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Hulkbuster in Avengers 2

Marvel Studios

Earlier this evening the first teaser trailer for Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron leaked onto the internet. In a move that makes sense, but is still unexpected based on the way most studios handle leaks, they bypassed the chasing down of legal notices and getting leaks pulled from YouTube and just released the official version. What does this mean for me and you? It means we’ve got our first look at Avengers: Age of Ultron! Official, polished, and in glorious high definition. Overwhelming excitement is the appropriate reaction here.

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Mark Wahlberg in The Gambler

Paramount Pictures

Last year Mark Wahlberg was on a roll. He showed he hadn’t lost any of his comedic chops from I Heart Huckabees in his comically sincere work in Pain & Gain and he delivered a refreshingly unshowy performance in Lone Survivor. What followed those two performances, which displayed what a wide-range he has, was Transformers: Age of Extinction, where Wahlberg played a Texan with a slippery Boston accent. After recently trying to revisit that film — which I gave up on 20 minutes into its 20 hour hour running time — it became noticeably clear that, strangely, Wahlberg isn’t really an action star.

He undoubtably has the presence for those roles, but when you look at his track record in the genre — Max PaynePlanet of the Apes, and more — he never delivers the caliber of performances we know he’s capable of. Of course that kind of material generally doesn’t offer the juiciest of characters, but nonetheless, it’s rarely a role he seems comfortable in.

Where Wahlberg seems at home is in this red band trailer for The Gambler. The actor plays Jim Bennett, an English professor with a serious gambling problem. Wahlberg is stepping in the shoes of James Caan, who played the lead role 40 years ago in Karel Reisz’s original film.

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2929 Productions

2929 Productions

Serena is one of two films from director Susanne Bier screening at the 2014 London Film Festival, and the other  is a Danish-language film titled A Second Chance. While both of these have a lot to say about babies only one of them is completely enthralling from its opening scene to its end while the other bores for at least an hour before shifting into a high-tension ending. Sadly, despite the well-established chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, Serena is the latter film.

Cooper plays George, a lumber baron whose finances are starting to wear thin right around the time the sheriff (Toby Jones) decides that George’s land would be best utilized as a national park. George also has some untouched land in Brazil, but he’s uninterested in selling either piece of property. Just as his financial worries begin, George meets Serena (Lawrence), an independent woman whose entire family died in a fire years ago.

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Patrick Stewart

@SirPatStew

There’s something inherently calming about Patrick Stewart. The rich Shakespearean importance of his voice. His association with characters like Jean-Luc Picard and Charles Xavier, characters we cherish for their stern, all-knowing wiseness. Even his baldness is soothing (mostly because trying to picture Patrick Stewart with hair is so unsettling — Google Images and the phrase “Patrick Stewart with Hair” will supply you with a few of his rare hairpieced performances, but he doesn’t really look like Patrick Stewart…just somebody’s dad).

Because of this, Stewart is almost always the hero, the voice of reason, the wizened old sage instructing our heroes with nuggets of English wisdom. And he’s almost never the villain. How could he be? We’d love and respect him too much, and end up supporting his plans for world domination or killing all the koalas in the eucalyptus patch or whatever his villain goals are. So it’s with great surprise that Stewart has just signed on (which we know thanks to The Wrap) for a very ungood role in Green Room.

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American Werewolf in London

Universal Pictures

Driven by the full moon, I’ve been moving through the Universal classics at a steady pace, including 1941’s The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney Jr., as well as its sequels Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula and the farcical Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The transformation of the character of Lawrence Talbot (Chaney) into the Wolf Man was groundbreaking back in the 40s, and it still looks great on screen today.

Of course, modern movies employ heavy CG work, often leaving practical effects in the dust. That’s why we are treated to shots of a shirtless Taylor Lautner morphing mid-leap into his baby-mind-raping teen wolf form in the Twilight movies.

As effects have gotten more sophisticated, scenes of werewolf transformation have become more fantastical and less realistic. But what would a more “realistic” transformation be like?

What would a real Wolf Man be like?

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Adrianne Palicki in Agents of SHIELD

Marvel/ABC

Everyone’s talking about a sudden reason to tune in to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but they’ve all got it wrong. Yes, next week’s episode promises the attachment of the first trailer or Avengers: Age of Ultron, but who cares? It’ll be online immediately after anyway. You should be watching the show anyway, especially if you care that much about the Avengers movies, because Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is totally awesome so far this season. And it’s not just a matter of the trivial procedural format being long gone from what was initially an inconsequential series. It’s not just that it’s found its purpose in the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier without being any more or any less significant to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe than any of its big-screen counterparts. Right now it’s because the show is all about kick-ass women.

We could have guessed things would be getting good and empowering when the warrior princess herself, Lucy Lawless, showed up at the very start of season 2. But while she was definitely a strong addition, her Isabelle Hartley didn’t even last to the end of the first episode, “Shadows” (of course, this very show, not to mention comic book stories in general, is known for resurrecting dead characters). Actually, the first hero we really saw at the beginning of the episode and season was another female badass: Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Last week’s installment, “Face My Enemy,” ramped things up with not just one but two Ming-Na Wens, as her Agent Melinda May fought hand-to-hand against a turned S.H.I.E.L.D. agent working for HYDRA who wore an Agent Melinda May mask.

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Mudbloods

Bond360

The crunch of brooms and bones. The roar of the crowd. The occasional cry of an owl. These were the sounds of my first Quidditch World Cup. Held in a forgotten corner of Manhattan, it was an affair that boasted college and community teams, cavorting mascots, wand-waving Harry Potter cosplayers, and those who came to gawk, like me. Who were these people (grown adults!) running around with brooms between their thighs acting out a sport inspired by a childrens’ book series? I went in with a snarky smile, but that transformed into a broad, earnest grin when I saw these athletes in action. Soon, I was swarmed by this quirky sports’  enthusiasts, who stepped me through the rules (like how the brooms are an intended handicap and how the “snitch” is a mischievous player with no team loyalty) and warmly welcomed me into their happy, inclusive community.

There’s something instantly exhilarating about “Muggle quidditch,” mainly because it’s a sport that requires great athleticism and threatens great pain. It’s a cross between rugby and football in some senses, and yet it’s dismissed by many for being some sort of sub-sport, a dorky hobby ripe for ridicule. But to be a believer, all you need is to see quidditch in action. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, the new quidditch documentary Mudbloods does the sport no favors, preaching to the choir instead of offering an accessible portrait of a sport that’s currently fighting for validation along with its players.

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John Carter

Walt Disney Pictures

As an anonymous high school student once sort of wrote (no, really), “If you want something very, very badly, let it go free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with.” Walt Disney Pictures has apparently decided to put their own twist on this little bit of life advice, letting go of something they didn’t love or want very much, desperately hoping it never comes back to them again.

According to a press release over at PR Web (via Cinema Blend), all rights to Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ “John Carter” series have reverted back to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. — and, yes, that includes all movie, television and merchandise rights. For Disney, this might come as a bit of a relief, as their 2012 feature film John Carter is one of the studio’s biggest flops ever (Disney claimed an $84M loss on the film, which cost $250M to make), and has remained emblematic of some of the entertainment world’s biggest blockbuster, well, busts. But that doesn’t mean that John Carter is dead — because Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. is now actively seeking a new studio for potential films. Do you want to make John Carter 2? Or perhaps John Carter 2 – 11?

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20000 Days on Earth

Drafthouse Films

For a while, it seemed like movies about music were at serious risk of getting in an unsalvageable rut of redundancy.

Narrative films have relied repeatedly on the musical biopic, where seemingly every landmark musician in the second half of the twentieth century has been afforded an identical dramatic arc. It’s a formula that an occasional great performance can rise above, but ultimately offers little new in terms of cinema’s relationship with the power of pop. Nonfiction films, by contrast, have shown an opposite problem, treating lesser-known chapters of popular music history (from underappreciated artists to allegedly undervalued studios) with all-too-familiar hagiographies and seemingly requisite Bono interviews.

But 2014 has not only produced a surprising glut of interesting films about music, it’s shown how great movies about music can explore relationships between sound and image, music and history, art and the artist well outside of the tired formulas.

Here are some solid movies released this year that have generated a rather different kind of noise.

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Summit Entertainment

Summit Entertainment

Not even Hitler liked to see dogs die in movies. That’s probably a fact, and it tells you just how unappealing the idea of seeing(or hearing) man’s best friend get shot, strangled, drowned, beaten, electrocuted or otherwise snuffed out is to audiences. Our distaste for it runs to the point that a movie can feature a psychopath murdering people, but the second a family pet investigates a noise only to whelp and die off-screen viewers see it as an unnecessary line being crossed.

I agree in part because it’s usually a cheap move by filmmakers attempting to elicit an emotional reaction. It’s unearned and lazy, and it happens far too frequently in movies. But while roughly 97% of dog deaths in movies are gratuitous I’m here to suggest that sometimes, just sometimes, it’s okay that the dog bites it.

John Wick — one of the year’s best action movies that you owe it to yourself and Keanu Reeves to see if you value fun, thrilling, immensely satisfying films — features Reeves as an ex-assassin who gave up the life for the love of a good woman, but as the film opens she’s died from cancer leaving him alone again. A knock at the door reveals one last gift from her — a puppy named Daisy — in the hopes that he’ll still have something to care for and love, but it’s not long before a random act of violence leaves the dog dead and Wick, like Lone Wolf McQuade before him, on a bloody path for vengeance.

Daisy’s death is the catalyst for both the movie itself and Wick’s rebirth into his old ass-kicking ways, and there’s meaning and weight to the scene and its effect on Wick. Daisy had to die so that Wick could live. With that in mind, here are 12 other movies where the dog dies and it’s okay to be okay with it. [**Spoiler warning: There are spoilers below regarding dog deaths in movies. That's probably obvious by this point, but you know how people can get.**]

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Wes Craven's New Nightmare

New Line Cinema

“Every kid knows who Freddy is. He’s like Santa Claus or King Kong.” – Heather Langenkamp in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

In a film full of truthful observations, that line always struck me as the truest, or at least the most relevant to my own relationship with Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare on Elm Street film series. I was four when the original came out in 1984, so I was too young to experience that film or most of the first few sequels on their first release. As I grew up, my awareness of Freddy came from what seeped into popular culture. As best as I can remember, my introduction was either a kid in my 4th grade class wearing a Freddy mask for Halloween, or possibly an ad for the costume in a comic book.

So “my” Freddy was less the disturbing child murderer whom Wes Craven created for what probably felt like a standalone film, and more the watered-down pop icon. Less a psychological threat, and more of a catchphrase-spewing gimmick killer. It’s the difference between how the shark from Jaws plays on screen, and experiencing him on the Universal Studios tram tour.

As a result, Freddy never scared me as a kid, nor did I have any desire to see the movies. I knew that they came out every year or two and I assumed all of the movies were stupid slasher films, in which, I saw no appeal. I remember seeing a trailer for Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare in 1991 and thinking it looked incredibly awful. Good riddance.

Then came 1994 and the release of Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

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Lionsgate Films

Lionsgate Films

Back in April, it was announced that Eli Roth‘s horror-comedy opus Cabin Fever would be getting remade, so that a new generation who couldn’t afford getting in trouble with their parents again to sneak into an R-rated movie would now be allowed to witness the grotesque beauty of bein’ young and havin’ your skin fall off. And pancakes. Oh, the pancakes.

While it seemed strange at the time of the announcement that a film just released in 2002 would already be rebooted (but hey, weirder things have happened), there was at least comfort in the fact that someone — namely new director Travis Zariwny (Intruder) — saw something in the original that lit a fire and produced new ideas and torrents of gore. Think of how many horror films you’ve seen that have involved getting a wild bunch of cute young things up to the spooky cabin that someone has clearly neglected to clean for a couple months or decades, only to realize that things are terribly amiss — and that it really would have been a good idea to pay attention to their surroundings instead of banging in the woods. The possibilities for reimagining that scenario are pretty endless.

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The Sandman

Vertigo

Finally, news that potentially involves the words “expanded universe” that doesn’t cause involuntary pulling out of one’s hair.

Because when DC Comics and Warner Bros issued that great decree of Justice League-centric films last week (also, Suicide Squad), there was one extremely noticeable omission: David S. Goyer and Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s Sandman. Sandman‘s a film based on a DC Comic, and as the point of last week’s announcement was “Behold! Our supply of DC movies has no end!,” you’d think WB would want to pad the list with as many as possible. Heck, they included Lego Batman on the list, and no one’s expecting Batfleck to split Justice League Bat-duties with a tiny gravel-voiced LEGO piece.

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