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Jill's Blogs

Vampire Academy

The Vampire Academy series of novels by Richelle Mead concerns the adventures of two teenagers, Rose and Lissa, who share a psychic bond following their involvement in a near-fatal car crash. Lissa is a princess of the moroi (royal, magic-wielding vampires) and Rose is her dhampir protector (a half-human, half-moroi) who lives to protect her friend. This movie covers the first novel in the series and, frankly, it's a mess. There is too much world-building in the novels to be delivered in a two hour film, even when the snarky dialogue and lengthy exposition are delivered at breakneck speed. If you are longing for a mash-up of the Harry Potter series and Twilight that emphasizes lame special effects and the perils of a high school full of blood-sucking mean girls, this movie is for you. My advice is, stick to the books.Overall Rating: C-
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Orphan Black

In the opening scene of Orphan Black, the main character, Sarah, watches in shock as a woman who could be her twin calmly sets down her coat, purse and shoes before walking into the path of an oncoming train. Sarah attempts to cash in by taking the woman's purse and identity and quickly falls down the rabbit hole into the world of human cloning as the series explores the themes of sisterhood, nature versus nurture, individuality, scientific experimentation and religious extremism. The Clone Club consists of nine members (so far) all played by the incredible Tatiana Maslany as distinctly different women ranging from an uptight soccer mom, to a homicide detective, to a geeky scientist, to a psychotic killer. Each week this action-packed series takes the viewer on a thrilling ride as Sarah tries to answer the following questions: who created the clones, who is killing them off one by one and who can she trust to help her? The second season of Orphan Black airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on BBC America. Welcome to the trip.Overall Rating: A
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Inside Llewyn Davis

The newest movie from the Coen brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis, depicts the life of a struggling folk singer on the streets of Greenwich Village in the winter of 1961. Llewyn Davis, played by the multi-talented Oscar Isaac, spends a week looking for a gig, a couch to crash on and his friend's orange tomcat with varying degrees of success. The movie brilliantly depicts a place and a time before Bob Dylan – who is briefly glimpsed near the end – and other artists who turned folk music into a commercially successful art form in America. The outstanding supporting cast includes Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan and John Goodman as just a few of the people Llewyn manages to alienate in his quest to remain true to his artistic principles. One of his friends refers to Llewyn as “King Midas' idiot brother” because everything Llewyn touches turns to excrement instead of gold. The film itself follows the form of a folk song: the viewer experiences various “verses” and a repeated “chorus” scene at the beginning and end of the film, but when the chorus comes around the second time, the audience has gotten to know the character well enough to understand how the extremely talented Llewyn has brought this trouble down on his own head.Overall Rating: A-
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Inspector Endeavour Morse, based on the character in Colin Dexter’s mystery book series, was played for many years by John Thaw in the popular British series, Inspector Morse. Now the character is reimagined as a brash young Constable Morse played by Shaun Evans in the new series, Endeavour. In the opening scene of the pilot, set in 1965, Constable Morse is writing his letter of resignation when he is called in with other officers to investigate a missing persons case in the city of Oxford, where he was once a student at the university. Many of Morse’s memorable character traits are already present in the young man- he is almost always the smartest man in the room, which does not endear him to his fellow officers, and his love of crossword puzzles and opera music also play a part in his investigations. This series is smartly plotted and well-acted and even those who were not fans of the original series will find themselves hooked, while fans of the original Inspector Morse will enjoy seeing the young man solve his first case, drink his first ale, and sit in his first Jaguar. Grade: A-
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Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive is the newest film from director Jim Jarmusch starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as a vampire couple named Adam and Eve that has spent centuries together. Not a lot happens in this movie: Adam creates moody rock music on his antique guitars while Eve speed reads in multiple languages and the couple goes for long moonlight drives while discussing scientific theories and the damage that humans aka “zombies” have done to the planet. A brief visit from Eve’s bratty younger sister, Ava, forces the couple to take some action, but for the most part this film is a languorous look at a long-term relationship between two beautiful creatures. This film may favor style over substance, but that style is beautifully atmospheric and brilliantly acted.Overall Rating: B
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True Detective - TV Series

True Detective is the story of the partnership of two Louisiana State detectives named Marty Hart and Rust Cohle, played brilliantly by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. The story ranges between 1995, when the newly partnered detectives begin to investigate a ritualistic and gruesome murder, and 2012 when the two are being questioned separately by two officers who are investigating a new crime with ties to the old case. Together the writer and director of this HBO series create a haunting story shot in a surrealistic Louisiana landscape with a leisurely pace that examines not only the crimes in question but the evolving relationship between the two main characters. The show won several Emmy awards, and I cannot express how perfect the casting, directing, and cinematography are in this series. My one complaint is the fact that, as in most HBO and pay-cable series, there is too much use of gratuitous female nudity and a lack of strong female characters to balance the two male leads.Overall Rating: B+
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747 by Lady Antebellum

On 747, the fifth album by country group Lady Antebellum, the trio debuts a different sound with bigger arrangements and more electric guitar-driven songs than on their earlier albums. Overall the sound leans more toward the pop/adult contemporary vibe of some of the band’s biggest crossover hits (like "Need You Now" and "Downtown") with new singles like "Bartender", "Freestyle", and "Just a Girl". For me, the best tracks on the album are the ones that show off the tight harmonies between Hillary, Dave, and Charles including "Down South", "Long Stretch of Love", "Lie with Me", and the title track. Loyal fans will enjoy this album even if country purists complain about the lack of a more traditional country sound, but Lady A is by no means the only country act that is focusing more on crossover hits these days. The band is clearly stretching its wings and experimenting with new ideas on this album, and I think it will be a successful new direction for them.Grade B+The deluxe edition of this CD, including three extra songs, is also available on Hoopla, the library’s online streaming service for music, audiobooks, and movies.
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Cuban Fury

Cuban Fury is the story of Bruce Garrett, a mild-mannered engineer who was once a salsa-dancing child prodigy until a run-in with a group of bullies convinced him to burn his dancing shoes. When Bruce discovers the fact that his beautiful new boss, Julia, loves salsa dancing, he decides to slip on his dancing heels and sequined shirts once again in an effort to win her affections and defeat his slimy co-worker who has also set his sights on Julia. Some of the highlights of this film are the actors involved – Nick Frost, Chris O’Dowd, and Kayvan Novak are real standouts, while Rashida Jones, Ian McShane, and Olivia Colman are wonderful but sadly under-utilized. The dance sequences are flashy and fun and the dance-off between Bruce and his rival, played by O’Dowd, which takes place in the office parking garage is downright hilarious. This is a feel-good story about an overweight underdog who finds his “corazon” or heart, gets the girl, and sets the dance floor on fire in the process.Overall Rating: B
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The Drop

The Drop is the story of Marv - a middle-aged, wannabe mobster - and his cousin Bob who works for him at a Brooklyn neighborhood bar that serves as a front or “drop” site for the Chechen mob. A series of seemingly random events including a late night robbery at the bar and the rescue of an abused puppy bring the two men some unwanted attention from Chechen mobsters and the puppy’s former owner turned stalker. Dennis Lehane, who wrote the screenplay based on his short story, Animal Rescue, clearly knows how to slowly ratchet up the simmering tension until a shocking revelation builds to an explosive climax. Fans of the late James Gandolfini will not want to miss his excellent final performance as Marv. The real star of the film, however, is Tom Hardy who brilliantly brings the quietly observant Bob to life and slowly reveals the character’s hidden depths. Overall Rating: B+
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Into the Woods

This film version of the Tony Award-winning musical, Into the Woods, reimagines the work of the talented Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine (who was born in Mansfield) in a slightly more Disney fashion. The story follows a childless baker and his wife who cross paths with several classic fairytale characters – Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack - as they try to undo the curse laid upon them by the evil Witch next door. Every character in the story longs for and receives a particular “happily ever after”, but the main theme of the story is to be careful what you wish for. Highlights of the film are the performances by the leads including Meryl Streep as the Witch, James Corden and Emily Blunt as the Baker and his wife, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, and a surprisingly hilarious Chris Pine as her Prince who claims he was “raised to be charming, not sincere.” The gorgeous costumes and brilliant set designs compliment the terrific cast whose vocal skills are well up to the task of Sondheim’s tricky score. Overall Rating: A-(Once you have watched the Disney film version be sure to check out the live stage version filmed as an episode of American Playhouse with the original Broadway cast – it includes some great songs that were cut from the new film.)
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The Rewrite

The Rewrite stars Hugh Grant as Keith Michaels, a one-hit wonder of a Hollywood screenwriter who reluctantly accepts a teaching position in New York when no one will hire him any longer in L.A. As soon as he arrives on campus, Mr. Michaels begins an inappropriate relationship with a student, gets drunk at a faculty party, and offends the resident Jane Austen expert and head of the ethics committee played by the brilliant Allison Janney. This role is a very familiar one for Hugh Grant – he seems to always play a loveable cad with a twinkle in his eye, and the audience knows that it will just take the affection of a good woman to redeem him. That woman, played here by Marisa Tomei, is a single mother who has gone back to school to rewrite her own story and that of her two daughters. The ending is a foregone conclusion as the script never offers more than a few very funny moments and no surprises, but the excellent cast (including a hilariously sentimental J.K. Simmons) saves the film from being truly awful.Overall Rating: C
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Seventh Son

A century after she was imprisoned by the witch hunter Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges), the evil Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) has regained her powers thanks to the rising Blood Moon. When she kills his apprentice, Gregory must begin training Tom (Ben Barnes), a farm boy, who has inherited certain powers as the seventh son of a seventh son. Together they will have to defeat not only a coven of shape-shifting witches who follow Malkin, but her half-human niece, Alice, who has fallen in love with Tom. This film has some great visual effects and gorgeous costumes, but the story, loosely based on a young adult book series, is rather predictable and flat. It’s still worth watching for the campy performance of Oscar winner Moore as Malkin, but her reunion with Bridges, her Big Lebowski co-star, is spoiled by his ridiculous accent (think drunken Gandalf with a mouthful of marbles).Overall grade: B-
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The Royals - The Complete First Season

The Royals is the first scripted series produced by E! Television, the station that gives you the latest news about celebrity scandals and the continuing adventures of the Kardashians. It seems fitting then that this new series about a fictional British royal family is filled with characters who lie, drink, hook up with strangers, do drugs, plot murders, blackmail each other and the servants, and generally carry on like rock stars who can’t quite escape being caught on film as they misbehave. The queen (Elizabeth Hurley) and her younger children (William Moseley and Alexandra Park) are such a disappointment to the king (Vincent Regan), that he asks Parliament to dissolve the monarchy after the sudden death of his older son. King Simon is trying to save his family, but he throws their entire lives into chaos, and the queen aided by the king’s evil brother (Jake Maskall) plot to keep their royal lifestyle intact. This series combine camp and over-the-top drama for a fun roller-coaster ride of a show. Elizabeth Hurley is brilliant as the scheming queen and the casting of Joan Collins as her equally ambitious mother is the cherry on top of this royal sundae. Overall Rating: B
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Pageant Material by Kacey Musgraves

The 2013 album Same Trailer, Different Park won two Grammy awards and introduced Musgraves to the world as a new kind of singer-songwriter who uses traditional instruments and smaller arrangements while tackling subjects not often found in country music. On this new album, Kacey Musgraves is still intent on exposing the realities of life in a southern small town, while she champions the idea that each of us has to follow our own path in order to be truly happy. Whether she is poking fun at her lack of skill as a pageant girl (“It ain’t that I don’t care about world peace, but I don’t see how I can fix it in a swimsuit on a stage”) or writing a love song to her hometown (“You can take me out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of me”), Musgraves paints a clear picture of real life in small town America, and bucks the current trend of “bro country”. She dismisses the good old boys network of Nashville by singing “Another gear in a big machine, don’t sound like fun to me. I don’t wanna be part of the good ole boys’ club” which many see as a dig directed toward Taylor Swift’s Big Machine production company. It seems fitting that Musgraves ends the album with a duet with another unique country artist- Willie Nelson- that updates Willie’s song Are You Sure. She has a fresh voice that breathes new life into the country genre. Overall Rating: A
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Mr. Holmes

Mr. Holmes portrays the famous detective (Sir Ian McKellen) as an elderly man who has retired to a country estate where he keeps bees and is watched over by a housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her son, Roger (Milo Parker). Holmes’ powers of deduction are still sharp, but his memory is quickly failing. This loss and haunting memories of his final case have spurred him to try writing his own version of the case, rather than relying on the fictionalized story written many years before by Doctor Watson. Aided by the curious and clever Roger, Holmes attempts to recall the truth while simultaneously solving the mystery of his dying bees. The movie beautifully blends scenes of the present day - 1947 on the English coast - with flashbacks to London thirty years earlier. McKellen gives a brilliant performance in both timelines and the young Parker is a worthy sidekick. I particularly enjoyed a brief cameo by Nicholas Rowe who played the great detective as a teenager in The Young Sherlock Holmes. The last time McKellen starred in a film directed by Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) both men were nominated for Oscars. It could happen again. Overall Rating: B+
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