Meryl Streep Joins MARY POPPINS RETURNS

StreepWitch

This dream cast just keeps getting more magical.

Following her praised collaboration with director Rob Marshall in Disney’s adaptation of Stephen Sondheim‘s Into The Woods, Meryl Streep has signed on to reteam with the musical filmmaker in Disney’s sequel Mary Poppins Returns.

Joining Into The Woods cast mate Emily Blunt (who plays the titular magical nanny) plus Hamilton creator and multi-Tony winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, Streep is reported to be playing the role of Mary’s cousin Topsy (a character that was not in the original 1964 classic).

Here is a synopsis for Mary Poppins Returns:

  • Set in Depression-era London (when the books were originally written), the story follows a now-grown Jane and Michael Banks who, along with Michael’s three children, are visited by the enigmatic Mary Poppins (Blunt) following a personal loss. Through her unique magical skills, and with the aid of her friend Jack (Miranda), Mary Poppins helps the family rediscover the joy and wonder missing in their lives.

The score will be composed by Marc Shaiman (Hairspray, Catch Me If You Can) who will co-write songs with Scott Wittman, Shaiman’s longtime collaborator. The screenplay will be written by David Magee (Finding Neverland).

We’ll all have to wait a bit, though. Mary Poppins Returns won’t open until Christmas Day 2018.

THE GREAT WALL Trailer Shows Matt Damon In Chinese Fantasy Epic (VIDEO)

Debuting on movie screens in front of the latest Jason Bourne installment this weekend is the first trailer for the new action spectacle from Chinese auteur Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) and Bourne star Matt Damon.

Sort of a Spielberg of the Far East, Yimou is admired by critics and audiences alike. His latest film The Great Wall puts a fantasy spin on why China’s Great Wall was built: to keep big mystical creatures out.

In what may end up being the biggest, most successful collaboration between Hollywood and the Chinese Movie Industry yet, The Great Wall opens early next year on February 17, 2017.

Here is the official studio synopsis:

  • Starring global superstar Matt Damon and directed by one of the most breathtaking visual stylists of our time, Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers), Legendary’s The Great Wall tells the story of an elite force making a valiant stand for humanity on the world’s most iconic structure. The first English-language production for Yimou is the largest film ever shot entirely in China. The Great Wall also stars Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe and Andy Lau.

JASON BOURNE (Movie Review)

JasonBourne
** out of ****

Rated PG-13
(for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief strong language)
Released: July 29, 2016
Runtime: 123 minutes
Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones, Julia Stiles, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed, Ato Essandoh

Bourne to be mild.

Even with two big action set piece bookends and several smaller ones in-between, Jason Bourne is a rather tedious affair. If you’ve seen any of the previous Bourne movies then you’ve already seen this one. It’s a competent but uninspired cash grab that doesn’t validate its existence beyond anything other than the fact that Universal Studios was able to get star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass back into the franchise fold after a dull attempt without them.

This one isn’t much better. Sure, this fifth chapter in the series (and fourth with Damon) knows exactly what it is and is confident in its formula, but it merely goes through those motions and nothing more. Offering little in the way of surprising revelations or intriguing stakes, Jason Bourne – which continues the renegade exploits of an amnesiac superspy on the run – slogs in the mire of redundancy, even as it overcompensates with its signature kinetic style. The few new disclosures unearthed are fairly boilerplate, as if the writers are grasping at straws (which they likely were).

From familiar plot machinations to rote dialogue (of which Damon has surprisingly little), this is pretty much what you expect. Lots of globetrotting, incognito speed-walking, and high tech hacking (with the requisite scanning, uploading, and downloading before someone corrupts a system). There’s the brawling fisticuffs, too, and the occasional smash ‘em up chases in vehicles of various sizes and varieties.

The shaky cam/hyper-edit aesthetic is starting to feel monotonous at this point too and, quite frankly, pales in comparison to the slick daredevil choreography of the past two Mission: Impossible blockbusters. This repetitive adventure leaves you wanting more Ethan Hunt, not Jason Bourne.

Rehashed, simplified, and dumbed down, Jason Bourne is a shameless example of a franchise on autopilot. Showtime’s relentlessly inventive (and character driven) Homeland is a much more satisfying and substantial way to scratch the itch this perfunctory installment fails to. Bourne may still be wanting answers but I’m not so sure that we do, not if this is all we’re going to get.

New Trailer For Affleck Thriller THE ACCOUNTANT (VIDEO)

Good Will Sniping?

Puns like those (this wasn’t my first) are likely to surround the upcoming thriller starring Ben Affleck called The Accountant. Following a teaser this past spring, the film’s first full trailer has now debuted (see below).

Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a math savant (with Asperger-like traits) who works as a financial manager for clients in the illegal underworld. His position may prove to be an asset to the government agents who are hot on his trail.

Co-starring Anna KendrickJ.K. SimmonsJon BernthalJeffrey Tambor, and John Lithgow, The Accountant opens in theaters this fall – October 14, 2016.

First Trailer For HACKSAW RIDGE, Mel Gibson’s Pacifist War Movie (VIDEO)

This is going to be one of the more interesting box office experiments we’ve seen in awhile. (You can read my review of the movie here.)

The upcoming World War II movie Hacksaw Ridge is a bundle of contradictions. Liberals will like cheer the story – and trailer (below) – of an Army medic who, as a conscientious objector, served on the battlefield without ever carrying a weapon or firing a shot. Where they’ll be skeptical is what will intrigue conservatives: the director, Mel Gibson.

Reviled on the Left for anti-Semitic and sexist drunken meltdowns but largely forgiven by the Right for his inspiring films of sacrifice ranging from Braveheart to The Passion of the Christ, Gibson’s latest movie will likely be met with cautious optimism by both sides of the ideological aisle.

Liberals will love the film’s themes while being wary of who’s delivering them, while Conservatives could prove to be the inverse (although Evangelicals – even of the flag-waving jingoist variety – will no doubt be moved by the fact that Desmond Doss, the real-life hero, acted according to his own personal Christian convictions). Gibson haters in particular could find themselves in a bit of a quandary; on one hand they’ll want to see this story, but on the other hand they won’t want to give Mel their money.

It’s telling that Gibson’s name never appears in the trailer.

The one thing everyone will probably agree on: Desmond Doss deserved the Congressional Medal of Honor he was awarded.

Starring Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man), the cast also includes Vince VaughnSam WorthingtonHugo Weaving, and Rachel Griffiths.

Written by Braveheart scribe Randall Wallace, Mel Gibson’s first directorial effort in a decade hits theaters on November 4, 2016.

STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991)

STVI_Cover

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Rated PG 
(for sci-fi violence, brief sensuality, and some language)
Released: December 6, 1991
Runtime: 113 minutes
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Christopher Plummer, Kim Cattrall

Star Trek: Original Cast Movies – A Look Back

STVI_Bridge

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is a pretty badass movie. Not because of some rock and roll attitude, but rather a Shakespearian one.

Starting off with a literal bang, the final movie of the original cast era does not self-consciously waste time reestablishing its bona fides following the poor reception of Star Trek V. With confidence, it boldly goes from the jump and never lets up. Wielding brains, brawn, wit, and relevance, Star Trek VI – the last adventure for the first crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise – is quintessential Trek in every respect, and even better than I’d remembered.

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The Undiscovered Country explodes full force into a Cold War metaphor, with Star Fleet and the Klingons serving as the U.S./Soviet ciphers, with a Chernobyl-styled incident (and global warming-type implications for good measure) that accelerates the likely doom of the Klingon race.

A glasnost is struck between the enemy factions, with Klingon Chancellor Gorkon filling Gorbachev’s shoes (and sporting Lincoln’s beard) while Spock is more Reagan-esque than Kirk, who still clings to hatred over the Klingon murder of his son. (The tension of the guarded, and barbed, dinner conversation between the two sides is brilliantly written and performed.) Then when the action finally kicks in, it does so in rather dramatic (even shocking) fashion.

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There’s an inventive adrenaline to this spectacular curtain call, from the onslaught of clever Cold War parallels (both broad and specific) that boasts a thematic and philosophical ambition that wouldn’t even dawn on the reboot of today.

The closest the new Star Trek gets to real-world significance is having a generic terrorist. The original Trek, by contrast, would fictionalize our entire response to terrorism by mirroring the Left/Right ideological divides, how we confront the global scourge (or don’t), and the prickly political implications.

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In this case, The Undiscovered Country sought to contemplate what brokering peace between two giant enemy powers would look like, and how that challenge is complicated by bad actors on both sides who want to keep the war going.

Raising the stakes is an ingeniously plotted murder mystery, and then another plot that plays beneath that mystery – one that can’t even be seen until it’s revealed in the film’s second half. In total, it all engages the mind while cranking the suspense, showcasing Spock at the peak of his logical powers (see Trivia below for how Spock links himself as a descendant of Sherlock Holmes).

Plus, Kirk gets to brawl in a few last fistfights and steal one last kiss in playful homage to the swaggering Captain of the initial five-year mission (Shatner is game for self-deprecating jabs at his own ego, too).

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Also nifty: not just the fact that Sulu is now Captain of his own Starship, but also how his leadership of the Excelsior is intrinsically woven throughout this narrative (and adds to the film’s aforementioned badass nature).

Director Nicholas Meyer returns for the franchise farewell, bringing the literary depth he infused into The Wrath of Khan – but this time he swaps Melville for The Bard. Just as Khan spat some of Captain Ahab’s most literate jabs, so too does Klingon General Chang revel verbatim in quotes from Hamlet, The Tempest, Henry V, and more. They’re bandied about with delicious conviction by Shakespearian trained screen legend Christopher Plummer.

STVI_GeneralChang

This sixth and final chapter also restores Star Trek to its rightful place among the elite visual effects blockbusters of the time, after being sorely undercut (along with Shatner’s directorial efforts) in Star Trek V. Right off the top we see that the Star Trek universe has returned to superior sci-fi form, with effects that are as good as (and arguably better than) ever. The opening Praxis effect even set a new industry standard (see Trivia below).

It’s a sweet moment of redemption, too, for producer Ralph Winter who bungled the post-production process on The Final Frontier. As the lead producer here, Winter allows the original cast to bow out with pride over the spectacle they’re in (particularly given the modest $30 million budget he had to work with).

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Composer Cliff Eidelman provides a rousing space opera of a score, with textures both nautical and sentimental, that follows in the grand tradition set by Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is like the most rewarding TV series finale you could ever hope for, one that plays to our nostalgia (capped by granting the crew a literal standing ovation) without ever coasting on it, instead giving us as vital and ambitious an original story as the franchise has seen, and that stands alongside its best. Then as the final credits begin to roll, Star Trek VI becomes a literal love letter signed to the fans.

Wrapped up with high drama, deep sentiment, and pure class, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is so good and so satisfying that it leaves you wanting more – which is exactly how a saga of this stature should end.

STVI_CrewBridge

Available to rent through Amazon Instant Video. (Currently free to stream for Amazon Prime members.)

NOTABLE TRIVIA

  • The subtitle The Undiscovered Country – which is derived from Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy – was originally considered for Star Trek II before that was finally labeled The Wrath of Khan. Both movies were directed by Nicholas Meyer.
  • During the story’s mystery, Spock tells the crew, “An ancestor of mine maintained that if you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains – however improbable – must be the solution.” The “ancestor” that Spock quotes is actually Sherlock Holmes. Writer/Director Nicholas Meyer was a Sherlock aficionado, and his novel “The Seven Percent Solution” is considered by many to be the best non-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock story ever written.
  • The visual effect for the explosion of the Klingon moon Praxis became a popular one repeated for other similar explosions, including in the 1997 special edition versions of Star Wars and Return of the Jedi. It was called “The Praxis Effect”.
    STVI_PraxisEffect
  • The role of Vulcan Lt. Valeris (played by Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall) was originally written as Lt. Saavik from films II, III, and IV. But Gene Roddenberry objected to that interpretation and arc for Saavik, so it was changed to an original new character.
  • The Klingon lawyer Worf seen here played by Michael Dorn is Colonel Worf, not Lieutenant Worf of The Next Generation. The Colonel is the grandfather of the Lieutenant.
    STVI_Worf
  • In his brief cameo scene, Christian Slater wears the uniform trousers that William Shatner wore in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
  • The Al Pacino/Michelle Pfieffer movie Frankie & Johnny was being filmed at the same studio. For a scene in which Pacino has to act surprised after opening a door, director Garry Marshall had Shatner and Nimoy dressed up as Kirk and Spock on the other side of that door.
  • The year this takes place is 2293, established by McCoy’s comment that he had served on the Enterprise for 27 years. This means that the events of Star Trek VI occur six years after the events of Star Trek V (although the films are only two years apart) and twenty-two years after the events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (but only twelve years between those films). Given the degree to which most of the aged, the Trek timeline looks more authentic than the real one.
  • Producer Harve Bennett was passionate about making a Star Trek prequel movie next, set in their academy days, which would re-cast the roles with younger actors. He even had a script written by Star Trek V writer David Loughery and was openly considering Ethan Hawke and John Cusack for the roles of Kirk and Spock. Fans, the studio, and Gene Roddenberry all objected. Bennett was so disappointed he left the series. Executive Producer Ralph Winter was promoted to lead Producer.
  • David Warner, who plays Klingon Chancellor Gorkon, also played a Starfleet ambassador in Star Trek V.
    STVI_Gorkon
  • Jack Palance was originally offered the role of Gorkon, but he had to pass because the shoot dates conflicted with his work for City Slickers, the movie that would garner him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
  • Both Warner and Christopher Plummer gave notable stage performances of Hamlet in the 1950s and 60s, and Shatner was a Plummer understudy early on in his career for several Canadian Shakespeare productions.
  • This was the first time that the “T” of James T. Kirk was ever stated as “Tiberius” on-screen, despite having been well known with fan culture. It’s also the first time that Sulu’s first name Hikaru is spoken. Uhura is the only character to never have had her first name spoken throughout the entire television or film series. It’s Nyota, and it was final spoken in the 2009 reboot.
  • Director Nicholas Meyer originally asked composer James Horner to return to the franchise, and then Jerry Goldsmith, but both refused. He eventually hired Cliff Eidelman because Meyer felt his demo submissions had the perfect mix of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” grandeur and the styles of Horner and Goldsmith.
  • Many of the Enterprise sets were redresses of Enterprise D sets from The Next Generation, which was still being produced at the time.
  • This was the last screen appearance for DeForest Kelley as Dr. McCoy. It was also the final canonical appearance for Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura, although she reprised the role in the 2004 fan fiction series Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II.
  • In his capacity as Executive Producer, an ailing Gene Roddenberry viewed the first rough cut of the film to give notes. Less than 48 hours after that screening, he passed away.

M. Night Shyamalan Conjures Psycho-like Horror in SPLIT Trailer (VIDEO)

Once dubbed the next Spielberg, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan has struggled to fulfill that promise after an impressive (and lucrative) early three-film stretch that began nearly twenty years ago.

Based on this disturbing debut trailer, Split may be the closest thing to those glory days he’s offered up yet. (Warning: the predatory nature of the villain’s actions is very unsettling.)

With overt Hitchcockian influences, Split follows a mentally disturbed James McAvoy (the X-Men franchise) as he kidnaps three teenage girls and holds them hostage. The terror mounts as the young women learn more shocking revelations about their captor, ones that possibly give McAvoy the biggest character canvas of his career.

Co-starring Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch), Split opens on January 20, 2017. (Click here to see the film’s 2nd trailer.)