Movie and Music Reviews

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The Guardians of the Galaxy

By Allison - AV   |  December 19, 2014

When I sat down to watch The Guardians of the Galaxy, I had high expectations for the film considering all of the great reviews I had heard, but I have to admit that I was a little disappointed with my level of enjoyment. The movie did have some humorous parts, I admit, and there were a few moments that were especially touching, but I never got as engaged in the storyline as I hoped I would, possibly because I wasn’t familiar with any of the Marvel characters in the film or because I typically don’t watch science fiction. However, I did appreciate the repeated theme of what true friendship is and means. One of my very favorite parts of the film, though, was the inclusion of music in the actual storyline: Unlike many films that use their soundtracks as merely background music, Guardians of the Galaxy allows its soundtrack (“Awesome Mix Vol. 1”) to weave in and out of the storyline, adding another layer of interest to the film, especially for those who enjoy music from the 1960s and 70s. In the end, I will probably watch Guardians of the Galaxy 2 when it is released in 2017, but I’m not sure if I will need a repeat of Guardians until that time. Overall Rating: B-

Anything Goes by Florida Georgia Line

By Angie - AV   |  December 5, 2014

With all of the hype surrounding the release of country duo Florida Georgia Line’s second album Anything Goes, I must admit that I was underwhelmed and disappointed after listening to it. There is only one song on the album that I like enough to listen to multiple times, and that is “Dirt”, which is already being played on country radio. Most of the other songs sounded very similar musically, and I had to fight the urge to skip tracks without hearing them all the way through because of the monotony. In my opinion they rely too much on lyrics that don’t make sense, as well as unnecessary clichés throughout (including the track titled “Angel” during which they actually sing the line “Did it hurt when you fell from the sky?”). It appears that with all of their recent success and popularity in the modern country music world, Florida Georgia Line may have been too rushed to release their next album, resulting in an overall boring and repetitive collection of songs that surely will not be as popular as their first album. Overall rating: D

Ping Pong Summer

By Darla - AV   |  November 21, 2014

It is 1985, hip hop and boom boxes are the rage, and 13 year old Radical Miracle (Marcello Conte) and his state trooper father, housewife mother, and goth sister are at their annual summer beach habitat in Ocean City, Maryland. When he is not awkwardly beatboxing or break dancing, Radical spends most of his time at the beach arcade with his new 13 year old friend, Teddy, playing ping pong. Conflict comes in the form of two local rich teens who make it their job to constantly bully Radical and Teddy. Radical finds time to impress a local beauty and navigate around an eccentric neighbor before settling a score with the local bullies through a ping pong challenge. Ping Pong Summer wonderfully captures the Ocean City beach scene, and the nostalgia of the period, but, besides a couple of surprises, the storyline is boring and predictable. Overall Rating: C

747 by Lady Antebellum

By Jill - AV   |  November 14, 2014

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.

Chef

By Allison - AV   |  November 7, 2014

Being a lover of all things food, I thought that the feature film Chef would be right up my alley, and I was absolutely right. In Chef, Carl Casper, played by Jon Favreau (who also wrote and produced the film), loses his job in a restaurant and tries to turn his life around by buying a food truck. As the film progresses, it is easy to relate to the various characters as they react to the storyline with realistic emotions: anger, hurt, despair, disappointment, loyalty and hope, among others. In addition, the film includes several valuable lessons for today’s world, such as the importance of using social media responsibly and appreciating those things that are so easily taken for granted, such as family and good friends. In the end, the film wraps up extremely neat and tidy – almost to the point of being outside believability – but because of all the other wonderful features of the film, it is one that I fully recommend. Overall Rating: B+

Secrets of the Dead: The Mona Lisa Mystery

By Angie - AV   |  October 24, 2014

In this interesting PBS documentary, a group of experts theorize about the mystery behind Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and whether or not he actually painted his most famous work twice. In the early 1900’s, a second portrait surfaced – the so-called “Isleworth Mona Lisa” – that was strikingly similar to the Mona Lisa which hangs in the Louvre in Paris. Scientists and historians were able to use modern techniques to analyze both works of art in an attempt to determine if they were both created by da Vinci himself or if perhaps the Isleworth painting is nothing more than an excellent forgery. The narrative in this documentary goes back and forth, examining all theories, and by the end many questions are still left up to each individual’s own interpretation. While I learned a great deal from this film regarding the overall history of the famous painting, for me the mystery behind it all still remains a total mystery – but that just adds to the iconic charm of Mona Lisa herself. Overall rating: B+

Bee People

By Darla - AV   |  October 10, 2014

Bee People: Get Stung is a documentary from director David Knappe that shadows the daily exploits of American rural and urban beekeepers. The Bee Guru, Bee Angel, Bee Medic, Bee Cop and others give attitude and flair when they interact with other beekeepers, whether they retrieve swarms from a barn or extract honey from a city backyard hive. Hilarious, educational, short film clips quiz people on the street to test their bee knowledge. Yes, beekeepers get stung in this film, just as I have, when I visit my own hive. This is one of the best films I’ve seen on beekeeping; the actors entertain, and teach their craft expertly. Overall Raing: A+

True Detective - TV Series

By Jill - AV   |  October 3, 2014

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+

The Fault in Our Stars

By Allison - AV   |  September 26, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars – based on the young adult novel of the same name – focuses on two teenagers named Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Augustus (Ansel Elgort) who form a relationship after meeting in a cancer support group. Throughout the movie, Hazel is very frank about her diagnosis and doesn’t revert to the woe-is-me view point, which is refreshing for a film with such a solemn topic. The acting is superb and the storyline stays (mostly) true to the book itself. My only true complaint is that, at several points, text bubbles representing text messages appear on the screen, and they are written in a font that was difficult for me to read. Overall, it was a great film and one that I may have to go out and purchase. Overall Rating: A-

Godzilla

By Kevin - AV   |  September 19, 2014

The newest offering for the long running Godzilla movie series stars Aaron Taylor Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe and Bryan Cranston. The movie certainly has spectacular special effects, and I like the way the creators made Godzilla both menacing and powerful and yet almost endearing in their nod to the original rotund monster. This rendition of Godzilla also resurrects some of the earlier films' portrayals of Godzilla as hero and protector of humanity as it battles against impressive creatures who threaten to destroy civilization. The overall acting is fine, but time after time the absurd coincidences in which characters happen to be in the right place at the right time make believing in the enormous creatures seem easy. Still, it is great to see the iconic monster hit the big screen once again, and if you like great action and superb special effects, you may enjoy this movie. Overall Rating: B-

Blended

By Angie - AV   |  September 12, 2014

Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore reunite in this romantic comedy to play single parents Jim and Lauren who meet on a terrible blind date. Although they have no intentions of seeing each other again, they manage (by total coincidence) to end up at the same African safari resort for a spring break vacation with their kids. Their families are forced to interact during activities at the resort – some hilarious, and others kind of heart-warming – which of course leads Jim and Lauren to fall in love and their kids to get along like a real “blended” family. Like most Adam Sandler movies that I’ve seen, this film has its quirky and corny moments throughout, but the on-screen chemistry between Sandler and Barrymore is unmistakable, and almost magical. If you enjoyed their previous movie together (“50 First Dates”) like I did, then I believe you will be entertained by this film as well. Overall rating B+

Elementary - The Second Season

By Kelly - AV   |  September 5, 2014

Robert Doherty, also known for other television shows such as Medium (2005), Tru Calling (2003), and Star Trek: Voyager (1995), presents a compelling modern re-imagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved, iconic Victorian characters, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, in the CBS series Elementary. Set in present day New York City, Sherlock, played by the brilliant and multifaceted Jonny Lee Miller, is portrayed as a recovering drug addict, while the classic character of “John Watson” has been changed to Joan Watson, played by the ever charismatic Lucy Liu. Joan, who was once a surgeon, is now Sherlock’s sober companion and eventually develops into Holmes’ deductive protégée. Season two of Elementary follows in the footsteps of season one with a solid, intriguing, season-long story arc, interspersed with the typical police procedural, deductive, “who done it” episodes. Though it is a different take on Doyle’s classic, Victorian Holmes, Doherty’s Elementary is a successful and fresh reinterpretation. Overall Rating: A-

Mystery of the Fallen Giants

By Darla - AV   |  August 29, 2014

Mystery of the Fallen Giants is a National Geographic documentary, investigating the sudden death of five Asian elephants found in a dry riverbed in rural India. The first officials on the scene, the forest department, ruled out poaching and attributed the deaths to a lightning strike. Others suspected that the pachyderms were poisoned by villagers retaliating for crops damaged by elephants; if poisoning was the cause of death, a criminal investigation would criticize the forest department for not protecting the endangered species. The forest department, a forensic pathologist, a chief elephant warden, a professor of lightning, and a world wildlife fund member speculated on the cause of the lost lives. The investigation into the mysterious deaths was methodical and informative; answers unfolded gradually in interesting ways. Overall Rating: B

Only Lovers Left Alive

By Jill - AV   |  August 22, 2014

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

The Other Woman

By Allison - AV   |  August 15, 2014

The Other Woman, starring Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, and Kate Upton, follows the story of three women who all find that they are dating or married to the same man, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Although the women had three distinct personalities, which allowed for some humorous antics, I felt that the movie was fairly predictable and had a weak storyline. During two separate occasions, I also felt that the film was trying so hard to be funny that it crossed the line between funny and obnoxious, something that does not appeal to me. Overall, I think the acting was decent, and the movie did make the hour and a half I used to watch it pass by quickly. However, I don’t ever need to watch it again, and I am glad that I didn’t spend money to see it in the theater. Overall Rating: C

Le Week-End

By Kevin - AV   |  August 8, 2014

A British couple, Meg and Nick, (played by the wonderful Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent) return to Paris in an attempt to reinvigorate their struggling marriage. At times raw, vulnerable, scathing, funny and touching, Le Week-End is a wonderful example of intelligent and poignant screen writing at its finest. This character driven plot shines with strong performances by both leading actors and is further enhanced by the supporting role of Jeff Golblum. Long term relationships are rarely black and white and this film brings out both the love and fondness felt between the couple as well as the pain and alienation that each have inflicted upon the other. View this movie and find out if their relationship revitalizes or implodes as well as how they deal with life and with each other. Overall Rating: B+

Divergent: Divergent Trilogy, Book 1 (Audiobook)

By Darla - AV   |  August 1, 2014

Divergent: Divergent Trilogy, Book 1, written by Veronica Roth, narrated by Emma Galvin In sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, people were categorized into five factions, each based on a personality trait; Abnegation upheld selflessness, Candor followed honesty, Dauntless practiced bravery, Eurodite exalted intelligence and Amnity practiced peace. Beatrice was tested to see which faction she had a strong aptitude for, and had unusual test results; therefore, she was labeled Divergent, and warned to tell no one. Sixteen-year-olds had to select either their family’s faction or another faction; accordingly, Beatrice left Abnegation for Dauntless, renamed herself Tris, and met Four, her mysterious Dauntless trainer. Beatrice adapted to her new faction, navigated a romantic interest, but found out that her society was deeply flawed, so she acted to save her family and friends. I recommend this young adult, fast paced, entertaining, and lively narrated thriller, full of plot twists, to science fiction lovers of all ages. Overall Rating: A

Endeavour

By Jill - AV   |  July 25, 2014

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-

Non-Stop

By Allison - AV   |  July 18, 2014

Part action, part thriller, Non-Stop follows the story of a hijacked flight from New York to London and the US Air Marshall (Liam Neeson) who is believed to be the plane’s hijacker. Throughout the film, I kept trying to piece together the true story of the hijacking and who was really behind it, but the storyline kept me guessing until the very end. The only portion of the film that I did not like in general was the director’s use of on-screen text messages between the mysterious hijacker and Neeson. Though the texts allowed the viewer to see the words as they were typed and read, I had to pay very close attention to ensure that I didn’t miss one. Overall, it was an engaging film, and one that I would recommend to others. Overall Rating: B+

Run & Jump

By Kevin - AV   |  July 11, 2014

Run & Jump stars Will Fort as Ted, an American doctor who travels to Ireland to study the Casey family after the husband, Conor (Edward MacLiam), suffers a stroke, which changes his personality and leaves his wife, Vanetia (Maxine Peake), to hold things together. While this plotline may sound bleak and depressing, the film is actually a beautiful and heartwarming story. At first, Vanetia find's Ted's presence and continual filming to be annoying and stifling but as time progresses, Ted and the family members find themselves influencing each other in positive and powerful ways. It is a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit and the bond of love and support that can develop within us all. At once poignant, funny and thought-provoking, I highly recommend this film. Overall Rating: A-

Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Neighbors from Hell: The Play

By Darla - AV   |  July 3, 2014

The play revolves around a foster parent and her three unruly foster children who move into Madea’s small blue collar Georgia neighborhood. The elderly, nosy Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) and the irrepressible Madea (Tyler Perry) use their wits and wisdom to bring structure back to the neighborhood. Serious social issues occur with the characters, but the mood is lightened through inspirational singing and comic relief. The stage set is beautiful, and the singing outstanding. I enjoyed the film and recommend it, for viewing and discussion. Overall Rating: B+

Call the Midwife

By Lorna - AV   |  June 13, 2014

Call the Midwife is an award winning BBC drama based on the best selling memoirs of former nurse, Jennifer Worth, that is set in 1950's poverty-ridden East London. Call the Midwife portrays the triumphs and struggles of the midwives and nuns at the nursing convent Nonnatus house as well as the working class people they serve. This season was disappointingly slow despite the writers best efforts - a polio outbreak, ex- nun wedding jitters, a royal visit, and an angry father who threatens to get rid of a baby that is very noticeably not his. As you can read, there was a lot of drama going on and yet it was incredibly boring; the only redeeming qualities being one medical mystery solved and seeing childbirth practice advancements. The first two seasons are excellent and addicting so despite this dud, I highly recommend you hop on another British bandwagon! Overall Rating: B-

Vampire Academy

By Jill - AV   |  June 6, 2014

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-

Pompeii

By Allison - AV   |  May 30, 2014

I was really excited to see Pompeii – mainly because I’ve had a mild obsession with Pompeii, Italy for most of my life – and I will say that I was a little disappointed in the film’s focus. Instead of focusing on a citizen of Pompeii, the movie focuses on Milo, a Celtic slave forced to fight in the gladiator arena, and his life as it pertains to the Pompeian woman he loves, Cassia. Despite his origins, Milo’s character is charming enough to make you want to root for him – and Cassia – for the entirety of the film, even as the city of Pompeii begins to crumble around them. The film’s special effects were spectacular, and the eruption of the volcano was all that it should have been. However, I did find the movie’s reference to the plaster casts of Pompeii’s citizens vague, at best, as their presence in the film was largely unexplained. All-in-all, I think that Pompeii would appeal to a range of viewers thanks to the presence of a love story intertwined with gladiator fights, the subplot of unlikely friendship, and, of course, an erupting volcano. Overall Rating: B-

Her

By Kevin - AV   |  May 23, 2014

In the Academy Award Best Picture nominated movie, Her, Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore, a lonely and sensitive writer who develops a deep relationship with an operating system named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). This movie explores the nature of love: what it means to love, how we love, who and what we love, and how we face the loss of love. Phoenix does a brilliant job portraying subtle emotions, vulnerability and human heartache. Scarlett Johansson delivers a strong voice performance, enabling us to accept her as an evolving consciousness rather than a mere software program. This movie was beautifully filmed, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and I look forward to viewing it again. Overall Rating: A-

Soul Food Junkies

By Darla - AV   |  May 16, 2014

Soul Food Junkies is a documentary film that discusses how the traditional (but delicious) Southern United States/African-American diet is unhealthy, and how to improve that diet through altered cooking methods and food choices. The difficulties and pressures people experience when they try to give up traditional, greasy, salty comfort food for a healthy diet is tactfully revealed. Traditional, heart-healthy, and vegetarian cooks share their methods of preparing soul food, which enhances the film. I liked Soul Food Junkies’ message that improving one’s diet is not easy, but is necessary to improve one’s health. I recommend this film to all, because the methods of healthy cooking are universal. Overall Rating: B

Austenland

By Lorna - AV   |  May 9, 2014

Austenland is a vacation resort where customers are transported to nineteenth century Britain to live out their Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice fantasies. Having purchased the cheapest package, Jane's fantasy character is an "orphan with no wealth" and is treated as such until she decides to change her story. She's caught between two men as fantasy and reality seem to blur. This is a very cute romantic comedy with a slow start (great for girls night in). The cast is great: Keri Russell (Jane), Jane Seymour, Jennifer Coolidge, and good looking British men! Watch the end credits for a cheeky musical number. Enjoy! Overall Rating: B+

Orphan Black

By Jill - AV   |  May 2, 2014

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

Philomena

By Allison - AV   |  April 25, 2014

This Academy Nominated film follows the heartbreaking story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), an Irish woman whose father abandoned her at an abbey due to his shame over her teenage pregnancy, and her quest to locate her son, Anthony, who was taken away from her as a toddler. This quest truly begins fifty years after Anthony’s birth when Philomena enlists the help of Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a recently disgraced political journalist, to help her find him. At times, the connections made by Sixsmith during the search are difficult to follow, and some of the characters felt shallow – their actions are left unexplained. In addition, a mild and fairly unobtrusive religious debate between Philomena and Martin weaves its way through the narrative, examining how religious belief – or lack thereof – leads individuals to act as they do. Overall, the film was enjoyable, and the message of love and forgiveness was heartwarming, but I would have liked to have had a little more detail in almost all areas the entire way through. Overall Rating: B-

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

By Kevin - AV   |  April 18, 2014

In this film, based very roughly on James Thurber’s short story, notorious daydreamer Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller in one of his best roles) plays the Negative Asset Manager for Life Magazine. When Mitty cannot find the negative of famous photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) that is intended to be the cover image for last print version of Life magazine, Mitty must unravel the clues leading to the whereabouts of O’Connell. At times the plotline is both absurd and predictable and yet it is also exhilarating and heartwarming. Along with Walter Mitty, we ask ourselves whether we will settle for mere daydreaming or allow our dreams to propel us to live life to the full. Offering both spectacular scenery and a great soundtrack including songs from David Bowie, Arcade Fire and Of Men and Monsters, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a journey worth taking. Overall Rating: B+

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