Thursday, January 29, 2015

POSTED: Wednesday, January 28, 2015, 5:16 PM
Johnny Depp.
It started with The Wrap, Sharon Waxman’s much-bookmarked movie biz website, issuing an email with the subject field “5 Ways Actors Over 50 Are Avoiding the Johnny Depp Curse” and then following it up with another snarky missive linking to another story: “41 A-List Actors Who Bombed as Hard as Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai.'  And true enough, the art world comedy caper, released Friday, Jan. 23, without previewing to critics (rarely a good sign), was greeted with gleefully derisive reviews   (“strenuously unfunny,” “a whirlwind of horrible British accents,” “an anachronistic mess”) and practically no box office whatsoever. Opening weekend: a scant $4.2 million, for a film that cost $60 million to make, and millions more to market (thank you, Lionsgate, for the argyle socks with the Mortdecai mustache pattern! ). By contrast, American Sniper (also strenuously unfunny), scoped out $64 million in its second weekend of release.

But Johnny Depp, despite his embarrassing presenter’s speech at the Golden Globes and a run of big screen thuds – Transcendence, The Lone Ranger, Dark Shadows – managed to parlay his Keith Richards imitation into a billion-dollar franchise, starring as that rogue swashbuckler Jack Sparrow in four Pirates of the Caribbean blockbusters. (A fifth installment, Dead Men Tell No Tales, is on tap for 2017.)  True, the shtick gets progressively shtickier as the series sails on, but Depp is central to the skull-and-crossbones tentpole (or flagpole). And no one can take these oddball and adventurous performances away from the actor: Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood for Tim Burton, Dead Man for Jim Jarmusch (a couple of scenes with Robert Mitchum, no less!), Donnie Brasco, Blow, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. And though it’s too sweet for some, many more found Chocolat, with Depp as a gypsy wooing Juliette Binoche, disarming and charming and Oscar worthy.

Here’s what Depp (who cameos as the lip-smacking pederast wolf in Into the Woods ) has lined up in the near future: London Fields, an adaptation of the Martin Amis novel, starring Depp’s current companion, Amber Heard, as the clairvoyant femme fatale; Kevin Smith’s teen party romp Yoga Hosers (OK, this is going to bomb) and Black Mass, the true crime story of Whitey Bulger. Depp stars as the infamous Boston mobster, and Benedict Cumberbatch, Sienna Miller, Kevin Bacon and Joel Edgerton join in for the fun. The director, Scott Cooper, did Crazy Heart, which won Jeff Bridges his Oscar. Maybe one – or more – of these will find an audience, and people will stop picking on Depp. And if they all do fizzle out at the multiplexes,  well,  let Charlie Mortdecai saunter off into the sunset with his walking stick and his mustache and his ascot and his faux upper crust accent and what little dignity he has. Johnny Depp, we knew him when he was cool.
POSTED: Wednesday, January 28, 2015, 10:13 AM
Actor and producer Will Smith attends the 'Annie' World Premiere at Ziegfeld Theater on December 7, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES ( - Sony Pictures has dated its Will Smith drama "Concussion" for Christmas Day -- a week after the arrival of Disney-Marvel's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

Smith porrays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic neuropathologist who discovered football-related brain trauma in a player and fought to bring awareness to the public. 

Alec Baldwin, Luke Wilson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Arliss Howard, Paul Reiser, David Morse and Albert Brooks also star.

POSTED: Wednesday, January 28, 2015, 10:10 AM
Warner Bros. Pictures.

LOS ANGELES ( - The Sundance Film Festival isn't a typical launchpad for studio blockbusters, but Warner Bros. surprised theater-goers on Tuesday night by unveiling the Wachowski siblings' "Jupiter Ascending" at a "surprise screening."

The invitation-only event, which was not billed as a premiere, was the first time "Jupiter Ascending" was shown to the public. Variety broke news of the screening on Tuesday afternoon, but there were other clues the audience wasn't about to see a typical Sundance indie.

When attendees with tickets arrived at the Egyptian Theater in Park City, they were handed 3D glasses. 

POSTED: Wednesday, January 28, 2015, 10:06 AM
Paramount Pictures.

LOS ANGELES ( - Let’s say you discover a time machine in your basement. Would you use it to go back and stop Hitler, or would you instead make tiny jumps to tweak the quality of your own life — like taking your friends to Bonnaroo, or perfecting the all-important kiss you flubbed the first time around? For the teens in the found-footage time-travel movie “Project Almanac,” the chance to rewrite history is wasted trying to perfect their high-school experience, which naturally leads to unforeseen consequences — for them, at least, although the aftermath will be plenty familiar to butterfly-effect believers — in a film that squanders its potential.

Nearly five years after Paramount announced its Insurge initiative -- a plan to generate 10 pics in the ballpark of $100,000 a year, conceived in the wake of the 2007 microbudget phenom "Paranormal Activity" -- the studio has finally unveiled its first title (not counting 2012's shoestring pickup "The Devil Inside"). But the gameplan changed somewhere along the way: In the end, "Project Almanac" came in on a low-eight-figure budget, despite no stars, limited effects and an eye-crossing "my kid could shoot that" homevideo aesthetic, and the ad costs taken to open it will eat up most of the earnings.

Directed by first-timer Dean Israelite, but branded more by its association with producer Michael Bay, who shepherded under the same shroud of secrecy as with Todd Phillips' wildly successful "Project X," the end result fails to deliver that renegade one-off's sense of novelty or excitement -- and will likely fall far short of "X's" $102 million haul, despite hefty cross-promotion from Par partner MTV.

POSTED: Tuesday, January 27, 2015, 5:31 PM
Filed Under: Movies
(L-R) Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthey. (Photos via Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES ( - After years of trying to spin off one of its most popular properties, Sony looks to be getting closer to getting a "Ghostbusters" movie off the ground.

Sources tell Variety that Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are in early negotiations to star in the "Ghostbusters" reboot.

Paul Feig is directing with Katie Dippold penning the script. Feig tweeted a photo of Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon and Jones on Tuesday.

POSTED: Tuesday, January 27, 2015, 12:36 PM

LOS ANGELES ( - Twentieth Century Fox has released the first teaser trailer for Josh Trank's reboot of Marvel's "Fantastic Four," six months before its Aug. 7 release. 

The trailer gives a first look at a more grounded world prior to the transformation of four friends into superheroes, with a somber voiceover intoning, "With every new discovery, there is risk, there is sacrifice and there are consequences." 

Miles Teller leads the team as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic; Kate Mara plays Susan Storm/Invisible Woman; Michael B. Jordan portrays Johnny Storm/Human Torch; and Jamie Bell tackles Ben Grimm/The Thing. 

POSTED: Tuesday, January 27, 2015, 10:01 AM
Tom Cruise (R) smiles as he attends a press conference for ‘Edge of Tomorrow' in Tokyo on June 27, 2014. (YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES ( - No documentary has inspired more controversy at this year's Sundance Film Festival than "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief." 

It's a devastating portrait of a religion guided by greed, instead of motivated by altruism. The film alleges that Scientology abuses its rank and file, hitting them up constantly for money, while, in some cases, subjecting them to physical and psychological degradation.

It also points the finger of blame squarely at two of Scientology's most famous practitioners, John Travolta and Tom Cruise, and shames them for turning a blind eye to the alleged mistreatments. 

POSTED: Tuesday, January 27, 2015, 9:55 AM
New Normal Films.

LOS ANGELES ( - A likably wiseass horror-comedy, "Suburban Gothic" is light on the horror and the usual broader comedy strokes as well, instead sporting the kind of droll humor that springs not from gags and setpieces but from what seems like improvisational riffing from a cast of assured comic hands. Quite a shift from helmer/co-scenarist Richard Bates Jr.'s first feature, "Excision" (a queasy character study about a creepy teen obsessed with amateur surgery), this sly goof has stirred some buzz along the genre-fest circuit. FilmBuff's simultaneous theatrical and VOD release on Jan. 30 should harvest modest rewards, helped by the presence of some support names likely to catch the eye of in-joke-savvy fan types.

Man-child Raymond (Matthew Gray Gubler, "Criminal Minds") has just completed his MBA. But his MTV-circa-1985 New Wave look and general bratty attitude suggest he's not about to find gainful corporate (or any) employment soon. Thus, he reluctantly moves back in with the folks, to the delight of his ever-chipper mom (Barbara Niven) and the undisguised contempt of his boorish high-school-coach dad (Ray Wise).

Meanwhile, landscaper Hector (Mel Rodriguez) and his crew accidentally dig up a child's skeleton in the family's backyard, unleashing a vengeful spirit that first makes its presence known via visions and nightmares suffered by Raymond, who as a child used to experience "paranormal stuff." He enlists a similarly caustic local misfit, goth-styled bartender Becca (Kat Dennings, of "2 Broke Girls" and "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist"), to help him guide the ghost toward eternal peace before it wreaks total havoc.

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Consider our Movies blog your essential guide to new movies and classics, interviews with filmmakers and stars, news and views on the latest screen trends, reviews and the occasional rant.

Steven Rea Inquirer Movie Columnist and Critic
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