Review: Fairy-tale mash-up 'Into The Woods' feels stagebound and small as a movie
Credit: Walt Disney Studios

Review: Fairy-tale mash-up 'Into The Woods' feels stagebound and small as a movie

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Rob Marshall's really not good at this, folks

It is not the fault of anyone involved with "Into The Woods" that in the time since the musical originally opened on stage, it has been rendered redundant. When it opened on Broadway in 1987, one of the things that made it stand out was just how much of a post-modern spin it put on the entire notion of happily ever after. In the decades since then, pop culture has turned into one giant "don't take any of this too seriously" wink, and fairy tales have been deconstructed so completely that it feels like this has been completely digested already.

Besides, part of me is almost convinced that Sondheim just doesn't work on film.

We're talking about a show that won the Tony for Best Score, Best Book and Best Actress, beating the 900-pound gorilla of the year, "The Phantom Of The Opera." Impressive, and it cleaned up at the Drama Desk Awards as well, where it actually took Outstanding Musical. Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine are long-time collaborators who seem to innately understand one another, and they both understand theater on an almost molecular level. When you see one of their productions, they are in total control.

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Ridley Scott's 'Exodus: Gods and Kings' reportedly banned by Egypt and Morocco

Ridley Scott's 'Exodus: Gods and Kings' reportedly banned by Egypt and Morocco

Historical inaccuracy is the least of the movie's problems

Part of my Christmas Eve was spent watching the HD copy of "The Interview" that I bought on my XBox One, happily supporting Sony's decision to make it available at home as well as in any of the indie theaters who were willing to book the movie for its Christmas Day release.

Over the last week or so, I've done a number of interviews in which people wanted to talk about what happened with "The Interview," and one of the words that I've heard bandied about repeatedly was "banned." I was asked a few times about what got "The Interview" banned, and I had to explain that nobody had banned the movie. That's a near-total misunderstanding of the situation, or an egregiously wrong choice of words.

The truth is that there are very few movies that can claim to have been banned by or in the United States. There is a broader conversation to be had about the way there are economic restrictions imposed on films based on their content all the time, and how the MPAA's ratings board absolutely should answer for the way they use their most difficult ratings as a way of forcing certain types of films completely out of the mainstream. Technically speaking, though, films don't get banned here.

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'Entourage' trailer is big and slick and instantly divisive
Credit: Warner Bros.

'Entourage' trailer is big and slick and instantly divisive

How about that Mark Wahlberg cameo?

The "Entourage" movie trailer has been online for about twenty minutes at this point, and I've already seen a remarkable divide emerge between people who are excited for it and think it looks awesome and people who are making jokes about needing to shower in Valtrex after seeing the trailer.

If nothing else, then, it seems like they've upped the production value of "Entourage" just based on this first glimpse at the way the movie looks. Just that opening bit, from what I assume is the movie within the movie, looks like a real movie, something that they never quite pulled off on the show, no matter how hard they tried.

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Why Justin Lin makes sense as the new director of 'Star Trek 3'
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Why Justin Lin makes sense as the new director of 'Star Trek 3'

And why studios are starting to gamble more than ever

Hollywood has no idea what they're doing anymore, and it makes things exciting for people who are trying to figure out how to navigate a business that no longer makes sense.

One of the things I've been fascinated by is this sudden push where studios are handing over giant franchise movies to fairly untested filmmakers. Over the last couple of weeks, I've been hearing some stories about how those jobs have worked out. In one case, I hear things are going very well, and people seem to dig the end result. In another case, I'm hearing that the director has stopped taking phone calls from the studio and they're looking for someone to supervise reshoots.

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Comfort food and the holiday crush

So that happened.

There is a nasty stomach flu working its way around Los Angeles, and someone made sure I got my turn with it. It was the sort of thing where I just couldn't focus or think or work comfortably, and I ended up sleeping more in one week than I have in the last three months. I'm finally on the mend and feeling human just in time for the holiday, but it's made me curious about what sort of media you turn to when you're at home and feeling lousy.

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Review: The new 'Night At The Museum' is exactly the same as the first two films
Credit: 20th Century Fox

Review: The new 'Night At The Museum' is exactly the same as the first two films

HitFix
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This series is on auto-pilot, which is exactly what the studio wants

In many ways, the "Night At The Museum" movies represent a near-perfect distillation of what Hollywood wants from its franchises. That is not a compliment.

The three films in the series are interchangeable because none of the films seem to advance the characters or the premise beyond "Magical tablets bring things alive in a museum at night," and for the audience that keeps turning out to see these films, that seems like all they want or need from them. This one opens in Egypt, decades ago, as the magical tablet is discovered for the first time and a dire warning of a curse is ignored completely. We then flash forward to find that Larry (Ben Stiller) is still a security guard, but he is also somehow in charge of all the "special effects" for a major fundraiser that is being held. I'm not sure many major metropolitan museums put their security guards in charge of giant events, creatively speaking, but that's the least of the movie's problems.

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Review: Depressing new spin on 'Annie' seems completely embarrassed to be a musical
Credit: Sony Pictures

Review: Depressing new spin on 'Annie' seems completely embarrassed to be a musical

HitFix
D+
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It's almost too much to bear

As Will Gluck's new film version of "Annie" opens, an adorable red-haired moppet stands in front of her class reading a plucky book report. As she finishes, her teacher rolls his eyes and calls on the next student, Annie B. With that very post-modern move, things are handed over to Quvenzhane Wallis, who approaches her first scene the way she approaches literally every single second of the film: big smile in place, bouncing rather than dancing, and sing-talking her way through songs that demand a much better singer.

Harsh, perhaps, but from start to finish, "Annie" feels like a movie made by people who are deeply embarrassed to be working on a musical, and that's a problem. Wallis, who is an appealing young performer, simply doesn't have the chops for what has traditionally been one of the more demanding leads in a musical for a young performer, and Gluck, along with co-writer Aline Brosh McKenna, has built a film around Wallis that is constantly undercutting the songs, the choreography, and the entire idea of musicals. Jamie Foxx seems like he's the most comfortable out of all the cast members with the music, while Rose Byrne seems to have finally found something she's not awesome at, and Bobby Cannavale is either dubbed by another singer or has the single most "that is not what I would have expected" voice I've ever heard. Cameron Diaz growls her way though a couple of things, and between her singing and the way she plays Mrs. Hannigan, this might actually be cumulatively more uncomfortable than "Sex Tape," no easy feat.

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'The Interview' and North Korea: What do we lose if we let fear win over art?
Credit: Sony Pictures

'The Interview' and North Korea: What do we lose if we let fear win over art?

Sony finds themselves cornered in a no-win situation

We are watching precedent unfold in front of us right now, and I'm afraid we're doing it wrong. Fear is driving a major studio to pull a film from release before it has even opened, and fear had every major theater chain ready to drop the film if the studio hadn't backed down.

This cannot be the way we make decisions.

My first major job was working for AMC Theaters, starting as an usher, then working my way up through pretty much every position I could hold at a local theater. I worked concessions, I sold tickets, I trained as a projectionist, I built up prints, and by the time I graduated high school, I had become an assistant manager.

When I took my first trip up to Florida State University's campus to prepare for my attendance in the fall of '88, it was the early days of the controversy surrounding "The Last Temptation Of Christ." There were only vague rumblings of the eventual furor at that point, so I was startled when I was walking with friends near the student union and ran into a guy handing out fliers trying to get people to sign a petition warning local theaters not to play the film when and if it was finally released.

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Katherine Waterston on navigating the controlled chaos of 'Inherent Vice'
Credit: HitFix

Katherine Waterston on navigating the controlled chaos of 'Inherent Vice'

Plus she talks about the advantages of being a second-generation actor

My first impression of Katherine Waterston in person was surprise at just how tall she is.

I stand 6'2", and when we were introduced, we were eye-to-eye. It was the night of the New York Film Festival premiere of "Inherent Vice," and we were at the after-party at Tavern On The Green. My review had gone up already, and by the time I made it to the party, several of the people involved in the film had seen the review. That included Waterston, who seemed excited to finally be able to discuss the movie with people, and thrilled that people seemed to like it.

While we spoke, I was also introduced to her father, the iconic character actor Sam Waterston, and he couldn't have seemed more proud of her work in the film. Since that night, I've spoken with her two more times about the film. The first was a long chat on a recent afternoon, and the second was on-camera at the recent Los Angeles press day for the movie. I wasn't expecting to talk to her that last time, so it's probably the more informal of the two.

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Joss Whedon on creating his beautiful monster for 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron'
Credit: Marvel Studios

Joss Whedon on creating his beautiful monster for 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron'

Plus he talks about the right way to use the Hulk

SHEPPERTON STUDIOS, MIDDLESEX - Joss Whedon looked tired.

And not just a little tired, either. He looked weary, deep down in his bones tired. He looked like he was ready to just fall down where he was and sleep for a week. I've seen a number of other directors in this state and it's always when they're near the end of production on one of these mega-movies. The pressure that's on these guys in enormous, and for Whedon, following up one of the biggest films of all time can't be easy.

We sat in a small group facing Whedon in the Tony Stark lab, part of the Avengers Tower set, and asked him what his primary goal was walking into the sequel.

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