Barbie coming to the big screen in live-action comedy for Sony

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Barbie is going from the toy store shelf to the silver screen.

The iconic blond-haired, blue-eyed doll will be featured in an coming live-action comedy, Sony Pictures and Mattel announced Wednesday. Production for the movie, which Sony sees as its next big global franchise, is set to begin at the end of the year.

Written by Jenny Bicks (“What a Girl Wants,” “Rio 2″) and produced by Walter F. Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, the movie will draw on Barbie’s unique resume. Over the years, Barbie dolls have come in more than 150 different looks, including princess, president, mermaid and movie star, and the character will inhabit many of those roles on-screen.

“We’ve always thought that the Barbie story had great potential, but a universe of possibilities opened up when Jenny, Walter and Laurie brought us their unexpected, clever and truly funny concept,” Hannah Minghella, Columbia Pictures’ president of production, said in a statement.

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Sony is hunting for new franchise material. The studio is developing its “Amazing Spider-Man” properties, which include “Venom” and “Sinister Six” spinoffs, and is looking to revive its “Bad Boys” and “Men in Black” series.

The Barbie movie marks the second collaboration between Sony and Mattel, which are developing an adaptation based on the Masters of the Universe action figures.

Earlier this year, Warner Bros. parlayed its own toy adaptation into blockbuster success with “The Lego Movie,” the top-grossing movie of 2014 so far. A sequel is planned for 2017.

Paramount, meanwhile, has its fourth “Transformers” movie opening in June.


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Bennett Miller drama ‘Foxcatcher’ lands November release date

“Foxcatcher,” Bennett Miller’s fact-based drama set against the world of Olympic wrestling, has pinned down a Nov. 14 release date, a clear indication Sony Pictures Classics is positioning the film as an awards-season contender.

Miller’s highly anticipated follow-up to “Moneyball” was originally slated for release last December but was ultimately pulled from that date to give Miller more time to finish the film.

“Foxcatcher” was also intended to debut at the AFI Fest last November but will now bow at the Cannes Film Festival next month.

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The film stars Steve Carell as the eccentric chemical fortune heir John Du Pont, who infamously shot and killed wrestler Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) in 1996 at the state-of-the-art Foxcatcher National Training Center, which Du Pont had built on his palatial estate near Philadelphia.

Channing Tatum plays brother and fellow Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz, whose autobiography the film is based on. The film also stars Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller and Anthony Michael Hall.

E. Max Frye (“Something Wild”) and Dan Futterman (“Capote”) wrote the script.

The film is being produced by Megan Ellison through her company Annapurna Pictures, as well as Miller, Jon Kilik and Anthony Bregman.


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A bright picture for Newport Beach Film Festival

Fourteen years ago, a group of movie lovers banded together to organize the first Newport Beach Film Festival. For the opening-night attraction at Fashion Island, they chose “Sunset Blvd.,” the 1950 Billy Wilder drama which famously features a faded Hollywood actress snapping, “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small!”

As co-founder Todd Quartararo fretted outside the Edwards Big Newport 6 theater before showtime, though, he was more concerned about the size of the crowd than the size of the pictures.

“I remember, clear as day, standing at the edge of the red carpet wondering if anyone was going to show up,” he said this month in the festival’s cramped, bustling office near UC Irvine. “It’s actually funny — 15 years later, I still think the same thing. Obviously, we have record crowds and we’re bursting at the seams and very excited about that, but I think it helps to stay a little nervous because it keeps you alert and working hard.”

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That first night, according to Quartararo, “Sunset Blvd.” drew a full house, and the 2000 festival went on to show nearly 200 films at three Newport locations. As the festival prepares for its 15th go-round this year, the numbers tell part of the story of its growth: more than 300 films at seven theaters, which now encompass Costa Mesa and Santa Ana as well as the namesake city. Attendance at the festival has grown from around 10,000 in the early years to more than 53,000 in 2013.

This year’s festival will run Thursday to May 1, with the lineup ranging from features and documentaries to films by college students. “Lovesick,” a new comedy starring Matt LeBlanc and Chevy Chase, will open the festival with a red-carpet premiere at the Big Newport.

As in past years, the program will dip into movie history. Howard Hawks’ 1959 Western “Rio Bravo,” starring longtime Newport resident John Wayne, will play April 26 Saturday, while the Disney classic “Mary Poppins” will have a 50th-anniversary screening Sunday. The following week will include a tribute to MacGillivray Freeman Films, the Laguna Beach-based studio that has produced more than 30 Imax films.

New to the program is “Women Direct!”, a series that spotlights work by female directors. Gregg Schwenk, the festival’s CEO and executive director, called the new offering a response to a trend.

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“As the festival has always been focused on quality films, the gender of the director has never come into play, but we noticed over the years that many festivals were touting the sheer number of women directors that they were working with, and we began to take a look at our numbers and found them to be quite significant,” he said. “And again, it wasn’t based on whether or not this was a man or woman; it was based on the quality of the film.”

The Newport Beach Film Festival is hardly the only event of its type in Orange County — the SoCal Film Festival in Huntington Beach and the recently launched Irvine International Film Festival are a short drive away. But for Orange County film commissioner Janice Arrington, the Newport festival dwarfs all others in terms of size and influence.

“It is our biggest entertainment-related event that we do in the county,” said Arrington, a longtime board member of the Newport festival. “I’m always happy to say we refer to it as the Newport Beach Film Festival, but I like to call it the Orange County Film Festival as well. We have participants from all the local colleges and universities and people who attend from all our various cities.”

Before the festival became an institution in Orange County, it began as a substitute. In 1999 the founder of the Newport Beach International Film Festival, which had run for four years, declared bankruptcy and a group of community members, including Quartararo and Schwenk, banded together to keep the concept afloat. With financial support from the city and others, the festival resumed in March 2000.

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Five years later, the festival opened with Paul Haggis‘ race drama “Crash,” which went on to beat “Brokeback Mountain” for best picture in one of the most controversial Oscar wins of recent years. For the Newport event, though, it proved to be a breakthrough — Quartararo pinpoints it as the moment that most improved the festival’s reputation among distributors.

“That was really a game-changer for us, for sure,” he said.

In terms of industry influence, Newport may not rank in a league yet with the elite festivals such as Sundance or Toronto, but a brief glance at the schedule shows its appeal for local film schools: This year’s lineup includes showcases for Chapman University, UCLA, USC, Cal State Long Beach and others.

William McDonald, the chair of the Department of Film, Television and Digital Media at UCLA, said a spot at Newport is a coveted prize for his students. This year’s program features five UCLA films, which will screen on Saturday afternoon.

“The students very happily have their films considered, and when we do notify them that their film has been selected to screen at the Newport film festival, they are very excited to be a part of that, because they know the reputation of the festival being a warm, welcoming festival,” McDonald said. “And the other part is, it’s close.”

Much to love in live reading of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Hateful Eight’

The world premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s staged reading of his latest script, a post-Civil War western, “The Hateful Eight,” is raw, ragged, raucous, riveting. And, as Tarantino promises when the evening presented by Film Independent begins around 8, it is truly one of a kind.

As the clock pushed past 11 Saturday night at the Theatre at Ace Hotel, one of those slightly spruced-up gray ladies with sweeping balconies and red velvet chairs that grace downtown L.A., the man in black — from the filmmaker’s Stetson to his cowboy boots — begins narrating the final “Hateful” chapter, for the final time ever.

Bodies begin falling. Bruce Dern, the old Southern general, is one of the first to go. The Hangman, Kurt Russell, doesn’t last much longer. Boom, Michael Madsen’s down. Blam, Amber Tamblyn gets a wound in the leg, the better to deliver a soliloquy before she dies. Pop, pop, pop, Samuel L. Jackson hits the floor, the bullets rocking him one way, then another. Kaboom, shotgun to the gut and Tim Roth is left writhing. His belly wound means dying will take a while. Stage left, Walton Goggins finally drops the imaginary gun the director’s been trying to get him to lose all night, and collapses, waiting for the end.

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The packed house hoots and applauds each death — they were hateful after all — before breaking into a roaring standing ovation to cap this remarkable night.

It is fitting that the director is the one man left standing. He’s been raging against the unauthorized leak of “The Hateful Eight” since Gawker first posted a link to the script in January. The reading, hosted by Elvis Mitchell, who curates Film Independent’s series at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is Tarantino’s most inventive reaction yet to the injustice he believes undercut the project in its nascent form. He vowed at the time that “The Hateful Eight” would never see the big screen. If legal mediation doesn’t succeed, “Hateful” will get its day in court next January.

It might also make its way to theaters too. Saturday night Tarantino softens his stance, telling the crowd before the reading that the actors will be using “the first draft. I’m working on a second draft, there will probably be a third. Chapter 5 [the last] will only be seen here, only tonight, it won’t be in there later.” That Bob and Harvey Weinstein are in attendance lend credence to the idea that “Hateful” might well live another day. The indie-producing powerhouses have been in the Tarantino business from the writer-director’s 1992 breakthrough “Reservoir Dogs” through last year’s Oscar winner, “Django Unchained.”

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Even without the western garb, Tarantino is theatrical onstage. No surprise if you’ve caught him on the late-night talk show circuit, where he can barely contain his energy or his enthusiasm. He serves as our narrator, our lens, reading all the scene-setting bits with a great deal of brio, except when he is directing: stopping at one point to complain the cast is “drifting away from the script,” then jabbing, “no co-writing!”; running over to occasionally bear-hug his actors as he whispers performance notes, Roth nearly disappearing in that grip for a moment. There are a few instances of “Let’s take it from the top” (the page, not the entire script), and the reading runs about three hours, not including a brief intermission midway for the stage to be reset.

When I first read “The Hateful Eight” in January I wondered how Tarantino, who usually roams vast landscapes in his films, would handle one that takes place mostly inside Minnie’s Haberdashery, a tiny way station on the road to Red Rock, Wyo. The tall tale begins as the stagecoach carrying Domergue (Tamblyn) to her hanging and John Ruth (Russell) to his bounty for bringing her in is forced to wait out a blizzard at Minnie’s. The stagecoach, its six fiery steeds driven by get-along-guy O.B. (James Parks), has already picked up a couple of strangers: first Maj. Warren (Jackson), a former Union cavalry officer, then Chris Mannix (Goggins), a young renegade who’s about to become the new sheriff of Red Rock. There are more strangers waiting behind Minnie’s door. They will take us to eight to hate pretty quickly.

Turns out that that closed universe helps Tarantino concentrate the intensity for the actors who had, the director tells us, been rehearsing only “for the last three days [dramatic pause], and we’re not bad.”

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There are sound issues through the night, many of the actors forgetting to grab a mike when the dialogue impels them out of their chairs. No matter that they are supposed to sit and read. To a person, they can’t stop reacting to the script and one another. The blows Russell delivers to Tamblyn seem perilously close to that face. Despite the occasional bumps, as the script moves them, they move us. The air in the theater is electric.

The night is definitely a case of the director getting by with a little help from his friends. All of the actors have done time on a Tarantino film, including Denis Menochet, Dana Gourrier, Zoe Bell and James Remar, who round out the cast. Most play multiple roles; an interesting flashback at one point requires it.

Whether these faces will follow “Hateful” to the screen, they made for a solid core Saturday night, with Goggins, Tamblyn, Russell and Parks in particularly fine form.

Except for Tarantino, somewhat sweat-soaked and red-faced by the end, Jackson owned the night. Maj. Warren is only one of several spokes in the wheel that turn “Hateful” into Tarantino’s typical mix of high camp and moral quandaries peppered by gun spray. But the filmmaker’s been writing roles for Jackson for a long time, and you feel the familiarity of that collaboration in every line.

Jackson played the scenes, he played to the crowd. He became Tarantino’s best weapon in bringing “The Hateful Eight” live stage reading alive.


Tribeca 2014: In ‘When the Garden Was Eden,’ a basketball paradise

Phil Jackson‘s emergence from retirement to take over basketball operations for the New York Knicks last month completes a basketball circle that began, of course, when the young North Dakotan was drafted by the team and helped lead it to two world championships, in 1970 and 1973.

Those triumphant, colorful days are recalled with enthusiasm, if a bit of reflexive adulation, in “When the Garden Was Eden,” actor-director Michael Rapaport‘s latest film, which premiered Thursday at the Tribeca Film Festival as part of its ESPN-centric sidebar.

A lifelong Knicks fan, Rapaport introduced the film by saying that he wanted to thank his parents, who “always supported my dream of joining the NBA,” even though he was a “very slow very slow Jewish white kid who couldn’t jump over a deck of cards.”

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The movie that follows portrayed an eclectic group of athletes who could jump a lot higher than a deck of cards and (and, in the case of the polymath Jerry Lucas, do some tricks with it besides). Indeed, few teams contained as many characters as those clubs, not just the coach-in-waiting Jackson but the feisty Willis Reed, the flamboyant Walt Frazier, the free-speaking Dick Barnett and the feverishly bookish Bill Bradley, all under the tutelage of the scout-turned-guru Red Holzman. (Lucas and Earl Monroe would join for the 1973 championship, a more understated affair than the 1970 run.)

Rapaport begins the film with the currently-a-shambles Knicks and the announcement that Jackson will be taking over, then rewinds to a similar period in the mid-1960s, when the team was a ragtag group that played in front of a few thousand fans, many of them gamblers who had reasons to be there other than team allegiance.

That  changes as the team begins to coalesce, and Rapaport, cutting between interviews and archival footage, shows it all, including Reed’s heroic limping out on the court for Game 7 of the Finals against the Lakers in 1970.

There are some other revealing moments — Reed taking on the Lakers bench in a man-against-the-world brawl, for one — and some equally great lines. Describing his unexpected takeover in Game 7 of the ’70 Finals, Frazier says, “Red told me to find the open man. After a while I was the open man.” Jackson gets off some good ones too, describing how, rooming with Lucas as he did his memory tricks, he “couldn’t wait … for him to fall asleep.”

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The movie traffics in the kind of sport nostalgia that has become standard on ESPN and if it lacks any real conflict or underlying issue, it certainly offers a pleasant way to recall that landmark era; there are few athletes as much fun to hang out with for an hour and a half, and watching them in the context of today’s tightly controlled, character-light NBA makes one realize how much the league has changed, and rarely for the more entertaining.

Rapaport proves a capable director; he is making a mini-industry out of turning his personal objects of obsession into documentary cinema, having previously directed the sure-handed Tribe Called Quest docu “Beats, Rhymes and Life.”

MSG now owns half of Tribeca, but despite the cheerleading quality to the film — at times it feels like it could run on the MSG Network as part of the channels glory-days retrospectives — the movie was signed up by ESPN long before that affiliation was forged.

An airing on ESPN is scheduled for the fall as the new NBA season gets under way. That’s also when Jackson begins the long process of rebuilding the once-proud franchise. He can only hope for a team half as talented — and colorful — as the one depicted here.


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Valerie Harper signs, seals, delivers another role

Valerie Harper is positively radiant these days. There’s a sparkle in her eyes and a genuine warmth in her smile. Why not? She’s defied the odds.

Early last year, Harper was told she had three months to live. Harper, a non-smoker who had a cancerous tumor removed from her lung in 2009, has a rare form of lung cancer that had spread to areas around her brain.

 ”I was supposed to be dead a year ago,” said Harper, 74. “We are all terminal, let’s face it.  I did the shock and grief. My husband, Tony, took it terribly. He said, ‘That’s not true. I don’t accept that.’ “ 

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Despite the devastating prognosis, “I kept going,” said Harper, who became a TV icon in her Emmy Award-winning turn as the endearing window dresser Rhoda Morgenstern from 1970-78 on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and her spinoff series, “Rhoda.” “I thought it was important.”

And she thought it was important for her fans, whom she calls her “extended” family, to know about what was happening. “People write me letters — not just about this — that are so loving and supportive, for years,” she said. “I know there are a whole bunch of Rhoda rooters out there.”

Harper has kept an extraordinary pace since her diagnosis. She reunited with “MTM” stars Moore, Betty White, Georgia Engel and Cloris Leachman for the finale of TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland” last fall. She did “Dancing With the Stars” last season — Harper and her partner, Tristan McManus, were voted off after their fourth dance — and has a quirky guest starring role in Martha Williamson’s (“Touched by an Angel,” “Promised Land”) new series “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” which premieres Easter evening on the Hallmark Channel.

“The message of all of this is don’t give up on your life worrying about death,” Harper said, during a recent interview at the Hallmark Channel offices in Studio City.

Earlier this week, Harper took to the media to clarify a magazine article that quoted her saying, “I’m absolutely cancer free.” Harper isn’t “absolutely” cancer free. But she has responded well to the medicine she has taken for the last year. 

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“Every subsequent brain scan is less and less and now my brain scan looks normal,” she said. “It’s great that it’s cleared up in my brain scan, but it could be anywhere the spinal fluid is.”

Long before she was cast as Rhoda, Harper was a professional dancer who appeared in the corps de ballet at the Radio City Music Hall as a teenager as well as in the chorus of such early 1960s musicals as “Wildcat” with Lucille Ball and “Take Me Along” with Jackie Gleason and Robert Morse.

But it had been along time since she danced when she joined “Dancing With the Stars” last fall. “I turned it down many times,” she said. When the series approached Harper after her diagnosis, she told her husband, ‘Why should I do it? I have cancer.’ He said, ‘That’s why you should do it. Think of the people you will inspire.’”

She got letters of thanks, including one from a woman who wrote her, “My mom has cancer and I can’t get her off the couch. But she saw ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and went to dance class the next day.”

Harper and McManus have remained close and even meet for an occasional dinner. “I had such a great time working with Valerie,” said McManus. “I didn’t know much about her beforehand. Generally with the show I try to get to know my partners. I was really surprised at how interested Valerie was in me as well. There was an honesty about it. It was like we were building a relationship as well as a partnership.” 

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“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” revolves around four civil servants who become an elite team of lost-mail detectives determined to deliver the undeliverable. The uplifting family show reunites Harper with Williamson, who has been a good friend since the actress did her first “Touched by Angel” episode, as well as series star Eric Mabius (“Ugly Betty”), who worked with Harper in a 2001 TV movie, “Dancing on the Harvest Moon.”

Harper’s Theresa is the group’s new, slightly eccentric supervisor. A legend in the postal service, all she really wants to do is act. Harper performs the life-affirming “No Time at All” from “Pippin” in the first episode and in the second offers sage advice to her staff on not wasting a moment of life as Glinda in an amateur production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

The role was tailored for Harper. “Valerie is somebody who would take a challenge like this and turn it into an opportunity to encourage other people,” Williamson noted. “The first thing she and Tony said to me when I told them about the show was we want to use this show as an opportunity to encourage other people.”

Harper also encourages everyone on the set. “Actors are usually terribly neurotic and worried about what people are thinking of them,” said Mabius. “It’s a breath of fresh air to be around Valerie, who wants everyone around her to succeed. She’s constantly pushing people to be better than they think they can be and making sure everyone has fun.”

Harper plans to keep working as long as she can. She’s mulling two plays “heading toward Broadway — maybe,” said, smiling.  “There is one I really love. We’ll see.”