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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: March 2010

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Preview review: Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in 'Knight and Day'

March 31, 2010 |  4:56 pm

Cruise When we first watched the trailer for "Knight and Day," we wondered whether Tom Cruise was really acting, or instead just revisiting the loopy persona he's established over the last couple of years.

In the new film, out in June, Cruise plays Milner, a government agent who takes June (Cameron Diaz) out on a blind date. Soon, June discovers that Milner may have been hiding his true identity and she is pulled into his dangerous globe-trotting adventures. Meanwhile, a federal agent (Peter Sarsgaard) is trying to convince June that Milner is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and has recently suffered "a full-blown break from reality."

But Cruise's character here seems eerily similar to a certain persona he's employed in the past. At one point, right as Milner abducts June, he assertively tells the man sharing a dinner table with her, "Please, for your own safety, please stay in the booth." It's just the type of condescending tone of voice Cruise had during his now-infamous interview with the "Today" show's Matt Lauer, in which he told the host, "Here's the problem. You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do."

In fact, much of the trailer seems recycled. Diaz, as usual, is all too breathy and giggly and ditsy and wide-eyed to be taken seriously. Really, how many times now has she taken on the dumb-blond-who-becomes-savvy role?

Then there are the cliched action scenes we've seen a million times: the car chases that result in gun wielding, the death-defying escapes through curvy streets, the formerly innocent woman who quickly learns how to handle hardware like a pro. Plus, there's a fugitive odd couple who will defy the odds and probably end up together, a la "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," or "The Bourne Identity."

Interestingly enough, Cruise seems to be the best part of the film. Maybe that's because he does the crazy maniac so well. Will "Knight and Day" offer something new to audiences, or is this just more of the same tried-and-true action film formula? Vote with your fingers.

-- Amy Kaufman

Photo: Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz star in "Knight and Day." Credit: 20th Century Fox


A new chapter and an old verse for 'The Secret of Kells'

March 31, 2010 |  5:30 am

The little-known Irish film "The Secret of Kells" caught even insiders by surprise when it received a feature animation Oscar nomination earlier this year, edging out the likes of "Ponyo" and "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs." This Friday, "The Secret" will be revealed to Los Angeles moviegoers.

For the film, the artists drew from the scroll-work designs and microscopic detailing of the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the Four Gospels likely dating to the early 8th century. The attention to detail did not stop there; one of the characters, Brother Aidan, has a cat named Pangur Ban -- which happens to be the title of an ancient poem jotted down by an unknown Irish monk in the margin of a manuscript. Mick Lally, the voice of Brother Aidan, chants the poem in the original Old Gaelic over the closing credits of the film.

Director Tomm Moore says, "We learned the poem in school, along with the story that a monk had written it in the corner of a page he was illuminating. It was only later that I learned that the last line can be translated as 'turning darkness into light' or 'turning ink into light,' which I thought was a nice reference to creating an illumination."

You can read my full Calendar story here. And click through to the next page to read an English translation of the poem and see an image of Pangur Ban from the film.

-- Charles Solomon

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What's it really like working with Miley Cyrus? Just ask Julie Anne Robinson

March 30, 2010 |  6:15 pm

JAR photos 003 Many tweens across the nation eagerly await Miley Cyrus' every move, twittering about the starlet's latest song or boyfriend. But Julie Anne Robinson, who directed Cyrus' first dramatic role in "The Last Song," barely knew who the young actress was before the two met on set.

"I was sort of dimly aware of her," admitted Robinson, who used to live in England, where Cyrus is not as popular as she is stateside.

These days, however, Robinson is acutely aware of Cyrus' star power: The director's feature debut, which was written specifically for Cyrus by modern romance master Nicholas Sparks, is likely to make $10 million at the box office on its opening day alone.

"The Last Song," which hits theaters Wednesday, stars Cyrus as a rebellious teenage girl who falls in love with a hunky local (Liam Hemsworth) while spending the summer at the beach house of her father (Greg Kinnear). 

The story is a far cry from some of the projects on Robinson's resume, which include work on productions at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Court and the Royal National Theatre in London. She later went on to work alongside directors Stephen Daldry and Sam Mendes before landing a spot in the BBC director's training course. But it was her work on the BBC miniseries "Coming Down the Mountain" -- a 90-minute film about two teenage boys, one of whom has Down syndrome -- that got her noticed by Disney. 

Before the film's release, Robinson took a few minutes to chat about how to avoid making a Nicholas Sparks story trite and what it's really like to work with Miley Cyrus. 

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'Green Zone': One informed soldier's perspective

March 30, 2010 |  3:08 pm

Iraq When it comes to watching Universal's "Green Zone," Brian Siefkes is not a disinterested observer.

Siefkes served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was a member of the Army's Mobile Exploitation Team Bravo, which carried out the hunt in Iraq for the highly touted (but ultimately nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction -- the heart of the "Green Zone" plot.

What's more, Siefkes appears as an actor in "Green Zone," playing Keating, the right-hand adviser to Matt Damon's U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller.

In the film's press kit, Siefkes is quoted praising the film's accuracy. "What you see us doing in this film is an accurate representation of what we did over there," he said in the film's publicity materials. "It's what we experienced." MET Bravo in Iraq

Now, having seen the finished movie, Siefkes has a more complicated appraisal of how his part in the movie came together, some of the disputes surrounding its production, and how much creative license director Paul Greengrass and screenwriter Brian Helgeland took in bringing the story to the screen. It's not the only recent war movie whose accuracy has been debated--similar conversations were held around "The Hurt Locker."

Although the film received largely enthusiastic reviews (including nice notices from Times critic Kenneth Turan and Chicago Sun-Times reviewer Roger Ebert), "Green Zone" flopped at the box office, putting one more stake in the Middle East conflict movie coffin. There are many theories about why audiences stayed away, as the $100-million "Green Zone" only has grossed $30.8 million in its first 17 days of release, just slightly more than what Greengrass' previous film, "The Bourne Ultimatum," grossed in its first day.

24 Frames asked Siefkes for his thoughts about the film, and here's what he has to say:

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Fun with Navy SEALS: Filmmaker Parisot in discussions to direct underwater thriller

March 29, 2010 |  1:31 pm

Of all the source material a director can choose to adapt, a graphic novel is probably the trickiest. Take one on and you're not only competing with the images audiences might conjure up from the book's prose, but you're also attempting to trump the images published in the book itself.

Sea That's one of the reasons "Kick-Ass," Matthew Vaughn's upcoming adaptation of the popular teen-superhero comic series, will be such a closely watched experiment. And it's why Dean Parisot, like any filmmaker who accepts the mission, will have his work cut out for him if he takes on the upcoming "SEAL Team Seven."

The director of the Jim Carrey comedy "Fun With Dick and Jane" and the Drew Barrymore comedy-drama "Home Fries" is in discussions to direct "SEAL," a political action film that mixes the Tom Clancy submarine thriller with a dollop of fanboy fantasy intrigue.

Based on M. Zachary Sherman's 2006 graphic novel "SOCOM: SEAL Team Seven," the project, which is being developed by Walden Media, has Navy SEALS investigating a mysterious submarine drowning in the Persian Gulf, as well as battling forces in the underwater kingdom of Atlantis.

Parisot might seem a slightly unlikely candidate for the assignment, but he's had his share of genre credits with movies such as the sci-fi comedy "Galaxy Quest." Plus the filmmaker could have a bit more time now that "Central Intelligence," the Ed Helms comedy that he's set to direct, has been pushed back. That should give him more opportunity to get the look and feel of the thing right, opportunities he'll likely want to take. Comic fans tend to push adaptations they don't like underwater.

-- Steven  Zeitchik

Photo: Jacket image from 'SOCOM: SEAL Team Seven.' Credit: Image Comics


Is animation developing a success-quality gap?

March 29, 2010 | 10:06 am

Dra With the $43.3-million opening of "How to Train Your Dragon," the animation category, as it does seemingly every year, continues to outdo itself.

In 2006, four animated movies reached the magic mark of $100 million in domestic box office. In 2007, five films did. Last year, no fewer than eight movies topped that figure. It's starting to feel a little like the latter stages of Wayne Gretzky's 92-goal season: The only record it keeps breaking is its own.

With installments in powerhouse franchises like "Shrek" and "Toy Story" coming this summer, and new additions to the canon such as "Despicable Me," 2010 promises to be another banner year at the box office for the category.

But as animation continues to mature, the success doesn’t apply equally. In fact, it seems to apply unequally. And, from a quality standpoint, it tends to favor the lesser movies.

Sure, Pixar has its annual blockbuster, an "Up" or an "Incredibles" that is also exceedingly well-reviewed. But a look at the larger history shows a notable pattern, one in which audiences tend to more tightly embrace movies that critics tend to push away.

"Shrek 2" and "Shrek the Third,” for instance, are two of the most profitable animated films in the category's history (they sit at No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, in all-time domestic box office), even as they drew lukewarm reviews. Critics' favorites like "Coraline" and "Wallace & Gromit?" They’re way down at Nos. 61 and 75. (The latter two each cracked 80% on movie-review site Metacritic, surpassing the middling reception for the two "Shrek" sequels.)

True, some of these lesser-performing films were given different marketing budgets and release patterns.  But you pretty much can't orchestrate a better test case than the one completed this past weekend, when DreamWorks Animation's "How to Train Your Dragon" opened on the same weekend as "Monsters vs. Aliens" the year prior. Here were two animated films from the same studio, released on the same weekend exactly one year apart, both in 3-D. And yet, despite drawing far weaker reviews, "Monsters & Aliens" grossed about 30% more. (It is telling that "Dragon" received an 'A' on CinemaScore -- even though not as many moviegoers went to see the film as the studio had hoped, those that did really liked it.)

There's also a whole tier of middling animated films -- "Bee Movie" and "Chicken Little" and "Over the Hedge" -- that seem to have no problem grossing $125 million or more. And even among the Pixar hits, the higher-quality films tend to lag relative to their more mediocre counterparts; "Ratatouille" and "Wall-E," for instance, both didn't fare as well as "Cars."

We shouldn’t be entirely surprised by this gap -- live-action films, after all, have seen audiences' and critics' tastes diverging for years. But animation was supposed to be an exception. It was possible to create great films that also happened to be huge money-earners, the business' stalwarts kept reminding us (and as the landmark best-picture nomination for "Up" this year confirmed).

Turns out it's not that simple. You can create really good animated films but, as a rule, you'll have more success if your films aren't that great. Animation is like everything else, a little less like Gretzky and more like a solid right-wing, fallible and prone to foibles.

-- Steven Zeitchik

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Unlocking another 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid'

March 26, 2010 |  6:43 pm

With "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" one of the year's first sleeper hits, plans are under way to develop a follow-up film based on the second book in the popular series.

Wim "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules" is expected to follow its corresponding novel closely -- it will track the adventures of Greg and other preteens awkward, clever and occasionally confident in a new year of middle school, with a school talent show a linchpin of the narrative.

Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah, who wrote the shooting script on the first picture, have been hired to write the second movie, and author Jeff Kinney will again be heavily involved in development, a factor that observers say made the first movie both a creative and commercial success. Producer Nina Jacobson is once more producing through her Color Force production banner.

The X-factor is director Thor Freudenthal, who according to sources has not ruled out but is nonetheless unlikely to return for the second film (he's meeting on the teen supernatural movie "Agnes Quill" at Paramount, to which he's been attached for some time, as well as other projects).

Sources say that Fox 2000, which financed and distributed "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," has not yet committed to making the second movie, but there is a sort of development urgency to it; both preteen audiences and preteen stars have a tendency to age very quickly in franchises of this kind, suddenly making a movie feel very different. No one likes deep voices where they didn't hear them before.

Fortunately for the studio, most of the legal issues are locked up. Zachary Gordon and other cast are signed, and Fox has an option all five books in the series, which ends when Greg finishes middle school (the last book is set to be released this year). The studio will likely make a final decision after seeing both a script and more box office results.

Made for $15 million by the studio's Fox 2000 label, "Wimpy Kid" proved almost an instant success, earning $21.8 million in its first weekend.

Parents like the film because, well, their kids like the books and because the movie is a slightly more elevated, edifying form of the preteen genre. "Wimpy Kids" is also the kind of property that Hollywood executives like these days -- there's built-in brand awareness, the ability to franchise numerous films and, maybe most important, a manageable price tag.

-- Steven Zeitchik

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Dennis Hopper's star shines in Hollywood

March 26, 2010 |  3:37 pm

157453.ME.0326.hopper.08 Months after revealing that he was battling prostate cancer, Dennis Hopper was back in front of the cameras on Friday morning when he received the 2,403th star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

The 73-year-old actor, who disclosed his cancer last October, appeared to be in good spirits as he arrived for  the ceremony on Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Egyptian Theater. He appeared having lost a significant amount of weight; his face, shaded partly by a newsboy cap, appeared gaunt and a heavy jacket hung off his body.

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To see 'Exit Through the Gift Shop,' enter through a movie theater -- UPDATED

March 26, 2010 | 12:09 pm

Exi
For those of you who were intrigued by "Exit Through the Gift Shop," the Banksy movie that played Sundance and then Berlin, the movie is coming to a theater near you. Well, if you happen to live in New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco, on April 16, or other cities subsequent to that.

The film will be given a platform release through a new distribution entity called the Producers Distribution Agency, co-founded by Cinetic Media's John Sloss, who has represented rights to the film. (Distribution through that entity is a gift of sorts for Banksy enthusiasts, who likely would have had to wait longer had the movie gone through a more conventional distributor.)

The movie's commercial appeal remains an interesting question; will the film appeal to a die-hard cadre of art-world fans or can it generate word-of-mouth among a general audience?

As you may recall from our Sundance coverage, the movie begins as a chronicle of guerrilla artist Banksy, then turns into a meditation on the value of art and slippery nature of truth as Banksy turns the camera on his chronicler, the colorful French-American Thierry Guetta. Oh, and Banksy may or may not have actually directed the picture. More on distribution plans shortly.

UPDATED -- 3:11 PM: We just caught up with Sloss, who filled us in a bit more about the plans for this film. 

Sloss says there were offers for the movie from theatrical distributors, but the combination of an innovative campaign centered around the cult of Banksy and Banksy's D.I.Y. attitude (which may have not jelled as smoothly with a traditional distributor) made this a more feasible approach. "How specific his ideas are about marketing and how [a distributor] might have insisted on marketing it might have been an issue," he acknowledged. But Sloss also underscored that Banksy was a huge asset -- practically a marketing campaign in his own right. "This is a person who really knows how to create awareness for what he's doing, and at almost no cost."

There was also no need to wait for a traditional distributor to find a far-off release date since, as Sloss deadpanned, Banksy wasn't exactly going to embark on a media tour anyway.

As for Producers Distribution Agency, Sloss said that the entity was conceived to release this film, with no plans yet for future releases. He also said that there would be an outside injection of marketing money for "Exit", and that he wasn't concerned about the conventional wisdom that it was tricky to release a one-off film because of potential theater-owner resistance. "I'm not sure the old chestnut of only being able to collect if you have other films obtains anymore."

--Steven Zeitchik

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Photo: Exit Through the Gift Shop. Credit: Sundance Film Festival

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Original 'Red Dawn' director takes aim at the remake

March 26, 2010 | 11:40 am

Re
Filmgoers who go see MGM's "Hot Tub Time Machine" this weekend will catch several references to "Red Dawn," the 1984 Cold War action film that MGM is remaking.

But ask John Milius, who directed and co-wrote the original, what he thinks of that remake and the answer is simple.

Not much. 

"I think it’s a stupid thing to do. The movie is not very old," says Milius, who’s not involved in the new film  but was given a chance to read the new script. "It was terrible. There was a strange feeling to the whole thing. They were fans of the movie so they put in stuff they thought was neat. It’s all about neat action scenes, and has nothing to do with story."

In the original film, the Soviet Union has invaded the continental United States, and a group of young men and women (Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey) band together as a guerrilla group, nicknamed the Wolverines, to fight off the occupiers.  In the 2010 edition, directed by Dan Bradley and starring Chris Hemsworth and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, the villains are the Chinese.

While the new baddies might tap into American fears about a rising China, to Milius it makes little political sense. “There’s only one example in 4,000 years of Chinese territorial adventurism, and that was in 1979, when they invaded Vietnam, and to put it mildly they got their [butts] handed to them,“ says Milius, noting that China built a wall to separate itself from invaders. “Why would China want us? They sell us stuff. We’re a market. I would have done it about Mexico."

“Red Dawn” isn’t the only Milius film getting a new treatment. Marcus Nispel (“Friday the 13th") is making a new “Conan,” a retelling of the mythology that Milius explored in the 1982 film “Conan the Barbarian,” which launched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career.  But Milius is not too psyched about "Conan" either -- or remakes in general. “No one wants their movie remade, especially when the movies take on a life of their own," he says.

--Rachel Abramowit

Photo: "Red Dawn." Credit: MGM

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