Movie Review: “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul”

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

For the first time in a REALLY long time, I had one of the kiddos along for the screening, so this review is in a slightly different format–to give the perspective of the target demographic: a 10-year-old.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” is another chapter in the life of Greg Heffley (Jason Drucker), a much beleaguered twelve-year-old boy who’s alternately tormented by his overly well-meaning parents and his insufferable, annoying older brother, Rodrick (Charlie Wright). This time, the Heffleys are hitting the road to go halfway across the country for the 90th birthday party of Greg’s great-grandmother, Meemaw (Mimi Gould).

The movie opens with the entire family (plus one of Greg’s friends) having a family-friendly dinner at a local restaurant that seems like a cross between a Chuck E. Cheese and a series of unmanaged troughs; this restaurant seems to be all at once the best friend and worst nightmare for the parents of young children. While hunting for his little brother in the overflowing ball pit/swimming pool, Greg manages to get a loose diaper stuck on his hand. The Power of the Internet soon takes over: he’s memed in a heartbeat as “Diaper Hands” and what little rep he has is shredded in the process.

The timing of this trip to Meemaw’s couldn’t be better. Greg needs some time away–and his mother, Susan (Alicia Silverstone), sees this as a perfect time for the family to reconnect offline. Naturally, she doesn’t know initially about how her husband, Frank (Tom Everett Scott), is sneaking in work while on the trip, nor does she know about Greg and Rodrick redirecting the GPS so they can have a shot at making it to a gamer convention that’s not quite en route. Her innocence at virtually every turn is rather incredible and it bespeaks the story’s origins as an elementary-school staple; mom always has your best interests at heart, and she’s way more innocent about how the world works than you think. (Reality is never this uncomplicated, but I digress.)

What follows the family’s departure from the homestead is a series of gaffes, missteps, and mishaps that alternate between funny and cringe-worthy. Even with some laughs, this movie may make parents reconsider taking a lengthy car trip with the kiddos. Speaking of kiddos, I have a ten-year old with thoughts of her own; my interview and her (only very lightly edited) responses can be found below–as well as both of our ratings.

Me: You’ve read “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul”. How do you think this stacks up versus the book: better, worse, about the same…or just different? Remember that not every movie made from a book has to be just like the book; it can be enjoyable on its own, even if it changes a few things here or there.

DD: It is definitely different from the book, with a few changes near the end (I won’t give that away). The story is similar to the movie, but overall the book is a little bit more exciting than the movie. If I had to choose between watching the movie again or reading the book, I would choose reading the book because it’s more interesting than the movie.

Me: Was there anything particularly good or bad about the movie, such as any scenes that made a particular impression on you? Remember not to give away any spoilers about the ending!


The only bad parts were parts where it was unrealistic:

  1. The Agricultural Fair. I have been to several Agricultural fairs before, and they were total opposites of this. Normally, they are so crowded you can barely get through, it takes you half an hour to get food, and the rides are so full you only get to go on a few. Not this one; it was WAY TOO open. The booths were miles away from each other, and there was barely anyone there! The lines for the rides were so short, you could probably go to every ride in under an hour.
  2. The Motel that they stayed at during the trip was overly gross. It was so UGLY and DISGUSTING. You could see small tiny holes in the bed that were burned. In the bathroom, there were cockroaches all over the floor, and the pool HAD NO WATER IN IT! The only things that were actually IN the pool were mice (or rats) and old wrappers/bags of food.

The good parts were:

  1. The scenery. It was just gorgeous!
  2. The pig. It was SO CUTE! The only thing I didn’t like is that in the book, the pig is in a little bit more than half of it, and in the movie, he/she’s in a small number of scenes.

Me: Did you think the actors did a good job portraying their characters? Any standouts–good or bad?

DD: I think most of the actors did a good job at portraying their character appropriately and to the age they are set to be. The only mishap I had was with Rodrick. He is supposed to be 16-17 and is acting like he is 19-20. Also, he is supposed to be a crazy teen, but seems more like a teen that is loud and obnoxious.

Me: Is “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” appropriate for kids? If so, what age would be the youngest you’d recommend?

DD: I would recommend this movie for kids age 7+. I wouldn’t go any lower, due to a couple of scenes and some language (there are no swears, but even so), I think that it would be a little much for them. I think that kids like me, ages 9+, might like/dislike it based on the books (I have read them all).

Me: On a scale of zero to four stars, where zero is “I NEVER WANT TO SEE THIS AGAIN”, and four is “THIS WAS THE BEST MOVIE EVER AND EVERYONE SHOULD GO SEE IT” (and where half stars are allowed), how would you rate “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul”?

DD: I would rate this three stars out of four. I don’t like it as much as I liked the book (like I explained in the first question). It was entertaining, but even so, there were some parts that didn’t make me go “WOW!” or “COOL!”; they just made me go, “So…what does that have to do with the story?!” This is just my opinion, but people are different, so you might like it better or worse than I did (depending on your taste of movies).

Me: For my part, I’d rate it two stars out of four–but I’m not the target audience; I’m just the money and the ride. Thanks for your help, kiddo!

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” opens in theatres on Friday, May 19, 2017. It is rated PG for some rude humor.

Movie Review: “Born in China”

Born in China

I don’t see a lot of movies that make me say “D’awww!” frequently, so Disneynature’s “Born in China” was a refreshing change of pace–a movie that appeals to adults and kids alike. Taking a break from the hyper-urban settings we often see representing China, “Born in China” showcases more remote regions, high in the mountains at 14,000 feet above sea level or along the flat, muddy, icy plains where antelopes dominate the landscape.


A Chinese valley with stunning hills shadowed by white, puffy clouds

A backdrop not to be ignored: the breathtaking wonder of China


The movie follows the stories of several different kinds of animals: antelopes, snow leopards, monkeys, cranes, and–of course–giant pandas. In each storyline (save for the cranes), you learn something about the animals’ psyches or how they relate to each other. The circle of life so brilliantly sung about in a Disney movie set half a world away is put on careful display for the G-rated set. Violence is depicted, but even when fatal it’s shown bloodlessly. Birth is seen, and babies are aplenty; you’ll almost never fail to please the younger crowd when you put baby animals on display. (Or so the theory goes.)


YaYa snuggling with her baby, MeiMei

Giant panda YaYa snuggling with her baby, MeiMei


As the story bounces back and forth between the different “characters”–Dawa, the snow leopard; TaoTao, the golden snub-nosed monkey; YaYa, the giant panda; and the nameless (yet max adorbs) Chiru antelopes–the contrasts in their environments and situations becomes clearer while their similarities emerge. Nature is a harsh place when food becomes scarce, family bonds can be incredibly tight, and there’s nothing like a mommy’s love for her babies (I can attest to that). If there’s a lesson to be learned (since none of the stories discuss any encroachment from environmental hazards and human predators), it is that instinct and love will keep the wheel of life turning as long as life can exist.


Dawa the snow leopard

Dawa, regal mistress of all that she surveys


Each of the character animals faces its own challenge: Dawa struggles with the difficulties that come from being atop the food chain (which isn’t always all that it’s cracked up to be), TaoTao turns “bad boy” when he feels ignored following the birth of his baby sister, YaYa quite literally can’t bring herself to let go of her baby, MeiMei, and the Chiru females have long roads to travel as they bring forth the next generation of antelopes.


TaoTao the monkey's family huddling together for warmth

TaoTao’s family huddles up to protect against winter’s bite


You see each animal in a seasonal vignette; the movie begins in Spring and progresses through to the Fall of the next year. Each of these mini-worlds contains some measure of danger and potential for heartache, but the filmmakers do their level best to keep the emotional damage to a minimum. The cranes are the sole exception to the build of a specific animal’s storyline; in their case, they serve as a reminder of their mystical role in Chinese folklore as carriers of spirits. When they are seen, it is the turning of a page, the inevitable cranking of that wheel. One life ends, another begins. And so it goes, endlessly.


Cranes taking flight

As cranes take flight, so do the souls of those who’ve recently departed


Could the movie have been trimmed here and there, or could the cranes have been more than a metaphor? Sure. But all in all, it was a cute film and it showed an incredibly gorgeous side of China I never knew existed. Narrator John Krakowski (“The Office”) adds equal parts gravitas and humor in his rendering of the stories. His comedic chops and timing are on full display when the male chiru are parading around in all of their glory, skills that are well appreciated by the adults in the crowd.

Is “Born in China” good for kids? ABSOLUTELY. As a G-rated film, it’s baked just for them, although the stunning visuals (including breathtaking time lapse imagery) are going to thrill the adults. It seemed a shame that we screened the film on a regular movie screen; it begged to be on a tall IMAX screen, where the flyovers and mountaintop views can really make your heart skip a beat. Stay for the end credits: there’s some really great behind-the-scenes footage, plus some more animals-being-adorable shots that are totally worth sticking around to see.

Another enticement to see “Born in China”, whose release date is timed to coincide with Earth Day Weekend: for every ticket sold for an opening week showing (April 21-27), Disneynature will make a donation to the World Wildlife Fund.

If that’s not enough to get you turning the wheel of your car towards the movie theatre, I’m just not sure what will.

Three and a half out of four stars.

“Born in China” opens in theatres on Friday, April 21, 2017. It’s rated G.

Movie Review: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Rogue One

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a Space Western trilogy took this little blue marble by storm. More than a decade after the original “Star Wars” movies (Episodes IV – VI) bowed out of theaters, out came a threesome of somewhat lackluster–but stunningly visualized–prequels (Episodes I – III). Last year saw the release of an uneven Episode VII, the lead-off for a third trilogy in the series. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” fits neatly in between Episodes III and IV, finally giving the details of how the plans for the Empire’s Deathstar landed the hands of the Rebellion.

While firmly planted in the “Star Wars” ‘verse, and hewing so closely to canon as to employ more than a few easter eggs (including of the human variety), “Rogue One” definitely shows it’s not your typical “Star Wars” flick. It dispenses with the traditional opening crawl and dramatic John Williams score, setting the tone from the first second as something that wants to establish its own path rather than reheating material. This is a nice contrast to Episode VII, which got a lot of mileage out of ground well-traveled in Episode IV. The story centers on Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of Imperial prisoner and weapons architect extraordinaire Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson). Galen manages to save Jyn from immediate capture by the Empire, and she spends some of her formative years in the hands of an estranged Rebellion leader, Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whittaker).

The fully-grown Jyn eventually finds her way into the hands of the Rebellion proper–and they offer her a mission that could lead to her father. She’s paired off with the dashing yet surly Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his reprogrammed Imperial droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). The Rebellion is convinced Gerrera has confidential information they need, in the head of an Imperial pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), who defected and headed straight for Gerrera. It’s at this point where it’s actually wiser to stop providing more detail, because the level of spoilers goes through the roof. It is safe to say that Jyn and Cassian cross paths and take into their confidence two mysterious figures: the blind, Jedi-esque Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), a former protector of a Jedi temple.

No longer on her own, Jyn acquires more than a mission–she gains a rag-tag family of rebels that give her a reason to fight for something bigger than herself. This is a common thread for the “Star Wars” movies, with some of the lines in Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s script resonating just a little too much these days–such as the reminder that “rebellions are built on hope”.

“Rogue One” is a splendid addition to the “Star Wars” legacy, with only a few hiccups here and there. Jyn follows the excellent example set by Daisy Ridley’s Rey in Episode VII, “The Force Awakens”; we’re seeing a whole new level of feminist idols emerging–badass “don’t call me a babe” types who can hold their own in a firefight. It’s pretty fantastic. Weitz and Gilroy simplified the droid sidekick trope by giving K-2SO a coat of sheer smarm handled to perfection by Tudyk. Yen and Jiang are steadfastly brilliant, and Mikkelson performs just the right mixture of stoic and emotional (and finally in a role where he’s not a straight-up baddie–a nice change of pace).

Where “Rogue One” had more opportunities comes in the depth of some of the storylines that somehow got left on the cutting room floor (such as the rallying speech given by Gerrera, heard only in a trailer). Additionally, there seems to be a baked-in expectation that viewers will have spent their spare time catching up on all the canon fleshed out in the “Clone Wars” animated series to be fully oriented in the basic who’s who.

Luna’s performance, while quite easy on the eyes, is a bit more spotty than I would’ve liked, and it feels like some space on that same cutting room floor is littered with character development along the way for Jyn and Cassian, in particular. The level of planet-and-moon-hopping also wears a bit thin; yes, it’s clear that there’s a lot of galaxy to go around, but we didn’t need to fill our Imperial passport entirely in the span of 135 minutes.

For those wonder if it’s worth seeing “Rogue One” in 3D or 3D IMAX, I can say that the 3D is fairly good for giving depth throughout, but the IMAX really only shines during the final act. It’s not necessarily worth springing for IMAX unless that’s your preferred mode.

What about the younglings? Is “Rogue One” okay for kids? This is the third “Star Wars” movie to earn a PG-13 rating, and it definitely has its fair share of action and violence. That said, I found “Rogue One” less startlingly bloody than “The Force Awakens”, so little ones turned off by Episode VII may warm up to this film. Even so, kids younger than 7-9 years old may not be quite ready for all of it (and the 3D IMAX may just overwhelm them). They may do better with one of the 2D showings.

As “Star Wars” movies go, “Rogue One” finally succeeds where all three of the prequels failed miserably. It pairs decent acting with really good dialogue, and it deftly avoids any of the whiny teenager action displayed by the Skywalker brood. This is a “Star Wars” movie worth watching again and again, preferably as a lead-in to a re-watch of Episode IV. “Rogue One” offers hope tinged with painful realism, building on a decades-old legacy in a way that makes it an instant classic.

Three and a half out of four stars.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” opens in theatres on Friday, December 16, 2016. It’s rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.