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DVD Review and Celeb Interview: "The Muppets"
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In the world of entertainment, stars don't come much bigger than the Muppets. Movies, TV, records, web videos... you name it, they've conquered it over the course of many decades. The latest project from our fabulous furry, feathery and felty friends is a smash hit motion picture called, simply, "The Muppets."

Muppets Wocka Wocka sm.pngIn this musical comedy we're introduced to a brand new character called Walter, who doesn't seem to fit in with the "normal" humans in his town. Walter is smaller, more colorful and, well, just plain more Muppety than even his brother Gary (played by Jason Segel). These siblings may look very different, but they support each other through good times and bad, and they share a fanatical devotion to their favorite TV stars who are...you guessed it...the Muppets. When Walter and Gary visit the Muppet Studios in Hollywood, they find that it's fallen upon hard times, and uncover a bad guy's dastardly scheme to take over the property. Determined to set things right, they resolve to find Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy and the rest of the Muppets, and get the whole gang back together.

We won't spoil the rest in case you haven't seen it, but suffice to say that the international adventure that follows is filled with jokes, slapstick, songs, dancing, guest stars, and everything we've come to expect from The Muppets.

We're really psyched that the movie is now out of DVD and Blu-ray Disc, too. We watched the 3-disc "Wocka-Wocka" version, which includes a bunch of hilarious extras, including deleted scenes, bloopers, a making-of feature, and even a copy of the movie's awesome soundtrack, which features the Oscar-winning original song "Man or Muppet."

We also noticed that, although they mostly play it for laughs, "The Muppets" has a lot of great themes and ideas that fit right in with what we talk about every day here at It's My Life. Themes like trying to fit it, finding your place in the world, getting along with siblings and friends, and standing up to bullies.

We had a chance to talk about all these ideas, and a bunch of others, with Muppet stars Kermit the Frog and Walter. Kermit is, as always, so wise and inspiring! Check it out:




Celeb Scoop: Josh Flitter
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image001.pngSeventeen-year-old Josh Flitter has been acting most of his life, starring in comedies such as "Ace Ventura Jr.: Pet Detective" and the "Buddies" films (playing the voice of Budderball). Recently, Josh took on a role in the upcoming movie "Snowmen" that asked him to step away from being a Funny Kid and try something less than appealing: a bully.

We had fun talking to Josh about this challenging role and his take on the issue of bullying.

IML: Hi Josh! Tell us a little bit about "Snowmen" and about the character you play. It looks like a great movie.

Josh: "Snowmen" is a family film that deals with some elements that aren't typically shown in family films. It really tugs at your emotions. It'll make you laugh and cry. Billy, the main character, is diagnosed with cancer when he's very young, and when he turns about ten or eleven, he beats it, and is in remission. And then, when he becomes sick and assumes he has cancer again, he decides that he wants to be remembered in some way. So he and his friends decide to set the world's record for the amount or snowmen built in one day.

So the character I play in the movie, Jason, is actually the bully, and he doesn't want Billy to be remembered. My character thinks that he's the only person in the school who should be respected and cared about, so when the other kids are building the snowmen, I destroy them, and insult the kid. But this is all just a front, and I have deep inner emotions and characteristics that make Jason much deeper. Usually the bully in family movies is shown is a sort of "PG rated" way. And there's nothing wrong with that. But this movie is special, because there's so much more that this kid is going through. There's one scene that gets very edgy, and it's really scary, but in a good way. In a way that some kids will need to see to know that bullying is bad. And that's why it's so great to have this movie, because anti-bullying is huge right now. And it's so important in the lives of so many people. You get to see what some of the repercussions of bullying are.

IML: It sounds like the movie explores the motivations behind bullying, and why your character acts the way he does. How did you prepare for that?

Josh: It's funny, because at first the director was reluctant for me to audition, because he'd seen me in other things, and he thought I was the "funny guy" and didn't know if I could pull this kind of thing off. So when I went and auditioned, he was really kind of taken aback. I just took from the feelings I'd get if I was really angry at my brother or something, but to a point where you're almost saddened by how angry you are, instead of just being enraged. So I actually have multiple emotions happening at once. So it was more about that than about research. I just dove into my own mind and picked out little things here and there.

IML: Have you ever had any personal experiences with bullying?

Josh: I'm seventeen and I'm five-foot-two, and most of my friends are taller than I am, so I was picked on for that. But luckily, in my school system, and where I've grown up, everyone has been great. I don't think we've had many accounts of bullying. It used to be that schools would just allow that to happen...it was common. But now they've realized what some of the real repercussions are, and how teen suicides are skyrocketing, and they need to do something. So they really dove into it and are teaching kids that what you say really could affect someone.

IML: It sounds like your school's policy is working. What are they doing right?

Josh: We would have these school assemblies that were like tough-love sorts of things. Instead of sugar-coating it and saying things like "bullying is mean," they would really show us. When you hear real true stories of kids who were teased, and were always laughing it off, and never had any problem with it, and then one day, they're gone...I think of stuff like, "What if that happened to one of my good friends? What if we found out that he just couldn't take it anymore?" That really affected us. We'll still poke fun at each other here and there, being friends, but in the end, we say, "We were just kidding, we don't really mean that. We all love you." But what's really bad is talking behind someone's back. People will always do that and just say, "It's just gossip." But what happens when someone just doesn't come to school one day?

IML: You're definitely passionate about that issue! We hear you're also passionate about animal welfare issues and pet adoptions.

Josh: I am! I have two dogs of my own, and I've always asked myself, "Why not show love for animals?" Because they will always love you, so why not help the ones that are helpless? The ones that have nothing to live for? When animals are beaten and abused, given up and thrown out on the street...these animals need you. I'm trying to use my celebrity status to connect with other kids and tell them how they can help. I volunteer to help with animal adoptions, and young kids will walk up to me and ask me about my movies, and I'll say things like, "Yeah that movie was good, but you know what's a lot of fun? This dog!" And the feeling I get when I see someone adopting a pet that I was showing them...It's the greatest feeling in the world, because I just gave another pet a house to live in, and a family to wake up to, rather than a cage. And people have to realize that it's not about getting a specific breed... it's about getting a dog or cat that loves you, and a pet that you love. Knowing that I've saved as many pets as I have, it really helps me feel good about myself. We all see cats and dogs every day, but we forget about the ones that don't have homes. So I encourage other kids to help out with local organizations that adopt out dogs and cats, or to adopt one themselves!

IML: Thanks for talking with us, Josh! Good luck with everything!

Josh: Thank you!

"Snowmen" opens in theatres as part of a limited engagement on October 21. For more info, check out www.snowmenmovie.com.

What's your school's policy on bullying? Tell us on our new You Said It page on this subject!


  
Celeb Scoop: Savanah Wiltfong, star of "Dear Lemon Lima"
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DearLemonLima_POSTER_FINAL.jpgIf you have cable TV, take a look this weekend at the Video On Demand offerings. Scroll past your familiar shows and recent movie releases, and hopefully you'll find one with an intriguing name. We think you're going to hear more of it in the near future.

"Dear Lemon Lima" (Lima pronounced like "Lime-a") is a quirky coming-of-age indie film set in Fairbanks, Alaska, written and directed by Suzi Yoonessi. Since it was shot in 2009, it's created a stir at various film festivals and among critics. One writer described it as "Juno meets Napoleon Dynamite." Hello! That got our attention, and we wanted to know more.

In "Dear Lemon Lima," 13-year-old Vanessa has just been dumped by her "true love," Philip. Determined to win him back, she follows him to an elite prep school where she's relegated to the bottom of the social ladder (while Philip becomes popular) and forced to lead a team of fellow outcasts in the local Snowstorm Survivor competition. In the process, she learns about love, friendship, and community, and gets in touch with her tribal roots as a half-Yu'pik (Western Eskimo).

We love calling attention to movies for tweens that are a little off the beaten track, and think this one has the makings of a future cult-classic -- the kind of flick you'll want to watch at a sleepover or memorize the funniest lines from. Recently we spoke to the film's star, 17-year-old Alaska native Savanah Wiltfong.

IML: Tell us a little bit about "Dear Lemon Lima." It looks awesome!

Savanah: Well, it's sort of a coming-of-age story about a girl named Vanessa who's 13 and has just had her first heartbreak. And she just...grows up in the movie. She finds who she is and who she wants to be.

IML: How old were you when you shot the movie?

Savanah: I was 14.

IML: So you were pretty much the same age as your character.

Savanah: Yes! I actually went through a similar experience right before I auditioned. I had my first teenage heartbreak, so I was able to really use that during the whole film.

IML: There are a lot of movies and TV shows out there for teens and tweens. What do you think sets this movie apart?

Savanah: I just know this movie has a lot of heart to it, especially from the director Suzi, who put so much of her personal experience into it. I think so many people young and old, and especially in the middle, can relate to this story. Especially kids and teens who don't fit in or don't know who they are, or are dealing with a bully.

IML: How did you get cast as Vanessa?

Savanah: There was an email about the movie that was forwarded to my mother, and she thought it would be great for me to audition, so I did. The first audition, we just used a camera and a ladder for a tripod and I read off a script that the director sent me. And then, the second audition was in person at the Native Heritage Center here in Alaska, and that tape was sent to Suzie too. Then the third audition was very surprising, because I went to Seattle for 2 days and got to meet almost everyone who was going to be working on it and got to walk all around Seattle with Suzie. We chatted, we read the script, and after we got back home we found out I got the part. And I was baffled, honestly! It was the first audition I'd done for anything in my life.

IML: Had you done any acting before "Dear Lemon Lima"?

Savanah: In 7th grade, I played a character in a play called Madame Cannoli. I think I had about five lines and that's it!

IML: How has the whole acting-in-a-movie experience changed you?

Savanah: It's given me a lot of life lessons and honestly, opened so many doors for me. It's wonderful, and with tax incentives here in Alaska now, there are so many projects up here. It's cool knowing that I can do what I love and still stay home too.

IML: Vanessa seems like a really great character. How are you and she alike, and how are you different?

Savanah: I think we're alike in our passion for love, most definitely. She kind of expresses herself through her diary and art. I do the same thing. I'll paint on my walls, I'll write myself little notes, I'll draw all the time. I think we're different in our styles. She wears really pastel and bright colors, and I prefer neutral colors. But I did enjoy all the costumes I got to wear while playing her!

IML: What's it like growing up in Alaska?

Savanah: Where my house is, I'm about ten miles from my town, but I love going downtown and walking around. I'll go to the coffee shop and study -- I'm homeschooled. I'll hang out with friends. You kind of have to get creative, living here. But I spend a lot of time doing outdoor stuff. I went on a hike yesterday. I love getting out. I'm part of a gymnastics team. I actually manage it, and my mom coaches it.

IML: Who knows what will happen once people see this movie. Maybe it will become really popular. Are you worried about things changing for you?

Savanah: I've already had some people find me on Facebook, tell me how they're fans of the movie. It's great. I see it as more opportunities to meet new people, whether it's acting or even modeling or singing. I'm excited for all of it!

IML: Thanks so much for talking to us! Good luck with everything!

Savanah: Thank you!

"Dear Lemon Lima," released by Phase 4 films, releases today on iTunes and Video On Demand, as well as in theatres in Los Angeles. To learn more, visit www.dearlemonlimamovie.com or check out the trailer!





Movie Review: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1"
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So, have you seen it yet? We're sure many of you did. It's always fun to catch a big movie like HP7.1 on opening weekend, when the theatre's full of excited fans and everyone's talking about it. What did you think? Here's our opinion!

Heads up: we won't really give away anything about the story or any surprises in the movie, but you still may want to wait until after you've seen it before you read our review.

We liked:

deathly-hallows-still.jpgDaniel, Rupert, and Emma. My, how they've grown. It's hard to believe that we met these three when they were barely tweens. Everything they've been through in real life is a great foundation for them to portray what their characters go through together. We really enjoyed watching them (even though many of the scenes, with Harry, Ron, and Hermione dressed in stylin' winter layers, looked a little like the L.L. Bean catalog) and the movie made us feel like we, the audience, are the fourth member of this evil-fighting team.

Tense drama. Okay, watching this movie was a little stressful for us...but in a good way. There's a lot at stake in the story, and the film does a great job of setting that up. Dangers lurk in every shadow, friendships may or may not stand up to the pressure, and the future of the world is really on the line. Juicy!

Polyjuice comedy. There are some truly wonderful comedic moments here and there to lighten up all that seriousness, and a good number of them come thanks to the appearance-altering effects of polyjuice potion, the liquid disguise kit of the HP world. We laughed out loud at the "multiple Harrys" scene, and really enjoyed all the funny and scary moments when our three heroes assume false identities to infiltrate the Ministry. Not since Hermione accidentally turned herself into a cat-girl in HP2 has a magical potion been this much fun.

Dobby. The character of Dobby the House Elf was played mostly for laughs when he first appeared in HP2, but in this film he proves himself to be an important and unforgettable part of the Harry Potter saga. CG effects have gotten better since we first saw him too, and that helps a lot.

Animation. In an HP movie first, a key part of the story is told with the use of striking, stylized 2-D computer animation. It's an interesting and really cool directorial choice.

Not so much:

Great characters gone AWOL. Harry, Ron and Hermione have always been the "big three" of every Harry Potter film, but in this story they truly go it alone, spending most of their time isolated from the friends, teachers, and family members who have helped them out in the past. This was actually one of our biggest gripes about the book, too. We can't help but want to see what's going on with Hagrid, Professor McGonigle, Neville Longbottom, Fred and George...all of whom have very small cameos or are absent completely. Some of our favorite moments from the past six films came from these characters, and to leave them out feels a bit like leaving out all the sugar and spice from a recipe...it's still as filling, but not as tasty. We'll just have to wait until Part 2 to see them again!

No Hogwarts. We get barely a glimpse of our favorite school of witchcraft and wizardry in this half of Book 7. Harry and company can't go back there, of course, because Dumbledore can't protect them anymore and the school, like the ministry, has fallen under the control of the baddies. So we get the reason they have to stay away...but we still don't really like it. Hogwarts has been the heart and soul of the Harry Potter story for six books and six films, and we feel a little lost without the grounded sense of place the great castle provides. It doesn't help that H, R & H spend most of the movie randomly apparating from place to place, making our head spin. There's no room in this story for the typical "high school" fun and romantic dramas that made the last couple flicks so relatable, aside from a few sweet moments between crushes and friends (our favorite was Harry and Hermione dancing). We're a little sad about that, even though we understand.

Wands, wands, wands. This wand, that wand, the other wand...there are just too many wands in this story, which often feels like a big, convoluted game of follow-the-wand.

deathly-hallows-still2.jpgTrying to remember. It's been more than two years since we read the book this movie is based on, and we didn't have time for a refresher before heading to the theater, which is too bad. We spent a lot of our time trying to recall bits of the book so we could appreciate what was happening onscreen, and we were forced to wonder if people who never read the novel could make sense of any of it. It seems like the other movies did a much better job of filling in the important story points for every type of audience member.

Wanting more. Yeah, even given all our criticisms and nit-picking, we really enjoyed this movie because we adore these characters and we know it's setting everything up for the amazing grand HP finale. Ugh, do we really have to wait until summer 2011 to see the rest of it? Oh well..it will give us something to look forward to, and will put off the disappointment we'll inevitably feel when there are no new Harry Potter films to talk about!

IML's Rating: B



"Deathly Hallows" Countdown
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Aaah! What will life be like when we don't have a new "Harry Potter" movie to look forward to? We're trying not to think about it. (Yeah, yeah, we can always re-read the books, and surely there will be other exciting movies on the horizon. "The Hunger Games," anyone?)

Still, it's hard to believe that the seventh and almost-final flick is opening in the U.S. next weekend. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One" is the beginning of the end, of course, but it's also a chance to revisit the cast members who are now as dear to Potter fans as the books themselves. We actually feel a little proud to see how much Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint have grown as people and as actors. We're counting down the days and will be back here next week with a review of the shiny new movie. In the meantime, here's a peek at the scene of last night's world premiere at the Odeon Theatre in London's Leicester Square.

What have these films meant to you? Do you keep them separate from the books in your heart and mind? Do you feel like you've grown up with them and they've become a huge part of your life? Do you just go along for the pop cultural ride? What parts of yourself and your own life do you see in these stories? (Not an assignment, just some fun things to ponder and possibly post on our What's On Your Mind? page!)




Movie Review: "Diary of a Wimpy Kid"
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wimpy-kid_tree.jpgGreg Heffley hates middle school, but he's determined not to let it destroy him. The key to surviving, he thinks, is popularity, and he's got a sure-fire scheme (actually a bunch of them) to become the A-number one cool kid in the school. But his bullying wanna-be rock star older brother Rodrick and goofball best friend Rowley aren't making his rise to the top of the social-status ladder any easier. Of course, losing a wrestling match to a girl and having to eat lunch on the cafeteria floor don't help much either. Can Greg overcome these obstacles and rule the school? Well, when the title of the story is "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," that's probably not gonna happen. But although Greg is doomed to failure from the start, it's funny to watch him try his best to make it. Too bad his "best" is usually also his "worst."

Based on your posts to our My Favorite Author and My Favorite Book You Said It pages, we know that a lot of you are fans of Jeff Kinney's illustrated "Wimpy Kid" books. So how was this much-anticipated movie adaptation?  Let's break it down, IML-style:

Here's what we liked:

Middle school life. The movie does a great job of capturing what it's like to be in middle school, from the anxiety of finding somewhere to sit in the cafeteria, to the pain of being thrown into a gym class with kids three times your size. There's even a hilarious running gag about a cursed slice of cheese that's been on the playground blacktop for years...just like we had at the middle school we went to. Oh, wait. We didn't have cursed cheese. But everything else felt very familiar!

Rowley.  Robert Capron plays Greg's socially-inept best pal Rowley, and he's great. Funny, likable and just plain nice, Rowley is the heart of the movie. He's even friends with his own mom, if you can believe that.

Angie. The awesome Chloe Moretz plays a live-by-her-own rules outsider who refuses to buy into the popularity game. She's exactly the type of friend Greg should be reaching out to for help, but he doesn't know it. Too bad this character is barely in the movie; we wanted to see a lot more of her!

Sibling rivalry. Just like in the books, the constant fighting and pranks between Greg and older bro Roderick provide a lot of the laughs in the movie. They aren't exactly subtle laughs, but we'll take what we can get.

Now, here's what we didn't like:

The sketchiness. We don't mean "sketchy" as in "creepy." We mean the movie sometimes  feels like a bunch of sketches that aren't connected by much. The main story centers on Greg's quest for middle-school fame and his relationship with Rowley, but lots of scenes don't seem to have much payoff, and the plot feels kind of thin.

The parents. Steve Zahn and Rachael Harris play Greg's mom and dad, and they act like somebody forced them at gunpoint to be in this movie. They certainly aren't having any fun with their roles, and it isn't any fun to watch them, either.

wimpy-kid.jpgGreg. It's weird to say this, but the thing we liked least about this movie was, well...Greg himself. Zachary Gordon is a fine actor, but he plays a character who is very hard to like and root for. And he's the main character of the film, the one we're supposed to identify with! Here's the problem: Greg never thinks of anybody but himself. It would be funny if he were a basically good-hearted kid who makes some mistakes, or gets into goofy trouble that isn't really his fault. But Greg Heffley isn't really good-hearted. He walks all over everyone else's feelings, cares only about his own popularity, and ignores the people who try to help him out. On top of that, he treats his best friend like garbage for the entire movie. It's hard to have sympathy for a guy like that. Sure, Greg comes around in the end, but it feels like too little, too late. You can't be a jerk for an hour and a half of a movie, and then suddenly make us like you with one noble deed, five minutes before the credits roll.

Overall, we walked out of the theater feeling like the movie was a mixed bag. There were moments when we laughed out loud, but other times we were a little bored, and kinda annoyed by what a jerk Greg was. It's as if the movie should've been titled "Diary of a Selfish Kid." The film is good, but not great, and lacks a lot of the silly whimsy of the books. Maybe an animated movie would've been a better idea!

IML's rating: C+

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is rated PG for some rude humor and language.

So what did you think? Are you a fan of the books? Are you satisfied with the screen version, or disappointed? And why do you think it might have been challenging for the filmmakers to capture the books' spirit in a movie?


Movie Review: "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief"
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If you've read the book "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief," you know the basic gist: Percy Jackson is a New York teen whose life is far from perfect. His dad took off when he was a baby, his mom got remarried to a selfish, smelly oaf who treats them both like crud, and he's having trouble in school thanks to a double whammy of ADHD and dyslexia. About the only thing that brings Percy any peace is hanging out alone at the bottom of the school swimming pool, where he can hold his breath for... seven minutes? Hang on! How the heck is THAT possible??

percy-jackson-movie-poster.jpgIt's possible because Percy is no ordinary teenager. Although he doesn't know it yet, he's actually a demigod -- the child of a Greek god and a mortal human. Yep, Percy's dad is none other than Poseidon, god of the sea, and brother to Zeus the boss-man and Hades, lord of the Underworld. And this is where the trouble starts, because someone has stolen Zeus's master lightning bolt, and Percy is the main suspect in the theft. Great. Percy's already reeling from the discovery that his best friend is half goat (a satyr) and that one of his teachers is mostly horse (a centaur). Now he's got to find the bolt and return it to Olympus. If he can't make it by Zeus' deadline, the world will face the consequences of an all-out war between the gods. No pressure, right?

Okay, okay. So that's the setup. Now, to answer the big question: how is the movie? Short answer:  it's mostly awesome. For the longer answer, here's a handy-dandy IML like/didn't like guide:

We Liked:
  • The Story. Admittedly, this story bears a rather striking resemblance to the Harry Potter books, what with a "loser" kid suddenly finding out he's a big important hero in a parallel world he's never known about, and so on and so forth. But there's still a lot to love about this tale, and it's easy to root for Percy and his new friends on their quest to save the world.

  • The Scope. A lot of our favorite books have been made into movies in the past few years, and while Hollywood often gets things right, they just as often drop the ball, making films that seem somehow smaller and less magical than the written version. Rest assured, Percy Jackson is a BIG movie, with top-notch visuals and effects, thrilling action sequences, and locations that dazzle and impress.

  • percy-jackson.jpgThe Actors. Logan Lerman does a great job in the title role, and Alexandra Daddario is totally believable as the tough-as-nails daughter of Athena. But we were especially impressed with Jake Abel, who plays Luke, son of messenger-god Hermes. He's not a major character, but he totally steals the scenes he's in.

  • The Comedy. This is a fantasy adventure movie, but there are also a lot of moments that make you laugh, thanks mostly to actor Brandon T. Jackson, who plays Percy's wisecracking pal/protector, Grover the Satyr. He's a half-goat with a hip-hop attitude, and we like him a lot.

  • The Themes. There are tons of great messages in this movie, and we won't go into all of them. But here's one of our favorites: the things that challenge you, that other people might call your weaknesses, can also be your strengths. In other words, if you look at things in a new way, "different" can turn into "extraordinary."

  • Flying Converse high-top sneakers. With little flapping wings. Enough said.

We Didn't Really Like:

  • Trendy Fashions. Does Logan Lerman really need that oh-so-perfect Zac Efron haircut that never seems out of place, even after a grueling sword battle? Are those hipster tee-shirts really necessary? These things are distracting, and in a few years (or months) when styles change, they might even make us laugh a little.

  • Cheeseball Scenes. Not every scene in the movie works. One in particular, which features Uma Thuman as the snake-headed baddie Medusa, actually feels like it's from some different, far sillier movie. It's like a serving of stinky cheese in an otherwise great flick.

  • Scary Moments. Don't get us wrong...we like being scared at the movies. But some of the horror elements in Percy Jackson (like fiery demons in Hades) go a little too far, and they aren't necessary. All they really do here is make the movie too intense for some of IML's younger readers, which is too bad. If they'd left 'em out, we'd have a movie almost anybody could see and enjoy.
Okay, that's our take on it. What do YOU think? Are you planning on seeing the movie? Did you already go? Got anything to say about it?

"Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" is rated PG for action violence and peril, some scary images and suggestive material, and mild language.

IML's Rating: A-



Christmas movies that don't bah humbug
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There's just something about a great Christmas movie.

We're not talking about a Christmas episode of your fave TV show, or those (awesome) oldies like "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." A Christmas movie is, ideally, something you can really settle in to with lots of popcorn along with friends or family. A story that has a lot going on and stays with us, not just through this Christmas but year after year.

It seems like it's hard for Hollywood to come up with these nowadays. Of course, there's the cool new "A Christmas Carol" starring Jim Carrey. But then again, this tale has been told before in many wonderful ways. (Once The Muppets and Barbie have done their versions, you wonder what's next. Lego? Oh wait, that's already on YouTube.)

SantaBuddies.jpgOne new addition is Disney's "Santa Buddies: The Legend of Santa Paws," recently released on Blu-ray and DVD. If you're a fan of the Buddies movies, or of talking (and singing) dogs in general, then this tale is worth wagging for sure. It's got feel-good messages about kindness and generosity, not to mention some giggly bits. Older IML'ers might find it a little sappy and silly; but as we often say, you might like it more than you'll admit and if you have younger sibs or babysitting charges to entertain, it's a slam dunk. 

At times like this, we turn to the classics. Allow us to present IML's list of the Top Five Christmas Movies for Tweens:

5) "The Santa Clause"
We love movies that take a great "what if" and turn them into a story. What if your dad turned into Santa Claus? This flick touches on issues like divorce and child custody in a way that doesn't seem tacked-on.

4) "Home Alone"
Every kid's fantasy turned nightmare turned fantasy. And lots of empowerment (despite the cartoonish violence).

3) "Elf"
How much does Will Ferrell rock in this movie? We're smiling just thinking about it.  

2) "The Nightmare Before Christmas"
Is it a Halloween movie? Is it a Christmas movie? It's mostly just a great story, with great music. And great merchandising. Who knew this dark tale from Tim Burton would become such a phenomenon.

1) "A Christmas Story"
Maybe because TNT airs this for 24 straight hours and we've seen it a thousand times, but this movie (which was not a huge hit when it was first released) has become a true classic. We love the peek into simpler days gone by where issues with friends, bullies, siblings, parents, and school were not all that different than they are now. Plus, it's just hilarious.

Those are just our personal favorites. Did we leave something out? Want to tell us about your own Christmas classics? And what about movies that aren't about Christmas but explore other seasonal holidays like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year's? We'd love to hear about them!



Movie Review: "Fame"
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Here's our nutshell review of "Fame": it's fluffy but fun to watch, with some great messages about diversity and working hard to achieve your dreams. We enjoyed the musical numbers, especially the new version of "Out Here On My Own." If you're into the performing arts at all, you'll have a great time. But that's not what we found so intriguing about it.

Even though "Fame" is rated PG, some of what happens -- underage drinking, swearing, things like that -- isn't appropriate for younger tweens (those younger than, say, 11). It really made us think about why pre-teens often flock to movies that aren't truly right for them.

Are you going to see "Fame"? Is that because ads for it are everywhere -- on TV, online, outdoors, in movie trailers? Is it because you loved "High School Musical" and are hoping it's got the same magic? Or maybe all your friends are buzzing about it and it seems like the flick to see right now. 

These are things we'd love to hear about, because it's interesting to look at how we respond to media marketing campaigns, especially when it comes to TV and film. Advertisers know that tweens are a huge audience and have a lot of money to spend on entertainment and products, so they target the 9-13 age group pretty heavily. But pre-teens are tough to pin down, because most of what you're into has to walk a fine line between being too "babyish" and too "grown up." 

Some other ideas to ponder: What goes into your decision to see something? Do you try to find out whether there's anything in it that's too mature, scary, or just not up your alley? Do your parents automatically let you see any movie that's rated PG, or do they do some research first? And are you more likely to buy your ticket because it's got some "questionable" moments? Hmmmm...

IML's Rating: B-



Movie Review: "Shorts"
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How many times a day do you make wishes? Once or twice? Half a dozen or more? Maybe you're not constantly saying, "I wish I had a million dollars!"...but you might wish to yourself that your crush would notice you, or that your parents would stop arguing, or that you hadn't just eaten that Pigout Deluxe Burrito at the mall. Most of us wish constantly, quietly, for one thing or another. And we don't really expect or try to make them come true.

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The new movie "Shorts," written and directed by Robert Rodriguez ("The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl" and the "Spy Kids" movies), takes a look at what might happen if anyone's wishes could be granted -- literally and instantly. When a mysterious "wishing rock" appears in narrator Toby Thompson's neighborhood, chaos ensues. The chaos is funny, wacky, and gross, yet also hits close to home; it's the kind that even your mom or dad will chuckle at. 

In addition to the comedy, cool visuals, and great cast, we like how the story touches on some bigger issues such as family relationships, bullying, and the role of technology in our lives. Most of the characters make their first wishing rock request by expressing their deepest desire. Lonely Toby wishes for friends as unique as he is; meanie Helvetica (whose name we love so much, we almost wrote this in the Helvetica font) wishes her dad would listen to her; Nose wishes his frustrated father's inventions would work; and Toby's mom wishes she and her husband were closer (instead of texting each other while they're in the same room!). It's through these wishes that the heart of "Shorts" comes through. If we could, we'd grab the wishing rock and wish this heart came through a little stronger and didn't feel quite so tacked-on. 

But it sure is fun to come out of this movie and talk to a friend, a parent, or whoever about what you would do with the wishing rock. Would you go for the instant gratification? Would you wish for something for yourself, or for others? How would you phrase a wish so it wouldn't backfire? Tell us!

IML's Rating: B+