<p>Eva Green commands the screen in the delirious new sequel &#39;300: Rise Of An Empire&#39;</p>

Eva Green commands the screen in the delirious new sequel '300: Rise Of An Empire'

Credit: Warner Bros/Legendary
B

Review: Eva Green gives a can't-miss performance in the crazy new '300' sequel

Fans of the first film should expect more of the same here

The first question that would seem to apply when regarding any sequel is "Does this feel like it is of a piece with the first film?" It doesn't have to be the same movie to be a successful sequel, but it should do something interesting. It should either be a response to the first film or a deliberately different type of film or it should build on some interesting story thread or it should enhance our understanding of the world or the characters. By that standard, "300: Rise Of An Empire" is a worthy sequel to "300," stylistically consistent and equally loony, featuring what may well be the first truly can't-miss performance in a film this year.

It would not shock me if, twenty years from now, people talk about this film the way they talk about "Poltergeist" now, simply accepting it as common knowledge that Zack Snyder "really" directed the film. It is so precise in the way it builds off the first film's visual style and so carefully built to wrap around the events of the first film narratively that it feels more like deleted scenes from the first film instead of something that stands alone. That may sound like an insult, but it's not. I would assume Snyder, who co-wrote the script with Kurt Johnstad, probably signed off on every single storyboard, and I am sure Noam Murro was given full access to all the resources that Snyder had at his disposal. It's remarkable how much this feels like it is simply more of the same story, told the same way.

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<p>Contrary to how it felt watching the movie, there are actual moments where Diogo Morgado does not smile in &#39;Son Of God&#39;</p>

Contrary to how it felt watching the movie, there are actual moments where Diogo Morgado does not smile in 'Son Of God'

Credit: 20th Century Fox
C-

Review: 'Son Of God' is all mini-series left-overs and no miracle

It's the ultimate Teflon treatment of the Greatest Story Ever Told

As the news broke this week that Paul Greengrass is interested in finding a way to bring "Zealot" the bigscreen, it made me sad that we still haven't seen Paul Verhoeven's proposed movie about the historical Jesus Christ. It's a subject Verhoeven's been studying for decades now, and I have to imagine he would bring a real breadth of knowledge to his approach. Like Verhoeven, I would assume Greengrass is going to try to dig deep to show us something we haven't already seen from this story.

Any time a filmmaker tries to tackle a subject as big and vague as "Jesus" for a movie, you're going to learn a lot about the filmmaker from the final product. However, Christopher Spencer has put that theory of mine to the test by turning in a genuinely bland and forgettable picture here, about as middle-of-the-road as a movie can be.

I have no doubt the film will do big business this weekend. It's a perfect film for the faith-based audience to get behind, because there is no chance this movie will rile or upset anyone from that audience. Diogo Morgado stars as Smilin' Jesus, and the emphasis seems to be on how Jesus built his following, with a fair amount of energy spent on the early miracles he performed, none of which come across as particularly miraculous or convincing.

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<p>Normally, I&#39;d be scared of these two more than any human being in the cast, but then again, I&#39;ve seen &#39;Full Metal Jacket&#39;</p>

Normally, I'd be scared of these two more than any human being in the cast, but then again, I've seen 'Full Metal Jacket'

Credit: Universal Pictures

Vincent D'Onofrio signs on as the bad guy in 'Jurassic World'

So far, Colin Trevorrow's put together a great cast for this one

When I recently published a piece about "Fantastic Four," a commenter asked why everyone seems determined to cut slack to Josh Trank as director of that film. While I enjoyed "Chronicle," it's not just a blank check. For my own part, I can only say that I want to see Trank pull it off. I don't know if he will or won't, and it's true… we have only one film to judge. But that does't change the idea that I'd much rather get a great "Fantastic Four" than a bad one, and I'm willing to wait to see if the big choices he's making pay off instead of just pulling that automatic fanboy dismissal of things.

I feel the same way about Colin Trevorrow. "Safety Not Guaranteed" is enjoyable, but didn't exactly blow my mind. I am still not sure what it is about that small romantic drama that made the producers of "Jurassic World" decide he was the guy, but like Trank, I think he genuinely loves the property he's working on and I hope he pulls it off.

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<p>I hope he&#39;s either playing this role from &#39;Watchmen&#39; or the dude he played in &#39;Hard Candy&#39;</p>

I hope he's either playing this role from 'Watchmen' or the dude he played in 'Hard Candy'

Credit: Warner Bros

Patrick Wilson takes a still-unnamed role in Edgar Wright's 'Ant-Man'

It's amazing how much we don't know about this film so far

Despite my best efforts, I am unable to figure out who Patrick Wilson will be playing for "Ant-Man," directed by Edgar Wright from a script by Wright and Joe Cornish.

With many of the Marvel movies, it is a simple process of elimination. If you're at all familiar with the property, then you can guess who's playing what, but in this case, Wright and Cornish are doing something that is not going to be building off of any one particular storyline or even era of the comic. They're taking some characters people know and building a very different story around them that also now folds into the ongoing story that the larger Marvel movie universe has been telling for the last five or six years.

Patrick Wilson is joining the cast in what has ben described as "the last big role still open," and I have no idea who he could be. I'm hearing that Michael Douglas will be shown in action in the past, and even with digital technology, I'm guessing Douglas won't actually play those parts in flashback. Instead, they'll have to use someone else to play Yellowjacket at the height of his spy days. Could that be the part that Wilson will play? It would be an interesting way of setting up a very different franchise than anything else Marvel's got going right now.

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<p>These are the faces of 2014&#39;s biggest fumble so far.</p>

These are the faces of 2014's biggest fumble so far.

Credit: Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate/Warner Bros

Two months in, what are the worst films of 2014?

Action hero monsters, gooey historical dramas, and insipid love stories a-plenty

We're just now approaching the end of the second month of 2014, and yet I am already winded.

The start of the year is traditionally a time of studios dumping the movies that they couldn't quite slot anywhere else, and one of the reasons those films sometimes have trouble finding a home is because they just plain didn't work out. Talented people with the best of intentions sometimes simply miss the mark, and when that happens, studios find themselves playing a game to try to get people into the theater before word of mouth gets out.

There have definitely been some bright spots this year. I think "The LEGO Movie" is pure delight, and audiences seem to agree, turning it into a full-blown sensation. Sundance always helps kick the year off with some great new films. "The Raid 2" and "Whiplash" and "The Guest" and a fistful of other titles all made that a great ten days of fun films.

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<p>Is this the next big thing in family films?</p>

Is this the next big thing in family films?

Credit: Mojang

Could 'Minecraft' be the new 'Lego Movie' for Warner Bros?

That's certainly what the studio's got to be hoping right now

It's pretty easy to guess what the big conversation in development offices all over town has been for the last few weeks, since the moment "The LEGO Movie" hit theaters with nuclear force.

Right now, executives at every studio are asking their kids, "What do you like to play with?" And I am willing to bet that they are all hearing the exact same word in response.

"Minecraft."

At this point in the life of my own kids, computer games are not an option, especially if there is any part of those games that can be used to communicate with them from other people. Even so, thanks to their friends, they are just as "Minecraft" crazy as the kids who are actually playing it.

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<p>You know why I couldn&#39;t fit Ray into this image? Because Ivan Reitman had a great eye for scope composition when he shot 1984&#39;s &#39;Ghostbusters&#39;</p>

You know why I couldn't fit Ray into this image? Because Ivan Reitman had a great eye for scope composition when he shot 1984's 'Ghostbusters'

Credit: Columbia Pictures

You don't want to see 'Ghostbusters 3,' even if you think you do

Isn't it time to let this one rest?

I want to ask you a question.

Do you really want to see "Ghostbusters 3"?

Before you answer, I want you to consider every angle. I don't want the knee-jerk response, because I know what the knee-jerk response is, and so does Columbia, and so do Dan Aykroyd and Ivan Reitman. The knee-jerk response is easy. After all, I love the original 1984 film "Ghostbusters," and I'm more than willing to cop to a fondness for the admittedly-lesser sequel. On the surface, the thought of more "Ghostbusters" is appealing. Undeniably so.

I won't lie. When I was 21 or 22 years old, my writing partner Scott Swan and I had an elaborate written treatment for "Ghostbusters 3" that I was convinced I was somehow going to get in front of the right people. After all, when I was 21 and 22 years old, I had almost constant access to Joe Medjuck, Michael Gross, and Ivan Reitman thanks to my job at Dave's Video. I never found myself in a position to connect those two dots, though, and 43 year old me laughs at how painfully earnest the younger me was about this sequel idea.

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<p>Dream would rather not be reminded of William Farmer&#39;s draft of Neil Gaiman&#39;s &#39;Sandman&#39;</p>

Dream would rather not be reminded of William Farmer's draft of Neil Gaiman's 'Sandman'

Credit: DC Comics/Vertigo

Warner Bros has found their writer for the big-screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman's 'Sandman'

Could the 53rd time be the charm to actually get this thing made?

I'll bet Neil Gaiman was a fan of "The Fades."

I would bet an equal amount that Jack Thorne is a big fan of "Sandman."

Well, Warner Bros just got all "You got my chocolate in my peanut butter!" when they hired Jack Thorne to write the screenplay for the in-development feature film version of one of the greatest comic stories ever told.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is attached to star in the film, and he's producing the movie with David Goyer. According to Deadline, Goyer's pitch for the film is what Thorne will be working from as he tries to crack a project that any number of writers have failed at for over 15 years now.

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<p>Elijah Wood plays a pianist who is threatened during the most important concert of his life in &#39;Grand Piano&#39;</p>

Elijah Wood plays a pianist who is threatened during the most important concert of his life in 'Grand Piano'

Credit: Magnet Releasing
A-

Review: Elijah Wood plays rough in the fiendishly fun thriller 'Grand Piano'

Now this is how you do a ticking clock thriller right

If you saw Eugenio Mira's earlier film "Agnosia," then you may have already noticed his fondness for Brian De Palma. Anyone making thrillers who holds De Palma as part of the pantheon is already on my short list of people I like, but when you see how well Mira pulls it all together for "Grand Piano," it's obvious that he's graduated to a different level with this film.

I think it's very fair to compare this to "Non-Stop," which I reviewed earlier today, since both of them are thrillers that take place over a compressed period of time in a fairly restrictive setting with a ticking clock. For both filmmakers, the exercise is the same. Can you keep the film somewhat plausible while ratcheting up the tension and convincing us that things could unfold like this? In the case of "Grand Piano," the answer is a resounding yes, and I was delighted by just how playful and fun this is.

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<p>Liam Neeson is prepared to kick the butt of EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON THIS PLANE IF HE HAS TO.</p>

Liam Neeson is prepared to kick the butt of EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON THIS PLANE IF HE HAS TO.

Credit: Universal Studios
C

Review: Liam Neeson's 'Non-Stop' works as a thriller but makes some terrible choices

It's safe to say that Jaume Collet-Serra has a love of the ridiculous

"Unknown," "Orphan," and "House Of Wax" are all various degrees of fun, depending on how seriously you take them, and director Jaume Collet-Serra is certainly slick. Part of me wonders if he can read, though, because he seems to have made a habit of picking ridiculous scripts with ridiculous ideas at the heart of them, and then he directs them as if they are the most serious things in the world.

In theory, I have no problem with that. As I said, I think those three films manage to be silly pulpy fun, and that's exactly what I expected from "Non-Stop." For a good chunk of its running time, it is indeed a silly but well-made ride in which Liam Neeson plays his popular character John Taken, but on a plane this time and without a daughter. There is a point in the film, though, where the bad guy (whose identity is played as a mystery for most of the film) finally spells out his motivations, and in that one moment, I completely disconnected from the film. More than that, I was repulsed. It would be akin to watching an "Austin Powers" movie that suddenly tried to deal seriously with the Holocaust before cutting back to a dance number with a barely-dressed Beyonce.

The script, by John W. Richardson & Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle, takes its time with the set-up. We see Bill Marks (Neeson) go through his pre-flight preparation, and we also see a number of other passengers as they all wait for their flight. It's only once everyone is onboard and in place that we learn that Marks is a Federal Air Marshall, and he's supposed to be providing security for the flight across the Atlantic to London. Marks is a drunk, still despondent over some personal tragedy, and he seems content to just sleepwalk through his job until he gets a text, not long after take-off, that tells him he has 20 minutes to figure out a way to get $150 million transferred to an off-shore account or someone on the plane will be killed.

It's a great hook, and as with any of these films where you have characters in a small confined space with a ticking clock, part of the challenge of the film is how you can find ways to keep things interesting and keep some sort of internal logic in place even as you find excuses to keep the characters from leaving or bringing in other help. "Non-Stop" manages to keep things rolling along, using the mystery of the bad guy's identity to keep Neeson active.

There are two major problems with the film. First, there's that motivation I mentioned. Without getting into the details, I will simply offer up a trigger warning, because there are people who will get blind-sided by suddenly dragging 9/11 into a movie this goofy. If you're someone who still finds memories of that event and discussions of it to be emotionally painful or upsetting, then skip this one. It is a cheap and stupid answer to what is driving the film's plot, and used in this way, I find it genuinely distasteful.

The other major problem is that this time, Collet-Serra's fondness for frommage tips too heavily in the wrong direction, and he piles on the ridiculous moments in a way that eventually becomes too much. It is a fine line between making a crowd-pleasing moment that pays off emotionally and drowning everything in Velveeta, and there's one in particular that they go for at the end of this film that makes me think Collet-Serra is unafraid of even the hokiest, silliest beats.

Neeson is fine here, and I'll be curious to see how many more years he's going to be able to play the action star. Hollywood figured it out very late after decades of giving him primarily dramatic roles and romantic leads, and as a result, Neeson's kicking into this sort of high gear at the exact moment many guys would be trying to move out of the action movie business. It helps that he's roughly the size of a house and when he throws someone around the cabin of an airplane, he authentically looks like a guy who can do that. The bad guy in the film sets a frame that makes it look like Neeson is the one pulling off the hijacking, and they get some decent mileage out of him having to confront his own demons in order to effectively do his job.

Julianne Moore has a good time playing Jen Summers, a suspiciously friendly woman who ends up seated next to Neeson on the plane. The various passengers and crew all end up as suspects, and when you've got people like Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll, Lupita Nyong'o, Linus Roache, and more all playing the parts, it seems like a shame to give them so little to do. In particular, anyone who thinks they're going to get a sense of what Nyong'o can do beyond her work in "12 Years A Slave" won't get any help from this film. She's barely in it, and for most of the film, she's a glorified extra.

If someone really digs "Non-Stop," I certainly wouldn't hold it against them. I don't think it's a bad film. It's a completely average film that makes a few terrible choices, and those pulled me out of the movie enough that I don't think I'd ever bother with this one again. Besides, there's another film that plays this same kind of game that I'm going to review this afternoon as well, and it does it sooooooo much better.

"Non-Stop" opens in theaters everywhere on Friday.

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