24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Steven Zeitchik

‘August: Osage County’ pic gets shiny new name: George Clooney

June 18, 2012 |  2:25 pm

 August

EXCLUSIVE: The movie version of “August: Osage County” already has a heavyweight pedigree in Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep, who are playing the two lead roles in the adaptation of the Broadway drama.

Now the film’s credits are getting even glitzier. George Clooney has joined the movie as a producer, according to a person familiar with the project who was not authorized to talk about it publicly.

Clooney and producing partner Grant Heslov will produce the film, which is being directed by John Wells and financed and distributed by The Weinstein Co. The A-list actor-filmmaker, who has a relationship with Wells dating back to their “ER" days, will be heavily involved offering creative input. He is not expected to star.

A Weinstein Co. representative was not immediately available for comment.

The movie -- which is also being produced by Steve Traxler and initial Broadway producer Jean Doumanian -- is set to begin shooting in the fall for a potential 2013 release.

Tracy Letts’ black comedy about a few weeks in the lives of a dysfunctional Oklahoma family centers on Violet Weston (Streep), a drug-addled matriarch who doles out barbs and truths, as well as a motley crew of family members, particularly oldest daughter Barbara (Roberts), a control-freak professor who finds her life falling apart. When it was first staged several years ago, it won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, a Tony and a Drama Desk award.

Deanna Dunagan and Amy Morton incarnated the Violet and Barbara roles, respectively, on both Broadway and the West End; Estelle Parsons and Shannon Cochran played the parts when the show came to Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre.

Letts is adapting his own play for the screen. The male actors have yet to be cast in the movie.

Clooney is making a habit of bringing serious plays to the big screen. Last year he was the driving creative force behind the film adaptation of Beau Willimon’s political stage drama “The Ides of March.”

RELATED:

Theater review: 'August, Osage County'

Could 'August, Osage County' finally jump to the big screen?

Critic's Notebook: When going from stage to screen, things change in between

 

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: 'August, Osage County' at the Ahmanson. Credit: Los Angeles Times


'Madgascar 3' box office: Are we living in the era of the 1%?

June 18, 2012 |  6:30 am

Madaga
In the spring of the not-so-long-ago year of 2005, the weekend box-office winners offered a healthy variety of cinematic choices.

There was a U.N.-set thriller ("The Interpreter"), a "Star Wars" prequel, ("Revenge of the Sith"), an interracial comedy ("Guess Who") a comic-book-derived style piece ("Sin City") an epic adventure ("Sahara"), a slasher flick ("The Amityville Horror") and an adaptation of a beloved book ("The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"), to name just a few.

In the 12 weekends of that year's spring, there were 11 different weekend winners. (Only one movie, "Sith," was a repeat champion.) They were hardly all good films, let alone great ones. But most were pretty different from one another.

Cut to 2012, and the story is vastly different. The spring season that comes to an end this week yielded a lot less diversity in its weekend winners, not least because there were a lot fewer weekend winners to begin with. Just six, to be precise, with many of the weekends occupied by repeat champions ("The Avengers," "The Hunger Games," "Think Like A Man" and, after this weekend, "Madagascar 3").

That may seem like simply one more data point for box-office enthusiasts to noodle over. But the data also offer evidence of a growing trend: the uber-hit, that is, the movies that go beyond modest success to dominate the multiplex, often leaving other contenders far behind.

There have always been such films, of course. But their ranks are growing, while many of the other big bets are indeed lagging.

Or, to put it a different way, when it comes to box office, it's increasingly a world of the 1% and the 99%.

Take a look at the last few months. On the one hand, this has already been an achievement-filled year at the box office. In March, "The Hunger Games" had the biggest spring opening-weekend ever. In May, "The Avengers" turned in the biggest opening weekend, period, becoming the first movie ever to cross the $200- million threshold in its first three days. Expect sums almost if not in fact equally as strong when "The Dark Knight Rises" hits theaters next month.

Yet the number of big-bet disappointments is also rising. Tick off the recent ones: "Battleship." "Dark Shadows." "John Carter." "Rock of Ages." Films with big budgets and expectations -- career-defining ones, for some of the executives associated with them -- that can barely eke out $75 million or $80 million domestically. Heavily marketed new films that get whipped by movies that were released a week or two earlier.

Continue reading »

Lindsay Lohan exhaustion: Comeback hits a new snag?

June 15, 2012 | 12:54 pm

Lohan
Just a week after wrecking her loaner Porsche, Lindsay Lohan ended up back in the headlines Friday morning when paramedics were called to examine the actress.

Per our colleague Andrew Blankstein at L.A. Now:

"Lindsay Lohan was examined by paramedics on Friday after a co-worker on a movie she is filming became concerned that the actress looked exhausted, sources told The Times. One source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of medical privacy rules, said Lohan was resting after long stretches of filming and looked tired. She was checked out by paramedics and was not taken to the hospital."

The incident comes in the middle of a career resurgence of sorts for the troubled actress. Lohan is currently shooting the Elizabeth Taylor biopic “Liz & Dick” for Lifetime Television and hosted "Saturday Night Live" this past March.

Then again, comeback is a relative term where LiLo is concerned.

She’s set for an independent flick opposite -- wait for it -- Rob Schneider that's titled “Inappropriate Comedy” and has signed on to star in a new independent feature that could shoot this summer. Titled "The Canyons," it’s a soapy thriller with the strangest of pedigrees: directed by Paul Schrader, written by Bret Easton Ellis and costarring an adult films actor named James Deen.

But strange is what you get when producers are wary of casting you and few reputable insurance companies are eager to bond you.

RELATED:

Lindsay Lohan examined by paramedics after long film shoot

Lindsay Lohan unhurt in Porsche-vs-big-rig wreck in Santa Monica

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'Inferno' director: Lindsay Lohan didn't quit -- we fired her

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Lindsay Lohan this spring. Credit: Kristina Bumphrey / Associated Press


LAFF 2012: Woody Allen gives Rome (if not himself) some love

June 15, 2012 |  6:30 am

Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love," starring Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Allen, opened the Los Angeles Film FestivalWoody Allen stood up in front of a Los Angeles Film Festival audience and offered a  glimpse into his self-flagellating mindset. Then he left the podium, and his movie pretty much did the same thing.

Unveiling his new Italy-set ensemble romantic comedy, "To Rome With Love," on the festival's opening night at Regal Cinemas in downtown L.A., Allen told the audience -- perhaps only half-jokingly -- that he was very sensitive to criticism. "If you hate it and think it was a waste of time, don't let me know. I get depressed easily," the 76-year-old Oscar winner told the crowd.

Allen's English- and Italian-language film, which features countless shots of Rome  bathed in a golden light, shows a set of parallel characters teetering on the brink of their own uncertainties.

INTERACTIVE: Films playing at the L.A. Film Festival

Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) uneasily contemplates an affair with his girlfriend's best friend (Ellen Page). Young newlywed Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) wrings his hands as he tries to avoid being caught in a series of lies with a brassy prostitute (Penelope Cruz). His wife Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) self-consciously flirts with an unctuous movie star (Antonio Albanese) as she considers her own affair.

Allen himself even turns up, as a malcontented father of a young American woman marrying into an Italian family. He then questions himself and needles everyone around him -- particularly wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) -- in the manner of countless Allen characters before.

But perhaps no character betrays what Allen the director is thinking more than Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), in a vignette that's both a criticism of reality-TV fame and an exhumation of Allen's own complicated relationship with celebrity. Perhaps the most boring man in all of Rome, Leopoldo leaves his house one morning to find himself besieged by paparazzi and talk-show hosts obsessing over details as mundane as his breakfast and shaving rituals.

 

Some of this satire seems clearly aimed at a Kim Kardashian famous-for-being-famous brand of celebrity. But Allen's ambivalence about his own public profile is never far from the surface.

INTERACTIVE: Films playing at the L.A. Film Festival

Though it is as serious as a sprinkling of Parmesan -- the new user-friendly title, which replaced the more cryptic "Nero Fiddled" and even more esoteric "Bop DeCameron," seems fitting -- the movie also distills seemingly every Allen preoccupation of the last three decades. Fidelity! Mortality! Sex! Celebrity! (On that last score, Allen does give the final word to a character who says that being a celebrity is "better" than the alternative. And Allen did show up to LAFF, something he didn't do for the Oscars in February.)

"Rome" hits theaters on June 22 courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. Allen and the distributor of course last brought out the time-jumping 'Midnight in Paris," the French stop on Allen's global tour (he next shoots in San Francisco) and an Oscar-anointed blockbuster.

After that warm reception for "Paris," the early reviews of "Rome" have, perhaps inevitably, been mixed, with some holding it up unfavorably to his 2011 best picture nominee.

Allen told the LAFF crowd, "I had a wonderful time making this picture in Rome. That does not mean you will enjoy it," perhaps alluding to those early reviews.

No matter the reaction, Allen shows little sign of letting up. At several points in the new film, Davis' Phyllis tells Allen's Jerry that he "equate[s] retirement with death. As Allen prepares to shoot his eighth (!) movie since turning 70, one gets the sense those words are close to the filmmaker's heart.

RELATED:

Los Angeles Film Festival puts diversity on the screen

When Woody Allen got funny at the Academy Awards

Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love" to open Los Angeles Film Festival

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Fabio Armiliato, Judy Davis and Woody Allen in "To Rome With Love." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics


Christoper Nolan pulls a Guillermo del Toro

June 14, 2012 | 12:08 pm

Christopher Nolan pairs up with Wally Pfister

Despite his extensive cachet in the fan community, Christopher Nolan hasn't loaned out his name and wisdom to lesser-known filmmakers in the manner of, say, Guillermo del Toro. He's producing/shepherding "Man of Steel" and a supernatural thriller from a filmmaker named Keith Gordon and, well, that's about it.

But Nolan will make a rare attempt at the godfather routine on a new movie from Wally Pfister, the Oscar-winning cinematographer who has worked with Nolan on everything from "Memento" to "The Dark Knight Rises." Principals announced Wednesday that Nolan and wife/producing partner Emma Thomas will executive produce Pfister's untitled debut, which is currently coming together behind a veil of secrecy.

According to a person familiar with the production, the project is being cast now, with actors beginning to read the Jack Paglen script. The location for the production has not been determined, but the movie will shoot in the U.S., and could start as soon as fall 2012.

The project has some other interesting names on its pedigree -- it's being financed and produced by Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson from Alcon Entertainment ("The Blind Side"), was developed by a former Overture Films executive named Annie Marter and also now has the involvement of a company called Straight Up Films, which is next financing and producing a science-fiction thriller from the up-and-comers the Purchase Brothers.

What remains to be seen is Nolan's involvement -- though Pfister has discussed the film with him, the  director has been heavily involved in "The Dark Knight Rises" and hasn't even yet met with some key members of the creative team.

Nolan's influence can be felt on the movie in at least one way, however -- plot details and even a general log line are being kept under wraps.

RELATED:

Dark Knight Rises trailer

'Dark Knight Rises' hits the road

'Dark Knight Rises': Christopher Nolan's masked ambition

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Christopher Nolan promoting "The Dark Knight Rises" at the 2012 MTV Movie Awards. Credit: Getty Images


Did Billy Crystal get a fair shake at the 2012 Oscars?

June 13, 2012 |  3:59 pm

 

  Crystalbi

The reviews weren’t exactly kind to Billy Crystal after he hosted the Oscars  for the ninth time this past February.

 The Hollywood Reporter called the telecast a “safe, unfunny, retro-disaster.” A Variety critic wrote that “the whole introductory sequence [including a Crystal-sung medley about nominated movies] felt like a pallid sequel, a ghost of Oscars past.” The Times’ Mary McNamara noted that the Oscars “wound up seeming much more bittersweet and, yes, boring, than retro-cool.”

But a key writer on the show said Crystal didn’t get a fair shake.

“It was frustrating because for the 10 years that Billy was away, every review for every host came with ‘Bring back Billy. Where’s Billy? Where’s the opening song and movie?’” said Dave Boone, a writer on the 2012 (and many previous) Oscars and head writer for the Tony Awards on Sunday. “It’s a tough situation, and it’s tougher on the host.”

Boone added, “You’re always going to find people who the next day say, ‘Same old, same old.’ But those are the same people who were writing for 10 years to bring him back.”

The medley was a particular bone of contention for some critics. Crystal turned it into a trademark when he hosted in the 1990s and early 2000s, but some reviewers felt it harked back to a comedy that has gone out of fashion.

But Boone said the decision to include it -- after much internal debate -- was a direct response to fan interest.

“Billy would be in Gelson’s and people would come up to him and say, ‘I hope you do the medley,'” Boone said. “So we felt we owed it to the people who wanted to see it.”

 The motion picture academy likely won’t choose the 2013 producer and host until later this summer, after a new president is elected. It’s unclear what direction it will  go in — ratings were up in 2012, if slightly, over the previous year.

Boone said he hoped to be collaborating with Crystal on the telecast next year but also believes there's a creative reason to take time off. “You get to the point where you try to capture lightning in a bottle if you try to do things the same each year," he said.

 RELATED:

Oscars 2012: The show celebrates its past

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Billy Crystal with Oscar statues. Credit: Getty Images


'42' star: Jackie Robinson pic shows we're 'evolving as a race'

June 12, 2012 |  6:29 pm

Robi
Jackie Robinson died 40 years ago this fall. But lest anyone think the Brooklyn Dodgers icon is best viewed as a relic of history in these days of multicutural baseball, a star of the upcoming Robinson film “42” says that the barrier-breaking baseball player is as relevant as ever.

“After electing Barack Obama, it seems so natural we can beat the crap out of him,” Hamish Linklater, who plays Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca in the movie, said by phone from the film's Alabama set. “Every now and then it’s nice to say ‘maybe we are a evolving as a race and a people.’ A baseball movie is a way to offer a little bit of hope.”

Linklater, best known as deadpan brother Matthew Kimble in TV's “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” tackles the role of a Dodgers pitcher who was Robinson’s teammate during the infielder’s game-changing debut season of 1947. (Branca was one of the few Dodgers willing to line up next to Robinson on opening day. Major League Baseball is commemorating the 65th anniversary of Robinson's iconic season this year.)

Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential”) wrote and is directing the movie, which looks at General Manager Branch Rickey’s  decision to sign Robinson and Manager Leo Durocher’s choice to play him in the face of a fierce backlash. Harrison Ford stars as Rickey while up-and-comer Chadwick Boseman plays Robinson.

Linklater describes the film, which Legendary Pictures is financing and Warner Bros. will release at the start of next year's baseball season, as “a sports movie and a social justice movie rolled into one.” “Sports is such a great contextualizer,” he added. (The "42" is, of course, a reference to Robinson's number, which has become a symbol of cross-racial heterogeneity throughout sports.)

At 86, Branca is the only surviving star from that 1947 team. His back story is fascinating in its own right. Though he won 21 games that year and was a three-time All-Star, Branca became best known for an ill-fated relief appearance in 1951 in which he gave up the so-called “Shot Heard 'Round the World” to the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson. Branca later found out Thomson was stealing signs but kept quiet for decades because he and the Giants slugger had become friends.

On top of that, Branca learned late in life that his mother was Jewish but that she had kept the fact from him and his more than dozen siblings after fleeing Eastern Europe at the start of the 20th century.

“None of that is really in this film,” Linklater quipped. “But it would make a great movie.”

RELATED:

Jackie Robinson did something he had to do

Jackie Robinson: 10th greatest sports figure in L.A. history

New Dodgers owners seeks to include family of Jackie Robinson

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Jackie Robinson and his teammates at Ebbets Field in April 1947. Credit: AP


Is China exerting an undue influence on Hollywood films?

June 12, 2012 |  5:05 pm

Hongko
As it seeks to grab an ever-larger share of the global movie market, Hollywood has been keeping foreign cultures in mind. Studios now regularly cast actors or tweak titles to make sure filmgoers from Mexico City to Moscow feel at home when they sit down to watch one of their movies.

But no country has ruled the American film business’ consciousness lately as much as China.

 In its attempt to woo audiences in the Asian nation — now the largest filmgoing market outside the U.S. — studios have added scenes ingratiating to the Chinese while also excising anything that might be deemed offensive by the country's censors (including Chinese baddies).

As I and colleague Jonathan Landreth report in a story in today’s Times, the instances are many and diverse.

Among the examples:

— MGM, the studio behind the upcoming remake of the 1984 action movie "Red Dawn," digitally altered the invaders attacking the U.S. to make them North Koreans instead of Chinese, even though they were written and shot as Chinese.

— In Columbia Pictures' disaster movie "2012," the White House chief of staff extols the Chinese as visionaries after an ark built by the country's scientists saves civilization. The scene caused some in the West to roll their eyes, though it garnered ovations in Shanghai.

— For its new film “Iron Man 3,” Marvel is shooting in China and working with Chinese interests to add “a local flavor [that] will enhance the appeal and relevance of our characters in China's fast-growing film marketplace."

— When aliens besiege Earth in Universal Pictures' new action film "Battleship," they attack, of all cities, Hong Kong. Washington then credits Chinese authorities with identifying the invaders.

 Experts view these instances as an unprecedented, shaping not only exports but what we see at home. The result, they say, is a generation of Western filmgoers that will basically get only a positive, sanitized view of Chinese in their films.

 "I don't think the average U.S. filmgoer is hugely aware of all of these small decisions," said USC professor Stanley Rosen, who runs the school’s East Asian Studies center.  "But subliminally, it can start to have an effect."

 Click through for a fuller exploration of the complicated influence of China on American movies, and weigh in with your comments below.

RELATED:

Hollywood gripped by pressure system from China

Will Smith’s 'Men in Black 3' censored in China

Reel China: Hollywood tries to stay on China’s good side

— Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Hong Kong comes under attack in "Battleship." Credit: Universal Pictures.


Why can't Oscars be more like Tonys (and Neil Patrick Harris)?

June 11, 2012 | 12:05 pm

Harr
Like many people who work in or cover the movie business, I've been part of countless conversations over the years -- in the months leading up to the telecast and in the halls where they take place -- about what's wrong with the Oscars. Or, in more charitable but not-fooling-anyone terms, how they can be "improved."

If you follow award season, you know the refrain. In its (understandably difficult) attempt to strike a balance between the industry types in the room and the  movie fans in their living rooms, the Oscars often fall prey to bloatedness, self-seriousness, out of touch-ness, and lack of YouTube-ableness. Those pesky sagging ratings that pundits often focus on? They're merely a symptom.

But until entering the Beacon Theatre in New York for the Neil Patrick Harris-hosted Tony Awards, which I did as a reporter Sunday night, I didn't realize just how myriad the Oscars problems were. Nor had I ever seen firsthand the mechanics of a well-done award show or how enjoyable that show  could be -- yes, even one that had to balance the needs of the room with the desires of the TV viewer.

TIMELINE: Academy Awards through the years

The host is, of course, a big part of that. But more on that in a minute.

There are, first, some very simple fixes the Oscars could look to. The Academy Awards often get criticized for including too many technical kudos that most home viewers don't care about. Producers and the Motion Picture Academy say they need to make sure everyone feels included -- it is, after all, a night to honor the entire industry -- which leaves it larding up the show with less prominent prizes.

But the Tonys have come up with an elegant solution. They indeed give out many below-the-line awards during the three hours of the telecast -- they just don't televise them. Presenters present and winners accept during the commercial breaks. It's a win-win. Nominees still get the satisfaction and thrill of hearing thousands of their peers applauding them on the industry's biggest night, and often sandwiched between the biggest prizes. But the casual viewer at home doesn't see any of it.

Instead, he or she is treated to a leaner show filled with things he or she cares about. This approach also gives the ceremony more energy, since people in the theater are less likely to get up and wander to the bar or bathroom during the commercial breaks.

Continue reading »

'Prometheus': Should Ridley Scott return to sci-fi full time?

June 11, 2012 |  8:30 am

Director Ridley Scott's "Prometheus"Since making us cover our eyes and drop our jaws with 1979's "Alien," Ridley Scott has had a remarkably diverse career, even by the standards of established directors with broad appetites.

He's taken us into a world of political intrigue and bloody jousting ("Gladiator"). He's gone militaristic ("Black Hawk Down"), medieval ("Robin Hood" and "Kingdom of Heaven"), Japanese ("Black Rain") and undercover ("American Gangster"). He even tried the reborn wine guy in France ("A Good Year," even if it wasn't that for him).

Some of these adventuresome meanderings have been compelling ("Thelma & Louise"). Some have been less so ("G.I. Jane").

But the success of "Prometheus" this past weekend suggests something many Scott fans have suspected all along. Maybe all we really want from the director is to watch him do what he announced himself as good at from the start: explore a mysterious and troubled spacecraft far above the Earth, deep into the future.

"Prometheus" scored $50 million in its opening weekend, good enough for a strong second-place finish to "Madagascar 3" (and, it should be noted, garnering a better per-screen average). As my colleague Amy Kaufman pointed out, the Fox release was Scott's second-best opening ever (after 2001's "Hannibal"). The results hark back to "Alien," which is not only a similarly effects-driven movie with spiritual and scientific themes, but Scott's highest-grossing movie ever when adjusted for inflation.

More than just ticket sales, "Prometheus" earned Scott some of his best (if also polarized) reviews in a long time — and certainly some of his sharpest fan interest. Love or hate the movie, it's a conversation piece in a way a Scott film hasn't been in years.

The irony in the debate about whether the plot details the Michael Fassbender- and Noomi Rapace-starring "Prometheus" amounted to an "Alien" prequel — a battle waged with gusto by fans (and denied with gusto by Scott and the studio) — is that in the most important way, the movie did connect to the 1979 classic. Scott wasn't just revisiting science-fiction territory, he was using special-effects tools and the mysteries about the future to pose questions about the present.

From a box-office standpoint, the answer to the headline question is a resounding yes — few directors have done so many different things only to find success disproportionately in one realm.

From the perspective of Scott's — and our — interests, the answer is less evident, but, I'd argue, still clear. Yeah, we can hear all the comments already. Filmmakers should follow their heart and their story, challenging themselves with the new. Scott's done the sci-fi thing again now; he should move on.

Sure, some of the best directors — Danny Boyle, Ang Lee — never come close to repeating themselves. But even the most libertarian, let-directors-do-their-thing type might sing a different tune with Scott. The Brit has a particular gift for looking far off and seeing something that resides within ("Blade Runner," though set on this Earth, operates on this principle too.) Why doesn't he use it more often?

A filmmaker who keeps making the same movie or tries to reclaim past glories with endless spins on the same genre (see under: latter-day Tim Burton) is indeed boring.  But staying within a genre doesn't mean you can't also reinvent that genre or yourself (see under: Guillermo del Toro). The world's most successful auteur, in fact, sees the one-genre approach not as a prison but the culmination of a lifetime's search (see under: James Cameron evacuating all other projects to concentrate on "Avatar" sequels).

Scott may well listen to the voices that tell him to go period Rome or rural France. He's already preparing to direct "The Counselor," a legal drama with a drug-trafficking twist, and may make a sojourn to biblical Egypt afterward. But it's becoming harder to argue that he shouldn't just concentrate on booking return trips to outer space.

RELATED:

Hero Complex: Riddles and Ridley Scott

Madgascar 3 beats Prometheus at the box office

R rating for 'Prometheus': Will it hurt the film commercially?

Prometheus comes up short of 'Alien' expectations, critics say

— Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace in "Prometheus." Credit: 20th Century Fox


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