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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: September 2010

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With the Denali castings, a 'Twilight' coven comes together

September 30, 2010 |  7:24 pm

Twihards have been waiting with bated breath for news on casting of the Denali vampire coven, the longstanding allies of the franchise's Cullen family.

Today, Summit Entertainment confirmed much of the Denali cast for Bill Condon's two "Breaking Dawn" films, which are slated for release in November 2011 and 2012. The company revealed that Christian Camargo has come aboard as Eleazar, Casey LaBow has joined as Kate, Mia Maestro will play Carmen and MyAnna Buring (who came to prominence with a movie called "Lesbian Vampire Killers" -- you can't make this stuff up) will star as Tanya. (Maggie Grace had already been announced as Irina.)  The role of Garrett has not been cast at this time.

Tanya, who once expressed an interest in Edward Cullen, is the leader of the clan. Like the Cullens, with whom they have a longstanding relationship, the Denalis drink only animal blood.  The previous film, "Eclipse,” did see tensions between the Cullens and the Denalis, however, and the new book and films will continue their saga, with the Denalis now taking on a more prominent role.

Camargo, at 39, is probably one of the more veteran actors of the group, with "The Hurt Locker," "K-19: The Widowmaker" and "Dexter” among his credits. It remains to be seen whether these actors get the long-term boost that some believe a “Twilight” casting can provide, but today's announcement at least shines a brief spotlight on a group of workaday actors.

The announcement no doubt broke the hearts of many lesser-known actors, and average teenagers, hoping for a shot in the franchise. But fear not -- when it comes to "Twilight," there's always a bit part somewhere waiting to be filled.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: MyAnna Buring in 'Lesbian Vampire Killers.' Credit: Celador Films.

Zac Efron, Jackie Kennedy and a Swedish phenomenon get linked

September 30, 2010 |  5:19 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Two of the hotter Hollywood stories of 2010, at least on the creative side, are coming together.

"Snabba Cash," the Zac Efron-starring remake of the Swedish crime drama that we told you about last March, is getting a writer with some significant buzz of his own. The scribe in question: Noah Oppenheim, who's coming on to write the script for the Warner Bros. film project.

Oppenheim is the former producer of "Today" who received Steven Spielberg's seal of approval when the A-lister expressed interest in producing Oppenheim's original story about Jackie Kennedy and her life in the days after the JFK assassination.

Rachel Weisz is now attached to star and Darren Aronofsky to direct that first lady tale, "Jackie," which should give Oppenheim plenty of heat on his own.

The addition of a writer to the English-language "Snabba Cash" is good news for fans of Daniel Espinosa's original, as well as devotees of arty Swedish genre tales (and thanks to "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," there are plenty). But mostly it's good news for anyone who wants to see Efron play a coke runner, because it means we're now one step closer to that once-impossible dream.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Zac Efron at the Australian premiere of 'Charlie St. Cloud.' Credit: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images.


Studios seek to snag Swedish sizzler 'Snabba'

A Jackie Kennedy movie, courtesy of Steven Spielberg

Zac Efron's halting reinvention

Disney hopes 'Tangled' brushes up its boy appeal

September 30, 2010 |  4:19 pm

Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross was feeling his oats.

A year into the job, Ross suggested it would be exciting to have a horse at Wednesday’s screening of the studio’s holiday film offerings, to promote to the press Disney’s “Secretariat,” which opens Oct. 8. Faster than you can say Triple Crown, a thoroughbred appeared on the grass in front of the theater, where Disney showed a trailer of the racing drama.

“I ask for a horse, I get a horse,” Ross said, as he took the stage at Disney’s main theater.

The studio then showed about 25 minutes of "Tron: Legacy" (more on that presentation here) and also screened a nearly complete version of its Nov. 24 animated movie, "Tangled."

Disney is making a big bet on "Tangled," an animated retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale that Ross labeled "a comedy adventure very much off the grid."

Directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, who worked together on “Bolt” and replaced original director Glen Keane on "Tangled," oversaw a complete remake of the film (it was initially called "Rapunzel," but the studio worried the title and the original story wouldn't appeal to boys and men) that now plays up the role of the male lead, the bandit Flynn Rider (voiced by Zachary Levi from television's "Chuck").

Even with the new title and some new swashbuckling, the core story remains a tale about an 18-year-old princess (singer Mandy Moore) with magical golden hair who’s trapped in a tower by a cruel woman pretending to be her mother (character actor Donna Murphy) –- and it's a musical, at that.

Greno joked that the reason he and Howard looked so pale was that, like Rapunzel, they had been sequestered indoors for the last two years, feverishly working on the film. The computer-animated movie balances a modern playfulness with elements reminiscent of classic Disney animation, with music by  Alan Menken, composer for “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin,” and lyrics by Glenn Slater ("Home on the Range"). 

“When people hear we’re making a contemporary version of this classic tale of Rapunzel, they want to know if it would be cynical,” said Howard. “It’s not. It’s got heart."

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski, John Horn and Claudia Eller

 Photo: "Tangled." Credit: The Walt Disney Co.


Tron tries to build a stronger legacy

Disney restyles Rapunzel to appeal to boys

A Beauty and the Beast singalong comes to theaters

Critical Mass: 'Let Me In'

September 30, 2010 |  3:51 pm


Writer-director Matt Reeves has taken the clout he gained from directing the hit "Cloverfield" to adapt the popular Swedish vampire film "Let the Right One In" for American audiences and given it a more Hollywood title: "Let Me In." It opens the same day as David Fincher's "The Social Network," which is notable in that Fincher is currently engaged in remaking another popular Swedish film, based on Stieg Larsson's novel, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

As the first wave of American-Swedish re-dos hits movie screens, how are critics reacting? If "Let Me In" can be considered a typical case, then Fincher and those who follow won't have much to worry about.

Michael Phillips writing for Tribune Newspapers is mostly positive about the movie, even though he prefers the Swedish original (what movie critic doesn't?). As Phillips says, "The original was a damn good thriller. The new one is simply a good one."

But what exactly does Reeves do right? For one thing, Phillips says, the director doesn't mess too much with the original story, inserting his improvements around the edges: "In one instance he has improved on a visual shock effect from the original, involving a bedridden vampire victim whose hospital stay ends badly. In other instances Reeves approximates shots, or a series of shots, or entire sequences, to fairly good effect and with just enough variation to call the results his own."

Continue reading »

Fred Durst returns to directing with 'Pawn Shop Chronicles'

September 30, 2010 |  2:53 pm


EXCLUSIVE: Fred Durst might have earned himself a name by grabbing some nookie circa 1999. But the multi-platinum recording artist is now continuing to pursue his other passion -- directing movies.

The Limp Bizkit frontman -- currently on a reunion tour in Europe with his old band -- has signed on to direct "Pawn Shop Chronicles." It's based on a script from a newcomer named Adam Minarovich, and the idea is for an ensemble action/black comedy that those involved say emulates "Pulp Fiction." (In a nutshell, a missing wedding ring leads to a wild-goose chase involving meth addicts, skinheads and an Elvis impersonator.)

The project will be financed and produced by upstart film production company Mimran Schur, whose CEO and co-chairman Jordan Schur, the former Geffen Records president, discovered and signed Durst back in the late '90s to his then-Flip Records.

"Fred is taking a path that's actually very well-traveled," Schur says of Durst, who in addition to two features has directed a number of music videos. "If you look at Brett Ratner or Marc Webb, there are a lot of very successful film directors who learned how to do it by taking the limited canvas of two or three minutes and presenting a compelling narrative."

Durst, whose tour hit a small snag after his drummer was diagnosed with pneumonia, previously directed the female football film "The Longshots" and the college dramedy "The Education of Charlie Banks," which played the festival circuit and drew acclaim for Jesse Eisenberg's performance.

"Paranormal Activity" producer Steven Schneider also will produce "Pawn Shop." Durst was actually said to be talking to Schneider about directing "Paranormal Activity 2," but the two decided to collaborate on "Pawn Shop Chronicles" instead. The movie is set to go into production in early 2011.

Schur "Pawn Shop" is not the only new film on which Mimran Schur is moving forward. In other exclusive news, the company, whose crime drama "Stone" hits theaters next, has just won the rights to a script called "Five Against the Bullet" from Alex Litvak. It's the first script that Litvak, who wrote the recent "Predators" as well as the upcoming Paul W.S. Anderson update of "The Three Musketeers," ever wrote.

The story is an action-thriller centering on a man in Mexico who, after his father is killed by a drug cartel, vows to run for office and clean up the streets despite the high degree of danger. He then must try to accomplish this task while staying one step ahead of the drug cartels pursuing him. Production is also set to start in the first half of 2011.

The high-profile Mexican drug-wars movie "Cartel," which was set to star Josh Brolin, was stopped a month before production by Universal in part because of safety concerns about filming  on location in Mexico. Schur says "Five Against the Bullet"  will shoot either in the U.S. or Puerto Rico because of those dangers.

Meanwhile, "Stone," the Edward Norton-Robert DeNiro cat-and-mouse thriller about an arsonist and a parole officer, has begun to receive reasonably favorable notice. Producers and distributor Overture are hoping for a chunk of the audience that has come out to see the similarly adult-oriented "The Town." "We wanted to keep the integrity of the story in both the movie and the marketing," Schur says. "You can make a character-driven crime thriller and pretend like it's any other action movie, but we wanted to stay true to the story."

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photos: Top: Fred Durst performing last year in Reading, England; credit: Simone Joyner / Getty Images. Bottom: Jordan Schur; credit: Mimran Schur.


Kenneth Turan's film pick: 'Beauty and the Beast' Sing-Along

September 30, 2010 |  1:15 pm

Beauty and the Beast

If you love Disney's 1991 animated "Beauty and the Beast" -- and it's hard not to -- here is a chance to see it in an unusual way. A special "Sing-Along Event" set to help promote the movie's release on Blu-ray is scheduled for Oct. 2 at noon at participating AMC, Regal and Pacific theaters (click here for specific locations).

The chance to sing along to "Be Our Guest," "Belle" and the irresistible "Gaston" with a theater full of like-minded enthusiasts shouldn't be ignored.

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

[Updated,  3:03 p.m.: An earlier version of this post referred to "Be My Guest"; the correct name of the song is "Be Our Guest."]

Photo: Belle and the Beast in a scene from "Beauty and the Beast." ©Disney Entertainment Inc.

'Tron' tries to build a stronger legacy

September 30, 2010 | 10:00 am

When "Tron" came out 28 years ago, it was hailed as a visual spectacle and a technological marvel, but was written off on storytelling and entertainment grounds.

Disney wants to make sure that doesn't happen again.

In a presentation on the studio's lot Wednesday afternoon, "Tron: Legacy" director Joseph Kosinski showed more than 20 minutes of footage from the alternate-reality adventure that's being released Dec. 17, a straight-up sequel to the flash-heavy original.

In the new film, Jeff Bridges reprises his role as computer programmer Kevin Flynn, who disappeared into a virtual universe back in 1982. The movie treats real time and cinema time as the same, and now, his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) has slipped into that world to find him. (The film also offers the sight of a modern-day Bridges playing against his younger self; when we caught up with him at Comic-Con, Bridges said he starred in it because of that challenge, and because "it's a modern-day myth, and we need more of those.")

Disney is intent on broadening the movie's appeal beyond the sci-faithful, an impulse very much in evidence at Wednesday's presentation. In the pre-screening introduction, Kosinski made his case that the film would appeal to more than just a narrow band of fans. In a turn of phrase that could easily have been used to describe "The Social Network" or "Catfish," he said his film was really about "finding human connection in a digital world."

The scenes did show plenty of visual pizazz as Flynn the younger is thrust into a sleek world that has him dodging Tron's famous discs and engaging in light-streaked chases (you can see the trailer below). But the footage notably included a reunion scene, another indication the studio wants this story to be thought of as much for its emotional pleasures as its visceral ones.

Disney has a lot riding on the 3-D film (not yet rated), which features plenty of cost-intensive effects and goes outside the studio's sweet spot of tweens and children that turned films such as "Alice in Wonderland" into blockbusters.  ("Tron: Legacy" producer Sean Bailey is also now Disney's president of production, adding a layer of consequence.)

But even with the movie's populist ambitions, those involved in it say a philosophical aspect is unavoidable. "It's a story about what's authentic and what's inauthentic -- it asks the question 'Is technology going to get between me and my loved ones or is it going to help me get closer to them?'" Steven Lisberger, who wrote and directed the original and served as a producer on this one, told 24 Frames at Comic-Con.

Kosinski, meanwhile, told us that he thought the idea of "Tron" had more relevance than ever. "The notion that people have a digital alter ego is not something I think people understood in 1982," he said. "Now it's something we take for granted. The real world has caught up with 'Tron.'"

We'll see if audiences do too.

-- Steven Zeitchik



Preview review: Tron: Legacy

Comi-con 2010: Jeff Bridges returns for Tron: Legacy (both of him)

Photo: Tron: Legacy. Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Around town: Special weekend film screenings

September 30, 2010 |  9:15 am

Blake Edwards was the guiding force on such comedic classics as 1959’s “Operation Petticoat” and 1961’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” not to mention the “Pink Panther” films with Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. On Thursday, Edwards will be on hand to talk about his career at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater. A screening of “S.O.B.” -- his 1981 Hollywood satire starring Edwards’ wife, Julie Andrews, and William Holden in his final film -- will follow the discussion. www.oscars.org.

The American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre is throwing a 70th birthday party this weekend for the late, great John Lennon. The festivities start Thursday with the L.A. premiere of “Nowhere Boy,” a poignant retelling of Lennon’s teenage years. On tap for Friday are some rare documentaries: 1964’s “What’s Happening! The Beatles in the USA,” 1976’s “Mighty Good! The Beatles” and 2002’s “Things They Said Today: Reflections on A Hard Day’s Night.”

Beatles historian Martin Lewis will introduce Saturday’s screenings of the 1965 Beatles classic “Help!” as well as 2000’s “Two of Us,” Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s dramatization of the last encounter between Lennon and Paul McCartney. The party ends Sunday with the 1988 documentary “Imagine: John Lennon” and 2006’s “The U.S. vs. John Lennon.” www.americancinematheque.com

The Los Angeles Irish Film Festival dances over to the Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre on Friday evening with the West Coast premiere of the coming-of-age drama “My Brothers” and the U.S. premiere of 2009’s “Swansong: Story of Occi Byrne.” Both films' directors, Paul Fraser and Conor McDermottroe, will discuss their work. The festival continues through Sunday. www.lairishfilm.com

UCLA Film and Television Archive offers “Paint it Black: Revisiting Blaxploitation and African American Cinema of the 1970s” at the Billy Wilder Theatre beginning Friday with 1972’s “Superfly,” which stars Ron O’Neal as a charismatic drug dealer trying to get out of the trade. Marvin Van Peebles' 1971 seminal drama about the radicalization of a hustler, “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song,” will complete the night’s double bill.

Diahann Carroll earned a best actress nomination for her tough, tender turn in 1974’s “Claudine,” screening Saturday, as a working class single woman with five children. James Earl Jones plays the garbage collector who loves her. Also screening is Gordon Parks Jr.’s 1975 teen romance, “Aaron Loves Angela,” starring Kevin Hooks and Irene Cara. www.cinema.ucla.edu

Continue reading »

Kenneth Turan's film pick of the week: Stephen King's 'dollar babies'

September 30, 2010 |  8:05 am

Stephen King In an act of remarkable generosity, author Stephen King decreed in the late 1970s that any student filmmaker could make a movie out of one of his short stories after paying a permission fee of just $1.

"I have made the dollar-deal, as I call it," King noted in 1996, "over my accountant's moans and head-clutching protests 16 or 17 times as of this writing."

In an act of remarkable cinematic detective work, Cinefamily head programmer Hadrian Belove has rounded up a dozen or so of these student films, or "dollar babies" as King calls them, and is going to show them in two separate programs. The Saturday night program also features a feature-length dollar baby called "Riding the Bullet," directed by Mick Garris, who is scheduled to attend.

The shows are free, but given the work involved tracking these down, the suggested $10 donation is more than fair. The programs will be at 10 p.m. Oct. 2 and 2 p.m. Oct. 3 at Cinefamily, 611 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles.

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Author Stephen King. Credit: Mark Mainz /Getty Images

Tony Curtis' Hollywood legacy

September 30, 2010 |  5:29 am


He was nominated for only one Oscar, but Tony Curtis leaves behind a big-screen legacy as few other actors have or, for that matter, probably ever will.

The actor, who died late Wednesday night at the age of 85 at his home in Nevada (you can read The Times' obituary here), was shortlisted by the academy for his role as a racist convict in "The Defiant Ones."

It was one of numerous parts that epitomized Curtis' career and shaped a filmgoing zeitgeist throughout the 1950s and '60s. In "Sweet Smell of Success" (1957), Curtis played a slick and shady press agent to Burt Lancaster's equally unscrupulous Broadway publicist. In the Blake Edwards' World War II comedy "Operation Petticoat" (1959), Curtis inhabits the role of a submarine officer with unorthodox motives and methods.

Billy Wilder's 1959 comic romp "Some Like It Hot" had Curtis and Jack Lemmon as struggling Chicago musicians who fled town while dressed as women to escape the Mafia. (A funny scene from that film, with Curtis and Lemmon in drag, is below.) In the screwball comedy "Sex and the Single Girl" (1964), Curtis plays a reporter for a men's magazine who impersonates a psychologist to get closer to a successful author (Natalie Wood).

Later in his career, the 1968 drama "The Boston Strangler" saw Curtis taking on the heady character of a disturbed serial killer.

The actor with the pin-up looks continued working well past the point when most performers would have hung it up and simply accepted lifetime achievement awards. (He was slated, at least according to some databases, to take on a role in an upcoming adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story "Morella.")

In his personal life, Curtis was almost as colorful as he was on screen, from his humble beginnings as the son of immigrants in the Bronx to numerous marriages, a stint in rehab, a second career as a painter and a stubborn refusal to go quietly into old age. Curtis' life and Hollywood history are  permanently entwined -- he played opposite iconic actors as diverse as Sidney Poitier and Marlyn Monroe. And of course he was married to Janet Leigh, with whom he fathered Jamie Lee Curtis.

But what's perhaps most remarkable about Curtis' career was his fluid ability to move between comedy and drama, and our willingness to embrace him in both. In the current era of typecasting, few even try, and those who do rarely succeed.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco in 'Sweet Smell of Success.' Credit: United Artists

[For the record, 6:10 a.m.: An earlier version of this post said Lauren Bacall played the successful author in "Sex and the Single Girl." She played the married woman who lives next door to Curtis; Natalie Wood played the author.]


Tony Curtis dies at 85


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