Review: 'The Skeleton Twins'

Starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader

Review: 'Dolphin Tale 2'

Does the sequel make any waves?

Review: 'God Help the Girl'

From Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch

Review: 'The Drop'

Featuring James Gandolfini's final performance

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence reunite in the 'Serena' Trailer

Is the long-awaited film finally coming to theaters?

9/18/2014

Review: 'The Maze Runner' starring Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, and Will Poulter


It's undeniable there are some surface similarities between The Maze Runner and others in the sci-fi fantasy genre; dystopian future, social commentary, one mysteriously powerful kid who flips the balance of power. Been there, done that, right? Not so; with its focus on a contentious male-dominated society and a continuously thrilling mystery in the vein of Lost (the early seasons, anyway), The Maze Runner is an impressive start to what could be an even better franchise.

Based on James Dashner's bestselling books and directed by first-time feature helmer Wes Ball, the film gets your heart racing right from the very first moment. In pitch darkness we hear what sounds like gears of an elevator shaft, followed by the introduction of Thomas (Dylan O'Brien of MTV's Teen Wolf) as he wakes up in a cramped freight with no memory how he got there.

"Rise and shine, greenie.” is the unwelcome greeting he receives from Gally (Will Poulter), who muscles him out of the transport and into a giant greenland known as the Glade. There are other boys in the same predicament; stuck in this place with no idea how they arrived or how to leave. And it's a veritable Rainbow Coalition of ethnicities, too, another nice change-of-pace. The leader, Alby (Alm Ameen), takes charge of showing Thomas around, seconded by Newt (Game of Thrones' Thomas Sangster). The Gladers, as they call themselves, have set up their own little community in this place, each with their own jobs. The toughest job is also the most dangerous, belonging to the Runners. The Glade is surrounded by a gigantic, shifting maze of which there seems to be no escape. It's the Runners' job; led by the speedy and brave Minho (Ki Hong Lee) to map the maze, but only if they can survive the Grievers, spidery creatures that stalk the labyrinth.

The premise established, Ball and screenwriter Noah Oppenheimer (also a writer on the Divergent movies, coincidentally) set about building tension amongst the group. This being a community built purely of testosterone, conflict begins almost immediately upon Thomas' arrival. While everyone else is content to merely endure their predicament, Thomas starts asking the questions they've all tried to forget. His bending of the rules puts him at odds with Gally, who fights to maintain the status quo. When the elevator arrives unexpectedly and drops off Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), the first girl ever in the Glade, it only signals more trouble on the horizon.

Refreshingly, the introduction of a female into the mix does not mean we're treated to the typical "love triangle" nonsense. At no point is Teresa torn between two guys, pining for their attention. The focus is solely on getting out of the maze, figuring out why they're in the Glade, and what makes Thomas so special. In one pulse-pounding sequence he gets trapped in the maze along with Alby and Kinho, helping them do the unthinkable and survive overnight. The Grievers, which look like the spiders from Lord of the Rings, are a constant and dangerous threat. But the biggest danger is the maze itself, made of giant concrete walls and metallic blades that transform at a moment's notice. Ball built his career with the short film, Ruin, and the visual expertise he showed on that is brought to brilliant display in his feature debut. The Maze Runner isn't flashy but Ball makes the Glade a believably intimidating place, part Lord of the Flies with a touch of The Hunger Games. Even though we know Thomas isn't taking a dirt nap any time soon, a good job is done establishing the others so that when some of them die (and many do) we feel the impact.

Those who have never seen MTV's Teen Wolf may be caught unawares by O'Brien but he brings an edge to the role of Thomas. He's surrounded by a cast full of either unknowns or those taking on new challenges. Poulter, who is still probably best known for playing nerdy wimps in The Chronicles of Narnia and We're the Millers, bulks up and makes for a believable bully as Gally. Ameen exudes confidence and will probably find he’s getting a lot of Hollywood attention after this and the same goes for Hong Lee who has real presence despite limited screen time. Scodelario, who was breathtakingly good in Wuthering Heights just a couple of years ago, doesn't get much to do as Teresa. It's likely her role will take on greater importance future movies but for now she's little more than an important background character. As far as veteran actors go, Patricia Clarkson appears in brief flashbacks as Ava Paige, whose role is best left for audiences to discover themselves. Unfortunately, her every appearance signals the movie's one big weakness. It doesn't take long to figure out who Paige is and what she has to do with the Glade. The revealing of answers could have been handled much better, but to be fair that's a problem The Maze Runner's peers also have.

What works for The Hunger Games, other than having a star like Jennifer Lawrence, is the detailed building of a complex, believable world. The Maze Runner may only take place in one small corner of a much larger apocalyptic society, but it's just as elaborate and full of great characters that we'll want to see again in the sequel, The Scorch Trials.
 Rating: 3.5 out of 5

9/17/2014

Kate Mara Eyes 'The Martian'; John Leguizamo goes to 'Meadowland; Dennis Haysbert Joins 'Ted 2'



Ridley Scott's adaptation of The Martian already has an incredible cast shaping up with Matt Damon in the lead and Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, and Mackenzie Davis circling roles, but now Deadline is reporting Kate Mara (House of Cards, Fantastic Four) has been made an offer. The Davis story wasn't out there long before this one came out, and it may be that Mara is in line for the same part. Penned by Drew Goddard, The Martian centers on an astronaut who must survive long enough to be rescued after he's stranded on Mars.

John Leguizamo, Merritt Wever (Emmy winner from Nurse Jackie), and Nick Sandow have joined Meadowland, the directorial debut of cinematographer Reed Morano. Olivia Wilde, Luke Wilson, Elisabeth Moss, Giovanni Ribisi, Ty Simpkins, Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi), Mark Feuerstein, Kevin Corrigan and Juno Temple star in the drama about a New York couple who take very different approaches to healing after their son's disappearance. I'm a huge fan of Wever's and have been for years. Hopefully this leads to more big screen work for her.

Dennis Haysbert, last seen as Manute in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, will make a "fun cameo" in Seth MacFarlane's Ted 2, joining Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Morgan Freeman, and Amanda Seyfried. All we know about the plot is that Ted will be in need of a high-powered civil rights attorney at some point, which to me already sounds funny.  Ted 2 opens June 26th 2015. Haysbert has also landed a role in Dead Rising, based on the hit Capcom video game. Zach Lipovksy (Leprechaun: Origins) is directing the zombie flick for exclusive premier on Crackle.com before receiving a multiplatform release. Haysbert will be seen next in the racial satire, Dear White People.

New Trailer for Jason Reitman's 'Men, Women and Children'


In case you haven't figured it out, social networking isn't always so social. For all the ways the Internet has connected us to the world at large it has also disconnected us personally. This is nothing new, and Hollywood has already told that story umpteen times. So what makes Jason Reitman's Men, Women and Children different from the rest? The phenomenal cast he's put together with Adam Sandler, Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever, Emma Thompson, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, and Dennis Haysbert,

The latest trailer introduces us to a number of characters whose lives have been affected, generally for the worse, by the Internet. This trailer seems to be dealing mostly with the search for love and companionship, which technology has made easier and complicated at the same time. While incredibly somber, this looks like a step up from Reitman's last film, Labor Day. Then again that one looked good in trailers, too, and Reitman has since written it off as a mistake. The reviews out of the festival circuit have been mixed, and their doesn't seem to be much buzz for a film opening in just a couple of weeks on October 1st.

Matt Smith Joins 'Pride & Prejudice & Zombies'; Mackenzie Davis will Meet 'The Martian'



Former Doctor Who Matt Smith will go back in time as Mr. Collins in Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, Burr Steers' adaptation of the horror mash-up novel. He joins Lily James, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, and Sam Riley in the film which takes Jane Austen's classic and throws a zombie outbreak into the mix. Smith also has a role in Ryan Gosling's directorial debut, Lost River. [THR]

Mackenzie Davis, who was so good in Breathe In and What If, will join Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain in The Martian. Ridley Scott is directing the adaptation of Anthony Weir's novel which follows "an astronaut who becomes stranded on Mars and must figure out how to survive long enough to return home to Earth." So that's a cast I would kill to see in anything. Filming begins this fall, but if you're itching to see Davis in action you can catch her on AMC's Halt and Catch Fire which everyone says is good and I've yet to watch.

'Paranormal Activity 5' will Take Us to 'The Ghost Dimension' in 2015


After we didn't get a Paranormal Activity film in 2013, Paramount was set to hit us over the head with two of them this year. The first was the Latino-themed 'The Marked Ones', while Paranormal Activity 5 would arrive in October. With no casting and zero marketing it was obvious that wasn't happening, but now we know when Paranormal Activity 5 will be haunting theaters and what it's official title will be.

Paranormal Activity 5 has been retitled Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, and will arrive on March 13th 2015. Gregory Plotkin is directing from a script by Jason Pagan that will continue the story of the Katie demon's terrorizing in some way. But a title like 'The Ghost Dimension' suggests we could be seeing something different than the rattling windows, night terrors, and home movies we're accustomed to from the franchise. One of the benefits of the surprisingly effective 'The Marked Ones' was that it broadened the Paranormal Activity universe to include other supernatural elements. While 'The Ghost Dimension' will continue to follow a family whose daughters are threatened by a supernatural menace, clearly something else will be going on. I suspect we'll be seeing more crossing over with 'The Marked Ones.

Also, Paramount has moved Scouts vs. Zombies, which had been in the slot now occupied by Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, to February 201th 2015. Directed by Christopher Landon (writer and director of the Paranormal Activity series), the horror comedy stars Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, and Joey Morgan as scouts must save their town from a zombie outbreak.

New Trailer for 'The Judge' Starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall


Robert Downey Jr.'s The Judge isn't getting the marketing push that he's used to getting with Iron Man or The Avengers (which really don't need it), but Warner Bros. is definitely trying to get the word out. A pair of trailers for the courtroom dramedy were released just days ago, and now another, more serious look is here. Also starring Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D'Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton, and Leighton Meester, The Judge centers on a hotshot defense attorney who returns to defend his estranged father, the town judge, who has been accused of murder. There will be Downey acting like a pompous ass, because that's what he's good at, but also plenty of family reconnection and male bonding.

The Judge is directed by David Dobkin and hits theaters October 10th.

Details Emerge on Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass' Return to 'Bourne'


There can't a story as huge as Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass' return to the Jason Bourne franchise without a whopper of a backstory and a few toes getting stepped on. And apparently it's Jeremy Renner who may have a sore foot if Damon and Greengrass' film moves forward, or as THR puts it “Let's hope Matt Damon and Jeremy Renner don't bump into each other at a restaurant.”

Producer Frank Marshall, who has been backing up Damon's denials for years, has opened up about what's really going on and what it sounds like is things are still in the formative stages.

Marshall: "We're on two tracks. And if this one [with Damon and Paul Greengrass] comes together, great, but they're still just talking."

But if a deal comes together and everybody likes the "strong" direction Greengrass has come up with for another Bourne movie, it would mean Renner and Justin Lin's spinoff sequel to The Bourne Legacy is pushed back while Damon's would go first in the summer of 2016. There is another factor to consider here, as Greengrass is also set to direct Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio's film on '96 Olympic bombing suspect Richard Jewell. If Fox decides to greenlight that we may see his Bourne movie delayed.

Marshall insists that Renner's film is going to happen at some point and is being developed now...

Marshall: "That movie is moving forward. It's still in development. We're working to get a script as soon as possible." 

Ever heard of the "dreaded vote of confidence"? That's what this sounds like to me. The Bourne Legacy did well, but not that well, and if Universal can get Damon back for what audiences will always consider the "true" Bourne movie then why spend money on another? There's also the potential issue in Lin's availability as he's supposed to direct a few episodes of HBO's True Detective.

So there are still a few things to work out but my sense of this is that Universal really wants Damon and Greengrass, and the Renner thing has now become an afterthought. There's a lot of details to get figured out between now and whenever we see Jason Bourne or Aaron Cross on screen again.

'Serena' with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper "Makes No Sense"; Gets Early 2015 Release


When tracking movies every day you start to get a sense for when a project is shaping up to be a dud. Sometimes there are production headaches, a veritable army of screenwriters trying to get the script right, or a game of musical chairs when it comes to casting. But the greatest indicator of a flop in the making is when a studio seems to be averse to releasing the completed film at all, and that's what happened with Serena, Susanna Bier's buzzworthy drama starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, which is now set for a release early next year after being a no-show on any schedule for quite some time.

So when you see the words "early next year" you know that means the first two or three months of 2015, generally regarded as a cinematic dumping ground. Magnolia Pictures picked up the rights to the film some time ago and have done nothing with it in the two years since shooting wrapped. Serena was shot after Lawrence and Cooper's Silver Linings Playbook and before American Hustle, to get a sense for how long it's been sitting idle. A U.K. release was planned for next month after a premiere at BFI London Film Festival, which is when the first reviews should start rolling out and chances are they will be harsh. THR cites sources that say the film was passed over by multiple distributors before Magnolia took over, with one saying "The film was so edited, it made no sense." Another ripped the performances, calling them "uneven, particularly Lawrence's [descent into madness]." Ouch.

And yet, I still firmly believe the movie will do well if only because of the stars involved. Let's not forget the turmoil World War Z encountered but largely due to the presence of Brad Pitt it became one of last year's biggest hits. Plus, Serena shouldn't have a lot of competition to deal with at that time of year.

Scott Glenn Joins 'Daredevil' as Stick; James D'Arcy is Jarvis on 'Agent Carter'


One of the most impressive things Marvel has been able to accomplish is attracting some pretty big names to be part of their cinematic universe. That wasn't the case when they started as the focus was on building up talents, and in some ways that idea has remained. But we've also seen screen veterans like Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Douglas, and John C. Reilly unexpectedly come aboard, and that is now extending to the small screen with two new additions to Daredevil and Agents Carter.

First up, Scott Glenn, seen most recently on HBO's The Leftovers, has been perfectly cast as Stick in Netflix's 13-episode Daredevil series. Stick is the martial arts master who trained Daredevil (Charlie Cox) and Elektra, and his presence all but guarantees she'll be part of the show in some way. As of now her role has not been cast, although some think it could be played by Rosario Dawson. Terrence Stamp did an admirable job portraying Stick in the 2005 Elektra movie. Glenn is a tough-as-nails actor (see him in The Hunt for Red October, the 'Bourne' movies, and Sucker Punch) and perfect for the role of Stick. Probably the best casting move for the show yet. Glenn joins a cast that includes Deborah Ann Woll, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Elden Henson.


We've seen plenty of crossover between Marvel's movie and TV worlds and now there's going to be one more. James D'Arcy (Hitchcock, W.E.) is set to play Howard Stark's butler Edwin Jarvis in Marvel's upcoming Agent Carter series. If the last name Jarvis sounds familiar it's because JARVIS  is also the name of Tony Stark's artificial intelligence in the Iron Man movies (voiced by Paul Bettany), which was named after Edwin Jarvis. Oh, it's all so circular! In the comics, Jarvis is one of the few constants of the ever-evolving Avengers team. D'Arcy will be a regular character in the series, joining Hayley Atwell, Chad Michael Murray, and Enver Gjokaj in exploring the origins of SHIELD. 

Chris Hemsworth to Star as Hank Williams' Doctor in 'Ill Never Get Out of This World Alive'


Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are sibling rivals Thor and Loki in the Marvel universe, but now they've found a new way to compete against one another. Hiddleston is set to play country music legend Hank Williams in I Saw the Light, a biopic he'll be starring in with another Marvel alum, Elizabeth Olsen. And now it's Hemsworth who is developing his own movie on Williams and the controversial circumstances around his death.

Hemsworth will star in and produce I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive, optioning the rights to Steve Earle's book of the same name. Written and directed by first-timer Benjamin Grayson, the story doesn't actually follow Williams, but will tell a fictional story about his "doctor" Horace Raphol "Toby" Marshall, a con man who wormed his way into the singer's life. Earle's novel centers on Doc Ebersole, a morphine addict who moves to San Antonio, TX after his license is revoked. Ten years after Williams' death he is still haunted by his ghost, and supports his drug habit by performing illegal medical procedures.

 It's another surprising choice for Hemsworth who has been taking on more dramatic roles when not busy with Marvel projects. He was great in Ron Howard's Formule One film, Rush, and will star in Howard's In the Heart of the Sea next year. He's also wrapped on Michael Mann's cyber thriller, Blackhat, and is now filming his first true comedy in the Vacation reboot. Hopefully by the time this new project shoot they'll come up with a better title. It might have worked for Williams' hit single but not for a movie. [TheWrap]