Review: ‘Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank,’ starring the voices of Michael Cera, Ricky Gervais, George Takei, Aasif Mandvi, Michelle Yeoh and Samuel L. Jackson

July 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Hank (voiced by Michael Cera) and and Jimbo (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank (Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Align and Aniventure)

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank”

Directed by Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier and Chris Bailey

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the fictional town of Kakamucho, the animated film “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” features a racially diverse cast (white, black, Asian and Latino) portraying talking animals.

Culture Clash: Inspired by the 1974 comedy film “Blazing Saddles,” a dog named Hank is chosen to be a samurai to save a town of cats, but Hank doesn’t know not he’s been set up by villain who wants to rid the town of the cats and wants Hank to be killed.

Culture Audience: “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” will appeal primarily to fans of “Blazing Saddles” and people who enjoy family-oriented films with positive messages of self-confidence and not judging people by physical appearances.

Ika Chu (voiced by Ricky Gervais) and Ohga (voiced by George Takei) in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” (Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Align and Aniventure)

No one should expect “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” to be award-worthy. But as family entertainment with positive messages, memorable characters and an action-filled story (that sometimes gets jumbled), the movie delivers on a satisfactory level. Although “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” was inspired by the classic 1974 film “Blazing Saddles,” anyone expecting the dark comedy of “Blazing Saddles” will be sorely disappointed.

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” is an animated film geared to people of various ages (mostly underage kids), so the tone of the movie is lighthearted and lightweight. Because it’s an animated movie with talking animals and a theme of an underestimated animal training to be a protective fighter, “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” might also get some comparisons to the 2008 animated film “Kung Fu Panda.” “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” isn’t as good as “Kung Fu Panda” and is unlikely to have as large of a fan base that the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise has, but not all movies aspire to be classics.

Directed by Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier and Chris Bailey, “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” has the benefit of very talented voice cast members who give the movie’s characters unique personalities. This is not the type of animated film where it’s hard to tell the characters apart from each other. Ed Stone and Nate Hopper wrote the adapted screenplay for “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank,” which also gives screenwriting credit to “Blazing Saddles” screenwriters Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor and Alan Uger.

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” begins with showing a town called Kakamucho, which is populated entirely by cats. Although the town could exist anywhere, the Kakamucho residents follow ancient Japanese military traditions of shoguns and samurai. The town has recently been plagued by bandits. The shogun of Kakamucho will be arriving soon and will be asked by find samurai who can protect the town. “Blazing Saddles” director/co-writer Brooks is the voice of Shogun, a British shorthair cat.

However, the story’s villain wants to get rid of the residents of Kakamucho, so that he can use the land for greedy redevelopment purposes. The villain is a scheming Somali cat named Ika Chu (voiced by Ricky Gervais), a character that people might or might not enjoy watching, depending on how they feel about Gervais and his cutting British comedy that he brings to this cat’s personality. In movies like this, every villain has a sidekick. Ika Chu’s sidekick is Ohga (voiced by George Takei), a burly Manx cat who leads Ika Chu’s army.

Ika Chu has concocted a plan where he decides to fool a dog into thinking that the dog has been selected as a samurai to protect Kakamucho. Because cats and dogs have been enemies, Ika Chu is counting on the dog to be killed by the Kakamucho residents. Because it’s against the law to kill a samurai, Ika Chu will then have the entire town arrested, and then have the land to himself.

The dog who becomes the unwitting target of Ika Chu’s dastardly plan is Hank (voiced by Michael Cera), a socially awkward beagle who has recently been released from prison. It’s implied that Hank might have been unjustly imprisoned simply because he’s a dog in a cat’s town. Iku Chu summons Hank and lies to him by saying that Hank has been chosen as the samurai to protect Kakamucho. When Hank expresses skepticism, Ika Chu spontaneously scratches the word “samurai” on a coffee mug and gives it to Hank as an “official” memento that Hank is now an appointed samurai.

Hank has no idea how to be a samurai, so he enlists the help of tuxedo cat Jimbo (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), a washed-up and cranky samurai, who spends a lot of time getting drunk on catnip. Jimbo is very reluctant to become a sensei mentor to Hank, but he eventually agrees. Jimbo isn’t entirely convinced that a dog will be accepted by the cats of Kakamucho.

Hank and Jimbo do a lot of arguing during this training, but they have somewhat of a emotional breakthrough when Hank finds out that he’s met Jimbo before. Hank tells Jimbo about a time several years earlier when an unidentified samurai cat rescued Hank from being bullied by some bad dogs. Jimbo reveals that he was that cat.

Jimbo eventually opens up to Hank about something painful from his past too. Years ago, Jimbo was head of security at the birthday party for his employer, an elite feline named Toshi. However, Jimbo accidentally caused a major disaster at the party. The accident resulted in Toshi’s in-laws to become sterile. This mishap embarrassed Jimbo so much, he quit being a samurai and became a bitter recluse.

Although this is a fictional animated film, “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” has a lot to say about prejudices that can negatively divide individuals. It’s a message that’s explicitly stated in the film, but one that’s still meaningful. The bigotry between the cats and dogs in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” is obvious symbolism for bigotry in hate groups that teach people to hate others based on their identities or physical appearances.

Observant viewers will also notice how “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” shows something that often happens in real life: opinions and thoughts from young females are often dismissed just because they’re young females. In the movie, a young female Persian cat named Emiko (voiced by Kylie Kuioka), who wants to be a samurai, is intelligent and observant. However, her smart ideas are often ignored, or an older male in the community takes credit for her ideas. The way that Emiko handles this disrespect and what happens to her in the end are good lessons for people of any age.

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” gets a little messy with a tad too many subplots. One of these subplots involves a giant ginger cat named Sumo (voiced by Djimon Hounsou), who is at various times feared and adored. Sumo arrives in Kakamucho as a fighting enemy to Hank, but will Sumo ends up as a friend?

In “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank,” the female cats are often the calm voices of reason amid the chaos. Yuki (voiced by Michelle Yeoh) is a cheerful Persian cat who is Emiko’s mother. Little Mama (voiced by Cathy Shim) is a wise matriarch of Kakamucho. There’s also a clownish duo of friends: klutzy calico cat Chuck (voiced by Gabriel Iglesias) and tuxedo cat Ichiro (voiced by Aasif Mandvi), who are like the Laurel & Hardy of Kakamucho.

The movie has no shortage of action, with some scenes working better than others. The last third of the movie consists of a flurry of battles and chase sequences that should hold viewers’ interest, despite predictable outcomes. The visuals in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” are good but not outstanding. The most striking visuals are the outdoor scenic shots and many of the action scenes.

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” makes some sarcastic self-referential comments on movie clichés that can be found in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank.” When Hank begins training under Jimbo’s tutelage, Hank says, “This is the training montage.” Jimbo replies, “This is my favorite part—the part where you suffer.” A movie that can laugh at itself in this way can’t be taken too seriously.

Paramount Pictures will release “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” in U.S. cinemas on July 15, 2022.

Review: ‘The Protégé’ (2021), starring Maggie Q, Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton

August 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Samuel L. Jackson and Maggie Q in “The Protégé” (Photo by Jichici Raul/Lionsgate)

“The Protégé” (2021)

Directed by Martin Campbell

Culture Representation: Taking place in Vietnam, Bucharest and London, the action film “The Protégé” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians and a few African Americans) representing the wealthy, middle-class and people are linked to the criminal underworld.

Culture Clash: A skilled assassin is out for her revenge when she finds out that her mentor has been murdered.

Culture Audience: The Protégé” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching formulaic and derivative action flicks.

Michael Keaton in “The Protégé” (Photo by Simon Varsano/Lionsgate)

“The Protégé” is as unimaginative as its title. What could have been a next-level action showcase for star Maggie Q is instead a boring and idiotic retread of so many other movies about assassins out for revenge. The “mystery” and “intrigue” storyline in this movie is almost non-existent, especially when a completely unbelievable plot twist is revealed.

And that begs the question: Why was this movie even made? It seems like a bunch of men (the producers, writer and director of “The Protégé” are all men) just wanted to throw their money around so that they could see Maggie Q (or whichever actress would end up getting the role) in tight clothing while she’s toting a gun and other weapons. There is no interesting plot; it’s just fight scenes at various locations.

Did any of “The Protégé” filmmakers ever see the 2011 American movie “Hanna” or the 2017 South Korean film “The Villainess”? It sure seems that way, because “The Protégé” borrows heavily from the plots of both assassin action films. “Hanna” is about the title character getting trained as an assassin as an underage child. “The Villainess” (which was inspired by 1990’s “La Femme Nikita”) is about a female assassin who witnessed her father getting murdered when she was hiding in a room as a child. “Hanna” and “The Villainess” are infinitely superior to “The Protégé,” which thinks that a few intricate stunts can make up for a weak and nonsensical plot.

In “The Protégé” (directed by Martin Campbell and written by Richard Wenk), Maggie Q plays Anna, an assassin who is originally from Da Nang, Vietnam. She became orphaned in 1991, when she was 11 years old, when she witnessed her family getting murdered while she hid somewhere in the home. It’s eventually revealed in a flashback that an American soldier named Moody (played by Samuel L. Jackson) found Anna hiding in an armoir in the home, and he decided to raise her without formally adopting her.

Moody’s time in the military ended, and he became an assassin who trained Anna on his killer techniques. He’s described in the film as a “legendary” assassin, yet he makes a lot of dumb mistakes and nonsensical decisions that no so-called “professional” would make. A lot of time is wasted in this movie jumping from location to location, with empty-headed fight scenes that are intended to distract from a plot that barely exists.

An an early sequence in “The Protégé” takes place in the Romanian capital of Bucharest, where a ruthless crime lord named Don Preda (played by Velizar Binev) is infuriated because his adult son Vali (played by George Pistereanu) has been kidnapped. By the way, Don has the nickname Donald the Butcher of Bucharest, as if that’s supposed to make viewers of this movie terrified That nickname just sounds like someone who could be a local butcher at a grocery store.

Anna and Moody are in Bucharest around the time that Vali was kidnapped. Some vicious fighting ensues, and some people get killed. Anna and Moody are then seen in London, where Maggie has a cover identity working as a sales clerk in a boutique bookstore that sells rare publications. It’s supposed to make her look like a smart character, but it’s all for nothing because this is a very dumb movie.

For reasons that are never really explained, Moody owns the bookstore. And he’s given the deed to Anna. It’s a foreshadowing that he thinks he’s going to die soon, but Anna appears too dense to notice this clue. To portray a tender “mentor/protégé” moment, the film has Anna and Moody celebrating his birthday by themselves. Anna gives him a gift that Moody doesn’t expect but is delighted to get: a 1958 Gibson Flying V guitar. The guitar becomes a plot device later in the movie.

One day, a mysterious and wealthy American businessman named Michael Rembrandt (played by Michael Keaton) goes into the bookstore because he says that he’s looking for a rare book. Anna recommends a book of poetry by Edgar Allan Poe. But by the way that Michael looks at Anna, it’s obvious he’s not really interested in any rare books. Sure enough, he asks Anna on a date, and she ends up going to his mansion, where more violent hijinks ensue.

Some other characters come into the mix in this messy and undercooked story. Anna and Moody know an informant named Benny, who works out of the back room of a laundromat. Another underground connection for Anna and Moody is a motorcycle gang leader named Billy Boy (played by Robert Patrick), who doesn’t have a lot of screen time in the movie.

There’s also a deaf, blind and mute man in his early 30s named Lucas Hayes (played by Dimitar Nikolov), whose father Edward Hayes (played by David Rintoul) has been assassinated. The murder of Edward happened after he was indicted for war crimes of illegally selling chemical weapons. There’s a murky subplot of Anna trying to find out what Lucas knows, but the filmmakers seem to make Lucas’ disabilities an absurdly cruel joke on Anna, as if to say: “Good luck finding out witness information from a deaf, blind and mute person.”

At one point in the movie, which can’t make up its mind what storyline it wants to focus on, Anna finds a bloody Moody, lying mutilated in his bathtub. The condition of his body indicates that he was murdered. And that means one thing after that: Anna is out for revenge against whoever killed Moody. Because “The Protégé” filmmakers think that globetrotting will make the movie look better than it really is, Anna ends up in Da Nang again.

There’s something that happens later in the movie which absolutely puts it into garbage filmmaking territory. Without giving away too much information, it’s enough to say that whenever plot twists like this happen, viewers are supposed to believe that medical examiners and coroner reports don’t exist, in order for someone to be declared dead and the cause of death. It’s a very lazy plot twist that makes no logical sense.

Meanwhile, because every cliché movie about a woman who’s an assassin seems to require that she has sex with someone who might or might not be her enemy, you can easily guess what will happen between Anna and Michael. Just like the fight scenes in “The Protégé,” the movie’s sex scene looks too calculated and robotic. This is the movie’s idea of foreplay dialogue, when Michael says to Anna: “Do you want to kill me or fuck me?”

“The Protégé” is the type of awful dreck that has this cringeworthy line that someone utters when pointing a gun at someone and commenting on the gun’s bullets: “I can put two in the back of your head and make a sandwich.” How about you take that sandwich and flush it down the toilet, just like how this movie was made?

All of the well-known actors in the movie (Maggie Q, Jackson, Keaton and Patrick) are just doing bland retreads of characters they’ve played before in better movies. Maggie Q certainly has what it takes to be a major action movie star. And some of the stunts she does in “The Protégé” are impressive.

But you need more than just stunts and action choreography to make a good movie. You need to have dialogue and a story that will make people care about the protagonists and what will happen to them. All the actors are given such dreadful lines that they look like they’re just going through the motions and have no real emotional connections to their character roles. When they’re not in fight scenes, the actors look bored. If “The Protégé” filmmakers didn’t care to make a good movie with such a talented cast, then you shouldn’t care to watch it.

Lionsgate released “The Protégé” in U.S. cinemas on August 20, 2021.

Review: ‘The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,’ starring Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman

June 10, 2021

by Carla Hay

Samuel L. Jackson, Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Ryan Reynolds in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (Photo by David Appleby/Lionsgate)

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”

Directed by Patrick Hughes

Culture Representation: Taking place in Italy, Greece, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Croatia, the action flick “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class, law enforcement and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A disgraced bodyguard is hired to protect the wife of the hitman who clashed with the bodyguard in the 2017 movie “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.”

Culture Audience: “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a silly action flick that is horribly made and frequently sexist.

Salma Hayek in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (Photo by David Appleby/Lionsgate)

Outdated and idiotic, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” looks like it was made by people whose minds are stuck in the 20th century, when it was more acceptable for American action movies to portray non-white people as less-intelligent caricatures and for women to be treated as nothing more than sex objects. An all-white-male team of principal filmmakers (director, producers, writers) decided to dump this stupid sequel into the world. And like most sequels, it’s far inferior to the original.

Directed by Patrick Hughes, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” was written by Tom O’Connor, Phillip Murphy and Brandon Murphy. The movie is the sequel to 2017’s “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” a formulaic and occasionally funny action flick, starring Ryan Reynolds as neurotic bodyguard Michael Bryce and Samuel L. Jackson as gruff hitman Darius Kincaid who are (cliché alert) complete opposites, who don’t get along with each other but are forced to work together. Hughes directed and O’Connor wrote “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” which was a mediocre movie but not as aggressively dumb and offensive as “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”

It’s hard to know if the addition of brother screenwriters Phillip Murphy (who has a background as a graffiti artist) and Brandon Murphy (who has a background as a stand-up comedian) had anything to do with lowering the quality of this sequel, but enough people signed off on this crappy film that the blame can’t be put on just two people. “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is supposed to be an action comedy, but there’s almost nothing funny or exciting about this dreck that’s a brain-dead ode to toxic masculinity.

In “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” the addition of Salma Hayek in a co-starring role could have been an opportunity to showcase her like Halle Berry was showcased as a badass equal to her male co-stars in the 2019 action hit “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.” But no. The filmmakers of “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” wouldn’t allow this woman of color to have her own powerful worth in this story. Instead, Hayek (who is capable of doing better-quality work) is reduced to being objectified and depicted in the worst negative stereotypes that Hollywood has for Latinas.

Hayek had a small role in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” as Sonia Kincaid, the con-artist wife of hitman Darius Kincaid. It’s easy to speculate that Hayek reprised this role in this sequel because she wants to prove that she’s still sexy at an age when many actresses over the age of 50 get less opportunities because of ageism or they usually have to play safe “wife and mother” roles. Whatever she was paid to do “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” (and it was probably a lot less than what Reynolds and Jackson were paid), it wasn’t worth the cost to her dignity for perpetuating Hollywood’s negative stereotyping that Latinas are nothing more than hot-tempered sexpots.

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” was also clearly an excuse to spend millions at different glamorous locations around the world. It’s all such a waste, because no amount of picture-perfect locations or flashy stunts can fool people into thinking that this is a good movie. Messy trash wrapped up in a shiny box is still messy trash.

The incoherent story that’s masquerading as a plot in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is that Michael is now a disgraced bodyguard who has lost his license because he couldn’t prevent his most important client (a political leader) from being assassinated. He’s gone from winning Bodyguard of the Year at the Executive Protection Awards to being unlicensed and facing an upcoming tribunal that will decide if he can get his bodyguard license back. Michael spends a lot of time feeling sorry for himself because he’s not the respected bodyguard that he used to be.

Meanwhile, at European Union (E.U.) headquarters in Luxembourg, E.U. chief Walter Fiscer (played by Brian Caspe) has announced that the E.U. has issued sanctions on Greece. Greek billionaire tycoon Aristotle Papadopolous (played by Antonio Banderas) is enraged by these sanctions, so he has some of his goons kidnap Walter. While in captivity, where he is tortured, Walter is told that he has four days to reverse the E.U.’s decision about the sanctions.

Michael has been in therapy, but even his female therapist has gotten sick of him and tells Michael that he has now “graduated” from therapy. Taking his therapist’s advice to go on a vacation, Michael is relaxing at a beach resort, as he reads the self-help book “The Secret” and listens to whatever he’s listening to on his headphones. All of sudden, mayhem breaks out in the resort.

Several armed terrorists invade the place and start shooting everywhere. This movie’s slapstick comedy is so witless that viewers are supposed to believe that Michael doesn’t hear the chaos because he’s got headphones on and he doesn’t see anything because he’s wearing sunglasses.

But someone comes to Michael’s rescue during this terrorist attack: Sonia, who grabs Michael and tells him that her husband Darius told her to find Michael so that Michael could be her bodyguard. Michael and Sonia escape by motor scooter and then jump off of a cliff. Darius eventually joins them for more shenanigans where there’s a lot of pointless arguing and more stunts.

Somewhere in this muddled mess of a story, there’s a Croatian computer hacker named Gunther (played by Blake Ritson), who’s hired by Aristotle to set off bombs at whatever places that Aristotle wants to be blown up. There’s an Interpol informant named Carlo (who’s never seen in the movie), who gets murdered. And there’s a sexist, xenophobic and arrogant Interpol agent from the U.S. named Bobby O’Neill (played by Frank Grillo, doing a dubious Boston accent), who’s determined to find out and capture who’s responsible for Carlo’s death and these revenge acts against the E.U.

At various points in the story, these things happen: Darius is kidnapped; Sonia disguises herself as Carlo’s blonde British mistress; and one of Michael’s rich former clients named Seifert (played by Richard E. Grant, in a cameo) almost blows Michael’s cover at a nightclub. There’s also a lot of predictable shootouts and explosions.

Michael reunites with someone from his past who currently lives in Italy. Morgan Freeman portrays that person from Michael’s past, and how his character knows Michael is supposed to be a surprise. This person’s connection to Michael is really just a way for the filmmakers to exploit racial stereotypes for badly written jokes.

Speaking of exploitation, this loathsome movie is unrelenting in objectifying Hayek and making her into a shrill, nasty and jealous shrew who shows off as many of her body parts as possible while fully clothed. There’s a lot of very “male gaze” close-up camera shots of her breasts and rear end. And at one point, during one of these rear-end angles, Darius says of Sonia in a terrible pun: “I’m just protecting my assets,” where he puts an emphasis on saying “ass.” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

It isn’t just the men who talk about Sonia’s body parts in crude and demeaning ways. There’s a subplot about Sonia and Darius wanting to start a family, but they haven’t had any luck conceiving. Sonia comments out loud to Michael on why she thinks she can’t get pregnant: “My pussy’s just too tight.”

In this very male-dominated film, the only female star who shares top billing is reduced to saying a line like that, which is no better than bad dialogue from a porn movie. That tells you all you need to know about how these filmmakers feel about how about a female star deserves to be treated in their movies. Meanwhile, the male stars in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” have dumb lines too, but nothing that makes them talk like low-level porn actors. It’s sexism that’s unnecessary and frankly disgusting.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that this move isn’t sexist, just because Interpol agent Bobby has a female supervisor, because her role is nothing but being a cranky battle-axe, while Bobby gets all the glory of being the star Interpol agent in this story. Not surprisingly, Bobby resents having to report to a woman. Bobby’s supervisor is an older British woman named Crowley (played by Caroline Goodall), who is stereotypically stern and uptight in the way that American male filmmakers tend to portray older British women.

And the ethnic stereotyping doesn’t end there. The filmmakers make Sonia (who’s Mexican, just like Hayek is in real life) look so ignorant that she can’t pronounce Michael’s last name correctly in English. She repeatedly pronounces Bryce (rhymes with “rice”) as “breece” (rhymes with “fleece”). It’s yet another negative stereotype that makes it look like anyone whose original language is Spanish can’t possibly master the English language. There are racist undertones to this stereotyping, since Hayek is a woman of color.

The movie overall perpetuates negative and racist stereotypes because the three non-Anglo actors with the most screen time (Jackson, Hayek and Banderas) all portray characters who are criminals. The people who don’t notice these negative stereotypes are usually the same type of people who think this type of racist stereotyping should be normal in movies and television. But the reality is that what people see on screen, when it comes to representation of certain demographics, has an effect on how people perceive those demographics in real life. It’s part of the vicious cycle of bigotry that instills the false idea that certain races are “inferior” to others.

The male-female relationships in this movie are either about sex or resentment that a woman might be smarter than a man. Bobby is assigned a translator named Ailso (played by Alice McMillan), a Scot whose only role in the film is to be eye candy, based on the bland lines that she’s given. Instead of being impressed that Ailso knows multiple languages, Bobby just belittles her for her Scottish name, and she’s sidelined for most of the movie.

Sonia and Darius are portrayed as a horny couple, so there are repetitive scenes of them talking about their sex life or having sex, while a mortified Michael is nearby. It’s just more racist stereotyping that depicts African Americans and Latinos as hypersexual. Viewers won’t be surprised when it’s revealed that Sonia used to be Aristotle’s lover too.

There’s a flashback scene of Sonia and Aristotle’s past relatonship, where she comes across as a scheming gold digger. Hayek and Banderas previously co-starred in 1995’s “Desperado” and 2003’s “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” action films that were both written, produced and directed by Robert Rodriguez. Although fans of those two movies might be thrilled that Hayek and Banderas are in another film together, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is a cringeworthy reunion for both of these talented actors.

All of the stars of this movie are doing versions of other characters they’ve played in other films. Reynolds has made a career out of playing emotionally insecure and sarcastic characters in comedies. Jackson does his usual schtick as a quick-tempered loose cannon. Banderas, who is originally from Spain, has played a cold-blooded villain before, but in this movie he doesn’t even try to get into character because he sounds Spanish, not Greek. Freeman is doing his usual “I’m wiser than you are” persona.

But the most problematic way that a character is written and portrayed in the movie is with Hayek’s Sonia. Hayek is not a starlet who’s desperate to get a big break. She’s an Oscar-nominated actress who’s also an experienced movie producer. It’s kind of sad that she’s sunk to this level to be in such a horrendous and embarrassing dud. The next time she lectures people about Hispanic representation in Hollywood movies, she needs to check herself and think about why she allowed herself to be used in this degrading movie that’s the epitome of why there’s a culture of damaging discrimination against women and people of color.

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” doesn’t even have action scenes that are thrilling or imaginative. The scenes with fire and explosions have cheap-looking CGI effects. Watch any “John Wick” or “Mission: Impossible” movie to see how action scenes are done right and how action scenes can be innovative. Everything in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is like garbage that should’ve been thrown out a long time ago: It’s awful, it’s worthless, and it’s got a lingering stench that no amount of exotic locations can cover up.

Lionsgate will release “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” in U.S. cinemas on June 16, 2021, with sneak preview screenings on June 11 and June 12, 2021.

Review: ‘Spiral’ (2021), starring Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson

May 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Chris Rock and Max Minghella in “Spiral” (Photo by Brooke Palmer/Lionsgate)

“Spiral” (2021) 

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “Spiral” features a racially diverse cast (African American, white and Latino) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A police detective tries to find out who’s behind the serial killings of cops in his police department, as he reluctantly trains a rookie cop.

Culture Audience: “Spiral” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Saw” franchise and anyone who doesn’t mind watching gruesome horror flicks with flimsy plots.

Samuel L. Jackson in “Spiral” (Photo by Brooke Palmer/Lionsgate)

In this dreadful continuation of the “Saw” horror franchise, “Spiral” has a misguided mashup of Chris Rock doing stale stand-up comedy lines in a “torture porn” story that rips off elements of “Training Day” and “Shaft.” The results are messier than the movie’s bloody corpses. “Spiral” was directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed 2005’s “Saw II,” 2006’s “Saw III” and 2007’s “Saw IV,” with each sequel panned as worse than its predecessor. Therefore, it’s mind-boggling that people thought it would be a good idea to hand over the revival of the “Saw” franchise to a director who has been largely blamed for ruining the franchise the first time around.

The first “Saw” movie—released in 2004, directed by James Wan, and written by Leigh Whannell—is still considered the best in the series. Wan and Whannell are two horror movie masters who have proved their talent with several other critically acclaimed horror flicks, such as the first “Insidious” and “The Conjuring” movies. Wan and Whannell are credited with being executive producers of “Spiral,” but “executive producer” is a movie title that can bestowed on anyone who might have had a consulting role on the film but wasn’t involved in the day-to-day production decisions for the movie.

The unimaginative and lazy screenplay for “Spiral” was written by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger, a duo with a history of writing cheesy horror flicks, including 2017’s “Jigsaw” (another “Saw” movie) and 2010’s “Piranha 3D.” And even though “Spiral” can boast the star power of Rock and Samuel L. Jackson in its cast (they are the most famous actors so far to star in a “Saw” franchise movie), that doesn’t mean the quality of “Spiral” is better than most of the bottom-of-the-barrel “Saw” flicks. And besides, Rock and Jackson have been in plenty of other horrible movies, so their names alone don’t guarantee that a movie is going to be any good.

In “Spiral,” there’s a new serial killer on the loose. And this murderer has been targeting cops in a police department that employs detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks, played by Rock. The movie takes place in an unnamed big city in the United States. Jackson portrays Zeke’s father Marcus Banks, who’s the department’s retired police chief and who is considered to be a respected hero by the people who still work there. The same can’t be said of Zeke, who is treated like a traitor by his peers.

That’s because 12 years ago, as shown in flashbacks, Zeke turned in his cop partner Pete Dunleavy (played by Patrick McManus) for shooting and killing a murder witness in cold blood. Therefore, Zeke has been labeled a snitch, and he’s not very well-liked by most of the other cops on the staff. (In one of the movie’s early scenes, Zeke finds a dead rat in a mousetrap placed on his desk.) Not long after his testimony sent a fellow cop to prison 12 years ago, Deke was shot (maybe not accidentally) by an older detective colleague named O’Brien (played by Thomas Mitchell), and there’s still a lot of bad blood between Zeke and O’Brien.

“Spiral” shows from the opening scene that the killer is targeting cops. During a Fourth of July parade at night, a police detective named Marvin “Boz” Bozwick, who’s off-duty, spots a thief steal a woman’s purse, and he gives chase to the crook. The purse snatcher is dressed like Uncle Sam on stilts, which is a ridiculous way to be dressed if you’re a thief who wants to get away on foot and blend into a crowd. It’s an example of how moronic this story is.

The thief disappears into a manhole. And the next thing you know, someone wearing a pig’s mask ambushes Boz and captures him. Boz is next seen hanging from a torture device on some subway train tracks. And you know what that means: A train will be coming any minute. The torture device has Boz’s tongue locked up. The only way that he can possibly escape is if he tears himself away from the torture device, but that would mean his tongue would be ripped out in the process.

Every “Saw” movie has the murderer kidnapping people, setting up elaborate tortures for the kidnapping victims, and then sending a video or audio message to the captured person. The message explains how the captured person has a chance to escape and live, but only if some part of their body is dismembered. And there’s a time limit on how long the person has to escape before the torture mechanism will kill the victim. Usually, the person who’s been kidnapped has done something horrible and the kidnapping/torture is revenge for it.

Boz and his tongue have been targeted because he has a history of lying in court testimony, and his lies have sent innocent people to prison. A video monitor on the train tracks shows a message from the killer to Boz, to make sure that Boz knows the reason why he’s been chosen for this torture trap. “Spiral” shows which decision Boz makes in his life-or-death dilemma, but it’s not enough to save him, because he’s the movie’s first murder victim by the mystery serial killer.

In the “Saw” movies, the serial killer Jigsaw and his followers made video messages featuring a creepy male clownish puppet doll with red spirals on its cheeks. The doll would sometimes appear on a miniature tricycle and speak in a deep distorted voice that was genuinely unsettling. This doll became the “face” of the “Saw” franchise—more than mastermind serial killer Jigsaw (played by Tobin Bell)—and the red spiral became the killer’s signature. “Spiral” was originally titled “Spiral: From the Book of Saw.”

In “Spiral,” the figure who appears in the serial killer’s deadly video messages is a person wearing a black hood and a pig’s mask, with a higher-pitched, less menacing voice than Jigsaw. And frankly, this “Spiral” serial killer in the video messages looks like a reject villain from a “Star Wars” movie, as if a pipsqueak relative of Emperor Palpatine decided to put on a pig’s mask. There aren’t as many killings in “Spiral” as in other “Saw” movies because so much of “Spiral” is about Zeke running around doing a wiseass cop procedural.

Zeke is first seen by viewers of “Spiral” in a scene where he’s leading a group of three other undercover cops in a robbery of drug dealers. Zeke and his corrupt crew don’t get far because they’re busted by a team of other cops during the getaway. But even though Zeke’s supervisor Capt. Angie Garza (played by Marisol Nichols) yells at him for stealing money from drug dealers, nothing really happens to Zeke. It’s the first clue that Capt. Garza is corrupt. And you know what that means.

Unfortunately, too much of “Spiral” is about office politics in this police department, Zeke’s ego, and all of his whining when he’s ordered to do things that he doesn’t want to do. Because of Zeke’s pariah status in the department, he’s been working alone for quite some time. But Capt. Garza tells him after the robbery bust that Zeke has now been assigned to train a rookie partner.

Zeke reacts with this outburst: “Do I look like a fucking Jamaican nanny? Do I smell like jerk sauce and baby wipes? No!” And then he says in a terrible attempt at a Jamaican patois accent: “Me no want no partner!” But Zeke has no choice but to work with this 24-year-old rookie. His name is William Schenk (played by Max Minghella), an “eager beaver” type who says that Zeke’s cop work inspired William to join this particular police department.

Zeke is immediately rude and dismissive to William, who takes Zeke’s negative attitude in stride. In their first day working together, William talks about being a husband and father. He shows Zeke a photo of his wife Emma and their baby son Charlie. Zeke, who is in the process of getting divorced, is deeply cynical about cop marriages because he thinks most cops will end up having failed marriages.

Zeke tells William: “Nothing happier than a wife of a new detective. Nothing angrier than that same bitch 10 years later.” William replies, “Maybe it’s because you call them bitches.” Zeke snaps back, “I don’t say it to their face. It’s not like I’m Too Short.” When was this very outdated joke written? 1999? Because that’s around the last time rapper Too Short was relevant.

The predictable dynamic between Zeke and William is that of a bitter and corrupt older cop paired with an idealistic and “by the book” younger cop. It’s all very “Training Day,” the 2001 movie starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke with this exact same dynamic. “Training Day” was an Oscar-winning film. “Spiral” isn’t even memorably bad enough to be nominated for a Razzie Award.

Somehow, everyone in this police department is too dumb to notice that Boz hasn’t shown up for work. They only find out that Boz is dead when Zeke, William and two other police detectives named Fitch (played by Richard Zeppieri) and Kraus (played by Edie Inksetter) are called to a murder scene, and they find Boz’s mangled and bloody body on the train tracks. William looks like he’s about to vomit from the gory sight. Zeke quips, “If you’re going to throw up, don’t do it on the evidence.”

The serial killer in “Spiral” delivers clues in small, string-tied boxes that are sent by courier to the police department. The first delivery is a flash drive with a video of the killer (wearing the pig mask, of course) announcing that the next murder victims will be other cops in the police department, as revenge for their “sins.” The killer won’t name who’s on the hit list, so the entire department is on edge. Because red spirals were found at Boz’s murder scene and the killer seems to be following Jigsaw’s modus operandi, the cops think that this murderer is a Jigsaw copycat killer.

Zeke is enraged by Boz’s death because Boz was Zeke’s closest friend on the job. Zeke gets even angrier when Capt. Garza assigns Zeke’s nemesis O’Brien to be the lead detective on the case. Zeke takes Capt. Garza aside in a private meeting and begs her to change her mind because Zeke thinks he’s the best person to avenge Boz’s death by finding Boz’s murderer. Capt. Garza immediately agrees and makes Zeke the lead detective.

Zeke gets very territorial over wanting to be the one who finds the most evidence that will solve the case. And so, there’s more drama with Zeke trying to outdo Fitch, Kraus and O’Brien, by not sharing information with them. Zeke doesn’t think William is smart enough to get in his way, so he treats William like a tag-along flunky. These are examples of how the movie wastes time with the department’s office politics. This is supposed to be a horror movie, not a cop TV series.

Through surveillance footage, the purse snatcher whom Boz was seen chasing before Boz died is quickly identified as a meth addict named Benny Rice (played by Chad Camilleri), who becomes a prime suspect in Boz’s murder. Benny is already known to the local cops because of his drug activities. But, of course, this obvious suspect means that Benny isn’t the real killer, because even a predictable movie like this wouldn’t make it that easy for the cops to solve this case so early on in the film.

As for Zeke’s revered father Marcus, he isn’t in “Spiral” as much as some people might think he is, considering that Jackson shares top billing with Rock for this movie. Jackson starred in two “Shaft” movies—one in 2000 and one in 2019—and he’s just playing a version of his Shaft character in “Spiral.” In other words, there’s nothing new to see here with Jackson’s performance.

And you’d think that cops who know they’re being targeted by a serial killer would know how to increase their own security and self-protection. But no, that doesn’t happen in an insipid movie like “Spiral.” Pity the citizens of this city who rely on these cops for protection, because these bungling cops can’t even protect themselves.

In “Spiral,” Rock dials up his foul-mouthed, misogynistic persona several notches for his Zeke character in “Spiral,” to the point where this cop is much more irritating than the serial killer. “Spiral” is so smug in thinking that it’s better than it really is, that it even includes Zeke giving a self-serving shout-out to one of Rock’s early movies: the 1991 crime drama “New Jack City.” And there are parts of “Spiral” where Zeke’s shrieking and hollering look more like he’s doing a buffoon-ish parody akin to 1993’s “CB4,” another Rock movie from the early 1990s.

The horror in “Spiral” isn’t as creative as in previous “Saw” movies. And there’s no real intrigue in trying to solve the mystery of who the serial killer is, because the movie is so sloppily handled. It’s pretty easy to figure out who the killer is if you look at the killer’s motives and who would know when and where to attack the next victim. And a lot of viewers are going to really hate the abrupt ending of “Spiral.” It’s made very clear at the movie’s disappointing conclusion that, just like a has-been zombie that keeps rising from the dead, the “Saw” franchise isn’t going away anytime soon.

Lionsgate released “Spiral” in U.S. cinemas on May 14, 2021.

Review: ‘The Last Full Measure,’ starring Sebastian Stan, Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Ed Harris and Samuel L. Jackson

January 22, 2020

by Carla Hay

Sebastian Stan and William Hurt in “The Last Full Measure” (Photo by Jackson Lee Davis)

“The Last Full Measure”

Directed by Todd Robinson

Culture Representation: Set in the United States and Vietnam, the male-centric military drama “The Last Full Measure” centers on predominantly white (and a few African American) characters who are connected in some way to the U.S. Air Force.

Culture Clash: The conflicting agendas of politicians, military officials and war veterans are depicted in the process of deciding if a deceased military man will get the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Culture Audience: “The Last Full Measure” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies about military veterans and the Vietnam War.

Jeremy Irvine in “The Last Full Measure” (Photo by Wasan Puengprasert)

The military/political drama “The Last Full Measure” gets its title from the phrase used to describe the ultimate sacrifice that a military person can give in service. Inspired by a true story, this appropriately solemn movie chronicles the journey of Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman (a fictional chracter played by Sebastian Stan), who investigates a decades-long request for the Congressional Medal of Honor to be given to Vietnam War hero William Pitsenbarger, a U.S. Air Force Pararescue medic who died in combat in 1966, at the age of 21.

Pitsenbarger (nicknamed Pits) lost his life during a battle at Xa Cam My that was part of a secretive mission called Operation Abilene. He was a para jumper (or PJ), who saved approximately 60 men in the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division during his military service in the Vietnam War. The movie’s story unfolds in a way that is similar to a mystery, since Scott uncovers secrets that certain people in the government do not want to be revealed. According to “The Last Full Measure” writer/director Todd Robinson (who tried to get this movie made for 20 years), the fictional Scott Huffman character is a composite of himself, historian Parker Hayes and unnamed Pentagon staffers who fought for Pitsenbarger to get the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The beginning of the movie takes place in Washington, D.C., in 1999, when F. Whitten Peters (played by Linus Roache) abruptly retired from his position as U.S. Secretary of the Air Force. Knowing that he’ll soon be out of a job because he worked on Peters’ staff, Scott reluctantly takes an assignment from the smirky and arrogant Carlton Stanton (played by Bradley Whitford), a Pentagon public-relations employee who delights in giving to Scott what they both perceive as a trivial and distracting task—looking into a Congressional Medal of Honor request that has been rejected for decades. (Viewers can see from the get-go that Carlton will be the movie’s power-hungry villain who will do whatever it takes to climb the government ladder.)

At the time he is given the assignment, Scott is more concerned about where he’s going to find his next job.  He’s the father of a kindergarten-age son, and he’s expecting his second child with his pregnant wife Tara (played by Alison Sudol), who encourages him to approach the investigation with compassion and an open mind. The three people who are the biggest advocates for Pits to get his posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor are retired Air Force Sgt. Tom Tulley (William Hurt), who was Pits’ best friend and mission partner, and Pits’ parents Frank and Alice (played by Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd), who have never fully recovered from the untimely loss of their son.

Scott interviews them, as well as several U.S. military veterans who were eyewitnesses to Pits’ bravery, including Billy Takoda (played by Samuel L. Jackson), Ray Mott (played by Ed Harris), Jimmy Burr (played Peter Fonda, in his last movie role, which is essentially a camero) and Kepper (John Savage), who still lives in Vietnam. Scott travels all the way to Vietnam to interview Kepper, and during his conversation with Kepper, Scott has a powerful awakening. Through the interviews, Scott pieces together the puzzle of the ill-fated Operation Abilene that led the U.S. soldiers into a Viet Cong ambush. Showing uncommon bravery, Pitsenbarger refused a chance to escape and instead stayed on the battleground to help save lives and attend to the wounded, while also taking up arms to defend his comrades. The battle scenes are shown in flashbacks, with Jeremy Irvine portraying Pits.

But what really caused that deadly ambush at Xa Cam My? And how much did the U.S. government know but chose to hide from the public? As Scott gets closer to the truth, he knows that revealing the truth could destroy his career and possibly put his life in danger. It could also kill the chances of Pits getting a Congressional Medal of Honor if the full story comes out about Operation Abilene. It’s a tricky dilemma, because some of the same government people whose votes are needed to approve the Congressional Medal of Honor going to Pits are also the same people who could squash that request if Scott goes public with the full story.

During the course of the movie, viewers see Scott’s transformation as a somewhat rigid character who tends to see issues in black and white to someone who begins to understand that issues come in many shades of grey. For example, in one scene in the movie, Scott is assembling a crib and he refuses to look at the instructions, because “that would be cheating,” he says—an indication of not only his hardline approach on how to solve problems but also an assertion of how he perceives his strong masuculinity. But as the stories about Operation Abilene unfold, Scott begins to question his views on ethics in the context of war. He must also confront issues of patriotism and personal sacrifice—issues that can sometimes be at odds with each other and can be tested if it involves reporting government corruption.

Fortunately, Stan does an admirable job of portraying this metamorphosis in a realistic way. He and co-star Hurt have a few emotional scenes in the movie, which doesn’t veer too much into melodrama for the characters. In addition, “The Last Full Measure” respectfully handles the issues of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and how it not only affects war veterans but also their loved ones. The movie responsibly shows how people can react to PTSD in different ways and how military machismo sometimes hinders people from dealing with these issues in a beneficial and healing way.

Because “The Last Full Measure” is a male-oriented film and the military is a male-dominated field, the female characters don’t have much to do except play “the supportive wife” or “the supportive administration employee.” However, that doesn’t mean the women in this movie are doormats. In particular, Ladd’s Alice Pitsenbarger character shows inspiring determination to keep pushing for the family’s cause when her ailing husband’s health issues indicate that he won’t be around much longer.

“The Last Full Measure” is an engrossing and heartfelt story that might seem like a paint-by-numbers military movie because the ending is very easy to predict, but it stands out for its top-notch cast of stars (who all deliver convincing performances) and the fact that Vietnam War stories about the U.S. Air Force are rarely told in movies. At the end of the film, “The Last Full Measure” points out the extremely low percentage of Air Force people and even lower percentage of enlisted airpeople who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor. The movie is ultimately a tribute to U.S. military people, especially those who made personal sacrifices during wars, whether or not they made it out alive.

Roadside Attractions will release “The Last Full Measure” in U.S. cinemas on January 24, 2020.

2019 Tony Awards: performers and presenters announced

June 3, 2019

The following is a press release from the Tony Awards:

Some of the world’s biggest stars from stage and screen will appear at the 73rd Annual Tony Awards. The list of names announced includes Darren Criss, Tina Fey, Sutton Foster, Samuel L. Jackson, Regina King, Laura Linney, Audra McDonald, Ben Platt, Billy Porter, Andrew Rannells, LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Michael Shannon. More presenters will be announced soon.

The Tony Awards telecast will feature an incredible line up of celebrity presenters and musical performances for Broadway’s biggest night.
James Corden will return to host the American Theatre Wing’s 2019 Tony Awards, which will be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City on CBS. The three-hour program will air on Sunday, June 9th 8:00 – 11:00 p.m. (ET/PT time delay). The Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.

You can also watch the Tony Awards online with CBS All Access. More info at cbs.com/all-access.

June 5, 2019 UPDATE: A second round of artists has been added to appear at THE 73rd ANNUAL TONY AWARDS(R), live from the historic Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Sunday, June 9 (8:00-11:00 PM, live ET/delayed PT) on the CBS Television Network. The star-studded lineup includes Sara Bareilles, Laura Benanti, Abigail Breslin, Danny Burstein, Kristin Chenoweth, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Josh Groban, Danai Gurira, Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Jackson, Shirley Jones, Jane Krakowski, Judith Light, Lucy Liu, Aasif Mandvi, Sienna Miller, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Catherine O’Hara, Kelli O’Hara, Karen Olivo, Anthony Ramos, Marisa Tomei, Aaron Tveit, Samira Wiley and BeBe Winans.

Emmy and Tony Award winner James Corden will host the 2019 Tony Awards for the second time. As previously announced, Darren Criss, Tina Fey, Sutton Foster, Samuel L. Jackson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Regina King, Laura Linney, Audra McDonald, Ben Platt, Billy Porter, Andrew Rannells and Michael Shannon will also take part in Broadway’s biggest night.

The TONY Awards, which honors theater professionals for distinguished achievement on Broadway, has been broadcast on CBS since 1978. This year marks the 73rd anniversary of the TONY Awards, which were first held on April 6, 1947 at the Waldorf Astoria’s Grand Ballroom. The ceremony is presented by Tony Award Productions, which is a joint venture of the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing, which founded the Tonys.

Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss of White Cherry Entertainment will return as executive producers. Weiss will also serve as director for the 20th consecutive year. Ben Winston is a producer.

June 6, 2019 UPDATE:

Cynthia Erivo (Photo by Barry Brecheisen)

The Tony Awards telecast will feature performances by the casts of “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations”; “Beetlejuice”; “The Cher Show”; “Choir Boy”; “Hadestown”; “Kiss Me, Kate”; “Oklahoma!”; “The Prom” and “Tootsie.” The evening will also feature a special performance by Tony Award winning-actress Cynthia Erivo.

2019 Academy Awards: performers and presenters announced

February 11, 2019

by Carla Hay

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga at the 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards on January 6, 2019. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced several entertainers who will be performers and presenters at the 91st Annual Academy Awards ceremony, which will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. ABC will have the U.S. telecast of the show, which will not have a host. As previously reported, comedian/actor Kevin Hart was going to host the show, but he backed out after the show’s producers demanded that he make a public apology for homophobic remarks that he made several years ago. After getting a  firestorm of backlash for the homophobic remarks, Hart later made several public apologies but remained adamant that he would still not host the Oscars this year.

The celebrities who will be on stage at the Oscars this year are several of those whose songs are nominated for Best Original Song. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper will perform their duet “Shallow” from their movie remake of “A Star Is Born.” Jennifer Hudson will perform “I’ll Fight” from the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary “RBG.” David Rawlings and Gillian Welch will team up for the duet “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from the Western film “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” It has not yet been announced who will perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from the Disney musical sequel “Mary Poppins Returns.”** It also hasn’t been announced yet if Kendrick Lamar and SZA will take the stage for “All the Stars” from the superhero flick “Black Panther.”

Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic do the music for the “In Memoriam” segment, which spotlights notable people in the film industry who have died in the year since the previous Oscar ceremony.

Meanwhile, the following celebrities have been announced as presenters at the ceremony: Whoopi Goldberg (who has hosted the Oscars twice in the past), Awkwafina, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Tina Fey, Jennifer Lopez, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Amandla Stenberg, Tessa Thompson Constance Wu, Javier Bardem, Angela Bassett, Chadwick Boseman, Emilia Clarke, Laura Dern, Samuel L. Jackson, Stephan James, Keegan-Michael Key, KiKi Layne, James McAvoy, Melissa McCarthy, Jason Momoa and Sarah Paulson. Goldberg and Bardem are previous Oscar winners.

Other previous Oscar winners taking the stage will be Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney, who won the actor and actress prizes at the 2018 Academy Awards.

Donna Gigliotti (who won an Oscar for Best Picture for 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love) and Emmy-winning director Glenn Weiss are the producers of the 2019 Academy Awards. This will be the first time that Gigliotti is producing the Oscar ceremony. Weiss has directed several major award shows, including the Oscars and the Tonys. He will direct the Oscar ceremony again in 2019.

**February 18, 2019 UPDATE: Bette Midler will perform “The Place Where Los Things Go,” the Oscar-nominated song from “Mary Poppins Returns.” British rock band Queen, whose official biopic is the Oscar-nominated film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” will also perform on the show with lead singer Adam Lambert. It has not been revealed which song(s) Queen will perform at the Oscars.

February 19, 2019 UPDATE: These presenters have been added to the Oscar telecast: Elsie Fisher, Danai Gurira, Brian Tyree Henry, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Keaton, Helen Mirren, John Mulaney, Tyler Perry, Pharrell Williams, Krysten Ritter, Paul Rudd and Michelle Yeoh.

February 21, 2019 UPDATE: These celebrities will present the Best Picture nominees: José Andrés, Dana Carvey, Queen Latifah, Congressman John Lewis, Diego Luna, Tom Morello, Mike Myers, Trevor Noah, Amandla Stenberg, Barbra Streisand and Serena Williams.

2018 CinemaCon: What to expect at this year’s event

April 23, 2018

by Carla Hay

CinemaCon

CinemaCon, the annual convention for the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), will be held April 23 to April 26, 2018, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. About 5,000 people attend the event, which gives movie studios the chance to showcase what they expect to be their biggest hits of the year.

Movie studios scheduled to give their presentations at the event are Sony Pictures Entertainment on April 23; Walt Disney Studios, STX Films and Warner Bros. Pictures on April 24; Entertainment Studios, Universal Pictures, Focus Features and Paramount Pictures on April 25; and 20th Century Fox, Amazon Studios and Lionsgate on April 26.

One of the highlights of CinemaCon 2018 will be the 2018 Pioneer of the Year Award Dinner on April 25. The event will honor Tom Cruise, the first actor to ever receive the award. Tony-and-Grammy-Award-winning “Hamilton” star Leslie Odom Jr. will perform at the event, which will include a special presentation from Cruise’s “Jack Reacher” director Christopher McQuarrie, who also directed Cruise in 2015’s “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” and 2018’s “Mission: Impossible – Fallout.”

CinemaCon culminates with the CinemaCon Big Screen Achievement Awards ceremony, which will take place April 26.

Here are the announced winners of the awards:

CinemaCon Lifetime Award
Jodie Foster

Jodie Foster (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

Jodie Foster has been one of the most critically acclaimed actors in movies since made her big-screen debut in 1972’s “Napoleon and Samantha.” Her most famous movies include 1976’s “Taxi Driver,” 1997’s “Contact” and 2002’s “Panic Room.” She has two Oscars for Best Actress: for  1988’s “The Accused” and 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs.” In 2018, her thriller film “Hotel Artemis” is set for release. Foster has also become a respected director and producer, having helmed several feature films, including 1991’s “Little Man Tate,” 1995’s “Home for the Holidays,” 2011’s “The Beaver” and 2016’s “Money Monster.”

CinemaCon Icon Award
Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

In a career spanning more than 45 years, Oscar-nominated Samuel L. Jackson has appeared in more blockbusters than any other actor. His hit films include 1993’s “Jurassic Park,” 1994’s “Pulp Fiction,” “Star Wars” Episodes I II and III, 2004’s “The Incredibles,” 2012’s “Django Unchained” and several Marvel Studios films, such 2010’s “Iron Man 2,” 2011’s “Captain America; The First Avenger,”  2012’s “The Avengers,” 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” 2015’s “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.” The prolific Jackson has several movies scheduled for release. In 2018, his movies include “The Last Full Measure,” “Incredibles 2” and “Life Itself.” In 2019, he has three movies that are predicted to be big hits: “Glass” (the hybrid sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2017’s “Split”), “Captain Marvel” and a remake of “Shaft.”

CinemaCon Visionary Award
Jack Black

CinemaCon Vanguard Award
Jonah Hil

Jack Black and Jonah Hill (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Grey Goose Vodka)

Jack Black and Jonah Hill are co-stars in 2018’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.” Although they have appeared in dramas, they are mostly known for their comedic roles. Black’s biggest hits include 2017’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” the “Kung Fu Panda” movies, 2003’s “School of Rock” and 2005’s “King Kong.” His other 2018 movie is “The House With a Clock in Its Walls.”

Hill, who received Oscar nominations for supporting roles in 2011’s “Moneyball” and 2013’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” has appeared in a number of hit movies, including 2007’s “Superbad,” 2012’s “21 Jump Street,” 2013’s “This Is the End,” 2014’s “22 Jump Street” and the “How to Train Your Dragon” movies. He’s also reunited with his “Superbad” co-star Emma Stone in the Netflix series “Maniac.”  In 2019, “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is due out in cinemas.

CinemaCon Award of Excellence in Acting
Felicity Jones

Felicity Jones (Photo by Christopher Polk)

Felicity Jones had carved out a niche in independent films (usually dramas) before she was nominated for an Oscar for her supporting role in 2014’s “The Theory of Everything.” Since then, her career has grown by leaps in bounds, including starring roles in 2016’s biggest blockbuster, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” and 2016’s “Inferno.” In 2017, she starred in the critically acclaimed “Breathe.” She plays U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2018’s “On the Basis of Sex.”

CinemaCon Male Star of the Year
Benicio Del Toro

Benicio Del Toro (Photo by Richard Foreman Jr.)

Benicio Del Toro won an Oscar for his supporting role in 2000’s “Traffic.” He has developed a reputation for playing brooding, often mysterious characters in critically acclaimed movies that range from ,ow-budget independent films to major blockbusters. Del Toro’s best-known movies include 1995’s “The Usual Suspects,” 2013’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” and 2015’s “Sicario” and 2016’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”  His movies set for release in 2018 are “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” which is expected to the biggest box-office hit of the year.

CinemaCon Female Star of the Year
Dakota Johnson

Dakota Johnson (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Coming from from a family of famous actors (her parents are Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith; her maternal grandmother is Tippi Hedren; and her former stepfather is Antonio Banderas), Dakota Johnson has forged her most recognizable identity in movies as the star of the “Fifty Shades” trilogy. She has four very different movies in 2018: S&M-themed romantic drama “Fifty Shades Freed,” the horror movie “Suspiria” and the thriller “Bad Times at the El Royale.”

CinemaCon Director of the Year
Ryan Coogler

Ryan Coogler (Photo by Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images)

After directing just three feature films (2014’s “Fruitvale Station,” “2015’s “Creed” and 2018’s “Black Panther”), Ryan Coogler has become one of the hottest filmmakers in Hollywood, thanks to the blockbuster success of “Black Panther,” which broke the record for the highest-grossing film to open in February. The movie also earned rave reviews from critics, and “Black Panther” is set to be in the Top 5 of the highest-grossing movies of 2018.

CinemaCon Breakthrough Producer of the Year
Gabrielle Union

Gabrielle Union (Photo courtesy of BET)

Gabrielle Union is not new to making movies (she’s starred in 2000’s “Bring It On” and 2012’s “Think Like a Man, among other films), but she is relatively new to producing movies. Union was an executive producer of her 2016 comedy film “Almost Christmas,” and she’s a producer of her 2018 thriller “Breaking In.”

CinemaCon Action Star of the Year
Taron Egerton

Taron Egerton (Photo by Larry Horricks)

Taron Egerton is best known to movie audiences as the star of the “Kingsman” movies: 2014’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and 2017’s “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.” His 2018 movies are the big-screen version of the true-crime drama “The Billionaire Boys Club” and as the iconic title character in “Robin Hood.” Egerton is also set to star as Elton John in the biopic “Rocketman,” whose release date is to be announced.

Cinema Spotlight Award
Anna Kendrick

Anna Kendrick (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Anna Kendrick is best known for starring in the “Pitch Perfect” comedy/musical movies, but she is equally adept at doing dramas, such as her Oscar-nominated turn for her supporting role in 2009’s “Up in the Air.” Her 2018 movie is “A Simple Favor,” a mystery thriller

CinemaCon Female Star of Tomorrow Award
Tiffany Haddish

Tiffany Haddish (Photo by Michele K. Short)

Tiffany Haddish is a longtime stand-up comedian, but she had a major breakthrough in movies with her much-talked-about role in the 2017 comedy smash “Girls Trip.” Since then, her career has been on a hot streak, with starring role in TV and movies, including four films due out in 2018: “Uncle Drew,” “Night School,” “The Oath” and “Nobody’s Fool.”

CinemaCon Breakthrough Performer of the Year
LilRel Howery

LilRel Howery (Photo by Jason Lubin)

LilRel Howery made movie audiences stand up and take notice as the wise-cracking TSA worker in the 2017 horror blockbuster “Get Out.” It was a small but memorable role for the actor who was previously known on screen for starring as Bobby Carmichael in “The Carmichael Show.” Howery’s 2018 movies are the comedy “Uncle Drew” and the sci-fi thriller “Birdbox.”

CinemaCon Comedy Star of the Year
Kate McKinnon

Kate McKinnon (Photo by Adam Rose/ABC)

Kate McKinnon has already won multiple Emmys for her work on “Saturday Night Live,” but she has also made her mark on the big screen, with scene-stealing roles in 2016’s “Ghostbusters” remake, 2017’s “Rough Night” and 2017’s “Ferdinand.” In 2018, her comedy movies set for release are “Irreplaceable You” and “The Spy Who Dumped Me.”

Other awards that will be given at the ceremony:

  • CinemaCon International Filmmaker of the Year Award: J.A. Bayona, director of 2018’s “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”
  • CinemaCon Passpartout Award: Kurt Rieder,  20th  Century Fox International executive VP for theatrical in the Asia Pacific region
  • NATO Marquee Award: Alejandro Ramírez Magaña, Cinépolis CEO/general director
  • Career Achievement in Exhibition Award: Robert Carrady, Caribbean Cinemas president
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