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<p>Sean Penn practically leaves tooth marks on the edges of the screen in his turn as Mickey Cohen in 'Gangster&nbsp;Squad'</p>

Sean Penn practically leaves tooth marks on the edges of the screen in his turn as Mickey Cohen in 'Gangster Squad'

Credit: Warner Bros.

Review: 'Gangster Squad' features a great cast but a soft script

Ruben Fleischer still hasn't managed to put it all together

I am fascinated by Los Angeles and its history, and chances are if there's a book or a film about the city, I've read it or watched it.  In particular, the history of law enforcement and its failures here is something that I've been obsessed with for years.  When you list the very best of what's out there, you have to include "Chinatown," a canny piece about the way water and blood were used to build what we think of as modern LA, as well as the books by authors like Walter Mosely and James Ellroy.

"Gangster Squad," liberally adapted from the non-fiction book by Paul Lieberman by real-life-LA-cop-turned-screenwriter Will Beall, is never going to be considered a classic of the genre, but the film has a certain pop cartoon charm that makes it enjoyable, if slight.  Gangster Mickey Cohen has been portrayed on film a few times before.  Harvey Keitel played him in Barry Levinson's "Bugsy" and was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for his work.  And in "LA Confidential," Cohen makes a small appearance with Paul Guilfoyle playing the part.  

In "Gangster Squad," Cohen's been promoted to the main protagonist, and Sean Penn attacks the part with a manic energy that I found wildly entertaining at times.  He looks like a "Dick Tracy" villain, exaggerated and feral, and the film focuses on a period at the end of the '40s when Police Chief Parker (played by a Henson Muppet Studios version of Nick Nolte that is remarkably lifelike) decided to authorize a group of his officers to set aside strictly legal methods to bring down Cohen's operations.  Basically, this is a stripped down and slicked-up version of "The Untouchables," with Josh Brolin starring as Sgt. John O'Mara, the honest cop who is put in charge of putting together his team of trustworthy men to help him.

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<p>Emma Stone is gearing up for her return to the role of Gwen Stacy in 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'</p>

Emma Stone is gearing up for her return to the role of Gwen Stacy in 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'

Credit: HitFix

Emma Stone talks about returning for 'Spider-Man 2' and the other Gwen Stacy

If charming isn't her middle name, it should be

The professionally adorable Emma Stone had it turned up to high this weekend, as usual, when we sat down to discuss her work in "Gangster Squad," the period drama that was delayed from its original release date last fall.

She's one of those people who you can tell decides that they're going to have fun doing their press, no matter what.  She can't help but tease and joke and just plain laugh at the process.  She started by comparing our diet sodas, which are obviously working out differently for the two of us.  She look like she weighs about as much as one of my legs.

Towards the end of our interview, I decided to ask her about returning to play Gwen Stacy in "The Amazing Spider-Man" sequel.  It feels like they just barely got finished with doing publicity for the first film, and now they're already gearing up for work on the sequel.

One of the things that's going to be interesting about this ongoing series is the way they're taking elements from the first three films and from the comics and putting a new spin on them.  After all, we're getting a Harry Osborne in the sequel, played by Dane DeHaan, and we're getting a new Mary Jane Watson, played by Shailene Woodley, and I suspect they'll play very different roles in the life of Peter Parker than they did in the Sam Raimi movies.

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<p>Yes, he showed up at ten in the morning with his cigar already almost finished. You have to love him.</p>

Yes, he showed up at ten in the morning with his cigar already almost finished. You have to love him.

Credit: HitFix

Must Watch: Schwarzenegger takes journalists on tank rides to promote 'The Last Stand'

Sometimes, this job is just plain weird

When someone asks you if you want to ride a tank while Arnold Schwarzenegger drives it, you say yes.

I don't have many hard and fast rules in life, but that's one of them.  It's not a rule that I've had to put to the test many times, but last week, the moment of truth finally arrived, and so I drove down to the Lionsgate offices in Santa Monica to meet a group of fellow journalists.  We all boarded a bus and then headed up to the Melody Ranch Studio in Santa Clarita.

You've seen it in a million different movies, most recently in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," where it was used as the first town that Schultz and Django ride into, where Schultz asks for the sheriff to be brought to see them in the saloon.  We ended up eating lunch in that saloon later in the day, and I intentionally sat at the same table where Django and Schultz sat while drinking their beers.

The way the day started, though, was with Arnold Schwarzenegger introducing us to his tank.  He bought this particular tank in the early '90s for one of the Planet Hollywood locations, but they never ended up using it there.  Instead, he kept it, and one of his main purposes for it over the years has been as part of an incentives program for a foundation he runs for inner-city kids.  When the kids do well during the week, one of the rewards they can enjoy is a trip to the Melody Ranch so they can ride in the tank while Arnold drives.

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<p>Superman and Batman will get the LEGO&nbsp;treatment when 'Lego:&nbsp;The Piece Of Resistance' arrives in theaters in 2014.</p>

Superman and Batman will get the LEGO treatment when 'Lego: The Piece Of Resistance' arrives in theaters in 2014.

Credit: Warner Bros/LEGO

Warner Bros. puts 'brain trust' together to oversee new feature animation division

The 'Lego' movie will hopefully kick off a new era for the company

So why haven't they done this for their DC films yet?

I've read the same reports you have today about how Warner Bros. is hoping to jumpstart their animation division by putting together a "brain trust" of people to help make decisions and steer development, and that's a great idea.  I'm a firm believer that the development process does not have to stink, but it does most of the time because you have people who are exceptional at the money side of the business insisting on giving creative notes.  This baffles me because it seems so plainly contradictory as a business model.  We need both disciplines in the film business, obviously.  When you're dealing with an art form that costs millions and millions of dollars, you need people who know how to keep that money coming in, but most of those people have no idea how to actually write a great movie, so getting notes from them on the process can be an exercise in frustration and madness.

No, I like the idea of the creative round-table.  TV shows use that model, and some of the best shows are the result of all those minds focused on one creative task.  Pixar's story department is one of the very best in the business because they take full advantage of having all those voices in the mix.  Marvel Studios has done a good job following the same basic game plan.  Comedy filmmakers often bring in groups of writers to take one last group pass at a script before they go into production.

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<p>Check out that skull ring. If that doesn't say 'Conan the Barbarian,' nothing does.</p>

Check out that skull ring. If that doesn't say 'Conan the Barbarian,' nothing does.

Credit: HitFix

Arnold Schwarzenegger talks about playing an older Conan in upcoming sequel

Watch one of action cinema's greatest icons make me very, very happy

It's safe to say you're going to see a little flurry of Arnold Schwarzenegger related activity here in the next week or so.

Makes sense.  He's got his first starring role in a while coming out on the 18th, and Lionsgate is doing everything they can to create some attention for the movie.  Since this is his return to leading roles, there is a fair amount of natural excitement out there among movie fans.  I watched first-hand as Arnold turned a group of journalists who are used to meeting movie stars the vapors at an event on Friday, and I'll have more on that for you later tonight.

First, though, I wanted to share a brief clip from the interview I did with Arnold yesterday.  He was paired with Johnny Knoxville, and yes, that's just as strange in the room as it is on a poster.  We talked about "The Last Stand" for most of the conversation, but I couldn't help but make one quick digression right at the end of things.

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<p>Godzilla's last major film appearance was in 'Godzilla:&nbsp;Final Wars,' but he's revving up for a return that should hit theaters next year.</p>

Godzilla's last major film appearance was in 'Godzilla: Final Wars,' but he's revving up for a return that should hit theaters next year.

Credit: Toho Films

Exclusive: 'Godzilla' loses two producers but gains a start date

Legendary's take on the classic character is getting ready to start production

It looks like Godzilla's path of destruction en route to a start date for the Legendary Pictures update of the classic Toho monster has claimed two new victims, as producers Dan Lin and Roy Lee depart the project this week.

Both Lin and Lee are major production partners for Warner Bros, and I'm sure they're both plenty busy with other upcoming films.  Lin, for example, is a producer on the "Lego" movie that is in production now, he's part of the ongoing "Sherlock Holmes" series, and he's attached to remakes of Stephen King's "It" and the anime series "Death Note," both in development.  Most importantly, he's part of the team working to figure out "Justice League."  Lee is partnered with Lin on "Death Note" and "It," and he's currently busy with plenty other projects like the "Oldboy" remake, the "Poltergeist" update, a sequel to "The Woman In Black," and a brand new "Battle Royale."

Recently, there was an event on the studio lot where director Gareth Edwards put together a show-and-tell in one of the stages on the Warner lot to walk the studio through his vision of the film, and it went well enough that the studio now seems committed to a March start date for the film.

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<p>Kevin Hart, seen here hosting his own New Year's Eve event this year, is going head to head with some of the summer's big releases with his new theatrical concert film.</p>

Kevin Hart, seen here hosting his own New Year's Eve event this year, is going head to head with some of the summer's big releases with his new theatrical concert film.

Credit: Arnold Turner/Invision/AP Photo

Kevin Hart's new concert film opening July 4th weekend against 'Lone Ranger'

Lionsgate demonstrates real confidence in Hart's building fan following

I am a big fan of today's news that Kevin Hart's new stand-up concert film "Let Me Explain" will be getting a theatrical release date, and especially the idea that Summit is aiming for a major summer weekend slot for the film.

It's not even because of Kevin Hart.  As a stand-up, I think he's been very good at cultivating a certain voice and a certain character, and I think when he's on a roll, he is very good at riding a laugh and really milking the audience.  He is a comedian who has paid his dues on the road, building a fanbase, and who has also been very smart about how he has handled the release of each of his stand-up specials and CDs so far.

What excites me most is the mere idea that any stand-up concert film in the year 2013 could go head to head with things like "Man Of Steel" and "Pacific Rim" and "Iron Man 3" for box-office real estate.  A few years ago, I saw Louis CK's "Hilarious" at Sundance and pretty much tore something inside myself laughing at it.  It remains one of the best theatrical stand-up experiences I've had, and I'm a fiend for this stuff. 

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<p>Dude... LISTEN&nbsp;TO&nbsp;HER.&nbsp; SERIOUSLY.&nbsp; DUDE.</p>


Credit: Sony Pictures

Red-band 'Evil Dead' trailer promises red meat and spilled blood galore

It looks like the remake is no-holds-barred, which could be a good thing

I am an original recipe first-generation fan of "Evil Dead."  I liked the first film before there was a sequel, and by the time "Army Of Darkness" opened, I was already starting to struggle with the difference between the thing that first won me over and the thing that was now being made.  In the end, each of the movies is so different that I view them almost like different riffs on the same theme and not direct sequels to one another.

The one thing that is consistent about all of the Raimi "Evil Dead" films is the presence of Bruce Campbell as Ash, and this is one of those cases where I would argue that the actor and the part are completely inseparable.  The reason I think of Bruce Campbell as iconic is because of his work as Ash, and the reason Ash is so fascinating is because of what Bruce Campbell did while playing him.  The way Raimi and Campbell tweaked the tone of the movies from "Evil Dead" to "Evil Dead 2" to "Army Of Darkness" is fascinating, and basically, the more mainstream the series became, the more they tipped the balance from horror to humor.

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<p>For the lunatics who made 'The Raid,' this is just another day at work and physics be damned.</p>

For the lunatics who made 'The Raid,' this is just another day at work and physics be damned.

Credit: Sony Classics

Director of 'The Raid' says sequel will pick up two hours after the original ends

Also gives a January date for the start of production

It's always an interesting moment for a filmmaker where they go from making their films in relative obscurity and then trying to get an audience to pay attention to having the audience's attention already and then trying to deal with scrutiny during production.  It's the difference between being a huckster and managing hype.  Some people manage it quite well, and others get positively freight-trained by the experience.

Which kind of person is Gareth Evans?

We'll find out this year.  After all, when "The Raid" made its debut at the Toronto Film Festival, I'd wager less than half of the audience in the room had seen his first film, "Merantau."  I was on a jury that gave "Merantau" an award at ActionFest, and when I wrote about that film, I remarked that what set Evans apart at first was his obvious attention to every aspect of the film and not just the action.  He's not just a guy who can shoot a great stunt, although he certainly has an eye for that.  He's also a guy who understands that the more connected we are to the characters onscreen, the more involved we'll be in any action scene that unfolds.  It helps that he has found a group of action stars who also have real screen charisma, and in Iko Uwais, he may have found his very own movie star that he can work with over and over again.

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<p>Bruce Willis and Jai Courteney play father and son with a knack for trouble in 'A Good Day&nbsp;To Die Hard'</p>

Bruce Willis and Jai Courteney play father and son with a knack for trouble in 'A Good Day To Die Hard'

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Stylish action-packed final trailer promises 'A Good Day To Die Hard'

Could this be that rare part five that actually delivers?

What surprises me most about the latest trailer for "A Good Day To Die Hard" is that it actually looks like director John Moore has finally grown a sense of visual style.

Moore has been an in-house favorite for Fox for a while, but I don't get it.  "Behind Enemy Lines," "Flight of the Phoenix," "The Omen," and especially "Max Payne" are all borderline unwatchable, and he seems positively ham-handed when it comes to performance and text.  It's not enough to occasionally nail a pretty picture, and I'd argue that even in that department, he's seemed deficient so far.

This new trailer for the fifth "Die Hard" film is probably the longest coherent piece of film to ever have Moore's name attached to it, which is incredibly encouraging.  I think this is actually a pretty tremendous trailer overall.  Jai Courtney handled himself well in "Jack Reacher," and I like the chemistry between him and Bruce Willis in the quick glimpses we see here.  By the time most series reach a fifth film in a series, the juice is long since gone, but "Fast Five" absolutely revitalized that series, so it is possible.

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