Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (SPOILERS) Adoption Movie Review

Two brother, Greg and Roderick, convince their parents to take a four-day-long road trip to their grandmother’s 90th birthday party, but secretly plan to divert the trip to a nearby video gaming convention; Greg hopes to increase his esteem in the mind of his middle-school peers while teenage Rodrick hopes to win a video game competition in order to earn money to fix his van. The road trip gets off to a rough start when their mother decrees that the trip will have no technology. Along the way the family runs into disasters that might feel at home in a Chevy Chase film.
(SPOILERS AHEAD)

 The Adoption Connection

There is no adoption connection. The film draws much from family relationships in general


Strong Points

There is a statement that parents set guidelines because they love children. Greg’s mom affirms that she’ll never give up on him and will always love him.

There’s a strong sense of the importance of family and family history.

Greg affirms that time with his family is “really not that bad.”


Challenges

Greg jokingly says that he likes his family, but that he’s “not sure we should live with each other… Maybe see each other a few times a year.”

Greg and Rodrick hold up a sign in their car saying that the drivers (their parents) are kidnapping them.  A police officer briefly yells at them for this stunt.

Greg and his dad each discover that the other is secretly using technology. They conspire to keep the secret from the mom, but she eventually finds out. She accuses Greg of not caring bout family, and Greg accuses her of not caring about the things he loves. Ultimately, she says that she gives up on trying to guide Greg, but he reconciles with her.

Greg is pursued by the eccentric Mr. Beardo. On one occasion, Greg accidentally slips into the wrong hotel room and crawls into bed next to Mr. Beardo. They spend the night asleep next to each other, and panic when they realize that Greg is in the wrong hotel room. Later, Greg sneaks into Mr. Beardo’s room, but when Mr. Beardo comes back, Greg hides behind the shower curtain and has to listen to Mr. Beardo relieve himself. There are some other gross bodily-fluid scenes.  


Recommendation

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is a family road-trip disaster that reminded me of the Vacation movies I remember from years ago. The family gets into some far-fetched, sometimes gross situations, but ultimately sticks together. This film is told from the perspective of twelve-year-old Greg, who ultimately decides that spending time with his family is alright. Some parents won’t appreciate the gross scenes of the film or Greg’s and Rodrick’s attempts at deceiving their parents, but ultimately the film shows that parents are forgiving and persistent in their love for their kids, and that the boundaries they set are set with the kids’ best interests in mind. This one seems like a good fit for kids ages 9-12 or so.


Questions for Discussion

Why did Greg want to outgrow the name that his classmates teased him with? Do you think it’s realistic that, ultimately, the name gained him popularity?
What’s the craziest trip we’ve ever been on? If you could design a trip for us, where would we go?

How much time should someone spend on a smart phone? Do smartphones help or hurt friendships and family, or is it a mix?

Greg felt that he had no control over his life. Was he right or wrong? What ways do you control your life? Which things don’t you get to choose? In what ways is that different for adults, and in what ways do you think it’s the same for adults?  

What do you like best about family time? What activities would you like to do as a family?

What’s the best way to sew together two family histories?

Why do you think parents make rules for kids? What rules make the most sense to you?

If you made rules for other kids, what would they be?  


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

As You Are Adoption Movie Review

When Karen and Tom move in together, their teenage sons Jack and Mark become stepbrothers of sorts. Karen and Tom split up due in large part to Tom’s anger, which rips Jack and Mark apart. Jack and Mark are questioning their sexuality; they each date Sarah, and also experiment with each other. 

(SPOILER ALERT) Jack feels betrayed when Mark starts dating Sarah; he tries to seduce Mark, but when his efforts fail, he and Mark go out into the woods, and he kills him. Much of the film is told in retrospect as various characters are being interviewed by a detective. (END SPOILER)



The Adoption Connection

For a short while, Karen, Tom, Jack and Mark form a blended family.


Strong Points

As You Are can provide parents with insights into the possible emotional experiences of teens who are exploring their sexuality, being bullied, experimenting with marijuana, or who are in abusive or tense homes. After watching it, parents could have some idea of what their children and their children’s friends might be feeling and might be experiencing.


Challenges (SPOILERS AHEAD)

I found the film to be uncomfortable. It’s well-acted, and it accomplishes something important in that it does capture realistic experiences for some teens; however, it’s hard to enjoy a film that ends with one teen murdering another. It’s also difficult to watch Tom striking his teenage son. It could also be uncomfortable for many viewers to see two pseudo-stepbrothers kissing passionately. One character brutally kills a squirrel for fun. Tom swears at Karen. Tom also calls the long-haired, slender Jack a “girl” and says that Jack should be in the Marines to become more like a man.


Recommendations

 As You Are isn’t an easy film to watch, and it doesn’t seem like a good fit for teens, and certainly not for kids. For parents, it’s probably not a movie to watch for fun, but it could have value as a source of exposure to real issues that many teens experience.


Questions for Discussion

How does Tom’s anger impact his son?

Which of Jack’s and Mark’s experiences have you experienced? Which of their experiences do you believe are common for teens, and which are rarer?



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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Hanji Box Adoption Movie Review

Hannah is recently divorced and is in the process of downsizing her home. Rose, the young adult daughter that Hannah adopted from Korea, is helping Hannah pack, and seems distressed by the situation. When Hannah accidentally damages a special box, Rose is distraught, believing that she brought the box with her from Korea. Hannah sets off to a Korean district of her city to try to repair the box. Her journey brings her into contact with a visiting Korean artist. Together, they talk about the complexities of adopting from Korea, and the artist shares a perspective that Hannah had not previously considered. Their meeting is short, but influential, and he invites her to come visit him in Korea one day.



The Adoption Connection

Rose appears to have some unsettled emotions connected to her adoption. She confronts Hannah about the broken box, saying “my real mother gave this to me,” and also accusing her of “always wreck[ing] things that are important to me." The complexity of emotions is realistic, as Rose’s distress regarding her parents’ divorce and her father’s impending remarriage interact with her experience of being an adult adoptee.

The artist and Hannah have a very interesting and thoughtful conversation about cultural identity in international adoption. The artist also explains one Korean perspective of the international adoption of Korean babies. He asks some interesting questions.


Strong Points

The artist raises some very poignant thoughts and questions regarding international adoption and identity. When Hannah suggests that her daughter is American, the artist replies, “You raised her like an American because you are American,” and then asks whether Rose really was turned from Korean into an American. He also asks whether Hannah adopted Rose “for her, or for you?” Hannah honestly acknowledges that she isn’t sure. The artist’s questions are deep, but kind and not judgmental. This is a very thought-provoking film.  


Recommendations

Adults touched by international adoption may find The Hanji Box to be very thought provoking. It should be part of the preparation process for adults considering international adoption, particularly from Korea. This is a very thoughtful, 59-minute film.


Questions for Discussion

What motivated Hannah to adopt? Was it one main thing (infertility or a desire to give love to a baby 
that seems to be without a nurturing family), or a combination of both?

Is Rose Korean or American, or some combination of the two?

What would Hannah gain from going to Korea? What might Rose gain?



Friday, May 5, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2: SPOILER-FILLED Adoption Movie Review

Star-Lord and the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy must work to save the universe from a new threat that could end life as the universe knows it. There are themes that will be very relevant to adoption audiences; Star-Lord’s mother died at the beginning of the first film, and that is revisited here. The rest of the review will have spoilers, as many of the relevant themes are also central to the plot.

SPOILERS AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY


 


The Adoption Connection

Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord, never knew his father. Peter is asked about his heritage, and he is at a loss for an answer; a character comments that he is sensitive about his father, and Peter replies that he just doesn’t “know who he is.” As a young boy, Peter watched as his mother died of a brain tumor. He was abducted by a Ravager named Yondu; Yondu raised Peter, but was abusive, and as a young adult Peter has feuded with Yondu.


HUGE SPOILERS IN THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS:

In this film, we learn Peter’s history. His father is Ego, a godlike being who sired Peter, but who abandoned Peter’s mother because he did not want to lose his own immortality. In fact, Ego’s quest for immortality has led him to create many children of many different species, hoping to find one that could help him become immortal. He has killed all of his other children, but believes that Peter can help him be immortal. Ego reveals that he also killed Peter’s mother by implanting the brain tumor into her. We also learn that Yondu was hired by Ego to bring Peter to Ego, but Yondu could not bring himself to turn Peter over to Ego because he knew what Ego had done to his other children. Yondu ultimately dies in an effort to save Peter, and Peter decides that Yondu was his father figure, and that the other Guardians of the Galaxy are his family.

Yondu has a heart-to-heart conversation with Rocket, a Guardian of the Galaxy who is often sarcastic and caustic. Yondu says that, like himself, Rocket pushes people away because he is scared of being loved, and his fear of love comes from past rejection.

END OF THE MAJOR SPOILERS, BUT SPOILERS CONTINUE THROUGHOUT THE REVIEW

The Guardians of the Galaxy form a family of sorts.

An alien race called The Sovereign genetically manufacture their offspring, and produce them in birthing pods. 

One character cries for his lost daughter. Another laments the fact that, “my own damn parents sold me into slavery.”

When he finds his father, Peter tells a friend, “I finally found my family.” She had considered him family and says, “I thought you already had.”


Strong Points

BIG SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH: Yondu acts honorably, and also expresses his thoughts and feelings to Peter and to Rocket. After being very disappointed after meeting his father, Peter realizes that he has had
 a father figure, albeit an imperfect one, in Yondu, and he is able to celebrate his life and mourn for him. Before his passing, Yondu tells Peter that Ego “may have been your father, but he wasn’t your daddy. I’m sorry I didn’t do any of it right… I’m damn lucky you’re my boy.” Peter later reflects on the possibility that, “the thing you’re searching for your whole life is right beside you all along.”  (END BIG SPOILERS, BUT SPOILERS CONTINUE THROUGHOUT THIS REVIEW)

The Ravagers expel Yondu after coming to believe that he kidnapped Peter; although they’re a rough crowd, they have a moral code.
We’re able to understand the factors which underlie different characters’ behaviors.


Challenges

Peter’s relationship with his father Ego could be very hard for kids and teens who long for parents that they have not known, or with whom they’ve lost contact. Peter has longed to know his father. Peter is told that his father “lies awake worrying about you.” When they meet, Peter is enthralled by him, and for a short time he learns from his father; his father teaches him how to use some powers, and tells Peter, “you’re home.” However, Peter ultimately finds out that his father is manipulative and has very sinister motives for seeking him out – and finds out that (BIG SPOILER) his father killed his mother by planting a brain tumor in her, and has killed many of his offspring who failed him. He eventually attempts to impale and imprison Peter, and Peter decides, “I have to kill Dad.” In his quest to kill his birth father, Peter is supported by his adoptive father figure. Yondu dies in front of Peter while saving Peter – it’s the second time that Peter has a parent figure die in front of him.  (END OF BIG SPOILER, BUT OTHER SPOILERS CONTINUE THROUGHOUT THE REVIEW)  One of the Guardians had commented earlier that if Peter’s dad turns out to be evil, “We’ll just kill him.”
Peter initially denies that Yondu could have been his father because he’s not a blood relative. Peter also reports that Yondu threatened to beat him and also threatened to eat him.

Before getting to know Ego, Rocket crassly says to Peter, “Hope daddy isn’t a big a dick as you, orphan boy.”

One character, who was forced to compete with her sister and tortured by her father, now plans to murder her sister and tear her father apart; the abuse she suffered has turned into hatred. The sisters mend their relationship, but one still sets off to kill her father, who is a supervillain.



Recommendations

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 may be the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. I loved the first Guardians movie, and this one is better. But wow, is there a lot of heavy stuff that can bristle against sensitivities towards parental loss, abusive parents, and fantasies about absent parents. This movie has the potential to be painful for viewers, but could also be very cathartic for others. It’s probably best left to pre-teens and teenagers, and their parents.

During Guardians of the Galaxy 2, I found myself unexpectedly thinking of another adoption-related film, which might be a better choice for younger viewers. Ego asks Peter to “come home” so that he can teach Peter his heritage and be a father to him. This reminded me of Po’s offer from his father Li in Kung Fu Panda 3, (click here for that review), but the comparison falls apart; Peter’s father is only self-seeking, while Li actually wanted to be a dad to Po.


Questions for Discussion

If you had empathic abilities like Mantis, what would you use them for?

In what ways was Yondu a good dad to Peter? In what ways wasn’t he? What do you think of him overall?

Who do you think Peter’s family is?

Why is Rocket so sarcastic at times?

Did you feel like this was a heavy movie, or mostly just a fun one?

More Options
Check out our book for more movies to use to help your family talk about adoption!


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

May the Fourth Be With You! Star Wars and Adoption

Confession: I watch a lot of science fiction. I debated over whether I watch enough of it to call myself, in this introduction, a "sci-fi geek," and then realized that, the fact that I'm writing a post titled "May the Fourth Be With You" probably answers the question. "May the Fourth" sounds like "May the Force be with you," which was a favorite line from the Star Wars films.


The Star Wars films collectively tell the story of Anakin Skywalker and the children he loses. He reunites with one of them. The series covers his birth, his marriage, the birth of his kids, his anger which drove his children into hiding, his children's upbringing, and eventually reconciliation. The most recent Episode jumps forward some time after Anakin's death. and one of his descendents still wrestles with questions of identity.

I've reviewed all seven of the Star Wars films over the past few years (well - eight, if you count Rouge One. I haven't done the Ewok movies yet. Or the Christmas special.) and wanted to share those with you again. May the Force Be With You!

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Born in China (SPOILERS) Adoption Movie Review

In this beautifully-shot and warmly-narrated DisneyNature film, four animal families adjust to life with their new cubs. Dawa, a snow leopard, hunts to feed her two young cubs. Tao Tao, a young golden snub-nosed monkey, has been displaced in his family by his new baby sister and tries to find belonging in a group of rejected males. A giant female panda, Ya Ya, raises her newborn Mei Mei to independence. A herd of female chiru complete their annual migration to their birthing ground, and back to the land where the males live. In this film, we see the beauty – and danger – of nature.

SPOILERS AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY



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The Adoption Connection

This is a film about birth, family connections, and mothers. One mother dies trying to get food for her cubs. Another mother struggles to let her daughter be independent. The narrator says that their love is deep, but a stronger force of nature is pulling them apart. The narrator comments, “The joy of raising a child from birth is worth a thousand farewells.” Tao Tao gets less attention from his parents after his sister is born; he leaves his family unit for a while. When he tries to go back, his father rejects him. Only after Tao Tao saves his sister from a predator is he allowed back into the family.


Strong Points

There are lots of reminders and depictions of familial – and especially maternal – love. For Dawa, “Keeping her kids safe is her life’s mission.” Dawa is content being with her cubs, and the narrator adds, “Nothing compares to being loved by the ones you love most.” Ya Ya and Mei Mei spend several months cuddled up together. When they come out of the den, Ya Ya nurses Mei Mei. The narrator adds that Ya Ya “just wants to hold onto her baby and smother her with love.” The bond of family, established through scent between mother and baby, is very strong in the travelling chiru herd.  
When Tao Tao loses his place in his family, he finds a home for a time in a group of other males, called the “Lost Boys.” While it’s sad that he lost his place temporarily, he found community and belonging elsewhere.

We see the birth of a chiru and its first moment with its mother. It’s wonderful to see –it might be the first time your kids see a birth, and you might want to prepare them for it. It’s incredible that the Chiru can walk within 30 minutes of being born. The bonds between mother and baby, and between the herd, are strong. The narrator says, “The herd is many, but the herd is one.”


Challenges

I’ll address some of the potential challenges in this film in the recommendation section below. I’ll list some of the film’s particular moments that could be challenging for some viewers:

Dawa dies. The narrator perhaps softens this by explaining that in Chinese mythology, death is not the end, but is followed by a rebirth.

Tao Tao is displaced by his baby sister. The narrator explains that Tao Tao is “no longer the darling of the family. The little bundle of joy has taken his place, [and he has had] all his comfort and affection suddenly stolen.” The narrator adds that this is “exactly the sort of thing that makes a monkey turn to mischief;” there’s wisdom in that. When kids act out, there’s often an emotional reason behind it. Behavior often makes sense from the perspective of the one doing it.
Tao Tao eventually realizes that the Lost Boys are self-centered. The narrator gives words to Tao Tao’s dilemma, “Is there anyone in this crazy world you can actually depend on?” Some kids might relate.

Nature is dangerous. Dawa captures and kills a baby sheep. A hawk captures and takes flight with a baby monkey. Neither scene is gruesome, but they could be scary or sad for the youngest viewers. The narrator keeps perspective, “In Dawa’s world, you must take life to give it.” The hawk is the only natural predator of the monkeys, and is “always on the lookout for abandoned babies.” A wolf tries unsuccessfully to separate babies from mothers in the chiru herd. Dawa is driven from her home by competing predators.

Some monkeys “steal a baby for kicks.”


Recommendations

Born in China is a beautiful film. The shots that the filmmakers achieved are magnificent, and the footage they captured of the animal families are interesting, amusing, and remarkably candid – the animals seem to take no notice of the humans filming them. With the strong theme of birth and motherhood, I can imagine a couple different ways that the film might impact viewers who are touched by adoption.

The film could cause some sadness. Kids might relate to Tao Tao’s feelings of not belonging, or of being displaced. When he is rejected by his father, it could touch on feelings that some kids have towards the thought being rejected by their parents – either fears of being rejected by adoptive parents, or feelings of having been rejected by their birth parents. He is eventually accepted back in, but only after he proves his worth.

Ya Ya and Mei Mei will separate when Mei Mei reaches the age of independence. Both their impending separation, and the narrator’s comment that “the joy of raising a child from birth is worth a thousand goodbyes” are beautiful, if sad, depictions of parental love, but the “from birth” line could be a surprising trigger for birth parents who grieve the children they didn’t raise, adoptive parents who grieve the infertility that stopped them from giving birth, and for adopted people who feel sadness over the loss inherent in adoption.
(SIGNIFICANT SPOILER) I can imagine young kids being very sad when Dawa dies. She injured herself on an earlier hunt, and so has had to switch to slower, but larger prey. She is gored by a mother yak defending her baby, and ultimately dies. We don’t know what happens to her cubs. This could elicit some tears from younger viewers.

I could also see the film having a positive impact. The film highlights and steeps itself in the love of family, particularly the love that mothers have for their children. A film focused on baby animals is probably going to be very accessible for most kids, and parents can highlight the fact that, “As much as she loved her baby, I love you.” Parents can also use the story of Ya Ya and Mei Mei to talk about a child’s increasing independence, while reassuring the child that they will always be part of your life and your heart. The story of Tao Tao can be used to start a conversation where you assure a child that they’ll always have a place in your family.

Born in China can be useful for families, but parents should watch it with their kids and be prepared to talk about the prevalent themes over ice cream after the movie. I’d recommend this one for kids ages 8 and up; younger kids would enjoy some of the footage of cubs, but might have too hard a time with Dawa’s death and some of the other themes.


Questions for Discussion

Which animals did you like the best?

Mei Mei is grown up. Do you think human moms and their kids still love each other after the kids grow up?

What did Tao Tao feel like when he was with the Lost Boys? How do you think he felt when his dad chased him away? How do you think it feels now that he’s back in the family? (This is a good time to affirm that you’ll never chase your kid away.)

What do you think happens after we die?


What does it mean to be part of a family? 
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