AFI Fest Announces Centerpiece Galas And Special Screenings

Pete Hammond

With just a little more than two weeks to go before its opening-night world premiere gala of Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar on November 3, the American Film Institute has just announced the long list of Centerpiece Galas and Special Screenings for its 25th edition — AFI FEST 2011 presented by Audi. Unlike the Eastwood coup, the lineup doesn’t include any other world or North American premieres and instead is made up of films recently seen in Toronto, Venice, Telluride or New York or combinations of all of the above festivals.

The AFI Fest, which runs November 3-10, is becoming known as the festival of galas, with at least one big red-carpet event every night of the week. Slated as Centerpiece Galas this session are Luc Besson’s The Lady (November 4), which played the Mill Valley Film Festival last week in a version now several minutes shorter than its well-received Toronto Film Festival premiere; Roman Polanski’s Carnage (November 5); My Week With Marilyn (November 6); The Artist (November 8); and Steve McQueen’s controversial Shame (November 9). Also on November 7, the fest will present an evening with Pedro Almodovar, this year’s Guest Artistic Director, who will be presenting his 25-year-old classic Law of Desire and participating in a special onstage conversation. All will be presented at the Chinese theater in Hollywood. Read More »

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Hot Trailer: ‘The Lady’

By | Monday October 3, 2011 @ 6:02pm PDT

Luc Besson’s The Lady tells the story of Burmese nonviolent pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. Michelle Yeoh stars as Suu Kyi with David Thewlis as her husband, writer Michael Aris, who campaigned along with their children for her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. The Lady is being released in the … Read More »

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Global Showbiz Briefs: UK, Qatar

James Murdoch’s Role At News Corp, BSkyB Questioned
An influential shareholder group has urged News Corp investors to drop James Murdoch from its board. Murdoch has been eyed as his father Rupert Murdoch’s successor as chairman and CEO. But the … Read More »

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Toronto: Distribution Deal For Luc Besson’s ‘The Lady’ Puts Michelle Yeoh And David Thewlis In Oscar Race

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: The Oscar race just got a little more interesting. EuropaCorp has made a U.S. distribution deal with Cohen Media Group for the Luc Besson-directed The Lady, the story of Burmese pro-democracy activist and political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi. Upstart Cohen Media Group plans to release the film for an Oscar-qualifying platform release late this year to capitalize on strong performances by Michelle Yeoh, who plays Suu Kyi, and David Thewlis, who plays her Oxford professor husband Michael Aris. The film will get a wider release in early 2012. Suu Kyi has spent most of the last 20 years under house arrest by the repressive Burmese military-controlled government. Leaders cruelly barred her husband and two sons from visiting her, thinking that it would drive her to leave. Because she knew that once gone she would never be permitted re-entry, Suu Kyi sacrificed everything to stay and become an iconic symbol of democracy and human rights. Her husband and sons bolstered her spirit and campaigned for the Nobel Peace Prize, which she was awarded in 1991. The distribution deals came quickly after the film premiered Monday evening at Roy Thomson Hall, where Besson, Yeoh and Thewlis received a rousing standing ovation. The deal was brokered by EuropaCorp Group CEO Christophe Lambert and Cohen Media Group CEO Charles S. Cohen.

The Lady becomes the second Toronto title to become an instant entry into upcoming awards season, after Fox Searchlight acquired the NC-17 Steve McQueen-directed Shame with plans to campaign for Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan.

After establishing himself as France’s answer to Steven Spielberg directing hits like La Femme Nikita and The Professional and co-writing and producing action films like Taken, Besson has become very selective in the projects he directs. While he has always had a soft spot for strong female protagonists, it has always been in action settings. The Lady is a decided departure and certainly his most personal film to date. Besson made it to refocus the world’s attention on an activist whose continuing plight gets easily forgotten in a turbulent world, even though she won that Nobel Peace Prize and U2′s Bono and The Edge wrote the song Walk On about her sacrifice (which got U2′s album banned in Burma). Read More »

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Toronto: Madonna, Parties, And Harvey Weinstein’s New Premiere World Record

Pete Hammond

Harvey Weinstein just set a new air, land and sea world record for attending movie premieres. The Weinstein Company mogul managed to show up at three, count ‘em, three different premiere events in two different countries all on Monday night. “Yeah, this was some fun wasn’t it?” he deadpanned when I asked him about his landmark photo-op achievement.

Although he has been in Toronto this week, Weinstein had to go back to New York City on Monday night to attend the premiere of his company’s romantic comedy I Don’t Know How She Does It, which stars Sarah Jessica Parker and opens nationwide Friday. Then it was right back to Canada and two more North American premieres: Madonna’s directorial outing W.E. and the Ralph Fiennes-directed Coriolanus – and he made ito to both post-parties at Soho House. On one floor he was dining with Madonna and her exclusive guest list, then he did a walk-through one floor down at the Coriolanus preem. Then it was back up to the third floor, where he huddled with Jennifer Garner and Olivia Wilde, the stars of yet another Weinstein Company movie, Butter, which premieres here on Tuesday (I saw it in Telluride). I am told they will open the film for a one-week Oscar-qualifying run October 28 and reopen it sometime in early 2012.

As for the Madonna film, which was critically lambasted in Venice, the spin I got from one of its international reps was that it’s really not all that bad. It’s just that it’s not all that good either. There are some nice visual touches, but the material about the romance between King Edward and Wallis Simpson (written by the Material Girl herself) just isn’t all that compelling. My overall impression is that she is to be commended for trying something different with this British period piece, but for someone normally so edgy, this film very much lacks edge. It is undoubtedly an older person’s movie and facing a daunting commercial climb.

Before the film started (a half hour late), Madonna told the hometown crowd, “As you know I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, so I almost feel Canadian. Even when I have been arrested here I had a heck of a time,” she said. At the earlier Monday morning press screening, a paltry crowd of less than 100 reportedly showed up for their first opportunity to see her directing and writing effort. By the time it was finished, less than half remained in the massive 555-seat Scotiabank Theatre. But following the evening screening at the Roy Thomson Hall, the crowd gave Madonna a brief standing ovation before heading for the exits. But it wasn’t the kind of enthusiastic standing applause heard at the Machine Gun Preacher screening just one night earlier. Read More »

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Global Showbiz Briefs: Rome, Poland, UK

By | Friday August 26, 2011 @ 7:28pm PDT

‘The Lady’ Set As Opener At Rome Fest
Luc Besson’s The Lady, the political drama starring Michelle Yeoh and inspired by the recently freed Burmese opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has been tapped to open the … Read More »

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Luc Besson’s ‘The Lady’: The Teaser Poster

By | Monday August 22, 2011 @ 3:51pm PDT
Mike Fleming

When Luc Besson shot The Lady, he and his backers did their best to pretend it was not about Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition … Read More »

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Luc Besson Filming ‘The Lady’ In Secret

By | Friday January 7, 2011 @ 1:31am PST

The French director, best-known for his kick-ass action movies, has resumed filming on The Lady, his biopic of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Paris. But Besson is determined to keep filming under wraps because of the pic’s … Read More »

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