Archive for the ‘STORIES’ Category

From GI Joe to F-bombs, we’ve reported from the front lines of more than few cultural skirmishes. But none to date boast the impact of the firestorm surrounding Roman Polanski — the renowned Oscar-winning filmmaker, idling in a detention cell in Zurich, battling his arrest and potential extradition based on his flight from sentencing in a sex-crime case three decades ago. The creative community has rallied in his support. The media ask why an artist should be above the law (and what the law even means in a case riven with judicial misconduct). The public demands blood, and they may get it: Considering the lengthy appeals process facing the 76-year-old, there is the very real possibility of Polanski dying in jail before justice — however you define it — is served. Amid all the disconnections and breakdowns, could this be any more of a disaster?

First, the news: Polanski today appealed against his arrest to the Swiss Federal Penal Court, which said it would announce a judgment in the “next few weeks.” That’s another “few weeks” that Polanski is locked up, signifying an unconscionable disgrace to those film-industry leaders already distressed that Swiss police (at the request of the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office) rained on his Zurich Film Festival parade. Moreover, they write in a petition,

His arrest follows an American arrest warrant dating from 1978 against the filmmaker, in a case of morals. […] Roman Polanski is a French citizen, a renown and international artist now facing extradition. This extradition, if it takes place, will be heavy in consequences and will take away his freedom. Filmmakers, actors, producers and technicians — everyone involved in international filmmaking — want him to know that he has their support and friendship. […] If only in the name of this friendship between our two countries, we demand the immediate release of Roman Polanski.

The petition’s signatories comprise a who’s who of contemporary cinema: Martin Scorsese, Wong Kar-wai, Pedro Almodovar, Jonathan Demme, Tilda Swinton, Julian Schnabel, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and nearly 100 more luminaries (and counting). They’re supplemented by Harvey Weinstein, who mines Polanski’s tragic past in today’s Independent: “How do you go from the Holocaust to the Manson family with any sort of dignity? In those circumstances, most people could not contribute to art and make the kind of beautiful movies he continues to make.” Weinstein concludes with the Polanski defenders’ standard coup de grâce, arguing that the director fled sentencing after his 1978 guilty plea for unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old because the judge, Laurence Rittenband, was expected to renege on the deal.

Marina Zenovich’s documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired indeed lays out Rittenband’s publicity-hungry strategy, which Weinstein and others have invoked as reason to dismiss Polanski’s sentencing and the warrant for his arrest. But as Michael Wolff argues, the film instead motivated prosecutors to revenge. “The documentary reminded everybody that the L.A. prosecutor must be turning a blind eye to Polanski, wandering freely in Europe,” Wolff adds, “hence the arrest now is the prosecutor covering his ass.”

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On the front lines with Larry Gelbart…

In a heartfelt goodbye from Hawkeye, former ‘MASH’ star Alan Alda warmly revisits working shoulder to shoulder with a comic genius.

What would he write about himself if he just found out he’d died? I wonder. I know it wouldn’t be something soft and sentimental.

Larry Gelbart could take an event where sentimentality was allowed, even expected, and turn it on its ear. My friend Allan Katz, who also wrote for “MASH,” was with him once at a friend’s funeral. When Larry realized he had to leave early, he leaned over to Allan and said simply, “I’m sorry to grieve and run.”

I’m sure he meant no disrespect, or maybe just the right dose of it, depending on the life and times of the recently departed. Mostly, though, I think he was showing disrespect for death itself.

Larry didn’t like death. It was an inexcusable interruption in an otherwise pleasant conversation. In one of our early “MASH” shows, the script had me shouting at a patient who I was feverishly trying to resuscitate, “Don’t let the bastard win!” The “bastard” was death.

He never took lightly the deaths of the people in the real MASH units he wrote about. He knew we could never adequately tell their story or do justice to the sacrifice of their lives. What we were doing was make-believe; what they had given was real. He told me once about his dream for a final episode of the series: At the very end, the camera would pull back and reveal the fake set with its lights and crew, even the snack stand with its coffee pot and peanut butter jar — as if to say, we know this was just a show; the real people in this story really hurt and died.

Even so, he worked hard to tell their story as truly as he could. With producers Gene Reynolds and Burt Metcalfe, he flew to Korea to visit MASH units still in operation. During that visit and in many phone calls, they interviewed hundreds of doctors and nurses who had lived through those harrowing years. The reams of testimony they produced were picked over for years by all of us who wrote for the show.

For all his hatred of death and his disgust with those who casually brought it about, Larry was a gracious and encouraging presence. It seemed that there were few awkward moments that couldn’t be turned aside with a wit-charged observation. He was genial from his toenails to his scalp. He never laughed so hard as he did at himself when — while directing his first episode — instead of saying “Action!” he accidentally started a scene by authoritatively calling out, “Cut!”

The geniality, though, could never dull his razor-sharp mind. There was no pause button on his brain. His sense of humor never slept. I studied him — I think we all did — to figure out where that Niagara of funny had its headwaters. He didn’t work at wit the way other people did. You didn’t see him concocting and sharpening “funny sayings,” as he called them. They arose spontaneously, like geysers from the depths of his psyche.

And the more I watched him, the more convinced I became that the only effort he put into it was in not saying most of the funny things that occurred to him. He would only let one get his lips moving if it was really worth hearing. And he would often enjoy it as much as you did, as if he had never heard it before. Because he hadn’t.

But he’s gone now. The bastard seems to have won this round. We have the words and images our friend left behind, but we don’t have that easy smile, full of generosity, or the sound of that silky voice and lovingly articulated words. They really were pearls that came out of his mouth, and he never gave the impression he was laying them before swine. All of us who worked with him were awed by him, and we revered him, but we always, always were comfortable in his presence because above all we loved him. And we could see that he loved us back.

I could tell you more about my friend Larry, but there isn’t enough space. Unfortunately, I have to go.

Sorry to grieve and run.

Alan Alda played Hawkeye Pierce on the television series “MASH” for its entire 11- season run. He is also the author of “Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself” and “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed and Other Things I’ve Learned.” He has won six Emmys and was nominated for his 33rd this year for his guest appearances on “30 Rock.”

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

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To play up the grisly spectacle of scalping Nazi soldiers in Quentin Tarantino’sInglourious Basterds” required some sleight of hand as well as the makeup skill of Gregory Nicotero and the rest of the effects crew at KNB EFX.

“The way the gag works, the scalp and the actor’s head are separate,” Nicotero said. “To sell the gag, you have to pretend like you’re really putting effort into the cutting, like the knife is really slicing through skin.”

The team made a mold of make-up effects artist Jake Garber’s head and used that as the model to sculpt the scalps to be affixed to the extras’ heads.

Then they hand-painted the bloody details onto the piece and covered the whole area in a patented concoction called Ultraslime.

But to guarantee the realism of the bit, Nicotero taught the assembled “Basterds” (minus Brad Pitt) the fine art of scalping.

“It was a little overwhelming for them, because they’d all just flown into Berlin,”  Nicotero said. “But they got really enthusiastic and excited. I think at one point Gedeon [Burkhard] forgot there was an actor under there. He was just going to town.”

–Patrick Kevin Day



Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino’s hard-to-finish war epic: “I couldn’t shut my brain off”

LAT REVIEW: “Basterds” is all blood and no heart

“Basterds” was almost a 16-hour miniseries

VIDEO: Watch the “Basterds” trailer

Greg Nicotero and masters of mayhem

Photo: KNB EFX Group

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TARANTINO’S TURNAROUND: $37.6M For ‘Inglourious Bastards’ Quentin’s Biggest Weekend Opening; #1 Here And Abroad

IB posterSATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM: Now that official numbers have come in, controversial Inglourious Basterds opened with $14.3M Friday, but then dropped -10% Saturday to $12.9M from 3,165 theaters. So, with a Sunday estimate of $10.3M, that’s a bigger than expected $37.6M first weekend for director Quentin Tarantino. (The most moolah anybody projected for Friday-Sunday had been $30M.) “The Weinsteins live to fight another day,” quipped one rival studio exec about the World War II film on which beleaguered The Weinstein Company had hung its financial future (along with next weekend’s reboot sequel, Halloween 2). Basterds scored Tarantino his best North American opening since the $25.1 million earned by Kill Bill Vol 2. And eased Harvey Weinstein’s fears of another Grindhouse-like flop. Expected to dominate on both coasts, the “Hard R”-rated pic was predicted to play much softer in the middle of the country. Still, after all that buzz — a lot of it awful — at the Cannes Film Festival in May, it’s a miracle the movie didn’t tank. Especially since Tarantino changed up the film but didn’t cut its 2-hour, 32-minute, running time, which is now a minute longer. Universal has both foreign theatrical distribution, and international and domestic home video, while Weinstein is self-distributing in North America and also has pay TV. There’s a single-pot worldwide deal split 50/50.

district9_posterBut there was stiff competition for male moviegoers from the Peter Jackson indieprod District 9, a Sony pick-up, which was down a larger-than-expected 60% from its No. 1 debut last Friday. The alien apartheid pic made $5.5M Friday and $7.3M Saturday (+31%) from 3,050 venues and $18.9M for its 2nd weekend. That’s a very respectable -49% drop from last weekend, and new $73.4 cume, based on the good watercooler/Twitter word-of-mouth that kept weekday numbers averaging a strong $4M. (Rest of Top 10 below…)

So it was Nazis vs Aliens at the box office. In terms of negative cost, the two pics are $72M vs $30M. But I’ve learned that while District 9 only has a small gross participation for Peter Jackson and nobody else associated with the film, Inglourious Basterds has a big gross participation for both Tarantino and star Brad Pitt. Film financing circles tell me the film has to make more than $60M in North America in order to earn out. But they also expect a 70% drop for Inglourious Basterds next weekend because most college campuses around the country will be back in session — and that’s bad for biz. Which is why The Weinstein Company’s release of Halloween 2 that weekend is so inexplicable. 

Overseas, the two pics are battling, too. Inglorious Basterds is the No. 1 movie overseas. The Weinstein/Universal co-production internationally grossed an estimated $27.5M at 2,630 dates in 22 territories — making it the biggest international weekend for a Quentin Tarantino film. It broke QT records in several markets including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and Hong Kong. And there are still 42 territories to open over the next few months. 

avatar2 narrowLest we forget amid all the hype and secrecy of yesterday’s trailer debut, it’s Avatar Day with 20th Century Fox screening 16 minutes from the film in 101 IMAX theaters Friday night in the U.S., and another 238 theaters — including 28 IMAX screens — abroad. Free tickets were given out via an online lottery.

Meanwhile, there were a slew of other pics opening this weekend: small, smaller, and arthouse:

Fox Atomic leftover Post Grad, a little comedy starring Alexis Bledel in a seeming reprisal of her Gilmore Girl role (what happened to the Sin City vixen?),opened in 1,958 theaters. Warner Bros sent family fare Shorts from Robert Rodriguez into 3,105 dates with little fanfare even though the kids needed something fresh. Disney debuted the documentary X Games 3D The Movie in 1,399 runs. Foreign pic Casi Divas from Maya Entertainment had 22 runs. IFC sent the crime drama Five Minutes Of Heaven starring Taken‘s Liam Neeson into a single theater. Still another Paramount Vantage leftover, The Marc Pease Experience, is a laffer starring Jason Schwartzman and Ben Stiller dumped with 10 plays and no publicity. And Magnolia took World’s Greatest Dad, a comedy starring Robin Williams, into 12 theaters.

Period piece My One And Only scored an average $15,000 per screen if Sunday holds up in 4 NY/LA dates. But how did one-time Oscar-winner Renee Zellweger end up in a pic that couldn’t receive a decent release — even though reviews were 70% positive according to Rotten Tomatoes, especially among top critics? I’m told the movie was made and financed independently by businessman/investor Norton Herrick, whose Hair on Broadway won a Tony but was new to the film biz.

Herrick took My One And Only to the Berlin film festival, where it received positive trade reviews as well as a special mention from the independent jury. But no American studio stepped up to acquire the picture. (Not so surprising considering how loathe studios are to spend $30+M marketing money on pickups, especially considering that Zellweger has been in a slew of loser pics of late and lost her mojo with audiences.)

So Herrick decided to finance the distribution of the film himself. He hired Freestyle Releasing, which had distributed The Illusionist and Bottle Shock, among other pics, and assembled a marketing team. Their advice was to start exclusive through a limited opening, then widen over Labor Day weekend to 15 markets. So my One And Only opened as Inglourious Basterds counter-programming in upscale (but not arthouse) venues. Still, I’m shocked that Zellweger’s career has come to this. 

Here’s the TOP 10:

1. Inglourious Basterds (TWC/Uni) NEW [3,165], $37.6M Wkd
2. District 9 (Sony) Week 2 [3,050], $18.9M Wkd, Cume $73.4M
3. GI Joe (Paramount) Week 3 [3,953], $12.5M Wkd, Cume $120.5M
4. Time Traveler’s Wife (NL/WB) Week 2 [2,988], $10M Wkd, Cume $37.4M
5. Julie & Julia (Sony) Week 3 [2,463], $9M Wkd, Cume $59.2M
6. Shorts (WB) NEW [3,105], $6.6M Wkd
7. G-Force (Disney) Week 5 [2,561], $4.2M Wkd
8. Harry Potter/Half Prince (WB) Week 6 [1,971], $3.5M Wkd, Cume $290.2M
9. Ugly Truth (Sony) Week 5 [1,936], $2.8M Wkd, Cume $82.6M
10. Post Grad (Fox) NEW [1,959], $2.8M Wkd

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So how did they get his body out of Staples Center without anyone knowing, this is what I know..

People are speculating if his body was in the coffin at the memorial or not..His body was in the casket for the memorial, it was checked for bombs as it entered Staples Center by LAPD SWAT and Bomb Squad along with the bomb sniffing dog for the safety of all, this is normal procedure…So yes he was in the coffin people..

After the memorial the question has been “where did the body go” since it was not in the hearse…What happened was as everyone was following the hearse and the rest of the funeral procession, MJ’s coffin was left
behind at Staples Center. Then his coffin was placed in a LAPD SWAT vehicle and driven out of Staples Center while everyone was looking elsewhere. Nobody thought to look at the police, so this was easy..Then he
was driven to “Piper Tech” (Piper Technical Center) which is an LAPD facility and it has a  helicopter pad. Then his coffin was placed inside a LAPD/LAFD (not sure which) helicopter and flown to Forest Lawn Mortuary, which as far as I know is where his body still is…By state law he had to be brought back to Forest Lawn, since they were on the paperwork. He can now be moved anywhere after his parents agree on where to bury him, which seems to be taking awhile for them to agree on…so I guess he is in the freezer.

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 I am playing on the net and see that Lethal Weapon 2 is on TNT and I remembered a story that an old WB guard friend told me about. When Danny Glover is stuck on the pot due to it being rigged with dynomite he gets ripped off by Mel and the toilet is shot thru the window and drops from the sky onto the hood of his station wagon. The story is there was a bet going on between the FX guys, the director, Richard Donner and some other crew members. Most did not think that the gag could be pulled off and work as it was suppose to. The pool of cash got up to over $2000, and the bet was they could not hit the car on the 1st take. What the others didn’t know was that the FX guys had done all the projected arc math and had practiced the “shitter shot” a few times back at their shop and knew that they could pull it off. I think that Richard Donner even doubled the bet so this was a fairly big amount of cash back then. Well the FX guys did pull off the shot on the first take and got their cash. Kind of an amazing shot when you look at it in the movie…just wanted to share this backstory with all.


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