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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: February 2010

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Preview review: Jaden Smith fights his way through 'The Karate Kid'

February 24, 2010 |  7:00 am

Karatekid2 The 1984 teen film "The Karate Kid" told the story of a dorky outcast, played by Ralph Macchio, who was taught the sacred art of karate by the wise Mr. Miyagi (the late Pat Morita) in order to defend himself against school bullies.

The film has since become such a cultural staple that when Sony announced it was remaking the movie, some skeptics wondered if a reboot could taint the original. The new film, which comes out in June, stars Jaden Smith (who also happens to be Will Smith's son, who also happens to a producer on the movie).

Smith plays Dre Parker, a young boy whose childhood is disrupted when his mother (Taraji P. Henson) takes a job in China. After moving from the United States, Dre -- like Ralph Macchio before him -- is teased by schoolkids and seeks solace in a friendship with an older martial artist, here known as Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), who teaches him the ways of kung fu against the backdrop of the Great Wall and other Chinese landmarks.

Jaden's 11, and he's kind of adorable. But he's also really little -- so little we're skeptical about buying him as a newly minted martial-arts hero. Boyish is one thing; child-like is another.

So we went back and watched the trailer for the original and got a little bit nostalgic. Macchio, with his poofy '80s hair and cut-off T-shirts, exudes just the right amount of cheese so the movie doesn't take itself too seriously. And the entire spectacle is grounded by Morita, who oozes a sage wisdom we're not sure, at least judging by the trailer, that action star Jackie Chan will be able to pull off.

Will Jaden prove to be as big a box-office draw as his famous dad? Is there any way the remake will be able to live up to the landmark original? Share your thoughts in our poll.

-- Amy Kaufman

Photo: Jaden Smith stars in "The Karate Kid." Credit: Columbia Pictures

Taylor Lautner's new director could be...the 'Monsters vs. Aliens' guy

February 23, 2010 |  8:16 pm

Universal is deep into its search for the director of "Stretch Armstrong," the 3-D take on the pliable toy in which Taylor Lautner will star as the man whose arms stretch to next week.

Now it looks like the studio is closing in on the person who will oversee and marshal the strengths of Lautner and screenwriter Steve Oedekerk. A number of people are in the running to occupy the director's chair, but one name that's risen to the top of the list is Rob Letterman. Letterman is the director of several animated hits, including last year's "Monsters vs. Aliens" (like Stretch Armstrong, also a 3-D flick) and "Shark Tale."

Mo Letterman has not yet had a live-action movie in theaters, but he recently finished shooting "Gulliver's Travels," also a film where things like size and movement are central to the plot (if you're, um, stretching for connections). And "Monsters" did focus on characters bestowed with mutant-type powers, just like our boy Stretch.

Universal has pushed back the release of "Stretch Armstrong" from the spring of 2011 to the spring of 2012 to accommodate Lautner's suddenly packed schedule as well as to allow for a 3-D shoot.

But it still wants to get going with what will likely be an involved production and an elaborate preproduction period. Plus, the film is a high-priority project, coming out of the studio's Hasbro deal (which will also bear the fruit of Peter Berg's "Battleship") and with Brian Grazer as one of its producers. And, of course, a little-known actor named Lautner.

--Steven Zeitchik

Photos (top): Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner. Credit: Kimberley French / Summit Entertainment. "Monsters vs. Aliens." Credit: AP

'Avatar' honored with first award from new 3D Society

February 23, 2010 |  7:01 pm


“Avatar” picked up another award Tuesday night, but Oscar prognosticators probably shouldn't read anything into it -- “The Hurt Locker,” "Up in the Air" and “Inglourious Basterds” weren’t eligible.

James Cameron’s blockbuster was named best live-action 3-D feature by the month-old International 3D Society, kicking off its inaugural Lumiere Awards at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

“Up,” also in the running for Academy Award best picture honors, was honored as best animated 3-D feature, and another Pixar work, “Partly Cloudy,” won in the category for best short 3-D motion picture/narrative.

The International 3D Society was formed Jan. 21 with a stated mission of advancing “the achievement of professionals working in the arts and technologies of Stereoscopic 3D.” Its board of governors includes a diverse group -- studio executives, the heads of 3-D and post-production houses and even a PhD at UC Berkeley's school of optometry. The awards were voted on by more than 100 film industry 3-D experts, a spokesman for the group said.

Among other winners Tuesday were the Imax film “Under the Sea 3D” as best 3-D documentary, “G-Force” as best 2-D-to-3-D converted feature, and “Avatar’s” Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana) as best 3-D character of the year.

-- Lee Margulies

Photo of Neytiri from "Avatar": WETA / Associated Press

'Shutter Island': Can a surprise ending eventually hurt a film at the box office?

February 23, 2010 |  6:02 pm

The big reveal has been a staple of the Hollywood film pretty much since Charlton Heston found out, to his great shock, that the apes lived on his own planet.

Sh When the maneuver is handled well, the surprise finale can provide more viewing pleasure than almost any other device. But it's also trickier to pull off than the Double McTwist 1260. Offer too many clues along the way and it's hardly a surprise; point the arrows too far in the other direction and the audience will feel cheated.

M. Night Shyamalan executed the reveal to perfection in "The Sixth Sense" -- in which the conclusion was both an utter surprise and impeccably logical -- before botching it with the left-field contrivances of "Unbreakable." Alejandro Amenabar offered a similar, and similarly pleasurable, twist to "Sixth Sense" in "The Others" (a particular feat since it came just two years after the M. Night film came out, when the audience was primed for a maybe-they're-dead-the-whole time surprise). And the list continues: "The Usual Suspects," "No Way Out," "The Crying Game" (and, as horror fans may remember, the gender-bending twist of kitsch-horror classic "Sleepaway Camp" -- see our poll below to weigh in with your favorite).

Martin Scorsese tries a version of the trick in his just-released "Shutter Island" (warning: major spoiler alert ahead -- skip to the next paragraph if you've yet to see the film). In the Paramount release, Leonardo DiCaprio, having spent hour after furious hour as a detective investigating a crime at an insane asylum, is revealed (probably) to be a patient suffering delusions who's simply engaging in a role-playing game initiated by his doctors. While that twist has the effect of making too many of the scenes that preceded it feel irrelevant, it certainly packs a wallop. And it's likely to make you both talk about the ending and revisit many of the earlier scenes, as all good whoppers aim to do.

The question is how much a reveal can help or hurt a film after word begins to spread. On the one hand, a twist ending can turn a movie into a conversation piece since it is, quite literally, the last thing seen before leaving the theater. And because it often makes us go back and reinterpret the entire film, it can keep the movie both in our individual and public consciousness long after the credits end. In other words, it becomes water-cooler conversation. And in box-office terms, it gives a movie legs.

Paramount executives believe that that's pretty much what will happen here. "There's nothing that keeps box office going like people's desire not to hear how a movie ends before they see it," says Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore. "That sense of 'Don't tell me; I haven't seen it' has historically added more interest."

Cryinggame Fair enough -- if you can avoid finding out. But there's undoubtedly a risk for a movie that relies on a surprise ending these days.

As recently as a few years ago you could get away with much of the moviegoing population not hearing about a surprise ending for a long time. Several months after "The Crying Game" came out, Harvey Weinstein was still begging journalists not to give away the ending. It's hard to see him making that request today, or hoping that it would have any effect. Twitter, fan sites and every other medium known to man are a minefield of information; avoiding a big reveal can feel like Tivo-ing a sports game and trying not to finding out the result until days later. And once you know how a film ends, do you still want to see it?

"Shutter Island" had a big opening last weekend. Now that everyone's talking about the ending, we'll see if audiences continue to flock to it -- or feel like they already know too much.

--Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo in "Shutter Island." Credit: Paramount Pictures

Memo to all women: No half for you in Hollywood

February 23, 2010 |  5:04 pm


OK, we’re not just imagining it.

Women may make up 51% of the population, but actresses nabbed only 29.9% of the 4,379 speaking parts in the 100 top-grossing films of 2007, or so says a new study released by University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, which was conducted by professor Stacy. L Smith. 

According to Smith’s study, 83% of all directors, writers, and producers on those films were male. Not surprisingly, the number of female characters grew dramatically when a woman directed a film -- up to 44.6% from 29.3% if a man was behind the camera.

That number would probably be even lower if Smith and her team had to factor in "The Hurt Locker," from filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow, who many believe will be the first woman to win an Academy Award for directing come March 7. The number of parts for females in her movie? According to IMDB, only three of the 34 actors were women, which means they accounted around 9% of the characters on screen.

A few more numbers to consider: Smith said these statistics about women directors and female actors should be interpreted with caution -- only three of the top 100 films of 2007 had a female director.

-- Rachel Abramowitz

Photo of Kathryn Bigelow by Jonathan Olley / Summit Entertainment.

Forget extradition -- Roman Polanski feels the love

February 21, 2010 | 11:26 am

Pol He may be a polarizing figure in the news, but cineastes continue to embrace Roman Polanski.

The director’s literary thriller "The Ghost Writer" attracted strong audiences to the art houses where it opened this weekend, earning an average of $44,000 per screen in two theaters in Los Angeles and two theaters in New York.

The Summit Entertainment movie stars Pierce Brosnan as an embattled former British prime minister and Ewan MacGregor as the ghostwriter hired to pen his memoirs. It's more commercial than that sounds, though, as it basically tracks MacGregor following a conspiracy/political coverup. At its best moments, it harks back to the director's paranoia-themed work of several decades ago.

Polanski has been the subject of controversy as U.S. prosecutors continue to try to extradite him from Switzerland over statutory rape charges first filed in 1978. But hardcore fans of both Polanski and art-house film appeared unruffled by headlines and turned out in dedicated numbers.

They also seemed relatively pleased after they saw the movie, handing the film a respectable B+ CinemaScore.

The news is consistent with what many observers have said: Film fans care when stars are in the news, but they're probably not going to let a controversy over a director stop them from buying a ticket to his movie. Or, even more pointedly, they may buy a ticket in support of said filmmaker.

Indeed, the business came on the same weekend that Polanski found favor with another jury. No, not that kind of jury -- he won the Silver Bear award for best director at the Berlin International Film Festival, where his movie premiered. Needless to say, Polanski, who is under house arrest and was taken into custody at the last film festival he attended, in Zurich, did not turn up in person to accept the prize.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Roman Polanski on the set of "The Ghost Writer." Credit: Guy Farrandis / Summit Entertainment

Is Ed Helms the new Steve Carell?

February 19, 2010 |  8:22 pm

Ed Helms' career is looking a lot like Steve Carell's these days. It's not just that each got their break on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," evince a geeky likability, practice a similar brand of deadpan  humor and currently star on the same hit television show "The Office (though that's part of it).

It's that both are seeing their dance cards fill up remarkably quickly -- and with not dissimilar projects.

Helms will anchor his first major feature when he shoots "Central Intelligence," a Walter Mitty comedy about an accountant (Helms) who inadvertently gets involved in an espionage plot. Sources now say the movie is to shoot this summer, with Universal, which is making the movie, currently looking for a director.

("Central Intelligence," incidentally, bears a similar premise to Carell's "Get Smart:" Dorky guy bumbles his way through unlikely high-stakes world, though Helms' trademark persona is dorkier, while Carell's is more deluded. And there's another Helms-Carell connection: the man who made Michael Scott famous is producing the untitled Civil War project in which several re-enactors get transported back to the land of Ulysses S. Grant; Helms plays one of the re-enactors and also helped write the script. That one, at least, is just in development, as is another project, the bromantic makeover movie "A Whole New Hugh" from the Judd Apatow incubator. So Helms will at least have time to breathe before he gets mixed up in those.)

There is, however, "The Hangover 2," which will shoot next fall during another "Office" hiatus, and in which Helms reprises his uptight, henpecked Stu Price character. All this comes after Helms finished shooting the Alexander Payne traveling-salesman dramedy "Cedar Rapids" last fall. And there's another, smallish movie on the way. That's a pretty hectic work pace for a guy with a network show.

Indeed, it's scheduling that's the big bugaboo for Helms, since, like Carell, the actor can only shoot during his hiatuses from "The Office." The schedule for the NBC hit was reportedly juggled so Carell could shoot "Dinner for Schmucks" at the end of 2009, which also enabled Helms to shoot "Cedar Rapids." But there's only so much juggling one can do without joining the circus.

Helms' name has also surfaced in connection with the Ron Howard infidelity comedy "Your Cheating Heart,"  which would have offered the bonus of seeing Helms play opposite Vince Vaughn. But it now looks like, for timing and other reasons, Helms won't appear in that one. And reports of his appearance in "Daddy's Home," a project in which he plays the uptight new husband to Will Ferrell's wild man ex-husband probably won't come to fruition; at this point, at least, it doesn't look like Helms is going to star in that one.

Helms' appeal as the embodiment of the straight-laced and the uptight in all of us has clearly resonated in Hollywood. We can only hope it will on the big screen too -- we'll be seeing a lot of him there in the coming months.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Ed Helms and a chicken in "The Hangover." Credit: Frank Masi / Warner Brothers

L.A. Times week in Hollywood (Feb. 19, 2010)

February 19, 2010 |  2:01 pm

Los Angeles Times reporters John Horn and Steve Zeitchik discuss the week's biggest entertainment headlines including the box-office prospects of Martin Scorsese's delayed "Shutter Island," the controversial return of Roman Polanski, and Hollywood's continued infatuation with branded titles, which has resulted in a reboot of Universal's "American Pie" and Fox taking a shot at the lo-fi Atari video game "Missile Command."

Sundance 2010: Sony Pictures Classics will inhabit an 'Animal Kingdom'

February 19, 2010 | 12:03 pm

14424 Sony Pictures Classics has acquired domestic and Latin American rights to the Australian drama "Animal Kingdom" in a deal that could be worth as much as $1 million for the film's makers. The movie about Melbourne's underworld, which premiered in Sundance's world cinema dramatic competition, won the festival's jury prize in the category and attracted buyer interest from SPC, the Weinstein Co. and Oscilloscope Pictures, among others.

While the sales price was in the six figures, potential incentives and bonuses could boost the transaction's value to as much as $1 million, according to a person familiar with the deal. The film attracted mostly positive reviews out of Park City, as did the film's first-time director, David Michod.

There is nothing more exciting than the birth of a major filmmaker," SPC said in a statement. "David Michod is about as major as they come." The sales deal was negotiated by the United Talent Agency.

-- John Horn

Photo: "Animal Kingdom" Credit: Sundance Film Festival.

Atari's Missile Command, a potential Hollywood franchise

February 18, 2010 |  5:27 pm

Can squiggly lines be the new movie stars?

Not the ones on the face of an aging, plastic-surgeried celebrity, but those that threaten the the base cities in the vintage video game Missile Command. That's because Atari, which has been increasing its efforts to mine its video game library in Hollywood, has tapped Missile Command as a property ripe for a theatrical film.

The company is in active discussions with studios to acquire the title for development, with Fox and Peter Chernin's new production company the likely venue at which the property will end up.

The 1980 game was both of a product of and reflected Cold War anxieties. Players were asked to defend six cities from an onslaught of ballistic missiles (represented by the sort-of squiggly lines) with the help of anti-missile weapons  (represented by flashing cursors) fired from alongside said cities. Basically, you kept trying to line up shots to explode the squiggly lines and stop them from from coming, over and over again until it got so fast you could stop them no more.

The game first appeared on the Atari 2600 -- cue nostalgic memories of the family rec room -- and was subsequently developed for other consoles and handheld platforms. Atari is also said to be developing a multi-player remake of the game.

There are traces of science-fiction elements to the game (the story is putatively set in another galaxy) as well as military overtones. And the film would likely be shot in 3D, tapping into the current vogue. But how a studio could turn Missile Command into a full-fledged action movie  remains a question. Both the look and story behind Missile Command were, as they were with so many titles from the so-called golden age of video games, spare to say the least, though a manual did offer some detail: players were defending cities on Zardon from the invading armies of Krytol (aren't you glad we told you that?).

Then again, while video games with rich back stories can be more cinematic, a spartan vintage game can offer its own appeal, if only because it can be molded by an enterprising screenwriter into just about anything.

There's been a gold rush of late on video games generally. Back in the summer, an auction erupted over another Atari property, Asteroids, which Universal and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura ended up winning. And plenty of contemporary games are on the path to the big screen, including the upcoming "Prince of Persia" and the still-in-development "Shadow of the Colossus."

Avid'80s fans, or just casual browsers of Wikipedia, will know that Missile Command's cheeky "The End" screen was used in the final-credit scene of "Fast Times Ridgemont High." If Atari has its way, the game could go from a big screen pun to a full-fledged film.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Times staff writer Ben Fritz contributed to this report.

Photo: Missile Command. Credit: Atari


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