Tag Archives: DVD reviews

Blu-Ray review: Jackie Chan in “The Spy Next Door”

There’s an old adage attributed to W.C. Fields that goes, “Never work with children or animals.” To that I would add Chinese actors who have difficulty with English. While Chan has the charm of any gifted comedian, he can’t act in English at all. Add to the mix a bunch of kid actors perform like they’re being coached off screen, plus the thespian talents of Billy Ray Cyrus, and you have an idea of the quality acting in this movie.  If you can get past that, as most children, ages 7-12 can, then you can appreciate The Spy Next Door for its charms.

First of all, the story is sweet. Jackie Chan plays Bob, a superspy living in the suburbs, next door to single mom, Gillian (Amber Valletta) and her three young kids: Farren (Madeline Carroll), the snarky teenager, Ian (Will Shadley), the nerdy, socially awkward son, and Nora (Alina Foley), the precocious little daughter. When the film opens, Bob and Gillian have been dating and he wants to take the next step in their relationship. He has decided to retire from espionage and would like to propose. The only problem is that he’s never bonded with the kids, and frankly, they think Bob is the biggest dork they’ve ever met (a guise he assumes part to keep his identity incognito from the rest of the world). Gillian is reluctant to commit until the kids accept Bob. As the movie gods would have it, she is called away for a family emergency; Bob volunteers to watch the children.

Meanwhile, Poldark, a nefarious Russian spy (played by Lazytown star, Magnus Scheving) has escaped from custody and Bob’s old CIA buddies (Cyrus and George Lopez) call him back in for one final mission. As you would expect, the secret agenting and the babysitting worlds collide, leading to a disastrous breakup with Gillian and everyone’s life in danger. This being a family movie, no one’s life is ever really in danger. The villains are too buffoonish to do any harm, and Bob is just too smart to let them get away with anything.

The Spy Next Door bears some similarity to The Pacifier, that Vin Diesel hit film from several years back. Jackie Chan is a champ throughout this film and keeps the energy of everything up.  Likewise, director Brian Levant keeps the pace moving, leaving very little room for the dull moments that kill these kinds of movies. Unfortunately, and I mentioned this above, the acting sometimes borders on painful. The kids. The fake Russian accents. Jackie Chan and Billy Ray Cyrus.

I know, I know, “it’s a family film! Give it a break!” I have given it a break, the first time I watched it. But the 6th and 7th time my children popped in the DVD I had to exit the room. This just means that I’m definitely not the real audience for this movie. Once is enough for grown ups, but kids will love it time and a gain. The reason is Chan’s personality. His talents as an action hero and a physical comedian make watching him a joy, especially for kids, who like to see bad guys get what’s coming to them. Your children will love The Spy Next Door, and it’s a safe family movie that should you walk away for a couple of minutes… or the entire movie, you won’t have anything to worry about.

Extras for this Blue-Ray/DVD combo set are minimal. Worth checking out is the featurette, “Jackie Chan: Stunt Master and Mentor – Working with the King of Action”. It’s a loving tribute to the star and shows what kind of a professional he is on set/ Chan comes across as one of the real good guys in Hollywood and his cast and crew genuinely seem to worship him.

DVD review: “Tooth Fairy”

Dwayne Johnson has certainly muscled out an acting career for himself, hasn’t he? Pro wrestling notwithstanding, the man formerly known as “The Rock” has been an action hero, he has shown excellent comedic chops, and now he’s nudging his way into the family film market. You know what? He’s doing a good job. The material he’s given isn’t always the greatest, but Johnson on screen is likable and isn’t afraid to make a fool of himself if it means bettering the movie. Moreover, he genuinely seems to be having a good time whenever he’s on camera. What this does is help the audience have a good time with him. Such is the case with his newest DVD, Tooth Fairy, a fantasy film from Walden Media and 20th Century Fox that’s more than entertaining, even if it hits most of the same notes of every family film out there.

Johnson plays Derek Thompson, a minor league hockey player past his prime. Instead of being a force on the ice, he’s just an enforcer, sent into games to knock out opposing players. He’s earned the nickname “The Tooth Fairy” thanks to his habit of hitting his opponents so hard they end up missing teeth. Derek eats up the attention, even though he’s seen more as a novelty than an integral part of the hockey team. This point is driven home when a hotshot young player arrives and Derek is relegated to protecting the kid on the ice so he doesn’t get hurt. The tooth fairy is now the babysitter

Thanks to Johnson’s natural charm as a performer, Derek comes across as good-natured, even though he’s pretty cynical. For example, when kids tell him they want to grow up to play hockey be just like him, Derek doesn’t encourage them. Instead, he tells them the long odds they’re against and that they should choose something else to do with their lives. Someone who is able to look past his faults is Carly, a single mom that he’s been dating. Ashley Judd, who once starred in movies but now seems relegated to supporting roles, plays Carly. She brings a lot of warmth and definitely the right amount of strength and believability to her part. Carly has two children, six year old Tess (Destiny Whitlock) and teenager, Randy (Chase Ellison), a shy boy who has channeled his feelings into becoming an excellent guitar player. Continue reading

DVD review: “Madeline: Lost in Paris”

Here’s a delightful film I’ve been aware of ever since it was released back in 2001. Back when my daughter was 3 and 4, she watched our VHS copy of Madeline: Lost in Paris so many times the tape began to wear out. Eventually she moved on to other things and the tape was placed in a box, in the garage, where the videotape is probably brittle and worthless by now. No worries, though, because Shout! Factory has just released this splendid animated feature on DVD.

Madeline: Lost In Paris a sweet, innocent film that parents and kids can sit through together. It features Christopher Plummer’s warm voice as the narrator, Jason Alexander as the male villain, Horst, and Lauren Bacall and the villainess, Madame Lacroque. The plot is something right out of a turn of the century adventure story. Madeline, the spunky orphan girl who lives in a big house with eleven other girls and Miss Clavel, their teacher, receives a letter from a man claiming to be her long lost Uncle Horst. He comes to Paris to whisk her away with him to attend finishing school in Vienna.  Although saddened to be leaving her friends and Miss Clavel, Madeline is very excited to have a family. Madeline and her loyal dog, Genevieve, go away with Uncle Horst.

All is not what it seems, though, and Madeline learns this right away when Uncle Horst leaves Genevieve to fend for herself in the Paris train station and Madeline is kidnapped! Uncle Horst is not her uncle at all. He’s a scoundrel who takes orphans to work in forced labor creating delicate lace collars under the strict supervision of Madame Lacroque.

WOW! If you went by that description alone, you’d be horrified about this film. However, like any Dickens novel (which always seemed to have kids in peril), Madeline: Lost in Paris uses a light touch to keep the horrific conditions and the scary situation not so horrific and not so scary. Moreover, Madeline is such a brave little girl you don’t believe for one second that she’s going to remain trapped, nor will she allow her new friends, all of the other kidnapped children, to stay under the cruel care of Madame Lacroque.

Meanwhile, Genevieve returns to the school, signaling to Miss Clavel and the other girls that Madeline is in trouble. Immediately Miss Clavel goes to the police. At the same time the little girls and their next-door neighbor, Pepito, set off to save Madeline. Again, a light touch is used and you never get the sense that any of these kids are ever truly in danger.

The film moves briskly and is full of vibrant colors. Seeing a digital copy of the movie for the first time really made me realize how awful our VHS version was back in the day. It’s also wonderful to see a hand drawn animated film that doesn’t appear so cookie cutter like most of the shows you see on television. The backgrounds are all painted to look like watercolors and the character animation is quite fluid. The filmmakers really captured the feeling of the drawings from the original Madeline books. All of the actors are excellent.

It had been at least seven years since I last saw Madeline: Lost in Paris and I was curious how my daughter would react when she watched it with me. It was wonderful to sit down with her again, and with my younger son, and relive some old memories. Although she seems to have outgrown the age group of this movie, she still enjoyed it after all of these years. Madeline: Lost in Paris is a gentle and kind film that fits in nicely with all of the other movies you may own that have been produced by Disney, DreamWorks, Pixar or Nickelodeon. I highly recommend it for little girls (and boys) and I’m very glad it’s found a home on DVD through those good folks at Shout! Factory.  Although there are no bonus features, the movie is reason enough to make this purchase.