LAS VEGAS - Every year the major studios present their upcoming slate to the nation's theater owners at CinemaCon (formerly ShoWest). It's commonplace for a studio head to bring out a few famous faces to drive home the point that they should get behind a particular movie or two. Tuesday morning, Donna Langley, chairman of Universal Pictures, had only one movie star waiting in the wings and it was a big one: Angelina Jolie.
When Madonna unveiled her second directorial effort "W.E." at the Venice Film Festival in 2011, the critics (this one included) were pretty merciless. That glossy mashup of Wallis Simpson biopic and contemporary Harlequin romance was, admittedly, a pretty easy target -- The Weinstein Company's advance hype didn't fool anybody -- but the sheer vapid ineptitude of its storytelling still managed to surprise. Andrea Riseborough received some good notices for work as Simpson, Arianna Phillips' super-glam costumes were Oscar-nominated and Madge's own theme song even scooped a Golden Globe, but after this and her little-seen debut "Filth and Wisdom," no one seemed to be begging the pop queen to return to the director's chair.
Established in 2012, Sundance London is growing into a quiet fixture on the British film calendar -- a three-day roundup of highlights from the Sundance Film Festival lineup making their UK premiere, I'm not sure if it's built up much of a public profile -- possibly because of its less-than-central location in the vast O2 Dome -- but for the many Brit industry folk and film fanatics who can't fork out for the January trip to Park City, it's a handy catch-up, and returns for its third edition next month.
Okay, here's where I profess total ignorance: I hadn't even heard of Veronica Roth's bestselling "Divergent" books until posters for Neil Burger's screen adaptation started showing up in theaters. And having not yet seen the film, I'm still none the wiser as to what the franchise actually is, other than that it boasts some clear "Hunger Games" parallels and that it's taught a generation of teenagers the meaning of Abnegation. But I'm sure a number of you have been eagerly awaiting the film, so now it's your turn to tell us if it delivers or not. Reviews have been sniffy so far -- are the critics simply not getting it, or has something gone wrong? Vote in the poll and share your thoughts below.
I may have seen better films so far this year -- though, to be quite honest, few are coming to mind -- but nothing has given me quite as much pound-for-pound pleasure as "Muppets Most Wanted," the eighth big-screen outing for Jim Henson's lovable band of felt vaudevillians, arriving 35 years after their first. I've already expressed my enthusiasm for the goofy European adventure in my review, but I know a number of critics' reactions have been closer to those of Statler and Waldorf. What do you say? Share your thoughts in the comments if/when you've seen the film, and be sure to vote in the poll below.
MIAMI - We've so often seen Andy Garcia performing in an Italian-American gangster guise – from “The Untouchables” to “Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead” to, of course, his Oscar-nominated breakout role in “The Godfather Part III” – that it's easy to forget the Havana-born actor's Cuban heritage.
By general agreement, it wasn't a banner year for documentaries at January's Sundance Film Festival, but one of the stronger entries I saw was Ryan White and Ben Cotner's "The Case Against 8." The HBO film maps out the history of the landmark legal battle over California's Proposition 8 (that's the ban on same-sex marriage, if you're returning from a decade-long Arctic exile) is exhaustive, intelligent detail; it's not a flashy or formally daring documentary, but it's all the more moving for focusing on fundamentals. (You can read my review here.)
Kelly Reichardt's cool, composed eco-thriller "Night Moves" is pretty much the definition of a slow burner: I saw the film at its Venice premiere and was aloofly impressed, only for it to have wormed its way under my skin by the time I reviewed it a few days later. Six months on, I find my mind wandering back to its snaky ambiguities -- it's one that probably should have placed on my Best of 2013 list, and certainly seals Reichardt's place in the top ranks of American independent auteurs.