Newsbites: Cars! Crash-bashing! ID trial movie!

Newsbites: Cars! Crash-bashing! ID trial movie! March 15, 2006

Been a while since I’ve done this. Time for some quickies!

1. Reuters reports that Cars — the first Pixar film to be directed by John Lasseter since 1999’s Toy Story 2 — is a hit with exhibitors, who saw the new film at a convention in Las Vegas yesterday:

“I thought it was a great movie,” said Kevin MacLeod, executive vice president of Empire Co Ltd’s Empire Theatres, a Nova Scotia-based chain with 380 screens. MacLeod said he believed the film would have the same broad appeal as Pixar’s biggest hit “Finding Nemo.”

Theater owners have a vested interest in the success of the movie, since their business is selling movie tickets, but Sanders Morris Harris financial analyst David Miller was in the audience and called it “outstanding.”

“If there is any film you know is going to be a hit, it’s this one,” he said on Wednesday.

Another attendee, who asked not to be named, described the film’s race-car-themed story line and folksy soundtrack, featuring songs by Sheryl Crow and Brad Paisley, as “the perfect antidote to (gay cowboy movie) ‘Brokeback Mountain”‘ for more conservative red-state audiences.

Mark Walukevich, vice president of international films for National Amusements, which operates 1,425 screens in the United States, Britain, Latin America and Russia, said “Cars” was “fantastic.”

“On a scale of one to 10, it was an 11,” he said. “The digital presentation was excellent, the sound track was great. I think internationally it will be a huge hit.”

The Associated Press adds that Cars is a very personal project for its creator:

“I’ve always loved cars,” Lasseter, 49, told The Associated Press. “I’m a gear-head and wanted to do a film about cars, like putting the two sides of my life, my two loves, together.”

“Cars” also is a reflection of the real-life lessons he learned about making time for family and friends amid his professional success, which includes an Academy Award for best short animated film and an honorary Oscar for creating the first feature-length computer-animated tale with “Toy Story.”

After a hectic run making “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life” and “Toy Story 2,” a time when he and his wife also had four sons, Lasseter decided to pull over for a rest stop.

Lasseter’s wife warned him that if he kept up the work pace, he would wake up one day realizing their boys had all gone off to college and he had missed their childhood. So Lasseter figured it was time for a summer road trip, just him and the family.

“We bought a used motorhome, put our feet in the Pacific Ocean and turned east,” Lasseter said. “We had two months to drive across country and explore it and get lost and end up at the Atlantic, put our feet in the Atlantic and come back. Everybody said, `You’re nuts, you’re going to be at each others’ throats stuck together for two months.’

“But actually, the opposite happened. We got so close as a family. We loved every single minute of it, and I came back from that journey and I knew what I wanted this movie to be about. It’s about a character that learns the journey in life is the reward,” said Lasseter, the key creative force behind Pixar Animation, which is being acquired by its longtime distribution partner Disney.

2. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen rival filmmakers and artists bash an Oscar winner so soon after its victory. Annie Proulx, who wrote the short story that Brokeback Mountain was based on, has a wonderfully nasty item on the Oscar ceremonies in the Guardian (hmm, is her reference to Scientology at the end a dig at Crash director Paul Haggis’s beliefs?), while the Toronto Star profiles A History of Violence director David Cronenberg:

David Cronenberg says his critically acclaimed A History of Violence was snubbed for major Oscar glory because Hollywood’s “anti-Bush, anti-conservative” elements felt the film’s message was too subtle.

He’s also upset with fellow Canadian filmmaker Paul Haggis for using the title Crash for the movie that won Best Picture on Sunday night, since that was the title of Cronenberg’s award-winning 1996 movie.

Opening up yesterday for the first time about his frustrations with the Oscar nominations and awards process, the veteran Toronto director said he believes politics were at play. Any film that didn’t directly challenge the policies of President George W. Bush wasn’t going to gain Academy favour this year.

“I have a feeling there is a lot of `anti-Bushness’ in those nominations, for which I can blame nobody because I would be that way, too,” Cronenberg told the Star.

“And those movies that were nominated in many ways had a much more obvious anti-Bush, anti-conservative bent to them. Maybe my movie was too ambiguous and disturbing in terms of accepting the sort of exhilaration aspect of violence that is there in us as well. It’s hard for me to feel that they didn’t get it. Maybe they did get it and they didn’t like what they got, you know?”

FWIW, as Mark Steyn says, referring to the 1996 film, “It’s rather sad to think a film once so notorious can be so forgotten nobody even notices the Best Picture of the year has borrowed its title.”

3. Cinematical reports that Ronald Harwood, who wrote Norman Jewison’s The Statement (2003) and Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist (2005), is working on a movie about Intelligent Design:

According to Variety, the studio just hired Ronald Harwood to write a screenplay based on last year’s court decision ruling that a Pennsylvania school board didn’t have the right to force teachers to teach intelligent design. (Interestingly, the film’s producer was thinking “movie” from the very start, so much so that she actually sent someone to watch and take notes on the trial – does that show clever foresight or a disturbing tendency to turn every major news story into tomorrow’s blockbuster? Both?) In Harwood’s eyes, his benchmark is Inherit the Wind, the play and film that told the story of the famous Scopes trial, which allowed evolution into (Tennessee) classrooms in the first place. “Our aspiration is to make a film that powerful…We have a highly emotional case that divided a town right down the middle, and a judge whose summary was spectacular.”

Of course, Inherit the Wind, first filmed in 1960, is notorious for taking liberties with the facts, so its value as a “benchmark” is debatable. (Thanks to Jeffrey Overstreet for the link.)

4. Variety says Benicio Del Toro will star in a remake of The Wolf Man (1941; my comments), to be written by Andrew Kevin Walker (1995’s Se7en). With luck, this just may be the first Universal monster revival that doesn’t involve Stephen Sommers.

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