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Monday, 17 April 2017


One of the great joys of the Fast and the Furious franchise has been watching the filmmakers top themselves in each entry with car-driven action. The Fate of the Furious goes as far as having the good guys take on a Russian submarine so they can stop World War III.

With two more films already announced, the question now can only be: What on Earth will Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and the rest of the cast do in the ninth film?

Now that you’ve seen The Fate of the Furious, you know a couple of big new developments: First, Dominic Toretto is a father, from his now-ill-fated relationship with DSS agent Elena Neves (Elsa Pataky). Second, and perhaps more importantly: Charlize Theron’s nefarious hacker Cipher avoided capture or death at the end of the eighth film. It’s hard to imagine Theron not returning in a future entry to cause some kind of trouble for Dom and his family.

The easy joke is to say, “Well, now they have to go to outer space.” Even series screenwriter Chris Morgan acknowledged the suggestion, replying that if he “had something so good,” he’d consider sending Dom and friends to the stars. He hinted at an unexpected crossover there, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, with the Riddick series, but here’s another idea. For the ninth film, have Dom, Luke Hobbs, Letty, and the others go to space in an Armageddon-style situation.

Imagine it: Cipher has holed up somewhere secret and broken into the mainframe of various nations’ and corporations’ satellites. Unless she gets as much power and money as she desires, she’ll make the world go dark. Maybe, even worse, she could figure out a way to draw debris floating in space towards Earth, utilizing the satellites as a series of magnets. (The Neil DeGrasse Tysons of the world would quibble with the hard science of this storyline.)

Only Dom and his family have fought Cipher and survived to tell the tale, so who better to stop an asteroid, or a series of asteroids, from decimating the planet? Here, the motivating factor to stop Cipher wouldn’t need any further explanation; in Fate, it’s established that Dom is only working for Cipher to ensure the safety of his infant son, but if the entire world is at stake, that should be good enough for our heroes. And since Cipher spent most of Fate in a plane, it only makes sense she'll be in some sort of space station in Fast 9.

Of course, should the filmmakers and cast pursue this line of thinking, it leads to another inevitable question: What do you possibly do for Fast and Furious X? (You have to assume they’ll start employing Roman numerals in the titles soon.) Where could Dom and the family go after space? The best answer may be to expand the genre the Fast and the Furious series occupies. What was once a car-driven take on Point Break morphed into heist movies by the time of 2009’s Fast and Furious, and has since morphed into a James Bond-esque franchise. Taking the family into space pushes them into science-fiction, but in bringing them back to Earth, Universal Pictures could push them into another genre: action-horror.

Later this summer, the studio is going to begin building out its monster-movie universe with a reboot of The Mummy, in which Tom Cruise will not only tangle with an Egyptian mummy but Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) himself. The intent is clear: Universal wants to turn characters like Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, the Mummy and the Wolfman into the equivalent of the Marvel or DC cinematic universes. Should that experiment be successful, why not go a step further, and crossover with the Fast and the Furious franchise?

Of course this idea is ridiculous: Squaring off with criminal masterminds is one thing, but doing so with the Wolfman and the Mummy is entirely different. But even in the eight Fast and the Furious films, the action is rarely less than insane, not to mention the operatic twists and turns of the character dynamics. These people have gone from rogue drivers stealing electronics to government agents working to stop a nuclear war. In 2001, when Vin Diesel and Paul Walker were racing each other so the former could evade arrest from the LAPD, facing off against Universal’s monsters would have seemed insane. In 2017, it’s a lot closer to reality. (The series’ longtime producer, Neal H. Moritz, also produces the 21 Jump Street films, which at one time was going to crossover with Men in Black. Anything can happen.)

Think of it: This could sate Diesel’s clear desire to indulge in genre fare like The Chronicles of Riddick and Guardians of the Galaxy. Plus, it would be a hoot to see Dom and Luke and Letty battle the Wolfman. The logistics of how it all goes down might seem shaky, but a world where a hacker can take control of cars, missiles and submarines could easily be a world where monsters lurk beneath the surface.

The challenge is set for F&F writer Chris Morgan, the rest of the crew and castmembers like Diesel. Topping the action in The Fate of the Furious will be difficult, and bringing the characters into a shared universe the right way would be even more challenging, as Dominic Toretto and his family must be more than pawns in a larger realm. It won’t be easy, but these movies thrive on the impossible. Truly thinking outside the box is the only way to top what’s come before.

Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) lives life a quarter-mile at a time — and he doesn’t like to look back. But with the release of The Fate of the Furious — the first film in the high-octane franchise not to feature late star Paul Walker — it’s hard not to take a look back at where it all began.

In preparation for Fate, I watched 2001's The Fast and the Furious, the film that jump-started one of Hollywood’s biggest franchises. And I must admit, viewing Fast right before seeing the new adventures of Dom and his expanded crew is a whiplash-inducing experience.

The word, “family,” for instance, is now the core of the series; the premise of Fate of the Furious is that Dom has inexplicably betrayed his family to do the bidding of an enigmatic, all-powerful hacker named Cipher (Charlize Theron). The theme of family is front and center. But in the Rob Cohen-directed original, the word “family” is only uttered twice, and both times by characters who appear just in the first film: the boss of Walker's undercover LAPD officer Brian O’Conner and the thuggish Johnny Tran (Rick Yune).

Yes, family is still a driving factor for Dom, his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster). But the word itself isn’t mentioned over and over again as it is in Fate of the Furious, written by frequent F&F screenwriter Chris Morgan. (It wasn't until Morgan's Fast & Furious 6 that family became the franchise's buzzword.)

In Fate, Theron’s Cipher knows all too well that family is Dom’s Achilles' heel, with her suggesting that it’s a lie that Dom’s brain uses to survive each quarter-mile; she even subverts the idea of family, suggesting to Dom that he only loves to race because it’s the only place where he’s free of family.

Fate talks the talk, but it oddly is less willing to embody the loyalty Dom has embraced in past entries. In Fate, we eventually learn why Dom is betraying his family, without fully grasping why he couldn’t tell them that he’s working for the enemy. Similarly, the new film allows us to see baddie Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) as a nuanced character instead of a one-dimensional villain. But this movie glosses over what made Deckard was so nasty in Furious 7: He killed Han (Sung Kang), a member of Dom’s “family.” Yet Deckard is accepted into the fold — and rather quickly. As Dom has said before, you never turn your back on family, so why would all be forgiven?

As the franchise has become more focused on paying lip service to family, it's also strangely become more impersonal, no more so than with Fate of the Furious. Directors Justin Lin, James Wan and now F. Gary Gray have chosen to focus on action, attempting to top themselves with each new film. Cohen’s original had a few notable setpieces, specifically a heist-turned-rescue on a two-lane highway. The most ridiculous flourish, perhaps, is when both Dom and Brian were able to separately outdrive an oncoming train in the final scene.

As the series has progressed, action setpieces have piled on top of each other like the crashing cars in those scenes. There's even a visual homage to Dom and Brian outrunning the train in Fate — when Dom evades a heat-seeking missile with his souped-up car during a battle with a Russian submarine. That sentence alone suggests how vastly different Fate is from The Fast and the Furious: In the latest movie, our heroes take on submarines and missiles, and win.

This approach is symptomatic of most sequels: It has to be like its predecessor, but bigger. After seven movies where Dom, Brian and a crew of criminals and federal agents take on an endless supply of bad guys, why notavert World War III in their cars?

But with Fate, it's more apparent than ever that Walker truly was irreplaceable — the magic he brought to the screen can't be replicated, nor can the chemistry between Diesel’s Dom and Walker’s Brian. Part of why Furious 7 felt so cathartic was its functioning as a belated swan song for Walker, sending him off as emotionally as possible. With Walker gone, the series has been smart to avoid an attempt to replicate that chemistry with Diesel and, say, Dwayne Johnson or Statham.

Yes, there's a tribute to Walker in this film, but the hole left by that missing Dom/Brian bromance is felt throughout Fate with nothing to replace it or anchor the film. Dom spends so much time separated from the rest of his crew in Fate to the point where Diesel feels like he’s in a different movie. We get more of Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) joking around, and the burgeoning, begrudging friendship between Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw. Neither duo, though, can hope to match the connection Dom and Brian shared through seven films. The original film is pitched at a lower key, but it feels truer to the spirit of the franchise than Fatedoes.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

10 Expert Tips To Make 2017 Your Most Productive Year Yet

There is no one definitive strategy to being productive, and it may take a little trial and error to find what works best for you. But if you’ve resolved to make 2017 the year you finally slay your to-do list every day, it can help to find out what’s worked for some of the most productive people.

In that spirit, we turned to some of our top experts and contributors to find out what approaches keep them productive all year long, in the hopes that a few of these can help you do the same in the year ahead.

The early bird only catches the worm if it plans the night before, says PR strategist Christina Nicholson. “By filling out my specific planner the night before, I don’t feel rushed or like I have to get to something right away,” an approach that some time-management experts endorse. Simply having a battle plan is like waking up to find your work already started. Right away, Nicholson finds, the start of her day has “already been scheduled for me”–by her.Simply having a battle plan is like waking up to find your work already started.

“This past year, my work became infinitely more complex,” says Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, who now directs the Better Life Lab at the think tank New America. Her solution? Scrapping her long, unfinished to-do lists and replacing them with a single daily goal.

“By acknowledging I had limited time, limited bandwidth, and too much to do, and forcing myself to choose just one thing and getting it done every day, I wound up accomplishing some of my most important goals,” she says.

“The more I walk, the more ideas I have,” says Ellevest founder and CEO Sallie Krawcheck, opting for a low-tech productivity approach. “I put on some well-worn background music–so I only half pay attention to it–and go. Sometimes I get only an idea or two, but sometimes they come fast and furious and I’ll stop repeatedly to write them down.”

These impromptu solo brainstorms have proved surprisingly fruitful. “I can come up with four to eight ideas for newsletter updates, business initiatives, website improvements, people I should connect–you name it–over a four-mile walk.”

“Some think that stopping work on a project is a failure,” says Viv Goldstein, leader for global innovation acceleration at GE, but backing away when you’re no longer adding value is crucial. “Don’t be afraid to stop work,” she says. “It creates capacity to work on things that truly matter and ends up saving time, energy, and resources.”
List six to 10 things that you commit to not do in 2017 because they are keeping you from focusing on your best work. Think of them as your anti-resolutions.

This includes mental resources that can ebb and flow. Allen Gannett, CEO of the marketing analytics company TrackMaven, says that just being “willing to switch between projects to match my mood, I get much more done in a typical day.

“For example, if I’m working on a client presentation and I start to notice my attention waning,” Gannett explains, “I’ll go and answers emails for 30 minutes rather than just sit there pretending to continue working.” He hasn’t given up for good, just for the time being. “Usually by the end of that time, I’m ready to dive back into the presentation–and I got a dozen emails done” in the meantime.

You may think that to truly be productive, you need to stop procrastinating, but it might be better to embrace it. “I love procrastinating, and I’ve come to grips with the fact that I’ll never stop procrastinating,” confides Tacklebox Accelerator founder Brian Scordato. “So I make an effort to only do things I love when procrastinating–exercise, [spend] time with friends and family, etc.” That’s helped put his less productive time to better use. It “eliminates the time-wasters we usually procrastinate with,” so you can get back to work without feeling guilty.

If many of these tips sound pretty low-tech, count on a futurist to change that. Liz Alexander relies on a scheduling app to keep her schedule in order. “In an average week, I probably have a dozen or more people wanting to get onto my calendar. It used to take three or four emails just to nail down a single appointment,” she says. But after outsourcing that “tedious back-and-forth” to Calendly, Alexander says she’s found more time “to do more revenue-generating work.”

We waste inordinate amounts of time just yapping, says writer and designer Lisa Baird. “Conversations get so much further, so much faster when you close your mouth, open your ears, deprioritize your own agenda, and truly understand someone else’s.”

That matters more as organizations get flatter, says Baird. “Today’s consensus mode of doing business, where everyone has veto power, makes the notion of ‘stop talking’ a crucial productivity tool if you want to design or ship anything at all.”“‘Stop talking’ is a crucial productivity tool if you want to design or ship anything at all.”

How? “Ask open-ended questions, but sparingly,” she cautions. “Speak just enough to get the ball rolling, then be quiet. Suffer silently through awkward pauses.” Baird admits that “this may feel a little weird, since most of us view productivity as doing, doing, doing.” But it’s the most efficient method she’s found for “moving from thought to action,” especially on teams.


“I’m a huge fan of the Boomerang plugin for Gmail,” says The Muse cofounder and CEO Kathryn Minshew. “I use it to schedule emails to disappear out of my inbox and ‘boomerang’ back in at a later date, like ‘7:15 a.m. Tuesday’ or ‘5 p.m. Friday’.”

MailChimp’s VP of customer support Jon Smith does something similar by pushing less urgent but important emails into a small handful of folders, leaving the most crucial ones marked “unread,” and archiving the rest.

This way Smith’s top-priority messages stay front and center. “I try to have no more than 60–70 emails in my inbox at any given time,” he explains. “That’s the number I can comfortably process in one sitting, and I try to get through all of my ‘unread’-marked emails by the end of each day.”

Behavioral scientist David Hoffeld prefers “preloaded decisions that link a behavior with an external reference,” which researchers in his field have found can increase the likelihood of completing a task. These “action triggers” are simple formulas, Hoffeld explains: “When X happens, I do Y”.

While working on his latest book, Hoffeld would decide earlier in the day to do some writing after putting his kids to bed, and “then when that time came, I simply sat down and wrote for a few hours,” he says. “Preloading this decision and connecting it to an environmental stimulus enabled me to avoid decision fatigue, and gave me a boost in productivity.”

“Productivity is really about what you don’t do,” says Jocelyn K. Glei, author of Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done. Glei proposes sitting down and listing six to 10 things “that you commit to not do in 2017 because they are keeping you from focusing on your best work.” Think of them as your anti-resolutions, she suggests–“things like not sleeping with your smartphone in the bedroom, not opening your email first thing when you arrive at work, or not checking social media before lunch.”

Psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic backs her up. He says that “saying ‘no’ to irrelevant tasks, or outsourcing them” is the real secret to productivity. “Realize what you love and do well, and focus on that.”

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Don Rickles: Why Legendary Comic's Jabs Are Funny, Not Offensive

Famed stand-up comedian and actor Don Rickles, who died April 6 at age 90, cultivated a curmudgeonly persona for decades and was celebrated for his caustic cracks.
Known as the "insult comic," his pointed put-downs spared no one, not even celebrities many other comedians would consider off-limits. Before he became famous, Rickles was onstage at a Miami Beach club in the 1950s, when superstar Frank Sinatra entered the room. Rickles called out to him from the stage, "Make yourself comfortable, Frank. Hit somebody," the Los Angeles Times reported.
Somehow, Rickles successfully parlayed his barbed insults into jokes — garnering guffaws even from the notoriously grumpy Sinatra, according to the LA Times — and launched a career that spanned more than half a century. But what made his insults seem funny, rather than merely, well, insulting? [Smile Secrets: 5 Things Your Grin Says About You]
The success of Rickles' insult comedy may be explained by a humor theory called benign violation, which describes when a social norm is overturned, but in a way that is nonthreatening, according to science comedian Brian Malow.
"When those two things happen at the same time, then it's funny," Malow told Live Science.
"If Don Rickles insults you, that's a violation. But at the same time, there's the artifice of being in a comedy venue," Malow added. "You know he doesn't mean it, he's playing with you — and that's the benign part. So it's funny, even though he just called you a name."
Science backs this up, with researchers finding that benign violations of social norms "tend to elicit laughter and amusement" and suggest that negative emotions can be accompanied by humor, according to a study published in June 2010 in the journal Psychological Science.
Insults get under our skin because they typically point out something obvious — and usually unflattering — and because they hold a kernel of truth, Ken Yeager, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Live Science. In the hands of a skilled comedian, insults illuminate our flaws in a clever way. An insult can sting, but a well-crafted one can also make us wish that we'd thought of the joke first, Yeager said.
"It forces you to think," he said. "It makes you reassess the situation, and it makes you reassess yourself."
Rickles' delivery was an important part of what made his insults work, Yeager added. He would deliver his jibes with a deadpan expression, and then break a smile at the very end. And that smile was important, because it let the audience know that it was OK to laugh, Yeager said.
As a stand-up comedian appearing in front of a live audience, Rickles was likely paying close attention to the social cues in the room, reading the emotional "temperature" in the crowd and gauging how to perform insulting jokes about people so that those on the receiving end would respond gracefully, Yeager said. [7 Things That Will Make You Happy]
And his insults often came in layers, softening up an audience and making them more receptive to being the target of insulting jokes — by insulting others first.
At a Friars Club celebrity roast in the 1970s, Rickles said, "I haven't said so many tuxedos since the Osmond brothers had their annual prom," CBS News reported in an obituary for the comedian.
"That's a great way to deliver an insult," Yeager said. "Initially, you think you're laughing at him insulting someone else. Then you realize, a couple of minutes later, 'Oh no, he's insulting me at the same time.'"
In general, comedy is about expectations — setting them up, and then defying them, Malow said. Insults are generally unexpected because people in polite society usually don't put down complete strangers. And the surprise at hearing the unthinkable uttered out loud in a stand-up routine makes us laugh, he said.
"The deadpan delivery — that's the violation, the rude part. But then he flashes the smile that says, 'You know I don't mean it!'" Malow added.
But not every comic can make insult comedy funny. Rickles might have been known as "The Merchant of Venom," but there was far more subtlety and skill in his routines than there was outright meanness, which likely explains his enduring appeal, Yeager told Live Science.
"I think it's a very special individual that has the right ability to read people and the right verbal technique to be able to pull that off," Yeager said. "I think maybe he was one in a million."

Why Narcissists Want to Make Their Partners Jealous

If you've ever had a partner who flirted with other people right in front of you, chatted up attractive strangers and tried to make you feel like you couldn't measure up, well, maybe you were dating a narcissist.

And maybe they were doing it on purpose.

New research suggests that people who have a high level of narcissistic traits strategically induce jealousy in their mates as a way to meet certain goals: Control, in some cases, or a boost in their self-esteem.

"There is some element of normality to narcissists, in that they pursue goals much like everyone else does," said study author Gregory Tortoriello, a psychologist at the University of Alabama. "We're just finding that it's to a slightly greater degree." [The 10 Most Controversial Psychiatric Disorders]
Unraveling narcissism

Psychological research suggests that narcissistic personalities fall into two categories. The first is grandiose narcissism, marked by entitlement, extroversion and high self-esteem. Grandiose narcissists are very self-assured, Tortoriello told Live Science.

The second category, vulnerable narcissism, describes people who are similarly entitled and willing to exploit people to get what they want. But vulnerable narcissists have an "inherent fragility," Tortoriello said. They are insecure, and have low self-esteem.

Tortoriello and his colleagues were intrigued by earlier research showing that narcissists often sabotage their romantic relationships with behaviors like flirting with other people. Researchers have theorized that these love-killing behaviors are impulsive and that narcissists can't help themselves. But Tortoriello and his team suspected there might be more to the story.

The researchers asked 237 undergraduates to fill out questionnaires about their personality traits, jealousy-inducing behaviors and the motives for those behaviors. They found that the more narcissistic the person, the more likely they were to try to make their romantic partners jealous.
Playing games

The reasons for these romantic head games varied by the type of narcissism, though. Grandiose narcissists reported being motivated by their desire to gain power and control within the relationship. Vulnerable narcissists, on the other hand, tried to induce jealousy for multiple reasons. Control was one, along with testing the relationship's strength, seeking security in the relationship, compensating for low self-esteem and exacting revenge for what they perceived to be their partner's bad behavior. [6 Scientific Tips for a Successful Marriage]

"They are, according to our study, inducing jealousy in their partners as a means to pursue some greater goal," Tortoriello said. "They're doing it intentionally."

There are limitations to the study. The data were self-reported and the researchers can't prove causation, only correlation, between narcissistic traits and jealousy-producing behaviors. The undergraduate study population isn't representative of the world at large, but college students do offer one advantage, Tortoriello said: They're actually higher in narcissistic traits than the general population. (This could reflect an actual increase in narcissism or it could be a side effect of the kind of questions asked in surveys, Tortoriello said. The side effects include things young people might be more likely than older people to respond positively to, like how much they enjoy seeing themselves in the mirror.)

The students in the study weren't pathologically narcissistic; they didn't have narcissistic personality disorder, the most extreme version of narcissism, the researchers said. But the findings could apply in clinical treatment for more severe cases, Tortoriello said. For example, the idea that narcissistic people pursue goals just like anyone else — albeit with less concern for those they might hurt — suggests that it might be fruitful to try to change those goals.

"They would, in theory, probably find other ways to meet those goals that are equally, if not more maladaptive, so I think perhaps tempering the goals themselves may be useful," Tortoriello said.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Michael Lewis' Wall Street thriller 'Flash Boys' near movie deal

Sony Pictures is close to a deal with bestselling author Michael Lewis to bring his latest book, a Wall Street drama and detective story, to the silver screen.

“Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt,” recounts how a group of misfit stock brokers and techies worked to expose, and then fight back, against the tactics of high-frequency traders, or HFTs. The HFTs were able to exploit computer technology and millisecond advantages to make huge profits at the expense of regular investors.

Scott Rudin will produce the film, along with Eli Bush, according to Deadline and Variety.

Lewis also wrote the books on which the films "The Blind Side" and "Moneyball" were based. Both films were nominated for best picture.

“Hollywood loves Lewis, who specializes in taking complex subjects and breaking them down in most relatable ways by telling the stories through the perspective of intriguing characters,” Deadline wrote.

“Flash Boys” was released March 31 by publisher W.W. Norton. The following day, Bloomberg News reported that the FBI was investigating whether high-frequency trading firms broke U.S. laws by using private data to gain an advantage in the market.

Lewis told NBC's "Today" show this week that he believes people inside the HFTs may be more willing to speak about the industry’s practices.

“It’s an unfair playing field,” he said. “It’s crazy for investors to be trading against people who have, essentially, have knowledge of the prices before they do.”

'Draft Day' box office: Why can't more football movies make it?

"This is the day when lives change, fates are decided, dynasties born," Berman intones. If you are expecting a plot that deals with locker room harassment and the life-changing effects of concussions, you have come to the wrong place.

Berman is not the only real-life figure playing himself: "Draft Day's" cast includes more than two dozen of these folks, including legendary players like Jim Brown and even Commissioner Roger Goodell himself. And the film features enough lovingly burnished in-flight photography of NFL stadiums to occupy a six-person aerial unit, including four pilots.

The team names and stadiums may be real in "Draft Day," but the characters who work for them are all fictitious, starting with Costner in his most successful big-screen role since his portrayal of "Devil" Anse Hatfield in TV's feud-centric "Hatfields and McCoys" revived his career.

Costner is not the athlete he played in "Bull Durham" and "Tin Cup," he's not even a coach. Instead he brings his trademark relaxed masculinity to the role of general manager Sonny Weaver Jr., a gruff but good-hearted man committed to bringing his Cleveland Browns to safe harbor despite heavy seas of a personal and professional nature. Yes, it's that kind of a film.

Things start early and difficult for Weaver on this day of days. Our divorced hero has some personal stress to deal with: his girlfriend Ali (an earnest Jennifer Garner) has just told him she's pregnant. With the draft weighing heavily on his mind, Weaver's not sure how to react to a situation complicated by the fact that Ali works for him (she manages the team's salary cap) and no one in the office knows they're an item.

Then Weaver gets a call from his counterpart at the Seattle Seahawks. They own the No. 1 pick and are thought likely to use it on quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), the franchise-making big dog with all the tools. But the Seahawks have something else in mind: a trade that will give Weaver's team the chance to take Callahan for themselves in exchange for enough future draft choices to cripple the Browns' expectations for years to come.

The prospect of breaking in a rookie quarterback doesn't sit well with the Browns' arrogant new head coach, Vince Penn (an unconvincing Denis Leary). It especially doesn't sit well with veteran quarterback Brian Drew (Tom Welling of TV's "Smallville"), who's used the off-season to get into the best shape of his life.

It doesn't even sit well with Weaver himself, who is struggling mightily to become his own man and is still dealing with the fallout of having fired the Browns' last coach, a man who just happened to be his own father.

Weaver also has other players he has his eye on besides Callahan, including ace linebacker Vontae Mack ("42's" Chadwick Boseman). Plus he would just one time like to put on the field a team that is totally his own. Is that, he wonders stoically, too much to ask?

Unfortunately for all these naysayers, the one person the trade does sit well with is irascible team owner Anthony Molina (a delicious Frank Langella). "I need you to make a splash," he tells his general manager, the implicit threat strong in his voice, and so the die is cast.

That trade however, is the merest beginning of "Draft Day's" wildly circuitous story, which twists and turns through the draft's many rounds while the countdown clock is ticking and Weaver deals not only with football but also Ali, his staff, even his cranky mother (Ellen Burstyn). No one ever said being a G.M. was an easy job.

Though "Draft Day" feels far less authentic than the baseball-themed "Moneyball," it can be amusing to watch all this inside football stuff if you are an NFL fan. The dialogue may be of the "How's my favorite strength coach?" variety, but no league was harmed during the making of this film, and audiences will likely survive it as well.

Stephen Colbert replacing Letterman: 5 of his memorable movie guests

Stephen Colbert's "Colbert Report" has never been the most comfortable place for Hollywood stars to promote their movies, given the somewhat niche audience and Colbert's own purposefully bombastic, playfully antagonistic persona.

But now that Colbert is stepping up to succeed David Letterman as the host of "The Late Show" in 2015 and dropping his conservative blowhard character, audiences could see a different side of him. Time will tell how Colbert gets along with Hollywood's A-list stars in his new role, and how much of his trademark quirk carries over, but it will certainly be an adjustment both for him and the studios that want their stars on the show.

In the meantime, here's a look at how Colbert has handled some memorable movie guests in the past.

Darren Aronofsky

Colbert regularly welcomes directors on his show, with recent guests including Alexander Payne, Errol Morris and Godfrey Reggio. Last month, Darren Aronofsky stopped by to promote his biblical epic "Noah," and in the process demonstrated one of the hurdles of the show: Colbert is such a forceful personality, he occasionally overshadows his guests.

In the clip below, Aronofsky dutifully plugs "Noah" and carefully positions it as his personal artistic interpretation, while Colbert mischievously lobs gags referencing both "Snakes on a Plane" ("I'm tired of these [expletive] snakes on my [expletive] ark!") and the Old Testament ("Is there any hot begetting going on in the movie?"). Advantage: Colbert.

Elijah Wood

Another thing to know about Colbert: He's a huge J.R.R. Tolkien and "Lord of the Rings" fan. That meant he was giddy to have Elijah Wood on his show in November 2011, even though Wood was actually on hand to promote a non-Tolkien movie: the animated musical "Happy Feet Two."

After grilling Wood about whether the penguin tale was actually about global warming — "Are you going to make me feel guilty about driving my Audi A8?" — Colbert went into full geek mode. "I've resisted it as long as I can," he said before bringing up the "Rings" movies and ultimately comparing, er, swords with Wood.

Keanu Reeves

You have to hand it to Colbert, the guy knows how to make a first impression. Welcoming Keanu Reeves for the first time last year, he said, "It's so wonderful to meet you and to be angry at you in person. You're three things that piss me off: You're a Canadian, you're an actor … also, you're 49 and I'm 49 — you go to hell!" (the latter being a reference to Reeves' apparent agelessness).

Reeves and Colbert made nice though neither could do much to help the film Reeves was promoting, "47 Ronin," which became one of 2013's biggest bombs.

Sally Field

Acclaimed actress Sally Field summed up why stars and studios should pay attention to Colbert: youth appeal.

Appearing on "The Colbert Report" to promote "Lincoln" in January 2013, Field said, "It's the only time my children are going to watch me because they were thrilled that I was on your show."

"You sound like you raised some really smart kids," Colbert replied. Later in the chat, he offered to take her out for a drink and, upon hearing she wasn't married, clumsily slipped off his wedding ring.

Samuel L. Jackson

Colbert's edgy satire can make for some uncomfortable moments, but also some inspired ones — sometimes both at the same time. Such was the case when "Pulp Fiction" star Samuel L. Jackson appeared on the show to promote his Broadway debut in "The Mountaintop," playing Martin Luther King Jr.

During their conversation, Colbert asked Jackson, "Are you an African American? Because, as I said, I took King's lesson to heart, and I don't see the color of anyone's skin. I only see the content of their character."

"Really?! Awesome. Unfortunately, I don't have that luxury," Jackson said with amused dubiousness. "I'm not a racist, but I see race because I want to know what's going on."

As Colbert continued to press Jackson's buttons and ask if he was indeed black, Jackson finally said, "I'm not black, white or anything. I'm — I'm a movie star!" He added, "I try to act like it's not a big deal, but it's a pretty big [expletive] deal."

Legendary East and China Film Co. strike movie investment deal

China Film Co. Ltd., the largest film distributor in China, has invested in two forthcoming movies from Legendary Entertainment, the Burbank-based film finance and production company.

Legendary East, an affiliated company of Legendary Entertainment, said on Monday afternoon that China Film Co. made "an over eight figure equity investment" in the films "Seventh Son" and "Warcraft."

If the pictures are approved for release in China, China Film Co. will distribute them there.

Universal Pictures, with whom Legendary Entertainment has a distribution and marketing pact, will release the movies in the U.S.; "Seventh Son" is slated to come out Feb. 6, 2015, and "Warcraft" on March 11, 2016.

Legendary Entertainment's credits include the "Dark Knight" and "Hangover" trilogies, and last summer's "Man of Steel." Legendary East, which has offices in Beijing and Hong Kong, was formed in 2011.

Legendary East and China Film Co. already have a relationship: In May, they signed a multi-year agreement to co-produce movies.

Legendary Entertainment signed a distribution deal with Universal Pictures in July. Under terms of the arrangement, Universal, a unit of NBCUniversal, will market, co-finance and distribute Legendary films for five years beginning this year.

Legendary previously had a distribution and co-production deal with Warner Bros.

ON LOCATION: Where the cameras roll

"Seventh Son," a fantasy film that stars Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore, previously had been slated for release by Warner Bros. in January; after Legendary struck its deal with Universal, the movie's debut was pushed back.

"Warcraft" is based on an Activision Blizzard Inc. gaming franchise that has spawned more than two dozen novels, comic book series and tabletop games.

The best-known of the "Warcraft" games is "World of Warcraft," a multiplayer online role-playing game that counted 7.7 million subscribers as of last summer.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Animated movies sing a happy tune

Considered deeply uncool at one point, music from animated movies is back — and singing along is now not only OK for kids, it's something adults record themselves doing on their phones and share on YouTube.

The boom in popular songs from animated movies comes after a long fallow period when the form yielded few hits in the music world, despite box-office juggernauts like the "Toy Story," "Shrek" and "Ice Age" franchises. Though all incorporated music in their films, it was rarely the kind that had come to define the genre at Disney Animation in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it was making music-driven hits like "The Lion King," "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Little Mermaid."

"You had this shift ... where there were very successful animated movies but their soundtracks weren't," said Ken Bunt, president of Disney Music Group. "Their scores were important, but they weren't musicals and the music in them wasn't something that gets played on radio or that you're singing in your car."

A sign of the shift: For the first time in 20 years, a soundtrack from an animated film has been No. 1 on the Billboard charts for 10 weeks.

This week, Disney's fairy tale "Frozen" displaced 1994's "The Lion King" to become the top-selling animated movie soundtrack of all time. It's not the only music from an animated film that's hot right now: "Happy," Pharrell Williams' ubiquitous mood booster from "Despicable Me 2," has been No. 1 on the single charts for eight weeks and appears everywhere from Fiat commercials to kids' choir homages.

Earlier this year, "The Lego Movie" popularized a catchy electronic parody song called "Everything Is Awesome," and the just-opened "Rio 2" is receiving lots of praise from critics for the quality of its eclectic, Brazil-influenced soundtrack.

In some cases, as with "Frozen," the music helped drive the box office, as audiences started learning songs from the radio before they saw the film; in others, as in "Despicable Me 2," the song's hit status came well after the film's box-office release and evolved into a story of its own. Regardless, the cloud on animated musicals has clearly lifted.

"There hadn't been a musical in such a long time," said Bill Damaschke, chief creative officer of DreamWorks Animation, which has a Bollywood-style musical composed by A.R. Rahman and an Australia-set project from Tim Minchin, the composer of the Tony Award-winning show "Matilda the Musical," in development. "A really great one came out ['Frozen'] and it hit a nerve. Everybody's asking, 'What are fresh, original ways to use music in animated movies?'"

One of the key features of the "Frozen" and "Happy" phenomena has been social media. According to Bunt, fans have uploaded more than half a million versions of the "Frozen" empowerment ballad "Let It Go" to YouTube. Oprah Winfrey recently brought Williams to tears by showing him a collection of fan-made "Happy" videos from around the world.

"It's sort of like a community singalong in the virtual town square," said Tom Sito, a professor at USC's School of Cinematic Arts who was an animator and storyboard artist at Disney Animation in the 1990s. "And it keeps the material fresh in people's minds."

That's a marketing device that synergy godfather Walt Disney didn't have available when he released the first commercial movie soundtrack — animated or live action — in 1938. The collection of songs like "Some Day My Prince Will Come" and "Whistle While You Work" hit record stores with the wordy name "Songs From Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (With the Same Characters and Sound Effects as in the Film of That Title)."

Ever since, Disney animated movies have been a key part of the American Songbook, with multiple generations of children growing up on songs by such composing teams as the Sherman brothers in the 1960s and '70s and Howard Ashman and Alan Menken in the late 1980s and early '90s.

Particularly as live-action films veered away from musicals and toward realism, animation became even more important to the world of musicals, according to Sito.

PHOTOS: Behind the scenes of movies and TV

"For a while, animation was the lifeboat of the American Broadway musical," Sito said. "The natural surrealism of an animated film makes a setting for a musical more gettable for a general audience. We accept characters breaking into song."

But, as so often happens in Hollywood, Disney started giving theatergoers too much of a good thing. Sito recalled a test screening for the 1995 movie "Pocahontas" in which audience members audibly groaned as the first musical notes began to play.

"By the late '90s you could sense the exhaustion of the audience, that the musical had overstayed its welcome," Sito said. "We were very sensitive to that. We were like, we've got to cut back on the number of musicals."

Danny Boyle in talks for Steve Jobs movie, possibly with DiCaprio

Over a 20-year career making stylized, often genre-tinged films, Danny Boyle has been known to look at a well-worn area in new and dynamic ways.

With a potential Steve Jobs movie, he could be taking on a worthy subject.

The British auteur is in talks to helm Sony Pictures' much-buzzed, sometimes-bumpy Jobs biopic that "The Social Network" scribe Aaron Sorkin has adapted from Walter Isaacson's comprehensive biography, The Times has confirmed. Boyle would replace David Fincher, the "Social Network" director who appears to have moved off the project.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, which first reported the Boyle news, the director has also approached Leonardo DiCaprio, whom he directed in "The Beach," to portray Jobs.

Unlike a traditional biopic, the Sorkin script is said to look at a few key moments in the iconoclast's career rather than a more cradle-to-grave approach. A Sony Pictures spokesman declined to comment on any director or actor talks on the project.

Boyle represents an unconventional choice for a biographical drama about a figure as well-known as the co-inventor of the Macintosh computer, the iPod and the iPhone. Most of the director's oeuvre comes in a more fictional realm, from the druggy haze of "Trainspotting" to the colorful intensity of "Slumdog Millionaire." Boyle has made a fact-based movie before in the canyoneering survivor tale “127 Hours” — but never one about such a public figure.

Boyle currently has several projects in development, including a sequel to his landmark “Trainspotting,” although he has not made a movie since finishing work on his genre-bending heist movie "Trance” in late 2012 (and actually shot that picture the year before).

As for DiCaprio, he has played well-known historical figures, including J. Edgar Hoover and Howard Hughes. But he's attached to a number of movies, and also has a packed schedule in the near future, among others, recently signing on to Alejandro González Iñárritu's thriller "The Revenant," which aims to begin shooting in September. Given the priority of the Jobs movie at Sony, it would have to happen either really quickly or, more likely, something would have to move if filmmakers were able to make the schedule work for the actor.

While the potential involvement of Boyle is bound to excite many film fans, it does remain to be seen how the director's famously up-tempo, stylized approach will meld with the sometimes more staid conventions of a biopic, even an unusual one like this.

Then again, Jobs was famous for looking at old problems in new ways, which has pretty much defined how Boyle goes about making films.

Friday, 24 March 2017

David Foster Wallace movie: Can it overcome family objections?

Authorized biopics are rarely the most juicy or revealing films. But what happens in the opposite instance, when‎ the family of your subject actively doesn't want a movie and is willing and eager to share that sentiment with the world?

That's the situation that James Ponsoldt's "The End of the Tour," a look at the late acclaimed writer David Foster Wallace starring Jason Segel, finds itself in. Ponsoldt's movie, based on reporting from magazine writer and novelist David Lipsky, recently finished shooting and is about to enter the editing room. But a statement from Wallace's family‎ makes it clear they aren't happy with any of that.

The estate's objection, the statement said, is that family members were not brought into the process and that Lipsky's material was never intended nor approved for film adaptat

“The David Foster Wallace Literary Trust, David's family, and David's longtime publisher Little, Brown and Company wish to make it clear that they have no connection with, and neither endorse nor support ‘The End of the Tour,'" the family said in a statement Monday. “This motion picture is loosely based on transcripts from an interview David consented to eighteen years ago for a magazine article about the publication of his novel, 'Infinite Jest.' That article was never published and David would never have agreed that those saved transcripts could later be repurposed as the basis of a movie.”

It continued: “The Trust was given no advance notice that this production was underway and, in fact, first heard of it when it was publicly announced.” It added that “there is no circumstance under which the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust would have consented to the adaptation of this interview into a motion picture, and we do not consider it an homage."

Lipsky indeed accompanied Wallace on the book tour for his masterwork, the 1996 epic "Jest," as an assignment for Rolling Stone at the dawn of Wallace's popularity. The magazine opted not to publish the story back then, but the material did become a Rolling Stone article after Wallace committed suicide in 2008, as well as a book titled “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself."

There is some precedent for posthumous Wallace work making its way into the public. The author's unfinished novel "The Pale King" was compiled by Little, Brown editor Michael Pietsch and then published to wide acclaim and sales after Wallace's death. That was done with the blessing of the family, however, and also didn't seek to depict the writer himself.

Wallace lived a complicated life as he struggled with mental health issues even as he created era-defining fiction and nonfiction, including postmodern novels and short stories that earned him millions of fans.

The issues around the film pose a larger philosophical question about who gets to shape the memory of a public figure. More specifically, it creates headlines around and a potential problem for a movie that would otherwise gain public and distributor interest.

In fact, the family suggested that it had wanted to “prevent” the movie from ever being shot and said it will “continue to review its legal options with respect to any commercial exploitation of the motion picture” -- an effort that could deter a U.S. distributor from acquiring the independent project.

That said, it’s notable that‎, unlike some other unauthorized biopics, this is hardly a small-time effort: It stars not only Segel as Wallace but Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky, is directed by the man who made "The Spectacular Now" and is produced by Hollywood mainstay Anonymous Content.

Wallace is beloved by millions for his dynamic, digressive prose, which often involves riffs and footnotes that only loosely flow from the main narrative.

His ride in Hollywood, perhaps not uncoincidentally, has been rockier than his literary one: Though hailed as a masterpiece, "Infinite Jest" has eluded movie adaptation, while a rare film translation of Wallace'a work, John Krasinski's take on the short-story collection "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men," was a lightly seen affair.

Ponsoldt is a talented, sensitive director, which makes one think that he's going to make a talent-filled, sensitive film. Still‎, it's not clear how that effort can be clouded when many people close to the person you’re making a film about don’t want you to make it.

Eastwood starts shooting 'American Sniper' at Santa Clarita ranch

Clint Eastwood's latest movie, "American Sniper," kicked off with a bang in Los Angeles County this week.

The Warner Bros. film, which stars Bradley Cooper as a Navy SEAL who recounts his military exploits, began 10 days of filming Monday in an Afghan village set at the Blue Cloud Movie Ranch in the Santa Clarita area.

The scenes involved "simulated warfare sequences with full load automatic gunfire, explosions, squibs, bullet hits, smoke, burning debris," according to a county film permit.

The movie is the latest in a flurry of feature films with small to mid-size budgets shooting in L.A. with the benefit of state film tax credits.

ON LOCATION: Where the cameras roll

Other state-qualified projects that filmed in L.A. this year have included the Warner Bros. films "Entourage" and "Horrible Bosses 2," helping to fuel a 24% increase in location film shoots in the first quarter of the year, according to a recent report from FilmL.A. Inc., which handles film permits for the city and the county.

"American Sniper" marks the latest L.A.-based project for Eastwood, who shot "Jersey Boys," a film adaptation of the popular Broadway musical, throughout L.A. last year.

As with "Jersey Boys," "American Sniper" received approval for a California tax credit for $6.8 million to offset $34 million in production costs that qualified for incentives, according to records from the California Film Commission. Under the state program, producers can offset their production costs such as salaries paid to crew members by as much 25% if they shoot their project in state.

Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow are producing "American Sniper," which has already filmed 12 days in Morocco. The project, produced by Eastwood, Cooper, Andrew Lazar, Robert Lorenz and Peter Morgan, is set to film about a month in L.A., with much of the action unfolding at Blue Cloud.

Acquired in 2000 by former stuntman and actor Rene Veluzat, Blue Cloud is among the busiest film ranches in Los Angeles County.

The 100-acre property off Bouquet Canyon Road in the Santa Clarita Valley specializes in military settings, with a Middle East Town and Baghdad Square set that appears so authentic that the U.S. military uses it for training.

The ranch also has a full-scale army camp, aircraft hangar and 50 military vehicles, including tanks, Humvees and helicopters. Blue Cloud has a long list of credits, including such movies as "Zero Dark Thirty," "Iron Man" and television series "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "Jag."

Blue Cloud gained some unwelcome publicity in 2012 when it was revealed that the controversial video "Innocence of Muslims," which was blamed for sparking riots in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, filmed on the site in August 2011.

William Shakespeare: Five unconventional movie adaptations

Fran Kranz in Joss Whedon's movie "Much Ado About Nothing." (Elsa William Shakespeare, whose 450th birthday is being celebrated around the world Wednesday, never seems to go out of vogue for movie directors eager to put their own spin on his classic texts.

Most of Shakespeare's plays have been adapted for the big screen multiple times over, ranging from faithful (Laurence Olivier's "Hamlet") to wildly unconventional (Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet"). Because Shakespeare's plays exist in the public domain, adapting them for the movies is an economical way of co-opting some literary prestige.

In the past 20 years or so, the unconventional appears to have outnumbered the faithful. Ian McKellen's "Richard III" took place in a Third Reich-style regime; Julie Taymor set "Titus Andronicus" in a postmodern mashup of ancient Rome and present day; and Kenneth Branagh adapted "Love's Labour's Lost" as an old-Hollywood-style musical.

Here are five more unconventional Shakespeare adaptations committed to the big screen, their creative liberties often taking precedence over the Bard's text.

"Much Ado About Nothing": Joss Whedon's low-budget 2012 adaptation of this Shakespearean comedy updated the action to the present day and locations around Santa Monica. The script retained much of the original dialogue, with the cast speaking in verse while wearing contemporary clothes. Shot in black and white, the movie starred a number of Whedon veterans, including Alexis Denisof as "Benedick" and Amy Acker as Beatrice.

"Caesar Must Die": This Italian film directed by the Taviani brothers depicts a production of "Julius Caesar" mounted by inmates of the maximum security Rebibbia prison in Rome. The movie, which won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival in 2012, is shot in the style of a documentary, but is actually a fictional movie.

"Hamlet": Michael Almereyda's 2000 adaptation of Shakespeare's most famous play set the action in modern New York, with Ethan Hawke playing Hamlet as a hipster. The oddball cast included Bill Murray as Polonius and Kyle MacLachlan as Claudius. Actress Diane Venora, a former Hamlet on stage, played Gertrude, enacting her death scene not as an accidental poisoning but as a public suicide. (Almereyda is next adapting "Cymbeline" for the screen.)

"Prospero's Books": Shakespearean adaptations don't get much stranger than Peter Greenaway's take on "The Tempest," starring John Gielgud as Prospero. This nonlinear movie is visually dense and sonically bizarre, with Gielgud voicing the lines of many of the supporting characters. The Michael Nyman score sets some of the Shakespearean text to song.

"My Own Private Idaho": Gus Van Sant transposed "Henry IV" and parts of "Henry V" to Portland, Ore., with Keanu Reeves playing a modern-day Prince Hal and River Phoenix as his narcoleptic friend. While most of the dialogue is Van Sant's, the 1991 movie contains snippets of Shakespeare's verse, including Mistress Quickly's soliloquy on the death of Falstaff.