By Chris Sorensen - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - 0 Comments
Game over Hollywood
From Tomb Raider to Resident Evil, video games have made their mark on Hollywood. But so far Hollywood has been unable to return the favour, despite several high-profile attempts. The latest casualty is a studio that film and TV producer Jerry Bruckheimer set up in partnership with MTV six years ago. The venture is being quietly shuttered after failing to produce a single title, according to a recent report by online news site Gamespot. Nor is Bruckheimer the only Hollywood big shot to fail to make a dent in the booming $65-billion industry. Steven Spielberg signed an deal with Electronic Arts in 2005 that yielded one non-blockbuster game—a puzzle game called Boom Blox. Director Zack Snyder signed a separate agreement with EA in 2008 to make three games—none of which have materialized, which is surprising, some say, given Snyder’s CGI-heavy action film 300, which critics often compared to a video game.
By Emily Senger - Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 12:23 PM - 0 Comments
Tonight’s Golden Globes boast new hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. The funny women…
Tonight’s Golden Globes boast new hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. The funny women replace former host Ricky Gervais, and they have the potential to drawn in new viewers who are fans of the comedians, but who otherwise wouldn’t watch the awards.
For any new viewers who might need a little extra incentive to watch the three-hour award show in its entirety, Fey and Poehler, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, have some comical tips for a Golden Globes drinking game.
Here are the rules, from Fey: “Any time an actress cries in a speech, drink. Any time you see a person actively not listening to someone onstage, drink.”
And from Poehler, take a drink: “Any time someone says, ‘I didn’t prepare anything!’”
Also, remove an article of clothing when 1. someone mentions Judi Dench and 2. when Maggie Smith wins something.
From Fey, here’s an added challenge: “Any time anyone thanks Harvey Weinstein, eat a meatball sub.”
Ready the meatballs.
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 6:10 PM - 0 Comments
Golshifteh Farahani, a beloved and apolitical Iranian film star, went from pride to pariah
Golshifteh Farahani would have to choose between her country and her art—that much was clear even before the ayatollahs invited the Iranian film star to stay away from her homeland. It was retribution for baring her breast eight months ago in a video to promote the Césars, the French equivalent of the Academy Awards. But Farahani had already been banned from working in her homeland and fined $2.5 million for failing to wear a hijab at a Hollywood premiere. She’d been living in France for four years, a de facto exile.
The 29-year-old phenom has since come to embody the self-spiting nature of Tehran’s moralism and its growing distance from the liberal-thinking world. Celebrated before the hijab incident for her success in Western cinema, Farahani was a national icon whom Iranians had watched grow up on the screen. Her breakthrough performance at 14 in The Pear Tree set the table for a whirlwind rise in her own country, while opening doors abroad. Her roles include the lead in M for Mother, where she played a pregnant woman who had been gassed during the Iran-Iraq war, and a starring turn opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Body of Lies, a CIA thriller directed by Ridley Scott (it was the first appearance by an Iranian woman in a Hollywood film since the Islamist revolution of 1979). Versatility is Farahani’s meal ticket: she can summon smouldering heat or emotional isolation with equal alacrity—in the same scene, if necessary.
Will the international release this week of About Elly, Farahani’s latest film, directed by her compatriot, Asghar Farhadi, about the complex social dynamics hidden in the lives of middle-class Iranian families, give Tehran pause? Likely not. In the wake of the Césars scandal, the actress was denounced in government statements as the “hidden, disgusting face of cinema.” Her parents in Tehran got a phone call in their apartment from a man who identified himself as an official with the supreme court of the Islamic Republic, and who yelled over the line that their daughter’s breasts would be cut off and brought to them on a plate.
By Peter Nowak - Friday, September 7, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Last week’s post about how the budgets for television shows may need to go down in order to adapt to the internet sparked some interesting discussion over on Twitter. The discussion involved films, of course, with one commenter suggesting that A-list actors such as Tom Cruise command huge salaries because they’re proven draws.
That got me thinking: do movie executives really cast their movies based on the drawing power of the actors? Of course they used to, so the better question is perhaps whether they still do? And if so, is it possible to play games with such a system, similar to how baseball manager Billy Beane played “Moneyball” with the Oakland Athletics?
Surely I’m not the first person to have thought of this – it would actually only surprise me if this sort of thing wasn’t widespread in Hollywood.
Beane’s Moneyball strategy, for the uninitiated, was a system of picking players based on non-traditional statistics. For much of its history, Major League Baseball has aligned the value of its players according to traditional stats, like batting average, home runs, stolen bases, earned run average and so on. If one guy consistently hits .300 and 40 home runs, then he’s an all-star who should make big bucks, or so the system has gone.
Beane, however, didn’t have those big bucks to spend with the A’s, so he instead focused on what he felt were more important statistics, such as on-base average and slugging percentage. After all, it doesn’t really matter how a player gets on base – whether it’s through a hit, a walk or even hit by a pitch – because once he’s there, he has the same chance to score a run as a good hitter, which is the only thing that matters in a game that’s decided by one team outscoring the other.
As dramatized in the Brad Pitt film, Beane put together a successful team based on his stats that had no bona fide all-stars, just players who put together solid numbers but were paid modestly. The “Moneyball” strategy has of course had a big effect on baseball since, with many teams now employing statisticians that study such numbers.
The logic seems to apply to movies as well. Over the past year, Tom Cruise was again the highest paid actor, according to Forbes. The illuminating part, however, comes from looking at the magazine’s most overpaid actors list, which calculates the revenue from their last three films against salaries. Right there at ninth most overpaid is Cruise, whose movies earn $6.35 for every dollar he’s paid.
Contrast that with the most profitable actor, Kristen Stewart, whose movies (which have basically been Twilightfilms, so far) earn $55.83 for ever dollar she’s paid.
The two lists are quite obvious when compared. The overpaid list includes established, big A-listers including Cruise’s ex-wife Nicole Kidman and comedians such as Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell and Eddie Murphy. The most profitable list, meanwhile, is made up mostly of young actors such as Stewart’s co-star Robert Pattinson, Daniel Radcliffe and Shia Labeouf.
The major flaw with Forbes’ process is equally obvious when the types of movies the actors star in are considered. People go to see comedies based on the actor/comedian, while not many go to big event movies like Transformers to see Labeouf. Comedy actors thus probably merit higher pay while their movies earn less than blockbusters, which pay their stars relatively little. This skew explains much of the two lists.
Still, the inclusion of dramatic actors such as Cruise and Kidman on the overpaid list does lend credence to the fact that paying an actor large amounts of money to star in a movie is pretty risky, if not foolish. From a financial perspective, it would seem to make more sense to play Moneyball with actors. As long as it’s not a movie that’s completely dependent on the actor’s personality, young players consistently deliver a better bang for the buck.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 11:40 PM - 0 Comments
The famously good-looking Hollywood star is out to prove he’s a serious actor, too
From the first time he caught our eye, as “Sack” Lodge, the Ivy League jerk engaged to Rachel McAdams in Wedding Crashers (2005), Bradley Cooper seemed too good-looking for his own good. Between the hubris-eating grin and the laser intensity of those blue eyes, he was all too convincing as a football-mad frat boy gloating over his superior genes. Since then, Cooper has gone on to play more likeable men—most famously, Phil, the alpha male leading the blackout brigade of losers in the two Hangover comedies, which have grossed $2 billion. And last year he was annointed People’s sexiest man alive. Neither that dubious honour nor the Hangover windfall have done much to burnish Cooper’s image as a serious actor. But lately he has seemed bent on changing that.
For a Hollywood hunk, playing a freak of nature may seem like a stretch, but this month the 37-year-old actor fulfilled a childhood dream—and completed his Actor’s Studio Drama School master’s thesis for New York University—by starring in an acclaimed stage production of David Merrick’s The Elephant Man at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. (When he was 12, Cooper’s father gave him a video of David Lynch’s film of the play: it made him weep.) “I felt such a connection,” he told
The New Yorker. “Like, no one’s skull is symmetrical. Mine is all over the place . . . and my one hip’s higher than the other.”
While Cooper may have a hard time convincing the world that he’s deformed, he never seems entirely on the level. He exudes confidence with a megawatt charm that doesn’t exactly inspire trust. Which is what makes him such an intriguing screen presence. And as he expands his range in a prolific string of movie roles, he seems determined to scuff up his image. In the car-chase action comedy Hit and Run, which opened last week, Cooper is almost unrecognizable as a nasty, blond-dreadlocked gangster on a mission of vengeance. And in The Words, opening next week, he stars as a struggling writer who becomes a bestselling author after stumbling across a lost manuscript and taking credit for a novel he didn’t write.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, August 20, 2012 at 12:56 PM - 0 Comments
Jaime Weinman on the influence of the Hollywood director
Tony Scott, the director, committed suicide
after learning that he had inoperable cancer. Update: The ABC report about Scott’s condition has been denied by his widow. It’s terrible news, and a terrible ending to a notable life in film.
When I first became aware of Tony Scott’s name – in the late ’80s, of course – I hadn’t yet heard of Ridley Scott. That’s mostly youthful ignorance, but that, at the time, was also probably an accurate reflection of where they stood in the film world. Ridley had had one hit (Alien) followed by a lot of flops (Blade Runner had yet to make the trek from cult flop to cult classic). He made Thelma and Louise followed by a bunch of other bombs, until Gladiator finally made him a trye superstar director. Tony took longer to get into feature films, but Top Gun established him as the go-to guy for the quick-cutting, violent, profane, and — above all — fast action picture, and a leading director of the new Hollywood studio system.
Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer were the top producers of this kind of film, and Top Gun made Scott their top in-house director for a number of years: he did their sequel to Beverly Hills Cop, the Cruise vehicle Days of Thunder—aka Top Gun on land—and Crimson Tide, one of the most effective big-studio thrillers of its era. He also directed Quentin Tarantino’s script for True Romance, and had a good enough relationship with Tarantino on that picture to bring the young hotshot on Crimson Tide for a rewrite. That movie also began his second important relationship in filmmaking, with Denzel Washington, who starred in four of Scott’s last six films.
Scott was one of a generation of British directors who made it big in features during the ’80s after directing commercials. The style they brought to movies was rooted in commercials (and the emerging genre of music videos), where the director must think not simply in terms of scenes, but the impact of every shot.
In a traditional feature, flashy shots are reserved for flashy moments, or you linger on those flashy shots to make it clear what they’re trying to accomplish. The commercial style doesn’t dally, nor does it allow any shot to be “normal”: it consists of a lot of stylish, carefully composed, and short shots, which—when put together—create a sort of sensory overload. In this style, the motivation for setting up a particular shot in a particular way is less important than the overall effect of all those shots put together in a dark theatre.
You can see this style in Scott’s famous commercial for Saab, which launched his feature career and helped land him Top Gun. There are few “normal” shots in the commercial — everything is seen with unusual angles, heightened lighting, slow motion, zooms, blurs. It’s a collection of what would previously have been considered gimmick shots, mashed together until it seems like the normal way of looking at the world. That’s the style Scott and other directors helped to bring to feature films.
Because there’s been a backlash against the prevalence of this fast-cutting, gimmick-laden style—and because Scott’s successor as Bruckheimer’s star director, Michael Bay, has given the style a bad name—it’s easy to dismiss Scott. Throw in the fact he was part of a generation of directors who were more subservient to strong producers than the ’70s generation (which makes them the villains in those tiresome “the ’80s ruined the New Golden Age of Cinema” books). And finally the fact his brother Ridley finally became a bankable, consistently successful director in the ’00s, just as Tony’s career was starting to slip. All these things work against Scott’s reputation.
But if you look at the action movies being made before the Commercial Directors arrived, you can understand why they made such an impact. A lot of big-studio action pictures of the late ’70s and early ’80s had terrific stunts but somewhat uninspiring, functional camerawork. An example would be the James Bond films of the ’80s: fine stunts, well edited, but not very stylish whenever something wasn’t blowing up. The “classical” approach to action movies, where the camera doesn’t get in the way of the action or call attention to itself, produced such masterpieces as Raiders of the Lost Ark. But for every Raiders, there were three or four other movies that just felt slow.
The Commercial Brats restored excitement and a fast pace to types of movies that had become a little bloated. Now, of course, these same movies have succumbed to bloat again in terms of length and the overloading of gimmick shots and fast cutting. Every approach eventually becomes decadent. But if the post-Top Gun action movie needs a change in approach, so did the pre-Top Gun action film. And Tony Scott’s style of making every shot a movie in itself was exactly what the ’80s needed.
By Scaachi Koul - Thursday, August 16, 2012 at 8:55 AM - 0 Comments
Kristen Stewart’s movie-mom, Jodie Foster, is defending the young actress after she was caught cuddling up to her married director, and allegedly cheating on fellow Twilight actor, Robert Pattinson.
Kristen Stewart’s movie-mom, Jodie Foster, is defending the young actress after she was caught cuddling up to her married director, and allegedly cheating on fellow Twilight actor, Robert Pattinson.
Foster, who stared in Panic Room with Stewart in 2002, said the media needs to lay off and mind their own business when it comes to Stewart’s personal relationships.
From The Daily Beast:
Eventually this all passes. The public horrors of today eventually blow away. And, yes, you are changed by the awful wake of reckoning they leave behind. You trust less. You calculate your steps. You survive. Hopefully in the process you don’t lose your ability to throw your arms in the air again and spin in wild abandon. That is the ultimate F.U. and—finally—the most beautiful survival tool of all. Don’t let them take that away from you.
Foster argued that the Hollywood machine stops young actors from being young. “If I were a young actor today I would quit before I started. If I had to grow up in this media culture, I don’t think I could survive it emotionally,” Foster wrote in her column.
By Jesse Brown - Monday, August 13, 2012 at 2:24 PM - 0 Comments
Must I repeat them? Okay, then. Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google’s motto is “don’t be evil.” Like Charles Foster Kane’s “Declaration of Principles” when he took over the Inquirer in Citizen Kane, these lofty statements were proudly and publicly made by a young, idealistic company that wanted to police its future self against the corrupting influence of success. Today, Google wants to police you, instead.
Google just announced it will begin downgrading known piracy sites in its search results. Soon, when you search for “watch Breaking Bad online,” you will be directed to AMC’s official Breaking Bad site, not to one of the many illicit streaming sites or torrent trackers that host or connect to pirated files. The idea, says Google, is to “help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily.” Sounds reasonable, right?
By The Associated Press - Monday, August 13, 2012 at 9:22 AM - 0 Comments
LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Google Inc. is altering its search results to de-emphasize the websites of repeat copyright offenders and make it easier to find legitimate providers of music, movies and other content.
The move is a peace offering to Hollywood and the music recording labels. This year, Google joined other Silicon Valley heavyweights to help kill legislation that would have given government and content creators more power to shut down foreign websites that promote piracy.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 5:30 AM - 0 Comments
Television and movie stars are saving Broadway one limited engagement at a time
Broadway theatre used to have its own stars who could run a show for a year. Now it rents stars from Hollywood for limited engagements. One of the big shows this summer is a revival of the magic-rabbit play, Harvey, starring Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory; it will run until Aug. 5, when Parsons’ TV show will take him back to Hollywood. The hottest ticket on Broadway this year was a four-month revival of Death of a Salesman, with Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, and James Earl Jones is currently starring in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man for a similar run. “With limited runs you can bring in a lot of the Hollywood and TV stars,” says Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the trade association the Broadway League. And these stars are keeping Broadway viable.
Producers prefer an indefinite run rather than setting a cut-off date, but shows without stars often have trouble staying afloat. Last year, a revival of the musical Promises, Promises had to close after only 291 performances when Sean Hayes (Will & Grace) and Kristin Chenoweth (GCB) finished their runs. Recently, another ’60s hit, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, was revived for Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, but the show closed four months later, unable to survive with lesser stars such as replacements Darren Criss (Glee) and singer Nick Jonas.
That makes the limited run a less risky proposition than an open-ended run. Film and TV stars, who can’t commit to a long run, can use shorter engagements to do theatre and connect with their fans. Michael Feingold, theatre critic for the Village Voice, says it gives them the opportunity to play “the role they’ve heard about and dreamed of playing for their entire lives—Blanche DuBois or Hamlet or Uncle Vanya.” And for producers, short runs can have an advantage if the star sells tickets. Brian DeVito, a blogger who writes about theatre marketing, explains that a limited run eliminates “the ‘I’ll see it eventually’ mentality. Audiences have to act sooner rather than later to buy tickets.”
By Peter Nowak - Friday, May 4, 2012 at 11:50 AM - 0 Comments
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or the Negative Zone as it were, you probably know that The Avengers hits movie theatres today. Heck, I even overheard a pair of hobos talking about it at Tim Hortons the other day. It’s that big.
The film is a comic fan’s dream come to life as it groups several of Marvel’s iconic superheroes – the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America–together for the first time on the silver screen. And, as if the film needed even more nerd cred, Mr. Buffy himself, Joss Whedon, directed and co-wrote it. Put all that together and it’s hard to imagine how The Avengerswon’t be good, at least to us dorks.
But there’s one troubling fact about the movie – it’s not accurate. Indeed, if we’re to go by comic book canon, Captain America, Hawkeye and the Black Widow should not be in the film, since they joined in issues four, 16 and 111, respectively. Missing from the movie team’s roster are two of the original founders: Ant-Man and the Wasp. And that’s just not right.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 11:04 AM - 0 Comments
The king of hardcover, and Hollywood, romance reveals the secret to his massive box-office success
Men might have reason to be pissed at Nicholas Sparks. If he were just a novelist, he could be forgiven. Women would read his fiction, alone, and dream. But his bestselling books are routinely transformed into hit movies, date movies, featuring men who set the bar for romantic behaviour impossibly high. Worse, they are played by Hollywood specimens of swoon-inducing masculinity who make the rest of us look like goofs—Ryan Gosling in The Notebook (2004), Channing Tatum in Dear John (2010), and now Zac Efron in The Lucky One. While it may be imprecise to call these movies chick flicks (more on that later), they do score with women. Sparks is the ultimate box-office pickup artist. So no matter how many critics dismiss him, you have to wonder: what’s his secret?
Interviewing the author last week in Toronto, it seemed rude to mention the f-word—formula. No writer likes to admit he has one. But if anyone has a logarithm for romantic drama, it should be Sparks. Since selling his first novel, The Notebook, for a $1-million advance at 30, he has become the king of hardcover, and Hollywood, romance. He has published 16 bestsellers in 15 years. Six have been hit movies, each grossing more than $110 million. A seventh, The Lucky One, opens next week. Another two will be shot this year, and two more are in development. “The others we’re holding back,” says Sparks, who also serves as a producer on his adaptations. “We don’t want to be overexposed.”
The 46-year-old author—a staunch Roman Catholic who has five children and lives in North Carolina—is a buoyant figure, brimming with cheerful confidence in his own talent. “It’s so easy to write good, it’s a joke,” he says. “It’s even easier to write average. I can do it in my sleep.” What’s hard is “to try to do what I do, to walk that fine line between the familiar and the cliché—between evoking an emotion and manipulating it. I try my best not to verge into melodrama. Some people say: failed!” Sparks shrugs. His box-office success may be offset by harsh reviews, but he can afford to ignore them.
By Jesse Brown - Friday, March 30, 2012 at 12:16 PM - 0 Comments
Kim Dotcom, the indicted Megaupload tycoon, has some news about his accusers: they’re also his customers. The defiant Dotcom (real name, Kim Shmitz) lobs some grenades back at his attackers in an interview with the filesharing news site Torrentfreak. Among other claims, he insists that many movie industry employees were paying him for online file storage. So, while the Motion Picture Association of America was lobbying the U.S. Government to pursue criminal action against Megaupload, employees of its member companies were using Megaupload to, well, mega upload (and, one assumes, to mega download).
There’s little doubt that Dotcom’s claims are true. As anyone who works in media can tell you, moving around gigantic files is still a mega pain. Email attachments are usually capped at 10-30 megs. When people in creative fields need to share large, uncompressed audio,video, and photography files, cloud services like Megaupload come in very handy. This lends support to Dotcom’s argument that Megaupload has many legitimate uses and is not simply a piracy enabler.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, February 17, 2012 at 10:20 AM - 0 Comments
Ever noticed those mountains looming behind New York City?
In a scene from The Vow, Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum park by the Chicago waterfront, strip down to their underwear, and scamper into the lake for a frigid late-night dip. But the lake is Ontario, not Michigan. The couple is cavorting on Cherry Beach in McAdams’s home city of Toronto, and the skyline is visible—minus the CN Tower. Canadian locales routinely impersonate American cities in Hollywood movies, but what’s striking about The Vow is how blithely it shows familiar glimpses of a city that’s supposed to be incognito. The lovers first cross paths at City Hall, and exchange their vows at a guerrilla wedding staged in the Art Gallery of Ontario. The movie is punctuated by postcard vistas of the real Chicago, but whenever the actors are in the shot, Toronto backdrops shatter the illusion, at least for anyone who knows the city.
There’s nothing wrong with faking locations. It’s something Hollywood has always done and always will. Movies, after all, are in the business of make-believe. But after so many years, the routine casting of Toronto and Vancouver for American burgs has become irksome, especially now that these cities have more personality and profile of their own. Ontario film commissioner Donna Zuchlinski claims local audiences enjoy spotting their hometown onscreen—“it adds to the movie-going experience, that sense of pride.” But stripped of its character, a surrogate city exudes blandness. In a confection like The Vow, despite a spirited performance from McAdams, that cavalier lack of authenticity penetrates deep into the bones of the movie, from the generic characters to the formulaic script. It seems to say: what the hell, the audience will never notice.
When American studios shoot movies north of the border, would it kill them to set one there? That almost never happens. Although Canada is the only country in the world that’s lumped into Hollywood’s domestic market, apparently we’re not domestic enough to be a place where people would actually live. “Americans want to see American cities,” says Toronto production designer Sandra Kybartas, a veteran of both Canadian and U.S. shoots. “They have a limited palate for exoticism.”
By Luke Simcoe - Monday, February 13, 2012 at 5:31 PM - 0 Comments
Please welcome Luke Simcoe to the blog. He’ll be contributing the occasional guest post on the Internet and the various kooks and cranks who inhabit it.
Woody Harrelson knows what it’s like to be famous in real life, but after a failed attempt to promote his latest film on Reddit, he’s learning what it’s like to be infamous on the Internet.
As part of the press junket for the upcoming Rampart, Harrelson participated in one of the social news site’s popular “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) threads. Almost immediately, one user asked the former Cheers star about a time he supposedly crashed a high school prom and slept with a female student:
“I swear this is a true story. I went to a high school in LA and you crashed our prom after party (Universal Hilton). You ended up taking the virginity of a girl named Roseanna. You didn’t call her afterwards. She cried a lot. Do you remember any of this and can confirm or have you been so knee deep in hollywood pooty for so long that this qualifies as a mere blip?”
Harrelson denied the allegation, but things only got worse from there, as he refused to answer questions that didn’t pertain to the film and left the conversation shortly thereafter.
By Jesse Brown - Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 2:49 PM - 0 Comments
Correction: in an earlier version of this post, I bungled the numbers of every copyright bill mentioned, each time they were mentioned. You realize that I’ve been covering this stuff for years, right? I regret the error, and will try to get more sleep tonight.
A ragtag group of plucky idealists stand up to bullying corporations who seek private profit at the expense of public freedom. The protesters’ message spreads, their numbers swell, and the people stand united. They demand action from politicians whose allegiances have strayed, and they speak truth to power in creative and inspiring ways. Their voices combined cannot be ignored. The people prevail.
It’s awfully cheesy—a Hollywood remake of a much darker foreign film. In the original Canadian version, the people got screwed.
That’s how SOPA is different from Bill C-11. When the anti-SOPA protests were heating up a few weeks back, I’ll admit it, I was bored. I’d seen this movie before, and I knew how it was going to end. I was wrong. SOPA is dead, while Bill C-11 is set to pass.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, December 2, 2011 at 6:00 AM - 4 Comments
Monroe, Thatcher, Hoover, Freud—Hollywood is turning into the history channel
Here’s a pretty safe prediction: when the Oscars are handed out next February, the contest for best actress will come down to a duel between two icons, a bombshell and a battle-axe—between Marilyn Monroe and Margaret Thatcher, as portrayed by Michelle Williams and Meryl Streep. Oscar has always had a soft spot for biopics, especially if Brits, royals or showbiz icons are involved. The main event at the last Academy Awards was an unfair fight between The King’s Speech and The Social Network, as King George VI handily trumped the Machiavellian Facebook guru Mark Zuckerberg. And as the current award season warms up, it looks like real-life figures will dominate the field as never before.
They are led by a trio of heavyweights: Streep’s Thatcher in The Iron Lady, Williams in My Week with Marilyn, and Leonardo DiCaprio as Hoover in J. Edgar. Bringing up the rear in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method are Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud and Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung. The Lady adds a Nobelist wild card to the race with its portrait of Burmese opposition heroine Aung San Suu Kyi (Michelle Yeoh). Don’t count out Brad Pitt as Moneyball’s Billy Beane, the legendary manager who rewrote baseball’s bible and irrevocably changed the game. And trailing far behind the pack is W.E.’s Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), the woman who forced the abdication that gave us that stammering George VI.
In Hollywood, where making history is almost as important as making movies, the biopic craze shows no signs of slowing down. Steven Spielberg is currently shooting Lincoln, with Daniel Day Lewis carving out his own Rushmore portrait of the American president. And next year, ghostbuster Bill Murray gains gravitas as Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson, which has FDR and Eleanor mingling with Queen Elizabeth and King George VI (him again).
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at 11:10 AM - 0 Comments
Some cinematographers worry that digital can’t reproduce the look of film
At the Tate Modern gallery in London last month, artist Tacita Dean unveiled her exhibit “FILM,” an expression of fear for the future of motion picture film. “It breaks my heart to think that we’re going to lose this beautiful medium,” Dean told the Evening Standard. Not long after that, Creative COW magazine reported that several major motion picture companies, including the venerable Panavision, will stop creating new film cameras and concentrate on digital video cameras instead. It looks like all of film, not just Dean’s, may be a museum piece. “The end of film distribution is on the horizon,” says Patrick Corcoran, director of media and research at the National Association of Theatre Owners in the U.S.
It’s not that demand has completely disappeared. “Filmmakers are very much accustomed to working with film,” says Corcoran. “There are some who are going to be slow to give that up.” Wally Pfister, the cinematographer of The Dark Knight, told American Cinematographer that film can be exposed in a wide variety of ways, which gives him “infinite creative flexibility in creating images.” Steven Poster, president of the International Cinematographers Guild, has embraced digital, but says film “does have a look that’s kind of unique.” Film fans love its inherent grainy quality, and Dean’s exhibit also celebrates film processes like hand-tinting, which can’t be done with computers.
But even if some directors still want to use film, it may become harder to find anyone willing to make or process it. Film has been battered by the popularity of digital 3-D, which has no film equivalent. TV studios have mostly abandoned film for new pilots over the last two years, in part for labour reasons: Poster says “they were fighting with the Screen Actors Guild,” and digital video allows them to deal with a different union. As more producers find reasons to give up film, the cost of making and delivering film prints will go up; by 2013, Corcoran estimates, the studios are likely to conclude that “it no longer makes economic sense to ship film.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, November 2, 2011 at 1:10 PM - 1 Comment
Studio previews are being premiered like blockbuster events, complete with reviews
Cultural shorthand keeps getting shorter. There was a time when taking part in the conversation meant saying, “I haven’t read the book but I’ve seen the movie.” Now it’s: “I haven’t seen the movie, but I watched the trailer.” Or better still: “I read the review of the trailer.” These days Hollywood trailers are being premiered like blockbuster events in their own right, complete with reviews. In early October, Disney and Marvel launched the first full trailer for The Avengers, a five-superhero cluster bomb that won’t hit theatres until next May. The Hollywood Reporter jumped on it with a serious and substantial review, criticizing Robert Downey Jr.’s “two lame jokes” and the use of Thor’s Loki as a recycled villain. Although cascading fireballs send a dozen vehicles flying through Manhattan, the critic complained that “we only see one street of cars wrecked . . . Audiences are going to need a greater threat to humanity to get invested in this showdown.” He wished the trailer were more like the one for the last Transformers sequel, “which managed to convey epic drama and conflict as well as great emotional moments.” That trailer, apparently, was an instant classic, even if the movie was utter dreck.
It makes you wonder what Pauline Kael would think. Brian Kellow’s delicious biography of the legendary New Yorker critic, who championed the ’70s wave of American film, reveals that Kael was no snob; her palate included an avid taste for entertaining trash. But by the ’80s, she despaired that marketing was eating cinema alive. Now, a decade after her death, there’s no better example of her worst nightmare than the trailer blight that ravages the ecology of film. It’s the pine beetle of the movie business.
By Ken MacQueen - Monday, April 25, 2011 at 12:20 PM - 2 Comments
Chuck Harris lovingly refers to his clients as ‘a symphony of wackos’
We meet at the Magic Castle—a private club for magicians, in a rambling mansion off Hollywood Boulevard. It’s Friday night, and the valet attendants are dealing with a line of cars disgorging sharp-dressed folks in suits and ties or cocktail dresses. This is old Hollywood—exclusive and a touch bizarre—and even if you wrangle an invite, you don’t get in looking like a bum. We’re here because this is Chuck Harris’s kind of joint, and because he knows the owner, naturally. And because Stoil & Ekaterina, one of Harris’s many, many incomparable acts, is headlining in the castle’s main theatre.
In the mansion’s entrance alcove, Harris points to a statue of a gilded owl sitting on a walled bookcase. “Say ‘open sesame,’ ” he says. With that, the bookcase swings wide, and we enter the buzz and chatter of the Grand Salon. That’s what Chuck Harris does: he opens doors.
Harris is an agent, just not a typical one. Oh, he’s got the cigar, and the patter; he’s got glasses the size of cruise ship portholes, some big-money clients and contacts around the world. It’s just that a significant portion of his client base is…way out there. “I am the conductor,” he has said, meaning it in the kindest possible way, “of a symphony of wackos.” You want a man who dances with four puppets and can do a one-man recreation of the Jackson Five? He’s got Christopher, who recently did a command performance for Mexico’s Carlos Slim, considered the world’s richest man. He’s got a one-armed juggler and a guy who balances a car on his head. You want Wolf Boy, Rubber Girl, or the world’s smallest Elvis imitator? He’ll have them on a plane the moment the contract is signed. The same with the Regurgitator, who swallows coins and brings them up in order. And he’s got Mr. Methane, who for safety reasons probably shouldn’t be double-billed with Electricity Girl.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
Actress was as known for her work as she was for her private life
Elizabeth Taylor, one of the most famous movie stars of all time both for her onscreen and offscreen lives, has died of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Born in England to American parents, she moved to California at an early age and was signed up as a child actress by the Hollywood studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. She soon became one of America’s biggest child stars, playing the lead role in the hit movie National Velvet. After developing into a beautiful young woman, Taylor appeared in movies like Father of the Bride and became a major adult star when she was loaned out to Paramount for the movie A Place In the Sun, where her role as an irresistibly beautiful, wealthy socialite defined her public image for most of her career. In the late ’50s she started to get new acclaim as an actress in hits like Giant, Suddenly Last Summer, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; in the ’60s she won two Oscars, for Butterfield 8 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Offscreen, she was married multiple times and her private life was a favourite subject of tabloid journalists: the death of her producer husband Mike Todd in a plane crash (and the cold that kept her from getting on that plane with him); her famous breakup of the marriage between America’s-sweetheart couple Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, and the even more famous breakup of her marriage to Fisher when she met Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra. Her tumultuous relationship with Burton played out in two separate marriages and many screen and stage appearances together. After a string of flop movies in the ’70s, Taylor reduced her film appearances but continued to make news for her marriages (including Virginia Senator John Warner), and her friendships (particularly with Michael Jackson). She was also an early advocate for AIDS research and gay rights, campaigning to raise awareness of AIDS after the disease killed her friend and co-star Rock Hudson. She was also a well-known collector of jewelry, whose husbands frequently presented her with expensive jewels, and launched a best-selling perfume, “White Diamonds.” She was 79.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, January 7, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 4 Comments
Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney? Milquetoast.
The hottest actor on the planet is Javier Bardem.
Hollywood is thick with fine actors and glamorous stars, but there’s one thing that’s even rarer than a good original script: the kind of strong leading man who takes your breath away. One contender after another has proved lacking. Tom Cruise has become a freak, a machine-like movie star whose vanity overrides his sex appeal. Johnny Depp is adorable, but seems content to play a pirate for life, and when given a shot at cracking Angelina Jolie’s cool in The Tourist, he looked like he couldn’t wait to get back to his ship. Jolie’s mate, Brad Pitt, seems strangely neutered. Canada’s Ryan Reynolds inherited the title of Sexiest Man Alive, but he has yet to prove it onscreen, and now even Scarlett Johansson isn’t buying it. Leonardo DiCaprio shook off his stigma as Titanic’s teen heartthrob, and matured into a formidable actor, but he seems allergic to romantic roles. Same deal with George Clooney. For a while, he appeared to be the Great White Hope, so boldly debonair and adult, until we began to notice that his career was virtually devoid of love scenes.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, December 17, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 6 Comments
The best movies of 2010
In True Grit, the Coen brothers’ new remake of the classic 1969 John Wayne western, the heroine—a hard-headed 14-year-old girl on a mission to avenge her father’s murder—tumbles into a collapsed mine shaft, where a snake lurks coiled in the rib cage of a decayed corpse, ready to strike. That’s a fitting image for the kind of year it’s been at the movies. If Hollywood is the Dream Factory, 2010 was the year of dreaming dangerously, a year when horror films had no monopoly on nightmares. Scan the lists of award-pedigree movies, and a striking trend emerges: time and again we’re dropped into a snakepit of fear and loathing, paranoia and paralysis, isolation and loss. Almost all the good movies played like bad dreams.
You have to address the nation with a monumental stutter (The King’s Speech); you’re hit by a tsunami while shopping for trinkets in paradise (Hereafter); you fall for a nice guy who turns out to be the bank robber who held you hostage (The Town); the older brother who’s training you to be a boxing champ is a crack-addict pimp (The Fighter); you’re dancing the lead in Swan Lake and something weird is growing out of your back; or, in the best worst dream of all, you’re trapped by a boulder and have to cut off your arm with a blunt penknife (127 Days). Even children’s fantasy was not immune. In Toy Story 3, a utopian daycare centre turns out to be a prison camp that tortures toys; The Nutcracker in 3-D gave us a Nazi Rat King whose stormtroopers feed toys into industrial ovens that blacken the sky.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 3:00 PM - 1 Comment
Why does the famous literary classic inspire so many bad movie adaptations?
The new movie Gulliver’s Travels, opening Dec. 22, is yet another opportunity for Hollywood to ruin a classic book. This time, Jonathan Swift’s 18th-century bestseller has been updated to modern times, with Jack Black playing the title character. Black enthusiastically said that the best idea they had for the production was that instead of Gulliver being a traveller who gets shipwrecked in fantasy lands, “we have him going through an inter-dimensional portal to an alternate, not altogether different place.”
English professors are used to this by now. There have been many film versions of Gulliver’s Travels, but few have much to do with the original book, a satire that Dutton Kearney (a professor at Aquinas College who edited a critical edition of the work) calls a story of “misanthropy and self-hatred.” If Black’s version fails, it might be a slap in the face to Swift, but it’ll be well within the tradition of a beloved book that Kearney calls “difficult to adapt successfully.”