24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: David O. Rusell

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

April 16, 2012 |  4:21 pm

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."


Why couldn't David O. Russell and Sony make it work on 'Uncharted'?

Tribeca Film Festival unveils narrative and documentary selections

-- Steven Zeitchik reporting from New York


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


Why couldn't David O. Russell and Sony make it work on 'Uncharted'?

May 26, 2011 |  7:45 pm

Whenever the subject of the movie “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune” came up with David O. Russell during the last Oscar season, he had one response. He was going. Fast.

"It's a locomotive," the "Fighter" director told 24 Frames in December of his progress on the video game adaptation. "I don't know how to say this except that I feel that I see things much more clearly. I don't turn over an idea as I once would,” he added.

It wasn’t entirely easy to believe. Russell was famously deliberative about his process -- he took six years between completing “I Heart Huckabees” and “The Fighter” -- and he had flirted with “Uncharted” for months before committing, causing film reporters to write a series of hair-pulling stories that had him in one day and out the next.

But Russell was convincing enough in our December interview, especially when he said he had written half the script already and then proceeded to lay out the plot.  (It would be an art-heist movie involving a family of international thieves, using the game as a loose template.)

On Thursday it came to light that Russell wouldn’t direct the action-adventure after all. But that wasn’t, it turned out, because he couldn’t decide what to do. It was because he had steamrolled ahead, but  in a different direction than studio Sony wanted.
Russell had already turned in a script, but it was a script so long and so ambitious that it was at least partly responsible for the studio and him parting ways, according to two people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to talk about it publicly. (Sony declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for Russell.)

Among the many flourishes Russell had added were a bevy of characters not in the video game. (The director had given hints of this in December when he said he loved the idea of a “a family that's a force to be reckoned with in the world of international art and antiquities ... [a family] that deals with heads of state and heads of museums and metes out justice.” The game centers on a lone adventurer, Nathan Drake.)

Without having read Russell's script, it’s hard to know whether this divorce is good or bad news for the film, though "Uncharted" fans skeptical of Russell and his choice of Mark Wahlberg for Nathan Drake probably have their own opinions. The studio still wants to make the movie, and will bring on a new writer and director to work off an earlier draft (written by the scribes of the upcoming "Conan the Barbarian"). It's not expected that Wahlberg, who had been Russell's choice, will star in the film (allowing fans to begin their drumbeat for Nathan Fillion again). It's also hard to imagine that the movie will come out next summer, as some fans had hoped.

Russell, meanwhile, has plenty of other options, many of them promising and most of them not in the summer-action vein. There's  a Russ Meyer biopic, a teacher drama called "The Silver Linings Playbook" with Bradley Cooper and Anne Hathaway, and a traveling salesman dramedy with Vince Vaughn and Chloe Moretz.

But more than any individual director choice, there's perhaps a bigger lesson in the Russell-"Uncharted" saga.

While studios in this post-Chris Nolan era like to make some of their biggest movies with top-flight auteurs, the marketing-driven nature of the studio system, and the fussiness of said directors, means the reality can't always match that ambition.  Darren Aronofsky and Fox couldn’t make it work on “Wolverine,” and Sony and Steven Soderbergh clashed on "Moneyball" in a way that led the studio to pull the plug on on the film just days before the cast  and crew were due to arrive on set.

All these pairings would have been interesting, and then some. But given the state of the movie business these days, inserting a rare part into the studio machine often doesn't make for a locomotive. It just causes the train to sputter.


Drake's Fortune director: Movie will be about family of thieves and global power players

The trainer and the boxer

The Fighter becomes a contender

--Steven Zeitchik


 Photo: A shot from the Uncharted: Drake's Fortune video game. Credit: Sony

Around Town: Oscar hopefuls, Charlie Chaplin and fine French cinema

February 3, 2011 |  5:00 am


With the Academy Awards just 3 1/2 weeks away, the various nominees are making their last big push for the Oscar. Take "The Fighter" director David O. Russell. Friday at the Cinefamily's Silent Movie Theatre, Russell and Alexander Payne will do a Q&A after a screening of Russell's 1996 comedy "Flirting with Disaster." Afterward, Payne's film "Citizen Ruth" will screen. On Saturday, Russell will appear at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre for a screening of "The Fighter," which is nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture and director. Russell will discuss the film with actor Mark Wahlberg.

Meanwhile, writer-director Christopher Nolan, whose "Inception" is nominated for eight Academy Awards, including best picture and original screenplay, will be on hand at the Egyptian on Friday evening for a screening of his first film, the edgy innovative 2001 noir "Memento," starring Guy Pearce.

Late in the afternoon on Saturday at the Egyptian, the Cinematheque will offer a free Oscar music composing seminar featuring contemporary musicians and others who will talk about music in film. http://www.cinefamily.org; http://www.americancinematheque.com

Continue reading »

Mark Wahlberg and David O. Russell's odd coupling

December 5, 2010 | 10:40 am

Forget Felix Unger and Oscar Madison. Mark Wahlberg and David O. Russell, the actor-director pair who will soon team up on (the apparently controversial) "Drake's Fortune," may be the oddest professional couple in show business.

Wahlberg is a former street kid, underwear model and teenybopper sensation. Russell is the quirky intellectual, the fussy auteur, the master of dark comedy. (And as Lily Tomlin could tell you, not always the smoothest handler of actors.)

Yet somehow Wahlberg and Russell have found alchemy. After teaming up on "I Heart Huckabees" and "Three Kings," they join forces for the third time in the upcoming underdog-boxer story "The Fighter," a movie that takes its cues from ring films such as "The Set-Up" and "Rocky" yet is also smart and nimble enough to know when to depart from them.

In a story in today's Los Angeles Times, we sit down with Wahlberg and Russell to talk about what it is that makes the two click. Among the reasons we observed: Wahlberg likes basking in Russell's haute-cinema glow, and the director appreciates the everyman cred that a Mark Wahlberg lends you. When the two were researching a scene in a prison, Wahlberg insisted that the two walk into the state penitentiary and talk to inmates about changing their lives even as those inmates taunted the actor and director from behind bars.

There's symbiosis in other ways: The actor, for instance, says he has helped Russell get over his self-confessed commitment issues. Wahlberg recalls that before they started shooting "Huckabees," Russell would "have four or five different ideas. And he'd call me and say, 'We're going to do this. No, wait, we're going to do that.' And I'd say to him, 'Let's go, dude. At this pace you're going to make six movies in your entire career.'"

The director says he's now getting over those commitment issues. "I feel that I see things much more clearly. I don't turn over an idea as I once would," he said, adding: "Ideas are not a problem for me. But I realize now you have to pick up one to throw down with."

Photo: David Russell, left, Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale on the set of "The Fighter." Credit: Jojo Wilden


The trainer and the boxer

The Fighter becomes a contender

David O. Russell now back with Drake's Fortune

Drake's Fortune director David O. Russell: The movie will be about a family of thieves



'Drake's Fortune' director David O. Russell: Movie will be about family of thieves and global power players

December 1, 2010 |  9:12 am


Fans of the video game Uncharted: Drake's Fortune have been intrigued since the moment David O. Russell committed to direct the film -- if nothing else, it's a chance for a quirky auteur and surehanded filmmaker to shake up the beleaguered videogame-to-movie genre.

They've also been a little hesitant about how quickly this thing will move forward. Russell, after all, has recently worked at a fairly deliberate pace. (He's completed just one movie since "I Heart Huckabees" came out six years ago, the upcoming boxing dramedy "The Fighter.")

But "Drake's" is apparently rolling along. When we talked with Russell for "The Fighter," (more on that one shortly), he said he's already about halfway done with the script, which dovetails nicely with Sony's and fans' hope for a finished movie pretty quickly. "It's a locomotive," he said of the movie's progress.

While the video game centers on Nate Drake (a descendant of Sir Francis Drake) and his quest to find lost treasure on an island far from civilization, Russell plans on expanding the movie to include Drake's extended family -- and put them in fraught, globetrotting situations with some of the world's most influential people.

"This idea really turns me on that there's a family that's a force to be reckoned with in the world of international art and antiquities ... [a family] that deals with heads of state and heads of museums and metes out justice," he said.

Meanwhile, Mark Wahlberg, the "Fighter" star who will take on the Nate Drake role in this new film, told 24 Frames that he hasn't read what Russell's written yet but had been told extensively about the idea and believes it's a world away from most video-game adaptations. "To me what a lot of those other movies lack is the level of character and heart," he said. (Wahlberg is, of course, no stranger to video game-based movies, having starred in the less-than-well-received "Max Payne.")

Russell has plenty of experience in the character and dysfunctional-family department, notably chronicling the adventures of an unconventional unit in his 1996 hit "Flirting with Disaster," among other pictures. He sees movies like that influencing him on "Drake's."

"We'll have the family dynamic, which we've done in a couple of movies now," he said. "And then you take that and put it on the bigger, more muscular stage of an international action picture, but also put all the character stuff in it. That's a really cool idea to me."

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: 'Uncharted: Drake's Fortune' video game. Credit: Sony


David O. Russell now back with 'Drake's Fortune'


'The Fighter' becomes a contender

November 10, 2010 |  6:30 am


The fall movie season got a major jolt, and the awards season a bona fide new player, when David O. Russell's "The Fighter" world-premiered in Los Angeles on Tuesday evening.

The working-class, Massachusetts-set family drama -- which stars Mark Wahlberg as real-life 1990s boxing hopeful "Irish" Micky Ward and, even more eye-catchingly to many in the room, Christian Bale as his fighter-turned-crack addict half-brother -- played to rapturous crowds at its surprise AFI Fest screening. Russell's film, his most dramatic in a career filled with dark comedies, had the audience engaged in its underdog story from the start, while the crowd laughs came too, particularly in scenes showing Ward's large Catholic family and standoffs between his domineering mother (Melissa Leo) and broad-minded girlfriend (Amy Adams).

The reception marked a turnaround of heavyweight proportions. Interest in "The Fighter" was high coming into the fall, if only because the movie represented a rarity in the current climate: a high-end studio drama. (It's arguably only the second such example, after "The Social Network" earlier in the season; a third, the Coen brothers' remake of "True Grit," has yet to premiere.) But as the months wore on and no one had seen the film, it risked becoming an afterthought.

In 24 hours, however, all of that changed. The early-December release went from a question mark with no public screenings on the docket to a contender in both the commercial and awards departments.

The movie will still face some obstacles on the first count. The major studios decision to stop releasing dramas with big stars and budgets may recognize or reinforce a shrunken appetite. There's a reason this film went through so many false starts. (Taking the stage before the screening, Wahlberg said repeatedly, almost pleadingly, that this "was not an easy movie to get made.") And with the movie's auteur's framing and serious themes, the conventional wisdom could suggest that it lacks the ingredients of a mainstream hit.

At the same time, the history of boxing crowd-pleasers is longer than, well, Don King's hair, and loud applause at a climactic fight scene suggested this film could well continue that tradition. And the success of "The Town," set in a similarly working-class Massachusetts milieu, can only help "The Fighter."

On the Oscar front things should be simpler. Acclaimed movies set in the ring -- though they date all the way back to "Rocky" and "Raging Bull" (and before) -- continue to resonate with voters. This past decade alone, "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Wrestler" both became awards-season favorites. Those thinking the well had run dry were pleasantly surprised on Tuesday night, and it's likely others will find themselves thinking the same in the weeks to come.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Mark Wahlberg in "The Fighter." Credit: Paramount Pictures


The bell will ring for "The Fighter" at AFI Fest


The bell will ring for 'The Fighter' at AFI Fest

November 9, 2010 |  9:39 am

"The Fighter," one of the most anticipated but shrouded-in-mystery movies of the fall, is unexpectedly coming out of the shadows.

AFI Fest said Tuesday morning that it has slotted the David O. Russell boxing drama into its secret Hollywood screening at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday,  playing for the public more than a month ahead of its Dec. 10 release. Pass-holders to the festival will be granted access to the screening, as will non-pass-holders who make ticket reservations at the box office or on the AFI website.

The movie is one of the final remaining fall dramas yet to screen for audiences (the movie did not play any fall festivals and has not screened for media; its first scheduled screening of any kind of was to be a Screen Actors Guild  event Wednesday night).

The movie stars Mark Wahlberg as the underdog prizefighter “Irish” Micky Ward, a working-class Boston boxer who came to prominence in the 1990s and early '00s in part for his endurance skills and in part for a left hook that saw him defeat larger and sometimes more skilled opponents. Ward is perhaps best known for a trio of brutal and dramatic fights with rival Arturo Gatti. He also had a complicated relationship with half-brother Dickie Eklund, played in the movie by Christian Bale.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Scene from "The Fighter." Credit: Paramount Pictures.

No way: David O. Russell now back with 'Drake's Fortune'

October 8, 2010 |  6:09 pm

EXCLUSIVE: There have been so many twists and turns on the "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune" directing saga that it's hard to believe it's really near resolution -- let alone that it's going to be a quirky auteur such as David O. Russell who takes the reins.

But several sources familiar with the director search process say the "Three Kings" filmmaker is now in final negotiations to direct the movie based on on the popular video game. This comes after he had broken off talks and parted ways with producers and studio Sony as recently as August.

The imminent deal means that a man known for the dark comedy of "Flirting With Disaster" and the  grittiness of the upcoming "The Fighter" would take on the effects-driven, action-adventure of the Sony-published "Fortune," in which a descendant of Sir Francis Drake fights his way to treasure and romance on a mysterious island. [Update, Friday 10:38 p.m., Sony has now confirmed that Russell is on board, saying he will write a new draft of the script as well.]

It also means that we would have a new commitment for a director known for an, er, exacting attitude on matters creative; among other examples, you may remember that earlier this year he pulled his name off the troubled production "Nailed."

Russell's schedule is now gaining a little clarity. He recently opted not to pursue the director's chair on the cover-band comedy "Under Cover" with Jim Carrey. Russell does have another development project close to his heart in Vince Vaughn vehicle "Spirit of St. Louis" -- and that one, unlike "Drake's Fortune," is mostly cast.

So "Fortune" may not be his next movie. But Sony is keen on the "Fortune" script, penned by the writers who worked on "Cowboys & Aliens." And the studio could use a big  2012 release, especially one in the vein of "Pirates of the Caribbean." Let the auteur-goes-tentpole stories begin (again).

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: The video game of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Credit: Sony Computer Entertainment


David O. Russell on producers list for 'Drake's Fortune'

Looks like David O. Russell won't direct Drake's Fortune

David O. Russell pulls out of David O. Russell movie


Jim Carrey's 'Under Cover' seeks its helmer

September 21, 2010 |  7:54 pm

For better or worse, David O. Russell won't direct the video game adaptation of "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune," which would have been the most unusual director-material pairing since, well, Zack Snyder decided to do an owl-themed kids' movie.

But there's an almost equally unusual combo that's brewing, as sources say Russell is meeting on, and is very much in consideration for, "Under Cover," a comedy with Jim Carrey as a man who turns to the therapeutic power of a cover band. The movie is described as a "heartwarming but broadly comic story of a man winning back his family and re-discovering his voice by performing some of the greatest hits of classic rock in the unlikely company of a cover band."

After reported as being courted for the role, Carrey is indeed attached, we hear (though there's no official deal in place yet). Veteran production company Mandeville, which produced Russell's upcoming "The Fighter," also looks to be coming on to the project. The film is set up at Summit, of "Twilight" fame.

Other directors are in the mix as well, but we have to admit that Russell would be the most enjoyably wacky choice. If he can make both incest and Iraq treasure-hunting darkly comic, one can only imagine what he'd do with the antics of Mandonna and Dread Zeppellin.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jim Carrey as Lemony Snicket. Credit: Francois Duhamel/Paramount Pictures


Legends of the Guardian faces box-office hurdles

David O. Russell won't find gold with Drake's Fortune

David O. Russell won't find gold with 'Drake's Fortune'

August 3, 2010 |  2:31 pm

Video game junkies and fans of throwback adventures might have been at the very least amused, if not intrigued, by the idea of David. O. Russell taking on "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune."

As we wrote in May, the auteur was being considered for the director's chair on the Sony video game adaptation, which would have offered the prospect of the man who gave us the dark comedy of "Spanking the Monkey" and "Flirting with Disaster" rolling his sleeves up on material that had a lot in common with "Romancing the Stone" and the Indiana Jones franchise. (The game is about a descendant of Sir Francis Drake fighting his way to treasure and romance on a mysterious island.)

In the last few weeks, Russell, the studio and producers (Charles Roven of "The Dark Knight" fame is one) had been negotiating for  Russell to come aboard. But the parties haven't been able to come to terms so they're going their separate ways, sources say. Producers and the studio are going back to the drawing board. They'll look for a new director -- and first they may even look for a star or two to join the project. (With the male and female co-leads, it's essentially a two-hander, so expect the casting process to be involved.)

What all this means is that even the faintest hopes that "Fortune" could be a 2011 movie -- Sony at one point had even thought about fast-tracking it for a release next summer --- have been extinguished. The studio wasn't immediately available for comment.

Russell, who recently walked away from the stop-and-start production drama of indie dark comedy "Nailed," has no hard greenlight for a new movie but does have a few projects in the hopper, including a dramedy with Vince Vaughn about a traveling salesman and his daughter, "Old St. Louis," that he's eager to get made and which could soon move forward. As for those trying to make a movie about treasure-seeking adventurers, they'll need to keep looking.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: A screen shot from 'Drake's Fortune.' Credit: Sony


David O. Russell on producers' list for 'Drake's Fortune'

David O. Russell pulling out of David O. Russell movie

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