Review: 'The Witch' offers up a singular, upsetting vision of a family imploding
Credit: Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Review: 'The Witch' offers up a singular, upsetting vision of a family imploding

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Robert Eggers, where have you been all my life?

PARK CITY - One of the downsides of spending a life mainlining genre films is that there comes a point where you start to feel like you've seen everything and there's no way to be surprised.

"The Witch" surprised me. Quite a bit.

Writer/director Robert Eggers deserves accolades for crafting something that feels timeless. His "New England folk tale" begins with a family standing before a Puritan court in a small plantation town in 1630. William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie) stand accused of blasphemy, and William refuses to bend to the will of the court, convinced that he is a true Christian in a way that none of them can be. They are ejected from the community, and William sees it as an opportunity. He leads his family out into the wilderness, where they find a cleared area on the edge of a massive forest.

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Review: 'The Bronze' goes for the gold but can't quite earn a medal
Credit: Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Review: 'The Bronze' goes for the gold but can't quite earn a medal

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B-
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A solid cast helps make things work even when the script doesn't get it right

PARK CITY - It's hard to believe that there's any downside to being on a giant mega-hit sitcom that runs for a decade, but if you're someone who dedicated your life to acting, a big hit could be a genuine trap. If anyone knows that, Melissa Rauch does.

Melissa Rauch joined the cast of "The Big Bang Theory" in the third season, playing a character who fell in love with one of the series regulars, and she has become an indispensable part of the ensemble. I didn't pay close attention to the re-negotiations over salary, but I know the cast got some big giant raises. One of the things that affords you, if you're one of those actors on that show, is a chance to push some personal projects into the spotlight.

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Review: 'Strange Magic' is a toxic and unpleasant formula for kids
Credit: Touchstone Pictures/Lucasfilm Ltd.

Review: 'Strange Magic' is a toxic and unpleasant formula for kids

HitFix
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Boy, the subtext in this one is crazy

Every now and then, I find myself suddenly and unexpectedly angry at George Lucas, but not for reasons that have anything to do with "Star Wars."

There has been a refrain we've heard from him over and over during the past couple of decades, where he talks about returning to his roots and making experimental films that could never exist inside the studio system, movies that aren't created to be commercial product, but that come from a very personal place. And over and over, those comments lead nowhere and nothing happens.

I'd love to see him do it, though. I have a huge fondness for "THX-1138," Lucas's first feature film, which evolved out of a student film he made. I take Lucas at his word that commercial filmmaking was never meant to be the complete detour it became after "American Graffiti" and "Star Wars" both blew up into mega-hits, and for years, I believed his comments about returning to a more experimental style of storytelling. Whatever you end up feeling about the prequels, there is a feeling that Lucas is somewhat shackled by expectation, that he is bristling to simply play with the toys instead of having to satisfy the desires of fans who had been waiting decades for those films.

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Exclusive clip from 'Z For Zachariah' hints at Sundance film's explosive love triangle
Credit: Sundance Institute

Exclusive clip from 'Z For Zachariah' hints at Sundance film's explosive love triangle

But they're all so pretty!

One of the movies that has a ton of heat already focused on it even before the Sundance Film Festival begins is "Z For Zachariah." Chris Pine, a brunette Margot Robbie, and Chiwetel Ejiofor co-star in this story that takes place "in the wake of a disaster that wipes out most of civilization," according to the official synopsis. "Two men and a young woman find themselves in an emotionally-charged love triangle as the last known survivors."

Craig Zobel's last film that played here, "Compliance," was a cold-blooded and intensely well-made look at a true story that still gives me chills when I think about it. I am a huge fan of his first feature film, "Great World Of Sound," as well, and I am excited to see anything Zobel makes.

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Simon Pegg set to steer 'Star Trek' for real as he signs on to co-write new sequel
Credit: Paramount Pictures/Bad Robot

Simon Pegg set to steer 'Star Trek' for real as he signs on to co-write new sequel

Scotty is at the helm, indeed

One of the smartest things Marvel did when faced with Edgar Wright's departure from "Ant-Man" was enlist Paul Rudd to not only remain attached to star as Scott Lang in the film, but also to take a crack at the screenplay. When I was on the set of the film, it was apparent that Rudd and Adam McKay and Peyton Reed had a tight working relationship that allowed them to very quickly rebuild things a different way. By having Rudd become that involved with the script, there's a pretty good chance he's going to want to stay attached to star, and if anything, he'll become even more passionate than he was when his good friend Edgar was still attached.

Now Paramount's using that same (very smart) playbook, it looks like, with word breaking that Simon Pegg is going to co-write the screenplay for "Star Trek 3." No word in Deadline's piece about who Pegg might be co-writing with. I know that Edgar Wright recently wrote "Baby Driver" by himself, and as a result, it doesn't read like any of the Cornetto films. Not exactly. You can still hear Edgar's voice, but it's not tempered by anyone else's sensibilities.

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Exclusive: Moody first poster for Tom Hardy Soviet-era thriller 'Child 44' arrives
Credit: Lionsgate

Exclusive: Moody first poster for Tom Hardy Soviet-era thriller 'Child 44' arrives

Fingers crossed this one delivers

Here's what I love about this time of the year. The previous year's movies are done. All the year end articles are done. All the articles looking ahead at the next year are done. Now we can finally just start digging into 2015, and that means new trailers, new posters, and tons of potential.

Take "Child 44," for example. The film was one of the ones that got spotlighted in our recent piece about the films we are most looking forward to this year, and we built that one the way we build many of the galleries here at HitFix. We all voted, ranking the titles according to our own interests. I'll admit… I didn't vote for "Child 44" in that initial round, but that's because I didn't know much about it. Several of the writers here at the site loved the book, though, and because of that, they're ready to see how it's been adapted.

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Why we're allowed to hate a movie about the military
Credit: Warner Bros.

Why we're allowed to hate a movie about the military

On 'American Sniper' and more: judging art, and propaganda

Over the weekend, I saw a headline go by about the truly remarkable box-office earned by "American Sniper," and I made a quick joke about it on Twitter. It was a passing thought, and then I was done.

"I'm not surprised 'American Sniper' opened so well. Fantasy films are huge at the box-office these days. #yeahIsaidit"

Yes, the hashtag at the end is snide. But it's still a joke. I put it up and I moved on. Or at least, that was the plan. A few hours later, I had to shut off the notifications on my phone because they just kept coming. For the most part, lots of retweets and a few jokes back at me, but there was a percentage of those replies that were overtly hostile and angry, and several threats of/calls for violence as a result. “Said the liberal insane POS. Sad our military die for ass wipes like you. Go away, little boy” was a charming one. I was intrigued by the one who called me a racist and then said, “You think there aren’t black people in our armed forces? You think that’s a ‘fantasy’?” I like it when people get upset about things that were never remotely part of my thought process.

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How does 'SNL' deal with MLK as Kevin Hart opens the show?
Credit: NBC

How does 'SNL' deal with MLK as Kevin Hart opens the show?

Can you realy score laughs off of 'Selma'?

Interesting that Kevin Hart wasn't the focus of the cold open. It's a fairly obvious topic to deal with, but the question is what way? How do you make a joke that involves MLK and "Selma"? Do you make it about the awards nominations? Do you play into the idea of a snub? Do you do it as the real MLK or the media character?

"Oh, my god, that mountain is miles away."

Pete Davidson gets a nice upfront spot. It's interesting to see how far "SNL" will or won't go with specific targets. Hart's monologue that followed, focused on opening "The Wedding Ringer," was primarily a showcase for Hart's stories about suburbia. Raccoon stories. "We've gotta move." I hate to admit it, but it's the most relatable thing I've ever seen him do. I may not be a homeowner as of right about now, but I was, and I get it. I had a possum that I attributed a nearly superhuman intelligence to for a full summer in 2010. I've been there.

Hart's busy becoming a movie star right now, and it makes sense that he's not going to do material that polarizes. Kenan, on the other hand, should be comfortable making people uncomfortable.

The kid played by Pete Davidson is ultimately uninterested in anything specific, and more adept at the sort of surface level social media protest outrage that we see these days. I sort of wish they'd gone further with Thompson's reaction to this kid and his notion of protest, but I think they landed the punch.

It'll be interesting to see what the rest of show does with pop culture, and how far Hart bends his own recently-burnished image.

"Saturday Night Live"' featured Kevin Hart and musical guest Sia.

Getting ready for the snow

One week from now, the Sundance Film Festival will be underway, and we'll be there, as we have been since HitFix went online on December 15, 2008.

Six years and a month, then. That's how long we've been doing this. I was at Ain't It Cool for 12 years. That means I've been writing about film, pretty much non-stop, for 18 years now. I am overwhelmed when I think back on all of those adventures, all of those films, all of those filmmakers, all of those festivals, all of those interviews, all of those readers. All of those readers.

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'Ask Drew' returns to discuss Ava Duvernay, Marvel movies, and 'Mad Max: Fury Road'
Credit: HitFix

'Ask Drew' returns to discuss Ava Duvernay, Marvel movies, and 'Mad Max: Fury Road'

Plus someone breaks the Movie God game

When I asked you guys recently what you wanted more of, one of the most frequent responses was "Ask Drew," and our video team was enormously grateful to hear it. Those guys do great work, and they work really hard turning out hours and hours of content every week.s

One of the things that I think is fun about doing this show is the tightrope aspect of it. We endeavor to shoot exactly one take of the entire thing. That's the whole point of how the questions are selected. The video team sees them, they pick the ones we read on the air, and I see them for the first time as you see me reading them. When we do it this way, it can create some interesting moments like the one that happens in this week's episode, where I answer a question, then turn around and read the next question and it's pretty much directly tied to the answer I just gave. No way the video guys knew what I'd say, so it's fun to see how it worked out.

Ava Duvernay's name gets bandied about a bit during the episode, so I guess I'll quickly address the idea of the Oscar "snub" this morning. The reason I don't cover awards in general is because there are so many reasons for people to get outraged about things, so many great films and great artists who were never given an Oscar for anything, and in the end, I just can't get worked up about it. I know it means box-office and it changes careers, and there's no avoiding that. But I'd rather just talk about the movies and the people who made them and not act like the validation of one small voting base, full of people who all have complicated agendas, means anything about art in the long run. Duvernay is a talented filmmaker who deserves a chance to do anything she'd like in the studio system. I have no idea if she'd ever want to play that game, but if so, I hope she gets the chance, and I'll bet she'd be great at it.

We also had reason to talk about what I presume is going to be one of this year's most exciting events, "Mad Max: Fury Road," and considering how much I enjoy taking any opportunity possible to talk about "Mad Max: Fury Road," that is okay by  me. I like that this week's edition of "Movie God" is actually an inversion of the game, and I think while I was a little bit cornered about my answer, it's still the right one.

As always, if you have a question for us, send it to video@hitfix.com and not to me. We'll be back with our next edition once I get back from Sundance.

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