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20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

Whether in TV or movies, spin-offs are risky, never more so than when the figures being spun off are wacky supporting characters who must now carry the story themselves. What made viewers happy in small doses may overwhelm them when it’s administered in jumbo servings. You may think you want a bowl of Lucky Charms with nothing but marshmallows, but really, you don’t.

But the quartet of conniving penguins who have consistently been the funniest part of the Madagascar films (and who already have their own Nickelodeon TV series) have now successfully launched their own movie with Penguins of Madagascar, a zippy action comedy that’s closer in spirit to Looney Tunes than the usual DreamWorks offering. Directed by franchise veteran Eric Darnell and DreamWorks stalwart Simon J. Smith, and written by a trio of men whose experience is mostly in live-action, the film is stuffed with jokes for kids and their parents (including a running gag about celebrity names that never failed to crack me up). Is it possible that I enjoyed this more than any of the Madagascars? Yes, yes it is.

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Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

By their very nature movie sequels are designed to offer audiences more of the same with the logic being that if something worked once it will of course work again. This laziness is nowhere more apparent than with follow-ups to comedies built around jokes and personalities as opposed to a strong story, and the apathetic greed inherent in that core idea is what leads to unfunny and increasingly painful sequels like Porky’s II: The Next Day, Beverly Hills Cop III, Rush Hour 3 and sweet jesus the stink piles that are The Hangover Parts II and III .

When done right though, a sequel to a successful comedy can recapture that magic and deliver just as many (or more) laughs. Evidence for that argument could include films like A Shot in the Dark, 22 Jump Street and — surprisingly — Horrible Bosses 2.

Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) have reaped the benefits of their adventure from the first film and have become their own bosses. It’s a triumph that they’ve channeled into a new invention set to be manufactured and distributed by their very own small company, but the caveat is that they need a little bit of funding to get them on their way. The help they need comes from local millionaire Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz) and his son, Rex (Chris Pine), but when the father/son pair screws them over it’s not long before their experienced criminal minds are put to use once again.

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Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

It’s been 11 years since we last saw Peter Pan. In 2003 P.J. Hogan made a surprisingly exciting and faithful adaptation of Peter Pan — one that really delved into the sexual subtext of J.M. Barrie’s text — but it didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Since it wasn’t much of a hit, that means nobody is complaining about already bringing the character back to the big screen. Joe Wright’s Pan isn’t a remake or reboot, though, but a prequel.

Pan stars Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard, Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily, and Garrett Hedlund as the innocent James Hook (who one day, of course, becomes Captain Hook). The trailer begins with an introduction to Pan (Levi Miller), an orphan during WWII. One night him and his buddies are kidnapped by pirates disguised as clowns, led by Blackbeard.

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Jurassic World

Universal Pictures

They promised us a Thanksgiving debut, then they opened the park a few days early. This doesn’t bode well for the ultimate fate of the Jurassic World theme park — an early opening of sorts is what got the original Jurassic Park into a lot of trouble — but it’s great for the rest of us. Especially everyone who is clamoring to see what director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) has cooked up for the rebirth of one of the seminal franchises of the 1990s.

The first trailer is here and it has everything you could want from a Jurassic Park flick: unaccompanied minors (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson), a dangerously innovative park owner (Bryce Dallas Howard), one guy who clearly sees that this is all going to end terribly (Chris Pratt) and a moody version of John Williams’ original score. See for yourself below.

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Hook Food Fight

TriStar Pictures

Look at that feast! Amazing.

We’re cooking up our own feast here at FSR and taking the week off to celebrate the holiday, but we wanted to take time out to honor our relatively young tradition of listing a whole bunch of cinematic things that we’re thankful for.

Including…

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Walt Disney Pictures

Walt Disney Pictures

Just as Matthew McConaughey slept through the trip to Jupiter in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, sometimes we just want to skip to the end. With that in mind — and more importantly as a break for our extremely hard working editorial team — Film School Rejects is going into a state of suspended animation — or as Winnie the Pooh might call it, hibernation — over the next week and will return on Monday, December 1st. This means no daily updates for the next week to give our team some extra time to relax and enjoy time with their families.

If you can’t live without us (aw shucks…) there are plenty of great recent features to read and when we get back, we’ll surely be updating you with all kinds of news. Plus, it’s possible that someone will sneak back in the office to post something about the Jurassic World trailer that debuts on Thanksgiving. Need something to do in the mean time? Check out our Netflix recommendations, go out and explore your local cinematic landmarks or peruse the Nonfics list of essential streaming documentaries. And go to the movies. That’s probably what we’ll be doing.

From all of us here at Film School Rejects, have a happy and safe Thanksgiving. We’ll see you again in December.

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Storytime Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam

Happy birthday, Terry Gilliam!

Today the director, writer, animator and erstwhile-American turns 74 years old. It’s certainly cause for celebration. Even as a septuagenarian he’s still working. The Zero Theorem only recently opened in the United States, his twelfth feature film as director. There are plenty of ways to pay tribute to the artist and his work with your Saturday, though I’d imagine it’s hard to make the time to watch each of his dozen movies in a row. Instead, if you can carve out just under ten minutes, here’s a more practical option. It’s got more laughs per minute than most of his feature work as well.

Storytime is cobbled together from two separate cartoons that Gilliam made for two different TV shows. The first, the diptych of “Don the Cockroach” and “The Albert Einstein Story,” aired on The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine in 1971. Gilliam also did the opening titles for the series, which you can watch on YouTube. The second, “The Christmas Card,” was created for a Christmas special of an earlier show, Do Not Adjust Your Set. The variety format of both programs was a perfect fit for Gilliam’s knack for self-contained cartoons that break all of their own rules and bust through the fourth wall. This talent would become even more prominent in his years working on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which ran from 1969 through 1974.

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Interstellar-and-Particle-Fever

Paramount Pictures/Bond 360

A lot of Best Picture hopefuls each year have documentary counterparts. It makes sense, because biopics and other true stories are great fodder for Oscar bait. Some are as easy as Monster and Milk being linked to Nick Broomfield’s Aileen Wuornos films and The Times of Harvey Milk, respectively, in part because the dramas were directly influenced by their doc predecessors. Others, like Dallas Buyers Club and How to Survive a Plague and Captain Phillips and Stolen Seas are not as officially linked but certainly go together by being about the same real-life subject matter. Occasionally even the fictional contenders are informed by docs, as was Gravity heavily modeled after footage from the IMAX movie Hubble 3D.

Lately I’ve noticed a phenomenon where a lot of the 2014 Best Picture candidates are not just easily tied to past documentaries but specifically correspond quite perfectly with docs that are also in contention for Academy Awards this year. This isn’t to say all the following titles up for the Best Picture or Best Documentary categories will wind up nominees, but it sure would be cool for the five in the latter group to line up with five of the former and that could lead to a whole segment of the ceremony devoted to nonfiction and the different ways to tell true stories, depict actual events and address real issues and ideas. They could even make it a musical number.

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Nick Cave

Corniche Pictures

By most accounts, Nick Cave is a particular taste, only occasionally entering pop culture by covering iconic songs or collaborating with pop superstars like Kylie Minogue. Yet the man who “sings every line like a Batman villain” thrives on film. His idiosyncratic brand of storytelling songwriting morphs to the occasion.

It’s a strange phenomenon of film – that particular songs about particular experiences can become so universal in the right filmmaker’s hands. But this isn’t merely a songwriter whose early work is continually reembraced and reimagined like Leonard Cohen. Nick Cave is a ghost who haunts cinema with his melancholy and anger, and a noticeable presence within it – creating, scoring and performing for the camera.

20,000 Days on Earth, out this week, reinforces his image as the cinematic preacher, depicting 24 fictional hours of his life, but his life on screen stretches much farther – especially in these 7 glorious uses of his music and presence.

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Zoolander

Paramount Pictures

We’ve been hearing rumors about a second Zoolander feature for what seems like years now — hey, it has actually been whole years! — and while we never exactly gave up hope that we would (one day!) suck back another hot batch of orange mocha Frappuccinos with the gang again, we haven’t been holding our breath on the feature. Turns out, that’s a good thing! We, like, totally would have died! But Zoolander 2 does apparently live, and it’s started casting to prove it.

Deadline reports that Zoolander 2, set to be directed by star Ben Stiller and with a script by Justin Theroux (remember, he penned Tropic Thunder for Stiller), will feature a part for Penelope Cruz of all starlets, with Stiller back as the Blue Steel-faced model moron, and rumors that we can expect to see both Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell back for more vigorously persisting. There’s no word on what we can expect to see from the film beyond this particular line-up of talents, but we’ve got some ideas. Here’s what we need — nay, require — from Zoolander 2:

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Millennium Entertainment

Millennium Entertainment

The majority of Reach Me writer/director John Herzfeld‘s credits involve television, from TV series like Rob Lowe’s Dr. Vegas to TV films such as 1997’s Emmy-nominated Don King: Only in America. He’s done a bit of film work, notably 15 Minutes and 2 Days in the Valley, both films with enormous, famous casts that follow the lives of many supporting characters – falling in line closely with his latest. More importantly, he’s buds with Sylvester Stallone, who helped him crowdfund this project.

In the movie, a mysterious author (Tom Berenger) has written a self-help book, entitled “Reach Me,” that’s found its way into the hands of many unsuspecting Californians, slowly changing their lives and bringing them together in ways they could not have imagined. Its themes are relevant to all: freed inmates (Kyra Sedgwick), rich rappers (Nelly), and the journalists who pursue its elusive author (Kevin Connolly and Sylvester Stallone). The book will cause these characters to clash as their lives are enriched, bringing their friends, family and co-workers (like Thomas Jane, Cary Elwes, and Kelsey Grammar) with them.

The glaring issue with Herzfeld’s script is that there are just too many characters whose irrelevant stories distract from each other. The backbone of the plot rests on Connolly, whose bland character involves basically two aspects: his boss (Stallone) is always yelling at him, and he just can’t quit smoking. The actor’s effort is there, but the character’s predictable arc finishes too quickly. Others, like Jane, seem to be portraying caricatures of their previous work, while some of the big names, like Grammar, have only a few lines. Elwes rounds out the list as the only actor trying anything new, but by the time you realize which character he is, his scenes will be over.

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Double Edge Films

Double Edge Films

Like Christopher Nolan on a budget, writer/director Jamin Winans (Ink) creates worlds where imagination and emotion trump logic and traditional cohesion. That’s not a criticism of either man’s talents — instead it’s just to say that both place a high premium on the way their films make us feel and the ideas we’re left to mull over in our minds once the credits have rolled. Winans’ latest film, The Frame, continues that theme as it presents viewers with a beautiful, sci-fi tinged love story fueled by fate, forgiveness and wonder.

Alex (David Carranza) is a criminal with a conscience, but his desire to escape the life puts a target on his back. Sam (Tiffany Mualem) spends her days saving lives as an EMT, but her lonely nights are filled with guilt and shame over past deeds. They lead separate lives where co-workers take the place of real friends, where what’s left of family is hanging on by a thin thread and where day to day struggles threaten to drown out even the best and most hopeful of intentions. A crack in the world brings these two souls together, but what chance do they stand with the world itself trying to keep them apart?

You’ll get no real spoilers below, but I do hint at a very cool turning point that happens early on in the film — early as in around the fifteen minute mark. If you’d rather go in completely blind (an idea I support) then stop reading here and bookmark us so you can return after you’ve seen the film. Otherwise, keep reading (and then go see the film).

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The Graduate

MGM

This week the world lost a peerless filmmaker (and EGOT winner) who delivered a hot tub full of fantastic films. Mike Nichols put Dustin Hoffman in a compromising position, tortured Meryl Streep and found a grounding commonality even with his most extraordinary characters. We’ll celebrate his work with Professor John Whitehead, author of “Mike Nichols and the Cinema of Transformation,” and try to recapture what made his stories so moving.

Plus, Geoff answers your screenwriting questions about third person expository openings (so to speak), the new trend in query letters and whether you should get a script consultant.

Double plus, we’ll chat briefly about Bill Cosby and the question of enjoying good art from bad people.

You should follow the show (@brokenprojector), Geoff (@drgmlatulippe) and Scott (@scottmbeggs) on Twitter for more on a daily basis.

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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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