24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: James Franco

New 'Fact Checkers Unit' webisode: Is James Franco preggers? [Exclusive]

May 23, 2012 |  6:00 pm

Fact checking may be one of the first departments to get cut when magazine budgets get squeezed, but online, it is going strong. "FCU: Fact Checkers Unit," the popular webisode series that first appeared on NBC.com and then on MTV.com, has just launched a new video starring the ubiquitous James Franco.

In these silly six-minute shorts, originally created by Peter Karinen, Brian Sacca and Dan Beers, the magazine fact-checkers employ "CSI"-like detective skills in nailing down inane facts such as whether Bill Murray really likes warm milk before bed, if Moby is invincible and if Alex Trebek shaves against the grain. 

Now Franco has signed on to be the subject of the magazine fact-checkers, two hyper-serious, hyper-dorky magazine employees who take their jobs of checking facts very seriously.

The series originated as a short film starring Bill Murray that screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008. Tom Bannister, CEO of SXM Media and executive producer of "FCU," tracked down the creators and took them to Seoul to strike a deal with Samsung to make webisodes featuring the company's phones. 

The first season of the series had eight episodes featuring such celebrities as Luke Perry, Dave Navarro and John Heder; it garnered more than 5 million page views. Season 2, in which the fact-checkers hit the road working for a music magazine called SWAG, generated over 9 million page views.

The series creators' went after Franco for a specific one-episode deal, one that if well-received could spark a third season that centers on the idea that many Hollywood celebrities are really superheroes.

And with Franco rivaling Murray in star power, Bannister is hoping that his involvement will encourage more A-listers to get involved in the Web short business.

“James Franco is renowned for doing innovative things: teaching in New York, appearing on 'General Hospital,' etc. He seemed like the perfect person for this. Luckily we were proved right,” said Bannister. “We’re hoping that having James will make other celebs more confident about doing it. He’s breaking some new ground.”


CinemaCon: James Franco, Mila Kunis talk 'Oz' [Video]

Tribeca 2012: What exactly is James Franco’s new film about?

'Fact Checkers Unit' would rather not investigate what brand of deodorant Rosie O'Donnell uses

-- Nicole Sperling

CinemaCon: James Franco, Mila Kunis talk 'Oz' [video]

April 25, 2012 | 12:20 pm

When word first emerged that Walt Disney Studios was planning a new spin on "The Wizard of Oz," generations of the original movie's fans were outraged.

James Franco, who stars as the Wizard in next year's Sam Raimi-directed "Oz: The Great and Powerful," says he understood the reaction over toying with such a classic film.

"I certainly had some of those fears myself before signing on," admitted Franco, who was in Las Vegas this week to help sell the film to theater owners at CinemaCon. "But I felt really good about it when I learned that it would have a mix. With a movie like this, you wanted to be both loyal to people's idea of Oz, but also give something fresh."

Indeed, the film doesn't tell the traditional tale of "Oz." Instead, it centers around the Wizard's path in the magical land, following him from a young age as he encounters various characters including a trio of witches played by Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis.

"He is a comedic character," Franco, 34, said of the Wizard. "There are a lot of sides to Oz, but one of the main aspects of Oz is his comedy and his sense of humor. I think that allows a movie to get away with a lot."

Kunis, who was also on hand at Caesar's Palace, acknowledged she was more nervous to partake in this movie than any that came before.

"You create a character from scratch, and it's your little being," she said. "But when there's an anticipation for what the character ultimately turns out to be, you don't want to mimic that or copy that, because you'll never be able to replicate it."

The film, due out next March, was produced by former Disney studio head Joe Roth. On stage in front of the exhibitors, Roth joked that he got involved with the project because he "wanted to make as many March billion dollar movies for Disney" as he could -- a reference to "Alice in Wonderland" and the upcoming "Maleficent."

"We built eight gigantic stages and had 2,000 special effects shots in 3-D," Roth said, describing the film's scope. "But this is more Disney than any movie I can ever remember."


A Wizard of Oz reboot follows the prestige road

'Wizard of Oz' prequel will win over skeptics, star says

Michelle Williams: I'm reinventing my 'Wizard of Oz' character

--Amy Kaufman in Las Vegas


Photo: James Franco and Mila Kunis talk about "Oz: The Great and Powerful" at CinemaCon. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press


Tribeca 2012: What exactly is James Franco’s new film about?

April 24, 2012 | 11:45 am

James Franco in "Francophrenia" at Tribeca
This much is clear of “Francophrenia,” the new experimental pseudo-documentary starring James Franco that premiered Sunday at the Tribeca Film Festival. it was shot in 2010 on the Pacific Design Center set of “General Hospital,” where the actor, who plays a murder-obsessed artist named “Franco,” was filming an episode of the soap opera.

What exactly he’s doing in the movie — and, more vexingly, why he’s doing it — are open questions. A viewing of the movie will not necessarily answer these questions.

"Francophrenia," shot by documentarian Ian Olds (”The Fixer”), mixes real archival footage with a dropped-in voice-over (which was, in fact, written, by a scribe named Paul Felten) and other post-production effects designed to make the whole thing feel like a horror movie.

Franco engages in the prosaic acts of shooting a television show outdoors — sitting for hair and makeup, glad-handing with lingering fans — as well as more...eerie activities. For sections of the shoot, Franco is striking deranged poses as he muses in paranoiac voice-over, meant to be an inner monologue, about where he is, how he got here and whether a man is trying to kill him or is, as he says, “just a producer.”

The actor had little involvement in the film's direction or editing. “I turn[ed] myself over and let them do [what they wanted] with my image," he said at the screening. "It’s supposed to be slightly embarrassing; it can't be something where I needed to look cool.”

In addition to his regular acting duties, Franco has in recent years attempted a number of deconstructionist art pieces. Sometimes they are intentional, as with his installation on “Three’s Company” at Sundance a few years back. Sometimes they are unintentional, as with his hosting of the 2011 Oscars.

So what’s this latest turn trying to accomplish? After the screening, Olds and Franco attempted to explain. Here is the one thing they are definitely, most certainly, most undeniably trying to convey.

 --“It’s a way to access ideas about celebrity.” (Olds)

--“It’s [meant to] make you aware of the filmmaking process and editing process.” (Franco)

 --“It’s a deranged portrait on the labor behind the spectacle.” (Olds)

--“We are creating a third level of Franco-ness.” (Olds)

--“It’s an insertion with an insertion, and then everything around it gets mixed up.” (Franco)

To be fair, Franco at least acknowledged that what he and the filmmakers have created isn’t, well, entirely straightforward. “I’m sure there will be different kinds of reactions,” Franco said before the screening. “We kind of knew this film would not be for-- " He paused. “Would have mixed reactions. It does take a little bit of"--he paused again--"engagement.”


Tribeca 2012: Michael Moore says hacking scandal could hit Fox News

Tribeca 2012: Cuban stars of fest film may have defected

Tribeca 2012: In 'The Girl,' Abbie Cornish still playing to adults

Tribeca 2012: Journey singer doesn't stop believin'

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: James Franco in "Francophrenia." Credit: Tribeca Film Festival.

James Franco, Mr. Brainwash bring art to Toronto Film Fest

August 16, 2011 |  7:01 am

Photo: Performance artist/actor James Franco. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times James Franco is taking his latest performance art piece to the Toronto Film Festival next month -- this time it's his collaboration with Gus Van Sant and their installation "Memories of Idaho." The effort will include two new films centering on the cultural impact of Van Sant's 1991 film "My Own Private Idaho," which starred River Phoenix.

The first film, "My Own Private River," is billed as a feature-length chronological reassemblage of excised scenes and alternate takes from the original shoot, radically foregrounding Phoenix. (Phoenix died in 1993.) The second film, "Idaho," comes from one of the the three scripts Van Sant used to create the original film. Van Sant's large-format photographs of the actual Portland street hustlers who inspired the original film will also be on display.

Another performance artist, Mr. Brainwash, who was made famous by last year's documentary "Exit through the Gift Shop," will also be strutting his stuff at this year's festival. Festival organizers says Mr. Brainwash, aka Thierry Guetta, will be "engaged in multiple projects," including an exhibition at Gallery One and some collaboration on the festival's fall exhibition on Grace Kelly. The festival also says the L.A.-based artist will be "towering over the red carpet" outside Roy Thomson Hall with his spray cans when evenings require "additional glamour and pomp."

The festival runs Sept. 8-18.


Toronto Film Festival documentary lineup includes Herzog, Spurlock

George Clooney, Brad Pitt highlight Toronto film festival lineup

James Franco back to the esoterica in another turn as a gay poet

-- Nicole Sperling

Photo: Performance artist/actor James Franco. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

James Franco's 'Apes' redeems the reboot

August 8, 2011 | 10:43 am

    Rise of the Planet of the Apes

A little more than a year ago, there were a lot of summer '11 movies that filmgoers could look forward to. Rival comic-book vehicles such as "Thor" and "Green Lantern" were gaining buzz, and so was a star-laden novelty such as "Cowboys & Aliens." There were also, inevitably, new installments in the "Transformers" and "Harry Potter" franchises.

Two movies that almost no one was talking about? "X-Men: First Class" and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." The films, both from 20th Century Fox, were being accelerated to the multiplex (both had barely begun casting), possibly to their detriment. Most big studio movies, after all, take years to bake; great reinventions often take even longer.

Maybe more important, both movies fit squarely in the category of the reboot, Hollywood's euphemism for a do-over of a brand that had only recently run its course, as had happened with Brett Ratner's "X-Men: The Last Stand" five years before and Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes" a decade prior. (In these instances, both of the reboots were also prequels, though they of course don't need to to be.) And for all of Hollywood's embracing of the reboot, the category had very little track record, let alone anything resembling a successful one.

Yet, this weekend, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" wildly exceeded expectations. The movie scored on nearly ever count: It grossed $54 million, one of the highest summer totals for a movie that wasn't a straight sequel. Critics embraced it -- the James Franco film garnered a robust 81% on Rotten Tomatoes and earned raves from the likes of my colleague Kenneth Turan. And fans really liked what they saw, giving the movie an A- on CinemaScore.

The $54 million for "Apes" was also the second-highest opening for any action-adventure movie this summer that didn't have the benefit of higher 3-D ticket prices. The highest? "X-Men: First Class." That movie scored even higher with critics, notching 86% on Rotten Tomatoes. (There's a corporate-comeback story in all this too -- Hollywood insiders will note Fox's strong summer after the twin disappointments of "Knight & Day" and "The A-Team" in 2010 -- that I'll leave to my colleagues at Company Town.)

Some purists -- this blogger included -- like to decry the reboot as a sign that Hollywood is running out of ideas. But "Apes" and "X-Men" show that we may have been wrong. A reboot can work if the mythology is reinvented creatively -- if we can, in other words, sit in the theater and feel like there was a reason a studio should revisit this story beyond a marketing executive decreeing it so.

What may unite "X-Men" and "Apes" further is that both rolled the dice on directors from outside the studio system -- Matthew Vaughn ("Kick-Ass") and Rupert Wyatt ("The Escapist") each honed their vision with movies outside the Hollywood mainstream. This method isn't foolproof -- Marvel brought on Kenneth Branagh to direct "Thor" and elicited a far more mixed reaction -- but judging by the way many touted the inventiveness of "X-Men" and "Apes," it certainly didn't hurt.

It's a coincidence, but a telling one, that "Apes" came out just one week after "Cowboys & Aliens." Jon Favreau's movie was all about the kind of gamble many of us feel Hollywood should be taking -- a clever idea based on carefully devised source material, not simply a known brand -- as opposed to the reboots it increasingly undertakes. Yet Favreau's so-called original often didn't feel all than new, while, after this weekend, a pair of reboots do.


"Apes" swings to top spot at the box office

Movie review: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"

Hero Complex: Andy Serkis hails Caesar

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" triumphs with critics

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: A scene from "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." Credit: 20th Century Fox


James Franco explains how he really feels about 'Apes' [Video]

August 1, 2011 | 10:55 am

James Franco is many things: scholar, actor, writer, poet, emcee, artist, director. But diplomat? Not so much.

Ever since his critically panned stint hosting the Academy Awards back in February, Franco has continued to offer up a variety of reasons for his performance. He needed to be the straight man to a "Tasmanian Devil"-esque Anne Hathaway. Longtime Oscars writer Bruce Vilanch didn't write him enough funny jokes. His latest gripe? He hated being made to dress in drag as Marilyn Monroe, as he told Playboy last month.

Meanwhile, in that same interview with the adult magazine, the 33-year-old also gave a dig to his upcoming film "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." He didn't "feel the same way" about the film as he did about "127 Hours" or "Milk," he said.

"It was a ­different kind of acting," he explained. "I never thought of this movie as an example of my creativity. I was an actor for hire. But people still have it out for me, so they’re going to go after the movie."

At the premiere of the "Apes" in Hollywood on Thursday, Franco attempted to clarify his negative comments.

"I just mean, there are people that -- I don't know -- have it out for me for other things," he said. "And, like, they see me do this movie and so maybe they will criticize me for this -- but really, it's about something else."

Rupert Wyatt, who directed the film, said Franco had not seen "Apes" when he sat down with Playboy and that the interviewer likely "caught James on a bad day."

"He hadn't seen the movie at this point so I think he might have been a little nervous because of what he'd experienced recently," Wyatt said, referring to the Oscars criticism. "I ended up doing some additional shooting with him after that [interview] and we had a chat. Like I said, it was probably a bad day. But he has seen the movie now and I heard he called various people and said how much he enjoyed it."

If Wyatt was irked about the magazine interview, he did a good job of hiding it on the red carpet, calling Franco a "terrific, terrific actor."

"And I think everybody acknowledges that," he said. "He's been Oscar-nominated and he's done some extraordinary performances and that's what he should be judged on."


Is James Franco honest or tiring?

Oscar writer Bruce Vilanch speaks out on James Franco

James Franco versus Bruce Vilanch: Will this continue until next year's Oscars?

-- Amy Kaufman

Photo: James Franco stars in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." Credit: 20th Century Fox

Is James Franco honest or tiring?

July 11, 2011 |  8:40 am

We're closer to the next award season than to the last one. But James Franco still has the Oscars on his mind. He's not happy about some of the things producers put him through earlier this year. And he continues to be willing to share that unhappiness with seemingly any passing media outlet.

In the new issue of Playboy, the actor-cum-host had a few things to say about his recent hosting gig and why he felt he was as much the victim as, well, many of us in the viewing audience.

Pointing the finger at writers for why many of his bits fell flat, Franco said: "There were a lot of cooks who shouldn't have been cooking but were allowed to," adding, "there were some cooks my manager tried to bring in, like Judd Apatow, who wrote some very funny stuff that wasn't used."

Franco said he was up-front with producers Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer about the issues as he saw them but found his comments falling on deaf ears. "In the last week, when we really started focusing on the script for the live show and did a run-through, I said to the producer, 'I don't know why you hired me, because you haven't given me anything. I just don't think this stuff's going to be good.'"

Franco had previously taken a shot at Anne Hathaway, telling David Letterman she was the Tasmanian Devil. The actor didn't call her any names in this interview, but did point to his co-host as the reason he came off as detached. "As far as having low energy or seeming as though I wasn't into it or was too cool for it, I thought, 'OK, Anne is going the enthusiastic route.' I've been trained as an actor to respond to circumstances, to the people I'm working with, and not force anything. So I thought I would be the straight man and she could be the other, and that's how I was trying to do those lines."

He added: "I felt kind of trapped in that material. I felt, "This is not my boat. I'm just a passenger, but I'm going down and there's no way out." The biggest issue, in his mind? The ill-fated drag routine that had him dressing up as Marilyn Monroe. "I was so pissed about that," he said.

All of this comes after Franco's little battle with writer Bruce Vilanch in which Vilanch essentially dissed the host as someone who wouldn't knew comedy if it walked up and bit him.

As is often the case with Franco's post-Oscar comments, it's hard to decide if they are a form of refreshing candor or tedious buck-passing. Actually, by this point, listening to the actor explain why his hosting gig didn't work isn't really either. It just calls attention to a bad performance, something Franco, as an actor, might be best off avoiding.


James Franco versus Bruce Vilanch: Will this continue until next year's Oscars?

Oscar writer Bruce Vilanch speaks out on James Franco

Is James Franco good for the Oscars, or vice versa?

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: James Franco in "Howl." Credit: Oscilloscope Pictures

L.A. Film Festival: James Franco back to the esoterica in another turn as a gay poet

June 21, 2011 |  1:01 pm


James Franco -- who seems to bounce between highbrow fare (“Howl”) and cheap, lowbrow antics (“Pineapple Express,” “Your Highness”) -- is back to the esoterica. Monday night at the L.A. Film Festival, the prolific actor, author and artiste premiered his latest project, “The Broken Tower,” a biopic about a notoriously obtuse poet.

Franco wrote, directed, produced and starred in the black-and-white film about Hart Crane, a tortured gay artist and son of a wealthy Cleveland businessman, who committed suicide in 1932 at the age of 32. Crane’s poetry was so difficult that even such renowned writers as Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams said they couldn’t understand it.

Crane’s verse, which was largely influenced by Romantics such as Whitman and Poe, was heavy on metaphors, blank verses and homosexual innuendo. Both the greatest criticism and praise of his poetry concerns the “logic” of Crane’s metaphors; his poetry is so loaded with them that many readers (including Franco) could only appreciate and understand Crane’s poetry in bites.

“His poetry is difficult for me too,” Franco admitted during a discussion after the premier with Francisco Ricardo, a critic of new media and contemporary art and literature at the Rhode Island School of Design. “I couldn’t even tell you what half his stuff means. But what inspired me is his spirit and drive. He cared so much about his work, even when nobody else understood it.”

“You just stated your own repertoire,” Ricardo teased Franco.

Indeed, Franco’s decision to feature Crane isn’t so surprising if you’re familiar with Franco’s academic interests in literature (he studied English and creative writing at UCLA, graduated from Columbia’s MFA writing program, has taken classes at Brooklyn College and Warren Wilson College and is pursuing a doctorate at Yale) and his more cerebral film work.

This is the third time Franco has played a gay character (after his roles in “Milk” and “Howl”), which seems likely to add to the frequent speculation about his sexual identity.

The 99-minute film captures Crane’s life in an unsettling stream of scenes of explicit sex, drunken rages, depressive lows and literary genius. The film’s title comes from Crane’s last publication, “The Broken Tower” (which he penned during his affair with a friend’s wife, his only heterosexual lover), and Paul Mariani’s biography of Crane.

Continue reading »

'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' brings things back to this world [Trailer]

June 2, 2011 |  8:05 pm

Pierre Boulle's apes have made numerous appearances on the big screen over the years, starting when Charlton Heston crash-landed on what seemed to be a distant planet and continuing with Tim Burton taking Mark Wahlberg to a faraway planet in the year 3002.

But the property has rarely forsaken the interstellar future in favor of the Earthly present ("Escape from the Planet of the Apes" did do some of it via time travel). Rupert Wyatt's origin story "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," whose theatrical trailer hit the Web today ahead of its Aug. 5 release, offers its take on how the apes came to emulate and surpass humans, and right here on Earth.

The trailer for the James Franco film starts out like a standard-issue medical thriller -- scientist tinkers with monkeys, leading to disastrous consequences ("You're trying to control things that aren't meant to be controlled!") -- before turning into a man vs. beast story with with echoes of "Avatar," "Battle: Los Angeles" and other tales of the apocalypse. "Evolution becomes revolution," the tag summarizes.

One of big questions that's captivated the blogosphere since the film went into production is how the simulated apes -- for the first time depicted using special effects, not actors in makeup -- will appear in the film. They seem convincing enough here. But maybe more interesting is whether the prequel can avoid the sameness of a thousand other disaster movies  and instead distinguish itself with the racial and social subtexts that have permeated the best moments of the franchise. To answer that, though, you kind of need the full movie.

--Steven Zeitchik



 With their new movie, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen make it a 50/50 proposition

 With new trailer, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo begins to breathe its fire

Does the new Green Lantern trailer actually hurt the movie's chances?

After moving back, 'Rise of the Apes' now moves up

March 22, 2011 |  6:11 pm

Franco The apes are on the move again.

Fox said Tuesday afternoon that it's moving "Rise of the Apes" from its previously planned November slot to Aug. 5.

The release date for Rupert Wyatt's "Planet of the Apes" reboot, which stars James Franco as a scientist tinkering with genetic engineering, has been shifted before: Two months ago, the studio pushed the film from June to Thanksgiving, citing a need for increased postproduction time.

A Fox spokesman said that the latest shift came about because executives viewed special effects and rough footage from the film and felt the movie was best suited for the summer. The movie will now come out only a few months after Franco's next film, the adventure comedy "Your Highness," which hits theaters April 8. The Twitter-obsessed actor has mostly been laying low after his critically panned Oscar-hosting stint.

While June is traditionally more of a spot for studios' splashiest summer blockbusters, August has in recent years been a home for modestly budgeted action films. Last August saw the release of Sylvester Stallone's "The Expendables"; this year, among male-targeted films "Apes" will share the month with Lionsgate's reboot of "Conan the Barbarian" and Craig Gillespie's horror-comedy remake "Fright Night."

Fox also said it would move "The Sitter," a comedy starring Jonah Hill as an unlikely babysitter, from August to Dec. 9. That makes the film a rare R-rated comedy to be released during the holiday season.

--Amy Kaufman



James Franco's 'Rise of the Apes' will now mutate on Thanksgiving

James Franco versus Bruce Vilanch: Will this continue until next Oscars?

Photo: James Franco. Credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images.



Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...




Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: