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Movie Breakdown: My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn (Noah)

February 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:

Nicolas Winding Refn is a weird director. I mean sure, you can watch Drive and just say he’s another stylized action director, but then dig a little deeper, get your nose in Valhalla Rising or Bronson, and this guys got a whole other party raging in his head. That’s what this film is about, that other party.

The Breakdown:

My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn (which from this point forward will be referred to as My Life because I have fat fingers and I get sweaty easily) clocks in at a minute over an hour, and that was exactly the amount of time I could handle living inside of the domestic life of The Refns. I guess that’s what you get when you make the decision to film your famous-director husband in the throes of trying to film his poorly received, art-house, Thai, Gosling-starring action film. It isn’t that this is a bad movie, for what it is it’s actually a pretty incisive, revealing portrait of a director trying not to be defined by just one thing (Refn’s prior film Drive) and Refn (here being filmed by his wife, the director of the documentary) allows honest emotion to be captured for the screen. It’s just that Refn, mostly angry, sometimes sad, a lot of the time full-out depressed, is hard to watch. He comes across as petulant and self-obsessed and though you learn almost nothing about his wife (aside from the fact that she struggles with her professional life in the shadow of her husband) you do learn that living with Nicolas Winding Refn is the equivalent of living with a sad shark, who mopes around all day thinking about his hunger until somewhere someone does something and he lashes out, shiny teeth gleaming. You also learn that Ryan Gosling and Refn have a sort of bromance going on that involves a lot of hugging and talking about emotions. And even though Gosling (the star of Only God Forgives) is only in it for a few scenes, his natural warmth, his genuine sort-of goofy sweetness acts as a mirror to Refn, highlighting just how cold and emotionally withdrawn the director is. Again, it’s only an hour, and the length helps and mostly hurts it. We see Refn in his the thrall of his mood swings, over and over again, but we never get past the emotional pain to see why or what causes this. It ends up painting Refn as a whiny ponce (which maybe he is) but doesn’t give any reason that he’d be angry about his beautiful and lovely kids and big, crazy house in Bangkok. Instead you get just one hour to have one argument firmly slammed home – Nicolas Winding Refn is kind of an asshole.

The Lesson:

Don’t marry Nicolas Winding Refn.

My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn is due out on VOD and in select theaters on February 27.

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Movie Breakdown: Focus

February 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:

The romantic crime drama-looking Focus is Will Smith’s first real attempt at apologizing for After Earth.  With him is the beautiful Margot Robbie.

The Reality:

When it came time to scribble down a post-film comment, “decidedly average” was the only way I could think of to describe Focus.  Will Smith and Margot Robbie have good chemistry and the film itself is fairly entertaining, but it’s all nearly buried by far too many twist and turns that aren’t remotely clever or surprising.  Also, the tone of the film is just all over the place.  Maybe it’s because of the litany of double crosses at play, but it constantly ping pongs between being funny, serious, sexy and dangerous like it’s desperately trying to keep you distracted so that you won’t guess what’s going to happen.  Except you’re going to, because Focus telegraphs every single one of its punches.

If you’re willing/able to switch off your brain for a bit, I think you’ll find Focus to be an alright time.  Just know going in that it’s a safe and predictable film that you’ll watch and probably instantly forget.

The Lesson:

Keep on truckin’, Will.

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Movie Breakdown: Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (Noah)

February 19, 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:

C’mon, if you saw the first film about four idiots who go back in time to the 1980s to, I don’t know, look at boobs or something, you’re probably mildly interested in seeing the sequel in which they go into the future to, uh, look at boobs.

The Reality:

Now, I want you to understand that when I level the term “dumb” against Hot Tub Time Machine 2 as a criticism, I understand that coming into this film, as a fan of the original, that these films are the definition of dumb, that they mine their humor from playing on the tropes of dumbness, that it’s a hot summer day and dumbness is the delicious, teeth-rotting Kool-Aid of Hot Tub Time Machine 2. That said, this film is dumb in a bad way. Where Hot Tub Time Machine The First used its dumb stick with maybe even a modicum of finesse (context people), Hot Tub Time Machine 2 just loads it in the dumb gatling gun and sprays it around like a 40s gangster. For a variety of reasons Hot Tub Time Machine 2 finds our protagonists, now fabulously wealthy because of their time-toying (shy one John Cusack, who clearly had better things to do…) in search of Lou’s (Rob Cordry) killer … IN THE FUTURE. Cue jokes about future sex toys (the “Dick Hole” device), future drug use (the “ladybug” device), future realities where people are matched with entirely out-of-their-league partners (the “coat check girl” device) and and other, future-y stuff. Amongst all the self-aware riffing (a major drag on this film) and dick jokes, Steve Pink (who so ably meshed stupid with funny in the first film) tries to weave in some emotion, hell even a plot, but it gets buried under layer after layer of occasionally funny potty humor. And this is what kills me about the adventures of Nick (Craig Robinson), Jacob (Clark Duke) and Adam (Adam Scott – far funnier here than in anything else I’ve seen him in) – the dumb has taken over entirely, and this time it’s mean spirited. Sure, it seems like maybe once, a long time ago, these people were friends, but all of them sans straight-man Jacob, are so terrible to each other (hell, just terrible in general) that the film becomes a big, bubbling cesspool of meanness. This is funny to some people, a bunch of dudes fucking with each other, and I think with a more steady hand and a better script this could be funny too, but instead it ends up like watching a comic version of a Tucker Max book but instead of it ending with him shoving coins in a girl’s hoo-ha, it ends with unearned sappiness.

The Lesson:

Alright, just a quick dip in the nerd pool. I understand that Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is not a film predicated on science, but for the amount they talk about time travel (and they do, even if they’re making fun of it), could they at least have tried to make it somewhat, ahem, realistic? It was distracting how little effort they put into making time travel slightly functional, but still spending a million hours describing it and trying to explain why the situation everyone was in worked. Pick a side Pink, you want scientific time travel, do it; you want four stupid guys getting sprayed in the face with semen, do that. But you can’t have both.

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Movie Breakdown: McFarland, USA

February 19, 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:

Kevin Costner continues his lackluster attempt at a comeback with a role that sees him teaching a bunch of poor kids how to be good at running cross country.

The Reality:

If you’ve seen Hoosiers, then you’ve seen McFarland, USA.  Granted, McFarland, USA isn’t as well made as Hoosiers and its story follows cross country runners and not basketball players, but plot and tone-wise it’s straight up the same film.  There’s a coach with a rather troubled past who finds himself in a complete “fish out of water” situation that seems hopeless, but instead of giving up he molds a group of downtrodden locals into something really special.  Yep, McFarland, USA is totally a “been there, done that” sort of thing and, to make the movie even more appealing, I can also note that it features clunky dialogue, stiff performances (what in the world happened to Kevin Costner’s charisma?) and a slew of incredibly heavy-handed messages.  You know what though?   Despite all of its various shortcomings, I liked it.  The film is a very heartwarming and inspiring experience that’s easy to enjoy.

If you’re in need of a pick me up these days, you could do a lot worse than McFarland, USA.  Grab a tissue or four and matinee it.

The Lesson:

I’m a goddamn sucker for sports movies.

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Movie Breakdown: Fifty Shades Of Grey (Noah)

February 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:

The literary opus that is Fifty Shades of Grey was Twilight fan-fic that some “skilled” author was able to rearrange into a campy bit of mom-porn that brought BDSM cat-o-nine swinging into the American popular conscience. The film, perhaps as it should, looks like a softcore porn I would have recorded off of HBO before the internet existed.

The Reality:

At some point in the unending cycle of softcore BDSM, stilted dialogue, and the smug, unmoving face of Jamie Dornan I realized that sitting through Fifty Shades of Grey was equivalent to a night spent getting fleeced in a seedy, edge-of-town casino where there are no windows or clocks and all you can do is watch a paunchy dealer throw down cards and take your money. In the first thirty minutes of this film, as Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) are meeting-cute and falling into some sort of contractually obligated “butt plug” situation, you think, this story has the potential of, if not being good, at least having a story that one could presumably follow along with. Narrative complications are introduced (Anastasia is a virgin! Christian doesn’t like romance!), characters are developed (Anastasia works at a hardware store!), and the idea of this being a movie with the traditional ideas of beginning, middle and end seems almost possible. Yet at perhaps the 20 minute mark after Christian asks Anastasia to sign a contract letting him keep her as his willing sex slave, Christian “rectifies the problem” of her lack of sexual experience and then the rest of the film is a bloated, overlong ode to the most boring relationship ever in existence. Nothing happens in this movie. It’s like a fictionalized version of The Bachelor, except instead of many women trying and failing to fuck a rich dude, it’s one woman and one man, and they pretty much like each other and aside from the dude’s interest in bondage, they have a pretty normal (i.e. slightly fucked-up relationship). You could describe this film as a series of vignettes where a woman gets more comfortable with the idea of being tied up and diddled, but every vignette follows the exact same cues – woman is excited to be in the company of rich man, rich man wants to tie woman up, woman doesn’t want to get tied up, man says relationship is a no go, woman seems sad, they have sex. Over and over and over again. It almost feels experimental, like a Sartre play where you’re stuck in this hellish cable television version of wealth and BDSM and just when you think something is going to happen, you get Groundhog’s Dayed and you’re right back at the grand piano trying not to let some guy tie you up. I could go on and on and on and on about the aspects of this film that fail (nearly everything – especially the awkward approach to representing BDSM in a more mainstream light) but I’ll end on a high note – Dakota Johnson. I don’t know if she’s ever been in anything else, but with the garbage dialogue and shit source material she’s given, she is still charming, sexy, and downright likable. Which makes it almost impossible to believe that she would fall for the wooden board with a face painted on it that is Jamie Dornan. The experience of watching Fifty Shades of Grey is equivalent to what I dream is Hell is like.

The Lesson:

I don’t even know. Egregious nudity alone cannot save a movie.

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Movie Breakdown: Fifty Shades Of Grey

February 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:

The immensely popular “erotic romance novel” Fifty Shades of Grey gets adapted for the big screen.  Horny people everywhere are stoked.

The Reality:

Buried somewhere deep in Fifty Shades of Grey is a movie I’d like to see.  Now, that’s not to say director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s adaptation is terrible.  It isn’t.  Far from it, actually.  The film just isn’t particularly good either, though I’m not sure it really ever had the chance to be.  Many of the movie’s faults – giggle-worthy dialogue and sex scenes, a soundtrack riddled with out of place pop artists, a bare-bones story – seem less like questionable decisions and more like unavoidable ones, as there’s clearly a drive to deliver the kind of movie that the zillion fans of the book expect/want.  I get that.  However, the shiny, smutty shallowness demanded by said fans blots out a couple of charged, but nicely layered performances by Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, and it also stomps on what could have been an interesting look at sex, relationships and what you’re willing to do for someone else.  Oh well.  At least now we all know “it is what it is” and that’s that.  See it if you want, but don’t expect to get much out of it other than something to chuckle about with your friends.

One final note, my favorite part about the movie was Christian Grey’s playroom.  Outside of it he’s always in a suit and looking super professional.  In the sex dungeon though, he is shirtless and in … ripped up jeans.  Whenever the couple enter the room, there’s soft music and slo-mo … and Grey’s ripped up, mall-bought jeans.  Surely there had to have been a better pants option to make him look rugged and wild.  I laughed out loud every single time.

The Lesson:

Pay attention to those red flags, ladies.

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Movie Breakdown: Kingsman: The Secret Service

February 11, 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 have faith in the halfheartedly marketed Kingsman: The Secret Service solely because of Matthew Vaughn.  He’s a fantastic writer/director who has yet to put out a bad film.  Also, he bailed on X-Men: Days Of Future Past for Kingsman, and I doubt he did it just for funsies.

The Reality:

I recently came across a comment from Daniel Craig where he noted that the Austin Powers Trilogy “fucked” everyone’s ability to do campy spy movies, and that’s why his Bond entries have all been so serious.  I guess that’s true.  When I think of spy flicks that have come out in the last decade or so (Goldmember was in 2002), I immediately picture Jason Bourne, Craig’s Bond and other dark, action heavy films.  Hell, even Taken, which I think most find to a be a sort of throwback to the days of bad-but-in-a-good-way spy-centric movies, is only humorous because it’s too serious.  So where’s all the fun?  Not dead, I don’t believe, but definitely buried.  Or, at least it was buried until Kingsman: The Secret Service arrived.

Matthew Vaughn’s latest film is a whirlwind of good times.  There’s not a lot in it that hasn’t been done before (a secret organization uses cool gadgets and sexy agents in an effort to stop an over the top villain’s devious plot), but even with just the status quo to play with, Vaughn’s clear enthusiasm for the material makes the movie feel like a breath of fresh air.  I really loved Kingsman: The Secret Service, and I advise that you see it first thing this weekend.

Two final notes. 1) Watching Colin Firth stylishly kill people is a delight.  2) The success of the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack is starting to prove influential. There’s classic hits all over Kingsman.

The Lesson:

Matthew Vaughn is a giver of life.

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Movie Breakdown: Seventh Son

February 5, 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:

Some guy is the seventh son of the seventh son, so Jeff Bridges trains him to kill monsters and witches.  Or something like that.

The Reality:

If you’re hoping that Seventh Son is one of those funny-bad movies that eventually becomes entertaining fodder for TNT’s 4am slot, then prepare to be disappointed, as it is a giant, generic bore of a film.  I tried to find something quirky or fun about it, but the whole thing is just so damn lame.  Jeff Bridges is once again Rooster Cogburn (True Grit > RIPD > Seventh Son) with a plucky sidekick (this time it’s Ben Barnes looking like a medieval hipster) and he has to “save the world” from witches who occasionally turn into dragons.  I suppose the witch dragons could have been cool. but they don’t actually do anything but hangout in a castle.  They don’t burn any villages or turn people into weird creatures.  Hell, they don’t even actually declare that they’re going to destroy the world.  They just hangout on the top of a mountain in a castle and look at something called the Blood Moon.  If anything, the movie is just one big hate crime.  All those poor witches accosted because some cowboy doesn’t trust them!  How rude.  And I know what you must be thinking, that while the majority of the film is lame, there’s surely some badass scenes where the “seventh son” does something way cool.  Nope.  He is quite possibly the most uninteresting and useless hero of all time.  Just instantly forgettable.  If you see Seventh Son, you will be disrespecting yourself and America.

The Lesson:

Hey Jeff, it’s time to create a new character.

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Movie Breakdown: Jupiter Ascending (Noah)

February 4, 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:

The Wachowskis are hugely imaginative and extremely skilled, interesting filmmakers who’ve made some of the great science-fiction films of the last twenty years. This is a big, space opera type of film with warring houses and laser guns and what looks to be futuristic rollerblades. I love futuristic rollerblades.

The Reality:

There was more than a few moments in Jupiter Ascending where I thought, “Maybe this is The Wachowskis big follow-up to the ideas presented in Cloud Atlas, and they’re consciously trying to incorporate every generic idea from every big-budget science fiction film into one super colossal sci-fi almagamation.” And then pointy-eared Channing Tatum rollerbladed through the clouds of Jupiter and the horrifying thought came to roost: this is a very, very bad film. I might be saying that because I’m such an ardent fan of The Wachowskis and just about everything they do. These are two filmmakers who, time and time again, push the boundaries of what a big budget film should look like and, almost time and time again, succeed on both a creative and financial level. Jupiter Ascending fails creatively and, most assuredly, is going to tank hard at the box office. The Wachowskis have formulated a big, strange, Dune-like world, where ultra-rich, immortal, super-elites rule the Universe. Jupiter Jones (Milas Kunis in quite possibly the worst role of her entire career) is an illegal alien (get it?) who scrubs toilets for her uncle’s cleaning company and, surprisingly, is a new heir to side wing of alien royalty. Caine (a dog-eared, half-wolf, gene fighter played by hunk of muscle Channing Tatum) comes to Earth to retrieve her for her newly found siblings (children?) but things go, well, they go romantic. I could, if I wanted to relive the nine years I spent in the theater, continue to dig deeper and deeper into the massive, complex story and world The Wachowskis have created here, but it will only leave us all confused and into a dark state of mental regression. To their credit, the world the creators of this film imagined is big – and absolutely stunning – and has the potential, a thousand times over, to be fascinating, but somehow, it just isn’t. It’s like a buffet in Vegas – everything looks and seems so goddamn good you just want to pile your plate with pot roast and lobster and sushi and bisque, but when you bring it all back to the table, you just want to sip your Coke a few times and go to sleep. Somehow, with all the money and creative freedom at their disposal, The Wachowskis made a pretty sub-par 80s sci-fi action film with too much plot and some of the worst character development of their solid careers. I wanted to like this film, hell I wanted to love this film, as much as anyone, and as Channing Tatum roller-bladed across the roiling clouds of Jupiter and Milas Kunis said something sassy and fell through broken glass one more time, I realized, that no matter how many times Eddie Redmayne screamed like a dying bird, that it was never, ever, going to happen.

The Lesson:

I’m happy because of the range and world building of this film. I’m unhappy because everything else in it is a convoluted, boring mess. Find some middle ground Wachowskis.

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Movie Breakdown: Jupiter Ascending

February 4, 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:

Channing Tatum has pointy ears and weird facial hair, which is rather worrisome.  But it’s the Wachowskis, so surely Jupiter Ascending will be solid, right?

The Reality:

“I got some new shit/it’s the old shit/sort of different.”  This is a line from a Lace Curtains song, and it’s what kept running through my head as Jupiter Ascending plodded along on the screen in front of me.  Because for the first time ever, I watched a Wachowski film that lacked inspiration on all fronts.  It looks new and original on the outside, but once you dive in it’s clear that everything about it has been scooped right out of the “generic sci-fi elements” bucket.  This makes Jupiter Ascending not just an overall lackluster experience, but also a wildly disappointing one since it attempts to do nothing new or noteworthy.  Maybe for any other director this kind of laziness could pass as serviceable, but we’re talking about the Wachowskis, the creators of The Matrix Trilogy, and such uninspired work is not acceptable.  Skip Jupiter Ascending.

One last note, the film does come off as somewhat abbreviated and I do wonder if there’s a longer cut of it out there somewhere.  Naturally, I don’t think an extended runtime would make the film feel any less generic, but perhaps a fleshed-out story would at least give me a reason to recommend it.

The Lesson:

Are the Wachowskis done?  I don’t want them to be.

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Movie Breakdown: Two Days, One Night

February 3, 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:

Marion Cotillard asks her co-workers to forfeit their bonuses so that she can keep her job and, you know, feed her family and stuff.  Awkward.

The Reality:

If you’re like me, then the trailers for Two Days, One Night probably left you thinking it’s the kind of film that’s comprised of nothing but uncomfortable, sad scenes that can only be watched if you’re already sort of upset-drunk and in the mood to cry for a while.  But it’s not!  Well, sort of.  There are definitely some heavy moments in it (as should be expected from a film riddled with desperation), but I was surprised at how uplifting Two Days, One Night turned out to be.  With every scene that flicked by I found myself less bummed out and more inspired by Marion Cotillard’s Sandra, a woman suffering from depression who has to rally herself to attempt a task that would be difficult for even the most confident person.  I also found the film’s various side-characters and their responses to Sandra’s situation to be immensely compelling.  If I were asked to give up money so that someone else could keep their job, could I do it?  Or would I do it?  I’d love to be able to tell you, but Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s impeccably crafted movie features a lot of scenarios that left me totally unsure of what I’d do.  If you ask me, that’s called good filmmaking.  Go see Two Days, One Night as soon as you can.

The Lesson:

Being an adult is hard.

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Weekly Movie News Rundown

January 31, 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!

Steve Jobs has started filming.  The Danny Boyle-directed, Aaron Sorkin-scripted movie is set to star Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels.

Rumors has it that Disney wants Chris Pratt to play Indiana Jones in a reboot of a the series.

Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon are set to star in Paul Feig’s reboot of Ghostbusters.

Liam Hemsworth has reportedly been offered the lead role in Roland Emmerich’s ID Forever (the sequel to Independence Day).

Luke Evans is no longer attached to the remake of The Crow.

Emma Watson is set to star in the live-action remake of Beauty And The Beast.

Peter Berg has replaced JC Chandor (A Most Violent Year) as the director of Deepwater Horizon.  Mark Wahlberg is still set to star in the disaster film.

David Leitch and Chad Stahslski (John Wick) may direct Chris Pratt in Cowboy Ninja Viking.

Noam Murro (300: Rise Of An Empire) is set to direct Blink, which is said to be about a paralyzed man who has to outwit his kidnappers with only his eyes.

Matthew McConaughey is set to star in an adaptation of Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, And The Greatest Race The World Has Ever Seen.

Christine Taylor will return for Zoolander 2.

Brad Pitt may star in Angelina Jolie’s Africa.  The movie will be based on ivory poachers in the 80s.

Jamie Foxx and Michelle Monaghan will star in a remake of Frederic Jardin’s Sleepless Night.

Karl Urban has joined the cast of the Pete’s Dragon remake.

Jay Roach will direct Six Days Of The Condor.  The movie is said to follow five of the best CIA spies who are on the run after escaping a secret insane asylum.

Mission Impossible 5 has moved up from Christmas Day to July 31, 2015.

This Week’s Notable Trailers

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Movie Breakdown: Amira And Sam (Noah)

January 29, 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:

Drafthouse Films has a history of releasing exciting, interesting films from directors we’ve never heard of. I’m watching this for two things: the Drafthouse seal of approval and the one, the only Martin Starr.

The Reality:

Amira & Sam is a charming, at times clunky, indie-rom-dram-com that looks past the tropes and cliches of modern day Hollywood romance pics, to dig just slightly deeper into the current state of America. Sam (Martin Starr) is a military veteran (and stand-up fellow as the film tells us over and over again) who’s unemployed and a little lost. Amira (Dina Shihabi) is a spunky, Muslim woman who lives with her uncle and, makes money by selling DVDs of shitty movies on the street, and struggles to maintain her traditions while pushing against them at every turn. Through a handful of fairly believable circumstances, the two meet, and then are thrust into each other’s lives where events occur, love blossoms, and so on and so forth. Like the title predicts, Amira & Sam is at its very best when the film is strictly about Amira and Sam. Martin Starr is an underrated and under-used actor who’s able to fill the role of Sam with a sort of stoned melancholy, punctuated by bursts of goofy humor. His Sam, though it’s overly hammered upon us time and time again, is believably good-natured, an American soldier who’s returned to a world he just doesn’t understand anymore. Dina Shihabi is nothing to shake a stick at. She manages to express a hard-edged, emotional wall, but illuminates enough of the cracks that the character comes off as an agreeable mix of feistiness, idealism and adorable cuteness. The slow unveiling of their enjoyment, and then love of each other is so sweet and tastefully done, you never really want any thing else to happen. Yet, this is a movie, so there’s a cluttering of this sweetness with a sub-plot about Wall Street and Amira’s legal issues and Sam’s family. It doesn’t detract from the film, because you keep wanting to see how these two are going to interact in new situations, but it could’ve been leaner, and more focused, and ultimately a better movie, if director Sean Mullin had just let his two leads strut their impressive stuff. If anything, the moments with Amira and Sam raise the film above some of the tired genre tropes, but in doing so, reflect on the presence and quality of them.

The Lesson:

Give Martin Starr more roles!

The film will be on VOD and in theatres in Austin on January 30.

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Movie Breakdown: The Boy Next Door

January 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:

Jennifer Lopez has sex with the boy next door.  Shit gets weird.  This could be bad-good.

The Reality:

J.LOL

As I sat waiting for The Boy Next Door to start, all I had on the brain was J.LOL.  I just knew that the movie was going to be an innuendo-laced, Skinemax-esque good time, and I couldn’t wait to cleverly sling J.LOL around while blatantly celebrating the superstar for following up her divorce with an R-rated flick that’s centered around her banging a young hot dude.  Because screw you, Marc “I Need To Know” Anthony!

But no.  Instead of getting to have some fun throwing around the immensely stupid joke that is J.LOL, I had to jam it into the opening paragraph because The Boy Next Door is just an all-out awful film.  Imagine a mix of those laugh-track-less Big Bang Theory vids, the lamest Lifetime-movie cliches and the smell of burnt hair, and you’ll have an idea of what I experienced with The Boy Next Door.  Avoid it at all costs.

The Lesson:

What ever happened to the Jennifer Lopez that was in Out Of Sight?  She was great.

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Movie Breakdown: Blackhat (Noah)

January 15, 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:

There are two reasons why Blackhat is a difficult movie to pre-assess. One, Michael Mann is a legit, classic-making American director. This is the guy who made Heat, The Insider, Manhunter, Last of the Mohicans, and Ali. Oh sure, there’s a couple Public Enemies floating around in there, but c’mon, this guy is the real deal. But, he’s decided to make a film about cybercrime (a notoriously boring subject) with Six Packs McThorson as his cyber-hacker. So … let’s be honest, it’s going to be awful.

The Reality:

Michael Mann is, undoubtedly, a great director and every director has to have one really, really bad film, and Blackhat is Michael Mann’s very, very bad film. Don’t let this film trick you, ’cause it will. It starts as a really boring procedural “thriller” about a multinational group of cops and criminals (Chris Hemsworth as super prison-hacker Ryan Hathaway is particularly badly cast) searching for a super-hacker who’s trying to, uh, do stuff for some reasons. This two-thirds of the film is just awful. It’s confusing and boring (which shouldn’t be surprising as watching people type things and talk about code is always boring) and there are so many characters without any names or backstories that when quite literally (spoiler alert) all of them die at one point, you don’t know any of their names or what they were doing in the film. That said, when all of the characters meet gruesome deaths, the film, now just starring Thor, picks up a bit, and becomes, well, a heist movie. There’s much less coding, a lot more cars crashing and violent knife deaths, and overall, it’s a pretty entertaining cable flick you wouldn’t mind stumbling across at 5:30 in the morning after a four day coke and hooker binge. Again, though, don’t let the film’s almost entertaining ending let you leave the theater thinking this is a good film, because it isn’t. This is a badly written film, with cardboard characters (though I will say Viola Davis’ Barrett is a pleasure in her brief screen time). A film that is so unbelievably boring, that every action has to be forced into feeling exciting by the presence of throbbing, thriller music. A film so badly written that if you can tell me the name of two-thirds of the characters on screen at any given time, hell, you should write a movie. It’ll probably get made in Hollywood. A film so plotted that the big, bad super-hacker they break out of prison because of his ungodly skills at computers ends up making a shiv out of a screwdriver and saving the day with that. Fuck computers bro, lets just stab each other. I wonder if Michael Mann is slipping into his Ridley Scott phase. Or maybe he had a dream when he was a child that one day he would make a movie where the Odinson played a nerd and this, this is the consummation of that dream. Or maybe this is just a shit movie and you shouldn’t see it and we can all hope the next Mann flick is another gem.

The Lesson:

If you grind down a screwdriver and rubberband it to your forearm, it’s a potent and deadly weapon.

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