24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston's 'Sparkle': Should it go the Jackson route?

February 15, 2012 |  3:52 pm

Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks in 'Sparkle'
Barely six weeks after Michael Jackson died in the summer of 2009, Sony Pictures made a surprising announcement: It would release a documentary showing the star preparing for what, with the singer’s death, had become a canceled series of London concerts.

Culled from dozens of hours of rehearsal footage shot in the weeks before he died, “Michael Jackson’s This Is It,” as the film was to be called, would come out that October. The film, which would be directed by Kenny Ortega (who was also helming the concerts),  would offer a peek at the plans for the aborted shows while also documenting a musical icon’s last creative efforts.

Inevitably, there was a backlash from some fans and pundits. Did the studio have a fully realized film? Or was it hastily throwing together outtakes to cash in on a star's death? And even if it did have the goods, was it moving too soon in bringing out a Jackson movie just four months after he died?

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston, 1963-2012

But the studio pressed on, saying that the film “will offer Jackson fans and music lovers worldwide a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the performer, his career and the stage spectacular that would have been.” And when “Michael Jackson’s This Is It” came out at the end of October, Sony was vindicated: The movie received largely positive reviews for its insight into Jackson’s creative process and made more than $260 million worldwide.

Sony finds itself in an eerily similar situation this week with the death of Whitney Houston.

As it did with Jackson, the Culver City studio is sitting on filmed material from an iconic musician that also happens to be some her last creative work -- a period musical drama called “Sparkle” in which Houston stars as the mother of aspiring pop-soul singers.  Directed by Salim Brock Akil and also starring Jordin Sparks, “Sparkle” is a remake of a 1976 film that features Irene Cara. Houston's role, as the complicated mother to sisters who risk becoming corrupted by success (including one who becomes a victim of addiction), is significant. It's also Houston’s first film part in 15 years.

“Sparkle” had long been scheduled for an Aug. 17 release by Sony, and for the moment it remains there; a studio spokesman said there are no plans to change the date because of Houston’s death. But at least one person familiar with the studio’s release plans who was not authorized to talk about them publicly said there have been internal discussions about bringing out the movie sooner.

It’s certainly a legitimate conversation. Rather than wait six months to release the movie, Sony could bring out “Sparkle” in, say, June, which would be four months after Houston's death, the same window as “This Is It.” In fact, the studio could move up “Sparkle” even earlier since, unlike “This Is It” at the time of its star’s death, Houston’s movie is already complete.

That would require some creative juggling with theater owners and publicity venues. But studios have changed schedules at more of the last-minute, and for subjects less newsworthy, many times before. It’s hard to imagine a theater owner or morning-show booker that wouldn’t want it out as soon as possible.

The studio could also face charges that it is acting insensitively -- unlike Jackson, there is an addiction subplot to “Sparkle” that could land awkwardly. And Sony couldn’t make the case that it is bringing out the movie to show what could have been: “This Is It” offered a glimpse into performances of which we’d otherwise have been oblivious. “Sparkle” will offer the same look at Houston’s acting abilities no matter when it comes out.

But Sony could also persuasively make the argument that Houston’s death has awakened an interest in her work. Moving up the film to spring would simply meet that need (and wouldn’t be much different from the  numerous cable specials and other retrospectives  that have been announced in the past few days, anyway).

Maybe most important, the studio would have a precedent to fall back on: “This Is It” proved that moving quickly doesn’t mean you’re running roughshod over taste or quality.

RELATED:

Could Whitney Houston's 'Sparkle' come before August?

Whitney Houston's posthumous turn: As star of 'Sparkle'

Medics performed CPR for about 20 minutes

Whitney Houston was spotted displaying erratic behavior

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston in "Sparkle." Credit: Sony Pictures


Whitney Houston's 'Sparkle': Could it come before August?

February 13, 2012 |  3:41 pm

Sparklewhitn
The release of the movie "Sparkle," Whitney Houston’s final recorded work, has been the subject of intense interest since the pop star died in Beverly Hills on Saturday.

On Monday morning, Radar Online quoted an anonymous source at Sony saying the release date for the movie, in which Houston plays the mother of aspiring pop singers, is being moved up from Aug. 17 because of fan interest. The film “could be released as early as Memorial Day,” Radar quoted the source as saying.

Shortly afterward, a Sony spokesman said that the report was "not true" and that the film would be released on schedule on the third weekend of August. So for now, it appears to be sitting pat.

A remake of a 1976 Irene Cara movie, "Sparkle" is still technically in postproduction, though a rough cut has been completed. According to executive producer Howard Rosenman, who said he saw that cut just last week, Houston shines in the film. "She is genius in the movie and it would have been a giant comeback for her," he told 24 Frames.


PHOTOS: Whitney Houston, 1963-2012

The original "Sparkle" told the story of the Williams sisters, a trio of 1950s-era Harlem singers whose stories were loosely inspired by the Supremes. Headed by Lonette McKee's Sister, the group also features Sister's sister Sparkle (Cara), Dolores (Dawn Smith) and several friends. As they begin to find success, though, Sister's life spirals out of control, with drug addiction eventually leading to her death.

The new version, directed by Salim Akil ("Jumping the Broom," television series "The Game"), is believed to follow a similar story line, with Jordin Sparks as the titular character who must find a way to achieve stardom despite the drama surrounding her family. Houston plays Emma, the sisters' less-than-encouraging mother. (The original character, named Effie in the 1976 film, was incarnated by Mary Alice.)

How will the new "Sparkle" fare when it comes out? The Whitney factor will certainly drive interest, with the addiction plotline giving it an eerie resonance.

But it will need a certain kind of publicity help. Despite doing big business on the small screen, movies about aspiring singers have been disappointments; in the past two years, films such as "Country Strong," "Joyful Noise" and "Burlesque" have all underperformed at the box office.

RELATED:

Whitney Houston's posthumous turn: As star of 'Sparkle'

Medics performed CPR for about 20 minutes

Whitney Houston was spotted displaying erratic behavior

Whitney Houston dead at 48; celebrities react on Twitter

-- Steven Zeitchik and Julie Makinen

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston in "Sparkle." Credit: Sony Pictures


Whitney Houston, 'The Bodyguard' and beyond: her career in film

February 12, 2012 |  7:20 am

Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard

Whitney Houston, like other mega-selling pop stars from the 1980s and 1990s, didn't undertake a vast film career. But after churning out music hits for most of her 20s, the singer, who died Saturday at a Beverly Hills hotel, decided to make a go of it on the big screen.

She began in 1992 with "The Bodyguard," a performance-themed romance that proved her Midas touch extended to the movies. Houston decided to try playing a version of herself, tackling the part of Rachel Marron, a pop star who hires a former Secret Service agent  (Kevin Costner) after learning she is being pursued by a stalker.

The critics weren't kind -- Houston was nominated for a Razzie for her performance -- but audiences ate it up. The film went on to become the seventh-highest grossing movie of the year. And "I Will Always Love You," a Dolly Parton song that Houston covered in the film, became one of the singer's most well-known numbers.

FULL COVERAGE: Whitney Houston

Houston continued scratching the movie itch with several more starring roles, and also performed an original song and even produced movies in the year to come.

In 1995's "Waiting to Exhale," Houston decided to try a literary adaptation, signing on to sing and star in the film version of Terry McMillan's novel. Houston played Savannah Jackson, a TV producer who is in love with a married man.

The critics weren't that much kinder this time around, but the movie was hailed for its social significance: It was a mainstream release with an all-black cast and was a hit to boot. Houston also sang the movie's "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)," which became one of her more popular tracks.

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston | 1963-2012

Shortly after "Exhale," in 1996's "The Preacher's Wife," Houston got in the Christmas spirit, playing Julia Biggs, the title character who is also a choir mistress. Penny Marshall directed the comedy, a remake of a 1947 picture.

It performed respectably enough and also gave Houston a chance to sing on-screen again. Indeed, the movie was notable for its soundtrack, which packed in the Houston-sung gospel tracks and became one of the biggest gospel albums of all time.

In 1998's "The Prince of Egypt," Houston lent her voice to the DreamWorks biblical retelling, though not in the way most actors do. She sang the title number, a ballad about miracles called "When You Believe." Two versions are included in the film; Houston sung the latter, the end-credit song, with Mariah Carey.

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston and film

Apparently wanting to continue her film work from a different angle, Houston ramped up her producing efforts with "The Princess Diaries" (2001). She brought the first (and later the second) of Meg Cabot's young-adult series to the big screen.

The first movie was a hit, and a second one in 2004 did well too, giving rise to the career of Anne Hathaway and prompting Houston to continue her producing efforts.

Houston's final acting and producing credit, on a remake of the 1976 music drama "Sparkle," hits theaters in August.

RELATED:

Body moved to morgue

Autopsy planned in next 24 hours

Determining cause of death to take time

Obituary: Troubled pop titan is dead at 48 

TIMELINE: Whitney Houston highs and lows

VIDEO: Six legendary Houston performances

Medics performed CPR for about 20 minutes

Whitney Houston had large entourage with her

VIDEO: Watch Houston's earliest TV appearances

PHOTOS: Stars, friends react to the stunning news

Whitney Houston spotted displaying erratic behavior

Appreciation: A voice for the ages tarnished by addictions

Determining how Whitney Houston died expected to take time

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in "The Bodyguard." Credit: Ben Glass / Warner Bros.


Whitney Houston's posthumous turn: As star of 'Sparkle'

February 11, 2012 |  6:41 pm

Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks

The death of Whitney Houston at the age of 48 is a deep loss for the music world. But it also has reverberations in another artistic realm--the movies.

Houston had recently finished shooting "Sparkle," the remake of the 1976 Irene Cara film that, eerily, focuses on talented young musicians whose lives are ruined by addiction. Houston also served as an executive producer on the movie, acquiring rights to the original film more than a decade ago. The movie, shot this past fall and currently in post-production, is scheduled to be released in August. No word yet on any release-date changes; we're awaiting word from a producer.

[Update, 7:41 pm, Saturday: A producer on the film said Saturday night he had actually just seen a rough cut. "I'm in total shock," executive producer Howard Rosenman told The Times. "I have no idea about the impact on 'Sparkle,' which I saw last night. [Houston] was unbelievably fantastic in it." Meanwhile, a spokesman for the studio, Sony Pictures, said the movie remains set for an Aug. 17 release.]

The original "Sparkle" told the story of the Williams sisters, a trio of 1950s-era Harlem singers whose stories were loosely inspired by the Supremes. Headed by Lonette McKee's Sister, the group also features Sister's sister Sparkle (Cara), Dolores (Dawn Smith) and several friends. As they begin to find success, though, Sister's life spirals out of control, with drug addiction eventually leading to her death.

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston, 1963-2012

The new version, directed by Salim Akil ("Jumping the Broom," television series "The Game"), is believed to follow a similar story line, with Jordin Sparks as the titular character who must find a way to achieve stardom despite the drama surrounding her family. Houston plays Emma, the sisters' less-than-encouraging mother. (The original character, named Effie in the 1976 film, was incarnated by Mary Alice.)

Though the film has a heavy music component, it is not known how much Houston's character sings on screen, if at all. Derek Luke and Cee Lo Green co-star opposite Houston, with Carmen Ejogo as Sister Williams.

In another surreal turn, Houston had said she originally wanted Aaliyah for the title role but was forced to reconfigure the project when the R&B singer was killed in a plane crash in August 2001.

FULL COVERAGE: Whitney Houston dead at 48

Houston's publicist confirmed on Saturday that the star had died in Los Angeles, just a day before the Grammy Awards honoring the music world's finest. No cause of death has been given.

The "Sparkle" remake was supposed to serve as an auspicious return to the big screen for Houston, who gained fame as a silver-screen actress playing a pop star in 1992's "The Bodyguard" and then three years later as TV producer Savannah Jackson in the adaptation of the bestseller "Waiting to Exhale" but hadn't been in a movie since "The Preacher's Wife" sixteen years ago.

Houston also had a strong influence on numerous film soundtracks, producing and recording on "Exhale" and a host of other films. (A number of those songs could get some air time at the Grammy Awards on Sunday.)  Houston also had an important if less high-profile role in the movies: she served as a producer on "The Princess Diaries" franchise.

RELATED:

Hotel guests stunned

Hotel guest describes scene

Whitney Houston dead at 48

No signs of foul play say police

Whitney Houston died in hotel room

Whitney Houston had large entourage 

Medics performend CPR for about 20 minutes

Whitney Houston spotted displaying erratic behavior

Whitney Houston dead at 48; celebrities react on Twitter

Whitney Houston appreciation: A voice for the ages tarnished by addictions

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks in an early still from 'Sparkle.' Credit: Sony Pictures


Connect

Recommended on Facebook


Advertisement

In Case You Missed It...

Video







Categories


Archives
 



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: