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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.

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.


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