The Closing Night film for AFI FEST 2021 has been officially crowned! The 35th edition of AFI’s annual film festival celebrating the best in world cinema will close with Warner Bros. Pictures’ KING RICHARD, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green with cinematography by Robert Elswit (AFI Class of 1977), written by Zach Baylin and starring two-time Academy Award® nominee Will Smith. Based on a true story that will inspire the world, the film follows Richard Williams, an undeterred father who, with the support of his family, is instrumental in raising two of the most extraordinarily gifted athletes of all time, Venus and Serena Williams. The Closing Night screening will take place on Sunday, November 14 at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre.
“AFI’s mission includes inspiring audiences, and KING RICHARD sets the bar for this year,” said Sarah Harris, Director of Programming at AFI Festivals. “Movies often deliver when we need them most, and now is the perfect time for this film to remind young people that nothing is out of reach, and that with perseverance and determination they can influence future generations.”
This year’s hybrid festival will feature both in-person screenings and events, as well as virtual screenings, showcasing transformative stories from groundbreaking artists. As previously announced, the World Premiere of tick, tick…BOOM! directed by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award® winner Lin-Manuel Miranda will open the festival on Nov. 10.
With health and safety being top priority, AFI FEST 2021 film festival will require all festival-goers who attend in-person events and/or screenings to be fully vaccinated. Tickets and passes to AFI FEST 2021 will be available soon on FEST.AFI.com. AFI Members receive exclusive discounts and benefits to the festival. To become an AFI member, visit AFI.com/join/.
Off to a warm start here at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, California!
I had the pleasure of chatting up TCM host, author, writer, director, producer and actress (the adjectives and accolades could literally go on and on – probably needs its own post), Illeana Douglas.
Having previously met Douglas at her book, I Blame Dennis Hopper: and Other Stories from a Life Lived In and Out of the Movies, signing, in 2016, and politely engaging periodically on twitter, my experience last night was comparable to catching up with that long lost, charismatic aunt we haven’t seen in years. Happy to hear about her forthcoming book, It Never Happened, tentatively scheduled for publication and release next year. She’s an extraordinary talent with a refreshing openness and keen sense of humor. And she promised It Never Happened parlays the “Other Stories” from her first title into stories, adventures and tales that never happened. (Wink. Wink) Keep an eye out for it! And, if you haven’t read I Blame Dennis Hopper yet, give it at least a “run through” until her new book, It Never Happened hits the shelves. But enough about Illeana Douglas for now…
The TCM Classic Film Festival Staff and Directors were out in full force for the 2018 Welcome Reception held at the Club TCM inside the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Wednesday, April 25th, 2018. TCM and FilmStruck General Manager, Jennifer Dorian, who was also recently named Executive Vice-President for Turner Portfolio 360 Brand Strategy, welcomed the guests explaining this year’s welcome would be a more casual affair focusing on creating and building relationships through conversation. Indeed!
Cocktails and soft drinks were provided with light appetizers.
Veteran Hollywood Actor Bill Paxton has passed away at the age of 61 following “complications from surgery,” in a statement released by a family representative.
Paxton was nominated four times for the Golden Globe as an actor in 1999, 2007, 2008 and 2010. He was also nominated for a Primetime Emmy in 2012
In 2003, he won The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA Filmmaker’s Showcase Award. The award notes are as follows:
“Bill Paxton is one of the most respected actors working today. Following a long string of successful performances, Bill has stepped behind the camera and proven his skill as a director. His directorial debut, Frailty (2001), showed a keen sense of style and a powerful grasp of storytelling which puts him in the ranks of top directors working today. We feel compelled to acknowledge this masterful work.”
Also included is a clip of Mr. Paxton expressing his admiration and respect for master filmmaker and actor icon, Clint Eastwood.
Actor Bill Paxton tells Larry King that being a filmmaker was always his dream.
Thank you for some very memorable roles in films such as Nightcrawler, Twister, True Lies, Terminator, Titanic, Aliens, Predator 2 and Weird Science.
Posted by Larry GleesonBy Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-GazetteUnfolding memories of all that Debbie Reynolds brought to the stage, screen and celebrity fascination of our lives would read like a chronicle of Hollywood history, starting in 1952. That’s when a 19-year-old went toe-to-toe with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in “Singin’ in the Rain,” the American Film Institute’s No. 1 movie musical of all time.Ms. Reynolds died Wednesday at 84, just one day after the death of her daughter, actress, writer and mental health activist Carrie Fisher.
Film star Debbie Reynolds, who collected movie memorabilia for more than 30 years, opened the Hollywood Motion Picture Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., in 2005. (via Business Wire)
In recent years, Ms. Reynolds appeared on screen mostly as matriarchs, with Albert Brooks in the title role of the 1996 film “Mother” and as Debra Messing’s mom in the sitcom “Will & Grace.” She also provided the voice of the nurturing spider in “Charlotte’s Web,” Nana Possible in the animated TV series “Kim Possible” and Lulu Pickles for “Rugrats.”
The 1973 Broadway musical “Irene” earned her a leading actress Tony nomination and her lone Academy Award nomination was for her favorite role — “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Earlier this year, Ms. Reynolds was honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars ceremony.
Ms. Reynolds gave us many more memories in seven decades as a public figure, but if she had done nothing else in her career, she would still be remembered simply for being in “Singin’ in the Rain,” Mark Olsen wrote in his Los Angeles Times appreciation.
The actress had four credited movie roles when she was cast opposite Mr. Kelly, a Pittsburgh native, and Mr. O’Connor.
“She noted at the British Film Institute in 2011: ‘I wasn’t sexy, I wasn’t beautiful, I wasn’t cute and I couldn’t dance. Why would they take me?’
“One only has to see her pop out of a cake to dance and sing to ‘All I Do Is Dream of You’ to answer the question. Her exuberance, the sheer attack with which she approached the part, made her undeniable,” Mr. Olsen writes.
“You know, I was so dumb,” she said to the American Film Institute in 2012, “that I didn’t feel you could fail.”
Mr. Kelly’s widow, Patricia Ward Kelly, on Thursday told BBC Radio that Ms. Reynolds, Mr. Kelly and Mr. O’Connor “are like comets that flash through the air once in a lifetime. And we are ever so grateful.”
On Facebook, Mrs. Kelly debunked what she called “a tall tale” about Ms. Reynolds as a young dancer. She quoted NPR’s Neda Ulaby as saying Ms. Reynolds “had studied gymnastics, but for the movie, she practiced tap dancing for up to 14 hours at a time.”
Mrs. Kelly said production records are very clear on the subject. For example, “on April 25, 1951, the report indicates that Gene arrived on set at 10 a.m., had one meal and departed at 5:15 p.m. ‘Debbie Reynolds same.’” She also notes, as Ms. Reynolds has said, that her rehearsal time was three months, “which says a lot about Debbie and the remarkable assistants who taught her to dance.”
There has been much speculation about the cause of the seemingly unsinkable Ms. Reynolds’ death. The entertainer suffered two strokes in 2015 but seemed to make a full recovery.
No cause of death has been disclosed for mother or daughter, but some are blaming Ms. Reynolds’ passing on broken heart syndrome, known medically as stress-induced cardiomyopathy. In the scant space between her daughter’s death and her own, Ms. Reynolds told her son, Todd Fisher, ‘I want to be with Carrie,’” according to the Associated Press.
“A ‘broken heart’ really is an event where the heart ceases to function normally and is prone to heart rhythm abnormalities,” Dr. Mark Creager, past president of the American Heart Association, told the AP. “That term is used to explain a very real phenomenon that does occur in patients who have been exposed to sudden emotional stress or extremely devastating circumstances.”
The documentary “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds” will premiere at 8 p.m. Jan. 7 on HBO. The film chronicling the sometimes rocky mother-daughter relationship was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in May and was originally set to air on HBO in March.
The Hollywood Reporter called it “a tender tribute to two iconic women whose Hollywood history spans from ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ through ‘Star Wars’ and whose intimate connection is no less singular.”
In the meantime, viewings of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” and “Singin’ in the Rain” would seem to be in order.
Horror fan Anthony Conti has stage four kidney cancer, but thanks to the Make A Film Foundation, his short film The Black Ghiandola, starring Depp, Lynch, Laura Dern and JK Simmons, is in post-production.
It was also co-directed by three massive Hollywood names — Evil Dead director Sam Raimi, Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke and St Vincent director Ted Melfi — during the five-day shoot.
The synopsis of the film, which Conti wrote himself, reads: ‘The Black Ghiandola centers on a young man, played by Anthony Conti, who risks his life to save the girl he loves, after his family is wiped out during a zombie apocalypse.’
Conti, who lives in Hollywood, already had experience making his own comedy/sci-fi YouTube series, The Satanic Zucchini Show.
He later managed to get this new project off the ground after contacting Make A Film Foundation to get hold of a copy of one of their other movies.
Writing The Black Ghiandola apparently helped Conti fight his cancer, and stars involved in the project have paid tribute to the ‘courageous’ youngster in touching a video from the foundation.
The teen also uploaded a shot of the letter he received from the American Film Institute telling him Sam Raimi would be directing his movie, which must have been a huge moment for him.
Conti, who is undergoing chemotherapy, received financial help from dozens of Hollywood businesses, including channel AMC who make his fave show The Walking Dead, plus family members and online supporters.
Snaps from the set of the film show just how much fun all those taking part had, and how much fake blood was deployed, too.
Depp appears to be playing a doctor who gets attacked by flesh-eating zombies, a role he no doubt relished.
“The Great Wall” presents a whole series of firsts. It is the first movie made in English by Zhang Yimou, China’s master of the big spectacle. Costing some $150 million it is possibly the biggest-budget Chinese film of all time. It is certainly the biggest Hollywood-Chinese co-production to date and is Matt Damon’s first Asian movie.
All that is another way of saying there is a lot at stake. And it is why the movie’s upcoming release in China is being delivered to market with an unprecedented marketing and promotional campaign.
“It is a new kind of film,” says producer Peter Loehr, and CEO of Legendary East. The action-fantasy-adventure movie has major elements of Western blockbuster cinema, yet is 20% in Chinese and is directed by Zhang, whose film credits include epic “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers.” His track record mounting massive live events includes the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic Games, and the recent G20 Summit Conference in Hangzhou.
“This film is absolutely what I’ve spent 25 years of my career building up to,” says Beijing-based Loehr, who was previously a Chinese indie producer and later the China head of talent agency CAA.
Jeff Shell, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, believes that the film can change the course of Chinese movies in international markets as well. “At Universal we are huge believers in a bright future for Chinese Cinema, fueled by the impressive recent growth of the Chinese theatrical marketplace. Our participation in ‘The Great Wall’ is very exciting to us. The combination of a tentpole scale Chinese-themed picture, the vision of the renowned filmmaker Zhang Yimou, the star power of Matt Damon and the enormous cast of talented Chinese actors make it the ideal vehicle to introduce Chinese creative product to the global audience,” Shell told Variety by email.
The film originated with a high concept idea – that the Great Wall of China only needed to be that size if it was built to keep out something far nastier than mere humans – from Legendary founder, Tull.
“It is not that I actually saw it from a plane. Rather when I was a little boy I heard that the only man-made object you could see from space was The Great Wall of China. Whether it is true or not, I could not conceive of the feat of engineering and ingenuity needed to build it. And I’ve been fascinated with it my whole life,” Tull says.
The film was shot in mid-2015 and Zhang has spent more than a year in post-production. The China release date of Dec. 16 puts it squarely at the height of peak season cinemagoing in the Middle Kingdom. It releases in North America on Feb. 17 next year with outings in international territories between those dates.
The lengthy post-production period gave plenty of time to cut visual material for promotion. Online marketing is much more important to film releases in China than in Western markets where posters and TV ads may dominate. Producers delivered more than 60 pieces of bespoke video for online consumption, in addition to a conventional trailer, a teaser trailer and three music videos. The trailers have played ahead of nearly every significant local and Hollywood film in Chinese theaters since Oct. 1.
Marketing in China shifted up a further gear with a major event called the “Five Armies Press Conference” on Nov. 15. “The film’s marketing is stretched over a series of events, introducing the film’s worlds in pieces, so that people get to know the concept progressively,” says Loehr. The Five Armies event introduced the battle groups, their leaders and the actors who play them as well as the unique weapons required to fight the film’s monsters.
That has been followed by the release of the first and second singles from the soundtrack. This week (Dec. 6) sees a large glitzy press conference in Beijing with the full cast in attendance, followed by a one day junket for domestic Chinese press, and then another for South East Asian press who are being flown in.
Along the way there will be further reveals about the creatures, their interaction with the human characters and the release of the final song. On Friday, the promotional action shifts to Shanghai for an event with more focus on the movie’s animation and proceeds going to the Great Wall Preservation Fund.
Screenings for Chinese press, friends-and-family and opinion leaders begin from Dec. 12. Public screenings begin from 7pm on Dec. 15, the evening before the official release date. Presentations will use an almost unprecedented combination of formats including 2D, 3D, IMAX 2D and 3D, China Giant Screen, and 4DX, the Korean technology that sees supplementary content and screen extensions projected on a cinema’s side walls for a 270-degree effect.
The film was conceived and green-lighted even before Wanda acquired Legendary in the deal that was announced in January this year. Its four financiers and presenters are Legendary, Universal Pictures, China Film Group and Le Vision Pictures.
The range of resources that Wanda can bring to bear – China’s largest cinema chain, distribution, and two marketing companies — elevate the film’s launch into a national event. China Film and Wanda’s Wuzhou Distribution firm are the distributors of record, while Legendary and Le Vision (part of the Le Eco group) oversee marketing and promotion.
“Where we might have had 8 people in a marketing meeting for ‘Pacific Rim’ or ‘Godzilla’ that expanded to 20 people on ‘Warcraft,’ including people from Wanda, Wanda Cinema Line and (social media giant) Tencent,” says Loehr. “Warcraft had a stellar opening and achieved a lifetime gross of $220 million, making it the third biggest film this year in China, a figure that dwarfed the $47.2 million it achieved in North America.
“For ‘The Great Wall’ we’ve held marketing and strategy meetings every Saturday with up to 60 people in the room from Legendary, Le Vision, CFG, Wanda Cinema, Tencent, China Movie Marketing Group, Mtime, Wanda Malls and Wanda’s real estate development team,” says Loehr. Some 260 of Wanda’s malls are putting on “Wall” events. Mtime, the movie ticketing and marketing firm Wanda acquired this year, is putting on “Dare to Dream” and Zhang Yimou exhibitions in a further 56 malls and CMMG will promote an augmented reality video game.
“If you are doing things that are formulaic, or that audiences feel they’ve seen before, it is going to be a hard sell,” says Tull. “The canvas and some of what Zhang accomplished is jaw-dropping.”
Closing down this year’s American Film Institutes Film Festival (AFI FEST) presented by Audi on Thursday, November 17th, it’s not so difficult to imagine what might have been had it not been for extraordinary efforts of first-responders, law enforcement and investigators alike in Boston, Mass.Patriots Day, the closing night film, brought to the big screen the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings from several different angles and drew an at-capacity crowd at the TCL Chinese Theatre.
Afterwards, Director Peter Berg and star actor Mark Wahlberg called several of the film’s real life heroes down on stage for a rousing standing ovation. They included one of the civilian victims of the bombings, Patrick Downes; Dun Meng, the young Chinese man who escaped his captors and alerted police to the whereabouts of the bombers; Boston Police Department Commissioner Ed Davis (played in the film by John Goodman); FBI Special Agent In Charge Richard DesLauriers (played by Kevin Bacon); and Watertown Police Sgt. Jeffrey Puglisese (played by J.K. Simmons).
The night before lead actress Annette Bening sat with director Lisa Cholodenko on the TCL Chinese Theater for a warm and heartfelt conversation before the screening of Writer/Director Mike Mills’ dramedy, 20th Century Women, a story of three women and a make-shift extended family in Santa Barbara during the late 1970’s.
I can honestly say I didn’t see a bad film at AFI FEST 2016 presented by Audi.
Interestingly, this year’s festival opened wide the gates for virtual reality (VR) filmmaking. In addition to several presentations and an extended display of short films complete with VR technology, Anthony Blatt, Co-Founder of Wevr, kicked off the State of the Art Technology Showcase Presented by Google Spotlight Stories as the Keynote Speaker with his enthusiastic remarks on the world of virtual reality in present time.
All in all, this 30th edition of the AFI Film Festival – Hollywood program included a whopping 118 films (79 features, 39 shorts) representing 46 countries, including 33 films directed/co-directed by women, 11 documentaries and 12 animated short films.
Reviewed by Larry Gleeson. Viewed during AFIFEST 2016 presented by Audi.
Fraud, the new fifty-two minute documentary from director, editor New York Times’ children’s book author, Dean Fleischer-Camp, tells the story of one American family’s economic struggles. Culled from over a hundred hours of uninhibited, raw footage, Fleischer-Camp pieces together an obsessed man’s YouTube home movies shot during a period from 2008 to 2015 – an intimate, yet disturbing, portrait emerges as the worlds of reality and fiction are merged by Fleischer-Camp to create an apocalyptic, futuristic narrative. Highly Recommended.
Viewed during AFIFEST 2016 presented by Audi, Mifune: The Last Samurai, directed by Steven Okazaki, is a feature-length documentary about the life and films of legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune. Okazaki utilizes archival clips, photographic stills and interviews with those who worked with Mifune. The film is narrated by Keanu Reeves.
Interestingly, the film is more of a creative interpretation of specific formative elements, both personal and cultural, that led to Mifune’s distinct personality. Okazaki presents Mifune is a non-linear fashion. He opens the film with the infamous rape scene from Rashomon. From there he discusses Mifune’s approach to some of his Rashomon scenes. Apparently, to embody the untamed animal instinct of his character, Mifune studied the movements and behavior of a lion. To add substance to such a claim, Okazaki shows, much to the audience’s delight, Mifune closing in on his samurai opponent in a lion-like fashion.
The 1950’s and 60’s were a Golden Age for Japanese Film. Iconic Japanese Director Akira Kurasawa had won the Golden Lion at Venice with Rashomon in 1951 putting Japanese films on the world scene. Kurasawa and Mifune would go on to collaborate on 16 films over an eighteen year period including renowned, classic films such of Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957) and Yojimbo (1961).
Telling interviews from Kyoko Kagawa, Takeshi Kato, Haruo Nakajima, Yosuke Natsoki and Sadao Nakajima reveal Mifune’s ardent preparation for roles, painstakingly researching and laborious rehearsal processes. Kurasawa rarely, if ever, gave Mifune specific direction on creating characters. Other interviews came from American directors Martin Scorcese and Steven Spielberg revealing the admiration and respect Mifune garnered not only in Japan but in Hollywood as well.
With the advent of war in 1931 and Japan invading Manchuria every able-bodied Japanese male was conscripted into service including Mifune. Mifune and his parents were Japanese Nationalists living in China at the time. Mifune’s early experiences in the war consisted of a lot of beatings as his superior officers found his tone of voice off-putting and insubordination charges followed. By war’s end males as young as eleven years old were brought into the army and referred to as Little Citizens and Children of the Emperor. Mifune’s role became training the young men as Kamakazi’s. Both of Mifune’s parents were casualties of the war.
After the war, time were tough for the Japanese. Men sold their suits and women sold their socks just to have enough to eat. Mifune made himself a pair of trousers and a matching coat from his army blanket. Such a look, coupled with his strong voice, gave Mifune a big presence. He applied for a camera assistant position with a film studio and got the position. However, in 1947, Mifune made his entrance as an actor in Kurasawa’s Snow Trail. Kurasawa was impressed with Mifune’s work and began writing bigger and better roles for Mifune. Mifune would not go back to being a camera assistant.
Kurasawa was a well-known director in Japan before the war and continued filmmaking during the war years with propaganda films. The US banned swordplay films after the war for seven years. When the ban was lifted Kurasawa was ready with one of the great films in cinematic history, Seven Samurai, with Mifune playing a often humorous, wanna-be Samurai. Mifune’s father had been a photographer and young Toshiro often posed as a Samurai for photos.
Mifune became an inspiration for young actors who found his minimalist approach accessible. Often referred to as the John Wayne of Japan, Toshiro Mifune is The Last Samurai. Warmly recommended…a cinephile’s dream!
Viewed by Larry Gleeson as part of AFIFEST 2016 presented by Audi.
Divines is the first feature length film by self-taught director Houda Benyamina. Benyamina, Actress Oulaya Amamra, and Divines were AFIFEST 2016 winners of the New Auteurs Audience Award, the Breakthrough Audience Award and a Special Jury Mention for Acting.
The film opens in surreal fashion with an out of focus frame containing a smoke and fog-like effect reminiscent of a meditation and indicative of the filmmaker’s use of dream logic.
Quickly, homage is made to Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver, with lead character, Dounia, played exquisitely by Oulaya Amamra, standing in front of a mirror pretending to fire a pistol while asking, “You looking at me?” Later in the film another homage to Scorcese is made from his early work, Mean Streets, with Dounia on her knees in the middle of the street pleading with God.
And, without too much adieu, Benyamina quickly takes us into the inner world of her lead character, Dounia. In a sacred space Dounia sneaks voyeuristically in a low-key lit, high-angle omniscient shot looking down on a theater stage during an audition. She likes what she sees in the form of Djigui, a dancer with moves and passion, played by Kevin Mishel.
A transition is made to a rambunctious classroom. Soon, Dounia is arguing with hyper intensity as Dounia questions her teacher’s values and choice of vocation. The moment culminates with Dounia quitting school vowing to “show them.” Her vocation is to make money.
Another transition is made to a slow motion sequence in a darkly lit dance club playing diagetic music from a singing disc jockey. Here we see Dounia’s troubled mother inebriated and looking for love in all the wrong places – a common scenario throughout Divines for Dounia’s mother.
Before long, Dounia witnesses a drug stash in the back of the theater. Dounia seizes the moment and takes the stash to a local dealer with her best friend, Maimouna, an Iman’s daughter, played by Deborah Lukumuena. The circle is complete as the drug dealer, Rebecca, played handsomely by Jisca Kalvanda, rounds out a strong cast of mostly female characters.
Throughout Divines, Dounia is searching for dignity. She lives in a Roma (gypsy) camp on the outskits of Paris and is frequently called Bastard. She discovers drug dealing as a way to gain respect and power. Before long, however, Dounia finds out the price she must pay for her vocation might be too high.
In Divines, Benyamina illuminates an emerging Parisian subculture made up of colorful, fringe characters steeped in Islam highlighting their highly creative, unique, and authentic stories. In furthering her artistic vision to democratize cinema, Benyamina formed a mutual assistance cinematic trade association, 1000 Visages (Faces).
Possibly quite coincidentally, American mythologist, Joseph Campbell’s tome, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” a seminal work on archetypal heroes and myths shared by world religions and traditions, contains the association’s name in the book’s title. However, I believe Benyamina has dissected the work drawing extensively from its teachings as we witness the transformation of Dounia.
For a first feature, Benyamina’s Divines is polished. Costuming is realistic. The camera work and editing augment the film’s reality well. The musical score sets the mood and aids in pacing. And the acting is quite good. Highly recommended.