Musical movie moments with Clint and Alfred

With the media and political world reeling from the news of Keith Olbermann’s sudden departure from MSNBC and its possible relation to the Comcast-NBC/Universal merger, the Sundance Film Festival starting up, and even the start of Roger Ebert’s new movie reviewing series featuring a veteran critic and a 24 year old blogger who writes for the terrific MUBI site, there’s simply an overwhelming number of things I could be writing about tonight.

However, two movie news items in particular have caught my eye and the link is music and film, though that may not be immediately obvious. First is word that Sacha Gervasi, director of the highly acclaimed comic documentary “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” may be directing a new film about the making of “Psycho” and that Anthony Hopkins may play director Alfred Hitchcock. (The actual terminology at THR is that they are “in talks” to join the film, which I take it is closer to actually working on something that either “eying” or “circling” a project.)

The second is that Clint Eastwood’s next project will be, fascinatingly, the latest version of “A Star is Born,” which will feature Beyoncé Knowles in the lead role. The musical-drama classic might seem like an odd choice, but Eastwood is a serious music fan and he’s even made a rather good musical biopic, “Bird.”

In fact, his debut as a director owed a little something to Alfred Hitchcock and a lot to jazz. I don’t know who edited this video — or why they included subtitles, but this is worth a moment of your time and definitely emphasizes Eastwood’s musical choices. Also, if you thought Jessica Walter was formidable as Lucille Bluth in “Arrested Development” wait until you see her a few decades prior as the spurned antagonist of a swingin’ jazz DJ in Eastwood 1971 directorial debut, “Play Misty for Me.”

Music, of course, played a huge role in “Psycho” and in all of Hitchcock’s films, at least in terms of the way he thought about them. Take a look at this.

  

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An audience with the “Iron Man 2” crowd

So, a couple of weeks back, a volcano went off in Iceland. That meant that planes in Europe couldn’t fly for several days, which meant that suddenly a London press junket was canceled and rescheduled in Los Angeles, which meant that, one recent Thursday night, I wound up seeing “Iron Man 2” at the AMC Theater in Century City instead of “A Star is Born” at Grauman’s Chinese for the TCM Classic Film Festival. (The world is getting much smaller…)

Moreover, thanks to the volcano, the next morning, instead of my Crunchy Raisin Bran and 1% milk, I was instead being buttered up by with French toast and applewood-smoked bacon buffet at the Four Seasons, a free Iron Man action figure, and a theoretical chance to ask a question of the all-star cast of “Iron Man 2” — i.e., Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle,and soon to be super-villain of the year Mickey Rourke — not to mention director/co-star Jon Favreau, writer Justin Thoreaux, and producer Kevin Feige.

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Of course, considering the 150 or so people in the room, I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get to ask any questions, but it was a pretty entertaining event. Robert Downey may have famously given up a number of vices, but being a perpetual class clown does not seem to be one of them, and it wasn’t like he was the only interesting person in the room.

The first question, about whether Favreau or he felt any pressure in terms of living up to the success of the first “Iron Man,” set the tone. Favreau admitted he had never been involved with a sequel before, unless you count his “under five” bit part as “Assistant” in Joel Schumacher’s notorious “Batman Forever.” It certainly is a change from small independent films like Favreau’s career-making acting and writing debut, “Swingers,” which he compared to throwing a party and hoping people would come.

“…[On ‘Iron Man 2’] we knew that people were going to show up,” Favreau said. “We just wanted to make sure that everyone who showed up had a good time and that this was going to be as fun or more fun than the last party. So it’s a different kind of pressure.”

Downey then felt the need to start listing sequels others on the panel had been involved in, real and fictional. “Scarlet Johansson was in ‘Home Alone 3.’ Don Cheadle, 11, 12 and 13.”

That led to a question that was geeky in a way that anyone whose ever been a superhero comics fan will recognize, and which wound up being answered by producer Kevin Feige. It was about the “time-line” of the film. It turns out that, if viewers pay close attention, they can figure out that “Iron Man 2” actually takes place before 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk.” (Having seen both movies, I have no freakin’ clue how you’d deduce that.)

The Incredible Hulk

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Previews of coming TCM Fest attractions

I’m busy today preparing to hit the TCM Classic Film Festival, which opens tonight in Hollywood, California with a gala screening of a digital restoration of the 1983 restoration of the 1954 “A Star is Born.” Also screening tonight is the 1931 Frank Capra obscurity, “Dirigible,” an underrated Howard Hawks science-fiction comedy starring Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, and a newcomer named Marilyn Monroe, “Monkey Business” as well as an outdoor screening of 1949’s silly but fun (if memory serves) “Neptune’s Daughter.” That one features swimmer turned musical comedy star Esther Williams alongside a very, very pre-Khan Ricardo Montalban and comedian Red Skelton. The cool part of this is that Ms. Williams, and a real-live water ballet, are included with the price of admission. (I should add that single entries for the fest are very much on the pricey side, starting at $20.00. Students get in for half-price, so I suggest enrolling quickly.)

That’s just tonight. Below are trailers for a some shows I’m personally looking forward to catching. We’ll start with the closing night screening of probably the most significant film of the festival, the new and finally fully restored version of the original science fiction extravaganza, Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.” (I’m slightly bummed to see this, like “A Star is Born” will be screened digitally. Assuming that celluloid prints of the new version exist, which may or may not be the case, that’s really how it should be shown.)

More after the flip.

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The logic of casting

Yesterday, Mike Fleming reported that Nick Cassavettes was in talks to direct the fourth, or possibly fifth — depending on how you reckon it — version of “A Star is Born,” a perpetually successful property that dates back to the 1930s.

You can complain about remakes all you want, but this is one story that really begs to be remade with every generation, as it’s always pretty much always relevant and only more topical with each new decade. In case you’ve never seen any version, it’s the story of a young actress and/or singer on the way up who becomes involved with a star very much on the way down, mostly because of substance abuse. Apparently the thinking is to once again make the on-the-go female a singer, as in the now iconic 1954 version starring Judy Garland and James Mason directed by George Cukor, and the commercially huge but critically dissed 1976 Barbara Streisand/Kris Kritofferson version directed by Frank Perry and, perhaps, an uncredited Streisand. Names like Beyoncé and Alicia Keys are being mentioned for the female lead.

The two male stars Fleming mentions are interesting. I don’t need to say why Robert Downey, Jr. is either too on the nose or absolutely and utterly perfect for the role. Real-life parallels and method acting possibilities aside, he’s a intriguing choice also because of his own forays into singing. Could make for a dramatic duet or two.

The other name being floated according to Fleming is Jon Hamm of “Mad Men.” This would presumably take the film more in the direction of the 1954 version, which featured James Mason as the alcoholic movie star in love with Judy Garland’s singer. Hamm’s a terrific and versatile actor and I’m sure he’d be very good. I just hope, however, they’re not just mentioning his name because just he does a great impression of Mason.

This Mason, by the way, is mainly inspired by his “A Star is Born” character. In real life, it was Judy Garland who had the drinking and drug issues. As for Hamm, let’s hope we see his impressionistic skills again — and the writers can again figure out something funny for him to do with them — when he returns to SNL later this month.

  

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A remake for its time? Probably.

Yep, another story about a remake, this time it’s “A Star is Born” which, depending on how you reckon it, will either be the fourth or fifth version of the story of a woman who begins a relationship with an established star, only to eclipse him in the fame game as he gradually self-destructs. The confusion here is that, in 1934, George Cukor directed a film called “What Price Hollywood?” which was apparently close enough to William Wellman’s 1938 “A Star is Born” that RKO considered suing producer David O. Selznick. Just to make matters confusing, Selznick had offered the “Star is Born” gig to Cukor, who turned it down — but who eventually did direct the most famous version of the story in 1954, which I guess means that you could argue that he’s another example of a great director remaking an earlier hit.

Not that any of it matters. There’s a reason this one keeps getting pulled out of mothballs. Consider the clip below from that last version with Judy Garland and James Mason. Does the drunken behavior of Mason as declining superstar Norman Maine remind you of anyone in show business you’ve been hearing about lately around the water cooler? Several people? Everyone?

  

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