Posts Tagged ‘Hannibal Lecter’

Arrivederci, Dino!

November 11th, 2010 1 comment

Dino DeLaurentiis, legendary Italian film producer and flamboyant impresario, died Wednesday evening at his home in Beverly Hills, his daughter Raffaella DeLaurentiis reported today. DeLaurentiis, 91, became a pivotal figure in Italian cinema during the early days of post WWII neo-realism, and eventually produced numerous films, including “La Strada,” “Barbarella” and “U-571.”

In the 1970s Dino moved to Los Angeles and produced “Serpico,” which earned two Oscar nominations (DeLaurentiis already held Oscars for Italian films “La Strada” and “Nights of Cabiria”). A long string of films followed, including “Three Days of the Condor,” “Death Wish,” “Ragtime” and “Blue Velvet.” An artist at international film financing, DeLaurentiis produced films for esteemed directors Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman and even a young David Lynch, pre-selling rights outside the U.S. to finance the international co-productions.

Not a stranger to failure, DeLaurentiis survived some mega-flops, including David Lynch’s largely-panned (and expensive) “Dune,” as well as an update of “King Kong” that was reviled by audiences and critics alike (until Peter Jackson upped the ante, that is…) Tragedy also struck his family: in 1981 his son Federico, 26, was killed in a plane crash in Alaska while preparing a movie, a loss which affected Dino for the rest of his life.

Dino is survived by five of his six children. His daughter Raffaella is also a film producer, as is nephew Aurelio DeLaurentiis. Granddaughter Giada DeLaurentiis is a celebrity TV chef with several cookbooks to her credit.

On a personal note, I met Dino DeLaurentiis on a number of occasions when he operated out of his DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group offices in Beverly Hills in the early 1990s. He was a tiny man, but radiated a magnetism and confidence that were impressive. His English, while serviceable, could be a challenge to comprehend, particularly in light of his thick accent. And he was ‘old school’ through-and-through: while I knew him, he kept his long-time barber on staff to provide a quick haircut whenever he desired. An on-call barber? Now that’s what I call ‘old Hollywood!’

Dino DeLaurentiis kept producing well into his 80s, exercising his rights from author Thomas Harris’ “Manhunter” to produce  sequels to “The Silence of the Lambs,” which DeLaurentiis passed on producing. Realizing the popularity of the Hannibal Lecter character, Dino produced the “Manhunter” remake “Red Dragon,” (Harris’ book’s original title), as well as “Hannibal” and “Hannibal Rising.” In 2001, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences bestowed upon him the Irving R. Thalberg Memorial Award in honor of his lifelong devotion to world film.

A lover of wine, women and cinema, Dino DeLaurentiis lived life to the fullest. He will certainly be missed. Ciao, bello!

Is the Western genre a goner?

July 7th, 2010 1 comment

So, what’s up with Westerns? Doesn’t ANYBODY make them anymore?

Blame Michael Cimino, I say. He wrote and directed “Heaven’s Gate,” the notorious film that sank United Artists (sort of) and prompted “Final Cut,” Steven Bach’s fascinating tell-all tale book of the filmic excesses, corporate eccentricities and inglorious exits of the company’s leadership during and after the ill-fated Western that redefined cinema (sort of).

Of course, there have been bigger and worse genre flops since then - anybody remember “Waterworld” or “Treasure Planet” (sort of?). And the Western genre has been in decline for a long time now, especially since what had started out as cheap-as-dirt escapist fare grew expensive, complicated… and tired. By the time “Dances with Wolves” won 7 Academy Awards in 1990, including Best Picture and Best Director for star Kevin Costner, the Western had become an expensive museum-piece, and most Western genre fare was relegated to television, where it was cheaper (“Lonesome Dove,”) or had been turned into revisionist feature fare, like the lionizing  “Geronimo”, or even weirder, the bizarre pairing of pals Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando in “The Missouri Breaks,” which, despite a Thomas McGuane screenplay, is a strangely confusing tale.

Here’s the good news: the Western genre is NOT a goner. Repeat – not a goner…

Here’s the bad news: as YOU know it, the Western genre may indeed be a goner – with a few exceptions… Like “True Grit,” the Coen Brothers’ upcoming re-take on the 1969 classic, or Jon Favreau’s next project, “Cowboys & Aliens,” as well as the recent “Appaloosa” from director/star Ed Harris. There are undoubtedly other ‘classic’ projects in development – high profile or not – that fall into the ‘Western’ genre, but we are unaware of any that have been publicized recently.

Instead, Western genre films have been transposed to other genres. To cite an example, sci-fi adventure film “Outland” is simply ‘”High Noon” set in space,’ (sort of), where a marshal waits for the next inbound shuttle to bring trouble – and the story’s dramatic resolution. “No Country for Old Men,” while set in the west, is more of an existentialist crime drama, featuring a villain worthy of Hannibal Lecter status (sort of). In other words, every Western can be something else, like a sci-fi adventure, a drama or fantasy; just remember to include the fantastic, the unexpected or the romance. It’s crucial to turn a ‘goner genre’ into a best Western, even if its frontier firepower ends up as death rays (sort of).

What a character!

May 7th, 2010 Comments off


Quick: name your favorite movie character!

Most people will choose a hero, or protagonist, as their favorite character, like Atticus Finch or Indiana Jones (the number one and two heroes, respectively, in the American Film Institute’s 2003 “AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Heroes and Villians” TV special), while others opt for the villain, or antagonist, like those who made Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader their gold and silver choices in the same poll. Most actors will confess they enjoy playing villains more than heroes – ‘bad’ is always more fun than ‘good,’ at least movie-wise; it’s just a pity you’ve got to die at the end, though… (Or be incarcerated, or lose the girl, get a bloody nose… whatever). You know the drill: The hero wins, the villain loses. Those are their functions in the story. (In a conventional sense, although there are anti-heroes and likeable villains – just watch any classic Hitchcock film for this paradigm shift…)

What makes them memorable is character. But what is character?

The dictionary defines character as “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.” A bit lower down comes this alternate definition: “an account of the qualities or peculiarities of a person or thing.” In other words, ‘character’ may mean identity, or it could mean how someone is ‘unique.’ Different writers treat the issue of character according to their own concepts of it. Tough guy director Walter Hill, making “The Long Riders”, told American Film magazine back in 1980: “In my films, when someone has a gun pointed in his face, character is how many times he blinks.”

I’ve read thousands of scripts and I’ve ‘collected’ my own favorite characters in memory, like the transplanted marine biologist banished to ‘do time’ in Iowa because of university politics, or the creepy Gollum-like creature (years before the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was filmed) who helped his pal get rid of dead bodies. A particularly memorable character was a whore in ancient Egypt  who threw her lot in with tomb plunderers – despite knowing the penalty was horrible death. None of these scripts ever made it to the movie screen, but it wasn’t because their characters weren’t memorable; if anything, their authors magnified the deficiencies of their stories by writing such contrastingly strong characters.

But character can successfully drive a story. And it it very important. As has been written here before, each story has a beginning, a middle and an ending, and usually the ending is the hardest part to get right. In a character-driven story, the plot is secondary to character development (think “American Beauty” or “Citizen Kane”), and the story is propelled forward by the protagonist. It’s a riskier venture, business-wise, so there aren’t as many character-driven films as there are plot-driven films, but occasionally you’ll see one ‘break out.’ “Napoleon Dynamite” is a perfect example of a character-driven movie that simply ‘hit,’ earning a respectable purchase price after a boisterous reception at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004; it went on, with the aid of shrewd marketing, to make millions for Paramount.

Character is a deciding factor in speculative (spec) scripts, meaning scripts that have not been ordered or paid for – in other words, most peoples’ scripts – because character is usually a solid indicator of whether the screenwriting is strong or simply frames a good idea. As a story analyst, I have recommended writers on the basis of their character writing – while rejecting their scripts outright for other reasons. Of course the ideal solution is to craft a solid script containing a cohesive story and plot, snappy dialogue and effective pacing and tone… But whatever you do, don’t forget good characters! They can be the best friends you’ll ever have – or the greatest villians you can imagine…