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Screen Grabs, 11-07-07

The Strike Edition

“I am glad to know that there is a system of labor where the laborer can strike if he wants to," Abraham Lincoln declared in 1860. Honest Abe probably imagined laborers whose tools of the trade were pickaxes and shovels rather than ergonomic keyboards and Final Draft software, but be that is it may, when the clock struck 12:01 a.m. on Monday, the Writers Guild of America determined that it did want to strike and strike it did, after a federal mediator and LA mayor Antonio Villaraigoso both failed to strike an accord between scribes and producers. The strike unexpectedly turned violent in its first hours when a picketer was intentionally struck by an angry motorist (that's life in LA for ya). Leading Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards all backed the strikers in their effort to get a bigger slice of the new media pie (while crossing their fingers that big studio moguls would keep throwing them fundraising bashes), as did many actors, but late night talk show enthusiasts plunged into rerun purgatory might have a less sympathetic view of the writers' right to organize.

Some have wondered if a writer as prolific as J.J. Abrams will be able to keep himself from the page, but at least the co-creator of Lost (which apparently has plenty of new episodes banked) can turn his sights to directing, producing, and being an all-around Hollywood renaissance man. A new trailer for his nerve-wracking monster thriller, whose early trailer seemed specifically designed to strike terror into the hearts of paranoid post-9/11 New Yorkers, will run before Beowulf, beginning November 16th. The film, which had previously been referred to by the code name "Cloverfield," will also get an official title: Cloverfield. (Talk about anticlimactic.)

The slapstick satirist David O. Russell will soon strike again with a political broadside called Nailed he'll be penning with Kristin Gore (Al's daughter); meanwhile, Michael Cuesta, known for L.I.E. and Twelve and Holding, his polarizing investigations into the adolescent psyche, will reportedly strike out in a new direction with an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart." Also trying something new is Natalie Portman, who plans to strike out on her own as a director with an adaptation of Israeli writer Amos Oz's memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness. And maverick director P.T. Anderson is dramatically shifting gears next month, when he'll be striking oil, and perhaps Oscar gold, with his eagerly awaited fifth film There Will Be Blood; a period piece about religion, family, and greed in turn-of-the-century West Texas, the film (co-starring Daniel Day-Lewis and L.I.E.'s Paul Dano, and based on Upton Sinclair's Oil!) opens the day after Christmas (trailer here). Speaking of mavericks, veteran documentarians Werner Herzog and Errol Morris each strike another blow for independent cinematic visions with new films about Antarctica and Abu Ghraib, respectively; they talked docs recently at Brandeis University.

But it's unclear how large the audiences for these various specialty films will be, with smart new TV serials systematically striking down intelligent art-house fare. If you're Ridley Scott performing your latest tactical strike on the box office (with American Gangster), you're all set. But if you're someone like Richard Kelly with just a single beloved cult classic (Donnie Darko) on your resume, and you've got a weird new movie with a massive cast of pop culture flotsam and jetsam (Southland Tales, opening November 14th), you've got to cross your fingers and hope for the best. Sometimes lightning does strike twice.

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