Friday, November 29, 2013

Review of "Frozen" posted at KPC Media Group website

Hope everyone had a super Thanksgiving and Black Friday! I have so far ... not only because I got to eat delicious food and bought a couple of great deals, but also because I got to see "Frozen." It's not a top tier Disney classic like "The Lion King," but it's a solidly entertaining second-tier Disney film which, let's face it, is way better than a lot of movies geared toward the kiddies. I really enjoyed it! Plus, it had some pretty decent female character who weren't completely stupid or evil! Success!!!!!

Anyway, read my entire review online RIGHT NOW at KPC Media Group's website by clicking here, or read it in Sunday's KPC Media Group newspapers. Monday, I'll post the whole thing on the blog!

Monday, November 25, 2013

'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Journey's End

It seems like "Dancing With the Stars" just started, but now, the D-List Dance Competition O' Glitter is almost over. 

But first, the couples have to perform three dances, including the fan-favorite freestyle dance!

Let's get down to it ... we have a lot of ground to cover and celebrities to watch dance!

Review: "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"

This review was originally posted at KPC Media Group's website and published in their three daily newspapers. You can read the original review here. Reprinted with permission.

There's a glorious phenomenon in fiction, when suddenly the reader or viewer realizes how much more there is going on in the world that these fictional characters inhabit.

For me at least, that's the moment that a piece of fiction in any form starts to take hold of my emotions, and I start to inhabit that world alongside that fictional character.

And that's what "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is all about. The franchise goes from the first movie, a tidy little story about a girl trying to survive a battle to the death in a dystopian future, to a sprawling tale of rebellion centering on that same girl, who discovers that she's still trying to survive a battle to the death - just against different opponents. It's an affecting tale, made especially emotional by a stunning performance by the young woman in the center of it all.

"Catching Fire" picks up where "The Hunger Games" left off - teenagers Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have won the annual teenage death battle the Hunger Games by manipulating those in power with their mostly-for-the-cameras romance. Katniss thinks she'll be able to settle down and live a relatively normal life, but she soon discovers she can't.

Because Katniss and Peeta made the authoritarian Capitol and its ruthless leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland), look weak during their games, the pair - especially the fiery Katniss - inadvertantly spurred the downtrodden citizens into revolt. To save those they love - including Katniss' mother (Paula Malcomson), sister Prim (Willow Shields) and friend/sometimes love interest Gale (Liam Hemsworth) - Katniss and Peeta must try to calm tempers in the districts during their victory tour. When that doesn't work, Snow and the new head of the Hunger Games, Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), devise a new way to scare the districts into submission - hold a Hunger Games featuring former champions, including, of course, Katniss and Peeta, as tributes.

The scope of the story is just much bigger in "Catching Fire" than it was in "The Hunger Games." We got a sense in the first movie that there was unrest in one of the districts, partially sparked by Katniss' actions in the games, but in "Catching Fire," the scope of the actions by Katniss and Peeta take on a new weight. The audience discovers along with Katniss just how important the events of the first movie are, and the first half of the movie is a dizzying buildup of tension as the weight of her actions - and the realization of the trajectory of the rest of her life - settles on her shoulders. Add to that a nice big dose of PTSD for Katniss from her participation in the Hunger Games, and you have a recipe for a pretty big, emotional story.

Katniss is a lead character who often internalizes her feelings, though, so it's important that the actress playing her can show the audience the depths of her pain, rage and despair. That's where Jennifer Lawrence comes in. She was very good in the first "Hunger Games" movie, but Lawrence is nothing short of brilliant in "Catching Fire." Without her, this movie would pack a lot less of a punch. With Lawrence taking center stage, though, "Catching Fire" is a tense, scary, emotional roller-coaster of a movie.

"Catching Fire" is also just a better made, more streamlined movie. As much as I like the work of Gary Ross, who directed "The Hunger Games," Francis Lawrence clearly has a better handle on the themes of the material. Ross' biggest flaw was the same problem that happens with so many other book-to-movie adaptations - the director wants to be too faithful to the books, to the detriment of the film. It's not that Lawrence wasn't faithful too, because he was - if memory serves, he took several scenes straight from the books - but he also made the story his own. He wasn't as constrained by the source material, and it improved the flow of the movie immensely from the first movie.

The only real flaw with "Catching Fire" is the fact that it ends on a cliffhanger that won't be resolved for another year. Even if you read the books like I have, it's fun, yet tough, to walk out of the theater with so much unresolved. Still, don't skip the movie just because of the ending - other than the big unknowns at the end, "Catching Fire" is a well-made, immensely entertaining, satsifying sequel that outshines its predecessor.

Jenny's Take: See it tonight.

(Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language. Runs 146 minutes.)

Friday, November 22, 2013

"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" Review posted at KPC Media Group

It was the moment we'd all been waiting for ... the premiere of "Catching Fire," the sequel to "The Hunger Games." And it delivered!!!!!!!! And it was even better, because I went to a double feature of the first movie and the sequel! 

Read my full review of the movie over at KPC Media Group's website by clicking here, or pick up one of the KPC Media Group Sunday newspapers to read it in good old fashioned print. I'll post the full review here on Monday!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

TV Snap Judgment: Almost Human

This week, "Almost Human" premiered, and I must admit that I was incredibly pumped. I was waiting for what seemed like decades for this show. 

OK, yeah, it was only a couple of months, but "Almost Human" was one of the shows I was most looking forward to this TV season. And I'm happy to say, the show really lived up to my high expectations.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Dancing With the Stars Recap: This Is It! Well, Almost.

The craziness of "Dancing With the Stars" is almost over, and tonight the dancers were competing for a spot in the finals. And they had to do it in front of Maksim Chmerkovskiy as a guest judge! 

Tonight's trick was that they had to perform a different dance to a stripped-down version of the song they performed their first dance to. Interesting concept! Let's get right down to the dancing, though.

Movie Review: Balance of sap, silliness makes 'About Time' a sweet treat

This movie review was originally published on KPC Media Group's website and in the Sunday editions of its daily newspapers. Read the original review here. Reprinted on the Pop Tarts blog with permission.

Watching "About Time" is like watching a tricky balancing act.

It would be easy for it to tip over and fall into gag-worthy sticky-sweet sentimentality, but every time it sticks its toe into the pool of sap, it throws in a dash of spice and the movie is back on track. There was only one scene that really had me rolling my eyes in a way rarely seen outside of a Nicholas Sparks romance, and it was short-lived. Overall, "About Time" had just the right mix of gooshy goodness and quirky humor.

The movie follows Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) who, at the age of 21, is told by his father (Bill Nighy) that the men of his family can travel through time. They can't change history, in the sense that they couldn't go back and kill Hitler or anything, but they can travel within their own timelines and change their lives. His father used the time to get some extra reading done, but Tim decides to do what any gawky, nerdy-cute, single 21-year-old would do - he uses his power to get a girlfriend.

Enter Mary (Rachel McAdams), an adorable American girl Tim meets when he moves to London. After a series of fits and starts brought on by Tim's time-travel, the pair of them begin their ordinary lives together - made just a little more extraordinary by Tim's gift.

"About Time" works despite its relatively simple concept. Yes, time travel is not exactly "normal" in the real world, but since Tim is an ordinary man who can only travel back in his own history, there isn't really much he can do except improve or further screw up his life. There are no massive repercussions for the world when this man goes back in time. There is no "butterfly effect," where some small change causes big differences to other people. Everything that Tim changes effects Tim's little world - his parents, his girlfriend, his friends. The movie, therefore, becomes a celebration of the things in life that are beautiful but, in the great scheme of things, mundane - a chance meeting at a restaurant, a wedding, a walk on the beach.

"About Time" also features a pair of perfectly likeable but, ultimately, slightly dull characters. Tim and Mary are certainly cute and blandly charming, but they wouldn't be able to carry a movie without the help of the quirky, deliciously acted characters that surround them. Not only is Tim's father a delight as played by Bill Nighy, but his spacy sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson), earthy mother (Lindsay Duncan), dorky friend Rory (Joshua McGuire), crazy uncle (Richard Cordery) and perpetually discontented family friend and playwright Harry (Tom Hollander) all lend some personality to the film.

In the capable hands of chick-flick master Richard Curtis, everything works just as it should. "About Time," which Curtis wrote and directed, is reminscent of Curtis' other, similar works - the "Bridget Jones" movies, "Notting Hill" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral." While it doesn't quite live up to my favorite of Curtis' movies, "Love Actually," "About Time" has the same charm, humor and warmth that made his other works so famous and well-loved.

"About Time" takes a gauzy look at ordinary life, but does it in such a way that there's still a little sass and a touch of silly fun to temper the sap. It's one of those warm, fuzzy movies that, sometimes, is just what you need. It isn't an earth-shaking movie, and it doesn't have a terribly deep meaning, but it is a fun, sweet morsel of a movie.

Jenny's Take: See it before it leaves theaters.

(Rated R for language and some sexual content. Runs 123 minutes.)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Review of "About Time" posted at KPC Media Group's page

Looking for a sweet-yet-funny romantic comedy that doesn't make your teeth hurt from all the saccharine sappiness (most of the time, anyway)? Look no further than "About Time," which has enough quirk 'n' Britishness to keep it fun to watch.

My review of the movie is posted at KPC Media Group's website, and you can read it here. It will also appear in KPC's daily newspapers on Sunday, and I'll post it here on the blog on Monday!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

'Agents of SHIELD' - Keep The Faith!

I do not AT ALL envy the crew of "Agents of SHIELD."

The show had incredibly crazy, unrealistic expectations placed on it. Not only is it part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of the biggest phenomena currently making the pop culture rounds, but it also bears the name of Joss Whedon, the deserving king of a cult of slavishly devoted fans.

Between the awesomeness of the Marvel movies (especially last summer's "The Avengers") and the name of the man behind cult favorites "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the short-lived "Firefly" attached to it, "Agents of SHIELD" premiered under a microscope, and it seems like every week there are more blog entries and articles about whether the show can make it, or if it's disappointing fans too much.

But don't fear, fellow nerds - keep the faith, and I think "Agents of SHIELD" will pay off for us.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Rad Bromance: Pop Culture's Platonic Pairs

In general, I'm a pretty big fan of romance. I read romance novels, I get giggly over chick flicks and have several "ships" that make me feel all gooshy inside.

But sometimes, it's just nice when there are pairs who are completely platonic. Not every show has to have a romantic element, after all, and there is something very special about a close relationship that is different from a romantic relationship.

I'm loving the fact that there are several platonic "couples" on TV shows I'm watching right now, and despite the fact that there are shippers out there who want some of them to get together, I'm hoping that these pairs stay "just friends."

Monday, November 11, 2013

'Dancing With the Stars' Recap: Duos and Trios

There are only a couple more episodes of "Dancing With the Stars" which, let's face it, is kind of tragic. This has been a fun season with several very good dancers and several more that are just plain fun to watch. 

Tonight's gimmick was that, in addition to a normal partner dance, the couples also got to perform a trio dance with an additional pro/troupe dancer. Fun times! Shall we get down to the recapping?

Movie Review: New 'Thor' movie pure superhero fun

This review was originally posted on KPC Media Group's website and published in its daily newspapers. Read the original column here. Republished with permission.

As much as I appreciate deep, dark comic book-inspired films, like Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy, sometimes geeky girls just want to have fun.

Thank goodness, then, for movies like "Thor: The Dark World," which excellently blends a solid save-the-world story with a dash of humor, sprinkle of romance and a lot of pure entertainment value.

And, honestly, could a "Thor" movie work any other way? He's a Norse god who's really an alien who occasionally shows up on Earth to save humanity, and sometimes teams up with a group that includes a supergenius billionaire in a flying metal suit, a World War II supersoldier and a scientist who turns into a giant green monster when he gets angry.

It's actually quite a testiment to everyone involved that the movie works at all, and doesn't devolve into complete ridiculousness - although it does teeter on the edge of ridiculous more than once.

The movie follows astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) - Thor's love interest from the first "Thor" movie - who, when investigating some really weird scientific happenings, gets sucked into another world and infected with some very powerful energy. The energy is called the Aether, and it is being sought by the long-defeated dark elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) brings Jane to his home of Asgard in hopes of curing her, but instead Malekith seeks Jane in order to extract the energy from her to destroy the universe.

It's a ridiculous mix of fantasy - Elves! Armor! Swords! - and sci-fi - Aliens! Spaceships! Physics! - that shouldn't work at all. And occasionally, it doesn't. There are a few too many scenes of battles between sword-wielding Asgardians and elves with sci-fi blasters jumping out of spaceships. The movie stretches out just a tad too long and gets a smidge tedious at points.
But just when I would start to think, "OK, this is just getting ridiculous," something delightful would happen, and I'd be sucked right back in. And more often than not, I wouldn't be sucked in by Thor and his quest, or his relationship with Jane, or the impending doom of Asgard and Earth at Malekith's hand, but with the other major character in the movie - Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who provides many of the laughs and most of the emotional core to the movie.
Loki, if you've kept up with the quickly growing Marvel Cinematic Universe, was the bad guy in "The Avengers," but for "Thor: The Dark World," he's back to being a complicated, tricky antihero. Without Loki, this movie would be just another sudsie hack-and-slash superhero movie, but with Loki - and Hiddleston's gleeful, nuanced performance, which is the best in the movie - this "Thor" outing is elevated. It's still not a particularly deep or artistic movie, but it has some depth.

Still, the movie's depth isn't too deep, and when things start to get too dour and serious, a good dash of humor is inserted to keep the audience smiling. Chris Hemsworth spends a good chunk of the movie playing the straight man to trickster Loki, but Hemsworth is a master at playing his ridiculous character with just enough of a wink to the audience to make Thor not only bearable, but fun. And, let's face it, without that undercurrent of knowing humor, Thor would be an unbearably boring, stupid and, probably, rather unlikeable character. The excellent chemistry between Hemsworth and Hiddleston brings it all together into an entertaining and intensely watchable package.

"Thor: The Dark World" is not even close to the best movie in the "Avengers" franchise. This is no "Iron Man," and it doesn't even touch "The Avengers," but it takes what worked in 2011's "Thor" and improves upon it. There are certainly some bumps along the way, but, wow, is it a fun ride nonetheless.

Jenny's Take: See it tonight.

(Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content. Runs 112 minutes.)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Review of "Thor: The Dark World" posted at KPC Media Group

It's not the best Avengers-related movie, but it's a lot of fun! I really enjoyed seeing "Thor: The Dark World" yesterday, and not just because Chris Hemsworth is hot and Tom Hiddleston is villain-sexy! It was better than the first "Thor" movie, with a perfect mix of plot, romance and humor!

Read my review here or in KPC Media Group's newspapers on Sunday, and I'll post the full review here on Monday.

Monday, November 4, 2013

"Dancing With the Stars" recap: Sequins, Cher and a tango-dancing pimp

As if "Dancing With the Stars" needed more fabulous tackiness ... tonight, Cher was a guest-judge, as well as a performer. AND the stars danced to Cher songs! WHAT COULD BE BETTER THAN THAT?

Anyway, it was a night of glitter and craziness, which is every night for Cher.

Movie Review: 'Ender's Game' succeeds on several levels

This movie review was originally written for KPC Media Group's website and print newspapers. You can read the original review here. Reprinted with permission.

My mom always had a rule, which I still largely follow even as an adult: “You must read the book before you see the movie.”

It’s a good rule for kids, because it gets them to read - not that I needed any help on that front - but as an adult, it hasn’t always served me well.

Since the book is always better than the movie, a lot of times, reading the book before watching the movie leads to major disappointments.

I went into “Ender’s Game” prepared for the same. The book, written by Orson Scott Card and published in 1985, is a classic of military science fiction, and it’s a good read. It’s also a book, despite the fact that it takes place in the middle of a futuristic war in space, is structured mostly around the internal struggle of its main character, Ender Wiggin.

I liked reading the book, but I was incredibly skeptical that it could be made into a watchable, entertaining movie that still stayed true to the themes of the book.

It turns out “Ender’s Game” wasn’t as unfilmable as I thought it would be. In fact, it was quite the success, both as a standalone movie and as a book adaptation.

“Ender’s Game” follows Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a boy tapped by the International Military to train from a very young age to defeat a destructive race of aliens. Under the watchful eyes of Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis), Ender quickly rises through the ranks at the isolated, outer-space military training school he attends. He is pushed to exhibit the fierceness of his violent brother, Peter (Jimmy Pinchak), and the empathy of his sister, Valentine (Abigail Breslin).

I was afraid that “Ender’s Game” was going to neuter the thought-provoking themes of the book, which takes a hard look at the morality of war, in favor of cool, wham-pow battle sequences. I was pleasantly surprised that the movie kept a lot of aspects of the book’s main themes. In fact, the movie was a little more subtle about asking the tough questions, as opposed to the hit-you-over-the-head nature of the book.
But, never fear, there are still some truly spectacular action sequences that are fun to watch and deserve a lot of praise. One of the centerpieces of the battle school is a zero-gravity globe where trainees float around among obstacles, shooting one another with guns that freeze their limbs. It’s fun to watch the kids floating around, and I was impressed with how seamless and real it seemed. Special effects have truly taken a step forward in the past few years, and it’s those leaps that allow good science fiction like “Ender’s Game” to be filmed. Even five years ago, it probably couldn’t have happened.

I was also pleased with how streamlined the plot of “Ender’s Game” was. One of the biggest problems with movie adaptations of books is that they suffer from bloat and pacing problems, because filmmakers try to stuff every scene from the book into the film. Screenwriter/director Gavin Hood is to be commended, then, because this is one of the slickest adaptations of a book I’ve seen on the big screen in years. Hood made the tough choices to take out several subplots - most notably, an interesting but ultimately marginal subplot about Ender’s siblings back on Earth. He also combined characters, changed relationships and condense time in order to make the story work as a movie. The movie clips along at a nice pace, without any of the awkward flow problems that are practically hallmarks of book adaptations. If I didn’t know it was a book adaptation, I doubt I would have been able to sense that “Ender’s Game” was adapted from another medium.

Despite all the expert writing, directing and adapting that happened to bring this movie together, though, “Ender’s Game” really hinges on its titular character. Ender is a complicated boy in a very difficult, strange situation, and casting the wrong kid in the role could have been a disaster. Thankfully, Asa Butterfield is a gem. He perfectly captures both Ender’s compassion and brutality, and is able to encapsulate those conflicting emotions and channel them into a raw, interesting performance.

“Ender’s Game” still isn’t a perfect film. The plot is deeply unsettling - it’s tough to watch preteens preparing to fight in a war - and I never feel like the story, either in the book or the movie, goes far enough to condemn some of the terrible things that happen in it. And even though the movie is a truly great adaptation of the book, it still doesn’t quite measure up to the source material. I was disappointed by the marginalization of a few characters, even though I understand why it happened, and as well-paced as it was, there were still some fairly important scenes that were hurried or glossed over.

Still, my only complaints are really little more than quibbles. “Ender’s Game” is an excellent piece of science fiction, and proof that, with a little work, you really can make a good book into a good movie.

Jenny’s Take: See it before it leaves theaters.

(Rated PG-13 for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material. Runs 114 minutes.)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Movie Review of "Ender's Game" Posted at KPC Media Group

I was super skeptical of "Ender's Game" - how could that book possibly make a good movie? - but I was very pleasantly surprised! Read my review at KPC Media Group's website by clicking here. I'll post it on the Pop Tarts blog on Monday.

Also, sorry for the horrendous lack of posts this week. It's been a long week, and, frankly, I just hit a wall! (I don't know what Kel's excuse is, though!) As long as things go well, it'll be back to normal posting next week!