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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: September 2010

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Fox to 'Narnia' fans: Please come back

September 29, 2010 |  3:57 pm

1 Trust us.

The team behind the latest "Chronicles of Narnia" movie knows it has some persuading to do, and more than two months ahead of the release of the third installment in the C.S. Lewis fantasy series, the filmmakers are taking their sales pitch to the media -- and promising they will get the movie right.

In presentations this week in Los Angeles and New York, producer Mark Johnson, director Michael Apted and studio executive Elizabeth Gabler showed about 30 minutes of footage from "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," hoping they can convince moviegoers that the second film was a creative (and financial) aberration. 

The first film in the series, 2005's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" was a global blockbuster, an epic spectacle that grossed about $750 million worldwide. But the second installment, 2008's much darker and earthbound telling of "Prince Caspian," not only received poorer reviews but also fared much worse at the box office, slipping to $419 million worldwide. Given the film's performance and the high production costs (more than $200 million for the last movie), Disney walked away from the franchise, and rights holder Walden Media took the series to 20th Century Fox's Fox 2000, which Gabler runs.

Gabler and Johnson are hoping that "Dawn Treader," which opens in 3-D on Dec. 10, might be less Shakespearean than "Prince Caspian," and more fantastical than even "Harry Potter." The clips suggested that very little of the film takes place in wartime England, unfolding instead on the high seas and on magical islands, as the Pevensie kids (it's the last film for the two youngest siblings) search for some special swords and battle an aquatic serpent. The visual effects are everywhere: a spell-yielding book, a floating map, an indoor snowstorm, an invisible monster and a star that turns into a lovely maiden.

Andrew Adamson, the director of the first two films, has been replaced by  Apted, a documentarian ("28 Up") whose only real experience on a complex effects movie was 1999's James Bond film "The World is Not Enough." The swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep has a new voice too; Eddie Izzard is out and Simon Pegg is in (after Apted tested Bill Nighy but rejected him as too old).

More than anything, though, the movie feels more playful, less moody and certainly more family friendly than the last "Narnia" film -- whimsical, in other words. Fox's trailer for the film calls "Dawn Treader" the movie event of the holidays, which might be news to Warner Bros. and its "Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows Part One."

"Dawn Treader" has some work to do if it's going to win its audience back, but it looks from the selected clips as if the film is headed in the right direction. If it gets all the way there, a fourth "Narnia" film could very well be possible.

-- John Horn

Photo: Poster for the "Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader." Credit: 20th Century Fox

The foreign-language-film Oscar: More polyglot shouting than the United Nations

September 29, 2010 |  1:21 pm

If it's time for the Oscar nominations for foreign-language films, it must be time for a kerfuffle involving an Italian picture.

Two years ago, the foreign-language Oscar committee overlooked Matteo Garrone's Naples mob drama "Gomorrah." Some hailed it as the best foreign-language film of the year, but the Oscar committee left off the movie from its shortlist of nine films, prompting a call for hit-man justice.

On Wednesday, it was the country itself that went the unlikely -- and, to some film buffs, unconscionable -- route of choosing as its official academy selection Paolo Virzi's dramedy "The First Beautiful Thing" over the American cineaste favorite "I Am Love."

Beaut The Tilda Swinton-starring Russo-Italo drama has gained festival acclaim and has been an art-house hit in the U.S., grossing nearly $5 million. But the country opted for "Thing," which follows a prototypical Italian mother over different stages of her life. (Swinton is still a contender for a best actress nomination, so fans of her film shouldn't feel too upset.)

[UPDATE: Tom Quinn, senior vice president at distributor Magnolia, sent us the following reaction to Italy's decision: "Of course we're disappointed the film was overlooked in the Italian nomination process, but unfortunately that's not uncommon in the world of worthy foreign language contenders. We're deeply in love with the film and believe it has several chances of being nominated. So regardless of the foreign nomination we're moving full steam ahead with an aggressive awards campaign for Tilda, Luca (Guadagnino, the director) and the film."]

The foreign-language-film race has already started to heat up elsewhere around the world. Denis Villeneuve's "Incendies" is clearly a favorite; the French-Canadian movie about Middle East-immigrant-themed issues had a strong reception in Telluride and Toronto. Israel, which has been nominated for an Oscar three years running, selected Eran Riklis' "The Human Resources Manager," a black comedy about the titular bureaucrat who must return the body of an immigrant killed in a terrorist attack.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Biutiful," in which Javier Bardem plays a man struggling to raise his children, was tabbed earlier this week as the Mexican entry and is gaining attention in part because of its high-profile star and director. Cannes favorites "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" (Thailand) and "Of Gods and Men" (France) are on many pundits' list, as is China's entry, "Aftershock," and politically minded titles such as Brazil's "Lula, the Son of Brazil" and Afghanistan's "Black Tulip."

Of course, actually trying to handicap the foreign-language-film race -- the deadline for submissions is Friday, with the shortlist of nine and then the five nominees to follow --  is always tricky. There's often a quirky story line or theme as a country's internal politics may trump what stateside pundits prefer. And the Oscar committee itself has a history of overlooking movies such as "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 days" and "Persepolis" from even its shortlist of nine films, a move that prompted some changes to the rules a few years back.

Little, however, may compare with the 1992 controversy of the Uruguayan entry, "A Place in the World." The ensemble story set in post-Peron Argentina had been submitted by Uruguay and garnered an Oscar nomination. But after other entrants cried foul, the academy launched a probe and found that Uruguay actually had little to do with the movie, which was in almost all key respects an Argentine production. The movie ended up having its nomination rescinded. So Italy, at least you're not Uruguay.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: A poster for "The First Beautiful Thing." Credit: Medusa Film

Hollywood history: A special archive showcases pioneering women

September 29, 2010 | 10:00 am

With women shattering some of the last remaining glass ceilings in Hollywood -- take Kathryn Bigelow's best director Oscar last March, for example -- it's interesting to look back at those who paved the way. Women in Film's Legacy Series, housed at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, is a unique interview- recording project aimed at preserving the stories of influential women in Hollywood.

Since the project was launched in 1988, 32 women have participated in the series, including Oscar-nominated actress Piper Laurie of "The Hustler" and "Carrie" fame. The 78-year-old recounted some of her memorable moments for this week's Classic Hollywood column, but more of her story is available through the Legacy Series.

Besides Laurie, other subjects have included screenwriter Anna Hamilton Phelan ("Mask"); actress/producer/director Debbie Allen; Oscar-winning editor Anne V. Coates ("Lawrence of Arabia"); Fay Wray of "King Kong"; and actress Gloria Stuart, who died this week at age 100.

Producer Ilene Kahn Power has been the chair of the series for the last decade. "When I came on board, the material wasn't accessible," she said. "So I thought to myself, 'We have to have these wonderful interviews somewhere.'" That's how the UCLA Film and Television Archive got involved in 2004. Panavision loans crews, and the subjects are filmed on the Panavision stage over two days. "We make little documentaries," Power said.

The interviews are available for public viewing at UCLA by appointment. For more information, click here

-- Susan King

'The Virginity Hit' strikes out

September 29, 2010 |  7:00 am


It's almost too easy to make jokes about the performance of "The Virginity Hit," Sony's foray into micro-budget raunch (with an assist from producers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay).

As in -- Q: What's the worst that can happen when you take out a low-budget sex comedy with a low-budget marketing campaign?

A: You don't get any.

Even by the standards of dismal box-office performances, the micro-budget film was a macro-size failure last weekend. The last time a major Hollywood studio tried a grass-roots campaign for a no-star film with the help of a big-name supporter, it was Paramount and Steven Spielberg, and the movie was "Paranormal Activity." The spookfest became one of the most successful low-budget films of all time.

It didn't work out quite as well last weekend. Over the past few weeks Sony has been slowly rolling out "The Virginity Hit" -- a neo-verite, gross-out tale of an awkward teenager looking to lose his virginity -- using screenings on college campuses and stealth billboard advertising.

Yet all that came to naught this weekend, when the movie grossed just $300,000 on 700 screens.

Put in perspective, that's $415 per screen ... or about an average of four people in any given showing. Put in further perspective, that's one fewer person in each theater than those who came out for the opening weekend of "Twelve," the Joel Schumacher disaster from earlier this year. Perhaps the best that can be said about the Sony release is that the studio didn't spend a lot of money on the marketing campaign.

Continue reading »

Is 'Star Wars 3-D' a good idea?

September 28, 2010 |  7:29 pm

It's more entertaining than a Darth-Luke light saber duel to imagine how the "Star Wars" faithful will react to the news that the sci-fi franchise is coming back, and along the Z-axis this time. Blind rapture? Abject skepticism? A Jabba the Hut-size pile of confusion?

But like it or not, here it comes: "Star Wars" in 3-D.

Fox, undeterred by its middling re-rerelease of "Avatar" this past summer, will take on the mothership of all re-releases. It's putting George Lucas' epic back in theaters after a massive conversion of the space opera to 3-D. "The Phantom Menace" will come first (as it does chronologically) in 2012, with the five pictures following it in sequence. Lucas has come around on the format, making several comments of late that he may be willing to give conversion a shot. And now, apparently, he is.

There's plenty to chew over here — the box office ripple to all the other tentpoles in the coming years not least among them — as a piece of cinema history will crash up against a piece of technology present. Yes, new generations and all that. But is it also true that part of our cultural memory is getting reworked for studio profit? Not since colorization has a technological advance been capable of creating such controversy.

— Steven Zeitchik



Star Wars saga in 3-D will start in 2012

Photo: Mark Hamill and "Yoda" in "The Empire Strikes Back. Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Trent Reznor wants to get closer to movies

September 28, 2010 |  6:25 pm

Trent Reznor, the dark mastermind behind Nine Inch Nails, has long aspired to score a feature film. So when he got a call last fall from director David Fincher -- who had used NIN music in "Seven" -– the rock star naturally assumed the assignment would lead to some scary places.

He was right. Fincher was eager to use Reznor’s unsettling soundscapes for “The Social Network,” the Friday  release that is being met with mostly enthusiastic reviews. "In all honesty, when David mentioned it was a movie about the founding of Facebook, I was like, 'What the...,' " Reznor recalled with a chuckle. "I wondered how that could be interesting, but, knowing the level of excellence and integrity he brings to everything, I got the script from him. And then it became clear."

What Reznor saw was a vibrant tale of "the human condition and greed and entitlement." The film is now indeed moving to the center of the cultural conversation, and it’s doing so with the backbeat of Reznor’s music, which always demands attention but is especially intriguing in this new career context. Reznor worked with longtime collaborator Atticus Ross on the 19-track soundtrack, which was released in digital form Tuesday and will hit stores on CD, audio-only Blu-ray and vinyl in October.

Continue reading »

Oliver Stone's unlikely right-wing appeal

September 28, 2010 |  3:41 pm

There's no way to know for sure, but if a man with the name of Michael Moore had turned out a movie about a group of greedy bankers conspiring to save their own hides, it probably wouldn't have drawn the broad box-office support that 'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" received this past weekend.

As it turned out, the man who made that movie was, of course, Oliver Stone. At the moment, there might be no mainstream creative type more reviled by large segments of the right and center-right of the U.S. populace (including Moore). Just a few months ago, Stone's documentary "South of the Border" inspired an angry backlash — here's a small sampling — for its kid-glove treatment of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and its pot shots at American foreign policy. And then Stone threw an anti-semitism controversy on the pile for good measure. If you were trying to tell a director with a big studio movie what not to do in the months leading to his film's release, you'd pretty much come up with this list.

And yet when "Wall Street" opened, it landed a solid $19 million in its first weekend. That number wasn't just strong for a sequel to a 23-year-old movie, it was also Stone's best-ever opening in his 35 years of making movies.

The strong box office may reveal a truth about how Stone polarizes us. While his politics are decried by many, unlike Moore he's seen as a storyteller first. As long as he's giving that to audiences, they'll think nothing of shelling out eight or 10 bucks to see his movie, even if he slips in a little politics on the side. (We suppose you could argue that "Wall Street" would have grossed more had it not been Stone's name capping the credits. But when more than 2 million people pay to see your movie on a September weekend, you can't be that alienating.)

It's hard not to wonder, though, if there's something more going on here than moviegoers checking their politics at the theater door. For all the Wall Street excess that Stone's new film depicts, the movie (spoiler alert — skip ahead to the next paragraph if you'd rather not know) in many ways offers a benign, even uplifting message about the Street. Sure, the fevered speculation drives one old-timer to take his life. But the movie ultimately tells the story of a young idealist -- and one who gets the money and the girl to boot.

Even one of moviedom's all-time unrepentant characters, the Wall Street sharpie Gordon Gekko, seeks, and (after a lapse) gains, redemption. Compared to the original, which sees said sharpie sent off to jail, this chapter of his story is  almost.. heartwarming. Big business and the financial industry may have a deep skepticism for the current Democratic administration. But there's little for them to dislike in a movie about them from the most outspoken of left-wing filmmakers.

(It may be no coincidence, then, that so many on Wall Street cooperated with Stone. As screenwriter Allan Loeb told us this morning, "I wasn't sure sure how a new movie would go over on Wall Street. I was afraid I'd have to go back to the studio and say this isn't a good idea. But instead they said, 'The time has come. How can I help?' ")

It's not the first time Stone has shifted gears to such salable effect. Four years ago the director gave us "World Trade Center," a triumph-of-the-spirit tale that also centered on a hot-button political topic, and was not only not condemned by the right but got them hailing Stone for his patriotism. Just like "Wall Street," that became his biggest grosser to date.

So our question about the Wall Street box office perhaps should be less about the public putting ideology aside and instead about how Stone did the same. The director has savvily figured out how to play down his ideology when working in the studio system; as Loeb told us, "Working with Oliver, nothing was ever discussed in terms of politics." Stone may play an ideologue in real life, but at the multiplex, he's all pragmatist.

There's little doubt that Stone will continue angering the right with his public comments and documentaries. When it comes to features, however, he knows (like any good Wall Streeter) that it's best to follow where the market is headed.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Oliver Stone. Credit: Jason Kempin / Getty Images.


Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps wins weekend box office

Wall Street insiders open up for Money Never Sleeps

Oliver Stone: A man you can respect even as you shake your head

Join us for a live chat with the directors and stars of 'Catfish'

September 28, 2010 | 12:45 pm


How well do you know your Facebook friends?

That’s the question at the center of the new film “Catfish,” which opens wide this weekend. New York filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost set out shooting Ariel’s brother Nev after the 24-year-old photographer is contacted, out of the blue, by Abby, an 8-year-old Michigan girl who wants to make a painting of one of his published photos. Soon Nev befriends Abby’s mother, Angela, and Abby’s 19-year-old sister, Megan, with whom he starts an online / cellphone / text message romance. But is all as it seems?
The documentary has been generating a lot of buzz since it first captured attention at the Sundance Film Festival. It opened in select cities last week and is playing strong among critics and reviewers, with a 76.9% positive rating on Movie Review Intelligence. Some viewers, however, have questioned whether the movie, billed as a “reality thriller,” is really a documentary. 

You'll have a chance to get answers to your questions at 11 a.m. Pacific Tuesday, when 24 Frames hosts a live chat with Joost and the Schulman brothers. Sign up below for a reminder message.

--Lisa Fung

Photo: Ariel Schulman, left, Henry Joost and Nev Schulman in the reality thriller "Catfish." Credit: MCT

Related coverage:

'Catfish' blurs line between documentary and feature film

Movie review: 'Catfish'

Don't let anyone tell you what our 11 a.m. chat is

September 27, 2010 |  6:00 pm


This is 24 Frames. This is a blog on the Internet. There will be a live chat here Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 11 a.m. PST. 

Not based on an off-camera interview. Not inspired by reader questions. Just a live, interactive conversation using the questions you submit.   

Look beyond the jump to make sure you don't miss it. 

Continue reading »

The Coen brothers show their true grit

September 27, 2010 |  4:48 pm

It's been a season for eye-catching, ominous-seeming teasers. "Black Swan" has its melodramatic scares. "The Social Network" gave us campus conniving set to the tune of Radiohead. And now the kings of the dark side of the human soul, the Coen brothers, save some of the creepiest for last with this new teaser for their "True Grit" remake.

Wild beards, John Ford-style photography, spooky voice-overs and music, intimidating stares from Josh Brolin and Jeff Bridges, a "retribution" tag line ... and is that Paul Giamatti dressed up as the dead man? It's "No Country for Old Men" re-imagined in the Old West (or maybe just a more Coen brothers-y "All the Pretty Horses"). December and the Oscar race just got more interesting.

-- Steven Zeitchik



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