‘A Monster Calls’ Looks Like Action Version of ‘The Giving Tree’

We’ve seen the new trailer for A Monster Calls, featuring Liam Neeson as a talking tree, befriending 13-year-old Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall), and we’re intrigued. Adapted from a children’s story of the same name, this film looks like it just might be an action/thriller version of Shel Silverstein’s classic kids book, The Giving Tree.

A Monster Calls follows O’Malley as he comes to terms with his mother’s terminal illness with the help of a giant, animated tree. The illustrated story won the Carnegie and Greenaway Medals in 2012.

We’re also wondering if this movie might just secretly be a spinoff film for Harry Potter‘s Whomping Willow.

Check out the clip, below.

Full ‘Anchorman 2’ Trailer Voids Any Hope For Funny Sequel

In the pantheon of somewhat amusing things run into the ground by an appalling fan base, the first Anchorman film certainly has a place of pride. Its admittedly enjoyable premise—satirizing the sexual mores of the 1970s with three-degrees less subtlety than Mad Men employs when mocking the 1960s—became something for fratty, Family Guy-watching bros to quote without the slightest sense of irony. Anchorman 2 should almost definitely make things worse.

Even for a sequel, the set-up here is drab: instead of the 1970s, it’s the 1980s, because times change and also they ran out of 1970s jokes in the first movie. The original news team—Ron, Champ, Brian and Brick, and maybe the newswoman played by Christina Applegate, if they remember—set out to create a 24-hour news channel, so expect lots of potshots at CNN. Thankfully, the network fully deserves them.

The flip side to this plot is Will Ferrell’s terminally-oblivious Ron Burgundy is dating a black woman, which gives him the opportunity to spout racist commentary at dinner with her extended family. Humor! What remains to be seen is which of the seemingly hundreds of cameos will be worst: the cast, according to IMDb, includes Nicole Kidman, Liam Neeson, Kirsten Dunst, Sacha Baron Cohen, Harrison Ford, Kanye West, Greg Kinnear, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler, none of whom exactly need to lend their name to trash like this. Okay, maybe Kanye. 

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Rating The Plot Lines In ‘Love Actually’

It’s the day before Christmas and all through the house are the sounds of Love Actually coming from the living room, because tradition in our house is for my mother to watch that movie over and over again while I hide in my room and listen to normal music. I have seen this damn movie so many times. At first I loved it. Then I found it slightly annoying. And now I hate it. But let’s be real: it’s not all bad. Here’s a quick little guide to the best and worst story lines in this madcap Christmas romantic comedy.

GREAT: Harry and Karen

This is definitely the best plot line of the film. Can’t we all agree? First of all, of course Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson would have the best/worst marriage in cinema. It only makes sense for that marriage to be depicted in the best/worst Christmas movie ever made. But not only is this story the strongest, writing wise, it’s consistently the one that tears everyone apart. The scene in which Karen discovers that her husband is probably cheating on her with his tarty (tarty! British!) secretary and she cries along to Joni Mitchell? Don’t act like you haven’t dramatically reacted to every minor life crisis the exact same way.

AWFUL: Jamie and Aurelia

Colin Firth is all Mister Darcy over the fact that his girlfriend sleeping with his brother, so he has to run away to sunny France for Christmas so he can spend the holiday alone and write a novel on his typewriter. Who uses a typewriter?! This ain’t Brooklyn, Jamie. Luckily, he has a hot Portuguese cleaning lady who he falls in love with, and it’s an interesting take on class status in Europe. Ha ha, just kidding, but isn’t it hilarious when Jamie can’t speak Portugese really well at the end? (Nope.)

GREAT: David and Natalie

Sure, it’s kind of weird that this plot line about the Prime Minister and a member of his staff devotes a few scenes to the Iraq war and disparages the United States presidency with a composite of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton (Southern, ass-grabbing) played by Billy Bob Thornton. And then, you know, the Prime Minister falls in love with someone on his staff. But he doesn’t grab her ass! Instead, he dances to the Pointer Sisters. (Ah, those Brits, always making me ask the question, “Is he gay or just English?”) But Hugh Grant is adorable as hell in this, and props to the since-unseen Martine McCutcheon for looking cute as a button and looking like a normal human woman with a real, bangin’ body.  

AWFUL: Sarah and Karl

Why does Laura Linney live in London? What is going on with her mentally ill brother? Why does he call so much? Why does she have a thing for Karl? (OK, that answer is obvious.) Why does Karl string her along? Why does Karl drop her based entirely on the fact that she has a mentally ill brother who calls her too much? I dunno, Karl, maybe you not be a dick for a second and a half and realize that maybe you could take the lady out on a date instead of just trying to bang her after the company holiday party? Or maybe Sarah should wise up and realize that Karl—his name is Karl, for Christ’s sake—is kind of a jag off and maaaaybe she shouldn’t shit where she eats? She already has enough on her plate with her brother, you know?

GREAT: Daniel and Sam

How awkward is it to watch Love Actually now that Natasha Richardson has died? Obviously Liam Neeson’s character would deal with the death of his wife by breaking the necks of a lot of evil Europeans. Or wolves, or something. Luckily, this story line focuses on the love between Daniel and his stepson, Sam. Sam, who is the most adorable child in the history of film, steals everyone’s hearts with his sad face and his mussy hair and his obsession with the American girl who is really only in this movie to remind everyone how awesome “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is. But like Harry and Karen’s story, this plot line is one of the best because it walks the line between heartwarming and heartbreaking.

THE WORST: Mark, Juliet, and Peter

Hey, Mark? If you’re in love with your best friend’s new wife, maybe you should stop hanging around them and filming their wedding and showing up at the door to profess your love to her with some silly Bob Dylan-style speech-with-cue-cards thing. ‘Cause that is some bullllllllshit. You are a terrible person. And Juliet? Don’t think you’re off the hook for kissing him. I know you think he’s sweet and everything, but you have a husband inside the house—right there inside the house—so maybe you shouldn’t participate in his terrible, evil best friend’s efforts to break you two apart because he’s kind of a selfish, sad puppy of a man. And Peter? Pull your head out of your ass. Shit is going down all around you and you’re too busy organizing choirs to sing to your wife. 

GREAT: John and Judy

Tits, basically. And Martin Freeman. So thumbs up!

THE WEIRDEST: Billy Mack and Joe

We can blame this movie for Bill Nighy’s weird career, right? But even I don’t even know what the hell is going on in this one. Sure, I’m beginning to get "Christmas Is All Around" stuck in my head for the rest of the week, and a British bromance is darling, I suppose. But nothing about the resolution of this story—basically, the image of two old Brits sitting around on Christmas eve, hugging and watching porn together—makes me want to do anything but vomit all of the cinematic eggnog I’ve willingly accepted for nearly two-and-a-half hours. 

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‘Love Actually’ Deleted Scenes Would Have Made Movie More Ridiculous, Heartbreaking

Love Actually is one of those movies that we culturally tend to revisit every year, and generally decide that it’s pretty ridiculous and cheesy and maybe not actually as great of a movie as we remember, but ultimately, most people love it anyway, and that’s okay. And every year we do this, and every year we rewatch it with the same conclusions. Over the weekend, I ended up joining some friends in this ritual, and watching the deleted scenes for the first time, even though this is a movie that’s been around for nearly a decade (#RememberThe00s). And director Richard Curtis, in his commentary, is right—they would have not only made the movie too long by another hour (and it’s already a bit too long), but they would have completely changed the movie. In most cases, they veer more towards tacky ridiculousness, but in some cases, Curtis lost some genuine, tender and even super depressing moments that would have evened the whole thing out. 

Much of the extracted material comes from the plotline involving Liam Neeson’s character and his son, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster (who is all grown up now and gonna be on Game of Thrones next season, thanks IMDb!). There’s a ridiculous 15-minute extension of the scene where little Sam is locked in his room and won’t come out, and Liam Neeson takes the time to look up Claudia Schiffer naked as a means of coping with his recent loss. There’s a struggle with some popups, and Sam giving his dad advice on how to improve his Google skills, and it’s all a little weird. Even weirder is the character trait Curtis attempted to shoehorn  for young Sam, who was originally going to be obliquely referred to as a world-class gymnast throughout the film and have it revealed in the airport chase scene at the end. This sounds like something a writer adds on to make a character "quirky," like Natalie Portman’s alligator figure-skating costume in Garden State. This was better left out of the thing. 

Curtis did have to remove one of the briefer relationship subplots because he had to lose the scene that transitions into it, which is a shame for a few reasons, one of which is that it’s the only same-sex partnership in a movie that tries to show so many interpretations of love. This one’s a two-parter, and it suffers from a bit of mood whiplash: Karen (Emma Thompson) is called into school by the headmistress because her young son (the one who complains about his role in the Christmas concert), wrote an essay about how his Christmas wish is that "he could see people’s farts." It’s cute, it’s kind of dumb, it didn’t add enough, but it brought the brief look into the headmistress’ home life down with it. In Curtis’ attempt to show the ways in which we enter people’s narratives without even realizing, and what everyone we meet hides at home, and all that heavy-handed stuff, we see an exchange between the headmistress and her partner, who is dying of cancer. The scene is wrenching, but the conversation is about normal stuff, like the school day and making sausages for dinner, and at a time when most on-screen gay and lesbian couples were still preening sidekicks, it was nice to see a sweet and realistic (although amped up with the melodrama of cancer) relationship in the same movie as the Londoner who goes to Milwaukee and meets Denise Richards.

Apparently, in an effort to show that "love actually is all around," Curtis and the team shot some scenes in Kenya that were never actually used. The idea was to skew the typically "Western" portrayal of Africa, although Curtis kind of reinforces it by displaying the whole "joy in poverty" thing usually seen in the Facebook albums of your well-meaning friends who went on mission trips or whatever there. See, they’re poor, and their crops are dying, but it’s okay, because they have each other, and that’s all you need. Except when you live in an agrarian society and… anyway, the scene is cute and all, but it doesn’t present Kenya (or the unfortunate blanket, continent-as-one-country sort of perception of Africa) particularly differently and would have only really worked if Curtis had then gone all over the world to find other stereotypical, It’s A Small World-ish love stories to complement it. But then the movie would have been, like, three hours and…

Liam Neeson Will Find You, And Kill You… Again.

We’re not really sure when the pretty-okay action movie that was Taken and Liam Neeson/Bryan Mills’ meme-ified catchphrase ("I will look for you. I will find you. And I will kill you.") became such an out-of-control cultural phenomenon. We’re not sure when Liam Neeson’s career was regenerated and the dude became an action star nearly two decades after Darkman—although we can probably pinpoint it to the early ’00s when he was playing agents and officers in dangerous situations (Gun Shy, K19: The Widowmaker). We were certain that there already had even been a sequel to Taken, but apparently it was just Unknown.

But yes, there is a sequel to Taken, unfortunately not titled Taken 2: Electric Boogaloo. (Sorry.) Retired CIA agent Bryan Mills, having rescued his daughter from her worst-case scenario EuroTrip, all is well with his family—but his old enemies in the Albanian mafia have not forgotten Mills’ rampant destroying of their henchmen (he did find them, and kill them, a lot). When Mills goes with his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and daughter (Maggie Grace) on a family holiday to Istanbul, his old enemies are planning to meet them there. Mills must once again employ his very particular set of skills, this time to rescue his ex-wife. You can probably guess how this will end. 

Taken 2 hits theatres October 5th. In the meantime, here’s the trailer. 

PETA Protests Liam Neeson’s ‘The Grey’

PETA  (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is never an organization to miss a chance for publicity which is why they hate on every single film that features an animal. The latest victim of their protests: Liam Neeson’s The Grey, a survival flick about a group of people must fend for themselves against the elements and packs of wolves when their plane goes down in Alaska.

“PETA met with a producer of The Grey and explained how animals used in movies often spend most of their time confined to chains or cages when they are not performing and may be beaten or deprived of food in order to force them to perform,” it says on their blog. “The producers assured us that they would use only computer-generated imagery and animatronic wolves—but we’ve now learned that they reneged on their promise.”

While slamming director Joe Carnahan they are also taking aim at Neeson himself for reportedly eating wolf meat. “It tastes like chicken but really gamey!” he said

Like most things PETA has an issue with, people aren’t shying away from the flick.  It made $20 million just this weekend. 

Afternoon Links: Pat Sajak Hosted ‘Wheel Of Fortune’ Drunk, Rihanna Gets A TV Show

● We always had a sneaking suspicion that Pat Sajak was "two or three or six" margaritas drunk on Wheel of Fortune. But Vanna, too? That’s news. [TMZ]

● Liam Neeson says that Islamic prayer "got into his spirit" while he was filming in Istanbul, and so much so that he’s even considering converting. [NYDN]

● Rihanna is making her first foray into television with a Project Runway inspired show, wherein she’ll seek diamonds amongst a rough of new designers, for Sky Living HD in the U.K. [Just Jared]

● Kim Kardashian (or someone in close touch with Kim Kardashian, like, say, her publicist or mother) subscribes to a "Kim Kardashian" Google alert. Hi Kim! [Page Six]

● Birdman says that Lil Wayne has "definitely got [I am not a Human Being 2] done and ready to go," and that it will drop "before the summer for sure." [Complex]

● Rihanna and Chris Brown were at the same club, at the same time, dancing to one another’s music, but not touching or even talking. No new found love there. [People]

Director Joe Carnahan On ‘The Grey’ & Filming His Worst Nightmare

Joe Carnahan has always been a Hollywood wild card.  But with his latest film, The Grey, he dives a little deeper into the psyche of man. Starring fellow go-to guy for action, Liam Neeson, the film follows an unruly pack of oil-riggers stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after a disastrous plane crash. A survivalist film of the highest order, the guys must battle nature’s brutality as well as the vicious and bloodthirsty wolves that surround them. With the tag line, “Live and die on this day,” the film showcases Carnahan’s affinity for the fight as well as Neeson’s career as a leading man of force. We caught up with the director to discuss his primal attraction to a film like this, seeing Pikachu before death, and allowing the audience to walk away with questions.

Why was this a story you wanted to tell?
I think there’s some of these ideas about masculinity and these ideas about spirituality. I guess because I’ve made films with guys, and some of them have been deeper and some more superficial, I just got to a point where I thought about my own mortality. I wanted to make something that confronted my terrible fear of heights, and my terrible fear of air travel, and my terrible fear of being torn apart by wild animals, my terrible fear of drowning—let’s just throw them all in one movie! I think there’s something very elemental to that story, and at the time, I was on Mission: Impossible 3, and I was coming to end of that process, and I read the story and it was just completely antithetical to what I was dealing with at the time. It was a very spare, stripped down, basic survival story, and it was very appealing for me.

Did you know you wanted Liam Neeson from the start?
I did not. I had young versions of Ottway. And I think the reasoning was that a guy in his mid-30s or whatever, I think it’s difficult to conceive of this notion that you would have no use for life, as opposed to someone who’s a little older and has seen the highs and seen the lows and seen everything in between, and I just thought that Liam embodied that much more easily than a younger actor would have.

How did you prepare? I feel like you couldn’t really do much until you actually got out there.
I’ll give you an example. I had boots that were rated for 25 below, and in ten minutes my feet were frozen, so I had to get boots for 60 below. you just made adjustments very quickly. And I remember I wore a balaclava for the first couple of days, and my physical effects supervisor just said, “Let your beard freeze.” And I didn’t believe him, and he told me it would insulate much better. So I did one day and it looked like someone took candle wax and just dumped it all on my face. I looked like an older version of my father, but it worked! I was warm. So little things like that you just adapt to accordingly. There’s very little you can do to prepare, you just have to go out there.

Did things change as you were working in that environment?
Oh, absolutely. Grand schemes or plans you had for things, and shots you were going to do, and how this and how that would change, and you have to be very brutal about it. I think that’s what creates. You have to be a really brutal realist like, what can we really get done? It’s like the hoarders, they can’t let anything go. I need that, I’ve got to have that old frisbee from 1964 that the dog chewed on.

This is an action movie with a spiritual side. Is that something you set out to explore?
I feel like it was something that was important to this film. I thought it would be a natural extension of their experience. Like okay, if I’m not going to make it out of here, what are the things that are meaningful to me, where do I think I’m going, and what is the afterlife going to look like, and what’s waiting for me? I think if you’re an atheist, you look at the film and think, he absolutely did not believe in God. If you’re a devout Christian, you look at it and think he absolutely did believe in God.

Did you confront your own fears and beliefs while making the movie?
As someone who has a great fear of flying, the plane crash scene kind of killed me. There’s a totality to that sequence. I didn’t want to cut outside and show the wing being shorn off, because that’s not what you’d experience. But if you ever had to experience it, it would be purely subjective, and years ago, I was on plane and we were having some really bad turbulence, and I remember everyone was kind of green at the gills and doing that nervous laughter thing, and I remember looking down at a service tray, and it had a Pokemon sticker on it. And I remember just staring at this thing thinking, “Fuck, is that the last thing I’m going to see? Is it going to be Pikachu and then eternity? Is that going to be it?” So I wanted there to be a real sense of, “My god,” and I wanted to put the audience right in that.

Why did you opt for an ambiguous ending?
For me, the emotional climax is the real ending of the film, and I think whatever the surprise is, or the little twist at the end with Liam’s relationship with his wife is something that should play out in that moment. But the movie for me was always about a man living and man dying, as opposed to a man fighting a wolf. And I think it’s a hell of a lot more interesting if you come away from the film with your own questions, rather than me spoon feeding you everything. I think it would have been an essential betrayal of the material.

What are you working on now?
I’m going to work on being a dad and a husband for a while, because I’ve been gone a lot and working. I just want to be around. But beyond that, I’m going to do Killing Pablo. But there’s another thing, an old property from the ‘70s that I kind of re-worked, and people seem to respond to it.. But right now it’s Pablo.

And is there anyone cast in that yet?
No. But the guy I really want for Colonel Martinez is Antonio Banderas. I just think that guy is so goddamned good, and he’s been so good for so long, and I can’t think of a bad performance he’s ever given. He’s at the age now where he can play that guy, and I’d just love to work with him.

‘Wrath of the Titans’ Trailer Is Very Realistic

Despite a running time of two minutes and twenty-two seconds, the trailer for Wrath of the Titans is more or less inscrutable. I mean, do you know what’s going on? There are CGI warriors jumping down to Earth, as well as CGI Liam Neeson looking super, super dusty. There is Sam Worthington, doing his patented tough guy in a tough situation thing, and a secretly hilarious Marilyn Manson cover of "Sweet Dreams" blasting in the background. There are giants and swords and shaky cam and oh so many explosions. It looks par for the course for every cash-in sequel, basically. 

Did you see Clash of the Titans last year? It was loud and flashy, and maybe good. I don’t know, I didn’t see it, because it’s far easier to sit in bed. It did elicit a particular kind of huff-jeez dork rage from me and other bored man-children, because its take on Greek mythology was seriously, seriously flawed. I guess it’s to be expected, but when Hollywood tackles stories like the Iliad and Hercules and Perseus, etc., they runs everything in a CGI blender until the individual elements are indistinguishable to a seven-year old. Wrath does look passably entertaining, and I know, I know, expecting accuracy for a bunch of made-up, thousands-of-years-old stories. But, eh, sit on a tack.

What Greek myth do you want the Titans team to tackle next? Growing up, I had a lot of favorite ones. There’s the one where Theseus doesn’t know how to defeat the Titans until Hephaestus is like, "Yo, I made you this sword out of fire and diamonds, it is too sick" and then they bump fists before throwing down. I also like the one where Hercules walks into Olympus only to see Aphrodite washing a chariot while blasting Bad Company and is all, "Damn, damn, my half-sister is super fine, I need to get on that." There’s plenty of ripe material for a trilogy, I think. Please cast Channing Tatum!