24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Tony Scott

Tony Scott could get Grisham-ed

August 4, 2010 |  7:27 pm

Scott
EXCLUSIVE: Tony Scott has directed a lot of commercial pictures in his prolific career -- action movies set amid fighter pilots, hostage movies set on trains, thrillers set in high-level government agencies. But he's never taken on the pinnacle of commercial pictures: a John Grisham thriller.

That could change shortly, as the director is, according to sources, just a step away from taking the director's job on "The Associate." The film, set up at Paramount, is a Grisham-derived conspiracy thriller about a young lawyer blackmailed into taking a job at a high-profile firm to pass along secrets to a shady defense contractor. Paramount was not immediately available for comment.

Like that other big-firm blackmail movie from Grisham, the mega-hit "The Firm," in which Sydney Pollack directed Tom Cruise, "The Associate" comes with a boatload of talent -- William Monahan wrote the script, Shia LaBeouf is starring and Lorenzo Di Bonaventura is producing.

Scott has a proven box-office hand, though his record has been uneven of late -- a movie of his hasn't earned more than $70 million domestically since 2004 ("Man on Fire"), and hasn't exceeded $100 million since 1998 ("Enemy of the State").

That might make Paramount think twice about the film's budget; certainly that was an issue for Fox in an on-again-off-again backstage drama around the Scott-directed, Denzel Washington-starring action movie "Unstoppable" (which wound up getting greenlighted and will be released in the fall).

Still, there are bigger gambles. Scott is known as one of the more reliable thriller hands out there, and if you're trying to limit the uncertainty on a bigger-budget thriller, teaming Scott with the writer of "The Departed" and a "Transformers" star would seem pretty much the best way to do it.

As for Grisham, he could use a seasoned pedigree and a big marketing budget: After four $90-million-plus grossers in four years in the mid-1990s, he hasn't had a legal thriller crack the $50-million mark since "A Time to Kill" did it in 1996.

-- Steven Zeitchik

http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Tony Scott. Credit:  Stefano Paltera / Los Angeles Times

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Sharkey on Sundance: Punk saviors

January 24, 2010 |  8:33 am

If there is a collective vision emerging out of the films in the Sundance dramatic competition it is this: The punks will save you. 

Profane, tattooed, with dark eyes and darker lives, all a little crazy, in some cases a lot crazy, living on society’s margins – in three of the festival’s contenders, these rebels come into the lives of ordinary folks and proceed to turn things upside down in ways that heal whatever ails them.

While the films work to greater and lesser degrees, it’s the narrative stream that makes it worth exploring since Sundance has a way of picking up on new creative thought streams bubbling up in the film world before they become widespread. So consider this a glimpse at the future.

Kristen-stewart-welcome-to-the-rileys-2 Let's start with two films that premiered Saturday, “Welcome to the Rileys,” starring James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart and Melissa Leo, and Mark Ruffalo’s directing debut, “Sympathy for Delicious.”
“The Rileys” marks the feature directing debut of Jake Scott, who comes out of a creative thought stream of his own with father Ridley Scott and uncle Tony. Leo and Gandolfini play a Louisiana couple, Doug and Lois, whose teenage daughter was killed in a car accident. They have not done well with the grieving and now four years in, Leo’s character can’t leave the house and Gandolfini's is mourning another loss, this time his mistress felled by a heart attack.

A trip to New Orleans changes all that. Kristen Stewart is a teenage runaway, paying her way stripping and hooking when Doug stumbles across her. In a flash, his midlife crisis turns into a mission – if he couldn’t save his daughter, maybe he can save someone else's – and then the hard-as-nails young stripper turns out to be a catalyst for changing his.

Jake Scott has been shooting commercials (the starting point for dad and uncle as well) for a while, so he brings a polish to the work, and Gandolfini remains one of the most interesting actors to watch today. Stewart, what with the vampires and a turn as Joan Jett in "The Runaways" coming later today, is turning into a force on her own.

Meanwhile out west on the mean streets of L.A., Ruffalo is a priest ministering to the homeless and that includes a wheelchair-bound DJ dubbed Delicious, a scratcher extraordinaire now unemployed and living in his car after a freak accident left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Christopher Thornton, the film’s screenwriter and star who himself was paralyzed at 25 in a rock-climbing accident, is the film’s dark savior with Orlando Bloom and Juliette Lewis as the main rock star sinners. Turns out there’s nothing that will broaden the rocker crowds quite like spontaneous healing, even when the guy doing it looks like he could have played with Metallica. Like a lot of actors when they try their hand at directing, Ruffalo lets his actors, including himself, ramble on, but the underlying story of faith, hope and disillusionment is nevertheless a compelling one.

Finally, director Spencer Susser’s “Hesher” is the darkest of the bunch, with baby-faced Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an insane, homeless druggie with a giant finger flipping off the world tattooed on his back, Jesus hair and a messiah complex. Hesher literally moves himself in with a family so destroyed by a car accident they're not really paying attention. He sets about saving them by wreaking havoc thanks to a bad temper with a very short fuse – a sort of no pain, no gain approach with cars set on fire, noses clipped off, houses destroyed, and that’s on a good day.

The central issue though is the same, that we the people have lost our way and are in search of someone to guide us out of the morass and the mess. And the message running through all three films is the same too, that the rebels, the misfits, the outcasts will be the ones to save a desperately floundering mainstream America. It feels like the surface-scratching beginnings of a significant conversation, still raw and evolving, but a beginning, one we're likely to look back on years from now and say it all started at Sundance 2010.


-- Film critic Betsy Sharkey

Photo: Kristen Stewart in "Welcome to the Rileys." Credit: Argonaut Pictures.


'Book of Eli' star Denzel Washington, at an action-movie crossroads

January 14, 2010 |  7:00 am

Denzel

Denzel Washington, whose "The Book of Eli" opens this weekend to what will likely be strong box office, has worked with Tony Scott on four previous movies and recently wrapped their fifth, a train thriller titled "Unstoppable" with newly minted Captain Kirk Chris Pine.

The title "Unstoppable" carries particular irony because the project was delayed several times by what insiders have said were diverse factors such as budget-related studio reluctance and star hesitation.

So how unwilling was Washington? In a conversation about the religious and other aspects of "Eli" -- he notes, incidentally, that Warner Bros. wanted Bible references toned down to the point that "it sometimes got ridiculous in how you were trying to hide it"; see the full fruits of that interview here -- the actor tells 24 Frames that he pretty much didn't want to make "Unstoppable."

"To be honest with you, I didn't want to do the movie," Washington said. "The studio [Fox] didn't care. I said, 'I don't want to do it' and they said 'Good, get out.' I said, 'Fine.' But then Tony said, 'I don't want to do it unless he [Denzel] does it.' The way it was told to me, he said, 'If he's out, I'm out.'"

That prompted Scott to make the hard sell to Washington. "Tony just wouldn't let it go," Washington continued. "I said, 'Come on.' He said, 'I need you, I need you.'" I said [going to a whimpering-little-boy voice], 'I don't want to be on top of a train.'"

So what made Washington finally relent? "Because I love him. What am I going to do?" he said, adding, "That was one for him. He owes me one now."

Scott's recollection of events pretty much dovetails with Washington's -- though he's not shy about putting a fine point on it: "I kept beating on his door and saying ... do it." (Washington, as he was later hanging on to a train hurtling along at something like 50 mph, recalled quipping to Pine, "You know we're all just pawns, right? It's all about the trains.")

Washington's future holds a few other possibilities. He's soon headed to Broadway for an August Wilson revival, is toying with the idea of moving forward on a World War II drama called "Brothers In Arms" and is even contemplating a return to the political roles for which he became famous earlier in his career. A South African producer has recently sent him a script about a person he describes as a "prominent" South African politician ... who may or may not be currently personified on screen by Morgan Freeman. Whatever Denzel takes on -- for now, at least -- he seems to be hopping off the action train.

-- Steven Zeitchik

RECENT AND RELATED:

Albert and Allen Hughes return with 'Book of Eli'

'Book of Eli:' Huge Christian blockbuster or action-movie dud?

Tony Scott reinvents "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three"


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