Category Archives: Fantasy Movies

The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) Movie Review

The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: a Rankin Bass Christmas Classic
Starring: Mickey Rooney, Shirley Booth, Dick Shawn, George S. Irving, Bob McFadden
Director: Jules Bass & Arthur Rankin Jr.
Release Date: 10 December 1974
Language: English
Length: 51 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb86_thumb1_thumb[4]

Synopsis:

Santa (voice by Mickey Rooney) wakes up one morning and decides he is too old, too tired and too sore to deliver Christmas presents this year.  Even his doctor assures him that no one will miss him if he doesn’t go out on his yearly sleigh ride to deliver presents.  But Mrs. Claus (voice by Shirley Booth) knows that the children around the world will miss Santa!  So she sends two elves (voice by Bob McFadden & Bradley Bolke) on a baby reindeer to find some holiday spirit.  Will Mrs. Claus and the elves be able to save Christmas?

Review:

This is one of my favorite Christmas specials to watch.  I look forward to seeing it every year around the holiday season and never tire of watching it.  I believe Sick Santa Clausthat these old Rankin-Bass Productions are the best Christmas shows to watch for children young and old.  This special has the old-fashioned stop-motion animation and it is the animation style that I equate with the best Christmas specials.  They make the motion look pretty dang good for claymation figurines!  It is a little jerky, but I think that it only adds to the charm.

The vocal talents are top-notch.  Mickey Rooney spoiled every other holiday special for me as it is just not the same to hear a Santa speaking that does not 00302291have his voice.  I am not very familiar with the woman who plays Mrs. Claus (Shirley Booth).  She narrates and sings in the special and has the perfect voice for Mrs. Claus – old, but spritely and a little mischievous.  The other characters were chosen for their memorable, unique sound.  Jingle (Bob McFadden) & Jangle (Bradley Bolke) are very distinct and I feel like their voices added to the charm and character of the film.  And who can forget Heat Miser (George S. Irving) & Snow Miser (Dick Shawn)?!  They are simply perfectly cast, as are all the speaking parts in this film.  Even the children’s voices add that special touch of charm and distinctive sound.

The best part of the Rankin-Bass specials is the music.  There are 8 distinctive songs in this 41-minute special, plus 1 reprise and they are all fantastic!  The special begins and ends with “The Year Without a Santa Claus,” a peppy little number that has some talky/singy action to explain what is going to happen in the special.  Mrs. Claus shines in “I Could Be Santa Claus,” where she sings about Heat Miser, Snow Miser & Mother Naturehow anyone can be Santa if their hearts are in the right place.  She is concerned that Santa won’t get up to deliver presents and is considering doing his job for him, but gives up on the idea after the elves think it’s a bad idea.  “I Believe in Santa Claus” is a beautiful, heartfelt number that I did not appreciate when I was a kid.  It is a ballad that talks about believing in Santa Claus like believing in love – as more of a feeling than a real person.  “It’s Gonna Snow Right Here in Dixie” is a fun, upbeat song that helps move the plot along as well as pick up the pace and make you tap your toe along.  The mayor is making fun of the fact that the elves promised them snow in Southtown, which is in Heat Miser’s territory and has never had a white Christmas.  “The Snow Miser Song” and “The Heat Miser Song” are probably the most famous songs that came out 00323473of this special.  They are such a fun addition to the show and I don’t know anyone that doesn’t get a smile on their face while these two stepbrothers are singing about their hatred of each other.  The last two songs are not written by Rankin & Bass, but they are some holiday classics that I never tire of hearing.  “Blue Christmas” gives the children of the world a chance to let Santa know that, while they understand him wanting to take a year off, they are going to have a sadder Christmas without him.  “Here Comes Santa Claus” was the perfect ending to this special as Santa Claus comes sailing into Southtown and all of the children cheer as they realize that Santa didn’t let them down after all.

The story is absolutely wonderful and has a positive message as well as plenty of silly moments.  By thinking about Santa Claus taking a year off, we realize that presents are not the most important part of the holiday.  In fact, when the children realize that Santa is serious, they all send Santa gifts and let him know that they understand, which I thought was really cute.  Of course, Santa saves the day in the end, but he also brings about some extra subplots that kept me Children Giving Presents to Santa Claussmiling throughout the special.  Mrs. Claus sends Jingle and Jangle, two of their dimmest elves, to find some examples of the holiday spirit, but they get into all kinds of trouble.  Their baby reindeer, Vixen, ends up in the pound, where she gets really sick, and they try to ask the mayor for help, but he doesn’t believe they are really elves.  To convince him, they have to make it snow in the southern US, where it never snows.  So Mrs. Claus, Jingle and Jangle travel to the Miser brothers and from there to Mother Nature (voice by Rhoda Mann) to make that happen.  Meanwhile, Santa Claus is trying to find the elves and the reindeer in Southtown, where he meets Ignatious Thistlewhite (voice by Colin Duffy), who is too old and too cool to believe in Santa.  Bottom line is, this special touches on one of the hot spots of Christmas: are you ever too old to believe in Christmas and Santa Claus?

If you have not seen this Christmas special, you are really missing out on a special holiday treat.  It is on TV every year on ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas event and is also available on DVD.  Even though it was made in the ‘70s, it is still a classic and has held its age very well.  A must see for the December Christmas holiday!

Content:

There are a few scenes of mild peril.  Recommended for viewers of all ages.

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Return to Never Land (2002) Movie Review

Return to Never Land

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: Peter Pan #2
Starring: Harriet Owen, Blayne Weaver, Corey Burton, Jeff Bennett, Kath Soucie
Director: Robin Budd & Donovan Cook
Release Date: 15 February 2002
Language: English
Length: 72 minutes
Movie Rating: G
View Format: TV
My Rating: image_thumb83_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

When Jane’s father charges her with the safety of her mother and brother while he is away serving in the military, she takes her new responsibilities very seriously.  Convinced she is now too old to hear stories about Peter Pan and Captain Hook, she refuses to listen to them and argues with her little brother about them.  So when Captain Hook kidnaps her and sweeps her off to Never Land, Jane is in for a real surprise!  Determined to return home, Jane makes the mistake of trusting Captain Hook and gets Peter Pan and the Lost Boys into a great deal of trouble…

Review:

The Disney sequels are typically not as good as the originals and Return to Never Land is no exception.  Though this movie was created for theatrical release (and I saw it in the theater back in the day), there is just something Return to Never Landmissing that keeps it from being truly memorable.  All of the characters are back from the original Peter Pan movie, with the exception of Wendy and her brothers.  Instead, we have Jane, Wendy’s daughter, who is determined to be an adult even though she is clearly a child.  It was sad to see her refusing to play and to join in the antics of the other children.  I think it is important for us to remember that there is a very short time in life where children should be allowed and encouraged to act like children.  Go out and have fun, play games, take risks, learn about the world around you by exploring.  Too many parents push their children to act like adults at far too young of an age.  Though it is sweet of Jane to try to help her parents in this trying time in World War II, her mother seems more than capable of handling their physical care and just needs Jane’s support and high spirits to help her through.

The animation is top-notch.  It is simple, but everything is well drawn and Never Land is completely recognizable and loveable.  Captain Hook’s new nemesis (replacing the crocodile), is a huge octopus who got a taste of the Captain and now can’t resist trying to hunt him down.  He follows behind the Jolly Roger, Hook's Octopusbending his arms and using his suction cups to make a sound similar to the crocodile in the original.  Captain Hook’s interactions with his crew and the octopus are the best parts of the movie (Hook’s over-the-top reactions to the octopus are really funny!), but there are some cute scenes with the Lost Boys.  It was wonderful to see the children playing games and singing songs on Never Land, particularly when Jane joined in the fun and played treasure hunt with everyone else.  Little girls will thrill at the idea of being in Jane’s shoes and becoming the first Lost Girl, especially when she has to save the day at the end of the book!  Though this movie will also appeal to boys because of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, the main character, Jane, is heavily featured and seems to be geared more towards girls.

If you have little ones who are fans of the original Peter Pan, you should Jane Become a Lost Girlconsider adding Return to Never Land to your regular rotation.  It is always wonderful to return to the magical realm of Never Land, whether it is through reading the book, watching the original movie or enjoying Jake and the Never Land Pirates on TV and this movie is no exception.  Though a little lacking in spirit and not at all the storyline that I was expecting, I ultimately found Return to Never Land a sweet little tale that I will enjoy watching again in the future.

Content:

This movie contains some cartoon violence between the Lost Boys who punch each other and knock each other on their heads with clubs.  The boys talk about how they refuse to allow a girl into their club, but they eventually accept Jane.  A giant octopus keeps trying to eat Captain Hook, but he is so funny in the way he reacts and his escape attempts that it should not be scary for children.  Recommended for ages 3 and up.

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Beautiful Creatures (2013) Movie Review

Beautiful Creatures (2013)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: Beautiful Creatures #1
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Release Date: 14 February 2013
Language: English
Length: 124 minutes
Movie Rating: PG-13
View Format: Movie Theater
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1_thumb

Related Reviews: Beautiful Creatures Book #1 – Beautiful Creatures

Synopsis:

Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich) can’t wait to escape his small South Carolina town until the mysterious Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert) moves into town.  The niece of the Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), the town recluse, Lena fascinates Ethan and he finds that he cannot stay away from her, despite warnings from everyone in town.  Strange things seem to happen whenever Lena is around so it doesn’t surprise Ethan to learn that the Ravenwood/Duchannes family are Casters with special powers and abilities.  Ethan struggles to support Lena as she seeks a way to avoid the family curse on her rapidly approaching sixteenth birthday, but only Lena can find a way to ensure she is claimed by the Light.

Review:

It is always difficult to watch movies that are based on beloved book series and BC2.JPGBeautiful Creatures is no exception.  There were a lot of things that they changed that I felt were unnecessary or unhelpful (being juniors in high school instead of sophomores, having the Book of Moons only available for reading in the library so the library is open all the time, etc.), but there were also some things that I truly enjoyed about the movie.  If you are a die-hard fan of the Beautiful Creatures book series, there are a lot of changes in the movie that will drive you crazy!  That said, if you have not read the book series, you should Just Like Romeo and Julietenjoy this movie for what it is – a teen paranormal romance movie.  The story has been heavily rewritten, but it all makes sense in a movie setting.  I completely understand that there is no way to turn a 550+ page book into a two-hour movie so there were a lot of cuts that needed to be made in the plot.  Fine, I get that.  I even understand cosmetic changes in the characters of the book to fit the available actors and talent pool.  What I don’t understand is completely changing the ending and tweaking the powers of the Ravenwood/Duchannes family.

On the good side, the movie really hits the right note as far as atmosphere is concerned.  The Gothic touches of the town of Gatlin, South Carolina were really well done.  I particularly enjoyed the fact that they kept the font of the Gates of Ravenwoodbooks for the title of the movie and incorporated this in the credits and the gates of Ravenwood itself.  The cinematography was well done and helped highlight the movie and the characters.  I watch movies like Beautiful Creatures in the movie theater to ensure that I can enjoy and appreciate the wide format and beautiful scenery so I was not disappointed with this one!  The special effects were pretty good.  There were a few moments of awkwardness where it didn’t seem like the characters were really casting the spells, but they appeared realistic, for the most part.  The yellow eyes of the Dark Casters were particularly striking and I liked how they were not just yellow, but almost fiery. Lena and Macon on Her 16th Birthday The costumes were also nicely done.  I love that they made a moment for Lena at the end where she got to get all dressed up.  She looked gorgeous in that gown and the scene of her running across the battlefield to find Ethan in this flowing gown was one of the iconic moments of the movie for me!  The music was stunning, which really added to my enjoyment of the film.  There are a few new songs complete with lyrics and some lovely instrumental soundtracks, as well.  Unfortunately, the song Sixteen Moons is not featured, which was a shame as the lyrics were already written if they pulled it from the book.

On the whole, I was pleasantly surprised with the high-quality acting in this movie.  I have learned to expect less than I should when I am watching teen Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan Enters the Gates of Ravenwoodparanormal movies so I was delighted to enjoy the talented cast.  Granted, the supporting characters are stronger than the leads, but the leads weren’t that bad.  Alden Ehrenreich plays Ethan, a sweet Southern boy who falls in love with Alice Englert’s Lena Duchannes.  Lena is a powerful Natural Caster with unexpected powers who can change the world based on which power she chooses – Light or Dark.  These two fall in love, even though Casters and Mortals do not mix well, Beautiful Creaturesand I felt like it was a believable relationship.  It starts off awkward and uncertain and develops into something surprisingly strong for a pair of sixteen year olds.  Alden Ehrenreich has that teen awkwardness and slightly self conscious awareness of a boy with a cute girl around down pat.  He has an appealing Southern accent and was believable in his role as a small town boy looking for something more in life.  Alice Englert was a bit more abrasive than I expected her to be and she was pretty tough on Ethan, who was only trying to help her, but I think that she captured the heart and soul of Lena’s character as I understand it from the books.

The adults far outshined the teens, however, and Emmy Rossum was stunning as Emmy Rossum as RidleyRidley, Lena’s cousin.  I thought I recognized her in the role, but had to wait and see the credits to make sure.  I always think of Emmy Rossum as a sweet, shy girl, but she was anything but as Ridley!  Ridley is a sexy Siren who can persuade Mortals, particularly men to do anything she wants.  She hooks her talons into Link (Thomas Mann), Ethan’s best friend and unwitting dupe in Ridley’s plot to see Lena chooses the Dark.  Jeremy Irons overpowers everyone on screen when he is a scene and I really loved him as Macon Ravenwood.  He captured Macon’s strength and tenderness and I loved his Jeremy Irons as Macon Ravenwoodoutfits!  He was smooth and sexy in a dark, slightly intimidating kind of way and I thought he was excellent in this role. Emma Thompson was a delightful surprise as Mrs. Lincoln, Link’s mother.  About halfway through the movie, we learn that Mrs. Lincoln has been possessed by Sarafine, Lena’s Dark Caster mother, and I thought that Emma Thompson captured the sinister villain trapped in a super-conservative housewife’s body perfectly.  Emma Thompson’s scene Emma Thompson as Mrs. Lincolnwith Jeremy Irons in the church was one of my favorites.  She really captured a feeling of crazy for Sarafine’s character that was creepy and appealing at the same time.  Viola Davis was a bit of a disappointment in the role of Amma.  I felt like she was underutilized in this role and she didn’t bring anything special to the screen like she did in The Help.  This was too bad as the role of Amma, which is Viola Davis as Amma with Lena and Ethanreally the role of Amma and Aunt Marian combined, was a meaty one.  Amma is a voodoo priestess who talks to her ancestors and has powerful Seer abilities.  In the movie, she is also a Keeper and maintains the Caster library that lies underneath the town of Gatlin.  Viola Davis didn’t really have a moment in this movie, but she was solid in her role.  Eileen Atkins as Lena’s Gramma and Margo Martindale as Aunt Del were a hoot.  They really made the most of the scenes that they were in and brought some much-needed levity to this rather serious movie.

My main complaints with the movie lie in some serious deviations from the book that just didn’t make sense to me.  Why do you purchase the rights to a book series and then just use the broad strokes of the novel?  It is weird that studios Lena Studies the Book of Moonsdon’t seem to get the fact that the movies will be more popular and make more money if they align closely to the books themselves.  The broad strokes of Beautiful Creatures can be found in the movie and the characters are close enough to recognize, though many of them don’t cosmetically resemble the book characters.  It didn’t bother me that Ridley didn’t have blonde hair or that Ethan’s hair didn’t get in his eyes all of the time, but a few other things really bugged me.  There were some details that they changed in the movie that would have made a big difference to fans of the books.  Most of them had to do with the magical powers of the Casters.  Ridley is a Siren and, while she is a Dark Caster, Ridley with the Missing Lollipop!she never seemed evil in the books.  In the movie, they have her killing a boy the very night she turned Dark, but, in the books, she uses her powers to avoid doing work and tease the boys.  I really, really missed Ridley’s lollipop in the movie!  Would it have killed them to have her sucking on the lollipop as she worked her powers to give us a little link to the books?!  Macon Ravenwood’s powers were completely different in the movie, as well.  In the books, Macon is an incubus and can only come out at night.  Macon feeds on the dreams of humans, can turn to vapor and travel with a thought.  It was a real shock to see Macon during the day in this first movie and I also felt like he was a lot meaner XXX BC-02302.jpgin the movie than in the book.  Macon wasn’t dead set against Ethan and Lena’s relationship in the book until it was too late, but he was trying to drive a wedge against them from the first moment in the movie.  Another magical touch that was really missing for me was the green eyes for the Light Casters.  They showed the yellow eyes of the Dark Casters, but not the green eyes.  Why?!  This was an integral part of the book and I really missed it in the movie.  It also broke my heart not to see the changing interior or Ravenwood itself.  The house had such personality and life in the books that it was weird to see the main room stay static in the movie.  The other detail that bugged me was Lena’s car.  In the books, she drives her Uncle Macon’s hearse, not an old yellow car.  Creepy, but distinctive, this car definitely set the town’s tongues wagging and I loved this touch, but it wasn’t in the movie!  Many of these are little touches that would have meant so much to fans of the book and definitely would have bumped up the rating and likeability for true fans of the series.

In addition to the magical powers being off, there were some character changes that I did not appreciate and that I felt weakened the movie as a whole.  In the book, Amma is an eighty-year-old woman who is as close to a grandmother as Lena's Sweet 16Ethan has.  She is fiercely protective of Ethan and her kitchen and is always feeding Ethan huge meals.  When I saw Ethan making eggs for breakfast at the beginning of the movie, I was shocked!  Then I saw “Amma” or Viola Davis’s character come on-screen and I realized that they combined Amma and Marian together into one person.  Ethan’s Aunt Marian was his mother’s best friend and, while no blood relation, she was family.  Marian runs the public and Caster library in town and Viola Davis would have been a great casting choice for Marian, but not for Amma.  There was one brief scene of Amma performing a voodoo ritual, but that was it.  Why didn’t they just call her Marian and call it a day?  And I missed Boo Radley so much!  Book was Macon’s wolf/dog who kept an eye on Lena throughout the day when she was traveling around town.  I would have loved to see this dog in the movie!

Finally, there were some huge plot changes that I did not care for, including the terrible ending!  I can live without the Kelting (speaking mind to mind) as I totally understand that it is difficult to show mind powers in a movie so I was willing to let that go.  They rewrote the Curse in the movie to show Genevieve Family Dinner at RavenwoodDuchannes (Rachel Brosnahan) turning Dark after she cast a spell to bring her lover back to life.  Now all Duchannes women are claimed for the Dark.  In the book, Genevieve doesn’t kill her lover and her descendants are Cursed with the inability to Choose Light or Dark – it is Chosen for them.  But what really bugged me was Link shooting Ethan at the end.  In the book, Ethan and Lena completely miss the Civil War reenactment because it is on her sixteenth birthday.  Instead, they end up in the cemetery fighting Serafine, Lena’s crazy Dark mother.  In the Yellow Caster Eyesbook, Ethan is stabbed by Serafine and brought back to life by Lena’s Casting.  Serafine is much more powerful than Lena so they were lucky that more people were not killed during the battle.  Lena unknowingly casts a spell that brings Ethan back to life, but kills Macon.  Ethan doesn’t remember the details of that night, but he remembers everything else.  In the movie, Link and Ethan show up for the reenactment, Link shoots Ethan and kills him, only it is really a shapeshifted Macon so that the Curse will be broken.  Ethan doesn’t even remember Lena as anything special after she wiped his mind of all of their memories – what!?!  I was so upset at the ending and I am sure that other fans were, too.  This really left a bad taste in my mouth and it was too bad as I quite enjoyed the rest of the movie.  I have no idea how they are going to tie these new storylines into the next movie in the series, but it will mean a lot more changes!

So, as far as the movie is concerned, if you don’t take into account the book at all, it is a solidly enjoyable movie.  The plot is fresh and original and I love the Serafine's Caster Powersconcept of a whole Caster world.  I also love seeing books brought to life, even if they don’t match up to my vision of what my imagination conjured up while I was reading.  Hopefully, you haven’t already read the books and can watch the movie first and then read them.  I always find that reading the books first ruins the movie for me and this movie is no exception.  If you are looking for an enjoyable teen paranormal romance, Beautiful Creatures definitely fits the bill!

Content:

This movie contains scenes of death and violence.  A Civil War vision shows burning plantations, soldiers being shot and the battlefields with men dying.  There is some strong language.  Teenage sexuality is present and sex between the leads is hinted at, but not shown (heavy petting and kissing only).  There is a lot of magic in the movie, including magical battles and powers that are used against humans.  There are some mildly creepy and scary scenes, but these are mostly ribbons of dark surrounding people or locations that are a bit unsettling.  Recommended for ages 13 and up.

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Jack the Giant Slayer (2013) Movie Review

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane
Director: Bryan Singer
Release Date: 1 March 2013
Language: English
Length: 114 minutes
Movie Rating: PG-13
View Format: Movie theatre
My Rating: image_thumb83_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

When Jack (Nicholas Hoult) tries to sell his uncle’s horse and cart in town, he accidentally trades a monk for a small pouch of magic beans.  Later that evening, one of the beans gets wet and a gigantic beanstalk immediately carries Jack’s house to the land of the giants – with the Princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) inside!  Determined to rescue her, a brave band of adventurers travel up the beanstalk, only to be betrayed by Roderick (Stanley Tucci) who allies with the giants to destroy the land of men. Now the giants are returning to the lands of men once more.

Review:

I was really excited to see this movie, but I must confess that I found the execution a little lacking.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but Jack the Giant Slayer is just missing something.  I loved the way that they reinvented the Jack Climbing the Beanstalkand the Beanstalk story.  They created a whole backstory and a unique way to defeat the giants that made the story more cohesive and interesting.  The movie begins with this new retelling and, while I did not care for the blocky, cheap-looking animation that they used to illustrate the story, it did allow the viewers to dive right into the story.  Strangely, the movie was lacking where I felt it would be the strongest.  All of the human characters were set up and ready to go and then they ascend the beanstalk – where nothing happens.  I hate to say it, but this middle section was kind of Escaping the Giantsboring.  Granted, giants are not the types of creatures that can sneak up on you, but I was expecting to see more magic, more giant objects, more giants!  Yes, there are some clever moments, like meeting the giants named Fee, Fie, Foe and Fum, but where was the magic harp?  Jack walks right past it and they show it on screen, but they don’t do anything with it.  In fact, aside from the giant-controlling crown and the beans themselves, there is no magic in the movie at all.  What a disappointment!

My favorite part of the movie was Ewan McGregor.  He is just as handsome as ever and it was worth paying admission just to get a look at his hair!  Not every Ewan McGregor as Elmontguy can pull off the upswept locks that Ewan McGregor was sporting in this movie, but I really liked it.  Ewan McGregor plays Elmont, captain of the king’s exclusive guard, and was a joy to watch.  Most of the humor in the movie comes from Elmont and it was Ewan McGregor’s dry wit and straight-faced delivery that kept the story feeling light-hearted for me.  Stanley Tucci also does a fine job as the villain, Roderick.  He provides plenty of small laughs and little witticisms that made me smile.  Granted, he was a bit of a fool and I have no idea how he managed to keep his plans to take over the kingdom a secret, but that is why it is dangerous to place so much power in a single man’s hands.  Ewen Bremner plays Wicke, Roderick’s dimwitted henchman and he was hilarious!  He has some great one-liners that were kind of mean and inappropriate, yet funny Jack the Giant Slayer - Ian McShaneat the same time!  I was absolutely delighted to see Ian McShane as King Brahwell.  I am accustomed to seeing Ian McShane in darker, more villainous roles so it was a lot of fun to see him mocking his role as king and the monarchy in general in this film.  Everything he wears is over the top, exaggerated and extremely shiny.  It doesn’t hurt that Ian McShane has a wonderful voice to listen to, as well!  When I heard the two-headed giant leader speaking in the General Fallon and His Gangmovie, I immediately thought – it is Davy Jones versus Blackbeard (in the Pirates of the Caribbean series), who is going to win?!  Bill Nighy plays the voice of General Fallon and he is simply wonderful!  Bill Nighy has such a distinctive voice.  Well-modulated, carefully enunciated with every word bit off like a projectile weapon, his voice sent shivers down my spine as soon as his character came on scene.  Loved it!

Now, unfortunately, the weakest characters in the movie are the leads.  Nicholas Hoult plays Jack, a farm boy who just happens to be in the right place at the right time to save the princess.  I confess that I did not recognize him, but I looked him up afterwards and can see that he is slowly gaining momentum in his career.  When you look at his pictures online, you can tell that Nicholas Hoult is a handsome guy, but he really doesn’t look too great in this movie.  I am not sure if it Nicholas Hoult as Jackwas the camera angles or the haircut, but he was not so attractive.  This was especially noticeable because Ewan McGregor looks great during the entire film and he is getting kicked around, dragged through mud and dirt and even baked in a pie so he should look just as bad as Nicholas Hoult, but he doesn’t.  I don’t know what it is about fantasy films, but they can turn an actors into a gorgeous creature or a normal/borderline-unattractive guy with little middle ground.  Nicholas Hoult may need to work on his camera angles or push a bit more for better styling in his next movie.  Nicholas Hoult was solid, if a bit uninspired with his acting.  Was he believable as a farm boy, yes.  Did I see any JACK THE GIANT SLAYERreason why a princess would fall in love with him?  Not really.  Eleanor Tomlinson plays Princess Isabelle.  She wants to have adventures and spend time amongst her subjects, but her father wants to keep her confined to the palace where she is safe.  Eleanor Tomlinson is pretty enough and sweet, but I didn’t get that great feeling of adventure and spunk that I was waiting for.  She still runs like a girl and somehow manages to stay clean throughout all of the time in the giant realm.  There wasn’t really a spark between these two young actors, but I think that their characters (as written in the story) would have made a good pairing.  I felt like the supporting cast overshadowed these two and carried the film, which was a shame as Jack and Isabelle are in almost every scene.

The CGI and action sequences in Jack the Giant Slayer are stunning.  There are some gorgeous vistas in the giant’s world and the scenes showing the beanstalks growing are simply stunning.  The giants felt real and moved organically.  I Jack-the-Giant-Slayer-imageloved the creative use of extra heads, bone ornaments, crazy hairstyles and variety in head shapes to make the giants more distinctive and individualistic.  The names were clever and the giants were a bit smarter than I gave them credit for.  What they didn’t have was a really interesting living space or any kind of magic.  The music enhanced the action and helped me jump higher in my chair during the startling moments. The music really suited the movie and matched the story and the action very well.  If you enjoy the soundtrack, as I did, stay and listen at the end while the credits roll, but don’t expect any bonuses at the end as there is nothing that plays after the credits finish.

I am worried that Jack the Giant Slayer will struggle to find the right audience, Shiny Shiny Armorwhich is a shame as it is a well-crafted, fun movie to go see.  However, it is a little bit too scary for children, who will be most familiar with the fairy tale and most likely to want to see it, and a bit too uncool for teens to go see because it is a fairy tale.  I found it to be an attractive blend of action, humor and a wonderful fantasy backdrop and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy films, Ewan McGregor or CGI done well.

Content:

This movie contains scenes of death and violence.  The giants eat some humans and you hear the crunching sounds and the body going up to their mouths, but they do not show the actual bite taking place or the inevitable blood gushing that would follow (there is no blood shown, which was really nice!).  Humans are stabbed and fall to their deaths.  Both humans and giants fall off the beanstalk and their crumpled bodies are shown on the ground.  There is a big fight sequence between the giants and the humans at the end and both sides take a lot of damage.  Giants are burned, shot with arrows and stabbed.  Humans are crushed, burned, and thrown to their deaths.  There are some suspenseful scenes that will make you jump as you wait for the action to take place.  There are references towards drunkenness, the plague and marrying a much older man.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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Jake and the Never Land Pirates: Peter Pan Returns! (2012) Movie Review

Jake & the Never Land Pirates: Peter Pan Returns! (2012)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: Jake and the Never Land Pirates
Starring: David Arquette, Colin Ford, Jonathan Morgan Heit, Loren Hoskins, Madison Pettis
Director: Kelly Ward, Howy Parkins, Mickey Corcoran
Release Date: 13 February 2012
Language: English
Length: 40 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Peter Pan has returned to Neverland because he needs help – his shadow is missing!  Jake and his friends are ready to help Peter search everywhere, but Captain Hook finds Peter’s shadow first!  Without his shadow, Peter Pan is not happy enough to fly and, if he can’t fly, he can’t catch Captain Hook!  Can Jake and his crew get Peter’s shadow back?

Review:

This is such a charming special that I cannot resist watching it every time it Jake, Peter Pan and the Crewcomes on TV.  I confess that I was a bit disappointed that the Jake and the Never Land Pirates series was way too young for me to enjoy watching, but this particular feature-length episode is an exception.  The regular episodes are geared towards preschool age children (not that this would keep me from watching it if it was clever instead of just cute) and, while this “movie-length” version is also meant for the younger set, the music and details definitely enhance the show enough for older viewers to enjoy it, too.

My favorite part about this show is the music.  Most of the feature-length specials that are created out of popular TV shows are just a longer episode, but this one is something truly special. Not only is Peter Pan (voice by Adam Wylie) Peter is Too Sad to Flyback as a guest-star for this episode, but the show is packed with wonderful music!  “Here We Go, Yo Ho” will definitely play in your mind long after the movie ends, as it should, because it is wonderful!  Peter Pan sings a lovely lament about not being able to fly any more and there are several other songs included, as well. If you wait until the end of the movie, you can see two live-action pirate guys (Loren Hoskins and Kevin Hendrickson) who are part of Captain Hook’s (voice by Corey Burton ) crew singing another new song.  These two play dimwitted pirates to perfection and are a lot of fun to watch!

I also enjoyed the details that the animators included as Peter Pan, Jake (voice by Colin Ford ) and his crew traveled around Never Land.  The Tiki Trees all have different faces that change expression as you run by, the Cave of Shadows 126795_0042is delightfully spooky and the final race with pirate ships will have your little one cheering!  I believe that this series is created using CGI, but the show has a hand-drawn look, as well, which I find particularly attractive.  Your children will also be learning from Peter Pan as the episode plays.  While I found it ironic that Peter is cautioning Jake and his crew to look before they leap and to plan carefully before they take action, I guess he is the oldest person on the island!  This special features a new, more mature Peter and he helps Jake and the gang figure out how to outwit Captain Hook and eventually return Peter’s shadow to them.

If you have a little one at home, they will surely delight in watching this movie. It only runs about 40 minutes long so I am really using the term “movie” loosely, but for a younger viewer, this is the perfect length.  Packed with music, silly pirate antics and lots of adventure, this fast-paced feature will be sure to please your little pirate or princess at home!

Content:

This movie contains a mildly scary scene in a shadowy cave where things are pretty dark, but it really isn’t scary.  Recommended for ages 18 months and up.

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Cinderella II: Dreams Come True (2002) Movie Review

Cinderella II: Dreams Come True (2002)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: Cinderella #2
Starring: Jennifer Hale, Tress MacNeille, Rob Paulsen, Corey Burton, Susanne Blakeslee
Director: John Kafka
Release Date: 26 February 2002
Language: English
Length: 73 minutes
Movie Rating: G
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

When Jaq and Gus-Gus miss the Fairy Godmother telling the Cinderella story, the mice suggest making a book with more stories about Cinderella in it that they can give to her as a gift.

Review:

“Cinderella’s First Day in the Castle” – The King (voice by Andre Stojka) assigns Prudence (voice by Holland Taylor ) to teach Cinderella (voice by Jennifer Hale) all about being a proper princess and how to prepare a royal banquet. cinderella 2 dreams come true cinderella in dress she hates Prudence begins teaching Cinderella the basics: a princess never prepares her own food, a princess must be attired like royalty at all times, a person’s title dictates where they will sit at the table, commoners are never allowed through the royal gate into the palace, and so many other rules that Cinderella is convinced she is a complete failure as a princess!  When Cinderella realizes that she is failing because she is trying to be something – and someone – she is not, she changes life in the palace for everyone!

This is a great mini-episode about being happy with who you are.  Rather than try to become one of the snobby nobility, Cinderella decides to remain the servant maid that the prince fell in love with.  Every young princess needs a boost in self-esteem and this cartoon may help give your little girl just that thing!  I am not saying to go crazy and be weird and wild, but it is a good Cinderella II Mice Drawing Picturesreminder to all of us that people can tell when you are pretending to be something you are not.  When you are comfortable with who you are, it is easier to make and keep friends and to find a place where you belong.  Take the time to think about what you are doing and why – do you enjoy dancing or fishing or sculpting?  Don’t be afraid to enjoy your favorite activity and to find others who do, too!  Life is too short to spend all of your time trying to make everyone else happy, start with yourself and, because you are happy, others around you will be happier, too.  Just look at Prudence in this cartoon.  She starts off all uptight and unhappy, rigid and unbending and completely unwilling to try something new.  By the end, she is a completely new person!

“Jaq’s Unusual Wish” – Jaq (voice by Rob Paulsen) wants so badly to be helpful Jaqs Unusual Wishto Cinderella, like he used to before she was a princess.  But with so many other people around to help her, what can one little mouse do?  Frustrated with his size, Jaq wishes to be big – and human!  When Fairy Godmother (voice by Russi Taylor) arrives to grant his wish, Jaq is sure that everything will be better now that he is bigger.  But Jaq quickly learns that being human isn’t as great as he thought it would be.  When a chance to really help pops up at the spring festival, will Jaq choose to remain human or to go back to being a mouse?

This episode brings a whole new meaning to the “Are you a man or a mouse?” question!  It is so easy to believe that things would be better if we could just Cinderella and Her Mice Friendschange one part of our lives, but that is not necessarily true.  Happiness can be a choice just like anything else.  Some of the poorest, ugliest, neediest families I know seem to be so much happier than I am.  Money doesn’t buy happiness, neither do good looks or fame.  Also, be aware that your size does not limit your helpfulness.  There is so much that everyone can do to help out – you just have to take the time to figure out how.  This is a good lesson for adults to learn as well.  We all need to make sure that we help others feel needed and valued.  It may be faster and easier to complete a task by ourselves, but others will never learn to do it properly if we don’t take the time to let them help us!

“Anastasia Falls in Love” – It’s love at first sight when Anastasia (the red-headed stepsister of Cinderella – voice by Tress MacNeille) meets the baker in town.  But with a mother like Lady Tremaine (voice by Susanne Blakeslee), Anastasia Anastasia and the Bakersurely won’t have a chance to develop the romance – not without a little help, that is!  When Cinderella’s first attempt to get these two lovebirds together turns into a horrible mess, she has to try to convince Anastasia to give the baker a chance after she gets a makeover, of course!  There is also another romance brewing in the castle: Lucifer (Lady Tremaine’s black cat) and Pom-Pom (the spoiled white cat in the castle).  Will Anastasia come to understand that looks aren’t everything when it comes to love?

This portion of the cartoon teaches us that looks are not the only thing that matter.  Sure, it is easy to be attracted to the outside appearance at first, but if there is no inner beauty to match it, the relationship will usually fall apart.  As women, we are incredibly hard on ourselves and always think that we could be Lucifer & Pom-Pomthinner, more stylish, have better skin, more expensive clothes, a better hairstyle, etc.  While most of us will not be seen as Hollywood’s version of beautiful, those who know us will think we are beautiful because they love us and like us for who we are.  A lovely smile always makes you appear as more attractive than you are.  Kind words make people want to be your friend.  I believe that we become more and more attractive to people as they get to know us – or less and less attractive if we are mean and self-centered. Focus on polishing your inner beauty and the outer beauty will follow.

This is a charming little trio of tales to help boost self-esteem in young girls.  While the animation is not up to par with the original Cinderella movie, it is adequate, if a bit lacking in detail.  The colors are still bright, cheerful and there is plenty of action to keep younger viewers’ interest.  I found myself smiling through this DVD.  Even though it is geared towards a younger audience, there is Cinderella IIplenty to smile and laugh about as Cinderella’s animals friends keep everyone around them on their toes!  The music and songs are not particularly memorable (you won’t go around the house singing them), but they are solid and fit the storyline.  I think the best song is the one that is played while the credits are rolling called “Put It Together.” It is a more upbeat, contemporary song and I found it quite catchy.  There are little to no bonus features on this DVD.  There are a lot of trailers, a music video of one of the songs (“Put It Together”) and a brief feature about the orchestral music featured in the movie.   If your little princess is a fan of Cinderella, this is a DVD that she will enjoy. While this is not one of the strongest direct-to-DVD sequels that Disney has released over the years, young princess fans will not notice the difference.  I found it to be a decent rental, but not something I would be interested in purchasing or watching multiple times.

Content:

This DVD is appropriate for viewers of all ages.  Recommended for ages 3 and up.

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Belle’s Magical World (1998) Movie Review

Belle’s Magical World (1998)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: Beauty and the Beast #3
Starring: Robby Benson, Paige O’Hara, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Anne Rogers
Director: Cullen Blaine, Dale Case, Daniel de la Vega, Barbara Dourmashkin, Bob Kline, Burt Medall, Mitch Rochon
Release Date: 17 February 1998
Language: English
Length: 92 minutes
Movie Rating: G
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb83_thumb1_thumb[4]

Synopsis:

Did you ever wonder what happened while Beauty was living in the Beast’s castle before they fell in love?  What kind of adventures did the animated objects in the Castle have with Belle and the Beast?  Join your favorite Beauty and the Beast characters including Belle, the Beast, Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, Chip and a whole cast of brand new characters on four special adventures!  Laugh and learn with friends old and new in Belle’s Magical World .

Review:

This is a direct-to-DVD “sequel” that Disney released a few years ago so much expectations were very low.  Imagine my surprise when I found some cute, funny adventures set in the Beast’s Castle!  There are four stories on this DVD including:

“The Perfect Word” – The Beast (voice by Robby Benson) is trying hard to win Perfect WordBelle’s (voice by Paige O’Har) heart so he invites her to a lovely dinner.  Everything is going well until the Beast puts his comfort above everyone else’s and he and Belle have a huge argument.  Neither one wants to be the first to apologize and both refuse to speak to the other.  Webster, a dictionary (voice by Jim Cummings), Crane, a quill (voice by Jeff Bennett), and friends create a letter for the Beast, but the plan backfires when the Beast discovers the forgery!  This episode will teach children about forgiveness and humility.

“Fifi’s Folly” – Fifi, a feather duster (voice by Kimmy Robertson), is certain that Lumiere, a candlestick (voice by Jerry Orbach), has something special planned Fifi's Follyfor the fifth anniversary of their first date, but she has no idea that Lumiere has completely forgotten!  Belle tries to help Lumiere come up with the perfect experience for the two lovers, but the plan backfires when Fifi believes that Belle is trying to steal her beloved Lumiere away and sabotages all of the plans!  This episode will teach children that things are not always what they seem.

“Mrs. Potts’ Party” – Mrs. Potts, a tea pot (voice by Anne Rogers), isn’t feeling like herself due to the winter weather – she even forgets to put tea in the hot Mrs. Potts's Partywater!  To cheer her up, Belle decides to throw Mrs. Potts a surprise party and enlists the help of everyone to help.  Unfortunately, no one can agree as to what Mrs. Potts’ favorites are  – angel food cake or devil’s food cake, a French composition or an original musical piece composed by Cogsworth, a clock (voice by David Ogden Stiers), lilies or roses?  This cartoon teaches children that it is important to learn how to compromise and to get along with others – especially when you are doing something fun like planning a party!

“Broken Wing” – The Beast is furious when Belle forgets a lunch date with him to tend to an injured bird.  First, the Beast banishes the bird, but then he hears the Broken Wingbird’s beautiful song and decides to keep him in a cage.  Now the bird no longer sings, despite all of the Beast’s coaxing.  Meanwhile, Cogsworth is having a difficult time getting his fellow servants to respect his commands and to obey him.  Can the Beast and Cogsworth learn that it is not what you ask, but how you ask that matters?  This episode will teach children to ask nicely for things and to respect others.

After watching these episodes, I grew to love Cogsworth and Lumiere even more than I did from the original Beauty and the Beast movie!  They are considered secondary characters in the original movie, but they really steal the spotlight in “Fifi’s Folly” (Lumiere) and “Broken Wing” (Cogsworth)!  Lumiere is all about having fun and adding romance to every situation.  Cogsworth is organized, punctual and pretty rigid in his world view.  When you pair these two together, Lumiere & Cogsworthsparks really fly as they don’t see eye-to-eye on anything!  They argue pretty spectacularly in “Mrs. Potts’ Party,” making it my favorite episode on the DVD.  One of my favorite lines comes from Cogsworth in response to Lumiere’s claim that he has real talent.  Cogsworth immediately replies “Keep it, I would want to take what little you have.”  There are a lot of little comments and statements made in the cartoons that I felt were geared solely towards older viewers, which I greatly appreciated.  The vocal talent is spot on in this animated film and all of the actors are perfectly chosen and wonderful in their roles. I found myself smiling and laughing along with the antics of these animated objects and really enjoyed meeting new characters in each cartoon.

As much as I enjoyed this DVD, I will warn you that the quality of the animation and song writing is not up to par with the theatrical releases that Disney puts out.  The animation is more blocky and does not have any of the subtle shading that I am accustomed to seeing in the theatres.  Items are blocked with solid colors and are drawn much more simply.  This did not detract from the animated objects or the Beast, oddly enough, but Belle sometimes looks weird.  Her facial Beastexpressions and movements looked strange at times and it was kind of off-putting at first.  You get used to it, but she is the only human in the movie and so it is kind of obvious that the animation was more cheaply done.  The other thing that I did not enjoy was the original songs on the DVD.  I enjoyed the instrumental music that played during the stories, but I did not like the songs that Belle sings in between the different cartoons.  The mini-episodes are already a little too preachy for adults as they try to express some good behavioral concepts for younger viewers and the music added to it was just too much.  The songs are really wordy and all about conveying a certain lesson and message and I just did not enjoy them.

I found myself enjoying this DVD so much more than I thought I would and definitely need to rethink my opinion on the direct-to-DVD releases that Disney Belle's Magical World Beauty & the Beasthas been putting out over the years.  While this one cannot stand up to the original Beauty and the Beast in terms of quality and longevity, there is a lot to enjoy in this “sequel” (even though it takes place in the middle of the Beauty and the Beast story, they call it a sequel).  If you are a Disney fan and/or have some children at home who enjoy Beauty and the Beast, Belle’s Magical World is a definite purchase to add to your viewing rotation.

Content:

There are some verbal arguments in the movie and the Beast roars and gets kind of loud a few times, but there is nothing too scary.  Recommended for viewers of all ages.

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Gnomeo and Juliet (2011) Movie Review

Gnomeo & Juliet

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, Jason Statham
Director: Kelly Asbury
Release Date: 11 February 2011
Language: English
Length: 84 minutes
Movie Rating: PG
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb86_thumb1_thumb[4]

Synopsis:

“This animated family comedy transports Shakespeare’s classic tale of forbidden romance between two star-crossed lovers from warring families to the unlikely and irreverent world of garden gnomes.” — Netflix.com

Review:

I resisted seeing this movie as I do not enjoy the story of Romeo and Juliet.  Call me a hopeless romantic, but I cannot bear to watch a story over and over where I know the lovers have no chance at happiness.  I Gnomeo & Juliet Meetwas not at all sure if the Disney writers would dare to change the story so that the two young lovers have a happy ending or if they would stay true to the original.  I ended up watching it with my nieces and nephews and completely falling in love with the movie!  I am thrilled to report that the ending, while schmaltzy and over the top, is a happily-ever-after.  Gnomeo and Juliet’s love unites their families and ends the feud between them, which was a wonderful finale.  I hope that this doesn’t ruin the movie for you!  If there is any consolation, there are a lot of moments where you think their love is doomed and you completely give up on Gnomeo and Juliet’s happiness, which made the ending that much more gratifying!

Gnomeo & Juliet completely reimagines Shakespeare’s original story and replaces everyone with gnomes and other lawn decorations.  I loved seeing the different gnomes and their outfits, decorations and props.  Juliet’s pedestal is a completely over-the-top water feature Gang of Gnomescomplete with “Tiki-tiki-tiki Room” music.  A red gnome is wearing a super revealing bathing suit with a thong back.  A Dolly Parton cowgirl gnome starts off the lawn mower races.  A fisherman delights in catching the ceramic fish attached to the end of his line over and over again.  The gnomes are complemented by other lawn ornaments such as fawns, mushrooms, and bunnies.  They are able to interact with toys inside the houses, as well, but they are outdoor features so they don’t have much opportunities.  One of my favorite characters was a heartbroken flamingo who was separated from the love his life and was living Gnomeo & Juliet with Flamingo Friendalone.  He is completely out of touch with what is going on around him, but is so loveable that you cannot help but smile when he comes on screen.  I also loved watching the gnomes “freeze” when people are around.  My favorite moments was when a jogger turns the corner and sees an alleyway literally packed with gnomes and it stops her in her tracks.  Kind of creepy when you think about it – but so funny to watch!

Disney spared no expense on the vocal talents in this film.  All of the main characters are voiced by Hollywood A-listers and this elevates the movie up above many other animated feature films.  A talented Elton John as a Gnomeanimator can make you believe that the character he has created is real, but when you combine top-notch animation (and lets face it Disney is still the best out there!) with a talented actor or actress performing the vocals, you create something special and memorable.  In addition to great vocals, there is some perfectly placed music in the movie. All of the music is performed courtesy of Elton John and I thought the songs were well-chosen and enhanced the storyline.  I absolutely fell in love with “Hello, Hello” and thought it was the perfect accompaniment to the first meeting between Gnomeo and Juliet.

While it may seem silly to see garden gnomes fighting over their lawns and prolonging a feud that has been around for so long that no one ever remembers what is about anymore, it somehow is not.  Children Gnomeo & Juliet Spy Modewatching this movie may laugh at the gnomes cutting down a beloved tree or painting a fountain in the other garden, but the rivalry comes through loud and clear and it is very easy to picture this happening between real-life families and friends.  Though Gnomeo & Juliet can be viewed as pure fluffy entertainment, there are still some solid lessons to be learned from the movie.  Gnomeo & Juliet has a little something for everyone and viewers of all ages will enjoy watching it together.  This movie is sure to please those looking for family friendly entertainment for a variety of viewers.

Content:

This movie contains some cartoon violence.  There are some fights between the gnomes.  Some of the gnomes end up “dead” (smashed or cracked so they cannot be fixed).  The gnomes have some verbal arguments and fight with others based on the color of their hats.  Recommended for viewers ages 3 and up.

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The Snake King/SnakeMan (2005) Movie Review

The Snake King (a.k.a. SnakeMan) (2005)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Stephen Baldwin, Jayne Heitmeyer, Larry Day, Gary Hudson, Ross McCall
Director: Allan A. Goldstein
Release Date: 9 April 2005
Language: English
Length: 96 minutes
Movie Rating: R
View Format: TV
My Rating: image_thumb32_thumb4_thumb

Synopsis:

After finding a 300-year old human body in the Amazon, a pharmaceutical company sends a team of scientists to discover the secret of eternal life.  The scientists quickly find themselves in over their heads as they battle the jungle, extreme weather, and a multi-headed snake that seems determined to defend its territory.  Can they uncover the secret to eternal life or will they only find death?

Review:

This movie was cheesy, low-grade horror schlock, but it was still fun to watch in parts.  I actually enjoyed the storyline, I just didn’t particularly enjoy the execution.  It had a bit of an Indiana Jones/archaeological dig vibe that drew me in to watch it in the first place.  It has a dense tropical setting and untold artifacts waiting to be discovered.  I believe that there are still people, animals and plants Snake King Posterthat have yet to be encountered in some of the dense Amazon jungles so I was hoping for a bit more accuracy in what a tribe would truly be like if they were just barely encountering some present-day human contact.  If that is the kind of movie that you are looking for, this is not the one for you.  The tribe who worships the Naga (the multi-headed snake) seems pretty advanced for a primitive tribe.  They are able to take out soldiers wielding automatic weapons with spears and arrows and do not flinch at the sight of strangers.  While they are fascinated with blond hair and some medicine that the scientists have, the tribe seemed awfully sanguine about Snake King Picstrangers in their midst.  What I found the most unbelievable was the fact that the chief of the tribe speaks English.  Now, I understand that he is over 200 years old, but did he keep someone for a while to learn the language instead of sacrificing them to the snake?  Did he leave his tribe and live somewhere else for a while?  And what does the tribe do to feed the snake when they don’t have random strangers wandering around to fill its belly?

The characters were pretty wooden in this film and they were very one-dimensional. The arguments or “discussions” where tempers got a little heated were the least believable parts of the film.  I was not personally invested in any snakeman-1-1of the characters and felt that they made a lot of stupid mistakes.  Granted, I have never been in a life-and-death situation where I am being hunted down by a giant snake, but I would hope that we would band together to stay alive rather than split up to be easily hunted down and slaughtered.  I was pretty sure that I knew how the movie was going to end about 30 minutes in as the villain revealed his true colors very early on and the heroes were pulling together emotionally.  The ending was very anticlimactic because of this and it just kind of faded away instead of having some kind of resonance or impact.  What it boils down to is the old noble savage versus corporate greed storyline.  Should the greedy corporation steal the secrets of eternal life from a small, unknown tribe in the Amazon so they can sell them to the highest bidder or does the brave scientist and her new boyfriend fight back and defend the innocent villagers?  Ironically, this movie may have been a bit more interesting if the corporation won…

The worst part of the film, unfortunately, was the special effects.  The movie begins with the snake eating people and this seems to happen every 5 – 15 minutes throughout the film.  The snake bites people in half, picks people up and has them struggling in its jaws, pulls people apart with its heads, bites, scratches and just mauls people throughout the whole film.  This is difficult to show in a realistic, believable way.   The snake slithered and had fangs, but it bit people, chewed and swallowed them.  Real snakes just swallow their food whole and I Snake King attackthink that this would have been a better option.  They could have spent their money on making the snake look good rather than trying to make people look like they were dying.  The horrific acting of the dying people did not help matters any.  There is one scene where the snake picks up two people and is waving them around in the air while it waits to crunch them down and the victims looked like they were lying on their backs on the floor while wiggling their extremities.  Even though it was futile to try to escape the snake as it was huge, multi-headed and deadly, I think that I would be struggling a bit more vigorously as I was being eaten.

This is such a bad movie that it is fun to watch.  It is the perfect film for gathering a bunch of friends together so that you can make fun of the bad acting, the poor-quality of the special effects and point out the inconsistencies in the tribal culture.  Is it worth watching?  Probably not.  Did I have fun anyway.  You betcha!

Content:

This movie contains fighting (verbal and physical), lots of blood, death & dying.  People are eaten by snakes, shot, stabbed with spears, and hung from trees.  Not everyone dies quickly and/or painlessly so there is screaming, struggling and blood gushers.  Recommended for ages 16 and up.

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Edge of the Garden (2011) Movie Review

Edge of the Garden (2011)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Rob Estes, Sarah Manninen, David Lewis, David Richmond-Peck, Reg Tupper
Director: Michael Scott
Series: a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation
Release Date: 14 May 2011
Language: English
Length: 95 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: 3/5 stars

Synopsis:

Brian (Rob Estes) moves to Maine to manage a new company acquisition and to get away from his failed engagement.  A workaholic, Brian missed his engagement party while working on a company project, leading his fiancée to call the whole thing off.  Now, he is on a different coast with a different group of people and can start over.  He begins by purchasing a lovely cottage with some grounds, which is not at all his usual style.  Then he encounters a mysterious woman in his garden, a woman who claims that Brian is the intruder and that this is her home!  Brian soon realizes that he is seeing the ghost of Nora Hargrave (Sarah Manninen), who lived in his home in the 1960s.  The two become close and find a way to communicate across the ages so Brian is horrified when he discovers that Nora was killed in a house fire.  Can Brian save Nora or will history continue uninterrupted?

Review:

I am not sure what I was expecting when watched this movie, but a time-travel romance a la Somewhere in Time was not it.  Firstly, I don’t think that any time-travel romance has succeeded quite the way that Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour did in Somewhere in Time.  I actually cannot stand to watch that film very often as I always cry when I see it.  It is a timeless loop that the two characters cannot seem to escape.  This movie is very similar to that one, but it differs dramatically in some respects.  Firstly, neither Brian nor Nora remember each other when they meet in the backyard for the first time.  Instead, there is more of an overlap in time centered around the cottage where both Brian and Nora are living and hearing each other at the same time.  Brian has flowers in his home because Nora cuts fresh flowers every morning.  They can leave notes for each other in the house and find them in their own times, leading Brian to help Nora multiple times in the past.  Another difference is that Nora is unhappily married and is struggling with her husband, Thomas (David Lewis), a controlling, abusive lawyer.  It also takes place in a much more updated time with Brian living in the 2010s and Nora living in the 1960s.  Nora does not wear extreme fashions or hairstyles of the time and so she has a timeless, classic look that would translate to many places today.  I kind of missed the more dramatic, historical feel that other time-travel romances have, but this one was sweet and well presented so I got used to it.

I was a bit disappointed with the “romance” in this movie.  Brian (Rob Estes) and Nora (Sarah Manninen) are supposedly falling in love, but I never really got that vibe from them.  Brian edge of the gardenseemed like a fresh, modern man and Nora was so dated in her views and opinions.  I did like that was trying to stay true to her marriage vows and not leave her husband, but I felt like there was so much more love between Nora and her handyman, Frank (David Richmond-Peck), who lived in the same time that I thought the romance was between those two until the end of the movie!  So, I wouldn’t say that this is a great romance, more like a great friendship.  I was relieved to see that they handled this plot thread in an acceptable, rather predictable way at the end of the movie.  There is a magic locket that threads through the story.  Legend says that you will meet and marry your true love while you wear it and it is has worked for generations of women in Nora’s family.  I would venture to say that it did not quite work in Nora’s case, but I guess she did marry a handsome, wealthy man so maybe that was all she was really looking for?  I am not sure, but the locket was a nice touch that brought Brian and Nora together in the first place.

The acting is fine in this made-for-TV movie.  I did not feel like any performances were a true standout, but everyone performed admirably.  Most of the characters seemed relatively flat and one-note, but I am not sure if that is due to the way they were written or to the performances.  Rob Estes plays Brian, a workaholic who suddenly changes and slows his life Rob Estes (“Melrose Place”) is Brian Connor, a lonely businessman who temporarily relocates to Maine after a bad breakup.  He moves into a rundown cottage, where he encounters the beautiful Nora (Sarah Manninen, “The Line”), who is actually a spirit of a woman who lived in the house fifty years prior.  As they form a friendship, they begin to help each other in ways they never knew possible, and change both their futures forever.  Kelly Monaco (“General Hospital”) also stars in EDGE OF THE GARDEN, a Hallmark Channel Original Movie World Premiere, Saturday, May 14 @ 9 p.m. ET/PT, 8C.down when he meets Nora’s ghost in his yard.  Sarah Manninen plays Nora as a traditional 1960s housewife who cannot see any other avenue in life for herself other than keeping the house clean, the garden looking lovely and waiting on her husband.  David Lewis as Thomas Hargrave is the villain of the movie and he is a jealous, violent man without any attraction or softness about him.  David Richmond-Peck plays Frank, the loyal handyman who has a crush on Nora and is a soft teddy bear who brings Nora soup when she is sick and takes her to the doctor.  If they had given these characters some more depth and dimension, I feel that they would have been more interesting and dynamic if the characters were given more dimension.  This is a relatively small cast we are working with here and it would have been nice to connect with them and feel more while watching this movie.

There were some beautiful scenes in this movie and I felt that the cinematography was well done and Nora’s garden looked gorgeous.  I would have loved to see more flowers and to get some really vivid, almost fantastical colors as most of the scenes in Nora’s garden took place when Brian was seeing her ghost in his time.  This would have added a slightly more unearthly, paranormal element to this film to keep it fresh and unique.  The pacing is nice and steady and there are a few exciting moments, but, for the most part, this is a nice movie selection to watch with a mother or a grandmother.  The movie looks new enough that younger viewers will not mind it and Rob Estes is not hard on the eyes either!  The ending of the movie is a little cheesy and a lot predictable, but was emotionally rewarding at the same time so don’t worry about having a tearjerker ending here!

As with all of Hallmark’s presentations, this is a touching, heartfelt movie that will be enjoyed by multiple generations of women.  I think that they missed the mark a bit on this particular film as I usually enjoy these made-for-TV movies more, but it was still an enjoyable few hours.  It is not yet available on DVD so you will have to check and see when it is going to be on TV again.  Worth watching on a quiet night in with that special someone in your life.

Content:

This movie contains some scenes of physical and verbal abuse between spouses.  The scenes are fairly subtle and mainly consist of arm-grabbing, shaking and belittling comments, but they are present.  There is kind of a love quadrangle in the movie and the woman in the quadrangle is married so that may be a bit distasteful for some.  There are scenes of drinking and attempted murder involving a rifle.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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