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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).

Meanwhile, in the Executive Suite…

May 14th, 2010 No comments

Kick Cannes

The honchos of Hollywood have decamped for the rainy, volcanic ash-threatened French Riviera for the 63rd Cannes Film Festival. Most travel plans were complicated by ash clouds from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull, which caused all sorts of delayed flights, missed connections and other travel headaches for the Hollywood executives and filmmakers on their way to Nice or Cannes. The weather hasn’t really cooperated, either: last week large waves pounded the Croisette, damaging the beach and local establishments. On Wednesday’s opening night, the weather held until after the opening ceremonies, then started raining once the opening film, Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood,” began screening.

And those lucky enough (or beset upon, depending on who you talk to) to make it from Hollywood to exotic southern France can look forward to… more Hollywood. This year the festival runneth over with Hollywood’s touch, from opening remarks delivered by Kristin Scott Thomas, to a jury headed by Tim Burton and including Benicio del Toro; and don’t forget the movies: the slate of Hollywood product includes “Robin Hood,” “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” and Doug Liman’s “Fair Game,” based on the memoir of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame, starring  Naomi Watts as Plame and Sean Penn as her diplomat husband Joseph Wilson.

So far, apparently, business is subdued at Cannes. But – a slow business climate, lots of American product on display, scads of Hollywood insiders walking around… Dare I say it? Maybe all those executives should’ve stayed home and caught up on their sleep, ’cause they’re practically in ‘little Hollywood’ now!

I Thought I Saw an Apparition – But I Guess I Was Mistaken…

One of the weirder story items coming from Hollywood (and subsequently Cannes) these days is the abrupt departure of Bob Berney, one of the two principals at

Berney & Pohlad

Apparition, the film company he and Bill Pohlad announced last August. Since then, Apparition has acquired and released several films, including Jane Campion’s “Bright Star,” “Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day” and the Oscar-nominated “The Young Victoria.” But Berney’s sudden split from Apparition on the eve of Cannes, where he was to represent Apparition, has left partner Pohlad and company staffers stunned – and scrambling to make alternate arrangements to represent their interests at the festival. Apparition staffers learned Monday of Berney’s departure in a company-wide email, which was forwarded to the press in defiance of conventional Hollywood public relations protocol, wherein executives do little but gush over one another.

But there’s a twist (it wouldn’t be Hollywood without one, right?): Bob Berney is going to Cannes… So everyone in Tinseltown asks – why? It’s invariably about money… But what sort? Another indie film releasing company? Something bigger? And already, the sharks are circling: aware of Apparition’s distribution deal with Sony, industry bulletin boards around town lit up with speculation that a distribution deal may have become available at the major, prompting denials, frustration and confusion all around.

Berney is a recognized industry leader, having been involved with Newmarket Films, IFC Films and Picturehouse. Among the successes he’s associated with are “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” “La Vie En Rose,” and “The Passion of the Christ.” It’s not clear what his plans are on the Croisette, but – there’s always that rarely-seen ‘other choice’ of running a studio…

 

 Lion Around?

Much has been written of the slow and inevitable demise of Metro Goldwyn Mayer and United Artists. (See my posting “Dyin’ Lion?”) But MGM, whose creditors have been trying to sell the once-revered Leo the Lion, isn’t garnering the kinds of bids the creditors would like. As a ‘studio’ awash in $3.7 billion worth of debt, MGM simply isn’t an attractive purchase prospect, despite its large library of titles. The studio eventually received only two purchase offers, and one of those, Access Industries, has since rescinded; the remaining offer, from Time Warner for $1.5 billion, was deemed too low by the Lion.

So apparently the company’s creditors have adopted a new strategy: Bloomberg.com reports that the top five creditors have amassed a controlling portion of the company’s debt and are now putting out feelers to Hollywood heavyweights who could run the studio as a going concern. Never mind that MGM already has a Motion Picture Group chairman, Mary Parent, who was production head at Universal before moving to the Lion’s den – the creditors want new blood, and have spoken to a number of former studio heads and other top players, from former News Corp. head Peter Chernin and ex-Viacom topper Jonathan Dolgen to Spyglass principals Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum. Who knows? Maybe Bob Berney’s on their list as well… he’s currently ‘between projects,’ as we say here in LaLa Land…