Thursday, November 3, 2011

Refn Revs Into High Gear With 'Drive'


If he hadn't become a director of slickly stylized, blood-splattered crime thrillers, Nicolas Winding Refn might have been a toy designer. It was just a childhood fantasy, he says, but he still enjoys hanging out in toy stores looking for rare finds to add to his collection.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the word "fairy tale" keeps popping up whenever the director describes his latest film, "Drive," his first venture in filmmaking outside of Denmark.

"A few years ago, I started reading Grimm's fairy tales to my eldest daughter," says Mr. Refn, who lives in Copenhagen. "I started thinking about making a movie using the same very specific complex structure, an archetype with violence and a happy ending."

Set in Los Angeles, "Drive"—a high-octane neo-noir, where thugs are blown to bits with ruthless sang-froid and heads are smashed like melons—earned Mr. Refn the "Best Director" award in Cannes in May. Confirmed by critical praise after the film's world-wide release this fall, the Danish director has turned from a once-marginal cult slasher renegade into a serious contender and auteur.
In the film, neon-lit L.A. is indeed a great big freeway where giddy high-speed car chases and murderous deeds abound (all to the tune of a throbbing pop soundtrack), but there's also a poetic flip side.
Call it an existential quest fueled by slow-burning unrequited love. The solitary, silent hero (Ryan Gosling)—a stunt driver by day who moonlights as a hired getaway man for heists—falls for his neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), a pretty young mother who seems to melt his unflinching tough-guy reserve—that is, until her ex-con boyfriend shows up. Other unsavory characters make brief appearances (Christina Hendricks as a moll) but they don't last long.
The film came about, Mr. Refn says, under the same circumstances as two of his favorite Hollywood classics, "Bullit" and "Point Blank," where the actor reads a book and gets directorial approval from the studio to pick the director. "Steve McQueen chose Peter Yates, Lee Marvin wanted John Boorman, and when Ryan Gosling read the novel 'Drive' by James Sallis, he came to me."
At 41 years old, Mr. Refn has a schoolboyish air, neatly dressed in a white shirt, khakis and black glasses. He speaks in a monotone with a slightly nasal twang, and rarely smiles.
"Our first meeting was basically a blind date," Mr. Refn recalls. "I was very sick with the flu and emotionally unstable from the strong cold medicine I'd taken. Ryan picked me up in his car—I don't drive—and we rode around L.A.
"On the way home, the song 'Can't fight this feeling anymore' by [REO] Speedwagon came on the radio. Something grabbed me, I started to cry. Then I turned to Ryan and said: 'I've got it! we're going to make a movie about a man who drives a car listening to pop music.'"
Ryan Gosling (who will also star in Mr. Refn's next Bangkok-set thriller, "Only God Forgives") says that the biggest challenge in "Drive" was internalizing his role, which required very little dialogue.
"In a way, it is such a relief to forget everything you know," Mr. Gosling says. "If I was feeling the pressure to tell the story, Nick would come up and hug me until I stopped resisting the hug. Then he'd look at me and say, 'go with God', and I would just relax."
Born in Copenhagen, Mr. Refn moved to New York with his mother and stepfather when he was 8, then briefly returned to his native turf as a teenager to complete his gymnasium (high school).
"After that, I went back to New York and spent a year at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, hated it, and got kicked out," he says. "I'm a film-school dropout. I hate all schools, or anything that tries to control me."
His first break came when he was 24. After returning to Copenhagen, where he enrolled in the Danish Film School, then quit, Mr. Refn was offered money to write and direct his first feature film, "Pusher" (1996).
"Nicolas just appeared one day, from out of the blue, wanting to do this gangster movie," says Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. His longtime collaboration with Mr. Refn dates back to his star role as a low-life antihero in the "Pusher Trilogy" (1996-2005), followed by "Bleeder" (1999) and "Valhalla Rising" (2009).
"He was wearing those big glasses of his and short pants, and I'm thinking, what does this guy know about the tough inner-city drug life? He had no experience in real life but was very willing to listen to us. At first, I had my doubts, but changed my mind immediately. Nicolas was so radical and new—he was doing something never seen before in Danish film, with the energy of a Martin Scorsese movie."
What Mr. Mikkelsen most admires, he says, is the skillful blend of raw emotion with epic nastiness. "The characters who are not terribly loveable, but you still end up caring about them. Nicolas also has a way of being funny at the most violent moments."
Mr. Gosling says he hasn't really made up his mind whether "Drive" is actually meant to be funny. "All of Nick's films seem to provoke the strangest responses," Mr. Gosling says. "In 'Valhalla Rising,' the beginning is so intense and serious but then, halfway through the movie, the lead character suddenly cuts open his friend's stomach and starts pulling out his intestines. At which point, the whole audience burst out laughing."
As an autodidact, the director has his particular idiosyncrasies: He always films chronologically, and has no qualms about the fact that he is color-blind ("I can't see mid-colors, so the only color I can really relate to is red"), which would explain all that crimson hemoglobin.
Would the director link his own quirky sense of comedy to his Danish roots?
"Well, I think there's a very dark sarcasm rooted in Danish humor, which can be misinterpreted," he says. "Maybe the problem lies with the Danish mentality—we're desperately trying to be international but we haven't quite learned how yet."
Once pegged as the "wild child of Denmark," Mr. Refn has moved on. "Now that I'm older and I have a family, that takes up more of my time. You just want to make your movies.
"I had a first-class, ace, number-one Hollywood experience," he says. "I thought that working in L.A. would be like walking in a minefield, waiting for people to come out with their knives. Fortunately, I was able to make the film exactly the way I wanted to, with no final cut."
He pauses, then thinks out loud. "Would I do it again? We'll see."

Hollywood's Most Overpaid Stars

Eddie Murphy is in desperate need of some career rehab. The Saturday Night Live alum used to be a sure thing in Hollywood. His family-friendly comedies like Dr. Doolittleand The Nutty Professor earned more than $250 million globally each and helped make Murphy one of the highest-paid stars in the industry.
But over the past few years the comedian has struggled. Two of his most recent films, Imagine That and Meet Dave, were colossal failures. Murphy was paid millions up front to star in the films, but neither one earned back its production budget at the box office. Meet Daveearned only $50 million on a budget of $60 million.Imagine That did even worse. It brought in only $22 million on a budget of $55 million.
Those disasters turned Murphy into the second most overpaid star in Hollywood by our calculations. For every $1 Murphy was paid in salary we found that his recent films have returned an average $2.70. To put that in perspective, Nicole Kidman, who ranks 10th on our overpaid list, returns $6.70 for every buck she is paid.
So it’s no surprise to see the 50-year-old Murphy in career-building mode. It helps that he has director Brett Ratner on his side. Ratner helmed Murphy’s latest film, Tower Heist, which hits theaters Friday. Murphy stars as a thief who helps Ben Stiller and a motley crew of amateurs rob a Bernie Madoff-like financier who has stolen their pension money. Early reviews have been decent. Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter says that “however far-fetched [the film] is all but irresistible in its criminal legitimacy and its promise of just desserts.” Exhibitor Relations expects the film will top the box office this weekend with $26 million.
If the movie is a hit, it will go a long way toward improving Murphy’s reputation and his ability to offer studios a better return on investment. Murphy is also slated to host the Oscars ceremony (which Ratner is producing) next February.
Another consolation: compared to Drew Barrymore, Murphy is a financial superstar. The actress tops our 2011 list of Hollywood’s Most Overpaid Actors, returning just 40 cents (not a misprint) for every dollar the studios spend on her. Barrymore doesn’t earn as much as someone like Murphy but her recent films have performed horribly at the box office. Her 2009 film Everybody’s Fine earned only $16 million globally and her 2007 film Lucky You brought in only $8 million. He’s Just Not That Into You, which Barrymore produced and appeared in, did better earning $180 million globally but we didn’t count it because Barrymore wasn’t really the star of the film.
To create our list we looked at the 40 highest-earning actors in Hollywood. To qualify, each had to have starred in at least three movies in the past five years that opened in more than 500 theaters. Movies that opened after May 1 of this year were not counted.
We also didn’t look at animated films because the stars aren’t really the draw. So Murphy doesn’t get credit for the Shrek movies where he voiced Donkey. Those films have brought in a total $3 billion at the global box office.
We used data gathered for our annual Celebrity 100 list to calculate each star’s estimated earnings on each film (including up-front pay and any earnings from the movie’s box-office receipts and first year sales of DVDs). We then looked at each movie’s estimated budget (not including marketing costs, which are susceptible to accounting chicanery) and box-office and DVD earnings to figure out an operating income for each film.
We added up each star’s compensation on his or her last three films and the operating income on those films, and divided total operating income by the star’s total compensation to come up with a return-on-investment number. The final number represents an average of how much a studio earns for every dollar paid.

WM3 documentary 'Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory' to open in L.A


The latest documentary about the fate of the case of the West Memphis 3, "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory," isn't scheduled to be broadcast on HBO until early next year, but fans of the series in Los Angeles might want to make the trek to Laemmle's Fallbrook 7 in West Hills where the film opens Friday for one week only.
The limited run is designed specifically to give the film the opportunity to qualify for an Oscar nomination.
Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky first brought attention to the plight of Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr. -- teenagers who were convicted of the gruesome 1993 murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Ark. -- with the 1996 documentary "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills." Though the filmmakers initially intended to make a film about disaffected youth -- the prosecution and local media made much of the fact that the convicted teens wore black clothing and listened to heavy metal music -- what they found were three innocent young men who had been convicted of a crime they didn't commit.
"Paradise Lost" spurred international interest in the story of the three jailed men, who became known as the West Memphis 3, and Berlinger and Sinofsky felt compelled to make a follow-up film, 2000's "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" to advocate for Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley to be released from prison and exonerated. The films garnered support not only from such celebrities as Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines, Peter Jackson and Henry Rollins, but also sparked the formation of grassroots groups like the website.
As the case continued to work its way through the courts, Berlinger and Sinofsky began working on a third film in 2004, though the director said recently that he and his producing partner had been waiting for a compelling reason to finish and release it. That happened in November 2010, when the Arkansas Supreme Court granted the West Memphis Three the right to present new evidence to the court in a  hearing that was set for December 2011.
With those dates in mind, Berlinger and Sinofsky planned to publicly debut "Purgatory" this month to refocus public interest in the case; the film was scheduled to play in advance at prestigious film festivals in Toronto and New York City to spur critical interest.
Then in the span of a few short weeks this summer, prosecutors made overtures that resulted in the defendants being offered the legally obscure Alford Plea, which allowed them to plead guilty while still maintaining their innocence. They were sentence to time served and finally freed, though not exonerated -- meaning that the men are unable to sue for civil damages and the state of Arkansas is under no obligation to investigate the crimes further.
Although "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in early September in its original version, a new coda was assembled reflecting the events of Aug. 19, when the men went free after being imprisoned for 18 years, for the movie's screening at the New York Film Festival in October. Baldwin, Echols and Misskelley attended the event, where they received an emotional standing ovation from an audience of nearly 1,100 people.
One week later, Berlinger screened the film at the Silent Movie Theatre as part of a program put on by the International Documentary Assn., where he spoke about revisiting the same subject three times over nearly two decades.
"The challenge for making this film was on the one hand, I think 'Paradise Lost 2' suffered ... you kind of had to see '1' to appreciate '2,' " Berlinger said at the IDA screening. "We wanted '3' to be a self-sufficient viewing experience. We do a very limited but important retelling of '1' and '2' but using footage that's never been seen. Ninety percent of the footage is our own outtakes that haven't been used before. It stands on its own, hopefully."
Both together and apart, Berlinger and Sinofsky have made a number of other documentaries -- they collaborated on 1992's "Brother's Keeper" and 2004's "Metallica: Some Kind of Monster," among other projects -- but the "Paradise Lost" films have been a constant in their lives. Berlinger mentioned at the IDA event that his daughter had just turned 17 and during every phase of her childhood and adolescence, he was mindful of the fact that the WM3 remained wrongfully jailed, teenagers, then men denied the chance to have a normal life.
Even now, their freedom seems somehow conditional and compromised, Berlinger said: "With this crazy Alford plea, basically the state of Arkansas is saying to families of victims -- and two of the three families of the victims have to come to believe the West Memphis Three are innocent --  'We're not going to pursue the real killer.' It's one of the many tragedies of the outcome that we all witnessed in August."
On Thursday, word came that Berlinger and Sinofsky would receive an inaugural Hell Yeah Prize from the doc-focused Cinema Eye Honors awards in recognition of their "incredible craft and artistry" that also has "significant, real-world impact." The award will be presented on Jan. 11 at the 5th Annual Cinema Eye Honors ceremony to be held at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, N.Y.
Despite the "Paradise Lost" series now ranking among  documentaries that aided positive change in the world, the circumstances and legal complications of the release of the men who have now spent essentially half their lives in prison is unexpectedly bittersweet. 
"It's a total joke," Berlinger said. "No prosecutorial accountability, no compensation for lost youth, no looking for the real killer. I think Jason says it best, it's not justice."

Disney’s The Muppets: New movie clips star Walter, Miss Piggy and Fozzie


Although “The Muppets” claims to be through offering us more parody trailers – say it ain’t so! –  the marketing campaign for the movie hasn’t slowed one bit. A series of new video clips, the latest posted Nov. 2, provide some looks at the actual movie.
The video clips, posted on the Muppets Studio You Tube channel, provide quick looks at “The Muppets” movie, offering tidbits of plot, character development and (very) slight spoilers.
So, if you want to avoid knowing anything more about the movie don’t read what follows the following official film synopsis or watch "The Muppets" video clips. 
On vacation in Los Angeles, Walter, the world’s biggest Muppet fan, and his friends Gary (Jason Segel) and Mary (Amy Adams) from Smalltown, USA, discover the nefarious plan of oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper)to raze the Muppet Theater and drill for the oil recently discovered beneath the Muppets’ former stomping grounds.
To stage The Greatest Muppet Telethon Ever and raise the $10 million needed to save the theater, Walter, Mary and Gary help Kermit reunite the Muppets, who have all gone their separate ways: Fozzie now performs with a Reno casino house band called the Moopets, Miss Piggy is a plus-size fashion editor at Vogue Paris, Animal is in a Santa Barbara clinic for anger management, and Gonzo is a high-powered plumbing magnate.

The new clips for “The Muppets” follow “Surprise Ticket,”(released to Yahoo Movies as “Coming With Us”), which is about how new Muppet Walter ends up in L.A. in search of the Muppets Studio. All the clips keep with the lighthearted, family-friendly tone that focuses on sight gags, tongue-in-cheek humor and the personalities we have come to expect from our felt friends.
In “Idea,” Walter – the Muppet made for the movie who represents all patient fans who have waited for more than a decade for the gang’s return to the big screen – comes up with a tasty idea to share with Gary and Mary. And offers a bit of exposition as to the Tex Richman plot in the process.
“Showdown” features Miss Piggy at her martial-arts best, demonstrating she is indeed one of a kind.
“Muppet Man,” posted by Muppet Musings, showcases a soon-to-be-classic sight gag, with Fozzie Bear the brains (or at least the head) behind the plan.
Although “The Muppets” is slated for release Nov. 23, 2011, I’m hoping to see a few more clips before the first screening. How about you?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Vancouver filmmaker takes run at Wall Street

VANCOUVER — Filmmaker Desiree Lim isn’t one to stay within the confines of traditional narrative cinema.
The Vancouverite’s body of work includes campy behind-the-scenes critique of a male-dominated porn industry, the untold plight of Burmese migrants, and many boundary-pushing dramas in between.

At this year’s Vancouver Asian Film Festival, Lim is poised to defy a new set of genre norms with The House: a ghost story that blends personal drama with pointed anti-Wall Street sentiment.

A scene from Desiree Lim’s The House
“It’s definitely mixed genre,” Lim says in an interview. “Very character driven.” Natalie Skye plays the film’s central character Jean, who returns to her hometown Vancouver after abandoning an investing job on Wall Street.

“She’s this hardened, stoic character — until we see her slowly break down,” Lim says. Skye has taken leading roles in four of Lim’s movies, but their latest collaboration pushed both out of their comfort zone.

“Playing something like that is always challenging because you don’t want to have her come across as flat … I think she found that right balance,” Lim says of Skye’s performance. “She embraced it and ran with it.”

In the film, Jean avoids her family by camping out in a friend’s empty mansion—a massive glass-filled cavern that’s been tied up in Vancouver’s property market for years. Jean soon realizes she’s not alone in the house, and becomes entangled in supernatural drama between characters in a similar state of limbo.

“It is a ghost film — it’s about spirits,” says Lim. “I’d like to think of it as a spiritual film in that way. People can decide for themselves whether the ghosts were real or not.”
Though The House is subtle in its corporate criticism, Lim says political underpinnings are a common thread throughout many of her films. “I’m trying to tell an interesting story that also has something to say,” she explains. “It’s not just for entertainment value, but also relevant to today and what’s going on.”

With a tent city of “occupiers” just a few blocks southeast of her West End home, the film’s latent message is a relevant one indeed. It’s an idea Lim shaped while working on a current affairs television show in Japan.

During the 2008 crisis, Lim directed a debate show for the country’s public broadcaster NHK. “It’s like the CBC here, but much bigger than the CBC,” Lim says.

“Through research I found this former Wall Street banker-turned-journalist whose story just inspired me,” she continues. “I got to know her better and invited her to the show.”

That guest was Nomi Prins, an author and accomplished economics whistleblower since she left her post as a New York investment banker after 9/11. “She basically made a career for herself on Wall Street climbing the corporate ladder at Goldman Sachs,” says Lim. “The truth is, Jean’s character is inspired by her.”

Prins’ reporting offers in-depth analysis of the Wall Street practices that brought the global economy to its knees. But rather than laying out the damage caused by banking fraud in numbers, Lim chooses to explore an intimate and personal side of the crisis through Jean’s character.

“When I first met her [Prins] on the show, it was all about the system or the financial meltdown — not about her personal life … That voice of dissent — I also wanted to artistically express it.”

Ghosts and suspense might be new tricks for Lim, but she’s well versed in both genre and gender bending. Identifying as a queer filmmaker, Lim challenges traditional notions of gender and sexuality in much of her work. Her 2001 full-length debut Sugar Sweet was the first film directed by an openly out lesbian to address Japan’s urban gay scene.

With her eyes set on new injustices, Lim says she is happy to see the public speaking out in Vancouver and around the globe. “I think the world has been in limbo for the longest time,” she says. “Because of globalization, everybody is affected. It’s not a remote or local issue.”

Like much of the VAFF program, The House also touches on the experience of Asian immigrants in Vancouver. “A lot of my stories and my characters are part of my own experience,” Lim says, who was born in Malaysia and has spent decades between Japan and Canada. “In that sense it is unique to here and very relevant to here.”

With Vancouver’s downtown streets making appearances throughout the film, Lim feels constantly inspired by the city she calls home. “If you look at my body of work, even my shorts and stuff, they’re all essentially Vancouver. That’s my love for the city, it’s also for the filmmaker to connect to the community and the art here.”

To celebrate Vancouver’s 125th birthday and the festival’s 15th year, VAFF commissioned a series of short tributes to the city. Before The House premieres on Sunday, the Love Letters to Vancouver series will present a five-minute short called Beauty Heart Story.

For Lim, the city she loves is often connected to a universal struggle. “I guess with this story, with the Wall Street financial meltdown element, it opens it up — it’s not just about Vancouver, it’s about the world.”

New Trailer for Underworld: Awakening Starring Kate Beckinsale

In August, fans got to see the first peek of Kate Beckinsale back as the leather-clad vampire Selene in the first trailer for the upcoming sequel Underworld: Awakening. Beckinsale was essentially absent from the 2009 prequelUnderworld: Rise of the Lycans, and the latest installment isn't exactly picking up where 2006'sUnderworld: Evolution left off.

In Awakening, Beckinsale's Selene awakens after being held captive for 12 years to find that humanity is no longer ignorant of vampires and lycans. She also discovers that she has a daughter (India Eisley) who is a lycan/vampire hybrid and is being used as a pawn in the war humanity has raged on the supernatural. In order to to bring down the evil BioCom corporation, Selene teams up with a police detective (Michael Ealy) for help. From the look of the latest trailer for the sequel, it doesn't look like Beckinsale's Selene needs much help from the way she tears through her adversaries.

Awakening was written by John Hlavin (TV's The Shield) and rewritten by J. Michael Straczynski (Changeling). Mans Marlind and Björn Stein (Shelter) directed the movie which will be produced by Len Wiseman, Beckinsale's husband and the director of the first two Underworld movies. Stephen Rea (The Crying Game) and Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) co-star.

Virginia Film Festival expands without losing its local flavor


Last year’s Virginia Film Festival opened in grand style with a sold-out screening of Darren Aronofsky’s masterful Oscar contender "Black Swan," easily one of the most talked about films of 2010.
It also went on to break the festival’s box office records by something in the neighborhood of 25 percent. And the 2011 festival, which runs from November 3rd through the 6th at UVa, appears poised to match, if not surpass, that triumph.
"Melancholia," starring Kirsten Dunst
Festival director Jody Kielbasa, who took over the position three years ago with a mission to, in his words, "screen the latest and best films in any given year," has scored a second opening-night coup with yet another highly anticipated screening: "The Descendents," Oscar-winning screenwriter/director Alexander Payne’s first new film since he hit pay dirt with critics and the Academy with 2004’s tragicomic, Cali wine-country drama "Sideways." (See a review of the film on page XX.)
This year’s "Centerpiece Screening" — a literary tale staring Glenn Close as title character "Albert Nobbs," in a role she originated on stage in 1982 in an adaptation of the George Moore short story "The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs," — also looks to be a winner.
Directed by Rodrigo Garcia, the son of famed Columbian writer/poet Gabriel Garcia Marquez, it features Mia Wasikowska, Janet McTeer, Bonnie Curtis and Julie Lynn, who will all join Garcia for the special screening.
And, for closing night, Kielbasa scored acclaimed underground director Jill Sprecher’s first big attempt at a commercial crossover, "Thin Ice," a grifter thriller with a cast that boasts Greg Kinnear, Billy Crudup, Alan Arkin and Lea Thompson.
Along with raising the festival’s profile by bringing in films that are big draws at most of the larger, better known annual festivals, Kielbasa has also taken special care to keep the focus on the great Commonwealth of Virginia.
Five years ago, both Larry Flynt and one of Lynchburg’s own, the late Jerry Falwell, showed up in Charlottesville for a tenth anniversary screening of Milos Forman’s biopic "The People vs. Larry Flynt." This year, Flynt will be back to discuss First Amendment rights at a 15th anniversary screening of the film.
Director Oliver Stone will also be on hand, not just to present his 1991 blockbuster "JFK," but to participate in a discussion of the Kennedy assassination with UVa professor Larry Sabato, who’s writing a book on Kennedy’s life and political legacy.

'Young Adult' pops up at the New Beverly

All of that will surely make for a catchy talking point along the press tour, but I actually think it's overly simplifying things. "Young Adult" is ultimately a rather twisted tale of finding one's inner worth and caring about yourself enough to move forward, and that, I think, is a significant thing for a person to learn.
Oswalt, meanwhile, has a whole theory on it being a horror film of sorts, but that's another story for another day. For now, suffice it to say "Young Adult" is quite possibly Reitman's most refined outing to date, his voice becoming clearer, his thematic interests taking further shape. It's a brutally dark comedy but it is a very adult piece of work, playing in hues all the more uncomfortable for how true they really are on a primal level.
Charlize Theron gives a stellar, bitchy, biting, layered, at times moving performance. Oswalt commented to me and my colleague Drew McWeeny at the after party that he thinks this will be, more than "Monster," the performance people will think of when they see her from here on out. And I actually think that may be the case. Unlike that film, for which she won the Oscar in 2003, Theron is exposed here, playing a vicious personality with no makeup to hide behind. It's a quality piece of work that should bring her another Oscar nomination.
Oswalt, meanwhile, is so touching and funny and more than the mere comic relief you'd expect from the trailer. He gets a few key dramatic moments to sing and he really sticks the landing on each of them. I've had him chalked up for a Best Supporting Actor nomination for weeks upon weeks based merely on the early word, and I'm happy to see that vetted out after last night's screening. If he really puts in the work, he can easily find himself in that mix. He's so lovable on the mic and will no doubt bring the house down in Q&A after Q&A as he did last night.
Finally, also of note for one key scene is Collette Wolfe, who knocks a moment toward the end of the film right out of the park. And it's that scene, Reitman says, that made him want to make the movie. That scene IS the movie. But I'll say no more.
From here, the film comes off its mini-tour and enters the traditional press arena. I'm not sure how critics will respond. I kind of anticipate a great many will knock it for its lack of redemptive tissue, but I think savvy audiences will spark to its inner, dark truths. We'll see how it plays out. But you can certainly understand why Paramount and Reitman have been particular about letting the cat out of the bag in a specific way. This is not a paradigm-fitting piece of work. Nor was it ever intended to be.

"It's nice to just show the movie and say, 'Here it is, hope you like it,'" Jason Reitman said to me at a party following a "pop-up" screening of his latest film "Young Adult" last night. And he's been doing just that, in select cities across the country -- Chicago, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Austin and a stop north of the border in Toronto -- aiming at the kinds of fans who'll line up for a secret screening without knowing what the film will be. And the experience seems to have invigorated him a bit.
Charlize Theron in a scene from "Young Adult"
Going into these cities, he and screenwriter Diablo Cody haven't done the usual press commitments. No chatting with local news stations, radio shows, newspapers and college papers like you'd expect. In and out and a "hope you like it." It's fair to say the kind of intense press rounds he exhausted on "Up in the Air" two years ago were the last thing he wanted to do this time around, but it's also been about setting a foundation that says, "This ain't 'Juno.'"
And no, "Young Adult" is not "Juno." Not that the latter is the trifle it's come to be considered since its 2007 release (it has its dark and emotional moments), but the latest Cody/Reitman collaboration is an unflinching piece of work committed to following its lead character on a downward path, eschewing a narrative of redemption and never conceding any ground.
It's the film Reitman says he wanted to make, the film he's proud he was able to make, and he took a chance in saddling up to it. He had written an adaptation of Joyce Maynard's novel "Labor Day" and was all set for it to be his next film while Paramount was seeking out directors for Cody's script. Suddenly, though, the opportunity was there for Reitman to take a crack at it, and so he took a leap, put "Labor Day" on hold and set out to make an uncompromising dark comedy within the studio system.
And it is certainly that. These are light spoilers, but in a post-screening Q&A at the New Beverly Theater, Patton Oswalt -- who is fantastic in the film and delivers a performance you might not expect out of him -- noted that it's a reminder of films like "The Conversation" or "Five Easy Pieces" (the sort that often screen at the New Bev), which were dedicated to further embedding characters into who they were at the start of the film, rather than offering a traditional Hollywood yarn with lessons learned and a dramatic arc.
"I am of the mind that assholes don't change," Cody said in the Q&A. "And also, people in general don't necessarily change in the dramatic way we see them change in the third act of movies." She then gave credit to Reitman for fighting for the integrity of that aspect of the film. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Two TV Spots for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

There's already been quite a few trailers for the upcoming American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, including an extended trailer released in September. With two new TV spots arriving online, each with snippets of new footage, we're hoping director David Fincher (The Social Network, Se7en) has saved something for audiences to watch in the theater.

For those that missed the 2009 Swedish adaptation and haven't read the best-selling novel by Stieg Larsson that inspired the movie, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo follows journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) as he joins forces with computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) to discover the truth about a 40-year-old disappearance of a young woman at the behest of successful businessman Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer).

As indicated in the title card at the end of the TV spots, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was adapted by Steven Zaillian (Moneyball) and directed by Fincher. The cast includes Stellan Skarsgård (Thor) and Robin Wright.

Resident Evil: Revelations Nintendo 3DS haunts Cinematic Trailer

Capcom Co. this week released a new trailer for Resident Evil: Revelations for the Nintendo 3DS.
The new trailer uncovers a biohazard attack in a new city and gameplay features like the BSAA Scanner, touch-screen puzzles, and Raid Mode with online co-op functionality.

Resident Evil: Revelations is a brand new entry in the Resident Evil franchise. Characters include Chris Redfeild and Jill Valentine. New locations include a cruise ship.

Nintendo in Oct. said it has sold nearly 450,000 Nintendo 3DS units since a price cut to $169.99 in Aug.
In Oct., The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D became the first 3DS title to pass 500,000 unit sales in the U.S.

New titles to be sold in 2011 include Super Mario 3D Land Nov. 13 and Mario Kart 7 Dec. 4.
Nintendo in July began offering streaming functionality by Netflix Inc. and a short-form video service to view 3D movie trailers, comedy clips and music videos.

This Nov., a new system update will offer 3D video recording functionality.
Nintendo launched the Nintendo 3DS handheld with 18 software titles Mar. 27.
The Nintendo 3DS includes two screens, a 3D Depth Slider, a Circle Pad, and a 2GB SD Card.
Functionality includes StreetPass to exchange game data between owners who pass one another.
Additionally, the hardware includes the Nintendo 3DS Camera software, Mii Maker, and the Nintendo eShop to download new software.

The Nintendo 3DS includes 3-D display technology that does not require the use of special glasses.
In addition, the 3DS is backwards compatible with Nintendo DS and DSi games.

Scarlett Johansson's sci-fi film Under The Skin touches down at Auchmithie

A crew of more than 70 descended on Auchmithie, just outside Arbroath, on Monday for the first of five days of shooting for sci-fi film Under the Skin.
The production team had been keen to keep a lid on the rural location for as long as possible, with locals asked not to give away any details of the A-lister's presence in the run-up to this week.

Despite one of the world's most famous celebrities arriving in the village, there were no crowds or fans to be seen and preparations were described by staff as low key.

Producer James Wilson said Auchmithie was chosen purely because of the backdrop its picturesque, but rugged harbour could provide.

He added: ''The story is set in Scotland and we really just needed a setting with certain characteristics. This one was right.

''It is small independent film produced by Film Four, the BFI and Creative Scotland.''

Shooting for the movie has already been carried out in Glasgow and Mr Wilson said working with Ms Johansson had been a great experience.

He said: ''She has done a mix of movies in the past from the independent films to the big Hollywood films. It has been great so far.

''This is essentially a road movie that has a sci-fi element to it. I would say it is part road movie, part sci-fi and part real — a lot of what has appeared on the internet about it so far is not accurate.''

A large proportion of the team will be staying in the local area for the duration of the shoot and filming will continue regardless of whatever the weather brings.

Mr Wilson said: ''We can cope with most sorts of weather. It is not an issue unless we get a blizzard or other serious conditions that would stop us from filming.''

A path leading down to the beach through a gap in the coastal cliffs has been closed to the public, with the entire harbour area sealed off for filming.

Tents to shelter the cameras were set up from early in the morning, alongside two battered old sheds near the shore front.

Hundreds of metres of cables stretched down from street level and around 30 of the crew ran equipment back and forward to the beach during the day.

Prior to filming, Angus Council gave permission for the dilapidated single-lane track leading from the village to the beach to be upgraded, to allow access for pedestrians and vehicles.

The company drawing the logistics together, Seventh Kingdom Productions, is also understood to have paid for painting of the public toilets in the village.

Directed by Jonathan Glazer, Under the Skin is based on the 2000 novel of the same name by Scottish-based writer Michel Faber, where Ms Johansson's alien character seduces hitchhikers before seeing them fattened and killed for consumption on her home planet.

The 26-year-old superstar has already filmed scenes in the Buchanan Galleries shopping centre in Glasgow and at a petrol station in Newmains, North Lanarkshire.

Angus Horn, who runs the only business in the village — the But 'n' Ben restaurant, said he was hoping the film would put Auchmithie on the map for something beside its famous smokies.

Arnold 'Having A Great Time' On Set Of New Film



Arnold 'Having A Great Time' On Set Of New Film
With his job as California's Governor far behind him, it's obvious that Arnold Schwarzenegger has rededicated himself solely to working in Hollywood again. He recently finished filming his scenes for The Expendables sequel and is now hard at work on his starring role in The Last Stand.
The film is about a sheriff and his inexperienced crew that must stop a drug cartel that is speeding towards the Mexico border.
Schwarzenegger tweeted a photo from the set of his latest film today with the caption "Having a great time on set here at The Last Stand. We have a fantastic team." The photo shows Arnold in his sheriff's attire for the film along with castmates Johnny Knoxville, Luiz Guzman and Jaimie Alexander.
The Last Stand is due out in theaters in 2013.

Monday, October 31, 2011

THE INNKEEPERS Review

Two years ago writer/director Ti West established himself as one of the premiere voices in American horror with the tantalizing satanic tease of The House Of The Devil. Now he returns with another slowburn horror tale in the haunted hotel flick The Innkeepers. His latest effort incorporates quirky humor into his methodically paced style with mixed results. West is adept at writing subtly comedic characters and building tension, but something about the combination of the two techniques feels awkward in this outing. Tension is often killed by the comedy and the delicate mundane world of the characters clashes with the film’s supernatural shenanigans at times. It’s an undeniably flawed effort, but still an unconventional spin on the genre from a uniquely personal filmmaker that deserves to be seen, even if lowered expectations apply. Collider got an early peak at the film last week at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, so hit the jump for all the ghostly details.

THE INNKEEPERS Review

The irrepressibly adorable Sara Paxtonstars as Claire, a wondering 20something without purpose straight out of the mumblecore handbook. She works at a crumbling local hotel that’s going out of business and the film takes place during The Yankee Pedlar’s last weekend of operation. Her and longtime work buddy Luke (a charmingly dorky Pat Healy) agree to sleepover during the last weekend to tend to the hotel’s final guests, a spurned wife (Alison Bartlett) taking a break from her husband, an elderly gentleman (George Riddle) staying in his former honeymoon suite, and a former actress (Kelly McGillis) turned psychic. Of course, Claire and Luke have ulterior motives. They believe the hotel is haunted and hope to capture some footage or audio recordings of the pesky poltergeist before the place is shut down. When Claire gets the psychic to work her magic on the hotel and discovers it’s a far more haunted spot than anticipated…well, the supernatural shit hits the fan as they day (ok, only I say that, but it still applies).
Much like Ti West’s previous horror efforts The House Of The Devil, The Roost, and Trigger Man, this film is all about build up and suspense. West specializes in carefully teasing his audience for most of the running time before delivering his major shocks all at once in the climax. The filmmaker even seems to joke about the technique early on in The Innkeepers when Luke shows Claire one of those jump scare viral videos where a static shot of an empty room is rudely interrupted by a loud noise and an ugly face. The director is well aware of his techniques and the scene feels like a wink to the audience assuring them that if they hang in through the long sequences of characters seemingly doing nothing, the big boos will come when they least expect it and hit even harder. The film’s few moments of ghostly shenanigans definitely have a stronger impact as a result of the build up then they would in a more ADD-approved horror narrative and should seer their way into the brains of viewers who are creeped out by mysterious shadows in the night. The same is true of practically all of West’s work and his willingness to trust in audiences to invest in a story rather than shove endless set pieces down their throat is what makes him such an exciting and unique figure in the genre at the moment.
Unfortunately West chose to experiment with his tried n’ true directorial methods this time out in a manner that didn’t improve them. The filmmaker decided to try his hand at comedy this time out and the bulk of the running time is dedicated to Claire and Luke chit-chatting about hauntings rather than experiencing them and poking fun at their few remaining guests. The scenes work in isolation thanks to some hilarious and sweetly naturalistic work from Paxton and Healy, but harm the structure of the film overall. West’s carefully built tension is constantly undercut by the laughs, either tonally or literally when the characters mock their haunted encounters. Obviously comedy and horror have been bedfellows for years and the pull and release of both forms can make for a fun and unpredictable ride like say, An American Werewolf In London or Shaun Of The Dead. However, those movies dole out their horror regularly, so audiences are slingshot from one tone to the other. With The Innkeepers being a film of build up, every joke means that the audience has to slowly build their dread up again and it really hurts the film. Sure, there were less overt scares before the last 15 minutes in House Of The Devil, but not a moment passed without something to make the audience feel that they were in a deeply wrong situation. The noose was constantly tightening in that movie and when the payoff finally came it felt like a well-deserved climax. Here, it feels more like the film meanders it’s way into becoming a horror movie in the last act. The scares and laughs work in isolation, but don’t flow together as well as they should.
It was inevitable that Ti West’s follow up to The House Of The Devil would be somewhat of a disappointment. That film seemed to come out of nowhere and worked so well that it would have been impossible to repeat the trick as perfectly. The Innkeepers may stumble at times, but at least it doesn’t feel like a cookie cutter horror movie. West might not have executed his vision as well as he has in the past, but at least he has a unique vision as a filmmaker. If you’re interested in the director’s work or unconventional horror movies in general The Innkeepers is definitely worth a look. Just don’t expect another contemporary classic from West. Filmmakers only ever have a few of those in them and to expect two classics back-to-back is greedy. In a few years this film will probably look like a minor experiment for West made between impressive achievements.

High drama as Australian films hit hard times

THE Victorian film and television drama industry shed more than half its value last financial year, while the state's peak funding body has yet to appoint a chief executive more than 12 months after its former chief announced she was leaving.

The value of Victoria's film and television drama production fell significantly last year
The total value of film and television drama production in Victoria was just $123 million in 2010-11, according to the annual national production survey conducted by Screen Australia and released this week. That was a 55 per cent decline on the previous year's record tally of $272 million, and a 41 per cent drop on the more meaningful four-year average of $210 million.

Victoria's share of the national spend also fell, from 37 per cent in 2009-10 to 25 per cent last financial year.

The figures are the lowest in raw dollar terms since 2003-04 when just $115 million was spent on film and television drama in Victoria. Adjusted for inflation, the result is even worse - the last time the sector was worth less to the Victorian economy was 1994-95, when $76 million was spent ($112 million in 2010 values).

''Film Victoria should be very concerned about those figures,'' said Linda Klejus, the Victorian chapter head of the Screen Producers Association of Australia. ''To be back at the level of 2004, which was disastrous, is very disappointing.''

Ms Klejus said Film Victoria had pursued a misguided strategy under former chief executive Sandra Sdraulig, who announced she would leave the job last October and whose tenure came to an end with a much-criticised $45,000 farewell bash in March. Ms Sdraulig was announced last week as the new chairman of the Adelaide Film Festival.

Film Victoria had focused on attracting interstate production companies to Victoria without ensuring those companies were obliged to provide opportunities for local producers to hone their skills, Ms Klejus said. ''And now these producers are moving back to New South Wales and Queensland as the state bodies there get their act together. We need Film Victoria to support local producers or else we will just wither on the vine.''

But some other local producers see the situation as more about the inevitable ups and downs of production cycles than any entrenched problems with the state funding body.

''I think Film Victoria has maintained its processes, and I certainly haven't seen anything fall off the rails in the past year,'' said Robert Connolly (pictured), producer-director of Balibo and director of two episodes of the ABC drama The Slap. ''It's more that the figures are skewed by the lack of big foreign productions. Helpful though they are, those films often mask the underlying reality of the industry.''

Certainly, the big overseas productions stayed away in droves last year. According to Screen Australia's report, just two foreign films were shot here last financial year (Love in Space, from China, and Mr Perfect, from India), with a combined spend of less than $1 million. The previous year, five foreign feature films were made in Australia for a combined spend of $169 million.

The high Australian dollar and a comparatively low rebate for foreign productions shooting in Australia (16 per cent, against the 40 per cent or so offered in many other locations) mean that is unlikely to change any time soon.

Nonetheless, Film Victoria's acting head, Jenni Tosi, is bullish about the future. ''Things are picking up,'' she told The Age from Los Angeles, where she is representing Victoria at the Ausfilm Week showcase. ''They've got projects here that they're looking to take offshore; that they're looking to use Australian talent in. We are really optimistic that next year is going to be a good year.''

She cites projects already in the works, such as the Kath and Kim Filum, the ABC's Jack Irish telemovies and a series revolving around Kerry Greenwood's sleuth Phryne Fisher as evidence that the latest figures are but a blip. ''I've been in the industry for 30 years and let me tell you I've seen cycles,'' she said. ''You look at the figures over a number of years and there's a pattern there. You just have to go with the good years and stay optimistic in the lean years.''