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.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

You can follow us on Twitter @moviebuffs and on Facebook as well.

Related Posts

No surprises in tame weekend box office: “The Other Guys” hits #1

Just as was predicted by nearly everyone as the weekend began, Will Ferrell — with a little help from a few other A and A- listers and broad critical agreement that the movie is no classic but is, in fact, funny — is back on top of the nation’s box office with a very healthy estimated take of $35.6 million for “The Other Guys.” That number from Box Office Mojo is exactly .6 north of the higher end of what was predicted previously by most prognosticators. It’s also a healthy chunk of what Nikki Finke says was a $90 million budget for the very broad action-comedy directed by Ferrell cohort Adam McKay. Ferrell and company also seem to be doing a good job of holding on to their core audience of young males. Considering that Ferrell’s been on top for a while now, you might expect his audience to be aging with him but, as the song says about the young at heart, fairy tales can come true.

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg in Also, as Anthony d’Allesandro reminds us, Sony must be young at heart as well as they seem to having a consistently strong summer. Personally, I’d like to think there’s a bit of Louis B. Mayer mojo still lingering at the company’s Culver City grounds, which belonged to MGM until the mid-eighties. It is important to remember that Ferrell is, however, not a huge draw internationally, probably because a lot of his humor is verbal and plays off quirks of North American culture that might be obscure elsewhere. I mean, what is a Singaporean or Austrian to make of “Stay classy, San Diego!”?

#2 was, of course, “Inception,” which finally left the top spot in week 4 and dropped a modest 32.3% in its fifth weekend. The science fiction caper earned a tidy $18.6 million, which gets it to over $227.7 million so far, or thereabouts and, I’d say, well on its way to the $300 million mark. My skepticism that “Step Up 3D” could exceed earnings over the prior two films in the series was well earned. However, it did sufficiently well for Summit and Disney, hitting the better side of studio projections, Allesandro says, with an estimated $15.5 million. Apparently, given the mixed critical consensus cited, which is practically a rave for this kind of a tween-skiewing film, it doesn’t suck nearly as much as it could have, and that probably helps. Indeed, many of the critics are citing the dance numbers strongly enough to attract my curiosity. (I’m a sucker for a good dance number — emphasis on “good.”)

Moving down the charts,  Sony’s “Salt” continued to hold decently at an estimate of $11.1 million. Last weekend’s #2 picture, Paramount/Dreamworks’ “Dinner for Schmucks,” had a rather large drop of over 55% percent in it’s second weekend, dropping three places to the #5 spot. In a funny way, while few are arguing it’s particularly great, this film really seems to be dividing people over the question of whether it’s funny or unfunny, mean or nice. (David Medsker came down on the negative side, I came down on the positive — and I’m usually the tough-guy around here.)

Still, things are looking fairly rosy for Steve Carrel as he seamlessly transitions from television to movie star. His other hit comedy, albeit one only featuring his heavily accented voice, “Despicable Me,” is now at over $209 million and was very inexpensive by CG animation standards with only a $69 million budget. That must be music to the ears of the folks over at Universal, who really needed a hit.

Despicable Me

As for limited releases, there’s actually too much interesting stuff happening for me to go into. However, as one might have guessed, Joel Schumacher’s “12” did the worst business of anything. In the critic-driven world of the arthouse, Mr. Schumacher has the cards seriously stacked against and this one was getting some of the worst reviews of his career, which is saying something. As always, you can read a lot more about it and many vastly better received movies over at Indiewire. Also, I had to look hard to find out how “Middle Men” did. Suffice it to say that, while I had mixed feelings about the movie, I think it deserved better and the folks at Paramount have been awfully nice to us on this film, which shouldn’t make a difference in how I root, but I’m human and it kind of does. At least, it beat the crap out of “12.”

  

Related Posts

Weekend box office preview: “Inception” to meet its match in “The Other Guys”

Christopher Nolan’s science fiction thriller continues to hold audiences to the tune of over $200 million as it enters its fourth week.  It still will likely be no match for the projected $30-$35 million or maybe a bit more being bandied about by box office prognosticators like Ben Fritz and, more optimistically, jolly Carl DiOrio for the new buddy-cop cop parody/homage from Sony starring Will Ferrell, “The Other Guys.” Of course, having Ferrell in a movie is not an instant ticket to box office glory as the experience of “Land of the Lost” taught us not so long ago. “Inception” will nevertheless go to the #2 spot, it appears.

The Other Guys and friend

This time, Ferrell’s got what looks to be very strong support from the increasingly funny Mark Wahlberg not to mention supporting performances by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson as the supercops who would ordinarily be the leads in a buddy-cop flick. It’s even got very decent reviews, which are not a requirement for Ferrell to have a hit but they indicate the movie might be okay. That always helps, though there’s general agreement that the film from Sony is creatively not in anywhere near the ballpark of something like the similarly themed “Hot Fuzz.”

Aimed at a very different audience of young girls, the prospects are less promising for Disney’s “Step Up: 3D.” As the third film in a series that was actually declining, the conventional wisdom is that the only reason it was even made was to cash in on the three-dimensional craze. I’m thinking that craze has already peaked, at least for the present. Nevertheless, DiOrio says that its tracking indicates it might actually beat the $18.9 million opening of the prior entry. I’ll believe that when I see it, though admittedly there really isn’t a strong film for female tweens right now, so counterprogramming could be the film’s salvation. Though with “3D” actually in the title, I’d be worried if I was the executive who greenlit this one.

Luke Wilson and Friends in This week also sees two films opening in over two hundred theaters, making them larger than usual limited releases. As per Box Office Mojo, “Middle Men” from Paramount will be opening in 252 theaters, including the multiscreen drive-in theater about thirty miles east of L.A. where I’ll likely be attending an informal gathering at this weekend.  The movie is getting mixed reviews, which is about right in my view. It’s an attempt to make a Scorsese-style quality film about a major turning point both in the history of porn and e-commerce that fails simply because it tries to tell a miniseries story in the length of an ordinary 100 minute release. Still, it’s an interesting movie with a lot of good moments and some very good acting, including from star Luke Wilson. We’ve been covering it a lot at Bullz-Eye with interviews by me with co-stars Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht and there’s more to come here at Premium Hollywood.

Being released in 231 theaters is Joel Schumacher’s latest attempt at artistic respectability, “12.” Named after a fictitious designer drug, it’s getting predictably uniform bad reviews and is evoking mentions of Larry Clark’s infamous “Kids.”  On 45 screens is kind of the flip side of that, a sentimental comedy-drama of puppy love that sounds a little bit like a very wholesome “Let the Right One,” minus (obviously) the vampires, called “Flipped.” What’s weird here is not that its reviews so far aren’t so good, but that there are only four of them. Even at his best, Reiner was never a huge favorite of mine, though he sometimes chose great material. (No, “When Harry Met Sally” is not really great material in my view.). Still, only getting four reviews is just sad.

  

Related Posts

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.

98425802MB041_Paramount_Pic

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

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Related Posts

What kind of director is best for a comic book movie?

I was reading a profile of Jon Favreau in the May issue of Maxim — I know, I don’t have a subscription anymore, it just keeps showing up in my mailbox — and I ran across an interesting bit where the head of Marvel Studios discusses why he tabbed Favreau (whose biggest directing credit to that point was Elf) to lead the way on Iron Man:

For years Marvel had been making left-field directing choices, tabbing Evil Dead‘s Sam Raimi to do Spider-Man and The Usual Suspects‘ Bryan Singer to lead the X-Men franchise. But Favreau still seemed like an odd selection to head the studio’s first tent-pole picture for its new alliance with Paramount. “We have the technicians who know how to blow up the cars,” says Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios. “What you want in a director isn’t necessarily technical expertise. It’s taste, and it’s tone, and Elf is a triumph of taste and tone. There’s a reason everyone watches it every Christmas.”

This strikes me as a great way to approach that decision. At the time, it was a little strange that they’d hire Favreau to direct Iron Man, but funny is funny, and a sense of humor is typically what makes a comic book adaptation great. Of course they can find someone to blow things up — why does the director need to be an expert in demolition?

Then I thought about a couple of comic book adaptations that were critically panned, and Daredevil and Ghost Rider immediately sprung to mind. It turns out they were both directed by Mark Steven Johnson, whose first directing credit was Simon Birch (45% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes). (He also wrote Electra, by the way.)

Fantastic Four director Tim Story got the gig after finishing Barbershop and the Queen Latifah/Jimmy Fallon-vehicle Taxi. Joel Schumacher had a series of good dramatic credits (including St. Elmo’s Fire and Falling Down) before helming Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, though The Lost Boys did have a sense of humor, albeit eight years earlier.

On the flip side, Christopher Nolan got the keys to the Batman reboot after two good thrillers, Memento and Insomnia, while Guillermo del Toro got to direct the very funny Hellboy on the heels of Mimic and Blade 2.

The bottom line is that it’s probably better to hire someone who has proven that they can coax good performances and humor out of their actors on a smaller scale than hiring a director just because he knows how to blow stuff up.


Photo from fOTOGLIF

  

Related Posts