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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Rebecca Keegan

'Frozen' and Tonka trucks: New animated films in the works

June 11, 2012 |  5:44 pm

Idinamenzel
Two announcements Monday about new CG animated films -- Walt Disney Animation Studios' fairy tale-inspired musical "Frozen" and Sony Pictures Animation's untitled Tonka truck movie -- signal the breadth of projects in the bustling animation medium that studios have in the pipeline.

In "Frozen," an adaptation of the 1845 Hans Christian Andersen tale "The Snow Queen," a young girl named Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) will attempt to break the spell that has trapped her kingdom in an endless winter. 

Though Disney had already announced the film, what became clear in a press release issued Monday was that "Frozen" will have a strong musical element. The role of Elsa the Snow Queen, who presides over a palace of permafrost, will be voiced by Idina Menzel, an actress best known for her Tony Award-winning performance as Elphaba the Wicked Witch of the West in the Broadway production of the musical "Wicked" and a recurring guest role on Fox's "Glee."

"Frozen," directed by Chris Buck ("Tarzan," "Surf's Up"), will feature songs from Robert Lopez, the Tony-winning writer of the musicals "Book of Mormon" and "Avenue Q," and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, with whom he collaborated on the songs for Disney's 2011 film "Winnie the Pooh" and a stage version of "Finding Nemo."

Sony, meanwhile, is drawing its source material not from fairy tales, but from the toy aisle. The studio announced that it is partnering with Adam Sandler's Happy Madison Productions and Hasbro on a movie featuring the toymaker's famously indestructible yellow Tonka trucks.

The Tonka truck movie -- from a script by "Grown Ups" and former "Saturday Night Live" writer Fred Wolf -- does not yet have a title or a release date.

"Frozen" will arrive in theaters November 2013.

RELATED:

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Pixar's Día de los Muertos movie a nod to Mexican audiences

Henry Selick on his 'medium dark' stop-motion movie for Disney

-- Rebecca Keegan

twitter.com/@thatrebecca

Photo: Idina Menzel. Credit: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times.


Obama campaign ad to air during MTV Movie Awards

June 1, 2012 |  3:00 pm

Sarah Jessica Parker in Obama ad

The Obama campaign's first national TV ad will air Sunday during the MTV Movie Awards in a sign that campaign strategists see the youth vote as crucial to his winning reelection in November.

In the 30-second ad, "Sex and the City" star Sarah Jessica Parker will describe her reasons for supporting Obama, citing his role in ending the war in Iraq and his job creation record, and inviting the audience to enter a raffle to attend a fundraiser with the president at her New York City home June 14.

The core demographic for MTV's awards show — which will feature appearances by young celebrities such as Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Emma Stone, Mila Kunis and Andrew Garfield — is viewers ages 18 to 24, a group that helped propel Obama to victory in 2008.

A spokesman for MTV said the network is also talking to Mitt Romney's campaign about future advertising.

The president's reelection campaign has been increasingly relying on entertainment outlets to reach the youth audience. Obama appeared on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" in April, for instance, to talk about student loans and to "slow jam" the news.

The event at Parker's home will follow the model of the president's fundraiser at George Clooney's Studio City home May 10, which raised nearly $15 million, largely from a similar online contest.

Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who is jointly hosting the Parker event, appeared in a campaign ad released Friday urging audiences to enter the raffle, which ends Monday, June 4. "Please join us," Wintour said, "but just don't be late."

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Sarah Jessica Parker to host Obama fundraiser

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George Clooney's Obama fundraiser uses star power with a twist

— Rebecca Keegan

twitter.com/@thatrebecca

Photo: Sarah Jessica Parker. Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press.


Pixar's 'The Good Dinosaur' will warm up a prehistoric reputation

May 31, 2012 |  5:00 am

Dinosaurpicture

So often typecast as witless and cold-blooded, dinosaurs are about to get an image rehab in Hollywood, courtesy of Pixar.

"It's time to do a movie where you get to know the dinosaur, what it's really like to be a dinosaur and to be with a dinosaur," said Bob Peterson, director of the animation studio's upcoming movie "The Good Dinosaur." 

Peterson, who served as codirector and writer on "Up," said the inspiration for the movie came from a childhood visit to the World's Fair where he was awed by some dinosaur animatronics.

In "The Good Dinosaur," which will be codirected by Peter Sohn and produced by John Walker, an asteroid never hit the Earth and dinosaurs still roam.

In an interview at the studio's Emeryville offices recently, Peterson, Sohn and Walker -- who are in the midst of Pixar's secretive story-crafting phase -- kept key plot details such as geologic era and starring dino species under wraps, but hinted at some themes they'll be exploring.

Sohn said they are toying with the idea of what dinosaurs represent today -- something anachronistic or resistant to change. If there's a "good" dinosaur, after all, there have to be bad ones. "The title is deceptively simple," Sohn said. "It has more meaning than it seems."

A piece of concept art shared at Disney's D23 conference last August showed what appeared to be a silhouette of a small child with a dinosaur, suggesting that dinosaurs and people will be sharing the planet in the movie, but the filmmakers didn't confirm that.

Peterson said the crew had steeped itself in research for the film, visiting various natural history and science museums and examining fossils and bones to help them create their own dinosaur society and characters.

The director said he has been writing "The Good Dinosaur" vagabond-style, toting his laptop in his car and stopping at various spots in Northern California as inspiration strikes.

"So if there's a bunch of dinosaurs in a Whole Foods parking lot in this movie, you'll understand why," said Walker.

"The Good Dinosaur" is a few cinematic eras from release -- the movie will hit theaters May 30, 2014.

RELATED:

Pixar's 'Brave' to play at Dolby Theater for L.A. Film Fest

Pixar's Día de los Muertos movie a nod to Mexican audiences

Henry Selick on his 'medium dark' stop-motion movie for Disney

-- Rebecca Keegan

twitter.com/@thatrebecca

Photo: An interactive display at Field Station: Dinosaurs Park in Secaucus, N.J. Credit: Associated Press

 


'Chernobyl Diaries': Horror movie and travel book depict extreme tourism

May 25, 2012 |  2:30 pm

'Chernobyl Diaries'

Twenty-six years after the worst nuclear accident in history, Chernobyl is suddenly hot again — at least culturally. This weekend, "Chernobyl Diaries," a horror movie that follows a group of tourists on an excursion to the abandoned Ukrainian site of the meltdown, hits theaters just as a pollution travelogue by journalist Andrew Blackwell, "Visit Sunny Chernobyl," is arriving in bookstores.

The movie, co-written and produced by "Paranormal Activity" creator Oren Peli and directed by visual-effects supervisor and first-time feature filmmaker Brad Parker, was inspired by the very type of extreme tourism Blackwell undertakes in his nonfiction book: visits to ravaged, sometimes unexpectedly beautiful polluted sites around the world.

Blackwell canoed through Chernobyl while researching his book and also jogged in smoggy Linfen, China, and sailed for the swirling Pacific Ocean garbage patch, all in pursuit of a glimpse of the Earth's contaminated future.

The travelers in "Chernobyl Diaries" embark on a different sort of trip — more akin to disaster rubbernecking. Four Americans, played by Jonathan Sadowski, Jesse McCartney, Olivia Taylor Dudley and Devin Kelly, pack into a van with a former Soviet special forces soldier for an unauthorized day trip to Pripyat, the Ukrainian city that today resembles the set of a post-apocalyptic movie after it was hastily abandoned in the wake of the 1986 disaster.

At first the movie's scares are natural: intimidating guards, eerily overgrown buildings, a hungry bear. But, this being a Peli production, it soon becomes clear Pripyat is inhabited by some unusual and aggressive tenants.

The notion that Chernobyl, which led to radiation exposure for hundreds of thousands of people, has become the subject of a horror film is distasteful to some. There is a Facebook page boycotting the movie, for instance.

But Chernobyl tourism is a real phenomenon. According to the Lonely Planet, a day trip to Pripyat will cost an adventurer $100 to $300, and sightseeing opportunities include a never-used ferris wheel, some forgotten children's toys and sun-faded Soviet-era propaganda. As for the safety issues, the travel guide warns: " 'Hot spots' are scattered throughout the zone, so any visitors are advised to follow guides extremely carefully. No breaking off from the group for a bit of independent exploration here."

Reviews of "Chernobyl Diaries" seem equally foreboding. USA Today's Claudia Puig says, "Avoid a boredom meltdown and give this formulaic scarefest a wide berth." While writing for The Times, Mark Olsen warns, "The lack of suspense and surprise in this dispiritingly rote film becomes its own form of contamination."

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— Rebecca Keegan

twitter.com/@thatrebecca

Photo: A scene from "Chernobyl Diaries." Credit: Warner Bros.


Documents provide new insight into Kathryn Bigelow's Bin Laden movie

May 23, 2012 |  5:05 pm

Bigelow

The release of hundreds of pages of government documents Tuesday has fanned a simmering controversy in Washington over how much access the White House, the CIA and the Pentagon granted director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal for their upcoming movie on the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

But in Hollywood, the documents raise eyebrows for a different reason: They provide insight into how the Oscar-winning filmmakers behind "The Hurt Locker" are attempting to craft their secrecy-shrouded movie, which already had been in the works before the dramatic raid in Pakistan last May in which Bin Laden died.

The emails and meeting transcripts obtained by the watchdog group Judicial Watch reveal that the filmmakers got access to a Navy SEAL who was involved in orchestrating the raid, and toured "the Vault," a CIA building where planning for the operation took place.

The documents also show how the filmmakers are attempting to construct a narrative of the years leading up to Bin Laden’s death, including debates among CIA and White House officials and rehearsals of the maneuver in the final weeks of preparation.

“Part of the challenge for us is to capture how difficult this was because there is a version of it that in hindsight, it just looks like it fell into place,” Boal told Department of Defense officials at a meeting last July, according to a transcript. “That is why I just wanted to ask you hypothetically about what could have happened wrong, because it makes it more dramatic when it all goes right.”

The access Bigelow and Boal have had to CIA, DOD and other government officials is not unheard of for Hollywood productions. “Battleship” director Peter Berg embedded for a month with Navy SEALs in western Iraq as research for his upcoming SEAL film “Lone Survivor,” and filmmaker Lionel Chetwynd was granted an hour with President Bush for a 2003 movie he wrote for Showtime, “DC 9/11: Time of Crisis.”

Bigelow's untitled movie -- which is sometimes referred to by the name of its production company, Zero Dark Thirty -- commenced production in India and Jordan this spring, with a cast that includes Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt and Jessica Chastain. 

Controversy over the project first surfaced last August, when Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, sent a letter to the CIA and the DOD asking for an investigation into whether the White House had granted the filmmakers access to classified information that could prove useful to America's enemies.

The records publicized by Judicial Watch this week reignited the debate, but representatives for Sony Pictures, Bigelow and Boal declined to comment on them, merely reiterating the statement they issued last August:

“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,” the statement said. “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 non-partisan and there is no basis to suggest that our film will represent this enormous victory otherwise.”

The movie is scheduled to open Dec. 19.

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-- Rebecca Keegan

twitter.com/@thatrebecca

Photo: Director Kathryn Bigelow and director of photography Barry Ackroyd on the set of "The Hurt Locker" Credit: Jonathan Olley / Summit Entertainment


Pixar's Día de los Muertos movie a nod to Mexican audiences

May 22, 2012 |  9:00 am

Lee Unkrich plans a Dia de los Muertos movie

Pixar's "Toy Story 3" is the highest-grossing movie of all time in Mexico, where the animated adventure tale of children's toys Woody and Buzz Lightyear collected $59 million at the box office in 2010, more than megahits like "Avatar" and the "Harry Potter" finale.

The follow-up from "Toy Story 3" director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson is also likely to have strong appeal with Mexican audiences -- and to boast more authentically Latino characters than a Spanish-speaking Buzz Lightyear doll.

The duo's next movie is a still-untitled project about Día de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday of the dead, which Disney and Pixar first announced at CinemaCon last month.

Pixar hasn't said how the idea of a Día de los Muertos movie came about, nor have they released any details about its plot or characters.

"Pixar movies do extremely well in Mexico," Unkrich said in mid-May, as he was waiting to offer notes to the filmmakers of the studio's next movie, "Brave," at a screening at the Skywalker Ranch in Marin County. "This will allow us to explore a really fascinating aspect of the culture there."

Unkrich said he had begun taking trips to Mexico to research the Nov. 1 holiday, best known by many in the U.S. for its proximity to Halloween and use of skull and marigold iconography.

On the Day of the Dead, which has its roots in indigenous Aztec culture, families in Mexico and many Latin American countries pay tribute to deceased loved ones by creating graveside altars with treats like candy and bottles of Coca-Cola, and donning elaborate skull masks and costumes for processionals.

"This is a very different view of death than the American one," said Unkrich. "It's not spooky. It's celebratory."

Unkrich's project wouldn't be the first time Pixar has delved into the subject of mortality -- the killing of Nemo's mom sets the story of "Finding Nemo" into motion, and "Up" is essentially a cartoon about grieving. But the Día de los Muertos movie is likely to tackle death head-on in a way that's unusual for a big-budget animated film.

At the "Brave" screening, Unkrich said he was a week away from making his story pitch to Pixar's "brain trust" -- the group that includes the animation studio's chief creative officer, John Lasseter, and fellow directors such as Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton.

Having also co-directed "Toy Story 2," "Monsters, Inc." and "Finding Nemo," Unkrich has developed a strategy for surviving the sometimes ruthlessly honest brain trust sessions, which Pixar filmmakers undertake several times in the life of a movie. 

"The trick is, you have to be willing to contribute your own bad idea, so we can all get to the good ones," he said.

There's plenty of time for bad ideas and good ones: Disney and Pixar have not yet set a release date for the Día de los Muertos movie, and their slate is set through 2015.

 

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— Rebecca Keegan

twitter.com/@thatrebecca

Photo: Lee Unkrich. Credit: Deborah Coleman/Pixar.

 

 


Sarah Jessica Parker to host Obama fundraiser

May 18, 2012 |  2:40 pm

Sarah Jessica Parker will host Obama fundraiser

If President Obama could finance his reelection campaign with donated stilettos, Sarah Jessica Parker would be his go-to bundler. Instead, the Obama campaign is relying on the "Sex and the City" star for a more traditional contribution: Parker will host a fundraiser at her Manhattan home June 14.

Billed as "A New York Night With the President, First Lady and Sarah Jessica Parker," the event will follow the model of Obama's fundraiser at George Clooney's Studio City home May 10, which raised nearly $15 million, largely from an online contest. As with the Clooney event, Parker's fundraiser will be open not only to big-ticket donors but also to members of the public, one of whom will be selected to attend with a guest. The prize includes airfare and tickets to a Mariah Carey performance, according to the fine print of the contest rules.

The Obama campaign has been increasingly engaging the entertainment industry in order to reach donors and voters, including an appearance on ABC's daytime talk show "The View" this week in which the president discussed topics from gay marriage to "The Avengers."

Like Obama's visit to "The View," the campaign involvement of Parker, who has been a supporter since 2008, represents a way to reach women voters. Best known for her performance as a fashionable, romantically challenged Manhattan journalist in the "Sex and the City" TV and movie series, Parker's next role is as feminist Gloria Steinem in a biopic of porn star Linda Lovelace.

The actress' fundraising pitch, which went out in an email Friday, focused on her gender, tax status and middle-class roots.

"As a woman, a mother, and an entrepreneur, I need to believe our country can be a place where everyone has a fair shot at success," Parker wrote in the pitch. "This November's election will determine whether we get to keep moving forward, or if we're forced to go back to policies that ask people like my middle-class family in Ohio to carry the burden -- while people like me, who don't need tax breaks, get extra help."

 

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— Rebecca Keegan

twitter.com/@thatrebecca

Photo: Sarah Jessica Parker. Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press.


Pixar's 'Brave' to play at Dolby Theatre for L.A. Film Fest

May 18, 2012 |  9:01 am

Brave pixar

Pixar's "Brave" will have its world premiere June 18 at the newly renamed Dolby Theatre in Hollywood as part of the L.A. Film Festival.

The screening of the animated film about a rebellious princess will be the first premiere at the 3,400-seat venue that hosts the Academy Awards since Dolby signed a 20-year deal taking over the naming rights from Kodak this spring.

"Brave," which will hit theaters nationwide June 22, tells the story of Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), a teenage girl who is handy with a bow and arrow and crowned with a mane of red curls. In the Scotland-set adventure directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, Merida defies her parents, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and disregards an ancient custom, inadvertently setting off a disaster in the kingdom.

“With a spirited heroine and enchanting setting in the ancient Scottish Highlands, 'Brave' represents
some exciting firsts for Pixar,” said Walt Disney Studios marketing president Ricky Strauss in a statement. “We are proud that the world premiere of ‘Brave’ will serve as the inaugural premiere at the new Dolby Theatre as part of the L.A. Film Festival, a fitting way to launch Merida’s extraordinary adventure.”

An additional gala screening of "Brave" will be held June 19 at Regal Cinemas at L.A. Live downtown for L.A. Film Festival pass and ticket holders.

On June 17, the festival will hold a panel called “Women of Wonder -– A Celebration of Women in Animation” on the challenges and accomplishments of women in the animation industry. Panelists will include Kristine Belson (executive producer of DreamWorks Animation’s "How to Train Your Dragon"), Karen Rupert Toliver (20th Century Fox Animation’s vice president of production), Katharine Sarafian (producer of "Brave") and Michelle Murdocca (producer of Sony Pictures Animation’s "Hotel Transylvania").

“We are thrilled to present the world premiere of ‘Brave,’ a beautiful adventure story, to our L.A. Film Fest audience,” festival director Stephanie Allain said in a statement. “As Disney/Pixar’s first film with a female protagonist, it fits perfectly with our celebration of women in animation programming we’ll be holding during the festival.”

The L.A. Film Festival runs June 14-24 in downtown Los Angeles.

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-- Rebecca Keegan

twitter.com/@thatrebecca

Photo: A scene from "Brave." Credit: Disney / Pixar

 


Obama on 'The Avengers,' Kardashians, 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

May 15, 2012 |  1:06 pm

Obama on the view
Perhaps he is actually the first pop culture president. President Obama appeared on ABC's "The View" Tuesday for an interview in which he discussed Wall Street, gay marriage and the Hulk.

Co-host Joy Behar administered a zeitgeist quiz to the president during the show, taped Monday, asking him to name three characters from "The Avengers." "I just saw it, so this is easy," Obama said. "You've got the Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man."

Asked which Kardashian was married for 72 days, the president answered correctly, "That would be Kim." Obama quickly explained his knowledge of the reality star as accidental. "Because he was a ballplayer," he said, referring to Kardashian's ex-husband, NBA player Kris Humphries. "That’s how I know, from watching basketball." 

Obama has made entertainment programs an increasingly important venue for his public appearances. In 2010 he became the first sitting president to appear on a daytime talk show when he visited "The View," and last month he talked about student loans on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." Such shows are a way to reach demographic groups key to the president's re-election campaign — women and young people.

A record-setting fundraiser at George Clooney's Studio City home last week also relied on the president's Hollywood ties: Organizers used the joint star power of Obama and Clooney to lure campaign donations from tens of thousands of participants in an online contest vying to attend.

On "The View" episode that aired Tuesday, the commander in chief seemed pretty pop culture savvy for a man with a country to run and a hotly contested campaign underway — he said he DVRs the shows "Mad Men" and "Homeland" for viewing on his long flights.

But the president did miss some questions. He didn't know that Jessica Simpson had recently had a baby, and he deflected a query on the hot-selling erotic novel "Fifty Shades of Grey." When asked "What’s the controversial sex book that’s on millions of women’s bedside tables?" the president said: "I don't know that. I’ll ask Michelle when I get home."

 

 

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— Rebecca Keegan

twitter.com/@thatrebecca

Photo: Barbara Walters, left, President Obama and Joy Behar on "The View." Credit: ABC.


'Gangster Squad' trailer highlights L.A. landmarks

May 14, 2012 |  1:30 pm

The first trailer for "Gangster Squad" reveals that the upcoming period mafia movie's biggest star may not be a fedora-clad Ryan Gosling or a fatally pouty Emma Stone, but the gritty city of Los Angeles.

Directed by Ruben Fleischer and based on a series of Los Angeles Times articles called "Tales from the Gangster Squad" by Paul Lieberman, "Gangster Squad" depicts an elite Los Angeles Police Department crew charged with keeping East Coast mafia man Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) and his gang from taking over 1940s and '50s L.A.

Shot in and around the city late last year, the film also stars Gosling, Josh Brolin, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie and Michael Pena as members of the squad.

"Los Angeles is a damsel in distress and I need you to save her," a gravel-voiced Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) says to John O'Mara (Brolin) in the action-heavy trailer, which features shots of downtown L.A.'s City Hall, a gunfight inside Grauman's Chinese Theater, an explosion on the L.A. River, a CGI-altered Hollywood, a Craftsman and a Spanish-style home and the cover of the L.A. Examiner.

The trailer also reveals a peek inside Slapsy Maxie's, a popular 1940s and '50s Hollywood nightclub that the filmmakers re-created inside an abandoned grocery store in Bellflower.

"Gangster Squad" is due in theaters later this year.

 

 

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L.A. Noir: Tales From the Gangster Squad

Did Mickey Cohen really own Slapsy Maxie's nightclub?

'The Gangster Squad': When good guys acted like bad guys to save L.A.

 

--Rebecca Keegan

twitter.com/@thatrebecca

Photo: Michael Pena, Ryan Gosling, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie and Josh Brolin in "Gangster Squad." Credit: Wilson Webb/Warner Bros. Pictures.


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