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Culture Cafe

Movie, music, and television reviews from a select group of bloggers.

'The Campaign' stars Zach Galifianakis (l.) and Will Ferrell (r.). (Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters)

'The Bourne Legacy,' 'The Campaign' are two movies to look for in August

By John HanlonScreen Rant / 08.03.12

We're more than halfway through 2012, and many of the year's biggest releases have already arrived; but that doesn't mean things have slowed down at the multiplex. In fact, August offers up an exciting and eclectic mix of films, and our list of highly-anticipated movies this month is even longer than the one we did last month, which was dominated by big superhero releases.

In August, Jeremy Renner takes command in a new Bourne movie, while an Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi/action film gets remade with Colin Farrell in the lead. Add to that an Expendables sequel that offers up a killer cast (including Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme), and we're in for one hell of a month at the movies.

With that in mind, here's our list of the 10 movies we're looking forward to seeing in August 2012.

August 3rd: 'Total Recall'

In 1990, Arnold Schwarzenegger starred with Sharon Stone in the blockbuster action film Total Recall . The movie focused on a man who seeks to import false memories into his mind and inadvertently realizes that the life he's living is a complete lie. Now, the film has been remade with Colin Farrell starring alongside Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale.

From what we can tell, the remakes hews closer to the original source material than its predecessor and features a more serious tone. Additionally, as Rob Keyes' report from the set notes, the special effects and the technology look to be far more impressive in this version.
It's been twenty-two years since the original arrived, so many youngsters might not be familiar with it and that gives the remake a fighting chance. To take a look at what's in store for the film, make sure you check out its latest trailer.

August 10th: 'The Bourne Legacy'

After three Bourne films starring Matt Damon in the title role, Jeremy Renner takes over the reins of the franchise in The Bourne Legacy. Although his character- Aaron Cross- doesn't know Jason Bourne, the two characters are very similar. They were both involved in a secret government project that the CIA is eager to hide from the public at large.

Damon has served as the face of the franchise, so it will be interesting to see if Renner will live up to expectations and prolong the series. If he succeeds, and a fifth film is made, it's possible that Damon will join Renner in that new chapter.

If you're interested to see Renner try to pull off the main role, check out the film's trailer for a preview of the action.

August 10th: 'The Campaign'

Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis offer viewers a respite from politics as usual with their new comedy, The Campaign. The film focuses on a Congressional race that pits an arrogant incumbent (Ferrell) against a naive political newcomer (Galifianakis). Jay Roach, who previously directed the outrageous Austin Powers films and the television movies Recount and Game Change, could be the perfect person to helm a comedy that mixes outrageous gags with a political story.

Ferrell and Galifianakis both have solid comedic credentials but it's difficult to create a political comedy that appeals to a broad audience. Will this movie live up to its potential or will it just serve as another disappointing comedy with a solid cast like The Watch did last month? We'll have to wait to find out.

Click here to see the trailer to see if this political film is worthy of your vote.

August 17th: 'The Expendables 2'

In 2010, Sylvester Stallone starred with Jason Statham, Bruce Willis, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, and other tough guy actors in the throwback actioner The Expendables. This year, the team is back in The Expendables 2, which promises to feature more intense action and more stars. With Chuck Norris, Liam Hemsworth, and Jean-Claude Van Damme on board, the movie could be an even bigger hit than its predecessor.

At the film's Comic-Con panel, Stallone noted that this sequel surpasses the original in every way - a sentiment that star Terry Crews previously noted.

Truthfully? It's hard not to  get excited based on the trailer alone.

August 17th: 'Paranorman'

The stop-motion animated film Paranorman tells the story of a young boy who can speak to the dead and is forced to save his town from a threatening curse. At the film's Comic-Con panel, writer Chris Butler noted that the feature is a "zombie movie for kids." Even though the film does feature a few scary elements, the directors said during their discussion that the PG film is suitable for kids over seven or eight years old.

The movie's voice cast includes talented youngsters like Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Kodi Smit-McPhee.  And with the dearth of quality family films this summer, Paranorman could end up being a surprise hit.

You can check out the trailer here.

August 24th: 'Premium Rush'

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who last month played a major supporting role in The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR), returns to theaters in the new thriller Premium Rush. He plays a bike courier who is given a mysterious message that he has to transport across the city.  Man of Steel Actor Michael Shannon co-stars as a crooked cop who is trying to prevent that message from being delivered.

The trailer promises plenty of action and thrills on bicycles, and Gordon-Levitt has proven adept at choosing quality roles (i.e., 50/50, Inception and TDKR). The concept, however, may not seem that exciting for some viewers, so the movie will likely have to prove itself early on in order to make a splash at the box office.

One of its greatest assets, however, is director/screenwriter David Koepp. Koepp is responsible for writing Mission: Impossible (19966), and B-movie thrillers like Stir of Echoes (1999), and Secret Window (2004), so this film could further cement his reputation in Hollywood...

August 24th: 'The Apparition'

Ashley Greene, who plays Alice Cullen in the Twilight series, stars in The Apparition, a new horror film about nightmares becoming a reality. The story focuses on Greene's character and her boyfriend struggling with their worst fears coming  true after a college experiment goes wrong. Tom Felton, who previously starred in the Harry Potter series and The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, co-stars as an expert seeking to prevent the fears from destroying all of their lives.

The movie's trailer holds promise and Felton's short resume shows that he knows how to choose quality projects. The film's PG-13 rating is surprising, given the subject matter, but the film could prove to be worthwhile if it conjures up the scares and thrills that have so often been missing from the theater this year.

August 24th: 'Hit and Run'

In Hit and Run, real-life lovebirds Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell star as a couple on the run after Shepard's criminal past catches up with them.  Shepard, who wrote the screenplay, also co-directed the comedy with previous collaborator David Palmer.

The film, which promises viewers  a blend of action and comed,y features a strong supporting cast. Bradley Cooper (who is barely recognizable) plays Shepard's former accomplice who recently served time in jail and is looking for Shepard to pay him back for the... ahem, 'pain and suffering' he endured behind bars. Additionally, Tom Arnold, Beau Bridges and Kristin Chenoweth play smaller roles in the movie.

If Hit and Run sounds intriguing, check out the film's trailers to see if the new comedy is worth running to the theaters to see.

August 31st: 'Lawless'

Based on the book The Wettest County in the World, the new movie Lawless features an exciting cast of new and young actors. Guy Pearce, Shia LaBeouf, and Jessica Chastain star in the film alongside Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy, who were last seen together in The Dark Knight Rises.

The violent film - which is based on a true story - focuses on three troubled brothers who are involved in the alcohol bootlegging business in the early 1900s. The trailer definitely looks promising and the all-star cast could make this one of the most intriguing movies of the year.

Also, Lawless will be John Hillcoat's first feature since The Road (2009), so this movie has some serious talent behind the scenes that could make  it one to remember.

August 31st: 'The Possession'

In The Possession, Jeffrey Dean Morgan stars as a father whose daughter becomes possessed after a mysterious box comes into the family's hands. Morgan stars in the horror flick alongside Kyra Sedgwick and Madison Davenport.

Although  the movie hasn't received much publicity, it has potential as a psychological thriller - and with producer Sam Raimi behind the scenes, the movie could be better than expected. Will the film exceed expectations and show horror film fans a story that they've been missing?

Decide for yourself by checking out the trailer here.

July might have been a huge month at the box office, but August promises to be a big one as well. Two franchises could prove their longevity this month, while one film could show Hollywood if the public's appetite for remakes is still alive and well.

John Hanlon blogs at Screen Rant.

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'The Hobbit' director Peter Jackson confirmed that a third installment of the series would arrive in the summer of 2014. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

'The Hobbit' third movie is confirmed by Peter Jackson

By Sandy SchaeferScreen Rant / 08.02.12

There’s been buzz about a third Hobbit movie since Comic-Con 2012, where Peter Jackson spoke openly about his desire to expand his two-movie adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien novel into a full-blown trilogy. The filmmaker’s wish has been granted, following recent reports of intensified Hobbit 3 talk.

Jackson is confirming that he’s been given the go-ahead on Hobbit 3 from Warner Bros., which is funding the fantasy project. Initial reports say the movie will be a Summer 2014 release, breaking from the tradition where Jackson’s Middle-earth movies are released during December (and a year apart). That’s assuming The Hobbit: There and Back Again doesn’t change from a December 2013 release.

The genesis for a third Hobbit film stems from the supplementary material Tolkien wrote about the history of Middle-earth, going into far greater detail than either Tolkien’s original Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings book trilogy. The Silmarillion is one of the better-known examples (outside the inner circle of hardcore Tolkien fans, that is), but Jackson revealed that the Tolkien estate holds the film rights to that epic tome, during The Hobbit‘s Comic-Con panel.

Deadline has the scoop on Jackson announcing that Hobbit 3 is on the way, and the site reiterates several discussion points we’ve already raised. The biggest, of course, concerns continued public skepticism about whether the basic Hobbit story foundation can stretch to cover three movies without becoming thin (even with padding, in the form of additional Tolkien narrative material incorporated by Jackson and his writing staff).

It seems that Jackson and his fellow filmmakers own the rights to 125 pages of the appendices that Tolkien published as the conclusion to the Return of the King novel. There have also been whisperings that Jackson has been drawing inspiration from an unpublished version of The Hobbit written by Tolkien, who fleshed out certain characters and retooled plot points so that the story has stronger ties to the Rings trilogy (note: that’s less official, more rumor at this stage).

Reactions to Hobbit footage shown at CinemaCon and Comic-Con were positive, despite a mixed reception to the native 48 high-frame rate format (teased at the former). Thus, for the time being, there’s little reason to not be excited about an additional Hobbit movie – seeing as Jackson feels it’s a worthwhile endeavor that could even cross into unexplored (and, more importantly, worthwhile) narrative territory.

Here is an official statement from Peter Jackson, on the matter:

It is only at the end of a shoot that you finally get the chance to sit down and have a look at the film you have made. Recently [co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens] and I did just this when we watched for the first time an early cut of the first [Hobbit] movie – and a large chunk of the second. We were really pleased with the way the story was coming together, in particular, the strength of the characters and the cast who have brought them to life. All of which gave rise to a simple question: do we take this chance to tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as the filmmakers, and as fans, was an unreserved ‘yes.’

We know how much of the story of Bilbo Baggins, the Wizard Gandalf, the Dwarves of Erebor, the rise of the Necromancer, and the Battle of Dol Guldur will remain untold if we do not take this chance. The richness of the story of The Hobbit, as well as some of the related material in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, allows us to tell the full story of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the part he played in the sometimes dangerous, but at all times exciting, history of Middle-earth.

Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.

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'Dexter' stars Michael C. Hall (l.) and Jennifer Carpenter (r.) discussed the upcoming season during a TCA panel. (Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

'Dexter' stars preview the new season

By The TV Addict / 07.31.12

3:14PM: “I have been looking forward to it, very curious as to how they would write it, yet also terrified about it,” Jennifer Carpenter says in response to an opening salvo from a reporter asking for her gut reaction to Deb finding out about Dexter’s extra-curricular activities at the end of last season.

3:16PM: Sad But True: Dexter coming out as a serial killer does make an endgame for the series a little more palpable and imminent. At least according to star Michael C. Hall who elaborates, “I think the plan is to do this season and a final eight season and really tell the story of the two of them negotiating their relationship in this new landscape. That much time feels about right.”

3:17:PM “This is without a doubt the most fundamentally game changing development as we’ve had since we’ve started telling this story,” explains Hall. “It has been so invigorating to play these scenes and to be preoccupied in ways that Dexter has never been. In a show’s seventh season no less, it’s pretty remarkable.”

3:18PM: Jennifer Carpenter believes that dropping her script and swearing in the middle of her audition is what won her the part of Deb!

3:19PM: “I play Hannah McKay, who comes into the story in episode three,” reveals Yvonne Strahovski of her first post-CHUCK role. “She crosses paths with Dexter when she begins to help the Miami Police Department on a cold case. Suffice it to say, her dark past will slowly be revealed as the episodes go on.”

3:22PM: “This season feels as genuinely informed by everything that has come before it as anything we’ve ever done,” says Hall on how this sixth seventh season is currently shaping up. “There’s a real feeling that we’ve earned this arrival and new landscape and feels as rich as ever.” Adds Carpenter, “It’s very dangerous.”

3:24PM: While pretty much a fait accompli, Michael C. Hall won’t entirely close the door on the show continuing past its planned eight season. “I remember finishing the first season thinking we should probably just stop… what are we going to do now!?”

3:25PM: On a somewhat lighter note, Carpenter claims she would call the police right away if she ever discovered her sibling was a serial killer, while Hall would think it’s ironic given his day job!

3:27PM: “As an easy solution to his problem, the thought has to at least cross his mind,” says DEXTER executive producer Scott Buck on whether or not fans should consider the possibility that Deb’s life might be in danger.

3:28PM: “I’ve never had a better scene partner than Jennifer. Her generosity, volatility of her performance, sense of danger she brings to the dynamic, commitment. sense of investment, I’m astonished watching her.” says Hall of co-star Carpenter. ” For her part, Carpenter returns the favor by revealing that “Michael sets the tone for the entire show” when asked about what exactly the talented twosome admire about one another.

3:34PM: “I think we knew we’d eventually tell the story but because it so dramatically changes the nature of the show we didn’t want to consider it until we were closing in on an ending,” says Scott Buck on whether or not Deb finding out about Dexter was something the writers considered earlier in the show’s run.

3:37PM: “It was a little intimidating but it’s exhilarating,” Stahovski says on her transition from CHUCK to DEXTER. “I’ve watched every single episode in the three weeks since joining the show and now that I get to work with these these guys it’s a beautiful experience and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

3:39PM: In response to fans who remain on the fence about jumping back on the DEXTER bandwagon coming off what many have called the show’s most disappointing season to date, Hall has this to say, “Whatever your opinion of ranking the seasons, for my money DEXTER is never more compelling than when he is in trouble and never been deeper trouble than he is now.”

3:42PM: “He brings a real gravity, weight and complexity,” Hall says of Ray Stevenson, who joins this show this season as the heave of a European organized crime syndicate. “He’s playing a character who certainly has his darkness but uniqueness and nuance and he manages to convey it all in way that to the outside seems pretty effortless.”

3:43PM: “It’s certainly in our thoughts as we broke season seven,” was Buck’s response to the question pertaining to how much thought has gone into planning the eight and presumably final season while finishing up writing the show’s seventh.

The TV Addict staff blogs at The TV Addict.

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'Ruby Sparks' stars Zoe Kazan (l.) and Paul Dano (r.) both deliver strong performances. (Merrick Morton/Fox Searchlight Pictures/AP)

'Ruby Sparks' brings life to a predictable story

By Norm SchragerMeet in the Lobby / 07.31.12

To thoroughly enjoy the romantic comedy Ruby Sparks, you’ll need to be an old pro at suspending disbelief. It’s a necessity for the lead character and it’s required activity for the audience, as well. It’ll help you hop the hurdle that is the film’s well-worn conceit, that a man’s fantasy girl can materialize just because he makes it so. But once you jump in, you’ll find a film that successfully keeps reality at bay, bringing life and loveliness to what should be an annoyingly predictable story.

There’s no escaping the familiarity. Color it one way and you’ve got Mannequin. Another hue gives you Weird Science. Add some shadow and depth and you have Stranger than Fiction. Calvin (Paul Dano), a successful writer lacking a few social skills, dreams of a wonderful woman, puts her on the page, and soon finds her living in his house. As sophomoric as it may sound on paper, Ruby Sparks clicks, making the most of rich performances by stars Dano and Zoe Kazan, with a script by Kazan that embraces as much convention as it intends to buck.

Directed by Little Miss Sunshine partners Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (below, on the set), Ruby Sparks has just enough smarts, its gimmick a metaphor for the levels of control — or lack of control — that friends and lovers can have over one another in a relationship. Once Calvin gets past his initial shock and confirms that his creation is indeed living in the material world, he instantly falls in love. Kazan, sweet, impish, cute and wide-eyed with affection, makes it easy. As Ruby, she’s an amalgam of early-romance uber-emotions, expressing jealousy, desire and confusion like a lovesick schoolgirl. But as the connection between Calvin and Ruby evolves naturally, she needs something everyone needs: independence.

If this were Calvin B.R. (Before Ruby), he’d have to react like the rest of us. Hash out his emotions, ease up his grip, or break up with the girl. But Calvin can potentially change Ruby’s moods with a just few keystrokes. Kazan’s script goes to surprisingly funny extremes to show us Calvin’s power — and the stars are definitely game — but there’s something effectively uncomfortable about a man having that much emotional control over a woman (this would have less impact if the genders were reversed). The discomfort becomes more realized with time, culminating in an exhausting sequence, daring for the possibility that it might fall flat on its face for some audiences.

Dano has evolved into a competent, unique lead player, despite the fact that his looks, youth and film choices tend to define him as just a quiet hipster. Here he gives us the expected nervousness and astonishment, but he’s able to convey a deeper, subtler palette of anxiety that is more mature than the growing pains we’ve seen in Little Miss Sunshine or Gigantic. With a hearty script and a change to his look, Dano is far more James Spader than Lou Pucci (no offense to Pucci). It’s a point of progress that probably began with There Will Be Blood, and may be necessary for the indie actors of Dano’s generation to continue moving forward.For as much as Dano fans (there are plenty, if a Boston Q&A session is any indication) and Kazan admirers will swoon over their performances, Chris Messina, as Calvin’s brother, is a legitmate scene stealer. He’s the voice of reason in a movie that demands one to successfully pay off the fantasy. Messina, from Julie & Julia and Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, offers control, intensity and a giddy incredulity that gives Ruby Sparks some early weight and an extra comic tone. It’s one of the best and most valuable supporting performances seen this year.

There’s a slosh of hippie indie style here too, in the form of Calvin’s kooky parents (played with infectious happiness by Annette Bening and the great Antonio Banderas). Their presence is strictly for narrative contrast, and the faux energy is right out of Nancy MeyersIt’s Complicated, an overdone film in which Kazan co-starred. Sure, we’ve seen it before. But we’ve seen plenty of Ruby Sparks before, and it still delivers a lovable little romantic fantasy.

Norm Schrager blogs at Meet in the Lobby.

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'The Killing' actress Mireille Enos's character, Sarah Linden, had left her job as a homicide detective in the second season finale. (Carole Segal/AMC/AP)

'The Killing' is canceled by AMC

By Staff Writer / 07.27.12

Cable network AMC canceled its series “The Killing” after two seasons of the show, according to a statement from the network.

“After much deliberation, we've come to the difficult decision not to renew The Killing for a third season,” the statement read, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “AMC is incredibly proud of the show and is fortunate to have worked with such a talented team on this project, from showrunner Veena Sud and our terrific partners at Fox Television Studios to the talented, dedicated crew and exceptional cast.”

Word from Fox Television Studios, which produced the series, is that the show may go to another network.

“Fox Television Studios is extremely proud of The Killing, the extraordinary writing staff and crew, and what we believe is one of the best casts on television,” the company’s statement read. “We will proceed to try to find another home for the show.”

“The Killing” alienated some of its fans with its season one finale, in which it did not reveal the solution to the season-long mystery of who killed Rosie Larsen. Executive producer Veena Sud said delaying the reveal had always the plan for the show. The answer to the mystery became clear in the second season finale, but ratings declined during the show’s second year.

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The costume worn by 'Man of Steel' star Henry Cavill was on display at the Warner Bros. booth at the Licensing Expo 2012. (Isaac Brekken/Invision for Warner Bros. Consumer Products/AP)

'Man of Steel' trailers shows a mix of old and new Superman

By Sandy SchaeferScreen Rant / 07.26.12

Two official teaser trailers for Man of Steel – a reboot of the Superman franchise, from director Zack Snyder and producer/co-writer Christopher Nolan – are attached to prints of Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, and can now be viewed online.

Man of Steel stars Henry Cavill (Immortals) as Clark Kent, a young journalist who was born Kal-El: a survivor of the fallen alien planet Krypton, transported to Earth by his parents Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer). Small-town farmers Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane) raise Kal-El as their son, imbuing him with a strong sense of integrity and compassion so that he learn to use his extraordinary powers responsibly – even in a troubled world that views him as a threat, rather than a potential savior.

Warner Bros. premiered a sizzle reel from Snyder’s film at the Comic-Con 2012 Man of Steel panel, and there are chunks of that footage in the official theatrical trailers. The latter are shorter and more structured than their Con counterpart, but manages to leave a similar impression – namely, that Man of Steel aims to offer a nuanced and serious take on the Superman mythos, befitting the contemporary age of superhero movies (and influenced by DC Comics’ “New 52″ reboot).

That approach includes: an altered version of the Superman costume, meant to make the character look more like an armored warrior (than a guy in a skin-tight unitard) – and a stripped-down visual style that lacks the digital polish found in Snyder’s previous comic book adaptations (300 and Watchmen), in favor of the muted colors and realistic texture featured in Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

Nolan’s influence is readily apparent in Man of Steel footage shown to date, what with the continued emphasis on the philosophical aspects of the Superman story – as reflected in scenes where a disheveled Clark travels the world as an ordinary man, and listens to teachings about how we shape our destiny, as passed down by both his biological and adopted father in the two separate trailers (Pa Kent – above/Jor-El – below). Those elements are woven together with Americana imagery (shots of wagons and clotheslines around the Kent farm) that harken back to Superman’s origins as an All-American hero.

Overall, the mix of old and new Superman mythology should go over well with certain fans, while others will be left grumbling about how their favorite superhero has been “Nolan-ized.” It will be arguably be more interesting to see how Man of Steel is received by the moviegoing masses as a whole. If the film is a success, it could set a precedent for the DC Movie Universe; if it flops, that could inspire Warner Bros./DC to drastically change their (as yet, unannounced) game plan.

Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.

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Actor Christian Bale and his wife Sibi Blazic visited a memorial to the victims of the shooting in Aurora, Colo. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Christian Bale visits victims of shooting at Colorado hospital (+video)

By Rob FrappierScreen Rant / 07.25.12

After the horrific mass shooting at a Friday night screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, Warner Bros. opted to cancel the film’s Paris premiere, as well as several other events around the world.

That was fine for actor Christian Bale though, who spent his time away from the red carpet doing something more constructive: visiting the hospital where seven victims of the tragedy were recovering from their injuries.

According to a report in the Denver Post, the Batman star visited with victims for two and a half hours on Tuesday afternoon and also spent time with several doctors, nursing staff, police officers, and emergency medical technicians.

While a cynic might try and dismiss Bale’s visit as an act of vanity, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, Bale specifically requested that the media not be notified of his visit so that he could spend his time talking with the injured.

Over the weekend, Bale released an official statement about the shooting, saying, “I cannot begin to truly understand the pain and grief of the victims and their loved ones, but my heart goes out to them.” With his visit, Bale put actions behind his words, hopefully providing a moment of enjoyment for seven people who sorely needed it.

The perpetrator of the theater massacre – 24-year-old James Holmes – made his first appearance in court yesterday and is expected to be formally charged next Monday. While there is no doubt that Holmes is guilty of the crimes, the case will still likely take some time to make its way through the court system.

However, that is nothing compared to the time it will take many of the victims to recover from their wounds – both mentally and physically. Perhaps Bale’s visit, while modest in its scope, can help some of the victims accelerate that process.

Rob Frappier blogs at Screen Rant.

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'Follow the Leader' centers on three teenagers who all dream of being president of the United States. (Graphic by Changeworx)

'Follow the Leader' documentary features 16-year-olds dreaming of the presidency

By Brian GeldinThe Film Panel Notetaker / 07.25.12

Since less than a week ago, I’ve been hard at work helping to promote a Kickstarter campaign, which ends on Thursday, for filmmaker Jonathan Goodman Levitt’s documentary, FOLLOW THE LEADER, a real-life coming-of-age story of three traditional American boys with Presidential dreams. A journey of political and personal discovery, the film promises to spark meaningful and reflective conversations about American political realities in the months surrounding the 2012 U.S. Presidential election.

In FOLLOW THE LEADER, sixteen-years-old, high school class presidents Ben (The Loyalist from Virginia), D.J. (The Believer from Massachusetts) and Nick (The Idealist from Pennsylvania) are all conservatives who plan to continue leading their peers as President someday. Over three life-changing years, they split into Republican, Democratic and Independent camps as each reconsiders his lofty ambitions. Growing up at a critical moment for America as well, their lives also force us all to rethink our assumptions about tomorrow’s leaders, the impact of 9/11 on them, and the political views of the millennial generation – which are more complicated than most people currently believe.

A large focus of the film’s outreach starting this fall involves the linked transmedia project REALITY CHECK INTERACTIVE, a unique cross-platform social change initiative that combines interactive voting technology and an episodic presentation of FOLLOW THE LEADER to spark a national conversation about American political realities. As bitter political feuds seem to erupt everywhere in public, Levitt and his team – including activists across the political spectrum, and key figures in the transmedia and transpartisan spaces – are planning a unique national tour surrounding the 2012 Elections.

Through Kickstarter, Levitt is seeking help in funding the completion of post-production, insurance and some outstanding music clearances required to release the film, as well as the initial launch of REALITY CHECK INTERACTIVE.

To make a pledge to FOLLOW THE LEADER and REALITY CHECK INTERACTIVE on Kickstarter, visit: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/followtheleader/follow-the-leader-and-reality-check-interactive

Below is my One-on-One Q&A I had with Levitt about FOLLOW THE LEADER.

TFPN: What drew you to the subject matter of American boys aspiring for political careers, and how did you find and choose your characters to tell this story?

JGL: I was living and working in London for about a decade, before 9/11 and for several years after. The summer after 9/11, while I was teaching in New Jersey at the Governor’s School held at Monmouth University, I was struck that the student leaders there had changed in some way compared to my students I taught prior to 9/11 in terms of their politics and outlook on world affairs.

I really felt like the people growing up in the wake of 9/11 here, and just people generally in the U.S., were getting a radically different look at current events compared to everyone else. That was an idea that stuck with me, when I was considering a move back to the U.S. I was a bit confused about what being American meant to the people growing up today. I was obviously still a proud American regardless of where I lived, but I had a certain outsider’s perspective as a result of living abroad during most of my twenties. Before that, I was on a path to do a PhD in Psychology and stopped after a master’s, but those years I studied social psychological processes have stayed with me, and continue to strongly influence how the work is made. So this film came out of those two motivations, wanting to understand what it meant to be American for those growing up in the wake of 9/11, and wanting to understand the psychology behind it.

In 2005, when I was investigating making a new film about young leaders, I started reaching out to high school organizations that I had some connection to or awareness of as a teenager myself in high school. As a teenager, I did a lot of work in the New Jersey District of Key Club, went to Boys State, and participated a bit in Model Congress. And all these groups remain very active today. I started going to some of their events, and meeting some of the potential characters that might be in the film. It was a big question of where to focus. After meeting thousands of teenagers, I decided to focus on just a few teenagers, who believed wholeheartedly at the time in the Bush Administration’s war on terror, because I saw that public opinion was beginning to change in America, as it had started to shift years before in the rest of the world.

The project of the film was to follow these young leaders as they changed (or didn’t) and became full-fledged adults who thought more for themselves – which it’s really very hard to do at 12 or 16 or even 50 sometimes! I focused on American Legion Boys State in part because of their long history of identifying and training future leaders like Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, Tom Brokaw, Neil Armstrong and Michael Jordan. And they were one of the few groups to focus specifically on “Americanism” and what that means – which was also my main topic. I’m not the best one to describe what they do, but their practical approach and presence throughout the country made their leadership weeks a natural choice for meeting a few traditional young leaders who I wanted to follow as they grew up.

I met DJ first, and he was just immediately charismatic. Really a charming, and charmingly goofy kid who had all these great ideals. He was just a lovely guy to be around. That was by far the easiest choice. He was just larger than life at 16. I was really impressed with him, and he operated as an adult politician the first times we met – like, he would get phone calls from actual adult politicians asking for his endorsement, and he would talk with them as someone who had the very real power he had to influence a local election. He was coming off running the campaign of the top vote-getter in the last City Council election, I think. At Massachusetts Boys State on the first day of our shoot we filmed with Ted Kennedy, and then I met this kid who didn’t necessarily look the part, but certainly played it very well.

When I first met Ben, I asked him one question, and I think he spoke for 15 minutes without stopping, and he told me everything about his life as if he were on the news. It was immediately apparent that Ben had a lot going on professionally, but also at home. He had a very interesting personal motivation to go into politics that partly related to the fact that Ben’s parents were in the midst of a divorce; it was all having a very specific impact on his personal political values. In fact, when I met Ben, one of the first politicians he told me he admired was the “honorable Barack Obama, the great senator of the state of Illinois,” and within weeks he was already more of a Republican Party loyalist. Ben seemed very plugged into politics in his local area and was incredibly ambitious. He was a star – as even his hero Ken Cuccinelli (now Virginia’s Attorney General who’s running for Governor) used to say. And I identified with his family struggles as well, since I had a lot of the same things take place for me as a teenager. I wanted to see how Ben worked through those challenges.

Nick was the last character I settled on because in many ways it wasn’t clear that he would be open enough to let us film him. I was impressed by what he did in high school. He was that kid who everyone in town has high hopes for, the All-American leader who carries the hopes of his small town for everyone. But whether he would be willing to be open to the camera – so that he would be sympathetic to viewers as he was for me personally – was unclear at the beginning. Before I decided that he would definitely even be in the film, Nick and I spent time filming and just hanging out with his family, on probably even 10 occasions. He was more local and easier for me to reach than the other guys, so we developed more of a personal relationship more quickly this way as friends than with the other guys on this film, where it was a clearer filmmaker-subject relationship until after the filming was over. We talked a lot about his public service and what he was doing, and a lot of it really had little to do with the film itself. Once we had trust and his Youth Coalition started taking off in Pike County, it seemed like it was going to work, but it was by no means certain. At the end of the day, Nick is like many of the best characters in documentaries because he’s a reluctant participant. As a viewer, you’re getting special access to someone because they have a relationship with the filmmaker, not because he or she is someone who has a strong desire to have their lives filmed all the time.

Neither of the other guys is on the opposite of the spectrum in terms of this either – but I think they always saw it more as a part of what they’d have to do anyway to be a public person in today’s world. Nick’s a bit more private and suspicious, and it was a battle sometimes to get him to be the teenager I knew in life on-camera – because the last thing I wanted was for him to come across as suspicious in the film. Even in the end, Nick’s story is certainly a personal one, but it also became a real entry point into public opinion generally. His journey, more than the other guys’, inhabits the nation’s journey. He was and continues to channel a lot of what’s happening with the attitudes for many among the millennial generation.

TFPN: Why did you decide to do a Kickstarter campaign, and why should people pledge to it?

JGL: I wanted to create a Kickstarter campaign so I could tell people about the film as soon as possible. I really want to release the film quickly and spark the conversations in our country that we really haven’t been having enough of, and start doing it before the elections in the fall. The campaign was also formed to help build partnership relationships and get people excited about the film. It might seem a bit odd, but the funding is not the primary reason why we’re on Kickstarter. We’re going to be fundraising for many months after the Kickstarter campaign ends on Thursday as well, and we’ve been fundraising for several years throughout the whole process – that’s unfortunately just what most filmmakers have to do these days. The fundraising on Kickstarter is also as much about giving the project legitimacy with other funders and the media as it is about the fundraising itself. If people like what we’re doing, they can support the film with a pledge. This is the first major step in what’s planned to be a far wider initiative.

TFPN: What challenges have you faced in getting support for the film prior to launching the Kickstarter campaign?

JGL: Over the last seven years, people in general have really been suspicious about what we’re doing. We are not pushing a political point-of-view with the film, and so everyone thinks we’re against them because we’re not for them. Everyone might think I’m for the other side, but I’m trying to make a fair-minded film about all opinions from the point of view of the participants. And frankly, people have had a very hard time grasping why the film is about three white boys – but it’s because that’s who is still running the country (white men) for the most part, and yet at the same time “traditional” political views are rarely represented in a fair-minded way in documentaries. It’s odd, but a “traditional” way to make this film within the paradigm that many filmmakers, gatekeepers, and channels operate would have been to film a multicultural set of teenage leaders, not even including a white boy. That’s fine – but the “traditional” ways of sparking the conversations we need about politics aren’t working for us, and they are too often preaching to the converted only, leaving others outside of the conversation entirely.

On a basic level, I think Americans need to react and respond to the baseline political realities in America. We’re having such a poor discussion because everyone has their own set of facts, don’t know the facts, or relies on different assumptions. So my approach to provoking discussion and change is quite different, and people haven’t known what to do with it, where to place it. Sometimes they’re afraid of it. I can tell you it has been very difficult for people to understand on the funding side in particular until now, when they can see what I’ve been talking about all these years. A lot of people think documentaries are about understanding where people are coming from, whether they agree with the film participants’ attitudes or not. But there’s a political correctness among many decision-makers that reflects the politics of our country that we need to get past. We need to take a step back and think about even how we have these discussions on a very basic level – rather than either getting angry or otherwise pussy-footing around the realities. Now that the film is done, people are coming around to see where I was coming from in the first place, but I do understand it’s not easy for people. Now we really are starting to receive support from all parts of the political system, and that’s starting to drive growing interest from American broadcasters and other platforms. We’re working with the Roosevelt Institute – that works to continue Eleanor Roosevelt and FDR’s work, which has as one of its signature accomplishment much of our social safety net such as social security. And we just did a screening and presentation at the American for Tax Reform, a conservative group run by Grover Norquist. Even groups that clearly disagree are seeing the value in having these discussions around the film.

TFPN: What are your hopes with the Reality Check Interactive initiative? How do you think it will open up a dialogue amongst ideologically opposed political views in America?

JGL: Documentaries’ natural audience is typically a liberal audience, and hopefully the documentary will reach that audience. But for conservatives, there aren’t many films in which they can see themselves portrayed in a fair-minded way. Our film portrays all political views in a fair-minded way. I feel like the film is really unique and that it will appeal to people regardless of they believe, and that it will force many people to question their own beliefs. Because of that, we have the opportunity to bring people together to talk about issues in a way that doesn’t happen often in our public sphere.

TFPN: How do you think Follow the Leader and Reality Check Interactive will impact this year’s upcoming Presidential election, if it all?

JGL: I think that if we have more meaningful and reflective conversations on politics, the choices we make about our leaders will be better. The level of political dialogue and debate in our country now is really pathetic. People certainly are not talking about the issues, and even when issues are discussed, they’re talking past each other, not listening to each other. Now we have the opportunity to have a facilitated discussion about the issues raised throughout the film via our Reality Check Interactive events. We’ll be engaging people in a safe, structured way about issues I know people on all sides feel passionately about, which they rarely discuss with people who disagree. Spending time with the guys in the film, and not just them, but all young people, really inspires me that there is hope to improve the political dialogue in our country. There is hope to have a meaningful and reflective dialogue and improve our political system by working together. Touring with the film and Reality Check really does have the power, if we’re fortunate enough to get the support we need at this crucial time for the project and our country, to make a difference for the better.

Brian Geldin blogs at The Film Panel Notetaker.

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'The Dark Knight Rises' star Anne Hathaway said she would need a Catwoman film to be made with 'the right people.' (Ron Phillips/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP)

Anne Hathaway says she'd consider a Catwoman spinoff

By Sandy SchaeferScreen Rant / 07.24.12

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises is (obviously) the trending topic of discussion, and Anne Hathaway’s performance as Selina Kyle is widely considered one of the film’s highlights. So… will the Cat-burglar be getting her own vehicle?

Hathaway had made it known that she’s interested in a spinoff, so long as it maintains tonal continuity with the Nolan-verse iteration of the feline femme fatale. The actress is certainly not alone, as many fans are eager for a Catwoman movie that wipes away memories of Halle Berry’s solo outing as the character.

Digital Spy asked Hathaway about the idea, and she responded:

“I think it would be lovely to see more of her but only if it’s with the right people. She lives in [Nolan’s Gotham City] and so it would have to be established by the people who have made this Gotham City. For me, at least.”

The Oscar-nominated actress expounded on her stance towards a Catwoman spinoff, while discussing her approach to tackling the iconic Batman antiheroine role:

“I didn’t want to focus on the other peoples’ interpretation of [Catwoman] because I didn’t see where that would get me; it would only be a rehashing of something already done – and done very well. I thought it was probably best to focus on being a part of Chris Nolan’s Gotham City.”

Nolan has made it known that he has no plans to serve as a central creative guide in the developing DC comic book movie universe. However, that doesn’t exclude the possibility of a Catwoman movie where Nolan serves in a secondary position and helps get the project off the ground (as he did with Man of Steel).

The filmmaker offered Access Hollywood his thoughts on a Catwoman spinoff:

“Anne is incredibly precise and articulate about the psychology of the character. She’s really built it from the ground up, it’s a delight to watch her perform, the things she does in those heels is not to be taken lightly… I certainly think she deserves [her own solo movie], she’s incredible.”

This Catwoman movie talk from Hathaway and Nolan puts the ball into play in the court of public opinion (if nothing else). Furthermore, it’s worth mentioning: Dark Knight Rises avoids an intimate exploration of Selina Kyle’s backstory, so there is worthwhile material for a spinoff to explore.

Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.

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'The Dark Knight Rises' star Christian Bale and director Christopher Nolan say this is their last Batman go-round. (Ron Phillips/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP)

'The Dark Knight Rises': 10 things to know before seeing the film

By John HanlonScreen Rant / 07.23.12

With The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) arriving in theaters nationwide , thousands of fans are eager to see how the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy ends. Some of us at Screen Rant have already seen the film - read our official Dark Knight Rises review - and are eager to hear your opinions on it.

In the meantime, we wanted to offer you a list of 10 things you should know about the film before you see it. There are a few plot details mentioned here, but the list offers nothing that will likely SPOIL your enjoyment of the film.

These facts will simply serve to prepare you for TDKR before you experience it yourself....

Long Runtime

TDKR clocks in at two hours and forty-five minutes. In other words, it's a long film. Both of its predecessors clocked in at over two hours, but this one nearly clocks in at three.

Of course, the film has multiple objectives that prolong its running time. The film seeks to wrap up the trilogy in a satisfying fashion and introduce several new characters that play vital roles in the story. Aside from the villain Bane (Tom Hardy), the film introduces us to several major characters like Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

With all of that in mind, viewers should be aware that when they take their seats, they will likely be sitting in the theater for over three hours, so people should take their bathroom break before it begins (no pun)...

Expectations

Of course, expectations are extraordinary for this third film. Not only is it the end of a series, it serves as the sequel to The Dark Knight (TDK), which is considered one of the best superhero movies ever made.

Without reviewing the new movie, it's important to recognize that TDK was one of a kind. Everything - the script, the cast, and especially the highly-anticipated performance of Heath Ledger - seemed to work together to make that film the classic that it became in 2008. There have been great superhero movies before - including  Spider-Man 2 and Superman 2  - but those movies were followed by sequels that fell far short of their predecessors.

With that in mind, viewers should - if possible - attempt to manage their expectations before walking into TDKR.

Background Research

As we can see in the image on the left, some of the characters from Batman Begins and TDK will be mentioned - and some may even appear - in this third story. Therefore, screening both of those earlier films prior to seeing the latest installment could prove invaluable to understanding the new story and the characters.

TDKR attempts to wrap up the trilogy and does address many of the story beats and ideas presented in its predecessors. It also develops many of the characters that were previously introduced.

Since the series is set up as a trilogy, knowing where it started is pivotal in appreciating how it ends.

Proper Viewing

Accordingly to early reports, TDKR features 100 minutes of action sequences and much of the movie was shot using IMAX cameras. With that in mind, the best way to view the film is most likely on a 70 mm IMAX screen.

As Screen Rant's Kofi Outlaw previously explained, "you aren’t really getting 'the full' IMAX experience – especially the one Chris Nolan intended – without that 70mm IMAX theater. 70mm is the only way you will be able to see everything that Nolan shot on IMAX cams."

So even if it's out of your way, driving to see the movie the way that it was intended to be screened would be preferable to seeing it on a digital IMAX screen (or a regular one).

Tone

This year, we have been treated to several big-budget superhero films like The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man. Both of those movies sought to honor their source material in a fun and entertaining fashion.

The Batman films are a completely different type of film. They are dramatic, high-minded affairs. From the A-list cast (including Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman) to the emphasis on Bruce Wayne's complex personality, to the depth of each villain's monstrosity, these movies have sought (and often succeeded) in becoming serious Oscar-caliber films.

That doesn't mean that these films are any less entertaining than the other superhero films we've seen this year, but they are a different breed of superhero movie, so viewers should remember that before going in.

Emotional Impact

In TDKR, Batman faces off against his most serious threat yet. Bane is a psychopath who can physically take on and overwhelm the Caped Crusader. And since this is the last part of the trilogy, some speculation about the film has focused on whether or not Batman will make it out alive.

Without spoiling the film, it should be noted that even the actors recognize that the movie has an emotional depth that its fans should be prepared for. Gary Oldman has even publicly said that the movie  "packs an emotional punch."

This film is easily the most emotional one in the trilogy, and if you are so inclined, you might want to bring tissues to the theater in preparation for how this final chapter ends.

Bane's Voice

Several months ago, much of the talk about the new movie revolved around Bane's muffled and nearly-inaudible voice. After the trailer came out, many viewers complained that they couldn't understand what he was saying at all - a fact that likely put the filmmakers in a tail spin.

After seeing the film, I can attest to the fact that most of Bane's dialogue is understandable. There are a few quick lines that were hard to decipher, but for the most part, the voice has been cleared up enough to allow viewers the opportunity to actually hear what the villain is saying...

Premise

As TDK ended, Batman became a fugitive from the law. Commissioner Gordon and Batman had just witnessed the transformation of statesmen and public hero District Attorney Harvey Dent into the evil and demented Two-Face. Two-Face died at the end of the movie, but in a bid to create a hero for the people of Gotham to look up to, Gordon and Batman decided to create a martyr out of the corrupted lawnman.

TDKR picks up eight years after the conclusion of its predecessor, with the truth about Dent still unknown and Batman still hiding from the law. Much has happened in the ensuing eight years, but the legend of Dent and Batman's bad reputation remain.

This is THE END

Despite insistent speculation that the franchise could continue, director Christopher Nolan has been equally insistent in his statement that this will be his final Batman film. Although many fans would love the Inception director to continue with the story, Nolan seems eager to move on after spending years focused on the Batman mythology and bringing the story to life.

Even Nolan's brother, Jonathan - who wrote the screenplays with him - has affirmed that this is the last movie in the series. He stated in an interview that TDKR is "the right way to end it..."

Of course, there will always be hope that Nolan will sign on to do a new film, but the filmmaker has said repeatedly  that this is the end of the saga for him.

No Post-Credit Scenes

The Avengers was a long movie and many fans left the theater when the credits began to roll. Much to their dismay, however, it was later reported that there were two additional scenes at the end of the film. There was one scene mid-credits revealing a new threat to the superhero alliance, and there was another comical scene after the credits.

TDKR, however, offers no additional scenes after the film has ended, so once the credits start to roll, the complete story has been told.

Feel free to leave the theater and then go back to see the movie once again. There may be nothing after the credits, but there's always something to be gained from seeing a Christopher Nolan film more than once. Enjoy!John Hanlon blogs at Screen Rant.

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