EARLY MAN – LAUGH AS WALLACE AND GROMIT MEETS EVERY SPORTS MOVIE CLICHE KNOWN TO MAN

SHORT TAKE:

Adorable, funny, family friendly, typical sports outing about an underdog cavemen team playing soccer against a more sophisticated "Bronze Age" team to win their valley back, all brought to us by Nick Park and friends, the creators of SHAUN THE SHEEP!!!

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

If you like Wallace and Gromit or Shaun the Sheep or Chicken Run or The Wrong Trousers or…. oh EVERYBODY!!!

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LONG TAKE:

What do the fantasy franchises: Harry Potter, The Avengers, Game of Thrones and……. Wallace and Gromit have in common? Wallace and Gromit????!!!!

The answer is: Early Man.

Early Man is an adorable plasticine animation feature length movie brought  to you by the same instigators, led by Nick Park, who created The Wrong Trousers, and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, the story is spun about the lives of a group of Cavemen who were forced into the lone habitable spot by a meteor which devastated the rest of the known Earth. Their valley is lush and green, where all about them is the Badlands: with dangerous mutant animals, harsh rocky ground, and volcanos. The Badlands looks a bit like I'd imagine the Wembley Stadium parking lot after an EFL Championship game. But there are a couple of silver linings. Not only did the meteor strike carve out at least this one fertile area but the meteor, itself, also gave them the template for history's first football. By that, for those of you reading in America, I mean soccer. But the Brits call it football, so there it is.

Fast forward a couple "eras" and Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne – Newt Scamander from the "Harry Potter" world of Fantastic Beasts) and the tribe of which he is a member, happily lives on fruits, nuts and the odd rabbit (which said presented rabbit is about as catchable as Bugs Bunny so, in effect, they are de facto vegetarians). But Dug is ambitious – he wants to hunt mammoths………!

But that's not what the story is about. Their idyll is interrupted when Lord Nooth (voiced by The Avengers' Tom Hiddleson) sporting an impenetrable guise of Italian accent, comes upon the scene with equipment made of the bronze which he has mined from his nearby kingdom.

Dug challenges them to a game of soccer/football to win their valley back. Completely outmatched, Dug's group has no equipment, no training, no experience and doesn't even know the rules, but his chutzpah gets the attention of a local girl, Goona (voiced by Game of Thrones' Maizie Williams) from the Bronze kingdom who coaches Dug's tribe in exchange for a spot on the team. Nick Par, the creator, even lends a hand — or voice — for the emotive and communicative grunts and snorts of Dug's intelligent pig, Hognob.

The story is a pretty formulaic case of underdog team goes up against much better players with nothing but a good cause, lots of heart, and a ringer. We've seen the like in everything from The Karate Kid (karate) to Facing the Giants (American football) to Bad News Bears (baseball) to Mystery Alaska (hockey) and Balls of Fury (ping pong), and it works — every — time because, as Patton put it so well – "Americans love a winner" and everyone loves the underdog because in them we all  find inspiration. But this time it's played for laughs, parodying the sport, the genre, diva professional players, sports announcers, a "win one for the Gipper" moment, a hen pecked husband, you name it.

It's a clean, gentle, lovable movie that kids will enjoy for the claymation/plasticine animation and adults will appreciate for the pokes at the cliches. While there is a good deal of spoofing and teasing, there's not a mean spot in Nick Park's entire imaginative brain.

The cast list is like an old home week of favorite kids' characters, especially from the Harry Potter franchise. So when you take your kids you can happily point out that Eddie Redmayne is both Dug andNewt Scamander.  Timothy Spall, who voiced Chief Bobnar also moonlighted as Peter Pettigrew. Mark Williams, who does the voice for Barry, was also Mr. Weasley.

Miriam Margolyes, who voices Queen Oofeefa was also Professor Sprout. And Tom Hiddleson is Lord Nooth andLoki! I'll let you figure out how to explain Maisie Williams' stint in Game of Thrones. But, if it helps, she was also in a handful of Dr. Whos.

Early Man is available on Amazon now. So go watch this cute movie that will be delightful to kids, footballers, adults, fans of Wallace and Gromit, Harry Potter afficianados, pig farmers, rabbits, cavemen ………………

LIKE ARROWS: THE ART OF PARENTING – 50 YEARS OF REAL ROMANCE

SHORT TAKE:

Another family-endorsing, Christian-centered, Kendrick Brothers movie – this time following 50 years of one couple's epic parenting journey.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone and everyone.

LONG TAKE:

Since 2003 Stephen and Alex Kendrick have focused their careers on making intelligent, funny, engaging, spiritually uplifting, eccumenically Christian themed movies which have jumped the chasm between "religious" movies and mainstream cinema to become an integral part of our popular culture.

Their first, Flywheel, was a modern day Zacharias story about a used car salesman, originally intended only as a learning tool for the Kendrick Brothers' congregation at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia. Flywheel's astonishing success funded the next Kendrick movie, Facing the Giants in 2006, about a high school coach challenged with crises of family, career, and faith. Facing the Giants has the Death Crawl scene, five of the most inspirational minutes on sports "celluloid" I have ever watched. Fireproof in 2008, starring former child star Kirk Cameron, was next, about a fireman trying to rebuild his almost shattered marriage. Courageous, in 2011, is their masterpiece, about four policeman and a civilian friend who confront their shortcomings as fathers. 2015 saw War Room about a marriage shuddering under the weight of deceit. This year the Kendricks bring usLike Arrows: The Art of Parenting.

As overtly Christian themed and occasionally, what mainstream audiences consider, "preachy" movies, these often fall through the cracks of the average movie goers attention. That is a shame because these movies are funnier, warmer, savvier, more clever, more insightful, and will leave you feeling far more satisfied than most of the movies that get a lot of popular "love".

Movies like Titanic and The Notebook get a lot of publicity and huge budgets but they are shallow views of relationships which never get beyond the infatuation stage, rarely include children, and never deal with dirty diapers, resolving petty spousal fights, money issues or any of the other million challenges which face couples on a daily basis. Like Arrows presents a more realistic view of a marriage with far more depth, examining a relationship that endures in true heroic fashion with love, and describes a romance that perseveres for 50 years DESPITE dealing with family estrangements, money problems, career strains, and ……..catastrophically dirty diapers.

In Like Arrows, Charlie (Alan Powell) and Alice (Micah Hanson) are a cute young dating couple. A terrified Alice surprises Charlie with the news that she is unexpectedly pregnant. Charlie "mans up" and the rest of the movie follows them through five decades of marriage and parenting four children. For most of the movie Powell and Hanson are aged. But in the later scenes the elderly couple is portrayed by Garry Nation and Elizabeth Becka. I met Mr. Nation at a Christian Film Festival in connection with his starring role in Polycarp.  He is as gracious and patient off screen as his character is on.

Charlie and Alice’s family will seem very familiar. They are ordinary people who work hard and strive to do their best. But ultimately they discover their best is woefully insufficient to raise morally strong and family connected children without God at the center of their lives.

Again Charlie "mans up," takes responsibility for the family direction and leads them to a more spiritually fulfilling way of life, including spending more quantity (not just a little "quality") time with their kids, at church and in prayer.

The acting is good, the writing natural, often funny and occasionally even profound – Charlie’s best friend Kenneth (Joseph Callender) offers a disillusioned and tired Charlie advice on parenting: "The days are long but the years are short."

The title, Like Arrows, comes from Psalm 127: "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children…." They are, as Mr. Kendrick explains, the messages parents send into the future. And, as the movie demonstrates, parents have an unshirkable, irreplaceable responsibility to be sure those arrows are strong and well guided enough to get to their intended destination and that resilience and confidence can best be crafted by working with the Hands of God.

Like Arrows is also the launching point for the new website 

which offers free seminars, sessions and classes on parenting. I’ve checked the website out and while it is a little awkward to maneuver through it is worth the effort. Video sessions are about 6 minutes long and could be done on a daily basis. Registration and access are FREE.

A lot of advice they give would have been considered common sense in previous generations but given the family-hostile culture in which we find ourselves today, the concepts of self and child discipline, lifetime committed marriages, spousal faithfulness, church attendance, prayer, and supervision of one’s child can be innovative life saving ideas to younger couples.

So endorse and encourage these family affirming films by going to see them. Check out Like Arrows where and when available or get it on DVD. Show your kids – likely future parents themselves, inform other young couples with this movie, show friends. Enjoy a 50 year love story with far more substance to it than popular infatuation stories which talk a good game and are fluffy fun to watch but are really only the cotton candy filler that substitutes for the true meat and potatoes commitment demonstrated in movies such as Like Arrows.