Monday movie news

The Deadline crew has really been working overtime these last few days, so there’s much to talk about as a new week begins.

* I’m not kidding about the pace of news from Deadline today. Just as I was starting to finish writing this, Mike Fleming broke the news that we have a “Superman” director who’ll be working with producer Christopher Nolan, and he is one Zack Snyder of “300,” “Watchmen,’ the “Dawn of the Dead” remake and that owl movie that’s out right now. Expect a fightin’ Supes. Should you expect a good Supes movie? Dunno. I never understood the grief that “Superman Returns” got. It was a nice, fun movie in the best senses of the words “nice” and “fun.” Will this one be all grimness and unnecessary darkness? I hope not.

*  Fox landed the film adaptation rights for apparently the hottest book of the moment, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter which is being produced by Tim Burton and directed by Timur Bekmanbetov (“Night Watch,” “Wanted“), who purchased the rights with their own money. And it’s not like they were afraid to show they really wanted it:

When Tim and Timur and their entourage of reps came to the Fox…they were met with a huge banner at the gate. It had the title treatment of the script and was emblazoned, “Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov present Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”. At their parking spot were signs saying “Parking For Vampire Hunters Only: park at your own risk,” and so forth. There were bloody footprints lining the walkway and stairs leading from their cars to the meeting in Building 88 with images from the book and lines from the script. As if that were not enough, there also were bloody axes strewn about, and a bugle player in a Confederate uniform playing “Taps” as the filmmakers walked to the meeting..

Yes, like Camelot, Hollywood is a silly place, and I sort of like it that way. I just wished I enjoyed Bekmambetov’s movies, because I didn’t.

* Re: silliness. Check out this promotion for “Jackass 3D”

* I seriously dislike writing about stories that say that so-and-so is “about to be” “offered” a part. There are simply too many items like that and too many “ifs” (maybe the studio will change their minds; maybe the star will say “no,” etc.) and I prefer to wait until the story is further down the road. Nevertheless, Mike Fleming has reported that Emma Stone is about to be offered the part of Mary Jane Watson in the Marc Webb-directed 3D “Spiderman” reboot opposite Andrew Garfield.

awsmmj

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Celluloid Heroes: Eight Musicals of the 21st Century

A funny thing happened this decade — the once dying genre of live-action movie musicals seems to have returned to the movie repertoire. As the decade closes, I can think of exactly two major westerns, but I keep remembering musicals that I should consider for this piece (including the mostly well-regarded French musical “Love Songs,” which I forgot to see before writing this, je suis désolé).

As a lifelong fan and a nearly lifelong tough critic of musicals, I love most of these films. However, this list is not so much a traditional “best of” and I’ve included one choice I definitely don’t like. (It won’t be hard to guess which.) These are musicals that I think contributed to the development of this polarizing and hard to pull off genre. They don’t hark back to times gone by or try to recapture a past glory that will never return, but actually take us into the future. That’s important now that musicals seem to have a future.

“Dancer in the Dark” (2000)

Earlier this year, the brilliant but often irritating Danish director Lars von Trier shocked hard-to-shock European festival audiences with graphic sexual violence in “Antichrist.” Back in 2000, all he needed to divide audiences was some really intense melodrama and an approach to making dark musicals partially borrowed from TV creator Dennis Potter (“Pennies from Heaven,” “The Singing Detective”).

Featuring a literally once-in-a-lifetime lead performance by singer-songwriter Björk as a young mother ready to sacrifice everything to save her son’s failing eyesight, “Dancer in the Dark” is maybe the most emotionally potent story of parental love I’ve ever seen. As a musical, it’s strange and arresting.

Like the Potter television shows and movies and “Chicago,” further down the list, the musical numbers take place in the mind of the lead character. In this case, however, it is particularly poignant as our heroine is a fan of musicals who, though she is gradually going blind, is attempting to appear in a community theater production of “The Sound of Music.” Below, she musically confesses her situation to a smitten Peter Stormare (yes, the guy from “Fargo”). Lumberjacks or not, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” sure seems like a long time ago.

Moulin Rouge” (2001)
As the non-musical Pixar films became the dominant template for animation and the musical form lost its last apparent movie bastion, big studios began to experiment with musicals starring humans. Unfortunately for me, the first and still one of the most popular of this decade’s high profile film musicals was Baz Luhrmann’s beautifully shot, amazingly designed, dull-witted, and over-edited “Moulin Rouge.”

Yes, this musical fan is not a fan of the musical that’s been credited with resurrecting the genre. Why? A couple of sequences work, but on the whole I expect the funny parts of a movie to make me laugh and, even more important, I like to see the movies I’m seeing. As far as I can tell, Luhrmann simply doesn’t have the confidence in this film to allow us time to view the arresting images he’s worked so hard to craft, nor does he permit time to actually see the hard work his dancers and actors put in. Editor Jil Bilcock is expected to do all the performing instead.

As for what Luhrmann and his arrangers did with the various classic songs they threw into a musical Cuisinart, the less I say about it the better. At the risk of sounding like a fogey (or a member of an 18th century Austrian court), too many notes. Way, way, way, too many notes. See if you disagree.

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High school video class tops award-nominated “(500) Days”

This is circulating pretty quickly around the ‘net, but deservedly so. As part of a “lip dub” video competition — in my day we called it “lip-synch”! — between two Seattle-area high schools, video teacher Marty Ballew, his class, student director Javier Caceres, and what appears to be most of the Shorewood High student body, created a music video possibly inspired by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s post-coital walk-of-pride in “(500) Days of Summer.” Or, possibly not, it’s not like writer-director Marc Webb, whose film is nominated for two Golden Globes and three Independent Spirit Awards, has some kind of ownership of the Hall & Oates catalog and the scenes are fairly different.  (I’m sure proud parents will have to take comfort from the fact that it’s extremely unlikely the entire Shorewood student body had sex just prior to shooting, though with these kids today, how can you be sure?)

In any case, Mr. Ballew, young Mr. Caceres, and company left Webb in the dust, shooting their musical sequence backwards, which meant the kids had to learn the lyrics that way as well, and — even better — in a single take of 4:22. Shooting musical sequences using long takes, once the standard, now borders on being a lost art, just ask ADHD musical maestros Rob Marshall (“Nine”) or Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge”). Doing it backwards has to increase the difficulty level considerably, though with great results, as you’ll see. Maybe we should send some grown-up directors back to high school for some remedial production classes.

For comparison, here’s the sequence from “(500) Days of Summer.”

Okay, it’s not bad — it might even be called “good,” but it’s not Mr. Ballew’s video production 1 class Shorewood High good.

Via Cinematical.

  

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Easy Virtue

Easy Virtue

Today we associate multi-talented playwright Noël Coward with witty repartee, a forgiving view of sexual peccadilloes, twenties pop standards by Cole Porter and Coward himself, and the heavy use of cocktails. The play, “Easy Virtue,” about a country household thrown into chaos when the family’s only son impetuously marries an American woman with a shadowy past, however, was a melodrama and the 1928 silent film version was directed by the none other than a young Alfred Hitchcock. 81 years later, Australian director Stephen Elliott (“The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) and co-writer Sheridan Jobbins have taken a very different tack, modified the plot, and turned the drama into a mostly comedic confection filled with witty repartee, a forgiving view of sexual peccadilloes, the music of Coward, Porter and, er, Tom Jones and Billy Ocean, and the heavy use of champagne and wine — but hardly any martinis.

Elliott does a good enough job finding the material’s comedic possibilities, but his style doesn’t quite fit and he gets into trouble when he indulges in some annoying Baz Luhrmann-esque musical/stylistic flourishes. Still, the main problem here is that, while Colin Firth as the family’s alienated patriarch and Kristin Scott Thomas as the repressed mother do first rate work, and Ben Barnes (a.k.a. “Prince Caspian”) is able as the young husband, Jessica Biel, in the crucial role of the extremely non-ugly American, barely registers. Her colorless performance tips the film over the edge of being an enjoyable diversion and into mediocrity.

Click to buy “Easy Virtue”

  

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