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Category: April 2011

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Tribeca 2011: Too much motherhood for Toni Collette?

April 25, 2011 |  4:17 pm

Few contemporary actresses have played the put-upon mother, particularly of gifted or difficult children, as often as Toni Collette. She tried to come to terms with Haley Joel Osment's psychic gifts in "The Sixth Sense," attempted suicide as a mother of a lost-soul 12-year-old in "About a Boy" and sought to manage a catatonic teenage son and fragile young daughter in "Little Miss Sunshine." She'll star as a mom once again -- to Anton Yelchin -- in the upcoming "Fright Night" remake.

And of course the Australian actress plays an outrageous incarnation of the mother character on "United States of Tara," the Showtime series in which she stars as a suburban mom with disassociative-personality disorder.

Jesus Collette's latest matriculation in the Academy for Maternal Dysfunction comes with "Jesus Henry Christ," an independent dramedy produced by Julia Roberts' production company that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival over the weekend.

In the film, which director Dennis Lee developed from his short of the same name, Collette plays a feminist single mother to a precocious 10-year-old with a photographic memory.  The boy was conceived in a petri dish, and the movie features a paternity-mystery storyline and a lot of absurdist sight gags. (Michael Sheen costars as an emotionally clueless professor.)

Collette's propensity for mother characters was underscored when Lee stood up before the screening to announce that the actress couldn't be in attendance because she had, in real life, given birth to a baby boy the day before. He then prompted the audience to send her some collective well wishes, which he filmed and emailed to her.

Yes, yes, congratulations to Collette and her husband on their second child. But after seeing "Jesus Henry Christ," we're starting to wonder whether she's played the same mother character one too many times on the big screen.

Collette's character faces moments of emotional difficulty along the lines of "The Sixth Sense," and the movie's attempts at wacky comedy and poignancy call back, rather baldly, to her turn in "Little Miss Sunshine," without quite the same results.

Lee's movie, shifting abruptly between earnest drama and cartoonish comedy, was tepidly received by the Tribeca crowd -- but not specifically because of Collette's performance.  "Jesus Henry Christ" does not yet have a U.S. distribution deal.

Going back to her breakout as an ABBA-loving misfit in "Muriel's Wedding" and in roles like the strait-laced sister of "In Her Shoes," Collette has demonstrated a lot of dramatic versatility. It's been a while since we've gotten to see it.

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Ministry of Gossip: Toni Collette welcomes baby boy

Tribeca 2011: A Chinese blockbuster gets its American moment

--Steven Zeitchik, from New York

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: A scene from "Jesus Henry Christ." Credit: The Tribeca Film Festival


Raging bulls: Donald Trump fires back at De Niro

April 25, 2011 |  1:11 pm

Trump

In an appearance on Saturday, Robert De Niro questioned Donald Trump's integrity. In an appearance on Monday, Trump questioned De Niro's intelligence.

Speaking to a Tribeca Film Festival audience this past weekend on the issue of politics, the actor said that some are "making statements about people they don't even back up. It's a big hustle."

He was referring, apparently, to Trump's birther crusade against President Obama. De Niro never mentioned Trump by name, but when moderator Brian Williams interjected wondering whether De Niro was referring to a personality who had a show on NBC, De Niro tacitly acknowledged it by continuing the tear against Trump: "How dare you? That's awful. Just to go out there and say things you can't back up. That's crazy."

Speaking by phone to the hosts of "Fox & Friends" on Monday morning, Trump let his own resentment fly. "Well, he's not the brightest bulb on the planet," the mogul said of De Niro. "I have been watching  over the years and I like his acting, but in terms of when I watch him doing interviews and various other things, we are not dealing with Albert Einstein." Trump went on to continue to hammer at the birther theme. (The video is below; relevant portions start at about the 3:00 mark.)

It was the second time in a week that Trump took aim at an entertainer. After Jerry Seinfeld pulled out of a Trump charity event over the birther comments, the "Celebrity Apprentice" star/producer went after Seinfeld and his failed show "The Marriage Ref," calling it "terrible."

Public interview skills have been a shaky area for De Niro -- Saturday's event further underscored it -- though it's rarely been seen by those who poke at it, including Williams and David Letterman, as a matter of intelligence so much as awkwardness or introversion.

Of course, there may be a larger end-game in Trump taking a shot at De Niro or Seinfeld: If the coiffed one is indeed serious about a bid for president, he could find worse strategies than running against liberal Hollywood.

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

RELATED:

Tribeca 2011: Fitfully, Robert De Niro talks about his acting past and future (and Donald Trump)

Photo: Donald Trump addressing the CPAC convention. Credit:  Alex Brandon / Associated Press


Tribeca 2011: A Chinese blockbuster gets its American moment

April 24, 2011 |  8:42 pm

The Chinese director Jiang Wen flashes a playful grin before saying, via an interpreter, that in the movie the audience has just seen, "there is no symbolism. A train is just a train and a hot pot is just a hot pot."

The film he's referring to is "Let the Bullets Fly," a 1919-set Chinese-language western starring Chow Yun Fat, Ge You and the director, and it mixes blood and dark comedy with Tarantino-esque abandon. Jiang hardly means what he says: his film is laden with symbolism and political allegory.

BulletsIts plot, involving warlords, shooting, provincial governors, shooting, body doubles, shooting, bandits, shooting, townspeople and shooting, isn't always easy to follow -- nominally it's about a bloody cat-and-mouse game between an outlaw named Zhang and a mobster named Huang, but that's just one of its twisty plotlines --and sometimes, even, beside the point amid the rapid-fire (in more ways than one) set pieces.

Thematically, Jiang, who based his movie on a story by the Sichuanese writer Ma Shitu, is concerned with corruption in all its forms. No one is clean in "Bullets," and codes of honor can morph into codes of greed. (Jiang is a director-actor who's had movies such as "The Sun Also Rises" play the Venice Film Festival; this is a less arthouse-y offering.)

On Sunday evening at Tribeca, "Bullets" had what festival organizers described as its first public screening outside a Chinese-speaking region, after this winter becoming the biggest Chinese-made box-office hit in the history of the country. Theories abound as to the reason for that success; one explanation has it that Chinese filmgoers returned to theaters again and again to parse the movie's political meaning, the way teenagers around the world went back again and again to parse the expressions on Leonardo DiCaprio's face in "Titanic."

Audiences in this country were more divided on "Bullets." At least a few people on Sunday were spotted walking out of the theater, but several of those who stayed welcomed the director to the stage with a standing ovation. Judging by the questioners, many of the most enthused were native Mandarin speakers. (Side note: The film premiered just one day after the first ever Beijing Film Festival kicked off in China.)

A theatrical release in the U.S. could be in the offing for the movie; producers have brought on a Hong Kong-based sales company to seek a deal. But one American buyer noted that the amount of attention required to understand "Bullets" could make the picture a challenge for a broad audience (this viewer, at least, found some of the plot overwhelming and the political/historical meaning, without the proper background, elusive). The film is, essentially, a tweener: Art-house audiences could be flummoxed by its violence and shameless shocks, but the political layers (and the fact that it's not a martial-arts movie) could hurt it with the genre crowd. Sometimes a hot pot is more than a hot pot.

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Tribeca 2011: In 'Catching Hell,' the pain of being a sports fan

Tribeca 2011: Fiftully, Robert De Niro talks about his acting past and future (and Donald Trump)

Tribeca 2011: Rid of Me tries to find its niche

--Steven Zeitchik, reporting from New York

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: The poster for "Let the Bullets Fly." Credit: Emperor Motion Picture Group


Tribeca 2011: In 'Catching Hell,' the pain of being a sports fan

April 24, 2011 |  2:18 pm

steve bartman catching hell
Los Angeles Dodgers fans who are worried about their team’s lackluster recent history have nothing on Chicago Cubs supporters, who have endured a century-long championship drought.

De-niro-ozzy-tribeca-film-fPerhaps no postseason was more painful for the Wrigley faithful than 2003, when fan Steve Bartman appeared to interfere with a foul pop-up in the eighth inning of a potentially pennant-clinching Game 6 against the Florida Marlins, an act that set into motion a catastrophic collapse and the team missing the World Series.

Or did it?

Oscar-winner Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side”) explores the Bartman incident, the alleged Cubs curse and sports scapegoats in general in “Catching Hell,” his new documentary that world-premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday night.


“It came out of a personal pain,” Gibney said in an interview after the premiere about his reason for making the film. The director, himself a die-hard Red Sox fan, went through a similar ordeal during Bill Buckner's flubbed ground ball in the '86 World Series, an event that gets ample airplay in this film.

“I lay awake for days after that happened. At some point, you think, 'It's only a game. It's not like anyone in your family is hurt, or like there's been an attack or an earthquake,' " he said. “But I was still stunned and devastated, and I wanted to examine that.”

In the film, which will premiere on ESPN later this year and possibly get a theatrical release, Gibney interviews numerous fans who sat near or comment on Bartman, uncovered rare footage from the game and even re-creates what Batman was hearing on the radio's seven-second delay as he watched the fly ball come at him.

Continue reading »

Tribeca 2011: Fitfully, Robert De Niro talks about his acting past and future (and Donald Trump)

April 24, 2011 | 10:38 am

Deniro

Robert De Niro isn't known for his flowery public speaking, which might make an interview with Brian Williams in front of hundreds of people a tricky proposition.

Indeed, the actor-director encountered some bumps Saturday afternoon when he sat, for the first time at the Tribeca Film Festival he co-founded, for a one-on-one public interview with the NBC News anchor.

Tribeca film festivalFive minutes into the chat, held at Tribeca's flagship venue at Borough of Manhattan Community College, Williams asked the Oscar winner if he would define himself as an introvert, always a dangerous question that can prove its own point. Wriggling for a second, De Niro came back with, "In some ways I am and in other ways I'm not. So."

A pause followed, and Williams cut the tension with an "I want to thank Bob De Niro," pretending to get up and end the interview then and there.

De Niro, who's had his share of challenges on the talk-show circuit -- after years of reluctance, he sat a few months ago for this awkward chat with David Letterman -- had other moments Saturday when he seemed unsure of what to say. A quizzical reaction from Williams, and some audience laughter, followed when the anchor asked De Niro to talk about his parents, and the actor came back with "My father was an artist; my mother was an artist who started a typing business to support us." He fumbled for a second. "That's it."

Williams described the interview as something he initiated as a De Niro fan, though it couldn't be overlooked that the festival could benefit from the star's presence as much as possible, especially this year without any of the big Hollywood premieres that have defined past installments. (De Niro also seems to be trying some kind of talk show shock therapy; his Letterman interview was his first ever with the late-night host.)

The actor did open up when it came to more specific career and craft questions. Though he demurred on the question of acting roles he should have taken ("Whatever I did, that's it; I stand by it, for better or worse. What am I going to do?") he offered more elaborate answers about his acting technique and also said that he was disappointed by the public reception to "Casino." "Not as many people as we would have liked went to go see it," he said. "We thought it would have been received in a wider way."

The 67-year-old actor, whose upcoming film is a dramedy based on Nick Flynn's novel "Another Bull@#$ Night in Suck City," provoked big applause when he said he wanted to continue his breakneck working pace and had seven to 10 projects in active development. He also said he'd like to make a follow-up to his 2006 world directorial effort "The Good Shepherd." "I always wanted to do a sequel from '61, the Bay of Pigs, to '89, when the [Berlin] Wall came down. I'm still trying to do that," he said.

But his moment of greatest passion seemed to come during a moment about politics. After saying that he couldn't believe how the government got to the brink of a shutdown and that he indeed believed Obama had good intentions, he went on to say that "some other people, their intentions aren't even good; they're just playing a game."

Then, in an apparent allusion to Donald Trump's recent "birther" tear, De Niro said that some are  "making statements about people they don't even back up," he said. "It's a big hustle." Williams interjected to ask whether it was a person who had a show on his network. De Niro continued to get worked up about Trump. "How dare you? That's awful. Just to go out there and say things you can't back up," he said. "That's crazy."

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Tribeca 2011: 'Rid of Me' tries to find its niche

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Tribeca 2011: Elton John sings the audience its song

-- Steven Zeitchik, reporting from New York

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Brian Williams and Robert De Niro onstage at the Tribeca Film Festival. Credit: Andy Kropa/Getty Images


Tribeca 2011: 'Rid of Me' tries to find its niche

April 23, 2011 | 11:35 am

Ridofme
A low-budget "Mean Girls" is how organizers promoted "Rid of Me," James Westby's Oregon-set black comedy that had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday night. Although the movie is interested in social fault lines (among adults), particularly between havoc-wreaking outcasts and complacent yuppies, the more apt comparison might be to Miranda July's "Me and You and Everyone We Know," only darker and more goth.

In the film, the well-meaning but socially awkward Meris (Katie O'Grady, who also produced) has just moved to a picturesque Portland, Ore., neighborhood with her new hunky husband, Mitch (John Keyser). But any dreams of domestic bliss are shattered when Mitch reunites with his high school friends and their snobbish queen-bee wives. The more Meris tries to endear herself to them (and Mitch), the deeper the wedge. Before long, she ends up in a punky outcast place, embarking on a kind of sideways quest, Miranda July-style, to find friendship and love.

Westby, best known for his film-director send-up "The Auteur," described to the Tribeca audience how he channeled inspiration: "I looked into the dorkwad-social-awkwardness side of myself," he said.

Tribeca film festival Indeed,with its quick-shuffle edits and exaggerated depictions of the social misfits and the popular kids, "Rid of Me" is as much a parable about fitting in as it is a piece of emotional realism.  "Everyone knows what it's like to feel alienated," added the film's costar Storm Large, who plays the prom-diva sort who tries to steal Mitch.

"Rid of Me" isn't likely to turn into a crowd-pleasing hit on par with "City Island," Tribeca's commercial success from 2009. (After "Rid of Me" premiered, a Tribeca programmer bounded on stage and proclaimed, "Now that's American independent film.") But the movie does offer the kind of quirky vision that all movie gatherings covet -- and that Tribeca, perhaps a little more than most, has struggled to find. In other words, a way for a festival to fit in.

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Tribeca 2011: Earthquake hovers over restaurant life in Japan

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Tribeca 2011: Music is the theme of this year's festival 

-- Steven Zeitchik
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Katie O'Grady and Orianna Herrman in "Rid of Me." Credit: Tribeca Film Festival 


'Incendies' director to take 'Prisoners,' a vigilante thriller

April 22, 2011 |  2:40 pm

Incendies
EXCLUSIVE: Denis Villeneuve is getting strong reviews for "Incendies," his story of Canadian emigres who return to the Middle East to track down family secrets after their mother dies. He could soon reach an even wider audience.

The French Canadian director has landed the gig to direct "Prisoners," a vigilante thriller that's set up with Warner Bros. and "The Blind Side" producer Alcon Entertainment, according to a person who was briefed on the project but not authorized to talk publicly about it. Alcon principal and "Prisoners" producer Andrew Kosove confirmed that Villeneuve will come aboard and called "Incendies" "the best movie made last year, in my opinion."

Based on Aaron Guzikowski's Black List script, "Prisoners" tells of a working-class Boston father whose young daughter is kidnapped, along with her friend. Frustrated by a local detective's handling of the case, the father takes as a hostage the man he believes committed the crimes. The movie would mark the English-language debut for Villeneuve, who has earned acclaim for the three features that preceded "Incendies." The Black List is an annual compendium of Hollywood’s top unproduced screenplays.

Various stars have been attached to "Prisoners" since the project was first put into active development in 2009, with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale at one point lined up to play the father and the detective, respectively. "Training Day" director Antoine Fuqua was on board to direct "Prisoners" before he left to helm another film.

Leonardo DiCaprio had been attached to star, but his involvement was considered fluid before a director came on board, and Kosove said DiCaprio won’t be joining the project. "He’s a very talented actor but this process of choosing a director outside the three or four he normally works with became too time consuming," Kosove said. "I don’t think it will happen with Leonardo." The project is seeking other cast members, he said, and aims to shoot in the fall.

Vigilante-flavored missing-children stories have been a hot commodity since the blockbuster success of "Taken" two years ago. "Prisoners" also fits squarely with "Incendies," which similarly combines the conventions of family drama and a thriller. That movie was a hit at the Toronto International Film Festival and earned an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film before opening commercially this weekend.

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--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: "Incendies." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics


Critical Mass: 'Water for Elephants' fails to please all of the critics, all of the time

April 22, 2011 |  1:22 pm

Water-elephants1 "Old-fashioned" is the phrase critics are using most often to describe "Water for Elephants," the big-screen adaptation of Sara Gruen's bestselling novel starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson. Because film critics are notorious for constantly bemoaning the current state of cinema, you'd think this would mean they'd be lapping up this "Water" like a herd of thirsty elephants. Instead, they're lukewarm about the adult romance and are even more skeptical about heartthrob Pattinson's chops outside his "Twilight" vampire franchise machine.

The Times' Kenneth Turan, who helpfully spells out the changes between the novel and the film adaptation, was particularly enchanted by the setting. He writes, "The romance of the carnival is strong in this film, and it's not too much to say that it's the element viewers will come away remembering most." He takes a less starry-eyed view of the supposed romance at the heart of the movie: "Director Francis Lawrence, who works in music videos as well as features, has an unmistakable gift for bravura spectacle, but the absence of convincing romantic chemistry means that the emotional connection that should be this film's birthright is not really there."

Continue reading »

Tribeca 2011: Earthquake hovers over restaurant life in Japan

April 22, 2011 |  9:33 am

  Jiro
The earthquake and subsequent nuclear crisis in Japan have a way of casting a mournful shadow on all real-life stories from that country. Events that took place after the calamities are thrown against a dark backdrop, and even anything that happened before can take on the foreboding tone of a horror picture.

There's no explicit mention of the crisis, even in a postscript, in "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," David Gelb's low-key documentary about the most lauded sushi chef in all of Japan because it was filmed before disaster struck. Yet it's impossible to avoid it. As much an inquiry into perfectionism as it is a piece of culinary tourism -- "It started out being about sushi" before evolving into something else, Gelb said at a screening -- the movie follows its protagonist as he goes through the exacting paces of his life.

The octogenarian Jiro is a sort of more likable Soup Nazi, charging $300 and up for the main dishes at Sukiyabashi Jiro, his Michelin three-star Tokyo restaurant, dishes he has refined with rigorous technique over seven decades. He carefully selects the fish, attends expertly if unfussily to customers, visits old friends in his hometown village and also worries about his son, an up-and-coming chef who may one day take over the restaurant. No matter what Jiro does, though, we always wonder about where the recent disaster has left him.

Viewers at the Tribeca Film Festival, where the movie made its U.S. premiere Thursday evening, were wondering the same thing, asking Gelb after the screening about both Jiro's well-being and the state of his restaurant in the wake of the crisis.

"His hometown is fine," Gelb said. "The most profound effect is actually a psychological one -- a lot of people are canceling their plans to come to Tokyo. Restaurants like Jiro's are a celebration. If you're going to be spending $300 a person, it's a celebration, and the mood for celebration has gone down." Gelb also said that the destruction of fisheries has limited the availability of what he can cook, further hurting business.

Gelb's movie has a surprisingly contemplative side. Characters utter lines such as "a perfect union of rice and fish" and "you're consuming Jiro's philosophy with every bite." But maybe the most striking aspect of the film, which was acquired several days ago by Magnolia Pictures and will soon head to theaters, is the main character's stoicism, a kind of get-it-done even keel in the face of drama, an attitude that offers a larger reassurance about Japans ability to cope with crisis.

Of course, Jiro's particular type of stoicism also comes with a certain lack of emotional expressiveness. As Gelb said of the hero's reaction to watching the movie, "he's not particularly effusive, so he's not going to compliment me." Then he added wryly, "Just the fact that he didn't disown the movie or denounce it publicly was a huge compliment to me."

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--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Jiro, second from left, with chefs at Sukiyabashi Jiro. Credit: Tribeca Film Festival

 


In a New York bar, a quiet commemoration of Tim Hetherington's life

April 21, 2011 | 11:54 pm

The death of Tim Hetherington has resonated all over the world, with his fellow journalists in Libya and his childhood friends in England and industry power brokers in Hollywood, where the "Restrepo" co-director just six weeks ago celebrated an Oscar nomination.

But a particular kind of melancholy was in the air on Thursday at the Half King, the Manhattan bar and restaurant that Hetherington frequented when he wasn't on assignment in a dangerous location.

Hether The Half King is co-owned by Sebastian Junger, the author and filmmaker who collaborated with Hetherington on the Afghanistan verite documentary "Restrepo." On Thursday, Junger memorialized his friend by taking down from a prominent wall space an explanatory plaque about the establishment and replacing it instead with a stark image of Hetherington. In the photo, the journalist is covering an African military conflict -- it appears to be the second Liberian civil war -- and is surrounded by amateur soldiers brandishing automatic weapons. Hetherington is holding an elaborate apparatus in his hands too, giving him an odd kinship with the soldiers, but his machine is, of course, a camera. (That's the image above.)

There's no conspicuous expression on the journalist's face -- he appears neither scared nor prideful, just a man trying to do his job while surrounded by some of the most murderous violence on the planet.

Hetherington came to the Half King as often as several times a week when he was in town, either to chat with Junger about work or war, or simply to grab a beer and some food before heading out on his next risky assignment. A manager recalled seeing him in the restaurant just a few weeks ago.

Junger, the manager said, plans on displaying more information about his partner (the author has already written a tribute on VanityFair.com) and perhaps even show more of his award-winning images. This used to be one more indistinguishable space in one more New York eatery; it now looks to become a modest but powerful shrine to a man who fought to tell the truth half a world away.

The conversation with the manager had a poignant but even quality, as though the manager knew a man like Hetherington would not have wanted an excess of sentiment, and it brought to mind a drink we had with Hetherington last year at the Cannes Film Festival, where the filmmaker came across as everything the obituaries have said he was: thoughtful, generous and unassumingly brave.

As we step away from the photo, a 30ish woman standing at the bar, wearing a fashionable leather jacket and a pensive expression, stops us. "Is that the photographer who was killed yesterday?" she asks, motioning to the picture.

On hearing that it is, she offers a thank you. Then, after pausing a moment to contemplate the image, she turns to her friends to describe who Hetherington was.

RELATED:

Tim Hetherington, photojournalist and Oscar nominee, is killed in Libya

-- Steven Zeitchik, reporting from New York

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

 

Photo: An image of Tim Hetherington hangs at the Half King. Credit: Steven Zeitchik


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