Results tagged “film” from ARTicles

Despite my best hopes, "The Last Airbender" didn't do that badly its opening weekend. It made $70.5 million from Thursday through Monday, nearly half of what it cost Paramount Pictures to make.

But there is a bright side. The film, which is based on Nickelodeon's animated television series "Avatar: The Last Airbender," may already be waning in popularity. Ticket sales declined through the weekend. And critics universally panned the film, including Roger Ebert, who comments on the film's casting controversy:

[M. Night Shyamalan's] first inexplicable mistake was to change the races of the leading characters; on television Aang was clearly Asian, and so were Katara and Sokka, with perhaps Mongolian and Inuit genes. Here they're all whites. This casting makes no sense because (1) It's a distraction for fans of the hugely popular TV series, and (2) all three actors are pretty bad.

The studio insists the film has a "multicultural" cast, since it did hire a lot of minority actors for the other roles. But Dev Patel ("Slumdog Millionaire"), the one actor of color who has a leading role plays the villain, and (since I refuse to see the film) I hear the other minority actors primarily play bad guys as well. So once again, the white people are saving the world from everyone else.   

July 6, 2010 9:19 AM |
In L.A. at the moment for the American Cinematheque's John Sturges retrospective. I've been asked to sign copies of my biography "Escape Artist" and say a few words about the scheduled films, including "The Magnificent Seven," "Bad Day at Black Rock" and "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," which, in burnished deep-focus VistaVision, has never looked better.

The event is a homecoming of sorts for Sturges, who died in 1992: Several of his films, including "BDABR" and "Marooned" had early previews or were premiered at this weekend's venue, the wonderfully gauche Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Blvd.

Friday night's screening of "Mag 7" was well-attended by -- surprise, surprise -- a mostly male audience, some sporting black Stetsons. Eli Wallach, who was so memorable as the bandit Calvera, didn't attend, but he sent someone to collect a book. Nice. Jon Gregory, the British editor of "In Bruges" and the upcoming Cormac McCarthy adaptation "The Road," shared his boyhood memories of Sturges sightings. Fascinating. Another Sturges fan arrived with pages of notes on the book, which he said he had read twice. Scary.

Sturges is back in the news with the sad passings this week of Ricardo Montalban and Patrick McGoohan.

Though clearly ailing at the time, Montalban, one of Hollywood's true class acts, consented to a book interview, maybe his last. Sturges had cast him in "Mystery Street" (as a non-race-specific cop) and as a boxer in "Right Cross" who's romantically involved with Hollywood's Girl Next Door, June Allyson.

Recalling his days as an MGM contract player, Montalban told me, "I had something of a following in those days, but I was still playing Hispanic characters. The Sturges film ('Mystery Street') was a definite breakthrough for me. It was a well-written scenario that just told it like it was and made no apologies for my character having an accent. It was the first time that had happened for me, and, I think, one of the first times it had been done in a Hollywood movie."

About "Right Cross" he added: "We were dealing head-on with racial issues, and my self-hating (boxer) was controversial to a certain extent. But the movie was considered a step in the right direction."

Patrick McGoohan, aka Secret Agent Man and The Prisoner, starred as a James Bond
manque in Sturges' "Ice Station Zebra," Howard Hughes' favorite sick-room diversion.

January 17, 2009 1:02 PM |
The film 21 opens today.  If you've missed the barrage of advertising Sony Pictures has assailed upon us, here's a description from Fandango:

Director Robert Luketic adapts Ben Mezrich's best-seller Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions to tell the true-life tale of six genius students who used their brains to beat considerable odds.

True to life?  True that the main character goes to Vegas to count cards with his classmates so that he can make tuition money.  Not true that the protagonist is Caucasian.

The real people profiled in Bringing Down the House are actually Asian American, and when Asian-American actors learned that the story was being made into a movie, they rejoiced.  Finally, they would have the opportunity to play three-dimensional characters and branch out from their fine portrayals of nerds, waiters, kung fu artists, and refugees.  

Studio executives dashed those hopes.  They felt that Caucasian actors would make the film more marketable, despite the fact that the characters' ethnicity was essential to the story.  The book states that the card-counting scheme was successful partly because the students used their ethnicity to their advantage; in the casinos, a young Asian man betting large amounts of money is less conspicuous than a young white man.

And come on, we all know that gambling and M.I.T. have become indispensable parts of Asian-American culture.  Every Asian parent dreams of his or her children going to M.I.T. and takes the $25 bus from Chinatown to Reno to win enough money to send them there.

If you don't believe me, just ask writer/performer Prince Gomolvilas who confesses in the  touring theatre production Jukebox Stories that his college education was financed when his "mother hit the jackpot on a nickel slot machine at the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Vegas."  The quip is part of his biting and hilarious monologue "21 Reasons Why This Movie Already Sucks," in which he lists 21 reasons one should NOT see the film 21.   

Here are a few:

#7: This is not the kind of movie [Jim Sturgess, who is white] should be in. He actually should've been cast as Ray Charles in Ray or as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland or as Frank Lucas, you know, the Denzel Washington character in American Gangster.

#14: People say that I should be happy because the producers, out of an apparent act of charity, did cast two Asian Americans in smaller roles: the Korean dude from Disturbia and some random token hot Asian chick.  But I ask you: Why the hell should I be happy? That's like somebody jerking you off halfway and then leaving.

We shouldn't be surprised by a film studio's lack of cultural sensitivity.  It's not the first time that Hollywood has changed a character's race to make a film more "marketable."  In 1999, George Clooney played the African-American protagonist in Three Kings, and Gomolvilas has plenty of his own experiences:

Remember the time when a certain talent agent wanted to take a look at my script about a little Asian-American boy only if I would consider rewriting the part so that Dakota Fanning could star in it?  

How about that time I was developing a script called Chocolate Buddha at a film studio? The story was about a black guy who hides out in a Buddhist monastery.  And I was shocked that... executives could still look me in the eye and tell me it would be much better if the star of the movie were Caucasian, essentially changing my film into White Chocolate Buddha.

The moral of this story is that if you're lucky enough to be in Los Angeles this weekend, take that $10 you would have spent seeing 21 to catch Gomolvilas with singer/songwriter Brandon Patton in Jukebox Stories: The Case of the Creamy Foam at Genghis Cohen.  (They're also in Boston June 15.)  A mixture of contemporary storytelling, original songs, audience prizes and a different setlist each night, Gomolvilas and Patton present a clever, decidedly non-theatrical theatre piece that combines personal anecdotes with brilliant observations of life's randomness.  

This second installment of Jukebox Stories lets the audience virtually pick out of a hat the pieces the duo will present, like Gomolvilas' true yet bizarre story about how his satirical review of High School Musical garnered thousands of angry letters and death threats from tween girls.  And if you solve the show's murder mystery or demonstrate your prowess at movie score trivia, you win cheesy prizes.  It's a load of fun that will leave you thinking about life and humming Patton's songs on your way home, "We're alive and we chuckle when we fart/Try to be inspired but this is life, not art."

March 28, 2008 12:22 PM |
San Francisco author Frank Robinson ("Waiting," "The Power") sends along this dispatch from the just-wrapped "Milk," the Harvey Milk biopic directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Sean Penn as the SF supervisor and Josh Brolin as his assassin, Dan White. Robinson worked (sort of) as Milk's speech writer and was asked to play himself.

"I was living on Red Rock Way, on a hill above Castro, working on 'The Glass Inferno' (which became 'The Towering Inferno' as a film). Used to walk down to the Castro for breakfast. Harvey had his camera shop and 'Kid,' his black mutt who would be outside humping anything that was warm and wiggled. I'd stop to pet the dog and fell into conversation with Harvey. I found out he was running for supervisor (a major political office in a major city! The guy was charming but obviously nuts). He found out I was a writer and invited me to join in some speech writing for him. 'It'll be a hoot, we'll stir a lot of shit.' We managed to 'stir a lot of shit' but it didn't become a hoot until they started filming the movie. Now, THAT was a 'hoot'!

"The first chance I got, I ad-libbed a dirty joke on camera and they made me a member of SAG. I have something like 17 scenes, including marches. Have no idea what will end up on screen. I ad-libbed my way through it, except for my one word -- "dogshit!" -- in my last scene. A great crew and literally thousands of extras (open call for the funeral march, etc.). Penn, Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hirsch ('Into the Wild'), Joseph Cross ("Running with Scissors"), etc.

"I read the script by (Dustin) Lance Black twice -- great script, story-teller's script.  Should be out in late October. They consider it a political film.  My last day, Van Sant gave a little thank-you speech and it was hugs and kisses all around.  Penn a love to work with, ditto Franco.  I'll really miss it. 

"Summary: Van Sant's biggest film and you'll have seen nothing like it. Penn looks EXACTLY like Harvey, slightly shorter and voice somewhat lower.  All of us who knew Harvey did a double take.  Ditto actor playing Mayor Moscone and actor playing Senator Briggs.  Doppelgangers ... ."

Speaking of Portland's own Van Sant: Check out his latest,"Paranoid Park." It's his best work since the Columbine-inspired "Elephant." Mesmerizing, disturbing, deeply felt.

Contact Lovell at
March 24, 2008 3:17 PM |

Just watched Penn Jillette low ball it on "Dancing with the Stars" with Kym. He tried illusion on the judges and it almost worked, sort of. I know that's redundant, but Jillette may be one of the few "from the other side" in the business (no matter how famous he is, his origins --authentic, off-B'way, 99 -seat theater or less -- stick) who would venture into this commercial TV show and retain his hip.

I'm a huge fan of the TV dance shows, especially "So You Think You Can Dance" in part because they teach critical skills through subterfuge. And, in other part, because they seriously promote choreographers. Those judges can be tough and very often they are right. Save for Debbie Allen, who is so loaded with pomposity and 'tude she registers as nothing but false and massively egotistical. She can't judge without plugging her LA studio. There is something to be learned from that about what NOT TO DO. About the separation between advertising and editorial.

But I digress...Penn Jillette and "Dancing with the Stars"...last week The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner held a reunion. Her-Ex theater critic Jack Viertel "discovered" Penn & Teller. I know he did. I remember him returning to the office -- ahhh the days when we critics wrote in the office around communal pillars on computers the size of carry-on luggage, reading our ledes aloud, smoking cigarettes and editing each other's copy in ink on cog-marked, green and white striped printout paper.

(For the most incisive nostalgic report on the Her-Ex old days, see John Schwada's Reunion blog for Fox News Channel 11. He captures the Herald perfectly -- and why so many true blue die hard reporters and critics came out of there. And why this was journalism in all its romantic glory.)

But on one of those days, Jack Viertel returned beside himself over Penn & Teller. The rest is history, and Jack got it. Critics meant something then. They still can and do. It just takes guts. By which I mean listening to your gut.

Choreographers on TV and film have always been a big deal inside the circle of Those Who Care, but something is happening right now that is different and monumental and we ought to pay attention. "So You Think You Can Dance" will start up soon (the search for the next Top 20 began on March 1 in NYC).

The only thing missing from most of its contenders is ballet. Perhaps the only reason ballet should exist right now is because it provides (still) the best training a human dance body can get. The choreographers on the show don't come from ballet, but they value it. They value good movement, period. (Mia Michaels often scrapes emotions raw, a good thing, to my mind, and exceptional on television.)

As a result, it's impossible as a dance-lover not to value them, the choreographers. They give the contestants new works, often in styles that are alien, each week. To see those kids perform -- I mean, think if, on "American Idol," the singers didn't get to choose their songs but had to sing something completely original each week -- is to see budding artists on the line. The choreographers reign.

In acknowledgment of the ascendancy of the on-camera choreographers...If you are one, you may want to submit your work for a Choreography Media Honor. Go to for a submission form. The 2nd annual CMHs will be held on June 13 at the Directors Guild of America (DGA in Hollywood). A potentially fabulous opportunity to see a lot of film and/or TV work by choreographic talent known and unknown. For tickets, contact Teresa Taylor at

March 17, 2008 9:15 PM |

Stephen Sondheim and Frank Rich couldn't be resisted last night at UCLA's Royce Hall. Aside from spotting Michael Kors, the Michael Kors (Jeff Weinstein eat your heart out! wink wink kiss kiss), other fascinating moments turned on Sondheim's re-telling of Jerome Robbins hearing "Maria" from West Side Story the first time.

"But what's Tony doing, when he's singing? Robbins asked.

An uncharactertistically dumbfounded Sondheim, 25 at the time, suggested the scenery was changing behind him.

Robbins wasn't impressed. From this Sondheim learned the value of always, always plotting a song -- if not within the song itself -- but in one's own imagination. Know what the singers are doing when they are singing, is his on-going advice to composers and lyricists. 

Sondheim in buoyant spirits raved about Tim Burton's "Sweeney Todd," because it moves the story along and behaves as film by definition of its medium must behave, according to him. Sondheim distinguishes film as "reportorial," whereas the stage is "poetical." He said perfection is film's strength and it is also its weakness. (We all know he doesn't like the film version of "West Side Story," but it was fun to hear him explain convincingly why.)

He and Rich touched on critics. Sondheim bemoaned them because most who review his work are not musicians, they don't have musical backgrounds -- they come from theater and have no idea what goes into constructing a song, a musical. And speaking of why musicals are they way they are, his anecdote about wanting to flip-flop West Side Story's Act 1 "Gee, Office Krupke" for Act 2's "Cool," because he couldn't' see the logic in the gangs having killed two people and then breaking into comedy, shed light. Robbins agreed with Sondheim's idea. Leonard Bernstein agreed. Arthur Laurents agreed. "Cool" made better post-stabbing sense for the Jets and Sharks. But, Robbins said he couldn't make the switch, because the choreography for "Cool" needed the whole stage and the "Krupke" moment occupied only the very front stage zone, while the set was changed behind the dancers.  

Robbins eventually made Krupke/Cool switch in the film version. Cool!

March 14, 2008 1:29 PM |
While investigating Gov. Spitzer's possible financial improprieties, federal authorities decided to have a look at his Netflix queue.

Wedged between "Live Free or Die Hard" and "The Good Shepherd," according to one source, were numerous "Pretty Woman" rentals, plus:

"Hustle," with Burt Reynold's cop and Catherine Deneuve's high-priced hooker speaking the langweege of love.

"Blaze," with Paul Newman as Louisiana Gov. Earl K. Long and Lolita Davidovich as his ballsy consort.

"Jefferson in Paris," about a pre-email politician who avoided scandal.

"Klute," with Jane Fonda as Bree Daniels, a pricey but conflicted New York hooker.

"Elmer Gantry," with the Oscar'd Shirley Jones as the evangelist's cat-house contributor.

"Primary Colors," with John Travolta making a reckless run up to the White House.

Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" -- a.k.a. the art-film defense.

And -- tagged "research??" -- "The Fortune," a Prohibition farce with Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty transporting Stockard Channing across states lines for immoral purposes.

Contact Lovell at
March 13, 2008 9:40 AM |
We in the media tend to think the world revolves around our every studied sigh.

Not so we're reminded again by Alexander Payne, the talented director of "Citizen Ruth," "Election," "About Schmidt" and "Sideways."

I can't think of many indie filmmakers who have benefited more from favorable press to help launch that next quirky, low-concept vehicle.

And yet, when asked about his take on film critics being downsized out of existence at many dailies, the L.A.-based Payne stifled a yawn and replied, "Sorry, but I have no comment on that; it's never occurred to me. I still read the New York Times and the New Yorker."

Contact Lovell at

February 25, 2008 11:51 AM |

As fun and immediate as blogs are for covering awards shows, there's nothing like being at the Oscars -- seated  backstage in VIP steerage, following Hollywood's Night of Nights on closed-circuit monitors, filing duplicates of a story that's old news by 9:30.

I datelined from the Oscars 14 times and it lived up to its reputation as a grubby, humiliating affair. (The way up to the old press room at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was a service elevator -- the perfect metaphor.)

And why shouldn't it be unpleasant? It's the movie world's chance to get even with us groveling pundits of the media, and it doesn't take the opportunity lightly.

Though the boots-on-the-ground reporters -- I'm not counting Richard Roeper -- aren't on TV, there's a strict dress code. Tux for men; formal gowns and appropriate accessories for women. Everyone looks their best as they shove and elbow their way through security ... to the edge of the red carpet ... into their designated cubby in the press room.

At one show Roger Ebert was forced back to the refreshment room because he had dared take a paper plate of finger food to his laptop. "Now, now, Roger -- you know the rules," chastised an Academy flack, savoring the moment.

At another show a harried journalist from Frankfurt arrived straight from LAX only to be shown the door. She was told her formal wear -- a long black evening dress -- "wasn't formal enough." (Love to have heard her explanation to accounting back home.)

"Shit -- this is the worst," shouted a veteran South Florida journalist new to the ritual. "How do you work under these conditions? I'd rather have my eyes gouged out ... Never again."

Not that she would be invited back. It's damn-near impossible to crack the press list. Hollywood saves such exquisite torture for its very favorite people.
February 24, 2008 2:13 PM |
The New York Press has a fascinating look at reporting of the Hollywood writers strike by New York Times' movie editor Michael Cieply.
February 13, 2008 9:51 AM |

A Spanish mayor proposes paying kids in his town a Euro for each hour they read. A high school exam board in the UK thinks the reason students don't read is that the books aren't fun. So it proposes letting students pick from the reading list of a popular TV book club. And in Philadelphia, there's a program to give away copies of movies because visual image literacy is low.  

" its very nature, film tends to elicit a passive attitude in viewers. 'There's far more distance between a reader and a novel, since it takes longer to read and absorb a written story.' Visual media can affect us in a direct, visceral way, which bypasses the intellect and appeals directly to emotions.

Are these stories linked? I'm not sure, but it does seem astonishing to me that in an age in which there is so much art and access to it has never been easier, it's fascinating we still feel the need to bribe people to try it. My head hurts, there's so much to read, see and hear. If there were 20 of me I still couldn't get to all the things I'd love to do. And we need to pay people to read, tart up our reading lists and give away movies?

And while I'm at it, why does so much "education" in the arts seem so evangelical - like the art we're trying to teach you is better than whatever other thing you'd do on your own? Are these attempts at social engineering culture because we want to broaden culture and creativity, or are we stuck on definitions of culture and literacy that are too narrow? I'm no visual art or movie critic, but it seems to me that our visual literacy is higher now than it has ever been.

February 6, 2008 7:41 AM |

We've been reading a lot lately about the diminishing pool of film critics at such dailies as the San Diego Union-Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Detroit Free Press, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and Tampa Tribune. Most everyone in the entertainment media thinks it's a bad thing.

But what of the studios? Are fewer critical voices a boon or a bother? I'm going to be checking in with various producers I know in the coming weeks to gauge their feelings.

Meanwhile, film critic Jack Mathews, who just announced his retirement at the New York Daily News, weighs in.

"I think the studios must be delighted," he e-mailed. "There's more publicity for their movies now -- puff interviews mostly -- and less credible criticism.

"Consider the increase in the number of movies being opened without critic screenings. Makes perfect sense: they rely on advertising and publicity and get an undisturbed opening.

"I think newspapers should begin running movie reviews as soon as they can -- to be competitive with the Internet outlets -- and force the studios to either drop their embargo demands or stop holding early screenings that Internet critics attend. I've raised this issue with my editors and they won't even allow me to comment critically on movies I've seen until my review is published. It's nuts."

That was my experience as well. My editors usually played nice with studio reps, instead of using their power to push for earlier screenings and hard-to-snag exclusive interviews. It was almost as if the newspapers and the studios were in business together. Maybe this has had something to do with print's lack of competitiveness in the time of the unfettered cyber-critic.

Contact Lovell at

February 2, 2008 10:44 AM |
Another example of why film critics pack less punch these days:

I saw the grim Romanian import "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" on IFC's pay-per-view channel five days before it "opened" in the Bay Area to rave reviews. Admission: less than $7.

Local exhibitors must be quaking in their boots over this home-delivery system. As the middle man rendered redundant, they're dangerously close to being written out of the equation ... like critics commenting on a film that's been available a week before they're allowed to weigh in.  

I can remember George Lucas holding forth 10 years ago on a L.A.-based satellite delivery system that would ensure "quality control." At the time, I thought it sounded so exciting.

Contact Lovell at
February 1, 2008 9:23 AM |

Longtime critic Terry Lawson took a buyout over the Holidays, and the newspaper isn't replacing him. Defamer has the news:

By our research, all of the other Top 20 newspapers in the United States have at least one major, well-known critic (yes, even the Arizona Republic). However, The Freep's move clearly signals that there's a changing tide in the amount of importance (and budget dollars) local newspapers allocate to coverage of the movie business. The Freep appears to be content to run wire reviews for new releases...

January 30, 2008 8:39 AM |


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