2013 Post Peeps Competition

Posted on March 29, 2013 at 7:53 am

I love the Post Peeps Competition!  Every Easter, the Washington Post invites people to submit dioramas populated with the irresistible pink, yellow, and blue confections.  Many relate to the news (this year’s entries included Peep tributes to Zero Dark Thirty and the winner paid tribute to the end of the Twinkie) or to local icons (DC’s beloved Ben’s Chili Bowl, a favorite of the President, is featured in one entry).

My favorite was inspired by Georges Seurat’s iconic painting (you may remember it from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”).

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The Sapphires

Posted on March 28, 2013 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexuality, a scene of war violence, some language, thematic elements, and smoking
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: War violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: March 22, 2013
Date Released to DVD: August 15, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00D2UMHQ0

A very conventional story of a 60’s Australian girl group gains extra power from its context and setting in this fact-based story set to the beat of Motown soul.  Co-written by the son of one of the real-life singers and directed by Wayne Blair, who starred in the play based on their story, “The Sapphires” is clearly a labor of love for all involved and a touching tribute to four women for whom success as performers was just the beginning.

Before it begins, we learn two stark, devastating facts.  Until 1967, the native Australians dubbed “Aborigines” by the British settlers were not classified as humans by the Australian government.  They were considered “flora or fauna.”  And the government had the authority to remove light-skinned native children from their families as part of the program depicted in “Rabbit-Proof Fence” to make them part of the white community.

We meet the future singers as children, three sisters and their cousin, performing at a family celebration in 1958.  The light-skinned cousin is taken to become part of what is now known as the “Stolen Generation,” with no contact with her family.

A decade later, as young women, the sisters still sing together.  Gail, the feisty oldest (Deborah Mailman of “Rabbit-Proof Fence”), the ambitious Julie (pop singer Jessica Mauboy), and the flirty Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) enter a local competition singing American country and western.  Braving the bigotry of the audience, they sing a Merle Haggard song.

The accompanist/master of ceremonies is Dave (“Bridesmaids'” Chris O’Dowd) is a broken-down mess who seems to have burned every possible bridge that once linked him to music, a job, his home in Ireland, or any semblance of self-respect.  But he still knows the real deal when he hears it.  As amateurish as they are, Dave sees what the sisters can become.  They ask him to come with them to try out for a chance to perform for American GIs in Viet Nam for $30 a week.  Soon they have reconnected with their cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens), switched from country to Motown, and passed the audition under their new name, inspired by a ring — The Sapphires. O’Dowd’s shambling charm plays well against Mailman’s protective ferocity and the wartime background and struggles against bigotry add some heft what might otherwise seem like a lightweight jukebox musical.

A girl group with four members under high-stress touring conditions far from home means many opportunities for romance, adventure, and power struggles, plus the inevitable rehearsal montages. “Can you make it sound blacker?” Dave asks.  He switches lead singers, guides them on stage presence, and suggests some different songs.  Both country and soul music are about loss, he tells them, but in country music the singer has given up.  “With soul, they’re still struggling.”  Dave’s passion for the music and his belief in the girls are scary but exhilarating.  So is being away from home for the first time.

The girls learn that performing is about more than great songs and tight harmonies as they are touched by the valor of the American soldiers.  It is not just that the GIs expect a show; they deserve one.  So, The Sapphires add spangles, go-go boots, rump-shaking and a lot of attitude.

That gives them the freedom to open themselves up to new experiences and new ways of looking at themselves.  And it means that we get to enjoy quite a show as well.  When the storyline starts to feel too close to the familiar “VH1 Behind the Music” soapy sagas of backstage tensions and heartache, those fabulous classic soul songs of the 60’s ring out, thoughtfully matched to what is happening off-stage.  “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “What a Man,” “I’ll Take You There,” “Hold On!  I’m Coming,” and many more add tremendous energy and spirit.  They are every bit as entertaining as they were nearly half a century ago.  Equally entrancing is a touching moment when they sing a native song called “Ngarra Burra Ferra.”

The credit sequence updates us on what happened after The Sapphires came home, with an extraordinary record of achievement, photos of the beautiful women who inspired the film, and a concluding line of piercing sweetness.  It would be great to have a sequel, but they deserve a documentary.

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language, sexual references, smoking, drinking, and wartime violence.

Family discussion: How do the racial conflicts portrayed in this film compare to those of the same era in the United States?  What makes them different?  Are you surprised by what the Sapphires did after their tour?

If you like this, try: “Rabbit-Proof Fence” and “Dreamgirls”

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Based on a play Based on a true story Biography Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Family Issues Music Musical Romance War

The Host

Posted on March 28, 2013 at 6:00 pm

C-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sensuality and violence
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi peril and violence, characters injured and killed, attempted suicide, character shot with gun, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: March 29, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B0090SI4OC

The author of the Twilight series was showing signs of running out of ideas around the middle of the second volume, and this latest story shows more evidence of the pressure of producing a new series than anything approaching inspiration. Howlers that can slide by in print are impossible to ignore in a thuddingly dumb story of an alien takeover and the girl who is able to hold onto her own consciousness as the “host” of glowing millipede from outer space.

Problem #1: If you’re going to make a movie about aliens taking over human bodies, the indicator of possession should not be glowing blue eyes that eliminate a critical element of the actors’ ability to communicate.

Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) is one of the few remaining humans who have not been overtaken by alien invaders who have inhabited almost every person on earth and eliminated suffering, illness,  and conflict — also passion, independence, innovation, and any notion of the individual.  Everything is smooth and civil and orderly.  It is like the whole planet moves to Muzak.  But they have excellent healthcare.

Melanie is captured by the aliens, led by Seeker, who heal her injuries and implant one of their aliens inside her.  But instead of taking over her consciousness, the invader, known as Wanderer, exists side by side, leading to a series of back-and-forth conversations intended to be touching but are more often mundane.  She’s like a bad ventriloquist with two invisible dummies.  It is clunky and dull when she talks to herself but not much better when the characters talk to one another.  “What’s it like in there?” a character asks Melanie/Wanda.  “It’s crowded.”  “Kiss me like you want to get slapped.”

Ronan is a superb actress, but even she cannot make real the idea of these two equally drippy characters as distinctive individuals, especially after she hides out with a secret rebel group led by Jeb (William Hurt), and in “Twilight” love triangle  fashion becomes involved with two different cute guys, one who loves Melanie and one who loves the Wanderer, now known as Wanda.  “If you could hold me — me — in your hand, you’d be disgusted,” Wanda explains to the guy who wants to kiss her.  When he finally does see what the alien looks like and tries to gaze tenderly at a glowing bug is just silly.

And then things really go nuts as the Seeker (Diane Kruger) goes after the human rebels, insisting, “I am not weak.  I am in control.”  Kruger is more believable as an alien than she usually is as a human, at least until a ridiculous twist near the end.  Melanie had two voices in her head.  I only had one, but it was clearly telling me that this movie is a mess.

This rebel group seems weirdly retro, with almost no women, and a social structure that resembles the 18th century.

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi style peril and violence with some disturbing images, a car crash, aliens, possession, characters injured, some teen kissing and sensual embraces.

Family discussion: Why could Melanie and Wanda exist together?  How do Ian and Jared see her differently?  Why are the aliens able to achieve societal benefits humans have failed to? How does she earn the trust of the humans?  What do you think will happen next?

If you like this, try: “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “I Am Number Four” and the book by Stephenie Meyer

 

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Based on a book Movies Romance Series/Sequel

All My Children and One Life to Live are Back!

Posted on March 28, 2013 at 3:59 pm

The two popular soap operas cancelled by ABC in 2011 are back at last!  The Online Network (available on Hulu and iTunes) will have new episodes starting on April 29.  Fans should know that “All My Children” is leaping five years ahead from where it left off, so children in the broadcast version will now be teenagers.  It is very exciting to see the way fan support can lead to a reboot here as it did with the Kickstarter campaign for Veronica Mars.

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Internet, Gaming, Podcasts, and Apps Television

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Posted on March 28, 2013 at 10:30 am

As big, dumb, action and explosions and “hell, yeah, ooyah” movies based on toys go, this one is a lot of fun.  Jon M. Chu, director of two of the “Step Up” movies and producer of the third knows how to shoot movement and understands pacing and tone.

In an opening lifted from “The A-Team” (and others) our heroes, the “Joes” elite military unit saves the day and then gets discredited after an ambush wipes out almost all of them and the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce, having a lot of fun) goes on television to say that the Joes betrayed our country by trying to steal nuclear weapons.

If the Joes are not traitors and the President says they are, something must be wrong.  The surviving Joes include Roadblock (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki).  Dodging the various bad guys trying to kill them, they find their way to the original Joe, retired General Joe Colton (a tough, wry, and completely terrific Bruce Willis), and (spoiler alert) save the day.  Until next time.

When a movie begins with a big Hasbro logo, we know we’re not here for the witty repartee.  This is a movie based on toys.  That’s why it does not really matter when it seems like the script was inspired by listening in on a group of seven year-olds making up stories for their dolls, I mean action figures.

And the dialogue is surprisingly entertaining after all, delivered with great relish by two masters of tough guy witticisms, plus reigning sexiest man alive Channing Tatum.  “Brazil’s” Jonathan Pryce has some choice moments, explaining one of the benefits of being President: “I got to hang out with Bono.”  And he gets to blow stuff up.  “It’s good to know we’re not running low on crazy,” he smiles when welcoming some bad guys to the party, and he plays a game on his phone in the middle of a meeting of world leaders.  There are even a few shrewd political jibes, and some patriotic references to Fort Sumpter and the American Revolution.  And there’s a bad guy with an oxygen tank like Darth Vader and Bane who is more into putting his logo all over everything than Donald Trump.  He even brands his weapons of mass destruction.

Roadblock, asked to say some words of inspiration before going into battle, calls on a noted theologian: “In the immortal words of Jay-Z, whatever deity may guide my life, dear lord don’t me die tonight.”  And there’s plenty of  deadpan tough guy talk.  The other side’s weapons are “cold war stuff but it will still put a hole in you.”  Roadblock wants to vanquish the bad guys in time to get home for “Top Chef.”  And he loves his little girls.

But we’re here for the stunts, and they deliver, especially one bravura fight that’s part bungee cord, part rappelling rope, part zip wire.  With ninjas.  In 3D.  That’s worth your price of admission right there.  These are guys who literally bring a knife to a gun fight and make it work.  Ooyah.  On to #3.

Parents should know that this film includes constant peril and action-style military violence with guns, explosives, swords, knives, and martial arts, cataclysmic damage, characters injured and killed, brief disturbing images, brief scenes of a woman in skimpy clothes, and some strong language.

Family discussion: Who is Storm Shadow loyal to? Why did Roadblock take the dog tags? What would your “Joe name” be?

If you like this, try: the first “G.I. Joe” movie and “The A-Team”

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3D Action/Adventure Series/Sequel
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