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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Television

Cannes 2012: 'Gomorrah' director aims at sins of reality TV

May 18, 2012 |  4:39 am

Matteo Garrone, director of "Gomorrah," returns to the Cannes Film Festival with "Reality," an indictment of reality television
CANNES, France -- "The Hunger Games" author Suzanne Collins may have wanted to sound an alarm bell about reality television with her blockbuster trio of novels. But for those who believe a fascination with the unscripted is the province of pop entertainment, a foreign auteur at of the Cannes Film Festival wants us to know he has something to say about it too.

Matteo Garrone, the young Italian director who turned heads with his Scorsese-like portrayal of mob-infested Naples in 2008's "Gomorrah," returns to Cannes with a very un-Scorsese-like film, "Reality," a dramatic satire that premiered to reporters at a packed screening here Friday morning.

The new Italian-language feature shifts gears quite a bit from the blood-spattered mercilessness of "Gomorrah." It tells of Luciano (Aniello Arena), a 40-ish married father of three who, after seeing a reality star at a family wedding, becomes fixated on the idea of appearing on the Italian edition of Big Brother ("Grande Fratello" in the local parlance, which somehow has a classier ring to it).

At first it's clearly a money issue, as Luciano dreams of how the series can take him from the life of a small-time fish vendor and hustler straight to Easy Street. But after getting a callback audition, Luciano's "Big Brother" interest starts to becomes an obsession for its own sake, driving him to acts of ever-greater desperation. 

Convinced, for instance, that he is being spied on by casting directors for the show, he begins giving away his possessions in the hope that the directors will see him as a good person and come to assign him a slot. (Luciano's delusions about what reality television producers are actually looking for is a form of satire in its own right.)

As Luciano's increasingly horrified family looks on, he becomes more certain he will end up on the program, even maintaining the belief after the show begins its new season with all the contestants -- notably younger, hotter and crazier -- already in place.

Though the film seems unmistakably like a parable about, and an indictment of, a larger social obsession, Garrone begged off that reading in a post-screening news conference.

"This is a tale of just one person. One shouldn't draw conclusions about other things," he said, adding, "This isn't a story that's typical of a whole country or society. ... We shot the film without trying to be critical in any way."

The director did say he waited four years to make a new film because "after 'Gomorrah' I was looking for a subject that would be as powerful ... and I was heading straight into a brick wall.”

Like "Gomorrah," Garrone returns to the distinct streets of Naples for his new work, though he is much more interested this time around in the subconscious insecurities of everyday people than the subterranean life of mob hit men.

"Gomorrah" was a sensation at Cannes four years ago, winning buckets of plaudits with its many fractured story lines (and bones) as well as a major prize from the festival. When the foreign-language Oscar committee later left the film off its shortlist, the snub was so great that it prompted a rule change the following year.

Garrone's new film may too low-key and human to stir that kind of passion. But its tale of a man slowly descending into madness as a result of reality television will resonate with anyone who has ever studied contemporary pop culture, or turned on the E! network.


Cannes 2012: Is Roman Polanski seeking some image rehab?

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Cannes 2012: Moonrise Kingdom aims to restore Wes Anderson's crown

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: A scene from "Reality." Credit: Fandango

Oscar voters: How some TV veterans made it into the academy

February 22, 2012 |  4:36 pm

William Link: Oscar voter

In 1971, writer-producer William Link gave a 24-year-old named Steven Spielberg one of his earliest directing jobs, an episode of the TV show “Columbo.” The production required some managerial finesse—when the crime show’s veteran cinematographer balked at Spielberg’s youth, Link placated the worried crewman with a box of Cuban cigars.

Nearly 40 years later, Link, now 78, still feels a bond with Spielberg, and he just cast a vote for the director’s latest film, “War Horse,” in Oscar’s best picture race.

Link is one of a dozens of members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences better known for their work in television than in film -- others include Oprah Winfrey, CBS chief executive Les Moonves, the producer of the Charlie Brown TV specials, the costume designer from many “Star Trek” shows and former “Patty Duke Show” patriarch William Schallert.

Oscar voters studyMany of these members have a film credit or two under their belts—Winfrey was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in 1985’s “The Color Purple,” for instance—but they found their greatest successes on the small screen. Most of them joined when Hollywood maintained a rigid caste system between TV and film, but the academy itself was more permeable.

Today, the line between film and TV has blurred, as “movie stars” like Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman and Claire Danes play high-profile roles on cable, but that wasn’t the case 20 to 30 years ago, and still television figures became academy members with regularity.

“When we came to Hollywood, TV was considered this elementary channel to go into feature films,” said Link, who is the co-creator, with his partner Richard Levinson, of “Columbo,” “Murder, She Wrote” and several made-for-TV movies. Together they wrote the screenplay for the 1980 Steve McQueen movie “The Hunter” under the pseudonym Ted Leighton and joined the academy in the early 1980s.

“Movies was Nirvana. That was El Dorado. There was a snobbery about the TV business. We wanted to get into films, but we saw that film was a director's medium. In TV, as writers, we had final cut. TV really became our medium.”

Some members who came from the TV world had high-ranking benefactors in the academy.
In 1972, Schallert played the judge in the movie “The Trial of the Catonsville 9,” a political passion project of its producer, then academy president Gregory Peck.

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Would you pay $60 to watch Eddie Murphy from home? [Poll]

October 5, 2011 |  4:14 pm


My colleague Ben Fritz has just posted this bombshell: Comcast-owned Universal has decided to make this fall's Eddie Murphy-Ben Stiller comedy "Tower Heist" available via on-demand three weeks after it's released on Nov. 4.  You'll have to pay $59.99, and you'll have to live in Atlanta or Portland, Ore., where the program is being piloted, but if you do (and have Comcast), you'll be able to see the movie without leaving your home.

The move represents a major step in the increasingly dynamic, and complicated, relationship between theatrical and television viewing. As Fritz writes, the experiment "marks the first time a major studio movie will be available to watch in-home while still playing in thousands of theaters."

Universal's choice of film seems carefully calculated. This isn't so small a movie that no one will pay for it. But a Brett Ratner comedy is not such a major filmgoing event that it will rankle theater owners in the way that, say, an "Avatar" or "Harry Potter" might. (The fact that it will be available on the fourth  weekend, after harder-core fans will no doubt already have bought tickets to see it, might also ease the sting, though theater owners could very well yet respond by pulling the film from theaters in those cities.)

All of this means that the results of the theaters-versus-television experiment won't be as conclusive as if this were, say, a guaranteed blockbuster that hit television the same weekend. And 60 bucks ain't cheap. Sure, pay-per-view wrestling gets away with it, but that's a live event you can't see anywhere else.

Still, the effect is to lower the limbo bar. A few months ago, studios tried a program with DirecTV that allowed television viewers to see movies like "Sucker Punch" 60 days after they came out (for $30). Now we're at three weeks. The next time, a studio may try two weeks, or sooner. The big question is whether people will pony up for it. Would you?



Tower Heist to hit video on-demand three weeks after theatrical release

Tower Heist: A clue to this year's Oscars?

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Tower Heist." Credit: Universal Pictures.

Is the 'Arrested Development' movie real?

October 3, 2011 |  4:21 pm

Arrested Development

Is the "Arrested Development" movie really happening? The breathless reports over the weekend (we won't name names) suggest that plenty of news outlets believe the answer is yes: A movie uniting Michael Cera, Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Bateman and the rest of the cast from the beloved TV show will shoot next year, along with a batch of television episodes.

The reports originated from series' creator Mitchell Hurwitz, who told an audience at the New Yorker Festival on Sunday that he was, well, working on the script.

"We're 80% of the way to an answer. We don't completely own the property; there are business people involved and studios," he said of potential Bluthian adventures. "But just creatively, I have been working on the screenplay for a long time."

That doesn't sound like an emphatic statement, even from the man who's most invested in making a movie happen.

Continue reading »

Golly 'Glee': Can the TV hit succeed on the big screen?

August 10, 2011 |  6:02 pm


There are millions of "Glee" viewers out there, obsessing over every secret crush, cover song and guest star with the zeal of a, well, Gleek. But how many of them will pay 3-D ticket prices to see the musical numbers they see for free on TV every Tuesday night on a big screen?

That's the essential question facing "Glee: The 3D Concert Movie," the documentary featuring Rachel, Brittany, Finn and the rest of the fictional McKinley High crew. As we explore in a story in tomorrow's Times, Fox is hoping that the Ryan Murphy show translates to the multiplex when the movie opens this weekend.

The company will have its work cut out for it, though. Few network series have been able to transition successfully to the big screen, particularly so early in their life -- when "The Simpsons" did it, the series had been on the air nearly two decades.

And concert movies have a mixed track record at the box office. Even February’s Justin Bieber 3-D concert film “Never Say Never,” which grossed more than $73 million, featured plenty of biographical footage from its star's personal life, something that's absent here.

Instead, the "Glee" movie, directed by Kevin Tancharoen, is focused on the performances themselves along with, via cutaways, the fans who say their lives have changed as a result of loving the series. And if you think you can grasp some of the film's details if you're not a Gleek, you might want to reconsider: The movie thrusts you right into the dressing room and on the stage with little setup about the characters.


Marketing 'Glee' the concert movie

As it seeks a big-event feel, Glee 3-D adds advance screenings

Show Tracker: Complete 'Glee' coverage

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Glee: The 3D Concert Movie" Credit: 20th Century Fox


A 'Father Knows Best' movie, by way of 'Baby Mama'

April 14, 2011 |  3:23 pm


EXCLUSIVE: "Father Knows Best" may seem like a paragon of 1950s Americana, but Fox-based production company New Regency believes there's an update to be found in the classic sitcom.

The firm has been developing a new version of the story for the big screen. Now producers are set to bring on Michael McCullers, director of "Baby Mama," to write a new draft and direct the updated version of the comedy, according to a person who was briefed on the production but not authorized to speak about it publicly. A Fox spokeswoman declined to comment.

When the project was first announced, news accounts described it as telling a multi-generational story about a father of a suburban family with a modern parenting approach who's thrown for a loop when his own father, with a different attitude, comes to live with them. (The debate, then, is over which father knows best.) The film is expected to look at the evolving nature of the American family the way the initial television series did with an emerging suburban middle class more than half a century ago.

McCullers' previous work, of course, deals with another parenting issue -- surrogate motherhood -- though it also engages in questions of modern parenthood. The director is also a "Saturday Night Live" veteran who wrote several of the "Austin Powers" movies.

The original "Father Knows Best" began as a radio program in 1949 and morphed into a television series that ran from 1954 to 1960, starring Robert Young and Jane Wyatt. It told of the Andersons, an idyllic family (two parents, three children) in which Dad, an insurance agent, patiently offers sage advice that nearly always helps his children.

The on-screen Midwestern family has been updated and updated over the years with families that are somewhat less than perfect, from "Roseanne" and "Married ... With Children" 20 years ago to ABC's current dysfunctional-family comedy "The Middle."

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Father Knows Best." Credit: Screen Gems / Kobal Collection

With his new PBS show, Roger Ebert goes alternative

January 4, 2011 |  1:13 pm


Roger Ebert may embody the film-critic establishment, but he's going young and anti-establishment with some of the personalities on his new "Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies."

The man who helped make movie reviews a spectator sport announced Tuesday that he's hired Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, a little-known 24-year-old Chicago critic, to replace Elvis Mitchell in the co-host chair of his new PBS show, which debuts in a little over two weeks. The critic will share the screen with the Associated Press' Christy Lemire, who was named to the spot several months ago.

Vishnevetsky (screen name: Iggy Vish?) is an essayist at the cinephile site Mubi.com, contributor to the alternative weekly Chicago Reader and a programmer for a University of Chicago film series. Ebert said in a statement that he heard the young reviewer talking about films at a Chicago screening, where he was "struck by the depth and detail of his film knowledge, and by how articulate he was."

Although he had approached older, more recognizable print critics for the gig, Ebert seems to have resolved to usher in a new era of movie reviewing, alluding in his statement to an "explosion of great online film criticism." In some ways, it's the kind of gamble that Disney made on Ebert's replacement several years ago when it went young with Ben Lyons -- although where Lyons was a red-carpet guy at E!, Vishnevetsky is his spiritual opposite, coming out of the film-geek community the Web has made possible.

Ebert also announced that the show will feature contributions from, among others, political pundit Jeff Greenfield and Los Angeles film-blog presence David Poland -- as well as Omar Moore, a San Francisco attorney who runs the movie site The Popcorn Reel, and Kim Morgan, the editor of MSN's The Hitlist who also is behind an an irreverent film-nerd blog called Sunset Gun. Your father's "At the Movies" this ain't.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert of "Siskel & Ebert At the Movies." Credit: Tribune Broadcasting


Roger Ebert's new show hits the weekend airwaves next month

Roger Ebert will bring film debate to PBS







A new 'Buffy: the Vampire Slayer' takes a small step toward the big screen

November 22, 2010 |  2:22 pm


"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" began as a film and then became a hugely successful TV show. Now it's returning to its roots.

The hit WB series, now off the air for seven years, is coming back as a movie courtesy of a young writer named Whit Anderson, who will write the movie for the producers of "The Dark Knight."

The original 1992 movie, which series creator Joss Whedon also wrote, was more of a spoof than the series and its more substantial vampire tales. As our colleague Geoff Boucher tells us in an exclusive story at our sister Hero Complex blog, Anderson was a fan of the show, so expect some of the darker themes — and humor — of the series to be present here.

There will be an interesting piece of timing in all this — the "Twilight" franchise is entering a heady homestretch, with the final movies scheduled for fall 2011 and 2012. "Buffy" in many ways laid the groundwork for that franchise but with a lot less of the doe-eyed romance that the Bella-Edward chornicles favor. So it will be interesting to see if "Buffy" can come back and thrive at a time when many younger filmgoers, at least, associate vampire movies with said romance.

It's worth noting that Joss Whedon, off working on all things "Avengers," won't be involved in the new film. And the project sounds a long ways away from casting, though the question of who will play Buffy will be an interesting one too. (Sarah Michelle Gellar, at 33, is probably a bit too past her slay-by date.)

If the movie does get made, it would complete a neat movie-TV-movie circle. And at a time when every classic and modern television series has been made, or could soon get made, into a movie, here's one fans would genuinely want — but would they want it without Whedon?

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: 'Buffy: the Vampire Slayer.' Credit: Justin Lubin/20th Centiry Fox.


Meet the writer of the new 'Buffy: the Vampire Slayer'


Joaquin Phoenix returns to David Letterman, this time with a different goal

September 22, 2010 | 10:54 pm

 The last time Joaquin Phoenix was on "The Late Show With David Letterman," he said little but grabbed a lot of the spotlight. This time he said a little bit more, but with his polite, gum-less guise, it was Letterman making the most of the airtime as Phoenix came on ostensibly to promote his fauxumentary "I'm Still Here." (Video hopefully coming soon.)

Phoenix was well-behaved and deferential, saying he was sorry -- and, perhaps, just a tad surprised that Letterman didn't catch on the first time.

"You've interviewed many people, and I assumed that you would know the difference between a character and a real person. But I apologize. I didn't – I hope I didn't offend you in any way." (Unclear is why Phoenix didn't just tell him on the spot, or right after the fact, just as he did some of the other entertainers who appeared in "I'm Still Here.")

There was a surprising amount of attention paid by the pair Wednesday night to demonstrating that Letterman was not in on the joke  ("Did I know anything about this," he asked Phoenix, who replied with a "No," the first of several such assurances.) That's probably as much for Letterman's sake as the actor's. It doesn't serve the host to have the implication hanging out there -- as this writer's comments essentially does -- that he's in cahoots with a guest to put one over on the audience.

But then, inexplicably, Letterman went in the opposite direction -- that he smelled a rat. He acknowledged that Phoenix took off his glasses as they were going to commercial and reverted to his normal, non-zoned-out personality, to Affleck's chagrin. And of Phoenix's rap career, he said, "Frankly, when I heard about it later, I was surprised that anybody had believed it." So he did know about it? He sort of thought he knew but he wasn't officially let in on it? (But then wouldn't he have asked Joaquin's reps what was going on?) It spins your head in almost as many directions as, well, Casey Affleck's appearance on Jay Leno the previous night.

Continue reading »

Hollywood falls for 'The Fall Guy': Lee Majors series is latest reboot candidate

July 1, 2010 |  7:55 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Fans of 1980s action series (and Hollywood stuntmen), take heed. "The Fall Guy" is coming for you.

Hollywood uber-producer Walter Parkes and DreamWorks are working on a reboot of the 1980s action hit "The Fall Guy," say sources. It's early development, but look for a writer to come on board soon and devise a way to bring the action hero to the big screen.

"The Fall Guy," which was created by action maven Glen A. Larson and starred Lee Majors, aired from 1981 to 1986 on ABC. Fans of classic action shows — and those of us who grew up on '80s TV — will remember the conceit: Majors played Colt Seavers, a Hollywood stuntman by day and bounty hunter by night. He often incorporated his stunts into his bounty-hunting, flying vehicles (his trademark large pickup especially) over large objects, jumping from impossibly high angles and doing other things '80s heroes did to nab the people they were chasing. Heather Thomas co-starred and often got into trouble with him.

Action series from the 1980s have been coming in waves to the movie world: "The Dukes of Hazard" hit six years ago, "The A-Team" just hit, "The Equalizer" is being developed for Russell Crowe as a possible starring vehicle, and MacGyver (the real one, not the satire) is moving forward apace. The producers of "Hardcastle & McCormick" must be chomping at the bit.

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: The Fall Guy. Credit: 20th Century Fox Home Video


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