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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: August 2011

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Director Rowan Joffe takes on a new 'Brighton Rock'

August 26, 2011 |  3:00 pm

Director Roland Joffe made a big splash internationally, earning best director Oscar nominations for 1984’s “The Killing Fields” and 1985’s “The Mission.” His latest film,  “There Be Dragons,” came out this year.

Now his son Rowan Joffe is making his debut as a feature director with the film noir “Brighton Rock,” which opens Friday. It's based on Graham Greene’s acclaimed 1938 book, which was adapted into a 1947 classic gangster film of the same name starring a young Richard Attenborough. The new “Brighton Rock” stars Sam Riley as Pinkie, a vicious young hoodlum trying to make a name for himself among the mobs in Brighton circa 1964. Andrea Riseborough plays Rose, a naive young woman who works as a waitress and becomes involved with Pinkie. Oscar winner Helen Mirren, John Hurt and Andy Serkis also star in the film, which played the Toronto Film Festival last September and was released theatrically in England in February.

Joffe, whose mother is Tony Award-winning actress Jane Lapotaire (“Piaf”), wrote several TV movies in England, as well as the 2007 feature, “28 Weeks Later” and last year’s George Clooney thriller, “The American.” He wrote and directed the 2008 British TV movie “The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall,” which won the British Academy of Film and Television Award for best single drama.

The filmmaker, who is in his late 30s, recently talked by phone from London about the making of “Brighton Rock."

Did you have any trepidation choosing to adapt and direct such a well-respected book as “Brighton Rock," especially since the 1947 film version is a classic.

Yes. This film was in many ways a very, very foolish undertaking. It is my debut movie as a director and we are working in an industry where it’s basically one strike and you are out. The reason why "Brighton Rock" is foolish in that context is that "Brighton Rock" is not a strategic career move. No matter how good the movie is, it will be compared to the black-and white classic. No matter how reverent or humble one’s approach to the material is, you will be perceived by a large chunk of critics as arrogant and stupid, and they will set out to punish you for that.

We had a review in the Telegraph, which is a hugely respected and widely read broadsheet, where the film critic started his review saying, "I haven’t bothered to see this movie because it doesn’t deserve to be seen."

That’s pretty cheeky.

Yes … I have to be honest with you, my career has taken a massive kick in the teeth because neither is it a massively commercial film or the most obvious or easily digested story because it is a period story. It was something I went into knowing I wasn’t going to be rocketed to overnight success. But I decided to do it because I loved the project, and by love, I mean it wasn’t a rational decision.

The film received three nominations last year from the British Independent Film Awards. Did the indie critics and audience embrace the film more than traditional critics and moviegoers?

The British Independent Film Awards seemed to enjoy giving us manifold nods, whereas more establishment areas of the industry, BAFTA and more old-fashioned broadsheets, I think decided that this wasn’t worthy of that kind of consideration, which is a decision they made.

We also had some very, very tough competition. "The King’s Speech" was probably the most successful British film of the period and we came out right up against that and "Black Swan." But the only thing I am sad about if I’m honest is that Andrea Riseborough’s performance didn’t get any award traction. She is the backbone of the film, I think.

Your "Brighton Rock" is based more on the original novel than the 1947 film.

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'Our Idiot Brother': Paul Rudd charms the critics

August 26, 2011 |  1:56 pm

Paul Rudd, with Elizabeth Banks, charms critics in 'Our Idiot Brother'
On screen and off, the new Paul Rudd-starring comedy "Our Idiot Brother" is a family affair. Rudd plays a laid-back organic farmer who gets busted for selling weed to a uniformed police officer and, after a quick stint in prison, bounces around the homes of his three go-getter sisters, effectively throwing their lives into chaos.

The film surely draws inspiration from the lives of its kin creators: Jesse Peretz directs and Evgenia Peretz, his sister, co-wrote the screenplay with her husband, David Schisgall. The result seems to have pleased most critics, largely thanks to Rudd's easygoing performance.

As The Times' Betsy Sharkey writes, "You can thank Paul Rudd for the natural high that keeps 'Our Idiot Brother' floating along so amusingly." Sharkey adds, "The comedy isn't always as crisp as it should be, but [director Jesse] Peretz has the perfect partner in crime in Rudd. The actor has an uncanny ability to create characters that feel completely devoid of avarice, angst or anything unseemly. There is nary a worry line on that brow, and I don't think it's Botox."

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DocuWeeks' Week 2: Homegrown terrorism and international problems

August 25, 2011 | 10:13 am

The International Documentary Assn.'s 15th annual DocuWeeks Theatrical Documentary Showcase, which allows feature and documentary shorts to qualify for Academy Award consideration, enters its second week Friday at the Laemmle's Sunset 5.

Here's a look at the programs for Friday through Sept. 1

"Better This World" trailer from "BetterThisWorld" on Vimeo.

"Better This World"

Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega wrote, produced and directed this feature about two boyhood friends from Midland, Texas, who fall under the spell of a revolutionary who is 10 years their senior. At the Republican National Convention in 2008, the "Texas Two" find themselves accused of domestic terrorism.

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'The Hunger Games' offers a low-calorie snack

August 25, 2011 |  9:50 am

We’ve gotten used to teasers, those frequently Yahoo- and MTV-hosted video nuggets that predate the trailer, often by weeks or months, of a youth-oriented movie.

But the frenzy around “The Hunger Games” is such that Entertainment Weekly has posted a tiny byte of footage –- mainly it’s Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen looking scared; you can see it below-- to promote the teaser that MTV will air during the Video Music Awards on Sunday (itself a compression of what likely will eventually be included in the trailer). So basically, it’s an excerpt of an excerpt of an excerpt.

Yes, it has come to this.


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?

 --Steven Zeitchik


Is Steve Jobs' '1984' Apple spot an underrated film influence?

August 25, 2011 |  8:21 am

Steve Jobs, as news reports have been reminding us for the last 18 hours, has been a titan of technology and design. He also is a key figure behind Pixar, acquiring the platinum-caliber animation company 25 years ago.

But the recently resigned Apple CEO also may have had a subtle hand in shaping a different part of pop culture: live-action movies.

During the 1984 Super Bowl, it was Jobs' Apple that commissioned and ran the now-famous George Orwell-inspired spot for the newly created MacIntosh.

Directed by Ridley Scott, the dystopian commercial features a room populated by baldheaded  drones who sit transfixed as a propagandist leader brainwashes them from a giant screen. Into their room runs a woman, some jackbooted guards hot on her heels, who hurls a javelin at the screen, while a voiceover suggests that the Mac can help turn 1984 into something other than Orwell's (read: IBM's) dark vision.

Created by ad agency Chiat/Day, the spot became a sensation, helping to put Apple on the cultural map and launching the modern Super Bowl ad. (You can watch the commercial above; below, check out Jobs introducing the spot at a technology conference, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with  "Was George Orwell right about 1984?")

The spot's cinematic influences were vast -- the drones were a clear nod to Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" and the ad came as part of a larger culture of cinematic dystopia that had already produced movies such as "Blade Runner," which was, of course, also directed by Scott.

But the commercial also would go on to influence a number of movies. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Ben Richards in "The Running Man" would contain shades of the javelin thrower, and it's hard not to think of the ad when watching Alex Proyas' 1998 cult hit "Dark City."

Over the last decade, Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men" and James McTeigue's "V for Vendetta" would take cues from the spot. Perhaps not concidentally, all three of these directors were in their impressionable late teens or early 20s when the Apple commercial hit.

The spot, which lasts only one minute, cost nearly a million dollars, an extremely large amount of money for a commercial at the time and a kind of precursor to the $100-million (and then the $200-million and $250-million) movie.

Jobs continued to reinvent personal computing and mobile devices in the decades that followed, and many current tech executives say they were inspired to join the digital revolution by that commercial. But a few film directors might have been watching too.


Steve Jobs resigns as Apple CEO but is named chairman

Photos: Steve Jobs and Apple's influence

How Ridley Scott came to direct the new Blade Runner

--Steven Zeitchik


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

August 25, 2011 |  7:30 am

Darren Criss in "Glee The 3D Concert Movie"
If you've flipped on a TV or checked out the movie listings recently, you know we are in the dog days of summer entertainment. So, I offer a prescriptive. (It won't be for everyone, but then what is?) OK, gulp, here it is: "Glee: The 3D Concert Movie." Sorry. But I couldn’t help but feel better in the face of all that, well, gleefulness.

I do like the Fox series (the agony and the ecstasy of a high school glee club, if you’ve been living on another planet), but I’d resisted the idea of the concert film. It just seemed an inherently thin idea. And when compared with some of the greats, say Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz” on the Band, exceptional for both its music and its insight, it is.

But a hallmark of the show, in addition to some of the best musical mash-ups ever, is its celebration of differences, an ode to the outsiders that pack high school hallways. Those kids get an almost equal voice here.

Very energetic stage bits with all the “Glee” kids –- Lea Michele, Chris Colfer, Cory Monteith and the rest –- are intercut with fan interviews, from the funny to the exceedingly moving. The pretty cheerleading dwarf talking about her challenges and her date to the prom, the 19-year-old remembering the pain of being outed in eighth grade, and so it goes. For them, “Glee” represents validation, as significant as the enjoyment to be had from all those show-stopping Broadway-styled productions.

So if you’re feeling down, and troubled, and you need a helping hand…


Marketing 'Glee,' the movie

Movie review: 'Glee: The 3D Concert Movie'

Golly 'Glee': Can the TV hit succeed on the big screen?

-- Betsy Sharkey

Photo: Blaine (Darren Criss) in "Glee: The 3D Concert Movie." Credit: Adam Rose / Twentieth Century Fox

Around Town: Ernie Kovacs, Joe Dante and 'Thelma & Louise'

August 25, 2011 |  6:00 am


A tribute to a late comic genius, a 20th anniversary of an Oscar-winning hit, and appearances from directors Joe Dante and Ron Shelton are among the cinematic highlights this weekend.

"In Kovacsland: Tribute to Ernie Kovacs," Saturday evening at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre, examines the work of the the innovative comic, who died in a car crash in 1962. During the 1950s and early '60s, Kovacs transformed TV comedy with his surreal camera tricks and crazy characters such as Percy Dovetonsils and the Nairobi Trio. Among those discussing Kovacs are Jeff Garlin, Harry Shearer and George and Jolene Brand Schlatter.

Over at the Cinematheque's Aero Theatre, director Joe Dante will discuss his work Thursday evening in between screenings of his films 1989's "The 'Burbs" and 1993's "Matinee." And on Friday, writer-director Ron Shelton will appear at the screenings of two of his sports comedies starring Kevin Costner: 1988's baseball romance "Bull Durham" and 1996's golf-featured "Tin Cup." http://www.americancinematheque.com

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Guillermo del Toro resurrects 'Dark' from development hell

August 24, 2011 |  3:07 pm

Soon after Bob and Harvey Weinstein left the Walt Disney Co.’s Miramax Films in 2005, Guillermo del Toro rang up the parent studio. The “Hellboy” filmmaker wanted to know from Disney which movies the Weinsteins were taking with them and which they were leaving behind.

Having clashed with the brothers in directing 1997’s “Mimic,” Del Toro had no interest in collaborating with the Weinsteins again, but he very much wanted to mount a remake of the 1973 TV movie “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” which had been in development at Miramax for several years, at one point with James Wan ("Saw") penciled in to direct.

Lucky for Del Toro, the Weinsteins left it behind. “I got it back, read it, and was still in love with it,” said Del Toro, who had personally optioned the remake rights to the 1973 original.

The feature film, opening Friday and being released by FilmDistrict, was ultimately produced and co-written by Del Toro, who closely mentored first-time feature director Troy Nixey. It’s taken Del Toro more than a decade to bring the film to theaters -- “I was shepherding this movie at every step,” the Mexican-born director said -- but he says the effort was worth it.

“I think it’s academically spooky,” he said. “It has nothing to do with hard-core gore.” To read more about the film and Nixey's feature directing debut, go here.


Guillermo del Toro's imagination is working overtime

Guillermo del Toro and Jon Favreau on fear, weight and Disneyland

 COMIC-CON 2010: Guillermo del Toro isn’t afraid of … much of anything

-- John Horn

Photo: Katie Holmes, right, and Bailee Madison star in "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark." Credit: Carolyn Johns / Miramax Film Corp.

Vera Farmiga finds 'Higher Ground' with her new film

August 24, 2011 |  2:02 pm

Based on Carolyn S. Briggs’ memoir, “This Dark World,” the new drama “Higher Ground” tracks the journey of a born-again Christian wife and mother living in a tightknit Christian community in the Midwest who begins to question her faith. The project, which premiered this year at the Sundance Film Festival and opens in theaters in Los Angeles on Friday, marks the feature directorial debut of Vera Farmiga, who has delivered acclaimed performances in such films as “Up in the Air,” “The Departed” and “Down to the Bone.”

Appropriately enough, the 38-year-old turned the venture into a family affair, starring in the lead and casting her youngest sister, Taissa, as a teenage version of her character, Corinne Walker. The Oscar nominee’s toddler son, Fynn, played Corinne’s baby daughter, and Farmiga’s husband, Renn Hawkey, was one of the producers of the indie film, which was made from a script by Tim Metcalfe and Briggs for less than $2 million. Farmiga also happened to be pregnant with her now 9-month-old daughter, Gytta, during the production.

On a recent visit to Los Angeles from her home in upstate New York, Farmiga revealed why she chose to step behind the camera and her experiences making the film.

Question: Your sister — who is now 17 — got a lot of attention for her performance in the film when it premiered at Sundance in January. Had she acted before?

Vera Farmiga: Never. She was doing me a favor. I think she was sort of a typically bored 15-year-old who was looking for an adventure. She has a tremendous power of expression. I can always tell what she is feeling when I take one look at her face. There are seven children in our family. She’s the baby. I sent her a text and invited her to be in the film. She submitted willingly.

Q: You have worked with directors including Martin Scorsese, Jason Reitman and Debra Granik. Was it a natural progression for you to try your hand at directing?

Continue reading »

Legendary East's first film project: scaling China's 'Great Wall'

August 23, 2011 |  5:53 pm

Legendary Pictures is kicking off its new China venture with a movie about the country's best-known structure. The newly formed Legendary East announced Tuesday that its first production will be "The Great Wall," which will tell "why this magnificent structure came to be," according to the company.

"Last Samurai" and "Love and Other Drugs" writer-director Edward Zwick is penning the screenplay with his longtime collaborator Marshall Herskovitz. It's based on a story by Max Brooks, writer of the upcoming thriller "World War Z," and Thomas Tull, Legendary Pictures' chairman.

Legendary East aims to produce English-language movies in China based on local culture that are intended to be released around the world. Because it works with a local distributor, Huayi Brothers, its films are not subject to the communist country's restrictions on how many foreign movies can be imported each year.

"The Great Wall" will be directed by Zwick, but does not yet have a release date.


Legendary East to go public with initial value of $441 million

Legendary Pictures to produce movies in China through joint venture

Relativity Media opens a door into China

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Marshall Herskovitz, left, and Edward Zwick at an AFI event in June. Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI


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