The real-life refugee cast of 'The Good Lie' give the film's script credit for telling truth
Credit: HitFix

The real-life refugee cast of 'The Good Lie' give the film's script credit for telling truth

These 'lost boys of the Sudan' have found a way to share their story

The cast of "The Good Lie" came by the HitFix studios this week so we could sit down to discuss the work they did in the film, and the way the movie manages to avoid some of Hollywood's most irritating bad habits.

First up, I spoke with Arnold Oceng and Kuoth Wiel. Oceng is the film's ostensible lead, although I think it's a fairly balanced movie overall in terms of the way it treats its ensemble cast. He's also the one cast member of the four main refugees with the most acting experience, and unsurprisingly, he was fairly poised in our interview.

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Review: Evil doll movie 'Annabelle' never matches scary confidence of 'The Conjuring'
Credit: Warner Bros/New Line

Review: Evil doll movie 'Annabelle' never matches scary confidence of 'The Conjuring'

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White people have it pretty good in this oddly bloodless thriller

John R. Leonetti is no James Wan.

"The Conjuring" is one of the most exciting surprises I've had in recent memory. I didn't expect anything of it when I sat down to see the horror film in a screening room at what used to be the New Line offices on Robertson. It was me and a handful of other people in the room, and for the first time in a long time, I found myself genuinely caught up in a horror film, scared, absorbed in a way that often escapes me. "The Conjuring" is as confident a ghost story as I've seen in recent years, and Wan deserves whatever bump he gets from that film's success.

I can see why "Annabelle" got made. I can hear the meetings in my head where the film was discussed, and it makes logical sense. After all, the opening sequence in "The Conjuring" is one of the scariest things in the movie. It's an effective, efficient scene that lays out the way the haunted artifacts room in the home of the Warrens works, and it establishes Annabelle as an ongoing source of fear. In theory, the idea of a film about that doll and the origins of its haunting sounds like a good idea.

So why doesn't the finished film work?

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An exclusive look at 'U For Utopia' from the brand-new 'ABCs of Death 2'
Credit: Drafthouse Films

An exclusive look at 'U For Utopia' from the brand-new 'ABCs of Death 2'

What exactly is that thing on wheels?

So how did you guys spend your Thursday nights?

Me, I'm enjoying "The ABCs of Death 2," which is live on VOD right about now. It's a sequel to the anthology film that Drafthouse Films put out a few years ago, another chance for 26 different directors to get together to make short films about… well, death in all its forms. Murder, accidents, crimes of passion, age, sheer stupid luck. It's a great group of filmmakers working on the movie this time, and we've got a couple of fun things coming up to help celebrate the release of the movie.

Tonight, for example, there was a #DeathParty. What's that? Well, on Twitter, a bunch of the filmmakers all got together to hold a live conversation, a running commentary during the film, starting at 7:00 PST. They were joined by Tim League and Ant Timpson, two guys who have the most rabid appetites imaginable for the absurd and the extreme.

I've got an interview coming soon with Vincenzo Natali, director of "Cube" and "Splice" about his chapter in the film, but for tonight, let's just go with a still from "U Is For Utopia," his chapter in the film.

Natali is the perfect kind of filmmaker for this kind of film, a guy with a very clear voice who has struggled with some really brutal development periods on films he's made. With this, he gets to make a complete idea, and he gets to do it quickly, delivering something and being able to move on and not having to dedicate years of his life to something that ends in frustration.

Check back here on the 7th and on the 23rd for two more fun "ABCs Of Death 2" updates involving Natali.

You can find the film on VOD now, and the film will roll into theaters on October 31st, just in time for the most f'ed up Halloween parties imaginable.

Michael Keaton gives good crazy in exclusive images from 'Birdman'
Credit: 20th Century Fox

Michael Keaton gives good crazy in exclusive images from 'Birdman'

Wait... is that really Zach Galifianakis?

As the fall season gets underway, I'm starting to finally get a look at some of the movies I've been most excited about, including "Birdman," which I get to see tomorrow. I couldn't be more excited about the movie based on what I've heard, and I'm doing my best not to watch clips or to learn too much. I want to see it all in context.

Well… almost all. They did send me some new images from the film today that I'm going to share, featuring the cast and, in one shot, the director. Is it weird that one of the things that makes me happiest about the mere existence of this film is that Michael Keaton is front and center again?

In general, Michael Keaton's career has been the source of confusion for me for a while now. Keaton is the quintessential '80s leading man, the cloth from which Tom Hanks was cut, the model that everyone imitated, and he has been missing from starring roles for too long. When he showed up in the same small role in both "Jackie Brown" and "Out Of Sight," it felt like everyone I spoke to about it was excited the same way. They were thrilled to see him. They said they wanted to see more of him. They were confused why we haven't seen him more often lately.

While "Birdman" is an original, written by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo, it feels like there are parallels between the character Keaton's playing, named Riggan Thomson, and his own professional persona. While it seems like an easy thing to imagine that as an actor you'd want to be playing the biggest roles possible, making the choice to become Batman is a big one, and it becomes a defining moment, no matter what else you do in your career. I would imagine there are things about the role that would haunt you no matter what, no matter how much you appreciated it, and while I normally am not a fan of movies about the people who make movies, I think there's some real dramatic heft to the concept.

Anyway, enjoy the photos, and I can't wait to both see and review the movie.

"Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)" begins as a limited release on October 17th, then starts rolling out wider at the end of the month.

Robots and Bay-hem loom large in 'Transformers: Age Of Extinction' concept art
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Robots and Bay-hem loom large in 'Transformers: Age Of Extinction' concept art

Want to see what Optimus Prime's packing under the hood?

One of my favorite parts of any filmmaking process, especially on big giant science-fiction or fantasy films, is the design process when illustrators work to figure out the visual signature of a film.

As Paramount gears up to release "Transformers: Age Of Extinction" on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow, they sent over a fistful of the artwork that was created to help pin down the look of the movie. Sure, it's a sequel, but there were so many things that had to be redesigned and so many new characters that had to be introduced that they had as much work to do here as they would have on any original film.

You'll see a lot of environmental stuff in these images as they worked to find the look of the Knight Ship and some of the inhabitants of that ship, and you'll see studies on several of the new Transformers. I like the concept art of the Bumble-Bee battle in the streets of downtown Hong Kong a lot.

Say what you will about Michael Bay, but it's clear looking at this art that this is a guy who pushes his design team to dream as big as possible.

"Transformers: Age Of Extinction" is in stores tomorrow.

David Fincher calls R2-D2 and C-3PO 'slaves' and explains why he's not making 'Episode VII'
Credit: 20th Century Fox/Lucasfilm Ltd.

David Fincher calls R2-D2 and C-3PO 'slaves' and explains why he's not making 'Episode VII'

I would watch the heck out of Fincher's movie based on what he said

One of the reasons for the enduring appeal of "Star Wars" is that different people can take wildly different meanings from the films, depending on which character or characters they feel most drawn to. Case in point? David Fincher, currently promoting "Gone Girl," gave an interview in which he presented an interesting read on the first two films in the ongoing space opera saga.

I'm sure some fans are going to accuse Fincher of overthinking this, but I think he's got a valid point about the "Star Wars" universe, one that I've thought about a fair amount as I've gotten older and as I see the films from a fresh perspective. George Lucas spoke early on about how he considered R2-D2 and C-3PO to be the leads in the entire series, and I remember him saying they would be the only characters to show up in all of the movies. While I don't really like the way C-3PO's backstory is handled thanks to the prequels, I have an inordinate fondness for the two characters, and in particular, I remember how it felt as a kid when I first saw the film and realized that the droids were the ones having the adventure, with all the human characters coming together because of the actions of the droids. I've always considered them to be hugely important to the movies.

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Review: David Fincher's 'Gone Girl' pits Affleck against Pike in a wicked satire of marriage
Credit: 20th Century Fox

Review: David Fincher's 'Gone Girl' pits Affleck against Pike in a wicked satire of marriage

HitFix
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Fans of the book should rest easy

David Fincher has been frequently compared to Stanley Kubrick over the course of his career, and most of the time, the comparison is based on the most facile of things. Sure, there's a level of technical mastery to the films Fincher makes that is almost hard to believe, on the same level as that displayed by Kubrick, but I think there's another reason that the comparison is apt, one that goes deeper and that isn't just about how they approach their craft.

At his best, David Fincher makes films that feel like they were made by an alien who is visiting Earth, someone who is determined to understand the way these strange naked apes behave, and it's that same sort of cultural anthropologist voice that marked many of Kubrick's movies. There is a feeling watching Fincher's movies that he feels like we're all insane, and he doesn't trust any of us, and that misanthropic streak is on full display in his new film, "Gone Girl," based on the novel by Gillian Flynn.

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Review: Salma Hayek's got to get primal to survive the action movie 'Everly'
Credit: Radius-TWC

Review: Salma Hayek's got to get primal to survive the action movie 'Everly'

HitFix
B-
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Plus we discuss the film's most difficult choices

AUSTIN - "Everly" puts me in an uncomfortable position.

Sure, nowhere near as uncomfortable as the circumstances faced by Everly (Salma Hayek) over the course of the film, a one-room action movie, but as a film critic, I find myself really wrestling with my reaction.

On the one hand, I like the energy of the film, and I think Hayek is about as appealing a lead as she's been in a while as the film opens in media hell, with her as a sex slave who finds herself at a turning point, freedom in her sights, but with a whole wall of mayhem between her and escape. The film makes a lot out of its single location, and I'm a fan of films where you watch one space get more and more destroyed over the course of an evening. Director Joe Lynch directs the film like a hungry man chasing a ham sandwich, and it's that eagerness-to-please that I genuinely like about the film.

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Review: Simon Pegg gets raw and real in 'Hector and the Search for Happiness'

Review: Simon Pegg gets raw and real in 'Hector and the Search for Happiness'

Not a mean moment in it

There is not a cynical or mean-spirited moment in Peter Chelsom's new film "Hector and the Search For Happiness," and the film's observations about life are in some ways so direct, so fundamental, that it would be easy to shrug it off and laugh at its sincerity.

Happiness is a subject I've been thinking about quite a bit this year. At 44, I find it elusive, temporary. I've upended my life this year, moving out of my house, negotiating a divorce, building a new life to share with my kids, and even exploring the notion of new love, and all of it has been life-altering and shattering and scary and exhilarating, and above all else, necessary. Completely and totally necessary.

When I was a young man, I saw happiness as something that landed on you, something that was simply a by-product of living life. I took happiness for granted, and I am well aware now as an older man that happiness is something you have to actively work towards, that you cannot expect it to simply land on you. I have had my fair share of luck over the years, moments of joy that were simply delivered to me, but for the most part, I've had to struggle for the happiness I've had, and I have learned to cherish it when it happens.

That process is different for everyone, and while it seems like a vaguely sappy idea in the broad description, Peter Chelsom is a guy who has managed to avoid sap with a certain amount of grace over the years. His films "Hear My Song," "Funny Bones," and "The Mighty" are all movies that have a great deal of heart, but that never give in to the easy or the cheap move. Here, he's working from a novel by Francois Lelord, and with his co-writers Maria von Heland and Tinker Lindsay, he's done his best to apply a light touch to the story of Hector (Simon Pegg), a psychiatrist who has a tidy, orderly life and who one day realizes that he's not qualified to talk to his patients about happiness because he's not entirely sure that he's happy himself.

This comes as rather unpleasant news for his girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike), who works hard to make Hector's life as orderly as possible, and when he tells her that he's taking an open-ended trip around the world in search of whatever it is he's missing, she puts on a smiling face, but it guts her. Hector sets off having planned for anything, and at first I expected something very broadly comic. From the start, though, the film steers towards something more emotional, and it starts to build a respectable head of steam. The lessons that Hector picks up as he meets various people are genuine, some of them very small, some of them more profound, and there were several of them that I made note of for myself.

The film is gorgeously photographed by Kolja Brandt, and there are certain sequences that serve as a reminder that Chelsom may have done his time in the Hollywood trenches with movies like "Shall We Dance?" and "The Hannah Montana Movie," but at heart, he's got a gentle, poetic eye. Simon Pegg seems to have really taken the material to heart, and I think it's kind of a break-through performance for him. As good as he's been in other films, I don't think I've ever seen him play something this raw or real, and there are several moments where he just kind of breaks. Hector isn't some perfect role model, and he makes some ugly mistakes, which only makes him seem more human.

Similarly, I think Pike is very good here, and she's got the trickier role. Most of the time, when you see a movie like this and the girlfriend is introduced at the beginning of the film as someone who is very fastidious and organized, it's a set-up for that character to be treated as a villain, and I braced myself for what I consider a really unpleasant trope. Instead, Clara is treated with empathy, and her efforts to make a very clean and ordered life for Hector are treated as an act of love, not a suffocating prison. It made me like the movie more, and the way they treat Clara in the film is an indicator of how the film treats all of its characters.

There's a big move towards the end of the film that is a little too on-the-nose, but even as I rolled my eyes a bit at the idea, Pegg's performance sells it, and he basically has his Ebenezer Scrooge moment, all the pieces falling into place as he realizes what he wants and what he has. I found it moving and simple, and while it may mark me as a sentimentalist, "Hector" worked on me. I respect the way the film delivers its ideas, and I'm always happy to see Chelsom deliver something that is both sincere and successful.

"Hector and the Search For Happiness" may not unlock all of the secrets of the universe, but it does offer a welcome glimpse at how important the search is for all of us.

'Ask Drew' tackles Toronto with answers about Anna Kendrick, Black Panther, and Roger Corman
Credit: Universal Pictures

'Ask Drew' tackles Toronto with answers about Anna Kendrick, Black Panther, and Roger Corman

Plus we premiere a new look and ask for your feedback

We're going to consider today an experiment in "Ask Drew," and the results, much like everything else about this show, depend on you.

We managed to schedule an "Ask Drew" to fall right between the Toronto Film Festival and my vacation, which I'm already enjoying in Austin, Texas, where I'm going to attend the tenth anniversary of Fantastic Fest and eat roughly twice my own weight in brisket.

One of the changes we're making to the show involves my appearance. I am aware that this is shot on video and then shown to actual people, but I am, like many writers, not as focused on the external as the internal. I've heard enough feedback, though, that I've decided to try to class it up just a wee bit. So I'm going to ask you… how do you feel about this week's episode?

The questions, of course, are good as always. You guys asked about diversity in upcoming Marvel movies, the new Anna Kendrick musical (which I am kicking myself for not seeing in Toronto), and we played one of the easiest rounds of Movie God so far. What I love about this show and the interaction we've been able to have so far is that I'm learning a lot about what's important to you, and that can only be a good thing. I think of this all as a dialogue, because if it's just a monologue, me shouting opinions into the void, then what's the point? I write what I write so it will be read and so we can use that as a springboard into a larger conversation, and "Ask Drew" has been a lovely way to help crystallize some of those talking points.

I'll be taping the next episode on Tuesday the 29th, so get your questions about Fantastic Fest or anything else you're interested in ready and send them to video@hitfix.com, and as always, thanks for playing along.