Friday, June 9, 2023

Instant Family (2018)

Streaming Service: Paramount+
Movie Name/Year: Instant Family (2018)
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Family
Length:  1h 58min
Rating: PG-13
Production/Distribution: Paramount Pictures, Closest to the Hole Productions, Leverage Entertainment, Two Grown Men, Paramount Pictures International, Sony Pictures Releasing, United International Pictures (UIP), Universal Pictures International (UPI), Paramount Home Entertainment, Universal Pictures
Director: Sean Anders
Writers: Sean Anders, John Morris
Actors: Britt Rentschler, Carson Holmes, Charlie McDermott, Eve Harlow, Gustavo Escobar, Iliza Shlesinger, Isabela Merced, Joan Cusack, Julianna Gamiz, Julie Hagerty, Jody Thompson, Margo Martindale, Mark Wahlberg, Michael O'Keefe, Octavia Spencer, Rose Byrne, Tig Notaro, Tom Segura
IMDb Blurb: A couple find themselves in over their heads when they foster three children.

Cat’s Point of View:
Instant Family was one of those movies that looked fine in the trailer; but, as a story, it might have the potential to be heavier than I was feeling up for in the dramatic feels department. It didn’t make my personal Top 20 for November 2018 for that reason, and not based on the potential merit of the movie. 

Now that it came up in our random review rotation, I did my best to push aside any preconceived notions and even didn’t re-watch the trailer beforehand so I could experience the film with an open mind and fresh eyes. I am very glad I did. 

Instant Family didn’t shy away from the drama, though tempered the more intense elements of the story with comedy and lots of heart. The laughs were organic and woven into the tale deftly so that the production worked as a whole rather seamlessly. I’ve seen movies in the past that made clunky attempts at such but there was no hiding the segmented feeling. I didn’t find any such problems with Instant Family. It all had a natural flow about it. I didn’t even really note the passage of time all that much during my watch-through.

The foster and adoption system is one that doesn’t often get press, and generally when it does, it’s not good. There are so many kids out there that need good homes that can’t be the ones they started out with. In that way, Instant Family really hit an important topic and gave a positive feel-good story to go with it - without glossing over or sugarcoating anything. 

When I was in the 3rd grade, I got a front-row seat to some aspects of the lives of foster kids, as some of my family fostered often, and I stayed with them for a time and got to know the children that were around when I was. Instant Family hit on so many levels and had the benefit of authenticity, as well. I hadn’t realized it before, but writer and director Sean Anders (Horrible Bosses 2, Daddy's Home, Spirited) based Instant Family on aspects from his own life with fostering and adopting children. You could tell that this came from a place of deep understanding.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding cast. I couldn’t fault any of the performances within Instant Family whether they were Hollywood heavy hitters such as Mark Wahlberg (Deepwater Horizon, Spenser Confidential, Father Stu), Rose Byrne (I Am Mother, Jexi, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Shape of Water, Ma), and Tig Notaro (Lucy in the Sky, Army of the Dead, We Have a Ghost) or the up-and-coming child actors. Everyone was cast well and just felt right in their roles. Though, I do have to say my favorite was Isabela Merced (Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Sweet Girl), who played the oldest of the 3 primary kids in Instant Family, Lizzy. 

While there was a family theme throughout Instant Family and the word even within the movie’s title, as well as young kids featured in the film, this is not a movie for the very young. The PG-13 was a good rating here for the occasional language and some scenarios shown. 

Instant Family was definitely worth the watch, and I didn’t even mind the Paramount+ related ads. I have to be pretty invested in something for that not to be bothersome. If you’re looking for a heartwarming movie with laughs and just enough edge, this could be a good one to try.
Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 81%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 83%
Metascore – 57%
Metacritic User Score – 7.3/10
IMDB Score – /10
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 4/5
Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Heroes of the Golden Mask (2023)


 Movie Name/Year: Heroes of the Golden Mask (2023)
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Length: 1h 22min
Rating: Unrated
Production/Distribution: Arcana Studio, CG Bros Entertainment, Trigger Music, Fox VFX Labs, Heroes of the Golden Mask Films, Gravitas Ventures, The Exchange, Paramount
Director: Sean Patrick O’Reilly
Writers: Xiaoming Yao, John Wilson, Dennis Edwards, Jim Kammerud, Jacob Semans, Brian Smith, Richard Lasser, Chris Wyatt, Merrill Hagan, Benjamin Townsend, Sean Patrick O'Reilly, Brandon Violette, Jacob Fox, Patrick Rieger
Actors: Ron Perlman, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Patton Oswalt, Christopher Plummer, Kiefer O'Reilly, Byron Mann, Osric Chau, Kiefer O’Reilly, Sean Patrick O’Reilly, Zeus Mendoza, Kingston Chan, King Lau, Jane Eastwood, Albert Steven Tsai, Rickie Wang, Jett Wu
IMDb Blurb: Charlie, a wise-cracking, homeless, American orphan is magically transported to the ancient Chinese kingdom of Sanxingdui, where a colorful team of superheroes need his help to defend the city from a brutal conqueror. Charlie joins the heroes, and secretly schemes to steal the priceless golden masks that grant them their powers.
Cat’s Point of View:
I want to begin by saying that I overall enjoyed my experience watching Heroes of the Golden Mask. There were several factors that drew me to this movie when we watched trailers while preparing for the June 2023 Top 20 article. It made both Selina’s list as well as my own. 

One big reason I was keen to watch Heroes of the Golden Mask as soon as I could was because of the cast involved. I’ve had a soft spot for Ron Perlman (Nightmare Alley, Guillermo del Toro's Pinnochio, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts) projects dating back to the 80s. I’ve also enjoyed productions featuring Patton Oswalt (The Goldbergs, The Sandman, 80 for Brady), Natasha Liu Bordizzo (Guns Akimbo, The Voyeurs, Day Shift), Keifer O'Reilly (Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom, Midnight Sun, Mixtape) before. 

Last, but certainly not least, Heroes of the Golden Mask was the final movie renowned Christopher Plummer (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, All the Money in the World, Knives Out) worked on before his passing, and I wanted to see his final project in homage to his storied career. 

The story looked like it might just be pretty good, too, so that was a plus. 

Now that I’ve watched Heroes of the Golden Mask, I can’t say that it lived up to all of my expectations, but it did a pretty good job. 

This is going to be the kind of movie that younger kids might get a kick out of, but teens and adults might find their attention drifting now and again. There’s definitely a good message, and it’s interesting that the story was inspired by actual artifacts. It might encourage research on the topic if anyone desires to delve deeper. Parents just might want to gauge their children’s tolerance level beforehand, because there are some creatures and situations that might be a little scary for the very young involved. The story does also involve some intense loss experienced by some of the main characters. 

The animation was really the only thing that took away from the experience for me - and I really tried to look past it to the overall narrative. There were flashes of greatness but they were surrounded by some aspects that felt unfinished - like the storyboard scenery accidentally made it into the final cut, or a graphics card was having a hard time keeping up while loading a large video game. 
I really try not to put too much weight on the visuals, however, sometimes it just can't be helped. It can be distracting if things look.. well, off.  In today's age with the amount of digital content available out there, projects that are less polished are unfortunately going to pale against the veritable mountain of other content.

I think it’s one of those things that you just have to take with a grain of salt, however. This wasn’t made by a big-budget A-list animation studio, after all. Arcadia Studio is still relatively young and has the potential for growth. So far its projects have been a little off-the-wall but there have been some good ones in their repertoire so far - such as the Howard Lovecraft series, such as Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom (2016). They’ve also got a few quirky titles like Panda vs. Aliens (2021). While I’ve seen and enjoyed the Lovecraft films, I haven’t seen the others. 

I think writer and director Sean Patrick O'Reilly (The Steam Engines of Oz, Howard Lovecraft adn the Kingdom of Madness, Corrective Measures) did the best he could with what he had and is really starting to find his feet in the industry. I think his projects have the potential to get better from here. Of course, I am an eternal optimist so take that how you will. 

Now that school is letting out and kids are finding more time on their hands, Heroes of the Golden Mask might be a great way to get summer vacation started for the younger crowd. 

Heroes of the Golden Mask is set to release in theaters and On Demand starting Friday, June 9th, 2023.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score –None
Metascore – None
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – None
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 3/5

Trust the Dice: Parental Guidance Rating – PG

Movie Trailer:

Monday, June 5, 2023

The Secret Kingdom (2023)

Movie Name/Year: The Secret Kingdom (2023)

Genre: Adventure, Family

Length: 1h 38min

Rating: PG

Production/DistributionSaban Films, Little Monster Productions, Hive Studios Australia, Pinnacle Films, Signature Entertainment

Director: Matt Drummond

Writer: Matt Drummond

Actors: Alyla Browne, Alice Parkinson, Christopher Gabardi, Sam Everingham, Darius Williams, Beth Champion, Gabrielle Chan, Rowland Holmes


Blurb from IMDb: Story of anxious Peter (12) and his sister Verity (9), taken underground by a garrison of armoured pangolin.



Selina’s Point of View:

I think back to what I said about The Secret Kingdom on my Top 20 list for June, and I believe I got it right.


The lower-budget qualities I mentioned were a factor. I’m not sure what the actual budget was, so I hesitated to call it low-budget, but there were qualities that hint The Secret Kingdom probably wasn’t a top-tier financial priority. A lot of the CGI was a bit on the janky side. 



The pangolins gave me some creepy uncanny valley vibes at first, though they did grow on me by the end. The way the dragon was created, though. It was every bit as problematic as the trailer suggested. Especially when in motion, the dragon never had a realistic feel.


CGI does not make or break a movie, though.


I was very clear in my Top 20 post that if the story was good enough, I wouldn’t care about the graphics. And I don’t. 



The story was very well told. It had the CGI and, unfortunately, a lot of the acting against it – but I was still drawn into every minute. I particularly loved the ending. Part of it was foreseeable – but that second twist came out of left field. I was caught so off-guard that I rewound the screener to see if they just didn’t foreshadow it. I was surprised to find it was all there.


Matt Drummond (Dinosaur Island, My Pet Dinosaur) used some great tricks to throw viewers off, and it worked. Well.


If you opt to watch The Secret Kingdom give the visuals a little leeway. Kids won’t care anyway, because the story will hold their attention and offer some very valuable lessons. 


The Secret Kingdom will be in Theaters and On Demand on Friday, June 9.


Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – None

Metascore – None
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score –7.8/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating 3/5
P.S. Short after-credit scene.

Movie Trailer: