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I’m not sure why LOGAN LUCKY failed to launch this weekend. Bob Lefsetz has some ideas. But Tracy and I saw it Friday night and loved it. Funny, sweet, and cynical. What’s not love?

It’s possible that in this politically charged atmosphere the trailer for LOGAN LUCKY came off as a Rorschach test for both Trump Supporters and Trump Opposers — and it signaled to each group that this was the antithesis of what they wanted to see. Unfortunate, because in reality this is just a couple of hours of solid, popcorn movie magic with nary a politically reference.

A few years ago I was pitching a “Redneck Ocean’s 11” around Hollywood. It never failed to get a laugh and attracted some good talent for a while. But then we lost our key element and enthusiasm waned. I would love to have gotten that movie made but lucky for us Steven Soderbergh saw fit to make his own Redneck heist picture.

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Much will be said in the coming days about Martin Landau’s talent and career. It will all be deserved. He was a remarkable actor. Whether you consider actor an art or a craft, he was a master. And he was passionate about it until the end. If you haven’t heard his interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast earlier this year, find it now. It’s incredible.

When I started pulling at the thread of what my favorite performance of his might be, the thought was torn open and a dozen titles spilled out before I knew it. His Lugosi in ED WOOD will be talked about — and it should be. Amazing. I never tire of it. CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS — one of the great performances of all time in what is probably in the Top 5 of Woody Allen’s movies. He smolders and menaces in NORTH BY NORTHWEST — leaving little doubt that his character is both loyal to and in love with his boss, Mr. Vandamm.

I love those and a baker’s dozen more that I could rattle off here. But there are a couple of performances a little off the beaten path that I’ll always remember fondly. His work on TV (Mission Impossible, Space 1999) never felt like he was slumming. He became whatever part he played. I loved his turn as twin brothers — both villains — in an episode of Columbo. And I still get a little emotional thinking about what he brought to TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM. It was another well deserved nominated performance.

 

Here’s The Hollywood Reporter’s announcement that Mr. Landau has died.

“…the transition between old and new is never elegant or seamless.” – from the Introduction to Pictures At A Revolution

The Academy Awards are often controversial — either legitimately or artificially. And since they’ve been around so long they tend to have an identity crisis every twenty years or so. Or, maybe more accurately, every couple of decades the Oscars reflect a generation gap and/or an identity crisis within the movie industry. Witness The 1967 Academy Awards. Held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on April 8, 1968 the 1967 Best Picture Nominees included a mix of movies that hardly seemed like a matched set.

Half of the nominees seemed to be sneering at the other half: The father-knows-best values of GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER were wittily trashed by THE GRADUATE; the hands-joined-in-brotherhood hopes expressed by IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT had little in common with the middle finger of insurrection extended by BONNIE AND CLYDE. (from Pictures At A Revolution)

Mark Harris’s wonderfully engaging book, Pictures At A Revolution, takes the five films nominated that year (BONNIE AND CLYDE, DOCTOR DOLITTLE, THE GRADUATE, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT ) and weaves together the stories of how those films came to be and with how they ended up reflecting the conflicted state of Hollywood’s body politic at the end of the 1960s. Harris is a seasoned writer with a strong commitment to research. He’s also not afraid to share a point of view. If you’re an Oscar buff this is a great book to dive into. If you’re a student of the American 1960s, Pictures At A Revolution, is also a great glimpse of that era through the lens of the USA’s biggest cultural export.

 
Pictures At A Revolution by Mark Harris | 2008 | The Penguin Press

THE MALTESE FALCON is my favorite movie of all time. My Dad introduced it to me when it aired on some local TV Friday Night Late Movie long ago. My memory tells me I was 13 or 14 years old. The banter, the intrigue, the humor, the drama of greed and desperation – it gripped me and never let me go. I’ve seen it many times on broadcast television, cable, VHS, DVD and Blu-ray over the last 35+ years. Last night I finally saw it – a pristine print – on the big screen. Thank you TCM Classics, Fathom Events and my favorite theater on the planet, Regal 12 (Little Rock). I wrote a short piece about the film here. May try to catch it again in L. A. on Wednesday. Check out an encore performance if you missed it yesterday.

the comedians cover_1I’ve been diving into Kliph Nesteroff’s “The Comedians” every night for the last few days – it’s fantastic! If you’re a fan of comedy and/or showbiz history it is, as Joel Hodgman says, “essential!”

Tracy and I finally got into a showing of DEADPOOL – still the #1 movie in the land. The mega-meta superhero is as outrageous, shocking, dirty, and funny as billed. Jeffrey Wells is taking the contrarian view on the movie’s charms. Fox made a bet on smirk and smut and won big. I wonder though if there really is a franchise here once the bracing shock of the thing wears off. How will a second DEADPOOL movie feel fresh? We’ll just have to wait and see because there’s one coming whether it works or not.

Can’t wait to see BECOMING MIKE NICHOLS on HBO tonight. Kim Masters spoke with director Douglas McGrath about the documentary on KCRW’s The Business. It’s worth a listen.

I’ll be in L A the rest of this week. It’s Oscar week – which adds a level of crazy/fun to an already crazy/fun town. I’ll post something about it here for CineFriday.

In the 1970s Steve Martin dated Mitzi Trumbo, Dalton Trumbo’s daughter. In his memoir, Martin recounts observing Dalton Trumbo’s exercise regimen in those days. Mr. Trumbo would walk laps around the perimeter of the swimming pool in his backyard. Every time he passed the diving board he marked the lap with the click of a counter in his hand. In his other hand Trumbo carried a cigarette, which he puffed on intermittently during his workout.

It’s hard to believe that elected officials in Washington considered the eccentric, contradictory, and talented Trumbo such a danger to Truth, Justice, and the American Way. But then again we should never be shocked at what elected officials believe, say, or try to put over on “we the people.”

116029580_origTrumbo was one of the infamous Hollywood Ten. The infamy was not the Ten’s, it belonged mostly to the members of the House Un-American Activities Committee and their associates. You can dive into two films (both with same title) that tell Trumbo’s story in vivid detail. One is the outstanding (and personal favorite) documentary from 2007. The other is this year’s Oscar nominated narrative feature starring Bryan Cranston as Trumbo and a stellar supporting cast.

Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party? That was the refrain heard over and over in the chambers at the U.S. Capitol as American citizens were questioned about their interest and involvement with Communism.

Frank Rose’s landmark book, The Agency (1985, Harper Business) devotes significant space to the villains, victims and heroes in the whole sordid affair. I’d never realized until I read Rose’s book how HUAC effectively ended Edward G. Robinson’s career. I can’t recommend Rose’s book highly enough. (It’s a comprehensive history of Hollywood through the lens of the William Morris Agency.) For an up to date, in depth – and highly entertaining – audio examination of the Hollywood Red Scare era, check out the current season of Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This (Podcast).

And hooray for the Coen Brothers’ comedic portrait of the era in HAIL, CAESAR! It manages to be cheeky and sobering at the same time. The movie captures the paranoia, inhibitions and hypocrisy. At the same time there’s a genuine sense of the shifting ground under the characters’ feet. (I had a few things to say about the film in last Sunday’s Notebook.) The great joke in HAIL, CAESAR! — well, I won’t say it here in case you’re going to see the film soon.

For more on the subject of Hollywood and The Red Scare check out:

Films:

Hail, Caesar! (2016) A comedy from the Coen Brothers in theaters now

TRUMBO (2015, 124 mins, R) A narrative feature starring Bryan Cranston, on DVD & Bluray 2/16/16

TRUMBO (2007, 96 mins, PG-13) – Documentary

Books:

The Agency (1985, HarperCollins) by Frank Rose

Podcast:

You Must Remember This (Podcast) – Current season is all about HUAC & Hollywood

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Fred Thompson, Harry Thomason, and Tim Jackson, on the set of THE LAST RIDE (Little Rock, AR 2010)

 

I remember walking back to the make-up trailer with Fred Thompson shortly after one of the A.D.s announced to the crew, “Ladies and Gentlemen, that’s a wrap for Mr. Fred Thompson.”

The crew applauded – as is customary – for the actor who was now officially done with his work on the film. But there was a little extra warmth in the applause. Thompson was a great presence on set and he’d done a remarkable job that day.

Moments later as we reached the make-up trailer, someone standing in a gaggle of onlookers shouted out: “We wish you were our President!”

Thompson stopped, smiled, and without missing a beat, shouted back, “I wouldn’t be havin’ near as much fun!”

These are the things I remember, the way I remember them, about Fred Thompson and his work on THE LAST RIDE. And these are some of the reasons, besides just loving his work over the years, that I’ll always remember him fondly.

Hal Holbrook was originally set to play the role that Fred Thompson eventually signed on for in THE LAST RIDE. Holbrook, a longtime friend and collaborator of our director, Harry Thomason, would have been great. He’s always great. But it was clear as we neared production that Holbrook’s wife, the very talented, beautiful Dixie Carter, would need Mr. Holbrook’s full attention. Ms. Carter had been recently diagnosed with cancer. She died a few weeks after we wrapped production.

Harry Thomason and the producers held out hope that somehow Holbrook would be able to do the film but Harry wanted a back up just in case. The back up turned out to be another first round pick. Harry put in a call to Fred Thompson and explained the situation. Fred said he understood and assured Harry that he could rest easy – if needed, we could count on Fred to show up.

If Harry Thomason calling Fred Thompson doesn’t strike you as remarkable, then a little history lesson is in order. Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason are FOBs from way back. FOB stands for Friends of Bill (Clinton). The Thomasons were early supporters of Clinton’s run for the presidency and they were responsible for helping him make key connections in Hollywood, long before it appeared he had a chance at winning. They continued to work tirelessly alongside Clinton through the campaign, election, transition, inauguration, and into his terms as Commander in Chief.

Fred Thompson was a young Republican lawyer during the Watergate hearings. He went on to have a lucrative law career that morphed into a successful acting career, which he parlayed into a successful run for the U.S. Senate. Thompson was a sitting U.S. Senator on the committee that held impeachment hearings over the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal. Thompson agonized over the impeachment and ultimately voted against a charge of perjury and for a charge of obstruction of justice. A few years later Thompson made a run at the Republican nomination but ran out of gas early on. Quite a backstory for that fateful call from Harry to Fred in late 2009.

A couple of months before we started production on THE LAST RIDE, Harry came to Little Rock and we spent a few days scouting locations with Producer Benjy Gaither and Director of Photography, Jim Roberson. Harry had already secured a home in which to shoot Fred Thompson’s interior scenes. We went to scout the house and were greeted by the homeowner – another enthusiastic FOB.

“It’s going to be Fred Thompson,” Harry said to the homeowner as we arrived.

She sighed, “Well, we’re spending New Year’s Eve with Al Franken so it’ll all even out.”

Near the end of the shoot, in early March 2010, Fred Thompson arrived in Little Rock ready to go. We shot out all of Fred’s scenes in one day, two locations with a full company move – probably 7 or 8 setups. Such is the pace of independent filmmaking.

Thompson was an old pro by then having done many big budget features and a long stint on a network series. He took to the day like a duck to water and I’ll always cherish the memory of seeing him work. Standing outside the make-up trailer it occurred to me that if he had gone on to be President, we wouldn’t have had as much fun either.

Happy Birthday, Howie!

October 28, 2015 — Leave a comment

howard-klausnerHappy Birthday, Howie Klausner. Howie is a prolific screenwriter, producer and recently directed a feature starring Kevin Sorbo and Amy Grant. Howie’s big break was having his script, SPACE COWBOYS, picked up by Clint Eastwood. How would you like for your first movie to star Clint Eastwood, James Garner, Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland? Yeah — big time, fun stuff.

Howie wrote the screenplay for THE LAST RIDE. Our whole team loved working with Howie on that project. I remember clearly the day I read the script years before we went into production. I was taken with the game-changing idea of getting a sense of a man’s whole life by just hanging out with him for the last three days of his life. In this case, the man was Hank Williams. I keep thinking about the big studio biopic of Hank Williams coming out next month. I wanted our studio to re-release our movie at the same time with a new title: SPOILER ALERT.