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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: October 2011

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'Puss in Boots': A fun feline fairy tale, critics say

October 28, 2011 |  1:57 pm

Puss in Boots
Spinning off from the popular "Shrek" films, the new animated tale "Puss in Boots" tells the story of how its feline title character, voiced by Antonio Banderas, first became a swashbuckling hero. With generally favorable reviews from movie critics and predictions that it will win the box office this weekend, "Puss in Boots" could turn out to be another franchise for DreamWorks.

The Times' Kenneth Turan says "Puss in Boots" is "a treat to experience visually (especially in lively 3-D) and verbally"; he  goes on to call it "a family film where the adventure and invention never flag and the tongue-in-cheek humor doesn't linger far behind." Turan notes that the film draws plenty of inspiration from James Bond spy flicks, Sergio Leone westerns and most of all film noir: "Think of this Puss as being sired by Raymond Chandler with Mother Goose and you'll begin to get the idea." He adds, "Perhaps the most engaging thing about 'Puss in Boots' is that it never takes itself too seriously."

Continue reading »

'Melancholia' -- Kirsten Dunst ponders the end of the world [video]

October 28, 2011 |  1:27 pm

Alexander Skarsgard, Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg in "Melancholia."

In Lars von Trier’s upcoming apocalyptic meditation “Melancholia,” Kirsten Dunst plays Justine, a young bride grappling with an overwhelming depression that seems linked to the appearance of a mysterious planet -- one that just might be on a cosmic collision path with Earth. Dunst earned the best actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival for her performance when “Melancholia” screened there in May (that was after Von Trier’s controversial comments made during a press conference to promote the movie).

In the following clip, she can be seen opposite Charlotte Gainsbourg, who plays Justine's sister Claire. The siblings, whose relationship is fraught to say the least, find themselves momentarily alone on the vast estate where Claire lives with her husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) and son Leo (Cameron Spurr). pondering the appropriate response to impending cataclysm.

"Melancholia" is scheduled to screen as part of the 2011 AFI Film Festival. It opens in theaters in Los Angeles on Nov. 11.



There's no end of apocalypse movies

Lars von Trier vows to never vow again

Cannes 2011: Lars von Trier says he may be done with news conferences

-- Gina McIntyre

Photo: From left, Alexander Skarsgard, Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg in "Melancholia." Credit: Magnolia Pictures

'Another Happy Day': Ellen Barkin on working with father, son

October 28, 2011 |  7:00 am

Ellen Barkin's breakout role was back in 1982 when she costarred in Barry Levinson's theatrical directorial debut "Diner." The film role was an impactful role for the actress, one she was always trying to replicate in Hollywood. And it wasn't until 30 years later that she found a role with equal magnitude, ironically written by Levinson's son Sam, who penned the script "Another Happy Day" in three weeks time.

In this clip from the Envelope Screening Series Q&A, Barkin tells about her shock working on a "B-genre" comedy that she was inspired to do -- after having daily discussions with the young writer, she finally realized he was Barry Levinson's son.


'Another Happy Day': Sam Levinson, a natural-born director (video)

'Martha Marcy May Marlene': Sean Durkin on creating Martha (video)

'Another Happy Day': Ellen Barkin and the mistakes of motherhood (video)

--Nicole Sperling

Photo: Ellen Barkin in "Another Happy Day." Credit: Phase 4 Films

'Phineas and Ferb' gets the 'Toy Story' treatment

October 27, 2011 |  6:11 pm

Phineas and Ferb

EXCLUSIVE: Fans of Disney Channel property "Phineas and Ferb" learned earlier this month they would get a theatrical movie on July 26, 2013. Now they might be heartened to learn that movie is becoming as big a deal as that summer date suggests.

Disney is hiring Michael Arndt to write a draft of the script, said a person familiar with the movie who was not authorized to talk about it publicly.  Arndt brings some heat--he's of course the writer of "Toy Story 3," for which he was nominated for an Oscar, and also won an Academy Award for writing "Little Miss Sunshine" back in 2007.

The initial "Phineas and Ferb" script has been written by show creators Swampy Marsh and Dan Povenmire, who have spent recent months working on that script and continue to work on the show. Unlike "Toy Story"--and the cable series itself--the "Phineas and Ferb" movie will be a mix of live action and animation. A Disney spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Although the plotline for the "Phineas and Ferb" movie is still being developed, the film is becoming a priority at Disney. The project will now be produced by Mandeville Films, the company behind another upcoming Disney tent pole, "The Muppets."

The TV series, now in its third season and with more than 130 episodes under its belt, tells the story of stepbrothers Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher, who spend their summer holiday working on fanciful inventions, as well as their sister Candace, who's always intent on getting them in trouble with their mother. Meanwhile, the family platypus, Perry, leads a double life as a secret agent fighting the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz.

Disney has been working to turn the property into its next big marketing vehicle: In June 2010 it revved up plans to retail as many as 200 Phineas and Ferb-related items — including boxer shorts and skateboards.

The show continues to prove its popularity with solid weekly ratings, while a "Phineas and Ferb" television movie drew nearly 8 million viewers this summer.
Most Disney Channel movies are made for television but some, like the third "High School Musical" film, make the jump to the big screen. Plenty of animated television hits have done well as features, from "The Simpsons Movie" at Fox to "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" at Disney Channel rival Nickelodeon, the latter of which took in more than $85 million in the U.S. back in 2004.

Disney, meanwhile, has had both filmic and merchandising success with its own, non-Pixar animated movies: The fairy tale-inspired "Tangled" grossed $200 million in the U.S. last season.


Review: 'Phineas and Ferb'

'Phineas and Ferb' to be Disney's next big marketing vehicle

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: A scene from "Phineas and Ferb." Credit: Disney XD

Word of Mouth: Paramount makes 'Crazy' bet [video]

October 27, 2011 |  4:18 pm

Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones in "Like Crazy." Drake Doremus' low-budget, largely improvised, semi-autobiographical love story "Like Crazy" sparked an intense bidding war at this year's Sundance Film Festival. But the winning bidder was not a specialized film company that typically ends up handling such art-house fare. Rather, Paramount Pictures--the distributor of the "Transformers" and "Iron Man" movies--beat out Fox Searchlight, Focus Features and the Weinstein Co. for "Like Crazy's" worldwide rights.

Having paid (it split the deal with independent producer Indian Paintbrush) some $4 million to acquire "LIke Crazy," Paramount now has to sell the movie to two different audiences. Young moviegoers should relate to the  long-distance love affair between a Los Angeles furniture designer (Anton Yelchin) and London-based journalist (Felicity Jones), while older patrons could be motivated by the film's glowing reviews and film festival credentials.

Times film reporter John Horn, who wrote about Paramount's marketing challenges in this week's Word of Mouth column, talks about the film in this video:


Movie review: 'Like Crazy'

A 'Crazy' little thing called love

Paramount doubling down on 'Like Crazy' promotion

-- John Horn

Photo: Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones in "Like Crazy." Credit: Fred Hayes

Are Elizabeth Olsen and Carey Mulligan paving way for new nudity?

October 27, 2011 |  2:43 pm

Elizabeth Olsen

For the last couple weeks, Carey Mulligan was making the rounds to help publicize her soon-to-be-released film "Shame" before heading off to Australia to work on Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of "The Great Gatsby." In the NC-17 "Shame," directed by Steve McQueen, Mulligan plays the younger sister of a man (Michael Fassbender) with a crippling sex addiction, which seems to be the result of some shared trauma between them. In one particular scene, which audiences seem to respond to as equal parts disturbing and disarming, he discovers her in his apartment using his shower. Her bold refusal to cover up as he talks to her is a signature point in the film.

A few weeks back when Elizabeth Olsen was in Los Angeles for a whirlwind promotional tour for "Martha Marcy May Marlene," the 22-year-old perked up when a conversation turned to the 26-year-old Mulligan. (It should perhaps be noted that both "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Shame" are being distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.)

"I've loved the movies Carey Mulligan has been in in the last year and a half or two years," said Olsen. "She's made cool choices, especially this year with 'Drive' and 'Shame.' That's amazing. Those are two movies it would be great to be a part of. I saw 'Shame' at the [New York Film] Festival. I did like 'Shame.' My personal taste, it's a little too graphic for me. I understand why all of it was there, but..."

Her response naturally (honest!) brought up the issue of Olsen's own offhanded nudity in "Martha Marcy May Marlene." In the film, written and directed by Sean Durkin, Olsen plays a young woman who is in the first stages of regaining her identity after fleeing from a cult. Certain societal norms seem for the moment beyond her, such as when she curls up on the corner of a darkened bed where her sister and brother-in-law are making love, or the way she casually shucks her clothes to skinny-dip in a lake, or unabashedly changes into a dress right in front of her sister.

Whether these high-profile actresses baring themselves marks a shift in the attitudes of young performers to nudity in the movies remains to be seen. Perhaps things are swinging back the other way from the modesty of the past few years, itself a response to the era of ubiquitous screen-capture infamy, when a moment from a film can be decontextualized to its basest, barest essentials and live forever on the Internet. While the bra-in-bed sex scene has become an accepted norm for audiences, are these few performances pointing the way to a new candor?

Continue reading »

'Another Happy Day': Sam Levinson, a natural-born director [video]

October 27, 2011 |  2:16 pm

Despite "Another Happy Day" being Sam Levinson's first feature film, the 26-year-old writer and director was never intimidated by his seasoned cast, which included Ellen Barkin, Demi Moore and Academy Award winners Ellen Burstyn and George Kennedy, nor the magnitude of his endeavor. Rather, Levinson approached the filmmaking process with a lot of discussion and preparation so that when the cameras rolled, he could sit back and watch the actors perform.

But that doesn't mean he didn't stay involved and appreciate his team's efforts. Barkin, who also produced the movie, said that Levinson would take an extra 45 minutes at the end of each day of filming shaking the hands of his entire crew — something she had not ever seen a director do in her career.

In this clip from the Envelope Screening Series Q&A, Levinson discusses his process.



"Martha Marcy May Marlene": Sean Durkin on creating Martha (video)

"Another Happy Day:" Ellen Barkin and the mistakes of motherhood (video)

— Nicole Sperling

Photo: Ellen Barkin, Sam Levinson and Kate Bosworth at the Deauville Film Festival. Photo credit: Francois Durand/Getty Images.

Channing Tatum's magic will be felt in June

October 27, 2011 |  2:10 pm

If you’re the type of person who’s marking your calendar for movies to see next summer, you probably were already ticking off June, if only for the hand-over-mouth spectacle of it all.

The month starts with Tom Cruise singing '80s tunes ("Rock of Ages”), then tosses us Kristen Stewart as a Grimm Brothers' heroine ("Snow White and the Huntsman") and Benjamin Walker as a vampire-hunting president (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”).

But it’s saving the best for last. Warner Bros. announced Thursday that it will release the male-stripper movie “Magic Mike” on June 29. If you haven’t been on the right listservs: “Magic Mike” is the Steven Soderbergh film in which Alex Pettyfer plays a young exotic dancer who's supposed to be Channing Tatum, who once was an exotic dancer, while Tatum plays an older dancer who mentors his own young self. It all goes down — where else? — at a club called Xquisite.

“G.I. Joe 2” comes out the same weekend, which will pose an interesting date-night dilemma: Have there have been two movies geared so decidedly to different genders? It also creates an odd situation in which one Channing Tatum movie will open against another.

In any event, Duke Hauser and his group can rest a little easier today: They’ll actually be only the second-most beefcake crew to grace screens that weekend.


Channing Tatum's voyage of discovery

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Channing Tatum in Beverly Hills in February. Credit: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times.

Hollywood sports movies: Do fans love losers as much as winners?

October 27, 2011 | 11:57 am

Chris Herren

My pals who are big sports nuts love to heap scorn on Hollywood sports movies, especially when the discussion is unfolding in a bar. Their biggest complaint? The films are squishy, full of more easy sentiment than soul, with the victories being achieved with too little cost. Movies want all of us to feel good when, in real sports, the only ones feeling good are those who were rooting for the winner.

If you divided up the best-known Hollywood sports films, the vast majority could be cataloged as stories about triumph over adversity (“The Blind Side,” “Miracle,” “Rocky” and “Rudy”), spiritual uplift (“Field of Dreams” and “The Natural”), raunchy high jinks (“Major League,” “The Bad News Bears,” “The Longest Yard” and “Caddyshack”) and underdog empowerment (“Remember the Titans” and “A League of Their Own”).

But I have a hunch we’ve recently embarked on a new era of sports films whose stories are just as compelling as the ones you’d find in any other dramatic genre, in part because they aren’t obsessed with happy endings.


No one would accuse Jonathan Hock of being a feel-good filmmaker. Hock, who has carved out a career as one of the best sports documentarians, premieres his new film Tuesday night on ESPN. Called “Unguarded,” it chronicles the career of Chris Herren, a schoolboy basketball star from Fall River, Mass., whose promising career is derailed by a harrowing descent into drug addiction.

A hoops legend at an early age — he was a McDonald’s All-American who once scored 63 points in a game — Herren had an NBA-ready resume after stints as a star guard at Boston College and Fresno State. But as the film makes clear, he also had a full-blown cocaine problem. Because of his much-publicized stints in rehab, he fell into the second round of the 1999 NBA draft. After his rookie season, he became addicted to a new drug — OxyContin. That was followed by heroin. After being cut by the Boston Celtics, he played for teams in Italy, Turkey, China and Germany.

His career ended in 2004 when, playing for a team in the CBA, he was found by police unconscious at a Dunkin Donuts drive-in with 18 packets of heroin. Herren didn’t get sober until after another heroin arrest in 2008. Hock met Herren when he had two years of sobriety under his belt; they were introduced by a mutual friend, Liz Mullin, whose husband, Chris, an NBA hall of famer, had battled alcohol dependency during his playing career.

As a filmmaker, Hock is attracted to lost souls. In “The Best That Never Was,” he examined Marcus Dupree, a high school football legend whose career was derailed by injuries and over-inflated expectations, and his “The Lost Son of Havana” centered on fabled Boston Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant’s melancholy return to Cuba after four decades in exile.

Before he began making his own movies, Hock worked at NFL Films, the cultural propaganda machine that promotes football as an irreplaceable component in our American way of life. “When I left to do my own projects, I guess I came to believe that sports stories, as they’re traditionally told, are really misleading and off the mark,” Hock told me. “‘Hoosiers’ is a great story about a wonderful game, but I’m interested in what happens when the game is over and the athlete has to go off and live the rest of their life. That’s when the story really gets interesting.”

Hock spent countless hours with Herren, watching him give motivational speeches about his troubled past. Finally, it clicked: Hock could tell Herren’s story through these informal talks at prison treatment centers, high school all-star tournaments and West Point student gatherings.

“It just never felt right to mike him and light him and do a formal interview,” Hock explained. “After hearing him tell his story in front of young players and tattooed inmates, I realized that we could do the film almost like a one-man show, with the man in the show baring his soul.”

With its intimate portrait of Herren’s raw, working-class origins, “Unguarded” often looks a lot more like an episode of “The Wire” than an ESPN sports film. “Chris was always told that his destiny was to be a basketball player,” said Hock. “But it turns out that he had a higher calling — his destiny was to help other people. He was never allowed to be who he was because he was always on track to be a star.”

“The Wire” was never a big hit, but thanks to the stewardship of HBO, it lasted for 60 episodes, each one as brutally frank and openly pessimistic about the state of mankind as the last. Can sports films aim as high? If you put Hock’s “Unguarded” together with “Moneyball,” last year’s Oscar-nominated “The Fighter” and five marvelous seasons of the Emmy Award-winning “Friday Night Lights,” you’d have a collection of dramas and documentaries that have as much scope and ambition as any of the great novels or stories — think “The Silent Season of a Hero,” Gay Talese’s 1966 Esquire profile of Joe DiMaggio — that have become required reading for sports fans.

From Red Smith and Ring Lardner through David Halberstam and Buzz Bissinger, writers have always been drawn to sports’ endless gallery of battered but beautiful losers. “The losers are always more interesting than the winners,” said John Schulian, a veteran sports columnist and TV writer whose latest collection of stories is titled “Sometimes They Even Shook Your Hand.” “Winners tend to be more self-protective — they don’t want to spoil their image. Losers are more open. They’ll talk about why they blew the game or why they robbed the jewelry store when they were 17. You just find out a lot more about yourself when you’re on the losing end.”

This sense of introspection is at work in the hot novel of the moment, Chad Harbach’s “The Art of Fielding,” which offers an apt illustration of why sports is such fertile territory for storytellers. Ostensibly a novel about a shortstop who aspires to perfection, the book ends up probing a host of deeper issues, its characters enmeshed in struggles with fallibility and the curse of self-consciousness.

Hock’s portrait of Herren in “Unguarded” is also about fallibility, human frailty being the curse of so many sports icons. (As a troubled soul from a blue-collar Massachusetts town, Herren's character is a first cousin to Dicky Eklund, the lovable but drug-addicted boxer played by Christian Bale in “The Fighter.”)

In days past, writers would plumb dark corners and Hollywood would scrub them clean. It’s worth remembering that in Bernard Malamud’s “The Natural” Roy Hobbs strikes out. It’s only in the movie that he hits a majestic home run. You can guess what ending Hock would choose. Like a lot of filmmakers of his generation, when it comes to sports, he’s a realist, not a mythmaker.

“I guess my films turn that whole redemption thing upside down,” he says. “Sports provides the illusion that athletes can achieve perfection. But sometimes if you’re searching for redemption, you can only find it away from the game, like Chris Herren did.”


'Moneyball's' biggest believers? Hint: The entertainment business

 Kobe Bryant's $100,000 fine: Is Hollywood tougher than the NBA about gay bashing?

--Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Fresno State's Chris Herren, left, in action in 1996 against Massachusetts' Carmelo Travieso at the Mullens Center in Amherst, Mass. Credit: Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Documentaries 'Better This World,' 'Butt Naked' among IDA nominees

October 27, 2011 | 10:47 am

The Redemption of General Butt Naked

The documentaries "Better This World," "How to Die in Oregon," "Nostalgia for the Light," "The Redemption of General Butt Naked" and "The Tiniest Place" ("El Lugar Mas Pequeno") will compete for the feature-length prize at the International Documentary Assn.'s 2011 IDA Awards, the organization announced Thursday.

The IDA, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that promotes nonfiction filmmaking, can bring some influence to the shape of the Academy Awards' documentary categories--last year's IDA winner, "Waste Land," was an Oscar nominee.

The IDA also announced nominations in its short film and limited series categories, as well as the recipient of its 2011 Career Achievement Award, filmmaker Les Blank. Blank ("Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers," "Chulas Fronteras") "has created films about the lives and music of passionate people who live at the periphery of American society," according to an IDA press release.

The IDA Documentary Awards will be handed out on Friday, Dec. 2, in a ceremony at the Directors Guild in Los Angeles.


Sundance Film Festival: 'The Redemption of General Butt Naked'

 Documentary revisits couple from 'Once'

Sarah Palin documentary is almost finished

--Rebecca Keegan


Photo: "The Redemption of General Butt Naked." Credit: Sundance Film Festival


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