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2014: The Year

"The Simpsons" is Primetime TV's longest-running scripted series. Now in its 26th season on FOX, the 31-time Emmy-winning animated comedy shows no signs of slowing down, since the showrunners have made 2014 one of the most memorable years in "Simpsons" history by crossing over...A LOT:

To celebrate the 550th Episode in May, "The Simpsons" crossed-over into the world of LEGOs with a mix of the traditional, hand-drawn animation and a CGI LEGO look for "Brick Like Me", a clever episode with a smart script that even poked-fun at "The LEGO Movie".

For the one-hour Season Premiere of fellow FOX animated series "Family Guy", Peter Griffin and Co. traveled to Springfield and interacted with The Simpsons and other townspeople. This episode attracted over 8 million viewers on a crowded Sunday night. There were some funny moments, but the crossover went on far too long, and the overall negative tone that the "Family Guy" is all about dominated the story. The script treated these two families/franchises equally when, obviously, that's not the case.

Last month, on this year's very strong "Treehouse of Horror XXV", The Simpsons crossed-over with themselves by having the "Tracy Ullman Show"-looking Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie interact with the present-day Simpsons.

And they're not done yet. Creator Matt Groening will be crossing over one of his other shows, the twice-cancelled "Futurama", into Springfield with "Simpsorama", airing November 9th.

Diehard fans seem to be appreciating these "Event Episodes", which are keeping "The Simpsons" one of the most buzzed-about and respected shows on TV, even after all these years.

The Inside Story of

E. Max Frye is the Emmy-nominated screenwriter of the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers". He and Dan Futterman (Oscar nominated for 2005's "Capote") co-wrote the Steve Carell/Channing Tatum sports drama "Foxcatcher", out November 14th. But as Frye explains to me in this LCJ INTERVIEW (link here), the two never worked together on the film. He also talks about director Bennett Miller ("Moneyball") recruiting Tatum, the year-long release delay, and the Awards Season ahead.

Tyler Perry's Madea's First Animated Feature Movie Review

Tyler Perry has spent much of his acting career in ladies clothing, playing his on-screen alter-ego Madea. There have been six movies centered around the feisty, opinionated old woman, and the character has also made guest appearances in other Perry movies over the years. However, "A Madea Christmas", which was released last holiday season, made only $52 million (the second lowest in the franchise). Perry's hoping to add to that total when the DVD is released on November 25th.

It's no surprise, with Madea's popularity apparently sliding, that Perry has been looking to widen his acting scope. Recently he did a nice job in the very small role of attorney Tanner Bolt in "Gone Girl". Now Perry's getting into the world of animation, and including his trademark character. "Madea's Tough Love", a PG-rated hand-drawn animated film, is set to be released on Digital HD January 13th and on DVD/VOD January 20th.

Even though the animation itself looks cheap in comparison to what were used to, I'm surprised that Lionsgate didn't option this for theaters. It could have done well, especially with families looking for something over the usually bare mid-January period. Based on the first trailer (link from Animation Scoop), Madea is in prime form (though with less adult humor and bad language). And because she's animated, the situations are bound to be wilder than ever.

I've always enjoyed the Madea character, especially when placed within the right, satirical material. Hopefully "Madea's Tough Love" will be a fun kick-off to what will be a busy 2015 in animation.

The Following Preview is for a Film Opening Next Week Movie Review

I used to love movie trailers. But that was before the studios decided to turn them into mini-movies which give away way too much of the film. And now we're getting multiple trailers of the same movie, making things even worse. I've been complaining about this problem for years now, and the situation is not getting any better. Studio marketing departments see trailers as a great way to generate buzz and sell tickets, and they've recently begun using some new strategies, which you may or may not have noticed.

It wasn't that long ago that when you went to the movies there would only be three or four trailers, all of them usually in the same genre, relating to the film you were about to see. And these "previews" would be for movies opening weeks, even months, in the future. But now that's changed. These days, when it comes to trailers, anything goes.

The number of trailers now shown has doubled, even tripled in some parts of the country. I've been "treated" to as many as 10 on more than one occasion. At an average of two and a half minutes each, that could mean up to 25 extra minutes tacked-on to the time spent in your seat before the feature begins.

And there doesn't seem to be any rules anymore concerning genre. I've seen trailers for big, intense action films prior to family movies, and romantic comedy previews in front of dramas. The "Annabelle" trailer did not go over well with the 60+ year-old Denzel Washington crowd at "The Equalizer" screening I was at earlier this month. Theater chains used to be careful about this. Not anymore.

And another new trend is showing trailers for movies that are coming out the following week. This never happened in the past. At the screening of "Fury" I attended last week there was a trailer for the Keanu Reeves action film "John Wick", which opens this week. So much for planning ahead.

It seems that studios and theaters have simply thrown away the rule book. They'll show practically any trailer for any film before any movie in hopes of getting even one new person interested in seeing that film.

I hope we never get to a time when there will be clips for "The Pyramid" prior to "Penguins of Madagascar", but the way things are going nothing would surprise me. If I wasn't so concerned about getting my ideal seat, I'd consider waiting outside in the lobby and only enter the theater after all the trailers were over.

And that's sad...because I used to love movie trailers.

A Dollar and a Dream Movie Review

Practically everyone has dreamed about seeing their name on the big screen during the closing credits of a movie. How cool would that be! Well, now you have your chance. But it's going to cost you. Exactly one dollar!!!!

Academy Award-winning Producer Barrie Osborne ("The Great Gatsby", "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy, "The Matrix") and his collaborators have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund their film, "Talk is Cheap". But this isn't like other Kickstarter film endeavors where, for a donation, you may get a t-shirt or get to attend the premiere. Everyone who gives to the "Talk is Cheap" campaign earns the title of Associate Producer on the film. And they get their name, as an Associate Producer, in the end credits. The price for all this fame and glory? ONE DOLLAR!

Osborne has partnered on "Talk is Cheap" with writer/director/producer/actor Jim Jarrett. It's an environmentally-themed family drama centered on the relationship between a father and daughter. The budget for the film os $1.5 million, which will be raised, a buck at a time, through Kickstarter.

The plan is to have the names of all the contributors listed in the credits, and shown at a very fast speed, 200-250 per page. But I've been told that you will be able to freeze frame on your name and see it clearly. The team expects it will take around 4-minutes for all the Associate Producer names to be displayed. The names will also be included in all of the material released with the film and the DVD, and also on the movie's website.

Considering all the flack Zach Braff got for crowdfunding "Wish I Was Here", you might think Osborne and Jarrett are going to get hammered for this campaign. Even Homer Simpson, in last week's episode of The Simpsons , listed Hollywood Kickstarter campaigns, in which rich people ask the public to fund their movies, as one of the things he hates the most. But I think this time it's different for two reasons:1) It's only a dollar, and 2) What you get in return is pretty great.

Check out the "Talk is Cheap" Kickstarter page for more about the film and to become part of the campaign.

$1 to be an Associate Producer. Now that's cheap!

 

The Mojo of Box Office Mojo Movie Review

Box Office Mojo is one of the most reliable movie news websites in the industry, giving accurate daily box office results, as well as weekend estimates before Noon ET every Sunday. It also features year-by-year charts, special articles, predictions, news, and most importantly, MPAA rating announcements, release date and title changes. I go to boxofficemojo.com every day - in fact, several times a day. It's an invaluable research tool and helps with scheduling the films I need to see each week.

Last Friday (10/10) the site mysteriously disappeared, with visitors being re-directed to a generic box office page on IMDb (Amazon bought BOM, through subsidiary IMDb back in 2008) leaving millions of loyal fans and industry insiders rather puzzled. The disappearance of BOM was Variety's top story on Friday, as they, and many others in the movie business scrambled to try to find out what had happened. The internet was filled with speculation, as well as "RIP" stories. When I first Tweeted about the situation on Friday I heard back from panicked Mojo followers, worried that this was the end.

Was the site might be undergoing a design change (which it has done several times before since its inception in 1999)? Was Mojo being absorbed into IMDb? Would we now have to pay for access to the information that Mojo provides? Reps for IMDb and Amazon would not answer any questions from the media.

But then, just as mysteriously, Box Office Mojo returned midday Saturday, without any cosmetic changes. And when Sunday morning came, the weekend box office was up, as usual. When asked to comment, officials from both IMDb and Amazon still refused to reply. The head honcho at Box Office Mojo, Ray Subers, finally tweeted these two remarks on Sunday:

"I think it's about time to resume normal programming here..." and "Actually, two things. 1) I am 100% OK. No health/family/personal issues whatsoever. 2) I will not be answering any Qs re: the past 3 days."

And he still hasn't and probably won't. Will we ever know "the rest of the story" on what really happened to Box Office Mojo? Likely, no. But the most important thing is that the site is up and running, as if nothing happened at all.

If I had the chance to speak to Subers directly I would tell him, on behalf of the millions of us who enjoy and depend on his site, "Don't do that to us again!"

From Belle to Bullwinkle Movie Review

Gary Trousdale co-directed Disney's 1991 animated classic, and my all-time favorite movie, "Beauty and the Beast". Now, more than two decades later, Trousdale is bringing some iconic cartoon characters back for a new CGI "Rocky & Bullwinkle" short on DreamWorks' "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" Blu-ray/DVD, out Tuesday. In this LCJ Interview, Trousdale talks about the R&B return, and fills me in on some fascinating inside secrets and surprising facts about that "Tale as Old as Time".

New Home for Critics' Choice Awards Movie Review

As a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, I'm pretty excited with the news that the 2015 and 2016 Critics Choice Movie and TV Awards have a new home. In fact - TWO new homes! The Movie Awards show - The 20th Annual Critics Choice Movie Awards - will air live on Thursday, January 15th, 2015 on A&E. And the event, for the first time, will take place at the historic Hollywood Palladium.

Most recently the CCMAs aired on The CW and were held at the Barker Hanger in Santa Monica. The move to A&E, which reaches 96 million homes nationwide, is a nice step-up in class - a "perfect home" for the show according to BFCA/BTJA President Joey Berlin. A&E Executive VP and GM David McKillop says both shows will be "key highlights of the Movie and TV awards seasons for A&E viewers".

With Screener Season has already here, I'm completely pumped-up about the changes and look forward to increased promotion for the telecast, including during such A&E hit shows as "Duck Dynasty", "Bates Motel", and "Wahlburgers". And attending the event once again is going to be thrilling. The Palladium is an entertainment landmark, hosting performers from Frank Sinatra to Jay Z, and also being the location for several memorable films, including "Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip" and "The Blues Brothers".

So, mark your calendars now...and I've got some travel plans to make!

Audiences Come Back to the Movies Movie Review

For the second year in a row, the first weekend of October has proved to be a Box Office bounce-back. Last year, 7-Oscar recipient "Gravity" opened on Oct. 4-6 to a huge $56 million, and Sony previewed the Tom Hanks drama "Captain Phillips" in more than 800 theaters nationwide.

Now, following a disappointing September, Oct. 3-5, 2014 has given us one of the closest battles in years, as the thriller "Gone Girl" beat the horror prequel "Annabelle" by just $800,000 in the Weekend Estimates. With $38 million, the page to screen adaptation of "Gone Girl", starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, took-in $38 million, while "Annabelle" grossed $37.2 million. Both films exceeded their respective studios' (Fox, WB) expectations. UPDATE: "Gone Girl" beat "Annabelle" by just under $400,000 in the Weekend Actuals: $37.5M to $37.1M.

But congratulations are to be in order for all Top 5 movies of the weekend, as the "The Equalizer", "The Boxtrolls" and "The Maze Runner" combined to make more than $43 million, bringing the Top 5 total to an impressive $118.6 million.

This is the time of year when big movies return and Awards Season contenders emerge. Robert Downey, Jr.'s "The Judge" and Brad Pitt's "Fury", along with family films "Alexander and the Bad Day" and "The Book of Life" should help the box office stay strong all the way through Halloween, leading into what should be a blockbuster November.

"The Boxtrolls" is the latest stop-motion animated film from Laika, the makers of Oscar nominees "Coraline" and "ParaNorman". The adventure/family drama was released last weekend to strong reviews and the third biggest open in the genre of all-time. In this LCJ Interview, directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi discuss taking these characters from page to screen, a memorable experience working with Sir Ben Kingsley, that elaborate ballroom scene, and what the story means to them.

ABC felt confident enough to release the pilot episodes of two of their new Fall shows online and On Demand weeks before their premiere nights. I've already reviewed the inaugural installment of the drama "Forever". Now it's time for my thoughts on Episode 1 of the romantic comedy "Selfie", which airs this Tuesday, September 30th at 8pmET.

50 years ago, the movie musical "My Fair Lady" was released in theaters, and it went on to win the Best Picture Oscar, beating-out fellow iconic nominees "Mary Poppins", "Becket", and "Dr. Strangelove". The film starred Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Dolittle and Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins, and was based on the play 'Pygmalion'.

A half-century later, ABC, for some reason, thought they could successfully put an ultra-modern spin on this classic with "Selfie". Less than three minutes into watching the pilot and it was impossible to not only want to turn this off, but to search YouTube for a clip from the film to wash-away any memory of this bomb. Karen Gillan ("Doctor Who", "Guardians of the Galaxy") stars as Eliza Dooley, a Twitter/Facebook/Instagram obsessed 20-something who works at a pharmasutical company. We get to witness her completely fall apart aboard an airplane (including an extended vomiting scene). She realizes that, while she has plenty of internet "friends", she has no real-life friends or social skills. Looking to change her image (not on her profile), she begs for help from her company's marketing guru, Henry (played by "Harold & Kumar"'s John Cho). He's great at makeovers, but is a bit of a loner. Of course, they will now team-up and help each other.

"Selfie" does a great job of offending just about everybody in this first episode. The script is filled with racial and gender "jokes", which are simply embarrassing for everyone involved. There are no actual funny lines or situations, nor many opportunities for them. And there's no authentic  commentary or insights on the social media phenomenon.

Series creator Emily Kapnek, who also wrote the script, tries to make every situation cute and bubbly. But with awful musical placement and several uncomfortable moments (including a squirm-inducing rendition of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance"), "Selfie" makes for #MustAvoidTV. The final segment is the best of a really bad batch, with Eliza and Henry realizing that love may be in the air. But because the premise is so basic and predictable, and the execution is so poor, there's little chance the show will survive long enough for anything to blossom - and certainly no one will be watching if it does.

After sitting through 32 minutes of "Selfie" on my DVR (can't FF through the commercials) there was one thing I couldn't wait to do - hit DELETE.

Stop-Motion's Finest Movie Review

"The Boxtrolls", the latest animated creation from Focus Features and Laika Animation, opens this weekend. Believe it or not, it will be only the 12th major stop-motion animated film ever released. While I didn't see 2001's "Monkeybone", directed by Henry Selick, I have seen the other 11 - some of them multiple times. Here's my ranking:

1. "Fantastic Mr. Fox" - Released in 2009 and adapted from Roald Dahl's book, director Wes Anderson deepens the basic story to a complex family drama with a lot of quirky humor. Superb animation and excellent voice work from George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, and Jason Schwartzman.

2. "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" - 2005's Best Animated Feature Oscar winner is packed with wit and charm, with outstanding work from the iconic Aardman Animations team.

3. "Frankenweenie" - Completely in black and white, Tim Burton's 2012 remake of his live-action short from 1984 is a mix of emotions: funny and dramatic, sad and uplifting. This is one of Burton's all-time best.

4. "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" - Since 1993, a true holiday tradition, whether it's Halloween, Christmas, or both.

5. "ParaNorman" - Laika's 2012 action/adventure gave us many laughs and a few scares, with some of the most daring stop-motion animation ever put on film.

6. "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" - Out just a few months earlier, and overlooked by most audiences, this is a consistently hilarious satire on pirate movies with Hugh Grant, perfect as the voice of The Pirate Captain.

7. "The Boxtrolls" - Gorgeous animation, accompanied by a terrific voice ensemble and multi-layered themes, make this a lock for an Oscar nod.

8. "James and the Giant Peach" - Fun and memorable for its time (1996), with bold characters and an upbeat spirit.

9. "Chicken Run" - Still the highest-grossing in the genre ($106M back in 2000), it's a very entertaining effort from Aardman.

10. "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" - The music and animation are strong but, coming 12 years after "Nightmare", the story wasn't groundbreaking or memorable.

11. "Coraline" - I still don't understand why so many people have fallen in love with this movie since its 2009 release. For me, it just doesn't have nearly the impact as the rest of these films on this list.

The Fall TV Season is here, and that means a new crop of shows set to vie for big ratings. ABC felt confident enough to release pilot episodes of two new programs, the comedy "Selfie" and the drama "Forever", online and On Demand weeks before their respective premiere nights. My thoughts on the inaugural episode of "Selfie" will come next week. Here's my review of the "Forever" pilot, which airs tonight, at 10pmET (another new episode will be on Tuesday the 23rd at 10pm - its regular night and time):

Ioan Gruffudd ("Fantastic Four") stars as Dr. Henry Morgan, a New York City medical examiner who's lived a VERY long life. In fact he's been alive for nearly 200 years, ever since he was thrown overboard with a pocket watch in the 1800s. Each time he apparently dies, which has happened a lot over two centuries, Henry immediately wakes up in a body of water, naked. How Henry's body actually moves from the place of death to the water is conveniently ignored in the premiere. Bottom line: the guy can't die.

Henry's experienced a lot in his 200+ years on Earth. If he comes-up to you on the street, he can tell you your family history and what's been happening recently in your life. Judd Hirsch plays Henry's closest friend, whose true identity is revealed in the episode's final few minutes. Together, they've been all over the world trying to get answers about Henry's secret and keep it hidden from everyone else. Henry's medical examiner duties include a perfect record for diagnosing fatalities. None of his co-workers know Henry well enough to suspect that he's not your average M.E.

But everything changes when Henry cheats death once again after being involved in a subway crash that killed everyone else on the train. Detective Jo Martinez (Alana De La Garza) finds out that Henry was on board and survived, making him the key witness. These two bond professionally, and possibly romantically. So the stage is set for this unlikely pair to work together solving crimes each week, and dealing with their relationship, while Henry tries to prevent her from finding out about his immortality.

No doubt ABC is hoping "Forever" can become the next "Castle". The tone of both shows is very similar, though the latter has more energy and elements of humor. "Forever" is also a mix of "CSI", "True Blood", and most notably "Bones". The idea may have worked better as a film, if it had a better script and actors, though the concept is not very original. Gruffudd has a likeable presence, and could develop this guy into an interesting character except for one thing: "Forever" has very little chance of building an audience, so the odds are it won't be around long enough for that to happen.

In this case, "Forever" will probably equal somewhere between 13 and 22 weeks.

Some Early and Bold Oscar Predictions Movie Review

The Academy Awards are only five months away, and two crucial elements are still missing: a host and some legitimate contenders. By this time last year (it was August 2nd, 2013 to be exact), Ellen DeGeneres had been named host of the 86th Oscars. For some reason the Academy is taking its time with this year's choice. My prediction: ABC will finally let their late night star, Jimmy Kimmel, have a shot at emcee duties on February 22nd. He's overdue.

Now that that's settled, here's my fearless list of 20 people who I think will receive acting nominations. What categories they'll end up in is yet to be determined. Come January we can look back and see how I did. And, keep in mind, most of these films have yet to release, so most of these picks are based on buzz, reputation, strategy and gut instincts.

Amy Adams ("Big Eyes")
Steve Carell ("Foxcatcher")
Laura Dern ("Wild")
Robert Duvall ("The Judge")
Felicity Jones ("The Theory of Everything")
Michael Keaton ("Birdman")
Anna Kendrick ("Into the Woods")
Keira Knightley ("The Imitation Game")
Matthew McConaughey ("Interstellar")
Julianne Moore ("Still Alive")
Edward Norton ("Birdman")
Jack O'Connell ("Unbroken")
David Oyelowo ("Selma")
Vanessa Redgrave ("Foxcatcher")
Eddie Redmayne ("The Theory of Everything")
Mark Ruffalo ("Foxcatcher")
Meryl Streep ("Into the Woods")
Christoph Waltz ("Big Eyes")
Reese Witherspoon ("Wild")
Shailene Woodley ("The Fault in Our Stars")

A New Batch from Cumberbatch Movie Review

Last year, the British actor with the great name, Benedict Cumberbatch, was in five high-profile movies: "August: Osage County" (alongside Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts), "Star Trek Into Darkness" (as you know who), "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" (as the voice of the dastardly dragon), and Best Picture Oscar winner "12 Years a Slave". His only film that was both a critical and financial bust was the biopic "The Fifth Estate", in which he starred as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Now, with a trio of new big films coming-out over the holidays, Cumberbatch could be a contender to earn a second consecutive LCJ Movie Award nomination for Actor of the Year.

In "The Imitation Game", which opens in Limited Release on November 21st, Cumberbatch plays mathematician Alan Turing, whose defying actions have a major impact during WWII. The Weinstein Company drama just won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, officially putting it in the Awards Season derby. Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, and Mark Strong co-star.

We'll also be hearing a lot from Cumberbatch, as he returns to voice Smaug (and play Necromancer) in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies", opening December 17th. But an even more buzzed-about voice-over performance will be as the secret agent wolf, Classified, leader of the North Wind crime-fighting organization, in DreamWorks Animation's "Penguins of Madagascar". The action comedy doesn't open until November 26th, but this two-minute clip clearly showcases Cumberbatch's comedic talents.

A Superstar Surprise Movie Review

Sony Pictures' remake/update of the musical "Annie" doesn't open until December 19th. But the film is apparently all set to go. The Mall of America movie theater in Minnesota held a special screening this week to benefit the local Big Brothers & Big Sisters. And those in attendance got an early holiday gift before the movie began, as Academy-Award winner Jamie Foxx appeared from behind the screen and walked among the crowd, microphone in hand. The video from NBC station KARE 11 is pretty cool. At one point, one girl shares her popcorn with the film's star.

Foxx then led the entire audience in a sing-along of "Tomorrow" (video clip from the Star Tribune). Annie herself, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis, and "Annie" director Will Gluck also attended the screening.

This is the latest example of a new trend of "Celebrity Sneak-Ins". Last year, Brad Pitt stunned New Jersey moviegoers by showing-up at an advanced screening of "World War Z" (one month prior to its opening). And in June, Tom Cruise treated Chicago fans to a pre-show surprise at a screening of "Edge of Tomorrow". Kevin Hart has taken this new marketing strategy to a different level, letting fans know exactly where he's going to be for both screenings and opening weekend showings of his latest movies via social media. And sometimes he even buys popcorn!

Look for more and more of these surprise star in-theater appearances because they're working - getting the films great advance publicity and the actors even more fans.

The Supporting Actor of Our Lifetime Movie Review

Morgan Freeman is one of the most respected actors in Hollywood, with more than 100 credits over a career that is celebrating it's 50th year. Three of Freeman's five Oscar nominations were in the Best Actor category ("The Shawshank Redemption", "Driving Miss Daisy", and "Invictus"). But in the last 15 years or so, Freeman has gone from being the star of his films to playing key supporting characters who tend to pull a story together. And his presence in a cast always makes a terrible movie a little less terrible.

In "Dolphin Tale 2", opening Friday, Freeman reprises his role from the 2011 original, scientist Dr. Cameron McCarthy. It seems like Freeman has been playing a lot of different types of doctors lately, sharing the screen with Johnny Depp in "Transcendence" and Scarlett Johansson in "Lucy". Freeman has even coined a phrase: "Mankind Is Not Ready for This", both on the big screen and on his Science Channel show, "Through the Wormhole".

Some of Freeman's most memorable performances are as God in "Bruce" and "Evan Almighty", as well as the debonaire Lucius Fox in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy. Other notable supporting roles were in the action comedy "Red", Tom Cruise sci-fi adventure "Oblivion", "Wanted" alongside Angelina Jolie, "Street Smart" (his first Oscar nom), David Fincher's "Se7en", Ben Affleck's "Gone Baby Gone", 2013's "Olympus Has Fallen" and "Now You See Me", and Freeman's Oscar-winning work in Clint Eastwood's boxing drama "Million Dollar Baby".

Another title Freeman justly deserves is "The Narrator". His distinctive, showcase voice is just as famous as his face. 2005's "March of the Penguins" got it started, and since then he's been behind two IMAX nature documentaries: "Born to Be Wild 3D" and "Island of Lemurs: Madagascar". Freeman has also narrated the updated "War of the Worlds" and "Conan the Barbarian" films, and brought Vitruvius to life in this year's animated blockbuster, "The LEGO Movie". When you hear that voice you immediately think class and quality, which is why he's in such demand for commercial voice-over work as well.

After a half-century of acting roles, narrations, iconic characters and memorable quotes, the great Morgan Freeman shows no signs of letting-up. And that sounds good to me.

UPDATE: Great News - Variety has announced that Freeman is joining "Ted 2", opening in June 2015, playing a lawyer who has to defend the raunchy teddy bear after he gets into some legal trouble. And Freeman will be playing Ildarin in the 2016 remake of "Ben-Hur".

Joan Rivers - A Comedy Legend Movie Review

Joan Rivers has died at the age of 81, a week after what should have been a routine medical procedure which turned tragically wrong. The night before she was doing what she did best - making people laugh with her live stage act. And the night before that she hosted what turns out to be her final "Fashion Police", ripping the outfits worn by celebrities at the Emmy and MTV Video Music Awards.

Rivers was an inspiration to so many, particularly those in the comedy and fashion industries. One of Johnny Carson's favorite guests on "The Tonight Show", Rivers appeared often and became the permanent guest host. But when she got her own, short-lived FOX talk show in 1986, sadly, her relationship with Carson ended same.

In the mid-90s, Joan and her daughter Melissa began hosting the Academy Awards Red Carpet specials for E!, and then the TV Guide Channel. Coming back to E! for "Fashion Police" beginning in 2010 put Joan at an all-time high. Her persistent off-color and hilarious one-liners while she criticized celebs' red carpet looks became a pop culture phenomenon. References to "Fashion Police" were everywhere. Rivers even had an on-set cameo in last year's "Iron Man 3".

And in the excellent, very candid 2010 documentary, "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work", we witnessed Rivers dealing with her incredibly busy schedule, performing at comedy clubs coast-to-coast every week, while handling her family life as well. And the film also chronicled her eventful 2009 on the second season of "The Celebrity Apprentice", when she won the NBC competition series.

Rivers recently published her 12th book, "Diary of a Mad Diva", a collection of jokes and stories from throughout her life that she kept track of on note cards. Still as busy and feisty as ever, a few months back she stormed-off during a CNN interview, and was set to take "Fashion Police" to The Big Apple for Fashion Week. It is unclear for now whether the show will continue, but it's hard to imagine how it could.

One thing is for certain: Joan Rivers lived an incredible life. Not afraid of any material or anyone (including herself by poking fun at her numerous and infamous plastic surgeries), she was a diamond in the comedy mine and, just as with the late Robin Williams, will never be duplicated or replaced.

Reese's Pieces of Work Movie Review

Last year, Tom Hanks had the potential of scoring Oscar nominations for two high-profile roles: the title character in "Captain Phillips" and Walt Disney in "Saving Mr. Banks". While many experts, including myself, thought Hanks was at-least a lock for "Phillips", it turned out he failed to snag either nomination. This awards season, a fellow Oscar winner could be in line for THREE acting nominations, which would be an Academy first.

Chances are, Reese Witherspoon (who captured a Best Actress statue in 2006 for playing June Carter Cash in "Walk the Line") won't make Oscar history. Howevers she could become the 9th woman (and only 12th person overall) to score acting nods for two different films in the same year. And the fact that Witherspoon, who generally stars in only one movie a year, is at the center of three early Awards contenders, is quite an accomplishment.

In Warner Bros.' "The Good Lie" (limited release open on Oct. 3), Witherspoon plays Carrie Davis, a woman who takes-in a Sudan refugee and then fights to get additional family members to come to America. The role has a little Sandra Bullock/Leigh Anne Tuohy/"The Blind Side" vibe to it. Five years ago, that sports drama, also released by WB, earned Bullock a Best Actress Oscar.

Based on a true story, "Wild" (distributed by Fox Searchlight; limited open Dec. 5) stars Witherspoon as strong-willed and troubled Cheryl Strayed, who goes on a solo hike of more than 1,000 miles. This is director Jean-Marc Vallee's follow-up to "Dallas Buyers Club", which won Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto Oscar gold last year. Early reviews for "Wild" from the Telluride Film Festival premiere have been very strong.

And Witherspoon is also part of director Paul Thomas Anderson's ensemble crime drama "Inherent Vice" (also from WB; limited - Dec. 12; nationwide Jan. 9, 2015). No specific details are known, as yet, for her character, but Anderson's track record with Oscar nomination success for his actors ("Magnolia", "Boogie Nights", "There Will Be Blood", "The Master") speaks for itself.

Laboring at the End of Summer Movie Review

Once again, Labor Day Weekend is a bare one at the movies, with just two new releases, neither of which will light the box office. They are Relativity Media's Pierce Brosnan action film "The November Man" and Universal's horror/thriller "As Above, So Below". Because of this, other studios are trying to take advantage and attract audiences looking to play catch-up over the four-day holiday.

"Chef", the indie ensemble romantic comedy about a struggling chef looking to re-invent himself, was released by Open Road in May and spent six weeks in the Top 10. Jon Favreau ("Iron Man") stars and directs the film. And he brought together an impressive ensemble which includes Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Oliver Platt and Robert Downey, Jr. It's a solid comedy with several qualities on its menu which make it worth recommending.

And "Begin Again", from Focus Features, is a musical dramedy about a producer who loses his job (Mark Ruffalo), and then finds talent in a New York City songwriter (Keira Knightley). The songs, particularly "Lost Stars" performed by both Knightley and "Maroon 5" singer Adam Levine (in his first acting role), are terrific. Co-starring Catherine Keener, Mos Def, and Hailee Steinfeld ("True Grit"), "Begin Again" is predictable, but in a refreshing sort of way.

Hoping to start some early Awards Season buzz, and make some extra $$$ at the box office, both films are being re-released nationwide starting this Friday and are worth checking-out before time runs out on Summer '14.


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