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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A movie moment for Leo the Lion

As preparations continue for the impending sale of MGM, it’s an ironic state of affairs that what actually interests purchasers are not films from Louis B. Mayer’s iconic studio, the best known of which have all been sold off, but from the company’s later purchase of United Artists. Even more ironically, that was a studio originally founded by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith in order to be free of people like Louis B. Mayer, but which later found success with two highly profitable continuing characters, Inspector Clouseau of “The Pink Panther,” and James Bond.

In any case, now seems as good a time to gaze on the many faces of probably the best known of all studio logos.

That last Leo looks a bit short of mane and girly to me, but by 1957, MGM really wasn’t quite the same.

  

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Friday film news dump

mgm-logo

Howdy folks, I’ve been a bit distracted by a couple of big pieces I did earlier, but the movie world moves on and, in the tradition of the White House emitting unpleasant stories late on Fridays to avoid too much notice, we have a couple of new bummer items and some more typical stuff from before that I missed.

* Nikki Finke is breaking the news of some possibly very serious fiscal problems at MGM, though I have to admit that these sorts of details are about as clear as mud to this innumerate fiscal ignoramus. In any case, the once-dominant studio has long been a shadow of its former self and isn’t even really a studio anymore (though it owns UA, and boy is that a complicated story for a tired guy to follow/remember right now). It sold off its historic lot in 2004 — where I actually spent a few hours on Tuesday, as it happens — to Sony, which is a change I’ve yet to get used to. Still, they have their fingers in a few pies. As Finke reports, if the not-studio really does go bankrupt, it could affect both the upcoming adaptations of “The Hobbit” and the ever-present James Bond series through its ownership of the also much-smaller-than-it-used-to-be United Artists.

* In news that is worse because it’s certain, the popular Cinevegas Film Festival is taking a break next year and, it sounds like, the year after that and who knows for how long if the overall economy doesn’t pick up. Of course, Las Vegas is probably one of the most shell-shocked places in the U.S. by the real estate bubble and general over-development. During the boom times, I would go to Vegas, look at all the ultra-high end restaurants, spas, and especially the stores and wonder when they’d run out of rich people.

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“…What closes on Saturday night.”

I couldn’t help remembering George Kaufman’s famous definition of satire when reading Noah Forrest‘s post on the acclaimed political comedy, “In the Loop,” which opened last Friday in limited release. I’m a fan of all kinds of satire, but with the exception of “Dr. Strangelove,” “Network,” and a Robert Altman movie here and there, it’s rarely been a commercial success — though from the sound of it, I’m certainly hoping Armando Iannucci’s new film has decent luck.

Here’s a TV commercial for one movie that had almost no luck, Norman Lear’s “Cold Turkey.”

According to Wikipedia, the film was shelved for years by United Artists due to commercial worries. On the other hand, the film’s writer/producer/director wasn’t exactly intimidated and made a TV show that that touched a far hotter button than the cigarette industry. That did a little better, and lasted many Saturday nights.

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