Potential 2014 Best Picture Nominees

With the full Academy Award nominations due January 16, 2014, the time has come to start sizing up favorites for the Best Picture Oscar. Voters’ tabulations will determine between five and ten films up for the top prize. From familiar directors and stars to surprising breakout performances, this year’s crop features these films and any of a number of other dark horses. On March 2nd, the Oscars will be broadcast on DirecTV Chicago and through many other U.S. cable providers.

12 Years a Slave

The epic narrative about slavery stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free African American man from the north who is kidnapped and sold as a slave, while Benedict Cumberbatch plays the plantation master in Louisiana who purchases him. Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, and Paul Dano also star in this gripping true story, directed by Steve McQueen (director of Shame).

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Movie Review: “Saving Mr. Banks”

Starring
Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak
Director
John Lee Hancock

The trailer for “Saving Mr. Banks” resembles the film only slightly more than “The Shining” resembles that fake trailer for the film that made the rounds 10 or so years ago. In the trailer, “Mr. Banks” looks light and fun, with a little playful back-and-forth between the frigid, overprotective writer and the movie executive who’s looking to turn her pet project into box office gold. Nora Ephron made this movie with Meg Ryan four or five times (twice with “Banks” star Tom Hanks, strangely enough), and we all know that it ends with the two finding some middle ground while learning to be more understanding of others.

Except that this movie isn’t even remotely like that. Instead, “Saving Mr. Banks” is a dark, painfully sad journey of a grown woman still looking to redeem her long-lost father, occasionally broken up by moments of levity. This makes for a more emotionally complex story, which is a nice surprise, but it doesn’t always make for a better story. The flashback timeline is informative, but the present day timeline is more interesting.

It is the year 1961, and P.L. Travers (a spot-on Emma Thompson) has been fielding calls from movie mogul Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) for 20 years about adapting her book “Mary Poppins” for the silver screen. Her answer has always been a steadfast ‘no,’ but when a financial adviser friend of hers reminds her that she’s almost out of money, Mrs. Travers agrees to fly to Los Angeles, meet with Walt, and consider the possibility of allowing Disney and his team to work their “magic” on her beloved Mary. From the beginning, though, Mrs. Travers has objections to their treatment of the material, and in flashback, we see why: as a young girl in rural Australia in the early 1900s, Mrs. Travers had a wonderful relationship with her father (Colin Farrell), an otherwise unreliable and occasionally foul-tempered drunk who nonetheless adored his eldest daughter “Ginty” and encouraged her to think creatively. She lost him at an early age, and she’s clearly still stinging from the loss, and the fact that Disney and his staff doesn’t understand what “Mary Poppins” means to her, in both a literal and figurative sense, infuriates her.

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Movie Review: “Captain Phillips”

Starring
Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdirahman, Mahat M. Ali, Michael Chernus
Director
Paul Greengrass

There’s an inordinate amount of movies based on true stories being released this season (even more so than usual), and Tom Hanks stars in two of them. But while his appearance as Walt Disney in the upcoming drama “Saving Mr. Banks” is likely considered the higher profile role, it’s hard to imagine how the actor will be able to top his brilliant, all-in performance as the title character in “Captain Phillips.” Though the film suffers from a bloated runtime and is a tad one-sided in its depiction of the antagonists, “Captain Phillips” is nonetheless a gripping hostage thriller that boasts some of the year’s finest performances, not only by Hanks, but his amateur co-stars as well.

Based on the true story of the 2009 hijacking of an American-flagged cargo ship by Somali pirates and the remarkable bravery of Captain Richard Phillips (Hanks) in deterring their efforts, the movie begins with the MV Maersk Alabama setting sail on a routine trip around the Horn of Africa. Recognizing the dangers that exist in those waters, Phillips orders his crew to practice prevention tactics against possible hijackers, only for the drill to become a real-world situation when he notices two skiffs approaching in the distance, each carrying four Somali pirates with automatic weapons. When one of the boats succeeds in attaching a ladder to the Alabama, the pirates – led by charismatic captain Muse (Barkhad Abdi) – board the cargo ship and take control, forcing Phillips to help locate the rest of his hidden crew members. But when things don’t go as planned for the desperate hijackers, Muse takes Phillips hostage and escapes on the ship’s lifeboat, leading to a tense standoff between the Somali pirates and the U.S. Navy.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Brace yourself for…”The Aquabats! Super Show!”

Even if he’d left the world of show business behind after hitting his twenties, Christian Jacobs would still deserve a certain amount of respect from pop-culture obsessives, having acted his way through his childhood and teenage years, serving as a regular on the “All in the Family” spin-off “Gloria” (he played Gloria Bunker Stivic’s son, Joey), making one-off appearances in episodes of “V,” “Married…with Children,” and “Roseanne,” and turning up in such films as “Gleaming the Cube” and, most notably, “Pretty in Pink,” where he plays the kid in the record store who Annie Potts’ character comes within half an inch of hitting in the eye with a staple. In the ’90s, however, Jacobs shifted careers, focusing on music and eventually helping to found a rather colorful band known as…The Aquabats!

Music alone couldn’t keep the coffers filled, alas, which forced the Aquabats into second position in favor of a gig that actually paid the bills with more regularity, so Jacobs returned to TV, this time working behind the scenes. In doing so, he was responsible for co-creating one of the most successful kids shows in recent years: “Yo Gabba Gabba!” Flush with the excitement that success brings, Jacobs and company have used a combination of creativity and show-biz connections to simultaneously kick-start a new series for the youth of today and fulfill a dream.

Ladies and gentlemen: The Aquabats! Super Show!

Bullz-Eye: Having seen the first two episodes of “The Aquabats! Super Show!,” it seems safe to suggest that Sid and Marty Krofft have been a major influence on you guys.

Christian Jacobs: [Laughs.] Definitely! I’m glad you caught that point of reference, for sure.

BE: So what are the origins of this “Super Show”? Was the idea of doing an Aquabats TV series always in the back of your mind, or was this a recent development?

CJ: No, it’s always been there, really. I mean, you know, it’s one of those things where…we started the band in ’94, and at the same time, I was doing video production, making music videos and skateboard videos, so I was in production already. And I grew up working in television as well, so we started the band, just for goofing around, but pretty much within a year I was, like, “This could be an amazing kids show! We could incorporate all those fun things we used to watch that were weird and trippy and action-packed…” We were influenced by shows from Japan, too. Those were there right away. So we started to incorporate them into the band, and from there we immediately set out to try and start a TV show…and this was, like, ’95 or ’96. [Laughs.] So it’s taken some time to finally happen, but it was one of those things where, right away, we were telling people, “We’re gonna make a TV show!” And it started to feel a little bit like that book The Carrot Seed, where there’s the little kid and no one believes the carrot’s gonna grow, but the kid does, and he knows the carrot’s gonna come up at some point. I feel like that was us a little bit. It was just up to us to stick it out and keep trying and keep trying and keep trying. But, yeah, it was definitely something that we always wanted to do.

BE: When did it first look like it was going to become a reality? Certainly the success of “Yo Gabba Gabba!” couldn’t have hurt.

CJ: Well, I think that’s what finally took us over the hill. But back in ’98, you know, we did a pilot for this studio, and then in ’99 or 2000, we did another development deal with a different studio, and…it was one setback and weird thing after another. And then we had pitched it to all of the networks by 2002 or 2003 – we pretty much ran the table, so to speak – and no one was biting, so it just seemed like a dead project. But in the back of our minds, we were, like, “I know this can still be a great kids show, but let’s focus on something else.” And that’s when we came up with a bunch of ideas, and one of those ideas was “Yo Gabba Gabba!” And just from pitching the Aquabats so much around the industry, we had some contacts, so we started pitching “Yo Gabba Gabba!,” and we immediately realized that we were going to run into the same problem unless we just took matters into our own hands and independently did it ourselves. And that’s really where the ball started rolling, and we realized, “Hey, if we’re going to do this, then we’re just going to need to go and make it on our own somehow.”

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A Chat with Jon Bernthal (“The Walking Dead”)

ALSO: Check out our Season Two preview, as well as interviews with actor Norman Reedus and executive producer Robert Kirkman.

BE: I’ve seen the Season 2 premiere, and from what I can tell, it seems like you guys are still playing at the same level that you were in the first season.

Jon Bernthal: Aw, thanks, man, I appreciate you saying so.

BE: So you guys got to play the love triangle in Season 1, and it’s obviously still ongoing in Season 2. Is it a challenge to play something like that in the middle of a zombie thriller?

JB: I don’t really look at it so much as a love triangle. I look at it more as a family that…these horrible circumstances, this disease that’s turned the world into this apocalyptic state, I look at it more as a family that’s been severely fractured by it. I think that it’s not as simple as two guys in love with the same girl. I think Shane is very much in love with Lori, but I think he loves his best friend, too, as well as their little boy, Carl. I think these are relationships that are immensely important to him, and unfortunately, they’re forever tainted and they’ll never quite be the same. In this world that we’re trying to create, all of these characters have lost so many people. I think what’s very interesting for Shane is that the people in the world who mean the most to him are still alive. It’s just that their relationships will never be the same because of what’s gone down.

BE: Shane is a pretty complex character because of his situation. Do you find it hard to find that balance of personality when you’re playing the part?

JB: No, man, I love it. As an actor, it’s the kind of part you look for. When I first talked with Frank (Darabont) about this, our goal was to not just make him sort of this one-dimensional villain straight out of the comic. We wanted him to be a layered, nuanced character that wasn’t a good guy, wasn’t a bad guy, but was a real guy. I think he’s just operating from a place of being a loyal friend and trying to do what’s best, trying to protect these people that he loves so much. I think he’s always coming from a place of trying to do the right thing, but it’s fractured. It’s just such a different, cold, brutal world now. Also, what’s very interesting about the character is that he’s the first one in the series, I think, to just sort of recognize the lawlessness of this world they’re living in now. He does it when he beats down Ed by the water in Season 1, and also when he trains the gun on Rick in Season 1. I think he recognizes that there are no real circumstances for your actions in this world, and I think Season 2 is very much about Rick and Shane splitting on how they feel the best way to go forward in this world is. I think Shane feels that, to survive, you have to make very brutal, very harsh decisions, and you really have to abandon emotion and morality and just do what’s best for survival, whereas Rick, I think, is kind of plagued by trying to do the right thing. They really become at odds with each other over those philosophies.

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