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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: November 2010

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Are mothers the movie world's new villains? [updated]

November 24, 2010 |  8:00 am

Filmmakers, call your mothers.

Or maybe better yet, mothers, call your filmmaker children. They apparently have some issues with you.

Over decades of moviemaking, mothers have had it pretty good. Sure, every once in a while there's a Mrs. Iselin, Angela Lansbury's deviously controlling maternal unit in "The Manchurian Candidate." But by and large cinematic moms fit into one of several archetypes, all of them affectionate.

There is, first off, the plucky single mom. You know her well -- she's raising her children in a cruel world,  fighting the odds and her own difficult past for the sake of the next generation.  We've seen her on screen going all the way back to Barbara Stanwyck's "Stella Dallas" and in a raft of current movies, Laura Linney in  "You Can Count on Me," Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Sherrybaby" and so on.

Then, of course, there's the fiercely protective mother, capable of extraordinary sacrifice to help her children, like Tilda Swinton coolly covering up her son's crimes in 2001's "The Deep End." 

And then there's the victim mother, who suffers a terrible tragedy and lives to tell the tale, the Sissy Spacek character from "In the Bedroom" and so many of her ilk.

And even when movie moms indulge their less angels as overbearing parents, at heart they're just misunderstood nurturers. Albert Brooks came around on Debbie Reynolds' meddlesome mom in 1996's "Mother." And Meryl Streep may have gotten too involved in her son's love life in 2005's "Prime," but she meant well, didn't she?

But this year something has changed. All those good mothers have gone and a host evil ones have come to take their place.

Manipulating mothers make appearances in two very different movies this Thanksgiving weekend.

Disney releases "Tangled," which, if you have small children you're probably already well aware, offers the character of Gothel, a mother who  keeps her daughter Rapunzel sequestered so she'll forever need  and be devoted to her. (The Disney website describes Gothel as someone who "lies to Rapunzel about the outside world and everyone in it, making Rapunzel wary of ever leaving her protection.") 

And in "The King's Speech," Queen Mary (Claire Bloom), emotionally represses her son so thoroughly he comes out of childhood with a crippling stutter.

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Around town: Family-friendly film screenings for Thanksgiving

November 24, 2010 |  7:00 am


Family-friendly movie fare is on the menu around town Thanksgiving weekend.

Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds headline one the best musical comedies ever made: 1952's "Singin' in the Rain," screening Friday evening at the American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre. Kelly and Stanley Donen directed this classic look at the transition in Hollywood from silents to talkies. www.americancinematheque.com.

Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre is celebrating the 40th anniversary of "Sesame Street" Friday through Sunday. On tap for Friday afternoon is "Muppet History 101," which looks at the origins of Jim Henson's puppets as well as clips from early TV appearances and commercials and guest appearances, and "Muppet History 201," which features recently discovered Muppet TV appearances. Saturday afternoon's offerings are "Sesame Street at 40: Milestones on the Street," which features memorable clips from the past four decades of the series, and "Jim Henson & Friends: Inside the Sesame Street Vault," which highlights favorite moments from the series as well as the Sesame gang in other TV appearances. Screening Sunday is Ken Kwapis' 1985 comedy "Follow that Bird," starring the one and only Big Bird. www.cinefamily.org

Continue reading »

Was Joss Whedon right in scoffing at the 'Buffy: The Vampire Slayer' reboot?

November 23, 2010 |  1:41 pm


When a Hollywood studio remakes "The Wizard of Oz," L. Frank Baum doesn’t have a chance to send out a press release. But the tricky thing about rebooting a property that’s only been gone seven years is that the creator is usually around to say something about it.

That’s just what Joss Whedon did after Monday’s news that a young writer named Whit Anderson, who grew up watching  “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer,” would now tackle the new movie.

It was largely a jokey missive that Whedon sent to E! online –- he alluded to his own pillaging of a childhood favorite with his current “Avengers” –- but he didn't exactly contain his annoyance, either.

Whedon sarcastically said he was hoping to remake Batman even as Chris Nolan, of course, is proceeding with his own version, and he said he wished the new "Buffy" didn't happen this soon or without him (though he pointedly avoided addressing whether he was given the opportunity to be involved, which a source familiar with the discussions tells us he was).

“I always hoped that Buffy would live on even after my death.  But, you know, AFTER.  I don't love the idea of my creation in other hands,” he wrote, then suggested that he had at least thought about getting lawyers involved, before deciding against it. “There is no legal grounds for doing anything other than sighing audibly.”

As much as Whedon seems justified in questioning the need for one more Hollywood reboot, the idea that a recently ended TV show would get a second life as a movie shouldn’t be entirely shocking to the creator. He did just that with “Serenity,” which picked up three years after his science-fiction series “Firefly” went off the air (though that one of course ended far more abruptly than "Buffy" did).

It’s also understandable why Whedon felt the need to react; certainly, it’s an emotional topic for him. But it also is a savvy bit of positioning. If the movie now doesn’t work or isn’t embraced by fans, Whedon now has put considerable distance between himself and the movie and can say he was dubious from the start. It could also backfire, making him seem bitter that it's going on without him.

Was it a smart move on his part? More to the point, will his statement poison the well for many fans and doom the movie before it's even written? Early skepticism has plagued beloved genre properties before but fans came around when the movie was eventually released (see under: the initial backlash to the “Twilight" casting).

Then again, the Whedon crowd is an ardent one, and this kind of statement means the deck could now be seriously stacked.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: 'Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. Credit: 20th Century Fox


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The RZA, now in auteur flavor

November 23, 2010 |  7:00 am


His movie  may not have exactly attracted a huge audience this weekend. But the RZA, the  Wu-Tang pioneer who co-stars with Russell Crowe in "The Next Three Days," took another step toward crossover fame with his turn as a violence-embracing drug dealer in the Paul Haggis film.

It's a bit of a different turn than the hip-hop star's other roles -- say, as a member of the police force in another Russell Crowe movie, "American Gangster."

"It was a cool thing to do, a chance to bring out some toughness and a chance to be the aggressor," the RZA says of his new part.

The Staten Island, N.Y., Grammy winner says that the movie, set in a tough part of Pittsburgh not far from where he spent a part of his childhood, hit a little close to home. "Some of the scenes we shot were in a place called the Hill, and as we're walking through, we're seeing a lot of people living in poverty. And I thought, 'I lived in that kind of poverty.' I ran into a guy I knew who did time in jail."

The music star is now putting himself on a different kind of hot seat -- that of director -- as he prepares to shoot  "The Man With the Iron Fist," a martial-arts film he wrote with Eli Roth that will be set and shot in China, and that Crowe will star in. "It's 10 times the focus, 10 times the pressure of putting out an album," the RZA says. "Also 10 times the blame.'

The singer-turned-director says that it's the attention to detail that's been keeping him up nights. "There are so many meticulous things you have to pay attention to. I'm loving it. But I see why some directors do it every two or three years. It's not for the meek."

But those hoping to see a return to the screen for the hip-hop artist may be in for a disappointment:; RZA says that, at the moment, he doesn't plan on starring in the kung-fu film. "I'm Captain Kirk," he said. "If I can find Mr. Spock, I can beam down. But for now I gotta stay in the bridge."

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Russell Crowe, left, and the RZA in "The Next Three Days." Credit: Lionsgate


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A new 'Buffy: the Vampire Slayer' takes a small step toward the big screen

November 22, 2010 |  2:22 pm


"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" began as a film and then became a hugely successful TV show. Now it's returning to its roots.

The hit WB series, now off the air for seven years, is coming back as a movie courtesy of a young writer named Whit Anderson, who will write the movie for the producers of "The Dark Knight."

The original 1992 movie, which series creator Joss Whedon also wrote, was more of a spoof than the series and its more substantial vampire tales. As our colleague Geoff Boucher tells us in an exclusive story at our sister Hero Complex blog, Anderson was a fan of the show, so expect some of the darker themes — and humor — of the series to be present here.

There will be an interesting piece of timing in all this — the "Twilight" franchise is entering a heady homestretch, with the final movies scheduled for fall 2011 and 2012. "Buffy" in many ways laid the groundwork for that franchise but with a lot less of the doe-eyed romance that the Bella-Edward chornicles favor. So it will be interesting to see if "Buffy" can come back and thrive at a time when many younger filmgoers, at least, associate vampire movies with said romance.

It's worth noting that Joss Whedon, off working on all things "Avengers," won't be involved in the new film. And the project sounds a long ways away from casting, though the question of who will play Buffy will be an interesting one too. (Sarah Michelle Gellar, at 33, is probably a bit too past her slay-by date.)

If the movie does get made, it would complete a neat movie-TV-movie circle. And at a time when every classic and modern television series has been made, or could soon get made, into a movie, here's one fans would genuinely want — but would they want it without Whedon?

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: 'Buffy: the Vampire Slayer.' Credit: Justin Lubin/20th Centiry Fox.


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Should 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1' have come out in 3-D?

November 22, 2010 |  7:00 am


Squinting into the $125 million that "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1" took in this weekend in the U.S. alone, it's easy to forget that it was just six weeks ago when some were questioning Warner Bros.' decision not to convert the film into 3-D. Moviegoers loved Potter, and they seemed to like putting on those glasses, so why not combine the two?

Yes, there was the possibility of a backlash -- but even  "Clash of the Titans," that poster child for sloppy conversions, was one of the most successful movies of the year, the argument went. And "Clash" was no "Potter."

Yet when the seventh installment of the Hogwarts series came out this weekend and fans flocked to it, it silenced most of those questions. Even in two dimensions, the movie marked the biggest-ever opening of the series; Potter has somehow managed to retain all of the 20-something fans who grew up with the series while attracting a lot of younger ones too.

It's now the case that the two biggest openings of the year ("Iron Man 2" is the other) happened with movies that stayed far away from the Z-axis   And although "Iron Man" and Potter are, granted, sui generis, it's also the case that by the time "Deathly Hallows" ends its theatrical run, four of the top five live-action movies in 2010 will have been in 2-D ("Eclipse" and "The Karate Kid" are the other two; "Alice in Wonderland" is the lone exception). And all this in the supposed golden era of 3-D.

You could argue that these 2-D movies would have made even more money had they come out in 3-D. But it's of course impossible to know if doing that wouldn't have turned off at least some portion of the fan base. Certainly that would have been a concern for Potter, which remains one of the few billion-dollar corporate juggernauts in American life to be treated as such a pure and fan-driven enterprise.

The counter-arguers say that the biggest movies don't need 3-D the way others do. But, in a sense, that only confirms what critics of 3-D have been saying for a while now: that, maybe "Avatar" and some animated movies excepted, 3-D is a novelty suited best to middling movies, essentially a marketing gimmick and/or a chance to collect a few extra dollars in ticket fees.

I suppose you could argue that watching Harry, Ron and Hermione attempt to destroy the Horcruxes in three dimensions this weekend would have been better than watching  them in two dimensions (though I suspect most fans wouldn't). But it's kind of getting harder to argue that, for a truly beloved property, 3-D is necessary or even relevant.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Daniel Radcliffe (left), Rupert Grint and Emma Watson in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1." Credit: Warner Bros.


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Malin Akerman jumps into 'Inferno' after Lindsay Lohan is fired

November 21, 2010 |  3:01 pm

Getprev After giving up on Lindsay Lohan for "Inferno," the director of the Linda Lovelace biopic says he has found his new leading lady: Malin Akerman.

Matthew Wilder had been hoping to break the news Monday, but after reports surfaced over the weekend about the new casting choice, the filmmaker told us Sunday that the 32-year-old actress had landed the part.

Wilder said that the film's casting director, Shannon Makhanian, helped bring Akerman in during the last couple of weeks at "lightning speed."

While saying that he'd "rather not pick the scab" of Lohan's firing, Wilder said that finding someone to provide insurance for the troubled actress "was proving a really tough obstacle."

"I really, devoutly wanted that to work out so badly, I really did," he said. "I hung in for a long time -- longer than most people would, I think. My respect for Lindsay's talent is huge. But it ultimately was just not a doable thing."

Though only last month the director said he had been in frequent contact with the 24-year-old during her stay at the Betty Ford Center, he said he had "no idea" how she had reacted to the news that she had been let go from the movie.

When asked whether Akerman had to audition to play the late porn star, Wilder replied, "Oh Lord no." He added that he believed many moviegoers would be surprised by the "Couples Retreat" star and what he called her "strength and groundedness."

"There are so many people out there who get some success doing a certain thing, looking a certain way, playing a certain kind of character, and they just want to polish that and stay in that forever," he said. "She is doing the 180-degree opposite."

Production on "Inferno" is slated to begin in February in Los Angeles.

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: Malin Akerman arrives for the Museum of Contemporary Art's annual gala on Nov. 13. Credit: Paul Buck / EPA. 


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Wesley Snipes' pre-jail defiance: 'Everybody has tax issues'

November 21, 2010 |  9:30 am

On Friday, a federal judge declined Wesley Snipes' request for a new trial and ordered the actor to surrender to authorities and begin serving his three-year prison sentence for tax evasion. The man who had a thousand lives in action movies such as "Blade" and "Rising Sun" had finally, it seemed, run out of second chances.

It was a pretty sharp turnaround from where Snipes appeared to be just last winter. When we interviewed the actor in February, we found him optimistic about his chances for another escape. At the time, Snipes was promoting a comeback role in Antoine Fuqua's blood opera "Brooklyn's Finest" -- in his first theatrical part in six years, Snipes played a drug dealer who was trying to go straight -- and he hinted at impending legal vindication. He used phrases such as "I'm hearing good things" about his appeal on the tax-evasion charges, for instance. (He had been acquitted on charges of tax fraud and conspiracy at a 2008 trial.)

Snipes was penitent about his life, using phrases such as "fresh start" and "reboot" and seeming genuinely humbled by his fall from the Hollywood A-list after a high-profile scandal that began more than three years before.

But he also was not shy about implying that his alleged crimes were being exaggerated by the authorities. "Going through the trial woke me up to the significance of what I do," he said, referring to his acting career. "[The government] said it was the largest and biggest and most important tax case. And I thought, 'Really? What am I missing here? Why would you say that, just because I make movies?'"

There was something poignant about seeing the actor, after so many big action roles, appearing so meek and outside the game as he ate breakfast at a Santa Monica hotel, talking enthusiastically about how some webisodes he was planning would restore him to Hollywood royalty.

But he didn't help his case for sympathy by suggesting his actions were no different from what many Americans do come April 15. "Everybody has tax problems. Everybody has tax issues," he told us. "Everybody's failed to file at some point in time. Everybody from the Treasury secretary on down."

He also maintained, as he had in previous interviews, that he was just an innocent along for the rid, with many of the mistakes made by his associates and co-defendants, though he did acknowledge that he should have kept a better eye on what they were doing. "I have to be angry at myself. It's not for them to be held accountable to me," he said. "How come I didn't see it. How come I didn't know?"

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Wesley Snipes leaving a Florida courthouse after being acquitted of tax fraud in February 2008. Credit: Scott Audette / Reuters


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'Inferno' director: Lindsay Lohan didn't quit -- we fired her

November 20, 2010 |  6:53 pm

Getprev After months of waiting for Lindsay Lohan to emerge from jail and rehabilitation centers, director Matthew Wilder has finally axed Lindsay Lohan from his planned Linda Lovelace biopic, "Inferno."

Reached by telephone Saturday, Wilder confirmed that he and the producers of "Inferno" had come to the decision to recast the film about the late porn star. He  denied a TMZ report that Lohan had quit the project, but declined to elaborate further, saying he wanted to avoid  "mudslinging." 

He did say, however, that he would reveal more details Monday about what occurred between the filmmakers and the troubled actress, and who would replace her. 

It was not long ago that Wilder seemed deadset on sticking with Lohan. "Not moving on, not recasting, not under any circumstances," he said in July. In October, though, the filmmaker admitted he was frustrated by Lohan's schedule, while also saying that he hoped to shoot after the 24-year-old emerged from her court-mandated stay at the Betty Ford Center in January.

As for Lohan, while the Lovelace movie could have drawn criticism, without it, it seems the actress has no definite job prospects lined up. This summer, the filmmakers behind a Willie Nelson-produced adventure comedy called "The Dry Gulch Kid" had expressed interest in Lohan. They could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen who will fill the actress' shoes in "Inferno." Share your thoughts on her replacement in our poll. 

— Amy Kaufman


Photo: Lohan at a court hearing in July. Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times.


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Which is the best film in the 'Harry Potter' series?

November 19, 2010 |  5:01 pm


The talk this weekend in moviedom is how "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" measures up to previous installments in the fantasy franchise. Which got us thinking -- which of the movies is the best of the bunch? At a midnight showing Thursday night, moviegoers had opinions: The first two should top the list because the kids were so innocent, the latter ones were better because the story was so dark, etc.

We decided to take a walk down memory lane and see which movie was most affecting. Then we came up with our own (admittedly subjective) list. Click on the jump to see what we ranked as the best and worst of the series (hint: neither are what you'd think), where the new film sits in the Potter pantheon (hint: it's in the top half) and share your own opinions, affirmations or stinging jinxes.

7. "Half-Blood Prince"
The worst of the lot. How much did the history of Voldemort advance the story? And Harry was way too quick to adopt strange magic from some random book.

6. "Order of the Phoenix"
Not far behind. With Voldemort exerting his influence over Harry, the boy wizard spent too much of the movie as a one-dimensional jerk kid.

5. "Prisoner of Azkaban"
The film helped lay the foundation for explaining Harry's familial history but seemed to stray, unfortunately, from the central Harry vs. Voldemort theme.

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