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The Screening Room Blog
Monday, November 10, 2008
"In a Dream"

LONDON, England -- Sheffield Doc/Fest is a film festival, industry session programme and market place making for five intense days in November.

This is the festival’s 15th year and our first day was on Thursday, the 6th. We took a red-eye flight from Philadelphia, PA to Manchester, arriving early, dirty and exhausted. After hopping the train to Sheffield, we went straight to the Showroom Cinemas where our film was having its first screening. All we wanted was a few hours of sleep but there was no time.

The movie is called “In A Dream” and we began filming more than seven years ago. What began as a film about my father -- a well-known mosaic artist, and storyteller soon became a love story about my parents’ relationship as it teetered after 40 years on the verge of collapse.

Doc/Fest is the film’s international premiere, marking the first time we’ve shown it outside our native USA. The film will air in America next summer on HBO and since Doc/Fest is attended by hundreds of European buyers and film executives, we’re hoping the screenings here help us to attract a European broadcaster.

The first screening went very well. After the film, there was time for a short Q&A.
“How is your family doing?”

“They’re good, thanks.”

“Are they still totally crazy?”

“Yeah, but in a good way…”
Etc…

Just after the screening we were approached by representatives from the UK label of two of the bands whose music we used in the film (Colleen and Efterklang). They loved the movie, and we love their music so we all get drunk together, talked and laughed and made toasts to the movie and to the festival and to America’s incredibly brilliant and handsome new president Barack Obama.

“In A Dream” has one more screening at Doc/Fest. You can see it 7pm (1900) Saturday, 11/8 at the Showroom Cinemas. For more information on the film and to see a trailer, visit http://www.hzfilms.com/

There are over 150 films at this year’s festival from all over the world. The party ends on Sunday night.

-- Jeremiah Zagar (Director) with additional writing by Jeremy Yaches (Producer)

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Thursday, October 30, 2008
A meeting with Mr Bond
LONDON,England -- As I enter the room I realise I have Bond at a disadvantage. His trigger-finger and indeed his right arm is trapped in a sling -- a reminder of recent skirmishes on behalf of Her Majesty's Secret Service. I raise my right hand and move in.

His injured arm flails helplessly but at the last minute, with the cat-like reflexes that have made 007 the most fearesome opponent, his left hand moves like a flash, intercepts and parries. Bond, it seems, can give a handshake with either hand.

A black cardigan would make me look like I need a pipe, a pair of slippers and a nice log fire, but somehow on James Bond it seems the epitome of causal elegance.

Our eyes lock and we each take stock of the combatant before us. I make the first move, telling the hitman that he is not unknown to me: "I believe we have met before Mr Bond."

"Really, where?" he responds, "'Casino Royale'"? I can tell he's stalling for time.

"No, no," I tell him, "Golden Compass," I add, savouring my triumph so early in the encounter. I remember him but he could not remember me -- I put it down to my mastery of disguise and ability to blend in with other, lesser reporters.

I long to add, "And if I recall correctly you were wearing the same cardigan," but he recovers before I have time to press home my advantage.

"Then it must have been in this very room!" His eyes flash as he surveys the plush chamber within the sumptuous folds of The Dorchester Hotel -- home to many a movie junket, and as British as MI6 itself.

"Who do you work for?" he demands. Suddenly the tables are turned. "I'll ask the questions if you don't mind, Mr Bond," I parlay smartly, but he's undaunted: "Who do you work for?"

"I work for CNN Mr Bond, and I must warn you -- we have people EVERYWHERE!"

The stand-off ends in a draw. We both take our seats and the interrogation begins. Five minutes later I realise I'm as far as I'm going to get with this Agent Bond.

Through the glare of a camera light to his left I notice two fingers being drawn across the throat of a shadowy figure. It's the globally acknolwedged sign for terminating -- either an enemy or a tv junket interview.

One final question Mr Bond: "What is your blueprint for achieving success at an audition?" Quick as a flash he responds: "Keep smiling."

Behind him, the fingers are being drawn across the throat more urgently now and it's time to plan my exit strategy: "Thank you for your time."

I cannot resist a smile as he hesitates for a moment, clearly scanning my words for hidden meanings, secret messages or clues to future missions.

We rise together and repeat the ambidextrous handshake. As I leave the room two tapes are pressed into my hand by strangers disguised as cameramen.

At the door I encounter the agent of a rival organisation -- BBC or maybe Fox. We regard each other suspiciously. "I'd be careful." I remark pointedly, "He's in a foul mood."

Judging by the expression on my enemy's face, my campaign of disinformation succeeds.

I smile and turn up the collar of my coat against the biting cold of a November morning in London and head for my meeting with "N", CNN's London Bureau Chief.

-- From Neil Curry, Screening Room Agent

To watch or read The Screening Room's interview with Daniel Craig go to www.cnn.com/thescreeningroom or watch more videos on CNN's YouTube page.

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Monday, October 27, 2008
Return to form for Woody Allen
LONDON, England -- Lust, passion, laughter, art, a beautiful city and a ménage a trois with two of the world’s most beautiful actresses -- you couldn’t ask for more perfect ingredients for a great Woody Allen tragic-comedy.

What some are calling a true return to form for Allen with “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona,” is actually the evolution of a form he has been experimenting with for quite some time.

Allen, a self-confessed neurotic, seems to have found a new self in Europe, filming most of his latest movies on the continent which has often been more appreciative of his talents than his native United States.

Mostly, his new-found confidence has paid off. “Match Point” was received in the main positively and while 2007's “Cassandra’s Dream” is one of only few movies that made me fall asleep, he has now succeeded in most critics’ eyes with “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona.”

Scarlett Johansson and equally luscious-lipped co-star, Rebecca Hall, who play respectively Cristina and Vicky, are best friends spending the summer in Barcelona. While Vicky, who is engaged to a good but terribly lackluster man, believes that true love can only mean commitment and stability, Cristina is a fervent soul who insists love can only mean deep passion and bottomless pain.

Both their worlds are turned upside down when they meet Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a confident, passionate Spanish painter with a taste for ménages a trois -- Bardem being infinitely sexier in this role than he was as a serial killer with a bob haircut in “No Country for Old Men.”

But the incontestable star of the movie is Penelope Cruz, who plays Maria Elena, the psychotic but brilliant ex-wife of Juan Antonio. Cruz brings a depth to the character that Allen rarely elicits from his actors and that Johansson and Hall could only dream of.

In the end, the movie works because it deals with a theme to which most women can relate. Should I stick with that great guy, who guarantees a stable and fine life-partnership, or do I leave him to roam the world in search of the passionate, sexually-charged, volatile artist-type more likely to leave me in pieces?

I somehow hoped that Woody Allen, who has himself been through the torments of love, would provide that magic answer. As usual, however, Allen offers only questions.

But while parts of the movie come off tragic, he takes the theme of love with a pinch of salt. A choice the audience seemed to appreciate responding with little other than laughs and applause.

Do you think "Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona" is a contender for Best Picture at the Oscars?

-- From Anouk Lorie for CNN

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Friday, October 24, 2008
Fact and fiction meet in "W"
(LONDON, England) -- Could it be more timely? As America prepares to go to the polls, “W,” Oliver Stone’s biopic of the still incumbent president, George “Dubya” Bush tells the story as that of a heavy-drinking frat boy who found God and made it into the White House -- twice.

Stone’s treatment of a man he presents as the world’s most influential idiot is, in fact, surprisingly gentle. Dubya’s deep unpopularity and catalogue of political blunders would have been the perfect license for a damning portrayal.

Instead, while not exactly giving him the kid glove treatment, Stone’s film takes a sometimes mocking (check out the multitudinous close ups of Bush’s patriotic belt buckles with Texas flag design -- and later the Presidential seal) sometimes sympathetic look at Dubya -- and it is an effective psychological portrait of the man who somehow became president.

Stone is helped along by Josh Brolin as the lead of an impressive cast, who, while ‘getting’ Dubya’s mannerisms and ticks, doesn’t ham it up with a straight impersonation. The film portrays Dubya as the quintessential moneyed jock with nothing much in his head -- “Don’t think about it too much, Pappy. It’ll screw you all up,” he counsels Bush Sr. on the subject of whether or not to invade Iraq first time round.

The film opens with Dubya and his advisers (Condi Rice played by Thandie Newton, accompanied by Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and co.) conjuring up the phrase "axis of evil" and two things very quickly become clear. First of all, Dubya may think he’s in charge but, according to Stone, it’s his advisers who are making the real decisions -- “I’m the President. I’m the decider,” he reiterates to Rumsfeld a few times during the film. Stone's depiction of Dubya's utterly flip attitude to matters of state implies it must have taken more than a twitch of the strings of influence to get him where he is today.

Stone presents Dubya as a charismatic Texan cowboy who possess the confidence and quick wit of a man born to be a "master of the universe" -- admittedly more so around the poker table than in White House press conferences. But critically, he comes across as very human. The kind of "average Joe" that the average Joe would like to sit down with and slug a beer.

While there are a fair number of Bushisms in evidence – “You fool me once, shame on you. You fool me twice and … you can’t fool me again” -- we also see a man strangled by the constrictions of a dynasty that has been built up over a few hundred years, and who has been dealt with very harshly by Bush Sr. “What do you think you are? A Kennedy? You’re a Bush,” he barks when Dubya is arrested after some post-ballgame pranks at Yale.

Visually, the film fails to impress and it’s obvious that it was made very quickly -- Stone says he wanted to get it out before the U.S. election. It also ends very ambiguously, but then the story of Dubya’s presidency and its significance for the current race is still unfolding.

Josh Brolin makes a very convincing George W. Bush. Who would you cast to play Barack Obama, John McCain or, even Sarah Palin?

-- From CNN's Mairi Mackay

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Is 'Frost/Nixon' the thinking man's 'Rocky?'


LONDON, England -- I've just watched the stunning "Frost/Nixon," a feature that boasts exceptional acting performances, with Frank Langella’s portrayal of disgraced U.S President Richard Nixon a standout.

Director Ron Howard should also be praised for his careful, considered depiction of the runup to one of the most watched TV moments in modern American politics.

The film starts in the aftermath of the 1973 Watergate scandal. Following Nixon’s resignation, television presenter David Frost attempts to raise sufficient capital to tempt the ex-president into a TV interview. Nixon duly agrees thinking, along with most of the world, that he is more than an intellectual match for his interrogator and will simply steamroll over him and reconstruct his badly tarnished public image.

Framed intimately in a behind-the-scenes setting, the audience are introduced to the characters of both Frost and Nixon and treated to a refreshingly human look at their contrasting egos and frailties.

Both men share similar desires for public rehabilitation and resurgence -- but before long it appears that only one of them will be able to achieve this. The result is an intellectual fight to the political death that has led some critics to describe the film as “the thinking man’s 'Rocky'."

Peter Morgan’s highly-praised play is just as impressive as a feature and Sheen and Langella are well supported with an array of acting talent that includes Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Toby Jones and Matthew Macfadyen.

One of the film's most startling achievements is to create if not sympathy then at least a degree of empathy for a character of such historical notoriety as Nixon -- and it's credit to Howard, Morgan, the cast and the crew.

An early tip for Oscar recognition, "Frost/Nixon" appeals simply as a character study and maintains both intrigue and tension throughout, even to those who have no interest in politics. No mean feat for an event so widely covered at the time.

Frost/Nixon has its world premiere on October 15 as part of the London Film Festival Opening Gala.

From CNN's Simon Laub

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Why you should thunder along to 'Tropic'


LONDON, England -- A movie directed, co-produced, co-written and co-starred by Ben Stiller was never going to be an artistic chef-d’oeuvre. Never mind, cause “ain’t nothing but a thang,” as one of the lead actors would say.

The moguls behind "Tropic Thunder” didn’t aspire to make a movie with timeless lessons learned on the battlefront. This picture was meant to be a spare-no-expenses, “full-blown” (and there are more bombs going off than you’d find in the latest "Rambo"), hilarious flick. And despite all the controversial uproar surrounding the film’s depiction of the mentally challenged and minorities, hilarious it was.

What you take from it all depends on your expectations going in. Personally, I slipped into the theater after arriving ten minutes late for the screening of French drama “I Loved You So Long.” And for once, I was grateful to have been stuck in traffic.

Rather than leaving with an air of “yes, I understood the meaning of life,” I left with the giggle bug still ravaging my tummy and a good dose of self-depreciating humor to lighten the day.

More surprising than the good humor though, was the impressive acting. Robert Downey Jr. can do no wrong these days, this time brilliantly playing an oddball, ego-maniac actor who undergoes skin pigmentation alteration to play a black soldier. Tom Cruise has a cameo but brilliantly delivers as evil and repugnantly hirsute producer, Less Grossman.

Publicists for the film steered clear of “politically incorrect” criticism by claiming it was all meant to poke fun at the movie insiders themselves; depicting Hollywood’s overblown ego. In one candid scene, Robert Downey Jr’s character tells Ben Stiller’s that it is never smart to go “full retard” for a role, satirizing the ridiculous extent actors go to in their quest for an Oscar.

While doubts may still persist about these depictions, "Tropic Thunder" has proved a hit with most audiences. So if you are not faint-hearted (one character tries to keep fake guts pouring out of his stomach), generally do not roll your eyes when someone makes a fart joke (there are a good number of those) and are up for some good, silly humor in these otherwise serious times, then Thunder off to Tropic.

From Anouk Lorie for CNN
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Artfully done


LONDON, England -- Damien Hirst's formaldehyde shark and gilded calf are sold for millions while banks crumble, but art has always delighted in courting paradox and eluding definition.

The same can be said for the documentary "Beautiful Losers." Opening with an artist describing a painting as "so bad that I love it," the story, just as the art it documents, resists conventional categorization.

The story follows a tightly-knit group of like-minded thinkers in the early 1990s who gravitated towards a small NYC storefront gallery called Alleged and combined to create easily accessible art that would reflect their lives.

Following in the traditions of Warhol and Basquiat, this creative think-tank drew on their diverse roots in the DIY subcultures of skateboarding, surf, punk, hip-hop and graffiti to assert their conviction that art could be brought down to street level and out of the sometimes ivory-towered, intellectual elite of international galleries.

Directed by founder of the movement and Alleged gallery owner Aaron Rose, the documentary traces the rags to riches story of the group who, despite little formal artistic training, now tour the world with their Beautiful Losers exhibition, featuring anything from installation art to graffiti.

With a soundtrack scored by Beastie Boy collaborator Money Mark, we are introduced to the variety of artists that comprise the group. They include (among others) Harmony Korine, screenwriter of controversial drama "kids," "Thumbsucker" director Mike Mills and Geoff McFetridge, a graphic artist who counts highly successful adverts for Pepsi and Nike among his commercial achievements.

The collective also boasts the acclaimed graffiti artist Barry McGee and his late wife Margaret Kilgallen. A formidable artist in her own right, Kilgallen's passing provides a touching backdrop to the history of the group, and the feature contains a tribute to her role as a driving force in Beautiful Losers artistic development and integrity.

As the audience watches the Beautiful Losers exhibition snowball to worldwide acclaim, it is treated to an uplifting story of self-belief, creativity and success against the odds.
Oscar Wilde once said a critic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing -- but it is the undeniable value of their art that "Beautiful Losers" impresses.

The ability to harness their wealth of creativity and insist upon its worth long before public recognition is worthy of respect from even the most cynical.

Although this inspirational and uplifting work could be criticized for being overlong, it is nevertheless mandatory viewing for anyone with creative aspirations.

Beautiful Losers will be screened at the London Film Festival on October 18 at 18.30 and October 21 at 16.15.

-- From CNN's Simon Laub

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Thursday, October 2, 2008
Sherlock, stock and two smoking barrels?

Film buffs were baffled earlier this year when Warner Brothers announced that Guy Ritchie, the British master of the gritty gangster flick, is to direct the studio's screen adaptation of Sherlock Holmes.

Would Ritchie turn the legendary inspector into a foul-mouthed East London thug? Or cast his wife Madonna to play Holmes' female foil Irene Adler? Bloggers and cinephiles around the world have been struggling to picture what the movie might look like ever since.

At a press conference in London yesterday, Ritchie finally shed some light on his vision for the film: "It won't be hallmarked with what people know me to do," the 40 year-old director confirmed, "it won't be a traditional 'Guy Ritchie thing.'"

For one, the Warner Brothers budget far exceeds any amount Ritchie has had to his disposal before. A factor underlined by the star-studded cast: Robert Downey Jr. will play the sleuth, with Jude Law as his faithful companion Watson.

But Holmes enthusiasts fear that Warner Brothers' aims of reaching Blockbuster status may do the production more harm than good. While Ritchie and screenwriter Lionel Wigram were keen to emphasize that they will remain as true to the original novels as possible, they also explained that the character would be "modernized" and made more "adventurous."

One of the ways they plan to do this is by placing greater emphasis on the detective's sword-fighting and boxing abilities. "In the novels, fights are referred to off-stage; we will bring them on-stage," explains Wigram.

Could Ritchie and co be turning Sherlock Holmes into yet another action -- or even super -- hero? It seems entirely possible, given that the Iron Man himself, Downey Jr. will be taking on the role.

Whether this proves to be a recipe for success, or excess, remains to be seen. With shooting in London and Liverpool set to begin shortly, audiences will have to wait until early 2010 for the new, revamped Holmes to hit cinemas.

What do you anticipate Sherlock Holmes will be like: mockney shambles or brilliant Brit-flick? Tell us below.

-- From Marco Woldt for CNN

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The Screening Room brings you the inside track on all aspects of the movie business around the globe. Find out what presenter Myleene Klass has been up to, and send us your comments and suggestions for our Top 10 movie list of the month.
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