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    Simon Columb continues our Al Pacino Retrospective with Looking for Richard...

    Al Pacino Retrospective - Looking for Richard
    The Al Pacino season at the BFI has showcased his best work, but it can be difficult to get a sense of what Pacino is like when viewed through the fictional lens of characters like Michael Corleone and Frank Serpico. Looking for Richard is Pacino’s directorial debut, digging deeper into American attitudes towards Shakespeare – specifically the influential historical drama Richard III. This is an insight into Pacino’s acting and his love for the stage. Informative, insightful and playful, Looking for Richard is a theatrical treat for film fans.

    Led primarily by Pacino himself and his co-writer Frederic Kimball, they banter and argue about the text and purpose of the documentary. While Pacino is building and amassing footage to create a film to educate and illuminate a centuries old text, Fred is keen to prove how actors understand Shakespeare, while directors and academics don’t hold a candle to the perspective of the actor - who lives and breathes the roles.

    Looking for Richard also showcases some of the finest American acting talent. Signing up Kevin Spacey and Alec Baldwin after working on Glengarry Glen Ross, we see their portrayals of their respective roles effortlessly played. Baldwin particularly clearly has a finesse and style that perfectly suits the betrayed brother of the king (How else can I see Baldwin play Shakespeare?). Winona Ryder appears briefly as the widow, and future wife, of King Richard. Her grace and conflicted young woman is challenged and manipulated so well, it only highlights how strong an actress Ryder can be. It also breaks my heart to see Pacino and Ryder acting alongside each other. Francis Ford Coppola cast Winona Ryder as Michael Corleone’s daughter in The Godfather Part III, but she was taken ill shortly before production and replaced by Sofia Coppola. Suffice to say, if she can convincingly act Shakespeare, Mary Corleone would be a walk in the park – and what a film it would’ve been.

    Pacino cuts between the actors discussing the roles and their motivations to actors and academics who have built their careers on Shakespeare. Vanessa Redgrave tells us of the Iambic Pentameter providing a direct connection to the soul; John Gielgud reveals his belief that Americans are simply not cultured enough to truly understand Shakespeare while James Earl Jones equates Shakespeare with the word of God.

    It’s hard to argue with Pacino. The relevance of Shakespeare, and crucially Richard III, is all around us. From the debt House of Cards owes to Richard III, to the politics at play in Game of Thrones, the influence is all around us. In fact, considering the story so far in House of Cards, watching the third act of Richard III may give the plot away for the third season of House of Cards next year.

    Though difficult to break down, iconic and unforgettable lines hark back to this specific text. “Now is the winter of our discontent” through to “… a horse, a horse, my Kingdom for a horse”. Looking for Richard deconstructs and reveals the poetry, though an acquired taste, of the language. While shooting some of his most memorable roles (his beard from Carlito’s Way, the use of crew in the final act - borrowed from Michael Mann’s Heat), this is Al Pacino discussing his love for Shakespeare, the stage and acting itself. But now I recall others. Where is ‘Looking for Hamlet’ starring Jude Law or David Tennant? Or Ian McKellen enlightening us with the words of King Lear? This is a fascinating documentary and, if you’ve ever been switched off by the Bard, this is your entrance into his work.

    Simon Columb

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    Cabin Fever: Patient Zero, 2014.

    Directed by Kaare Andrews.
    Starring Sean Astin, Currie Graham, Ryan Donowho, Brando Eaton, Jillian Murray, Mitch Ryan and Solly Duran.


    When a group of friends enjoying a bachelor cruise in the Caribbean stumble upon a research facility on a remote island, a deadly virus is unleashed. The group must find a way to survive before the flesh eating virus consumes them all.

    As an honest to goodness reviewer I have to admit I wasn’t a big fan of the original Cabin Fever from Eli Roth and I didn’t get the fuss that came along with it. Perhaps as a kid I’d grown up with the likes of Wes Craven and John Carpenter and I knew horror.  For this reason I’d skipped the second film, so when it came to review the third I felt I was at a considerable loss of what is now going on with the story.

    We begin with an opening montage of Sean Astin being aggressively man-handled by a number of people in HAZMAT suits before being rather unceremoniously dumped in a lab which is clearly being run by a supervisor (Currie Graham) who has checked all the boxes for being a bit on the “unhinged” side of things.  We find out that Sean Astin’s family has recently all died from the virus and we’re informed that he is Patient Zero and perhaps the cure to the plague; it’s from this I had taken to believe that in Cabin Fever 2 a plague had swept across America or something of that ilk.  Cutting to a happy pre-wedding party, which I assumed is before the plague, we meet our Jock (Brando Eaton), Stoner (Ryan Donowho), Hussie (Jillian Murray) and Straight Laced Guy/Groom (Mitch Ryan); to be fair to the Stoner and Hussie they all get stoned and the Hussie only has sex with her boyfriend (but tries it on with the groom).  This group of four take to a deserted island for a bachelor party and it all starts going wrong from the first dip in the ocean with the filleted fish.

    It all becomes apparent quickly that then two stories of Lab and Beach Party are running side by side and things begin to take a turn for the worst in the lab when Patient Zero starts to use his blood against the lab workers.  It then rapidly becomes fairly gruesome to watch and stomach churning, however at the same time you cannot help but laugh as a rotting lab assistant is fighting it out with a decaying party-goer with snapping limbs and chunks of flesh being thrown all over the place. The make-up department really deserves a well-earned clap for this achievement.

    There is a problem however; the film is rather dull and vacant of anything that wants to keep you watching.  The actors were clearly as bored starring in the film as I was watching it and it came to the point where midway through I ended up wiki’ing Cabin Fever 2 to see what I had missed in the lead up to Cabin Fever 3… and there was nothing linking them at all!?

    If you’re a fan of this franchise so far you’ll maybe want to watch it for the fight scene (it’s near the end) but other than that there is really nothing of interest in this film.

    Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ 

    Villordsutch likes his sci-fi and looks like a tubby Viking according to his children. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter.

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    Shailene Woodley, star of the upcoming young adult adaptation Divergent, has criticised the incredibly popular Twilight series in an interview with Teen Vogue.

    "Twilight,  I’m sorry, is about a very unhealthy toxic relationship," states Woodley, whose credits include The Descendents and The Spectacular Now. "She falls in love with the guy and the second he leaves her, her life is over and she’s going to kill herself! What message are we sending to young people? That is not going to help this world evolve. Divergent on the other hand follows a divided society as citizen fight against genocide. It’s so metaphorical to today’s society."

    Divergent is directed by Neil Burger (Limitless) from Veronica Roth's bestselling novel, with Woodley joined in the cast by Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now), Theo James (Bedlam), Zoe Kravitz (X-Men: First Class), Ansel Elgort (Carrie), Maggie Q (Nikita), Jai Courtney (A Good Day to Die Hard) and Kate Winslet (Carnage). The film is set for release this Friday in the States and on April 4th in the UK.

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    The Book Thief,2013.

    Directed by Brian Percival.
    Starring Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Nico Liersch, Roger Allam snd Kirsten Block.


    While subjected to the horrors of World War II Germany, young Liesel finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others. In the basement of her home, a Jewish refugee is being sheltered by her adoptive parents.

    The Book Thief, an adaptation of the hugely popular book, is the story of a young German girl growing up during the Second World War. The girl, Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse), discovers a love of books thanks to the kindly Hans (Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech) who adopts her.

    While the idea of a family drama film set during a serious event like a World War is not impossible (see the brilliant Goodnight Mister Tom), the balance has to be very precise and it is no small task. Sadly, director Brian Percival (Downton Abbey), for whom the film is his feature debut, does not manage this.

    The problem is The Book Thief feels like two separate films. One is the coming-of-age story of Liesel, as she learns to read and bonds with her new family and the locals, including the rather charismatic child actor Nico Liersch (Blackout) as football-mad Rudy. The other is a harder-edged drama about living in Nazi Germany; Liesel’s family attending a book-burning ceremony, later they take in a Jewish refugee, and in the film’s most startling scene, a group of schoolchildren sing a racist nationalistic anthem in front of a Nazi flag. While the coming-of-age stuff is a bit sickly sweet and twee, the dramatic scenes and the depictions of living in Nazi Germany are generally very effective and moving, despite the dodgy German actions used by the cast.

    The problem arises when these two stories come together, it becomes very jarring. Other directorial choices add to this dissonance: one of the more bizarre choices is that the film is narrated by voice of Death, as in the Grim Reaper. While the sultry voice of Roger Allam (The Thick of It) is always great to hear, it’s just very strange listening to a family drama narrated by Death itself.

    The acting in the film is also a mixed bag. Liesel’s parents are played by Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson (War Horse), a phenomenal pair of actors who are always great to watch, especially in this. On the other hand, the child actors aren’t always great. It feels harsh to bash child actors, as they are still trying to learn the craft, but the utterly wooden performance by Sophie Nélisse as the film’s main actor is very problematic; she reacts the same way to a bad bowl of soup as to the death of her little brother in the first minutes of the film. This bad acting makes the unbearably slow pace of the film even worse.

    Ultimately, it’s just not a great film. It’s too childish to work as a historical drama, and too grim and serious to succeed as a family film. A very disappointing experience.

    Flickering Myth Rating - Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ 

    Luke Graham is a writer and works in newspaper production. If you enjoyed this review, follow him @LukeWGraham and check out his blog here.

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    Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow has been speaking to IGN about the upcoming fourth entry in the popular dino series. You can read the whole interview here, but the main piece of information regards casting, and who will or won't be returning to the franchise. Trevorrow has this to say:

    "I know a lot of fans want to see the original characters back. They’re iconic. But I respect those actors too much to shoehorn them into this story for my own sentimental reasons. Jurassic Park isn't about the bad luck of three people who keep getting thrown into the same situation. The only reason they’d go back to that island is if the screenwriters contrived a reason for them to go. But there is a character from the first film who makes sense in our world. This hasn't been announced yet, but BD Wong will be returning as Dr. Henry Wu. He had a much larger role in the original novel, he was the engineer of this breakthrough in de-extinction. He spent two decades living in Hammond’s shadow, under appreciated. We think there’s more to his story."

    So then....Dr Wu! That's quite a turn up. He had a big part in the original novel, yet disappeared as soon as the storm hit in the film. Very cool to hear of the respect Trevorrow has for the property. With one returning character and rising star Chris Pratt (The LEGO Movie, Guardians of the Galaxy) on board, this could the second good Jurassic film.

    Jurassic World is set for release next summer.

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    Following on from this month's first trailer [which you can watch here], a trio of new images from Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For have arrived online, giving us a look at Eva Green (300: Rise of an Empire) as the titular dame Ava Lord, returning star Jessica Alba as Nancy and Josh Brolin (Oldboy) as a pre-Clive Owen-looking Dwight McCarthy...

    Eva Green in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

    Jessica Alba in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

    Josh Brolin in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

    A Dame to Kill For is released on August 22nd, with returning Sin City stars Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, Jaime King and Powers Boothe joined in the cast by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises), Jamie Chung (The Man with the Iron Fists), Dennis Haysbert (24), Juno Temple (Killer Joe), Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), Alexa Vega (Machete Kills), Christopher Meloni (Man of Steel), Lady Gaga (Machete Kills), Stacy Keach (The Bourne Legacy), and Jeremy Piven (Entourage).

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    One of the main criticisms of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been the lack of familiar super-powered faces from the pages of the Marvel comic book universe - something that executive producers Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen have looked to rectify by transforming J. August Richards' Mike Peterson into the cyborg Deathlok, and with the character set to make his debut on the April 1st episode 'End of the Beginning', we've now got our first look at Richards in full costume. We can only hope this is an April Fools....

    J. August Richards as Deathlok in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

    J. August Richards as Deathlok in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

    J. August Richards as Deathlok in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

    End of the Beginning - Agents Garrett (Bill Paxton) and Triplett are back to help Coulson's team track down S.H.I.E.L.D.'S nefarious enemy - the Clairvoyant. But will Deathlok destroy them all to protect his master's identity?

    Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
    stars Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, Ming-Na Wen as Agent Melinda May, Brett Dalton as Agent Grant Ward, Chloe Bennet as Skye, Iain De Caestecker as Agent Leo Fitz and Elizabeth Henstridge as Agent Jemma Simmons. Guest starring are Bill Paxton as Agent John Garrett, Saffron Burrows as Victoria Hand, J. August Richards as Mike/Deathlok, B.J. Britt as Agent Antoine Triplett, Titus Welliver as Agent Felix Blake, Maximiliano Hernandez as Agent Jasper Sitwell and Brad Dourif as Thomas Nash.

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    Sony is promising to deliver the "final" trailer (yeah, right!) for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 tomorrow, and to whet our appetites for even more footage from the superhero sequel, a new teaser has arrived online, as well as another theatrical poster; check them out here...

    The Amazing Spider-Man 2 poster

    And because they haven't quite managed to give everything away just yet, here's a shot of Stan Lee from his customary cameo...

    Stan Lee in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

    The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is set for release on April 18th in the UK and on May 1st in North America, with returning stars Andrew Garfield (Spider-Man), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Sally Field (Aunt May), Chris Zylka (Flash Thompson), Campbell Scott (Richard Parker), Embeth Davidtz (Mary Parker), Martin Sheen (Ben Parker) and Denis Leary (George Stacy) and new additions Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained) as Electro, Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) as Harry Osborn, Paul Giamatti (12 Years a Slave) as The Rhino, Chris Cooper (American Beauty) as Norman Osborn, Colm Feore (Thor) as Donald Menken, Marton Csokas (The Lord of the Rings) as Dr. Kafka, B.J. Novak (The Office) as Alistair Smythe, and Felicity Jones (Like Crazy) and Sarah Gadon (Cosmopolis) in as yet unrevealed roles.

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    Peanuts movie

    Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the gang are set to get a CG-makeover next year courtesy of Fox Family Entertainment and Blue Sky Studios with the Peanuts animated feature, and despite the fact there's still some 20 months to go before its release, a first teaser trailer has arrived online, which we've got for you right here...

    The Peanuts movie is being directed by Steve Martino (Ice Age: Continental Drift, Horton Hears a Who!) and counts Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) among its producers. The film is set to hit cinemas on October 16th 2015 in the UK and November 6th 2015 in the States,

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    Levi Miller to play Peter Pan in live-action Pan
    Warner Bros. has found its Peter Pan for next year's live-action retelling of J.M. Barrie's classic story, with Levi Miller (The Spectacular Now) set to play the boy who never grew up in Pan from director Joe Wright (Atonement).

    Casting has been picking up pace on the film lately, with Hugh Jackman (The Wolverine) set to play Blackbeard alongside Garrett Hedlun (Inside Llewyn Davis) as Hook, Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as Tiger Lily and Adeel Akhtar (Four Lions) as Smee.

    Pan is set for release on July 17th 2015, and is described as "the untold story of how a young orphan boy from London is spirited away to the magical Neverland where he finds grand adventures that shape him into the hero known to generations as Peter Pan."

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    Arnold Schwarzenegger talks Terminator: Genesis, promises "hardcore action"
    Casting on Terminator: Genesis has been picking up pace lately, and with the reboot starting to come together, franchise star Arnold Schwarzenegger has offered some thoughts on his upcoming return to his signature character during a promotional interview with Collider about his latest film Sabotage:

    "I think that it’s just so wild to have a franchise that has been around for that long, and then after 30 years, to get asked again to be the only character in a movie that is the same character is unheard of, in movie history. You always switch out, like with James Bond and Batman. They have new characters there. But, not here. That, to me, is an extraordinary situation and a great opportunity. Of course, I was honored when I was asked to come back and play the character with Sarah Connor... Terminator is going to have the exact same feel. The way it reads, it has the same feel of Terminator 2. It’s big. There’s hardcore action and it has some really great visual effects in there, but not over the top. It’s not a Thor type of movie, even though it’s the same director. It has good special effects, but just enough to say, 'Wow, where did that come from? How did they do that?'"

    Terminator: Genesis will be directed by Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World), with Arnold joined in the cast by Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) as Sarah Connor, Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) as John Connor, Jai Courtney (A Good Day to Die Hard) as Kyle Reese and J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man) in an as-yet-unrevealed role. The film is set for release on July 1st 2015 with filming due to begin next month.

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    We've seen a fair bit of promotional material for Maleficent over the past week, and now Disney has released a brand new trailer for the upcoming Sleeping Beauty reimagining, which you can check out right here after the official synopsis....

    From Disney comes “Maleficent”—the untold story of Disney’s most iconic villain from the 1959 classic “Sleeping Beauty.” A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal—an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom—and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well. 

    Maleficent is set for release on May 30th, with Oscar-winning production designer Robert Stromberg (Avatar, Alice in Wonderland) directing a cast that sees Angelina Jolie returning to the screen after a four year absence in the lead role as the Mistress of All Evil alongside Elle Fanning (Super 8), Sharlto Copley (Elysium), Imelda Staunton (The Pirates! Band of Misfits), Miranda Richardson (The Hours), Juno Temple (The Dark Knight Rises), and Lesley Manville (Romeo and Juliet). The film is set for release on May 30th. 

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    During a shareholders conference call today, Disney CEO Bob Iger has announced that development is underway on two Pixar sequels in Cars 3 and The Incredibles 2.

    At this point, virtually nothing is known about either project, although Iger did confirm that The Incredibles director Brad Bird is busy penning the script for the long-awaited sequel to the 2004 hit, which grossed $631 million at the box office.

    2014 will be the first year without a Pixar release since 2005, but the animation studio has several films in the pipeline, with the original properties Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur due in 2015, followed by the Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory in 2016.

    As for when we might see either of these sequels, Pixar does have three release dates set for 2017 and 2018, which Cars 3 and The Incredibles 2 could potentially fill along with the studio's as-yet-untitled film about Dia de los Muertos.

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    Over the next few years, we're going to be seeing plenty of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On the movie front, we've got Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Captain America 3, Thor 3 and A.N. Other (probably Doctor Strange) hitting the big screen, while Marvel's current TV plans include Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter and the Netflix series Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and The Defenders.

    While that's certainly a packed slate, the studio still has ambitions on numerous other properties, with the likes of Black Panther, Inhumans, Ms. Marvel and Runaways, solo outings for Black Widow and The Hulk and a sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy all previously tipped as possibilities, not to mention the fact that Marvel Studios has reacquired the rights to The Punisher and Ghost Rider. So, how could Marvel possibly hope to manage all these projects? Well, according to Kevin Feige, it may necessitate altering the studio's release pattern, upping their output to three or even four movies per year.

    "I think television is filling some of that now, in terms of bringing out more product," Feige tells Badass Digest. "That’s certainly the idea with the Netflix shows. But I don’t know that we will necessarily say 'Okay, we’re now moving strategically to three a year, now we’re moving to four a year.' What I think is more likely - if [knocks on wood-like table] the next group of movies work and people want to see additional stories - we’ll have too many franchises and you can’t do one of each franchise every two or three years. We’d have to move to three a year, but that would have to be a natural move if it were to occur. We’d have a [script] draft, we’d have a filmmaker, we’d have a character the audience wants to see - let’s slot in a place for a third one. Or a fourth one. But it’s hard enough to deliver two quality, hopefully bar-raising movies a year."

    Would three or four Marvel movies per year be overkill, or is it the next logical step for the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Let us know your thoughts...

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    Warner Bros. is to reimburse Kickstarter backers of the Veronica Mars movie who were unable to satisfactorily download their copy of the finished film. The big-screen revival of the cult favourite television series broke all records on Kickstarter, making $5.7 million. The studio said they would provide full refunds after fans who paid $35 or more for a “digital version of the movie” took to Kickstarter to complain that they were yet to receive said copy.

    In a statement made by Warner Bros., it was announced that, “the vast majority of Veronica Mars backers who attempted to redeem their code had a successful experience. A communication was sent to all backers yesterday from Rob Thomas telling them to get in touch with Veronica Mars technical support if they were experiencing problems.”

    Veronica Mars is out now, with Rob Thomas directing a cast that includes series stars Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Chris Lowell, Ryan Hansen, Krysten Ritter, Percy Daggs III, Tina Majorino, Francis Capra, Ken Marino and Enrico Colantoni.

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    20th Century Fox has released the first trailer and poster for the YA adaptation The Maze Runner. Directed by first timer Wes Ball, the film centres on Thomas, who wakes up trapped in a massive maze with a group of other boys, he has no memory of the outside world other than strange dreams about a mysterious organisation known as W.C.K.D. Only by piercing together fragments of his past with clues he discovers in the maze can Thomas hope to uncover his true purpose and a way to escape.

    The Maze Runner poster

    The Maze Runner opens April 19th and stars Dylan O’Brien (Teen Wolf), Kaya Scodelario (Moon), Will Poulter (We’re the Millers), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Game of Thrones) and Aml Ameen (The Butler).

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    Anthony Stokes thinks that Warner Bros. should move the release date of Batman vs. Superman...

    Recently we've been seeing an over saturation of blockbusters, especially in mid summer. Last year Star Trek Into Darkness was one of several movies that did okay financially, but would have benefited from less competition. Once again studios are playing chicken with each other, and in May 2016 we'll see Marvel Studios and Warner Bros. squaring off with Captain America 3 and Batman vs. Superman both arriving on the same day. There's a lot of talk that Marvel should be the one to change the date, but I'm on the opposite side of the argument for several reasons.

    First off let me say I don't think Captain America 3 will beat Batman vs. Superman opening weekend. It's possible that if Captain America: The Winter Soldier is as good as people say that it will be close. Thor: The Dark World grossed almost as much as Man of Steel with mediocre reception and light competition; I have no doubt that with great reception The Winter Soldier can make more money than Man of Steel, and if Cap 2 is great then more people will be excited and line up opening weekend for the third movie.

    But even if Batman vs. Superman wins the opening weekend, Warner Bros. and DC will still lose. There's only so much money to go around on a given weekend. Captain America 3 will take money from Batman vs. Superman and visa versa. But Cap 3 isn't Marvel's big hand, and it'll still make its money, just not as much as it could. Even, so Marvel will have covered any shortfall with The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man the previous year. Warner Bros. is pulling out its biggest weapon in the DC arsenal and unlike Marvel, it doesn't have two movies a year to make for any loss of earnings. If - and this is a huge if - Batman vs. Superman somehow fails, or doesn't quite reach the box office heights expected of DC's two biggest characters together for the first time, then the DC Cinematic Universe will have suffered a heavy blow.

    May 6th 2016 will be a case of DC winning the battle but Marvel winning the war. Recently Marvel movies have been more successful than DC movies when released in the same year . The Avengers outgrossed The Dark Knight Rises, Iron Man 3 outgrossed Man of Steel and Thor: The Dark World wasn't too far behind either. Warner Bros. needs to establish its DC brand, and going up against Marvel Studios and Captain America is a big risk that the studio could do without.

    Anthony Stokes is a blogger and independent filmmaker who also assists with the music blog DopesterMusic and co-hosts the podcast Delusional Losers.

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    Trevor Hogg chats with Rob Coleman, Grant Freckelton, Damien Gray and Max Liani from Animal Logic about bringing the iconic LEGO bricks to the big screen... 

    "Lin Pictures and Warner Bros had seen our in house directed work on LEGO® Star Wars® The Padawan Menace [2011] which was the TV short that we worked on with Lucas Films and LEGO; they were impressed by the level of detail in that episode and that coupled with our long standing relationship with Warner Bros. helped us land the project,” explains Animal Logic Head of Animation Rob Coleman as to how the Australian visual effects facility became involved with The LEGO Movie (2014).  “Animal Logic created an animated test that was screened to the Warner Bros. studio executives and that is what fundamentally led to the film being greenlit and awarded to Animal Logic.”  The duo behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009), Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, helmed the CG animated adventure about a construction worker with a habit of using the word “awesome” discovering he has the ability to change the world.  “Lord and Miller had a clear vision for the film; they wanted to create the biggest Brick Film ever made. They told us to imagine a kid, in his or her basement, with unlimited LEGO and unlimited time. What kind of film could they make? A critical aspect to their vision was that they wanted us to remain true to the physical limitations of the bricks and the Minifigures – no bending limbs for example. The bricks, although created in computer animation, had to look absolutely real; if we could achieve that, the directors felt that we would have a great connection with our audience.”

    “Chris McKay's [Robot Chicken] background in stop motion animation and his skills as a filmmaker had a tremendous effect on The LEGO Movie,” remarks Rob Coleman.  “McKay was always focused on telling the best, most engaging story possible. All production decisions, whether for camera, character action or editing, kept that in mind. As the sequences evolved there were editorial and animation revisions which went hand in hand.”   Animal Logic Production Designer Grant Freckelton states, “Lord, Miller and McKay’s process involved a lot of story exploration. Every story idea had to be tested against alternate versions to ‘kick the tires’, as they called it. To accommodate this process, the movie was boarded from beginning to end several times over. We had a tight knit team of story artists and editors who worked at an insanely fast pace; their focus was on nutting out story beats and injecting the movie with gags, doing a large quantity of simple drawings rather than noodling specific details. Within three months we had a completely boarded version of the film. It was hilarious, full of energy but also far too long and chaotic. It also revealed issues with some of the characters and their motivations.  Major characters were dropped, new characters were created, and the movie was boarded over and over, until the story became tighter. There was an overlapping process where we started doing layout work using CG assets, and there came a point in the process where the storyboard team wrapped, and story ideas were explored by the layout department. Although the boarding team wrapped 12 months before delivery, we were still making adjustments to the story right up until the last days of production.”

    “We drew influences from everywhere,” remarks Animal Logic Production Designer Grant Freckelton.  “Our reviews with Lord, Miller and McKay were 30% design feedback and 70% talking about things we loved from the world around us. One moment we would be talking about 70’s sci-fi movies, the next we’d be talking about Noel Fielding or LEGO mathematics or George Pal’s puppetoons or the architecture of William Pereria. Some worlds were straightforward to research and design while others required a lot of creative interpretation. The Old West was born out of studying photos of old ghost towns, screen captures from Wild West movies, Maurice Noble animation art and real western landscapes. Cloud Cuckoo Land was more obscure; we mixed influences from Mary Blair, Peter Max through to Enter the Void [2009] and Lindsay Fleay’s brick film classic, The Magic Portal [1989].  On top of that, everything had to be interpreted into LEGO, which meant we researched a lot of different LEGO websites, LEGO build styles and learnt a lot of LEGO acronyms. There’s AFOLs [Adult Fans of LEGO], SNOT [Studs Not On Top], and BURPs [Big Ugly Rock Pieces]. We felt an obligation to create a movie with LEGO designs that honoured some of the amazing work that is created by LEGO fans around the world.”

    "LEGO was very involved with the visual design of the movie,” states Animal Logic CG Supervisor Damien Gray.  “Animal Logic and LEGO produced many design iterations of key characters and set pieces called for in the script.  LEGO’s designs were often in the form of actual models which really inspired us with the thought and sophistication of their real brick ‘build style’.  Some set pieces, like Benny’s spaceship for example, were entirely designed by LEGO.  Their familiarity and expertise with classic space themed LEGO is unmatched.  Other key designs from LEGO included The Flying Flusher, Ice Cream Machine, Trash Chomper, Castle Cavalry, Creative Ambush, Rescue Reinforcements and many others. Some designs were quite collaborative like the Super Cycle Chase while some were entirely developed at Animal Logic, like the Masterbuilder’s Submarine and most environments.”  Gray notes, “We heavily referenced actual LEGO bricks for visual inspiration.  We found that a meticulous attention to the visual complexity and detail was part of the appeal - particularly when LEGO is seen through macro photography.  Taking a literal approach to constructing models from individual 3D bricks simplified the creation of assets to a certain extent but also complicated others.  These efficiencies in the creation of assets were only possible after the careful modelling and surfacing of more than two thousand unique bricks required for the film – many of which needed multiple surfacing variations to avoid obvious repetition of scratches, dents, roughness, and warping.”

    “We wanted our film to feel grounded and cinematic regardless of the fact that it was built out of LEGO bricks,” remarks Grant Freckelton.  “Sometimes it made a scene funnier if we contrasted slick lighting design with goofy LEGO stop motion. Avanaut’s toy photography served as a great example of how sophisticated and beautiful imagery could be created in a scene that was only a few inches wide and populated by moulded plastic figures.  As we developed the look of the film, we referenced techniques used by Avanaut and FX artists like Douglas Trumbull [2001: A Space Odyssey], such as shooting in cloud tanks to create dense atmosphere on a small scale and embracing a shallow depth of field look to heighten the macroscopic nature of our subject. We set up a photography studio in our office where we could photograph real LEGO kits and study how lighting behaves at that smaller scale which served as a basis for the lighting and surfacing look development.”

    “LDD [LEGO® Digital Designer] was our key tool for LEGO asset design and modelling,” reveals Grant Freckelton.  “Despite its user friendly interface [it ostensibly appears to be designed for children] it is a fairly powerful piece of software when it comes to building virtual LEGO creations.  We wanted to build all of our assets as if they were legitimate LEGO constructions, giving us the freedom to pull them apart, rearrange or blow them up at a moment’s notice; that meant we needed a way to construct models that adhered to the LEGO ‘rules’ of construction, as well as a way of sending those models through the rest of our pipeline. LDD is based on the LEGO parts database, each LEGO piece has a number associated with its colour and shape. You see these numbers sometimes listed on the back of LEGO instruction books. LEGO provided us with their parts database including CAD [Computer –aided Design] data for each piece. The modelling team had to painstakingly reconstruct thousands of bricks into what we called Render Bricks [geometry which could be efficiently rendered and shaded].  We designed our pipeline so that anything we created adhered to the LEGO database’s naming convention, which meant whatever assets we built in LDD, would work in the rest of our pipeline. What makes LDD really powerful is the way it utilised connectivity data for each piece. Each LEGO piece can connect to other pieces, but only in certain ways. A stud on one brick can slot into a tube on another, a Technic pin only fits with Technic tubes, etcetera. Each piece in the LDD database contained this connectivity information, which meant you could build LEGO models in LDD by snapping together each brick, as you would do if you were constructing LEGO in reality. Once the hard work of building the Render Bricks and setting up the database was complete, it was an incredibly fast turn around to turn an asset from an LDD file into a completely photo real rendered turntable.”

    “Most of the sets were designed and built as we were developing the story, so we would estimate how extensive each set would need to be, based on the story reels at any given time,” explains Grant Freckelton.  “For instance, we knew that the Old West would have a fair amount of screen time, including a chase scene, and we knew that we wanted to make the location seem ramshackle and organic.  We built an extensive backlot that gave everyone a lot of freedom to shoot from different angles. On the other hand, the freeway location had a design that lent itself to repetition so we only built a small section of the elevated freeway and shot the bike chase on that small section, looping the action and swapping out background signage to create the impression that the location was larger than it actually was. The Cloud Cuckoo Land and Octan Tower exteriors were originally conceived as complex large scale builds, but as various deadlines loomed, we realised it would be funnier, quicker and more creative to build them as micro scale sets. Micro scale LEGO builds take large scale objects and reinterpret them in a super simple, super impressionistic form with as few bricks as possible. This was a case where production pressures forced us to find creative solutions, and the movie benefited from it.”

    “The colour pallet for the movie is a combination of lighting choices working in unison with colour choices for our characters, props and locations,” states Grant Freckelton.  “When designing our LEGO assets we limited ourselves to the available LEGO brick colours, more than 50 different colours including various transparent and metallic effects. From that palette, we chose key colours for each location.  President Business’s [Will Ferrell] office was meant to be clean, sterile, but also a little bit scary, so we built it from whites, greys and black bricks accented with red feature walls. We wanted downtown Bricksburg to be bland and repetitive, except for the advertising, so the architecture was all whites, blues and grey, except the billboards which were all primary colours. The Wild West was a wink to archetypal Westerns so everything was earth toned and covered in dust, contrasting with broad blue skies. To explore lighting options, we created a colour script using a mixture of painted colour sketches and reference stills from movies. We would discuss the colour script and make changes according to how each scene worked in context with every other scene. We would ask ourselves if each world was distinct enough. Is there enough variety of colours throughout the movie? Are we supporting key story points with colour choices? Sometimes we would embrace a lighting direction right away, because it looked cool and felt right for that moment in the story. Other times we altered the lighting and colour right up until the completion of DI [Digital Intermediate] process.”

    “We researched how LEGO bricks age over time, including photographing our own childhood toys and taking a trip to LEGOLAND to see how large scale models weather in the outdoors,” states Grant Freckelton.  “We noted fingerprints, scratches, worn decals, bite marks, dust and dirt and even oxidisation on the outdoor models. The surfacing team would then use this reference to meticulously texture our digital assets on multiple levels. Each LEGO piece had what we call ‘brick level’ surfacing, where things like mould lines, serial numbers and basic warping were applied. We’d review this detailing by comparing what was on screen with the real brick under a magnifying glass. Depending on how common that brick might be, we might do a handful of surfacing variations to eliminate any repetition.  A clean new City car for instance, might only require brick level surfacing. We would call this ‘out of the box’ surfacing because the pipeline was set up in such a way that each asset would automatically receive brick level surfacing and look pretty convincing without additional work. If we wanted to apply more detailing, we could layer more texturing via various techniques. We developed procedural ways of applying dirt and grunge, as well as oxidisation and edge chipping to the assets. Anything in the Old West location had dirt and oxidisation and grunge applied by default. We could also hand paint detailing onto the assets, including additional wear and tear, and fingerprints.” 

    “There were a sizable amount of shading, lighting and rendering challenges to overcome on The LEGO Movie,” remarks Damien Gray.  “Shading was challenging in that the key visual features of a LEGO brick are numerous and demanded a high degree of detail.  Features such as the plastic warping, roughness, scratches, embossed print detail, dents, injection mould lines, jitter [the uneven separation of individual bricks in a model], fingerprints, grime, aging, printed decals and stickers all needed to hold up to extreme macro photography without any hint of CG duplication.  Once brick look development was approved, all models, colours, textures and shaders needed to be implemented in a ‘brick library’ for use across the movie.  A specialised pipeline had to be constructed to deliver final renderable assets to the Lighting department.”  Animal Logic Lighting Technology Lead Max Liani states, “The LEGO Movie was a toxic combination of everything that makes that engine [RenderMan] suffer.  I'm talking about raytracing without radiosity caching [specular and glossy reflections and refractions], subsurface scattering and dense geometry, all of it, everywhere.  Traditional CG lighting tricks won't work. Some approximate global illumination won't cut it. The last thing we wanted was this movie to look like...well ‘CG’."  Gray adds, “This necessitated the development of a brute force raytracing solution that was called ‘Glimpse’ to augment our existing rendering pipeline.  In compositing, many macro photography characteristics were enhanced or created such as depth of field, chromatic aberration, lens ‘breathing’ on focus pulls, distortion, anamorphic compensation, bokeh and flares. In addition to this, removing flicker and noise in the image, due to render quality/time trade-offs, became necessary and time consuming.”

    “The animation style evolved from the Minifigure rotation limitations,” states Rob Coleman.  “Each real LEGO character is able to rotate at the neck, arms, wrists, waist and legs. No rotation at the elbows or knees. We knew that we wanted the movement to look like it was animated by hand with stop motion, so the animators experimented with animating on twos and threes [the number of frame exposures per pose] to achieve that look. Additionally, it was decided early on that there would be no motion blur, as would be the case if someone was animating real Minifigures on a LEGO table top set.”  The lack of mobility became a creative asset.  “The physical limitations of the LEGO characters actually added to the charm of the animation. The animators had to come up with creative solutions for acting problems which presented themselves. A LEGO character can't clap their hands, or shrug their shoulders, but the animators were able to find ways to get those ideas across.”  A 2D face was placed upon a 3D character.  If there was one concern at the outset of production, it was that the facial animation was going to be a challenge. The worry was not technically how we were going to approach it.   It was whether the audience would engage with the limited facial features. Our hero, Emmet [Chris Pratt], does not even have highlights in his eyes. However, as soon as the animators started working with the facial animation we immediately felt the emotions coming out of the little LEGO Minifigure faces. It was amazing and very moving.”

    “Every character in the film was run through some animation tests,” states Rob Coleman.  “The desire was to create distinctive styles of movement for our hero characters so that they moved differently from each other. They were all Minifigures [except for Metal Beard] but Wyldstyle [Elizabeth Banks] moved differently from Vitruvius [Morgan Freeman], Emmet moved differently from Bad Cop [Liam Neeson].  A library of walks, runs and actions was animated. Everything that could be animated, like vehicles and props, was tested first before being animated in a shot. Wyldstyle building her Super Cycle in the alley was the first test sequence that was done. It helped inform the animation style of a ‘master build’ as well as the desired look and lighting for the film. The sequence was completely re-animated and lit for the movie later on.”  Coleman notes, “The voice actors bring a tremendous amount to the characters.  The animators listen to the dialogue repeatedly while they are animating; they listened for accents and emphasised words. The obvious goal is to make it seem like that voice is coming out of the LEGO Minifigure. Having the amazing voice talents of Chris Pratt [Zero Dark Thirty], Elizabeth Banks [The Hunger Games], Will Ferrell [Stranger Than Fiction], Morgan Freeman [Driving Miss Daisy], Liam Neeson [Schindler’s List], and many more, was such a treat for us.” 

    There were many challenges involved in the production of LEGO,” explains Rob Coleman.  “Some of the most difficult challenges were related to the sheer scale and size of the film.  Massive sets had to appear like they were built from LEGO bricks, like Bricksburg and the brick filled canyons of the Wild West. The research and development team at Animal Logic created some amazing tools and technical solutions for handling the many issues.  From an animation point of view, it was terrific to watch the development of the Effects Department's work. They created LEGO solutions for explosions, fire, smoke and water. It was always a pleasure to go to their reviews to see what they had come up with.”  Damien Gray remarks, “Creating water, smoke and fire FX from LEGO bricks was a challenge set from the beginning.  We tried ‘traditional’ FX simulations initially but found they lacked the charm and inventiveness of the ‘brick films’ that inspired us.  I wouldn’t say brick based FX complicated things any more than traditional FX.  It was certainly a lot of fun and to a certain extent made things easier, in that with any given set of brick FX iterations [different brick types, different size, shape, colour and speed] there was usually one stand out version that brought a smile to everyone’s face.”  Coleman notes,  “The Art Direction and Lighting teams did an astonishing job. The finished shots look like they are made out of real LEGO bricks. It is their attention to detail that has made this film look so awesome. As always, a film of this size is a massive team effort.”

    The LEGO Movie images © 2013 Warner Bros. All rights reserved. Courtesy of Warner Bros. and Animal Logic.

    Many thanks to Rob Coleman, Grant Freckelton, Damien Gray and Max Liani for taking the time to be interviewed.

    To learn more make sure to visit the official websites for The LEGO Movie and Animal Logic.

    Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.

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    Walton Goggins (Django Unchained) is is to join Uma Thurman (Nymphomaniac), Jesse Eisenberg (30 Minutes or Less) and Kristen Stewart (Twilight) in Nima Nourizadeh's action comedy American Ultra. The cast is growing fast and character actor Goggins is an impressive addition. For those unaware of Goggins, watch Justified in which he plays Boyd Crowder (he’s really, really good).

    American Ultra will see Eisenberg playing an unmotivated stoner with Stewart as his girlfriend. They live an uneventful life in a small turn until it turns out that Eisenberg is actually an amnesiac sleeper agent in a program the government decided to shut down and wipe out. Thurman will play Mike’s former handler.

    The script is written by the incredibly talented Max Landis (Chronicle) while Nourizaeh last directed the grotesque Project X. Shooting starts next month.

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    DreamWorks Animation has released a series of new images for the much anticipated sequel How To Train Your Dragon 2, which you can see right here...

    The thrilling second chapter of the epic How To Train Your Dragon trilogy returns to the fantastical world of the heroic Viking Hiccup and his faithful dragon Toothless. The inseparable duo must protect the peace-and save the future of men and dragons from the power-hungry Drago.

    How to Train Your Dragon 2 is set for release on June 13th, with a voice cast that includes Jay Baruchel (This Is the End), Gerard Butler (Olympus Has Fallen), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), America Ferrera (End of Watch), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Kick-Ass 2), Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), America Ferrera (Ugly Betty), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Kit Harington (Game of Thrones) and Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond). Watch the latest trailer here.

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