Category Archives: Hollywood

Carrie Fisher (1956–2016)

Eileen Jones writes for Jacobin:

For many people, the death of Carrie Fisher means the death of Princess Leia. She knew it would, writing,

I tell my younger friends that one day they’ll be at a bar playing pool and they’ll look up at the television set and there will be a picture of Princess Leia with two dates underneath, and they’ll say “Awww — she said that would happen.” And then they’ll go back to playing pool.

I‘ll have to let someone else write that Princess Leia tribute, someone who can do it with proper fervor. That’s not the Carrie Fisher that interests me.

What I liked about Carrie Fisher was that she seemed inclined to tell the truth, and almost nobody does that, certainly not Hollywood stars. Most certainly not Hollywood stars that are also what Fisher called “the product of Hollywood inbreeding,” referring to her status as the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, the star-child of star-parents. Maintaining stardom generally results in a lot of secrets, and you’d think dynastic stardom would only intensify that tendency over generations.

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The Empire Is Us: The Politics of ‘Rogue One’

Ian Doescher writes for Politico:

161223-Rogue-One-GettyImages-629904726.jpgWhat happens when we become the empire?

In an early scene of Rogue One, the new Star Wars spinoff, we follow the protagonists Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor to the desert moon of Jedha. Walking through the streets, looking for a contact, Cassian perceptively comments, “This town is ready to blow.” Moments later, his words prove prophetic when a group of radical, masked rebels plans a surprise attack on an imperial squadron.

As I watched the scene, my jaw dropped. A desert setting. A group of soldiers in uniform. A surprise attack by a radical group that strongly opposes the more powerful force. This is Star Wars, yes, but it could also describe American combat in the Middle East, and as I watched Rogue One I was struck by the similarity. Thinking through the analogy, though, made for a troubling realization—if the radical rebels of Rogue One stand in for modern-day extremists, does the Empire they fight symbolize the United States?

In 1977, when Star Wars: A New Hope was released, there was no ambiguity about the good guys and bad guys. The good guys were Luke, Leia, Han and Obi-Wan, and Darth Vader, the Emperor and the stormtroopers were the bad guys. Easy. As a child, I identified with the rebels and their fight for justice. (Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, on the other hand, recently confessed he was “inclined to root for the empire.”)

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25 Years Later: Oliver Stone and Kevin Costner Look Back at the Legacy of ‘JFK’

Kristopher Tapley reports for Vanity Fair:

'JFK' 25th Anniversary: Oliver Stone andOliver Stone didn’t know that “JFK” would define him as it has when the towering political thriller hit theaters on Dec. 20, 1991. But in short order it proved to be at once a source of great pride for the filmmaker — the kind of achievement only possible on a hot streak like the one Stone was enjoying in the late-’80s and early-’90s — and something of an albatross.

“It was a hot potato from the get-go, much hotter than I thought,” Stone says now, reflecting on the film’s 25th anniversary. “I didn’t realize it would hit the central nerve core of the establishment … And it did take its toll. I think it’s changed the perception of me forever. Many now dismiss me as a filmmaker who is political and only into conspiracy theories. It labeled me and I was staggered. I wish, in a way, it had just died off.”

Pity, because what Stone exhibited with the film — which dramatically posits a massive cover-up of president John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination through the eyes of then-New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison — was a staggering command of visual storytelling. An admirer of director Costa-Gavras’ own 1969 political thriller, “Z,” Stone went into “JFK” wanting to make something analogous, a fractured film where “you look at a crime, you accept the first version of it, the official version, then you look at it again,” he says.

The director worked feverishly with screenwriter Zachary Sklar for the better part of 1990 developing the project, much of it conjured while he was finishing post-production on his rock biopic “The Doors.” Spinning off of tomes like Jim Marrs’ meticulously reported “Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy” and Garrison’s own “On the Trail of the Assassins,” with further inspirations like former U.S. Chief of Special Operations L. Fletcher Prouty (who became the basis for Donald Sutherland’s enigmatic “Mr. X” character), Stone cranked out a script so massive he felt it best to pull back on some of the details in the version he submitted to Warner Bros. for backing.

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Snowden by Oliver Stone (Trailer)

How the CIA Hoodwinked Hollywood

Nicholas Shou, the author of Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood, writes for The Atlantic:

The CIA has a long history of “spooking the news,” dating back to its earliest days when the legendary spymaster Allen Dulles and his top staff drank and dined regularly with the press elite of New York and Washington, and the agency boasted hundreds of U.S. and foreign journalists as paid and unpaid assets. In 1977, after this systematic media manipulation was publicly exposed by congressional investigations, the CIA created an Office of Public Affairs that was tasked with guiding press coverage of intelligence matters in a more transparent fashion. The agency insists that it no longer maintains a stable of friendly American journalists, and that its efforts to influence the press are much more above board. But, in truth, the intelligence empire’s efforts to manufacture the truth and mold public opinion are more vast and varied than ever before. One of its foremost assets? Hollywood.

The agency has established a very active spin machine in the heart of the entertainment capital, which works strenuously to make sure the cloak-and-dagger world is presented in heroic terms. Since the mid-1990s, but especially after 9/11, American screenwriters, directors, and producers have traded positive portrayal of the spy profession in film or television projects for special access and favors at CIA headquarters.

Ever since its inception in 1947, the CIA has been covertly working with Hollywood. But it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the agency formally hired an entertainment industry liaison and began openly courting favorable treatment in films and television. During the Clinton presidency, the CIA took its Hollywood strategy to a new level—trying to take more control of its own mythmaking. In 1996, the CIA hired one of its veteran clandestine officers, Chase Brandon, to work directly with Hollywood studios and production companies to upgrade its image. “We’ve always been portrayed erroneously as evil and Machiavellian,” Brandon later told The Guardian. “It took us a long time to support projects that portray us in the light we want to be seen in.”

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The CIA’s Work With Filmmakers Puts All Media Workers at Risk

Adam Johnson writes for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

John Goodman and Ben Affleck in Argo.Vice’s Jason Leopold (4/6/16) has uncovered documents showing the CIA had a role in producing up to 22 entertainment “projects,” including History Channel documentary Air America: The CIA’s Secret AirlineBravo‘s Top Chef: Covert Cuisine, the USA Network series Covert Affairs and the BBC documentary The Secret War on Terror—along with two fictional feature films about the CIA that both came out in 2012.

The CIA’s involvement in the production of Zero Dark Thirty (effectively exchanging “insider” access for a two-hour-long torture commercial) has already been well-established, but the agency’s role in the production of Argo—which won the Best Picture Oscar for 2012—was heretofore unknown. The extent of the CIA’s involvement in the projects is still largely classified, as Leopold notes, quoting an Agency audit report:

However, because of the lack of adequate records, we were unable to determine the extent of the CIA’s support to the eight projects, the extent to which foreign nationals participated in CIA-sponsored activities, and whether the Director/OPA approved the activities and participation of foreign nationals…. Failure on the part of CIA officers to adhere to the regulatory requirements could result in unauthorized disclosures, inappropriate actions and negative consequences for the CIA.

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Idiocracy Writer: I Never Expected My Movie ‘To Become A Documentary’

Neetzan Zimmerman reports for The Hill:

Idiocracy, 2016, Donald Trump, Election, DocumentaryThe man behind the 2006 cult sci-fi film “Idiocracy” is lamenting that his fictional movie appears to have become reality.

“I never expected #idiocracy to become a documentary,” tweeted screenwriter Etan Cohen in an apparent jab at the 2016 presidential race.

Together with “Beavis & Butt-head” creator Mike Judge, Cohen co-wrote the time-travel comedy. The plot revolves around the misadventures of a man who wakes up in a futuristic America only to discover that everyone around him, including lawmakers and government officials, is an idiot.

“I thought the worst thing that would come true was everyone wearing Crocs,” Cohen told his Twitter followers.

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John Kerry Recruits Hollywood In ISIS propaganda War, But Some Are Skeptical

Steve Loiaconi reports for KMTR16:

© Eric ThayerOn his way to Rancho Mirage, California to meet with leaders from member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Secretary of State John Kerry stopped in Los Angeles Tuesday to appear on Jimmy Kimmel’s talk show and to meet with Hollywood executives about fighting ISIS.

“Great convo w studio execs in LA. Good to hear their perspectives & ideas of how to counter #Daesh narrative,” Kerry tweeted afterward, using another name for the Islamic State.

Some have questioned the strategy behind the meeting.

“Is he looking for the next Wolverine movie to be Wolverine vs ISIS?” a reporter asked at Wednesday’s State Department press briefing.

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Former Financial Regulator Bill Black Reviews ‘The Big Short’

Jessica Desvarieux talks to former financial regulator Bill Black who reviews the highlights and holes of the film The Big Short. Bill Black is also the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One: How Corporate Executives and Politicians Looted the S&L Industry(The Real News)

New Film Reveals History and Consequences of Israeli Settlements on Palestinian Land: Interview with Shimon Dotan

Amy Goodman talks to Shimon Dotan, an award winning filmmaker and director of a new film, The Settlers, which has just had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. (Democracy Now!)

40 Years After “All the President’s Men” Robert Redford Plays Another Journalist Challenging Power in “Truth”

Forty years ago, the legendary actor Robert Redford starred in one of the most celebrated journalism films of all time: “All The President’s Men.” Redford and Dustin Hoffman portrayed Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein investigating the Watergate scandal that eventually brought down President Nixon. In his most recent film “Truth,” Robert Redford portrays another journalist—this time CBS reporter Dan Rather. The film is based on CBS producer Mary Mapes’ 2005 memoir about how she was fired and Rather was forced to resign after they reported that George W. Bush received special treatment in the U.S. Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. Redford joins us in Park City, Utah, at the Sundance Film Festival, which he founded in 1978. (Democracy Now!)

The Politics of the Golden Globes and David Bowie: Interview with Hamish McAlpine

Afshin Rattansi talks to Award Winning film producer and distributor Hamish McAlpine who talks about what really happened at the Golden Globes from Ricky Gervias’s political monologues to the winners and the losers. He also talks about what made David Bowie so influential over so many years. (Going Underground)

Star Wars will make its real money in the mall, not the cinema

Maddison Connaughton reports for Vox:

[…] The Star Wars franchise has generated more than $32 billion in revenue over the past 38 years. The Force Awakens is expected to be its biggest earner yet, but the film’s fortune won’t be made in the cinema. It will be in the mall, where shoppers are expected to pick up $5 billion worth of merchandise over the next 12 months.

Branded bags of oranges, a $3999 Millennium Falcon kid’s bed and toy lightsabers — these are the real force behind Star Wars.

Back in 2012, Disney bought Lucasfilm — the studio that created Star Wars — for $4.02 billion. The pair’s first foray together, Strange Magic, was released in January this year. It was a total flop, one of the worst ever opening weekends for a widely released film.

But Disney wasn’t worried. Buying Lucasfilm had one purpose: to acquire the rights toStar Wars. It’s the world’s most lucrative franchise, and it has been sitting on the shelf for 10 years since Star Wars Episode III: Return of the Sith.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is widely expected to be a huge hit for Disney, easily making back its $200 million budget. It’s on track to become the third highest-grossing film of all time, behind James Cameron’s blockbusters Avatar ($2.8 billion) and Titanic($2.2 billion).

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James Bond, the Spy Who Loved Brands

Nicholas Tufnell writes for Bloomberg:

Bond films are some of the most heavily branded in movie history, with companies paying millions to get their products on screen alongside the world’s most famous spy. The latest instalment, Spectre, has its world premiere in the U.K. on Monday.

With Bond-themed ad campaigns and pre-release hype in full-swing, Seesaw Media’s Daryl Collis explains that the link between brands and Bond is deep and long-standing, but not a relationship that the viewer will always accept without question.

Pierce Brosnan’s Bond swansong Die Another Day saw producers link up with 21 “brand partners.” By the time of Daniel Craig’s debut in Casino Royale that number had been pared back to seven.

Bond now promotes “brand partners who are more real, and more authentic to his [Craig’s] interpretation of James  Bond,” says Collis.

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Tequila, Painted Pearls, and Prada: How the CIA Helped Produce ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

Jason Leopold and Ky Henderson report for VICE News:

On April 21, 2011, Mark Boal called the CIA to tell them he was going to Afghanistan.

The previous year, the screenwriter had been at a dinner when CIA director Leon Panetta asked Boal to alert the agency if he ever traveled to the country. At the time, Boal was working on a movie called Tora Bora, about the CIA’s failure to capture Osama bin Laden in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The title referred to the region in eastern Afghanistan where the US felt it had let bin Laden slip through its fingers during a battle in December 2001.

But less than two weeks after Boal made the call, a team of Navy SEALs raided the al Qaeda leader’s compound in Pakistan and killed him. Boal would not be going to Afghanistan after all.

Instead, he stopped writing the script for Tora Bora and began writing a different screenplay about what one lawmaker called “the most classified mission in history” — the killing of bin Laden. That movie, which Boal would work on with director Kathryn Bigelow, would become the 2012 Oscar-winning film Zero Dark Thirty. And the CIA would play a huge role in the creation of the script.

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Pentagon Influences TV Shows Like ‘American Idol’? New Documents Show Scary Collaboration

Zaid Jilani reports for AlterNet:

It’s a little-known fact that the Pentagon has for years directly influenced the production of a wide variety of television programming. In fact, in instances where the producing companies are accessing military hardware, the Department of Defense requires approval of the scripts, a process which can result in line-by-line edits by the government of film and television plots and dialogue.

SpyCulture.com’s Tom Secker filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests with various branches of the military, seeking information about how often and to what extent the Department of Defense coordinates with programming. The results are revealing. Secker’s FOIA produced over 1,400 pages of documents from the Army’s Entertainment Liason Office and another 100 pages from the US Air Force’s office.

The documents reveal coordination not only on the type of programming we’ve come to expect—e.g. military war films— but also well-watched programs from numerous genres. For example, this entry on “American Idol,” where a contestant with a military background is referred to as a PSYOP specialist (meaning psychological operations) who was “unfortunately voted off of the show”.

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Online pirates could face 10 years in jail under plans being considered by UK government

BBC News reports:

Piracy keyOnline pirates could face jail terms of up to 10 years under plans being considered by the government.

Online copyright infringement currently carries a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.

Ministers have launched a consultation on increasing it to 10 years – bringing it into line with copyright infringement of physical goods.

The government said tougher sentences would act as a “significant deterrent”.’

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Iron Man and Transformers Were Censored by US Military For Getting Too Close To The Truth

Counter Current News reports:

‘It sounds almost unimaginable, but it isn’t the script of a new Hollywood movie: the Pentagon has literally forced movie producers to turn villains into heroes, add U.S. Military rescues, as well as changing scenes that they deem “sensitive.”

Producers and directors say they are literally being forced to re-write scripts. If the United States Department of Defense deems their content ­inappropriate, the changes are strongly “suggested.”

The relevant files about this military involvement in Hollywood, from the California-based Department of Defense Entertainment Liaison Office were released after a Freedom of Information Act request by Bath University’s Dr Matthew Alford, whose research focuses on the relationship between entertainment, political power, and propaganda in the United States.’

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Interview with James G. Connell III, the Attorney Representing Aamar al-Baluchi

James G. Connell III is an attorney at the U.S Defence Department. He represents Aamar al-Baluchi, a man who stands accused of financing 9/11. The CIA-backed movie Zero Dark Thirty based a character on al-Baluchi. In this interview with Going Underground, Mr. Connell explains how Hollywood producers and directors work with the CIA, and why the U.S considers itself to be exempt from many human rights treaties. (Going Underground)

Wakaliwood: New Wave of Ultra-Violent Ugandan DIY Action Cinema

‘In the Ugandan slum of Wakaliga, a thriving action film industry called Wakaliwood has emerged. Mixing elements of Western action films and Chinese Kung Fu movies with Ugandan culture, Wakaliwood’s films have garnered a cult following not just in in Uganda, but all over the world. We spend a day on the set of the next Wakaliwood hit.’ (VICE)

George Carlin: Bullshit is everywhere

“They Live” Inspired “Consume” Posters by Hal Hefner

Artist Hal Hefner has put together a superb selection of “Consume” posters inspired by “They Live,” a 1988 film directed by John Carpenter starring former WWE wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper. If you’ve never seen the film you can watch it here.

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Andrew Niccol’s new film Good Kill slams us into the world of drone warfare

Alex Godfrey reports for Wired:

Writer and director Andrew Niccol gets his kicks exploring the ethics of new technology — whether it’s reality TV (The Truman Show), genetic engineering (Gattaca) or CGI creations (S1m0ne). His latest, Good Kill — out on April 10 — slams us into the world of military drone pilots. The film begins in a ground-control station trailer in the Vegas desert, as ex-fighter-pilot Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) and his crew target unsuspecting terrorists — and “proportionate” bystanders — thousands of kilometres away in Afghanistan and Yemen. “They can launch and land drones on aircraft carriers now,” explains Niccol, 50. “It used to be the best of the Top Gun pilots doing that, but because you can now do it with a drone, to me there’s a sadness to that.”’

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Why the rise of fascism is again the issue

John Pilger writes:

ukraine_obama_nobel.JPGThe recent 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was a reminder of the great crime of fascism, whose Nazi iconography is embedded in our consciousness. Fascism is preserved as history, as flickering footage of goose-stepping blackshirts, their criminality terrible and clear. Yet in the same liberal societies, whose war-making elites urge us never to forget, the accelerating danger of a modern kind of fascism is suppressed; for it is their fascism.

“To initiate a war of aggression…,” said the Nuremberg Tribunal judges in 1946, “is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Had the Nazis not invaded Europe, Auschwitz and the Holocaust would not have happened. Had the United States and its satellites not initiated their war of aggression in Iraq in 2003, almost a million people would be alive today; and Islamic State, or ISIS, would not have us in thrall to its savagery. They are the progeny of modern fascism, weaned by the bombs, bloodbaths and lies that are the surreal theatre known as news.’

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Hollywood and the New Cold War: Interview with Ted Rall

‘We know a media information war is in full swing. But where does it stop? Hollywood? Where Pussy riot meets Vladimir Putin on Netflix’s “House of Cards”. Where Russian cyber terrorists are pushed into surrendering by threats of rating Pussy Riot and Putin on to their desktops in CBS’s “The Good Wife”. And then there’s just blatant remembering of colder times with FX’s “The Americans”. Political Cartoonist Ted Rall breaks it down.’ (In The Now)

Watching the Same Movie About American War for 75 Years

Peter Van Buren writes for TomDispatch:

‘In the age of the all-volunteer military and an endless stream of war zone losses and ties, it can be hard to keep Homeland enthusiasm up for perpetual war. After all, you don’t get a 9/11 every year to refresh those images of the barbarians at the airport departure gates. In the meantime, Americans are clearly finding it difficult to remain emotionally roiled up about our confusing wars in Syria and Iraq, the sputtering one in Afghanistan, and various raids, drone attacks, and minor conflicts elsewhere.

Fortunately, we have just the ticket, one that has been punched again and again for close to a century: Hollywood war movies (to which the Pentagon is always eager to lend a helping hand). American Sniper, which started out with the celebratory tagline “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history” and now has the tagline “the most successful war movie of all time,” is just the latest in a long line of films that have kept Americans on their war game. Think of them as war porn, meant to leave us perpetually hyped up. Now, grab some popcorn and settle back to enjoy the show.’

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Mega-Mansions And Giga-Mansions: Ultra-Rich Taking Over L.A. Neighbourhoods

Editor’s Note: You can watch a shorter segment here.

Go to Prison for File Sharing? That’s What Hollywood Wants in the Secret TPP Deal

Maira Sutton reports for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF):

‘The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) poses massive threats to users in a dizzying number of ways. It will force other TPP signatories to accept the United States’ excessive copyright terms of a minimum of life of the author plus 70 years, while locking the US to the same lengths so it will be harder to shorten them in the future. It contains DRM anti-circumvention provisions that will make it a crime to tinker with, hack, re-sell, preserve, and otherwise control any number of digital files and devices that you own. The TPP will encourage ISPs to monitor and police their users, likely leading to more censorship measures such as the blockage and filtering of content online in the name of copyright enforcement. And in the most recent leak of the TPP’s Intellectual Property chapter, we found an even more alarming provision on trade secrets that could be used to crackdown on journalists and whistleblowers who report on corporate wrongdoing.

Here, we’d like to explore yet another set of rules in TPP that will chill users’ rights. Those are the criminal enforcement provisions, which based upon the latest leak from May 2014 is still a contested and unresolved issue. It’s about whether users could be jailed or hit with debilitating fines over allegations of copyright infringement.’

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Ex-spies infiltrate Hollywood as espionage TV shows and movies multiply

Ian Shapira reports for The Washington Post:

‘[…] The career afterlife of a CIA official has typically followed well-known paths: Work for a private military contractor. Launch an “intelligence-driven” LLC. Join a law firm. Consult for the CIA. Write a memoir. But the hunger for espionage on TV and movies in recent years is cracking open new career opportunities for ex-CIA personnel with a flair for drama, the kind that’s less clandestine.

“Hollywood tends to be a destination spot for a lot of Washingtonians,” said David Nevins, the president of Showtime, which produces the spy juggernaut “Homeland.”

“There was the ‘West Wing’ crowd of former politicos. I’ve met with more than one former Navy SEAL. And now, certainly the intelligence community has been the most recent in a long line of Washingtonians trying to come out and tell their stories.”’

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American Sniper’s Patriot Porn and the Celebration of Psychopathy: Interview with Rania Khalek

Abby Martin interviews independent journalist, Rania Khalek, about the new film ‘American Sniper’ and why it’s such a controversial choice to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination.’ (Breaking the Set)