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Culture Cafe

Movie, music, and television reviews from a select group of bloggers.

'Once Upon a Time,' which stars Ginnifer Goodwin (l.) and Josh Dallas (r.), is currently in its second season. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

'Once Upon a Time': The evil queen is framed in the midseason premiere

By Heather DonmoyerScreen Rant / 01.07.13

While some networks are still on winter hiatus, ABC is not among them and tonight they kick off the second half of the season with a new episode of Once Upon A Time .

When last we left Storybrooke, things were looking up. Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) had found their way back home and true love’s kiss awakened Charming (Josh Dallas) from his enchanted slumber. But two other characters have also managed to slip into town under the radar, and if tonight’s any indication, this party’s just getting started. 

The first thing to celebrate, however, is that last year’s practice of jumping back and forth between only two realms – the present in Storybrooke and the past in the Enchanted Forest – is reinstated, hopefully for the remainder of the year. Not only did the first half of the season require an encyclopedic memory to keep all three timelines safe, it also took away some of the charm of the original premise and made certain episodes choppy and disjointed. And did anyone miss Aurora (Sarah Bolger) or Mulan (Jaimie Chung)? No, didn’t think so.

Fortunately, taking the third timeline out of the equation does nothing to minimize the number of plot twists shoved up the writers’ sleeves. As revealed in the winter finale, Cora (Barbara Hershey) and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) sailed into town, though their presence is now more felt than seen – especially Cora’s. She’s got an axe to grind with her daughter for banishing her to Wonderland so many years ago and she’s choosing to employ the old “divide and conquer” method to exact her revenge.

Despite all of the enemies Regina (Lana Parilla) has made along the way, coming into this episode she still had Henry’s (Jared S. Gilmore) affections and a wafer-thin layer of trust between she and Emma after the work she did to bring Snow and Emma home to Storybrooke. It also feels like she is genuinely trying to change for the sake of her son, though that doesn’t preclude the occasional temper tantrum. Cora must be a quick study, because it doesn’t take her long to decide on the perfect plan to crush Regina once and for all – by framing her for the murder of the beloved shrink, Doc Hopper (Ralph Sbarge).

In a flashback, more history is revealed depicting how evil Regina once was as queen. After Regina overthrew the king, Charming and Snow set a trap for her which temporarily strips her of her powers and allows them to imprison her. Charming and Snow go back and forth about what to do with her and finally settle on a test. The twist, of course, is that the test comes from Rumple (Robert Carlyle), and by now even naive Snow should realize that there’s always a catch when it comes to Rumple.

The catch is that by granting Snow and Charming protection from Regina in their own realm, Rumple has lulled them into a false sense of security and given him the window of opportunity to suggest to the now-banished Regina that there are realms beyond their own that they could travel to. This ultimately gets him one step closer to his own goal: Reuniting with his son.

Meanwhile in Storybrooke’s present, Cora is at work sowing her own seeds of doubt concerning Regina. Even though Emma is quick to point out that the murder has all the tell-tale signs of a set-up, the one thing they all put far too much trust in is magic. Yes, it’s hard to deny the testimony Emma and Gold retrieve from Pongo the dog, but the story still seems a bit too contrived to be true. This does culminate in a good, loud shouting match between Henry’s two moms in which they both make excellent stabs at the emotional jugular. And in the end, you can’t blame Regina for apparating out of Dodge once the tables start to turn on her.

In the end, however, it’s Cora and Hook who come out on top. Cora declares that her daughter’s spirit is now sufficiently crushed for her to launch her main assault. And she has given Hook a gift in the form of an imprisoned Doc Hopper, which she assures him will bring him one step closer to enacting his own revenge on Rumple. Of course, if Jiminy/Doc Hopper is alive and well, it means some other poor Storybrooke soul has bitten the dust. Fortunately, there are plenty more episodes where this one came from.

Heather Donmoyer blogs at Screen Rant.

'Downton Abbey' stars Maggie Smith (l.) and Shirley MacLaine (r.). (Nick Briggs/PBS/AP)

'Downton Abbey' recap: A wedding and changing times (+video)

By Staff Writer / 01.07.13

Did you remember that “Downton Abbey” is now taking place in the 1920s? Because if not, the characters saw fit to mention it at least half a dozen times. It’s the 1920s and women’s hairstyles have changed (middle Crawley sister Edith fixed her hair a different way to try to catch the attention of neighbor Sir Anthony Strallan), etiquette is loosened (Mary’s fiancé – now husband – Matthew pointed out that it didn’t matter as much as it did before the war if he didn’t go down to dinner in the right shirt), and morals are looser (one American maid used the new decade as an excuse to kiss the valet she had a crush on).

“Downton Abbey” returned for a third season with a super-sized two-hour episode, which opened with will-they-or-won’t-they couple Matthew and Mary, who became engaged in the season two finale, standing in a church. Don’t get too excited yet – this was just a rehearsal. It was the spring after the Christmas celebration at which we’d left the “Downton” masters and servants, and the wedding was coming soon, but Mary was disappointed because her sister Sybil, living in Ireland and married to their former chauffeur Tom, had written to say she couldn’t afford to come for the wedding. Mary and Sybil’s father Robert, the Earl of Grantham, was still getting used to the idea of a chauffeur as a son-in-law and didn’t seem to entirely mind that the newly married couple would have to stay away for the festivities.

Matthew’s mother Isobel felt that the entire thing was silly and seemed to be on the verge of sending Sybil the money herself. “I suppose you agree with Robert,” she commented to Robert’s mother Violet. “Then not for the first time, you suppose wrongly,” Violet snapped. Yay for Maggie Smith being back as the sharp-tongued Dowager Countess!

But soon, pregnant Sybil and her husband Tom arrived. "Please tell me you sent the money," Sybil says to her father, Robert, but he was nonplussed; he’d done no such thing. (In a truly touching later development, it was revealed that Violet had sent the money to enable them to make the trip.)

But not everyone was happy Tom was there, and during one dinner, a snobby neighbor named Larry Grey slipped something into Tom’s drink that made the Irishman act drunk and start loudly spouting his politics. When caught, Larry couldn’t see what the fuss was all about. “He’s only a grubby little chauffeur,” he remarked. Robert, Larry’s father, Lord Merton, and Matthew all stood simultaneously, ready to defend Tom, but it was Matthew who went over to Tom and announced that his future brother-in-law would be his best man as well.

And even more drama was brewing before the actual wedding between Matthew and Mary could take place. Robert went up to London to look into financial matters and discovered that railway investments he’d made before the war had gone badly and wiped out most of his wife Cora’s fortune. If something didn’t happen to save them, the Crawley family would have to give up Downton Abbey.

Mary was aghast to hear the news, but thought she saw a solution when Matthew received a letter informing him that he was in line to receive an large inheritance from the father of his former fiancé, Lavinia, who died of the Spanish influenza. When it was discovered that the first two heirs were dead, it seemed all but certain Matthew would receive the money, and Mary told him it would solve all the family’s financial problems. Matthew, however, was stubborn – he said that because he had been named as the heir for his relationship with Lavinia, he couldn’t use the money to save his new fiancé’s home. (This seemed a little convoluted and over-dramatic, much like Matthew’s certainty last season that he and Mary could never be together because their love had caused Lavinia to die of grief, but I recognize the show needs some problem to keep tension between the couple.)

Mary told Matthew that his unwillingness to save her home made it clear he wasn’t on their family's side and fled the room, an act witnessed by sister Edith.

When Mary later burst into tears and had to leave the dinner table, Edith decided it was okay to reveal her sister’s business to everyone and told the family what she’d heard. Sybil’s husband Tom decided to talk to Matthew as his best man.

After talking things over with Matthew, it was Tom who brought Matthew to the house to speak with Mary – outside the door, of course, so there’d be no seeing the bride the night before the wedding. The two worked things out, and the wedding seemed to be back on.

Meanwhile, Cora’s free-spirited American mother, Martha, arrived for the wedding and sparred a bit with proper Violet. Middle sister Edith, meanwhile, invited older neighbor Sir Anthony Strallan to the wedding, hoping to rekindle a romance. He replied with one of the most awkward segues of all time, “Weddings can be a reminder of one’s loneliness, can’t they?,” but he agreed to go.

The wedding went off without a hitch, with the entire village turned out to cheer Mary’s arrival. In an adorable moment, both Mary’s father and her second father-figure, the butler Charles Carson, were waiting at the bottom of the stairs when she descended in her dress. "Will I do, Carson?" Mary asked him. “I think you’ll do quite nicely, milady,” Carson told her.

More change was afoot when Matthew and Mary returned from their honeymoon: they were riding in a car, not a carriage! What is the world coming to? The new couple seemed blissfully happy, but the topic of the Swire inheritance still rankled Mary.

In the servants’ world, a new face arrived on the scene when the Crawleys hired Alfred, maid O’Brien’s nephew, as a footman. It was apparently a scandal that he was over six feet tall, since it was mentioned at least three times over the course of the episode. Because of the financial problems, Robert was loath to hire more staff, despite the fact that the servants were shorthanded, and Matthew sided with him in his desire to “live more simply.” Writer Julian Fellowes showed both sides of the debate with Matthew and Violet’s viewpoints: Matthew said he didn't need someone to wait on him, while Violet pointed out that it was an aristocrats’ responsibility to employ servants, providing work for the village.

O’Brien wanted her nephew to work his way up in the world and supported him when he became valet to Matthew. But Thomas, a former footman and currently Robert’s valet, was incensed that Alfred has risen so far so quickly. After promising Alfred he would help him get a stain out of one of Matthew’s jackets, he purposely gave him the wrong stain remover so Matthew's jacket would be ruined. In revenge, O’Brien, who is usually Thomas’s favorite partner-in-crime, stole Robert’s dinner shirts and hid them so Thomas would get in trouble. Martha’s American maid Reed later told Alfred where O’Brien hid them, and Alfred restored the dinner shirts to Robert’s room.

Long-suffering Bates, the former Downton valet who was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for the supposed murder of his wife, was still in jail, visited regularly by his new wife, Downton maid Anna. Anna, who was determined to prove his innocence, gave him papers belonging to his former wife that contained names of her acquaintances. Anna thought that if she were to track those people down, one of them may have a clue that would help them. 

Anna told her husband that she declined to join Mary on her honeymoon, but Bates urged her to go, telling her that she was living life for both of them now. There was also trouble between Bates and his new cellmate, who provoked Bates into hitting him. “I forgot I was sharing a cell with a murderer,” his cellmate told him afterward. “And don’t you forget it,” Bates replies.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper, discovered she had a lump on her breast and went to see the doctor. (Cook Mrs. Patmore accompanied her and provided welcome comic relief, exclaiming, “Oh my God!” every time the doctor said something new. "Mrs. Patmore, will you please leave the hysteria to me?" Mrs. Hughes asked.) The test the doctor performed proved inconclusive, and Mrs. Hughes would have to wait two months to find out whether it was cancer.

Also, in the least interesting subplot of all time, kitchen maid Daisy was angry that she was promised someone else to help her in the kitchen and decided to go on strike. Then she decided not to be on strike anymore.

Mary and Violet decided that the surest way to get the money to save Downton would be to ask Martha, resolving they must show her how important Downton is to the community. The best way to do so? Throw a grand dinner and invite all the neighbors. One person who wouldn't be coming, at least at first, was Sir Anthony Strallan, who Robert had previously asked to stay away from his daughter. Edith was incredibly upset and asked her father to invite him back. Robert finally broke down and gave in to her request.

Things got off to a rough start when Matthew’s coat, damaged by Alfred and sent up to London for repairs, didn't arrive in time. Matthew had to (gasp) go down to dinner in a more casual jacket. Robert’s dinner shirts were still missing, so he was forced to wear a less formal shirt as well, leading to one of the night’s best moments when Violet absentmindedly asked him for a drink. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she told him when she realized her mistake. “I thought you were a waiter.” (Violet’s judgment on “these new cocktails” earlier in the episode: “They look too exciting for so early in the evening.”)

Improper shirts were as nothing when, despite repeated warnings from Daisy, the stove was discovered to be broken. The Crawleys were stuck without any dinner to serve their guests. Martha suggested rounding up all the food available and serving it picnic-style in the parlor. It actually seemed to go well, but Mary and Violet’s hopes were dashed when they asked Martha for the much-needed money and Martha told them that her money was tied up and could not be used to save Downton. 

However, one person was happy – Edith and Sir Anthony appeared to have become engaged by the end of the party. 

Will Edith, who’s gotten depressing plot line after depressing plot line, actually find happiness? Only time will tell.

Ashton Kutcher will star as Steve Jobs in the biopic 'jOBS.' (Chip East/Reuters)

Ashton Kutcher's Steve Jobs biopic could be released in April

By Sandy SchaeferScreen Rant / 01.04.13

jOBS star Ashton Kutcher bears an uncanny resemblance to Apple co-founder and computer/social technology innovator Steve Jobs when he was a young man, but does the cinematic biopic have anything else to recommend itself? Well, its backers seem to believe so, as jOBS is premiering as the closing night entry at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival this month.

Open Road Films is partnering with Five Star Feature Films on jOBS, with plans to release the movie theatrically this April. That will allow the historical flick to not be overlooked during the competitive summer season. Moreover, it’s joining fellow inspirational real-figure biopic 42 – chronicling the experience of baseball legend Jackie Robinson – as an alternative to that month’s big releases (Oblivion, Evil DeadPain & Gain, etc.).

Kutcher’s vehicle was titled Jobs: Get Inspired at one point and runs the gamut when it comes to Steve Jobs’ accomplishments; by comparison, Aaron Sorkin’s Jobs project - which is currently in the scripting stage – examines his identity and historical significance through (literally) three separate scenes-as-narrative acts, taking place at pivotal moments in his career (for more, check out this LA Times report). That subversion of traditional biopic expectations goes even further than Steven Spielberg’s Golden Globe-nominated Lincoln.

However, that’s not true for  jOBS, as can be gleaned from the synopsis below:

jOBS details the major moments and defining characters that influenced Steve Jobs on a daily basis from 1971 through 2000. jOBS plunges into the depths of his character, creating an intense dialogue-driven story that is as much a sweeping epic as it is an immensely personal portrait of Steve Jobs’ life. The filmmakers were granted unprecedented access during shooting to the historic garage in Palo Alto, that served as the birthplace to Apple Inc.

The jOBS supporting cast includes character actors Dermot Mulroney (The Grey), James Woods (Straw Dogs), Matthew Modine (The Dark Knight Rises), Lukas Haas (Lincoln), J.K. Simmons (The Closer) and Lesley Ann Warren (In Plain Sight), with Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote) directing a screenplay written by Matt Whiteley. Based on those credentials, top-notch acting and serviceable storytelling seem in order.

Whether or not the project offers more insight into Jobs’ character and motivation beyond what you could learn from his Wikipedia page – without resorting to little more than hero worship - is another matter. If nothing else, Kutcher’s interesting meta-casting, given his own involvement in the digital technology sector (serving as the Nikon camera spokesman, launching his own Twitter client called A.plus, investing in things like Skype, etc.).

Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.

Jay-Z will reportedly create the score for the film 'The Great Gatsby,' starring Leonardo DiCaprio (r.) and Carey Mulligan (l.). (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)

Jay-Z will reportedly score 'Gatsby' for director Baz Luhrmann

By Daniel JohnsonScreen Rant / 01.03.13

If you have seen or are familiar with Baz Luhrmann’s previous work, then you also know he has an interesting penchant for scoring his period-piece films with popular modern tunes. His 2001 musical Moulin Rouge, set in the early 1900s, featured the classic Madonna tracks “Material Girl” and “Like a Virgin”, and his 1996 film Romeo + Juliet boasted the Radiohead song “Talk Show Host” and Everclear’s “Local God” (among plenty of other rock songs) – so it comes as no surprise that he’s gone modern with the music again on The Great Gatsby.

The Jay Z and Kanye West track “No Church in the Wild” is featured in both the first theatrical trailer and the second for Luhrmann’s film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel, creating a surprisingly suitable audio backdrop for the film’s stunningly gorgeous and grand visuals. The period drama set to modern hip-hop certainly stood out, becoming one of the most memorable parts of the trailer, and now we are learning that media mogul and hip-hop artist/producer Jay Z will actually be scoring the entire film.

The news comes courtesy of The Bullitts’ Twitter page, where musician and filmmaker Jeymes Samuel made the official announcement, tweeting the following on Saturday:

Jay-Z and myself have been working tirelessly on the score for the upcoming #CLASSIC The Great Gatsby! It is too DOPE for words!

Jay Z is not just a superstar in the world of hip-hop music – he’s a bonafide icon. At this point his godfather status in the genre actually transcends the music due to his success with several self-made business ventures. That’s good news for moviegoers and for the filmmakers working on Gatsby, as the laser-focus he applies to everything he does should serve the film well.

The other good news is that Samuel is known for incorporating a cinematic element to his work. He has released several self-directed short films to accompany his music, so he may be able to guide Jay Z along during the process of scoring the film.

Now we just have to hope the music vibes with the narrative and the tone of the film. It certainly accentuates the visual spectacle of the trailer, but for the film to succeed as a whole, the score has to appropriately service the mood and the tale of hedonism, deceit and obsession, which should take center stage.

Daniel Johnson blogs at Screen Rant.

'Les Miserables' stars Hugh Jackman (l.) and Anne Hathaway (r.). (Universal Pictures/AP)

'Les Misérables': Why musical-haters will like it

By Staff Writer / 12.28.12

For months, musical fans have been praising the casting decisions (Hugh Jackman! Anne Hathaway! Oh, fine, Russell Crowe), devouring trailers, and nodding with approval over the awards praise showered upon the film version of “Les Misérables” by the Screen Actors Guild and the Hollywood Foreign Press.

So there’s no fear that the big-screen adaptation of “Les Mis” will appeal to them, those super-fans who can tell you that Colm Wilkinson was the original Jean Valjean in London and can recite every separate part of ensemble number “One Day More.” They’ll be turning out to the theater in droves to see their beloved story of a French revolution and the people who are affected by it and will hum along to the songs under their breath as they soak in the vocal performances.

But you know who else should give the movie a chance? People who hate musicals.

There is a (fairly large) group of people to whom simply the word “musical” is enough to conjure up shuddering. Singing, like people do on “Glee”? And over-emoting and wearing over-the-top costumes? Count them out. They’ll be watching TV (not “Glee”).

But I know of several people who view going to see a musical as on par with a tooth extraction who, through accident or being forced to go, saw the stage version of “Les Mis.” I, the eager fan, asked them how they liked it, and got positive responses from all of them. “It was… good” was the main reaction, almost all with a surprised tone.

And the reason that “Les Misérables” can win over musical-allergic theatergoers is that it’s not glitzy. It’s not glamorous. There are no kick lines, no spangly outfits, no drawn-out dance numbers. It is the story of various people struggling to survive in nineteenth century France that happens to have some musical numbers attached.

The story is powerful enough that the book by Victor Hugo was a classic long before the musical came along – some may complain that revolutionary student Marius and protagonist Jean Valjean’s adoptive daughter Cosette aren’t especially deep characters, and they’re right. But everyone remembers Jean Valjean himself, the escaped convict, and his moral struggles and the ruthless Inspector Javert who pursues him, certain that no criminal can be a good man and vice versa.

And the music’s just gorgeous – if you simply like music that sounds beautiful, it will win you over, whether or not you’re a musical fan. (It will also get stuck in your head, especially the anthemic “Do You Hear the People Sing?,” so beware.) 

Anyone who’s read the novel will know this beforehand, but it’s pretty darn good at subverting the happy ending most people associate with musicals, also. Let’s just say the show has a pretty high body count.

It’s a serious story about people struggling with almost insurmountable problems – things like getting food and finding a job and when it’s right to stand up to your government. One character, Fantine, is forced to become a prostitute because she has no other options. Not exactly musical fun time, is it?

So yes, they sing. But give it a chance beyond that. There are no sequins – I promise.

Steve Carell starred on 'The Office,' which had various memorable holiday episodes. (John Shearer/Invision/AP)

TV's best holiday episodes – from Festivus to Holiday Armadillos

By Staff Writer / 12.26.12

While you're celebrating your holiday season, your favorite fictional characters on the small screen are usually doing the same, with the weeks before the major winter holidays flooded with episodes in which TV protagonists experience humorous or poignant – or both – events during the special time of year.

Some fade from the mind pretty quickly, but others become classics. Here are a few of the best holiday episodes that have aired on TV, and let us know if you have another favorite.

--"Dear Dad," 1972, "M*A*S*H"

In "Dad," Army doctor Hawkeye Pierce is penning a letter to his father at home during the holiday season and attempts to describe events that are happening at camp, such as a corporal, Radar, trying to send a Jeep home by mailing each piece separately. Hawkeye dresses up as Santa Claus to entertain the children in the area, but when a call comes in, he's forced to go tend to patients while still wearing the outfit.

--"The Strike," 1997, "Seinfeld"

Don't recognize the title? We'll clear it up for you: it's the one with Festivus. (It's called "The Strike" because in another of the episode's plots, Kramer has been on strike from a job he held at a bagel company for 12 years.) In the plotline everyone remembers it for, George remembers that his dad made up a holiday titled Festivus ("A Festivus for the rest of us"). Kramer is so interested by it that he asks George's dad for more information about it, and the group celebrates the new holiday at the end of the episode. To properly carry out Festivus, participants must obtain a metal Festivus pole, carry out events titled the Airing of Grievances (in which people do just that) and Feats of Strength, in which the head of the household must be defeated. Events that have very obvious explanations can also be declared Festivus Miracles.

--"In Excelsis Deo," 1999, "The West Wing"

While "Deo" also has dark moments, including a plot line about the murder of a man who was gay, another storyline which follows White House communications director Toby is more uplifting. Toby is notified that a homeless man who died was wearing a jacket with Toby's card inside it, which Toby had donated to Goodwill. The man was a Korean War veteran, and Toby arranges a full funeral in military style for him to honor his service to the country.

--"The One with the Holiday Armadillo," 2003, "Friends"

While not quite as famous as their Thanksgiving episode, "Friends" also created several holiday-themed episodes, but only one ever related an armadillo to a winter holiday. Ross is disappointed that his son Ben is excited about Christmas and completely uninterested in Ross's holiday of Hannukah. When Ross tries to push the Jewish holiday, Ben is crushed when he thinks Santa's not coming at all, so Ross tries to rent a Santa suit to make him happy again. Only problem? There aren't any Santa suits left at local costume shops, so Ross is forced to improvise and rent an armadillo costume, which he dubs the Holiday Armadillo, Santa's Southern helper who wants to explain Hanukkah to Ben. Things escalate when Chandler, who heard Ross needed help, arrives in a Santa suit and Joey, who also wanted to make Ben's Christmas better, arrives as Superman.

--"Christmas Party," 2005, "The Office"

"The Office" aired a holiday-themed episode in almost all of its seasons, but its first remains one of its best. In "Party," the staff participate in a Secret Santa and buy gifts for their assigned person, only for boss Michael to decide that it would be better if they all did a Yankee swap. Worker Jim is crushed that his thoughtful gift for the fellow staffer he secretly loves, Pam, is going to someone else, and the other workers battle for Michael's outrageously inappropriate gift of an iPod.

--"Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas," 2010, "Community"

"Community," which loves to reference movies and other TV shows, took on classic Rankin/Bass holiday specials (as in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "The Year Without a Santa Claus," etc.) in this episode. One member of the community college study group, Abed, starts seeing the other members as Rankin/Bass-style stop-motion animated characters, and the group visits a Christmas-themed planet in this form.

Merry Festivus to all and to all the Holiday Armadillos a good night.

'White Christmas' stars Bing Crosby (l.) and Danny Kaye (r.).

'White Christmas': People create holiday magic for others

By Staff Writer / 12.25.12

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of holiday magic.

Many classic stories feature otherworldly behavior and happenings, such as the title character flying through the air with the other reindeer in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" or an angel coming down to Earth to help George Bailey realize he wants to live in "It’s a Wonderful Life." The holiday season, it seems, is as much about blurring the line between our world and others as it is about a pine tree or a menorah.

But in my holiday movie viewing, I’m also a fan of movies where average, everyday people make something kind of special happen for others – and that’s why I love the movie "White Christmas."

Now, I think this movie is a pretty acknowledged classic, but I also come from a family that owns the 1938 movie "Bringing Up Baby" on both VHS and DVD, so I recognize that our film preferences may run a little older than most. In case younger generations aren’t familiar with the 1954 film, "White Christmas" follows Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby, he who you have heard singing the title song on the radio a million times) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye), buddies who served under the same general during World War II. At the end of the war, they begin performing together in nightclubs and get fairly famous. They meet two sisters who also work in entertainment, and the four head up to Vermont to a scenic inn. But – surprise! – the inn is run by Bob and Phil’s old general, who’s not doing too well financially and is feeling a bit left behind by life. 

Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the movie… 

Kindhearted Bob and Phil hatch a plan to get as much of their regiment up to the inn as possible on Christmas Eve to show the general he’s not forgotten. They manage to keep him in the dark, and – well, try not to get a tear in your eye when the general rounds the corner and encounters a room full of men who used to be under his command and have traveled miles to see him and show him how much he meant to them. His struggle not to cry is enough to get me and most of my female relatives blubbering.

It’s a 1950s musical and there’s a lot of songs – including the lilting lullaby "Count Your Blessings (Instead Of Sheep)" – which I find charming and fun, but then, I’m a musical fan. If you’re not as much into the song-and-dance, go get a snack or something while Danny’s tap-dancing, because the end is worth it.

I’m all for Christmas miracles and ghosts coming back to show misers how much they’re missing in life and nutcrackers turning into fairy princes. But sometimes human-made magic is the best kind of all.

One 'Grimm's Fairy Tales' adaptation that made it to the big screen was 'Tangled,' which featured Zachary Levi and Mandy Moore voicing the main characters. (Disney/AP)

Brothers Grimm: Why Disney is the master of adapting their stories

By Staff writer / 12.20.12

It's bound to happen in Hollywood: Anything that we love as a culture is destined to end up on the movie screen sooner or later.

"Grimm's Fairy Tales" are no exception. Written by brothers Jacob and Wilhelm, many stories by the brothers were first published in a collection in 1812, and since then, the tales have become an inextricable part of our culture. While some adaptations of the stories have fallen flat (2011's "Red Riding Hood," starring Amanda Seyfried, comes to mind), others have taken on a life of their own as films, and some of the best were adapted by Disney into animated features. Here are a few of the studio's best efforts.

--"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," 1937

Disney's first-ever animated movie is still hailed as a technical masterpiece today because of the sophisticated methods used to produce the story of the fairest one of all. While the emphasis on Snow White's beauty may be a bit much today, the movie is still beautiful to look at, and the dwarves are always fun, especially the surly Grumpy who's finally thawed by Snow White's friendship.

--"Cinderella," 1950

This adaptation, also by Disney, follows the little cinder girl who works for her stepmother and two stepsisters but finally gets to go to the ball when her fairy grandmother grants her wishes. The film also has some gorgeous music like the song "So This Is Love."

--"Tangled," 2010

"Tangled" strays a little far afield from its traditional tale of "Rapunzel," but the twists all work. Rapunzel is kept captive in a tower by a witch as usual, but this time, a thief on the run named Flynn Rider strays into her tower when he's trying to escape some palace guards. Flynn helps Rapunzel get out of the tower and the mismatched pair encounter danger on the road and learn the truth of Rapunzel's parentage.

'Les Miserables' stars Anne Hathaway as Fantine. (Laurie Sparham/Universal Pictures/AP)

'Les Miserables,' 'The Hobbit,' and 7 of the most exciting movies of December

By Anthony TaorminaScreen Rant / 12.14.12

December is typically the time of the year that builds to a strong end - and in 2012, the latter part of the month will hit moviegoers with a wide array of films. While the obvious choice for most anticipated of the month goes to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, there are still several new films worth checking out before we turn the calendar to 2013 - including the highly-anticipated next features from two critically acclaimed directors.
And, of course, there are a few hit or miss titles, many of them comedies, that could make a sizeable splash thanks to this very family-friendly movie going season.
Here are the 7 films we are looking forward to in the month of December.

'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'

It's been a long time coming for the feature-film adaptation of The Hobbit, but it's finally in capable hands and set to debut in just a few short weeks. By no means do we intend to discredit Guillermo Del Toro's work on the project, or his selection as the film's first director, but we really can't imagine anyone but Peter Jackson directing The Hobbit.
And now that we know An Unexpected Journey is just one in a planned three-part film series there's the sense that Jackson is ready to deliver yet another epic tale. It could be argued that The Hobbit, unlike Lord of the Rings, could be succinctly summed up in one, maybe two films, but that's just not Jackson's style. Hopefully this second trip to Middle-earth is just as enchanting as the first.

'Monsters Inc.' (3D)

Like Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc. is getting the Disney/Pixar 3D treatment in the hopes of reintroducing the feature to a whole new generation of children. And like Nemo (which has a sequel, Finding Nemo 2 on the way), Monsters will reacquaint audiences with characters they will be seeing again, in next summer's prequel film, Monsters University.
Disney and Pixar 3D re-releases thus far have enjoyed moderate success dependant on moviegoers' fondness for the property, so we will see how well Monsters Inc. matches up with the likes of Toy Story, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King. Either way, we're intrigued by the prospect of seeing Sully's luscious purple and blue locks in 3D.

'The Guilt Trip'

A road trip comedy starring Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand has the potential to be a laugh riot or an absolute flop. And the presence of director Anne Fletcher -- who is mostly known for romantic comedies - and writer Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love) further tosses The Guilt Trip into uncertain territory.
Nevertheless, the movie, which sees Rogen's character, a desperate inventor, on a cross-country road trip with his mother (Streisand), still has us intrigued. It has the makings of an absolute disaster, sure, but we’re hoping to be surprised.

'This is 40'

Judd Apatow's 2007 film Knocked Up featured a "B-plot" that focused on a married couple, played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, whose line of communication had become rather complicated. Apatow's follow-up, This is 40, picks up with Rudd and Mann's characters 5 years down the road, as they continue to bicker their way through married life.
Apatow's films - from The 40-Year-Old Virgin to Funny People - have drawn from Apatow's own life experiences, but This is 40 appears to be the most personal of his features thus far. But rest assured there will be plenty of R-rated humor to even out the earnest story beats.

'Jack Reacher'

When it was first announced that Tom Cruise would be playing the title character in Jack Reacher - an adaptation of author Lee Child's "One Shot" - many scoffed at the idea. Jack Reacher, the star of many of Child's novels, is written as a 6'5'', 250-pound man that is equal parts brute strength and tactical fighter - an image that doesn't exactly scream "Tom Cruise."
While Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol proved Cruise still has the chops to pull off a demanding action role, even at the ripe age of 50, it's still unclear how his onscreen persona will compare with fans' vision of Reacher. Nevertheless, when he headlines an action film, moviegoers tend to take notice.

'Django Unchained'

Though the term auteur was tossed around more often in the early days of filmmaking than it is now, there are still a few that live up to the term, with one of best examples being Quentin Tarantino. His latest film, Django Unchained, is positioned as an ode to the spaghetti westerns of the '60s, featuring Jamie Foxx as the title character.
Foxx, however, is only the tip of the iceberg in a cast that also includes Christoph Waltz (who won an Oscar last time he starred in a Tarantino film) and Leonardo DiCaprio (who was originally rumored to play the role that went to Waltz). A Tarantino film is a rare commodity, and they typically are meticulously crafted with pop-culture references, musical cues, and intense dialogue-driven scenes, so here's hoping that if it is indeed one of the last films he directs before retiring, that Django Unchained ranks up there with the best.

'Les Misérables'

2011 Oscar-winner for Best Director, Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), is following up his critically-acclaimed biopic with Les Misérables, an adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical. Set in the aftermath of the French revolution, Les Misérables follows the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), but is also a sweeping epic about the characters Valjean encounters in his search for a new life.
The presence of Hooper alone would be enough to get the critics buzzing, but it is Anne Hathaway and her incredible singing voice that has people eagerly anticipating the film as well. Musicals of this caliber have fared quite well during the awards season, so we will see if Les Miz can keep the trend going.

Anthony Taormina blogs at Screen Rant.

Will Paul McCartney front a Nirvana reunion, with original drummer Dave Grohl (left) and others? (L: Matt Sayles/AP R: Jorge Adorno/Reuters)

Paul McCartney to front Nirvana for a benefit concert?

By Staff writer / 12.12.12

As if Nirvana partially reuniting wasn’t enough for some music fans, the band will reportedly have a rock legend stepping in for lead singer Kurt Cobain: Paul McCartney.

Nirvana’s remaining members are set to reunite for a concert scheduled for tonight that will benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy and will take place at Madison Square Garden in New York. The surviving members of the band, current Foo Fighters singer and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and somewhat honorary member guitarist Pat Smear, who toured with the band in the six months before lead singer Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994, will all take the stage.

According to the Guardian, the group will be playing a new song with McCartney, not a Nirvana classic. The Guardian reported that McCartney was the one to suggest doing something new.

“I didn’t really know who they were,” McCartney said, according to the Sun. “They are saying how good it is to be back together. I said ‘Whoa? You guys haven’t played together for all that time?’ And somebody whispered to me ‘That’s Nirvana. You’re Kurt.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

Grohl invited McCartney to participate, according to the Guardian.

Representatives for McCartney and for the 12.12.12 concert have not commented, with a representative for McCartney telling SPIN that they could "neither confirm nor deny" the rumor. The concert will also feature The Rolling Stones, Jon Bon Jovi, Kanye West, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Eric Clapton.

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