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‘Norman’ Review: Richard Gere At Top Of His Game As Small-Time New York Operator

Continuing an impressive run of performances in indie films, Richard Gere is simply terrific in Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall Of A New York Fixer, the original title when it premiered at last fall’s Telluride and Toronto film festivals, but now just shortened to Norman. But don’t think this role was tailor-made for the star or that he was the natural choice.

It’s an offbeat part and he throws himself completely into it as a small time operator, the kind of guy who constantly networks and tries to make connections for people. Actually, if you saw Norman on the street you would probably run the other direction, even though in his own modest way he is not someone to be wary of. In fact, as the film goes along we come to have great sympathy for him. Everybody probably knows a Norman, and as I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), Gere brings a great deal of believability to the role and completely loses whatever star persona we think he has.

Writer/director Joseph Cedar (Footnote) based this character on what was known as the “court Jew”,  a person enveloped in thousands of years of historical literature, but has thoroughly contemporized it in the first English- language film for the Israeli helmer. Norman Oppenheimer has a lot of schemes and dreams but nothing ever seems to come to fruition, but then one day his luck seemingly changes, or at least begins to change due to an unsolicited act of kindness when he befriends an Israeli politician named Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) visiting New York but also at a very low point in his career. Norman insists on buying him a very expensive pair of shoes  and asks nothing in return. This pays off three years later when Norman meets Eshel again, except this time he is the newly elected Prime Minister of Israel, and much to the chagrin of his associates, he remembers Norman with fondness and gives him access to his circle.  Of course nothing is as good as it seems and scandal intervenes, affecting Norman and some deals he made based on his friendship with Eshel.

Many other encounters and characters are weaved in and out of this basic plot and Cedar has cast his film exceptionally well beginning with Gere, in an unforgettable turn, his familiar good looks now buried in the guise of this Jewish mensch always handy with a business card and a new idea. Ashkenazi is equally fine as the Israeli politician whose own fate becomes intertwined with Norman’s and the group Norman links to the Prime Minister. There’s his understanding nephew (Michael Sheen), a rabbi (Steve Buscemi), a mogul (Harris Yulin) and his assistant  (Dan Stevens). Josh Charles, Charlotte Gainsbourg , and Hank Azaria also figure in key roles along the way, but it is Gere who has all the glue to hold it together and keeps us engrossed in the misadventures of this unique man.

Shot in both New York City and Tel Aviv, Cedar has made a compelling and highly entertaining film for adult audiences looking for something different. Miranda Bailey, Lawrence Inglee, David Mandil, Eyal Rimmon and Oren Moverman are the producers of the Sony Pictures Classics release which opens today.

Do you plan to see Norman?  Let us know what you think.

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Spark: A Space Tail

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It is one of those great puzzling facts of the cinema that even though animation allows filmmakers to unfurl their creative visions and create entire universes as vast, wide and detailed as their imaginations, the number of genuinely good animated science-fiction films is surprisingly low. Oh sure, there are a few gems here and there, including the family favorites “WALL-E” and “The Iron Giant” and more adult-oriented efforts like “Fantastic Planet,” “Heavy Metal,” “A Scanner Darkly,” and the anime classics “Akira” and “Ghost in the Shell.” But, for the most part, there is something about the infinite possibilities that the combination of genre and format has to offer that seems to stymie filmmakers and leads them to instead offer up such banal retreads as “Battle for Terra,” “Escape from Planet Earth,” “Mars Needs Moms,” “Planet 51,” “Pinocchio in Outer Space,” to name just a few. Even the fabled “Star Wars” franchise was unable to avoid this tendency when it went the animated route with “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” which currently stands as the cinematic low point of the saga to date.

The latest film to epitomize this odd trend is “Spark: A Space Tail,” an utterly lifeless and profoundly unoriginal animated effort that is desperately lacking the very thing in its title. This is the kind of film that borrows, to put it politely, so many things from other sources that older viewers could amuse themselves—since the film sure isn’t going to—by trying to see how many lifts from other, better genre favorites they can find. In the first 90 seconds or so alone, we are introduced to Bana, a world populated almost entirely by monkeys that is then attacked by the hateful General Zhong (A.C. Peterson), who deploys a fearsome space creature known as a Galactic Kraken that creates a black hole that tears the planet apart into tiny shards, one of which contains Spark, the infant son of Bana’s benevolent leader, who, perhaps inevitably, also happens to be Zhong’s brother.

Thirteen years pass and Spark (Jace Norman) is now an increasingly restless teenager whose only companions are friends Chunk (Rob deLeeuw) and Vix (Jessica Biel), who go off from time to time to salvage junk, and a robot caretaker known as Bananny. Desperate for excitement, Spark intercepts a message summoning his friends and decides to “borrow” their spaceship and respond to it himself. Through circumstances too labored to get into here, Spark finds himself in possession of a device belonging to Zhong that will allow him to track the wily and elusive Kraken and use the threat of its destructive power to make the rest of the universe bow to him. Instead of taking the device back to his friends, Spark decides to go hunting for the Kraken himself. Without giving too much away, this leads to a series of misadventures that eventually result in him leading a ragtag group of outcasts into a final battle against Zhong’s massive forces as he at long last discovers both his birthright and his ultimate purpose.

If you think that description was unbelievably tedious and lacking in anything remotely resembling originality, imagine sitting there and watching it all play out over the course of its seemingly endless 90-minute running time. Writer/director Aaron Woodley has come up with a story that brings so little of anything new to the proceedings that even the very young children—its target audience—will be sensing that they have seen it all before and almost certainly done better there than here. (The closest thing by Woodley that’s close to narrative innovation is the weird preponderance of jokes revolving around digestive issues on display.) Visually, the film is also a bust as the look offers nothing of value either—even though it could create virtually anything thanks to the animated format, the worlds and the creatures inhabiting them are as generic as can be. As for the characters, they fail to inspire much enthusiasm either: Spark is pretty much a jerk in the early scenes and a bore in the later ones, Zhong is a drag whose big character detail is that he is self-conscious about being short (you know, just like the bad guy in “Shrek”) and the others are so colorless that they tend to fade from memory even while they are still up there on the screen.

The truly baffling thing about “Spark: A Space Tail” is that even though it seems as if it was always destined to be dribbled out in a few theaters during an otherwise busy weekend before landing on home video as soon as the contracts allow, it nevertheless somehow managed to get a number of familiar faces, including a couple of Oscar winners, to contribute their vocal talents. Jessica Biel supplies the voice of the spunky and resourceful Vix and Patrick Stewart portrays the leader of a group of stranded soldiers whom Spark recruits to help him defeat Zhong. More bizarrely, the voice of the Queen of Bana, who yearns to one day reunite with her son, is done by Hillary Swank, a move that is all the stranger since it is a supporting part at best. Finally, no less of a star than Susan Sarandon herself gets the honor of providing the voice of Bananny, a robot that is basically a combination of WALL-E and the Granny from the Tweety & Sylvester cartoons. Granted, choosing to supply the voice of a milk-and-cookie dispensing robot in a cartoon that virtually no one is going to see is far from the most questionable choice that Sarandon has made recently. Of course, her work here will not play a part in any future Lifetime Achievement tributes unless the person putting the clip reel together is a former Hillary Clinton supporter.

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Star Wars 8 Director Shares Last Jedi Behind-the-Scenes Photos

Day 2 of Star Wars Celebration kicked off with the highly-anticipated Last Jedi panel, which, as expected, debuted the first trailer for this epic sci-fi sequel. Director Rian Johnson and LucasFilm president Kathleen Kennedy were on hand, along with some “surprise” guests including Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn) and franchise newcomer Kelly Marie Tran (Rose). Along with the trailer, fans also got their first look at the new poster, but that’s not all. Throughout the panel, director Rian Johnson also debuted his own personal behind-the-scenes photos, which you can see below.

While Rian Johnson and LucasFilm president Kathleen Kennedy didn’t give any context behind most of these images, for many of these photos, it’s not necessarily needed. However, the director did explain that he used his own personal camera to snap several black-and-white pictures from the set, with the director unveiling these Star Wars set photos from his own collection to the Star Wars Celebration crowd. Here’s what the director had to say about why he decided to take so many photos from the set.

“That was something I realized from the beginning of it. I realized I had kind of a front row seat for all of this cool behind-the-scenes stuff, and besides the set photographer, I was like the only person on set who could take pictures and not get like tackled and kicked in the face. This is my Leica film camera that I got before Looper. When I was making Looper, I had this on my arm and I would just shoot a ton of stills. So I did the same thing on this movie. I just had this camera on my arm the entire time, and anytime I saw something cool, I would just snap away at it. I ended up taking like thousands of pictures of the whole process. It was fun and, at the end of this whole experience, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, just to have all these memories.”

He went on to show the audience several of these photos, including Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron in the cockpit of his X-Wing ship, along with an image he said was one of his favorites, featuring the late Carrie Fisher kicking her feet up and relaxing between takes, alongside Oscar Isaac and John Boyega. Other images he debuted from his collection featured Carrie Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, who returns as Lieutenant Connix from The Force Awakens. One particular image that drew a big reaction from the crowd showed Daisy Ridley’s Rey holding up a lightsaber, while the panel host Josh Gad joked that the entire movie was shot in black-and-white, with Rian Johnson also joking that they haven’t told Disney yet.

Other photos that debuted at the panel include the first look at Kelly Marie Tran’s character Rose, more shots of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, director Rian Johnson himself, and even the beloved ball droid BB-8, who actually made a brief appearance on the Celebration story as well. Take a look at these behind-the-scenes photos from Star Wars: The Last Jedi that debuted during the Star Wars Celebration panel earlier today.

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See The Stunning Star Wars Dress Billie Lourd Wore As A Tribute To Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd wore an exquisite dress to honor her late mom at the Star Wars Celebration. This gorgeous look is not to be missed.

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Star Wars 8 First Look at Kelly Marie Tran as Rose

When it was announced that there would be a Last Jedi panel at Star Wars Celebration this year, the only confirmed panelists at the time were director Rian Johnson and producer/LucasFilm President Kathleen Kennedy. Naturally, most fans knew there would be many more surprise guests who would be showing up during this hour-long panel, with Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Daisy Ridley (Rey) and John Boyega (Finn) also stopping by. While many fans were expecting those beloved actors to show up, fans were also introduced to one of the newcomers to the Star Wars universe, with actress Kelly Marie Tran making her Star Wars Celebration debut, unveiling the first look at her character, Rose.

One of the countless rumors to surfaced before, during and after production on Star Wars: The Last Jedi revealed that Kelly Marie Tran plays a character named Rose, who was said to be accompanying Finn on a secret mission to infiltrate a massive Star Destroyer. While we didn’t learn much about the actual story during the Star Wars: The Last Jedi panel, it was confirmed that her character’s name is Rose, with fans getting a first look at the character, which you can see below. Here’s what the actress had to say about her character.

“My character’s name is Rose. She’s part of the Resistance, and she works in maintenance, and I can’t wait for you to meet her.”

There have been rumors that Rose spends most of the movie with Finn on his undercover mission, but how she becomes a part of this mission is unclear. There has also been talk that Finn must wear a First Order officer’s uniform, when he is discovered by a Stormtrooper played by Tom Hardy, who congratulates him on his promotion to a covert spy, thanks to some propaganda planted within the First Order. Instead of revealing that Finn defected to the Resistance, First Order members were told that he’s now spying on them. Part of this mission reportedly involves a casino planet, but while no details about the actual mission were revealed, Rian Johnson shed some light on the qualities that Rose embodies as a character.

“She’s pretty rad. Rose is a maintenance worker in the Resistance, and, for me, growing up as a kid in Colorado watching these movies, just watching Luke Skywalker kind of get pulled out, and I think that’s why people respond to Rey also, get pulled out of wherever he is and be this unlikely hero. The notion that anyone out there, any of us, can step up and turn into a hero, that’s really where the character of Rose comes from. She’s not a soldier, she’s not looking to be a hero, and she gets pulled in a very big way to an adventure in this movie, with Finn. Kelly just embodies that for me.”

When LucasFilm cast Kelly Marie Tran, it was said that she would have a pivotal role, with John Boyega even teasing that the actress has a lead role in the film. While Kelly Marie Tran isn’t exactly a newcomer when it comes to acting, having appeared in the film XOXO and episodes of CollegeHumor Originals, About a Boy and Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street, she wasn’t exactly a household name, but that may change after The Last Jedi hits theaters this December. The actress also revealed that she had to keep her casting a secret from her family, for an extended period of time.

“They didn’t know for four months after. I told them I was doing an indie movie in Canada. At one point, I actually got some maple syrup, so I could bring back to them, so they thought I was really in Canada. I was like, I’m committing to this.”

Unfortunately, Kelly Marie Tran’s character wasn’t shown in the new Star Wars 8 trailer that was also unveiled at today’s panel, but now that her character has been officially unveiled, hopefully we’ll learn more about her soon. If what director Rian Johnson said at the panel is true, then it seems Star Wars fans will have another unlikely hero to embrace in Kelly Marie Tran’s rose after Star Wars: The Last Jedi hits theaters on December 15. Take a look at the first photo of Kelly Marie Tran’s rose from Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

<em>Star Wars: The Last Jedi</em> Kelly Marie Tran Photo

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Last Jedi Director Surprises Waiting Fans at Star Wars Celebration

Star Wars fans from around the world have descended upon Star Wars Celebration in Orlando, many of whom camped out overnight for a chance to to attend today’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi panel. Director Rian Johnson took it upon himself to make the wait a little better, surprising these fans with an impromptu meet and greet, signing various items of Star Wars memorabilia. A number of these fans shared their experience with the director on social media.

We have a number of photos from Twitter, including a brief video showing director Rian Johnson arriving to surprise the massive amount of fans who were waiting in line overnight for the panel. The director came armed with a megaphone, telling everyone to stay where they were, since he planned on meeting every single one of them. As we can see from a number of the photos and videos below, Rian Johnson was true to his word, spending over three hours meeting those who had camped out overnight.

As far as the panel itself, it was widely expected that the first Star Wars 8 trailer would debut, although there had been rumors that it would debut yesterday, during the 40th Anniversary panel, which kicked off Star Wars Celebration. That obviously didn’t happen. Still, LucasFilm never confirmed whether or not the trailer would in fact debut during this panel, but with just eight months until the film comes out, it sure did. The first ever footage destroyed the biggest Star Wars gathering of all time just a few hours ago.

Many were hoping that the panelists would confirm some of the numerous plot rumors which have surfaced throughout production. There have been reports that Finn (John Boyega) goes on an undercover mission with Kelly Marie Tran’s new character Rose, which reportedly involves a “casino planet,” reportedly being hacked by a new slicer character played by Justin Theroux. There have also been rumors that, after Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally met Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) at the end of The Force Awakens, Rey starts her Jedi training. We know that to be true in the trailer that debuted.

Yesterday, during the 40th Anniversary panel, fans also got their first look at the iconic Carrie Fisher’s character Leia Organa in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The filmmakers and cast haven’t confirmed much about her story, or how her role may have changed. We’ll be sure to keep providing updates from The Last Jedi, but until for now, take a look at these photos and videos of Rian Johnson meeting The Last Jedi fans.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi director @rianjohnson surprises fans waiting in line for tomorrow’s panel at #StarWars Celebration. #SWCOpic.twitter.com/Q4Lyt4Sviw

— Dustin Sandoval (@DustinMSandoval) April 14, 2017

Hey @rianjohnson, thanks for the pic and for being a great dude. Awesome to have you out mingling with those of us in line! pic.twitter.com/W8CSZnMyxV

— Chris Banaszek (@aboybano) April 14, 2017

I JUST MET @rianjohnson ! #SWCOpic.twitter.com/RDtVKJh1wN

— Brandon Maltz @ SWCO (@PrODiiGY_SmAsh) April 14, 2017

Right now at [email protected] is signing autographs and taking pictures in the overnight line for #TheLastJedi panel. pic.twitter.com/OysaevzEno

— Podcast 2187 (@Podcast2187) April 14, 2017

What a great guy! @rianjohnson giving signatures and selfies to all the fans at #SWCOpic.twitter.com/XCZTXg71cj

— davestrrr @ #SWCO ?? (@davestrrr) April 14, 2017

STAR WARS CELEBRATION: AAAAAAAA! Rian Johnson visita fila dos que esperam pelo painel de Os Últimos Jedi https://t.co/fnwjjOihTDpic.twitter.com/HSP6cDPhs7

— #blogCinemaNews (@BlogCinemaNews) April 14, 2017

At Star Wars Celebration and @rianjohnson has been here the past hour going down the line signing autographs and meeting EVERYBODYYYYY #swcopic.twitter.com/ie3Kxtj1oq

— Jason (@jasonosia) April 14, 2017

Thank you, @rianjohnson for taking the time to meet the fans tonight. I really love your necklace (not pictured, clay R2-D2 stamp pendant) pic.twitter.com/liITlz0iFL

— Violet @ SWCO (@violets83) April 14, 2017

@[email protected]@[email protected] I think he’s been here for close to three hours.
Dedicated to us fans, just super friendly!

— Último Jared @ #SWCO (@ISnowNothin) April 14, 2017

@rianjohnson signed my friends jacket with the words “that’s my jacket!” He’s Awesome!!! #SWCO#SWCelebration#StarWarspic.twitter.com/1V8Del3oWv

— Moody Talks Movies (@MovieMoody) April 14, 2017

thanks for stopping by @rianjohnson !!:) pic.twitter.com/cnFfCBoYyV

— briana @ swco (@feeIinsoIow) April 14, 2017

RIAN JOHNSON TRAMPLED OVER ALL OUR CAMPING SHIT!!! My cookies ???? pic.twitter.com/jKXSuGujgh

— Devesh Singh (@dev1359) April 14, 2017

I showed Rian Johnson, the director of Episode VIII The Last Jedi my “The Gay Jedi” T-shirt… #starwarscelebration#thelastjedi#noh8pic.twitter.com/V4vfSgR2ij

— Rictor (@Rictor_Riolo) April 14, 2017

He’s just @rianjohnson the director of Episode 8. No biggie. He knows who #Snoke is & won’t say if #Jedi is plural. pic.twitter.com/rNOzh921uZ

— Fred Rossi (@darthfoo) April 14, 2017

Just met #RianJohnson !!! He’s the NICEST GUY EVER!!! #SWCO#swco17#starwarspic.twitter.com/cMww9lcTBl

— Moody Talks Movies (@MovieMoody) April 14, 2017

Goooood morning! pic.twitter.com/BRSRuXjnzG

— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) April 14, 2017

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Sandy Wexler

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“Sandy Wexler” marks the third Netflix Original Film starring Adam Sandler (and his friends) and second directed by Steven Brill. To say it’s the best of Sandler’s three is only indicative of how unbearably awful the first two attempts were. Unlike “The Ridiculous 6” and “The Do-Over,” there’s some stuff here that works, and you can even, believe it or not, see glimpses of the Sandler who has put effort into films like “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Funny People.” This is Sandler’s first actual Netflix performance. It’s in a film that still sucks.

It took until this movie for me to realize that Netflix should be pissed. What I’ve come to notice as the critic of all of the Happy Madison Netflix films is that the creators of these movies, Sandler in particular, saw Netflix as a place to lower their efforts. And those efforts weren’t too high when these films were going theatrical. Everything has felt like a first draft. Every scene goes on longer than it needs to as if no one ever considered the timing of the final product because, well, it’s just Netflix. Running times over two hours; jokes that seem like they’re never going to end; supporting roles filled by buddies who often look like they’re just there for the catering—well, it’s just Netflix.

Sandler plays the title character, a low-level talent manager in the ‘90s—one of his major clients is “the guy who got his heart ripped out of his chest in ‘Temple of Doom’”—who is being remembered by friends and colleagues at some sort of modern day gathering that’s unclear. And so the film cuts back and forth between Sandy’s story and celebrities “remembering Sandy,” including Jewel, Vanilla Ice, Pauly Shore, Baba Booey, Henry Winkler, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien, and Salt N Pepa. Yes, it’s the weirdest collection of people at a party in Hollywood history. And it’s an even stranger structure in that the writers often give this crew the same thing to say over and over again. Sandy ate like a slob and laughed awkwardly, but he cared greatly about the people he managed, a ragtag crew of entertainers on the edge of the business.

Sandy’s clients include a ventriloquist who is always with his dummies (Kevin James), a daredevil who sucks at his job (Nick Swardson), and a mediocre stand-up comedian (Colin Quinn). None of them are particularly talented, but Wexler never tells them that, and there’s an interesting story that develops in the film about the tragedy of living life as a yes-man. At a certain point, you have to say no and you have to help people face the reality of a fame-less life. That story is a subplot to the much greater arc of Courtney (Jennifer Hudson), an R&B singer who Sandy discovers at a theme park and turns into a massive star. Of course, Courtney becomes too big for Sandy. Of course, Sandy secretly loves Courtney. Of course, all of this is connected by wacky interludes meant to be funny, but you will very rarely laugh.

There’s a halfway decent and interesting 90-minute dramedy buried in this 131-minute film, but Brill again shows his complete lack of pacing and timing. Over 90 minutes into this thing, you’re watching Terry Crews punch another man in the ass in one of many asides about Wexler’s clients. The film has zero sense of build or moving toward anything because it has that Brill, lurching momentum. There’s an earlier bit about jumping in a forbidden pool that goes on forever. And there are at least a hundred jokes out of a “Wacky ‘90s” joke book, including recurring bits about how wrong Wexler is about the future—he advises a client to pull all of his money out of Apple and put it in small local bookstores. And, of course, it wouldn’t be set in the ‘90s without an OJ joke. ‘90s fringe celebrities pop up repeatedly. Having Arsenio Hall play himself once is kinda funny—four times not as much. But the fact is that Brill and Sandler never wrote a joke that they didn’t think was worth repeating until you were sick of it.

And yet this film is definitely not as easy to quickly dismiss as Sandler’s last two Netflix joints. It’s interesting to consider that Sandler came up in the ‘90s, and that a lot of the people involved in memories of this fictional character were much bigger then (I’m looking at you, Vanilla Ice and Pauly Shore). In a sense, Sandler has always lived in the past—it’s the core of most of his man-child comedies, especially “Grown Ups”—and so seeing him play a character who’s somewhat stuck in an outdated existence has a meta quality that could have been fascinating but feels underdeveloped.

That’s what all these movies are—underdeveloped. They’re lazy. That this one is more interesting than the previous ventures almost feels accidental at times. Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that “Sandy Wexler” could have been Adam Sandler’s most complex film in years, but … well, it’s just Netflix.

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Ben Affleck And Jennifer Garner Have Officially Filed For Divorce

Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck have filed for divorce after nearly two years of media speculation about whether or not they would reconcile. Is there a chance the split could be amicable? Check it out here.

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