Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

Once again, movie fans who don’t care about football have something to look forward to during the Super Bowl. And movie fans who do care about football get a bonus. Here we will be sharing the new movie trailers and special TV ads and maybe some commercials related to movies that air during the big game this Sunday.

Some of them have already popped up online early, or they’ve released teasers for what we’ll be seeing during breaks in the action between Seattle and New England. So, we’re getting things started early, too. Be sure to also come back following Super Bowl XLIX, as we will continue the tradition of rating the best and worst of these spots. 

Brangelina in Mr and Mrs Smith

Twentieth Century Fox

It’s not super huge news that Brad Pitt is in negotiations to star in Angelina Jolie‘s third directorial effort, Africa (the real story might be why he has to negotiate to star in his own wife’s movie). They’re both appearing together in her upcoming sophomore feature, By the Sea, and it makes sense that they’d like to keep working together.

But this is Brad and Angelina — Brangelina if anyone’s still calling them that — and a biopic now worth paying attention to. Not just because Jolie will again collaborate with director of photography Roger Deakins, who is currently Oscar-nominated for her second feature as director, Unbroken (but not shooting By the Sea), but because I can’t imagine Pitt playing the guy he’s playing — that’d be paleoanthropologist and conservationist Richard Leakey.

The focus of Africa will be on Leakey’s work for the Kenya Wildlife Service, through which he made many enemies while battling the elephant poaching trade. Consider this the pachyderm equivalent of Gorillas in the Mist, maybe, although Leakey was never killed by poachers like Dian Fossey was. However, and I’m sure this has to be part of Jolie’s movie, Leakey did have his legs crushed in an airplane crash that is thought to have been caused by his foes.

Kevin Spacey as Keyboard Cat

American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

It’s such a good time to celebrate the talents of Kevin Spacey. This month marks the 20th anniversary of the festival premiere of The Usual Suspects, which earned the actor his first Oscar. We recently furthered its accolades by naming it the best movie ever to screen at Sundance. Spacey also just won his first Golden Globe on his eighth try, for his leading role on the series House of Cards. The third season of that show is about to drop on Netflix in a month, too, so that’s exciting.

The guy should be on top of the world, getting more prestige gigs like his role as Richard Nixon in the much-anticipated Elvis & Nixon. But instead, today, we’ve received the news, via The Wrap, that he’s going to play a guy who becomes trapped in the body of a cat.

Of course this movie will be huge, especially when it hits YouTube. Titled Nine Lives, the comedy will be directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (who proved he can handle talking animals in the Men in Black series) and produced by Luc Besson (who just keeps coming up with crazier ideas every year). The plot is somewhere between Disney live-action family classic and bonkers Charlie Kaufman scenario, as Spacey will play a workaholic businessman who gets in an accident and winds up inside his family’s cat.

Going Clear Movie

HBO Documentary Films

It’s not that I don’t like Alex Gibney. The Oscar-winner has done yeoman’s work exploring modern problems so large that we tend to ignore them instead of face them head-on. He digs into the dirt, especially American dirt, that we’d rather not see on our own hands, and he does it all without the bombastic agenda sales of Michael Moore. All good things.

My problem is that I’m not particularly interested in Scientology. Those who believe praise it wholesale, opponents claim that it’s responsible for murder, but overall it seems like another bit of antique hokum polished up with a Hollywood shine. As soon as you demand payment for having faith, my ears turn off.

But consider them back on. After reading Kate’s review of Gibney’s new doc, Going Clear, based on Lawrence Wright’s book, she hooked me by talking about how unsettling it is. Then, we got an email from a spokesperson for Scientology, that sealed the deal on my wanting to see the anti-Scientology movie.

Summit Entertainment, LLC

Summit Entertainment, LLC

There are many reasons to hope that Child 44 does well. First, this period-set drama involving a serial killer looks really good — a well-acted grown-up movie that reminds me of the brilliant, under-seen Red Riding trilogy (and hardly just because it also features Paddy Considine), only this partially true child-murderer story takes place a few decades earlier and in the Soviet Union. Second, it’d be great to see Tom Hardy get a franchise that isn’t based on a comic book (he recently had to drop Suicide Squad anyway) or seems like it’s based on a comic book (Mad Max: Fury Road might as well be), and Child 44 is adapted from the first novel in a trilogy, so there’s a possibility of at least two sequels.

In this one, Hardy plays a disgraced member of the military police investigating the death of a friend’s child, which has been declared an accident. It turns out the boy is the 44th victim of a single pedophile (inspired by the real-life Butcher of Rostov), but that’s a controversial (and in fact illegal) claim for him to make in Stalin’s Russia, where murder is considered a capitalist concept and crime in general “doesn’t happen.” He is joined in his pursuit by his wife (Noomi Rapace) and a general (Gary Oldman, reunited with Hardy on their fourth movie together) and encounter a major cover-up along the way.

Amira and Sam movie

Drafthouse Films

This is the story of two aliens who fall in love. One is an illegal immigrant from Iraq, living in New York City and hocking bootleg dvds of 27 Dresses on the street corner with little success. The other is an American soldier who’s returned to a country that doesn’t understand him. They are Amira and Sam. They are your neighbors, and they’re good people.

James Fallows recently wrote that “the American public and its political leadership will do anything for the military except take it seriously.” The charge being that the average citizen or legislator is so disconnected from what it means to serve that it has become far too easy to send soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines to fight. Congress members see money and jobs for their district in manufacturing equipment without caring whether or not its the equipment the military needs. Voters won’t hold them accountable because fewer and fewer of them know anyone in or anything about the military. Every problem looks like a nail.

The result is a kind of apotheosis to the gutters. The military becomes a thing of purity that can’t be criticized — which is exactly what it needs, like all organizations, to be a genuinely functional entity. It’s easier to slap a ribbon on your car than to wrestle with what it means at a human level to be a warrior.

On a cultural front, we can add filmmakers to that list as well. They don’t have any power on the front end, of course, but movies are responsible for sharing after-the-fact stories that resonate, and it’s obvious that Hollywood and even independent voices haven’t delivered a movie representative of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars yet. Even if they did, the public at large would theoretically never know it.

Amira and Sam comes very, very  close.

Mississippi Grind

Sycamore Pictures/Electric City Entertainment

Gambling addict Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is down on his luck. He’s got nothing left to lose. He has all his cards on the table. He’s gotten a bad hand. He’s rolling the dice. All those cliches? They apply to Gerry, because they’re true (that is, after all, how something becomes a cliche — it’s true first and then true a lot). But although Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden‘s Mississippi Grind tackles a well-worn cinematic storyline (remember The Gambler? that came out mere weeks ago!), the atmospheric and and beautifully crafted feature mostly overcomes its genre brethren to pump fresh blood into the material, with stellar turns from both Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds bolstering the material still further.

Gerry is a loser of the highest degree — a loser who might actually enjoy losing — and he’s gambled his life away until he’s got next to nothing to show for it. His wife has left him. He never sees his daughter. He owes money to Alfre Woodard (just go with it). He hates his job. He drives a Subaru. The only thing that brightens Gerry up even a little bit is a nice poker table and a cheap glass of whiskey. The second that the cocky, confident Curtis (Reynolds) walks into one of his regular joints, Gerry is done for, because Curtis chooses him to befriend and Curtis someone special. Curtis is a lucky charm.

The Chinese Mayor

Sundance Film Festival

Datong is an overwhelming place. Home to three and a half million people, this historic mining center is now the most polluted city in China. Like many metropolises in the world’s largest nation, it also has a huge housing problem. The scale of these urban challenges is the visual foreground of Hao Zhou‘s The Chinese Mayor, the first great political documentary of 2015. New apartment blocks tower over nearby lots, which would be empty were they not brimming over with piles of rubble. Everything seems bigger in Datong, from the 21st century developments to the 5th century Buddhist temple grottoes carved out of rock.

Zhou uses his camera to capture the physicality of Datong’s contradictions. He finds small dogs amidst the remains of knocked down houses, modern tourists visiting ancient sites, and newly relocated farmers stranded in the urban school system. In the middle of it all is Mayor Geng Tanbo, the incarnation of Datong’s confused coexistences. He’s an atheist Communist with a little figurine of Chairman Mao on his dashboard, in the company of which he recites Buddhist mantras. His signature project is the reconstruction of an enormous 14th century wall that encircled the city. It is at once a symbol of cultural history and 21st century construction, a replica of a medieval monument of the state produced by contemporary China’s bevy of independent and enormously wealthy contractors.



Universal Studios

It’s been fun coming up with funny women who could or should be in the all-female Ghostbusters sequel/reboot, but now the actual foursome has been announced, and it’s heavy on the Saturday Night Live vets. First up is Melissa McCarthy, never an SNL cast member but one of its favorite hosts of the past few years. We knew she’d be in the movie, even before writer-director Paul Feig acknowledged he’d likely re-team with the actress. She’s the Robert De Niro to his Martin Scorsese. Joining her is fellow Bridesmaids star Kristen Wiig and two current ladies of SNL, recent addition Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, who has sort of been the Kristen Wiig substitute (yet still brilliantly hilarious all her own). This is a dream cast for some of us. I’m one of them.

It makes sense that Feig would look to the late-night sketch comedy show, as it keeps with the original Ghostbusters cast, which was actually supposed to be more SNL heavy than it was. Dan Aykroyd‘s first choices for the main trio were himself, John Belushi and Eddie Murphy. After Belushi died, another SNL cast member, Bill Murray came aboard. Murphy, meanwhile, declined his offer. Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis were both sketch vets, too, but from SCTV. Ernie Hudson, meanwhile, was an odd man out in that regard. As for the other parallel you’d all like to make: let’s not bother trying to determine which new Ghostbuster matches up with which old Ghostbuster, even if there’s one black person in this foursome, just like in the old.

Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy 03

Marvel Studios

It all began with a really great Photoshop of Chris Pratt dressed as Indiana Jones. No, wait, it actually started with the actor’s performance in Guardians of the Galaxy, the opening of which has him aping the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Fans of Pratt thought, “Hmm, he’s sort of doing a bit of Indy meets Han Solo there in that surprisingly awesome movie; perhaps he’s the new Harrison Ford and so let’s get the Internet excited with an image of what he would look like in a Regarding Henry remake.” Just kidding; they exclaimed, “Here’s Pratt as Indy with hat and jacket and whip!!” (specifically “Rahzzah” on Deviant Art) And some websites ran with the idea to the point that others were reporting it as rumor if not truth.

Well, now even the trades are on board, because maybe Disney is actually on board. Deadline claims the studio is “eyeing” Pratt for the role once they start making new Indiana Jones movies. That doesn’t mean there’s any deal out to the actor or a greenlight of a production or anything. If the sources are to be believed even, this is all just a matter of Disney saying, “Hmm, he sort of looks perfect as Indy in that fan-made picture — let’s consider it.” But last year, before their Guardians movie was a huge hit and fans were playing with Photoshop, they were all, “Hmm, how about Robert Pattinson for the Indiana Jones franchise?” And before that, they were saying, “Hmm, how about Bradley Cooper for Indy?”

Sembene Documentary

Sundance Film Festival

Often credited as “the father of African cinema,” Ousmane Sembène has nonetheless gone unknown to wider audiences, though his films are beloved by art house aficionados. There’s a lot to cover about his life, from his humble origin as the son of a dock worker to his time as a union activist in France, yet the biographical documentary Sembene! doesn’t seek to act as an easy introduction to him or his work. It treats the Senegalese director’s story as just that, a story.

That doesn’t sound like it should be an unusual approach, but by relating Sembène’s upbringing, development and evolving career while neither assuming the audience is already familiar with him nor simplifying anything for their benefit, the movie is treading fresh ground.


How to Dance in Ohio

Sundance Film Festival

Teenage rites of passage are difficult enough when you’re “normal.” But having autism or other developmental issues brings its own set of anxieties and challenges to growing up. In Columbus, a group of young people all attend a special workshop designed to help them improve their social skills. The culmination of a 12-week program is a spring formal. How to Dance in Ohio focuses mainly on three girls as they prep for the big night.

Although the impending event and its buildup lend a narrative skeleton to the documentary, it’s mainly a slice-of-life piece. The day-to-day details of living on the spectrum come to the forefront, often to interesting effect. Pop culture is thick with stereotypes about autism, which have, if anything, grown more aggressive as autistic characters have taken more prominent roles in entertainment (e.g. The Big Bang Theory or Sherlock). This film gently nudges those preconceptions aside.


Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo for Selma

Paramount Pictures

When it comes to the Oscar nominations, critics and moviegoers alike tend to focus on the negatives, but at least the outrage this year has been about a snub of genuine importance. Upon its rapturous reception by critics and audiences, Selma figured to be nominated in all the major categories, but it ultimately received only a pair of nods – for Best Picture and Best Original Song (John Legend’s beautiful “Glory”) – that have left its supporters furious and bewildered.

Oscar pundits have cited an amalgam of reasons one of the best-reviewed movies of the year received just two arguably token nominations – from its late release-date to a poorly-run campaign by Paramount – but everyone also seems to agree that the suspicious fact-checking campaign that emerged around its release date took a serious toll. In case you missed it, an historian and a former presidential staffer took to the op-ed pages over Christmas to complain that the film painted an unfairly antagonistic portrait of President Lyndon Johnson, who, they argue, was in reality very supportive of the film’s titular march. One of them even suggested that “Selma was LBJ’s idea.” The Hollywood trades reported on the controversy the following Monday, which, perhaps not coincidentally, was the day Oscar ballots went out. It would take a major suspension of disbelief to see this as anything but a very effective smear campaign run by a rival studio.

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published: 01.28.2015
published: 01.28.2015
published: 01.28.2015
published: 01.27.2015

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