<p>Steve Coogan and Judi Dench take it easy in 'Philomena'</p>

Steve Coogan and Judi Dench take it easy in 'Philomena'

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Review: Judi Dench and Steve Coogan shine in the the unconventional true-life 'Philomena'

HitFix
B+
Readers
F
Difficult subject matter handled just right

There's a certain type of movie that I think of as a Harvey Weinstein Oscar Special, and on paper, "Philomena" fits the bill. After all, it's got a starring role for Judi Dench. It's based on a true story that can easily be exploited to create some outrage that can be used to sell the film. And it's directed by Stephen Frears, who is the very model of the kinds of filmmakers that Harvey loves to enlist as he stages his annual march on the Kodak Theater.

While it seems like there's a version of "Philomena" that could have been terribly calculated and cynical, exactly the sort of Oscar bait that it sounds like, the actual film is something very different. Written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope and based on the non-fiction book by Martin Sixsmith, this is a smart, genuinely-felt film that tackles some difficult ideas head-on. I found myself surprisingly moved by the film, and it wasn't at all what I expected.

Philomena Lee (Dench) has spent her life haunted by thoughts of the baby she gave up for adoption when she was very young. It wasn't a choice she made, but one that was forced on her by the nuns at the convent where she was sent when she got pregnant. It's impossible to view what happens to Philomena as anything but an immoral crime, and the idea that it was done in the name of the church is infuriating.

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<p>Ice Cube thinks Kevin Hart's future is so bright that he's got to... well, you get the point.</p>

Ice Cube thinks Kevin Hart's future is so bright that he's got to... well, you get the point.

Credit: HitFix

Ice Cube compares his 'Ride Along' co-star Kevin Hart to Eddie Murphy

Big words, Cube. Big words.

I am an unabashed fan of Ice Cube on film.

Not every film he's been in works, but he's got a presence that I enjoy on film, and when he's got someone to play off of, he can be very funny. I think he's just as much a part of what I enjoy about "Friday" as Chris Tucker was, and frankly, I'm surprised he hasn't done more action-comedies over the years. I think "All About The Benjamins" is a perfectly enjoyable film, and I always root for Cube to make something like that.

"Ride Along" has an incredibly simple premise. Ice Cube plays a hard-assed detective, and Kevin Hart plays the guy who is dating his sister. He wants to prove himself to Cube, and Cube takes great delight in inviting the guy on a ride along with him so he can terrify him. When I sat down with Cube and Hart together, it was the first interview of the year, and it seemed like a nice way to shake off the holiday torpor.

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<p>Tom Cruise did some of his best work ever in Paul&nbsp;Thomas Anderson's 'Magnolia'</p>

Tom Cruise did some of his best work ever in Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Magnolia'

Credit: New Line Home Video

Paul Thomas Anderson's dour, dizzying 'Magnolia' kicks off our 'Take Two' column

Can your opinion on a film change over time?

I've seen so many films in my lifetime that it amazes me I can recall things about them even decades after a single viewing. Every year, I add several hundred new films to that list, and I also revisit several hundred old films while also seeing older films for the first time as much as possible. I average three movies a day, and it's entirely likely that between January 1st and December 31st each year, I screen 1000 films or more.

So what sticks? And why? How is it possible that I can retain lines of dialogue or shots or other details about any of those movies, much less something I saw when I was 17 or 18 years old?

More importantly, should I really be able to say that I've got an opinion about a film that I saw over 20 years ago? How much of that opinion do you think would be the same today?

When those films come up in conversation and I say, "Oh, I love that" or "Wow, I hate that film," how can I be sure that I'd feel that way now? There are movies about which I hold very strong positive or negative opinions, and it only recently occurred to me that those opinions might be different now. It's certainly happened. I've seen films and been suddenly struck by some new detail or idea or theme that hits me in some whole new way. It's one of the most important reasons I re-watch any film.

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<p>I've seen wooden extras before, but this is ridiculous.</p>

I've seen wooden extras before, but this is ridiculous.

Credit: ABC/Marvel Studios

'Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.' offers answers about Coulson but frustrates anyway

Is that really how they're going to explain things?

When the last episode of "Marvel's Agents Of SHIELD" aired, it seemed like a natural and intriguing place to hit pause for the season, and they promised that they'd be offering answers when the show finally returned.

So… did they?

Starting with the "previously on" clips package, there is an admirable sense of urgency to the episode. It felt like they took the mid-season break into account, using the entire pre-title teaser to re-introduce the team in action. We get May and Ward breaking up a deal to sell "100% premium grade Chitauri metal," and one guy gets away and takes off running. We get to see Fitz/Simmons and their drones head him off in one direction, we see Skye hacking the building's security network, and when the guy finally reaches the roof, there's a full SHIELD team waiting there with Agent Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows) at the head of it.

Picking up 36 hours after Coulson's abduction, things have definitely changed a bit. Agent Hand has taken over The Bus, which is now packed with agents, and it seems that there are two different agendas in play. Hand is looking for Centipede, and the team is worried about Coulson.

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<p>This will not end well, gentlemen.</p>

This will not end well, gentlemen.

Credit: Universal Pictures

Review: Peter Berg's 'Lone Survivor' offers spectacular combat but no substance

HitFix
B-
Readers
A+
There's something troubling about the lack of meaning

I have no doubt that Peter Berg genuinely idolizes the US military.

Every detail in "Lone Survivor" feels carefully considered and deeply felt. Berg's script is lean and rings authentic all the way through. Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch and Taylor Kitsch all seem dedicated to telling this story as truthfully as possible. It is obvious that Peter Berg considers this an important story and that he took the responsibility of bringing it to the screen as something important and urgent.

Despite that, my primary reaction to "Lone Survivor" as a film is "And?" While I can admire the way the story is told, as a story it does nothing for me. We watch a team of SEALs get sent on a mission that, even if it had succeeded would have accomplished nothing of any importance, and then we watch them die one by one. That's pretty much it. I've seen the film twice, looking for something more in it, convinced that I simply hadn't connected with it the first time. Despite the profound sense of respect the film obviously has for the people it depicts, it ultimately strikes me as a hollow exercise.

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<p>Anyone who can write an ode to summer like the one Olaf sings in 'Frozen' is on my short list of people who absolutely should be making musicals.</p>

Anyone who can write an ode to summer like the one Olaf sings in 'Frozen' is on my short list of people who absolutely should be making musicals.

Credit: Walt Disney Feature Animation

Allen Loeb joins 'Frozen' composers for intriguing 'Bob The Musical' for Disney

This one could be cool

One of the benefits of living in Los Angeles and covering the film industry is that there are plenty of invites in any given year to premieres and special screenings. While I'm perfectly happy seeing a film under pretty much any condition, it's fun to take the family to a premiere so they can enjoy the party and see a movie in the best possible conditions.

The big winter premiere for the family this year was "Frozen" at the El Capitan, and my kids had a tremendous time with the film and with the party afterwards. They got to meet Josh Gad in the lobby of the theater and when they realized he was Olaf the Snowman, they practically hoisted him onto their shoulders for a victory lap around the room.

It's uncommon for me to get excited about saying hello to someone at a premiere, if only because I've met so many people at this point that there's no real novelty to it. At the "Frozen" premiere, though, I had two people I wanted to speak with, and when I was introduced to them, I gushed. I gushed, and I don't care who knows it. I gushed because I think Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are really, really good at what they do, and between "Avenue Q," "The Book Of Mormon," and "Frozen," I think they've staked a claim for themselves as both hilariously funny and also able to do traditional show tunes as well as anyone working.

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<p>'Powered-down'? I hope not.</p>

'Powered-down'? I hope not.

Credit: DC Comics

Rumors suggest a major overhaul for Wonder Woman's backstory in 'Man Of Steel' sequel

Wouldn't this make the DC Universe feel sort of small?

There are at least three radically different versions of "Wonder Woman" that I've read over the last fifteen years, all developed by Warner Bros. with different teams of talent attached, and one thing has been painfully evident the entire time.

Warner Bros. does not want to make a Wonder Woman movie.

They think they do. After all, they keep paying people to write scripts, and they keep reassigning the character to different producers. As anyone even remotely interested in the character knows by this point, Gal Gadot was recently hired to play Wonder Woman for the "Man Of Steel" sequel, and there's been a lot of speculation about how the balance of characters is going to be handled in the film.

There are a number of big movies in production right now that I can honestly say I know pretty much start to finish, but the "Man Of Steel" sequel isn't one of them. I know what they've announced so far, and everything else I'm hearing would have to be considered pure rumor. Reports from one person totally contradict reports from another person, and a lot of what I've heard doesn't really make sense. I'm going to try to sort some of this out, and the new Wonder Woman rumors seem like a good place to start.

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<p>You can almost feel Edgar Wright's elbow give you a shot to the ribs as you check out his hint about his upcoming 'Ant-Man' film</p>

You can almost feel Edgar Wright's elbow give you a shot to the ribs as you check out his hint about his upcoming 'Ant-Man' film

Credit: Marvel Animation

Edgar Wright reveals a major clue about which 'Ant-Man' Paul Rudd is playing

Sounds like a very different approach to a Marvel movie

One of the reasons I've been so excited about "Ant-Man" for so long now is because the premise for the film, as explained years ago by Edgar Wright, sounds like it won't be like any other superhero film we've seen.

The other reason, of course, is because Edgar Wright has one of the most distinct voices in film right now. I'm excited to see how his aggressive visual style fits into the Marvel cinematic universe, and the test footage that was revealed at Comic-Con a few years ago was a tremendously encouraging first look at how Ant-Man's powers could be used in a fight.

Wright's been working on the script for several years now, on and off, with co-writer Joe Cornish, and when I was interviewing Cornish about "Attack The Block," I happened to mention the "Ant-Man" plot I'd heard, and he went a little pale. "You're not going to print that, are you?" he asked, and I assured him that I wasn't going to be the one to ruin all the surprises.

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<p>Joaquin Phoenix and Russell Crowe both did remarkable work in Ridley Scott's 'Gladiator'</p>

Joaquin Phoenix and Russell Crowe both did remarkable work in Ridley Scott's 'Gladiator'

Credit: Paramount Home VIdeo/DreamWorks

We kick off a new column called 'Movie Rehab' with a look back at Ridley Scott's 'Gladiator'

Does winning Best Picture automatically turn people against a movie?

HitFix just quietly turned five years old.

The most remarkable part of that is the time frame in which we launched. We could not have picked a worse day for the site to go live. The financial meltdown was happening at the exact moment that we were attempting to start a brand-new media company, and if we'd failed, it would have made us just one more example of how the crisis impacted people.

Instead, we've slowly but surely carved out our own place online, and with each new voice we've added to the mix, HitFix has gotten stronger. For the last five years, I have been blessed by the opportunity to define my own blog by my own interests, and I feel like I've done some of my best work here. "Film Nerd 2.0" has taken on a life of its own, and I am enormously grateful to everyone who has not only read the columns but shared them.

The one thing I don't think we've done as well as we could have is create a larger sense of community in the comments section. Sure, we've got several people who comment regularly, but what I'd really love to see is more conversation. That's hard when we're publishing a review of something that isn't out yet because you guys aren't able to weigh in at that point, and by the time the film is out, that review could be 20 articles back on the blog.

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<p>Uhhhhhhhh...</p>

Uhhhhhhhh...

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Review: Strong choices make 'Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones' a smart left turn

HitFix
B
Readers
F
What could have been a pandering ploy plays well

I would be hard-pressed to name any horror franchise that got to film number five that still had my attention in any serious way. I gave up on Freddy Krueger way before most of my peers, I don't acknowledge the existence of more than one film about Michael Myers, and two times around the track with Pinhead was plenty. But somehow, against any logical odds, the "Paranormal Activity" franchise appears to actually still be wringing new tricks out of a very, very basic formula.

"Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" is written and directed by Christopher Landon, and if there's anyone who can be considered the chief architect of the underlying mythology besides Oren Peli at this point, it's Landon. He was the screenwriter on all but the first film, and one of the things I respect about the way they've parceled out the story so far in this particular series is that each movie has added a new idea or a new perspective to paint a portrait of a wide-reaching conspiracy that has taken years to bring to fruition. All of these tapes fill in some part of the story, and in this case, the story being told doesn't appear at first to have any direct connection to the other films. This time, the main characters are Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz), both just out of high school, two Hispanic kids in East LA.

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