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Is there an Echo in here?

It’s no secret that all found-footage genre movies are the same. Grab a couple of characters, give one of them a camera, and expose them to something supernatural that’s content to lurk just off-screen until the last five minutes. Everything else will just fall into place.

But that formula isn’t particularly family friendly, if only because that thing waiting a few feet to the left of the cast is usually plotting their violent doom.

That’s what sets Earth to Echo apart from the pack. It, too, follows a group of characters armed with a camera and a tendency to encounter unknown life forms. But all those familiar parts have been rearranged just enough to make it suitable for a much younger audience.

Playing with fire

Sequels are like toys. Any sequel worth its salt needs more stuff – more “cool,” more “new,” more of everything, really.

Just like the toys those sequels inspire. What kid’s going to want a medium-sized dragon after the first How to Train Your Dragon ended with a beast the size of a skyscraper? They want something bigger and shinier; something that lights up or shoots little plastic firebolts.

Dreamworks certainly had this in mind for How to Train Your Dragon 2 – not just for the merchandising (truly, this is the franchise that will launch a thousand dragon-themed birthday parties), but for the film itself.

Magnificence on display

Maleficent is not Sleeping Beauty. It’s not a remake; not a prequel; not a version of the same story but from the point of view of the lady with the big horns. It’s not Wicked with a Disney sparkle.

It’s some odd combination of all of them, a film that starts out a straight-ahead Sleeping Beauty prequel, then decides to just be Sleeping Beauty itself and then abruptly yanks away the back half of Sleeping Beauty (boy meets girl, boy murders dragon-woman, boy kisses girl) for something new and different and very Maleficent-heavy.

From many, one voice

Members of the Shenandoah Valley Children Choir with conductor Jo-Anne Van Der Vat-Chromy perform at the St. Michael Catholic Church in Glen Allen during a jazz concert of the One Voice Chorus.

The concert, entitled “A Little Jazz’ll Do Ya !” entertained the audience with “cool contemporary and classic jazz favorites (including J. Hendricks, G. Gershwin, A. Jobim and R. Rogers). It was a joint performance of the One Voice Chorus, the Russell Wilson Jazz Combo and the Shenandoah Valley Children Choir.

Hardball, the hard way


Million Dollar Arm is your traditional sports flick. It’s based on a true story, so if you’re curious, have access to Google, or follow baseball to some degree, you may know Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh. In 2008, they were victorious on the Indian reality series Million Dollar Arm and won the opportunity to train for a shot in the major leagues.

But Million Dollar Arm isn’t so much the story of Dinesh and Rinku as it is J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm), the scout who first came up with the idea to take baseball (or, at least, a baseball-themed reality show) to Southern Asia. Because this is a Disney pic, and that is the typical Disney sports formula. Consider Miracle and Remember the Titans, two incredible athletic stories that were less about the athletes, and more about the coaches – played by Kurt Russell and Denzel Washington, respectively. But that’s not such a bad thing, because Million Dollar Arm benefits from the endless charm of Mad Men star Hamm.

The stuff legends aren’t made of

A question hangs over the head of Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return. A question that will needle its way into the audiences’ brains over the course of its 88-minute running time.

“Why is this in theaters?”

Because Legends of Oz doesn’t particularly look like a movie – at least not one you’d typically pay upwards of ten dollars for. It looks like a direct-to-DVD Oz : cheap and ugly, with the level of animation typically found in a nasal spray ad.

‘Classical Fever’ strikes Henrico

Last month, world-renowned conductor and speaker Benjamin Zander of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra presented a free concert to more than 400 people at St. Michael Catholic Church. He joined the Symphony Musicians of Richmond and American Federation of Musicians Local 123 for the charity event benefiting United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg.

Zander conducted “Classical Fever,” a unique performance for those without classical music in their lives. It aims to help people discover personal connections to the art and have a deep artistic experience.

The bear necessities

There’s a long and storied history between the Disney world and the bear world. You’ve got The Jungle Book and Winnie the Pooh. Br’er Bear and Brother Bear. In short, a lot of bears.

But all those previous animals were sketched out by animators, who could cheerily omit the less family-friendly aspects of our ursine counterparts – sharp claws, pointy teeth and the occasional tendency to eat something while it’s still alive.

Bears, the latest documentary from Disney’s nature film label, Disneynature, has no such option.

‘Bee’ takes flight in Latin Ballet show

Celebrating the beauty of the planet and reminding attendees of the importance of creatures such as bees was the message of the colorful and intense ballet production “The Kiss of the Bee” that the Henrico-based Latin Ballet of Virginia presented at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen April 3-6.

Albert Einstein’s warning of “No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man,” was presented by the ensemble using dance and music as universal and cross-cultural languages.

“The Kiss of the Bee is a purely educational dance production and a continuation of the ballet’s environmental theme “Verde” that points to the importance of energy and resource conservation as well as the protection of animal and plant species,” said Ana Ines King, the artistic director of the Latin Ballet.

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