New Releases Double Reviews: World War Z & White House Down

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WORLD WAR Z

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Based on a popular novel by Max Brooks, this big budgeted film was plagued with troubled production and ran well over its original budget, reportedly somewhere around $170-200 mil (the original budget was set around $150 mil). The film was scheduled to open last December but because of rewrites and reshoots of the film’s third act, it got delayed for six months. Now it’s ready for audiences all over the world to see. I want to mention that the film doesn’t have anything to do with the book, besides the title and premise the film has nothing to do with its original source. Just thought I mention that for fans of the novel.

The film opens with Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family going to some family trip. While stuck in traffic on the streets of Philadelphia, suddenly chaos broke out. If you’ve seen the countless trailers and clips, you already know what happened. The scene was pretty intense and exciting to watch. Gerry and his family was able to escape and drove all the way to New Jersey.

Later on Gerry got a call from his former colleague, Theirry Umuntoni (Fana Mokoena), he explained what has been happening all over the world and needs Gerry’s help. Gerry agreed and Theirry told him to wait somewhere overnight and in the morning he’ll send over a helicopter to pick him up. Gerry and his family found a refuge with a family who still lives in an apartment building in New Jersey. After Gerry and his family were rescued, they were flown to a ship outside of the States where the US Navy set up their command post. He found out that US President was killed and most of the government officials have either died or missing. Since Gerry has experience in working all over the world, he’s been asked by the US Navy Captain to help them find out what cause the outbreak. First he was hesitant because he didn’t want to leave his family but after the Captain told him that the only reason he and his family are on the ship was because he’s useful to them, if he doesn’t want to help, he and his family have to leave. I don’t like to give out too much plot points on my reviews so I’ll just say that for the rest of the film, Gerry went on an adventure trying to find out what cause people to turn into zombies.

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As I mentioned earlier, the film doesn’t have anything to do with the book, but they did include sequences that were similar to some section from the book, some fans might appreciate that, I know that I did. I’m not the biggest fan of Marc Forster but I thought he did a really good job of staging some really cool action set pieces and even made me jump a few times. I thought the first half of the film was pretty great, I was involved in the story and thought it could one of the best films of the summer. Unfortunately the film’s second half was a letdown.

There were five screenwriters who were credited on this film and I blame all of them for the lackluster second half. Apparently studio folks weren’t too thrilled with the first cut that Forster had delivered to them and hired Damon Lindelof to rewrite the ending and order re-shoots. Unfortunately what he came up with was pretty lame in my opinion, of course I won’t spoil it but it’s clear they want sequels. In fact, Brad Pitt said in an interview that he wants to turn this film into a trilogy. I think had they stuck with the original ending, the film might work out better. I hope they include that original ending on Blu-ray/DVD or better yet, integrate it into the eventual director’s cut release. If you want to find out what the original was like, go and read this excellent article that chronicled the film’s troubled production.

Performance-wise, Pitt was pretty decent in the lead role. Make no mistake, this is his film. He appeared on the screen pretty much 99% of the time. Mireille Enos who played his wife had some good scenes in the first 30 minutes or so but unfortunately her role was reduced to just being the worried wife while her husband was out saving the world. The only other major character in the film was an Israeli soldier played by Daniella Kertesz, she sort of became Pitt’s sidekick throughout most of the film.

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I was a bit disappointed that they decided to make it a PG-13 zombie movie. I’m not a gore freak but I expected to see blood and some gore when it comes to film about zombies. I know that when they agreed to turn the book into a movie, it was under contract that it couldn’t be R-rated, that’s one of the reasons why they had to change the original ending. Apparently it’s too violent and the film would’ve gotten an R-rating. I understand it’s done for financial reasons but seriously, there was a scene in the film where Pitt’s character chopped another character’s hand off but we didn’t see anything because they had to cut away. Also, if you cut someone’s hand off, there would be blood everywhere! The film couldn’t show that of course. Just a minor complaint though, there were many intense scenes that worked despite its PG-13 kid friendly rating.

Even with the lackluster second half and lack of blood and gore, I still recommend it. I think some of the big spectacle sequences should be seen on the big screen and the 3D effects were pretty good. This coming from a guy who doesn’t care about 3D. Also, I thought the soundtrack was pretty great, especially the theme song by Muse.


3 out of 5 reels

WHITE HOUSE DOWN

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The second film about the White House under attack this year is now ready for audiences everywhere, the first being Olympus Has Fallen which opened back March. This one stars Channing Tatum as the reluctant hero who has to save the day and Jamie Foxx as the POTUS. The premise is pretty much the same with exception that the villains in this film were domestic terrorists while the bad guys in Olympus were foreigners. I would say White House Down really reminded me of Michael Bay’s The Rock, which was basically Die Hard at Alcatraz.

The setup for these kind of films are pretty similar, we were introduced to the main characters who will be involve in the story. There’s the hero John Cale (Channing Tatum), he’s basically a bodyguard to The Speaker of House, Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins). Then there’s the President (Jamie Foxx), head of the security in the White House Martin Walker (James Woods), secret service agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Vice President Alvin Hammond (Michael Murphy) and Cale’s daughter Emily (Joey King). The story begins as Cale is taking his daughter to the tour of the White House, we learn that he and his daughter aren’t that close and she’s sort of hate his guts. So in order to impress her, he told her that he’s being interview for a position as secret service agent. You see his daughter is somehow crazy about politics and she even has her own political blog and she also loves the President.

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Once they got to the White House, Cale got call in for the interview and found out Carol will be the one who’s interviewing him for the job. Apparently the two of them had some of history back in college and she thinks of him as a loser. Of course he didn’t get the job but he lied to his daughter that he might get it. By now we get to see some of the potential bad guys have also arrived at the White House and gearing up for their attack. The group’s leader is Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke). Later on, the bomb went off at the Capitol Building and Emil’s group started killing all the security people at the White House. During this attack, Cale was able to rescue the President and the film became sort of buddy action. There were lots of shoot outs, hand to hand combats and of course big explosions. If you’ve read my reviews on this site then you know I don’t like to give out plot points and you know what, the plot for these kind of films aren’t that important. You’ve seen them many times before and you just have to go along with the ride and I can tell you it’s a fun ride.

The film was directed by Roland Emmerich who seems to love to blow up Washington DC buildings in many of his films and well he did the same thing here. But unlike his other disaster spectacle films, this one was his first shoot’em up action flick since Universal Soldiers. I thought he did a great job of building up the tension and staged some really cool and fun action set pieces. There’s a big car chase that took place in front of the White House’s lawn, it’s the most ridiculous action scenes I’ve seen in a while but it’s fun nonetheless. He also understands that he’s making an action movie so he kept the tone light and not make it overly serious.

As for the actors, I thought everyone did a good job, although Foxx tried a bit too hard to imitate our real President Obama. Tatum was good as the not-so-smooth action hero, he’s more goofy than most action heroes. I was surprised Cale’s daughter played a big role in the movie and the young Joey King did a pretty good job as the know-it-all kid. I give the casting director big props for finding a young actress who actually looks like Channing Tatum. The rest of the cast did pretty well too, again thanks to Emmerich’s direction, none of them took their part too seriously.

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So how does it compare to Olympus Has Fallen? Well in my opinion this one was a much better film because it didn’t try to be more than an action summer flick. I thought Olympus took itself way too seriously, it tried too hard to be dark, edgy and violent as opposed to just being an action movie. Also, the effects in this film were much better than Olympus’, well to be fair White House Down has a bigger budget. But still Olympus’s budget was around $80mil and yet the effects in the film looked like something from the late 90s.

Of course there were some flaws in this film, I was expecting some new motivations from the villains, not the same old thing we’ve seen in the past. Even though I enjoyed the action scenes, I thought the hand to hand combats were badly-staged and the always bloodless violence sort of bug me a bit. When people get shot or blown up, there should be blood everywhere. Also, there’s a scene during the climax of the film that involved Cale’s daughter and a flag that was kind of odd and I wish they’d rewrite that sequence. I think people will either laugh out loud or just go WTF!? I think you might agree with me when you see it.

Overall I thought the film was a lot of fun and it’s one of the best action films I’ve seen in a while. If you’re a fan of Die Hard, The Rock or Olympus Has Fallen then you’ll enjoy this one.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


– Reviews by Ted S.


Have you seen either one of these? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

FlixChatter Review: Law Abiding Citizen

If you read my blog regularly, you know I’ve been pumpin’ this flick for quite a while. Yet, come Friday afternoon, after reading all the dismal reviews by top critics, I sort of had second thoughts about it. Now, it’s not because I give that much faith in what the critics say, but I was actually dreading what they called ‘unnecessary violence’ and gore, and the SAW horror gore-fest comparison. I’m very, very squeamish about stuff like that, so even with the prospect of seeing Gerard Butler in nearly every scene, I still had some reservations whether I could stomach the violence. Thanks to Becky, I went to see it anyway, and boy, am I glad I did!

First thing that came out of my mind when I got out of the theater: What’s the critics’ been smokin’? Did they even watch the same movie?

With the efficient running time of 1 hr 48 minutes, the film quickly grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the end. It opens with a cuddly scene of a seemingly happy home of Clyde Shelton, tinkering with some kind of gadget whilst his young daughter makes a string bracelet. But within minutes, that idyllic existence is snatched away in a gruesome way that ended with his wife raped and killed in front of him whilst he helplessly watched. As if that weren’t enough, the same thug that raped his wife then went after his daughter, right about the same time Clyde passed out. Boy, that’s just within the first 10 minutes. It’s easily the most horrific opening scene I’ve ever seen.

We’re then introduced to Nick Rice, a successful District Attorney (Jamie Foxx) with his perfectly-pressed suit and a stellar record of 96% conviction rate (which he indignantly pronounces when his colleague mistakenly think it was ‘only’ 95%). The ambitious DA ends up cutting a plea bargain with the assailant, despite Clyde’s pleading that the jury would believe him if this case goes to court. Nick keeps blabbing about the DNA evidence being inconclusive — even using the fact that Clyde blacked out during the incidence against him — but it’s obvious the attorney only cares about maintaining his conviction rate. It was harrowing to watch what happened to Clyde in the beginning, but it’s just as painful to see him from a distance watch Nick shaking hands with the criminal that destroyed his life.

Fast forward 10 years later, and Nick’s humble home is now transformed to a luxurious dwelling that signifies his growing success. His daughter is nearly 10 but he has no time for her nor for her mother. His priority is his job, and he’d rather miss her daughter’s cello recital (again) but instead opt to see the execution of one of the thugs that robbed Clyde. A vicious ‘mishap’ happens during the execution by lethal injection, and we soon finds out that Clyde’s not going to take this ‘injustice’ laying down. He then goes after Darby, who only served 3 years in prison for what he did, and makes him suffer a barbaric death (I had my eyes closed the entire time, but Darby’s agonizing squeal is enough to make me squirm!). As part of his strategy, Clyde surrenders to the SWAT team that swarm his house, with nothing but his daughter’s bracelet on his wrist. The nude scene isn’t gratuitous as one would be inclined to think, but he did it to say, ‘I have nothing to hide.’

Nick visits Clyde in prison
Nick visits Clyde in prison

Critics compare Clyde with some movie nutcases such as Hannibal Lecter, John Doe from Se7en, even the Joker, but the difference is, Clyde is no psychopath. His grief and distraught state of mind obviously has taken over him, but he doesn’t kill people simply to satisfy his lust for blood. All the grisly murders are calculated tactics with one intended target: to send a message about the crooked justice system. Now, by no means do I condone such vengeful acts, but at the same time, I’d rather not have people like Darby roaming on the street freely to repeat his crime again and again. So I sympathize with why Clyde wants Darby dead, but it’s another matter when he starts targeting all the people of the legal system involved with his case, all from the confinement of his cell!

The rest of the movie plays out the mano-a-mano between the two leads. There are some memorable lines during the negotiations, including Clyde’s quoting 18th century military strategist Carl von Clausewitz, “lessons not learned in blood is soon forgotten.” He manages to one-up Nick and blindside the entire city with his systematic killing spree. Even the mayor (played by Oscar nominee Viola Davis) was puzzled, “he’s locked up in a cell and still killing people?” The big question going through everyone’s mind was: how does Clyde pull it off? This is the biggest complaints from the critics, that it’s implausible and absurd that one guy can do all that. Well, this is a movie, of course some suspension of disbelief is to be expected. Even so, I actually find the ‘absurd’ plot in question to be quite sensible. Someone with Clyde’s skills and money devoting 10 yrs of his life to mastermind his ‘war’ against the broken justice system doesn’t seem that far-fetched to me. I mean, that seems an adequate amount of time to plot such a tactic, especially for such a weapons expert good enough to be hired by the US government for covert special ops.

What I like the most about this movie is the ambiguity and gray area of the lead characters, it’s not clear-cut who’s the hero or villain of the movie. Like a lot of moviegoers, I tend to side with Clyde, but becoming less so with the mounting body counts. It makes the face-off between him and Nick all the more effective, as we don’t know who we’ll root for next.

Gray directing Butler
Gray directing Butler

I also enjoy F. Gary Gray’s fast-paced and energetic direction and how he peppers the serious tone of the movie with sporadic wit and humor. It’s definitely far from boring. The movie also gives a noir-ish vibe that the director spoke about in his video diaries. The lighting and music captures that, even though I don’t really ‘notice’ the music that much, which is a good thing as it blends in nicely and helps set the mood, instead of being a jarring piece that sounds good but detach you from the movie. The  juxtaposition scenes, particularly between the cello recital and the death chamber, is an effective and captivating visual style. I also love the cinematography with its gorgeous aerial view of Philly.

It’s interesting to note the lopsidedness of the top critics’ ratings with those of the regular moviegoers (top critics’ 25% vs. average moviegoers’ rating of 94% @ rottentomatoes.com). The disbelief probably should be in the critics’ credence, as most people disagree with them (read a compilation of very positive users’ rating here). Their three main complaints are the implausible plot, what they call unnecessary violence and gore, and sub-par performances. I’ve addressed the first point above, but as far as the graphic scenes, it wasn’t as bad as they made it out to be. Even my friend Becky who can’t stand gory stuff said it was tolerable as the deed mostly happen off-screen.

The critics are also way off when it comes to the acting aspect. You might think I’m biased here because I like Butler, but truthfully, I think this is could be the best performance of his career. From his previous roles, I know he’s an actor that can bring a layer of vulnerability to his bad-@$$ performances. But he takes it another notch here with his sympathetic and convincing portrayal as both as a bereaved family man, as well as the menacing rogue hellbent on carrying out ‘justice’ at any cost. Jamie Foxx delivers an okay performance, I just don’t care with his character much, which is probably intentional. Naturally, the crazy-dude role is much more exciting and gets the best lines, so Butler’s role is the far more memorable one by a long shot. The supporting cast is terrific, too, especially Bruce McGill as a fellow lawyer and Colm Meaney as the detective, even Leslie Bibb makes for a sympathetic character. If I had to nitpick however, I actually find Viola Davis’ performance rather over the top, as she comes across as furious and cold the entire time.

In conclusion: It’s not a perfect movie (but then again what is?) and the ending could be more tightly written, as it feels too rushed and perhaps too ‘neat’ compared to the gritty events leading up to it. Yet despite its flaws, it’s still an enjoyable, edge-of-your-seat thriller that’s well-worth my 10 bucks. Though the film doesn’t necessarily have ‘answers’ to the foible of the legal system, it does leave me pondering about it, and creates some interesting discussion afterward.

Flixchatter Review: The Soloist

SoloistI almost didn’t watch this one as the Blockbuster nearby didn’t have a copy. We’ve been circling around the New Releases section twice and on to the older flicks aisles, and still couldn’t agree on something none of us had seen or wanted to watch. So my hubby and a couple of buddies of mine were close on settling on get this, Mama Mia!, but as we were about to check out, someone returned a copy of The Soloist, so after over a half hour at the rental store, we finally had something in our hands!

This is one of those movies that seemed to have all the necessary ingredients of an excellent movie. Talented actors, check. Skillful director, check. Engaging storyline based on a true story, check. Pardon me for setting my hopes high, but with talents like Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr., what else was I to expect? On top of that, we’ve got Joe Wright whose last two movies, Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, were critical darlings. But yet … well, I wish I could just stop there and say, it’s as melodious as the music Nathaniel Ayers plays with his violin, but the truth is, it’s rather underwhelming.

Foxx plays Nathaniel Ayers, a gifted musical prodigy who dropped out of the prestigious Juilliard School and ends up homeless in the streets of L.A. On the other side of his world is Steve Lopez, a Los Angeles Times columnist, who runs into Ayers as he’s playing his two-stringed violin. After learning about his Juilliard connection, Lopez was inspired to find out why someone so gifted ended up on the streets. The two formed an unlikely friendship, although Lopez’s motive isn’t exactly altruistic at first as obviously Ayers’ life makes for a captivating column material.

Even though there are some touching scenes in the movie, somehow I just couldn’t connect with the story nor the characters. Even the flashback to Ayers’ childhood and his days at Juilliard battling his mental condition seemed a bit melodramatic but lacked real substance. If Wright’s purpose with this film were to understand what schizophrenia is about, I don’t think he did it justice. For sure this isn’t A Beautiful Mind, which is also inspired by a true story about a gifted man suffering from the same psychiatric disorder. Sure Ron Howard danced around the real facts about mathematician John Nash, but still it was a compelling movie that did more than occasionally tug our heartstrings.

One reviewer said this film had ‘far too many notes,’ and that’s exactly how I felt! Somehow I felt manipulated into feeling emotional and empathetic by Beethoven’s scores, as if I wouldn’t have felt it otherwise. Then there’s the psychedelic or kaleidoscopic images that’s supposedly Ayers ‘see’ whilst hearing music. I was okay with it for a brief seconds, but it went on and on endlessly that it became distracting and felt all too gimmicky.

This is British director Joe Wright’s first film in America, and I read that he was intrigued by the other side of glamorous L.A., where hundreds of homeless people find shelter each night, away from the the glitter of Hollywood. What a noble intention indeed, and some scenes in the LAMP community shelter did convey genuine concern about the issue of poverty we don’t often get to see in that city. I just wish Wright knew what he wanted the film to ultimately convey. All the beautiful harmony of the music and performances simply can’t propel the movie to hit the right note.

The film’s flaws aren’t the actors’ fault, however, they did their best with the materials they were given. Both of them are still watchable despite the overly sentimental journey of their characters. In fact, if it weren’t for Foxx and Downey, it probably wouldn’t even be worth the rental fee.


Did you see this film? What did you think?

THIS JUST IN: Law Abiding Citizen Trailer

Wooo hooo! Finally a GB film to get excited about. I just finished watching it, twice, and y’know what, I like what I saw. Ok, so the fact that ze Butler is in almost every scene is a big factor, but this trailer went from meh to yowza about halfway through and kept getting even more suspenseful.

In Wikipedia, psychological thrillers are said to be characterized by fast pacing, frequent action, and resourceful heroes who must thwart the plans of more-powerful and better-equipped villains. Looks like this one fits that genre to a tee.

Butler looks good as the ordinary family man turned vigilante. I knew he’s got that right side of danger and brooding quality about him before he was known in 300. He’s played a desperate man brilliantly in BBC mini series The Jury among others, and this isn’t the first time he’s playing the villain. In fact, he’s done a lot of villainous/sociopath roles in his career (Attila, Dracula, the  Phantom), so it isn’t exactly new territory for him. Hence, I have high hopes he’s going to pull this one off. Foxx looks ok, even though his character is pretty much just reacting to Butler’s psychotic plans. I’m surprised he’d rather do the DA role as we all know the villains always get the best lines. Butler kind of reminds me of Castor Troy in Face/Off in some scenes, and towards the end, he’s got that Kevin Spacey’s creepiness in Se7en.

New York filmmaker F. Gary Gray previously did The NegotiatorA Man Apart, and The Italian Job. The screenplay was written by Kurt Wimmer (The Thomas Crown AffairEquilibrium, and Street Kings). I really hope this turns out to be a decent psychological thriller that makes you think, rather than merely an explosive action fiesta in Michael Bay fashion.

Can’t wait to see this come October 16. What do you think of the trailer folks?

Newsflash: Law Abiding Citizen new teaser posters

Butler vs. Foxx in Law Abiding Citizen
Click on posters to see the larger versions

LAC’s  director F. Gary Gray is keeping up with the times in promoting his upcoming flick. He’s asked his Twitter followers to help him get even more followers. Whoever sends him the most followers will be invited to the to the Law Abiding Citizen premiere in LA or NY. He’s been paying pretty close attention and named some of the people on Twitter who have been doing a good job so far. That’d be cool if I could win such a thing, but alas, I don’t think I can even compete with die-hard GB fans!

Recently, Gray put up a couple of teaser posters that are different from the one I posted a few days ago. Can you guys help me with the teaser posters? Remember this is NOT the final poster, just the teaser,‘ he tweeted. I’ve tweeted back saying that I like it, but what about applying a darker background on GB’s version to suit his vengeful, angry character better. In general I like it though, it’s edgy, artistic and less generic than the standard looking posters I’ve seen. It’d certainly grab my attention if I see this walking down the street. I can’t wait to see the trailer for this, it should be coming soon as October 16 is just a couple of months away!

Anyway peeps, what do you think of these posters? Do you like them better than the previous one?

Law Abiding Citizen – new poster & release date

Law Abiding Citizen Teaser Poster
Law Abiding Citizen Teaser Poster

Ok, here’s hope that Gerry Butler gets to redeem himself for the atrocious role in The Ugly Truth.

His new thriller Law Abiding Citizen with Jamie Foxx is surprisingly moved ahead of its release schedule from March 2010 to October of this year. Both Coming Soon.net and IMDB both list the release as October 16. I wonder why that is, but I hope that’s a good sign.

The poster is looking good though, definitely an improvement from the old one I’ve been seeing (see the two side by side here), it looks as if a fan with subpar Photoshop skills decided to take a stab at designing it. I like the composition and somber mood of the new one, Gerry’s eyes just totally grabs you (ok, so I’m biased here as I think GB’s eyes are his best feature) and they look so menacingly striking that I can’t take mine off them! =)

In the movie, Butler plays Clyde, an ordinary man  who’s hellbent on vengeance against a DA (Jamie Foxx) who sets his family’s killers free. Set in Philadelphia, this is the first film produced by Gerry’s own production company Evil Twins. F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job) directs the film based on a script by Kurt Wimmer (Equillibrium). Initially, Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption) was attached to direct, but unexpectedly dropped out just as Foxx was cast. The film also underwent a role reversal as Butler was supposed to play the District Attorney—that’d be interesting as he actually has a law degree!

Finally, there’s one film from ze Butler that I’m excited about this year! I have high hopes for this one, we know Butler can do intense and Oscar winner Foxx can do pretty much anything. It’s got a pretty stelar supporting cast, too: Michael Gambon, Colm Meaney, and recent Oscar nominee Viola Davis.

A poster on IMDB’s LAC forum thread claimed to have seen an advance screening of the film and liked it, saying that GB was great in the role of Clyde. Let’s hope it’d get a fresh rating on RottenTomatoes, it can’t possibly get any lower than 15% (you know which film gets that honor)!

Amusing interview with GB in the latest Esquire mag

Most of you should know by now that I heart Gerry Butler. But this blog isn’t about him or any particular actor for that matter, but I can’t help including this one I just read over the weekend.

Photo courtesy of Esquire magazine
Photo courtesy of Esquire magazine

I was just going to pick up the latest EMPIRE magazine when my hubby suddenly shoved the latest Esquire in front of me. When I saw the cover, I immediately went ‘Oh’ — first reaction: ‘darn, he looks good’ — but the interview turns out to be just as amusing and enjoyable.

I guess he’s STILL not a household name, even the interviewer didn’t know who he was! Most of the facts are commonly known even amongst casual fans, but his colorful and gregarious personality really shone through. 

He’s has two new flix out this year: The Ugly Truth (with Katherine Heigl) and GAMER (by the guys who made Crank) — neither of which I’m super excited about though, sadly. I’m intrigued by Law Abiding Citizen (due out next year) where he plays a wronged man bent on vengeance against a DA played by Jamie Foxx. Can’t wait to see the intense & dramatic side of GB again after all the comedies he’s been doing. I’m glad he’s mixing things up constantly, but I want to see him do more flix like Burns and less rom-com (especially with such a tabloid fodder like Jen Aniston!)

You can read the entire article here.