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<p>Kim Wayans and Adepero Oduye in &quot;Pariah.&quot;</p>

Kim Wayans and Adepero Oduye in "Pariah."

Credit: Focus Features

Focus handling Sundance drama 'Pariah' with special care

Pay attention young Sundance filmmakers

During this time of year it's pretty common to hear someone incredulously remark "Why is [insert movie studio] releasing [insert this movie] during awards season?  It could do so much better in the [name a more appropriate time of year]."  Usually, it's because a filmmaker associated with the picture has unrealistic Academy Awards dreams for either the picture, one of their stars or, sadly, themselves.  The problem is that audiences would likely embrace the picture at a different time of year which could mean, um, better financial returns.  And, sometimes, it's a smaller distributor making a gutsy, go for broke call with little chance of success.  I'll be quite honest, until a lunch at the Chateau Marmont Thursday afternoon, I had put the striking Sundance drama "Pariah" in the "gutsy" category.

The rare example of a good opening night film at Sundance (almost a miracle), Dee Rees' "Pariah" tells the story of Alike (Adepero Oduye), a Brooklyn teenager who is struggling with her gay identity both at home and amongst her friends.  As I noted in my review from the film's premiere last January, "Pariah" is a perfect example of the resurgence of quality gay themed indie films (a trend that continued this year at SXSW with "Weekend").  However, I'm not sure anyone who saw the film at Sundance would have considered it an "awards" picture outside of obvious Independent Spirit Awards consideration.  

Of course Focus Features, which picked up "Pariah," has an impressive history with releasing and supporting groundbreaking gay films.  From "Brokeback Mountain" to "Milk" to "The Kids Are All Right" to "My Summer of Love" to "Far From Heaven" to last summer's "Beginners," the mini-major has been a social force for opening audiences to all aspects of gay life on the big screen.  With "Pariah," the studio decided to release the drama in limited release on Dec. 28 and expand it throughout January and February.  That's a pretty competitive time frame on the art house circuit, but the studio obviously believes the positive reviews the picture received so far will fuel strong limited returns. On this day, the studio had fashioned an intimate lunch featuring writer/director Rees, the incredibly charming Oduye, Kim Wayans who plays Alike's conservative mother (yes, that Kim Wayans) and Aasha Davis (best known for a short stint on "Friday Night Lights") who plays a family friend.  

Speaking to these talented ladies and a few invited journalists, I was immediately reminded of how rare it is these days for a film about real African American women to hit theaters.  Sure, there are Tyler Perry movies, but an original movie about African American women? Let alone a film that shines the light on African American lesbians?  That's almost unheard of.  And for the writers present who cover African American entertainment it was the subject they kept returning to again and again.  For Kim Wayans, who has fought for years to be given a chance with a meaty dramatic role (and succeeds beautifully), it was important to make "Pariah" for her gay niece and in memory of a gay male friend who was beaten and killed by a younger man he'd met at club. Wayans also lamented about how few positive role models there are on TV for African American girls as it's mostly filled with reality shows featuring women who just fight with each other in over-the-top arguments ("My friend and I don't know who those people are. We've never seen women act like that."). Oduye, who still looks a decade younger than her 33 years, has been moved by audiences all oner the world finding a universal truth in the picture of a person just trying to find acceptance for who they are.  Dees is looking forward to taking the film to cities in the south such as Atlanta and just getting it in theaters for audiences to discover.  And when you take all that into account, frankly, perhaps Focus is making the right move.

Realistically, "Pariah" could easily find itself the recipient of numerous critics awards outside the traditional best picture race (best first film, special achievement in filmmaking, etc.) and could also make enough top ten lists to help publicize the picture in art house theaters outside of New York and Los Angeles.  The studio is also making a smart strategic decision by making sure the screener is in Academy and guild member hands by Thanksgiving.  Granted, there will be numerous screeners hitting mailboxes ("Warrior" and "Contagion" are two recent arrivals), but in races such as original screenplay (where another indie "Margin Call" has been mentioned by members) or cinematography (remember Bradford Young's name) you honestly never know.

More importantly though, many distributors could pick up a film like "Pariah" and lose interest in it just a few months down the road.  But Focus? Nope. That's not gonna happen.  When they care. They care.  Pay heed young Sundance filmmakers.  You only get your first chance to shine once and in Dees case, she's in more than capable hands.

Oh, and don't forget to watch that screener Academy and guild members.  You may be surprised at what you think of it.

"Pariah" opens in select theaters on Dec. 28.

For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow @HitFixGregory on Twitter.

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<p>Mickey Rourke of &quot;Immortals&quot;</p>
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Mickey Rourke of "Immortals"

Credit: Relativity

Movie Review: Tarsem Singh's 'Immortals'

Tarsem Singh's vision and Henry Cavill's star power fight a hollow story
Tarsem Singh's "Immortals," which hits theaters on Friday, has as much to do with Greek mythology as Adam Sandler's "Jack & Jill" has to do with the unraveling of the structure of DNA.
 
Yes, the main character's name is Theseus. Yes, there are characters named Phaedra and Zeus and Athena, just like you might see if you pulled your tattered Edith Hamilton down from the shelf. But it isn't *that* Theseus. It isn't *that* Phaedra. And it's barely that Zeus or that Athena. The effect is similar to watching a slacker comedy about a pair of video store clerks whose names happen to be "James Bond" and "Dr. No." 
 
"Immortals" is also set in the perplexingly contemporary and specific 1228 B.C. but it has no connection to any factual history either. 
 
Scripted by Charley and Vlas Parlapanides, "Immortals" in an amorphous blob a familiar pseudo-mythological and pseudo-historical elements possibly culled from a half-reading of Joseph Campbell and grafted together with a half-baked philosophy derived from what I'm fairly sure is a misreading of the Socrates quote that starts and ends the movie.
 
"All men's souls are immortal, but the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine," Socrates said, but when we're talking about mythological and narrative immortality, it seems to me like what the writers have done to the established story of Theseus and the Gods is basically the opposite of what we're supposed to believe about the durability and resiliency of legend. It's like saying, "Yes, this is how you become a legend. And then 3000-ish years later somebody will come along and ignore all of that stuff."
 
There's a point I'm trying to make here and I may not be making it well, so I'll just bottom line it: With its pretenses towards literary and cultural tradition, "Immortals" gives you a lot to think about, but it's probably better that you don't. This is not a smart movie, a thoughtful movie, nor a movie that gives you any reason to invest in character or plot.
 
What "Immortals" is, though, is a work of frequently breathtaking beauty. The trailers have been cut together to emphasize the involvement of some of the producers from "300" and to make viewers think that what they're getting is another tale of speed-ramping Spartans and CGI excess. But whereas "300" director Zack Snyder is, at best, an extremely gifted mimic -- I'm not going to be forgiving "Sucker Punch" any time soon -- Tarsem Singh is that rarest of cinematic creatures: He's a true visionary, though I'd restrict that mantle to calling him a visionary stylist, rather than a visionary storyteller. 
 
Because "Immortals" looks and feels like a Tarsem Singh film, rather than a "300" manque, it ends up far outstripping the merits of its script. I don't think "Immortals" ends up being a good movie, but like all of Singh's films, it's going to make a killer full-color, glossy coffee table book.
 
Click through for more...
 
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"The Vampire Diaries"

 "The Vampire Diaries"

Credit: CW

Recap: 'The Vampire Diaries' - 'Homecoming'

Damon and Elena put their plan to kill Klaus into action

 So, last week we learned a lot about our Originals, and I suspect we're going to learn a lot more, as tonight is the midseason finale and we won't be getting any new blood until January 5. As last week set up a battle royale between Klaus and Mikael, this could be one hell of a showdown. Or it could be an epic fail, not for the show, but for Elena, Mikael and Damon. Whatever plan they've put into place, you can be sure Klaus won't stumble easily into any trap they set. Part of me honestly hopes he doesn't, really. Klaus has been a great foil for the Salvatores and a villain with a dark and twisted humanity that renders him both sympathetic (Daddy-who-wasn't-his-Daddy never loved him) and terrifying (betray him and you're dead -- even if you're dear old Mom). Of course, the fact that Elena is surrounded by allies who could flip flop at any moment makes me think tonight will have more than a few twists and turns.

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<p>Jamie Bell at the 2011 AFI&nbsp;Fest and the North American premiere of &quot;The Adventures of Tintin&quot;</p>

Jamie Bell at the 2011 AFI Fest and the North American premiere of "The Adventures of Tintin"

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Sayles

Steven Spielberg's 'The Adventures of Tintin' is handily one of the year's best films

The performance capture adventure puts a bow on the 25th annual AFI Fest

Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin" closed out AFI Fest this evening, a real coup for the festival and for Paramount Pictures (who are still well over a month away from release stateside). And the film is a dazzling experience, full of Spielberg's trademark cinematic energy. It's his best film in nearly a decade (since "Minority Report," at least).

The film was reviewed in this space by Guy upon its UK release (being one of precious few Hollywood films that manage to hit the marketplace outside the US first), and I agree with his assessment. (I'm also happy he didn't fall in with some other UK critics who seemed to have their knives out for the film overseas; I expect it to land more comfortably on these shores.)

For me, this film put a smile on my face and kept it there. It's Spielberg invigorated, the performance-capture and animation process allowing him to do things with the camera that he had only dreamed of, conjuring angles and set-pieces that surely have existed only in his head for decades but now have the freedom to run wild on the screen.

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"Project Accessory"

 "Project Accessory"

Credit: Lifetime Television

Recap: 'Project Accessory' - 'Bling It On'

It's a bodysuit challenge that ends in a double elimination

Welcome to another week of "Project Acc…zzzzzzzz." Huh? Oh, I'm sorry, "Project Accessory," which, though very similar to its parent "Project Runway," has none of the verve or excitement of the original, kind of like an ugly kid whose dad is a rock star. And no, I am not taking a swipe at guest judge Kelly Osbourne. Anyway, "Project Accessory" suffers from personality-free designers (with the exception of cray-cray Nicolina), polite judging (wow, do I miss Michael Kors) and boring challenges. We can only hope future episodes find that zing. And oh, the other thing? No Tim Gunn. Why bother, Lifetime?

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<p>Adam Scott on &quot;Parks and Recreation.&quot;</p>
<br />

Adam Scott on "Parks and Recreation."


Credit: NBC

'Parks and Recreation' - 'The Treaty': Are we having fun yet?

Leslie and Ben go crazy on each other during a model U.N., and Ron tries to rehire Tom

A review of tonight's "Parks and Recreation" coming up just as soon as I make geo-political problem-solving my bitch...

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<p>A scene from Belgian foreign-language Oscar entry &quot;Bullhead.&quot;</p>

A scene from Belgian foreign-language Oscar entry "Bullhead."

Credit: Drafthouse Films

Belgian Oscar entry 'Bullhead' among AFI Fest award winners

Fellow foreign-language hopeful 'Attenberg' also takes a prize

The AFI Fest may chiefly get press for its starry gala premieres of Hollywood heavyweights like "J. Edgar" and "The Adventures of Tintin," but it's no less invested in showcasing far smaller works from the fringe and foreign sectors that could use the festival exposure -- and it's this aspect of the event that is reflected in their jury and audience awards, which shine a light on up-and-coming talents that could use the exposure.

Still, glancing down the list of winners announced earlier today, a few titles are familiar -- particularly to those who have been following the submissions process for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Indeed, the one multiple prizewinner at AFI is Belgium's candidate for the award, Michaël R. Roskam's "Bullhead." A reputedly tough-minded study of masculinity in the unlikely context of illegal cattle breeding (I haven't seen it, but Drew McWeeny wrote a glowing review recently), the film took the audience award in the New Auteurs section, seeing off formidable competition including widely-admired Cannes titles "Snowtown," "Michael" and "Oslo, August 31st." 

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<p>Brian Baumgartner and Ed Helms on &quot;The Office.&quot;</p>

Brian Baumgartner and Ed Helms on "The Office."

Credit: NBC

'The Office' - 'Pam's Replacement': Are you hot?

A flagging season shows a few signs of life

Typical. The day I publish a piece about my disappointment with the post-Steve Carell version of "The Office" - along with a post-script about how I don't see a point to weekly reviews anymore - the show presents the episode I've enjoyed the most so far this season. A few quick thoughts on why coming up just as soon as I write something nasty on your Facebook wall... 

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<p>Kirsten Dunst has never seemed happier than she is when discussing her new film 'Melancholia,' which is strange considering the depressing subject matter.</p>

Kirsten Dunst has never seemed happier than she is when discussing her new film 'Melancholia,' which is strange considering the depressing subject matter.

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Kirsten Dunst seems very happy to discuss 'Melancholia'

From Mary Jane to the end of the world, Dunst has finally grown up

In yet another milestone on the very strange road to adulthood my two sons are walking, they were witness to an exceptionally chipper Kirsten Dunst talking about her "boobies" as we settled in for a quick conversation last weekend about her new film "Melancholia."

This was a very busy morning for us.  I was also doing interviews for "The Muppets" at the same hotel, so I had both of my sons with me.  Toshi actually did one of those interviews, and you'll see that here next week sometime.  They've both come to junkets with me before, and they know that they have to sit quietly when I'm doing the actual interview.  As fans of Spider-Man, they are aware of Dunst from the covers of the movies they're not old enough to watch yet, and they knew that she used to be Spider-Man's girlfriend.

When we were just sitting down, I complimented Dunst on her work in "Melancholia," and she thanked me, then asked what the boys were doing with me.  I explained about "The Muppets," and she got interested immediately, asking them how they liked the film and asking me if they got the movie right.  She then asked the boys if they had seen "Melancholia" with me, and laughed when they both said no.

"Well, that's good.  They haven't seen my boobies, then."

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<p>&quot;Everybody chill out. I&nbsp;got this.&quot;</p>

"Everybody chill out. I got this."

Credit: AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

AMPAS president Tom Sherak has his say on Oscargate

The catch phrase at the Academy is (as Ford Prefect would say): “Don’t panic.”

It was a whirlwind week for Oscar. Between Brett Ratner’s hasty resignation as the Oscarcast producer followed immediately by Eddie Murphy bowing out of his hosting duties and Brian Grazer stepping in to join forces with Don Mischer to rescue the show, the Academy has barely had time to catch its breath, much less take proper notice of the @MuppetOscars campaign on Twitter. This afternoon’s announcement that Billy Crystal will host the 2012 Academy Awards effectively dashed any remaining “Rainbow Connection” Oscar remix dreams.

In the wake of Oscargate, Academy president Tom Sherak has stepped forward to assure Hollywood (and the Oscar viewing audience at large) that everything is thoroughly under control. “If this happened in January, I would be hiding under my desk,” he told Deadline in one of a number of interviews today. “Look what has happened. We are actually two and a half weeks ahead of where we were last year, in terms of naming a host.”

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<p>Chris Rene performing on Wednesday night's &quot;The X Factor&quot;</p>
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Chris Rene performing on Wednesday night's "The X Factor"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'The X Factor' Results Live-Blog - Down to the Top 10

Who would be the season's second act sent home by America and the judges?

One of America's "X Factor" Bottom Two picks last week was a no-brainer and one was a tiny bit strange.

That means it's still too early to be entirely confident in predicting which acts America is going to shun and which performers viewers will embrace.

And that means that there could be some drama in Thursday (November 10) night's results show. 

Click through...

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<p>Depending on your tolerance for 'Star Wars' nerdery, you'll either love this week's episode or you'll wish you had a way to use hyperspace to escape.</p>

Depending on your tolerance for 'Star Wars' nerdery, you'll either love this week's episode or you'll wish you had a way to use hyperspace to escape.

Credit: 20th Century Fox/Lucasfilm Ltd.

Listen: A special all-'Star Wars' edition of the Motion/Captured Podcast

Oh, okay, we digress a little, so it's 'Star Wars' and 'Bellflower'

It's a weird one this week.

One of the first things that brought Scott Swan and I together as friends was our shared affection for all things "Star Wars." When we first met, "Return Of The Jedi" was only two and a half years old, and both of us were still operating under the impression that there would be more sequels, and that they would come fairly quickly.

Now here we are in the year 2011, a full six years after the release of the final prequel, and I've just finished sharing the films with my kids for the first time.  It seems hard to believe, since in some ways, it feels like it's just been a blink of the eye since the first time Scott and I sat there, arguing over the merits or the demerits of the films, and it sort of feels like our entire friendship has been one long conversation about the films and their creator, George Lucas.

We were asked by many of you to do an all-"Star Wars" podcast, and the result is perhaps the loosest and most inside conversation we've ever published as a podcast.  This is Scott and I late on Sunday night, just shooting the breeze, the conversation wandering from point to point, all of it somehow loosely related to "Star Wars."  If you're looking for something professional and well-organized, this ain't it.  But if you want to hear two old friends picking up the same topic for the 10,000th time, this is it, and it's a real glimpse at the nerd DNA we have in common.

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