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5 Crazy-Dangerous Film Sets

Making a movie isn’t always all fun and games. Pixable rounds up nine film locations that were extremely hazardous for cast and crew:

  • The Conqueror, St. George, Utah: The 1956 John Wayne flick was filmed near a government nuclear test site in Nevada. Nearly 100 cast and crew members ultimately got some form of cancer, including Wayne (though he attributed his cancer to his six-pack-a-day smoking habit).
  • Noah’s Ark, Chatsworth, Calif.: The 1982 short film used so much water for the flooding scene the set actually flooded and people were injured. Thirty-five ambulances responded to the emergency.

 

  • Roar, Acton, Calif.: While making the 1981 movie about a family living among wild animals, cast and crew members (including Melanie Griffith) were actually mauled by wild animals.
  • The Exorcist, New York, NY: The set was so cold (sometimes below zero) that snow sometimes built up on set and sweat froze on cast and crew members during filming of the 1973 movie.
  • The African Queen, Belgian Congo, Africa: Most of the 1951 film’s cast and crew got dysentery from drinking the local water—but not Humphrey Bogart or John Huston, because they mostly drank whiskey.

Click for the COMPLETE LIST.


Zero Dark Thirty Filmmakers Accused of Bribing CIA

The music industry sometimes uses payola to achieve its goals, and the movie industry apparently uses ... fake pearl earrings and tequila. The screenwriter and director of the hit film Zero Dark Thirty are accused of bribing CIA officials to receive sensitive information, according to CIA documents obtained by Vice. The Inspector General’s office found that the film—which depicts the search for Osama bin Laden and the Navy SEAL raid that killed him—was at least partially padded with information obtained under dubious means. Screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow—who did not have security clearances, according to Vanity Fair—allegedly used gifts and promises of premiere tickets to get inside information from the government officers.

A female officer upon whom Jessica Chastain’s character was based received an eight-hour shopping trip, according to the report, and other CIA officers allegedly received dinners at expensive restaurants and room service at fancy hotels. The Hollywood big shots are also accused of overstating the value of some of the bribes, with an alleged “several hundred dollar” bottle of tequila actually being worth less than $200. “Black Tahitian pearl earrings,“ meanwhile, were actually fake pearls painted black and mounted to cheap metal posts. In the end, neither the filmmakers nor the CIA officers were punished for the suspect activities, and Zero Dark Thirty grossed more than $132 million.


Meryl Streep Wrote to Everyone in Congress, Got 5 Replies

Apparently Congress is not starstruck by Meryl Streep. Earlier this summer, the actress wrote a letter calling for support of the Equal Rights Amendment and mailed a copy—along with a book on the subject by the president of the ERA Coalition—to every member of Congress, Vanity Fair reports. But on Saturday, speaking at the Telluride Film Festival, Streep revealed she didn’t get such a great reception. “I sent them each a book called Equal Means Equal by Jessica Neuwirth,“ Streep said, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “It’s about the revival of the attempt to get an ERA that would codify in law that you can’t discriminate against women. I got five answers.“

The letter asked lawmakers to “stand up for equality—for your mother, your daughter, your sister, your wife or yourself—by actively supporting the Equal Rights Amendment.“ Streep discussed it while on a panel after a screening of her new movie, Suffragette, in which she stars as activist Emmeline Pankhurst, who founded the Women’s Social and Political Union and helped women earn the right to vote in England at the turn of the 20th century. Asked why she thinks an Equal Rights Amendment is necessary today, Streep noted, “It needs to be set down in law. … For the rest of the world, it’s important that this is set down in law.“ She added that she hopes Pope Francis will take up the cause: “He must address issues of inequality. The conversation changes when women are at the table.“

Movie Review: ‘The Visit’

A family get-together starts out strange and quickly enters nightmare territory in “The Visit,” a horror-thriller that turns soiled adult diapers into a motif.

Told from a camera-equipped kids’-eye-view, M. Night Shyamalan’s latest is well cast and strong on setting. But the dull thudding that resounds isn’t part of its effective aural design; it’s the ungainly landing of nearly every shock and joke.

Notwithstanding the evidence of Shyamalan’s features since the pitch-perfect “Sixth Sense,” hope endures among fans that lightning will strike twice. In the wake of bloated recent outings “After Earth” and “The Last Airbender,” that hope takes on a particular fervency with this modestly scaled return to straight-up genre fare. That anticipation will drive theatrical business for the feature, as will the lure of sheer horror fun, at least until word-of-mouth stems the box-office tide.

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Early in the film, there’s a wonderful moment when a mom’s exuberant clowning shifts to tears. Played by the terrific Kathryn Hahn, she’s a divorced woman seeing her kids off at the train station. From that point on, the energy, warmth and nuance of her performance is reduced to intermittent Skype sessions – a crucial element to the story, but nonetheless a letdown for the viewer.

To give Mom time alone with her boyfriend, teenage Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and tween Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), a serious germophobe and aspiring rapper, have volunteered for a weeklong stay at the Pennsylvania farm of their grandparents. It’s an especially generous offer given that they’ve never before met Nana and Pop Pop (Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie).

But there’s more to it than generosity; the camera-wielding siblings, budding auteur Becca in particular, sense an opportunity to make a documentary that uncovers the generational rift between their grandparents and their mother, who left the farm as a teenager, under circumstances she refuses to discuss.

Cinematographer Maryse Alberti captures the sense of a nonstop work in progress, seen through the lenses of the kids’ video cameras and laptop, with reality-style interviews, off-center framing and p.o.v. night footage à la “Blair Witch.” Shyamalan uses the various devices to tiring effect, and without conjuring the requisite deep chills.

Playing off the winking self-consciousness of the film-within-a-film, there’s a jokey aspect to the feints and shock cuts. The writer-director’s would-be sendup of down-home country comfort tries to have fun with fairy-tale terrors. The result is almost always mechanical rather than exciting or funny, despite the actors’ layered performances – the self-aware kids, Dunagan’s otherworldly weirdness and McRobbie’s unnerving deadpan.

The rural winter backdrop works as a fitting contrast to Mom’s Skype dispatches from her sunny cruise-ship vacation. Within what’s essentially a single setting, Shyamalan and Alberti keep things visually diverse but cohesive, while Naaman Marshall’s clean farmhouse interiors avoid the common trap of over-design.


The movie is not without an emotional core, though: It’s Hahn’s mostly absent character, and although she’s called upon to deliver the heavy-handed moral of the story, she manages to make every moment she’s onscreen ring true.

In one of the few gags that connects in this missed opportunity of a film, Tyler utters the names of female singers rather than cursing when he’s upset or disappointed. To borrow that conceit, a fair response to “The Visit” might be “Cher, Rihanna, Dolly Parton.”

★ ★ ½  out of ★ ★ ★ ★

PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, sexual material, some language, a drug reference and thematic elements. 94 minutes.

Movie Review: ‘Rosenwald’

With “Rosenwald,” Washington-based documentarian Aviva Kempner adds another pearl to her growing string of films celebrating Jewish American achievement. Like the filmmaker’s 1998 “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” which looked at the great professional baseball player, and “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg,” her 2009 profile of radio and television pioneer Gertrude Berg, “Rosenwald” is a thorough and engaging, if somewhat formally conventional, profile of a prominent citizen: Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932).

Unlike those earlier films, the subject of Kempner’s latest work is less remarkable for his personal accomplishments — the son of German immigrants, Rosenwald rose to become the head of Sears, Roebuck and Co., amassing a great fortune — than for what he did with that money on behalf of others. In the early years of the 20th century, Rosenwald donated millions to the construction of more than 5,300 schools in African American communities in the rural South.

A parade of alumni of these institutions, known as Rosenwald Schools, joins a chorus of historians and Rosenwald relatives to sing the Chicago philanthropist’s praises, and to establish context. These interviews are supplemented by what appear to be staged reenactments, featuring costumed actors, in scenes depicting the segregation and racism of the pre-Civil Rights era South.

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It’s an effective technique, and it helps to alleviate some of the uniformity of the film’s talking heads. And although it takes a while to get to the meat of the story, the history of Sears that takes up a good chunk of the film’s first third is actually quite fascinating.

In addition to funding the construction of schools, Rosenwald’s charitable giving aided a who’s who of African American arts and letters. Among those receiving individual grants from the Rosenwald Fund, established in 1917, were visual artists Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence and Gordon Parks; writers Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison; and singer Marian Anderson.

Two books inspired Rosenwald, according to the film: educator and author Booker T. Washington’s autobiography “Up From Slavery” and “An American Citizen,” John Graham Brooks’s biography of William H. Baldwin Jr., a white industrialist who became a leading advocate for African American education in the late 19th century. Those works, along with the Jewish principles of tikkun olam (literally, “repairing the world”) and tzedakah (or “righteousness,” usually in the form of charitable giving), inspired Rosenwald’s remarkable benevolence.

The film is framed as the answer to a question: What made him do this for these kids?


The answer that seems to come closest to the truth is put forth by one of the film’s interview subjects: As a member of a “despised minority,” we’re told, Rosenwald closely identified with the struggles of African Americans (although Kempner presents scant evidence that he was the victim of anti-Semitism himself).

In that sense, “Rosenwald” isn’t just a portrait of a great, selfless American and his powerful company, but an excavation of an ugly strain of our own history, and a reminder of what one person can do to uproot it.

★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★

Unrated. Contains brief disturbing images. 100 minutes.

Movie Review: ‘Digging for Fire’

For the past 10 years, ­writer-director Joe Swanberg has been perfecting his own way of making small-canvas, improvisational movies, developing a devoted following on the festival/art-house/on-demand circuit. One of his first films, “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” introduced a feral force of nature named Greta Gerwig to the world. In recent years, he’s gone from discovering stars to casting them in his low-key, lower-budget projects, which have included performances by Anna Kendrick, Olivia Wilde, Melanie Lynskey and Lena Dunham, among others.

If you’ve never seen a Swanberg film, “Digging for Fire” is a terrific place to start, offering a diverting, often amusing example of why actors love working with him so much. He gives them outlines rather than dialogue-heavy scripts, allowing them to find their way from the beginning to the end of each scene with their own intuitive resources; the result is a film that feels unforced and slightly suspenseful at the same time. You’re never entirely sure what’s around the next corner, but it’s usually funny, slightly mortifying and wistfully revealing.

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Swanberg wrote “Digging for Fire” with actor Jake Johnson, who stars as Tim, a Los Angeles high school teacher married to a yoga instructor named Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt). When one of Lee’s Hollywood clients allows the couple to housesit while she’s off making a film, Tim and Lee move in with their 3-year-old (played by Swanberg’s preternaturally charismatic son, Jude). Poking around the property, Tim happens upon a couple of buried artifacts that suggest a deeper mystery beneath the underbrush. He wants to stage an amateur archeological dig, but Lee is having none of it.

When Lee decides to decamp with the kid for the weekend, the game is afoot. Tim immediately invites some buddies over for beers and hot dogs and, inevitably, some exploratory shovel work. Meanwhile, Lee concocts an excuse to have her own time away from domestic obligations, Ubering her way to Malibu for a night of aimless ad­ven­ture. “Digging for Fire” chronicles a youngish-oldish couple taking a break from parenthood, encroaching age and the sobering reality of a lifetime of monogamy. Tim’s desperate search for whatever it is he might find is clearly a sublimation of his own anxieties, desires and tightly controlled sexual curiosity.


These themes are nothing new. They’ve been just as smartly addressed in such recent films as “Afternoon Delight,” “The One I Love” and “The Overnight.” But because of Johnson and DeWitt’s nimble central performances — as well as the heaven-sent supporting cast — “Digging for Fire” feels improbably fresh and spontaneous. Sam Rockwell injects a note of borderline deranged volatility as one of Tim’s buddies (he’s barely recognizable under a bushy beard), while Orlando Bloom delivers a smooth turn as a seductive restaurant owner whom Lee meets. Meanwhile Mike Birbiglia steals almost every scene he’s in as one of Tim’s fellow teachers who’s concerned about his friend’s deteriorating psychological state.

Like Tim and Lee’s housesitting gig, “Digging for Fire” is a pleasant escape — an attractively shot, gracefully edited and, finally, emotionally satisfying mystery about the nature of marriage itself. It all comes down to what’s worth bringing up and what’s better off staying buried.

★ ★ ½  out of ★ ★ ★ ★

R. Contains profanity including some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity. 83 minutes.

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