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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Easy Virtue

Easy Virtue

Today we associate multi-talented playwright Noël Coward with witty repartee, a forgiving view of sexual peccadilloes, twenties pop standards by Cole Porter and Coward himself, and the heavy use of cocktails. The play, “Easy Virtue,” about a country household thrown into chaos when the family’s only son impetuously marries an American woman with a shadowy past, however, was a melodrama and the 1928 silent film version was directed by the none other than a young Alfred Hitchcock. 81 years later, Australian director Stephen Elliott (“The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) and co-writer Sheridan Jobbins have taken a very different tack, modified the plot, and turned the drama into a mostly comedic confection filled with witty repartee, a forgiving view of sexual peccadilloes, the music of Coward, Porter and, er, Tom Jones and Billy Ocean, and the heavy use of champagne and wine — but hardly any martinis.

Elliott does a good enough job finding the material’s comedic possibilities, but his style doesn’t quite fit and he gets into trouble when he indulges in some annoying Baz Luhrmann-esque musical/stylistic flourishes. Still, the main problem here is that, while Colin Firth as the family’s alienated patriarch and Kristin Scott Thomas as the repressed mother do first rate work, and Ben Barnes (a.k.a. “Prince Caspian”) is able as the young husband, Jessica Biel, in the crucial role of the extremely non-ugly American, barely registers. Her colorless performance tips the film over the edge of being an enjoyable diversion and into mediocrity.

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