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5 Things We Learned from Summer 2013 at the Movies Movie Review

Minions ruled; Smurfs, Snails, Planes and Monsters suffered
A record number of CGI characters graced the silver screen this summer. Blue Sky's "Epic" was released over Memorial Day weekend and made $107 million, making it the studio's lowest grossing film of all-time. "Monsters University" had a strong open, but barely outearned the original with $261M. And when you consider "adjustment for inflation", "MU" grossed far less than its predecessor. "Despicable Me 2" came-out on top with close to $350 million. The animated films that followed all suffered box office disappointments. DreamWorks' "Turbo", Sony's "The Smurfs 2" and Disney's "Planes" have all underperformed and none will cross the $100M mark. With audiences returning to theaters to see Gru and the Minions, nobody else stood a chance.

"Hangover III" biggest bust; "Now You See Me" biggest surprise
The all-star ensemble of illusionists fooled the experts by making an amazing $116M. Meantime, the "Hangover" gang dropped the biggest bomb. Going up against "Fast & Furious 6" opening weekend, "The Hangover: Part III" was expected to open at #2,  but the "hangover" of dislike from 2011's "Part II" doomed this franchise to end of a very sour note.

Scaring Audiences Still Works
Universal had a solid summer: "Fast 6", "Despicable 2" were hits, "RIPD", "Kick-Ass 2" were busts.  The horror film, "The Purge", fell right in between, with a strong first weekend: $34M, and another $30M during its theatrical run. However, WB's "The Conjuring" was able to defeat "Red 2", "RIPD", "Turbo" and knock "Despicable 2" off the #1 spot to win the July 19-21 weekend. Usually, horror films drop off significantly after week 1, but "Conjuring" held steady and has made close to $130 million.

Oscar Buzz starts earlier than ever
"The Great Gatsby"'s $50M opening weekend was a big surprise. While it likely will not get a Best Picture nomination (it may have had it been released last Christmas as originally scheduled), other summer releases have a shot. "Lee Daniels' The Butler" has connected with both critics and audiences, along with the powerful drama "Fruitvale Station". Cate Blanchett will likely score a Best Actress nomination for Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine". "The Way, Way Back", "Before Midnight", "The Spectacular Now" and even "Jobs" are getting some buzz. And I'm looking for the incredible documentary, "Blackfish", to become the first doc to ever receive a Best Picture nomination.

The "A-list" needs a makeover
Will Smith re-teamed with son Jaden for "After Earth". It was both a terrible film (directed by M. Night Shaymalan) and a box office dud (only making $60 million). Smith Sr. hadn't opened a film below #1 in two decades. Johnny Depp re-teamed with "Pirates" and "Rango" director Gore Verbinski for "The Lone Ranger". Too long, too dull, and too predictable. Disney's 4th of July release made only $88M domestically. Ouch. And Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson re-collaborated for "The Internship", but the bland comedy managed only $45M. And Adam Sandler and his friends' "Grown Ups 2" fell short of matching the original in box office total ($127 to $162). Quality of entertainment, not star power, is what brought audiences to the theaters.

A Message to Studios: 2015 is Booked Movie Review

While "Justice League" is still TBD for 2015, there are at least two dozen other blockbuster films already set for release the year after next. Either 2015 will play out like 2011, when it was Big Movie after Big Movie and it was impossible for moviegoers to see them all, or the film industry will make more money than ever before. Here's just a sample of the anticipated hits:

"The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie 2" (2/13) - SBSP hasn't been on the big screen since 2004. $50-70 million for opening weekend guaranteed.
"The Fantastic Four" (3/6) - Superhero reboot of a superhero reboot. Probably not as huge as "Amazing Spider-Man", though.
"Cinderella" (3/13) - A live action version of a Disney animated classic from Disney.
"Ted 2" ("Passover" says director Seth MacFarlane) - The first one grossed over $200M. EVERYONE (who's old enough) will want to go see that naughty teddy bear again.
"Avengers: Age of Ultron" (5/1) - While it may not get the $200M open and $623M total since we've seen all the superheroes together before, I think we've got a Highest-Grossing Movie of the Year contender.
"Inside Out"
(6/19) - It's a Pixar movie.
"Terminator" (6/26) - If Arnold is seriously coming "back", those who didn't see 2009's "Salvation" will be returning to theaters as well.

"Independence Day 2" (7/3) - This is a question mark, especially since Will Smith is not involved. But it is opening on 4th of July.
"Pirates of the Caribbean 5" (7/10) - The last one was awful, and made the least $$$ of the franchise, but the potential is there.
"Hotel Transylvania 2" (9/25) - Thanks to the original, Sony Pictures Animation has learned that the last weekend in September draws families.

The Pre-Thanksgiving Feast: "Ant-Man" (11/6), "Bond 24" (11/6), and "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2" (11/20)

"Finding Dory" (11/25) Two Pixar movies in one year? That's never happened before!
"Inferno" (12/18) The DaVinci Code saga continues.
"Kung Fu Panda 3" (12/23) Who wouldn't want to spend the holidays with Po the Panda?

And of course: "Star Wars - Episode VII". Fans were upset when Disney didn't unveil any new details at D23, so they better announce an official release date soon.

Warner Brothers has pushed back the romantic drama, "Her" from a limited release open on November 20 to December 18. The film will then go wide on January 10. It's directed by Spike Jonze ("Where the Wild Things Are", "Being John Malkovich") and stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a man who's recently been divorced, but begins to form a friendship with his new home operating system. The voice that attends to his every need, named "Samantha", is played by Scarlett Johansson.

I was intrigued by the first trailer for "Her", which was released a few weeks ago. It feels similar to other films about humans interacting with modern technology. Last year's "Robot & Frank", starring Frank Langella as a man who lived with a robot "butler", was promising but just didn't have enough emotional bite or originality.

However, "Her" appears to have what it takes to potentially become a Best Picture contender, especially now with this prominent date change. It's certainly a role that Phoenix could turn into a Best Actor nomination. Jonze is no stranger to Oscar attention, earning a director nom. in 2000 for "Malkovich". He's got a chance this year as well. But the big question is: What about Johansson? Will WB push to get her a nomination even though it's only a voice performance and she never appears on screen? If "Her" is a hit, this could be one of the hot issues come awards season.

Those OTHER Disney Animated films Movie Review

With the release of "Planes", I thought it'd be a good time to look back at the recent animated films that Walt Disney Pictures has distributed but didn't actually produce. In other words, these are all non-Walt Disney Animation Studios/non-Pixar films:

DisneyToon Studios created a bunch of hand-drawn animated films in the late 90's and early 2000's, including "A Goofy Movie", "The Tigger Movie" and sequels to Disney classics "Peter Pan" and "The Jungle Book" - "Return to Never Land" and "The Jungle Book 2". However, none of them were financial hits. Some were critical successes: 2004's "Teacher's Pet" (based on the TV series) bombed at the box office, but received glowing reviews. DisneyToon is also behind "Planes". Originally set for a Direct-to-DVD release, this is the first theatrical film from this studio since 2005's "Pooh's Heffalump Movie".

Starz Animation was behind 2011's delightful "Gnomeo & Juliet", which put a comedic spin on Shakespeare's tragedy. The film, which was released by Touchstone Pictures (a studio under the Disney umbrella), grossed close to $100 million in the US and a sequel is currently in development.

In the stop-motion department, you'll find three modern animated classics: "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas", "James the Giant Peach" and last year's "Frankenweenie", which was directed by Burton. And over the years, the Mouse House has also released several English versions of Studio Ghibli films, including Oscar winner "Spirited Away", Oscar nominee "Howl's Moving Castle", "Ponyo" and last year's "The Secret World of Arrietty".

Other studios that have created animated movies distributed by Disney include Vanguard, with the 2005 pigeon comedy "Valiant", starring the voices of Ewan McGregor and Ricky Gervais, and C.O.R.E Feature Animation's "The Wild" (2006), which many compared to DreamWorks' "Madagascar". And if you consider motion-capture "animation" (which I don't), Image Movers Digital was behind the Jim Carrey adaptation of the Dickens story "Disney's A Christmas Carol", and one of Disney's biggest box office disasters to date, "Mars Needs Moms", which forced IMD to shut down for good.


"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic" is currently on exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts through October 27th. This elaborate collection of artwork, including sketches and cels, videos, photographs, posters and much more is on loan from the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. You'll learn how the first full-length animated feature was brought to life.

I recently had the chance to check out the exhibit in person. This year marks the 75th Anniversary of "Snow White", which remains one of Disney's most beloved masterpieces.

Solving the

For the past year or so I've written about "Top Cat - The Movie", which has already been released and has become a hit in several foreign countries, including Mexico and the UK. There's been this on-going mystery as to whether the film would ever come to the US. In May, numerous websites reported that Viva Pictures bought the rights from Warner Bros. to distribute "Top Cat - The Movie" in the US and that the film would hit theaters beginning August 2nd.

However, no one could learn anything beyond that - until now. I've been able to contact Viva Pictures president Victor Elizalde and he told me that the film is currently playing in 15 US markets, including Houston, LA and cities in Michigan and Wisconsin. He also said, "Because of a waver...we're not charging admission. We're giving away promotional tickets to various groups". They include the Boys & Girls Clubs and the Boys and Girl Scouts.

The question still to be answered: Will "Top Cat - The Movie" debut on VOD later this August and be out on DVD on September 3rd, as has been rumored. When I get those answers I'll be sure to pass them right along.

To preview the anticipated release of the film I recently spoke with the star of "Top Cat", voice actor Jason Harris. In this LCJ Interview, Harris discusses bringing back and updating the iconic Hanna-Barbera cartoon, an animated Yankess film he's also working on, and his days hosting the Nickelodeon game show "Double Dare 2000".

"The Smurfs" grossed over $560 million worldwide two years ago, so it wasn't a huge surprise when a sequel was immediately announced. The iconic animated characters have to face-off against arch-enemy Gargamel once again in "The Smurfs 2", which is now in theaters.

Raja Gosnell is best known for directing family films, including "Scooby Doo", "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" and the original "Smurfs". He's back behind the camera for the highly-anticipated second installment. In this LCJ Interview, Gosnell goes back to his editing days, reminiscences about shooting this sequel in Paris, working with the late Jonathan Winters (who voices Papa Smurf), and breaks exclusive news about "The Smurfs 3".

This is getting Ridiculous Movie Review

Last summer, Regal Entertainment Group showed an exclusive five-minute behind-the-scenes look at the making of "Les Miserables" prior to the films shown in all their theaters nationwide. This new marketing strategy was a big hit. Since then, several studios have tried their hand at duplicating that success by making their own "extended previews" of upcoming releases. But now it's just gone too far.

The "Les Mis" piece had a purpose: to showcase the "singing live" aspect of the film. It wasn't just an extra-long trailer with a few interviews thrown in. Unfortunately the piece didn't get director Tom Hooper the Oscar nomination he deserved, however millions (myself included) were captivated watching it, even multiple times. Hearing Anne Hathaway sing part of "I Dreamed a Dream" made it a must-watch. Yet, it didn't spoil the film by giving too much away.

That's exactly the OPPOSITE of what's happening now. Everybody is now producing "extended previews" of upcoming films. Before "The Wolverine" there were not one, but two of these. The first was for Matt Damon's sci-fi film "Elysium". While I laughed at co-star Sharlto Copley introducing himself as "that guy from "District 9"', I covered my eyes and ears as best as I could for the rest of it (at least three minutes) because the piece showed way too much of the movie. Having trailers give away storylines and plot points is bad enough. Now we've got to deal with these preview features spoiling films.

Next came The Simon Pegg/Nick Frost comedy "The World's End". At least this feature was shorter. But even brief interviews with the actors explaining the plot is more than I want to see when I'm attending another film.

And there's clearly no one paying attention to when this extended previews are running. "The Great Gatsby" piece was shown up to the week before its release. And when Walmart did their special "Man of Steel" screening promotion, the preview feature ran right before the film itself. So audiences had to hear director Zack Snyder describing scenes from the film TWO MINUTES BEFORE IT WAS ABOUT TO START!

I think you can tell that this new trend is driving me INSANE. It's clearly a case of copying something that worked (with "Les Mis") but not doing it the right way. The "Les Mis" feature was special. Everything that's come since has been worthless. And I haven't even mentioned the extra time these features add to a night at the theater. If complaining to theater GMs or the studios will help end this madness then let's start complaining.

Let's Go,

Thanks to one of my favorite websites:, I stumbled upon a new South Korea/China sports comedy called "Mr. Go". It's out in theaters in both of those countries right now and is quickly becoming a huge hit. In fact it's grossed close to $10 million in its first four days in China. Why is this film doing so well? Because it's about a gorilla who plays professional baseball. And while that concept may seem a little out there for many, after watching the trailer it's clear to me that we need to bring "Mr. Go" to American theaters.

It's not as if U.S. audiences haven't embraced wacky animal movies in the past ("Babe", "Stuart Little", "Scooby Doo", "Yogi Bear", "Alvin and the Chipmunks"). And films starring primates ("King Kong", the "Planet of the Apes" series, "Gorillas in the Mist", "Space Chimps" and the Disneynature documentary "Chimpanzee"). And baseball movies don't always hit home runs at the box office, but that doesn't stop studios from churning them out ("Moneyball", "Trouble With the Curve" and "42" are recent examples).

And the combination has been done before: 1996's "Ed" featured a baseball playing chimpanzee (and Matt LeBlanc) and "M.V.P: Most Valuable Primate" centered around a chimp who played hockey. What makes "Mr. Go" different and why do we need him here in America? First of all the technology is amazing. And the trailer shows that this isn't simply a goofy sports/animal movie. There's a dramatic element to "Mr. Go" that compels you to watch him in action over and over again. This is a national phenomenon just ready to explode.

All we need is someone to obtain the rights to the film, add English subtitles and let it loose upon the American public. So here's my official pitch: I am calling for all US movie studios to pursue "Mr. Go". This film is just over two hours, so it fits right in with that current US trend. And it can be great way for American kids to be introduced to watching movies in subtitles. Plus it's in 3D, which could bring that struggling format back to life.

In the meantime, I'm pondering an important question: Does "Mr. Go" have a shot at a Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar nomination? See for yourself by watching the official trailer.

Well, They can't all be Hits Movie Review

I was afraid of this. When four BIG movies open on the same weekend, you know only one or two will be successful at the box office and the others will flat out bomb. And the current glut of quality carryover films only make things more difficult for the newcomers.

DreamWorks Animation is probably regretting opening "Turbo" on both a Wednesday and in the middle of the most jam-packed summer of animated releases in modern movie history. While "Monsters University" isn't drawing big crowds anymore, "Despicable Me 2" is still a force to be reckoned with. "Turbo" is a nice, sweet, original film that families should go see, especially those who have invested in Mike and Sully and the Minions once (or twice) already. But "Turbo" only made $31 million over its first five days. It could end-up being an even bigger disappointment for DWA than last year's "Rise of the Guardians", which was released on a crowded Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

"Red" opened in October 2010 to $21.8 million, #2 only to "Jackass 3D"'s $50M take. It appears "Red 2" will not perform quite as well. It was originally slated to open on August 2nd, but was pushed-up to July 19, even though that move put it up against three other movies instead of only "2 Guns", had it stayed in August. Instead, maybe Lionsgate should've moved it to the 26th. While it would've obviously suffered defeat at the hands of "The Wolverine", the older crowd (and non-comic book fans) might've gone for it. "Red 2" will have a hard time equaling its predecessor's $90M domestic total.

And then there's "R.I.P.D.". Also based on a comic, Universal's Jeff Bridges/Ryan Reynolds sci-fi action comedy has been hammered by critics and barely crossed the $10 million mark on its opening weekend. This is a disaster for a studio that's been having a very impressive summer so far ("Fast & Furious 6", "The Purge", "DM2"). Keep in mind that the film's budget was $130 million.

So who wins? These days, it seems like the horror film always does. "The Conjuring" made over $40 million in nearly 1,000 fewer theaters than "Turbo". Of course it will drop dramatically next weekend (as the horror flicks always do). With "The Wolverine" being the only new powerhouse (expect a $100M+ opening), "Turbo" could actually get back into the race next weekend. And even "Red 2" might get a bounce. As for "R.I.P.D." - it was D.O.A. so not even a miracle could bring it back to life.

And the Oscar COULD go to...Part 2 Movie Review

Here are five more of the Top 10 films you should be watching out for this Awards Season:

12 YEARS A SLAVE - Director Steve McQueen re-teams with "Shame" star Michael Fassbender for this historical drama set in the pre-Civil War. Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Chiwetel Ejiofor ("Salt") are also part of the ensemble. October 18 (Limited Release)

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY - Meryl Streep is going for her 18th nomination and fourth Oscar with this adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play. Streep leads an impressive cast which also includes Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Durmet Mulroney, Abigail Breslin and Benedict Cumberbatch ("Star Trek Into Darkness"). Opens in Limited Release on December 25.

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS - This latest film from the Coen Brothers stars Oscar Isaac as a 1960's singer/songwriter. Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Garett Hedlund ("TRON: Legacy") and John Goodman co-star. With the exception of TIME and Entertainment Weekly, the film received great reviews from it's premiere at Cannes. Opens in Limited Release on December 6 and expands on December 20.

NEBRASKA - Alexander Payne ("The Descendants") directs this dramedy about a father-and-son road trip to the Cornhusker state. Bruce Dern and "SNL"'s Will Forte star. From the images we've seen so far, at least some of the film appears to be in Black-and-White. Opens in Limited Release on November 22.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET - Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese together again. This is a crime drama about an obsessed stockbroker. Co-stars Oscar nominee Jonah Hill ("Moneyball") and Matthew McConaughey. The first trailer is not very good, but this could be a surprise success. November 15

Also keep an eye out for these "performance-driven" contenders:

"The Butler" (Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey) - Aug. 16
"Prisoners" (Hugh Jackman) - Sept. 20
"Rush" (Chris Hemsworth) - Sept. 27
"Captain Phillips" (Tom Hanks) - Oct. 11
"The Counselor" (M. Fassbender, B. Pitt) - Oct. 25
"The Book Thief" (Geoffrey Rush) - Nov. 15
"Her" (Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams) - Nov. 20 (limited release)
"Black Nativity" (Jennifer Hudson) - Nov. 27
"Grace of Monaco" (Nicole Kidman) - Nov. 27 (limited release)
"Out of the Furnace" (Christian Bale) - Nov. 27 (limited release), Dec. 6 (expansion)
"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" (Idris Elba) - Nov. 29 (limited release)
"Dallas Buyers Club" (M. McConaughey) - Dec. 6 (limited release)
"Labor Day" (Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet) - Dec. 25 (limited release), Jan. 31 (nationwide)
"Lone Survivor" (Mark Wahlberg) - Dec. 27 (limited release), Jan. 10 (nationwide)

And the Oscar COULD go to...Part 1 Movie Review

Since we're now into the second half of 2013, everyone seems to be making lists of either films from the first half that could be Awards Season contenders at the end of the year, or second half releases that could dominate the ballots. With SO many films in contention this Awards Season, the field should be more crowded than ever. Here are five of my Top 10 films you should be watching out for:

"AMERICAN HUSTLE" - One year after Jennifer Lawrence took home Best Actress, she and "Silver Linings Playbook" co-stars Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro re-team with director David O. Russell for this drama about crime and politics. "The Fighter"'s Christian Bale and Amy Adams also reunite, and Jeremy Renner and Louis C.K. round-out an incredible cast! Opens in Limited Release on December 13 and expands Nationwide on Christmas Day.

"GRAVITY" - Originally scheduled as a 2012 release, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as astronauts who become adrift in space after debris crashes into their spacecraft. Looks intense and visually stunning. October 4

"MONUMENTS MEN" - Clooney's last film that he directed, 2011's "The Ides of March" was almost completely shut out by the Academy. He could bounce back with this based on a true story about recapturing stolen artworks during WWII. Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman and "The Artist"'s Jean Dujardin co-star. December 18

"SAVING MR. BANKS" - The untold story of the making of "Mary Poppins". Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney and Emma Thompson is "Poppins" author P.L. Travers. If it's as good as the three-minute trailer the film should get multiple nominations - for both leads, as well as Adapted Screenplay and Picture. Opens in Limited Release on December 13 and expands Nationwide on December 20.

"THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY" - Director and star Ben Stiller's remake of the 1947 classic, (and adaptation of the novel), is already receiving positive reviews from early test footage. Last year, "Silver Linings" was the dramedy darling. "Mitty" has a chance to be that film this year. December 25.

Is 3D Dying - Again? Movie Review

"Despicable Me 2" set some positive box office records over the 4th of July holiday weekend. But the animated hit also set a new all-time record for the lowest percentage of 3D tickets sold. Entertainment Weekly is reporting that only 27% of ticket sales for "DM2" over the 5-Day Fourth of July weekend were for 3D showings (about $37 million).

There's no denying the recent decline in interest in 3D. Ticket sales are down. Showings per theater are down (often 3D is not getting primetime slots). This summer "Monsters University" only had 31% of its opening weekend sales for 3D. "World War Z", which faced "MU", did slightly better with 34% 3D $$$. Only 1/3 of "The Great Gatsby"'s $50M open was 3D sales. And blockbuster action films, such as "Iron Man 3" and "Star Trek Into Darkness" saw more than half of audiences choosing 2D over 3D.

These are staggeringly low numbers compared to just a few years ago when 3D was REALLY hot. Films like "Avatar", "Alice in Wonderland", and even "Tron: Legacy" scored big with the 3D technology. "Tron" was able to get 82% of its opening weekend crowds to see it in either regular 3D or IMAX 3D.

Back at the start of this recent 3D comeback I predicted (on "The Tonight Show") that 3D was a gimmick that would run its course and disappear again in the near future. Maybe that time is close. James Cameron, "Mr. 3D" even admits, "I don't think Hollywood is using 3D properly". I agree with him that films like "Man of Steel", "Iron Man 3", or most action films for that matter, don't necessarily have to be in 3D. The 2D digital technology is good enough to provide audiences with an incredible visual experience.

Clearly most movie fans don't see any advantage to watching a film in 3D. Ticket prices are already high enough. Does 3D add to the enjoyment of certain films? Absolutely ("DM2" is a perfect example). But you can still have a great time without having to shell out the extra bucks.

If this anti-3D trend continues, and I think it will, it won't be long before the current 3D glasses will become collectors items, like the old fashioned versions with the red and blue lenses.

Depp's Downturn Movie Review

Johnny Depp currently stars as Tonto in Disney's "The Lone Ranger", which made just under $50 million over the 5-Day 4th of July weekend - flat-out AWFUL compared to "Despicable Me 2"'s $142.1 million. "Ranger" is this year's "John Carter" for Disney. And while it should do better than that film's $73M total when it disappears from theaters in a few weeks, "LR" will certainly not make back its $250 million budget, at least in the US.

"The Lone Ranger" is also Depp's fifth straight box office disappointment. The three-time Oscar nominee's last legit hit was 2010's "Alice In Wonderland", directed by Tim Burton. When that film was released, 3D was really hot, so the high ticket prices helped "Alice"gross $334 million.

Later that year, Depp teamed with Angelina Jolie for the film that host Ricky Gervais (and Depp himself) made fun of at the Golden Globes for two years in a row, "The Tourist". While the trailers actually made the film look pretty good, it was panned by critics and grossed a mere $67 million.

2011 didn't start much better. I'm not counting the animated "Rango" in this list of recent Depp stumbles, though that also under-performed. The highly-anticipated "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" was released during the jam-packed summer season. It made $90 million in a decent opening weekend, but "Tides" went-on to become the lowest-grossing "Pirates" installment in the franchise.

And "The Rum Diary" was a Halloween weekend nightmare. Practically NOBODY saw this movie: $5M open, $13M total. Ouch!

Depp's cameo in last year's film version of "21 Jump Street" was well-received, but the TV-show adaptation that he starred in a few months later BOMBED. "Dark Shadows" was destroyed by "Marvel's The Avengers" opening weekend and was never able to find an audience. Depp and Burton's eighth collaboration was a weird mix of comedy and family drama that didn't work well together, though the film did have a great look.

And now, riding to the rescue, "The Lone Ranger". Well, not exactly. Disney designed this movie to be a star vehicle for Depp, even though he plays the sidekick. He can't take all the blame for what could become one of the biggest disasters in Hollywood history, but he has to take some.

So, will Johnny Depp be able to recover from this slump and, if so, when? Probably. We'll have to wait nine months to find out. His next film, the sci-fi action drama "Transcendence", doesn't open until next April. And Depp is reportedly part of the ensemble in Disney's musical "Into the Woods", due out Christmas 2014. He was cast just before "Ranger" opened in theaters. We'll see if either side has any second thoughts.

My EXCLUSIVE Interview with Tom Hanks Movie Review

Two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks could receive a double Oscar nomination this year for his upcoming roles as Captain Phillips in "Captain Phillips" and Walt Disney in the making-of "Mary Poppins" movie "Saving Mr. Banks". He also just ended his Tony-nominated run on Broadway in the play "Lucky Guy".

This past weekend I was able to see one of Hanks' final performances - and really became a "lucky guy" after the show. Getting to go backstage following a Broadway play is always a thrill. Thanks to a friend I was able to meet and talk with actor Courtney B. Vance, who won a Tony this year for his fantastic work in the play. He shared with me that it took a while for the chemistry between all the actors in this very fast-moving and complicated production to perfectly mesh. By the end they certainly had it all worked out.

Following that conversation and getting reading to head out into the street I hear a familiar voice. And coming down the stairs is none other than Mr. Tom Hanks himself. He was saying goodbye to some of his VIP guests and turning to head into another room where longtime friend Peter Scolari (who's also in the cast) had some visitors. But first, he spotted me, walked over with hand held out and, with a wide smile, asked, "Who are you?"

After introducing myself I told him what a great job he did in the show. "Lucky Guy" was written by the late Nora Ephron ("When Harry Met Sally", "Julie & Julia"). She also wrote the screenplays for the Hanks-Meg Ryan collaborations "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail". Ephron's play is fast-paced, funny, fascinating and consistently emotional. The set design is also incredible.

The following is how I best recall the remainder of our conversation. But please bare with me because, afterall, I was having an unexpected conversation with Tom "freakin'" Hanks, so I may not be completely accurate with every word:

LCJ: You've got two big movies coming out.

TH: I do!

Now, much like I had the dream to sing part of the soliloquy from "Les Miserables" with Hugh Jackman (and got to at the Critics Choice Awards) there was something I told myself I needed to ask Tom Hanks if I ever had the chance:

There's a scene towards the beginning of "Monsters University" in which young Mike goes through one of the doors at Monsters, Inc. and encounters a human child. When he hears the child's parents come in, Mike hides. As the parents open the door, the mother makes a comment, and then so does the father. And, to me, the dad character sounded like it could have been Hanks. He's not credited at all but everyone know how Pixar loves to add special, surprises touches to their films. And since Hanks has been the voice of iconic star Woody in all the "Toy Story" films, shorts, and upcoming TV specials I didn't think it was too big of a stretch. So I asked him:

LCJ: I've got a quick question for you.

TH: Sure.

LCJ: Do you have a cameo in "Monsters University"?

TH: No. I don't think so. Why?

LCJ: I swear I heard your voice in the movie.

TH: (pauses and leans up against the wall) Wait a minute. I might have. They (Pixar) call you up to these things...

LCJ: Right.

TH: So I might've gone in one day and they might've said, "Hey could you do this line?" Now I'll have to go see the movie and find out!"

I've done much longer interviews and more important interviews but this surprise, two-minute Q&A with Tom Hanks ranks up right up there with the most exciting I've ever been a part of. And I plan on following-up with him in January at the Critics Choice Awards (chances are good he'll be there for one of his major roles) to see if he found out if that is actually is his voice in "Monsters University".



Supervillain turned Superdad Gru (Steve Carell), his little yellow assistants, the Minions, and his delightful daughters are all back in the animated sequel "Despicable Me 2". The 2010 original made over $250 million in the US, ranking #10 on the highest-grossing animated films list. It also received Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for Best Animated Feature and was one of my favorite films of the year.

In "DM2", Gru's middle daughter, Edith, is once again voiced by singer and actress Dana Gaier. Dana told me in this LCJ Interview about re-auditioning for the role, the film's Hollywood premiere, next year's "Minions" spin-off movie and more!

LCJ's First Half of 2013 Movie Awards Movie Review

We've reached the halfway point of 2013. That means it's time for my annual Mid-Year Movie Awards:

Best Picture
"Fast & Furious 6"
"Monsters University"
"Star Trek Into Darkness"
"World War Z"

Best Director
J.J. Abrams - "Star Trek Into Darkness"
Marc Forster - "World War Z"
Justin Lin - "Fast & Furious 6"
Richard Linklater - "Before Midnight"
Baz Luhrmann - "The Great Gatsby"

Best Actor
Chadwick Boseman - "42"
Bradley Cooper - "The Place Beyond the Pines"
Leonardo DiCaprio - "The Great Gatsby"
Chris O'Dowd - "The Sapphires"
Brad Pitt - "World War Z"

Best Actress
Julie Delpy - "Before Midnight"
Tina Fey - "Admission"
Carey Mulligan - "The Great Gatsby"
Gwyneth Paltrow - "Iron Man 3"
Michelle Williams - "Oz: The Great and Powerful"

Best Supporting Actor
Kevin Costner - "Man of Steel"
Benedict Cumberbatch - "Star Trek Into Darkness"
Harrison Ford - "42"
Ryan Gosling - "The Place Beyond the Pines"
James Woods - "White House Down"

Best Supporting Actress
Rose Byrne - "The Internship"
Alice Eve - "Star Trek Into Darkness"
Rebecca Hall - "Iron Man 3"
Diane Lane - "Man of Steel"
Zoe Saldana - "Star Trek Into Darkness"

Best Ensemble
"Fast & Furious 6"
"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"
"Man of Steel"
"Now You See Me"
"Star Trek Into Darkness"

Best Cameo
David Copperfield - "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"
Leonard Nimoy - "Star Trek Into Darkness"
John Ratzenburger - "Monsters University"
Mark Ruffalo - "Iron Man 3"
Jason Statham - "Fast & Furious 6"

Best Action Film
"Fast & Furious 6"
"Iron Man 3"
"Star Trek Into Darkness"
"White House Down"
"World War Z"

Best Animated Feature
"The Croods"
"Monsters University"

Best Comedy
"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"
"The Sapphires"
"This Is The End"

Best Drama
"The Great Gatsby"
"The Place Beyond the Pines"

Best Family Film
"Oz: The Great and Powerful"

The Roger Ebert Award for Best Screenplay
"The Sapphires"

Costume Design
"Oz: The Great and Powerful"

Makeup and Hairstyling
"The Great Gatsby"

Production Design
"Star Trek Into Darkness"

"To the Wonder"

Visual Effects
"World War Z"

Original Score
"Monsters University"

"Monsters University"

Made-for-TV Movie
"Behind the Candelabra"

Pixar: From A to

With "Monsters University" now in theaters, everyone seems to be updating their lists of favorite Pixar movies. So here's mine:

14. "WALL-E" (2008)
The world seemed to fall in love with a robot who...falls in love with a female robot. I didn't. The opening section with no dialogue was...different. But it lost me soon after. Hardly remember anything other than "Hello, Dolly". Found more emotion in Brad Bird's "The Iron Giant" (his two Pixar films will appear much later on this list.

13. "A BUG'S LIFE" (1998)
Nice, simple, fun. Not extraordinary.

12. "TOY STORY" (1995)
I know what you're thinking: "It's the first one! It's still the best! How is it so low?" While it may have been groundbreaking when released in 1995, the first Woody and Buzz story is somewhat weak compared to most of Pixar's films to follow.

11. "BRAVE" (2012)
The first half-hour showcases Pixar's talents. This is a beautiful film to look at and is occasionally funny. But the script is a little too Disney and a little too predictable. It didn't deserve the Oscar, but at least it prevented "Wreck-It Ralph" from winning.

10. "FINDING NEMO" (2003)
Yes, I cried the first time I saw it.

Charming, effective and honest. Not groundbreaking, but successful in its own ways.

8. "MONSTERS, INC." (2001)
Mike and Sulley are one of the studio's best duos. Works emotionally as you get invested in little Boo. And that door sequence is incredible.

7. "TOY STORY 2" (1999)
The rare sequel that is better than its predecessor. Who can forget the introductions of: Zurg, Jessie, Bullseye, Stinky Pete and the adventures at Al's Toy Barn?

6. "UP" (2009)
Takes some emotional risks that pay-off, and has a perfect, Oscar-winning score.

5. "CARS 2" (2011)
If you take this film for what it is (an animated spy caper) it's a lot of fun to watch.

A serious superhero movie that works on so many different levels.

3. "TOY STORY 3" (2010)
The final few scenes are unforgettable. Deserved to win Best Picture.

2. "RATATOUILLE" (2007)
One of the most underappreciated of the Pixars. So well written.

1. "CARS" (2006)
A film I could watch over and over and over again and never get sick of. The story of hotshot racecar Lightning McQueen and his travels to the small town of Radiator Springs is completely engaging. Full of colorful characters. Doc Hudson will be remembered as one of Paul Newman's best roles. And who doesn't love Mater? It's a comedy, romance, sports film and underdog story all rapped-up into one, with great messages and a lot of heart. Those who simply continue to see "Cars" as one, long marketing ploy to sell merchandise missed the film entirely.

Too Much

Even though the calendar says summer just started, the second half of the Summer Movie Season is right around the corner. And with it come five sequels that share one common element in their titles: the number "2".

In July, there's the highly-anticipated animated "Despicable Me 2" that's expected to dominate the box office over the 4th of July holiday weekend. On the 12th we get Adam Sandler's "Grown Ups 2", the follow-up to his 2010 comedy (that I disliked immensely) Hopefully Shaq and a few other new additions can make this at least tollerable. 

The following weekend includes "Red 2". This is the sequel to the 2010 surprise hit starring actors a little past their prime who can still kick butt. While it had its moments, I didn't love "Red", but the additions of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins may help make "Red 2" more entertaining. And on Wednesday the 31st, the little blue guys only 3 apples high return in "The Smurfs 2". The 2011 original was clever. Hopefully this follow-up won't suffer the sequel syndrome by including some new, fun elements.

The month of August also features a few sequels. "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" is the second in the franchise of books turned movies, but, thankfully, doesn't use the "2" in its title. The same can't be said for "Kick-Ass 2". The original came-out so long ago (April 2010) that new cast member Jim Carrey alone may not be enough to get fans excited. Universal's decision to delay the release from June to August is not a good sign.

Summer 2013's only film that uses "2" in a creative way isn't even a sequel! It's Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg's "2 Guns", opening (appropriately) on August 2nd. With a solid trailer, obvious star power and "Smurfs 2" as its only main competition, "2 Guns" has a great chance to be a big shot at the box office that weekend.

Coming in 5 Years to a Theater Near You Movie Review

For a while now, studios have been setting release dates for their upcoming films YEARS in advance. However a new trend in Hollywood is taking this practice to a ridiculous level. Studios are "grabbing the date" by announcing untitled projects (often ones that haven't even been discussed) with openings way in the future. For animation giants such as Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Blue Sky and Sony Pictures Animation that means setting release dates as far out as Christmas 2018!

This is INSANE! But there is a pattern: SPA found success last year with the late-September release of "Hotel Transylvania" and several of their upcoming releases (including "Hotel Transylvania 2" and this year's "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2") will open that weekend.

DreamWorks was originally set to release three animated films this year (as they did in 2010), but "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" was pushed to next March. This July's "Turbo" will be their final film of 2013. However, they're going to try to make-up for lost time with multiple releases in 2014 and 2015.

Since 20th Century Fox now distributes both DreamWorks and Blue Sky animated films, they have decided to go crazy and secure 10 prime dates on the 2017 and 2018 calendar for "Untitled Fox/DWA/Blue Sky" films. They don't even know what films are going where or when. They just want the space! What's even more interesting is that Blue Sky has never released more than one film a year, and the studio already has other projects in the works.

And yes, Disney and Pixar are taking part as well. While it's more interesting to guess if any of Pixar's projects are anticipated sequels or prequels ("Incredibles 2", "Toy Story 4"?), this trend has really gotten out of hand. Does it really mean anything to anyone that there's going to be animated movies opening on dates such as November 23, 2016, March 10, 2017, and December 21, 2018? It's hard enough just to keep track of this year's schedule let alone one in five years!

So what if Pixar and DreamWorks going head-to-head on June 17, 2016 with an untitled film and "How to Train Your Dragon 3"? You can't take any of this seriously because almost all of the dates and films are going to get changed between now and 2018.

It would be much more fun if things went back to the way they used to be: studios developing films years in advance (in secret) and then surprising fans with announcements (like Pixar sorta did with 2015's "Finding Dory"). But the competition for dates and box office dollars has gotten so hot that booking dates five years in advance is probably the norm from here on. But, with more and more animated films coming-out (because of their potential to be big money makers) the potential for some getting lost in the shuffle is greater than ever.

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