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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: March 2010

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Russell Crowe's bows and arrows to be a Cannes opener

March 26, 2010 |  8:00 am

Crowe

After making animation -- or at least the people who create it -- the stars of the red carpet last year with "Up," the Cannes Film Festival is going with a more traditional opening night this year.

The festival announced Friday morning that "Robin Hood," Ridley Scott's take on the folkloric hero, will open its annual extravaganza on the Croisette. Russell Crowe stars as the iconic character, firing arrows, tangling with the sheriff of Nottingham and generally making mischief.

The movie's a pretty logical choice for Thierry Fremaux and the people who program Cannes: It offers a patina of seriousness, with Scott a multiple Oscar nominee, but also the media-ready glitz that the festival prefers for its opening night, with a glamorous international cast that includes Crowe, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt and Max von Sydow. And it jibes nicely with Universal's release date for the Brian Grazer-produced film: May 14, two days after the festival opens.

How does this choice fit with past Cannes openers? It marks the fifth straight year that the festival is opening with an English-language film (Dominik Moll's French-language "Lemming" was the last time it didn't) but the first time since "The Da Vinci Code" in 2006 that it's going with an action movie.

-- Steven Zeitchik

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Photo: Russell Crowe in "Robin Hood." Credit: Universal Pictures



Will Angelina Jolie wake Sleeping Beauty?

March 26, 2010 |  7:35 am

Malefic

With "Maleficent," the postmodern take on "Sleeping Beauty," gaining momentum at Disney, there's also a star who could be surging with it: Angelina Jolie.

Earlier this week, the news broke that Disney had hired its longtime collaborator Linda Woolverton ("Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King") to work on the screenplay for the live-action take on the 50-year-old hit. (Maleficent is the evil fairy godmother in the Disney film; this story would be told, "Wicked"-like, from her perspective.)

Both Tim Burton and Angelina Jolie had last spring been rumored to join the project, which Disney has been kicking around for a while as a way to mine its library, among other things. Burton's involvement remains unclear as he contemplates several projects. But sources say that, as of the last few weeks, Jolie is keen on the film and would like to sign on to play the titular villain.

There's no deal (or, for that matter, script) yet. And it's unclear if Jolie's involvement would be conditional on Burton moving forward with it too. But it's nonetheless notable that Jolie -- who has no new movie after shooting the international thriller "The Tourist" -- is actively engaging with the material and could, according to sources, very well star in the film when all is said and done.

A Disney spokesman this week said the company would not comment on anything "Maleficent"-related. Jolie manager Geyer Kosinski could not be reached for comment Thursday.

A quick primer on Maleficent: The wicked fairy godmother is the character who casts the original spell on Sleeping Beauty (a.k.a. Princess Aurora, quoth Wikipedia) that the young girl will prick herself on a splinter and die; Maleficent is an archrival of sorts to the good fairy godmother, who casts a counter-spell that says the girl will sleep for a century and then be awakened by the kiss of a prince. The original versions of the fairy tale don't name Maleficent; the character was named and shaped by Disney for its 1959 film, and would of course be deepened and amplified for this one.

What would Jolie's involvement mean for the property and her career? Telling a classic story from another perspective would certainly fit with the trend of putting a new spin on the standby classics. And casting Jolie in it would certainly broaden the audience for a Disney fairy tale (read: bring men in to theaters).

Jol

Of course the choice to make a villain the main character instead of a secondary one could impact Disney's ability to bring in younger audiences. And the studio would need to contend with far less pre-awareness for a single, lesser-known character than it did for a timeless classic such as "Alice in Wonderland." But there are also plenty of reasons that Disney, whose new production chief Sean Bailey is said to hold the project close to his heart, would push "Maleficent" forward.

With "Alice in Wonderland" a monster hit, it's hardly a secret that Disney is looking to reprise more classic material. That's especially true for a movie that, like "Alice," centers on the battle between two opposing sovereigns.

As for Jolie, she's not really done much kid-centric over the course of her career, "Beowulf" perhaps excepted -- and that's not exactly full-on kiddie material. The idea of taking on a role that's both live-action and actor-friendly, but still whimsical and delicate, could mark a refreshing change of pace after her recent action-movie kick that has her in "Tourist" and Phillip Noyce's international thriller, "Salt." Sometimes the desire is there. It just needs to be ... awakened.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Follow me on Twitter.

Upper photo: Maleificent in "Sleeping Beauty." Credit: The Walt Disney Company

Lower photo: Angelina Jolie. Credit: Ariel Marinkovic / AFP/Getty Images


Studios seek to snag Swedish sizzler 'Snabba'

March 25, 2010 |  7:53 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Unless you're a particularly voracious cineaste, you've probably never heard of "Snabba Cash," a piece of Stockholm-set, Swedish-language noir that was all the rage at the Berlin Film Festival this year (although it is fun to say the title aloud). 

Snabba But the movie created a stir there, first launching a feeding frenzy among Hollywood talent agencies and management companies to sign director Daniel Espinosa, with UTA and Magnolia Entertainment winning the battle, and then creating an almost equally intense bidding war among several studios to land remake rights.

Now, the remake race appears to be nearing its conclusion, with Warner Bros. in the lead position to land English-language rights. The studio is eyeing the project as a potential producing and starring vehicle for Zac Efron, who recently signed an overall deal with the studio.

No remake deal is in place yet, but the film's Swedish producers are set to fly to the U.S., and negotiating wrinkles could be worked out over the coming days between the studio and Hollywood attorney Linda Lichter, who is representing the rights.

The movie, whose title translates as "Fast Cash" and which is based on Jens Lapidus' bestselling novel (in Sweden), tells an overlapping story of gangsters and other colorful miscreants. The main character, nicknamed JW (Joel Kinnaman) is a young man who leads a double life as an ordinary taxi driver and a runner for a coke dealer.

Until recently, Swedish crime fiction isn't a genre that's generated much awareness stateside. But with Stieg Larsson's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" becoming a bestseller, and a global blockbuster movie based on the book just now a limited release here, that's starting to change -- almost as fast, perhaps, as you can say "Snabba Cash."

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: A poster for "Snabba Cash." Credit: Tre Vanner Productions


Katie Holmes, indie queen?

March 25, 2010 |  5:59 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Speaking of "Son of No One," another bit of casting is also poised to go down on the movie: Katie Holmes is negotiating to join the cast of the cop drama (in a move that, after the testosterone of Al Pacino, Channing Tatum and Ray Liotta, would offer us another, er, chemical).

Hol Holmes would play the wife of a young policeman (Tatum) who uncovers an explosive secret after he is assigned to the working-class neighborhood where he grew up.

The part would continue an interesting pattern for Ms. H. 

After several years of quiet (Holmes hasn't had a movie commercially released since the ensemble crime comedy "Mad Money" in January 2008), the actress formerly known as Joey is suddenly back on the big screen with some frequency. But she's not taking the kind of generic studio roles that she at one time seemed to be on a trajectory for, going indie instead.

In Park City this year, Holmes had a Sundance double dip -- she played a thoughtful, slightly bitter twentysomething in the young-friends drama "The Romantics" and also starred in the adaptation of Jonathan Ames' comedy-drama "The Extra Man." Holmes also stars in the mid-budget horror remake "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," although that movie's release status is unclear as buyers jockey over the fate of Miramax.

A burst of Holmes on the big screen, and in some pretty heady dramatic stuff? After her surprisingly impressive turn in "The Romantics," there are worse things.

-- Steven Zeitchik

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Tracy Morgan could star in a cop movie -- sans the laughs


Tracy Morgan could star in a cop movie -- sans the laughs

March 25, 2010 |  5:07 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Everyone seems to have an opinion about whether Tracy Morgan can be a dramatic actor. He's certainly used to shrewd effect on "30 Rock," where as the oblivious, pampered celebrity Tracy Jordan, Tina Fey and the show's writers have figured out how to deploy his skills to memorable effect.

Morg But can the actor actually pull off a part in a more dramatic movie? We may not have to wait long to find out. Sources say Morgan is negotiating to join the cast of a crime drama called "Son of No One" that's scheduled to start shooting in New York next month. It's a supporting part, but given the tone, still a notable move for the comedian-actor. (Morgan is coming on instead of Terrence Howard, who was in talks to join the cast but in the end won't star in the film.)

Morgan has of course just starred in a film about police officers, but "Son" is hardly "Cop Out" -- it's a gritty drama about a cop assigned to the working-class neighborhood where he grew up. Al Pacino and Channing Tatum star, and Dito Montiel, the director of "Fighting' and "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" (and one of the better chroniclers of the streets currently working) is directing; Holly Wiersma, who's behind the upcoming cop-arsonist thriller "Stone," is producing the film, which WME Entertainment helped package and which Nu Image/Millennium Films will finance.

Morgan turns up in the upcoming "Death at a Funeral," a lighter movie. We have a feeling the deaths, and the funerals, will play a little heavier in "Son."

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Tracy Morgan. Credit: Kevin Mazur / WireImage


Even with strong March numbers, Oscars prefer February

March 25, 2010 |  1:50 pm

You'd think after the five-year ratings high of this year's Oscar telecast, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences might have decided it liked the early March slot.

Oscars It was the Winter Olympics that prompted the move from the end of February, of course, but with an average of 41.3-million people watching this year's telecast -- the most since 42.1-million viewers watched in 2005 -- it could have opted to keep the show there.

No go, says the academy, which announced today it would return to familiar territory and air next year's show Feb. 27.

The move from March to February back in 2004 was initially spurred, in part, by the growing popularity of college hoops' March Madness, which was eating away at audiences. It worked -- the first year the academy tried a February broadcast, the ratings jumped by more than 30%, as an average of 43-million viewers tuned in.

But it turns out the sports soft spot of early March hasn't been entirely unkind -- four years ago, when the show also aired in early March, a respectable 39-million people watched. If ratings slide next year, it may be something the academy could consider -- even if it means the rest of us may feel like long-distance runners suddenly told that a marathon is now 27.2 miles.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Oscar statues. Credit: Amy Sancetta / Associated Press


Eye popper du jour: John Singleton will be Taylor Lautner's next director

March 25, 2010 | 12:43 pm

Boys
We reported in early March that John Singleton was the lead candidate to direct "Abduction," the Taylor Lautner movie from Lionsgate about a teenager who realizes his parents may not actually be his parents -- and then gets caught up in a web of government agents, espionage and other intrigue.

Now it's official. The director of the iconic "Boyz n the Hood" and producer on edgy urban movies such as "Hustle & Flow" will be the man who next directs the teen pinup. Sources confirmed the hire; Lionsgate could not immediately be reached for comment.

Lionsgate aims to shoot "Abduction" this summer, ahead of Lautner's fall responsibilities for "Breaking Dawn." Based on an original script from Shawn Christensen, the film has a thriller conceit, which is not necessarily what one thinks of when one thinks of John Singleton. But hey, directors need to work. And many filmmakers these days seem to be taking on some pretty unlikely material. If Stephen Daldry and Gus Van Sant could be considered for a "Twilight" movie, anything is possible.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: "Boyz n the Hood." Credit: Columbia Pictures


'The Reader' director Stephen Daldry a candidate to direct 'Breaking Dawn'

March 25, 2010 | 12:15 pm

Read

EXCLUSIVE: Add this name to the list of high-end auteurs who are being considered for the director's chair on "Breaking Dawn": Stephen Daldry.

Yep, that Stephen Daldry, the man who directed such Oscar fare as "Billy Elliot," "The Reader" and "The Hours."

Daldry joins a list that includes Sofia Coppola, Bill Condon and Gus Van Sant, all of whom have been approached about taking on the fourth film in the "Twilight" franchise. Like those three, there are not yet indications Daldry would actually take the gig, but the fact that Summit Entertainment, the studio behind the films, has reached out to him suggests where its intentions lie for the fourth film.

By this point nothing should surprise us about the names Summit is considering. (Well, James Cameron would surprise us. But he's pretty much the only one.) The fourth book contains more complicated material as the story opens up (warning: spoiler alert), with part of the novel written from werewolf Jacob's perspective and Kristen Stewart's Bella Swan carrying a child.

Having already gone indie with Catherine Hardwicke, polished/commercial with Chris Weitz and genre auteur with David Slade for the franchise's first three movies, Summit clearly wants a high-end prestige filmmaker to handle the fourth picture.

DaldryStill, even by those standards, Daldry stands out. He's been nominated for three Oscars, more than any of the other directors on the short list. In fact, Daldry is the rare filmmaker who's been nominated for a best directing Oscar for every feature he's made.

Those credentials make taking on a global teen phenomenon seem unlikely, though there are reasons to think it could work. The director is well-versed in depicting forbidden love (a "Twilight" staple) with "The Reader" and "The Hours." And he's adept at themes of family alienation, also a franchise fixture, which ran under "Billy Elliot." Also, like most of the others, Daldry doesn't yet have a new film.

The fourth "Twilight" movie -- which will likely take only a piece of "Breaking Dawn" as the film is split into two -- will in all likelihood be shot in the fall. That gives Summit a little more time to comb through high-end directors. Academy Award winners, take note: Vampires and werewolves are coming for you.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photoa: David Cross and Kate Winslet in "The Reader:" Credit: The Weinstein Company. Stephen Daldry on the set of "Billy Elliot." Credit: Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures

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'City of Lights, City of Angels' announces lineup

March 24, 2010 |  8:00 pm

Heartbreaker2-(2)1

Four international premieres and nine U.S. and North American premieres are among the highlights of the 14th Annual City of Lights, City of Angels French film festival that runs at the Directors Guild of America April 19-25.

The festival, which includes 32 features and 20 shorts, opens with the North American premiere of the acclaimed French comedy “Heartbreaker,” starring Romain Duris and Vanessa Paradis.

Another recent comedy hit, “The Concert,” starring Mélanie Laurent of “Inglourious Basterds,” will also have its U.S. unveiling at the festival. The film will be released later this year by the Weinstein Co.

The festival will close with “In the Beginning,” an official selection from last year’s Cannes Film Festival, starring Francois Cluzet of “Tell No One.”

Continue reading »

'At the Movies' is canceled. Was it too soon?

March 24, 2010 |  7:10 pm

Here we were all ready to gin up a post about how "At the Movies" seems to be hitting its stride this year with Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott after the shaky experiment that was the two Bens (Lyons and Mankiewicz) last year. And now we find out there's nothing to gin -- the show is being canceled.

Sco "At the Movies" fought the good fight of balancing the commercial with the art house -- every second of coverage for a small or foreign film was precious, and Phillips and Scott found a way to secure enough of them, even amid the obligatory "Twilight" and "Alice In Wonderland" assessments (just as Gene Siskel and Rogert Ebert did in the 1970s and 1980s).

But today, Disney-ABC, which syndicated the program, gave up on the fight. Some will say they gave up too soon; it takes years, after all, for any talk-format show to find its audience. There's something to that. But the show was in many ways an anachronism, with even the more hospitable precincts of print and radio struggling to attract audiences for film reviews.

And after trying a younger, more populist approach with Ben Lyons last year that didn't work, and then going back to serious criticism this year, at least they gave it a shot.

Many point to the growth of review-aggregation tools and social media as a reason for the demise of the show (and the declining prominence of critics in general). There's something to that too, though it's worth remembering that Twitter isn't all tweens breathlessly effusing about the Jonas Bros.; some old-school critics, like Ebert himself, have brilliantly used social media too.

We didn't always agree with the new "At the Movies" pair -- Phillips in particular -- though Scott was often brilliantly on point in taking on scared cows like "Shutter Island' and supporting less fashionable causes like "Green Zone." But even when their take differed from our own, it was great fun to watch two intelligent people gab about the movies, whether to get worked up, nod along in agreement or just take the temperature of two of the country's leading critics.

We can only hope a version of the program -- or least some sort of film-review show -- will survive on cable. Everything else good on television seems to.

--Steven Zeitchik

Photo: A.O. Scott and Michael Phillips. Credit: Disney-ABC

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