RIP Dino De Laurentiis

Another link to cinema’s past has left us with the passing of the legendary Italian and eventually American producer at age 91. A truly old school style movie mogul with all the good and bad that went with that, creatively speaking, Dino De Laurentiis was instrumental in launching the worldwide vogue for European cinema, particularly in his partnership with fellow powerhouse producer Carlo Ponti and ultimate Italian auteur Federico Fellini.

During a period I personally consider Fellini’s creative prime, De Laurentiis co-produced two of the director’s most powerful films, the classic tearjerker “La Strada” with Anthony Quinn and the great Giulietta Masina, and “Nights of Cabiria” also with Masina, a great tragicomedy and a huge personal favorite of mine. He also produced two now somewhat obscure adaptations, a version of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” with Audrey Hepburn and “Ulysses.” Fortunately, the latter was not an adaptation of the James Joyce stream-of-consciousness meganovel, but Homer’s “The Odyssey,” and starred Kirk Douglas in the heroic title role.

No snob, De Laurentiis had a gift for commingling arthouse fare, quality middlebrow entertainment, and complete schlock — some of it fun, some it merely schlocky. Geeks cried foul when he eschewed stop-motion for an unworkable animatronic monstrosity and, mostly, Rick Baker in a monkey suit for his silly mega-blockbuster remake attempt, “King Kong,” but that movie was a classic when compared to something like the hugely regrettable killer-whale flick “Orca.”

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A roundtable chat with Luke Wilson of “Middle Men”

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It’s been nearly 15 years since producer James L. Brooks bankrolled a feature version of a short film made by some Texas youngsters, and that movie (“Bottle Rocket”) introduced the movie world to director Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson, and his brother, Luke. Since then, Dallas-born Luke Wilson’s movie-star handsome likeness has become a highly familiar to filmgoers, playing both leading men and supporting roles mostly in comedies like “Legally Blonde,” “Old School,” and Mike Judge’s criminally maltreated “Idiocracy,” as well as “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and a classic cameo in “Anchorman.” (He was the anchor who — spoiler alert — got his arm was sliced off with a sword by Tim Robbins.)

To this day, Wilson has a habit of turning up in odd and interesting places, like a series of well-known commercials for AT&T or in the uneven but entertaining “Middle Men,” in which Wilson very credibly stars as a Texas businessman who gets much more than he expected at the intersection of e-commerce and adult entertainment. He is also preparing to play the part of Laura Dern’s flaky ex-husband on “Enlightened,” a new TV series from cult writer-producer Mike White (“Chuck and Buck,” “School of Rock“) with episodes directed by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme.

At the risk of creating an embarrassing but perhaps partially correct impression of a man-crush, in person Luke Wilson is a highly charismatic guy. Behind his highly colloquial speech — I’ve left out a lot of “likes” — is an intelligence that, without giving away much of anything, dispenses with a lot of the usual show business interview platitudes. Now in his late 30s, he also appeared thinner than his slightly chunky appearance on “Middle Man” or his recent AT&T commercials. That was because Wilson had deliberately gone over his normal weight by about 25 pounds for the role of a hard-driving businessman and family guy.

What was that like?

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Loose ends

Carlito's Way -- Al Pacino and Sean Penn

I haven’t been paying quite as much attention to the cinephile end of the movie blogosphere as I should lately, so we’ll start there.

*  It’s never too late to check out the Brian DePalma blogathon that wrapped up yesterday at Tony Dayoub’s Cinema Viewfinder.  I’m actually not a member of the DePalma cult that includes everyone from the late uber-critic Pauline Kael to Quentin Tarantino and probably 70% of the male cinephile population. I dig a few of his movies a great deal and the oddball horror/suspense musical satire, “Phantom of the Paradise” has a special place in my heart. On the other hand, I have serious problems with even some of his most well-regarded films including, or perhaps especially, especially “Blow-Out.” There’s a cheapness to his films and tendency to wallow in despair that I can’t support.

Of course, that’s just me and Dayoub wrapped up yesterday in grand style with a fairly personal piece about “Scarface” (vastly overrated by many; I’ll take the Howard Hawks “Scarface” over it any day) and “Carlito’s Way” (which I think is underrated and overall just a solidly good movie). Anyhow, stroll around the site and you’ll see pieces by some of the true superstars of cinephilia.

* Speaking of great film lovers, you won’t find detailed appreciations of DePalma coming from The Self-Styled Siren — nor of Michael Mann or Sam Peckinpah.  Her bailiwick is classic era films (ending roughly around 1965) with an eye towards melodrama and comedy. Though her identity remains a secret, her fans are legion and definitely includes your humble host.

Her latest post is an attention grabber: “Ten Melos the Siren Would Watch Instead of Mad Men” which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a fascinating list that males who want to expand their minds beyond the usual guy movie obsessions should definitely contemplate. And, yes, there’s a vigorous debate over “Mad Men” in comments, as well as an unsolicited cocktail recipe from me. If you’ve been looking for the inevitable backlash over the acclaimed series, which I personally love as much as anyone, there’ll be no more enjoyable place to find it.

Some news after the flip….

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Will “Transformers” make “Dinosaurs” of us all?

With the ongoing box office behemoth that is “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” seemingly devouring everything in its path, the studios are nevertheless allowing two potentially vulnerable major productions to venture out of the nest a couple of days ahead of the big July 4th holiday weekend.

For the family trade, we have a 3-D CGI animated sequel, “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” which will be showing on a record number of 3-D screens. (Which I guess means that if you haven’t seen “Up” in 3-D by now, which I finally managed just last night, you may be SOL until at least such time as we start seeing 3-D retrospectives.) In a saner world, this would be the #1 movie this week because of family appeal, I think it’s safe to say. Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter is calling it at between $45 and $50 million for Friday through Sunday (not counting weekdays), which he thinks will be somewhat below the “Transformers” take based on a very modest 50% drop-off.

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“Public Enemy” awaits a verdict; other stuff happens

* There seems to be some concern out in the world about just how well Michael Mann’s new Johnny Depp/Christian Bale vehicle, “Public Enemies,” will fare when it’s released on Wednesday. Mixed reviews, like the one posted today by Den of Geek’s Michael Leader seem fairly typical and it’s possible audiences will feel mehish on the project. (The Tomatometer is currently at a fair-to-middling 64%, but even some of the “fresh” reviews don’t read as outright positive.) Anne Thompson specifically wonders about just how Depp’s huge star power will register and Mann’s decision to shoot a period film in digital, though it’s not the first period action film to be shot that way (“The Last Samurai” comes to mind). Those still reasonably jazzed about the nouveau-gangster flick (and that includes me, even though I’m not a super big Michael Mann fan), may want to check out our “Between Good and Evil” feature over at Bullz-Eye.

* Speaking of Anne Thompson, she has a festival wrap-up posted (looks like we saw a pretty different selection of films). I’ll be writing about it one-more time tomorrow.

* Nikki Finke has the “actuals” in from “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” It’s $390 million worldwide. I guess that’s enough. She’s also upset over some impending Oscar changes, including a rule that might limit the number of “Best Song” entries and having a separate, non-televised dinner for the humanitarian awards like the Thalberg, which I’ll personally miss, because I’m weird.

  

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