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.
You may have heard critics and advertisers tout The Social Network David Fincher’s finger-pointing film about how Facebook was harvested from the halls of Harvard and turned into a billion dollar business as “the movie of the decade” or “a generation-defining film.” This kind of praise has led the entertainment journalism collective to liken it to true staples of cinema like Citizen Kane and The Graduate. In terms of relevance to its audience those are fair if overreaching statements. The film depicts its teenage characters with unflinching pragmatism as it weaves the nasty web of deception and betrayal that is the story of the social media juggernaut. In terms of its protagonist’s journey however I couldn’t help but compare it to another landmark film: 1974’s Death Wish.
Like Michael Winner’s divisive and controversial revenge flick the action in The Social Network as with so many stories kicks off when anti-hero Mark Zuckerberg loses the leading lady in his life. Luckily she’s not slaughtered by a pack of petty thugs but instead liberates herself from her pretentious and pessimistic beau in the crushing opening scene of the film which sets into motion a chain of events that will change his life – and the world.
Zuckerberg played with sardonic wit by rising star Jesse Eisenberg retreats to his Kirkland Hall haven seeking retribution (see where I’m going with this?). He gets drunk blogs unfavorably about his ex and creates a program that places female students’ headshots side by side so that inebriated undergrads can anonymously rate them. The site called Facemash accumulates so many hits that it crashes the University’s servers which gets the attention of the school’s cyber-security squad as well as a group of aspiring entrepreneurs. Twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer) well-to-do all-American future Olympians approach Zuckerberg with an opportunity to design a website that they’ve been quietly developing: a social network exclusive to Harvard students. Mark likes the idea but doesn’t want to be a part of it: he wants the whole thing. If greed is good then Zuckerberg (though not exactly financially motivated) is great.
The connections between Charles Bronson’s career defining film and Fincher’s soon-to-be-classic movie are of course hypothetical. My point is that like Paul Kersey Zuckerberg paints a target on his head with his vengeful actions as he breaks the rules of business ethics and leaves his mark on the world. Only after the storm has begun brewing does he realize that he’s in way over his head.
The Social Network is more a meditation on right vs. wrong than a chronicle of the birth of Facebook and it is a more affecting film because of that. The courtroom drama that ensues through Fincher’s two-hour masterpiece pulls no punches and asks the questions that we the audience are most curious about: Who really started Facebook? How much is the company worth? Fincher explores the historic and meteoric rise of this digital domain delicately building the tension organically as each chapter gives way to a new series of inquiries during the legal proceedings. Rather than provide a definitive answer he leaves the audience responsible for drawing its own conclusions.
Though it’s quite different from many of the grim stories Fincher’s told before The Social Network still conforms to the technical style that defines his work. The dank college dorms and dingy frat houses bring to mind the dreary environments of Panic Room and Fight Club especially in terms of lighting and color. Quick cuts convey the lightening fast pace in which we consume information in the digital age. The ominous music composed by Trent Reznor aids the auteur in expressing the enormity of the situation. Most noteworthy however is Aaron Sorkin’s stinging script which uses tech-speak legal lingo and slang to tell the tale of sex lies and limitless fortunes. He brilliantly combines multiple points of view (that of Zuckerberg his partner Eduardo Saverin and the Winklevosses) of the same events to bring his audience a well-rounded and unbiased account of the events that turned best friends into bitter enemies and bookworms into billionaires.
I believe that while it will certainly garner numerous award nominations come January The Social Network’s full impact will not be felt until the generation that it portrays can look back at it in retrospect. It is a very contemporary piece of thought provoking entertainment but we can’t assume that it defines who we are as a collective community because like Zuckerberg says of his digital society we don’t really know what it is yet.
In Paparazzi celebrity photographers are an affliction that torment tens if not dozens of residents of Brentwood the Hollywood Hills and Malibu. Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser) is one such denizen. As Hollywood's brightest new action star Laramie along with his wife Abby (Robin Tunney) is set to enjoy the sweet ride of success until paparazzo Rex Harper (Tom Sizemore) and his marauding band of slimy shutterbugs turn his life into a living hell. Or at least a fairly large inconvenience. With a blatant nod to Princess Di the pesky paparazzi cause a high-speed car wreck which sends Bo's son Zach (Blake Bryan) into a coma of convenient duration and results in the loss of Abby's spleen. Which is fitting as the movie has no discernible spleen of its own. And so our hero who has obviously not received the standard studio briefing on the joys of contract killers takes matters (and a baseball bat) into his own hands. The model for Paparazzi is the vigilante movie: Death Wish Billy Jack Walking Tall and the like. But whereas Bronson's Paul Kersey devolved from architect to cold-blooded killer only when faced with impossibly high stakes (the murder of his wife and rape of his daughter) Laramie by contrast turns into a serial killer and a sloppy one at that over a little retinal glare. And doing it all by himself? One imagines the Anthony Pellicanos of the world dispatching guys like Harper during a Pilates break.
It's problematic asking non-movie stars to play huge movie stars for obvious reasons. Bo Laramie is supposed to be the biggest thing since Ah-nuld held his day job but as Hauser plays him he comes off more like Michael Dudikoff. Even as he's beating paparazzi to death with his own hands there is no sense of a human being or even a movie star being pushed to his limits. Tunney who was terrific in Niagara Niagara has nothing to do and neither does Dennis Farina as the cop conflicted by the A-list avenger. Sizemore of course steals every scene he's in effortlessly and ruthlessly. In spite of his recent legal troubles (or perhaps because of them) he brings just the right dosage of dangerous persona and edgy charisma to his growing roster of manic miscreants. Ultimately though even his involvement is disappointing: When he's on screen he fools you into thinking a real movie is about to start.
First-time director Paul Abascal is but a pawn in Mel Gibson's dogmatic production slate. Screenwriter Forrest Smith had a small role with Gibson in We Were Soldiers and reportedly leveraged the moment to pitch Paparazzi to the actor/producer/Catholic poster boy. Gibson has had issues with his privacy before and has already proved himself shameless in using the movies to promote an agenda. So as with The Passion of the Christ a movie that wouldn't have gotten so much as a sniff at any other studio found itself with a green light. And Bo Laramie became family man/action hero Gibson's violent alter ego. Or maybe just ego. (Gibson also has a brief cameo and the one sheet for Laramie's "movie" Adrenaline Force 2 is a dead ringer for the poster art for Lethal Weapon 2). With Gibson's personal profits alone surpassing the $400 million mark with this week's Passion DVD sales and Paparazzi's budget listed at $20 million Gibson could make 20 sequels to Paparazzi. Or he could use the producer's pulpit to speak out against other vexations in his life. Somewhere at Icon world headquarters Leaf Blower: The Movie just went into pre-production.