A summer kid geek must-list: from ‘Star Wars’ Night to ‘Teen Titans’ (for Gusto)

“Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

I wrote this kid geek guide to summer for the Buffalo News Gusto section.

With “Star Wars,” “The Avengers” and superheroes more ubiquitous than ever before, it’s a great time to be a kid geek.

This list features some new films, a few annual movie events and even treats for fans of Japanese animation. Grab your Spider-Man hoodie, pack your lightsaber, and clutch your Totoro closely — it’s going to be a great summer.

Buffalo Bisons “Star Wars” Night, 6:05 p.m. June 2 at Coca-Cola Field

“Star Wars” night is a Buffalo tradition, and it continues to grow — literally. Last year’s event even included an enormous Jabba the Hutt in the concourse.

Characters from Rey to Captain Rex appear, “laser swords” are plentiful, and it culminates in a special scoreboard movie and explosion-like fireworks. Best for ages 5 and up; it’s a long night, and little ones might grow restless during the game.

 “Incredibles 2,” opens June 15

Family superhero saga “The Incredibles” is one of Pixar’s most enduring favorites. This sequel to the 2004 hit has been years in the making, and if the trailers are any indication, it will be worth the wait. Bob Parr, a.k.a., Mr. Incredible, must care for baby Jack-Jack while his wife, Helen, a.k.a., Elastigirl, is taking on the world’s supervillains. No MPAA rating yet; expected to be PG.

Studio Ghibli Fest, June through August at Regal Elmwood and Transit Center

Fathom Events screens a different entry from Japan’s Studio Ghibli animation studio each month in the summer. “Pom Poko,” June 17, 18 and 20: Isao Takahata’s film is the story of a fierce battle between raccoon dogs and developers; rated PG. “Princess Mononoke,” July 22, 23 and 25: Hayao Miyazaki’s epic classic about a young warrior; rated PG-13.

“Grave of the Fireflies,” Aug. 12, 13 and 15: This is a harrowing WWII drama for older kids only. It is unrated, but PG-13 equivalent for mature thematic material, war violence, disturbing images and language.

Green Acres Ice Cream Free Outdoor Family Movie Night and Kids Pajama Party, dusk on Wednesdays from July 11 to Aug. 15 at Green Acres Ice Cream, 4357 Broadway, Depew.

Green Acres has hosted a free film series for several years, and as usual, there are some gems. One is “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” (Aug. 1). In this animated adaptation of Dav Pilkey’s beloved book, two elementary schoolers hypnotize their principal into believing he is an underwear-and-cape-clad superhero.

The rest of the schedule isn’t geek-fare, but it’s good for kids: “Ferdinand,” July 11; “Coco,” July 18; “Despicable Me 3,” July 25; “Paddington 2,” Aug. 8; and “The Nut Job 2,” Aug. 15. Ratings vary, but all films should be fine for ages 7 and up.

“Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation,” opens July 13

This animated film franchise has been a treat. In this third film, Dracula (voiced by Sandler), his daughter, son-in-law, grandson and monsters like Frankenstein and the Wolf Man take a monsters-only cruise ship. Best of all? Mel Brooks returns as the voice of Drac’s father. No MPAA rating yet; expected to be PG.

“Teen Titans Go! To the Movies,” opens July 27

Big-screen superhero bummers like “Justice League” got you down? There’s a far more cheerful and kid-friendly alternative in the Cartoon Network series “Teen Titans Go!” The first feature film based on the DC Comics series sees Robin, Cyborg, Beast Boy and friends take on the villain Slade (voiced by the great Will Arnett). Rated PG for action and rude humor.

Buffalo Bisons Superhero Night, 6:05 p.m. on Aug. 11 at Coca-Cola Field.

If the Bisons’ popular “Star Wars” night has a rival, it is this event centered on your favorite superheroes. Characters from the Superhero Alliance of Western New York are available for photos, and kids are encouraged to dress up. Fireworks bring the battle vs. good and evil to a close. Best for ages 5 and up; it’s a long night, and little ones might grow restless during the game.

Review: ‘Terminal’ (for The Film Stage)

I reviewed the Margot Robbie oddity “Terminal” for The Film Stage. I gave it a D.

When the seemingly interminable (ahem) Terminal draws to close, it is hard to fight the feeling that there might not be a bigger cinematic misstep this year. And yet Terminal is so wrong-headed that it borders on the laughably enjoyable. Featuring a rather stellar cast led by Margot Robbie, Simon Pegg, Max Irons, Dexter Fletcher, and Mike Myers (!), this noir-action film set in not-too-distant future is powered by some stellar visual and stylistic concepts. It’s a bold, confident film that goes for broke. Yes, it fails, but the effort involved must be acknowledged. There is talent and ingenuity here. It’s a shame, however, that none of it pays off. This is especially disappointing because it wastes another memorable performance from Robbie. Fresh off one of her best performances in I, Tonya, the actress is Terminal‘s stand-out, but any time in which she’s off screen, the movie grinds to a halt.

Robbie plays Annie, a steely-eyed charmer who, as director Vaughn Stein’s film begins, is negotiating to take over the empire of a mysterious, unseen employer. She is, seemingly, an assassin, but one with many different disguises. Robbie clearly relishes the part, and is offered the chance to open the proceedings with lines from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland: “There is a place like no other on earth … A land full of wonder, mystery, and danger. Some say to survive it, you need to be as mad as a hatter. Which luckily … I am.” The reasoning behind the Wonderland reference does not arrive until much, much later.

Featuring a borderline incomprehensible collision of characters, the start of Terminal is structured around a series of introductions to the film’s mostly unlikable cast, starting with Robbie’s femme fatale. Her character’s initial backstory is unknown; like the Wonderland reference, the payoff comes with just a few minutes to go. It’s easier to discern the details of the two squabbling hitmen played by Fletcher and Irons. The same is true of Pegg’s wheezing traveler, and the strange train station janitor played by one Mike Myers.

The appearance of the latter is noteworthy, if for the wrong reasons. It arrives about eight minutes into the film, and it is here that the already rickety Terminal goes off the rails. This is Myers in hideous, Kruschev-like makeup and a cockney accent so fake that it makes Dick Van Dyke sound as convincing as Ray Winstone. There are plot reasons for all of this, but they are hard to take seriously thanks to the absurdist casting of the Austin Powers star. It’s a strange return, to be sure.

All of these folks come into contact with Robbie, either as a waitress (Pegg, Irons), a seductress (Irons again), or something in between. Pegg, Irons and Fletcher, and Myers have some connection to each other, and all have an unknown — to them — link to Annie. There are long stretches here that range from the dull to the absurd, and it all culminates in a laughable, Alice in Wonderland-aping finale. It’s the worst thing in an already bad film.

There is a Blade Runner 2049 vibe to some of the design, but whereas 2049 felt like it existed in a full, lived-in universe, Terminal feels like a few sets in Hungary. There is no sense of a world beyond these locations; it’s merely empty-headed stylization. It’s the Thirteenth Floor to Blade Runner 2049’s Dark City, then, feeling oddly dated, like the kind of weak-kneed sci-fi flicks that popped up post-Matrix. Terminal lacks even the memorability of failed future-set efforts like 2017’s Ghost in the Shell or 2005’s Aeon Flux. Director Stein cannot be faulted on his visual sensibilities, but let’s hope his next film is a drastic step forward in the storytelling department.

Terminal is destined to be forgotten. However, if the cast, the look, and the wacky storyline intrigue, it might be worth a viewing. While it’s far from the so-bad-its-good category, the few oddities contained within may delight a few curious audience members.

Terminal opens on May 11.

‘Avengers: Infinity War’: What parents need to know (for The Buffalo News)

I’m excited to share something new and (hopefully) ongoing, a parents cinema guide for The Buffalo News. First up, the mighty “Avengers: Infinity War.”

When 2018 draws to close, it’s likely that “Avengers: Infinity War” will rank at the top of the year’s box office chart. It’s easy to see why as this, the 19th film set in the Marvel universe, features a who’s who of superheroes: Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and many, many others. After 10 years of buildup, the Avengers and their allies must finally face the mighty, planet-conquering purple powerhouse known as Thanos.

The action figures and Lego sets are out, the promotional push is in full swing, and kids are hungry to start the summer movie season. There are, however, a number of reasons why parents may want to hit the breaks.

First off, is it any good?

In most ways, “Avengers: Infinity War” is Marvel-by-numbers. It is loud, full of quips, far too busy, and pretty gosh-darn enjoyable. This is part one of a two-film saga, and as such, it lacks the satisfying finish of Marvel entries like “Black Panther” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” But it’s certainly entertaining popcorn fare.

What’s the ideal viewing age? And what ages should avoid seeing this?

Many kids younger than age 10 or so have seen previous Marvel efforts. If they have, chances are there is nothing in “Infinity War” they haven’t already experienced: some non-F-word swearing, a few brutal deaths (one just minutes into the film), some modest innuendo, and much talk of Earth’s destruction.

This means the film is a bit dark for kids 9 and younger. Compared to the first Avengers entry, and follow-up “Age of Ultron,” “Infinity” is a more somber, grim affair. I would advise parents with young children to see it first, and if it seems too rough, hold off the wee ones for later home viewing. (That’s the plan for my 7-year-old.)

Is it really 149 minutes long?

Oh yes. And this, more than the content, is one of the main reasons why “Infinity War” is a tough call for parents. It’s a long time for kids to sit, and the cross-cutting between characters and locations might be a tad confusing. Whatever one’s age, when the end credits roll it’s hard not to feel a bit achy and sick of sitting.

Are there any positive messages?

One of the nicer elements of the Marvel films — and quite unlike the ugly, pitch-black DC films like “Batman v. Superman” and “Justice League” — is the spirit of camaraderie. That paragon of positivity, Captain America, explains that the Avengers “don’t trade lives,” and this concept is one that parents can take to heart. In “Infinity War,” the life of each member of the team matters.

Great – but will kids be upset at the conclusion?

Probably, and adults may feel the same. Without venturing into spoiler territory, “Infinity War” ends on a downbeat, “Empire Strikes Back”-esque cliffhanger. And while we can guess that many of the impacted characters will return in part two, kids may be stunned at who is “gone,” so to speak, at film’s end. Parents should be ready to explain that part two should fix things.