24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: June 2012

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June 19, 2012 |  7:00 am

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— The Times' movies team

L.A. Film Festival: Kazan, Dano mix business with pleasure in 'Ruby Sparks'

June 18, 2012 |  5:39 pm

Ruby Sparks stars Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano

Zoe Kazan was midway through writing the screenplay for the new film "Ruby Sparks" when her boyfriend, actor Paul Dano, raised an important question: "You're writing this for us, right?"

"I guess I am," Kazan replied.

Her finished product tells of a novelist named Calvin and his girlfriend, Ruby, a woman of his own invention who appears to literally come to life for him, and the film received a warm audience reception at the Los Angeles Film Festival during a secret screening Sunday evening.

But in a question-and-answer session after the Fox Searchlight movie, which opens in theaters July 25, Kazan said finding filmmakers who would back the script with her and Dano in the leading roles proved to be a challenge.

While both actors have appeared in a slew of positively-reviewed independent films — he in "Little Miss Sunshine," both in "Meek's Cutoff" — neither is exactly considered a box office draw.

"Everyone I met with said, 'We'll never get this made with you and Paul in the leads — it's impossible,'" recalled Kazan, 28.

Eventually, though, they did secure funding and "Little Miss Sunshine" directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris signed on to helm the film. But Kazan struggled with giving them the freedom they and her castmates needed to play with her script.

"It was very easy for me to be present with Paul — saying lines wasn't so hard, it was having actors drop full portions of things and not have that register on my face at all which was hard," she said.

Dano, meanwhile, insisted he had no trepidation about working with his romantic partner.

"When I watch the movie, it doesn't look like us to me, which is a real blessing, I think," the 27-year-old said. "Sometimes on the drive home from work, one of us got a little cranky: me."

"Paul and I had already been together almost four years," Kazan said of the experience. "So I liken it to having a baby. It was really stressful and wonderful and meant so much to us. But I don't know if I want a second baby."

— Amy Kaufman



A musical mystery in 'Searching for Sugar Man'

L.A. Film Festival: William Friedkin's ferocious sensibility

Photo: "Ruby Sparks" stars Zoe Kazan, left, and Paul Dano. Credit: Fox Searchlight.

‘August: Osage County’ pic gets shiny new name: George Clooney

June 18, 2012 |  2:25 pm


EXCLUSIVE: The movie version of “August: Osage County” already has a heavyweight pedigree in Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep, who are playing the two lead roles in the adaptation of the Broadway drama.

Now the film’s credits are getting even glitzier. George Clooney has joined the movie as a producer, according to a person familiar with the project who was not authorized to talk about it publicly.

Clooney and producing partner Grant Heslov will produce the film, which is being directed by John Wells and financed and distributed by The Weinstein Co. The A-list actor-filmmaker, who has a relationship with Wells dating back to their “ER" days, will be heavily involved offering creative input. He is not expected to star.

A Weinstein Co. representative was not immediately available for comment.

The movie -- which is also being produced by Steve Traxler and initial Broadway producer Jean Doumanian -- is set to begin shooting in the fall for a potential 2013 release.

Tracy Letts’ black comedy about a few weeks in the lives of a dysfunctional Oklahoma family centers on Violet Weston (Streep), a drug-addled matriarch who doles out barbs and truths, as well as a motley crew of family members, particularly oldest daughter Barbara (Roberts), a control-freak professor who finds her life falling apart. When it was first staged several years ago, it won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, a Tony and a Drama Desk award.

Deanna Dunagan and Amy Morton incarnated the Violet and Barbara roles, respectively, on both Broadway and the West End; Estelle Parsons and Shannon Cochran played the parts when the show came to Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre.

Letts is adapting his own play for the screen. The male actors have yet to be cast in the movie.

Clooney is making a habit of bringing serious plays to the big screen. Last year he was the driving creative force behind the film adaptation of Beau Willimon’s political stage drama “The Ides of March.”


Theater review: 'August, Osage County'

Could 'August, Osage County' finally jump to the big screen?

Critic's Notebook: When going from stage to screen, things change in between


-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: 'August, Osage County' at the Ahmanson. Credit: Los Angeles Times

L.A. Film Festival: A musical mystery in 'Searching for Sugar Man'

June 18, 2012 |  8:00 am

In 1970, a Detroit-based singer-songwriter who went by the one-name moniker Rodriguez released an album titled “Cold Fact.” A collection of frank, politically minded folk songs, the record earned favorable comparisons to the work of Bob Dylan and stellar reviews -- Billboard gave it four stars. Despite the acclaim, it was a commercial failure. A follow-up, “Coming From Reality,” suffered a similar fate. Rodriguez was dropped from his label and faded into obscurity.

Except in South Africa.

Half a world away, “Cold Fact” slowly amassed a cult following, and in the unlikeliest of events, protest music penned by a poor, inner-city Mexican American poet became a cultural touch-point for a young generation of white liberals disillusioned by the repressive policies of South African apartheid. Rodriguez’s fans knew little about him, however -- only that he had committed suicide onstage during a concert performance.

INTERACTIVE: Cheat Sheet -- Los Angeles Film Festival

The documentary “Searching for Sugar Man,” which screens Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live as part of The Times-sponsored Los Angeles Film Festival, follows the efforts of two South African fans -- one, a former jeweler-turned-record store owner, the other a journalist -- to uncover the truth about the mysterious performer who, as people in the film say, was “bigger than the Rolling Stones.”

The stranger-than-fiction tale of how an artist could become a superstar in one country while remaining a complete unknown elsewhere fascinated first-time feature filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, a Stockholm-based television director and producer who stumbled across the story during a six-month research expedition in 2006.

Continue reading »

L.A. Film Festival: 8-year-old star of 'Beasts' comes to Hollywood [Video]

June 18, 2012 |  7:30 am

Quvenzhané Wallis stars in Beasts of the Southern Wild
At the ripe age of 8, Louisiana native Quvenzhané Wallis is already becoming a world traveler.

In the two years since she filmed her lead role in the mystical drama "Beasts of the Southern Wild," the elementary school student has ventured to Utah, the south of France and now Hollywood. The lead in Fox Searchlight's critically acclaimed movie walked the red carpet at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Friday, where "Beasts" premiered to local audiences after playing at both Sundance and Cannes this year.

Though Wallis is already becoming a festival veteran, she acted her age on Friday, where she was flanked by her mom while she did interviews. At first, she answered most questions with only one word:

"Have you ever been to Hollywood before?" we asked.

"No," she replied.

"How has it been so far?"

"Good," she said.

"Is it cool to walk down the red carpet?"

"Yes," she answered, beginning to loosen up. She added that she imagined the red carpet would be different, saying she thought it would have "some steps going up and stuff." (That's probably because the carpet at Cannes is situated that way, but the LA. Film Fest is a bit less glamorous.)

In her role as Hushpuppy, Wallis is at the heart of the film playing a self-sufficient young girl whose dying father teaches her to fend for herself in a fictionalized Lousiana town called the Bathtub. Director Benh Zeitlin auditioned thousands of young girls before settling upon Wallis, who was actually 5 at the time she tried out for the part. Wallis said she saw a casting call for the movie in her local library and auditioned for Hushpuppy even though the filmmakers said they were seeking a girl between 6 and 9.

Wallis said she had never thought about what the word "actress" meant before starring in "Beasts" but that she learned quickly.

"[Benh] didn't tell me anything. I just did what I did," she said of her acting method.

Asked whom she was hoping to meet on her L.A. jaunt, Wallis said she most hoped to encounter "Wizards of Waverly Place" star Selena Gomez.

Her attention span waning, Wallis appeared ready to head inside the theater, but not before leaving us with this piece of Hollywood wisdom:

"You should be at the after-party," she advised, "and the after-after party."


CHEAT SHEET: Los Angeles Film Festival 2012

L.A. Film Festival: 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' screens tonight

'Beasts of the Southern Wild' makers improvise migration pattern

— Amy Kaufman


Photo: Quvenzhané Wallis stars in "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Credit: Fox Searchlight.

'Madgascar 3' box office: Are we living in the era of the 1%?

June 18, 2012 |  6:30 am

In the spring of the not-so-long-ago year of 2005, the weekend box-office winners offered a healthy variety of cinematic choices.

There was a U.N.-set thriller ("The Interpreter"), a "Star Wars" prequel, ("Revenge of the Sith"), an interracial comedy ("Guess Who") a comic-book-derived style piece ("Sin City") an epic adventure ("Sahara"), a slasher flick ("The Amityville Horror") and an adaptation of a beloved book ("The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"), to name just a few.

In the 12 weekends of that year's spring, there were 11 different weekend winners. (Only one movie, "Sith," was a repeat champion.) They were hardly all good films, let alone great ones. But most were pretty different from one another.

Cut to 2012, and the story is vastly different. The spring season that comes to an end this week yielded a lot less diversity in its weekend winners, not least because there were a lot fewer weekend winners to begin with. Just six, to be precise, with many of the weekends occupied by repeat champions ("The Avengers," "The Hunger Games," "Think Like A Man" and, after this weekend, "Madagascar 3").

That may seem like simply one more data point for box-office enthusiasts to noodle over. But the data also offer evidence of a growing trend: the uber-hit, that is, the movies that go beyond modest success to dominate the multiplex, often leaving other contenders far behind.

There have always been such films, of course. But their ranks are growing, while many of the other big bets are indeed lagging.

Or, to put it a different way, when it comes to box office, it's increasingly a world of the 1% and the 99%.

Take a look at the last few months. On the one hand, this has already been an achievement-filled year at the box office. In March, "The Hunger Games" had the biggest spring opening-weekend ever. In May, "The Avengers" turned in the biggest opening weekend, period, becoming the first movie ever to cross the $200- million threshold in its first three days. Expect sums almost if not in fact equally as strong when "The Dark Knight Rises" hits theaters next month.

Yet the number of big-bet disappointments is also rising. Tick off the recent ones: "Battleship." "Dark Shadows." "John Carter." "Rock of Ages." Films with big budgets and expectations -- career-defining ones, for some of the executives associated with them -- that can barely eke out $75 million or $80 million domestically. Heavily marketed new films that get whipped by movies that were released a week or two earlier.

Continue reading »

Box Office: 'Madagascar 3' beats Cruise, Sandler films [Video]

June 18, 2012 |  4:00 am

Madagascar 3 was the No 1 film at the box office this weekend
Two of Hollywood's biggest stars couldn't pull in as many ticket sales as "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" did at the box office this weekend, because the cartoon was the No. 1 pick yet again.

For the second consecutive weekend, the 3-D animated flick featuring a band of zoo animals topped the box office. The DreamWorks Animation movie raked in an additional $35.5 million, bringing its domestic total to $120.5 million.

Meanwhile, a new musical featuring Tom Cruise and a raunchy comedy starring Adam Sandler flopped. "Rock of Ages," which stars a high-profile cast including Cruise, Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin, only debuted with a lackluster $15.1 million. Sandler's R-rated "That's My Boy" fared even worse, starting with a weak $13 million.

So why didn't audiences turn up to see two of the country's biggest movie stars? Check out this week's box office video report for more details.

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: A scene from 'Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted." Credit: DreamWorks Animation.

Shanghai film fest kicks off with honor for Mike Medavoy

June 17, 2012 | 12:17 am

Shanghai film festival

SHANGHAI –- The Shanghai International Film Festival kicked off Saturday night by honoring a native-son turned Hollywood producer, Mike Medavoy.

Medavoy -- co-founder of Orion Pictures, producer on such films as "Black Swan," and chief executive of Phoenix Pictures -- received an Outstanding Achievement Award at the festival, applauded by the city where he was born in 1941 to Ukrainian Jewish refugees.

"Shanghai has roots for me. My parents lived here for 24 years and this is the place that gave them the safety net they needed," said Medavoy, who lived in China's biggest city until he was nearly 7. Qin Yi, a silver-haired former starlet, presented Medavoy with the award. Holding the heavy-looking golden goblet, he fumbled a handshake from her outstretched hand.

"The 50 years I've spent in Hollywood all started in cinemas here in Shanghai," Medavoy said, recalling the tears his late father shed upon landing at the city's airport 15 years ago on a father-son trip to the first Shanghai International Film Festival.

"This was the place that saved our lives," Medavoy recalled his father saying. "For that, I'm grateful," Medavoy added. "I will come back again and again."

Continue reading »

L.A. Film Festival: Socially conscious short docs

June 16, 2012 |  7:00 am

Even in a city as entertainment-oriented as Los Angeles, short films can be a tough sell. But one new player in the space — Focus Forward Films — is hoping to win over audiences with a socially conscious approach to short documentaries.

Focus Forward is a series of three-minute documentaries that shed a light on innovative individuals who are shaping the world through acts or inventions. The program boasts a roster of 30 international filmmakers, and since its inception in September, nine of its films have been shown at festivals (five premiered at Sundance and four at Tribeca). Four more will premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival, which kicked off Thursday (in all, The Times-sponsored fest is showing 52 short films). GE has put up more than $1 million to underwrite the program, which is administered by Cinelan.

The Focus Forward debuts in L.A. include shorts by two Oscar nominees, Liz Garbus and Eddie Schmidt. Garbus, producer-director of “The Farm: Angola, USA” and “Bobby Fischer Against the World,” has made a short called “Robot,” which looks at the benefits well-developed robots can provide. Schmidt (“Twist of Faith”) has made a short called “Good Bread,” a story about L.A.’s Father Greg Boyle, who teaches job skills to ex-cons through Homeboy Industries.

INTERACTIVE: Cheat Sheet - Los Angeles Film Festival

The other two Focus Forward films bowing in L.A. are “New Gift,” a story about an activist who works closely with peasant farmers in rural India to get them cultivating organic produce, directed by Supriyo Sen; and “Remote Area Medical,” featuring a group of volunteers in West Virginia who set up a clinic in a football stadium to provide free healthcare to anyone who walks through the door, directed by Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman.

Continue reading »

L.A. Film Festival: 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' screens tonight

June 15, 2012 |  4:07 pm

Beasts of the southern wild 2
After wowing audiences at the Sundance Film Festival in January and Cannes in May, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" will have its first Southern California screening tonight at the L.A. Film Festival.

"Beasts," as much a love letter to a dying part of Louisiana culture — the typically impoverished families living in quickly disappearing land near the state's southern tip — as a magically realistic look at a young daughter's fierce love for her dying father,will be released in theaters by Fox Searchlight on June 27. So if you don't have a ticket to tonight's gala, there's not long to wait.

After winning the grand jury prize and a cinematography honor at Sundance, "Beasts" collected two more awards at Cannes: best first feature and a critics' prize.

Sunday's Calendar section features an on-location interview with director Benh Zeitlin about the movie, his first feature film. 


CHEAT SHEET: Los Angeles Film Festival 2012

LA Film Festival: William Friedkin's 'ferocious sensibility'

LA Film Festival spotlights human stories from Latin America

— John Horn

Photo: Dwight Henry as "Wink" and Quvenzhane Wallis as "Hushpuppy" on the set of the movie "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Credit: Fox Searchlight.


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