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January 2009

January 26, 2009

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January 21, 2009

Sundance Slugfest: The Blow by Blow

By Amy Kaufman

PARK CITY, Utah -- Who said the passion has gone out of the movies? Emotions boiled over at the Sundance Film Festival Wednesday morning when film critic John Anderson repeatedly punched veteran publicist Jeff Dowd over a disagreement about "Dirt! The Movie!"

 

The slugfest took place on Wednesday morning after a screening at the Holiday Village Cinema . Dowd - who inspired the iconic "The Dude" character in "The Big Lebowski" - apparently asked Anderson about his dislike for the movie one too many times. Dowd, is in Park City to help sell the film.

 

In full view of witnesses at the Yarrow coffee-house, the critic punched Dowd – boxer-style - in the shoulder, chest, and then full on the lip.

 

Sundance hasn’t been this much fun since Harvey Weinstein got into a screaming match in a restaurant with producer Jonathan Taplin over who had actually bought the rights to the Australian movie Shine.

 

Wednesday’s disagreement began as Anderson and Dowd left the screening of the  environmental documentary, which is about the human connection to the dirt we tread on. Dowd asked Anderson -- whose is reviewing films for Variety and was the longtime critic for Newsday  – what he thought . According to Dowd, Anderson said he thought the film was simplistic and repetitive, "beating people over the head to make the same point."

 

Frustrated by the negative comments, Dowd countered that many people had loved the film. "If they like it, they're just sheep," was the film critic's reply, Dowd said. Anderson did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

 

But Dowd wouldn't accept Anderson's dismissal. He walked alongside the critic towards the Yarrow Hotel, urging Anderson to view the movie as an empowering work. The film critic was peeved, and ordered Dowd to leave him be or he’d punch him.

 

But Dowd didn’t, by his own admission. Instead, he returned to the restaurant with Jackie Martling, a radio personality who had also liked the film.

  

"I just want you to hear from one more person," Dowd said, reapproaching Anderson.

 

"I told you to get away from me. Get away from me right now!" warned Anderson.

 

"I'm telling you, this is a great movie," Dowd insisted.

 

Anderson stood up, assumed a boxer's stance, and punched Dowd three times, and then once more full on the chin.

Police arrived,  but Dowd said he wouldn't press charges because Anderson is a "really good guy and a father."

 

"From John's point of view… it might even be called harassment or something," the publicist admitted. "But frankly, at this moment of history, he has so much power if he pans a movie that people need to see."

 

To that end, Dowd says he and Park City Mayor Dana Williams are trying to organize a panel during the last few days of Sundance to discuss the altercation as well as the importance of the film.

 

 

coming soon: thewrap.com

 

Obama's Work Is Just Beginning

Barack Obama took the oath of office today as the first African-American president in U.S. history, and change was in the air.
 
During a soaring inaugural address, Obama praised the hard work of ordinary citizens and called on Americans to “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.” Among the projects he mentioned: building “the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.”
 
Some two million Americans packed into the Mall to watch the speech on JumboTrons. Cell phone companies laid on extra capacity to handle the myriad of text messages and photos coming from Washington. 
 
AIling titans like Ted Kennedy and Muhammad Ali made their way painfully toward their seats on the podium. During the luncheon that followed, the 76-year-old Kennedy, often called the liberal lion of the Senate, whose endorsement of Obama came at a pivotal moment in the campaign, collapsed and was taken to the hospital. 
 
There were heartwarming views of the Obama children -- youngest daughter Sasha gave her father a thumbs-up after his speech and fairly skipped along the parade route. Her older sister Malia snapped photos during the ceremony, taking in the awesome sight of more people on the Mall than had ever gathered there before in history, and the unprecedented passing of the mantle from the 43rd white president of the United States to the first black one.
  
But tomorrow, after the parade route is cleaned up and the Metro returns to a normal work-week schedule, after the crowds leave and the new president is left alone in the Oval Office to face a mountain of problems, Hollywood will start reading the fine print.
 
Atop the entertainment and media industry’s agenda as a new administration takes office:
 
Broadcasters want to know if Julius Genachowski, Obama’s still-unofficial choice to lead the Federal Communications Commission, will loosen the FCC’s approach to enforcement of indecency standards. The president-elect gave a subtle hint during the campaign when he argued for technology that helps “protect our children while preserving the First Amendment."
 
Movie studio heads want to know if the Obama administration will get serious about protecting movies from piracy, particularly as home video systems get more sophisticated and consumers start downloading material from their computers.
 
And Internet providers want to know what Congress will do about net neutrality, that buzz phrase for preventing a tiered system of the speed of Web content based on its source, ownership or destination.
 
Some tea-leaf readers think that Genachowski’s  appointment will mean an FCC policy more tuned to consumers than telecom companies. But business lobbies still have tremendous clout in Washington and for his part, Genachowski has been guarded at revealing many positions – as befits an official not yet confirmed by the Senate.
 
Another major change for the media industry is in the House of Representatives, where Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va) is replacing Ed Markey, the Massachusetts congressman, as Chair of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. Markey is a fixture on telecom issues who was known for his stalwart defense of consumers. Boucher, one of the co-founders of the Congressional Internet Caucus, favors net neutrality, and is eager to extend the Internet, with its potential to generate jobs and commerce, to rural areas like that of his southwestern Virginia district.
 
But that’s all tomorrow. This – and this night -- belonged to Obama, who was riding a wave of good will toward the White House. As Marc Anthony put it the other day, “Washington’s never had a bigger rock star at the helm.”

-- Johanna Neuman

January 20, 2009

Sundance News: Magnolia Buys 'Humpday'

In a sign of the unusual times for indie cinema, Magnolia Pictures announced its acquisition of "Humpday," a comedy by director Lynn Shelton ("Diggers"), for its video-on-demand business first, with a theatrical release to follow. The on-demand release will come in the summer of 2009, and theatrical will follow a month later, the company said. The movie starring Joshua Leonard and Mark Duplass is a romance about heterosexual one-upmanship.
 
More sales: Fox Searchlight bought worldwide rights to ‘Adam,’ by new director Max Mayer. The romance stars Hugh Dancy, Rose Byrne and Peter Gallagher.
 

Earlier:
"Black Dynamite," an homage to the blaxploitation films of the1970s, sold to Sony Worldwide Acquisitions for $2 million, IndieWIRE reported early Monday.
 
The film starring Michael Jai White, premiered on Sunday night, and a deal was struck in the early hours of Monday morning.
 
If the price quoted by the wire -- "high seven figures" -- is confirmed, then this year's Sundance is already on the way to a lively sales market, despite the doom-and-gloom predictions of an economic recession and a distribution crisis in the independent film world.
 
This is the second deal in which Sony has been involved. The trades reported that Sony Worldwide had partnered with Senator in an earlier deal for "Brooklyn's Finest."
 
Earlier: 
“Brooklyn’s Finest,” a cop drama directed by Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) was quickly snapped up on Saturday after a packed premiere at the Eccles Theatre. Senator Distribution paid under $5 million for North American rights, according to Mark Urman, the president of Senator. The film stars Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke, and follows the lives of three New York City cops battling the ethical and moral dilemmas on the job.
 
But that sum won’t go very far to cover the costs of the film, which had an estimated budget of $23-25 million. Gere has a pricey first dollar take on the pic, and the word on the street was that Miramax had an early deal to buy the film that the producers turned down.
 
Negotiations began immediately after the screening Friday evening, “as we were walking out the doors of the Eccles Theatre,” Urman said. “We were very, very aggressive and were ready to meet the requirements of whatever it takes to land a film like this. We went in with a plan of attack.”
 
Senator hopes to release the film during the fourth quarter so it will be up for awards consideration, possibly for Hawke’s performance, as the actor was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Fuqua’s “Training Day.” The soundtrack – which was entirely temporary due to the last-minute decision to bring the film to Sundance – will also have to be compiled. 

January 19, 2009

A New Day for Hollywood?

Obama inaug celebs 

    The inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s 44th president on Tuesday will herald an era of change in American politics, but it also seems sure to usher in a period of radically changed relations between Hollywood and the power structure in Washington.

    Artists, actors and musicians were among the first to throw their enthusiastic support behind Obama, back when he was a dark horse candidate in a sea of more experienced competitors.

    And the high-net-worth power brokers of the entertainment industry were the financial backbone of Obama’s campaign, even when its public face suggested that his aggressive advertising was funded by small individual donors. Everyone from David Geffen to Jim Gianopulos to Steve Bing to Jamie Lynton dug deep when the stakes rose higher and election day grew closer. The campaign returned to gulp from the Hollywood well again and again.

    But with the president rising to take office, the love affair enters a new and more tenuous stage. It could be a marriage made at the ballot box. But will it show up in any change at the box office?

    So far, Obama has not even dipped a toe into the conversation about all that’s ailing the entertainment industry.

   From the start of his presidency and during his eight years in office, George W. Bush consciously sought to distance himself from the entertainment industry. He had numerous reasons to do so. He sought a sharp break from the cozy relationship of his morally disgraced predecessor, Bill Clinton. Bush’s conservative politics found few friends on the left coast, aside from the occasional storyline of the torture-friendly series, “24.” And Bush’s fervent Christian faith seemed fundamentally at odds with the loose moral code in the land of Mammon.

    But as Washington adjusts to a new orientation toward the world of popular culture and media, numerous questions suggest themselves: what favors will Obama owe to the power brokers of Hollywood?  How much attention will he pay to the business of making culture? What initiatives will he bring to help the economic engine of popular culture rev up for the digital era?

    And apart from invitations to the White House, what role might the artists who aligned themselves so clearly with Obama the candidate play in a new administration?

     All this remains to be seen. It is a new day, a new year, a new era -- a clean slate. And a welcome one as seen from the distance of another ocean’s shores. 

    

Sundance News: 'Brooklyn's Finest' Snagged by Senator

Fuqua “Brooklyn’s Finest,” a cop drama directed by Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”) was quickly snapped up on Saturday after a packed premiere at the Eccles Theatre. Senator Distribution paid under $5 million for North American rights, according to Mark Urman, the president of Senator. The film stars Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke, and follows the lives of three New York City cops battling the ethical and moral dilemmas on the job.

But that sum won’t go very far to cover the costs of the film, which had an estimated budget of $23-25 million. Gere has a pricey first dollar take on the pic, and the word on the street was that Miramax had an early deal to buy the film that the producers turned down.

Negotiations began immediately after the screening Friday evening, “as we were walking out the doors of the Eccles Theatre,” Urman said. “We were very, very aggressive and were ready to meet the requirements of whatever it takes to land a film like this. We went in with a plan of attack.”

Senator hopes to release the film during the fourth quarter so it will be up for awards consideration, possibly for Hawke’s performance, as the actor was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Fuqua’s “Training Day.” The soundtrack – which was entirely temporary due to the last-minute decision to bring the film to Sundance – will also have to be compiled.

-- Amy Kaufman

Hollywood Basks in Obama's Glow

Bono Spago’s must be empty. Hollywood has decamped to Washington.

So many A-list celebrities are in town for the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama that the Washington Post predicted red-carpet gridlock.
 
One event – the “We Are One” concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Sunday afternoon – drew so many stars that it was hard to pick a headliner. Bruce Springsteen. Bono. Stevie Wonder. Mary J. Blige. will.i.am. Josh Groban. Sheryl Crow. And those were just the musical folks. In speaking roles: Tom Hanks. Queen Latifah. Tiger Woods. Denzel Washington. Jamie Foxx. With Lincoln looking on, in the place where both Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and singer Marian Anderson made history, Beyonce led the crowd 500,000 in a moving rendition of “America the Beatiful.”
 
For tourists, seeing the celebrities takes a roadmap, and good walking shoes. Oprah is in town to tape her TV show, at the Kennedy Center Monday, where Aretha Franklin is also doing a free concert Monday. Jay-Z is playing “in concert on the eve of change” at the Warner Theater Monday. Dionne Warwick and Ludicrus are doing their own concerts at the Marriott Wardman in NW, where names like Diana Ross and Mohammed Ali were among the record 1,000 guests who checked in Saturday.
 
Wyclef Jean performs at the Green Inaugural Ball hosted by former Vice President Al Gore at the Mellon Auditorium. Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez and Tony Palana appeared at a Union Station Latina party and Spike Lee, Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Tucker headlined the “Root Ball” at the National Museum of American History. At the Ritz Carlton in the West End, LA’s Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, stars of the political stripe, attended the hot-ticket FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising) Inaugural Fashion Show. The Creative Coalition, a social and political advocacy group founded in 1989 by Alec Baldwin, Christopher Reeve and Susan Sarandon, is hosing a $10,000-per-person, Hollywood-heavy inaugural ball Tuesday night at the new Harman Center. Not to be outdone, Arianna Huffington, doyenne of new media and no stranger to Washington as the former spouse of a former congressman, is throwing a huge bash at the Newseum Tuesday night bursting with marquee names, including Halle Berry, Ed Harris and Ron Howard.
 
During the presidential campaign, John McCain famously said that Barack Obama was a celebrity akin to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Hilton responded that she was “like, so ready to lead.” McCain’s jab was meant as an insult. But this week the comment looks prophetic.
 
Past presidents attracted a Hollywood crowd. Ronald Reagan, former president of the Screen Actors Guild, brought one with him. Bill Clinton gave celebrities the Lincoln bedroom, and made LA his favorite stop.
 
But Barack Obama is a game-changer in the history of politics and Hollywood. This time, it’s the celebrities who bask in his glamour, not the other way around. “This is our Olympics,” said Colleen Evans, a long-time observer of the Washington social scene who works for Marriott. “Only this time it will be a lot more star-studded than ever before.”
                                                                          - By Johanna Neuman

January 11, 2009

The Golden Globes: Making Hollywood Irrelevant

Winslet globes 08 

   The Golden Globe awards may have recaptured their party spirit on Sunday after last year’s strike-induced cancellation, but by the end of the evening the awards flirted dangerously with national irrelevance – rewarding one small film seen by few moviegoers, and indulging long, earnest speeches by well-lauded celebrities.

   “Slumdog Millionaire,” the raucous, inspirational tale of love from India, came the closest to being the star of the moment, winning Best Picture, Best Director for Danny Boyle, Best Screenplay for Simon Beaufoy and best score. The film was distributed by Fox Searchlight.

    But the film won no acting awards, had no known movie stars in it and has taken in just $38 million worldwide.

The movies nominated for Best Picture have had a hard time connecting with audiences this year. Only one of the best picture nominees broke the $100 million barrier at the box office, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which won no awards. And only “Slumdog” seemed to win the hearts of Globe voters – those 85 or so foreign journalists and freelance writers who make up the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

Whither Hollywood in 2009? With the industry no closer to finding a horse worth backing in the Oscar race, and the TV awards offering a replay of last year’s Emmys, with “30 Rock” and “John Adams” dominating, just as worrying was the lack of dramatic interest in the three-hour show in prime time on NBC.

For a moment, at least, it was interesting to watch Kate Winslet burst into tears over winning best actress and best supporting actress.

    But as the ceremony dragged on, even Martin Scorsese presenting a lifetime achievement award to Steven Spielberg could not lift the pace, or make the show feel like a necessary event. Spielberg spoke endlessly. Or it seemed endless. And what could be more interesting, entertaining – original, even - to watch Steven Spielberg finally recognized for his work?

Even the stars in the room appeared to have a hard time maintaining interested expressions as the director traced his life in film back to a train set in his basement. And come on, with all the money Dick Clark rakes in – couldn’t he have gotten together a decent montage of Spielberg’s work?

    It was a night in which the dresses were far more interesting to look at than anything up on stage. (Renee Zellweger appeared to wear her drapes, while Drew Barrymore was apparently channeling Marilyn Monroe shortly before her death.)

There will be a reckoning, I reckon. Sunday’s show came just a year after the Golden Globes ratings hit a historic low as the show was replaced by a bare-bones broadcast announcing the winners, due to the Writers Guild Strike. This year, despite the bottles of champagne visible on the dinner tables, no one seemed drunk or unhinged. It was left to Mickey Rourke to provide an edgy moment when he thanked his agent David Unger “for having the balls” to represent him.

A reminder: the Globes ratings plunged to 5.8 million in 2008, after a high of 20 million viewers in 2007, according to Nielsen ratings. This year? Anyone’s guess.

But the gravy train rolls on for the Hollywood Foreign Press. As Ricky Gervais deadpanned: “That’s the last time I have sex with 200 middle-aged journalists.” The Foreign Press is smaller in number, and on average older in age than that, as Hollywood insiders know well. Poor Ricky.

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