince.

A spectacular cast highlights this very funny comedy. In one of his first roles, Fred Savage (Wonder Years) plays a sick young boy who is read the love story by his grandfather. Andre Rousimoff(also known as Andre the Giant), plays Fezzik, a big-hearted giant. Billy Crystal plays a hermit magician named Miracle Max. Mandy Patinkin (from Dick Tracy) plays Inigo Montoya, a drunkard master swordsman. Christopher Guest turns in a great performance as the villainous prince.

The soundtrack adds to the film with a well-written score. Singer/songwriter Mark Knopfler, of the band Dire Straits, created the music for the film. He also wrote a romantic song for the movie, called “Storybook Love.” The music does well to portray the story’s themes of love and violence. It is soft and romantic during touching parts, but loud and shrieking when fighting occurs.

Ancient history: Movie Review: King Arthur

Movie Review: King Arthur

            King Arthur is not the typical Arthurian story of Camelot and shining knights in the middle ages. In fact, this story, based on real archaeological evidence, makes Arthur a knight during the decline of Rome.

Arthur (Clive Owen) is a famed Roman general in Britain, who commands several knights to protect the British area from attacks by Saxons. His knights are all native to the country, but were captured by Romans when they invaded Britain. Eventually, Rome decides to abandon the area, and charges Arthur and his knights to find and safely retrieve a Roman man deep inside enemy territory. Their reward for their deeds would thus be freedom.

This movie is an exciting and touching realistic view of Arthurian legend. The movie opens with fighting and ends with the marriage of Arthur and Gwenevere (Keira Knightley). Owen turns in a masterful performance, accurately portraying Arthur’s sadness for his knights and his respect for democracy.

With stunning visual effects and fight scenes, King Arthur is a “can’t-miss” film.

Ancient history: News story based on an informal Q&A with Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford

            He is among the most popular actors of the 20th century. Harrison Ford has starred in dozens of hit films, including the second-grossing film of all time, Star Wars. So what does it take to be such a popular actor? This was the topic of discussion in a recent informal interview after a screening of his hit new movie, Firewall.

When asked how he makes his roles come to life, Ford’s jovial side shined through. “Well, there is money involved,” he said.

Ford explained that acting is his job. As such, he takes it very seriously, and gives it everything he has.

Another subject of discussion was the choosing of scripts. Ford offered several things that pass through his mind as he mulls a script. He said he likes scripts that are different and challenging, but most of all he looks for scripts that will be entertaining.

“I think this is a service occupation where we are storytellers, and there’s no sense in telling stories that people don’t want to hear,” Ford said.

Looking forward, he said he would like to do a comedy at some point, because his resume is loaded with dramas, but the category of comedy is left wanting so far.

Ford, who early in his life worked as a carpenter and messenger boy for popular rock band The Doors, reflected on what made him decide to be an actor. As a philosophy major in college, he was looking for a class that would be an easy grade. He picked a drama class. Little did he know just how challenging it would be. At first he was scared witless, but angry with himself he became determined to overcome the feeling.

“When I did, I also found that what I was engaged in, with people trying to tell a story, was something that felt better than any other thing I’d ever done before,” he said.

He never planned on being a popular actor, though.

“I thought I was going to be a character actor. I thought I would be lucky to get jobs in television and stuff,” he said.

When Star Wars hit the screen in the 70’s, he quickly realized that he had a lot more to offer.

Since then, Ford has been in one hit film after another. He has played the consummate good guy in Indiana Jones, and the secretive bad guy in What Lies Beneath. With Indiana Jones 4 due for initial filming in summer 2006, expect to see more from this great actor soon.

Ancient history: Movie Review: Cinderella Man

Cinderella Man

            Cinderella Man is the inspiring story of James Braddock, the boxing legend who rose from poverty to win the heavyweight title during the great Depression. His story is so far-fetched, no one would believe it if it wasn’t true.

Braddock’s incredible story begins in the 1920’s, when Braddock was an up-and-coming challenger for the World Heavyweight Title. Sadly, his career was slowly de-railed by injuries to his hands. In the 1930’s, the midst of the depression, Braddock was stripped of eligibility to fight after breaking his hand in a “beer league” type match. Several years later, Braddock was given the chance to fight in Madison Square Garden for a boxer who pulled out lame, and he shocked the audience by winning. Several bouts later, Braddock was the heavyweight champion.

Although its box office take was not overly impressive, Cinderella Man is a great movie. According to respected talk show host Larry King, it is “one of the best movies ever!” Star Russell Crowe turns in a tear-jerking performance that allows Braddock’s deep love for his family to shine through. Renee Zellweger and Paul Giamatti round out a sparkling cast.

He had a lot to work with, but director Ron Howard made the most out of this uplifting story. You can feel the emotions in every scene: Braddock’s love for his family, the sadness of the depression, and the crowd’s support for the true underdog to win. A worthy film for any audience, Cinderella Man is one to see.

Movie Review: Spirited Away

(Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets)

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Title: Spirited Away

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Release Date: July 7, 2001

Genre: Animation, Fantasy, Adventure

MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 125 minutes

Starring:

● Daveigh Chase

● Suzanne Pleshette

● Jason Marsden

Kid Friendly Rating: 9+. The movie features several spooky monsters and storylines, and some characters smoke and drink ambiguous substances. Click here for the Parent Rating Guide!

Personal Rating: 5/5

Synopsis: Ten-year-old Chihiro and her family are on their way to a new home and a new life, when Chihiro’s father spots a potential shortcut through a wooded lane. The family arrives at a mysterious dark tunnel in the road, and Chihiro’s parents decide to take a walk to see what lies at the other end. They discover what looks like an abandoned theme park in the middle of a grassy meadow. When Chihiro’s parents smell fresh food, the hunger from a long car ride sets in and gets the best of them, and they go off in search of the source, against Chihiro’s protestations.

Chihiro is unable to persuade her parents to leave, and when sun sets, she finds herself trapped in a resort populated by spirits who come from near and far to seek refuge. Chihiro meets a boy named Haku, who offers to help Chihiro find safety in the resort. Chihiro soon sets off on a quest to meet the leader of the resort and find freedom both for herself and her parents.

Pictures:

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Memorable Quotes:

Aogaeru: Welcome the rich man, he’s hard for you to miss. His butt keeps getting bigger, so there’s plenty there to kiss!

Zeniba: We’re identical twins and exact opposites.

Final Thoughts:

What a strange and wonderful movie! This movie has been on my must-see list for so long. It’s been around since 2001, so perhaps many people are already familiar with it, but it seems almost like Disney is content to just let it sit on the shelf for English-speaking audiences to discover on their own. With a two-year-old running around and my Netflix queue looking slim, I figured it was finally time to give it a chance.

The story shares quite a bit with Louis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It is full of all manner of silly and sometimes scary creatures, humorous moments, and sticky situations for the young protagonist. Chihiro starts out as a very restless and scared little girl, but you can see and feel her maturing and growing in confidence through each of her escapades.

My wife and I were both excited to find a great new movie to watch, but best of all, our daughter watched with rapt attention for a good hour! Granted, she was also tired, but this never happens!

Bottom line, this is the best kind of kid friendly movie: one the kids love, and the adults will like, too.

Movie Review: The Book of Life

Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets

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Title: The Book of Life

Director: Jorge R. Gutierrez

Release Date: October 17, 2014

Genre: Animation, Fantasy, Adventure, Comedy

MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 95 minutes

Starring:

● Diego Luna

● Zoe Saldana

● Channing Tatum

Kid Friendly Rating: A good Disney analog is the animated Hercules (1997). The film delves significantly into death and the underworld, but it is presented in a firmly fantastical manner. Light romance does not venture beyond courtship and tasteful kissing. Some dark monsters and violence may be scary for young children. Click here for the Parent Rating Guide!

Personal Rating: 3.5/5

Synopsis: The story begins with a children’s museum tour. At the museum, the tour guide tells the children a story from The Book of Life, a book that allegedly contains all stories that have ever been told. This story focuses on the mythical town of San Angel in Mexico. San Angel is celebrating The Day of the Dead, a day on which those who have been lost are fondly remembered. Observing the festival are La Muerte, kind ruler of The Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba, cynical ruler of The Land of the Forgotten. La Muerte and Xibalba observe two young boys, Malolo and Joaquin, striving for the attention of their young female friend, Maria. La Muerte and Xibalba decide to set a wager, each betting that one of the boys will marry Maria. If Malolo succeeds, Xibalba with cease meddling in the affairs of humans. If Joaquin succeeds, La Muerte will exchange rulership of the realms with Xibalba. The movie skips forward several years, when the three children reunite as young adults struggling under the weight of their parents’ expectations. After Malolo and Joaquin resume their good-natured rivalry for Maria’s affection, Xibalba’s continued meddling sets matters on a crash course.

Pictures:

0500_0100_0144_beauty5K_v001 Xibalba (voiced by Ron Perlman), who rules The Land of the Forgotten, makes a fateful bet with his estranged wife La Muerte (voiced by Kate del Castillo), who oversees The Land of the Remembered.

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Memorable Quotes:

La Muerte: The world keeps spinning, and the tales keep turning, and people come and people go, but they’re never forgotten. And the one truth we know, it held true one more time… That love, true love, the really, really good kind of love never dies.

Joaquin: Those are some big shadows we live under, hey buddy?

Fun Fact:

Ron Perlman, who voices Xibalba, is a veteran of several of producer Guillermo del Toro’s films, including Hellboy, Pacific Rim, and Cronos

Final Thoughts:

I’ve been intrigued by this movie since I first saw Guillermo del Toro’s name attached to it, and I don’t feel let down. This movie is a fun change from your typical animated fare. The animation style is unusual, but arresting. The immersion in Mexican culture also feels fresh, although perhaps not surprising given del Toro’s and Gutierrez’s roots as Mexican nationals. Parents will find that the movie touches upon several positive themes, including honesty, what it means to be courageous, and being true to oneself. The movie also does not shy away from more complicated topics, like family dynamics and the sometimes gray areas between good and evil. A bit of slapstick humor and dry wit helps lighten some of the dramatic and ominous overtones. The plot is a bit complicated, particularly in the beginning, so it may be better suited for adults (or children with patient parents), but as the story goes along it becomes easier to follow.  The adults in the room may also enjoy some Mexican-influenced versions of pop favorites like Radiohead’s “Creep” or Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend.” I think it’s a great change of pace for a family movie night.