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Dean DeBlois, who co-directed the 2010 original "How to Train Your Dragon", flies solo with the blockbuster DreamWorks Animation sequel "How to Train Your Dragon 2". In this LCJ Interview, DeBlois discusses the aging of Hiccup and the others for Part 2, the inspirations for the story, screening the film at Cannes, a look ahead to "Dragon 3", and what the franchise has meant to his career.

It Was the Summer of '89 Movie Review

What a difference 25 years can make...or maybe not. Hollywood clearly likes to recycle, and this strategy has produced some huge franchises - many which have been reborn since their inceptions in 1989.

25 years ago this week, Tim Burton's big-screen version of "Batman" was released. Starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader and Jack Nicholson as the original Joker, this was the highest-grossing film of '89 with $251 million. Adjusted for inflation, according to Box Office Mojo, that would be just over $500 million. Fast-forward to today: Zach Snyder is shooting Ben Affleck as Batman for "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice", while Keaton is receiving early Awards Season buzz for his role in "Birdman" (out Oct. 17), a dark comedy about an actor best known for playing a movie superhero who's trying to make a comeback in a Broadway show. Two and a half decades later, both Keaton and Batman are back at it.

The second-biggest release of the Summer of '89 was "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", which, as it turned-out, wasn't Indy's last adventure after all. The character and star Harrison Ford returned with "The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" in '08, and rumors persist that a 5th "Indiana Jones" film could be in the works.

"Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" (an equally ironic title) was also a Summer release 25 years ago, and obviously, it wasn't the final voyage of the Starship Enterprise. There was one more movie from the series ("VI: The Undiscovered Country - '91), four from the "Next Generation" team and the two recent reboots, with a third in pre-production.

The sequel "Ghostbusters II" opened in June of 1989. A Quarter-Century of Junes later, speculation rages concerning the possibility of a "Ghostbusters III". The recent death of Harold Ramis, the genius behind the franchise, may have ended all hope. The Steve Martin comedy "Parenthood" also hit screens that Summer. The TV relationship drama, based on the film, remains a hit for NBC. And 25 years ago next month Disney re-released the animated classic "Peter Pan". As we speak, Warner Bros. is in production on a live-action "Pan" origin story, starring Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard.

1989 seems so long ago, but not when it comes to Hollywood, where everything old is eventually new again.

The Real Reason to Make Movies Movie Review

Not every film is specifically designed to gross $250 million or receive numerous nominations (aka "Awards Bait"). Some directors simply want to make movies for the best possible reason: to tell interesting stories in interesting ways. This seems to be the case with Clint Eastwood's adaptation of the Broadway musical "Jersey Boys".

From the trailer, and the fact that a four-time Oscar winner is behind it, you'd think Warner Bros. would have planned to release this biopic on the creation of the legendary musical group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons close to or during Awards Season. Maybe that was never the intention. Maybe, after seeing what they had, the studio decided the film just isn't very good. But, if that was the case, why schedule its release for the middle of a crowded Summer? It's hard to believe that WB would want to bury "Jersey Boys". That being said, it's likely going to open in fourth place and will be lucky if it makes $50 million domestically (the R-rating for language hurts). It appears to me that Eastwood wanted to create this film, his way, regardless of whether it receives critical praise and awards season recognition, or is forgotten by the end of the year.

Every year there are films that fall into the category of being "different". Because of their release date, lack of star power, quirky storyline, no studio support or for no reason at all they simply fall through the cracks.

The indie "Locke", released at the end of April, should earn star Tom Hardy Best Actor consideration. But even if Hardy and the movie are ignored (as the film has been at the box office) writer/director Steven Knight ("Eastern Promises") achieved his goal of proving you can make an exceptional film with only one character, who spends the entire 90-minutes driving his car and talking on the phone.

"Edge of Tomorrow" is struggling at the box office, but director Doug Liman ("Mr. & Mrs. Smith") deserves a lot of credit for crafting an extremely smart and sophisticated action film with humor and heart (and getting great performances from Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt). Last year's "The Invisible Woman", Ralph Fiennes' previously untold the story of Charles Dickens' "secret relationship", was intriguing and memorable. It was practically ignored by audiences and only acknowledged by Hollywood with a Costume Design Oscar nomination. And Richard Linklater's 2012 "Bernie" showcased Jack Black in a top career form, in a true story of a funeral director with a deadly secret. Offbeat, funny, dramatic and fascinating, the film got Black a Golden Globe nod, but little else.

Harrison Ford, in a 2011 interview in AARP Magazine following the release of the terrific but box office flop "Morning Glory", said, "I just want to make good movies that people want to go see. I hate making movies that people don't go to." The problem is, sometimes the films most worth seeing, the quirky ones with unique scripts, the ones that stick with you long after the credits end, are the ones mainstream audiences ignore.

I guess that's one of the most rewarding things about being a critic. We get to see those films and then get to try to convince everyone else to see them, too.

Soak Up A Whole New SquarePants Movie Review

In 2011, Tom Kenny, the voice of Nickelodeon animated icon SpongeBob SquarePants, first revealed to me that a sequel to 2004's big-screen "SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" was potentially in the works, saying "I'm hearing it being talked about in a way I haven't before". Paramount finally confirmed SBSP2 six months later. Since then, rumors have been swirling of a plot, title and style of animation. Now the latter two of those have been revealed in a fascinating new poster for "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water".

By the looks of it, SBSP2 will not be using hand-drawn animation (like the series and original film) or the stop-motion style that was used for the holiday special "It's a SpongeBob Christmas!", but rather an interesting form of CGI. That may disappoint or creep-out some diehard fans but I'm staying very optimistic. The poster also comes with the clever tagline, "He's Leaving His World Behind", with a very real-looking crab grabbing the back of SpongeBob's pants.

We know there's going to be a mix of CGI and live-action in "Sponge Out of Water". Last October, it was announced that Antonio Banderas was playing a pirate in the movie and that he had filmed his scenes. And there is both an animation director, Paul Tibbit (who has been with the TV show for years), and a live-action director, Mike Mitchell ("Shrek Forever After").

For now, Paramount is only teasing us with the image on the film's UK website and official Facebook page, but I sense a trailer coming soon, possibly before "Transformers: Age of Extinction" at the end of this month. Already, "Sponge Out of Water" is a lock for my list of Most Anticipated Movies of 2015, and the good news is we won't have to wait long, as the film will be released on 2/6/15.

The Stars are Aligning Movie Review

A month ago I wouldn't have predicted that the romantic drama, "The Fault in Our Stars", would not only win, but dominate, the first weekend of June at the Box Office. Based on a 2012 novel about two teenagers who form an unlikely friendship and end-up falling in love, "Fault" easily beat competitors "Maleficent" and the Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt sci-fi action film "Edge of Tomorrow".

So how did "TFIOS" do it? The book was a #1 New York Times Bestseller and has had a massive following since released. The tween/teen audience is huge and come out in droves when a popular book hits the screen. In March, the first film installment of the franchise book series, "Divergent", opened to $54.6 million.

But the biggest reason could be the major thing that both films have in common: star Shailene Woodley. The world first discovered her on ABC Family's "The Secret Life of the American Teenager", which just wrapped-up last year. In 2011, Woodley received a Golden Globe nomination (and deserved an Oscar nod) for her performance alongside George Clooney in "The Descendants". And last August, she received rave reviews for her work in the indie dramedy, "The Spectacular Now".

Now Woodley has opened two big #1 movies in less than three months. She has a very likeable and believable on-screen presence and appears to be destined for a great film career. In fact, she's already receiving Best Actress buzz for her performance in "Stars". Currently, only "Divergent" sequels are in her pipeline (though that should change very soon). The true test will be if Woodley can open a film that doesn't have the built-in audience that comes with a popular book, and I think she can.

What Hugh Should Do Movie Review

Following an excellent, three-year stint by Neil Patrick Harris, Hugh Jackman is back as host of this Sunday's Tony Awards. With Harris busy on Broadway with "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (for which he is up for Lead Actor in a Musical), bringing back Jackman, who hosted from 2003-2005, was the smart move. But can Jackman live-up to the high expectations?

Here's my wish-list of highlights I'm hoping we're all talking about following the show:

1) The Valjeans - Jackman was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his incredible performance in "Les Miserables". Since he played Jean Valjean, and Ramin Karimloo is up for Lead Actor in a Musical as Jean Valjean in the new production of "Les Miz", a duet is practically inevitable.

2) Duel with Neil - Even though Harris won't open with a spectacular production number like he pulled-off last year, he and Jackman did duet (in "Who's a better host?" fashion) in 2011. Another one of those would be pretty great.

3) Incorporate the Stars - While Denzel Washington, Daniel Radcliffe and some other A-listers were surprisingly left-off the ballot, a few bits with the other big celebs who are nominated could be fantastic, including with the always entertaining Bryan Cranston and "Frozen" phenomenon Idina Menzel. Think he'll try to pronounce her name?

It'll be difficult for Jackman to top last year's show, as well as his own work hosting the Oscars in 2009, but there's no doubt he will do a tremendous job (as long as his claws don't get in the way).

Edgar Wright, who directed British comedy duo Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in a trio of hits: "Shaun of the Dead", "Hot Fuzz" and "The World's End", was all set to take on the epic Marvel superhero blockbuster "Ant-Man", starring Paul Rudd. But a week ago, Wright left the project due to some major creative differences.

Then, for about 12 hours, Adam McKay, best-known for working with Rudd on the "Anchorman" movies, and long-time Will Ferrell collaboration partner ("The Other Guys", "Step Brothers" "Talladega Nights") was in negotiations to direct the action film. But now reports say McKay has decided to drop out.

So what's scaring directors away from making a Marvel superhero movie that will likely be a huge success? Does the "Ant-Man" script contain elements that these guys couldn't agree with (slapstick, over-the-top comedy that mixes with the typical superhero formula)? The premise is rather goofy - a guy shrinking down to the size of an ant. The potential for amazing visuals is there, but it could also be a complete disaster ("Honey, I Shrunk the Superhero").

For now, Disney is keeping its July 17, 2015 relase date for "Ant-Man", but it's tough to imagine the film can be shot and edited in little more than a year, even if another director is locked-in very soon. Seems this "small" movie is becoming a rather large problem.

Is 90 the New 100? Movie Review

2014 has been a jam-packed year of blockbusters, with the top two films to date, "The LEGO Movie" and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", each grossing more than $250 million. But we're now five months in and not a single release has had an opening weekend of over $100 million. "X-Men: Days of Future Past", "The Amazing Spider-Man 2", "Godzilla", and "Capt. America" all debuted between $91 and $95 million. It's the first time there hasn't been a $100M+ opening in January-May since 2011, a year when overall box office was down, and no film was able to reach the $400M mark (last year, we had three).

Why hasn't anyone been able to get to $100M so far this year? There are plenty of possible reasons. Here are my Top 3:

1) Too many Spring/early Summer blockbusters. With nearly a big-budget superhero/action coming-out nearly every week fans have been skipping some and waiting for others, so the ticket sales are being spread-out over more movies.

2) Fewer people are spending the extra dollars to see these movies in 3D and IMAX, bringing the average ticket price and total grosses down.

3) The films just haven't been good enough.

This streak of no $100M films in 2014 will likely come to an end in just a few weeks, when "How to Train Your Dragon 2" opens nationwide. The DreamWorks sequel is one of the favorites right now to win the 2014 Box Office title, but still may not get to $400M. If that's the case it could mean that 2014 will end-up being an overall down year for the industry.

Pigging-Out Movie Review

Geico is one of the newest corporate sponsors of Regal Cinemas and AMC movie theaters nationwide, and the "First Look" pre-show which runs prior to the trailers. They've produced a few movie theater-themed "Silence Your Cell Phones" ads featuring the Gecko talking with the "Let's All Go to the Lobby" soda and popcorn characters, and the "Hump Day" Camel getting pumped for "Movie Day".

But their latest spot is their best work by far. Short, quirky Maxwell the Pig, who we've seen on TV getting pulled-over by the police and wearing a blanket at a football game, is now working as a ticket-taker at a movie theater. And instead of simply welcoming people, ripping their tickets and telling them where to go, he intentionally gives away the crucial twists in the film they're about to see.

It's an old gag, but it's executed so well and Maxwell's comments are so priceless, that the feature is hysterical. Normally, especially if you go to the movies as often as I do, it doesn't take long to get tired of seeing the same commercials over and over again. But I have a feeling I'll be laughing out loud to Maxwell all the way to the end of Summer.

Out of the Can...to a hit at Cannes Movie Review

One of the most highly-anticipated films of the upcoming Awards Season is the true-life wrestling drama "Foxcatcher" (out Nov. 14). Directed by Bennett Miller ("Capote", "Moneyball"), "Foxcatcher" was supposed to be released last December (for 2013 awards consideration), but Sony Pictures Classics decided to hold it back an entire year.

Speculation was that Miller wasn't finished with the film in time for it's original release date, though buzz was still very strong. Well, "Foxcatcher" was screened this week at the Cannes Film Festival and the reviews have been nothing short of spectacular, particularly for star Steve Carell, who plays Olympic wrestling coach John du Pont. Last fall, based on all the buzz and a 60-second teaser trailer, I predicted that Carell would score an Oscar nomination for his work. Now, with the reaction coming from Cannes, it's time to officially repeat that prediction. If Carell's performance is as raw and transformative as we're hearing - he's an absolute lock.

The debate is whether Carell be up for the Lead or Supporting Actor category? Even though Carell receives top-billing, Channing Tatum gets the most screen time in the movie. Will SPC play it safe and go the lead route or take a bit of a risk and push Carell for a dominating supporting performance? That decision likely won't be made until at least mid-November.

On the other side of the Cannes coin is "Grace of Monaco". The Grace Kelly biopic starring Nicole Kidman was also shelved for a year (by The Weinstein Co.), but unfortunately for a different and not surprising reason: Terrible buzz and reviews from Cannes confirming that it simply isn't very good.

Also screened at the festival, but not in competition: "How to Train Your Dragon 2". Some think the DreamWorks animated adventure will be the highest-grossing movie of the Summer. However, can it be a better film than the wildly impressive 2010 original? If it truly is "The mother of all animated sequels", as the Variety review from Cannes claims, I'll be both stunned and over-joyed.

 

Live From New York Movie Review

In recent years, "Saturday Night Live" has become must-watch TV more for the celebrity hosts and guests than the regular cast. And that was true again this season (which has just come to a close).

Here are the five best "SNL" appearances of the year:

5) Bring on Babs - Legendary newswoman Barbara Walters just retired after more than a half century in the business. There have been several actresses who have played Walters over the years on SNL. But before saying goodbye on "The View", the real Walters stopped by Weekend Update to deliver a few good lines and poke fun at what she's done her entire career: ask odd questions, making people cry, and even her trademark voice.

4) Let Louis do His Thing - Host Louis C.K.'s monologue didn't consist of a typical over-the-top musical number or corny sketch using cast members in costume in the audience. Instead, he did 12-minutes of hilarious, clean stand-up comedy.

3) The Host with the Most - Anna Kendrick, the Oscar-nominated star of "Pitch Perfect" and "Up in the Air", shined during hosting debut in several clever skits, using both her acting and impressive vocal abilities.

2) Survey Says: Hysterical! - The best regular sketch on the show this season, by far, was Celebrity Family Feud. Veteran SNL member Kenan Thompson does a spot-on Steve Harvey, delivering countless classic one-liners. Standout editions include the season's Christmas episode, with Jimmy Fallon playing Sheldon from "The Big Bang Theory" and musical guest and friend Justin Timberlake as Fallon and, a few weeks ago, Andrew Garfield playing the self-eccentric Timberlake. Both get A's.

1) A Wes Anderson Tribute - When Edward Norton hosted in October, he took part in a video sketch teasing a new movie from quirky indie director Wes Anderson. The result was simply genius. From the situations and music, to the set-design and costumes, the writers clearly did their homework for the parody, which played off such Anderson films, as "Moonrise Kingdom" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox". Norton did a dead-on Owen Wilson (who's appeared in practically all of Anderson's films), and Alec Baldwin was the perfect narrator, delivering priceless lines, such as - "The New York Times calls it, 'You Had Me at Wes Anderson.'"

The Titan of Twitter Movie Review

One of the best silver screen matches of the 21st Century is, without a doubt, Robert Downey, Jr. and Tony Stark/Iron Man. Now luck may have struck twice for the two-time Oscar nominee, who only recently joined Twitter but it's proving to be a perfect fit, as he's quickly becoming one of the most popular celebs on the social media giant. Here's 5 reasons why @robertdowneyjr is a must follow:

1) The Bio: "You know who I am." - Classically sarcastic

2) The Photo: Proudly holding his 2014 Kids Choice Awards blimp for Favorite Male Buttkicker

3) Those other photos: Downey, Jr. has shared some exclusive, incredible images from the set of "Avengers: Age of Ultron". Sure, they're not of him or the others in costume (quite yet), but seeing the entire cast and crew, including director Joss Whedon, having lunch is pretty cool.

4) The promotional plugs: On opening day of his new comedy "Chef", co-starring and directed by buddy Jon Favreau, Downey wrote, "Speaking of awesome movies that open today..."

5) Appreciating his fans: A mother asked RDJ if he would help her daughter, who was being made fun of at school for believing in superheroes. He replied, "Don't worry, Keira, I believe in them too!" Now that's a true superhero!

Downey, Jr. "only" has 1.64 million Twitter followers (as of this writing). Expect that number to grow a little between now and "Ultron"s release next May.

 

Yabba Dabba Comeback Movie Review

"The Flintstones" are coming back to the big screen, but don't look for John Goodman in a loincloth. This new adventure of the "Modern Stone Age Family" will be a straight CGI animated film from Warner Bros. And you'll never guess who's producing it: Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, best known for their edgy, adult (and often) very funny comedies.

This is a return to the big screen for Fred, Barney & Co.: The 1994 live-action film with Goodman and Rosie O'Donnell was a huge success, while the 2000 sequel, "Viva Rock Vegas" bombed. Recently, "Ted" and "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane tried to revive the franchise with an animated series, but the pilot script was underwhelming for FOX and the project was shelved.

WB recently announced they're officially getting back in the animation game. Their division will produce two new films: one in 2017 and another in 2018. This trip to Bedrock should fill one of those spots.

Nice to see this new trend of classic cartoons getting pure animated updates - "Mr. Peabody and Sherman", Blue Sky's "Peanuts" and now "The Flintstones." This is a welcome change from the part animated/part live-action reboots we've been bombarded with in recent years.

Swinging Spidey to New Heights Movie Review

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" marks the start of the Summer 2014 Movie Season. One of the strengths of the superhero sequel are the incredible visuals FX. In this LCJ Interview, Academy-Award nominated Animation Supervisor David Schaub discusses the challenges of creating a realistic Spidey using CGI, electrifying Jamie Foxx's villain "Electro", how Times Square was destroyed, and potential villains for "TASM3".

Murphy back on

Few comic actors in the history of Hollywood have experienced more of a rollercoaster career than Eddie Murphy. He burst onto the scene in the early 80s with mega-hits "48 Hrs", "Trading Places" and "Beverly Hills Cop" (while starring on SNL). His success dipped a bit in the 90s but he rebounded in the next decade, highlighted by a Best Supporting Actor Oscar-nomination performance for "Dreamgirls" (losing in an upset to Alan Arkin - "Little Miss Sunshine"). Many still believe the release of "Norbit" around the same time swayed Academy members "not" to vote for him.

The animated sequels "Shrek the Third" and "Shrek Forever After" kept him in the spotlight, but his live-action comedies - "Meet Dave", "Imagine That" and "A Thousand Words" were all busts. And the solid 2011 ensemble comedy "Tower Heist" didn't quite connect with audiences, either.

For "Tower Heist" Murphy teamed-up with "Rush Hour" and "Hercules" director Brett Ratner. And the two were all set to reunite for the 2012 Oscars - Murphy as host and Ratner as producer, but later both backed-out due to some controversies.

But now it appears that Murphy and Ratner will be getting back together, and will be joined by legendary Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer, for another "Beverly Hills Cop", set for release on March 25, 2016. This announcement comes after a long struggle to reboot the popular 80s & 90s franchise (including a TV pilot which was passed on by several networks last year). This new "Beverly Hills Cop" will come 22 years after the release of "BHC III".

Clearly this is "where he wants to be" in his career. Over the holidays, Murphy told Ellen DeGeneres on her show, "I don't want to do anything else that sucks ever again" - a humorous and brutally honest statement. Hopefully, this could be the start of comeback we've been waiting for.

Eddie Murphy Fun Fact: Did you know he was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor BAFTA in 2002 as the voice of Donkey in the original "Shrek"? The day The Academy nominates a voice performance in an acting category will be historic to "say the least".

Handicapping Summer 2014's Main Event Movie Review

Going into last Summer there was a clear Mega-Weekend Box Office battle: Memorial Day Weekend, which featured the heavyweight showdown of "Fast & Furious 6" vs. "The Hangover: Part III" (with the animated adventure "Epic" as the wannabe contender). "Fast 6" went-on to crush "Hangover 3" and all competitors, making nearly $120 million over the four day period.

It's a little more difficult to pick this year's spotlight Summer match-up - the two films opening on the same day and in the same class when it comes to box office potential. But I think I found it. The date: Friday, June the 13th. In this corner - DreamWorks' animated sequel, "How to Train Your Dragon 2". And in this corner - Sony's highly anticipated comedy sequel, "22 Jump Street". And if you're assuming "Dragon" is a lock to win, this breakdown will show that the race could actually be a lot closer than you might think.

2010's "How to Train Your Dragon" opened to a solid $44 million, and finished with an outstanding $218 million, showing it had repeat business with families. "Dragon 2" has a lot in its favor: It'll be the first animated release in over a month (the previous being "Legends of Oz" on May 9), has a familiar title, is following an excellent original installment and is building solid buzz thanks to a great trailer. However, because kids in many parts of the country don't get out of school until the following week, a relatively slow opening followed by a big second week is quite possible.

Two years ago "21 Jump Street" proved to be a critical and box office hit, with a $36 million open and $138 million domestic total. The carry-over momentum will help "22" tremendously. Also in its favor: Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are even bigger draws now than they were when the original was released. Plus, the college student/young adult audience is always looking for a funny, smart and raunchy over-the-top comedy, and this one could deliver.

It will all come down to last-minute marketing and reviews, and while it won't be a runaway, "Dragon 2" is my pick to win the weekend with somewhere around $70 million (which will be a welcome blessing for struggling a DreamWorks), while "22 Jump Street" should take-in close to $60 million. Is there a chance that these two could flip those numbers? Absolutely. But one thing's for sure, since Hill stars in both, he's guaranteed to be the biggest winner of them all.

A Superhero Sequel Sequence Movie Review

The eagerly-anticipated release of "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is just days away, kicking-off the 2014 Summer Movie Season and a new group of superhero blockbusters. Joining Spidey are "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (May 23), "Guardians of the Galaxy" (Aug. 1) and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (Aug. 8).

Audiences are anxious to see how this latest chapter in the "Spider-Man" saga stacks-up against its predecessor. Personally, I don't think "2" needs to do a whole lot to be better than the 2012 reboot. In general, some Superhero Sequels have been outstanding, while others failed to connect with fans:

Back in Time with Batman & Superman - Before Christian Bale and Henry Cavill, there was Michael Keaton and Christopher Reeve. The original "Batman" and "Superman" films are considered classics, while their sequels were disappointments, led by the mid-90's "Batman Forever" and "Batman & Robin".

X Marks the Spot - "X2: X-Men United" (2003) and "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006) were both HUGE successes for Marvel. The only thing they both suffer from were awkward titles.

The Original Spider-Man - When it comes to director Sam Raimi's original "Spider-Man" trilogy, "SM2" (2004) was a 4th of July smash, while "Spider-Man 3", which opened the Summer 2007 Season, was the least liked by critics and weakest performer at the box office.

Nolan Nails It - Director Christopher Nolan's 2005 "Batman Begins" set the stage for 2008's mega-hit "The Dark Knight", which won 2 Oscars, including one for the late Heath Ledger's incredible performance as The Joker. Four years later, Nolan followed-up with "The Dark Knight Rises", which I genuinely liked but consider to be slightly overrated.

Does Modern Marvel Reign Supreme? - Robert Downey, Jr. is fantastic as Tony Stark in "The Avengers" and all three "Iron Man" movies. But diehard Marvel fans were generally let down by 2010's "Iron Man 2" and last Summer's "Iron Man 3". I have a difficult time naming a favorite in the series. All three films are all solid, but not extraordinary. When it comes to the "Captain America" series, "The Winter Soldier" is much stronger than "The First Avenger", while "Thor: The Dark World" was equally as dull as the 2011 original.

Other entries in the world of Superhero Sequels include bombs "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" and "Kick-Ass 2", as well as disappointments "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" and "Hellboy II: The Golden Army". Nonetheless, comic book and superhero fans generally flock to these films no matter what, because the build-up and anticipation is so strong. And the general public will follow, as long as the follow-ups provide the thrills and excitement we've come to expect from these blockbuster movie events. As always it'll be interesting to see which ones deliver this Summer.

May we Hit a Record May? Movie Review

This time last year, I wrote a blog predicting box office totals for each of the major May films. The closest result (I was only off by $4M) was "Star Trek Into Darkness", which grossed just under $229 million. Combined, the eight films made over $1.4 billion domestically. But that total could actually be surpassed this May. Time to tackle the month again and see how the numbers add up. Here are my picks for May's 10 wide releases:

May 2 - "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" (PG-13) Spidey's back with a new set of foes to face. I'm expecting big things, both from the film itself and from ticket sales. If the film that kicks-off the all-important Summer Movie Season disappoints, it could mean we're in for a rough 4 months. Don't think that will happen. Opening Weekend Prediction: $125M; Total Gross Prediction: $290M

May 9 - "Neighbors" (R) I've already seen this raunchy Seth Rogen/Zac Efron comedy, and it's very uneven. Nonetheless, those who've enjoyed Rogen's films in the past (including last Summer's "This is the End") should happily shell-out $$ for this one. OWP: $35M; TGP: $90M

"Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return" (PG) Advertised as the sequel to "The Wizard of Oz", this will be the first big animated film in a month. However, it comes from a very small studio (Clarius Entertainment) and looks it. Still, "The Nut Job", which opened in January, was sub-par and still grossed $65M. "Oz" may follow the same road. OWP: $20M; TGP: $60M

"Moms' Night Out" (PG) This family comedy starring Sean Astin, Patricia Heaton and Trace Adkins looks downright terrible. Going up against  "Spider-Man" and "Oz", this doesn't have a chance. OWP: $10M; TGP: $25M

May 16 - "Godzilla" (PG-13) Marks an eagerly anticipated return of the classic monster to the silver screen. Godzilla is, by definition, both a popcorn and Drive-In movie. OWP: $75M; TGP: $180M

"Million Dollar Arm" (PG) Jon Hamm ("Mad Men") stars in this Disney baseball drama about a sports agent who hoping to turn some Cricket players into MLB pitchers. Kevin Costner's NFL "Draft Day" hasn't connected with audiences, and I'm not confident this will either. OWP: $15M; TGP: $45M

May 23 - "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (PG-13) While "The Wolverine" and "X-Men: First Class" were disappointments when compared to the original three "X-Men" movies, this latest in the series combines both sets of characters into one super, superhero movie. Diehard fans have been waiting for this origin backstory for a long time, and it looks like it should deliver. OWP: $120M; TGP: $275M

"Blended" (PG-13) It appears that Adam Sandler has a chance to hit a new, all-time low with this "comedy", co-starring Drew Barrymore. But there are a ton of Sandler fans out there, though having "X-Men" as direct competition could be a fatal blow. OWP: $30M; TGP: $95M

May 30 - "Maleficent" (PG) Angelina Jolie stars as the title villain in this Disney prequel to "Sleeping Beauty". In the right hands and with the right script this could be the perfect match. But since the film's rated PG, how dark and scary/violent can it be? OWP: $60M; TGP: $155M

"A Million Ways to Die in the West" (R) Seth MacFarlane follows-up "Ted" with this wacky, adult, comedy Western. The trailers are downright awful. How many millions will be made? Not nearly as many ($218M) as the pairing of Mark Wahlberg and his Teddy Bear. OWP: $30M; TGP: $85M

If my projections are close we'll fall just a little short of last year, with a $1.3 billion total. It'll be very interesting to see how it all plays out.

Let the Campaigns Begin Movie Review

It's only the middle of April, but it's never too early to begin analyzing this year's Awards Season. As Summer rolls in, studios will be unveiling trailers for anticipated contenders. Some, however, have jumped the gun with early marketing campaigns - hoping for some lasting promotional success. So far these films have made good first impressions:

"Get On Up" - Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson in "42") plays the iconic James Brown in this biopic life story. The musical drama re-teams "The Help" director Tate Taylor with stars Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Looks like a major hit. Aug. 1

"The Boxtrolls" - The latest stop-motion animated collaboration from Focus Features and Laika (who've scored Oscar nominations with "Coraline" and "ParaNorman") is practically a lock for a nod, off of its funny, inventive and quite memorable teaser trailers. Sept. 26

"Gone Girl" - The just-released debut preview of "The Social Network" director David Fincher's drama is incredibly intriguing. Based on the book by Gillian Flynn (who also wrote the screenplay), Ben Affleck stars as a man on a desperate search for his missing wife. But did he actually kill her? Oct. 3

"Interstellar" - So far, only a brief teaser has been released for Christopher Nolan's space mystery. But we do know that recent Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway will be looking for seconds, and they're joined by Jessica Chastain and Matt Damon. Plus, there are limitless  possibilities for stunning, Nolan-esque visual effects. Nov. 7

"Unbroken" - Angelina Jolie goes back behind the camera for the true story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, who was captured by the Japanese during WWII. An inside look aired on NBC during February's Winter Games. I'm sure Jolie is thinking Gold. Dec. 25

 

One

One-third of the way through the year, there's no doubt that Pharrell Williams owns the title of most popular entertainer of 2014, thanks to his phenomenon, "Happy". The upbeat, catchy, and relentless song has been a Billboard hit the past few months. But I first heard (part of) the song last June at a screening of the Summer blockbuster, "Despicable Me 2". "Happy" plays in the background of a humorous scene in which superdad Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is very much looking forward to his day.

"Happy"-ness disappeared following the film's two month run of box office domination. However, Universal Studios didn't give-up on the song, pushing "Happy" heavily for Awards Season consideration. A website was devoted to playing it 24 hours straight, and voters (including yours truly) were sent yellow records of the song, autographed by Pharrell. And several shows, including "Good Morning America" used the tune in marketing campaigns.

Pharrell revealed to Ellen DeGeneres in a recent interview that he and his team "tried to get the song on the radio" but couldn't. It wasn't until the Oscar nomination that everyone finally started to notice how good the song is. If the incredible force of another animated musical number ("Frozen"'s "Let it Go") wasn't in his way, Pharrell might've taken home the Oscar. In fact, with the song taking on a new life of its own since the ceremony, if Oscars voting was taking place now it would probably win.

But there's another factor that goes into Pharrell's success: his fashion. When he sported that musty brown, over-sized top hat at the Grammys, Pharrell immediately attracted attention - so much so that it's become the fashion statement of the year. You can also add his shorts on the Oscars Red Carpet, SpongeBob PJs to the Kids Choice Awards, and now a green version of the trademark lid to his signature clothing line.

A music producer for years, collaborator with some of the biggest artists in the world, and songwriter for some of the most popular movies, Pharrell Williams is now, finally getting his chance to shine as a solo artist. And so far so good. A "one-hit-wonder"? I don't think so, as he'll likely be asked to contribute to both "Minions" and "Despicable Me 3". Plus, he's one of three composers (including Hans Zimmer) on "The Amazing Spider-Man 2". What's not to be happy about?


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