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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Robert DeNiro

Michael Mann's 'Heat': Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week

May 3, 2012 |  5:00 am

Heat

“Heat,” one of Michael Mann's most stylish cuts at crime, will be at Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre on Friday night. It's worth noting because total darkness and a big screen are really requisites for experiencing the full effect of Mann’s meticulous visual artistry.

This 1995 drama, which he also wrote, is an early look at his fascination with the mood-setting possibilities of noir (“Collateral” would follow in 2004). “Heat” also marked the first time Al Pacino and Robert De Niro shared the screen, and their intensity fairly crackles in this tale of obsessions.

For Pacino's LAPD detective, it was catching bad guys; for De Niro's high-end thief, it was a heist gone wrong; for Mann, it was the director's unwillingness to give up on an idea he believed in. He spent roughly 10 years trying to get “Heat” made — the payoff was a critical and box office hit.

“Heat” was worth the wait, and worth a second look now, to appreciate what it took to create this masterful mix of dark shadows, close-ups, mood music and syncopated action — classic Mann.

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— Betsy Sharkey

Photo: Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Michael Mann's "Heat." Credit: Warner Bros.


David O. Russell’s latest turn: New England city politics

April 16, 2012 |  4:21 pm

Davidoru
The very busy David O. Russell has another story to occupy his post-"Uncharted: Drake's Fortune" time: He’s officially involved with a biopic about longtime Rhode Island mayor Buddy Cianci that will be produced by  the New York-based production company of Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal (“Little Fockers,” “Being Flynn”).

Based on Cianci’s elaborately titled “Politics and Pasta: How I Prosecuted Mobsters, Rebuilt a Dying City, Advised a President, Dined With Sinatra, Spent Five Years in a Federally Funded Gated Community and Lived to Tell the Tale," the new untitled biopic tells of the 21-year mayor who — oh yes — went to jail for nearly five years on racketeering charges after a career rooting out corruption in his New England hometown. Cianci has had more lives than a bungee-jumping cat; there's even talk he will run for public office again.

About a year ago, Rosenthal had mentioned informally that she’d like Russell to come aboard the film. Now it's official. According to his arrangement with the producer, he’ll direct but won’t write, Rosenthal said, though he will have a hand in the script too.

Since he parted ways with Sony’s “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune,"  Russell has been making use of his spare time.  Most recently, he signed on to a 1980s story about an FBI sting that exposed congressional corruption -- even as he finishes cutting “The Silver Linings Playbook,” his fall relationship movie that stars Jennifer Lawrence,  De Niro and Bradley Cooper.

The Cianci film also marks a further turn for Russell, who, after hitting it big with "The Fighter," has moved from oddball comedies to more hard-boiled and dramatic material; witness, also, his development of a Russ Meyer biopic (though Cianci's larger-than-life personality will ensure his film subjects remain colorful).

Rosenthal has been developing the Cianci movie independently at Tribeca Films, the company she and De Niro run, but says that she is close to a financing deal.

As she prepares for the Wednesday kickoff of the 11th annual Tribeca Film Festival that she co-founded, Rosenthal has kept up her prolific producing efforts. She’s working with English producer Graham King on the upcoming Freddie Mercury biopic starring Sacha Baron Cohen, a spinoff of sorts from her long-running West End musical “We Will Rock You."

And Rosenthal has shepherded and executive produced an hourlong television series, “NYC 22,” a sidewalk-wise cop story that debuted on CBS on Sunday night.

One passion project, however, may not enjoy the same success. Fans of "Lombardi," the long-gestating football film from writer Eric Roth about the Green Bay Packers head coach, has had little forward progress. Rosenthal sounded pessimistic when asked if the film could be going in front of the cameras any time soon.

"As a producer I feel everything should be made for a price," she said of the movie, which requires  significant period sets and costumes. "But a lot of the numbers I've heard [from financiers] are simply way too low."

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-- Steven Zeitchik reporting from New York

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: David O. Russell in 2010. Credit: Jennifer S. Altman/For The Times

 


Oscars 2012: For De Niro, it’s about Clooney and Streep (and Uggie)

February 24, 2012 |  9:40 am

Robdeniro

When the Oscars get underway Sunday, one notable name won't be in the room amid the glitz and high fashion. Robert De Niro, whose frequent collaborator, Martin Scorsese, is up for a directing Oscar, will be back East where he's shooting an action thriller in Georgia with John Travolta.

But that doesn't mean De Niro, who has two statuettes himself, doesn't have strong feelings about this year's races. Asked his favorite performances, the actor didn't hesitate to name two: George Clooney in "The Descendants" and Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady.” “I wouldn’t be surprised if they both went in and won,” he said. (Both are, of course, up for lead acting Oscars on Sunday, though face stiff competition from Jean Dujardin and Viola Davis, respectively.)

De Niro, who is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that determines the Oscars, said that when it comes to 2011 films, he was particularly taken with "The Artist." "It’s a special movie, very well done, clever and smart," he said. "And to get performances like that. Even the dog. Seriously, where do you even get a dog like that?"

Oscars 2012: Cheat Sheet | Key Scenes | Pundit's picks | Ballot

We may not see Uggie much in the future; the crowd-pleasing canine is retiring after the Oscars. We will, however, see plenty of De Niro in the coming months. Next week he opens “Being Flynn,” his passion project with director Paul Weitz about a vagabond father who reunites with his son after nearly two decades apart. And later this year he’ll appear in a comedy opposite Amanda Seyfried titled “The Wedding” and a David O. Russell family dramedy, “The Silver Linings Playbook.” The still-undated Sundance thriller “Red Lights" also lies on the horizon.

And then there’s “Killing Season,” the movie De Niro is shooting with Travolta that centers on two veterans of the Bosnian war, one American and one Serbian, who confront each other in the Smoky Mountains. “It has action and a bit of a thriller thing,” De Niro said, “and maybe also has got a bit of a political thing.”

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-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Robert De Niro in "Limitless." Credit: Relativity Media


Sundance 2012: Gere, De Niro films bound for theaters

January 25, 2012 |  6:28 pm

Gerearb
The deals continued to come at the Sundance Film Festival on Wednesday, ensuring that a few more films will have a life outside the Park City, Utah, bubble.

Jake Schreier's drama "Robot & Frank" was acquired by Samuel Goldwyn and Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions. Set in the near future, the movie centers on a lonely seventysomething man (Frank Langella) who is given a robot companion by his children and then forms an odd bond with it.

Nicholas Jarecki's "Arbitrage" also went to two companies: Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions co-acquired the film and will team up to release it. The companies paired on the release of last year's Sundance financial drama, "Margin Call," to which this film has been compared. In the 2012 picture, Richard Gere plays a master-of-the-universe banker who scrambles to prevent his life from coming apart after becoming involved in a shady investment and a fatal car accident.

And "Red Lights," Rodrigo Cortes' follow-up to his 2010 Sundance pic "Buried," has also found a home. The supernatural thriller has been acquired by Millennium Entertainment; the movie stars Robert De Niro as a world-famous psychic and Cillian Murphy and Elizabeth Olsen as two paranormal experts who seek him out. No release dates have been given for any of the films.

Nearly every major specialty company has now bought a film (Focus, Sony Pictures Classics, Magnolia and Fox Searchlight bought at least one earlier in the festival) -- save for the Weinstein Co., a rarity in a period when Harvey Weinstein has been one of the most active festival buyers. The firm does have a busy fall, with new films from Quentin Tarantinio, Paul Thomas Anderson and David O. Russell set for release.

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--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Richard Gere in "Arbitrage." Credit: Sundance Film Festival


Nanni Moretti named 2012 Cannes jury president

January 20, 2012 |  2:00 am

Nanni Moretti, director of "The Son's Room," has been named as this year's Cannes Film Festival jury president

The Cannes Film Festival has named Nanni Moretti as its jury president for this year's festival.

The Italian director has been a longtime favorite of the festival, winning the Palme d'Or in 2001 for his family drama "The Son's Room" as well as a director prize in 1994 for his film "Dear Diary." Moretti, who also acts, came to the Croisette last year with "We Have a Pope," a comedic look at what happens when the man selected by the College of Cardinals doesn't want the job.

Moretti, who previously served as a jury member in 1997, takes a position that was last year held by Robert De Niro. De Niro's jury handed the Palme d'Or, the festival's top prize, to Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life."

Moretti, 58, said in a statement that he has "very happy memories" of his time as a juror, and of "the attentiveness and passion that went into the jury's viewing."

The prestigious film festival kicks off May 16 in the coastal French town and runs through May 27.

-- Steven Zeitchik
twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

 Photo: Nanni Moretti in "We Have a Pope." Credit: Cannes Film Festival


Raging bulls: Donald Trump fires back at De Niro

April 25, 2011 |  1:11 pm

Trump

In an appearance on Saturday, Robert De Niro questioned Donald Trump's integrity. In an appearance on Monday, Trump questioned De Niro's intelligence.

Speaking to a Tribeca Film Festival audience this past weekend on the issue of politics, the actor said that some are "making statements about people they don't even back up. It's a big hustle."

He was referring, apparently, to Trump's birther crusade against President Obama. De Niro never mentioned Trump by name, but when moderator Brian Williams interjected wondering whether De Niro was referring to a personality who had a show on NBC, De Niro tacitly acknowledged it by continuing the tear against Trump: "How dare you? That's awful. Just to go out there and say things you can't back up. That's crazy."

Speaking by phone to the hosts of "Fox & Friends" on Monday morning, Trump let his own resentment fly. "Well, he's not the brightest bulb on the planet," the mogul said of De Niro. "I have been watching  over the years and I like his acting, but in terms of when I watch him doing interviews and various other things, we are not dealing with Albert Einstein." Trump went on to continue to hammer at the birther theme. (The video is below; relevant portions start at about the 3:00 mark.)

It was the second time in a week that Trump took aim at an entertainer. After Jerry Seinfeld pulled out of a Trump charity event over the birther comments, the "Celebrity Apprentice" star/producer went after Seinfeld and his failed show "The Marriage Ref," calling it "terrible."

Public interview skills have been a shaky area for De Niro -- Saturday's event further underscored it -- though it's rarely been seen by those who poke at it, including Williams and David Letterman, as a matter of intelligence so much as awkwardness or introversion.

Of course, there may be a larger end-game in Trump taking a shot at De Niro or Seinfeld: If the coiffed one is indeed serious about a bid for president, he could find worse strategies than running against liberal Hollywood.

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

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Tribeca 2011: Fitfully, Robert De Niro talks about his acting past and future (and Donald Trump)

Photo: Donald Trump addressing the CPAC convention. Credit:  Alex Brandon / Associated Press


Tribeca 2011: Fitfully, Robert De Niro talks about his acting past and future (and Donald Trump)

April 24, 2011 | 10:38 am

Deniro

Robert De Niro isn't known for his flowery public speaking, which might make an interview with Brian Williams in front of hundreds of people a tricky proposition.

Indeed, the actor-director encountered some bumps Saturday afternoon when he sat, for the first time at the Tribeca Film Festival he co-founded, for a one-on-one public interview with the NBC News anchor.

Tribeca film festivalFive minutes into the chat, held at Tribeca's flagship venue at Borough of Manhattan Community College, Williams asked the Oscar winner if he would define himself as an introvert, always a dangerous question that can prove its own point. Wriggling for a second, De Niro came back with, "In some ways I am and in other ways I'm not. So."

A pause followed, and Williams cut the tension with an "I want to thank Bob De Niro," pretending to get up and end the interview then and there.

De Niro, who's had his share of challenges on the talk-show circuit -- after years of reluctance, he sat a few months ago for this awkward chat with David Letterman -- had other moments Saturday when he seemed unsure of what to say. A quizzical reaction from Williams, and some audience laughter, followed when the anchor asked De Niro to talk about his parents, and the actor came back with "My father was an artist; my mother was an artist who started a typing business to support us." He fumbled for a second. "That's it."

Williams described the interview as something he initiated as a De Niro fan, though it couldn't be overlooked that the festival could benefit from the star's presence as much as possible, especially this year without any of the big Hollywood premieres that have defined past installments. (De Niro also seems to be trying some kind of talk show shock therapy; his Letterman interview was his first ever with the late-night host.)

The actor did open up when it came to more specific career and craft questions. Though he demurred on the question of acting roles he should have taken ("Whatever I did, that's it; I stand by it, for better or worse. What am I going to do?") he offered more elaborate answers about his acting technique and also said that he was disappointed by the public reception to "Casino." "Not as many people as we would have liked went to go see it," he said. "We thought it would have been received in a wider way."

The 67-year-old actor, whose upcoming film is a dramedy based on Nick Flynn's novel "Another Bull@#$ Night in Suck City," provoked big applause when he said he wanted to continue his breakneck working pace and had seven to 10 projects in active development. He also said he'd like to make a follow-up to his 2006 world directorial effort "The Good Shepherd." "I always wanted to do a sequel from '61, the Bay of Pigs, to '89, when the [Berlin] Wall came down. I'm still trying to do that," he said.

But his moment of greatest passion seemed to come during a moment about politics. After saying that he couldn't believe how the government got to the brink of a shutdown and that he indeed believed Obama had good intentions, he went on to say that "some other people, their intentions aren't even good; they're just playing a game."

Then, in an apparent allusion to Donald Trump's recent "birther" tear, De Niro said that some are  "making statements about people they don't even back up," he said. "It's a big hustle." Williams interjected to ask whether it was a person who had a show on his network. De Niro continued to get worked up about Trump. "How dare you? That's awful. Just to go out there and say things you can't back up," he said. "That's crazy."

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-- Steven Zeitchik, reporting from New York

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Brian Williams and Robert De Niro onstage at the Tribeca Film Festival. Credit: Andy Kropa/Getty Images


Robert De Niro's split personality

January 6, 2011 | 11:34 am

Casin

Actors often bounce between studio paychecks and prestige jobs, but Robert De Niro seems to be taking that idea to a new level.

Even as his commercial comedy "Little Fockers" continues to play in theaters, De Niro has been named head of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival, pretty much the most significant honor in the pathways of world cinema. (The Cannes organizers gamely tried to connect the two by noting in their announcement that “Little Fockers, released in late December, is currently enjoying a successful run in France.")

It's not the only zigzag for De Niro. He recently came out with the dark crime drama "Stone" -- just a few weeks after playing an over-the-top senator in Robert Rodriguez's exploitation flick "Machete." And even as the actor shoots the audience-minded rom-com "New Year's Eve," he's expressed keen interest in, and could well make, two upscale development projects, the literary drama "Another ... Night in Suck City" and a Vince Lombardi biopic.

Like his generational doppelganger Al Pacino, De Niro sometimes draws criticism that he takes the easy money instead of the difficult role. In Pacino's case the skeptics have their evidence -- before the upcoming Sundance drama "Son of No One," it's mostly been a string of familiar cop and other action roles on the big screen (although he of course had an acclaimed turn as Jack Kevorkian in HBO's "You Don't Know Jack").

De Niro is a more enigmatic case. He's certainly taken those commercial roles (including a part opposite one Al Pacino in the 2008 cop movie "Righteous Kill"). But his resume in recent years also includes movies such as the ambitious Cold War drama "The Good Shepherd," a passion project he also directed, and the widower road trip "Everybody's Fine," a movie that missed the mark with critics but certainly wasn't a payday gig.

The Cannes announcement cites De Niro's roles in two Palme d'Or winners --  he played Rodrigo Mendoza in the 18th century colonial drama "The Mission" and of course Travis 'Are You Talking to Me' Bickle in 1970's groundbreaker "Taxi Driver." Even as he's growling at Gaylord Focker in multiplexes, the mentions are a sharp reminder of who De Niro was, and sometimes can still be.

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Robert De Niro in 1995's 'Casino.' Credit: MCA/Universal Pictures

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5 for 5: Actor John Cazale is more than an asterisk

November 10, 2010 | 11:04 am

IKIWY_11x17_72dpi

"The Godfather," "The Conversation, " "The Godfather: Part II," "Dog Day Afternoon" and "The Deer Hunter" may simply look like a list of some of the most acclaimed American films of the 1970s, which they are, but they also make up the entire filmography of actor John Cazale. "I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale," just released on DVD by Oscilloscope Laboratories, points out the rather extraordinary fact that all five films were nominated for the Academy Award for best picture.

The film takes its title from the famous line from "The Godfather: Part II" when Al Pacino's Michael says a bittersweet farewell to his older brother Fredo, played by Cazale, who died of cancer at age 42 in 1978. With his odd looks, unfortunate hairline and shifty, slightly feral demeanor, Cazale is something of an emblem of American film in the early 1970s, what many now see as a second Golden Age of Hollywood. Had Cazale lived, where might his career have taken him? Would he have moved on to leading roles? Or was he always to be a supporting player, the wounded vulnerability he conveyed so well having destined him for a life at the edges?

"He was this weird little asterisk in terms of film history," said Richard Shepard, a veteran director of feature films and television who is making his first documentary with the Cazale film. "I related to him and loved him in those movies. It's weird for me that he's an actor that tends to play weak people, but there is something about him that is just so incredibly compelling. You can't take your eyes off of him."

Born in Massachusetts, Cazale studied theater at Boston University. After moving to New York, he became friends with Pacino when both appeared in a production of Israel Horovitz's play "The Indian Wants the Bronx." It was while on-stage in a 1971 revival of Horovitz's "Line" that Cazale came to the attention of "Godfather" producer Fred Roos.

"I Knew It Was You" was a bonafide labor of love for Shepard, who worked for more than three years in creating the 39-minute film. (With extras, the DVD runs 103 minutes.) The documentary includes new interviews with Cazale's most high-profile collaborators, including his former girlfriend Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Pacino, Horovitz and directors Sidney Lumet and Francis Ford Coppola. The only person Shepard pursued and was unable to land for the documentary was notorious Hollywood recluse Michael Cimino, who directed Cazale in his final role in "The Deer Hunter."

Actors of subsequent generations such as Steve Buscemi, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Sam Rockwell all turned out to be fans of Cazale's work and appear as well. After reading an interview in which director Brett Ratner declared Cazale his favorite actor, Shepard contacted him and Ratner joined the project as a producer.

As a number of interviewees in the doc take care to mention that Cazale in real life was a far cry from the Cazale we know on screen. There is actually something heartening and strengthening with regard to his performances, to learn that he had a hearty zeal for living and was even something of a ladies' man. Cazale was no Fredo.

"Every actor I've ever met has wanted to be the cool guy," said Ratner of what lessons there are to be learned from reconsidering the work of John Cazale. "If you were casting 'The Godfather' right now, every great actor would want to play Sonny Corleone or Michael Corleone. Nobody would want to play the older brother who wasn't smart.

"And so his brilliance was really about being fearless and wanting to be vulnerable, to show weakness. And he was really there to service the other actors. He was a selfless guy, as an actor he didn't think it was all about him."

-- Mark Olsen

Image: Oscilloscope Laboratories


With De Niro's Lombardi movie, winning isn't everything, but whose thing will it be?

June 23, 2010 |  8:03 pm

Lomb
The specter of Robert De Niro playing Vince Lombardi -- which he will, in a movie about the coach's pro football coaching career that's being developed by ESPN FIlms -- is already a juicy enough prospect for both "Casino" fans and football fans.

But the question of who will direct the actor -- who'll be the Lombardi, perhaps, to his Bart Starr -- is one of the more interesting ones in moviedom. That's in part because directing a legend in a film about a legend is always appealing, and also because, really, who doesn't like a good football movie? It's  un-American.

The names of several potential signal-callers have surfaced in Hollywood over the past few weeks, but one has particularly caught our eye: Jay Roach. Yes, Jay Roach, the director known mainly for comedy, he who directed "Meet the Parents" and "Meet the Fockers" (also starring De Niro, of course) and the upcoming "Dinner for Schmucks." Roach is said to be interested in taking the director's chair and has met with principals on the film about it.

Would Roach make a smart choice?  Despite the genre switch, it's not entirely crazy: Roach and DeNiro collaborated closely on the first two "Fockers" movies, in which Roach got a lot out of the actor as the perfectionist taskmaster, something that could also be applied to Lombardi as he turns around the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s (the core thrust of the film). And Roach did take on more serious material with HBO's "Recount," stepping in for Sydney Pollack when he fell ill.

Still, Roach is known for his broad but heartfelt comedy, and there aren't a lot of adjectives in that sentence that apply to the exacting coach. But then, to direct a film about Lombardi, who already looms so large in the public consciousness, is to make a movie with a very high bar, and to invite the potential for dry reverence. A little humor may be exactly what the movie needs.

-- Steven Zeitchik

http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Vince Lombardi receiving a letter of congratulations from President Kennedy in 1962.

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