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‘Stronger’: First Trailer Shows Jake Gyllenhaal as Boston Marathon Bombing Survivor

2 hours ago

Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany bring to life the struggles of Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman and his then-girlfriend Erin Hurley in the trailer for Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate’s “Stronger.”

Bauman was standing at the finish line to support Hurley in the race when two bombs detonated in the 2013 terrorist attack that killed three people and injured hundreds more. He lost his legs at the knee and went on to write a 2015 memoir of the same name describing his efforts to adjust to his new life.

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Jake Gyllenhaal’s Boston Marathon Bombing Drama ‘Stronger’ Gets Awards-Season Release

The trailer depicts the couple’s relationship leading up to the bombing and how they struggled to remain together as Bauman faced despair after the injury and worked to cope with his newfound position as a symbol of American and Bostonian bravery.

The film is directed by David Gordon Green from a script written by Boston local John Pollono, and also stars Miranda Richardson as Bauman’s mother and Clancy Brown as his father. It is produced by Lionsgate’s Summit Entertainment label, Mandeville Films, Bold Films, and Nine Stories. It’s Gyllenhaal’s first production under his Nine Stories banner.

Lionsgate also produced “Patriots Day,” another Boston bombing film starring Mark Wahlberg. Although the film received generally positive reviews, some Boston critics took issue with its depiction of the tragedy and the fictional nature of Wahlberg’s character.

Stronger” premieres Sept. 22.

Watch the trailer here or above.

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- Erin Nyren

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Two Tyler Perry Movies Get 2018 Release Dates

2 hours ago

Lionsgate has announced that it’s releasing a pair of Tyler Perry movies in 2018 — “She’s Living My Life,” starring Taraji P. Henson with Perry directing, and “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral.”

“She’s Living My Life” will hit theaters on March 30 and be written by Perry with Henson portraying a woman who is tired of standing by her devious husband, becoming enraged when it becomes clear she has been betrayed. Warner Bros.’ “Ready Player One,” directed by Steven Spielberg, is opening on that date, which is the start of Easter weekend.

“Family Funeral” will be released on Aug. 3 and star Perry with Cassi Davis and Patrice Lovely. The comedy will center on a joyous family reunion that becomes a nightmare as Madea and the crew travel to backwoods Georgia, where they find themselves unexpectedly planning a funeral that might unveil unsavory family secrets.

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Lionsgate Sets ‘Tyler Perry’s Boo 2: A Madea Halloween’ for October

Lionsgate is launching the comedy sequel “Tyler Perry’s Boo 2: A Madea Halloween” on Oct. 20. Perry brought his signature Madea character back to life last year in his ninth “Madea” movie — “Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween.”

“A Madea Halloween” was a solid performer for Lionsgate with $73 million in domestic grosses.

Perry debuted the Madea character in 2005’s “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” in a version of his stage play. That film was directed by Darren Grant — the only time a film written by Perry was not directed by Perry himself.

Lionsgate has handled many other Perry films such as “Good Deeds,” “The Single Moms Club,” “For Colored Girls” and the two “Why Did I Get Married” films as part of a strategy to offer movies to the African-American sector. The studio saw success recently with Tupac Shakur biopic “All Eyez on Me,” which grossed $30 million domestically in its first five days.

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- Dave McNary

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Michael Bay’s 13 Films Ranked From Worst to Best

3 hours ago

With “Transformers: The Last Knight” coming out this week, we look at Michael Bay’s entire explosive filmography and ranked each entry from worst to best.

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- Joe Leydon

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Raul Castillo Talks Working on Surreal ‘Limbo’ Short With Sam Elliott

3 hours ago

Award-winning live-action short “Limbo,” starring Raul Castillo and featuring the voice of Sam Elliott, will be premiere on Vimeo on June 27.

Limbo,” adapted from an untitled Meathaus graphic novella by Marian Churchland by director Will Blank and Richard Koponas, tells the tale of a man stranded alone through the desert who encounters a mysterious dying dog.

“There’s no doubt that Marian Churchland’s voice drew me to ‘Limbo.’ Our director, Will Blank, very wisely, included the original source material when he first sent me the script and I felt that if we stayed loyal to Marian’s comic, then we would be in good hands,” says Castillo, who starred in HBO’s “Looking,” “Also, getting to act opposite an animatronic dog voiced by Sam Elliott was a huge plus.”

Director Blank says Elliott was his first choice to voice the dog, and mentioned it to producer Casey Fenton, who said “Why don’t we ask him?”

“I laughed and agreed it was worth a shot,” he explains. After first reaching out to Elliott’s voiceover agent and then having the project featured in IndieWire’s Project of the Day, they heard back. “We faxed Sam the comic and received an enthusiastic yes,” says Blank. “He really blew all of our minds an dit was a true joy to work with him.”

Elliott provided the voice of the mystical dying dog, which was created by creature designer Tim Martin. The design and construction of the fully functional animatronic dog puppet was a key aspect of the production. It was operated by three puppeteers.

Elliott is currently starring in “The Hero,” about an aging Western star facing his mortality and trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter.

Blank said Churchland’s novella resonated with him because he was going through some personal struggles at the time. “I related to the feeling of being untethered, full of regret and uncertain what to do next,” he says. “Against that emotional backdrop, the interaction between the man and a supernatural dog felt fresh and interesting; it was a catalyst I needed in my own life.”

The short, which premiered at Fantasia Fest, recently won Cine Gear’s Independent Short Film Award and has played at a number of festivals, including Toronto After Dark and Fantastic Fest.

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- Terry Flores

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‘Wonder Woman’ Crosses $600 Million at Worldwide Box Office

4 hours ago

Wonder Woman” continues to be a box office force.

In less than three weeks of wide release, “Wonder Woman” has earned $601.6 million. The breakdown, after Wednesday night’s totals were counted, now stand at $289.2 million domestic, and $312.4 million overseas.

This comes after “Wonder Woman” shattered expectations to earn $103.3 million in North America during its opening weekend. The movie has shown impressive holds since then, dropping only 43% during its second weekend, and a staggering 29.5% in its third frame.

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Wonder Woman” is also the rare movie this summer that has been able to post a relatively equal split between U.S. and international earnings. Film such as “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” and the upcoming “Transformers: The Last Knight” are leaning heavily on the international box office, especially China.

It’s a big win for Warner Bros. and DC Comics which have pulled off a movie that has been received well by both audiences and critics. Director Patty Jenkins, too, has been a celebrated figure in Hollywood since the movie proved to be a hit. Variety recently revealed exclusively that Jenkins is already involved in drafting a script for the sequel. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine topline the film as Diana Prince (a.k.a. Wonder Woman) and Steve Trevor.

Domestically, “Wonder Woman” is the third-highest earning movie of 2017 so far behind Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” ($503.5 million) and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” ($376.2 million).

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- Seth Kelley

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Ansel Elgort on ‘Baby Driver,’ Directing Ambitions and Life Under Trump

5 hours ago

Having played a swoon-worthy boyfriend in the hit weepie, “The Fault in Our Stars,” Ansel Elgort shows off his edgier side as a music-loving crook in “Baby Driver.” The heist thriller is the perfect antidote to all those bloated, brain-dead would-be summer blockbusters. Writer and director Edgar Wright has fashioned some of the greatest chase sequences in movie history, while putting together a killer soundtrack that boasts the likes of Beck, Barry White, and T. Rex. Elgort is at the center of it all, as a mysterious, ear bud-wearing speed demon.

Baby Driver” debuts on June 28. In advance of its opening, Variety spoke with Elgort about stardom, his love of music, and why he’s become more politically involved.

What’s the key to understanding Baby?

I look at Baby as being innocent. He is younger than his years, deep down. There are a lot of shades to him. He loves music, he wants to vibe out to it, and he’s playful. In the heist crew he’s shielded and he tries to be a mystery. He’s a soft-spoken tough guy. He’s quiet and he keeps his sunglasses on and doesn’t say anything because he’s seen a lot of people be disposed of. Then, you have some moments where he’s alone and walking down the street and it’s like being in any city, it’s very anonymous. Well, it’s getting a little less anonymous for me now, but it still can be a very anonymous experience when you’re alone in this sea of strangers.

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Are you able to go out in public without being mobbed by fans?

I do walk the streets of New York all the time. I don’t take cars in New York. I’m in the subway or I’m walking or maybe taking an Uber X. I’m not like with a driver guy or with a bodyguard. That sounds like a miserable lifestyle. When I’m walking around, I walk pretty fast, so people can’t catch me. Even if they do notice, it’s a flash. It’s: “who’s that?” And then I’m gone.

Why did you want to do the film?

I knew I had to do it. The script was incredible. Even on the page this movie really worked. Edgar wrote the movie around the music. It was given to me on an iPad and there was this special app where you could click a button at the top of every screen that made sure the music was synched with the scene you were reading.

The movie has some elaborate car chases. Did you do your own driving?

I did as much as I could and as much as they would let me do. I did a lot of stunt training. We did about 10 sessions with a stunt team from the movie, who were really great. In theory, I can do all the stunts from the movie. They only let me do a few because they don’t want me to harm our amazing leading actors.

Did Edgar Wright play the music he planned to use in a particular scene while he was shooting?

Always. That was very important. When you see the movie, you’ll see everything moves to the music. That’s not just in the edit. That’s done on the day. We did weeks of prep with a choreographer to plan out all the scenes where we move to the music. We were always moving to the beat.

You are also a musician. Do you prefer making music to acting?

There are moments on the set for an actor that are unbelievably incredible and remind me why this has been my passion since I was a kid, but there are also moments where you sit in a trailer for two hours and wait. Music has become a thing that I can stay creative with. Some people go in their trailer and they work out or watch movies or read. I make music in my trailer. I need to stay creative all the time. The last three days I’ve been in L.A. doing interviews all day, but then I go into the music studio and from 7 to 3 a.m. I’m making music. Then I wake up at 7 a.m. and I’ll do interviews. I would rather have a lack of sleep than a lack of creativity.

Would you ever appear in a musical?

I already have an idea for a movie where I’d be able to sing in it. Especially after working with Edgar, I’d like to write and direct as well.

How do you pick your films?

For me it’s three things when I look at a project. It’s script, character, director. Nothing else matters — the money doesn’t matter or the budget.

You were very outspoken after Donald Trump was elected. Has his presidency been as bad as you feared?

He’s a total mess. The biggest thing is him embarrassing us and cutting things that we need, cutting down social services. People need that stuff. That’s what makes us a good country. I’m not happy with his presidency, but hopefully this is a big eye-opener and we’ll be able to not allow this to happen again. At the same time, it seems as though we had a bunch of eye-openers and people never learned. I’m a little lost. Learning about humans and realizing that we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. Maybe in the next 10 years we’ll have someone like Obama again and then after that it will go back to an idiot.

Have you gotten more politically involved?

I feel as though I need to do more, and I think everyone can do more. It’s hard when you have a life and things, but I would like to continue to help. Maybe I’ll subsidize the arts or the schools or things that the [Republican] party is cutting.

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- Brent Lang

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Hollywood Blockbusters Drive China’s Box Office as Local Fare Stumbles

5 hours ago

Summer blockbuster season isn’t just an American phenomenon. In China, Hollywood movies are poised to earn about $580 million this month, continuing a dominant run in 2017 that’s likely to have wider implications for the Sino-u.S. relationship, including ongoing talks on import quotas and revenue share.

Since the Chinese New Year period, when local-language films did big business, turnstile traffic in the Middle Kingdom has all gone Hollywood’s way. In April and May, titles including “XXX: Return of Xander Cage” and “The Fate of the Furious” lifted Hollywood’s monthly box office share to more than 80%. June should see a repeat of that, thanks to “Wonder Woman,” “The Mummy,” “Alien: Covenant” and the soon-to-be-released “Transformers: The Last Knight.”

“The onslaught of the Hollywood tentpoles, plus an Indian juggernaut, has coincided with the weakest output of [Chinese] releases, many of which were the result of shoddy imitations without much merit to start with,” said Raymond Zhou, China’s leading critic and industry commentator at China Daily.

“The Hollywood blockbusters are not necessarily better in quality, judging from Chinese word of mouth, but the Chinese movies are decidedly weaker than usual. And there is little sign of improvement,” he added.

The lopsided performance of Hollywood and Chinese films poses a tricky problem for China’s industry overseers.

Through import quotas, blackout periods and bunched-up releases, Chinese regulators usually manage to limit foreign films to 40% of the box office while delivering 60% to domestic titles on an annual basis. But data from Chinese consultancy EntGroup shows that in the first five months of 2017, Hollywood powered to a 51% share, while qualifying Chinese titles tumbled to 43% — even though the 26 imported films were vastly outnumbered by 125 local ones.

Thus, Hollywood is fueling China’s box office growth and propping up its fast-expanding number of cinemas. If Chinese regulators tried to enforce the normal 60-40 ratio in favor of domestic titles, there would be cries of protest not just from studios across the Pacific but from exhibitors at home.

That’s where the current situation could affect trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing. The prevailing agreement on the film industry, with an annual import quota of 34 revenue-sharing films, has been in place for five years and is now under review.

The 34 figure is a minimum, not a maximum, and Chinese officials have often applied a degree of flexibility. Last year, to counter an unexpected downturn at the box office, they allowed in 40 revenue-sharing foreign films, plus additional Hollywood releases on a flat-fee basis.

Upping the import quota would therefore be an easy, relatively painless way for Chinese negotiators to let the U.S. side score some points while achieving their own aim of shoring up box office growth. “The government is hoping to keep the industry growing by encouraging more Hollywood movies,” said Zhao Li, senior analyst at EntGroup.

U.S. negotiators want changes in other areas as well: shorter blackout periods; longer advance notification of release dates; a bigger share of gross revenue for quota films, now pegged at 25%; and the ability of studios to choose their own distributors and run their own distribution operations in China.

The control-obsessed Chinese government is unlikely to give ground on distribution. And the U.S. dominance of the Chinese film market makes it less likely, not more, that Beijing will want to increase the size of its payouts to Hollywood.

One studio distribution executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the most likely areas of substantive change appear to be the blackouts and notice periods.

China’s Film Bureau, along with the state-owned distributor China Film Group, determine the release dates of revenue-sharing foreign films and typically give only four to six weeks’ notice. That sharply limits the ability to build a proper marketing campaign, which infuriates Hollywood.

China has also played fast and loose with blackout periods. Sometimes they can benefit Hollywood: Last year, with ticket sales slowing, officials shortened the six-week summer blackout and gave three Hollywood titles — “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” “The Legend of Tarzan” and “The Secret Life of Pets” — unusual August releases.

But the fluidity makes planning difficult. Upcoming films “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “War for the Planet of the Apes” are believed to have been approved for release, but no dates have been confirmed as the Film Bureau waffles over how hard to apply the blackout this year, the distribution executive said.

One round of U.S.-China trade talks has been held, with little headway reported. The next is unlikely to happen before the Chinese Communist Party’s National Congress, which is tentatively scheduled for October. “The discussions could easily go on until next year. China has no advantage to be gained from hurrying the process,” the executive said.

Chinese filmmakers are using the fallow period to regroup and chart a new direction following their disappointing performance at the box office so far this year. Groups like Huayi Brothers Media, Bona Film Group and Dalian Wanda Group are looking at mega-budget spectaculars for their 2018 slates. “They are producing large tentpole movies, based on big IP, because they consider that the only way to compete with Hollywood,” said Zhao.

Exhibition giants such as Wanda still envisage the theatrical market doubling in five to seven years, making the Chinese market significantly bigger than the

North American market. If it takes Hollywood blockbuster muscle to achieve that, so be it.

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- Patrick Frater

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Munich Festival Fosters Summer of Rebellion

5 hours ago

The spirit of rebellion will be in the air at the Munich Film Festival, which will be occupied by movies focusing on young people protesting against how their societies are run and seeking out a new utopia. The fest runs June 22-July 1.

One of the German films that reflects the theme of “creative resistance” is “The Long Summer of Theory,” says Christoph Groener, who programs the New German Cinema section. The film reflects the feeling among the young that “what is needed is to move from solipsistic thinking to practical doing.”

Irene von Alberti’s pic centers on three women whose apartment is threatened by property speculators. They decide to change their lives, and are “trying to think of new creative forms of living together” that incorporate a sense of “social solidarity.”

The movie “wants to create a new activism where the film itself might be just a starting point and wants to infuse audiences with the need to talk to each other and find ways to create a new society, a new utopia, in which we can thrive,” says Groener.

In Germany, many young filmmakers, faced with the difficulties of raising financing, are turning to low-budget moviemaking to deliver pics “that seem to be totally uncompromised in their creative approach,” Groener says. Many of these films have an improvisational approach that delivers something that is “new, radical and playful.” The films don’t rely on high-production values, but have the ability to be successful internationally, he says.

Other countries are also producing films that form part of “this new juicy cinema that wants to [inspire] a new political activism,” he says. One film that typifies this resistance ethos is Sofia Exarchou’s “Park,” which centers on young people squatting in the decaying Olympic Village in Athens, creating their own community outside of the conventions of Greek society.

Festival director Diana Iljine says a new generation of auteurs is emerging, whose approach is “fresh, not only in terms of the content, but also the aesthetics.” This filmmaking is “not always positive [in its outlook] — not every story ends in a good way — but it is full of hope, and [the filmmakers] have sought for a creative solution.”

The festival is in revolt itself: against simplistic notions of what life, and cinema, is like in countries perceived as posing a threat to the West, such as Iran, Russia and China.

Bernhard Karl, who programs the fest’s international films, says that in some countries “it’s often the case that [filmmakers] don’t have the chance to make political films,” but their movies instead “reflect the political situation in small, personal stories.”

These films offer a peek at the lives of ordinary folks in these countries. Xuebo Wang’s “Knife in the Clear Water” centers on a farmer from the Hui Muslim minority group in China who is obliged to slaughter his bull for a feast, but is unwilling to part with the beloved animal. Mehdi Fard Ghaderi’s “Immortality” gives a snap-shot of life in Iran. The film, which follows six families on a train journey, depicts a microcosm of Iranian society.

Munich Festival Highlights

Claire Denis’ “Let the Sunshine In,” starring Juliette Binoche, opens the fest. The film tells the story of an artist in Paris looking for love and personal fulfillment. “To open with a Claire Denis and Juliette Binoche film is a dream for a festival person like me,” Iljine says.

Sofia Coppola may only be in her mid-40s, but Munich is honoring her with a career retrospective. She won an original screenplay Oscar for “Lost in Translation,” a Venice Golden Lion for “Somewhere,” and the director prize at Cannes with “The Beguiled.”

“There are not many women out there who are as good, as famous, as much of a fashion icon, and coming from such an interesting a background as she does,” Iljine says. “She’s a star and [her films] marked a new way of filmmaking.”

Bryan Cranston, who nabbed four Emmys for “Breaking Bad,” took a Tony for “All the Way” and was Oscar- nommed for “Trumbo,” will receive Munich’s CineMerit Award, which recognizes his “outstanding contributions to the film arts.” He will also present his latest film, “Wakefield.”

The fest closes with Lone Scherfig’s romantic comedy “Their Finest,” with one of the film’s stars Bill Nighy attending. Nighy plays an aging screen legend, alongside Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin.

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- Leo Barraclough

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Jennifer Lopez to Star in and Produce Romantic Comedy ‘Second Act’

5 hours ago

Jennifer Lopez will star in and produce the romantic comedy “Second Act” for STXfilms as part of the company’s efforts to focus on female-driven movies.

STXfilms touted the movie as being in the vein of “Working Girl” and “Maid in Manhattan.” Lopez will portray a big box store employee who reinvents her life and her lifestyle, which gets her the chance to prove to Madison Avenue that street smarts are as valuable as a college degree.

“There are so many things I love about this project and script,” said Lopez. “People try to put women to sleep at a certain age. ‘Second Act’ is a story that empowers the every woman to do more, to be more, and not limit their dreams. I am thrilled to partner with Stx as they continue to create and empower the female audience.”

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Veteran comedy director Peter Segal will direct the film. His credits include “50 First Dates,” “Anger Management,” and “Get Smart.”

The project was developed by Stx with Lopez from an idea conceived by Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and Justin Zackham. The two wrote the script for “Second Act,” which will be produced by Lopez, Goldsmith-Thomas, Zackham and Benny Medina.

Adam Fogelson, Chairman of STXfilms, and the studio’s president of production Sam Brown made the announcement Thursday.

“When Jennifer, Elaine and Justin came to us with this idea, we loved it right away,” said Fogelson. “The premise of reinventing yourself and creating a career and life-defining second act is hugely relatable and aspirational. Jennifer’s talents as a film and television actress, producer and recording artist are legendary. She is a true global superstar and and we think she is perfect for this role.”

Lopez starred in several successful romantic comedies and dramas between 2001 and 2005, including “The Wedding Planner,” “Maid in Manhattan,” “Shall We Dance,” and “Monster in Law.” Other key credits include “Out of Sight,” “The Cell,” and “Anaconda.” She starred opposite Ryan Guzman in 2015’s erotic thriller “The Boy Next Door.”

Stx noted in the announcement that its next six releases feature women in leading roles — “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” “Molly’s Game,” “Gringo,” “A Bad Moms Christmas” and “The Happytime Murders.”

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- Dave McNary

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Ian McKellen Says It’s ‘Un-American’ for Trump Not to Protect Gay Rights

5 hours ago

During an interview at the Variety Studio in Cannes Lions, the actor Ian McKellen had harsh words for President Donald Trump if he fails to follow through — as seems to be the case — on a campaign promise to protect the rights of the Lgbt community.

Asked about the administration’s attempts to roll back gay and transgender protections, McKellen said, “If what you’re saying is true, it’s appalling and quite unnecessary and very un-American. The gay rights movement began in America. It began in San Francisco, it began in Stonewall, the city where Donald Trump was born and thrived.”

The White House has refused to acknowledge June as Pride Month. In March, Trump quietly rolled back an Obama-era rule, Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order. Many argue that the move leaves female and Lgbt employees of federal contractors venerable to discrimination.

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McKellen, the most recent openly gay actor to be nominated for an Oscar, admitted he’s not sure what Trump believes. “I can’t follow Mr. Trump,” McKellen said. “I don’t always understand what he says and when I do, I have to admit later that I got it wrong because he changed his mind or changed his mind about what he said. He’s a very bad communicator, at least to me. Get more straightforward, Donald. And then we can take you seriously.”

McKellen arrived at the annual advertising conference in the South of France with an initiative, co-sponsored by the European branding company the Brooklyn Brothers and TV production house Brown Eyed Boy, to solicit short films that re-imagine iconic characters as gay (winners will be broadcast on Facebook).

The actor known for playing Magneto in the “X-Men” franchise spoke about the lack of gay characters in major Hollywood tentpoles. “I wouldn’t say the films coming out of the mainstream are quite as related to what’s going on in the real world as I would like them to be,” McKellen told Variety. “One indication of that is Lgbt people don’t really get quite a big enough say. If you’re one of those initials yourself, you do notice that actually these movies are not about me at all.”

Hollywood has yet to greenlight a comic-book movie anchored by a gay superhero. “Frankly looking at the images of some of these superheroes it’s a surprise to me they aren’t gay,” joked McKellen.

He expressed disappointment that his costume for Magneto isn’t quite as flamboyant as it was in the comics. “I wasn’t allowed to wear that outfit,” McKellen said. “I don’t look like Magneto in the comics — always shot from the crotch level.”

McKellen had a suggestion for rebooting the James Bond franchise with a gay 007. “I do have an idea,” McKellen said. “I think Ian Fleming, who wrote the original books, knew all about [it]. I’m not sure subsequent actors have quite understood the joke, which is the same as Superman. James Bond is a wimp! He’s a silly Englishman that wants his martinis stirred. He changes his underwear, like Superman, and he can save the world. They all play it the same — he’s heroic all the way through. No, he’s not.”

“If you play James Bond as an outwardly camp, silly gay man that no one took seriously and then he turned out as many gay men are underneath their clothes — buff and strong and as hetero as any hetero — we might have a more truthful story than the one that has been told,” McKellen said.

Would he want to play this new Bond? “I’m not volunteering,” he said. “I’m insisting. No, I’m too old to play it. I can be on the periphery of this new version.”

With all the recent talk of diversity at the Oscars, one statistic still goes unnoticed. There hasn’t been an openly gay actor nominated for an Oscar in 15 years — since McKellen was recognized for his work in “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” as the wizard Gandalf.

“It’s hard isn’t it?” McKellen said. “It’s probably because there are few remaining very talented actors who aren’t quite out of the closet in the way one would like for them to be for their own health and good. I don’t think there’s anything sinister about it. I was only the second openly gay man to receive a knighthood. Records are being broken day by day.”

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- Ramin Setoodeh

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Playback: Edgar Wright on ‘Baby Driver,’ Music and Walking Away From ‘Ant-Man’

6 hours ago

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

With movies like “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” and his latest, “Baby Driver,” filmmaker Edgar Wright has forged his own path through the modern cinema landscape with his own original voice. That’s no easy task. Along the way, like any artist, he has stumbled, whether learning the value of an abundance of coverage on his first film, “A Fistful of Fingers,” or making the heartbreaking decision to walk on “Ant-Man” due to creative differences with Marvel.

Unsurprisingly, and even with dedicated production partners, maintaining that original voice has been a challenge throughout. But Wright finds inspiration in others who have managed it with aplomb.

Listen to this week’s episode of “Playback” below. New episodes air every Thursday.

Click here for more episodes of “Playback.”

“I think I’ve been really inspired by other directors who sort of double down on their own style or persistence of vision,” Wright says. “I felt that way about Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson. ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ was [Anderson’s] eighth film and his biggest hit. If you looked at the title and synopsis alone, it’s seemingly the most esoteric and idiosyncratic, but it’s a massive worldwide hit.”

Following early successes, Wright hit a couple speed bumps. He first turned his eye toward “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” a Universal Pictures collaboration that disappointed at the box office. Along the way he was developing “Ant-Man,” a bit of a dream project. But eventually he had to step away from that.

“The most diplomatic answer is I wanted to make a Marvel movie but I don’t think they really wanted to make an Edgar Wright movie,” Wright says. “I was the writer-director on it and then they wanted to do a draft without me, and having written all my other movies, that’s a tough thing to move forward. Suddenly becoming a director for hire on it, you’re sort of less emotionally invested and you start to wonder why you’re there, really.”

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He expected the success of something like “Ant-Man” might help propel him toward making his true dream project, “Baby Driver,” a reality. Yet he was still able to get the audacious musical/car chase actioner done at a major studio, and happily, keep his devoted crew (who departed “Ant-Man” in solidarity) employed. And like many of Wright’s creative pursuits, it all began with a song.

“I think that’s where me and the main character in ‘Baby Driver’ are the same, is that we’re completely motivated by music,” he says. “This is a universal thing, that people use music as an escape or motivation or inspiration. I have to drive to music. I have to walk to music. I have to work out to music. I have to clean the house to music. And I have to give a shout-out to Kirsten Lane, our clearance person, who managed to clear 35 tracks for this movie.”

For more, including stories about sneaking into Pinewood Studios to edit his first feature and what the press tour for “Scott Pilgrim” taught him, listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

Subscribe to “Playback” at iTunes.

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- Kristopher Tapley

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‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ Crumbles With Franchise-Low Opening Day

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Paramount and Hasbro’s “Transformers: The Last Knight” has generated a moderate $15.7 million in first-day business Wednesday in North America, signaling a launch in the $65 million range for the first five days.

The domestic launch at 4,069 sites of the fifth Transformers film came in somewhat below studio forecasts, which had been about $70 million for the Wednesday-Sunday period. With a production cost of $217 million, “Transformers: The Last Knight” is a high-stakes bet that’s dependent on its overseas performance to wind up with a profit.

It’s opening day number is also below that of any other movie in the modern franchise. The 2007 original grossed $36.6 million when it opened on a Tuesday. 2009’s “Revenge of the Fallen” earned $62 million on a Wednesday, and 2011’s “Dark of the Moon” — also launched on a Wednesday — brought in $37.7 million. “Age of Extinction,” the most recent installment before “Last Knight” opened on a Friday to $41.9 million.

“The Last Knight” opens in its 42 foreign territories this weekend, including China, the U.K., Russia, Australia, Germany, Italy, North Korea and Hong Kong. That’s abo0ut 80% of the international footprint for the film.

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The sci-fi tentpole starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Michael Bay, generated a decent B+ Cinema Score from first-day moviegoers, who were 57% male and 43% female. A total of 29% of the audience was under 18 and gave the film an A. The film is rated PG-13.

The Wednesday number included $5.5 million in Tuesday night previews at about 3,000 locations. The preview number of $5.5 million is a match for the Thursday night previews from May 26 on Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.”

Aside from Wahlberg, “The Last Knight” cast also includes Stanley Tucci reprising his role from “Age of Extinction,” alongside Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, and John Turturro from the first three movies. Newcomers include Isabela Moner, who portrays a street kid who’s wise beyond her years, and Anthony Hopkins is in the key role of Sir Edmund Burton, an astronomer and historian who lives with several Transformers on an estate in the British countryside.

Hopkins and Wahlberg are in a race to prevent the destruction of the world by uncovering the secrets of the past and the origins of the Transformers.

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- Dave McNary

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‘Jurassic World’ Sequel Gets Official Title, Poster

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The sequel to “Jurassic World” got an official title on Thursday morning — one year ahead of its expected release.

The new poster for the upcoming film, subtitled “Fallen Kingdom,” includes a tag line for the film: “Life finds a way.”

A Monster Calls” director J. A. Bayona is taking the helm on “Fallen Kingdom.” “Jurassic World” director Colin Trevorrow has a credit on the sequel’s script, along with Derek Connolly.

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Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard will reprise their roles from the last movie. Jeff Goldblum — who appeared in 1993’s “Jurassic Park” and in 1997’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” — joins the sequel. The rest of the cast includes B. D. Wong, Toby Jones, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Ted Levine, Geraldine Chaplin, and James Cromwell.

Bayona shared a first-look photo of “Fallen Kingdom” in March. The image shows a mysterious young girl in a natural history museum with her back turned to the camera.

Jurassic World” grossed $1.67 billion worldwide, the fourth-highest-earning movie in history. Vice president of production Sara Scott is overseeing production for the sequel on behalf of the studio.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is scheduled to hit theaters in exactly one year on June 22, 2018.

See the poster below:

In one year, life finds a way. pic.twitter.com/32Cu62xn1Y

Jurassic World (@JurassicWorld) June 22, 2017 »


- Seth Kelley

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Oscars: 13 Deserving Contenders From 2017 So Far

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As we rapidly approach 2017’s midway point, there are already a number of films that deserve to be remembered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when Oscar ballots go out at the end of the year. Academy voters notoriously have short memories, though it’s hardly their fault alone; studios are so obsessed with back-loading the year with prestige product that in the rush, earlier gems are often forgotten.

So we’re here to help. Perhaps members will take a moment to bear these contenders in mind before the awards season glut finally hits.

Note: This list spotlights films theatrically released to the paying public. There have been festival standouts that won’t hit theaters until the coming months, and a number would bear mentioning. Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler are all fantastic in Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” for example. And David Lowery’s vision for “A Ghost Story” makes for one of the greatest motion pictures of the year. But we’ll stick to what will hit theaters as of June 30 for this piece’s purposes.

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***

Best Picture: “The Big Sick

Don’t dismiss it just because it’s the funniest movie of the year so far, it’s also the most heartfelt and intelligent. Willing to mix big issues with big laughs, the tone is held together perfectly by director Michael Showalter, the outstanding cast and an excellent script. (Jr)

Other Standouts: “Baby Driver”; Get Out”; “Logan”; “Okja

Best Director: Bong Joon Ho (“Okja”)

Netflix’s Cannes entry is a whole lot of movie, and a whole lot of vision. Director Bong Joon Ho dazzles with his deft kinetic touch while also pulling an impressive performance out of young lead Seo-Hyun Ahn to anchor the zany satire. But as ever, Bong proves a master of balancing tonal shifts, ultimately crafting a moving piece of work. (KT)

Other Standouts: Sofia Coppola (“The Beguiled”); Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick”); Jordan Peele (“Get Out”); Trey Edward Shults (“It Comes At Night”)

Best Actor: Sam Elliott (“The Hero”)

The role of an aging star who never realized his greatness fits Elliott like a glove. It’s also a reminder of how underutilized he has been on the big screen. (Jr)

Other Standouts: Richard Gere (“Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer”); Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”); James McAvoy (“Split”); Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick”)

Best Actress: Sally Hawkins (“Maudie”)

Hawkins is always excellent and reliable, but she outdoes herself portraying Canadian painter Maud Lewis. Crippled by arthritis, married to a rough fisherman (a great Ethan Hawke), Hawkins allows Maud’s joy to shine through. (Jr)

Other Standouts: Jessica Chastain (“The Zookeeper’s Wife”); Anne Hathaway (“Colossal”); Salma Hayek (“Beatriz at Dinner”); Rachel Weisz (“My Cousin Rachel”)

Best Supporting Actor: Patrick Stewart (“Logan”)

Let’s be honest; take away the superhero element and this would be an Oscar slam-dunk. Stewart’s portrayal of Charles Xavier in waning health with a broken mind will break your heart. (Jr)

*Other Standouts: Sharlto Copley (“Free Fire”); Ethan Hawke (“Maudie”); LilRel Howery (“Get Out”); Ray Romano (“The Big Sick”)

Best Supporting Actress: Betty Gabriel (“Get Out”)

Jordan Peele’s impressive directorial debut deserves a shout-out in virtually every category, but hopefully no one snoozes on Betty Gabriel’s unsettling work as a housekeeper trapped in “the sunken place.” She etches that inner turmoil across her face with such aplomb you simply cannot look away. (KT)

Other Standouts: Laura Dern (“Wilson”); Holly Hunter (“The Big Sick”); Dafne Keen (“Logan”); Terry Pheto (“A United Kingdom”)

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Best Screenplay: “Shimmer Lake

Technically ineligible for Oscars as it didn’t receive a theatrical run, that doesn’t stop this twisty thriller from earning our consideration. What sounds like a gimmick — a crime drama told backwards — proves absolutely essential to telling a fascinating story. (Jr)

Other Standouts: “The Big Sick”; “Get Out”; “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore”; Split

Best Cinematography: “Kong: Skull Island

Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ simian sequel was a bit of a tonal omelette, but one element that gave it an unexpected level of iconography was Larry Fong’s striking photography. Sunburnt vistas and heat-rippled frames sometimes call back to “Apocalypse Now,” but more often they give the film its own intriguing visual identity. (KT)

Other Standouts: “Alien: Covenant”; “The Beguiled”; “The Lost City of Z”; “Song to Song

Best Costume Design: “Wonder Woman

Speaking of iconography, one of the eye-popping elements of Patty Jenkins’ landmark superhero entry is the iconic image actress Gal Gadot strikes as the eponymous Amazon. But beyond Diana Prince’s well-known threads, there’s a whole array of dazzling outfits on the screen, from the battle gear of Themyscira to 1920s fashion and World War I attire. (KT)

Other Standouts: “Beauty and the Beast”; “The Beguiled”; “The Great Wall”; “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Best Film Editing: “LA92”

Lest we forget, National Geographic’s Emmy-contending L.A riots documentary is also eligible for Oscar consideration this year. Last year “O.J.: Made in America” garnered some attention for its handling of tons of material, and hopefully reminded voters that documentary editing ought to be recognized. Reams of footage were assembled from countless sources to drive this particular version of the story, which was also covered elegantly by director John Ridley in “Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992.” (KT)

Other Standouts: “Baby Driver”; “Get Out”; “Logan”; “Okja

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Best Production Design: “Beauty and the Beast”

It’s a tall order to match the stunning animation of the original film, but the “Beauty and the Beast” team pulled it off. Every ornate touch, from the Beast’s castle to the world of Belle’s village, was a visual feast. (Jr)

Other Standouts: “The Great Wall”; “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2”; “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”; “Wonder Woman

Best Sound Editing: “Baby Driver

Being something of a musical-slash-actioner, Edgar Wright’s latest owes everything to its soundtrack. But more than that, the precision with which sound is layered and cut to enhance the various tracks scattered throughout gives the film an innervating sense of propulsion. When there’s no sound, you’re desperate for it to scream back. (KT)

Other Standouts: “Free Fire”; “John Wick: Chapter Two”; “Okja”; “Transformers: The Last Knight

Best Visual Effects: “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

It’s a pity we can’t throw “War for the Planet of the Apes” (July 14) in here, but more on that in due time. Marvel’s latest installment of the “Guardians” franchise doubles down on rendered environments. When you have a character who at times serves as the actual location (I guess you have to see the film to understand), the sky is the limit on VFX. (KT)

Other Standouts: “Beauty and the Beast”; “Ghost in the Shell”; The Great Wall”; “Okja

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- Kristopher Tapley and Jenelle Riley

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Ron Howard to Take Over as Director of ‘Star Wars’ Han Solo Spinoff

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Oscar-winning filmmaker Ron Howard will take over as director of the “Star WarsHan Solo spinoff, Lucasfilm announced.

His hire comes after the movie’s original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired Tuesday, while in the middle of production after clashing with producer and Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy and co-writer/executive producer Lawrence Kasdan. The duo, who had previously overseen “The Lego Movie” and “21 Jump Street,” wanted to inject more humor into the storyline and encouraged improvisation, something Kasdan did not appreciate.

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Howard will begin work immediately. The picture still has several weeks left on its shooting schedule, and five additional weeks of pre-scheduled reshoots that were planned for later this year. The exact amount of time and money that it will take to actually complete the production (which was about three-quarters finished when the directors were fired), will vary depending on how much rewriting and reshooting Howard deems is necessary after reviewing the script and shot footage.

It is unclear just how Howard will be credited and whether he will share directing credit with Lord and Miller, or potentially take no credit at all (though that seems unlikely). Lord and Miller have the right to appeal any decision, but ultimately, the Directors Guild of America will make the call.

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Howard previously worked with Lucasfilm  on 1988’s “Willow,” a fantasy adventure that garnered two technical Ocscar nominations (visual effects and sound editing) but was a box office disappointment. Howard’s credits also include hits such as “Parenthood,” “Splash,” “Backdraft,” “The Da Vinci Code,” “Apollo 13” and  2001’s “A Beautiful Mind,” about the brilliant, anti-social mathematician John Nash, which won four top Academy Awards including best director and best picture.

These days, however, the former child actor is in need of a big hit. He’s had a string of duds that include “Inferno,” “In the Heart of the Sea,” “Rush,” and “The Dilemma.” His last significant success was 2009’s “Angels & Demons.”

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- Brent Lang

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Oscars at the Halfway Mark: ‘Logan,’ ‘Get Out’ and Women Directors

8 hours ago

The year is half over and Oscar voters need to catch up on their homework. There have been many worthwhile films in the first six months of 2017, including “Get Out” from writer-director Jordan Peele (Universal, Blumhouse); “Logan,” the dark, tender neo-Western from director James Mangold (Fox); and the sumptuous mega-hit “Beauty and the Beast” (director Bill Condon, Disney).

A few years ago, these would have been extreme longshots, at best. But there have been changes in Academy voters and their tastes. Recent winners including “Moonlight,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Ex Machina” prove that voters are redefining what is considered “Oscar bait.” The blurred definition is a challenge to awards strategists, but good news for hopefuls.

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The January-June period has seen many other films with Oscar potential in various categories; see the accompanying reminders by Variety colleagues Kris Tapley and Jenelle Riley. And, needless to say, other contenders will be covered a lot before the March 4, 2018, Oscar ceremony.

Diversity has been a key theme. This year, several films directed by women could be in the mix, including Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” (Focus Features), Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” (Warner Bros.), and Aisling Walsh’s “Maudie” (Sony Pictures Classics). Still to come are works from Kathryn Bigelow (Annapurna’s much-buzzed “Detroit”), Dee Rees (Netflix’s “Mudbound”); Margaret Betts (Sony Classics’ “Novitiate”) and Angelina Jolie (Netflix’s “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers”).

There are also upcoming works from international filmmakers like Sebastian Lelio, Alfonso Gomez-Rijon, Michael Gracey, Yorgos Lanthimos and Taika Waititi. They will join veterans including Guillermo del Toro, Alexander Payne, Stephen Frears, Richard Linklater, Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, Darren Aronofsky and Paul Thomas Anderson.

Here are month-by-month opening dates, followed by a list of films that made a splash at the year’s film festivals so far. And the upcoming festivals will also add a few twists to the Oscar race.

The director and stars are listed for purpose of jogging readers’ memories; it’s not a matter of handicapping, since it’s pointless to make predictions about films that have not been widely seen.

July: “War for the Planet of the Apes” (directed by Matt Reeves; starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson; Fox)

August: “Detroit” (Kathryn Bigelow; John Boyega; Annapurna); “Logan Lucky” (Steven Soderbergh; Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig; Bleecker Street); “Patty Cake$” (Geremy Jasper; Danielle Macdonald; Searchlight); “Wind River” (Taylor Sheridan; Elizabeth Olsen; The Weinstein Co.).

September: “American Made” (Doug Liman; Tom Cruise; Universal); “Battle of the Sexes” (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris; Emma Stone, Steve Carell; Fox Searchlight); “First They Killed My Father” (Angelina Jolie; Netflix); “Victoria and Abdul” (Stephen Frears; Judi Dench; Focus).

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October: “Blade Runner 2049” (Denis Villeneuve; Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford; WB); “Breathe” (Andy Serkis; Andrew Garfield; Bleecker Street, Participant); “Goodbye Christopher Robin” (Simon Curtis; Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie; Searchlight); “Marshall” (Reginald Hudlin; with Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall; Open Road); “Mother!” (Darren Aronofsky; Jennifer Lawrence; Paramount); “The Mountain Between Us” (Hany Abu-Assad; Idris Elba, Kate Winslet; Fox); “Thank You for Your Service” (Jason Hall; Miles Teller; Universal)

November: “Darkest Hour” (Joe Wright; Gary Oldman; Focus); “Last Flag Flying” (Richard Linklater; Bryan Cranston; Amazon); “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (Bharat Nalluri; Dan Stevens; Bleecker Street); “Mary Magdalene” (Garth Davis; Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix; TWC); “Murder on the Orient Express” (Kenneth Branagh; Johnny Depp; Fox); “Suburbicon” (George Clooney; Matt Damon; Paramount); “Thor: Ragnarok” (Taika Waititi; Chris Hemsworth; Disney, Marvel Studios); “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Martin McDonagh; Frances McDormand; Searchlight).

December: “The Greatest Showman” (Michael Gracey; Hugh Jackman; Fox); “The Current War” (Alfonso Gomez-Rijon; Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon; TWC); “Downsizing” (Alexander Payne; Matt Damon, Laura Dern; Paramount); “The Papers” (Steven Spielberg; Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep; Fox, Amblin); “The Shape of Water” (Guillermo del Toro; Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer; Searchlight); “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (Rian Johnson; Disney, Lucasfilm); “Phantom Thread” (Paul Thomas Anderson; Daniel Day-Lewis; Focus); “Wonder Wheel” (Woody Allen; James Belushi, Kate Winslet; Amazon).

And some of the festival hits so far this year:

Sundance: “The Big Sick,” (Michael Showalter; Kumail Nanjiani, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter; Amazon, Lionsgate); “Call Me By Your Name” (Luca Guadagnino; Armie Hammer (Sony Pictures Classics); “The Hero” (Brett Haley; Sam Elliott; The Orchard); Also: “Mudbound” and “Wind River.”

Berlin: “The Lost City of Z” (James Gray; Charlie Hunnam; Amazon, Bleecker Street); “Final Portrait” (Stanley Tucci; Geoffrey Rush; Sony Classics); “Maudie” (Aisling Walsh; Sally Hawkins; Sony Classics).

South by Southwest: “The Disaster Artist” (James Franco; A24).

Cannes: “Good Time” (Safdie brothers; Robert Pattinson; A24); “You Were Never Really Here” (Lynne Ramsay; Joaquin Phoenix; Amazon); “Okja” (Bong Joon Ho; Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal; Netflix); “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” (Noah Baumbach; Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller; Netflix); “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (Yorgos Lanthimos; Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell; A24); “The Florida Project” (Sean Baker; Willem Dafoe; A24); “Happy End” (Michael Haneke; Isabelle Huppert; Sony Classics); “Wonderstruck” (Todd Haynes; Julianne Moore; Amazon, Roadside Attractions).

There are also plenty of great documentaries, animated movies and foreign-language films, but those are for later columns.

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- Tim Gray

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Influential French Auteur Jean-Marie Straub to Receive Locarno Lifetime Achievement Award

10 hours ago

Rome — French auteur Jean-Marie Straub, who with his late wife Danièle Huillet formed one of cinema’s most intense, innovative and influential collaborations in modern cinema, will be honored by the Locarno Film Festival with its Pardo d’onore Manor lifetime achievement award.

Born in Metz in 1933, and currently a resident of Switzerland after living in Germany and Italy, Straub in 1954 met Huillet in Paris. They started a sentimental and creative partnership centered on the experimental cinematic adaptation of literary works, plays, and even a painting by Cezanne.

The couple’s first feature-length film was “The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach” (1967), based on the life of the singer Anna Magdalena Bach, wife of composer Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1969 Straub and Huillet moved to Rome where they made several features, including “Les yeux ne veulent pas en tout temps se fermer, ou Peut-être qu’un jour Rome se permettra de choisir à son tour,” (“Othon”), their first work in color, a rigorous adaptation of  Pierre Corneille’s classic tragedy “Othon.” It was shot in ancient settings such as Rome’s Palatine Hill and the Villa Doria Pamphili but surrounded by the sights and sounds of modern-day Rome.

Over five decades Straub and Huillet created highly personal film adaptations of works by  Böll, Kafka, Brecht and Dante, among others, and also homages to D.W. Griffith, Renoir, and Bresson. They sought to make what Straub called “an abstract-pictorial dream” while staying rigorously close to the text and also providing a Marxist analysis of capitalism and class struggle.

Their films “From The Clouds To The Resistance” (1968) and “Sicilia!,” premiered in the Un Certain Regard section in Cannes.

“Often featuring a non-professional cast – which is the ideal palette for a direct rapport with words – the work of Straub and Huillet is anti-spectacular and profoundly political, but never slips into propaganda,” the Locarno announcement noted.

At 84, Straub continues to make films, most recently autobiographical short ”Où en êtes-vous: Jean Marie Straub?” in 2016.

Straub and Huillet always had close ties with Locarno. “The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach” played there in 1968, their “Antigone” screened on the Piazza Grande in 1992, and “Kommunisten”  premiered out-of-competition in 2014.

Straub will receive the Pardo d’onore Manor in Piazza Grande on Friday night, August 11.

“It is a special honor to be able to recognize the personality and achievement of Jean-Marie Straub,” said Locarno artistic director Carlo Chatrian who added that their films hold a unique and special place in the history of modern film and still have an undeniable influence.

“‘Rigorous’ is a term that has often been used to describe their [filmmaking] practice; watching their films again one also feels how much freedom pulses through every frame – something that is absolutely necessary to ‘digital’ filmmaking [today],”  he noted.

Recipients of the Pardo d’onore award at past editions of the fest include Samuel Fuller, Jean-Luc Godard, Ken Loach, Sydney Pollack, William Friedkin, Jia Zhangke, Alain Tanner, Werner Herzog, Agnès Varda, Michael Cimino, Marco Bellocchio and Alejandro Jodorowsky.

The 70th edition of the Locarno Film Festival, which is dedicated to indie and cutting-edge cinema, will run August 2-12 in the Swiss lakeside city.

The festival lineup will be announced on July 12.

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- Nick Vivarelli

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‘I Am Rocket,’ ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Director James Gunn Tells Chinese Screenwriters

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“The structure of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ comes straight from Hong Kong cinema (where anything can happen at any moment),” “Guardians” director James Gunn said this week.

Johnnie To, John Woo and Ringo Lam made me fall in love with cinema even more than I had been before.” Other early influences when Gunn was a shy teen growing up in small-town Missouri, were the “Star Wars” films, with their escapism and mythology.

“I was created in giant petri dish to make ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’,” Gunn told an audience of Chinese screenwriters and directors this week at an event within the Shanghai International Film Festival. The event was organized with U.S. screenwriting consultancy Screencraft.

While a trip down memory lane was part of the session, the contrasting approaches to screenwriting of Gunn, “Kong: Skull Island” writer Max Borenstein and Hong Kong’s Peter Chan Ho-sun were the most instructive.

“I figure out everything before I go on stage. I know every shot beforehand,” said Gunn, who also describes himself as a hedgehog capable of doing only one thing at a time. “Guardians” took him more than two and a half years to put together.

Chan, who has made some of China’s most successful contemporary movies, including “Perhaps Love” and “American Dreams in China,” is a different kind of control freak. “I don’t plan, I don’t do story boards, I don’t do special effects. My creative process is working with actors,” said Chan. “And now I’m most enjoying the editing process, working alongside a great creative editor.” Yet Chan extends his creative vision by often doubling up as producer, a detail-obsessed marketer, and as a local distributor as well.

Where the three film makers concurred was on the need to juggle process and passion. “The worst way to make a film is to try to appeal to a mass audience,” said Borenstein.

“Half of film making is about balance. A film is a giant machine that I’m helping to build. Half is very personal, it’s about characters,” said Gunn. “(The whole) is a balance between the emotional and the logical.”

“Without the audience, the film making process is not complete. Even a blockbuster needs to be personal,” said Chan. “There is no secret sauce. You just need to like the characters. In ‘American Dreams’ all the characters were the kind of people I’d grown up with. And when I watched ‘Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2’ recently I saw a personal film, one with a director behind it.”

Gunn went one step further. He described “Guardians” as an autobiography of Rocket, the raccoon character voiced by Bradley Cooper, before adding: “Rocket is me, feeling outcast and forgotten.”

The trip to Shanghai was Gunn’s first to mainland China, but not his first encounter with Chinese audiences. He stays in touch with Chinese fans through his own WeiboChinese social media account. He revealed that he received many complaints from Chinese viewers about the subtitles for the first “Guardians” movie. So for the second picture, which released earlier this year in Chinese theaters, he used social media to work closely with the film’s translator. That was particularly useful in avoiding misinterpretations of idiosyncratic dialog and invented vocabulary.

Gunn was careful to distance himself from Hollywood movies which seek international appeal through calculatedly diverse casting choices. “Chinese people don’t fall for that trick any more,” he said.

The speakers were jointly interviewed by Screencraft’s Emily Dell and Chinese critic and consultant Raymond Zhou.

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- Patrick Frater

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Strand Releasing to Roll Out Liu Jian’s ‘Have a Nice Day’ in the U.S. (Exclusive)

10 hours ago

Strand Releasing has acquired all U.S. rights to Liu Jian’s animated neo-noir feature “Have a Nice Day” which premiered in competition at Berlin.

Represented by Memento Films International (along with Edko which sold key Asian territories), “Have a Nice Day” is set in a small town in Southern China and follows the journey of a young driver who steals a bag containing a million dollars to help save his fiancee’s failed plastic surgery.

“Have a Nice Day” marks Jian’s second feature film, following his debut “Piercing 1” which played at Berlin and Annecy festivals, among others. “Have a Nice Day” was the first animated feature from China to be selected for a Berlinale competition slot. It was selected for this month’s Annecy festival, but was withdrawn after pressure from the Chinese government.

“Strand is the perfect home for this fresh, subversive and politically trenchant pulp thriller!” said Tanja Meissner, the co-founder of Memento Films International who negotiated the deal with Jon Gerrans of Strand Releasing.

Gerrans, who runs the L.A.-based company with Marcus Hu, praised “Have a Nice Day” for its “unique vision,” and said he hoped that Liu’s film will “resonate with audiences” in the U.S., where Strand plans a release in the fall.

Memento has also sold the critically-acclaimed feature in U.K., Spain, Benelux, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey and Eastern Europe.

Strand Releasing’s current slate includes Jamie Kastner’s “The Skyjacker’s Tale,” Joao Pedro Rodrigues’ “The Ornithologist” and Amat Escalante’s “The Untamed.”

Related storiesMainland Chinese Companies Expected to Flock to the FilMart ConfabBerlin Film Review: 'Have A Nice Day'Berlinale: Edko, Memento Pick Up Animated Competition Film 'Have a Nice Day' »


- Elsa Keslassy

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Constantin Inks First-Look Film and TV Deal with Prime Universe

11 hours ago

Constantin Film has inked a first-look deal with producer Adrian Askarieh’s Prime Universe Films.

The two-year agreement covers movie and TV projects and is the latest step in Munich-based Constantin’s efforts to ramp up its English-language slate. In the wake of the deal, Prime Universe Films will be based at Constantin’s West Hollywood offices.

Askarieh’s last film was 20th Century Fox’s video game-based “Hitman: Agent 47.” Upcoming movies include “Just Cause,” based on the Square Enix video game and which Jason Momoa (“Aquaman”) Brad Peyton (“San Andreas”) attached to direct.

“We are welcoming Adrian into the Constantin family,” said Constantin’s U.S. boss Robert Kulzer. “With his great talent of developing and packaging high-end intellectual properties, we expect him to help us crank up our film and TV output.”

Askarieh added: “I have known Robert Kulzer for a while and just recently met Martin Moszkowicz. But soon after the three of us met, I had no doubt that Constantin Film was the company I wanted to be in business with in a significant way.

“Martin, Robert, and their entire Constantin team have a tremendous track record in creating valuable film and television content with global appeal. I feel that my company is well positioned to contribute to their future plans and to also benefit from their vast experience and resources.”

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- Stewart Clarke

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