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Category: February 2010

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Can someone please shoot the interracial buddy cop comedy?

February 26, 2010 |  8:41 pm


The interracial buddy crime comedy -- the very subgenre that audiences will be subjected to with Kevin Smith's "Cop Out" this weekend -- has been around for decades. But that doesn't stop filmmakers from adhering fervently to the tropes as though they were handed down at Sinai yesterday.

In approximately this sequence, those rules include:  Two men of different background/race are thrown together by circumstance (and quadrant-minded Hollywood marketing executives). They chafe at and resist each other; in fact, they rub each other so wrong that comedy (and, later, a little bit of drama) ensues. But thanks to a common threat, they finally come to appreciate and help each other. We all feel a little lighter for laughing, and maybe a little elevated to boot, because, hey, if a white cop and a black cop can get along, can't all of us?

The races sometimes change (Asian instead of white, Hispanic in lieu of black); the setup varies. A raunch-minded director who made a great '90s slacker comedy, for reasons understood by no one, decides to come on board. But the rules never change.

Of course just because there's a formula and/or a cynical marketing calculation doesn't mean the form hasn't been executed well. The right chemistry, writing and timing has given us "48 Hrs.," the first few "Lethal Weapon" movies and, if your definition of crime and cops stretches a little, the Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder gem "Silver Streak" (or, if your definition of buddies stretches a little, "Beverly Hills Cop"). With a little bit of dramatic heft and some well-constructed action scenes, many of these movies have worked.

48hrThey just haven't worked anytime in the last 15 years, a period in which the subgenre has spawned the "Rush Hour" franchise, future AFI honoree "Nothing to Lose" (with Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence), the "Miami Vice" remake, and this weekend's "Cop Out." You could argue that Hollywood has been unlucky. Or you could say that every avenue for comedy or action in this format has been explored (forcing filmmakers into a position where the only thing they can up is the silliness level) and filmmakers should just stop looking (this means you, all you people working on the "Beverly Hills Cop" reboot.)

One does wonder how the Kevin Smith movie would have looked if it hadn't been made at a studio, or if David Dobkin had wound up directing it, as some original discussions had it, back when it was called "A Couple of D@$ks." Dobkin directed "Wedding Crashers," so "Cop Out" might have had the freshness and vigor of that movie. Or it might have offered one more reason someone should put this subgenre out of its misery.

--Steven Zeitchik

Top photo: Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis in "Cop Out." Credit: Abbott Genser/Warner Bros.

Seond photo: Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in "48Hrs." Credit: Paramount

L.A. Times week in Hollywood (February 25, 2010)

February 26, 2010 |  2:23 pm

A busy week in Hollywood as Kevin Smith, the recent subject of Fatgate, releases a new movie; horror flick "The Crazies" tries to pretend it's an environmental jeremiad; and "The Hurt Locker" copes with scrutiny from the military and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science.

The Los Angeles Times' John Horn and Steven Zeitchik do their best Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott impressions as they take on the week in moviedom.


Kevin Smith's pre-'Fatgate' admission: 'I broke a toilet.'

Kevin Smith to go Silent Bob on Southwest incident?

Overture goes crazy at 'Crazies' event

'The Hurt Locker' sets off conflict

Overture goes crazy at 'Crazies' event

February 26, 2010 |  7:00 am


Our heads are still spinning after the theme-park extravaganza that Overture threw in Los Angeles on Wednesday night for its release of the horror film "The Crazies."

Most premieres trot out a few stars, serve some canapes and call it a day. For its Breck Eisner-directed remake of the 1973 George Romero horror staple, Overture turned a parking lot into a quarantine area, hired dozens of extras to play soldiers and law enforcement officials, tricked out a theater with the small-town trappings from the film, handed out medical wristbands instead of tickets and basically scared the bejesus out of the fans it invited to the event. (All of this went down in and around the Vista Theatre in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles.)

We couldn't decide whether it was thrilling or a little scary to find people in sheriff garb and army fatigues barking orders where to drive, how to enter a theater and where to stand (let alone hear about one of the attendees getting roughed up by said soldiers, an attendee who was a hired actor -- we think).

But publicists' cheerful promise that "there will be intimidation and fear tactics!" was certainly kept, and then some. Although we missed the exact moment of frog-marching and pre-screening harassment (designed not for revenge on recalcitrant media but to mirror the way residents of the film's small town are treated), reports from said publicists and the still delighted/stricken looks on the faces of the assembled told us all we needed to know.

We're not quite sure whether a movie in which a tap-water contamination results in quarantines, zombie-like transformations and gruesome murders is exactly the film we wanted reenacted. Couldn't scenes from the film have been re-created at the "Valentine's Day" premiere, and with the Jessica Alba and Jessica Biel scenes? But you have to give Overture points for the conviction with which it pulled off the enterprise. The fan-driven event premiere has gone the way of the spotted owl and the Canadian gold medal these last few years, as studios either spend on high-end accouterments or don't spend at all. But Overture, rumors of financial issues and all, threw itself full on into the event.

We only wish Eisner's movie, which makes a few noble efforts to go beyond the easy camp horror to themes of fear and water politics but ultimately doesn't add up to much, showcased similar energy in its acting and writing.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: "The Crazies." Credit: Overture Films

Sandra Bullock's Oscar campaign, at once brilliant and goofy

February 25, 2010 |  6:25 pm

As Oscar ballots come due early next week, Sandra Bullock is continuing her inexorable march to the Kodak Theatre podium. 

Bullock Bullock's tour de force performance as Southern spitfire Leigh Anne Tuohy in "The Blind Side" -- aided by the fact that she appears in nearly every scene, as opposed to the other front-runner, Meryl Streep, who is in roughly half of "Julie & Julia"-- continues to carry weight with voters; an informal poll of strategists  has her as the winner of the lead actress Oscar. It's hard to disagree. The Tuohy mother character that Bullock takes on is a great role, and she executes it perfectly.

Streep, on the other hand, has been as quiet as Bullock has been outspoken, barely making appearances on the awards circuit and infrequently addressing the media when she does.

But Bullock has benefited from Streep's absence, specifically from the faux rivalry she created with the blond one -- like the time she claimed to Tavis Smiley she would throw her shoe at Streep at the Golden Globes. Or the dead flowers Bullock says Streep sent her after Bullock won a best actress prize at said Globes. And let's not even get in to that weird kiss at the Critics Choice.

It's been a savvy tack for Bullock and publicist Cheryl Maisel, simultaneously keeping the actress in the public eye while also subtly painting her as the underdog. But what Bullock creates, she takes away. After cultivating the rivalry subplot for several weeks, she took an abruptly different tone when we caught up with her after the Oscar nominee luncheon last week.

"We've done it. We did it. It had its moments," she said when asked if there would be more coming on the theme. "Those are always unexpected [dramas] but if you keep it up it's just plain annoying."

A moment later, we began a question by mentioning Streep's performance.

Bullock: "Don't try to pit Meryl and I [said in a playful/sarcastic tone -- we think]. Go away from that. Move away."

24 Frames: "But you guys are the two favorites!"

Bullock: "There's five wonderful favorites. There's five completely different performances, all deserving. Someone's going to walk away with it. Everyone else is going to be happy for her."

(Sandy, we liked it better when you weren't pretending that everyone's a winner.)

How this shift will play probably won't matter. Bullock's decision to play ball with awards voters has resonated with them, even if it's spelled a kind of Sandra-Bullock-is-stalking-me ubiquity that's reminiscent of Mickey Rourke's omnipresence last year, with Streep playing the role of Sean Penn.

It's recently seemed unnecessary for Bullock to be so visible -- since the nominations came out, one couldn't turn on a late-night or morning show or, for that matter, Mario Lopez on "Entertainment Tonight," without seeing her -- when she was almost certainly going to win anyway.

Which may be why Bullock's taking her foot off the pedal now. She's no longer the underdog, and reminding voters too often of her performance could come off as confidence, not humility. Besides, the mostly silent response from Streep has given the whole enterprise an eerily lopsided feeling, with Bullock like a girl who badly wants a friend to come out and play but, having been unable to convince that friend, just pretends they're there anyway.

Streep, incidentally, has done herself no favors with her relative silence. Her approach has sometimes felt like the campaign two years ago for "Away From Her" star Julie Christie, who stayed quiet and out of Los Angeles for long stretches of the season while "La Vie en Rose" star Marian Cotillard diligently worked the circuit.

It also hasn't gotten the message out that Streep, for all the Oscar nomination love she's received, has been a bridesmaid so many times.  "The problem with best actress is that you can give it to Meryl Streep every year," "Blind Side" producer Andrew Kosove said the morning the nominations were announced. "She’s the best actress in the world. It’s like Tiger Woods in a golf tournament -- eventually someone else has to be allowed to win.”

Actually, someone has -- for the past 28 years. Yes, Streep hasn't won an Oscar since 1982, when she took home the statuette for "Sophie's Choice." Since then she's been nominated 11 times but never come home with a prize, a streak to rival all-time lucky losers such as Peter O'Toole and Paul Newman.

That could have been a play for the Streep camp and those running her campaign at 42West (who did not reply to an inquiry for this post): Make it seem as if this is finally her year, the way campaigners did so brilliantly for Martin Scorsese with "The Departed" in 2006.

Instead, they didn't really get the word out. And without that -- and with the Bullock campaign working the underdog angle so wisely -- we'll probably see the former Miss Congeniality take the stage a week from Sunday. Which will probably bring out one more sarcastic/tear-filled speech. Just don't ask her about Meryl Streep.

--Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Sandra Bullock. Credit: Peter Kramer / Associated Press

Could 'The Hurt Locker' be disqualified from the Oscars because of an intemperate e-mail?

February 25, 2010 |  2:18 pm

With a controversial e-mail from a producer of "The Hurt Locker" kicking up dust, Oscar season once again has a case of public mudslinging on its hands. But for all the messiness, it may result in little more than the loss of a few party tickets.

Late last week, "The Hurt Locker" producer Nicolas Chartier sent an e-mail to a group of peers and friends, at least some of whom are members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, asking them to vote for "The Hurt Locker" and "not the $500 million film" -- in other words, "Avatar." But after the e-mail came to light this week, Chartier, a first-timer to the rigors of the awards circuit, sent out a message apologizing for his initial e-mail, citing his "naivete, ignorance of the rules and plain stupidity."

Academy rules clearly bar campaigning that creates a negative impression of another film. And though  whispering about a rival is common, an e-mail making a flat appeal for one film by deriding another, for budgetary or any other reasons, would almost certainly be out of bounds.

Although the eventual impact of Chartier's indie-first argument on voters is unclear -- the Academy historically has liked movies that were box-office successes -- the effect on the Academy itself, and the film, could be more tangible.

The Academy, which learned of the e-mail this week, is looking into various forms of discipline, with the group's executive administrator Ric Robertson spearheading the decision process. The "nuclear option," as one consultant put it, would be to remove the film from best picture contention.

But there's almost no chance the group would do that, according to those familiar with the Academy's voting process. At the most, it would take away Chartier's Oscar tickets -- a slap on the wrist, to be sure, but also an interesting twist, given that Chartier had to wage a battle with the Academy to be included as a producer in the first place. (The movie has four credited producers, and the Academy typically allows only three to take the stage at the Kodak Theatre.)

It could also stop Chartier, who is not a member of the Academy, from joining the body. If he won best picture, Chartier would be eligible for a virtual automatic membership, but the board of governors could take the nearly unprecedented step of rejecting him. But this, too, might be a tough sell. After a brouhaha with "Crash" producer Bob Yari a few years ago over his non-credit for that film resulted in a lawsuit -- costing the Academy money and public standing -- the organization is unlikely to want to risk that kind of fight again.

There's precedent for the Academy scrutinizing the mudslinging -- and not doing much. In the 2003 race, DreamWorks, campaigning for "The House of Sand and Fog," took out an ad that made a similar plea -- it asked voters to choose the movie's Shohreh Aghdashloo for supporting actress over front-runner Renee Zellweger of "Cold Mountain." She stayed in contention (although Zellweger won anyway).

The Academy says it won't announce its decision until after ballots are due next Tuesday, if at all, presumably to avoid interfering with the race. It's a decision that fits with the group's cautionary reputation, but also a strange one. Stories like this already affect the race, and the delay of nearly a week can give the impression that the Academy is soft on negative campaigners, pretty much the last thing it wants to do.

There's another layer of back story to the "Hurt Locker" fracas. Among many of the other principals on the film, Chartier is perceived as an outsider. They've grimaced as he's made some of his publicity moves, including this one. A French American financier who runs a Los Angeles-based company called Voltage Pictures, Chartier is a foreign-sales specialist, and he's uniformly regarded as the driving force in getting "The Hurt Locker" financed and off the ground.

But according to several sources, there's little love lost between him and the film's writer, Mark Boal, and director Kathryn Bigelow. And even though they were said to make bids to get him approved by the Academy, the spin among those working on the film has been to present him as a rogue element who doesn't speak for distributor Summit Entertainment, Boal, Bigelow or a third producer, Greg Shapiro. In an interview with 24 Frames on Thursday about the initial e-mail, Boal said, "I knew nothing about it, I think it's incredibly stupid and wrong and I hope he stops."

Summit also repudiated Chartier's e-mail. "An enthusiastic and naive producer made a mistake," a studio spokesman said. "When we found out about it we asked him to stop immediately, we let the Academy know and he's making amends."

The gambit to put some distance between the film and Chartier will probably be successful, especially when you consider that the movie is up against "Inglourious Basterds," a contender from Harvey Weinstein -- a man known for speaking, er, boldly, about competitive movies.

How much the to-and-fro between competitors has an impact on the final vote is an open question. Four years ago, Lionsgate's Jon Feltheimer, whose company was pushing Oscar hopeful "Crash," caused a ruckus when he said publicly that he had made phone calls on behalf of the film. The Academy took a look; other films wondered if it could prompt a backlash. A few weeks later, "Crash" won best picture.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Jeremy Renner in "The Hurt Locker." Credit: Summit Entertainment

Scene Stealer: Stormy doings on 'Shutter Island'

February 25, 2010 | 11:39 am

Scene Stealer is a recurring Calendar feature looking at the tricks and techniques used by Hollywood's behind-the-scenes armies of makeup people, visual-effects folks, costumers, cinematographers and stunt coordinators. This week's installment takes a look behind the very stormy scenes of Martin Scorsese's box-office hit "Shutter Island." The film's federal marshals, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo, had to contend with a hurricane while conducting their investigation at the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, but the crew had its own hurricane problems.

Inclement weather is nothing new in the movies, but the raging hurricane needed for "Shutter Island" proved to be a challenge for special effects coordinator R. Bruce Steinheimer. "Shutter" cinematographer Robert Richardson "is known for his wide crane shots," Steinheimer said. But the wide crane shots in and around the film's location in Medfield, Mass., meant that Steinheimer couldn't rely on the usual rain bars -- there weren't any big enough. He had to bring in a 140-foot-wide light truss, like the kind used in rock concerts, and rig it with water hoses to douse the actors with more than half a million gallons of water. Nine-foot-high wind machines had to be trucked in from California. "These were the biggest in the States," Steinheimer said. One set got so drenched that crew members sank up to their calves in mud and the place began to smell. As Steinheimer puts it: "I imagine this was what World War I trench warfare was like."

--Patrick Kevin Day

"Shutter Island'" photo from Paramount Pictures


Scene Stealer: Working with 'Frozen's' wolves

Scene Stealer: 'Wolfman' and the secrets of torture tech

Ex-Miramaxer Keri Putnam taking a Sundance gig

February 24, 2010 |  9:00 pm

Former Miramax production president Keri Putnam is making a notable switch -- she's heading to Sundance.

The Los Angeles-based Putnam has been named by Robert Redford as the executive director for the Sundance Institute, essentially the nonprofit's highest-ranking paid position, where she'll oversee all of the institute's programs and report directly to its board.

The Sundance Institute is an umbrella organization that, among its other projects, develops young writers, producers and directors; cultivates international programs and also presents the Sundance Film Festival. The Sundance Institute's previous executive director, Ken Brecher, resigned last April, with the position sitting vacant since then. In a statement, Redford cited the need for a "fresh approach in this new environment that surrounds us" and added that "Keri’s appointment reflects the new direction in which we are headed."

Continue reading »

Possible directors of 'Paranormal Activity 2': Several young genre maestros ... and Brian De Palma

February 24, 2010 |  7:25 pm

When it comes to "Paranormal Activity," nothing should surprise us anymore. This was a movie that was shot for $10,000 and became a $100-million-plus box-office powerhouse. And it did all that with no stars and no brand pedigree -- just a brilliant "America demanded it" marketing campaign.

So the fact that a number of emerging genre directors are being considered to direct the second picture in the haunted-house franchise (tentatively titled "Paranormal Activity 2" but probably soon to be renamed)  makes perfect sense.

More eerie, though, is that the studio is now seriously considering a trio of more experienced directors. And one of them is a person who'll really get your weird-o-meter spinning: Brian De Palma.

Yes, that Brian De Palma.

The iconic auteur behind "Scarface" and "Dressed to Kill" -- as well as more mainstream films like "The Untouchables"' and "Mission: Impossible" -- would be a strange choice to say the least. No doubt he'll bring art-house credibility and visual flair. But De Palma is known for shoots that don't always go for the lowest common denominator at the multiplex, that aren't always cheap (though his last movie, the Iraq film "Redacted," was a lower-budgeted affair) and a shooting schedule that doesn't scream quick turnaround.

(And if you think De Palma would be a bizarre choice, consider this: At one point, Akiva Goldsman, a quintessential Hollywood insider, was also in the mix to direct the film. Goldsman is the Oscar-winning writer "A Beautiful Mind." He's also the writer and/or producer on a host of big-budget studio movies, including "The Da Vinci Code" and "I Am Legend." He won't direct the film in the end, but the fact that Paramount and the movie's producers were considering him suggests they want to give the film a different kind of gloss than the no-budget, unknown-driven first picture.)

Of course there's a logic to that sort of thinking: Oren Peli's original "Paranormal," which had few auterish touches, could, in the wrong hands, yield a low-end sequel (think "Blair Witch 2: Book of Secrets"). If nothing else, De Palma would elevate the level of filmmaking from what a less experienced director might do.

As for the young genre directors, they include a more Peli-ish group of freshmen and sophomores: Brad Anderson (director of a Woody Harrelson-Emily Mortimer thriller a few years back called "Transsiberian") and Greg McLean (a writer and director on an Australian horror movie called "Wolf Creek" -- another low-budget title that made a nice multiple, $16 million in U.S. box office).

All this is happening because "Saw VI" director Kevin Greutert won't direct the new "Paranormal." The horror filmmaker had been all set to sit in that tall chair until Lionsgate decided to exercise its option on him for the next "Saw" film (a direct competitor at the box office with "Paranormal"), pulling him off "Paranormal 2."

Whatever producers and Paramount executives decide to do, they'll probably want to do it quickly. The movie doesn't yet have a director or actors (they'd need at least one new one, given how the first ended), and, last we heard, the script was still being worked on. But it does have a release date -- exactly eight months from now, on Oct. 22, just before Halloween. This is where a little supernatural magic might come in handy.

--Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Paranormal Activity. Credit: Paramount Pictures

Dueling 'Three Musketeers' projects sharpen their blades

February 24, 2010 |  6:27 pm

The Devil Wears Tunics? Mr. and Mrs. Milady ?

A pair of "Three Musketeers" projects are picking up momentum in Hollywood -- and attracting some rather unlikely elements.

MuskWith "Sherlock Holmes" fast turning into one of the most important properties in its stable, Warner Bros. is forging ahead on its adaptation of another pop-minded work of classic literature, "The Three Musketeers."

After confirming earlier this month that it was developing a new version with "Holmes" producer Lionel Wigram, the studio is making headway in hiring a director. It has compiled a wish list of those who it wants to get behind the camera to tell the swashbuckling story. But the names aren't necessarily the ones you'd expect. 

One filmmaker whom producers and studio executives are talking to: David Frankel, the director of "Marley & Me" and "The Devil Wears Prada." While the latter tells the story of a ruler colder and more villainous than Cardinal Richelieu, that pedigree may not be the kind one associates with high-stakes swordplay in period France.

But Frankel does have some genre experience -- and at Warners no less -- which last summer signed him to develop and potentially direct the adaptation of the children's series "Septimus Heap: Magyk." Not coincidentally, the series has been compared to Harry Potter, on which Wigram is also a driving force.

The second director in a top position to get the gig is Doug Liman, best known for "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" as well as the first movie in the Jason Bourne franchise. Liman's action pedigree gives him more credentials for "Musketeers" (though how he handled his last action film, "Jumper," may hurt those credentials).

Meanwhile, an independently-financed 3D project, based on the classic trilogy, from "Resident Evil" filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson has over the last week stirred the talk that producers had wanted Taylor Lautner for a lead role, likely of D'Artagnan. But those with knowledge of the young actor's career said he would not star in the project.

Both scripts are being developed with an urgency -- "The Men Who Stare at Goats" writer Peter Straughan is a co-writer on the Warners one, while Anderson is co-writing the script with “The Tailor of Panama” screenwriter Andrew Davies.

Continue reading »

Measuring the 'Twitter Effect' on the Oscars

February 24, 2010 |  5:31 pm


Part and parcel of being the social networking platform du jour, Twitter has become the place for plugged-in ‘Netizens to chest beat, navel gaze and occasionally ruffle the feathers of their followers -- all in 140 characters or less. Especially in Hollywood.

But for many of this year’s Academy Award nominees as well as various and sundry boldfaced names who find themselves caught in the glare of the Oscars spotlight, Twitter has another value: as a locus of real-time reaction to the vagaries of awards season.

In this story in Thursday’s Times, we examine the Twitter Effect on this year’s Oscars. The operative idea being that in an era when even 64-year-old Helen Mirren is known to tweet, people are using their ambient online presences to communicate with more immediacy, greater candor and without the filter of publicists in a way that would have been unimaginable pre-Information Age.

But for the inquiring minds wanting to cut straight to the tweet, herewith is a short list of Oscar nominees and people attached to the awards broadcast who have active Twitter accounts:

Oscars broadcast co-producer Adam Shankman -- twitter.com/adammshankman

Best director nominee Jason Reitman -- twitter.com/jasonreitman

Jesse James, husband of best actress nominee Sandra Bullock -- twitter.com/frankyluckman

Best director nominee Quentin Tarantino -- twitter.com/qjtarantino

Best supporting actress nominee Gabourey Sidibe -- twitter.com/GaboureySidibe

Best director nominee Lee Daniels -- twitter.com/leedanielsent

Best actress nominee Helen Mirren -- twitter.com/helenmirren

“Up in the Air” author Walter Kirn -- twitter.com/walterkirn

-- Chris Lee

Photo of Oscars from AMPAS.


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