James Franco has pulled out of starring and directing upcoming movie Garden Of Last Days just two weeks before shooting was set to start, according to a U.S. report. The Milk star was expected to begin work on the project on 10 July (13), but editors at Deadline.com reveal he has stepped away from the film after a disagreement with financiers at Millennium over the crew he wanted to hire.
Franco had signed on to the project in April (13) and the movie was set to be based on the 2008 novel The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III.
We here at Hollywood.com are awfully big fans of the 2012 global and generation-spanning novel Beautiful Ruins, to say the least. In fact, we declared the book's writer Jess Walter (The Financial Lives of the Poets) our breakout author of that year and the book itself one of the year's 10 best. So our expectations for a film adaptation of the funny, heartbreaking, and beautifully written piece of literature were awfully big, to say the least.
Mind you, this is a story that's almost too perfect fit for the big screen: from its glorious locations like a picturesque hotel on the Ligurian Sea, to the fact that a large portion of the story is a love letter to old Hollywood love stories, Beautiful Ruins would be a sensory delight, with a (hopefully great) ensemble cast to boot.
So imagine our utter delight when it was announced on Monday that Oscar-nominated actor/writer/director Todd Field would be getting behind the camera for the first time since 2006's devastatingly good Little Children to bring Beautiful Ruins to a theater near you.
Even better, Field will not only direct and produce, but he'll co-write the screenplay with Walter. As far as turning beloved books into full-length features that not only do the text justice, but stand on their own as great pieces of work, Field is two for two. Not only did his take on Little Children pick up on all of intricacies Tom Perrotta's darkly funny, sexy, and oft depressing slice of suburban Americana, but he also made one of the most darkly funny, sexy, and oft depressing movies of that year. Plus, he got Kate Winslet to turn out one of her all-time great performances as a bored housewife.
Five years prior to Little Children, Field made his full-length directorial debut with In the Bedroom (which he also co-wrote), which also did its original text justice (here, from Andre Dubus' short story collection of the same name), as well as being a visually-captivating, shocking, memorable, Oscar-nominated film which got its already-impressive cast to turn out even more impressive performances. (Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, and Marisa Tomei all earned nods).
While it's more than fair to say that Field knows what he's doing with adapting brilliant books into equally brilliant films, Beautiful Ruins is actually a bit out of the director's realm. Walter's novel, in comparison to Little Children and In the Bedroom is less heavy fare (that's not to say it doesn't pack emotional wallops, because it most certainly does) and it trades cold suburban landscapes for sunny locations in Italy and California.
Still, Field is an expert on picking up on the little things, and getting us in the minds of the characters. Beautiful Ruins may be a grander, more sweeping story than his previous efforts, but what made that book such a hit with readers (including us) was the getting to know all of the characters over the span of years and thousands of miles. Field can tell a big story that can shifts from harrowing drama to razor-sharp comedy, whether its on a seemingly quiet suburban street or the Hollywood hills and from the perspective of the young and old, the hopeful and the hopeless. It's a thing of beauty, really.
[Photo credit: Harper Collins]
More: Jess Walter, 'Beautiful Ruins' Writer: Hollywood.com Breakout Author of 2012 Hollywood.com's Picks for the 10 Best Books of 2012 20 Hot (and Horrifying) Sex Scenes in Movies
Jack and Terry (Mark Ruffalo and Laura Dern) are an unhappy couple stifled by years of sullen barely concealed rage Jack's inertia and Terry's drinking. Their friends Hank and Edith (Peter Krause and Naomi Watts) are similarly miserable with each other which they act out through barely concealed affairs. As Jack and Edith begin their illicit tryst they instinctively seek to pair up Hank and Terry partly to make it easier for them to sneak around but mostly to alleviate their own guilt. So the two couples basically substitute one rut for another wheels spinning in the muddy morass of their own confused attempts at adulthood. Through it all their children become a sort of juvenile Greek chorus for their parents making the kinds of precocious pronouncements that are only uttered from the mouths of screenwriters.
As joyless as the movie is to sit through the acting is brilliant. Krause (Six Feet Under) tosses his nonchalance around as an impenetrable shield caring so little that he's impossible to wound. Ruffalo (Collateral) who is the most (and probably the only) human of the quartet provides the only thing approaching a moral center. And even in this company Dern manages to act circles around them. Her Terry is a definitive portrait of the party girl who finally wakes up hung over one morning only to discover she's got two kids to feed a house to clean and a husband who'd rather talk than make love. To her love means always having to admit you're desperate. So it's sad and chilling to watch her begin her affair with Hank only because in her own twisted way she thinks her husband wants her to.
Watts is still the most compulsively watchable actress working today summoning reserves of inner turmoil on cue and yet always making it look effortless. It is interesting to contrast her role here with her work in the far superior and brilliantly written 21 Grams. Both characters are deeply unhappy people trying to make sense of the cruel world. And yet 21 Grams which is much unhappier and more despondent achieves a sublime grace as each character discovers their humanity in their desperation. In this movie you just hope that at some point the four main characters will jump in an SUV that has faulty brakes.
The two men are college professors and the movie makes the most of that milieu with flirtatious students college bars and long leafy runs providing the backdrop. But most of the movie's plotting feels like its been done on graph paper. Jack and Terry make love. Cut to Hank and Edith making love. Jack talks to his daughter. Cut to Edith talking to her daughter. The rhythm of this duet becomes numbing. The movie is directed by John Curran an Australian making his first American feature. But the impetus for the story comes from screenwriter Larry Gross adapting two short stories by Andre Dubus who wrote In the Bedroom. Dubus' movie characters are all variations on the same emotionally stifled yuppie theme although In the Bedroom saved itself by turning into an old-fashioned revenge melodrama. We Don't Live Here Anymore is one of those movies and there have been oodles where the characters are so inert that the suspense if one can call it suspense is who will act first to break the circle of despair. And so the children of course are trotted out as pawns on the chessboard forcing the kings and queens to choose. I don't know which is more depressing: that this movie cliché has been used so often or that there are undoubtedly thousands of couples in the world who act exactly like this.
Britney Spears' empire is expanding. The pop diva is opening a fancy restaurant in midtown Manhattan's tony Dylan Hotel. The new eatery will be called Nyla, after the two-letter postal abbreviations for New York (Spears' current home) and Louisiana (Spears' birthplace).
Recent Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly will be joining former Oscar winner Ben Kingsley in the cast of The House of Sand and Fog. Based on the popular novel by Andre Dubus III, Connelly will play the ex-owner of a house who will do anything to get back the domicile she lost at a foreclosure auction.
After figuratively swimming with sharks on HBO's The Sopranos, James Gandolfini will now voice a "real" shark in DreamWorks' upcoming animated feature Sharkslayer. Set for a 2004 release, Gandolfini's talents will blend with the already signed Will Smith, Angelina Jolie and Renee Zellweger.
American Pie's Eugene Levy has signed to Disney's In The Houze as Steve Martin's crony, who pushes the wild and crazy guy to do even crazier stunts. Rapper/actress Queen Latifah also stars.
Sci Fi Channel has signed Oscar winner Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking) to its ensemble cast of Children of Dune. Children is the six-hour miniseries sequel of Sci Fi's Frank Herbert's Dune, which holds Sci Fi's record for largest viewing audience.
Can Geraldo's return be far behind? In this week's sign that the apocalypse is upon us, MSNBC is wooing Phil Donahue, a talk-show pioneer, to host a primetime hour-long show on the topics of the day, the Associated Press reports.
In more retro news, Baywatch's long-awaited reunion show will go on, the AP reports. David Hasselhoff reportedly has convinced 20 former members of the Baywatch and Baywatch: Hawaii series to reconvene for a two-hour special, which is scheduled to air this November on Fox.
Move over, Regis. Step aside, Anne. The granddaddy of all game shows, The Price is Right, and its septuagenarian host, Bob Barker, are coming to primetime. Buoyed by how well the 30th anniversary special performed in the ratings, CBS has ordered six more primetime episodes of the classic game show.
Paul McCartney kicked off his latest tour with a two-and-a-half-hour concert in Oakland, Calif., last night. The crowd certainly seemed pleased with Sir Paul's efforts, demanding two encores from the former Beatle, who played many of the group's greatest hits.
Who knew that they even listened to hip-hop in France? Grammy-winning rapper Eminem is being sued by French jazz fusion composer Jacques Loussier for lifting parts of his song "Pulsion" for sampling in Eminem's rap song "Kill You," the AP reports. At press time, the AP wasn't able to get a comment from Eminem's label, Interscope Records, regarding this matter.
Rising R&B star Ketara "KeKe" Wyatt was indicted by a Shelby County, Ky., grand jury on one count of second-degree assault for stabbing her husband with a steak knife on Christmas Day last year, the AP reports. The singer, whose latest hit is "Nothing in this World," could receive a sentence of 10 to 20 years if convicted.
Television lost one of its favorite grandmas, as Rosetta LeNoire passed away on March 17, at the age of 90. LeNoire, best known for playing Nell Carter's mom on NBC's Gimme A Break and Mother Winslow on ABC's Family Matters, had worked in show business and theater since the 1930s with such diverse luminaries as Orson Welles, Sammy Davis Jr. and Richard Pryor. A son, a brother, a sister, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren survive LeNoire.
Dr. Matt Fowler (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife Ruth (Sissy Spacek) are throwing a summer barbecue at which their lone prodigy Frank (Nick Stahl) is proudly showing off his summer romance. Ruth vehemently disapproves: Natalie (Marisa Tomei) is an older single mother of two who is not quite divorced from the dark abusive Richard Strout (William Mapother) whose family runs their town of Camden Maine. For Frank Natalie is someone to keep the pipes greased before he heads off to study architecture at graduate school in the fall. Maybe. Frank is thinking of getting serious with Natalie and ditching school if Natalie would have him but there's that not quite ex-husband to deal with. The not quite ex-husband ends up killing Frank (this is supposed to be a plot twist but is the only action in the first two hours of the movie) which leads to much soul searching for Matt and Ruth--the raison d'etre of the movie.
With all due respect to Spacek who's been receiving a lot of Oscar buzz for her turn it's really Tom Wilkinson (The Full Monty Wilde The Patriot) who gives the most outstanding astonishing performance in this film. Matt's stilted missteps at each and every turn are so human so real you empathize with the pain he's feeling while you cringe at his every inappropriate action. An Academy win for Wilkinson seems more than merited though likely won't happen. Marisa Tomei is as good as she's ever been in the role of Frank's lover Natalie. The emotional tug-of-war in her relationship with Nick is clear on her face and the distress of never getting Ruth's approval is deafening. Spacek has a hard time claiming even the second-best performance of the film but she is compelling as Ruth the kind-hearted high school teacher who's become more closed and unforgiving than she ever imagined. You can see Spacek shutting down as her world crumbles around her. William Mapother and Nick Stahl do fine jobs with their (relatively) limited characters especially Mapother who is sufficiently creepy and desperate as Natalie's husband.
An actor turned director Todd Field wastes the fine performances in his debut film. Field seemingly likes to impart significance in the mundane moments of real life which works only sporadically. Field's direction is similar to Matt's reaction to his son's death: all of his actions seem stiff and mannered and when he does do something appropriate it's a complete accident. Worse Field leaves no room for character development only letting the characters descend further and further into despair ultimately turning the film into an art house Death Wish. (With apologies to Charles Bronson.) Given the supposed strength of the Maine proletariat it would have nice to see Matt and Ruth Fowler struggle against their evil inclinations before giving in so completely. Under Field's helming the film flounders at inopportune moments rendering the story utterly meaningless.