How to Interview: 9 Things About ‘Doctor Strange’

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Marvel has weaved its magic once again with Doctor Strange, perhaps a lesser known comic entity in the MCU but seemingly just important as the rest.

In this origin story, we meet Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a brilliant neurosurgeon who knows it. He is never shy to show off his considerable skills, sometimes to the detriment of his colleagues, like his former flame, Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). However, Dr. Strange is taken down more than a peg when a terrible car accident leaves his hands virtually unusable, and he watches his career fade quickly away.

Desperate to regain his stature once again, he embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts – a world mostly hidden to the naked eye, but which is just as alive – and dangerous – as anything the Avengers have to face. Strange soon learns the trick of the trade by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and becomes a masterful sorcerer, as he is drawn into a battle with a rogue disciple Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who naturally wants to end the world as we know it.

At the recent press day, I sat in on a great discussion about Doctor Strange with Marvel guru Kevin Feige, director Scott Derrickson and stars Cumberbatch, McAdams, Swinton and Mikkleson.  Continue reading ‘How to Interview: 9 Things About ‘Doctor Strange’’

How to Interview: Ben Affleck on “The Accountant”

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In the thriller The Accountant, Ben Affleck stretches to play Christian Wolff, a math savant who can uncook books like nobody’s business – and has coped being on the autistic spectrum with his own certain set of skills (Read our review).

At the press day, we learned eight things about Affleck’s performance and how he prepared:

On the challenges of this role:

Ben Affleck: It was a very challenging role and it required a lot of research. [Director] Gavin [O’Connor] and I went around and spent time with people who were at various places on the autism spectrum, and observed behavior and talked to them and engaged with them in everything from what their daily life is like to what type of movie they’d like to see about someone with autism. We got a lot of different responses, but really, the value was in grounding the guy and making him like real people we had met and seen in real life, rather than just an imagined version of what it might be. It was a cobbling together of observed behaviors and character traits from people we met. That’s what I anchored the performance in. Continue reading ‘How to Interview: Ben Affleck on “The Accountant”’

How to Watch: “Sully”

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Clint Eastwood has never been one of my most favorite directors, although I give props where props are due with films such as Unforgiven and Mystic River. He picks films that are definitely in his wheelhouse, subjects he can relate to, and is thrifty in his direction, almost to a fault. Eastwood makes lean, no-nonsense movies; he also lacks any vision or imagination and that has hurt many of his films in the past.

Sully falls a bit into this trap, but it is a true story about heroism that clearly speaks to Eastwood. Those moments when Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger must make some tough decisions as his airplane is failing him, and then making a near perfect landing on the Hudson River, saving everyone onboard — well, you’d be made of stone if it doesn’t get to you.

Tom Hanks is pretty amazing in the role, and every emotion imaginable plays on his face. Without his performance, Sully would sink because really, there isn’t a lot about what happened that lends itself to a whole movie. Besides the crash landing, there’s not much more. What the film tries to trump up is the aftermath, in which the National Transportation Safety Board questions Sully’s actions, on how he might have been able to land at nearby airports instead of risking a water landing. This is where Hanks saves it, as he plays this courageous man doubting what he did.

Overall, the conflict is minimal — there’s no substance abuse (like in Flight which handles the same topic far more compellingly), no family crisis, no secret agendas.  Sully — and his experienced, highly trained flight crew (including his co-pilot played by Aaron Eckhart) — just did their jobs. Calmly and as efficiently as humanly possible. Plus, we know how it all turns out: Sully remained the hero he should be. So, a whole movie? Probably not necessary, but Sully still manages to eke out some tears when it counts.

Listen to more of my thoughts on Sully along with When the Bough Breaks, in the ScreenPicks podcast below.

How to Interview: 9 Things to Know About “Ben-Hur”

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In the hands of director Timur Bekmambetov, this re-imagining of Ben-Hur is true epic action adventure wrapped up in a classic story of brotherly love, betrayal, forgiveness and finally redemption.

ScreenPicks talked with the men of the film – Jack Huston (Judah Ben-Hur), Toby Kebbell (Messala), Rodrigo Santoro (Jesus) and Morgan Freeman (Ilderim), and learned these nine things about making Ben-Hur.

On apprehension of doing another Ben-Hur:

Morgan Freeman: None! All the more reason to do it. It’s a re-imagining of a story that’s already been told three or four times. At least twice before in movies. I worked with Timur before. I know he’s very innovative when it comes to special effects and stuff like that. I couldn’t see how it was not going to be an exciting adventure.

On playing Judah Ben-Hur:

Jack Huston: I initially went after the role of Messala, which was interesting because I went and sat down with Timur and in my rather impassioned way spoke about Messala. Timur being Timur just sat and wrote everything down. Then later he said to me, when I’d gone out for a few auditions, “I think you might be right for Judah. I think you’re our Judah.” Then I went and tested and I somehow got the role. He said later to me, “The reason I felt that about you as Judah is not only did you feel like Judah to me but it was the way you spoke about Messala. You spoke about Messala with such love that he was never the bad guy to you.” He said, “For you two to have that relationship, it had to stem from real love between two brothers, and that’s how Judah felt about Messala.” Inadvertently, it was a beautiful way into the character, because the people who love you the most sometimes are the ones who hurt you the most. For this movie to work, that had to stay true, right to the very end. For the redemptive moment, for that last bit of forgiveness, you need to feel these brothers’ love. I was like, “Hah, Timur, you’re a smart dude. You got this. I feel good.” Continue reading ‘How to Interview: 9 Things to Know About “Ben-Hur”’

How to Interview: 6 Things About “Kubo and the Two Strings” from the Cast

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Laika Animation’s stop-motion technique is truly something to behold. With films like Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls, you are amazed by the amount of effort it takes to make the movies, just as you instantly forget it as you get wrapped up in the storytelling.

Their latest efffort, Kubo and the Two Strings is no different, but is also the studio’s most ambitious and beautiful film to date, a lush feast for the eyes coupled with a story rich with culture. Laika’s CEO, Travis Knight, makes his directorial debut with the film, and it’s easy to see the passion he and his Laika team have poured into it.

Kubo and the Two Strings tells the story of a young Japanese boy named Kubo (Game of Thrones’ Art Parkinson), whose capacity for love and imagination has no bounds. He cares for his traumatized mother in a cave above the sea, but in the day, he goes to the local village to tell stories about his late father, a great warrior named Hounsou — stories his mother has told him. But it’s how Kubo tells these tales that keeps the village folk enthralled, using his magical musical instrument and origami to bring the characters to life.

Kubo, however, is soon confronted with his mysterious past, one his mother has tried to keep him safe from. Once unleashed, Kubo is forced to go on a quest, at his mother’s behest, to find his father’s magical armor in order to protect him and defeat a vengeful spirit wanting to take Kubo away forever. Along the way, Kubo finds quest companions, Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), who each protect and serve Kubo is strange ways.

Here are six things we learned from Knight, Theron and McConaughey about the magic of Kubo and the Two Strings – and the studio that created it. Continue reading ‘How to Interview: 6 Things About “Kubo and the Two Strings” from the Cast’

How to Interview: Cast of ‘Pete’s Dragon’ Talk Magic and More

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Disney is just on a roll. Period. Their latest effort transforming one of their old-school animated films into a live-action gem is Pete’s Dragon – and it’s a poignant family film for the ages.

Set somewhere in the Pacific Northwest (but actually shot in the lush forests of New Zealand), Pete’s Dragon tells the simple story of Pete (Oakes Fegley), who finds himself stranded in the forest at very young age but finds a big, soft, green furry dragon named Elliott, and the two live peacefully together deep in the forest and away from civilization.

Until, that is, a kindly park ranger, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), discovers Pete and takes him into the local town. Pete doesn’t necessarily want to be “rescued,” insisting he has been well taken care of by his friend, Elliott. Of course, none of the adults believe him, except maybe Grace’s dad, Meacham (Robert Redford), who claims he, too, has seen Elliott a long time ago. Only the daughter, Natalie (Oona Laurence), of a local lumberman, Jack (Wes Bentley), believes Pete’s story. Needless to say, they all end up meeting the sweet dragon, and while some are fearful, it’s Pete and Elliott’s true bond and friendship that prevails and wins them, and us, over.

ScreenPicks attended the press day with the cast and director David Lowery and found out these 8 things about Pete’s Dragon that makes it so special and magical. Continue reading ‘How to Interview: Cast of ‘Pete’s Dragon’ Talk Magic and More’

How to Watch: “Suicide Squad”

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Poor Suicide Squad, getting all these bad reviews when it’s really just a big bowl of popcorn fun. Sure, it has issues, maybe more than a few of them, but Suicide Squad still delivers the big, bold characters, lots of action, laughs, jumps and a desire to see these folks again.

Step 1: How to handle the material. Writer/director David Ayer, who is best known for his gritty crime drama End of Watch, handles the action chores with aplomb, with a pretty action-packed final climactic scene. Ayer thankfully doesn’t shake his camera around or zoom in so close you can’t see who is fighting who. But Ayer may have bitten off a little more than he could chew in the story department, trying to pack too many details into a two-hour chunk. This #Squad, the “worst of the worst,” are meta-humans, who – if you can control their wayward, criminal behavior – would be ideal to take down even more dangerous super entities, ready to destroy Earth. Really? Seems like a big flaw in logic that even the shady government agent Amanda Waller (the always-good Viola Davis), who brings together these criminals, doesn’t entirely believe in. Half of Suicide Squad is spent watching the bad guys bucking against the authority who want them to be good guys.

Step 2: Create great characters. Ayer does his best, though, to bring these folks to life, and there are a few characters that truly steal the show. Much has been hyped about Margot Robbie’s performance as hot mess Harley Quinn, and thankfully, it’s justified. Robbie has way too fun playing bubble-headed crazy with a bat, but there are moments of pathos that cross her pasty white face – and it’s those moments you notice. Will Smith also does a nice job as Deadshot, the hitman with pinpoint accuracy who is conflicted by his work because he’s also a dad to a precocious 11-year-old daughter. You definitely wish more than once that you could watch movies just about these characters. In fact, the whole cast really delivers, including Jared Leto as the Joker. His take on the iconic character is definitely more gangsta and a tad over the top, but you can’t take your eyes off him and are left wanting more.

Step 3: Damn Marvel. You might have to also chalk up the lackluster critical response for Suicide Squad to bad timing. For the anti-heroes banding together to fight a common enemy, we have the superb Guardians of the Galaxy. For sarcastic, raunchy, sticking-it-to the man mentality, there’s Deadpool. It’s like those Marvel people have a better movie for everything. I mean, if we are to compare Marvel and DC Comics and why Marvel seems to have a better success rate, it comes down to tone. Marvel has found their rhythm with the characters, combining humor with action, but DC Comics is still trying to figure out which way they want to go. DC’s universe seems like it’s inherently darker, broodier than Marvel, which is the way Christopher Nolan went with his Dark Knight trilogy, but now DC seems to be having trouble owning that. Most critics are at least giving Suicide Squad the benefit of being a better film than Batman v Superman, but one wonders if things will trend upwards for DC with the upcoming Wonder Woman and Justice League movies.

Step 4: Just have fun. If you are fan of the comic or a fan of having fun in the theater, then Suicide Squad should be right up your alley.

How to Watch: “Jason Bourne”

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Step 1: Expect the expected. As the fifth installment in the franchise – and fourth starring Matt Damon – Jason Bourne incorporates all the highly charged action sequences you’ve come to expect, but it seems to lack a bit in the narrative.

Step 2: Feel the retread, to be honest. It starts out with Bourne living off the grid, making cash by street fighting across the globe – and he’s still haunted by his assassin past. He can’t shake it, no matter how many times he fights or tries to disassociate himself from the world. And just when he thinks he’s out, he, of course, gets pulled back in, this time by his former colleague/ally Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). She seeks him out to tell him the CIA baddies are still pushing through the same programs (worse even) that turned him into an assassin monster – and they should be stopped. He doesn’t really want to get involved anymore, he’s done his part (as in exposing Treadstone in Bourne Ultimatum) – but Nicky tells him she knows even more about his past, especially about his father, which ties into it all.

Step 3: Move on. Gaining more insight into his past lures him back into the spotlight – and into the cross hairs of CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) and his lackey, the ambitious Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), who may actually be on Bourne’s side (at least it seems that way). Does this sound in any way familiar? That’s the problem. This is territory already covered in the Bourne trilogy, and covered well. The first Bourne Identity still stands as the best of the three because it brilliantly introduces us to Bourne, a man who doesn’t remember he is a trained assassin until he is forced to use his skills to combat those trying to eliminate him. That scene in which he fights and then kills a guy with a pen is just one of the best fight sequences ever. In Jason Bourne, Damon portrays his reluctant anti-hero with the same steely determination and keen street sense as before, now a little older but wiser, but the tortured part is getting tired. It just seems like with the fourth movie, it’s time to move past the issues and explore a new Bourne.

Step 4: Embrace the action, though. That being said, veteran Bourne director Paul Greengrass has outdone himself in the action-chase sequence department. There are three major set pieces in Jason Bourne, with the third one set in Las Vegas being one of the most thrilling, cover-your-eyes car chases we’ve ever seen. This is one of the main reasons to see a Bourne movie, and Jason does not disappoint in any way.

Step 5: Rank the movie. Even with some spectacular action, if we were to rank Jason Bourne in the franchise, we probably put it second to last. The first three – Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum – remain at top, in that order, with the fifth, The Bourne Legacy with Jeremy Renner, at the bottom. Legacy is actually a well-done addition to the franchise, giving us a different perspective of these “programs” and what they do to the men in them, but it doesn’t have Damon – and he’s really the glue in these films. If they do move forward with the franchise (and every indication says they will), it would be cool to see a Renner/Damon hybrid movie. Let’s see if that happens.

How to Trek: 10 Things to Know About ‘Star Trek Beyond’

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The action-packed Star Trek Beyond, the third installment in the new franchise, completely embodies the original series in tone and heart, and stands as the best effort in this reboot series to date.

The 2009 Star Trek introduced those iconic sci-fi characters – Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Sulu (John Cho) – as young upstarts joining Starfleet Command, and then cleverly skewed the timeline to create an alternate universe from the original. The 2013 follow-up, Star Trek Into Darkness, however, seemed to bite off more than it could chew with an overly convoluted plot and unnecessary throwbacks, particularly in the way they brought back Khan.

Now, with Star Trek Beyond, they’ve worked out the kinks and have delivered a solid film that is, to date, most closely attuned to the beloved 1960s series. Under the guidance of director Justin Lin (who takes over the reins from J.J. Abrams), and armed with a superb script from Simon Pegg (aka Scotty) and Doug Jung, this is an action-adventure in which the crew of the Enterprise have been on their five-year mission to keep peace in the galaxy but find themselves stranded on a remote planet where they have to stop a bad guy (with a twist to the Star Trek past) from wreaking havoc. Simple and effective.

At the recent press conference, the Enterprise crew talked about making Star Trek Beyond, the tragic loss of their comrade Anton Yelchin, and more. Here are 10 things we took away from the press day [Warning: There are some spoilers ahead]: Continue reading ‘How to Trek: 10 Things to Know About ‘Star Trek Beyond’’

How to Interview: Teresa Palmer and Maria Bello on “Lights Out”

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If you’re human, then you’ve been afraid of the dark at least one time in your life – and the latest horror film Lights Out plays right into that fear.

Swedish filmmaker David F. Sandberg, who, along with wife Lotta Losten, first created the Lights Out story two years ago as a short film for a competition. That film went viral on YouTube with over one million views – and naturally, Hollywood came calling.

Sandberg had to flesh out the story a bit to make his first feature film, so he centered it on Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), a young woman who realizes her little half-brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), is experiencing the same events that once tested her sanity. Rebecca works to unlock the truth behind the terror, which brings her face to face with an entity who cannot survive in the light and has an unnatural attachment to their mother, Sophie (Maria Bello).

At the recent press day, ScreenPicks sat down with stars Palmer and Bello to talk about the creepy Lights Out. Continue reading ‘How to Interview: Teresa Palmer and Maria Bello on “Lights Out”’