There are few people in showbiz with as much experience and respect as Dino de Laurentiis. He started in the business humbly as a prop master and actor in Italy and rose to become one of the most successful and celebrated producers in Hollywood history. Today, the world mourns the loss of one of the progenitors of the modern movie mogul as de Laurentiis heads to the great studio in the sky, but I thought it'd be nice to honor his career by highlighting a few of his most notable films.
Bitter Rice (1949)
A gripping drama and exemplary case of the majesty of Italian neo-realist cinema, Bitter Rice centered on a love "rectangle" between a pair of criminals and another set of individuals with whom they become involved with both romantically and criminally. Anchored by terrific performances, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for its writing, the first of many de Laurentiis films to garner international acclaim.
La Strada (1954) -
A beautiful but heartbreaking tale of love in the unlikeliest of places and devastating loss, La Strada starred the great Anthony Quinn as Zampano, a traveling strong man who mistreats his female companion Gelsomina who was sold to him by the girls mother. He really loves the girl but is unable to express his emotion and eventually this, along with a morbid string of events, leads him to abandon her. The universal themes within this classic Federico Fellini film carried La Strada all the way to the 1957 Academy Awards, where it won the Foreign Language Oscar. It remains one of the most treasured pieces of art in the world.
Battle of the Bulge (1965)
De Laurentiis went uncredited as a producer on this WWII epic that starred Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, James MacArthur and Charles Bronson. The story focused on the bloody conflict between Allied and Nazi forces for the major port city of Antwerp in the winter of 1944. Its narrative gave the point of view of an American intelligence officer and a German Panzer Commander. The film was nominated for a handful of Golden Globes and is one of the most beloved war movies of all time.
Danger: Diabolik (1968) -
Displaying incredible foresight, Dino was one of the (if not the) first filmmaker to acknowledge the potential of comic books as source material for feature films. He produced this adaptation, about a skilled thief who steals from the Italian government and lives a lavish lifestyle. Filled with suspense, sex appeal, action and adventure, Danger: Diabolik was a commercial success and a classic film that has influenced many modern heist films such as Entrapment and the Oceans films.
The second and more recognizable comic book adaptation from de Laurentiis, Barbarella was a super sexy science fiction flick featuring the seductive title character (played by the beautiful Jane Fonda) who thwarts the evil plans of the villainous Durand-Durand. Campy by today's standards, Barbarella is a landmark film that deserves kudos for its tremendous scope and its visionary storytelling. I don't think there would be an Avatar if Barbarella didn't exist.
One of the greatest films of the 1970s and an incredibly controversial true story, Serpico tells of real life NYPD Officer Frank Serpico, who refused to be corrupted by the system and saw his colleagues turn against him as a result of his honest actions. Al Pacino gives a tour de force performance as the tragic titular character and much kudos must go to de Laurentiis (and director Sidney Lumet), who took on a risky subject at a time when New York crime was at its peak.
Death Wish (1974)
Many revenge tales have been told since this classic 70s thriller, but few can compare to its brutality and stone cold protagonist. Charles Bronson stars as Paul Kersey, a Manhattan architect who goes on a killing spree after thugs murder his wife. This flick laid out the formula for the standard revenge story and remains one of the very best. De Laurentiis didn't stick around for the lesser sequels for good reason; none of them hold up quite as well as Michael Winner's original.
Three Days of the Condor (1975)
Going against the proven Bond formula, de Laurentiis produced this paranoia-era spy thriller at a time when shady government deadlings were commonplace. directed by the great Sydney Pollack. Together, they assembled an all-star cast including Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson and Max Von Sydow. The film says worlds about the espionage community and its practices and has influenced the work of Doug Liman and Steven Soderbergh, to name a few.
Dino deserves a posthumous pat on the back for taking on a tale like E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime. It is such a specific story, era-appropriate costumes and sets needed to be built to recreate 1900s New York City so that the actors could get the feel for the period. Under the masterful direction of Milos Forman, Ragtime was nominated for a whopping eight Academy Awards and though it didn't take any home on Oscar night, the film is undeniably a legendary accomplishment.
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
High brow cinema, this is not, but Conan was an ambitious effort nonetheless. Like Barbarella, Conan opened up a whole new world of adventure for fans of fantasy and science fiction. It is, for lack of a better word, awesome, and gave global audiences the Arnold Schwarzenegger we know and love.
Not as well known as the other films in the Hannibal Lektor series, this Michael Mann directed original is where the terror began. Most agree that it is scarier even than the Oscar winning Silence of the Lambs, but Dino's vision is what propelled the franchise - and Lektor - to its iconic status. He would go on to produce the sequel Hannibal, the remake Red Dragon and the prequel Hannibal Rising before his death.
Alex O’Loughlin has already signed up to reimagine Jack Lord's Steve McGarrett character on the new TV show, while Lost star Daniel Dae Kim and Britney Spears' Crossroads co-star Taryn Manning are also among the cast.
Caan's Danno was originally played by actor James MacArthur.
The actor has played Jin Kwon in the mystery drama for six seasons, relocating to Hawaii for the duration of the show.
And it looks as if Kim will be staying in the island paradise after scoring a role in CBS' new version of classic cop show Hawaii Five-O.
The original drama series, about the Hawaiian police department, ran from 1968 to 1980 and starred Jack Lord and James MacArthur.
Kim is said to have been handed the role of Detective Chin Ho Kelly, originally played by Kam Fong, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
A total knockout as a piece of well-made B-movie grit Fighting focuses on two men living on separate edges of society who come together to make a killing in the forbidden world of bare-knuckle fighting. When con man Harvey Boarden spots raw street-fighting talent in the form of small-town dude Shawn MacArthur the two team up by entering Shawn in the potentially lucrative underground circuit a place where rich men bet on young brawlers who battle like pit bulls unleashed. With success comes complications however and Shawn ends up fighting not only for money but his whole future — which suddenly is very much at stake.
WHO’S IN IT?
Rising young heartthrob Channing Tatum’s (Step Up) raw star power blasts through the screen as Shawn a role that thankfully calls for more complexity than just acting with his fists. Opposite Oscar-nominated actor Terrence Howard’s (Hustle & Flow) Harvey he steps up his game and the two play off each other with ease searching for ways to lift what is basically an action vehicle into something more emotionally involving and Rocky-esque. Certainly the highlights are still the intense and brutal fight sequences but because Tatum invests more than just one note into his portrayal of a guy trying to work his way up from the streets into a better life we are behind him all the way. In a case of a Zulay playing another Zulay Zulay Henao is sweet and appealing as a girl Shawn starts dating between bouts while Brian White is menacing and slippery as Evan Hailey a key rival and protégé of Shawn’s own estranged father. Also of note is Altagracia Guzman who has a couple of very funny scenes as Zulay’s disapproving grandmother.
The heart-stopping realism of the bare-knuckle fighting is refreshingly free of cinematic trickery and CGI assistance. It’s raw and packs real punch particularly during a sequence in which Shawn faces a formidable martial arts opponent but also in the climactic bout with Hailey. And fortunately there are some nice twists along the way that keep this flick from drifting into complete predictability. Director Dito Montiel who previously made the Sundance award-winner A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (also with Tatum) knows the New York street scene well.
Although richly entertaining the film could have benefitted from a deeper look into this forbidden world of underground human fighting which hasn’t been explored much on-screen beyond the very unique take of David Fincher’s acerbic Fight Club.
Aside from the powerful fisticuffs on constant display it has to be Shawn’s first encounter with Zulay’s grandmother when he arrives unannounced for dinner. It’s priceless stuff serving to humanize him and ramp his score way up on the likeability meter.
Give credit to the filmmakers for the simplicity of the name. Fighting tells you everything you need to know.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Multiplex. Like any boxing match it’s more fun to watch with a crowd.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A man rushes into buying the perfect house in the suburbs so he can raise his family. Only he soon discovers he’s overpaid for a death trap that will require big bucks to renovate. Yes Are We Done Yet? is another remake of Cary Grant’s 1948 classic comedy Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. While the prospect of Ice Cube stuck in a house of horrors seems like an appropriate way to trump the road trip from hell that was Are We There Yet? this sequel isn’t an upgrade on Tom Hanks’ 1986 Blandings redo The Money Pit. But that won’t matter to the kids who laughed at the slow and painful destruction of Ice Cube’s beloved SUV. Now they’ll squeal with delight as Ice Cube—finally married to Nia Long who’s pregnant with his twin babies—tries to replace the leaky roof he’s put over the heads of his ungrateful stepchildren (Aleisha Allen and Philip Bolden). “I can fix that ” Ice Cube says after breaking something. Too bad no one took a crack at fixing a script that fails to puts a modern-day spin on the suburban angst Cary Grant endured 60 years ago. As a founding member of 1980s gangsta rap group N.W.A. Ice Cube made his bones scaring the living daylight out of white middle-class Americans. Now he’s entertaining their grandkids with innocuous family-friendly farces that once were Eddie Murphy’s bread and butter. You can’t blame Ice Cube for building upon his comedy franchises Barbershop and Friday especially as he’s failed in his bid to be an action hero. But unlike The Pacifier which Vin Diesel employed to poke fun at his tough-guy image this kid-conscious franchise makes Ice Cube look softer than a life-size teddy bear. Sure he’s man enough to more of a beating than he did the first time out as Nick Persons but the scowling Ice Cube looks as uncomfortable bearing the brunt of these Home Alone-style humiliations as he does working with children and animals. Not so with John C. McGinley the film’s lone source of amusement. He seems thrilled to be out of his doctor Scrubs and hamming it up as a happy-go-lucky man of many hats including realtor construction manager and midwife. Speaking of giving birth Nia Long doesn’t have anything to do other than to exude the glow of an expectant mother. Unfortunately Long’s onscreen kids Aleisha Allen and Philip Bolden don’t have much to do either. They were the driving force behind Ice Cube’s road rage in Are We There Yet? Now they barely get up to any mischief. And the better behaved they are the less enjoyable Are We Done Yet? is. Are We Done Yet? began life as a Blandings remake before Ice Cube et al. retooled it as this plain and predictable sequel. So that may explain why Allen and Bolden are no longer the cause of Ice Cube’s physical abuse. That’s a shame as the antagonistic relationship they once shared made Are We There Yet? somewhat tolerable. Director Steve Carr clearly has no interest in exploring Ice Cube’s new role as a stepfather not even if it results in more concussions. Then again Carr’s there to merely serve as a one-man wrecking crew. He dutifully tears down Ice Cube’s house but he doesn’t do it with much panache or originality. You just know Ice Cube will hit rock bottom when he tries to fall asleep while rain pours through his roofless house. At least Carr—who also directed such mediocre sequels as Dr. Dolittle 2 and Ice Cube’s Next Friday—has the good sense not to bring back the Tracy Morgan-voiced Satchel Paige bobblehead doll from Are We There Yet? And he does wrap up the proceedings with a welcome nod to the chaos Ice Cube endured on that long drive. Still by the time Ice Cube steps foot in the dream house he’s built you’re hoping that the trials and tribulations of his battered and bruised Nick Persons are indeed over and done with.
Last we heard in last year’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman Madea (Tyler Perry) was solving social cultural and familial problems. What a busy lady! Well she’s done gone and done it again after a whole new crop of problems pop up that need fixing. This time the conflicts revolve primarily around two sisters Vanessa (Lisa Arrindell Anderson) and Lisa (Rochelle Aytes) both of whom are wary of their financial-minded mother Victoria (Lynn Whitfield). Vanessa is deathly afraid to love again after her husband left her and two kids and fears she might’ve met Mr. Right in the form of a bus driver (Boris Kodjoe). Meanwhile Lisa is in a physically abusive relationship with Carlos (Blair Underwood) “Atlanta’s most eligible bachelor ” but is afraid to leave him. Madea the antithesis of gold-digging Victoria solves these and many more problems as the family reunion nears. After Mad Black Woman’s surprise box office take last year bigger names were less reluctant to sign on. Accordingly the new actors in Reunion are very solid—borderline stellar collectively. The lone exception is Perry as Madea (as well as a few other characters) whose over-the-topness although expected reduces the air of professionalism from the rest. Underwood is so damn good at being so damn bad as the abusive fiancée Carlos while Whitfield matches him chill for chill in a very icy performance. The relative unknowns/newcomers are the most pleasant surprises however. Aytes has breathtaking beauty that would normally overshadow acting but not here. Anderson whose last film was ‘95’s Clockers is equally beautiful and evocative as a single mother torn. And for the female eyes there’s Kodjoe whom girls will likely fall for even more when they learn he can actually act. Perry wears many hats in Family Reunion: writer director producer star--and oh yeah he also wrote the popular stage production from which the film is adapted. Perhaps Perry’s workaholic attitude contributes to the film’s thematic overkill. There are a number of kinks in the film’s completely uneven story and the way it is told but perhaps the biggest problem stems from the fact that it still feels like a stage play. Sometimes that’s a plus for a film but it’s hard to think it was intended. This feeling is elicited by the sum of the story’s parts. Perry will be in one scene telling the tale of a beleaguered battered woman amid a linear and conventional storyline and in the next scene become Madea in her cartoonish and campy getup dishing out her tough love techniques. No doubt Reunion is an enjoyable play--only if you agree with Perry’s comedic remedies for serious issues.
Luke (Steven Strait) and Brier (Pell James) first cross paths on a New York City subway before the doors shut on their instant attraction to one another. Of course it is immediately and abundantly clear that they will naturally meet up again before long but where and how? The answers: L.A. and well it's complicated. Each having forgotten about the other Brier a top model in NYC decides she needs a change of scenery and tells her agent (Carrie Fisher clearly in it for the paycheck) she's heading out to L.A. to pursue acting while Luke and his brother Euan (Kip Pardue) decide to move to the West Coast as well. Once there Brier befriends Clea (Ashlee Simpson) and on her first night in town takes Brier to a local dive bar where Luke works as a struggling "musician." Wow that's some coincidence. There is an instant re-connection between Luke and Brier but she refuses to get involved with musicians since her rock-star ex mistreated her. Instead she shifts her focus on generating buzz for Luke. Eventually Luke gets the big recording contract becomes the rock-star jerk he'd swore he'd never become and loses it all. But all is well when Brier decides she can no longer resist Luke's ballads and Metallica-guitarist-circa-'85 hair.
The theme of Undiscovered could apply to its cast. Each of the four leads are on the cusp of being on the cusp and certainly they hope this movie will take them one step closer. For James that might happen. She is a natural on screen and gives a breakthrough performance as the comely Brier. Strait is also a relative newcomer. After turning his debut performance in this summer's Sky High he holds his own in Undiscovered but seems to be relegated to taking his shirt off to make the teenyboppers swoon. Finally there's Simpson who is also making her major-role debut. It's awkward to see her on-screen and yes subconsciously you wait for her to make a noticeable mistake (or butcher a voice-over due to acid reflux). Of course it doesn't happen; she moves along pretty smoothly but is at times subjected to dialogue that seems beyond her especially when she has to words big words such as "banter." And certainly it's not her fault when she describes Luke--a musician best left struggling--as "a cross between Jeff Buckley and Elvis Costello." That's just someone else's words she reciting.
Prolific music-video director Meiert Avis is making his feature film directorial debut with Undiscovered--and his obvious greenness shows. At times the film is more like a music video surrounded by a weak storyline than a cohesive film. His expertise in the rather linear realm of music videos doesn't exactly qualify him for the complexities of a 90-minute film contrived and straightforward as his debut may be. Avis tries to employ every possible clichéd obstacle for the characters to overcome--which reeks of inexperience but could also be the screenwriter's fault. No doubt Avis feels at home with newcomers such as Strait and Simpson who--for all intents and purposes--sing and act but the plethora of singing scenes feel forced. That is forced into the script to showcase the soundtrack when the movie goes undiscovered at the box office.
Helen McCarter (Kimberly Elise) thought she had the perfect life with lawyer husband Charles (Steve Harris): a big house lots of creature comforts and a stable--albeit staid--marriage. But Helen's world shatters when Charles tells her on the eve of their 18th wedding anniversary that he wants a divorce and literally kicks her out of their spacious mansion to make room for another woman. Devastated she runs to her beloved pot-smokin' gun-totin' grandmother Madea (Tyler Perry) who lets Helen know she's a proud beautiful black woman who nonetheless should whoop the bastard's ass. As hurt as she is Helen really just wants to pick up the pieces and move on if she can. She finds guidance and empowerment from her family and friends including new friend Orlando (Shemar Moore) a drop-dead gorgeous construction worker whose sweet and sincere ways more than help Helen get through her pain. And he cooks too. Really there's no contest.
The main cast members aptly portray their roles formulaic as they are. Kimberly Elise (The Manchurian Candidate) as the grievously wronged wife has the toughest job trying to convey all the crazy mixed-up feelings Helen has for the ex-husband while trying to jumpstart her life. Steve Harris (TV's The Practice) as the callous husband and Shemar Moore (TV's The Young and the Restless) as the too-good-to-be-true suitor represent the two opposites sides of the coin. Even Cicely Tyson makes an appearance as Helen's invalid mother who seems just a little too healthy to be in a nursing home. But it's Tyler Perry who turns out to be the true mad black woman. The film comes alive when he's onscreen either playing the outrageous Madea--complete with wig makeup and padding--or Madea's brother Joe a lecherous old coot. Perry even gets to play it straight as Helen's kindly cousin Brian who has a junkie for a wife (played by Tamara Taylor with the usual vacant twitchy neediness). It would have been a long hour and a half without him.
Perry obviously writes from the heart having struggled through his younger years to become a well-known playwright. And with music video director Darren R. Grant at the helm Diary of a Mad Black Woman has all the best intentions. It's certainly a buoyant portrait of African-American life and culture that also speaks to anyone who has had to grapple with betrayal and hurt at the hands of those they love. But the stage-trained Perry somehow misses the subtleties of writing for film. Diary doesn't know what kind of genre it wants to be jumping from raucous comedy á la Big Momma's House to mind-numbing drama á la Waiting to Exhale. The characters don't have any complexities and are drawn very black or white. It also takes an awfully long time for our heroine to figure out what direction she's going to take when we could tell her in the first 30 minutes as to whom she should end up with. In the meantime we must endure several melodramatic set pieces filled with elaborate speeches about revenge love relationships redemption religion and all that which are meant to hit us hard with their poignancy. Perry might consider keeping the highfalutin writing for the stage and think about an acting career in film.