<p>Brie Larson makes a strong impression in 'Rampart,' the first of several movies she stars in for 2012.</p>

Brie Larson makes a strong impression in 'Rampart,' the first of several movies she stars in for 2012.

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Brie Larson, Robin Wright-Penn and Anne Heche discuss 'Rampart'

The ladies in Woody Harrelson's life talk about the wild ride

I'll have a review of "Rampart" for you this week, but in addition, we've got a few interviews to support the film that I want to share as well.

I like that the movie surprised me.  I thought I had it figured out walking in, and on some level, it is what you think you'd get from a movie about police corruption from the writer/director of "The Messenger" and in collaboration with author James Ellroy.  But thanks to a crafty lead performance by Woody Harrelson and a focus that includes a good deal about the women in the life of Officer David Brown (Harrelson), the film is richer than I expected.

Normally, I wouldn't want to just lump all the women from a film together in one interview, but in this case, it felt thematically appropriate since so much of the film deals with how Brown deals with these very strong women and how they put up with him and influence him.  Robin Wright Penn, Anne Heche, and Brie Larson made for a nice intimidating line-up on the morning we sat down to discuss their work, and we ended up having a series of very warm and interesting chats.

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<p>Danny DeVito gives voice to one of Dr. Seuss' greatest creations in the new film adaptation of 'The Lorax'</p>

Danny DeVito gives voice to one of Dr. Seuss' greatest creations in the new film adaptation of 'The Lorax'

Credit: Universal/Illumination

A visit to Illumination Studios and a sneak peek at 'The Lorax'

Can the 'Despicable' studio get Seuss right, and is this just the first?

Illumination Studios stands in an unassuming building on an industrial street in Santa Monica.  The only indication from outside as to the building's identity comes from an occasional glimpse of a Minion from "Despicable Me" through one of the windows.  One would never guess just driving by that this building is where they're currently working to build a new animation legacy.

And, by all accounts, succeeding.

I first visited the studio as they were working on "Despicable Me," and my first impression of Chris Meledandri was that he definitely knew how to talk a good game.  He was an important part of Fox's animation relationship with Blue Sky Studios, and when he left Fox, he decided that he wanted to focus all of his energies on creating animated movies.  If you're going to get into that business, you can't dabble.   You have to go all in.  You have to believe in animation 100%, and you have to focus on making each film great.  I've seen studios make the mistake of thinking they can crank out kid movies and they don't have to respect the audience or the process, but in those cases, they almost always fail.

Meledandri's first picture for Illumination, "Despicable Me," did a very nice job of establishing a style and a sensibility that was their own.  They also ended up with their very own mascots, the Minions, who they are going to be dropping into films for some time to come, I suspect.  The film did well for Universal, but more than that, it gave Illumination credibility.

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<p>Thor, Captain America, and the Black Widow are under fire... literally, it seems... in the extended trailer for 'The&nbsp;Avengers' that made its debut during this year's Super Bowl.</p>

Thor, Captain America, and the Black Widow are under fire... literally, it seems... in the extended trailer for 'The Avengers' that made its debut during this year's Super Bowl.

Credit: Disney

Review: Studios play blockbuster chess with 'Battleship,' 'Avengers,' 'John Carter' spots

HitFix
B-
Readers
n/a
Super Bowl Sunday is a strategic move for studios, but does it really work?

The most specifically excited I remember ever being for a Super Bowl Sunday movie spot was in the spring of '97, and Sony was the studio that bought the spot I cared most about.  It was a three-movie mega-ad they used to roadblock an entire ad break.  They sold "Air Force One," "Men In Black," and "The Fifth Element," and since we hadn't seen any footage yet for "The Fifth Element," that was our first look.

My friends and I must have played the tape back 20 times just to study the barrage of images from the film, including some of those amazing Digital Domain cityscapes with car-packed skies as well the blue diva, Gary Oldman, explosions, and LeeeloooDallasMooolteeePass in all her glory.  I didn't care about "Air Force One" at all, and the "Men In Black" footage was fine, but I loved that they used the Super Bowl to finally drop the intense veil of secrecy around Besson's movie.

These days, there is very little surprise or genuine wow to the things that happen during the Super Bowl.  We know ahead of time what the commercials will be, and this year, we actually saw studios releasing ten-second previews of the sixty-second spots, so we were getting ads for ads.  It's sort of terrifying to see how mechanical it is, and these days, it seems that more studios opt out than ever before.

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<p>For many younger viewers, Ben Gazzara will be remembered mainly from his role in 'The Big Lebowski,' but his impact on the art of film acting was enormous and stretched all the way back to the '50s.</p>

For many younger viewers, Ben Gazzara will be remembered mainly from his role in 'The Big Lebowski,' but his impact on the art of film acting was enormous and stretched all the way back to the '50s.

Credit: Universal Home Video

Cassavetes regular and 'Lebowski' star Ben Gazzara dies at age 81 in NYC

One of the great character actors is gone

Ben Gazzara was never the top box-office draw of the year.  He was never the guy every studio was dying to be in business with so he would headline blockbuster after blockbuster.  He was never the guy directors cast if they wanted the ladies to line up out the door.  But for filmmakers who wanted an actor with a quiet magnetism and an emotional weight that could not be faked, Gazzara was a treasure, and he made everything he touched more honest simply by virtue of who he was.

81 years old is hardly young, but even so, it seems unfair to lose a guy who was still working consistently and who still had that same fire that made him such a gift in so many of his roles.  It's hard for actors of a certain age to find quality material, but a guy like Gazzara had a way of taking a fairly thin role and making it count simply because he counted.  He was real in a way that many Hollywood types never are, no matter how many roles they play.  It is little wonder that as many of his films were European as American, because he was drawn to small stories, human stories, films where he was allowed to show some nuance and some soul.

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<p>Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, and Dane DaHaan star as three teens who come into contact with something that leaves them struggling with new and dangerous powers in the riveting genre-bender 'Chronicle'</p>

Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, and Dane DaHaan star as three teens who come into contact with something that leaves them struggling with new and dangerous powers in the riveting genre-bender 'Chronicle'

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Review: Smart and angry 'Chronicle' pushes superhero genre past the breaking point

HitFix
B+
Readers
C
And frankly, it's about time someone did it

My first reaction to "Chronicle" would be to wildly overreact simply because it does so much so well and with such confidence.

It is, at heart, though, a modest accomplishment, and that's entirely by design.  This is not a franchise kickstarter, a giant broad-appeal down-the-middle genre movie that was designed to sell lunchboxes and Happy Meals.  Whatever this film is, whatever its pleasures or achievements, it feels personal and intentionally scaled, and it absolutely hits the target for which it aims.  A male "Carrie" for the 21st century, a skeptical, heartbroken reaction to the nonstop horseshit of the "chosen one" myth that has been force fed a generation ad nauseam, "Chronicle" is lean and scary and sad, and director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis have ample reason to be proud of what they've done.

Hollywood's nonstop attempt to wring cash from superhero tropes was on full display in the trailers I saw in front of the movie tonight.  "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises" look to be sure-fire monster hits this summer, and both will cost an arm and a leg getting there.  There was lots of CG firepower on display in trailers for "Battleship" and "John Carter" and "Men In Black 3."  All of it looked and felt familiar, and no doubt will look and feel familiar when I see the finished films as well.  That's what Hollywood does best right now… familiar.

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<p>Whatever they've done to Riddick (Vin Diesel), the side of his head has certainly seen better days.</p>

Whatever they've done to Riddick (Vin Diesel), the side of his head has certainly seen better days.

Credit: Vin Diesel

Vin Diesel's busy posting more 'Riddick' photos on his Facebook page

David Twohy's untitled sequel continues shooting in Canada

That's not the most spoiler-oriented photo of all time, but just seeing Vin Diesel looking like he's back in full Riddick mode makes me happy.

When I saw "Pitch Black" for the first time, USA Films wasn't sure what to do with it.  They were trying to position themselves as a serious studio, making Oscar-worthy films, big and important, and a movie like "Pitch Black" seemed to confuse them a bit in terms of marketing and positioning.  Harry Knowles and I were shown the film in the company's Beverly Hills screening room, with no one else in the theater, and by the end of it, we were both ecstatic.  That first movie is just good old fashioned pulp science fiction without a pretentious bone in its body, a modestly-scaled monster movie that set up a really interesting anti-hero in the form of the big broody Vin Diesel, who was really only known to us at that point as the dude Spielberg ordered written into "Saving Private Ryan" and the voice of "The Iron Giant."

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<p>Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) prepare for the fight of their lives in 'The Hunger Games'</p>

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) prepare for the fight of their lives in 'The Hunger Games'

Credit: Lionsgate

Want to attend the 'Hunger Games' premiere? HitFix can make that happen

We've got the full details on the Twitter sweepstakes and how to enter

Considering the amount of attention that's been paid to every single step of the production of the upcoming film adaptation of "The Hunger Games," it seems hard to believe that the film is finally set to have its world premiere at the Nokia Live in Los Angeles on March 12.

Even harder to believe?  HitFix has got a chance for you to win two tickets to the premiere, and all you need are Twitter and Facebooks accounts.

It's going to be a genuinely exciting evening, if only because of the enormous expectations that people have for the film.  I keep reading comparisons between this and "Twilight," and aside from the possible commercial potential, I can't see any similarity.  For one thing, the "Hunger Games" books are actually well-written and engrossing, with characters who make real choices based on something other than the disturbing pathology of the author.  These also deal with much larger ideas than just "who will the main character boink?", which makes it much easier to endorse the idea of this adaptation.  While Gary Ross has never made anything like these movies, his passion for the material is encouraging, and his casting has been interesting to watch as it came together.

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<p>Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are set to rock SXSW&nbsp;in the very funny '21 Jump Street'</p>

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are set to rock SXSW in the very funny '21 Jump Street'

Credit: Sony Pictures

SXSW announces its full feature line-up for 2012 including '21 Jump Street'

We look at each section and pick some early stand-outs

Since joining HitFix, my film year has been defined by the festivals I attend, and of all those festivals, the one that continues to evolve and grow the most is SXSW.  I can't wait for this year's, and I felt that way even before I saw this year's full line-up of features.

One of the things I love about the festival is the way they embrace both the lowest of low-fi films as well as big mainstream Hollywood fare, and somehow, they all seem to fit together thanks to the way the programming comes together each year.  I can't think of any other festival that would have made "Macgruber" a centerpiece film, and they're also the same place that featured both "Kill List" and "Attack The Block" at midnight.  They have diverse taste, and they are inclusive in a way few festivals manage.

Also… it's Austin.  And I loves me some Austin.

This year's line-up looks fantastic, so why don't we take a look at it, section by section?  As we go through, I'm going to bold the titles that I'm planning to see at this point, keeping in mind that the easiest way to make the Festival Gods laugh at you is making a plan of any kind.  I'll also have some wrap-up thoughts at the end of the piece, especially regarding some of the titles I've already seen.

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<p>Genesis Rodriguez and Jamie Bell practically steal 'Man On A Ledge' out from under everyone else, making this a heist movie within a heist movie.</p>

Genesis Rodriguez and Jamie Bell practically steal 'Man On A Ledge' out from under everyone else, making this a heist movie within a heist movie.

Credit: Summit Entertainment

Review: 'Man On A Ledge' offers some mild charms amidst a sea of improbability

HitFix
C+
Readers
n/a
The supporting cast steals the film while the script can't quite deliver

January movies have traditionally been thought of as leftovers, movies that weren't strong enough to compete the holiday season that's just ended that aren't good enough to be moved to a more competitive month.  These are the orphans, the films that studios are nervous about.  They may be packed with movie stars, but for the most part, if you see a movie set for January, you can count on it being a lesser product overall.

That's slowly changing, though, and a film like "Man On A Ledge" is a good example of a more ambitious type of January film, a movie that has some solid star power and an interesting premise and some worthwhile moments. It's not great, but it's better than its release date might indicate.  It's loaded with improbabilities, but there's an energy to the way the story is told and the cast certainly seems to be enjoying the game they're playing.

Asger Leth is the director of the film, and he comes to this from a very odd background.  His film "Ghosts Of Cite Solieil" was a harrowing documentary about a "secret Army" in Haiti, and the nerve it took to capture that footage was impressive.  His father is Jorgen Leth, the filmmaker who was so gleefully tortured by Lars Von Trier in "The Five Obstructions," and Asger was part of that picture as well. 

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<p>Clarke Peters is joined by newcomers Jules Brown and Toni Lysaith in the newest Spike Lee joint, 'Red Hook Summer'</p>

Clarke Peters is joined by newcomers Jules Brown and Toni Lysaith in the newest Spike Lee joint, 'Red Hook Summer'

Credit: 40 Acres And A Mule

Review: 'Red Hook Summer' will feel pleasantly familiar to Spike Lee's fans

HitFix
B-
Readers
n/a
Controversial director's latest is shaggy and uneven but filled with heart and joy

Even when I don't love a Spike Lee movie, I'm always happy to go see a new Spike Lee movie, and hope springs eternal.

I didn't make it to the premiere of "Red Hook Summer" at the Eccles, and when I saw some truly venomous reactions to the film appear on Twitter afterwards, I got worried.  There are Lee films that I adore without reservation, like "Do The Right Thing" or "The 25th Hour" or "He Got Game," and there are Lee films where I enjoy them but recognize they're uneven like "Clockers" or "Bamboozled" or "Mo Better Blues."  But there are also some Spike Lee movies that I think just plain don't work on any level, movies I don't think I'll ever see again like "Girl 6" or "She Hate Me" or even "Summer Of Sam."  The last few years, since "Miracle At St. Anna," it's felt like Spike was in retreat to some degree, focusing on things like sports documentaries or the wildly entertaining PBS production of "Passing Strange."  I walked into "Red Hook Summer" with no idea which Spike Lee I'd be seeing.

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