Making the Movie

30Nov/080

The Kincade Memo

Been meaning to post this for a while:

6) Hidden details whenever possible, References to my children (from youngest to oldest as follows): Evie, Winsor, Chandler and Merritt. References to my anniversary date, the number 52, the number 82, and the number 5282 (for fun, notice how many times this appears in my major published works). Hidden N's throughout — preferably thirty N's, commemorating one N for each year since the events happened.

--Thomas Kincade, Painter of Light, His Memo

30Nov/080

Behind the Scenes Squabbles on Crossing Over

Sean Penn was cut out of a movie called Crossing Over and some people are upset:

Penn shot a couple of scenes as immigration cop Chris Farrell in the Weinstein Co. drama, but he's not in the trailer and his name is missing from the credit block. What gives? Why would Kramer cut Penn, a major name actor, out of this Traffic-like drama about the problems of immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship? Because his acting sucked?

--Hollywood Elsewhere: The Agony of the Kramer

27Nov/080

Turkey Day Movie Bites: Australia, Rachel Getting Married, Last Chance Harvey, Changeling, Role Models

I've seen several movies lately that I haven't had time to set down my thoughts about. There's too much cooking today to give any of them full reviews, so enjoy these movie bites or, if you like, check out this old post on Thanksgiving Day movies. -JO

Australia Review

Australia is not, as the trailer lead me to believe, some sort of creation myth of modern Australia, although you could read it that deeply if you chose. It is, instead, Australia's Gone with the Wind: an epic love story told against a sweeping historical backdrop.

I couldn't stand director Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, but thankfully that is not the Baz that shows up here. We still have someone infatuated with the power of cinema, but one who is willing to subsume his directorial flourishes to the whim of the story.

And what a powerful story it is. It hinges around a "half-caste" aborigine boy named Nullah (Brandon Walters), who narrates the tale. As a mixed-race child, he will be sent to the 'locklock,' the Christian mission, if the police find him. He is protected first by his grandfather King George (David Gulpilil), a shaman who wanders solitary over beautiful Australian landscapes, and then by Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), who takes over her late husband's cattle farm, the majestically named Faraway Downs. It is not long before Lady Ashley's affections turn towards The Drover (Hugh Jackman), a free spirit who specializes in cattle-punching. They have a sort of African Queen dynamic, with Kidman especially giving it the full Hepburn.

After the cowboy adventure half of the movie, Lady Ashley and The Drover adopt Nullah and seem to be a happy family. But not all loose ends have been tied and a villain returns who separates the three amidst a Pearl Harbor-like attack by the Japanese on the nearby port of Darwin. For your ticket price, you get two big, fun adventure movies!

One final note: I was bothered by some of the characterizations in the film. Australia's portrayal of aborigines is not always sensitive but, in its defense, the whites too are painted with a broad brush. (However, the Chinese character and maybe the Japanese ones are poorly portrayed in the film.) There's no getting around that the story presents the heroes as white saviors who are aided by the mystical nature-connected aborigines. I think smart audiences can still have fun with the film while realizing that old stereotypes die hard.

Rachel Getting Married Review

For most of Rachel Getting Married it threatens to be the most depressing wedding movie ever made. Anne Hathaway plays Kym, a recovering drug addict who gets out of rehab to go to her sister Rachel's wedding. The movie, directed by Jonathan Demme from a script by Jenny Lumet, has the loose, verité feel of a great 1970's drama.

For her awkward rehearsal banquet speech alone I imagine Anne Hathaway will get Academy attention. The acting in the movie in general is quite fine but she really anchors the story, and is fearless in not only making herself look less than pretty (something Manohla Dargis overpraises Nicole Kidman for in Australia) but also in having her character be less than sympathetic. She doesn't always hit exactly the right note, but thanks to the script, the directing and the supporting cast, the character is wonderfully memorable.

The other memorable thing I'll take away from this film is the dishwasher scene, about which I'll say little except that it's a small triumph, the film itself in microcosm. (And speaking of microcosms, the wedding ceremony itself seemed to borrow from the traditions of the entire world. It is the one time the movie devolves into fantasy.)

Last Chance Harvey Review

I saw the premiere of this film at the AFI Festival and I've put off writing about it for a while. As much as I wanted to like this sophomore effort from writer/director Joel Hopkins (Jump Tomorrow was his low-budget first feature), I was mostly bored. Maybe for people of a certain age who can sympathize with the tentative love between Dustin Hoffman's Harvey and Emma Thompson's Kate, it will hold interest. They certainly give likable performances.

Harvey is a commercial jingle composer who just lost his job, going to England to the wedding of his daughter. While there, she drops the bomb that she wants her step-father to give her away. Crushed, Harvey lets out his feelings to airport worker Kate, who has her own family problems: a controlling mother. She convinces Harvey to stay for the wedding and goes to the reception. Harvey stands to make a speech and he can either make a scene or be conciliatory. After this crucial moment, I guess the suspense is whether Harvey and Kate will end up together.

They were nice enough people and they seemed to enjoy each others company. I just didn't enjoy spending two hours with them.

Changeling Review

UPDATE: I've was way off in believing Changeling was based on "The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar" story. The reporter and writer of that story, Tal McThenia, set me straight:

I'm the reporter and writer of the radio story "The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar" - someone flagged your Nov. 27 recommendation of the show to me - thank you so much! I'm really glad you enjoyed it and recommended it.

I did want to clarify that, while the stories are in some ways similar, "Changeling" is actually not based on the Bobby Dunbar story; it is a different real-life story altogether, Christine Collins and the Wineville Chicken Murders:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christine_Collins#Walter_Collins

I'm relatively sure most of the major story elements in "Changeling" are true, including the police corruption and serial killer.

I apologize to Clint and crew for thinking they messed up one of my favorite stories. I was fed bad info, but I should've read up on the film's story before slamming it. Mea culpa. I can't go back and see the movie in that light, but I imagine I still would find Angelina Jolie's character's reactions to her situation difficult to believe. In any case, I stand by the recommendation to listen to the hour-long radio report about a missing child who comes back -- or is it a different child? -- rather than spend 2 1/2 hours on Changeling.

Don't bother with this two-and-a-half hour film, whose story is based on true story already told brilliantly by radio show This American Life. Instead, listen to the hour long This American Life version called "The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar".

Director Clint Eastwood and writer J. Michael Straczynski add a layer of police corruption and even a serial killer to distract from what is really the interesting part of the story. What would you do if you lost your child and authorities said they found him, but he was really another kid?

Angelina Jolie, as distraught mother Christine Collins, is fine. But I don't believe her initial lovey-doveyness and I don't believe that she would leave the train station with a kid who isn't her son. There's just too much in this film that doesn't pass the smell test and I know I would feel the same way even if I didn't already know the true story.

They changed so much, why couldn't they change their own ending to one that was satisfying? The true story is satisfying. Seriously. Listen to it.

Role Models Review

Catch this one on DVD. This (yes) predictable story of two man-boys, Danny (Paul Rudd) and Sean-William Scott (Wheeler) who are forced by the court to mentor two problem kids is nonetheless a fun melody upon which some very talented comedians improvise. I am thinking most especially of Jane Lynch who, as the leader of the mentorship program Sturdy Wings, is criminally funny every moment she is on screen. No comedy classic, but a solid effort by some great comedic talents filled with earned laughs. And there's a paucity of them abouts.

27Nov/080

Gen Art Film Festival

Gen Art logoGen Art, the organization that did the Nobel Son screening, has an annual festival:

The Gen Art Film Festival is an amazing week of premieres that spotlight the most talented emerging filmmakers in North America. Offering a multi-genre slate of 14 exhilarating films, seven shorts and seven features, the festival is attended by tastemaker film-lovers, critics and industry professionals. Each screening is followed by an after-party at one of New York's most exclusive nightspots where filmmakers receive the VIP treatment and have the opportunity to mix and mingle with their audience.

...

A premiere at Gen Art means the spotlight will shine exclusively on your film for the entire evening. Forget about being one of 100 films screened in any particular program - at Gen Art, each screening highlights only one short and one feature - and that's it. In addition to your red carpet premiere, the festival features a Grand Jury Award as voted on by a collection of Gen Art Alumni, celebrities and industry professionals, as well as the Gen Art Audience Award, voted on by all festival attendees.

At Gen Art we pride ourselves on putting the filmmaker first. This festival was created for you, and we look forward taking your film to the next level...

PRIZES & AWARDS
Grand Jury Award
The Grand Jury Award is decided by a collection of Gen Art Alumni, Celebrity Judges and Industry Professionals.
Jury Award: $10,000 (features)
Jury Award: $5,000 (shorts)

Deadline is December 3rd (December 12th via Without a Box).

26Nov/080

Paul Schrader Goes to Bollywood

Filmmaker Paul SchraderHe says it's because Hollywood "barren." You could read that two ways -- that it's intellectually barren (has he seen most of what Bollywood makes?) or that it's financially barren for him (because he's pissed off the wrong people). In any case, I'm glad whenever the guy who wrote Taxi Driver can still be making movies:

In India, on the other hand, he says there are ways to gain both creative freedom and audiences.

"City" is a cross-cultural tale that will center on an American man who travels to India to help resolve a kidnapping case for his father-in-law, only to get caught up in a gangster plot.

There likely will be some musical numbers, and dialogue will be spoken in English and Hindi. Schrader is working on the script.

--Hollywood Reporter: Paul Shrader: Bollywood, here I come

25Nov/080

Laughing All the Way to Shady Pines

Writer/Director V.K. ShawLast week I had the chance to catch two short films by a talented young director out of USC named V.K. Shaw, "Welcome to Shady Pines" and "The Cheapest Man in the Room."

"Welcome to Shady Pines" (5 min) is presented as a submission video for Real Estate Agent of the Year from a relentlessly cheerful woman named Estelle (a pitch-perfect Katie Pengra). Estelle energetically markets less-than-livable properties to less-than-creditworthy individuals. "Shady Pines" features a really strong comedic sense of character and looks like it could be the start of something bigger.

"Shady Pines" made me interested to check out "The Cheapest Man in the Room" (16 min). "Cheapest Man" has a great comedic premise -- how would a 'financially cautious' individual take a girl out on a date. I would've liked to see this character in a wider range of situations. How does he organize his life around pinching pennies? "Cheapest Man" has some stylish directing and a treat for those who stay to watch the credits. The main character works in nursing home and there are several fine older actors found through SAGIndie.

I asked V.K. about using SAGIndie, since I know a lot of indie filmmakers find some of their requirements onerous. V.K. didn't have a problem:

I did not have any actors in mind for the project, so I knew casting would take a while. I didn't want to limit myself with just Non-Union talent, even though they were skilled; I wanted to use SAG actors.

I consulted a few friends, and they all said to contact SAG about the SAG short film agreement. I was a bit apprehensive at first, but working with SAG was a pleasure. The initial paperwork was very simple to complete. The exact instructions are available on www.SAGIndie.com. A week or so later, SAG sent me a whole packet of information along with a contact number for the representative. If I had any questions about the paperwork, I just called or emailed our SAG representative and she answered every question. As we came finished the casting process, we submitted the last pages of SAG work. The most important thing I learned from SAG is that you have to be really organized. There are a lot of forms, and you need to keep multiple copies of them. If you are going to work with SAG, I would start the process 6 weeks in advance and make sure it's done 3 weeks before you start shooting. You can start casting while the paperwork is being processed. As for pay, you can defer all the pay for the actors, but you do have to pay for their mileage at 35 cents a mile. If you work SAG talent for longer than 8 hours, you do have to pay an overtime rate. Most of the SAG rules are basic and worth the effort. An important note is that SAG requires the production to have Workers Compensation Insurance. While they never actually check for it, it can cost at least $700. In the end, SAG is very helpful with the process and you should meet with the SAG representative about your project. If you are an aspiring director or producer, you want to establish a good record with them.

V.K. said both films will be posted on Funny or Die in December. In the meantime, you can watch "Shady Pines" here.

24Nov/080

Cahiers Top 100

Venerable French cinema snob magazine Cahier du Cinema just put out a Top 100 list. Two of their former writers rank highly: Jean-Luc Godard (#15, Contempt) and Alain Resnais (#26, Hiroshima mon amour). Francois Truffaut is way down the list. (Snobs, I said with merit.)

These sort of things are always going to stir up opinions, but it's useful to see what movies the critical community regards as canonical. I have to say I'm disappointed to see Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game once again ranking so high, since I find it to be one of his least enjoyable films.

But Citizen Kane as #1 is something I can live with (and have been, since it has ranked #1 in most of these type of surveys during my lifetime).

23Nov/080

A New Pop Culture Phenom is Born

Twilight is stomping the Box Office this weekend:

Entertainment's low cost blockbuster Twilight opened huge as expected because of heavy pre-sales with $35.7M Friday from 3,419 theaters, including $7M worth of Thursday midnight shows, for what should be $75M for its first North American weekend in release. Fangirls -- or should I say fang-girls -- were buying 5 Twilight tickets per second as of early Friday morning, making Twilight online ticket-seller Fandango's fastest-selling film since The Dark Knight last July.

--Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood Daily » NO SEX, VIOLENCE OR STARS, YET #1: ‘Twilight’ Takes Biggest $35.7M Bite Out Of Box Office Friday; Bond #2, ‘Bolt

The sequel has already been greenlit.

22Nov/080

BH: Another New York Screening

Greg sends word of another New York screening of Bunker Hill:

EXCLUSIVE PRE-RELEASE SCREENING OF KEVIN WILLMOTT'S PROVOCATIVE NEW FEATURE FILM

"BUNKER HILL"

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 4 AT THE TRIBECA CINEMAS

WHAT: Free, exclusive screening of "BUNKER HILL," the new film from independent director Kevin Willmott (CSA: Confederate States of America), starring Emmy and Peabody Award winner James McDaniel (NYPD Blue); Laura Kirk, star and co-writer of the acclaimed feature film Lisa Picard is Famous; Saeed Jaffrey the legendary actor from India who has starred in more than 150 films including Gandhi and The Man Who Would Be King; Broadway and film star Kevin Geer (American Gangster); and Blake Robbins (Oz, The Office).

WHEN: Thursday, December 4, 2008 at 7:30pm. Screening to be followed by Q&A with the director and cast, and a cash bar reception.

WHERE: Tribeca Cinemas, 54 Varick Street, 212-941-2001.

What would happen if 9/11 happened again? Bunker Hill is the story of a former Wall Street executive who leaves prison and heads for the small town of Bunker Hill, Kansas, where his ex-wife and their children have started a new life. Soon after he arrives, an apparent massive terrorist attack against America darkens the town. Cut off from the world, the town's militant past is reawakened and forces coalesce to protect citizens from an unseen enemy. The town's fear leads to the creation of a posse of gunmen, resulting in torture, illegal searches and eventually, murder. Civil liberties and justice itself hang in the balance as the town must decide whether to embrace freedom or fear.

Bunker Hill was the opening night film at the 2008 Williamstown Film Festival, and was an official selection of The El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz Global Human Rights Film Festival in New York City. The film has had advance screenings at The Santa Fe Film Center; The University of The District of Columbia, at an event hosted by the ACLU; at New York University at an event hosted by the Council on American Islamic Relations and seven other Islamic civil rights groups; Vassar College; the Brown v. Board National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas; and at The University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Also, big congratulations to team behind Bunker Hill. Their follow-up feature, The Only Good Indian, is a strong possibility for got in to Sundance!

21Nov/080

Your Weekend Movies

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