PREVIEW – Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts in ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’

Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts in ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’

Charlie Wilson’s War is a movie that comes packaged with Oscar pedigree. It stars Tom Hanks as the titular Texas Congressman who for the most part did not have much going for him in Washington except for an active social life revolving around booze and women. However, when he latches on to the mujahideen struggle in Afghanistan against the Russian invasion during the early 80s, Wilson becomes a man reborn with a mission to help the mujahideens by supplying them with arms.  

Together with a rogue CIA agent named Gus Avrakotos (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), he begins to garner the support of Congress and enlists the help of a Texas socialite, Joanne Herring (played by Julia Roberts) and then Pakistani president, Zia-ul-Haq (Om Puri) to set his plan in motion. What transpires is the largest covert CIA operation in American history, one that quite possibly laid the groundwork for today’s network of world terrorism.

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The book on which it’s based, written by George Crile (who sadly passed away in 2006), is a massive tome of dense backstory and backroom politics. But it scores high marks for being heavily researched and thoroughly engrossing. Aaron Sorkin adapted the screenplay for Charlie Wilson’s War, quite possibly the best choice given his previous work from The West Wing and The American President. 

Mike Nichols directs Charlie Wilson’s War and with a smashing cast of three Oscar winners, the film is expected to headline the awards season by year’s end. During production, an effects crew person was listed in critical condition when a mortar exploded during shooting at Downey Studios in Los Angeles. The picture has finished production and is currently in editing. Charlie Wilson himself had a few words about the movie version of his life and some of his favorite shows.

Nicolas Cage is the busiest actor this year?

NEXT Nicolas Cage as Cris Johnson and ...

Life is in the fast lane for Nicolas Cage, who stars in no less than four films this year. All of them are set to be released before the end of the year which quite possibly earns him the moniker of the busiest actor of the year among the echelons of A-list stars. Cage is not one to slow things down as he’s always had projects lined up one after the other. Recently married with a new baby (named Kal-el), he’s plain dogged when it comes to moviemaking. Here’s a rundown of the four movies that has Cage blazing the screen this year: 

  1. The year starts off with a bang for Cage with Ghost Rider, Playing a motorcycle stuntman turned vigilante superhero, Ghost Rider is by all accounts a hit with a box-office gross of $115 million so far. It also gives merit to the studios that comic books are still the behemoths of cinema when it comes to expensive properties. Cage’s eccentric and cagey performance was ideal as Johnny Blaze.
  2. Next is based on a Philip Dick short story about a magician (Cage) who can see three minutes into the future. When a nuclear attack threatens Los Angeles, a government agent (Julianne Moore) must use her smarts to convince Cage to help. Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day, Mulholland Falls), always a smart director guides Cage through this action and sci-fi landscape. If this doesn’t end up looking like a wimpy episode of 24, Next could be another surprise hit for Cage. Next opens April 27.
  3. This fall, Cage sports his cool persona in Bangkok Dangerous, where he plays a hit man who pulls off a job for a local woman and finds himself bonding with a local boy. Based on the Thai film of the same name from the Pang Brothers, Cage was in the city last fall when a military coup put the brakes on production. Fortunately, the film wasn’t affected and finished filming and is currently in post-production.
  4. Finally in late December, Cage goes on the hunt again for National Treasure: Book of Secrets. This time, his character Ben Gates finds clues that lead him to uncover the mystery behind Lincoln’s assassination. Helen Mirren joins the cast to play Cage’s mother and in the crowded market for serious Oscar contenders at this part of the year, this should be a breath of fresh air.

There are about 5 other projects listed in IMDB for Cage in 2008 and those include producing duties. Often times, I’m almost sure that the projects that Cage chooses fall between mediocrity and excellent but they rarely jump the vault beyond that. On the surface, they appear to have all the elements going for them but more often than not when realized they hardly stay with you. Here’s to hoping Cage has a banner year.

SHORT TAKES

Edward Norton at the New York premiere of Paramount's The Score

  • Edward Norton is the new Hulk. Marvel Studios has selected the actor to play Bruce Banner, replacing Eric Bana from the first Hulk. The second Hulk movie called The Incredible Hulk, directed by Louis Leterrier will return to its comic and TV show roots to be less serious and more popcorn entertainment. The Incredible Hulk will start shooting this summer in Toronto for a summer 2008 release.

  • John Patrick Shanley, who won an Oscar for Moonstruck, will direct Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt, based on his own play. Set in the 60s, Streep plays a school principal who accuses a priest (Hoffman) of pedophile charges. It will start shooting December 1st in New York City.

  • Tony Leung has replaced Chow Yun-Fat in director John Woo’s $70 million historical epic Red Cliff. It’s reported that Yun-Fat left the film due to contractual demands that were not met by the production. Woo has worked with Leung before in Bullet in the Head.

  • Work is progressing on big-screen version of The Hardy Men, starring Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller as the grown-up version of the Hardy Boys detective brothers. Screenwriter Simon Kinberg has been enlisted to work on the latest draft of the script. Kinberg wrote Mr and Mrs Smith and will also produce the movie. Fox 2000 is the studio for The Hardy Men and they are looking to start shooting in June 2008.

  • Bruce Willis has signed on to play an intimidating school principal in The Assassination of a High School President. The film is supposed to be a hip homage to Chinatown and John Hughes movies set in a Catholic high school.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES REVIEW: The Prestige

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Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale,  Michael Caine, Scarlet Johansson and Rebecca Hall.

Directed by Christopher Nolan

130 mins 

The Prestige is a visually striking and psychologically interesting movie with a kind of sly narrative trickery up its sleeve. Like its two rival protagonists, it doles out its red herrings the same way a magician unspools his trick for an audience. And I mean to the very end. The story pits rival stage magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) against one another stemming from a tragedy to the former. As they try to one up each other in a game to uncover each other’s secrets, their obsession to unseat the other becomes deadly for both men.  

Adapted from a novel by Christopher Priest which was written in journal entries, the resulting screenplay is a layered piece of dual point views and sleight of hand. The direction by Christopher Nolan is stout and the film is above all else visually dense but understated. There are winning supporting performances by Michael Caine, Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson while the imagining of the period doesn’t feel stale but rather alive. 

Special Feature #1: The Director’s Notebook: The Cinematic Sleight of Hand of Christopher Nolan  

19 minutes 5 seconds 

Nolan narrates this piece which is divided into chapters about the many aspects and people that brought about the film’s vision to fruition. In particular, he discusses the challenge of making a period movie timeless and non-genre specific. He also delves into the power of the Victorian era and the relationship between scientists and magicians, specifically how the latter held sway over a public with secret séances. Nolan syas:

I didn’t want the film to feel too much as if it were set in the past. I really want to try and emphasize the aspects of that world that are exciting to a modern audience

In the section titled Conjuring the Past, the design and the look of the film is discussed where the synergy between production designer Nathan Crowley and cinematographer Wally Pfister (who worked with Nolan on Batman Begins) work to hold up a unifying mood. Crowley gives us a tour through the set on the Universal backlot, which was converted into a scummy Victorian London street. What’s unique here is the challenge of pulling out the modern aspects in a period film. In a little aside, Scarlet Johansson spends some time pointing the unique features on design of her costume. 

In The Visual Maze, the filmmakers explain using natural light to get a sense of immediacy and shooting everything handheld for shifting points of view. The Prestige is a film rich in its visual design right from the opening image of top hats and in Metaphors of Deception, Nolan delineates the movie’s internal rhythms and how employing visual metaphors reinforce the intricacies of the storytelling. Nolan’s brother, Jonathan Nolan, steps in to shed some light on the screenplay. 

One of the inspirations of the story is Nolan’s interest in Nikola Tesla and in Tesla: The Man who Invented the Twentieth Century, the mystery and aura of this scientist is explored and David Bowie was Nolan’s one and only choice to play Tesla. Throughout this special feature, there are also interviews with Christopher Priest, Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Rebecca Hall and others.  

Special Feature #2: The Art of The Prestige 

This is a quick and fast little section of still images divided into:

  • Film (26 images)

  • Behind The Scenes (23 images)

  • Costumes And Sets (27 images)

  • Poster Art (10 images)

All in all, this is a commendable disc but it’s sorely missing a few needed extras to make The Prestige indeed prestigious like:

  1. A feature length commentary by Nolan (with his brother Jonathan)
  2. An extensive look into the magicians of the Victorian era
  3. The contrasting approaches of both Jackman and Bale in creating their characters
  4. A documentary on some aspect of post-production

Predicting the Top 10 Grossing Movies of Summer 2007

Everyone knows that there is so much anticipation riding on this summer’s movies. The key number is 3 as movie franchises roll out the next beast in their marketing machines. The movies are as branded as Starbucks and Microsoft and the battle for box-office supremacy will be ugly. When the dust settles, there will be the inevitable losers and winners but moviegoers will ultimately decide the power of a movie franchise. So in the spirit of providing the uninitiated into the vagaries of the summer movie landscape, the editors at Behind the Scenes have employed a complex theorem to calculate the final tally of this summer’s onslaught of movies.  Here is our top ten box-office predictions for this summer:

10. RATATOUILLE (Walt Disney Pictures – June 29) 

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This delightful little romp from Pixar pits a rat against an eccentric chef in a Parisian restaurant. The trailer is funny and the killer team from The Incredibles led by Brad Bird will no doubt lasso in the sought after family demographic of kids and adults alike. The voices involve include Patton Oswalt, Jeneane Garafolo, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy and Peter O’ Toole. 

Final Tally:  $172 million 

9. EVAN ALMIGHTY (Universal Pictures - June 22) 

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The sequel of sorts to Bruce Almighty finds Steve Carell reprising his riotous newscaster, Evan, who ends up in Virginia only to find God (Morgan Freeman) instructing him to build an ark to stop an impending flood. Carell, who hurt his ankle while filming the movie, is looking to repeat his box-office success from last year with The Forty Year Old Virgin. That would surely propel him to the top ranks of the funny men in the industry. 

Final Tally:  $175 million 

8. LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (20th Century Fox – June 6)   Live Free Or Die Hard.jpg

Can John McClane escape another death wish? Bruce Willis returns as McClane to prove his mojo in the fourth installment of the Die Hard franchise. Picking up 18 years after the last Die Hard, McClane, who now works for Homeland Security, battles a group of cyber terrorists with the help of a young hacker (played by Justin Long, the dude in the Apple ads). Nothing beats the pounding of the Fox logo followed by a slam bang action scene with McClane. 

Final Tally:  $190 million 

7. THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (Universal Pictures – August 3)  The Bourne Ultimatum One-Sheet.jpg 

The dangerously cropped Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) finally returns home to the States. Still plagued by his amnesia, he has to fend off a group of highly trained killers, led by the CIA’s own David Straithairn. Paul Greengrass (Oscar nominated for United 93) returns to direct with Joan Allen and Julia Stiles co-starring. 

Final Tally:  $217 million 

6. RUSH HOUR 3 (New Line – August 10)    As the only bankable franchise for New Line (after retiring the Lord of the Rings trilogy), Rush Hour 3 reconnects Chris Tucker with Jackie Chan as they pursue the assassin to the Chinese ambassador. The trail ends up in Paris where both are really out of their element. Brett Ratner is directing traffic again. The main course here is a fight scene involving Tucker (cannot explain his inexplicable absence from the movies in the last 5 years) and the seventh tallest person in the world, a basketball player called Sun Ming Ming. 

Final Tally:  $244 million 

5. TRANSFORMERS (DreamWorks and Paramount – July 4) 

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The fans are foaming at the mouth for this one. Based on the Transformers toys and franchise, in a world pitting rival robots that can transform their shapes, the effects-heavy movie is slated for the coveted July 4 opening and has the most pressure to deliver. Michael Bay directs a cast that includes Shia LeBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson and Jon Voight. But the robots are clearly the stars here.

Final Tally: $290 million 

4. HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (Warner Bros – July 13) 

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The fifth Potter movies flies in on the eve of the final book in the series being released this summer, so anticipation and interest will be through the roof. Harry Potter, in his fifth year of the Hogwarts school, engages the resurrected Lord Voldemont (Ralph Fiennes) in a fiery battle. The usual stellar cast is back - Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith and Gary Oldman and the entire order of esteemed British actors. Which means you’re not one if you haven’t been cast in the Harry Potter movies. 

Final Tally:  $333 million 

3. SHREK THE THIRD (DreamWorks – May 18) 

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The gentle ogre lumbers back to find a suitable heir for the throne of the kingdom of Far, Far Away. The only thing is the possible heir is as big a pest as Donkey. Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and Antonio Banderas are back to voice their characters. This is the little green giant that could and will topple most other live action films.  

Final Tally: $375 million 

2. SPIDERMAN 3  (Sony Pictures - May 4th)

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It was easy when it was just boy sees girl, boy pines for girl and girl suspects boy is superhero. But then girl had to fall in love with boy. And now boy wants to marry girl. That sure throws a monkey wrench when that boy is Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) masquerading as Spiderman. The stakes are higher as a darker force takes over Spidey and the arrival of two new villains, Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Venom (Topher Grace) only makes thing worse. And there’s the New Goblin (James DeFranco), pitting and reinventing an old friend as a new nemesis. 

Final Tally: $394 million 

1. PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: AT WORLD’S END (Walt Disney Pictures – May 25) 

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The last we saw of Capt Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) was him being swallowed by a giant squid. We’re sure he’s going to emerge grimier and even grungier when he travels to the end of the world to fight off an alliance of pirates that includes Chow Yun-Fat. The big news is that of Keith Richards playing Depp’s old man and it was reported that he filmed his scenes drunk. Either way, this tidal wave will knock out your summer sails. 

Final Tally: $412 million 

So there you have it. We don’t know if this is a bold or safe prediction but we don’t mind if you call in the bookies. However, this prediction is no substitute for sound, legal advice and we warned you. There are other films that almost made it to the list and will still break the $100 million barrier. They include Ocean’s Thirteen, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Knocked Up and The Simpsons Movie. This is going to be a long, hot summer. 

BEHIND THE SCENES TV – Colin Farrell and Gong Li learn to salsa for ‘Miami Vice’

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Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez talk shop on their next projects after ‘Grindhouse’

 

So I was breezing through channels, which I hardly ever do,  and I landed on The Charlie Rose Show where Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were holding court.  It’s really great to see these two guys bask in their friendship based on their love for movies. The laid-back and calm Rodriguez is the perfect counterpoint to the frothing and foaming Tarantino, who gets carried away by the minutae and verve in describing everything with a resounding climax. But what was interesting is what both of these guys had to say about their next projects when asked by Rose.

Rodriguez mentions that Sin City 2 will most likely go into production this June and could be followed by a television series. That’s an interesting idea as the Sin City series of graphic novels could be expanded into a dark show, maybe on HBO or Showtime.

Tarantino, on the other hand, lays down the gauntlet on Inglorious Bastards, the WWII Dirty Dozen-type adventure movie, which he’s described many times as his next project:

The only reason I hadn’t done it yet is because it expanded into such a thing that I was literally writing a novel…at some point I almost abandoned it and like I’ll just have to turn it into a book but now, I mean, I could do it as a mini-series, I could do it as anything.

Tarantino also notes that he hates the biopic with a passion and would be the one genre he would never do. Yet he insists he’s always wanted to do a picture based on the life of John Brown. Tarantino even suggests that he would like to play Brown, a rebellious abolitionist, at some point. No word on a script but it sounds promising.

After the misfire of Grindhouse at the box-office (it’s amassed about $20 million so far), there’s no denying it’s time to throw themselves quickly into something else to redeem themselves in the eyes of the money men. The deflated Harvey Weinstein pronounced that Grindhouse was better off split into two movies. The worldwide release of Grindhouse could most likely see it as two features shown separately. Looks like it’s time to make papa Weinstein proud again.

DVD NEW RELEASES – Tuesday, April 17

FREEDOM WRITERS – WIDESCREEN

 

Special Features: 

  • Commentary by Director Richard LaGravenese and Hilary Swank
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Making 'A Dream'
  • Freedom Writers Family
  • Freedom Writers: The Story Behind the Story
  • Photo Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer

THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND – WIDESCREEN 

Special Features: 

  • Commentary by director Kevin Macdonald
  • 7 Deleted scenes with optional commentary by Kevin Macdonald         
  • Documentary: Capturing Idi Amin
  • Forest Whitaker: Idi Amin Featurette
  • Fox Movie Channel Presents: Casting Session- The Last King of Scotland 
  •  Theatrical Trailer
  • International Trailer  

NOTES ON A SCANDAL – WIDESCREEN

 

Special Features: 

  • Commentary by Director Richard Eyre
  • Notes On A Scandal: The Story of Two Obsessions Featurette
  • Notes On A Scandal: Behind the Scenes Featurette
  • A Conversation with Cate Blanchett and Bill Nighy Featurette
  • In Character with Cate Blanchett Featurette
  • Webisodes:
    1. Judi and Cate: Behind The Scandal
    2. The Screenplay
    3. Judi Dench
    4. Cate Blanchett

SMOKIN’ ACES – WIDESCREEN

 

Special Features: 

  • Audio commentary with writer/director Joe Carnahan and editor Robert Frazen    
  • Audio commentary with writer/director Joe Carnahan, Common, Christopher Holley and Zach Cumer
  • Deleted and extended scenes
  • Outtakes
  • Cowboy ending
  • The Line-Up  
  • The Big Gun 

SPIDERMAN 2.1

   

Special Features: 

  • Audio Commentary by Producer Laura Ziskin and Screenwriter Alvin Sargent

  • Spidey Sense 2.1-Trivia Track with Integrated Pop-Ups That Take You On the Set During Key Scenes

  • Sneak Peak: Spider-Man 3

  • Inside 2.1. Featurette

  • Multi-Angle: Danny Elfman's Score

  • With Great Effort Comes Great Recognition Featurette

  • VFX Breakdowns - an In-depth Look at the Visual Effects of Spider-Man 2.1

SHORT TAKES

 Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code.

  • Tom Hanks is close to returning to reprise his Robert Langdon role in Angels and Demons, the prequel to The DaVinci Code. Akiva Goldsman is yet to turn in his adaptation which also has director Ron Howard waiting in the wings. Inside sources say the movie is slated for a January '08 shooting date.

  • Oscar winner Forest Whitaker is in final negotiations to star in The Great Debate with Denzel Washington. Washington is a professor who forms a small debate team and takes them to the national championships beating Harvard along the way. Oprah Winfrey is one of the producers.

  • Philip Roth’s novella Dying Animal is lining up a stellar cast. Peter Sarsgaard, Dennis Hopper and Deborah Harry join the picture headlined by Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz about an erotic affair between a professor and a student with startling consequences. The film starts shooting next month in Vancouver.

  • David Mamet is delving into the world of Jujitsu when he starts shooting Redbelt in Los Angeles starting in May. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a jujitsu master conned by an underbelly of movie stars and show promoters and has to get back into the ring to regain his honor. Mamet has been running the show The Unit on CBS over the last year.

Only Blockbuster has exclusive content for ‘Bobby’ DVD

Emilio Estevez and Demi Moore in The Weinstein Company's Bobby

In what is working out as a skimpy deal for DVD consumers, Blockbuster is being granted exclusive content for the Bobby DVD from The Weinstein Company through which they have an exclusive deal. What that means for consumers is that they will not see a special feature on the DVD sold and rented outside of Blockbuster. The special feature in question is a 20-minute feature "The Life & Times of Robert F. Kennedy”, and recounts the life and times of the late senator. Blockbuster has signed an exclusive deal with The Weinstein Company to release their pictures in order to carve out a niche opportunity in the competitive DVD market where Netflix and others have eroded Blockbuster’s popularity.

Does that mean when Grindhouse is released there will be more special features on the Blockbuster Grindhouse DVDs than the rest? It surely won’t make me run out and rent the DVD from Blockbuster when it’s just a couple more special features. This exclusive partnership is a 4 year thing and we’ll see how this pans out in the long run.


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