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

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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A new report offers the best peek yet at the truth of the 'Rogue One' reshoots
Credit: Walt Disney Company/Lucasfilm

A new report offers the best peek yet at the truth of the 'Rogue One' reshoots

When dueling reports conflict this deeply, what's the cause?

When the first rumors about the reshoots on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story broke, I reached out to people close to the film, and I got back a general “It’s not a giant deal.” I didn’t get much else because the people I know who are close to the film, even the ones I’ve known for a long time, are very careful. Star Wars inspires a certain degree of protectiveness. Many of the people working on the film at all levels are life-long fans of the franchise, and the last thing they want to do is burn a bridge or do something that’s going to hurt the series.

While I was skeptical of the most panicked reports (this one on Making Star Wars struck me as particularly off-base and hyperbolic, no matter what sort of track record Jason Ward has), something was apparently happening. Anthony Breznican, who spent a good deal of time on the set of The Force Awakens and who has been wired deeply into the Star Wars camp overall, has done his own digging, and what he’s turned up is the best-reported and most clear-eyed report yet on what is actually happening.

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Why is the director of 'Dope' the right guy to direct 'The Flash'?
Credit: DC Comics

Why is the director of 'Dope' the right guy to direct 'The Flash'?

What is it about 'Dope' that made DC roll the dice on him?

What I liked most about Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope was the energy of the film. It felt young and authentic and fun, even in its craziest moments. As stories go, it was a little thin, but that didn’t matter. Famuyiwa attacked the material, and he did it in a voice that was his, something that’s not always easy.

And don't be fooled... Famuyiwa's no kid. He's been making films for over 20 years now. Dope was, in many ways, a reinvention for him, a breakthrough after years of making solid films that didn't quite generate the kind of buzz that pushes you to the next level. If you’re the kind of guy who is driven enough to keep getting your indie features made, you’re probably the kind of guy who loves and watches tons of movies. You have to be crazy about them in the first place to want to push that rock up that hill. When you're starting out, you absorb a lot of tricks from other filmmakers, and sometimes, you end up using their film language in a way that is more obvious, more overt. Famuyiwa has been doing this long enough that he has honed his own voice, presumably while shooting fast and making every penny count, and those two things do not always go hand-in-hand.

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The 'Batman v Superman Ultimate Edition' trailer is selling a whole new film
Credit: Warner Bros

The 'Batman v Superman Ultimate Edition' trailer is selling a whole new film

Maybe this really will make a difference

It’s become impossible to write about the DC movies or this title in particular without people getting up in arms for one reason or another, but it remains intriguing to see how they are moving forward. One of the reasons you build your entire marketing plan before you release the movie in any format is so you aren’t playing from a reactive place. After the incredibly divisive response to the film, it would be easy to see this as Zack Snyder and Warner’s way of apologizing… only that’s not the case. This is something they planned to do from the moment they realized how different the theatrical cut was going to be compared to what they ended up releasing in theaters.

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Review: A new director brings some welcome energy and charm to 'Turtles' sequel
Credit: Paramount Pictures
B

Review: A new director brings some welcome energy and charm to 'Turtles' sequel

The characters are first and foremost in this amiable adventure

Dave Green’s first film, Earth To Echo, had some mighty familiar DNA. You could tell that he was a fan of ‘80s Amblin’ films and that he’d absorbed the lessons of the film on a nearly molecular level like many of the film nerd kids who grew up on those movies. More than anything, he got the relationships between the kids right in that film, and it appears he carried that skill set over to a franchise that I have very little personal fondness for, resulting in what may well be the most consistently fun live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie ever made.

It’s easy to dismiss someone’s fondness for something as pure nostalgia, but it’s also reductive and, in many cases, not why someone loves something. I may not personally be a Turtles fan, but I know enough of them (and have fathered a few of my own), so I get the appeal. Under everything else, what fans hold onto from interpretation to interpretation is the relationship between Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), and Raphael (Alan Ritchson), as well as their connection to both their best friend April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and their sensei and father-figure Splinter the Rat (Tony Shaloub). If you get that relationship right, you’re ahead of the game. Green, along with writers Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec, takes the time to paint each of the Turtles as an individual, leaning into the things that make them different and the way those relationships work.

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'Rogue One' may be launching into reshoots, but that doesn't mean it's bad news
Credit: Walt Disney Company/Lucasfilm

'Rogue One' may be launching into reshoots, but that doesn't mean it's bad news

Reshoots do not mean the sky is falling, Chicken Littles

Reshoots are one of the most radically misunderstood parts of film production to people who have not actually made movies, and they are often reported in ways that are unfair to the actual production team.

Take, for example, the news that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is going to head back in for a set of “extensive” reshoots. That one piece of information is correct. How that information has been interpreted has been fairly diverse, though, and there’s a pretty hefty degree of panic that appears to have immediately set in.

Relax.

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The 'Mary Poppins' sequel has a shot at being special
Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

The 'Mary Poppins' sequel has a shot at being special

Now's the time to cross our fingers and pray

Now that he has utterly and completely conquered Broadway, it’ll be interesting to see how Hollywood handles Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s clear that he’s already been embraced by the creative community. He and JJ Abrams had a lot of fun creating that cantina song for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and had apparently even more fun performing the song live for crowds waiting for the daily Hamilton ticket lottery. He’s working on songs for Moana, the Polynesian-themed Disney musical that will feature Dwayne Johnson singing.

His long-rumored connection to the Mary Poppins sequel has finally been verified by an official press release from Disney. While I consider Mary Poppins one of the crown jewels of Disney’s entire filmography, I am not instantly opposed to a sequel. It’s clear now that they are not remaking the original, and considering how much other material P.L. Travers wrote about the character over the years, it’s not impossible to imagine there’s more story worth telling.

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Will Tom Hiddleston replace Daniel Craig as James Bond?
Credit: AMC

Will Tom Hiddleston replace Daniel Craig as James Bond?

Maybe. But we'd be surprised if anyone knows anything for sure yet.

The drumbeats are building. Tidings are on the wind. It may well be time once again to pass the torch and anoint the new. If reports are right, then the producers have finally gotten serious about it.

There’s going to be a new James Bond.

That is always technically true. From the moment you take the gig, you’ve got a ticking clock running down towards the moment you leave the part. Will you be George Lazenby, one and done? That’s got to be a particular fear. Timothy Dalton managed to squeeze out a second film as the character before he got shown the door. Pierce Brosnan held on long enough to make a mark, and Daniel Craig has done a terrific job of defining the character his own way, guaranteeing that we’ll talk about him when we talk about Sean Connery or Roger Moore. Like Doctor Who, another British institution, it feels by now like these characters are going to exist forever, handed down from filmmaker to filmmaker, handed down from actor to actor. We will see many interpretations, and the longer this thing rolls on, the more daring those choices should be.

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Review: High-fantasy 'Warcraft' can't shake game-to-movie adaptation problems
Credit: Universal/Legendary
C+

Review: High-fantasy 'Warcraft' can't shake game-to-movie adaptation problems

Duncan Jones obviously meant this one, but is that enough?

Today I turned 46 years old.

I’m not sure if that’s too old for me to play video games. I certainly hope not, since I find them relaxing in a way that is valuable to me. Then again, I’m not sure who gets to decide if they are or aren’t appropriate, since I’m part of the first generation to be able to grow up playing games. I was there for Pong and Space Invaders and Asteroids and Pac-Man, and I was there for the first consoles at home. I’ve been a fan as long as there have been video games, and I remain a devoted fan of gaming in general even if I don’t always love the culture around it.

What I find strange is how completely and utterly I have somehow avoided World Of Warcraft. Unlike films, where I find that I’m open to pretty much anything, there are lots of games I won’t play because I just don’t like the mechanics or the genre. I remember looking at about ten minutes of gameplay for WoW online and realizing immediately that it would not be for me. I feel the same way about the Final Fantasy games and most strategy combat games, and I absolutely detest stealth games because I am, in games as in life, a big giant noisy moose. As a result of this big fat blind spot, I have no comparison to make when it comes to Warcraft as an adaptation, which puts me solidly in the majority of the audience that Legendary and Universal are hoping will show up for the film when it arrives in theaters.

There is a density to the mythology suggested by this movie that makes me feel like the hardcore are going to have a very different experience. To their credit, the filmmakers try not to dump all of the exposition on you at once. There’s no opening crawl, no immediate explanation of things. I still remember the feeling when I showed up at the theater to see Dune and they handed me a sheet full of terms and characters and history. I had read the book, so it made sense to me, but I knew right away that the film was going to tank at the box office. There’s a rule that I think filmmakers should follow when they’re trying to do this kind of giant canvass big movie: the more complicated your mythology, the less complicated your story needs to be. You can’t ask an audience to keep track of a complicated plot and a dense cast if you’re also introducing all the rules of a fictional universe that is absolutely full of rules. Warcraft errs in how much it asks the audience to juggle, and as a result, the things that the film does well (and I think there are many) are muffled somewhat.

The film both opens and closes on extremely close shots of Orc characters, completely created as digital creatures, and it’s clear that director Duncan Jones is calling his shot by doing that. He knows that in order for his film to work, you have to have some investment in these digital characters, and you have to believe that they share a world with the live-action characters played by the various humans like Dominic Cooper, Ben Foster, Ruth Negga, and Travis Fimmel. How well you feel they pulled it off may greatly influence how you feel about the film itself. I think ILM’s character work is impressive, even as I think the designs themselves simply don’t feel like they fit into the same world as the people, no matter how well the performance capture and the animation mesh to create living breathing things. At this point, I’m fascinated by films where you have a sizable ensemble of non-human characters, because I’m fascinated by the way actors manage to bring these things to life. It’s a complicated dance between the actors and the animators, between the pure imaginative side of performance and the incredibly technical side of translating that into a finished fully rendered character, and it helps that you have performers like Toby Kebbell and Terry Notary, guys who have experience doing this, working alongside performers like Robert Kazinsky and Daniel Wu and Clancy Brown who seem to have taken to it with aplomb. Special mention must be made of Anna Galvin, who plays Draka, the wife of Durotan (Kebbell), the main Orc in the story. Galvin does very physical work that sells the idea that she’s this powerful warrior creature and a mother at the same time, the kind of work you have to do if you’re going to truly make this kind of thing feel alive.

On the human side of things, the results are a little more uneven. I’m unfamiliar with Travis Fimmel from his TV work, and I know he’s got very ardent fans, so let me qualify this by saying I’m talking about this movie, and this movie alone. As Anduin Lothar, ostensibly the main hero of the film, he does his best to ground this high fantasy in recognizable human emotion, but he’s playing against the tone of the thing almost all the way through. Ben Foster fares much better because he has obviously been cast for his essential Ben Foster-ness. Compare this to when he was miscast in X-Men: The Last Stand and you can see just how much of a difference it makes when you cast someone in the right role. He plays Medivh, a Guardian, which appears to be a magic-user charged with protecting an entire world, Azeroth, as a sort of retired rock star, with a lot of swagger as the film opens. Gradually, though, the magic appears to take a toll on him, and Foster commits to it completely. I also think Paula Patton gives this movie everything she can, but she’s saddled with an unfortunate design, serving as the bridge between the live-action human beings and the fully-animated Orcs. She’s given a make-up to wear that extends two of her lower teeth, and she’s been digitally rotoscoped green. Patton is such a strong and charismatic performer that she almost makes you forget the issues, but it’s tough. I like where they ultimately leave her character, and if there’s any story I’d be curious to see continued in the sequel, it would be hers. But saying that raises the biggest problem with the movie: it is only act one of an obviously-larger story.

Again… fans of the game may be excited by the particular point in the history of the game’s lore that screenwriters Jones, Charles Leavitt, and Chris Metzen decided to use as this first film, and they may well be excited by the potential at the end of the film. I’m not opposed to the idea of world-building, but this feels particularly incomplete. Alliances are shuffled, friendships both new and old are tested, and destinies are thwarted, and it all feels like they’re just moving pieces into place for the story they’re ultimately interested in telling. Part of great storytelling is not just knowing what story you want to tell, but also knowing where that story starts and where it ends. We are living through a Golden Age Of Backstory, where there’s not a single interesting story that can’t be rendered inert by backing up to tell all the expository material in place of actual narrative. I’m waiting for the prequels-to-the-prequels trend to begin, where people “fix” all the problems with the decade-plus of unwanted prequels that Hollywood has churned out by telling stories that go back even further and over-explain things even more. I feel like as much as I like parts of Warcraft, I cannot get past the idea that this is all just a rev up to something else. When I sign on to watch a TV show like Game Of Thrones, I know I’m asking them to tell me a story that’s going to meander and take some time and that may not reveal its true focus for quite some time. But in a movie theater, the implied contract between storyteller and audience is different, and there is some sort of promise that things will come to a conclusion of sorts.

You can call your shot at the start, declaring something to be part of a trilogy, like Lord Of The Rings or Harry Potter did, but more often, movies that try to start an ongoing series over-reach, and you end up with Eragon or The Dark Is Rising. They don’t commit to calling this a trilogy, but it sure feels like one, because of how unresolved every single thing is, right down to the Moses riff they run in the film’s final moments. While I liked things about this, and was more engaged by the end of the film than I expected to be, it is unlikely we’ll be returning to Azeroth because I can’t imagine general audiences being able to make the connection they’d have to for this no-doubt-wildly-expensive prospect to pay off.

Warcraft opens in US theaters on June 10, 2016.

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Want to see a long-lost 'Revenge Of The Jedi' teaser trailer?
Credit: 20th Century Fox/Lucasfilm Ltd.

Want to see a long-lost 'Revenge Of The Jedi' teaser trailer?

Well, you're in luck, then.

Part of being a movie fan is loving the ephemera that comes along with the release of a film, and no series had more of it when I was a kid than Star Wars. Watching Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox basically invent modern movie marketing and merchandising on the fly was a fascinating process, and it’s amazing when you look back now to see just how not-slick most of the marketing was.

Sure, it worked, but movie trailers are a totally different proposition these days. When you look at the trailers they cut for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, they are preposterously confident and carefully constructed. You would think that the same would have been true when they started advertising Revenge Of The Jedi back in 1982.

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