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Emma Watson, Tom Hanks team up for new tech thriller 'The Circle'

Published: Monday, March 13, 2017 @ 6:47 AM
Updated: Monday, March 13, 2017 @ 6:47 AM


            Emma Watson stars in STX Entertainment's
Emma Watson stars in STX Entertainment's "The Circle."(STX Entertainment/EPK.tv)

While many fans are waiting for this week's release of Emma Watson's live-action take on Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," it is her next movie that may have fans reconsidering their online personas.

"The Circle" examines what happens when everyone lives their lives on social media.

Baised on Dave Eggers' 2013 novel, Watson portrays Mae Holland, who gets her dream job at a tech company called The Circle. 

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The company, founded by Eamon Bailey, played by Tom Hanks, monitors every moment of everybody's life and makes all those moments available to anyone online.

The movie's director, James Ponsoldt, told USA Today that, "Bailey's notion is knowing is good, and knowing everything is better."

"He believes all experiences should be available to everyone, not only the privileged or people who can afford to them. He's deeply interested in technology that can make people share all human experiences with everyone," Ponsoldt added.

Holland (Watson) adopts the no-holds-barred access by sharing everything with strangers via new camera technology that fits anywhere and broadcasts in real-time wirelessly.

She becomes famous, so much so the freedom of broadcasting her entire life becomes her prison.

And while movie-goers will see striking similarities to current tech companies, Ponsoldt told USA Today that it isn't based on any one company.

"'The Circle' is probably like many tech companies, pushing ethical boundaries over how much autonomy and freedom we should have and how much privacy we should have, Ponsoldt said.

"The Circle" also stars John Boyega, Patton Oswalt and Bill Paxton in his last movie. It hits theaters on April 28.

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What’s next for documentary about famous Dayton band?

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 6:00 AM

Brooklyn-based filmmaker Eric Mahoney, a former Daytonian, recently launched a new Kickstarter campaign for his documentary on 1990s band Brainiac. CONTRIBUTED
Brooklyn-based filmmaker Eric Mahoney, a former Daytonian, recently launched a new Kickstarter campaign for his documentary on 1990s band Brainiac. CONTRIBUTED

In 2017, former Daytonian Eric Mahoney started work on his passion project, a documentary on Brainiac. The film explores the beloved Dayton band’s short but powerful career, which was derailed with frontman Tim Taylor’s death in a car accident in May 1997.

Mahoney is financing the documentary himself along with support from crowdfunding. In May 2017, the Brooklyn-based filmmaker raised $40,000 through a successful Kickstarter campaign. He recently launched a second Kickstarter campaign for $20,000, which ends Feb. 22.

>> Ron Kaplan wants to see his aviation film fest in Dayton

Mahoney, who hopes to have a rough cut before summer, recently answered some questions about the project.

How is work going on the documentary?

It’s going fantastic. In December, we filmed a tribute show in Brooklyn, which was incredible. Then we had a follow-up gig in Dayton, which was equally remarkable. Those performances and experiences really helped extend the narrative and interject some positivity and closure to the story. It’s been an amazing journey doing this project and such an honor for me personally.

>> 5 things to know about one of Dayton’s most famous bands

Brainiac — (from left) Tim Taylor, John Schmersal, Juan Monasterio and Tyler Trent — featured in a mid-’90s promotional photo. CONTRIBUTED/FILE(Contributing Writer)

What has been the biggest revelation for you during this project?

The biggest revelation has been that this has somehow provided a sense of closure and healing for the band and for Tim’s family. That has been a completely unexpected byproduct of this film. Almost everyone involved has said to me this has really helped them heal and feel good again about celebrating Tim and the music. That is such a powerful thing and one I didn’t expect to have occur. It gives me such an elevated sense of purpose around this project and makes me personally feel wonderful knowing this film is creating positivity in people’s lives.

>> Star Wars actor just tweeted about this Dayton band

Brainiac, (left to right) Tim Taylor, John Schmersal, Juan Monasterio and Tyler Trent, pictured in a mid- 90s UK promo photo. CONTRIBUTED(Contributing Writer)

What is Brainiac’s legacy?

It’s just exceptional how influential the band has been. Everyone from the National to the Melvins participated and cited Brainiac as being so inspiring to them as artists. Brainiac’s originality and art should be much more well known, and I hope people will catch wind of that through this film. I also believe this is a remarkable story that regardless of one’s musical tastes will resonate with people on a human level.

>> 5 Dayton rock bands that have gone international

What has been the hardest part so far?

Financing has been tough and that has forced me to be a one-man operation for a lot of the process. I’m eternally grateful for my editor and producing partner, Ian Jacobs, for jumping in unpaid and taking this journey with me. This is absolutely a labor of love and he and I have made some sacrifices taking large amounts of time off to dedicate to the film. It’s 100 percent worth it, though.

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Mr. Incredible stays home? ‘Incredibles 2’ Olympic-sized teaser trailer drops

Published: Thursday, February 15, 2018 @ 3:10 PM

A still frame
A still frame "Incredibles 2"(Walt Disney Pictures)

The Olympics were the perfect venue for Disney and Pixar to release their latest installment of “The Incredibles” franchise.

And if you’ve seen any of the teaser images, they’re starting to make sense.

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Recently, they’ve teased fans with Mr. Incredible, voiced by Craig T. Nelson, at an ironing board.

We also know where the super suits are -- in the wash:

But in the sneak peek released during Olympic competition that aired Wednesday evening, we know that roles have been reversed with Elastigirl, voiced by Holly Hunter, leaving the home, and leaving her superhero children in the super hands of her husband, Mr. Incredible.

You also get a glimpse of Jack-Jack’s developing superpowers.

“Incredibles 2” hits the big screen on June 15.

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7 spring break road trips for college kids (inspired by movies)

Published: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 @ 10:03 AM

These seven road trip movies were all set or filmed across the U.S. Tybee Island, Georgia, inspired by “Dirty Grandpa” Miami, Florida, inspired by “Baywatch” Los Angeles, inspired “Rain Man” Asheville, North Carolina, inspired by “May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers” Austin, Texas, inspired by "Honeysuckle Rose” Alamo, San Antonio, Texas, inspired by “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” New Orleans, inspired by “Easy Rider”

Whether you're a genuine college kid taking a break from the books or you're a few years out and trying to recapture those carefree days, it's time for some spring break inspiration.

Why not take a cue from a cinematic adventure?

These seven road trip movies were all set or filmed across the U.S., and offer some reasonable regional spring break trip ideas for the party animal in all of us. Some are new(ish), others are from bygone eras (like the 80s) and all of them will put you in the mood to hit it:

Don't look down, or you just might see Zac Ephron's, ah, naked spring break ambitions in Dirty Grandpa, which was filmed on Tybee Island.(Contributed by Vulture.com/For the AJC)

Tybee Island, Georgia, inspired by “Dirty Grandpa”

Let's just start by getting “Dirty Grandpa”(2016), starring Robert De Niro and Zac Ephron, out of the way. If you haven't been introduced to the time-honored spring break goals of ridiculous amounts of alcohol, beach competitions and unrealistically gorgeous bikini-clad women, take a quick look at this one. What makes it extra-inspiring is that part of the filming happened on Tybee Island, Georgia, and in several Atlanta neighborhoods. While you might not want to bring your bucket-list-completing grandfather with you, you'll definitely be inspired by Ephron's, uh, cajones.

Miami, Florida, inspired by “Baywatch”

In the same vein, but on the other coast, is “Baywatch” (2017), in which the Rock (among others) jogs in slow-mo. What makes it relevant for Southerners is that it was cleverly filmed right here on Tybee Island and in Savannah, Georgia, along with Boca Raton and Miami, Florida. If the cast can make the journey to our fine Southern beaches, so can you. Other spring break goals from Baywatch include beach bodies, intrigue and realizing who on the trip is there just to make you laugh today and who's going to be a friend for life.

Rain Man and his brother/keeper in the 1949 Buick Roadmaster.(Contributed by Mashable.com/For the AJC)

Los Angeles, inspired “Rain Man”

Getting back to actual get-in-the-car-and-take-off road trip movies, there's  “Rain Man” (1988). This classic features Dustin Hoffman as a man living with autism being driven from Cincinnati to L.A. by his brother,  played by Tom Cruise, for nefarious purposes. While that's too many miles for a Southern spring break, drink in the film's road trip message and remember that gambling on cards and on life is more fun when you bring along your sketchiest family member. If you want to see actual filming sights, head up to the Cinncinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport and check out Newport, Covington and Silver Grove, Kentucky.

Asheville, North Carolina, inspired by “May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers”

If you prefer less sketchy family adventures, look to “May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers”. The Judd Apatow-directed documentary is fresh and hip and involves a series of mini-road trips, including one from Concord to South Hipster Central (aka Asheville) North Carolina. If nothing else, consider the album made during filming, "True Sadness," as the Rockabilly soundtrack for your travels.

Austin, Texas, inspired by Honeysuckle Rose”

For another musical spring break route, how about traveling like the characters in “Honeysuckle Rose” (1980)? No one's going to argue that this Willie Nelson vehicle is great art, but the 80s flick takes you to Country Western strongholds in a big bus with "The life I love is making music with my friends" playing in the background. It was filmed at Padre Island National Seashore and in Austin, Texas, which makes a super spring break itinerary. The movie features a love triangle, but experienced road trippers will tell you to leave that back at the dorm.

Hitchhiking is not good, but how else could Pee-Wee make it to the Alamo for his Big Adventure?(Contributed by quotesgram.com/For the AJC)

Alamo, San Antonio, Texas, inspired by “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”

While we're pondering Texas destinations, how about retracing Pee-Wee's steps as he strives to recover his stolen bike in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985). Diners, a truck driver named Large Marge and roadside attractions galore all lead the way to the Alamo. What's not to love?

New Orleans, inspired by “Easy Rider”

If Pee-Wee's antics are a bit childish for your taste, maybe the road trip from Easy Rider (1969) would be more your thing. Fine acting, very adult themes, critical thinking and an understated script made this cross-country trip movie a cult classic that stands the test of time. While the experiences of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda as counter-culture drug dealers/bikers making their way from L.A. to NOLA bear no resemblance to a frivolous spring break, there are some helpful takeaways. For one, the film reminds aspiring travelers that New Orleans is a splendid place to land at the end of the drive. 

Here’s how to catch these spring break flicks:

Watch Dirty Grandpa on Hulu, Amazon Prime or Epix.

Rent Baywatch at the PlayStation Store, from Verizon or on numerous other streaming services. It's also for sale on DVD.

Watch Rain Man on Cinemax. Rent or buy it from other sources.

Stream the Avett Brothers album True Sadness on Amazon Prime.

Rent Honeysuckle Rose on Amazon Prime, Google Play and iTunes.

See Pee-Wee's Big Adventure on Netflix. Rent or buy it from other sources.

Watch Easy Rider on Sundance or Doc Club. Rent or buy it from other sources.

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How the horror satire ‘Get Out’ became an unlikely Oscar darling

Published: Sunday, February 11, 2018 @ 2:44 PM

What You Need To Know About Jordan Peele

By conventional Hollywood standards, “Get Out” shouldn’t be an Oscar darling. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is usually averse to horror movies, and almost never rewards films that come out early in the year. What’s more, the academy typically favors industry stalwarts, not first-time filmmakers like writer-director Jordan Peele.

But “Get Out” broke all the rules, earning four nominations including best picture, best director and best original screenplay, marking another twist in a highly unusual yearlong path from last year’s Sundance Film Festival to the Oscars red carpet. The movie is the first February release to earn a best picture nomination since “The Silence of the Lambs” won the top prize in 1992.

The unexpected success of the $4.5-million socially conscious thriller, released by Universal Pictures, is more than just a quirky Hollywood anomaly. It serves as a reminder that studios, even in a seemingly ossified system, can find success by betting on fresh talent and edgy ideas that connect with audiences.

“Get Out,” about a young black man who visits his white girlfriend’s parents and is ensnared in a terrifying plot, has benefited from a wave of cultural momentum behind its satirical take on race in America. The movie became a surprise hit, grossing about $255 million at the worldwide box office, and continued to resonate with audiences during news cycles about the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and athletes protesting during the national anthem. Now it has a decent shot at the business’ top honor, which will bring a big boost of prestige to the winning studio and filmmakers.

“It’s the wildest dream that has become a reality,” said Peele in an interview. “There were so many stigmas around this movie that I assumed would keep it from being nominated — the horror stigma, the stigma about movies earlier in the season, and the stigma around some of the imagery in this movie.”

» Jordan Peele ‘seriously’ considering sequel to hit movie ‘Get Out’

The journey of “Get Out” illustrates the challenge of campaigning for a movie that hit theaters more than a year before the ceremony.

A year ago, Comcast-owned Universal had successfully sold “Get Out” to audiences as a high-concept scary movie, spending tens of millions to make the film a commercial winner. But when awards season began in the fall, the studio had to remarket the film in a way that would get the academy’s notoriously older and whiter demographic to take it seriously.

Even getting horror-averse voters to see “Get Out” was a formidable undertaking, said Jason Blum, one of the films’ producers.

“It was very, very challenging getting eyes on the movie from members of the academy,” Blum said in his Los Angeles office. “I would be surprised if more than 20 percent of academy members had seen the movie by the end of August.”

The critical response and the social impact gave the studio the confidence to put the muscle of a full-fledged awards campaign behind the movie, said Donna Langley, chairman of Universal Pictures. Universal declined to say how much the studio spent on the campaign to target academy voters. However, studios typically spend $4 million to $5 million for a robust rollout, which includes spending on television ads, billboards, screenings and flying filmmakers around the country to awards events.

“It became very clear that the narrative of the movie had evolved beyond a very satisfying genre film to a piece of cinema,” Langley said. “We were able to pivot our marketing to do just that.”

Whereas Universal’s initial marketing focused on the movie’s scary scenes, the Oscar campaign emphasized the reviews that praised its timely themes. Campaign billboards prominently featured a famous close-up up of the tear-streaked face of Daniel Kaluuya, who earned a best lead actor nomination for playing the main character Chris, with quotes from major publications about the film’s relevance.

» Meryl Streep, Jordan Peele, Guillermo del Toro and more react to 2018 Oscar nominations

As part of the campaign, the studio made a coffee-table book featuring dozens of pieces of artwork that fans of the movie sent to Peele on social media. Audience members created art inspired by the film’s imagery such as the deer antlers, the hypnotic teacup and Chris sinking into the floor.

To keep the buzz going, Universal in January created a special Twitter hashtag with a promotional emoji for “the sunken place,” the film’s best-known metaphor for the marginalization of black people.

“It’s become a way for people to express that their voices are being suppressed,” said “Get Out” producer Sean McKittrick.

It was never a sure thing that “Get Out” would be a success, financially or critically. When Peele gave McKittrick his 30-minute pitch over coffee at Fratelli Cafe on Melrose Avenue in 2013, he was known only for doing sketch comedy on “Mad TV” and Comedy Central’s “Key and Peele.” Nonetheless, McKittrick quickly agreed to make the film and have Peele write the script.

McKittrick saw “Get Out” as a chance to make a movie that had never been put on the big screen before, with its unusual mixture of scares, comedy and social commentary. The danger was that there were so many ways the project could go awry, given the sensitive subject matter. (The first scene is a “Halloween”-style suburban horror movie opening meant to echo the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin). So when Peele said he wanted to direct, McKittrick agreed.

“The tone was so tricky,” McKittrick said. “It was such a delicate story that could veer too far into comedy, too far into horror, or too far into satire.”

They shopped the movie to a handful of distributors, all of whom passed. When they were scouting locations and zeroing in on cast members, an assistant from Blum’s production company Blumhouse heard Peele talking about the project in a radio interview. Blumhouse Productions, known for highly profitable microbudget horror hits such as “Sinister” and “The Purge,” joined McKittrick’s company QC Entertainment as producers in January 2015. Blumhouse has a distribution deal with Universal Pictures, which signed on to give “Get Out” a wide release.

» Comedians Jordan Peele and Chelsea Peretti welcome first child

The studio and filmmakers made key marketing decisions early on, preserving elements of mystery to intrigue moviegoers. For example, Peele objected to an early cut of the trailer that revealed a climactic twist involving a set of car keys, despite the studio’s desire to showcase as many intense moments as possible. The studio relented, and the trailer, released in October 2016 at the tail end of a divisive election season, drew 29 million views in its first 24 hours. Keeping plot points under wraps helped ensure that people could watch the movie multiple times and have different experiences, Peele said.

“I believed this movie was a risk, and a risk with a lot of potential upside, but as long as we were taking that potential risk, let’s build the movie so that the plot creates its own person-to-person marketing campaign,” Peele said.

In another unusual tactic, Blum pushed for a premiere at Sundance, believing that a positive early response from critics would propel the movie at the box office. That idea could have backfired severely, because Universal had already set the film up for a wide release that was just weeks away. If the movie bombed with reviewers, there would be no time to change release plans.

“It was a risky thing to do because it’s much harder to open to a general audience if you flop at Sundance,” Blum said. “But it was a calculated risk. I thought it was unique enough and compelling enough that it would appeal to a festival audience.”

That gamble paid off, too, with the movie earning a rare 100 percent Rotten Tomatoes score, giving the studio an early confidence boost.

“Get Out’s” commercial fortunes were another sign that the movie was more than just a typical horror film. It opened with a solid $33 million and ranked No. 1 at the domestic box office. The next weekend, the movie collected an additional $28 million, a mere 15 percent decline from the prior week. Horror movies, as a rule, drop at least 50 percent in the second week after they open.

To build interest, the studio made sure to market the film to black moviegoers. The first trailer launched during the 2016 BET Hip Hop Awards, and Chance the Rapper hosted an early Q&A screening to promote the film and bought tickets for people in Chicago. “Get Out’s” debut audience was 39 percent black, 36 percent white and 17 percent Latino.

A year later, “Get Out” is again in a familiar underdog position. In the race to the March 4 awards presentation, “Get Out” and Universal are facing heavy competition from 20th Century Fox’s specialty film unit Fox Searchlight, which released two of the front-runners in the race — Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

In order for “Get Out” to beat the odds again, the studio and filmmakers need to convince voters that this is the movie people will remember when they think about cinema in 2017.

“The movie keeps presenting itself in different ways that prove its relevancy,” Langley said. “That critical mass is reached where it becomes something beyond a film. It becomes a cultural phenomenon, and that’s what we’ve been experiencing since we released it.”

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