'Puzzle' is Well Made, but a Few Pieces are Missing

Based on the film Rompecabezas, Puzzle is one of those little-known independent films that sneaks into theaters with little to no fanfare, although the fact that it is being promoted “from the producer of Little Miss Sunshine” should help it get noticed somewhat. Puzzle is a quiet, little film about a woman who discovers that jigsaw puzzles are the key to changing her life. While the subject matter doesn’t sound all that exciting, the film really isn’t about puzzles but instead about one finding their voice, or so it appears. It’s also a message film that has its own agenda expecting the audience to agree with the choices of the main character and applaud her “brave” behavior. Frankly, it just feels manipulative.

Directed by Marc Turtletaub, Puzzle’s most impactful scene comes within the first few minutes. We see Agnes (Kelly MacDonald) cleaning up the house and they decorating it for a birthday party. Then we see her serving appetizers while being ignored by the guests. …

5 Back to School Movies to Watch with Your Kids


While going back to school is a happy experience for many children and teens, many more dread the occasion. To help ease your crew back with the right mindset, consider watching these with your kids to help remind them of the good times. Each will provide you with some fodder to have some great conversations afterwards with your kin.

Ramona and Beezus (2010) (G)
While many of us grew up reading books by Beverly Cleary, only a few have seen the movie based on some of Cleary’s popular characters. “Ramona and Beezus” is charming and great for the younger set but it won’t annoy the parents. If you remember, Beezus, (Joey King), is stuck in the middle. Ramona,  (Selena Gomez), is her older and more mature sister. The two have a younger baby sister as well.

Beezus tends to get in trouble. Not because she is bad, but because she is curious or is trying to help. She is a strong-willed girl that annoys many. Her teacher and schoolmates don’t understand her, but her parents tell her that she is extraordianary.

Child viewers will relate to the fears of Beezus and will appreciate how she overcomes them. Parents will appreciate John Corbett, Bridget Moynahan, Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Duhamel who play the perfect parents. While the story is a little sugary-sweet, it still provides a great example of how a family can help each other through the hard times.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010) (PG)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (2011) (PG)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (2012) (PG)
The “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movies have been some of the best family entertainment movies in recent years. The stories are cleaver and provide great lessons. This under-appreciated franchise of films is based on the wildy-appreciated books by Jeffrey Kinney who has a knack for telling  the “true stories” of the “horrors” of growing up. Each film features Zachary Gordon as Greg Heffley, (the “wimpy” kid), Devon Bostick (Roderick, the tormenting older brother), Steve Zahn (Frank, Greg’s dad), Rachael Harris (Susan, Greg’s mom) and Robert Capron (Greg’s best friend, Rowley).

The first two movies take place during the school year while the 3rd focuses on the summer vacation. In each movie, Greg and his family face multiple misadventures. Each story is told from Greg’s perspective, so your kids will be able to relate to him and will often find that they will know the right thing to do before he does. Many lessons are learned throughout the film and each ends on a happy note. Each movie is squeaky clean (with the exception of the occasional fart joke) and is appropriate for the whole family. While girls will relate more to “Ramona and Beezus,” your boys will really relate to Greg and his friends.

Freaky Friday (1976) (G)
Freaky Friday (2003) (PG)
Both “Freaky Friday” movies were created by Disney. While both are loosely based on the book of the same name by Mary Rodgers, and have the same premise, they really are two different stories. Both feature a little hocus pocus of magic that causes mother and daughter to switch bodies. In the original, Barbara Harris plays Mrs. Harris, a stay-at-home mom and Jodie foster plays Annabel, her high school athletic daughter. Mrs. Harris has a huge list of errands to run while Annabel has a waterskiing competition, making the body change terribly inconvenient for the two. In the remake, Jamie Lee Curtis plays Tess Coleman, a single mother and business woman and Lindsay Lohan (when she was still a good influence on little girls), plays her daughter Anna. In this version, mom is getting remarried while daughter is a rock star.

While both movies and family-friendly and fairly entertaining, the nod goes toward the first for the better storyline and was written by Rodgers herself. The latter one is a little edgier but still enjoyable and appropriate for your clan. In both stories, mother and daughter learn to appreciate all that the other one does and grow closer together by the end.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004) (PG)
This cult classic is a favorite of all ages and is surprisingly clean and quirky. If your teen is nervous about entering high school, this one will make them feel better knowing that it could be worse. They could be Napoleon Dynamite!

Like TV’s “Seinfeld,” “Napoleon Dynamite” is pretty much a movie about nothing. Napoleon (Jon Heder) and his older brother Kip, (Aaron Ruell) live in Preston, Idaho with their grandmother. Niether of them have much ambition, but both talk big. At school, Napoleon is tormented by the “cool kids,” falls in love with the lop-sided pony-tailed Deb, (Tina Majorino) and helps Pedro, (Efren Ramirez) run for school president. At home, he has to feed his grandmother’s pet llama and put up with his uncle Rico’s stories of high school football fame.

There’s no real message or moral to this story – just one funny bit after another. However, the underdogs do “win” at the end. If your family likes quirky comedies, this one is a winner.

Clueless (1995) (PG-13)
I cautiously recommend the slightly edgier “Clueless” for older teens.  It is a parody of the struggles of poor little rich teens in a popular high school. Alicia Silverstone plays Cher, named after you-know-who, who is consumed with finding a boyfriend and fashion – just like any other teen girl. She is attractive and knows it. She only hangs out with other cool kids like Dionne, (Stacey Dash) and the occasional “project” teen like Tai, (Brittany Murphy), the new “un-hip” girl at school. Cher’s older step brother is completely opposite of her. He is played by Paul Rudd in a very likeable role. He helps her to see how shallow of person she is.

Ironically, the story is loosely based on Jane Austen’s novel, “Emma” including plot, characters, themes and values. The film is updated and filled with cell phones and outrageous fashion choices. Though filled in 1995, the movies feels more like an ‘80’s movie. If you choose to watch this, know ahead of time that it feature some profanity and mild drug references, but not in a positive light.


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