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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Sundance movie moment #2

Earlier this week, Michael Winterbottom’s film version of Jim Thompson’s pulp classic, “The Killer Inside Me,” provoked an angry reaction from some in the audience during the post screening Q&A. At issue: scenes of intense violence by the sociopathic antihero of the film (Casey Affleck) against some of the female characters, including one reportedly disturbingly grisly scene featuring Jessica Alba. Today, Nikki Finke is reporting its purchase by IFC Films.

Say “Sundance movie,” and most film fans tend to think of either social issue dramas and documentaries, or low-key tales of everyday life; when I was there, one writer I talked to said he was having a hard time finding synonyms for “unlikely friendship.” Still, this is not the first time a film to premiere at Sundance caused a ruckus for its violence. In 1992, a highly touted film from a previously unknown filmmaker featured a scene that was said to cause walk-outs at every screening. According to Wikipedia, later festival walk-outs included make-up effects wizard Rick Baker and, most ironically of all, horror director Wes Craven (the original “Last House on the Left” and “The Hills Have Eyes”). Of course, in our post-“torture porn” world, the “Reservoir Dogs” torture scene seems pretty restrained today. It’s still brilliant and not easy to watch — in a good way.

I was actually going to embed the scene here, but I realized at the last minute that every version is “embedding disabled by request” for whatever reason. And so, below is the film’s famed NSFW (for language) opening sequence. You can, however, see the infamous “ear scene” here.

  

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