A trip to the newest Universal ride has us thinking about the park's big changes
Credit: Universal Studios Hollywood

A trip to the newest Universal ride has us thinking about the park's big changes

Things have changed a lot for this tourist attraction

As I wrote in one of my "25 Years In LA" pieces, I was a tour guide at Universal Studios. Technically, we were "studio guides," and in my time at the park, I did many different jobs. I was Leatherface for a full run of Halloween Horror Nights, and I managed to win a nod for "Best Scare" at the end of the event. That doesn't really mean anything, but it felt great at the end of a really tough eleven or twelve straight days. I worked "Backdraft" when it was an attraction that took up a full soundstage, and I made up my own slightly insane tweaks to the script that entertained me, if no one else. My friend and I figured out where we could stand in the "E.T." ride so we could say names to it at the beginning of the ride, since the end of the ride featured E.T. saying your name back to you and telling you goodbye. Nothing made us laugh more than when E.T. would call someone a "blank-blanking blankblanker" while wishing them farewell. And sometimes, I was a VIP tour guide.

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Paul Thomas Anderson plus Robert Downey Jr equals kid's film, obviously
Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Paul Thomas Anderson plus Robert Downey Jr equals kid's film, obviously

The edgy writer/director may be making his first family friendly film

"I wanted to make something my kids could see."

Ah, if I had a dollar for every time I've heard that phrase, I could retire comfortably by now. It's a common refrain because many artists start their careers with a kind of ferocity, unafraid to explore any topic, unwilling to compromise, and determined to demolish taboos in every form. But like everyone, when they have kids, they are changed by that experience, and it makes sense that when those kids start asking about what their parents do, those parents get real motivated real fast to be involved in something that they can share with their kids.

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Don Winslow on his amazing new book 'The Cartel' and America's drug war
Credit: Don Winslow/Twitter

Don Winslow on his amazing new book 'The Cartel' and America's drug war

HitFix
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We sit down with the author for an indepth look at the horrifying world captured in his new novel

Have you read Don Winslow's remarkable open letter about the drug war?

If so, then you've got some sense of the simmering anger that runs through his new novel, The Cartel, which is one of the most impressive books I've read this year. Dense, sweeping, and scathing in terms of pointing at all the systemic failures that keep a horrifying mechanism in place, The Cartel is worth your time, and it's worth a serious conversation, which is exactly what I had with him about a week before the book hit the shelves.

He dialed me directly. I was at home, and as I hit record on the conversation, he was already mid-explanation about how long he's been working on telling this particular story, which arrives just as this conversation seems to be heating up onscreen (the documentary "Cartel Land") and in real life.

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Review: 'Magic Mike XXL' gives Channing Tatum one of his rowdiest roles yet
Credit: Warner Bros

Review: 'Magic Mike XXL' gives Channing Tatum one of his rowdiest roles yet

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A strong ensemble anchors this surprising sequel.

Here's how I know "Magic Mike XXL" is a good film.

There's an entire subplot about how unhappy Big Dick Richie is about his inability to find a woman who is physically built right to accommodate his outrageous size. A "glass slipper," as it were. And we are supposed to actually empathize with this horrifying problem of being preposterously hot and so well-endowed that it becomes a problem.

And it works. Like pretty much everything else "Magic Mike XXL" does, that subplot works because of how it's written, how it's played, and how it's shot, and on all fronts, "Magic Mike XXL" is exemplary. There is a subtle quality to the film that works in its favor, especially when the material itself picks up a kind of supercharge in certain sequences. It is rowdy at heart, but smart about it, and it is one more reminder that Channing Tatum is really not like anyone else working in movies right now. It is also celebratory in the way that the first film was sad, concerned more with self-acceptance than running from something.

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Review: 'Terminator: Genisys' squeezes the last bit of life from the franchise
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Review: 'Terminator: Genisys' squeezes the last bit of life from the franchise

HitFix
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All that's left now is accidental self-parody and empty spectacle

"Goddamn time-traveling robots."

Precisely, JK Simmons. Precisely.

Yes, I am aware that James Cameron's name is all over the commercials for "Terminator: Genisys" right now, and yes, i am aware that both of the writers on the film (Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier) are people I dig whose work I like a lot. And while I'm even willing to concede that this is probably better than either "Terminator: Rise Of The Machines" or "Terminator Salvation," that is such a low bar that I'm not sure I'd consider it a compliment.

From moment to moment, "Terminator: Genisys" is decently produced, and there are a few beats here and there that are clever or decently staged. But taken as a whole, "Terminator: Genisys" is representative of the worst of franchise filmmaking, and as someone who fell in love with the original "Terminator" in a theater in 1984, it sickens me. I had a palpable reaction of disgust tonight, one that I masked until I dropped off my kids.

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This year's documentaries make the case for movies that save your life

This year's documentaries make the case for movies that save your life

We look at the role movies play in the unusual lives of some recent documentary stars

I don't believe that they are "just" movies.

I mean, sure, there are plenty of movies that I would consider inconsequential, and many of those are even movies that I like. But the entire culture of films, the idea of these shared narratives that make up something that unites people from around the world, is something that I think people dismiss too easily sometimes. Films are transformative. Films can force you to see things in a new ways. They can build or destroy communities. They can be powerful forces for social change, and they can shine a spotlight on things in a  way that is undeniable and immediate.

And, in their best moments, they can save lives.

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Why do we binge some TV shows and not others?
Credit: Netflix

Why do we binge some TV shows and not others?

Why did 'Orange Is The New Black' get seen before 'Sense8'?

There are few things this year that I have anticipated more than "Sense8," the new Netflix series by J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowskis. Meanwhile, at the start of this year, I still hadn't seen a single episode of "Orange Is The New Black."

So why is it that I burned through season three of Jenji Kohan's prison series, and I have the entire run of "Sense8," minus the first episode, still sitting there in my Netflix queue waiting for the exact right moment?

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Mark Wahlberg versus Mark Wahlberg: A tale of two actors
Credit: Universal Pictures

Mark Wahlberg versus Mark Wahlberg: A tale of two actors

Why do some directors get this particular actor so wrong?

How many Mark Wahlbergs are there?

I ask because I like the guy who showed up in this week's "Ted 2." I like goofball Mark Wahlberg. I like belligerent Boston Mark Wahlberg. I like dancing silly Mark Wahlberg. I like dim bulb but well-meaning Mark Wahlberg.

I do not, however, care for "I'm smarter than I look" Mark Wahlberg. I do not like humorless Mark Wahlberg. I do not particularly care for serious action mode Mark Wahlberg. And when I look at the ones I don't like side-by-side with the ones I like, I find it hard to reconcile that this is all one person.

So again… I ask… how many Mark Wahlbergs are there?

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Kevin Feige addresses Edgar Wright, Paul Rudd and more on 'Ant-Man' set
Credit: Marvel Studios

Kevin Feige addresses Edgar Wright, Paul Rudd and more on 'Ant-Man' set

Is Peyton Reed helping to usher in Marvel's glorious Age Of Weird?

Marvel is serious about Atlanta's brand-new Pinewood Studios, and "Ant-Man" was the way they broke in what may well be their home for the next decade or more.

Late last year, I was part of a group of journalists who were flown to Atlanta to tour the new facility, which is surprisingly huge, and to see a few days worth of shooting on what was at that point perhaps the most publicly troubled movie since Marvel kicked off this universe with "Iron Man." After all, Edgar Wright had dropped out of the film just before it began production, and the process of wrangling a new script and a new director was written about with widespread panic and scorn and skepticism. You will find few more stalwart fans of what Edgar Wright does than me, but in the end, I feel like he's a filmmaker who will always be at his happiest when he is working on either his own original material or an adaptation that he is given free reign to make his own.

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Nobody's done it better than 'Nobody Does it Better' when it comes to James Bond
Credit: MGM/UA Home Video

Nobody's done it better than 'Nobody Does it Better' when it comes to James Bond

We discuss the tradition of the Bond theme and why the 1977 model is the best

Songs On Screen: All week HitFix will be featuring tributes by writers to their favorite musical moments from TV and film. Check out all the entries in the series here

There are very few constants in the world of pop culture.

James Bond, however, appears to be eternal. It's more than a movie franchise at this point. It's a generational milestone that gets handed down. My dad took me to my first Bond movie. I'll take my sons to their first Bond movie. And I have no doubt that 20 years from now, there will be a new James Bond and my kids will be able to take their own kids to enjoy it.

I am equally sure that whatever Bond film they go see will open with a song written by a hot recording artist, and that song will be on the charts while the film's in theaters, and we'll probably even get some cover versions of it some time after that. If there is anything that has been true of the series almost from the start, it has been that the theme song is one of the most compelling and interesting parts of any Bond movie, particularly when paired with a title sequence either by or inspired by Maurice Binder.

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