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Helen Mirren interview

Helen Mirren has had a long and distinguished career, and she discusses it along with her new film “Hitchcock” in an excellent interview with The Daily Beast.

Earlier in her career, however, Mirren wasn’t treated so regally. After causing waves as a lascivious muse to an older painter in 1969’s Age of Consent, she was cruelly objectified by the British press for her looks and sensual onscreen persona. The coup de grâce came in 1975 when, during a TV interview with famed British host Michael Parkinson, she was subjected to a barrage of sexist comments and even told she projected a “sluttish eroticism.”

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” she says. “You just had to put up with it. It was tough when I was younger; it was like an albatross on my back but I just found a way to navigate it. I thought, ‘They can think what they like and I’ll show them through the work that I do,’ which is what I did.”

Check out the video above and you’ll get a feel for her early career.

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Box office preview: “Dawn Treader” to take a reasonably lucrative voyage but “The Tourist” may be a stranger to big b.o. bucks

We have two new major releases and which one will be on top is a pretty clear cut case. Even so, it will be relatively muted victory.

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“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is the third installment in the adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s immensely popular fantasy novels. Though it was helmed by veteran filmmaker Michael Apted, it’s not entirely smooth sailing for the family-friendly adventures. Disney dropped the series after the somewhat disappointing showing of “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” back in 2008. Since then, as discussed by both Ben Fritz and jolly Carl DiOrio Fox has picked it up and trimmed the budget in partnership with Walden Media to an oh-so-thrifty $155 million (!).

That’s probably a good thing because it doesn’t seem to be generating a huge amount of excitement, at least from critics. On the other hand, Narnia fans are a sure bet to turn out and, as the first 3D installment in the series, “Dawn Treader” could enjoy a bit of a bump from those inflated ticket prices. DiOrio’s guess of $35-45 million seems reasonable.

Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in From everything I’ve seen today, Sony’s “The Tourist” looks like it may be one of those movies that comes with the finest pedigree but just turns out to be a bit of a dog. Not only does this remake of a French thriller little-seen in the U.S. boast the truly enormous star voltage of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, it’s the follow-up film to the Oscar winning worldwide success, “The Lives of Others” by German writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. I saw von Donnersmark introduce that film before its domestic opening. He turns out to be an extremely fluent and completely unaccented English speaker who, even before his film opened in the U.S., was not shy about his lust to take on American films.

The maker of the compellingly dour political thriller has taken on an attempt at a sophisticated, lighthearted thriller along the lines of such non-Hitchcock Hitchcock films as “Charade.” And, where that film had a screenplay by the great Peter Stone, this one has one credited to von Donnersmark, Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) and Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”). You can’t blame a guy for trying.

The review by our own David Medsker was entirely unenthusiastic, but it was a rave compared with the highly negative reaction of critics overall. The same scribes who rhapsodized over “The Lives of Others” largely found “The Tourist” an exercise in high-gloss boredom. While audiences will be lured by the appearance of an ideal date movie the first weekend, you’ve got to wonder how the film will do once people see it for themselves. Still, about $20 million seems to be figure for the first weekend. We’ll see about the legs later on.

There’s also a bunch going on in the realm of limited releases. Looking at Box Office Mojo, we have a significant expansions of “Black Swan” after its boffo opening weekend. One brand new entry this weekend in five theaters is a new version of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” which, despite starring the great Helen Mirren in a bit of gender-altering casting is getting pretty dismal reviews for famed/infamous director Julie Taymor.  A Shakespeare adaptation with bad reviews is a movie in trouble. “The Fighter” debuts also on four screens, though you can expect many more later.

Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg in

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Weekend box office: “Saw 3D” tortures its way to the top

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Even given my low information preview Thursday night, there really weren’t any big surprises this Halloween weekend as the seventh installment in the “Saw” series, but the first in 3D and therefore logically entitled “Saw 3D,” extracted a healthy but far from huge sum from audiences. The amount was an estimated $22.5 million for Lionsgate if you believe Box Office Mojo and the Playlist, or $24.2 million if you believe Nikki Finke and Anthony D’Alessandro. D’Allesandro, as usual guest/co-blogging with Anne Thompson, also tells us that it really does appear that 3D drove this film to its modest success, with 92% of tickets being sold for “digital hubs,” which I assume translates into 3D screens.

I wonder if that means the film will pay a commensurate price in home video for at least as long as home 3D remains rare. It’s also worth noting that the $20 million budget — modest by Hollywood standards but large by horror film standards — is double that of the prior films and the take is about $10 million below the opening weekends of the series at its peak. Still, making back your budget on opening weekend is never bad.

“Saw 3D” merited a B- on Cinemascore and apparently gave series fans what they want (misery, and lots of it, I gather), though their numbers be diminishing. Now that some of them have finally seen it, what critics want, however, is for the series to end with the  film currently getting drubbed by all but one scribe on Rotten Tomatoes. EW‘s Owen Gleiberman‘s more positive review is less a good review and more a bit of a confession — even the gore hardened critic had to turn away from the screen at one point or risk becoming physically ill — and a rumination on whether it’s even appropriate to enjoy a movie that sounds so invested in human pain that it should never have been allowed anything remotely short of an NC-17. (Which should not be seen as punitive or a a box office kiss of death, but let’s not open that can of worms right now, except that I just did.)

Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis, and Morgan Freeman look relieved in Moving right along in a relatively slow weekend with competition for people’s time heavy from the holiday, the election, and maybe even Jon Stewart’s rally, last week’s much less physically aggressive horror hit, “Paranormal Activity 2,” endured a very usual second-week horror drop  of just under 60% that still left enough for an estimated $16.5 million in the #2 spot. The leggy action-comedy “RED” was #3 with an estimate of $10.8 million and change. And “#4 “Jackass 3D” is predictably sinking like a stone at $8.425 million. However, it started at such a profitable point it actually crossed the $100 million mark in its third week. There are no tears at Paramount.

In limited release, the week’s two highest per-theater takes was as art-house as art-house gets. The single theater showing “Waste Land,” a documentary about Brazilian trash-gatherer/artists, earned a hefty $11,600 estimate over it’s weekend. Meanwhile, the two venues final thriller directed by the late Claude Chabrol “Inspector Bellamy” starring Gérard Depardieu, raked in a very healthy estimated $11,200.  This one is on my list.

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A roundtable chat with Luke Evans and Dominic Cooper

Tamara Drewe,” the latest from the brilliantly versatile non-auteur directing genius Stephen Frears, is a relationship comedy with tragic overtones based on Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel of the same name, in turn inspired by Thomas Hardy’s 18th century novel, Far From the Madding Crowd. The film pits three not-quite-alpha males against each other for the attention of its mercurial and not always lovable title character, played by the beautiful Gemma Arterton. Two of them, fast rising up-and-comers Luke Evans and Dominic Cooper, were set to meet at L.A.’s Four Seasons with a dozen or so entertainment journalists.

It was therefore more than a little bit amusing when the two fictionally competitive actors entered wearing near identical high-end v-neck fashion undershirts and tight-fitting low-rise pants. It was an apparent complete coincidence or perhaps not so random given the popularity of this ultra-casual look among today’s mod set. In any case, Cooper compared their combined look to “a boy band.”

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Dominic Cooper made his first big splash in Alan Bennett’s Tony winning, “The History Boys,” starring in both the London and Broadway productions in 2004 and 2005. His film career, however, goes as far back as a bit part in another adaptation of a British graphic novel: the Hughes Brothers’ 2001 version of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s “From Hell.” Other key parts include a memorable role as disreputable Peter Saarsgard’s business partner/buddy in “An Education” and the lovestruck movie fiance to former real-life girlfriend Amanda Seyfried in “Mamma Mia!” Notable upcoming roles include playing the part of Howard Stark (Tony’s future dad) in the largely World War II-set “Captain America: The First Avenger.” In “Tamara Drewe,” Cooper plays self-involved rock drummer Ben Sergeant of the band Swipe, with whom the gorgeous protagonist dallies for large portions of the film.

With a background in such musicals as “Avenue Q” and the “remixed” “Rent” on the London stage, Luke Evans, who plays all-around good guy and potential once-and-future Tamara Drewe paramour Andy Cobb, has found his way into a number of big budget films, including playing Apollo in “Clash of the Titans” and an upcoming role as no-less than Zeus in Tarsem Singh’s “Immortals.” He also recently completed the role of Aramis in Paul W.S. Anderson’s 3-D version of the oft-filmed “The Three Musketeers.”

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“Screenplay by Julie Taymor”

Not quite on the level of “by William Shakespeare, with additional dialogue by Sam Wood” and she did change Prospero to Prospera.

H/t Screencrave

Though Shakespeare’s final great play, “The Tempest,” has been the inspiration for an awful lot of films in several different genres, it seem clear that, whatever is the case, this will be the most straightforward movie version so far, sex change in the lead character notwithstanding.

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Wise words on the occasion of “Sunset Boulevard” turning 60

It’s the 60th anniversary of the release day of the most admired film ever made about Hollywood and the movie business and very possibly the best, Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard.” If you haven’t seen it, today wouldn’t be a bad day to do so. If you don’t have time, A.O. Scott has a pretty good quick rundown for you.

One observation about how our attitude towards aging has changed since 1950 due to culture and medical science: Norma Desmond was only 50. Meryl Streep is 61 and Helen Mirren is 65. I’m not saying we no longer have a problem with aging, just that it seems possible for some people to do it extremely well and women may at last starting to be catching up to men in being able to play the “ageless” game. Not that Desmondism was rampant in 1950 more than today, though I can’t think of any female stars of the era who were still playing leads in their sixties. Norma’s career problem wasn’t so much physical aging or even being seriously delusional, but that she had been too much associated with a moribund genre and a specific by-gone era. Sort of like David Crosby.

If you have seen the whole movie, then you should check out Edward Copeland’s enjoyable and thoughtful appreciation of one of his favorite films. Also, I thought it would be nice to hear just a couple of notes for directors by the movie’s director and cowriter, Billy Wilder, himself from back in 1976. First on the one thing a director must know how to do.

After the flip, Mr. Wilder addresses a subject highly relevant to his more atmospheric pictures like “Sunset Boulevard” and, almost as much, “Double Indemnity.”

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Big weekend at the box office: Twi-Hards turn out; proof that young men don’t listen (to critics)

This week, most of whatever suspense there was was not at all about which movie will be #1 or, as it turns out, #2 (not quite a 100% sure thing earlier). It had to do with what actually matters when the show business rubber meets the audience road: how much cash did the movies generate from the summer’s biggest holiday weekend but amid gloomy news and gloomier punditry regarding the economy? The answer seems to be what Joel McCrea learned at the end of “Sullivan’s Travels,” people in dire straights need entertainment and fantasy more, not less. I only wish they were getting something as thoughtful as “Ants in Your Plants of 1939.”

Edward and Bella...ooooohhhhhhhhhOver the three day Friday-Sunday weekend, Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” earned an estimated $69 million according to the Box Office Mojo chart. For the broader and potentially confusing numbers covering the extended movie weekends for the two new major new releases this week, I’ll rely on Anne Thompson’s pal Anthony D’Alessandro. He tells us “Eclipse” earned an estimated $175 million and change, just a few million bucks below the similar six-day frame of 2004′s “Spiderman 2,” though not adjusted for ongoing movie-ticket inflation.

This is the point in the series ordinarily where some might wonder if interest is starting to flag, but this is a long-running movie/book soap opera and a continuing tale similar to the Harry Potter in terms of fan interest/involvement. Also, this entry overall got significantly better reviews than the second film in the series, which might indicate the film itself is more boyfriend friendly for this very female-driven franchise.

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Latest “Twilight Saga” installment to eclipse “The Last Airbender” (updated)

If you’re the kind of person who lives or dies by box office news and, if so, you have my deepest sympathies,  this weekend’s box-office is already partially old news. As I write this late Thursday night, we know that Summit’s “The Twlight Saga: Eclipse” has already raked in a massive $68.5 million, though that’s actually a bit less than the prior installment got on its first weekday release. Nevertheless, its very mixed reviews are actually an improvement on  the poor critical performance of the last entry and there’s general agreement that, whatever else may be the case, this is the most action-packed installment so far. Decent word of mouth could give it a boost.

Ah, the eternal choice: lycanthrope or bloodsucking parasite?

In any case the $150 million or more total for the vampire romance’s first five days that jolly Carl DiOrio has confidently predicted seems like a good guess, especially with Nikki Finke‘s report of a promotional strategy involving 20 cast members fanning out across the country to intro the movie in area theaters.  This can’t hurt. Go to any revival screening in L.A. at a venue like the American Cinematheque or the L.A. County Museum of Art, and you’ll be lucky to see a half-full house. Advertise that a famed cast member will be speaking, and you often get sell outs. Never underestimate the appeal of a live celebrity appearance. If it works with film snobs, it’ll squeeze some more repeat viewings from the Twi-hards.

There’s actually another new genre film debuting this week. It’s the more kid-and-geek-male friendly, PG-rated “The Last Airbender” from M. Night Shameicantspellhisname. The Indian-American director has been pilloried by Asian groups for casting the tale, adopted from an animated series with a definite Asian flavor, with primarily white actors. It’s also been a long time since he’s had a hit, or even a movie that anybody liked much. It gets worse because “Airbender” is getting some of worst reviews of the year, with critics like our own Jason Zingale taking a moment to criticize the film’s retrofitted 3-D as even worse than the film as a whole. Even so, the martial arts fantasy got off to a decent start at midnight screenings Thursday morning with $3 million in the coffer for Paramount.

The Last AirbenderStill, if word gets out that this film is the stinker it sounds like, rather than the franchise-starter it’s supposed to be, it could do very disappointing business. With a $145 million budget, that’s not good tidings for the director or the studio. On the other hand, fans of the animated series could pull the film towards a solid, but certainly hugely distant, second. In any case, it seems clear that the massive and assuredly leggy success of “Toy Story 3” will be nipping at its heels. One thing is certain: the film originally titled “Avatar: The Last Airbender” will not be emulating its former namesake commercially over the long haul.

Among other limited releases this week, we have “Love Ranch,” which is the first film starring Helen Mirren to be directed by her husband, Taylor Hackford (“Ray,” “An Officer and a Gentleman”). Sadly, it’s getting very bad reviews. That is not good for a limited release, even if Joe Pesci is also in the cast. Amazing that a film about murder and legalized prostitution in Nevada is considered dull, but making movies is an uncertain business. Right?

“The Killer Inside Me” starring Casey Affleck as a brutally psychopathic cop is dividing critics in the kind of way that indicates it’s either an honorable near-miss or a cult film in the making. The adaptation of the pulp novel by novelist and Stanley Kubrick screenwriter Jim Thompson, which has a couple of scenes of very brutal and graphic violence that have generated a ton of ink and bloggy pixels, though its admirers tell us there’s lot more to the movie that that, will be expanding significantly from four to seventeen screens this weekend as per Box Office Mojo’s theater counts,. If you want to see it in a theater, I suggest you do so quickly. I don’t think all that many people are in the mood for this kind of thing right now.

UPDATE: Nikki Finke has the Thursday box office which indicates both “Eclipse” and “Airbender” are on track for their respective expected strong performances. Still, I’m curious to see if word of mouth catches up with the latter.

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Red Carpet Chatter: Mike Nichols Gets His AFI Lifetime Achievement Award

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Born in 1931 in what was very soon to become Hitler’s Germany, young Michael Peschkowsky was living in Manhattan by 1939. It was great luck both for the future Mike Nichols and for the country that accepted him.

Nichols is, of course, one of the most respected directors in Hollywood, and for good reason. He’s the original, craftsmanlike, and emotionally astute directorial voice responsible for such sixties and seventies classics as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,”  “Carnal Knowledge” and, of course, “The Graduate” (the source of his only directorial Oscar so far) as well as such eighties, nineties, and oughts successes as “Silkwood,” “Working Girl,” “The Birdcage,” and “Closer.” Even if some of the later films are not on the same level of quality as his earlier films — and several, especially his 1988 box office hit, “Working Girl,” stray into mediocrity — it’s still one of the most impressive and diverse careers of any living director in Hollywood.

That’s just on the big screen. On television, Nichols has rebounded in the eyes of many critics, directing two of the most acclaimed television productions of the last decade, 2001′s “Wit” with Emma Thompson, and the outstanding 2005 miniseries adaptation of Tony Kushner’s brilliant and mammoth epic play, “Angels in America.” With his 80th birthday just a year and a half away, he’s still working hard with two thrillers movies planned, including an I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low” currently being rewritten by the decidedly counter-intuitive choice of Chris Rock.

Before he directed his first foot of film, Mike Nichols was a noted theater director. That in itself is not so unusual a root for directors to travel. What is different is that, before he was a noted theater director, he was half of one of the most influential comedy teams in show business history, Nichols and May. (His comedy partner, Elaine May, went on to become an important, if less commercially successful, writer and director in her own right.)

Still, from the moment he directed his first major play, Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” Nichols mostly abandoned performing. Today, his highly regarded early work is mostly known only to fairly hardcore comedy aficionados.

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You want a violent movie trailer? I’ve got two.

I’m still a bit busy and distracted by various matters including the ongoing Los Angeles Film Fest and last night’s L.A. premiere of “Animal Kingdom,” an ultra-neo-noir Aussie crime drama/suspense film that’s a bit dour for my taste but which boasts some outstanding performances and characterization, and a dynamite third act that my mind is still reeling from. Nevertheless, I’ve got a couple of trailers here that promise some fairly provocative manners of death dealing of the more frivolous and, perhaps, fun variety. We’ll start with the Red Band trailer for “Predators” for the wanton monster bloodshed and destruction you demand and the F-word you expect. H/t Den of Geek.

Via Cinemablend, and on a somewhat higher plane — because how can the sight of Dame Helen Mirren wielding a machine and blowing shit up not be on a very high plane indeed — comes the non-superhero comic book adaptation “RED,” as in “Retired, extremely dangerous.” Yep, it’s the action movie first-wave baby boomers have all been waiting for. It’s also got Morgan Freeman, the beautiful Mary Louise Parker, an excessively MK-Ultra‘d John Malkovich, and some other bald dude from the eighties.

Did you know that a quite young Helen Mirren might have been the first actress to appear nude in a mainstream studio film, 1969′s “Age of Consent,” directed by Michael Powell? I just felt like mentioning that.

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