TIFF 2014: Reitman, Baumbach and Rock to premiere new films

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New movies from veteran directors such as Jason Reitman, Noah Baumbach and Shawn Levy — not to mention the work of some less expected filmmaking types — will make their world premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival when it kicks off this September, organizers said Tuesday.

The Canadian confab, considered a key early stop for autumn hopefuls and awards contenders, made its first round of announcements Tuesday morning.  Highlighting the slate are world premieres of Reitman’s “Men, Women & Children,” Baumbach’s “While We’re Young” and Levy’s “This Is Where I Leave You.”

The list also contained some less expected names. Chris Rock will bring a rare directorial effort, “Top Five” (formerly known as “Finally Famous”), about a comedy actor who tries to go dramatic that stars — who else? — Kevin Hart.

The noted playwright Israel Horovitz will, at 75, make his feature directorial debut with “My Old Lady,” a story of an inherited apartment and an unwanted guest; it stars Kevin Kline and another veteran who always seems to be up to new tricks, Maggie Smith.

And the actor Chris Evans, who while trying to save the world as Captain America also found time to direct and star in a new movie, will bring that film, titled “Before We Go,” to the festival. The movie is a drama about a woman who misses her train and ends up in an urban underbelly. Alice Eve stars alongside Evans.

Toronto can be a place where some beloved North American filmmakers help kick off their new releases — and, if things go right, a hefty awards campaign to go with it. Baumbach, Reitman and Levy all fit that bill.

Baumbach, who last year had a breakout with “Frances Ha,” will come to the festival with “While We’re Young,” a story of two contrasting couples and the effect their lives have on one another; Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried and Adam Driver star.

Reitman’s “Men” marks a return for the Toronto favorite after his turn to harder core drama with last year’s “Labor Day.” Based on Chad Kultgen’s controversial novel, Reitman new movie looks at modern sexual mores and how they reverberate through the lives of parents and children. It features a rather unexpected star, Adam Sandler.

Levy, best known for directing the “Night at the Museum” franchise (a third movie comes out later this year), marks a shift to more relationship-based drama with a look at a family that comes together in trying circumstances, based on Jonathan Tropper’s novel and starring Jason Bateman.

Levy is not the only entertainment personality mixing things up. Comedy maestro David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers”) will present the world premiere of his coming-home legal dramedy “The Judge” starring Robert Downey Jr. 

Jon Stewart will play his directorial debut “Rosewater” — a dramatization of a story about an Iranian journalist jailed after appearing on Stewart’s own show — at Toronto.

And longtime helmer Ed Zwick, not particularly known for fact-based drama, will premiere “Pawn Sacrifice,” his story about Bobby Fischer as the chess champion gets ready to face off against Russian chess grandmaster Boris Spassky.

Though carrying a reputation for awards-ready fare, a number of commercially minded movies will make their world or North American premieres at Toronto as well, including “Good Kill,” “Gattaca” director Andre Niccol’s story of a drone pilot that reunites him with star Ethan Hawke (that’s a North American premiere), and Antoine Fuqua’s “The Equalizer,” the Denzel Washington-starring revival of Robert Woodward 1980’s TV series (that’s a world premiere).

Some European and Asian directors will be on the docket as well, with films that include “The Riot Club, the new movie from “An Education” director Lone Scherfig, “Breakiup Buddies” from the Chinese up-and-comer Ning Hao and “Samba,” the world premiere of a movie that reunites the directors of the French breakout “Intouchable,” Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, with actor Omar Sy.

Some other notable world premieres include veteran producer Bill Pohlad directing “Love and Mercy,” a fact-based tale of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, with Paul Dano and John Cusack playing the singer young and old(er).

Jean-Marc Vallee will bring “Wild,” his Reese Witherspoon-starring adaptation of the bestselling survival memoir, to the festival after debuting his “Dallas Buyers Club” there last year.

Screenwriter Dan Gilroy makes his directorial debut “Nightcrawler,” an L.A. noir that will see Jake Gyllenhaal return to TIFF after bringing two films to the gathering last year.

Longtime film and TV creator Richard LaGravenese marks his entry to the alternative-romance genre with “The Last Five Years” (the upcoming ”The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” and “What If” also fit the bill).

And James Gandolfini’s final film role will be on display in “The Drop,” a crime drama starring Tom Hardy that marks the feature screenwriting debut of Dennis Lehane; it is directed by Michael Roskam (“Bullhead”).

A number of indie stalwarts will roll out new movies, including Hal Hartley (”Ned Rifle”), Oren Moverman (“Time Out of Mind”) and David Gordon Green, who after studio comedies such as “Pineapple Express” continues his recent return to indie roots with “Manglehorn,” a story about an ex-con starring Al Pacino and Holly Hunter (that one is a rare North American premiere).

Toronto this year is implementing a new policy in which films that screen at the Telluride Film Festival will not be eligible to screen in its all-important first four days. Fest director Cameron Bailey instituted the policy to avoid the practice made common in recent years for Telluride to steal the thunder of some of the season’s biggest films.

Last year, for instance, awards and commercial favorites such as “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” all received prime first-weekend slots at Toronto. But not all premieres are created equal: “Dallas Buyers” was a true world premiere, “12 Years” had a sneak preview at Telluride and “Gravity” played both Venice and Telluride. Neither of the last two films would be eligible to play the first weekend at Toronto this year.

Toronto 2014: Reitman, Baumbach and Rock to premiere new films

New movies from veteran directors such as Jason Reitman, Noah Baumbach and Shawn Levy — not to mention the work of some less expected filmmaking types — will make their world premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival when it kicks off this September, organizers said Tuesday.

The Canadian confab, considered a key early stop for autumn hopefuls and awards contenders, made its first round of announcements Tuesday morning.  Highlighting the slate are world premieres of Reitman’s “Men, Women & Children,” Baumbach’s “While We’re Young” and Levy’s “This Is Where I Leave You.”

The list also contained some less expected names. Chris Rock will bring a rare directorial effort, “Top Five” (formerly known as “Finally Famous”), about a comedy actor who tries to go dramatic that stars — who else? — Kevin Hart.

The noted playwright Israel Horovitz will, at 75, make his feature directorial debut with “My Old Lady,” a story of an inherited apartment and an unwanted guest; it stars Kevin Kline and another veteran who always seems to be up to new tricks, Maggie Smith.

And the actor Chris Evans, who while trying to save the world as Captain America also found time to direct and star in a new movie, will bring that film, titled “Before We Go,” to the festival. The movie is a drama about a woman who misses her train and ends up in an urban underbelly. Alice Eve stars alongside Evans.

Toronto can be a place where some beloved North American filmmakers help kick off their new releases — and, if things go right, a hefty awards campaign to go with it. Baumbach, Reitman and Levy all fit that bill.

Baumbach, who last year had a breakout with “Frances Ha,” will come to the festival with “While We’re Young,” a story of two contrasting couples and the effect their lives have on one another; Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried and Adam Driver star.

Reitman’s “Men” marks a return for the Toronto favorite after his turn to harder core drama with last year’s “Labor Day.” Based on Chad Kultgen’s controversial novel, Reitman new movie looks at modern sexual mores and how they reverberate through the lives of parents and children. It features a rather unexpected star, Adam Sandler.

Levy, best known for directing the “Night at the Museum” franchise (a third movie comes out later this year), marks a shift to more relationship-based drama with a look at a family that comes together in trying circumstances, based on Jonathan Tropper’s novel and starring Jason Bateman.

Levy is not the only entertainment personality mixing things up. Comedy maestro David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers”) will present the world premiere of his coming-home legal dramedy “The Judge” starring Robert Downey Jr. 

Jon Stewart will play his directorial debut “Rosewater” — a dramatization of a story about an Iranian journalist jailed after appearing on Stewart’s own show — at Toronto.

And longtime helmer Ed Zwick, not particularly known for fact-based drama, will premiere “Pawn Sacrifice,” his story about Bobby Fischer as the chess champion gets ready to face off against Russian chess grandmaster Boris Spassky.

Though carrying a reputation for awards-ready fare, a number of commercially minded movies will make their world or North American premieres at Toronto as well, including “Good Kill,” “Gattaca” director Andre Niccol’s story of a drone pilot that reunites him with star Ethan Hawke (that’s a North American premiere), and Antoine Fuqua’s “The Equalizer,” the Denzel Washington-starring revival of Robert Woodward 1980’s TV series (that’s a world premiere).

Some European and Asian directors will be on the docket as well, with films that include “The Riot Club, the new movie from “An Education” director Lone Scherfig, “Breakiup Buddies” from the Chinese up-and-comer Ning Hao and “Samba,” the world premiere of a movie that reunites the directors of the French breakout “Intouchable,” Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, with actor Omar Sy.

Some other notable world premieres include veteran producer Bill Pohlad directing “Love and Mercy,” a fact-based tale of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, with Paul Dano and John Cusack playing the singer young and old(er).

Jean-Marc Vallee will bring “Wild,” his Reese Witherspoon-starring adaptation of the bestselling survival memoir, to the festival after debuting his “Dallas Buyers Club” there last year.

Screenwriter Dan Gilroy makes his directorial debut “Nightcrawler,” an L.A. noir that will see Jake Gyllenhaal return to TIFF after bringing two films to the gathering last year.

Longtime film and TV creator Richard LaGravenese marks his entry to the alternative-romance genre with “The Last Five Years” (the upcoming ”The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” and “What If” also fit the bill).

And James Gandolfini’s final film role will be on display in “The Drop,” a crime drama starring Tom Hardy that marks the feature screenwriting debut of Dennis Lehane; it is directed by Michael Roskam (“Bullhead”).

A number of indie stalwarts will roll out new movies, including Hal Hartley (”Ned Rifle”), Oren Moverman (“Time Out of Mind”) and David Gordon Green, who after studio comedies such as “Pineapple Express” continues his recent return to indie roots with “Manglehorn,” a story about an ex-con starring Al Pacino and Holly Hunter (that one is a rare North American premiere).

Toronto this year is implementing a new policy in which films that screen at the Telluride Film Festival will not be eligible to screen in its all-important first four days. Fest director Cameron Bailey instituted the policy to avoid the practice made common in recent years for Telluride to steal the thunder of some of the season’s biggest films.

Last year, for instance, awards and commercial favorites such as “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” all received prime first-weekend slots at Toronto. But not all premieres are created equal: “Dallas Buyers” was a true world premiere, “12 Years” had a sneak preview at Telluride and “Gravity” played both Venice and Telluride. Neither of the last two films would be eligible to play the first weekend at Toronto this year.

J.J. Abrams shows off new X-wing in ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’ video

It looks as though the Millennium Falcon will have some company in the “Star Wars: Episode VII” hangar.

In a new video from the London set of the space-opera sequel (you can watch above), director J.J. Abrams provides a glimpse of a weathered X-wing starfighter, the single-seat spacecraft famously piloted by Luke Skywalker in George Lucas’ original “Star Wars” films.

If Abrams’ take on the X-wing looks a bit different, that’s because it’s actually a new version of the craft created for the film, according to the official “Star Wars” Twitter account.

Incorporating elements of the existing “Star Wars” films while updating the mythology seems to be Abrams’ MO for “Episode VII,” which is set 30 years after “Return of the Jedi” and features a cast of familiar faces (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill) and franchise newcomers (John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac).

Abrams’ video, released Monday, arrives as part of the Star Wars: Force for Change charity effort, which is raising funds and awareness for UNICEF’s Innovation Labs and its programs benefiting children in need.

Individuals who donate at least $10 to the effort have the chance to win a trip to London to visit the “Episode VII” set and appear in a cameo role in the film.

With one week left in the fundraiser, Abrams has announced another prize: an advance private screening of “Episode VII” in the hometown of the winner, who gets to invite 20 friends.

Disney and Lucasfilm are scheduled to release “Star Wars: Episode VII” on Dec. 18, 2015.

Follow @ogettell for movie news

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

Chevron Bathroom Decor & Ideas

Unique Chevron-style shower curtains, bath rugs, accessories, and more for the perfect Chevron bathroom

Box office: ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ still king, ‘Purge’ No. 2

A raunchy romantic comedy, an anarchy thriller and an animated kids’ flick weren’t enough to unseat the evolved primates ruling the box office.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” the 3-D sequel to the 2011 blockbuster “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” took in $36 million in the U.S. and Canada during its second weekend at the multiplex, according to studio estimates.

Twentieth Century Fox’s latest entry in the “Planet of the Apes” franchise, which cost $170 million to make, continued to benefit from positive reviews, strong word of mouth and the strong performance of its 2011 predecessor. The second-weekend numbers brought the sequel’s cumulative gross to about $139 million.

The “Apes” had serious competition with “Sex Tape,” “The Purge: Anarchy” and “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” all opening this weekend.

Universal Pictures’ thriller “The Purge: Anarchy” opened at No. 2, besting the slate of new releases by bringing in $28.4 million its first weekend.

“The Purge: Anarchy,” the follow-up to last summer’s hit “The Purge,” follows several people (played by Frank Grillo, Zoe Soul, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez and Carmen Ejogo) as they attempt to survive a 12-hour period when all crime is legal.

The $3 million original starring Ethan Hawke debuted at No. 1 its opening weekend last year with $34.1 million. The sequel, which cost about $9 million to make, is the first horror film since last September to open to more than $20 million. Audiences gave it an average B score, according to polling firm CinemaScore, a high mark for a film in the genre.

“I think people got caught up in the first one, and they came to see the second one,” said Nikki Rocco, Universal’s president of domestic distribution. “We are really pleased with the results. The marketplace has been very difficult for these types of films.

“There’s always a built-in audience when it comes to horror,” said Rocco, who hopes the franchise continues. “But maybe there’s been nothing compelling until now.”

“Planes: Fire & Rescue” came in at No. 3 after it pulled in $18 million. The animated family film, which cost about $50 million to make, follows firefighting aircraft (voiced by Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen and Wes Studi) who team up to battle a wildfire.

Its 2013 predecessor, “Planes,” tallied more than $90 million during its domestic run. 

“Sex Tape,” starring Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz, might not have turned on critics. (It got a 20% positive score on Rotten Tomatoes.) But the film still managed to pull in $15 million to land at No. 4 for the weekend.

The Columbia Pictures raunchy rom-com, which cost about $40 million to make, follows married couple Jay (Segel) and Annie (Diaz), who try to bring the spark back into their marriage but their bedroom romp accidentally goes public. Naughty hijinks follow.

“Sex Tape” reunited Diaz and Segel with director Jake Kasdan. Kasdan directed their 2011 comedy “Bad Teacher,” which took in $216 million worldwide. 

Paramount’s “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” the only other summer film besides “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” to hold at No. 1 for two consecutive weekends, added $10 million more, rounding out the top five films of the weekend. 

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

Morgan Freeman, the voice of gravitas, is wise to his image

Hear Morgan Freeman’s name and you immediately think worldly wisdom and genial gravitas. He’s certainly earned that reputation. But over a four-decade acting career, Freeman has also taken some less expected routes, beginning with his first notable film role, as a pimp in 1987′s “Street Smart” (one of those Oscar-nominated instances), and more recently offering a wry sendup of his own saintly image in last winter’s breakout “The Lego Movie.”

At 77, Freeman still works at a feverish pace, seemingly appearing in every third film Hollywood cranks out. He continues that trend July 25 with a turn in Luc Besson’s “Lucy,” his third release in 2014 (so far). Freeman plays a professor who specializes in unlocking the brain’s unused capacity, offering counsel to a young woman (Scarlett Johansson) who has become the victim of one such experiment.

It’s become so common to see you on the big screen that one of the first questions that springs to mind is “How did he find time to do another movie?” So how do you find the time?

It’s an illusion. I worked on “Lucy” for one week. I’ve done that on a number of films. They pay you by the week. In that way you can do a lot of movies in one year, and it looks like you’re working all the time.

But still, you must hear from friends and family that you should take a vacation.

People do say, “Take a break.” And I don’t need a break. I get breaks. My agent says, “There’s nothing until late August or September.” And then I can go relax and play golf. If you love what you do it doesn’t cost you anything to do it. The cost is not doing it. It’s not like playing football, where you can hurt yourself. One of the great things about acting is it’s make believe. You don’t have to cut your tongue out to be a mute.

Your voice is among your defining traits, yet it was surprising to realize your recent turn in “Lego” [as the wizard Vitruvius] was actually your first animated role. How did that feel, doing that for the first time so deep in your career?

Well, I get there [to the dubbing booth], and there are these young writer-directors and a hotshot young lady, the producer I guess, and I’m thinking, “Oh, my God, is that it?” I thought there would be other actors and we would interact, not just me. I was really thrown.

And then you develop a character in which you kind of send up your own image.

It didn’t hit me like that right away. It took time. I wasn’t sure it was all a sendup until the very end of when we were doing it.

One of the things you’re skewering is the whole “wise man” thing that’s almost become like a brand — when a movie needs gravitas, bring in Freeman. Does that all get tiresome?

There are two ways for me to look at this. I try to be on the positive side. There are venerable actors who were in this situation for years. Spencer Tracy comes to mind. If I think of myself as being one of those, having stepped into those sized shoes, then it’s not so bad. Of course, you don’t want to be in a mold, but it is what it is. If you go out on a good note, no worries.

What role would you play if you could shake it?

My first outing, “Street Smart,” got me three or four scripts right away playing the same kind of bad guy. At the time I didn’t like it, but now I would. I did a movie with Bob Hoskins and they asked him what is it about playing bad guys. And he said, “Bad guys let it all hang out.” And it’s true — in “Street Smart” I could be easygoing in one scene and murderous in the next. But I’m so far into … goodness nobody would imagine trying to drag me out of it.

Are you specifically trying to get yourself out of it?

[laughs] No. Everything has me in the same general mold. [Offers an over-the-top version of his own sage baritone.] “Control. Wisdom.” But it’s OK. Because I’m so anxious to work and it’s that habitual that the stuff that comes my way happens to be this.

One of the things that people underestimate about you is your comedic talent. We saw it a bit in movies like “The Bucket List.”

Oh, yes. Love doing comedy. But the best part about comedy is it doesn’t require comedic acting. If the situation is funny it will come off that way. People say the funniest thing in “Last Vegas” was me jumping out the window. That wasn’t funny to do. But it plays funny.

At the other end of the spectrum, you also were associated with maybe the biggest blockbuster franchise of the modern era with Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” Are movies like that enjoyable, given how large they are?

You’re a foot soldier there. But something like that can be that rewarding — as a good product but also financially. Those things don’t come at you very often. Unless you’re Tom Cruise. He keeps doing them. Boy, he must have the staying power of Job.

A lot of actors would say they’d want your talent and career. What actor would you want to trade places with?

Brad Pitt. I would probably want to do “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.”I’d get to work with Angelina [again].

You’re staying busy in other ways in the meantime, producing the new CBS drama “Madam Secretary,” about a fictional secretary of State. What brought that about?

I just thought it was an idea whose time has come. We have had three outstanding, memorable secretaries of State, all women. So the idea of having a show that surrounds that makes sense. And we have a wonderful lady, Téa Leoni, who plays her. And she doesn’t look like Hillary [Rodham Clinton]. If we had an actor who even made you think of Hillary we’d be in trouble with audiences.

Finally, there’s Broadway. So many Hollywood actors say it’s where their heart truly lies. You last did it in 2008, opposite Frances McDormand in Clifford Odets’ “The Country Girl.” Would you want to go back?

When I went back there were times I said to myself, “Why am I doing this?’” One night I forgot all my lines and started babbling. Fortunately the scene was one in which I’m supposed to babble. I started telling Frances, in the scene, “I’m lost and don’t know what the … I’m doing.” I’m saying all this on stage. But afterwards I thought, “Who needs that?” [Laughs] On a movie they’d just say “cut” and we’d do it again.

steve.zeitchik@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

In war-torn Ukraine, a film festival as tonic

In early May, this picturesque city on the Black Sea suffered a surprising, gruesome tragedy. Forty-eight people were killed when Ukrainian nationalists and pro-Russian separatists faced off in a bloody street fight that culminated in a fire at a trade-union building. It was the most deadly civil conflict to visit Odessa in 95 years.

People here still talk of the day in hushed tones, referring to it only as “the events of the Second of May.” Impromptu memorials have been erected along the route where victims died. The trade union’s hollowed-out center and badly charred facade are still easily visible in the center of town.

And yet just a few blocks away this week, a very different scene unfolded: Odessa played host to a film festival.

“There was never any question we would go on,” said Julia Sinkevych, the festival’s executive producer. “The only question was whether anyone would join us.”

From the balmy beaches of the Riviera to the snowy mountains of Utah, film gatherings are gauged by glitzy metrics — the number of celebrities who attend, the value of the distribution deals that are signed.

For the Odessa Film Festival, though, success is measured by a simpler standard: the fact that it exists at all.

Yet somehow the confab, which closes Saturday, has done that and more over the past week as it celebrated its fifth edition against all conceivable odds. In an old Soviet music hall, a festival program director and actor introduced a Georgian-Ukrainian favorite titled “Blind Dates”; the film is a delicate comedy about an emotionally stunted 40year-old who becomes involved with a woman and her ex-con husband.

In another theater, a bloc of student-made short films was being shown. The young filmmakers, their families and friends crammed the theater stairs, popping up opens bottles of beer and making up in enthusiasm what their films lacked in polish.

Director Stephen Frears turned up as a guest of honor. Darren Aronofsky conducted a question-and-answer session via Skype. Acclaimed movies like “Boyhood” and the 2014 Palme d’Or winner “Winter Sleep” made their national premieres.

And nearly 15,000 people turned out for a screening of a rare silent version of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1929 thriller “Blackmail,” accompanied by an orchestra, on the city’s iconic Potemkin Steps.

Ukraine continues to be an embattled place in the wake of the bloody EuroMaidan revolution in Kiev that deposed former leader Viktor Yanukovich, after the annexation of Crimea by Russian President Vladimir Putin this spring and in the current throes of a war with pro-Russian separatists in the country’s eastern region. On Thursday, a Malaysian Airlines plane was downed in the troubled airspace over the eastern city of Donetsk, about 450 miles away, and locals reacted with an all-too-familiar mix of sadness and resignation.

That night, a moment of silence preceded all screenings. The closing Saturday is being similarly scaled down, with a silent red carpet, in tribute to those who died in the disaster. This follows a decision on opening night, when the death of several Ukranian soldiers in the conflict with separatists prompted organizers to hold a moment of silence too.

While a series of screenings and panel discussions might seem beside the point for people worried about family members on the front lines — or concerned about an economy that’s currently one of the worst in Europe — festival organizers believe it contains some surprising relevance.

“This was a chance to do something for the people,” said Victoria Tigipko, the festival’s president, who is also married to a former vice prime minister of Ukraine. Tigipko said the goal was in part to bring industry players from across Europe together to shine a light on the Ukrainian film industry, but that mainly it was to mount an event for the city’s nearly 1 million residents.

“We realized that with everything else going on what people really might need is entertainment,” she said.

That goal proved easier said than done.

Sinkevych, a formidable young woman who was promoted to festival executive producer in January after the departure of predecessor Denis Ivanov, watched over the last six months as sponsors pulled out, then Russian tourists and journalists withdrew. Filmmakers were getting cold feet too, especially in the wake of the May 2 calamity.

Remembering Elaine Stritch — formidable, fun and candid

Elaine Stritch, who died Thursday at the age of 89, was a formidable interview when we chatted on the phone in February about the candid documentary “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.”

But she was a formidable talent. Her career spanned 60 years. She introduced “The Ladies Who Lunch” on Broadway in Stephen Sondheim’s landmark musical “Company.” She electrified audiences in her Tony Award-winning one-woman show “Elaine Stritch at Liberty.” And she acquired a whole new generation of fans as Alec Baldwin’s acerbic mother on “30 Rock.”

Though she wasn’t feeling well, Stritch didn’t disappoint during the conversation — she was outspoken, sweet and amusing. It was blissfully fun talking to her.

Here is the story:

Kathie Lee Gifford looked like a deer caught in oncoming headlights when 89-year-old Broadway legend Elaine Stritch casually dropped an F-bomb on the “Today” show a few weeks back. Gifford shouldn’t have been surprised.

Stritch, who appeared on the morning show to chat about the documentary “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” which opens in L.A. on Friday, has been a lively and outspoken force of nature throughout a career that has spanned more than 60 years.

And she was equally unfiltered in a recent phone conversation. Stritch was often very sweet, referring to the interviewer as “honey,” but also razor-sharp in her comments.

In the documentary directed by Chiemi Karasawa, Stritch is candid about her failing health, her battle with alcoholism and the fact that after 25 years of sobriety she allows herself one drink a day. But she puts her foot down when the topic is brought up in conversation.

“I would like to stop talking about alcohol,” Stritch said firmly. “I stopped drinking for 25 years and that’s a massive accomplishment in itself.”

In the funny and poignant “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” the actress gamely comes face to face with her mortality, realizing the one thing she loves the most — performing — is getting too difficult for her to do any more.

Shot over a year between 2011 and 2012, the documentary chronicles her memory struggles during rehearsals for her cabaret show “Elaine Stritch Singin’ Sondheim … One Song at a Time,” as well as her several hospitalizations because of her diabetes.

Last April, Stritch gave a final series of cabaret performances in New York — “Elaine Stritch at the Carlyle: Movin’ Over and Out” — at the famed Carlyle Hotel, where she also lived for several years.

She has since retired and moved to the Detroit suburb where she grew up to be near her extended family. And now her body is starting to catch up to her age. “I have had a lot of problems physically,” said Stritch, who celebrated her birthday last month. “I have had a lot of accidents. I am not altogether comfortable.”

But then she paused.

“You know, I’m OK,” she said. “I’m still here, thank you Stephen Sondheim,” referring to the composer’s standard “I’m Still Here” from “Follies,” which Stritch brought to vibrant life in her act.

The documentary is anything but depressing. The former Catholic schoolgirl has packed a couple of lifetimes in her 89 years.

She had been one of the brightest lights on the Great White Way, appearing in such musicals as Noel Coward’s 1961 “Sail Away” and most especially in Sondheim’s groundbreaking 1970 musical, “Company,” in which she introduced what would become her signature song, “The Ladies Who Lunch.”

Her 2002 Tony Award-winning one-woman show, “Elaine Stritch at Liberty,” was standing-room-only, and she gained a whole new fan base in her Emmy Award-winning role as Jack Donaghy’s (Alec Baldwin) caustic mother, Colleen, on NBC’s “30 Rock.”

“Shoot Me” features clips and photos from her past and lively conversations about her work with Sondheim and Coward, her brief — and chaste — encounter as a teenager with a young John Kennedy (“He was the best-looking guy I ever saw in my life”) and marrying the love of her life, British actor John Bay, who died of brain cancer in 1982.

The film also features interviews with such friends and colleagues as Baldwin, who is an executive producer on the film, Hal Prince, Nathan Lane, Cherry Jones, Tina Fey, John Turturro and the late James Gandolfini.

A chance encounter at a New York hair salon was the genesis for “Shoot Me.” Karasawa was getting her hair done when she saw Stritch in the salon.

“My hairdresser said she has been a longtime client, you should be making a documentary about her,” Karasawa said. “I thought it was an interesting idea. I didn’t know that much about her.”

But she had very briefly worked with Stritch a few years before as a script supervisor on Turturro’s “Romance and Cigarettes,” in which Stritch played Gandolfini’s mother. “I just remember she was a tornado of a woman,” Karasawa said. “She just blew in there, and every take was different.”

It took about four months of conversations before Stritch agreed to participate in the documentary. And then there was no holding back. “We were astonished at the amount of access she gave us,” Karasawa said.

“I liked Chiemi very much,” Stritch said. “We had a laugh or two or four or 75. I said all right, come, let’s do it. I thought she’s fun to be with.”

Stritch noted that she “opened up more than I had planned” to the camera. “But I said to myself, ‘Why not tell the truth?’ “

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

For Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov, a battle with no end in sight

On May 11, officers from Russia’s Federal Security Bureau arrived at the Crimea home of movie director Oleg Sentsov, where he lives with his wife and two children.

Though Sentsov was known for his opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and had aided Ukrainian soldiers in their ill-fated battle for the peninsula, he had also not been known as an especially political filmmaker. His previous features, “Gaamer” and “Rhino,” were genre-tinged stories about outcasts with little explicit political content.

But the security forces believed otherwise. They arrested Sentsov and transferred him to an undisclosed prison, likely in Moscow. After holding him without charges for three weeks — family and friends say they didn’t hear from him over this time — Russian authorities announced that Sentsov was being charged with bombing two World War II monuments and setting fire to several buildings, a charge of “terrorism” that carries with it a maximum sentence of 20 years.

Last week he was denied bail, essentially meaning he would remain in a Russian prison at least until an October trial — and possibly much longer.

Sentsov’s case brings into uncomfortable focus what happens when filmmakers and other artists are caught up in a political movement, despite and at times even because they hold a higher profile than average citizens. The incident is hardly the only painful one for artists in Ukraine. Earlier this year, Serhiy Zhadan, the country’s most famous counterculture writer, was beaten in protests by presumed pro-Kremlin insurgents in the Russia-adjacent city of Kharkiv. “Friends, with me everything is okay,” he wrote on Facebook, though it was clear from some graphic photos that it was not.

On Tuesday night in Odessa, the Black Sea port town where Sentsov’s imprisonment has become a cause celebre, Sentsov’s producing partner and other professional collaborators screened “Gaamer” as part of a fundraiser at the Odessa Film Festival. Proceeds from ticket sales — about 500 in all — were earmarked for his legal defense fund and his family.

“They’re accusing him of terrorism, but everyone who knows Oleg in person or his films will know he’s not only unsuitable but that it’s absurd to accuse him and friends of this,” said Olga Zhurzhenko, who produced “Gaamer.” She added that the director will “not ever surrender to Russian pressure.”

She then screened the film, a 2011 drama about a young man of modest means who hopes to find a way out of his impoverished circumstance by winning a Quake tournament.

In a situation like this, every little bit matters, but given the weak Ukrainian economy, what amounted to a few hundred dollars in movie ticket revenue won’t make or break Sentsov’s case. Still, several audience members yelled out “Spasiba!” (thank you) after the film was shown, and dozens lined up to sign petitions afterward,  demonstrating the kind of grass-roots interest that has put pressure on leaders and other figures.

Newly elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko last week expressed concern about the jailing of Sentsov and Ukrainian pilot Nadezhda Savchenko, who is also being held under hazy circumstances. A bevy of European film directors, meanwhile, including Wim Wenders and Mike Leigh, have signed their own letter demanding Sentsov’s release.

On Wednesday, Viktorya Tigipko, the president of the Odessa Film Festival, whose husband is a former vice minister in the Ukrainian government, told The Times that she believed this was a sham that can and should come to an end soon.

“It’s a totally crazy situation. It’s very clear they’re making him a showcase,” she said. “We’re doing everything possible to bring him home.”

(As his lawyers make a bid to see evidence and documents they claim are being withheld, Sentsov himself was able to make a speech from prison several weeks ago. Needless to say, he denied all charges and said he was not a serf who could be “transferred from one landowner to another together with the land,” an allusion to both his imprisonment and the Crimea annexation.)

High-profile protests that increase negative PR can have an effect in situations like this, as the music world learned when Russia released several members of the music group Pussy Riot before the Sochi Olympics, though of course not before a long prison sentence was served. In Iran, director Jafar Panahi, accused of spreading anti-government propaganda, remains under a filmmaking and film publicity ban that he has only gently begun to test; some, however, believe that his situation would be much worse if he weren’t as famous.

At an early moment in “Gaamer,” the main character, a young man named Koss, listens as a friend in their hardscrabble Ukrainian town tells him it’s impossible to attain greatness “in this hole.”

Koss replies, “Even a hole has a light at the end of it.” Sentsov and his supporters can only hope they see it soon.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

‘Big Hero 6′: New trailer spotlights adorable robot action, humor

Robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada, from “Big Hero 6,” will be voiced by Ryan Potter. (Disney)

Honey Lemon, from “Big Hero 6,” will be voiced by Genesis Rodriguez. (Disney)

“All right, let me get this straight: a man in a kabuki mask attacked you with an army of miniature flying robots?”

So goes the promising opening scene of the new trailer for “Big Hero 6,” which marks the first Disney animated movie to use Marvel comic characters since the company acquired Marvel Entertainment in 2009.

The clip sets the tone for the film, slated to hit theaters on Nov. 7, showcasing the relationship between a robotics prodigy named Hiro Hamada and his robot companion BayMax.

Judging by the preview, the pair still have a lot of work to do before they go about stopping Mr. Kabuki and saving the world. For starters? Some “upgrades” for BayMax.

You can check out the trailer below.

Disney this week announced the voice cast for the film, including Ryan Potter as Hamada and Scott Adsit as BayMax. The supporting cast will  include Maya Rudolph, James Cromwell, Damon Wayans Jr., T.J. Miller, Alan Tudyk, Jamie Chung, Genesis Rodriguez and Daniel Henney.

Even die-hard comic book fans may have trouble recalling the Marvel series, which was created by Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau in 1998 and is something of a whimsical love letter to Japanese culture. Characters in the original comic include a samurai, an agent who invented a nanotechnology-based Power Purse and a monster born from a child’s drawings.

For director Don Hall (“Winnie the Pooh”), the absence of a detail-obsessed fan base for the series was part of its appeal, as it left every character and setting open to interpretation.

“I was looking for something on the obscure side, something that would mesh well with what we do,” Hall said. “The idea of a kid and a robot story with a strong brother element, it’s very Disney.”

The original comic is set in Tokyo, though Hall’s film takes place in a mythical mash-up of Tokyo and San Francisco, a conceit that allows Disney’s animators to imagine a uniquely stylized cityscape — and indulge a studio-wide affinity for Japan fed by that country’s strong animation tradition.

Hall, a lifelong comic book fan who started at Disney Animation in 1995, was in the midst of directing “Winnie the Pooh” when Disney acquired Marvel in 2009. He found “Big Hero 6″ while digging through Marvel’s library for ideas and pitched it to Disney’s chief creative officer, John Lasseter, in 2011.

“Big Hero 6″ is being produced wholly at Disney Animation, but Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada has been participating in brainstorming sessions about the project.

“Don was a huge fan of Marvel,” Quesada said of Hall. “He understood what we did. I didn’t have to explain our world to him. The relationship between Hiro and his robot has a very Disney flavor to it … but it’s combined with these Marvel heroic arcs.”

– Justin Sullivan and Rebecca Keegan | @LATHeroComplex

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