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Dissecting Disney's Decisions Movie Review

Walt Disney Pictures is out with some interesting date changes and announcements:

First of all, "Saving Mr. Banks" will now open in limited release on December 13th before going wide on a crowded December 20th. This is the "making of Mary Poppins" drama in which Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney and Emma Thompson is author P.L. Travers. It has already been rated PG-13 by the MPAA. With this early limited opening, Disney clearly is focussing on making this an Oscar contender.

"The Muppets" was a success at the box office in 2011, but not as big as I (or likely the studio) had expected. Nonetheless, a sequel was announced almost immediately. Its title has gone from "The Muppets 2" to "The Muppets...AGAIN!" and now, I think, to a more suitable title: "Muppets Most Wanted". According to the release, the Kermit and the gang go on a global tour and get caught-up in an international crime caper. Ricky Gervais heads the human cast. The film keeps its March 21, 2014 date.

What may be the most interesting new info from the studio this week is the announcement of a sequel to this Summer's "Planes". "Planes 2: Fire and Rescue" will hit theaters on July 18, 2014 (going up against "X-Men: Days of Future Past"). Even though "Planes" doesn't open until August 9, it appears that Disney is already confident enough that it will be a big hit. If you remember, "Planes" was originally going to be a Direct-to-DVD release.

Other new Mouse news includes Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner's "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" (based on the book and due out October 10, 2014); Brad Bird and George Clooney's "Tomorrowland" being moved-up a week to December 12, 2014, and the musical "Into the Woods" set for Christmas Day 2014. While we've heard rumors of actors such as Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt being as part of the cast, no one has been confirmed. Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey are producing a drama for DreamWorks called "The Hundred Foot Journey" (8/8/14) and Untitled Marvel Studios films will officially kick-off the 2016 and 2017 Summer Movie Seasons, in case you want to plan that far ahead.

The one casualty of all of this would seem to be the movie version of "Phineas and Ferb", which has already been on hold for a while now. It was originally scheduled to open this July 26th, but has had a TBD 2014 release date for about a year. With all these new spots now taken, it doesn't seem likely that the boy inventors will be making it to the big screen anytime soon.

Getting into the

There are a lot of streaming video services out there, but only one that has the right to call itself - "Netflix for Family Films".

SpiritClips is a subscriber-based service that offers well known theatrical releases, documentaries, shorts and animated films, along with their own original programming. But what makes it different from the other online movie/video providers is that all of their content is appropriate for the entire family.

Normally, when you hear that something is good "for the entire family", it means that it's designed primarily for little kids. But that's not the case with SpiritClips. The concept is that these movies and videos can be watched and enjoyed by all ages, without concern for inappropriate content. And also (and this, in my opinion, is the best part) that all the films have a strong, positive message - as their website says: "films that inspire and entertain audiences of all ages." Current Hollywood classics available on SpiritClips include "A League of their Own", "Hope and Glory" and Academy Award winners "Good Will Hunting" and "Life is Beautiful". SpiritClips is directly associated with Hallmark, and so all of the Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movies are available as well.

Another thing that separates SpiritClips from their online competition is the availability of animated shorts (one of my favorite movie genres). If you don't have time to watch an entire movie, there are dozens of shorts to choose from, and each one has it's own, special charm. If SpiritClips has a signature video I would say this is it: "The Little Frog".

As for their Original Programming, the company just wrapped-up their series called "InspireWire", in which the two hosts showcase web videos of people doing amazing things. You might say it's an inspirational version of "America's Funniest Home Videos". And in this episode about Overcoming Fear hosts Iris and Jeff do something amazing themselves: Skydive. They have nice chemistry together and the show is fun and very well produced.

It's a competitive world out there in the business of online video streaming. But there's definitely an audience for SpiritClips from Hallmark. The monthly subscription rate is $4.99 (the one year discount price is only $35.99) and videos can be streamed to iPhones, iPads, etc.

Can Superman Overpower the

The Summer Movie Season will kick back into high gear next weekend with the highly-anticipated release of "Man of Steel" - the Superman film millions have been waiting for. While director Zach Snyder's previous films (2010's animated "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" and the 2011 flop "Sucker Punch") underperformed, "Man of Steel" has so much buzz surrounding it that it should be one of the Top 5 moneymakers of the year.

Some analists are predicting an $85-$90 million open. Even with all the advance screenings that Walmart is doing the night before its release (one of which I will be attending), I don't see how "Man of Steel" won't make $100 or even closer to $120 million it's first weekend.

The following weekend, however, is when things get interesting. There will be two more BIG releases: the animated Pixar prequel "Monsters University" and Brad Pitt's Zombie Apocalypse thriller "World War Z". The who wins that battle?

You might think the easy answer is "MU", since Pixar has had 13 straight #1 opens. And it's the family film and the first animated film since the kids are out of school. A $62M+ box office (Pixar's average) should be enough to scare-off the competition - right?

BUT: What if "Man of Steel" opens to, say, $120-$140 million - which I don't think is impossible. Big action films tend to drop 50-60% in their second weekend, so "Man of Steel" could rake-in $60-$70 million. Plus, while "MU" has the family advantage, both Disney and Paramount (the studio behind "World War Z") are going after the college kid demographic. Disney has been pitching that group hard because of the "MU" storyline and the fact that these students grew up watching "Monsters Inc." 10 years ago). "World War Z" will naturally grab a hugh chunk of that audience because of Pitt and the fact that it's a movie about zombies taking over the world.

Pixar thought they were taking a huge chance last year with "Brave" (first female lead character) and it ended-up as 2012's highest-grossing animated film. "Monsters University" has to be considered one of the studio's riskiest releases yet.

So who will be crowned the champ on Sunday June 23rd? A lot will depend on how "Man of Steel" does next week, because as of right now, it's too close to call.

A Host of Hosts Movie Review

Along with continuing to review films one of the things I want to do someday is host a game show. What could be more fun and exciting that that?!

Last week I had the chance to meet and interview Todd Newton, who hosts the traveling show, "The Price is Right Live" (when he's not hosting "Family Game Night" on The Hub, for which he won an Emmy last year). This stage version of "The Price is Right" has been touring the country for 10 years, providing all the thrills and prizes of the TV show for million of fans. (click here for my Behind the Scenes story).

After talking with Todd (who's a great guy) I started thinking of the other celebrity hosts who I've had the chance to meet. And the list is longer than I expected:

- Regis Philbin. Of course, Regis has to be at the top. Most people don't immediately think of him as a game show host, but he helped to bring the genre back to life in 1999 with "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" (and won an Emmy for it in 2001). He also hosted "Million Dollar Password" from '08-'09.

- Meredith Vieira. I had the chance to meet Regis' syndicated "Millionaire" successor when we were both guests on "The Tonight Show" last year and she couldn't have been nicer. Her calm, personable style has helped keep "Millionaire" popular 15 years after it's debut. Sorry to see her leave the show.

- Chuck Woolery. One of the all-time greats. I got to see him in action when he was touring with "Chuck Woolery's Game Show Marathon" back in 2006. And he was a master. And a really nice guy who, since I was only 8 at the time, couldn't believe I knew who he was. I told him he helped me learn how to read as the host of "Lingo" on GSN back when I was only 4.

- Pat Sajak and Vanna White. During a trip to California in 2009 I went to a taping of "Wheel of Fortune" and got to see this famous in pair in action. Unfortunately I didn't get to meet them. Hope to some day.

- Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall. Met both of these guys, briefly, when they barged-in while I was interviewing their buddy Larry the Cable Guy a few years ago when the trio was in town with their comedy show. And they couldn't have been funnier. Along with their comedy careers they've both made a name for themselves as game show hosts: Jeff with "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader"? and "The American Bible Challenge" and Bill with the re-launch of "Lingo" on GSN in 2011.

- Jane Lynch. She'll be hosting "Hollywood Game Night" on NBC this summer. I had the pleasure of meeting her back in 2010 when she was in town to appear on a local telethon. She was actually one of my first professional interviews, and was incredibly funny.

- Lara Spencer. The "Good Morning America" star is also the host of "Flea Market Flip" on HGTV, and she does a great job. I was lucky enough to meet her twice: once on the streets on NYC as she was leaving GMA and then after attending "Good Afternoon America" last summer.

Which current game show host would I like to meet next? That's easy - Steve Harvey, who has made "Family Feud" must-watch TV once again. Of course he also hosts his own talk show, and has made history this year by picking-up Emmy nominations for both Best Talk Show Host and Best Game Show Host. I'm pulling for him to win both.

No Thrill for Will Movie Review

UPDATE: "After Earth" opens to just $27 million in a stunning loss to "Now You See Me", which raked-in $28.1 million in 500 fewer theaters.

Practically from his first regular appearance on screen (as TV's "Fresh Prince of Bel Air") Will Smith has been guarenteed money. And that includes his music videos. Movies? Smith has been most bankable stars in Hollywood from the start of his big screen career. And it seems there are very few summers when Smith isn't part of a major box office hit.

Well, the Summer of 2013 may just change that. Early indications are that Smith's "After Earth", in which he stars with son Jaden, is headed for major BOMB status. The sci-fi action film is out in over 34-hundred theaters and cost nearly $130 million to make. Yet it's projected to barely make $25M opening weekend and could actually do worse than that, as the early reviews have not been good.

Will Smith blockbusters (which this one could be classified as) always gross well over $100M. And even his "smaller" films, such as "Seven Pounds" ($70M), "The Pursuit of Happiness" ($163.6) and "Ali" ($58.2) attract an audience. His only true bomb so far is probably 2000's "The Legend of Bagger Vance", directed by Robert Redford, which only made $30.9M.

In a summer filled with high powered sci-fi ("Iron man 3", "Star Trek Into Darkness", "Man of Steel") and loads of apocalyptic-themed movies, "After Earth", which is being promoted as more of a star vehicle for Jaden Smith than Will, could be completely ignored.

It will be interesting to see where the blame goes. My guess is that it will directed at director M. Night Shaymalan, once a darling of fans and most critics who has completely self-destructed with his last several films. Smith's credibility as box office gold might be bruised a bit, but nothing that a new hit won't cure.

Soderbergh at home on TV Movie Review

Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh wanted his "last" film (at least that's what he's saying now) to be a major theatrical release. And it was - at Cannes. However, since he couldn't get a studio to pay for and release "Behind the Candelabra", Soderbergh took the project to HBO - with spectacular results.

Ratings for Sunday night's premiere airing of the Liberace bio-pic are tremendous: 2.4 million viewers for the first showing (the biggest audience for an original HBO film since 2004) and another 1.1 for the repeat showing that same night. The performances by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon (and the rest of the cast) are fantastic. The story drags a little in the second hour but considering the star power in front of and behind the camera there's no doubt this is a big screen-worthy film.

But even though he was forced to go to HBO to get "Candelabra" made, it seems like Soderbergh is getting the last laugh. He had previously said he was leaving movies to make TV shows, so if that turns out to be true, then he gets to go-out with a film that's become one of the biggest hits in the history of TV's #1 movie channel. And it likely pick-up multiple Emmy Awards as well. What better way for Soderbergh to announce that he's ready to bring quality projects to TV on a full-time basis.

By the way, if you'd like something to remember the "Theatrical Movie" Soderbergh by, he's auctioning-off a lot of his personal memorabilia, including scripts, clothing and even a clapboard from "Erin Brockovitch". Go to the director's website: to get in on the fun.

So far I haven't seen any candelabras up for bid.


The Showdown of the Summer Movie Review

UPDATE: "Fast & Furious 6" delivers stunning $98.5 million 3-Day weekend and is aiming for huge $120 million 4-Day weekend. "The Hangover: Part III" will manage an underwhelming $65 million after its first five-days. I predicted that Blue Sky's "Epic" would reach $60M by Monday but will only get to $45 million and lose to "Star Trek Into Darkness", which is holding-up surprisingly well in its second weekend. Despite minor disappointments, experts still believe this will be the biggest Memorial Day weekend of all-time.

Memorial Day Weekend 2013 will be one of the biggest weekends of the movie year. We've got three HUGE releases. The question is: Who wins the box office battle?

Up until two weeks ago, when Warner Bros. moved "The Hangover: Part III" up a day from Friday May 24 to Thursday the 23rd, I was predicting "HIII" would edge-out "Fast & Furious 6" for the title. But I've changed my mind. Even though "The Hangover: Part III" made a solid $3.1 million Wed. night, that money, and the money it makes all day Thursday, won't go into the official 3 and 4-Day weekend box office totals. True diehard fans of this franchise will likley see it either Wed. or Thurs. Plus, the early reviews for "Part III" are worse than those for "Part II" - which is hard to believe. "Hangover III" will be the runner-up for the weekend with $59.5 million 3-day, $73.5 4-day.

Blue Sky Studios' animated feature "Epic" will also do very well, even though it will finish the weekend in 3rd place. This is the first animated film in theaters since DreamWorks' "The Croods" in March, and many kids have Friday off from school in addition to the Monday holiday. I'm expecting this to be the studio's highest non-"Ice Age" opening ever with a $48.7 3-day total. It should reach $60 million by Monday.

So that means that "Star Trek Into Darkness" will be #1. I'M KIDDING!!! J.J. Abrams' sci-fi sequel will take a hefty drop to fourth. "Fast & Furious 6" will be your Memorial Day Weekend 2013 champ with $92 million Friday-Sunday plus another $20 million on Monday. This latest installment of the incredibly successful action film franchise has a built-in audience eagerly waiting to grab tickets. Hopefully it won't disappoint.






For the past eight years, Blue Sky Studios co-founder Chris Wedge has been working on bringing the studio's latest film, "Epic", to the big screen. He got back in the director's chair for this story of a teenager who finds herself in the middle of a battle of good vs. evil among minature creatures deep in the forest. In this LCJ Podcast Interview with Chris Wedge, he tells me that his goal with "Epic" was to make a big action movie that felt more like a feature film than a cartoon. He also talks about Blue Sky's upcoming "Peanuts" and his thoughts on casting voice actors. And you'll learn one amazing thing that this Oscar-winning filmmaker and I have in common.









Some Intriguing Animation Movie Review

You might think you're really good at Angry Birds, but clearly the king of the incredibly addictive game is Sony Pictures. That studio has defeated all comers to win the rights to produce the Angry Birds Movie, which has a release date set of July 1, 2016.

Having "Despicable Me" producer John Cohen on board will definitely help turn the world's most popular app into a popular film, but it's still going to be a challenge. And what happens if Angry Birds aren't hot in three years (which is very possible)? This deal would have been a better idea three years ago, meaning the movie would be coming-out this summer. I've seen a lot of Angry Birds merchandice on store shelves since Christmas, and the stuff doesn't seem to be selling.

The Angry Birds Movie news got me thinking about some other chancy animated films that are in the works:

- "Lego": Warner Bros. is hoping that this all-time classic toy will work on the big screen. YouTube is filled with amateur Lego movies, many of them very funny. This story is in the hands of "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord. A pretty good fit. 2/7/14

- "Big Hero 6": Disney's first attempt to adapt a Marvel comics, but this crime fighter series is unknown to most people, even diehard Marvel fans. It's being directed by "Winnie the Pooh"'s Don Hall, which make the project even more interesting. 11/7/14

- "Minions". This should be a no-brainer, as these little yellow guys were the break-out stars of the first "Despicable Me" and are expected to rule this summer's sequel. Still, it's interesting to release a spin-off right on the heels of "DM2". 12/19/14

- "Peanuts": Blue Sky is taking-on the ultimate challenge - bringing the beloved Charles Schultz characters back to the big screen, where they've been less than successful. There's no doubt that Charlie Brown, Snoopy and company are still extremely popular with adults (the ratings for their holiday specials go up every year). But a feature-length, theratrical film? Without a young audience this movie could struggle at the box office, and I'm not sure a lot of kids know/care about these kids. But I know I'll be there opening day! 11/6/15









The Clooney Trifecta Movie Review

The release of the teaser trailers for "Gravity" and "August: Osage County" got me thinking about the incredible second half of the year that's in store for Mr. George Clooney. After spending last awards season in the background (both literally and figuratively) as "Argo", a film he helped produce, won practically everything, Clooney should be front and center when the nominations and statues are handed-out next Awards Season.

First, he's co-starring with Sandra Bullock in "Gravity", the story of two astronauts who have to survive in a damaged space station. "Gravity" was originally schedule for release last November but was pushed-back to this October and the start of the 2013 awards season. The trailer is amazing and the buzz is strong.

Clooney is a producer on "August: Osage County", along with Grant Heslov, who he partnered with (along with Ben Affleck) on "Argo". It stars Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, and is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. This "dramedy" about a dysfunctional Southern family has "Oscars" written all over it. It hits theaters Nov. 8.

Finally, George is also back behind the camera, directing "The Monuments Men", in which he also stars. Oh, and he also co-wrote the script and co-produced this story, based on actual events, of a group of art historians and museum curators who race against time to try to save priceless works of art from being destroyed by Hitler and the Nazis during WWII.

Let's see: A film set during war times, based on a true story, underdogs vs. Nazis, starring Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin ("The Artist") and Cate Blanchett. And a December 18 release date! "Monuments Men" is clearly being positioned as the pre-season favorite for every Best Picture award there is.

Hard to imagine we'll see Clooney standing in the shadows this time around.





Finally Getting to See

I wasn't sure if it was ever going to happen. But it's official: "Top Cat: The Movie" will be coming to theaters in America on August 2nd. How many theaters and in what cities is still unknown. All we know now is that it will be a limited release.

This feature-length version of the early 1960's Hanna-Barbera cartoon was produced by Anima Studios (Mexico) and Illusion Studios (Argentina). It was released in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries back in 2011. It turns out that the TV series, which ran on ABC for 30 episodes from 1961-'62, was extremely popular in Mexico, where it ran for years and is still huge. Here in the U.S. it has been part of the cartoon line-up on Cartoon Network's spin-off channel Boomerang.

Take a look at the trailer and some clips - in English for the first time - from our friends at

"Top Cat: The Movie" is the first ever flash animated film to be converted and released in RealD 3D. The original cartoon is great and, I'll admit, the clips look pretty bad. But it becomes the 6th animated film of the summer of 2013 - and a must-see for me.



My 10 Year Anniversary in Movies Movie Review

It was 10 years ago this week that I went to an indoor movie theater for the first time. The film? "The Lizzie McGuire Movie". I was a big fan of the popular Disney Channel TV show starring Hilary Duff and my parents thought this would be the right movie for my first experience sitting in the dark, staying quiet and dealing with the huge screen. We went to a matinee just in case.

As the story goes I didn't sit for long. I'm told that once the movie began I stood, with both hands on the back of the seat in front of me, throughout the entire film - glued to the screen. I don't think I gave my first review from my car seat on the way home, but I must have enjoyed myself because they took me to see "Finding Nemo" a few weeks later and the rest, as they say, is history.

A lot has happened in my life over the past 10 years (and in Hilary Duff's, too). I've now seen hundreds of films, had the honor of sharing my opinions of them on radio and TV, in the newpaper and via the internet. I've traveled to exciting movie events and met dozens of celebrities, movie industry people and fellow critics.

The fact that it all got started 10 years ago is pretty amazing.

Man, I'm getting old!



The Biggest May Ever? Movie Review

While Summer doesn't officially begin (and schools don't get out) until the third week in June, MY Summer begins on May 3rd with the highly-anticipated release of "Iron Man 3". Last May's "The Avengers" ended-up being the Box Office champ of 2012, but it was really the only HUGE film  that month: "Dark Shadows" disappointed, "Battleship" bombed, and "Men in Black 3" underperformed. With five Fridays and an incredible line-up, this May will not only surpass last May's $1.18B, but has the chance to become the biggest money May of all-time.

May 3 - "Iron Man 3" (PG-13) Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Gwenyth Paltrow, Sir Ben Kingsley. Can "IM3" repeat the success of "The Avengers"? Very doubtful. It will surpass the first two installments, it won't get to close to "The Avengers"' $623M. Early teaser made it look too serious, but the newer trailers, with multiple Iron Men coming to Tony Stark's rescue, have diehards and casual fans pumped. Opening Weekend Prediction: $155M; Total Gross Prediction: $375M

10 - "The Great Gatsby" (PG-13) Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan. Director Baz Luhrman's first film since 2008's "Australia" is the vivid adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel. It was originally supposed to open last Christmas as a primary Oscar contender, but production delays spoiled that plan (at least we hope that's the reason). Can't imagine this won't be a hit, unless early reviews are poor. OWP: $45M; TGP: $125M

17 - "Star Trek Into Darkness" (PG-13) Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana. It's been four long years since "Star Trek", which may be why this sequel isn't getting as much hype as "Iron Man 3", "The Hangover: Part III" or "Fast & Furious 6". I really enjoyed the original, but don't expect it to duplicate 2009's the box office success. OWP: $95M; TGP: $230M

24 - "Epic" (PG) Starring the voices of Josh Hutcherson, Amanda Seyfried, Christoph Waltz. Blue Sky Studios' previous film - "Ice Age: Continental Drift" - was the least popular of the franchise (at least domestically). Look for the studio to bounce back with "Epic", the first animated film release since February. While it's got some hefty competition opening weekend, families will flock to it. OWP: $50M; TGP: $170M

"Fast & Furious 6" Starring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Ludacris. Could be one of the best action films of the year. How it does against "Hangover" opening weekend is anybody's guess. Shocked that neither film is being open on Wednesday the 22nd (though that could change). OWP: $75M; TGP: $230M

"The Hangover: Part III" (R) Starring Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, John Goodman. The "final" installment in the franchise (if we can believe that) appears to actually have a fresh storyline, which may appeal to those who were incredibly disappointed by "Part II". Look for "Hangover" to win Memorial Day weekend - in a tight race with "FF6". OWP: $85M; TGP: $260M

31 - "After Earth" (PG-13) Starring Will Smith, Jaden Smith. Sony recently moved this sci-fi adventure from June 7th to the final day in May. Not sure why (hope they're not afraid of "The Internship"). Nothing I've seen or read so far seems to be very original. Will struggle to match "Men in Black 3" numbers. OWP: $40M; TGP: $130M

"Now You See Me" (PG-13) Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Morgan Freeman. While the magician comedy "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" is one of 2013's biggest bombs, this intriguing thriller may be a smart alternative for audiences wanting to avoid another futuristic post-apocalyptic sci-fi, comedy or action film. OWP: $25M; TGP: $70M

Can these films (and the other, smaller releases) combine to break the May record of $1.4B (2003)? They just MAY!

Hot and Not So Hot Tickets Movie Review

I can't remember a studio giving away free ticket to a new, big budget release. But that's exactly what Lionsgate is doing for "The Big Wedding". Fans can take advantage of a 'Buy 1 Get 1 Free' promotion for the entire run of the film in theaters - not just opening night or a special, advanced screening. This is certainly good news for anyone who's excited about seeing the Diane Keaton/Robert De Niro/Robin Williams romantic comedy, which opens Friday. But the bad news is, I can't be the only one who thinks this is going to be one of the year's biggest bombs. Studio execs. must feel going BOGO is the only way to get people into the theater.

"The Big Wedding" trailer is bad, there's no denying that. But to give away so many free tickets, giving-up any chance that the film will be at least respectable at the box office, Lionsgate must know that the movie is even worse that anyone imagines.

On the other hand, the buzz for this Summer's blockbusters continues to grow. Want to see a special showing of "Man of Steel" on June 13, the night before it opens? You got to go to Walmart! The store will be selling tickets to the exclusive screening at over 3700 locations starting Saturday, May 18 (and probably ENDING the same day - can't imagine they won't sell-out within hours). Fans who buy tickets to the screening also get an exclusive comic book and a pre-order code for the Blu-ray/digital edition of the film.

Tickets go on sale at 8am. Lines will be forming soon.











Earth Day without an Earth Day Movie Movie Review

Another Earth Day has come and gone. But if you're thinking of celebrating this week by heading to the theater to see this years Earth Day-inspired nature documenatary forget about it. Neither Disney nor IMAX is releasing a 2013 Earth Day film.

The Earth Day nature movie tradition was started by Disneynature in 2009 ("Earth"), and every year since the studio has produced another impressive documentary and released it in April to tie-in with the annual Green holiday. And they've all done pretty well at the box office, highlighted by 2012's "Chimpanzee", which has raked-in nearly $30-million worldwide. And the educational and fund-raising campaigns assoicated with "Chimpanzee" were hughly successful.

You may remember back in 2011 there were actually TWO Earth Day films: Disneynature's "African Cats" and "Born to Be Wild 3D" from IMAX. Both did quite well at the box office. Plus IMAX produced "To the Artic 3D" last year and it had a limited April release.

This year? Nothing. Disneynature did release "Wings of Life", a 2011 film directed by Louis Schwartzberg and narrated by Meryl Streep, in a handful of cities last week and then sent it straight to Blu-ray/DVD. I still don't understand this decision, as the film is getting good reviews and these nature docs, because their extraordinary cinematography, need to be seen on the big screen.

Disneynature is expected to get back in the spirit of Earth Day with "Bears" next April. Still, it's too bad the studio couldn't keep the tradition alive this year for all the fans who have grown to appreciate this new genre and want to watch these films in theaters.














Why Not? Let's Show the WHOLE Film! Movie Review

If only I was sitting in an auditorium at CinemaCon on Wednesday afternoon instead of in a classroom at school. Lucky attendees at the annual Las Vegas event got quite a surprise: the chance to watch the entire version of Disney/Pixar's "Monsters University" two months before it's official release. It was an unfinished, rough-cut of the film, but for those on hand that didn't matter. Eric Eisenberg of said the film was "quite impressive...". He also said this prequel to "Monsters, Inc." has great heart and a wonderful message, which, of course, are two elements that are part of all of the Pixar classics.

Good news for some of those who couldn't be in Vegas this week: "MU" is coming to a campus near you! Pixar will be screening the film for college students throughout the country starting this week. As of now 20 college towns have been chosen. More are being added each day. Check the Monsters University Facebook page to find theater near you.

Gotta have a college ID to get in, which means I miss-out again. Maybe the next prequel will have Mike and Sully in high school. But by then I'll be out.










How can you tell that a movie franchise has gotten out of control? When a studio orders a sequel to a film that hasn't even been released yet.

"Fast and Furious 7" has been given a July 11, 2014 release date. Star Vin Diesel making the announcement this week at CinemaCon. However, "Fast and Furious 6" doesn't hit theaters until next month (May 24). Production on the "new" film ("7", not "6") is set to begin in August, right after the stars finish promoting the "old" new film. Other franshises have released movies in back-to-back years - but in those cases ("Pirates of the Caribbean:Dead Man's Chest" (2006) and "At World's End" (2007); "The Hobbits" for 3 straight Decembers) they were shot at the same time.

Diesel says "F&F" regulars Dwayne Johnson, John Walker and Tyrese will all return for "7" - which I guess means none of them will be getting killed-off in "6".

Wouldn't it just be easier to turn "Fast and Furious" into a TV series - for HBO or Showtime? They could produce 12 episodes a year and then everybody could take a break.








Sports Movies Scoreboard Movie Review

UPDATE: "42" stunned at the Friday box office with $9.1 million. Jackie Robinson biopic won the Weekend Box Office with an impressive $27.25 million, beating "The Benchwarmers"' $19.7 million to have the biggest opening weekend of all-time for a baseball film.

With the opening of "42" this weekend I thought it would be fun to have the latest LCJ Poll ask "Which sport has produced the best films?". While coming-up for with the list for the poll I realized I had to have more choices that I originally thought (which was just baseball, football, boxing and horse racing). I stopped at 12 options, be really should have added a few more, including running, figure skating, table tennis and yes, even dodgeball (but, remember, the question asks "best films" and "Dodgeball" alone cannot qualify the category).

Sports movies are a funny genre. You'd think that they would be popular because most major sports in this country are popular. But for some reason it never works out that way. For example, only one baseball movie has ever grossed over $100M in the U.S. - "A League of their Own" (1992), which made $107.5M. Football has four - led by "The Blind Side" (2009), which made $256M, the highest grossing sports film of all-time. Horse Racing only has one - "Seabiscuit (2003) which grossed $120.2 domestically. Four boxing films have made over $100M, but three of them are "Rocky" movies and the 4th - "Million Dollar Baby" (2004) just barely made it with $100.4M.

Of course box office results and quality are two entirely different things. Recent sports films such as "Secretariat" and "The Express" deserved better box office results and Oscar nominations for stars Diane Lane and Dennis Quaid.

If "42" can make $20M this weekend that will move into first-place all-time for the biggest baseball movie openings. I'm predicting it will come-up a little short ($17.5M), but it should still finish #1 at the box office. But even tremendous performances, a compelling story and great reviews will not allow it to overcome the odds and become a true sports movie $$ blockbuster.







Mo Po -

"Awesomeness" will be returning to a theater near you sooner than expected. DreamWorks Animation has announced that "Kung Fu Panda 3" will be released on December 23, 2015, three months sooner than originally planned.

"KFP3" joins "The Penguins of Madagascar", "BOO" and "Trolls" on the '15 schedule. "Mumbai Musical", which was originally going to be the studio's 2015 holiday movie, will now be moved and could end-up in 2016.

Among the new actors joining the "KFP" cast: Bryan Cranston (who voiced Vitaly in "Madagascar 3") and Rebel Wilson (last heard in "Ice Age: Continental Drift"). All the regulars are expected back, including Jack Black, Seth Rogen and Angelina Jolie. Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who directed "Kung Fu Panda 2" also returns for this third adventure of Po The Dragon Warrior, and the Furious Five.

The first two "KFP" films together made over $1.3 billion globally. That's a lot of noodles.






Roger & Me Movie Review

Roger Ebert was simply the best. A great writer and also a great TV personality. Many before and after have tried to combine those two, but no one has or ever will do it as well as Roger. He loved movies and loved sharing his opinions of them. He was the reason I became a film critic. The first time I saw Roger on TV I knew what I wanted to be.

My relationship with Roger began several years ago when he found one of my reviews on the internet and retweeted it. Suddenly I picked-up dozens of new Twitter followers, the most amazing being @ebertchicago. This led to an exchange of e-mails and the start of a friendship. A short time later came an invitation from Roger and his wife Chaz to come to Chicago and appear on their PBS show, "Ebert Presents at the Movies". I was fortunate to get to be on three different shows, discussing some of the Best and Worst films of the first half of 2011, along with Hollywood's 3D obsession.

But the biggest thrill from that trip came the day before, when the Eberts invited me to their home. It was an unforgettable day. Roger (of course) was not able to speak, but he communicated beautifully using his laptop and some speakers. After a few minutes, I didn't even notice anything was different. He asked me about my career, I asked him about his, but mostly we talked about movies - for about two hours. It was incredible. I remember one of the films we talked about was the 2010 comedy "Morning Glory", which both he and I both thought was a gem (though most other critics hated it).

Then something unexpected happened: Roger and Chaz led me down to their basement and into their spectacular, private movie theater. Roger screened selected scenes from some of his personal favorites, including 1996's "Hamlet", just for me. It was clearly one of those "is this really happening" kind of experiences.

On the way out we walked down halls lined with racks holding Roger's personal DVD collection, categorized in alphabetical order and by genre. After giving me the copy of "Hamlet" he searched for a few minutes and selected three other DVDs from the racks, handed them to me and insisted that I keep them all. So there I am, standing in Roger Ebert's home holding four of Roger Ebert's all-time favorite DVDs from his personal collection, which are now mine. The words "thank you" just didn't seem good enough. One of the films was Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds". After watching it this past Summer, it's easy to see why Roger loved it so much.

The next evening was a Chicago screening of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon". (There's a story about how the film didn't start for over an hour - but that's for another time). Every major and minor Chicago film critic was in attendance. Many went over to Roger to say hello and wish him well. It was an honor to have been in the same theater to screen a film which he gave One Star.

Roger had a very humorous side. The thing that made both him and longtime partner Gene Siskel so popular is that they took their jobs very seriously but they didn't take themselves too seriously. Look up the clips from when they appeared on the animated series "The Critic" (1995) if you need proof. And Roger was always quite good with Oscar predictions - right to the end. His favorite film of 2012 (mine too), was "Argo", the Best Picture winner.

His friends and family will miss Roger. The world will miss Roger's reviews. The Thumbs Up and the Thumbs Down. His writing style which earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1975. The Four Star reviews and the riffs on the clunkers. His legacy will live on forever. He was fearless, courageous, generous and kind.

Thank you Roger, for inspiring me and countless other film critics, writers and movie fans. We will all continue to watch movies and share our opinions about them. But there will never be another you. 

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