How to Preview: The “SPECTRE” Trailer Is Here

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Step 1: Cue the James Bond theme. The latest trailer for the highly anticipated next 007 installment has been released, and I am more than excited after being properly teased by it. Watch!

Step 2: Ask yourself: Has Daniel Craig truly become the best Bond of them all? It’s always been close, with the original Sean Connery still slightly in the lead, but after Skyfall, Craig really took it up a notch, proving he’s the coolest James ever. Now, this trailer? Forget about it…

Step 3: Find the best villain. Besides the fact that 007’s ultimate nemesis SPECTRE is making a glorious return, there’s also Christophe Waltz as its helm. Will he have a cat?

Step 4: Be patient. SPECTRE comes out November 6.

How to Watch: “Get Hard”

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Step 1: Get real. If you’re going off the premise, Get Hard is, well, a hard sell. A privileged white guy pays a black guy to help him prepare for prison life by learning to trash talk, avoiding getting stabbed and thwarting “drop-the-soap” scenarios? The idea sounds, at the very least, politically incorrect, and at the most, completely racist and homophobic. To be honest, Get Hard is a little of all that, but while it makes you wince, you’re still laughing because the film’s top-tiered comedic talents, Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, sell it. Hilariously hard (we’ll try to keep the “hard” puns to a minimum).

Step 2: Get acquainted. In a story that seems to be inspired by John Landis’ 1983 comedy Trading Places, Ferrell plays James King, a millionaire financial whiz who has a huge Bel Air home, a hot fiancée (the always delightful Alison Brie) and just became partner in his brokerage firm, run by his fiancée’s father (Craig T. Nelson).  All is going well – until James suddenly finds himself facing a 10-year prison sentence for multiple fraud charges. After he scrunches his face in a series of crying jags at the prospect of life in prison, a seemingly innocent James pulls it together long enough to hire his car washer, Darnell (Hart), to help him “get hard” because James mistakenly believes Darnell has already done hard time in prison. It’s not true, of course. Darnell is a successful car-washing business owner with a lovely wife and young daughter. What he doesn’t have is a new home near a safer school, so Darnell accepts the job and pretends to be that thug James has already labeled him as. I mean, Darnell has seen enough prison movies to know how it works, right? He can turn James into a badass, right? We shall see…

Step 3: Get Hart. Kevin Hart is on one of those rolls actors dream about. He has made six films in two years, with many of them making some serious box office bank. But the one thing the comedian has an incredible knack for is connecting with his co-stars. Hart is already on a sequel pattern with Ride Along’s Ice Cube, and you just know he and his About Last Night co-star Regina Hall are going to make more films together. Hart even had chemistry with Josh Gad, which is one of the only redeeming factors to The Wedding Ringer. Now, it’s Ferrell’s turn, and these two nail it as a comedic duo. While delivering endless d**k jokes, taking stereotypes to the next level, and basically offending just about everyone, Ferrell and Hart still keep you laughing, in spite of yourself. All first-time director Etan Cohen (whose biggest writing credit is the equally hilarious and sometimes distasteful Tropic Thunder) needs to do is turn the cameras on and let the pros do what they do best. As Darnell “trains” James, both Ferrell and Hart are able to shine individually, while still bouncing funny-bone-tickling skills off one another. These moments are the best, but when the film tries to form some semblance of a plot and veers off into ridiculousness about two-thirds in, it falls apart.

Step 4: Get a sense of humor. It seems to be a trend, for hard-R comedies to see how many they can offend for the sake of comedy (take The Interview, for example), and perhaps these type of films should get away with it because it’s so obviously a parody. Let’s just say, Get Hard won’t make anyone’s top 5 comedies list, but if you are at all a fan of Ferrell or Hart, this should not disappoint.

Step 5: Get it hard. Oh, and the film does eventually take the title to the nth degree. You’re definitely waiting for it and then, there it is… Ferrell delivers a short riff on the whole “hard” thing while hugging Hart. It’s the right kind of coda for this one.

How to Podcast: “Insurgent” vs. “The Gunman”

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I  didn’t dislike “Insurgent” as much as some other critics out there, but I do feel like this sequel in the YA “Divergent” series suffers from middle-child syndrome. “Divergent” did a great job at introducing a dystopian world, where a girl named Tris (Shailene Woodley) finds out she’s dangerous because she’s divergent. In “Insurgent,” Tris and her small band of allies are now on the run from those who want her, and all like her, dead, but not before they force Tris to open a mysterious box that could explain the whole reason for their existence. As exciting as that may sound, it really isn’t, despite some well-done action sequences. Woodley and Winslet do their best to raise the bar, but “Insurgent” still fails to stand out.

Listen to more of my review with the ScreenPicks gang, plus, I talk about Sean Penn’s first real action movie “The Gunman.”

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How to Podcast: ‘Focus’ vs. ‘Lazarus Effect’

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Will Smith and Margot Robbie are a comely pair in “Focus,” and their chemistry is pretty much all the con/heist movie has going for it, while “The Lazarus Effect” fails to drum up any after-life thrills, even with its top-notch cast. I discuss with my ScreenPicks pals…

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How to Watch: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

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Step 1: Don’t break out the handcuffs and blindfolds just yet. Or do, but just know “Fifty Shades of Grey” won’t really inspire you to do it.

Step 2: Keep the expectations low. By now, you probably know the basics to the “Fifty Shades” story: Naïve virgin college student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) meets young billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), who’s handsome, charming… and has a penchant for whips, floggers and the such in the bedroom. Yeah, super hot (not). Ana falls for Christian despite her obvious reservations, and hopes that maybe she can bring out the loving man buried deep inside Christian. Good luck with that. If you’re willing to go along with the kind of unsexy S&M theme and just laugh at some of the ridiculous things Ana and Christian say to each other, then “Fifty Shades” isn’t all that cringe-worthy.

Step 3: As for said cringe-worthiness, give kudos to Dakota Johnson for making it less so. Honestly, I was afraid she was going to ruin the movie, based on the trailers, but she’s actually the one who saves it from being a total disaster. Apparently, Anastasia is particularly annoying in the book, but in the film, Johnson infuses the character with a lot of goodhearted spunk. Even though you have no idea why Ana would go for Christian’s stalker-y, painful sex ways, at least Johnson makes her character’s bad decisions seem almost understandable. Almost.

Step 4: Realize that all that fun Johnson is having just makes Dornan’s job much more difficult. Seriously, who would want to play this guy? He’s a total a buzz kill… brooding, oh-so-serious and clearly has issues. Would it hurt him to smile, crack a joke… even if it was in poor taste? The actor also has to spout some of the most atrocious dialogue. If Christian says, “That’s just the way I AM!” one time, he says it 100 times more. All of this is not Dornan’s fault; he does his best to bring some charisma to this jerk.

Step 5: Also realize that “Fifty Shades” came out of “Twilight” fan fiction. That’s right, a fan of the world of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen sat down and fantasized what it would be like if the vampire and his human girlfriend just had sex 24/7. In this case, said fan, E.L. James, skewed the “Twilight” fantasy and created the un-supernatural world of Anastasia and her Christian, who is almost as cold as a vampire. At one point, Christian warns Ana to stay away from him, with the ghost words “because I’m a vampire” just itching to follow. Dornan does, however, say one of the best lines of the movie when he describes himself as “fifty shades of fucked up.” Classic.

Step 6: Point some blame at director Sam Taylor-Johnson. She’s really only directed one other movie, the indie “Nowhere Boy,” so could be she doesn’t have enough experience. In trying to turn a soft-core porn novel into a R-rated movie, Johnson misses some of the sexiness in favor of highlighting the characters’ development. Booooring! Granted, the casting process to find Christian Grey was laborious. Trying to find the right Christian took a long time and fans of the book criticized the casting of Dornan, who was probably 20th on the list, because they felt he was not commanding enough to portray their beloved Christian. They might have been right because ultimately, Johnson and Dornan never really connect… and in a movie where the characters are supposed to be having a lot of sex, you need the chemistry. Let’s see if it shows up in the sequels (oh yes, there will be more “Shades.”)

Step 7: Forget “Fifty Shades” and rent “9 ½ Weeks” instead. The 1986 drama from director Adrian Lyne feels very similar to “Fifty Shades” but in all the right ways. It’s about two ADULTS (Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger) who find themselves in a highly sexual relationship in which the controlling rich guy manipulates the woman into engaging in some erotic sex play… and she’s completely turned on by it. Trust me, “Weeks” is what “Shades” wishes it could be.

How to Podcast: “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and More

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Although “Fifty Shades of Grey” is dominating the box office as expected (see my review above), I recommend seeing “Kingsman: The Secret Service” as soon as you can. The James Bond-esque actioner is a great ride, gloriously violent, stars the cool, collected and wonderful Colin Firth and Mark Strong, stars the kooky Samuel L. Jackson as the perfect villain, and gives us  cutie newcomer Taron Egerton, who shows real potential. I talked about it with the ScreenPicks.com gang below…

How to Podcast: “Jupiter Ascending” vs. “Seventh Son”

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Not a particularly stellar week for movies, I have to say. Although there is some exquisite visual eye candy in “Jupiter Ascending,” it is also truly embarrassing for everyone involved. “Seventh Son” also has its moments, specifically involving Julianne Moore as a witch with relationship issues, but Jeff Bridges’ over-the-top and distracting performance nearly ruins the whole thing.

I break it down with fellow movie cohorts Phil Wallace, Adam Spunberg and Scott Youngbauer in our weekly ScreenPicks.com podcast… listen in!

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How to Watch: “Project Almanac”

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Step 1: Suspend your disbelief… at least if you want to make it through “Project Almanac.” While it’s true many movies ask us to look past any inaccuracies, it’s particularly true for time-travel movies that also incorporate the found-footage theme.

Step 2: Realize “Project Almanac” isn’t rocket science… oh wait, maybe it is a little. The story centers on a group of nerdy teenagers who find plans to build a time machine, figure it out, put it to good use and film every single second of it. Like typical teenagers, their wish list in time traveling include acing school exams, exacting revenge on mean girls, winning the lottery, attending Lollapalooza, and getting the girl of your dreams. They also eventually realize that sneaky problem about time travel: If you change events in any way in the past, it could have long-lasting and dangerous consequences in the present day.

Step 3: Don’t look for any standout performances. The standard practice with these documentary-style films is to cast relative unknowns. “Chronicle” lucked out with the creepy Dane DeHaan, and “Project X” had cutie Thomas Mann and hilarious Oliver Cooper, but the kids in “Almanac” aren’t going to be offered huge roles after this film. Jonny Weston plays the almost-too-good-looking-to-be-a-nerd David, the leader of the pack who is desperate to attend MIT and secretly loves the school’s hot chick, played blandly by Sofia Black-D’Elia. David’s best friends are equally geeky, but, as portrayed by Sam Lerner and Allen Evangelista, don’t provide any kind of real comic relief. The last member of the group is David’s sister, Kathy, whose sole purpose is being the cameraperson.

Step 4: Ask yourself: Is the found-footage technique clever and inventive… or has it just become annoying? After the huge success of “The Blair Witch Project,” the idea of telling a story through the lens of a camera held by one or more of the characters became the new it thing to do. Some of these movies have worked really well, primarily in the horror genre, such as “Paranormal Activity” and “[Rec].” As mentioned before, “Chronicle” and “Project X” are also great examples, but like anything, Hollywood has used it to excess. Unfortunately for “Almanac,” the jerky camerawork doesn’t serve the story as well, and the explanations for why there’s a camera around at all times (“Gee Kathy, do you have to film everything?”) seem unrealistic. But then again, I did say you have to suspend disbelief.

Step 5: If you decide to stick it out, just relax and have fun with “Project Almanac.” There are enough thrilling moments and teenage angst to make it watchable.

How to Watch: “The Boy Next Door”

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Step 1: Know that movies opening in January tend to be less than stellar – except if the film is a leftover from last-minute Oscar contenders that were released in theaters for about a week in December. Releasing in January is a studio’s way of minimally investing in a movie. “Boy Next Door” falls into this category but it’s also simply crapTASTIC!

Step 2: Expect pretty much what you expect. Seriously, the “Boy” trailer says it all: older woman seduced by way younger (but legal) guy who turns out to be a menacing psychopath. Jennifer Lopez plays said older woman, Claire, a high-school English teacher trying to bounce back after her husband cheated on her. Ryan Guzman plays said 19-year-old psychopath, Noah, who at first impresses Claire by quoting Homer’s “The Illiad,” seduces her big time, and after their super hot one-night stand, obsesses over her in the most dangerous way. You’ve got the stereotypical side characters: the estranged husband (John Corbett), who poses a threat to Noah; Claire’s teenaged son (Ian Nelson), who Noah befriends and tries to turn against his dad; and the meddlesome BFF (Kristin Chenoweth), who you just know has to be disposable.

Step 3: Recognize some key casting choices. Plainly speaking, there is some major eye candy, and with a movie like this that totally counts. This is a nice re-introduction to always-hot Lopez, who hasn’t graced the big screen in two years. Then there’s hunky Guzman, who is all abs and smoky seductive looks and, who, well, clearly knows what he’s doing under the sheets. Any warm-blooded woman out there could completely understand why lonely Claire would go to bed with him, plus Lopez and Guzman’s sexual chemistry is palpable. Wow. Claire, of course, quickly comes to her senses, but even when Noah starts going off the rails, one wonders if she just pretended for awhile to be into it, sleep with him a few more times (hey, a girl’s got needs), things might have gone smoother.

Step 4: End a stalker thriller like this in a spectacularly cheesy way. One of those climactic moments that has the audience literally cheering for all the gore. Even though its predictable, “Boy” doesn’t really try to do anything more than what it sets up, and it might just gain a cult following who’ll play a drinking game, taking a shot every time Lopez yells, “Noah, no!”

How to Return to The Movie Kit Blog

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Step 1: Look at the date of the last Movie Kit entry and ask, “Holy crap, it’s been almost three years since I posted anything? What have I been doing?”

Step 2: Say to yourself that writing entertainment news all day long hampers brainpower to write fun, movie stuff. Kardashians, I curse you!

Step 3: Realize that’s just an excuse.

Step 4: Just write, dammit! And so it begins… again.