LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - James Franco isn't ruling out a return to the superhero genre that helped make his name with Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" films, although he doesn't sound that enthusiastic about donning a cape or mask.
"If it's the right role, I guess," said Franco during an interview at the Sundance Film Festival. "There's a lot of graphic novels that I like that aren't superheroes."
In particular, Franco said he was drawn to a graphic novel by Derf Backderf entitled "My Friend Dahmer" that sounds pretty far removed from the webspinner films. Backderf went to high school with Dahmer, the infamous serial killer, and paints a portrait of the murderer as a disturbed young man.
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Rarely has a performer striven so concertedly to shed any trace of his/her comedy roots as Sarah Silverman does over the course of "I Smile Back," an addiction drama in which the acerbic comedienne gives the kind of warts-and-all, let-it-all-hang-out (body parts, fluids, etc.) turn that awards' consultants dreams are made of. But Silverman's performance is more than an attention-getting stunt, and it's her hellish rendering of a New Jersey housewife under the influence of drugs, alcohol and mental illness that elevates director Adam Salky's sophomore feature above the suburban-nightmare movie-of-the-week it otherwise often resembles. Even with the buzz sure to ignite around its Sundance premiere, "Smile" will prove a tough sell commercially, where more sensitive types will blanch at the film's Olympian gauntlet of self-abuse, reckless endangerment and public humiliation.
Playing addicts of one kind or another has been a tried-and-true recipe for funnymen (and -women) seeking serious-actor street cred, from Michael Keaton in "Clean and Sober" to Jennifer Aniston in the recent "Cake" -- neither of whom had to play a scene quite like the one Silverman does early on, as her Laney Brooks stumbles into her sleeping daughter's bedroom and begins masturbating atop the child's teddy bear. And that's just for starters. Indeed, the Laney we meet at the start of "I Smile Back" is already significantly damaged goods, having stopped taking her prescription lithium and slipped back into a series of old, self-destructive habits: cocaine, vodka, amphetamines and torrid afternoon sex with the restaurateur husband (Thomas Sadoski) of a close family friend (Mia Barron). But because Laney is a practiced addict, she manages to conceal the evidence that things are coming undone, for a while, until her efforts become like spackling paste on volcanic rifts.
"I Smile Back," which was adapted by Paige Dylan (wife of Jakob) and Amy Koppelman from the latter's well-reviewed 2008 novel, suggests that Laney's condition is at least partly hereditary and partly a reaction to the kind of anodyne, middle-class ennui that similarly tormented the characters in movies like "Bigger Than Life," "Revolutionary Road" and "Gone Girl." And although still a relatively young woman, Laney is beset with a sense of impending mortality and her body's gradual decay. (In one scene, lifted from the novel's opening chapter, she stands before a full-body mirror and presses forlornly at her sagging, softening breasts.)
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - A deftly constructed, consistently engrossing and frequently flat-out-hilarious account of a controversial sporting event with geopolitical implications, "Dennis Rodman's Big Bang in Pyongyang" arrives just in time to serve as a stranger-than-fiction companion piece to "The Interview." Director Colin Offland strikes the perfect balance of bemused spectator and impartial commentator while offering an up-close, behind-the-scenes account of the much-publicized 2014 basketball tournament organized by the indefatigably flamboyant Dennis Rodman in the infamously repressive North Korea, during which Rodman and other retired NBA greats were pitted against a dream team of local basketballers as a kinda-sorta birthday tribute to dictator Kim Jong-un, arguably the world's least likely hoops fan. It's a slam-dunk certainty that this documentary will score in just about every platform where it competes.
Coming across as engaging eccentric, mellow voluptuary, drunken buffoon and political naif, Rodman is viewed with what might be called the documentarian's version of tough love as he braves criticism, censure and even death threats between and during a series of sorties to Pyongyang.
First, he agrees to play with the Harlem Globetrotters in North Korea for the amusement of local B-ball fans, only to find afterwards that, truth to tell, Kim -- affectionately known to millions as the Marshal -- doesn't think much of the Globetrotters' style of play. On the other hand, the Marshal views Rodman as a superstar and all-around good guy. This improbably paves the way for a basketball tournament that Rodman feels might be the modern-day equivalent of the 1970s Ping-Pong matches that led to President Nixon's historic visit to China.
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper" continued its box office dominance this weekend, picking up $64.4 million and steamrolling over everything in sight, including Johnny Depp.
Depp's latest exercise in cinematic oddities, "Mortdecai," left audiences cold, earning a paltry $4.1 million across 2,648 locations and coming in ninth on box office charts. It's an embarrassing performance for a star of his caliber and comes on the heels of box office disasters such as "The Lone Ranger" and "Transcendence."
"Something needs to click soon," said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. "It's a couple of misses in a row and that always stings."
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - After a record-breaking wide-release debut over the Martin Luther King holiday, "American Sniper" will loom large at the box office for the second weekend in a row.
Analysts didn't see Clint Eastwood's look at the life of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle coming, so it's hard to figure out just how massive the film will continue to be now that it faces off against new projects from Jennifer Lopez and Johnny Depp.
If "American Sniper" has a sophomore weekend drop-off like the kind of traditional summer blockbuster it mirrored when it kicked off with $107 million and change over the four-day period, it should pull in roughly $45 million. In a sign of its dominance, "American Sniper" will have the biggest second weekend of any January wide release in Fandango history.
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - "The Sound of Music," which earned five Academy awards in its 1965 debut, is returning to the bigscreen to celebrate its half century legacy.
"The Sound of Music" will show at the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival on March 26, with Robert Osborne hosting a Q&A with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
Twentieth Century Fox has a yearlong global campaign in place for the film's golden anniversary, including a home entertainment release beginning March 10.
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Should the recent surge in male facial hair as a fashion accessory stall in 2015, barbers would be within their rights to blame "Mortdecai," a perky but obstinately unfunny heist caper with a hero irksome enough to make any happily mustachioed man reconsider his life choices. Directed (but, unusually, not written) by an off-form David Koepp, the film shoots for the swinging insouciance of '60s farce, but this story of a caddish art dealer enlisted by MI5 to assist in a knotty theft case is Only particularly dedicated devotees of Johnny Depp's latter-day strain of mugging -- here channeling Austin Powers by way of P.G. Wodehouse -- will delight in this expensive-looking oddity.
Eric Aronson's script -- his first feature-length effort since 2001's little-cherished Lance Bass starrer "On the Line" -- is based on Kyril Bonfiglioli's 1973 novel "Don't Point That Thing at Me," the first in a moderately popular comic series centered on the amoral trickster Charlie Mortdecai. Mortdecai's twitchy 'stache was enough of a character trademark to feature in the title of the series' final chapter; while it might be stretching a point to call Depp's daintily upturned walrus whiskers the film's best joke, it's certainly its hardest-working one, serving as the impetus for several long-running gags. (If auds aren't tickled the first time Mortdecai's upper-lip rug triggers a woman's gag reflex, the film reasons, they'll warm to the idea with repetition.)
If that's not much to build a comedy on, it's an even flimsier basis for a character: As presented here, at least, Mortdecai is certainly daft, but not in the singularly absurd way that makes Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster, say, a distinctly human figure of fun. Rather, he's an amalgam of easy-target toff characteristics -- a preening, lily-livered aristocrat of indeterminate provenance, forced to live by his unreliable wits as his fortune supposedly runs dry.
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - MIAMI -- Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons had harsh words about the business environment he has encountered in Hollywood now that he's turned his focus to producing movies, TV shows and digital content.
"The reality is the lack of integration is deafening," he said Wednesday during a Q&A at the NATPE confab. "The segregation in Hollywood is incredible."
In a candid 45-minute conversation with Variety co-editor in chief Andrew Wallenstein, the Def Jam founder was critical of Hollywood "progressives" who have no understanding of African-American culture, even if they are well-meaning and liberal in their political views. He said he's seen ample evidence of bias in the development process that tends to keep black creatives from working in an organically integrated way with white talent.