A Chat with director Patrick Hughes and actor Ryan Kwanten of “Red Hill”

Patrick Hughes and Ryan Kwanten of First-time feature directors — especially when they’re essentially financing their films — tend to make low-key stories without much in the way of action. Often, they are offbeat romances or perhaps something about a bunch of guys in their teens or late twenties avoiding the responsibilities of adulthood. Directors who emerge from the world of commercials often wind-up making movies that rely on flashy visuals and employ the worst kind of ADHD editorial approach. To his everlasting credit, Patrick Hughes, a first-time self-financing feature director with a background in commercials, did none of those things in his first feature, “Red Hill,” an often violent suspense tale with elements of classic westerns, monster films, and a strong sense of its Australian heritage.

Its star, Ryan Kwanten, is by far best known as Jason Stackhouse of “True Blood,” an occasionally likable dim-bulb of a character who would pretty much be nothing if it weren’t for his athletic good looks and sexual prowess. But Kwanten as an actor is certainly no mere boy-toy, even if he remains a favorite of young female fans and looks about a decade younger than his actual age (he’ll be 34 later this month). As the rather archly named Shane Cooper, the earnest, violence-averse policeman hero of “Red Hill,” he must be believable dealing with the rampage of revenge waged by an Aboriginal escaped convict (Tommy Lewis) while protecting his loving and pregnant wife (Claire van der Boom), dealing with the barbs of his taskmaster of a new boss (Steve Bisley), and spending a good chunk of the movie marinating in his own blood and believably fighting on. If that isn’t proof that Kwanten is, you know, a real actor, his next non-“True Blood” role appears to be as Charles Manson.

I met with voluble writer-director Hughes and actor Kwanten – who, as befits this film’s low budget provenance, come across as remarkably down-to-earth in person – during a press day held at Strand Releasing’s east Culver City office. A short time later, Kwanten would be chatting telephonically for a solo interview with my colleague, Will Harris, who’d be concentrating on his career, definitely including “True Blood.” No prima dona, and you’ll see just what I mean by that later in the interview, he was fine with surrendering some of the spotlight to director Hughes, who kind of dominates the discussion during the first half of this interview. However, do not fear, Kwantenites: we do hear from the very talented actor starting just past this interview’s halfway point, as he discusses crucial matters of blood, guts, and pig poo.

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Monday movie news

The Deadline crew has really been working overtime these last few days, so there’s much to talk about as a new week begins.

* I’m not kidding about the pace of news from Deadline today. Just as I was starting to finish writing this, Mike Fleming broke the news that we have a “Superman” director who’ll be working with producer Christopher Nolan, and he is one Zack Snyder of “300,” “Watchmen,’ the “Dawn of the Dead” remake and that owl movie that’s out right now. Expect a fightin’ Supes. Should you expect a good Supes movie? Dunno. I never understood the grief that “Superman Returns” got. It was a nice, fun movie in the best senses of the words “nice” and “fun.” Will this one be all grimness and unnecessary darkness? I hope not.

*  Fox landed the film adaptation rights for apparently the hottest book of the moment, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter which is being produced by Tim Burton and directed by Timur Bekmanbetov (“Night Watch,” “Wanted“), who purchased the rights with their own money. And it’s not like they were afraid to show they really wanted it:

When Tim and Timur and their entourage of reps came to the Fox…they were met with a huge banner at the gate. It had the title treatment of the script and was emblazoned, “Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov present Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”. At their parking spot were signs saying “Parking For Vampire Hunters Only: park at your own risk,” and so forth. There were bloody footprints lining the walkway and stairs leading from their cars to the meeting in Building 88 with images from the book and lines from the script. As if that were not enough, there also were bloody axes strewn about, and a bugle player in a Confederate uniform playing “Taps” as the filmmakers walked to the meeting..

Yes, like Camelot, Hollywood is a silly place, and I sort of like it that way. I just wished I enjoyed Bekmambetov’s movies, because I didn’t.

* Re: silliness. Check out this promotion for “Jackass 3D”

* I seriously dislike writing about stories that say that so-and-so is “about to be” “offered” a part. There are simply too many items like that and too many “ifs” (maybe the studio will change their minds; maybe the star will say “no,” etc.) and I prefer to wait until the story is further down the road. Nevertheless, Mike Fleming has reported that Emma Stone is about to be offered the part of Mary Jane Watson in the Marc Webb-directed 3D “Spiderman” reboot opposite Andrew Garfield.

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Monday movie stuff

Peter Jackson and friend* With “The Lovely Bones” starting to look like a disappointment — and that’s definitely true so far in terms of award nominations and reviews, Peter Jackson may be starting to look ahead to his other projects. Among them, via the Playlist, is WWI and the devastating Battle of Gallipoli. The 1915 battle was the subject of a terrific Peter Weir film from 1981 that starred the young Mel Gibson, but Jackson adds that it only covered a few days of the battle, so there’s plenty of story left to tell. Weir wants to get the film ready in time for 100-year anniversary of the bloody episode, which helped define the national identities of both New Zealand, Australia, and Turkey. If you’re counting, I guess that gives him four or five years to ready the film

* Speaking of upcoming projects involving Peter Jackson (and Steven Spielberg), it’s time to start boning up on your Tintin knowledge before 2011, and if you live in L.A. and have time to get over to West Hollywood’s Meltdown Comics over the next day or so, here’s one cool opportunity to do just that.

* It’s not just superhero and adventure comics that are becoming movies. Behold, a rom-com comics adaptation.

* A suddenly agent-less Shia LaBeouf has decided a manager and a lawyer is enough. Nikki Finke deems this a “SHOCKER!”

* Adrian Curry selects the decades greatest posters over at the Auteurs. Personally, I think poster making is a lost art. Things are usually way too literal these days, but Curry’s choices are strong.

* Would you want to face Alec Baldwin in a real-life court of law? How about prosecuting? “ABC…Always be convicting.” Still, it’s possible he might need a seasonal gig at some point to help him work his way through law school…

  

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Box office victory for “G.I. Joe”; “Julie and Julia” attracts many ladies of a certain age

Not a lot of big surprises at this weekend’s box office. “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” apparently did even better than some expected in the “flyover” or “heartland” areas (this is supposedly where “real Americans live,” which is nice to know as a coastal fictitious American). As per the trades, it made an estimated $56.2 million this weekend, several million better than $45-50 million number I repeated last time.

For those of us (me!) seeking a cloud in Paramount’s silver lining, Nikki Finke does offer that the studio actually predicted a round $60 million earlier and that the film’s $175 million budget is just a tad on the high side. (That’s a minimum of 17 smallish budget studio films that could have been made for the same price tag.)

Finke has some doubts that the movie will hit $300 million or be profitable all on its own, though merchandising here is obviously a possible financial bonanza for toy maker Hasbro. She also has some doubts about the foreign market in light of sentiment abroad opposed to U.S. militarism. It might be tempting to say then, that Barack Obama is the best friend Paramount has here, but Finke points out that “G.I. Joe” came in at #2 in Australia, once the third most enthusiastic member of “the coalition of the willing” under Bush-esque rightwinger John Howard. She also expects it to be blown out of the water by the apparently entirely non-brainless “District 9” next weekend. I never thought I’d say this, but from Nikki Finke’s mouth to God’s ears.

Meryl Streep and Stanley TucciMeanwhile, the culinographic “Julie and Julia” also performed pretty much precisely according to expectation and pulled in a satisfactorily satiating estimate of $20.1. According to a “rival exec” Finke quotes, the dual memoir dramedy had one of the oldest demographics he or she had ever seen, which I guess makes sense considering you have to be over a certain age to have watched Julia Child regularly on television. Finke also says the audience was almost exclusively female, despite the fact that we all like food that tastes good. In any case, those whose dating preferences includes middle-aged and older women now know their next film-going destination.

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And in other movieland news….

* MGM is looking more solvent than before, with the help of its significant library. La Finke toldja.

* Willem Dafoe has been cast as sympathetic Martian Tars Tarkas in Andrew Stanton’s upcoming “John Carter of Mars.” It’s been a very long time since I read the books, but the character description reminds me of his “Platoon” character, just a little.

* Where does an actor for whom the ladies swoon go in the masculinity department after playing the hirsuite badass Wolverine and the heroic Gable-esque lead in “Australia“? Well, if you’re movie star/Oscar host Hugh Jackman, you play an Avon cosmetics sales person. I had an aunt who did that; I got aftershave for my tenth birthday.

* After the news of Harry Potter’s big haul (see the post just below), we’ll be seeing more like this, I’m sure.

* Not coincidentally, the blogger-boy cause celebre del dia boils down to a Hogwartsian architectural design and a suspiciously Potter-esque font, and basic concept, in the trailer for something called “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.” My reaction: Chris Columbus is directing, so I’m not sure why anyone even cares. See for yourself…

  

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