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Cinestaan Boards Saif Ali Khan Vehicle ‘Kaalakaandi’

1 hour ago

India and U.K. based Cinestaan Film Company has boarded “Kaalakaandi,” a co-production with India’s Flying Unicorn Entertainment that Cinestaan will release on September 8. The film marks the directing debut of Akshat Verma, who wrote Aamir Khan Productions’ 2011 hit “Delhi Belly.”

The “Kaalakaandi” ensemble cast is led by Saif Ali Khan and features Kunal Roy Kapoor, Vijay Raaz and Amyra Dastur. Set in Mumbai’s underbelly, the film is a dark comedy about six characters from different walks of life whose paths collide during one monsoon night.

Success is vital for both Cinestaan and Khan. Cinestaan’s first venture into production, 2016’s “Mirzya,” was a critical and commercial disaster. And Khan is coming off a string of box office failures, the last one, 2017’s “Rangoon” made a painful dent in Viacom 18 Motion Pictures’ balance sheet.

Next up for Cinestaan is Bornila Chatterjee’s “Titus Andronicus” adaptation “The Hungry,” a co-production with Film London.

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- Naman Ramachandran

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Film Review: ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Snuff’

3 hours ago

Most real-world and folkloric taboos alike have lost some of their ability to outrage in entertainment form — the never-ending zombie vogue has devalued cannibalism, while childhood sexual abuse has become the lazy screenwriter’s fallback explanatory plot revelation. But even in an era of almost-anything-goes internet content, snuff movies retain their ickiness and ambiguity as a possibly mythical phenomenon that humanity’s capacity for evil suggests surely must have really existed somewhere.

It’s a gamy thing to use as fodder for humor. It’s central to the mixed bag that is “A Beginner’s Guide to Snuff” that Mitchell Altieri’s film turns a tasteless comic conceit fairly frivolous and inoffensive. Murder has long been fodder for lightweight black comedy — what community theater hasn’t staged “Arsenic and Old Lace” with nary a murmur of controversy? — but snuff is something else, with its suggestions of sadistic perversion and seamy entrepreneurship. It’s somewhat impressive that this latest feature by the prolific Butcher Brothers (erstwhile co-director Phil Flores takes a backseat as executive producer here) renders an inherently repulsive idea farcical enough to bounce jokes off. The problem is that this watchable indie isn’t all that funny, clever or surprising despite its outré premise.

Lower-rent versions of the Wilson brothers whom no Wes Anderson has yet “discovered,” Dresden (Joey Kern) and Dominic Winters (Luke Edwards) are Minnesota siblings transplanted to L.A. in search of acting fame. It’s proved elusive to the point where they face returning to Chez Mom & Dad’s in shamed defeat. Dresden, the older and more maniacal blond of the two, cannot stomach that fate. He seizes on a potential last-chance breakthrough: Entering a horror-movie contest whose winner gets a quarter mil in production costs plus industry contacts. It’s also his brainstorm that they not only make a faux snuff film but heighten its prize-magnetizing “realism” by actually kidnapping and terrorizing their star. Once the footage is in the can, the prospect of career liftoff will presumably keep her from, say, criminally prosecuting the Winters.

All this seems a pretty terrible plan to the comparatively grounded Dominic, but he lets himself be pushed into it by big bro. After an unfunny sequence in which the latter insults auditioning actresses at a cattle call, they settle on Jennifer (Bree Williamson), who seems smart, attractive and game enough to forgive them when the ruse is exposed. They duly kidnap her — not without considerable bruising struggle — then take her to the warehouse their doting landlord, Jorge (Perry Layton Ojeda), has lent them for the evening.

Strapped to a table, at the mercy of two masked abductors, Jennifer appears terrified at first, despite her ersatz tormentors’ bungling and bickering. Dresden begins taking his role a little too seriously (evidently he has a history of instability), which exacerbates tensions between the brothers. Then there’s the fact that a real-life killer has been running around L.A. castrating men, something noted insistently enough to ensure it will sooner or later prove central to the narrative.

Kern and Edwards make an amiable pair of goofballs, and there’s an occasional bright line (amid too many in-joke movie references) in the team-written script. Still, “Beginner’s Guide” is rather tepid in laughs and outrageousness so long as the focus is on the boys, with their familiar “Dumb and Dumber” dynamic and ineptly faked bwa-ha-ha villainy. It gets livelier when the tables are turned, our heroes discovering their captive is considerably craftier — not to mention deadlier — than they.

Even then, the film feels relatively uninspired and tame, raising a few chuckles but nary an eyebrow. It should be said, however, that soap veteran Williamson fully rises to the occasion of her character’s hidden dimensions — if the material were better, she’d have knocked it out of the park. There’s also fun to be had from the scenes with Ojeda, who wrings sly notes from the potentially tired stereotype of the older gay neighbor whose lust objects are so corn-fed clueless they assume he’s a “ladies’ man.”

It’s another middling effort by the Butcher Brothers, who haven’t matched the pleasant-surprise peak of their 2006 vampire-family opus “The Hamiltons” (not even in its 2012 sequel, “The Thompsons”). While they’ve stayed pretty much within the horror genre since, at least they continue to approach it from different angles, with variable success but no lack of industry.

Though small in cast and location scale, “Beginner’s Guide” is decently paced and shot. The retro ’70s look of the opening credits proves one among several avenues it doesn’t pursue enough (or at all) after introducing, another such being the underlapped satirical potential in Dresden’s crazy inner voice being that of a motivational infomercial spokesman (Carter MacIntyre).

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- Dennis Harvey

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Hollywood Bids Adieu to Retiring Directors Guild Chief Jay D. Roth

4 hours ago

More than 400 attendees — and many top Hollywood players — assembled Thursday night for a heartfelt sendoff for  DGA National Executive Director Jay D. Roth, who’s retiring after more than two decades.

The 90-minute tribute at the DGA Theatre highlighted Roth’s penchant for preparation and truthfulness in conducting seven contract negotiations with the companies during his tenure. Michael Apted, the current DGA secretary-treasurer evoked a major laugh when he asserted that one of Roth’s key techniques was to get both sides to agree initially on the facts.

“Together we agreed — there weren’t to be alternate facts on his watch,” Apted added. “He always knew what we had to have at negotiations and what we could pass on.”

Several speakers stressed Roth was able to be effectively blunt. “Jay can really be tough,” said former Warner Bros. topper Barry Meyer. “Not screaming and yelling tough, but Don Corleone tough — soft-spoken tough.”

Carol Lombardini, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, said, “A friendship with Jay is not for the faint of heart.”

The gathering had plenty of light-hearted moments, such as DGA President Paris Barclay thanking Roth for not forcing him to go golfing. Roth himself gave thanks his eighth grade shop teacher Mr. Jacobs for show candor to his parents via a note that said, “Jay is going to fail wood shop; you need to find another path.”

Roth’s replacement Russell Hollander provoked big laughs by displaying a photo of wild-haired Roth’s taxi license from 1972. He also asked the audience, “Have you ever had a conversation with Jay where you knew more than he did?”

Barclay presented Roth with a trip to New Zealand to play golf at an exclusive club on the north island, adding, “We are happy to feed your addiction.”

Roth closed out the tribute by saying, “We don’t do anything alone. We understand that through the commonality of our effort, we better serve this wonderful industry. I love you all. Now let’s have a drink.”

High-profile executives in attendance included Disney chairman Robert Iger, Paramount Pictures chief Jim Gianopolus, Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara and Dawn Hudson, CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  Union leaders included SAG-aftra national executive director David White, Teamsters Local 399 secretary-treasurer Steve Dayan and SAG-aftra senior adviser John McGuire.

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- Dave McNary

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China Probes Finances of Wanda, Fosun (Reports)

5 hours ago

The China Banking Regulatory Commission is understood to have begun a probe into the sources of finance used by some of China’s most acquisitive companies. Companies within the scope of the review are believed to include Dalian Wanda, Fosun International and Rossoneri Sports Investment, a Chinese company which recently acquired the Italian soccer team AC Milan.

Reports of the investigation surfaced in investigative financial title Caixin and have been elaborated on by others with access to China’s state financial system. Other companies include airlines to property giant Hna, and freewheeling insurance group Anbang. The billionaire chairman of Anbang, Wu Xiaohui was recently detained by security forces and is currently prevented from leaving China.

On Thursday there was sharp selling in the shares and commercial debt of Wanda Film Holdings and Fosun International. The shares of both dropped dramatically, though both companies issued statements attempting to reassure investors that business was continuing as normal and that they knew of no issue that required a regulatory alert.

The surge of share trading on Thursday appears to have been triggered by rumors that state-controlled banks had been ordered to sell down their holdings in the companies. The emergence of the banking probe now appears more likely to be the reason for the investor nerves.

According to Chinese financial media, the Cbrc is interested in the scale and source of the companies’ debt financing, rather than any specific wrongdoing. Chinese companies and local governments have amassed massive amount of debt, with much of it coming from off balance sheet vehicles and non-state sources. Anbang in particular is believed to have made extensive use of the so-called shadow banking system.

The companies targeted are also among the busiest in China in overseas mergers and acquisition activity. Outside China, Wanda has acquired AMC, Carmike, Odeon Uci Legendary Entertainment, Infront Sports, World Triathlon, and yacht maker Sunseeker. Fosun has stakes in Jeff Robinov’s Studio 8, Cirque du Soleil, travel giant Club Mediterrannee and English soccer club Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The regulatory moves follow the announcement last November of capital controls by a separate regulator. Those were aimed at limiting the massive flows of capital out of China in 2016, stimulated by the weakening of the Chinese currency. The currency controls appear to have stymied Wanda’s proposed $1 billion takeover of U.S. TV producer Dick Clark Productions. Other deals that were called off also blamed China’s official brakes on capital export.

China’s currency has since stabilized and national financial reserves have begun expanding again since February. That would point to a quick victory for the policymakers at the macro economic level. But the fear remains that some companies have over-leveraged themselves in their headlong charge for growth.

The new probe is understood to require Icbc, China Construction Bank, Bank of Communications and Guangfa Bank, among others to look at their credit exposure and conduct a risk assessment.

Hna, parent of the Hainan Airlines operator, has spent billions buying overseas assets that include the Reuters headquarters building in London, U.S. golf courses, a stake in Deutsche Bank, and 25% of the Hilton Hotels group.

By lunchtime Friday, the shares of both Fosun and Wanda Film appeared to have stabilized. Fosun International was down 0.3 at Hk$11.7, while Wanda Film was up 0.4% at RMB52.13.

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- Patrick Frater

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Island Records Founder Chris Blackwell Teams Up With ‘Narcos’ Exec for Reggae Documentary

8 hours ago

Island Records founder and entrepreneur Chris Blackwell has teamed with “Narcos” showrunner Eric Newman and Propagate Content’s Ben Silverman to develop a narrative TV series about the birth of reggae music and the rise of Jamaica’s music industry in the wake of the Caribbean island nation’s independence from Britain in 1962.

Silverman, co-ceo of Propagate Content, and Newman pitched the idea to Universal Music Group and Studiocanal, both owned by French conglom Vivendi. Universal Music Group has been actively expanding its operations in film and TV. Sascha Penn, an alum of the Starz drama “Power,” will pen the pilot script. Studiocanal chairman-ceo Didier Lupfer will executive-produce the yet-untitled project with Blackwell, Newman, Silverman and Marlon James, author of the Booker Prize-winning novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” which is set in 1970s Jamaica. Studiocanal plans to shop the series to premium TV and streaming outlets.

Blackwell, who was raised in Jamaica and cofounded Island Records in 1959, is essentially a character in the story, given his huge role in popularizing Jamaica’s music via his work with Bob Marley, Toots and the Maytals and others. Blackwell sold Island to Polygram in 1989; Polygram was in turn acquired by Seagram in 1998 and merged with its current parent company, Universal Music Group.

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“I am thrilled by the team we have assembled and we are honored to be entrusted by Chris Blackwell to tell an amazing story about a little island that made, and continues to make, a lot of noise,” Newman said.

Silverman added: “This is a groundbreaking premium series focused on an extraordinary man who brought underrepresented music and ideas to the forefront of popular culture. Sascha Penn and Marlon James are perfect collaborators for the extraordinary Chris Blackwell, Eric and me.”

Jeff Berg, former ICM chief, brought the project to Blackwell’s attention and negotiated the deal for Blackwell, Silverman and Newman.

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- Variety Staff

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Noah Wyle’s Drama ‘Shot’ Lands at Paladin (Exclusive)

10 hours ago

Paladin has acquired domestic theatrical rights to Noah Wyle’s “Shot,” a drama about three lives irrevocably changed when a gun is accidentally fired on a busy Los Angeles street.

Shot” stars Wyle, Sharon Leal and newcomer Jorge Lendeborg, Jr., in his first leading role. It’s directed and produced by Jeremy Paul Kagan along with Dave O’Brien and Josh Siegel. The script is based on an original story by Kagan, written by Anneke Campbell and Will Lamborn.

Wyle plays a movie sound mixer suddenly felled by a random bullet accidentally fired by a teenager from a gun  passed to him by his cousin, meant to protect him against gang bullies. Kagan’s camera follows Wyle’s character from street, to stretcher, to gurney, to examining table — and juxtaposes the medical crisis with the teen’s moral one. The two meet face to face at the end of the film.

Paladin president Mark Urman said, “’Shot’ deals with the urgent social issue of gun violence in a striking and original way.  What makes it particularly effective is that it is devoid of polemics and rhetoric—no speeches are made.  Rather, through action and character alone, the viewer is drawn into a situation that is emotionally moving and disturbing. Anyone concerned about the lack of sensible gun control in our society, will want to see this film, and will tell others to see it as well.”

Paladin’s marketing campaign will be coordinated audience-engagement activity with wide array of gun control advocacy groups, organizations, and activists, both national and regional. John Raatz, an associate producer who coordinated grass roots outreach on Paladin’s release of Tom Shadyac’s “I Am,” will again be spearheading this initiative.

“This has been a passion project for me,” Kagan said. “I wanted to make a film where we get intimately involved in what happens when someone gets shot. I want us to care about these people and I didn’t want us to turn away, like we get to do with most movie violence. This isn’t about ‘no guns,’ it is about responsible living. It’s about sanity and gun safety to prevent the staggering loss of lives.”

The project was unveiled at the American Film Market in 2014.

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- Dave McNary

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Han Solo Firing: Will Ron Howard Share Directing Credit With Lord & Miller?

11 hours ago

If the Han Solo spinoff is the kind of blockbuster that most box office sages predict it will be, a lot of people will be taking credit for its success.

It’s not clear, however, who officially will get the nod for bringing the Star Wars smuggler’s early days to the big screen, particularly after the abrupt firing of Phil Lord and Chris Miller late in the shooting necessitated an 11th hour change of directors. On Thursday, Lucasfilm announced that Ron Howard will replace the duo, but how credit will be meted out is still being discussed.

The Directors Guild of America, which has the ultimate authority, has refused to comment on Lord and Miller’s surprise firings. Several sources said the credits issue is unlikely to be resolved for several months and that the union is taking a methodical approach to resolving how the different filmmakers’ contributions will be acknowledged.

Lord and Miller were dismissed due to creative differences in the fourth month of production after clashing with producer and Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy and co-writer/executive producer Lawrence Kasdan. Howard, who’s a DGA national board member, was announced as the replacement on Thursday morning. Production will resume on July 10 and the untitled movie is still due to be released on May 25, 2018.

It’s not the first time that directors have been dismissed while in production. Curtis Hanson, for example, had to step down as the director of “Chasing Mavericks” due to health issues. He ultimately shared a directing credit with Michael Apted, the filmmaker brought in to finish the project.

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However, the high profile nature of the Han Solo spinoff and the fact that production is relatively far along are complicating factors, making this uncharted territory for the DGA to navigate. Sources have told Variety that the current scenario is very rare and is unlikely to be settled soon since the movie requires re-shoots this summer and extensive work in post-production due to special effects.

Disney-Lucasfilm, Howard, Lord and Miller have also not commented on the issue of who will get the directing credit. Studio sources say they will defer to the guild’s rules.

The specific language in the DGA’s basic agreement with production companies spells out that in a situation with multiple directors, the production company will make a determination of who will be credited and then notify the directors. At that point, any of the notified directors can appeal to the DGA.

“The Guild may then determine the issue,” the provision says.

The provision also says that if DGA fails to reach a decision, the employer shall make the determination and that decision will be final. The language does not specify when a production company needs to make its notification of the directors other than prior to the release of the film.

The DGA’s rules also preclude replacing the director with someone else already employed on the movie. That prevented Disney-Lucasfilm from naming Lawrence Kasdan as the new director despite his extensive experience in the director’s chair. That rule dates back to the firing of Philip Kaufman from 1976’s “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” In that case, Clint Eastwood, the star of the film, took over behind-the-camera duties, inciting an uproar.

The DGA has a “one director” rule but that provision covers established directing teams such as Lord and Miller, who also received the directing credit on “The Lego Movie,” “21 Jump Street” and “22 Jump Street.”

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- Dave McNary

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Michael Beach Joins Cast of Jason Momoa’s ‘Aquaman’

11 hours ago

Michael Beach has joined Jason Momoa in the cast of “Aquaman” for the Warner Bros. DC Extended Universe, currently being shot in Australia by director James Wan.

Beach has been cast as Jesse Kane, part of a group of high-seas hijackers who has a fateful interaction with Aquaman. Beach guest-starred alongside Momoa on “Stargate: Atlantis” several years ago and acted in Wan’s “Insidious: Chapter 2.”

The cast also includes Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Ludi Lin, Dolph Lundgren, Temuera Morrison and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta. Peter Safran is producing. Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, Rob Cowan and DC Film’s Geoff Johns and Jon Berg are executive producing.

Aquaman” is based on the DC Comics character who’s king of Atlantis, born half-human as Arthur Curry and half-Atlantean. He was first introduced in the early 1940s. Momoa made his debut as Aquaman last year in a cameo in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and will reprise that role later this year in “Justice League.”

Heard will also star in “Justice League” as Mera, Aquaman’s love interest. “Aquaman” opens Dec. 21, 2018.

Beach recently starred in Lionsgate’s “Patriots Day.” TV credits include “Third Watch,” “ER,” “Sons of Anarchy” along with feature films “Waiting to Exhale,” “One False Move,” “True Romance,” “A Family Thing,” “Soul Food,” and Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts.”

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- Dave McNary

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Actress Thandie Newton Turns to Producing for Animated-Live Action Documentary ‘Liyana’

11 hours ago

Actress Thandie Newton, who took home a supporting actress BAFTA for the Oscar-winning film “Crash” and was nominated for a Golden Globe for HBO’s “Westworld,” has taken on the role of executive producer with “Liyana,” a hybrid animation and live-action documentary from Emmy-nominated directors Aaron and Amanda Kopp. The doc premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival this week, where it won the award for best documentary.

The film is about a girl from Swaziland who tries to rescue her young twin brothers from kidnappers; it was inspired by the dark memories of orphaned Swazi children who tell the story to South African author Gcina Mhlophe, who also appears in the film.

Newton’s association with the project springs from her African roots; the British-born actress’s mother is from Zimbabwe. But assembling the story for the screen was challenging, and the final form came together during the editing.

“It’s a bit like cooking,” says Aaron Kopp. “The balance of different ingredients and timing are important, and in our case it involved lots of experimentation. Because we didn’t have examples of other films that were structured in this way, we had to discover as we went. We revised the edit over and over.”

The Kopps were aided by documentary editor Davis Coombe, whose credits include Sundance darlings “Casting JonBenet” and “Chasing Coral,” both acquired by Netflix.

Coombe, the Kopps say, stepped in as the voice of reason at key moments throughout the process. “It’s a film that’s not easily categorized,” explains Aaron Kopp. “It challenges people’s expectations of what a documentary should be, and we came to embrace this as a defining characteristic of the film.”

For Newton — a passionate supporter of stories from people who don’t have the resources to tell them and a longtime admirer of Mhlophe’s work — the project marks her first role behind the camera.

“There’s definitely a shift that’s happened in my life,” she tells Variety, “and it doesn’t feel like too much of a conscious decision.  … I think it has a lot to do with being older and seeking to take the reins as opposed to just being corralled.”

Newton has two other scripts in the works and says she’s looking to develop more projects. She adds that over the past few years, she has begun hosting screenings and lending her celebrity to further the careers of others. For example, she helped Pakistani journalist-filmmaker and women’s rights activist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy in her Oscar campaigns for “Saving Face” and “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness.”

For Aaron Kopp, who grew up in Swaziland, this story was a natural fit. His wife and creative partner, Amanda, has known the children in the film since many were toddlers, and the filmmakers were eager to help Africans tell their own stories and express their voices. “From day one,” he says, “we stated that no matter how the film turned out, we wanted the process of creating it to be beneficial to the kids themselves.”

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- Valentina I. Valentini

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L.A. Film Festival Prizes Go to ‘Becks,’ ‘Liyana,’ ‘The Night Guard’

11 hours ago

The L.A Film Festival has announced its prizes, with the U.S. fiction award gong to Elizabeth Rohrbaugh and Daniel Powell for “Becks,” while Diego Ros was awarded the World Fiction Award for “The Night Guard (El Vigilante),” and the Documentary Award went to Amanda Kopp and Aaron Kopp for “Liyana.”

Director Jennifer Cochis and Film Independent President Josh Welsh announced the winners Thursday at an awards reception. In addition, Cinematographers Christian Sorensen Hansen and Pete Ohs received the U.S. Fiction Cinematography Award for their work on “Everything Beautiful is Far Away.”

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Two L.A. Muse Awards were presented, one to a documentary film and one to a fiction film. The L.A. Muse Documentary Award was awarded to Mark Hayes for “Skid Row Marathon” and Savannah Bloch received the L.A. Muse Fiction Award for “And Then There Was Eve.”

The Nightfall Award went to Amanda Evans for “Serpent,” with the Award for Short Fiction going to “A Funeral for Lightning,” directed by Emily Kai Bock. Bradford Young’s film “Black America Again” received the Award for Short Documentary.

Several films also received audience awards, including “Skid Row Marathon” for documentary; “The Keeping Hours” for fiction; “Swim,” for short film; and “High & Mighty” for web series.

The previously announced winners of the Danny Elfman Project’s Rabbit and Rogue Competition saw their films screened at the festival; Elfman licensed his album “Rabbit and Rouge” for free online as a soundtrack to short filmmakers, with a screening at the festival as a prize for winners.

For the full list of special mentions and winners, visit Film Independent’s website.

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- Erin Nyren

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Meryl Streep’s Best Movie Lines

12 hours ago

Over her storied career, Meryl Streep has racked up dozens of film credits going back to the ’70s, scored a record-breaking 20 Oscar nominations (along with three wins), and, of course, delivered golden line after golden line.

With the actress turning 68 on Thursday, Variety decided it was as good a time as any to look back at some of Streep’s best lines, from the funny to the sassy to the downright inspirational.

“How do I look?” — Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Following a divorce, and nasty custody battle complete with character assassination and conflicted emotion, Streep as Joanna Kramer seals her first Oscar win with a question — “How do I look?” — as she boards an elevator to see her son.

“The dingo took my baby!” – “Cry in the Dark” (1988)

Often misquoted as “A dingo ate my baby,” Streep’s exclamation after a wild dog snatches her infant from a tent, delivered in a flawless Australian accent, has become part of pop culture. Elaine made it a memorable put-down in a “Seinfeld” episode.

“I’m not a box. I don’t have sides. This is it. One side fits all.” — “Postcards From the Edge” (1990)

In “Postcards From the Edge,” Meryl Streep is Carrie Fisher’s muse, and embodies the late Hollywood royal in all her snarky, unpredictable, and out-of-control glory. With this line, Streep’s Suzanne Vale snaps back at her love interest Jack Faulkner (Dennis Quaid) to make sure he knows exactly where they stand.

“I am a righteous bitch, aren’t I?” — “Dancing at Lughnasa” (1998)

In the long history of Streep delivering flawlessly sassy lines, let no one forget her 1998 role in period film “Dancing at Lughnasa,” where she played Kate “Kit” Mundy. After her sister Aggie (Brid Brennan) declares, “Do you ever listen to yourself, Kate? You are such a damned righteous bitch,” Streep’s Kit can only delightfully agree.

“That is what we do. That is what people do. They stay alive for each other.” — “The Hours” (2002)

In one heartbreaking scene of “The Hours,” Streep, who plays New Yorker Clarissa Vaughan, has a candid conversation with the AIDs-striken Richard (Ed Harris), who asks her why he should even stay alive, if not for her.

“The assassin always dies, baby. It’s necessary for the national healing.” — “The Manchurian Candidate” (2004)

Meryl Streep played U.S. Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw, the manipulative mother of Liev Schreiber’s Raymond Shaw. She perfectly embodies the ruthless nature of her character when she delivers the difficult truth to her son.

Various — “Devil Wears Prada” (2006)

Where to even start with Streep’s endlessly quotable performance as Miranda Priestly? At the end, of course, with the line that the actress brilliantly tweaked during the table read from “Everybody wants to be me” to “Everybody wants to be us.” With this statement we realize how much Andy (Anne Hathaway) has changed (and, really, how much we all have). Some of Streep’s greatest lines stem from her impatient snark (“By all means, move at a glacial pace. You know how that thrills me.”) And she has a certain specialty in the way she delivers questions (“Why is no one ready?”; “Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking.”). But the line that defines Streep’s performance, is the two-word dismissal that becomes her refrain: “That’s all.”

“I have doubts… I have such doubts.” — “Doubt” (2008)

Meryl Streep allows the veneer of stern self-assurance in her character, Sister Aloysius Beauvier, to crack in a moment of emotional release. “I have doubts … I have such doubts,” she breaks down about her ability to expose Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and her faith in the church at large.

“If what I think is happening is happening … it better not be.” — “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009)

Meryl Streep is the matriarch in Wes Anderson’s endlessly quirky and quippy animated masterpiece — stern and even, and a foil for her rambunctious husband voiced by George Clooney. In this scene she calls out his tomfoolery: “If what I think is happening,” she says, and the camera closes in on her judgmental gaze. “… it better not be.”

“These damn things are as hot as a stiff c—!” – “Julie and Julia” (2009)

Meryl Streep totally nailed TV chef Julia Child’s breathy and sometimes risqué enthusiasm, as in this scene where she pulls two large cannellonis from boiling water using her bare hands.

“We will stand on principle, or we will not stand at all.” — “The Iron Lady” (2011)

Streep’s performance as Margaret Thatcher earned her her most recent Oscar, and it’s easy to see why. When she tells Alexander Haig (Matthew Marsh) about why she will go to war with Argentina in an empassioned speech, it’s hard not to get chills.

“Is anybody supposed to smoke?” — “August: Osage County” (2013)

Streep played the delightfully sardonic Violet Weston in John Wells’ adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play. Her response to Ivy’s (Julianne Nicholson) quite obvious question is only one of many memorable lines from the drama (though not uttered by Streep, who can forget Julia Roberts’ “Eat the fish, bitch”?)

What’s your favorite Meryl Streep movie line? Let us know in the comments below!

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- Variety Staff

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‘Stronger’: First Trailer Shows Jake Gyllenhaal as Boston Marathon Bombing Survivor

14 hours ago

Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany bring to life the struggles of Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman and his then-girlfriend Erin Hurley in the trailer for Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate’s “Stronger.”

Bauman was standing at the finish line to support Hurley in the race when two bombs detonated in the 2013 terrorist attack that killed three people and injured hundreds more. He lost his legs at the knee and went on to write a 2015 memoir of the same name describing his efforts to adjust to his new life.

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Jake Gyllenhaal’s Boston Marathon Bombing Drama ‘Stronger’ Gets Awards-Season Release

The trailer depicts the couple’s relationship leading up to the bombing and how they struggled to remain together as Bauman faced despair after the injury and worked to cope with his newfound position as a symbol of American and Bostonian bravery.

The film is directed by David Gordon Green from a script written by Boston local John Pollono, and also stars Miranda Richardson as Bauman’s mother and Clancy Brown as his father. It is produced by Lionsgate’s Summit Entertainment label, Mandeville Films, Bold Films, and Nine Stories. It’s Gyllenhaal’s first production under his Nine Stories banner.

Lionsgate also produced “Patriots Day,” another Boston bombing film starring Mark Wahlberg. Although the film received generally positive reviews, some Boston critics took issue with its depiction of the tragedy and the fictional nature of Wahlberg’s character.

Stronger” premieres Sept. 22.

Watch the trailer here or above.

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- Erin Nyren

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Two Tyler Perry Movies Get 2018 Release Dates

14 hours ago

Lionsgate has announced that it’s releasing a pair of Tyler Perry movies in 2018 — “She’s Living My Life,” starring Taraji P. Henson with Perry directing, and “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral.”

“She’s Living My Life” will hit theaters on March 30 and be written by Perry with Henson portraying a woman who is tired of standing by her devious husband, becoming enraged when it becomes clear she has been betrayed. Warner Bros.’ “Ready Player One,” directed by Steven Spielberg, is opening on that date, which is the start of Easter weekend.

“Family Funeral” will be released on Aug. 3 and star Perry with Cassi Davis and Patrice Lovely. The comedy will center on a joyous family reunion that becomes a nightmare as Madea and the crew travel to backwoods Georgia, where they find themselves unexpectedly planning a funeral that might unveil unsavory family secrets.

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Lionsgate is launching the comedy sequel “Tyler Perry’s Boo 2: A Madea Halloween” on Oct. 20. Perry brought his signature Madea character back to life last year in his ninth “Madea” movie — “Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween.”

“A Madea Halloween” was a solid performer for Lionsgate with $73 million in domestic grosses.

Perry debuted the Madea character in 2005’s “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” in a version of his stage play. That film was directed by Darren Grant — the only time a film written by Perry was not directed by Perry himself.

Lionsgate has handled many other Perry films such as “Good Deeds,” “The Single Moms Club,” “For Colored Girls” and the two “Why Did I Get Married” films as part of a strategy to offer movies to the African-American sector. The studio saw success recently with Tupac Shakur biopic “All Eyez on Me,” which grossed $30 million domestically in its first five days.

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- Dave McNary

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Michael Bay’s 13 Films Ranked From Worst to Best

15 hours ago

With “Transformers: The Last Knight” coming out this week, we look at Michael Bay’s entire explosive filmography and ranked each entry from worst to best.

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- Joe Leydon

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Raul Castillo Talks Working on Surreal ‘Limbo’ Short With Sam Elliott

15 hours ago

Award-winning live-action short “Limbo,” starring Raul Castillo and featuring the voice of Sam Elliott, will be premiere on Vimeo on June 27.

Limbo,” adapted from an untitled Meathaus graphic novella by Marian Churchland by director Will Blank and Richard Kaponas, tells the tale of a man stranded alone through the desert who encounters a mysterious dying dog.

“There’s no doubt that Marian Churchland’s voice drew me to ‘Limbo.’ Our director, Will Blank, very wisely, included the original source material when he first sent me the script and I felt that if we stayed loyal to Marian’s comic, then we would be in good hands,” says Castillo, who starred in HBO’s “Looking,” “Also, getting to act opposite an animatronic dog voiced by Sam Elliott was a huge plus.”

Director Blank says Elliott was his first choice to voice the dog, and mentioned it to producer Casey Fenton, who said “Why don’t we ask him?”

“I laughed and agreed it was worth a shot,” he explains. After first reaching out to Elliott’s voiceover agent and then having the project featured in IndieWire’s Project of the Day, they heard back. “We faxed Sam the comic and received an enthusiastic yes,” says Blank. “He really blew all of our minds and it was a true joy to work with him.”

Elliott provided the voice of the mystical dying dog, which was created by creature designer Tim Martin. The design and construction of the fully functional animatronic dog puppet was a key aspect of the production. It was operated by three puppeteers.

Elliott is currently starring in “The Hero,” about an aging Western star facing his mortality and trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter.

Blank said Churchland’s novella resonated with him because he was going through some personal struggles at the time. “I related to the feeling of being untethered, full of regret and uncertain what to do next,” he says. “Against that emotional backdrop, the interaction between the man and a supernatural dog felt fresh and interesting; it was a catalyst I needed in my own life.”

The short, which premiered at Fantasia Fest, recently won Cine Gear’s Independent Short Film Award and has played at a number of festivals, including Toronto After Dark and Fantastic Fest.

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- Terry Flores

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‘Wonder Woman’ Crosses $600 Million at Worldwide Box Office

16 hours ago

Wonder Woman” continues to be a box office force.

In less than three weeks of wide release, “Wonder Woman” has earned $601.6 million. The breakdown, after Wednesday night’s totals were counted, now stand at $289.2 million domestic, and $312.4 million overseas.

This comes after “Wonder Woman” shattered expectations to earn $103.3 million in North America during its opening weekend. The movie has shown impressive holds since then, dropping only 43% during its second weekend, and a staggering 29.5% in its third frame.

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Wonder Woman” is also the rare movie this summer that has been able to post a relatively equal split between U.S. and international earnings. Film such as “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” and the upcoming “Transformers: The Last Knight” are leaning heavily on the international box office, especially China.

It’s a big win for Warner Bros. and DC Comics which have pulled off a movie that has been received well by both audiences and critics. Director Patty Jenkins, too, has been a celebrated figure in Hollywood since the movie proved to be a hit. Variety recently revealed exclusively that Jenkins is already involved in drafting a script for the sequel. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine topline the film as Diana Prince (a.k.a. Wonder Woman) and Steve Trevor.

Domestically, “Wonder Woman” is the third-highest earning movie of 2017 so far behind Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” ($503.5 million) and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” ($376.2 million).

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- Seth Kelley

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Ansel Elgort on ‘Baby Driver,’ Directing Ambitions and Life Under Trump

17 hours ago

Having played a swoon-worthy boyfriend in the hit weepie, “The Fault in Our Stars,” Ansel Elgort shows off his edgier side as a music-loving crook in “Baby Driver.” The heist thriller is the perfect antidote to all those bloated, brain-dead would-be summer blockbusters. Writer and director Edgar Wright has fashioned some of the greatest chase sequences in movie history, while putting together a killer soundtrack that boasts the likes of Beck, Barry White, and T. Rex. Elgort is at the center of it all, as a mysterious, ear bud-wearing speed demon.

Baby Driver” debuts on June 28. In advance of its opening, Variety spoke with Elgort about stardom, his love of music, and why he’s become more politically involved.

What’s the key to understanding Baby?

I look at Baby as being innocent. He is younger than his years, deep down. There are a lot of shades to him. He loves music, he wants to vibe out to it, and he’s playful. In the heist crew he’s shielded and he tries to be a mystery. He’s a soft-spoken tough guy. He’s quiet and he keeps his sunglasses on and doesn’t say anything because he’s seen a lot of people be disposed of. Then, you have some moments where he’s alone and walking down the street and it’s like being in any city, it’s very anonymous. Well, it’s getting a little less anonymous for me now, but it still can be a very anonymous experience when you’re alone in this sea of strangers.

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Are you able to go out in public without being mobbed by fans?

I do walk the streets of New York all the time. I don’t take cars in New York. I’m in the subway or I’m walking or maybe taking an Uber X. I’m not like with a driver guy or with a bodyguard. That sounds like a miserable lifestyle. When I’m walking around, I walk pretty fast, so people can’t catch me. Even if they do notice, it’s a flash. It’s: “who’s that?” And then I’m gone.

Why did you want to do the film?

I knew I had to do it. The script was incredible. Even on the page this movie really worked. Edgar wrote the movie around the music. It was given to me on an iPad and there was this special app where you could click a button at the top of every screen that made sure the music was synched with the scene you were reading.

The movie has some elaborate car chases. Did you do your own driving?

I did as much as I could and as much as they would let me do. I did a lot of stunt training. We did about 10 sessions with a stunt team from the movie, who were really great. In theory, I can do all the stunts from the movie. They only let me do a few because they don’t want me to harm our amazing leading actors.

Did Edgar Wright play the music he planned to use in a particular scene while he was shooting?

Always. That was very important. When you see the movie, you’ll see everything moves to the music. That’s not just in the edit. That’s done on the day. We did weeks of prep with a choreographer to plan out all the scenes where we move to the music. We were always moving to the beat.

You are also a musician. Do you prefer making music to acting?

There are moments on the set for an actor that are unbelievably incredible and remind me why this has been my passion since I was a kid, but there are also moments where you sit in a trailer for two hours and wait. Music has become a thing that I can stay creative with. Some people go in their trailer and they work out or watch movies or read. I make music in my trailer. I need to stay creative all the time. The last three days I’ve been in L.A. doing interviews all day, but then I go into the music studio and from 7 to 3 a.m. I’m making music. Then I wake up at 7 a.m. and I’ll do interviews. I would rather have a lack of sleep than a lack of creativity.

Would you ever appear in a musical?

I already have an idea for a movie where I’d be able to sing in it. Especially after working with Edgar, I’d like to write and direct as well.

How do you pick your films?

For me it’s three things when I look at a project. It’s script, character, director. Nothing else matters — the money doesn’t matter or the budget.

You were very outspoken after Donald Trump was elected. Has his presidency been as bad as you feared?

He’s a total mess. The biggest thing is him embarrassing us and cutting things that we need, cutting down social services. People need that stuff. That’s what makes us a good country. I’m not happy with his presidency, but hopefully this is a big eye-opener and we’ll be able to not allow this to happen again. At the same time, it seems as though we had a bunch of eye-openers and people never learned. I’m a little lost. Learning about humans and realizing that we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. Maybe in the next 10 years we’ll have someone like Obama again and then after that it will go back to an idiot.

Have you gotten more politically involved?

I feel as though I need to do more, and I think everyone can do more. It’s hard when you have a life and things, but I would like to continue to help. Maybe I’ll subsidize the arts or the schools or things that the [Republican] party is cutting.

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- Brent Lang

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Hollywood Blockbusters Drive China’s Box Office as Local Fare Stumbles

17 hours ago

Summer blockbuster season isn’t just an American phenomenon. In China, Hollywood movies are poised to earn about $580 million this month, continuing a dominant run in 2017 that’s likely to have wider implications for the Sino-u.S. relationship, including ongoing talks on import quotas and revenue share.

Since the Chinese New Year period, when local-language films did big business, turnstile traffic in the Middle Kingdom has all gone Hollywood’s way. In April and May, titles including “XXX: Return of Xander Cage” and “The Fate of the Furious” lifted Hollywood’s monthly box office share to more than 80%. June should see a repeat of that, thanks to “Wonder Woman,” “The Mummy,” “Alien: Covenant” and the soon-to-be-released “Transformers: The Last Knight.”

“The onslaught of the Hollywood tentpoles, plus an Indian juggernaut, has coincided with the weakest output of [Chinese] releases, many of which were the result of shoddy imitations without much merit to start with,” said Raymond Zhou, China’s leading critic and industry commentator at China Daily.

“The Hollywood blockbusters are not necessarily better in quality, judging from Chinese word of mouth, but the Chinese movies are decidedly weaker than usual. And there is little sign of improvement,” he added.

The lopsided performance of Hollywood and Chinese films poses a tricky problem for China’s industry overseers.

Through import quotas, blackout periods and bunched-up releases, Chinese regulators usually manage to limit foreign films to 40% of the box office while delivering 60% to domestic titles on an annual basis. But data from Chinese consultancy EntGroup shows that in the first five months of 2017, Hollywood powered to a 51% share, while qualifying Chinese titles tumbled to 43% — even though the 26 imported films were vastly outnumbered by 125 local ones.

Thus, Hollywood is fueling China’s box office growth and propping up its fast-expanding number of cinemas. If Chinese regulators tried to enforce the normal 60-40 ratio in favor of domestic titles, there would be cries of protest not just from studios across the Pacific but from exhibitors at home.

That’s where the current situation could affect trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing. The prevailing agreement on the film industry, with an annual import quota of 34 revenue-sharing films, has been in place for five years and is now under review.

The 34 figure is a minimum, not a maximum, and Chinese officials have often applied a degree of flexibility. Last year, to counter an unexpected downturn at the box office, they allowed in 40 revenue-sharing foreign films, plus additional Hollywood releases on a flat-fee basis.

Upping the import quota would therefore be an easy, relatively painless way for Chinese negotiators to let the U.S. side score some points while achieving their own aim of shoring up box office growth. “The government is hoping to keep the industry growing by encouraging more Hollywood movies,” said Zhao Li, senior analyst at EntGroup.

U.S. negotiators want changes in other areas as well: shorter blackout periods; longer advance notification of release dates; a bigger share of gross revenue for quota films, now pegged at 25%; and the ability of studios to choose their own distributors and run their own distribution operations in China.

The control-obsessed Chinese government is unlikely to give ground on distribution. And the U.S. dominance of the Chinese film market makes it less likely, not more, that Beijing will want to increase the size of its payouts to Hollywood.

One studio distribution executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the most likely areas of substantive change appear to be the blackouts and notice periods.

China’s Film Bureau, along with the state-owned distributor China Film Group, determine the release dates of revenue-sharing foreign films and typically give only four to six weeks’ notice. That sharply limits the ability to build a proper marketing campaign, which infuriates Hollywood.

China has also played fast and loose with blackout periods. Sometimes they can benefit Hollywood: Last year, with ticket sales slowing, officials shortened the six-week summer blackout and gave three Hollywood titles — “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” “The Legend of Tarzan” and “The Secret Life of Pets” — unusual August releases.

But the fluidity makes planning difficult. Upcoming films “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “War for the Planet of the Apes” are believed to have been approved for release, but no dates have been confirmed as the Film Bureau waffles over how hard to apply the blackout this year, the distribution executive said.

One round of U.S.-China trade talks has been held, with little headway reported. The next is unlikely to happen before the Chinese Communist Party’s National Congress, which is tentatively scheduled for October. “The discussions could easily go on until next year. China has no advantage to be gained from hurrying the process,” the executive said.

Chinese filmmakers are using the fallow period to regroup and chart a new direction following their disappointing performance at the box office so far this year. Groups like Huayi Brothers Media, Bona Film Group and Dalian Wanda Group are looking at mega-budget spectaculars for their 2018 slates. “They are producing large tentpole movies, based on big IP, because they consider that the only way to compete with Hollywood,” said Zhao.

Exhibition giants such as Wanda still envisage the theatrical market doubling in five to seven years, making the Chinese market significantly bigger than the

North American market. If it takes Hollywood blockbuster muscle to achieve that, so be it.

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- Patrick Frater

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Munich Festival Fosters Summer of Rebellion

17 hours ago

The spirit of rebellion will be in the air at the Munich Film Festival, which will be occupied by movies focusing on young people protesting against how their societies are run and seeking out a new utopia. The fest runs June 22-July 1.

One of the German films that reflects the theme of “creative resistance” is “The Long Summer of Theory,” says Christoph Groener, who programs the New German Cinema section. The film reflects the feeling among the young that “what is needed is to move from solipsistic thinking to practical doing.”

Irene von Alberti’s pic centers on three women whose apartment is threatened by property speculators. They decide to change their lives, and are “trying to think of new creative forms of living together” that incorporate a sense of “social solidarity.”

The movie “wants to create a new activism where the film itself might be just a starting point and wants to infuse audiences with the need to talk to each other and find ways to create a new society, a new utopia, in which we can thrive,” says Groener.

In Germany, many young filmmakers, faced with the difficulties of raising financing, are turning to low-budget moviemaking to deliver pics “that seem to be totally uncompromised in their creative approach,” Groener says. Many of these films have an improvisational approach that delivers something that is “new, radical and playful.” The films don’t rely on high-production values, but have the ability to be successful internationally, he says.

Other countries are also producing films that form part of “this new juicy cinema that wants to [inspire] a new political activism,” he says. One film that typifies this resistance ethos is Sofia Exarchou’s “Park,” which centers on young people squatting in the decaying Olympic Village in Athens, creating their own community outside of the conventions of Greek society.

Festival director Diana Iljine says a new generation of auteurs is emerging, whose approach is “fresh, not only in terms of the content, but also the aesthetics.” This filmmaking is “not always positive [in its outlook] — not every story ends in a good way — but it is full of hope, and [the filmmakers] have sought for a creative solution.”

The festival is in revolt itself: against simplistic notions of what life, and cinema, is like in countries perceived as posing a threat to the West, such as Iran, Russia and China.

Bernhard Karl, who programs the fest’s international films, says that in some countries “it’s often the case that [filmmakers] don’t have the chance to make political films,” but their movies instead “reflect the political situation in small, personal stories.”

These films offer a peek at the lives of ordinary folks in these countries. Xuebo Wang’s “Knife in the Clear Water” centers on a farmer from the Hui Muslim minority group in China who is obliged to slaughter his bull for a feast, but is unwilling to part with the beloved animal. Mehdi Fard Ghaderi’s “Immortality” gives a snap-shot of life in Iran. The film, which follows six families on a train journey, depicts a microcosm of Iranian society.

Munich Festival Highlights

Claire Denis’ “Let the Sunshine In,” starring Juliette Binoche, opens the fest. The film tells the story of an artist in Paris looking for love and personal fulfillment. “To open with a Claire Denis and Juliette Binoche film is a dream for a festival person like me,” Iljine says.

Sofia Coppola may only be in her mid-40s, but Munich is honoring her with a career retrospective. She won an original screenplay Oscar for “Lost in Translation,” a Venice Golden Lion for “Somewhere,” and the director prize at Cannes with “The Beguiled.”

“There are not many women out there who are as good, as famous, as much of a fashion icon, and coming from such an interesting a background as she does,” Iljine says. “She’s a star and [her films] marked a new way of filmmaking.”

Bryan Cranston, who nabbed four Emmys for “Breaking Bad,” took a Tony for “All the Way” and was Oscar- nommed for “Trumbo,” will receive Munich’s CineMerit Award, which recognizes his “outstanding contributions to the film arts.” He will also present his latest film, “Wakefield.”

The fest closes with Lone Scherfig’s romantic comedy “Their Finest,” with one of the film’s stars Bill Nighy attending. Nighy plays an aging screen legend, alongside Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin.

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- Leo Barraclough

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Jennifer Lopez to Star in and Produce Romantic Comedy ‘Second Act’

17 hours ago

Jennifer Lopez will star in and produce the romantic comedy “Second Act” for STXfilms as part of the company’s efforts to focus on female-driven movies.

STXfilms touted the movie as being in the vein of “Working Girl” and “Maid in Manhattan.” Lopez will portray a big box store employee who reinvents her life and her lifestyle, which gets her the chance to prove to Madison Avenue that street smarts are as valuable as a college degree.

“There are so many things I love about this project and script,” said Lopez. “People try to put women to sleep at a certain age. ‘Second Act’ is a story that empowers the every woman to do more, to be more, and not limit their dreams. I am thrilled to partner with Stx as they continue to create and empower the female audience.”

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Veteran comedy director Peter Segal will direct the film. His credits include “50 First Dates,” “Anger Management,” and “Get Smart.”

The project was developed by Stx with Lopez from an idea conceived by Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and Justin Zackham. The two wrote the script for “Second Act,” which will be produced by Lopez, Goldsmith-Thomas, Zackham and Benny Medina.

Adam Fogelson, Chairman of STXfilms, and the studio’s president of production Sam Brown made the announcement Thursday.

“When Jennifer, Elaine and Justin came to us with this idea, we loved it right away,” said Fogelson. “The premise of reinventing yourself and creating a career and life-defining second act is hugely relatable and aspirational. Jennifer’s talents as a film and television actress, producer and recording artist are legendary. She is a true global superstar and and we think she is perfect for this role.”

Lopez starred in several successful romantic comedies and dramas between 2001 and 2005, including “The Wedding Planner,” “Maid in Manhattan,” “Shall We Dance,” and “Monster in Law.” Other key credits include “Out of Sight,” “The Cell,” and “Anaconda.” She starred opposite Ryan Guzman in 2015’s erotic thriller “The Boy Next Door.”

Stx noted in the announcement that its next six releases feature women in leading roles — “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” “Molly’s Game,” “Gringo,” “A Bad Moms Christmas” and “The Happytime Murders.”

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