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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 Commonsensemedia.org, 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 Boxofficeguru.com, 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 Whattheylike.com, which currently features the video game guide for parents Whattheyplay.com, 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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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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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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A film star that has stood the test of time: L.A. City Hall

Posted by jahanzaibmemon on January 2, 2008


Its classic design stands in for venues far and wide, and for a price the studios love: free.
Few Hollywood stars work harder — or cheaper — than Los Angeles City Hall.
“Mission Impossible III.” “Evan Almighty.” Now showing at a theater near you, “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.” All have had scenes play out across the landmark’s stately chambers, portrait-lined corridors and grand stairways.Yet this publicly financed box-office favorite receives not a penny in return. Call it the price of being an architectural icon in one of the world’s foremost entertainment capitals.”You just walk in and you literally start shooting,” said James McCabe, a location manager who has chosen City Hall for several of his films, including “Nancy Drew” and “Mobsters.” “You cover up a few L.A. signs and you’re in business,” he added. “The state has some buildings down here, but none of them have the majesty of government that City Hall has.”Filmmakers say the camera loves City Hall just as much today — at 80 years old — as when it was introduced to audiences in the 1928 silent film “While the City Sleeps.” It played the Vatican in the 1983 miniseries “The Thorn Birds,” a secret CIA center in “Alias” and U.S. Capitol hallways in “The West Wing.” It even had a cameo in the popular video game “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.”In a courtlike room not far from where the City Council meets, “Liar Liar” (surely it was a coincidence) was shot, starring Jim Carrey. “Chinatown” showed Jack Nicholson in the ornate council chamber; Tim Allen’s “Shaggy Dog” used the building’s Spring Street steps.Though much of the shooting occurs at night, it takes place frequently enough during the day that workers inside the bustling center think nothing of dodging a few lights and cameras as they walk or ducking inside doorways until someone shouts “Cut!” “It happens so often, and we have work to do,” said Martha Pinckney, who works in the Business Tax Compliance Office in Room 101. In 2006, nearly 50 shoots — including commercials, TV shows and blockbuster movies — took place in the marble hallways and historic meeting rooms that make up Los Angeles’ main political stage, according to the city’s General Services Department. That’s about 150 days out of the year. “I don’t think when they built it [that] they had any idea that it was going to become what it’s become in terms of a cinematic triumph,” said Geoffrey Smith of FilmLA Inc., a nonprofit organization that contracts with Los Angeles to arrange filming throughout the city and county. “There are some spaces that are so huge and others that are not. It just lends itself so beautifully to so many things. It’s almost epic in its look and design.”In a 1923 Times article, George E. Cryer, Los Angeles’ 43rd mayor, urged the residents of the rapidly growing city of more than 1 million to erect “a monument to the enterprise and progressiveness of the people of Los Angeles.” “Let us build a City Hall that will be a credit to the metropolis of the great West,” he said. In 1924, voters approved the $7.5-million bond measure for the purchase of land between Spring and Main streets and construction of the imposing, 32-story building, which remained L.A.’s tallest skyscraper until 1964, when the city lifted height limits. The 454-foot structure contains sand from each of California’s 58 counties and water from each of its 21 Spanish missions, city officials said.Filmmakers soon clamored to make the stately structure, with its grand entryways and cavernous rotunda, a Southern California landmark. And as Hollywood grew more ambitious in its moviemaking, so did the uses of City Hall.The 1953 movie of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” depicts invading aliens destroying the building with their spacecraft. To create the look, a miniature City Hall was built and then blown up with explosives. The film won an Oscar for special effects. When the 1950s “Adventures of Superman” TV series declared that the Man of Steel was “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,” producers looked to City Hall as their chosen skyscraper. Through the decades, set designers deceived audiences in other ways: The building’s rotunda was a backdrop in “XXX: State of the Union,” starring Ice Cube; the council chambers appeared again in the Leslie Nielsen comedy “The Naked Gun”; the stately boardrooms are often used for courtroom dramas such as “Fracture”; and in “Flags of Our Fathers,” director Clint Eastwood used one side of City Hall to depict a building in Baltimore and another side as the scene of a rally in another part of the country. “Since 9/11, it’s such a hassle [for filmmakers] to travel outside of Southern California, with the security and delays,” said Harry Medved of the movie websitefandango.com. “If people have the power to say where the film is shot, I think they’d rather stay at home.” Some cities capitalize on Hollywood’s need to shoot close by. Beverly Hills, with its own grand City Hall made famous partly through Eddie Murphy’s “Beverly Hills Cop,” charges more than $2,000 a day for exterior filming and more than $3,000 if cameras need to go inside.That generated nearly $300,000 in revenue last year, officials said. Even homeowners profit when filmmakers step on their property. A Santa Clarita neighborhood cashed in with “The Unit,” which is set on a fictional military base in Missouri. Residents were paid $100 to $300 a day for the use of a driveway, $1,000 to $3,000 for house exteriors, and $2,500 or more for indoor shots. Los Angeles once charged about $300 a day, but in 2006 city leaders waived the fee, saying too many other states and cities were offering filmmakers incentives to leave the comforts of home. “New York would never let Wall Street’s banking industry be lured away, and we must refuse to allow Hollywood’s entertainment industry to be lured away,” Councilwoman Wendy Greuel said at the time. Those in the industry say City Hall’s easy access is what makes the building so desirable. “A production company needs to know they can come in and not be encumbered by an overwhelming bureaucracy,” said Smith of FilmLA. “Filming at City Hall has come down to a science now.”There are a few requirements for film crews: The limestone walls and marble columns must be wrapped with protective material before bulky cameras are carried in. A city electrician must be present if the building’s historic lighting is to be altered. And all equipment must rest at least one foot from the walls. “We don’t want them to damage any of the historic fabric, especially since we took such great pains to restore them,” said Kevin Jew, director of the city’s Project Restore, which managed the building’s $300-million retrofit after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Pinckney and other city employees say film crews are so efficient that their overnight shoots go largely unnoticed. “You can’t even tell that they were there,” she said. “The office basically looks the same the next day as when we left it.”Government and Hollywood will meet once again Jan. 18 — the next scheduled shoot. City Hall is prepped. 

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Keira prefers London to Hollywood

Posted by jahanzaibmemon on January 2, 2008

Keira Knightley has vowed never to live in Hollywood because it’s a city with a one-track mind. The Pirates Of The Caribbean star says that she could never survive in such a suffocating environment. Though Knightley has become a well-known name in Hollywood, she says she cannot bear to live amongst her movie-obsessed contemporaries. The British actress says she loves living in London because of the cosmopolitan lifestyle there helps her development as an actress — something tinseltown could never manage. She explains in a magazine interview, “It’s a funny place — I could never live in Hollywood, because there’s nowhere to escape to. You find yourself sitting around a lot and every conversation you have is about movies. I think you have to be in a city that has different walks of life that you can observe and, for me, that’s London.” 

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Posted by jahanzaibmemon on December 4, 2007

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