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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Mila Kunis

After four years, Universal returns to CinemaCon with A-listers in tow

April 26, 2012 |  9:01 pm

LAS VEGAS -- Universal Pictures hasn't brought a slate of films to CinemaCon for four years, but this year the studio pulled out all the stops at the exhibitors convention, teasing 10 movies from its slate and putting on a star-studded presentation with more big names than any other studio, including Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron and John Travolta.

The footage included scenes from Oliver Stone's "Savages" and "The Bourne Legacy" starring Jeremy Renner; a teaser of "Les Misérables" with Anne Hathaway singing "I Dreamed a Dream"; and a glimpse of the recently delayed Keanu Reeves action flick "47 Ronin."

"Snow White & The Huntsman" received one of the more enthusiastic responses from the audience, who were visibly excited to see Stewart, Theron, director Rupert Sanders and producer Joe Roth emerge from backstage.

Studio chairman Adam Fogelson emphasized that choosing first-time feature director Sanders to helm the film was an unorthodox movie, saying it was "a pretty big risk to hand a movie of this size over to somewhat of a rookie."

Sanders said he was intrigued by the project because the Snow White fairy tale has long been his favorite, describing it as "the least princessy, least pink one" of the folklore tales.

Stewart, who seemed somewhat uncomfortable in front of the large audience, tapped her leg slightly as she called the film the "perfect choice for me. It was something to prove myself in," the "Twilight" veteran said.

Theron, who plays the film's evil queen, said that once the filmmaking team agreed with her vision to take the character "balls to the wall," she agreed to sign on.

"I didn't realize it'd be my balls," Sanders quipped.

The presentation only got more vulgar once "Family Guy" creator Seth McFarlane came out to promote "Ted," the summer comedy starring Mark Wahlberg and a talking teddy bear. The film's trailer has already created an immense amount of buzz in recent weeks, but McFarlane insisted the film has as much heart as it does raunch.

"Despite the tonnage of the language, it actually has a fairy tale undertone that permeates it," he said.


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

CinemaCon: Ang Lee's 3-D 'Life of Pi' inspires early Oscar talk

'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' director: U.S. films losing voice

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: Kristen Stewart stars in "Snow White & The Huntsman." Credit: Universal Pictures

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


'Friends with Benefits': The romcom takes a postmodern turn

July 26, 2011 |  1:13 pm

Photo: Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake in "Friends with Benefits." Credit: Screen Gems The horror movie reached a notable evolutionary point in 1996: That was the year "Scream" came out, and, as even casual fans of the iconic Ghostface Killah will remember, it cheekily built a horror movie out of parts of other horror movies.

The operative word, of course, was cheekily -- not only did Kevin Williamson's script borrow liberally from many horror movies that came before, but it also poked fun at all the things it was borrowing. Spoof movies, of course, were nothing new, but Williamson added a twist, constructing a new entry in a genre at the same time he was tearing that genre down.

"Scream" came to mind when watching "Friends with Benefits," and not just during Justin Timberlake's rapping scenes. Among the film's many one-liners are jokes about the romantic comedy itself. Timberlake and on-screen partner Mila Kunis watch a sappy movie-within-a-movie about a young couple in love (played to rip-your-eyes-out perfection by Jason Segel and Rashida Jones). They joke about the way romantic comedies artificially use end-credit music to give a sense of closure. They even poke fun at the hoariness of the moment-of-truth-climactic scene -- while they're in the middle of one.

Unlike "(500) Days of Summer," a mutation that attempted to take the genre in a more authentic direction, Will Gluck's "Friends" recombines the romcom DNA in a different and more self-critical way.  "Friends with Benefits" is a romantic comedy that's about had it with romantic comedies.

Reviewers (and even cast members such as Richard Jenkins, with whom we had an interesting post-screening conversation last week) have compared Kunis and Timberlake to Hepburn and Tracy, thanks to the ease and speed of their banter. But whatever its throwback qualities, "Friends with Benefits" really owes more to the 21st century trend toward self-reference.

"Friends" is not as obviously hammy as "Scream." On one level, Timberlake and Kunis want to be taken seriously as a movie couple, and indeed have all the trappings of movie coupledom: There's a grand romantic gesture at a major landmark, a fraught visit to the significant other's family and the obligatory mopey period to the strains of a sad song after a blown-out-of-proportion misunderstanding. But all the while, they're also getting in jibes at these romcom staples. It's a have-it-both-ways move, and one that raises a thorny question: Does professing knowledge of the cliches give you a pass to participate in them?

It remains to be seen whether audiences will think the "Scream" lite approach works for romantic comedies; "Friends" opened in third place to $18.5 million last weekend. ("Scream," incidentally, did less than $7 million on its opening weekend, but went on to gross more than $100 million in the U.S. alone.)

Williamson's movie slew horror sacred-cows like the endlessly resurrected villain and the never-ending franchise. Then it wound up taking some of those indulgences itself, coming out with its fourth installment earlier this year. Fans yawned, and the movie tallied less than half of what each of its three predecessors did. Apparently you can only go so far in pointing out the traps before you get swallowed up by them.


'Captain America' strong-arms 'Harry Potter'

The benefits of Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake sees more Will Gluck in his future

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake in "Friends with Benefits." Credit: Screen Gems

The benefits, such as they are, of Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake [Video]

March 18, 2011 |  2:29 pm

Screen Gems has released a trailer for "No Strings" -- er, "Friends with Benefits" -- the second movie about said topic in the space of six months. Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake, in turns somewhat less awards-y than their two prominent fall films, star in Will Gluck's July comedy.

The central F.W.B. relationship here seems less convincing than Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher's in “No Strings Attached," which is saying something. And Justin Timberlake trying broad comedy looks like an awkward fit, though the trailer makes sure to get in more than a few winking references to his singing career by incorporating shots of him doing some freestyle karaoke.

The material appears to be at its strongest when it's tossing out asides: Woody Harrelson as some kind of gay, free-love sidekick, or disses to current romcom queen Katherine Heigl. Or maybe it's just that we'd rather see anything other than movie characters wondering if they can have condition-free sex.


-- Steven Zeitchik



Justin Timberlake is focused on film

Crude spoils rude in No Strings Attached

Women help make No Strings Attached a winner


After 'Black Swan,' Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis go for some casual sex

December 3, 2010 | 12:40 pm

Nat2 In “Black Swan,” Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis essentially play the same character. Portman is Nina, a ballerina who has been cast as the lead in her company’s production of “Swan Lake” — but who begins to see different sides of herself reflected in Lily (Kunis), a carefree new cast member who is both rival and friend.

Coincidentally, the young actresses’ roles in separate romantic comedies out next year are also strikingly similar. Portman will star opposite Ashton Kutcher in “No Strings Attached” while Kunis is in “Friends With Benefits” with Justin Timberlake. As the films’ titles imply, both movies center on women who claim to want casual –- not serious -– romantic relationships.

The closest Portman has ever come to romantic comedy was 2004’s “Garden State” –- a low-budget film in which the protagonists are brought together by a mutual interest in indie music. The 29-year-old said she opted be a part of the more commercial “No Strings Attached” because of its attitude toward women.

“I love romantic comedies, but I never found one I actually wanted to be a part of -- they’re always geared towards marriage. That that’s every girl’s goal in life,” she said in a recent interview.

Continue reading »

Preview review: Girls just wanna have fun in 'Friends With Benefits' and 'No Strings Attached.' Or do they?

November 9, 2010 | 12:15 pm

Nsa2-1288906930 If a woman has sex with a man, she wants to be in a relationship with him.

At least that's the message that comes through loud and clear in new trailers for two of Hollywood's latest romantic comedies, "No Strings Attached" and "Friends With Benefits" — despite titles and an implicit promise suggesting the contrary. (Incidentally, "No Strings Attached" was also previously titled "Friends With Benefits.")

In "No Strings Attached," two friends (played by Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman) end up sleeping with each another after a years-long friendship. In keeping with the unwritten rules of romantic comedies, Portman's character is a workaholic doctor who doesn't have time for a relationship.

"I'm a doctor. I work 80 hours a week. I need someone who's gonna be in my bed at 2 a.m. who I don't have to eat breakfast with," she tells him. Later she suggests that some "ground rules" be established so that things don't get too serious: "No lying, no jealousy, don't list me as your emergency contact. I won't come."

But lo and behold, when Kutcher wants to get serious, she seems, at least judging by the trailer, to change her tune.

Meanwhile, in "Friends With Benefits," two friends (played by Justin Timberlake and  Mila Kunis, who, incidentally, stars opposite Portman in the upcoming "Black Swan") also decide to have sex after a years-long platonic relationship.

"It's just sex," Timberlake's character explains to a friend, played by Woody Harrelson. "That never works," Harrelson's character advises. Kunis too winds up embracing a relationship.

Real-life relationships are complicated, but in these movies, it seems, one rule applies: If a man wants to get serious, the woman is suddenly ready to get serious too.

We're seeing these types of stories more lately: A similar dynamic emerges between Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal's characters in Ed Zwick's November release, "Love and Other Drugs." But is Hollywood picking up a real relationship dynamic or just harping on the same old stereotype?

Check out the new trailers and let us know what you think.


— Amy Kaufman


Photo: Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher star in "No Strings Attached." Credit: Paramount.


Olivia Wilde will be Justin Timberlake's...mother?

Preview review: Darren Aronofsky does a pirouette

Preview review: 'Yogi Bear' may be a sandwich short of a full picnic basket

Preview review: Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl in 'Killers'

Preview review: Darren Aronofsky does a pirouette

August 17, 2010 |  6:25 pm

Blackswanportmanx-large Films set in the dance world inevitably contain an aspect of competition -- in movies like "Fame" and "Center Stage," everyone's vying for the lead role.

On the surface, Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" -- which will open the Venice Film Festival in a few weeks -- follows the same formula. Lots of pretty girls, only one precious spot.

But then things get considerably weirder.

The supernatural-tinged drama centers on Nina (Natalie Portman), a rising star on the New York City ballet scene. But when Lily (Mila Kunis) joins Nina's company, Nina feels that her prized role in a production of "Swan Lake" is threatened by Lily.

Or is it? The movie's trailer, like the buzz that preceded it, offers the tantalizing suggestion that what looks like a rivalry could be distorted considerably in Nina's own mind.Is Lily after her or is Nina, as Vincent Cassel's character says in the trailer, her own worst enemy?

From the ominous-sounding score to the black-and-white color scheme, the trailer has a sinister feel. Adding to the effect is the fact that that Portman and Kunis bear a strange resemblance -- both slight, with big, evocative eyes.

How far will Nina's trip to darker places go? The last scene in the trailer, where she plucks a tiny black feather from a cut in her back, both creeped us out and made us wonder how supernatural the film is going to get. Aronofsky is certainly switching gears here after his last effort, the acclaimed character drama "The Wrestler," although both movies are preoccupied with the toll the limelight can take on a performer.

It looks like "Black Swan" will indeed prove absorbing on a genre level. Potentially more intriguing, though, is what the movie has to say about the depths to which jealousy can root itself in the human psyche.

  --Amy Kaufman and Steven Zeitchik



Photo: Natalie Portman in "Black Swan." Credit: Fox Searchlight

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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.


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