24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Julie Makinen

Whitney Houston's 'Sparkle': Could it come before August?

February 13, 2012 |  3:41 pm

The release of the movie "Sparkle," Whitney Houston’s final recorded work, has been the subject of intense interest since the pop star died in Beverly Hills on Saturday.

On Monday morning, Radar Online quoted an anonymous source at Sony saying the release date for the movie, in which Houston plays the mother of aspiring pop singers, is being moved up from Aug. 17 because of fan interest. The film “could be released as early as Memorial Day,” Radar quoted the source as saying.

Shortly afterward, a Sony spokesman said that the report was "not true" and that the film would be released on schedule on the third weekend of August. So for now, it appears to be sitting pat.

A remake of a 1976 Irene Cara movie, "Sparkle" is still technically in postproduction, though a rough cut has been completed. According to executive producer Howard Rosenman, who said he saw that cut just last week, Houston shines in the film. "She is genius in the movie and it would have been a giant comeback for her," he told 24 Frames.

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston, 1963-2012

The original "Sparkle" told the story of the Williams sisters, a trio of 1950s-era Harlem singers whose stories were loosely inspired by the Supremes. Headed by Lonette McKee's Sister, the group also features Sister's sister Sparkle (Cara), Dolores (Dawn Smith) and several friends. As they begin to find success, though, Sister's life spirals out of control, with drug addiction eventually leading to her death.

The new version, directed by Salim Akil ("Jumping the Broom," television series "The Game"), is believed to follow a similar story line, with Jordin Sparks as the titular character who must find a way to achieve stardom despite the drama surrounding her family. Houston plays Emma, the sisters' less-than-encouraging mother. (The original character, named Effie in the 1976 film, was incarnated by Mary Alice.)

How will the new "Sparkle" fare when it comes out? The Whitney factor will certainly drive interest, with the addiction plotline giving it an eerie resonance.

But it will need a certain kind of publicity help. Despite doing big business on the small screen, movies about aspiring singers have been disappointments; in the past two years, films such as "Country Strong," "Joyful Noise" and "Burlesque" have all underperformed at the box office.


Whitney Houston's posthumous turn: As star of 'Sparkle'

Medics performed CPR for about 20 minutes

Whitney Houston was spotted displaying erratic behavior

Whitney Houston dead at 48; celebrities react on Twitter

-- Steven Zeitchik and Julie Makinen


Photo: Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston in "Sparkle." Credit: Sony Pictures

Sundance 2012: An Occupy movement (sort of) takes hold

January 29, 2012 |  4:57 pm

Occupy protesters
On a snowy day last week in Park City, Utah, about 10 activists outfitted in costumes such as the Statue of Liberty and a Boston Patriot materialized in the parking lot of a Wells Fargo outside the city's Old Town. The Sundance Film Festival was taking place, and there was no better place for Occupy-style activists to deliver their message to the 1%.

The flash mob burst into a waiting area on the bank's ground-floor offices and began chanting "Pay your taxes, Wells Fargo" and "We are the 99%," marching in a small circle before reading a list of Occupy tenets.
The scene went on for about five minutes as employees and customers looked on. Then a branch manager came out of his office and asked them to leave. They agreed, and the protest moved to the corner of a busy intersection where snow was driving pretty hard. A policeman used tape to cordon off an area, keeping a stoic face as one of the protesters tried to give him a quick primer on the prison-industrial complex. 

The protesters started up the chants again. Cars passed by — some drivers honking in solidarity, others waving their middle fingers.

"We feel that way about you too," activist Justin Kramer yelled back when given the bird. Then he turned to a reporter and said, "That doesn't seem like a good way to go about it. At Marmot [a clothing and equipment store on the city's Main Street] they put out a sign that said, 'Hey Occupy people, we're hiring.' His voice took on a rueful tone. "It's nice when they at least try to be creative."

Though filled with glitz and celebrity, the Sundance Film Festival, which wraps Sunday, has been a minor bed of activism over the past 10 days. In addition to the protests — several others were held on Main Street during the festival — director Jonathan Demme came to the Slamdance Film Festival (held in Park City concurrent with Sundance) and screened a short he shot at the Occupy Wall Street protests in October.

The effect of these events was to create an unusual contrast: inside the city's high-end restaurants, fine food and wine were being consumed by some of the entertainment world's richest and most influential people. On streets and screens, however, were persistent reminders of the economically disadvantaged, a juxtaposition we explore in this Times story. (Other films included the documentary "Detropia" and the corporate-tax investigation "We're Not Broke," the latter of which some of the Wells Fargo protesters were affiliated with.)

The activists explained why Sundance was an ideal forum for their message. “What were trying to do is reach the 1%, and there’s no better place to do that in Park City during Sundance,” said Kramer, 28, a Salt Lake City resident who has been active in the local Occupy movement.
The protesters said they had chosen Wells Fargo, they said, because of the low taxes the company paid, and generally thought Park City was a good choice because of the concentration of high-end brands “There are so many corporate sponsors here during the film festival,” said Kira Elliott, 29, an activist from Chicago. “We’d be crazy to be anywhere else.”

Demme's short, "Hyptnotic Fierce Drum Circle," was shot Oct. 15, and the title sums it up well: It captures dozens of percussionists — black, white, asian, male, female, young, old — plus people playing horns, whistles, guitars and cymbals. Without a conductor, they somehow improvise a melodic cacophony.

In an interview the day after the screening, Demme, who lives in New York, said initially intended to go check out the Occupy Wall Street protest for about an hour. "I was obliged to go down there," he recalled. "I've been complaining for years about the lack of a protest generation." 

He stayed for an hour and then another, and then another, and then when he started to leave, a march started coming his way, so he stayed longer.

After his first visit, he and collaborator Shane Bissett, 25, returned a dozen times and shot footage at Zucotti Park and of other Occupy-related activities. They estimate they've collected more than 40 hours of footage, including some one-one-one interviews with individual protesters.

Their primary interest has been putting footage on the Internet, Demme said. "The premise is that if more people know what Occupy was really about — how positive it is — more poeple would join. So we've been supporting that as outsiders."

But they are also intending to go back and shoot more footage focusing on the stories of individual protesters. Ultimately, Demme said, they may cut together a couple of hours into a longer film (though he's also busy now trying to get two long-gestating projects, the animated "Zeitoun" and the adaptation of the Stephen King novel "11/22/63"). "People of my generation, the hippie generation," he said, "have been waiting for this."

You can check out another of Demme's Occupy shorts below:



Sundance Film Festival: A lavish scene for on-screen struggles

Sundance 2012: Is 'Arbitrage' this year's 'Margin Call?'

Sundance 2012: Queen of Versailles keenly eyes the rich and struggling

Photo: Occupy protesters outside a Wells Fargo in Park City, Utah. Credit: Steven Zeitchik.


— Steven Zeitchik and Julie Makinen

Sundance 2012: 'Finding North' looks at hunger in America

January 23, 2012 |  1:23 am

The Sundance Film Festival documentary "Finding North" forcefully makes the case that hunger poses serious economic, social and cultural implications for the nation

The Sundance Film Festival is chock full of documentaries this year about the troubles besetting America, with movies examining the shortcomings of the war on drugs (Eugene Jarecki's "The House I Live In"), the problems with the healthcare system ("Escape Fire") and the ability of corporations to evade taxation ("We're Not Broke"). But "Finding North" may rank among the most moving (or disheartening, depending on your viewpoint) in that it tackles a seemingly straightforward, solvable problem: hunger in the United States.

Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson share directing and producing credits on the documentary, which focuses on three main characters: Rosie, an endearing fifth-grader from a small town in Colorado whose family relies on handouts; Tremonica, an overweight second-grader from Mississippi whose poor diet is leading to health problems, and Barbie Izquierdo, 24, a mother of two struggling valiantly to put food on the table in Philadelphia.

"Finding North" forcefully makes the case that hunger has serious economic, social and cultural implications for the nation. Examining everything -- including federal subsidies for agribusiness, how much Uncle Sam pays to provide school lunches for poor kids, and the lack of fruits and vegetables in many poor communities -- the movie argues vehemently for greater government spending on food stamps and childhood nutrition programs, a shift in subsidy programs away from sugar and starch crops and toward fresh produce, and a "living wage" so the working poor can afford to feed themselves.

PHOTOS: The scene at Sundance

Although the filmmakers give a big shout-out to the religious and charitable organizations that provide many hungry Americans with hot meals and pantry handouts, the movie argues that charity alone will never solve the hunger problem -- which they say affects 49 million Americans (1 in 7).

Silverbush said she was inspired to make the film for two reasons: (a) her husband, "Top Chef" Tom Colicchio, had spent years working on anti-hunger and childhood nutrition initiatives, and yet the problem continued to grow and (b) an adolescent girl she was mentoring was struggling with hunger.

"I realized she was hungry, and it was messing up her life," Silverbush recalled after the film's premiere Sunday night in Park City, Utah. "Her school called and said she was scavenging for food."

Silverbush, whose experience is in fictional films, floated the idea to Jacobson, who had experience in the documentary world, and they decided to embark on the project together. Filming started in 2008, but the two encountered doubts amid the election of Barack Obama.

"We thought at one time, 'Do we still have a story to tell, now that Obama has been elected?'" Silverbush recalled. "But the landscape has changed [with the ongoing economic malaise]. People are no longer seeing the hungry as 'the other.' People in this country are realizing that they too could be one injury, or one mortgage payment, away from hunger."

The pair have teamed with Participant Media to begin a social action campaign around the issue, including outreach to schools, churches, synagogues and hunger organizations in urban and rural communities, as well as lobbying of legislators.

"We are both really committed to the idea that this film has an impact," Jacobson said.


Sundance 2012: Is "Arbitrage" this year's 'Margin Call?'

Sundance 2012: In "Shut Up," the enigma of LCD Soundsystem

Second for second, the most cinematic experience in Sundance

 -- Julie Makinen in Park City, Utah 

Photo: Rosie, a fifth-grader from Colorado who struggles with hunger in "Finding North." Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Five memorable lines from the Village Voice's Jim Hoberman

January 4, 2012 |  8:30 pm

The firing Wednesday of Village Voice chief film critic Jim Hoberman sent ripples through the review community -- and rightly so. Over the last three decades on staff at the Village Voice, Hoberman brought a unique lens to the moviegoing experience, informed and academic but never esoteric. (His top-10 list this year, for instance, was a merry mix of cineaste pleasures like “Hugo” and “Melancholia” and challenging art pieces such as “Mysteries of Lisbon” and “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives.”) 

He was also one of the last professional film intellectuals, a staff writer who earned a living wage by writing about films because he thought them important and interesting, not because they happened to be opening that week.

Here’s hoping he lands on his feet. In the meantime, we offer a telling (but by no means exhaustive) sampling of some of his more memorable observations on popular films.

On the trenchancy of a certain Jim Carrey movie: "'The Truman Show' suggests that stardom too can be rationally produced. This spoof of what Mark Crispin Miller dubbed our National Entertainment State is a scenario that mixes the 1984 nightmare of absolute surveillance with the notion of an idiot-audience hooked on the vicarious thrills of virtual reality (or what André Bazin called the Myth of Total Cinema)."

On the appeal of “The Three Amigos": "A trio of costumed washed-up Western stars coping with Mexico circa 1916 in this good naturedly dopey and totally disarming Reagan era comedy, predicated on the notion that life is a movie -- or should be.”

On the structure of Lars von Trier’s new work: "'Melancholia's' first five minutes are like a formal invitation to the end of the world; the next two hours allow you to live through the run-up. We are all ultimately alone, and yet this thrillingly sad, beautiful movie dares to imagine (and insists we do as well) the one event that might bring us all together.”

On the Hitler overtones in "Nutcracker 3-D": “The wildest thing about this movie is its faith that what kids (and parents) really want for Christmas is a Nutcracker version of the Final Solution."

On the derivativeness of a certain star-heavy threequel: "'Ocean's Thirteen,' Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney's latest remake of Frank Sinatra's rat pack Vegas caper, the essence of curdled ring-a-ding-ding, is the surest bet in showbiz. It's a spectacle blatantly predicated on a smug gaggle of mega movie stars in boss threads ostentatiously having fun by pretending to steal the house's money, while actually taking yours. See it if you must, but don't forget to pack the Air Wick. These breezy doings are mustier than a Glitter Gulch casino at 4 a.m."

-- Steven Zeitchik and Julie Makinen


Photo: Jim Hoberman. Credit: Village Voice Media


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