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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Robert Downey, Jr.

An emotional night for Robert Downey Jr.

October 15, 2011 | 12:20 pm

Robert downey
When Robert Downey Jr. urged Hollywood movers and shakers Friday night to forgive his friend  Mel Gibson "his trespasses," it certainly created a lot of buzz at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. But it was hardly the only emotional moment at the the 25th annual American Cinematheque Award gala.

Celebrity after celebrity -- including Jodie Foster, Guy Ritchie, Michael Douglas, Jennifer Aniston, Jon Favreau and Jack Black --- talked about the double Oscar nominee's courage in turning his life around after years of drug addiction that led to him serving time in prison.

The evening also included countless clips of Downey's work over the last quarter century, including his early films "Weird Science," "Back to School" and "Less Than Zero"; his Oscar-nominated turns in "Chaplin" and "Tropic Thunder"; and of course "Sherlock Holmes," "Wonder Boys," "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and both "Iron Man" blockbusters.

But it was his wife, Susan Downey, and his father who provided some of the most poignant moments.

Robert Downey Sr., a director, showed a clip of his son's acting debut at the age of 5 in "Pound," which featured actors playing dogs in a pound. Sporting  longish hair and an impish grin, the younger Downey played the role of a puppy who is adopted. The elder Downey said that he and his wife couldn't afford a babysitter so they brought their son to work that day and a star was born.

Yet the elder Downey said: "The moment you turned your life around was more heroic than any movie. I am proud to be your father."

Susan Downey, who produces the "Sherlock Holmes" films and is expecting the couple's first child early next year, explained that "creativity is in his blood."

Pausing, she touched her belly and added, "no pressure kid."

Her husband beamed.

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-- Susan King

Photo: Robert Downey Sr. addresses the audience during the 25th American Cinematheque Award benefit gala honoring his son, actor Robert Downey Jr., on Friday in Beverly Hills. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press

Mel Gibson gets a boost from Robert Downey Jr.

October 15, 2011 | 12:34 am

Mel gibson at robert downey jr. event

The slow but methodical rehabilitation of Mel Gibson in Hollywood took another step forward Friday night, courtesy of Robert Downey Jr.

Dozens of famous faces who've performed onscreen with Downey or directed him -- among them Gibson, Jodie Foster, Garry Shandling, Michael Douglas and Jon Favreau -- gathered to pay tribute to (and roast) the "Iron Man" star at the Beverly Hilton as he received the 2011 American Cinematheque Award.

The evening kicked off with a humorous video of Gibson, Shandling and Jamie Foxx poking fun at Downey. That was followed by a video clip of Foster receiving the Cinematheque Award in 1999 -- and receiving a congratulatory call from Downey, who was then incarcerated in a California state prison after several arrests on drug-related charges.

Numerous other presenters, including Foster, Douglas, and Jennifer Aniston came to the stage and made various references to Downey's long battle with addiction as they paid tribute to his abilities as an actor and his strength in overcoming his substance abuse issues.

Last onstage was Gibson, who starred with Downey in the 1990 film "Air America" and reunited with him onscreen in 2003 in "The Singing Detective" -- Gibson reportedly put up the money for Downey's insurance bond on the project when he was considered essentially untouchable by others.  

Gibson has been inching back into the public eye in the last six months, after he settled the ugly custody dispute with his ex-girlfriend that exploded into public view last year and after his movie "The Beaver" (directed by Foster) finally was released.

Gibson joked that people had warned him about Downey's unpredictability but said he just saw a good guy who was "making a few adjustments." Then, he added self-depricatingly, it was essential to remember that this was Mel Gibson making this assessment. 

When Downey came to the stage, he acknowledged his long friendship with Gibson and quipped that the two had shared the same lawyer, same publicist and same shrink. We should stage "an intervention" for them, he joked.

Turning more serious, Downey said that "when I couldn't get sober, Mel helped me," keeping a roof over his head and food on his table, and helping him get work. According to Downey, Gibson told him that he needed to find his faith and embrace responsibility for his acts, and if he did so, his life would find new meaning. "Hugging the cactus, he called it," Downey said. "And all he asked was that I help the next guy" in a similar situation. 

"It's reasonable to assume," Downey added sardoncially, "that he didn't expect the next guy would be him."

As Gibson looked at his shoes, Downey proclaimed that Gibson himself had "hugged the cactus long enough" and deserved support. Then the two shared a long embrace as the crowd broke into applause.


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-- Julie Makinen 

Photo: Mel Gibson speaks onstage during the 25th American Cinematheque Award ceremony honoring Robert Downey Jr.  at the Beverly Hilton hotel on Friday evening. Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images 



Could Charlie Sheen become the next Robert Downey Jr.?

March 8, 2011 |  7:30 am


A talented but troubled actor potentially suffering from a bipolar disorder is fired from a hit TV show after one too many embarrassing incidents involving substance abuse.

And less than a decade later, Robert Downey, Jr. goes from a tabloid story and "Ally McBeal" sideshow to the second-highest grossing film of the year.

It's far too early (and pat) to suggest that Charlie Sheen is headed for a career revival along the lines of Downey's "Iron Man" comeback or anything else possibly portended by Sheen's cameo in Downey's "Due Date."  First, Sheen (like Downey, 45) has to demonstrate he wants a comeback. Unlike the Iron Man's fall from grace in the late 1990s, which seemed to contain a certain amount of private shame, Sheen has embraced the dysfunction. Downey at his lowest moments seemed at least nominally interested in rehab, or not outright disdainful of it. Sheen's heal-thyself attitude doesn't exactly scream 12-step program.

Still, here are five reasons why an "Iron Man"-style resurrection isn't out of the realm of possibility for  Sheen in the years to come.

The comeback factor:
Americans love a public comeback almost as much as they love a public spiraling. In fact, "Different Strokes" cast members aside, it's hard to think of actors with substance-abuse problems who weren't given second and third chances. (Allegations of misogyny and anti-Semitism are a separate issue.)  Whether Sheen seizes the comeback opportunity is an open question. But he should get one.

The talent show:

Sure, you can mock the "I wasn't even trying" quip Sheen made to "20/20" about his early acting roles. But long before he bolstered a prime-time sitcom by playing a thinly disguised version of himself, Charlie Sheen had some promising film roles, including "Wall Street" and "Platoon." In fact, stack Sheen's early-career filmography against Downey's (best known in that era for "Less Than Zero" and "Chaplin") and the actor formerly known as Carlos Estevez probably comes out on top.

Producer push:
Right now, Sheen must seem like plutonium to anyone casting a movie, not least because of the insurance issue. Lindsay Lohan could probably get bonded more easily. But solve that conundrum and producers could make a case. Putting Sheen in a movie gets you instant attention that even millions of dollars in marketing couldn't buy. And sure, there's the distraction factor -- but the actor by most   accounts showed up for work on "Two and a Half Men" no matter how hard he was partying the night before. What's more, unlike TV, you wouldn't need a major commitment from Sheen to cast him -- just his willingness to step up for a few months of shooting and promotion.

Cash grab:
Sheen's got plenty in the bank now. But unless Mark Cuban pays him Dirk Nowitzki money to appear on HDNet, he'll will need some cash at some point in the next few years. And celebrities have a strange way of straightening out when their bank accounts are on the line.

Public platform:
Downey fought his way back to respectability the old-fashioned way -- semi-privately and with a steady diet of film roles. Sheen has far more potent and fast-acting tools at his disposal. As much as Twitter and the 24-hour news cycle have sped up and made public the actor's unraveling, they can also hasten his return, if and when he chooses to make one.

-- Steven Zeitchik


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Photo: Charlie Sheen leaving a Colorado courthouse last summer. Credit: Rick Wilking / Reuters


Zach Galifianakis on 'Due Date' versus 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles'

November 8, 2010 | 12:00 pm


If you caught "Due Date" over the weekend, the film may have sparked some fond memories of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," the 1987 classic by John Hughes starring Steve Martin and John Candy. In both movies, two wildly incompatible travelers from opposite ends of the personality spectrum are thrust together by a perfect storm of bad mojo, dumb luck and financial roadblocks to embark on a madcap cross-country journey. A marathon of indignities, car wrecks, rough rides in the back of pickups and, of course, hilarity ensues. 

In "Due Date," Zach Galifianakis plays Ethan Tremblay, the annoying guy-with-heart who shares much in common with Candy's Del Griffith, while Robert Downey Jr.'s Peter Highman is the straight man, just like Martin's Neal Page.

Our own Chris Lee, who interviewed Galifianakis recently, asked him about how the two movies stack up.

Lee: "Planes Trains and Automobiles" -- how much did you guys talk about that movie during production?

Galifianakis: If you see two guys on a road trip that are the opposite of each other, of course that's going to come up. "PT+A" is such a classic movie, I can see where those comparisons will come from. But after people see the movie, I think that talk will stop.

Lee: John Candy leaves his towels on the floor, and you plunge your car off an overpass.

Galifianakis: This is a more extreme version. Again, Robert –- I think Steve Martin's character, which is so wonderful, it would have been tempting to go in that direction. Traveling business man. Trying to get home. Insurance guy. Probably a nice guy. Robert starts off being an angry guy –- which I think is different enough. ["Planes, Trains and Automobiles"] is one of the greatest movies. When John Candy takes his sock off on the plane, that's funny enough. But then he starts beating the bottom of his feet with his sock? It doesn't get much better than that.

Check out some of the similarities between the two films in this slide show.


Betsy Sharkey reviews "Due Date"

Photo: Steve Martin and the late John Candy starred in the 1987 movie "Planes, Trains and Automobiles."  Credit: Paramount Pictures


Preview review: 'Hangover' director Todd Phillips births 'Due Date'

July 15, 2010 | 10:51 am

14cskde Ever since the runaway success of "The Hangover," audiences have eagerly awaited a sequel to the breakout Todd Phillips comedy. While they'll have to wait until next year for "The Hangover 2," the director's new "Due Date" might tide over many of that movie's fans.

A trailer for the film, which stars Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis and is out in November, hit the Web on Wednesday, and its tone is reminiscent of the wacky Vegas comedy. Downey  plays Peter Highman, a buttoned-down type who, just before the birth of his first child, is forced into a frantic cross-country road trip with slacker Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis) after Tremblay gets them both kicked off an airplane.

Judging by the trailer, the road trip produces all kinds of high jinks, as Ethan continually annoys Peter with his eccentricities. We're especially fond of the preview's opening, which starts as a serious moment between the two men, with Peter telling Ethan about how his dad left him as a young boy. That's until Ethan finds humor in the anecdote, breaking out into hysterical laughter and offering up this zinger: "Oh my gosh, my dad would never do that. He loved me!"

Ethan is the type of character Galifianakis excels at playing -- the clueless immature type who takes himself really seriously. Meanwhile, it's nice to see Downey back in a more straitlaced role after his action-hero parts in "Iron Man 2" and "Sherlock Holmes." With Phillips leading them, the movie looks like it will have the kind of manic hysteria that made "The Hangover" so hilarious. And if our expectations weren't lofty enough, during an "Iron Man 2" press junket earlier this year, Downey raised the bar by referring to "Due Date" with this high praise: "It's like the second greatest movie I've ever done."

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifanakis in "Due Date." Credit: Warner Bros.


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'Iron Man 2' premieres in Hollywood, and expectations slip on a shiny suit

April 27, 2010 |  3:00 am

"Figure out what the audience wants and give it to them," Robert Downey, Jr., said from the podium outside the El Capitan Theatre at the "Iron Man 2" premiere Monday night.

Downey may have been kidding, in that knowing, smirking, I'm-in-on-the-joke-too way of his that defies you not to like him. But the statement may also have well captioned the evening, summing up how the presentation of the franchise has neutralized many criticisms of its popcorn charms. Downey and Marvel know the commercial juggernaut they have here, and as they've done since they started rolling out the movie at Comic-con last summer (and as Tony Stark himself might do), they not only flashed that confidence but turned it into a selling point.

Downeyjr Indeed, the premiere of the Marvel-produced, Paramount-distributed, Justin Theroux-penned sequel delivered the pleasing to the crowd, as director and co-star Jon Favreau, standing on a makeshift podium on Hollywood Boulevard, introduced the litany of stars, from Mickey Rourke to Gwyneth Paltrow to Samuel Jackson to Downey himself. (Check out the red-carpet video from sister blog Ministry of Gossip, as well as the ongoing pre-release countdown from our sister blog, Hero Complex.)

Then out came "The Ironettes" (like the Rockettes, only with a superhero motif) who did a heels-up, devil-may-care number to parallel an on-screen performance from one of the film's first sequences. (The El Capitan setting of the premiere, incidentally, showed just how entwined Disney is with studio/producer Marvel, which it acquired last year, which also meant the premiere was the first known superhero movie to begin with a live organist performance, as nearly all screenings at the El Cap do.)

We'll of course wait for the Los Angeles Times' critics and other reviewers to offer their assessments of the movie, but our own quick reaction was of a film rich in flash, generous in wit (never before has such a fast-talking, confidence-brimming wiseacre donned a superhero costume) and thin on meaningful storytelling (but thick with the false-start kind). Several colleagues we spoke to afterward similarly did not find themselves in a pose of jaw-dropping awe but, like us, they felt the film has a sense of confidence in its own mission that almost wills you into liking it (or distracts you from its convolutions).

Palt What this movie will offer its broad quilt-work of fans is of course the key question. For a film that will be one the biggest of the summer and possibly the biggest three-day opener of all time, "Iron Man 2" has a tricky job, commercially speaking. It needs to satisfy those who crave more of the mythology introduced by the first film, but it also needs to stand alone as it aims to bring in even more people than the first (and squash that movie's $98-million opening and $318-million total).

And as it does all of this, it needs to set up future movies in the Marvel canon, particularly the ensemble-oriented "Avengers," which it devotes a fair amount of time to doing, at the risk of complicating the storytelling (we'll stay away from major spoilers, but here's a small one; skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid it -- Downey's Tony Stark offers to come in as a "consultant" to the Avengers group being organized by Samuel Jackson's Nick Fury. That doughnut scene from the early footage is only the beginning.)

If the wisdom based on some of the early tracking has it that "Iron Man 2" has the potential to be a blockbuster of epic proportions, Monday night did little to tamp down those expectations. When you have the flashy goods, you may as well show them off. Both Tony Stark and Robert Downey Jr. could tell you that.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Upper photo: Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey at the "Iron Man 2" premiere. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Lower photo: Gwyneth Paltrow at the "Iron Man 2" premiere. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Robert Downey Jr. as the Wizard of Oz?

April 20, 2010 |  8:11 pm

Several weeks ago we wrote that Joe Roth was meeting with newly anointed Disney production president Sean Bailey on a "Wizard of Oz" prequel about the wizard before he came to Oz.

Now we're hearing that those meetings went well, so well that the project is on a fast track of sorts. According to word in the development community, Robert Downey Jr. is talking to producers about starring as the wizard (hard not to lick your lips at that one). 

Down Meanwhile, two directors are said to be considered top candidates to get behind the camera: "American Beauty" director Sam Mendes (who may have some  time on his hands now that "Bond 23" is in trouble) and "Hairspray" and "Bedtime Stories" director Adam Shankman, who most recently pulled the strings from behind the curtain at the Oscars.

(Downey's and Mendes' potential involvement, incidentally, were also mentioned earlier today in a tweet from Production Weekly.)

As we'd initially written, "The Whole Nine Yards" writer Mitchell Kapner wrote the script for the project, based on parts of a number of L. Frank Baum books. (It was called "Brick" back when it was first presented to Disney, but is now being talked about around town as "The Great Powerful.") The wizard, who in the Baum books was a charlatan in Kansas before arriving in Oz, is a more dark and complex character in the Roth/Kapner version than the desperate and doddering wizard of the MGM musical (played by Frank Morgan) would suggest, which in turn makes it seem like it would be perfect for Downey (and few others).

 The two directors being considered, meanwhile, would seem to mark two directions for the picture, given the more subdued and even bleaker tones that have infused Mendes' work and the lighter, more whimsical one that has marked Shankman's.

Disney is said to like the premise enough (and with Roth's "Alice in Wonderland" doing so fantastically well, why not?) that if it all comes together, they could shoot the movie as early as next spring, when Downey has a spot in his production schedule. From down-and-out to playing Tony Stark and, possibly, the Wizard of Oz -- it's like he's on his own yellow brick road.

--Steven Zeitchik

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Photo: Robert Downey, Jr. at the 2010 Oscars. Credit: Peter Kramer/AP

Robert Downey Jr. won't be Jon Favreau's 'Cowboy'

January 11, 2010 |  4:14 pm

Don Robert Downey Jr. won't ride into the wild West after all.

The actor, who had been poised to reunite with "Iron Man" director Jon Favreau for the science-fiction western "Cowboys & Aliens," won't star in the film.

The movie, sources say, will still move forward with Favreau. But Downey has fallen off the project, and studio DreamWorks is seeking a new hero to replace him. Production is tentatively set to begin this year for a planned release in summer 2011.

 Originally a serialized graphic novel, "Cowboys & Aliens" focuses on outer-space creatures who land in Arizona circa the mid-19th century intent on enslaving the local population -- until a group of cowboys and Apache Indians fight back. (There was a further Iron Man connection to "Cowboys:" writers Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby wrote an original draft of the script.)

Downey was set to play the gunslinger Zeke Jackson, who leads the anti-alien revolt.Cowb But scheduling issues -- Downey's been one of the busier actors in Hollywood -- forced a re-think. The project would have marked a third potential franchise a resurgent Downey would have been involved with, after "Iron Man" and "Sherlock Holmes," which is expected to spawn a sequel.

While Downey has not committed to anything new (he will star in the Todd Phillips comedy "Due Date" opposite Zach Galifianakis, which has wrapped), his parting with "Cowboys" could re-ignite speculation that a "Sherlock" sequel is on the fast track. Downey is attached to several other development projects as well. (He also has been associated with the "Harvey" remake at DreamWorks, at least before Steven Spielberg opted out.)

Whatever his next role, the actor's falling off "Cowboys" opens up a little breathing room in his relentless schedule -- even if it might make DreamWorks a little short of breath.

-- Steven Zeitchik 

Photo: Robert Downey Jr. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images


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