DreamWorks Animation is celebrating a big year in 2014. While the studio's first theatrical release would not come until 1998, it was October 12, 1994 that saw the birth of Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg's vision of a new movie studio, including, of course, Katzenberg's animation division. That makes it 20 years of DreamWorks, and with the release of "How to Train Your Dragon 2" next week (on the heels of a Cannes debut last month), the studio is toasting two decades with one of the most elite installments of its entire portfolio.
Hey, remember "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom?" Six months after its US theatrical release, no one would blame you if it's already slipped to the back of your mind. Despite its prestigious trappings and its unplanned topicality in the wake of Nelson Mandela's death last December, Justin Chadwick's well-intentioned biopic of South Africa's first democratically elected president was among the most prominent of 2013's awards-season hopefuls never to take flight.
I haven't seen Disney's "Maleficent" yet so I have no opinion. To go by critics — 50% at Rotten Tomatoes in both the larger compendium and in the "cream of the crop" as well, plus a 56 Metacritic score — it's a divisive affair. In some corners there are even those preferring it to be graded on a curve because it features a female in the lead, while others have bored down to how the story it tells about that female gets at the heart of what's problematic about it being a children's film. Again, I have no take on it, but it's interesting to see the opinions fly from the sidelines.
Seth MacFarlane has always been a divisive comic talent: he makes no attempt to hide his obnoxiousness, much less apologize for it, and that bald, brash style either gets up viewers' noses or into their funnybones. (Or, in some cases, both simultaneously.) I've run, well, lukewarm and cold with him over the years: I was never on "Family Guy's" wavelength, while "Ted," for all its misanthropic shortcomings, made me laugh despite myself.
As a film critic, one is usually moved to immediate expression when a great film comes down the pike -- its ideas spur one's own, the words tumble forth in not-always-orderly fashion, the urge to share an experience sometimes outpacing the ability to parse it. Yet sometimes baldly extraordinary films thwart our initial attempts to write about them, and such has been the case with me and Andrei Zvyagintsev's "Leviathan" -- a classically robust, not inordinately complicated melodrama that nonetheless seems to be about something different every time I sit down to tackle it.
Sure, "Interstellar" is sitting at the top of the November calendar as bright as the North star, but did you know "Birdman," "A Most Violent Year," "Theory of Everything" or "Dracula: Untold" were on the way? Did you know "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" will take you back to the future this Christmas? I'd guess not.
Liam Neeson really could use something like Scott Frank's "A Walk Among the Tombstones." The word "paycheck" is becoming synonymous with his name lately (not that things like "The Grey" and Martin Scorsese's upcoming "Silence" don't do a lot to mitigate this), but it would be good to see some serious, solid, consistent flexing from him again.
Here's something I keep forgetting about the upcoming "Annie" remake: Emma Thompson (the Oscar-winning screenwriter of "Sense and Sensibility," lest we forget) is one of its three credited writers. I'm not sure at what stage Thompson worked on the project -- early, I'm guessing, unless she's tighter with producer Jay-Z than I'd previously imagined -- but from everything we've seen of the project thus far, it doesn't bear much trace of the Englishwoman's involvement. Anyway, that's an aside: the second trailer for "Annie" has landed, and it looks, if anything, even brasher than the much-maligned first glimpse suggested.
Jason Bateman has been making some pretty interesting moves out of the comic relief periphery of comedies and into his own as a leading man as of late, and he has a pretty stellar 2014 on the way. There's the sequel to "Horrible Bosses" in November and heading up the Peter Glanz dramedy "The Longest Week" as well. Then there's Shawn Levy's "This is Where I Leave You," which debuted a new trailer today.
I imagine that, like many moviegoers this summer, you might be excited to see Bryan Singer's "X-Men: Days of Future Past." And you should be. It's a pretty great installment of a franchise that has seen its ups and downs, and at its center, actors Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy make for a brilliant combination. But, uh — pssst! — McAvoy has another movie coming out this summer, and it features his most electrifying, committed and passionate work as an actor to date.