24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Politics

Meryl Streep's next project: A national women's history museum

December 28, 2011 |  2:49 pm

Merylstreepasmargaretthatcher

Meryl Streep arrives in movie theaters Friday with “The Iron Lady,” playing former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — the first female head of state in the Western world.

Women's place in history is a subject on Streep's mind of late. Her next off-screen project is the National Women's History Museum, an entity that exists so far only in cyberspace and that the actress is trying to get erected in brick and mortar on a site adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

“History until the 20th century was written by one member of the human family and it wasn’t the mother,” Streep said in a mid-December interview in New York City with her “Iron Lady” director, Phyllida Lloyd. “It was dad. That’s who wrote history and ... what was important? Movements of armies, sovereignty of nations, all sorts of things. But women were there all along and they have incredible stories that we don’t know anything about.”

Financing for the $400-million museum is being raised privately — Streep donated $1 million to the endeavor — but congressional approval is required for the location, which would place the building near institutions such as the National Air and Space Museum, the Museum of the American Indian and the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial. A bill to allow the museum has passed committees in the House and the Senate and is awaiting action by the full legislative bodies.

“It’s a political football, I gather,” Streep said. “It’s a thing that everybody in Congress agrees with but then they attach it to something that no one agrees with .... It would be a beacon to women all over the world, because there really is no such museum. There are cottage museums — there’s a quilt museum, there’s a cowgirl museum.”

The normally private Streep has made herself the public face of the museum effort, hosting events and sending fundraising letters. Her participation in inspired, Streep said, by her grandmother, who lived before the passage of the 19th Amendment.

“My grandmother had three children in school and she would have to go to the golf course and get my grandfather off the ninth tee to make him go to the school board election, 'cause she was not allowed to vote,” Streep said. “She’s so vivid in my life. I think that that memory of when we were disenfranchised is important to learn.”

“There are so many great stories,” Streep said. “Every child knows the name of our first traitor, Benedict Arnold, but nobody knows the name of the first female soldier to take a bullet for the U.S., who enlisted under her dead brother’s name. Nobody knows Deborah Sampson’s name. That’s a great story. Or Elizabeth Freeman, who was the first slave to sue for her own freedom and won in Great Barrington, Mass. Every boy and girl should know these stories .... I hope we get it done.”

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-- Rebecca Keegan

twitter.com/@thatrebecca

Photo: Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher and Anthony Head as Geoffrey Howe in "The Iron Lady." Credit: Alex Bailey / Pathe Productions/Weinstein Co.


Meryl Streep: Thatcher would be appalled by 'hijacking of conservatism'

December 21, 2011 | 12:00 pm

Merylstreepasironlady
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would hardly recognize the modern Republican party in the U.S., said Meryl Streep, who plays the conservative icon in the new movie, "The Iron Lady."

"I think she’d be appalled by the hijacking of conservatism in this country," Streep said in an interview appearing in Sunday's Los Angeles Times. "And yet she definitely was a fiscal conservative. She’s a brand of  Republican that doesn’t exist anymore, is not allowed to exist."

"The Iron Lady," which is directed by Phyllida Lloyd from a partially fictional script by Abi Morgan, is set in the present day, in which Thatcher, 86, has sustained a series of strokes and is suffering from dementia. As she's sorting the belongings of her deceased husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent), Thatcher begins to recollect key moments from her 1980s political tenure -- moments that bear a remarkable resemblance to modern times, including labor disputes, terror attacks and economic uncertainty. Thatcher's close alliance with Ronald Reagan and her privatizing of public utilities in England are also covered.

In researching the film, Streep said she learned about Thatcher from personal interviews with many of the former prime minister's colleagues, and found her to be far less conservative than her modern American counterparts on issues such as abortion, gay rights, healthcare and climate change.

"Americans think of conservatives in a completely different way," Streep said. "We think of conservatives as people who debunk the science on global warming, where Margaret Thatcher was an early proponent of this idea. She didn’t dismantle the national healthcare, she realized that was a right you couldn’t take away from people. She was pro-choice. On one of our trips to Washington I spoke with someone who had been in the room when she took Vice President Quayle and President Bush to task vehemently to not use [abortion] as a political football, that it was unconscionable to do that. Today she would be drummed out of the American conservative party just for that. There were people who were engaged in homosexual scandals in her cabinet who were close to her and she said, 'You stand by me all day today. That’s how we’ll handle this.'"

For more from Streep on Thatcher, and women's roles in politics and Hollywood, see this story in Sunday's newspaper.

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-- Rebecca Keegan

twitter.com/@thatrebecca

Photo: Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." Credit: Alex Bailey, Pathe Productions /The Weinstein Co.


Will Hollywood Republicans rally for Mitt Romney?

December 6, 2011 |  5:55 pm

Mittromney
The volatile Republican presidential race has kept candidates and pollsters busy in recent months, but in Hollywood, the GOP politicking has kept to a whisper level.

That may change Tuesday night, when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney holds his first Hollywood fundraiser at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

“I do think most [Hollywood Republicans] are for Romney, but they haven’t publicly come out and endorsed him," said Harry Sloan, the former Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer chief turned investor who is an organizer of tonight's event. "There hasn’t been much courting of Hollywood."

By this point in the 2008 presidential election, the small group of Republicans in Hollywood had begun to rally around their candidates. That isn't happening this year, said Sloan.

"There isn’t near as much going on at this point in time as I thought there would be, or as there was in the past," Sloan said. "[In 2008], there were Giuliani supporters at this time, there were Romney supporters at this time, there were certainly McCain supporters at this time. There were three decent groups at that point. Now you’ve got the Mitt supporters and you’ve got the people who know ultimately they’re gonna be Mitt supporters.”

Tickets for tonight's Romney fundraiser are $2,500. Lionsgate Vice Chairman Michael Burns said that though he won't be able to attend the event, he is backing Romney. 

"I've swung to him," Burns said of the former Massachusetts governor. "I've been watching the debates and I feel he's the best chance Republicans have."

Though he's currently rising in the polls, Newt Gingrich has yet to hold a major fundraiser in Los Angeles. Herman Cain and Rick Perry--other Republicans candidates who enjoyed a temporary surge in polls--also failed to gain much traction here.

“Hollywood Republicans don’t tend to be as focused on religious and social conservative issues," Sloan said. "That’s good for Romney, because Romney’s message is economic.”

--Rebecca Keegan and Ben Fritz

twitter.com/@thatrebecca

twitter.com/@benfritz

Photo: Mitt Romney signs autographs and talks with supporters at the Hermosa Inn in Paradise Valley, Ariz., on Dec. 6. Credit: Laura Segall / Reuters


'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

 


Cinematic diplomacy: USC and State Department collaborate

October 13, 2011 | 10:45 am

Clinton

Americans are a slender people with blindingly white teeth who spend their days dodging explosions and fending off alien invasions. At least that's the view citizens of many parts of the globe might have, if their only experience with American culture were big-budget Hollywood movies.

The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs is partnering with the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts in an effort to deploy America's chief artistic export in a broader way however.

The State Department has awarded USC a $1-million grant to help administer the American Film Showcase, a program that seeks to use movies as a means to foster greater cultural understanding. Begun three years ago as part of what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has called "smart power diplomacy," the program will expand in 2012 from documentaries to include narrative films as well.

"Films are a means of spurring conversations about topical issues of common concern between people in the United States and those outside the United States," said Marjorie Ames, division chief of cultural programs at the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. "It’s a compelling visual medium. The history of American filmmaking is strong and rich and includes a wide range of different voices ... independent filmmakers in addition to commercial filmmakers. We think having the stories of contemporary life in the U.S. shown through these different perspectives is a tremendously powerful way to communicate things about our country."

A panel of 25 filmmakers and experts, including Michael Apted ("7 Up," "The Chronicles of Narnia"), Rob Epstein ("The Times of Harvey Milk"), Marco Williams ("In Search of Our Fathers") and Mary Sweeney (editor, "Mulholland Drive"), will help select 35 films to recommend to U.S. embassies for screening abroad. The International Documentary Assn. and Film Independent, the nonprofit group that produces the Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival, are also partners in the endeavor.

In addition to screening the films, filmmakers and experts will travel to conduct lectures on such topics as filmmaking, animation, digital technology and emergent media.

In choosing which films to exhibit, the State Department will establish themes of interest, such as the environment, civil discourse, empowerment of women and girls and health issues, Ames said.

"A film does not necessarily have to be favorable to the U.S.," said Alan Baker, associate dean of administration and international projects at USC's School of Cinematic Arts. "It should illustrate the freedom of thought that’s available in the U.S."

The State Department's 2011 program includes documentaries that depict a wide spectrum of American life, from an illustration of the 1st Amendment ("The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers") to a portrait of two women with disabilities ("Body & Soul: Diana & Kathy") to a biography of an American rock star, "It's About You: John Mellencamp." Films were screened in China, India, Russia and various African and Latin American countries.

“The idea is to try to bring films that ordinarily are not seen by these countries," said Mark Harris, an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker and professor at USC who is one of the principal investigators on the project. "These are not Hollywood blockbusters. These are documentaries or independent films that don’t get distribution in foreign countries. It’s a way of conveying American democratic values, to represent the diversity of our country, the openness of debate."

The State Department will announce its 2012 slate of showcase films in February.

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--Rebecca Keegan

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Photo: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Credit: Orlando Barria/EPA

 

 

 


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


'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.


Congressman calls for probe of Bigelow's Bin Laden movie

August 10, 2011 |  4:33 pm

Bigelow 
Director Kathryn Bigelow hasn't yet called "action" on her movie about the capture of Osama bin Laden, but the project is already stirring up controversy. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, sent a letter to the CIA and the Department of Defense on Tuesday asking for an investigation into whether the White House has granted Bigelow and Sony Pictures access to confidential information for the project.

"I’m very concerned that any sensitive information could be disclosed in a movie," King said in a phone interview. "The procedures and operations that we used in this raid are very likely what we'll use in other raids. There’s no way a director would know what could be tipping off the enemy."

King also seems to be concerned about the possible political ramifications of the film, which is scheduled to arrive in theaters in October 2012.

"The fact that the movie is going to be released three weeks before election day, the people at the CIA told me they had no idea that this was the plan," he added. "They were never told it was gonna come out so close to election day."

King said he had spoken to members of the CIA who confirmed that the agency is working with the filmmakers. "There’s a division in the agency," King said. "Some wanted to cooperate, some didn’t."

In a press briefing Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged the filmmakers have been in touch with the administration but called King's claims that Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal had gotten access to confidential information "ridiculous."

"When people, including you, in this room, are working on articles, books, documentaries or movies that involve the president, ask to speak to administration officials, we do our best to accommodate them to make sure the facts are correct," Carney said. "That is hardly a novel approach to the media. We do not discuss classified information. And I would hope that as we face the continued threat from terrorism, the House Committee on Homeland Security would have more important topics to discuss than a movie."

Bigelow and  Boal, who both won Oscars for their 2009 Iraq war movie "The Hurt Locker," also responded to King in a statement issued through Sony Pictures.

“Our upcoming film project about the decade-long pursuit of Bin Laden has been in the works for many years and integrates the collective efforts of three administrations, including those of Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, as well as the cooperative strategies and implementation by the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. Indeed, the dangerous work of finding the world’s most wanted man was carried out by individuals in the military and intelligence communities who put their lives at risk for the greater good without regard for political affiliation. This was an American triumph, both heroic and nonpartisan, and there is no basis to suggest that our film will represent this enormous victory otherwise.”

Bigelow's movie, once known as "Kill Bin Laden," is currently untitled.

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Photo: Kathryn Bigelow. Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times


In new documentary, fans say why they believe Sarah Palin is undefeated [Trailer]

July 7, 2011 |  5:34 pm

"Daughter. Mother. Wife. Warrior." So begins the new trailer for Stephen Bannon's Sarah Palin documentary, "The Undefeated," before it goes on to offer testimonials to Palin's justice-seeking ways and her crusade against the Alaska Republican establishment. "Like a Marine, she runs toward the danger," goes one of the testimonials, which come largely from a group of young and attractive women and are cut between quick shots of the former vice presidential candidate in action.

The trailer, which also features general anti-establishment messages from Bannon and participant/champion Andrew Breitbart, plays somewhere between "Erin Brockovich" and a campaign commercial. Interestingly, there is no mention of Palin's pop-cultural smearing that has been the subject of several interviews with both Bannon and the politician.

Filmgoers will get the chance to evaluate for themselves — or marshal evidence for beliefs they already have — next Friday, when the movie opens in Orange County, or the following weekend, when it opens in Los Angeles.


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Two movies with anti-abortion messages seek distribution

June 7, 2011 |  6:01 pm

Thelifezone2

Mainstream Hollywood rarely tackles the subject of abortion, and when it does, it's usually when a character quietly opts not to have one. But two new independently financed movies — a small-town mystery and a psychological thriller — are bringing an emphatically anti-abortion slant to the hot-button issue.

“Doonby,” a $2-million film backed by an anonymous financier, tells the story of a mysterious drifter played by John Schneider (Bo Duke from “The Dukes of Hazzard”) who quickly makes himself indispensable to a small Texas town. The secret of Doonby’s past lies in the only person in town he doesn’t like — a gynecologist named Dr. Cyrus Reaper (Martin Sheen’s brother Joe Estevez).

Meanwhile, “The Life Zone,” a $1-million thriller written by New Jersey Republican State Senate candidate Kenneth Del Vecchio, follows three pregnant women who have been abducted from abortion clinics and are being forced to carry their babies to term by a shadowy jailer (Robert Loggia) and a barren female physician named Dr. Wise (Blanche Baker, perhaps best known as the older sister in "Sixteen Candles").

Both films have supernatural themes and a third-act twist that conveys an anti-abortion moral. Neither of them yet has theatrical distribution.

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