By virtue of the social distancing necessitated by the spread of COVID-19, you and your family will be spending a lot of time at home the next few weeks.

And while variety is truly the spice of life, especially during this time (Go outside! Play a game! Read a book!), you and your family will likely be spending some of your time at home in front of the television.

There is, as always, a lot to choose from, especially considering the abundance of streaming platforms available. So where do you start?

Luckily, I have spent the past few months preparing for this exact moment. In January, I started reviewing movies as a side project, and by the time this article is published, I will have written 45 reviews.

Some of those movies have been pretty great, and I’ll be sharing some quick impressions here. Full reviews of these films and many others can be found online at staticandscreen.com.

Please note that these are not blanket endorsements. You know your family’s needs much better than I do, and it’s always advisable to do some research before a family movie night so that there are no unwelcome surprises. For more information about the content of any of these films, there are great resources online, including pluggedin.com and commonsensemedia.org.

Also, note that all films listed as being available for “digital rental or purchase” are available through Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, Amazon and other outlets where digital movies are sold.

Static and Screen was founded on the belief that the stories we consume matter, and that is true now more than ever. I hope these are films that will entertain, challenge and inspire you.

Depending on how this shakes out, I may be back with a second round of recommendations in a month or two. But for now, pop some popcorn and enjoy.

 

For kids:

 “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” (G, on Netflix)

One of the disadvantages of Netflix’s “more is more” model of content distribution is that some great films get lost in the shuffle. Consider, for example, this British export from Aardman Animation.

Animated through painstaking stop-motion animation, this tale of a sheep, a sheep dog and a very lost alien will appeal to young viewers, while adults can appreciate the gorgeous animation, dozens of sci-fi movie references and slapstick comedy.

An added bonus: These handcrafted clay-and-cotton creations may just inspire your kids to come up with some artistic masterworks of their own.

 

“Spies in Disguise” (PG, digital rental or purchase)

If you’re like me, the phrase “Will Smith pigeon spy movie” probably doesn’t get you trembling with excitement.

But, like its titular pigeon superspy, there is more going on in “Spies in Disguise” than first meets the eye. In between all the slapstick giggles are some serious questions for you and your kids to chew on. Do we continue doing the same things we’ve always done and perpetuating a cycle of violence? Or do we search for creative nonviolent solutions to our problems? Do we continue to view those around us as good and evil? Or do we make the conscious choice to view everyone as people and peacefully work through our disagreements?

Not all animated films are as smart as they are entertaining, but “Spies in Disguise” fits the bill nicely.

 

“Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made” (PG, Disney+)

Here’s a film that parents might enjoy even more than their kids.

The adventures of child detective Timmy Failure (and his polar bear partner Total) may be taken from a goofy series of young adult novels, but director Tom McCarthy (of the Academy Award-winning “Spotlight”) takes this story seriously and finds both humanity and humor in his telling.

It’s good enough that your kids might want to give the books a read, which is always a good thing.

Also, there are a polar bear detective and a cat named Senor Burrito. Enough said.

 

For teens:

“Little Women” (rated PG, available for digital rental or purchase on April 7)

Don’t come into “Little Women” expecting a stodgy period piece. Director Greta Gerwig has come up with a beautiful twist on the tale that somehow manages to make the 200-year-old novel seem more vital than ever.

Through turning the book’s chronology on its head, Gerwig disorients her viewers and forces them to really focus on these characters. This is no rote by-the-numbers adaptation, and the film is better for it.

There’s a reason “Little Women” was nominated for six Academy Awards this year. I would be hard-pressed to find a better film – for teens, for adults, for anybody.

 

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (PG,  digital rental or purchase)

Your teens weren’t even born when “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was on the air, meaning they are the first generation in over 30 years to grow up without the reassuring presence of Fred Rogers in their life.

I say there’s no time like the present to acquaint them with this extraordinary man. This film, while fictionalized, provides a beautiful distillation of Rogers’ ethos – his intentionality, kindness, goodness and compassion.

If the story piques your student’s interest, I highly recommend the Esquire profile of Rogers that inspired the film: “Can You Say Hero?” It is readily available online, and it is an excellent read for young and old.

 

“The Aeronauts” (PG-13, Amazon Prime)

Here is another true(ish) tale that might seem like it’s plucked from the pages of Jules Verne: a tale of early British meteorologists who took a hot-air balloon higher into the atmosphere than any man before.

“The Aeronauts” is what the British used to call a “ripping good yarn”: suspenseful, thrilling and jaw-droppingly beautiful.

It’s also the sort of story guaranteed to spark imagination and inspire reflection about the as-yet-unreachable frontiers we hope to conquer in our own lives.

 

“Spider-Man: Far from Home” (PG-13, digital rental or purchase, also on STARZ add-on for Hulu and Amazon Prime)

Your mileage may vary on superhero movies (mine certainly does), but there are few genres that are guaranteed to please teens – especially teen boys – as much as a good hero’s tale.

And “Spider-Man: Far from Home” stands tall in the genre – not just because it’s wickedly entertaining but also because it is uncommonly thoughtful about such diverse subjects as fake news, fearmongering and the power of belief. It even has a little fun with the inherent ridiculousness of these stories, which is always welcome.

If you haven’t fallen in love with these movies by now, you probably never will. But, eight films in, the “Spider-Man” franchise shouldn’t be nearly as fresh or as funny as it is in “Far From Home.”

 

For adults:

“Jojo Rabbit” (PG-13, digital rental or purchase)

Take the whimsy of Wes Anderson, the humor of Mel Brooks and the earnest heart of Steven Spielberg and you may end up with something close to this Academy-Award-nominated charmer.

Yes, it’s a comedy about Nazi Germany, which might be a hard sell for some, but the humor is used to shine a light on that dark time and to expose prejudices. And buried under the humor is a thoughtful, touching drama about the battle for a young boy’s soul and for his humanity.

That the film manages to be laugh-at-loud hilarious, uncommonly thoughtful and wrenchingly sad – often simultaneously – is something of a movie miracle.

 

“Fast Color” (PG-13, Amazon Prime and Hulu)

Patience is a lost cinematic virtue these days, so it’s nice to see a film like “Fast Color” that unfolds, not through explosions and car chases, but through well-observed dialogue and moments of silence.

There may be superpowered heroines here, but this is a film less concerned with action set pieces and more focused on the difficult art of fixing what is broken – ourselves, our relationships and our environment.

“Fast Color” is thoughtful and graceful in a way few films are anymore and one of the rare superhero films that could fuel analysis by literature professors while spawning its own cinematic universe.

 

“The Report” (R, Amazon Prime)

“The Report” is not a feel-good movie. Any film about the CIA’s torture of 119 alleged Islamic extremists in the aftermath of 9/11 isn’t exactly popcorn movie material.

But “The Report” does inspire in its own way. By focusing on a small group of Senate staffers who wrote over 7,000 pages about the torture and paved the way for an amendment that banned the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, the film lauds hard work, the pursuit of truth and the inherent value of all human life.

It’s a nice reminder that, even in the darkness, there are people working to shine a light.

 

Coming soon:

I am adding reviews online every week. While my review schedule is always changing, this is how it is shaking out for the next few weeks. If there is a film that you and your family is curious about, drop me a line at staticandscreen@gmail.com and I’ll do my best to get it reviewed for you.

 

Week of March 23: Holocaust drama “Song of Names” (PG-13); legal drama “Just Mercy” (PG-13)

Week of March 30: “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” (PG-13); Thomas Edison biopic “The Current War” (PG-13); Disney+ nature documentary “Dolphin Reef” (G); Netflix comedy “Coffee and Kareem” (Not yet rated)

Week of April 6:  Critically maligned musical “Cats” (PG)

Week of April 20: Netflix animated film “The Willoughbys” (PG)

Stephen Dow covers a variety of beats for the Buffalo Bulletin including the Johnson County Commissioners and JCSD #1. Stephen is a Billings native who joined the Bulletin in 2016.

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