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Culture Cafe

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

'Life of Pi' is directed by Ang Lee and stars Suraj Sharma (r.) as Pi. (20th Century Fox/AP)

'Life of Pi': The ending explained

By Ben KendrickScreen Rant / 12.04.12

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is racking-up critical acclaim (read our review) and pre-award season buzz along with solid box office numbers. Though, for every mention of the film’s beautiful 3D or amazing CGI tiger, there’s a fuddled viewer confused by the movie’s controversial ending.

Readers of Yann Martel’s original novel (the ones who made it to the end) have already faced the challenging last-minute question presented by the story’s narrator, but filmgoers expecting a fanciful adventure at sea have been understandably caught off-guard by the finale. No doubt, viewers will debate the ending with friends and family – but to help steer discussion we’ve put together a brief analysis of the Life of Pi ending, explaining why the final question may not be as cut and dry as some moviegoers seem to think.

It goes without saying that the remainder of this article will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for Life of Pi - the movie and the book (especially the ending). If you do not want to be spoiled about either, turn away now.

For anyone who hasn’t seen (or read) Life of Pi and isn’t concerned about having the ending spoiled, Pi’s adventure concludes in a Mexican hospital bed – where he is interviewed by a pair of Japanese Ministry of Transport officials. The agents tell Pi that his story – which includes multiple animal companions and a carnivorous island – is too unbelievable for them to report, so Pi tells them a different version of the story: one that paints a much darker and emotionally disturbing variation of events. After both stories have been shared, Pi leaves it up to the viewer (or reader) to decide which version they “prefer.”

Personal “preference” has larger thematic meaning, when viewed in the context of the overarching story; however, before we analyze the ending (via the question) in greater detail, we’re going to briefly lay out the two versions of Pi’s story.

In both accounts, Pi’s father contracts a Japanese ship to transport his family, along with a number of their zoo animals, from India to Canada in an effort to escape political upheaval in their native country. The stories are identical up until Pi climbs aboard the lifeboat (following the sinking of the cargo ship) only re-converging when he is rescued on the Mexican shore. The 227 days that Pi spends lost at sea are up for debate.

The Animal Story

In this version of Pi’s tale, the cargo ship sinks and, during the ensuing chaos, he is joined on the lifeboat by a ragtag group of zoo animals that also managed to escape: an orangutan, a spotted hyena, a zebra with a broken leg, and a Bengal Tiger (named Richard Parker). After some time, Pi watches helplessly as the hyena kills the zebra and then the orangutan before it is, subsequently, dispatched by Richard Parker. Pi then sets about conditioning the tiger through rewarding behavior (food and fresh water), so that the two can co-exist in the boat. Though Pi succeeds, the pair remain on the verge of starvation – until, after several months at sea, they wash ashore an uncharted island packed with fresh vegetation and a bountiful meerkat population. Pi and Richard Parker stuff themselves, but soon discover that the island is home to a carnivorous algae that, when the tide arrives, turns the ground to an acidic trap. Pi realizes that eventually the island will consume them – so he stocks the lifeboat with greens and meerkats and the pair sets sail again. When the lifeboat makes landfall along the Mexican coast, Pi and Richard Parker are once again malnourished – as Pi collapses on the beach, he watches the Bengal Tiger disappear into the jungle without even glancing back.

Pi is brought to a hospital – where he tells the animal story to the Japanese officials. However, when the agents do not believe his tale, the young survivor tells a different version of his journey.

The Human Story

In this version of Pi’s tale the cargo ship still sinks, but instead of the ragtag group of animals in the lifeboat, Pi claims that he was joined by his mother (Gita), the ship’s despicable cook, and an injured Japanese sailor. After some time, fearing for the limited supplies in the boat, the cook kills the weakened Japanese sailor, and later, Gita. Scarred from watching his mother die in front of his eyes, Pi kills the cook in a moment of self-preservation (and revenge).

Pi does not mention his other adventures at sea (the carnivorous island, etc) but it’d be easy to strip away some of the fantastical elements in favor of more grounded (albeit allegorical) situations. Maybe he found an island but realized that living is more than just eating and existing – deciding to take his chances at sea instead of wasting away in apathy on a beach eating meerkats all alone. Of course, that is purely speculation – since, again, Pi does not elaborate on the more grounded human story beyond the revelation that he was alone on the lifeboat.

Even if the connection between the lifeboat parties was missed, the writer makes the connection for the audience (or readers): the hyena is the cook, the orangutan is Pi’s mother, the zebra is the sailor, and Richard Parker is Pi. However, the film’s juxtaposition of the animal story and the human story has led many moviegoers to view the last-minute plot point as a finite “twist” – which was not the original intention of Martel (with the book) or very likely Lee (with the film). Viewers have pointed to the look of anguish on Pi’s face during his telling of the human story in the film as “proof” that he was uncomfortable facing the true horror of his experience. However, the novel takes the scene in the opposite direction, with Pi expressing annoyance at the two men – criticizing them for wanting “a story they already know.” Either way, much like the ending of Inception (read our explanation of that ending), there is no “correct” answer – and Life of Pi intentionally leaves the question unanswered so that viewers (and readers) can make up their own mind.

Facing the final question, it can be easy to forget that, from the outset, The Writer character was promised a story that would make him believe in God. In the first part of the narrative, we see Pi struggling to reconcile the differences between faith interpretations (Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam) – acknowledging that each of them contained valuable elements, even if they tell different stories (elements that together help him survive his ordeal at sea regardless of whether or not he was there with a tiger).

As a result, the larger question is impossible to answer definitely and, as mentioned, the “truth” of Pi’s story is of little concern to Martel or Lee. The real question is – which story do you, the viewer/reader prefer? Interpretation is subjective but the question is intended to serve as a moment of theological reflection. Are you a person that prefers to believe in things that always make sense/things that you can see? Or are you a person that prefers to believe in miracles/take things on faith? There are no right or wrong answers – just an opportunity for introspection.

Pi is faced with a heavy challenge: telling a story that will make a person believe in God. Some listeners might remain unconvinced but in the case of The Writer, who openly admits that he prefers the story with the tiger, and the Japanese officials, who in their closing report remarked on the feat of “surviving 227 days at sea… especially with a tiger,” Pi successfully helps skeptics overcome one of the largest hurdles to faith – believing in the unbelievable.

Since Pi marries The Writer’s preference for the Tiger story with the line, “and so it goes with God,” it’s hard to separate the question entirely from theology. Evidenced by his multi-religious background, Pi does not believe that any of the world’s religions are a one-stop shop for the truth of God – and his goal is not to convert anyone to a specific dogma. Instead, his story is set up to help viewers/readers consider which version of the world they prefer – the one where we make our own way and suffer through the darkness via self-determination, or the one where we are aided by something greater than ourselves (regardless of which version of “God” we may accept).

That said, aside from all the theological implications, and regardless of personal preference, it’s insular to view the ending as simply a dismissal of everything that Pi had previously described (and/or experienced) – since, in keeping with his view that every religious story has worthwhile parts, a third interpretation of the ending could be that the “truth” is a mix of both stories. Like Pi and his three-tiered faith routine, the viewer/reader can always pick and choose the parts that benefit their preferred version of the tale.

The “truth”: Pi survived for 227 days at sea, married the girl of his dreams, had children, and lived to tell two stories.

Ben Kendrick blogs at Screen Rant.

'Downton Abbey' will return for its third season in the US in January. (Nick Briggs/PBS/AP)

'Downton Abbey' creator will head to NBC for a period drama

By Kyle HembreeScreen Rant / 11.30.12

The curious success of ITV’s Downton Abbey has raised the statuses of all involved onto the world stage. Part old-school costume soap opera and part socially conscious drama, Downton has no doubt sparked a renewed interest in period drama on network television.

In perhaps the first indicator of a new wave of historical series, NBC has announced that it has contracted with Downton Abbey‘s main creative force, Julian Fellowes, to pen the script for an American take on aristocracy. Taking place in the 1880s, The Gilded Age is expected to be the stateside answer to Downton.

According to TV Line, NBC hopes to replicate the success of Downton Abbey with the help of that series’ own creator. The Gilded Age will follow the lives of the so-called “Robber Barons” of late-1800s New York – families such as the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Astors, and Morgans. These millionaires and their families will navigate a period that was as simultaneously stagnant and in flux, caught up in rising social trends and technological change.

Julian Fellowes has a long and accomplished history both in television and film. He has acted onscreen since the 1970s and began writing screenplays in the early 90s. Before Downton Abbey, Fellowes penned the scripts to noted movies such as Gosford Park, Vanity Fair, and The Tourist (perhaps we should ignore that last one).

While NBC’s intent to create “an American Downton Abbey” with The Gilded Age is utterly transparent, it’s not exactly an unwelcome development. Downton‘s mixture of melodrama and nuance is lacking on many American network dramas. Julian Fellowes has a knack for making complicated social dynamics and class-conscious dialogue pop, which will go a long way toward making a series about the ultra-rich palatable. If Fellowes sticks to his guns, he will end up dividing time – like Downton and previous productions – for both the powerful and the servants that prop them up.

As interesting as the premise of The Gilded Age is, it does smack of leaping unashamedly onto Downton Abbey‘s bandwagon. Even with Fellowes involved, there’s a possibility that the series will simply ape Downton‘s style and cadence – only with a New York blueblood accent rather than a posh British one. That said, the difference in social dynamics – both in time and geography – could make for a completely different sort of show. At the very least, The Gilded Age may end up being the bellwether on a coming tide of American costume dramas.

Kyle Hembree blogs at Screen Rant.

Hugh Jackman is already set to play Wolverine in the upcoming 2013 film 'The Wolverine.' (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

Will Hugh Jackman return as Wolverine in 'X-Men: Days of Future Past'?

By Rob KeyesScreen Rant / 11.29.12

The pieces are falling into place, forming what may eventually become an all-out reunion for Bryan Singer and the casts of both the X-Men trilogy and its prequel, X-Men: First Class. We’ve known the potential of returning appearances of familiar characters since Singer confirmed the film’s titleX-Men: Days of Future Past, based on the title of the famous time-travel story arc from Marvel Comics, but it wasn’t until yesterday did we learn it’s actually happening.

Bryan Singer – taking over the director’s seat from Matthew Vaughn who may or may not be directing Star Wars Episode 7 – happily confirmed that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen will be back for the next X-Men team-up and as we suspected, they will likely be joined by franchise star Hugh Jackman.

According to THR, Jackman is currently in negotiations with Fox to return for what will be his sixth portrayal of the adamantium-laced feral mutant (the seventh being a cameo in X-Men: First Class). This would further solidify his status as the actor who holds the record for playing the same superhero character in the most films.

Jackman loves playing Wolverine and previously went on record saying he’s not in it for the money. He’s even producing The Wolverine, which tells the tale of Logan’s travels to Japan – a story that Jackman wanted to be a part of ever since he joined X-Men. Three years ago, when X-Men Origins: Wolverine debuted, he jokingly said he’d play the character “eleven more” times.

“I always say, ‘oh, I’m never doing another one,’ until I see the script. It has to be something. But in the superhero world, those kind of movies, ‘Wolverine’ is by far the most interesting… So I’ll do eleven more and that’s it!”

Of course, it was easy then for me to say yesterday, after the Stewart and McKellen casting announcements, that Jackman would sign up as well. And he will.

This raises two interesting questions:

  1. With headliners from the X-Men trilogy coming aboard, will that make it easier to bring back the others? Do they want to for this story?
  2. How will this affect The Wolverine?

You can count on Twentieth Century Fox and Mark Millar – their newly hired creative consultant on their Marvel movies – to find a way to work something into The Wolverine to bridge the gap between it and what’s coming up next. There’s absolutely no way they wouldn’t take advantage of this opportunity. Singer and Fox have big ambitions, and The Wolverine - which interestingly takes place after the trilogy – is step one of their plans, no matter how standalone Jackman and director James Mangold aim for it to be. Perhaps this lends more credence to the rumors that Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) will cameo in The Wolverine and that she’ll return for Days of Future Past.

Bryan Singer will direct X-Men: Days of Future Past with returning stars Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, who could be joined by the return of Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, James Marsden, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore. Stay tuned!

Rob Keyes blogs at Screen Rant.

Cate Blanchett's possible role in the Disney film would have her be the first actor to come aboard the project. (Reuters)

Cate Blanchett's possible role: a Disney villainess

By Sandy SchaeferScreen Rant / 11.29.12

If you thought Disney was done spinning live-action films out of its animation catalog after Alice in Wonderland, think again. Director Tim Burton’s $1 billion grossing take on Alice (which unfolds as a sequel to Lewis Carroll’s original novel… sorta) opened the floodgates for even more re-imaginings of famous children’s tales – and one of them is a live-action treatment of the Cinderella fairy tale from the House of Mouse.

Cate Blanchett – who returns as Galadriel in this December’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - is in talks to become the first cast member signed on for the project, which would feature the Oscar-winner in the iconic evil stepmother role (known as Lady Tremaine in Disney’s 1950 hand-drawn adaptation).

The Cinderella re-telling has been developing over at Disney since 2010, based on a pitch from Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses). Back then, Amanda Seyfried was rumored to be playing the famous gal with glass slippers; however, there is no mention of the Mamma Mia! and Les Misérables actress in Deadline‘s scoop about Blanchett being “in deep talks” to join the new production (which should be a more conventional fairy tale re-envisioning that Joe Wright’s Hanna, featuring Blanchett as the ‘wicked stepmom’).

Disney has attached ex-music video director Mark Romanek to Cinderella, where he will draw from a screenplay crafted by Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) based on McKenna’s pitch. That might sound like a weird mix of creative talent, seeing how Romanek’s previous feature-length efforts (One Hour Photo, Never Let Me Go) are worlds apart from the fluffy rom-coms and feel-good drama that Weitz and McKenna are known for writing. Then again, Tarsem Singh wasn’t exactly known for kiddie material before he delivered a bright and bubbly rendition of Snow White with Mirror Mirror (which, arguably, is a better riff on the fairy tale than the more-popular Snow White and the Huntsman).

Moreover, Deadline previously described the film as follows:

… The re-imaging of the classic tale where the prince is set for a politically arranged marriage, until the evil plan is threatened when the prince meets Cinderella.

That’s to say, Romanek’s retelling could fall closer to a ‘realistic’ take on the story (a la Drew Barrymore’s Ever After: A Cinderella Story) than Disney’s whimsical and fantastical animated version. Blanchett isn’t exactly known for signing off scripts unless they have the potential to be something special (yes, that includes Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), so something about McKenna and Weitz’ take on the centuries-old story must have been promising enough to secure her commitment.

Perhaps the only significant concern at this point is that Blanchett could steal the show as Cinderella’s very evil (but also very attractive) stepmother – as happened with Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Huntsman. That will largely depend on who ends up playing the lead and how well-written her role is (say what you will about Kristen Stewart’s performance in SWATH, but she didn’t have much to work with).

Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.

'X-Men: First Class' starred Michael Fassbender as villain Magneto. (Murray Close/20th Century Fox/AP)

'X-Men: Days of Future Past': Which former 'X-Men' stars are returning?

By Rob KeyesScreen Rant / 11.28.12

As The Wolverine reaches the final stretch of principal photography, the next team-based X-Men franchise installment pushes forward in pre-production with director Bryan Singer now at the helm. Serving as both a sequel to X-Men: First Class and a bridge between it, the X-Men trilogy, and potentially the Wolverine solo films, X-Men: Days of Future Past is the most ambitious X-project to date.

Singer began using Twitter this month and is taking advantage of the social media platform to divulge tidbits of exciting information on Days of Future Past, from photos of meetings with the writer Simon Kinberg and returning costume designer Louise Mingenbach to more recently, major casting announcements.

After officially welcoming back returning stars James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult from X-Men: First Class, Bryan Singer added a major followup announcement:

Thrilled to announce @ianmckellen118 & @SirPatStew are joining the cast of #XMEN #DaysOfFuturePast #magneto #professorX More to come...

We told you to count on Patrick Stewart returning from what he said on multiple occasions about reprising the role and we’re happy that it’s now a reality.

With the story of Days of Future Past being that of a tale of time travel, from the outset and confirmation of the film’s subtitle Singer explained that this project would strive to explore the larger X-Men universe and draw from grander stories from the books, taking inspiration with what Marvel Studios has done with their unified cinematic universe. He said that with the time travel plot device, they can connect the dots so to speak, between the X-Men films and ideally, make sense of the broken continuity.

With Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen both returning as Professor Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Eric Lensherr (Magneto), respectively, we have to ponder how exactly they fit into the story. At the end of X-Men: The Last Stand, Magneto had seemingly lost his mutant ability to control magnetism but there was a hint his powers could be returning to him. For Professor X, he died at the hands of the Phoenix, but in the post-credits scene, it was revealed that he passed his mind into the body of his brain dead brother.

If Days of Future Past picks up from there, at least for one of the time periods it will explore, older Professor X could very well walk again and Magneto may not be the powerful mutant terrorist leader he once was. The alternative however, and one that may be more appealing to Singer (and fans) is that he uses time travel as a way to rewrite the events of X-Men 3, the film he was originally meant to direct before dropping out for Superman Returns. If that’s the case, we could get Singer’s version of what should have happened in X-Men 3 (read about it here) and all of these characters – or at least most of them – could potentially return.

While it’s not confirmed yet, it seems likely that Hugh Jackman will return in some capacity as well. He’s not only the poster boy of the entire X-Men movie franchise, but the Wolverine character was also central to the Days of Future Past story in Marvel Comics. That being said, while we do believe Jackman will reprise the role again, Singer’s film may be very, very different from what’s in the books, even if there are giant mutant-hunting Sentinels, as revealed by Fox’s newly hired Marvel movies consultant.

While the story details remain up in the air, with plenty of announcements (Famke Janssen says stay tuned!) to come over the next few months before production begins in April, we can safely and happily say that the black leather costumes of the X-Men trilogy will not be returning. That either means X-Men in normal clothes, or perhaps costumes more in tune with what the characters wear in the books since the retro-inspired designs worked well in X-Men: First Class and fans accepted the authentic from-the-books attire from The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man.

Bryan Singer will direct X-Men: Days of Future Past with returning stars Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, who could be joined by the return of Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, James Marsden, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore. Stay tuned!

Rob Keyes blogs at Screen Rant.

'Zero Dark Thirty' stars Joel Edgerton. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

'Zero Dark Thirty': What's the story behind the film about bin Laden? (+video)

By Sandy SchaeferScreen Rant / 11.27.12

The new trailer for Hurt Locker screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty paints a tense, but vague, picture of their film – which is about the decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden that culminated with Navy SEAL Team Six’s successful raid on the al-Qaeda head’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. We all know what the final outcome was, so the devil’s in the details.

Bigelow and Boal have been playing things close to the chest on Zero Dark Thirty, so much so that the teaser trailer was technically the first official confirmation of the film’s cast. The new promo doesn’t shed light on how the duo are compressing so much information into a coherent narrative, though it does offer a quick sketch of the more central players in the film.

Judging by the new trailer, it appears Zero Dark Thirty partially centers on the efforts of an intelligence agent played by Oscar-nominee Jessica Chastain (Tree of Life, The Help), who uncovers vital information that could lead U.S. military forces to bin Laden’s secret location. However, we also glimpse important participants like Mark Strong and Kyle Chandler as fellow CIA agents, Joel and Nash Edgerton as members of SEAL Team Six, and James Gandolfini – who EW has confirmed is playing the current Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta.

Overall, according to Bigelow (via EW), there are over 100 speakings roles in Zero Dark Thirty, including “teams of operatives, from [Department of Defense], CIA, Navy SEALs, et al. that intersect with foreign nationals and enemy combatants.” So, although Chastain and Strong get the most screen time in the trailer, this is very much going to be an ensemble piece.

Now, as we’ve discussed in the past, there’s no doubt that Bigelow and Boal have their work cut out for them. It doesn’t matter how exhaustively they’ve researched the history behind the bin Laden manhunt – or how few liberties they take with the facts – Zero Dark Thirty is going to take a pounding from all corners of the political spectrum, with contradictory accusations about its alleged socio-political biases and fabrications flying in every direction (thank goodness the U.S. election will be over by that point).

However, few filmmakers know how to create pulse-pounding suspense and nerve-wracking thrills like Bigelow. Plus, she and Boal demonstrated they know how to create enthralling cinema together with the Best Picture-winning Hurt Locker. So, on those grounds, this movie’s easily worth recommending for anyone who’s just interested in an intense, well-acted viewing experience.

Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.

A gila trout, a species of trout, is shown underwater. Geneva, N.Y. is often referred to as the lake trout capital of the world. (Gila National Forest Service/AP)

Finger Lakes Film Festival honors documentaries, animation and more

By Erin SchererFilm Panel Notetaker / 11.27.12

In the past five years, the city of Geneva, New York, has emerged from decades of post-industrial limbo and embraced its status as a college town. Establishments like The Red Dove Tavern, Opus, Joe’s Hots (which was the subject of a documentary in this year’s festival), Finger Lakes Gifts & Lounge, Stomping Grounds, and Microclimate have reanimated a previously soporific (and sometimes ominous) downtown. Many of the owners of these establishments are not lifelong residents, but outsiders who have ended up in Geneva for one reason or another. Others grew up in Geneva and/or the surrounding areas, moved away, and then returned to take advantage of the wide open spaces and low property value. They are passionate about the natural beauty of the area and the opportunities Geneva represents.

On the more arts end of this development is Headless Sullivan, an alternative/experimental theater group; Geneva 13, a ‘zine devoted to documenting the peculiarities of the city; The Cracker Factory, an arts space that exhibits the work of artists and hosts the Finger Lakes Film Festival, an annual showcase of short films held every November. While not particularly oriented toward the independent film community, the Finger Lakes Film Festival is perhaps the only film event in Western New York that not only acknowledges but cultivates a DIY Film Culture. Like a lot of people involved with the exhibition of independent film these days, the organizers of the Finger Lakes Film Festival are motivated by nothing except a passion for showcasing locally-oriented short films.

I’ve been meaning to write about the FLXFF for a few years now. In 2009, I had a film in the festival, Strong Enough for a Man. For the last couple of years, I’ve been hard at work on my own feature, which has kept me from submitting material to the 2010, 2011, and the 2012 festivals. In the past, the festival was spread over the course of three nights: two nights of screenings, and an awards show. This year, everything was presented in one evening, in part, because the festival received fewer submissions than it has in past years. Nonetheless, organizers Kevin Dunn and Michelle Eades seemed very pleased with the turnout. “There are way more people than we expected!” Dunn announced at the start of the program.

The festival is divided into three age categories: K-12, College, and General, and divided five genre categories: Narrative, Experimental, Animation, Documentary, and Music Video. There are only two prerequisites as far as entering the films: the filmmaker must have resided in the Finger Lakes Region at one point in their life, and the film must be less than 20 minutes in length. The evening was broken into two parts: six films in the first part, five films in the second part. At the end of the evening, the audience voted on the People’s Choice, which was tallied as the other awards were handed out. Each filmmaker was handed a trophy that was designed by Brandon & Amy Phillips, owners of Miles & May and The Cracker Factory.

Each year, there are some films that are worthy of being entered into larger festivals, and this year was no exception. Among the standouts (in this writer’s opinion) of this year’s festival were Raymond McCarthy-Bergeron’s Here Inside You, a montage of city scenes and interpretive dances, and Christar Kei Yan Wan’s The Puzzled, a multi-screen presentation of a man trying to communicate with his girlfriend, which won the grand prize. Also impressive was More Than A Restaurant, a short documentary about Joe’s Hots and owner Joe Malone’s contributions to the city of Geneva; Alex Aronson’s very funny Extreme Home Makeover: Manhattan Edition; and 14-year-old Ali Augustine’s Just Get Up, a stop-motion animation short made with a doll named Peyton that won the People’s Choice Award. Returning with films this year were past award winners Matias Shimada with New Exposures, winner of the Narrative Film Award; Noah Pitifer and his film The Secret; and Max Messie with two films, Mistakes Made and Sunset Swimming.

If there’s anything I wish was at this festival, it’s the one thing I wish they had every year: a Q&A session at the end of the screenings. A Q&A session would give people a chance to learn how these movies got made, and what motivated the filmmakers to make them. Otherwise, a great program as always, and I am looking forward to next year’s festival. Hopefully I’ll have something to show.

Here is a complete list of this year’s winners:

Erin Scherer blogs at the Film Panel Notetaker.

'Girl Meets World': Which original cast members are returning for the 'Boy Meets World' series? (+video)

By Sandy SchaeferScreen Rant / 11.27.12

[UPDATE: Danielle Fishel has posted her own statement about Girl Meets World.]

Just about every other person who came of age watching Boy Meets World back in the 1990s – or when the Disney Channel began reruns in the early 2000s – was hit by a strong wave of nostalgia when the story broke earlier this month that BMW co-creator (no pun) Michael Jacobs and the Mouse House are actively putting together a followup TV series, titled Girl Meets World.

GMW revolves around the 13-year-old daughter of (still) married couple Cory and Topanga Matthews. We’re currently waiting to learn any major plot details beyond that – though, it’s confirmed that Cory is now a junior high teacher, following in the footsteps of his ever-tormented mentor and neighbor George Feeny (William Daniels).

Everyone’s been waiting for confirmation that Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel are returning to portray the adult Cory and Topanga, seeing how the two literally grew up playing those roles throughout all seven seasons of BMW. In fact, at this point, it’s fair to say that fans of Jacob’s original coming-of-age sitcom would be up in arms if another pair of grown-up actors were recruited to portray those characters in Girl Meets World (Topanga’s parents, on the other hand…).

TV Line reports that Savage and Fishel have indeed signed on to return as parent-age Cory and Topanga. (Are you feeling old yet, members of Generation X?) There are still plenty of other Boy Meets World cast members who could/should make an appearance on Girl Meets World – be it crazy Uncle Eric (Will Friedle) or ‘Uncle Shawn’ (Rider Strong) – especially since, let’s face it: the majority of the audience that’s going to tune in for this series (initially) will be grown-up BMW fans yearning to see some familiar faces on the sidelines.

On that note: it will be interesting to see whether or not Girl Meets World develops the sort of following that its predecessor did. Looking back, it’s all the more easy to see why Boy Meets World was successful: the show has likable leads, memorable supporting characters and manages to offer wholesome family entertainment without fully sugar-coating the lives of younger people (see: Cory’s frustrations with abstinence).

Can Girl Meets World manage a similar feat once nostalgia has worn off for Boy Meets World fans? It could be tricky, seeing how the tone of that series might end up closer to Disney Channel TV series from the past decade (ex. Hannah Montana) – or, alternatively, if the style doesn’t change, more cynical modern viewers might perceive it as too corny. As the wise man once said, we shall see…

Update: Fishel has posted the following statement (via Tumblr):

First of all, let me say that you, the fans of Boy Meets World, have been awesome. That word is often used incorrectly by people, including myself, on a daily basis but you have truly been awe inspiring. You, yes, even YOU, are the reason that Girl Meets World WILL BE MADE. J

I do not know how many BMW cast members will be returning for GMW, or how often they may appear if and/or when they do appear. I am going to do my best to not speak for others with this open post. But because I have known Michael Jacobs, Ben Savage, Rider Strong, Will Friedle, and Bill Daniels for 19 years, I know we share many of the same feelings regarding the 7 wonderful years we spent making BMW. Those years were among the most warm, hilarious, insightful, educational years of my life and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Another thing I wouldn’t trade for anything is the integrity and the heart with which BMW was made. I promise with the entirety of my heart that we will make GMW with the same honesty, innocence, and intelligence that you learned to expect from BMW.

I say this because making the decision to do the show involved more conversations than you can possible imagine. These conversations were with the same people I mentioned above because they were all instrumental in creating and maintaining the heart of BMW. The first comment out of every person’s mouth was, “Let’s only do it if we think we can create something as special as we did with BMW.” When the news leaked that GMW was in the making, literally days after I first heard about the project myself, Michael Jacobs and I had a conversation and we talked about how we were both so blown away by the reactions from all of you. We felt honored. We felt nostalgic. We felt touched by the excitement in your comments, tweets, Tumblr, and Facebook posts. But most of all, we felt inspired. We felt inspired to bring these characters back to life and to tell you more of their stories. Michael said to me, “Danielle, when I read what people say BMW meant to them it makes me so very proud of all of us. I think it is important for us, for as long as we are fortunate enough to have this opportunity to do GMW, that we all look each other in the eyes every so often and make sure we know we have something of value to offer the audience.” I think we have that with GMW.

I say that so that I can say this: GMW is a new show. It isn’t BMW brought back to life but in current day. It will have familiar faces, familiar themes, and familiar messages. It will also have new faces, new themes, and new messages. BMW never spoke down to the audience and we are going to do our best to never do that with GMW. But please keep in mind that this there will be episode 1, of season 1, of a brand new show. We started at the same place with BMW but we evolved and we evolved quickly. For those of you who knew and loved BMW, please allow this show to evolve as well. Stick with us. Give us a chance.

In the meantime, a sincere thank you to every one of you for all of your tweets (I read them all, every day. It killed me not to be able to talk about it!), even those of you who asked us not to do it. There were only a few of you but I know why you don’t want GMW to happen and I appreciate that BMW meant enough to you that you don’t want to see its legacy tarnished. I can assure you, we don’t want that either. Your love, dedication, and appreciation means more to us than you could ever know and it will be the driving force behind our passion to make the best show we can possibly make. Thank you for giving us the chance to do it again.

Love,

Danielle

More on Girl Meets World as the story develops.

Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.

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

Anne Hathaway earns early praise for 'Les Miserables'

By Sandy SchaeferScreen Rant / 11.26.12

The Oscar race now officially includes Les Misérables and Zero Dark Thirty – which shouldn’t come as a huge shock, seeing how the former is an adaptation of producer Cameron Mackintosh’s award-winning Broadway smash from director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech). Meanwhile, the latter is a drama/thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden from Oscar-winning Hurt Locker screenwriter and director duo, Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow.

Nonetheless, both films had their first public screenings over the Thanksgiving holiday frame and drew unadulterated praise from those in attendance. Read on for our breakdown of what the general consensus is for both titles… so far.

Hooper’s Les Miz has long been regarded as something special, seeing how trailer footage suggests it infuses Mackintosh’s original pop musical with a stripped-down aesthetic that helps ground the flamboyant proceedings (unlike Joel Schumacher’s Phantom of the Opera or Rob Marshall’s Nine, to name a few examples). Moreover, the cast boasts heralded actors with professional singing experience; that’s in opposition to some of the recent movie musicals that’ve relied on either name-actor casts (Mamma Mia!) or Broadway veterans (Rent).

Reviews for Les Miz are embargoed for the time being, but Indiewire has rounded up Twitter reactions from several critics and film journalists who were at the first open showing. Here’s a bullet-point summary of the responses:

  • Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean could land his first Best Actor Oscar nod.
  • Anne Hathaway as Fantine is a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination.
  • Eddie Redmayne as Marius turns in a solid supporting performance.
  • Russell Crowe takes a Jesus Christ Superstar rock-opera” approach that distinguishes Inspector Javert (but may not be to everyone’s taste).
  • The film as a whole is a “tour de force” and “tearjerker” that seems destined to become a Best Picture nominee.

Similar to Les Miz, Zero Dark Thirty is picking up accolades for its leading lady – Jessica Chastain as CIA analyst Maya (who is based on the real CIA agent that led the manhunt for bin Laden) – and its qualities as a cinematic viewing experience. Deadline has published an article that touches on the heavy research by Boal and Bigelow, suggesting the two have learned some lessons from the blowback over Hurt Locker‘s portrayal of Iraq war military operations (which some real-life vets criticized as inauthentic).

Here’s an excerpt from THR critic Todd McCarthy’s review:

“As it has emerged instead, ['Zero Dark Thirty''] could well be the most impressive film Bigelow has made, as well as possibly her most personal, as one keenly feels the drive of the filmmaker channeled through the intensity of Maya’s character. The film’s power steadily and relentlessly builds over its long course, to a point that is terrifically imposing and unshakable. Chastain carries the film in a way she’s never been asked to do before. Denied the opportunity to provide psychological and emotional details for Maya, she nonetheless creates a character that proves indelible and deeply felt.”

Time‘s Richard Corliss echoes those sentiments (read his review), saying that Zero Dark Thirty is a streamlined, but detail-oriented, representation of real events “in the tradition of [authors] Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff.” Moreover, Corliss feels that Bigelow’s film trounces Ben Affleck’s own true story CIA thriller (and fellow Best Picture contender) Argo, in terms of both better direction and taking fewer liberties with the facts.

In summation: both the Best Actress and Picture race heated up something fierce over the holiday frame, between early responses to Les Miz and Zero Dark Thirty. That’s not to mention, Ang Lee’s acclaimed 3D visual feast Life of Pi opening in theaters (read our review) and David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook (read our review) beginning a limited release and generating discussion about Jennifer Lawrence’s performance therein.

Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.

'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2' was directed by Bill Condon. (Andrew Cooper/Summit Entertainment/AP)

'Breaking Dawn – Part 2': Why that twist ending is a good thing

By Staff writer / 11.23.12

(Warning: Spoilers for part of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2" ahead.)

After stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner took part in various interviews as part of a "Breaking Dawn" media blitz, the Internet started buzzing about hints the actors had dropped about a twist in the last movie of the “Twilight” series. A twist? There was no twist in the books. Would something be different? Would the ending be changed? Would protagonist Bella Swan (Stewart) end up with someone besides her vampire husband Edward (Pattinson)? What did it mean?

And now the movie, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2” (ask film critics how happy they are not to have to type that out anymore) has been released, and it was discovered that, while there was a twist, it didn’t affect the outcome of the story as a whole, though it did get the audience on the edge of their seats.

You see, to make a very long story short, the end of “Dawn” has Bella, Edward, and their vampire family facing off against evil vampires. At one point, it looks like a fight begins and Edward’s foster father, one of his foster brothers, and the leader of the evil vampires, among others, bite the dust (no pun intended) in the attack. Then it turns out that this was all a vision, a hypothetical situation, if you will. One of the good vampires, who can see the future, has shown the vision to the leader of the evil vampires to show him what the cost of the two sides fighting would be. This helps convince the head evil vampire (Michael Sheen, who by all accounts goes gloriously crazy as bad vampire Aro in this movie) to call off the battle.

Of course, while this scene was not actually a change to the plotline (it’s referenced in the books that Aro is made to see the vision, though the reader only hears about it afterwards), some fans still didn’t like it.

My take? Good for them for changing SOMETHING (even if, comparing it to the text, it’s an incredibly small change).

I know that adapting a book into a film is an incredibly delicate balance, even more so when the book has a devoted fanbase attached. But the director and the creative team behind him or her needs to feel free to create the best product, the best movie, that they can without it being obvious that they tied themselves to every word on the page of that book.

Case in point: the “Harry Potter” films, an almost parallel case in terms of how attached fans are to the books (and a franchise I happen to like a lot more than “Twilight” – sorry, fans). The first two movies in the eight-part series were directed by “Home Alone” helmer Chris Columbus and are fine, but you could almost feel the desperation in “Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Chamber of Secrets” to pack everything in, make sure no moment was missed, get as close an adaptation as possible.

“Director Chris Columbus vowed to be faithful to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and to a certain extent he is,” USA Today critic Claudia Puig wrote of the first movie. “But one can be faithful to a plot without being faithful to the book. Harry Potter, the film, looks just as dazzling as readers of Rowling's captivating book might hope. But the movie ultimately lacks the book's delightful whimsy and much of the sly verbal humor that made Rowling's tales so charming.”

But then Columbus left after “Secrets,” and the next movie in the series, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” was directed by Alfonso Cuaron. His adaptation just seemed easier, more relaxed – a trend that would continue with the rest of the movies, which were directed by two others (Mike Newell and David Yates) but had a similarly effortless air. Yes, things were left out, and sometimes – gasp – things were even different, such as the way the members of the secret club known as Dumbledore's Army were rounded up by evil headmistress Umbridge in the fifth movie. In the movie, the headmistress and her henchmen make a wall explode, revealing the members inside a hidden room. Did that happen in the book? Nope. Did that look awesome in the movie? Definitely.

Many liberties were also taken with the plot of the eighth movie, which was the second half of the seventh book, but you barely heard a peep about them from fans. Supporting character Lavender Brown, who was attacked by a werewolf but survived in the novel, was killed by the werewolf in the movie, but that showed the cost of the evil attack on the school, one which killed a lot of students. We saw, and didn’t just hear about secondhand, a scene in which two of the main characters, Ron and Hermione, finally got together, and fans literally cheered, because everyone had wanted to see that anyway.

As every book fan who is also a moviegoer knows, literary adaptations have a bad track record. And sure, directors who are given the task of creating an adaptation shouldn’t toss the book away and start throwing whatever they feel like in front of the camera. But a movie is its own entity, not just an extension of the book – or at least, it should be.

So breathe, Twihards. It’s going to be okay.

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