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Posts Tagged ‘Penelope Cruz’

Nature vs. Nurture: Creativity or Experience?

May 26th, 2011 No comments

Unformed or Informed…?

In the last For Bards Blog post, I mentioned a friend had asked the question “Why is it that so many writers or filmmakers do their best work at a young age?” My glib answer was instantaneous: “It’s called the “Citizen Kane” effect.” I did  put in my defense of experience and wisdom by citing filmmmakers like Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, or Alain Renais, all of whom  in the last year or two delivered the most mature works of their careers. But my friend’s answer was equally quick – and equally glib: “Yes, but no one  goes to see those.” So why is it that so many creative artists do their most audacious work at the beginning of their career, and what filmmakers have managed to have avoid this pitfall? (Or is it a gift…?)

Enfant Terrible?  –  Seasoned Vet?

Orson Welles‘ “Citizen Kane” serves as both an inspiration and a cautionary tale to filmmakers, because it signifies the limitless creativity of genius and the relentless demands of commerce at odds with one another. Arguably Welles’ best film (if not anyone’s), “Citizen Kane” showcased Orson Welles’ ample talent and vision and has thrilled audiences ever since its release; but it was not a commercial success, mainly due to the efforts of William Randolph Hearst, who, probably accurately, perceived Herman J. Mankiewicz and Welles’ story of publishing magnate Charles Foster Kane as a personal attack. The resulting film is a cinema classic, but its arthouse creative ingenuity cost Welles industry work for years. Despite 9 Academy Award nominations, “Citizen Kane” won only for Best Original Screenplay for Mankiewicz and Welles (a credit that its director and co-writer contested for years). Orson Welles’ next directorial effort, “The Magnificent Ambersons,” was taken over in editing by RKO, which savagely re-cut Welles’ original version. Resorting to hire himself out as an actor or wine spokesperson, Welles as a director failed to recreate the cinematic brio of “Citizen Kane,” although he came closest in his 1958 film noir “Touch of Evil.”

Woody Allen is 75 years old. And he still makes movies – almost one a year. Some would argue that his best films are behind him: his “early funny” movies (to quote a sycophant from Allen’s “Stardust Memories”) are a distant memory, and his storylines have tended toward similarity over time. Yet Woody Allen is currently garnering his best critical reaction in years for his latest film, “Midnight in Paris,” which premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival recently. Compared by some to his comic fantasy “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Midnight in Paris” stars Owen Wilson as an Allen-esque writer whose present-day Parisian vacation changes when he is transported back to the romanticized Jazz Age Paris of the 1920s, allowing him to rub shoulders and exchange bon mots with the likes of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali and Ernest Hemingway. In a way, it’s  a melding of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Woody Allen: the protagonist is Allen’s Everyman nebbish stand-in, but the film’s setting and sensibility is the ‘new’ Woody, who left his native New York City to shoot all his films since 2005 in England or Europe. His next film, starring Penelope Cruz, will be shot in Rome. 

 

The Argument Continues…

So why is it that some folks do their most evocative  work when they are clearly ‘making it all up?’ Is that naivete? Or pure creativity? And what about a lifetime of experience? John Huston’s two greatest films were probably the first and last he directed (1941’s “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Dead” in 1987) – 46 years apart! Alfred Hitchcock was limited by film technology when he started directing, embraced it by mid-career and was bored by it at the end – but he delivered films that fall into both the best-work and worst-work categories during each of these phases (among the bests: “The Lodger,” “Notorious,” “Psycho;” among the worsts: “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “I Confess,” “Topaz”). But in all these cases – and those of countless other writers and directors, their first project – or even ‘sophmore effort’ – displays a yearning to ‘dream big’ and make a mark. One of the bon-vivants of Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” F. Scott Fitzgerald, famously said “There are no second acts in American lives,” alluding to the enormous success he experienced with the publication of “The Great Gatsby” in 1924, when Fitzgerald was only 28. Although he struggled to recreate that phenomenal early success, Fitzgerald was forever held to the impossible standard of ‘Gatsby.’ How ironic, then, that yet another adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” is in the works for the big screen starring Leo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan and directed by Baz Luhrmann – the 5th version of Fitzgerald’s classic since 1926. Although alcoholism and a hard life brought about his demise at age 44, Fitzgerald’s masterwork lives on. The moral of the story? Create. Then, create some more. Who knows? – you could be the next John Huston… Or, God forbid, F. Scott Fitzgerald, although I suppose worse things have happened…

 Hopefully I’ll see you at the 2012 opening of “The Great Gatsby.” No second acts, indeed…!

Summer Movies: And… They’re Off! (by 28%)

April 11th, 2011 3 comments

The 2011 movie season has started, albeit tepidly. This weekend’s box office was buoyed by a 3-D holiday animated film, “Hop,” which garnered about $21.5 million, but the remaining films in the top five hovered around the $11 to $12 million mark in terms of box office returns. It’s more evidence that the habits of moviegoers are changing – as a result of technological developments as well as economic instability – and the movie industry itself is undergoing a paradigm shift akin to the changes in the music business in the last decade.

Good News, Bad News…

The numbers are in, and it’s not good: the take at the movie box office is down a whopping 20% since the beginning of 2011. And, to make matters worse, that’s the good  news. The bad news? Attendance is down even more, having slipped 28% so far this year. Hollywood doesn’t seem to be helping: its sequel, prequel, remake and reboot-heavy schedule for 2011’s prime movie turf has already been lacerated by critics and fans alike. The few strongly-anticipated films can be counted on one hand – two, if you’re a superhero fanboy. Discussing the potential for this summer’s tentpole films, movie mavens Peter Guber and Peter Bart singled out the July 4th weekend-opener “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” as one of the summer’s rare sequels with real audience potential, and pointed towards J.J. Abrams’ Spielberg-tinged “Super 8” as another film with positive ‘buzz’ among distributors and moviegoers. Not so definite were the prospects for the fourth film in the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ series, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” which loses franchise stars Keira Knightly and Orlando Bloom this go-round, replaced by Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane, along with Dame Judi Dench and a new director: “Chicago” helmer Rob Marshall.

Big Film, Little Film

What seems clear is that the entertainment industry is going through a great metamorphosis. And it’s not just movies, but all media ‘platforms’ in general. With few exceptions, today there are no studios making theatrical genre fare like the Universal and Warner Brothers programmers of old, or MGM‘s old-fashioned frothy romances or musicals, apart from a specialty distribution unit like Sony’s Screen Gems, which releases “Underworld” and “Resident Evil” sequels with regularity, while sneaking in a popular musical like “Burlesque’ every once in a while. But these movies are small films, basically, and Screen Gems has a firm understanding of its core audience: they are teen moviegoers who have grown up on a steady supply of vampires, werewolves and action fare, with the occasional musical (“Country Strong”) thrown in for good measure. As a result, the company has had few missteps (“Death at a Funeral” was a rare recent misfire), and has made a lot of money for its parent company. Other studios tried with specialty units, but none has had the staying power – or success – of Screen Gems.

Sony continues to make tentpole movies, of course, but they have acknowledged the need for belt-tightening – their retooling of the “Spider-Man” franchise is a perfect example: when the budget of “Spider-Man 4” passed $250 million, the studio began to think in terms of a newer, less costly take on the story – and cast “The Social Network” star Andrew Garfield as its newer, younger Peter Parker. Even a successful studio like Sony needs to deal with the realities of the present: fewer people are going to see movies in the theater, so it’s helpful for them to know who those theatergoers are and give them the movies they want to see, and it’s also important to find a way to distribute their product in every possible way to multiply potential revenue streams. Because let’s face it: when business is down 28%, it’s time to lower margins, tighten belts, and look for new ideas… The studios can implement the cutbacks – but where are they going to find new ideas?

 

Amicable Splits, Miraculous Revivals and Movie Piracy!

June 14th, 2010 No comments

Notable in Hollywood news this week: verification of a long-rumored split, confirmation of a sudden (but friendly) departure, the resurrection of two franchises and the reinstatement of movie piracy, at least for the purposes of gathering theatergoer coin…

Amicable Split: Part 1

“Twilight” series fans, rejoice! Summit Entertainment, the film company behind “Breaking Dawn,” the adaptation of the fourth (and final) book in Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ saga, announced on Friday that “Breaking Dawn” will be split into two films, with the first of the pair to be released on November 18, 2011. Set to be directed by Bill Condon, (“Dreamgirls“), production on “Breaking Dawn” will start this fall; all of its stars and supporting cast are returning for another go-round. The third film in the “Twilight” series, “Eclipse,” directed by David Slade, (“Hard Candy,” “30 Days of Night”), opens later this month, on June 30th.

It’s long been rumored that the final tome in Stephenie Meyer’s wildly-successful ‘vampires and werewolves chaste love triangle’ series would be split into two films, a la the last two “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels, which, coincidentally, are about to be followed up by a fourth ‘Pirates’ franchise picture (see below for more…)

Amicable Split: Part 2

News leaked out quietly this week that longtime Sony executive Peter Schlessel, whose title as “President of Worldwide Affairs” had to be one of the coolest studio titles ever, is leaving the studio after 21 years of involvement as a senior dealmaker, advisor and, as the local trades described him, consigliere. It’s not like he’s going far: he’ll be joining Graham King (“Gangs of New York,” “The Young Victoria,” “The Departed”) as President of GK Films; Schlessel was instrumental in bringing the successful British producer into the Sony fold via a distribution deal that will see the studio releasing GK product like the upcoming Johnny DeppAngelina Jolie starrer “The Tourist,” as well as Martin Scorsese’s planned 3-D adaptation of the best-selling youth novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”

 A former president of Columbia Pictures and successful producer in his own right, Schlessel most recently ran Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group, which acquired Sony’s only 2009 Best Picture Academy Award nominee, “District 9,” oversaw the “This Is It” Michael Jackson documentary and engineered a DVD output deal with the Weinstein Company. His ability to move upward in Sony was capped by the presence of studio co-chairs Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal, so Schlessel made himself into a ‘free agent,’ to employ a sports analogy, and joined one of the hottest teams in the league. In the interest of full disclosure, I have met Mr. Schlessel, and found him to be bright and personable. His career success speaks for itself, as do the many kudos he’s received since word leaked out of his departure from Sony.   

Back From the Dead (or Dead Drunk)!

Two Hollywood franchises were resurrected recently: Russell Brand has been re-Branded as “Arthur,” the lovable drunk made popular in Steve  Gordon’s 1981 Oscar-winning film (and its less successful sequel). He’ll be joined by Greta Gerwig and Jennifer Garner as his love interests, along with supporting veterans Helen Mirren and Nick Nolte. The new script was written by Peter Baynham, (“Bruno”), who re-wrote “Arthur” as a vehicle for his pal Brand.

Bourne-again?!

And if you though Jason Bourne was a distant memory, forget it… Universal has revived its moneymaking Bourne franchise despite the fact that star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass, who directed the last two of the three ‘Bourne’ big screen entires, will not be returning to the series. A treatment  for the fourth intallment in the series, “The Bourne Legacy,” will be written by the screenwriter of the three previous films, Tony Gilroy, (“Michael Clayton,” “State of Play”), who will also write a ‘bible’ for the ‘Bourne’ franchise, suggesting that the studio sees additional spin-off or sequel opportunities in the world of shadowy spy Jason Bourne. Oddly, although series creator Robert Ludlum died in 2001, his work has never been hotter, with half-a-dozen properties in varying stages of development; even odder is the fact that the latest film takes its title from a ‘Bourne’ novel written by authorized Ludlum successor Eric Lustbader, but will not take its plot: Gilroy will provide that.  

Hollywood Hearts Pirates

In another demonstration that nothing succeeds like success (or, in this case, excess), Disney has announced that Jerry Bruckheimer’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean” series’ latest entry, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” has cast Geoffrey Rush for a fourth go-round as Captain Hector Barbossa opposite Johnny Depp, who committed to another ‘Pirates’ film after the stellar box office success of the first three entries. Both Depp and Rush join a largely-new cast, including new director Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) who took over from the previous films’ Gore Verbinski, along with new leading lady Penelope Cruz and new villain Ian McShane. In addition to its two returning stars and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, also returning to the franchise are screewriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, who penned the previous three ‘Pirates’ films.