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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Alice in Wonderland

Oscars: 'Wolfman' and 'Alice' a little bit of that movie magic

February 27, 2011 |  7:15 pm

Dtoro Have to say, I'm always a fan of the makeup and costume categories. These always feel like the old-school movie magic awards, before we had 3-D and special effects. And movies that often would never get a second look get, well, a second look.

How can you not want to give the "Wolfman" guys who gave Benicio del Toro really great facial hair, broken knuckles and those amazing nails a golden boy? I'd check into their spa anytime.

And costumes, this is where the out-of-the-world has a shot. The incredible Colleen Atwood picks up her third trophy, for "Alice in Wonderland." Clearly better with the clothes than in front of the camera. Glad she won and really felt for her in front of the microphone. She could have used an assist from Colin Firth.


Red carpet photos

Oscar scorecard

Complete coverage: The Oscars

--Betsy Sharkey

Photo: Benicio Del Toro in "The Wolfman." Credit: Frank Connor / Universal Pictures

'Alice in Wonderland' producer could tell us where the lost things are

April 2, 2010 |  4:17 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Joe Roth has been on the comeback trail since "Alice in Wonderland" became a global phenomenon. (See my colleague Claudia Eller's take on  the second and third acts of the studio executive-turned-producer's career.)

Now Roth is making a bid for another family-oriented movie. He's shopping a CG project to studios. It's an untitled pitch with an appealing peg -- the film will be a whimsical look at where everyday items go when they get lost (and how they come to life when humans aren't around -- think "Toy Story" meets "Skinny Legs and All").

And it comes with an attractive element: Thor Freudenthal. The director, who has been riding a hot streak of his own with the success of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," is shopping it with Roth. (He would direct and Roth would produce.)

As with all pitches, this one's a long way from seeing its way to the screen. But kiddie fare couldn't be more in vogue, animation continues to sizzle like a cartoon bonfire, and these two gentlemen have among the more notable (at very different budgets and in very different ways) hits of this young year. So we thought we'd tell you about it.

--Steven Zeitchik

Photo: "Alice in Wonderland." Credit: Walt Disney Pictures.

Los Angeles Times week in Hollywood (March 19, 2010)

March 20, 2010 |  2:08 pm

A quiet weekend at the box office means that "Alice in Wonderland" has even more room to flourish, even as studios worry about a growing shortage of 3D screens. The Times' John Horn and Steven Zeitchik break down the week in Hollywood, also looking at just what it is that made "Green Zone" fail, and why "Hot Tub Time Machine" can help MGM -- but not in the way you'd expect.


Hot Tub Time Machine: The gross-out comedy as '80's-movie rummage sale

Time Warner still mulling MGM bid as deadline passes

Why Green Zone failed

Fight over 3D screens heats up with high-pressure tactics

A new 'Wizard of Oz' could make its way down the Hollywood road

March 9, 2010 |  5:00 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Fresh off Disney's massive success with Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland," Warner Bros. wants to remake another childhood classic. Like, really classic.

The studio is examining two existing "Wizard of Oz" projects, with an eye toward giving one of them a modern gloss and moving it toward the screen.

One project, called "Oz," currently lives at Warner's New Line label. It's being produced by Temple Hill, which is behind a little franchise called "Twilight," and has a script written by Darren Lemke, a writer on the upcoming "Shrek Forever After."

A second "Wizard of Oz" project, set up at Warners proper, skews a little darker -- it's written by "A History of Violence" screenwriter Josh Olson and focuses on a granddaughter of Dorothy who returns to Oz to fight evil. "Clash of the Titans" producer Basil Iwanyk and his Thunder Road Pictures are behind that one. ("Spawn" creator Todd MacFarlane is potentially involved in a producerial capacity, to give you some idea of the tone.)

While the idea of a new "Wizard of Oz" movie is said to be in the development, let's-bat-this-around stage, it's been advanced seriously enough on the lot that representatives for some of the top directors around Hollywood have been briefed.

The Judy Garland-starring "The Wizard of Oz" from 1939 -- we could give you the refresher on witches, tin men, Dorothy and everyone else, but really, do we need to? -- has been given alternative treatments before. There was the 1978 black-themed film adaptation of the stage play "The Wiz." And of course about six years ago came the Broadway adaptation of Gregory Maguire's "Wicked," an alternative story of girls, witches and  Emerald City politics. The property proved a huge stage hit, prompting a film version that's in development at Universal and "Wanted" producer Marc Platt.

Audiences are likely to respond to the idea of a new silver screen "Wizard of Oz" with gusto ("at least the first one was good," said one colleague we told) or with horror, precisely because the original is such a classic.

WizBut for Warners, there's plenty of appeal in trying to take the story of Dorothy & Co. back to the big screen. For one, there's the bonkers $210 million global opening for "Alice," which shows that if you're trying to create a mega-blockbuster, one smart way to do it is to take a title people know and update it for the effects era. And there's a neat symmetry, since the Technicolor version of the classic film did for color in the movies what a lot of people say that "Avatar," "Alice" -- and now, perhaps, "Wizard" -- could do for 3-D in the movies.

With its Harry Potter series drawing to an end, Warners also likes the idea of a franchise, and "Wizard of Oz" and the many books L. Frank Baum wrote featuring many of the same characters (all of which are in the public domain) fit the bill nicely. And let's not forget the property's strong, young female protagonist, hugely in vogue now in the post -Twilight" and -"Alice" eras.

There could still be questions about the project's title (the book's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" is in the public domain but the movie's "The Wizard of Oz" is not; it's owned by MGM, whose library is partly owned by Warner Bros.). And then there's the matter of whether filmmakers would make the movie with musical elements, as the original, of course, did. Those questions aside, it could be the moneymaking formula.

Follow the yellow brick road. It's strewn with CGI, tent poles and 3-D. And, of course, a little green.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photos: Scenes from "The Wizard of Oz." Credit: Warner Bros./Turner Entertainment

L.A. Times week in Hollywood (March 5, 2010)

March 5, 2010 |  3:09 pm

With controversy continuing to follow "The Hurt Locker" and buzz on "Alice in Wonderland" growing faster than Alice after the cake, it's been a hectic pre-Oscar week in Hollywood. The Times' John Horn and Steven Zeitchik break down the goings-on like digestion enzymes break down polymeric macromolecules.


The Hurt Locker Defies the Odds

Nicolas Chartier's behavior is even weirder than you thought

Oscars bar the door to Chartier

'The Hurt Locker' sets off conflict

Movie Projector: 'Alice in Wonderland' headed for $100 million opening

Asking the Un-askable: Is Tim Burton losing his touch?

Asking the un-askable: Is Tim Burton losing his touch?

March 4, 2010 |  6:30 am

There's nothing worse than pronouncing a director in a slump before his new movie even comes out. And by nearly all barometric measures, "Alice in Wonderland" is going to be a monster hit this weekend no matter what any critic or pundit says; the tracking among young girls alone is more insane than admissions day at Bellevue.

Al But with Tim Burton, there's always something else, some higher, more ethereal standard that makes all form of evaluation, from gushy praise to head-shaking disapproval, seem not just fair but also necessary. Maybe it's the way he tries -- sometimes effortlessly, sometimes laboredly -- to return us to childhood, a high-stakes proposition since it’s such a transporting feat when it works  and such a ripoff when it doesn’t.

Or maybe it's that he set the bar so high earlier in his career with "Edward Scissorhands" and the first two Batman pictures. No director engenders more goodwill but also such great expectations. More than with almost any other filmmaker, with Burton it feels different -- more consequential, more urgent, more personal.

And so maybe, after seeing “Alice in Wonderland” earlier this week and reading some of the lukewarm reviews (see Kenneth Turan's "Alice" review here), it's not unfair for us to ask whether the director has let us down and whether, more dispiritingly, it’s becoming a pattern.

Let’s actually leave "Alice" aside for the moment. Consider the movies Burton has released this last decade. There was, in our opinion, one creative bull's-eye, 2005’s “Corpse Bride,” a movie macabre, touching and inventive in all the right ways. We’ll also give him a pass  on  "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Talking to colleagues these last few weeks about their expectations for “Alice,” we’ve been struck by the cool attitude toward Burton’s Willy Wonka interpretation.  Sure, some of the reverie felt forced, but the picture was about as imaginative a rendering you can give a work that many of us felt like we already had seen plenty of times before, in our mind’s eye, thanks to an evocative work of literature and a vivid, pre-effects-era screen version. At worst, Burton was dwarfed by the material or our memory of same.

But that still leaves several howlers. "Planet of the Apes" was probably the worst of the bunch. In the 2001 remake, Burton tackled an iconic movie. But with a mishmash of biblical references and sluggish exposition, he did a very un-Burton (but very Hollywood) thing -- took an imaginative piece and turned it into recycled ephemera. The director did stick closer to the novel's ending, which won him some bravery points, but that’s about all it earned him; the movie scored a dismally low 44% on Rotten Tomatoes (even lower than the dismal “Mars Attacks”).

Next, he tried something a little more adult in “Big Fish,” but this too was largely a failed experiment. The ending packed an emotional punch, but the flashback-y pilgrim’s progress of the rest of the film became discursive, a kind of Forrest Gump with more self-conscious visuals and a less compelling through line. The attempt to meditate on the nature of family and memory from the point of view of an adult dealing with an elderly parent was a nice conceit, but the marriage of Burton-esque whimsy with earnest emotion  fell flat.

Continue reading »

'Hurt Locker,' 'Avatar' and 'Sherlock Holmes' win Art Directors Guild Awards

February 14, 2010 | 12:40 am

“The Hurt Locker,” “Avatar” and “Sherlock Holmes” were honored by the Art Directors Guild for excellence in production design Saturday night.

Karl Júlíusson won for contemporary film for “The Hurt Locker” at the gala ceremony at the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Sarah Greenwood won for period film for “Sherlock Holmes,” and Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg received the award for fantasy film for “Avatar.”

On the television front, Joseph P. Lucky won in half-hour single camera for the “Ducks and Tigers” episode of “Weeds,” Dan Bishop won in one-hour single camera series for the “Souvenir” episode of “Mad Men” and “Hell’s Kitchen” won for multi-camera variety or unscripted series.

Kalina Ivanov won television movie or miniseries for “Grey Gardens.”

Absolut Anthem and Absolut World won in the commercial or music video category while the 51st Annual Grammy Awards won for awards, music or game show.

Art director Paul Sylbert presented the award for outstanding contribution to cinematic imagery to Warren Beatty. Terence Marsh was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award and Michael Baugh took home the Creative Leadership Award.

-- Susan King

Photo: "The Hurt Locker" / Summit Entertainment

With 'Oranges,' Hugh Laurie of 'House' (and possibly 'Gossip Girl' Leighton Meester) could take the film plunge

February 8, 2010 |  3:47 pm

It can be a crapshoot when TV actors step from the small screen into features; for every George Clooney or Steve Carell, there's a Zach Braff or Katherine Heigl.

Lau But a buzzed-about new movie called "Oranges" may be trying exactly that. The project, a dark dramatic comedy about an older man who has an affair with the daughter of a family friend, has been on Hollywood's radar for several years now. Back in 2008, the Jay Reiss-Ian Helfer script landed on the Black List, the grouping of the entertainment industry's most desired screenplay. (It came in at No. 2, ahead of vaunted projects like "Inglourious Basterds" and just behind the "The Beaver," the Mel Gibson-Jodie Foster collaboration that could hit later this year.) And it's being produced by Anthony Bregman, an indie producer with serious bona fides -- like, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" bona fides. (Glen Basner's Film Nation and Leslie Urdang's Olympus Pictures, incidentally, are financing "Oranges.")

Now the project may have another claim to fame: It could mark the first lead feature role for Hugh Laurie, who plays Dr. Gregory House on the hit Fox medical series. Sources say that Laurie is in discussions to play the lead role of the creepy/sympathetic older man. The British actor  has done voice work and a number of supporting parts in films such as "Sense & Sensibility" and "Stuart Little" but has never carried a movie before. Of course his work as a darkly comic presence on Fox for the past five-plus should make him familiar to audiences. And he has a versatile acting background, starring in a range of roles with former partner Stephen Fry.)

The "Oranges" TV credentials don't stop with Laurie, though. Sources say two candidates have jumped to the top of the list for either the lead female role or possibly another role:  "Gossip Girl" Leighton Meester and former "That '70s Show" co-star Mila Kunis. The latter has been turning a few film tricks of late -- she starred as the romantic/action co-lead in "The Book of Eli," and is playing a nemesis figure opposite Natalie Portman in Darren Aronofsky's upcoming "Black Swan." Meester, known for the pincers-out Blaire Waldorf character on "Gossip Girl," would be wading into newer waters (a foray that would mark an interesting litmus test for CW stars on the big screen -- just as Chace Crawford attempts same in "Footloose").

Television roles can in some ways be more demanding than film, since they require a much higher arc over many hours of episodes, not just a three-act transformation. But, of course, everything is also more magnified on the theatrical screen, so when actors seem too small for a part, or try too hard, the results can be disastrous.

In a poetic twist, boith Meester and Kunis are set to star opposite each other in the upcoming comedy "Date Night." The film is headlined by Steve Carell and Tina Fey -- so Kunis and/or Meester could at least have a successful TV-film path in which to follow.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Hugh Laurie of "House." Credit: Fox Broadcasting Co.

Does fewer Super Bowl movie spots mean better Super Bowl movie spots?

February 7, 2010 |  3:18 pm

Super Bowl movie spots haven't featured much these past few years besides things getting blown up, as though one has wandered from the (semi) wit of beer and snack food spots smack into Michael Bay's editing room. In three of the most popular live-action spots last year -- for "Transformers," "G.I. Joe" and "Star Trek" -- a total of exactly eight lines of dialogue were uttered (and with gems like "You don't stop, you don't hide, you run," Noel Coward it wasn't).

So it may not be the worst thing in the world that we're seeing fewer ads this year, as only three studios (campaigns for approximately seven movies) splurge on the $3-million buys. Studios instead are relying on the more cost-effective province of Comic-Con and the Web.  (Paramount, responsible for all three of the aforementioned spots, has opted for just those avenues for "Iron Man 2," holding back on a Super Bowl ad for the film despite the massive success of an "Iron Man" commercial two years ago.)

Still, the reaction to the trailers does have a way of foretelling quality and commercial reception, which is why ads for the likes of "Shutter Island," "Alice in Wonderland" and, possibly, "The Prince of Persia" will be watched closely when the game kicks off momentarily. In the meantime, behold one of the 2009 gems. It's a low bar; someone, for the love of Peyton, please kick it over.

--Steven Zeitchik


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