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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The Lucky Ones

Neil Burger’s “The Illusionist” was one of the most underrated films of 2006, so it’s a bit disheartening to see his latest movie, the post-9/11 war drama “The Lucky Ones,” suffer a similar fate. Though it’s not nearly as good as his previous effort, the film is still better than a majority of the movies just like it, mostly thanks to its talented cast. Tim Robbins, Michael Peña and Rachel McAdams star as three U.S. Army soldiers who have just returned to the country after their latest tour in Iraq. When a blackout grounds all the flights out of New York, however, the trio decides to rent a car and make the cross-country trip back home together, despite having just met hours before. What follows is a journey of self-discovery, as they must all come to terms with the way the war has changed their lives. Unfortunately, the average moviegoer got so burned out with post-9/11 fatigue that “The Lucky Ones” never got a proper theatrical release. It only seems fitting, because “Grace Is Gone,” the movie it’s most like, received the exact same treatment. Still, if pro-solider embarrassments like “Home of the Brave” and “Stop-Loss” can find an audience, then surely “The Lucky Ones” deserves one too.

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