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Gavin Grades The Movies

Gavin's Top 10 Films of 2014

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2015 Academy Award Predictions


American Sniper
The Imitation Game
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Theory of Everything

SHOULD WIN: Selma.  The film has lost all its momentum and not getting nominated in any other key category ruined its chances but it was more powerful and important than any film this year.

WILL WIN: Boyhood.  The Academy is a sucker for the dedication of 12 years of filming.


Steve Carrell - Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper - American Sniper
Eddie Redmayne - The Theorgy of Everything
Michael Keaton - Birdman
Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game

SHOULD AND WILL WIN: Michael Keaton.  The man has given us some amazing performances in all different genres and has never even been nominated.  Here he's in the role of a lifetime and he knocks it out of the park.


Julianne Moore - Still Alice
Reese Witherspoon - Wild
Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl
Marion Cotillard - Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything

SHOULD AND WILL WIN: Julianne Moore.  She's been nominated five times and never won and probably should have a long time ago.


JK Simmons - Whiplash
Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher
Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
Edward Norton - Birdman
Robert Duval - The Judge

SHOULD AND WILL WIN: JK Simmons.  Besides the fact that he's been a super recognizable character actor for decades, he IS that movie.  He's absolutely terrifying yet you find yourself wanting his love and approval in every frame.


Laura Dern - Wild
Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
Meryl Streep - Into the Woods
Emma Stone - Birdman
Keira Knightley - The Imitation Game

SHOULD WIN: Emma Stone.  Going way against what we've known and loved about her, she plays Keaton's estranged daughter with fiercness and vulnerability.

WILL WIN: Patricia Arquette.  Someone has to win from Boyhood for acting and it might as well be her.  She's a sad character and watching her age 12 years in three hours makes it sadder.


Bennet Miller - Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Richard Linklater - Boyhood
Alejandro G. Innarittu - Birdman
Morten Tyldum - The Imitation Game

SHOULD WIN: Wes Anderson.  His style isn't for everyone but it's a marvel to behold.  This is his greatest film and every frame is a feast for the eyes.

WIIL WIN: Richard Linklater.  You simply can't deny a man who had the vision and discipline to hold a cast and crew together for 12 years to make a film.

If you disagree with any of these...leave a comment and don't forget to watch Sunday night!

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Hot Tub Time Machine 2

It was four years ago that Hot Tub Time Machine came out.  It scored a 63% on Rotten Tomatoes.  It made $61 million.  It performed shockingly better financially and critically than anyone expected.  It was directed by Steve Pink (Accepted).  It starred John Cusack, Rob Corddry (Warm Bodies, Comedy Central's The Daily Show), Craig Robinson (This Is The End, NBC's The Office) and Clark Duke (The Croods, Kick-Ass).  It was a science-fiction comedy about time travel.  Um...yeah...that's all I can really remember about it.  Just like the rest of you, I saw it once and remember vaguely liking it but I couldn't tell you anything about the plot, quotable lines, memorable scenes...nothing.  It was the very definition of a forgettable movie.  A sequel to it was completely unnecessary and that's exactly how it feels.

Ensemble comedies are killing it at the box office right now.  Almost every season there is a comedy that comes out that features a cast of actors that have worked together before, who feel like actual friends in real life, and they go on a crazy adventure.  The Hot Tub Time Machine movies feature a cast that are very funny together but never once feel like actual friends.  The entire thing feels like it was manufactured in a Hollywood lab but the concept is so stupid that I'm honestly shocked any major studio would make it let alone twice.  The only bit of chemistry you get from the cast is from Duke and Corddry (who I interviewed and can you can listen to it below).  

Cusack had the sense to not show up for this sequel and instead he's replaced by Adam Scott (Step Brothers, NBC's Parks and Recreation).  Scott is a generally funny guy but is the weak link among the foursome.  His character is simply annoying and so is Corddry's.  Perhaps that was one of the biggest problems with this film is that none of them are actually likable.  The idiotic plot, the scenes that go on too long, the gratuitous d**k jokes can all be overlooked in a comedy like this but at its core there simply isn't anything to like about any of them.

I could explain to you what the plot is but let's be honest, it doesn't matter.  It's dumb because it's the plot to a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine 2.  There are moments that are absolutely hilarious and they made me laugh out loud to the point of coughing, however those moments are as rare as Bigfoot sightings and the 90-minute run time ends up feeling far longer.  By the end of the film, you've run out of honest laughter and pity laughter and you find yourself looking around the theater for a hot tub time machine of your own so you can go back to before the movie started and see something else.

Listen to Gavin's interview with one of the stars from Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Rob Corddry:

Listen to Gavin's interview with another one of the stars from Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Clark Duke:

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Kingsman: The Secret Service

Now that comic books are coming out of the shadows, ruling the Hollywood mainstream, and setting record highs in the box office, it's fun to see what the producers dig up.  It's fairly rare that a movie comes out that is based on a comic book series that I'm totally unfamiliar with.  Not that I still read comics on a regular basis, but, for the most part, I'm at the very least aware of what's out there.  Kingsman: The Secret Service is based on a series called The Secret Service, which was first published just two years ago.  Not sure why this sutprised me to find out since the film feels like a comic book adaptation in every single way.  What's interesting is that it's a massive departure from its source material.  The Secret Service is a fairly straight-forward, serious spy comic, and Kingsman is as outlandish, brash, and colorful as it gets.

It's true that director Matthew Vaughn only has a few films to his name, but all of them have been fantastic in their own ways. X-Men: First Class is one of the best superhero films ever made, and frankly, I'm bummed out that Bryan Singer wouldn't let him direct X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Kingsman looks and feels the most like his 2010 hit Kick-Ass.  Just like that film, he makes no attempt at trying to get a PG-13 rating and goes balls out with violence, language, violence, sex, and more violence.  Putting it frankly, Kingsman is an orgy of chaotic fight scenes that makes you cheer at how elaborate and lengthy they are.

What's just as impressive as the direction is the cast.  Vaughn has put together a true superhero team of respected British actors: Mark Strong (The Imitation Game, Zero Dark Thirty), Michael Caine (The Dark Knight films, Inception), and Colin Firth (The King's Speech, Love Actually) are the leaders of this super secret society of British spies.  Samuel L. Jackson kicks ass (of course) as the villain who makes you laugh more than anything else in the film with a hilarious lisp.  The real gem in the casting is newcomer Taron Egerton.  This 26-year-old Welsh actor is fantastic, charming, and dangerous, and he proves he can be a leading man.  I predict a big career ahead for him.

One of the hardest things to do is to create something that's meant to be fun and funny in the style of something else while not mocking that style either.  Austin Powers set out to make a satire mocking the James Bond films; Kingsman does not mock anything, but instead, it presents a film that feels like a James Bond movie in every aspect, but it is intended to make you laugh just as much (if not more) than give you thrills.  The attention to detail and hilarious dialogue will scratch the itch of hardcore fans of the spy genre and people who are rather turned off by it.

I often find it very pretentious when movies come out that have a colon in the title such as Kingsman: The Secret Service.  Titling a movie like that implies that the producers believe it will be so popular that other installments are innevitable, and a franchise is born.  That way, you don't need to call it Kingsman 2 and Kingsman 3, but rather, Kingsman: Dead Man's Chest and Kingsman: Pop Goes the Weasel or something.  Not only do I totally understand why they're expecting many more Kingsman films, I also can't wait to see them.  Kingsman is fun, profane, offensive, and hilarious, which are four words you wouldn't expect to see from a uniquely British film.

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Fifty Shades of Grey

At this point, you'd have to be willfully ignorant to say you've never heard of Fifty Shades of Grey.  It is beyond description how a book that started as an e-reader online that was Twilight fan fiction has gone on to become a billion dollar project.  Fan fiction is embarrassing enough let alone erotic fan fiction based on a book series for teenagers about vampires and werewolves.  (Women aren't allowed to make fun of anything men are into ever again, by the way.)  Yet, here we are, four years later, discussing a $40 million film version that is poised to make triple its money back without breaking a sweat.  Let no one ever say that winners don't come from the most unlikely places.

With any massively popular book that gets turned into a movie there comes an annoying amount of backlash from fans about the casting.  Fifty Shades is no different and women were furious at the casting of Dakota Johnson (21 Jump Street, The Five-Year Engagement) and Jamie Dornan (ABC's Once Upon a Time), two fairly unknown performers given the roles of their lifetimes.  Despite fans thinking these two were miscast, I assure you that they are the only things keeping this boat afloat.  Sure, there are other characters in the film but the only two that matter at all are Anastasia and Christian and the chemistry is believable and Johnson, especially, is adorable, delightful and charming.

Although the direction is not stellar, it is impressive considering it's from first time director Sam Taylor-Johnson.  Her skills and the actors performances made the most they possibly could from what I can only imagine is a mess of nonsense.  Before you scream, "Gavin, you didn't read the book, what do you know?!" know that I did bring my wife, who read all the books, to the screening as my source for all book related questions.  I also want to point out that reading a book is not necessary to enjoy a film version of it; not if it's done properly.  After seeing the film however, I can't imagine a single reason why anyone would have enjoyed this book in the first place.

I will not go into any spoilers in this review so I'll talk around a lot of specifics but plainly, Christian Grey is an assh**e.  When crafting a romantic drama you have to make the audience want the two main characters to fall in love and end up together.  In order to do that you have to make both of them extremely likable.  Grey is not only unlikable but he's an overprotective narcissist that feels more like he'd be at home working in the maturity of a high school relationship.  He displays behavior that if any woman described incidents to her friends, they would all tell her to run for the hills.  If you strip away his billions, lavish gifts and good looks, you're left with a douchebag that has so many issues they get in the way of properly treating a woman with dignity.  Ask yourself this, "would this story work if Grey was fat, poor and unemployed?"  If the answer is no (which it is), then this isn't a well-written story and a terrible character.

The irony is that this has nothing to do with the kinky BDSM sex stuff, which is far from sexy and barely shocking.  That aspect, which is the only reason why anyone read this book in the first place, is not even something that I took away from the film.  I know every housewife is excited because this is a chance for them to celebrate their sexuality and perhaps naughty fantasies in public with herd immunity and I respect that, but it seems like such a small part of the film when you look back at the pile of crap that the story is based upon.  I understand that in the later installments you learn why Grey is the way he is and their relationship goes deeper and she starts to change him and blah, blah, blah but you know what...I don't care.  You have to make me like a character before I care about what happens to them.  The film has some funny and sweet moments but the meandering plot makes the two hour film feel like three and because of that it has more moments that punish than pleasure.  I admire what the film does to Fifty Shades of Grey but the source material is simply too awful to make a decent movie.  But let's be honest...you don't care.  You're gonna see it regardless.  In fact, you probably stopped reading this a long time ago.

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Seventh Son

One of my favorite movies of all time is The Big Lebowski.  I consider it the greatest comedy ever and whenever I see members of the cast reunite for any project I get excited.  In the case of Seventh Son, the reunited cast members are Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore.  Both of them are Oscar winners (Moore is nominated again this year) and are some of the finest working actors today.  Despite odd trailers for the movie that made this seem schlocky, I said to my friend Dave as we walked into the theater, "if those two are in it, they must have read a great script that compelled them to do this, right?"  I was wrong.  So very, very wrong.

Seventh Son is based on a young adult series of novels known as The Wardstone Chronicles.  There are 13 books in the series to date and the first one, which the film is based on, is called The Spook's Apprentice.  I've never heard of these books but there must be some popularity behind them to justify the publishing of all the installments but I pray to the God of Hollywood that none of the others are made.  It's a cliche story that is void of fun and features predictable, boring plot twists at every turn.

Ben Barnes (Stardust, The Chronicles of Narnia films) stars alongside Bridges and Moore and he's as vanilla as he's been in everything else.  He plays a stable boy who finds out he's very special and is taken on a quest to destroy the queen of all witches before they destroy the world.  Everything about this movie is bad and I do mean everything.  The CGI, the 3D, the dialogue, the action, the acting, the editing, the music...everything.  If I were to come up with a single reason why someone should see this movie it would be only to laugh at it with your friends.

Director Sergey Bodrov is a Russian filmmaker who doesn't have many English-speaking movies to his credit.  I can only imagine the failure of this film falls on him since a cast that is relatively impressive is squandered in nonsense.  The film is two hours and over half of that is scenes that consist of beating up Lord of the Rings type monsters yet still somehow manages to bore you to tears.  

From the opening ten minutes you know exactly how Seventh Son ends.  What you don't see coming is how long and uninteresting the film dares to get.  Watching scenes between Bridges and Moore that are painfully dull is salt in the wound since you can't even believe that you're watching The Dude and Maude.  Even adding John Goodman, Flea and Steve Buscemi wouldn't have been enough to save this film.  In fact, I'm not even sure if handing the exact same script to The Coen Brothers would have saved it and those guys are geniuses.  Seventh Son is the very definition of a film that comes out in the wasteland that is winter; it's released at a time when few people see movies in hopes that no one will see it so the studio can save face.

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Jupiter Ascending

Every year at the Sundance Film Festival, there is a secret screening that takes place.  Usually these are independent films that have loads of buzz around them but didn't make it into the festival for whatever reason.  Other times it's films that are not independent but the studio wants to see how the audience would react to it.  At this year's the secret screening was Jupiter Ascending, a space epic as big as the galaxy from The Wachowskis, the siblings who brought us The Matrix trilogy.  According to people who were in the theater, within twenty minutes of the screening people were walking out and laughing loudly at the screen; it went down as one of the biggest flops in Sundance history.  Knowing that before you see a film gives you a certain expectation, which in the case of Jupiter Ascending, works to an advantage since it's not nearly as bad as the hype.

In the mid-'80s a film called Dune came out.  It was David Lynch's tribute to a sci-fi novel of the same name and it was a total disaster.  It never made its money back, it was bloated and too complicated, ran entirely too long yet went down in history as one of the most important examples of the genre ever made.  Jupiter Ascending will suffer the same fate, not because it's too smart like Dune but because it's too stupid.  The film stars Mila Kunis as a Cinderella-type character who doesn't know she's a biological clone of the Queen of the Earth until she's hunted by an intergalactic family of spoiled brats and protected by a space soldier who is part wolf, played by Channing Tatum.  If that sounds idiotic that's cause it is.

However, it's not the plot that makes this worth seeing.  It's not the acting which is some of the saddest performances from the cast, including Oscar-nominee Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, Les Miserables).  It's not the awesome cameo from Hollywood hermit and Monty Python alumni, Terry Gilliam.  It's not even the extremely impressive use of 3D.  It's to reward colossal risk in filmmaking.  The Wachowskis swung for the fences with everything they got and whether you think they struck out or hit a home run is irrelevant.  In a time when no one in Hollywood takes risk anymore and everything is a sequel or reboot or based off of a young adult novel series, it's refreshing to see artistic gambling again.

The action sequences and CGI in Jupiter Ascending are pretty astounding and more abundant than substance or originality.  Personally, I am okay with that and yes, that does make me feel like a whore at times.  It's one of the reasons why I really loved the first Transformers movie.  It's the kind of film that should have come out in the middle of summer when audiences want to be blown away by rattling speakers and chomp popcorn while they watch cities get destroyed.  Burying the film in February is Warner Bros. way of putting their tail between their legs after the disaster that happened at Sundance.

The movie, as overzealous as it is, actually does have something to say about class structure, capitalism, self-importance, etc but gets bogged down in silliness and explosives.  However if Star Wars is simply a Western in space, this is a fairytale in space.  Everything is exciting and everything is dumb.  It's perhaps one of the guiltiest pleasures I've ever had in all the years of film reviewing so much so I'm embarrassed to tell people I liked it.  Most of you will not agree and I'm not even sure I'm recommending people see it.  But those of you who do may see what I saw in it; a wildly bloated, silly, B-movie that was directed with ambitious minds, convulted creativity and a lot of cash.

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Project Almanac

When I was a little kid, one of my favorite movies was called The Explorers.  It starred River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke when they were like 15-years-old.  It was about a bunch of teenagers who were really interested in science and they end up decoding a mysterious message they get from space to make a spaceship that they use to meet the aliens who sent it to them.  It was awesome...when I was 7-years-old.  I actually have no idea how it holds up now.  The beginning of Project Almanac has a similar vibe and made me feel nostalgic and hopeful for a movie that has the same impact on a new generation.  When it was over, it certainly made an impact with me and that impact was disappointment.

The plot for Project Almanac is almost exactly like The Explorers except instead of a spaceship they build a time machine.  Now, it doesn't matter how good or bad a time travel movie is, I end up getting a migraine when it's over trying to figure out how it all adds up at the end.  The finest example of time travel cinema is the Back to the Future trilogy and even that has its moments where it doesn't quite work out logically.  Project Almanac does such a poor job of trying to have it make sense on a scientific level that it's actually easier to enjoy because it's so stupid.  I know I'm being a stickler on that aspect so if you don't care about whether or not the impact of time jumping makes sense in the story than ignore this...just know that in this film it certainly does not.

The cast if filled with unfamiliar teenage faces which is usually a kiss of death but here you buy that they are friends and they actually have some pretty funny back-and-forth with each other.  Allen Evangelista and Jonny Weston (Taken 3, Chasing Mavericks) are the scene stealers and actually are both pretty talented.  The problem with the film isn't the cast, it's the director.  I try not to come down too hard on first time directors, like Dean Israelite here.  I especially don't want to rag on him considering Project Almanac is produced by director Michael Bay (the Transformers and Bad Boys movies).  The man has a reputation for having an ego as large as his films' budgets and a mouth that's even bigger.  I would imagine working under that is very, very difficult...especially for a newb.

The reason why the direction is what sunk this film is because it uses the "found footage" vehicle as the narrative.  This shaky, hand-held, first person approach to movies has beaten a dead horse so hard that it's beaten through it and is now beating the ground under it.  In 1999, I sat in the Anjelica Theater in lower Manhattan and watched The Blair Witch Project, the first film to bring this style to the mainstream.  At the time, the "found footage" approach made everyone in that theater think they were watching a snuff film that really showed the deaths of three people in the woods.  It was terrifying because we didn't know any better.  That was 16 years ago and there have probably been 100 films done that way since and it's no longer effective.  

Project Almanac is the kind of film that's easy to pummel as a horrible time in a theater.  That's probably why a lot of critics will.  I personally didn't think it was all that bad once you get past the exhausting and implausible first person camerawork, illogical science in a science-fiction and meaningless, empty romantic subplot.  However, if you go see it and can't get past all that, you may find yourself wishing the device for time travel was real so you could go back and avoid wasting your time.

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Every year, when the Oscar nominations come out, there is a Snub List that comes out right after.  It's where respected critics release the list of films and people that have been shamefully overlooked by the Academy for nominations.  Usually these lists are wildly different since it's so dependent on opinion and what they liked and didn't like throughout the year.  This is one of the few years that I can think of where every single Snub List that I saw had the same two names at the top of it; Ava Duernay and David Oyelowo - the director and star of Selma.  There have even been cries of racism lobbed at the Academy for overlooking these two.  Now, I'm not one to casually toss around the "r-word" but for the life of me I can't think of a single reason why these two were left off the nominee roster, sooooooo...

Selma is about the historical march that Martin Luther King Jr. led to protest voter inequality in the state of Alabama but really the entire country.  It shows how the march was planned, who helped him plan it, the struggles he went through with President Johnson and his wife, as well the dangers he and his followers faced for doing it.  To call the movie profound is an understatement.  It is one of the finest pieces of cinema about the civil rights movement ever made and it is incredibly moving.  There are several layers to human beings crying and Selma makes you go through all of them from the lip quiver to the full blown sob.

Most people don't know Oyelowo yet but he's been in films like The Butler, Interstellar, Jack Reacher and Lincoln but Selma is the film that is his crowing achievement.  His portrayal of King is inspired and true aided by a stellar script that shows King as a flawed man who, despite feeling the sting of every beating and death in his marrow, still struggled to be a good husband and saw his followers as players in a bigger game of chess for the greater good despite the dangers it put them in.  All of the heroes in the film are shown without sugarcoating history.  Oyelowo is the star but everyone in the cast gives amazing performances.

There are times when Selma feels heavy-handed and flirts with being cliche but those moments are few and greatly overshadowed by its might.  DuVernay has a keen eye for telling a complex story in ways that make it mass appeal and inclusive.  This is her first feature film and it's obvious that she's in for a very long career.  Female directors are rare in Hollywood.  Black female directors are almost non-existent.  Black female directors that tackle complex historical dramas are as common as  Bigfoot and for her to hit a home run with Selma makes it even that much more of a tragedy that she was ignored by the Academy.

It's interesting that American Sniper, a film that isn't great but breaking box office records, is up against Selma for Best Picture (although neither will win).  They're both dramatic depictions of history of America when she was at some of her worst moments.  American Sniper had a goal to make you feel proud to be an American by showing a war hero without addressing the darkness that put him in that position.  Selma didn't have a patriotic goal and is about a civil hero that tackles the darkness head-on and deals directly with the politics.  Despite Selma being about a truly shameful time in our story (that was only 50 years ago mind you!), it filled me with more patriotism than American Sniper did because it shows some of us at our worst, some of us at our best and how much we can overcome as a country.  How do you not feel proud of that?

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When I was a teenager, I was forced to sit through a screening of a children's movie called Mousehunt.  Within the first ten minutes I was gripped with the realization that, yes this was a movie made for children, but was in the hands of a director who didn't care.  I had never heard of the guy who directed Mousehunt but I could tell that he was going to be a huge director one day.  That guy's name was Gore Verbinski and he went on to direct the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, The Ring and Rango.  Paddington is the first feature film from director Paul King and he also is going to be a huge director one day.

At times I wonder what Hollywood producers are thinking.  It's like they are just combing through what characters and stories they own the rights to and say, "Well, how can we squeeze some blood out of this stone" never even thinking how relevant said character or story is anymore.  Paddington Bear not only was created 57-years-ago but never even really caught on in America like he did in Europe.  That may be one of the contributing factors for why Paddington may not become a $100 million children's film franchise but it certainly deserves to be.

Producers took a gamble by keeping the film true to the books and having it be uniquely British.  The film takes place in London and features British actors that are far from mainstream.  Nicole Kidman appears as the villain but her part is small.  The principle cast is Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey, The Monuments Men), Sally Hawkins (Godzilla, Blue Jasmine), Peter Capaldi (In the Loop, World War Z) and Jim Broadbent (Moulin Rogue, the Harry Potter films).  But casting 34-year-old Ben Whishaw (Skyfall, Cloud Atlas) as the voice of the young bear was the best choice of all the great casting done.  There's something truly amazing about his voice work that makes the bear seem so charming.

Everything about this origin story of Paddington Bear is adorable and I do mean everything.  There are some cliches that you'll find here and there but what children's film is completely cliche-free?  It's impossible to not fall in love with Paddington and the family that takes him in.  There's very funny moments even outside of the Paddington Bear trademark slapstick.  The script has moments and lines that are aimed right at adults in the audience that are British and dry but still very, very funny.  All that considered, there is still one thing that makes Paddington an excellent film...it's Paul King's direction.

From the opening moments King slaps and smears his style of filmmaking all over the screen and it's wonderful.  His choices of colors, angles, lighting, sets, editing...the list goes on...are all flawless.  He's almost like a young Wes Anderson but without overstepping the style so much it feels like a fantasy (like Anderson does).  It makes me look forward to see what else he's capable of doing and other films that he'll make years from now.  Much like Verbinksi, King has displayed the promise of the next up-and-coming mega director.

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