A roundtable chat with screenwriter Lewis John Carlino of “The Mechanic,” (2011 and 1971)

If there’s a picture of Lewis John Carlino anywhere on the Internet, I haven’t been able to find it. Does it matter?

Unlike other notables, writers are still allowed to be a little mysterious. Indeed, other than the fact that he wrote several widely acclaimed movies, an episode of the legendary television series “Route 66,” some plays, and directed a few movies, very little information is available online about Lewis John Carlino.

The Great SantiniCarlino is probably best known as the director and writer of 1979’s “The Great Santini,” a beloved sleeper about a military family based on a novel by Pat Conroy and featuring one of Robert Duvall’s greatest and most bombastic performances. “Santini” is, however, one of the more conventional films in the Carlino cannon.

In 1966, he adapted a novel by David Ely into John Frankenheimer’s famously eccentric paranoid science-fiction thriller starring Rock Hudson, “Seconds.” Less well remembered are his non-“Santini” directorial efforts. “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea,” a bizarre and intense 1976 drama based on a book by Yukio Mishima, and “Class,” a 1983 comedy in which Jacqueline Bisset has an affair with brat-packer Andrew McCarthy, the best friend of her son (Rob Lowe). In between, Carlino also wrote the acclaimed fantasy drama, “Resurrection” starring Ellen Burstyn. After 1983, Carlino stopped directing movies entirely and his credited writing work declined dramatically.

Now a soft-spoken seventy-something intellectual, Carlino met with a group of writers to discuss a remake of one of his best known films, “The Mechanic.” The 1971 original starred Charles Bronson as a troubled but ultra-stoic hit-man who tries to end his isolation by taking on a protegee (Jan-Michael Vincent), even though his last hit was on the young man’s father (Keenan Wynn). Despite its action film trappings — including a nicely accomplished quarter-hour dialogue-free opening set-piece — it’s an often chilling look at men who have embraced death and cruelty. Bronson’s character does have a “code,” but it’s not a moral one. His aim is to embody an amoral version of existentialism that might be familiar to readers of Albert Camus’s “The Stranger.”

The new version, which stars Jason Statham and Ben Foster as the cool-blooded killer and his more hot-headed mentee, keeps enough of the original story and dialogue that Carlino is a credited screenwriter on the film. This time, around, however, Statham’s character is less vicious and the movie hits a number of more familiar action-flick beats. Viewers looking for traces of Camus will have to go elsewhere.

THE MECHANIC

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A roundtable chat with producers Irwin and David Winkler of “The Mechanic”

Irwin and David WinklerHealthy father and son relationships are certainly more the exception than the rule at the movies. Even so, the murderous biological and surrogate father and son pairings in the original film “The Mechanic” and its action-packed update with Jason Statham and Ben Foster, are unusually problematic. It’s a tale, after all, about a junior hit-man learning from an older paid killer who has, in turn, killed the younger killer’s dad.

That, of course has pretty much nothing to do with two of the new version’s real-life father and son producers, Irwin and David Winkler. For the remake of the 1971 actioner, the pair have teamed up with another parent-and-offspring team, Irwin Winkler’s long-time producing partner, Bill Chartoff and his son, Robert. (For the record, there are a total of ten producers and five executive producers credited on the film.) Both individually and with Bill Chartoff, the elder Winkler has been involved with a remarkable number of good movies and a few genuine classics, starting with Sydney Pollack’s pitch-black Oscar winner, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” and also including two of Martin Scorsese‘s signature works, “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas.” Winkler and Chartoff also, of course, produced “The Mechanic,” the first time around when it was as much of a chilling look at sociopathy as it was an action flick.

Like any great producer, Irwin Winkler has had his share of interesting financial failures.  There was the ultra-culty early John Boorman film, “Leo the Last” and Martin Scorsese’s big budget 1977 disappointment “New York, New York.” Fortunately, there was also the occasional modest but high quality success like Bertrand Tavernier’s great 1986 love letter to jazz and jazz fandom, “‘Round Midnight.” He and Bill Chartoff were also key players in one of the most enduring franchises in film history, the one that started with a low-budget boxing drama called “Rocky.” Since 1991’s “Guilty by Suspicion,” Winkler has also occasionally directed. His most recent films include the musical Cole Porter biopic, “De-Lovely,” and the Iraq war drama “Home of the Brave,” which received a speedy burial.

For his part, son David Winkler has worked on a number of television movies as well as with his father on 2006’s “Rocky Balboa.” He also directed the 1998 drama, “Finding Graceland” starring Harvey Keitel.

I was personally anxious to talk to Winklers during a recent L.A. press junket for “The Mechanic” because of an oddball “only in L.A.” family anecdote. I was nevertheless beaten to the punch by an Italian reporter with a rather distinctive interviewing style who tended to dominate the discussion.

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Weekend box office: “The Green Hornet” packs some financial punch; “The Dilemma” is problematic

Seth Rogen really is Yes, the Golden Globes are tonight, and I’m sure you’re all devastated to hear that I’ve had to can any thoughts of live blogging it tonight — I’ll barely have time to watch it much of it, and then with a heavy hand on fast-forward button.  On the other hand, Anne Thompson will be blogging and tweeting away, she promises. Also, the box office beat goes on and this week the masses voted with their wallets for the over-serious fanboy’s bane, “The Green Hornet.”

Apparently, while the character from an old-time radio show and short-lived television series is really not all that well known, something about the idea of spoiled rich brat Seth Rogen and his vastly more disciplined and smart employee/buddy kicking the bad guys’ butts in comical fashion appealed to the masses. Ironically doing much better than films that have been pre-praised by geeks that we can all name, “The Green Hornet” has earned an estimated $34 million for Sony according to Box Office Mojo.

Nikki Finke writes that that makes it one of the stronger January openings for any movie. On the other hand, because that’s who she is, she also reminds us that the film still performed softly in comparison to some of the higher figures that were being touted on Thursday night. Still, the long Martin Luther King day weekend has one more day and night on it, so there’s more green ahead for the Hornet, perhaps $40 million, La Finke estimates.

Vince Vaughn and Kevin James are on the horns of Despite a “high concept,” big stars, and a director whose name might actually mean something to what remains of America’s Mayberrys, “The Dilemma” only managed a squishy second place showing of an estimated $17.4 milllion this weekend for unlucky Universal. That is significantly lower than post opening weekends for movies starring Vince Vaughn or Kevin James.

There was something about this movie that people just didn’t want to see all that much and I kind of get that. The fact that critics at least were finding the movie surprisingly dramatic, could not have helped. As far as I can think, audiences never seem to respond well to a bait and switch even when the movie is actually good. On the other hand, “The Dilemma” cost maybe 50 percent of what “The Green Hornet” did — but was still expensive for a comedy at $70 million.

In the #3 spot, “True Grit” is holding up nicely and has passed the $125 million mark this weekend with an estimated $11.2 million for Paramount. #4 is an interesting semi-surprise: Weinstein’s “The King’s Speech” doubled the number of theaters it was in this weekend and made something like $9 million and change, just ahead of this year’s other big art house crossover, “Black Swan,” which grossed an estimated $8.1 million for Fox Searchlight.

Meanwhile, among limited releases my attendance at the junket for Sony Classic’s “Barney’s Version” seems to have awarded the film the previously non-existent Bob Westal bump, even if my review was mixed. It earned the nation’s highest per-screen average with a very respectable $17,925 in four theaters in L.A. and New York, for a total of $71,700.

Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman in

  

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Box office preview: Will “The Green Hornet” sting? Will anyone want to solve “The Dilemma”?

Time is at a total premium tonight, so I’ll be keeping the bad puns and what not brief.

There’s some disagreement about whether it’ll make an amount in the $30 millions or $40 millions at my usual sources. However, I don’t think there’s any way around the likelihood that this will be the weekend in which Seth Rogen, co-writer Evan Goldberg, and director Michel Gondry’s take on “The Green Hornet” will dominate things.

Seth Green and Jay Chou lose their cool in

If only because the trollish fanboys who pre-decided to hate this movie irritate me no end, I’ve been rooting for this action comedy approach to the masked hero of old-time radio and a short-lived sixties TV program, remembered today mainly for the presence of Bruce Lee. In fact, there’s been some positive buzz on it lately and our own Jason Zingale mostly likes it. Overall, however, the overall critical reaction is disappointing, with top critics being significantly harsher. Even the usually rather gentle Roger Ebert calls it “almost unendurable” and gives it the one-star rating qualifying it for his next edition of Your Movie Sucks.

Still, I’ll probably check this one out eventually, if only to see new-Kato Jay Chou, who I really think might be a very big U.S. star in the making (he’s already huge in Asia), do his stuff. I’ll probably avoid the extra price tag for an extra dimension, however. The 3D on this is getting a negative reaction from at least some. It’ll be interesting to see whether audiences who’ve been stung by sub-par 3D before steer more towards the 2D “Hornet.”

Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder think about their odds in With Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly, and Winona Ryder starring and Ron Howard directing and a easily understandable premise, you might expect big things from a comedy like “The Dilemma.” However, the box office gurus tell us that not a gigantic people will actually go to see it this weekend. The critics mostly tell us they shouldn’t.

Maybe see one of those potential Oscar nominees you’ve missed so far this weekend. Perhaps “Black Swan,” which is still expanding several weeks into it’s run and expected to continue its strong run. That’s what I’ll do if I can find the time. If you’ve seen all of those and live in New York or L.A., there’s “Barney’s Version” featuring a great lead performance by Paul Giamatti and an outstanding supporting cast and getting mostly good reviews, if only for the great acting. Of course, I didn’t think even the cast made up for the drab second half of the film. Still, you could easily do worse in this or any January.

  

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Directors Guild and Visual Effects Society Nominations

Historically, the Directors Guild nominations, and even the actual awards, have tended to correlate with the Oscars both for Best Picture and Best Director to some degree. Now that the Oscars have ten nominations, that might dilute things a bit. Even so, I think it’s fair to say that the this year’s five nominees have excellent shots at getting a Best Director nomination and are close to a lock for Best Picture nominations.

cecil_b_demille

The nominees are: Darren Aronofsky for “Black Swan,” David Fincher for “The Social Network,” Tom Hooper for “The King’s Speech,” Christopher Nolan for “Inception,” and David O. Russell for “The Fighter.” Among the directors excluded who made films a lot of people are pulling for are two women: Lisa Cholodenko of “The Kids Are All Right” and Debra Ganik of “Winter’s Bone.” As Anne Thompson points out, the Guild has been slightly more open to nominating women than the Academy in the past. On the other hand, after last year’s big win for Kathryn Bigelow, it’s possible some of the pressure is off, or not.

Though it’s not as earth shaking, we movie fans like our movie special effects and the Visual Effects Society has made their nominations. No big surprises here either as the nominees for the movie with best effects are “Inception,” “Iron Man 2 ,” “Tron: Legacy,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.” I think it’s fair to say that visually stunning “Inception” should have the lead here, but we’ll see. In animation the nominees are: “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Toy Story 3,” “Tangled,” “Shrek Forever After,” and “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.”

The complete lists of award nominations, including a huge list from the VSA, are after the jump.

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