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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The Hurt Locker

'Hurt Locker' lawsuit thrown out by court

October 13, 2011 |  2:14 pm


"The Hurt Locker" has defused a bomb, with a judge throwing out a case filed by a U.S. serviceman who claimed the 2010 best picture winner had appropriated his story.

Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver had filed suit in the winter of 2010 against Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal claiming that the film, which Bigelow directed from Boal's screenplay, used significant details from Sarver's name and likeness in portraying the adrenalized bomb-disposal expert Will James (Jeremy Renner). It also claimed that the movie defamed Sarver with the James character.

Boal had spent time with Sarver when reporting an article for Playboy; the writer was embedded with Sarver's unit in Iraq and also interviewed him back in the U.S.

On Thursday, however, U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Nguyen dismissed the clam.

In issuing her ruling, Nguyen said that there were significant changes to the character, which meets the legal requirement that an on-screen depiction of a real-life person be "transformative." And she dismissed the defamation charge by engaging in a bit of film analysis, saying that the James character was not nearly as negative as the claim alleged.

"Plaintiff alleges that he is defamed because Will James is portrayed as a bad father who does not love his son. However, the Court does not agree with Plaintiff’s characterization of Will James as a man who does not love his son. In The Hurt Locker, Will James keeps photos of his son with him in Iraq and is shown visiting his wife and child while on leave from duty."

She further wrote that she found "no support in the movie for Plaintiff’s allegation that he is portrayed as a man who had no respect or compassion for human life. To the contrary, The Hurt Locker depicts Will James as having compassion for the Iraqi citizens whose lives are affected by the war," citing James' playing soccer with a young Iraqi boy.

Responding to the announcement, Boal released a statement saying that the film "was inspired by many soldiers I met and interviewed during my time reporting in Iraq and elsewhere. It was a disservice to all of those other soldiers for Sgt. Sarver to claim that he was the only soldier that was the basis for the hero of the film."

The suit called attention to the thorny world of fact-based films, a growing class of movies that sometimes run into problems when subjects come forward to challenge the version of events portrayed by the movies.

After the ruling, Jeremiah Reynolds, attorney for Boal and Bigelow, said that the decision "is a huge victory for all filmmakers who should feel comfortable using real-life events as inspiration for their films.

"No artist," he added, "should ever be forced to create entire fictional worlds that have no basis in reality simply because they fear the threat of meritless lawsuits.”

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jeremy Renner in "The Hurt Locker." Credit: Summit Entertainment

Could 'Kill Bin Laden' affect the 2012 presidential election?

July 29, 2011 |  9:45 am

The debt-ceiling crisis may still be on the minds of voters when they head to the polls to choose a president 15 months from now. But on Thursday Sony threw a more subtle monkey wrench into the contest when it announced that it would release "Kill Bin Laden," Kathryn Bigelow's movie starring Joel Edgerton about the American efforts to kill the terrorist leader, on Oct. 12, 2012.

Whether purposeful or merely convenient, the choice has the potential to shade what will already be a fraught moment. The film will come out just 25 days before Americans head to the polls to elect a president -- meaning that "Kill Bin Laden," which reunites Bigelow with her "Hurt Locker" screenwriter Mark Boal, will likely still be in both movie theaters and in the cultural conversation when we next choose a leader.

On its face, and no doubt in the formulation of studio marketers, "Bin Laden" is a movie that sits above politics, an ideology-free "thriller" about a dangerous mission undertaken by strong-stomached heroes. But even though we don't yet know the still-gestating film’s level of political explicitness, it's impossible to separate many of the Navy SEAL moments from a real-world storyline. "Kill Bin Laden," which began life as a tale about the 2002 mission in the caves of Tora Bora, now will doubtless get a happy coda with the terrorist leader's assassination in May. That means that the film could overlap with not one but two political periods.

The original mission was carried out by a team sent by President George W. Bush that failed to capture the Al Qaeda leader in the months after Sept. 11, 2001. The second, of course, was the result of a strike force authorized by President Obama that successfully targeted the terrorist mastermind. In an election that is shaping up to be a test of Obama's effectiveness at home and abroad, Bigelow and Boal's movie will offer all kinds of cinematic reminders of real world questions that we’ll already be grappling with.

Continue reading »

Oscar video: Who will win best picture, best original screenplay and other tight races?

March 7, 2010 |  7:00 am

With the Oscars just hours away, it's anyone's guess who will win...well, some of the awards. Best actor, best director and both supporting actor categories seem like slam dunks. But best actress, best picture and best original screenplay are still a bigger tossup than an NCAA jump ball. The Times' John Horn and Steven Zeitchik bat the rock around.

"Avatar," "Locker," "Basterds": The state of the race

In Hollywood, female film directors are still the exception

Bullock campaigns, Streep takes the 5th

As Oscar ceremony approaches, the picture is unclear

Stars may be aligned for improved Oscar ratings

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?

Predicting Oscar: Best bets for best picture

March 5, 2010 |  7:00 am

GraphicMuch like erratic swings in the stock market, the fates and fortunes of films in the Oscar race rise and fall with each passing awards show and critic's top 10 list.

A closer look at the winners from the film awards handed out so far this season would seem to indicate a clear favorite for best picture at the Academy Awards on Sunday: "The Hurt Locker."

The Kathryn Bigelow-directed film has been nominated by each of eight major industry guilds and critics groups that we looked at for the chart at left -- and it won half of the top honors.

The next closest competitor: "Up in the Air," with two wins and nominations from all but one group.

"Precious," "Inglourious Basterds" and "Avatar," ranked by number of nominations by the eight groups, round out the top five in the newly expanded field of 10 best picture nominees.

Down at the bottom of the list, with no nods among the eight groups: "The Blind Side," starring acting nominee Sandra Bullock. But just like the whims of the financial markets, you can never count a movie out until the final bell sounds.

-- Brady MacDonald


L.A. Times reviews of the 10 best picture nominees:

* The Hurt Locker
* Up in the Air
* Precious
* Inglourious Basterds
* Avatar
* An Education
* A Serious Man
* Up
* District 9
* The Blind Side

L.A. Times award show coverage:
* Critics' Choice
* Producers Guild
* National Board of Review
* Golden Globes
* Directors Guild
* Writers Guild
* Screen Actors Guild
* American Film Institute

Why can't the Oscars get Americans to see dramas?

March 3, 2010 |  4:43 pm

Even more than they love than ice cream and puppies, people love an Oscar bounce. The bounce -- that phenomenon in which the very fact of a nomination gets audiences buying tickets -- is loved by studios because it validates all the money they spent trying to get a nomination. The Oscars love the bounce, because it validates the event's importance as more than just a bunch of people in penguin suits handing trophies to each other. And audiences, well, OK, audiences don't necessarily care about them. But they are affected by them.

The past few years have brought a fair share of Oscar bounces, as films like "Juno," Million Dollar Baby" and "Chicago" earned $80 million or more after their nominations. Last year brought one of the superballs of Oscar bounces, "Slumdog Millionaire," which earned $97 million after the nominations were announced, a number that constituted more than two-thirds of its domestic total.

But this year has brought nothing on this order; indeed, there have been deflated basketballs with more bounce than awards movies. Blockbusters like "Avatar" didn't need (or get) one. The dark dramas needed one, but couldn't come up with the goods "An Education" and "Precious" barely could scrounge up more than $1 million or $2 million after they landed on the shortlists Feb. 2. Other films, like "The Hurt Locker" and "A Serious Man," didn't even try; they'd left theaters by the time nominations were announced and hoped to reap whatever benefit they could on DVD.

There's one notable exception in "Crazy Heart." Scott Cooper's country-ditty of a film wasn't even supposed to come out this year -- Fox Searchlight moved it up from the spring when it realized it would lose Jeff Bridges and his promotional efforts to the set of "True Grit." And yet the movie's earned nearly $20 million of its $25-million total since the nominations came out. The film's still going strong, widening this weekend to 1300 theaters three months after it was first released.

Part of this success has to do with the distribution savvy of Fox Searchlight, which is behind some of the bigger bounces of the past few years (including "Juno" and "Slumdog"). The company understands the map of the United States like an FBI on a manhunt, pinpointing exactly which areas to zoom in on, and when. ("Crazy Heart" has also helped offset the struggles the company had with two films earlier in the fall, "Amelia" and "Whip It").Crazy

But at least some of the "Crazy Heart" performance is due to a more specific reason -- older Americans. The company has seen spikes in places with older populations like performance in cities in Florida. Even though the R-rated movie concentrates on a  washed-up alcoholic who's near made a mess of his life, there's something about the pacing of the film, the story of redemption and Bridges himself that's resonating with he AARP set -- confounding the expectations of Searchlight itself.

 “Bridges is sort of an antihero in the movie, and he’s smoking and drinking, so we weren’t sure how it would play with audiences over [the ages of] 50 or 60,” Fox Searchlight president Stephen Gilula says. "But there’s so much good will for Bridges and his filmography. This is an actor who has been working for four decades. I think a lot of older people want to see his achievement in this film.”

As for the other movies, box office experts have given plenty of reasons why the pictures failed -- the movies opened too soon, the field was too crowded, audiences found too many quality blockbusters. But it's an odd trend. For years we heard that people were paying less attention to he Oscars and its movies because the field didn't feature the crowd pleasers. Now that it does, we're told, people aren't paying attention to some of the more upscale awards movies because they're distracted by the blockbusters. A rising tide, apparently, provides no bounce.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photos (top). Mo'Nique in "Precious." Credit: Lionsgate. Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart." Credit: Lorey Sebastian/Fox Searchlight

Nicolas Chartier's behavior is even weirder than you thought

March 3, 2010 |  2:42 pm

One of the curious tidbits to emerge from the filing of a Michigan lawsuit by Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver -- a soldier who claims defamation, invasion of privacy and other offenses against "The Hurt Locker" -- is the below e-mail from embattled "Hurt Locker" producer Nicolas Chartier.

Chartier is responding to a lawyer for Sarver, who was forwarding correspondence between the production and the soldier.

We could offer comment on the many oddities of Chartier's reply -- not least of which is the fact that the cited "Will James" is, of course, the main character in his film -- but all jokes would be redundant. We've yet to hear back from Chartier.

-- Steven Zeitchik


From: Nicolas Chartier
Sent: Tuesday, December 22, 2009 8:07 PM
To: Todd Weglarz
Subject: RE: Sgt Sarver / The Hurt Locker

Hi I’m sorry I’ve never heard of sergeant sarver/will james. I don’t understand is he an actor named will james or jeffrey sarver, I just looked on internet movie database and neither are in the film. I can google but maybe you can tell me who is he and why he’s not happy? Everyone says it’s one of the best movies of the year, did he just not like the popcorn when he watched the movie? I haven’t taken any grossly unfair action against him, I’ve never heard of him. what negative impact, who’s that man? Did I steal his girlfriend? Never heard of him.

best regards,
Nicolas Chartier
Voltage Pictures, LLC

From: Todd Weglarz
Sent: Tuesday, December 22, 2009 4:53 PM
To: Nicolas Chartier
Subject: Sgt Sarver / The Hurt Locker
Importance: High

Dear Mr. Chartier:

Attached please find correspondence regarding Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver (“Will James”) & The Hurt Locker. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Oscars bar the door to Chartier -- UPDATED

March 2, 2010 |  4:31 pm

Don't look for Nicolas Chartier reaction or podium shots at the Oscars on Sunday. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has taken the modest, if still notable, step of docking the "Hurt Locker" producer's tickets to the Kodak Theatre. The decision comes on the heels of Chartier sending out an e-mail message to a group that includes Academy members asking voters to choose "The Hurt Locker" for best picture over the "$500 million" film, i.e., "Avatar."

"Nicolas Chartier has been denied attendance at the 82nd Academy Awards as a penalty for violating Academy campaigning standards. Chartier had recently disseminated an email to certain Academy voters and other film industry figures in which he solicited votes for his own picture and disparaged one of the other contending films," the Academy said in a statement Tuesday. "The executive committee of the Academy’s Producers Branch, at a special session late Monday, ruled that the ethical lapse merited the revocation of Chartier’s invitation to the Awards."

The ruling stops short of the more draconian measure of making the film ineligible for best picture. But the docking is nonetheless significant -- it marks the first time in recent memory that tickets have been taken away from a nominee. Chartier was not immediately available for comment.

[UPDATED, 6:26 PM: The Academy confirms that this is the first time a specific nominee has ever been barred (studios have had their ticket allotment reduced, as Sony Pictures Classics did for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in 2001. The group also says that Chartier will also not be allowed in as any other nominee's guest. Meanwhile, on another "Hurt Locker" front, our colleague Patrick Goldstein has just posted a story about a potential lawsuit from the soldier who says the movie was based on his experiences. You can read that story here.]

Full statement after the jump.

Continue reading »

L.A. Times week in Hollywood (February 25, 2010)

February 26, 2010 |  2:23 pm

A busy week in Hollywood as Kevin Smith, the recent subject of Fatgate, releases a new movie; horror flick "The Crazies" tries to pretend it's an environmental jeremiad; and "The Hurt Locker" copes with scrutiny from the military and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science.

The Los Angeles Times' John Horn and Steven Zeitchik do their best Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott impressions as they take on the week in moviedom.


Kevin Smith's pre-'Fatgate' admission: 'I broke a toilet.'

Kevin Smith to go Silent Bob on Southwest incident?

Overture goes crazy at 'Crazies' event

'The Hurt Locker' sets off conflict

Could 'The Hurt Locker' be disqualified from the Oscars because of an intemperate e-mail?

February 25, 2010 |  2:18 pm

With a controversial e-mail from a producer of "The Hurt Locker" kicking up dust, Oscar season once again has a case of public mudslinging on its hands. But for all the messiness, it may result in little more than the loss of a few party tickets.

Late last week, "The Hurt Locker" producer Nicolas Chartier sent an e-mail to a group of peers and friends, at least some of whom are members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, asking them to vote for "The Hurt Locker" and "not the $500 million film" -- in other words, "Avatar." But after the e-mail came to light this week, Chartier, a first-timer to the rigors of the awards circuit, sent out a message apologizing for his initial e-mail, citing his "naivete, ignorance of the rules and plain stupidity."

Academy rules clearly bar campaigning that creates a negative impression of another film. And though  whispering about a rival is common, an e-mail making a flat appeal for one film by deriding another, for budgetary or any other reasons, would almost certainly be out of bounds.

Although the eventual impact of Chartier's indie-first argument on voters is unclear -- the Academy historically has liked movies that were box-office successes -- the effect on the Academy itself, and the film, could be more tangible.

The Academy, which learned of the e-mail this week, is looking into various forms of discipline, with the group's executive administrator Ric Robertson spearheading the decision process. The "nuclear option," as one consultant put it, would be to remove the film from best picture contention.

But there's almost no chance the group would do that, according to those familiar with the Academy's voting process. At the most, it would take away Chartier's Oscar tickets -- a slap on the wrist, to be sure, but also an interesting twist, given that Chartier had to wage a battle with the Academy to be included as a producer in the first place. (The movie has four credited producers, and the Academy typically allows only three to take the stage at the Kodak Theatre.)

It could also stop Chartier, who is not a member of the Academy, from joining the body. If he won best picture, Chartier would be eligible for a virtual automatic membership, but the board of governors could take the nearly unprecedented step of rejecting him. But this, too, might be a tough sell. After a brouhaha with "Crash" producer Bob Yari a few years ago over his non-credit for that film resulted in a lawsuit -- costing the Academy money and public standing -- the organization is unlikely to want to risk that kind of fight again.

There's precedent for the Academy scrutinizing the mudslinging -- and not doing much. In the 2003 race, DreamWorks, campaigning for "The House of Sand and Fog," took out an ad that made a similar plea -- it asked voters to choose the movie's Shohreh Aghdashloo for supporting actress over front-runner Renee Zellweger of "Cold Mountain." She stayed in contention (although Zellweger won anyway).

The Academy says it won't announce its decision until after ballots are due next Tuesday, if at all, presumably to avoid interfering with the race. It's a decision that fits with the group's cautionary reputation, but also a strange one. Stories like this already affect the race, and the delay of nearly a week can give the impression that the Academy is soft on negative campaigners, pretty much the last thing it wants to do.

There's another layer of back story to the "Hurt Locker" fracas. Among many of the other principals on the film, Chartier is perceived as an outsider. They've grimaced as he's made some of his publicity moves, including this one. A French American financier who runs a Los Angeles-based company called Voltage Pictures, Chartier is a foreign-sales specialist, and he's uniformly regarded as the driving force in getting "The Hurt Locker" financed and off the ground.

But according to several sources, there's little love lost between him and the film's writer, Mark Boal, and director Kathryn Bigelow. And even though they were said to make bids to get him approved by the Academy, the spin among those working on the film has been to present him as a rogue element who doesn't speak for distributor Summit Entertainment, Boal, Bigelow or a third producer, Greg Shapiro. In an interview with 24 Frames on Thursday about the initial e-mail, Boal said, "I knew nothing about it, I think it's incredibly stupid and wrong and I hope he stops."

Summit also repudiated Chartier's e-mail. "An enthusiastic and naive producer made a mistake," a studio spokesman said. "When we found out about it we asked him to stop immediately, we let the Academy know and he's making amends."

The gambit to put some distance between the film and Chartier will probably be successful, especially when you consider that the movie is up against "Inglourious Basterds," a contender from Harvey Weinstein -- a man known for speaking, er, boldly, about competitive movies.

How much the to-and-fro between competitors has an impact on the final vote is an open question. Four years ago, Lionsgate's Jon Feltheimer, whose company was pushing Oscar hopeful "Crash," caused a ruckus when he said publicly that he had made phone calls on behalf of the film. The Academy took a look; other films wondered if it could prompt a backlash. A few weeks later, "Crash" won best picture.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Jeremy Renner in "The Hurt Locker." Credit: Summit Entertainment


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