24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: July 2011

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Venice Film Festival lineup: Polanski, Friedkin, Cronenberg

July 28, 2011 |  9:40 am

David Cronenberg The 68th Venice Film Festival, which is to take place Aug. 31 through Sept. 10, unveiled its lineup Thursday morning. Besides the previously announced opening-night film, "The Ides of March," the political thriller starring and directed by George Clooney, Venice will be screening such high-profile productions as Tomas Alfredson's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"; David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method"; William Friedkin's "Killer Joe"; Steve McQueen's "Shame"; Roman Polanski's "Carnage"; and Todd Solondz's "Dark Horse."

Several of these films will also be screening at the Toronto Film Festival, which is to take place Sept. 8-19.

Venice is the first major fall film festival and is one of the first stops for filmmakers hoping the exposure will lead to Oscar gold in February.

Last year's opening-night film, "Black Swan," directed by Darren Aronofsky, went on to earn numerous Academy Award nominations, including best film and best director. Star Natalie Portman took home the Oscar for lead actress. Aronofsky is to head up the Venice jury this year. The full program can be viewed at the festival's website.

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-- Susan King

Photo: David Cronenberg. Credit: Damian Dovarganes /Associated Press


'Wizard of Oz' prequel will win over skeptics, star says

July 27, 2011 |  5:14 pm

Photo: Frank Morgan as the wizard in the original "Wizard of Oz." Credit: MGM A new take on "The Wizard of Oz" may strike some purists as sacrilege. But one of the stars of that take, Sam Raimi's "Oz: The Great & Powerful," said the re-imagining will avoid the natural pitfalls.

"It's one of the most treasured movies of all time, but Sam has the luxury of not trying to remake that movie," Zach Braff, who plays the wizard's helper, told 24 Frames. "He's going back to [L. Frank Baum's] books to tell a great story about how Oz became Oz."

Braff added that the preparation process for the film, which has just begun shooting, has been extensive, with actors and filmmakers "sitting around the table and allowing a lot of wonderful stuff to be found." (Braff has just written a play, "All New People," that opened this week with Justin Bartha at the Second Stage Theatre in New York. More on that shortly.)

The Disney-made "Oz: The Great & Powerful" stars James Franco as a Kansas circus huckster who ends up in the Land of Oz, where he believes he can become rich and famous. But he soon finds his plan imperiled when he runs into three witches (Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz). Braff plays the wizard's assistant in the real world and voices the animated character of the wizard's monkey in the imaginary one.

The film, which began production several days ago in Detroit and aims for a March 2013 release, doesn't hark back to the 1939 MGM musical -- that film is under copyright -- but rather to Baum's public-domain books. The latest draft of the script was written by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. Joe Roth, who produced the 2010 Johnny Depp-Mia Wasikowska version of "Alice in Wonderland," is producing "Oz."

The film is the first of what will likely be several new upcoming versions of "The Wizard of Oz," including an animated tale voiced by Lea Michele.

Braff said that despite the visual scope of the new film, Raimi and production designer Robert Stromberg (who also worked on "Alice") are intent on avoiding sleight-of-hand CG tricks as much as possible.

"Sam doesn't want to make a movie that's just in front of a green screen," Braff said. "Obviously, the visual world continues beyond the set, but these are football-field-sized, amazing sets. Effects are incorporated, but we're very much on a real set."

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-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Frank Morgan as the wizard in the original "Wizard of Oz." Credit: MGM


'Devil's Double': When one actor takes on two roles in the same film

July 27, 2011 |  4:51 pm

Dd
Actor Dominic Cooper plays two roles in the new movie “The Devil’s Double”: Uday Hussein, the sadistic playboy son of Saddam Hussein, and Latif Yahia, whose resemblance to Uday landed him the unwanted job of his body double. Besides double vision, the movie may inspire a sense of déjà vu in viewers — after all, making an actor do double duty is a time-honored Hollywood tradition.

Often, the roles are twins: Hayley Mills played separated twins of divorced parents in Disney’s 1961 film “The Parent Trap,” while Margot Kidder took it to a whole new level as a woman shadowed by her psychotic former conjoined twin in Brian De Palma’s 1973 thriller “Sisters.” Jean-Claude Van Damme played twins who were separated when their parents died in 1991’s “Double Impact.” Jeremy Irons played twin gynecologists in 1988’s “Dead Ringers,” and thanks to digital face-replacement technology, Armie Hammer was able to portray the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler, in last year’s “The Social Network.”

Later this year, moviegoers will get to see Adam Sandler play twins — a male and female set — in “Jack and Jill.” Check out our double vision gallery to see more.

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— Mark Olsen

Photo: Dominic Cooper stars as Uday Hussein (left) and Latif Yahia (right) in the movie  "The Devil's Double."  Credit: Lionsgate


Sony Classics to release Lawrence Kasdan's 'Darling Companion'

July 27, 2011 |  2:34 pm

Diaen

It’s been a while since audiences have seen Diane Keaton in a leading role on the big screen. In the last five years, she’s starred in a number of lighthearted ensemble comedies -– many of which, like “Because I Said So” and “Mad Money,” were critically panned.

But Keaton plays a larger part in her latest project, “Darling Companion,” which on Wednesday was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics. In the film, which was directed and co-written by Lawrence Kasdan -– the four-time Oscar nominated filmmaker behind movies such as “The Big Chill” and “Grand Canyon” –- Keaton plays Beth, a woman who rescues a stray dog. Her relationship with her husband, played by Kevin Kline, is fracturing, so she becomes close to the animal -– until her spouse accidentally loses him. A cast that includes Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins and Sam Shepherd are enlisted to help find the pet.

The film, which was produced by Elizabeth Redleaf’s company Werc Werk Works, is scheduled for release in 2012.  

“The moment we heard Lawrence Kasdan was making an independent film we wanted to become involved,” Sony Pictures Classics said in a statement. “ 'Darling Companion’ promises to be the kind of warm, engaging movie audiences are clamoring to see right now.

-- Amy Kaufman

Twitter.com/AmyKinLA

Photo: Diane Keaton in 2007's "Because I Said So." Credit: Universal Pictures


Around Town: Westerns, disco movies and LACMA films

July 27, 2011 | 12:05 pm

Lady
Three high-profile film retrospectives come to a close this weekend: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's "Celebrating Classic Cinema: Curator and Audience Favorites," plus UCLA Film & Television Archive's "Reflections in a Mirrored Ball" and "Tracking the Cat: Robert Mitchum in the West."

LACMA's series, the last curated by outgoing film department head Ian Birnie, features Orson Welles' heady 1948  film noir "The Lady From Shanghai" starring his second wife, Rita Hayworth, and Bernardo Bertolucci's seminal 1970 drama "The Conformist," with Jean-Louis Trintignant and Dominique Sanda, on Friday evening at the Bing Theater. Saturday's early evening offering is 1951's "The River," Jean Renoir's lush Technicolor adaptation of Rumer Godden's novel about her childhood in India. The second feature is Yasujiro Ozu's acclaimed 1962 drama, "Late Autumn." www.lacma.org

A young Mitchum has his second leading role in the low-budget 1945 western "West of the Pecos," screening Thursday evening at the Billy Wilder Theater along with the 1948 romantic western "Rachel and the Stranger," with Loretta Young and William Holden. Saturday's offering is 1966's "El Dorado," which stars John Wayne and James Caan. Directed by Howard Hawks, the hit film is a remake of the director's 1959 Wayne classic, "Rio Bravo."

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'Cowboys & Aliens' Jon Favreau is lassoing up everything

July 27, 2011 |  9:34 am

Favre
  
You may or may not head out to see Jon Favreau's "Cowboys & Aliens" this weekend, but you won't have to go very far to see Jon Favreau. Over the last month, the actor-filmmaker has been more omnipresent than the metallic wrist-device from his mash-up film.

Favreau is going above and beyond many of the promotional stops to tout his new effort. He recently guest-edited an issue of the Hollywood Reporter. On Wednesday night, he's directing an episode of "Jimmy Kimmel Live." He commissioned a "Cowboys & Aliens" spoof video from young filmmakers named Freddie Wong and Brandon Laatsch and starred in it himself (watch it below). And there's always Twitter, where in the last 24 hours Favreau has shot out eight tweets to his more than 1 million followers.

The director-as-celebrity is nothing new, of course. Orson Welles cultivated a certain aura, New Wave directors in the 1960s were sometimes more famous than the stars of their films, and in the 1990s Quentin Tarantino promoted his own celebrity with an up-from-the-video-store mythology. But the platforms are wider and the publicity opportunities greater now than they've ever been, which gives it all an amplified effect. And Favreau, perhaps as the result of his acting background, is certainly an anomaly these days, when many studio directors are hired hands, and those that aren't (eg, Christopher Nolan) tend to keep a lower profile.

Universal no doubt likes the extra push Favreau is giving the film. "Cowboys & Aliens" is not based on a widely known property, and it straddles genres, so every piece of exposure helps. At a certain point, though, it may be fair to ask how much seeing Jon Favreau will have people going out to see his movie and how much will just have them seeing more Jon Favreau.

 

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-- Steven Zeitchik

Twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Jon Favreau. Credit: Paul Buck / EPA

 


'Friends with Benefits': The romcom takes a postmodern turn

July 26, 2011 |  1:13 pm

Photo: Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake in "Friends with Benefits." Credit: Screen Gems The horror movie reached a notable evolutionary point in 1996: That was the year "Scream" came out, and, as even casual fans of the iconic Ghostface Killah will remember, it cheekily built a horror movie out of parts of other horror movies.

The operative word, of course, was cheekily -- not only did Kevin Williamson's script borrow liberally from many horror movies that came before, but it also poked fun at all the things it was borrowing. Spoof movies, of course, were nothing new, but Williamson added a twist, constructing a new entry in a genre at the same time he was tearing that genre down.

"Scream" came to mind when watching "Friends with Benefits," and not just during Justin Timberlake's rapping scenes. Among the film's many one-liners are jokes about the romantic comedy itself. Timberlake and on-screen partner Mila Kunis watch a sappy movie-within-a-movie about a young couple in love (played to rip-your-eyes-out perfection by Jason Segel and Rashida Jones). They joke about the way romantic comedies artificially use end-credit music to give a sense of closure. They even poke fun at the hoariness of the moment-of-truth-climactic scene -- while they're in the middle of one.

Unlike "(500) Days of Summer," a mutation that attempted to take the genre in a more authentic direction, Will Gluck's "Friends" recombines the romcom DNA in a different and more self-critical way.  "Friends with Benefits" is a romantic comedy that's about had it with romantic comedies.

Reviewers (and even cast members such as Richard Jenkins, with whom we had an interesting post-screening conversation last week) have compared Kunis and Timberlake to Hepburn and Tracy, thanks to the ease and speed of their banter. But whatever its throwback qualities, "Friends with Benefits" really owes more to the 21st century trend toward self-reference.

"Friends" is not as obviously hammy as "Scream." On one level, Timberlake and Kunis want to be taken seriously as a movie couple, and indeed have all the trappings of movie coupledom: There's a grand romantic gesture at a major landmark, a fraught visit to the significant other's family and the obligatory mopey period to the strains of a sad song after a blown-out-of-proportion misunderstanding. But all the while, they're also getting in jibes at these romcom staples. It's a have-it-both-ways move, and one that raises a thorny question: Does professing knowledge of the cliches give you a pass to participate in them?

It remains to be seen whether audiences will think the "Scream" lite approach works for romantic comedies; "Friends" opened in third place to $18.5 million last weekend. ("Scream," incidentally, did less than $7 million on its opening weekend, but went on to gross more than $100 million in the U.S. alone.)

Williamson's movie slew horror sacred-cows like the endlessly resurrected villain and the never-ending franchise. Then it wound up taking some of those indulgences itself, coming out with its fourth installment earlier this year. Fans yawned, and the movie tallied less than half of what each of its three predecessors did. Apparently you can only go so far in pointing out the traps before you get swallowed up by them.

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-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake in "Friends with Benefits." Credit: Screen Gems


Bono, U2 doc will open Toronto International Film Festival

July 26, 2011 | 11:45 am

Photo: Bono, right, and Adam Clayton of U2. Credit: Charles Sykes / Associated Press A film about Bono and U2 will kick off the Toronto International Film Festival. Organizers on Tuesday announced that "From the Sky Down," Davis Guggenheim's documentary about the mega-band, will open the North American film showcase on Sept. 8.

Guggenheim, who won an Oscar for the environmental film "An Inconvenient Truth" and directed last year's education-reform documentary "Waiting for Superman," said that his new movie traces the arc of an act that has defied conventional wisdom. "In the terrain of rock bands, implosion or explosion is seemingly inevitable. U2 has defied the gravitational pull toward destruction," he said in a statement.

U2 began life about three decades ago by making politically inflected rock songs and has reinvented its sound numerous times. It's one of the all-time top-grossing acts, with Bono of course regarded as a prominent activist for numerous causes, particularly in the Third World.

The "Sky" choice is rare for Toronto, which in its 35 previous editions has never opened with a documentary and frequently opens with a Canadian film (last year's opener was "Score: A Hockey Musical"). Organizers have not said whether Bono will come to the festival.

Guggenheim has actually previously come to Toronto with a doc featuring a member of U2 -- 2008's "It Might Get Loud." That movie included U2 guitarist The Edge as well as The White Stripes' Jack White and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page.

Guggenheim's look at the rock and activism of U2 will be joined north of the border by Cameron Crowe's "Pearl Jam 20," about the iconic Seattle grunge band, which the festival announced Tuesday will make its world premiere at the festival.

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--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Bono, right, and Adam Clayton of U2. Credit: Charles Sykes / Associated Press


George Clooney, Brad Pitt highlight Toronto film festival lineup

July 26, 2011 |  8:39 am

Pittmone

George Clooney and Brad Pitt will highlight a  star-studded lineup at the Toronto International Film Festival, which opens Sept. 8.

Organizers said Tuesday morning that the festival will feature the world premieres of Bennett Miller's "Moneyball," the baseball drama starring Pitt; Fernando Meirelles' "360," a set of interlocking European-set stories starring Jude Law and Anthony Hopkins; Alexander Payne's 'The Descendants," starring Clooney; and Jim Field Smith's "Butter," a dramatic comedy featuring Jennifer Garner. Oren Moverman's police drama "Rampart," Jonathan Levine's cancer comedy "50/50" and Marc Forster's fact-based drama "Machine Gun Preacher" are also among the world premieres.

The festival  will also offer North American premieres for David Cronenberg's historical drama "A Dangerous Method," which stars Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud and Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung; Clooney's "The Ides of March," an adaptation of the stage play starring Clooney and Ryan Gosling; and Madonna's "W.E.," a romantic drama starring Abbie Cornish.

That means the North American films will probably travel to the Venice International Film Festival, but not the Telluride Film Festival that immediately precedes Toronto. Organizers are expected to announce new batches of titles in the weeks to come.

The vast 11-day Canadian gathering has become an important platform for awards launches, though it competes in a crowded late-summer window with the Telluride and Venice film festivals, occasionally overlapping with those festivals. Last year Toronto was an important early stop of award-season powerhouses "Black Swan" and "The King's Speech," among others.

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-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in "Moneyball." Credit: Sony Pictures


'Bad Santa' writers: We're skeptical about sequels

July 25, 2011 |  7:30 pm

Santaba
"Bad Santa" is one of the more beloved dark comedies out there, and a movie whose sequel gets fans either excited or worried, sometimes both. But how do the people who wrote the original feel about a new edition of the Billy Bob Thornton hit?

Glen Ficarra and John Requa, the "Bad Santa" scribes whose new directorial effort, "Crazy, Stupid, Love," hits theaters Friday, said they believed that those making the sequel faced a tall order.

"I don't think a sequel besmirches the original. I think the hard part is you're up against the original," Requa told 24 Frames, adding, "It'll be hard, but I don't think it's impossible."

Ficarra and Requa spoke early on with producers of the new film about guiding whoever would write the sequel but the two sides couldn't agree on whom to hire. So they parted ways. Instead, producers and studio Dimension Films went on to conduct an elaborate search and ended up hiring two writers, Johnny Rosenthal and John Phillips, to write two separate scripts. Producers will eventually pick one as the basis of the new film.

The "Bad Santa" writers did say that they are generally skeptical of sequels. "It's a thankless job, because you're up against big expectations," Ficarra said. "You can't go in a totally new direction, but if you do an hommage, people think you're ripping off the original."

The original "Bad Santa" ended with Thornton's Willie Stokes essentially getting away with his cons and being hired to work as a sensitivity trainer for the police department. He could, theoretically, go back to knocking over department stores with his miniature sidekick in a new movie.

"But wouldn't it be odd if he was a Santa again?" Ficarra asked, before stopping himself. Requa then jumped in with a fanciful, if ironic, suggestion. "Will Stokes is a great character," he said. "You could do a western. Or maybe 'Bad Santa in Outer Space.' "

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--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: "Bad Santa." Credit: Dimension Films


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