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Ang Lee unveils his hyper-real 'Billy Lynn' to mixed reviews

Mixed reviews greeted Ang Lee's long anticipated "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" at the New York Film Festival on Friday night, casting further doubts over the promise of Hollywood's latest technological savior: high-frame rate filming.

The premiere was one of the fall movie season's most closely watched events because Lee's drama, an adaptation of Ben Fountain's 2012 novel, was made with a faster frame rate than any previous wide release. Aside from being in 3-D and 4K resolution, Lee shot the film — about an Iraq War hero on a victory tour at an NFL game — at 120 frames-per-second, five times the traditional 24 frames per second.

It's a gambit Peter Jackson tried at a mere 48 frames per second with "The Hobbit" trilogy, earning bad reviews in the process. James Cameron has hailed it as the future, and has said he will use it in "Avatar" sequels. But the technology is nascent. Lee's film, which Sony Pictures will release Nov. 11, is so new that there are only two North American theaters (one in New York, one in Los Angeles) that will be able to project it as crafted. Other theaters will screen different versions.

For the film's New York Film Festival debut, festivalgoers were transferred across the street from Lincoln Center to a multiplex that was specifically outfitted for the premiere. Lee didn't try to hide his nerves.

"I've done this a lot but you can see I'm nervous," Lee said before the screening. "I feel like I'm exposed to the high-frame rate, 3-D, high-resolution camera. I can sort of feel for our actors."

The effect of the format is a hyper-realness that can look, despite its clarity, like video. Backgrounds are so visible that they can appear artificial, while the closeness with the actors can create an unfiltered intimacy. The cast (led by British newcomer Joe Alwyn as the title character, along with Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker and Vin Diesel) performs largely without makeup.

"There's nothing more we're craving for than studying each other's faces," Lee said. "They deserve this kind of look."

Lynn's previous film, "The Life of Pi," became a global blockbuster ($609 million worldwide at the box office) that left audiences marveling at his use of 3-D. "Billy Lynn" is also unusual in that it's part war film, part character study — not the kind of movie usually outfitted with digital wizardry.

Instead, Lee employs the technology in pursuit of an immersive first person-like point-of-view, contrasting Lynn's travels through a football stadium with flashbacks to battle. It's a satirical commentary on the divide between real warfare and hollow patriotism at home. It's a big bet for Sony, although the film's budget of $40 million is relatively small by studio standards.

Though Lee ("The Ice Storm," ''Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon") is one of the most respected and lauded filmmakers in Hollywood, initial reactions to his latest work weren't especially positive. Critics in the crowd were decisively against the high frame rate. In a brief Q&A following the film, the cast (which was seeing the film for the first time) also appeared unsure of how to react to the new format.

"After the movie stopped, after we saw the credits, everyone was just kind of like a deer in headlights, just shocked by the experience the technology allows you," said Diesel.

Lee appeared to realize the film would require an adjustment for audiences. He pleaded for patience: "It's new to our eyes," he said after the screening. Lee said he, too, needed to relearn directing and how he coached actors to accommodate the format. But he argued that "Billy Lynn" is only the beginning for high frame rate cinema.

"I found clarity is very soothing," Lee said of the images. "Our eyes do want it."


Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at:

Indian guru stars in films to spread message to the masses

He claims to have 50 million followers and runs a spiritual empire that promotes vegetarianism and campaigns against drug addiction. But the self-styled God-man from the north Indian state of Haryana has another passion: Bollywood.

The leader of a quasi-religious sect — who calls himself Saint Dr. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan — has launched a film franchise in which he stars as a Messenger of God, or MSG for short, with divine powers to save the world.

Critics say the films serve as propaganda for his followers, which Insan doesn't dispute. Speaking recently with reporters, the flamboyant spiritual guru said he was not trying to become a movie star but instead wanted to spread Indian culture along with his message of humanity to the masses.

"You will see in this film that our culture was so powerful that the technology that the aliens are bringing, it had already been used by our ancestors. That is why the scenes appear larger than life. We should also show India's greatness," said Insan, whose surname means "human" in Hindi and is adopted by all in his sect, which describes itself as a nonprofit spiritual and welfare organization.

With a guaranteed audience among his followers, Insan said he's had little trouble getting his films released commercially in cinemas. Two earlier films featured Insan as a gravity-defying superhero fighting drug addiction and gender issues.

In his third film, released last week and titled "MSG — The Warrior Lion Heart," Insan plays a secret agent armed with a twirled moustache and an assortment of swords to fight the aliens and UFOs.

"In my first two films, I appeared as a guru. In this film, I am playing a character," he said. "I play a warrior who is also India's top secret agent. If you see his background, he is a warrior who fights with aliens to save the honor of our mothers and sisters, and the honor of our Mother Earth."

Insan maintains complete control over his film productions. In the latest, he is credited in 30 categories of the film, including dialogue writer, choreographer, props, stunts, film editor and makeup artist.

He dismissed detractors who say his outlandish costumes and self-glorifying antics on screen run counter to his spiritual mission.

"I have researched the scriptures, the religious texts — there is no dress code given for holy men," Insan said. "Nowhere does it say that the saints have to wear anything specific. If your thoughts are pure, you can be one with God even in a trouser and shirt."


Associated Press videojournalist Manish Mehta in Mumbai contributed to this report.



Film trailer for "MSG — The Warrior Lion Heart:"

'Fantastic Beasts' franchise grows to 5 films

J.K. Rowling's "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" isn't going to be a trilogy, it's going to be a pentalogy.

At a fan event for the upcoming film in London on Thursday, the author revealed that the budding franchise will now stretch to five films. The first, starring Eddie Redmayne, opens November 18.

The announcement, which Warner Bros. confirmed, immediately fueled conjecture that the "Harry Potter" prequel, set decades before Potter's birth, could lead right up to the young wizard.

The second "Fantastic Beasts" is already in pre-production, and due in theaters November 2018.

Drone footage captures views of abandoned Tennessee prison

The state Department of Correction has released a new video featuring drone footage of the old Tennessee State Prison that was forced to close 24 years ago because of inhumane conditions.

The Romanesque prison in Nashville was a favorite film location until its deterioration made it too dangerous for big productions. The fortress-like facility served as a backdrop for "Walk the Line" and "The Green Mile" among others.

The 17-minute video released on the department's YouTube page ( ) features soaring images of both the interior and exterior of the crumbling prison that once held the assassin of Martin Luther King Jr.

Opened in 1898, the structure is so imposing that inmates nicknamed it simply "The Walls." The 120-acre campus on the banks of the Cumberland River was shuttered in 1992.

Kids brought J.K. Simmons to film, and maybe back to theater

Fans of J.K. Simmons' work in television and film may have the actor's two children to thank.

A veteran of New York theater, Simmons moved into TV and movie work after his two children were born.

During a recent interview to promote his new film, "The Accountant ," Simmons recalled turning down an interesting play with a compelling co-star soon after he became a father.

"There was no reason not to do (the play) except for the fact that I had a little baby and a 3-year-old who wanted their daddy and wanted to get tucked in, and I didn't want to not be there six nights a week," Simmons said. "So that was when we decided to move to LA."

Since then, Simmons has created such memorable characters as Vern Schillinger on HBO's "Oz," loving dad Mac MacGuff in the film "Juno" and exacting jazz teacher Fletcher in "Whiplash," for which Simmons won the supporting actor Oscar last year.

Now that his kids are teenagers who will soon be off to college, Simmons said he and his wife (actress Michelle Schumacher) are considering a return to the East Coast.

"We're already starting to think maybe three years from now, we do get back to New York," he said, "and if something interesting comes along, to get back up onstage. It might happen."

Fatherhood is a theme of "The Accountant," which co-stars Ben Affleck and opens in theaters Friday. Asked about his favorite part about being a dad, Simmons said he loved reading to his children, now 15 and 17.

"I think of reading, reading books to them from before they could read," he said. "And my son humored me for a long time. My daughter humored me for even longer. She was 13 and still letting me read to her before bedtime. And that to me was one of the greatest joys of dad-kid bonding.

"It continues to evolve. We're looking at being empty-nesters in a few years and that's heartbreaking. But it's part of it. It's not like you ever stop being the mom or the dad."


Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at .

Obama's favorite sci-fi films include '2001,' 'Blade Runner'

The cerebral interstellar saga "2001: A Space Odyssey" and the android drama "Blade Runner" are among President Barack Obama's favorite sci-fi films and TV shows.

Obama shared his must-watch list of movies and TV shows to "expand your mind to new horizons" in the November issue of Wired magazine.

Obama told the publication that he picked Stanley Kubrick's "2001" because it "captures the grandeur and scale of the unknown," while he selected Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" because it "asks what it means to be human."

Other films on Obama's list included the marooned-on-Mars drama "The Martian" starring Matt Damon and the simulated reality epic "The Matrix" featuring Keanu Reeves.

The full list:

1. "2001: A Space Odyssey."

2. "Blade Runner"

3. "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

4. "Star Wars."

5. "Star Trek."

6. "The Martian."

7. "The Matrix."

8. "Cosmos."



'E.T.' movie poster sells for almost $400,000

The original painting for the movie poster for "E.T. The Extraterrestrial" has sold for almost $400,000 at auction.

Dallas-based Heritage Auctions says the painting sold for $394,000 on Wednesday. The image was used on the standard initial release poster for the 1982 film. It was created by movie poster artist John Alvin.

Heritage says the buyer of the painting wishes to remain anonymous.

The painting has spent the last 13 years on the wall of Hollywood writer and producer Bob Bendetson, who offered it up at auction. Bendetson is a writer and producer on such TV series as "The Simpsons" and "Alf." He had purchased the poster from another movie executive.

The acrylic-on-board original painting is signed by the artist.

Mexico: Son says he's innocent in film-maker parents' deaths

The son of slain Mexican film director Leon Serment denied arranging to pay two assailants to kill his parents, saying they had their differences but it would never occur to him to settle them through violence.

In a jailhouse interview with Televisa journalist Joaquin Lopez-Doriga that aired Tuesday night, Benjamin Serment also said he was never after an inheritance.

"I am innocent," he said.

Leon Serment was killed by two attackers outside his Mexico City home the night of Aug. 27. His wife, film producer Adriana Rosique, was found hanged in her home on Sept. 19.

The younger Serment denied prosecutors' contention that he left the door to the home open for attackers to gain entry and kill Rosique. He said he locked the door when he left that night, but acknowledged not engaging the deadbolt.

Serment, his girlfriend and the two alleged assailants were arrested in late September. Prosecutors accuse him of arranging the killings for the equivalent of about $5,200 per victim.

The suspect acknowledged that his girlfriend was a longtime friend of one of the alleged attackers and said he had met the other one only once at a party. He said he has no memory of a purported meeting at a metro station to arrange the hits ever occurring.

"I deny being the intellectual author of the death of my parents," he told Televisa.

"I miss my parents. I miss seeing them. I miss being able to be with them. ... In truth I only wish for this to be resolved in the best possible way and as soon as possible," Benjamin Serment said.

Leon Serment directed the 2010 film "Tequila Effect," a thriller about Mexico's 1994 peso crisis.

Review: A superhero CPA in Ben Affleck's 'The Accountant'

In Gavin O'Connor's "The Accountant," starring Ben Affleck, the paper-pushing CPA — roughly the exact opposite of Schwarzenegger or Stallone — gets his shot at action hero stardom. If we pull out our calculators, we can deduce that the odds of this are slim. Carrying the one and rounding up, you might even conclude that it's a patently ridiculous premise.

Just imagine the tagline possibilities. "The only thing he knows better than the tax code is his moral code!" ''Don't write him off!" ''He's the Price Waterhouse Killer!"

But "The Accountant" has much grander goals of implausibility. The film comes from a script by Bill Dubuque ("The Judge") that, come tax season, may well be at serious risk of an audit. It's about a secretive, autistic accountant for prominent criminals who's a muscular, military-grade hit man by hobby, plagued by his father's relentlessly militaristic parenting, who becomes embroiled in a robotic prostheses company's bid to go public. You know, THAT old story.

To cite the words exclaimed by John Lithgow's CEO at a climactic moment that's both bloodbath and family reunion: "What IS this?"

What "The Accountant" is is one of the more unlikely movies to repeat the phrase "Just the Renoir." Christian Wolff (Affleck) is on the surface a small-town accountant outside Chicago who spends his days at his bland shopping center office and his nights in an airstream trailer parked inside a storage unit. There he punishes himself with a bar he painfully rolls over his shins and stares quietly at an original Pollack nailed to the ceiling. (His Renoir is deemed more expendable.)

He has amassed the hidden fortune as an accountant for hire to drug cartels, money launderers and the mafia. His liaisons are set up by an unseen operative who communicates with Wolff only by phone. When it comes time to sift through documents, Wolff — like a pianist preparing for Beethoven — blows on his finger tips and dives in. He is, one client swears, "almost supernatural" in his ability to run numbers and smell out who's cooking the books.

"My boy's wicked smart," another Affleck bragged of Matt Damon's mathematician in "Good Will Hunting." Whereas Damon went on to play an assassin with amnesia in the Bourne films, Affleck's equally lethal mercenary is distinct for his place on the spectrum.

Filling the movie are flashbacks to Wolff's childhood, when his army father (Robert C. Treveiler) refused to accept his autistic son's differences. Instead, he raises him and his brother like soldiers, training them with specialists. It's a quirky method of parenting sure to spawn a best-seller: less homework, more pentjak silat (the Indonesian fighting style).

The origin story — complete with a bizarre but formative stint in prison with a cameo from Jeffrey Tambor — plays like a superhero's. Many of the characters, too, feel straight out of a comic book: J.K. Simmons' Treasury Department investigator, Jon Bernthal's over-inflated enforcer, Anna Kendrick's accounting clerk, the movie's lone smiler.

Affleck's hulking, number-crunching CPA is no less severe than his Batman. The actor plays him deliberately flat, with an unrelentingly even voice and a dispassionate, anti-social blankness. As was the case in "Batman v Superman," he's better than the overcooked soup he's swimming in.

There are legitimate objections to be raised about a film like "The Accountant" treating the autistic like savants. But there are genuine gestures here about accepting the gifts of people with autism, and it's worth noting how unusual such territory is for a Hollywood thriller — something O'Connor ("Warrior," ''Pride and Glory") knows how to firmly construct.

"The Accountant" is, if nothing else, singular in lending an action-movie cliche an absurdly peculiar and elaborate backstory. "I like incongruity," Wolff says in one scene. "The Accountant" does, too, but maybe a bit too much.

"The Accountant," a Warner Bros. release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "strong violence and language throughout." Running time: 128 minutes. Two stars out of four.


Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at:

To capture his pop spectacle, Timberlake turns to Demme

Justin Timberlake's desire to make a concert film could be traced directly back to when he saw Jonathan Demme's iconic 1984 Talking Heads concert film "Stop Making Sense."

"There's just no other concert film like it," Timberlake said in a recent interview. "It changed the way I saw concerts from then on out."

When the pop star-actor met with Demme to discuss a script, Timberlake couldn't help gushing — to an embarrassing degree, he says — to the director. Though that project never materialized, Timberlake thought of Demme immediately when the idea of making a film from his 2013-2015 "20/20 Experience" world tour came up. "It wasn't about him being the first choice," says Timberlake. "He was the only choice."

With a quick phone call to Demme, it was a done deal.

"It was the easiest. 'Stop Making Sense' was pretty easy too, but that time I had to call David Byrne and spend half an hour convincing him to make the movie," Demme said with a chuckle in a separate interview. "I've been obsessed with working with Justin in a film ever since I saw him in 'The Social Network.' And then suddenly I get to do a movie where he's in almost every shot."

The film, "Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids," hits Netflix on Wednesday, lending the streaming platform a megawatt dose of Timberlake's fluid, seemingly effortless stardom. He has touted it as an opportunity to "Timberlake and Chill."

With Demme's cameras trained squarely on the singer, the film captures the wide range of Timberlake, whose silky-smooth performance is like a 21st century hybrid of Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson. Both are repeatedly referenced throughout Timberlake's performance. The setting (the MGM Grand in Las Vegas) and attire (Tom Ford tuxedoes) is pure Sinatra, while the dance moves and harmonies ("Human Nature" is covered) owe plenty to Jackson.

"It's a concert film but it's the most personal film I've made about creating music," says Timberlake, whose 2013 "20/20 Experience" album was his first in seven years. "It was a really great time for me in my career and what was happening in my life."

"Stop Making Sense" chronicled the steady swell of Byrne's funk extravaganza: It begins with him on a bare stage with an acoustic guitar and builds to a teaming ensemble and Byrne in an oversized suit. But "Justin Timberlake and the Tennessee Kids" is the full force of a pop spectacle, with giant screens, laser lights, backup dancers and a moving platform.

It's a new groove for Demme, a filmmaker who moves between fiction films ("The Silence of the Lambs," ''Philadelphia," ''Rachel Getting Married") and performance documentaries ("Neil Young: Heart of Gold," Spalding Gray's "Swimming to Cambodia"). And the bigger, arena-sized concert meant a larger production for him, too.

"I used far more cameras than I've used before," Demme says. "We had 14 operated cameras. We had a crane stuck up on the ceiling operated by handles from somebody down on the floor. And we had six or eight stationary cameras put in special little spots to capture maybe one verse of a song."

Two cameras remained on Timberlake throughout: one giving Demme a close-up for every single moment, the other a head-to-toe shot. But that's only the foundation of Demme's approach. From there, he mixes in closely observed footage that captures the interplay of musicians and dancers, and the close-knit family of performers.

Timberlake's Vegas shows came after 14 months of touring and more than 130 shows. For him, the movie is about the vast number of people that created the entire experience.

"When you got down to it, this tour, more than any other tour, was such a shared experience for me with the people on stage and the people off stage," Timberlake says. "I changed the title of the movie to 'and the Tennessee Kids.' Originally I just wanted to call it "JT and the Tennessee Kids." Then Netflix purchases it and they're like 'We have to say 'Justin Timberlake.'" And I'm like, 'We do?'"


Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at:

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