Review: Pixar's latest, 'The Good Dinosaur,' is one of the studio's thinnest films
Credit: Pixar
B-

Review: Pixar's latest, 'The Good Dinosaur,' is one of the studio's thinnest films

Pixar's working in a minor key here in a major way

It's nice.

That's not a slam against the latest film from Pixar, but I want to offer very tempered praise here. I was taken aback at first by just how slight the film is, but I think it has a gentle touch on the best material in the film, and it does have a very real sense of emotional power to it, cumulative but fairly undeniable.

What threw me off was just how simple the film is. This may be the single most stripped down narrative they've ever offered, and I can't help but wonder if this is the result of the film's development issues. It feels like the film's central relationship works, and they knew that was the key to making the film work, and so all the attention was focused on that to the detriment of what normally makes Pixar movies shine, the supporting cast of characters and the great strange left turns that are the things we often remember the most.

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Black Panther makes his debut in first 'Captain America: Civil War' trailer
Credit: Marvel Studios

Black Panther makes his debut in first 'Captain America: Civil War' trailer

The Marvel universe just got a little big bigger and a whole lot rougher

Oh, hi, "Civil War."

Tonight, Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. made an unannounced visit to "Jimmy Kimmel Live," and they premiered the first teaser trailer for "Captain America: Civil War," next summer's mega-sequel that is essentially a third "Avengers" film.

It's a damn fine trailer, and one of the things I like most about it right away is just how little it reveals. Mainly, the trailer sets up the underlying tension that eventually leads to the civil war, starting with the return of General Ross, played once again by William Hurt. I love that they're bringing him back from "The Incredible Hulk," and it makes perfect sense that he would want to bring the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe under his control.

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Will Tom Cruise be the Robert Downey Jr. of the Universal monster universe?
Credit: Warner Bros.

Will Tom Cruise be the Robert Downey Jr. of the Universal monster universe?

The industry's trades spat regarding a key decision for the studio

There is no reverse engineering of the Marvel formula more risky right now than what Universal is attempting with their shared universe of monster movies.

That risk reportedly just got a little less terrifying for the studio, though, if Tom Cruise really is in talks to star in "The Mummy," the first film that they're using to help launch what they hope will be a major cornerstone of this new franchise. That's a huge win for the studio, and Cruise is one of those guys who works tirelessly once he's signed on to something. Considering how important he will be to the entire monster universe, not just his one film, this is a big moment for Universal. In essence, this is their Robert Downey Jr., which seems like an interesting echo when you realize that at one point, Tom Cruise was attached to play Tony Stark  for New Line in their "Iron Man" movie.

To be fair, Deadline absolutely refutes the Variety story, a case of some definite turf war playing out in public. I don't have a source either way, but I can do some digging and see if anyone's able to clarify off-the-record.

I'm so conflicted about these films. I would love for there to be a great series of Universal monster movies based on the classic characters. I love the classic characters. They had one of the original shared universes, and when I was young, watching films where Dracula and the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's Monster all ended up colliding in different configurations was a huge spark to my imagination. They'd take the same basic pieces and rearrange them and see what variations they could play. It was fun. And they established a rule that holds true even now with franchises, that everything eventually degenerates into self-parody if things run long enough. You can be as serious about things as you want, and you will still eventually end up with Abbott and Costello running around screaming about Lon Chaney Jr.

When they first announced they were making these films, they made the comparison to Marvel, and there was some talk about "monsters as superheroes." Whatever feelings you had about those earlier rumblings, just know that they've had some really smart writers pushing really hard to crack this for a while now. Jon Spaihts and Eric Heisserer both are very good at what they do, and they take the legacy of the Universal monsters as a pretty sacred trust. It makes sense that Universal has Chris Morgan working on the project. He's been a key part of keeping the "Fast and Furious" movies chugging along on-schedule, and he's proven himself to have a pretty keen ear for what the audience likes as a franchise evolves.

But they've got to get it off the ground first, and it's going to be tricky to pull it off. Part of the disagreement between Deadline and Variety has to do with Cruise's schedule. He's working on the new Jack Reacher film right now, and he's got "Mission: Impossible: Whatever The Next One's Called" shooting at the end of 2016. That leaves room for something else between those two, and certainly the Universal monsters is a big enough draw for Cruise. He's got to see the upside of how big it could be if it works.

Regardless of who stars in it, "The Mummy" is one of the most important films on Universal's slate, and we'll see how those choices start coming together soon.

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Seth Rogen's throwing a 'Sausage Party,' and guess who's writing the theme song
Credit: HitFix

Seth Rogen's throwing a 'Sausage Party,' and guess who's writing the theme song

Plus find out how the crazy animated comedy begins

When Seth Rogen was at our offices last week to discuss his new film 'The Night Before," we touched on a number of subjects, and the conversation turned at one point to "Sausage Party," an animated film directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon.

For those who haven't heard of the film, it's understandable. It's not due in theaters until August of 2016, but it's been in production for a while now. The film tells the story of Barry, a hot dog voiced by Michael Cera, who begins to suspect that the entire ideological afterlife that has been explained to him for his entire existence is, in fact, a lie. What that lie is and how his adventure peels back the layers of reality is something you'll have to see for yourself, but it's a blisteringly filthy script, and very, very funny.

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Sundance kicks off its 2016 announcements with evil clowns, Johnny Depp, and Kevin Smith
Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Sundance kicks off its 2016 announcements with evil clowns, Johnny Depp, and Kevin Smith

It's going to be a weird year

Is it really almost time for Sundance again?

For the last few weeks, I've been discussing Sundance strategy with Richard Rushfield, my editor-in-chief. He and I are attending at least part of the festival together, and it's going to be a very different year for us. HitFix looks different than it did even a year ago, and the way we approach festivals in general is going to be different starting in 2016.

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Seth Rogen discusses mining comedy from good marriages and strong women characters
Credit: HitFix

Seth Rogen discusses mining comedy from good marriages and strong women characters

How 'Neighbors' helped pin down a new approach to the way he sees women in his films

We're doing more and more interviews at the HitFix offices these days, and it's a pretty great way to disrupt that sort of thudding sameness that happens when you're stuck talking to people at a junket and they've been in that same chair for nine straight hours by the time you get to them.

It's even better when I get someone into the studio who I'm already comfortable with, and that's definitely the case with Seth Rogen. We've been chatting on and off for over a decade now, and it's amazing to see how much his career has evolved in that time. I remember running into him at the "Anchorman" premiere, where he played a very small part, and now he's juggling multiple projects at any given time, both in front of the camera and behind it.

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Review: 'Mockingjay Part 2' closes out the 'Hunger Games' series with soul and sorrow
Credit: Lionsgate
A-

Review: 'Mockingjay Part 2' closes out the 'Hunger Games' series with soul and sorrow

Katniss learns the hardest lessons possible as the franchise comes to a close

What do I mean when I use the phrase "better than it has to be" when I'm talking about a movie?

It's a question I was asked by e-mail after publishing my review of "Creed" this week, and it's a question that I thought I should answer since I'm going to say the same thing about "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2." What it means is that there are films that exist primarily as commerce that could easily be produced in the safest, most middle-of-the-road way possible and they would do fine with their audience. When Lionsgate saw the frenzy that greeted the announcement that they were making films based on the Suzanne Collins novels, they would have been smart to make the single safest version of those books. From the start of the series, though, they've made choices that make these feel like they're not doing anything the safe way. There's something relentlessly sad and even ugly about the way they're telling the story, and it gives the films a soul that you don't alway see in blockbusters.

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There's more impossible magic on display in the first 'Now You See Me 2' trailer
Credit: Lionsgate

There's more impossible magic on display in the first 'Now You See Me 2' trailer

Jon Chu steps in and brings some new cast members with him

While I didn't love "Now You See Me," I think the ensemble cast is terrific, and I'm certainly willing to give that cast another chance.

I can already tell from the trailer, though, that they're going to double down on the thing that I didn't like about the first movie, and I should just accept that they're not remotely interested in the way stage magic actually works. If they had the rule that the only magic they could show in the film had to be captured in-camera, that would impress me. But when you can do anything, no matter if it's physically possible or not, it's a lot less exciting to me.

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Review: Michael B. Jordan stands tall with Rocky's help in the excellent 'Creed'
Credit: Warner Bros.
A

Review: Michael B. Jordan stands tall with Rocky's help in the excellent 'Creed'

This one unexpectedly lands every punch it throws

There is a single line of dialogue in "Creed," late in the film, delivered by Michael B. Jordan, where the entire film comes into focus, and in that moment, the movie absolutely broke me. Whatever I expected from what is, technically speaking, the seventh film in the "Rocky" series, it wasn't this, and I suspect that both Jordan and writer/director Ryan Coogler are going to be very busy once people see what they've done here. It is far better than it needs to be, far better than I expected it to be, and far better than any franchise deserves this far into it.

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Review: 'The Night Before' offers up a wild and heartfelt holiday adventure
Credit: Sony Pictures
B+

Review: 'The Night Before' offers up a wild and heartfelt holiday adventure

A great supporting cast makes this a 'Night' to remember

One of the reasons "This Is The End" worked is because Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were serious about the horror elements in the film, making the comedy even more of a pressure valve. If you're working to subvert a genre from within, you can't do it with tongue too firmly in cheek or you risk making a parody. With "The Night Before," the script by Jonathan Levine, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Sfaffir and Evan Goldberg is not just a story set during Christmas, but is a very knowing and intentional "Christmas movie," with any number of references to other Christmas films and with plenty of smart takes on the various tropes of the genre. It may be overstuffed the point of bursting, but there's much to like here.

Beyond that, though, "The Night Before" is a consistently funny and genuinely heartfelt story about three friends at a turning point in their friendship, and it should come as no surprise that Jonathan Levine gets the emotional side of things right. After all, the last film he made with Joseph Gordon Levitt and Seth Rogen was "50/50," and Levine in general has made movies that land their emotional punches. This is his most manic film so far, and part of the fun of "The Night Before" is seeing just how wild a ride it is for the characters played by Gordon-Levitt, Rogen, and Anthony Mackie. They cover a lot of ground and get a chance to play with a big ensemble cast full of comedy assassins who steal scenes left and right, and I suspect this will be a film that people return to in future holidays, taking its rightful place on the list of films that become part of the annual tradition.

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