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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: July 2010

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'Deadpool' shows signs of life

July 30, 2010 |  4:18 pm

  Deadpo
It's been dizzying to follow the will-he-or-won't-he reports about Robert Rodriguez directing "Deadpool," the Ryan Reynolds X-Men spinoff.

Reports last month that Rodriguez had been offered the director's chair on "Deadpool" met with a swirl of speculation and/or denials from the filmmaker's camp as well as studio Fox. (The most anyone would agree to is that Rodriguez had been sent Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick's script.)

But we're hearing that after a few weeks of dancing, Rodriguez and studio Fox are negotiating. There's no deal yet, and the sides need to agree on a number of key points, but it's moved beyond the casual discussion stage and into the more substantive realm of deal points.

Rodriguez is making "Spy Kids 4," which itself comes after he finished the exploitation action picture "Machete," but would be looking for a big movie and one that can be marketed into a hit. As for the picture itself, the mouthy Marvel mercenary would entail violence and comedy in equal measure, and Rodriguez has been adept at combining the two. We'd pull for a Danny Trejo cameo, though.

— Steven Zeitchik

http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

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With 'Curious George,' Illumination looks to make more animation mischief

July 30, 2010 |  1:04 pm

George

EXCLUSIVE: Filmgoers soon will have another round of adventures with the Man With the Yellow Hat.

Illumination Entertainment, the animation company founded by former Fox Animation President Chris Meledandri and whose movies Universal finances and distributes, is developing a new version of "Curious George."

The movie is expected to feature the wry animated images of "Despicable Me" and will spin a new story of George the monkey/chimpanzee (depending on whether you favor H.A. and Margret Rey's text or the tail-less images) who's taken out of the jungle by an eccentric explorer to live in the city, where mischief always seems to find him.

Universal and production company Imagine produced an animated "Curious George" just four years ago, in which Will Ferrell voiced the Man With the Yellow hat. Mired in development for years, the movie didn't entirely catch on with filmgoers, grossing just $58 million in the U.S. (A second installment, "Curious George 2: Follow that Monkey!," came out as a direct-to-DVD release in 2009.)

The Illumination film is expected to start from scratch. It's getting a script from Larry Stuckey, who wrote the upcoming "Little Fockers," the third installment in the "Meet the Parents" franchise, for Universal.

Universal is very keen on Illumination, which with "Despicable" gave the studio a long-awaited family-friendly animation hit. After the success of that film, Meledandri's company is also developing "Where's Waldo?" and "Dr. Seuss' the Lorax" movies as well as a sequel to "Despicable Me."

Reboots of movies that haven't been gone very long -- "Haunted Mansion" and  "Spider-Man" -- continue to remain in vogue in Hollywood. They'll be an adventure, but we suppose if any character is up for one, it's Curious George.

--Steven Zeitchik

Twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Curious George. Credit: Houghton Mifflin

RECENT AND RELATED:

'Despicable Me' turns Universal into a digital-animation player

'Despicable Me' tops box office

Movie Review: 'Despicable Me'



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Preview review: 'Yogi Bear' may be a sandwich short of a full picnic basket

July 30, 2010 | 11:53 am

YogiSometimes all it takes for a movie to be a hit is a cute cartoon animal interacting with a live-action star (see under: "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel;" worldwide gross $440 million).

Judging by that example, a modern CGI/live-action take on the popular cartoon "Yogi Bear" would seem like a good idea. Unfortunately, the trailer for the November release suggests something other than good.

Yogi is one of America's beloved animated characters, a status he attained primarily via his 1960s television show, during which he spent much of his time nabbing picnic -- or "pick-a-nic" -- baskets from campers hanging out in Jellystone Park.

In the modern version, we find Yogi (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) and his sidekick Boo Boo (voiced by Justin Timberlake) wandering merrily around their stomping grounds at Jellystone, until the two animals find out that the place they call home is being shut down. The two animals decide to partner with Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh) to stop the sale of the park's land.

The trailer begins with the introduction from a jolly Aykroyd, excitedly inviting viewers to check out "this exclusive look at 'Yogi Bear!' " and goes downhill from there.

We're obviously not kindergartners, but we have a feeling even they'd be baffled by some of the bits in the trailer. Yogi falls down after trying to steal Ranger Smith's lunch. Yogi and Boo Boo "kick it" to some jams on the stereo. A pie is thrown in Yogi's face.

Yogi, that goofball!

The film, which is directed by "Journey to the Center of the Earth" filmmaker Eric Brevig, seems to be missing the original cartoon's silliness. The modern Yogi doesn't appear to embody the carefree nature or obliviousness that made the first one so lovable. (The hokey-looking animation doesn't help either.)

While Timberlake seems to pull off Boo Boo's iconic tone, we're not as enthused about Anna Faris, who plays a nature documentarian breathlessly searching for Yogi. As usual, she's ditzy and wide-eyed, but the act seems more suited to "The House Bunny" than a kids' movie.

Then again, maybe we're just not the target audience for this kind of thing.

--Amy Kaufman

Twitter.com/AmyKinLA

Photo: The poster for "Yogi Bear." Credit: Warner Bros.


The Lisbeth Salander actress: The girl with the impossible task

July 29, 2010 |  5:38 pm

  Noomi
Most eye-catching about the names being mentioned for the Lisbeth Salander role in David Fincher's English-language version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is just how little-known they all are.

The role would seem to require some deep and diverse acting experience; it is, after all, one of the more challenging parts to come along in a big commercial film for some time. At least as envisioned in Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy and in the Swedish-language originals, Salander is a raven-haired beauty who's at once fierce and vulnerable, someone who betrays some serious emotional damage but who also can be the tough girl when it counts.

Even some of the top 20-something names out there don't seem to do the trick. Rumored candidate Natalie Portman, for all of her acting chops, just might be too fey. And it's hard for us to feel the Ellen Page of it, no matter how much running around dream worlds she's been doing lately.

You can probably get away with a little less vulnerability if you bring the requisite toughness, and so if you're going with a known name, the best actress, of all people, might be Jessica Alba or her ilk.

Alas, Fincher seems intent on going with an unknown. He's considering four actresses who are barely recognizable to American audiences. Would they work? Rooney Mara is the most familiar, and perhaps the most viable. She was impressive enough in the "Nightmare on Elm Street" reboot -- although, at least as articulated in that film, an ethereal presence as much as an angry one. (Of course she worked with Fincher on "Social Network," so if she has the chops for this, he'd be the first to know.)

Also in the mix is Léa Seydoux, a French national known for French-national roles in "Robin Hood" and "Inglourious Basterds." It was hard to get much of a sense of her in either, although as a member of the interrogated LaPadite family in "Basterd's" breathtaking opening scene, she at least showed that she can act convincingly in a tough spot.

The other two contenders, Sarah Snook and Sophie Lowe, are Australian actresses whose movies we haven't seen, although given the actresses who've emerged from that country in recent years (Cate Blanchett, Naomi Watts, etc.) there are worse wells from which to draw.

Lisbeth Salander is a meaty role for any actress, so Fincher should have his pick. Then again, the A-listers have reason to give it a second thought: You're signing on for a potential trilogy, which can sap your schedule (and in Sweden, no less). And playing iconic book characters can be a losing game -- fans have their own vivid notions of how the character should appear (just ask Tom Hanks or Audrey Tautou about their experience with "The Da Vinci Code").

When a part is so tough, someone completely unfamiliar to American audiences could be the best choice -- a blank canvas is better than one partially filled. And it would, at least in the immediate aftermath of release, generate a new star. Let’s just hope it also generates a persuasive role.

-- Steven Zeitchik

http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Noomi Rapace in the Swedish-language "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Credit: Music Box Films

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Karyn Kusama looks to get out of the rut

July 29, 2010 |  1:14 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Former indie darling Karyn Kusama struggled with her last release, the Diablo Cody-penned, Megan Fox-starring genre tale, "Jennifer's Body."

BodyBut she'll try to get out of the rut by going into, well, "The Rut." Sources say that the writer-director is developing a new project with that name, which takes her in a slightly different direction from her previous movies.

"Body" indulged in and sent up conventions of the high school slasher movie, and her "Aeon Flux" was an action-adventure film with science-fiction and fantasy overtones. "The Rut" concerns a father-daughter relationship and centers particularly on hunting, as a daughter must learn the tricks of hunting and archery taught to her by her father after said father goes missing. (It does, however, keep Kusama with the girl-empowerment theme.)

Chloë Moretz, who after her Hit Girl turn in "Kick-Ass" can pretty much do no wrong with the fan crowd, is in talks to star as the daughter.

Kusama is an interesting example/template for many of the indie directors who are now being lured to commercial films ("Spider-Man" director Marc Webb comes to mind). Kusama was hot after her indie boxing drama "Girlfight" won both the director's prize and a grand jury prize at Sundance a decade ago and was quickly hired for the more commercial "Body" and "Flux, but both disappointed at the box office.

It's a lot easier to get out of the indie rut than it is to get out of the box-office rut.

-- Steven Zeitchik

http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Image: Poster of "Jennifer's Body." Credit: Fox Atomic



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'Underworld' director Wiseman will have total recall

July 29, 2010 | 12:18 pm


Totalreca
With "Inception" showing that the reality-dream divide can be fertile (and lucrative) cinematic territory, Sony is pushing ahead with its own take on the theme.

The studio and producer Neal Moritz are moving forward on their "Total Recall" reboot, and are set to bring on director Len Wiseman for the new film.

The new take on the Philip K. Dick story -- which Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger collaborated on back in 1990 -- has been in development at the studio with a script from "Salt" writer Kurt Wimmer before negotiations commenced with Wiseman.

The fillmmaker, who directed two of the "Underworld" movies as well as "Live Free or Die Hard," has been in demand for a number of studio action fantasies. He'd been pursued/attached to an apocalyptic thriller called "Nocturne," the comic-book adaptation "Shrapnel" and a "Gears of War" movie. But most of those development projects are stuck in a, well, lower gear, and this gives Wiseman a movie with some heat -- he had recently turned his attention to TV, shooting the pilot for the "Hawaii Five-O" reboot -- while giving Sony a little momentum on a gestating remake.

No word yet on how Wiseman will interpret the head-trippy story of a man who may or may not travel to Mars to fight a tricky enemy. The director did say that he "love[d] that the most crucial mystery our character is trying to solve is the one of his own soul.”

-- Steven Zeitchik

http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Total Recall.' Credit: Sony Pictures



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Kenneth Turan's film pick of the week: 'Mademoiselle Chambon'

July 29, 2010 |  7:51 am

Mademoiselle Chambon

People fall in love in every country, but nowhere is the experience put on film with the consistent style, empathy and emotion the French provide. "Mademoiselle Chambon" is the latest in that line of deeply moving romances, an exquisite chamber piece made with the kind of sensitivity and nuance that's become almost a lost art.

Starring the top-flight acting team of Vincent Landon and Sandrine Kiberlain, actors who were once married to each other but are now divorced, "Mademoiselle Chambon" is about the power of love to disturb as well as elevate, about the profoundly disconcerting experience of falling terribly in love when that's the last thing you want to do.

Impeccably directed by Stephane Brize, "Mademoiselle Chambon" is less concerned with the protagonists' ultimate resolution than with bringing us into the journey, showing us how it came to be that these people fell and how they reacted. This would be a welcome film any time of the year, but to have it during the dog days of summer is something like a miracle.

— Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Sandrine Kiberlain and Vincent Lindon in "Mademoiselle Chambon." Credit: Michaël Crotto.


The logic behind Guillermo del Toro's madness

July 28, 2010 |  8:07 pm

Deltoro

Guillermo del Toro all but winked at us the other day that he'll make his adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's 1931 novella "At the Mountains of Madness" his first movie since things went awry with "The Hobbit." When we asked him in an interview on Friday whether it would indeed be his next film, as we were hearing, he flashed an impish grin and said, "We'll see."

This morning sources tipped that "Madness" would indeed be his next movie, and it's been something of an open secret in Universal circles that this is the one the auteur would go with. Now Deadline is reporting that it is, and, in something of a surprise, that James Cameron will produce, and that it will be in 3-D.

Fans have been calling for "Madness" for years, and in a way it's a perfect move at this moment. With the director losing two years on "The Hobbit," it's now four years and counting since he last directed a picture. [Update -- Make that a non-sequel or new picture; he did of course direct "Hellboy 2" in 2008.] His fans — and no doubt Del Toro himself — don't want to keep waiting. "Madness" is difficult material to shoot, both narratively and logistically — it's basically a monster movie set in Antarctica — but it is a movie that could be made with relative ease in other respects. Del Toro has a script that's basically ready, and a studio in Universal that's hungry for a hit. And given that the stars of his films are the creatures, casting shouldn't be the usual logjam either.

So the director, who is currently in post on "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark,"  could get going on this pretty much right afterward. (He had told us he could shoot as early as the first quarter of 2011.)

But there's also a more specific Hollywood reason to choosing this over, say, "Frankenstein," another Universal project he'd flirted with. When you have a chance to make a risky passion project, you don't wait.

Christopher Nolan did just that after "The Dark Knight" by getting Warner Bros. to fast-track "Inception." Now Del Toro is doing the same with his own beloved film. He once told the L.A. Times that "Madness" was "my obsession," and there's little doubt it's the one closest to his heart — and also, given the subject matter, the kind of film that's extremely hard to make unless your stock is at Google levels.

And it is that high. Del Toro continues to have insane amounts of fan credibility, and he and agent Robert Newman have been wooed by pretty much every studio in town since the director landed back in Los Angeles last month.

Like most filmgoers, we're excited to see what Del Toro does with the material — but not half as excited, we bet, as the filmmaker is to get moving on his dream after his last project became such a nightmare.

— Steven Zeitchik

http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Guillermo del Toro. Credit: Miguel Villagran/Associated Press

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Prepare for the Guillermo del Toro decade


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Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week: Ernst Lubitsch's 'Heaven Can Wait'

July 28, 2010 |  5:50 pm

Heaven Can Wait

I can't help but think the lovely fun of Ernst Lubitsch's 1943 "Heaven Can Wait" was colored by the massive heart attack that nearly felled him at 51 when he was in the midst of finishing the film -- and after a recovery break, he would do just that.

It was the director's first go at color film, and he was careful in his use. If anything, "Heaven Can Wait" may be the most subtle film in his archive. Don Ameche is absolutely charming as the dapper, devious businessman Henry Van Cleve, who finds himself knocking on Hades' door with Satan not at all convinced he should let Henry in. This clever comic contemplation of morality and mortality, with the social issues of the gay '90s in which it is set, turns out to feel very au courant even now. 

Gene Tierney is luminous -- but knowing -- as his beloved wife, Martha. She's not the only woman in his life by a long stretch, but she's the only one who mattered. Indeed, amid all the nonsense, you'll discover a treatise on love and life as heartfelt as it is humor-filled. Besides, Tierney and Ameche are a match made in heaven, whatever Henry's fate....

The film is the first half of Saturday night's double-bill at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's  Bing Theater. The remarkably prescient "Cluny Brown" rounds out the evening. Jennifer Jones is Cluny, a young plumber's assistant determined to make it in a man's world despite the fact that she seems better at turning heads and plumbing hearts than unclogging sinks. It is also the last film that would be solely in Lubitsch's hands. His final film, "That Lady in Ermine," would be finished, after his death at 55, by his friend Otto Preminger.

"Heaven" and "Cluny" are a great way to wrap the museum's monthlong tribute to this early king of comedy. Friday night's a keeper too with "The Marriage Circle," his most commercially successful film ever, a round robin of illicit love affairs, and "So This Is Paris."

So consider this your last call to make Lubitsch part of this summer's big-screen memories. You won't be sorry that you did, but you will be sorry if you don't.

-- Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Charles Coburn, Gene Tierney and Don Ameche in Ernst Lubitsch's 1943 "Heaven Can Wait." Credit: Courtesy of LACMA


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A new Harvey Weinstein?

July 28, 2010 |  4:53 pm

Valenti
Looking at the Weinstein Co.'s official fall slate, which landed in our in box a few hours ago, we were struck by just how art house it all felt.

To read the mini-major's upcoming releases in succession is to read the program guide for the Sunset Laemmle -- a lot of very solid, but nonetheless small, movies. There's a British biopic about the young John Lennon ("Nowhere Boy"). A Julian Schnabel Palestinian-themed historical drama ("Miral"). A Swedish-language thriller ("Snabba Cash"). A performance-driven  romantic drama ("Blue Valentine"). An assassin movie set in ancient China ("Reign of Assassins").  A story about the reign and speech impediment of King George VI ("The King's Speech").

The most commercial release on the slate is "The Company Men," the executive-layoff drama directed by John Wells and starring Ben Affleck. And that's hardly a major work of populist entertainment --  it had a solid cast but sat for several months without a distributor after Sundance as buyers worried about its relatability.

(Notably not dated is "Shanghai," the pricey John Cusack period war movie that was considered a high-profile release ... in 2008.)

The slate seems even more niche when read alongside the headlines about Ron Tutor and Colony Capital closing a deal with Disney to acquire the bigger-budget breakouts of years past.

With his fall lineup, Harvey has kept his word about returning to the movies he's passionate about; of the roughly half we've seen, they're all noble undertakings, and all of them radiate that air of accessible prestige he practically invented. Now that he's been forced to cut costs, he can afford to distribute just these types of films,  since there's much less pressure for a big box-office return.

In fact, all but one of these films are movies he picked up after they were made, which means he had a lot less financial risk, if also a lot less control over how they turned out. (It should be noted that the Weinsteins  have benefited from the closure of some of their competitors, who might have otherwise chased a "Miral" or a "Blue Valentine"; Harvey may have run short on cash, but so did a lot of other people, which has allowed him to buy some pretty good movies at pretty low prices).

But with all that cost-cutting, he's also not able to make as many brash or bold statements. Compared to the bigger-budget Harvey of the immediate post-Disney days, the heyday Harvey of the  "English Patient" days or even the 2009  Harvey, when the late summer and fall were filled with splashier movies such as "Inglourious Basterds" and "Nine," this slate feels downright boutique. The strategy of the last few years -- put a lot of chips down on a few big productions -- seems to have given way to something different: Scatter one or two chips on a lot of small movies and hope one of them gets big.

Some of them indeed might (here's hoping for "Blue Valentine," an astoundingly well-made chronicle of a couple's demise). But it's no guarantee in this climate.

At the very least, these films will ride a wave of goodwill, since nearly all of them have come out of some festival buzz or early media interest, the kind of movies chased by the heat-seeking Harvey.  Some things, we suppose, never change.

-- Steven Zeitchik

http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine." Credit: The Weinstein Co.

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Cannes 2010: The Euros love 'Blue Valentine' like Nutella

'Blue Valentine': Finally, a Sundance drama that works

Toronto lineup suggests indie crisis has affected quantity, not quality


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