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  New to DVD

Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity
Release Date:
July 31, 2015

 

Home
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action and some rude humor
Release Date:
March 27, 2015

Best of Enemies
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
July 31, 2015

 

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some language and suggestive comments
Release Date:
March 6, 2015

Vacation
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:

Release Date:
July 29, 2015

 

The Longest Ride
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some sexuality, partial nudity, and some war and sports action
Release Date:
April 10, 2015

New in Theaters

grade:
B+

Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation

Lowest Recommended Age:
Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity
Release Date:
July 31, 2015
grade:
B+

Best of Enemies

Lowest Recommended Age:
Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Not rated
Release Date:
July 31, 2015
grade:
D

Vacation

Lowest Recommended Age:
Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Release Date:
July 29, 2015

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New to DVD

pick of the week
grade:
B+

Home

Lowest Recommended Age:
Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild action and some rude humor
Release Date:
March 27, 2015
grade:
B+

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Lowest Recommended Age:
High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some language and suggestive comments
Release Date:
March 6, 2015
grade:
C

The Longest Ride

Lowest Recommended Age:
High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some sexuality, partial nudity, and some war and sports action
Release Date:
April 10, 2015

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Cadillac Records

posted by Nell Minow
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality
Movie Release Date:December 5, 2008
B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality
Movie Release Date: December 5, 2008

In the words of Etta James, at last.

At last, albeit imperfectly, the extraordinary story of the rise and fall of Chess Records has been given the loving attention it deserves. Magnificent performances and soul-shaking music make up for some narrative stumbles and dubious fictions in this, the higher profile of two films this year about the legendary Chicago record label.

Adrian Brody plays Leonard Chess, a Jewish immigrant who was one of the first to record and market the work of black artists in the 1950s, when it was still called “race music.” With talent like Mississippi Delta blues player Muddy Waters, harmonica virtuoso Little Walter, powerhouse vocalist Howlin’ Wolf, the silky soul chanteuse Etta James, and proto-rocker Chuck Berry, Chess recordings established the foundation for “race music” to become blues, then rhythm and blues, and then rock and roll.

That is a lot to get through in one movie, and if at times it descends into VH1 “Behind the Music”-isms, muddled chronology (the Rolling Stones show up before the early Elvis), and distortions of fact, it is understandable. The movie touches on some of the difficult issues of race and gender without much depth, as when the performers, limited by lack of education and the bigotry of the day, begin to resent the paternalism — and sloppy bookkeeping — of Chess. Generations of oppression and naivete about business make them suspicious that he is keeping too much of their money. And dramatically it falls victim to what I call the “and then” syndrome, piling events on top of each other without a strong narrative arc.

Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Gabrielle Union as his significant other Geneva, and Mos Def as Berry are outstanding as always; they are among the finest actors and most mesmerizing performers in Hollywood. Columbus Short, an appealing presence in “Stomp the Yard” and “This Christmas” is a revelation as Little Walter. And Beyonce Knowles (who also produced) gives James a gritty authenticity this glossy pop star has not reached before. What matters here is the characters and the music and in both categories the performances really deliver.

Interview with Brittany Curran

posted by Nell Minow

One of the best moments for any movie critic is the discovery of a bright new talent. Brittany Curran, who co-stars with Lucas Grabeel in The Adventures of Foodboy, caught my attention from her first moment on screen because she did something many actresses with twice as much experience cannot do — she created a vivid and relatable character in a role that could have just been as the usual “girlfriend of leading male.” She projects a combination of confidence and sweetness that is very appealing and has a superb sense of comic timing. Curran and Grabeel have a nice onscreen chemistry that left me hoping to see them together again. Her upcoming projects include “The Ghost Whisperer” and a straight-to-DVD sequel to “Legally Blonde” called “Legally Blondes.”

I was very happy to get a chance to talk to Brittany about “The Adventures of Foodboy” and her other projects. I began by asking her what she did to create such an appealing performance.

My first read was in my room. I knew I needed to do something to make her something more. It’s so easy to slip into just being the girl and I wanted to make her more whole. I only had a week leading up to work on it. So, I read it over a bunch of times, just kept reading it to think about what kind of naturally came out of the lines. I wrote down some notes, letting the natural quirkiness that comes in everyday life guide me, and then later when we were filming tried to let myself go and be spontaneous.

What is it about food fights that makes them so much fun? And was the huge food fight in the movie fun to film?

They’re fun because you can throw all this junk around and not worry about it. It’s a non-lethal way of having fun and fighting, like a silly fight I got into with my friend where we threw ice cubes at each other, or like a pillow fight. But when we did it in the movie, it ended up looking really gross. It was all over and in my hair but the worst was the smell. I constantly had so much stuff in my face and I was aware I was making unflattering facial expressions just when I was supposed to be in the shot. I am usually not conscious of the camera but this time because so much was going on there was a lot of direction to “turn this way,” “look over here” so I was aware of it.

Food Boy Collage words.jpg

What scene was the most fun to film?

I liked kissing Lucas! The most fun was when it was just the two of us, talking like regular kids. We got along really well and I enjoyed working with him.

What’s on your iPod?

A lot of Led Zeppelin! They’re my favorite band of all time. And the Beatles and the Who and my dad, he’s a musician, too. I’m a major classic rock fan.

You’ve worked on a variety of projects. Has anyone given you some especially memorable advice?

I just worked on a episode of “The Ghost Whisperer” with Jennifer Love Hewitt. The director said, “I know what you want to do. You have the freedom to go where the words take you.” If you know the goal of the scene, you should find your own natural way to get there.

Interview with Toto’s Trainer

posted by Nell Minow

Bill Berloni is the man behind some of Broadway’s biggest stars — the non-human ones. From Sandy in “Annie” to “Bruiser Woods” in “Legally Blonde,” he has trained the animals in some of the biggest theatrical productions. I spoke to him in Washington D.C. where his two “Toto” dogs are on tour with “The Wizard of Oz.”

Bill-Berloni.jpg

How many Totos are there?

There is one dog named Princess, eight years old, and another as her understudy. The one we use is the more energetic of the two. “Wizard” is one of those shows that happens all the time so we always have a pair of Toto dogs ready. This is a major national tour, three years long. Princess will probably do two.

How long has Princess been performing?

If you asked me how long I was married I’d be off but I can remember the answer to that one — seven years three months, performing as Toto for five. We started training her as an understudy until around age five and then she was mature enough.

Is there a particular scene that was especially challenging for Princess?

To me the most important iconic moment of the play is when Dorothy says, “There is such a place, Toto?” and then goes into “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” If Toto’s scratching or does something to distract the audience, it’s a problem. We train them to focus on Dorothy and not move. You have to make sure the dog has the right temperament for performing. You can take a calm dog and teach them to walk across a stage but you can’t take an excitable dog and get her to stay still. They have to be able to deal with stress and be calm which for a terrier breed is tough. Staying perfectly still for “Over the Rainbow” is the hardest, then going through smoke and haze to get to the curtain. Her favorite trick is to find Dr. Marvel — she gets to eat the hot dog at the end of his stick!

In a show like this one with so many special effects, how do you protect the dog and prevent her from getting distracted?

I can manipulate the special effects so the speakers are away from the stage. The audience hears thunder but she is behind them, where it is not loud. We cover her eyes during the pyrotechnic effects and explosions. We go to great lengths to protect the dog rather than getting her used to it. For her a flying monkey is no different from a flying pigeon. The fog is co2, dry ice. It’s just a cooling mist. So those things do not bother the dogs. That’s my job — to say, “You can do that to humans but not my dog.” Toto is not always in the shot in a movie but in the play he is supposed to be with Dorothy all the time. But you think he’s on stage a lot more than he is.

How did you get started?

It’s a “right place at the right time” story. I wanted to be an actor and was building sets at the Goodspeed Opera House. They needed a dog for a new show and everyone else threatened to quit if they had to train the dog. But they offered me a part and an equity card if I would find and train a dog. My gullibility and the chance to get on stage are the reason I accepted. I found a dog at a shelter and the show was “Annie,” with Sandy the first real theatrical performance part for a dog in a major show, where the action depended on the dog and he was more than a prop. Mike Nichols’ office called and said they were doing it for Broadway. He is the best — loyal, intelligent, courageous, admits when he makes a mistake and expects everyone to be the same. The show opened at the Kennedy Center and I became a famous animal trainer.

Did you have pets growing up and did you train them?

Our pets did things because they loved us, not because we trained them. I learned I could achieve repetitive behavior without negative reinforcement.

Do you have to train the actors as well as the animals?

I’m in the wings so I have to make sure the actors know how to do whatever the animal needs. Going back to “Annie,” I said to Andrea McArdle, “You have to pretend like he’s your dog.” We have to train the actors to be as adept trainers as I am. It is much more challenging with adults. Some don’t like dogs or are allergic and that becomes my problem, showing them how to work with the animals so they fulfill those commands with respect and love. Cassie Okenka (Dorothy) is the real deal, not jaded, hard-working loves dogs, and she can sing.

We have a handler at every performance. We take the concept from the director and then can put a handler in. We’re always educating the directors and the smart ones listen. But some will give the actors six weeks to get it right and give the dog seven days. They won’t think about what the special effect will be and how the dog will respond to it.

What kinds of animal performances in movies do you like?

I am not fond of movies that make dogs talk with CGI and anthropomorphize them too much. I enjoy films where they get to act like dogs. “As Good as It Gets” was a good one.

And now the big question — what kind of dog should the Obamas get?

I am a huge shelter animal advocate and a humane society volunteer. Their decision to get a shelter dog would be the biggest thing in animal shelter I could remember. Every animal shelter is holding their breath. But they need a perfect dog, a theater dog. They need to be there and bond with the dog. But this dog will need to be a performer. I can find Broadway stars in a shelter. Through no fault of its own it has ended up homeless, nothing wrong with it. I don’t take abused animals. But I take abandoned animals.

This is my secret. You go into a shelter and walk down the row of cages. One is screaming at you, “Let me out! Let me out!” One shivering in the back. Don’t take either one of those. Take the one in the middle, the one who is hanging and dealing. It is such a stressful place for an animal, any dog who can deal with it can deal with a lot of stress. Throw a leash on it and take it home. Leave the others to people with training experience.

Horton’s Lessons

posted by Nell Minow

Be sure to look at the wonderful gallery of “Twelve Lessons Horton Taught Me” by Hillary Fields. Inspired by the upcoming release of the DVD, Fields describes the spiritual lessons of the Dr. Seuss classic from “a person’s a person, no matter how small” to the importance of responsibility and a sense of purpose.

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