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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: December 2011

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'Gump,' 'Bambi' among 2011 National Film Registry selections

December 27, 2011 |  6:59 pm

Forrest

 

The Oscar-winning “Forrest Gump,” Walt Disney’s 1942 classic animated film “Bambi,” Charlie Chaplin’s first feature-length comedy “The Kid” and a 1912 silent comedy “A Cure for Pokeritis” (starring cinema’s earliest comedy superstar, John Bunny) are among the 25 movies that have been selected to be preserved as cultural, artistic and historical treasures in the National Registry of the Library of Congress. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington made the selections.

The movies chosen span the years 1912 to 1994 and include an eclectic mixture of feature films, documentaries, short subjects and experimental films. With this year’s selections, there are 575 films in the registry. Movies are selected to the National Film Registry because they are “culturally, historically or aesthetically” important. “These films are selected because of their enduring significance to American culture,” Billington said in a statement. “Our film heritage must be protected because these cinematic treasures document our history and culture and reflect our hopes and dreams."

Billington chose these films after reviewing the 2,228 films nominated by the public and discussing the titles with film curators and members of the National Film Preservation Board. The Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation ensures each title named to the registry is preserved for future generations.

Here’s a look at all 25 selections:

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'Dragon Tattoo': Why do so many foreign remakes struggle?

December 27, 2011 |  8:55 am

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," starring Daniel Craig, did only mediocre business on its opening weekend
On paper, the idea of an English-language "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" made a lot of sense. Take a book that has sold 30 million copies around the world, draw on a concept that's already proved cinematically successful (via a Swedish trilogy) and add big stars and a big filmmaker. A blockbuster is sure to follow.

This past weekend, though, David Fincher's "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" showed that the premise was just a little bit flawed. Despite the presence of Daniel Craig and exploits presented in English, the movie picked up $19.4 million over the four-day holiday weekend, good enough for only fourth place in the weekend box-office race.

The idea behind producing a new version was to make the saga of Mikael Blomqvist and Lisbeth Salander accessible to a far broader audience. But the totals were hardly overwhelming when you consider how many copies the books have sold in the U.S. If the film attracted, say, even 40% of the people who bought Stieg Larsson's first Millennium novel and not a single person more, it still would have made more money.

The numbers will climb, of course; as of Monday, "Dragon Tattoo" had taken in $27 million in the U.S. over six Christmas-week days. But for a release with this much hype and this much brand recognition, that figure doesn't bode screamingly well for future weeks, or a sequel.

Studio Sony understandably points to stiff competition, a long running time and an R rating as inhibitors to the film's success. Those may be factors, but the truth is that "Dragon Tattoo" doesn't need to look at such specific culprits.

Many of Hollywood's star-driven follow-ups to foreign-language hits have been flops. In the last few years, you can count films as diverse as the war drama "Brothers" (a remake of a Danish film) and the buddy comedy "Dinner for Schmucks" (a Steve Carell spin on a French movie) as critical and commercial failures.

Even films that attracted praise -- and "Dragon Tattoo" did, despite some skeptical reviews, like this one from The Times' Kenneth Turan -- didn't bring out many people to see them. "Let Me In," which like "Tattoo" remade a Swedish cult hit, and "The Debt," which took on an Israeli title, were both lightly seen. (Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," a remake of the Hong Kong thriller "Infernal Affairs," is a notable exception.)

No single theory explains why so many foreign remakes fail, though pundits will note that a foreign sensibility can get lost in translation. And many moviegoers will nonetheless have a sense that the new movie isn't very new (even if a relative few actually went out to see the original).

And all of this points to one truth: The idea of taking a compelling foreign story and giving it a Hollywood gloss doesn't work nearly as well as its backers might think. It's a worthy lesson as other remakes -- such as new versions of Argentine Oscar winner "The Secret in Their Eyes" and a Ben Affleck take on French thriller "Tell No One" -- move through the pipeline.

As "Dragon Tattoo" was opening this weekend, Sony took the unusual step of emailing reporters favorable reviews from the Swedish media. For anyone who thought Hollywood was tin-earedly messing with an original, the message seemed to be, here's what the birthplace of said original had to say.

Like the newspaper Dagens Nyether, which, as the email informed, judged Fincher's picture "a luxurious and venous film that by far surpasses the Swedish version." As those who've been making new versions of foreign-language hits have been discovering, though, praise like that doesn't much matter in this country.

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Photo: Rooney Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Credit: Sony Pictures


'Flowers of War's' Zhang Yimou on China's future — and Tom Hanks

December 26, 2011 |  5:00 am

 

"The Flowers of War" director Zhang Yimou says China's rapidly growing film market will necessitate bringing more foreign films into the country and, he hopes, more actors from the United States. Could Tom Hanks be one of them?

In an interview on the set of "The Flowers of War" — which stars Christian Bale as a heroic figure during the 1937 Japanese occupation of Nanjing — Zhang told The Times' David Pierson that China's film market will soon be the world's second-largest. Because Chinese filmmakers cannot meet the increasing demand, Zhang expects the country's quota system — which officially limits the number of foreign-made films to about 20 per year — to be softened.

"I think the quota will be relaxed and the number will be increased, definitely," Zhang said while on location in Lishui County, southeast of Nanjing, in June. "Because the audience and the number of cinemas are increasing, the market is increasing rapidly, so we need lots of good films. I personally believe that the Chinese cannot make that many good films within such a short period of time."

In addition, after his experience working with the Welsh-born Bale, Zhang hopes that more Western actors come to China. "Many of them are my idols," Zhang said. "I really like their work."

Apparently among them: Tom Hanks, to whom Zhang said he told the "Flowers of War" story. "But unfortunately his schedule didn’t fit," Zhang said.

For more of Zhang's interview about "The Flowers of War" — which opened Dec. 23 and is China's entry in the foreign-language Oscar race — read the transcript below. Or watch the video above, with Zhang speaking in Mandarin (and with English interpretation provided by Nicole Liu of The Times' Beijing bureau).

Are you optimistic that one day Chinese films will rival Hollywood films on the international market?

Truthfully, I think that day is still very far off. We often hear that the Chinese market will quickly approach the size of the U.S. market and become the second-largest market. It is concluded from calculating the number of new screens and cinemas per year. But it will still take a long time for a Chinese film to create international influence.

Continue reading »

Christian Bale, low-profile, until he's not. Just ask Zhang Yimou.

December 24, 2011 |  5:00 am

"The Flowers of War" star Christian Bale caused a significant media kerfuffle with the Chinese government this month when he attempted to visit a Chinese human rights activist.  The Foreign Ministry scolded him and said he should be "embarrassed," but so far director Zhang Yimou has been mum on the incident.

Zhang had nothing but praise for the Welsh-born actor during an interview this summer on the set of "Flowers," which stars Bale as an unlikely American hero during the 1937 Japanese raid of Nanjing, China.

"He has left a great impression on our team, such that we cannot stop praising him," Zhang told The Times' David Pierson in June while on location in Lishui County, southeast of Nanjing. "There are many things we Chinese need to learn from him: He is professional, down to earth, and he keeps a low profile." 

Zhang, the filmmaker behind Chinese classics such as "Hero" and "Raise the Red Lantern" and mastermind of the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games, said that Bale also showed a great love for children while at work. "He loves children, and there are many children here on the set," Zhang said. "He simply couldn't act with children when they were crying."

You can read about it all in the transcript below. Or watch the video above, with Zhang speaking in Mandarin (and with English interpretation provided by Nicole Liu of The Times' Beijing bureau).

The film, China's submission for the foreign-language Oscar this year, opened Dec. 23.

Did you set out in the beginning to make a movie that would be an international hit? Is your decision to work with Christian Bale sort of indicative of that?

In fact, every story has its own structure, and it's not in anyone's hands to enlarge or reduce it. The original story and the adapted screenplay have a kind of international structure, which is why we thought of inviting a very good actor [from American films] to make the production of the film more on an international standard.

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'Flowers of War's' Zhang Yimou: Censorship limits Chinese films

December 23, 2011 | 10:35 pm

 

When director Zhang Yimou's "The Flowers of War" opened in Beijing earlier this month, star Christian Bale had to answer questions about whether the movie set amid the 1937 Japanese occupation of Nanjing is an anti-Japanese propaganda film -- an assertion he firmly rebutted. But perhaps a bigger question surrounding the movie, or any mainland Chinese production for that matter, is how much of an influence  government censorship has in its making.  

During a June interview on set, Zhang told the Los Angeles Times' David Pierson that while he expected total artistic freedom during the making of the movie, he also felt Chinese censorship limits filmmakers' options.

"In China there is a censorship system; directors don’t have 100% space of freedom," Zhang said while on location in Lishui County, southeast of Nanjing. "In fact, it’s more often the case that many stories cannot be made into film. I wish there would be more space given to artists with the development of the Chinese market. I wish there would be many good stories available for film directors."

Adapted from the novel "13 Flowers of Nanjing" by Geling Yan, "The Flowers of War" features Bale playing an American mortician who arrives in Nanjing to make a quick buck. But after seeing the horrors of war, he dons priest’s robes to try to protect schoolgirls and courtesans. The film, China's submission for the foreign-language Oscar this year, opens Dec. 23.

For more about the topic of Chinese censorship from Zhang, the director of films such as "Hero" and "Raise the Red Lantern" and the 2008 Olympic Games' opening ceremony, read the transcript below. Or watch the video above, with Zhang speaking in Mandarin (and with English interpretation provided by Nicole Liu of The Times' Beijing bureau).

Chinese films have struggled a lot in the international market, and the U.S. market specifically. What do you think is holding back Chinese films today? Is it scriptwriting, piracy or even censorship?

It is a complicated problem. There isn't a very good prescription for it right now. I personally believe the most important thing is there are not many good films. By definition, good films mean good stories that people all over the world can understand and be touched by. These kinds of powerful films are very few. Often there are films that are very regionalized or simplified that people don't understand or aren't moved by.

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'War Horse' offers old-school polish and emotion, critics say

December 23, 2011 |  2:06 pm

War Horse
"War Horse," Steven Spielberg's second horse in the awards season race, arrives on the heels of his animated film "The Adventures of Tintin." A drama about the special bond between a boy and his horse separated by the horrors of World War I, "War Horse" is based on the 1982 children's book by Michael Morpurgo and its recent stage adaptation, a huge success in London and New York. Reviews for "War Horse," which opens Sunday, have been favorable, though not faultless, with many critics commending Spielberg's classical approach.

Times critic Betsy Sharkey says the film "has the sweep of a classic John Ford movie, the sentiment of Frank Capra and a spirited steed named Joey who will steal your heart. The film itself … is more difficult to love." Structurally, Sharkey says, "War Horse" is "the purest sort of love story," following the traditional three-act structure of introduction, separation and reunion. It's slow to start, "with the earlier scenes flat and too many subplots … that don't pay off," but the pace picks up when the war begins. Ultimately, Sharkey says, it's Joey's film: "The incredible emotive power of this horse and the way in which the filmmakers were able to translate it on-screen are what stay with you."

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Around Town: 'Battle Royale' finally gets U.S. theatrical release

December 23, 2011 | 11:55 am

Battle Royale

A group of teenage schoolkids is deposited on a deserted island for the express purpose of killing one another in the hope of individual self-preservation. That might sound awfully similar to the plot of the upcoming "Hunger Games" movie due out in the spring, but it's actually the description for "Battle Royale," the 2000 Japanese film that has become one of the essential cult movies of the new millennium.

Incredibly, the film is getting its first U.S. theatrical run starting Saturday at the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre. (Consider it holiday season stress release viewing.)

The film was the last completed work by the then seventysomething director Kinji Fukasaku, known to American audiences for his work on the WWII aerial dogfight action picture "Tora! Tora! Tora!" Even directors half his age would be hard-pressed to match the go-for-broke energy in "Battle Royale," adapted by Kenta Fukasaku (the director's son) from a novel by Koushun Takami, with its extremely violent, wildly funny and totally bonkers sensibility. (Kinji Fukasaku passed away in 2003 while working on a sequel.)

Actress Chiaki Kuriyama would again don a schoolgirl outfit to play the brutal killer Gogo Yubari in "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" made by Quentin Tarantino, an avowed "BR" fan. Iconic Japanese actor and director Takeshi Kitano fuels the film's satiric undercurrents with his typical laid-back intensity.

"BR" is widely available on DVD, but this is a rare chance to see the film in a theater. As extra enticement, there will be a special "cosplay" screening of the film on the 30th, with discount tickets to those who arrive in costume, so break out the school blazers, knee socks and odd track suit.

The film plays through Jan. 2. For more info, visit www.cinefamily.org.

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Photo: "Battle Royale." Credit: Toei Co.

 

 


Hollywood foments a Marilyn Monroe moment

December 23, 2011 |  9:56 am

 

Monroe

Next August will bring the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death. (She would have been 86, which is as weird to write as it is to think about.)

But Hollywood is getting an early jump on the remembrances. Currently playing in about 250 movie theaters around the country is Michelle Williams' "My Week With Marilyn," a dramatized (and possibly fictionalized) look at the screen siren during a critical period of her life while filming "The Prince and the Showgirl.”

In February, Monroe comes to the small screen via the NBC scripted series "Smash," in which theater producers mount a fictional Broadway show about the bombshell’s life. The real-life Broadway actress Megan Hilty and "American Idol" star-cum-recording artist Katharine McPhee, putting her own spin on "Happy Birthday, Mr. President," each vie to play her.

As if that weren't enough, the series could spawn an actual Broadway musical, with creators developing lyrics and music with an eye toward putting it all on a stage.

"You can actually squint and see a real Marilyn musical," said Craig Zadan, an executive producer on "Smash" and a Broadway producer of note in his own right. "There are already a bunch of new songs, and one of the possibilities if the show becomes a hit is to regroup and try to put it on Broadway." (A 1983 Broadway effort, "Marilyn: An American Fable," flopped, though that was heavily fictionalized and largely panned.)

What's behind the 2011-era Monroe-mania? Certainly, nostalgists say, rightly or not, that she’s a symbol of when celebrity was purer. And even less doe-eyed types will note that Monroe was a forerunner of modern celebrity, someone whose outsized fame derived from her persona as much as her work.

McPhee has her own perspective, telling 24 Frames that she believes there was a striving quality to the woman born Norma Jean Mortenson, who, of course, came from humble beginnings. "I think it's the aspirational quality people relate to," McPhee said.

Williams said that, for her at least, there was an element of reassurance in the Monroe legend. "If even a woman that beautiful clearly has trouble and is damaged and has insecurities, then we're all entitled," she said. (Her film has so far grossed more than $6 million at the U.S. box office in roughly one month of release.)

But the actress also said she believes there was something to admire in how the bombshell crafted her image.

"To be Marilyn Monroe, to be what people expect, to be that open and sexual and gorgeous, it takes an incredible amount of effort. I read something where she said that that’s a very difficult thing to be when one is feeling unlovable," Williams said. "It’s a drain to put out that much energy. It leaves you exhausted."

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Photo: Marilyn Monroe at 19. Credit: EPA/Julien Auctions.

 
   

Is Angelina Jolie done with directing for now?

December 22, 2011 |  6:30 pm

Angelina-jolie-blood-and-ho
This season is rife with celebrities taking a turn in the director's chair. George Clooney helmed a drama ("The Ides of March"). So did Madonna ("W.E.") and Angelina Jolie ("In the Land of Blood and Honey").

But while Clooney and Madonna  express a desire to direct again soon, don't expect a quick reprise from Jolie. The "Salt" star makes her directorial debut with this weekend's Balkan war drama. Jolie also wrote and produced the film, which was inspired by her goodwill missions to the region and for which she conducted extensive research with journalists and victims. But the A-lister will be very picky about what she directs next -- if she directs at all.

"I love political subject matter, international work where I learn about other countries and foreign affairs," Jolie told 24 Frames. "I don't know if I would be interested in directing something where I wasn’t forced to get a huge education."

In fact, she added, "I still am shy about the idea of whether I would ever do this again," citing the intensity of the workload and the responsibility.

"Blood and Honey" centers on a Bosnian Muslim woman named Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) and her Serbian army boyfriend Danijel (Goran Kostic). The two are together in 1991, before war breaks out in Bosnia, and then find themselves on opposite sides, with Danijel actually in charge of guarding the rape camp where Ajla is imprisoned.

Jolie said she has tentatively dipped into other potential filmmaking subjects. She  acknowledged that she "half-wrote" a script about Afghanistan but said that nobody's read it. "I don't even think it's good," she said. "Maybe I'll dig it out, but I don't have the confidence yet to start even thinking in that way."

Jolie shot two versions of "Blood," in English and in Slavic languages, over a scant 41 days in Hungary and Bosnia. She tackled much of it on her own, though she did have veteran Hollywood producer Graham King and Bosnian producer Edin Sarkic in her corner. (More on the film in The Times shortly.)

Now that she's done, the celeb -- who, with six films between 2007 and 2010, has been plenty busy in recent years in front of the camera -- has a full acting plate again. She's expected to shoot a dramatic thriller directed by Luc Besson this spring, with a Ridley Scott project and potential Kay Scarpetta and Maleficent roles possibly not far behind.

Still, she said she didn’t miss performing this time around. "I loved not acting. I loved it," Jolie said. "When you get to shine the spotlight on someone who's doing the job 10 times better thanyou can imagine doing it yourself, it's great. It's like 'OK, I'm not needed here.'"

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Photo: Angelina Jolie directs the filming of her Balkan war movie "In the Land of Blood and Honey" in Esztergom, north of Budapest, Hungary. Credit: Ken Regan / Film District


Daniel Craig talks 'Dragon Tattoo,' next Bond film 'Skyfall'

December 22, 2011 | 12:46 pm

Daniel craig dragon tattoo
Fans of Daniel Craig can get two scoops of the actor this week in theaters -- in both kid-friendly and decidedly adult form. Craig is the man behind Sakharine in "The Adventures of Tintin" and a crusading Swedish magazine reporter in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." After that, though, you'll have to wait until fall 2012 for "Skyfall," his next iteration as James Bond.

We caught up with Craig on a break from filming "Skyfall" in early December in London, where he had gathered with "Dragon Tattoo" cast and director David Fincher to talk about the film.

In “Dragon Tattoo,” Craig’s Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist fallen from grace due to a libel court case. His life is profoundly affected when he meets Goth über-hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), who attempts to disguise her inner pain via blunt manners, facial piercings and elaborate body tattoos.  

Phantasmagoric, “Matrix" meets H.R. Giger style of opening credits (by Tim Miller’s Blur, of Venice) kick off “Dragon Tattoo” as Karen O belts out a new arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” “Fincher does that kind of sinister stuff incredibly well, huh?" says Craig, 43, suave in a dark blue navy style sweater and trousers. "Those opening credits definitely give us food for thought in terms of the next Bond.”

The intense British actor has read the Stieg Larsson books thoroughly. Larsson was a politically active, left-wing Swedish journalist, who died just before his Millennium Trilogy was published, starting with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”  

Q: What captivated you the most about Stieg Larsson’s novels?

DC: I think the essential themes of the books have to do with the politics of sexuality. The main protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, has been beaten down all her life. Still she manages somehow to survive, succeed and even flourish. Lisbeth has a true sense of injustice in the world. Not just for herself, but for other people, too. The man I play in the movie, Mikael Blomkvist, is a true kindred spirit, as he understands injustice and wants to get to the truth of it, just like Lisbeth. Blomkvist and Salander come together at a certain point, and have this turbulent relationship, which is complex, interesting, sexy and funny. The elements of that relationship are featured prominently in the book, and also in our movie.

Q: Why do you think David Fincher and Sony Pictures decided to go forward and re-adapt Stieg Larsson’s trilogy so soon after the original Scandinavian adaptations, which were released only a few years ago?

DC: Because the books are just plain good old storytelling, that’s why. The books are extremely popular globally, and hopefully with this movie they’ll be even more widely read. This was a chance for us to gather a massive talent pool together, and create something very much for the adult market, and yet something that works for the mass appeal market as well. I, for one, was very excited about the idea.

Q: David Fincher is one of those quintessential cinematic masters, with his own unique style, and yet he evokes the feel of perfectionists like Stanley Kubrick. Was the sheer level of craft the main reason you wanted to be in this movie, and work with Fincher?

DC: I think David has many similarities with Stanley Kubrick. He’s also clearly been inspired by Alfred Hitchcock, particularly in how he handles dialogue. Fincher’s defining himself as a director, he’s matured a lot in the past 20 years, if you look at the movies he’s done. His movies were always good in my opinion, but his craft has just gotten better over the years, especially the recent ones. I’m a big fan of his, so when they asked me to be involved, it was an easy question to answer. Yes! I’ve wanted to work with David Fincher for a long time.

Q: I understand that the arctic climate wasn’t always kind to you, the rest of the cast or the crew while making “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” in Sweden. Clearly, David Fincher and the studio thought that you really couldn’t stage this kind of Nordic ambience anywhere else, am I right?

 DC: Sure, we all froze our [butts] off. There’s an incredibly rich culture of storytelling in northern Europe, because it’s very dark there a lot of the year. You’ve got to have something to do, while the lights are out. Telling ghost stories and stories about murder and danger are good ways of keeping yourself entertained. That’s been done in northern Europe and the Nordic countries for thousands of years. Being there and filming “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” in Sweden was incredibly important for us all – for the reasons of light, the cold and the general atmosphere. There was absolutely no point of uprooting this story and shooting it somewhere else. It just had to be Sweden, it had to be Stockholm.   

 Q: Since you’re in London, shooting “Skyfall” -– and even looking like 007 right now -– do you still feel as good about the upcoming Bond movie as you did before the shoot?

 DC: Oh yes. It’s a great, fantastic script, and we’re making a very good Bond movie. It’s going to be very special and different, but it’s still very much tied to Bonds of old. I’ve said it over and over again, but I’m very excited about “Skyfall,” and Sam’s [Mendes, the director] doing a wonderful job.

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Photo: Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Credit: Merrick Morton/Columbia TriStar

 

 


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