24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Madonna

Home theater: Robert Pattinson makes ladies swoon in 'Bel Ami'

May 2, 2012 |  6:23 pm

Bel Ami

This week, 24 Frames introduces a feature new to the blog, highlighting some of the most interesting titles available on Video on Demand or on DVD and Blu-ray. Look for the column on Tuesdays.

'Bel Ami'
Available on VOD beginning May 4

Guy de Maupassant’s novel has been adapted for  the screen before (most memorably in 1947, with George Sanders and Angela Lansbury), but for their new version, directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod take advantage of some of the freedoms of modern moviemaking, making sure that De Maupassant’s tale of a social-climbing rake has plenty of sex and straight talk. Robert Pattinson plays the rake in question, who takes a job as a newspaper columnist in 1890s France and advances in his career thanks to his relationships with three aristocratic women (played by Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Christina Ricci). The film isn’t as artful and sophisticated as the similar “Dangerous Liaisons” -- and it’s better at light drawing-room machinations than heavier political and romantic drama -- but this new “Bel Ami” is remarkably assured as it depicts how a man with no discernible skills works his way up from whorehouses to elegant estates simply because he’s handsome. (The film opens in Los Angeles theaters June 8.)

'George Harrison: Living in the Material World'
Hip-O/Universal, $24.98; Blu-ray, $24.98/$99.99

What keeps Martin Scorsese’s “Living in the Material World” from being just another Beatles-championing documentary is that it focuses specifically on guitarist George Harrison’s warring impulses: He was a spiritual, caring person who tried to make other people feel loved, and he was a brutally honest, self-centered man who succumbed to his carnal desires and hoarded money. (Harrison did write “Taxman,” after all.) “Living in the Material World” is divided in two, with the first half dedicated to Harrison’s stint with the Beatles, and the second half covering his explorations into religion as a solo artist. But both halves are really the same story: about a man who strove to be humble, while also grumbling that he was under-appreciated. The documentary is available on DVD and Blu-ray, and in a deluxe set that includes a book of photographs and a CD containing early takes of 10 Harrison favorites.

'Haywire'
Lionsgate, $29.95; Blu-ray, $39.99

Director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs return to the fast-paced, existential revenge-thriller mode of their 1999 film “The Limey” with “Haywire,” which stars real-life mixed martial arts specialist Gina Carano as a black-ops secret agent trying to track down and assassinate her handlers before they do the same to her. “Haywire” jumps back and forth in time and location and is packed with appearances by such actors as Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum and Ewan McGregor. But the story feels like an afterthought, and Soderbergh’s guerrilla filmmaking style at times makes “Haywire” resemble cheap, straight-to-video product. Still, Dobbs’ snappy dialogue and Soderbergh’s eye for the unusual go a long way. Some will appreciate that “Haywire” is a “pure” action flick: all kicks, little waste. The DVD and Blu-ray add two short featurettes. Available on VOD on May 1.

'W.E.'
Starz/Anchor Bay, $29.98; Blu-ray, $39.99

Say this for Madonna: She doesn’t lack for ambition. For her second film as a director (after the very strange “Filth and Wisdom”), the multi-platinum pop singer and her co-screenwriter, Alek Keshishian, attempt to tell the story of King Edward VIII’s choice to abdicate the throne to pursue a love affair with American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Madonna and Keshishian employ a framing device that has a modern-day woman (Abbie Cornish) discovering that the reality of the renowned romance doesn’t match up with her fantasy version. But Madonna fails to convey her own fascination with Edward and Wallis, outside of some vague personal connection to the details of worldwide fame and pervasive dissatisfaction. Mostly, she seems to have made a movie that has a lot on its mind and no coherent way to express it. The DVD and Blu-ray come with a making-of featurette. Available on VOD on May 1

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Photo: Uma Thurman and Robert Pattinson in "Bel Ami." Credit: Magnolia Pictures.


Madonna's Oscar pick: 'The Tree of Life'

January 28, 2012 |  7:00 am

Madonnacamera
"The Tree of Life," which collected three Oscar nominations Tuesday, has a high-profile advocate in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — Madonna. 

In an interview from her Sunset Boulevard home, which appears in Sunday's paper, the singer spoke about her new movie as a director, "W.E.," her nervousness about her upcoming Super Bowl  performance and the sounds she's mining on her new album, "MDNA." Amid her many projects, Madonna, who is a member of the academy in the actor's branch, said she does make time to watch the screeners Oscar voters receive and had selected a top choice.

" 'Tree of Life' is stunningly beautiful. That’s my favorite," Madonna said. "I think it’s a spiritual, deeply profound movie. My mouth was hanging open the entire time I was watching it."

"W.E.," which Madonna co-wrote with Alek Keshishian, tells the story of Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), the American divorcee for whom Britain's King Edward VIII (James D'Arcy) famously abdicated the throne in 1936.

As a filmmaker, Madonna said she is inspired by the singularity of vision reflected in "Tree of Life" director Terrence Malick's nonlinear drama starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Madonna's ex-husband, Sean Penn. The film, which chronicles the origins of the universe and a 1950s Texas family's tragic loss, was nominated for Oscars in the categories of best picture, director and cinematography. 

"[Malick] really does make the movie he wants to make," Madonna said. "It’s completely and utterly authentic. And I feel like he really is channeling something without anybody else’s input. No one’s saying he should do that, he shouldn’t do that. He gets amazing performances out of his actors."

For more on Madonna, see this photo gallery and this interview in Sunday's paper.

 

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— Rebecca Keegan

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 Photo: Madonna on the set of "W.E." Credit: Anthony Souza/The Weinstein Co.

     
   

Golden Globes: Elton John, Trent Reznor among music nominees

December 15, 2011 | 11:31 am

Lady Gaga and Sir Elton John

It's the symphonic war horses versus the rock 'n' rollers, both with and without tattoos (dragon or otherwise), in the competition for the Golden Globes' music categories.

In the contest for best original motion picture score, five-time Oscar winner John Williams ("War Horse") will square off against another multiple Oscar winner, Howard Shore ("Hugo"). They'll be joined in the category by the tag team of Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and past Oscar winner Atticus Ross ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"); Ludovic Bource ("The Artist"); and Polish-born Abel Korzeniowski, who composed the score for "W.E.," the Madonna-directed historical film about the man who wouldn't be king of England, Edward VIII, and the woman he chose over the throne, Wallis Simpson.

"We're incredibly flattered to receive a Golden Globe nomination for our work on 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,' " said Reznor, who personally eschews tattoos in favor of bulging biceps, in a statement. "We spent the last year immersed in this project contributing to [director] David Fincher's vision and in awe of the talented group of people he assembled to make this film. Atticus and I would like to thank the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press for this gracious acknowledgement of our work."

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Shore said "Hugo's" setting -- 1930s Paris, with time travel back to the late 19th century -- is one of music's richest eras. His score for Martin Scorsese's effervescent fable of childhood innocence absorbs classical influences stretching from the late Romantic period to early Modernism. Not coincidentally, the film's time frame overlaps with the period when movies were transitioning to the sound era from the silent era -- which, Shore points out, was never really silent because many non-talkies were performed with live musical accompaniment.

"The film is a beautiful dream, and working on it was a labor of love," said Shore, whose other credits include the films in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and Scorsese's "The Departed" and "The Aviator."

Different time periods also collide in Korzeniowski's score for "W.E." whose pop diva director wanted the music to have a contemporary, deliberately anachronistic feel that would help audiences relate to the star-crossed royal Brits -- just as if they were modern celebs like, well, Madonna.

FULL COVERAGE: Golden Globes

"Madonna specifically asked me not to try to write a period piece," Korzeniowski said. "One of the most jarring moments in this approach is when we have the Sex Pistols and Wallis and Edward dance to this music. I know it doesn't make sense from the historical point of view, but at the same time it's something we can relate to. It's the celebrity craze."

Madonna picked up a best original song nomination herself, with co-writers Julie Frost and Jimmy Harry, for "Masterpiece" from "W.E." The other entrants in that category are Elton John and Bernie Taupin for "Hello Hello" from "Gnomeo & Juliet"; Chris Cornell for "The Keeper" from "Machine Gun Preacher"; composer Brian Byrne and lyricist Glenn Close for "Lay Your Head Down," from "Albert Nobbs";  and Mary J. Blige, Thomas Newman, Harvey Mason Jr. and Damon Thomas for "The Living Proof" from "The Help."

Cornell, the guitarist and searing lead singer for rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave, said that in writing "The Keeper," "I sort of put myself in the shoes" of Sam Childers, the biker-turned-maverick-evangelist-do-gooder who helped Sudanese children, played in the movie by Gerard Butler. "If he [Childers] were Woody Guthrie, what sort of song would he write for these children?" Cornell asked himself. "For me it's personal because of the content of the song and its message. There are children living in this world that might not make it through the night."

John faced a very different challenge in writing a tune that drives the whimsical action in the animated film. The scene, involving a key encounter in a greenhouse between the diminutive characters voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt, was shifted around a few times in the story sequence, so the John-Taupin song had to shift a bit too in order to properly express what was going on.

"This one was a little tricky to place," John said.

John was joined in singing the signature tune by Lady Gaga. "With Gaga on it, that gives it a real kind of modern sound," he said.

Hardly a newbie at award shows, John said he was looking forward to attending the Globes. "The Golden Globes have always been the fun thing to do," he said. "You bump into people you'd love to meet."

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Photo: Lady Gaga and Sir Elton John perform together May 13, 2010, in New York. John's song "Hello Hello" features Lady Gaga and is nominated for a Golden Globe. Credit: Jason DeCrow / Associated Press


Toronto 2011: Madonna says she has auteur dreams

September 14, 2011 |  7:07 am

  Madonnator

Of all the personalities to turn up at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, none seemed more outsized, and yet oddly appropriate, than Madonna.

The singer and actress is looking to make her mark on the directing world (AFI students, beware). And Toronto, place of 300 films and a thousand dreams -- not to mention a strong dollop of celebrity and hype -- seems the perfect venue for one of the most famous women in the world to take up a new career.

So into town she rode with "W.E.," a time-jumping historical romance that made its North American premiere at the festival earlier this week, ahead of its opening for general U.S. audiences on Dec. 9.

Sitting primly (in fishnet stockings) on an ornate chair in a hotel suite high above Toronto earlier this week, the 53-year-old made no secret of her latest ambition."I want to be taken seriously as a filmmaker," she told 24 Frames, her blond locks falling carefully onto and around a red-sweater top.

"I directed 'Filth & Wisdom' to teach myself about filmmaking," she added, alluding to her first movie, a lightly regarded immigrant tale of music and cross-dressing. "And now, with this self-punishing process of being a producer and a writer and a director, I'm taking the next step."

Continue reading »

Venice Film Festival: Madonna's 'W.E.' splits the critics

September 1, 2011 | 11:57 am

Madonna andrea riseborough and abbie cornish at venice

Madonna's sophomore directorial effort "W.E." unspooled at the Venice Film Festival on Thursday, and critics are split on the drama about the scandalous 1930s romance between American divorcee Wallis Simpson (the "W") and Britain's King Edward VIII (the "E"), which led him to give up the throne.

History buffs and fans of last year's "The King's Speech" are certainly familiar with the story. Speaking to reporters at a news conference, Madonna said she hopes that the success of “King's Speech” gives audiences a point of reference for “W.E.” (The Weinstein Co., which was behind "Speech" and now "W.E.," is obviously counting on some crossover interest.)

Whether audiences will bite remains to be seen; the film will play at the Toronto Film Festival this month and then hit U.S. theaters in December.

Madonna said the two films examine the same historic period from distinct points of view. She also told a news conference that she identifies with Simpson, because fame often reduces celebrities “to a sound bite,” the Associated Press reported.

Yet critic Xan Brooks doesn't see the film as a valentine to Simpson, and came out swinging in the Guardian, saying: "Whatever the crimes committed by Wallis Simpson -– marrying a king, sparking a constitutional crisis, fraternising with Nazis -– it's doubtful that she deserves the treatment meted out to her in 'W.E.,' Madonna's jaw-dropping take on 'the 20th-century's greatest royal love story.' The woman is defiled, humiliated, made to look like a joke. The fact that W.E. comes couched in the guise of a fawning, servile snow-job only makes the punishment feel all the more cruel."

The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy is slightly more charitable, writing that "hop-scotching between glamorous locations, as well as between decades and story strands, with the frequency of its director on a tour, 'W.E.' is as easy on the eyes and ears as it is embalmed from any dramatic point of view."

The Telegraph's David Gritten seems to be a fan: "A film directed by Madonna that deals in part with the love affair between King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson? A curious notion, and not truly an enticing one. Yet 'W.E.' is rather better than expected; it’s bold, confident and not without amusing moments." Yet he adds it's "undeniably a strange concoction."

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Photo: Andrea Riseborough, left, Madonna and Abbie Cornish at the Venice Film Festival. Credit: Joel Ryan / AP


Madonna's romantic drama 'W.E.' set to bow this December

June 29, 2011 | 11:53 am

Madonna December seems to be Harvey Weinstein's month to release films by actors- and singers-turned-directors. One week after the Weinstein Co. intends to bow its Shakespearean tragedy "Coriolanus" (which Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in along with Gerard Butler and "Tree of Life's" Jessica Chastian), the studio will open Madonna's "W.E.," starring Abbie Cornish, on Dec. 9.

Madonna's movie, which she co-wrote with her "Truth or Dare" collaborator Alek Keshishian, is an offshoot of the characters from 2010's Oscar best picture winner "The King's Speech," specifically Britain's King Edward VIII and the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, the woman he fell in love with and for whom he gave up the throne. The film toggles between a contemporary woman named Wally, played by Abbie Cornish ("Sucker Punch"), and her obsession with the midcentury British romance. 

Said Weinstein of the December date: "Madonna beautifully interweaves past and present in 'W.E.' It's a very smart film, and a stunning directorial debut. I'm incredibly excited about this movie and I wanted to give it a prominent release date."

Weinstein Co. will open "W.E." in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 9, expanding to additional markets throughout the month, before the wide release intended for mid-January. "W.E." also stars Andrea Riseborough ( "Never Let Me Go"), James D'Arcy ("Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World") and Oscar Isaac ("Drive").

Whether the film has an Oscar prospects, as the date suggests, remains to be seen. But "The King's Speech" did prove Americans love a good story about the monarchy.

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Photo: Madonna. Credit: Evan Agostini/Associated Press 


A romantic drama directed by Madonna is heading to U.S. theaters

June 13, 2011 | 11:44 am

For all her music success, Madonna's efforts as a film director -– a documentary about Malawi and a romantic comedy titled "Filth and Wisdom" -- have been more niche, getting only token releases in the United States.

Mado But broader audiences will have the chance to evaluate her latest effort, a historical romance titled "W.E." that has been picked up for distribution by the Weinstein Co. 

The independently made film, which Madonna wrote with her "Truth or Dare" collaborator Alek Keshishian, cuts between a relatively contemporary lonely woman in New York named Wally (Abbie Cornish) and the early 20th century romance with which she’s obsessed, that of Britain's King Edward VIII and American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough). As Wally gets further immersed in studying the historical romance, she finds it was not as neat or as glamorous as it appears to be.

In announcing the deal Monday, Harvey Weinstein said that "Madonna has really come into her own as a filmmaker with 'W.E.'" He added, "It's a terrific addition to our U.S. release slate." The company says it is planning a 2011 release but did not offer further details; its release slate is relatively packed for the remainder of the year.

 Madonna said in a statement that "'W.E.' is about the nature of true love, and the sacrifices and compromises that are often made." Despite the partial period setting, Weinstein added that the film's take was "smart, sexy and thoroughly modern."

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Photo: Madonna at a Metropolitan Museum of Art gala in New York in May. Credit: Larry Busacca / Getty Images


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