After enjoying one of the more impressive career ascensions of the 1980s and 1990s, writer-producer-director Martin Brest crashed in spectacular fashion with a film almost universally derided as the w...
Bronx, New York, USA
|Fast Times At Ridgemont High||1982||Actor||Dr Miller||19827|
|Spies Like Us||1985||Actor||Drive-in Security||19857|
|Going in Style||1979||Director||n/a||4|
|Meet Joe Black||1998||Director||n/a||4|
|Beverly Hills Cop||1984||Director||n/a||4|
|Scent of A Woman||1992||Director||n/a||4|
|Josh and S.A.M.||1993||Producer||n/a||3|
|Meet Joe Black||1998||Producer||n/a||3|
|Scent of A Woman||1992||Producer||n/a||3|
|Going in Style||1979||Screenplay||n/a||1|
|First producing credit, "Midnight Run"; also directed|
|Directed and wrote first Hollywood feature, "Going in Style" starring George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg|
|Earned Oscar nominations as producer and director of the Americanized remake, "Scent of a Woman"|
|Helmed the popular Eddie Murphy vehicle "Beverly Hills Cop"|
|Wrote, directed, produced and edited first feature, "Hot Tomorrows"; shown at 1977 New York Film Festival; originated as AFI student project|
|Formed City Light Films; served as president|
|Returned to the director's chair with "Meet Joe Black", a loose remake of Mitchell Leisen's 1934 film "Death Takes a Holiday"; also produced|
|First feature as producer only, "Josh and S.A.M."|
Martin Brest was born into a Jewish family on Aug. 8, 1951 in the borough of the Bronx, NY. Upon graduating from Stuyvesant High School in 1969, he enrolled in New York University's School of the Arts. It was there that he wrote and directed the short film "Hot Dogs for Gauguin" (1972), a dark comedy notable for the fact that the 21-year-old film student engaged the services of future comedy stars Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman. NYU degree in hand, Brest soon made the move to the West Coast, where he enrolled in the Directing MFA program at the prestigious American Film Institute Conservatory. Once again utilizing his powers of persuasion, Brest enlisted an eclectic cast that included Ray Sharkey, Hervé Villechaize, Oingo Boingo front man Danny Elfman, and even the voice of Orson Welles, for his feature film debut "Hot Tomorrows" (1977), a comedy-drama that he wrote, produced and directed. Although the film was seen only briefly on the festival circuit, its reception and Brest's growing reputation won the 28-year-old the chance to direct his first studio feature film. Serving as screenwriter and director, Brest delivered "Going in Style" (1979), another comedy-drama about three aging retirees (George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg) who embark on one last grand adventure with a scheme to rob a local bank.
By all accounts a young Hollywood up-and-comer, Brest amused himself with a small acting role in the definitive teen sex-comedy "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (1982), prior to taking on his next and, at the time, biggest directorial project. That film was "War Games" (1983), an exceptionally prescient techno-thriller starring Matthew Broderick as a teenage hacker who unwittingly nearly instigates World War III. The film, however, would not belong to Brest, whose heated on-set argument with the movie's producers led to his being fired and replaced by director John Badham. Reportedly, a few early scenes initially shot by Brest were left intact in the final cut of "War Games," which went on to become one of the most successful films of 1983. Brest's rebound effort came about as a combination of indifference and luck. Turned down by several other directors - including Martin Scorsese and David Cronenberg - legend had it that Brest agreed to direct "Beverly Hills Cop" (1984) only after flipping a coin. Based on an oft-revised script, completely rewritten for its star, actor-comedian Eddie Murphy, Brest later described the production of the film as being incredibly chaotic and marveled at the effectiveness of the finished product. "Beverly Hills Cop" became one of the biggest box-office sensations of the decade, placed Murphy at the top of the Hollywood heap and turned Brest - unemployed just months prior - into one of the hottest young movie directors in the business.
Flush with success, Brest took on another brief acting cameo in the Dan Aykroyd-Chevy Chase action-comedy "Spies Like Us" (1985) as he contemplated his next cinematic endeavor. After a minor flirtation with the idea of helming "Rain Man" (1988), he settled on a buddy action-comedy starring Robert De Niro titled "Midnight Run" (1988). Early on, the movie studio had urged the director to cast actor Robin Williams in the role opposite De Niro's bounty hunter character. Brest, who was also making his debut as a producer, insisted on the lower-key Charles Grodin, and after Paramount Pictures stepped out and Universal stepped in, Brest got what he wanted. The gamble paid off when "Midnight Run" became one of the better-reviewed genre movies of the year, enjoyed modest box-office success, and remained a fan favorite years after its release. Brest diversified his portfolio by stepping away from action-comedies and embracing his contemplative side with "Scent of a Woman" (1992). Starring Al Pacino as an irascible, blind retired soldier and Chris O'Donnell as the prep school student assigned to watch over him, the feel-good drama garnered several Academy Award nominations, including Best Director and won Pacino the Best Actor Oscar. It was beginning to appear as if Brest could do no wrong.
The year that followed saw Brest serving solely in the role of producer for the adolescent road trip movie "Josh and S.A.M." (1993), which would precede a five-year period of relative inactivity. When he did return, it was to produce and direct "Meet Joe Black" (1998), a fantasy-drama starring Brad Pitt as the ethereally handsome personification of Death and Anthony Perkins as the millionaire who acts as the Grim Reaper's guide on Earth in return for a few more days of life. Despite the film's high-wattage star power and Brest's stellar track record, "Joe Black" met with decidedly mixed reviews and general apathy at the box office. Possibly contributing to its lukewarm reception was the film's daunting 178-minute running time, which prompted the studio to make drastic cuts to the film for network television distribution. Unhappy with the result, Brest officially had his credit removed from that version of the movie. Although "Joe Black" may have been Brest's first real theatrical disappointment, it would it be his worst.
Written, produced and directed by Brest, "Gigli" (2003) was a romantic crime-drama that hoped to benefit from the onscreen pairing of celebrity super-couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, a.k.a. "Bennifer." The result, however, proved to be indisputably disastrous. Odd and uneven, it was savagely panned by critics, many of whom dubbed it the worst film of the year. Some went so far as to call it the worst film ever made. "Gigli" became a certified bomb when it disappeared from theaters within weeks of its release and later won the "Razzie Award Grand Slam" of Worst Picture, Worst Actor, Worst Actress, Worst Director and Worst Screenplay. Whether self-imposed exile or a case of modern-day blacklisting, Brest virtually dropped off the Hollywood map in the years that followed the "Gigli" debacle. Nearly a decade later, he had yet to write, produce or direct another feature film.
By Bryce Coleman
|New York University|
|Stuyvesant High School|
|Center For Advanced Film Studies, American Film Institute|
From classic movie palaces to the state-of-the-art IMAX screens.