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Hollywood’s Best at Last?

November 10th, 2010 No comments

Earlier this year, I wrote in For Bards Blog about Joe Queenan’s contention that 2010 was the worst year for movies ever. While For Bards Blog took a more cautious approach, citing box office champs “Inception” and “Toy Story 3” as quality successes, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Queenan may have had a point. Despite the successes of a few films, quality pickings at the local multiplex or arthouse cinema have been few and far between. For every thought-provoking and poignant independent film like “Never Let Me Go,” or pedigreed Hollywood release like “The Social Network,” there are multiple go-for-the-quick-money, Hollywood-factory releases like “Salt,” “Jackass 3-D,” “The Sorceror’s Apprentice,” or “Robin Hood.” And it’s no accident that so many kids’ movies are released in 3-D, since 3-D simply increases ticket prices, strengthening the studio’s bottom lines.

But there may be a glimmer of hope for serious filmgoers. The holiday film season is upon us, and with it comes a lot of big-budget and high-profile fare, including a 3-D sequel to Disney’s 1982 classic “Tron,” “Tron: Legacy,” along with Danny Boyle’s follow-up to last year’s Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire,” the harrowing “127 Hours.” Action films are represented by Twentieth Century Fox’s “Unstoppable,” which goes head-to-head with Universal Pictures’ “Skyline,” in mid-November, but one week later the first part of the final Harry Potter adventure bows; “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1)” faces the latest Russell Crowe adventure, “The Next Three Days,” in which Crowe attempts to break his wrongly-accused wife out of prison. In December, the final film based on C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” will open opposite a Ben AffleckChris Cooper dramatic comedy about corporate downsizing, “The Company Men.” Also opening the same week is “The Tempest,” a gender-bender version of William Shakespeare’s play, directed by Julie Taymor (“Across the Universe”), starring Helen Mirren. Another opener that week is the Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie starrer “The Tourist,” which combines Oscar-winning director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others”) with equally-honored scribes Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”) and Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects.”)

As Christmas nears, the mood lightens, and comedies enter the fray. The week of December 22, a 3-D retelling of Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” opens with Jack Black in the title role, along with “Little Fockers,” the third go-round in the “Meet the Parents” series, featuring Oscar winners Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand as well as Oscar nominee Harvey Keitel. Also opening just before Christmas is “Somewhere,” writer-director Sofia Coppola’s insider Hollywood drama. Also, Paramount has  announced it is moving “True Grit,” the Joel and Ethan Coen re-telling of the Charles Portis novel, forward a few days from its originally-scheduled Christmas release date. Evidently the feeling at Paramount is that they’ve got a strong contender on their hands with last year’s Oscar-winning actor, Jeff Bridges, in the Rooster Cogburn role, (which won the original film’s Cogburn, John Wayne, his only Oscar) and hopes are a few extra days will help fuel Oscar buzz and the film’s bottom line.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg… There’s a new James L. Brooks film, “How Do You Know,” coming out in mid-December, featuring Brooks’ good-luck charm Jack Nicholson in a cast that includes Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd. For the serious moviegoer, there’s “Rabbit Hole,” a marital drama starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart about the aftermath of a traumatic loss. And let’s not forget “I Love You, Phillip Morris,” a love-tale between prison convicts Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, or David O. Russell’s “The Fighter” with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, “Fair Game” with Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, “For Colored Girls,” “Black Swan,” starring Natalie Portman and “Love and other Drugs,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, in which a pharmaceutical rep falls for a Parkinson’s patient.

This doesn’t even touch the vast number of independent and ‘art’ films that will fill the theaters late this year. So – was 2010 the ‘worst movie year ever?’ It’s impossible to tell – let’s see what it still has to offer…

Finally, “Casino Jack,” the last film by director George Hickenlooper, who died last week at the age of 47, will open December 17. Based on the twisted tale of crooked lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the film is highly regarded by those who have already seen it, and only underscores the loss of director Hickenlooper at such a young age. More will follow about Hickenlooper, who I first wrote about 30 years ago when he was a student at Yale, soon in For Bards Blog.

Hollywood Autumn

September 30th, 2010 No comments

It has been a tough week for Hollywood and Broadway, not to mention the comedy world, in terms of losses. In just the last week, four Hollywood legends have passed away and two younger talents, a renowned editor and popular comic, have died unexpectedly. Most of us have heard the old saying about losses coming in threes, but multiples of three? That’s hard to take.

Eddie Fisher died at his home in Berkeley, California on September 23, 2010 from complications of hip surgery. He was 82. A singer and actor, Eddie Fisher was a top performer whose tumultuous love life commanded headlines throughout the 1950s. As a teen heartthrob, he scored four number-one hits, and his good looks and charm won him his first wife, Debbie Reynolds, with whom he had two children, including writer-actress Carrie Fisher of “Star Wars” and “Postcards From the Edge” fame. In 1959, Fisher earned notoreity and public scorn when he left Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor in a messy breakup, complicated by the fact that Taylor had recently been widowed when her husband Michael Todd died in an air crash – and Eddie Fisher was Todd’s best friend. Fisher married actress Connie Stevens after Taylor left him for co-star Richard Burton while she was making the ill-fated “Cleopatra” in Rome. A period of decline, due to personal, financial and drug problems, ensued in the 1970s. Fisher married twice more, and wrote about his vicissitudes in two autobiographical tomes: “Eddie Fisher: My Life, My Loves,” and “Been There, Done That.”  In addition to Carrie Fisher, he is survived by actress Joely Fisher, his daughter by Connie Stevens, two other children, and six grand-children.

Gloria Stuart (nee Stewart) passed away September 26, 2010. She had turned 100 years old on July 4, 2010, but earned her current celebrity from her role as 101 year-old Rose in James Cameron’s 1997 “Titanic.” Oddly, Stuart’s long life makes the fictional Rose’s look mundane: born in Santa Monica in 1910, Gloria attended University of California at Berkeley, where she met her first husband, a sculptor. Living in an artists’ colony with the likes of photographer Edward Weston and journalist Lincoln Steffens, Gloria acted in a local theater and wrote for newspapers. In 1932 a trip to the Pasadena Playhouse earned Gloria a newfound respect for theater – and a 7 year contract with Universal Pictures. One of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild and a regular at the famed Algonquin ‘Round Table,’ over the next 14 years she performed in 46 films, acting beside Claude Rains in “The Invisible Man” and opposite Boris Karloff in “The Old Dark House,” both directed by “Frankenstein” director James Whale. Eventually the roles grew increasingly undemanding, and, in 1946, Gloria Stuart (she changed the last name for marquee symmetry) bid her Hollywood career goodbye. Remarried, she traveled around the world, settled in New York City, had a daughter, taught herself to paint, moved to Italy, later began a new career as a master print maker, and eventually wound up as Rose in Cameron’s epic film, playing 101 years old at age 87. A full life, indeed.

As we already noted in For Bards Blog, Academy Award nominated film editor Sally Menke was found dead on September 28, 2010 after failing to return from a trail walk during a record heatwave. In addition to editing all of Quentin Tarantino’s films, Sally also edited two films for Billy Bob Thornton. She was 56 years old; she leaves behind a husband, TV director Dean Parisot, and two daughters.

Arthur Penn died on September 28, 2010 of congestive heart failure, one day after his 88th birthday. Arthur Penn was born in Philadelphia in 1922; his older brother Irving earned international fame as a photographer, but Arthur followed his interests into theater after serving in WWII, working with then-unknown director Joshua Logan. Eventually he garnered a job as a floor manager for the “Colgate Comedy Hour” in New York City, and worked his way up to directing live TV dramas on “Goodyear TV Playhouse,”  “Philco TV Playhouse” and “Playhouse 90.” Before too long, Penn was dividing his time between Hollywood and New York City, directing Broadway hits like “The Miracle Worker,” “Two for the Seesaw”  and “Wait Until Dark.” After winning a Tony for directing “The Miracle Worker,” Arthur Penn directed his Broadway stars Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in the film version of William Gibson’s drama, earning his first Oscar nomination and winning Oscars for both Bancroft and Duke. Penn only made a dozen theatrical feature films, most notably “Bonnie and Clyde,” the 1967 film whose over-the-top violent ending polarized critics of the day. While a string of Broadway successes and quirky films like “Little Big Man” and “Night Moves” followed, Penn will forever be known as the ‘bloodthirsty’ director of “Bonnie and Clyde,” opening the door for cinema followers like Sam Peckinpah, although Penn himself likened the 1967 film to the Vietnam War, exposing the grittiness of violence to give it value.

Comedian Greg Giraldo died Wednesday, September 29, 2010, five days after falling into a coma after an apparent accidental prescription overdose. He was 44 years old. The comedian was a Comedy Central cable TV network mainstay, appearing regularly on “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn” and Lewis Black’s “Root of All Evil,” and earning special acclaim as host of Comedy Central’s ‘roasts,’ where his sarcastic humor and semi-serious rants offered a glimpse into the comedian’s darker side. Initially educated as a lawyer, Giraldo gave up the legal profession to tour as a successful comedian, and his popularity soon earned him appearances on late night talk shows. His ascendancy on Comedy Central followed. Giraldo, a divorced father of three, was set to perform in New Brunswick, New Jersey when he was discovered unresponsive and taken to a local hospital.

Hollywood legend Tony Curtis died in his home in Henderson, Nevada, also on September 29, 2010, of cardiac arrest. He was 85. Born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx on June 3, 1925, Curtis faced a bleak future when his parents, Hungarian immigrants, placed him and his brother in a state-run institution during the height of the Depression. Toughened by street life and anti-Semitism, Curtis entered the US Navy during WWII, serving on the submarine tender U.S.S. Proteus. After his service, he gravitated toward theater, working in the Catskills until a casting agent saw him and invited him to Hollywood. Signing a contract with Universal, he settled on the pseudonym Anthony Curtis. By 1951 he was the Tony Curtis; it was also the year he married actress Janet Leigh. They had two daughters, including actress-author Jamie Lee Curtis. Curtis carved out a successful career during the 1950s and 60s, forming alliances with directors Richard Fleischer and Blake Edwards, among others. As his Hollywood film career stalled, Curtis tried his hand at two television shows, “The Persuaders” and “McCoy.” After a stint at the Betty Ford Center to deal with alcohol and drug issues, Curtis re-invented himself as a fine artist, painting boldly-signed, Matisse-influenced works. After his divorce from Leigh, Curtis married five more times. He is survived by 5 children; one son died in 1994 of a drug overdose.

It certainly is a lot of loss to deal with in a short period of time, but we can take comfort in the fact that all these talents left behind works we can continue to enjoy.