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Distribution Maestro Jeff Blake Exits Sony After 22 Years: Dynamo and Class Act

16 hours ago

The news that Jeff Blake is departing his position as Chairman of Sony Pictures and Vice-Chairman of Worldwide Marketing and Distribution for the company after 22 years leaves the film industry, at least until his future plans are announced, without one its most revered and honorable executives. Tough, smart, a workhorse even by the standards of Hollywood, he remained true to the values and talents I first saw when we first knew each other at Northwestern University in the early 1970s. In a brief phone call today, Blake seems in a good place. "It seemed like the right time," he told me. "I'm not unhappy. Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton have treated me very well." He said his health is fine--when I met with him at his office a few months ago, he seemed vigorous and far from retiring. He credits previous Sony head John Calley with giving him the chance to maximize his talents. »


- Tom Brueggemann

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First Look: Toronto Best Actress Candidate Jessica Chastain Stars in Liv Ullmann's 'Miss Julie' (Trailer)

17 hours ago

Now that the dust is settling around the recent flurry of fall film festival announcements, one promising entry is a Toronto world premiere: Norwegian actress-writer-director Liv Ullmann's adaptation of Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s 1888 classic "Miss Julie." The film starring Jessica Chastain ("Zero Dark Thirty"), Colin Farrell ("Saving Mr. Banks") and Samantha Morton ("A.I.") seeks a North American distributor. Whether it would make it into this year's Oscar race depends on how it plays in Toronto. French international sales agency Wild Bunch is handling sales.  Chastain has been in-demand, earning back-to-back Oscar nominations for supporting actress for "The Help" in 2012 and Best Actress in Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" in 2013. The Weinstein Company plans an awards push for the single-film version of "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" which debuted as two films »


- Anne Thompson

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'Maleficent' Crosses $700 Million Worldwide, Shining Jewel in Lackluster Summer

19 hours ago

Disney had the sense to back its Sleeping Beauty spin-off starring Angelina Jolie, "Maleficent," knowing that the Disney brand could sell the film worldwide. After all, the studio has done well with fairy tale princesses for its entire history, from "Snow White" to "Frozen." Now "Maleficent," which opened May 30, has topped $700 million worldwide, marking Jolie’s highest-grossing live action film of all time domestically, internationally and globally, as well as the highest grossing original film of 2014 worldwide. "Maleficent" is a shining jewel in a dull summer box office that has dipped 20 % so far. The year to date is down by 6 %. The other Hollywood studios are paying the price for sticking to lookalike formulas, chasing sequels and the fickle male demo. Many of the disappointing films aimed at men didn't pull enough women, and several films aimed at women have done well even with mixed reviews, from spring hit »


- Anne Thompson

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Toronto World Premieres: What Did They Get?

21 hours ago

When Piers Handling, CEO and Director of the Toronto International Film Festival and Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of Tiff announced the new rules for 2014's fall lineup--no world premieres at Telluride if you want a first opening weekend gala slot--they may not have realized that they were setting themselves up with the media. That has become the story. So instead of sizing up the smorgasbord of titles they've selected for Toronto film audiences this fall, we're checking out the competition for bragging rights to high octane awards hopefuls. Which, by the way, is not what this is supposed to be about. And it begs the question: Did Telluride turn down some of the films that Toronto landed? Or did the distributors mix and match as they saw fit? A combination of the two, most likely.  New York and Venice effectively took off the table Fox's "Gone Girl," Warners' "Inherent Vice, »


- Anne Thompson

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Emerging Producers Take Note: the San Francisco Film Society Wants to Help You

21 July 2014 4:19 PM, PDT

The San Francisco Film Society is launching a new suite of filmmaker support services designed to support and assist talented emerging producers. The Sffs Producers Initiative will assist indie producers currently working on narrative feature projects via financial support, programs, mentorship, industry connections and access to a growing network of fellow filmmakers. The initiative is designed to grow organically over the years, backed by the Kenneth Rainin Foundation. There's two ways to get support: the Sffs / Krf Producer Fellowship and the Sffs / Krf Producer Travel Fund, which will be available starting in September.  The first round of Sffs / Krf Producer Fellowships will take place September 1, 2014–March 1, 2015 and the Film Society has selected three U.S.-based independent producers as its inaugural Producer Fellows. Sffs / Krf Producer Fellows will receive: • A $25,000–$40,000 cash grant, which must be used for living expenses. Individual amounts »

- Anne Thompson

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Watch Exclusive Clip: Sundance Grand Jury Winning Doc 'Rich Hill'

21 July 2014 3:44 PM, PDT

The art of the documentarian is getting close to your subjects and catching the moments as they come. There is no finer a portrait of what grinding, incompetent poverty can do to a family, no matter how well-intentioned, than first cousins Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo's self-funded "Rich Hill." That's the name of yet another wrong-side-of-the-tracks town in rural America, in this case depressed one-time mining town Rich Hill, Missouri, seventy miles south of Kansas City, home to some 1300 residents trying to scratch out a living. The streets are deserted, the kids are poor, with sadass parents. We follow three boys, including cheery, bright-eyed, athletic Andrew, who gets up every day and tries to get ahead, despite his helpless, over-medicated mom and under-employed dad, who mean well but no matter how many times they start over, keep sliding back to near homelessness. It's heartbreaking when you see »


- Anne Thompson

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Cameron Crowe's Next Slated Not for Fall, but Summer 2015

21 July 2014 2:28 PM, PDT

Now that Columbia Pictures and Regency Enterprises have screened writer-director Cameron Crowe's still-untitled return to original filmmaking, they're scheduling it for May 29, 2015. That suggests that they did not consider the comedy --which stars Bradley Cooper as a military contractor who reconnects with former love Rachel McAdams when he returns to the Us Space program in Hawaii-- to be fall awards material.  “Once we saw the film, we knew that it would make a perfect summer release," says Jeff Blake, Chairman, Worldwide Marketing and Distribution for Sony Pictures. "The movie is Cameron at his best.” Emma Stone plays Cooper's other love interest in the film, while Bill Murray plays an enigmatic billionaire who is launching a complex satellite system. Also starring are John Krasinski, Danny McBride, and Alec Baldwin. The film is produced by Crowe and Scott Rudin.  Exec producers are Ilona Herzberg, Eli Bush, »


- Anne Thompson

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Marlon Brando: Intellectual

21 July 2014 2:19 PM, PDT

Marlon Brando? Really? Haven’t his life, sex life, innovative acting, alcoholic mother and abusive father, drug-dependent children, and countless attachments been strip-mined by so many authors that there is nothing left to extract? With considerable skepticism I came to "Brando’s Smile," Susan Mizruchi’s unexpectedly empathic and involving intellectual biography of the actor. The Boston University professor read between – and next to – the lines of the 4,000 volumes and dozens of scripts in Brando’s personal library. His handwritten marginalia reveal aspects of the man unknown to most. “As the first biographer to have reviewed Brando’s archives,” Mizruchi reports in her eye-opening account, ” . . . I can report that Brando’s hunger for knowledge was as insatiable as his legendary appetites for women and food.” And how. The volumes at his bedside when he died attest both to his wide range of interests and also to his subversive side. Of »


- Carrie Rickey

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How Did 'Birdman,' 'Gone Girl,' 'Inherent Vice' and 'Imitation Game' Land Key Fall Festival Slots?

21 July 2014 12:33 PM, PDT

Everyone in Hollywood reads the industry tea leaves, the probable truth behind every announcement and its attendant spin. As the awards season takes shape, three major releases are jockeying for position: "Gone Girl," "Inherent Vice" and "Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance." The Hollywood studios, indie distributors, Oscar campaigners and strategists were pushing the New York Film Festival (September 26 - October 12) for their awards hopefuls, wanting to land a coveted gala slot.  The Nyff is a well-curated selection of art films, for the most part, from all over the world, so its three galas are the most accessible films they book--they function as the tentpoles, if you will, of the entire program, attracting the most attention and praise. And the distributors and talent get a boost--they hope, in the best of all worlds--in their presumed awards campaigns.  What do we make of the placement of these three films at this. »


- Anne Thompson

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Trailers From Hell Opens 'The Doors'

21 July 2014 11:57 AM, PDT

Today on Trailers from Hell, Allan Arkush talks Oliver Stone's 1991 biopic about 1960s prog-rock band The Doors. The film spent over 10 years in development, running through several studios and potential leading men before settling on Val Kilmer as the band’s self-aggrandizing/self-destructive lead singer, Jim Morrison. Critical reaction was mixed and the box-office weak, but all of Oliver Stone's films are passion projects and "The Doors" is no different: like Morrison himself, Stone’s movie is never dull or doctrinaire. »


- Trailers From Hell

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Career Watch: TV Boosts Movie Stars Jon Voight, Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey

21 July 2014 8:56 AM, PDT

With Emmy Award season in full swing (the show airs Aug. 25), we look at three Emmy nominees who came up in Hollywood and are enjoying a career boost from their work in television. These days it's possible to move more fluidly than ever before between movies and TV (the late great James Garner was a rare example of a star who could swing both ways). The Third Golden Age of Television --easily viewed on multi-platforms by a wide range of viewers--has proved a boon for these movie actors.   This Career Watch focuses on three drama series acting nominees who are taking advantage of the boom in fresh outlets: Jon Voight, Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey.  Jon Voight, 75, supporting actor in Showtime’s “Ray Donovan”: Signature line:  “Uh, well, sir, I ain't a f'real cowboy. But I am one helluva stud!” – as wannabe male hustler Joe Buck in 1969’s “Midnight Cowboy. »


- Susan Wloszczyna

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Exclusive: Harvey Weinstein Explains How 'Snowpiercer' Became a Gamechanger, We Crunch Theater vs. VOD Numbers

21 July 2014 2:21 AM, PDT

Thirty years in, Harvey Weinstein knows the distribution business. While he's a wily theatrical animal who knows when to spend big on a wide release and when to dump a movie, he took a radical route with Bong Joon-ho's action adventure "Snowpiercer," starring Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, seizing the chance to try something new. Weinstein's decision to open an action picture with major movie stars via autonomous subsidiary RADiUS with a video-on-demand release two weeks after its theatrical opening is rippling through the film community. As the Hollywood studios struggle with a depressed summer box office, losing the fickle young male demo and locked into a standoff with theater chains on release windows, they're watching the independents experiment with video-on-demand release models. "Snowpiercer" marks a tipping point in the movie industry's shift from analog to digital. Why? It marks the most commercial movie to ever open in theaters and quickly go to. »


- Anne Thompson and Tom Brueggemann

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