October 01, 2016

Hollywood: Welcome to Hard Times

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By ROBERT W. WELKOS

These are strange times in Hollywood. Turbulent times.Grieving times. Warring times. Bieber times. Noah times.

To be sure, Hollywood wouldn’t be Hollywood without being a little off its axis. But the events of recent weeks make Tinseltown seem almostas if the tectonic plates are shifting and we’re all about to be swallowed upin a giant, sucking sinkhole along with those vintage Corvettes.

There was Fast and Furious star Paul Walker dying senselessly in a horrible car crash.

There was the shocking news that the brilliant award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had died. In New York. In his Greenwich Village apartment. In the bathroom. A syringe in his arm. Five empty packets and dozens more full of heroin. The lights of Broadway were dimmed in his honor.

Then, like a Dementor swooping down on the Hogwarts Express,bespectacled Woody Allen found himself dueling with his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow, 28, who accused the celebrated actor/director of molesting her when she was only 7 years old. Allen flatly denied it but the accusations made everyone feel creepy and wondering who wastelling the truth? The feud even spilled over into the Oscars with Best Actressnominee Cate Blanchett, the star of Allen’s Blue Jasmine being singled out by Farrow for professionally associating with Allen. ‘What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett?’she wrote, listing other celebrities who had also worked with Allen over the years.

It was left to Page Six to supply more details on the untimely death of Julia Roberts’ half-sister Nancy Motes, who is said to have tweeted ‘Just so you all know ‘America’s Sweetheart’ is a B***H’ in the weeks before Motes died of a drug overdose. In October last year Motes also spoke about a family rift, reportedly tweeting: ‘It’s a shame when you get more support from strangers than you do from your family. I can’t wait to officially belong to another family!’ It sounded all the more poignant when you read that Motes had once harbored her own Tinseltown dreams.

The grieving poured forth again this week with the deaths oftwo icons: Shirley Temple and Sid Caesar.

Shirley and Sid were, of course, now elderly so their deathswere not unexpected, but it tugged at the heartstrings because they stillentertain us whenever their films or TV shows are aired on television.

Shirley, arms pumping with that curly top and dimpled chin,couldn’t extend her appeal beyond youth, but in adulthood she managed to transformherself into something noteworthy in its own right: she became an American diplomat.

In recent weeks, the news has been rife with the bizarreantics of the Canadian-born pop musician Justin Bieber. Did he toss eggs at his neighbor’s house? Did he consume ‘sizzurp’ cocktails of codeine-based cough syrup and soda at his Calabasas mansion, as an ex-housekeeper alleged in British papers. What about his arrest in Miami for driving under the influence, resisting arrest and driving with an invalid license? Or, urinating in his jail cell, as reported by TMZ? Or,partying with shirt off with P. Diddy at Vanquish nightclub in Atlanta? Or, the assault charge lodged against him in Toronto for allegedly shoving a limousine driver? Or, reports of private planes filled with so much marijuana smoke thatthe pilots had to don oxygen masks, as reported by NBC News and others.

One can only imagine the headlines decades ago if Shirley hadacted out her growing pains like bad-boy Bieber. Shirley Temple suspected of eggingneighbor?s house! Shirley Temple consumes ‘sizzurp’ cocktails! Shirley Temple’s pilots say they were forced to don gas masks because of pot smoke in plane!

That’s not to say that young people of earlier generations didn’t misbehave, how we wish James Dean hadn’t climbed into his new Porsche 550 Spyder that fateful day in 1955 and head off to a car rally in Salinas, California, but it’s doubtful that Bieber will ever be appointed as Canada’s ambassador, say,to the Court of St. James one day.

While Hollywood has certainly had its share of bad times before from the Fatty Arbuckle rape trial to Lana Turner’s daughter, Cheryl Crane, stabbing Tuner’s lover Johnny Stompanato to death, to Hollywood producer David Begelman’s embezzlement scandal, it just feels that today the industry is on edge and a drift going from one calamity after another and not knowing what may come next.

There is warring from within that is unsettling.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences recently took the rare step of rescinding an Oscar nomination for the song Alone Yet Not Alone from a small faith-based film of the same name after the academy’s board of governors determined that composer Bruce Broughton, a long-timeacademy member himself and former board governor, sent emails to approximately 70 of his fellow music branch members suggesting they listen to the song.

The move reinforced speculation in some conservative Christian circles that Hollywood’s perceived left-liberal bias factored in the Oscar snub.

Broughton didn’t see it that way, but gave his own theory of what was behind the move: a studio or studios who had poured more time and money into their Oscar campaigns were irritated that this little song with no campaign war chest had been nominated.

And that’s only one skirmish in this year’s Oscar wars.

Mark Harris, writing for Grantland, complained that, ‘More than in any year, a kind of sourness has settled over the Academy Awards.’

It was not only the effect the Allen-Farrow feud might have on Blanchett’s Oscar chances but, Harris noted, there have also been complaints about Martin Scorsese’s best picture nominee The Wolf of Wall Street ignoring the real victims of con man Jordan Belfort’s crimes. Harris added that there was also the physician of the late Ron Woodroof, the protagonist of Dallas Buyers Club, coming forward to say that Woodroof was not a straight homophobe but a nonhomophobic bisexual, a claim denied by the film’s co-screenwriter.’

The accuracy of best picture nominee Captain Phillips starring Tom Hanks as the skipper of a hijacked freighter has also been questioned by the real-life crew of the Maersk Alabama. Director Paul Greengrass told Reddit AMA that while the film deviated from the actual story, ‘The fact is, Captain Phillips endured a five day ordeal at the hands of his kidnappers that verynearly resulted in his being killed. That’s the story we told, and it’s an accurate one.’

As with the Oscar season, the regular movie season is notwithout its controversy.

Only this week, the Hollywood Reporter noted that Paramount Pictures was nervous over how Christian audiences might perceive director Darren Aronofsky’s $125 million biblical epic Noah starring Russell Crowe.The film, which is scheduled for release March 28, features ‘Aronofsky’sfantastical world and his deeply conflicted Noah,’ THR explained. Some Christian test audiences reacted negatively to the intensity and darkness of the lead character. Aronofsky’s Noah gets drunk, for example, and considers taking drastic measures to eradicate mankind from the planet,’ the publication added.

And while THR said both Aronofsky and Paramount were once again on the same page, Noah can ill afford to alienate Christian audiences after seeing how positively they responded to the Mark Burnett/RomaDowney-produced hit mini-series The Bible series on the History channel.

While not on the same scale of Noah, another film comingout this spring is generating controversy for another reason deserved or not.

The website Latino Rebels reports that the Diego Luna biopic Cesar Chavez starring Michael Pena, America Ferrara, Rosario Dawson and John Malkovich, is facing criticism for allegedly using non-union workers on a film about the late labor leader who founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers. Pantelion Films did not immediately respond to arequest for comment.

The website quoted Chamba Sanchez, who works for the Los Angeles Community College District, as saying on his Facebook page that he gotan email asking if he would help promote the movie.

Sanchez, instead, wondered publicly why Chavez? family wouldagree to the production?

‘I am currently researching into allegations that people behind this movie fired unionized workers and outsourced part or the entire production to Mexico,’ Sanchez wrote. ‘This is quite disturbing. If this is the case, Cesar Chavez must be spinning in his grave.’

The distributor, Pantelion Films, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from HollywoodNews.

Writer-director Zak Forsman knows all about bringing a deeply personal story to the screen. His new, low-budget film, Down and Dangerous, is inspired by his father’s early life as a coke smuggler in New York.

‘I think, in total, he did 13 smuggles,’ Forsman told HollywoodNews. ‘It was all coke related. His first attempt at smuggling was marijuana. And then he read an article in the New York Times that described how a man could go to Colombia and source cocaine and smuggle it into this country.That was in the 70s before x-rays (at airports).’

When organized crime figures burst in and put a gun at his mother’s head, Zak’s parents knew it was time to get out of the smuggling trade. So they packed up the family and moved to Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg, where they opened a furniture store.

There was a book about his dad’s coke smuggling exploits called Snowblind, Zak noted, but the movie rights to the book were sold off long ago in perpetuity. Still, Zak said the smuggler in his own movie is inspired by the man who raised him. His father died in 1994 at age 67.

Zak didn’t have it easy making his little movie. In fact,the production was financed with donations raised on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. For $25, people could get a digital copy of the movie. For $5,000,they got a producer credit. With some very generous last minute donations, he noted, the budget climbed to more than $38,000.

The investors were lured by a 2-minute promo he filmed with the lead actor John T. Woods around L.A. ‘We just shot a little bit of material of him going around the city at night,’ Zak recalled.

It was a struggle, but they raised the first $10,000 in 48hours.

The 95-minute film took 39 days to shoot in 24 locations around L.A., Palm Springs and along the U.S.-Mexico border. Zak’s wife, Jamie Cobb, edited the film.

It will be released Valentine?s Day on video on demand andthe next day in select theaters.

In Hollywood as in life, when things seem most unsettled, peoplecan always rely on their resilience and creativity to get them through.

Like Zak Forsman.

Like Noah.

About Robert W. Welkos

Executive Editor: Robert W. Welkos is an award-winning journalist who covered the entertainment industry for 15 years as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. During this span, he wrote extensively about the movie industry from turmoil in the executive suites, the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, and box office hits and bombs to visits to movie sets as well as profiles of top stars and A-list directors, cutting edge features on the newest indie films and visits to famous film festivals like Sundance and Cannes. Prior to entertainment, Welkos worked as a reporter and assistant city editor in The Times’ Metro section where he undertook major investigations for the paper as well as covering breaking news and writing in-depth features. Before joining The Times, he worked for the Associated Press in Reno, Nevada, and City News Service in Los Angeles.

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