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Peanuts and Popcorn

Peanuts and Popcorn

Zoinks! Scooby-Doo and Gang Return to the Big Screen

posted by jtotey
The "traditional" Shaggy and Scooby-Doo! (Warner Bros.)

The “traditional” Shaggy and Scooby-Doo! (Warner Bros.)

News broke this week that Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Daphne and Velma will all be featured in a new animated movie to be released in September 2018. The press release states the the “film marks a reintroduction of Hanna-Barbera animated favorites to moviegoers everywhere” which might make some fans nervous. The release doesn’t state if Warner Bros. would focus on the traditional-looking characters and personalities or the new version of the upcoming Be Cool Scooby-Doo! TV series that will debut on Boomerang this fall. (The style of the artwork and story-telling will be significantly different than what we are used to and looks similar to the animated Family Guy series, that is anything but family-friendly.) The Boomerang series was initially to be shown on Cartoon Network.

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The new film is said to reunite Oscar-nominated producers Charles Roven and Richard Suckle who worked on the last two Scooby-Doo movies which were live-action and CGI animated and became a disappointment to fans. But the good news is that the pair will be joined by producer Allison Abbate who worked on The Iron Giant and the Oscar-nominated Fantastic Mr. Fox. (She did also produce Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie, but we can let that slide for now.)

The new film will be directed by Tony Cervone, a multiple Emmy Award nominee and was fully involved in the previous Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated series, which is probably the best version of Scooby and his friends to date, so that’s good. However, the “visionary” Dan Povenmire (Phineas and Ferb and the aforementioned Family Guy) is said to bring his “creative sensibilities” to the film as well. Finally, the screenplay is written by Matt Lieberman who was responsible for Dr. Dolitle: Tail to the Chief, a film that nobody has ever heard of.

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The "Family Guy" version of Scooby and the gang. (Warner Bros./Boomerang)

The “Family Guy” version of Scooby and the gang. (Warner Bros./Boomerang)

So, does this movie have a change to be any good? Greg Silverman, President of Creative Development seems to thinks so. “Like countless fans, I have always loved the Hanna-Barbera cast of characters,” he acknowledges in the press release. “As one of their most famous brand ambassadors, Scooby-Doo will take the lead in re-introducing this pantheon of enduringly popular animated stars on a grand scale with an exciting new movie.” Dan Fellman, President of Domesic Distribution agreed saying, “It’s always a treat to see Scooby-Doo on the big screen and to share his larger-than-life adventures with audiences. As anticipation grows throughout production, the movie’s mid-September release date should start the fall season with a burst of fun.” Finally, Veronika Kwan Vandenberg, Preident of Worldwide Distribution had this to say: “Scooby-Doo and his friends have the kind of universal appeal that reaches across cultures as well as generations.  We expect this new take on the franchise to generate even more fans around the world.”

That last comment makes me the most nervous. Why do we need a “new take” of the Scooby-Doo brand? Still, I don’t want to judge book by its cover or a movie by its poster. This could be great. It could. We’ll see.

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‘Mission Impossible 5′ is Still a Fun Ride

posted by jtotey
Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation" (Paramount)

Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) in “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” (Paramount)

In 1996 when Paramount created the first Mission Impossible film, fans of the classic TV series were none too pleased when the makers decidedly killed off the team and turned the film into a “Tom Cruise film.” Still, the film worked well enough to create two more Cruise-centric Impossible films. But Paramount went back to the series’ roots with a team effort for 2011’s Ghost Protocol, making that film the most popular in the franchise, at least it for many of its fans. And it was not just good storytelling, but also image-improving as Cruise, at the time, was making headlines for all the wrong reasons. This time around, Cruise is getting a lot more attention for doing his own stunts.

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For Mission Impossible 5: Rogue Nation, the team is intact again – sort of. Paula Patton, who was such a great addition to the cast in Ghost Protocol, is nowhere to be seen or heard from in this film, even though there are some references to the last film here. Jeremy Renner as William Brandt and Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell get a lot less screen time for this story as well, but Simon Pegg as Benji is promoted to a much more important role and shows a more serious side than he did in the last film.

Alan Huntley (Alec Baldwin) and Benji (Simon Pegg)

Alan Huntley (Alec Baldwin) and Benji (Simon Pegg)

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For this story, the IMF has burned a few too many bridges and is forced to shut down “even as the most harrowing threat yet known to the free world lies in the shadows” as stated in the film’s press release. You see, up until now, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and company have not proven that The Syndicate, a group of renegade spies, really exists. Alan Huntley (Alec Baldwin), the CIA Director wants to shut them down but Hunt has gone missing. Meanwhile, Hunt and company are both hiding from and exposing the creepy looking and sounding Solomon Lane and the audience is left wondering if Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) is good spy or a bad spy.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner)

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner)

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Unlike the Ethan Hunt of the previous films, here we see a more imperfect one. In fact, the film highlights a scene where Hunt is cleary not at his best and yet still manages to get the job done. There is something satisfying about not seeing Tom Cruise at his best. And like MI4, there is more than one hero. Baldwin is a nice surprise as well. The actor has done so much comedy in the last few years that we forget that he can really act. Not that his part is all that serious, but at least it’s not as goofy as those Capital One commercials. (Although it might have been fun to hear him ask someone else what was in their wallet.)

Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, Rogue Nation isn’t as much fun as Brad Bird’s film nor is the ending as spectacular. And while the storyline is a little difficult to understand, you should be able to hang on through it all. MI5 does make for a fine sequel. It is also surprisingly “clean” with little language and the violence isn’t as graphic as it could be.

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Quiet ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’ Film is Plenty Creepy

posted by jtotey
Michael Angarano (Christopher Archer), Ki Hong Lee (Gavin Lee/3401), Brett Davern (Hubbie Whitlow/7258), Tye Sheridan (Peter Mitchell/819), Johnny Simmons (Jeff Jansen/1037), Ezra Miller (Daniel Culp/8612), and Chris Sheffield (Tom Thompson/2093)  (IFC Films)

Michael Angarano (Christopher Archer), Ki Hong Lee (Gavin Lee/3401), Brett Davern (Hubbie Whitlow/7258), Tye Sheridan (Peter Mitchell/819), Johnny Simmons (Jeff Jansen/1037), Ezra Miller (Daniel Culp/8612), and Chris Sheffield (Tom Thompson/2093) (IFC Films)

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While you may have to hunt around a bit to find a theater playing the indie film, The Stanford Prison Experiment, it will be well worth it if you enjoy thrillers based on true stories. The film is based on a Stanford University psychology study performed in 1971 where 24 students voluntarily applied to act out as either prison guards or inmates. Each was paid $25 a day, (a nice chuck of change back then), but it did require the inmates to stay in their mock prison 24 hours a day. The “guards” were to work either the day shift of the night. The study was to last for two weeks but they only made it through six days.

Billy Crudup gets all the accolades for playing the role of professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo, which he does an excellent job, but the tensions rests in the hands of the character actors playing the students who either give a chilling performance as intimidating guards or persecuted inmates. The film is a surprising psychological thriller, probably more so because it is based on true events. The real Dr. Zimbardo himself was on hand during the making of the film to assure its accuracy.

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After a series of interviews, the 24 men were told that they were selected for their roles based on their talents or personalities or something, but in reality, they were chosen by a flip of a coin. Those chosen as inmates begin the experiment quite jovial, while those made into guards take their jobs too seriously. The inmates are stripped of their clothing, (given rag dresses to wear instead of pants and shirts) and given numbers instead of names. The guards are all dressed alike and wear sunglasses to appear unified. Rules are given in the form of a contract that each participant signs stating that no one is to touch the others in any way.

The tension in this film sneaks up on you. One moment, the guys are playing around with each other but in no time at all, the mock guards become power hungry and create unrealistic and unnecessary tasks for the inmates to carry out just for fun. As tempers flare and push comes to shove, some of the inmates call “foul” on the breaking of the contract’s rules, but they are mostly ignored. The situation takes a toll on the weakest participants who start to believe that they are no longer a part of an experiment, but actually living in a prison. What is most chilling is that all this strange behavior happens under the watchful eyes of Zimbardo and his helpers with the study. One of those helpers has spent time in real prison, so he helps keep things real.

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In the end, the film is a cautionary tale of how easy it is to abuse power and take advantage of others regardless of who you are. One of the guards made it very clear in his interview that he could never see himself acting as a guard and in the end, he becomes one of the worst. By the sixth day, some of the guards start to break down while others are having the time of their lives. And while no one actually dies from the event, the humiliation and break down of the inmates’ psyches is enough to make your stomach turn. The professor himself is guilty of letting things go too far and is stunned to find out what he has become in the process as well.

By watching the film, you would think that you would have a lot to talk about afterward, but in a way, it just makes you feel numb, but definitely worth while to see.

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‘Brickumentary': Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Legos

posted by jtotey
Jason Bateman is the voice of the "Narrator Guy." (Radius TWC)

Jason Bateman is the voice of the “Narrator Guy.” (Radius TWC)

“Although we’re both known for more ‘serious’ films,” says Daniel Junge and Kief Davidson in a statement for the documentary, A Lego Brickumentary, [this movie] might be the most difficult film we’ve ever made.” And for those who think that this is just a big infomercial for the toy brand, you would be wrong. “Once [Lego] were sold on the approach, they were pretty hands off,” says Davidson. “We got to make the film we wanted to make while being granted all of the access we needed.” Which is as it should be when making a documentary – having the freedom to spread out all of the good, the bad and the ugly on the table. Then again, trying to dig up any dirt on Lego is a lost cause.

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At first, the film appears to have been made for young children as a yellow-toned Lego mini-figure, (voiced by Jason Bateman), pops on the scene and explains the wonders of the building block toy. However, the film quickly shifts focus from children to adults. Dave and Stacy Sterling are just two of those adults who build for fun and their “play room” would make most kids jealous.

Dave and Stacy Sterling are just two of those adults who build for fun.

Dave and Stacy Sterling are just two of those adults who build for fun.

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This 92 minute film covers just about everything you can think of related to Lego from the company’s early days in Denmark to how the product is used as therapy for children and entertainment for adult Brickmaster clubs. Footage was shot all around the world including the Lego factories, large presentations in Time Square, the Legoland theme parks, conventions, behind the scenes of the animated Lego Movie, on the set of independent “brick film” producers, and more.

This film is rated G, so it is a perfect way to introduce your children documentaries and learn to appreciate the art form. And with these dog days of summer, it is sure to spark some interest in your children to dig out their bricks and start building instead of playing video games. But don’t be fooled, adult fans of the brick will be just as inspired.

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