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Lillard Rules the World Movie Review

Matthew Lillard has been a solid and successful actor in Hollywood for a lot of years. But at no point in the 42 year old Lillard's career has he been hotter than right now. Coming-off his co-starring role in last year's Oscar winner and Best Picture nominee, "The Descendants" with George Clooney, Lillard is co-starring with Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake in "Trouble with the Curve", opening next week.

But Lillard's breakthrough performance this year has really come "behind the camera". He directed the independent film, "Fat Kid Rules the World", which won the Audience Award at the SXSW Film Festival and has received positive reviews. As a first-time director Lillard does an outstanding job bringing this popular young adult novel about an overweight and lonely high school student who discovers punk rock to the big screen. And he gets great performances from his cast, including Jacob Wysocki, Matt O'Leary and Billy Campbell.

I recently interviewed Lillard and he told me "Fat Kid" is "the single greatest achievement of my creative career." The film is being screened around the country right now via Tugg and it will open in NYC and LA in October and premiere on VOD at the end of next month. Find it and see it if you can. Not only is it an entertaining film but it's also a showcase for one of the industry's promising new directors.

Indiana Jones and the One-Week IMAX Re-Release Movie Review

"Indiana Jones" is back on the big screen. No, Harrison Ford is not starring in a fifth "Indy" movie called "Indiana Jones and We're Not Really Sure if This IS His Last Crusade". Instead, Paramount and director Steven Spielberg have decided to re-release the original "Raiders of the Lost Ark" for one week only, exclusively in IMAX. It's timely because all four "Indy" films are coming-out in a Blu-ray box set on September 18.

While this isn't the most gorgeous IMAX movie you'll ever watch, overall the digital re-mastering and IMAX conversion of "Raiders" does look good. Yes, the wide landscape shots are a bit blurry (those are tougher to do), and the film is still grainy (it was made over 30 years ago!) However, the close-ups are sharp, and you're able to pick-up on a few unintentionally funny moments (including one late in the film involving a fly) by seeing "Indy" on such a large screen.

One thing that surprised me from seeing "Raiders" again (and it may you as well) is the iconic boulder scene. This is the classic clip we always get when any entertainment show is referring to "Indiana Jones". For some reason I thought the scene lasted a lot longer than it actually does, which turns out to be only a few seconds. If that scene was shot today it would go on for a minute and a half.

"Raiders" was rated PG in '81 (the proof comes after the credits with the old-fashioned ratings screen), but it's a modern-day PG-13. However, if anyone 10 and up hasn't seen this classic yet, this is the perfect opportunity to take them to see Indy in his prime...and on the big screen!

Summer Movie Mini-Reviews Movie Review

It's been a very busy summer at the movies. I've seen nearly 40 films and reviewed most of them on TV, in the newspaper and/or on this site. But some movies simply fell through the cracks - and I wasn't able to give them my full attention at the time I screened them. Here are mini-reviews of five such films:

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" (PG-13) Young Quvenzhane Wallis plays Hushpuppy. She's determined to do right as she goes along on this fantasy journey about life in a flooded community in Southern Louisiana. Her narration throughout the film includes vocabulary and adult phrases that a six-year-old would not use and hurts the story, which is simple, with a little depth. Not sure what the film is trying to say. B-

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (PG-13) Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith are among the older actors who decide to travel to India and stay at this hotel, which isn't what they were expecting. The owner (played by "Slumdog Millionaire"'s Dev Patel) is desperate to become successful, so he can marry the girl of his dreams. His character is played way over-the-top and ruins the main focus of the movie, which is about these seniors on the last great adventure of their lives. The performances are solid, but the script doesn't provide the emotional impact that was intended. C+

"Hope Springs" (PG-13) - Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones star in this cheesy romantic dramedy co-starring Steve Carell in a one-note role. This film is incredibly simple and predictable, and contains only a few genuine laughs. Technically there are too many close-ups and the music is sappy and overpowering. Jones overacts and I was embarrassed for Streep several times during ther film. Utterly forgettable. D+

"Ted" (R) I'm not a huge fan of Seth McFarlane's animated TV shows. But his first feature film is hysterically funny. Ted, the walking/talking toy bear is one of the funniest and sharpest comic characters in years. He provides some memorable wisecracks and gags. Unfortunately Ted's the only funny character in the film so things slow way down when he's not around. But the story works for the most part and it's a real crowd-pleaser. B

"Your Sister's Sister" (R) Emily Blunt stars along with Rosemarie Dewitt and Mark Duplass in this love triangle drama, that is basically a three person off-Broadway play on the big screen. The performances are solid, but the story isn't deep enough and doesn't include any twists and only one surprise, which comes to late to save things. In the end you really don't care who ends up with who or if they'll live happily-ever-after. C+

Hoop Stars Shooting to be Movie Stars Movie Review

"Space Jam" was the 1996 basketball comedy starring sports legend Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes. It was a groundbreaking achievement for its time by combining live-action and animation. Now, of course, that's combo common is pretty common, especially with family films ("The Smurfs" and the "Alvin and the Chipmunks" series two recent examples). So talk of a "Space Jam" sequel shouldn't comes as much of a surprise.

What is surprising about the buzz surrounding a "Space Jam 2" is the sourse. The talk is not coming from WB (the studio behind the original) or even Bugs Bunny (the other star of the original), but from NBA player LeBron James, who says he wants to star in "Space Jam 2". Could this movie be made?  Sure. The Looney Tunes need to return to the big screen (after 2003's "Back in Action" bombed). And the technology is so much better that the film could look great.

Here's the biggest problem: LeBron James is no Michael Jordan. James isn't close to being as popular as MJ was during his playing days (in fact millions of basketball fans hate "King" James). On way they're going to this movie. ESPN.com has their own list of sequels LeBron really should star in. They include: "Avatar 2", "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 2" (in which he'd play Snow White), and "ET 2" (he'd play Elliot, Chris Bosh would play the Alien).

Basketball superstars trying to make it big on the big screen is nothing new. The newest is Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder who just starred in his own family film called "Thunderstruck" (currently playing in a select number of states). And who can forget Shaquille O'Neal's movie career (though he may want to - Shaq was actually nominated for two Razzie Awards - "Blue Chips" and "Steel").

But his most memorable performance had to be as the title character in "Kazaam", in which he played a genie. The movie (released in 1996) was a bomb, and only has a 4% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Hard to believe he wasn't nominated for a Razzie for that performance as well.

I'd like to see a remake of "Kazaam", with Shaq reprising his role. He's become a much better actor since then, with roles in "Jack and Jill" and the upcoming "Grown Ups 2", along with that Buick commercial in which he makes that joke that he's got shoes bigger than most cars and points to the camera. I've seen that ad dozens of times and I laugh every time.

 

 

Fox to Distribute DreamWorks Animation Movies Movie Review

20th Century Fox has finalized a deal to distribute all DreamWorks Animation movies beginning next year. DWA is ending its distribution deal with Paramount (which had been going since 2006) at the end of the year with "Rise of the Guardians".

DreamWorks's upcoming movies include "The Croods" (opening in March - the first to now be distributed by Fox), "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" (opening November 8, 2013) and "How to Train Your Dragon 2" (2014). According to EW.com, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said that even though Paramount distributed the first "Dragon" in 2010, that movie, and other future sequels, will not be hampered by the change.

They've announced a release date for an untitled project - Nov. 6, 2015. This is likely the "Penguins of Madagascar" film.

This isn't an earth-shattering move by DWA. It's not as if Fox will have a role in the production of these animated movies. But there are a couple of things to point out: Fox already distributes Blue Sky Animation studio releases (such as the "Ice Age" franchise). So how are these two rival animation studios, now under the same distribution roof, going to deal with conflicts over release dates?

As of now, DWA has three releases in 2013, Blue Sky just one ("Epic" in May). There are no conflicts as of now in 2014 either, so at least this should be a problem for the near future.

Also, Paramount is the big loser here, especially short-term. Paramount Animation's first movie (which may be "The SpongeBob SquarePants 2") won't open until 2014, meaning the studio will have no animated film to attach it's name to next year. And Paramount will now only have FIVE films total in 2013 compared to 14 for Fox.

Since I started as a film critic Paramount has always been attached to DreamWorks Animation's movies and trailers. It's now going to be pretty weird seeing the famous 20th Century Fox intro before the boy on the moon appears.

 

Universal has decided to skip plans for a sequel to "Snow White & The Huntsman" and instead make a film that mainly focusses on the Huntsman. This means that Chris Hemsworth is now the star of not one, not two, but THREE major movie franchises. He'll be reprising his role as Thor in "Thor 2" (out Nov. 2013) and most likely in "The Avengers 2" (tentative release of May 2015).

According to The Hollywood Reporter, several key factors played into this decision, including Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson's recent break-up (Stewart cheated on Pattinson with "Snow White" director Rupert Sanders). Plus, screenwriter David Koepp (who also wrote "Premium Rush", opening next week) dropped out of writing the next chapter in this series. However, there's a rumor that Sanders is still in line to direct the "Huntsman" movie.

But does this spin-off even need to be made? While "Snow White & The Hunstman" is one of the best action films of the year, it underperformed at the US box office, grossing only $155M (with a $170M budget). The film's worldwide total is just under $390M. While that may seem like a lot of money, the film is not in the top 150 of the highest grossing worldwide films (surprisingly, Universal doesn't have a movie in the Top 20).

Initial reports stated that Universal first wanted to make another "Snow White" film starring Stewart and then a "Huntsman" movie. All I'm hoping for is that Charlize Theron can return as the Evil Queen. Sure, she may have died in the original, but I'm sure she can find a way to make a comeback.

Early Contenders for Oscar Gold Movie Review

Warner Bros.' recent decision to move "The Great Gatsby" from Christmas Day 2012 to Summer 2013 was a surprise for movie fans, especially considering that there was plenty of buzz for the film as a possible Best Picture Oscar contender. So now that "Gatsby" is out of the picture who are the new Oscar favorites? Here's my list of ten movies, in order of release date:

"Trouble with the Curve" - Clint Eastwood stars in this year's Baseball drama. In fact, it opens right around when "Moneyball" opened last year. Co-stars three-time nominee Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, Matthew Lillard and John Goodman. (Sept. 21)

"Won't Back Down" - Past nominees Viola Davis and Maggie Ghyllenhaal team-up as to mothers who want to take over their children's school system. Possible nominations for both actresses, and Oscar winner Holly Hunter co-stars. (Sept. 28)

"Argo" - Ben Affleck directs and stars in this drama based on a true story about a group of men who plan a fake movie in order to rescue six Americans kidnapped in Iran in 1979.  Goodman also co-stars in this film (like he did last year with nominee "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" and winner "The Artist"). Alan Arkin and the go-to guy of 2012 Bryan Cranston are also in the cast. (Oct. 12)

"Flight" - Robert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump", "Cast Away") is the director, and two-time winner Denzel Washington stars as an airplane pilot caught up in a scandal. 2010 Sup. Actress winner Melissa Leo, Don Cheadle and yes, John Goodman again...co-star (Nov. 2)

"Lincoln" - It's a Steven Spielberg movie with "There Will Be Blood" winner Daniel Day-Lewis as our 16th President. That sounds like a winning combo. (Nov. 9)

"Life of Pi" - "Brokeback Mountain" winner Ang Lee directs this epic adventure based on the popular book. Could be this year's "Slumdog Millionaire". (Nov. 21)

"Hyde Park on Hudson" - If he's great, Bill Murray is sure to get a Best Actor nomination as Franklin D. Roosevelt. Another possible nom for Laura Linney. Director Roger Michell's credits include "Notting Hill" and one of my favorite comedies in recent years, "Morning Glory". (Dec. 7)

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" - People are already concerned about watching the film at 48 frames per second instead of 24, and that this is just the first of THREE in the series. (Dec. 14)

"Les Miserables" - This dramatic musical adaptation of the Broadway smash stars Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway (all three no strangers to the Oscars). After seeing the teaser trailer, it looks like the perfect film for the Academy to embrace. (Dec. 14)

"Django Unchained" - Quentin Tarantino's latest stars Jamie Foxx and "Gatsby" star Leonardo DiCaprio. A good ol' fashoned Western from a director whose previous film ("Inglorious Basterds") won Christoph Waltz the Sup. Actor Oscar. (Dec. 25)

OTHER POSSIBILITIES: "Zero Dark Thirty", "Killing Them Softly", "Cloud Atlas", "The Dark Knight Rises", "The Master"

WILD CARDS: "Marvel's The Avengers", "Moonrise Kingdom", "The Words"

Sweating to the Classics Movie Review

In between all of the new releases this hot Summer I've had the chance to squeeze-in some of Hollywood's greatest films. Here are my thoughts on three of the of the all-time classic:

"The Birds" - Alfred Hitchcock's thriller about birds gone wild is an incredible film. The suspense level builds perfectly and the balance of story, dialogue and attack scenes is masterful. Set and costume design are outstanding and the ending may just be the most surprising of any movie I've ever seen. The DVD I watch provided a bonus feature with the original, extended ending, but I like it the way it is. This is a memorable movie.

"Citizen Kane" - Recently the British Film Institute removed it from the top spot of "The Greatest Movies of All-time", knocking it down to #2 (replaced by Hitchcock's "Vertigo"). While I wouldn't have it on the top of my list either, it's a very engaging story with incredibly sharp and sophisticated dialogue. Orson Welles' performance is outstanding, and he actually looks old as Kanes gets old. How come he could do that back then and make-up artists today can't pull this off?

"Singin' in the Rain" - Considered the best musical of all-time, this film has several classic numbers including "Make 'Em Laugh" and "Good Morning". And of course who can forget the great Gene Kelly singing and dancing the title song. I was lucky enough to see this in a theater - the Fathom Events/Turner Classic Movies 60th anniversary screening. Great story, nice, light touches of humor. And I enjoyed the similiarities with "The Artist", though both films are very unique and original.

August Movie Preview Movie Review

August is normally a bare month for quality movies. This is traditionally when studios decide to release all the movies they're not confident in or don't think have a home at the other times of the year. But, for some reason, this year is different. For the first time in a long time, August '12 is jammed with big-budget films, many which look promising and could make some big money at the box office:

Fri Aug. 3

"Total Recall" (PG-13) - Colin Farrell stars in this remake of the 1990 Arnold Shwartzenegger action film about a man whose memory is replaced. Co-stars Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale. The effects look good. Hopefully the story isn't too overdramatic. Opening Weekend Prediction: $45M; Total Gross Prediction: $145M

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days" (PG) - Why did we need another "Wimpy Kid"? The first one was awful, the second one was a mess, and, not surprisingly, this one doesn't look any better. With the same cast and studio I have very little hope for "Dog Days". OWP: $25M; TGP: $65M

Wed Aug. 8

"Hope Springs" (PG-13) - Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones star in this adult romantic comedy about an older couple who wants to get the spark back in their marriage. Steve Carell co-stars as their therapist. As usual the trailer gives too much away, but it still looks predictable. And it's surprising that it's not R considering the subject matter. OWP: $17M (5-Day: $25M); TGP: $80M

Fri Aug. 10

"The Bourne Legacy" (PG-13) - Jeremy Renner stars not as Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), but the NEXT Jason Bourne, even tougher. Even though he's been nominated twice for an Oscar, I don't think Renner has the starpower yet to draw large audiences to a movie, but this one could prove me wrong. OWP: $40M; TGP: $120M

"The Campaign" (R) - Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis play two rivals in a congressional election. Ferrell's comedies usually do very well at the box office, except for the R-rated ones. And "The Campaign" is R. OWP: $30M; TGP: $100M

Wed Aug. 15

"The Odd Life of Timothy Green" (PG) - Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton star in this Disney family drama about a couple who can't have a child, but a boy named Timothy magically appears at their house. It's an offbeat story, but could be emotional and inspiring. OWP: $15M (5-Day: $20M); TGP: $70M

Fri Aug. 17

"ParaNorman" (PG) - From the makers of "Coraline" comes this stop-motion animation adventure about a boy who has to save his town from zombies and an evil curse. I've already seen it and I expect it should do pretty well with audiences. OWP: $20M; TGP: $80M

"Sparkle" (PG-13) - Whitney Houston's final movie is a musical remake that co-stars American Idol winner Jordan Sparks. Should be a financial success considering the circumstances, and if Houston's performance is as good as we're hearing, I wouldn't be surprised if she gets some Oscar buzz. OWP: $30M; TGP: $110M

"The Expendables 2" (R) - This sequel to the 2010 surprise hit returns a veteran, all-star cast, with expanded roles for A. Shwartzenegger and B. Willis. Really enjoyed the first one. This looks like another good ol' fun action film, and another box office smash. OWP: $40M; TGP: $120M

Also opening in August: "Premium Rush" (Aug. 24) and "Lawless" (Aug. 29) along with a couple of horror films...AHH!

 

 

"Despicable Me" is one of the funniest and most original animated movies of the past decade thanks, in large part, to the Minions. In case you don't know, they're the little yellow creatures who assist scientist Gru (Steve Carell) in his lab and help him to try to stealing the moon. They pull a lot of pranks on each other and speak a funny language all their own. They were, as I wrote in my review of the film, the break-out stars of the movie.

"Despicable Me 2" is the next movie for Illumination Entertainment (who also made "Hop" and "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax"). Carell will return as Gru along with most of the original cast, and Al Pacino and Steve Coogan are among the newcomers. "ME2" opens July 3rd, 2013.

And now Illumination has announced that there will be a Minions Movie, scheduled for release in 2014. While it isn't a surprise that the studio would want to showcase these guys in their own film, I'm wondering why so soon after "ME2"?

Illumination has had many projects on their plate for the past several years, including a stop-motion "Addams Family" (possibly being directed by Tim Burton), live-action/animated reboots of "Curious George" and "Clifford The Big Red Dog", a CGI reboot of "Woody Woodpecker", a new CGI "Cat in the Hat" (due to the success of "The Lorax"), and a biopic on Dr. Seuss (possibly starring Johnny Depp).

I would rather see some of those films get into the production pipe-line and make it onto the big screen (to show more diversity in Illumination Entertainment) before a Minion Movie only a year after "Despicable Me 2". Clearly they want to load-up and really build this franchise while these characters are popular, but could this be a case of a studio putting all it's minions in one basket? Come to think of it - that would be fun to see!

 Do we really need to be

Pixar's sequels have been pretty successful at the box office and so far they've been very good films that stand on their own: "Toy Story 2", "Toy Story 3" and "Cars 2". This streak will be tested next year with the prequel - "Monsters University".

And now comes the news is that Pixar is planning "Finding Nemo 2" - almost a decade after the original was released.

Andrew Stanton, who directed "Nemo", "WALL-E" and Disney's 2012 disappointment "John Carter", will be looking to bounce back from his first venture into live action by directing the sequel to the 2003 Oscar winner. He's pitched an idea to the studio that they've "embraced", so it looks like the movie is in the Pixar pipeline for 2016 (though the studio has yet to make it official).

Some fans think Pixar's already overdone it with the sequels (most weren't happy about "Cars 2") and I've read the criticism that the studio isn't doing enough original projects. But that arguement doesn't work - Pixar's next three movies after "University" will all be originals: "The Good Dinosaur" (2014) and two in 2015 - an untitled film about mind exploration and the other related to "The Day of the Dead".

"Finding Nemo" is a great movie, but it's not one of my all-time favorite Pixar films. The better choice for a Pixar sequel would be "The Incredibles". Many people, especially adults, have this as their favorite because the charcaters are human (and therefore more relatable) and it's the most "adult", serious and action-packed Pixar film. I like it for its off-beat humor as well.

Fan have been waiting for an "Incredibles 2" because we want to see these superheroes battle another villain (hopefully John Ratzenburger's "Underminer" who appears at the end of the original). That film left you wanting more, and with the clear feeling that story of this amazing family wasn't over. But it's been eight years, guys - time to get this project going!

"Toy Story 3" was a perfect way to end that series. I still love Lightning McQueen and Mater, so I'd support the idea of a "Cars 3", but "Cars 2" made $50M less than the original domestically, so that probably won't happen.

"A Bug's Life", "Ratatouille" and "Up" all ended nicely and absolutely don't need sequels. And I'm not a "WALL-E" fan, so I don't think we ever need to see him back on the big screen.

So the question remains - is a sequel to "Finding Nemo" what we really want to see? In my opinion - No. "Finding Nemo" also had a memorable, emotional story and a fine ending. Why mess with something that already worked so well the first time.

"Finding Nemo" is being re-released in 3D on September 14. Pixar will likely officially announce "FN2" during or after that run.

Indie Basketball Film Scores Movie Review

It's a small, independent documentary about inter-city playground basketball. And it was shot in Albany, NY, not far from where I live. But "Ballin' at the Graveyard" is much more than simply a sports film. It's an honest look at the men who spend every weekend a local park to play, most of them for years, and how the game and the relationships they've developed, have impacted, especially off the court.

The first part of the film is all about the game. We learn the rules these guys play by, see the physical action and hear some real, R-rated dialogue. This is a slice urban life that most people who watch this film will not have experienced before. The interaction between the players and the strong desire to win comes through clearly. Newcomers to the court are welcome (including white players) but they will be tested and have to earn their chance to play. And once you get into a game you better win because one of the reasons they called this court (in Albany's Washington Park) The Graveyard is because once your team loses you might as well be dead because you're not getting another shot to play that day.

The middle portion of the movie is the strongest. After getting to know about the key characters and their on-court personalities in the first half, the film turns personal - with one and one interviews in which we hear of their struggles growing-up - poverty, loss of parents, criminal activity - and how they overcame these challenges to become productive and successful memebrs of their communities. We also learn how their dreams of playing big-time basketball never came true, but how the game still means everything to them.

The authentic interviews are inspiring, and the end of the film we see how each of these men spend their Monday-Fridays - doing their best to be leaders for the next generation, again, both on and off the court.

"Ballin' at the Graveyard" is directed by Basil Anastassiou and Paul Kentoffio. Basil is also the interviewer and we hear from him often throughout. The stories are well told and the film is mostly well shot and edited. You do not have to live in Upstate NY or be a diehard basketball fan (or a basketball fan at all), to be impacted by this film.

So far, "Ballin' at the Graveyard" is only being shown in Albany, but hopefully it will expand wider soon, so that more people get the chance to experience this simple, but affective documentary.

You can learn more about the film and get info on screenings at: ballinatthegraveyard.com

UPDATE: American

UPDATE: Along with a new theme park for DreamWorks Animation, the studio has also announced at Comic Con 2012 that a "Penguins of Madagascar" movie is confirmed for 2015 and that they're going ahead with "Kung Fu Panda 3".

DreamWorks Animation has been longing to bring their popular animated characters to a theme park for a long time. After deals with China, Abu Dhabi and Dubai all failed, they've decided that the United States would be the perfect home for Shrek, the Madagascar clan and even Po the Panda. The studio has announced plan to become part of a on-hold mall project in the New Jersey Meadowlands now called "American Dream".

U.S. theme parks are on the comeback trail lately because of Universal's "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" and Disney's "Cars Land", so the timing is right for DreamWorks to get in on the action.

But this project has been in limbo for years. According to The New York Times, previous developers but ran out of money for what the mall that was originally called "Xanado", and the lot has been vacant for three years. Now the new "American Dream" will have "nearly 1.7 million square feet of retail space, an indoor ski hill, indoor sky diving, bowling, an aquarium, a live theater and the 14.7-acre amusement park."

The total cost for this theme park: $1.75 billion (and $1.9B was already spent the first time). The Meadowlands area attracts 55 million people each year, so you'd think it'd be an ideal location for a theme park. But the N.Y. Giants and N.Y. Jets have sued the company behind this project (Triple Five), complaining that the construction will disrupted traffic getting to and from MetLife stadium, and they fear this will continue - since the park is not expected to open until September 2014. And then when it does, traffic jams on game days could be incredible.

But maybe Shrek will finally have a swamp home in the Meadowlands, and Alex and Marty aren't too far away from their Central Park Zoo. It's Po that'll be most affected, having to move from China all the way to New Jersey. Though there are good chinese restaurants in NYC.

American

DreamWorks Animation has been longing to bring their popular animated characters to a theme park for a long time. After deals with China, Abu Dhabi and Dubai all failed, they've decided that the United States would be the perfect home for Shrek, the Madagascar clan and even Po the Panda. The studio has announced plan to become part of a on-hold mall project in the New Jersey Meadowlands now called "American Dream".

U.S. theme parks are on the comeback trail lately because of Universal's "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" and Disney's "Cars Land", so the timing is right for DreamWorks to get in on the action.

But this project has been in limbo for years. According to The New York Times, previous developers but ran out of money for what the mall that was originally called "Xanado", and the lot has been vacant for three years. Now the new "American Dream" will have "nearly 1.7 million square feet of retail space, an indoor ski hill, indoor sky diving, bowling, an aquarium, a live theater and the 14.7-acre amusement park."

The total cost for this theme park: $1.75 billion (and $1.9B was already spent the first time). The Meadowlands area attracts 55 million people each year, so you'd think it'd be an ideal location for a theme park. But the N.Y. Giants and N.Y. Jets have sued the company behind this project (Triple Five), complaining that the construction will disrupted traffic getting to and from MetLife stadium, and they fear this will continue - since the park is not expected to open until September 2014. And then when it does, traffic jams on game days could be incredible.

But maybe Shrek will finally have a swamp home in the Meadowlands, and Alex and Marty aren't too far away from their Central Park Zoo. It's Po that'll be most affected, having to move from China all the way to New Jersey. Though there are good chinese restaurants in NYC.

LCJ's First Half of 2012 Awards Movie Review

We're officially into the second half of 2012, but it's time to look back at the best performances and movies from the first six months with my annual "Half Year Awards":

Best Picture: Live-Action
Bully
Game Change
Marvel’s The Avengers
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Snow White & the Huntsman

Best Director
Wes Anderson - “Moonrise Kingdom”
Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield - “Chimpanzee”
Lee Hirsch - “Bully”
Lorene Scafaria - “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”
Joss Whedon - “Marvel’s The Avengers”

Best Actor

Steve Carell - “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”
Tom Cruise - “Rock of Ages”
Michael Fassbender - “Prometheus”
Ewan McGregor - “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”
Tyler Perry - "Madea's Witness Protection"                                                                                                                                   

Best Actress
Emily Blunt - “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”
Keira Knightley - “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”
Jennifer Lawrence - “The Hunger Games”
Julianne Moore - “Game Change”
Kristen Stewart - “Snow White & the Huntsman”

Best Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin - “Men in Black 3”
Dominic Cooper - “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”
Samuel L. Jackson - “Marvel’s The Avengers”
Mark Ruffalo - “Marvel’s The Avengers”
Stanley Tucci - “The Hunger Games”

Best Supporting Actress
Mary Elizabeth Winstead - “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”
Scarlett Johansson - “Marvel’s The Avengers”
Keke Palmer - “Joyful Noise”
Kristin Scott Thomas - “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”
Charlize Theron - “Snow White & the Huntsman”

Best Animated Feature

Brave
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Best Action Film

Marvel’s The Avengers

Best Comedy
The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Best Documentary Feature
Bully

Best Drama

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Best Live-Action Family Film
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

Best Costume Design
Marvel’s The Avengers

Best Makeup
Dark Shadows

Best 3D
Titanic 3D

Best Editing
Men in Black 3

Best Visual Effects

Marvel’s The Avengers

Best Original Score

Marvel’s The Avengers

Best Original Song

The Hunger Games - “Safe and Sound” - Taylor Swift

While in NYC last weekend I saw the Broadway musical "Newsies", which is based on the 1992 Disney film that starred a young Christian Bale and Robert Duvall. The movie pretty much bombed, but the show is surprisingly good.

The story, which set in 1899, is about the poor, mostly orphan boys who sold the daily newspaper on the streets of NY. The tycoon they're working for is publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who wants to increase the amount of money each boy has to pay to get the papers each morning that he needs to sell. So the Newsies decide to protest and go on strike, in hopes of getting Pulitzer to change his mind.

"Newsies" is very entertaining, with interesting sets and catchy musical numbers. Jeremy Jordan (who co-starred with Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton in "Joyful Noise") leads the talented cast of actor/singers/dancers. "Newsies" is geared to an older audience than previous Disney Theatrical shows. More than half of the seats in the sold-out theater were filled with teenage girls there to see Jordan and the other male performers in the cast. It was recently nominated for several Tonys and won two: Best Choreography and Best Score - both of which are very well deserved.

After the show I got to meet Jordan, who seems to be a nice guy. And I also met and spoke with filmmaker Michael Moore, who had also been in the audience. What a surprise. I took a picture with him and he told me he liked my "Lights Camera Jackson" name. He also said that he enjoyed "Newsies" as well. Disney definitely has another Broadway hit on it's hands.

Because of the success of the show you've got to wonder if the studio is thinking about doing a re-boot of film, with Jordan as the lead.

Superhero Films for Little Fans Movie Review

Normally live-action superhero films are on the big screen and the animated superhero movies (from B-level studios with C-level animation) are either produced for TV or direct to DVD. But Disney and WB have decided to bring comic book and Lego action stars to movie theaters.

WB's "Lego" (opening February 28th, 2014) will star the CGI Lego versions of Superman and Batman. These two iconic superheroes will finally join forces in the same movie. Rumored to voice the "Man of Steel" is the red-hot Channing Tatum, while one of the most popular animated voice actors around, Will Arnett, is expected to get the role as "The Caped Crusader." Arnett's done voice work in "Monsters vs. Aliens", "Despicable Me", "Ratatouille", "Horton Hears a Who!", and "The Secret World of Arrietty". If this is a hit, expect talk to begin of a "Lego: Indiana Jones" movie (with Harrison Ford) and many other spin-offs.

Meantime, Disney has announced plans for "Big Hero 6". The studio teaming-up with Marvel (which they own) for an adaptation of the comic about another group of heroes (lesser known than "The Avengers"). This is the latest of five projects Disney has on their plate, including "Wreck-It Ralph" (opening in Nov.), "Frozen" (2013), a "Mickey Mouse" movie and the on-and-off "King of the Elves"."B.H. 6" is probably 3-4 years away.

Superhero movies have never been hotter and animated kids films continue to be the best guarantee of box office success. So I guess it only makes sense that the new target for superhero films will be little kids (at least starting in 2014). It's an interesting strategy that could have a huge payoff.

Mom and dad can't (or, at least, shouldn't) take Brian and his little pals to "The Dark Knight Rises" for his 6th birthday party, but they'll have no problem spending big money to take them all to "Lego". And they'll have to buy tickets for themselves as well.

Nora Ephron: 1941-2012 Movie Review

Writer and director Nora Ephron has passed away. Ephron was nominated for three Academy Awards for writing the Meryl Streep-Cher drama "Silkwood" and the romantic comedies "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle". Both of those films starred Meg Ryan - "Sally" with Billy Crystal and "Sleepless" with Tom Hanks. Ephron's scripts always featured strong female characters.

She also wrote and directed the 2005 underrated comedy "Bewitched", an updated spin on the 60's TV show. Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell starred as actors cast in a TV remake of "Bewitched". It turns-out that, in real life, Kidman's character is actually a witch. It's a smart, unique and funny film that also co-starred Michael Caine, Shirley McLane and Steve Carell in a small role. "Bewitched" is the first Ephron film I saw and one of the few romantic comedies I've actually enjoyed.

Another great Ephron film was her last as writer/director - 2009's "Julie & Julia". Meryl Streep deserved the Oscar for her incredible portrayl of Julia Child, goes from knowing nothing about cooking to becoming the most famous cook of all-time. Amy Adams is also very good as a young wife and would-be writer/blogger who sets-out to make all of the dishes in Child's first cookbook in one year. The two stories mix together nicely and the film is humorous and engaging, with perfect dialogue, an Ephron trademark. It was one of the best scripts and films of '09.

Nora Ephron has long been a role model and hero to women looking to succeed behind the camera in Hollywood. She will certainly be missed. She was 71.

UPDATE: A

UPDATE: "Brave" opens with a strong $66.7M for the weekend. This marks the 5th highest-grossing open for a Pixar film behind "Toy Story 3" ($110.3M), "The Incredibles" ($70.5M), "Finding Nemo" ($70.3M) and "Up" ($68.1M). "Brave" barely beat "Cars 2"'s open from lasy year ($66.1M). We'll see if that changes once the actuals come-out.

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It's always one of the most eagerly-anticipated movie events of the year: the release of a Pixar film. The studio's latest, "Brave", comes out this Friday and the promotion and publicity for the film has been heavy. But will that result in a huge box office?

The average opening for a Pixar movie is $61.5M. Many have done much better. "Brave" has a few things going for it and a few things going against it in its effort to become one of the studio's most successful films.

First of all it's rated PG (for scary action and rude humor), only the 3rd Pixar movie to get this rating. Will that keep parents of very young children from taking them? Also, it's the first Pixar story with a female main character. While this will obviously be exciting and attractive to little girls, history has shown that it's little boys who determine if animated movies geared toward young kids are a big success. Disney announced a few years ago, after the failure of "The Princess and the Frog", that they were getting away from "princess" films, because boys didn't want to see them. And remember the switch in the marketing campaign of "Enchanted" - away from Rapunzel and more toward the Prince and the horse and the action? "Brave" is being promoted as a story of "Girl Power". It will be interesting to see if boys want to see a girl character acting like them.

In addition, Pixar's previous release, "Cars 2", was not a critical or box office success. And this is the studio's first original story since 2009's "Up".

On the plus side is Pixar's amazing track record. And the fact that their movies usually appeal to every age group and demographic. "Brave" could be a financial success even without the young boy audience. If it's a great film people will want to see it. Plus, the "Girl Power" thing is hot right now. Merida may be seen as a young Katniss Everdeen ("Hunger Games") by moviegoers. "Brave" is also being released in 2D and 3D, so the extra ticket prices will help its box office total.

My prediction for opening weekend: $62.5M. Not spectacular but certainly solid. And if the reviews are great and "Brave" is a Pixar classic you can add another $5-$10M onto that.

A

It's always one of the most eagerly-anticipated movie events of the year: the release of a Pixar film. The studio's latest, "Brave", comes out this Friday and the promotion and publicity for the film has been heavy. But will that result in a huge box office?

The average opening for a Pixar movie is $61.5M. Many have done much better. "Brave" has a few things going for it and a few things going against it in its effort to become one of the studio's most successful films.

First of all it's rated PG (for scary action and rude humor), only the 3rd Pixar movie to get this rating. Will that keep parents of very young children from taking them? Also, it's the first Pixar story with a female main character. While this will obviously be exciting and attractive to little girls, history has shown that it's little boys who determine if animated movies geared toward young kids are a big success. Disney announced a few years ago, after the failure of "The Princess and the Frog", that they were getting away from "princess" films, because boys didn't want to see them. And remember the switch in the marketing campaign of "Enchanted" - away from Rapunzel and more toward the Prince and the horse and the action? "Brave" is being promoted as a story of "Girl Power". It will be interesting to see if boys want to see a girl character acting like them.

In addition, Pixar's previous release, "Cars 2", was not a critical or box office success. And this is the studio's first original story since 2009's "Up".

On the plus side is Pixar's amazing track record. And the fact that their movies usually appeal to every age group and demographic. "Brave" could be a financial success even without the young boy audience. If it's a great film people will want to see it. Plus, the "Girl Power" thing is hot right now. Merida may be seen as a young Katniss Everdeen ("Hunger Games") by moviegoers. "Brave" is also being released in 2D and 3D, so the extra ticket prices will help its box office total.

My prediction for opening weekend: $62.5M. Not spectacular but certainly solid. And if the reviews are great and "Brave" is a Pixar classic you can add another $5-$10M onto that.


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