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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Political Films

North Korea: Kim Jong Il's cinematic celebrity [Video]

December 19, 2011 |  7:00 am

For a leader who rarely stepped out of his native North Korea, Kim Jong Il has had a surprisingly prolific screen career, parodied in numerous TV shows and films.

But few sketches lampooning the late Communist leader were as memorable as his appearance in Trey Parker and Matt Stone's "Team America: World Police," the 2004 marionette-filled satire in which the North Korean ruler attempts to hold a peace ceremony for world leaders while detonating bombs in their home countries.

Incidentally, Kim, who died over the weekend, also had a love of movies. He once kidnapped a South Korean actor and filmmaker in the hope of creating a homegrown industry, and also reputedly had a love for James Bond movies, an association that doubtless brought joy to the people behind the 007 franchise.

In "Team America," the Kim Jong Il character first relies on, then spits at, Alec Baldwin, and generally sees his plan disrupted by a motley crew of American fighters from whom a certain thick-haired actor cannot save him. ("You are worthless, Alec Baldwin! You are worthless Alec Baldwin!")

In the first clip below, Kim gives heart-rending rendition of a song confessing his loneliness. Below that, a montage of moments from the film.

 

 

 

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-- Steven Zeitchik

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'Atlas Shrugged': Exclusive DVD excerpt and sequel plans

November 8, 2011 |  1:19 pm

Atlas

“Atlas Shrugged Part I,” the first film of a proposed trilogy adapting Ayn Rand’s 1957 capitalist epic, arrived on DVD Tuesday. Financed and distributed for $20 million by businessman and Rand acolyte John Aglialoro, the movie rode a wave of conservative anticipation into theaters on April 15. Mainstream film critics were less than impressed by the ideologically driven adaptation, and “Atlas” took in $4.6 million at the box office. That’s enough to beat 2011 studio films like “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star” and “Machine Gun Preacher,” but not a sum a capitalist wants to crow about.

24 Frames’ Rebecca Keegan spoke with “Atlas Shrugged” producer Harmon Kaslow about plans for the “Atlas Shrugged” sequel, what “Atlas” has to say to the Occupy Wall Street movement and which candidate Rand would endorse for president 2012.

An exclusive video excerpt from the DVD, about Rand’s philosophy of objectivism, appears below.

What’s the status of “Atlas Shrugged Part 2?”

Harmon Kaslow: We have a screenplay that we’re in the process of polishing. We’re gearing up to get Part 2 into production in early 2012. I think we’ll end up shooting in L.A., New York and Colorado. The challenge for us is, not as many people saw the movie in the theaters as we had hoped. The book has millions of readers. We sold 600,000 tickets. We need to make a movie that stands alone, so that if you’re not familiar at all with “Atlas Shrugged,” you could go see Part 2 without being confused about what’s going on, while at the same time we want a faithful adaptation, so that people familiar with the book feel as if we captured the message and philosophy accurately.

Have you chosen a director yet?

No. One of the things we’re going to be very disciplined about with respect to Part 2 is we want all of the department heads and the director and everyone to be very familiar with the book. It’s more than directing the screenplay, it’s bringing an understanding of the message and philosophy of the book to all aspects of the production.

Will your release be timed to the presidential election?

Our aspiration is that we’d have something to screen around the time of the nominating conventions, so we could start to get some public reaction and create awareness of the title, and then get into the theaters around the month before the November presidential election. It seems like an opportune time. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of discussion of many of the issues that are part of the book.

How is the film being financed?

We’re using proceeds from Part 1 and monies from a select group of independent investors. We’re shooting for a budget in the $10-to-$15-million range and looking to raise our own prints and advertising fund of about $10 million so that we can move beyond the community-level online marketing that we did in Part 1 and be more prevalent in traditional forms of media with respect to advertising and marketing.

When “Atlas Shrugged Part 1” came out, the tea party was in full swing. Now there’s another populist movement, Occupy Wall Street, on the scene. Does “Atlas Shrugged” have anything to say to this group?

If the occupiers are protesting wealth, then their energy is misplaced. But if they’re protesting wealth obtained through fraud or political corruption, then this is something completely consistent with the theme of “Atlas Shrugged.” One of the things that’s interesting to me are some of the responses you hear about the protest. I watched a video on YouTube that’s a young man ranting about the Fed, and the fact that our currency is not backed by anything of true value. That rant is so reminiscent of Francisco d'Aconia’s speech about money, which occurs in Part 2 of the book.

What’s happening in Part 2 of the book?

The book is really a mystery at this point. The science-fiction element is starting also to come through in the story. Rearden’s Steel factory has an explosion and one of the heroes goes in and fights to save the smelter from causing a disastrous occurrence there. There’s a huge explosion that takes place in a tunnel. The end of Part 2 takes place with a chase in the air between two jets. It’s got all the elements of drama and great action sequences. It will have more visual effects than Part 1, which is one of the reasons why it’s going to be more expensive.

Which of the presidential candidates do you think Rand would endorse?

I don’t know. I think she would be fascinated by the process we’re experiencing right now. When she wrote this book, it was right after [Franklin] Roosevelt’s third term in office and the book was really a parody of his New Deal policies. That would be the nature of the debate she would want people to engage in: Look what happens to personal economic freedoms when government grows as much as it’s grown now.

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-- Rebecca Keegan

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Photo: Taylor Schilling plays heroine Dagny Taggart in "Atlas Shrugged Part 1." Credit: Rocky Mountain Pictures

 


'Ides of March': Should Hollywood cut back on political dramas?

October 10, 2011 |  8:00 am

eorge Clooney in "The Ides of March."
The reception for "The Ides of March" this weekend was pretty much what you sensed it would be as the days ticked down to its release: Respectful but not effusive reviews, and ticket receipts that box-office reporters, ever the euphemists, described as coming in at "the lower end of expectations."

George Clooney's heart was certainly in the right place when he decided to turn Beau Willimon's play "Farragut North" into a film. "North" was well received on the stage, first in New York and then at the Geffen Playhouse. More to the point, its Howard Dean-inspired story at once served up a heavy dose of wish fulfillment, thanks to Clooney's idealistic lead character, as well as a level of blood-sporty realism that fit with our sense of, you know, how things really are.

And yet "Ides" seems bound for the same ephemeral status as so many other political allegories that have come and gone in recent years: "Man of the Year," "Swing Vote," "Bulworth," "Lions for Lambs," "Wag the Dog," "Atlas Shrugged," The Manchurian  Candidate."  They're movies that run the ideological gamut, yet most of them garnered middling reactions from both critics and the American public. And almost none of them have endured (with the possible, though only possible, exception of "Wag the Dog").

There are plenty of challenges to dramatizing Washington these days. Among the much-digested issues: Real-life drama can seem so outlandish that no scripted entertainment can match it, while winds shift too quickly for comments on the process to be relevant by the time a film comes out. There may or may not have been something novel in "Ides'" message about the toll the system takes on idealism years ago, before Barack Obama's presidency; there's not much fresh nearly three years into his term.

Compounding the problem, of course, is that most Hollywood studios don't want to take a stand that will alienate any part of the moviegoing audience. So a movie of any respectable budget -- even one from an avowed Democrat like Clooney -- will resort to making general, relatively toothless points about 'the system,' instead of specific points about one ideology or another. That's a kiss of death in a time when partisan politics run so high, and a little boring to boot.

And of course when scores of blogs and cable-news programs come at us all the time, we're  wary of welcoming a new voice to the din, whether or not it has something interesting to say.

It's telling that about the only recent on-screen political entertainment that did matter was "The West Wing." Of course, as a TV series that was a very different beast, able to react quicker to what was happening in the real world, and also able to rise and fall with changing political developments over its many seasons on the air. Unlike moviedom, it wasn't forced to fire off one shot and call it a day.

Hollywood produces much that is ephemeral, so one more creation would hardly seem like its biggest problem.

But there's something slightly uncomfortable about watching another political drama come and go like a long-shot candidate in the Iowa straw poll. If nothing else, it sends a message of political indifference, even though, as movements from the tea party to Occupy Wall Street suggest, we live in a time of anything but.

And political dramas divert talent. Clooney made a meaningful and even influential movie about the changing role of the media with "Good Night, and Good Luck" in 2005. It was as well-intentioned and at times even as starchy as "Ides," but it stirred the conversation in a way that most Washington dramas don't.

Like politics, filmmaking is a game of resources. As a director and actor with clout and ambition, Clooney is a valued one, and it's fair to wonder if this is his best use.

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-- Steven Zeitchik
Twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: George Clooney in "The Ides of March." Credit: Sony Pictures


Reluctantly, an Iranian director becomes a symbol

October 3, 2011 |  7:50 pm

Farha
Asghar Farhadi takes a deep breath and wonders how to answer a simple question: "Are you happy?"

"That's a good question," the director said. And then he waits, leaving it unanswered.

It's been that kind of year for Iranian cinema, and its 39-year-old rising star in particular. Last winter, Farhadi swept the prizes at the Berlin Film Festival  with his buzzy drama "A Separation," taking, among others, the coveted Golden Bear. Then Farhadi watched as his country's cinema took a staggering blow when the filmmaker and cultural icon Jafar Panahi was handed a 20-year filmmaking ban.
 
"I'm very upset," Farhadi said, via a translator, of his reaction to the Panahi news. "For you and all your readers he's a filmmaker, but for me he's a friend. And he's a friend who can't do what he was born to do."

Farhadi is sitting in a hotel room on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It's just 24 hours before the New York Film Festival premiere of "A Separation,"  which already has garnered buzz as a foreign-language Oscar contender. The film has been submitted by Iran to the motion picture academy; if it lands a nomination, it would mark only the second time  that  the country will be on the  foreign-language Oscar ballot, in the process thrusting the society governed by  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the fore of film's award season.

Continue reading »

Toronto 2011: Who's the inspiration for Olivia Wilde's stripper?

September 15, 2011 |  3:13 pm

Olivia wilde is in butter Filmgoers who caught Jim Field Smith's political satire "Butter" at the Toronto International Film Festival have been making a sport of guessing just who some of the characters in the Midwestern fable are supposed to represent.

Is Jennifer Garner's smug butter-carving competitor Laura Pickler a stand-in for Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann? (Harvey Weinstein, who is releasing the film, certainly seems to be inclined toward the latter.) Is the 11-year-old African American girl competing against her in Iowa supposed to be a 2008-era Barack Obama?

Movie fans, though, may find some real-world familiarity in another character -- namely, Olivia Wilde's Brooke, a brash stripper who attempts to beat Laura at her own game. As you watch the film, she seems, it may slowly occur to you, an awful lot like Diablo Cody. (The Weinstein Co. isn't releasing any official photos yet of Wilde in the role, but some fan sites have posted some.)

Cody is of course the voluble and self-mythologizing screenwriter behind movies like "Juno" and "Jennifer's Body." The similarities between her and Wilde's character are subtle but unmistakable.

Diablo codyLike Brooke, Cody was once a stripper and is covered in upper-body tattoos. Like Brooke,  Oscar winner Cody has a certain swagger and also sought to reinvent herself in another discipline that doesn't involve pole dancing, in the hope of landing a big prize.

Oh, and Cody's real first-name? Brooke.

Screenwriter Jason Micaleff acknowledges he had the "Juno" writer in mind--sort of.

 "Slightly inspired by Diablo (who is thrilled and excited to see it, I hear)," he replied in an email when we put the question to him.

Micallef said that, perhaps unlike some of the more barbed portrayals of U.S. politicians, he intended the Brooke character as homage. "I was intrigued by the idea of a wickedly smart stripper," he said. ("Butter" is slated for general release next year, but if you can't wait that long, it will get a brief one-week run in theaters at the end of October.)

 

Micallef also wrote that the character carried a larger meaning too. "Brooke thematically represents anarchy, which is why, in a time when everyone hates the government, audiences love her so much."

He then offered that the character had her own Twitter address (@BrookeTokyoRose)--an act of self-branding that might befit, well, Diablo Cody.

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--Steven Zeitchik in Toronto

Photos: (Top) Olivia Wilde poses for a portrait to promote the film "Butter" at the Toronto International Film Festival on Tuesday. Credit: Associated Press/Carlo Allegri

(Bottom) Diablo Cody at the Academy Awards in 2008. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times


Toronto 2011: 'The Lady,' starring Michelle Yeoh, finds a buyer

September 14, 2011 |  8:03 pm

The lady michelle yeoh

"The Lady," French director Luc Besson's new film about Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, will be coming to U.S. theaters before long. Cohen Media Group inked a deal Wednesday for U.S. distribution rights to the film, which stars Michelle Yeoh as the Nobel Peace laureate.

The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, focuses on the years between 1988, when Suu Kyi returned from England to her homeland and took up the campaign for democracy, and 1999, when her British husband, Michael Aris (played in the film by David Thewlis), died of cancer. It chronicles the personal sacrifices Suu Kyi made to remain in Myanmar.

Those involved with the film clearly have hopes for an Oscar nomination for Yeoh, the multilingual former Miss Malaysia known for her roles in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Tomorrow Never Dies." Yeoh said this week in Toronto that to prepare for the role, she studied the Burmese language for six months (and learned a British accent as well), lost weight and visited Suu Kyi personally in Myanmar. 

"Preparing for this role was really a very great responsibility because she is such a well-known, iconic figure," Yeoh said at a news conference in Toronto. Among the biggest challenges was delivering, in Burmese, Suu Kyi's well-known 1988 speech at Shweagon Pagoda in Rangoon, Myanmar's capital, Yeoh said. 

Still, she said, the intimate moments were perhaps even more significant. "I hope we showed the real human side of her," Yeoh said.

Judging by early reviews, though, the film may face a bit of an uphill climb. Hollywood Reporter reviewer David Rooney called it "a well-intentioned but pedestrian retelling of a stirring true story" and said "Yeoh radiates regality, poise, compassion and quiet conviction, but never generates much of a charge." Reviewer Justin Chang predicted in Variety that "a marketing campaign emphasizing Michelle Yeoh's performance in the title role will precede muted public reception."

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Photo: Michelle Yeoh in "The Lady." Credit: Vincent Perez © 2010 EuropaCorp/Left Bank Pictures/France 2 Cinéma


Toronto 2011: Banned Iranian director's film lands a deal

September 14, 2011 |  6:43 pm

Jafar panahi and igi in this is not a film
There will certainly be bigger sales, dollar wise, at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, but perhaps only the deal announced Wednesday can be said to represent a blow against a repressive regime.

That's when distributor Palisades Tartan said it had acquired U.S. and British rights to "This Is Not a Film," Iranian director Jafar Panahi's non-movie movie that he made after being sentenced last year to six years in prison and was banned from making films for 20 years. 

"This Is Not a Film" was shot entirely in Panahi's apartment, partially on an iPhone, and the footage was sneaked out of the country on a USB drive hidden in a cake for a last-minute submission to the Cannes Film Festival in May. It played last week at the Toronto fest.

Panahi ("Offside," "The White Balloon," "The Circle") was a supporter of the protest movement that arose after Iran's disputed 2009 reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was arrested, along with another director, in March 2010 on charges of conspiring to make an unauthorized movie that chronicled the movement. They were convicted of national security violations, including propagandizing against the system. He was at home, appealing his sentence, when "This Is Not a Film" came into being.

"This Is Not a Film" captures Panahi's day-to-day life of sequestration. Viewers watch as he talks to his family and lawyer on the phone, discusses his plight with fellow director Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, reflects on the meaning of filmmaking and feeds the family's giant pet iguana, Igi (who amusingly roams around the apartment, over the sofas and even up the walls).

At first it seems like nothing is happening, but slowly it becomes clear that this is a message in a bottle, and one can learn a lot about life in Iran just by observing the minutiae of Panahi's existence.

Continue reading »

Toronto 2011: Real-life drama behind Michelle Yeoh's 'The Lady'

September 14, 2011 |  5:28 pm

Aung san suu kyi

French writer-director-producer Luc Besson has worked on many movies in his career, including “La Femme Nikita” and “The Fifth Element,” but his latest, “The Lady,” posed a fresh set of logistical and ethical questions.

First was whether to even make the film about Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, who led her National League of Democracy to victory in a 1990 election but was prevented from taking office by the country’s repressive military rulers. She spent much of the next two decades under house arrest in the Southeast Asian nation; winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 did not alter her circumstances. 

In part, Besson wanted to make a movie about her plight in hopes of drawing attention to her cause. Yet he knew that doing so might harden Burmese officials’ stance toward Suu Kyi, and set back her struggle.

Luc besson director of the lady“I wanted her to know we were doing a film. If the message came back negative, saying, ‘I don’t want you to do this,’ then I wouldn’t have done it,” Besson said in an interview this week at the Toronto International Film Festival, after premiering the movie, which stars Michelle Yeoh. “But she’s fighting for freedom, freedom of speech, and so the answer came back positively.”

Once he had her blessing, there were other hurdles. Filming a Suu Kyi biopic in Burma (also known as Myanmar) would be impossible. He set up production in neighboring Thailand, and managed to surreptitiously record 16 hours of footage in Burma, later using green-screen effects to add authentic locations into the story. He also incorporated clips filmed by Suu Kyi supporters in the country.

He enlisted Burmese people living in Thailand to act in the film, but when it came time to finish the credits, there was another issue.

“It’s the first time I’ve made a film where I’ve had an actor ask me not to be on the credits,” Besson recalled. “All these wonderful young actors who play in the film, the small parts, they’re too afraid that [the government] will do something to their families.”

Just what effect, if any, “The Lady” may have on the situation in Burma remains to be seen. Much has happened since the film was conceived:

Continue reading »

'Iron Lady': Meryl Streep's Thatcher biopic draws ire in Britain

August 23, 2011 | 11:21 am

'Iron Lady': Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher and Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher

If controversy equals box office, then "The Iron Lady," Meryl Streep's Margaret Thatcher biopic, is off to a promising start across the pond. According to a report in the British newspaper the Daily Mail, friends of Thatcher who attended an early screening of the film Saturday were outraged by its portrayal of their former prime minister as power-hungry leading up to and during her administration in the 1980s and conflicted and confused in her senescence.

"I didn’t come here to see a film about granny going mad," one anonymous viewer said of the movie, which is directed by Phyllida Lloyd ("Mamma Mia") and stars Streep as the Conservative leader and Jim Broadbent as her husband, Denis Thatcher.

According to the report, "The Iron Lady" contains scenes of Thatcher suffering nightmares over some of the major victories of her tenure -- including the 1984-85 coal miners’ strike that lead to a weakened labor movement in Britain and the 1982 Falklands War -- and sacrificing family for ambition.

Viewers took particular offense at the depiction of the Thatcher marriage, including a scene in which a pink-turbaned Denis appears in a dream sequence to rail at his wife for her selfishness.

Conservative MP Conor Burns told the paper: "Any portrayal of Margaret Thatcher that does not show her as one of the titans of British politics in the 20th Century will be a travesty. The idea that Denis would ever have been cruel to her is twisted and untrue. They were devoted."

Another British paper, the Telegraph, wrote that Prime Minister David Cameron may come to regret allowing Streep to sit in a VIP area and observe the British House of Commons in preparation for her role in the "disgraceful film."

Thatcher is now 85 and in frail health but as potent a symbol as ever to conservatives in both the U.S. and her homeland.

The British-French film company Pathé, which helped finance "The Iron Lady" and which hosted Saturday’s screening, offered its first hint that this would be no political hagiography of Thatcher with the release of a still photo in February. In that picture, Streep wears Thatcher’s characteristic pearls and stiff bouffant, along with a vaguely startled look. 

"The prospect of exploring the swath cut through history by this remarkable woman is a daunting and exciting challenge," Streep said in a statement when the photo was released. "I am trying to approach the role with as much zeal, fervor and attention to detail as the real Lady Thatcher possesses -- I can only hope my stamina will begin to approach her own."

In July, Pathé pieced out another nugget -- a teaser trailer that played off Thatcher’s status as a somewhat unlikely feminist figure. "I may be persuaded to lose the hat," she tells two political strategists in the teaser. "The pearls, however, are absolutely non-negotiable.”

The Weinstein Co. will release "The Iron Lady" in U.S. theaters Dec. 16.

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Photo: Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher and Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher. Credit: Alex Bailey / From Pathé Productions Ltd.


Sarah Palin doc 'The Undefeated' will try its luck on TV

July 25, 2011 |  1:03 pm

By now, the Sarah Palin documentary "The Undefeated" is a veritable flop, barely eking out $100,000 in two weeks of theatrical release. But the company releasing it believes it could find an audience on the small screen.

Undefeatedpa The film's distributor, ARC Entertainment, has announced that it will make the movie available as an on-demand title via satellite providers DirecTV and Dish Network as well as cable company Time Warner beginning on Sept. 1. Director Stephen Bannon initially told 24 Frames of the on-demand plans last month.

ARC, which estimates the deal will make the movie available in about 75 million homes, also announced that a DVD will follow via retailers on Oct. 4. A "special edition" with unspecified original content will be sold only through Wal-Mart.

Most theatrical films take several months to come to television, though independent releases and documentaries often debut day-and-date with theatrical releases, or shortly after. The hope for "Undefeated" is that audiences who have decided not to go out and pay to see the professional rise of Sarah Palin will be more willing to order it at a lower cost in their homes.

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-- Steven Zeitchik

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 Photo: "The Undefeated." Credit: ARC Entertainment


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