Review: “Divergent” is a great franchise starter

March 20th, 2014 at 8:00 pm by under Entertainment
"Divergent" poster courtesy Summit Entertainment

“Divergent” poster courtesy Summit Entertainment

“Divergent” (2014)
Rated: PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality
Runtime: 2 hours, 19 minutes
Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi

My spoiler-free review:

“Divergent” is an interesting adventure with initially convoluted details turns out to be a story about basic themes of human nature: family, friends, greed, power, and romance.  Despite some minor flaws, its a pretty good movie with that is a better first movie in a based-on-a-book franchise than “Twilight”  or “The Hunger Games”… I give it 7.5 out of 10.

Warning to parents: not for the little ones – it has a PG-13 rating for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality

Let’s start with what troubled me about the movie…. I’m told that in the books there are a bunch of pages devoted to the backstory, in the movie we get an opening narration from our main character, we know its a futuristic war ravaged Chicago from the visuals, but we don’t know exactly what happened.  That may be intentionally ambiguous but what bothers me the most is that she’s explaining how this supposed dystopian society is seperated into 5 factions, based on virtues.  While the virtues are understandable and the clothes and colors that represent them makes sense, the names are spoken not spelled out on screen, they are not as well defined to those who have not read the best selling books or have any significant knowledge of the story before the movie.   As far as I could tell, there’s the smart ones, the farmers, the honesty, the brave protectors, and the selfless that also run the government.  By the end of the movie, I still couldn’t tell you the difference between two of the factions.  After reading an expanding plot summary about Veronica Roth’s novel, this makes much more sense:  ”5 factions. Abnegation the selfless, Dauntless the brave, Erudite the intelligent, Candor the honest, and Amity the peaceful”.

Note to studios making movie adaptations of popular books: not all of us have read them… some are watching the movie, instead of reading the book.  So when pertinent big picture story elements are explained – please put it on screen to read, whether its the main character reading a book about this society’s history, or signs above each faction, please explain more clearly.  All this matters because when the audience stops paying attention to what’s on screen and starts to try to figure out something that wasn’t explained clearly… you’ve lost them for a few minutes… or multiple during the movie… and a confused audience is not the perfect audience for your product!

Also some effects shots looked like green-screen, there are several shots, mostly of the characters looking out on their city that look fake… you spent how much money on the other effects that look good… and these basic shots look hokey… again taking the audience out of the movie for a brief second… something you don’t want.

But the movie does a lot of things right… mainly really good character development and a story that is intriguing and easy to follow.  ”Divergent” is set in this futuristic society with different rules than we have now, but there’s a growing up and figuring out who you are theme throughout.  Kate Winslet’s character ‘Jeanine’ tells the kids to choose wisely because “the future belongs to those who know where they belong”.  Fitting in and teen angst and family and friends are also themes that will resonate with certain audiences.  There’s a lot of dramatic irony going on with the audience seeing that things are not as perfect as the leaders of this society think/hope it to be.

The physical and mental training that the members of Dauntless go through is important and understandable as you realize the importance of their jobs: protecting everyone inside this walled-in/fenced-in society… protecting them from whatever is outside – but because we don’t know what started the war that ravaged the city 100 years before – we don’t know what could be out there, adding a little bit of tension as we move forward in the franchise.

And most of the effects look good (except mentioned above) – the training simulations and other CGI work all look good, the costumes make sense, and the overall production is solid.  Its a good start, we’ll see how “Insurgent” (2015) and “Allegiant” (2016) turn out.

MORE INFO (possible spoilers): (more…)

Review: Pump the brakes on “Need for Speed”

March 14th, 2014 at 8:06 am by under Entertainment
"Need for Speed" poster courtesy DreamWorks SKG/Walt Disney Studios

“Need for Speed” poster courtesy DreamWorks SKG/Walt Disney Studios

“Need for Speed” (2014)

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language
Runtime: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Genre: Action/Crime/Drama/Thriller

My spoiler-free review: “Need for Speed” has the action to rival the classic car driving movie “Bullitt” (1968), but not enough finesse to make the “Fast and the Furious” franchise worry.  Once it finally gets in gear, it moves pretty well, but its heavy on some extras it could’ve done without and thankfully lead driver Aaron Paul saves the movie from complete obscurity.  The 3D adds some to the experience, but this movie isn’t really worth paying more than the average ticket price, I give it 6.0 out of 10.  ”Need for Speed” was better than I expected, but other than the big action scenes and amazing stunts involving cars, its just a “The Fast and the Furious” wannabe, but I won’t be surprised if they make a sequel.

Parents: as the rating info above suggests, there are several things in the movie not for young kids

If you like suped-up cars, racing, and/or big action sequences… you’ll probably like “Need for Speed”, but if you want a tightly written, well told, well acted thriller… then this movie probably isn’t for you.

The story… its loud street racing action combined with some heart, but it would have crumbled without Paul (“Breaking Bad”), who plays our hero ‘Tobey’.  He has a long standing rivarly with local racer, turned pro driver ‘Dino’ (Dominic Cooper) and there’s a love triangle with ‘Anita’ (Dakota Johnson) but he’s also buddies with her little brother Pete (Harrison Gilbertson) and there’s also some tough economic troubles that are facing Tobey and his auto shop/racing crew.  There’s a lot at play that keeps the movie in neutral for the first 15+ minutes of the movie… that could have been trimmed down into a backstory montage… and we should have started with a race… its a movie about racing… don’t make us wait so long to get to the action!  This editing/writing could have revved up the movie faster and brought us under the 2 hour run time.

But… that $66 million budget seems to be put to pretty good use with in camera effects and CGI combined with some expensive stunts and a cross country drive filmed in New York, Detroit, Alabama, Georgia, Utah, and California.  Still the storytelling of the movie was lacking some race watching elements that could have helped the audience: it was not clearly established which main character was in which car during the racing scenes… other than the final climatic race, we never get a complete sense of where everybody is until halfway through the race.  It would have made more of an impact to know what car ‘Tobey’ or his friends were in at the beginning of the race.  The stunts were great but the focus on the characters was not, it is clear that “Need for Speed” is being directed by a former stunt man, not a master storyteller.

PS… the corporate plot summary is misleading, because it gives away the first part of the movie… so either they need to recut the movie (as suggested above) or not put out that plot summary.

However… the use of multiple cameras inside and outside the cars puts you right in the action during the race and chase scenes involving 15+ reproduced cars (could not afford to use the real million dollar cars).  It was cool to see all the cars like you could choose in the video game, since its based on the EA game of the same title.  The cars often become the main characters of the movie more than the people “driving” them, the movie reproduced these models: 1966 Pontiac GTO, 1969 Ford Gran Torino, 2013 Shelby GT500, Saleen S7, Lamborghini Sesto Elemento, McLaren P1, GTA Spano, Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, Koenigsegg Agera Standard, Koenigsegg Agera R, and Koenigsegg Agera S (more on all the cars here).

Yeah Right – at the end of the movie, there’s a warning not to try to recreate the stunts you’ve just sat through for 2 hours… I understand why they did it, but if they were serious about it… it should have been at the beginning as well.

And… then there’s Michael Keaton’s ‘Monarch’ - racing show host/narrator/maniacal creator of the big race … he gives us a lot of background, car info and race storylines… he plays it big and over the top… but for this movie, it works… and its just hugging the line of being corny.

MORE INFO (possible spoilers): (more…)

“End of the Tour” spending $2.1 million in Michigan

March 11th, 2014 at 3:09 pm by under Entertainment
Production crews filming "The End of the Tour" scenes near 196 in Grand Rapids 3-6-14

Production crews filming “The End of the Tour” scenes near 196 in Grand Rapids 3-6-14

“End of the Tour” spending $2.1 million in Michigan

Sure it’s not as big of a budget as the last time Jesse Eisenberg was here, but the size of a movie budget does not always indicate the quality and success of a movie.

The Eisenberg and Jason Segel drama “The End of the Tour” is expected to spend $2.1 million in Michigan, mostly in the greater Grand Rapids area. In a press release March 10th, The Michigan Film Office said that the movie has been approved for the state’s film incentive.  ”End of the Tour” was awarded a $495,380 incentive based on $2,105,652 of projected in-state expenditures.  The release also says that the project planned to hire 66 Michigan workers.  That $2.1 million spending in Michigan is far less than the $20 million that Eisenberg’s “30 Minutes or Less” spent in Michigan in 2011.

Production crews filming "The End of the Tour" scenes near 196 in Grand Rapids 3-6-14

Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg filming “The End of the Tour” scenes near 196 in Grand Rapids 3-6-14

The production is expected to be filming in the Grand Rapids area for 5 weeks, until approximately March 24th.

The film office says the movie is based on the book “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself” about the true events of a four-day long interview conducted by Rolling Stone Magazine writer, David Lipsky with acclaimed author David Foster Wallace. The interview took place in the final days of Wallace’s 1996 book tour promoting his landmark novel, “Infinite Jest.” The road movie is an extended dramatic and comedic conversation between the two men exploring women, depression, writing, success and jealousy.

The movie is being directed by James Ponsoldt. Anonymous Content & Kilburn Media are the Production Companies while Sony Pictures is expected to distribute the movie.  Some scenes are also being planned for


Movie closing lanes of 196 for “End of the Tour” scenes

March 5th, 2014 at 4:52 pm by under Entertainment

Lanes of 196 will be closed intermittently tomorrow for “End of the Tour” movie

Interstate 196 in Grand Rapids

Interstate 196 in Grand Rapids

It won’t be snow and ice slowing traffic down on 196 in Grand Rapids on Thursday, March 6th.

In its third week of production in Grand Rapids, the movie “The End of the Tour” will be filming scenes in some lanes of eastbound and westbound Interstate-196.

Crews will be filming scenes with Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel riding in a car along the freeway with Grand Rapids as the background.   But the city is actually a stand-in for a Chicago suburb.  The car will be traveling less than posted speed limits as it rides on a flatbed trailer hooked up with cameras and production gear.

The closures will be changing as the production rolls along the highway with police escort between 9:00am and 3:00pm.  The production plans to begin going westbound on 196 from Fuller Avenue to Lake Michigan Drive (M-45), then they will turn around and then go eastbound on 196 between Lake Michigan and Fuller.  They will do this several times.   As they change sides, some ramps will be closed as the crews move on and off the freeway.  Only one side of the freeway is expected to be impacted at a time.  And depending on the nature of the shot, sometimes only one lane will be impacted, other times it may be two lanes.

The production is spending about 5 weeks filming scenes in and around Grand Rapids.  The movie is planned for a theatrical release, but the exact plans for the release date have not been set.  Cast and crew, including Eisenberg, Segel, and director James Ponsoldt are staying in town.

Aziz Ansari and Jesse Eisenberg in "30 Minutes or Less" courtesy Sony

Aziz Ansari and Jesse Eisenberg in “30 Minutes or Less” courtesy Sony

This is Eisenberg’s second time filming driving scenes in Grand Rapids, he was the lead actor in “30 Minutes or Less” with Aziz Ansari as crews shutdown Division Avenue for a big chase scene.

Segel has also filmed in Michigan previously, filming “The Five-Year Engagement” in Ann Arbor in 2011.  Eisenberg will be back in Michigan later this year for the “Batman vs. Superman” movie, he’s been cast as Lex Luthor in the “Man of Steel” sequel.

Officially, the drama is about a magazine reporter (Eisenberg)  recounting his travels and conversations with author David Foster Wallace (Segel) during a promotional book tour.

Acoording to other reports – “The End of the Tour” – “follows the relationship between author David Foster Wallace and Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky. Segel will play Wallace who committed suicide in 2008 while Eisenberg will play the RS reporter who was following Wallace around the country as he promoted his book Infinite Jest. As Wallace rose to fame, a rivalry developed between the two men”.

Previous post: “End of the Tour” filming in Grand Rapids 2-19-14  (more…)

Studio 28 to be demolished in a few weeks

March 3rd, 2014 at 11:13 pm by under Entertainment
Studio 28 in Wyoming, MI

Studio 28 in Wyoming, MI

Its been closed for more than 5 years and now the building that used to be home for thousands of moviegoers will soon be torn down.

The lobby and concessions were buzzing for one last time at Studio 28 on Sunday, November 23, 2008… the last day of business for the West Michigan movie landmark.  It was a popular spot for 43 years, opening on Christmas Day in 1965.  At that time, there was just one screen with 1,000 seats.  But times they were a changin’ …. Studio 28 expanded to 12 screens then later became the first-ever mega-plex theater in May of 1988 by adding eight screens for a total of 20 screens.  It wasn’t just a theater it was THE theater for many.  Many who saw their first movie there.  Went on dates there.  Brought their kids there.  Studio 28 was a piece of the community and its closing was a sad sign of a changing 28th Street corridor.

Today, 5 years and 3 months after that sad day for those who grew up going to the big screens of Loeks Cinemas/Celebration Cinema… the news broke that the old building just couldn’t wait for someone new to set up shop, it was going to have to come down.  We reported on the news tonight that Studio 28 will be torn down within four weeks… the roof is leaking, there’s broken glass, and the insides are deteriorating.

What will be left behind are the memories.  Memories of the movies, the popcorn, and the fun times West Michigan had… at Studio 28.

Related posts and links:

Larry Figurski and I team coverage of Studio 28 closing announcement plus historic lookback 11-14-08

Final Day at Studio 28 11-23-08

John Loeks speaks at last day of Studio 28

Subscribe to my blog (get email updates whenever I post a new blog): http://feeds2.feedburner.com/woodtv8-blogs-laff-at-the-movies?format=html  (more…)

Laff on the ’14 Oscars

March 2nd, 2014 at 6:17 pm by under Entertainment

Oscars 2014 live blog (refresh for updates newest comments at top)

Final score:
7 Oscars for “Gravity” (out of 10 nominations)
3 Oscars for “12 Years A Slave” (out of 9 nominations)
3 Oscars for “Dallas Buyers Club” (out of 6 nominations)
2 Oscars for “The Great Gatsby” (2 for 2)
2 Oscars for “Frozen” (2 for 2)
1 Oscar for “Her” (out of 5 nominations)
1 Oscar for “Blue Jasmine” (out of 3 nominations)
0 Oscars for “American Hustle” (despite 10 nominations)
0 Oscars for “Captain Phillips” (despite 6 nominations)
0 Oscars for “Nebraska” ” (despite 6 nominations)
0 Oscars for “Wolf of Wall Street” (despite 5 nominations)

“12 Years A Slave” wins Best Picture (my picks: 20 of 24 – 83.33% not bad)

Matthew McConaughey “Dallas Buyers Club” wins Best Actor (my picks: 19 of 23)…. says “to that I say Amen, to that I say allright allright allright”
I called it flat out on eightWest, “he will be Oscar winner”

2013 Best Actress winner Jennifer Lawrence presenting Best Actor… this impressively strong category could have easily included Tom Hanks (“Captain Phillips”) and from what I hear, Robert Redford (“All Is Lost”)

Cate Blanchett “Blue Jasmine” wins Best Actress –available now on DVD/Blu-Ray (my picks: 18 of 22) also future pick on eightWest!

2013 Best Actor winner Daniel Day-Lewis presenting Best Actress

and the show is officially running long now…. 3 categories left, Actor, Actress, and Best Picture… Best Picture will be last

Alfonso Cuarón “Gravity” wins Best Director (my picks: 17 of 21)

Best Director next… Oscars mixing it up a bit… making us wait for Best Actor & Actress until after Director… a great change

Spike Jonze “Her” wins Best Original Screenplay (my picks 16/20)

John Ridley “12 Years A Slave” wins Best Adapted Screenplay (my picks:  15/19)

“Let It Go” – “Frozen” wins Best Original Song - Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez”  (my picks:  14/18)–available on DVD/Blu-Ray 3/18/14… “Frozen” also go 2for2 tonight
With Best Song win Robert Lopez joins rare company winner of an Oscar, Tony, Grammy, and Emmy: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0520188/?ref_=ttawd_awd_2 …

Steven Price “Gravity” wins Best Original Score (my picks:  13/17)

sorry Travolta its Idina Menzel singing best song nominee “Let It Go” – FROZEN – Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

at the 11:00pm mark – Oscar standings:
5 Oscars for “Gravity”,
2 Oscars each for “Dallas Buyers Club”, “The Great Gatsby”,
1 Oscar each for “12 Years A Slave”, “Frozen”

Producing critques – Bette Midler song should have included

Montage of those who died… James Gandolfini and Harold Ramis probably hit me the most but also Paul Walker, Tom Sherak, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Best commercial of Oscar night… the stunt people, producers, crew members quoting lines from classic movies for Pepsi min-cans!

no surprise I own/have seen multiple times…. most of the movies in that heroes montage

Catherine Martin, Beverley Dunn (“The Great Gatsby”) win for Best Production Design (my picks: 12/16)

9 categories left tonight…. the big four (Actor, Actress, Picture, Director), of course, plus Music, Song, and both Screenplay categories

Whoopi Goldberg honoring 75th Anniversary of “Wizard of Oz” (1939)–now we know why Liza Minnelli is there tonight… Pink doing a musical/clip tribute. nice!

Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger (“Gravity”) win Best Film Editing  (my picks: 11/15)

Emmanuel Lubezki (“Gravity”) wins Best Cinematography  (my picks: 11/14)

Bill Murray gives a shout out to Harold Ramis

pizza guy making national tv– and getting to say “what’s up” to Julia Roberts… Harrison Ford asks for a napkin…. Ellen asks Harvey Weinstein to help pay the tab

twitter also not working from my phone app… apparently Gravity’s 3rd Oscar win of the night blew up the twittersphere (like the movie’s opening scene)

Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years A Slave”) wins Best Supporting Actress –comes out on DVD/Blu-Ray on Tuesday 3/4 (my picks: 10/13)

such a talented group in Best Supporting Actress — all great performances!

twitter on the internet has “internal server error”

Gravity” wins Best Sound Editing (my picks: 9/12)

Gravity” wins Best Sound Mixing (my picks: 8/11)

Director Christopher Nolan accepts special film tech award on behalf of winners…. but he needs to get more of his own nominations… seriously have you seen his movies?

Ellen gets group photo of audience members for twitter: pic.twitter.com/C9U5NOtGap Meryl Streep says “I’ve never tweeted before”

Another shameless plug – Channing Tatum presented the young filmmakers honors earlier – his wife, Jenna filmed ‘Set Up’ in Grand Rapids in 2010, I talked to him about that, ‘Magic Mike’, ‘GI Joe’ and more: http://youtu.be/1CYbm0uJ-TA

3rd Best Song nominee - ”Ordinary Love” – MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM – Music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Lyric by Paul Hewson (U2)

“Nebraska” (6 nominations) by the way is available to rent now…. a great little movie that unfortunately will be overshadowed in every category…. but you should see it! (hint at future pick on eightWest)

“The Great Beauty” wins Best Foreign Language Film (my picks: 7/10)

Pretty good show so far… still wish it would have started with a big pre-produced open with clips/satire of the nominated movies.

I also saw Kurt Russell in the audience next to his wife, Goldie Hawn, we talked on the set of ‘Touchback’ in 2010: http://youtu.be/dGEfZdWcaRQ

Kevin Spacey is a cool guy… talked to him previewing the Oscars in 2011: http://youtu.be/V-7b4rcYTI8 … tonight he’s presenting the honorary Oscars clips

“20 Feet from Stardom” wins Best Documentary Feature… it won the Independent Spirit Award yesterday too! (my picks: 6/9)

“Blackfish” should have been nominated for Best Documentary Feature by the way… just saying.. that is all

Ellen taking orders for pizza – Harrison Ford and Martin Scorcese say they’ll eat some – kinda funny actually

“The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life” wins Best Documentary Short  (my picks: 6/8)

“Helium” wins Best Live Action Short Film  (my picks: 5/7)

2nd of 4 best song live performances … “The Moon Song” – HER – Music by Karen O Lyric by Karen O and Spike Jonze

“Gravity” wins Best Visual Effects… first of many wins coming for the sci-fi blockbuster—out on DVD/Blu-Ray now (my picks: 5/6)

“Frozen” wins Best Animated Feature — no surprise here, available on DVD/Blu-Ray 3/18/14 (my picks 4/5)

“Mr. Hublot” wins Best Animated Short (my picks: 3/4)

Harrison Ford walks out to John Williams’ Raiders of the Lost Ark Soundtrack… introducing 3 Best Picture nominees

“Dallas Buyers Club” wins Best Hairstyle & Makeup (Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews)–out on DVD/Blu-Ray now (my picks 3/3)

“Great Gatsby” wins Best Costume Design (Catherine Martin)— out on DVD/Blu-Ray now(my picks: 2/2)

Okay nevermind—Sam & Naomi — So far, just single presenters Anne, Jim, Kerry – which might eliminate the awkwardness when there’s no chemistry between preseneters

Kerry Washington introducing Pharell Williams (sp?) song performance – “Happy” from Despicable Me 2 – which is one of 4 nominated in the category for Best Song

Animated heroes with Jim Carrey … looks like we’re going Animated Feature next… I guess not

Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”) wins Supporting Actor – his first Oscar win (also his first nomination)(my picks: 1/1)

Glad they’re showing clips of each performance, but some performances.. can not be summed up in a 30second clip

We’re going supporting actor first – Bradley Cooper, Barkhad Abdi had terrific roles, but Michael Fassbender and Jared Leto were on a different level entirely, I did not get a chance to see “Wolf of Wall Street” yet.

“… possibility number one: 12 Years A Slave wins best picture, possibility number two, you’re all racists” – Ellen

“If you win tonight, we should bring you the Oscar” – Ellen to Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence about her falling last year and minutes ago

Liza Minnelli impersonator joke didn’t go over too well.

Ellen starts with a safe California weather joke. Then a joke about June Squibb’s age.

4minutes away to start with Ellen DeGeneres hosting (last time she hosted was 2007)

Best Supporting Actress is usually the first category of the night.

Jennifer Lawrence fell again… on the red carpet, but I think her stumble to accept her Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2013 was a better performance.

Red Carpet has already started, ABC’s coverage begins at 7pm ET
Oscars broadcast begins at 830pm ET on ABC
Follow me on twitter: https://twitter.com/aaronlafferty
:) - Aaron

The Scorecard ( movies with 2 or more nominations )
“American Hustle” – 10 nominations
“Gravity” – 10 nominations
“12 Years a Slave” – 9 nominations
“Captain Phillips” – 6 nominations
“Dallas Buyers Club” – 6 nominations
“Nebraska” – 6 nominations
“Her” – 5 nominations
“The Wolf of Wall Street” – 5 nominations
“Philomena” – 4 nominations
“Blue Jasmine” – 3 nominations
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” – 3 nominations
“August: Osage County” – 2 nominations
“Despicable Me 2” – 2 nominations
“Frozen” – 2 nominations
“The Grandmaster” – 2 nominations
“The Great Gatsby” – 2 nominations
“Inside Llewyn Davis” – 2 nominations
“The Lone Ranger” – 2 nominations
“Lone Survivor” – 2 nominations

Related 2014 Oscar Posts/Links: (more…)

Picking the 2014 Oscar winners

February 28th, 2014 at 4:30 am by under Entertainment

The 2014 Oscars are shaping up to be some of the closest races in years

"American Hustle" poster courtesy Sony Pictures Releasing

“American Hustle” poster courtesy Sony Pictures Releasing

"Gravity" poster courtesy Warner Bros.

“Gravity” poster courtesy Warner Brothers

"12 Years A Slave" poster courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

“12 Years A Slave” poster courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

"Captain Phillips" poster courtesy Sony Pictures Releasing

“Captain Phillips” poster courtesy Sony Pictures Releasing

"Dallas Buyers Club" poster courtesy Focus Features

“Dallas Buyers Club” poster courtesy Focus Features

"Nebraska" poster courtesy Paramount

“Nebraska” poster courtesy Paramount


"Her" poster courtesy Warner Bros

“Her” poster courtesy Warner Bros







"The Wolf of Wall Street" poster courtesy Paramount

“The Wolf of Wall Street” poster courtesy Paramount











Nine movies are vying for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars (all but “Philomena” pictured above) - that will be broadcast live March 2nd at 7:00pm on ABC, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres.  “American Hustle” and “Gravity” lead the way with 10 nominations overall, “12 Years a Slave” is close behind with 9, while “Captain Phillips”, “Dallas Buyers Club”, and “Nebraska” each have 6 nominations.
Not only is the Best Picture race considered a statistical dead heat between “Gravity” and “12 Years A Slave” (with “American Hustle” a close 3rd by oddsmakers), the Supporting Actress category is a toss-up, as are some of the less closely watched categories (both screenplays and costume design).  But there are also a few virtual locks: Actor, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature.

The Picks
(print your own ballot here: http://cdn.media.oscar.abc.com/media/2014/pdf/2014/nominees.pdf?v5 )

Best Picture
Aaron’s Pick: 12 Years A Slave
American Hustle,
Captain Phillips,
Dallas Buyers Club,
12 Years A Slave,
The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Actor
Aaron’s Pick: Matthew McConaughey
Christian Bale (AMERICAN HUSTLE),
Bruce Dern (NEBRASKA),
Leonardo Dicaprio (THE WOLF OF WALL STREET),
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 YEARS A SLAVE),
Matthew McConaughey (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB)

Best Supporting Actor
Aaron’s Pick: Jared Leto
Bradley Cooper (AMERICAN HUSTLE),
Michael Fassbender (12 YEARS A SLAVE),

Best Actress
Aaron’s Pick: Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett (BLUE JASMINE),
Sandra Bullock (GRAVITY),
Judi Dench (PHILOMENA),

Best Supporting Actress
Aaron’s Pick: Lupita Nyong’o
Sally Hawkins (BLUE JASMINE),
Jennifer Lawrence (AMERICAN HUSTLE),
Lupita Nyong’o (12 YEARS A SLAVE),
June Squibb (NEBRASKA)

Best Animated Feature

Where You Can Watch 2014 Oscar nominees

February 28th, 2014 at 1:18 am by under Entertainment
image courtesy Oscars

image courtesy Oscars








Here’s a look at where you can watch the 2014 Oscar nominees (only West Michigan theaters listed):

“American Hustle” – Celebration! North, Crossroads, Lansing, AMC Star Grand Rapids, Alamo Drafthouse Kzoo  – DVD/Blu-Ray release on 3/18/14

“Gravity” – not in theaters — is available on DVD/Blu-Ray

“12 Years a Slave” - Celebration! South – DVD/Blu-Ray release on 3/4/14

“Captain Phillips” - Celebration! Woodland – also available on DVD/Blu-Ray

“Dallas Buyers Club” - Celebration! Woodland – also available on DVD/Blu-Ray

“Nebraska” - Celebration! Woodland, Alamo Drafthouse Kzoo,  – also available on DVD/Blu-Ray

“Her” - not in theaters — DVD/Blu-Ray release in May (TBD)

“The Wolf of Wall Street” – at Celebration! Rivertown, AMC Star Grand Rapids – DVD/Blu-Ray release on 3/25/14

“Philomena” - Celebration! North, South, Benton Harbor, Mt. Pleasant, Okemos, Lansing, AMC Star Grand Rapids, Alamo Drafthouse Kzoo — DVD/Blu-Ray release in April (TBD)

“Blue Jasmine” - not in theaters — is available on DVD/Blu-Ray

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” - Celebration! Woodland – DVD/Blu-Ray release on 4/8/14

“August: Osage County” - Celebration! Woodland – DVD/Blu-Ray release in April (TBD)

“Despicable Me 2” – at all Celebration! for 1 week — also available on DVD/Blu-Ray

“Frozen” - at most Celebration! theaters, AMC Star Grand Rapids – DVD/Blu-Ray release on 3/18/14

“The Grandmaster” - not in theaters – DVD/Blu-Ray release on 3/4/14

“The Great Gatsby” - not in theaters — is available on DVD/Blu-Ray

“Inside Llewyn Davis” - not in theaters – DVD/Blu-Ray release on 3/11/14

“The Lone Ranger” - not in theaters — is available on DVD/Blu-Ray

“Lone Survivor” - at most Celebration! theaters, AMC Star Grand Rapids – DVD/Blu-Ray release in April (TBD)

“The Croods” - not in theaters — is available on DVD/Blu-Ray

“The Wind Rises” – Celebration! North — DVD/Blu-Ray release in June (TBD)

“Prisoners” - not in theaters — is available on DVD/Blu-Ray

“Hunger Games: Catching Fire” – Celebration! Woodland – DVD/Blu-Ray release on 3/7/14

“The Book Thief” - Celebration! Woodland – DVD/Blu-Ray release on 3/11/14

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” - Celebration! Woodland – DVD/Blu-Ray release on 3/18/14

“Saving Mr. Banks” - Celebration! Woodland – DVD/Blu-Ray release on 3/18/14

“Iron Man 3″ - not in theaters — is available on DVD/Blu-Ray

“Star Trek Into Darkness” - not in theaters — is available on DVD/Blu-Ray

“Before Midnight” - not in theaters — is available on DVD/Blu-Ray

The 86th Annual Academy Awards will be broadcast live March 2nd at 7:00pm on ABC, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres.

Related 2014 Oscars Posts: (more…)

Grand Rapids will be Segel and Eisenberg’s “End of the Tour”

February 19th, 2014 at 2:53 pm by under Entertainment

I’ve heard it called the biggest movie in 4 years!

"The End of the Road" crews set up on the corner of  Wealthy & Cherry in Grand Rapids

“The End of the Tour” crews set up on the corner of Wealthy & Cherry in Grand Rapids

The production of the movie “The End of the Tour”, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel is filming in Grand Rapids.

Today, the film crews set up shop at the apartment building at Wealthy & Cherry… the production, according to my source, will spend about 5 weeks filming all main  scenes in the city of Grand Rapids.

Cast and crew, including Eisenberg, Segel, and director James Ponsoldt are staying in town.

The movie was approved for state film incentives but has not yet offcially been announced by the Michigan Film Office. I’ve heard that this movie is the biggest in four years, but not considered a “big budget” film – not bigger than “30 Minutes or Less” that spent $20 million when it spent 3 weeks filming around the Grand Rapids area in 2010.

Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel lead cast of "The End of the Road"

Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel lead cast of “The End of the Tour”

This is Eisenberg’s second time filming in Grand Rapids, he was the lead actor in “30 Minutes or Less”.  Segel has also filmed in Michigan previously, filming “The Five-Year Engagement” in Ann Arbor in 2011.

Officially, the drama is about a magazine reporter (Eisenberg)  recounting his travels and conversations with author David Foster Wallace (Segel) during a promotional book tour.

Acoording to other reports – “The End of the Tour” – “follows the relationship between author David Foster Wallace and Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky. Segel will play Wallace who committed suicide in 2008 while Eisenberg will play the RS reporter who was following Wallace around the country as he promoted his book Infinite Jest. As Wallace rose to fame, a rivalry developed between the two men”.

Anonymous Content & Kilburn Media are the Production Companies while Sony Pictures is expected to distribute the movie.

Some scenes are also being planned for Bloomington-Normal, IL and Minneapolis, MN.

More updates to come as more information is confirmed.

So what did you think?  Please post a comment! (more…)

Review: “RoboCop” unnecessary remake lacks humanity

February 12th, 2014 at 8:17 am by under Entertainment
"RoboCop" poster courtesy Columbia Pictures

“RoboCop” poster courtesy Columbia Pictures

“RoboCop” (2014)
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material
Runtime: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Genre: Action/Crime/Sci-Fi/Thriller

My spoiler-free review: (underline)

Just because you can remake a 27-year old movie, doesn’t mean you should.   Since they did, filmmakers should have been more careful to build the human element of the story and also careful not to alienate about 50% of their audience: fans of the original 1987 movie.  Now that I’ve seen it, it is clear why this  moved from its original late August 2013 slot on the summer box office calendar to the cold, dreary February 12th, 2014 spot on the schedule.

Upgraded effects, a different story, and a strong supporting cast can’t save this remake from the junkyard… I give it 5.5 out of 10.

(Warning to parents: while not as graphically violent as the original, this “RoboCop” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action including a lot of gun violence, some strong language, one scene of sensuality and some drug material)

We know that reboots and remakes don’t always work, but our first red flag on this movie was the schedule change – it was originally slated for an August 9, 2013 release but 10 months before it was to hit theaters it was pushed back… way back… 6 months later to the middle of February.  The reluctance of some stars to sign on to the project starts making sense, but they still ended up with a pretty good cast surrounding our lead characters.

So what went wrong?  Remember Peter Weller’s RoboCop?  He was more human before and after the procedure, the audience could make a connection with his character, his RoboCop had the traits and characteristics of his “cowboy” personality.  But this Detective Alex Murphy - Joel Kinnaman – is a little rigid, stale, cold, quite emotionless and stale.  He’s more robotic than man in his acting even before the accident/procedure.  There’s not a lot of depth to his character either.  Plus Kinnaman’s Alex is also a rebel, renegade, very wreckless in his job that makes him harder to sympathize with.  The other main characters, his partner ‘Jack Lewis’ (Michael K. Williams) and his wife ‘Clara Murphy’ (Abbie Cornish) are also very one note characters that are more like the empty Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz”, very hollow in their performances.  Despite their display of emotions on screen, I wasn’t buying what they were selling.

I’ve said it before – character depth is very important to me… if I can’t connect to the character, I can’t sympathize with their emotional struggles… and it makes it hard to care about what happens to them.  In this movie that makes all the themes of Alex’s struggles accepting his new fate/robotic body suit fall flat because I’m not empathizing… it just becomes one big action movie about corporate greed – and that’s part is just average and quite predictable.

There was more emotional connection with the supporting cast of Gary Oldman (Dr. Dennett Norton), Michael Keaton (Raymond Sellars of OmniCorp), Samuel L. Jackson (talk show host Pat Novak), and Jackie Earle Haley (Rick Mattox), even Jennifer Ehle (Liz Kline) and Jay Baruchel (Tom Pope) had more audience chemistry than our main characters.  Oldman has lots of depth as the conflicted doctor trying to help and maintain his hippocratic oath at the same time.  Keaton is smooth and crafty trying to run a business focused solely on profits.  Jackson delivers an extreme version of  cablenews talk show hosts.  Haley is solid as always, this time as the military man behind OmniCorp.  And even minor characters Ehle and Baruchel had more layers of depth and polished acting than our leads.

Maybe that was part of the schedule change… to edit the movie and try to focus more on the supporting cast… which could have worked if they didn’t try to stick to the themes of man versus machine.  In exploring the humanity of the RoboCop program and the flaws of both man and machine, the end product is just another average movie churned out by the Hollywood machine.

And… while some of the effects were good (they should be 25+ years later), others in the final scenes looked more like effects of the late 1980′s.

Also… future Detroit looks a lot less bleak than the original movie’s view of the crime and blight-ridden Motor City, a city desperate for a hero… the streets and neighborhoods of this version of a future Detroit do not look as hopeless.

Plus… some things are not as well explained or easily understood (like Alex’s motivations) and the portrayal of media coverage is very cliche and easily mocked.

But there were some good things about the 2014 version: this story line is different than original: more focused on the politics and economics of robotic police/armies – so it does keep those of us who saw the 1987 version guessing a little bit as to what’s going to happen.

Also, this RoboCop is not as dark and nightmarish for younger viewers – there’s still a bunch of bad guys getting shot but it is violence without gore/graphic injuries/ excessive blood… clearly sanitzed for the PG-13 rating… and one change I was okay with.

MORE INFO (possible spoilers): (more…)