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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How many really good actors does it take to make an unneeded 'Huntsman' sequel?
Credit: Universal Pictures

How many really good actors does it take to make an unneeded 'Huntsman' sequel?

Great cast, but is anyone seriously excited about this?

Looks like the Hunstman is going to "let it go," eh?

I'm amazed that they really are actually releasing a sequel to "Snow White And The Huntsman," which felt like about as indifferent and generic a blockbuster as we've seen in recent memory. It's certainly better than "Alice In Wonderland," which was a straight-up nightmare, but it's not something that stuck to me as a viewer. It reminded me of Ridley Scott's "Legend," well-designed and occasionally quite beautiful, but not particularly strong as a narrative or compelling as a piece of drama.

By far, the best performance in the original film was Charlize Theron's as the Evil Queen. She was better than the film, and while I think Rupert Sanders managed to create some lovely imagery in places, the script for the film simply didn't work, putting the least interesting character front and center. Now that Snow White has exited the series, the Huntsman (played here again by a contractually obligated Chris Hemsworth) is at the center of things, as reflected by the just announced title of the sequel, "The Huntsman: Winter's War."

Here's the just released synopsis for the sequel, which arrives in theaters next April:

The fantastical world of Snow White and the Huntsman expands to reveal how the fates of The Huntsman Eric and Queen Ravenna are deeply and dangerously intertwined.  Chris Hemsworth and Oscar® winner Charlize Theron return to their roles in The Huntsman Winter’s War, an epic action-adventure in which they are joined by Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain, as well as director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan.  Producer Joe Roth (Maleficent, Alice in Wonderland) once again leads the team in a breathtaking new tale nested in the legendary saga.

Long before the evil Queen Ravenna (Theron) was thought vanquished by Snow White’s blade, she watched silently as her sister, Freya (Blunt), suffered a heartbreaking betrayal and fled their kingdom.  With Freya’s ability to freeze any enemy, the young ice queen has spent decades in a remote wintry palace raising a legion of deadly huntsmen—including Eric (Hemsworth) and warrior Sara (Chastain)—only to find that her prized two defied her one demand: Forever harden your hearts to love.

When Freya learns of her sister’s demise, she summons her remaining soldiers to bring the Magic Mirror home to the only sorceress left who can harness its power.  But once she discovers Ravenna can be resurrected from its golden depths, the wicked sisters threaten this enchanted land with twice the darkest force it’s ever seen.  Now, their amassing army shall prove undefeatable…unless the banished huntsmen who broke their queen’s cardinal rule can fight their way back to one another.

My first thought is that this is a very strange franchise. I honestly can't believe there's really a second film, and it feels like Joe Roth and the creative team including writers Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin and director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan all looked at "Frozen" and said, "But what if it was badass?"

Look, I'm all for any fantasy epic that releases four character posters, and three of them feature three of the best female leads in the business. Jessica Chastain? Emily Blunt? Theron back in creepy evil mode? Sure. Please. I'm down with that.

But there wasn't anything about that first film that made a sequel necessary aside from some financial spreadsheet somewhere in a Universal executive office. And ultimately, story is the first thing I consider about a film. This sounds like a completely different story that they reverse engineered to figure out how to graft it onto the end of that first movie.

Will I end up seeing this? I guess. There's a trailer for the movie arriving this Wednesday, and I'm sure that by the time April rolls around, this will be inescapable. But like "Alice Through the Looking Glass," this feels like a sequel no one is actively asking for, a function of business and not a genuinely motivated story that someone wanted to tell. This is the cinematic landscape we have to navigate these days… full of sequels that the studio is far more excited about than any audience will ever be.

"The Huntsman: Winter's War" is in theaters April 22, 2016.

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This mysterious poster for 'Midnight Special' makes 2016 seem very far away
Credit: Warner Bros

This mysterious poster for 'Midnight Special' makes 2016 seem very far away

Jeff Nichols, Michael Shannon, and a boy who is 'not like us'

If I had to pick one film I could see today, out of everything that's done and waiting for release, and it was only me who could watch it, and it could be anything, I don't think I'd pick "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." After all, it'll be in theaters within the month, and I'd rather have that experience with my kids first.

No, I think I'd pick the next film from Jeff Nichols. After all, "Midnight Special" has been flying below the radar so far, and the people I've spoken to who are in a position to know something about the movie have been acting like they have this big, special secret, super-pleased about whatever it is that they've seen that I haven't, and slowly but surely, it's been driving me crazy.

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Why I was completely wrong about 'The Flash'
Credit: The CW

Why I was completely wrong about 'The Flash'

The CW show is the best example of the Whedon-model in action, pure comic-book bliss

It's easy to dismiss a TV show and never look back, at least as far as I'm concerned, because there are always other things to watch, and I feel no real obligation to try everything on TV. It's not my regular beat, and Alan Sepinwall does such a great job talking about TV in the same kind of all-inclusive context that I try to bring to film that I don't feel like you guys need me weighing in on TV in general.

But every now and then, there's something worth discussing, and in the case of "The Flash," I feel like it's worth taking the time to say something that you rarely hear from critics: I was completely wrong.

Last year, when all the pilots for the various networks started to circulate, I remember setting aside an afternoon to watch two specific pilots. First up was "Gotham," which I detested immediately. Everything about the show rubbed me the wrong way. It embodies this insane prequel-and-backstory oriented era we're trying to survive right now, and it tells a story I genuinely don't care to hear. I don't care about Jim Gordon's years in Gotham before Batman arrived. I don't care about watching the various iconic Batman villains show up in their pre-villain forms. It played grim and unpleasant, and I decided by the end of that first episode that I wouldn't waste another minute on "Gotham." Ever.

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2015 has been full of spy movies, but which ones work the best?
Credit: Sony/20th Century Fox/Paramount

2015 has been full of spy movies, but which ones work the best?

From 'Mission: Impossible' to James Bond, who did it best?

At the start of this year, I was intrigued by what looked like a fairly spy-heavy line-up for this year's theatrical releases, and now that we're at the other end of the year, it seems like a good time to look back and see how the year actually played out versus how we thought things might go.

One thing that's clear is that there were a ton of spy movies in 2015. If Sony hadn't pushed back the release of "The Brothers Grimsby," it would have been one more, and it makes it obvious why they pushed that film back to next year when you look at just how many spy-themed movies have been released since January. It's an unusual number, and I think it's just one of those flukes of timing. But when you look at all of them stacked up next to one another, it's interesting to see what worked and what didn't, and why.

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Review: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are beautiful disasters in 'By The Sea'
Credit: Universal Pictures
B

Review: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are beautiful disasters in 'By The Sea'

You won't learn much about the real couple, and that's just the way they want it

When I was in my mid-to-late teens and movie crazy, there was a period where I fell in love with European art films and convinced myself that I needed to move to France so I could smoke and think constantly about death and have a beautiful detached girlfriend who would join me as we robbed banks, drank coffee, and spoke in magnificent ellipses. Looking at the sun-drenched coasts of France and Italy and Spain, I ached to someday go to those places so I could stand around and be morose and hopefully look half as good as those people did while doing so.

My guess is that many audiences will attend "By The Sea" hoping to learn something about the real relationship between the uber-famous husband and wife who star in the movie, but that's a sucker's game. This isn't a documentary, and they're not playing themselves. Instead, "By The Sea" feels to me like Angelina Jolie Pitt (as she's billed here) grew up crazy in love with those same movies about doomed romances and beautiful people, and she decided to make one of her own. It's probably a good thing that she warmed up with the bombastic might of "Unbroken" and the uneven earnestness of "In The Land Of Blood and Honey," because this time, she's working in a very subtle mode, and it's the most delicate work she's done so far.

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Why is Bong Joon-Ho's new monster movie a game-changer for Netflix?
Credit: The Weinstein Company

Why is Bong Joon-Ho's new monster movie a game-changer for Netflix?

$50 million is a massive budget for a movie produced by the streaming service

Right now, I'm about six episodes deep on "Master Of None," the new Netflix series from Aziz Ansari, and I'm dying to see both "Jessica Jones" and "With Bob and David" later this month. The original programming on Netflix has been getting better and better, and they seem serious about becoming a real alternative to broadcast networks and cable alike.

I still have to catch up with "Beasts Of No Nation," the Idris Elba film they released last month. That film reportedly cost less than $10 million, and even so, seemed like a pretty major use of resources by the company. Today, though, there's word of an upcoming Netflix film that makes it sound like they're serious about movies in the same way they're serious about television shows.

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Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray's Netflix Christmas special gets a new poster
Credit: Netflix

Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray's Netflix Christmas special gets a new poster

The holidays all happen at once on December 4th on Netflix this year

First, I'd like to say that Sofia Coppola should be making movies way more frequently than she is, and I'd really like it if she'd make about four films a year.

However, I'm pretty happy about what she's got going on this year, because "A Very Murray Christmas" is on its way to Netflix on December 4th.

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