24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: April 2010

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With 'Batman 3' release date, 2012 will see a superhero summer showdown

April 30, 2010 |  4:29 pm

Chris Nolan is staying on a biannual schedule. With the director's "The Dark Knight"

Warner Bros. confirmed today that "Batman 3" (not its final title, obviously) will come out in the summer of 2012, on July 20. In addition to making fanboys the world over salivate with eager anticipation, that also sets up a box-office rematch of sorts between Nolan's Batman franchise, a DC creation, and the movies from Marvel's stable of characters, as "The Avengers," the supergroup of superhero Marvel movies, comes out a few months earlier (in May).

When the first round of that slugfest went down, in the summer of 2008, "The Dark Knight" trumped "Iron Man" handily, grossing $215 million more in the U.S. But "Iron Man" wasn't yet a cultural juggernaut back then. In 2012 the landscape could look a little different, as Marvel characters have continued to gain traction.

"Avengers" will also have the benefit of Thor, Captain America and other characters from its film appearing in their own movies the summer before.  And all this after "Iron Man 2" looks to break the opening-weekend record of "The Dark Knight" next week. The high-tech weaponry, she is flying.

--Steven Zeitchik

Photo: "The Dark Knight." Credit: Warner Bros.

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Samuel Bayer's finicky auterishness, in an unlikely marriage with remake mania

April 30, 2010 |  2:46 pm

Warner Bros.' "Nightmare on Elm Street" remake opens Friday around the country, and though the studio took a somewhat odd tack in showing it to reporters and critics -- namely, they didn't, not until a couple days ago, anyway -- the film is actually not half-bad, well-paced and with a number of stylish set pieces. (In the Los Angeles Times, critic Robert Abele was less sympathetic -- you can read his review here).

It's not surprising that the movie would offer some visual flourishes given its director, Samuel Bayer. Bayer is one of those you've-seen-his-work-but-probably-didn't-know-it-was-him guys. Over the last several decades he's directed a host of massively well-known commercials as well as an equal number of classic music videos, including "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Only Happy When It Rains" and "American Idiot." (He's also responsible for the video for Blind Melon's "No Rain," with that girl in the bumblebee tutu -- yes, your childhood is flashing before your eyes. Kind of like seeing Freddy Krueger ads all over again.)

Although he's been a director for more than 20 years and had been courted by many in Hollywood, Bayer had never directed a film before, as we write in a profile in Thursday's paper. He's known for being picky and fanciful. Many in town have a story about him, the kind in which he talks energetically about, say, re-imagining Hamlet in an Ohio junkyard or contemporizing a Sam Peckinpah classic, but never, in the end, taking the plunge and getting behind the camera. In fact, he almost didn't direct "Nightmare" -- it took a special plea from Michael Bay, who produced the film, for him to finally agree.

As a kind of homage to/refresher on Bayer's non-film work, here are a few music videos from him (we'd embed "No Rain" but the label has taken out all embed code, so here's a link instead.) For his next movie, Bayer is more likely to do an art house film -- he was attached to "Monster's Ball" back in the day -- though sources tell us he's going to be methodical in making a decision. As he told us, "I want to wait and make sure it's the right thing. Too many directors take on their next movie right after the first." Let's hope it's not another 20 years.

-- Steven Zeitchik

(Follow me on Twitter.)

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'Mr. Popper's Penguins' could reshuffle its flock

April 29, 2010 |  6:44 pm

EXCLUSIVE: It looks like Noah Baumbach won't march with the penguins.

The director who examined adult problems through children's eyes in his breakout "The Squid and the Whale" had been in talks to direct the children's classic "Mr. Popper's Penguins." But he's fallen off and won't direct it after all, sources say. 

Baumb There had never been a formal deal between the parties, though Baumbach's disassociation raises the question of Ben Stiller's involvement in the Fox movie; the comic actor has also been in talks to come aboard (to star), in part because of Baumbach's interest. (The two collaborated on the recently released quirky dramedy "Greenberg").

"Mr. Popper's Penguins" is a 1938 novel aimed at the early-grade set about a house painter and his wife who come into possession of a dozen penguins but soon find themselves in over their heads with feeding and other responsibilities.

The decision that producers and Baumbach (who also explored animal-minded whimsy in "Fantastic Mr. Fox," which he wrote) go their separate ways was said to be related to creative differences, and we can understand why.

Bringing on an independent-minded auteur to direct a famous children's work is an interesting idea in theory -- we'd rather a studio hire someone with a strong point of view for a movie like "Penguins" than water it down to a generic family film -- but a checkered model in practice, something that Warner Bros. and Spike Jonze could tell you about from the "Where the Wild Things Are." We'll see what tonal direction Fox decides to take "Penguins."

--Steven Zeitchik

(Follow me on Twitter.)

Photo: Noah Baumbach. Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.

Summit plays 'Fair Game'

April 29, 2010 |  5:24 pm

We told you a week ago that Summit would walk away with "Fair Game," the Sean Penn movie about the Joe Wilson-Valerie Plame affair that plays the upcoming Cannes Film Festival. Now they have, acquiring rights in several global territories as well as North America.

The movie played to distributors last week, with some finding it a little talky and others, including Focus and the Weinstein Co., also expressing interest, before Summit hammered out a deal. Get ready for "The Hurt Locker: The Return" next awards season.

--Steven Zeitchik

'Anchorman 2' is off the air

April 29, 2010 |  4:55 pm

Thursday's bit of Hollywood news sponsored by Twitter: The "Anchorman 2" sequel that a few stars from the original had been talking about on the junket circuit is a no-go.

Adam McKay, director and co-writer on the 2004 Will Ferrell comedy hit (and his collaborator on the upcoming "The Other Guys"), says that filmmakers and the studio couldn't see eye to eye on a budget. "So bummed. Paramount basically passed on Anchorman 2. Even after we cut our budget down. We tried," he tweeted earlier Thursday afternoon, followed by, a short time later, "To all who asked: no we can't do Anchorman 2 at another studio. Paramount owns it."

The Ron Burgundy character from the original is pretty indelible, though hard to imagine what a sequel would have looked like, especially since that kind of '70s-skewering has been out of fashion for a while now (put out to pasture in part by Ferrell's own "Semi-Pro" a couple of years ago).

Of course, the real culprit is not creative but financial: It's almost impossible to do comedy sequels because the only ones we all want to see are the big hits, and the big hits usually drive everyone's price up, making a new movie as cost-ineffective as, well, "Anchorman 2" ("Hangover" is the rare exception). No matter. McKay and Ferrell will come up with a new one. We hope.

— Steven Zeitchik

(Follow me on Twitter.)

Photo: Will Ferrell in "Anchorman." Photo credit: Paramount

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.

Swedish spitfire Espinosa could seek safety in South America

April 29, 2010 | 12:45 pm

EXCLUSIVE:  One of the hottest scripts in Hollywood right now is "Safe House," which as we told you about back in February is one of the few priority films at a studio that's not a remake or brand adaptation, thank the heavens. It's a movie from a young writer named David Guggenheim about a U.S. intelligence agent and his prisoner, who are forced to seek refuge in safe houses across South America -- a kind of "Bourne Identity" by way of "Collateral."

Snabba Now Universal and producer Scott Stuber are closing in on a director to bring Guggenheim's vision to the screen. Three filmmakers are among the finalists --  "Buried" director Rodridgo Cortes, "The "Losers" director Sylvain White and Daniel Espinosa, the Swedish auteur who created a stir with his noir "Snabba Cash." Espinosa, we're told, is poised to get the gig, as the parties are set to try to hammer out a deal.

Espinosa was signed by Hollywood managers and agents after his film drummed up interest at the Berlin Film Festival (the remake rights were subsequently picked up by Warner Bros. as a Zac Efron producing/starring vehicle). The Swedish director seems like a perfect choice, if only because a dark but accessible vision, as he flashed in "Snabba," is exactly what material like "Safe House" needs if Hollywood is going to create some new franchises instead of dining out endlessly on the old ones.

But the larger story here is how producers are now willing to look outside -- both English-speaking countries and traditional channels -- for filmmakers who can direct their hot scripts, even the broadly commercial ones. You can try to get an old-timey A-lister, spend a lot of money and then find out he's not available when you're ready to shoot. Or you can bring in a fresh voice inexpensively and shoot as soon as you're ready.

-- Steven Zeitchik

(Follow me on Twitter.)

Photo: Poster for "Snabba Cash." Credit: Tre Vanner Productions.

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.

Preview review: 'Secretariat' tries to sneak up on the blind side

April 29, 2010 | 12:44 pm

Diane-Lane-and-John-Malkovich-in-SECRETARIAT_jpgAt a Disney meet and greet last week, Chairman Rich Ross gushed over the company's October release "Secretariat," saying the film tells a "very impactful" story and "sends a signal of what we believe Disney is and what Disney can be."

But the trailer sends a slightly different signal:  that of a dubious TV movie.

The movie is based on the "impossible true story" of homemaker Penny (Diane Lane), who seizes control of her father's stables when he falls ill. Though Penny doesn't know a lot about horses, she employs famous trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), and the two are able to bring one horse to racing glory.

We're really not fans of the voice-over that Lane narrates as the preview begins, as she extols the virtues of horses. "In frenzied excitement he eats up the ground," she says as we see hoofs clomp fiercely around the race track. She sounds like a mother excitedly reading her children a bedtime story, and we're not all that jazzed about the tale we're about to hear.

Continue reading »

The case for DreamWorks Animation to stop riding the dragon

April 29, 2010 |  7:00 am


DreamWorks Animation's announcement that it will produce and release a "How to Train Your Dragon" sequel within the next three years is either the smartest or the strangest move an animation company has made in a while.

First, the obvious -- the smart part. "Dragon" has been an unmitigated success for the studio, earning at least $20 million in the U.S. in each of its first four weeks of release and pocketing a total of $373 million globally, which puts it nicely in the black even for an expensive CG 3-D production. That's also not bad for a star-less spring cartoon.

And so it makes sense that DreamWorks would try to keep the magic going, especially because the standard formula is that an animated sequel makes between one and a half and two times as much as the original (true for everything from "Shrek" to "Ice Age.")

The studio also needs a new animation franchise after the aforementioned "Shrek,"  which mercifully will be put out of its green misery after nine years and four movies once "Shrek Forever After" comes and goes in a few weeks. Enter the dragon, which offers an entire series of books -- seven more in all -- to serve as the basis for plenty of capers from Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and his friends.

But there's also something unsettling about a sequel. "Dragon" has been a watershed for DreamWorks. It won't be its most lucrative movie by a long shot -- that honor belongs to movies such as "Madagascar" and "Kung Fu Panda," each of which has grossed more than half a billion dollars worldwide.

But it has shown that the Jeffrey Katzenberg company can play with the big boys -- namely, bitter cross-California rivals John Lasseter and Pixar. For the first time possibly in its history, and at least since "Shrek" came out nearly a decade ago in a very different animation landscape, DreamWorks has showed it could produce a well-told story that is not only commercially successful but a critical breakthrough as well, a movie that will remain influential in popular culture and the animation universe for a long time. As the world changes yet again, "Dragon" helps DreamWorks stake out a position as a company that can use 3-D effectively.

All this doesn't immediately change with the announcement of a second "Dragon" movie. But there's a taint. Sequels suggest merchandising (as if underscoring the point, DreamWorks also announced that an online world, television series and arena show were in the works too), commerce and, by definition, a lack of uniqueness. There's a reason the last eight Oscar winners for best animated film have been stand-alone movies, and there's a reason Pixar is so selective about what it keeps going and what it lays to rest.

Yes, it keeps playing with a broader, merchandisey property such as "Toy Story," but wisely stays away from over-milking its elegant character films such as "Wall-E," "Ratatouille" and "Up." A lesser company would make a sequel out of the latter, call it "Down" and have the two main characters explore the ocean floor in a submarine. Pixar, to its great credit, does not. It knows its team can and will pull off the trick again with an entirely new set of characters, and it knows that audiences will come out to see the film whether it has so-called brand-awareness or not.

With animation development costs so high and efforts so labor-intensive, you can't blame DreamWorks for trying to ride the "Dragon" for all its worth. But now that it's finally playing in Pixar's stadium, it seems like the wrong move. Confidence in a franchise communicates a strong message, both to Hollywood and to Wall Street. Confidence that your creative team can come up with good new movies from scratch, though, communicates an even stronger one.

-- Steven Zeitchik

(Follow me on Twitter.)

Photo: A scene from "How to Train Your Dragon." Credit: DreamWorks Animation

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.

Adam Shankman won't sing on new musical, but will he make his way to the Emerald City?

April 28, 2010 |  6:04 pm

EXCLUSIVE:  Disney's  Wizard of Oz prequel "The Great Powerful" is turning into a hot directing gig in Hollywood -- so hot that "Hairspray" director and Oscars producer Adam Shankman has taken the bold step of removing himself from another Disney project as he aims to land the job.

Shank Shankman had attached himself to direct "Bob the Musical" -- a musical about a man who, after being struck on the head, hears melodious versions of others' thoughts -- at the end of 2008, right as Disney was bringing out his children's fairy tale  "Bedtime Stories." But Shankman has now stepped aside from "Bob" in an effort to show Disney where his heart lies.

Shankman will still have to sell Disney executives Rich Ross and Sean Bailey, as well as producer Joe Roth, on his take on the story of the Wizard before he came to Oz, a broad adventure story that will be shot in 3-D. And he will need to outmaneuver his main rival, Sam Mendes, for the gig. The winner could almost become the answer to a high-concept parlor game:  Is it better to imagine the Wizard of Oz by way of "American Beauty" or by way of "Hairspray"?

Shankman's move throws into question the future of "Bob," which already wasn't considered an especially high priority with the current Disney regime. It does speaks to how much of a priority "Powerful" is at Disney, with directors angling to land one of the few big gigs currently available.

It also offers a clue as to the professional intentions of Shankman, a choreographer earlier in his career who has remade himself as a versatile director and producer, particularly on musicals. In February, Shankman told my colleague Amy Kaufman that he feels he has graduated beyond some of his earlier work. "I’m being picky," he said. "I want to do something more adult than kids and animals, something with a more sophisticated sense of humor." The wizard awaits -- for one man, anyway.

--Steven Zeitchik

(Follow me on Twitter.)

Photo: Adam Shankman. Credit: Jason Merritt / Getty Images

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.

Word of Mouth: 'City Island' tries to grow from small to big

April 28, 2010 |  5:18 pm


It's been more than a year since Anchor Bay Entertainment decided to reinvent itself. Rather than handle low-budget genre titles, the subsidiary of Overture Films moved into the specialized film business, looking for small movies (often those with festival pedigrees) that might benefit from a limited theatrical release. "We are looking for great independent films, great stories and great casts," says President Bill Clark.

The early returns from the new plan weren't particularly impressive. The Sundance title "Frozen" grossed just $246,000, while the AFI Film Festival feature "After.Life" sold just $107,000 in tickets. But as we write about in this week's Word of Mouth column, Anchor Bay now might have its first real hit, the Andy Garcia family dramedy "City Island." Even though the film is in just a handful of theaters, its per-screen averages have actually increased from week to week, a testament to the film's positive word of mouth.

This weekend, the movie moves into wide national release, trying to continue to ride a wave of enthusiastic moviegoer buzz since opening March 19.  

It may not be "Iron Man 2," but "City Island" looks like a minor audience sensation.

--John Horn

Photo of Andy Garcia in "City Island." Credit: Phillip V. Caruso / Overture Films


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