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Category: April 2011

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Tribeca 2011: Five films to watch after the festival is over

April 27, 2011 |  2:50 pm


For the last 10 years, Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival has offered moviegoers on the East Coast the opportunity to see appealing documentaries, intimate dramas and even the occasional star-driven picture. The New York gathering winds down this weekend, but here are five noteworthy entries from this year’s festival — and some ideas about where to watch them in the coming months.

“Catching Hell” — If you’re the kind of sports fan who’s still preoccupied with your team’s close play at the plate from 1997 — or if you happen to live with such a fan — you’ll want to check out this documentary from Oscar winner Alex Gibney. Putatively an examination of l’affaire de Steve Bartman and his infamous interference with a foul pop-up during the Chicago Cubs’ 2003 playoff run, Gibney turns the seemingly narrow subject into a global study of sports obsession and its consequences. Produced by ESPN; the cable network will air the documentary later this baseball season.

“Jiro Dreams of Sushi” — For most of us, sushi is a reliable lunch option. For Japan's Jiro Ono, considered the most skilled sushi chef in the world, it’s an artist’s canvas. David Gelb’s documentary about Ono is a contemplation of perfection as much as it is a culinary investigation, though the shots of his specialized dishes will stir the most dormant appetite. But don’t get too many ideas — even if you make it to Tokyo, Ono’s entrees start at $300. Magnolia Pictures bought the movie and will bring it to theaters and video on-demand later this year.

Tribecapromo “Last Night” — Tribeca films aren’t always known for their major star power, but Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington make notable appearances in Massy Tadjedin’s directorial debut feature. The atmospheric romantic drama looks at a married couple teetering between love and infidelity on a fateful night, a kind of “Before Sunrise” with cheating. (The film, currently playing as part of Amazon.com’s Tribeca streaming service, also offers the rare chance to hear Worthington speak in his native Australian accent.) It opens in L.A. theaters May 6.

“Rabies” — Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado make Israel’s first slasher film a worthy one in this beautiful-people-tormented-in-the-woods horror-comedy. The film, which has been garnering strong reviews, indulges in and upends the conventions of the genre as it sends groups of people into the clutches of a serial killer in a spooky fox preserve. No distributor has bought it, but it could well end up at horror festivals and with a genre label. You can also watch it on the Tribeca web site (http://www.tribecafilm.com) for free through Sunday.

“Rid of Me” — “Mean Girls” for adults. James Westby’s look at an awkward 30-ish woman and her transformation after she’s rejected by her jock husband and his yuppie friends won’t score many points on the feel-good scale. But as a study in a transformation from gawky misfit to rocker rebel, few recent movies are as darkly funny. No distributor picked it up, but the film might well make the rounds on the festival circuit.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Keira Knightley and Guillaume Canet in "Last Night." Credit: JoJo Whilden

'Immortals' tries to give a worn genre new life [Video]

April 27, 2011 |  2:02 pm

The success of “300” four years ago could have ushered in a new era of artistry for swords-and-sandals tales, or simply a new era of knockoffs. Judging by what’s come since, it’s getting harder to argue the former.

“Immortals,” which shares producers with “300” and follows a trio of films similarly themed with honor and epic battle (“Clash of the Titans,” “Prince of Persia” and “The Eagle”), begins its pre-release campaign with a new teaser trailer released Wednesday.

Tarsem Singh (“The Fall”) brings a sense of style to the material, which this time around takes on the battle of Thesus (Henry Cavill) against King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, trying out a new villainous accent). But amid the flaming arrows and leaping swordsmen is a generic story of honor and gods and battles, and a somberness that can border on the comic. The earnest disrobing from the likes of Freida Pinto doesn't help, nor do the "Eyes Wide Shut" masks, or the boilerplate dialogue. (“Today we are offered something we would never have. Today we fight for honor.”)

When it was first developed three years ago the action movie, now scheduled for November, looked like it would compete in the marketplace with “Clash of the Titans.” In fact, Warner Bros. contemplated buying the script on which it’s based for use in developing “Titans," so closely related were the pair. “Immortals” is now sandwiched between that movie and its sequel next March, which may or may not give it enough breathing room.

Sandal-philia aside, the interesting question is how “Immortals” will affect Cavill’s stock -– the film will be closely watched by Superman lovers to see what kind of hero chops Cavill demonstrates.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Mickey Rourke in "Immortals." Credit: Relativity Media


'Fast Five,' Steve Zaillian's latest work [Video]

April 27, 2011 |  1:14 pm

Jon Stewart used to have kindergarteners read transcripts of cable-news punditry. This Onion video, if you haven't see it, uses a 5-year-old to describe the plot and scenes in the screenplay for "Fast Five," which said 5-year-old of course wrote. The trenchant part is that his mumbled wonderment actually captures the Academy Award-worthy mise-en-scene of the Vin Diesel franchise strikingly well. I wanna cars drive fast and some of them explode, indeed.

Today Now! Interviews The 5-Year-Old Screenwriter Of "Fast Five"

-- Steven Zeitchik


Screening room: Gregory Peck, Sam Peckinpah and a fresh 'American in Paris'

April 27, 2011 | 11:00 am


The late Oscar-winning actor Gregory Peck's postage stamp will be unveiled at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Thursday morning. The ceremony will feature clips from his career as well as tributes from his friends and family. Sharon Stone will be the host. Laura Dern and Morgan Freeman are expected to be among the guests. The event is sold out, but there will be a stand-by line. www.oscars.org

Turner Classic Movies' second annual TCM Film Festival opens Thursday evening at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood with a 60th anniversary presentation of the Oscar-winning film "An American in Paris." This is the premiere of the new digital restoration of the Vincente Minnelli-directed musical starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron and Oscar Levant that features the songs of George and Ira Gershwin. Caron will be in attendance. There will be about 70 films screening through Sunday as well as  appearances by such cinematic legends as Kirk Douglas, Peter O'Toole, Mickey Rooney, Debbie Reynolds, Jane Powell, Warren Beatty, Angela Lansbury and Hayley Mills. www.tcm.com/festival/index/html

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Arnold returns to 'Terminator.' Is it a good idea?

April 26, 2011 |  7:06 pm

The news Tuesday that Arnold Schwarzenegger will return to the "Terminator" franchise provides a colorful coda to several story lines.

The new film, loosely dubbed "Terminator 5," is being shopped to studios. There is no script or screenwriter, but a person close to what Hollywood terms a film package, who asked not to be identified because of the early nature of the negotiations, confirmed that Creative Artists Agency has begun shopping the rights to make the movie, though with no plotline as yet. Schwarzenegger, the person said, would play a starring role as the title character in the science-fiction film, not a supporting role in which he passed the baton to a new hero. The movie would be directed by "Fast Five" director Justin Lin.

The package represents the latest twist in a tortuous business story. Early last year, Sony and Lionsgate joined forces to bid on the rights held by the Halcyon Co., the bankrupt "Terminator Salvation" producer. But, in a controversial decision, the rights were handed to the Santa Barbara hedge fund  Pacificor, which had backed Halcyon.

In May, Hollywood agency William Morris Endeavor announced it had been chosen by Pacificor to sell the rights to studios. But no sale materialized, and CAA replaced WME; CAA, which has long represented Schwarzenegger, held an obvious advantage: the clout to convince the actor to come back.

Tuesday's news raises nearly as many creative questions as it answers. The offshoot "Terminator Salvation," directed by McG, was roughed up by critics but pocketed $371 million worldwide. It was supposed to be the start of a new trilogy starring Sam Worthington. But the return of Arnold, and the fact that McG will not have a place on this film, means that the new Skynet saga could pick up the narrative trail of the third picture, 2003's "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," or start in yet another new direction. ("Machines" finished with Nick Stahl's John Connor and Claire Danes' Kate Brewster running from Schwarzenegger's Terminator, with all three still alive at movie's end.)

But perhaps the biggest point the news highlights involves Schwarzenegger's career direction. The 63-year-old former governor told The Times recently he's diving back into acting. "I can step very comfortably into the entertainment world and do an action movie with the same violence that I've always done," he said, predicting he'd be on a set by the end of the year.

At the time, some speculated he could star in the drug-themed action film "The Last Stand" or the prison-escape movie "The Tomb," both new properties and potential franchises. Those remain possibilities, especially with a script not yet written for "Terminator."

But it's clear Schwarzenegger also has the past on his mind. He's already signed on for a cartoon called "The Governator," featuring his voice and likeness. Now it looks as though he's intent not only riffing on past glories but reliving them.

It remains to be seen whether Schwarzenegger could take on the required stunts at his age, and whether a population that didn't think much of him as a governor wants to vote for him with their dollars at the box office. It would also be nearly 30 years since he first incarnated the Terminator role in the James Cameron original; there are few examples of an actor holding a lead film role for that long.

Still, the former governor would have precedent in a return to the screen. Both Jesse Ventura and Fred Thompson went back to acting once they said sayonara to their political careers. As Joe Klein said when we wrote last spring about Arnold's possible return to acting, "When politicians leave office, they almost always try to re-ingratiate themselves with the public they've inevitably disappointed. Acting would be a way for Schwarzenegger to restore himself in the eyes of the public."

-- Steven Zeitchik, with reporting by Ben Fritz




Hollywood wonders whether Arnold will be back

Arnold Schwarzenegger is looking for some action

Terminator rights given to Pacificor

Photo: "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines." Credit: Warner Bros.

'Atlas Shrugged' producer: 'Critics, you won.' He's going 'on strike.'

April 26, 2011 |  5:16 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Twelve days after opening "Atlas Shrugged: Part 1," the producer of the Ayn Rand adaptation said Tuesday that he is reconsidering his plans to make Parts 2 and 3 because of scathing reviews and flagging box office returns for the film.

"Critics, you won," said John Aglialoro, the businessman who spent 18 years and more than $20 million of his own money to make, distribute and market "Atlas Shrugged: Part 1," which covers the first third of Rand's dystopian novel. "I’m having deep second thoughts on why I should do Part 2."

"Atlas Shrugged" was the top-grossing limited release in its opening weekend, generating $1.7 million on 299 screens and earning a respectable $5,640 per screen. But the the box office dropped off 47% in the film's second week in release even as "Atlas Shrugged" expanded to 425 screens, and the movie seemed to hold little appeal for audiences beyond the core group of Rand fans to whom it was marketed.

Aglialoro attributed the box office drop-off to "Atlas Shrugged's" poor reviews. Only one major critic -- Kyle Smith of the New York Post -- gave "Atlas" a mixed-to-positive review, calling the film "more compelling than the average mass-produced studio item." The movie has a dismal 7% fresh rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes thanks to critics like the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips, who said "Atlas" is "crushingly ordinary in every way." Roger Ebert called the film "the most anticlimactic non-event since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone’s vault," while Rolling Stone's Peter Travers said the movie "sits there flapping on screen like a bludgeoned seal."

"The New York Times gave us the most hateful review of all," said Aglialoro, who also has a writing credit on the movie. "They didn’t cover it."

The novel, a sacred text among many conservatives for Rand's passionate defense of capitalism, takes place at an unspecified future time in which the U.S. is mired in a deep depression and a mysterious phenomenon is causing the nation's leading industrialists to disappear or "strike."

Aglialoro's 97-minute adaptation is directed by first-timer Paul Johansson and stars little-known TV actors Taylor Schilling (as railroad executive Dagny Taggart) and Grant Bowler (as steel magnate Hank Rearden).

Though the film has made only $3.1 million so far, Aglialoro said he believes he'll recoup his investment after TV, DVD and other ancillary rights are sold. But he is backing off an earlier strategy to expand "Atlas" to 1,000 screens and reconsidering his plans to start production on a second film this fall.

"Why should I put up all of that money if the critics are coming in like lemmings?" Aglialoro said. "I’ll make my money back and I'll make a profit, but do I wanna go and do two? Maybe I just wanna see my grandkids and go on strike."

Aglialoro, who is chief executive of the exercise equipment manufacturer Cybex, said he is not completely finished with Hollywood, however. An avid poker player who won the U.S. Poker Championship in 2004, he has a dramatic script called "Poker Room" in development. "Maybe the critics will be kinder to that one," he said.


Atlas Shrugged finally comes to the screen, albeit in chunks

-- Rebecca Keegan


Photo: Taylor Schilling plays heroine Dagny Taggart in "Atlas Shrugged Part 1." Credit: Rocky Mountain Pictures


With new movie, Zorro heads to the future

April 26, 2011 |  4:31 pm

It’s been six years since the iconic swashbuckler Zorro was last seen on the screen, courtesy of Antonio Banderas and James Bond director Martin Campbell, in the period action piece "The Legend of Zorro."

But the character could be on his way back, sans swashbuckling -- and, in fact, sans the past entirely.

A reboot titled "Zorro Reborn" is being developed at Fox that will remove the character from his historical California or Mexico setting.

Unlike many of the previous Zorros (real name: Don Diego de la Vega) brandishing whips and swords, the hero of the new installment will live in the future -- specifically a desolate and post-apocalyptic one, according to a person familiar with the film who asked not to be identified. A Fox spokeswoman declined to comment.

In this version, Zorro will be less a caped crusader for justice than a one-man vigilante force bent on revenge, in a western story that has echoes of both Sergio Leone and "No Country for Old Men."

The movie will be directed by Rpin Suwannath, a previsualization specialist who worked on a number of the "X-Men," "Matrix" and "Chronicles of Narnia" movies. (Previsualiation is the Hollywood art of conceiving and generating images, usually for an effects-driven movie, before filming has begun. Visual-effects specialists are hot generally, with Fox recently setting the viz kid Tim Miller to direct "Deadpool.") The project, a person close to it cautioned, is in early development.

The "Zorro Reborn" script has been written by Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy, the screenwriters behind the Dracula reboot "Harker" at Warner Bros. The Zorro film is expected to provide a juicy lead role for a young actor.

Johnston McCulley's pulp Zorro stories have served as the basis for dozens of films, starting with Douglas Fairbanks' caped-hero films of the 1920s, and then later film serials, features culled from a Guy Williams television series, a 1975 Italian-made version with spaghetti western overtones and the Banderas iterations.

In the first of those, 1998's "The Mask of Zorro," Anthony Hopkins plays an aging Don Diego de la Vega who passes the baton (or whip) to a young misfit (Banderas), who in turn becomes the new Zorro. The 2005 film, which like the first featured Catherine Zeta-Jones as Zorro's wife, Elena, followed. Both  movies, made by Sony, were set in an outlaw mid-19th century California. The sequel saw a fall-off at the box office.

Dark reinventions of heroic icons have been popular in Hollywood since Christopher Nolan did just that with Batman. A "Zorro" reboot would need to contend with a new version of "The Lone Ranger," which Johnny Depp and his "Pirates of the Caribbean" director Gore Verbinski have been developing.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "The Mask of Zorro." Credit: Rico Torres/Tristar Pictures

WikiLeaks movie: How soon is too soon?

April 26, 2011 |  1:51 pm

WikiLeaks is once again in the news Tuesday after its release of classified information about detainees from the Guantanamo Bay military prison. With the controversy, the question becomes more urgent: How quickly should, and can, Hollywood react to the WikiLeaks story?

Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks has acquired several books about the site and its controversial editor-in-chief, Julian Assange, including one from Guardian journalists as well as a memoir from former WikiLeaks executive Daniel Domscheit-Berg. And "The Hurt Locker" writer Mark Boal is developing a movie with Megan Ellison, producer and daughter of billionaire Larry Ellison, based on "The Boy Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," the New York Times Magazine story about Assange.

But the project furthest along might be a documentary from Oscar-winner Alex Gibney ("Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room") that's set up at Universal. "We're moving, and we've been moving for four months," Gibney, who recently completed his documentary about reclusive Chicago Cubs fan-slash-scapegoat Steve Bartman, told 24 Frames.

While Assange makes a compelling story -- the polarizing Australian could still face U.S. criminal charges for the release of damaging and classified diplomatic cables in November -- Gibney said his movie will explore less heralded personalities in the WikiLeaks saga. "There's a mysterious figure like Bartman in this story: Bradley Manning," he said.

Manning is the soldier who was arrested last year and accused of passing along that classified information to WikiLeaks pertaining to the cables. "He's a fascinating figure," Gibney said, "because no one knows if he did it. We only have the word of one convicted hacker [Adrian Lamo, who handed Manning's name to the FBI], and if he did, why he did it."

Gibney said that despite the pervasive news coverage about WikiLeaks, he believed his film would uncover new layers in the information-vs-security saga.  "It's one of those stories like Bartman or [his Eliot Spitzer expose] 'Client 9,' in that what you see in the film is not always what you thought before."

WikiLeaks is a golden opportunity for Hollywood to inject itself into the news and make a complicated story relatable. But it's also an instance in which it runs a risk of irrelevance. 

A headline-driven movie like "The Social Network" re-created the drama of relatively recent events, but it was documenting a mostly closed chapter.  WikiLeaks remains active not only in creating the news but in being a part of it, especially as new documents come out and law-enforcement officials continue to consider prosecutions. 

A documentary could react somewhat nimbly to these fast-changing events. A dramatic feature, with its requirement for a script and other heavy machinery (not to mention significant lag time between a film's production and release), would have a bigger problem staying fresh.

--Steven Zeitchik


 Photo: Julian Assange outside a London court in February. Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth / Associated Press

Newport Beach Film Festival kicks off with Michael C. Hall movie

April 26, 2011 |  5:00 am


The TCM Film Festival in Hollywood isn't the only game in Southern California this weekend. The Newport Beach Film Festival, which opens Thursday evening and continues through May 5, boasts 350 full-length and short films from 40 countries, as well as numerous parties.

The movies will screen at several theaters including the Regency Lido, Starlight Triangle Square, Big Newport Theater and even Sage Hill High School.

The festivities open with the world premiere of the comedy "East Fifth Bliss," starring Michael C. Hall of "Dexter" fame, as well as Peter Fonda and Lucy Liu. Hall plays a thirtysomething who has an affair with the daughter of a former high school chum. Other narrative highlights include the West Coast premiere  of "Lucky," with Colin Hanks (son of Tom); the Slamdance Award winner "Silver Tongues"; the world premiere of the crime drama "Good Day for It," starring Hal Holbrook and Robert Patrick; and "Balls to the Wall," another world premiere starring Jenna Dewan, Christopher McDonald and Antonio Sabato Jr.

International films include the Irish drama "The Runaway," the Italian import "Basilicata Coast to Coast" and the Chinese comedy "Go Lala Go." There are three films in the Latino showcase: "Besouro" from Brazil, Mexico's "The Cinema Holdup" and Chile's "The Life of Fish."

Documentaries screening at the festival include "California State of Mind: The Legacy of Pat Brown," who was California's governor in the 1960s and was the father of current Gov. Jerry Brown, and something called "How to Boil a Frog."

The festival also includes an "Action Sports" program that features full-length and short documentaries including "2010  XXL Global Big Wave Awards," "Downhill: The Bill Johnson Story" and "Like a Lion."

For families attending the festival there are three features including the comedy "First Dog" and the Hong Kong animated film "Little Gobie."

Closing the festival on May 5 at the Lido Theatre is the comedy "A Beginner's Guild to Endings," starring Scott Caan, J.K. Simmons and Harvey Keitel, about three brothers who learn they only have a few days to live and set out on a journey to rectify mistakes they have made.

For more information, go to www.newportbeachfilmfest.com.

-- Susan King

Photo: Michael C. Hall stars in the opening-night film "East Fifth Bliss." Photo: David Livingston / Getty Images


'Tree of Life' director Terrence Malick willl have a Los Angeles presence

April 25, 2011 |  8:11 pm

Terrence Malick fans who don't want to wait until May 27 for the release of his new film "The Tree of Life" will have another option, at least if they live in Southern California.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has announced that it will hold a retrospective of Malick's four previous movies in the days ahead of the "Tree" opening. Titled "The Elemental Cinema of Terrence Malick," the program will screen Malick's movies and bring in collaborators to talk about working with the enigmatic auteur.

"Badlands," "The Thin Red Line" and "Days of Heaven"  -- Malick's films from 1973, 1998 and 1978, respectively -- will screen on successive days beginning May 12, just as the Cannes Film Festival kicks off in the south of  France. "The New World," the director's 2005 colonial drama starring Colin Farrell, will play the following week, on May 20. Malick himself is not expected to come to the screenings, though he will likely make his way to Los Angeles (he lives in Austin, Texas) for the film's premiere the week of release.

The retrospective comes as LACMA beefs up its cinematic offerings with a series done in conjunction with Film Independent.

The highest-profile names who will come out for the Malick screenings are actors. Sissy Spacek, whose career vaulted to prominence after "Badlands," will appear to discuss the couple-on-the-run film on the 12th, and Jim Caviezel will do the same for the Oscar-nominated war picture "The Thin Red Line" one day later.

But one of the most in-the-trenches-Malick personalities will be on hand for the other two films. Production designer and longtime Malick cohort Jack Fisk -- who became Spacek's husband after the pair met on the "Badlands" set -- will be present for both "Heaven" and "New World," the latter of which will also bring out the movie's costume designer, Jacqueline West. Malick may be a mostly mysterious presence, but others will be outspoken on his behalf.


LACMA and Film Independent collaborate on new series

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Terrence Malick at the New York Critics Circle Awards in 1999. Credit: John Simon / Associated Press


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