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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: November 2010

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Can 'Winter's Bone' get its mainstream due?

November 30, 2010 |  5:51 pm

Winters
When it came out this summer, "Winter's Bone" was a favorite among art-house filmgoers. But the character-driven story set amid Ozark poverty has remained off the radar of much of the American mainstream -- a bit ironically, since it's a story as much about America as any big-budget Hollywood blockbuster.

That could change this fall, and well, winter, providing the film gets an Oscar nomination for best picture. Awards attention of course doesn't much matter to the mainstream filmgoer for a movie that's already a populist hit; it's unlikely that Oscar love would make many more people take notice of "Toy Story 3." But for a small independent movie that can't afford to market like the big boys, awards attention -- and all the free media that comes with it -- is a coveted substitute.

Pundits have been divided over whether Debra Granik's "Bone,"  with Jennifer Lawrence earning raves as precocious teenager, will make the cut. But one encouraging sign for fans of the mystery-cum-drama: It led all films in Spirit Awards nominations this morning.

Leading the Spirits has at times had a popular-in-Canada feel to it. (In 2007, Todd Field's quickly forgotten Bob Dylan enigma "I'm Not There" garnered the most nominations.)

But since the motion picture academy expanded the Oscar best picture category from five to 10 slots last season, being the Spirits' darling now may mean a lot more. The Spirits suggest there's a spot for you on the Oscar best picture list, and all the benefits that come with it.

At least that's what happened for last year's Spirits nomination-grabber "Precious," which went on to be nominated for best picture and get a lot more attention as a result. (For more on the snubs and surprises at the Spirits this season -- including the overlooking of "Blue Valentine" star Ryan Gosling and "The Kids Are All Right" star Julianne Moore -- please see our colleagues' take over at The Times' Awards Tracker blog.)

It's unlikely "Winter's Bone" -- without the backing of an Oprah and the same level of buzz as "Precious" -- can ultimately achieve the crossover popularity that film did. But "Precious" does show that a story of an American underclass has caught on with us before. It even got the ultimate compliment: a running gag on "30 Rock" (with the movie-within-a-show "Hard to Watch").  If things break right, it may not be long before Jenna Maroni and Jack Donaghy are riffing on Ree Dolly and Teardrop.

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone." Credit: Roadside Attractions

RELATED:

'Winter's Bone' takes audiences into the Ozarks

Awards Tracker: Indie Spirits shockers

 


The balletic side of 'Black Swan' [video]

November 29, 2010 |  8:05 pm

With "Black Swan" already one of the most buzzed-about -- and polarizing -- art-house films to come around in a long while, we got our hands on a snippet that shows some of what happened behind the scenes during the film's production. The video won't reveal much about the plot of the supernatural drama. But it will give a sense of how much effort director Darren Aronofsky and star Natalie Portman put in to making the athletic and visceral aspects of live dance convincing on the screen.


Is James Franco good for the Oscars, or vice versa?

November 29, 2010 |  5:45 pm

Franco
The naming of James Franco and Anne Hathaway as Oscar hosts has the film world atwitter with (a) excitement (b) skepticism (c) yawning indifference? Answer: (d) A little of all of the above.

The choice is certainly a break from tradition -- with an average age of 30, Francoway are the youngest Oscar hosts in more than half a century. (To find someone equally young at the Oscar podium, you have to go back to 1956, when Jerry Lewis had just turned 30 when he co-hosted with Claudette Colbert and Joseph Mankiewicz.) It's also only the second time in a quarter-century that the Oscars haven't been hosted by a comedian.

Choosing an Oscar host is like getting dispatched to buy a single ice cream flavor for an entire  kindergarten class and then having to hand out that flavor during snack time. Someone will always let you know they're unhappy.

You also have to cut producers slack for a move that will, if nothing else, dispel the idea that the academy only pays attention to older filmgoers.

But there's also a legitimate question to ask of the Francoway experiment, and it's not about comedy and the can-they-bring-the-funny issue. The conventional wisdom is that the Oscars sewed up most of the female demographic a long time ago, and the way it can goose ratings and interest is with elements that appeal to men, particularly young men. Many of the hosts of the more successful telecasts of the past few decades --  David Letterman, Billy Crystal  -- have large male followings.

But Franco's fan base is, for a young male star, pretty strongly female, and Hathaway's even more so. (That's based on an informal office poll, but also a look at some of the recent movies each has done -- "Date Night," "Eat Pray Love," "Love & Other Drugs," "Bride Wars.")

So does that mean the women will tune in, as they usually do, but the men may not be similarly moved? At a time when the priority for the Oscars is broadening its constituency, Francoway may not quite do the trick. It feels a little like the tea party trying to reach out to Democrats and then sending Rand Paul to do the job.

A more specific question remains for Franco, star of this fall's "127 Hours." Some have already speculated about the potential awkwardness of an actor hosting an awards show in which he will almost certainly be a nominee but may come away empty-handed. The media coverage his hosting will generate can only help his film -- which, after a stupendous opening in big cities, has been moving along steadily but not with great momentum as it opens in the suburbs and the heartland.

Men may not tune in in record numbers to watch the Oscars this year, but if a lot more people turn out to see "127 Hours," it may just be enough. For Franco, anyway.

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photos: Anne Hathaway and James Franco. Credit: Andrew Gombert (Hathaway) and Claudio Peri (Franco) / EPA

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James Franco and Anne Hathaway to host the Oscar telecast

 


Surely the six best Leslie Nielsen lines

November 29, 2010 |  1:20 pm

Nielsen
He became known as a serious actor in the 1950s and then reinvented his career with spoofy turns in “Airplane!," “Police Squad” and “The Naked Gun” in the 1980's and '90s. Leslie Nielsen, who died Sunday at the age of 84, was part of numerous comedies and even more water-cooler conversations. He didn’t write his trademark lines, but you wonder if we’d remember any of them if he didn’t deliver them in his daffy deadpan.

Herewith, then, a quick study in Nielsenology. Your contributions welcome.

--The hospital quip. (“A hospital? What is it?” “It's a big building with patients but that's not important right now.”) Admittedly an overused one compared to his other misplaced-modifier specials (“That's the red-light district. I wonder why Savage is hanging around down there.” “Sex, Frank?” "Uh, not right now, Ed.") But still a classic.

--The political Leslie, as evidenced in an exchange with George Bush in “Naked Gun.” “Frank, please consider filling a post I'm creating. It may mean long hours and dangerous nights, surrounded by some of the scummiest elements in our society.” “You want me to be in your cabinet?” Before the tea party, apparently, there was Leslie Nielsen.

--The Goodyear blimp gag. “It's the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girl dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.” “Goodyear?” “No, the worst.” Never fails to get a laugh. Who else could pull off wordplay involving vulcanized rubber?

--The moment-of-panic Leslie, with a who’s-on-first spin. “Captain, how soon can you land?” “I'm just not sure.”  “Well, can't you take a guess?” “Well, not for another two hours." “You can't take a guess for another two hours?”

--The standard-bearer. "Can you fly this plane and land it?" "Surely you can't be serious." "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley."

--And finally, not from a movie, but somehow appropriate the day after Nielsen's passing. “Doing nothing is very hard to do -- you never know when you're finished.”

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Leslie Nielsen in "The Naked Gun." Credit: Paramount Pictures

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Leslie Nielsen dies


With 'Burlesque,' Christina Aguilera follows an undesirable pop-star path

November 29, 2010 |  7:00 am

Burle
 
Britney Spears flopped with "Crossroads." Mariah Carey bombed with "Glitter." And now, apparently,  things didn't exactly work out for Christina Aguilera and her movie of musicial becoming, "Burlesque."

Slotting a shiny pop star into a shiny pop movie must seem like the most logical idea in the world at the time that a director or producers comes up with it. But the box-office performance of the Aguilera-Cher movie this weekend once again proved it's not easy for a mega-selling singer to make the jump to acting.

After dreadful reviews that pummeled (among other things) Aguilera's acting, "Burlesque" opened to $17.2 million over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend -- not an unmitigated disaster, but hardly a blockbuster success either, especially considering the movie's marketing assault.

What is it about pop stars, particularly female ones, that has us loving them in our iPods but turning up our noses when they turn up on the big screen? I suppose you could say it's simply a matter of their skills not translating into a new medium. But history suggests otherwise; Doris Day was one of several stars from another era who went from musical stardom to big-screen fame.

Maybe, then, it's a question of not wanting to see a contemporary multi-platinum recording artist as an ingenue, as Carey was in her film and Aguilera was in this one. Or maybe we just find a singer playing a singer, as so many do in these contemporary films, just a little bit redundant. 

In fact, sometimes it seems as though the only time we truly like a pop star on the big screen is when said star is doing something very different from what made her famous. We eventually came to embrace Carey in "Precious," Madonna in "Evita" and even Cher herself once she left behind her early roles in light music movies and moved on to the likes of "Mask" and "Silkwood."

So maybe music stars can make a go of it on the big screen. But they need a certain amount of chops, a good role and a lot of discernment. Be very careful, Lady Gaga.

-- Steven Zeitchik
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Christina Aguilera in "Burlesque." Credit: Screen Gems

RECENT AND RELATED:

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Critical Mass: "Burlesque" -- Just bad, or so bad it's good?

 


Colin Firth leaves the romantic comedies behind

November 25, 2010 | 10:35 am

Firth 

He's been the thinking-woman's heartthrob since he played Mr. Darcy in the BBC "Pride and Prejudice" back in the mid-1990s. But as costar of such movies as "Bridget Jones's Diary" and "Love Actually," Firth has been mainly absent  from serious roles, at least here in the U.S., until last year, when he earned raves in the grieving-spouse drama "A Single Man."

Firth establishes his serious-actor bona fides in an even bigger way when he stars as a 1930s-era monarch in the crowd-pleasing royals drama "The King's Speech," which opens in Los Angeles and several other cities around the country this Thanksgiving weekend.

In our story about him in in today's Times, Firth offers a wry take on some of the recent reactions to him. "Someone asked me this morning [about my acting]: 'Did you get better?'" he said with a slight laugh. "I've just carried on doing what it says in the manual."

Saying he felt more comfortable in dramas than comedies, Firth, 50, wants to continue along the path he's recently started down. But it's at least a small point of frustration that these kinds of parts aren't always available. "If I can get a role as good as these last two, I'm all over it," he told us. "I haven't seen it yet. What do I do about that? Do I write it?  I'm afraid there's not much I can do."

The acclaim for "The King's Speech" certainly will help his cause, as will his easygoing likability. After we met with him in New York on Monday, he continued the charm offensive with appearances on "The Late Show With David Letterman" and "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," showing in both the low-key wit that could well put him over the top with academy voters in this year's best actor race.

That charm is a far cry from his character in his new film, in which Firth plays a stuttering Duke of York who must learn to overcome both his handicap and the repression that created it. Despite the movie's focus on the monarchy, though, Firth confesses he never read a book about the royals until he started the film. It's always been rock stars, he says, that have fascinated him.

“Laughable as it might sound given the persona I tend to be associated with," Firth said,  "I'm one of the millions of Englishmen of my generation who wanted to be Keith Richards."

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

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Photo; COlin Firth with Helena Bonham Carter and director Tom Hooper at "The King's Speech" premiere. Credit: Stuart Raimson /Associated Press

Colin Firth's royal pains

 


Critical Mass: 'Burlesque' -- just bad, or so bad it's good?

November 24, 2010 |  6:00 pm

Burlesque Sometimes the blistering reviews for a movie are more entertaining than the film itself. In the case of the Cher and Christina Aguilera song-and-dance vehicle "Burlesque," the critics are having a lot of fun bumping and grinding their way through their analyses:

The Los Angeles Times' Betsy Sharkey calls the movie "top-heavy from start to finish,"writing, "Think of 'Burlesque' as one ginormous music video theme party thrown by Christina Aguilera, with Cher in the house, plus boas, bustiers and dancing girls and about a thousand humongous Broadway-style showstoppers. Which is a far better way to consider 'Burlesque' than thinking of it as a movie — there, words fail."

The New York Observer's Rex Reed says Cher fans will be disappointed by just how little they get to see of their idol, noting, "Instead of an excuse to breathe oxygen into the twilight of Cher's career, it turns out to be a slutty pasteup constructed out of spit and chewing gum to showcase the movie debut of the caterwauling Christina Aguilera."

While most agree on the movie's dreadfulness, critics are divided on whether "Burlesque" falls into the merely bad or the so-bad-it's-good category.

For Time magazine's Mary Pols, "Burlesque" doesn't descend quite far enough. Pols writes, "The movie is frivolous fun, but not, as I had sort of hoped, as sinfully awful as 'Showgirls,' Mariah Carey's 'Glitter' or Britney Spears' 'Crossroads.' Lacking the snap of 'Chicago' or the insane creativity of 'Moulin Rouge,' it's a middle-of-the-road musical."

The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips, however, thought "Burlesque" stooped to "Glitter" territory in some satisfying ways, which poses a thorny question for a critic: how to assign a value to a movie so flagrantly bad. " 'Burlesque' is lousy," Phillips writes, "and the risible dialogue kept coming, like gray skies over Buffalo. Yet I enjoyed a fair amount of the movie's badness. Does that sort of enjoyment deserve one star? Two? A rarely deployed zero star designation, with a massive asterisk noting its potential camp value?"

"Burlesque" clearly isn't good enough for the critics, but only time will tell whether it's gratifyingly bad enough for the fans.

-- Rebecca Keegan

twitter.com/thatrebecca

Photo: Stanley Tucci and Cher in "Burlesque." Credit: Associated Press


The hairy task of creating Rapunzel in 'Tangled'

November 24, 2010 |  4:05 pm

  05_6_30x157_Final_Color When long, golden tresses are your only means of escaping a prison tower, eluding an abusive mother and rescuing the handsome thief who has promised to take you on your first road trip, a bad hair day is not an option. To ensure that Rapunzel never split an end in the new film “Tangled,” Walt Disney Animation Studios unleashed a small army of digital stylists -- a team of more than 30 animators and software engineers -- that Vidal Sassoon himself would envy.

When it comes to computer generated animation, hair is, well, hairy. Computers have trouble when objects collide, and Rapunzel's hair is made up of more than 100,000 objects (i.e. strands) that bump into one another, sweep over her shoulders, slide across the ground and crash into other characters in moments of both embrace and defense. As character-generated animated characters go, Rapunzel is Mt. Everest, and "Tangled" a sign of how high the medium has climbed since shiny, hairless toy characters populated the original "Toy Story" in 1995. "This is a progression of the art form," says Jerry Beck, animation historian and editor of the site Cartoon Brew. "The difference with 'Tangled' is that the hair is a character unto itself."

Long hair is costly in terms of computing power and technicians’ time, which is why most female CG characters wear their hair in a bob or a Lara Croft-style braid. In the case of “Tangled,” a wash-and-go 'do was out of the question. Rapunzel’s famously magical hair had to remind the audience of the character’s vast, untapped potential.

Continue reading »

Kenneth Turan's critic's pick of the week: Classics for the Holidays

November 24, 2010 |  3:02 pm

Singin in the Rain Thanksgiving is such a traditional holiday, it’s no wonder that the American Cinematheque is using the weekend as an opportunity to screen some beloved studio classics. And it's not doing it at just one location but at both of its theaters.

The Egyptian in Hollywood is showing the epic “Gone With the Wind” on Saturday, Nov. 27 at 7:30 p.m., giving everyone a chance to remember exactly why it was that Rhett Butler didn't give a damn.

Across town at the Aero in Santa Monica, favorites will be showing on three straight days, starting with the most beloved of Hollywood musicals, “Singin’ In The Rain,” on Friday, Nov. 26, at 7:30 p.m.

That's followed by the delightful screwball comedy double bill of 1934's “It Happened One Night” and 1936's “My Man Godfrey” on Saturday, Nov. 27, at 7:30 p.m. It all comes to an end on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 28, at 4 p.m. with the Judy Garland-starring “The Wizard of Oz."

Grab a bucket of popcorn and remember moviegoing the way it used to be.

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain." Credit: American Cinematheque


The Rock's 'Faster' becomes a Twitter experiment

November 24, 2010 |  2:34 pm

Faster
Movie studios have increasingly been using Twitter in their marketing campaigns. Paramount paid to put "Paranormal Activity" as a Trending Topic so that the movie sat at the top of the hot list of subjects Twitter users were talking about.

Other movies have  used Twitter to conflate fact and fiction. Natalie Portman's Nina Sayers character from  "Black Swan," for instance, has a Twitter account, with updates fashioned out of bits of dialogue and characters points from the story. ("You've got to believe me ... they want to replace me," Ms. Sayers tweeted a few days ago.)

But no movie that we know of has tried what "Faster," this weekend's Dwayne Johnson action-revenge flick, tried Tuesday: paid for a promoted link in the Trending Topics section in the hope that people might confuse it, just a little, with something else.

The movie's more generic title allowed studio CBS Films, with the promoted trending topic, to lasso in those who were simply hash-tagging the word "faster" in the context of Thanksgiving -- tweeters who wished the long weekend would come #Faster, that Black Friday would come #Faster, that airport security lines would move #Faster -- mixed in with those tweeting about the film itself.

In some cases, the simple presence of #faster as a trending topic prompted users to ask what it was, and others to respond with an explanation. But in other instances the studio was hoping that the simple presence of the word out in the Twittersphere will make people more attuned, even subconsciously, to the movie title -- and maybe make them a little more open to choosing it when they went to the multiplex this weekend.

A CBS Films spokesman said the attempt was to turn the challenge -- that multi-meaning title -- into an advantage and "take ownership of the word without the campaign being obtrusive."

We won't know until after the weekend how the unconventional move played. But the campaign has already ensured that "Faster" has its place in social-media history: It's the Twitter era's first-ever subliminal-advertising movie campaign.

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT (Not a movie title)

Photo: "Faster." Credit: CBS Films


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