Friday, March 30, 2007

The Politico has come up with a non-story about the film September Dawn, which details the mass killing of 120 settlers by fanatical Mormons in 1857, somehow being released at a strategic time to harm the presidential candidacy of Republican Mitt Romney.

Of course such an idea is ludicrous, because to lend this story any credibility means to assume that Romney actually has a chance. Secondly, I'm tired off all the hooplah about Romney being a Mormon. Whoop-de-doo. Who cares what religion a candidate practices? It's their own private business and should have nothing to do their ability to hold public office. It really shouldn't be a factor.

This is just another paranoid right-wing freak out thinking big bad Hollywood has issued a hit job on one of their "key" players (seriously, how many people actually know who Romney is?), when it really has nothing to do with them. They're always seeing people out to get them. This is no better than Iran thinking that 300 is anti-Iranian American war propaganda. It's just silly.
It's a movie about a shameful piece of Mormon history. Mitt Romney just happens to be a Mormon. You have to be really stretching to find any insidious intent there. Seriously. Let it go. There are far more important things going on in the world right now.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

In a recent interview with MTV, director Eli Roth answers a questions about critics who refer to his work as "torture porn" thusly:

"It's so funny how critics will always quickly reduce horror almost to a subgenre of pornography. I do feel like terms like "torture porn" are offensive. When I see a critic refer to Hostel as torture porn it feels like in the 1950s parents going, "I don't want you to listen to that rock and roll. It's dangerous!" It makes me laugh. It makes me feel like they're out of touch."
So we're out of touch are we? If being in touch means enjoying watching people get tortured within an inch of their life, and pumping my fists in the air in excitement over it with the rest of the mouth breathers, then I don't want to be in touch. Roth comes off like an arrogant, obnoxious teenager in the interview, which could explain why he makes movies the way he does.

I have no problem with violence in movies. I have no problem with torture being depicted in movies. And I agree with Roth in saying that movies do not cause violence.

However, what disturbs me about this new torture trend is how it reflects the permissive nonchalance with which real-life torture is treated in this country. People think that torture is fun, and movies like Saw and Hostel are only feeding the beast. They come from the gross-out school of filmmaking - the idea that you have to see everything in gory detail in order for it to be scary. In reality, this is lazy, pandering filmmaking, the kind of thing that is geared toward an audience that is so ADD that they have to be constantly shown the scary things, instead of teased with them, which I think is far more scary.

That's why The Descent is one of the finest, most terrifying movies in years, and Hostel isn't. And if anything, The Descent is actually the more violent of the two. The difference is that Hostel and its offspring treat their audiences like idiot children, while The Descent and others like it (although they are few and far between), respect their audiences enough to give them credit for actually understanding what is going on, without constantly having to remind them.

The problem isn't always necessarily with the films themselves, but with the audiences. People eat this stuff up, and they enjoy it. The fact that people find torture enjoyable is more disturbing than anything going on onscreen. And as long as filmmakers keep feeding the beast, it will only get hungrier for ever increasing amounts of cinematic carnage, continuing this startling trend of a society who thinks torture is perfectly OK. And fun.
From Variety:
Mark Wahlberg has been set to star in "The Happening," the thriller that M. Night Shyamalan will direct in August in Philadelphia.

Shyamalan set a spec deal for the spooky apocalyptic pic at the studio earlier this month (Daily Variety, March 7, 2007).

Wahlberg will play a man who takes his family on the run when the world turns upside and a cataclysmic natural crisis threatens to end the world.

When he made the deal, Shyamalan brought back his "Unbreakable" and "Sixth Sense" producer Barry Mendel to produce with Sam Mercer, and also brought with him a co-financier in India-based UTV. UTV topper Ronnie Screwvala committed 50% of the film's $57 million budget, with Fox distributing worldwide except in India. It is the third recent film that UTV has co-financed at the studio, after the Mira Nair-directed "The Namesake," and the Chris Rock starrer "I Think I Love My Wife," both of which were distributed by Fox Searchlight.

Studio confirmed both Wahlberg and the date.

Twentieth Century Fox has carved out plans to release the film worldwide on Friday, June 13, 2008.

Click here to read the full story.

Shyamalan needs to rescue himself from the whole he has dug fast. He needs to direct a non-supernatural thriller to prove he's not just a one trick pony. He seems to make that hole deeper with each film he makes (in my opinion, he hasn't made an really good movie since Unbreakable in 2000). Releasing the film on Friday the 13th sounds gimmicky, like releasing the Omen remake on 6/6/06. Hopefully it won't end up being some pathetic cash-in like that was.

Lady in the Water was very much a make or break film for Shyamalan after the abysmal The Village, and it broke. The Happening needs to be a redeeming film. Time will tell whether or not audiences are willing to forgive him.
Variety is reporting that Dreamgirls Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson may co-star with Last King of Scotland Best Actor champ Forest Whitaker in Winged Creatures, a drama directed by Rowan Woods about survivors of a murder in a restaurant, and also stars Kate Beckinsale, Guy Pearce, Dakota Fanning, Jackie Earle Haley, and Embeth Davidtz.

This is our chance to see if Hudson really has the acting chops to deserve the title of Oscar winner. She is a great singer, but her acting while not singing still shows the signs of inexperience. This will be her chance to sink or soar, and prove to the world that that Oscar wasn't just a fluke.

Monday, March 26, 2007

From Yahoo! News:

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Suicide prevention groups are dead set against the proposed ad campaign for the comedy "Wristcutters: A Love Story," which plans to bill itself with posters showing people killing themselves.

The images will depict people jumping off a bridge, electrocuting and hanging themselves. The acclaimed film follows a group of people that have committed suicide (including stars Patrick Fugit and Shannyn Sossamon) making fun of other causes of death, but you see it with suicide and mental illness," Robert Gebbia, executive director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), wrote in a letter to the film's backers.

But Courtney Solomon, co-owner of After Dark Films, said the posters will be displayed as traffic-style stop or yield signs with a bar and circle over the illustrations, along with hearts to reference the film's romantic story line. He said the campaign may change before its mid-July rollout.

Click here to read the full story.

Matt to AFSP: Get over it.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

From Variety:

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson will finish out the full term at Hogwarts.

Trio have officially inked deals to reprise their roles in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the final two pics in the wizarding franchise based on J.K. Rowling's best-selling book series.

Click here to read the full story

Saturday, March 24, 2007

From Variety:

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are teaming for the first time since "Titanic" to star in DreamWorks' "Revolutionary Road."

Sam Mendes will direct the pic, based on the acclaimed 1961 novel by Richard Yates about post-war disillusionment.

John N. Hart, Scott Rudin, Bobby Cohen and Mendes, who's married to Winslet, will produce in association with BBC Films.

Yates' heart-rending and bleak tome, celebrated for its storytelling style, follows a seemingly happy suburban couple with two children in the mid-1950s who find themselves caught between their true desires and the pressure to conform -- with explosive consequences.

Mendes begins lensing this summer from an adapted screenplay by scribe Justin Haythe, said DreamWorks chair-CEO Stacey Snider.

Click here to read the full story.

I hope this is able to get past the "oh it's the Titanic reunion" vibe that it has right now. Sam Mendes directed the excellent American Beauty (one of my favorite films), and is also married to Winslet. Hopefully together they will conjure up something special.
You can tell there is a major election coming up, because the Federal Trade Commission is working on finalizing its report on marketing violent entertainment to children.

From the New York Times:

The Federal Trade Commission is putting the final touches on a follow-up to its September 2000 report on the marketing to children of violent movies, music and video games. The first such assessment in three years, it will examine the selling practices of a mainstream entertainment industry that in the interim has become increasingly dependent on abductions, maimings, decapitations and other mayhem once kept away from studio slates.

Seven years ago the film industry narrowly avoided federal regulation of its advertising practices, as politicians, in the wake of the Columbine High School killings, called executives before a Congressional committee but eventually agreed to let Hollywood police itself.

The effectiveness of the resulting marketing guidelines is now being tested by rougher movies, competitors not bound by strictures that apply to the trade association’s major studio members, and a flourishing Web culture that has driven big openings in the last three years for harshly violent films like “Saw” or “Hostel” without much concern about the age of viewers.

If the new study were to find that the industry has violated or has outgrown its voluntary standards, it might kick the issue back into the political arena ahead of a presidential election. There it could trigger fresh calls for regulation, or even kill a gory source of relatively easy money.
Of course they should let Hollywood police themselves. Anything else would be censorship. This is the kind of conservative knee-jerk non-issue that appears around election time to make politicians appear to be a strong "family values" candidate, and then disappears as soon as the candidate is elected. This has been a pet project of everyone from John McCain to Hillary Clinton for years, but only, as you might have noticed, during election time.
Neither After Dark nor Lionsgate is a member of the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the major studios. Such nonmember companies are not bound by the association’s promise to keep ads away from television shows, magazines and Web sites for which 35 percent or more of the audience is under 17. But they do agree to use approved advertising materials for any film that is submitted to the group for rating. In the case of “Captivity,” the association had disapproved of the material and is now considering disciplinary measures.

“I’m very, very troubled by this particular case,” Dan Glickman, the trade group’s chief executive, said Thursday about the “Captivity” billboards. “I can tell you this issue will not go unnoticed.”
While I applaud MPAA head Glickman's efforts to gain mainstream acceptance of the NC-17 rating, the hoopla over this billboard is a bit much.

The offending billboard is no more graphic than advertisements for the Saw films have been.

Teens are going to want to see R-rated films. Every teen boy in the country probably wanted to see 300, and most, I imagine, have found a way to see it. And most of them don't get their information from billboards and TV spots. They get it from the internet. MySpace was swamped with ads for 300 months before the film was released. And how many MySpace users are under 17?

I will agree that there are some films that children shouldn't see. But it always depends on the film and the child. The idea of Washington policing Hollywood is a starting down a very slippery slope that has implications I find very disturbing. How long is it before they start dictating content of films, and artistic expression takes a blow in the name of "protecting the children" or worse yet, "preserving decency."

No one has the right to police what you watch other than you. Plain and simple. It's that whole "freedom of speech" thing that our government seems to have such a problem with. I just want to know why more time isn't spent trying to get our troops out of the very real violence in Iraq instead of worrying about fake violence on the silver screen?

In my review of Saw III back in November I said:
That made me wonder as I left the theater, what does "Saw III" say about us as a society? The audience is not pulling for the victim, they are pulling for Jigsaw. They want the victim to fail in their quest so they can see the horrible trap be set off, showcasing yet another ingeniously sadistic way to die. I wonder what film historians will say about the "Saw" films and the society that gave birth to them. Just as the "Rambo" films were born out of Reagan-era America, with its burly, muscle-man machismo, what is it about us today that gave rise to the overwhelming popularity of torture-oriented horror films like "Saw" and "Hostel?"

Torture and sadism are the new standards of horror. Americans are thirsty for more blood. And each new film has to top the previous one in acts of bloody savagery. It makes me wonder, if in today's world where our own government endorses torture of foreign detainees, where incidents like Abu Ghraib are standard on the nightly news, are we as a society desensitized to, if not flat out entertained by, human atrocities? Is that why we allow these things to happen? People are not going to see "Saw III" to be disturbed - they are going to be entertained. I can't help but think what separates us from the Romans shouting for the kill as prisoners were fed to the lions in the Coliseum?

That's not to say I have a problem with violence in film (I actually thought "Hostel" was too tame). My two favorite films of the year so far, Clint Eastwood's elegiac "Flags of Our Fathers" and Martin Scorsese's brutal "The Departed," both feature extreme violence. I don't believe there is such a thing as "too far," unless someone actually gets killed. People can film whatever they want. However, when such sadistic brutality becomes fun instead of repulsive, then something seems wrong about how we view films, not necessarily the films themselves.
And I stand by that. However it is not the job of the films or filmmakers so much as it is for the audience and their perception. Saw III's extreme violence was the result of poor filmmaking skill and lack of confidence in their own abilities. It was born out of unoriginality and storytelling weakness. The problem was in how the film was so well recieved by audiences, which is much more disturbing than anything in the film itself.

In the screening of The Hills Have Eyes that I attended last year, a middle aged lady next to me was pumping her fist in the air and yelling "that's what I'm talking about, rip his throat out!" during the gory, vigilante finale. And while I thought The Hills Have Eyes was a pretty good horror film, I was more disturbed by the woman next to me than the carnage onscreen.

I think that speaks volumes about today's audiences. We are a blood thirsty society, and Hollywood, ever the capitalists, are only too willing to feed the bloodlust. But each time they have to top themselves, and the audiences keep demanding more and more.

The same thing goes for stupid comedy as well. Audiences love it, and as long as tickets are being bought Hollywood will keep churning it out. Therefore the blame doesn't necessarily rest with Hollywood, but with the low tastes of America's viewing public and studios' greed.

How to solve it? I have no idea. All I know is that it's not the government's business. They have better things to do.

Friday, March 23, 2007

For those of you who live in North Carolina, the RiverRun International Film Festival has announced its lineup.

The festival will kick off with a screening of Paris, je t'aime, a valentine to the City of Light told through a collection of vignettes directed by such noted directors as Gurinder Chadha, the Coen brothers, Wes Craven, Alexander Payne, Walter Salles and Gus Van Sant, and starring Natalie Portman, Margo Martindale, Steve Buscemi, Juliette Binoche, Gerard Depardieu, Bob Hoskins and Elijah Wood.

The festival's Centerpiece Premiere will feature Snow Cake, a film by Marc Evans starring Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, and Carrie-Anne Moss.

Also showing will be The Boss of it All, the new film by Danish auteur Lars von Trier (Dancer in the Dark, Dogville), The Trials of Darryl Hunt, a documentary about a man wrongfully accused and later exonerated after nearly 20 years of a brutal rape and murder in Winston-Salem in 1982, and Beowulf & Grendel, a retelling of the famous epic poem starring Gerard Butler (300), Stellan Skarsgard (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest), and Sarah Polley (Dawn of the Dead). A documentary about the supposedly "cursed" production of Beowulf & Grendel, Wrath of Gods, will also be showing in competition.

In addition, there will be screenings of the 2006 Academy Award winning documentary short, The Blood of Yingzhou District, and Academy Award nominated short films The Saviour and Eramos Pocos (which is sweet and worth seeing).

The festival will conclude with a screening of the classic The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, following the awards ceremony.

The festival runs from April 18 - 23 in Winston-Salem. For more information, visit Click here to see the full lineup of films.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The New Statesman sits down with my favorite director to talk about his new art exhibit, The Air is On Fire.

"They say once the bell has been rung, it's been rung," says David Lynch cryptically, his pale blue eyes staring fixedly past my right shoulder, out over the pristine panorama of Paris visible from the top floor of the Fondation Cartier gallery. He looks like a rugged, kindly old lumberjack, but there is something very odd about his manner. He never makes eye contact, and, as he talks, he holds his hand up to his right ear and wiggles his fingers, as if speaking through an imaginary glove puppet. The effect is disconcerting, to say the least. I feel a chill run down my spine, the same kind of sensation I experienced when Patricia Arquette suddenly turned into a horrible grinning demon in Lost Highway, or when Dennis Hopper appeared clutching his gas mask in Blue Velvet. "That was, you know, a very bad thing. A very bad thing."

Lynch is talking about the Abu Ghraib scandal. That moment when America's perversions were paraded in front of a world audience in some ways fulfilled his personal prophecy. For decades, his films have explored the darkness inherent in American culture, often through the prism of twisted sexuality. Behind gleaming white picket fences, the Lynchian landscape has always been characterised by sexualised violence, from Twin Peaks' Laura Palmer, the schoolgirl who "got off on" being murdered, through Alice, the pros titute dismembered in Lost Highway, to Blue Velvet's sadomasochistic nightclub singer, played by Lynch's then-partner, Isabella Rossellini.

I ask him whether he feels his artistic vision has been vindicated by recent events in America. "That's exactly the way it's been going," he says, nodding sagely. "In the 1950s, everything had a very beautiful façade. There was optimism in the air and a feeling of moving forward in a good way. But, looking back, we realise that all the sicknesses and perversions, distortions, all these things were there. They were just covered over. No one talked about them; no one looked, really. But in the time since then, the sicknesses are being revealed, and everyone says, 'Oh my goodness, oh my goodness' - but it was always there. So it's a good thing. It's there and they examine it, and maybe try and find a way to cure some things."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Variety is reporting that director Julie Taymor may have her name removed from her upcoming Beatles musical, Across the Universe. The film was supposed to be released on September 28 of this year (after missing its 2006 release date). Joe Roth, executive for for the film's studio, Revolution, recut the film without Taymor's knowledge or consent and test screened it for audiences.

While Taymor does not have final cut of the film, I really hope Roth doesn't release his cut. Taymor is one of the greatest visual artists working today, and it would be a shame, if not a travesty, to see her work tampered with.

This kind of studio bludgeoning of artistic integrity is not uncommon, but it is one of their sleazier practices. RKO did the same thing to Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons in 1942 behind his back, and they even went so far as to destroy the excised footage. No one has ever seen Welles true vision of the film.

Let us hope it is not the same for Taymor.

Monday, March 19, 2007

From USA Today:
BEVERLY HILLS (AP) — Stuart Rosenberg, a prolific director of series television and theatrical films who partnered with Paul Newman on the widely popular prison drama Cool Hand Luke and several other movies, has died at 79.

Rosenberg, who also directed The Amityville Horror, died of a heart attack Thursday at his home in Beverly Hills, according to his son, Benjamin.

Rosenberg's first film was Cool Hand Luke, the 1967 drama starring Newman as an inmate on a chain gang who becomes an unlikely hero.

"He was as good as anybody I ever worked with," Newman said in a statement.

Cool Hand Luke was nominated for four Academy Awards, with George Kennedy taking home a statute for best supporting actor. The film also spawned the famous line delivered by Strother Martin as a guard captain: "What we've got here is failure to communicate."
Click here to read the full story.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Saturday, March 17, 2007

From The Guardian:

The tumbleweeds that skid across the barren desert of Hollywood creativity showed no sign of letting up yesterday as Warner Bros announced it is reinventing Sherlock Holmes as an action hero.

Neil Marshall, the highly regarded British director of The Descent, has been hired to orchestrate proceedings and transform the erudite sleuth of 221B Baker Street into something a little more rough-hewn.

The story will be adapted from Lionel Wigram's upcoming graphic novel Sherlock Holmes, with the British Wigram set to produce.

Studio executives are keeping mum about the storyline, although it is understood that Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary creation will rely less on tugging pensively on his pipe and employ instead his little known pugilistic skills and swordsmanship to vanquish Victorian villainy.
I don't like the sound of this it all. It's too close to the abysmal Van Helsing for comfort.

Come on Marshall, we expected better from you after The Descent. It's the best horror film of the decade...please prove me wrong and make this bad idea work.
I've posted this before, but in honor of its recent DVD release, I felt it warranted repeating.

Directed by
John Cameron Mitchell
Stars Sook-Yin Lee, Paul Dawson, Lindsay Beamish, PJ DeBoy, Raphael Barker, Peter Stickles, Jay Brannan, Justin Bond
Not Rated - contains pervasive, explicit sexuality, graphic nudity, language, mature themes and drug use

In John Cameron Mitchell’s sophomore directorial effort after Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the actors do almost every conceivable sex act under sun, and it’s all real. Once referred to as “The Sex Film Project” while in production, Shortbus uses graphic, unsimulated sex to explore the profound effect that sex and sexuality has on a group of disillusioned, post-9/11 New Yorkers – a married sex therapist who has never had an orgasm, a gay couple thinking of opening up their relationship, a dominatrix who can’t connect to other people, and the denizens that surround them in a sex-themed nightclub called Shortbus.

Watching the film, I was reminded of a recent discussion in my Film Theory and Criticism class of what defines pornography, and what separates it from art. The definition we arrived at was that to be called pornography, it must have a “money shot.” Well, Shortbus delivers two – within the first ten minutes. So where do you draw the line between art and pornography?

Shortbus is the perfect embodiment of that question, because it is the most sexually explicit film ever shown outside of a back alley porn house, and as such was released unrated to avoid the inevitable NC-17 rating (although even no NC-17 has even been this extreme). What separates Shortbus from being pornography, or for that matter mere sensationalism, is its heart. Pornography is not meant to have any emotional impact or make any statement, it is only meant to excite. Shortbus, on the other hand, is a deep and probing film, exploring the intricacies of sexuality and relationships with warmth, humor, and heart.

Mitchell fearlessly breaks ground with his new film, but the real sex is more than just a subversive gimmick to lure in curiosity seekers – it adds a gravity and a realism that the film wouldn’t otherwise have had. Knowing that the actors are actually doing what we see on screen in real life is also a tribute to their dedication to this project. The actors worked in close collaboration with Mitchell to develop their characters and their individual stories, making the film an ensemble piece of the truest kind.

But what makes Shortbus so unique and so special, is that no other film in history has ever been this open and honest about sex. It’s frankness, mixed with its keen insight into the carnal desires of human nature makes it the most essential film about sexuality since Last Tango in Paris in 1972.

It explores sexuality in a very open and moving way, with a joy and exuberance that is as exciting as it is liberating. The enthusiasm of Mitchell and the cast simply radiates from the screen.

Without boundaries, without restrictions, and without fear, Mitchell has crafted a singular work of art, an unabashedly erotic amalgam of sexual experiences, straight, gay, and everywhere in between, fearlessly melded together in one fantastically raucous, yet somehow poignant visceral experience.

Mitchell is a born filmmaker, one of America ’s true independents, and Shortbus showcases his bravura narrative and stylistic talents. He boldly goes where no other filmmaker has gone before, and emerges with a glorious, groundbreaking, taboo-shattering film that transcends convention and skillfully avoids exploitation.

In an era where violence in entertainment is becoming more and more accepted, while sex remains mysteriously more taboo, Mitchell intrepidly tears down barriers for something more than shock value. He has created one of the most emotionally naked films in recent memory and a landmark in cinema history.

Shortbus is at once wild and untrammeled, loose and free-wheeling, yet strangely tender and poignant as well. It’s a giant, no-holds-barred love letter to sex, the human condition, and all the complications that go along with it.

In short – Shortbus is a triumph.

GRADE - **** (four out of four stars)
From The Hollywood Reporter:

Cate Blanchett has signed on to star in the fourth installment of the "Indiana Jones" adventures.

Harrison Ford already has boarded the project, which will be produced by Lucasfilm and directed by Steven Spielberg.With David Koepp's screenplay shrouded in secrecy, it is unclear what character Blanchett will play. However, sources said the Oscar-winning actress has landed a starring role.

Shooting will begin in June in Los Angeles and at undisclosed locations around the world. Paramount Pictures will release "Indy 4" day-and-date around the world on May 22, 2008, with a handful of territories opening the following day.

Friday, March 16, 2007

From the New York Post:

THE people who dole out ratings at the Motion Picture Assn. of America just might flip out when they see "Grindhouse," Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's tribute to the ultraviolent, nudity-drenched pictures that once screened 'round the clock in the grungy movie palaces of 42nd Street.

The Weinstein Company, which is releasing the picture April 6 through its Dimension Films arm, needs an R rating for the flick to get into mainstream theaters. But, "some of it is so graphic and outrageous for a major
Hollywood studio, there's no question it's headed for an NC-17 without big cuts," says a Page Six operative, who got a sneak peek at the most over-the-top footage.

"Grindhouse" is actually two short movies - one directed by Tarantino, the other by Rodriguez - with an intermission between them. During the break, a series of fake trailers will be shown for such fictitious titles as "Werewolf Women of the SS," directed by Rob Zombie.

"In one scene, a cute, topless girl is roughly tied down on a table by evil female Nazi experimenters who begin draining her blood and, as she screams in agony, they brand her like livestock with a coal-hot steel swastika," our source said. "And every girl in the Nazi concentration camp is topless."
I'm sure Grindhouse is plenty graphic - that is kind of the point after all. But this smells like a plant, trying to stir nonexistant controversy to up ticket sales, to get people to show up to to see if those topless concentration camps actually make it in the movie.

The fact that this story was in the Post only compounds my suspicions.
From The Hollywood Reporter:

LAS VEGAS -- The Classification and Ratings Administration is adding a new warning to the description of its R rating.

While the R rating requires that anyone under the age of 17 be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian, the National Association of Theatre Owners and the MPAA, which operates the ratings system, want to discourage parents from bringing smaller children to violent and sexually graphic movies. The new advisory will read: "Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures."


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Variety is reporting that Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Thirteen will premiere out of competition at the 60th annual Cannes Film Festival in May.

The film stars George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon, with Al Pacino joining the all star cast from the previous films.

Ocean's Eleven grossed $183,417,150 at the domestic box office in 2001, according to Box Office Mojo, while its critically maligned sequel, Ocean's Twelve, made $125,544,280 three years later.
Ocean's Thirteen will be one of several third franchise installments bowing this summer, joining Shrek the Third, Spiderman 3, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.

The film is set to open theatrically on June 8. The Cannes Film Festival will announce the rest of its lineup on April 19.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I've been looking forward to Knocked Up, Judd Apatow's follow-up for his sweet and hysterical The 40-Year-Old Virgin, ever since I saw the massive, 3-minute R-rated trailer on YouTube a month or so ago:

Now Nikki Finke is reporting that buzz coming out of early screenings has been hugely positive. According to Finke:
They're saying how it's funnier and filthier than The 40 Year Old Virgin which Judd Apatow also wrote and directed and produced, but also has that same level of emotional honesty. So it's clear that the 39-year-old Judd is the Hollywood hottie of the moment. He and Ben Stiller are the hardest-working men in film comedy. Apatow's Knocked Up could be huge this summer (and I haven't heard such great buzz on a non-sequel R-rated comedy since Wedding Crashers).

Admittedly, I wasn't as impressed with Wedding Crashers as everyone else was, but I fell hard for 40-Year-Old Virgin. Its pitch-perfect blend of raunch and heart made for one of the best and most surprising comedies in years. I wrote a glowing review of it at the time that I thought was one of the best reviews I had ever written, only to have it lost in a computer crash, so it was never published. I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere.

But I am very glad to hear that the early notices for Knocked Up (which is set to be released on June 1st) have been positive. Apatow is obviously a great talent. At the rate he is going he could end up being this generation's Mel Brooks.
Conversation at the annual ShoWest theater exhibitors conference apparently included talks of making the dreaded NC-17 a more prominent rating.

According to the article in Variety:

Discussion also centered on changes to the ratings system, unveiled earlier this year, most notably those altering the appellate process along with a more concerted effort to gain wider acceptance for the NC-17 rating.

The MPAA has institutionalized several changes to ensure that people aren't turned off by NC-17 -- especially filmmakers who receive it. So the most significant change is marketing-driven: Org will be trying to dispel any notion that the rating constitutes something negative.

As for appeals, MPAA legal eagle Greg Goeckner said that the ratings board is making changes to its process, including cracking down on frivolous appeals brought by companies largely as a way to get free publicity.

Smaller indie companies in particular have at times used the appeals process as a way of bringing attention to a racy film, crying censorship on pics that are obviously NC-17 fare.

The problem with the NC-17 is that many people equate it, like the defunct X rating, with pornography.

Which isn't true. It is true, however, that most NC-17 rated films are so rated because of their explicit sexual content, but the rating could also be applied to extreme violence, the kind found in films such as Saw III, which featured some of the most gruesome scenes I have ever seen in a mainstream movie.

There have been very few NC-17 rated films in recent years. One of the most notable was Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers (pictured above) back in 2003, which was the first film to recieve an NC-17 in 7 years. It was a good film, but not on the level of Bertolucci's masterpiece, Last Tango in Paris (pictured below), which remains one of the most controversial (and I would argue, one of the greatest) films of all time.

Last Tango was rated X when it was first released back in 1972, but now carries the NC-17 rating. And being the classic that it is, it's probably one of the few that is actually known outside of art-houses. Noted film critic Pauline Kael even declared that it "altered the face of an art form." Where are the filmmakers brave enough to do that now?

Many theater chains refuse to show NC-17 rated films, and Blockbuster refuses to rent them (it rents out The Dreamers in its tamer, R rated form). And in fact, most films that are going to be rated NC-17 are released unrated.

The most recent notable example is John Cameron Mitchell's sublime Shortbus (pictured above), which has the distinction of being the most sexually explicit narrative film ever shown outside of a porn theater. Had it been rated there is no question it would have been rated NC-17, but instead it was released unrated.

Other art-house hits such as Alfonso Cuarón's highly acclaimed Mexican drama Y Tu Mamá También (pictured above) were released unrated despite their NC-17 level sexuality, and were probably more profitable as a result. Y Tu Mamá made $13,839,658 in the United States alone according to Box Office Mojo, while popular Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar's Bad Education only made $5,211,842 with an NC-17 rating.

There may not be a correlation at all, but both were Spanish language films, both were made by popular foreign directors, but the box office gap makes you wonder. Almodóvar's previous film, Talk to Her made $9,285,469 at the domestic box office, while his next film, Volver, has made $12,516,745 to date.

Could the NC-17 have been a factor? Most likely. But the stigma should be erased. It will indeed take a brave studio to release the first mainstream NC-17, and it will take some convincing for the studios, but I would like to see it turned into a viable rating, instead of being ghettoized and shunned by the mainstream community.

We need a hit NC-17 film. Who will step up to the plate and be the first?
In the latest issue of Time, Azadeh Moaveni writes:

All of Tehran was outraged. Everywhere I went yesterday, the talk vibrated with indignation over the film 300 — a movie no one in Iran has seen but everyone seems to know about since it became a major box office surprise in the U.S. As I stood in line for a full hour to buy ajeel, a mixture of dried fruits and nuts traditional to the start of Persian new year festivities, I felt the entire queue, composed of housewives with pet dogs, teenagers, and clerks from a nearby ministry, shake with fury. I hadn't even heard of the film until that morning when a screed about it came on the radio, so I was able to nod darkly with the rest of the shoppers, savoring a moment of public accord so rare in Tehran. Everywhere else I went, from the dentist to the flower shop, Iranians buzzed with resentment at the film's depictions of Persians, adamant that the movie was secretly funded by the U.S. government to prepare Americans for going to war against Iran. "Otherwise why now, if not to turn their people against us?" demanded an elderly lady buying tuberoses. "Yes, truly it is a grave offense," I said, shaking my own bunch of irises.
A poster commenting on a story about this over at Hollywood-Elsewhere brought up a good point. How many Americans really equate Persians with Iranians?

How many people sitting in the theater this weekend watching 300 thought "wow, I hate those Iranians" every time a villainous Persian appeared on screen? I can almost guarantee it was very, very few. I saw hatred for Muslims coming out of screenings of United 93 (which compounded some of the problems I had with the film), but I didn't hear a single derogatory mention of Iranians or Persians coming out of 300. Just a lot of people who were really pumped at having seen a mindlessly thrilling action film.

The sad truth is, the average American just does not know that much about history, especially ancient history. If it does not immediately apply to them, then they don't know about it.

Even if 300 was some anti-Iranian American propaganda piece (which it's not), the simple fact is that Americans wouldn't understand it. They don't know that Iranians are descendents of the Persians. And they probably don't know where Persia was in the first place. You say Persia they think rugs, not Iran.

This isn't going to stir up anti-Iranian sentiments. And even if Americans did understand that the people who are portrayed as the villains in 300 are the ancestors of modern-day Iranians, I would hope that they would understand that this is a fictionalized account of a historic event. But you never know.

I find it interesting that a film, especially one as un-political as 300, has caused such an international stir. I just hope it doesn't end up becoming a flashpoint in a conflict.
Yahoo! News is reporting that Universal Pictures is planning on rereleasing the New Age film and box office dud Peaceful Warrior in theaters on March 30.

The only difference is that this time admission will be free.

Universal is offering $15 million worth of free tickets to the film through Best Buy in a grassroots marketing ploy to try to get word out on the film, not unlike a similar strategy used on the Christian film Left Behind back in 2000 (although it went directly to video then hit theaters).

This is certainly an interesting move, but I doubt it will be a profitable one. Handing out free tickets to a film with pretty much zero interest outside of very small niche markets is not going to encourage those who really want to see it to pay money for it. This is not the kind of film that plays well across the board. I doubt it will expand interest beyond fans of the best-selling inspirational New Age book on which it is based.

Peaceful Warrior made $1,066,748 during its initial theatrical run back in June 2006, according to Box Office Mojo. And they're giving away $15 million in tickets?

There's no way this movie will turn a profit.
From Variety:

Warner Bros.' "300" is being greeted in Iran with about as much warmth as a U.N. weapons inspector.

While U.S. auds see the film as a comicbook come to life -- replete with hyperstylized action and broadly drawn heroes and villains -- it has a deeper resonance in the Mideast, where it's seen as a distorted view of very real events.

"Hollywood declares war on Iranians," exclaimed a headline in Iranian daily Ayandeh-No. Javad Shangari, a cultural adviser to Iranian prexy Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, attacked the film as being "part of a comprehensive U.S. psychological warfare aimed at Iranian culture."

Click here to read the full story.

Apparently, American conservatives aren't the only ones that think Hollywood is out to get them.

300 may be pretty to look at and fun to watch, but there is nothing deeper going on there. It's pure spectacle, that's it. People of all political stripes may try to apply ideologies to it, you can even apply cultural theories to it. But the film itself will never mean anything more than what you see on the surface. It's all flash and no substance, even if the flash is very well done.
From Variety:

Simmering tensions exploded into all-out war Tuesday between the world's biggest Internet company and the traditional media conglom that's feeling the most pain from the Net.

Viacom's decision to sue YouTube and its corporate parent Google for $1 billion reflects MTV Networks' vulnerable position as it loses young viewers to the Internet and raises major questions about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the law that governs online piracy.

Ironically, Viacom's MTV2 was the first network to formally use YouTube for promotion early last year. But by the fall the conglom asked YouTube to take down several thousand long clips, and last month it ordered the site to remove more than 100,000 pirated videos after talks about a revenue-sharing pact broke down.

Click here to read the full story.

There's got to be some way to come to an agreement on this. The problem is that Viacom and other companies like it are having trouble adjusting to new trends and technologies. They can't stop it forever. This is a battle they cannot win. They're just going to have to eventually give up and join them, because they can't beat them.

The new software that has been developed to detect copywrighted material should be used, and ad revenue from the page it is posted on sent to the copywright holder.

That may be an oversimplification because I'm not an expert on business dealings, but it makes sense.

The billion dollar lawsuit is the "jump the shark" move on Viacom's part, because they are fighting against the popular will, they very customers they depend on for revenue.

And in cases like this, the popular will, and progress, always win.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Every year there seems to be at least one nominee that just doesn't belong (oftentimes there are more). So I decided to look back over the last few years, and replace one nominee with another film I feel was more deserving.

2006 Nominees:
The Departed
Little Miss Sunshine
Letters from Iwo Jima
The Queen

Remove: Little Miss Sunshine
Replacament: Children of Men

Little Miss Sunshine may be cute, but it doesn't hold a candle to Alfonso Cuaron's dystopian nightmare about a not-too-distant future where women are infertile and the world has descended into chaos. Cuaron's film is one that will one day be taught in film classes, while Little Miss Sunshine will be remembered as a charming box office success story that got caught up in its own hype.

2005 Nominees:
Brokeback Mountain
Good Night, and Good Luck

Remove: Crash
Replacement: King Kong

Don't get me wrong, Crash was good. But hindsight on the film has not been kind. It's a film of Big Ideas, yes. But not confident enough to let them speak for themselves, director Paul Haggis handles the material with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong on the other hand features a surprising amount of subtlety for a massive epic adventure. It may be grand old fashioned filmmaking on an enourmous scale, but Jackson keeps the focus intimate and emotional, and in the process reminds us all why we go to the movies in the first place.

2004 Nominees:
The Aviator
Finding Neverland
Million Dollar Baby

Remove: Ray
Replace with: Dogville

Very few of those films actually deserved to make the top 5, but of the chosen nominees, Ray is the most problematic. Ray got off to a good start, and features a terrific performance by Jamie Foxx, who is surrounded by a very talented ensemble cast, but it stumbles by the end, finishing up like a made-for-TV movie, completely washing over the dramatic build-up. Lars von Trier's dark, brilliant study of human nature, Dogville, on the other hand, pushes cinema into places it has never gone before. It is new, daring, and fresh, where Ray is conventional and familiar.

2003 Nominees:
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Lost in Translation
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Mystic River

Remove: Seabiscuit
Replacement: In America

Seabiscuit may quite possibly be the most inexplicable Best Picture nominee of the decade. A stiff, starchy, awkward "prestige picture" that ends up just being laughable. In America is just the opposite. It is a lucid, heartfelt autobiographical piece by director Jim Sheridan, as told through the starry eyes of two repressible little Irish girls who move to America with their family in the 1980s. Never pandering, never sentimental, In America is an emotional powerhouse that knows just what buttons to push, without pushing too hard.

2002 Nominees:
Gangs of New York
The Hours
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Pianist

Remove: Gangs of New York
Replacement: Far From Heaven

I loved Gangs of New York But it just has too many problems to be Top 5 material...which is mainly the fault of the screenplay. Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes' luminous homage to Douglas Sirk, finds the depth and pain behind its beautiful, artificial facade, and is one of the most finely crafted, overlooked films of the decade.

2001 Nominees:
A Beautiful Mind
Gosford Park
In the Bedroom
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Moulin Rouge

Remove: A Beautiful Mind
Replacement: Mulholland Drive
The Academy was so determined to award Ron Howard that they named A Beautiful Mind Best Picture of the Year, despite its rather middle of the road aesthetics. It's well done, yes, but at its core is conventional and overly sentimental. Which could never be said for David Lynch's brilliantly surreal masterpiece, Mulholland Drive, which is the very definition of original.

2000 Nominees:
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Erin Brockovich
Remove: Erin Brockovich
Replacement: Dancer in the Dark
While Chocolat probably shouldn't have been nominated either, of Steven Soderbergh's 2000 output, Traffic is by far the stronger film, while Erin Brockovich is a more conventional film, even if it is a good one. Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark is a transcendent experience, a masterfully crafted film that honors and skewers musicals at the same time, while offering up a scathing critique of America's justice system. It is one of the great emotional cinematic experiences of my lifetime.

Monday, March 12, 2007

I caught an advance screening of The Last Mimzy (March 23) over the weekend, and was actually rather impressed overall. It's pretty much Donnie Darko for kids, but it's a rare children's film that doesn't insult their intelligence.

New Line executive Bob Shaye's direction isn't the best, but the material overcomes his awkward pacing and lack of experience with actors somehow. It's not a great film, but it's a surprisingly good one.

It's nice to see a film for kids that doesn't treat them like idiots, portrays them like real kids, and truly appeals to everyone. But Mimzy pulls it off. The plot is full of holes, but the more I think about it the more I like it. It's unique enough and charming enough to be worth it.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Thursday, March 08, 2007

From Variety:

Disney animation is flashing back to the '90s.

At the conglom's shareholders meeting in New Orleans on Thursday, Walt Disney Feature Animation Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter officially unveiled "The Frog Princess," Disney Animation Studio's 2009 toon release.

"Frog Princess" will be a hand drawn musical, the type of pic that defined Disney's triumphant animation run in the '90s, but was abandoned by the Mouse in 2005 after a string of flops like "Home on the Range" and "The Emperor's New Groove." Like every other major studio, Disney has since focused on CGI toons, such as "Chicken Little" and this month's "Meet the Robinsons."

"The Frog Princess" is being directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, helmers of "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin," and "Hercules." They left the studio several years ago but were wooed back last year after Lasster and Ed Catmull took over Disney animation following the acquisition of Pixar. Originals songs and score are being penned by Pixar favorite Randy Newman.

Click here to read the full story.

It's about time Disney went back to its glory days. They haven't made a truly good film without Pixar since the vastly underappreciated The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1996. I'm feeling nostalgic already - I grew up with those animated musicals of the 90s, and loved everyone of them (until Hercules, anyway).

I do wish that they had tapped Alan Menken for the score though. The man didn't hit a false note during Disney's entire power run of the 90s.
In a report released by the US State Department this week, Kazakhstan was listed as a violator of human rights for censoring Sacha Baron Cohen's .kz web domain for his film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, which grossed $128,487,593 domestically, because it was considered offensive.

Also listed were the Bahamas for banning Ang Lee's Oscar winning film, Brokeback Mountain which according to their government "lacked public value and depicted extreme homosexuality, nudity and profanity;" and Egypt and Samoa for banning Ron Howard's film version of The Da Vinci Code out of fear that it would cause religious unrest.

The report also listed Poland among the violators, "for a court's failure to act on an appeal by artist Dorota Nieznalska, who was convicted in 2004 of offending religious beliefs and sentenced to six months of "restricted freedom" and community service for putting a photo of male genitals on a Christian cross."

I don't know why, but I find some poetic justice in the fact that the United States Government is having to defend Brokeback Mountain and putting male genitals on a know they had to be gritting their teeth the whole time.

To read more about the State Department report, click here.
From Cinema-Blend:

An absolutely reliable, unfortunately anonymous source, contacted me tonight with the latest scoop on Forrest’s impending return. It seems that old 2001 Eric Roth screenplay is being dragged out of development hell for another look by Gump producers Steve Tisch and Wendy Finerman. Remember that the first Forrest Gump movie was based on a novel by Winston Groom. Roth’s sequel script was based on Groom’s followup novel, “Gump & Co”. “Gump & Co” takes place several years after “Forrest Gump” and finds Forrest’s shrimping business failed and Jenny dead, leaving Forrest a single unemployed father. As you’d expect, Gump still stumbles through more important historical events. In this case it’s a cavalcade of history from the 80s and 90s. He even meets Tom Hanks.
This just has bad idea written all over it. It may have worked for The Godfather, I could even see a Departed sequel (maybe), but Forrest Gump? What about that movie needed expanding upon? It reached a natural conclusion, going forward with it would be contrived.

Yes the original one was extremely popular, but wanting to make this sequel seems like a shameless pocketbook-lining ploy. The original one was a good film, not a great one...under no circumstances did it deserve to win Best Picture over Pulp Fiction, one of the most important cinematic works of the decade. It was the movie of the moment, nothing more.

If this actually comes to fruition, especially now 13 years after the release of the original, I think everyone will see it for what it is. The moment has passed. Let it go.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Thanks to Kris Tapley at In Contention for posting this statement by Kevin O'Connell:
I would first like to thank all of you for the overwhelming response to my mother's passing. To see such a positive response at one of the darkest times in my life has been unbelievably comforting, not just to me, but to my entire family as well.

As for all of your responses to Mr. Minkler's backstage comments:

I have never seen a community get together and rally around one of their own as you all have. It is deeply appreciated. Many people forwarded some of your responses to me, and I found them to be quite comforting.

On Thursday morning, March 1st, I was forwarded a letter from Mr. Minkler, in which he wrote:

"Dear Kevin, At a press event after the Oscars, I responded to what I thought was a misplaced question with a silly, sarcastic, and offhanded response. Regrettably, my remarks were not stated, understood, or reported in the spirit they were intended. It was not my intention to impugn your professionalism, your work, or your achievements. I wish you the best in the future. Best regards, Michael Minkler"

That said, I think it is time for all of us to move on in the best interest of the sound community, and put this behind us. I cannot express how moved I have been from all of your support. There is no doubt that I belong to a brotherhood that is unified, strong and proud, and exemplifies some of the finest human spirits in the motion picture industry.

I will be forever grateful.

Kevin O'Connell
Click here to get caught up on the events.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Thanks to Jeff Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere for posting this statement made by Michael Minkler after disparaging fellow nominee Kevin O'Connell at the Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday.

"Gentlemen, Friends, and Colleagues,

"A very unfortunate situation has developed because of my stupid answers to some inappropriate questions. I did not seek this spotlight -- the press did, as they have in the past. It was wrong of them to ask the questions, and wrong, wrong, wrong of me to answer them the way that I did.

"I apologize to all of you for creating a messy situation, and exposing the appearance of any dissention among our ranks.

"The press has been asking me questions about Kevin since 2002. They continue to hound me with the same questions again and again, and this time I lost control, using bad choices of words and bitter sarcasm. The award should be about the work---period.

"It is always my concern to preserve the Oscars' significance to the filmmaking community and its international audience. My thoughts got away from me at an emotional time, and that I regret.

"My response to the last question was off-the-cuff sarcasm meant as humor. However it seems that it has caused even greater reaction...shock. I wanted to end the questioning and those words came out. Not funny. I am very sorry. The time and place was wrong for any of it.

"Adding sentiment to this unfortunate situation has of course been the sorrowful passing of Skippy O'Connell." (He means Kevin O'Connell's mom, who died last Sunday night.) " My sincere condolences go out to the entire O'Connell family.

"I have been in communication with Kevin directly, and I wish the best for him in the future. I am sure that he will receive his due recognition on that same stage very soon, and I will be the first to congratulate him.

"In my career, I'm sure that I have accidentally hurt people, but I've never intentionally sought to do harm. I ask forgiveness from them. I have given shots and taken some, but I don't believe that at any time, true malice was the objective.

"I appreciate you sharing your personal thoughts with me, as I always have. I now thank you for allowing me to share mine with you.

"Respect to all, Michael Minkler"

Thursday, March 01, 2007

From Variety:

The Weinstein Co. has renewed its exclusive first-look deal with Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella's Mirage banner for another three years.

The new pact, announced Wednesday, also includes English-language remake rights to Oscar-winning pic "The Lives of Others." The German take on the East Berlin secret police bowled over critics and notched a semi-surprise win Sunday in the foreign-language race. Three weeks into its limited run, the Sony Classics release has grossed $1.3 million.
First Caché, now this? Have they no shame? Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella should know better.

Leave the foreign films alone!