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 Pacific war in the movies, pt. 3

There’s absolutely no denying the reality of racism in the war between Japan and the United States. While the Japanese military dictatorship was in many respects almost as virulently race obsessed as their Nazi allies, it’s easier for an American viewer to see the fact that the U.S. was guilty of  race hatred of its own, starting with the imprisonment of thousands of innocent American citizens on the west coast who happened to be of Japanese ancestry,  many of them parents and grandparents of friends of mine. Meanwhile, Italian-Americans and German-Americans were accepted as the loyal citizens of this nation that nearly all of them were.

And so it took decades for Western filmmakers to begin to treat the Japanese side of the war with any complexity.  As we continue with a series of film clips inspired by HBO’s “The Pacific,” which premieres Sunday night, we have a brief but haunting and beautifully composed scene from John Boorman’s 1968 two character war film, “Hell in the Pacific.” The film stars Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune as two stranded soldiers who, in a plot that may remind science fiction buffs of the story and 1985 film “Enemy Mine,” are forced to work together in order to survive despite their enemy status.

Also, of course, no Western filmmaker that I know of explored the Japanese side of World War II with more depth or compassion than Clint Eastwood did in his bold, masterful “Letters from Iwo Jima” from 2006. Apparently, it took an icon of American toughness to illustrate the pain of some of the deadliest, most implacable, and bravest enemies this country ever faced.

  

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The Tiger’s Tail

Writer-director John Boorman (“Deliverance,” “Excalibur,” “Hope and Glory”) has never been afraid of taking chances, and that definitely continues in this witty, suspenseful, and flawed 2006 thriller-cum-family drama. “The Tiger’s Tail” reteams Boorman with his lead actor from 1998’s “The General,” Brendan Gleeson (“In Bruges,” “28 Days Later“). This time, Gleeson is a renowned Dublin real estate capitalist with a calm but frosty marriage to wife Kim Cattrall, a strained but affectionate relationship with his Marxist teenage son (Briain Gleeson, the character actor’s actual offspring), and a business on the edge of collapse. All of that, however, is just par for the course until an exact double turns-up and appears bent on the most extreme form of identity theft.

As you might expect, this is a tale full of twists and turns. Unfortunately, several of them are weirdly contrived (think “Trading Places” meets “Ordinary People” with a distasteful dash of “Straw Dogs”) and many moments are just plain overheated –- at times Boorman seems to want to bludgeon us with composer Stephen McKeon’s score. Still, “The Tiger’s Tail” is salvaged by plentiful tension, humor, heart, and some very good performances, not only from Gleeson in a showy dual role, but also from son Briain and an especially moving turn by veteran actress Sinead Cusack. Best of all is a conclusion that takes the film to a place very few thrillers go. In his mid-seventies, Boorman remains a big-hearted filmmaker and this is a messy but big-hearted film.

Click to buy “The Tiger’s Tail”

  

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Inglourious movie moment #4

When I was doing my series of “Inglourious Basterds“-inspired clips from movies set during World War II last weekend, I left out a favorite moment from one of the best films of the 1980s. From John Boorman’s child’s-eye-view of life during Hitler’s blitz on London, “Hope and Glory, ” we have a sequence you might call “Inglourious Little Basterds.” (Maybe not super safe for work because of imaginative use of children cursing, not to mention smoking, threatening each other with bullets, and breaking things up.)

I’ll be back tomorrow with a slightly delayed box office preview.

  

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Slipping off for the weekend

A few last minute items as the the inglourious weekend gets seriously underway.

* If the movie world had a “Friday news dump” the way they do in D.C., the news that Martin Scorsese’s Dennis Lehane adaptation, “Shutter Island,” has been moved from November of ’09 to February of ’10 might be so handled. No such luck for Paramount as Nikki Finke, Anne Thompson and Screenrant and pretty much every two-bit blogger on the ‘net, including me, has something to say. This is not the first promising film to be so switched. “The Wolf Man” was also shunted by Universal from the traditionally good-movie rich fall to the less auspicious late winter.

Finances are obviously at the root, but speculation is rife on how the move might have been influenced by the Academy’s recent switch to ten awards annually. In any case, I tend to buy at least two of Nikki Finke’s reasons — a simple delay to spread out the financial cost of marketing the film around during tough economic times (perhaps with the hope of a better 2010) and the fact that star Leonardo DiCaprio wouldn’t have been able to promote the film this autumn. Considering they had people already fairly worked about the film, it’s a definite sign of some fragility, I’d say.

* Will the Twitter effect make movies better? Is it even real? Michael Sragow has a decent, yet frustrating, article on the ongoing topic. (H/t Anne Thompson.)

* After making one deal to direct an extremely ill-advised possible “Battlestar Galatica” re-reboot, Bryan Singer has also signed on to do a remake of John Boorman’s King Arthur epic, “Excalibur.” I love John Boorman’s work in general and also tales of chivalry and swordplay, yet I kind of hate (or at least can’t sit through) the original film, which many love but I find unspeakably turgid. So, I guess I’m open-minded about what Singer will do with it. Can almost only be an improvement for me. Of course, neither of these films may ever actually happen. Bryan Singer’s next film is expected to be “Jack, the Giant Killer.”

An interesting note about the 1962 movie version of the fairy tale (one no one ever bothered to tell me…I always thought it was another name for “Jack and the Beanstalk”). Many musicals have had their songs removed to be released in non-musical versions over the years, this is one of the very few where a producer attempted to turn it into a musical after the fact.

* And because everyone else is giving it to you, I might as well also serve up the trailer for Michael Moore’s new “Capitalism: A Love Story.” It made me laugh but of Christopher Campbell, whose favorite words lately seem to be “dated” and “derivative” (but not “delightful” or “delovely”) and his crew of usual suspects mostly think it disappoints. Do these guys ever like anything? Campbell never seems to. In comments, JoblessInTampa has some choice words for the Eastern film geek elites on the issue of being out-of-step.

  

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