And I'm telling you it's not a 'Dreamgirls' redux! And I'm lying!
Sony Pictures is hard at work lining up the cast for the remake of “Sparkle,” tricking it out with popular singers who should give the film a bit more cache than what may have been expected from a film that’s almost phenomenally unnecessary. THR reports that Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks will play mother and daughter in the film, with Mike Epps taking on one of the male leads.
The original “Sparkle” opened in 1976, and hit the screen care of director Sam O’Steen and writers Joel Schumacher (no, really!) and Howard Rosenman, with a cast that included Irene Cara, Lonette McKee, Mary Alice, Philip Michael Thomas, Dwan Smith, Dorian Harewood, and Tony King. The film loosely told the story of The Supremes, featuring Cara, McKee, and Smith as singing sisters who make it big in the 1950s – until they are felled by drug problems and internal strife. The film’s music was composed by Curtis Mayfield, with Aretha Franklin singing the songs for the film’s soundtrack. It’s a bit of a cult classic, but that’s not the only reason why this all sounds so strangely familiar.
“Sparkle” is one of the direct inspirations for a certain Broadway musical hit that went on to become a very popular feature film that eventually won six Academy Awards. That film was called “Dreamgirls.” And, no, you’re not hallucinating, that film came out a mere five years ago. Too soon? I’d say just a bit.
Houston will play the mother to Sparks’ titular Sparkle, with Epps serving as Satin, who marries one of Sparkle’s sisters and directly leads to her downward spiral. The film will mark Houston’s return to the screen after a number of years away, as she last starred in 1996’s “The Preacher’s Wife.” She will also serve as an executive producer. The film will be Sparks’ acting debut.
This new “Sparkle” was penned by Mara Brock Akil (who created the popular BET sitcom “The Game”) and will be directed by her husband, Salim Akil (who has directed every episode of “The Game”).
“Dreamgirls” was a wonderful entry into the musical feature genre, and “Sparkle” seems set to be a less-than version of that film, not a standalone remake of a beloved old school flick. Are you interested in seeing a new “Sparkle,” or will you stick with your “Dreamgirls” DVDs?
The Polish-born actress shines in Vera Farmiga’s inspiring new film
One of the best things about indie films, in addition to the thought-provoking stories that often pack much more of a wallop than big studio releases, is getting a chance to experience the talent and charisma of the lesser-known actors who are able to show their stuff. I am a huge fan of actress Vera Farmiga’s first directorial effort, “Higher Ground,” in which she also stars, and I marvel at the talented cast she’s assembled, a mix of theater and other folks including John Hawkes, Donna Murphy, Norbert Leo Butz, and Bill Irwin.
My favorite supporting character is Dagmara Dominczyk’s Annika, the best friend of Verma Farmiga’s Corinne. They are both members of a tight-knit spiritual community, born-again Christians who follow a strict doctrine that Corinne begins to question. The miracle of this film is that Farmiga manages to present an intimate and occasionally condemning look at this evangelical group with humor and respect. There may be moments when we cringe, laugh, or even get angry, but this is no parody or hatchet job. In the film, the devout Annika seems more comfortable in her life and with her faith than Corinne, and she brings an uncharacteristically lusty and full-of-life presence to the otherwise staid group. She shares her unusual hobby (drawing endless images of her husband’s penis which she plasters all over their bedroom) with Corinne and helps her friend reclaim some of her own lost sensuality. Dominczyk’s scenes with Farmiga are so funny, so real, and so appealing that you instantly fall in love with this woman in her flowery floor-length dresses. When an incident takes her out of the main action of the film, the loss is felt acutely by both Corinne and the audience.
Dagmara Dominczyk was born in Kielce, Poland, and moved to the United States when she was seven years old. Her father was a leader in Poland's Solidarity movement which led to the family being expelled from the country in the early 1980s. While studying acting at Carnegie Mellon, Dominczyk met actor Patrick Wilson (“Angels in America,” “Little Children”) and the two were married in 2005 (they now have two sons). In addition to TV work in shows like “The Good Wife” and “Suits,” Dagmara will next be seen on the screen in Jay Anania’s “The Stare,” co-starring Winona Ryder and James Franco. Trust me, you will be hearing a lot more of this woman in the years to come. Maybe you'll even learn how to pronounce her name: for the record, it's do-MIN-chick!
Take a look at the trailer for “Higher Ground” (after the break) to see why Dominczyk’s dazzling performance is so key to the film:
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Talk about a new twist on an old favorite
The use of classic material to create new productions is nothing new – just think of the staggering number of Shakespeare-based films, television shows, plays, musicals, and the like for quick and dirty proof of that. But even the widespread and constant use of said classic material for "fresh takes" doesn’t quite lessen the sting when a staggeringly silly production is announced that seems to use a canon title just to give it some sort of bearing in the cinematic world.
Such is the case with “Olivia Twisted.”
You know where this is going, right?
“Olivia Twisted” is billed as “an ultramodern take” on Charles Dickens’ novel, “Oliver Twist.” It will focus on a female lead (that’s Olivia, for those of you whose eyes have rolled so far back in their head that they’ve been unable to read for a few moments) and some sort of insane plot that involves “highly trained street urchins” and “a turf war” in a film that will apparently “combine Dickensian elements with a Goth backdrop.” I’d laugh, but it just hurts too much.
Variety reports that Ashley Greene, best known as one of the Cullen clan of vampires in the “The Twilight Saga” will play the titular Olivia in the film, set to be produced by Michael De Luca, Alissa Phillips, Frank Mancuso Jr., and Eric Gores. The film has been written by Michael Roberts, and there’s no word yet on who will direct the project. There's no word on whether or not the film will involve street dancing or if it will be filmed in 3D, but let's be honest here, nothing is sacred anymore.
"The Greatest Film Ever Made" gets a worthy Blu-ray debut - and MSN has an exclusive clip from the set
"Citizen Kane" has been so longed hailed as “the greatest film ever made” (the American Film Institute’s poll apparently made it official) that it’s in serious danger of becoming the least seen masterpiece around. The legends surrounding the film and its creator (and let’s face it, Pauline Kael was simply wrong: this is Welles’ creation) have too long overshadowed the actual production.
Above all, Welles was a showman and "Citizen Kane" is a three ring circus of cinematic ingenuity, a startlingly entertaining blend of pulp melodrama, historical biography, detective story, political drama, storytelling confabulation, and plain old theatrical flourish. Years ahead of its time in its layered use of sound and score (a pioneering piece of dramatic composition by Bernard Herrmann), stunningly designed and brilliantly shot by Gregg Toland with a creative invention that pushed the envelope of motion picture photography, "Citizen Kane" is a vital, exciting moment of American cinema brought back to life with every viewing.
That puts a lot of pressure on Warner to get it right on their Blu-ray debut. I'm pleased to note that they do with "Citizen Kane: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition" (Warner). The original negative was lost in a fire years ago but a fine-grain print survives and was been the source of this newly remastered edition. The transfer so sharp and clear and detailed it actually shows us too much information in some scenes. The cinematic sleight of hand is revealed in the projection room scene (where Joseph Cotten and Erskine Sanford, who are supposed to be shrouded in shadow, are plainly seen as "anonymous reporters" in the background) and the stunning dissolve from the still photo of the Chronicle staff coming to life at a party. These scenes were made for the chemical technology of 1940s, not the capabilities of 21st century high definition digital restoration, but such perfectionism is the kind of criticism this disc can handle: every single scene is a marvel of crisp clarity.
While we wait for Friday, the box set arrived in Europe earlier this week
At The Digital Fix, Geoff Dearth (whose name already resembles a "Star Wars" character) takes on "Star Wars: The Original Trilogy." While he resigns himself to Lucas' tinkering ("For this 2011 edition of ["Star Wars"] Lucas has changed a few things once again (which I won't bleat about here) but the core of the movie still shines through the superficial CG gloss."), he takes a hard line on the technical quality of the masters. "These Blu-rays don't quite do them justice, using 7-year-old transfers which are beset with colour problems and artefacts from the then-state-of-the-art digital restoration," he complains, noting that the audio is a little better "yet it's still not perfect, hampered by the variable quality of the original sound element ".
A remarkably comprehensive review by Blu-ray.com reviewer Casey Broadwater proclaims that, a few exceptions aside (in particular "The Phantom Menace"), "the transfers/restorations the films have been given represent an exponential leap in picture refinement, integrity, and clarity from previous DVD releases." And he's in a forgiving mood when it comes to Lucas' reworking of the original films. "Yes, there are some goofy new additions, like Darth Vader yelling "NOOOOO" as he throws Emperor Palpatine over the railing. I don't think anyone expected this release of "The Complete Saga" to be free of controversy. But come on. It's "Star Wars." On Blu-ray."
Nerds, breathe easy
Though the director has been reticent on issuing a confirmation until now, it's always been assumed that J.J. Abrams would hop back into the director's chair for sequel to his wildly successful "Star Trek" revamp. Vulture has now learned that Abrams is indeed on deck for "Star Trek 2," with "insiders" telling the outlet that pre-production is under way, as the script for the film will be completed by the end of this month so that Abrams can start shooting the film this winter.
The film will come with a script from Abrams' constant co-workers Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, and Roberto Orci (the Kurtzman and Orci duo penned the first film as well), and it's expected that the entire cast (including Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Zoe Saldana) will return for another voyage on the Enterprise.
Abrams' first crack at the "Star Trek" universe opened in the spring of 2009 to overwhelming critical and popular acclaim (it's holding steady with a 94% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and it pulled in over $250 million at the domestic box office alone). Abrams' "Star Trek" pulled off the seemingly impossible - he took a beloved franchise that is rich with both history and a bevy of fans, gussied it up with young and sexy stars, and cleverly flipped the script on the classic timeline, all while pleasing fans new and old. "Star Trek" is certainly a fun and frisky outing, but it's also proof positive that "remakes" and "reboots" are not necessarily unwanted, unneeded, and unable to work.
Abrams has steadily become a go-to name when it comes to genre work, from television "Lost," "Alias") to feature films ("Cloverfield," "Super 8"), but his take on the "Star Trek" mythos is my very favorite of his ventures. Did you like Abrams' "Star Trek"? What adventures would you like to see the crew of the Enterprise take on next?