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Culture Cafe

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

'A Charlie Brown Christmas' follows Charlie Brown (l.) and Linus (r.) as they discover the true meaning of the holiday. (Charles M. Schultz/Lee Mendolson Productions Inc./AP)

What's the best holiday movie of all time? We need your vote!

By Staff Writer / 12.03.13

From the story of a reindeer who uses his special strengths to lead Santa's team to the tale of a man who learns that "no man is a failure who has friends" to the story of a child who rides a magical train to go see Santa Claus, everyone has their favorite holiday film to watch year after year.

We've assembled a list of contenders that covers everything from legends of Santa Claus to overcoming the commercialism of Christmas. The oldest is the 1946 film "It's a Wonderful Life," while the newest movie to make the cut is 2006's "The Nativity Story."

Many styles of film are represented as well, from the stop-motion animation of Rankin/Bass films like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" to the traditional animation of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" and the performance capture computer animation of "The Polar Express."

And after the results came in for our poll on which "Christmas Carol" movie adaptation is the best ever, the only "Carol" version that made the cut is the 1951 film version starring Alastair Sim. (Sorry, George C. Scott and Muppet fans.)

So which movie is your favorite? Vote in our poll and we'll gather the results to share with all of you.

Make sure your top holiday movie doesn't get left behind. Have fun!

'Fast and Furious 7': Will it move forward? 'Fast Five,' the fifth installment in the franchise, starred Vin Diesel (l.) and Dwayne Johnson (r.). (Universal Pictures/AP)

Paul Walker in 'Fast and Furious 7': What happens now?

By Kofi OutlawScreen Rant / 12.02.13

Along with tides of joy of givings of thanks, this holiday weekend brought with it the tragic death of Fast & Furious franchise star Paul Walker. The 40-year-old actor was in a fatal car crash during a charity event in Santa Clarita, California – and along with an outpouring of shock, horror, and grief from fans all across the world, the big question looming on everyone’s mind was, “How is this going to affect Fast & Furious 7 ?

The seventh installment of the franchise has been in production since earlier this fall, with director James Wan (The Conjuring) taking over the helm from franchise staple, Justin Lin. Part 7 has been touted as a “’70s-style revenge thriller” story featuring Jason Statham as the vengeance-seeking brother of Fast & Furious 6 villain, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) – meaning that some hard hits are coming to the Dom Terreto (Vin Diesel) and his F&F familia.

Of course, that was before those hard hits became all too real with the death of Walker; in an update from THR, we now learn that Universal has held a meeting determining the fate of Fast & Furious 7. The official company line is that as of now, the film will see a delay in production in order to allow for a proper, respectful, grieving period. That delay could subsequently cause the film’s July 2014 release date to be bumped, but F&F7 will NOT be abandoned.

However, even though the film is still on, there is a question of logistics; namely, HOW to wrap the film in a way that makes sense in the narrative of the film, while remaining respectful to Walker and his legacy.

…And that is quite a tough nut to crack. On the surface, it would seem an easy fix: rewrite the revenge story so that Walker’s character, Brian O’Connor, meets a noble end somewhere in Ian Shaw’s (Statham) campaign of vengeance. However, the suddenness of Walker’s death (and his position as a franchise lead) means his character’s death was likely NOT in the cards; trying to make it happen onscreen, the easiest fix would be to use some kind of stunt racing sequence that doesn’t require actual shots of the actor’s face – except that any such fix would also be uncomfortably close to depicting the way in which Walker actually died. Audiences are likely not going to be supportive of that – let alone Walker’s family, and his friends amongst the F&F cast and crew.

That leaves us with the possible work-around of an off-screen demise for Brian O’Connor, which – while more tasteful and practical – will seem like an unceremonious end for such an important character in a mega-popular franchise. But then, none of this is easy (tragedy tends to be – well, tragic), and if the film is committed to reaching the finish line, a scenario like the one posited above is probably the best option.

But who knows: Maybe things don’t have to be so dark. Maybe Brian and Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their child are all sent off into the sunset to live free and happy while Dom and the rest of the crew continue to deal with threats at their car doors. Maybe the land of movie fantasy offers fans something better than the harsh reality of life did. Maybe we all could use something a little more uplifting as we say goodbye to an actor whose character was an icon for a generation of moviegoers. One can only hope…

Looking beyond the now, the second biggest question on my mind is whether Vin Diesel and Co. are still committed to making Fast Furious installments beyond part 7 (parts 8 & 9 are already planned). Will it still be fun for the cast and crew (and the fans) to take this ride, now short one passenger? I think we could all understand if the answer to that question was “no.”

Kofi Outlaw blogs at Screen Rant.

'Anchorman 2' will feature the return of Will Ferrell (pictured) as newsman Ron Burgundy. (Frank Masi/Dreamworks Pictures/AP)

'Anchorman 2' star Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay discuss their comedy sequel

By Staff Writer / 11.29.13

The makers of “Anchorman 2,” the sequel to the 2004 film starring Will Ferrell, have been doing their best to keep the plot of the movie under wraps.

But director Adam McKay will say this: there’s a dolphin involved. Namely, Ferrell yelling at one.

McKay told Moviefone the movie kicks off with a prologue which shows what happened to San Diego’s TV newsman Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and his girlfriend and co-anchor Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) since the last film and that the prologue includes said incident. (According to Los Angeles Times writer Chris Lee, Ron is struggling with his career and is an announcer at Sea World when he yells at the dolphin.)

“We tried to think of some lowest of the lows,” McKay said of the incident.

“Anchorman” didn’t become a breakout hit when it was first released – it was only after it came out on DVD that fans began rewatching it and the movie’s lines started being endlessly quoted. “The first movie did great on cable and DVD,” McKay told the Los Angeles Times. “And that's where it really took off — much like 'Austin Powers.’”

So now a sequel is arriving nine years later, and the movie finds Ron and his news team – reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), sports reporter Champ Kind (David Koechner), and weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) – going from their beloved San Diego to New York, where they’ve been taken on at a 24-hour news network, GNN. 

But Ferrell says they aren’t exactly the stars of the network at first.

“[The network] literally just needed more bodies,” he told Moviefone. “They had to hire so many people, a massive group of people, at one time, to be on around the clock; that's why he and his news team are on at two in the morning. And, of course, they are horribly upset by that.”

In addition to the main cast returning as well as other holdovers from the first film like rival newsman Vince Vaughn, new faces have come aboard for the sequel, including Kristen Wiig, Liam Neeson, Harrison Ford, and Meagan Good, who portrays the team’s new station manager.

McKay said Ford was taken aback at first by his directorial style, in which he’ll give the actors new lines to try between takes.

“He was like, 'What?' when I would yell them out,” McKay said of the new lines in an interview with Moviefone. “Then he was like, 'This is crazy,' and he kind of had fun with it. And then he started liking it and adding his own.” 

“Anchorman 2” is set to hit theaters Dec. 20.

'Mystery Science Theater 3000' episodes included those centered around the movies 'Jack Frost' and 'Future War.' These posters include the two robots from the show, Crow and Tom Servo.

Thanksgiving: 'Mystery Science Theater 3000' marathon looks at movie turkeys

By Staff writer / 11.28.13

Does watching a less-than-stellar film with snarky commentary from a man and two robots say Thanksgiving to you?

For some, between the years of 1991 and 1997, the Pilgrim holiday meant cutting a slice of pumpkin pie and settling down to watch the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” Turkey Day marathon, which aired on Comedy Central. The channel aired a marathon of episodes of the show, which consists of a man named Joel (or later, Mike) and robots Crow and Tom Servo watching a film of dubious quality and making jokes about it. Joel was put aboard a spaceship by scientists and forced to watch terrible movies as part of a scientific study.

“Mystery Science Theater 3000” debuted in 1988 and hopped around to a couple of different channels before its cancellation in 1999, but it gained a cult following and many episodes live on via DVD and the Internet.

The show starred “MST3K” creator Joel Hodgson from 1988 to 1993 (head writer Michael J. Nelson would replace him for the rest of the series’ run) and Hodgson will be hosting the event which will stream from the website MST3KTurkeyDay.com this year. Six episodes of “MST3K” chosen by Hodgson will air on the site beginning at 12 p.m. Eastern time on Thanksgiving Day. 

Hodgson took suggestions from fans via Twitter as to what films would be best to include in the new marathon.

He told Entertainment Weekly he was amazed to hear what an important part of Thanksgiving the “MST3K” marathon had become for some fans.

“I’d hear all these stories about Turkey Day,” Hodgson said. “People would say, ‘Yeah, we still watch Mystery Science Theater on Thanksgiving. It’s a tradition, like the Lions playing.’ I was kind of amazed that it was in people’s lives like that.”

What will be included in the first “MST3K” marathon in 16 years? Check out the website for the streaming event if you’re in the mood for some sci-fi B-movies and deadpan humor.

'Frozen' stars Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, and Jonathan Groff. (Disney/AP)

'Frozen': Is it one of Disney's best movies yet? (+video)

By Staff writer / 11.27.13

Is “Frozen” the next Disney classic?

The newest animated offering from the studio, which hits theaters today, takes its inspiration from the Snow Queen fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. “Veronica Mars” actress Kristen Bell voices Anna, the younger daughter in the royal family of Arendelle. “Wicked” actress Idina Menzel is Elsa, the older sibling, who has the power to conjure up ice and snow. After her powers get out of control, Elsa flees and Arendelle is plunged into an everlasting winter. Anna, with a mountain resident and reindeer at her side, sets off to try to find her sister and free Arendelle from the grips of snow and ice. Actors Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, and Alan Tudyk also lend their voices to the film.

In an era where Disney princesses are often criticized for sending negative messages to young children, Bell spoke in an interview with MTV about how she feels Anna is different from many of the previous Disney heroines.

“I always loved Disney animation, but there was something about the females that was unattainable to me,” she said. “Their posture was too good and they were too well-spoken, and I feel like I really made this girl much more relatable and weirder and scrappier and more excitable and awkward. I'm really proud of that.”

So will “Frozen” join the celebrated Disney pantheon? Early reviews have been superlative, with TheWrap calling the film “the next ‘Beauty and the Beast,’” referring to the 1991 film that is still the only Disney movie to have been nominated for Best Picture in a year when only five films made the cut.

“With “Frozen,” they’ve got something that should please both sides,” TheWrap writer Alonso Duralde wrote, referring to the Disney marketing team who want to sell princess costumes and those who want Disney heroines to be less damsel-in-distress. “It’s about two beautiful sisters in a castle, yes, but it’s also about learning to embrace your own power and to overcome the fear of your own abilities… the tunes are terrific… it offers characters to care about, along with some nifty twists and surprises along the way.”

Forbes writer Scott Mendelson was also dazzled by the film, writing that the movie is “gloriously animated, wonderfully acted, and refreshingly feminist[.] It also contains some of the best ‘Disney songs’ ever.”

Meanwhile, Hollywood Reporter writer Todd McCarthy found “the screenwriter's insistence upon putting banal and commonplace teen Americanisms in the mouth of Anna” annoying but otherwise thought the movie was “energetic, humorous and not too cloying” and calls it “a pleasure.”

Channing Tatum (l.) and Jenna Dewan-Tatum (r.) attend the 2013 Academy Awards. (John Shearer/Invision/AP)

Channing Tatum: Will he take on a role in the 'X-Men' franchise?

By Robert Yaniz Jr.Screen Rant / 11.22.13

The X-Men film franchise may be entering its teenage years, but Marvel’s mutant roster has never been hotter. This summer’s The Wolverine (more or less) made up for the disappointing entry that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine and essentially jumpstarted buzz for next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Beyond that film, the future of the X-Men franchise is a bit more uncertain. Fox seems keen on pushing an X-Force film (written by Kick-Ass 2 writer/director Jeff Wadlow) out next, though what shape or form that project will take remains to be seen. The X-Men universe has such a rich array of characters that it has already introduced on the big screen, and given the limitless possibilities, any of those could potentially return in a future film. Now, one star has spoken out about which character he’d like to play.

According to Slash Film, Channing Tatum mentioned at a recent press event that he wants to bring Cajun mutant Gambit to life on the big screen. Here’s what the White House Down and Magic Mike star had to say:

“I would like to play Gambit. Gambit’s my favorite. I’m from New Orleans, around that area. My dad’s from New Orleans, and I like to do a Cajun accent. I could do it for real. No knock on Taylor Kitsch [who played the character in 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine'], though, ’cause I actually like his Gambit, but I’ve always lived around Cajun people. [...] Gambit was always like the woman-loving, cigarette-smoking, drinking [guy]. He was the punk rock of all the superheroes. He’s a thief. He kind of rode the line.”

Many X-Men fans share Tatum’s love of the character, but as he mentions, the role was already filled by Kitsch in a previous film. Kitsch’s portrayal of Gambit did receive mixed reactions from fans, largely because the character’s long-awaited appearance was so brief. There’s also the problem of his placement within the timeline of the X-Men films. X-Men Origins: Wolverine takes place roughly sometime in the late 1970s, before Wolverine loses his memory and long before he ever becomes a bonafide X-Man.

If Fox really wished to bring Gambit back into the picture, there’s no doubt they could find a way to do so (after all, they’re about to bring time travel into the mix in Days of Future Past). However, the studio has already gotten enough flack from hardcore fans regarding the series’ already-convoluted continuity, and director Bryan Singer has revealed that he plans to clean some of that up in Days of Future Past.

If Fox ever decided to reboot the Gambit character (retconning or ignoring his Origins appearance), Tatum does sound like a viable choice, as he would bring a touch of star power and seems to have a genuine love of the character. Plus, the fact that Kitsch had back-to-back box office disappointments in John Carter and Battleship means that re-casting is a more likely option.

However, the bigger question isn’t whether or not Tatum would make a good Gambit, but whether or not Fox would go back to an element of the franchise that didn’t quite work the first time rather than expanding their burgeoning X-Men cinematic universe. In other words, don’t hold your breath for a Gambit return just yet.

Robert Yaniz Jr. blogs at Screen Rant.

Which version of 'A Christmas Carol' is the best?

'A Christmas Carol': Which movie version is your favorite? (+video)

By Staff Writer / 11.21.13

Which film version of "A Christmas Carol" is superior to all the rest?

It's a question we at the Monitor offices were struggling to answer as we compiled a list of contenders for our upcoming "best holiday movie ever" poll (check back for more on that). As we continued to think of movies we simply couldn't leave off the list, more and more versions of Dickens' classic continued to be added until it seemed a little excessive.

"Carol" is deservedly a holiday classic with its story of the grumpy Ebenezer Scrooge who learns, with the help of three spirits, the value of eschewing selfishness and thinking of others. Scrooge has been portrayed by everyone from actors Alastair Sims to George C. Scott to Michael Caine, and the tale has gotten twists such as being acted out by Jim Henson's Muppets (in their version, Charles Dickens himself was portrayed by blue creature Gonzo) and being updated to the then-present day, as in the 1988 Bill Murray film "Scrooged."

So we're holding a poll to determine the best "Carol" version of all time. Pick your favorite carefully, because whichever wins will be able to move on to our "best holiday movies" ever competition – but only one "Carol" film is making the cut.

So what do you prefer? The classic George C. Scott version? The musical stylings of the 1970 Albert Finney version? Mickey Mouse and his friends taking on the famous story?

Vote now and we'll see what version gets to move on.

'Sons of Anarchy' creator Kurt Sutter speaks at the 'Sons for Sandy Relief' event in New Jersey. (Diane Bondareff/Invision/AP)

'Sons of Anarchy': A major character is killed off in the newest episode

By Kevin YeomanScreen Rant / 11.20.13

For the past few weeks, Sons of Anarchy has been building toward something big with its dual storylines involving Tara’s fight to finally escape the poisonous confines of life within the MC (and Gemma) and Jax’s increasingly desperate push to move the club out of the gun business at seemingly any cost. Of course, the latter also involves the Irish Kings’ staunch refusal to work with anyone other than Clay Morrow at the not-so-polite request of Galen O’Shea – despite his current status as a guest at a California State correctional facility.

Now, in typical Sons of Anarchy fashion, nothing is as it seems, especially when the show takes the time to depict Jax making a deal with a public servant or anyone in a position of authority (in this case, DA Tyne Patterson). If anything, the show and its writers are fairly consistent with how much they love keeping the audience in the dark, so they can then portray the MC’s betrayal like some kind of genius long con. And, in the case of ‘Aon Rud Persanta,’ that long con happens to close the chapter on one of the show’s longest running storylines with the sudden and rather unexpected death of Clay Morrow at the hands of Jax Teller.

“Clay Morrow should have been dead a long time ago,” Tara tells Nero after they drive away from Clay’s execution with a surprisingly emotional Gemma breaking down in the passenger seat. In a sense, Tara’s statement, which follows a laundry list of Clay’s most recent transgressions, manages to say a lot about Clay Morrow as a character, and the kind of turmoil he was generally capable of producing. But the notion that he should have been dead a long time ago also says a great deal about the show, and how it has handled the back and forth between Jax and Clay for nearly six full seasons now.

As a dramatic device, Clay’s death had been teased by Sons of Anarchy so many times that the series began to resemble the boy who cried wolf, or, as the case may be, Mr. Mayhem. The idea of Clay facing certain doom had been seen or intimated to the point that when he was staring down the barrel of Jax’s gun, the only drama the moment seemed capable of producing was tied to the question of whether or not the writers would actually follow through with it this time. As Clay Morrow, and more to the point, Ron Perlman, has been a major part of the success of the series, all the tension surrounding his inevitable end felt like it had been used up a long time ago, resulting in him going out with more of a whimper than the bang he deserved.

Rather than building apprehension around his contentious relationship with Jax, Gemma, and the rest of the club, Clay has been rotting away in jail, largely out of the picture for the majority of the season. And with his stake in the MC already gone, and Jax largely concerned about things other the death of his father or Tara’s near death experience, Clay’s arc had essentially become dramatically inert. As a result, there is no void begging to be filled by his sudden absence now, because, for all intents and purposes, Clay Morrow’s importance to the story of Sons of Anarchy season 6 was never really developed outside of an excuse to involve the Irish.

At the same time, at this point in its run, the show makes its biggest strides by eliminating familiar, well-liked characters, and doing so in generally secretive ways that are meant to be as enormously impactful for the audience as they are for the characters involved. Only time will tell, but perhaps the impact of this event will have more resonance sometime down the line.

While the episode was certainly successful in the way it handled Jax’s double-crossing of Tyne, and especially of Galen and the Irish Kings, it seems odd that the major dramatic tension comes not from Clay’s sudden death, but from Tara’s potentially devastating (or liberating) choice, which again begs the question of whether or not the writers will follow through with what they are setting up.

Kevin Yeoman blogs at Screen Rant.

'Almost Human' stars Michael Ealy (l.) and Karl Urban (r.). (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

'Almost Human' premiere review: The Fox show is entertaining and intriguing

By Jason TabrysScreen Rant / 11.18.13

It’s taken a while for J.J. Abrams and J.H. Wyman’s Almost Human to make it to air, thanks to FOX’s post-season baseball obligations, but as the pilot arrives with the confidence and competence of a fully-formed product, the sci-fi buddy cop series side-steps a lot of the obvious growing pains that plague high-concept shows like this on their way out of the starting gate.

Starring Karl Urban (Dredd, Star Trek) and Michael Ealy (Think Like a Man), as a cop and his android partner in 2048, the show’s shorthand synopsis sounds like an I, Robot clone – Urban’s Detective John Kennex is as robot-weary and haunted by his past as Will Smith’s Del Spooner was – but the comparison fades as Dorian (Ealy) comes onto the screen to join with the occasionally wooden Urban, providing enough chemistry to power the show.

It’s heartening to see that, despite a slight breaking-in period, Detective Kennex and Dorian won’t have to spend a large chunk of this season establishing their relationship and dealing with Kennex’s distrust of “synthetics.” Surely, the pair will have their differences – at the end of the day, this show’s “hook” is that it’s about a cop and his android partner, fighting crime in the future – but letting Dorian prove himself to Kennex early on as an android that is programmed to rise above his programming allows Almost Human to put its best foot forward.

And why wouldn’t they get along? Both Kennex and Dorian have troubling reputations as they come into their forced partnership. For Kennex, he spent 17 months in a coma after an ambush that cost him his leg and his team, and he now returns to a force that is less than welcoming. For Dorian, his model was discontinued due to “bugs” and replaced by less humanesque and less independent models.

The partnership is set up by Captain Maldonado, a tough but sensible authority type who, due to the presence of talented actress Lili Taylor, will likely develop more dimension over time. In this episode, though, Maldonado and her team (which also includes Friday Night Lights alum Minka Kelly and Michael Irby, who plays disproving precinct tough guy named Detective Paul) have little time for exposition as the department fights off an attack from The Syndicate – a large gang that abducted another officer early in the episode, and who were behind the attack that killed Kennex’s team.

Kennex’s pre-occupation with The Syndicate (and the somewhat surprising betrayal that he endures at their hands) is evidenced by his quest to restore his memories from the attack with the help of a recolectionist and a dangerous procedure that allows him to peer into his own mind. Will they be the big-bad throughout the series?

Possibly, but the mention of people making it over “the wall” early on in the restricted zone (and other mysteries subtly introduced into the pilot) points to the potential for larger social commentary and depth in the show’s future. Almost Human is seemingly aspiring to be more than the entertaining and visually pleasing sci-fi procedural that it already is, and right now, it seems like it will meet those aspirations.

Jason Tabrys blogs at Screen Rant.

Maksim Chmerkovskiy (l.) and Kirstie Alley (r.) perform on 'Dancing With The Stars.' (Adam Taylor/ABC/AP)

Maksim Chmerkovskiy will return to 'Dancing With The Stars'... as a guest judge

By Staff writer / 11.15.13

Former “Dancing with the Stars” performer Maksim Chmerkovskiy will be returning to the show as a guest judge for the ABC show’s semi-final round on Nov. 18, according to ABC.

Chmerkovskiy will sit at the judges’ table alongside Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli, and Carrie Ann Inaba.

The theme of the semifinals at which Chmerkovskiy will judge is “plugged/unplugged,” with the remaining dancers performing a paso doble, jazz, tango, or cha-cha routine to a normal version of their chosen song, according to ABC writer Jason Leung. The partners will then perform an Argentine tango, rumba, or Viennese waltz to an acoustic version of that same song.

According to Leung, this is the first time the “plugged/unplugged” theme will have been used on the show.

The night will also include a number performed by the remaining professional dancers that will be choreographed by Mandy Moore. Musicians Kerli and Noah Guthrie will perform songs during the “unplugged section,” according to Leung, with Kerli performing a version of the Fall Out Boy song “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light ‘Em Up)” and Guthrie singing a cover of LMFAO’s song “Sexy and I Know It.”

Chmerkovskiy competed on “Dancing” as a professional dancer for most of the iterations of the show and won second place twice and third place twice.

The ABC reality competition, which began in 2005 and is based on the British reality program “Strictly Come Dancing,” is currently airing its seventeenth iteration and five couples remain. “High School Musical” actor Corbin Bleu and dancer Karina Smirnoff, comedian Bill Engvall and dancer Emma Slater, “The Osbournes” star Jack Osbourne and dancer Cheryl Burke, “The King of Queens” actress Leah Remini and dancer Tony Dovolani, and “Glee” actress Amber Riley and dancer Derek Hough will be competing in the semi-finals round of the show.

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