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Credit: Paramount Pictures

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

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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<p>John Wayne and Dean Martin made a huge impression on my kids in the classic 'Rio Bravo'</p>

John Wayne and Dean Martin made a huge impression on my kids in the classic 'Rio Bravo'

Credit: Warner Bros.

Film Nerd 2.0 gets a special guest programmer to introduce the boys to John Wayne

'Rio Bravo,' Big Bear, and a very special family trip are all featured this time

My father is more of a man than I will ever be.

When I say that, I am talking about a particular type of masculinity, the classic definition of it that I was aware of as a young man. Growing up, I felt put upon when asked to do anything that felt remotely like a chore, but looking back at it all now, I can see that he was simply trying to pass along the knowledge he had about doing various things because he thought that knowledge was important to have. As a parent now, I am acutely aware of just how much responsibility comes built into that relationship. Kids are sponges, and every word you say could be endlessly analyzed and considered and internalized by them, good or bad.

There is a Steve Martin joke that I've always loved that plays off that responsibility.

"I've got a great dirty trick you can play on a three-year-old. See, kids learn how to talk from listening to their parents, so whenever you're around them… talk wrong. So now it's like the first day of school and he raises his hand. 'May I mambo rhino dogface to the banana patch?'"

That same premise also serves as the springboard for the disturbing "Dogtooth," the film by Giorgos Lanthimos about three teenagers who have been raised in near-total isolation by their parents, who have intentionally taught them to fear anything outside their walls while intentionally teaching them completely insane language skills.

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<p>It's pretty much this for two hours.</p>

It's pretty much this for two hours.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Review: Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin feel stranded in the arch and odd 'Labor Day'

The adaptation of Joyce Maynard's book falls completely flat

Does Jason Reitman have an authorial voice?

It's a fair question to ask at this point. After all, he's got a screenplay credit on four of the six feature films he's directed if you include "Men, Women & Children," which is in production now. When you look at the six films, though, I don't really see a common thread or see a common voice between them. Even "Juno" and "Young Adult," both written by Diablo Cody, have very different sensibilities. And "Thank You For Smoking" is about as far away from "Labor Day" in tone and content as possible.

Does he have to have a recognizable singular voice that we hear in each new project? Is that a requirement if we're going to treat him as a "serious" filmmaker? Or is the real mark of his talent his ability to bring a different voice to each story based on the story itself? After all, "Thank You For Smoking" started as a brutally satirical novel that is outrageous in a way that is totally at odds with the sort of wry sincerity of "Up In The Air" or the blistering anger that simmers just below the surface of "Young Adult." Reitman seems far more concerned with finding the best way to tell each story, and less concerned with making himself the main focus of things.

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<p>The combination of Disney animation and Marvel's characters seems like a natural one, and we've got our fingers crossed that 'Big Hero 6' delivers on that potential.</p>

The combination of Disney animation and Marvel's characters seems like a natural one, and we've got our fingers crossed that 'Big Hero 6' delivers on that potential.

Credit: Walt Disney Feature Animation/Marvel Studios

New images from Marvel's risky movies 'Big Hero 6' and 'Guardians Of The Galaxy'

Thanks to a great track record, Marvel's taking some chances in 2014

Marvel Studios must be a great place to work these days. They've got one of the best winning streaks in town, both creatively and commercially, and they're reaching a point where they can start to take more chances and try some things that would have been impossible earlier.

I kind of love that "Big Hero 6" image we've got at the top of this story, with Hiro Hamada and his robot Baymax sitting on top of a blimp looking down at the foggy San Fransokyo. Whether it's the fully-animated "Big Hero 6" or the Netflix experiment with "Jessica Jones" and "Daredevil," it's obvious that Disney is willing to try new things, and no project that they have right now better exemplifies that than James Gunn's "Guardians Of The Galaxy."

There's a new image that they've released today that gives us a good look at the five main characters in the movie. Zoe Saldana plays Gamora, a character who has some direct ties to the film's two main villains, Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace) and the visually-arresting Nebula (Karen Gillan). Chris Pratt, poised to become a giant movie star to my kids and their peers thanks to this movie, "The LEGO Movie" and "Jurassic World" all in a short period of time, plays Peter Quill, aka Star Lord. Quill is the lead in the film, and as a human being who has been taken to the far side of the galaxy to grow up, he is very much in search of some sense of home.

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25 Most Anticipated Movies of 2014

25 Most Anticipated Movies of 2014

Superheroes, sequels, and a few exciting wild cards

In an age where hype is non-stop and films claim release dates two years away and viral marketing can sometimes eclipse the actual film it is advertising, what does it mean to say that a film is "anticipated"?

In many cases, there haven't even been official stills or images from some of the films that are on this list, and to the best of my knowledge, no one is preparing to camp outside for a month to be at the first show for any of them. We've seen moments in pop culture where the anticipation for something becomes an event all its own, almost always followed up by a moment where people realize the thing they waited for wasn't what they wanted after all, and it can be amazing to see the passions that anticipation stirs up in people.

Sometimes, it's a matter of a track record. If Bennett Miller is making a film, that's interesting to us automatically. There are two films on this list by the same team, Phil Lord and Chris MIller, and while they sound like totally different movies in the end, there are reasons in both cases for us to optimistic.

Sequels are often among the most anticipated films of the year because audiences grow attached to the things they love. People get excited to see Captain America again or the way Godzilla is coming back to the bigscreen because they have affection for earlier incarnations. That's the whole reason studios are in the remake and sequel business right now. They are building brands more than they're making movies more often than ever, so when we made this list, we tried to gauge just how excited people actually are about these films.

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<p>Spider-Man faces a battle with his greatest enemy this summer... franchise fatigue.</p>

Spider-Man faces a battle with his greatest enemy this summer... franchise fatigue.

Credit: Sony Pictures

11 movies that almost made our top 25 most-anticipated list

Before you tell us we're wrong, let's explain why they didn't make it

Tomorrow morning, we'll be publishing a piece about the 25 films we are most looking forward to in 2014, and it took quite a bit of back and forth before we decided on the final list. There are titles you'll immediately recognize on there, and a few you might not. Before we get to the main event, we thought we'd explain our thinking on a few high-profile films that you won't see on the list tomorrow.

A Million Ways To Die In The West
In Theaters: May 30, 2014
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, Wes Studi
Why we didn't include it: MacFarlane's certainly got his fans, and "Ted" was underestimated by everyone before it came out. There's a huge difference, though, between a film where you have a movie star and MacFarlane voicing a character a la "Family Guy" and a film where MacFarlane is the actual live-action lead. This is brand-new territory for him, and we remain unconvinced that audiences will buy him as the star. Westerns are difficult to do write even when playing them straight, and until we see a trailer for this, we have no idea what sort of tone they're even playing.

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<p>Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone both seem game for 'Grudge Match,' but the movie just can't keep up</p>

Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone both seem game for 'Grudge Match,' but the movie just can't keep up

Credit: Warner Bros

Half-hearted 'Grudge Match' never really figures out what to do with DeNiro and Stallone

Frustrating film never finds its comic voice

This is the second "old guys doing young guy stuff" that Robert DeNiro has starred in this year, and it is by far the weirder of the two. That may be because it feels like a studio movie caught somewhere between two very different schools of comedy. The script is credited to Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman, which could account for the split-personality of the film. Kelleher is the writer of "First Kid," credited as a staff writer on "The Arsenio Hall Show" and "The Pat Sajak Show," while Rothman is a frequent collaborator of Nick Stoller's, one of the major creative voices on "Get Him To The Greek" and "The Five-Year Engagement," the author of the sharp and funny "Early Bird: A Memoir Of Premature Retirement," and the writer/producer of the crazy science-fiction comedy "The Something," which is in development at Universal. And just in case the script wasn't already struggling to fit these two very different voices, the film is directed by Peter Segal, responsible for such uneven efforts as "Anger Management," "Naked Gun 33 1/3," "Nutty Professor II," and "Get Smart."

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<p>Margot Robbie tortures Leonard DiCapro oh-so-well in Martin Scorsese's wicked, decadent 'The Wolf Of Wall Street'</p>

Margot Robbie tortures Leonard DiCapro oh-so-well in Martin Scorsese's wicked, decadent 'The Wolf Of Wall Street'

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Scorsese's 'Wolf Of Wall Street' delivers a wicked epic take-down of the American hustler archetype

Leonardo DiCaprio anchors an amazing cast in the year's wildest ride

It is easy for casual audiences to make a surface connection between something like "Good Fellas" and "Casino" and "Wolf Of Wall Street" because of the overt connections between those worlds, the decadence and the crime and the excess. What people miss in those comparisons, though, is that Scorsese has made other versions of that same basic film, these dense social x-rays of the way communities work, in films as disparate as "Kundun" and "Age Of Innocence" as well. He is one of the keenest observers of the way systems function we have ever had in cinema, and "Wolf Of Wall Street" is a powerful reminder that at the age of 71, he is as vital and as ferocious a voice as ever.

It is, of course, inaccurate to say that "Wolf Of Wall Street" is "about" the financial crisis that America recently suffered. I'm not sure what a film "about" that would look like. It's such a broad topic that I don't really see how you could make any film that would encompass every angle of that story. Instead, using Jordan Belfort's book about himself, Scorsese does his best to show us exactly who it was who helped perpetuate the system that burned so many people, and the end result is a depraved, hallucinatory plunge into a truly ugly psyche. Scorsese's real gift when making one of these movies is showing us the small details of how things work, and one of the most interesting things about "Wolf" is how often Jordan Belfort starts to explain something, only to stop because he is convinced there's no way the audience is smart enough or interested enough to understand. That's what he says, anyway, but I think the real reason is because a good con man, like a good magician, never really gives away the trick. Belfort is a natural-born manipulator and liar, and anyone who believes that this is the "true" story of Belfort's rise and fall simply isn't paying attention.

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<p>This image, from the final scene Paul Walker shot for the 'Fast and Furious' series, was released by Vin as well.</p>

This image, from the final scene Paul Walker shot for the 'Fast and Furious' series, was released by Vin as well.

Credit: Universal Pictures

Vin Diesel reveals new 'Fast and Furious 7' release date via Facebook

At the same time, Marvel finally confirms Diesel's 'Guardians' role

If you hire Vin Diesel, you might as well just get comfortable with the idea that he's going to share things on his Facebook page, and he's going to do it on his timetable. He likes to share. He shares a lot. And at this point, he's worth quoting as a source because whether his information is "officially" confirmed or not, it is eventually revealed as correct.

Good example: how long now has Vin been teasing the idea that he's contributing the voice of Groot? And now, Marvel has officially confirmed that he'll be playing the character, contributing some motion capture as well. The other big project he's got brewing, made only bigger by the unfortunate recent accidental death of co-star Paul Walker, is "Fast and Furious 7," and there has been much conversation for the last few weeks about the film's release date.

Originally set for July 11, 2014, the film shut down production so that everyone involved could deal with the impact of Walker's death. These weren't just films that paid lip service to the notion of family, but were actually made by a group of tight-knit people who had gone through so much together, and it must be incredibly difficult for them to have conversations about how to proceed finishing the movie.

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<p>Adam McKay and Judd Apatow seemed pleased with the way 'Anchorman 2' came together, but keenly aware of how much effort it took to pull it off.</p>

Adam McKay and Judd Apatow seemed pleased with the way 'Anchorman 2' came together, but keenly aware of how much effort it took to pull it off.

Credit: HitFix

Adam McKay and Judd Apatow on the pressures of sequels for 'Anchorman 2'

They talk about mixing new and old cast to keep things exciting

Sequels are, despite their omnipresence in Hollywood, actually fairly difficult to get right, and within that broad statement, I would say that horror sequels are even harder to get right, while comedy sequels may be the hardest to pull off with any degree of success.

Why is that? What makes it so hard to go back to the well? After all, if you hire the same people, shouldn't you get the same results? If you hire Adam McKay to direct again and you've got Judd Apatow producing, and you've got the same whole cast in place, shouldn't you get the exact same thing?

That's sort of the challenge. With comedy, I feel like so much of the success of something comes from surprise. A big part of what makes me laugh is when someone has some unexpected way of expressing an idea or reacting to something we all recognize, and one of the reasons I feel like Adam McKay is perfectly built to actually make good comedy sequels is because even when he's playing with familiar characters, his brain is just plain wired different than most people. The way he approaches anything, any line of dialogue, is grounded in the unexpected.

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