It looks like Daddy Warbucks has found his Annie in Beasts Of The Southern Wild star Quvenzhané Wallis. The girl with enough poodle purposes to stitch together a life-sized Sandy of her very own, the Oscar-nominated Wallis has been confirmed to Hollywood.com as the new leading lady to tackle the little orphan in Will Smith's remake of the classic. Previously, Smith's daughter Willow was set to take on the golden-hearted inhabitant of Miss Hannigan's home for girls, but departed from the project earlier this year (presumably to whip her hair back and forth a bit longer).
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But it wouldn't be a big-time remake without some other major names attached. Jada Pinkett-Smith is also on-hand to produce, alongside Sean (better known as Jay-Z) Carter. It seems only fitting Jay-Z would hop on board — given his own hard knock life and previously-confirmed affinity for the song with the same name.
The film's director Will Gluck (Easy A) has taken another stab at screenplay re-writes after Emma Thompson and The Devil Wears Prada screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna took a first and second stab at it, respectively.
According to the official statement from Sony's President of Production Hannah Minghella, we're in for a real treat (times three): "Quvenzhané Wallis is a true star and we believe her portrayal as Annie will make her a true worldwide star. She is an extraordinary young talent with an amazing range, not only as an actress but as a singer and dancer, and we can’t wait for audiences to further discover her."
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That's right, Wallis is one of those child stars who can act, sing, and dance! You can really learn it all in the Bathtub. Hushpuppy is a veritable force to be reckoned with. And if that wasn't enough, Wallis' bio proves further proof that she's both a child and a crazy-serious and impressive actress with the greatest of ease. Her bio from the press release lets us know that her "favorite pastimes are reading, singing, dancing, acting, and playing her iPod and Nintendo DS. Her favorite TV stars/singers are China McClain, Selena Gomez, and Miley Cyrus. Her favorite sports are basketball, volleyball, dance and cheerleading. Her upcoming films include a role in Twelve Years a Slave with Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender and director Steve McQueen." Oh, that's all? Annie is set to be released during the 2014 holiday movie season because of course it will.
What do you think of Wallis' casting as Annie? Let us know in the comments!
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[Photo Credit: WENN]
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What’s in a name? It’s a question that plagued The Bard, and one with which we still wrestle on idle Thursday afternoons. If you scan the local multiplex listings this weekend, you may wonder what’s with the name Parker. It seems such an innocuous label for a studio actioner starring Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez. In reality, Parker is a somewhat revelatory title. Though on the surface it merely refers to its titular character, the naming of this film Parker acknowledges its connection to an entire series, with entries dotting the cinematic landscape of the last several decades. Parker is a character created by author Donald Westlake (who sometimes wrote as Richard Stark). A master criminal who lives by his own code of ethics, Parker often works with crews, and is usually betrayed by a member of his own team... sending him out on the hunt for revenge.
Many of Westlake’s novels centering on Parker have been adapted for the screen. So why isn’t Parker billed as a sequel? Or a remake? The fact is that each of the previous films adapted from Westlake’s Parker novels has changed the name of its antihero protagonist. It is therefore entirely possible that you have actually seen Parker ply his criminal trade on screen multiple times in the past, and been totally unaware of it. We thought we’d help you navigate this strange name game with a complete guide to Parker in film.
Point Blank (1967) - Parker’s alias: "Walker"
The first, and arguably best, adaptation of one of Westlake’s Parker stories was John Boorman’s Point Blank. The movie is a trailblazer in the neo-noir movement. It centers on the same basic crime story content as previous film noir, but with even grittier characters, bleaker themes, and an amplification of violence. In Point Blank, Parker is called Walker, and is played by the incomparable Lee Marvin. One of Point Blank’s greatest strengths is Marvin’s raw, powerful screen presence. When he occupies a scene, it’s a military occupation. The story is based on Westlake’s The Hunter, in which Parker is double-crossed and left for dead after a heist, and goes on a brutal, ceaseless tear to retrieve his money and get revenge. John Vernon as the villain and Boorman’s seething, unflinching tone are also paramount to Point Blank’s legacy as one of the absolute best crime films.
The Split (1968) - Parker’s alias: "McClain"
Though most cinematic incarnations of Parker portrayed him as a Caucasian male, Gordon Flemyng’s The Split showed us that this need not be the case. This time around, Parker was dubbed McCain, and was played by former NFL running back Jim Brown. Though Brown became an icon of the blaxploitation movement, The Split was released a couple of years prior to the inception of that subgenre, making his casting in the lead an even greater nod to his undeniable talent. His charisma and intimidating physicality serve him well as the leader of a gang of thieves who execute a daylight heist during a football game. The success however does not curb the subsequent paranoia and fallout between the crooks… especially when the loot is stolen. The Split, based on the novel The Seventh, is a bit less focused than Point Blank, but its supporting cast more than makes up for its inconsistencies. Ernest Borgnine, Gene Hackman, Jack Klugman, and Donald Sutherland all appear.
The Outfit (1973) - Parker’s alias: "Macklin"
Robert Duvall would take up the mantle of Parker just a year after his Oscar-winning performance in The Godfather. In John Flynn’s The Outfit, based on Westlake’s novel of the same name, Parker takes the name Macklin. He finds out, after being released from prison, that his brother has been murdered by gangsters. The Outfit is interesting in that it’s the first iteration of a Parker story to touch upon the character’s family tree, the death of his brother offering new incentive for revenge. Though not quite as exciting as Point Blank or The Split, The Outfit is a glimpse into the bare-bones, pragmatic career-criminal grind. The relationship between Macklin and his friend Cody gives The Outfit much of its personality; Cody is played by southern-fried revenge film icon Joe Don Baker.
Payback (1999) - Parker’s alias: "Porter"
Most likely the filmic Parker with whom most people are best acquainted is Mel Gibson as Porter in Payback. Another adaptation of The Hunter, Brian Helgeland’s Payback is a stylistic throwback to the golden era of neo-noir. In fact, the cinematography casts a seemingly constant distinct blue hue over the entire film; almost a film navy more than a film noir. Payback is violent, funny, and irrepressibly cool. Gibson gives us an irrefutably bad guy, a thief and con man with no compunction toward taking lives, but one with so much swagger and charm that we can’t help but love him. Interesting to note with Payback is that Porter/Parker’s ultimate fate dramatically changes depending on whether you watch the theatrical or the director’s cut.
Those are the major entries into the nebulous Parker franchise, and all films well-worth delving into before watching Statham take on the role this weekend. For the sake of completionism, it should also be noted that Peter Coyote took on the role of Parker in the wholly underwhelming 1983 film Slayground. In that movie, Parker was called Stone. Also, Jean-Luc Goddard’s Made in USA is unofficially based on Westlake’s The Jugger; his Parker was a woman named Paula Nelson. [Photo Credit: Jack English/Film District]
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At the moment there are few greater clichés in the media than the freaking out single woman on the cusp of 30. Of course clichés are clichés for a reason worth exploring even through the lens of just one or two women as in Lola Versus. Unfortunately while the intention behind Lola Versus isn't that we should all be happily married by the age of 30 it still fits into the same rubric of all those "Why You're Not Married" books.
Lola (Greta Gerwig) has a gorgeous fiancé Luke (Joel Kinnaman) and they live in a giant loft together the kind of dreamy NYC real estate that seems to exist primarily in the movies. Just as they're planning their gluten-free wedding cake with a non-GMO rice milk-based frosting Luke dumps her. It's cruelly sudden — although Luke isn't a cruel man. Lola finds little comfort in the acerbic wit of her best friend the eternally single Alice (Zoe Lister-Jones) who is probably delighted to see her perfectly blonde best friend taken down a peg and into the murky world of New York coupling. Lola and Luke share a best friend Henry (Hamish Linklater) a messy-haired rumpled sweetheart who is kind and safe and the inevitable shelter for Lola's fallout. Her parents well-meaning and well-to-do hippie types feed her kombucha and try to figure out their iPads and give her irrelevant advice.
Lola Versus is slippery. Its tone careens between broad TV comedy and earnest dramedy almost as if Alice is in charge of the dirty zingers and Lola's job is to make supposedly introspective statements. Alice's vulgar non-sequiturs are tossed off without much relish and Lola's dialogue comes off too often as expository and plaintive. We don't need Lola to tell Henry "I'm vulnerable I'm not myself I'm easily persuaded" or "I'm slutty but I'm a good person!" (Which is by the way an asinine statement to make. One might even say she's not even that "slutty " she's just making dumb decisions that hurt those around her just as much as she's hurting herself.)
We know that she's a mess — that's the point of the story! It's not so much that a particularly acerbic woman wouldn't say to her best friend "Find your spirit animal and ride it until its d**k falls off " but that she wouldn't say it in the context of this movie. It's from some other movie over there one where everyone is as snarky and bitter as Alice. You can't have your black-hearted comedy and your introspective yoga classes. Is it really a stride forward for feminism that the clueless single woman has taken the place of the stoner man-child in media today? When Lola tells Luke "I'm taken by myself. I've gotta just do me for a while " it's true. But it doesn't sound true and it doesn't feel true.
In one scene Lola stumbles on the sidewalk and falls to the ground. No one asks her if she's okay or needs help; she simply gets up on her own and goes on her way. It's a moment that has happened to so many people. It's humiliating and so very public but of course you just gotta pick yourself up and get where you're going. In this movie it's a head-smackingly obvious metaphor. In one of the biggest missteps of the movie Jay Pharoah plays a bartender that makes the occasional joke while Lola is waiting tables at her mom's restaurant. His big line at the end is "And I'm your friend who's black!" It would have been better to leave his entire character on the cutting room floor than attempt such a half-hearted wink at the audience.
Lister-Jones and director Daryl Wein co-wrote the screenplay for Lola Versus as they did with 2009's Breaking Upwards. Both films deal with the ins and outs of their own romantic relationship in one way or another. Breaking Upwards a micro-budget indie about a rough patch in their relationship was much more successful in tone and direction. Lola Versus has its seeds in Lister-Jones' experience as a single woman in New York and is a little bit farther removed from their experiences. Lola Versus feels like a wasted opportunity. Relatively speaking there are so few movies getting made with a female writer or co-writer that it almost feels like a betrayal to see such a tone-deaf portrayal of women onscreen. What makes it even more disappointing is how smart and likable everyone involved is and knowing that they could have made a better movie.
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
The age-old debate over fate vs. free will has been and always will be a tough theme to crack in any medium but with the benefits of modern filmmaking technology the theory can be explored in ways that Philip K. Dick never imagined. However when one relies too heavily on spectacle to tell a story a piece of cerebral science fiction can quickly become just another action extravaganza. In this day and age there’s a fine line between the two; The Matrix walked that tightrope with style and grace while Next never found its footing in the first place. Fortunately the precious work of novelist Dick has for the most part been treated with respect by Hollywood (the aforementioned Nic Cage dud notwithstanding) but that doesn’t necessarily mean movies based on his stories are completely faithful to his vision.
Case in point: George Nolfi’s directorial debut The Adjustment Bureau an adaptation of Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team.” The film stars Matt Damon as David Norris a successful businessman and rising political candidate who after a chance encounter with the girl of his dreams (Emily Blunt) loses a crucial election. He happens to run into her on a Manhattan bus the following week before finding his office swarming with masked men who are “adjusting” everyone inside. Richardson (John Slattery) the man in charge captures Norris who unsuccessfully flees the scene after seeing behind “a curtain he wasn’t even supposed to know existed” as the enigmatic figure puts it. From that point on Norris must live with the knowledge that he (and we for that matter) is not in control of his own life. Rather the choices he makes fit perfectly into “The Plan” that’s been written by “the Chairman”.
In relation to my earlier statement I have to say that Nolfi’s picture looks stunning but his natural urban aesthetic doesn’t overpower the story. Sleek contemporary production design and elegant costumes characterize the high-concept story and the wraithlike agents who shape our destinies. Topically we’re dealing with some heavy material but Nolfi and editor Jay Rabinowitz move the action along at a brisk pace that keeps you engaged and entertained without having to try. The film is properly proportioned as a chase thriller romantic adventure and sci-fi fantasy and thankfully no component overshadows another.
Setting the film in the world of politics and big business helps make its larger-than-life revelations a bit more accessible (as do appearances from Michael Bloomberg Jon Stewart and Chuck Scarborough) while providing sub-text about the corruption involved in elections and campaigns (there are conspicuous shades of The Manchurian Candidate in the movie) but the writer-director often tries too hard for broad appeal. For a film with existential implications as severe as they are here the dialogue is at times hokey and superficial. Dick’s source material is far more abstract and Nolfi for the sake of commercial success panders to the palette of soccer moms and mallrats.
What’s worse is his unwarranted exposition of the Bureau a shadowy organization whose major allure is anonymity. Some secrets are best kept and less can be so much more when crafting a mysterious atmosphere; Nolfi reaches that level of magnetic curiosity but squanders it as he reveals the truth about the Bureau and its grand scheme. On the other hand he brushes over the technical lingo between agents Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) McCrady (Anthony Ruivivar) and others without explanation perhaps hoping that the ambiguous terminology will fool you into thinking that his script is smarter than it really is.
Even though Nolfi’s allegorical conclusions are uncomfortably ham-fisted the chemistry between Damon and Blunt alone is enough to enchant you; this is one highly watchable cinematic pairing that should be revisited as soon as possible. Their innocent relationship blossoms organically and together they make it seem as natural on screen as it is for their star-crossed characters. Even if you have a hard time believing in higher powers or manipulative Orwellian forces you’ll have faith in David and Elise’s fated relationship one of the most captivating couplings I’ve seen on the big-screen in some time.