It’s your just barely pre-holiday weekend movie news dump

I was going to try and avoid doing this this week and meant to gripe about the Los Angeles Film Festival’s rather serious problems in terms of how they treat the human beings who attend, but there was simply too much interesting news stuff going on to ignore, even if some of it is outside of what I usually cover.  So, LAFF, you get another reprieve…

* I don’t do gossip and the content of an argument between a director/star and his ex-mistress certainly qualifies. On the other hand, when that star is Mel Gibson and he has the history he does and he says something as noxious as this, you just can’t ignore it. People say terrible stuff when they’re in the thrall of extreme anger, but Gibson keeps going back to the racist and misogynist well when he becomes unhinged. It’s not nothing.

Also, I hope he avoids anything that looks like preaching ever again. I’m no theologian, but as I understand it,  a devout fundamentalist anti-Vatican II Catholic who openly cheats on and leaves his wife is not exactly walking the walk, but it’s only anyone’s business because of the way he’s made religion part of his career and it’s hard not to think of him as complete hypocrite, on top of everything else. I truly don’t believe that people should decide not to see movies based on a particular actor’s behavior, not matter how bad, but this comment is so repulsive, and the man is so clearly out of control, that I’ll understand if people would just prefer not to look at him anymore.

On the other hand, for those in the talking and making fun of people business, it can be a good thing, and it’s already started, largely via Twitter. Jeff Schneider of the Wrap has compiled some of it.

* I usually also try to avoid stories that are vague and unconfirmed, but this one is a bit too interesting and potentially big to ignore. There’s also a various obvious Gibson connection to the biggest unconfirmed glorified rumor of the day. It’s that it’s just barely possible that two back-to-back “Mad Max” sequels are being directed down-under even as we speak by the Max man himself, George Miller. Certain aspects of the story, especially the putative titles, are hinky, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.  If it’s true, I’m guessing Miller is a bit relieved that Gibson isn’t involved this time. (Though can they really be sequels in the usual sense without him, or at least his character?)

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Monday night at the movies

* We’ve been pretty enthusiastic here about both trailers for “The Wolfman.” Still, there’s been some disconcerting news about the promising looking remake of the 1941 Universal monster classic. Composer Danny Elfman, who has a terrific way with slightly over-the-top genre material going back to his earliest work with Tim Burton on “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” has left the project due to “scheduling conflicts.” Word that a score has actually been composed makes it seem even a bit odder. It’s true that there’s a lot more to scoring a film than composing the music, but there is more than one way to deal with that short of dumping a largely finished score if all there really is is a time problem, I’d guess.

More worrisome is Elfman’s replacement, Paul Haslinger, whose resume includes the rock scores for two of the “Underworld” films Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Death Race.” To be fair, Haslinger was a member of synth group Tangerine Dream from 1986 to 1992 and participated in the scores to films like “Near Dark.” However, I’m usually of the opinion that a period picture requires a period sound and the vague Euro-synth of the “Underworld” music does not inspire me. Hopefully, he’ll go for more of an orchestral sound.

Even more worrisome still, Renn Brown over at CHUD makes a strong case that this is a generally troubled production. At the same time, movie history is filled with troubled productions that turned out great and fun-to-make films that turned out to be horrible-to-watch. We’ll see when we see.

* New York film critic David Ansen will be artistic director of the Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF), writes Anne Thompson.

* Alex Ben Block declares Peter Jackson producer of the year. His methods and approach sound almost Pixar-like in his openness to collaboration. It’s a complicated method: hire good people and listen to them.

* Apparently, Jackson lost all a bunch of weight a few years back simply by swearing off junk food while maintaining a punishing work scheduled during the making of “King Kong,” and he’s kept it off since. Good for him. Judging from the picture in today’s Variety, however, Winona Ryder might consider a regime that includes the occasional milkshake and order of chili cheese fries. Okay, none of our business and, in any case,  the role she is “circling” in Darren Aronofsky’s all-star oddball thriller, “Black Swan,” calls for her to play a veteran dancer, but, my god, those protuberant cheek bones. Part of me just wants her to mainline my mom’s brisket or something.

As for the movie itself, what I’m hearing reminds of just a little bit of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s “The Red Shoes,” and not just because of the ballet setting. There’s also the underlying psychoses.

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“Branson” and the world outside LAFF

There’s an idea out there that documentary filmmakers require more good luck to make a successful project, and though Brent Meeske took some three and half years to complete his work after another film died aborning, he clearly made some remarkable luck for himself with “Branson.” It starts out somewhat slowly, but what emerges is a compelling chronicle of the ups-and-downs of several talented but far from famous performers trying to make a life in the small city in Missouri that could best be described as Las Vegas, but with a vastly lower budget and constructed to Ned Flanders specifications.

At times, the hugely corny but enthusiastic performances may make us feel we’re in Christopher Guest/”Waiting for Guffman” territory. The post screening discussion revealed that at least one of the performers chronicled, evangelical Christian and New York transplant Geoffrey Hastings Haberer, was more than aware of the Guffmanesque aspects of Branson performances. Still, though its connection with Jack Black might worry some, this is not a film that in any way condescends to its subjects. At the same time, I’m not sure I’d be writing so favorably about it were it not for the far more troubled, yet also incredibly talented, performer who walks away with the film, Johnny Cash impersonator Jackson Cash. His Olympian personal struggles and powerhouse performances have moved even relatives of the late legend of American music to marvel at the similarity.

As he proved in a remarkable live performance following the film, Jackson Cash is really not impersonating Johnny Cash at all in any normal sense of the world. He simply performs Cash’s material with such clarity, honesty, and with such a remarkably similar voice (the result, Cash says, of damage to his larynx delivered by an angry drug dealer), that the differences between this man in black and the earlier one dissolve.

He wowed the film festival audience at a post screening concerted, which included at least one clearly enthralled well-known director, so things may be looking up for this remarkable performer, whose personal demons (drugs, possible bipolar issues, etc.)  make up a significant portion of the more dramatic material in “Branson.” I hope real success and stability are in the offing for Cash, as a brief conversation with the man indicated that he is very much as advertised: the real deal.

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A few brief items from more or less outside the world of the L.A. Film Festival:

* Den of Geek passes along a Reuters report of director Michael Bay critiquing the marketing of the “Transformers” sequel about to hit theaters. (Hint, he apparently doesn’t think it’s a sequel at all, but an “event.”)

* Nathaniel R. has sixty ways to celebrate Meryl Streep’s birthday. (Guess how old she is.)

* Box Office Mojo has the “actuals” from last weekend. No big surprises, but they report that “Star Trek” is now officially the most successful “Star Trek” film of all time, adjusted for inflation. For once, I agree with the masses. I might quarrel at times with the hyperactive visual style of the film and I wouldn’t make any particular claims to greatness for it, but nor would I for “The Wrath of Khan.” All in all, it couldn’t happen to a nicer little space opera.

  

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News flash! Los Angeles Film Festival to eat blogger’s life

Hey folks, just a word that my posts over the next 48 hours or so might be a bit lighter and/or more fouled-up than usual as I’ll be taking the 91 to the 605 to the 105 to the 405’s Wilshire Blvd. exit and attending the Los Angeles Film Festival, starting tonight. It’ll mean commuting 40 miles, and sleeping on friends’ couches and other fun stuff like working in family stuff for Father’s Day.

The upshot is my schedule’s going to be way hectic for the just a bit, so you might (or might not) be getting more than your share of my patented “movie moments” style posts for a bit, but I’ll definitely be back Sunday night with box office and perhaps a tidbit or two about the festival, with more substantive material definitely to follow starting Monday and on through the festival’s conclusion a week from Sunday, assuming I can get into stuff.

Tonight’s film pick for me, BTW, is the latest mumblecore comedy sensation, “Humpday,” about two straight best buddies who decide to have sex for the sake of some really squirmy art porn. We’ve come a long way from Oscar and Felix.

  

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