Light frights in funny, tween-friendly creepfest.
“Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween” is a sometimes-scary but frequently funny adventure for tweens and older based on R.L. Stine’s same-named book series. Definitely more creepy than terrifying (and a little milder than the first movie), the bulk of the movie’s frights stem from the idea of the Halloween decorations in stores and lawns coming to life. That means ghosts, witches, monsters and a house-size spider made of balloons go into motion and terrorize a neighborhood. If that sounds kind of funny, it is; the humor and ridiculousness minimize the fright factor. That said, the villain — a menacing, weathered ventriloquist dummy that just won’t die — is genuinely creepy in a way that could linger with younger kids. But most of the rest of the content is very mild: There’s no substance use, language tops out at “jerk” and “shut up,” and nothing beyond kissing and flirting is shown. Really, a bully getting pantsed and a Jack-o’-lantern spitting seeds like a machine gun is as iffy as it gets. Plus, the movie has a diverse cast and a clear teamwork theme, and it taps into relatable situations for kids: squabbling with siblings, treasure hunting with friends, struggling over school assignments, interacting with friendly but quirky neighbors and dealing with bullies. It may be a hand-clencher in the theater, but it’s the kind that lets kids rest easily as soon as the credits roll. (100 minutes)
Intimate, serious drama about reluctant space hero.
“First Man” is Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle’s (“La La Land”) serious, fact-based movie about legendary astronaut Neil Armstrong. It’s set during the tumultuous decade leading up to Armstrong’s historic Apollo 11 moon mission. Ryan Gosling stars as Armstrong, the smart, brave, determined, extremely stoic engineer-pilot-astronaut who persevered to eventually become the first person to walk on the moon. Along the way, he and NASA must weather life-threatening situations including mission failures, dangerous test flights and even the deaths of valued team members — but this is more of an artful character study than an “Apollo 13”-style thriller. Expect social drinking, chain smoking, infrequent but memorable swearing (including “s---,” “d---” and one “f---ing”) and several tense, sad scenes of characters in peril. A child’s death isn’t shown, but the impact is clear. Claire Foy co-stars as Armstrong’s wife, Janet, who has a larger role here than many “NASA wives” in similarly themed films. Some scenes were shot with a handheld camera in a way that can be jarring. (141 minutes)
Violent, uninspired comic-book tale misses the mark.
“Venom” is a violent, disappointing comic-book action movie starring Tom Hardy that’s based on a villain from the Spider-Man universe, though Spidey isn’t mentioned here. The violence, while mostly bloodless, is frequent and intense, with fighting, hitting, punching and bashing, guns and shooting, stabbing and slicing, car chases, explosions, etc. Some characters die on-screen, and many die off-screen. Plus, there are jump scares, and Venom himself (itself?) is pretty scary to look at, with his giant fangs, and there’s no real consequence for his brutality. Language includes several uses of “s---” and
“bulls---,” a use of “f---,” a use of “p---y,” and more. A couple kisses frequently, and sex is suggested. The main character drinks whiskey in a bar and beer at home. Unfortunately, it’s an uninspired mess, though perhaps some teens will enjoy the effects, sci-fi imagery and Hardy’s performance. (102 minutes)
Curiosity inspires young creature’s funny discoveries.
“Booba” follows the daily adventures of a young furry creature who loves to explore and learn about the world around him. Each episode finds Booba in a new place — an office, an art room, a bakery, a movie theater — and presents him with all kinds of new things to discover, which he does with great enthusiasm. In each location, he makes discoveries by jumping right in and letting his curiosity lead the way, always to educational results and often to hilarious ones. Parents will notice a glaring lack of supervision in Booba’s world that enables some potentially dangerous scenarios, all of which turn out just fine in the end. Because Booba doesn’t speak but does make a variety of sounds, viewers learn to interpret facial expressions and those sounds to understand his emotions. (32 three-minute episodes)
Available via Netflix streaming.
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