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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: 20th Century Fox

Fox to 'Narnia' fans: Please come back

September 29, 2010 |  3:57 pm

1 Trust us.

The team behind the latest "Chronicles of Narnia" movie knows it has some persuading to do, and more than two months ahead of the release of the third installment in the C.S. Lewis fantasy series, the filmmakers are taking their sales pitch to the media -- and promising they will get the movie right.

In presentations this week in Los Angeles and New York, producer Mark Johnson, director Michael Apted and studio executive Elizabeth Gabler showed about 30 minutes of footage from "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," hoping they can convince moviegoers that the second film was a creative (and financial) aberration. 

The first film in the series, 2005's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" was a global blockbuster, an epic spectacle that grossed about $750 million worldwide. But the second installment, 2008's much darker and earthbound telling of "Prince Caspian," not only received poorer reviews but also fared much worse at the box office, slipping to $419 million worldwide. Given the film's performance and the high production costs (more than $200 million for the last movie), Disney walked away from the franchise, and rights holder Walden Media took the series to 20th Century Fox's Fox 2000, which Gabler runs.

Gabler and Johnson are hoping that "Dawn Treader," which opens in 3-D on Dec. 10, might be less Shakespearean than "Prince Caspian," and more fantastical than even "Harry Potter." The clips suggested that very little of the film takes place in wartime England, unfolding instead on the high seas and on magical islands, as the Pevensie kids (it's the last film for the two youngest siblings) search for some special swords and battle an aquatic serpent. The visual effects are everywhere: a spell-yielding book, a floating map, an indoor snowstorm, an invisible monster and a star that turns into a lovely maiden.

Andrew Adamson, the director of the first two films, has been replaced by  Apted, a documentarian ("28 Up") whose only real experience on a complex effects movie was 1999's James Bond film "The World is Not Enough." The swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep has a new voice too; Eddie Izzard is out and Simon Pegg is in (after Apted tested Bill Nighy but rejected him as too old).

More than anything, though, the movie feels more playful, less moody and certainly more family friendly than the last "Narnia" film -- whimsical, in other words. Fox's trailer for the film calls "Dawn Treader" the movie event of the holidays, which might be news to Warner Bros. and its "Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows Part One."

"Dawn Treader" has some work to do if it's going to win its audience back, but it looks from the selected clips as if the film is headed in the right direction. If it gets all the way there, a fourth "Narnia" film could very well be possible.

-- John Horn

Photo: Poster for the "Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader." Credit: 20th Century Fox

AFI film fest announces 'Love and Other Drugs,' 'Black Swan'

September 23, 2010 | 11:12 am

Love_and_other_drugs01 "Love and Other Drugs," Edward Zwick's new film about the intoxicating power of love starring Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal, will premiere as the opening night film of the 2010 AFI Fest. "Black Swan," Darren Aronofsky's supernatural ballet drama with Natalie Portman -- already gathering a fair share of awards buzz -- will close the event, it was announced Thursday.

The respected local festival -- part of the American Film Institute's program -- is celebrating its 24th year, and will be held in Hollywood Nov. 4-11.

Both Zwick and Aronofsky are alumni of the AFI conservatory, as is the guest artistic director of the festival this year, David Lynch.

Zwick described the festival as "a kind of coming home," while Aronofsky said he was excited his film would screen at "his favorite theater in the world," Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

In a release, festival director Jacqueline Lyanga described the opening- and closing-night films this year as movies that "tell extraordinary stories from unique and very personal points of view."

Last year, Wes Anderson's stop-motion animated "Fantastic Mr. Fox" -- which later earned an Academy Award nomination for best animated film -- opened the festival. Tom Ford's "A Single Man," which landed Colin Firth an Oscar nod for lead actor, closed the event.

Last year also marked the first time the festival offered patrons free tickets to its screenings. Earlier this year, three of the festival's top organizers quit, citing a diminished budget, according to a Times report.

-- Amy Kaufman

Photo: Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal star in "Love and Other Drugs." Credit: 20th Century Fox

Rerelease redux: Was the opening of the 'Avatar' special edition a disappointment?

August 31, 2010 |  4:42 pm

No sooner did we write that the release of the special edition of "Avatar" this past weekend was a disappointment than we received a slew of comments and e-mails asking why we thought it a failure (politely, of course).

So let's take a closer look.

The movie grossed about $4 million on 812 screens here in the U.S. Several readers pointed out that the per-screen number this averages out to -- just about $5,000 -- was among the strongest of the weekend. And that number is indeed not terrible for a new opener -- except for the fact that "Avatar" wasn't a new opener; it had the benefit of eight months of marketing and buzz behind it. This is hardly some unknown character drama that has to fight for every ticket.

Throw in the fact that the film had the benefit of premium ticket prices, and was going up against some pretty weak competition, and $5,000 doesn't look quite so solid. If you're scribbling on the back of an envelope -- assuming conservatively about a dozen shows per screen over the three days and $15 for a premium 3-D ticket -- that's an average of about 28 people at each showing. If you saw that many people in a theater you were in, you'd think that was OK, but wonder if the film is getting much beyond the hard-core or the really late adopters.

In the per-screen pecking order, the "Avatar" re-release was better than the second weekend of "The Switch" and "Lottery Ticket," but not as good as the first weekend of "Takers" and "The Last Exorcism." Which is ... Fine? Mediocre? Not an overwhelming success?

Others pointed out that this was a weak time to release a big movie, so you have to take the numbers in context. Well, it was Fox's decision to release it this past weekend, and clearly they thought it would be a propitious time for the film. And they had reason to. In fact, outside of "The Expendables," the new "Avatar"  had the benefit of being the only action spectacle playing in any kind of wide release this past weekend. Clog the weekend up with a few more wide releases and it's likely the movie's numbers dip.

None of this is really a knock on the new "Avatar." It was a tall order to come on the heels of a DVD release and assume a few minutes of extra footage would restart the phenomenon. And much of this is found money for Fox. So it's not even the worst gambit in the world. It's just not exactly a major event either.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Avatar": Credit: 20th Century Fox

With 'Avatar' struggling, is the bloom off the rerelease rose?

August 30, 2010 |  5:40 pm


For a while now, theater owners — and to a lesser extent filmmakers and studios — have been touting the economic and cultural wisdom of rereleasing Hollywood's biggest hits.  Personalities as varied as Steven Soderbergh and theater mogul Shari Redstone have talked about the rerelease as a way both to keep theaters relevant and provide a service to tentpole-overloaded moviegoers.

Most films still don't get a wide rerelease, but those that do tend to fare well. "The Godfather," the first two "Toy Story" films and "Apocalypse Now" were all rereleased at least a decade after they first came out, all of them to strong effect.

None of the new releases re-created the blockbuster success of their original go-rounds — "Toy Story" made the most of the bunch, grossing $31 million domestically — but all came away with their reputations burnished. In the case of "Apocalypse Now," whose redux edition added a significant amount of footage, the 2001 rerelease not only solidified the movie with old fans but brought in plenty of new ones.

That trend changed this weekend, when a rerelease of "Avatar" passed quietly for filmgoers. The Fox movie grossed only about $4 million despite playing on more than 800 screens, as my colleague Ben Fritz notes.

The easy explanation for this failure is that with nine minutes of extra footage tacked on to a movie that was already as long as the Bible, this new version didn't add as much to its original as the other rereleases did. In a way, "Avatar" was a victim of its own success. With the original already perceived as the be-all-and-end-all in big-budget entertainment — many of us had already seen it in 3-D, and the film was already considered a visual feast the first time around — there's not much to improve on with a new edition.

(It's also worth noting that the movie grossed $750 million the first time around, some of that from repeat viewers, and it's asking a lot for people who saw it multiple times just six or seven months ago to pay to see it again, even if the alternative is "Takers" and "The Last Exorcism.")

But it's also possible that the rerelease just doesn't mean as much as it once did, what with the culture of the Internet and nonstop blog coverage putting movies in the public eye in a way it never has before. When "The Godfather" came out in 1997 after being away from theaters for 25 years, it felt like an event; no matter how well we remembered the movie or how many times we watched it on basic cable, seeing it on the big screen brought memories for those lucky enough to catch it there the first time and created that experience for those who weren't. Even the rerelease of the "Toy Story" movies last year struck a nostalgic nerve for a '90s animation era that seems so far away, before the form changed so radically.

But it may be that today's classics just don't fade into history in the same way. We've lived them, in a sense, too deeply (and exhaustedly) the first time around.

Despite the struggles of "Avatar," we'll probably see a few more rereleases of Hollywood's biggest hits. They're comparatively low-risk for studios, who see them not only as a theatrical play but a way to generate interest in the DVD. And filmmakers envious of new technology will push for them — George Lucas has made noise about a "Star Wars" release, for instance. Without significant additions, though, it's hard to see why a rerelease is worth the screens or the bother.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Avatar." Credit: 20th Century Fox.

'Avatar' finally reaches feature-film length

July 8, 2010 | 11:35 am

If there's one complaint we had about "Avatar," it's that the movie was too short. No time for the action to unfold; no time for us to really get comfortable in our seats.

Now James Cameron and Fox are taking care of that. On Aug. 27, the studio plans on releasing to theaters a "special edition" that incorporates an additional eight minutes of footage. There will be, Cameron pledges, new action scenes and new creatures, ensuring that the the film will finally exceed the length of "Shoah."

The studio also wants to make sure that the tens of millions of people who missed the movie during its short first theatrical run finally get a chance to see it. Or as Fox puts it in a statement: "Since -- and largely as of result of -- Avatar's release last December, the number of available digital 3-D screens has exploded, and moviegoers who missed experiencing the film in 3-D will now have that opportunity." Find your nearest Amish neighbor and make a night of it.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: "Avatar." Credit: 20th Century Fox


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"Avatar: Special Edition" hits theaters on Aug. 27

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A broad-comedy version of 'Mr. Popper's Penguins'?

June 22, 2010 |  1:25 pm

We've previously wondered what kind of direction Fox was going to take with "Mr. Popper's Penguins," the adaptation of the illustrated children's classic originally published on the eve of World War II.

For a while, it looked like the studio/producers would take a Spike Jonze-y "Where the Wild Things Are" tack, with Noah Baumbach writing and directing and Ben Stiller looking to star. Then the "Greenberg" duo parted ways with "Popper's Penguins," and it was back to asking what kind of film the studio had mind.

Pengu Now we have something of a clue. In recent days, Hollywood circles have been filled with talk that Mark Waters, the "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" and "Freaky Friday" director who has a few commercial comedies under his belt, was talking to the studio, as was Jim Carrey, the actor who has more than a few commercial comedies under his belt.

Waters and Carrey also have something else going for them -- both have made hit movies involving animals, literal or figurative (Carrey with the "Ace Ventura" movies and Waters with "Mean Girls.")

Representatives and the studio aren't confirming any talks with the two, and it could well end up being another pair that gets the gig. (Owen Wilson and Jack Black, for instance, are in the mix, and don't rule out a Stiller comeback, though almost certainly without Baumbach). But the fact that Waters and Carrey are being associated with "Popper's Penguins" tells us a little bit more about what the studio wants (it is the concept-driven Fox) --- and, maybe, what the project needs.

This, after all, is a story about a couple that takes in a few penguins and before they know it have a veritable zoo on their hands. You could plumb the depths of the soul with it, as Baumbach might have done. But more likely you're going to want to plumb the depths of kid-friendly animal jokes, the kind of thing that's right in Carrey's hen house. And given how family films are tearing it up at the box office, it would hard to argue with the studio waddling that way.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Jacket of 'Mr. Popper's Penguins.' Credit: Little, Brown & Co.


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The light and dark of Tom Cruise's 'Knight & Day'

June 18, 2010 |  8:07 pm

One of the most curious experiments of the summer is Tom Cruise's "Knight & Day." James Mangold's film about a rogue CIA agent (Cruise) and his vigilante globetrotting experiences with a pretty innocent (Cameron Diaz) is in many ways a bold release, not only because it doesn't have that pre-sold thing so many Hollywood films go with these days (it was a creation of Mangold and a host of big-name Hollywood writers; more on Mangold and that process shortly) but because it's such an unusual mix of genres, moving from action thriller to romance to screwball comedy to missing-son drama.

My colleagues Claudia Eller and Ben Fritz have broken down  the film's challenges and prospects, looking at the tracking, which has been soft, and Fox's response to it, which has been to sneak the film this weekend before Wednesday's release to try to get word-of-mouth to stand in for the built-in expectations that, say, a superhero or formula romantic comedy brings.

Mangold’s film, while potentially satisfying for filmgoers in an environment of one-note summer entertainments, is the kind of movie that creates a challenge for marketing executives. To emphasize one element is to risk alienating people who’d be drawn to the other, and Fox, like any studio releasing a film like this, finds itself caught between going hard after one constituency and trying to offer something for everyone. (A series of television spots – Fox has bought large chunks of airtime over the last several weeks – has alternated between comedy and action emphases.)

 And that's to say nothing of Tom Cruise's box-office stock and where it sits in this post-Valkyrie (but pre-"MI: IV") world. Summer isn't usually the time for drama on the big screen, but it's shaping up to be a  dramatic time for some of the people behind it.

-- Steven Zeitchik


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

Original 'Ramona' Sarah Polley hopes revamped character isn't 'too cute'

May 25, 2010 | 10:05 am

Ramonaold In the late '80s, almost every young girl saw a bit of themselves in Ramona Quimby -- the precocious redhead at the center of a popular television show whose curiosity always seemed to land her in hot water.

On the PBS program "Ramona," the bright-but-annoying 8-year-old was played by none other than a young Sarah Polley, who brought the character from the bestselling 1950s book series by Beverly Cleary to life, long before she became known as an indie actress/auteur for films such as "The Sweet Hereafter" and "Away from Her."

This summer, Fox is revamping the popular story yet again with "Ramona and Beezus," starring adorable newcomer Joey King and Disney tween queen Selena Gomez. The cuter take on a traditionally more pesty Ramona has already irked some bloggers and critics.

Take this scathing assessment on the female-centric blog Jezebel:

"'I hope you guys like it!' Selena Gomez says of her new 'Ramona and Beezus' trailer. No. We don't. Maybe because BEEZUS IS A SEX KITTEN AND RAMONA IS A PINT-SIZED MANIC-PIXIE DREAM GIRL."

MG3WOLCA48EX38CAH8WD4SCAOKZF9UCAP79Z83CA91GCWZCA716Y40CAOYBKNOCA50NS2UCAP1S683CAFPUVYXCAIOOUT6CA88XT4DCAUJZLDZCAFCMZ34CAD0Z5BXCACXKYA2CAYUYAIVCA278I0Z Last weekend we interviewed Polley -- who was in town promoting her new film "Splice" -- and asked her what she thought about the fresh take on Ramona. Though she said she hasn't seen the film and will "reserve judgment" until she does, she said she hopes the new film won't mess with the essence of Cleary's character.

"The one thing that I think would be a drag is if she's too cute a character and too sweet," Polley said. "That was what was great about Ramona. She wasn't a cute, perky little kid with perfect teeth. She was a little bit of an oddball. And when I read those books when I was 7 or 8 and felt not so pretty and not so popular and a little bit -- you know, feisty -- I felt like that book recognized me and spoke to me and made me feel less isolated. The books will always continue to do that for kids. I hope the movie does the same thing."

-- Amy Kaufman (Twitter.com/AmyKinLA)

Photos: Sarah Polley, above, as a young Ramona and, right, now at 31.

Credit: PBS, Ringo H.W. Chiu / For the Times.

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Preview review: The Quimbys are back in 'Ramona and Beezus'

It's the apes' planet. We just live on it.

May 6, 2010 |  7:23 pm


A decade after they returned in Tim Burton's remake, the apes are getting another fresh start.

Fox announced Thursday that "Rise of the Apes," a reprise of the studio's "Planet of the Apes" franchise, is coming next summer.

The studio had been known to be developing a new version of the oft-told tale, this time with Peter Chernin's production company and Rupert Wyatt, director of the Sundance prison drama "The Escapist." Now, the studio says it will move forward, with a notion to push production and release the Wyatt film next June 24.

It's the second big-budget 2011 movie that Fox has scheduled in the last week, after its announcement several days ago of "X-Men: First Class," and it ensures that a six-week period next spring and summer is going to be rife with sequels and franchises, including "Mission: Impossible," "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Green Lantern."

June 24 is also the release date for "Cars 2," suggesting that Fox won't be pursuing family or kiddie audiences with this one, lest you thought they would.

The selling point here is that the production will use Weta, the company that did a lot of effects work for Fox's "Avatar." Not many details yet on the plot, though the studio said it would be set in present-day San Francisco (maybe at the end they’ll discover they were on a distant planet the whole time).

The studio also said it would be "a reality-based cautionary tale, a science fiction/science fact blend, where man’s own experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of war." Sounds good from this distance, though let's hope the apes aren't blue.

-- Steven Zeitchik

(Follow me on Twitter.)

Photo: Charlton Heston in the original "Planet of the Apes." Credit: 20th Century Fox

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'X-Men: First Class' gets on a supersonic jet

May 4, 2010 |  4:56 pm

After all the back and forth between Matthew Vaughn and "X-Men: First Class," the director is not only in, but Fox is moving quickly on the project. So quickly, in fact, that the movie will be in theaters in just over a year.

Fox confirmed Vaughn's attachment today and said that the film will begin shooting this summer (!) in time for a June 3, 2011, release. The movie basically hits reset on the franchise by going back to the twentysomethings who became the superheroes we later knew, "Star Trek" for the spandex set. So casting for said twentysomethings is likely to go into overdrive; if you're a fan of an up-and-comer (or represent one) these will be good and busy times.

All that is positive news for fans, but it really fills up the late spring release calendar for next year. "Mission: Impossible IV" comes out just one week prior to the "X-Men" release date, and the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" is set for release just two weeks before.

As for the Hollywood back story, apparently all of Vaughn's hesitations and the studio's gyrations are resolved; no quote from Vaughn in the statement, but Bryan Singer, who is one of the producers, says  that Vaughn has "a deft hand with multiple characters and storylines, and a great love of the X-Men universe."

From not having a director to starting production on a big-budget action movie in a matter of months-- it's almost like the anti-"Moneyball."

--Steven Zeitchik

(Follow me on Twitter.)

Photo: "X-Men." Credit: 20th Century Fox

Buy the “X-Men” trilogy on DVD for under $20
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