24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Focus Features

'Tinker Tailor': Gary Oldman reins it in [video]

December 9, 2011 |  5:30 pm

Gary Oldman gives a very restrained performance as George Smiley, the master British spy at the center of "Tinker Tailor Solider Spy." Sometimes, Oldman says in this interview from the Envelope Screening Series, director Tomas Alfredson found Oldman's acting just a bit too subtle. Doing a scene in a movie, Oldman says, is a bit like climbing a mountain a step at a time, and in "Tinker Tailor" he wasn't always sure he could reach the summit.

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--John Horn


Toronto 2010: Focus buys Mike Mills' 'Beginners'

September 19, 2010 |  1:27 pm

Mills
Focus Features has made its first acquisition of the Toronto International Film Festival, acquiring U.S. and select international rights to Mike Mills' sophomore feature, "Beginners."

The movie, from the director of the indie darling "Thumbsucker," looks at the crucible faced by a man (Ewan McGregor) after his 71-year-old father comes out of the closet. The deal continues a flood of acquisitions at Toronto, which has seen nearly every specialty and independent distributor get in on the action.

Among the films acquired in recent days are the Rainn Wilson-starrer "Super," the Nicole Kidman-led drama "Rabbit Hole" and Robert Redford's period morality play, "The Conspirator."

Focus had come to Toronto with the off-kilter coming-of-age take "It's Kind of a Funny Story," directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden and starring Zach Galifianakis, but had not previously picked up a film.

-- Steven Zeitchik

http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: 'Beginners.' Credit: Northwood Prods.

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Why do so many George Clooney fans love him but dislike his movies?

September 7, 2010 |  9:01 am

Cloon
Few actors inspire swooning devotion the way George Clooney does. It's not just "I'm going to check out something he does because I find him interesting" but also full-on, follow-every-last-detail-in-his-life obsession. Even though -- or maybe because -- the actor's personal life is shrouded in such mystery, these fans take a fervent interest in all that Clooney does. A friend who is one such Clooneyist demands, upon our return from a film festival, that we share with her even the smallest Clooney tidbit. (This applies even when neither Clooney nor one of his films are at the festival.)

Clooney's box-office problem, we've been told over the years, is that there simply are not enough of these devotees. Which is why so many of his starring vehicles have wound up performing modestly. Those who turn out to see them do so with gusto. But box-office totals aren't measured by desire, and so the movies take in only middling amounts.

That explanation is fine, as far it goes, and in a way was proven again this weekend when Clooney's latest, the dark spy film "The American," opened to $13.1 million over the standard three-day weekend, $16.4 million if you toss in Labor Day. Those numbers are in line with his last few wide openings, whose three-day totals clocked in at $12.7 million ("The Men Who Stare at Goats"), $12.7 million again ("Leatherheads") and $12.5 million ("Intolerable Cruelty.") (Ensemble films, such as "Burn After Reading" and the "Ocean's Eleven" pictures, have opened stronger, though those are buoyed, of course, by the presence of many other stars. And limited releases, such as "Up in the Air" and "Good Night and Good Luck," are different animals entirely.)

What continues to baffle, however, is something that goes beyond the dollar totals. It turns out that the hard-core cadre of Clooney fans who reliably turn out to these films on opening weekend don't especially like what they see. Their love of the man may draw them to theaters, but once they get there, they're not particularly happy they came.

That trend was brutally on display with "The American," which drew a pitiful CinemaScore of D-, one of the lowest of the year for any wide opener not named "Splice." (Actually, that's not true either -- "Splice" at least pulled a D.) And the grade for "The American" is hardly an anomaly: Over the last few years, Clooney's wide openers -- the best test for a megastar -- have routinely been handed poor marks by audiences. Clooney's screwball football comedy "Leatherheads" managed just a C from CinemaScore voters. In 2002, Clooney's "Solaris" remake earned a rare CinemaScore distinction, the kind you don't want: an F. And it's not just those surveyed by the research firm: Last year's military spoof "The Men Who Stare at Goats" drew just a C+ from Box Office Mojo readers.

It would be one thing if Clooney's movies were grossing $50 million or $60 million over their opening weekends and landing these bad grades; that would mean they're catching a lot of non-Clooney fans in their nets, and so mediocre marks would be understandable. But these movies are attracting not the masses but the the small group that loves him. So why do so many of them dislike what they see?

Clooney and his reps might argue that these tough marks are a function of the actor's adventurous choices. Do what Adam Sandler does, and you'll never disappoint your fan base, because you're never really challenging them.  But take some chances, and fans, at least a certain percentage of them, will be confounded. They want the light, charming Clooney of late-night talk shows, not the dark antiheroes of "The American" or "Michael Clayton" (the latter of which garnered a decent but not overwheming B grade from Box Office Mojo readers). When they don't get it, they give a movie a weak grade. (Of course, the simpler explanation is that the choices are not so much adventurous as wobbly; a number of these films received poor-to-middling critical responses too.)

But there may be something subtler at work here. The CinemaScore system is a strange beast. Even in the overall grade, it asks respondents to grade what they just watched, sure. But since many filmgoers are coming to a movie because of a given actor, it also implicitly asks them to determine whether their motivation was valid. And it's here that Clooney runs into trouble.The actor may inspire devotion -- too much devotion -- so that the Clooney on the screen never matches up to the Clooney in filmgoers' minds. Audiences urgently want to know more about the man, but his film roles never give it to them. He is a victim, essentially, of his own high Q Score.

What's remarkable is that even though audiences don't as a rule like Clooney's films, they continue to love him. You'd think that after being disappointed by one of his movies too many times, they'd turn on the actor. But he continues to score high in popularity tests, coming in close behind the beloved Tom Hanks and running neck and neck with much bigger box-office performers such as Sandler and Will Smith, even as his movies generate much less appeal. Which we suppose is liberating for Clooney, even if the studios who collaborate with him may feel less enthused.

-- Steven Zeitchik
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: George Clooney in "The American." Credit: Focus Features

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Steve Coogan could send up fanboy culture (again)

July 20, 2010 |  6:17 pm

Coogan 

The 2008 high school farce "Hamlet 2" may not have exactly been a hit, but it was a perfect showcase for Steve Coogan's manic talents. Now Focus Features, which released that film, could be showcasing even more Coogan.

Sources say the specialty division is developing a remake of the fanboy-themed British comedy "Cruise of the Gods," with Coogan set to reprise his role.  As Comic-con approaches, it's hard to imagine a more timely piece of news: The film is about a fan cruise in honor of a fictitious science-fiction series and the clashes among the cast when they reunite several decades after the series goes off the air. (Coogan's character is more successful than the rest, among other comic premises.) The BBC produced and aired the original film back in 2002.

The new version, which is tentatively titled "The Great Beyond," has some other talented names on it. Attached to write and direct are Dave Guion and Michael Handelman. The pair, who toiled as writers on Jay Roach's development-world cautionary tale "Used Guys," did a skillful job balancing the outrageous and the human in next weekend's "Dinner for Schmucks" (more on that movie in an upcoming print story).

We've been waiting for the studio world to give Coogan the same chance to carry a film that it's given  Ricky Gervais. Until now, Coogan has starred in indies (Focus picked up "Hamlet 2" after it was completed) or played more supporting parts, like his role in the upcoming "The Other Guys."

With Comic-con highlighting not just what's hot but also properties long past their shelf life that somehow still find a fan base (Viking Quest, anyone?), "The Great Beyond" seems like it could almost be ripped from the booths at the San Diego Convention Center. We'll keep an eye out for some real-life inspirations down there this weekend.

-- Steven Zeitchik

http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Steve Coogan in "Hamlet 2." Credit: Focus Features

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Preview review: Clooney goes dark in 'The American'

May 5, 2010 |  1:30 pm

George_clooney_the_americanJust when we thought we'd gotten our fix after a George Clooney-filled awards season, the actor pops up in yet another new movie.

This time, he's starring in a thriller called "The American," the Anton Corbijn movie that's based on the 1990 Martin Booth novel "A Very Private Gentleman." Clooney plays Jack, a professional assassin who heads to the Italian countryside after a recent job in Sweden that went badly. In Italy, he decides he's going to get out of the business after -- of course -- one last gig. All this is complicated by  his friendship with a local priest and romance with a beautiful but suspicious Italian woman.

Physically, it's a different look for Clooney than we've seen of late in films like "Up In the Air." He's clearly meant to look older and tougher, with his gray hair cut short and a tattooed chest. It's also a return to a more serious role for the actor -- there's not a whole lot of easy banter delivered with that winning grin .

While the plot itself seems vaguely predictable -- hard-edged, closed-off guy opens his heart for sexy temptress, potentially causing his downfall -- the trailer still intrigues us. Director Corbijn seems to have made a movie that's visually appealing, with its cobblestone streets contrasting nicely with its frozen forests. There also seems to be a nice balance struck between the probing dramatic scenes and those with sleek guns and action.

-- Amy Kaufman

Photo: George Clooney stars in "The American." Credit: Focus Features.


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L.A. Film Festival to premiere 'Twilight: Eclipse' and open with 'The Kids Are All Right'

May 4, 2010 |  9:55 am

6a00d8341c630a53ef0133ece73c42970b-300wi Next month, the Los Angeles Film Festival will probably welcome a new contingent: throngs of screaming girls.

The annual event announced its lineup Tuesday morning, which will feature an invitation-only screening of “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” the long-awaited next installment in the popular vampire franchise.

The Los Angeles Times-sponsored festival -- which offers both specialty cinema and popcorn programming -- runs June 17-27, when more than 200 films, music videos and shorts from over 40 countries will screen (including 28 world, North American and U.S. premieres). This year, the event will move from its old stomping grounds in Westwood to downtown L.A., where many screenings will take place at L.A. Live.

Hot off of its buzz worthy Sundance run, Lisa Cholodenko’s quirky family comedy “The Kids Are All Right” will kick off the festival, which will close with Universal’s 3-D CGI film “Despicable Me.” Instead of a centerpiece film, the 16th annual festival will this year host a number of galas screenings that will include Sony Pictures Classics’ “Animal Kingdom”; Fox Searchlight’s “Cyrus,” starring Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly; “Mahler on the Couch”; and “Revolucion,” a series of short films by the likes of Gael Garcia Bernal and Rodrigo Garcia.

Check out the full line-up below the jump.

Continue reading »

Preview review: 'The Kids Are All Right'

April 12, 2010 |  6:23 pm

6a00d8341c630a53ef01287721d7ca970c-500wi Coming off a much-buzzed about Sundance run earlier this year, Lisa Cholodenko's quirky family dramedy "The Kids Are All Right" seems to have a lot of hype to live up to.

Last week in his Word of Mouth column, our colleague John Horn said the film "is a favorite to become the summer's standout specialized release."

So it was with charged trepidation that we watched the newly released trailer for the film, out in July, about a lesbian couple (played by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening) whose two teenage kids (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) decide to track down their sperm-donor dad (Mark Ruffalo).

We like the easy tone the trailer sets, much of which is due to the bouncy music used, like Madness' "Our House" and Vampire Weekend's "Cousin." The trailer seems to be marketed toward audiences that embraced "Little Miss Sunshine" and are looking for a smart take on the ever-changing modern family -- albeit one that seems to live in a bourgeois Nancy Meyers-esque home.

And the casting of Ruffalo as a drifter sperm-donor dad Paul seems spot on here.

"Right on, cool. I uh ... I love lesbians," he says when learning of the news that he's fathered two children.

Ruffalo always comes to life in small parts in indie dramas, but he's at his best when he plays the aloof spacey guy. We also like what we're seeing from newcomer Wasikowska here, who seems right at home as the family's inquisitive, emotional teen. As we've seen in her past films "High Art" and "Laurel Canyon," Cholodenko certainly has a way of telling unexpectedly moving tales about modern relationships. As for the dynamic between Bening and Moore, we're hoping their relationship will prove to be more comical than overwrought. Regardless, there's more than enough here to pique our interest in the film.

-- Amy Kaufman

Photo: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Hutcherson and Mia Wasikowska star in "The Kids Are All Right." Credit: Focus Features.


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