Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and a Los Angeles to die for all make 'La La Land' look special
Credit: Summit Entertainment

Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and a Los Angeles to die for all make 'La La Land' look special

Holy cow, Damien Chazelle, look what you did!

Gorgeous.

Damien Chazelle’s got a lot of eyes on him as he prepares his follow-up to Whiplash for release, and based on today’s first trailer for La La Land, he’s got precious little to worry about. When you cast Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as young pretty people falling in love, you’re already halfway done with your work, but when you add in the surreal and beautiful take on Los Angeles, a city that is plenty surreal and beautiful on its own, you might end up with something really special.

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'Loving' looks like a gentle human spin on a sadly timely true story
Credit: Focus Features

'Loving' looks like a gentle human spin on a sadly timely true story

Two Jeff Nichols films in one year? I'm getting spoiled

Jeff Nichols is exactly what I want from a working filmmaker. He has a strong sense of voice, he seems to be able to not repeat himself, and he’s got this great big open sense of humanity in his films. He loves the characters he’s making movies about, and I love watching how he approaches each new movie, each new story he tells.

Several people I spoke to after Cannes were effusive about how beautiful his new film Loving is, and I’m excited to see it for myself. Right now, watching Preacher from week to week, I am totally knocked out by Ruth Negga. I read the comic, and I had a very specific picture of Tulip in my head, and Negga absolutely destroyed that. Whatever preconceptions I had about Tulip went out the window, and I’m happy to just watch her interpretation of the character. That’s exactly what I love about translating media from one form to another. Sometimes a performer does something you would never expect, and it can open up a piece of material in a whole new way.

Loving is based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, who helped break legal ground for interracial couples in this country thanks to a protracted battle to protect their family. They were married, had children, and still had to spend almost a decade fighting their way from court to court to get the protections that should be provided to any couple. It is mind-boggling to me that I was born two years after the final decision was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. I think of the idea of people having to fight for the legal right to marry someone of a different race as an idea that must have been firmly decided on well before my birth, but that’s just not the case.

Joel Edgerton joins Negga, continuing what seems like a particularly sustained run of great choices, and I’m excited to see Nick Kroll playing a serious role in the film. I think he’s a really strong character actor who commits to whatever he does, and he looks like one of those not-immediately-obvious choices that could really pay off. Overall, though, what strikes me is how even when he’s telling a story that looks to have plenty of emotional fireworks built in, what comes through most clearly is a gentle sense of humanity. I wish this story didn't feel urgent and timely right now, but I trust him to find the right way to tell it.

Nichols really is something special, and I hope this one’s great.

Loving arrives in theaters November 4, 2016.

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What is 'Pokemon Go' and why won't everyone shut up about it already?
Credit: Nintendo

What is 'Pokemon Go' and why won't everyone shut up about it already?

Oh my god, they got my kids to go outside

Last night, I was on the Disney lot for a screening of Pete’s Dragon, and I had both of my kids with me. Both before and after the film, Allen had one thing on his mind, the same thing he’s had on his mind since the beginning of the weekend when I downloaded the Pokemon Go app to my phone.

He’s been a Pokemon fan for the last few years, and he’s managed to put together an impressive mountain of the cards. He and his friends are all avid players, and I was impressed to see just how robust things are for Pokemon in general. When it first popped up in pop culture, I was way too old to care at all, and that was true until the day my kids discovered it. Even then, it was something that they did, not something that we all played together. There were plenty of other games we shared, and this one was their own private world.

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Danny McBride is shocked he's in the new 'Alien' movie, too
Credit: HitFix

Danny McBride is shocked he's in the new 'Alien' movie, too

The 'Vice-Principals' star talks about how he realized he was part of film history

It feels like Danny McBride and Jody Hill are old friends at this point, even though I think I’ve only ever been around them, face to face, a few times.

Part of that is just because of how loose and funny they are, and how easy the conversation always is when we sit down to talk about something they’re working on together. Part of that is because the projects they work on feel like they’re aimed directly at my sense of humor, like some secret I’m in on. And part of that is because I grew up with guys like Jody and Danny and I knew who they were as soon as we spoke that first time.

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Review: 'Ghostbusters' successfully passes the torch to a new generation
Credit: Sony Pictures
A-

Review: 'Ghostbusters' successfully passes the torch to a new generation

I don't know if it's a lady thing or a comedy thing, but I laughed like hell

If you’d told me that the worst thing about a new Ghostbusters film would be Bill Murray, I would have laughed in your face. And yet… here we are.

Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters is, above all else, a real Ghostbusters movie. If you’re a fan of the 1984 original (as most comedy fans are), one of the things that’s interesting as you watch this one is the way it echoes off of that film. It is no simple remake, but neither is it a radical reinvention of the core idea. It’s simply a different riff on the same idea, with a solid dose of fan service thrown in to help make the transition from the old to the new. The script, by Feig and Katie Dippold, does some big things different, and the choices they make are intriguing. First and foremost, though, Ghostbusters is a big fat slice of silly summer entertainment, confident and sometimes quite beautiful. It is the biggest stretch Feig’s made so far as a filmmaker, embracing the technical side of things in a way he never has so far, and stuffed chock full of affection for everything that makes Ghostbusters such an enduring favorite.

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Review: Low-key charming 'Secret Life Of Pets' never quite makes it off the leash
Credit: Universal/Illumination Studios
B-

Review: Low-key charming 'Secret Life Of Pets' never quite makes it off the leash

Illumination is great at the gags, but less great at making things matter beyond that

While Illumination Studios has certainly learned many lessons from the success of Pixar, it feels to me like they have also found their own voice in the process. Yes, The Secret Life Of Pets is basically just the first Toy Story with pets instead of toys, but what has become Illumination’s signature is the sheer number of gags per minute they throw at the audience. Far more akin to Looney Tunes than Disney in the grand scheme of things, The Secret Life Of Pets takes that Toy Story template and cranks it up to a dizzying degree, and it is largely successful. The few times the film really tries to land an emotional punch, it is clear just how deeply we all carry our feelings about pets in general, because they don’t have to do much to make it effective.

Last week, I made a major life change and moved in with my girlfriend. One of the biggest adjustments of the entire relationship involves her cat, Josie. When Lisa and I first met, I confessed that I am not a cat person at all. I don’t hate them, but I’m somewhat allergic to longer-haired cats, and the one time my family owned a cat as a child, it was a miserable beast. I’ve always had better luck with dogs, although it’s been decades since I had one of those, either.

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This ode to '80s slasher films is unexpectedly on-point and even sort of touching
Credit: Press Here Productions

This ode to '80s slasher films is unexpectedly on-point and even sort of touching

Wolfie's Just Fine is a terrific new effort from comedian Jon Lajoie

“I don’t really like scary movies, except when I want to be scared.”

That logical conundrum was shared with me across the table as I had lunch with my sons the other day. I wrote about Toshi’s experience with the film Halloween and how it seemed like an important developmental step for him as a person, not just as a film fan, and I took some heat for it from some of the readers. I get it. Horror films aren’t for everyone, and for some people, they are never enjoyable. They simply don’t like the experience.

But for those of us who love horror films, there’s usually a moment that we remember as a flashpoint for that love, and it normally involves being so scared that we go into a sort of shock sitting there in the dark. I miss that feeling, honestly, and there are times where, as a horror fan, I feel like a 90-year-old heroin addict who has long since lost the ability to feel the high. Every once in a while, a filmmaker is able to make me feel that same jolt, but it’s pretty rare that it is sustained for an entire film.  There are times when I wish I could see scary movies through fresh eyes.

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In appreciation of Eva Green, one of Hollywood's great underutilized assets
Credit: Showtime

In appreciation of Eva Green, one of Hollywood's great underutilized assets

'Penny Dreadful' is available now for Netflix subscribers who want to catch up

The first real rabid Penny Dreadful fan I talked to was Greg Ellwood here at HitFix. He was a steadfast believer the entire time it was on the air, and he encouraged me to watch it. I was busy cutting the cord, though, moving away from cable subscriptions. I had no cable in the house, none in my office, and chose not to watch anything on TV. I used Hulu, Netflix, HBO Now, Amazon Prime. And if a show didn’t land in one of the services I used, then it just went on a list of things to watch someday. Maybe.

Today is that day for Penny Dreadful for me. After Greg, the person who really picked up that ongoing advocacy for the show was Brian Duffield, who shares my deep abiding love of Eva Green’s work, and he has always been insistent that I was missing some of her very best work by not finding a way to watch the show. I couldn’t justify all of the expense for one title, though. I just waited, and when I moved into my new apartment this week, I finally reversed course, buying a cable/Internet bundle with a very healthy On Demand library. I checked to see if I had a Showtime folder, and then checked to see if they had all of the Penny Dreadful episodes, and just as I got excited about that, Netflix also added the series, although only the first two seasons.

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The best game I've ever played is finally available for XBox One on Friday, and I can't wait
Credit: Rockstar

The best game I've ever played is finally available for XBox One on Friday, and I can't wait

This is why XBox has gotten so much of my money

Over the long holiday weekend, I moved into a new apartment with my girlfriend. It’s been in the works for a while, and as well as we planned it, it still turned into a prohibitive amount of work. I’m worn down by how many times I’ve climbed the front and back steps of the new place, and by just how much work it was to get everything over here. Even after hiring movers, I still feel like I’ve been in constant motion, lifting and carrying every piece of media I own at some point, and while I remain steadfast in my belief that physical media is still the way to go, it took everything I had not to just set it all on fire and run screaming into the night at some point.

One of the few places where I’ve gone completely digital is with my gaming, and only since jumping from the PS3 to the XBox One. I like the entire XBox Live set-up. I like having a digital library I can rotate on and off the hard drive depending on what’s getting played and what’s not. I find it infinitely preferable to having an actual physical library of games, even though there’s no way for me to ever trade a game after buying it, something I did a fair amount of with the PS3 and older machines. By the time I reached the end of my ownership of the PS3, I think I had about 12 games in the house. I was using GameFly and renting games and I was pretty quick to abandon them if I was annoyed in any way.

Buying games digitally has changed my habits entirely. For one thing, I find myself buying older games that I played all the way through at least once, games I already know I love. And when new sequels to those games arrive, I’m likely to purchase those because I trust that I’ll enjoy the new game. That’s been true with recent games like Just Cause 3, Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Arkham Knight, and Fallout 4, and going back to games like Sleeping Dogs and Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and Just Cause 2 has been terrific, a reminder of why I love games in the first place.

Nothing has me more excited, though, than the knowledge that I will be playing Red Dead Redemption on the XBox One this coming weekend. I just bought the game tonight for a whopping $7.49. That is an absurd price to pay for what I consider the best video game I’ve ever played. Or at the very least, my favorite. I adore that game. It was the perfect combination of gameplay mechanics I enjoyed, a story that I found truly interesting, and the first video game character whose death left me emotionally rattled. There are moments from playing Red Dead Redemption that I will never forget, and the way they feel for me is like actual memories, not something synthetic just enjoyed on a screen. The feeling of sitting on a horse’s back, at the top of a ridge, watching the sun come up over the desert below, or the sensation of defending a train as it’s being attacked, or the creeping realization that I’m dealing with a cannibal and there’s no one for miles around… those are such vivid and full sensory memories for me that it seems crazy to think it was simply part of a game.

I got excited last week because I found a page on the official XBox store’s website for the game, and I thought they had just quietly added it to the “backwards compatible” section. I went to Twitter and got all lathered up and some people gently informed me that I was, as I frequently am, a big overenthusiastic galoot, and completely wrong. I’m going to pretend that it was my enthusiasm that got XBox to finally add the title this coming Friday, July 8, and not just a coincidence. I’m pretty sure I’ve spoken about how much I’ve wanted this to happen at least a dozen times in the last two years.

Are there any older games you consider essential that aren’t currently available for whatever machine it is that you use for gaming? And have your buying habits changed at all with this current generation of game platforms?

Red Dead Redemption gallops into backwards compatibility for the XBox One on Friday. You will not be able to reach me until Monday.

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This 'Game Of Thrones' theory may reveal who's really pulling the strings
Credit: HBO

This 'Game Of Thrones' theory may reveal who's really pulling the strings

Or then again, maybe they're not as in charge as they think they are

I may not write about Game Of Thrones here at HitFix, but that’s only because between Alan Sepinwall, Roth Cornet, and Donna Dickens, the show is already exhaustively covered. They do a great job of covering everything from the characters to the careful manipulations to the theories about the future, and they all clearly love the show.

Me, too. Every week during the show’s run, a close friend of mine comes over for the full Sunday night lineup on HBO. We watch Veep first, then Silicon Valley, saving Game Of Thrones for the dessert. While I liked the George R.R. Martin books, I love the show. Yes, things have been streamlined and shifted and consolidated, and if you prefer the books, I wish you well. But for me, the show has been an exercise in how to take a piece of material from one media to another, making strong decisive choices about what you find most interesting and exciting about the source material. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss grabbed hold of these books and these characters and they ran with them. It helps that they cast the show brilliantly, and now that they’re in the home stretch, there is an urgency to the storytelling that I find absolutely exhilarating.

One of the best things about the show is the way it portrays the subtle tides of power and the way various players in this game work to make things happen. Yes, it looks like the final chess board will feature exactly who I wanted to see in that final mix: Dany, Tyrion, Jon Snow, Cersei, the White Walkers… it’s going to be a hell of a collision, and the final images of this year’s final episode were the payoff for everything we’ve seen so far.

And who was right there over the shoulder of Daenerys?

The video above explores a fan theory that feels to me like a simple and obvious connection of dots. And that’s what I love. Lord Varys (the absolutely terrific Conleth Hill) may well be pulling strings behind the scenes, and those manipulations of his may well help get everyone moved into their current configuration. But his plans and the plans of others may simply coincide right now, with Varys still due for a rude awakening at some point soon. He’s in somewhat the same position as Littlefinger (the also absolutely terrific Aidan Gillen), whose plans are currently lined up with those of Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner, who really came into her own this season). I think Littlefinger is very happy about how things went at the end of the year, but I also think when the time comes, Sansa will happily have Littlefinger’s balls hung from the highest tower of Winterfell. Happily.

While that might not be the right way to threaten Varys, the point remains the same: he may be whispering in the ear of the eventual winner, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be there at the finish line. Is he the guy who wins Big Brother this season, or is he the last guy voted out of the house? How good is his game?

It’s a fun piece, and these conversations are exactly why I can’t wait for these next two short seasons and the big finish for what has become one of my favorite television experiences ever.

Game of Thrones returns in 2017, damn it.

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