KUNG FU PANDA 3, FIFTY SHADES OF BLACK and THE BOY – Reviews by Jennifer Merin

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kung fu panda 3 posterKung Fu Panda 3, the latest in the popular animation franchise, tracks the young panda (voiced by Jack Black) as he seeks enlightenment through the art of self defense and defending others. Again joined by Tiger (voiced by Angelina Jolie), the young kung fu fighter follows his path by teaching others how to protect themselves against and undo evil. The story is charming, the animation colorful and the message admirable. And the film is co-directed by Jennifer Yuh, who did a great job of solo-helming Kung Fu Panda 2, which was an enormous femme-helmed box office hit. This entertaining family film will bring out your inner kid. Read more…

Fifty Shades of Black is a spoof on Fifty Shades of Grey, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s high-grossing movie adaptation of E.L.James’ cult-followed eponymous novel about sexual domination of a young woman by an older man. Another box office hit helmed and written by women. Here, the characters are all African-American, and the gags are sit-com situational and slanguage-y. Black’s irreverent satire cuts through much of the relentlessly serious tone of Grey and, in doing so, scores points. But I find it difficult to see any social relevance in either film. I mean, what’s the point? Is this what we’re looking for on the path to greater diversity in Hollywood production?

The Boy stars Lauren Cohan as a nanny who’s hired to take care of an English couple’s son – and the boy turns out to be s life size doll. The film sounds like it might be an odd twist on Lars and the Real Girl, but it isn’t that at all. No quirky sweetness to it. This is the week’s femme-centric horror offering, with plot twists that lead the nanny and you to wonder whether the boy doll is alive. No huge screams, but unsettling plot sure plays interesting games with your head.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).