Director Duncan Jones discusses what makes Ben Foster's magic work in 'Warcraft'
Credit: HitFix

Director Duncan Jones discusses what makes Ben Foster's magic work in 'Warcraft'

The director of one of the year's most technically demanding films talks about the process

Duncan Jones is having a very strange year.

There can’t be any easy way to lose your father, but when your father is an icon known the world over and his death is a cultural moment that creates worldwide shock waves, I can only imagine the way it magnifies your pain. Add to that a global press tour in which you have to sell the movie that you’ve just spent three years making, during which you’re going to be asked thousands of wildly insensitive if well-meaning questions about your father, and I can’t imagine the strength it took Duncan to make it through without collapsing. I’ve known him casually for several years now, but I made sure that when I sat down with him to discuss Warcraft, his new film based on the massively-popular Blizzard game, I kept the conversation firmly on the film and nothing else.

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Disney's 'Moana' looks like a Dwayne Johnson-driven Hawaiian delight
Credit: Walt Disney Feature Animation

Disney's 'Moana' looks like a Dwayne Johnson-driven Hawaiian delight

We're excited to learn about the story of Maui and his role among the demigods

Dwayne Johnson plus Hawaii plus Lin-Manuel Miranda equals a very, very on-board house full of film fans here at Casa de McWeeny.

Hamilton is a mainstay in our car. I have heard the entire album with the boys at least a dozen times, and bits and pieces countless times beyond that. Toshi wrote his final essay of the year about Alexander Hamilton just so he had an excuse to quote some of the songs in class. Hawaii is also a big touchstone for us, something we’ve shared as a family repeatedly, and where we've had some of our happiest moments. And Dwayne Johnson… well, at this point, who doesn’t love Johnson? He’s as dependable and self-aware a movie star as we have right now, and he’s genuinely the nicest guy in the entire business.

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Mel Gibson's making a sequel to 'Passion Of The Christ' with his 'Braveheart' writer
Credit: Newmarket Films

Mel Gibson's making a sequel to 'Passion Of The Christ' with his 'Braveheart' writer

Not sure anyone's really demanding this, but it's evidently happening

I wonder how closely they’ll stick to the book.

The Passion Of The Christ is one of the weirdest blockbusters of all time. I’m not ultimately surprised that a faith-based movie connected to such a huge audience, but I am still surprised that such a dour, violent vision is what they embraced. I’ve seen the film a few times, and written about it at least twice. I wrote, “It’s hardly the first misguided thing done in the name of Jesus Christ, and it certainly won’t be the last.” That’s not a glib dismissal, either. I think there are some really distasteful and upsetting things about the film.

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Could Ron Howard be the first person to get a Neal Stephenson film actually made?
Credit: Universal Home Video

Could Ron Howard be the first person to get a Neal Stephenson film actually made?

2015's most ambitious SF novel could be a Ron Howard movie

Ron Howard may well end up being the first person to figure out how to turn one of Neal Stephenson’s books into a film.

That is very good news in general. Stephenson is one of my favorite working authors, and each time he releases a book, I find myself living in his world for a few months. I just recently went back and read Snow Crash for the first time in a long time, and it’s amazing how clearly he found his gift even just three books into his remarkable career. I remember reading Snow Crash and immediately thinking, “There are going to be filmmakers fighting to make this thing.” I also remember thinking that Stephenson’s imagination was so far out that it would take civilization decades to catch up with him. I had no idea he was more of a “right-around-the-corner” tech prophet, and when you read his books from 1992 and 1995 (Snow Crash and The Diamond Age), it’s like he was laying down a fictional foundation to help us navigate the 20 years that have unfolded since then. He is one of the few artists in any media right now that I would describe as a visionary, someone who has a very real ability to see where we’re going in terms of both technology and culture, as well as the relationship between the two.

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Can you ever have too many Jeff Goldblums? No. No, you can not.
Credit: 20th Century Fox

Can you ever have too many Jeff Goldblums? No. No, you can not.

'Independence Day: Resurgence' is finally having fun with their campaign

As far as the McWeeny house is concerned, the decision-making process regarding Independence Day: Resurgence is over. Toshi let me know in no uncertain terms that we will be seeing the film and that he is very, very excited about it. He’s a fan of the original, which I’m not even sure when he saw. That’s how little fondness I have for the 1996 Roland Emmerich film, but the sequel’s coming, and at this point, I am on notice, evidently.

One of the things that made the first film a global sensation was a truly brilliant marketing campaign. So far, the trailers for the new film strike me as business as usual. If there’s any blockbuster director responsible for the “let’s blow up the world in the trailer” culture that we live in right now, it’s Emmerich, and Independence Day’s trailer was a masterful promise that the film couldn’t really fulfill.

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Review: James Wan bests his own best with 'The Conjuring 2'
Credit: Warner Bros
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Review: James Wan bests his own best with 'The Conjuring 2'

James Wan is very, very good at what he does right now

At the end of James Wan’s The Conjuring, I had a big smile on my face at the thought of a studio building a smart and fun horror franchise using Ed and Lorraine Warren as the foundation, and tonight, after seeing The Conjuring 2, I am relieved to see that they got it absolutely right.

The screenplay, credited to Carey Hayes & Chad Hayes & James Wan and David Leslie Johnson, is very smart about the way it opens with a seance in the Amityville house. Amityville is where the Warrens made their reputations as paranormal investigators, so it makes sense to eventually tell that story, but it’s also been made and re-made and told a dozen different ways. Instead of making the mistake of dedicating an entire film to it, they use it to set several story threads into motion and also to show how the Warrens were constantly challenged during TV appearances and called phonies. When they were releasing the first film, I had a chance to moderate a panel at WonderCon with Lorraine Warren, and talking to her before and after the event, I was struck by just how simply and directly she believes what she says. I may not buy the story that they tell, but I believe that she believes it. That belief is what binds Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson) in the film, and the strength of their marriage is their superpower in these films.

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Review: 'De Palma' is more than just a casual appraisal of a director's work
Credit: A24
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Review: 'De Palma' is more than just a casual appraisal of a director's work

One of the most pleasurable sits of the summer is a two-hour interview

Brian De Palma taught me the value of film criticism.

The first time one of his films really registered for me actively was when Dressed To Kill was released in 1980. I was starting to get bit by the film bug at the time, still in the early days of the sickness, and there were many ways I would digest films beyond just seeing movies. For films I wasn’t allowed to see, there were still ways for me to get some sense of the movie. Mad magazine, for example. Undressed To Kill was one of the movie parodies that ran in 1980, and it was a beat for beat riff off of the real film. I knew the story and I even knew the twist, since Mad was not shy about spoilers. It was easy to feel like you’d seen the film after you read a Mad parody, and I also started reading not only novelizations, but any film criticism I could find at that point. I started checking every magazine to see if they had a film section. My parents subscribed to Time, so that was the first thing I read every week. At least once a week, we made a trip to the library, and I’d read as many movie reviews as I could during our time there.

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New 'Ghostbusters' trailer showcases more ghosts and more Chris Hemsworth
Credit: Sony

New 'Ghostbusters' trailer showcases more ghosts and more Chris Hemsworth

Behold! Rowan The Destroyer!

I love this trailer if for no other reason than the way the announcer yells “Ghostbusters!” at the end of it.

If you don’t plan to see Ghostbusters, that’s fine. But let’s be clear: I don’t care what you have to say if you simply choose not to see it. Your opinion stops there. You can decide not to see it for any reason you like, and you can feel free to keep it to yourself, because it makes absolutely no difference at this point. Things have been so hostile and ugly around this film so far that I feel like it’s pointless to try to convince anyone of anything. I know what I’ve seen and read, and when people try to convince me that there’s no anti-woman sentiment behind any of the backlash against the film, I just shut the conversation down. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. I’ve been screamed at about it. I know what I know at this point, and I find parts of it completely discouraging.

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Director Dave Green explains how he got 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' right
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Director Dave Green explains how he got 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' right

Our interview with the playful filmmaker on how he got the ninja brothers right

The original plan was a little different.

When I saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows, I talked to Paramount about doing an interview with Dave Green, the director of the film. They had a great idea, though, and proposed having Dave visit the new Woven studios to play action figures with Toshi and Allen, who had a day off of school. It would have been very apt, and while it didn’t come together, it was on my mind when I ended up sitting down with Dave myself.

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Review: Lonely Island hits the bullseye with an easy target in 'Popstar'
Credit: Universal Pictures
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Review: Lonely Island hits the bullseye with an easy target in 'Popstar'

A slightly uneven effort still manages to land plenty of big laughs

If you are excited by the prospect of a Lonely Island movie, I have good news for you. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a Lonely Island movie in every way, packed with music and jokes. At 90 minutes, it moves fast, and it offers up some laser-sharp satire. If there’s any overall problem with the film, it is that they’ve made a very specific satire of a target that is so ridiculous it almost resists parody.

It’s easy to just make the comparison to This Is Spinal Tap, the mockumentary that launched Rob Reiner’s career as a director, but Popstar is a reaction to a very different kind of film than Spinal Tap was. You have to go back and look at films like The Song Remains The Same or The Kids Are Alright to understand what the culture was that Spinal Tap targeted, while modern music documentaries have a very different aesthetic and purpose. The Justin Bieber documentary that is this film’s primary target was fascinating because it’s such an obvious attempt to create a mythology around a pop star. The Katy Perry documentary was even better at what it did, but it contained a moment that I found particularly interesting. So much of Katy Perry: Part Of Me is focused on showing what a fun and frothy person she is that including the moment where she learns that she’s getting divorced over a cell phone was almost jarring. It punctured the image completely, and for one moment in the film, we get a glimpse of this real person and her real life and some real pain, and then SNAP! We’re right back into fantasy land. There’s one moment as she’s under the stage, ready to go on, and she has to shake all of it off, that says more about what it’s like to create one of these larger-than-life personae and then have to live it even when you don’t feel like doing it than any think piece could, and it feels accidental, like it snuck through.

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