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Friday, May 22, 2015

Jack Is Back: New Details for Horror Nights 25 Emerge

I'm a little late on getting this news out here, but we finally got some details on Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights, which will be returning for its 25th year this September.

The video came in the form of a video, some tweets, and a big update to the official website.

Jack is back!

This...has pretty much been known since around Halloween of last year, but we now have official confirmation that the much adored Horror Nights Icon will be returning to the event.  Jack first appeared in 2000 at Horror Nights 10, bringing an a new era to the event which featured "icons" that dictated the general theme.  Jack, a deranged clown with a more intricate back story than you would imagine, would go on to be featured at three more Horror Nights events, most notably 17, which saw him leading the Carnival of Carnage and his freak show of Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface.  This will be the first time Jack has been seen at the event in five years.

With that return comes a redesign of Jack, which looks a lot more rugged and, frankly, modern.  If Jack's new look is any indication, this year's HHN seems to be an interesting blend of old and very new...which creative director Mike Aiello went on to confirm on Twitter.

As for the other details, here is what we now know:
  • 9 Haunted Houses - The most of any Horror Nights and something fans saw coming
  • 5 Scare Zones
  • Roaming Hordes - No details on what this means.  It was tried before and fans did not really go for it.
  • 2 Shows
  • 30 Nights - The most nights ever for the event.
Aaand that's pretty much it.  We will probably start to see some announcements for those houses and scare zones pretty soon, but you can go ahead and start planning your trip to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando by clicking here.

Take a look at the announcement video:

Halloween Horror Nights 25 will take place select nights from September 18 - November 1

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Review: Tomorrowland: A world where earnest meets empty

It's often said that the writers on Lost were just making it up as they went along; weaving the most impossible scenarios into the yarns of the story, hoping an explanation or ending might surface after-the-fact.

If that is, in fact, how Lost was written, it's easy to argue that Damon Lindelof's latest writing venture takes the opposite approach. With a script credited to Lindelof, Jeff Jensen, and director Brad BirdTomorrowland feels like a concept or idea (or a philosophy, even) that was fleshed out into 15 minutes of story in the writers' room. That 15 minutes of story was nestled into the movie's ending, and 90 minutes of "robots-are-chasing-you-run!" were tacked on ahead of it. A movie that knew where it wanted to go, but had no idea how to get there.

Given the movie's title and inspiration, it's awfully hard not to compare it to one of Disney's rides - waiting more than an hour for an experience that lasts minutes.
The premise of Tomorrowland centers around Casey (Britt Robertson), a rebellious, intelligent teenager who has a knack for understanding how things work. When Casey is gifted a mysterious pin by a child named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), she realizes she has a key to another world where ambitious minds can meet. She enlists the help of a grumpy man named Frank (George Clooney) to help her escape a gang of robots that have started chasing her for the pin ('s genuinely as abrupt as it sounds), and they work together to get back to Tomorrowland.

It's also worth mentioning that several people (primarily bystanders) die on-screen in Tomorrowland, but the violence is glossed over so quickly that it's simultaneously jarring and forgettable. I'm not opposed to violence showing up in movies, but I prefer it has a purpose in the story. Here it's to show that bad robots are bad. Got it? Bad robots. Bad.

It's not all bad stuff, mind you - the movie's peak features a Home Alone style house that's been booby-trapped by Clooney's character - but after several successful directorial efforts from Bird, including The Incredibles, it's hard not to consider this one a misfire.

The break-out success of this film, if anything is to be remembered from it, will likely be Robertson's performance. For a hollow character in a hollow film, Robertson manages to lend enough personal ticks and mannerisms to Casey to make her likable. It may not be a particularly challenging part, but Robertson's Jennifer-Lawrence-like persona shines through.

Lindelof has already taken to the press to say that this is a movie fanboys will be too cynical to like. While it's true that Tomorrowland offers a more optimistic look at our future, rather than pining over a world of zombies and destruction, I don't think it's the premise that will kill the film's good will. In fact, I think that's one of the few and only reasons I've seen cited for people enjoying it.

Instead, Tomorrowland spends the majority of it's running time on bad action (pro-tip: don't see this movie right after Mad Max: Fury Road) and then decides to clumsily tell, rather than show, its message in a few final moments. Regardless of Lindelof's claim that this movie isn't for cynics, the problem isn't with the viewers. The problem is that a fortune cookie philosophy served at the end of a bad meal doesn't make the food taste good.
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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review: About Elly

Asghar Faradhi is quietly churning out some of the best dramatic films in the world, most notably with 2011's still powerful A Separation. For many Western audiences, A Separation was their first serious exposure to Farhardi's work, but before its release, he made a major splash at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival with the Silver Bear-winning About Elly. Unfortunately mired in distribution issues since then, however, About Elly never really made it over to American shores. That's finally changing. Its rights finally settled, American audiences can finally appreciate one of Faradhi's earlier films, an intimate drama with the hard edge of a thriller that brilliantly examines the intersection of gender and religion in Iran.

When a group of former law school friends and their families meet  up for a vacation with one another, there's one newcomer with the group: Elly, a tenuous acquaintance of one of the women in the group. Explicitly brought along to introduce to Ahmad, a recently-divorced friend of the group's, Elly is the only outsider. After they lose their initial lodgings, they're forced to lie, however, claiming that Elly and Ahmad are recently married, otherwise they legally wouldn't be allowed to stay together in the single seaside home the group now rents. But when Elly goes missing while she's supposed to be looking after the children, the group is forced to confront how little they actually know about her - and how calamitous such little lies can ultimately be.

Faradhi has a strong concept - a person basically vanishing from the middle of a party - but what really sets About Elly apart is what he does with it. For the first third of the film, About Elly feels like a slice-of-life dramedy, tracking a group of well-off, educated, middle-class Iranians on vacation. It's easy to empathize with them, there, as Faradhi highlights the casual, humanistic warmth of the characters; the cast, every single member of it, is a fully realized person. Elly's disappearance, however, shines a light on the group, and as it does, the focus shifts from them as individuals to them as members of society. As they're forced to contend with the lies they told (and were told), they retreat more and more into Iran's powerful, heavily gendered social strictures. The change in the characters is subtle, so subtle it's hard to notice precisely when it takes place, but Faradhi has some interesting things to say about who we are in private compared to who society has shaped us to be

Such nuance would be difficult without some excellent performances, and About Elly is packed with 'em. Golshifteh Farahani carries most of the dramatic weight of the film as Sepideh, the only member of the group who knew Elly before the vacation and the one who invited her along. Initially carefree and flirty, Sepideh is the first to realize the implications of Elly's disapperance, and the one hit the hardest by the blame. Farahani is brilliant in the role, seemingly disappearing into herself as the situation gets worse. Taraneh Alidoosti is very good as Elly. Withdrawn but friendly, Elly feels like a background character at first, but Alidoosti nails her quiet transition from a woman with a lot on her mind to one who is slowly consumed with concern for a life we (and her traveling companions) initially know nothing about. And that's just scratching the surface of a film that harbors plenty of depths.

About Elly is a gorgeous film, well-shot with phenomenal performances. Rather than filling the movie with incident, Faradhi smartly lays out a series of key revelations then thoroughly explores what they mean to the cast before changing up the game again. His movies are often focused on dishonesty and consequence, and About Elly plays with this idea on a larger scale, demonstrating the differences between our private and public persona, and how that conflicts with a mass conservative religious movement that forces people to lie in order to be themselves. Farhadi is one of the best storytellers making films today, and while the thrilling, empathetic About Elly doesn't quite live up to his masterpiece, few films do. But make no mistake: This is essential viewing.

About Elly was released in 2009, and is only now reaching the U.S., including a release at Atlanta's Midtown Art Cinema starting Friday, May 22nd. Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, About Elly stars Golshifteh Farahani, Shahab Hosseini, and Taraneh Alidoosti.
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George Romero Is Headed To Television With Empire Of The Dead

Per a new report in Variety and announced at the Cannes Film Festival, the original zombie master himself is aiming to get into the undead television game popularized by The Walking DeadGeorge Romero, the director of films such as Night of the Living DeadDawn of the Dead, etc...has signed a deal with Demarest Films to adapt his Marvel comic series Empire of the Dead for the small screen.

Empire of the Dead, a loose continuation of his "Dead" series of films, sees humans trapped in the middle of a supernatural war between zombies and vampires. The comic, written by Romero, is expected to last 15 issues (comprised of 3 5-issue acts) and has featured art by Alex MaleevDalibor Talajic, and Andrea Mutti. The series' final issue has been solicited to hit stores this August.

The adaptation will be written by Romero and his long-time television partner Peter Grunwald, and they will both serve as executive producers alongside Demarest's Sam Engelbardt and William D. Johnson.

Will this be just the thing needed to revive a franchise that's had its share of moribund entries (Diary of the DeadSurvival of the Dead)?
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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Roger Deakins To Go Behind The Camera For Denis Villenueve's Blade Runner 2

I really, really disliked Roger Deakins and Denis Villenueve's last collaboration Prisoners, but it sure was pretty to look at! 

Herein lies my dilemma: they're now teaming up for Blade Runner 2. The original Blade Runner is one of my favorite films of all time, and Deakins is easily one of the best cinematographers working today, if not THE best. That long line of wonderful Coen Bros' films that he served as DP on can attest to that, along with some stellar work on movies like Skyfall and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

I guess I'm going to have to see another Villenueve flick in hopes that he'll actually produce something worth watching. Their most recent collaboration, Sicario, hasn't hit theaters yet but is receiving generally good reviews on the festival circuit.

This new sequel to the 1982 dystopian classic will star Harrison Ford and, according to reports, possibly Ryan Gosling.

Here's the press:

LOS ANGELES, CA, MAY, 20, 2015 – Twelve-time Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins will join director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Incendies) on Alcon Entertainment’s sequel to BLADE RUNNER, it was announced by Alcon co-founders and co-CEO’s Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson.
Deakins, who will be presented with the Pierre Angénieux Excellens in Cinematography Award at the Cannes Film Festival on May 22 reteams with Villeneuve on what will be their third feature collaboration, havingpreviously worked together on Alcon’s Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal as well as Villeneuve’s upcoming film Sicario, a drug-trafficking drama starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro from Black Label Media, which is in Competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
Deakins received his latest Academy Award nomination this year for his work on Angelina Jolie's Unbroken.  He was previously nominated for Joel and Ethan Coen’s FargoThe Man Who Wasn’t ThereO Brother, Where Art Thou?No Country for Old Men and True Grit; Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption; Martin Scorsese’s Kundun; Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; Stephen Daldry’s The Reader, which he shared with Chris Menges; and, more recently, Prisoners and Sam Mendes’ Skyfall.
Film is scheduled to start principal photography in summer of 2016. Hampton Fancher (co-writer of the original) and Michael Green have written the original screenplay based on an idea by Fancher and Ridley Scott. The story takes place several decades after the conclusion of the 1982 original. Harrison Ford will reprise his role as Rick Deckard.
Villeneuve previously worked with Kosove and Johnson as the director of Alcon’s critically acclaimed Prisoners.
Kosove and Johnson state: "Roger is an extraordinary talent and we are very excited that Denis and Roger have chosen to continue their collaboration in bringing the sequel to BLADE RUNNER to the big screen. 
Alcon Entertainment acquired the film, television and ancillary franchise rights to BLADE RUNNER in 2011 from producer Bud Yorkin to produce prequels and sequels to the iconic science-fiction thriller. Yorkin will serve as a producer on the sequel along with Kosove and Johnson. Cynthia Sikes Yorkin will also produce.
Frank Giustra and Tim Gamble, CEO’s of Thunderbird Films, will serve as executive producers. Ridley Scott will also executive produce.
Among its many distinctions, BLADE RUNNER has been singled out as one of the greatest movies of all time by innumerable polls and media outlets, and overwhelmingly as the greatest science-fiction film of all time by a majority of genre publications.
Released by Warner Bros., BLADE RUNNER was adapted by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples from Philip K. Dick's novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" and was directed by Ridley Scott following his landmark Alien.” The film was nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Visual Effects, and Best Art Direction). 
BLADE RUNNER was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1993 and is frequently taught in university courses. In 2007, it was named the 2nd most visually influential film of all time by the Visual Effects Society. 
Deakins is repped by ICM.
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Review: Every Secret Thing

As children, Ronnie Fuller and Alice Manning take a child off a porch to play with, and then decide never to bring her back. Three days later, the child is dead; shortly thereafter, Alice and Ronnie are discovered, arrested, tried as children, and imprisoned until they're 18 years old. Now, just two weeks after their respective releases, they're trying to move on. Moody Ronnie (Dakota Fanning) keeps her head down and works a minimum wage job at a bagel shop. Alice (Danielle Macdonald) goes on long, private walks to lose weight and apply for jobs and, at least a little, to avoid her meddling mother (Diane Lane). Their brief attempt at establishing a routine is disrupted when another child goes missing shortly after their release, in a case that bears remarkable similarities to their own - even down to the detective, Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) who solved the previous crime in her first case, and returns to try and get there early enough to save this child in time.

Every Secret Thing is adapted from Laura Lippman's book of the same name. Lippman, a Baltimore native and popular crime novelist, a contemporary of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone author Dennis Lehane (who also worked with Lippman's husband on The Wire). Fittingly, Every Secret Thing feels like a piece of the same world as River and Gone, yet another restrained crime potboiler about past sins returning to haunt a community that never faced up to their issues. Director Amy Berg (of the haunting documentary Deliver Us From Evil) and cinematographer Rob Hardy (Ex Machina) even make the movie look and feel like the films of Eastwood and Affleck, giving the film a chilly distance. But where those stories were about the repressed pain of working class men, Every Secret Thing is about the repressed pain of the women in their lives. The change in focus lets Every Secret Thing mine some new territory in a subgenre that's struggled to find something interesting to say lately, but Berg's bleak realism doesn't give that new material room to grow.

While much of the credit goes to Lippman, the screenplay here was written by established indie darling Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said). Holofcener has created some of the best indie dramedies out there, often focusing on women's relationships and characters who use brutal honesty in order to avoid dealing with the truth. Holofcener may be the ideal person to tackle Every Secret Thing, then, a story about the way we tell one another stories to conceal what we've done, or what we've allowed to happen. Unfortunately, her wonderfully plotless indies haven't really helped her put together a gripping mystery - the character work is strong, but the pacing is too slack. Instead of a series of well-timed reveals, reversals, and dramatic turns, Every Secret Thing layers its biggest turns one on top of another, cutting each one off before its dramatic potential could be fully explored. This is a movie that needed to be tighter or longer; as is, it's the wrong combination of lack and short.

The film has plenty of solid performances, though Berg's actors studiously avoid anything too showy, anything that will shatter the carefully constructed (and, in my opinion, unnecessary) veneer of bleak realism that pervades the film. Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2) and Dakota Fanning (Night Moves) fare the best, each of them playing a character who is haunted by the same night seven years prior, each of them having internalized their grief to such a degree they barely seem alive during the case. Danielle Macdonald (The East) is tasked with a more difficult role, her Alice - a self-loathing, overweight girl clearly sick of suffering for her friend - carrying much of the film's dramatic heft. When she's on, she gives the movie its best scenes, but she's a bit too uneven to really hold it all together, particularly as her version of events clashes with Fanning's in increasingly dramatic ways. She isn't particularly helped there by Diane Lane (Man of Steel), whose character's motivations are tragically glossed over in the film, causing two crucial scenes to fall a bit flat.

Still, Every Secret Thing will almost assuredly be well-received by audiences when they finally have a chance to catch it - predictably, Amy Berg's film isn't getting the same level of distribution that Clint Eastwood's or Ben Affleck's did. In addition to its strong resemblance to Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, Berg borrows liberally from a more recent (and stronger) hit: Gone Girl, another examination of the fluid nature of truth and toxic family relationships. But Berg's film is too focused, too brief, for its twists to hit with the brutal efficiency of Fincher's film, and it lacks an actor as magnetic as Rosamund Pike to hold it all together. Berg and Holofcener find a powerful dramatic heart beneath the thriller plot, but the split focus and short run time means that neither element feels fully complete. Every Secret Thing is a reasonably enjoyable mystery with some really great character work, but with a group of creators and performers this talented, it's hard not to wish for more.

Every Secret Thing is currently in limited release across the nation, and is available on common VOD services. Written by Nicole Holofcener adapting Laura Lippman's novel of the same name and directed by Amy Berg, Every Secret Thing stars Elizabeth Banks, Dakota Fanning, Diane Lane, and Danielle Macdonald.
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Monday, May 18, 2015

New Suicide Squad Set Photos Showcase The Joker And His Car

Via JustJared, here are a whole bunch of pictures from the set of Suicide Squad, featuring Jared Leto's Joker and Margot Robbie as an either in disguise or pre-"Harley Quinn" Harleen Quinzel.

It looks like the Joker is wearing some pretty typical mobster clothing, and while some fans thought perhaps those tattoos were just for the promotional picture from last month, you can see that they are indeed present on Leto here.

Suicide Squad opens on August 5, 2016.
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