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Tom Hanks goes to war

Posted by jahanzaibmemon on January 3, 2008

Can this really be Tom Hanks, all-round cinematic good guy? Forrest Gump, for goodness sake? In an LA hotel suite Hollywood’s King of Clean laughs wryly: “Yes, I went into this career specifically so I’d end up naked in a Jacuzzi with a bunch of naked strippers.”

The nice-guy reputation irks him at times, yet he recognises that it is most likely deserved. He is too straight-laced to indulge in coke-fuelled badinage with real-life strippers. For what he has just said playfully refers to the hedonistic tableau of the opening sequence of his new movie,Charlie Wilson’s War, the spa baths and strippers filling a scene that introduces Wilson, a US Congressman with a penchant for the high life – emphasis on “high”.

The film, directed by the legendary Mike Nichols, who made The Graduate and Catch 22, and written by Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing, tells the remarkable true-life tale of how Wilson played a key role in the outcome of the Afghan war of 1979-89, pushing US funding for the Afghan resistance from $5 million to $1 billion a year and facilitating a morale-crushing defeat for the Soviet Union. It has grossed $40 million in the US since its release on December 21.

“Wilson may have lived his life in a certain way, but to give him his due, he severed the Achilles’ heel of the Soviet Union,” Hanks says. “It was just nine months after they pulled out of Afghanistan that the Berlin Wall came down. And one of the reasons it fell was that the Soviet Government knew that the cream of its armed forces had been decimated by a bunch of people in a place called Afghanistan. That meant that they couldn’t defend their borders in East Germany and Poland. That has Charlie Wilson all over it.”

The film, which also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julia Roberts (who has Charlie Wilson all over her), may sift through the political scheming that supplied the Mujahidin with the funds and technology required to neuter the Soviet assault, but it is neither war movie nor political allegory. “You can be sure there will be editorials written blaming Charlie Wilson for the war in Iraq,” Hanks says. “People will be saying, ‘Well, if Charlie didn’t arm the Mujahidin we wouldn’t have al-Qaeda – that’s horseshit!”

While recent politically minded movies such asLions for LambsorA Mighty Heart struggled at the box office, Charlie Wilson’s War is simply snappy and sophisticated entertainment. It has a serious backdrop but a glamorous visage. The film has been nominated for five Golden Globes, and its Best Picture nod comes in the comedy or musical category. “Mostly, political films are designed to tell a lesson and to communicate the opinion of the film-maker,” Hanks says. “But I don’t need somebody’s movie to tell me the truth about what is happening. A lot of movies educate and enlighten us, but only if they reach us on a very personal level. It cannot be like school or a history lesson; to succeed it’ll have to be enjoyable enough for people to go and see it.”

Whether the allure of the talent on show in Charlie Wilson’s War – both in front of the camera and behind it – is enough to command significant returns at the British box office remains to be seen, but Hanks clearly revels in the role. The 51-year-old Californian is widely perceived as the nicest guy in Hollywood – although Will Smith must be hot on his heels – and, like a latterday James Stewart or Gary Cooper, he carries his easy, everyman charm into many of his roles.

“I’m in an interesting position there with the nice guy thing,” he says, “and the problem is that I cooperate. I could sit here with you and be some miserable surly guy, but why do that? This is how I am; it’s what I’m like when I get up in the morning. But that means that if I play a guy who shoots someone in the head and then machineguns everyone else in the movie, everybody still says: ‘Yeah, but he’s still such a nice guy.’

“Same if I play an executioner, and it’ll be the same now that I’m playing a guy who f**** everyone he can, goes to bed drunk every night and snorts coke. People are still going to say that I’m a nice guy.”

He’s on MySpace. “I did my site myself. I don’t update it very often and I only do it to subvert the poor job that the mass media do.” He laughs. “I reply to a lot of stuff on there too, apart from the people who write, ‘You’re an asshole, Hanks’, or, ‘Hanks, you queer’.”

In films such asRoad to Perdition, Green Mile or Charlie Wilson’s War, Hanks has proved himself willing to gamble with his affable image – indeed he confirmed his place on the Hollywood Alist by playing a lawyer dying of Aids in Philadelphia (1993), and then starring as the speedy and simple-minded Forrest Gump a year later, a potentially perilous double that paid off with back-to-back Oscars for Best Actor, a feat not achieved since Spencer Tracy’s wins for Captains Courageous (1937) and Boys Town (1938).

He even went so far as to make Cast Away in 2000, a film that gave us more than an hour of nothing but Hanks. It took nearly $500 million (£250 million) at the box office. His last major outing, the critically reviled Da Vinci Code (2006), nonetheless took more than $750 million, while he and Ron Howard, who directed him in Apollo 13 (1995) are reuniting for another Dan Brown adaptation, Angels & Demons.

“Sure, there’s been success, but right now I am in my child-raising years,” says Hanks. “I’d like to direct again, but I can’t. It’d take me away from my kids, and that’d be inexcusable. I have to work as an actor, but if you choose carefully sometimes a job for an actor can be a vacation. You set up home in some place new with the whole family.”

That family constitutes his second wife, Rita Wilson, and their two boys, Chester, 7, and Truman, 2. His first marriage, to Samantha Lewes, also yielded two children, Colin, 30, and Elizabeth, 25. Colin has already taken his first steps in Hollywood – indeed, father and son recently co-starred in The Great Buck Howard, due to be screened at the Sundance Film Festival this month. Hanks Jr also featured in an episode of Band of Brothers, the TV mini-series produced in part by his father and Steven Spielberg.

This distinguished pair first came together on Saving Private Ryan (1998), going on to work as actor and director of the crime caper Catch Me if You Can (2002) and The Terminal (2004). Now they are overseeing a sprawling TV production, filmed in Australia and set in the Pacific during the Second World War. “We’re about halfway done with The Pacific,” he says. “It’s a monster of a shoot, ten episodes with about six different directors, and we have massive logistics, plus all the bugs and the snakes. Honestly, we have guys running through the jungle up in Port Douglas in Australia, and we have 12 of the most poisonous snakes in the world! With the Second World War the stories have been told so many times, so here we really wanted to go to a much deeper and darker place, otherwise we’re wasting our time.”

Hanks is also co-producing the big-screen adaptation of Times writer Ben Macintyre’s book, Agent Zigzag. Whatever he does, or whoever he plays, everyone still believes that Hanks is a terribly nice guy. But, he claims, “I’m not the guarantee that a movie’s going to be successful or that a movie will touch the Zeitgeist. The only thing I can guarantee is that it will be news if it does and news if it doesn’t.”


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Hollywood cranking out more family-friendly films

Posted by jahanzaibmemon on January 3, 2008

The family values era is dead — with Britney Spears and her little sister doing their best to ensure that it isn’t coming back soon. But there’s at least one arena in popular culture where parents have been receiving a world free of drug use, sexual shenanigans and strong profanity: the movie theater.

“National Treasure: Book of Secrets” made more than $88 million during its first seven days in theaters, and is the latest PG-rated film to find success in 2007. If the trend continues over the next few weeks, seven PG movies could end up among the 20 highest-grossing films released in 2007 — the most since 1989, when Ronald Reagan left office and studio offerings including “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” and “Driving Miss Daisy” were on the list.

This year looks even more geared toward 10-year-olds, with family-friendly releases including “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” “Where the Wild Things Are” and the latest “Chronicles of Narnia” film, “Prince Caspian.” Even the Wachowskis — best known for their violent and R-rated “Matrix” movies — are working on the colorful and kid-accessible “Speed Racer,” which could end up with a G rating.

The change comes as more parents are making their voices heard, especially online, about children’s movies.

Common Sense Media founder Jim Steyer thinks the studios are listening; Steyer says he even heard “Kill Bill Vol. 1” producer Harvey Weinstein say at a conference this year that he wants to make PG films.

“The bottom line is, it definitely seems like a trend, and I think that’s good,” said Steyer, who in 2003 founded, which offers family reviews and ratings of media and entertainment. “It almost seems as if there’s a hunger out there for quality media for children.”

After the first PG-13 movie, “Red Dawn,” was released in 1984, that rating has dominated the box office. Fourteen of the Top 25 highest-grossing films of all time own a PG-13 rating. While PG movies performed well in 2007, the year will still probably end with eight of the 10 highest-grossing films rated PG-13 or R.

But there also seems to be fewer PG-rated failures this year, with “Shrek 3,” “Hairspray” and “Enchanted” exceeding expectations. There also were lower profile winners, including “Bridge to Terabithia” and “The Game Plan,” each grossing more than $80 million on smaller budgets. The highest-profile PG-rated flop this year was the big-budget summer film “Evan Almighty,” which still grossed more than $100 million in the United States.

Pressure from Internet sources might be one factor in the appearance of more high-profile family films. In addition to parenting groups with conservative leanings including the Dove Foundation, organizations with no religious ties such as Common Sense Media have started reviewing films for family-friendly content.

Changes have occurred in the studios as well. After years of broadening out to even some R-rated movies, Disney has been focusing on more kid-accessible franchises such as the PG-13 rated “Pirates of the Caribbean” series and the PG-rated “National Treasure” films.

“Disney has refocused itself in the last year or two, and their priority seems to be family films,” said Gitesh Pandya, editor of, which tracks and analyzes weekly box office numbers.

Another huge influence has come from Walden Media, founded in 2001 and owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz. After releasing mostly small-budget movie adaptations of children’s books including “Holes” and “How to Eat Fried Worms” during its first years, the production company has its most ambitious and expensive schedule of family films yet in 2008, including “Prince Caspian,” “Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D” and the fantasy adventure “City of Ember.”

The 2007 holiday season has been particularly strong for PG films. Of the four movies that broke $100 million in ticket sales over the past month and a half, three were rated PG — “National Treasure,” “Enchanted” and “Alvin and Chipmunks.”

The closest thing to a PG-rated disappointment in recent weeks has been the Walden film “The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep,” which grossed $2.4 million when it premiered on Christmas Day, but has seen larger crowds during each day since its opening.

“Family films always do well around the holidays,” Pandya said.

They appear to be finding audiences during the rest of the year, too. Gary Meyer, who owns the Balboa Theater in San Francisco, said, “We did really, really well with ‘Ratatouille’ this year. … “When we show the right kind of family films, we get a big crowd.”

Family-friendly movies are a constant theme on parenting Web sites and blogs, and new ones are popping up every week. Common Sense Media recently got some competition from San Francisco startup, which currently features the video game guide for parents, with plans to add similar sites for books and movies in the near future.

Steyer says more competition is a good thing and an indication that parents are becoming more involved and vocal in what kinds of media their children are consuming. He expects to see even more family films in the future, whether it’s because of the success of PG films or the demographic makeup of the studio heads, many of whom have small children.

“I think they’re recognizing that there’s a demand. And when that happens, more people are going to be willing to make these kinds of movies,” Steyer said. “My hope is that this is a start of a trend that will cut across multiple platforms — including video games and (online) media — and really effect change.”


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In the Movies, She Keeps the Baby

Posted by jahanzaibmemon on January 3, 2008

I hate to release my inner fuddy-duddy this early in the year. So I’ll blame this rant on having spent the last afternoon of 2007 in a movie theater with a bag of popcorn and a row of tweens.

I went to see Juno, the indie comedy about a hip and sarcastic 16-year-old who gets pregnant after what she calls “premeditated sex.” In a rush of wit and grit, she decides not to have an abortion and picks a couple to adopt the baby. The story waddles inevitably to a happy ending and a slew of reviews praising the film for skewering the pieties of both sides of the family-values debate.

I enjoyed this the way you enjoy the bubbly on New Year’s Eve that leaves you with a hangover the next morning. I had the sense of being co-opted into tacit approval of a goofy, romantic story only slightly less plausible than the actual transformation of its author, Diablo Cody, from stripper to screenwriter.

Please allow me a fuddy-duddy disclaimer. I am aware that reel life is not real life. Zoey 101 is not, alas, Jamie Lynn Spears. And Juno isn’t meant to be a documentary.

But we are in the midst of an entire wave of movies about unexpectedly pregnant women — from Knocked Up to Waitress to Bella — all deciding to have their babies and all wrapped up in nice, neat bows.

In Knocked Up, pregnancy from a one-night drunken stand transforms a slacker babydaddy into a grown-up. In Waitress, pregnancy empowers a woman to escape from Husband Wrong to Mr. Right. And in Bella, it’s the belly that leads her into the heart of a warm Latino family.

Here is a cinematic world without complication. Or contraception. By some screenwriter consensus, abortion has become the right-to-choose that’s never chosen. In Knocked Up it was referred to as “shmashmortion.” In Juno the abortion clinic looks like a punk-rock tattoo parlor.

I am supposed to go with the flow and not point a scolding finger at cultural propaganda. But fuddy-duddy be damned. Sitting behind those tweens — girls somewhere between preschool and pubescence — I wondered what was being absorbed through their PG-13 pores.

Need I remind you of the news that teenage pregnancy rates have gone up for the first time since 1991? It’s expected that 750,000 teenage girls will get pregnant this year. With, by the way, some help from boys. We’ve spent about $1 billion on the taxpayer scam known as abstinence-only education. And Jamie Lynn Spears announced her pregnancy, saying, “I was in complete and total shock and so was he.”

Whatever the cost to actual teenage mothers, it isn’t paid by their stars. The only one paying a price for Spears’ pregnancy is OK! magazine, which reportedly put up $1 million for her pronouncement. (I’m OK! You’re OK! Even if you’re 16 and pregnant.)

I don’t want to return to those wonderful yesteryears when Dan Quayle took on Murphy Brown. But we’re navigating some pretty tricky cultural waters here.

On the one hand, liberals who want teens to have access to contraception and abortion don’t want to criticize single mothers. On the other hand, conservatives who want teens to be abstinent until marriage applaud girls who don’t have abortions.

So we have Mike Huckabee saying that Spears made the “right decision” and Wendy Wright of the Concerned Women for America praising movies that show women rejecting abortion. We have liberals who feel like fuddy-duddies darkening the rosy scenario of the motherhood fantasy movies.

There’s an unstated compromise that historian Stephanie Coontz of Evergreen State College sees being acted out by the culture: “Social conservatives are backing off on the condemnation of single mothers. Social liberals are backing off on the idea that it’s possible to have an abortion and not be ruined by it.” This is best expressed by Hollywood, which wants to be all things to all audiences.

Is it still OK to ask whether this cultural ‘compromise’ ends up compromising the future of those kids in my theater?

When Spears told the world she was pregnant, it was described repeatedly, infuriatingly, as a “teachable moment.” It appears that parents are required to create an alternative PowerPoint presentation. Against the endless loop of hip and comic stories, parents are expected to write the crawl — the stuff about relationships, about birth control, about becoming an adult before you become a parent. We’re supposed to write the real life postscript to Hollywood’s happily ever after.

Once again, adults are being called to teach against the cultural tide. Think of it as a casting call for designated fuddy-duddies.

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A silver lining to the writers strike

Posted by jahanzaibmemon on January 3, 2008

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Let’s picture America’s fast-food junkies waking up to discover that all their favorite burger, pizza and barbecue joints have been replaced with salad bars.Something like that may be happening at the movie theater, thanks to the strike by Hollywood writers.

Two months into the work stoppage, the main victims have been boob tube addicts. Most scripted TV shows have aired their last fresh episodes, leaving couch potatoes with little to look forward to save reality series, sporting events, the cable film channels and reruns.

Moviegoers, on the other hand, are months away from feeling the effects of the strike. With a pipeline of two to three years between the purchase of a script and the appearance of the finished film in your local theater, it could take a year or more for the ripple effects of the labor dispute to be felt on movie screens.

You’ll probably notice nothing different in 2008. Filming ended months ago for this spring and summer’s big tent pole pictures — like the new “Indiana Jones” movie. Same goes for next Christmas’ crop of titles — most are far enough along that the Writers Guild strike won’t affect them.

But 2009 could be a dicey year for the big studios and exhibitors.

Even if the strike is settled by late winter, it’s not like someone will simply throw a switch and the movie production machine will leap into action. Crews have been dismantled and people laid off. It will take weeks to rehire and rebuild. Some movies that were set to begin filming when the strike was called could be abandoned as stars take other gigs and financing falls apart.

Worse, relatively few screenplays will be ready to film. The longest part of any movie’s trip to the screen is “development,” when a script is written and rewritten, negotiations are held with directors and actors, and financing is put together.

Guild members have been forbidden to participate in development during the strike, meaning that even if a settlement is reached by April, it’s unlikely that many productions — at least the big, flashy ones on which Hollywood relies — could go in front of the cameras before fall.

What will this mean for moviegoers?

Big expensive action and f/x films will be in short supply. Even animation will take a hit … particularly since animated features have super-long development periods, with rewriting going on even after the production has begun.

With a paucity of big-budget, big-star movies, what will fill the nation’s movie screens?

Expect lots of “little” dramas and comedies, films made by independents that have been kicking around the festival circuit. In years past, many of these would have found a home on DVD. Now some of them will be snapped up by studios desperate for fresh product.

Don’t be surprised if foreign-language films make a comeback. While the American movie industry lies fallow, moviemakers around the globe continue to work. In recent years, foreign films have been an inconsequential part of the American film diet, but you can bet that studio acquisition chiefs have their radar set for any foreign title that might play to Yank audiences.

Ditto for documentaries. We’re in a golden age of nonfiction films, a fact reflected in their astonishing quality if not in their ho-hum ticket sales. Maybe they’ll have a chance in the marketplace when the drumbeating din of the Hollywood publicity machine is dampened by lack of flashy films.

Of course, just because you put a movie in the theater doesn’t mean anyone will pay to see it. The mass movie-going audience could simply retreat into video games and DVD libraries until the film biz returns to normal.

But maybe a few adventurous (or desperate) cases will be exposed to movies they otherwise would be ignorant of.

I’d like to think so, anyway.

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Moving Oscars back to late March could solve problems

Posted by jahanzaibmemon on January 3, 2008

Oscar outlook: Writing about the Oscar outlook typically means focusing on which films and stars stand the best chance of being nominated, but this year there’s something else to think about.

What’s different is that as we start 2008 no one knows for certain if there even will be an Oscar show because the Writers Guild strike could keep stars from participating in and attending the 80th annual Academy Awards on Feb. 24. So it’s really a question of not only handicapping the Oscars, but of betting on whether there will be a show.

Without getting into who’s right and who’s wrong — the writers? the producers? everybody? — let’s just say that with the WGA refusing to allow the Academy to use movie clips in this year’s Oscar show and with no WGA waiver likely to enable the show to go on without a red carpet picket line, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen.

In an industry whose tradition is that “the show must go on,” it’s hard to believe there won’t be an Oscarcast. On the other hand, it’s equally hard to believe there will be a settlement of the strike — and, believe, me I hope I’m totally wrong about that — before Feb. 24. A show without the endless assortment of movie clips that Oscar typically presents wouldn’t, by the way, be such a terrible thing. Instead of a bloated three hour-plus telecast, we could have a faster-paced two hour-plus program. All those retrospective honors with clip after clip from films no one in the television audience cares at all about seeing would speed things up and hold on to viewers.

I’m sure my Academy friends are shaking their heads as they read this because they honestly believe all those visual trips down Hollywood’s memory lane are valuable. But the fact is, no one outside the Academy cares and, frankly, I wonder how many Academy members sitting there in the Kodak Theater really care. I bet many of them would much prefer getting to their afterparties an hour sooner.

But clips aren’t really the issue. The question is can the Academy in the face of WGA pickets mount any kind of telecast that could feature the star power that would attract and hold viewers to satisfy ABC’s lineup of big bucks advertisers? If there are any brilliant solutions to this problem, I haven’t heard them.

One idea I’d like to float here today is that, perhaps, the Academy can buy itself some time by moving the Oscars back to the late March timeslot they originally occupied. By declaring an emergency and delaying the 80th Academy Awards until, say, March 30, the Academy would give itself another month or so of breathing space during which, hopefully, the producers and writers could settle the strike. Perhaps the Academy could strike a deal with the Guild to receive a waiver to let the show go on in late March even if the strike were still on. This could be in return for the Academy having delayed the Oscars in deference to the strike.

I never thought the idea of moving the Oscars from March to February was a good one and this would be the perfect reason to reverse that change. It was in August 2002 that the Academy said it was planning to shift Oscar’s big day starting with the 2004 telecast honoring the best films of 2003. Instead of a late March date, the 76th Annual Academy Awards would be held Feb. 29, 2004. News reports at the time pointed out immediately that this change in the calendar would give Academy voters much less time in which to make their nominations, but everyone assumed they’d somehow manage to get it done.

What happened is that it put Oscar voters under intense pressure to see films and make their nominating decisions in time to meet the Academy’s compressed timetable. This year, for instance, the Academy mailed its nominations ballots Dec. 26. They must be returned by Jan. 12 at 5 p.m., PST. When they arrived in mailboxes in late December many voters weren’t there to deal with them because they were on the ski slopes in Aspen, on the beach in Maui, sailing in the Caribbean or chilling out in other vacation hideaways around the globe. Wherever they were, they probably weren’t spending their time watching movies.

When they returned home — probably today in most cases — there were 50-some DVD screeners waiting for them along with numerous invitations to see the same films in screening rooms around town. Since they have to send in their ballots prior to Jan. 12, once they catch up on their personal lives they’ll really only have four or five nights in which to look at movies. While they may have seen a few potential contenders earlier in the year, with so many films surfacing at year-end it’s virtually impossible see them all in the limited amount of time available. The films that suffer the most are the smaller ones that need to be discovered through reviews and word of mouth because that typically takes time to happen.

Some Hollywood executives grumbled back in 2002 that advancing the Oscars’ date would benefit the major studios, whose high-profile wide release films tend to be on Academy members’ radar way before they find out about all those lower profile independent films from specialized distributors. There are now four years of Oscar voting history to review and what we see is that the results have varied.

The first year of early Oscars was 2004 when the best picture nominees for the year 2003 were four major studio releases — New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which won; 20th Century Fox’s “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World;” Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow’s “Mystic River;” and Universal’s “Seabiscuit” — and one specialized release — Focus Features’ “Lost in Translation.” Clearly, the major studios dominated the field at the February ’04 show.

In February 2005 the best picture nominees for the year 2004 were two major studio releases — Warner Bros. and Lakeshore Entertainment’s “Million Dollar Baby,” which won; and Universal’s “Ray” — and three specialized releases — Miramax and Initial Entertainment Group’s “The Aviator;” Miramax’s “Finding Neverland;” and Fox Searchlight’s “Sideways.” Although specialized films dominated the category, it was a major studio release that won.

In February 2006 the best picture nominees for the year 2005 were one major studio release — Universal and DreamWorks’ “Munich” — and four specialized releases — Lionsgate’s “Crash,” which won; Focus Features’ “Brokeback Mountain;” Sony Pictures Classics’ “Capote;” and Warner Independent’s “Good Night, and Good Luck.” This time around specialized releases dominated the field and one of them took home the award.

In February 2007 the best picture nominees for the year 2006 were two major studio releases — Warner Bros. and Initial Entertainment Group’s “The Departed,” which won; and Paramount and Warner Bros.’ “Letters From Iwo Jima” — and three specialized releases — Paramount Vantage’s “Babel;” Fox Searchlight’s “Little Miss Sunshine;” and Miramax’s “The Queen.” Although the specialized releases dominated, it was a studio release that won.

While the picture is muddled when you consider the nominees and winners, it’s much clearer when you look only at who actually took home the best picture Oscars for those four years. In three out of the four years the prize went to a major studio film. As nice as it is to be nominated for best picture, the name of the game is winning and the shift to February has helped the studios more than it has the specialized distributors.

It’s also worked against specialized films in another way. In the past, these smaller films benefited from having an extended period of time between when they were Oscar-nominated to when the awards were presented. Even if they didn’t win best picture, they had the advantage of selling tickets to people across the country who wanted to see all five nominees in order to better predict the winner. After all, the best picture Oscar race figures in office betting pools everywhere. Small films that used to get into the best picture race were virtually guaranteed a boxoffice boost because of it. Now with a much shorter window between noms and wins, that benefit is history.

What happens now is that films hoping for best picture consideration open late in the year in the midst of critics groups awards that either make them look like contenders or nonstarters. If they haven’t resonated with the critics groups they get one more chance to shine just before Christmas when the Golden Globe noms are announced. Depending on how they’re looking at that point, their distributors either put money into campaigning for Oscar consideration or leave them penniless on the campaign sidelines.

Having a longer period in which to campaign for Oscars would level the playing field because it allows time for voters to discover films that weren’t on their radar early in the game. There’s also time for moviegoers to find these films as they go wider and move into more cities. Moreover, the marketing money that drives their expansion also serves to promote them for Oscar consideration.

With a late March Oscar show, by the time the winners are announced the nominees for best picture have had a chance to find and be found by their audience. They’ve enjoyed some benefit at the boxoffice from being best picture Oscar nominees. That’s not really the case now with Oscar being a late February event.

It’s also good for the Academy when its best picture nominees do more business because that means more people across the country are familiar with them and may now have a rooting interest in how well they do Oscar night. If they care about who wins, they’re more likely to stay tuned until the end of the show, which is typically quite late on the East Coast. So the more interest people have in the best picture nominees, the bigger the Academy’s ratings are likely to be.

In recent years, the critics groups and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., have increasingly driven the Oscar race because they create what is, in effect, a shortlist for Academy members to work from when they figure out what movies to see and consider during their minivoting period. The awards or nominations that these groups hand out influence Oscar voters because they read about them and see them covered on television. It’s only human nature to conclude that these are the pictures worth spending time on.

The trouble is that the critics groups, in particular, tend to endorse small esoteric movies with a bleak outlook on life that isn’t necessarily shared by regular moviegoers or Academy members. This tends to distort the nominations and result in a slate of films for best picture consideration that the national television audience hasn’t seen or, in many cases, even had an opportunity to see yet.

Moving the Oscars back to late March would be a step in the right direction towards solving these problems. It could also help solve this year’s unique challenge of how to do an Oscar show without a WGA waiver. And by moving the show ahead a month, the Academy would then be able to extend its deadline for returning nominations ballots by several weeks. That would give voters a chance to actually see the movies — and who knows what they’d wind up nominating then?

Filmmaker flashbacks: From July 12 & 13, 1990’s columns: “In a summer with few solid boxoffice success stories, the strength Carolco Pictures’ ‘Total Recall’ is showing domestically in its Tri-Star release is arguably the most noteworthy.

“‘We have taken a fairly low-profile over the past four or five years. ‘Total Recall’ in a sense has probably brought to recognition publicly what we, of course, have been saying for some time — that we think we have become a major studio,’ Carolco president and CEO Peter M. Hoffman told me Tuesday. ‘Whether or not we have our own theatrical distribution is an interesting question strategically, but we are today a bigger company in revenues, in profitability, in our balance sheet, in the type of movies we make and in our ability to get revenue out of any particular movie — so that we rank along with any one of them…’

“Given Carolco’s affection for big-budget productions, Wall Street sees risks: ‘I think there’s no question about it. I could talk ’till I’m blue in the face to say it’s less risky to make a $50 million movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger than it is to make a $15 million movie with Joe Blow, but the message just doesn’t get across to some people…’

“Focusing on the importance of Schwarzenegger’s work to promote ‘Total,’ Hoffman notes that Carolco always looks for such cooperation from its stars: ‘We like to think that when we pay as much money as we do for talent that they should be extremely cooperative. Of course, Arnold is more than that because Arnold, himself, is kind of a media star in his own right. He goes out and does things that no publicity department could have thought of. But, generally speaking, we assume and we try to be clear with our people upfront that that’s one of the things expected from them…

“Recently, Carolco has drawn industry criticism for establishing a new benchmark price for screenplays by paying $3 million to Joe Eszterhas for writing ‘Basic Instinct.’ ‘Some people don’t like the fact that we have a free market in talent,’ he observes. ‘We thank God we have a free market in talent. That’s how we got to where we are. It’s in the interest of the studios that there not be a free market in talent and that they have a limited market with, let’s call it, winks and elbow jabs about the limits of bidding. That, of course, serves their purpose. As a new entrant, we have to do a little extra to get the product that we want. Frankly, when you’re looking at a $30 million movie, paying an extra million dollars for a screenplay really doesn’t matter a lot.'”

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EDITORIAL: Movie-day at the schools? Why?

Posted by jahanzaibmemon on January 3, 2008

Are schools enabling today’s reading-averse generation?

THE SHOWING OF R-rated movies in the Beloit School District prompted the school board to prohibit the practice, presumably over material that might be considered inappropriate by some students and parents.

In turn, that prohibition sparked objections from some teachers that the school board was micro-managing their classrooms. The chairman of the high school’s social studies department said, “I think probably our greatest disappointment was there was no dialogue with any of us from the board when they started to discuss this.”

Meanwhile, some students circulated a petition in opposition to the board policy.

THE SCHOOLS can still show G- and PG-rated movies and, as board policy committee chair Pam Charles stated, “With a little imagination the teacher can come up with movies not rated R.”

Probably so.

But this question occurs to us: Why show Hollywood movies at all?

An argument could be made if the movies were being shown in a film class for study as an art form. But, otherwise, what’s the point?

Even when the movies deal with historical subject matter, Hollywood usually takes so many liberties the true history is lost. It’s make-believe. Entertainment. Just sound and fury.

Academically, even the most historically-oriented films rarely stand up to factual review.

BESIDES, WE WOULD lay odds many parents have heard a recurring theme from their children. When it’s “movie day,” that’s basically a day off. For the pupils. For the teachers. Sure, there may be follow-up discussions, but for most of the kids it’s a pretty easy way to coast.

Kids like watching movies. And when the kids like it, there’s usually a reason.

Mind you, we’re not saying audio-visual aids in the classroom are all bad. We’re just questioning Hollywood-ized make-believe, the same things people go to video stores to rent.

There are fine documentaries and the kind of material found on, for example, the History Channel or the National Geographic channel. These, too, can be entertaining. More importantly, though, they are real and not the hyped-up Hollywood version of the facts.

Some documentaries may be even more raw than Hollywood films, and would require good judgment. Still, if students are to be exposed to difficult facts, isn’t it better if they are real facts?

AT THE RISK of seeming self-serving – we are in the reading business, after all – we also would hope the schools try to avoid further enabling this reading-challenged generation. Just because some students’ lives are dominated by television, video games and computer screens is no excuse for educators failing to insist these kids grasp the wonders of learning through the printed word.

Educators know that, at best, students receive a thin layer of knowledge at school. The real objective of education is to create the spark of learning in a child. Deep knowledge comes from further study and reading. Youngsters may learn that Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and bought the Louisiana Territory from France as the nation’s third president. But to know Jefferson, and understand the philosophical underpinnings he helped build into America’s story, students must read. One of the most important goals of education should be to create life-long reading habits for students.

Do Hollywood movies fit in that plan? Let’s say, we are not convinced.

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Taare Zameen Par get Best position in 2007

Posted by jahanzaibmemon on January 3, 2008

We’ve never had 26 films worth talking about in a single year in a very long time. 2007 has yielded a rich harvest for Hindi cinema. While rating them, not only the primary function of Indian cinema – that it has to entertain a diverse audience – is taken into account but also factors such as intention of the filmmaker, originality, repeat viewing and fatigue, quality of writing, inventiveness of story-telling, devices employed, scale of production and star appeal.

No.1 Chak De India

The girls are amazing. Because Jaideep Sahni has written a script that combines girlpower, women’s liberation and the importance of team-spirit in a convincing underdog drama with authentic sporting action, gorgeously shot. Near flawless but for the predictability associated with the sports genre.

No.2 Taare Zameen Par
Films are where reality meets fantasy and no other film in a long while has walked these two worlds at the same time, often blurring the lines associated with the distinctively different genres while also tripling as an effective social commentary. No Indian film has ever captured childhood like this before

No.3 Om Shanti Om

Has there been a more irreverent film in the history of Indian cinema? One that does not take anything, including itself, seriously while paying tribute to an era of implausible plots, melodrama and revenge themes. Just by sheer quantity of laughs and goofs and quality of style and choreogcinema raphy, Om Shanti Om, despite the silly twist in the tale towards the climax, is a colourful musical that celebrates cinema.

No.4 Jab We Met

This is Dilwale Dulhaniya’s sequel in spirit. If Dilwale tried to define Indian-ness by procuring parental consent for love, Jab We Met goes deeper into the heartland of the country and tries to understand relationships in the context of a highly self-centric India where love blurs right and wrong.

No.5 Johnny Gaddaar

Here comes a quality suspense caper after ages. What’s more, it’s slick and stylish. It’s a rollercoaster of a mind-game. Never has a tribute film been this exciting with all the cheeky referencing. Not only is it unpredictable, it also has a brilliant ensemble cast. Also, because it has Dharam Paaji show us what a fantastic actor he is even today.

The Others

No.6 Namastey London – A surprisingly endearing Katrina-Akshay romantic comedy

No.7 Bheja Fry – But for Vinay Pathak’s brilliance, a shameless rip-off

No.8 Partner – Govinda-Salman work their magic in this remake of Hitch

No. 9 Dhamaal – is a Bollywood film directed by Indra Kumar and starring Sanjay Dutt, Riteish Deshmukh, Aashish Chaudhary, Arshad Warsi and Javed Jaffrey.

No.10 Salaam-e-Ishq – This mushy overdose worked for Valentine’s Day

No.11 Apne – This boxing drama has Dharam Paaji’s heart

No.12 Saawariya – Strictly for world-class cinematography and some of the music

No.13 Dil Dosti Etc – A daring gutsy anti-thesis to Dil Chahta Hai

No.14 Aaja Nachle – For Madhuri Dixit alone.

No.15 Ek Chalis Ki Last Local – A rare whacky neo-noir comedy

No.16 Life in a Metro – A ‘Closer’-like candid look at relationships

No.17 Loins of Punjab – Have you ever laughed more this year?

No.18 Honeymoon Travels – A refreshing, modern look at marriage

No.19 Cheeni Kum – But for the climax, this offbeat romance ought to rank higher.

No.20 Apna Aasman – Promising debut conveniently resolved.

No.21 Manorama – If this weren’t a remake, this mystery would rank higher.

No.22 Khoya Khoya Chand – Soha’s miscast in this time machine to the 1960s

No.23 Black Friday – Though authentic, loses pace structured like the book

No.24 Water – Talk of bad casting and location ruining a great script

No.25 Dharm – Pankaj Kapoor, you are God!

No.26 Eklavya – The cinematography is sheer poetry

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Commentary: Is war against Amitabh Bachchan starting to take the congress down?

Posted by jahanzaibmemon on January 3, 2008

The Congress party will not like to admit it. However something is happening to the party of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohandas Gandhi.

The party of Uttar Pradesh’s Jawaharlal Nehru and Gujrat’s Mahatma Gandhi is repeatedly getting run out of Uttar Pradesh and Gujrat. And badly so. That is particularly embarassing since congress leadership walks around with the name ‘Gandhi’. Their claim to Gandhi name and righteousness came due to Gujrat and Gujrat itself has asked Sonia and crew to take a hike.

In fact, when one looks around the Indian mainland core: Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarkhand, Himachal, Jharkhand, Gujrat, and Karnataka all have congress trailing Narendra Modi’s BJP now. That would have been unimaginable sometime back. But it is their reality now. Congress-UPA have lost most of the elections they tried contesting in over the past several months. In the last Gujrat and Himachal Pradesh elections, it tried to test its pull with ‘Chak De Congress’ as its rallying cry, referring to the movie propping up Shahrukh Khan, almost universally hailed in the media and believed by some to be new congress mascot. The result however was that Congress got wiped out from both; blown away in Gujrat as well as thrown out of Himachal.

There have been many reasons given as to why congress is faring so poorly all of a sudden: quotas, treaties, price control, anti-incumbency etc. All may be legitimate but one big one may indeed have to do with Bombay. When it comes time for real power, it is not Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan, or Salman Khan who congress needed, it was Amitabh Bachchan.

Instead, foolishly, congress has been trying to undermine Amitabh Bachchan over the last 2-3 years and more importantly, may have gone through an ideological shift. That’s starting to prove costly now. Its ideology and its decision to go to war against Amitabh is a 1-2 punch that’s starting to cost the congress across India and could eventually even bring its government to its knees.


Congress’s mistake is that in trying to manipulate the muslim votes, it has forgotten that the dominant pillar that allowed it to exist in the first place, is the secular Hindu. More than just a Friday to Friday film star, Amitabh Bachchan is viewed as a pan-India icon of secular Hindus around the country. He is perhaps only man in the country (apart from the temporary cricketer who may be hot or cold) who bridges the north-south, east-west, rural-urban, new and old India divide. He can resonate with the activists of Bengal, with the coalmine workers of Jharkhand as well as stand up with the westerners with Cambridge degrees. And much as the congress and its minions in the media make light of the temple visits to Tirupati for example, it connects with the people of India implicitly. They can sense that Bachchans represent Hindustan core a lot more closely than some artificial clan who may have merely stolen the Gandhi name from the Gujrati Mohandas Gandhi but don’t really have anything to do with him, his satyagrah, nor stand for any of his real values (he died uttering ‘Hey Ram’ for example, and they filed an affadavit against Ram); that they are instead trying to drive a pseudo-secular agenda upon India.

So the Congress’s problem is that too many Hindus (previously secular ones included) are starting to see it not as secular but as the Islamist party of India with media including NDTV, Hindustan Times, Mid-Day and much of Bollywood essentially doing its bidding against Modi and the BJP. In fact leading upto the elections, far from being impartial, these channels and newspapers seemed to be practically leading the drumrolls against BJP, making the Hindus suspicious and ultimately more punitive. The media and Bollywood filmmakers and actors in particular have been lucky so far that apart from the odd Shiv Sena rallies, they and their anti-Hindutva platform really haven’t been taken to task or come in the line of fire the way they could in more blatant ways.

The center-right Hindus already had been suspicious of Congress-UPA. Modi and crew have always claimed that Congress-UPA stands for anti-Hindutva in the guise of secularism. Thus by filing affadavits on Lord Ram earlier this year, they only confirmed what Modi was saying all along, and increased the resolve and the intensity of the antipathy against the UPA. Then by repeatedly targetting the Bachchans, symbolic of the secular Hindus, they may have turned this into their waterloo. All the IT notices, all the threats, all the fake land cases on Amitabh Bachchan (including random packets sent for now Aishwarya Bachchan) don’t go unnoticed. The public sooner or later caught on to what was going on and once they started to, it started energizing the force of Hindutva, and congress started losing even the secular, liberal Hindus in significant numbers. And that may have been in part its undoing.
In many ways congress is lucky that Bachchan is not with BJP and the party that’s latching onto him has been Amar Singh’s leftist Samajwadi Party, which is insignificant outside Uttar Pradesh. BJP is not in power in the key state of UP as it does not have a clear, charismatic face to rally the Hindus behind its industrial, nationalized Hindutva platform there. But had Amitabh Bachchan entered the fray and become the face of BJP; considering that he hails from the symbolic land of Ayodhya itself, the rivals would have been in much bigger trouble than they already are. As it is, BJP seems capable of routing the congress even without him.

But the bottom line is that Congress party, already in the bullseye of the center-right, and which depends so much on secular Hindus, could not go against Amitabh Bachchan without paying the price. And it is starting to see that now.

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Pirates favour TV shows over movies

Posted by jahanzaibmemon on January 2, 2008

The number of illegal downloads of TV shows in 2007 reflected a much higher demand for programmes such as Heroes and Top Gear over box office movies, according to popular weblog TorrentFreak which reports on peer-to-peer file sharing service BitTorrent. A report on behalf of the Motion Picture Association estimated that major Hollywood movie studios lost US$6.1bn through piracy in 2005 alone, with 38pc of this attributed specifically to internet piracy.

While piracy seems to have a devastating effect on the movie industry it appears to play a different role for producers of some television shows.

Website last year reported that one anonymous studio employee purposely leaked an episode of Pushing Daisies by uploading it onto a peer-to-peer file sharing network to drum up excitement prior to broadcast.

TorrentFreak said that while there were over 2.4m ‘torrents’ or channels made available for the TV show Heroes, the number of actual downloads would be much higher considering one file can have several torrents.

While Heroes was the top pirated TV show of the year, Top Gear came in at number 2 with 1.2m torrents followed by Battlestar Galactica and Lost.

BBC’s iPlayer, a service which went live on 25 December and which allows UK viewers to download the channel’s programming for a period of 30 days before it expires, is a move by the company to provide easily accessible programming over the net and combat piracy.

According to the BBC website, Auntie hopes that “providing high quality programmes over the internet legally, easily and at no cost will discourage illegal downloading.”

“We use streaming and DRM software to prevent illegal copying and distribution of BBC programmes to protect the rights of the people who make and appear in them,” it states.

Transformers was the top illegally downloaded movie with over 569,000 torrents or download streams, followed by US comedy Knocked Up. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End made it into the top 10 pirated movies also, but I’m not sure if Captain Jack Sparrow would approve of only making number 4 in the list.

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I wear clogs recommendI wear clogs recommended by Antonio Banderased by Antonio Banderas

Posted by jahanzaibmemon on January 2, 2008

The actress Olivia Williams may buy the costumes from her films, but she insists on sensible shoes

Olivia Williams

Olivia Haigh Williams studied English at Cambridge, then drama at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Now 39, she has toured with the RSC, was the lead in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (1998) and starred as Bruce Willis’s wife in the 1999 blockbuster The Sixth Sense. Since then she has appeared in several British films, including Lucky Break (2001) and The Heart of Me (2002), for which she won the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress. Most recently, she was Dr Moira MacTaggart in the 2006 film X-Men: The Last Stand. She is married to the American stage actor and playwright Rhashan Stone, has two young daughters and lives in North London.

If your body is jammed into a corset for 16 hours a day, it does change shape. You start putting on weight around the edges – your shoulders get fatter – but you end up with a tiny waist. You are not necessarily thinner, it’s just that the fat has travelled elsewhere.

I don’t hate my body, because it functions amazingly and does all sorts of things – including making babies and doing yoga. My job requires me to be embarrassingly unselfconscious, so I just can’t hate my body. If I want it to look its best and not to frighten people, I don’t show my knees. If I had fabulous knees I’d wear skirts up to my a**e every day.

Looks matter a lot if you want to be the glamorous lead in Hollywood movies. It’s a huge thing if you walk into an audition room and the producers and director can see you being that character. When I go to an audition I think carefully about being a blank canvas onto which they can impose their preconceptions.

I first heard about the Power of Hands charity when I was working with its founder, the costume designer Andrea Galer, on the BBC television drama Miss Austen Regrets. I was admiring the beautiful lace that she used, and the story just spilt out of her. Sri Lankan women who all were horribly affected by the tsunami make the lace. The charity ensures that this skill, and these women, can survive. It offers fair trade and proper payment for their work.

Speaking to her triggered a series of conscience-stricken thoughts in me. Women and clothes are so profoundly related but, very often, the women who wear the clothes never really think of the women who made them.

I would love to say that I always wear elegant shoes, but I love my Dansko orthopaedic clogs. Antonio Banderas recommended them. He swears by them for improving your back. Unfortunately, my husband hates the clogs so much that he hides them from me.

Do I enjoy being made-up? It depends on who’s doing it. It can be a very pleasurable experience or it can be like going to the dentist. It’s a loss of control, and provokes a sense of panic. Imagine that for two hours every morning at 5am. It’s not like on your wedding day, when people make a fuss of you – you are merely a vehicle for them to work on.

The only film I worked on that has influenced passing fashion trends was Rushmore. The director, Wes Anderson, has the most amazing eye. The costumes I wore were not particularly extraordinary, but the look of the film meant that in its wake a slice of society dressed in the same way. It was a study of eccentricity that became cool.

More often than not, I buy the clothes at the end of a movie. It can actually be quite embarrassing because these pieces often become my favourite items. A year later, when I’m doing the press for the movie, I’ll put on my favourite jacket, then find myself sitting in front of a large screen that is showing extracts from the movie and I’ll be wearing the same clothes as my character. It looks as though I’ve come in costume.

There was a dreadful occasion at the RSC when I had to die of a broken heart at the end of play. The dress I was wearing was made of white silk and had hand-painted flowers sewn all over it. There was talk of me writhing around in a pool of blood, but the costume designer just said no. She said I had to die standing up. It was the most bizarre acting requirement. People said that it was an incredible way to die – so statuesque!

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