24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: March 2011

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'Hop' director Tim Hill: Our movie almost didn't make it

March 31, 2011 |  7:43 pm

Unlike most of their peers, directors of animated-live action hybrids live largely in the Hollywood shadows. Their names are rarely front and center even though they have among the the trickier jobs in the movie business -- balancing studio demands, creative needs and effects logistics.

Tim Hill learned of these issues firsthand when he got behind the camera for this weekend's "Hop." The buddy (bunny?) comedy  tells of a slacker twentysomething (James Marsden) and the Easter Bunny's reluctant heir apparent (an animated rabbit voiced by Russell Brand). The Universal movie is the second offering from Illumination Entertainment, the "Despicable Me" production company headed by Chris Meledandri.

Even by hybrid standards, the challenges kept coming on "Hop," with the movie almost not making its Easter-themed release date. On a recent afternoon, Hill, who previously directed "Alvin & the Chipmunks," opened up on those challenges.

24 Frames: Part of what's tricky with a hybrid movie is that you're essentially directing two films for the price of one. Does that make for a difficult experience for a filmmaker?

Tim Hill:  It does. You shoot half your movie, and then when you stop it's kind of a false summit. You think, "Whew, that's over." And then the mountain's so much higher. There are 10 or 15 minutes of full CG in this movie that hadn't even been conceived until after we stopped shooting. And we only had 10 or 11 months to make the movie and, once we stopped shooting, six months.

And you had the added issue of the Easter tie-in -- it wasn't like the film could get pushed to Christmas.

TH: The way you calculate this kind of movie [coming in] is you say, "What's the most time-consuming, what am I going to get screwed on?" You start to identify the hotspots that are really going to kill you. And in this case there were a lot of them. Animation you can change as you go -- it's not like live-action. You're spitballing way after you should be, and that's when we got into the "Oh [crap], are we going to make it?" And they [animation and effects studio Rhythm & Hues] finally said, "We're not going to be able to deliver your movie."

Yikes, did it actually get to that point?

TH: It was a crisis, basically. I think what they were doing is drawing a line in the sand. So we got it to them and then we said, "Where are we?" And they said, "This we can do and this we can't do." So there were a lot of things we still wanted to do and they would say, "We can't do that." They had hundreds of people working, but there wasn't enough time.  They have to animate and go through so many processes. That's why it takes animated films two or three years to make instead of a year. They said, "You can throw all the money you want at us, but we can't do it."

So it wasn't about them hiring more people?

TH: No, they had people in  India, they had a worldwide effort to bring out this movie. It was crazy. It really felt for a while like something was going to suffer. I got really worried. Either the acting would suffer or the characters would suffer, or everything would come out of the oven too soon. It would need a couple more passes that would make it better. Because I am pretty picky. So I'd say that there are a few shots in there where, I don't necessarily cringe, but I'm like "Oh, I remember we had to final that one because of the time."

When did you first get the sense this would be such a crunch?

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Release picture clears up for Gus Van Sant's 'Restless'

March 31, 2011 |  4:21 pm


It was pulled from January and the Sundance schedule, but Gus Van Sant’s “Restless” won’t stay hidden for much longer. Sony Pictures Classics on Thursday confirmed this Indiewire story from December that it will release the movie.

"Restless" was made by SPC parent Sony Pictures, but the company decided to scotch the Jan. 28, 2011 release date and the Sundance premiere that would have preceded it.

The film is considered a potential candidate for the upcoming Cannes Film Festival, and could also make the rounds at the fall film festivals. SPC did not disclose a commercial release date for the picture, though a spokeswoman did confirm a fall release.

Van Sant had his biggest hit in a decade with his last movie, the 2008 gay-rights biopic “Milk.” His new movie stars Mia Wasikowska as a girl who is diagnosed with a serious illness and follows the relationship she then develops with another teen (Henry Hopper, son of Dennis). The movie is a next-generation effort in another way, too: It marks  the producing debut of actress Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Hollywood heavyweight Ron Howard.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Mia Wasikowska and Henry Hopper in "Restless." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

James Cameron champions faster film projection rates

March 31, 2011 | 11:21 am

Cameron James Cameron has long been at the forefront of emerging cinematic technology -- first with digital projection, then 3-D and later the performance-capture technique featured in "Avatar."

Now, the director has a new issue he's pushing on the film industry: faster frame rates.

Faster what? As luck (or conference planning) would have it, Cameron explained the term to a roomful of movie exhibitors at CinemaCon on Thursday morning. In short, frame rates are the frequency at which images -- or frames -- are projected. Currently, the industry standard for projecting movies is 24 frames per second (fps). (Cameron reminded the auditorium that that standard is long outdated, having been established in 1927 when "The Jazz Singer" was released.) He wants to up that rate to 48, or even 60, frames per second.

"This is the low hanging fruit of us improving our showmanship," he said.

To demonstrate the difference a higher frame rate can make in the quality of picture, the filmmaker presented footage shot and projected in all three frame rates -- 24, 48 and 60 -- back to back. True to character, Cameron went to great lengths to create the presentation, saying that over the last five weeks he built a set, hired actors and rented costumes to create a handful of scenes set in medieval times that he could show the audience.

He used a number of cinematic techniques in the footage to illuminate what he called the gravity of the gap between, say, 24 and 48 frames. One scene set at a dinner table included a number of panning shots, so the crowd could see how a 24 fps shot caused the image to "strobe" -- which is when an image looks blurry, almost as if it is appearing in slow motion, seeming out of sync.

While even the filmmaker admitted that he was only able to notice a slight difference between a 48 fps and 60 fps, the audience audibly reacted to the increase in quality between 24 fps and 48 fps. The footage shown at 48 fps was far clearer and also had a much more realistic tone to it. That might be an issue for some filmmakers, Cameron acknowledged.

"Some directors like a stylized approach to action," he said, as a sword-fighting scene played on screen behind him. "This almost feels like two stunt guys mock fighting."

The filmmaker said that when he begins shooting the "Avatar" sequel in about 18 months, he will be shooting at a higher frame rate, though he has yet to decide if that will be 48 fps or 60 fps. He said George Lucas was "gung-ho" to make the conversion, and also called Peter Jackson one of his allies.  Jackson, he said, had at one point been heavily weighing shooting "The Hobbit" at 48 fps.

Most movie projectors already have the capability to project in higher frame rates, Cameron said, and all that would be required to make the switch is a "minor software upgrade." He believes it's an issue the industry needs to be seriously weighing, especially because of the advanced technology already being used on 3-D televisions.

"They've smoked us," he said, referring to sports broadcasted in higher resolution at faster frame rates. "We're trying to say that going to the movies is a special experience and better than what you have in the home -- except the motion sucks."

-- Amy Kaufman in Las Vegas


Photo: James Cameron speaks at CinemaCon. Credit: Associated Press/Chris Pizzello.

Kenneth Turan's film pick of the week: 'The Ten Commandments'

March 31, 2011 |  8:00 am

Ten Commandments Scene 1 original


Admit it, you have a fondness for Cecil B. DeMille's outlandishly epic "The Ten Commandments," with Charlton Heston and Yul Brenner going toe to toe and the 10 plagues waiting in the wings.

Starting this week, a high-definition version of the uber biblical epic is on sale in a presentation box  worthy of the master showman himself. It's an image of the Red Sea, which parts to reveal a replica of those celebrated Mt. Sinai stone tablets containing both DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Besides the 1956 original, you can see a fascinating making-of documentary (revealing DeMille to be such a perfectionist that he spent 14 months in post-production) as well as the director's 1923 silent version.

Also in the box are a hardback commemorative book, a replica of the 1956 souvenir book, costume sketches, copies of telegrams and more. It's enough to make a believer out of anybody, even a pharaoh.

— Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photos: Anne Baxter as Nefretiri and Charlton Heston as Moses in the original "Ten Commandments" (top) and the restored version of the 1956 film (bottom). Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Around Town: Herzog and Godard, a noir festival, bowling movies, Richard Brooks and Mel Brooks, too

March 31, 2011 |  5:00 am


Films by two veteran European directors -- German filmmaker Werner Herzog and France's iconoclastic Jean-Luc Godard -- are on view this weekend.

The Cinefamily's Silent Movie Theatre and the Goethe-Institut Los Angeles presents "The Estactic Truths of Werner Herzog," opening Friday with 1977's short "La Soufriere," his 1992 "Lessons of Darkness" (which examines the destruction caused by the Kuwaiti oil fires of the first Gulf War) and 1971's "Fata Morgana."

Screening Saturday are 1989's "Wodaabe: Herdsmen of the Sun," 1993's "Bells From the Deep: Faith and Superstition in Russia," 1974's "The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner" and 1976's "How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck." Sunday's offering is 1971's "Land of Silence and Darkness" and 1990's  "Echoes from a Somber Empire."

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Keira Knightley's 'Anna Karenina' aims to break new ground

March 30, 2011 |  6:56 pm

"Anna Karenina" was given a surprising vogue when Oprah Winfrey recommended the novel back in 2004. Suddenly people who wouldn't otherwise be inclined to Russian melodrama  could be seen lugging the encyclopedia-sized novel everywhere they went.

But you have to go back much further to encounter the story as a form of populist screen entertainment -- to the Vivian Leigh version in  1948, perhaps, or Greta Garbo's award-winning take in 1936. Leo Tolstoy himself had only been dead a few decades when those films came out, to give you an idea. (More recently, less well-regarded iterations have included a Jacqueline Bisset TV movie in 1985 and a Sophie Marceau theatrical film in 1997.)

But the pedigree on a "Karenina" production that aims to shoot later this year has a chance to bring the title back to its cinematic glory days. The triple threat of "Shakespeare in Love" writer Tom Stoppard penning the screenplay, "Atonement" director Joe Wright getting behind the camera and Keira Knightley playing the title role give it some pretty shiny bona fides.

Still, the question remains: What can 21st century storytellers bring to the epic love story that filmmakers from a previous generation couldn't?

Wright thinks there are plenty of opportunities. He told 24 Frames that a key difference with his and Stoppard's version (the two have been meeting in recent weeks to hash out the story) has to do with expanding beyond the scope of the title character.

"The Garbo version focused very much on Anna's story," Wright said. "And what Tom has written is a kind of multi-stranded portrait of a community."

He and Stoppard of course also have to deal with a 21st century problem: Anna's affair, so daring and scandalous to 20th century eyes, might merit little more than a shrug in some circles today.

The cast for the new film, incidentally, breaks down as follows: Knightley, who of course starred in Wright's "Atonement" and "Pride & Prejudice," will play Anna. Jude Law will star as husband Karenin and "Kick-Ass" star Aaron Johnson will play other-man Vronsky. (Teenage Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan could also be joining the cast, but Wright declined to confirm that.)

Wright said that the new movie -- which returns him to period territory after the contemporary action thriller "Hanna," which stars Ronan and is due out next week -- will explore some rich themes. "It affords me an opportunity," he said,"to learn not just about literature but also human emotion and the state of drama, and fidelity, and love."

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Keira Knightley in "The Edge of Love." Credit: Liam Daniel / Capitol Films

What would Justin Bieber do? Pop star, Ashton Kutcher look to buddy comedy

March 30, 2011 |  2:59 pm


EXCLUSIVE: Fresh off his turn in “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,” the singer could be heading back to the big screen –- in scripted, non-musical form.

Bieber is eyeing a lead role  in the comedy “What Would Kenny Do?” according to a person who was briefed on the project but was not authorized to speak about it publicly. The film tells of a relationship between a 17-year-old and his thirtysomething self. Said thirtysomething would be played by Ashton Kutcher, the source said.

The project is set up at Sony and will be produced by Kutcher's Katalyst Entertainment and Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment (Bieber and Jaden Smith are of course friends). An Overbrook spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Although Bieber has expressed interest in being an actor, the "Kenny" project would have to overcome Bieber's packed touring schedule; he has commitments consistently until 2012. [Update, 5:41 p.m. -- It's a bit more than an "eyeing" situation for the Biebs -- the project has been developed for months with Bieber both in mind and on board; originally the goal was to shoot this year, but the aforementioned touring obligations could push it to 2012.]

Kutcher and Bieber represent a canny commercial pairing -- the singer's fan base is composed primarily of teen girls, while Kutcher's appeal, also strong among females, skews a bit older. The pair has already discussed at least one other project -- the former “Punk’d” host made news in January when he said he has had conversations with the teen phenom about taking over a revitalized version of the cable reality show. At the time, Kutcher described Bieber as "a nice kid" and "a funny kid."

Chris Baldi’s “Kenny” script, which landed on Hollywood’s Black List  in 2008, is an R-rated comedy describing a teenager who meets a hologram claiming to be the adult version of himself; the hologram then helps guide the teen through high school. The project was originally set up at MGM label United Artists when MGM was under different management.

“(500) Days of Summer” writers Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber then came on and wrote a new draft of the script. According to a person who was briefed on the new (less raunchy) draft, the story now involves Kutcher's successful character actually jumping back in time to help the present-day Bieber, who remains awkward.  A new writer and director are currently being sought.

Bieber proved to be a box-office draw with “Never,” a music doc that grossed more than $70 million in the U.S., though it of course remains to be seen whether Bieber's fans will come out to see him in a fictional movie, let alone in one in which he plays someone not as popular as his real self. Bieber would be following a path taken by Miley Cyrus, who made the transition from music idol to actor -- she made her first feature role a drama, “The Last Song,” and stars in the upcoming high-school tale “LOL.”

--Steven Zeitchik



Can Justin Bieber be a movie star?

Justin Bieber tries to make the big screen his world

The critics agree; Justin Bieber rocks (relatively speaking)

Photo: Justin Bieber in concert this month in Antwerp. Credit: Francois Lenoir / Reuters

Kathryn Stockett gives Tate Taylor some 'Help'

March 30, 2011 | 12:04 pm

BrunsongreentatetaylorchriscolumbusapericjamisonLoyalty can be hard to come by in Hollywood, which is what makes Tate Taylor's career trajectory so unusual.

The director of this summer's "The Help" grew up in Jackson, Miss., where he was best friends with a woman named Kathryn Stockett. Stockett penned the New York Times bestselling novel about the complicated relationship between black maids and the white families they work for in the 1960s-era South. And she promised Taylor that if a version of the book were ever to make it to the big screen, he'd be the one to direct it.

Problem was, Taylor didn't exactly have much experience. He started out as an actor, landing small roles in films like "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion" and "Planet of the Apes." (When we say small, we mean it: in "Apes," he's credited as "Friend at Leo's party.") He did direct one feature, 2008’s “Pretty Ugly Film,” but the movie was released in only three theaters and grossed less than $7,000, according to Box Office Mojo.

Taylor found more success with a short film, "Chicken Party," which made the rounds at some film festivals and eventually landed on the desk of veteran filmmaker Chris Columbus. Before Taylor knew it, Columbus was attached to produce "The Help" and began trying to sell the project to studios with Taylor as the director.

Continue reading »

Jason Segel on 'The Muppets': More music, less nudity

March 30, 2011 |  6:06 am

Jason Segel has already had a number of high points in his young career: Becoming a Judd Apatow protege, starring in the long-running sitcom "How I Met Your Mother" and penning "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," in which he also starred (and, yes, bared all).

But it's a new spin on "The Muppets," which the actor stars in and co-wrote with "Marshall" director Nicholas Stoller, that Segel says he's most proud of. At CinemaCon in Las Vegas on Tuesday night, the actor (who was joined on stage by co-star Amy Adams) screened a quick behind-the-scenes look at the movie, due out on Nov. 23.

Moviegoers can look forward to four new musical numbers, he said, as well as a new Muppet named Walter who appears as Segel's roommate. And no, Segel assured the crowd of movie exhibitors, audiences won't have to see him naked again in this film.

Backstage, Segel described the struggle for a greenlight.  "It was the hardest thing to get made that I've ever been involved in," he said. " This is a relatively high budget for a movie with puppets. It cost more than 'Sarah Marshall,' I'll tell you that. And it's such a beloved franchise. It was tricky to get everyone to agree on a script, on a budget, on a concept."

Segel also admitted that working with puppets presented more challenges than he'd initially anticipated, and that he was often forced to rewrite jokes due to logistics or financial constraints.

"You can imagine a shot of 10 Muppets running away from a building. And then when the building explodes behind you and you get there, you realize the Muppets are being puppeteered and there's no way to do a shot of Muppets running away in a wide shot with a building exploding in the background at our budget. So you start writing jokes that kind of make fun of that idea," he explained.

Segel's impetus to stick with the project came, he said, from his deep affection for the Muppets, which had a strong influence on the actor when he was a child. His mother had recorded episodes of the 1977 season in which Peter Sellers appeared in a variety of character guises, and the family would watch the episodes together.

"I remember as I got older re-watching it, thinking that watching it as a kid I still thought it was hilarious when I had no idea what was going on. And my parents were enjoying it on a whole other level. And that's what I think is genius about the Muppets. No one in our family was being condescended" to.


CinemaCon; Jack Black: I'm kind of like a modern-day Jerry Lewis

-- Amy Kaufman in Las Vegas

Photo: Jason Segel and assorted characters from "The Muppets." Credit: Walt Disney Pictures


Exclusive clip: Susanne Bier looks to create a better world

March 29, 2011 | 11:59 pm

Few personalities provided a burst of fresh air this award season as much as Susanne Bier. With a mix of European artistry and American-style populism, the Danish director managed to bridge the gap between entertainment and cinema. And that was just in interviews.

"Many European filmmakers alienate the audience," the director told 24 Frames after she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her foreign-language drama “In a Better World,” which went on to win that award as well as an Oscar. "They don't think about engaging people."

The new movie from Bier, who previously gained acclaim for war picture “Brothers” and comic melodrama “After the Wedding,” opens this weekend in limited release. It’s an intimate story about two boys in rural Denmark who form a friendship, and also touches on larger themes of pacifism and violence. In the exclusive clip below, one of the boys goads his father, an avowed pacifist, to exact retribution on an auto mechanic who verbally abused him.

-- Steven Zeitchik



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A modern Scandinavian takes on Bergman

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