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Movie Breakdown: The Water Diviner

April 22, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Russell Crowe makes his directorial debut with a film about a man searching for his dead (or possibly alive) sons.

The Reality:

Remember that scene in The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers where Aragorn, in an attempt to locate Merry and Pippin, crawls around on the ground and is able to visually recreate exactly what happened before the duo disappeared into Fangorn Forest?  Well, Russell Crowe does some of that in The Water Diviner, and it’s sort of laughable.  The film also features a wonderfully cheesy mix of gentle piano music, slow motion and soft transitions throughout every single one of its many dramatic moments, and those too are often chuckle-worthy.  In other words, Crowe’s directorial debut is a heavy handed film that is difficult to fully take seriously.  However, I didn’t hate it.  Despite the movie being too glossy and bland, Crowe does do a nice job of delivering a heartfelt story that moves well and doesn’t drag.  He also turns in a good performance as Joshua, a man who has lost everything and is desperately seeking closure.

If you’re a big fan of Crowe or you would just like to see something wholesome, you could do worse than The Water Diviner.

The Lesson:

Keep at it, Crowe.

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Movie Breakdown: Ex Machina (Noah)

April 17, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

I can sit here and write out every reason why this is the most exciting film to hit theaters this year, but I won’t. I’ll just say, this is the most exciting film to hit theaters this year.

The Reality:

It’s been a strong few years for genre films. We’ve seen audiences start to embrace (re-embrace) the idea that science-fiction and big budget blockbusters don’t have to be two-hour orgies of explosions and muscles (though hey, in the right hands, we’re all okay with that as well). We’ve seen horror films slowly start to come back from the perilous edge of shit they tiptoed on for so long. Hell, we’ve seen comic books and their celluloid kin reach new heights of both popularity and creative savvy. It’s a fucking good time to be a genre nerd. And still, every once in a while you get a film that regardless of the sea of quality it’s floating in, manages to transcend the concept of genre, and help to rewrite the book on what interesting, science-fiction can be. Ex Machina is that film. Written and directed by superstar genre writer (and novelist to boot) Alex Garland, Ex Machina follows Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson, quickly becoming one of my favorite actors), a programmer for a Google like company that wins an office raffle to join the company’s founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaacs in a truly fantastic asshole performance) for a week at his estate. Upon arrival (the entire film takes place in the confines of Nathan’s ultra-modern, underground home) Nathan introduces Caleb to Ava (Alicia Vikander), an advance bit of AI that he needs to test in terms of how convincing it is. What follows is a wildly entertaining, if not somber, discourse on the evolution of artificial intelligence and what it means to create sentient life. Through Caleb’s blossoming relationship with Ava, and his tenuous interactions with Nathan, Garland is able to explore the concept of what humanity is, and how we impart it to the rest of the world. It’s the mark of a talented director to be able to express big, mind-boggling concepts (for me at least, I’m a Film Major) through the interactions of 3-4 people, and Garland does just that, extrapolating these impressive concepts by beautifully executed pairings of his tiny cast of characters. Each interaction plays off the one that comes before it, until the final act of the film, where everything that’s come to bear, well, really comes to bear. This is a benchmark for modern sci-fi, a film that every thing else should aspire to. You can call me hyperbolic all you want, this is a modern fucking classic.

The Lesson:

It was Danny Boyle who was making the end of Alex Garland’s scripts feel like off-kilter, fairly shitty action movies. Silly Boyle.

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Movie Breakdown: True Story (Noah)

April 17, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

I might be a little exhausted in terms of James Franco. I respect that the man is a prolific “artist” who wants to make as much “art” as possible, but I could do without his smug good looks and particularly abstract take on acting. That said, watching Jonah Hill’s slow progression into serious acting is always fun.

The Reality:

If you ever spend anytime with anyone who’s ever written anything, you’ll probably at some point be told to “show, not tell.” This means that instead of broadcasting to your audience the intentions and reasoning of your characters, you allow their actions and words to “show” this for you. True Story is a good film, a solid film one might say, but one that dances so precariously on the line of “show, don’t tell” that you have to wonder if director, Rupert Goold, managed to make an enjoyable film that seems more weighty than it actually is. Which in a film like True Story, could most certainly be the case. Based on a, sigh, true story, the film follows the life of former New York Times writer Mike Finkle (Jonah Hill) in the wake of being disgraced, and canned, for lying in an article. Stripped of his professional credibility, Finkle sequesters himself in his home in Montana and waits for something to happen. In Mexico, Christopher Luongo (James Franco), is fleeing police in the wake of his family being discovered murdered. And he’s using the alias Mike Finkle, of The New York Times. Luongo is caught, Finkle becomes interested in the case, and after visiting Luongo, becomes a willing participant in sharing the story of his life and, presumed innocence. The meat of the story revolves around a series of conversations the two men have, where Luongo sort of seduces Finkle into the idea of writing a book about him. Though both actors do good work in the film, there’s something about the interaction between the two that doesn’t sit right, as if the well known real life friendship heightens the sense that these two are acting. Or maybe, just maybe, Goold wanted to make these moments in the jail cell seem vaguely unrealistic, as if he was hinting at this idea that the “true story” that Finkle was writing never, to anyone observing from the outside at least, seemed real at all. Yet Goold never overtly states any of this. Yes, we watch as Finkle becomes, to some degree, a pawn to Luongo’s small machinations, and we see how important the story and the friendship becomes to a man wallowing in creative limbo, but Goold, to the film’s detriment, never pulls the camera far enough back to really showcase why it matters. Instead, we get a well made film (and Goold has a keen aesthetic eye and fine hand with his actors) that tells a story about a story, well, about a story, but in the end, that’s it. Sure, you can argue that Goold has made a film that challenges the audience to come to their own conclusions, or, you can look at it and see a director who couldn’t figure out how to address the central themes of his narrative, so he just hung it all out to dry and hoped everyone else could figure it out.

The Lesson:

Felicity Jones, who plays Finkle’s wife in the film, is going to be a massive star. She’s relegated to a sort of quiet, brooding-lay role in the film, but her one face-to-face interaction with James Franco is the highlight of the film. A twisty, brief conversation that exposes the truth at the heart of Luongo and gives the film that little oomph to really stick the landing.

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Weekly Movie News Rundown

April 11, 2015

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Time for your weekly movie news update!  Below you’ll find a slew of sentences meant to provide a brief glimpse of what’s been going on over the past week in movieland.  If something leaves you desperate for more info, then my advice is to do a little extra research on one or all of the following fantastic sites:  Latino Review, Dark Horizons, Ain’t It Cool News, CHUD and/or JoBlo.  Read on!

Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service) has reportedly landed a major role in the Justin Lin-directed Star Trek 3.

An adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower is being resurrected by Sony Pictures and MRC.  Ron Howard is no longer attached to direct, but he will produce the film along with Akiva Goldsman, Brian Grazer and Erica Huggins.

Warner Bros. is reportedly interested in having James Wan direct Aquaman.

Ryan Gosling is said to be in talks to star in Guillermo Del Toro’s planed reboot of The Haunted Mansion.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller are currently working on a treatment for The Flash.  They have yet to sign on to direct the movie.

Brad Bird recently noted that he has begun working on a sequel to The Incredibles.

Universal reportedly wants Scarlett Johansson to star in their remake of The Creature From The Black Lagoon.

Daniel Radcliffe is set to star in Grand Theft Auto, which will detail the battle between Rockstar and activist attorney Jack Thompson.

Rumor has it that Sony would like to combine The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest into one film. Then, if it’s successful, adapt The Girl In The Spider’s Web as the third movie in the series.

Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund are officially set for Tron 3.

Warner Bros. is reportedly developing a female-led version of Logan’s Run.

Ian McKellen will portray Cogsworth in Disney’s live action Beauty And The Beast.

Eddie Redmayne is reportedly the front-runner to star in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them.

Brent Spiner has signed on to reprise his role as Dr. Okun in Independence Day 2.

Hayden Christensen will star in Rob Cohen’s Marco Polo.  As of now, it’s just being described as a fantasy movie.

Spike Lee’s next film is titled Chiraq.  No word yet on plot.

Vin Diesel and Chris Tucker have signed on for Ang Lee’s adaptation of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

Disney is set to develop a live action version of Pinocchio.

Francis Lawrence has signed on to direct a new adaptation of The Odyssey.  Peter Craig (Hunger Games: Mockingjay) wrote the script.

Kurt Russell and Dylan O’Brien may star alongside Mark Wahlberg and Gina Rodriguez in Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon.

Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) will direct the upcoming Power Rangers movie.

Mark Millar is teaming with producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura on an adaptation of Jupiter’s Legacy.  The comic follows offspring of superheroes who haven’t lived up to the standards of their parents.

This Week’s Notable Trailers

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Movie Breakdown: While We’re Young

April 9, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Noah Baumbach’s latest stars Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as two forty-somethings siphoning energy and inspiration out of two twenty-somethings played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried.  Looks like a charmer!

The Reality:

Being a kid is hard.  Growing up is hard.  Getting older is hard.  Being old is hard.  Life overall is just hard.  We all know it.  So why the hell do we need to be told this via a film that features well-off white people unable to “find” themselves?  We don’t.  At all.  However, I’m still recommending Noah Baumbach’s While We Young.  As it turns out, the film is less of a “woe is me, I’m too privileged to be happy” affair and more of a self aware look at the missteps that some people take in life.  It’s a film that’s funny, charming, slightly alarming and just grounded enough to keep from being unrelatable, and I liked it a lot.  See it when you can.

By the way, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts have great chemistry and are wonderful in While We’re Young.  Their characters ride a fine line between being relatable and goofy (in like a bad Ben Stiller-comedy kind of way), and they both do a nice job of never leaning too far to either side.  Also, big ups to Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried for perfectly portraying mega-trendy hipsters.

The Lesson:

Hey Baumbach, I forgive you for Frances Ha.

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Weekly Movie News Rundown

April 5, 2015

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Time for your weekly movie news update!  Below you’ll find a slew of sentences meant to provide a brief glimpse of what’s been going on over the past week in movieland.  If something leaves you desperate for more info, then my advice is to do a little extra research on one or all of the following fantastic sites:  Latino Review, Dark Horizons, Ain’t It Cool News, CHUD and/or JoBlo.  Read on!

Tom Hardy recently noted that he’s signed on for three further Mad Max films.

20th Century Fox is in reportedly negotiating with Hasbro to produce a movie based on Play-Doh.  Paul Feig may direct.

Disney is said to be in talks with Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Phillip) to direct a live action Winnie The Pooh film.  Disney is also apparently working on a live action version of Mulan.

Ben Hardy (EastEnders) has landed the role of Angel in X-Men: Apocalypse.

Parmount has hired Aaron Berg (Section 6) to rewrite the script for GI Joe 3.

Stephen Amell (Arrow) has been cast as Casey Jones in TMNT II.

Sony has reportedly hired Jay Basu (The Pier) to write a Metal Gear Solid adaptation.

Rumor has it that the third Tron film will be titled Tron: Ascension.

Hugh Jackman has let it be known that his last film as Wolverine will be the sequel to The Wolverine.  This week Jackman also announced that he will produce and star in a biblical epic titled Apostle Paul.

Ansel Elgort (Insurgent) has landed the lead role in Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver.

Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje (Oz) will portray Killer Croc in Suicide Squad.

Danny Trejo let is slip that he and Robert Rodriguez are planning to shoot Machete Kills In Space later this year.

Clint Eastwood is said to be in talks to direct the currently untitled Billy Ray-scripted Richard Jewell biopic.  Jonah Hill is still attached to star.

This Week’s Notable Trailers

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Weekly Movie News Rundown

March 28, 2015

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Time for your weekly movie news update!  Below you’ll find a slew of sentences meant to provide a brief glimpse of what’s been going on over the past week in movieland.  If something leaves you desperate for more info, then my advice is to do a little extra research on one or all of the following fantastic sites:  Latino Review, Dark Horizons, Ain’t It Cool News, CHUD and/or JoBlo.  Read on!

Joe and Anthony Russo have reportedly signed on to direct Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1 and 2.

Idris Elba may sign on to be the villain in Star Trek 3.  Elba is also expected to appear in Harmony Korine’s The Trap.

Matthew McConaughey is set to star in The Billionaire’s Vinegar.  It’s said to be about the 1985 purchase of a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite Bordeaux that was once supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson.

Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline) is said to be up for a role in Star Wars: Rogue One.

Twentieth Century Fox has hired Art Marcum and Matt Hollway (Iron Man) to write a new version of Alien Nation.

Sony has secured the rights to Robotech and plans on turning it into a film franchise.

Nick Antosca (Hannibal) has been hired to write a new Friday The 13th film.

Newcomer Lane Condor has landed the role of Jubilee in X-Men: Apocalypse.

Bradley Cooper will make his directorial debut with A Star Is Born.  Beyonce may star in the film.

Vivica A. Fox has signed on to appear in Independence Day 2.

Jennifer Lawrence let it slip that X-Men: Apocalypse will be her last film in the series.

Vincent D’Onofrio is reportedly in talks to play the villain in Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven.

Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) has been hired to write a heist film for Steve McQueen.

Adam McKay is reportedly close to signed on to a direct a Marvel film.

Jason Segel and Drew Pearce have signed on to co-write and co-direct a LEGO spin-off film, The Billion Brick Race.

Steven Spielberg is set to direct the adaptation of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is reportedly in talks to star in the remake of Force Majeure.

Martin Scorsese may direct the big screen version of Kenneth Branagh’s version of Macbeth.

Rumor has it that Mateus Ward (Murder In The First) recently auditioned for the role of Spider-Man.

This Week’s Notable Trailers

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In Review: SXSW Film 2015

March 26, 2015

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Now that I’ve had a few days to put the chaos of SXSW behind me, I’m ready to divulge what I thought of the ten films that I saw during the festival.  For fun, I’ve sorted them from best to worst.  Read on.

Ex Machina

As I was walking out of the Paramount a guy in front of me looked over at his friend and excitedly labeled Ex Machina as an “instant classic.”  I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it is a great film.  The directorial debut from Alex Garland (writer of 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Dredd and more) is a heady sci-fi thriller that had me engaged and on the edge of my seat right from the start.  Oscar Issac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Viklander are absolutely great it, and I suspect that all of their character’s actions will be the subject of drunken debates for years to come.  I can’t wait to see Ex Machina again.

Furious 7

I’m prefacing my comments about Furious 7 by noting that I truly adore the entire Fast And Furious series.  All of the films are self-aware adrenaline rushes that aim to delight the senses, and I can’t think of a better example of escapism than what Vin Diesel and the gang have done over the years.  With all of that being said, it’s only half accurate to say that I went into Furious 7 hoping for more of the same.  Yes, I wanted the crazy car stunts, heavy handed monologues from Vin and more, but the death of Paul Walker meant that the film needed a sizable dose of sensitivity to go along with the speed, and I wanted it done right.  I wanted to see Walker honored and not just awkwardly dealt with because it had to be done.  Thankfully, all turned out well, and nothing about the film feels forced or tacked on.  It’s big and crazy (just like it should be), but then when it needs to get small and intimate, it does.  Good on director James Wan for taking what could have been a huge mess and turning it into a triumph.

Trainwreck

If you’ve ever seen a Judd Apatow film, then you’ve seen Trainwreck.  It’s funny, raunchy, 20 minutues too long and loaded with quotable bits.  Amy Schumer is charming and hilarious in the film, and I’ll be surprised if she doesn’t become a new go-to for female roles in comedies.  Also, LeBron James is pretty damn solid in it.  Who knew he had such good comedic timing?

Love And Mercy

Brian Wilson’s story is interesting, complicated, sad and totally not something that should be crammed into a single film.  Somehow though, Love And Mercy works.  Director Bill Pohlad wisely just shows only the necessary portions of the two most important stretches of Brian Wilson’s life, and Paul Dano and John Cusack both do a wonderful job of portraying the famed artist during those times.  I highly recommend you see it regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of Wilson.

The Final Girls

The Final Girls is a horror comedy that follows a group of friends who get sucked into their favorite slasher film and then must figure out a way to survive.  It’s super meta and very much a spiritual successor to Cabin In The Woods.  Now, just so I’m clear, I’m not saying that The Final Girls is as good as Drew Goddard’s 2012 hit.  A sizable amount of jokes miss completely and often the “world” that the characters exist in makes no sense at all, but overall it’s a fun time that will play well for those who enjoy clever horror movies.

Hello, My Name Is Doris

Hello, My Name Is Doris is about an older woman (Sally Field) who is doing her best to woo a much younger man and make up for the all the years she lost while taking care of her sick mother.  I found it to be charming, funny and heartfelt, but also too goofy for its own good.  Fortunately, Field is so great as the troubled, but tenacious Doris that you’ll probably be too caught up in rooting for her to even notice when the film tries to throw itself off the rails.

Honeytrap

Honeytrap deals with a series of unfortunate decisions made by Layla (competently played by Jessica Sula), who desperately wants to be accepted and loved.  It’s depressing.  See it only if you’re in the mood to be reminded that some people have practically no shot at a better life.

Just Jim

Directed by and starring Craig Roberts (Neighbors), Just Jim is a coming of age film that features a twisted sense of humor and interesting characters.  Check it out so that you can see Emile Hirsch in full-on bizarro mode as Jim’s mentor.

Quitters

There’s not much to like about Quitters.  The main kid (Ben Konigsberg) is quite possibly the most unlikeable character I’ve come across in a long while, and I spent much of the movie hoping he would get hit by a meteor.

Brand: A Second Coming

Brand: A Second Coming is nothing but an eternally long wad of nonsense.  I know Russell Brand said he didn’t want to show up to the SXSW premiere because he felt watching it would be “uncomfortable” for him, but I think it’s because he knew it wasn’t any good.

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Movie Breakdown: Get Hard (Noah)

March 26, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

It’s got Kevin Hart in it which automatically drops it down to the very bottom of the list after anything starring Ian Ziering and George W. Bush’s amateur sex tape.

The Reality:

At this point, with comedies of this mind-numbing stature, I don’t even know what to say anymore. Did I enjoy the story of a very rich man (Will Ferrell) who’s sentenced to maximum security prison for money reasons and so believes that he’s going to die in the joint that he enlists his car washer (Kevin Hart) to teach him to, ahem, “get hard”? Yeah, like I enjoy unsalted mash potatoes or, uh, lukewarm bubbly water. Did I think the film bordered on the edge of offensive, and used a paper thin veneer of “social commentary” to just actively endorse the ridiculing of stereotypes? Yeah, sure. At the end of the day would I tell you, the reader, to go out and see this movie in the theater because it’s a redefinition of comedy, a broad new step in the career of Will Ferrell, that it ends with Kevin Hart falling off a building? No, no I wouldn’t. Get Hard plays like a “greatest hits” reel of Will Ferrell’s very Will Ferrell-y comedy – he cries, he “sad dogs”, he acts like a gangster, he plays a sort of sad giant (an Elf with money instead of gifts) totally unknowing of the world around him. It’s enjoyable to watch Ferrell because he’s an enjoyable actor, but you could’ve cut out the ham-handed story, especially the relationship that builds between Hart and him, and just strung the leftover bits together and called it Saturday Night Will and it would’ve been just as enjoyable. Get Hard is the definition of a “vehicle” for two stars – it’s a loose story built around them just doing dumb shit – and though, yes, it will illicit some laughs, you have to sit through the rest of the crap to get to them.

The Lesson:

T.I. is a surprisingly funny actor. You learn something new every day.

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Weekly Movie News Rundown

March 14, 2015

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Time for your weekly movie news update!  Below you’ll find a slew of sentences meant to provide a brief glimpse of what’s been going on over the past week in movieland.  If something leaves you desperate for more info, then my advice is to do a little extra research on one or all of the following fantastic sites:  Latino Review, Dark Horizons, Ain’t It Cool News, CHUD and/or JoBlo.  Read on!

Rogue One is the official name of the first Star Wars spinoff film.  Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) will direct.  Felicity Jones (Theory Of Everything) will star.

Disney has officially announced Frozen 2.

Rings will be a prequel to The Ring.  F. Javier Gutierrez (Evil Dead 2013) is set to direct.

John Lasseter and Josh Cooley will co-direct Toy Story 4.

Tim Burton is set to direct a live-action version of Dumbo.

Tron 3 will reportedly start shooting later this year.  Joseph Kosinski is expected to return to direct the sequel.

Eddie Murphy has joined the cast of Lee Daniels’ Richard Pryor biopic.  Mike Epps is set to star in the film.

Josh Gad will portray La Fou (Gaston’s sidekick) in the live action version of Beauty And The Beast.

Jamie Foxx recently let it slip that Martin Scorsese is going to direct him in a Mike Tyson biopic.

Joe Carnahan will write and direct Motorcade.  The story is said to be centered around terrorists attacking the President’s motorcade.

Kate Mara is set to star in Morgan, which is said to be about a risk-management consultant who must decider whether or not to terminate an at-risk artificial being.  Luke Scott (Ridley’s son) will direct.

Ruben Fleischer will direct Miles Teller in The Life And Times Of The Stopwatch Gang.  It’s based on the true story of a trio of Canadian bank robbers.

Rumor has it that Warner Bros. are interested in casting Chris Pine as the lead in the Green Lantern reboot.

This Week’s Notable Trailers

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Movie Breakdown: Run All Night

March 12, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Taken 4: Run All Night sees Liam Neeson on a mission to save his son (played by Joel Kinnaman).  Ed Harris and Common are the bad guys.

The Reality:

Mob stories have been done to death, but every now again a little something slips out and refreshes the genre.  Run All Night is not that something.  Just like director Jaume Collet-Serra’s previous two Liam Neeson-led films – 2011′s Unknown and last year’s Non-Stop – it’s an okay action flick that’s so generic it becomes wholly forgettable the moment the credits hit the screen.  Hell, I’m roughly 98% sure I’m going to end up catching it on TV in a few years and watching it as though I haven’t already slogged my way through it before.  Then I’ll be treated to its paint-by-numbers experience all over again!  I can’t wait.  But seriously though, Run All Night is less bad of a bad film and more of a boring one, and if you were to get out this weekend and see it you’d probably be more inclined to simply shrug your shoulders than frown with disappointment, but does that mean it’s worth your time and money?  I say no.  And frankly, it might be better at this point to stop supporting Liam Neeson in roles like this.  The guy is on the verge of needing another career reboot.

The Lesson:

We have to figure out a way to steal Liam Neeson away from the clutches of Jaume Collet-Serra.  That guy is not a good director.

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Movie Breakdown: Cinderella (Noah)

March 12, 2015

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The Impression:

Kenneth Branaugh has made two of my least favorite movies of the last ten years. Match his heavy, uninspired hand with Disney’s recent need to “reinvent” their classic characters and I’d say this is the least excited I’ve been about a film since I’ve started writing for this blog.

The Reality:

I don’t need to ever see a traditional imagining of a classic story ever again. I never need to see one of our national written treasures – the Hamlets, the Red Riding Hoods, the Grapes of Wrath – portrayed as originally written. We’ve come so far in our abilities to make films and instead of pushing the envelopes of what our films can be, we’ve regressed into making slack-jawed word-for-word adaptations of our prized texts. Cinderella, as directed by Kenneth Branaugh, is the definition of a traditional text being treated as such. This is Cinderella (Lily James from Downton Abbey) as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, scarily skinny, white girl in a blue dress, who with the help of her fairy godmother (Helena Bohnam Carter) must win the heart of her Prince. A Prince (Richard Madden from Game of Thrones) with a granite-jaw, a cod-piece and the bright blue eyes of a serial killer. This is Cinderella where everything you’ve ever seen happen in any version of Cinderella ever happens. It is a moment-for-moment adaptation of the Disney cartoon of the 1940s, and it is both dull and near offensive in its lack of originality. If you want the story of Cinderella that you’ve grown up with, the one with the crystal slipper and the blue dress and the pumpkin cart and mice and so and so forth (which I really do imagine a lot of you do) then this is very much the film for you. If you want a film that looks at our fairy tales and tries to apply any sort of modern context to them, one that uses a term like “classic” to hide the word “boring”, a film that will continue to impress upon your children that the face of a prince and princess are always white – then this is the film for you. I’m not asking for steampunk Cinderella, I’m not asking for manga-Cinderella, or Quentin Tarantino’s take on the glass-slippered starlet – I just want whomever, inevitably, picks up this property next to think, “Maybe there’s a different angle here.” There might be an argument that in a time when irony and snark are so often beaten over our heads, that a film that earnestly approaches its subject is a good thing. I just don’t think that earnestness and interesting and original filmmaking are mutually exclusive subjects.

The Lesson:

I spent most of this film vacillating between a sort of forced hibernation and looking at the little girl next to me who was leaned forward in her chair, head perched on her hands, absolutely loving the shit out of this film. It’s not a film for me, but that little girl was truly enchanted.

The Lesson Pt. 2:

Cate Blanchett is fantastic in this film as the evil stepmother. She’s vicious, wily and seething with evil, and every moment she was on screen I could almost convince myself that I was enjoying the film.

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Movie Breakdown: The Hunting Ground (Noah)

March 11, 2015

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The Impression:

Kirby Dick and company take on college rape and higher education’s controversial methods of dealing with the pervasive problem. Sounds like I’m leaving this one with a stomach full of rage.

The Reality:

Kirby Dick has made a film aimed at exposing the severity of the rape issue on college campuses. More so, he’s made a film that calls bullshit on the absolutely horrifying way that university’s have chosen to deal with the subject. Simply put: rape is a big problem on college campuses, a bigger problem than you think, but the biggest problem is that colleges are protecting their own self-interests by shaming rape victims and purposefully neglecting to report or punish on-campus rapists. It’s a brutal subject and Dick manages to dig deep not only into the stories of a small handful of the women (which is still a pretty big handful) who’ve been victimized, but also the perpetrators of the acts as well as the culture of colleges that breeds what one woman refers to as a “hunting ground.” He points fingers at the universities, the fraternity system and college athletics, all the while showcasing the noxious entanglement of education and finance that promotes the horrifying atmosphere so many women (and men) are a part of. It’s a brutal subject and Dick manages to showcase that. Which is what makes this a good documentary, but Dick is a good director, not a great one, and the film never coalesces into the searing classic it could be. This may seem insensitive, but Dick is actually fairly heavy-handed with the material. You don’t need to play sweeping orchestral music or Lady Gaga’s It Get’s Better time and time again for the audience to know that the horrible, violent rape of our college-aged men and women is awful. Dick doesn’t trust his material though and at the times when you’re ready to throw a brick through the fucking screen because some rich, white man is telling a rape victim to go home and sleep it off, the music swells and all of a sudden it feels a little maudlin. Strangely, a few of the times when Dick isn’t beating you over the head with the topic, he’s gone in the other direction, contrasting terrifying data with upbeat music or almost chipper animation. The disparity between the subject, and the two tones casts the film into an aesthetic limbo. We live in an age of amazing documentaries about subjects broad and wide, inspirational and awful, that are near perfect examples of the melding of tone and subject. And though Dick is a seasoned documentarian (an Oscar-winning one at that) The Hunting Ground finds it subject, but isn’t able to find the film to match it.

The Lesson:

Higher education, you have a lot to atone for.

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Weekly Movie News Rundown

March 8, 2015

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Time for your weekly movie news update!  Below you’ll find a slew of sentences meant to provide a brief glimpse of what’s been going on over the past week in movieland.  If something leaves you desperate for more info, then my advice is to do a little extra research on one or all of the following fantastic sites:  Latino Review, Dark Horizons, Ain’t It Cool News, CHUD and/or JoBlo.  Read on!

Drew Goddard (Cabin In The Woods) will write and direct The Spectacular Spider-Man.

Jeremy Renner is reportedly set to appear as Hawkeye in Captain America: Civil War.

James Mangold recently noted that he expects to shoot the next Wolverine movie “early next year.”

Diablo Cody (Juno) has been hired by Sony to rewrite their Barbie movie.

Luke Evans will play Gaston and Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) will be the beast in Disney’s live action Beauty And The Beast.

Jessie Usher (Survivor’s Remorse) has landed a role in Independence Day 2.  He will portray the son of Will Smith’s Captain Steven Hiller.  Smith is not expected to be in the film.  Also, Liam Hemsworth and Jeff Goldblum have signed on.

Steven Spielberg may direct Jennifer Lawrence in an adaptation of Lynsey Addario’s memoir, What I Do: A Photographers Life Of Love And War.

Joseph Kosinski may direct a Gran Turismo movie for Sony.

Denis Villenueve (Prisoners) will direct Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner in Story Of Your Life.  It’s said to center around an expert linguist who is recruited by the military to communicate with aliens.

Ang Lee is going to adapt Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.  Newcomer Joe Alwyn is set to star in the film.  Garrett Hedlund (Tron Legacy) and Steve Martin may also sign on.

Bryan Singer will direct an adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon Is  A Harsh Mistress.

Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) is set to direct Overnight at 42nd Street.  The film will reportedly follow a man and his son as they try to defuse a hostage situation that develops while they’re in a toy store.

Peter Berg, Ronda Rousey and Iko Uwais (The Raid) are teaming up for the action thriller Mile 22.

This Week’s Notable Trailers

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Movie Breakdown: Chappie (Noah)

March 6, 2015

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing led us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

I was ready to disown director Neill Blomkamp after the abysmal Elysium. After seeing the trailers for his new film Chappie, seemingly about a sensitive robot who learns to gang-bang, I’m ready to start weaning his name out of the human language.

The Reality:

You know, Chappie could’ve just been a film about a rogue, sentient robot named Chappie and the near-braindead gangsters who teach him how to act tough, shoot guns and tear doors off cars and it would’ve been pretty watchable. Instead, to my great surprise, Neill Blomkamp is able to inject the story of, you know, Chappie with a strong message, a beating heart, and some epic bits of robot-on-robot action and to erase my fears about his future output in the process. Chappie, if the setting was different, and the main character not a ebonics-spouting South African cop-robot, could be a film that shows the danger of our upbringings. Chappie, one more time, is a cop-robot set for destruction when his “Maker” (Dev Patel) imbues him with artificial intelligence, just prior to being robbed and kidnapped by two bad haircut sporting South African thugs (Yolandi and Ninja from Die Antwoord basically playing fantastical versions of themselves). The rest of the film bounces back and forth between the philosophical struggle of how to teach a robotic baby how to live, Hugh Jackman (with the fucking worst haircut of all time) trying to sabotage the robo-baby, and Chappie (a marvel of computer graphics) learning how to c-walk. It really could be an awful film but Blomkamp shows the chops that made District 9 so remarkable, and makes a film that’s ostensibly about just how horrible human beings can be. The strongest moments of the film are Chappie learning to be relatively human. His emotional output (as voiced by Sharlito Copley) grows realistically and by the time he’s got a gold necklaces and a gat and he’s robbing an armored truck, you can believe that he’s ended up there. You can believe that the selfish interests of others have forced this blob of moldable robot clay into a sort of thugged-out criminal. It doesn’t all work out. Dev Patel’s character seems overly tacked on, and his presence in every scene takes away from the gangster Chappie story. Sigourney Weaver is barely there and when she is she’s stiff and awkward. And again, Hugh Jackman (though I like his villainous role) has the worst hair of all time. That said, Chappie was a pleasant surprise, Short Circuit with a more skilled director behind the wheel.

The Lesson:

Putting Die Antwoord into your film requires that they just get to play themselves. And that they wear their own merchandise and the soundtrack only consists of their songs. Hell, with a few cuts, this just could be one long Die Antwoord video.

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