Paul Blart Mall Cop 2

Sony Pictures

America: you demanded a sequel to Paul Blart: Mall Cop, and now you’re getting it. We’re all getting it. It’s been gotten.

Wait, you might be thinking, I did not personally demand this sequel! Not I! Too bad, because your brethren did — they had to, really, voting with their movie ticket-buying dollars, enough to make the first film a bonafide hit, pulling in over $183m in worldwide box office returns. The feature even tops BoxOfficeMojo’s list of “bumbling” comedies (also, points to you, BoxOfficeMojo). Someone saw this movie. Was it you? It doesn’t matter, because the damage has been done: we’re getting Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, and now there’s a trailer to prove it.

Feast your eyes on it, America, you know you want to:

Big Eyes Movie

The Weinstein Company

Twenty years after Tim Burton‘s greatest achievement, Ed Wood, he’s teamed up once again with screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszwewski to tell Margaret Keane’s story. Keane’s art was hugely popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Her bold, beautiful and beloved paintings of sad big-eyed children were even sold at hardware stores and gas stations. The problem was, she didn’t receive any credit for them.

Her failed artist of a husband, Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), took credit for her work. He claimed nobody would buy the paintings if they knew they were painted by a woman, so why not instead make a boatload of cash passing them off as his own? The initially timid Margaret (played soulfully by Amy Adams) went along with his story — that he’s the real artist, not her. Walter became consumed by the wealth and acclaim, while the lie ate away at Margaret and, at one point, greatly upset her daughter Jane (Madeleine Arthur), a major inspiration for Margaret’s work.

The story grows progressively sadder and stranger. When Margaret finally does stand up for herself, Walter reacts in frightening and ridiculous ways. Most of her husband’s manipulation is played for laughs, but it never detracts from the drama of Margaret’s situation. Alexander and Karaszwewski’s script pulls off a real tonal challenge in that regard. Even when events take an exceptionally silly turn in the third act, the film manages to earn both the huge laughs and emotional catharsis.

Like Ed Wood, Big Eyes is often outrageous but totally human. We understand what drives Walter’s cartoonish antics: he won’t accept the fact he’s a failure. At first glance, it’s easy to ask, “Why would Margaret let Walter take advantage of her like that?” Some will dismiss her as weak, but a part of the reason for her acquiescence is the time she was living in. Many people, including a priest, tell her to support her husband because he’s the man of the house.

ET Movie

Universal Pictures

Within the logo of Amblin Entertainment lies one of Steven Spielberg’s most iconic images: a boy flying on a bicycle with a shrouded extraterrestrial friend in tow. This image also provides a fitting summary of how Spielberg’s films have been popularly understood — as wondrous, spectacular articulations of imagination seemingly possible only through an affirmative style of filmmaking. But there’s also that other side of E.T. that’s absent within Amblin’s logo, that side that’s about the paranoia of a government that coldly quarantines and dissects a force it doesn’t understand, the parts of the film that met your childlike wonder with a stark nightmare.

The tensions between these two poles of Spielberg’s work are explored in depth in a new book by film scholar James Kendrick, whose “Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg” approaches the storied oeuvre of the most successful living filmmaker from the vantage point of his evident but less appreciated darker themes – his propensity to meet wondrous imagination with the worst tendencies of human nature. In fact, Kendrick argues that the dominant way we interpret Spielberg – as something of a reliable architect of affirming cinematic entertainment –prevents us from fully appreciating the depth and complexity of a director whose work oscillates on the pendulum between light and darkness, hope and despair.

Here’s what Kendrick had to tell us about the darkness brooding within Spielberg’s films.

Open Road Films

Open Road Films

The idea of incarceration, whether justified or unlawful, is terrifying, and when solitary confinement and torture are added to the mix the thought that any of us would last a day — let alone 118 — is most likely a pipe dream. But that’s exactly what Iranian-born Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) faced after leaving his pregnant wife in London and returning to his home country in 2009 to cover the presidential elections. After the results are announced as heavily and suspiciously in favor of the incumbent leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the populace reacts with outrage and protest. Bahari captures footage of the people in the streets and awakes the next morning to Iranian authorities rousting him from bed and taking him into custody.

He’s immediately placed in solitary confinement, labeled a spy and interrogated mercilessly by an unnamed man whom Bahari calls Rosewater (Kim Bodnia). The days and weeks tick by as he’s threatened, pressed and pushed to the emotional brink by the possibility that he’ll never see his wife, never meet his unborn child and never walk free again. It’s his desire for all those things alongside imagined conversations with his deceased father and sister — both of whom faced their own conflicts with the Iranian government — that keep his hope alive.

Rosewater achieves most everything it sets out to do with skill, grace and a powerful lead performance by Bernal, but its most glaring fault is that it doesn’t actually try to do all that much. In a sense that’s a smart play for a writer/director making his feature debut — especially one in a genre far removed from the comedy Jon Stewart‘s accustomed to — but it results in a film that feels far too safe from beginning to end.

Fight Club

Fox 2000

Is Fight Club satire? That’s the question we’ll attempt to settle this week with a knock down, drag out debate where two men enter the ring, and two men also exit the ring safely. Fortunately, we’ve got special guest moderator Eric D. Snider to keep us honest, and since he takes bribes, I’ve got this one sewn up.

Plus, we’ll discuss whether data can help make you a better screenwriter, and The Bitter Script Reader drops by to discuss his new book, “Michael F-ing Bay: The Unheralded Genius in Michael Bay’s Films,” where he argues that the much maligned director’s movies are more than meets the eye.

You should follow Eric (@ericdsnider), The Bitter Script Reader (@bittrscrptreadr), the show (@brokenprojector), Geoff (@drgmlatulippe) and Scott (@scottmbeggs) on Twitter for more on a daily basis.

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Sony Pictures Classics

Sony Pictures Classics

Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is a beautiful, intelligent, respected, accomplished linguistics professor, but she’s also starting to forget things. Nothing big – a name or where she put something. As an academic with an insatiable desire to learn and teach, plus a bustling family who still look to her for advice and guidance, it’s not surprising that Alice might be a little distracted or overwhelmed from time to time.

After she loses her place in a lecture she’s giving a UCLA, Alice decides to take the practical approach and make sure her random moments of forgetfulness are just that, but after consulting with a neurologist (Stephen Kunken) she discovers she’s suffering from the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. For a woman who has dedicated her life to the study of language and how people communicate with one another the idea of slowly losing her memory is a fate worse than cancer.

As Still Alice begins, we see Alice celebrating her 50th birthday surrounded by her family, and it’s clear she’s the strong matriarch holding this group together. Whether discussing her daughter Anna’s (Kate Bosworth) desire to start a family, mediating a conversation between her son Tom (Hunter Parrish) and husband John (Alec Baldwin) or explaining why her youngest daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart) is absent from the event, Alice is the pillar everyone looks up to.

Sandra Bullock in Gravity

Warner Bros.

A lot of people love the music in Gravity. Our review agreed that “Steven Price’s gorgeous and terrifying score only tie[s] up the film’s peerless technical package.” It even won the Oscar in that category. But there are also a lot of people who hate the music. And then there are people who like the score on its own but aren’t particularly fond of its use in the movie. The main reason given is that Gravity begins with titles regarding the lack of sound in space (not that non-diegetic things should ever be a weight on authenticity). For them, Warner Bros. is looking out. This February, the studio is releasing a two-disc Diamond Luxe Edition Blu-ray of Gravity, which is mostly being touted for its Dolby Atmos audio but which also offers the choice to watch the movie sans score.

Called the “Silent Space Version,” this option is labeled a “surprising cinematic experiment.” As far as I can tell, it’s the first of its kind. For a modern sound film release, anyway (for silent cinema, you just mute the whole thing, especially if you’re watching some bad public domain copy). While there are plenty of DVDs and Blu-rays that allow you to watch a movie with just the score, I can’t find any others where you can isolate all except the music. I mean, why would there be? Are there any other movies where we’d want that? In response to the Blu-ray, The Guardian compiled a short list of movies they’d like to see without their soundtracks, including Titanic, Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible II and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (obviously the list is just a bad joke). Commenters on the post add Midnight Run, Scarface, Contact, The Right Stuff and others.


The first trailer for Neill Blomkamp‘s Chappie told us what Blomkamp enjoys most in life. Dingy brown landscapes. Socio-political commentary wrapped in a veil of science fiction. Sharlto Copley (this time, heavily autotuned).

All were present in District 9 and Elysium, and all seem to play a part in this story of a robo-boy becoming a man.

Also, robots! Blomkamp definitely loves robots. Kind of the same robots, every time, actually. Because if you take a thorough look at Chappie, and then the robots of Blomkamp’s other work, you’ll see the same distinguishing details every time.

Here’s Chappie:

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

No matter what anyone says, there’s no real downside to being a film critic. Sure the pay could be better and the commenters could be nicer, but there’s no real negative to being able to write about art you love (or you don’t, depending). But opinions change, and while a review should stand as an educated and informed viewpoint on a certain film that viewpoint can sometimes shift over time.

What I’m saying my first viewing of Fantastic Mr. Fox back in 2009 left me unmoved and uninterested. Maybe it’s because I was a big fan of Wes Anderson‘s earlier films up until The Darjeeling Limited — which I still dislike strongly — and was disappointed that he moved away from live action. Maybe it’s because I didn’t understand why some of the animal species talk while others (chickens, the beagle) are just dumb animals. Maybe I just had a bad meal that day. I didn’t review the film, but had I done so it probably wouldn’t have been very positive.

What I’m saying — for real this time — is that I’m glad those negative thoughts aren’t captured in a review somewhere, because this movie is a cussing gem. Having re-watched the film in the years since I’ve come to appreciate, enjoy and flat out love it, and since today is the five year anniversary I decided it’d be a great commentary to listen to… and this time I was right.

Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Dumb and Dumber To

Universal Pictures

Here’s a pleasant surprise: Dumb and Dumber To is a success. This, of course, comes with some qualifications. As a sequel to 1994’s comedy cult classic, Dumb and Dumber, this new feature is a success. On its own, well, probably not so much.

Twenty years sounds like a tremendous gap between sequels — and it is, in fact, it’s up there with some of the all-time gaps, like Wall Street and Wall Street: My Money Is Very Tired (23 years), The Hustler and The Color of Money (26 years), and Tron and Tron: Jeff Bridges’ Face (28 years) — but Dumb and Dumber To’s film’s singular, unique ability to breathlessly (and, yes, often quite tastelessly) recapture the spirit and tone of the original film is what sets its apart from its big-gapped brethren. This film could have been made one year after the original, and it would likely play out in the exact same way. Directors (and two of six — six!! — writers) Peter and Bobby Farrelly have so keenly and cleverly refashioned the first film into a new feature, complete with full-bodied performances from stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, that Dumb and Dumber To will probably (one day) be hailed as a major achievement in sequel creation. And, no, that’s not a goof.

The Heartbreak Kid

Twentieth Century Fox

Sixty-four years ago today, one of Alec Guinness’ best films hit U.S. screens – Henry Cass’ darkly comedic Last Holiday. Guinness plays George Bird, a boring bachelor in a boring job who goes for a routine check-up and finds out he has a deadly and incurable disease.

Upon his doctor’s advice he decides to clear out his savings and make the most of his final days, checking into a luxurious hotel. It is a choice that paints his remaining time with the most wicked irony. Having a moment to stop and live rather than work and worry, George earns all the fortune his life had been missing – friendship, love and professional success that he can’t act upon. Except, this is a wildly dark comedy with enough cruel life twists that make George’s experience anything but simple.

Though its wickedness is irresistible, the film has been tragically forgotten, its themes only vaguely living on in Joe Versus the Volcano until it finally got remake in 2006. But George became Georgia, Queen Latifah was cast, and the film excised all the darkness that made the 1950 film such an atypical treat in order to whip up a chipper and typical comedy full of good tidings and bolstered by Latifah’s charm.

Though we always lament the obvious remakes, there are many more where the source material is forgotten, wiped away because the remake came so long ago, or because the remake was so terrible that no one ever wanted to look beyond it. In honor of the doomed George Bird, here are 7 more films forgotten in the shadow of their remakes.

Tribeca Film

Tribeca Film

It’s a known fact that one out of every three indie films is essentially a low budget riff on The Big Chill — a group of childhood friends reunite to memorialize the passing of someone or some place and end up ruminating on the passing of their shared youth as revelations and truths come to light. It’s an easy formula in addition to being easy on the budget, but the risk is that your film will get lost amid the crowd of similar ensemble pieces without ever finding its own voice.

Daniel (Ryan Eggold, The Blacklist) recently lost his parents in a car accident, and after their lakeside cabin is foreclosed upon he plans one last blow-out for the friends who spent time with him there before splitting and going their separate ways. One by one they arrive for the weekend, each with their own memories and baggage. Tom (Beck Bennett, Saturday Night Live) is a crass slacker recently fired by his own father, James (Brett Dalton, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) is a self-centered reality TV star, Abby (Erin Darke) and Martin (Will Brill) are married but suffering from initially unspoken marital troubles and Charley (Jessy Hodges) is the wild girl eternally in need of nighttime company. And then there’s Olivia (Britt Lower), Daniel’s old flame and the one he hopes can lift his hopes and spirits in these dark times. Of course, that was before she arrives with a plus one in the form of a fiance named Henry (Reid Scott, Veep).

Beside Still Waters throws these seven old friends and one outsider into a blender with equal portions of nostalgia, humor and heart resulting in a tale that explores the dramas and laughs we find and the ones that find us. A good script and an even better cast make for a somewhat compelling and entertaining weekend at the cabin, but the 76 minute running time hurts more than helps as this mini-vacation ends in a rushed manner for just about everyone involved.


Open Road Films

James Newton Howard is best known for his large, layered, cinematic scores for films like Maleficent, Snow White and the Huntsman, and The Hunger Games series. These orchestra driven scores are perfect for epic tales of good versus evil, intense battle scenes and journeys of self-discovery.

But in Nightcrawler, Howard seems to have found his more edgy, electronic side, turning in a score that sounds more like something you would expect from a composer like Cliff Martinez – and that’s a good thing.

Changing up your musical style not only helps push boundaries, it can also give us great music we may not have otherwise expected from certain composers. Danny Elfman created the quirky music for films like Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Big Fish, but he also created the dramatic scores for Good Will Hunting and Silver Linings Playbook and action films like Mission Impossible and Planet of the Apes. Randy Newman created the music for some of Pixar’s most popular films like Toy Story, Monster’s Inc., and Cars, but he also created the 1958 styled score for Pleasantville and the 1925 styled score for Leatherheads. John Powell also created the thrilling score for How To Train Your Dragon, a project very different from the pulsating action films he worked on like Mr. and Mrs. Smith and The Bourne Ultimatum.

That leads us back to Newton. Unlike some of the more epic sagas he’s composed, Nightcrawler is rough and dirty, telling the story of tenacious videographer Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) who takes to filming gruesome crime scenes around Los Angeles like a fish to water. Deploying a massive woodwind section into this slick and stylized world wouldn’t have worked, so Howard wisely created an electrically driven score that gives Nightcrawler a distinct pulse which toggles between warm enticement and dark and terror. If you’ve seen the movie, you recognize how much that mirrors the main character himself.

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published: 11.21.2014
published: 11.21.2014
published: 11.19.2014
published: 11.19.2014
B-, C

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