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Category: June 2012

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Shanghai Film Fest: Q&A with director Jean-Jacques Annaud

June 15, 2012 |  4:00 pm

Jean jacques annaud 1
SHANGHAI — Fifteen years ago, Jean-Jacques Annaud was demonized by the Chinese Communist Party for his film “Seven Years in Tibet” — the cadres were unhappy with his cinematic portrayal of the People’s Liberation Army’s invasion of the region in 1949 and his casting of the sister of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

A decade and a half on, the 68-year-old French director is being welcomed here with open arms.
On Saturday, Annaud will arrive in China to chair the jury of the 15th Shanghai International Film Festival, which kicks off this weekend with 17 films from around the world in competition. And he’s preparing to make a $30-million Mandarin-language drama with the state-run China Film Group.

The film is based on “Wolf Totem,” the biggest-selling contemporary novel of all time in China. “Wolf Totem” follows a Chinese student from Beijing who is sent to Inner Mongolia in 1967 for reeducation at the height of the Cultural Revolution. By living with the nomads and among the wolves on the steppe, the protagonist builds a deep respect for freedom and nature, themes Annaud has explored before in his films “The Bear” and “Two Brothers.”

The nearly 600-page semi-autobiographical novel was written by Jiang Rong, the pen name of Beijing political scientist Lu Jiamin, who was detained without trial for more than a year following his participation in the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising. His first book, it shot up China’s bestseller list in 2004 and was widely translated after celebrities such as former NBA star Yao Ming praised the messages between its covers. There are many, including praise for the complementary individualism and teamwork of nomadic life, the destructiveness of breakneck modernization and the importance of environmental conservation.

The fact that censors allowed the book to be published in China surprised many, given that the protagonist expresses contempt for the group-think that China’s majority Han ethnicity forces on ethnic minorities and disdains the Confucian principles that the Communist Party has recently revived in its political rhetoric even in the 21st century. Which messages Annaud and his partners will highlight on screen remains to be seen.

Annaud spoke by phone from his country home in France about his second chapter with China.

Continue reading »

'Rock of Ages': '80s-inspired musical is off-key, critics say

June 15, 2012 |  3:58 pm

Rock of Ages

"Rock of Ages," adapted from the stage musical of the same name, is set amid the 1980s rock scene on the Sunset Strip — but it's also, to put it in contemporary terms, something of a mash-up, sampling songs from the era (by Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Foreigner), Broadway flourishes and Hollywood tropes (including a "Footloose"-style killjoy). Tom Cruise is the headliner, playing an aggrandized rock god named Stacee Jaxx, and Adam Shankman ("Hairspray") directs.

Although Cruise's outsize performance is earning praise from critics, many reviewers are saying that "Rock of Ages" fails to hit the right notes.

The Times' Kenneth Turan is among the critics giving "Rock of Ages" a positive review, declaring it  "a triumph of genial impudence over good sense and better taste" and "the guiltiest of guilty pleasures." The film succeeds, Turan writes, "because of its unlikely combination of a guileless, thunderously cliched boy-meets-girl plot structure conveyed in a sophisticated, showbiz-savvy style." The acting helps too, with "a sterling group of supporting actors to keep us entertained" and especially "fearless work" by Cruise.

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L.A. Film Festival spotlights human stories from Latin America

June 15, 2012 |  1:26 pm

JUAN-1

After a string of movies about narco gang wars and desperate migrants, the Los Angeles Film Festival is presenting a different side of Latin American cinema: Cuban zombies, Chilean family road trips, Buenos Aires Elvis impersonators and the flying bird men of Veracruz.

That’s not to downplay the direness of the problems sweeping Mexico and neighboring countries, said Hebe Tabachnik, Latin American programmer for the festival, which is sponsored by The Times. But while those epic tragedies dominate newscasts, she said, this year’s slate of about a dozen features and 16 shorts should put audiences “more in contact with the stories of people.”

“When we read so much about the violence, we start forgetting about the human beings. Everybody becomes just a statistic,” said Tabachnik, a native of Argentina. “It’s a different perspective.”

INTERACTIVE: Cheat Sheet - Los Angeles Film Festival

Exhibit A is the allegorical zombie movie “Juan of the Dead,” scheduled to screen Friday night and Monday evening. Written and directed by Alejandro Brugués, the Cuban-Spanish coproduction blends all the de rigueur elements of the flesh-chomping genre with a biting critique of the everyday horrors of Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

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Lindsay Lohan exhaustion: Comeback hits a new snag?

June 15, 2012 | 12:54 pm

Lohan
Just a week after wrecking her loaner Porsche, Lindsay Lohan ended up back in the headlines Friday morning when paramedics were called to examine the actress.

Per our colleague Andrew Blankstein at L.A. Now:

"Lindsay Lohan was examined by paramedics on Friday after a co-worker on a movie she is filming became concerned that the actress looked exhausted, sources told The Times. One source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of medical privacy rules, said Lohan was resting after long stretches of filming and looked tired. She was checked out by paramedics and was not taken to the hospital."

The incident comes in the middle of a career resurgence of sorts for the troubled actress. Lohan is currently shooting the Elizabeth Taylor biopic “Liz & Dick” for Lifetime Television and hosted "Saturday Night Live" this past March.

Then again, comeback is a relative term where LiLo is concerned.

She’s set for an independent flick opposite -- wait for it -- Rob Schneider that's titled “Inappropriate Comedy” and has signed on to star in a new independent feature that could shoot this summer. Titled "The Canyons," it’s a soapy thriller with the strangest of pedigrees: directed by Paul Schrader, written by Bret Easton Ellis and costarring an adult films actor named James Deen.

But strange is what you get when producers are wary of casting you and few reputable insurance companies are eager to bond you.

RELATED:

Lindsay Lohan examined by paramedics after long film shoot

Lindsay Lohan unhurt in Porsche-vs-big-rig wreck in Santa Monica

Lindsay Lohan to play Elizabeth Taylor in Lifetime biopic

'Inferno' director: Lindsay Lohan didn't quit -- we fired her

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Lindsay Lohan this spring. Credit: Kristina Bumphrey / Associated Press


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

June 15, 2012 |  8:41 am

William friedkin
William Friedkin could easily be in the victory lap phase of his career, accepting lifetime achievement awards, attending retrospectives of his work and basking in the ongoing adoration of having once made films such as “The Exorcist” and “The French Connection.” Yet at 76, he seems as scrappy and engaged as ever, with his new film “Killer Joe,” opening July 27, arguably his wildest yet.

Friedkin, who is serving as the guest director for this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, will appear Friday night for a Q&A and screening of “Killer Joe,” an adaptation of the play by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Tracy Letts starring Matthew McConaughey, Gina Gershon, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church and Juno Temple.

INTERACTIVE: Cheat Sheet - Los Angeles Film Festival

A two-fisted tale of dumb deals, double-crosses, murder, barter gone bad and love gone sour, the film flirts with trailer-trash hicksploitation in its outrageous exploration of the darker side of the human soul.

Both “Killer Joe” and Friedkin’s previous film “Bug” (also a Letts adaptation) were financed independently, and it does seem that he and the Hollywood studios have parted ways for now –- “Killer Joe” was financed by Voltage Pictures, the company also behind “The Hurt Locker,” and is the first release for distributor LD Entertainment.

“It’s not like a divorce,” Friedkin said of his current relationship with the major studios, “possibly a trial separation.”

Continue reading »

LAFF 2012: Woody Allen gives Rome (if not himself) some love

June 15, 2012 |  6:30 am

Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love," starring Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Allen, opened the Los Angeles Film FestivalWoody Allen stood up in front of a Los Angeles Film Festival audience and offered a  glimpse into his self-flagellating mindset. Then he left the podium, and his movie pretty much did the same thing.

Unveiling his new Italy-set ensemble romantic comedy, "To Rome With Love," on the festival's opening night at Regal Cinemas in downtown L.A., Allen told the audience -- perhaps only half-jokingly -- that he was very sensitive to criticism. "If you hate it and think it was a waste of time, don't let me know. I get depressed easily," the 76-year-old Oscar winner told the crowd.

Allen's English- and Italian-language film, which features countless shots of Rome  bathed in a golden light, shows a set of parallel characters teetering on the brink of their own uncertainties.

INTERACTIVE: Films playing at the L.A. Film Festival

Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) uneasily contemplates an affair with his girlfriend's best friend (Ellen Page). Young newlywed Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) wrings his hands as he tries to avoid being caught in a series of lies with a brassy prostitute (Penelope Cruz). His wife Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) self-consciously flirts with an unctuous movie star (Antonio Albanese) as she considers her own affair.

Allen himself even turns up, as a malcontented father of a young American woman marrying into an Italian family. He then questions himself and needles everyone around him -- particularly wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) -- in the manner of countless Allen characters before.

But perhaps no character betrays what Allen the director is thinking more than Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), in a vignette that's both a criticism of reality-TV fame and an exhumation of Allen's own complicated relationship with celebrity. Perhaps the most boring man in all of Rome, Leopoldo leaves his house one morning to find himself besieged by paparazzi and talk-show hosts obsessing over details as mundane as his breakfast and shaving rituals.

 

Some of this satire seems clearly aimed at a Kim Kardashian famous-for-being-famous brand of celebrity. But Allen's ambivalence about his own public profile is never far from the surface.

INTERACTIVE: Films playing at the L.A. Film Festival

Though it is as serious as a sprinkling of Parmesan -- the new user-friendly title, which replaced the more cryptic "Nero Fiddled" and even more esoteric "Bop DeCameron," seems fitting -- the movie also distills seemingly every Allen preoccupation of the last three decades. Fidelity! Mortality! Sex! Celebrity! (On that last score, Allen does give the final word to a character who says that being a celebrity is "better" than the alternative. And Allen did show up to LAFF, something he didn't do for the Oscars in February.)

"Rome" hits theaters on June 22 courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. Allen and the distributor of course last brought out the time-jumping 'Midnight in Paris," the French stop on Allen's global tour (he next shoots in San Francisco) and an Oscar-anointed blockbuster.

After that warm reception for "Paris," the early reviews of "Rome" have, perhaps inevitably, been mixed, with some holding it up unfavorably to his 2011 best picture nominee.

Allen told the LAFF crowd, "I had a wonderful time making this picture in Rome. That does not mean you will enjoy it," perhaps alluding to those early reviews.

No matter the reaction, Allen shows little sign of letting up. At several points in the new film, Davis' Phyllis tells Allen's Jerry that he "equate[s] retirement with death. As Allen prepares to shoot his eighth (!) movie since turning 70, one gets the sense those words are close to the filmmaker's heart.

RELATED:

Los Angeles Film Festival puts diversity on the screen

When Woody Allen got funny at the Academy Awards

Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love" to open Los Angeles Film Festival

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Fabio Armiliato, Judy Davis and Woody Allen in "To Rome With Love." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics


Christoper Nolan pulls a Guillermo del Toro

June 14, 2012 | 12:08 pm

Christopher Nolan pairs up with Wally Pfister

Despite his extensive cachet in the fan community, Christopher Nolan hasn't loaned out his name and wisdom to lesser-known filmmakers in the manner of, say, Guillermo del Toro. He's producing/shepherding "Man of Steel" and a supernatural thriller from a filmmaker named Keith Gordon and, well, that's about it.

But Nolan will make a rare attempt at the godfather routine on a new movie from Wally Pfister, the Oscar-winning cinematographer who has worked with Nolan on everything from "Memento" to "The Dark Knight Rises." Principals announced Wednesday that Nolan and wife/producing partner Emma Thomas will executive produce Pfister's untitled debut, which is currently coming together behind a veil of secrecy.

According to a person familiar with the production, the project is being cast now, with actors beginning to read the Jack Paglen script. The location for the production has not been determined, but the movie will shoot in the U.S., and could start as soon as fall 2012.

The project has some other interesting names on its pedigree -- it's being financed and produced by Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson from Alcon Entertainment ("The Blind Side"), was developed by a former Overture Films executive named Annie Marter and also now has the involvement of a company called Straight Up Films, which is next financing and producing a science-fiction thriller from the up-and-comers the Purchase Brothers.

What remains to be seen is Nolan's involvement -- though Pfister has discussed the film with him, the  director has been heavily involved in "The Dark Knight Rises" and hasn't even yet met with some key members of the creative team.

Nolan's influence can be felt on the movie in at least one way, however -- plot details and even a general log line are being kept under wraps.

RELATED:

Dark Knight Rises trailer

'Dark Knight Rises' hits the road

'Dark Knight Rises': Christopher Nolan's masked ambition

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Christopher Nolan promoting "The Dark Knight Rises" at the 2012 MTV Movie Awards. Credit: Getty Images


Los Angeles Film Festival puts diversity on the screen

June 14, 2012 |  7:00 am

Beasts of the southern wild
The Los Angeles Film Festival has long catered to all kinds of movie lovers: This year, the event will open with art-house staple Woody Allen’s latest romantic comedy and close with Channing Tatum writhing around in his skivvies in Steven Soderbergh’s stripper picture “Magic Mike.”

But the 18th annual festival, which begins with Allen’s “To Rome With Love” on Thursday night at downtown’s L.A. Live and runs through June 24, has embraced diversity in other ways. The Los Angeles Times-sponsored event will feature more than half a dozen movies dealing with African American themes, two of which — “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Middle of Nowhere” — will be spotlighted as gala screenings with the full red carpet treatment.

The selections were culled from more than 5,000 submissions and come from 30 countries, eight of which are in Latin America. The lineup includes 19 feature films directed by women, and the festival also will convene a special panel discussion among women in the animation business.

INTERACTIVE: Cheat Sheet - Los Angeles Film Festival

Stephanie Allain, who was named the director of the festival in late January, says she’s proud of this year’s emphasis on the work of women and people of color.

Continue reading »

Around Town: Snow White, Casablanca at Oscars Outdoors

June 14, 2012 |  6:00 am

Snow

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences introduces its "Oscars Outdoors" screening series  Friday evening with the 1942 Oscar-winning romantic classic "Casablanca," followed by Walt Disney's seminal 1937 animated feature, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,'' Saturday evening.

The screenings take place at the academy's new open-air theater on its Hollywood campus. All of the June screenings are sold out, but there will be a standby line the day of the event.  http://www.oscars.org

Cinespia's outdoor screening series at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery is in full swing this summer with Cheech and Chong's highly combustible 1978 comedy, "Up in Smoke," scheduled for Saturday evening. http://www.cinespia.org

New Beverly Cinema kicks off the weekend with the antic 1944 Frank Capra comedy "Arsenic and Old Lace," based on the long-running Broadway hit. The film, which stars Cary Grant, screens Friday and Saturday.

With Woody Allen's latest, "To Rome with Love," opening next week, the New Bev presents two of the his "early funny ones" Sunday and Monday: 1975's "Love and Death" and 1972's "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (But Were Afraid to Ask)." http://www.newbevcinema.com

The UCLA Film & Television Archive's celebration of Universal's 100-year anniversary presents the granddaddy of all-star disaster films, 1970's "Airport," on Friday evening at the Billy Wilder Theater. George Seaton wrote and directed this Oscar-best-film nominee based on the novel by Arthur Hailey about a suicidal bomber (Van Heflin) aboard a transatlantic flight. Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster, Jean Seberg and Helen Hayes, who won the supporting actress Oscar as a stowaway, are among the many stars. http://www.cinema.ucla.edu

Veronica Gelakoksa, author of "Pig 'n  Whistle," and Los Angeles Magazine columnist/preservation and vintage culture expert Chris Nichols will talk about the famed L.A restaurants of the 1920s-'40s after a screening Saturday afternoon of the 1945 film noir classic "Mildred Pierce" at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre. Joan Crawford won her Academy Award for her role.

The 1945 theme continues early Sunday evening at the Egyptian with the Art Directors Guild Film Society's screening of MGM's lavish all-star musical "Ziegfeld Follies," which was directed by several of the studio's directors, including Vincente Minnelli. Guests include Oscar-nominated costume designer Bob Mackie and cinematographer Michael Lonzo.

The Cinematheque's Aero Theatre's latest installment in its "Grit and Whimsy III: The Best of Recent Belgian Cinema" continues Wednesday with the 2009 drama "Altiplano." http://www.americancinematheque.com

Oscar-winning composer and sometimes actor Paul Williams will be on hand Friday evening at the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre's tribute, which features two films for which he composed the scores: 1979's "The Muppet Movie," which includes the tune "The Rainbow Connection," and 1974's "The Phantom of Paradise."

Cinefamily also celebrates the 45th anniversary of the milestone Monterey International Pop Music Festival with a screening Sunday evening of D.A. Pennebaker's 1968 classic documentary "Monterey Pop." The film's producer, Lou Adler, and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and Papas (who appear in the film) will be on hand. http://www.cinefamily.org

Los Angeles Filmforum presents Peter Greenaway's 2007 drama "Nightwatching," starring Martin Freeman as Rembrant, Sunday at the Egyptian Theatre. http://www.lafilmforum.org

The Los Angeles Conservancy's Last Remaining Seats present a 1942 Mexican comedy "Los Tres Mosqueteros," starring the legendary Mario Moreno — best known to the world as Cantinflas — Wednesday evening at the Million Dollar Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. There will also be a pre-show panel. http://www.laconservancy.org

Related:

"Movie academy goes casual with plan for outdoor summer screenings"

 

 

Susan King

Photo: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" screens Saturday at "Oscar Outdoors." Credit: Disney.

 

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Did Billy Crystal get a fair shake at the 2012 Oscars?

June 13, 2012 |  3:59 pm

 

  Crystalbi

The reviews weren’t exactly kind to Billy Crystal after he hosted the Oscars  for the ninth time this past February.

 The Hollywood Reporter called the telecast a “safe, unfunny, retro-disaster.” A Variety critic wrote that “the whole introductory sequence [including a Crystal-sung medley about nominated movies] felt like a pallid sequel, a ghost of Oscars past.” The Times’ Mary McNamara noted that the Oscars “wound up seeming much more bittersweet and, yes, boring, than retro-cool.”

But a key writer on the show said Crystal didn’t get a fair shake.

“It was frustrating because for the 10 years that Billy was away, every review for every host came with ‘Bring back Billy. Where’s Billy? Where’s the opening song and movie?’” said Dave Boone, a writer on the 2012 (and many previous) Oscars and head writer for the Tony Awards on Sunday. “It’s a tough situation, and it’s tougher on the host.”

Boone added, “You’re always going to find people who the next day say, ‘Same old, same old.’ But those are the same people who were writing for 10 years to bring him back.”

The medley was a particular bone of contention for some critics. Crystal turned it into a trademark when he hosted in the 1990s and early 2000s, but some reviewers felt it harked back to a comedy that has gone out of fashion.

But Boone said the decision to include it -- after much internal debate -- was a direct response to fan interest.

“Billy would be in Gelson’s and people would come up to him and say, ‘I hope you do the medley,'” Boone said. “So we felt we owed it to the people who wanted to see it.”

 The motion picture academy likely won’t choose the 2013 producer and host until later this summer, after a new president is elected. It’s unclear what direction it will  go in — ratings were up in 2012, if slightly, over the previous year.

Boone said he hoped to be collaborating with Crystal on the telecast next year but also believes there's a creative reason to take time off. “You get to the point where you try to capture lightning in a bottle if you try to do things the same each year," he said.

 RELATED:

Oscars 2012: The show celebrates its past

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Billy Crystal with Oscar statues. Credit: Getty Images


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