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Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Nope
I have watched "The Last Airbender." It was bad. I have watched "Manos: The Hands of Fate." It was pretty terrible. I have watched "The Star Wars Holiday Special." It was, until now, the worst thing I had ever seen in my life. Congratulations, Fifty Shades, you are actually worse than the worst thing ever. You were based on a book that was so badly written it's hard to believe that English is the author's first language, not to mention a book that didn't contain a lick of research into actual BDSM practices. And I'm not even going to talk about how the third book in the trilogy from hell contains a scene which sexualized an unborn child - something that made me literally throw up in my mouth when I saw it. Now, the film version of the worst book ever written is officially the worst film ever made. We have hit rock bottom, folks.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Just saw it tonight
This is easily one of the best movies I have seen all year. Cate Blanchett is unrivaled; if she doesn't receive a nomination for Best Actress, I will be shocked. The supporting cast is brilliant; the costuming is superb and the cinematography is glorious.

I do have one complaint about the film, which is why I gave it a 9 instead of a full 10. Several scenes take place in Spain, with King Philip (and his ever-present, never-speaking daughter, whose purpose seems to be window dressing). Naturally, because they are set in Spain, all of the dialogue in these scenes is either in Spanish or Latin. Since I don't speak either language, I had pretty much no idea what was happening in these scenes. I wouldn't expect Spanish scenes to be presented in English, of course, but subtitles would have been helpful.

Apart from the language barrier, I very much enjoyed this movie and would see it again. It's one of those rare sequels that manages to surpass the original.

Ella Enchanted

Not bad, but could have been better
Despite the fact that "Ella Enchanted" is a children's novel, I really enjoyed it. It was clever, entertaining, and impressively original for having been based on the age-old story of Cinderella.

The movie is a lot better if you've never read the book.

There are a ton of discrepancies between book and film. Now, I realize that whenever you translate a book to the big screen, some things are going to change, or be lost, or be added. I also realize that not all film adaptations can be Lord of the Rings. But for some reason, the makers of THIS film didn't seem to feel that Ella's original predicament -- receiving the "gift" of obedience as a baby which forced her to do anything anyone told her to do -- was enough for a movie. They swapped out Prince Charmont's very nice parents for an evil regent who tries to force Ella to clear his path to the crown, and added a few moderately amusing but altogether bizarre song-and- dance routines. Most of those scenes had me outright cringing. They also took away Ella's position as the protagonist-narrator and inserted an additional character to tell her story.

That's not to say the movie is entirely without merit. The casting is excellent; Cary Elwes is a delicious villain, Eric Idle is a delight as the narrator, and Anne Hathaway sparkles as Ella. And I was pleased to see that the film does remain true to the source material's underlying message -- that in spite of whatever happens in your life, you have the power to make your own happy ending.

All in all, it's a good film for the kids. But the book is better.

Sibling Rivalry

Hands down, one of the worst movies I've ever seen. The premise was lousy, the script was dull, and the performances were mediocre at best. At no time did I feel like I had been pulled into a believable excerpt from the characters' lives, the way a good movie's story should make the viewer feel. I was always aware that I was watching a group of actors trying to work with some of the worst material in Hollywood history, and not succeeding.

On a deeper level, it simply annoyed me. Adultery is not the solution to marital problems; it just makes more problems. Yet to watch this movie, you would think that the best way to combat boredom in your relationship is to have an affair. Then everything will be all right again! It doesn't work that way.

Overall, I was profoundly disappointed by the entire thing. I watched it in the dollar theater and I felt like I had been overcharged.

Still Standing

This is funny?
This is easily one of the worst shows I've ever watched. It's absolutely stupid. The parents are frighteningly irresponsible; for example, in one episode they accompanied their son Brian on visits to prospective colleges. While Brian actually went on the college tours and was interested in what the schools had to offer, his parents were more concerned about the local bars and potential party life -- not for his welfare, but for their own enjoyment! They appear to be trapped in a teenaged mentality and it's a wonder that the kids are anywhere close to normal. I don't find it at all realistic that the parents are so incredibly messed up; I'm really not surprised this travesty was canceled and I can't understand why the Lifetime network picked it up. Leave it in the trash where it belongs.

Life with Derek

Not that appealing.
I tried to give this show a chance, but it really doesn't sit well with me. Although the performances are good, the writing isn't. The two oldest step-siblings, Derek and Casey, are equally annoying; I get the impression that we're supposed to side with Casey, given that she's the protagonist, but I don't find her at all likable. The parents are continually portrayed as utterly clueless. The three younger children are the most watchable things on the show; Lizzie and Edwin are sweet the way they team up, and Marti is adorable. The plot lines are a bit far-fetched and the whole premise is mostly hard to swallow -- blended families are common, yes, but this family isn't really trying all that hard to blend. On the whole, I think it grades thumbs-down.

VeggieTales: Sheerluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler

A real pickle -- I mean, tickle
As an adult with no children of my own, I wasn't sure what I was going to make of any of these cartoons. But I agreed to try this one, being a Sherlock Holmes fan, and also an admirer of Don Quixote. As it turned out, it's a fun, funny tribute to the original source material as well as driving home a good point to the kids. The music is catchy, the stories are engaging and well done, and the whole thing is very clever but not overly aware of its own cleverness. Yes, the content is religious in nature, but they never deny that. The overwhelming appeal of VeggieTales is that they preach without being preachy, and this is a wonderful and engaging part of the VT lineup -- I fully intend, having seen this, to look into some of the other titles. Many kudos to the creators for inventive and winsome ideas!

Whatever It Takes

Has one or two redeeming features...
Not normally being a fan of the teen comedy genre (with the exception of the brilliantly weird "Clueless"), I was hesitant to watch this film. I heard Richard Schiff was in it, which drew me slightly, but the reason I gave in and had a look was because it featured Shane West. There are a few men in the film industry who could take parts where they read from the phone book and I'd still be interested, and Shane West is one of them. (And no, I'm not a teenage girl, I'm older than Shane.)

It's not a great movie. It's not even a particularly good movie. The performances are delivered with reasonable enthusiasm and yes, Shane is pretty. But it's not a cinematic masterpiece.

However, that said -- this movie has one absolutely hilarious scene that makes it worth the effort to rent, or even buy if you spot it in the bargain bin like my friend did. Shane's character Ryan, at one point, can be seen wearing nothing but boxer shorts and a cowboy hat, with an accordion strapped to his chest, dancing around to "Play That Funky Music White Boy." It is the most stupidly hysterical thing I have ever seen and I about fell off the sofa laughing. I guarantee you cannot watch this scene with a straight face, so the next time you're in dire need of a laugh, look for this movie and find that part!

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

One for the ages (mild spoiler)
In all honesty, this is one of the five best films I have ever seen in my life. There are no words that can do it justice. It is a flawless execution of Lewis's masterpiece. Even my husband, who is the king of cinematic nitpickers, couldn't find a single thing in this movie that he thought should be changed. It's simply gorgeous.

If you have not seen it, there's no way you can appreciate just how magnificent it is. And if you have seen it, there's no way you can properly describe it.

The best way I can think to phrase it is to borrow a line from the movie itself. The beavers, upon hearing that the fox (Rupert Everett) has seen Aslan, eagerly inquire as to what the great lion is like. The fox's answer could be applied to the film as well as to Aslan.

"Like everything we've ever heard."

The Lion in Winter

I couldn't turn it off
I've never seen the original ALIW with Hepburn, so I wasn't able to make comparisons there. I did see a stage version, years ago at my old university, so I was familiar with the plot and characters.

Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close have wonderful chemistry. I freely admit that I could watch Stewart sit on a chair and read from the phone book, but he makes an absolutely commanding Henry II. Close is alternately domineering and fragile, but always riveting. Their separate scenes are elegant, but they shine most when they play off of each other; Henry and Eleanor have a fascinating dynamic, and the interaction between husband and wife is dazzling.

I was less enamored with the performances of the three English princes. Andrew Howard's Richard was done well enough, particularly the scenes where he was portraying softer emotions. John Light's Geoffrey didn't seem quite right to me, but that may not be his own fault; the actor who played Geoffrey in the stage version I saw was a friend of mine, so my opinion of the character will forever be biased. Rafe Spall's John was utterly appalling -- but he was supposed to be, so does the fact that I absolutely loathed him mean he was brilliant?

Yuliya Vysotskaya was a luminous Alais. She has a splendid range and presence, and I wish she would do more acting projects that would let her be seen in the U.S. She has a charming ethereal quality when the script calls for it, yet can be equally hard as needed.

For me, though, the best performance was that of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who I found utterly captivating as King Philip of France. He steals every scene in which he appears, and gives the young King just the right balance of anger, slyness, contemplation, and humor. (And let's be honest, he's not really hard on the eyes either.)

On the whole, I couldn't bring myself to stop watching the movie until it was over, and it's definitely one I would be happy to watch again.

Much Ado About Nothing

A Shakespeare buff speaks.
I'm picky about Shakespeare; you might call me a purist. If things fly too far of the mark, I can be very disgruntled. For instance, I saw a stage performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" where all the characters wore clothing from the 1940s. And there was a showing of "As You Like It" in which Orlando, the poetry-writing hero, affixes his love sonnets to trees by using Post-It notes. Ugh.

Because of this pickiness, I was reluctant to watch a film version of Shakespeare. But my best friend insisted that I sit down and take in Kenneth Branagh's "Much Ado About Nothing." It's not the first time she was right, certainly won't be the last either -- because to say I loved this movie is no exaggeration.

Most people already know the plot well enough that I can skip that explanation. Branagh and his then-wife, Emma Thompson, are radiantly cast as the bickering Benedick and Beatrice, and their on screen chemistry is enough to make one sorry that their marriage didn't work out. Nearly all the performances are up to snuff; Kate Beckinsale is believably emotional as the falsely accused Hero, Richard Briers is delightful as Hero's father, and practically every supporting actor adds to the overall enjoyment.

Many other reviewers have commented on the suitability of Denzel Washington for a Shakespearean role. While, admittedly, he looks just slightly out of place in the film, I found no quarrel with his delicate and genteel handling of the worthy Prince of Aragon. Keanu Reeves has been much maligned for his wooden performance as the prince's bastard brother Don John, but I consider it bearable, if for no other reason than that he doesn't appear often. Michael Keaton is insane as the constable Dogberry, and the scenes in which he speaks are the most tedious for me -- but that has less to do with the acting than with the script itself, and he certainly does no harm.

The only thing I really didn't enjoy about the film was the repetitious use of a rather irksome little song used only once in the original material. But Branagh's handling of the story impressed me enough that I rented his "Hamlet." Shakespeare purist or no, "MAAN" is an excellent choice the next time you want to sit down with something romantic, fluffy, and easy to swallow.

A Muppet Family Christmas

We miss you Jim!!!
I've seen this about a dozen times; I watch it at least twice every holiday. It's delightful. The entire Muppet ensemble turns up at Fozzie's mother's house for Christmas Eve -- and I DO mean the entire ensemble! They come from the Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock to celebrate the joys of the season. Among the highlights are the Sesame Street Christmas pageant, a journey down into Fraggle Rock, the Swedish Chef's attempts to cook a certain bird for dinner, and the unnerving (for poor Kermit) race against a deadly blizzard to find Miss Piggy. All throughout the celebrations, the Muppets treat us to a medley of favorite holiday songs.

Both my husband and I have been Muppet fans since we were quite young children, so we always enjoy this little trip down memory lane. There's one particular reason that this video holds a special place in our holiday collection, however, and that comes at the very end. Mr. Jim Henson steps out from behind the scenes to take a peek at the Muppets sharing Christmas with one another, and darn if I can't keep tears out of my eyes when I catch sight of his dear face. This is a splendid and entertaining show for the kids to watch, but for those of us who grew up on the Muppets, it's all the more to be cherished for its sentimental value.

The Princess Bride

A die-hard fan.
Let's get the very obvious out of the way immediately. Cary Elwes is gorgeous, perhaps in this movie more than anywhere else.

Having said that, let's move on to the meat of the film.

It must be understood that "The Princess Bride" is, first and forever, my favorite book. William Goldman's brilliant masterpiece has been lovingly transferred from the page to the screen with only some necessary changes, and the result is a charming, fun-for-the-whole-family cinematic joy ride. Rob Reiner may be Meathead to a lot of people, but to me he'll always be the guy who gave us this movie.

Buttercup (a young Robin Wright Penn, in her first starring role) is a beautiful girl who one day realizes that Westley (Elwes), the young man who does the grunt work around her farm, is in love with her. Not only that, but she's in love with him too. Before they can be married, he sets off to America to make his fortune and is promptly abducted and murdered by the Dread Pirate Roberts. Deeply shattered, Buttercup reluctantly consents to be the bride of hunting-obsessed Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), heir to the throne of their native Florin.

It's a story within a story, actually. A wizened grandfather (endearingly played by Peter "Columbo" Falk) is reading the novel to his ill grandson (Fred "Wonder Years" Savage), whose vivid imagination produces the visuals of the movie. As the story strengthens the bond between the two of them, we get to enjoy Buttercup's up and down adventures en route to her wedding day to the prince. She gets kidnapped. She gets stolen from her kidnappers by another apparent kidnapper. Marvelous performances are delivered by such Hollywood notables as Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, Christopher Guest, and the late, great Andre the Giant. Show-stealing cameos are given by Billy Crystal as Miracle Max, the disgruntled wizard-of-sorts, and Carol Kane as his witchy wife, Valerie. The late Peter Cook puts in a brief but unforgettable appearance as an ancient bishop with a speech impediment.

Do they live happily ever after? Do we find out what really became of Buttercup's true love? Is there anything better than a nice MLT (mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich)? If you don't already know, I think it's time you found out!

Manos: The Hands of Fate

Terrified beyond belief!
No, not of the movie. Of the sheer *existence* of the movie. Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

All I can say is, thank the good Lord for "Mystery Science Theater 3000," because without the soul-saving laughter provided by Joel Hodgson and his robot sidekicks, I might have joined the list of casualties generated by this cinematic monstrosity.

At first it doesn't seem all that evil, just kind of pointless. The family is driving in the car...and driving...and driving...still driving...endlessly driving past stock footage of open fields. Why, I will never know. Things start to shake up when the family meets Torgo, one of the only two truly entertaining elements to the whole movie (I mean the movie alone, not the movie with MST3K commentary). What the heck was wrong with his knees? But I digress.

The Master, I'll grant you, is pretty freaking creepy. So were the wives. What did he need with so many? The wives provide the other thing that made the movie remotely watchable: The Master wakes them all up, and the expression on his face is priceless as he sits and watches them all bicker amongst themselves. Madness ensues, meanwhile, as Torgo attempts to seduce the mother of our small family, their poodle is eaten by the Master's hound of hell, and the family attempts to escape from the nightmare in which they find themselves. (I mean the movie, not the Master's house. I'm thoroughly convinced they were trying to run out of the movie.)

I gave this film a 1, only because the IMDb doesn't offer any lower options.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

I've been a grownup Harry Potter fan since the late summer of 1999, when his name was just beginning to be heard frequently around my area and I was wondering who this kid was. I picked up a paperback copy of the first book at a local shop and spent a couple of hours finding my way around Privet Drive and Hogwarts School. When I finished the book, I went back to the beginning and started to read it again. Since that time, I am, in a word, hooked on the Potter phenomenon.

But the movie had me a little worried. Rarely have books I love been made into movies at all, and when they are I've often found myself disappointed in the results. I didn't want anyone destroying this literarily perfect universe I have so frequently visited. I relaxed a bit when I got my first look at Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson -- the kids who would shoulder the massive burden of bringing Harry, Ron, and Hermione to life looked the parts, at least. Many adult casting elements reassured me as well -- Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, and John Hurt, among others. The movie score by John Williams would no doubt be impressive. I bought my ticket for opening day.

I don't know what exactly I expected. What I got was a movie so magical, so engaging, that I've seen it three times so far and am eager to see it again. (My husband worries about my sanity sometimes.) Almost never have I seen a movie that tries so hard to be faithful to the book on which it's based. It succeeds so well at this, in fact, that the things from the book which don't make it onto the screen are rather conspicuous (to me) by their absence. I'm eager to see a director's cut of the film, which would be four hours long. At two hours and 45 minutes, the movie is too short for me.

The casting is something along the lines of ideal. Robbie Coltrane IS Hagrid, the lovable giant with a fondness for dangerous creatures. Alan Rickman is sufficiently creepy and sinister as Professor Snape, though I am disappointed that none of Snape's back story is revealed in the movie. Crisp, stern Professor McGonagall is brought most believably to life by Maggie Smith, while John Cleese does a delightful, if brief, turn as Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, the ghost who haunts Harry's dormitory. John Hurt has a splendid, though again short, appearance as an eccentric wand-maker, and Zoe Wanamaker is wonderfully spirited as flying teacher Madam Hooch.

This movie is for kids, however, and it is the kids who are the stars. Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson are so adorable that I found myself wanting to reach through the screen and hug the stuffing out of them. Grint is ideal as Ron, the clownish chess fiend with a heart of gold, and Watson IS Hermione, from her brainy smugness to her fierce loyalty. Radcliffe, as the courageous but modest orphan with extraordinary abilities, is utterly captivating. Harry lives, thanks to this talented twelve-year-old. The chemistry and friendship between the three is undeniable.

I have only three major complaints about the movie. As I said, Snape's back story is not told, secondly not nearly enough Quidditch, and lastly, it's just too short!

Other than that, the main thing I'm worried about is what I'm going to do until the fifth book is released.

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