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post #99541 of 99546 Unread Today, 06:18 AM
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Critic's Notes
Element-ary, my dear: Catching up on 'Avatar' and 'The Legend of Korra'
Some belated thoughts on the Nick fantasy adventure epics
By Alan Sepinwall, HitFix.com - Jan. 30, 2015

Even though a large part of my job is guiding people to TV shows they might find interesting, I rarely find it easy to point my own kids to things I think they should watch — or, better, to things we can watch together. There's too much good adult TV for me to keep track of these days, so I'm virtually lost when it comes to children's programming. Every now and then I'll stumble into something current and fun, like "Phineas & Ferb," or I'll pick out a vintage show that seems kid-safe(*), but they often want to watch the things their friends are watching, or just rewatch the same episode or even scene a thousand times in a row. (I can't swear to it, but I'm pretty sure the two kids spent a week at home where the only words they said to each other were, "Is mayonnaise an instrument?") And sometimes I'll find something that seems perfect for one or both their age groups — and that I also would enjoy seeing with them — only for them to reject it for some kid logic reason there's no arguing with.

(*) Though this is not always fool-proof. For a while, we were working our way through "The Cosby Show" on Hulu. Now, we are not.

One of my biggest successes in recent years was Nickelodeon's "Avatar: The Last Airbender," and later its sequel "The Legend of Korra."

My daughter and I caught up on both over the last couple of years, using a combination of different streaming sites, On Demand, and at times DVDs(**).

(**) Our adventure was a nice reminder of the value of physical media — and/or downloads you pay to own —as we were in the middle of one "Korra" season when the streaming availability suddenly went away, and I believe we finished "Avatar" only a couple of weeks before the Netflix license ran out.

I had heard good things from fellow nerds, and I had once sat in a big Comic-Con ballroom during a "Korra" panel that was happening right before a "Firefly" reunion panel (a fact that inspired many self-deprecating jokes by the "Korra" cast about what the people in the room were really there to see), and was ultimately intrigued enough to give it a try, watching the first couple of episodes solo and then starting over from the beginning with my daughter.

For those who don't know, both series take place on an alternate Earth where magic and spirits are real, and where some people have the ability to control, or "bend," the elements of earth, fire, air and water. (Later seasons would introduce subsets of those powers, like bending metal, lava, or blood; because the whole thing is modeled on Eastern cultures and philosophies, this plays out like new martial arts disciplines expanding on what was possible with earlier ones.) The world is divided into four nations devoted to one of these four elements, and to keep the world in harmony, each generation gets an Avatar, who can master all the elements. "Avatar: The Last Airbender," gives us Aang, a young boy who emerges from 100 years of suspended animation in an iceberg to discover that the Fire Nation has conquered much of the world, and wiped out all other airbenders. "The Legend of Korra" picks up about a century later (the main setting is like an alt-Hong Kong of the 1920s) with teen girl Korra going up against various people who want to tear down the new society Aang and his friends created.

The two series offer action, comedy, and romance (more on that in a bit), just as they offer philosophy and thoughtful — but still kid-friendly (though "Korra" is definitely tougher and more mature than "Avatar") — discussion of war, the environment, the strengths and limits of family, and even tricky topics like PTSD, which is a major unspoken theme of the final season of "Korra."

It's really quite something, and my daughter and I ate it all up with a big spoon.

Our intermittent schedule also worked out well because she was arguably too young for "Korra" when the whole project started, but was definitely right for it by the time we got there. There's some hard stuff in "Avatar" — not least of which is Aang coping with the genocide of his people — but much of it, especially early on, is more light-hearted, and apropos of the younger age of its heroes; by the time the real rebellion against the Fire Nation begins, the show has built emotionally to it, and in turn properly prepared its audience for what's to come on "Korra."

It was also interesting to see how the creative teams structured the two series. "Avatar" was one long story, and that show eventually ran out of material before the end — there's a strange middle section of the final season where the heroes are just killing time (and even commenting on how they're killing time) until the big climactic battle — where each "Korra" season had its own arc and villain, even as the show as a whole was charting her maturation from impulsive girl to wise young woman. Neither approach is wrong, and the "Avatar" story wasn't one that could be easily dispensed with in a season, but "Korra" was probably the more consistent show because it never had to sustain any one plotline for too long.

"Korra" also has the added bonus of using a lot of familiar actors for its voice cast, including J.K. Simmons (in a spiritual 180 from his award-winning "Whiplash" performance, even though both characters are teachers with impetuous students), John Michael Higgins (whose rapscallion inventor/businessman Varrick made my daughter laugh so much, I now need to figure out how old she can be before she sees one of Higgins' movies with Christopher Guest), Kiernan Shipka, Mindy Sterling (as perhaps the most badass character in either series, police chief Lin Beifong), Aubrey Plaza, Anne Heche, Lisa Edelstein, Henry Rollins, Bruce Davis, Lance Henriksen, and on and on. (I also watched all of "Korra" after I had seen season 1 of "You're the Worst," and now I'm wondering how I will respond to Janet Varney's performance there as Becca Barbara, now that I'm used to her as Korra.) "Avatar" has some of that — America's favorite crier, Mae Whitman, provides the voice of Aang's friend and love interest Katara — but not nearly to this degree.

The scope and ambition of both shows, and their devotion to action-adventure even more than comedy — with the writers and artists taking advantage of the unlimited special effects budget of animation to create one remarkable action sequence after another — made "Korra" an outlier in recent American animation for TV (it has much more in common with anime than most of what's produced here), and made the franchise something Nickelodeon didn't always know what to do with. (At times, new episodes didn't air on Nickelodeon, but were simply released online.) But I'm very glad I got to see it, and disappointed that the saga's now over. (Though there have been some rumors about prequel stories.) In the meantime, I can watch highlights of my favorite sequences, like Korra and Lin taking on the Equalists in season 1:

One other thing: we were still playing catch-up on "Korra" season 3 when the series concluded in December, but I caught enough of what was being discussed on social media to gather that the finale made Korra and her friend (and former romantic rival) Asami into a couple. As a result, I went into the final season looking for hints of that, and they were indeed there, as the creators insisted in their elegant blog posts (one by Bryan Konietzko, one by Michael Dante DiMartino) explaining why they went in that direction with their relationship. In those posts, they also acknowledge that the nature of the show meant that the revelation had to be done in an implicit rather than explicit way, but the whole thing was set up well — with more grace, frankly, than some of the franchise's other romances, which could at times feel rushed and/or odd(***) — and very much fit the series' themes of change and growth and needing time to figure out who you truly are and what you care about.

(***) Aang feels True Love for Katara when he's 12 years old, which isn't unheard of but also felt like something the show had to push through because the nature of the story gave them a limited timeframe to work with. Then again, considering that people in this world are much longer-lived — Katara and several other "Avatar" characters are still around at the time of "Korra," and this isn't considered unusual — maybe our standards for what's appropriate by age don't quite apply.

So, yes, that was a ton of fun. Now we just need to find our next show to watch together. Ordinarily, I'm the one making viewing suggestions, but in this case, I'm open to yours. Fire away with those, as well as any stray thoughts you might have on the "Avatar" and "Korra" of it all.

http://www.hitfix.com/whats-alan-wat...egend-of-korra
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post #99542 of 99546 Unread Today, 06:22 AM
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TV Review
Lifetime’s ‘Beautiful & Twisted’
By Brian Lowry, Variety.com - Jan. 29, 2015

Being unabashedly trashy can be pretty entertaining, and Lifetime takes the plunge — a little too deeply in places — with “Beautiful & Twisted.” A ripped-from-the-headlines tale of sex and murder, this fact-based story about the comicbook-loving heir to a hotel fortune who married, and was murdered by, a stripper, is produced by and stars Rob Lowe. But it’s Paz Vega’s turn as a beyond-soap-opera femme fatale that should have people buzzing. Seemingly cognizant of its camp qualities, the movie finally can’t sustain its initial energy, and the violence proves needlessly graphic. Not that those shortcomings will detract from its ratings appeal.

Lowe plays Ben Novack Jr., who grew up surrounded by the opulence provided by his family’s ownership of Miami Beach’s Fountainebleau Hotel, and narrates his own sordid tale from beyond the grave. Like many a rich man (especially in Lifetime movies), he’s undone by an alluring woman — in this case, Vega’s Narcy, struck by the proverbial thunderbolt when he first espies her swinging on a pole.

As crafted in a script credited to a quartet of writers (among them TV-movie ace Teena Booth), working from “material” assembled by a Miami Herald reporter for a book, their exaggerated courtship is filled with moments of disarming humor. When Ben meets Narcy, for example, who introduces herself as Kitty, he responds, “What’s your name when you have your clothes on?”

Later, when Ben takes her to see his “Batman” memorabilia, Narcy strips seductively in front of the Batmobile. After that, the two are off to meet his imperious, disapproving mother (a cameo by Candice Bergen) faster than you can say “Holy Prenup!”

“We can make it short if you’re paying by the hour,” mom sneers.

Soon enough, the relationship begins to sour, displaying Narcy’s hot temper and avarice as well as the couple’s mutual jealousy. Before it’s over, Ben’s mom has met an untimely end (originally ruled an accident), and he’s taken to wearing a bulletproof vest, although he remains so smitten with Narcy he can’t resist her whenever she saunters past him.

Eventually, the cops become suspicious, as does Narcy’s daughter May (“Falling Skies’” Seychelle Gabriel plays the grownup version), whom Ben had taken under his wing.

Directed by Chris Zalla, “Beautiful & Twisted” (which, come to think of it, really could be the title for almost any Lifetime movie) revels in an exaggerated tone that makes its fidelity to the facts — or lack of same — seem less important. That starts with Vega (whose credits include “Spanglish”), who invests Narcy with an almost feline quality, oozing sexuality from every pore.

At the same time, the violence is grisly (the movie carries a disclaimer to that effect), which feels a trifle gratuitous. As for Lowe, he’s shifted from victimizer (as Scott Peterson) to victim in Lifetime’s fact-based crime category, while still managing to be as creepy as he is in those DirecTV commercials.

In a savvy strategy aimed to wring additional bang out of its TV-movie buck, Lifetime will re-air a special detailing the actual facts of the Novack story immediately after the movie.

“Beautiful & Twisted” is hardly a stretch, falling squarely within the narrow niche that Lifetime movies occupy; still, it’s an example that wedding the right talent to such material will likely yield dividends. Because while Ben and Narcy are hardly role models, as presented here, it’s fun to indulge in a couple hours of Miami-style vice.

Lifetime's 'Beautiful & Twisted'
Lifetime, Sat. Jan. 31, 8 p.m.


http://variety.com/2015/tv/reviews/t...ed-1201410855/
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post #99543 of 99546 Unread Today, 06:26 AM
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TV Review
'Kids Baking Championship' (Food Network)
By Amy Amatangelo, The Hollywood Reporter - Jan. 30, 2015

Kids are adorable and cooking competitions are popular, so why not keep combining the two?

Following on the success of Fox’s hit series Masterchef Junior, eight children, ages 10 to 13, compete in the Kids Baking Championship. They’re vying to have a story written about them in the Food Network Magazine, and for $10,000. “We’re going to be thousandaires,” Jackson, age 11, exclaims.

Duff Goldman, star of the Food Network’s Ace of Cakes, and actress and cookbook author Valerie Bertinelli host the four-episode series. The winner is crowned on February 23.

In a happy surprise, the young contestants are genuinely nice to each other. They’re not jaded reality show veterans, nor are they practiced in bad-mouthing one another. When someone asks to borrow sugar, the ingredient is happily shared. It kind of makes you wish all reality shows featured children and everyone was forced to be on their best behavior.

The judges are also benevolent. While their banter is somewhat forced, Goldman and Bertinelli help the kids to problem solve and to not let a mistake prevent them from persevering. “I mess up all the time,” Goldman says. “That’s how we learn,” Bertinelli adds.

When one contestant’s peanut butter rice crispy treats aren’t coming together the way she would like, Goldman encourages her to put them into a different shape. When another laments that she doesn’t have the time to slice and dice raspberries, Goldman tells her to use the best tools at her disposal – her hands.

Goldman and Bertinelli are also pretty great in the final judging. While Goldman throws around the words “amazing” and “fantastic” too often, both judges offer constructive criticism and don’t sugarcoat it if a baked good is not up to par. A homemade-looking dessert or a crumbling fruit tart will be called out.

As anyone who has spent time in the kitchen knows, baking is a precise endeavor. A little too much olive oil or pepper in your pork dish can probably be corrected but if your lattice cookies have an abundance of butter, they’ll fall apart. And if you are too heavy on the flour, your cake will be dry and tasteless. That makes it all the more impressive that these eight young bakers are able to recreate recipes from memory.

In the first episode, berry velvet cupcakes, a strawberry mascarpone tart, chocolate espresso cupcakes and raspberry swirl mini-cheesecakes are among the desserts they whip up. I make something from a box and I’m pretty proud of myself. And while some of the baked goods look delectable, other are literally a hot mess. One contestant burns his cake while another has a pie crust that is about three inches thick.

The kids all have impressive baking backgrounds. I don’t know what exactly I was doing when I was a pre-teen but I know I didn’t have my own cupcake business like 12-year-old Caroline from Delaware, Ohio. Other contestants come across as too mature. Hollis, age 12, discusses how vanilla beans bring out a nice aroma in her frosting.

Cody, age 12, loves peanut butter and jelly because it “reminds me of my childhood.” And Peyton says if he wins the $10,000, he is going to invest it in mutual funds. But some are still delightfully young. Annika, age 11, wants to get a golf cart, a new puppy and a phone if she wins the money. “I really want my own phone,” she whispers in a phrase many parents are probably all too familiar with.

The worst aspects of the show are the same things that plague the majority of reality shows out there. The music is far too melodramatic – no one should get that worked up about baked goods. And the kids, while charming, have obviously been coached a little too much. They exclaim and “oooh and aaah” as if they were being told they didn’t have to do homework for an entire year. They gush over getting the chance to meet Goldman and Bertinelli. And while Bertinelli is an accomplished actress with a long and successful career, it’s hard to imagine that a bunch of tweens know who she is. “Valerie is not only an amazing actress, she is also a great cook and baker,” Annika says sounding as if she is reading from a script.

The series is a refreshing change from the “everyone’s a winner” philosophy that's so popular among today’s elementary school teams. The first episode sees two contestants get eliminated and left in tears.

This trend of putting kids into popular competition shows is a great idea. Let’s just hope they don’t try it with The Bachelor.

'Kids Baking Championship'
The Bottom Line: A little over-produced, but ultimately a sweet treat
Airdate: 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 2 (Food Network)


http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/rev...-review-768685
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post #99544 of 99546 Unread Today, 06:33 AM
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TV Notes
On The Air Tonight
SATURDAY Network Primetime/Late Night Options
(All shows are in HD unless noted; start times are ET. Late night shows are preceded by late local news)

ABC:
8PM - Movie: Despicable Me (2010)
10PM - 20/20: Designing Women

CBS:
8PM - Hawaii Five-0
(R - Apr. 11)
9PM - Criminal Minds
(R - Oct. 1)
10PM - 48 Hours

NBC:
8PM - Saturday Night Live: SNL's NFL Saturday (Special)
9PM - NFL Honors (Special, 120 min.)
* * * *
11:29PM - Saturday Night Live (J.K. Simmons guest hosts; D'Angelo and the Vanguard perform; 93 min.)

FOX:
8PM - Backstrom
(R - Jan. 22)
9PM - Red Band Society
* * * *
11PM - Animation Domination High-Def
(R)

PBS:
(check your local listing for starting time/programming)
8PM - Austin City Limits: The Black Keys; J. Roddy Walston & the Business

UNIVISION:
8PM - Sábado Gigante (Three Hours)

TELEMUNDO:
7PM - Movie: Quantum of Solace (2008)
9PM - Fútbol Mexicano Primera División: Club León vs. Jaguares de Chiapas (LIVE)
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post #99545 of 99546 Unread Today, 06:36 AM
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TV/Business Notes
Netflix's success sprouts tech-entertainment startups
By John Shinal, USA Today - Jan. 30, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO -- The business of distributing movies and TV shows online – via Netflix, Amazon.com, Google's YouTube service and other digital channels -- is sprouting start-ups.

This intersection of technology and entertainment has greatly expanded distribution options for creators of long-form visual content.

Now one of the newest entrants in this burgeoning market has partnered with one of the oldest names in the news business in hopes of finding stories that "grab you by the heart and pour some sense in your head."

Aspire Entertainment, launched last year by veteran movie producer Mark Ciardi, has signed a licensing deal with Newsweek for access to the magazine's stories, including its archives.

Ciardi was a producer on a raft of money-making sports movies for Disney over more than a decade, including The Rookie (2002), Invincible (2006) and Secretariat (2010).

With headquarters in Los Angeles and another office in San Mateo, Calif., Aspire wants to plug a pipeline of feel-good stories into the opportunity.

"Silicon Valley used to look to Hollywood and say, 'They do content.' Now these digital powerhouses have shown that if you make smart bets on quality stories, you can distribute anywhere," says Ciardi, CEO and co-founder of the seven-person firm.

"We're platform agnostic," he says.

Ciardi's Silicon Valley-based co-founders include Ash Vasudevan, one of his partners on the Million Dollar Arm (2014) -- the story of an agent's search for major league baseball pitcher from among India's hardest-throwing cricket players.

"Mark has a reputation for getting things done, which is hard to do in Hollywood," where so many projects never get made, Vasudevan says,

Aspire Chairman William H.C. Chang is a venture capitalist, a general partner of the MLS' D.C. United soccer team and an investor and executive of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

Co-founder Tom Duterme is a former executive at YouTube and Google.

Ciardi has beefed up the television side of the house by wooing to Aspire a former top content executive at ESPN.

Teri Katherine Flynn, whose projects for that Disney-owned sports channel included college football's Bowl Championship Series and ESPN's long-form documentary series, 30 for 30, will move to Aspire's L.A. office in early March.

"The number of (distribution) platforms is 10 times what it used to be," Flynn says. "It's a great time to be a content creator."

The story of successful executives leaving cushy jobs at big firms to join a start-up is an old one in Silicon Valley.

As more content goes digital, look for that career jump to become more common in the entertainment industry.

Ciardi's success in sports movies grew out of his own athletic career, which included one year as a pitcher in major league baseball.

Soon after, he discovered the story he made into The Rookie – about another pitcher's brief-but-inspiring pro career -- via a news item in Sports Illustrated.

Flynn, a veteran of Time magazine and sports radio, used to work with Jim Impoco, the Newsweek editor-in-chief who signed the deal giving Aspire the rights to its stories.

Founded in 1933, Newsweek quit the print magazine business in late 2012 but re-entered it in early 2013 as an expensive, perfect-bound glossy. Its website gets 7 million monthly unique visitors and the magazine is profitable "on a GAAP basis," Impoco says.

The licensing agreement gives the news organization the chance to do more lengthy, investigative stories that Impoco calls "deep dives."

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2...nomy/22599207/
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post #99546 of 99546 Unread Today, 06:38 AM
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If you're interested in The Blacklist and not sure about recording it Sunday, wait for Thursday as it's a two-parter and they will be re-airing it then.

I love smart men. In other words, I'm attracted to brains like a friggin' zombie. Crap I say
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