Tag Archives: hollywood

Our Zombies, Ourselves: An Undead Reading List

When you think of zombies, it’s likely you envision something like the flesh-eating, immortal creatures created by George Romero, who defined a new genre of horror with Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Thanks to Romero, who died this week at the age of 77, the zombie movie has become more than a chance to feel scared. It’s also an essential lens through which we can view pop culture, politics, and society. In honor of the great director, here is some our favorite writing about the terror of the living dead.

1.“Why Black Heroes Make Zombie Stories More Interesting,” by Matt Thompson (NPR Code Switch, October 2013)

One of Romero’s most famous narrative coups was casting a black actor as the hero of his 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead. It was a decision that turned a run-of-the-mill horror movie into a complex commentary on the civil rights movement, and imbued other zombie films with the ability to criticize society.

The thing about good zombie fiction (and I say this as someone who enjoys an awful lot of zombie fiction) is that the zombies are never the most horrific thing. Zombies don‘t typically have the capacity for complex thought — they don‘t execute stratagems, play politics, torture people. All they do is feed. The true horror in any zombie story worth its salt is what other people do when faced with the zombie threat. Zombies are merely relentless; humans can be sadistic.

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The Making of ‘Meatballs’: Is Bill Murray Even Going to Show Up?

Ivan Reitman and his crew didn’t have a solid script for the screwball 1979 summer camp comedy Meatballs. They didn’t have Bill Murray. They had a few months to film, and most of the camps they asked to use as sets thought they were nuts. Yet the movie they made stands as one of Hollywood’s enduring comedies, a surprisingly sensitive look at one teenager’s rite of passage through summer camp. At Vanity Fair, the always spicy Eric Spitznagel talks with cast and crew in a revealing oral history of the making of Meatballs. As they say in the movie, “Are you ready for the summer?”

Goldberg: We had our cast, but there was still the matter of Bill [Murray]. “Is Bill going to do it? Will he show up?” I didn’t know if he ever read the script. Then he kind of committed, but not really. Three days before we start shooting, we have no idea if it’s going to happen.

Banham: Dan Aykroyd was supposed to play the part. That’s what I heard. And that’s what we all believed. Most of us in the cast, we would talk about it. “Can you believe we’re in a movie with Dan Aykroyd?” Everybody knew who Dan Aykroyd was. And then we show up for the movie, and there’s Bill Murray. And we’re like, [deflated] “Oh. It’s the new guy from S.N.L. [Sighs] O.K.”

Blum: Bill turned up in this Hawaiian shirt and red shorts, wearing an alarm clock on his wrist, which eventually found its way into the film.

Reitman: I remember how amazing he was that first day he showed up. I handed him the script—I think it was the first time he was reading it—he flipped through it and said, “Eh.” And he very theatrically threw it into a nearby trash can. [Laughs] That’s kind of terrifying to see an actor do that just minutes before you’re going to shoot your first scene with him.

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Dwayne Johnson Is Everything Our President Isn’t

Dwayne Johnson smashed through the great wall of news this week, rushing over and lifting us up in a powerful but tender overhead press, carrying us toward the dreamland he lives in where everyone is hardworking, great-looking, and nice as hell.

Bless GQ for sending Caity Weaver on the enviable mission to profile Dwayne Johnson, and for their art department for thinking what we’re all thinking: If a celebrity had to be president, wooing the electorate with charm and charisma, why not elect Johnson, who appears to excel in every area our current president lacks?

Evan Osnos recently reported that “other than golf, [Trump] considers exercise misguided, arguing that a person, like a battery, is born with a finite amount of energy.” A finite amount of energy? Dwayne Johnson is a solar-powered, clean running beast of infinite energy and charisma.

If you are a child, good luck getting past Dwayne Johnson without a high five or some simulated roughhousing; if you’re in a wheelchair, prepare for a Beowulf-style epic poem about your deeds and bravery, composed extemporaneously, delivered to Johnson’s Instagram audience of 85 million people; if you’re dead, having shuffled off your mortal coil before you even got the chance to meet Dwayne Johnson, that sucks—rest in peace knowing that Dwayne Johnson genuinely misses you. For Johnson, there are no strangers; there are simply best friends, and best friends he hasn’t met yet.

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“It’s like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.”

At Bloomberg Businessweek, Robert Kolker walks us through the confusing, byzantine, and downright shady world of Hollywood profits and payouts, as part of an exploration of the $400 billion lawsuit brought by the creators of the ancestor of all mockumentaries, This Is Spinal Tap. The lawsuit details are interesting enough (according to the film’s current owner Vivendi, the creative partners’ share of worldwide merchandising over a 32 year period was… $81), but Spinal Tap fans will also love the insider tidbits about the creation of the film, which started with a 20-minute demo version.

“I was amazed when I last looked at it,” says Shearer, who plays Derek Smalls, the band’s bare-chested, mutton-chopped, pipe-smoking bassist. “We had this little pittance”—a $60,000 screenplay fee from a company that eventually rejected the idea—“to shoot characters and performances.” He remembers his long black wig costing about $5, and that it took an hour and a half to remove once the shoot was over (the costumer had used super glue). Shearer, Reiner (who plays Marty DiBergi, the fake documentarian), Guest (as lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel), and McKean (as vocalist David St. Hubbins) had been nursing and developing the idea since 1978. They first performed as the band in a 1979 variety show called The T.V. Show. Then they wrote seven new songs, played a few gigs in costume in Los Angeles, and worked out a complete band history to ensure that their improvisations had a narrative spine they all could rely on. “Michael McKean, I believe, still has the napkin on which the possible names and the possible misspellings were outlined,” Shearer recalls, “because I think at one point we thought maybe S-p-y-n-a-l?”

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Steve Bannon’s Hollywood Ending

What kind of movie plays on the flickering screen in Steve Bannon’s mind as he sits each day by the right hand of the president? Is it one similar to Forrest Gump, where a few lucky moves always land Bannon in the room where deals are made, ready to scrape a few percentage points from the bottom line? Or is he a hero like Leonardo DiCaprio’s con man in Catch Me If You Can, trying on different hats—Goldman Sachs executive, Hollywood wunderkind, champion of Biosphere 2, conservative heavyweight—and slipping away just a things come crashing down. Or perhaps he’d rather see himself as DiCaprio’s character in The Wolf of Wall Street, slamming down the phone on idiots who wont make a deal, burning bridges if he can’t get what he want, always with the goal of making gobs of money in the end.

It was always hard to believe Steve Bannon found a certain kind of success in Hollywood—a success that wasn’t measured by the kind of art he produced, but the third or fourth tier deals he managed to push through, often with Hollywood hardly knowing he was even there. Connie Bruck chronicles this strange time in her New Yorker profile “How Hollywood Remembers Steve Bannon” (the subhead could have simply read, they don’t), as Bannon developed his good-versus-evil worldview and love for Leni Riefenstahl into a vision for a new kind of conservative media mogul.

People in Hollywood were bewildered by Bannon’s story of himself as a major dealmaker. “I never heard of him, prior to Trumpism,” Barry Diller told me. “And no one I know knew him in his so-called Hollywood period.” Another longtime entertainment executive said, “The barriers in Hollywood are simple. First, you have to have talent. And, second, you have to know how to get along with people. It’s a small club.”

Many who did have dealings with Bannon were unwilling to be interviewed. Others would not speak for attribution, saying that they feared what he might do with the instruments of government—one spoke of a possible I.R.S. audit. He worked hard to join the Hollywood establishment, and several people who knew him said that they were startled by his conversion to what one called “conservative political jihad.” Another said, “All the years I knew him, he just wanted to make a buck.” […]

“What I’ve tried to do is weaponize film. I want these films to be incredibly provocative. I want to present our point of view. I’m not interested in saying ‘on the one hand and the other.’ I’m conservative. I believe in the Tea Party movement. I believe in the populist rebellion.” Bannon added, “I make films of the highest artistic quality.”

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The (Film) Revolution Will Be Streamed

Amazon and Netflix are transforming the way independent movies are made and distributed — with far-reaching effects on an entire culture centered around film festivals, back-room negotiations, and subtle prestige battles. At The Ringer, Sean Fennessey takes a panoramic look at the changed landscape of independent filmmaking, where traditional distribution deals become increasingly obsolete.

Dillard has had to wait for more than 15 months for the public to see his movie. After brokering a deal with Blumhouse and WWE Films, Dillard entered a period when he was forced to resume his life and earn a living while tuning up his movie for its wide release. Few had seen Sleight and so momentum was difficult to come by. Artistic purgatory doesn’t pay.

“Here’s the not-so-glamorous side of independent film: All of my student loans defaulted, all my credit cards went into collections, I went back to Bad Robot to help my friends who are chefs there, to help them in the kitchen,” says Dillard. “So I was doing whatever I could, but I still had to keep so much time open for Sleight, and that process sucks —  like, it really sucks. And that’s nobody’s fault. It’s the nature of a low-budget [movie], where you can’t just pay somebody 85 grand [to fix all your problems].”

There was no such interregnum for Macon Blair.

“It seems to me like a cool way of doing things,” Blair says of his movie’s quick arrival on Netflix. “If the temperature is already up on a particular title to not let it cool off and then have to re-remind people about it nine months or 12 months later, just sort of strike while the iron is hot.”

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Not Giving Up on the Dream

Geronilla is mercurial. Mussed hair, holes in his sweatshirt, shattered iPhone. He listens to the xx on vinyl and shares his bedroom with two brothers, one of whom has enlisted in the Army. The room is lined with cameras, including a Red Epic digital, and videotapes of “Dr. Zhivago” and “Some Like it Hot.” He sleeps on a roll-up futon, edits and shoots commercials and music videos. Aside from the two other scripts he’s working on, he’s writing a thriller set in an auto shop that he estimates will cost $500,000 to make, or “maybe $100,000 can still make it look good.”

Hoston is slender and her hair falls deep south of her shoulders. Glasses perched on her nose, she likes precision; a quiet presence who on-screen can glow bright as a filament. She has a quick laugh and on most days is bigger than her doubts. On her way to a recent acting class, she worked on “not smooshing words together” when reading lines. She has a new agent and manager and head shot photos for pilot season. She’s been told to edit her demo reel down to 40 seconds. “How can I show them who I am in that time?” she agonizes.

In the Los Angeles Times, Jeffrey Fleishman turns the camera on two young Angelenos trying to establish careers in show biz, showing that, despite the seductive shimmer of La La Land, the industry is just as likely to break you as ever. Better have a Plan B, C and D.

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What’s Literally Underfoot at the Oscars, or The Secrets of the Red Carpet, Revealed

At The Los Angeles Times, Daniel Miller goes behind the scenes to report on the famed red carpet that graces the entrance to the Oscars. What you learn about the care, installation, and true color of this 50,000 square foot rug may just surprise you.

A red carpet made its debut at the Oscars in 1961 and has since become an integral part of the spectacle, whose pre-show extravaganza is widely viewed by fans tuning in to check out stars’ fashion hits and misses.

The unique nature of the Academy Awards extends to its carpet: It isn’t even a traditional red.

Instead, the carpet is closer to burgundy and has been for the last 15 years. The exclusive shade — called Academy Red — is supposed to flatter the A-list actors who are photographed and filmed walking on it. It’s a secret color, one whose precise specifications the show’s organizers won’t reveal for fear of copycats.

“Listen, there is only one Academy Awards,” said Joe Lewis, an associate producer of the arrivals and pre-show portion of the Oscars. “Some things that make the Academy Awards the Academy Awards should be proprietary.”

The secrecy surrounding the carpet illustrates the exacting nature of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the annual awards show. And it’s just one quirk of the custom carpet.

A crew of about 18 workers began installing the red carpet along Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Dolby on Feb. 21. It will take them nearly 900 man-hours to install the carpet, and the work won’t be finished until just before the stars begin arriving Sunday afternoon — as throngs of foreign tourists, street performers in superhero costumes and edgy security guards look on.

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The High Price of Breaking Ground

McMahon hired her in 1997, and Chyna became the first woman to battle male wrestlers in the WWF ring, much to the chagrin of many fans, who protested Chyna’s presence by throwing batteries at her and spreading nasty rumors. (One was that she had the world’s largest clit; another, that she had a penis.) But the abuse didn’t seem to stop her. During one 1999 fight, Triple H kicked Chyna in the breasts. The announcer said nothing; when Chyna retaliated by socking Triple H in the balls, he gulped: “I still don’t know if I’m comfortable with this.” After Chyna beat Triple H a few minutes later, retired wrestler Mick Foley, in character as Mankind, hit on her. She hit him in the balls, too, and said, “In case you don’t get it, that means, ‘no.’”

“I let the boys do their thing,” Chyna said in a 2015 interview with Vince Russo. “My job was to keep my mouth shut.” Most the time, she beat her male opponents and became known as the “Ninth Wonder of the World.”

“She was in there not only wrestling guys but beating guys,” says former WWE host Jim Roberts. “She was doing stuff that only guys were doing at the time, and that I don’t believe any female has done since. What she did was incredible. She was really revolutionary in the wrestling business.”

At Broadly, Mitchell Sunderland examines WWE star Chyna’s accomplishments, struggles and legacy, and the complex challenges women face in a world fraught sexism. She died on the same day as Prince, but his passing isn’t what might eclipse her.

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The Problem With Hollywood’s Portrayal of Pregnant Women

The post-apocalyptic thriller Mad Max: Fury Road has been nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award, numerous Producer Guild of America awards, two Golden Globes, and an Academy Award for Best Picture. It’s been hailed as a stealth feminist masterpiece—and it is! But it also contributes to a larger problem: Nobody knows anymore what a pregnant woman looks like.

The plot of Mad Max centers on the escape attempt of several women who have been sexually abused by the monomaniacal cult-leader Immortan Joe. They are as nubile and scantily clad as the patriarch is decrepit and disgusting. A scene in which they take a break in the desert to drink some water resembles nothing so much as a bikini car wash. Read more…