Monday, 16 December 2013 11:48

Believe it or not, it’s already time to predict the Oscars. The year in movies is winding down and the 86th Academy Awards are less than three months away. The race is on, with front-runners taking the lead and others in the mix hoping to shake things up. A few movies have still not yet been released, but every film that hopes to qualify for the Oscars will be in theaters by the last day of December. Here is how the six major categories are taking shape, with the top contenders fighting for the five coveted slots (or, in the case of Best Picture, up to ten).

IAR Blu-ray Preview: 'Man of Tai Chi'

Wednesday, 11 December 2013 12:15

Like its hero, Man of Tai Chi is easy to underestimate. 

Luckily for Keanu Reeves, that just makes it easier for his directorial debut to roundhouse kick the audience in the jaw with a lean yet powerful martial arts experience.  With Man of Tai Chi, now available on high definition Blu-ray, Reeves proves that he's not simply an actor who can convincingly chop it up, but he's also a director who is fluent in real Hong Kong action.

This Friday, Bilbo's unexpected journey grows ever-more perilous, darker, and more adventurous in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

The second installment in Peter Jackson's epic trilogy adapting the first Middle Earth novel by J.R.R Tolkien hits theaters nationwide on December 13th.

A year ago, the first film introduced the younger Bilbo, following him as he set off from the Shire on an adventure, accompanying Thorin Oakenshield's dwarf-party and Gandalf the Grey. 

In The Desolation of Smaug, the group grows closer to the Lonely Mountain, where they attempt to reclaim the underground dwarf kingdom of Erebor from the formidable dragon who slumbers within.  Along the way, they encounter Mirkwood elves, a skin-changer, Lake-Town, and all manner of orcs.  Every threat pales in comparison, however, to the might of Smaug himself.

Along with entertainment journalists from all over the globe, IAR Managing Editor Jami Philbrick was on hand for the film's press conference in Beverly Hills earlier this month.  He had the opportunity to discuss The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug with director Jackson, co-writer Fran Walsh, and stars Richard Armitage (Captain America: The First Avenger), Evangeline Lilly (Lost), Luke Evans (Furious 6), and Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek Into Darkness).

IAR Blu-ray Preview: 'Fast & Furious 6'

Monday, 09 December 2013 11:34

In Furious 6, our heroes – once street-racers and small-time thieves – fulfill their destiny on the world-stage, taking down a Bond-villain-level bad guy and influencing global geopolitics in the process.

With Fast & Furious 6 arriving on Blu-ray this week, you can make a similar leap in your home-theater experience, jumping from penny-ante DVD shenanigans to having your living room rattled by the most spectacular installment in one of the biggest and best blockbuster franchises around.

IAR Blu-ray Preview: 'The Wolverine'

Monday, 02 December 2013 10:53

He's the best at what he does, and while what he does isn't exactly nice, it sure does look sharp on Blu-ray.

Marvel's least-merry mutant snikts his way through his latest adventure in high-definition this week, as The Wolverine arrives on 3D Blu-ray and Blu-ray in two forms: the theatrical edition and the Unleashed Extended Edition featuring an unrated cut.

This holiday season, one of the most celebrated and beloved plays of Langston Hughes finally makes the transition from stage to screen.

Black Nativity hits theaters this Wednesday, November 27th.

The film is based on the gospel musical of the same name, which the playwright and towering Harlem Renaissance figure first staged more than half a century ago. 

In adapting the play, Black Nativity brings the story into a contemporary setting, following Langston, a streetwise teen who ventures from his native Baltimore to New York for Christmas.  Raised by his single mother, Langston is forced to spent the holidays with estranged relatives Reverend Cornell and Aretha Cobbs.  Bristling under the Reverend's strict rule, Langston sets his heart on returning home to Baltimore, but finds himself on a journey that teaches him new lessons about himself, family, forgiveness, and God.

Written and directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou), Black Nativity features an all-star ensemble led by Jacob Latimore (Vanishing on Seventh Street) as Langston.  Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels' The Butler) plays Reverend Cornell, with Angela Bassett (Olympus Has Fallen) as Aretha Cobbs, and Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) as Langston's mother, Naima.  Lending support are Mary J. Blige (Rock of Ages) and Tyrese Gibson (Furious 6).

At the Los Angeles press day for Black Nativity, IAR Managing Editor Jami Philbrick had the opportunity to speak with Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, and Mary J. Blige.  The actors enthusiastically discussed their connection to the material, the role of spirituality, challenges inherent in musicals, working with Lemmons, and the film's uplifting messages.

Let the games continue.

Last year, The Hunger Games became a legitimate pop-culture phenomenon and a rare blockbuster to not only bust blocks, but also please critics and audiences, sprinkling spectacle with thought-provoking themes and compelling characters. 

The first sequel, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, is currently riding a wave of critical adulation and widespread anticipation that suggest it's a rare follow-up that improves upon its predecessor.

Based on the bestselling novel by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire finds Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark briefly returning home to District 12 after their unprecedented finish in the 74th Hunger Games upset the status quo.  As they embark on a Victory Tour, the two see just how much impact Katniss has on the subjugated populace as a symbol of resistance.  But the Capitol has plans to stop the nascent rebellion in its angry tracks, forcing our heroes into the Quarter Quell, an all-star Hunger Games consisting exclusively of Tributes who have survived the competition in the past.  As President Snow prepares to snuff out our heroine and the spirit she represents, Katniss attempts to stay alive in a game that will change Panem forever.

IAR Managing Editor Jami Philbrick was on hand for the recent Catching Fire press day in Los Angeles, where he was able to engage in a discussion with director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) and stars Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Josh Hutcherson (Detention), Liam Hemsworth (Paranoia), Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect), Woody Harrelson (Zombieland), Donald Sutherland (Ordinary People), Jena Malone (Saved!), Sam Claflin (Snow White and the Huntsman), and Jeffrey Wright (Angels in America).

The director and cast enthusiastically talked about returning to Panem, the success of the first film, the challenges of the sequel, the newcomers to the franchise, what's in store with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2, and the universal themes of the source material and the films.

As Maverick and Goose once said, “I feel the need …  the Need for Speed!”

Scheduled to open in theaters on March 14, 2014 is the new racing film Need for Speed from Act of Valor director Scott Waugh. The movie is based on the popular video game of the same name by Electronic artists and was written by John Gatins (Real Steel) and George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau). Produced by Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Pictures, the film’s cast includes Aaron Paul (TV’s Breaking Bad), Imogen Poots (Fright Night), Dominic Cooper (Captain America: The First Avenger), Ramon Rodriguez (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), Kid Cudi (TV’s How to Make It in America), Rami Malek (Oldboy), Harrison Gilbertson (Beneath Hill 60), Dakota Johnson (21 Jump Street), and Michael Keaton (Batman). 

The film centers around Tobey Marshall (Paul), a blue-collar mechanic who races muscle cars on the side in an unsanctioned street-racing circuit. Struggling to keep his family-owned garage afloat, he reluctantly partners with the wealthy and arrogant ex-NASCAR driver Dino Brewster (Cooper). But just as a major sale to car broker Julia Bonet (Poots) looks like it will save Tobey's shop, a disastrous race allows Dino to frame Tobey for a crime he didn’t commit, and sending Tobey to prison while Dino expands his business out west. Two years later, Tobey is released and set on revenge. He knows his only chance to take down his rival is to defeat him in the high-stakes race known as De Leon — the Super Bowl of underground racing. However to get there in time, Tobey will have to run a high-octane, action-packed gauntlet that includes dodging pursuing cops coast-to-coast as well as contending with a dangerous bounty Dino has put out on his car. 

I recently had an opportunity to visit director Scott Waugh’s Bandito Brothers offices in Los Angeles (along with several other members of the press) to screen 20 minutes of Need for Speed and speak with Waugh and actor Aaron Paul. While we will be posting our full coverage of the edit bay visit closer to the movie’s release, the project’s first action packed trailer was just released online and we wanted to let you know now what Waugh and Paul had to say about the movie’s practical stunts. 

IAR SET VISIT: 'Out of the Furnace'

Monday, 18 November 2013 10:47

With awards season fast approaching, there are many great films vying for Oscar consideration and one of the top contenders is Out of the Furnace, which opens in theaters on December 6th. 

The film was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart), and based on a screenplay he co-wrote with Brad Ingelsby (The Dynamiter). Out of the Furnace truly features an all-star cast that includes Academy Award-winners Christian Bale (The Fighter), and Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), Academy Award-nominees Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), Willem Dafoe (Platoon), Woody Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flynt), and Sam Shepard (The Right Stuff), and popular actress Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Into Darkness). 

Out of the Furnace is set in the economically depressed steel industry town of Braddock, Pennsylvania, which is right outside of Pittsburgh. Bale plays Russell Baze; a local steel mill worker taking care of is ailing father and his girlfriend Lena (Saldana). Affleck is Russell’s brother Rodney Jr., a soldier about to go back to Iraq for another tour. Their lives change forever when a cruel twist of fate lands Russell in prison, causing Lena to leave him for Braddock police officer Wesley Barnes (Whitaker). Now home from the war and dealing with posttraumatic syndrome, Rodney Jr. is lured into a dangerous world of underground fist fighting. Last seen with notorious fighting kingpin and meth dealer Curtis DeGroat (Harrelson), Rodney Jr. goes missing. Now released from prison, and with the local police unable to do anything, Russell must risk his freedom in order to find out what happened to his brother. 

During the summer of 2011, I had the pleasure of traveling to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (along with several other members of the press) to visit the set of Out of the Furnace and talk with some of the cast and crew about the film. While on set, I had a chance to speak with director Scott Cooper, as well as actors Casey Affleck, Willem Dafoe, and Sam Shepard. I also had a chance to tour the town of Braddock and watch some filming, which included a scene between Affleck and Dafoe, as well as a scene with Bale and Shepard

IAR Blu-ray Preview: 'We're the Millers'

Monday, 18 November 2013 08:48

The family road trip movie is a tradition as American as apple pie.

In We're the Millers, hitting Blu-ray this Tuesday, the family is a front for a drug-smuggling operation. To put it another way, this apple pie is laced with hallucinogens.

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