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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.

And The Emmys Will Go To... Movie Review

It's still television's biggest night: The Primetime Emmy Awards are Monday and "Late Night" host Seth Meyers promises some "really good jokes". Most importantly, who will take home the gold statuettes? Can "Modern Family" tie "Frasier" for the most Best Comedy wins in history (5)? Can Julia Louis-Dreyfus go 3 for 3 with "Veep"? Will there be a fitting tribute to exiting "Breaking Bad"? And can either Jimmy beat Letterman's next-in-line Stephen Colbert? Here are my predictions (with result updates):

Actor in a Comedy: Ricky Gervais ("Derek") - Certainly an upset, and a hot start of the evening for Netflix

Actress in a Comedy: Melissa McCarthy ("Mike & Molly") - I have an inkling that the "Tammy" star will be leaving with her second trophy

CORRECT Supporting Actor in a Comedy: Ty Burrell ("Modern Family") - With the funniest performance on the popular show, he deserves another win

Supporting Actress in a Comedy: Kate McKinnon ("Saturday Night Live") - One of the strongest talents on "SNL", her characters always make us laugh

Actor in a Drama: Matthew McConaughey ("True Detective") - Sorry, Cranston, Mr. "Alright x3" will become the third actor (first male) to win an Oscar and Emmy in the same year

Actress in a Drama: Robin Wright ("House of Cards") - Kevin Spacey will lose and so will the show, so recognition for Wright will be just right

Supporting Actor in a Drama: Jon Voight ("Ray Donavan") - The guy's a legend!

CORRECT Supporting Actress in a Drama: Anna Gunn ("Breaking Bad") - The only honor for one of AMC's biggest hits

Outstanding Variety Series: "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" - Continues an incredible year

Outstanding Reality-Competition Program: "The Voice" - will claim its second prize in a row in this category

Outstanding Comedy Series: "Orange is the New Black" - a coin flip win over "Modern Family"

Outstanding Drama Series: "True Detective" - Just trust me.

I only got 2 out of 12 right. The winners of the Emmys are so much more predictable than the Oscars.

GSN: The Winners and Losers Movie Review

Since its inception in 1994, millions of viewers have watched the 24-hour, Game Show Network, which reruns all-time classics, from "Password" and "Match Game" to the Steve Harvey "Family Feud" episodes, and everything in between. But in the last few years, GSN has stepped-up their efforts in producing original programming, and grabbed two of the six nominations in the Outstanding Game Show category at this year's Daytime Emmys. The number of original GSN shows has been adding up quickly, and we all have our favorites:

Early Success - In 2002, GSN re-launched a not-so-well-known game from the 80s that quickly became a big hit. "Lingo", hosted by Chuck Woolery ("Love Connection") ran for six years and nearly 350 episodes - an all-time high for the network. Woolery's "2 in 2" catchphrase found a new home, and the game helped many, including yours truly, learn how to spell five-letter words. That same year, GSN aired "Russian Roulette", which was hosted by Mark L. Walberg years before he joined the "Antiques Roadshow", the addicting "Friend or Foe?", and the entertaining "Whammy! The All-New 'Press Your Luck'" hosted by Emmy-winner Todd Newton.

Lots of Reboots - GSN loves reboots. The network has updated versions of many classic and beloved game shows. Most have not been well-received, including the short-lived "I've Got a Secret", "Three's a Crowd", "1 vs. 100" with "Dancing with the Stars"' Carrie Ann Inaba, "Minute to Win It" hosted by speed skating champ Apolo Anton Ohno, and even a re-hash of the network's own "Lingo" with host Bill Engvall in 2011. New versions of both "Chain Reaction" and "The Pyramid" were fairly well done. "The Newlywed Game" (currently hosted by Sherri Shepherd) has proved to be a success, though it's a tough watch.

Gone or Should Be - Remember the disastrous "Bingo America", very brief run of "Starface" hosted by Danny Bonaduce, the not-so "Whose Line?" "Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza", "20 Q" starring "So You Think You Can Dance?"'s Cat Deeley, Jerry Springer's complete mess "Baggage" and the equally dumpy "Love Triangle" with Wendy Williams? Unfortunately a few of these can still be found on the network. And I couldn't leave out that midnight madness "High Stakes Poker".

GSN's current lineup includes "Idiotest", a "not as clever as it thinks it is" game with rookie host Ben Gleib, as well as "Skin Wars" (which isn't really a game show but a reality competition) and the hour-long dating adventure "It Takes a Church". However, the network does have two shows that are making people finally take notice of the 20-year-old channel: "The American Bible Challenge", the hour-long biblical Q&A showdown hosted by Jeff Foxworthy, which just finished its third season, has set ratings records for GSN and has given away hundreds of thousands of dollars to deserving charities. And one of TV's best guilty pleasures, "The Chase", pits trivia titan Mark Labbett (aka "The Beast") against top contestants in a pressure-packed, high-stakes battle of brains.

Game shows have been an important part of television since the beginning on television. Hopefully GSN can come-up with more quality and exciting original games, while avoiding the reboots and reality programs.

An Animated Ending to 2014  Movie Review

Four major animated films are set to be released before the end of the year. "The Boxtrolls" (out Sept. 26) is a stop-motion dramedy from Laika, the makers of "Coraline" and "ParaNorman". "The Book of Life" (Oct. 17) comes from producer Guillermo del Toro and Reel FX, the studio behind last year's "Free Birds". On Nov. 7, Disney will release their Marvel collaboration "Big Hero 6". And just in time for Thanksgiving, DreamWorks serves-up "Penguins of Madagascar".

Animation historian and the editor of Indiewire's Animation Scoop, Jerry Beck, has seen large chunks of these four films already and gives me the inside scoop on all of them, as well as insight on the disappointing box office year and his early Best Animated Feature Oscar predictions in this LCJ Interview.

Robin Williams: 1951-2014 Movie Review

One of the most popular and influential actors and comedians of our times, Academy Award-winner Robin Williams, has died of an apparent suicide. The 63 year old, who battled alcohol addiction for much of his life, was reportedly also sufferring from severe depression in recent months. Williams first came onto the scene as the star of the sitcom "Mork & Mindy", which ran from 1978-1982 (a spin-off from "Happy Days"). He was nominated for three Lead Actor Oscars ("Good Morning, Vietnam", "Dead Poets Society" and "The Fisher King") before finally winning a Best Supporting Actor statue in 1998 for "Good Will Hunting".

Some of his most popular comedic performances included "Mrs. Doubtfire" (for which there was talk of a sequel earlier this year with Williams set to star) and the iconic Genie in Disney's 1992 animated musical "Aladdin". Most recently, Williams was seen on the big screen as President Dwight D. Eisenhower in "Lee Daniels' The Butler" and in the romantic drama "The Face of Love". And Williams made a notable return to TV last season with the CBS sitcom "The Crazy Ones", co-starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, which was surprisingly cancelled this past Spring even though its ratings were not terrible.

Williams' final high-profie appearance will be in the family sequel, "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb", which will open December 19, with Williams reprising his role as Teddy Roosevelt.

Williams will also be remembered for his legendary nighttime talk and awards show appearances (he co-hosted the Oscars in '86). Whether or not you enjoyed his frantic, over-the-top style of comedy, which was usually wildly entertaining, and his ability to occasionally deliver a stellar serious performance, Robin Williams will absolutely be missed and his style will never be duplicated.

Animation's Biggest Fan Movie Review

In Part 1 of my LCJ Interview with historian and Indiewire's "Animation Scoop" editor Jerry Beck, who's also the author of The Art of "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" and The SpongeBob SquarePants Experience, he discusses the big-screen return of that loveable sponge, how the "Frozen" phenomenon is similar to 1994's "The Lion King" and Comic Con 2014.

The Best Actor Race Begins Movie Review

It's only the beginning of August, but it's time to start looking ahead to Awards Season. More and more contending films will be released over the coming weeks and months. Three Lead Actor performances have already become legitimate contenders in the usually crowded category:

Tom Hardy is riveting as the title character in "Locke", the little-seen indie drama about a man attempting to keep his life in order with a series of phone conversations during a 90 minute car trip. Andy Serkis' second go-around as Caesar the Ape in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is even stronger than his work in 2011's "Rise". And Chadwick Boseman, who hit a home run as Jackie Robinson in last year's "42", shines as "The Godfather of Soul", James Brown, in "Get On Up".

I can see Hardy and Boseman locking-up two of the five spots by the end of the year, as long as their films and performances get seen and recognized by enough voters. Both films have struggled at the box office. It'll be interesting if 20th Century Fox has the guts to put Serkis up for the Lead Actor category or if they play it safe with Supporting Actor, even though he is clearly the star of "Dawn".

It's still far too early to pick another a lock, with any of these dozen actors primed to grab a spot in the competition:

James McAvoy - "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" (Limited - Sept. 12)
Ben Affleck - "Gone Girl" (Oct. 3)
Robert Downey, Jr. - "The Judge" (Oct. 10)
Jeremy Renner - "Kill the Messenger" (Limited - Oct. 10)
Michael Keaton - "Birdman" (Limited - Oct. 17)
Bill Murray - "St. Vincent" (Oct. 24)
Matthew McConaughey - "Interstellar" (Nov. 7)
Steve Carell and/or Channing Tatum - "Foxcatcher" (Limited - Nov. 14)
Christian Bale - "Exodus: Gods and Kings" (Dec. 12)
Joaquin Phoenix - "Inherent Vice" (Limited - Dec. 12)
Jack O'Connell - "Unbroken" (Dec. 25)

And there are several others in the running as well, and always a few surprise contenders. It should be a heck of a race.

Yet Another

A third "Night at the Museum" has been in the works for a few years, and the first trailer of "Secret of the Tomb" has been finally released. The 2006 original was a delightful surprise, while the 2009 sequel, "Battle of the Smithsonian", lacked the previous film's charm. For the threequel, the main cast is back, including stars Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson and Ricky Gervais, as well as director Shawn Levy.

This plot once again takes the characters away from NYC (this time to London) but brings back the original's theme of the statues and displays coming to life at night. Levy revealed in a piece for Entertainment Weekly earlier this year that the three stingy old men, Dick Van Dyke, Bill Cobbs and the late Mickey Rooney (who died in April) also make return appearances. Levy was honored to have filmed Rooney's final on-screen performance.

Joining the ensemble are Sir Ben Kingsley and Rebel Wilson. My expectations are low for their characters providing big laughs, but the trailer does include a few funny one-liners and promising situations. This installment could wrap-up the elongated franchise (which very easily could've ended after the original) in a nice way.

But in order to achieve the box office success of the previous two, "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" is going to have to defeat another movie going after the same, family audience. "Annie", starring Quvenzhane Wallis ("Beasts of the Southern Wild"), Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz, opens the same day as "NATM3" - December 19th. And two days earlier, the final "Hobbit" - "The Battle of the Five Armies", will hit theaters. I hope the lights haven't burned out just yet on the "NATM" series, but convincing audiences to return to the Natural History Museum one more time is going to be tough. Good news for 20th Century Fox: the studio has nearly five months to generate some buzz and momentum with a rigorous marketing campaign. Bad news: Sony began their campaign for "Annie" over five months ago.

I'd Rather Not Solve Movie Review

I've been a game show fan my entire life. I've been able to meet some of the most popular game show hosts on TV, and if an opportunity were to come along in the future, I would love to host one myself. Being an avid watcher, I've picked-up on some things and developed some opinions and strategies. Here's some important (and possibly controversial) advice for you if you ever become for a contestant on "Wheel of Fortune" (which I attended a taping of in 2009):

After years of intense study and research, I believe that contestants should avoid solving the first toss-up puzzle. And here are my five reasons:

1. You only win $1000. The second toss-up is worth $2k and the third an even better $3k, so there's no reason to peak early.

2. Even if you lose every puzzle and keep hitting Bankrupt the entire show and end up with nothing you're guaranteed to win $1000. So winning the first toss-up actually gets you nothing.

3. If you do buzz-in but guess incorrectly, that failure could cause you to lose your focus kill your momentum for the rest of the game.

4. Unlike when you correctly solve the second and third toss-ups, you don't get to spin the wheel first when you get the first toss-up right.

5. What you do get to do is be the first contestant to talk with host Pat Sajak, sharing details of your life with Pat and the world. If you're not prepared for this (and who is), it could be nerve-wracking and hurt your performance on the rest of the show. It's much better to have some more time to think about what you're going to say while Pat's talking to the other contestants.

So, here's one case on a game show where winning could really be losing.

They're So Classic Movie Review

One of the perks of being on Summer vacation is that I get to catch-up on some classic films, many considered to be among the greatest in the history of cinema, that I've never had the time and/or opportunity to see. Here are the five I've screened thus far as part of the LCJ Personal Summer Film Festival 2014:

"Broadway Danny Rose" - Woody Allen's black-and-white tale of a theatrical manager on a one-day adventure with the girlfriend of his popular client is a sweet, old-fashioned comedy. Allen and Mia Farrow have terrific chemistry and the final few minutes are simply perfect.

"Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" - Considered to be one of the best comedies ever made, Stanley Kubrick's 1964 WWII farce was certainly daring and groundbreaking for its time. Peter Sellers is quite good in his multiple roles. It's not one of the funniest movies I've ever seen, but it's satisfying and engaging (and the Wes Anderson connection is undeniable).

"Moonstruck" - Cher won the 1987 Best Actress Oscar for her electric performance as an engaged widow who stumbles upon a man who could be the true love of her life (played by Nicolas Cage). Olympia Dukakis and a pre-"Frasier" John Mahoney are the supporting cast stand-outs in this charming, highly likeable romantic comedy.

"North by Northwest" - Director Alfred Hitchcock's complex and brilliant thriller involving a case of mistaken identity that quickly escalates into much more is spellbinding. Loads of twists and tension. Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are incredibly natural together. Films such as this simply aren't made anymore. Hitchcock gold.

"The Silence of the Lambs" - Contrary to what the Academy thought, I still don't believe this deserved the 1991 Best Picture honor over "Beauty and the Beast". But Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster are fantastic, especially in their powerful and iconic scenes together. Suspenseful and gritty throughout.

Still on the Festival agenda: "Rain Man", "Apollo 13", "Kramer vs. Kramer", "Casablanca", "Jaws" and more. I need an "Endless Summer".

Analyzing  the Summer Box Office So Far Movie Review

The general belief is that the Summer 2014 Box Office is down significantly from previous years. And the numbers prove it. Back in April I wrote a blog predictinghow the big May releases would do. In it I pointed-out that while the May 2013 films grossed more than $1.4 billion domestically, the 2014 crop would have a slightly lower $1.3B total. Since nearly all the May movies have run their courses in theaters, the fact is that the 11 big movies that opened that month (including the indie comedy "Chef") will not even reach $1.2 billion.

The Biggest Losers from May include Seth MacFarlane's western comedy disaster "A Million Ways to Die in the West", which made only $42.7 million, or less than one-fifth of "Ted"'s domestic haul, as well as the animated flop "Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return", with a very poor $8.5 million. Adam Sandler's "Blended" also did much worse than his previous comedies, with just $45 million. Some could even argue that "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" should be in this category since it barely crossed the $200 million mark (I expected closer to $300M). And even "X-Men: Days of Future Past", while the second-biggest installment in the franchise, didn't wow with just over $230 million.

Technically, the only financial winner from May was Disney's "Maleficent". Released on the last weekend of the month, it's still one of the Top 10 movies in America. Whether it was the ruthless marketing campaign, the PG rating, or Angelina Jolie as the combination of a heroin and villain, a $230 million cume was far more than anyone, including The Mouse House itself, likely expected. The Runner-Up is "Neighbors", which on just an $18 million budget, ended-up with nearly $150M.

As far as the rest of the summer so far goes, "How to Train Your Dragon 2"'s performance is another disappointment for DreamWorks Animation, as $160 million is far from the $220M total the original "Dragon" made in 2010. Disney's "Planes: Fire & Rescue" will have a lot of work to do if it wants to match or beat the original's $90M total. And "Transformers: Age of Extinction", the only $100M open of 2014 to date, may still not outgross 2014's top two films, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (released in April) and "The LEGO Movie" (which opened in February).

On the bright side, "The Fault in Our Stars" is one of the summer darlings. The captivating romantic drama has raked-in more than $120M. And two films many predicted to be financial busts after their opening weekends, "Edge of Tomorrow" and "Tammy", are successfully chasing $100 million. However, even though "22 Jump Street"'s $180M+ is a huge accomplishment, way more the original, its triumph is being overshadowed by all the summer letdowns.

And with six weeks of the season remaining, it looks like only one movie could change the atmosphere: "Guardians of the Galaxy". The special IMAX 3D 17-minute preview of the film was a big success, and the buzz is ginormous. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it opens to more than $100M. The trailers and TV spots are funny, edgy, and action-packed. And Bradley Cooper's Rocket Raccoon is on the verge of becoming a superstar. Hopefully, this unlikely band of superheroes can not only save the day, but the Summer 2014 Box Office as well.

Plugging into

A new documentary examines the history of all things video games. From "Pac-Man" to "Call of Duty" and everything in between, "Video Games: The Movie" tackles the giant electronic studios, iconic games, and the ups and downs of the industry. In this LCJ Interview, writer/director/producer Jeremy Snead discusses how he got the film made, as well as the licensed games and Hollywood's relationship with video games.

Sports Awards Season is in Full Swing Movie Review

The World Cup has ended, NFL Training Camps are still a few weeks away, and baseball is in its Mid-Season break. So why not give out honors to all the hard-working athletes? One awards show has been doing this in mid-July for 20 years, but a new, direct competitor is looking to steal some of the spotlight.

The ESPY Awards, on ESPN Wednesday night, mix the sports and entertainment worlds together (even though they made a mistake by eliminating the Best Sports Movie category a few years ago). A-list celebrities are part of the extravaganza at LA's Nokia Theatre, paying tribute to some of the year's most successful athletes and teams. The host also gets to crack jokes about some of the most talked-about and controversial topics of the year (I'm sure Donald Sterling will be a hot one). Previous emcees have included Samuel L. Jackson, Seth Meyers, Rob Riggle, Jon Hamm, Justin Timberlake, Jimmy Kimmel, and even Lance Armstrong. This year ESPN is stepping a little outside the box with rapper Drake. He's a major sports fan, but I'm not sure if he's got the charisma and talent to be a great host. My prediction is that, unlike his favorite beverage - Sprite - Drake will deliver a flat performance.

Then on Thursday night, the sports universe gets a little more family friendly. Even though Nickelodeon honors male and female athletes at their annual Kids Choice Awards in March, they've decided to start-up a Kids Choice Sports Awards. Former New York Giants player and current talk show host and analyst Michael Strahan will be master of ceremonies. Ratings for this show won't be as big as the ESPYs, but it should get the young demo, and with Pharrell Williams performing, some older viewers as well.

No doubt many top athletes and celebs will try make it to both events on back-to-back nights. It's similar to last January when all the nominated actors and directors had to deal with The Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, and SAG Awards in the same week. Except the sports stars are probably in better shape.

The Love of Roger's

"Life Itself" is a new, amazing documentary about the incredible film critic Roger Ebert, who revolutionized movie reviews and passed away last year. In this LCJ Interview, Roger's wife, Chaz Ebert, talks about her husband's impact on society, making this daring film, and the best movie theater experiences she had with the dynamic "Siskel & Ebert".

Guardians of a Seventh of the Galaxy Movie Review

Normally I'm not the biggest fan of extended preview clips (even most trailers give away too much of the movie). But when Disney/Marvel announced a special IMAX 3D First Look screening of "Guardians of the Galaxy", consisting of 17 minutes of never-before-seen footage, nearly one month before the August 1 release date, I knew I had to be there. Plus, all attendees would be getting a special, very cool, limited edition poster. How could anyone say no to that.

It turned out that the action started even before we got into the theater. Also waiting in line were many ticket-holders who thought that they were going to see the entire film, ALONG WITH 17 minutes of "bonus footage". Once they learned the truth several of them actually got out of line and went home. Here's what they missed: not only the free poster but a juicy chunk of what has the potential to be one of the best action movies of the year.

Director James Gunn began the sneak peek with a simple introduction. What followed was an approximately 12-minute sequence, starting with an official (played by John C. Reilly) describing each member of the "Guardians of the Galaxy", standing in a police line. Then the unlikely superheroes are taken to a maximum security prison in space filled with other criminal misfits.

Starlord (Chris Pratt from "The LEGO Movie") gets upset when a guard steals his music player and listens to the catchy, retro "Hooked on a Feeling", that's already been stuck in my head for months thanks to the trailer. Once inside the prison, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Groot (Vin Diesel's only three words of dialogue are "I am Groot") stick closely together.

But it's Rocket Raccoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper, who comes-up with the plan. What follows is an action-packed, cleverly choreographed, surprisingly funny and highly entertaining escape sequence. If this scene is any indication of what the entire movie will be like we're all in for a big treat. And here's my first guarantee: The breakout star of "GOTG" will be Rocket. Marvel executives should be starting discussions right now about a Rocket spinoff movie. Following the impressive clip was the debut of a new, extended trailer.

Expect big buzz to build from this special first look. Disney and Marvel are clearly gunning for "Guardians" to be the biggest movie of the summer, and after witnessing this little slice, there's no doubt they've got a great shot.

Not as Many Box Office Fireworks Movie Review

The 4th of July weekend box office was down significantly from last year. And while many analysts are surprised by the poor results over the holiday, I predicted that "Tammy", "Deliver Us from Evil", and "Earth to Echo" would all struggle, mostly because they aren't designed to be Independence Day blockbusters.

Last year, "Despicable Me 2" crushed the 4th with an $83.5 million 3-Day and $143 million 5-Day weekend. "The Lone Ranger", which Disney expected to be a smash-hit with star Johnny Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, opened under $30M Fri-Sun with $48M total from Wed-Sun. At the time considered an instant bomb, it actually performed better than any of the trio of '14 July 4th releases.

"Transformers: Age of Extinction" (a traditional 4th release) won the holiday in its second week (though it dropped 64%). Finishing second - "Tammy". The Melissa McCarthy comedy, which she co-wrote with director/husband Ben Falcone, made $32.9 million in its first five days. That's less than McCarthy's previous two leading role comedies ("Identity Thief" and "The Heat") made in their first three days. Largely poor reviews likely played a role. But considering the budget for "Tammy" was only $20 million, the film's already profitable even though not a financial smash hit.

Horror movies normally open strong ($20-$25M+), but "Deliver Us from Evil", starring Eric Bana, only managed to earn $15 million. A poor marketing strategy could be to blame, or maybe horror fans are waiting two weeks for the sequel "The Purge: Anarchy".

And "Earth to Echo", the awful "E.T." knock-off from Relativity Media, managed a 5-Day total of just $13.5 million. Surprisingly mixed reviews can't be the cause, nor the family audience competition ("How to Train Your Dragon 2" still dropped 34%). Maybe the general public could sense what anyone who went found out: this is a terrible film. Looking ahead, Disney's animated sequel "Planes: Fire & Rescue", opening in less than two weeks, could make as much as $45 million out of the gate.

Next year, another "Terminator" reboot and Channing Tatum's "Magic Mike 2" will be the big 4th of July 2015 releases, and "Ted 2" will be in its second week. It should feel like old times at the box office.

Celebrating the Fourth Movie Review


The Best of 2014...So Far Movie Review

We're six months into the year and there have already been several excellent films. Here are the 10 that receive my highest marks from the First Half of 2014:

1. "Locke"
Tom Hardy gives a nomination-worthy performance in writer/director Steven Knight's moving and effective psychological drama. The premise couldn't be simpler: a man driving his car, talking to a variety of people on the phone, for 90 minutes. The result is a sophisticated, suspenseful and multi-layered film with impeccable cinematography and pacing.

2. "Edge of Tomorrow"
Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt give some of the best performances of their careers in this sci-fi action version of "Groundhog Day". With the smartest script of the year, great plot swerves, and the perfect mix of humor, drama and top-notch FX, it's a must-see, maybe even twice.

3. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"
The best Marvel Studios superhero blockbuster to date. Chris Evans returns as 'The Star Spangled Man with a Plan', alongside Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow. Fine supporting work from Robert Redford, Anthony Mackie, and Samuel L. Jackson.

4. "The LEGO Movie"
A pure rush of fun from start to finish. Terrific ensemble voice cast includes Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks and Morgan Freeman. A wildly inventive, groundbreaking story that's not afraid to take risks. The leader at the halfway point in the race for best animated film of the year.

5. "Heaven is for Real"
Based on the best-selling book and inspiring true story, Greg Kinnear is excellent as a pastor, loving husband and father of a little boy who tells him that during surgery he went to Heaven. Bold, heartwarming and heartbreaking.

6. "How to Train Your Dragon 2"
This sequel to DreamWorks Animation's 2010 surprise hit is darker and more action-packed than the original. The visuals are extraordinary, with a true family dynamic at the core of an inspired script. Also a lock for Best Animated Feature consideration.

7. "Muppets Most Wanted"
Kermit & the gang return in this delightful musical comedy caper, alongside Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey and "Modern Family" star Ty Burrell. While it disappointed at the box office, it's even funnier than the 2011 reboot.

8. "The Fault in Our Stars"
Shailene Woodley ("Divergent") gives the best female lead performance of 2014 so far in this adaptation of the best-selling John Green novel about two teenage cancer patients who become involved in an unlikely romance. Smartly takes its time unraveling a highly emotional, lovely story.

9. "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit"
This action reboot based on the books by late author Tom Clancy is a whole lot of fun. Chris Pine ("Star Trek"), Keira Knightley and Kevin Costner join co-star and director Kenneth Branagh in one of the best January releases in recent years.

10. "22 Jump Street"
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum reprise their roles in this buddy-cop comedy based on the 80's TV series. Not only consistently funny, but wildly clever in the ways it pokes fun at itself and all Hollywood sequels.

LCJ's First Half of 2014 Movie Awards Movie Review

Best Picture
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier"
"Edge of Tomorrow"
"Heaven is for Real"
"The LEGO Movie"

Best Director
Josh Boone - "The Fault in Our Stars"
Steven Knight - "Locke"
Doug Liman - "Edge of Tomorrow"
Phil Lord and Christopher Miller - "The LEGO Movie"
Randall Wallace - "Heaven is for Real"

Best Actor
Russell Crowe - "Noah"
Tom Cruise - "Edge of Tomorrow"
Tom Hardy - "Locke"
Greg Kinnear - "Heaven is for Real"
John Lloyd Young - "Jersey Boys"

Best Actress
Emily Blunt - "Edge of Tomorrow"
Angelina Jolie - "Maleficent"
Vanessa Paradis - "Fading Gigolo"
Emma Stone - "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"
Shailene Woodley - "The Fault in Our Stars"

Best Supporting Actor
Ty Burrell - "Muppets Most Wanted"
Bryan Cranston - "Godzilla"
Ice Cube - "22 Jump Street"
Bill Paxton - "Edge of Tomorrow"
Christopher Walken - "Jersey Boys"

Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett - "The Monuments Men"
Ellen Burstyn - "Draft Day"
Jessica Lange - "In Secret"
Jennifer Lawrence - "X-Men: Days of Future Past"
Emma Watson - "Noah"

Best Ensemble
"The Amazing Spider-Man 2"
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier"
"Heaven is for Real"
"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit"

Best Cameo
Celine Dion - "Muppets Most Wanted"
Paul Giamatti - "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"
Frank Langella - "Muppets Most Wanted"
Stan Lee - "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"
Seth Rogen - "22 Jump Street"

Best Action Film
"The Amazing Spider-Man 2"
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier"
"Edge of Tomorrow"
"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit"

Best Animated Feature
"How to Train Your Dragon 2"
"Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return"
"The LEGO Movie"

Best Comedy
"22 Jump Street"
"Muppets Most Wanted"
"Ride Along"

Best Documentary Feature

Best Drama
"The Fault in Our Stars"
"Heaven is for Real"
"Jersey Boys"

Best Family Film
"Heaven is for Real"
"Muppets Most Wanted"

The Roger Ebert Award for Best Screenplay
"Edge of Tomorrow"

Costume Design
"X-Men: Days of Future Past"

Makeup and Hairstyling

Production Design

"How to Train Your Dragon 2"

Visual Effects

Original Score
"Million Dollar Arm"

"Transformers: Age of Extinction"

Original Song
"We're Doing a Sequel" - "Muppets Most Wanted"

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