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Category: August 2011

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Cosmic cinema: The science of Malick's 'The Tree of Life'

August 31, 2011 |  5:46 pm


The massive, luminous balls of gas in Terrence Malick’s cosmic family drama “The Tree of Life” were a lot of work.

And besides Sean Penn, the special effects were tricky too.

"The Tree of Life," which centers on a Texas family in the 1950s and stars Penn, Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain, contains a long, dialogue-free chunk that deals with some of the enigmas of the universe. Malick relied on a network of about 30 scientists to help him depict with authenticity such ambitious astronomical scenes as the Big Bang, a fly-through of the Milky Way galaxy and an asteroid crashing into Earth that may have lead to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

“We wanted to make sure the decisions we were making were as scientifically accurate as they were beautiful,” said Nick Gonda, a producer of “The Tree of Life.” “A lot of this has become possible as a result of years of research taking place in sometimes windowless rooms. As filmmakers we can collaborate with those scientists and celebrate what is now possible to experience, the mystery of the unknown and the infinite.”

“The Tree of Life” is just one of several recent films rich with outer space imagery and cosmic themes, including “Apollo 18,” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “Another Earth,” an issue explored in greater depth in Thursday’s newspaper.

Malick tapped researchers at the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) to create animated simulations based on data collected by astrophysicists. Prior to Malick’s film, the widest audience for that research were readers of Astrophysical Journal.

The filmmaker also used imagery obtained by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which was then cleaned up and dimensionalized by visual effects artists at Double Negative in Britain, and incorporated works by New York-based artist Michael Benson, who crafts raw data from space probes into cinematic images.

“A movie is an opportunity to inspire curious thinkers, to contribute to something that might inspire a 12-year-old to think about space,” Gonda said. “While it doesn’t directly push forward the core research, it has the opportunity to inspire in a way that makes them read textbooks in the first place, a pursuit of that knowledge.”

“The Tree of Life” Blu-ray, which includes a 30-minute documentary about the making of the film, will be released Oct. 11.


"Tree of Life" cinematographer: It was like no set I've ever worked on

First footage of Terrence Malick's 'The Tree of Life' exceeds expectations

 Cannes 2011: Finally, the end of secrets on Terrence Malick's 'The Tree of Life'

--Rebecca Keegan


Photo: The Helix Nebula as seen in “The Tree of Life.” Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

'The Guard': Kenneth Turan's film pick of the week

August 31, 2011 |  4:37 pm

Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson in The Guard, Kenneth Turan's film pick of the week

Comedies that actually make you laugh are always the rarest of commodities, especially in the summer, so it is satisfying to see “The Guard” not only surviving but expanding into nearly 20 theaters across Southern California. An impish and impudent black comedy that knows where it’s going and how to get there, it gives veteran actor Brendan Gleeson one of the tastiest roles of his career and introduces gifted writer-director John Michael McDonagh.

If that name sounds familiar it’s because he’s the older brother of “In Bruges” filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh. Fans of the younger man will recognize a similar sensibility, but “The Guard” has a brightness and high-energy feeling all its own. When the director says he envisioned something “in the classic tradition of John Ford and Preston Sturges,” he is not kidding.

McDonagh has taken a “Beverly Hills Cop” framing device, with Gleeson’s unconventional Irish cop giving conniptions to a cool FBI agent played by Don Cheadle, and added a great sense of character and place as well as drop-dead sarcastic dialogue that is wickedly comic and unapologetically profane.

Don’t let it pass you by.


'The Guard': Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week

Eric Rohmer's 'Le Rayon Vert': Kenneth Turan's critic's pick film

'Glee: The 3D Concert Movie': Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week

-– Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson in "The Guard." Credit: Jonathan Hession / Sony Pictures Classics

At Venice, is 'Contagion' following 'The Town's' awards playbook?

August 31, 2011 |  3:19 pm

Anna Jacoby-Herron and Matt Damon in Steven Soderbergh's virus drama Contagion

When Warner Bros. Pictures premieres Steven Soderbergh's globe-trotting virus drama "Contagion" Sunday at the Venice Film Festival, it will be launching a campaign for a movie that shares many attributes with the studio's hit from fall 2010: Ben Affleck's "The Town," which also made its debut at the starry European fest.

Despite very different subject matters, "The Town" (starring Affleck and Jeremy Renner) and "Contagion" are both accessible dramas with strong ensemble casts. Plus, "Contagion" (which stars Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet, among others) also boasts that critical quality of certain fall releases: strong commercial appeal mixed with potential awards support.

Warner Bros. worldwide president of marketing Sue Kroll sees the similarities between the two films.

“They are similar in that they both have popular appeal, a great mix of cast and a very accessible subject matter told in a really wonderful, interesting way. They are incredibly well-crafted, well-acted, well-directed films but they can broaden out and may end up reaching a much wider audience,” Kroll says.

"Contagion" needs a strong commercial bow before it can be considered an Oscar candidate, and with its stateside opening set for Sept. 9, Venice serves as a strategic launching pad worldwide for the movie. "The Town" opened in the U.S. last Sept. 17 and grossed $154 million worldwide, and Warner Bros. ran a concerted Oscar campaign for the film. The picture missed the cut for the 10 best picture nominees, but Renner was nominated in the best supporting actor category.

"Contagion" has a chance for even greater box office success, considering the film features a much larger geographic scope and a cast with more international stars, including Marion Cotillard, Jude Law and Chin Han.

Plus, who doesn't love a good pandemic?


Photos: Scene at the 2011 Venice Film Festival

Matt Damon: Steven Soderbergh really does plan to retire from film

-- Nicole Sperling

Photo: Matt Damon and Anna Jacoby-Herron in a scene in "Contagion." Credit: Claudette Barius / Reuters

George Clooney's 'Ides of March': Early reviews from Venice

August 31, 2011 | 11:07 am

Paul Giamatti George Clooney and Philip Seymour Hoffman at Ides of March opening at Venice Film Festival

George Clooney's "The Ides of March," a story of backroom betrayals during a critical moment in a fictional presidential race, kicked off the Venice Film Festival on Wednesday, and the early critical appraisals -- positive but a bit reserved -- are trickling in.

Clooney directed the film and also stars as Gov. Mike Morris, a hardcore liberal’s dream candidate; Morris’ campaign is run by Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), with Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) Zara’s most talented — and unreservedly idealistic — aide. Two seemingly innocent Myers encounters — between him and a campaign intern (Evan Rachel Wood) and an adviser to Morris’ rival — set off a chain reaction that threatens to take down the candidate.

The film won't hit U.S. theaters until Oct. 7 (when the L.A. Times review will appear), but here are a few early assessments:

Continue reading »

DocuWeeks' Week 3: Elmo, David Letterman and military matters

August 31, 2011 | 10:55 am

Elmo and Kevin Clash

This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

The International Documentary Assn.'s 15th Annual DocuWeeks Theatrical Documentary Showcase enters its third and final week on Friday at the Laemmle's Sunset 5. The six films all are attempting to qualify for Academy Award consideradition.

Here's a look at this week's eclectic lineup:

"Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey"

Constance Marks produced and directed this documentary on Kevin Clash. Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, it's about the man who created the adorable red Muppet Elmo.

"Dying to do Letterman"

Joke Fincioen and Biagio Messina directed this award-winning documentary, which chronicles comic Steve Mazan's attempt to perform on David Letterman's show. His quest becomes still more important when he learns he may only have five years to live.

Hell and Back Again clip from Danfung Dennis on Vimeo.

"Hell and Back Again"

Photojournalist and filmmaker Danfung Dennis examines how a Taliban machine-gun bullet affects the life of a young sergeant serving in Afghanistan.

"The Mexican Suitcase"

Trisha Ziff's story of the recovery of 4,500 negatives taken by the great photographers Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David Seymour during the Spanish Civil  War.

Semper Fi: Always Faithful Trailer from Rachel Libert on Vimeo.

"Semper  Fi: Always Faithful"
Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon produced and directed this documentary about a Marine's discovery of a Marine Corps cover-up of a water contamination incident that was one of the worst in U.S. history.

"The Tiniest Place"

Tatian Huezo wrote and directed this documentary set in the Salvadoran jungle that examines the strength of the residents of an annihilated town.

For the record, 11:30 a.m. Aug. 31: An earlier version of this post referred to "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey" as "Becoming Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey."


DocuWeeks Week 2: Homegrown Terrorism and International problems

First offerings at documentary showcase

-- Susan King

Photo: Elmo and Kevin Clash. Credit: Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images.

Venice film fest gets underway with George Clooney's 'Ides'

August 30, 2011 | 11:00 pm

Ides Story
With its romantic Italian trappings, Venice lends itself to a certain kind of film festival: one with a lot of A-list talent and showy movies. This year’s event, which kicks off Wednesday, is no exception, with George Clooney, Madonna, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow and Matt Damon expected to be on hand to premiere their films.
Many of the movies headed to Venice — including Clooney’s American presidential campaign drama “Ides of March,” which opens the fest, and Madonna’s Wallis Simpson drama “W.E.” — will also screen at the much larger Toronto International Film Festival, which begins Sept. 8. There’s also bound to be some overlap between Venice’s lineup and the programming at the Telluride Film Festival, which starts Friday, though the organizers of the Colorado event keep their titles under wraps until the very last minute.

A few high-profile pictures, though, will debut in Venice and then keep North American filmgoers, even festival audiences, waiting for a bit. Those films include Roman Polanski’s “Carnage,” an adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s Broadway play “God of Carnage”; Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John le Carre’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (with Gary Oldman as super spy George Smiley); and Al Pacino’s “Wilde Salome,” about Pacino’s obsession with Oscar Wilde and his controversial play “Salome.” Check out our photo gallery of high profile Venice titles here.

The Venice festival’s top honor, the Golden Lion, isn’t seen as a particularly good indicator of eventual attention from Oscar voters. Last year, Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere” walked away with the award, while in 2009 the prize went to Samuel Maoz’s war drama “Lebanon”; neither landed Academy Award nominations. This year, Darren Aronofsky, director of last year’s Oscar best picture nominee “Black Swan,” will head up the Venice jury.

The Venice fest, which is in its 68th year, will feature 22 films in its international competition. Besides “Tinker, Tailor,” “Ides” and David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” the field includes William Friedkin’s “Killer Joe” (a drama starring Emile Hirsch and Matthew McConaughey); Todd Solondz’s “Dark Horse,” starring Mia Farrow; and “Texas Killing Fields,” the directorial debut of Michael Mann’s daughter Ami Canaan Mann.

Continue reading »

Where would Alfred Hitchcock be with today's technology?

August 30, 2011 |  3:06 pm

Cary Grant, left, James Mason and Eva Marie Saint in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest 
Sorry, Alfred Hitchcock, that script needs a tweak.

Impressive structure, Frank Capra, but about the premise….

Crackling good dialogue, Billy Wilder, but there’s been a technical glitch. Actually, a technology glitch.

Some of the greatest films of all time probably wouldn’t be greenlighted today without some serious script doctoring because the advent of modern technology has removed the feasibility of the plot points that so many of them turn on.

Consider the opening scene of Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” (1959). Roger (a never-better Cary Grant) realizes during a business lunch at the Plaza Hotel that he must relay a message to his mother, and therefore must send her a telegram. (For readers born after the Clinton impeachment, Google “Western Union.”) With unfortunate timing, he flags down a bellboy who is paging someone else, leading to an identity mix-up and his kidnapping by foreign spies.

A very Hitchcockian device, mistaken identity. It sets the entire plot in motion. But Hitch couldn’t have made that movie today. Not set in 2011, at least, because what successful businessman leaves the office without his 4G smartphone?

Continue reading »

'The Hunger Games' footage: forest, fireballs and braids [video]

August 29, 2011 |  1:39 pm


In the future, there is Gore-Tex. And also trees. That’s what we learned from the scant 45 seconds of “The Hunger Games” footage Lionsgate revealed during MTV’s Video Music Awards Sunday.

In the teaser, Jennifer Lawrence gallops through a dense forest as 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, one of 24 kids forced to fight to the death in an outdoor arena game. Lawrence, who has already demonstrated action heroine potential by gutting a squirrel in “Winter’s Bone” and pumping iron in “X-Men: First Class,” delivers on Katniss’ scrappy athleticism--she dodges fireballs, leaps over a fallen tree and releases an arrow with a fierce glint in her eye. Over the action, the voice of Katniss’ hometown pal, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), hints at one of the relationships that drives her character. “You’re stronger than they are,” Gale says. “You are. They just want a good show, that’s all they want. You know how to hunt. Show ’em how good you are.”


“The Hunger Games,” directed by Gary Ross, is the first in a planned series based on a trilogy of dystopian young adult novels by Suzanne Collins. The teaser footage, which Lawrence introduced from the movie’s North Carolina set, reveals little of the visual ambition of the books' science-fiction setting. There is no sign of District 12—the bleak, coal mining region from which Katniss hails—nor the sleek Capitol District, where the stylish and powerful reside. Also absent are the series's fantastical fashions, such as Katniss’ “girl on fire” dress, and mutant creatures, like the arena’s deadly “tracker jacker wasps.” The movie’s hairdressers have delivered Katniss’ distinctive side braid—this may replace Princess Leia’s buns as a new generation’s Comic-Con coiffure of choice—but her wardrobe suggests the future looks a lot like a Lands’ End catalog.

Though minimal, the footage contained a hint to find more visual detail about the movie. A Twitter hashtag in the teaser, #whatsmydistrict, points users towards a viral website, with a blurred, black image, some discordant electronic beeps and a note in the corner prompting "citizens” to identify themselves via Twitter. After a few hours of people tweeting the site's address, the image appeared to begin forming into the seal of the Capitol District. (Here Lionsgate is taking a page from the viral campaign for “Dark Knight Rises”—as more people Tweeted the phrase “The Fire Rises” in May, a blurry image clarified into a mosaic photo of Tom Hardy as the "Batman" villain Bane.)

"The Hunger Games" also stars Josh Hutcherson as Katniss' arena partner, Peeta Mellark; Woody Harrelson as her booze-addled mentor, Haymitch Abernathy; Elizabeth Banks as her airhead escort to the Capitol, Effie Trinket; and Lenny Kravitz as her faithful stylist, Cinna.

"The Hunger Games" opens March 2012.



'Hunger Games' sequel 'Catching Fire' due nearly two years later

'The Hunger Games': Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth complete the love triangle

'The Hunger Games': is Jennifer Lawrence the new Katniss?


--Rebecca Keegan



Photo: Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games." Credit: Murray Close/Lionsgate

Meet 'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark's' young star, Bailee Madison

August 29, 2011 | 11:49 am

Perched on a couch with her legs tucked under her, 11-year-old Bailee Madison was excitedly recounting her time filming the new movie “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” when her mother leaned over a banister in their Toluca Woods home and shouted: “Can I interrupt?”

“Bai,” began Patricia Riley, halting her daughter's interview, “I think you should tell her about Alex's Lemonade. Because it's really cool how your little friends are helping with your charity.”

Bailee paused, seeming momentarily frustrated by the suggestion. But within seconds, a smile was back on her face and she started extolling the virtues of a charity focused on childhood cancer for which she is a national spokesperson.

“Something my mom and I have always said to each other is: ‘We’re not here for interviews. We’re not here to get your picture taken,’ ” the soon-to-be sixth-grader said. “ ‘We’re here to make a difference, and this is our opportunity to.’ ”

These days, though, Bailee is in fact sitting for plenty of interviews and photo shoots, and seems to have a preternatural poise that many industry veterans would envy. Then again, she’s already got more than a decade of experience in front of cameras — she appeared in her first commercial at only 2 weeks old and had a recurring role on Disney Channel’s “Wizards of Waverly Place.”

On the big screen, she’s worked alongside some of the biggest celebrities in show business — Adam Sandler in “Just Go With It,” Natalie Portman in “Brothers” and now Katie Holmes in “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” a horror film that opened Friday.

Endlessly perky, distractingly adorable, incredibly well-behaved and devoutly Christian, Bailee fields questions with an adult aplomb. Ask her whose career she hopes to emulate, and she responds:

Continue reading »

Pedro Almodovar to be AFI Fest guest artistic director

August 29, 2011 |  6:00 am

Pedro Almodovar

Director Pedro Almodóvar will serve as the guest artistic director of the American Film Institute's 25th AFI Fest in Hollywood in November.

Almodóvar, the Spanish writer-director of such films as "All About My Mother," "Talk to Her" and "Volver," will present a screening of his film "Law of Desire," made 25 years ago. He also will curate a program of films that have inspired his work. Those films and other festival programming are to be announced in October.

The institute's festival is scheduled to run Nov. 3 to 10 at the Chinese Theatre, the Chinese 6 Theatres, the Egyptian Theatre and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

Almodóvar's latest film, "The Skin I Live In," starring Antonio Banderas, opens in October.

-- Sherry Stern

Photo: Pedro Almodóvar. Credit: José Haro / El Deseo / Sony Pictures Classics


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