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Disney-Mania! Movie Review

Normally a week doesn't go by where we don't get some intersting Disney news, but the hot topic involving Mickey and Co. these days is Disneyland.

ABC's ordering of a TV pilot loosely based on a Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride is an interersting one. According to Variety “plotline involves a 19th century New York doctor and his family who are given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to relocate to a frontier mining town run by a powerful but mysterious tycoon. Soon, they quickly realize that not everything in Big Thunder is as it seems.”

Doesn't sound as exciting as the ride, which happens to be my favorite on all the Disneyland/Disney World attractions. Producers know the title will attract people, but the show will have to be interesting and exciting to keep them around (if it even makes it to the network at all).

On the movie front, Disney's decision to change the title of their Dec. 2014 Sci-Fi release previously known as "1952" to "Tomorrowland" is making more and more people believe that the Brad Bird-directed film will be about Walt Disney's creation of Disneyland. Bird is also producing and co-writing the script with Damon Lindelof. So far very little is know about the super-secret project, except that George Clooney will star. With a December release you know this one is already being planned as an awards contender.

In the meantime, we only have to wait until this December to see Tom Hanks play Walt Disney in "Saving Mr. Banks". This movie, we know, is the story of the making of "Mary Poppins". Hanks isn't part of this awards season due to the good but underwhelming "Cloud Atlas". Expect that to change next year.

And the Actor Will Go To... Movie Review

UPDATE: Well, I went 4 for 5. Thanks to Daniel Day-Lewis for his Best Actor win. "Argo" pulls the surprise Best Ensemble win. Now it's THE FRONTRUNNER for Best Picture of the Year at the Oscars, and I'm so glad!

3 for 3! Jennifer Lawrence's win makes it Jessica vs. Jennifer for the Oscars. Good battle!

2 for 2 so far, as Tommy Lee Jones makes Supporting Actor Oscar race an exciting one, and Hathaway is now a lock for Supporting Actress.

Along with being part of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, I am also a member of SAG-AFTRA. Therefore, I was able to vote for the 19th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, which air this Sunday at 8pm on TBS and TNT. Here's who I think will be taking the Actor home on Sunday night:

Best Supporting Actor

While Phillip Seymour Hoffman won the Critics Choice Award, and Christoph Waltz took the Golden Globe, "The Master" can't be fresh in the minds of the voters and Waltz isn't even nominated. I can't imagine there's a SAG member who hasn't seen "Lincoln" which is why Tommy Lee Jones is my pick to win. Javier Bardem ("Skyfall") could be the surprise upset winner.

Best Supporting Actress

Anne Hathaway is close to a lock for the SAG and the Oscar next month for her performance in "Les Miserables". Sally Field has the best shot to pull the upset.

Best Actor

No question Daniel Day-Lewis will win for his amazing portrayl of Lincoln. I'm glad Hugh Jackman is getting recognition he is for his equally impressive performance in "Les Mis", but I don't think he can pull-off the shocker.

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain has been sweeping the circuit for her leading role in "Zero Dark Thirty". But I'm going to take a shot with Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook"). A win here by Lawrence would make this category a real battle come Oscar time.

Best Cast

Most interesting category of the year.

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" has no shot. While "Argo" is my favorite film of 2012, I don't think it has the best ensemble. "Les Miserables" features a remarkable group of actors who also pulled-off singing very well. "Silver Linings Playbook" won the Critics Choice in this category. But I'll stick with the decision I made on my ballot: "Lincoln". It's an exceptional ensemble, one that deserves to be recognized.

 

 

2013 Preview: Part 2 Movie Review

JULY

3 - "Despicable Me 2", "The Lone Ranger"
12 - "Grown Ups 2", "Pacific Rim"
19 - "Turbo", "R.I.P.D."
26 - "The Wolverine"
31 - "The Smurfs 2"

AUGUST

2 - "300: Rise of An Empire", "Red 2"
9 - "Elysium", "Planes", "We're the Millers"
16 - "2 Guns", "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters", "The To-Do List"
23 - "Mortal Instruments"
28 - "Closed Circuit"
30 - "One Direction Concert Movie", "Getaway"

SEPTEMBER

6 - Riddick
13 - "Battle of the Year", "I, Frankenstein", "Machete Kills"
20 - "Star Wars: Ep. II 3D", "Rush", "Prisoners"
27 - "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2", "Runner Runner", "The Tomb"

OCTOBER

4 - "Gravity", "The Delivery Man", "Sin City 2", "Star Wars: Ep. III 3D"
11 - "Capitan Phillips"
18 - "Carrie", "The Seventh Son", "Malavita"
25 - "Paranormal Activity 5", "The World's End", "Baggage Claim"

NOVEMBER

1 - "Mr. Peabody & Sherman", "Ender's Game"
8 - "Thor: The Dark World"
15 - "Untitled Sequel to The Best Man"
22 - "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"
27 - "Frozen"

DECEMBER

13 - "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug", "A Madea Christmas"
18 - "Monuments Men"
20 - "Anchorman 2", "Last Vegas", "Saving Mr. Banks", "Walking with Dinosaurs"
25 - "47 Ronin", "Jack Ryan", "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"

2013 Preview: Part 1 Movie Review

JANUARY

18 - "Broken City"
25
- "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters"

FEBRUARY

1 - "Stand Up Guys", "Warm Bodies"
8
- "Identity Thief", "Side Effects"
14
- "A Good Day to Die Hard", "Escape From Planet Earth", "Safe Haven"
22
- "Snitch"

MARCH

1 - "Jack the Giant Slayer"
8
- "Oz: The Great and Powerful", "Admission"
15
- "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone", "The Call"
22
- "The Croods"
29
- "G.I. Joe: Retalliation" (finally!), "The Host"

APRIL

5 - "Jurassic Park 3D", "The Heat"
12
- "42", "Scary Movie 5"
19
- "Oblivion"
26
- "Pain and Gain", "The Big Wedding"

MAY

3 - "Iron Man 3"
10
- "The Great Gatsby" (finally!), "About Time"
17
- Star Trek Into Darkness
24
- "Epic", "Fast & Furious 6", "The Hangover: Part III"
31
- "The Purge"

JUNE

7 - "After Earth", "The Internship", "Now You See Me"
14
- "Man of Steel"
21
- "Monsters University", "World War Z"
28
- "Kick-Ass 2", "White House Down"

First thoughts on 2013 Oscar Nominations Movie Review

The announcement ceremony of the 2013 Oscar Nominations was certainly one to remember, and not necessarily for host Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone's wisecracks:

Once again nine nominees for Best Picture. "Argo", "Les Miserables", "Lincoln", "Life of Pi", "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Zero Dark Thirty" were expected. A lot of love for "Amour" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild", as both films received Best Picture nominations, plus their directors (Michael Haneke and Benn Zeitlen) picked-up surprise Best Director nominations, and leading ladies (9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis and 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva) are up for Best Actress.

The surprise nomination of "Silver Linings Playbook" director David O. Russell also forced "Argo"'s Ben Affleck, "Zero Dark Thirty"'s Kathryn Bigelow (who won three years ago for "The Hurt Locker"), "Les Miserables"'s Tom Hooper (who won two years ago for "The King's Speech"), and "Django Unchained"'s Quentin Tarantino out of the running. "Lincoln" director Steven Spielberg and "Life of Pi" director Ang Lee are nominated.

"Silver Linings" had a very good morning. The film is nominated in all of the six major categories. Not many saw Jacki Weaver's Supporting Actress nod coming, as she knocked-out several hopeful contenders including Maggie Smith ("The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"), Ann Dowd ("Compliance") and Nicole Kidman ("The Paperboy"). John Hawkes is off the ballot for his performance in "The Sessions", while co-star Helen Hunt is nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

"The Master"'s three lead actors (Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams) are all nominated, but the film is not up for Best Picture. Seems the early buzz for the movie died up the performances remained frsh in the minds of the voters. Marion Cotillard and Helen Mirren were getting a lot of buzz for their performances in "Rust and Bone" and "Hitchcock" respectively, but both were also denied.

Now onto my personal favorite: Best Animated Feature. It's a HUGE year for Disney as three of their 2012 animated films (Pixar's "Brave", Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie" and "Wreck-It Ralph") are all up for the honor, along with "ParaNorman", which has been winning film critics circles across the country. But the big pleasant surprise: Aardman's hilarious stop-motion animated farce "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" snagged a nomination away from DreamWorks' "Rise of the Guardians". Overlooked by audiences, but loved by critics, "The Pirates!" should attract a lot more attention during awards season.

Also happy for Naomi Watts, didn't expect to hear Ewan McGregor's name, but it would have been nice. In the Documentary Feature category, frontrunner "Searching for Sugar Man" is a nominee, while the controversial but impactful "Bully" is snubbed.

At least "Hitchcock" gets a little love with a Best Makeup and Hairstyling nomination. Even though nominee Daniel Day-Lewis truly looked like Abraham Lincoln, the makeup wasn't good enough to be nominated in that category. "Mirror Mirror"'s only highlight is the costume design, which is why it's nominated along with "Anna Karenina". And just as I predicted, "The Simpsons" are going to the Academy Awards. The animated short film "Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare" will be going-up against Disney's "Paperman" and three others on Oscar Sunday.

And the Academy didn't seem to fall in love with Bond, James Bond , as "Skyfall" and Javier Bardem did not receive nominations, but Adele did for her title song. The Original Song category also featured another surprise: "Everybody Needs a Best Friend" from "Ted". MacFarlane, who wrote the lyrics, reacted to his nomination by saying, "I get to go to the Oscars now", which got a big laugh. The 85th Annual Academy Awards are Sunday February 24th on ABC.

Biggest Disappointments and Surprises of 2012 Movie Review

Awards Season is here, and "Texas Chainsaw 3D" has become the first 2013 film to win the Weekend Box Office, but let's continue to look back at 2012 with my biggest disappointments and most pleasant surprises:

TOP 10 DISAPPOINTMENTS

1. WRECK-IT RALPH
Was really looking forward to Disney's latest animated film. The trailers made the film look original, fun and emotional. The film itself has none of those qualities.

2. MOONRISE KINGDOM
Wes Anderson's 2009 animated film "Fantastic Mr. Fox" was phenomenal. "Moonrise" is just too quirky and offbeat, and the characters are underdeveloped.

3. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
From the Denis Leary dinner table scene, to the casting of Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield playing 17-year-olds, even to Stan Lee's cameo, this Spidey was all over-the-place.

4. ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT
Mediocre script and flat film, apparently made for 6-year-olds and no one else. Franchise should have ended after "Dawn of the Dinosaurs".

5. THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN
Promising idea, but really no pay-off.

6. ROBOT & FRANK
Great concept: Frank Langella and a robot. Unfortunately nothing works, including (sadly) Langella's performance.

7. TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE
Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams are fine together, but the script strikes-out early on with no hope for a late comeback.

8. HYDE PARK ON HUDSON
Director Roger Michell last directed the charming 2010 comedy "Morning Glory". However, "Hyde Park" has absolutely no focus.

9. THE BOURNE LEGACY
Action scenes work, but 90% of the film is dialogue-driven; way too talky.

10. THE MASTER
Had all the early Oscar buzz but will likely not get nominated for Best Picture on Thursday because story was forgettable and pointless.

TOP 10 PLEASANT SURPRISES

1. THE THREE STOOGES
For once, A slapstick comedy I enjoyed. "Stooge" fans were not disappointed either.

2. KATY PERRY: PART OF ME
Fascinating and well-made documentary. More in-depth than Bieber's "Never Say Never".

3. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA
From the trailers, looked like Sony Animation's first bomb. But it's funny and the animation is unique.

4. THE GUILT TRIP
A rare "adult comedy" that didn't go the easy raunchy route. Rogen and Streisand make nice pair.

5. MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED
2008's "2" wasn't very good. But with a perfect cast and sharp script, this is the best of the franchise.

6. THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN - PART 2
The twist is excellent (and the only positive feature).

7. THE CAMPAIGN
From the trailer it looked like it could be one of Will Ferrell's worst, but I couldn't stop laughing.

8. MEN IN BLACK 3
Josh Brolin is just terrific as the younger Tommy Lee Jones. And the story has some surprising emotional depth.

9. SNOW WHITE & THE HUNTSMAN
Serious but fun action film with a fantastic villain (Charlize Theron).

10. ANNA KARENINA
Director Joe Wright's fresh take on the classic period piece is genius. Using the stage as a centerpiece for the drama) works very well.

The 10 Worst Movies of 2012 Movie Review

2013 is underway, but let's continue to look back at 2012. Here are my selections as the 10 Worst Movies of the Year:

1. FUN SIZE
Not only bad, it's WRONG on so many levels. Halloween comedy starring Nickelodeon's Victoria Justice. The main character is an 8-year-old boy who is ignored by his family, abducted by strangers several times and even locked in room by a maniac. Who thought this would be funny? Not to mention the bathroom humor, sex, adult language, underage drinking, a gunfight and many other inappropriate scenes. This wasn't a treat, it was a complete mess.

2. DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS
The second in the series (2011's "Rodrick Rules") miraculously avoid that year's worst list. But not this dreadful, mediocre third installment that is by far the worst of the franchise.

3. PARENTAL GUIDANCE
Here's hoping you didn't spend part of Christmas Day watching this bomb. Billy Crystal and Bette Midler play grandparents who take care of three bratty, "only in the movies weird" grandchildren for a week. The most stereotypes of any film this year, not to mention the corniest and lamest script.

4. TOTAL RECALL
2012's Worst Action film (but not by much) is tough to get through because of the intentionally complicated plot. You simply don't care enough to want to follow along. Performances are bland and the visuals are unspectacular. It does get the honor for having characters use the word "sh--" more often than in any other movie this year. Not exactly something to be proud of.

5. HOPE SPRINGS
Don't be deceived by Meryl Streep's Golden Globe nomination. There wouldn't be the Globes without Streep, as she's received 27 Globe nominations over the past 35 years. I felt bad for her having to do the things she had to do in this film. And it's no fun for Steve Carell and Tommy Lee Jones either. But it's the audience that suffers the most.

6. BATTLESHIP
Actor Taylor Kitsch didn't have a great year (He'll make another appearance later on in the countdown). From the dialogue, to the action, to the weak supporting cast (Brooklyn Decker and Rihanna), to the look of the aliens, "Battleship" both sunk and stunk.

7. STEP UP REVOLUTION
Completely unnecessary fourth effort in this franchise. Only highlight is the dancing, but even that's getting old. Many of the scenes are unintentionally hilarious. There's a shot of Peter Gallagher starting to cry towards the end of the film sums things up nicely.

8. WRATH OF THE TITANS
Believe it or not, "Wrath" is better than its predecessor "Clash" thanks to a more impressive 3D post-conversion. Otherwise, not much changed from original to sequel. Except the dialogue got even lamer: "Brother!" "Yes, Brother."

9. HYDE PARK ON HUDSON
Bill Murray also snagged a Globe nomination for his portrayal of FDR.  He's by far the best thing about "Hyde Park". The rest of the film is surprisingly bad, from Laura Linney's narration to the endless conversations about hot dogs, which drove me INSANE.

10. JOHN CARTER
Disney's $250 million sci-fi action film grossed a mere $73 million in the US. Even though it made its budget back thanks to the foreign box office, it's still one of Disney's biggest bombs of all-time. The movie is long, dull, and unoriginal, with some of the worst special effects seen on screen in years. And Kitsch is an uneffective and unappealing action hero.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

BIG MIRACLE - Saving whales just isn't that exciting.
HERE COMES THE BOOM - Few laughs, but certainly no "Paul Blart".
THE MASTER - Still don't know what the point of it was.
MIRROR MIRROR - Bizarre. Case in point: Armie Hammer licking Julia Roberts.
TO ROME WITH LOVE - Woody Allen tried to duplicate the success of Oscar winner "Midnight in Paris", but with a mediocre script, over-the-top performances (including his own) and bland, careless characters, he reverts back to pre-"MiP" form.

The 10 Best Movies of 2012 Movie Review

2012 was a pretty solid year for movies. There were a lot of fantastic films, but these 10 stood-out above the rest in their own, unique ways:

1. ARGO
Ben Affleck not only stars-in but masterfully directs this drama based on the true story of six Americans hiding-out during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Affleck’s achievements both in front of and behind the camera are amazing. Bryan Cranston (who appeared in practically every movie this year) has some strong moments. And Alan Arkin and John Goodman are 2012’s best duo playing a producer and make-up artist who are key characters in this daring rescue plan. Arkin’s a frontrunner for every Best Supporting Actor award. “Argo” is part drama; part movie about the making of movies; part suspense thriller, and it was the only film this year where my heart was truly pounding while I was watching it and it’s made a lasting impression on me since.

2. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Bradley Cooper stars in this “slice of life” comedy about a some-what dysfunctional guy who’s looking to put his life back together. It works every step of the way. Jennifer Lawrence is excellent; Robert De Niro and Chris Tucker help maintain a perfect tone throughout. It’s an engaging story with very believable characters. Probably the most FUN I had at the movies this year.

3. RUBY SPARKS
It’s rare that someone in Hollywood comes-up with an original concept for a film - and then can pull-it-off. Writer/Star Zoe Kazan created this story of a struggling writer who dreams-up a character - a young woman, and after he writes about her, she literally comes to life. Great cast: Paul Dano, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Chris Messina and Steve Coogan. Watch it.

4. SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD
I’ve been telling you about it since it opened in June because it’s simply incredible. Steve Carell and Keira Knightley are at their finest, dealing with a “what would you do if the world was ending in a few weeks” scenario. Funny, sad, smart and an honest pay-off at the end.

5. THE IMPOSSIBLE
Based on a true story, Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play parents vacationing with their kids in Thailand when the deadly 2004 tsunami hits and tears them apart. Strong performances by Critics Choice nominee Watts and newcomer Tom Holland - and McGregor is great as well. This is a powerful and moving film.

6. LINCOLN
Daniel Day-Lewis is simply outstanding as our 16th President. It has the best ensemble of the year - including Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Hal Holbrook. And Steven Spielberg stages it all perfectly.

7. FRANKENWEENIE
Tim Burton’s first animated film since 2005’s “Corpse Bride” is smart, funny, emotional and visually stunning. It’s the best animated film of the year and has a real shot at taking home the Oscar.

8. SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
It was a great year for documentaries, and this is the best of the bunch. Tells the story of a singer from Detroit named Rodriguez who is unknown in America, but his music becomes legendary in South Africa. Fascinating, featuring some candid interviews, amazing footage. Inspiring filmmaking.

9. LES MISERABLES
The first movie musical in which actors performed every song live (no prerecorded music), and it paid off. Credit to Director Tom Hooper. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway are locks for Oscar nominations.

10. MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS
Director Joss Whedon’s extravaganza brought together all of the Marvel superheroes and dominated the box office, becoming 2012’s highest-grossing film with $623 million. Action-packed, good performances, particularly by Mark Ruffalo and Samuel L. Jackson, and a whole lot of fun.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

BERNIE - Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine star in this true-life crime story. Fascinating and fun.
BULLY - Powerful documentary about the current state of bullying in our education system.
HITCHCOCK - Anthony Hopkins is perfect as the legendary film director, and Helen Mirren is equally strong as his wife. One of the best times I had at a theater in years.
MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED - The best of the trilogy. Great script and vivid animation.
ZERO DARK THIRTY - Kathryn Bigelow's hunt for Osama bin Laden drama may be the most authentic-looking film of the year.

The 20 Best Scenes of 2012 Movie Review

From the nearly 100 films I've seen (so far) this year here is my list of the 20 best scenes of 2012:

- Karenin (Jude Law) is grasping the news of his wife Anna (Keira Knightley) announcing that she's having an affair and a child with the other man. Law goes to centerstage and sits in a chair, with the stage lights dimmed low (Anna Karenina).

- Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) needs someone to answer the phone and prove their phoney movie is real while Lester Siegel and John Chambers (Alan Arkin and John Goodman) are being being held-up by the shooting of a scene on the lot. (Argo).

- Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) recites his version of The Lord's Prayer (The Campaign).

- Pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) intentionally inverts his plane and crash-lands into a field (Flight).

- The opening scene with Victor, his parents and dog Sparky watching one of his home movies wearing old-fashioned 3D glasses (Frankenweenie).

- Andy Brewster (Seth Rogen) demonstrating his product - Scieoclean - to HSN execs at a Las Vegas convention (The Guilt Trip).

- Bilbo Baggins plays a riddle game with iconic "Lord of the Rings" character Gollum (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey).

- Henry (Ewan McGregor) shares his story with other victims of the tsunami and one of them shares his cell phone allowing him to make two emotional calls to his family (The Impossible).

- Anne Hathaway (Fantine) sings "I Dreamed a Dream" in one effortless take (Les Miserables).

- Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field) explains her importance to Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and others while in a White House receiving line (Lincoln).

- Chantel DuBois (voiced by Frances McDormand) rounds-up her troops by singing Edith Piaf (Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted).

- Madea (Tyler Perry) going through airport security (Madea's Witness Protection).

- Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) defending himself and The Cause to a critic (The Master).

- Younger Agent K (Josh Brolin) comforts a young boy who has no idea that his father was just killed or who he would become (Men in Black 3).

- Calvin (Paul Dano), in the movie's final scene, meets a woman similar to his creation Ruby, but she isn't (Ruby Sparks).

- M (Judi Dench) is testifying at a hearing and is finally allowed to speak. At the same time, Silva (Javier Bardem) is on his way to kill M, and Bond (Daniel Craig) may show-up a little too late (Skyfall).

- Whitney Houston's solo number "His Eye Is On the Sparrow" (Sparkle).

- After an intense fighting sequence, there's a shocking and surprisingly effective twist (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2).

- Schoolteacher Nona (Viola Davis) admitting to her son something she did in the past that dramatically affected them both (Won't Back Down).

- Navy S.E.A.L.s quietly storming the bin Laden compound (Zero Dark Thirty).

And there's still a few days remaining in 2012, and a few more films to see, so I may have to add one or two to the final, official list.

Christmas Countdown Calendar Movie Review

It's the final stretch before Christmas - a crazy time for last minute shopping and planning. This is also one of the wildest series of days for movie releases in the entire year. Here's a handy countdown calendar to help you keep track of what's coming-out and when:

Wednesday

"The Guilt Trip" - Buddy road comedy starring Seth Rogan and Barbra Streisand. 2300 screens

"Amour" - Both Best Foreign film and Best Picture contender. Limited release

"Monsters, Inc. 3D" - Disney's latest 3D re-release of a Pixar classic. Only animated film of the holidays. 2400 screens

"Zero Dark Thirty" - Highly-anticipated Oscar contender. Limited release on only 5 screens, goes wide Jan. 11

Friday

"Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away" - Concert film starring famous dance troupe. 800 screens

"Jack Reacher" - Tom Cruise stars in this crime drama. Third Paramount film of the week. 3200 screens

"This is 40" - Judd Apatow follow-up to "Knocked-Up". Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Jason Segal return. 2900+ screens

"The Impossible" - True story of American family caught in the Asian Sunami. 14 screens, expands in Jan.

Christmas Day

"Les Miserables" - Beloved musical brought to screen by Dir. Tom Hooper. Major awards contender. Wide

"Django Unchained" - Quentin Tarantino's latest is a Western. Jamie Foxx, Leo DiCaprio. Wide

"Parental Guidance" - Holiday comedy with Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei. Wide

Very likely could be the biggest Dec. 25 at the Box Office of all-time. Hopefully Santa will leave you some tickets and gift cards in your stocking.

 

 

It's the 18th Annual "Critics Choice Movie Awards" but the FIRST for me as a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. So I was even more anxious than usual to see the nominations list, which was unveiled on Tuesday. The deadline to submit our ballot was Sunday night. I sent mine late Saturday night after having seen as many screeners as possible before voting.

This was the most fun I've ever had as a critic and even though not all of my picks (we got to make only three selections in all categories except for five with Best Picture) made the cut, I'm very proud with the final results of the 28 categories. Great job by all of my colleagues at the BFCA.

Some observations:

- 2012 is NOT the year that a blockbuster superhero film gets a Best Picture nomination as both "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Marvel's The Avengers" fall short.

- Very strong Best Actor category. 6 big-time performances, but hard to see anyone beating DD-L.

- Happy for Naomi Watts, and she could emerge as the favorite for Best Actress as more people see "The Impossible".

- Big "Skyfall" support in the Supporting categories, as both Judi Dench and Javier Bardem get noms. Didn't see that coming.

- For the first time ever there are 6 nominees in the Best Animated Feature category. I'm getting credit for getting "Madagascar 3" into the finals.

- "Django Unchained" gets a Best Picture nomination, but no directing or acting nominations. Hmmm.

- Other snubs include: Hellen Mirran, Ewan McGregor and the Anderson directors (Wes and Paul Thomas).

- Comedy categories dominated by "Silver Linings Playbook", "Ted", "Bernie" and "This is 40". No love for "The Campaign" or "The Guilt Trip".

- Only acting double-nominees (for separate roles): Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook", "The Hunger Games") and Anne Hathaway ("Les Miserables" and "The Dark Knight Rises").

The final vote will take place Jan. 7-8 and winners will be announce LIVE on Jan. 10 on The CW. Mark your calendars. I promise it will be a memorable night.

2012 LCJ Animated Movie Awards Movie Review

Best Animated Feature

Brave
Frankenweenie
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted
ParaNorman
The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Best Director

Tim Burton - "Frankenweenie"
Chris Butler and Sam Fell - "ParaNorman"
Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon - "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"
Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt - "The Pirates! Band of Misfits"
Peter Ramsey - "Rise of the Guardians"

Best Animation in an Animated Feature

Brave - Pixar Animation Studios
Hotel Transylvania - Sony Pictures Animation
ParaNorman - Laika
The Pirates! Band of Misfits - Aardman
Rise of the Guardians - DreamWorks Animation

Best Voice Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
 

Alec Baldwin - "Rise of the Guardians"
Danny DeVito - "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax"
Hugh Grant - "The Pirates! Band of Misfits"
Adam Sandler - "Hotel Transylvania"
Martin Short - "Frankenweenie"

Best Voice Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Anna Kendrick - "ParaNorman"
Kelly MacDonald - "Brave"
Frances McDormand - "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"
Catherine O'Hara - "Frankenweenie"
Imelda Staunton - "The Pirates! Band of Misfits"

Best Voice Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Bryan Cranston - "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"
Jeff Garlin - "ParaNorman"
John Goodman - "ParaNorman"
Martin Landau - "Frankenweenie"
Atticus Shaffer - "Frankenweenie"

Best Voice Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Jessica Chastain - "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"
Fran Drescher - "Hotel Transylvania"
Elaine Stritch - "ParaNorman"
Emma Thompson - "Brave"
Betty White - "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax"

Best Voice Ensemble

Frankenweenie
Hotel Transylvania
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted
ParaNorman
The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Best Screenplay

Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi and Steve Purcell - "Brave"
John August, Tim Burton and Leonard Ripps - "Frankenweenie"
Noah Baumbach and Eric Darnell - "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"
Chris Butler - "ParaNorman"
Gideon Defoe - "The Pirates! Band of Misfits"

Best Original Song

"Learn Me Right" - "Brave"
"Let it Grow" - "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax"
"Little Ghost" - "ParaNorman"
"Strange Love" - "Frankenweenie"
"Touch the Sky" - "Brave"

Best Animated Short Film

"Daffy's Rhapsody" - released with "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island"
"Paperman" - released with "Wreck-It Ralph"
"Partysaurus Rex" - released with "Finding Nemo 3D"
"The Longest Daycare" - released with "Ice Age: Continental Drift"
"Tangled Ever After" - released with "Beauty and the Beast 3D"

Holiday Movie Gift Guide '12 Movie Review

It's that time again! Here's my 5th Annual Holiday Movie Gift Guide - suggestions on what you can get for those movie fans on your Holiday list:

Young Boys - “Madagascar 3”: One of my favorite animated films of the year. Be sure to get the DVD/Blu-ray Gift Pack, which comes with the free Rainbow Wig.

Older Boys - "The “Dark Knight Trilogy" DVD Limited Edition Gift Set": All three Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman films, including this year’s “Dark Knight Rises”. Includes “The Art and Making of the Dark Knight Trilogy” book. Available Dec. 4.

Young Girls - Disney’s Diamond Edition “Cinderella”: This classic is finally out on Blu-ray with some great extras. Restored and re-mastered. A can’t miss gift.

Older Girls - “Sparkle”: Just out on DVD. Story of a young singing group back in the Motown days trying to make it big. Jordan Sparks is very good. Also this is Whitney Houston’s final film and she has some great moments.

Dads - "Bond 50": 22 Bond films together for the first time on Blu-ray. Plus over 120 hours of special features. Sean Connery to Daniel Craig and everyone in between. An incredible set.

Moms - Two of my favorites from 2012 that she probably hasn't seen:
- “Ruby Sparks”: Stars Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan (who also wrote the screenplay). It’s about an author who dreams-up a character for a new book, and she comes to life. Delightful and insightful.
- "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World": Keira Knightly and Steve Carell play strangers who come together help each other in the final few days before an asteroid is schedule to destroy the Earth. It gets everything right.

Grandparents -  The 60th Anniversary Special Edition of the greatest musical of all-time: "Singin' in the Rain": It's re-mastered in HD and is spectacular.

The Family - "Arthur Christmas": Under-appreciated present from Sony Pictures Animation that captures the spirit and magic of the season better than any film in a long, long time. The movie for everyone to watch together on Christmas Day.

Last Minute Gift - "The Words": It doesn’t come-out on DVD until Christmas Eve. Bradley Cooper stars as a struggling writer who suddenly, through luck and some tough choices, becomes an “over-night success” must deal with the consequences.

#1 Movie Fan on your shopping list - The 50th Anniversary Edition of "Lawrence of Arabia": Winner of 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, is on Blu-ray for the first time. It's packed with special features, including a “Making of…” documentary. This is the gift for the movie fan on your list who’s been especially nice this year.

Happy shopping! Ho - Ho -Ho !

Getting into the

"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."

For some that means the holidays are here but for film fans it means it's Awards Season once again. The first of the major groups to release their nominees is Film Independent, which has unveiled their contenders for this year's Independent Spirit Awards. And, as always, there are a few surprises.

No surprise that "Silver Linings Playbook" leads the way with five nominations (tied with "Moonrise Kingdon"). "SLP" is a lock for Best Picture Oscar nomination, and could be joined in that category by "Moonrise" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild" if academy members max-out the category to 10. However, "SLP" is the only one that could actually win. Co-stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence each get acting nominations and Director/Writer David O'Russell gets nominated for both.

Of the other Best Picture selections, "Beasts" was expected, but "Bernie" and "Keep the Lights On" are both mini-shockers. "The Sessions" being left off that list is surprising. Co-stars John Hawkes and Helen Hunt are nominated.

My personal favorite nomination (along with all the "SLR" selections) is Zoe Kazan for her "Ruby Sparks" screenplay. I was hoping she'd get an acting nom. as well.

Biggest surprise for me - Robert De Niro being snubbed for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. He appears to be a favorite among critics and should be part of this category in many of the other awards competitions.

The big winner has to be Matthew McConaughey, who's a double nominee - Best Lead Actor for "Killer Joe" and Best Supporting Actor for "Magic Mike". This should provide a major boost to the on-going campaign to get McConaughey an Academy Award nomination for his "Magic Mike" role, something that, earlier this year, seemed like a long-shot at best.

The Independent Spirit Awards will be handed-out on February 23rd, 2013.

 

DreamWorks Animation Celebrates 25 Films Movie Review

"Rise of the Guardians" is DreamWorks Animation's 25th film. It's also director Peter Ramsey's first feature. Here's my interview with Ramsey.

So now that DreamWorks has made 25 films, let's take a look at their highs and lows:

THE BEGINNING

In 1998, the studio's new division released it's first film - the CGI comedy "Antz". While it made $90 million, that figure was $70 million+ less than a similar animated film released later that year: Pixar's "A Bug's Life".

DISAPPOINTMENTS
Following "Antz", DreamWorks continued to go back and forth between CGI and hand-drawn animation movies. However, the traditional hand drawn films were not as popular with audiences and critics. While "The Prince of Egypt" made just over $100M, the next three hand-drawn films - "The Road to El Dorado", "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" and "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas" all disappointed at the box office. "Sinbad", in fact, grossed only $26M. DWA realized CGI was the future, and they haven't created a hand-drawn film since "Sinbad".

Also during this time DreamWorks partnered with Aardman on three films, starting with 2000's "Chicken Run", which was a commercial hit. But "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" (2005) and "Flushed Away"(2006) were not as successful, even though "Gromit" won the Animated Oscar in 2006. In recent years Aardman has partnered with Sony Pictures Animation on "The Pirates!" and "Arthur Christmas", great films, they also didn't make much $$$.

FRANCHISES
DreamWorks Animation started to get people's attention with the release of 2001's "Shrek", which is still their 3rd-highest grossing film to date, and won the first-ever Best Animated Feature Oscar. In the U.S. alone, the four "Shrek" films have combined to make over $1.2 Billion. 2005's "Madagascar" was a surprise hit, and became their next franchise. The three movies in that series have grossed close to $600 million domestically, with 2012's "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" becoming only the seventh DreamWorks animated film to make over $200M. "Kung Fu Panda" made over $200M in '08 and was nominated for an Oscar. However, in a busy Summer 2011, "Kung Fu Panda 2" only managed $165M.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
Even though "How to Train Your Dragon" and the "Shrek" spin-off "Puss in Boots" had two of the lowest box office openings, they still managed to gross $217M and $150M respectively. 2004 was a big for DWA, as it was the first time they released two CGI films in a single year: "Shrek 2" is still their biggest moneymaker at $441M, and "Shark Tale" (with Will Smith and Jack Black) was also a hit, reeling-in $160M.

UNSUCCESSFUL FARCES
2009's "Monsters vs. Aliens" is one of DWA's biggest films ($198M), but other flat-out comedies haven't been as successful. The comic-strip adaptation "Over the Hedge", Jerry Seinfeld's "Bee Movie" and Will Ferrell's superhero filck "Megamind" combined grossed less than "Shrek 2", and none of them hits with critics either.

THE FUTURE OF DWA
This year, DreamWorks Animation signed a five-year distribution deal with Fox (they had been working with Paramount since 2004). Also DWA announced that, beginning in 2013, they will release between 3-4 films a year, including "How to Train Your Dragon" sequels and more of "Kung Fu Panda", plus a "Penguins of Madagascar" spin-off and some original material. This means in just three years time, DreamWorks will have over 35 films under its belt, compared to only 17-18 for rival Pixar's. Could this be a case of too much of a good thing?

Happy Thanksgiving from Abe Movie Review

Another amazing fact about our 16th President that I didn't know: On October 3, 1863 Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a National Holiday. It was to be celebrated each year on the final Thursday of November.

Wonder what he'd think about us NOT celebrating Thanksgiving on the final Thursday of November this year. And stores being open so people could get an early start on their Black Friday shopping. 

Abe was thin, but I bet he could eat a lot of turkey! Not sure if he was a fan of parades or football. But I bet he would have approved of you seeing his movie this holiday week if you haven't as yet.

 

 

 

Interesting Strategy for

The last-minute decision by the Weinstein Co. not to give "Silver Linings Playbook" it's wide release next week as expected may not be as surprising as it sounds.

The Bradley Cooper-Jennifer Lawrence dramedy was supposed to open in about 2000 theaters on Nov. 21, and the buzz from great film festival reaction and early awards season success is strong. And there's the current TV ad campaign, including spots on Monday Night Football. So why decide to hold the film back now?

The studio says it's following it's own playbook with the gradual release (starting with only 400 theaters week one, maybe 800 the second week and then wide week three or four). But it seems like they're taking a page from recent campaigns such as "The Descendants" last year and Weinstein's own "The King's Speech" in 2010. Both were rolled out slowly during the holiday season, building momentium with strong reviews and buzz that carried into awards show time and eventual box office success.

But there is a downside to this strategy. First of all, theaters around the country are now scrambling to fill their screens for the big Thanksgiving weekend that were supposed to be showing "Silver Linings Playbook". But, more importantly, movie fans in these cities will now have to wait to see what is clearly one of the best films of the year. Instead of going after the box office money now, the studio is gambling that these same people - and many, many more - will pay to see the film a few weeks from now, as the word-of-mouth grows and award nominations start to pile up.

And they're probably right. But I think "Silver Linings" would be a financial success either way. When a movie is good people will see it. Consider "Argo", which opened wide week one as the first, serious film of this awards season. It started slowly (only $20 million) but has held strong at the box office thanks to great reviews and strong WOM, and is now on it's way to $100M (and multiple awards consideration).

 

 

 

Can

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has announced the 10 finalists for the Best Animated Short Film Oscar. One of the contenders is "The Longest Daycare" - the "Simpsons" short that aired before "Ice Age: Continental Drift" in theaters this Summer. "The Simpsons" is very mainstream, but the committee apparently loves the short enough to give it the consideration it deserves.

In case you didn't see it, "The Longest Daycare" is a 4 1/2 minute 3D short starring Maggie, focussing on her adventure at a daycare center. It's (almost) completely silent, but is laugh-out-loud funny throughout: packed with funny references and creative situations, and features a cameo from Marge. The show's executive producer James L. Brooks came-up with the idea to do a "Simpsons" short and it turned-out to be 100x better than "Ice Age 4".

So the question is, can "The Simpsons" win an Academy Award? They had an opportunity in 2008 with "The Simpsons Movie", but that didn't even get nominated, which was a crime. However, it would've been difficult to beat "Ratatouille".

56 elidgible animated short entries were cut-down to 10, five of which will be nominated and one will ultimately walk away with the statue on Oscar night. So, looking at the odds, "The Longest Daycare" has a 50% chance of getting nominated, and then a 20% chance of winning. Of course, a lot will have to do with the competition:

Disney's "Paperman" is also a finalist. It's being shown before "Wreck-It Ralph". It's OK, but nothing special. The other eight finalists I haven't seen and know little about. But you'll all get to see the nominees, and a few extras, as part of the Animated Oscar Shorts screening that's shown in theaters every February. It would be great to see Maggie make that event.

Coincidentally, "The Simpsons" aired an episode called "Angry Dad: The Movie" on Oscar Week, 2011. Homer and Bart make an animated short film that sweeps awards season. Look for the show's writers to include some jokes/references about this real-life recognition into some shows over the next few months leading-up to Oscar Night 2013 on Feb. 24.

More of

"What have they done? Sweet Jesus, what have they done?"

Well, I'll tell you what they've done: Universal and Regal have created maybe the best marketing campaign of all-time for the studio's upcoming release of "Les Miserables". The Extended First Look that's running prior to practically every movie in every Regal theater throughout the country is creating a tremendous buzz for the film, which comes-out on Christmas Day.

If you've seen it you know what I'm talking about: It's the 5-minute "we're singing every song in the movie live" piece that features most of the stars of the film, including Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe (though we never see/hear Crowe singing. I guess they want to save that for the actual "Les Mis" audiences). The feature describes, in detail, the decision by director Todd Hooper to film the movie with the actors signing LIVE ON FILM, as opposed to how most other movie musicals are done - the actors lip-singing to pre-recorded songs.

It doesn't matter if you're a fan of movie musicals or a fan of "Les Miserables", when this preview feature is over it's impossible not to want to run out and buy a ticket to see this movie. For me "Les Mis" went from a "I hope it's worth seeing" to "I can't wait for this movie!" after watching this the first time.

By now I've seen this Extended First Look nearly a dozen times. I think I can do Jackman's soliloquy by now. But it's still compelling and each time when it's over the same reaction takes place throughout the theater: people saying - "we've got to see that."

Congratulations to whoever came-up with the idea for this marketing tool. Look for other studios to copy this idea in the future. And I hope the folks at "The Golden Trailer Awards" come-up with a special category for this feature, which deserves to be honored.

 

 

Animated Horror Trilogy Recap Movie Review

Focus Features' stop-motion animated comedy "ParaNorman" is a lot of fun. It's also the scariest and most thought-provoking of the three. It pulled-in $55 million at the box office.

Sony Pictures Animation's "Hotel Transylvania" is the box office champ, making $130 million so far. It's my least favorite of the trio, but is still worth seeing thanks to its interesting animation style and frantic pace.

Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie" is the best of the group, but has made the least amount of money (only $32 million). Thanks to strong critical praise, "Frankenweenie" has the best chance to scare-up some honors this awards season.

The trick this Halloween is finding a theater that's showing all three - a spooky triple-header. That would be a treat!


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