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James Rocchi

Hollywood Movies

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Review Round-Up for the Week Ending April 18 ...

Friday April 18, 2014
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While plenty of other movies had had worse initial showings, Transcendence -- with Johnny Depp as an Artificial Intelligence expert who turns himself into the malevolent version of Microsoft's Clippy -- is currently enjoying a mere 19% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. And I know I'm making light of Transcendence, but the movie-lover inside me thinks it's a shame; cinematographer Wally Pfister is legitimately one of the top humans shooting movies in the world, and one might hope his directorial debut would have done just a little better.

My review was not one of the ones holding Transcendence up at the post:

If the plot of Transcendence sounds familiar, it is; Hollywood's been making films exactly like this for the past 44 years, from 1970's Colossus: The Forbin Project to The Lawnmower Man, and if you look at thematics more than specifics, you can trace it back to the early 1800's and Dr. Frankenstein -- or, for that matter, the dawn of man and Prometheus. But Transcendence doesn't add a single new thing to that time-honored plot -- or, rather, adds new elements more out of Ghost than science fiction -- and instead goes over a well-traveled road with sparkly new hubcaps.

While Transcendence looks great, blame can be freely laid at the feet of screenwriter Jack Paglen, who fills the film with bad science and techno-babble until a third act twist/reveal that undermines the little bit of excitement the film had manages to generate. A lot of the film is Hall and Bettany -- two actors you buy as intelligent people -- arguing over one question: When they boot up the computer where they stored a human mind, is it Will, or is it Memorex?

Click here for our .5/5-Star Review

For a lighter sight of the machine apocalypse, why not read Matt Patches' excellent Rage Against the Machine: A Brief History of Evil Movie Computers at RollingStone.com?

Also on the big screen this week is Bears. from the Disneynature slate of semi-docs from the Mouse House. Alonso Duralde at The Wrap approves, noting:

It's hard not to immediately adore the stars of Bears, with their dog-like snouts and bright eyes and obvious affection for one another. Still, if there's a breakout star here, it's sneaky, hungry, cub-stalking, salmon-stealing wolf "Tikaani," who really knows how to hold a close-up. Somewhere, a team of writers is whipping up a script for The Grey 2.
The only other big wide opener? A comedy spoof, with, aparently no comedy ... Read More...

Review Round-Up for the Weekend of April 11 ...

Friday April 11, 2014
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This week, there's more than a few choices on the big screen, as Kevin Costner comes back with a different kind of sports drama in Draft Day, which is considerably helped by a cast of pros and some gorgeous shots of NFL Nation. In depressing news for family audiences, it's with great regret that we announce that the sequel to Rio, Rio 2, crashes and burns pretty much on take-off. And Captain America: The Winter Soldier is also in theaters, as one of the better Marvel movies yet made thanks to close-to-the-ground fight scenes and a startlingly satisfying sense of down-to-earth characters fueling the action. Below, some excerpts from our full reviews for all three films starting with Rio 2... Read More...

Shailene Woodley on The Fault in Our Stars

Sunday March 30, 2014

Shailene Woodley

Shailene Woodley's a hugger. Making her way down the red carpet at the 2014 CinemaCon where she was on hand to promote 20th Century Fox's The Fault in Our Stars, Woodley hugged each and every reporter before answering any questions. Woodley comes across as intelligent and passionate, and she believes the film adaptation of the bestselling The Fault in Our Stars could be the most faithful book-to-screen adaptation yet:

(Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

Warner Bros at CinemaCon: Tons of Stars But a CGI Creature Steals the Show

Sunday March 30, 2014

Wally Pfister, Morgan Freeman and Johnny Depp

Warner Bros Pictures isn't resting on its laurels and instead is continuing to be committed to year-round releases and the launching of new franchises (the LEGO movies and the new Harry Potter series) with a packed slate of films ready to hit theaters worldwide in 2014/2015. The studio's coming off a record-breaking year in which they scored the triple crown: earning the top spot among all studios in domestic box office numbers as well as internationally and worldwide. The 2014 Oscars also earned a place in Warner Bros history as they netted 21 Oscar nominations overall, the most in the studio's lengthy history. All of these facts were delivered by CEO Ken Tsujihara to the 2014 CinemaCon crowd at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas before the mic was turned over to WB President Dan Fellman to introduce clips and talent from select upcoming releases.

Here's a rundown of what Warner Bros unveiled at this year's gathering of the National Association of Theatre Owners in Vegas:

  • First up, first-time director Wally Pfister hit the stage with two of his Transcendence stars Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman. Depp and Morgan had a bit of trouble figuring out who was delivering which lines, and Depp joked, "He's god, by the way." The footage screened provided slightly more insight into this sci-fi film about artificial intelligence taken too far.

  • Next it was Godzilla director Gareth Edwards' turn to talk about his film. Edwards said that he'd literally completed the final cut on March 26th and that as the second biggest Godzilla fan on the planet (the first being producer Thomas Tull), he's really proud of the way the film's come together. Edwards assured the crowd that he tried to do it properly before joking that he's British and therefore he must be modest about these things. He also joked that he was sorry Godzilla himself couldn't make it to CinemaCon but unfortunately he's busy in a play on Broadway. After that introduction, Edwards' promise of doing it properly seemed to have not been just empty words as the footage received the loudest round of applause of any shown during the entire presentation. Read More...
  • Behind the Scenes of Let's Be Cops

    Sunday March 30, 2014

    Damon Wayans Jr and Jake Johnson

    20th Century Fox could have the sleeper hit of the summer on their hands with the R-rated comedy Let's Be Cops. Starring New Girl's Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr, the raunchy comedy finds two buddies dressing up as cops for a masquerade party. Hijinks ensue when they're mistaken for real police officers. And dressed in cop costumes, Johnson and Wayans Jr hit the red carpet at the 2014 CinemaCon to talk about the film and whether we'll be seeing any of their New Girl co-stars also showing up in Let's Be Cops:

    (Photo by Alberto E Rodriguez/Getty Images)

    The Other Woman Stars Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann Discuss the Comedy

    Sunday March 30, 2014

    Leslie Mann and Cameron Diaz

    The Other Woman could actually be titled The Other Women as the female-driven comedy finds Leslie Mann discovering her husband (played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is cheating on her with Cameron Diaz. Then Mann and Diaz discover there's a third woman in the mix: Kate Upton. Rather than get angry with each other, the women team up to take down the philandering husband at the center of the mess. And at the 2014 CinemaCon in Vegas, Diaz and Mann talked about working together on this film and the state of female-oriented comedies:

    (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

    Moving On

    Sunday March 30, 2014

    After 13 years of covering major Hollywood films for About.com, I'm moving on as of March 31, 2014. It's been a pleasure to deliver news, interviews, and reviews to readers here on About.com's Hollywood Movies site, and I've enjoyed your comments and feedback over the years (yes, even those not-so-sweet emails from readers who disagree with my reviews). I'll be switching things up and spreading my wings by making a full-time writing commitment to ShowbizJunkies.com where I'll cover films of all genres (and budget-sizes) including indies, documentaries, and shorts. I'll also be covering current and upcoming TV shows and the music industry.

    Thanks again for taking the time to provide feedback and support over the dozen-plus years I've been with About.com.

    Michael B. Jordan Mentors the 2014 Sprite Films Finalists

    Saturday March 29, 2014

    Michael B JordanMichael B Jordan's starring role in the 2013 dramatic film Fruitvale Station based on true events earned the talented actor the Breakthrough Award from the National Board of Review as well as a best actor nomination at the 2014 Independent Spirit Awards. Following that performance, Jordan's status as one of the most sought-actor young actors was cemented and he just landed the role of Johnny Storm / The Human Torch in the reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise. And while he's keeping busy in front of the camera on various projects, he still made time to take on the role of mentoring aspiring student filmmakers who made it to the finals of the 2014 Sprite Films contest. The student writer/directors who were selected as this year's finalists are:

    - Robert Forney from Columbia College Chicago
    - Lucian Murphree from University of North Carolina, School of the Arts
    - Angel Cardenas from The School of Visual Arts
    - John Kofonow from The Art Institute of Charlotte
    - Merlin Camozzi from UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
    - Olivia Riley Day from Savannah College of Art and Design

    While at the 2014 CinemaCon at Caesars Palace in Vegas, the student finalists were able to have one-on-one discussions with Michael B. Jordan about their projects and about the film industry in general. The students and Jordan also took part in interviews to talk about their involvement in the Sprite Films program.

    "When you're first starting out, you just have to work. Sometimes it may not be exactly what you want to do, but it gives you that foot in the door. It gives you that momentum or it may keep your lights on long enough for you to stay in LA," explained Jordan when asked about the hard work that goes into achieving your dreams. "You have to kind of get past that phase to be able to consistently work and be a little more selective with the projects you do. Then you're making choices; you're choosing the path that you want to take. I think the same thing goes for directing. You'll take a commercial here or a short film there or do a second unit over here just to make ends meet or to build a relationship that's going to take you really far. Relationships are so important in this industry, especially from a directing point of view. Yeah, man, just continue to run, work hard, and have a never-say-quit/never-say-die attitude. I think that's very, very important."

    As far as what the aspiring filmmakers asked him, Jordan said, "I think everybody had a different need, different questions on the industry or dealing with actors or getting their projects made." And being a mentor has had an affect on Jordan who says it took him back and reminded him of why he's doing what he's doing, and it made him excited to go back to work.

    In addition to offering the student filmmakers the chance to speak with people currently in the industry like Jordan and director Ivan Reitman, being a part of the Sprite Films program has other benefits. "Being a part of this program puts you in a different position that college could never do for you," said Olivia Riley Day. "You're so exposed and it puts you in the real world industry with force. People know who you are and it really represents you in such a way, if Sprite Films wasn't representing me people wouldn't know what kind of filmmaker I am and what I'll be down the line. It just really makes the process a lot shorter."

    Day is the only female among the finalists and she's fine with that. "I actually think being the only female is amazing. It kind of fuels my fire and I really like a challenge so I'm using it to my advantage."

    The finalists' short films can be viewed and voted on at Sprite.com/films through May 15, 2014. For the more from the filmmakers and Jordan, check out the 15 minute interview video on Youtube.

    2014 Sprite Film Finalists

    (Photos by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images)

    Christopher Nolan Talks About Interstellar, Practical Locations, and Matthew McConaughey

    Friday March 28, 2014

    Todd McCarthy and Christopher Nolan

    Christopher Nolan didn't dodge questions about Interstellar posed to him by The Hollywood Reporter's film critic Todd McCarthy, he simply refused to answer them in any great detail. And given Nolan's filmography and the little we know about Interstellar, his decision to remain close-mouthed about the project did not come as a surprise to the 2,000+ crowd gathered to hear him speak during the "From Passion to the Big Screen: The Work of Christopher Nolan" presentation presented by Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures International at the 2014 CinemaCon at Caesars Palace in Vegas.

    Nolan did touch on the very basics on the story, confirming that it's about interstellar travel and using wormholes to reach places you wouldn't otherwise be able to get to. Nolan also said the tone is different from his past films and that Interstellar looks at where we are as people and where we might go. He hopes this will be a cinematic "experience' for audiences and says that it harkens back to the films he grew up watching.

    Nolan also revealed that he shot more footage in IMAX for Interstellar than for any of his other movies. He has ambitious plans for the sound mix and, using existing equipment in theaters, hopes to immerse moviegoers in this world he's created on screen. Currently, Nolan's finished with the shooting and in what he calls the most interesting part of the process: putting together the first cut. Read More...

    Disney's 2014 CinemaCon Presentation: No Star Wars News But Inside Out Wows the Crowd

    Wednesday March 26, 2014

    Inside Out
    Disney Chairman Alan Horn kicked off the studio's 2014 CinemaCon presentation on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 by showing a sizzle reel of 2013's hits. After it played, Horn asked the members of the National Association of Theatre Owners and other invited guests if that Frozen song is still stuck in their heads. He then hummed, "Sony don't bother me anyway," followed by a disclaimer that he was told not to do that joke. It worked, as did most of the jokes Horn offered up during his presentation.

    Horn also talked about how four out of the top 10 movies of 2013 were from Disney, Marvel, or Pixar, yet his studio released about half of what the other studios did during the same time period. Horn did admit that not everything the studio put out was a hit, pointing out The Lone Ranger in particular. "Crow doesn't taste good, but it is nutritious." Still, the studio had more hits than misses and the upcoming slate of 19 releases in 2014 and 2015 looks to be Disney's best release schedule in years.

    Unfortunately for Star Wars fans, while Horn did mention the seventh film of the series, he did not reveal any details that haven't previously been announced. Star Wars Episode VII will be set 30 years after Episode VI and it will begin shooting in May. Three new young leads will take over and there will be some familiar faces. But more specific than that, Horn would not get. Channeling Yoda, Horn proclaimed: "Patience you must have." Read More...

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