Review: The series continues to incrementally improve with 'The Purge: Election Year'
Credit: Universal/Blumhouse
C+

Review: The series continues to incrementally improve with 'The Purge: Election Year'

I doubt I'll ever love this series, but at least they're getting better

It makes sense that James DeMonaco was the screenwriter and a co-producer on the remake of John Carpenter’s breakthrough Assault On Precinct 13. It is clear this time that the model he is chasing is the John Carpenter model, and there is a strong Escape From New York vibe to the best moments in The Purge: Election Year, a film that is far more action/thriller than overt horror.

It feels like DeMonaco has been remaking his own movie with each new chapter of The Purge, trying to refine it into the film he originally wanted to make. I think the first film is a mess, and it’s a case of a budget totally defining what something is instead of the idea being the primary consideration. They created this world with this major cultural event at the center of it, and they made an entire film set inside one family’s house. I understand why, but I don’t care. I don’t review film budgets. I don’t review how successfully something manages to create a return on an investment. I review films, and as a film, The Purge is a sort of overly-familiar home-invasion story, and not a particularly good one. The second film widened the world view just a bit, focusing on the story of Frank Grillo as “Sergeant,” a guy determined to use the annual opportunity of the Purge to right a wrong that was done to his family. And while I think The Purge: Anarchy is better than the first film, I still thought it got a lot wrong, leaning on some cheap set-ups and some obvious moves.

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What's the secret movie Spielberg and Jackson are making before 'Tintin 2'?
Credit: Paramount/Dreamworks/Nickelodeon

What's the secret movie Spielberg and Jackson are making before 'Tintin 2'?

Sounds like Jackson's got some lost time to make up for

Steven Spielberg is enormously clever about the way he drops hints in the press when he wants to create some buzz for something, knowing full well that any comment he makes is going to be carefully parsed for meaning and for clues about things.

Specifically, when he mentions that he and Peter Jackson are making a secret film before Jackson makes Kingdom Of The Sun, the previously-announced title for the Tintin sequel, then he has to know that people are immediately going to start guessing about what that secret film might be. I’ve seen plenty of people speculate today about what that secret film might be, with many people betting that it’s going to be The Dam Busters, the long-in-development movie about a famous bombing raid during WWII that Jackson wants to make, with WETA having spent several years building full-sized Lancaster bombers for the movie.

I wouldn’t be so sure about that. There are several other projects that Jackson has been interested in making, some of which he’s been toying with even as he was buried under the unexpected avalanche of work required to make the Hobbit trilogy. What I would love to see them make with Spielberg producing and Jackson directing is a long-rumored return to horror, set against a wartime background. I’ll tread lightly here because I don’t want to pull the curtain aside completely if I’m right, but it’s exciting to think that Jackson might be contemplating a return to the genre where he originally made his bones.

Speaking of Bones, I know several sites are pointing at comments where Jackson expressed an interest in getting back to the kind of adult drama that he did best with Heavenly Creatures, and I’ve seen at least one place list As Nature Made Him as a strong possibility. That’s a true story about David Reimer, whose gender identity was thrown into question after a botched circumcision led his parents to raise him as female. Evidently, Jackson and Fran Walsh have expressed some interest in telling that story at some point, and there’s a New Zealand connection in the form of the doctor who worked with Reimer’s parents. That may well be a project they’re developing, and I’d be thrilled to see Jackson working in drama again. But The Lovely Bones was a moment where Jackson got hammered pretty hard by the critical press, and I get the feeling Jackson is interested in making himself happy with whatever he works on these days. He made The Hobbit because he needed to, and now that he’s finished doing that, he’s earned the right to make some things that speak to him, that are going to help recharge him as a storyteller.

Making his Tintin movie is certainly part of that. Like Spielberg, Jackson grew up with the Tintin books, and he has a real passion for the character. I’ve rewatched The Adventures Of Tintin: Secret Of The Unicorn a few times since it came out, and the thing that is most thrilling about it is seeing just how much Spielberg enjoyed the tools that came with the jump from live-action to digital motion-capture performance-based animation. There was a freedom to the camerawork, a sort of giddy explosive invention, and if anything, Jackson is even more comfortable with these tools than Spielberg was. I’m dying to see what he does with this kind of pure adventure storytelling, and I love that thanks to these movies being animated, they don’t have to worry about Tintin aging at all. He’s always going to be Tintin, exactly the age and design that they want. I’m glad to hear that they’re still committed to making Jackson’s film, and I’d love to know if the third filmmaker who was involved at one point is still involved now.

For now, though, I’m more interested in this secret film. If this is the weird war machine/monster mash-up movie that Jackson’s been playing around with for a while, it could be one of the coolest and strangest things Spielberg’s even been involved in as a producer, and it could be exactly what Jackson needs to make in order to finally put Middle Earth behind him.

In the meantime, Spielberg’s The BFG arrives in theaters everywhere today.

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Netflix makes a big deal about adding the Albert Brooks filmography, as they should
Credit: Warner Bros. Home Video

Netflix makes a big deal about adding the Albert Brooks filmography, as they should

One of the best careers in Hollywood comedy starts streaming tomorrow

"I have seen the future, and it is a bald-headed man from New York!"

Has there even been a specially-produced commercial announcing that Netflix was adding the library of a specific writer/director? I think this might be the first, and it feels appropriate that it’s done in spectacular dry Albert Brooks fashion. Tomorrow, the streaming video service will add all seven of the feature films that were written and directed by Brooks, and that is reason to rejoice whether you’re intimately familiar with all of them or new to them completely.

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Do sequels ever really work when decades have passed since the first film?
Credit: 20th Century Fox

Do sequels ever really work when decades have passed since the first film?

We look at what goes wrong with late-in-life sequels in general

I still haven’t seen Independence Day: Resurgence, and there’s a good chance I won’t.

When 20th Century Fox made the decision not to screen the film for US press in advance of the film’s opening, they sent a very clear message to anyone paying attention, and it’s a message that I believe more and more studios would love to send to critics, especially on their giant event films: not only do we not need you, but we don’t want you. At all.

And it’s true. Studios don’t really need to screen movies for critics. It’s a professional agreement that we all participate in, but more and more often, studios screen later and almost begrudgingly. I am amazed how many times this year alone I’ve had to basically beg to even find out when or if a screening is happening. The stakes are getting higher for the studios as they push all their chips onto these megamovies. Now that there are no mid-range films and everything is either a million-dollar pick-up or a gigantically-budgeted pre-sold property, studios have to look at the prospect of mixed or negative reviews as a direct threat to their bottom line.

One of the things that makes Independence Day: Resurgence different than a standard sequel is the amount of time that passed between the release of the first film and this one. It is uncommon for a studio to let a property lay fallow for that long, and when you consider what a monster hit the original was and how Fox typically works, it’s almost unthinkable that it took a full 20 years between movies. Most of the long-lag sequels that have existed before now have been for very different films, and from a commercial point of view, it’s a model that doesn’t really have a strong precursor. You’ve got an entirely different generation buying tickets now, and you have to wonder how much of an attachment they’ve got to that film from two decades ago that has no spin-offs, no sequels, and no real pop culture presence in the years since.

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'The LEGO Ninjago Movie' puts together a pretty kick-a** cast
Credit: LEGO

'The LEGO Ninjago Movie' puts together a pretty kick-a** cast

One of Warner's biggest brands casts a wide net with its casting

Eventually, every film will be made in partnership with LEGO.

Okay, maybe not, but it certainly feels like the toy building blocks have become major Hollywood players since the surprise success of The LEGO Movie. Right now, Rob Schrab is hard at work on the sequel to that film, and the trailers for The LEGO Batman Movie have been killing since they debuted two of them back to back. We knew they were also planning to release a Ninjago film of some sort, but news on that has been a lot quieter… until now.

Using a pamphlet they obtained at the Licensing Expo 2016, LEGO fansite Brickset revealed the primary voice cast for The LEGO Ninjago Movie. Evidently, these characters all exist in the LEGO Ninjago TV show, but they’ve all been recast, and it’s clear that there’s a common talent pool that they’re using for all of these films, with some big movie stars showing up as well. It’s becoming very cool to be associated with one of these LEGO movies, and i think it would be crazy to underestimate just how important these films are to Warner Bros. They represent one of the major tentpoles they’re leaning on over the next five to ten years, including the ongoing expansion of JK Rowlings’ Wizarding World, the DC Films, and the James Wan/Ed and Lorraine Warren series, and it’s interesting to see who they’re using.

It feels like the properties themselves are aimed squarely at children, but the casting and the execution are aimed at adults. That’s the combination that made The LEGO Movie work in the first place. Not a lot of kids are going to wig out to see Silicon Valley stars Kumail Nanjiani and Zach Woods together again here as Jay and Zane, but for anyone who watches that show, that’s exciting. My kids are utterly unaware of Broad City, but I’m happy to see Abbi Jacobson, who will play Nya, show up anywhere. Dave Franco is Lloyd, Michael Pena is Kai, and Fred Armisen will voice Cole, but it’s the casting of Master Wu that best captures everything that the LEGO movies are trying to do. My kids and I are equally aware of and excited by Jackie Chan, and if this movie had been made in 1991, they probably would have tried to cast Pat Morita, which seems apt considering Chan’s role in the Karate Kid remake.

I know nothing about these characters and the overall story of Ninjago, and if Warner expects this to be as big as The LEGO Batman Movie, they’re going to have to be able to explain the entire idea to me in a three-minute trailer. Of the various LEGO films they’re making right now, this is the one that feels like the biggest uphill battle. Still, it’s LEGO, and that carries a weight of its own now. If Warner keeps casting these the way they are, they may succeed in making all of these into successful standalone series united under one big broad banner.

The LEGO Batman Movie is in theaters February 10, 2017.
The LEGO Ninjago Movie is in theaters September 22, 2017.
The LEGO Movie Sequel is in theaters February 8, 2019.

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Review: 'The Neon Demon' offers sleek and sexy scares with a satirical twist
Credit: Broad Green Pictures
B+

Review: 'The Neon Demon' offers sleek and sexy scares with a satirical twist

The director of 'Drive' puts on his best De Palma and goes a little crazy

There are, in every generation of filmmakers, certain archetypes that repeat themselves over and over. For example, every generation has its playful prankster, the talented visual artists who are delighted by their own ability to take beautiful pictures of horrible things.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am drawn to filmmakers who use cinema as a way of pushing buttons, and I am a fan of the outrageous and the extreme. When I saw De Palma, the new documentary about Brian De Palma and his filmography, it sent me scrambling to watch a number of his older films again. They are so familiar at this point, so well-worn, that it surprised me to see how new they still feel when I took a step back. The next day, I went to a screening of the latest film from Nicolas Winding Refn, and the back-to-back timing of the two films made me laugh. More than anything, this feels like Refn working in the genre that De Palma had largely to himself in the late ’70s and early ’80s before getting relegated to mere late-night Cinemax fodder.

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Review: 'Hunt For The Wilderpeople' is a charming coming-of-age adventure story
Credit: The Orchard
A

Review: 'Hunt For The Wilderpeople' is a charming coming-of-age adventure story

Taika Waititi keeps getting better every time he makes a movie

Taika Waititi has been quietly building his body of work as a filmmaker with a distinctive comic voice and a deadpan absurdist shooting style. Eagle vs Shark was a sweet little romantic comedy with a real voice, and What We Do In The Shadows is a laugh-out-loud deflation of film vampires from every era. With his latest film, Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Waititi really comes into focus as a filmmaker, and he’s got an exceptional sense of control over some tricky material.

It helps that Sam Neill gives one of his very best performances as Hec, a grizzled old man who lives on a remote farm with Bella (Rima Te Wiata, who was delightful in Housebound). When the foster care system brings them a 12-year-old boy named Ricky (Julian Dennison), Bella is able to forge a connection to him. It’s not easy, but once Ricky starts to get comfortable, this sweet vulnerable side comes out, and Dennison does terrific work playing Ricky honestly. The film is broken into chapters, and by the start of chapter two (out of ten), Waititi has already devastated the audience and pushed Hec and Ricky together as a very unlikely duo on a big adventure.

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Can you smell what 'The Wolf Man' is cooking?
Credit: Universal Home Video

Can you smell what 'The Wolf Man' is cooking?

Universal's dreaming big if recent casting rumors are true

Dwayne Johnson as The Wolf Man?

Now I’m interested.

Of all the Universal monsters, The Wolf Man remains the most human, and while I don’t think Lon Chaney Jr. was a strong overall actor, he was perfectly matched with the character when he played Lawrence Talbot for Universal. The thing that made Chaney so right for the role was the air of sadness that he carried with him, that resigned fear of his own nature as each new full moon approached. He didn’t want to be a monster, and he fought against it as much as he could. He went out of his way to try to keep other people safe. And he was haunted by the knowledge that the only true release from his curse was death. The real Chaney seemed to have his own permanent dark cloud, so it’s hard to tell just how much of that was in the script and how much of it was informed by the casting. He was so good that even when he showed up in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, he managed to give the film a shot of pure heartbroken angst.

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Forest Whitaker's a familiar Star Wars character hiding in plain sight in 'Rogue One'
Credit: Lucasfilm Ltd.

Forest Whitaker's a familiar Star Wars character hiding in plain sight in 'Rogue One'

So does this mean we'll see a live-action Ahsoka Tano?

In the past, I’ve been less than sensitive to the feelings of fans of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. When they learned that these books that were so important to them for over 20 years had just been wiped away completely, it must have hurt, especially because those fans are the ones who carried the torch at a time when Star Wars wasn’t considered an omnipresent pop culture force. There’s some degree of ownership those fans and frustration feel for these things they love, and those feelings were dismissed in favor of something new, something they may not love in the same way.

Many years ago, I got as close as I suspect I’ll ever get to working on a Star Wars project when my writing partner and I got into the room with the development guys behind the proposed live-action Star Wars series. It was a good meeting, but we never heard back from them, and at least part of the reason was because of the reporting I’d done on the prequels when I was at Ain’t It Cool News. When they described their vision of the show, it sounded terrific, and knowing they have a stack of scripts locked in a vault somewhere for this show drives me crazy.

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Tom Cruise is ready to hospitalize more bad guys in the 'Never Go Back' trailer
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Tom Cruise is ready to hospitalize more bad guys in the 'Never Go Back' trailer

Jack Reacher has some bones to break this October

It would be interesting to speak to the producers of the Jack Reacher films, including Tom Cruise, just to ask them why they seem dead-set against doing the books in chronological order. Not every single book in the series by Lee Child follows the one directly before it. He’s played with time a bit, jumping back to fill in some details about the character. However, for the most part, there is continuity in the series, and by making the movies in what feels like random order saps some of the fun of the way Child told the story.

The first film in the series, Jack Reacher, was adapted from One Shot, the ninth book in the series. In the fourteenth book in the series, Reacher begins an over-the-phone relationship with Major Susan Turner, and he began to work his way across the country to meet her. It was book eighteen, Never Go Back, where Reacher finally met her face-to-face, shocked to find her in custody when he arrives. In this new film, directed by Ed Zwick, Cobie Smulders plays Turner, and it looks like a fairly straightforward adaptation by Zwick and his longtime collaborator Marshall Herskovitz of the book. But without any legwork to set up the relationship between Turner and Reacher, the stakes are different for the characters.

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