Posts Tagged ‘ Steve Ramos ’

‘The Interview’ and the End of Mainstream Hollywood

January 5, 2015
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Dave (James Franco) and Aaron (Seth Rogen) in Columbia Pictures' THE INTERVIEW.

Dave (James Franco) and Aaron (Seth Rogen) in Columbia Pictures’ THE INTERVIEW.

Yank the curtain on a Hollywood Dream Factory and the impact is disheartening. Movies and the creative people behind them are meant to entertain and sometimes, inspire us. Leave the mean-spirited bickering and dull accounting rules behind studio c-suite doors. There’s enough of that in our daily lives.

Shred the cinema curtain the way secret hacker organization Guardians of Peace recently vandalized and dumped Sony Pictures’ private correspondence, employee data, internal financials, unreleased films and in-production scripts onto global audiences and the results are game-changing both on and off-screen and off and online.

After some very public hand wringing and criticism from President Obama, Sony Pictures continues to stand behind the Christmas Day, omni-channel release of its “targeted” movie, the Seth Rogen/James Franco in North Korea comedy The Interview.

While theatrical box office for The Interview is modest at best, earning close to $5M from 581 cinemas after two weeks, its $15M take from more than 2M downloads is impressive.

Current hits like The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies confirm Hollywood’s era of tent-pole blockbusters and superhero franchises, each one bigger than its predecessor. It’s amazing that a modestly budgeted comedy about a tabloid TV host (Franco) and his producer (Rogen) heading to Pyongyang to interview North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un only to be recruited by the CIA as temporary assassins has become the year’s top film story and biggest game changer.

Thanks to The Interview and its successful disruption of the studio release model, Hollywood will never be the same. Once the domain of indie titles and foreign-language releases, mainstream movies can reach sizable audiences on digital platforms from VOD to streaming channels.

Suddenly, there’s light at the end of industry forecasts showing a steady decline of young adults heading to cinemas for anything but ultimate, must-see blockbusters. Perhaps, The Interview, currently a bold act of showbiz disruption, will become the New Mainstream of cinema distribution. Imagine what ‘s in store for The Interview 2: Putin’s Poo. What will be the New Disruption?

Back on the topic of the Sony Hack heard round the world, cyber terrorists no longer can count on unfounded threats of violence towards studio executives or theater operators regarding whatever movie they consider offensive.

In the case of Guardians of Peace, which several published reports describe as hackers working for the North Korean (DPRK) Government with the aid of a Sony insider, it’s impossible to implement a successful cyber-attack when a studio reinvents what it means to release a celebrity-driven, Hollywood movie and refuses to back down even when company secrets are revealed.

Like all good stories, there’s ample ambiguity surrounding Sony and The Interview. With North Korean officials denouncing U.S. sanctions in retaliation for the cyber attack, it’s still to be seen who exactly spearheaded the breach of thousands of confidential Sony emails and business documents.

More importantly, entertainment pundits are eager to see the next studio movie to receive The Interview treatment.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the fast-approaching time where every studio movie outside the tent-pole category receives an omni-channel release and becomes the new mainstream.

Then, I’m ready for the Next Disruption and conversations about The Interview as the way things used to be.

Doctor Who Christmas Special Review: ‘Last Christmas’

December 30, 2014
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Doctor Who: Series 8, Episode 13 ‘Last Christmas

December 25, 2014

BBC America

 

Last Christmas

Clara (Jenna Coleman) confronts the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special ‘Last Christmas.’

 

No paper crowns this year or Christmas Crackers to tug. Yet, the one British Holiday tradition that finds its way into my Midwest America home is my family watching the Doctor Who Christmas Special, Last Christmas.

It’s something I share with my teen son, Theo, a father/son routine going back to the debut Christmas special of the New Series, The Christmas Invasion, which introduced a boyish David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor in 2005.

The TV gathering also includes my visiting nieces, Allyson and Natalie, two unabashed Whovians and fans of the Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi. It’s easily the nerdy highlight of a busy holiday season.

In the most tense and complex Christmas special since the series reboot, the Doctor (Capaldi) and his pretty companion Clara (Jenna Coleman) are trapped at a North Pole research base alongside a team of scientists (Michael Troughton, Faye Marsay, Maureen Beattie and Natalie Gumede) battling alien monsters called Dream Crabs.

Santa Claus (Nick Frost) and two snarky elves (Nathan McMullen and Doctor Who regular Dan Starkey) join the battle as the face-hugging Dream Crabs attack by sending their Arctic base victims into a deep sleep in order to siphon their life energy while dreaming.

Director Paul Wilmshurst, director of Series Eight episodes Kill the Moon and Mummy on the Orient Express, mixes elements of sci-fi classics like Alien (face-grabbing monsters) and The Thing (an Arctic base under attack) to chilly effect.

Wilmshurst also carries over the Series Eight tension between Clara and the Doctor with Clara still grieving the loss of her boyfriend Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) to the Cybermen and the evil Missy (Michelle Gomez). Nick Frost brings extra gusto to the story as Santa and more than matches the always entertaining Capaldi.

Doctor Who showrunner and screenwriter Steven Moffat pushes the storytelling to new heights of twistiness as the Doctor, Clara and the Arctic base staff debate whether they’re awake or trapped in a Dream Crab-induced fantasy.

Of course, the arrival of Saint Nick can only be a dream, or is he as fantastically real as the Doctor?

Near the end of the show, Moffat piles one twist too many atop the storyline and douses the episode’s creepy tension with dizzy confusion. A little bit of restraint would have been welcome.

Moffat also unleashes extra Christmas sentiment via a rollicking ride on Santa’s sled. It’s sugary sweet but right at home for a series that’s embraced by adult fans but rightfully focused on the children in its viewing audience.

After all, if you believe in the Doctor, it’s only right that you also believe in Santa.

One last thought on the fun and frightening Last Christmas.

Fans want to know if Jenna Coleman will return as Clara for additional adventures in Series Nine. Let’s just say the answer will surprise devoted fans convinced they know the answer after studying every Internet clue.

Showtime’s ‘The Affair’ and How To Make A Nail-Biting Cliffhanger Without Violence

December 15, 2014
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Dominic West and Ruth Wilson are the passionate leads of Showtime's risk-taking drama 'The Affair.'

Dominic West and Ruth Wilson are the passionate leads of Showtime’s risk-taking drama ‘The Affair.’

 

 

Most cliffhangers unfold with gunfire and varying body counts. Mainstream network television keeps the bloodletting, well, understandably mainstream. Relive the death of Chicago power attorney Will Gardner (Josh Charles) on the CBS drama The Good Wife to experience a shocking murder free of any splatter.

Shift to cable networks from FX to AMC and the cliffhangers make a gory pivot towards explosions and drugs in AMC’s recently wrapped Breaking Bad, explosions and more drugs in FX’s recently finished Sons of Anarchy, and explosions, limb tearing and just about every gory act of violence you can imagine in AMC’s The Walking Dead.

Co-creators Hagai Levi and Sarah Treem (HBO’s In Treatment) take a different path with their Showtime series The Affair, which concludes its brilliant, debut season December 21.

Granted, The Affair is an adult relationship drama; worlds apart from its sibling and lead-in Showtime series, Homeland, with its action and espionage thrills.

Levi and Treem want Showtime audiences to settle down after an hour’s worth of noisy spy games with Homeland lead character Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes). They deliver edge-of-your-seat excitement via raised eyebrows instead of raised weapons.

Over nine episodes, The Affair unfolds its story of troubled relationships with the aid of multiple versions of the titular affair and enough dueling flashbacks to please fans of Rashomon.

Noah Solloway (Dominic West), a Brooklyn high school teacher and author struggling for financial success with his sophomore novel, meets Alison Lockhart (Ruth Wilson), a working class Montauk native who catches Noah’s eye during a Solloway summer vacation.

Noah and Alison have different takes on their summertime romance down to the length of her waitress uniform. As their indiscretions multiple and reach Helen Solloway (Maura Tierney), Noah’s affluent and unsuspecting spouse, Levi and Treem do an impressive job building suspense and keeping audiences in a deep sense of wonder.

Maybe, I’m just speaking for myself when I confess that I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen to Noah, Alison, Helen or Alison’s husband Cole Lockhart (Joshua Jackson).

Lots of award attention for The Affair including Golden Globe nominations for Best TV Series, Drama, West for Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama, and Wilson, Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama.

West, Wilson and Tierney are worthy of the praise and attention and there’s no doubt that The Affair is a performance-driven series. Yet, for me, what I love about the show and what makes it different from other cable dramas from Banshee to True Detective is its commitment to surprising audiences with affairs of the heart instead of some blood trail.

Sure, there’s a crime tucked behind the sweaty sex but it remains firmly in the backdrop. After all, The Affair isn’t True Detective despite a police detective driving the story through multiple interviews of Noah and Alison about the death of someone they both know.

Of course, Sunday’s season finale will have to deliver another cliffhanger, one hopefully true to the spirit of the season. After being renewed for a second season by Showtime in early November, Levi, Treem and the rest of their production team have to generate enough suspense to keep audiences on edge for Season Two.

That moment, those season-closing scenes, will turn out to be the most important cliffhanger of all and the closing image that determines just how risky The Affair wants to be.

The Affair airs 9 p.m. EST on Sunday nights on Showtime Networks and Showtime Anytime.

Five Take-Aways From Season Four, Episode 1 ‘Game of Thrones’

April 7, 2014
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Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) delivers the best moments in the Game of Thrones S4 debut 'Two Swords.'

Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) delivers the best moments in the Game of Thrones S4 debut ‘Two Swords.’

Arya wants a horse but Jaime craves a hand. Here are five standout moments from Game of Thrones S4 debut ‘Two Swords.’

After a 60-hour Game of Thrones weekend marathon (so mind blowing), live-streaming coverage of its recent Lincoln Center premiere (so posh) and social media meltdown surrounding its Barclays Center Epic Fan Experience screening (so Brooklyn), one lands at last night’s HBO broadcast premiere of Season Four somewhat breathless from excitement overload.

Good thing, at least from my sofa vantage, that S4 E1 ‘Two Swords’ unfolds steadily, smartly with an emphasis on character drama and suspense instead of blood spectacle. Series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss continue to promote S4 as stuffed with action, spectacle and a bloody casualty count. I have no doubt about that being the case before the new season’s ten-episode run comes to a finish by summer. Yet, until then, it feels good for author George R.R. Martin’s ensemble of Medievel-era characters, from luxurious King’s Landing to stark Castle Black in the northern hinterlands and the fortified slave city of Meereen across the sea, to re-start their stories with strength and subtlety.

In addition to writing the episode ‘Two Swords,’ Benioff and Weiss also step behind the camera for the first time. It’s safe to call this story, pulled from the pages of Martin’s third novel A Storm of Swords, a build up to explosive events to come as late Ned Stark’s massive sword named Ice is melted down into two smaller swords.

In King’s Landing, cruel King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) prepares for his lavish wedding to scheming Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) but takes time to taunt his uncle, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), recently returned after a long imprisonment by Lannister enemies and still recovering from the dismemberment of his right hand.

Meanwhile, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) marches towards the slave city of Meereen with her three unruly dragons and an army of eight thousand “Unsullied” warriors.

The ‘Purple Wedding’ between Joffrey and Margaery takes place during next week’s episode. Until that momentous event, here are five moments from’ Two Swords’ that set the tone for S4.

1. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), the young tomboy daughter of the late Ned Stark, tells her enemy captor Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann) that she wants a horse of her own to ride. What she really wants is vengeance aginast all who wronged her family. At the episode’s end, inside a ramshackle tavern, she clutches a Braavosi coin, quenches her growing thirst for vengeance and gains a horse of her own. It’s the best moment in ‘Two Swords.’

2. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is guilty of breaking his oaths as a member of the Night’s Watch after infiltrating the camp of the enemy wildlings. But Snow, still smarting from the wounds delivered by his wildling girlfriend Ygritte (Rose Leslie), addresses the Castle Black council and not only wins his life but proves to be the new leader the Night’s Watch desperately needs.

3. Daenerys watches her dragons as they claw and fight over a goat carcass. One dragon also turns and snaps at her; a quick reminder that she may be the “Queen of Dragons” but she can’t control them.

4. The incestuous relationship between Jaime Lannister and his sister Cersei Baratheon (Lena Headey) fuels much of the series drama going all the way back to first episode of the HBO series. So it’s surprising to watch Cersei swat aside the advances of her brother and inform him that he took too long to break free from captivity and return to her.

5. The final take away from ‘Two Swords’ is subtle but important as dwarf Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) tries to soothe his child bride Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) following news of the murders of her mother and brother. He also tries to do right by his secret lover Shae (Sibel Kekilli). But spies are watching Tyrion’s every move and reporting back to Cersei.

In Game of Thrones, it’s always wise to keep your enemies close. Still, as least with the ruling Lannisters, greater threats come from family.

 

300: Rise of an Empire claims thousands of male fighters but Eva Green is ruthlessly superior to all of them

March 7, 2014
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Eva Green stars as Artemisia in the Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures adventure '300: Rise of an Empire.'

Eva Green stars as Artemisia in the Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures adventure ’300: Rise of an Empire.’

Step one in the Eva Green handbook for standout action performances is something sly and flirty. As Artemisia, the commander of the Persian Navy and the lead villain in 300: Rise of an Empire, a parallel Greeks vs. Persians adventure to the 2007 blockbuster 300, Green flutters her eyelashes, thick with black mascara, when addressing an Athenian prisoner.

Don’t worry. Things turn bloody very quickly, but first, a quick primer on 300: Rise of an Empire.

The cinematic war between the invading Persians and the Greeks continue with Persian god king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) leading the fight against Sparta’s King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and 300 warriors at Themopylae. Meanwhile, seven years after director Zack Snyder’s movie adventure, director Noam Murro shifts the VFX-heavy spotlight to the Aegean Sea and the naval battle between Artemsia and her massive black Persian ships and barges to Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) and his smaller fleet of wooden Greek triremes.

Step two for Green, establishing Artemisia as ruthlessly superior to the thousands of male soldiers surrounding her, is to complement her Greek captive for his bravery. She also scolds him for his stupidity (he called her a whore) and then removes his head with a strong slice of her sword.

Step three is the clincher and arguably the best moment in all of 300: Rise of an Empire. Artemisia holds the head high for her Persian crew to see. While blood drips from its severed stump, the Persian commander plants a firm kiss on its mouth before tossing the head into the sea.

Now, that’s something only a female warrior can do.

Zack Snyder and 300 scribe Kurt Johnstad reteam to adapt Frank Miller’s graphic novel Xerxes, and the result is another movie adventure from Ancient Greek history brought to life with CGI bloodletting that rolls off the cinema screen.

The Greek heroes may change, this time with Sullivan Stapleton (Cinemax’s Strike Back) leading the charge as Themistokles with Hans Matheson as Themistokles’ advisor Aeskylos and Callan Mulvey and Jack O’Connell as father and son solders Scyllias and Calisto. Yet, their muscular biceps, firm thighs and rippling six-packs all look the same.

Green rises above this macho monotony with a tantalizing mix of bloodlust and simple lust snugly clad in a gold and purple metallic dress accessorized with chain mail.

There’s an acrobatic sex scene with Sullivan’s Themistokles every bit as sweaty as her romp with Johnny Depp in Dark Shadows. Better yet, the movie climaxes with a bloody sword fight between Artemisia and Themistokles on her Persian barge.

The history books tell us the fate of Artemisia but it’s fun just the same watching Green bring the character and the movie to life.

It’s been some 11 years since first watching Green in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, set during the ’68 Paris student riots, and I admit it’s still surprising to watch the 33-year-old Parisian in blockbusters like 300: Rise of an Empire, Dark Shadows and Casino Royale instead of a strict diet of intimate art-house fare like Womb, Perfect Sense and Cracks.

At first glance, Hollywood blockbusters aren’t good enough for an actress as complex and distinct as Green. She deserves something meatier. Yet, after watching 300: Rise of an Empire, it’s clear that blockbusters are made better by Green’s powerful presence. In a sea of macho male fighters, each one more muscular than the next, it’s Green who proves to be the bloodiest fighter of them all.

Creative Ownership ‘The Original Feed’

February 19, 2014
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Steve Ramos is a verbal identity provider, concept writer and founder of the cultural site 'The Original Feed.'

Steve Ramos is a verbal identity provider, concept writer and founder of the cultural site ‘The Original Feed.’

My name is Steve Ramos and I’m the sole proprietor of Steve Ramos Media. I provide verbal identity content, concept writing, storytelling, long-form copywriting and short-form brand journalism to brand, marketing and  design agencies as well as media companies. Join me in celebrating Culture, Innovation and Style on my website The Original Feed; a creative hub where I share personal insights and experiment with new models of storytelling and community building.

Contact me and learn more about my creative work at my professional website Steve Ramos Media. Share my LinkedIn bio. I have multiple Twitter feeds that share my thoughts on film, work as well as a Twitter handle and Pinterest page linked with The Original Feed.

 

Questions about The Original Feed or my work?

Email me: steveramosmedia@gmail.com

Phone: 513-961-2366

Cheers!

 

Remembering Cinema Advocate and Veteran Critic Roger Ebert

April 6, 2013
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Roger Ebert's advocacy spirit for cinema will continue.

Roger Ebert, who passed from cancer on April 4, will live on via his advocacy spirit for cinema.

I’m a proud member of the Roger Ebert army of fans; one of many who enjoyed his writing and was lucky to add a firm handshake and smile to what had been a long-distance writer/reader relationship. His sad fall to cancer at age 70 on April 4, doubly tragic following his recent pledge to keep writing despite increased radiation treatments, brings back lots of fond memories.

 

It’s funny that although I’ve worked as a film journalist for many years my first encounter with Ebert had more to do with his daily errands. I’m in college in the ‘80s, working at a combo electronics store/video rental counter on Clark Street in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood and Ebert comes in to buy a new TV. I remember the excitement, after all Ebert was a true blue Chicago celebrity alongside his longtime friend Oprah Winfrey, two superstars in a Midwest metropolis void of the entertainment commerce communities of say New York, Los Angeles or even Nashville.

Watching Ebert buy a TV from my manager felt appropriate at the time because a year earlier I sold his ‘At the Movies‘ co-host Gene Siskel a kitchen TV at Field’s Water Tower Place store. There you have it. I’m the go-to TV salesman for these famous Chicago film critics after watching their reviews show as a kid growing up Struthers, Ohio, then reading their newspaper reviews every Friday morning while commuting from my Ravenswood neighborhood apartment on the “L.”

My fondest Ebert memory is one of long-distance support a few years after the TV store encounter. I’m working as a film critic in Cincinnati, Ohio and writing about the owner of an art-house cinema who ordered his projectionists to splice out a sex scene from Wayne Wang’s ‘The Center of the World’ and banned me “forever” from his cinemas for reporting the story.

Looking back, I can honestly that my biggest advocate was Ebert who wrote about the incident in his ‘Answer Man’ column and sharply criticized the cinema owner’s censorship and my ban.

 

Roger Ebert, in Cinema Balcony, from his 'At the Movies' show.

Veteran critic Roger Ebert, who passed April 4, strikes a pose familiar to fans of his ‘At the Movies’ reviews show.

Over the years, during annual trips to the Sundance and Toronto International Film Festivals, I can point to more professional, peer-to-peer encounters, from sharing a line before a screening; watching Sundance founder Robert Redford wade into a press conference crowd to personally greet him; being introduced by a colleague to Ebert and his wife Chaz; personally thanking him for his column in support of my writing and receiving a ‘Thumbs Up’ from him as he looked over my Toronto press badge and approved of my writing at the time for the London-based trade ‘Screen International.’

 

Later this month, the 2013 summer blockbuster season will launch with another superhero adventure without the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ebert around to offer his take on the movies. He’s no longer with us; just as the great James Agee is no longer with us, or Andrew Sarris and so many others who wrote so beautifully about movies and their place in our lives.

Still, like all great artists, their work transcends their own lives and reaches forward to future generations. In the case of Ebert, there will be more memories made, from his books, from his website and social media presence, even from the work of his wife Chaz who just agreed to host this year’s edition of the Ebertfest Film Festival in Champaign, Illinois. Ebert’s spirit of cinema advocacy lives on; arguably an accomplishment every bit as monumental as his best selling books, longstanding newspaper career at the Chicago Sun-Times, successful TV series and coveted Pulitzer Prize.

Get Me Ron Perlman! Colin Firth in talks to Join Spike Lee’s ‘Old Boy’

November 12, 2011
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Colin Firth, in a scene from Tinker Tailor Solder Spy, is in talks to join Spike Lee's 'Oldboy'

The 2011 holiday movie season with all its awards-oriented releases is unfolding in rapid fashion but the “Get Me Ron Perlman” column, the only casting news column named after character actor par excellence Ron Perlman, remains focused on future roles that may impact awards season 2012 and beyond.

 Colin Firth, Best Actor Oscar winner for his lead performance in The King’s Speech, is in final talks to join Spike Lee’s U.S. remake of Park Chan-wook‘s acclaimed revenge thriller Oldboy. According to the popular fan boy site Twitch Film, Firth is likely to join Oldboy as the villain who kidnaps Josh Brolin’s character and holds him hostage without reason for 15 years. Granted, Batman himself, Christian Bale is also rumored to be in the running for the bad guy role but it’s impossible not to be excited about the prospect of a recent Oscar winner playing the part.

With production wrapping on high-profile franchise movies The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, look for the fan boy spotlight to rest upon Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond movie, this time directed by Sam Mendes.

Daniel Craig is back as Agent 007, as well as Judi Dench as his MI6 boss M, with Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw and Ralph Fiennes joining the cast.

Per the online trade Deadline, joining the spy adventure just in time for the start of production are Helen McCrory, soon to be seen in director Martin Scorsese’s 3D adventure Hugo, and Ola Rapace, the former husband of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo star Noomi Rapace. McCrory and Rapace join the cast of Skyfall in unknown roles but rest assured, fan photos and on-set spies will soon provide plenty of details about their characters.

Give credit to Russell Brand for dusting off the stench from his awful comedy remake of Arthur and staying true to his goal of Hollywood stardom.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Brandon is set to produce via his shingle Branded Films and star in the upcoming comedy The President Stole My Girlfriend. Brand describes his character as a sexy hippie who loses his girlfriend to the President. What he means to tell fans is not to worry, The President Stole My Girlfriend cannot be any worse than Arthur.

Supporting the argument that the best roles today come from premium cable series, veteran actor Paul Bettany makes his small screen debut as the lead player in Showtime’s upcoming drama Masters of Sex.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Bettany is set to play famed human sexuality expert and educator William Masters. After playing a futuristic vampire hunter in Priest, Bettany probably sees Masters of Sex as a dream job come true.

The week’s biggest casting news belongs to Billy Crystal replacing Eddie Murphy as master of ceremonies on the 2012 Academy Awards. Per The Hollywood Reporter, Crystal returns to Oscars hosting duties in the wake of co-producer Brett Ratner’s sudden resignation in the wake of increasing furor over an anti-gay comment he made at a post-screening Q&A for his comedy Tower Heist. Murphy’s exit comes as no surprise since he joined the Oscars ceremony as a favor to Ratner. Crystal is an Oscar host veteran but it remains to be seen if he can help the awards show shake its dull reputation.

The Morning Feed: Eddie Murphy Out, Billy Crystal In as Oscar Host

November 11, 2011
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Billy Crystal Replaces Eddie Murphy as Oscars Host

Stateside hipsters are counting the days to the November 21 opening of Gaga’s Workshop, the dedicated holiday space crafted by Lady Gaga and Nicola Formichetti at the Madison Avenue flagship of Barneys New York. Until then, the fine fashionistas at Refinery 29 offered a quick report of Chanel’s holiday window display titled Christmas: Dreams of Far Away at the landmark Printemps department store in Paris. Karl Lagerfeld and the lovely Vanessa Paradis unveiled the windows that feature New York City and Moscow in addition to Paris as well as puppets in the likeness of Lagerfeld. Belle!

Novelist Lee Polevoi wrote a gushing review of James Wolcott’s Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down And Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York for Highbrow Magazine. Polevoi described Wolcott’s five, extended essays about launching his writing career in seventies New York as “Proustian,’ arguably the best compliment one can give a memoir. Granted, Polevoi admitted that the graffiti-sprayed, gritty glamour of seventies New York breathed life into Wolcott’s remembrances. It also helped that Wolcott’s tales involved movie screenings with Pauline Kael and concert reviews of Patti Smith at CBGB’s.

Angry Birds fans lined up at the first store dedicated to the wireless game phenomenon courtesy of Rovio Mobile in its home town of Helsinki, Finland. TechCrunch reported on the opening and the shelves stuffed with authentic Angry Birds merchandise including a cookbook, a school kit and plenty of stuffed animals. Rovio CEO Peter Vesterbacka previously confirmed plans for the next Angry Birds store in China. Fingers crossed that Angry Burds stores become as ubiquitous as Old Navy.

Veteran director and producer Brett Ratner made tsunami-sized Hollywood waves by resigning Tuesday as the co-producer of the 2012 Academy Awards telecast due to an anti-gay comment he made at a post-screening Q&A for his comedy Tower Heist as well as a racy follow-up interview with Sirius XM Radio host Howard Stern.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Ratner’s resignation led to host Eddie Murphy stepping down (Ratner personally asked Murphy to be master of ceremonies). Imagine Entertainment partner Brian Grazer replaced Ratner and Billy Crystal agreed to replace Murphy and host the Oscars for a ninth time.

‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ Review: Elizabeth Olsen breaks out in suspenseful cult drama

November 11, 2011
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Marcy (Elizabeth Olsen) stares blankly while her sister (Sarah Paulson) helps her dress in Sean Durkin's suspense drama 'Martha Marcy May Marlene'

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Rated R

Running Time:  101 Minutes

Grade: A

 

Perfect ambiguity brings filmmaker Sean Durkin’s suspenseful drama about a young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) escaping an abusive cult to a daring close that leaves audiences wondering about the fate of its troubled heroine. It’s an edgy and chancy decision by Durkin, one that suits the artful nature of Martha Marcy May Marlene (MMMM). Premiering earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, MMMM is this year’s standout specialty film release, an experimental, atmospheric, thrilling drama and legit alternative to Hollywood fare. MMMM also provides an impressive set of debuts for Durkin, who’s directing his first feature after a couple of impressive short films, and Olsen, who almost single-handedly supports the movie with a rich and complex performance.

Durkin begins his story with Martha (Olsen) contacting her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) for the first time in years and asking to recuperate at the luxurious country home Lucy shares with her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). In an intricate web of frequent flashbacks, Martha’s recent experiences at a nearby cult in upstate New York become painfully clear as well as the cruelty she suffered at the hands of the cult’s charismatic leader (John Hawkes).

Lucy struggles to understand her younger sister’s strange behavior and Marcy’s unwillingness to talk about her recent past makes her family reunion strained. Via nightmares and growing paranoia, Marcy fears for her life but it’s never clear whether her worries are true or not — not even at the terrifying conclusion.

Durkin has some impressive experimental shorts to his credit but he makes a successful transition into narrative features with MMMM. Durkin, cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes and production designer Chad Keith match the film’s tense storytelling with beautiful images of the cult’s rural farm. Durkin and editor Zac Stuart-Pontier keep the story moving briskly via extended flashbacks of Martha’s time at the cult. Still, what speaks to Durkin’s impressive leaps from shorts to feature-length movies is his ability to inspire strong performances from his cast. MMMM is a dazzling to the eye but its performances are truly special.

John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) is both compelling and frightening as the cult leader. Sarah Paulson and Hugh Dancy are pitch perfect as family members incapable of understanding Martha’s predicament.

Much of the film’s excitement revolves around newcomer Elizabeth Olsen who’s both sympathetic and aggravating and strong-willed and deeply scarred as Martha. Olsen has a famous name thanks to her celebrity sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen but she’s a newcomer to movie audiences.

It’s one thing to choose a challenging movie like MMMM for one’s feature film debut and it’s another to deliver the year’s most heartbreaking performance.

Elizabeth Olsen makes Martha unique and unforgettable and now, thanks to MMMM and her standout performance we can begin to say the same things about her.

Grade: A

Distributor: Fox Searchlight

Director: Sean Durkin

Scriptwriter: Sean Durkin

Cinematographer: Jody Lee Lipes

Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Brady Corbet, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy

Running Time: 101 minutes

Producers: Borderline Films, FilmHaven Entertainment, MayBach Cunningham, This is That

Rating: R

Release Date: Fall 2011