February 29, 2008

Women at the Box Office the Weekend of February 29, 2008

There are three semi-wide films vying for the female audience this weekend, and two other limited releases. Penelope and The Other Boleyn Girl seem to be going after the same market -- young women not interested in Will Ferrell's Semi-Pro -- and Bonneville is looking to tap into the older female market. Vivere is opening in NY and LA and the documentary Beyond Belief about two women whose husband's were killed on 9/11 and their journey to Afghanistan to help widows like themselves. (I saw the film at last year's Tribeca Film Fest. It was quite moving.) For more details on where its playing: Beyond Belief

Check out my reviews/ interviews from earlier this week on Vivere and Bonneville.

Penelope tells the fairy tale story of a young woman addled with a long family curse that the next born girl child would be doomed to live life with a pig's snout until she finds someone of her "class" to love her. Christina Ricci plays Penelope has spent her life hidden by her parents (mostly her mother played by Catherine O'Hara) so that she does not have to experience the world's cruel treatment of people who looks different.

A series of proper suitors are engaged on the search to break the curse and it is only when Penelope realizes and embraces that she is happy with herself and the way she looks pig nose and all, that the curse is broken.

The film was shot two years ago and was produced in part by Reese Witherspoon's Type A films. Witherspoon plays a small part (which she probably had to agree to do to get financing.) Sadly, she's too big a star for small parts and she seems out of place here. The film also stars a younger and greener (and freer) James McAvoy before his breakout performances in The Last King of Scotland and Atonement. This guy really has the goods, he lights up the screen.

I thought the film was cute and the story was touching. I think it's really good for the younger set and has a great message which is that we all need to love ourselves for who we are no matter what we look like.

The film is written by first time screenwriter Leslie Caveny whose goal was to rework the typical fairy tale "We've seen many fairytales where the woman loves the guy no matter what he looks like, so I wanted to create a story giving the woman the same treatment."

On the complete opposite end is The Other Boleyn Girl, this weekend's guilty pleasure movie. Big costumes, big dances, lots of deception. Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman play Mary and Anne Boleyn, the two sisters who seem to have a new movie or mini-series based on their lives each year. The film is based on Phillipa Gregory's best-selling historical novel that tells the story we all know too well. I've never been a big fan of Johansson's and this movie doesn't sway me any more in her favor. She seems shocked (shocked!) at the continued treachery of her sister played by the slumming Natalie Portman. Eric Bana is disappointing as King Henry. This bland film made me even more excited for the return of The Tudors on Showtime later this spring.

Films Opening
Penelope - 1,196
The Other Boleyn Girl - 1,166
Bonneville - 101
Vivere- NY/LA
Beyond Belief - NY

Remaining in Theatres
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
A Walk to Beautiful (LA)
27 Dresses
P.S. I Love You
The Golden Compass
The Savages
Mad Money
How She Move

Opening March 7
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Girls Rock

Emma Thompson Saves Young Actress from Starving

Missed this from earlier this week. It's worthy of a full copy and paste (from the First Post)

Brit actress saved by outraged Emma

The English actress Emma Thompson has stepped in to protest about an up-and-coming British actress, of seemingly perfect proportions, being required by an American film company to lose weight for her next role. Hayley Atwell may be the latest muse of Woody Allen, starring in his new film Cassandra's Dream, but she didn't measure up for Miramax Films, who are behind the big-screen remake of Brideshead Revisited.

Having been cast as Julia Flyte, the gilded scion of an aristocratic family played in the original TV series by Diana Quick, the 25-year-old Londoner was asked to shed a few pounds.

Thompson, who appears in the remake as Lady Marchmain (opposite Michael Gambon in the old Laurence Olivier role as Lord Marchmain), learned of Atwell's predicament when she invited her to dinner at her home.

Says Atwell: "I went round to Emma's one night and she was getting very angry that I wasn't eating all the food she was giving me. I told her why and she hit the roof." The no-nonsense Thompson was so outraged that she called the producers the next day and threatened to resign from the film if they forced Atwell to lose weight. Faced with Thompson - a two-times Oscar winner - on the warpath, Miramax Films swiftly relented.

This is why I love Emma Thompson.

News from the Week

  • Cate Blanchett is one busy woman. About to give birth to her third child, and running the Sydney Theatre Company with her husband she has agreed to chair a culture think tank, Towards a Creative Australia. Blanchett to Chair Culture Forum
  • Uma Thurman is producing her second film The Accidental Husband written by three women. She thinks things are getting better for women in Hollywood.
“I think female writers and directors have been getting more work in recent years,” she continues, her slender fingers fiddling with the fine blonde hair scraped back from her face. “The slow move towards Hollywood accepting women in the employer and leadership positions is getting better. I think we’re all growing up more and more. There is some positive movement, and that makes me happy.”
Yet she bought the rights to the film cause she couldn't get a part.
I bought the rights and developed the story because nobody at the time was letting me do comedy,” explains the 37-year-old New Yorker, a hint of frustration creeping into her otherwise sanguine tone as she recalls the earlier stages of her career.
Uma Thurman, Producer
  • ABC will bring back the Women's Murder Club in April with a new showrunner. Gotta say I'm kind of pissed since I thought the show was fine. The good news is that Sarah Fain and Elizabeth Craft were quickly hired by Joss Whedon to work on his new show Dollhouse.
  • Lipstick Jungle seems to have survived. NBC ordered six more scripts.
  • Overture Films will release Sunshine Cleaning, Christina Jeffs drama starring Amy Adams and Emily Blunt. Deal is for around $2 m, that's $5 m less than it cost them to make the film. Amy Adams was in the highest grossing film starring a woman in 2007.
  • The Business of Being Born continues its run opening in Seattle this weekend. Here is another interview with Executive Producer, Ricki Lake: The Business of Being Born

February 28, 2008

Bonneville- A Road Trip with Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Joan Allen- Opens Tomorrow

I was so excited to see that a film starring Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Joan Allen was happening. I am a fan of each actress and am really happy that this script brought Jessica Lange back to the big screen. Lange plays Arvilla Holden, a recent widow who promised her free spirited, traveler husband that he would never be buried below ground. The problem for her is that her late husband's daughter played by Christine Baranski (yes, he was 20 years older than Lange) wants her father buried next to her long deceased mother. The kicker is that the stupid dead husband never changed his will after they got married, so Arvilla will be homeless if she does not deliver the her husband's ashes for a proper internment.

So, Lange breaks out the old Bonneville and along with her two best friends, Margene (Kathy Bates) and Carol (Joan Allen), they journey west from Pocatello, Idaho to Santa Barbara, CA. This, being a road movie you get the inevitable flat tire and rescue by a young hot man worldly beyond his years on his own journey; a trip to the Grand Canyon; a rented houseboat disaster; and of course the leering truck driver (Tom Skerritt) who turns out quite the gentleman who falls for Margene. The trip also brings the women closer together and helps them rediscover their love for each other.

The film is directed by first timer Christopher N Rowley and his inexperience is evident onscreen especially because of the seasoned actresses he is directing. But the women clearly had fun making the film and seeing Lange, Bates and Allen onscreen together should be reason enough for anyone to fork over $10 bucks.

Lauren Timmons is an Associate Producer on the film. She was the one who first read the script at her company and was instrumental in all phases and facets of the film.

She answered a few questions about the film.

Women & Hollywood: How did you come across the script for Bonneville?

Lauren Timmons: After I finished classes for my MFA at Columbia, I started working in development at SenArt (the Tribeca production company behind “The Station Agent” and the Academy Award Winning Documentary “The Fog of War”). The writer and director of “Bonneville” had seen and loved “The Station Agent,” and they sent us their script because that character-driven, funny, uplifting feel was exactly what they were going for with “Bonneville.”
I was the first at SenArt to read “Bonneville” – I’d read hundreds of scripts at this point, and this story really stood out. I loved the characters, I loved that it was about friendship, fun, travel, living life to the fullest. And I loved that starred three women at an age that Hollywood so often relegates to playing the “supporting mother/grandmother” roles. Robert May, who founded SenArt, loved “Bonneville” as well – and so we started working with the writer and director to refine the script!
W&H: Explain what an associate producer does?
LT: I’ve been involved literally in every step of “Bonneville’s” creation since development: raising the money, casting the film, pre-production. I was on set in Utah and California when we shot it, and around for the post-production/editing as well. And finally, I’ve been working very closely on the marketing and release, which is really exciting. We’ve created an amazing website, www.BonnevilleTheMovie.com, where you can not only see the trailer and find out more on the film, but you can watch an amazing “Behind the Scenes” featurette, enter to win fabulous vacations, download driving directions to take the actual road trip Jessica brings her friends on in the film, and a lot more!
W&H: What in the script resonated with you that you wanted to pursue it?
LT: As I mentioned above, I was immediately struck by the script. I loved the characters - that this was a story about three women, each with a real journey to go on. It was funny, sad, and completely character-driven. It drops you into these women’s world and you really feel like you’re right there on the road with them. Plus, it was fun - a road film, a buddy film. It leaves you feeling good, which is extremely refreshing – it’s a celebration of friendship, fun, travel and living life to the fullest.
W&H: Scripts with female leads are few and far between and this film has three strong female characters. Why do you think there are some few female centric films in Hollywood?
LT: I keep hearing that “women will go see a movie starring men, but men won’t see a movie starring women” but I think that’s crazy. There have been huge “female centric” hits - “Calendar Girls,” “Something’s Got to Give,” “The Devil Wears Prada” – and most recently, “Juno.” I truly believe that if it’s a good story with good characters, it has every opportunity to be a really big, profitable success. And I think women want to see films that resonate with their lives. At preview screenings of “Bonneville,” I can’t tell you how many women have come up to us afterwards, telling us how passionate they are about the film, and asking why more films aren’t made like this. What we tell them is, bring every one of your friends to see “Bonneville” and truly help us make it a success – and there will be more films made like it!
W&H: You worked with a first-time director on the project. Did he come attached to the script and if not, how did you pick him? Why was he the right person to direct this film?
LT: The director, Christopher N Rowley, developed the screenplay along with the writer, Dan Davis. They had brought the screenplay to SenArt together, and we spent over a year working with them on further development, and then on all the pre-production leading up to filming. So we had a long period to get to know each other, and Chris really impressed us with both his preparation and vision. As an independent film company, you absolutely look for new voices, first-time directors with a fresh vision and something interesting to say. Tom McCarthy hadn’t even directed a short film before he made “The Station Agent,” and it’s especially exciting to give someone a shot to make a film that truly might never get made otherwise.
W&H: You yourself are a writer and director. Why do you think women writers and directors continue to struggle to get their work made in Hollywood.
LT: I really do think it’s getting better, and I have every hope that women writers AND directors will continue to get more and more work made at a really rapid pace. I thought it was great that three of the five best original screenplay nominees were women this year, with Diablo Cody winning for “Juno.” A lot of people who see “Bonneville” are surprised that it was written and directed by men, but the screenwriter, Dan Davis, is a really smart and insightful guy who wrote the film from his life. Jessica Lange’s character was very closely based on his grandmother, Margene (Kathy Bates) was a close family friend, and Carol (Joan Allen) was his Aunt Carol, who we actually met on set. But in any case, I think we should absolutely be supporting films both made by and made about women.
W&H: The film was shot in the fall of of 2005. What was the delay from shoot to release?
Well, first of all, it took awhile to find the right balance – “Bonneville” is a true mix of comedy and drama, of character and adventure. Along the way, we would screen cuts of the film to audiences to see how they reacted – and as we went on, we started to get more and more comments like “why doesn’t Hollywood make films like this anymore”. Then, when we started talking to distributors, we found out – in large part, distributors think it’s simply a lot harder to market to “Boomers” than teenage boys. And by this point, we believed so strongly in the film, and we felt that we knew this audience so well, that ultimately we decided we could do a better job. So we partnered with Jeff Lipsky and formed SenArt Films Releasing. And we’re doing all kinds of “outside the box” outreach to get the word out. A key part of our promotion has been preview screenings - we want people to see “Bonneville,” love it, and talk about it to all their friends and family! So we’ve orchestrated screenings for art groups, senior communities, film clubs, boomer groups, the Red Hat Society, and two weeks ago the film screened as a special event on all 16 of Princess Cruises’ ships! We’ve also partnered with AAA, igourmet.com, Xanterra Resorts, and other companies that are helping get the word out to our audience. And what we tell everyone is, if you like “Bonneville,” share it with everyone you know – let’s prove that Boomer women will get out to the theater and support an uplifting, adult story!
W&H: What do you want people to walk out of the theatre thinking after they see the film?
LT: I think ultimately audiences will leave moved, and uplifted. “Bonneville” is a celebration of friendship and of freedom, of letting go of the past and embracing everything life has to offer.
Film opens tomorrow in markets across the country.

February 27, 2008

Interview With Angelina Maccarone, director of Vivere

Vivere is another one of those hard to describe films. It takes place on Christmas eve in a dreary town outside Cologne, Germany. Three women of different generations-- two sisters and a mysterious older women -- are on the run from their lives and each is affected by the other women in her journey towards creating her future.

Francesca (Esther Zimmering) has been taking care of her her sister Antonietta (Kim Schnitzer) and their father for years driving a cab. When Antoinetta takes off for Rotterdam with her musician boyfriend, Francesca goes in search of her. On her journey she encounters Gerlinde (Hannelore Elsner) and they form an unlikely team in the search for Antoinetta.

Their story is told from each woman's individual perspective. When the stories converge at the end, the three have come together for each other and you get a glimmer that maybe they have created some new connections to each other that will help each of them on her next journey.

The film is written and directed by Angelina Maccarone and produced by Anita Elsani. Angelina answered some questions about the film for Women & Hollywood.

Women & Hollywood: You are the writer and director of this film. How did you come up
with the idea for the film, and did you write it with the intention that you would direct it?

Angelina Maccarone: Since I am a writer/director as you said, I did write VIVERE with the intention to direct it as well. In this case it is an important part of the film since the way it is shot is interwined with my intention of showing three different views of basically the same events and thus make it the subjective story of each of the three protagonists. The basic idea was to show three women of different generations who are at some crossroads in their lives. They all have to make a seemingly small decision that will have great impact onto their lives.
W&H: Explain the title: Vivere.
AM: VIVERE is Italian and means "to live". The three women are in a kind of waiting situation. They wait for other people to make decisions and to tell them what to do. In order to take their lives into their own hands and responsibility they have to give up their waiting and just decide that life begins NOW.
W&H: Each of the women in the film is lonely and desperate to make a connection to others around them. What is the message behind the desperation of people to connect?
AM: I believe that we as human beings are not self-sufficient. But still we need to grow up in the sense of becoming responsible and emotionally independent to be able to have deep and meaningful relationships that are not based on need in the first place. This sounds like a paradox: Becoming independent to being able to belong, but this is how life works, I guess, with paradoxes.
W&H: What do you want people to get out of the film?
AM: I hope for people to think about their situation, their wishes and maybe make them take the first step into the direction they want to head into. Every small step takes you further. I hope this comes across while watching the characters on screen.
W&H: Your film is not only written and directed by a woman, it stars three women and it is produced by a woman. That is very uncommon in the US. Is it easier for women writers and directors in Germany, and what can the US industry learn about how to integrate more women's visions and stories into our film business?
AM: I know too little about the movie business in the US but in Germany it is not necessarily easier for women. We worked on the funding for this film for nearly ten years. Maybe this was due to the fact that there are three female main characters. But still it was great fun working with Anita, the producer, and the cast: Hannelore, Esther and Kim.
Film opens in NY and LA on Friday

Four Films about Women Opening This Weekend

Update: A fifth film Beyond Belief is opening Friday in NY.

This Friday, 4 movies about women are opening. I just have to say how lame brained this is. I know that the studios and distributors all work separately and set up their own schedules, but people we need to be smarter about this. Talk to each other! Remember last month when 27 Dresses and Mad Money opening on the same day. Things didn't go so well for Mad Money.

To make matters worse, Will Ferrell is opening a remake of Semi-Pro this weekend. Will Ferrell is one of the guy who gets women to go to see his films so Semi-Pro will cut into all the potential box office dollars. It will have the most effect on the films targeted at the younger market like The Other Boleyn Girl and Penelope.

I'm going to write about and have some interviews about all four films between now and Friday.

The films are:

Bonneville- starring Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Joan Allen

Penelope- starring Christina Ricci

The Other Boleyn Girl - starring Scarlett Johannson and Natalie Portman

Vivere- Directed by Angelina Maccarone starring Hannelore Elsner, Esther Zimmering and Kim Schnitzer. (In German)

The Backlash Against Diablo Cody

It's not a surprise that Oscar winning screenwriter Diablo Cody is experiencing some serious jealousy now that she reached the pinnacle of Hollywood on her first time out. Hollywood loves a Cinderella story especially one with a twist which is what Cody has.

I noticed that she was wearing flats at the Oscars and she seems to have gotten into a tiff with shoe designer Stuart Weitzman over the fact that she was supposed to wear his million dollar diamond encrusted shoes on the red carpet. She didn't realize that she had pimped herself out to Weitzman for the publicity so she backed out. (That's a little naive) Here's what she wrote on her blog:

"They're using me to publicize their stupid shoes and NOBODY ASKED ME," wrote Cody, who ultimately wore gold flats. "I would never consent to a lame publicity stunt at a time when I already want to hide.'
I guess I'm surprised that it took so long for the backlash to rear its ugly head. There are people who hate her for her success, and there are people who hate her for keeping her voice and not becoming completely "hollywoodfied."

Hollywood followers know that you are only as good as your last success so her best revenge is to keep making successful films. I, for one, hope that she will still be spouting the great feminist lines we have become so accustomed to during this Oscar season.

Juno Writer Feeling Hollywood Backlash (AP via The Star)

Tina Fey Rocks!

Tina did a great job hosting Saturday Night Live last weekend. If you missed it check out this link here (from the great feminists at Salon's Broadsheet) where Tina riffs that "bitch is the new black" cause bitches get stuff done!

Bitch is the New Black

February 26, 2008

Essence Celebrates Black Women in Hollywood

Essence magazine hosted a black women in Hollywood luncheon to coincide with the Oscars. Their annual black Hollywood issue with a Hollywood power list (3 women are in the top 10: Halle Berry, Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah) is on newsstands now. Included are interviews with up and comers Jurnee Smollet and Raven- Symone (who is already a mogul herself).

I like this picture so much better than the one on the cover of Vanity Fair. All these women actually have clothes on and look like they are enjoying themselves and celebrating something, rather than looking pinched and hungry like on the cover of Vanity Fair.

Black Hollywood

February 25, 2008

Should Women be Happy With the Recognition We Got at This Year's Oscars?

Hell, no. Let's not paint too rosy a picture on the nomination of three women in the original screenplay category (but it does say we are more original thinkers), and one woman in the adapted category.

An AP pre-Oscar piece takes a look at the writing nominees (sadly it is a record)

Some quotes:

To "Juno" screenwriter Diablo Cody, the attention she and three other women are getting for their Academy Award nominations in the typically male-dominated screenwriting categories is "kind of a double edged-sword."

"You don't want to be singled out as a woman," she says. "On the other end, as a feminist, and someone who feels that women are marginalized in this industry, I'm thrilled that women are getting this sort of recognition."

"We're given this chance to promote fresh representations of women. For me, my thought is if I wrote a movie, I'm not going to fill my movie with stock girlfriend characters. I'm going to write about a girl who wears hoodies and likes the Stooges (punk band)."

All the writers lament the lack of women in the directing category, reflecting a dearth of female directors in general; only three women have been nominated for a directing trophy in Oscar history: Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion and Sofia Coppola.

Could sexism be considered a factor?

"Call me an idealist, but I don't think so," says Bruce Davis, the academy's executive director, who acknowledges that academy voters are mostly men. "To get nominated as a writer and director, you have to impress other writers and directors. These groups -- I meet with them all the time -- they are about as unprejudiced of a constituency that you can think of."

I have to laugh. Writers and Directors in Hollywood unprejudiced. Sure.

But discrimination remains a fact for women in Hollywood, from Cody noting that some film critics have criticized her own body in their reviews of "Juno" to Polley bemoaning that women are "still obligated" to sell their sexuality with their careers.

"The way we're raised up, girls are raised in a different way -- that they have to be cute and sweet. But you don't have to be cute and sweet," says Satrapi, who once fired a male employee who refused to listen to her.

And, says Cody, "Women tend to be crippled by what they believe is their own incompetence."

"We need to do it like men, charge it like a bull, no matter if it's bad," says the writer, who first gained media attention for penning a book about her stint as a stripper.

"I've gotten an excessive amount of attention because I have that cheesy back story," she says, sighing. "It's really a lot of bells and whistles. We're really all just sedentary geeks, who love to write."

I am again impressed by Cody and Polley. Both of them are of a younger generation and are really speaking truth to power. We need to figure out a way to support and nurture both these women's visions because they are truly unique.

Full story: Women Writers Make Strides in Oscar Nominations (AP via Seattle PI)

Thoughts on the Oscars

I watched the Oscars as I watch most things nowadays, using my TIVO. I start late, don't need to watch any of the boring stuff (including some of the awards) and don't watch any commercials.

From my perspective, the show was just as it always is, too long and too fawning, but it had some funny moments and I thought Jon Stewart did fine especially since he only had writers working with him for a little over a week.

It figures that a site about women and Hollywood would get both its predictions in the actress category wrong, but that's life. I'm still surprised that both Marion Cottilard and Tilda Swinton won. My rationale for Swinton is that the voters wanted to give something to Michael Clayton which was really the only studio film nominated so they gave it to Swinton. She's spectacular but I gotta say that she was even better in the much smaller Stephanie Daley so if you want to see this woman's range, rent that.

Regarding Marion Cottilard's win, I think that the Academy loves biopics where people transform themselves and this woman really went through the ringer for this role. I'm surprised that Julie Christie didn't win since she was, as has been said before, transcendent in Away from Her. Maybe the folks in the Academy don't like Christie because she won't play by the Hollywood rules. Too bad. Hers was the performance of the year.

Diablo Cody was truly overwhelmed by her win (and uncomfortable in a too high slitted dress that was hard for her to walk in) and dedicated her win to writers. I noticed that she wore flats (did anyone else see that?).

Two women did win best director last night -- Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth won for directing the documentary short, Freeheld. Freeheld is the story of a Laurel Hester's dying fight to give her police pension to her partner and the homophobia she encountered during her fight. I really need to see this one.

How cool was it that the song from Once beat out the Disney machine of Enchanted. It was even cooler that Marketa Irglova got to come back onstage after getting cut off and say her thanks. Classy moment.

Some fun lines:
Tilda Swinton to CNN:

That's what the professional actress who lives in the U.K. confessed to CNN reporters on the red carpet earlier today while describing her feelings about being at this event as "mellow," adding "Feels like being at a dog show."
Helen Mirren to Regis Philbin:
Unfortunately the roles are often not good enough for the women. But the roles for the men are always wonderful.

"Juno's" Diablo Cody corrected descriptions of her former job as "exotic dancer."

"I was not a dancer. I can't dance," she said, which leaves "stripper" as the correct job description. "If I had the money, I would pay off people in the journalism world to not mention it again."

OK Diablo, Women & Hollywood will never refer to you as a former stripper anymore. You are now officially and Oscar winning writer. How does that sound?

February 24, 2008

Independent Spirit Awards

I love watching the Independent Spirit Awards because the attendees wear normal clothes and look like they are enjoying themselves rather than being stuffed into tight dresses and shoes too high without any food or drink for several long hours.

So the first big award show post-writers strike gave a couple of awards to some women, including Diablo Cody for best first screenplay for Juno, and Tamara Jenkins for best screenplay for The Savages. Jenkins had a hard journey since her first film (The Slums of Beverly Hills) almost 10 years ago. Best quote of the evening was from Jenkins in describing getting the financing for her film: "A lot of people in this room didn't want to finance this movie."

I got pissed off at the Someone to Watch Award which includes a $25,000 unrestricted grant to an emerging filmmaker. All (3) of the nominees were guys. Now, this is right after Dawn Hudson who runs Film Independent, the sponsor of the spirit award just talked about the importance of diversity to the organization. Diversity of color is extremely important, but diversity of gender is important too. The lack of opportunities available for women directors is not a topic these folks are unaware of, and I would think that they would try and take the opportunity to highlight at least ONE emerging woman director. Please don't tell me that ONE couldn't be found.