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1-20 of 31 items from 2005   « Prev | Next »


The Chronicles of Narnia

21 December 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Fantasy is made flesh -- at least the CGI kind -- in the film version of C.S. Lewis' children's classic, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe." What is lightly sketched in the novel, where much is left to the imagination, blossoms into full-blown, richly detailed life in the movie. Under the direction of Andrew Adamson, co-director of the two "Shrek" cartoons, the blend of live action and CGI is striking. In battle scenes, a few movements do remind you of video-game action. Otherwise, the photo-realism of thousands of creatures and their amazingly organic movements, especially when mixed in with actual locations and real actors, is a remarkable achievement.

"The Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter" film series have shown there is a huge hunger for movie franchises based on fantasy literature. Disney and Walden Media's reported $150 million gamble on this 55-year-old book, the first in a series of seven that explore the alternate universe of Narnia, certainly has the potential to become a megahit. Hard to say what the impact will be of Disney's acknowledged campaign to get out churchgoers for "Narnia", which is clearly an allegory of the Christ story, but it can't hurt. Certainly children will be enthralled by the journey through Narnia and this thrill should extend to adults, too.

Writers Ann Peacock, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely along with Adamson mostly adhere to Lewis' story line while adding a few rousing action sequences: There's an escape from evil wolves through a tunnel, a chase across a frozen lake and a wild ice-flow trip down rapids. For the climactic battle, the filmmakers throw in creatures and animals unmentioned or scarcely mentioned in the book: from centaurs and satyrs of Greek mythology to bears, hypos, tigers, ogres, giants and dwarfs.

It all begins with a wardrobe.

In besieged World War II England, the four Pevensie siblings -- Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell) and the younger children, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) -- are evacuated from London to a large country manor of an old professor (Jim Broadbent). Then a game of hide-and-seek uncovers an enchanted wardrobe.

To their amazement, they discover that if they step to the back of this large piece of furniture passed hanging fur coats, they stumble into the parallel universe of Narnia, a land of talking animals and fantastic creatures. It is also covered in snow. For Narnia has fallen under the curse of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton), which has forced inhabitants to suffer through 100 years of winter -- but with no Christmas.

The appearance of the Pevensie children changes all this. Foes of the White Witch spring into action as these "children of Adam and Eve" might fulfill an old prophesy. Rumor has it that Aslan, the long-absent lion king (and the story's Christ figure), is on the move, ready to reclaim his realm.

The betrayal of the siblings by brother Edmund is actually presaged better in the movie than the book. The screenwriter clearly establish a conflict between the younger and older brother before they enter Narnia and Edmund's (more felt than actual) ostracism from the family rankles the youngster.

Indeed the writers have nicely fleshed out all four children. Peter is a born leader but uncertain how to grasp leadership. Lucy, the innocent who discovers Narnia, is ever curious and determined. Susan's warm maternal instincts are clearly pronounced here. And Edmund's "treachery" stems more from hurt feelings than the mere taste of the White Witch's Turkish Delight.

Among the adult actors, Swinton stands out. She is no fairy-tale witch, but rather a fierce, modern villainess with pools of liquid evil for eyes and powerful, wiry arms that slash and thrust her many weapons. Another highlight is James McAvoy's warmth and humor in the key role of the conflicted faun, Mr. Tumnus.

The CG characters are terrific. Aslan is the Real McCoy as a lion from the individual strands of hair in his mane to those sad-angry eyes. Liam Neeson is too familiar a voice to come from this creature but Neeson does give Aslan gravitas. Ray Winstone and Dawn French turn Mr. and Mrs. Beaver into winsome, chattery creatures.

Much of the production takes place on New Zealand soundstages, but outdoor action is shot all over the globe in Poland, the Czech Republic, England and New Zealand. This all comes together into a believable Narnia as Donald M. McAlpine's crisp cinematography jives well with special effects pulled off by three companies -- Rhythm & Hues, Sony Pictures Imageworks and ILM. Harry Gregson-Williams supplies the lush and lyrical score.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE

Buena Vista Pictures

Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media

Credits:

Director: Andrew Adamson

Screenwriters: Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Based on the book by: C.S. Lewis

Producers: Mark Johnson, Philip Steuer

Executive produces: Andrew Adamson, Perry Moore

Director of photography: Donald M. McAlpine

Production designer: Roger Ford

Music: Harry Gregson-Williams

Co-producer: Douglas Gresham

Costumes: Isis Mussenden

Visual effects supervisor: Dean Wright

Editors: Sim Evan-Jones, Jim May

Cast:

Lucy: Georgie Henley

Edmund: Skandar Keynes

Peter: William Moseley

Susan: Anna Popplewell

White Witch: Tilda Swinton

Mr. Tumnus: James McAvoy

Professor Kirke: Jim Broadbent

Ginarrbrik: Kiran Shah

Voice of Aslan: Liam Neeson

MPAA rating PG

Running time 140 minutes »

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Interview: Cillian Murphy

16 November 2005 | ioncinema | See recent ioncinema news »

- Marcello Paolillo met with helmer Neil Jordan and actors Cillian Murphy and Stephen Rea in New York. Cillian Murphy Q: How did you prepare for the role? Neil Jordan told us that he wasn’t concerned at all about how you would look like in the film. A: Did he say that? I don’t think so! He had a very clear vision of how he wanted the character, and I love to work with a director who has a vision. But I agree with him that the drag aspect wasn’t the main issue. I wanted Kitten to be feminine rather than effeminate. It’s easy to play a campy queen, but I wanted to look genuinely feminine, with no affectation. That was our goal. Of course, I hung out in London at night clubs dressed like Kitten meeting amazing, beautiful people. They were very protective and I »

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Huston 'Falls' for Western

10 November 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Anjelica Huston has signed on to star opposite Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson in the Western drama Seraphim Falls for Icon Prods. Huston's role is being kept under wraps, but the film centers on a Civil War colonel who fails to put down his weapon and instead hunts down a man to settle a grudge. David Von Ancken is directing from a script he co-wrote with Abbey Everett Jaques. David Flynn and Icon's Bruce Davey are producing. »

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'Lackeen' tops Irish nods; kudos for Neeson, Weldon

7 November 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

The third annual Irish Film and Television Awards in Dublin saw Liam Neeson take the best actor award for Kinsey and the Irish movie Pavee Lackeen scoop best film award. Filmmaker Perry Odgen won the "breakthrough talent award" for Pavee Lackeen. Best actress in a feature film went to Renee Weldon for Trouble With Sex. Winners in television included the Irish drama series Pure Mule, which scooped a host of awards including best actor for Tom Murphy, best actress for Dawn Bradfield and supporting nods for Gary Lydon and Eileen Walsh. The award for best drama series went to Irish production Love Is the Drug. Said Aine Moriarty, CEO of event organizer the Irish Film and Television Network: "The quality of the Irish Film and Television industries is evident in the success of these Awards. The talent coming out of Ireland is incredibly strong and it is great to see that the support is there for it to get even stronger." »

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Breakfast on Pluto

12 September 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Opens Nov. 18

TORONTO -- Director Neil Jordan, whose 1996 film, "The General", was based on a novel by Ireland's Michael McCabe, again collaborates with the author on "Breakfast on Pluto".

A trippy tale surveying the life and times on one Patrick "Kitten" Braden, a blissfully oblivious tranvestite who finds himself getting mixed up with the IRA while searching for his long lost mother, the film has obvious parallels to Jordan's "The Crying Game".

But unlike that 1992 Oscar-winner, there's no big surprise ending here, although it really could have used one.

For while the sunny production values and '70s bubblegum soundtrack carry the film up to a point, there's a more-of-the-same quality to the narrative that simply can't sustain its 36-chapter, 135-minute running time.

Even with the suddenly ubiquitous Cillian Murphy in the title role, this Sony Classics release will hold limited commercial appeal.

Murphy goes from "Red Eye" to rouge lips to take on the role of "Kitten", a delicate-featured lad/lass with a breathy wisp of a voice that makes him sound like an Irish Michael Jackson.

Abandoned as a baby by his mother, a woman said to be the spitting image of Mitzi Gaynor, young Patrick occupies his youth trying on his step-sister's frocks and otherwise scandalizing his tiny Irish village.

When he becomes old enough to hitch a ride, Kitten embarks on a quest to track down his Ma, and along the way he meets up with a parade of colorful characters beginning with Billy Rock (Gavin Friday) the lead singer of a traveling rockabilly band that incorporates glam makeup and Wild West Indian themes, with whom he becomes romantically attached.

It's around this time he also becomes unwittingly involved in IRA activities and it's here that things become problematic.

Although it may have worked in book form, the juxtaposition of Kitten's escapades against a bloodily tumultuous period in Irish history, never convincingly jibe on screen, with the end result feeling like a forced conceit rather than an inspired concept.

Equally problematic is that Kitten's character, drawn by Jordan and McCabe, just isn't sufficiently interesting or likable to be around, despite Murphy's committed performance. It's one that's reminiscent of Gael Garcia Bernal's more provocative turn in Almodovar's "Bad Education".

Some amusing support is provided by a number of previous Jordan collaborators, including Liam Neeson as a priest with a secret link to Kitten's past, Stephen Rea as a lonely, smitten magician and Brendan Gleeson as a costumed kiddie theme park character named Uncle Bulgaria.

And it's hard to fault a soundtrack that manages to accommodate Van Morrison, Bobby Goldsboro, Harry Nilsson and the British band Middle of the Road, whose ridiculously infectious "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" effectively nails the desired loopy tone that the picture strives unsuccessfully to maintain.

BREAKFAST ON PLUTO

Sony Pictures Classics

A Pathe Pictures and Sony Pictures Classics presentation.

Credits:

Director: Neil Jordan

Producers: Alan Moloney, Neil Jordan, Stephen Wooley

Screenwriters: Neil Jordan, Patrick McCabe

Based on the original novel by Patrick McCabe

Director of photography: Declan Quinn

Production designer: Tom Conroy

Editor: Tony Lawson

Costume designer: Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh

Cast:

Patrick "Kitten" Braden: Cillian Murphy

Father Bernard: Liam Neeson

Bertie the Magician: Stephen Rea

Charlie: Ruth Negga

Irwin: Laurence Kinlan

Billy Rock: Gavin Friday

Mr. Silky String: Bryan Ferry

Running time -- 135 minutes

MPAA rating: R »

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Toronto adds to world premiere slate

10 August 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

TORONTO -- The Toronto International Film Festival on Tuesday unveiled nearly a dozen world premieres, including the latest from returning directors Michael Winterbottom, Neil Jordan and Niki Caro. Jordan's Breakfast on Pluto has been booked for a world premiere in the Masters program after being bypassed by the Festival de Cannes. The Crying Game director returns to familiar turf with a drama set in 1970s Ireland that stars Cillian Murphy as a deceptively young transvestite. Liam Neeson and Stephen Rea also star. Sony Pictures Classics already has locked up key world rights ahead of a fall theatrical release in the U.S. Winterbottom's latest work, A Cock and Bull Story, which Picturehouse is releasing domestically, will receive a world premiere as a special presentation in Toronto. »

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Batman Begins

25 July 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

The Batman film series, launched by Tim Burton in 1989, burned itself out after four pictures because of an overreliance on production design, increasingly campy costumes and mind-numbing action and noise. That any filmmaker could now revive the comic book character and his retro-futuristic world of Gotham City is a minor miracle. But for Christopher Nolan to turn Batman Begins into such a smart, gritty, brooding, visceral experience is astonishing. Truly, Batman does begin again.

Nolan's past two films certainly prepared us to expect the unexpected. Memento and Insomnia were mesmerizing thrillers in which meticulous writing laid the groundwork for complex characterizations, arresting themes and haunting imagery. Nolan now displays an ability to hitch that same intelligence and care to a summer tentpole movie.

Batman has always meant solid boxoffice for Warner Bros. Pictures, and Batman Begins will be no exception. How young male fans respond to a slow buildup to the action and the introspective nature of its hero will determine how big this event movie will be. It certainly deserves repeat visits because the carefully laid-in details will more fully emerge with each viewing.

Christian Bale delivers a subtle and engrossing performance as the divided hero, a man torn by guilt, anger and fear, who seeks a way to turn these negative emotions into a positive force for fighting evil. The first half of the film show us, logically and realistically, how the man known as Bruce Wayne came to assume a double life as a wealthy playboy and his alter ego, the dark avenger of the night.

After a black-and-white credit sequence, the movie immediately presents us with Bruce Wayne in two periods of his life: as a tike of 8 about to experience his first brush with fear and the life-altering trauma of witnessing his parents' murders, then as a lost soul in a hellish prison in the Far East. Tormented by the murders of his parents on the streets of Gotham, Bruce has traveled the world to educate himself on the criminal mind.

He is rescued from prison by a mysterious warrior named Ducard (Liam Neeson), who teaches Bruce to master his emotions and gives him the mental and physical discipline to fight his enemies. Eventually, Ducard reveals that he wants Bruce to join the League of Shadows, an underground vigilante movement headed by the stoic Ra's al Ghul (Ken Watanabe). When Bruce refuses to battle evil with evil, he becomes the League's mortal enemy.

Bruce returns home to take up residence in his parents' country manor, with the family's trusted butler Alfred (the always affable Michael Caine) assuming the role of manservant and mentor. Bruce finds his father's once philanthropic Wayne Enterprises now in the hands of a greedy CEO Richard Earle (Rutger Hauer), and Bruce's beautiful childhood friend Rachel (Katie Holmes) has become an assistant D.A.

Gotham is a city with futuristic elements yet bears more than a little resemblance to the Depression Era. (Remember that Batman first appeared in DC Comics in 1939.) The old town is overrun by a crime gang headed by Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson). Seemingly, half the city is on the take. The only apparent honest cop, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman once more disappearing chameleonlike into a role), complains that there is nobody to whom he can rat out the bad guys.

Gradually, Batman, a one-man force for good, comes together. Bruce discovers that Wayne Enterprises' Applied Sciences division, headed by resourceful Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), has developed all the tools he'll need to fight crime. These range from a survival suit of nearly impervious body armor to an indestructible car that becomes the Batmobile. His Batcave turns out to be a literal one, a damp and dark area underneath the southeast wing of his manor where bats roost.

Batman begins his campaign against corruption by striking at the heart of Falcone's criminal empire. But he soon realizes that a more sinister force is moving to destroy Gotham, a force fronted by cunning psychiatrist and medical experimenter Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) and backed by his old pals with the League of Shadows.

Fights and chases occur in a gloomy, rainy, fear-drenched landscape of urban anarchy. The primary weapon everyone uses is fear. The criminal gang instills such terror in the citizenry that no one fights back. Batman chooses costumes and methods to turn that fear back on the criminals, who must confront a batlike creature they cannot fathom, a foe that vanishes before they land a blow.

Nolan and co-screenwriter David S. Goyer keep things logical and rational despite the story's comic book origins. Batman's heroics are the outgrowth of planning and psychology, not superhuman abilities. Fights are constructed in tight shots and quick edits that explode in rhythmic fury. A car chase looks like something one might catch on local TV news -- except, of course, for the Batmobile's ability to leap from roof to roof.

Similarly, designer Nathan Crowley and cinematographer Wally Pfister create a nightmarish city that reeks of despair. The music credit is shared by two top film composers, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, so it's hard to know whom to blame for its own schizophrenia wherein the major themes are rousing and memorable but the score comes on too strong in many sequences. Lindy Hemming's costumes are striking as they mirror the various strata of society as well as the "uniforms" of the heroes and villains in this alternate reality.

BATMAN BEGINS

Warner Bros. Pictures

A Syncopy production

Credits: Director: Christopher Nolan; Screenwriters: Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer; Story by: David S. Goyer; Based on characters appearing in: DC Comics; Batman created by: Bob Kane; Producers: Charles Roven, Emma Thomas, Larry Franco; Executive producers: Benjamin Melniker, Michael E. Uslan; Director of photography: Wally Pfister; Production designer: Nathan Crowley; Music: Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard; Costumes: Lindy Hemming; Editor: Lee Smith. Cast: Bruce Wayne/Batman: Christian Bale; Alfred Pennyworth: Michael Caine; Henri Ducard: Liam Neeson; Lucius Fox: Morgan Freeman; Lt. Gordon: Gary Oldman; Ra's al Ghul: Ken Watanabe; Rachel Dawes: Katie Holmes; Dr. Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow: Cillian Murphy; Carmine Falcone: Tom Wilkinson; Richard Earle: Rutger Hauer.

MPAA rating PG-13, running time 150 minutes

»

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'Kingdom' of DVD docus set for Scott epic

10 July 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

When Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment releases the Ridley Scott epic Kingdom of Heaven on DVD on Oct. 11, viewers will have the chance to create their own documentary on the making of the film, a theatrical underperformer that grossed slightly less than $46 million in theaters despite an all-star cast that includes Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson and Jeremy Irons. Working with Scott's production company, Scott Free Prods., Fox created an interactive production grid that allows viewers to assemble their choice of 16 custom documentaries, ranging in length from eight minutes to 90 minutes and based on their own interests. "We wanted to try to something new," said DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika, who produces all of Scott's DVDs. "I don't know if others will want to do it down the road, but I thought it was a nice one-time experiment to see how it works." »

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'Batman' makes heroic bow but b.o. 'slump' continues

21 June 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

After an eight-year absence, the Dark Knight was on the prowl in theaters in North America once again, injecting new life into both the franchise and the boxoffice this past weekend. Warner Bros. Pictures' Batman Begins easily hung in the top spot on its debut, racking up $48.7 million during the weekend and a sterling $72.9 million since its release on Wednesday. The fifth film in the Batman franchise stars Christian Bale in the lead role, joined by Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Katie Holmes. Christopher Nolan helmed the PG-13-rated Begins, which marked the second-biggest opening ever for a Batman film. But it was also the first one to be released on a Wednesday, which tends to diffuse the weekend business. Imax theaters contributed an impressive $3.2 million to the film's five-day total with 55 venues. »

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'Batman' makes heroic bow but b.o. 'slump' continues

21 June 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

After an eight-year absence, the Dark Knight was on the prowl in theaters in North America once again, injecting new life into both the franchise and the boxoffice this past weekend. Warner Bros. Pictures' Batman Begins easily hung in the top spot on its debut, racking up $48.7 million during the weekend and a sterling $72.9 million since its release on Wednesday. The fifth film in the Batman franchise stars Christian Bale in the lead role, joined by Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Katie Holmes. Christopher Nolan helmed the PG-13-rated Begins, which marked the second-biggest opening ever for a Batman film. But it was also the first one to be released on a Wednesday, which tends to diffuse the weekend business. Imax theaters contributed an impressive $3.2 million to the film's five-day total with 55 venues. »

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'Batman' on a boxoffice crusade

20 June 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Warner Bros. Pictures' Batman Begins spread its wings in the top spot at the boxoffice this weekend as the fifth and latest incarnation of the Dark Knight collected an estimated $46.9 million on its debut session and a stirring $71.1 million since its release Wednesday. It was the second-biggest opening for a Batman film, behind the $52.8 million of Batman Forever, but it also was the first one to debut on a Wednesday, a practice that tends diffuse opening-weekend business. The PG-13 Batman Begins, featuring Christian Bale in the lead role and directed by Christopher Nolan, marked the successful return of the Caped Crusader to the silver screen after an eight-year absence. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Katie Holmes also star. »

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'Batman' on a boxoffice crusade

19 June 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Warner Bros. Pictures' Batman Begins spread its wings in the top spot at the boxoffice this weekend as the fifth and latest incarnation of the Dark Knight collected an estimated $46.9 million on its debut session and a stirring $71.1 million since its release Wednesday. It was the second-biggest opening for a Batman film, behind the $52.8 million of Batman Forever, but it also was the first one to debut on a Wednesday, a practice that tends diffuse opening-weekend business. The PG-13 Batman Begins, featuring Christian Bale in the lead role and directed by Christopher Nolan, marked the successful return of the Caped Crusader to the silver screen after an eight-year absence. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Katie Holmes also star. »

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Boxoffice preview: High hopes for superhero

17 June 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

After an eight-year hiatus, Warner Bros. Pictures is reviving the much-loved DC Comics character in this weekend's Batman Begins -- the darkest interpretation yet of the Dark Knight. And with expectations in the astronomical range for the Christopher Nolan-directed film, industry insiders are hoping the high-quality, well-reviewed feature will bring moviegoers of all ages to the theaters this frame. Bowing Wednesday in 3,718 theaters, the PG-13 Batman Begins opened to a first-day gross of $15.1 million; it will expand to 3,858 theaters Friday. Starring British actor Christian Bale as the troubled Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, Batman, the film tells the story of how an orphaned child became Gotham City's vigilante superhero. Drawing hordes of males to Tuesday's midnight shows and Wednesday screenings, the movie is expected to see the split between male and female moviegoers close as the weekend progresses and more women flock to theaters to see the sexy Bale brooding in his Batman suit. The film also stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and the much-publicized-of-late Katie Holmes. The screenplay was written by Nolan and David S. Goyer, best known for his work on the Blade trilogy. »

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Boxoffice preview: High hopes for superhero

16 June 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

After an eight-year hiatus, Warner Bros. Pictures is reviving the much-loved DC Comics character in this weekend's Batman Begins -- the darkest interpretation yet of the Dark Knight. And with expectations in the astronomical range for the Christopher Nolan-directed film, industry insiders are hoping the high-quality, well-reviewed feature will bring moviegoers of all ages to the theaters this frame. Bowing Wednesday in 3,718 theaters, the PG-13 Batman Begins opened to a first-day gross of $15.1 million; it will expand to 3,858 theaters Friday. Starring British actor Christian Bale as the troubled Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, Batman, the film tells the story of how an orphaned child became Gotham City's vigilante superhero. Drawing hordes of males to Tuesday's midnight shows and Wednesday screenings, the movie is expected to see the split between male and female moviegoers close as the weekend progresses and more women flock to theaters to see the sexy Bale brooding in his Batman suit. The film also stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and the much-publicized-of-late Katie Holmes. The screenplay was written by Nolan and David S. Goyer, best known for his work on the Blade trilogy. »

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Kingdom of Heaven

6 June 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Kingdom of Heaven is probably about as good a movie as anyone could make about the Crusades. This was a ghastly though vitally important stretch of history when Western civilization, whipped up by religious fervor and bitter poverty, confronted the Muslim world with both the sword and cultural arrogance.

Director Ridley Scott and writer William Monahan have managed to put a positive spin on that tragic swath of history in an epic entertainment that seeks and actually finds honor, romance and spiritual redemption amid the slaughter. Brilliantly cast and produced -- hallmarks of Ridley Scott films -- Kingdom fulfills the requirements of grand-scale moviemaking while serving as a timely reminder that in the conflict between Christianity and Islam it was the Christians who picked the first fight.

Boxoffice response should be solid domestically with even greater ticket sales coming from overseas. The Fox release is unlikely to trigger protests from Islamic groups as the main quarrel is between Christians with widely differing agendas. When they appear at all, the Arabs, then called Saracens by Westerners, are portrayed as honorable and brave. They are also two-dimensional but two out of three isn't bad.

Monahan's screenplay traces the astonishing and improbable ascendance of a French blacksmith, unloved by God -- or so he believes -- who in short order finds himself the sole defender of the Holy City of Jerusalem against a vast Saracen army led by legendary Muslim figure Saladin.

Orlando Bloom plays this hero named Balian, who has just buried a wife, a suicide following the death of their infant son, in France in 1184. Then along comes a Crusader, Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), on a recruiting mission back home. Godfrey abruptly declares himself to be Balian's father and wants him to come away with him to the Holy Land to create his life anew.

This promise of rebirth and forgiveness lies at the heart of the story the film wants to tell. Indeed much contemporary thinking has been transposed on the 12th century, but then how else to make the Crusades relevant or even palatable to modern audiences?

Kingdom takes place during the reign in Jerusalem of a Christian king, Baldwin IV, who forged a fragile peace to keep Saladin's army at bay and permit all three monotheistic religions, the Christians, Muslims and Jews, to worship within city walls. Jerusalem, Godfrey declares to his son, is a true kingdom of heaven -- "a kingdom of conscience, a kingdom of peace." Here a peasant can reinvent himself as a knight by swearing allegiance to noble ideals such as "speak the truth," "safeguard the helpless" and "do no wrong." Thus can a peasant wind up with a very nice piece of property along the road to Jerusalem so long as he keeps it safe for all pilgrims.

Initially, the surly and Godless Balian rejects his father's offer. Then the movie indulges in its strangest and most off-putting episode. Balian brutally slays a village priest, whose minor sin is the theft of a crucifix from the corpse of Balian's wife. He then runs to papa and his rag-tag followers for protection. The village police come a-calling, a slash-and-stab battle ensues and nearly everyone winds up dead and dad is mortally wounded. Not a great beginning in the nobility and righteousness business.

Dad lasts as far as Messina, gateway for the Holy Land, where he dubs his son a knight. Balian then falls under the not always watchful care of his dad's Hospitaler (David Thewlis), a kind of knight-confessor. A shipwreck and deadly duel precede Balian's entry into Jerusalem, where his father's knights conveniently recognize his dad's sword and swear fealty to the son.

Balian takes one look at his dad's acreage outside town and notices there is no water. So he digs a well and everyone is happy about the new master. You mean nobody thought to dig a well in the desert before this peasant came along?

Balian quickly becomes a political insider within the Christian rulers of the Holy City. Young king Baldwin is dying of leprosy so hideous he hides his face behind a silver mask. His beautiful sister Sibylla (French actress Eva Green) is unhappily married to a thug, Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas), who waits in the wings to assume the throne. Meanwhile, Guy plots with red-headed maniac Reynald of Chatillon (Brendan Gleeson) to stir up trouble among the Saracens to create a pretext for war.

The king's advisor Tiberias (Jeremy Irons) strives unsuccessfully to calm the situation as events spin out of control with Balian's affair with Sibylla, the king's death and, well, you know things never go right in the Middle East.

The crux the matter is Balian's refusal to allow Baldwin to remove Guy from the picture so Balian can marry his sister and peacefully rule the city after the king's passing. This is a kingdom of conscience, remember, and apparently Balian's knightly conscience will not allow the killing of a tyrant but is willing to countenance the deaths of thousands and the fall of Christianity in Jerusalem that results from his decision.

The film wisely avoids showing the slaughter of Guy's army by forces lead by Saladin (Syrian film star and director Ghassan Massoud). The film's focus is the siege of Jerusalem and Balian's defense of the city against impossible odds through strategic guile. This is a truly memorable sequence of military planning and action involving huge, mobile engines that hurl heavy rocks against the walls, a sky filled with deadly arrows, burning pitch and sulfur poured on attackers and vicious hand-to-hand combat. It is, in Balian's words, "a fight for the people's safety and freedom," freedom being a relative term in the 12th century.

There are no false notes among the cast. Bloom makes a worthy hero, neither overplaying his hand nor striving to rob the movie of its ensemble quality. Green is suitably enigmatic and sultry, but the script falls to flesh out her character. Irons and Thewlis are British thespians playing wise counselors in a period drama as only British thespians can. Csokas and Gleeson are glorious punks without a scintilla of moral compunction or religious fervor in their greedy, blood-thirty grabs for power. In fleeting moments, Neeson and Massoud play battle-scared, weary warriors with comforting aplomb.

Harry Gregson-Williams' music contains nice Eastern touches but can be a tad aggressive on occasions. Arthur Max's set designs (abetted by CGI) create a finely detailed Holy City and its environs while John Mathieson's cinematography goes in for an appealingly darker palette than epics usually get. The battle sequences are among the best in recent memory -- which says a lot, not only for their intensity but their restraint from exploitative gore.

KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

A Scott Free production

Credits:

Director/producer: Ridley Scott

Writer: William Monahan

Executive producers: Branko Lustig, Lisa Ellzey, Terry Needham

Director of photography: John Mathieson

Production designer: Arthur Max

Music: Harry Gregson-Williams

Costumes: Janty Yates

Editor: Dody Dorn

Cast:

Balian: Orlando Bloom

Sibylla: Eva Green

Tiberias: Jeremy Irons

Hospitaler: David Thewlis

Reynald de Chatillon: Brendan Gleeson

Guy de Lusignan: Marton Csokas

Godfrey of Ibelin: Liam Neeson

Saladin: Ghassan Massoud

MPAA rating: R

Running time -- 144 minutes »

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Icon Ent. lures Gere, Neeson toward 'Falls'

14 May 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

CANNES -- Icon Entertainment, Mel Gibson and Bruce Davey's production and distribution entity, said Saturday that Richard Gere and Liam Neeson are signed to star in David Von Ancken's Seraphim Falls. Von Ancken's directorial debut from his own script penned alongside Abbey Everett Jaques, Seraphim will be produced by David Flynn and Davey. The movie will be distributed through Icon Film Distribution in the U.K. and Australia, while the group's sales arm, Icon Entertainment International, is selling worldwide rights. Billed as a psychological action movie, the film is set just after the end of the American Civil War. Neeson plays an army colonel who vows to kill Gere's character whatever the cost and pursues him across the West. »

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Rivals bow as 'Kingdom' comes

6 May 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

After last weekend's new releases failed to ignite the boxoffice as most executives had hoped, even more emphasis will be placed on this weekend's entries. With summer officially starting this frame, the biggest question is: How much money can Ridley Scott's latest epic bring into the marketplace? Also out to help lure in the boxoffice coin are Warner Bros. Pictures' House of Wax and Lions Gate Films' Crash. 20th Century Fox will bow Scott's Kingdom of Heaven in 3,216 theaters this weekend. The historical drama of the Crusades -- the fight for Jerusalem between Christians and Muslims -- has sparked some outrage from religious groups. And while some Christian leaders have asked for the film to be boycotted, the enhanced awareness brought by the threats might only help increase the boxoffice draw. With Orlando Bloom in his first lead role, Fox has taken a gamble on a less-established star to help carry its expensive film. Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson and Eva Green co-star, and industry insiders expect the film's opening weekend to generate in the mid-$20 millions. The opening will pale in comparison to Scott's previous historical epic, Gladiator, which bowed to $34.8 million in 2000 before grossing $187.7 million. Bloom's preteen fan base from his hunky roles in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and the Lord of the Rings franchise might be out of the loop because of Kingdom's R rating. If Bloom can cross over, the film could gain some upside. »

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Rivals bow as 'Kingdom' comes

6 May 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

After last weekend's new releases failed to ignite the boxoffice as most executives had hoped, even more emphasis will be placed on this weekend's entries. With summer officially starting this frame, the biggest question is: How much money can Ridley Scott's latest epic bring into the marketplace? Also out to help lure in the boxoffice coin are Warner Bros. Pictures' House of Wax and Lions Gate Films' Crash. 20th Century Fox will bow Scott's Kingdom of Heaven in 3,216 theaters this weekend. The historical drama of the Crusades -- the fight for Jerusalem between Christians and Muslims -- has sparked some outrage from religious groups. And while some Christian leaders have asked for the film to be boycotted, the enhanced awareness brought by the threats might only help increase the boxoffice draw. With Orlando Bloom in his first lead role, Fox has taken a gamble on a less-established star to help carry its expensive film. Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson and Eva Green co-star, and industry insiders expect the film's opening weekend to generate in the mid-$20 millions. The opening will pale in comparison to Scott's previous historical epic, Gladiator, which bowed to $34.8 million in 2000 before grossing $187.7 million. Bloom's preteen fan base from his hunky roles in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and the Lord of the Rings franchise might be out of the loop because of Kingdom's R rating. If Bloom can cross over, the film could gain some upside. »

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Rivals bow as 'Kingdom' comes

5 May 2005 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

After last weekend's new releases failed to ignite the boxoffice as most executives had hoped, even more emphasis will be placed on this weekend's entries. With summer officially starting this frame, the biggest question is: How much money can Ridley Scott's latest epic bring into the marketplace? Also out to help lure in the boxoffice coin are Warner Bros. Pictures' House of Wax and Lions Gate Films' Crash. 20th Century Fox will bow Scott's Kingdom of Heaven in 3,216 theaters this weekend. The historical drama of the Crusades -- the fight for Jerusalem between Christians and Muslims -- has sparked some outrage from religious groups. And while some Christian leaders have asked for the film to be boycotted, the enhanced awareness brought by the threats might only help increase the boxoffice draw. With Orlando Bloom in his first lead role, Fox has taken a gamble on a less-established star to help carry its expensive film. Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson and Eva Green co-star, and industry insiders expect the film's opening weekend to generate in the mid-$20 millions. The opening will pale in comparison to Scott's previous historical epic, Gladiator, which bowed to $34.8 million in 2000 before grossing $187.7 million. Bloom's preteen fan base from his hunky roles in "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" and the Lord of the Rings franchise might be out of the loop because of Kingdom's R rating. If Bloom can cross over, the film could gain some upside. »

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Olsen Breaks NYC Smoking Ban

5 May 2005 | WENN | See recent WENN news »

Mary-Kate Olsen was so desperate for a cigarette, she broke New York City's smoking ban by lighting up in the ladies' toilet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Gala on Monday night. After enjoying dinner, the teen TV star preferred to spend her time chain smoking in the toilet rather than socializing with other guests including Nicole Kidman, Liam Neeson and Kevin Costner - much to the disgust of women needing to relieve themselves, according to the New York Daily News. A witness says, "Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen get up in the middle of dinner and walk in, and Mary-Kate is saying she wants a cigarette. She then proceeds to chain smoke in the bathroom of the Metropolitan Museum! Amanda Peet walked in while Mary-Kate was smoking and was clearly repulsed." A spokesperson for the museum was shocked to hear about guests smoking in the prestigious institution: "We don't allow smoking. It's unfortunate that we didn't spot it. There was no security in the bathrooms. I think that's something the museum will have to consider next year." »

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