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Hayward Gobbles Up

He was at Pixar when the studio began the modern animation revolution and now Jimmy Hayward is in charge of the first feature-length film from Relativity Media and Reel FX Creative Studios. Hayward is the director of "Free Birds", the new turkey buddy comedy starring the voices of Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson and Amy Poehler (and not Amy Poultry). In this LCJ Interview, Hayward talks about how he got his start as an animator on "Toy Story", the difference between directing live action ("Jonah Hex") and animation ("Horton Hears a Who!") and why "Free Birds" is the greatest turkey movie of all-time.

One Degree of Meryl Streep Movie Review

There are eight frontrunners for this year's Best Actress Oscar. 2-time Lead Actress winner Meryl Streep is going for her 4th overall win as matriarch Violet Wilson in "August: Osage County", opening Christmas Day. There were rumors that The Weinstein Company was going to position Streep for Best Supporting Actress, but they've decided to let Julia Roberts represent that category (already a winner at the Hollywood Film Awards). Streep is at the center of a very competitive Best Actress race, going-up against seven other women she knows all too well:

AMY ADAMS - The 4-time Supporting Actress nominee is aiming for her first Lead Actress nod for her work in David O. Russell's 70's crime drama "American Hustle". Adams has previously worked with Streep on two films: 2009's "Julie & Julia" and 2008's "Doubt". That year, Streep was up for Best Actress, while Adams faced-off against co-star Viola Davis. All three lost. Three years later, Davis (Lead Actress frontrunner for "The Help") would lose again, this time to Streep's performance as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady".

CATE BLANCHETT - In 1999, Blanchett and Streep competed in this category for performances in "Elizabeth" and "One True Thing", respectively. But it was the year of "Shakespeare in Love", so Gwyneth Paltrow took Oscar home. However, Blanchett would win Supporting Actress for 2004's "The Aviator" and in 2008, she did something Streep has never been able to do: score two nominations in the same year, for "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" and "I'm Not There". As of now, Blanchett's riveting performance in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine" is the one to beat.

SANDRA BULLOCK - One of the most fierce and memorable Best Actress bouts of the past decade: Streep's glowing work as Julia Child, and Bullock's equally strong performance in "The Blind Side". They tied at the Critics Choice Awards and then split (Comedy/Drama) at the Golden Globes. Ultimately, Bullock took home the Oscar. This year she's looking do it again as a Dr. lost in space in "Gravity".

JUDI DENCH - Dench is receiving major buzz as the title character in the dramedy "Philomena", in which she co-stars with Steve Coogan. Back in 2007, Dame Judi Dench and Meryl were both nominated in this category for "Notes on a Scandal" and "The Devil Wears Prada", respectively. But they had to share consolation drinks after every ceremony that awards season since neither could take down "The Queen" - aka Helen Mirren.

EMMA THOMPSON - The recipient of the 1993 Best Actress award ("Howards End"), Thompson may become "the talk of the town" as Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers in Disney's "Saving Mr. Banks". Ten years ago, Thompson and Streep teamed-up for the HBO film, "Angels in America", which sweeped the Mini Series/Movie categories at the Globes, including a victory for Streep.

NAOMI WATTS - Watts was excellent in last year's "The Impossible". Now she's taking on Princess Diana in "Diana", a role that Streep herself gave Watts advice about before filming began in 2012.

KATE WINSLET - Streep is likely hoping for some payback after what happened the last time these two went head-to-head. Back in 2009, Meryl was all set to take home her first Oscar since "Sophie's Choice" for "Doubt" (after winning at the SAG Awards). But The Weinstein Company, the studio behind "The Reader", decided to change Winslet's "place in the race" from Supporting Actress to Lead Actress, and she took the category. There hasn't been a lot of critical praise coming from early screenings of Jason Reitman's "Labor Day", but Winslet could still receive her seventh career nomination.

Odds are only five of these contenders will be nominated, and there's always a chance for a surprise nominee to sneak in. Here are two guarantees: Streep will be one of the five and she'll be very familiar with her competition.

The Toys

"Toy Story of Terror", Pixar's first TV special, is only 22 minutes long, but it's far better than most of the animated features released in theaters this year. The first half plays-on the classic horror movie theme, with young Bonnie and her mom stuck at a rest-stop after getting a flat tire on a rainy night. Woody, Buzz and the gang explore the motel bedroom, but soon find themselves in danger as they try to find Mr. Potato Head, who has suddenly gone missing.

Mr. Pricklepants (voiced by Timothy Dalton) dominates the first half, confidently narrating every situation, because, as Rex the dinosaur says: "He's the only one who knows what the heck is going on!" But "Toy Story of Terror" quickly becomes Jessie's show, as she is forced to face her fears and save the day. New characters, including Combat Carl (voiced nicely in the 3rd person by Carl Weathers) assist in the rescue mission.

Pixar realizes this is a Halloween-themed comedy aimed at both kids and adults. Even so, there are a few moments that will probably frighten the little ones. But the script is as sharp and smart as ever, borrowing from and giving the "Toy Story 2" storyline a fresh look. And the animation is fantastic. In one scene Woody and Co. appeared to be in an ACTUAL hotel bathroom.

"Toy Story of Terror" will air on Disney Channel and ABC Family several times over the next few weeks and is well worth a viewing or two. Forget about those "Monsters", the Toys are Back in Town!


The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has announced that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will return as hosts of both the 71st Golden Globes in January and the 72nd ceremony in 2015. The "30 Rock" and "Parks and Recreation" stars were big hits last year, poking fun at Hollywood's hottest celebs without offending them...minus James Cameron and past emcee Ricky Gervais. Fey and Poehler's monologue was quick, fresh and fun. And they stayed consistent throughout the entire 3+ hour show.

The only bad news is, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig are out for the next two years as hosts. I still think their skit presenting Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical was the highlight of last year's Globes. Maybe they'll be asked back to try to top it this year. They're both in potential Best Comedy nominee "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues".

I'm anxious to see what longtime pals Fey and Poehler come up with. They should have a lot to talk about, between the films starring heavyweights George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Matthew McConaughey, and even Ben Affleck as Batman. And they also get to crack on the year in TV. I'm sure the "Breaking Bad" finale and the Emmy's "In Memoriam" tributes will get some attention.

'Twas the Night Before Halloween Movie Review

As the time approaches for costumes to be picked-out, pumpkins to be carved, and specials to air on TV (including the much anticipated "Toy Story of Terror"), this film announcement is very appropriate. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly made comedic magic together in 2006's "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" and 2008's "Step Brothers". Now they are set to reunite for a new comedy called "Devil's Night".

According to CinemaBlend, they'll play longtime best friends Leonard and Gabe, who met as kids on October 30th - the evening before trick-or-treating when pranksters would trash neighborhoods with eggs and toilet paper - and sometime worse. In the old days this was called Devil's Night (or Hell Night in some areas). Later Devil's Night was banned in most towns and cities and the mild pranking was blended into Halloween. Anyway, apparently something happens on one 10/30 to ruin their friendship. So, 15 years later, they get back together to save their neighborhood when things get completely out of control.

This story seems to be a little simple and the plot could be predictable. And, of course, too much slapstick can a long way. We can only hope that Ferrell and Reilly (who's rumored to have a cameo in "Anchorman 2") turn this concept into a comedy treat. One thing's for sure: "Devil's Night" has to be better than "Fun Size", last year's frighteningly horrible Halloween-themed mess.

This Century belongs to Tom Hanks Movie Review

A variety of actors have put together outstanding bodies of work over the past several years. But no one can match the success of Tom Hanks. With his latest performance, as the title character in "Captain Phillips", about to hit theaters let's look back at the impressive list of accomplishments of Hollywood's "Man of the Century":

2001 - 5th Academy Award nomination for "Cast Away"

2002, 2004 - Works with S. Spielberg on "Catch Me if You Can" and "The Terminal"

2004 - Introduces millions to the wonders of Motion Capture technology while playing practically every adult character in "The Polar Express"

2006 - Part of successful screen adaptation of "The Da Vinci Code"

2007 - Makes a surprise cameo appearance in "The Simpsons Movie"

2010 - Brings iconic Pixar character Woody back to life for "Toy Story 3", which becomes the biggest animated movie of all-time

2010 - Wins an Emmy Award as a Producer on "The Pacific"

2011 - Stars in, writes and directs "Larry Crowne" (we forgive him)

2013 - Delivers an Oscar nomination-worthy performance in "Captain Phillips" and possibly another for playing Walt Disney in "Saving Mr. Banks".

Add his Tony nominated role in "Lucky Guy" (Broadway, not Hollywood) and it would be tough to argue that anyone is hotter than Hanks right now.

BIG SCREEN to small screen Movie Review

I can't remember a new, Fall TV Season that was filled with so many actors/actresses much better known for their work in movies. While many (such as Robin Williams) began their careers on TV they later found stardom on the big screen. Here's just a few of the big names who you can now watch, each week, on the small screen: Williams, James Caan, Toni Collette, Anna Faris, John Lithgow, Rebel Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, James Spader - and that doesn't even count the occassional Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. cameos (Samual L. Jackson's appearance as Nick Fury this week will be tough to top).

Will all this star power bring TV audiences back to the networks? Clearly that's the plan, as executives have to be sick of getting their butts kicked by cable competitors HBO, Showtime, AMC, Comedy Central, FX and now, even Netflix.

The early results were promising, but they may not last. S.H.I.E.L.D.'s week 2 rating dropped more than 30%, and while Williams' "The Crazy Ones" pulled a nice 15.6 million viewers in it's first week, it's hard to imagine that number not dropping significantly as well.

As usual, it all comes down to quality. And even the biggest names won't keep viewers coming back if the shows themselves are not good enough. And, unfortunately, as least they ones I've seen so far will have a tough time holding an audience.

The good news: at least most of these stars have movie careers to fall back on.

They Can't Handle the Truth Movie Review

Within the past week, two end-of-the-year releases and potential Oscar contenders have been pushed to 2014. The Weinstein Company's "Grace of Monaco" could have given Oscar winner Nicole Kidman a shot at another Best Actress statue. But the studio's decision to delay the release, because they need more time to finish the film, takes her out of contention.

And that's the same reason Sony Pictures Classics is giving for moving the Steve Carell drama, "Foxcatcher", from its scheduled December 20 release date to sometime in 2014. From the buzz and the new, brief teaser trailer (which still says "Coming this December") it seemed like Carell was being showcased as a legitimate Best Actor contender. This delay also means "Foxcatcher" has to forfeit its prime Nov. 8 premiere at the AFI Fest

And these may not be the last films to drop-out of this Awards Season competition: Paramount says that Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street", starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, is nowhere near ready for it's November 15 release because Scorsese's current cut of the film is "180 minutes". The studio is strongly hinting that the film may not even be done in time for a Christmas Day open. This would be the second year in a row a DiCaprio Awards Season contender got pushed to the following year ("The Great Gatsby").

With possibly all three of these films out of the picture, the race for the 2013 glory narrows significantly. "Saving Mr. Banks", "Gravity", "Nebraska", "Captain Phillips", "American Hustle", "The Monuments Men" and "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" will certainly benefit. But there's no guarantee that one of these won't get bumped to 2014 as well.

You have to wonder if studios are moving their films because they actually do need more time to finish them OR because they're scared of the competition and don't think their films are good enough. It costs a lot of money to run an Awards Season marketing campaign. Execs. may be thinking that it's smarter to drop-out of the race now than to blow hundreds of thousand of dollars promoting a film or an actor/actress who they know can't win.

I hope that's not the case, because if this becomes a trend it will take a lot of the fun and excitment out of Awards Season. We need to have as many films - both big and small - in the running each year to continue to make Awards Season the best time of the movie year. But something tells me that another biggie is going to bow out of this year's race before the calendar turns to November.

Sinking Their Teeth into

"Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2" is a feast for the eyes - and the stomach, as the leftovers from the original film come to life and threaten to take over Swallow Falls. But are they evil...or simply misunderstood? Ace inventor Flint Lockwood and the gang are back to find-out. "Cloudy 2" marks the directorial debuts for Sony Pictures Animation veterans Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn. In this LCJ Interview the pair (or should that be "pear") talk about their animation idols, how Neil Patrick Harris gets motiviated to do the voice of "Monkey", and why it's no fun to be a tomato.

The Comedy Comeback Movie Review

The Summer 2013 box office proved something that many studios have been ignoring for years: audiences want to laugh. R-rated comedies "The Heat", "We're the Millers" and "This is the End" all performed well. Now here comes Awards Season, which, as always, is filled with plenty of heavy dramas. However, there will still be plenty of opportunities for adult audiences to enjoy some chuckles over the next three months:

"Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" (Oct. 25) - It's Johnny Knoxville as a grandpa and the kid from "Fun Size" on a road-trip, interacting with real people, all of it caught on hidden camera. It looks hysterical.

"Last Vegas" (Nov. 1) - We've seen Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline give amazing peformances over the years. But we've never seen them like this.

"Delivery Man" (Nov. 22) - Vince Vaughn plays the biological father of over 500 kids. Not as raunchy as it sounds, and we may get the best work of his career.

"Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas" (Dec. 13) - Two of my favorite things finally coming together: Madea and Christmas. Plus, Larry the Cable Guy is in it. Should be a lot of fun.

"Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" (Dec. 20) - We've stayed classy for nine long years waiting for the return of Ron Burgundy and co. Finally, the Action 4 News team is back!

"Grudge Match" (Dec. 25) De Niro and Sylvester Stallone's reunion in the boxing ring + comedy pros Kevin Hart and Alan Arkin = can't miss movie event.

And finally, the comedy that could...go...all...the...way this Awards Season: "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (Dec. 25) - Ben Stiller's remake co-starring Kristen Wiig and Sean Penn is a legit Oscar contender.

Carell's Finest Hour Movie Review

Steve Carell is going to be one of the big winners of 2013. The former star of "The Office" has given us memorable comedic performances in films such as "The 40 Year-Old Virgin" and "Get Smart", as well as dramatic work in "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World". But this year Carell has, and will continue to, catapulte his career to a new level.

While "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" bombed at the box office in March, it was off-beat and quite funny. His performance as a down-and-out former big-time magician who attempts a comeback was the centerpiece of the film.

"Despicable Me 2" stormed 4th of July weekend, making nearly $150 million in it's first 5-days and is about to become Universal's highest-grossing film of all-time. Carell's Gru, the supervillain turned superdad, along with the scene-stealing Minions, have made this franchise one of the most popular and profitable in animation history. Two days later, the indie dramedy "The Way, Way Back" showcased Carell in his most impressive dramatic performance to date as the very nasty Trent, who doesn't see eye-to-eye with his girlfriend's 14-year old son.

And the best may be yet to come. Mark your calendar for December 20 (aka "Steve Carell Day"). In wide release will be the highly-anticipated, "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues". Carell is back as weatherman Brick Tamland, alongside Will Ferrell's Ron Burgundy and the rest of the Action 4 News team. Millions have been looking forward to this sequel since 2004's original. Also in limited release that day is the drama, "Foxcatcher", for which Carell is generating early Oscar buzz. He plays wrestling coach John du Pont, in a film that tells the story of his relationship with Olympic champion brothers Mark and David Schultz, played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. "Foxcatcher" is directed by "Moneyball"'s Bennett Miller.

Carell also pulled-off something earlier this year that hardly anyone in Hollywood can do anymore: he surprised us! After denying it for months, quite convincingly, he did make a cameo appearance in "The Office" series finale. 

At this stage Carell may just be the frontrunner for the annual "LCJ Actor of the Year" Award.

The Best of 2013...So Far Movie Review

Normally Best of the Year lists are dominated by films that come-out at the end of the year - the awards season contenders. And that will likely happen again this year. So I've decided to honor the best of 2013 so far, since many of these films may be forgotten once all the end of the year releases are screened. Here are The Best Films of 2013 - Pre-Awards Season

 1) "Blackfish" - Shocking documentary about killer whales used in theme park shows is the Best Film of 2013 by far. 

 2) "Star Trek Into Darkness" - Director J.J. Abrams' sequel is better than the first. Exhilarating and emotional.

 3) "Despicable Me 2" - More minions means more fun. Tremendous animation, especially in 3D.

 4) "World War Z" - Delays, bad buzz had me worried. But Brad Pitt and co. deliver an exciting Zombie-fest.

 5) "42" - Jackie Robinson biopic. A heart-felt celebration of one of the most important figures in American history.

 6) "Lee Daniels' The Butler" - Forest Whitaker leads all-star cast in this historical drama/inspirational profile.

 7) "The Sapphires" - A little gem from Australia that's funny, sweet and touching.

 8) "Blue Jasmine" - Woody's back! Cate Blanchett shines as a crumbling NYC socialite.

 9) "Fast and Furious 6" - Delivers what it promises. A smart, creative adrenaline rush.

10) "Fruitvale Station" - Searing, true-life depiction of the tragic shooting death of Oscar Grant. Raw and powerful.

Honorable Mention: "Jobs" - Fascinating and surprisingly engaging biopic of the late Steve Jobs, with terrific work from Ashton Kutcher.



Entering the World of

Stephan Franck is a veteran artist and animator, who's worked on some of the most successful and critically acclaimed animated films of the last two decades, including "Despicable Me", "How to Train Your Dragon" and "The Iron Giant".

Now he brings a legendary tale to life with a "Smurfy" twist as director of "The Legend of Smurfy Hollow" - a new "Mini-Movie" starring the iconic blue creatures that will be out on DVD September 10th, and on TV in October just in time for Halloween. In this LCJ Interview, Franck talks about what The Smurfs have meant to his career, not making a traditional Halloween special and using both CGI and hand-drawn animation.

Cedric the Game Show Host Movie Review

Comedian and actor Cedric the Entertainer is the new host of the long-running game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?". My pal Regis Philbin re-ignited his career as emcee of the primetime version on ABC from 1999-2002 (he won an Emmy in 2001), and came back for brief runs in 2004 and 2009. Then Meredith Vieira took over as host of the daytime edition beginning in 2002, and ended her impressive 11-year run (for which she won two Emmys) earlier this year.

Cedric, best known for his work on "The Steve Harvey Show" and as King Julien's Lemur assistant Maurice in the "Madagascar" movies, previously hosted the 2011 NBC series "It's Worth What?" - a pricing game show co-created by "Good Morning America"'s Lara Spencer. Recently Cedric was seen on the big screen in the horror spoof comedy "A Haunted House" and as the voice of an old cropduster in Disney's "Planes". Currently, he's also the star of the TV Land sitcom, "The Soul Man", which airs Wednesdays at 11pm.

After viewing the first few shows, Cedric seems comfortable enough taking on one of the most popular game shows of all-time. His slick, upbeat personality (hat and all) and jokes based on the questions and answers add some liveliness to the atmosphere. He'll surely loosen up even more when he gets the rules and format of the show down pat. He's got a lot to live-up to, but it appears that Cedric the Entertainer will keep "Millionaire"'s hot streak going, without needing a lifeline or to phone a friend.

LCJ's Summer 2013 Movie Awards Movie Review

Best Picture
"Despicable Me 2"
"Lee Daniels' The Butler"
"Star Trek Into Darkness"
"World War Z"

Best Director
J.J. Abrams - "Star Trek Into Darkness"
Woody Allen - "Blue Jasmine"
Gabriela Cowperwaithe - "Blackfish"
Lee Daniels - "Lee Daniels' The Butler"
Nat Faxon and Jim Rash - "The Way, Way Back"

Best Actor
Steve Carell - "The Way, Way Back"
Ashton Kutcher - "Jobs"
Forest Whitaker - "Lee Daniels' The Butler"

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett - "Blue Jasmine"
Shailene Woodley - "The Spectacular Now"
Oprah Winfrey - "Lee Daniels' The Butler"

Best Supporting Actor
Josh Gad - "Jobs"
Anthony Hopkins - "Red 2"
Sam Rockwell - "The Way, Way Back"

Best Supporting Actress
Diane Lane - "Man of Steel"
Helen Mirren - "Red 2"
Octavia Spencer - "Fruitvale Station"

Best Action Film
"Fast & Furious 6"
"Star Trek Into Darkness"
"World War Z"

Best Animated Feature
"Despicable Me 2"
"Monsters University"

Best Comedy
"Blue Jasmine"
"Red 2"
"The Smurfs 2"

Best Drama
"Fruitvale Station"
"Lee Daniels' The Butler"

Best Ensemble
"Blue Jasmine"
"Lee Daniels' The Butler"
"Red 2"

Best Documentary Feature

Best Original Screenplay
Woody Allen - "Blue Jasmine"

Best Adapted Screenplay
Matt Whiteley - "Jobs"

Worst Movie of the Summer
"After Earth"
"Grown Ups 2"
"The Heat"
"The Lone Ranger"
"The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones"
"Pacific Rim"
"Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters"

The King of Television, Regis Philbin, is back on daily, live TV with the sports show "Crowd Goes Wild", which airs weekdays at 5pm EST on the new Fox Sports 1. He's joined by five other panelists: former Sky Sports anchor/reporter Georgie Thompson, Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Gay, comedian Michael Kosta, internet correspondent Katie Nolan, and two-time Super Bowl champ Trevor Pryce (Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens, NY Jets).

Each day the show starts-off with something fans have come to love from his decades on the air: Regis talking about what he did the night before. Then it's on to the day's top sports (and occasionally entertainment) headlines, with everyone on the panel givng their interesting perspectives. Also incorporated throughout the hour are guest appearances and regular features, including wacky games, polls and viral videos.

Earlier this week I had the chance to go to NYC's Chelsea Piers studios and catch "Crowd Goes Wild" in person. Being part of a studio audience is always a fun experience, particularly when the show is live. The energy level and excitment in the studio was pretty high, especially since this was only the second week the show has been on ther air. The staff, crew and panelists all worked together nicely. Former NFL QB Joe Theisman was the guest at the show I attended.

I was also able to catch-up with my good pal Reege after the show. He told me he's starting to like the new atmosphere but admitted that it's much different interacting with (or as he put it "keeping track of") not just one but FIVE co-hosts. His main goal of "CGW" is to create a sports talk show that's also entertaining. So far, so good. As a critic I can say that each day the show is getting smoother and more enjoyable.

Regis' office isn't quite as elaborate as the one he had during his years at "Live!", but his couch is quite comfortable. And his dresser, Goldie (who's been with him for a long time) is back by his side. Reege and the family are doing well, including grandson "Mr. Trouble" who is starting Kindergarten this fall.

On the way out I ran into Mr. Pryce (not literally or that would have hurt). He didn't love the fact that I'm a Philadelphia Eagles fan, but was really nice (and is a big dude). And a short while later, we saw each other again while he was jogging with his dog.

If you're one of Regis' millions of fans "Crowd Goes Wild" is a must. And if you're a sports fan, give it a shot. It's not your typical sports talk show (there are already too many of those). You can follow "Crowd Goes Wild" on Twitter @CGW. And if you'd like to be part of the studio audience here's the link for FREE tickets:


The same guy who was snubbed by the Academy for directing, but still won an Oscar for producing, the Best Picture of the Year - "Argo", Ben Affleck, is now the new Caped Crusader. He will replace 3-time Batman Christian Bale and star alongside returning Superman Henry Cavill in Zack Snyder's untitled "B/S" movie. Warner Bros. has also announced a July 17, 2015 release date, which is the same weekend both "The Dark Knight" (2008) and "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012) opened.

First, follwoing the success of "Good Will Hunting", everyone thought of Affleck as a hot, young screenwriter. Then he became a decent actor, and more recently a well-respected filmmaker. But a superhero? He was in real life this past awards season by taking down the Academy, but I just can't picture him in the bat suit. Maybe he'll really impress us (and do a better job than good friend Mr. Clooney) but this is one of the biggest casting surprises to come out of Hollywood in a long. long time.

5 Things We Learned from Summer 2013 at the Movies Movie Review

Minions ruled; Smurfs, Snails, Planes and Monsters suffered
A record number of CGI characters graced the silver screen this summer. Blue Sky's "Epic" was released over Memorial Day weekend and made $107 million, making it the studio's lowest grossing film of all-time. "Monsters University" had a strong open, but barely outearned the original with $261M. And when you consider "adjustment for inflation", "MU" grossed far less than its predecessor. "Despicable Me 2" came-out on top with close to $350 million. The animated films that followed all suffered box office disappointments. DreamWorks' "Turbo", Sony's "The Smurfs 2" and Disney's "Planes" have all underperformed and none will cross the $100M mark. With audiences returning to theaters to see Gru and the Minions, nobody else stood a chance.

"Hangover III" biggest bust; "Now You See Me" biggest surprise
The all-star ensemble of illusionists fooled the experts by making an amazing $116M. Meantime, the "Hangover" gang dropped the biggest bomb. Going up against "Fast & Furious 6" opening weekend, "The Hangover: Part III" was expected to open at #2,  but the "hangover" of dislike from 2011's "Part II" doomed this franchise to end of a very sour note.

Scaring Audiences Still Works
Universal had a solid summer: "Fast 6", "Despicable 2" were hits, "RIPD", "Kick-Ass 2" were busts.  The horror film, "The Purge", fell right in between, with a strong first weekend: $34M, and another $30M during its theatrical run. However, WB's "The Conjuring" was able to defeat "Red 2", "RIPD", "Turbo" and knock "Despicable 2" off the #1 spot to win the July 19-21 weekend. Usually, horror films drop off significantly after week 1, but "Conjuring" held steady and has made close to $130 million.

Oscar Buzz starts earlier than ever
"The Great Gatsby"'s $50M opening weekend was a big surprise. While it likely will not get a Best Picture nomination (it may have had it been released last Christmas as originally scheduled), other summer releases have a shot. "Lee Daniels' The Butler" has connected with both critics and audiences, along with the powerful drama "Fruitvale Station". Cate Blanchett will likely score a Best Actress nomination for Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine". "The Way, Way Back", "Before Midnight", "The Spectacular Now" and even "Jobs" are getting some buzz. And I'm looking for the incredible documentary, "Blackfish", to become the first doc to ever receive a Best Picture nomination.

The "A-list" needs a makeover
Will Smith re-teamed with son Jaden for "After Earth". It was both a terrible film (directed by M. Night Shaymalan) and a box office dud (only making $60 million). Smith Sr. hadn't opened a film below #1 in two decades. Johnny Depp re-teamed with "Pirates" and "Rango" director Gore Verbinski for "The Lone Ranger". Too long, too dull, and too predictable. Disney's 4th of July release made only $88M domestically. Ouch. And Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson re-collaborated for "The Internship", but the bland comedy managed only $45M. And Adam Sandler and his friends' "Grown Ups 2" fell short of matching the original in box office total ($127 to $162). Quality of entertainment, not star power, is what brought audiences to the theaters.

A Message to Studios: 2015 is Booked Movie Review

While "Justice League" is still TBD for 2015, there are at least two dozen other blockbuster films already set for release the year after next. Either 2015 will play out like 2011, when it was Big Movie after Big Movie and it was impossible for moviegoers to see them all, or the film industry will make more money than ever before. Here's just a sample of the anticipated hits:

"The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie 2" (2/13) - SBSP hasn't been on the big screen since 2004. $50-70 million for opening weekend guaranteed.
"The Fantastic Four" (3/6) - Superhero reboot of a superhero reboot. Probably not as huge as "Amazing Spider-Man", though.
"Cinderella" (3/13) - A live action version of a Disney animated classic from Disney.
"Ted 2" ("Passover" says director Seth MacFarlane) - The first one grossed over $200M. EVERYONE (who's old enough) will want to go see that naughty teddy bear again.
"Avengers: Age of Ultron" (5/1) - While it may not get the $200M open and $623M total since we've seen all the superheroes together before, I think we've got a Highest-Grossing Movie of the Year contender.
"Inside Out"
(6/19) - It's a Pixar movie.
"Terminator" (6/26) - If Arnold is seriously coming "back", those who didn't see 2009's "Salvation" will be returning to theaters as well.

"Independence Day 2" (7/3) - This is a question mark, especially since Will Smith is not involved. But it is opening on 4th of July.
"Pirates of the Caribbean 5" (7/10) - The last one was awful, and made the least $$$ of the franchise, but the potential is there.
"Hotel Transylvania 2" (9/25) - Thanks to the original, Sony Pictures Animation has learned that the last weekend in September draws families.

The Pre-Thanksgiving Feast: "Ant-Man" (11/6), "Bond 24" (11/6), and "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2" (11/20)

"Finding Dory" (11/25) Two Pixar movies in one year? That's never happened before!
"Inferno" (12/18) The DaVinci Code saga continues.
"Kung Fu Panda 3" (12/23) Who wouldn't want to spend the holidays with Po the Panda?

And of course: "Star Wars - Episode VII". Fans were upset when Disney didn't unveil any new details at D23, so they better announce an official release date soon.

Warner Brothers has pushed back the romantic drama, "Her" from a limited release open on November 20 to December 18. The film will then go wide on January 10. It's directed by Spike Jonze ("Where the Wild Things Are", "Being John Malkovich") and stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a man who's recently been divorced, but begins to form a friendship with his new home operating system. The voice that attends to his every need, named "Samantha", is played by Scarlett Johansson.

I was intrigued by the first trailer for "Her", which was released a few weeks ago. It feels similar to other films about humans interacting with modern technology. Last year's "Robot & Frank", starring Frank Langella as a man who lived with a robot "butler", was promising but just didn't have enough emotional bite or originality.

However, "Her" appears to have what it takes to potentially become a Best Picture contender, especially now with this prominent date change. It's certainly a role that Phoenix could turn into a Best Actor nomination. Jonze is no stranger to Oscar attention, earning a director nom. in 2000 for "Malkovich". He's got a chance this year as well. But the big question is: What about Johansson? Will WB push to get her a nomination even though it's only a voice performance and she never appears on screen? If "Her" is a hit, this could be one of the hot issues come awards season.

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