Review: Kristen Stewart fights back against a world without emotion in 'Equals'
Credit: Freedom Media
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Review: Kristen Stewart fights back against a world without emotion in 'Equals'

It's 'Logan's Run' for a generation raised on mood inhibitors and ADD meds

"Equals," which had its public premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in the middle of a mood-appropriately rainy Sunday, was written by Nathan Parker, who was also the credited screenwriter of the Duncan Jones film "Moon." In this case, it's Drake Doremus bringing Parker's words to life, and like Jones, I think he's working at a different level than the writer. While I don't think Doremus was quite as successful as Jones, in both cases, I think the films work in spite of their scripts, not because of them.

If you haven't seen "Like Crazy," you should. It's the best film Doremus has made so far, and it seem to encapsulate everything he does well. It's a pretty simple contemporary story with lovely performances from Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones. Since then, both of his lead actors have headed for deep space, Yelchin onboard the ongoing voyages of the Starship Enterprise and Jones as a rebel spy in the upcoming "Star Wars: Rogue One." I would not have guessed, based on his earlier work, that Doremus was inclined towards science-fiction, but sure enough… here he is with the story of a society where emotion is not just illegal, but has been medically bred out of humanity.

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Review: Michael Moore's optimistic in deceptively-titled 'Where To Invade Next'
Credit: Dog Eat Dog Films
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Review: Michael Moore's optimistic in deceptively-titled 'Where To Invade Next'

Time seems to have mellowed the lefty firebrand a bit

Michael Moore is getting more optimistic as he gets older.

Oddly, he is also far more naive than he used to be.

At least, those are the major impressions I get from "Where To Invade Next," his latest documentary, and his first film since "Capitalism: A Love Story" in 2009. The film arrived at the 40th annual Toronto International Film Festival under a shroud of secrecy, and based on his history and that title, one might reasonably expect something incendiary, something furious and urgent.

Nope. Instead, the film opens with a weird, ridiculous scene where he talks about being summoned to speak to the Joint Chiefs Of Staff, where they told him that they were admitting failure since they haven't won a war since WWII. They asked Moore for help picking the next country to invade, and they handed over control of all of the branches of the military to help with the task. It's a really smug and poorly staged sequence, and it's not funny. It's also a very strange conceit to hang the entire documentary on, and it's just the first odd misstep Moore makes.

Instead of being a film about which countries we should invade, which would be tasteless and horrifying, Moore uses this as a joke set-up for a series of vignettes in which he visits other countries to examine something they're doing as a society that we should be doing better here in the US. He goes to France to look at the way they handle school lunches. He goes to Norway to look at their prison system. He goes to Italy to examine worker's rights and how much paid vacation they get every year. He goes to Slovenia to look at the way they handle college tuitions. It's essentially a whistle-stop tour of all the places where European socialism is triumphing and making everyone's lives perfect.

Only… that's not the truth, is it? Sure, each of the things he highlights seem pretty great in the way he presents them, and I certainly think there are things where we could benefit from some major social overhauls that come closer to the models we see here. But Europe's been struggling through their own crises over the last decade, and there's nothing in Moore's film that even hints at the fractures forming in the EU. He's very careful about which countries he visits and what he "learns" from each one, and he makes sure that almost all of the footage he shows from America is horrifying, the worst of the worst of the worst. None of it is fake, of course, but just as he does with the way he presents Europe, he's being very selective here.

What's really strange about watching this is that Moore has aged quite a bit, and he's not the same wry fun presence he was in, say, "TV Nation." He just doesn't have that same wit at this point. Most of the interviews consist of him saying things like "Wow." We're living in a post-"Daily Show" world now, and I think Moore should have really honed his game in the six years since his last movie. Instead, the pacing on this one is flaccid, and while I think he has some interesting points to make, the framing device to the film is a total bust. Watching him plant an American flag in each place he "invades" is neither clever nor enertaining in the way he thinks it is, and it just feels awkward most of the time.

There are plenty of people doing cutting social satire now, and who are unafraid to ask insane people direct questions, and it feels like Moore has been left behind. If this is what he's put together after six years off, then I'm not sure what gas he's got left in the tank. Commercial prospects for the film are enormously difficult; lots of American audiences are going to hate the message of the film, and international audiences are likely to laugh at some of the most naive material in the film. When his films have connected with audiences, either critically or commercially, it's because he's managed to tap into something real and infuriating. That is not the case with this one, and even though he makes some good points (his material about Iceland's attitudes towards women in business is the best stretch of the film, and could have easily been an entire movie), he no longer seems able to focus things in a way that will both infuriate and inform. It feels like he just plain never figured out how to make that ridiculous premise actually pay off as a movie, and it's a damn shame. I didn't always agree with Michael Moore, but I've rarely found him flat-out boring. Not until now.

"Where To Invade Next" is still looking for a distributor.

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Review: Matt Damon leads a smart ensemble in sincere and sharp 'The Martian'
Credit: 20th Century Fox
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Review: Matt Damon leads a smart ensemble in sincere and sharp 'The Martian'

Ridley Scott makes it all look so easy

"The Martian" is a perfect example of why Ridley Scott drives me nuts.

Working from an aggressively smart and funny screenplay by Drew Goddard, adapted from the also smart and funny book by Andy Weir, "The Martian" is so confident, so relaxed, and so completely sure-footed that it almost looks effortless. It takes a genuine master craftsman to take something as complex and difficult as this and make it look easy, but it also takes an artist with a great ear to take something as dense with exposition as this is and make it practically sing.

So how does the guy who fumbled "Prometheus" and "Exodus" so hard that it felt like he was trying to sabotage the studio turn around and absolutely nail this in terms of tone?

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Review: Patrick Stewart rules the roost in the brutal siege film 'Green Room'
Credit: A24
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Review: Patrick Stewart rules the roost in the brutal siege film 'Green Room'

The director of 'Blue Ruin' stakes his place in the new action firmament with this one

"But it's already played."

There is no greater currency in the press at a film festival than the word "premiere." And that word can mean a great many things. There are regional premieres. North American premieres. US premieres. Or, in the best case scenario, world premieres. If you've got a movie no one's seen, and it's by someone who has a track record, that is bait on a hook. And sometimes, it seems like it's important to see something first.

Take Michael Moore, for example. He's got a track record. There are plenty of things of Michael Moore's that I like. I think you will find few more ardent "TV Nation" fans than me. But he's been away from the game for a while. And tonight, he had a film premiere at the Princess Of Wales theater. I could have gone to that. I will see it tomorrow. There were plenty of people who were there, who were super-curious about the film. It was one of the main things they're covering, and they wanted to see it first for any number of reasons. I'm looking forward to it, and I'm trying not to read anyone else's reaction to it yet. But for me, there was only one place that was essential on Thursday night in Toronto. The Ryerson Theater. Midnight.

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Review: M. Night Shyamalan's 'The Visit' is another found-footage bummer
Credit: Universal Pictures/Blumhouse
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Review: M. Night Shyamalan's 'The Visit' is another found-footage bummer

Please stop. I'm begging you. Please.

Once again, why does this have to be a first-person narrative?

It's not "found footage," because that implies the footage was lost at some point, and that's not the conceit of the film. And yet Blumhouse presents a film that would have worked perfectly well as a regular film with the "I can't stop filming everything" device grafted onto it, and the result is less than it could have been in the most frustrating of ways.

One of the things that is most surprising here is that M. Night Shyamalan has apparently given up completely, and is happy to simply be sucking fumes off other people's success now. Seriously… this is where he is at this point? Making one of these omnipresent "boy, I wish someone owned a tripod" horror movies built around a single uninteresting plot point? It has been a tough sixteen years since his breakthrough with "The Sixth Sense," and there seems to be no bottom to his decline, unfortunately. If this was someone's first film, I'd be okay with the small signs of life that make this merely an annoying film instead of a completely dreadful one, but for this to be the latest work by a guy who made his first impression on the general public by sticking to his guns and refusing to compromise his voice… unthinkable.

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11 things we learned from 'Star Wars: Aftermath' about 'The Force Awakens' world
Credit: Lucasfilm/Marvel Comics

11 things we learned from 'Star Wars: Aftermath' about 'The Force Awakens' world

From the nature of Jakku to the fate of Boba Fett, this book lays down some big puzzle pieces

"ROGER ROGER".

Those two words probably make people who hate the film "The Phantom Menace" wince each and every time they hear them now. After all, that was the phrase that would come out of the most ineffectual weapons ever utilized by the bad guys in a "Star Wars" film… the Battle Droid.

It's funny that I'd be thinking of Battle Droids this weekend, after completely sitting out what was referred to as "Force Friday." I remember the equivalent day in '99 when all of the "Phantom Menace" merchandise went on sale. I was working at the time as a closed-captioner, and one of the many thing I bought for myself at that midnight sale was a Battle Droid onboard his little flying scooter thingy. It sat on my desk for months, and I would look at it and imagine what we might get from the actual film.

As with many things in the prequels, there are some very strange choices that were made about the Battle Droids, and they deserve to be thought of as ineffectual jokes. It is precisely because they are such jokes that Chuck Wendig's decision to take an old battle droid and turn it into a lethally re-programmed bodyguard named Mr. Bones is intriguing in his new book, "Star Wars: Aftermath," published last Friday.

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The 'Suspiria' remake will reunite the cast and director of 'A Bigger Splash'
Credit: Anchor Bay Home Video

The 'Suspiria' remake will reunite the cast and director of 'A Bigger Splash'

Could Tilda Swinton play the Mother of Tears?

 "Suspiria" is one of my favorite horror films, a vibrant and surreal work of art that plays as genuine nightmare. It is the best thing Dario Argento made, and fell right in the middle of his best run of creative work. Seeing a great Technicolor IB print of this vivid and beautiful film in a theater is damn near a religious experience. And in an age when remakes are non-stop and impossible to avoid, it only makes sense someone would finally decide to remake the movie, and after several years and several different filmmakers making their attempts, it looks like it may actually happen.

Luca Guadagnino just attended the Venice Film Festival with the cast of his new film "A Bigger Splash," and he started talking to the press about his plans for how to remake the movie. He was attached as a producer when it looked like David Gordon Green was going to direct, but that version was evidently very different than what Guadagnino wants to do with it now. One of the things the interview he gave to Empire doesn't mention is why Guadagnino decided now is the moment for his remake, but it has everything to do with "A Bigger Splash" and the experience he had shooting it.

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Sam Smith sees the 'Writing On The Wall' for the new James Bond theme song
Credit: Sony Pictures/EON

Sam Smith sees the 'Writing On The Wall' for the new James Bond theme song

Also, is the studio hiding the film's entire plot in plain sight?

Sam Smith's "Writing's On The Wall" will be available September 25th to purchase, which confirms not only the artist behind the theme to the new James Bond film, but also the title of the song.

And, yes, I did indeed report yesterday that the song would be available today. Obviously, it was the full details of the song that my sources heard about, not the song itself. It's exciting news, and not long after I published my piece last night, Sam Smith put out a picture on Instagram that seemed to only stoke the fires:

 

A photo posted by Sam Smith (@samsmithworld) on

The official release from the studio just arrived in our e-mail inbox, and it refutes several months of Smith's public denials that he was going to have anything to do with the theme song. Here's what they had to say:

Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and Sony Pictures Entertainment today confirmed that Sam Smith has recorded “Writing’s On The Wall,” the theme song to SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond adventure.  SPECTRE will be released in the UK on October 26 and in the US on November 6. The song, released by Capitol Records, will debut and be available to purchase and stream on September 25.

Multi-platinum selling artist Sam Smith has co-written the title song, “Writing’s On The Wall,” with fellow GRAMMY® Award winner Jimmy Napes.  It is the first James Bond theme song recorded by a British male solo artist since 1965.  Smith’s debut album In The Lonely Hour launched at No. 1 in the UK and bowed in at No. 2 in the US, and has since earned five No.1 UK singles, four GRAMMY® Awards, three Brit Awards, six MOBO Awards, Q and AMA Awards.

Commenting on the announcement, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, the producers of SPECTRE, said, “Sam and Jimmy have written the most inspirational song for Spectre and with Sam’s extraordinary vocal performance, ‘Writing’s On The Wall’ will surely be considered one of the greatest Bond songs of all time.”

Smith said: “This is one of the highlights of my career. I am honoured to finally announce that I will be singing the next Bond theme song. I am so excited to be a part of this iconic British legacy and join an incredible line up of some of my biggest musical inspirations.  I hope you all enjoy the song as much as I enjoyed making it.”

The 23 previous James Bond theme songs make up some of the most memorable movie music of all time.  The previous Bond theme song, “Skyfall,” was performed by Adele, and was honored with the Academy Award® and Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, the Brit Award for British Single of the Year, and the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media.

It also, obviously, refutes my report here yesterday. Here's the thing… it is precisely because of things like Smith spending months saying, "I'm not doing that song" that it is hard to know what to do with a studio denial of something.

In this case, Sony wouldn't confirm what they were doing this morning in conjunction with the ticket pre-sales, or even that there was going to be something released or announced. We reached out to them for comment, but the studio declined to make a comment. In that case, we went with a trusted source.

I see how the wires got tangled, but this is a mea culpa. I pulled the trigger on the story, and I was wrong. So while you have to wait 19 more days than I said you would, at least now we know what the song is and when we are actually going to hear it.

Here's the official art that was sent out with the press release.

 

And now one last observation. Part of the press release was a synopsis, and at this point, I'm sort of amazed at how detailed this is. They overtly mention something in the synopsis that I would have never published before the film came out because I would have been afraid that I was giving away the entire surprise of the film. At this point, though, it feels like they're hiding the entire film in plain sight. Tell me if I'm crazy, or if this feels like they're spelling out everything.

ABOUT “SPECTRE”

A cryptic message from the past sends James Bond (Daniel Craig) on a rogue mission to Mexico City and eventually Rome, where he meets Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci), the beautiful and forbidden widow of an infamous criminal.  Bond infiltrates a secret meeting and uncovers the existence of the sinister organisation known as SPECTRE.
 
Meanwhile back in London, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), the new head of the Centre for National Security, questions Bond’s actions and challenges the relevance of MI6, led by M (Ralph Fiennes). Bond covertly enlists Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) to help him seek out Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of his old nemesis Mr White (Jesper Christensen), who may hold the clue to untangling the web of SPECTRE. As the daughter of an assassin, she understands Bond in a way most others cannot.
 
As Bond ventures towards the heart of SPECTRE, he learns of a chilling connection between himself and the enemy he seeks, played by Christoph Waltz.
 
Sam Mendes returns to direct SPECTRE, with Daniel Craig reprising his role as 007 for the fourth time. SPECTRE is produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.  The screenplay is by John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth, with a story by John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade.

We'll see what surprises the film holds for us when it hits theaters. Feels like the release is right around the corner.

"Spectre" is set for release in the UK on October 26, 2015, and in the US on November 6, 2015.

For full Comic-Con coverage, click here.

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EXCLUSIVE: When can you hear the new James Bond theme song for yourself?
Credit: Sony Pictures

EXCLUSIVE: When can you hear the new James Bond theme song for yourself?

Tickets are about to go on sale, and there's a big surprise in store at the same time

UPDATED: Regarding the formal announcement about the theme song, we published the following:

It also, obviously, refutes my report here yesterday. Here's the thing… it is precisely because of things like Smith spending months saying, "I'm not doing that song" that it is hard to know what to do with a studio denial of something.

In this case, Sony wouldn't confirm what they were doing this morning in conjunction with the ticket pre-sales, or even that there was going to be something released or announced. We reached out to them for comment, but the studio declined to make a comment. In that case, we went with a trusted source.

I see how the wires got tangled, but this is a mea culpa. I pulled the trigger on the story, and I was wrong.

Our original story, unaltered, is below:

There has been rampant speculation about who will be performing the theme song for "SPECTRE," the latest James Bond movie. Adele's theme for "Skyfall" was one of the biggest of the entire series, iconic and award-winning, and it sold something like a grazillion copies. Don't fact-check me on that, but it was a lot.

HitFix can exclusively report that speculation will come to an end on Tuesday morning, when the "SPECTRE" theme song will be released according to sources connected to the films release. Ticket pre-sales for the film begin that morning, and there's no better way to light the fuse and drive audiences crazy than releasing the new theme song. That's not true of every movie, of course, but when you're talking about James Bond, there are certain things that are key to each one, and it's arguable that the theme song is one of the two or three most memorable things about each movie.

When we did our recent special Songs On Screen series of stories, I claimed "Nobody Does It Better" the moment the prospect was raised in our editorial meeting. I adore Bond themes. When my father was in town recently, we went to Amoeba, and he picked up a couple of things including a compilation CD of all the Bond themes so he could put that on his iPod and his tablet. He's always shared his Bond fandom with me, and my own kids have learned to love the theme songs as well from hearing them in the car and seeing the various films they've seen so far in the series.

I have no idea who recorded the song. It was done in secrecy, and to the credit of Sony, they've kept the identity of the performer under wraps. It'll make Tuesday morning fun, because the song will spur lots more conversation than just "good or bad." I've seen a lot of people want Sam Smith to be announced, and names like Ellie Goulding and Radiohead have been connected to the theme for various reasons. The Hollywood Reporter seemed to have some strong suspicions about Radiohead as the actual performer, and if that's the case, I'm going to be completely thrilled. After all, their cover version of "Nobody Does It Better" is pretty epic, and it would be an excuse for them to write something far more traditional than their more experimental fare. I love them as a band, but I miss them writing song songs. They were amazing at it, and they'd absolutely crush it if they were asked to write something traditionally "James Bondian."

Tuesday morning, this should all be revealed, and we'll be here to discuss it as soon as we've had a chance to hear it for ourselves.

"SPECTRE" arrives in UK theaters on October 26, and then opens in the US on November 6, 2015.

For full Comic-Con coverage, click here.

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How does 'Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon' play for a first-time viewer in 2015?
Credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

How does 'Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon' play for a first-time viewer in 2015?

While I'd argue I have a fairly deep knowledge of '80s films, having survived the era the first time through, it seems I somehow missed "The Last Dragon," directed by Michael Schultz.

Schultz works non-stop in television these days, and I'd wager that most of the people watching his episodes of "Arrow" or "Hart of Dixie" or "Black-ish" or "Chuck" or "The Mysteries Of Laura" have no idea this is the same guy who made movies like "Car Wash," "Cooley High," "Greased Lightning," "Bustin' Loose," or "Scavenger Hunt." He was one of the few directors to work with Richard Pryor repeatedly, which automatically makes him somewhat of a superhero.

It's always strange when you watch a movie for the first time removed completely from the context in which it premiered, especially one that provokes such an enthusiastic cult response from so many people when you mention it. A mere reference to the film on Twitter got dozens of replies from people who were outraged that I didn't know the film intimately already. I can see now why it has a cult following, and considering how lily white many of the films that teens went crazy for in the '80s were, it's nice to see one that exists in a world where there are very few white faces of any kind, except as ridiculous stereotypical bad guys.

Taimak stars as "Bruce" Leroy Green, a martial-arts-movie-crazy kid growing up in Harlem, and he is a block of wood. I think that's the nice way of saying it. In the scenes where he has dramatic or comedic material to play, he's almost mesmerizingly dull. But when he's turned loose as a martial artist, he comes to life, and he's fun to watch. Therein lies the secret of "The Last Dragon." It is frequently awful in several key ways, but it is also almost entirely fun, and that's what ultimately matters with this one.

Acting-wise, Taimak is well-matched with Vanity, but here's where I question my total lack of memory about this movie. I was, like most dudes my age, head-over-heels in lust with Vanity. Vanity 6 was sold using teenage boners as currency, and I paid as much as anyone. I remember when Prince made "Purple Rain" and the rumor was that the film was about her and that she was supposed to be in it, but when she wouldn't do it, he intentionally went out looking for someone to look just like her. I can't imagine that I didn't go see this if only to see Vanity onscreen. At 15, I was not above seeing a movie simply because of a shameless crush. She has a musical number in this film that looks like it was choreographed by someone in the grips of crippling diarrhea, and the song itself it almost like a dare to see if they can make you push fast-forward. Considering this was actually titled "Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon," the majority of the soundtrack is a cheerful nightmare. Maybe it was the omnipresence of "Rhythm of the Night" on MTV that made me feel like I had seen the movie.

Julius Carry is an instantly recognizable face to anyone who was watching film and TV in the '70s and '80s, and he is one of the primary reasons to see the film. He plays Sho'nuff, the Shogun of Harlem, leader of a martial-arts gang, and he's the one who spends most of the movie antagonizing Leroy. Christopher Murney is a particularly unctuous little rich white asshole, and Faith Prince does surprisingly nuanced work in a role that could have been a complete waste with a less-crafty comic actress. It's because of performances like theirs that the film has such a particular sense of humor. It's hammy and silly, and I'm amazed Leo O'Brien didn't go on to a bigger career. He plays Leroy's little brother Ritchie. and he's one of those 13-going-on-50 characters, all wise-ass attitude, and he plays things big and broad just like Mike Starr, who went on to make about 1000 more movies. Starr knows what he's playing, and he cranks it all the way up. Leroy's students, including Glen Eaton and Ernie Reyes Jr., are all charming and having way too much fun. And the way the film uses the footage from the various Bruce Lee films is really fun to watch as a primer for why he's great, something my kids have been asking about lately.

Watching the film, I did find myself enjoying each big sequence more than the one before, and Schultz taps into something that I'm not sure I've really seen many films get right, the way exploitation movies and Chinese martial-arts films influenced young black culture in New York, where those grindhouses were frequently places to hang out and soak it all up. It almost plays like this should be the origin story of the Wu-Tang Clan. "Then, after they all beat the hell out of each other Bruce Lee-style, they started a gigantic rap collective to spread the gospel of The Glow."

The Sony Home Entertainment release comes with a Blu-ray and a digital copy, and it looks like the studio has done excellent work with the best elements they could find. "The Last Dragon" looks about as good as anyone could hope for on this 30th anniversary edition. There's a director's commentary, a trailer, and a short feature about the film, and I'm actually going to make the time to go back and play that commentary. I want to hear Schultz talk about his earlier work, and if someone could get him to do commentaries for all of his Pryor films, I'd watch everyone one of those as well. Man, what I wouldn't give for a "Which Way Is Up?" commentary.

I have a feeling my own boys will get a kick out of this, and while I can't exactly say I think it's a great movie, I can see why the people who love it reeeeeeeeally love it. The film's got a sincere energy that is impossible to resist.

"The Last Dragon" 30th Anniversary Edition is available now. If you don't have it yet, considering using the Amazon link below or the Film Nerd 2.0 Amazon Store. All proceeds go to the nascent Film Nerd 2.0 War Chest.

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